Sunday, July 25, 2010

Red lipstick, Red Wine

I sat at the bar late last Friday night in New York. It was quiet, the music played, the bartender and I discussed wine. New York has been oppressive. I cannot recall ever feeling so alone in such a large city. Without trying I'm isolated constantly.

I sit at the bar, I order a bottle of wine, thinking to console myself, to celebrate being able to flee the big unfriendly town.

She walks in and sits next to me. She is bright red lipstick and dark hair, sun-kissed skin, big warm eyes. She sits down next to me. I offer her a glass from my bottle and we begin to talk.

There is warm and sunshine in her smile, her smell, and I can't help notice that I sit closer to her without meaning to. I wonder why she would want to be so close to me, so near me, but as the wine warms me up and soothes the nerves that have been on edge for weeks I find her charm enticing, alluring, memorizing. She touches my hand, sending those warm sunny vibrations through the air, my arm, and my mind.

I touch her back. Warm skin, warm hand under mine. The conversation is friendly with a touch of dark, sharing. Real conversation in a quiet warm bar, conversation that is not just small talk with a bartender trying to make a tip.

I'm enchanted.

I offer to walk her home as the bottle is finished. She says it's not too far. On this late-night walk I notice the city. The lights, the enchantment. I feel like I can suddenly understand that fascination it holds for so many people. Maybe it is that I am suddenly happy, suddenly have a reason to want to be in New York. Maybe it is just her hand in mind. I find myself holding onto her, Korean style, arm in arm, hand in hand as we walk.

I walk her up to her apartment. We stand by a window and look out on the view she has. New York, her slice of it, a slice I can appreciate. Here, now, something different. Something new.

I look at her, into her, into her sweet red lips. She tastes like wine, our shadows on the window like wine-tinted stains blending together into a puddle to block out the city. Her lips are red. Her hands are warm. I find myself waking up on my last day in New York, suddenly wishing I had more time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Art, Baklava, Manhattan, and Friends

I was basically midway through the course; indeed, we were almost finished. My room in Washington Heights was clean and comfortable. Aside from the fact that the neighborhood shops opened at eight and closed at nine, it was all right. The problem with the store hours is that my hours were 7 to roughly 10, which left little time for things like grocery shopping, but after three weeks I’d learned to make due and work around it.

On waking up on my last Sunday morning in NYC I had a lot of grading to look forward to, which I was not looking forward to. A mail check revealed that a friend doing a show somewhere outside of Manhattan. This meant that her husband (one of my best friends from college) would be within reach were I to get on a train and head outside of Manhattan. I wasn't sure about leaving Manhattan, as from what I have been given to understand that world stops at the end of Manhattan and you are entering whole other countries; a passport may in fact be required to leave the center of the city. Regardless, I figured it would be worth a try to see what else was going on in NYC and what else might be interesting.

Being up early I went to the local coffee shop, got all my grading done by two, and realized there was time to be killed between now and the trip outside of Manhattan. I decided to go to MOMA as I keep hearing about it. I enjoy art and figured this may indeed be a good time. Unlike the Art Institute an entrance fee is required and it’s pretty steep. Although Chicago's Art Institute has a recommended donation (you can actually donate less then what is recommended to get in) of seven dollars, at MOMA it was twenty, flat, no negotiation.

Except I noticed on the sign this thing about having a valid student ID.

It just so happens that I had had this conversation during my first week of teaching.

“Would you like an ID?”

“I don’t really need one, but sure, I guess.”

“Well, let’s make you one anyway, so the guard doesn’t give you a hard time.”

“Sure that seems fine.”

*flashing camera lights*

“So, I have the ID’s; there's only one problem.”

“Okay, what’s the problem?”

“Well, your ID here...well I didn’t have any teacher ID’s, so I just made you a student ID.”

“That’s fine, it’s not that big a deal, the guard has been pretty reasonable, and I don’t think anyone will actually notice.”

“Okay, sorry about that, here you go.”

I looked at the cost of entering with a valid student ID. Twelve dollars.



“Hi, I’d like a pass; here is my student ID.”

