Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It gets a little grimy.

The only negative thing I have to say about New York is that it's a little bit bad for your skin.

My plane touched back down in KC at around 11:30 on Sunday evening and I hit the ground running and haven't stopped since, which is why I haven't written, but I'm afraid if I wait too much longer I'll lose the onomotopaeia that was running on a continuous loop in my brain during my entire vacation.

When I got off the train and into my taxi, I was determined to be blase about the whole affair. My friend had been joking earlier about Midwesterners in the double decker tour busses, with their unfortunate clothing and omnipresent dopey grins on their faces and even though they're my peeps, I didn't want to be that way. I was surprised, too, that as we were heading from Queens into Manhattan that New York wasn't this big, huge THING I imagined it was. When I was a little kid, I used to read atlases and maps like they were picture books, and I memorized the geography of the places I most wanted to visit. I used to be able to name eight streets in any direction from the Eiffel Tower, and I know London like I'd lived there all my life. But New York...New York City was the one that consumed me the most. I followed Broadway with my finger as it sliced through the pink map blob of Manhattan...memorized the location of every park, whispered the names of the neighborhoods to myself like they were a private, sacred liturgy. When I grew older New York became the setting of the books and movies in which I'd lose myself on a Sunday afternoon, where life passed by in a Woody Allen montage of sitting on park benches and window shopping on 5th Avenue, where I watched four rather ridiculous women date, break up, get married, and have preposterous sex all while conducting their own true love affairs with the city where it all happened. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Gershwin, The Met and the Guggenheim and Central Park...everything in New York had reached this enormous, overpowering mythical status in my heart and mind, and when my friend and I worked out the details of my visit there, I thought my entire body was going to explode with the sheer exuberance of finally getting to see what I had built up over the past twenty years. So I have no idea why I decided I wanted to play too cool for the Big Apple, other than my fear of being lumped in with the gaggles of gawking tourists from Des Moines and Broken Arrow, but I hailed my cab and barked out my destination with as jaded a voice as possible in the hopes that I could blend in with the city and its millions of harried, irritable citizens.

The cynicism lasted until I made it to my friend's apartment and he grabbed my hand and made a beeline for the windows of his living room and bedroom. The views...my God, the views in this building! The Empire State Building to the left and off in the distance, the Woolworth Building close enough to see across into its hundreds of windows; from the elevator lobby on his floor the Statue of Liberty looked like a tiny, blue-grey Army man across the harbor. I would've coveted the apartment anyway because of the hardwood floors and the gas range and the superdeep bathtub, but the views had me at hello and I think I would've been perfectly happy perched on my host's window ledge and staring out over the mindboggling expanse of buildings reaching all the way to the mountains of New Jersey.
For the rest of the trip, my vocabulary failed me and I had to resort to the most trite exclamations over and over and over again with each landmark we saw. I think I used up my lifetime quota of "awesome" and "amazing" before we even made it north of Canal St. We went to Chinatown and Little Italy and on the subway and to Rockefeller Center and Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and Columbus Circle and I've forgotten the rest but we went nearly everywhere. The two things that got me, though...really took my breath away were Times Square and Central Park. I initially didn't want to go to Times Square; we had walked a lot and we were sweaty and tired and it just seemed like such a silly thing to go look at giant billboards and the Naked Cowboy. We ended up going anyway, and I couldn't hide the huge grin on my face as I felt the energy and excitement of all the lights and the people and...just...everything. If I could've hired an orchestra to stand behind me and play Rhapsody in Blue, I would've, because that was the only thing that could've possibly defined a good New York Moment for me.

And Central Park...wow. Oh wow. Wow. That's all I could say, was "Wow." And it wasn't even anything specifically impressive about the park itself (although the giant boulevard with those incredible trees that framed everything so perfectly that I felt like I was in a Seurat painting absolutely made me stop dead in my tracks), but the more I thought about how much planning and foresight it took for those guys back during the Industrial Revolution to preserve 16 square miles of nature and to make it beautiful and special and fill it with exquisite things so everywhere you walked you felt like you were in a story book, the more I started to realize that it was the little things that makes New York what it is. The way every old building seems to hold secrets inside the ornate trimmings on their facades. How the streets of Manhattan were each made a monument to the history that transpired there. How you could walk down the streets and hardly ever see the same type of person in a row. And what struck me the most was just how intricately connected everyone and everything in the city was; 8 million people who manage to live and work and pretty much stay out of one another's way in a city that exists to serve every need they might have. That feeling of being connected, of experiencing the energy and vitality of all those people, of being a part of something bigger than myself...those emotions finally, mercifully made me feel so alive, and it's a high I haven't quite come down from yet.

On the plane ride back to Missouri my usual neuroses about flying were replaced with something a little more zen. I curled up under my blanket and stared out the window as the city gave way to perfectly arranged suburbs, which blended into the huge patchwork quilt of farmland that stretched from Ohio all the way back home. I realized that a huge part of my problem right now is that I don't feel connected to anything here. Missouri is my home, and I respect the people I know and I'm proud of my state and the towns where I've lived, but I don't really feel like I belong here. I never have, and as long as I continue to exist in this culture of country music and cow tipping, I probably won't be able to shake the feeling of being a puzzle piece that got mixed into the wrong box. I don't know if moving to a big, giant city like New York would solve the problem, but I liked what I felt there, and I'd like to feel it again.

I just did some calculations, and I think I could maybe afford a Manhattan apartment if 8 other people lived with me. I totally think it'd be doable if we kept to a strict bathroom schedule and, like, three of those people weren't super picky about camping out on the fire escape. It'd be fun!

So who's with me on a co-op in TriBeCa?


Vickie said...

I am so glad that you had a good time.

A Happy Wife said...

I'm a Missourian (North East Jefferson County, about 50 miles from St.Louis)and while I lived there I couldn't imagine loving any other place more. The rolling green hills, lakes and trees are a part of my heart forever. My family is all still there. That being said, the best decision I ever made in my life was marrying my husband and moving to Southern California. It's opened up the world to me. I feel deeply at home in the artsy little beach communities here in a way I never could embrace the tiny rural town I grew up in. It's opened an area of my soul that I didn't realize I was suppressing back in my old life.

If you have even the slightest yearning to move and explore a new place I think you should go for it. Otherwise it will always be there in the back of your mind, the lurking "what if" that will never really allow you to be completely content. It seems like now might be the perfect time to go chasing your dreams. Say it doesn't work out, you're still young enough to recover and start over yet again. Perhaps you could just give it a little try. You wouldn't have to completely give up your current life. Maybe you could just head to New York for one summer and see how it goes. Perhaps be a summer roomate, maybe look into a summer course in a college there (preferably with a dorm room). There must be options so that you could try it out before diving in feet first. If you really want something badly enough you'll figure out a way!


PastaQueen said...

I'm in! And I call dibs on the bathroom.

Norabear said...

A wonderful entry today. I was grinning all the way through it. It made me want to visit NYC, too!