Cities

 

IMG_1837Spring comes, even to Chicago. The snow has melted. The trees lining the boulevards are lush with green leaves. Every sidewalk is thronged with pale people in shorts, over-eager for any sign of warmth after a long winter spent indoors.

On sunny days I walk home from work instead of taking the train. The trek from downtown to our apartment takes me an hour and a half. I walk past the Magnificent Mile with its upscale shops and small boutiques, past the bistros that have pulled out their patio seating, past the planters with brightly colored flowers, through Lincoln Park with its brownstones and kids drawing on the sidewalk with pastel chalk.

Yesterday I walked past a park near the Loop and crossed paths with an elderly Asian woman on a cell phone, pushing a Shih Tzu in a baby stroller. The woman was wearing a parka even though it was warm, and the dog was decked out in a little, pink bow. This is what I love most about living in cities. The random intersections of strange lives, all of the different characters one sees in passing.

The first real city that I lived in was Los Angeles. I was still living with my ex-boyfriend in Austin at the time, and when he got accepted into grad school at UCLA, I was faced with the choice of finding another roommate or taking the plunge and heading out West to sunny California. Even though L.A. had never been on my radar of prospective places, at that point I was ready to experience life anywhere that wasn’t Texas.

Los Angeles was sprawling and strange. The weekly junk mail was littered with coupons for Botox, teeth whitening, and plastic surgery. Every time I met new people, they asked me what kind of car I drove. It seemed that everyone worked in the movie industry, drove a sports car, and had impressive stories of brushes with celebrity. I did temp work at a brokerage firm, drove a Daewoo, and impressed no one.

At my job, I was forced to wear a tie and sit in a cubicle doing mind numbingly boring data entry work. I rebelled in little ways at first, by wearing cheap, studded belts I’d bought downtown beside the men in track suits who were selling bootlegged DVDs. Later I rebelled more openly by dying my hair blue, or magenta, or purple.

Once an old man drove his car through the crowd at the Farmer’s Market on the Third Street Promenade across from the building I worked in. When our building was surrounded by helicopters, police, fire engines, and ambulances, our first thought was that there was a hostage situation. We scoured the internet for any news, and then watched in horror at the first responders carrying bodies away on stretchers. I’d had lunch at the Farmer’s Market not a half hour before, and shivered when I thought about how easily it could have been my body, limp and lifeless beneath a sterile, white sheet.

I experienced my first earthquake in that building. I was sitting in my cubicle and thought I was having a strange, sudden dizzy spell, when I looked up and saw a co-worker across from me bracing herself in the doorway of her cubicle. Beyond her I could see the horizon with the palm trees, the beach, and the blue waves of the Pacific ocean tilting back and forth as the building swayed. In a panic, my first thought was, “I can’t die in this building with these people,” and I ran down eleven flights of stairs in less than four seconds to the street below. (I would later learn this is what not to do in an earthquake since there could be falling glass and downed power lines, but I was willing to take my chances).

A few months later I left my access badge with a note on my boss’s desk telling her I quit, and walked down to the Santa Monica Pier and sat on the beach with my pants rolled up, holding my tie in my hands, my purple hair blowing in the breeze.

A few months later, a friend and I took a road trip through the Pacific Northwest. We were nearly into Portland late one night when we saw a giant ball of fire in the sky. It was neon green and larger than a full moon, and hurtling down toward the city in front of us. It was so big, in fact, that as it disappeared below the tree line, we braced for impact and expected to pull into the city to discover it engulfed in flames. But when we arrived, the city was intact, and there was no sign of the meteor. The local news mentioned in passing that several people had reported seeing it, and that it had most likely burnt up in the atmosphere as it descended.

We liked Portland, but kept driving past the lush green forests and gorgeous vistas of Multnomah falls, past the snow capped peak of Mount Rainier, to the picturesque city of Seattle. As soon as we arrived, I felt like I’d come home. A fat, colorful rainbow stretched across a pale blue sky to mark our arrival. It felt, on that first day, like the city was embracing us.

I stayed in Seattle for seven years. The friend I moved there with couldn’t quite take the long, dreary, gray Seattle winters, and after our second year decided to move back to Los Angeles. I spent a couple of lonely years after that inhabiting coffeehouses, looking for a connection. After Los Angeles, the people of Seattle seemed timid. The times I tried to strike up a conversation in a coffee shop with a stranger, I was met with an inevitable look of horror as the person I was trying vainly to engage panicked over the fact that someone was speaking to him. I grew so accustomed to being stood up on dates, that I started to take my laptop with me, so that when I was left sitting at the agreed upon place…alone, I could at least be productive and write a blog about it.

I did eventually manage to collect a group of friends who made Seattle feel like home again. I got a job where I worked from my apartment. I became gym obsessed and was in the best shape of my life, culminating in the running of the Seattle Marathon.

Around that time I met C who had also lived in California. We hit it off by trading war stories and bonding over our shared dislike of everyone who wasn’t us. After a year of not getting sick of one another, he suggested we save our money and head East, to New York City. A year after that, we got rid of everything we owned, and took the long flight to the Big Apple.

My first night in the city, we went to Times Square. I was immediately overwhelmed by the noise, the bright lights of the big screens advertising Broadway shows, M&Ms and Coca Cola. There were so many people everywhere we went. On any given block I was surrounded by languages I’d never heard before, and people from all over the world.

We bounced around from Queens, to an overpriced room we rented in Brooklyn from a vegan lesbian who made a living giving colonics. We spent a summer in Brooklyn sweltering with no air conditioning, lying naked in front of a fan circulating hot air. We ate $1 pizza slices and hot dogs in Central Park on our days off work.

Eventually we settled in the slightly cheaper, but considerably less convenient Staten Island. We took the ferry to Lower Manhattan. When Hurricane Sandy devastated the island, we went for a week with no electricity.  I was amazed at how the city came together after this disaster. How everyone was willing to help one another. Several times I got rides to and from Manhattan from neighbors I’d never met while the ferry and the subway were out of commission.

We spent a year and a half in NYC. I loved the excitement of exploring the city, the museums and shops. So much of the city seems so magical. There really is no place like it. What wasn’t magical was the constant crowds of people, the piles of garbage everywhere, the filth, the rats fighting in the subway, and the increasing rents. So I convinced C to leave for a place more affordable where we could still have an urban life, but also space, and the money left over to actually enjoy ourselves.