The art was good. I’m a fan of modern art: Rothko, Pollack, Dali, and Picasso turn most of my wheels with their interpretations on realism, abstract, love, death, life. Life.

Standing in front of Jackson Pollack’s Masterpiece One, Number 31, was awe inspiring. When I walked into the room and saw it I almost started to cry, I could feel the emotion bubbling up under the surface and there it was on canvas on huge canvas, easily fifteen feet long and roughly six or seven high. It felt as large at the world; it was so other, so extraordinary.

I like to get close to paintings when I go to a museum, as close as I can get without getting thrown out. I sometimes put my nose near this work so I can could smell what was there to smell, but more it is seeing what the artist did. On this canvas you can see his fingerprints. You can see stray hairs from the brushes. A long straight strand, maybe Pollock’s own, stuck on the canvas. There are sneaker prints here and there, shoes walked across the canvass when the paint was layered. Here are the results. I wonder what kind of shoes he was wearing to make this impression. That the artist can walk fearlessly across a work that people could be arrested for touching now. Fingerprints decorate throughout. There are fingerprints everywhere on the canvass. It’s chaotic and hectic, a swirl rapturous, desirable. I could sit there all day and meditate on it.

MOMA held some other surprises and wonders. A small collection of Marguerite, a little Dali, some classic Picasso sketches of ribald sexuality. And Klimt. I stood at the Klimt awhile. Not the stunning Judith (and only two pieces), but I got as close as I could just to see the glint of the artist living there creating within that time. It was lovely and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Afterward I still had some time before my trip out of Manhattan. I did bring my passport just in case, for fear that border guards may feel a need to forbid my exit to other parts of NYC without it. I figured since I had time I might try to get some coffee to keep me peppy. As I was walking the warm of the evening was picking up a bit. I started to think of baklava.

Yes, baklava.

My mind became fixated on baklava.

I wanted it.

I needed it.

Sticky sweet crusted walnuts in honey on phylo dough playing on my tongue and firing up all my sense. Cool honey running through my system to cool the other parts of my blood warmed by the sticky summer sun and humid clouds that hung over the city since my arrival.

Yes, baklava.

As I walked I found a deli and I thought to myself this looked like the sort of place that might have baklava. When the door opened I heard a booming “How you doin’?” from one of the chefs behind the counter. It made me smile, being the first “howdy” I’d had so far in the city. I, walked toward the cooler and saw it there. It did not look like Chicago baklava from Greek Town, but it looked all right. It looked like it could satisfy my craving with a little ice coffee.

I ordered, grabbed the tray, and sat down with my acquired goodies. Chef “Howyadoin” looked at me from behind the counter and smiled and nodded his head. I smiled back as I cut into the baklava and opened my mouth. He smiled again as I put the piece of honey-coated walnut and phylo into my mouth. He continued to watch as, in a moment of horror, I realized that what had touched my tongue represented all that was wrong with the world. Before I could even close my mouth I wanted it out, this outrage against baklava, crime against desserts everywhere. It was foul and hideous and I forced my mouth to close around it even though every tastebud in my body screamed at me to spit it out because Howyadoin was still staring at me and smiling from the counter.

I smiled around the abomination against taste that was riding my tongue and reached desperately for a napkin. I tried not to choke on the wretchedness that was tickling my tongue and inciting a riot with my gag reflex. I tried not to make eye contact with Howyadoin because I was desperate for him to look away so I could spit this atrocious thing out of my mouth. And as soon as I caught a break, two chilling, gut-squirming moments later I did spit it out. Howyadoin made eye contact with me again and I was sure that he must have seen me. I was worried, but smiled, drank my coffee (which was better but not stellar), and read my book in the air conditioning for a few minutes.

I waited for an appropriate amount of time to pass so that I felt I could finish my coffee and leave the shop and toss out the uneaten baklava and napkin without anyone being the wiser. As the coffee neared completion I packed up my things. Howyadoin had been nodding at me during my coffee drinking, in between loud bouts of “How you doin’” as customers came in. I put all my things together and prepared to head towards the trashcan with tray in hand. I looked around but could find no trash.

Howyadoin from behind the counter first called out “You can just leave it there” but then changed to “actually come here I need to talk to you.”

