When I Became a New Yorker and When They Were All Small

When I am here 10 years, I believe that I will look back on the week of October 28 and sigh, “That was the week that I became a New Yorker.”

Also, between when I banged out my sentiments and hiked my way home, my train started running again. And when I saw it, I burst into tears.

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­­­­­­­­I didn’t recognize that presence of personal ownership in public spaces until the river and the rain drowned the tracks at the 86th Street Station. One week ago, I’d bounded through the turnstiles and up the stairs and away to the Bronx to gulp up the flashy autumn pizazz of the Jersey Palisades. Before that, three weeks ago or so, I’d endeavored to hoist George Washington’s resolve and the Continental Army’s valor from the portrait of the insanity of the crossing of the Delaware in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and transport it me from Mad Ave. and back to Broadway. And, naturally there were moments before those, small ones which were mostly made up of greasy fingerprints and scuff marks from my Steve Madden flats and maybe, once or twice, I’d lost a hair and it had floated down to the wretchedly beat up tile.

No matter the ephemerality of those small ones, my mere presence alone in those spaces seemed enough to catalyze a sense that New York, yet, might be my home.

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­­­­­­­­­­­­When it comes to friend-making, the chief ingredient is collective pain. The moment when he, or she, confides that there was a wandering significant other, a wayward father, an unhappy brother, or an impossibility of bearing such cumbersome personal expectations, and when that moment has been disclosed and the listener has stayed on and owned the experience vicariously, the result is both solidarity and friendship.

Would it be any difference for that not to be requisite for a city to make a home?

I have felt it these four days. New York has backstepped from garish billboards, zooming taxis and powerwalking professionals preaching invincibility. The storm has yanked away its veneer of flash and might and left behind a city that for the first time feels vulnerable and that acknowledges limitations and that cannot deny pain.

There were not only those pictures of flooded subway stairs and debris choked subway tunnels and the train itself silenced, gone. The 7 train, my train, has yet to reopen and I feel this sense of sadness because the part of me that lives on New York public transit, which may be small in the grand wilderness of my twenty-two years but looms large in my New York life, ceases to be. I cannot see the subway as merely a mode of public transportation because to do so undermines that it is the locomotive to a people’s vocation, source of income, and identity. I miss my train.

And there are still more pictures of Breezy Point, today a wasteland, but last week, when Dermot and I killed time in his SUV zooming over the Joe Addabbo bridge and into the Rockaways, this was still the home of “union people; policemen and firefighters.” Who wants to ask why people who have put so much of themselves on the line only have embers to which to return? I don’t want to contemplate.

But there is also the looting (must we had human barbarity to nature’s?) and then there are trees spearing and impaling white shutters and master bedroom windows and those enthusiastically snapping photos of the crushed roofs, as if felled trees and residences were some sort of spectator sport. (I must include myself.) Has it come to this? Where grieving communally, perhaps once awkward, now channels into vandalism and voyeurism?

And then there are electric lines that lie lethally on some residential streets and there are no lights at all in Lower Manhattan. When they called harnessing lightning bolts power, there was no more fitting double entendre for it does seem that all of those that lay lower than 40th St. and out aways in Long Island and so much of Jersey and parts of (my former cherished home) PA have all reduced themselves to struggling for showers and phone charging zones and gas for their minivans and knowledge of beyond and saving their decaying food.

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Late Tuesday night I had had enough of exile by Twitter—a process that looks like scrolling through dozens and dozens of tweets with a #Sandy hashtag while lolling on my quilt comforter. Thanks to a friend’s vehicle, I’d been pelted by leaves and frigid rain on Monday night as we scuttled around Queens Boulevard, trying to get pulse of the gravity of the storm. On Tuesday, we’d surveyed the felled and splintering trees and queried why Astoria had Christmas garlands already strung and how they’d managed to stay looking fresh. But the car was safe and the roads were preternaturally clear and I needed to own the storm’s exploits myself.

On Wednesday afternoon I found myself on the slow bus to Manhattan and then so much walking on top of that. Open a new tab with a Queens and Manhattan map and follow along now. The starting point? Junction Blvd and Roosevelt Avenue.