He hasn’t quite forgiven me for our departure. And now that we have nearly a year under our belt in Chicago, (after a lost, ill-fated year in Austin, TX) we’re starting to get that wanderlust again, a longing to head off into parts unknown.

These cities, my cities, are all stacked on top of one another, are superimposed in my memory, so that some mornings I wake up, thinking about going to get a breakfast taco before realizing I’m not in Austin, or walking down to the Farmer’s Market for some flowers only to remember that the market is across the country in Seattle.

Now strangers walk down streets I once walked down. New places crop up and replace the ones I used to haunt. Other people are having their own experiences, and their cities are not my cities. These cities are ghosts. They exist only in the past, only in my memory. But I love every one of them, and all of the scary, fantastic, amazing, wonderful experiences I had when I lived in them.

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A Year in New York

IMG_1510Every day I have to convince myself not to quit my job and buy a one way ticket out of New York City.

In March we celebrated our year anniversary living here. Well not celebrated so much as acknowledged the hallmark of it’s passing with a sense of triumph that we’d managed to survive at all.

The year and change we’ve lived here has been the hardest of my life. I gave up friends, a well paying job that I liked, and the comfortable familiarity of the Pacific Northwest for an unknown future in a city I’d never even visited, where I had no job, no prospects, and where the only person I knew was the man I was moving with.

We spent the first month and a half in Queens with a man C was barely acquainted with, a film obsessed flight attendant with two needy cats named Truffaut and Dainty June. We paid $400 a month to sleep on his floor with no privacy, trying to appease his insatiable need for attention while maintaining our own sanity.

IMG_1100I spent the days in Queens running on the boardwalk or walking on the beach, applying for jobs, and quietly trying to suppress my growing sense of panic that I’d made a horrible mistake.

I’d been accustomed to living alone and suddenly C and I were living together, which was a lot to deal with in and of itself, but we were also living with someone else, a stranger who spent every waking moment telling non stop stories about all the celebrities he’s friends with, who stayed up till the wee hours with his giant TV blaring in the same room we were trying to sleep, who became offended if he felt that he was being ignored.

Tensions rose and we made a hasty exit, accepting a room in Brooklyn from a black, vegan lesbian with OCD. The fact that this seemed like a better situation speaks volumes about how unbearable life in Queens had been. In Brooklyn we had a room of our own with a door we could close, a bed, and a view of Manhattan.

IMG_1616Sure we had to sweep the bathroom, and scour it with bleach every time we took a shower and steered clear of the kitchen altogether. But at least we had a little privacy, and a little space. C had a job by then, but money was still a huge worry. We were paying $1,000 a month for a room, and I was still unemployed.

We’d applied for an apartment in Manhattan in Washington Heights, a mostly Dominican neighborhood, vibrant and loud, and most of all, affordable. But they wanted so many things, our W2s from the previous year, our last three pay-stubs, our drivers’ licenses, our social security cards, letters from our employers, credit reports, our most current bank statements, that we withdrew our application.

In Brooklyn I walked across the Manhattan Bridge every day and explored the city. The crowded bustle of Chinatown. The sweltering stench of rotting fish in carts, and piles of garbage on street corners. I’d walk past the boutiques in Soho, the funky little shops in the Village. I’d walk along the piers in Chelsea, or up to Columbus Circle and Central Park.

IMG_1545We endured our first un-airconditioned summer in Brooklyn, sweating in front of a fan in our rented room, too hot to do anything.

After sending hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes to every job posting I could find, I got called in to two interviews. One was a dream job at a publishing company where I’d be an editor’s assistant for a prestigious medical journal in Manhattan, the other was for a low paying, menial data entry job at a third rate non profit in Queens. Guess which one called me back and offered me a job?

I was so grateful to have an income, any income, that it almost didn’t matter that I was making less than I had in a decade (despite living in the most expensive city in the U.S.), while being micro-managed to a comical degree.

After spending the previous three years working from home with no dress code, and near complete autonomy, adjusting to cubicle life was hard.

I have to wear slacks and a button up shirt. On my breaks and lunch I have to sign out on my phone, sign out on my computer, go physically sign out at a manager’s desk, and tell my team lead where I’m going. I have to inform my supervisor if I go to the bathroom. I have to fill out logs with everything I do throughout the day.

The company is housed in a converted warehouse in an industrial part of Long Island City where, during my first week, workers were protesting with signs warning about asbestos. Every few weeks dogs come in to sniff the office for bed bugs. I sit in my cubicle, doing data entry a brain damaged monkey could easily do, wondering what decisions I’ve made in my life that have led me to this place.

The biggest benefit of being employed, is that we were finally able to sign a lease and get an apartment of our own. The neighborhoods we loved, the Village, Chelsea, the Upper West Side, were still beyond our reach. Out of desperation we ended up signing a lease at a place in Staten Island. All they wanted was first month’s rent, a deposit, and a credit check.

Staten Island was quiet, and we had much more space than we would have had in Brooklyn or Manhattan. C and I adjusted to living together. For the first time in months we could retire to separate rooms and have a little space and time to ourselves. I drive him crazy by singing in a falsetto and donning a poor, cockney accent, and he drives me crazy with his messiness, clutter, and unhealthy Golden Girls obsession.

Living in Staten Island means a commute for me of two hours each way to work and back. All the commuting leaves little time or energy for much of anything else. C has an ever changing schedule, and usually comes in late at night after I’m already asleep, while I leave in the morning while he’s still sleeping. We joke that we see one another less now that we live together than we did back when we lived in different cities.

Life now consists of the ferry ride to Manhattan, the subway ride to Queens, a day spent in a cubicle, and coming back again.

On our days off, despite our poverty, we manage to go on shopping sprees in Soho and on Fifth Avenue. We get Japanese hot dogs, and sit in the park watching couples row boats on the lake.

Last October there was a hurricane. My mom was panic stricken and literally begged me to go inland somewhere away from the storm. But there was really nowhere to go and no way for me to get anywhere even if I’d wanted to. Luckily our part of the island was on higher ground than some less fortunate areas. Aside from some overturned trees, our street was unscathed.

We sat inside, listening to the wind howl. There was very little rain. It didn’t seem so bad. The storm was nearly over when the power went out. It stayed off for a week, and we had to heat up water on the stove to bathe with, and get dressed by candlelight. While the ferry was down it took five hours to get to work on a series of buses from Staten Island to Brooklyn, from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and from Manhattan to Queens. Twice I lucked out and friendly neighbors drove me to the city. It was only by looking at posts friends made on Facebook that I was able to see the full extent of the damage.