I figured I was busted, he saw me spit out the baklava and wanted to confront me about it. There was nothing I could do, like the baklava I was just going to have to smile and suffer through it. I took a deep breath and walked up to him, handing him the tray.

“Where you from?”

“Chicago, actually.”

“So, how long you been in the city?”

“About three weeks. I’m teaching here.”

“That’s nice. So…what are you doing at 2:30 in the morning?”

“Excuse me?”

“I get off at two thirty, why don’t you come back here then?”

“I’m….what…I’m no, I’m going….I ‘m leaving Manhattan, I’m…” I’m completely unprepared for where this conversation has suddenly gone. I mean, I was all ready to get yelled at for the baklava but had not prepared myself for a proposition.

“Where you livin’?”

“I’m, uptown, but I’m going now. I’m leaving Manhattan.” Somehow I feel that leaving Manhattan should be enough to terrify any true blooded New Yorker out of talking with me. The thought of leaving Manhattan is supposed to instill dread into the heart of most Manhattan dwellers.

“Cool. You should come back here when you finish your show. I get off at 2:30.”

“I’m sorry, I’ll be in bed at 2:30.”


Hopefully, I think.

“Look, I’m really flattered, really, but I have to go. I’m leaving Manhattan.”

“So, how about another night?” To myself I think that perhaps if the baklava had been better I might have considered it, but as I have the baklava to go on as a standard in this situation, that and some freaking pride, I just smile again and turn and leave.

Exiting Manhattan did not require crossing armed borders. My friends were surprised at my turning up at the event, as the one time we had tried to make plans they had bailed on me. At the shocked stammering of “How did you know we were here?” I replied “If you didn’t want to be stalked you shouldn’t post your whereabouts on Facebook.”

The show was good. The return trip home a little longer than usual.

The bed was thankfully empty and I slept peacefully with the anticipation of the last week of work the only thing on my mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bondage Scouts

The hangover was epic and lasted days on end, but this did not keep me from making further plans. I contacted a tall drink of water, friend, and former lover, who is in the city. The once-country girl is now all New York City. Ex is happy to meet me, so I work out how to get a hold of her once I begin to recover from my hangover. We make plans to meet for dinner and I send her my location. I explain that I wouldn’t mind having Mexican food.

I get a message back a few minutes later that the Mexican place next to me is not very good and we will go somewhere else. I think it is odd that she knows the area I happen to be hanging out in so well, but perhaps this is some kind of thing with New Yorkers that they all know the city like the back of their hands. I accept that she knows where I am and just go finish my coffee and work on the huge amount of writing I have on my plate for that day. She texts to ask if it is all right to bring her boyfriend. Being me and being cautious I text back, asking if he knows who I am. She responds with a laugh and says they will be there soon.

She walks in, as lovely as ever. My long lost Ex. I’ve always thought of her as my Ex, the last one I feel like I ever had. The one who broke my heart (and who I got over enough to be friends with anyway). She’s smart, sexy, and looks fantastic. My pulse races as she comes through the door. Her boyfriend is behind her, I smile and resign myself to dealing with it, because that is what I am going to have to do.

We end up going to a Mexican place in SoHo. I am informed that the neighborhood that I am staying in is called Uptown. I also find out the Ex actually lives around the corner from my hotel (explaining how it was that she knew so much about where I was and the food selections nearby). I’m amused.

We walk through a lot of city after we get off at SoHo to get to wherever it is we are going. The place is nice, the food fantastic. My first Mexican food since returning to the U.S., so I am overwhelmed by how amazing it is. I have some tequila as well, and strangely it does make me feel better to drink and know that everything really is going to be all right here. SoHo is a fairly hopping area with lots of things going on. I find that the bars and the art scene remind me a lot of certain parts of Korea with all the young attractive people. We have a few drinks, but in the end call it an early night as all three of us are feeling a little put upon. I agree to meet the Ex tomorrow as it’s my last Saturday before I will officially start work. They help me get back to my neighborhood and I happily crawl into my bunk to sleep.

