Reality

IMG_1290When we moved to New York, I dreamed that life would be like Sex and the City.  Cocktails in swank clubs. Gallery openings. Taxi rides down rain swept streets. A cozy apartment in Manhattan with hardwood floors. A writing job. And three middle aged whores I would have brunch with once a week where we’d discuss our relationships over egg white omelets.  Now, two and a half weeks into our move, the feeling that I’ve been on an extended vacation is starting to wane and reality is setting in.

The first few days were a whirlwind where we did the usual tourist things.  The Empire State Building.  The Statue of Liberty.  Central Park.  We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.  While there were no cocktails or gallery openings, there was beer and barbecue with some Texas friends.  At the Metropolitan Museum the “recommended” entrance fee is $25, but we each paid $1, and the man behind the counter didn’t bat an eye. It felt kind of tacky, but you do what you have to for art, I guess. We went to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden on the day that admittance is free.

We can’t afford taxi rides so we take the subway.  Dirty and dank, strangers piled together, hips and shoulders touching, breathing the same stale air. Sometimes a family plays the accordion for change, or teenagers dance, or someone tries to sell pirated DVDs. But most of the time people just listen to their headphones or read on their iPads.

As much as I tried to imagine it before I arrived, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of people.  In subways.  Walking down the jammed sidewalks. Going in and out of buildings. Businessmen and women in three piece suits. Bicycle messengers. Street vendors. Tourists of every nationality. Throngs of every kind of people packed together. I’ve never experienced such diversity of color and culture.  Heard so many different languages being spoken as I walk by. But nearly everywhere in the city there’s a patch of green to escape the people, to breathe and watch the blue-green waves of the Atlantic, or the gray choppy currents of the Hudson, or the wind shaking the leaves of trees and flowers in the parks.

In Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw lived in a rent controlled apartment in Manhattan that she paid $700 a month for. In real life, Carlos and I are staying with a friend he met at a men’s retreat three years ago. A kindly man who was gracious enough to let us stay with him in his apartment in Queens where the door opens to the beach. Where I jog every morning along the boardwalk. Where the locals have accents I’d previously only heard on episodes of The Nanny. Where Carlos and I live out of suitcases and sleep on the couch or air mattresses instead of our own bed which was donated to the Salvation Army. Where I wake up in the morning to find myself staring into the eyes of a curious cat who is sitting there, watching me.

The process of getting an apartment here is very different from what we’re accustomed to. In Seattle I’d find an apartment I liked, fill out an application, they’d run a credit check, I’d give them money, and they’d give me keys.  In NYC you have to go through a broker who charges a fee of 15% of the rent for the whole year, fill out an application, provide last year’s W2s, copies of current bank statements, your last three paystubs, letters of employment, copies of your social security card, another application for the management company, and copies of your driver’s license. And we were told this is lax compared to the hoops some places make you jump through.

We did find an apartment that we liked in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in upper Manhattan where the rents are cheaper because it’s lingering reputation. These days it’s clean and somewhat gentrified, and last year earned the title of 4th safest neighborhood in all of the boroughs. Like many apartments in Manhattan it’s on the small side, but it has new hardwood floors, and all new furnishings. Hopefully we’ll find out soon whether we’ll get it or have to start our search again.

In NYC I do not have a dream job.  Or any job. My lack of employment is a constant source of anxiety.  I spend hours every day scouring the job boards, applying for every job I’m even remotely qualified for. The first call back I got was from a staffing agency who was considering me for a job as an Executive Assistant, which I’m not really qualified for. Being overwhelmed by the move, and quitting the well paying job I enjoyed to move across the country for an uncertain future, I developed a stress induced cold sore that covered half my face. The whole interview, the HR person kept staring at it, and I knew I was doomed. I was unsurprised to hear that they’d moved forward with another candidate.  Yesterday I had an interview for a job I am qualified for that I’m hopeful will pan out. I mostly hope that they couldn’t smell my desperation. Especially since two years of working from home means I’ve become hygienically irresponsible, and don’t always remember to put on deodorant.