In the winter there was a snowstorm. For the first time in my life I experienced temperatures in the single digits. I walked to the ferry as the snow blew sideways, stinging my face.

In Queens, pollution turned the white snow black within a couple of days. I got the flu, the sickest I’ve been in years and could barely leave my bed. There’s nothing worse when you’re feeling nauseous than to be trapped on a boat, and then a closed in, claustrophobic subway, respectively. I stood outside at the front of the ship, the freezing wind feeling almost pleasant against my fevered skin, thankful that, even though I was risking frostbite, I could at least breathe.

IMG_1877In spring the snow melted. Our street was lined with cherry blossoms. We went to botanical gardens. We shed our heavy winter coats for sweaters and light jackets.

I did volunteer work in an effort to meet people in the city, first at a home for people with AIDS, and later at a library. At the shelter we played Trivial Pursuit, and I kept telling myself, “Let the AIDS patient win, let the AIDS patient win,” but my competitive nature got the best of me. At the library, I shelved books, and the other, bookish volunteers kept to their respective aisles, and no one spoke.

Later I joined a writer’s group that met at a tea shop in Midtown near Central Park. It was fun, and productive, and I met some interesting people. But after a few weeks of going, my work schedule changed and I was no longer able to attend. I joined a gay, boardgame group, because such specific groups exist here, and it was fun. But when the games end, everyone disperses.

The people I work with are nice enough, but mostly have little in common with me. NYC has been a very lonely, isolated place. I sit squashed between strangers on the ferry and on the subway and no one speaks to me.

Now it’s summer again. I’m sitting on my day off in a coffee shop in the West Village. Because it’s so humid here, I’m bathed in sweat after being outside for a few minutes.

There are fewer tourists here than in Lower Manhattan where ghouls swarm around the World Trade Center Memorial with zoom lenses, and I shout at people to move out of the way when they block the sidewalk going to the ferry terminal. Shouting at strangers is not something I’d ever done prior to living here, but the stress and the crowds make me constantly angry.

Living a year here, despite the struggle, feels like an accomplishment in and of itself. The old saying, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” really does ring true. Not that we’ve made it exactly.

We live in an apartment in Staten Island with no furniture. We make ridiculous commutes to low paying jobs we hate. We didn’t exactly take Manhattan like the Muppets. But for now we wear our survival like a badge of honor. It’s enough that we’re here.

For now I can look at the amazed faces of tourists as I walk around Time Square and remember what it was like to experience the city for the first time. But now, instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of it, I feel like I’ve been accepted as a part of it. A small piece in a vast puzzle of languages, ideas, diversity and culture that is distinctly American, distinctly New York.

For now I can say that I’m a New Yorker, and look back on the past year of struggle entirely without regret.

The Time I Went to the Ballet

IMG_1092On Wednesday I didn’t go home directly after work. I got off the R train at 59th and 5th Avenue by the designer boutiques, walked toward Columbus Circle, skirting Central Park where the smell of horse manure from the tourist carriages was overwhelming, then made my way up 64th to Lincoln Center.

The horses’ breath was misty as they snorted and stomped, waiting for some adventurous tourists to take them on a lap around the park. Everyone in Manhattan is smartly dressed in long, black coats and wool scarves. Even I am smartly dressed, ill at ease in a lime green, cashmere sweater and a powder blue, button up shirt beneath my own black jacket and wool scarf, my gray slacks and black, designer dress shoes.

An advertisement on the subway reads, “NYC: Tolerant of your beliefs, judgmental of your shoes.” I’ve taken this slogan to heart.

At Lincoln Center he was waiting for me with our tickets. We were seeing a ballet, Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.

He was starving, and we were early, so we walked up Broadway and grabbed some hotdogs from Gray’s Papaya. A man with an indecipherable accent stood across the counter from me asking me questions I couldn’t understand. After saying, “Sorry?” He repeated himself, but I still didn’t understand, so I stared back blankly, smiling, and said, “I’d like relish, please.”

We stood at the counter in our jackets and ate our dogs, paranoid of spilling or dripping or smearing chili, cheese, and relish on our nice coats. Outside the street was thronged with people, tourists, and city folk darting to shops, or to the theater, or apartments uptown.

“I wish every night was like this,” I said. The two of us in Manhattan, dressed up, going to the ballet. Carlos nodded, and I wasn’t sure if he knew I was referring to the city and not the hot dogs.

I usually only see Manhattan winking at me from across the water from our apartment on Staten Island or experience it underground as the subway hurtles me from the ferry, to my job in Queens. Manhattan, at night, with the lights and skyscrapers, the horses, and the yellow taxis never ceases to feel magical.

Back at Lincoln Center, Carlos took our picture on the second floor in front of an art installation comprised of overlapping, vintage-looking posters. The first attempt I was making a face. The second attempt his hair was wrong. The third attempt he was satisfied. “That’s cute.” He said.

We took our seats in the balcony, the cheap seats we can afford, and waited for the music and dancing to begin. Carlos was excited, leaning forward in his seat. He still harbors some resentment toward his father for discouraging him from dancing when he was a child, and now lives vicariously though the dancers on the stage. I was excited too, to be out in the city, to be well dressed and feel sophisticated, despite my predilection for hotdogs and discomfort when confronted by “art.”

The lights dimmed. The music started, and immediately my mind began to wander.

A week before a classmate of mine had died. We’d been friends in junior high by default. The last ones chosen to be on any team. Him because he was fat, and me because I was short, and frail, and not athletically inclined. During gym the two of us would just walk around the football field and talk about music, or video games, or whatever kids that age talk about.

He moved sometime during high school, and I’d be lying if I said I’d thought of him much in the intervening years. Up until a couple of weeks ago he was a firefighter back in Texas. The roof of a burning building had fallen on him, leaving his wife a widow, and his five children half-way orphaned. I don’t know why I thought of him at that particular moment, other than the strange idea that I was living in New York City, watching the ballet, and he no longer existed at all.

That someone my age could die.

That I could die.