My roommate moves out the next morning. I say goodbye to her at five a.m. I hope my next roommate will be as nice as she has been. I will move out of the hostel in another day. So far I have truly enjoyed the experience. I’ve found it to be quiet and pleasantly enough set up for all that I was worried about. I spend the next day writing in a coffee shop and then head downtown to find a movie. It seems silly but 42nd Street and a movie theater was easy enough to find. The price is what I expect to pay to see a movie and it’s cool after a day of writing in a coffee shop. I ask the Ex if she wants to join me for dinner, but she says no. I tell her I’m going to find dinner and the wine bar my magic box says is in the neighborhood when I get back.

Sadly, the wine bar did not exist where the magic box said it should. I did find a place that made hummus so I gorged on hummus. The night before when talking with the Ex she mentioned that there was a not-bad dive bar near where I was staying. I called and said that is where should could find me. We exchanged various aspects of the location of the dive bar and I proceeded in. After a short consultation with the bartender I went for a glass of red, read my book and waited. The bar had a quiet, subtle ambiance that reminded me of the Lonely Hearts Club. I like it. It also makes me homesick. This feel of homesickness makes me wonder about home. Where is my home when all of this transition is going on? I like New York City so far, I think. That morning when I had gone to a mart to get some coffee for breakfast I discovered that the ajumma who ran the store really was an ajumma, a nice Korean lady with her husband. My brain got confused and I started speaking with her in Korean even though I didn’t mean to. I get frustrated in Korea when Koreans always try to speak to me in English, so I try to assume that Koreans feel the same way in America about crazy foreigners trying to speak Korean, and doing it badly.

She is amused by my Korean though, amused by my clumsy attempts. We talk about how long I have been there. And I have been there so long, but when I talk about it is always in the present tense, I don’t feel I have left yet. I’ve moved my house, my dogs, and my love across an ocean, but Korea is still home and I don’t want to be anywhere else but Korea. I’ve set myself up in Chicago, I have a home in Chicago, there is a house, there are dogs. And Korea still feels like home.

I’m haunted by Da-ha-min-guk even when I sit in a bar to drink. I think of Hyun, I think of the Lonely Hearts, I think of my lonely hearts there. I miss it.

The Ex comes in and joins me and we happily drink together. I ask her where her boy is and she explains that he might join us later, but wasn’t ready just yet. So it’s just the two of us to talk. We talk historonics. We make polite small talk. I try not to stare at her neck, her fingers, the body that I still recall so well even ten years later. I know this is why I have stayed in touch with her, because I miss her in a way that is difficult to define. Being near her now is just happiness. It’s subtle and quiet but I enjoy it. As she predicted her phone buzzes and her boy asks where we are so he can come join us. I like the boy. He has a funny streak, a brain between his ears, and can talk tech. We bond over aspects of rampant geekiness that we can both appreciate. When he joins us I’m well into my second airplane sized bottle of red in the dive bar. He gets a Jack neat and quickly catches up with the Ex and I. I ask them why this is called a dive bar as it seems like a nice place and I wouldn’t have called it a dive at all. Neither the Ex or the boy know exactly the origin of the name so finally when I get ready to order my next round I ask the bartender. He is only to happy to explain.

“Well, the owner is a diver.”

“Excuse me?”

“He likes to dive. Spends a lot of time on boats out to sea. He is a real diver. He decided to open up a dive bar, for divers, or anyone, but it’s all about the dive. He opened up a series of them; they are all called dive bars.”

I get it now. It’s a friendly place and I like being there for the drink. We continue drinking and talking, the three of us. We talk about old times. The Ex doesn’t mind teasing me. She asks if I remember a night where we got more than a little hot and heavy in front of everyone.

“You mean the night with the pool table?”

“The pool table? Ah, yes, I was thinking of Bondage night.”

“Bondage night and the pool table were definitely different nights.”

“Bondage night?” the boyfriend asks.

“How much have you told him?”

“A little. You can elaborate if you want.”

“I can, but I also would prefer not to get punched.”

“Actually it’s kinda interesting, I mean you knew her before I did and I find it sorta fascinating. You were her only girlfriend and I sorted wondered if it was just some LUG thing.”