  • Junction Blvd. / Northern Blvd / 82nd St.There were some catcalls that peeved me more than they normally do—I mean if you say stuff behind me like “I’m talking to you” and your voice starts taking on an edge, I’m going to kick my pace up and flee the scene. Stir-crazy people take to the streets. I land a seat on the bus.
  • M32 / 82nd St. to 30th St. 2 hour bus ride. On the 7 express train this takes 10 MINUTES. A very befuddled commuter sits down next to me. Her persistent iterations of the same questions help me pass the time almost as well as my ESPN 700 page+ book does. By the time we hit 40th St., I know my own two legs will get me somewhere faster than the buses wheels are capable of. I’m yanking that yellow cord.
  •  Queensboro Bridge Everyone’s doing stuff to piss everyone else off, and the city was the first offender when they didn’t designate bonafide different lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. Until then, cycling speed demons are going to weasel their way in and out of men in suits and mothers with children and someone, probably my befuddled commuter and bus seat neighbor, will think that this traffic nightmare is still primetime for capturing oneself traversing across a bridge. Something I learned? Apparently Roosevelt’s Island is reachable by gondola.
  • 59th to 50th / 5th Ave. What Storm? All I see are designer bags jostling off the crook of arms and stocking wearing little kids out with their frenzied parents
  • M1 Bus from 50th to 40th / 5th Ave. Thank you Governor Cuomo for suspending bus fares so buses don’t have to squat next to sidewalks all day while everyone sorts through their nickels and dimes. Also, I have to punch my way off that bus, it is so chock with “everyone-who-is-usually-a-subway-rider.”
  • 40th to 23rd / 5th Ave. Not all the lights are down right away but then you see stuff like a 7-11 that not only sports shelves relieved of all deli meat but also has attracted a major crowd because of the power strips hanging out in front of the store. Cell phone charging station! Yes! How can this just be a 7 minute bus ride away from Luxury Lane?
  • 23rd to Houston / 5th Ave to Ave. C (First, sitting break) At one point I reach the ConEdison plant that blew up two nights ago and I cerebrally pat myself on the back as if I was Miss Marple who’d just made a startling discovery. This is the place! This is reason why no one here has power! But by the time I reach the East River a gray heaviness seems to pull a hex on the city; I’m jarred when I see the Williamsburg bridge—the Brooklyn side lit and the Manhattan side black.
  • Houston to 30th. / 1st Ave to 5th and then back again The Lower East side is so dark that if I had been in conversation I would have dropped my voice to a whisper. I walk past people with pails who are kneeling next to fire hydrants because they need water. Occasionally there is an open bodega, lit by candlelight of course and a tough guy out in front to protect the goodies and supplies inside. I’m in wonder that traffic moves so gently—cars in both directions exercise the nursery school lesson of taking turns—just one more unprecedented thing seen today.
  • M15 Bus from 30th to 59th I’ve never been happier to sit down in my life. I mistakenly think I’m going home.
  • 59th to 49th / 1st Ave. to 5th Ave. The first bad sign is the 40 person chattering mass that is waiting for the Q32 and from which a couple break off to defiantly march across the bridge. The next, a relentless line of Q32 buses all declaring “Next Bus Please” and I march on down to 48th and concoct a scheme to take the Q32 going downtown and stay on—it’ll guarantee me a seat when it begins heading uptown, you know, before the bus operator has to put up his “Next Bus Please” sign.
  • 49th to 12th / 5th Ave. Maurice calls. Back to the East Village. I jabber away to Kristin the entire time on the phone and probably don’t pay nearly enough attention to the fact that there are no traffic signals protecting pedestrians at this time.

And then my favorite part of the night. My favorite part of any night in the city?

The full moon is not only the reason that it isn’t nearly as dark as it could be but also, because of its magnetic (and fatal) attraction to waves and tides, the reason why the storm has managed to wreck as much havoc as it has. It casts all sorts of distorted shadows where usually orange lamp posts outshine and attempts to distract us from realizing that there are stars in the Manhattan sky. Stars. In the Manhattan sky.

At one point we sit and stare at the Hudson Bay and a purple and bluish liner that languishes in the harbor and Jersey actually has a pretty dazzling skyline at night—I mean when it’s lost half its New York competition and Hoboken is as dark as mud.

We turn around and the moon has a ring around it. Moonbow?

The NYPD has set up a screaming white light that beams down Broadway’s old fashioned storefronts and plays with their textures. Two policewomen meander purposely down the street trying to scare off would be looters.

Halal carts may be ubiquitous to this city but the image that I hope to hold onto is of one glowing in ash colored tree lined neighborhoods and the silhouette of a tired man in pitch blackness.

Then there is the image that we actually sit down in the middle of the street to behold. It’s a police car that sits at the eye’s focal point three blocks away and silently expels blue and then red light. But as your eye speeds to the pulsating light, two solitary water towers linger up near where uptown Manhattan casts an orange tint to the sky. It’s all sorts of images smashed together, making a statement about a city, black silhouettes of brownstones and emergency lights pulsating and when we actually get up out of the middle of the road we discover another angle where you can see the Empire State building decked out with Giants Halloween lights. The sky oozes color but the obscurity immediately in front of you beguiles and beckons and it is New York for the very first time.

There’s another image where a vacant lot relaxes between two apartment buildings and the sky fills this vacancy with stars. Not only for my throbbing legs, but what I would do to perch on that curb for the next three hours and observe the constellations dance across the heavens.

We stopped at the fourth bar that we saw completely illuminated by candles. I told him, while dangling my boot-wearing feet off the stool, that that craving on chilly autumn nights that you feel while peering into homes where the light seems to melt right out of the windows—I felt that intangible satiated tonight. It may have been the glass windows that looked out to outlines of enterprises and condos and co-ops.

I didn’t recognize Astor Place and I think it was because everyone had fled the scene to their blackened apartments. Absolutely vacant in New York City? Yes.

 New York City you do beguile me.

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­­­­And so once upon a time, there was October and I spent every night at Finnerty’s in the East Village. Giants, you just devoured my attention span and my work-life balance this past month. I’ve just written 2,140 words about a grand total of 96 hours; I will and I must hold myself accountable to highs and lows of dark nights in a frenzied bar watching 25 men whom I joyfully adore.

But, to conclude, I will reiterate what I’ve seen blurted over my Twitter feed this entire month: the Giants experienced such glory this month because they individually were all small.

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