I shivered in my seat. Carlos looked over to me and smiled. I smiled back. On stage the dancer’s danced. I marveled at the athleticism, the grace, the gorgeous set pieces, and the delicate stitching of the costumes. But the whole time I couldn’t shake the thought that the entire production would be vastly improved if only there’d been words to accompany the dancing.

At intermission people stood around drinking champagne from fluted glasses. Carlos looked, unsuccessfully, for a water fountain. The theater was too warm, and I could feel myself sweating beneath the layers of my new, stylish clothes. I used the program as a makeshift fan. Carlos stretched his legs and I imagined what would happen if the giant chandelier across form us crashed down on the people seated in the theater below.

The lights dimmed a second time. The music started. In front of me a little girl leaned against her father, both of them looking sleepy and bored. The repetitive movements of the dancers became hypnotic. I imagined everyone in the theater falling asleep from some witch’s spell like in the story. To be kissed awake by our respective Prince Charmings.

The ballet ended the curtain calls and the applause faded and we put back on our coats and scarves. We made our way outside where the cold air felt wonderful on our warm skin. We sat in the train with our knees touching. Exhilarated by a night in the city, by the music and movements. We ran to catch the ferry, lolled home by the rocking of waves. We danced from our doorway to the bedroom, the golden glow of the salt lamp, my grandmother’s patchwork quilt, our inviting bed.

I was exhausted and wired.

Thankful to be in this amazing city.

To be with him.

To be alive.

Across the water my future danced among the white capped waves, uptown through rainswept streets, beneath neon signs, past hot dog carts and shops, climbing up skyscrapers, and spreading out over the city of Manhattan. The promise of a city, of a continuing dance, the music and the steps an overlapping patchwork of inverted constellations rocking on celestial waves, and all the amazing possibilities of existence.

 

 

The Hiatus

IMG_1851When I can’t sleep, I slip out of bed and sit in the living room windowsill, looking across the water at Manhattan. Sleepless nights seem to be a more and more frequent occurrence. Insomnia and I are well acquainted.

Even though I’ve suffered from bouts of depression since my early teens, it still caught me off guard this time. The signs were there, but I didn’t recognize them until I was already well into the familiar funk. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to write. I don’t want to watch TV. I don’t want to be at home, and I don’t want to go out. None of the things that normally make me happy seem to move me.

All the color drains from the vibrant city. Every color becomes one color. Gray. The gray water that the ferry cuts through on my way to Manhattan each morning. The gray subway tunnels. My gray cubicle at work. Everything had become the same, dull color. Every action seemed pointless. Every decision the wrong one.

Things happened. There was a hurricane. A snowstorm. An anniversary. But all of it seemed to be happening to someone else. I regarded it all with mild interest, but nothing more.

My last, great depression was four years ago, in Seattle, where being sad was as commonplace as Starbucks, and I’d naively thought I was somehow over it for good. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to realize I was in the middle of it this time.

This depression is situational. I know that it’s because I’ve become disconnected. The only person I know in the city is Carlos, and for all his stellar qualities, he’s no replacement for a support network. New York City is a hard place to find a foothold. A smile. A friendly welcome.

I thought when we moved that we’d explore the city together, make friends of our own, and have lives apart and a life with one another. But the reality is that our schedules are at odds, and not very conducive to that particular New York fantasy. While Carlos has made some friends at his work to spend time with, my feeble attempts at making connections here have met with abysmal failure. My workmates are nice enough, and they all seem to love me for some reason, but none of them are people that I’d want to spend time with outside of work. I tried volunteering at the library, hoping that I’d meet people into books and reading, but no one really talked to one another. So, while Carlos goes out with friends, I feel left behind, lonely and abandoned.

I feel like I’m no fun anymore. I feel as drab and gray as the city. My life consists of getting up early while he’s still in bed. Getting dressed quietly in the other room. Kissing him goodbye. A long commute to work. A day in a cubicle, marking time until I can leave and a long commute home. Sometimes I try to stay up for him, but usually I’m too exhausted. He kisses me when he comes in. Then watches videos on his computer in the other room before he comes in to go to sleep.

And I sleep. Or I don’t sleep.

I fantasize about fleeing. Buying a one way ticket back to Austin and going home where it’s warm, where I have family and friends already. Where life is easy. Austin has always been my fall-back. My escape.

When I had my last, great depression, I pulled myself out of it by forcing myself out of my old patterns. I stopped listening to the emo music I normally gravitate toward, and listened to upbeat pop songs instead. I forced myself to work out every day. I forced myself out of my apartment, and made myself go out and socialize a few times a week. And things began to change. Suddenly I was happy. Really happy for the first time I could remember.

I feel like if I take those same steps I’ll get through this depression in much the same way. But because I’m depressed, finding the motivation to do those things has been difficult. So Carlos and I talked, and we planned time together this weekend. We’re going to see the Nutcracker to celebrate his birthday. I made a happy-Lance playlist full of songs that I could dance to. I signed up for a writing group that meets in Manhattan twice a week, and for a gay, board-game group that meets in Chelsea on Sundays.

Still, doubts remain, and the desire to flee ebbs and flows. I can’t imagine New York City ever feeling like home, or ever feeling really comfortable. Maybe time will change that. Or maybe it won’t.

Tonight he gets off work early. He comes in while I’m watching Walking Dead (zombies make me happy) and does the pie dance because there’s pumpkin pie and Reddi-whip. I’m still in my gym clothes from working out in the fitness room downstairs. He kisses me. When he’s here, there’s color in the room. Tonight that’s enough. The desire to flee ebbs, and the desire to curl up next to him with The Simpsons and pie will sustain me for another day.

Brooklyn

IMG_1504“I hate Brooklyn,” Carlos says as soon as we cross the Manhattan bridge. I nod my head in agreement. Before moving to New York I had this idea of what Brooklyn was going to be like, all Brownstones and little cafes and coffee shops, swarthy, Italian men with pizza places, and children of color playing hopscotch on the sidewalk.

Of course all of these things exist. The street we live on in Clinton Hill is lined with beautiful old brownstones and decaying mansions from another, more prosperous era. Mixed in with these are the less desirable brick, New York Housing Authority complexes like the one we live in. Hipsters with ridiculous glasses shop for organic produce at Mr. Coco, our corner market, or get overpriced, gourmet coffee from an obnoxious place called The Coffee Lab. Equally ridiculous are the young, black guys who walk with their pants hanging down to their knees, holding them up with one hand so they don’t fall down completely. People shout entire conversations to one another from across the street.