“Oh, no, it was a total LUG thing. I knew that when I got started with her, but you have a girl that hot walk into your coffee bar and try to pick you up, you kinda go with it,” I say back.

“She is hot, isn’t she?”

“Yes she is.”

We keep talking. I tell him about Bondage night. It was actually fairly vanilla, and was mostly for our own personal amusement satisfying our exhibitionist needs and desires. He is more amused.

He continues talking. He asks me more about bondage. I say it always pays to be prepared and to prove it I have his girlfriend locked up in cuffs before he blinks.

“I’m like a bondage Girl Scout.” He smiles and I demonstrate how my surreptitious bondage cuffs work. He is amused.

Somehow at this point the conversation moves from bondage to my love of women. I tell a few stories out of school; he is amused, and the Ex moves closer to me (still tied up).

“I can’t believe you actually get into that much trouble.”

“It’s believable, trust me. In fact if I thought you weren’t going to punch me, I’d make out with your girlfriend right now.”

“Be my guest.”

I smile, put my hands in her hair and pull her to me. I kiss her. I remember her lips so sweet. The way she smells, the taste of her tongue. I kiss her deep. I kiss her because I loved her once. I kiss her because she is my friend. I kiss her for old times sake. I kiss her because I know I won’t be kissing her again, because as much fun as this is I am happy she has found a nice guy who is not an asshole, who is more amused than offended and not threatened by the pass. I let her go and sit back and sip my drink.

He smiles. “Yeah, okay, I can believe you get into that much trouble.”

“At least I ask.”

We drink until finally some hunger sets in. The boy suggests Tom’s Diner. “It’s the place they were always eating in Seinfeld.” I agree and so we walk there, only to find it closed. But the air and walk are pleasant. We are still hungry so share some late night food before heading back to the dive bar for last call. We all walk back to mine together, the girl, again, all chained up between us. When they leave me at the hostel he goes to take them off. I say no, leave them, with my blessing, I’ll get them later. I wave them goodnight as I walk into Chocolat. My whimsy and ennui chase themselves around in my dreams of Ex lovers gone by, New York City streets, bars, bondage, and a month of work all lie ahead.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Turksih Bars and Belly Dancing

I get up early and shower in the shared showers. I meet no one in the halls. The building is quiet and restful. I have a few days still before I get to my sublet. I decide I will do something in NYC, mostly look for a Starbucks, because I have work that needs to be done. I grab my computer and head out to look for the Starbucks I had seen the day before. I spend most of the day writing because soon I will disappear. After a day of that I want a break, something different. The day is warm, though, and I’m not sure what else to do, so I decide to take in a movie. I consult my little box of moving magic and it directs me to a movie theater on 42nd Street, downtown. I know how to get there and with the handy month-long subway pass I have purchased I'm able to get to it rather easily.

Later when I return to my area I am feeling an intense ennui. I feel this oppressive loneliness in NYC that I have not experienced before. I want to find a nice bar and drink but I also don’t want to spend an insane amount of money in the city. In the end on the walk back toward my room I decide on a Turkish restaurant that looks like it might be nice. The sun goes down as I enter. I ask if I can sit at the bar, which I do alone.

I order a glass of wine and like it. I order baba ganoush to eat at the bar, which is lovely. Before I know it I’m two glasses in and chatting up the Turkish bartender. He is friendly and reminds me of Hyun, my bartender in Seoul. He is also fairly well educated and we have a lovely discussion about Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. At some point he fills by glass for free and I find it sweet and it makes me a little homesick to think on it. We continue to talk. I stop paying attention to the time or the free refills. I get distracted the belly dancing that is part of the evening’s entertainment.

I should have paid better attention to the number of glasses I was having.

In hindsight I should also perhaps not have left my glass on the bar when I went down the long winding stairs to the bathroom. The bar closed around one and I was still there. I remember that much. After that, though it all gets a little fuzzy.

What I do remember is later being walked down the street by the bartender, he keeps saying something about rooms. I realize at this point that I’m not sure where I am. He asks me to get into a cab and go with him. I say no. I realize at this point that I am actually in trouble. I have my bag with me, and my phone, and start paying more attention to street signs and have a vague sense of where I am. I’ve not gotten to far from the hostel but am certainly about fifteen blocks away now. I start walking toward home, and bartender walks with me, persistent. He continues to talk up getting a room. I tell him that I need to go back to my own room. I’m tired, I don’t feel super well. I want to sleep.