Unlike Carrie Bradshaw, I don’t have a group of close-knit friends to dish with once a week.  We’ve met a couple of people here, but mostly it’s just me and Carlos. Getting lunch from a hot dog cart, or pizza vendor, and sitting in a park somewhere trying to reassure one another that everything is going to be fine. And everything will be fine. Now that he has a job, it’s often just me.  Walking along the beach. Sitting alone on a crowded subway, listening to my headphones. A tourist has already stopped me for directions which I was successfully able to give. I’m starting to find the rhythm here. To feel like I’m part of my adopted city. A small, and insignificant part, but connected nevertheless.

Tonight Carlos works late, and I’m sitting by the open window listening to the roar of the ocean, watching the advancing and receding waves. A cat is curled up by my elbow. Next door a woman with a thick, Queens accent yells, “I can’t take this shit no more!” The sky is turning from blue to violet.  This is my reality now. I’m a New Yorker.

I <3 NYC!

 Barnes and Noble is a strange place to have an epiphany, but that’s where it happened.  I was sitting upstairs at the store in TriBeCa watching the taxis drive down Warren St, waiting for Carlos who was interviewing for a job at a company nearby.  (He got the job, by the way!) I was feeling exhausted from all the walking we’d been doing, and overwhelmed by the sheer number of people going briskly about their day on the street below, oblivious to me and my splashless arrival; sharp looking men in three piece suits, fashionable women in skirts and $500 pumps, kids in tight jackets and scarves.  And me, the newest addition feeling shabby and wrecked in a pair of worn jeans and a discount hoodie.  There was something about the flow of people on the street below, how they walked with purpose and made way for one another, that instilled in me the first feeling of calm I’d had since arriving. A sense of movement after a long bout of stagnation.

Carlos met me at the airport.  He didn’t have much confidence that I’d be able to navigate the subway on my own.  (A fair assessment given the fact that I’ve done nothing but ride the subway for five days and can still make heads nor tails of it.) We lugged my suitcase and bags (containing everything I own in the world) to the subway and back to our temporary residence in Queens.

The apartment is a nice one, with a view of Manhattan from the bedroom and a view of the ocean from the living room. (The beach literally begins as you step out the front door.) We share it with our host, Ken, who was gracious enough to let us stay with him until we have jobs and an apartment of our own, and two cats named June and Truffaut who mostly ignore us until they’re hungry or want to be rubbed.

Mostly we’ve been out.  The past few days have been a blur.  Sushi in Chelsea.  Hot chocolate at Rockefeller Center.  Walking past Madison Square Gardens and The World Trade Center.  Tourists in Times Square.  Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.  Seeing the Statue of Liberty.  Getting a key chain in China Town that says, I ❤ NY.  Shopping in Soho.  Going to the Metropolitan Museum.  Eating from food carts and walking through Central Park.

Every corner of the vast city seems to be a landmark that I’d only read about or seen in movies or on TV. Ken is amazed that I was willing to pack up and move to the city, sight unseen.  But New York has always been my dream city.  It just took Carlos’s optimism to convince me that it didn’t have to remain a dream.  So together we decided to make it a reality.

Now we’re checking out neighborhoods we want to live in.  We really like Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, and it’s the most affordable.  There’s also Park Slope and Williamsburg in Brooklyn that are still possibilities.  We liked Astoria in Queens, but didn’t love it.  And Chelsea is beyond our means.

Of course all of this is dependent upon me getting a job as soon as possible.  The idea that my last paycheck next Friday will be my last paycheck is more than a little terrifying.  We’ve done a good job of saving the past year or so, but this won’t last forever.  I’m relieved that Carlos was able to get a job so quickly, and hope that I’ll have the same luck.

Right now I’m still growing accustomed to the quick pace of my new city.  The Queens accents.  (I’ve already heard someone say “Yous guys!”)  How expensive apartments are and eating out is (except for the hot dog carts and pizza stands that are ridiculously cheap.  $.89 for a hot dog, a dollar for a slice of pizza!)  But every day I feel more and more at home, and I’m really looking forward to the day that Carlos and I get to set up shop in a place that’s entirely our own.