The only thing that the hipsters and their ghetto neighbors have in common is their propensity for being thoroughly annoying. There are other, nicer neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Brooklyn Heights with it’s views of Manhattan, and claim to fame for being the location of Michael Winners’s film, The Sentinel. The gentrified Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, home to writers Paul Auster, Martin Amis, and Tony Kushner are a yuppie paradise.  I understand the charm of Brooklyn. You’re removed from the hectic pace of the city. You can push your spoiled toddlers in their strollers from the Farmer’s Market, to the park and stop at Trader Joe’s on the way home.

For us, Brooklyn is like the city at large, filthy, crowded and overpriced. It’s as expensive as living in Manhattan, without the benefit of, you know, living in Manhattan.

Yesterday we looked at an apartment in Staten Island. The neighborhood was quiet and green. There was a park nearby. The apartment itself was huge. For $1,100 it seemed like a steal, especially since we’re paying $1,000 a month for a just a room in Brooklyn. It was a five minute walk to the ferry, and the ferry ride was 25 minutes, not much longer than the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Living on Staten Island wasn’t something I’d even considered prior to moving, but now it seems like an affordable, if not ideal alternative.

“At least it’s not Brooklyn.” Carlos said as we left the big, white building, built in 1929 before apartments were cookie cutters.  I nodded in agreement, lost in my own thoughts.

It doesn’t matter how much we like, or can tolerate, the apartment in Staten Island, or in Washington Heights, or Harlem, the places we can afford. Until I get a job, we cannot sign a lease, and aside from a couple of temporary assignments, I have no prospects. After applying for jobs non stop for the past 3 and a half months, I’m feeling more than a little demoralized. We’ll be forced to continue to sublet, or go further and further away for a place where Carlos’s income alone would be sufficient for a lease.

“Don’t let it defeat you.” Carlos says. I smile at him and kiss his cheek. But I feel defeated. I didn’t think finding a job would be so hard, considering that I’m not in the least bit picky about what I do at this point. Sitting in our sublet room in the dingy apartment in Brooklyn that we share with a strange and secretive lesbian, I can’t help but think of what I gave up to be in New York City, a job I liked that paid well and allowed me to work from home, an apartment of my own, a comfortable bed, belongings, friends. Part of me wants to just give up, go back to Seattle or Austin and beg for my old job back and live in a city where, for what I’d pay for a closet in Manhattan, I could have a luxury apartment with all the amenities.

For now I have him, and a room. From our window we can see Manhattan rising above the river and the trees, close enough to walk to with just a bridge separating us from it. It might as well be on the moon though, the distance that divides the rich from the poor, us from our dreams, Manhattan from Brooklyn.

 

Hot Times in the City

man1-1Today is hot. A trickle of sweat slides down my back, even though I’m sitting in the shade. A group of men runs, shirtless, through Battery Park, their perfect bronze bodies glistening like Hollister models. Because it’s New York they may very well be Hollister models, or brokers, or bus boys. Beauty appears to be randomly distributed throughout the city with no regard to merit. Even I, despite my perpetual sheen of spray on sunscreen, have developed tan lines, something I never sported during my years in the Pacific Northwest.

A week ago was NYC’s Gay Pride celebration. Even though in years past I cynically dismissed Gay Pride as an excuse for gay men to get their nipples pierced, I was actually excited. We stood on a corner of 5th Avenue and watched the festivities unfold. Cyndi Lauper was the Grand Marshall and passed by in a red car mere feet from me, smiling behind a megaphone. George Takei waved happily in a Boy Scout uniform. Drag queens sauntered by with their faces melting off in the heat. Go go boys with 6 pack abs walked by wearing only underwear and smiles.

The bulk of the spectators were straight families with their children. My cynicism seemed well placed when most of the participants in the parade turned out to be churches, politicians unabashedly fishing for votes, and major corporations unabashedly fishing for gay money. Gay pride seems like such a strange thing to celebrate anyway. It’s like having a parade for people with blue eyes. Well, except for the fact that people with blue eyes can get married everywhere, aren’t in danger of being fired for their eye color, and are usually not singled out for hate crimes.

Carlos was bored and cranky, and I was getting sunburned, so after a quick once around the festival, we went out for Thai food at a place that boasted $8 sangria, having done our part to promote equality through visibility and ogling.

Gay Pride is also a harbinger for another momentous event in human history, the anniversary of my birth. As birthdays go, this one was a non-event. At midnight Carlos gave me my presents which included a LEGO Empire State Building. The next day he took me out for lunch. There was a 45 minute wait at the place I’d picked out in the East Village, and Carlos had to work, so we opted for a low key lunch at a less popular place nearby.

The day after your birthday sucks. You’re just older and there are no presents. It was impossible not to evaluate my life so I could compare myself to other people my age in order to gauge how big a failure I am. At 36 most people have careers, marriage,  children, a house, a car, and possibly even a pet. At 36 I’m unemployed, renting a room from a slightly deranged lesbian, and in a constant state of existential panic.

On the other hand, I’m living in New York City with this guy I kind of have a crush on. Since my last birthday, I’ve started publishing articles on the Huffington Post. I’ve dutifully been submitting short stories out in exchange for rejection letters. Things seem to be heading in the direction that I want, which is progress, even though I spend the biggest part of every day terrified that I’ll never get a job, and I’ll have to live under a bridge in Central Park.

After 3 months of not working out, I was dying to head back to the gym. I’d been waiting for a job before I signed up, but since a job hasn’t happened yet, I decided to treat myself to a gym membership as a birthday present to myself. I was immediately daunted when the first place I went to had a $250 sign up fee, a $30 “processing” fee, and a $100 monthly fee. The sleazy salesman, after talking up the gym’s perks, turned to me to find out what I thought. I thought that was ridiculously expensive and borderline rape-y. When I told him it was more than I’d wanted to spend, he had his manager come over and plink around on his computer before exclaiming that for me, today, he could lower the monthly rate to $90. I told him I was going to look around at some other gyms and get back to him, and he got upset. He actually said, “I just made you an offer to excite you and you aren’t excited!”

I blinked before responding, “I’m not excited because that offer isn’t exciting.” Then I walked down the street and found a gym that offered a membership for $10 a month. Make no doubt, the $10 gym is straight up ghetto, but it has a treadmill and weights, which are all that I require.