Much wrangling ensues before I finally manage to get back to my hotel. He is with me the whole time, I cannot get rid of him. He implores me to invite him in. I explain the bunk beds and the roommates. He asks me to come to the bar tomorrow. I say I will see. I leave him on the sidewalk and get into my room and check the time, discovering to my dismay that is near five a.m. in the morning and I am not exactly sure how it got that late, or how I got to feel this drunk. I manage to climb into my bunk and pass out cold as dawn’s rosy fingers creep over the horizon and into my room.

The next two days proceeded to be followed by the worst hangover I have ever experienced. And being that I am a girl who can easily and happily do damage to more than my fair share of tequila that is saying something. I speculate about why I feel so crappy. In the end I find some other nice places to hang out in the neighborhood. I start to wonder about how long my love affair with New York will last.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I walk into the hostel, tired, a little sweaty, and dragging my bag behind me, a trip that has now been about fifteen more blocks than I had originally intended. The girl behind the hostel desk seems happy enough and I explain that I am the person on the phone and that I am here to check into my room. She looks me up and after a moment tells me that my room is not ready or available yet, but should be by the afternoon and in the meantime I can put my bags in the locker that is in the basement. She directs me toward the basement, which is basically only accessible by the elevator. The elevator has a door knob. It has a porthole-type window on it, and is at least seventy years old. I thought this was interesting.

I get into the elevator, push the pop up button for down and after some bouncing up and down, a little jerking, and something that sounds like a hiccuping whine I am borne down to the lower level and put my bags into a locker. I don’t want to have to bring everything I have with me down to the meeting/interview with the person I’m working with. I also wanted to change, as I certainly was not going to wear the outfit I needed for the interview to on the plan and train. Considering my hot walk through the subway and my unexpected fifteen-block jog in NYC I am glad for that. I throw my suitcase down on the floor, open it up and pull out the blouse I packed on top for the meeting, and then realized I don’t have a room. I look around quickly on both sides of the basement/ounge and note the absence of anyting like a bathroom. I end up back in the locker room where two young guys are locking up. I figure as soon as they move I can change.

They continue to not move. I am far too aware of how quickly my time is passing and I need to get down and out of there sooner rather than later, so I turn to guy number 1 and say “Look, I hope you are not shy, but I need to change my shirt, is that okay?”

Ne c'est pas?” He says back to me.

It is at that moment that it dawns on me that I have been surrounded by accents and languages for the last five minutes. For some reason this had not registered on my sense before, but now I am acutely aware of all the languages and accents that I am hearing. Of course.

I point to shirt in hand, point to shirt on body, mimic pulling it over my head. Guy 1 smiles. Not sure that is what I was going for, but finally decide it’s just not worth trying to explain it, turn around, pull off my shirt, and pull the blouse on for the meeting. I think this may, in many ways, be a result of having been on the road for the better part of this year. I just don’t have the sense of modesty that perhaps I should at times. I spend so much of my time changing in people’s living rooms, or dining rooms, or in my own hotel room, or in another person's guest room, or in the train bathroom, or in the plane bathroom, and I keep doing this and doing this, and finally it has just worn me down. So what, a stranger is going to see my bra, they can deal. Fortunately the French guys behind me did not care. All dressed and ready to go I flew back out the door, back up the shaky-shaky rocky-rolly elevator, down the streets and to my meeting; stressed to be sure, but none the worse for wear.

Later that evening I return back to my hostel and grab my bag to roll into my room. I’m informed that my roommate has already checked in. I’m not sure if she will be there when I check in but I figure it is cool either way. I roll down the hall with my bag, unlock the door to a nice cushy little room with a bunk bed.

