August 22, 2011

in need of armor

Shortly after we moved here, I read a book called The Weird Sisters which was entertaining and unusual, and not just because the patriarch in the store communicates almost entirely in Shakespearean quotes. The book really has nothing to do what-so-ever with New York except for the fact that, at the very beginning, one of the characters is escaping from the city. She's running away for reasons that I'm pretty sure I'll never have to deal with - embezzlement and fraud not being amongst my talents (or vices) but there was a moment, early on in the story, where the narrator talks about the armour that the girl must put on each day in order to exist in the city. Armor, here, is not really armor, of course. It's fancy heels and designer clothes and a severe and uncompromising attitudes. I remember thinking That's not the New York I live in when I read the line.

And it's not. That New York, I think, really does exist. In fact I'm positive that it does. I've walked through it, seen the stick thin women wearing black sheath dresses and shoes that cost more than a months rent for our apartment. But it's really not the New York we live in. We live in a much softer city, up here on the hill. Never the less, armor is required for our New York as well.

I think that when we first move here, I went through a sort of a honeymoon phase with this city. The mostly cool and pleasant weather, the quiet summer streets around the university. It seemed clean and pretty and exciting. And it is all of those things.

But for every exciting thing, there is a sucky thing. Sure, you can buy thirty different kinds of lettuce leaves as the farmers market, but you also have to haul all your groceries home with you, unless you remember to order before the cutoff time, which you usually don't. And handy dandy as your grocery cart is (remember Fifi? Well, she's getting lots of use) it's still a pain to try to pull it up the stairs of the subway station or up the hill to your house or even just through the narrow grocery store aisles with two kids in tow. For every amazing thing that New York offers, and there are many, many amazing things, there is something that is so difficult you want to pull your hair out.

I teeter between just tolerating this city and adoring it. My feelings swing on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Every single thing you could ever want to do in life can, most probably, be found here. And, more often than not, at some point during the year, it's free to do it, because that's just how this city rolls. You have to find it, but it's there.

There are places that are breathtakingly beautiful and horrifyingly nasty, you can go from feeling perfectly safe to terrified in the space of minutes. It's thrilling and awe inspiring and unlike anywhere I've ever been and I can totally understand why people never leave. But it's also hard, and it can be lonely. And it's totally exhausting.

I've come to the conclusion that the reason New Yorkers have a reputation for eating out all the time isn't the amazing array of take out options or the small kitchens or the trendy restaurants or even the rushed lifestyle. It's exhaustion. When, at the end of your day, you leave whatever it is you've been doing, be it in an office or a classroom or a playground, you schlep yourself down the subway stairs, onto a crowded and hot train, up the subway stairs, down the street to your building, up the stairs to your apartment and in through the door, the last thing you want to do is start chopping and prepping and stirring. Because you are so bone tired that you almost don't want to eat. Or at least that's how I often feel at the end of the day. Nothing particularly hard has happened, no temper tantrums or missed buses or lost bags. In fact, the day has generally been fun, it's just that, by the time we fall through the door, I am done for, wiped and it's often all I can do to crank the heat up on a pot of water for some mac and cheese.

Maybe I'm in a new phase in my relationship with New York. I've passed the honeymoon phase, the shine has worn off. I still enjoy it, but now I'm getting down to the more serious business of getting to know this place. Figuring out how it squeezes its toothpaste and which way it likes the toilet paper to roll. things like that. And then, after a while, it wont be so mind numbingly tiring and thrilling all at once, it will just be comfortable and good and safe, like a happy marriage eleven years in.