In order to meet some new people in New York, I decided to sign up with an umbrella organization that schedules volunteers for non profits all over the city. As soon as the orientation ended, I fled, so I wouldn’t have to meet any new people.

The heat persists. Walking home the other night we saw fireflies blinking on and off through Fort Greene Park. At night we sleep above the blankets. Every time my pillow becomes too drenched with sweat, I turn it over and sleep on the dry side. Or anyway, to attempt to sleep, miserable, with two fans angled toward the bed. Growing up in Texas I’d never heard of an apartment that didn’t have air conditioning. Of course, I’d also never heard of anyone paying $2,000 a month for a closet sized studio apartment. I remind myself that this is temporary, that one day we’ll look back on this hot summer with fondness, our first summer in New York.

I’ll get a job. We’ll get an apartment (with air conditioning). I may never have a house, a car, or a career, but I’ll be happy living my nomadic life, however unconventional. Either that or  I’ll eat some questionable dumplings from a cart in Chinatown and die of dysentery. All I’m saying is that in the city anything is possible. The summer will end, the heat will dissipate, and change will come. No matter what.

Rain and Trains/Jews/Father’s Day/Drinks

IMG_1184The night before the interview he cut my hair. I sat in front of the open window as he gave me a buzz. He gently turned my head from side to side, and I watched the tiny blond hairs fall into my lap. Outside the rain obscured our view of Manhattan.

We’d just had our first fight. It wasn’t exactly a fight. I’d done something thoughtless that upset him. He assured me repeatedly that he wasn’t mad at me, while I repeatedly apologized. Because we rent a room in someone else’s apartment, there were no other rooms for us to retreat to. So he cut my hair, and then we watched a movie.

The next day I had an interview in Plainview, NY. The commute from Brooklyn was two and a half hours, two subway lines, a train, a bus, and a very long walk. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but they were the only company (aside from some staffing agencies) to call me in for an interview. After my subway transfer, I caught the Long Island Rail Road to a town called Hicksville, NY. I sat on the empty train and watched the rain over the green, New York countryside. At the train station I caught a bus to the office.

The bus stopped over a mile from the building, so I walked in the rain. When the sidewalk ended, I walked in wet grass. A truck sped past me and splattered me with mud.

In the interview a small, rotund woman with a thick, Long Island accent asked me about the trip. “The last person we hired from the city quit because the commute was too much.” She said.

“It was fine.” I assured her, smiling too broadly, inwardly wondering if I really would be willing to travel that far every day for a job I knew I wouldn’t like.

On Friday I had a temporary assignment as a receptionist for a staffing agency. After working from home for the past two and a half years, it was very strange to put on nice clothes and go into an office. I walked through the Financial District in the early morning past a group of kids protesting at a corner church. They were curled up in sleeping bags on the sidewalk with signs about taxing religious institutions with anonymous masks and New Kids on the Block blankets. Down the street from them, a real homeless person was rummaging through a garbage bin for the remains of someone’s discarded water bottle.

For most of my work day I sat in front of a phone that didn’t ring. I doodled nine squares on a notepad, and with each passing hour I marked out a square. When people did call, it was mostly other job seekers wanting to talk to a recruiter. I marveled at how unprofessional they all sounded and wondered if they were going to get a job before I do.

***

“They could kill us, and no one would say anything.” Carlos said as we walked through Williamsburg. We’d walked across the Williamsburg Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. In Williamsburg we found ourselves surrounded by orthodox Jews in long, black coats with their glasses, ringlets, and large, round, furry hats. We walked for blocks and blocks without seeing any other people who weren’t thus bedecked. Even the parking signs were written in Hebrew. It felt as if we’d suddenly entered another country.

The surreal feeling didn’t end until some kids riding bikes past us said, “These people are crazy!”

***

On Father’s Day I dutifully called my dad for the second of our bi-annual conversations that occur on his birthday and on Father’s day. I didn’t want to call, but figured calling would be easier on me than dealing with the drama that would ensue from not calling.

My dad was at work near Laredo, TX, servicing construction equipment. He’s been working 90 hours a week in places like Louisiana and Laredo, despite the fact that they own their home, have no debt, and have enough in the bank to retire. Obviously I did not inherit his work ethic.

Like all of our conversations, this one was awkward, and I suspect, painful for both of us.

“Have you found a woman in New York, yet?” He asked.

“No.” I said, exasperated that he was at this again.

“Well, we want some grandkids.” He said.

“Don’t hold your breath.” I told him.

His consistent refusal to acknowledge that I’m gay is something that once upset me greatly, but is now merely another annoyance. I feel nothing for him, really. If my mother wasn’t alive, I probably wouldn’t bother continuing to talk to him at all.

We spoke briefly before he had to get back to work. He asked if I’d gotten mugged yet, and if I was ready to move again. I wished him happy Father’s day, and was relieved to have gotten out of the way so that Carlos and I could enjoy the rest of our day.

***

“See, we don’t need money.” Carlos said when we were walking home. “We just need friends with money.”

We’d spent the day with some friends of his who were visiting from San Francisco. They were a generation and a class removed from us, well dressed gay men who cattily referred to one another as “she,” who go to Patty Lupone concerts, and take vacations in Cambodia.  We spent the day going from bar to cafe to bar to bar to bar to restaurant. I don’t often drink alcohol, in fact, it had been more than a year since I’d had an alcoholic beverage, but they were buying, and a gin and tonic or four seemed in order.

I mostly sat by Ali who has his own fragrance and maintains apartments in San Francisco and New York. We all laughed and joked with one another. An event called Folsom East was going on, and I found myself in the midst of a throng of scantily clad, overweight, hirsute men in leather thongs. In a bar called The Eagle, we sat in a back corner watching a strange man dance on a platform with a bulky, black sweater, a red neck kerchief, a hiked up pink miniskirt, and black stockings. Beside him a large black man was getting head from a small white man, as people casually walked by with drinks.

On the rooftop bar of a hotel in Chelsea, we took in the view of the Empire State building. I asked some lesbians if they were from Scotland, and they were incensed and insisted they were from England.

Before going to a charity event, the guys bought us gluten free pizza at a semi-fancy Italian place in Hell’s Kitchen. Slightly inebriated we took the subway back to Brooklyn. Our knees touched. Carlos made faces at me while I giggled. We walked back up to our room and took our clothes off, lying in front of a fan on a warm night, in front of an open window with all of Manhattan spread out before us.