It’s white and brown (as seems to be the theme of the hostel). The bottom bunk has been claimed by the placement of a white towel, so I will be on the top bunk. Fine, fine, I think to myself. I roll my bag into a far corner, check my hair in the mirror and go out to Broadway to find something to eat, which proved a dramatic and expensive set of choices. When I end up back at my room later I find that the room is no longer empty but occupied. On the bed is a girl with a German accent. We talk for a few minutes and within moments have hit it off completely. She is a writer, a professor, traveling to NYC. She understands education and multiple-intelligence theory. I accompanied her out to a cigarette, and we talked more about the publishing business, and the writing game. Being both writers we had a number of thoughts about our various genres. Under the light I realize she is a lot older than I had guessed, probably her mid-fifties. She is from South Africa by way of Germany. She is lovely and wise. We talk, but both of us are feeling drained after a day of traveling and moving in; we are both probably in bed by eleven.

I lay in the top bunk of the bed and look out the blue window on my right. The night in NYC is cool and chill, unlike the somewhat warm day. The blanket on the bed is just enough, the sounds of the city are distant, nary a passing car breaks through to interrupt me before I drift off to sleep after my first long day in NYC.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lost in the City Already

I get off the bus at the appointed station, and start to walk with my bags in the direction indicated by the map on my ever-so smartphone. What a good phone I have that is willing to walk me and guide me to where I am going. It’s happy to show me the way, to keep me moving, to give me purpose. Thank you so much phone. I must think of an appropriate name for you, phone, because you are my boon companion in this troubling time.

My phone guides me to what I am convinced is the subway station on 42nd Street and Times Square. I look around, and no matter where I look I do not see the subway. Finally, being fearless, I ask a cop on the street. He points that I am literally in front of the subway doors. It didn’t look like a subway. I feel small and silly and green in the city suddenly. I smile and say thank you and head down to the subway to get a ticket. In the end a 30-day pass that should get me where I need to go and let me do everything I need to do for the time that I am in NYC.

With my pass I now need a train. My trusty phone has advised that I take the one train to get to the Chocolat Hostel. It says this is a direct shot and will be there in no time. My phone says go in the direction of Uptown and the Bronx. My phone is very clever and I will give it a cookie later. I find the correct platform and head down to it to be overwhelmed by the first-time experience in the oppressive heat of the subway.

Heat does not describe the subway tunnel; it is an overwhelming heavy humid wash of fire that just blasts at you. Surprisingly warm, considering that the streets are actually fairly cool and pleasant. I am surprised by the insane heat in the subway. I roll my bag out on to a platform at what I think will be the 1 train. It comes shortly after I hit the platform and I push my way on board with my bag and settle in for the ride uptown. As we get closer to 96th Street I hear an announcement that the train will not be stopping at 103rd and everyone who needs to should get off at 96th. I figure this is okay, as I don’t mind a little walk after four hours on a plane and an hour on the bus. I note the inconvenience as I will now have to talk back to 96th for the train back to downtown for my interview.

I pull my bag up the stairs and onto the street and consult again lovingly with my oracle of technology, sure in its ability to tell me not only where I am, but where I want to be, and to guide me on a path that will be wrought with few obstacles. I start walking. I managed to get to 103rd and everything is going swimmingly. I read the directions and turn right. I see a hostel, but I’m quite sure it is not the hostel I want. I consult the oracle again and she tells me that I must turn right. So I turn right and walk again. At this point, I see nothing but a dead end. So, again, I check and again it says turn right. On the fourth right turn I am feeling less guided by an oracle and more so by a stooge so I pick the opposite direction and start walking. After several turns on my own I end up back at the hostel that is not my hostel.

I decide to call the hostel, which at this point seemed like the best course of action.

“I’ve just gotten in from my flight and I’m trying to get to you but I seem to have taken a wrong turn from the subway.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m on 103rd.”

“No problem, you just walk to the river and it’s right there.” I look at my phone.

I look at my phone again.

“I just landed in New York. I have no idea where the river is.”

“Oh. Uh…”

See, even big-city folks can give directions that are random and mean nothing unless you live there. We manage to work out that I DO know where Broadway is and I can walk in the direction of that, cross it and keep walking until I get to the next street after Broadway were I will, no doubt, see the hostel. And sure enough, on the appointed road is the appointed chocolate brown sign that proclaims that I have indeed arrived at the Chocolat.

