"you're a go-getter, kid." that's what nick said. this is when i was 22 and lived in new york city. nick was a friend of a doctor i'd worked for in west virginia and he helped me out when my company kicked me out of my free apartment on the upper east side, at 79th and lexington to be exact, above a restaurant/bar called nick's. i was kicked out because i was quitting my job. i had given them notice. they were not as gracious in return. kicked me out the same day, which, as would follow, exponentially sped up my quitting. they sent the girl from the office — who looked like she had a nasal voice but didn't, who was pale in the face and paler in personality, who used her proximity to fame and beauty and power like a tire pump to inflate her sense of self-importance — to make sure i was getting out NOW. anyhow, i've told this story before.
the point is, nick was right about me.
the other point is, what i'm going and getting isn't easily gotten.
the subpoint is, new york city is one of the many sculptors of my life.
before i lived there, i visited new york city for the first time when i was 20. i wish i could re-feel the feeling of that first moment when i exited the metal bullet and walked up those steps onto the city street and was suddenly, gloriously another tiny bug milling around the floor of the forest of sequoia skyscrapers. a speck among millions of specks. i remember not exactly but close enough what it looked like exiting the subway that day.
a few weeks or a month prior, i can't recall, i'd answered an ad in a magazine, maybe cosmo, recruiting volunteers for fashion week runway shows. i was selected for the job, but i had to pay my own way. before leaving my little hometown for the big city for the first time, i bought a new tube of grape-colored lipstick from the lancome counter at the meadowbrook mall, with matching eyeshadow, and an all-black outfit, including a pair of clunky black loafers, from mode roman on high street in morgantown. i planned to wear my hair straight, too. curls wouldn't suit the severe style i had in mind.
i recruited my brother and my friend traci to come along. we stayed in new jersey and rode the path (the subway system between jersey and nyc) into the city every day. in 1997, the shows were held at chelsea piers in lower manhattan. the building was cold and stark except for buzz of its temporary inhabitants. when the shows weren't there, i bet those rooms sat severe, barren, and resolutely silent. it was a tight-lipped librarian of a building. i rode an unwelcoming freight elevator to get to my floor. one morning i rode along with a model, who could've been every model: skinny. tall. stringy hair. wearing cool boots and a look of boredom. for some shows i helped with seating out front, and for one show (the designer "ghost," i think) i dressed models backstage. one girl was really nice. i'd remember her name if i heard it again, but i've never heard it again. evidently stardom never found her. one girl was not nice, at all, and later she became fairly famous as a model. life, the great perpetrator of irony.
my brother ended up working for the shows, too, as a greeter. he said regis philbin was a jerk. it didn't matter. as i was living out a fantasy, so was my brother: he found the old haunts of jeff buckley, the musician whose music had reached inside and shaken my brother's soul. he even, by movie-like serendipity, came across a bartender who had been a friend of jeff's. we sat at that bar for hours. it was called 2-A, clearly stating its location at avenue a and second street. a practical name for a bar in a city built on a grid. the drunks could easily find it.
i took the city with me when i left. all the exhilaration i felt from the cacophony and the never-ending everything you could imagine, i kept it like a permanently held breath in my mind. i didn't release that breath when i finally moved to new york city, or when i returned months after leaving to gather my belongings, or when i visited another three times with friends. i'm still holding that breath, savoring it. i might hold it forever.
there was a go-getting girl in me before i met the city, and she undoubtedly flourished after we met. i used to consider moving to the city again. not now. i want my boy to have a front
porch, maybe a back one, too, and a yard. i want him to hear crickets on
summer nights. i want his childhood to be a little like mine, because mine was really pure and safe and good. and i want his childhood to be a little unlike mine, because i never went anywhere as a child.
one day i'll take my son to the city. maybe once a year, if we can.
we'll eat pastries while walking around the west village. we'll go to
museums and central park. he'll sit on my lap in the subway car. i'll take him to the city so he can see why being one tiny speck among millions is motivating, even when it's exasperating. i'll tell him that go-getting doesn't mean you always get what you want when you want it. i'll tell him to be a bit more careful than his mother but not so careful that he never experiences the thrill of taking a leap without looking. i'll tell him the absolute wonderfulness and the utter awfulness of it all.
thank you, you crowded, cold, rude, incorrigible island. i look forward to seeing you again.