Upper West-Side Story

IMG_1291Carlos and I like to visit the Upper West Side and pretend that we live there. The pristine sidewalks are largely bereft of the tourists that crowd Times Square, or as bereft of tourists as any New York neighborhood can be. We stroll through the tree lined streets, past the Barnes and Noble, the Trader Joe’s, the chic little restaurants and cafes that we can’t afford.

A couple of of spoiled girls were selling lemonade in front of a ritzy apartment building. Their monthly allowance is probably more than our salaries. Of course I don’t know that they’re spoiled. I just can’t imagine anyone who grew up in such opulent surroundings could have a real grasp on the struggles of the proletariat. I bought a red, plastic cup full of sticky, sweet lemonade anyway. Today I’m one of the bourgeoisie.

We sat on a park bench, enjoying the cool breeze in front of a fountain and a sign advising not to feed the pigeons.

An old woman walked up to me, with a cane, and a long, dark coat, stringy, white/gray hair, and a smile right out of the British Book of Smiles. She stood in front of me and said, “Should I go throw myself off the Verrazano Bridge?”

I didn’t miss a beat as I answered, “No, that’s a horrible idea!” A brief pause before adding, “The Verrazano Bridge doesn’t have a pedestrian cross-walk. You couldn’t even get up there. You’d be better off going for the Manhattan Bridge.”

The old woman laughed, and said she’d go for the Golden Gate Bridge, but she’d have to fly there.

I said, “It’s gorgeous, though.”

She agreed.

She sat down beside me and confided that the reason she was distraught was because someone she’d spoken to on the sidewalk didn’t know who Frank Sinatra was.

“Old Blue Eyes.” I said. “Well, there really is no reason to go on.”

We sat in the park for a while, and the old woman began to talk to a lesbian beside us, who’d been intently studying a map of the city, and then she lamented the fact that she couldn’t feed the pigeons.

“I wonder what God has to say about that?” She asked of no one in particular.

I wondered which of the ritzy apartment buildings she’d come from. With her cane, I figured she hadn’t walked very far. I wonder if she owned the apartment outright, or if she had some wonderful deal on a spacious, rent controlled walk-up she’d lived in since the sixties? I imagined dusty hardwood floors, french doors, ornate crown molding, stacks of newspaper, a garbage overflowing with chinese takeout, the smell of cats.

I wondered if she knew how lucky she was to be living in such a beautiful neighborhood in such an amazing city.

Before we left, I turned to her and said, “Have a good evening. Avoid bridges.”

She smiled toothily and said, “Have a wonderful life.”

I said, “You too.”

A Room of One’s Own

Before she rented us the room, Satyama asked us our astrological signs. Uncertainly I answered, “Cancer?” While Carlos confidently said, “Sagittarius.”  Apparently this answer was satisfactory because she smiled and nodded, and said “I’m an Aries, so we’ll get along fine.” Carlos and I smiled too, eager to appease her.   Having unsuccessfully attempted to rent two apartments in Manhattan, we were desperate enough to agree with nearly anything, including paying $1,000 a month to rent a room in the cheaper, but slightly less desirable borough of Brooklyn.

“This is a meat-free kitchen,” she said to us as she gave us a brief tour of the apartment. I try to imagine what my mother back in Iola, Texas would think about me renting a room from an older, African American, lesbian vegetarian, but find it impossible to do so. New York in general is far beyond her ability to comprehend. It’s all I can do not to trip over my own jaw 99% of the time.

We agree to her terms, though not without some reservations on my part. It makes me uneasy that we didn’t sign anything, so that if anything goes wrong, we have no recourse, and she has our $2,000, first and last month’s rent. It makes me uneasy that she seems very particular about the cleanliness of the bathroom and kitchen to the point where I don’t feel comfortable venturing into either. Carlos doesn’t seem to share my concern, so I put on a brave front, for his sake.

Carlos believes in staying positive and optimistic, because what you put out into the universe is what you get back from it. While I like this thought, and try my best to think in terms of the affirmative, my pessimistic (nihilistic) nature can’t help formulating a Plan B.  A “What will we do if she kicks us out and doesn’t give our money back?” A “What happens if I can’t get a job before the three months we’ve agreed to sublet the room is up?”  I try not to think about it, but in the back of my mind, I’m somewhat comforted to know that I have enough funds on my emergency credit card for a ticket back to Texas, if need be.

For now, we have two more months, at least, with a roof over our heads. The room itself is big, and bright, and comes furnished with a a small bed, that, though springy, is better than the floor I’ve become accustomed to sleeping on. There is a window that lets in a cool breeze, and harbors a view of the Manhattan skyline that is enviable. We have a door that shuts, and for the first time in over a month we have something I’d taken for granted in Seattle, privacy. We’re only a couple of subway stops away from Manhattan, and centrally located so that we’re close to everything. A few blocks away there is a park and a farmer’s market.

The building itself is a tall, brick one in a historic district full of beautiful, old buildings.  The streets are tree-lined and full of families with strollers. The building has a security guard on staff at all times, so I feel safe. The building itself is very quiet, but the same can’t be said for the street below. In the place we left, out in Queens, all we could hear, most of the time, was the sound of the ocean, of water and waves, occasionally broken by the shrill screeching of the woman next door. Now we hear sirens, people yelling, dogs barking. City sounds.

“We’re going to have to get used to it.” Carlos says, and I agree.

We’ve only been there a couple of days, and things are working out as well as can be expected. It’s a three bedroom apartment, but the other tenant, a gay man in his late twenties, has been absent since we’ve been there, and our host, is scarcely seen. She said when we rented the place that she’s very private, and even her friends rarely visit her. She mostly stays in her rooms which are closed off, with only the faint smell of incense indicating a richer life beyond the curtained walls.

For the most part we stay out until it’s time to unwind and go to bed.

“We didn’t come to New York to stay inside!” Carlos says. Instead we explore the neighborhood. Last night we walked across the Manhattan bridge (that has a better view than it’s more famous Brooklyn cousin) and walked down to Hell’s Kitchen where we had dinner at a trendy eatery called Vynl. The restaurant had four bathrooms, each dedicated to a famous musician, Elvis, Dolly Parten, Cher, and for reasons unknown, Nelly. Rather than use the bathroom in our apartment, I utilized the “Dolly” bathroom and took a picture of the Dolly mosaic inside as “9 to 5” played overhead. When the check came I checked my own anxiety that we’re just hemorrhaging money.