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Steaming Cathedral of Concrete

New York.

It’s like a hulking mass of cement and concrete and people. It dwarfs me and makes me feel small and inconsequential like only New York can. Seoul (for all its overlarge overripe coldness) is more open and inviting. It takes you in and welcomes you to the morning calm. You understand the calm with Seoul.

Chicago is your neighborhood. It is a party. It is the block. It is the people and the sites and sounds and tastes that you know. It is the lake that is always right there for you. Chicago is the warm handshake and the hug after so much time away. Chicago is a drive away to your heart's desire.

New York just doesn’t give a fuck.

New York has been there. New York has seen it. New York has done it. New York doesn’t care about you, or what you think of it, or whether you want to stay, or whether you want to return. New York has too much going on to worry about you and what you have going on. New York doesn’t really care how you are doing, making How YOU doing? the most perfect insult for New York.

New York is towering cement and time. It towers over you as you walk in it. You enter the subways, the hot, creepy-crawling miasmic sprawl of it and you feel it pouring over you. Get where you are going; do what you are doing. New York won’t wait. New York has things to do.

There is a sense of loneliness that over comes me as I enter this city. I feel more alone than I have ever felt in a city. I clutch at my bag and backpack as anchors to hold me down, to make me real. I use my phone map, the twenty-first century replacement of the tourist map, to guide me where I am going. I feel like a sheltered farm girl wandering around the city that defines city. I think of how you could lose yourself in her if you wanted to be lost.

I don’t want to be lost.

I don’t know what I will find in this New York.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Hostels and Shuttles

With five days before I flew to NYC I figured I had some adventures ahead of me.

In the end I was online in my house with the dogs content and being happy enough myself to want to forget that I had trouble brewing. However knowing that something must be done and one the cheap I started to look for relatively inexpensive options that could be paired with my plane ticket. This would probably mean a hostel. I was not opposed to the idea of a hostel at all, but not sure what to expect. I can be picky, hard to please, and bitchy about everything at the best of times, so who knew what would happen if I ended up with a roommate that I couldn’t stand, or worse a place that was a disgusting shambles.

After some research I decided to go with the Chocolat Hostel off Broadway. Of all the places this one won out because of the name. I liked the movie Chocolat, I like chocolate, and dammit, it just kind a seemed cool, deal with it. The plan then, was to arrive in NYC, get to the hostel, then get to the site I was working at for an afternoon meeting at 3 p.m. To do this I would have to leave the Chicago at about six a.m., which meant I would get to spend all of one afternoon with the Bard before I left at four a.m. for an airport.

The Bard, always happy to lend me her couch, did just that. We had a yummy fajita dinner, I crashed like the devil will do, and at four a.m. I was taking a cab to the airport for a flight to NYC. I had called ahead to the hostel, as some research had revealed that they offered a cheap shuttled service that would get me there for about 20 dollars. They informed me that I had to book the super shuttle, but yes, it would be only 20. I figured with that I had plans, knew where I was going and how I was going to get there. I was ready to go.

The flight was flight like. After a quick repack my carryon did manage to fit in the overhead bin, and since I didn’t want to have to pay an outrageous baggage fee I managed to fit 30 days+ worth of wardrobe into it and still be able to get it into the rack above my seat.

I disembarked and headed to the signs that said shuttle. I saw a shuttle. It was not my shuttle. The barker outside the shuttle was a smiling and cheery guy who asked me where I was going. I explained to him that I was looking for the Super Shuttle. He informed me that was halfway across the airport.

“Why don’t you take this shuttle, it’s leaving now. It will only cost you ten dollars. Takes you right to 42nd street. From there you just take the subway to where you are going.”

I had a choice. I could go and seek out Super Shuttle (which I may or may not need a reservation for) or I could just get my New York subway initiation out of the way now and go for it. I was already prepared that the subway was to be a massive part of my life for the next month, and hey, I was saving 10 bucks.

Sign me up.

I got on the bus, was told to get off at the second stop. My bags disappeared underneath and I found a seat. I confirmed my meeting via smartest phone, and then sat back in my chair to watch as New York City unfolded around me.