Today Carlos is at work, and, because I didn’t feel comfortable in the room without him, I came along too. I walk through Battery Park where women push babies on strollers, and shirtless men throw a football back and forth, and joggers heave, red faced and breathless on the path as they pass me. I get an unnecessary ice cream and pretend, for the moment, that I’m only on vacation, that tomorrow I’ll go back to work, to a real life. Maybe Carlos is right, and if I keep thinking that tomorrow I’m going to get  a job, and that the two of us will get an apartment of our own in the city, then maybe it will become true.

For now I’m content to enjoy the unaccustomed sunshine, an unnecessary ice cream, and a room of our own.

 

The Subway

IMG_1193Every day I ride the subway. Descend the worn steps down into the bowels of the city. The carved out antiquated tunnels that have never seen sunlight. Past the more modern turnstiles with their automated ticket readers, down more steps to wait on platforms. To squeeze into crowded cars, packed tightly, hip to shoulder with a bunch of strangers. Eyes focused diligently on books, cell phones or e-readers. Old women with bags of groceries, tired tourists with overstuffed suitcases headed to the airport, fashionable young men with scruffy beards, eyeing every stranger who gets on.

When Carlos points out that the subway is over 100 years old, I am amazed. In places like Grand Central or Penn Station you can see the decaying grandeur and imagine how splendid it must have been when it was new. Even in it’s current, crumbling sprawl it is amazing. A modern marvel of ingenuity funneling millions of locals and tourists all over the metropolis every day. I’ve never lived in a city where traveling was so convenient and reliable.

I cling, ape-like, with one hand on the overhead bar, going to shops, museums, or more lately job interviews. Shouldering my messenger bag with a portfolio containing copies of my resume. I dutifully put on a tie and fake a smile and firm handshake for temp agencies. Selling myself as a “people person” and “outgoing” to get some entry level job that pays half of what I was making in Seattle.

I’ve applied with every staffing agency listed online. Most recently I found myself at a staffing agency that was designed to help people with disabilities “live and work with dignity.” When I submitted my resume, I didn’t notice their mission statement, so I had an awkward interview with a woman who no doubt wondered what an able bodied person like me was doing there. For me it was another demoralizing blow in an already humiliating search for a source of income.

Sometimes, after these interviews, after taking tests to prove that I can file, or type, or use a web browser, I don’t want to get back on the subway right away. To go back to the coastal neighborhood with the thick, Queens accents and weathered boardwalk. Sometimes I find myself sitting in a park, watching the hustle and bustle of the city. The people in newer, more stylish clothing walking with purpose from high rise office buildings to wait in line at Starbucks or a hot dog cart. Sometimes I find myself reluctant to walk down those steps again, and join the other runners in the race.

At first the well mannered, southern man in me felt compelled to relinquish my seat to every woman standing. But this sentiment quickly faded to cynical feminism after a few weeks of being on my feet all day and having an hour and a half commute out to Rockaway Park where we are staying. Now pregnant women and the elderly are the only people I’d even consider giving up a seat for.

Some of the subway platforms are well lit, spotless. Most are dank, trash strewn, and crawling with rats who scurry through the debris oblivious to, or completely unafraid of, their human observers. Carlos, who has a misplaced fondness for rats, will inevitably exclaim, “Oh look, a baby!”  I’ll turn, to see a mouse scurrying between the tracks.  All I can think about are germs, and I find myself holding my breath and hesitant to touch anything.

Sometimes it is hot and humid, the air heavy and hard to breathe. The musky stench of sweat and stale breathing. Sometimes it’s freezing, and people huddle together or shiver in winter coats. Sometimes we’ll walk into an auspiciously empty car, amazed at our luck in finding a place to sit when the other cars are full, only to be confronted with a homeless person reeking of a year old sour milk smell, or a schizophrenic prostitute pacing the length of the car swearing that she’s going to have the President impeached. We sit, not making eye contact, and quickly change cars at the next stop.

Often people are selling things. A kid who calls himself “The Candyman” sells cookies and candy for $1. A pair of gentleman have a whole, polished comedy routine as they sell pirated DVDs of movies that aren’t even out in theaters yet. Other times musicians, a family who plays the accordion, a man in a wheelchair who plays the electric guitar, or pan flute players will get on, play some tune in varying degrees of incompetence, then walk (or roll) through to collect change. There is a group of women (at least three distinct ones) that get on carrying a toddler with a sign saying they are homeless, and asking for money. But they all have the same accent, nice clothes, and the exact same sign that makes me think that it’s a scam and they’re going back to some nice apartment with their plunder.

Occasionally the person next to me will speak about the weather, or the delays when they happen. Once a signal problem held up all the trains going through one station for over an hour and it took us three hours to get home. But most of the time the trains are running on schedule. I’ll answer politely, pleased with the unexpected human interaction, and then look at my hands again.

We usually ride the A train because it’s the only one that goes to Rockaway Park. For reasons unknown to me, there are two A trains, and a couple of times I’ve gotten on the wrong one, and had to transfer to get back to where I was going. Sometimes I look up to realize that I’m the only white person on the A train, which is an odd sensation, especially moving from Seattle where the lack of diversity sometimes made it feel like a city of Aryans. As odd as that situation seems at time, I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the train. Sometimes I find myself riding just to ride. To go somewhere. Anywhere.

Tomorrow we’re moving to Brooklyn. The A train will be replaced with a hub, a slew of options. There is a new neighborhood to explore in our second-choice borough, having been denied the apartment we were applying for in Manhattan.

Right now Carlos is at work, and I’m sitting in a coffeehouse in TriBeCa with free wifi. I’m wearing a shirt and tie and my nice shoes on the off chance that a temp agency wants me to come in for a last minute assignment in midtown. But as the day wears on, even this hope fades, and I look at my overpriced cup of hot chocolate, thinking better of having spent the money on something nonessential.

He gets off at 10:30, and we’ll go, one last time to the old haunt in Queens, to pack up our things and take it to our new room in Brooklyn. We’ll sit side by side on the orange, or yellow seats that haven’t been refurbished since the 70s it seems. I’ll hold the bag of groceries for him. His knee will press my knee, and I’ll look at him and smile. This familiarity in a strange city, a bit of warmth as we take the long subway ride home.