Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Every Day Is An Accomplishment in New York City

While I was in California, I really struggled with the idea that I was supposed to be doing something. I was still freelancing a bit, but aside from that I thought I should be spending my time writing. But if I was to write, I had to do something to write about. But I spent so much time doing things that I didn't have that much time to write.

I just couldn't shake the nagging sense that I should be accomplishing something.

Back in NYC, the time flies. Hours go by and I still haven't left my apartment. I spent all day today going to the movies and getting lunch. And then it occurred to me: living in New York City is accomplishment enough. Just being here on a daily basis provides enough stimulation, conflict, obstacle, drama, and peril to fill your day, without anything particularly special happening.

At 11:45 a.m. today, I leave my house, umbrella in tow.

I turn down Second Avenue to see the bus pulling away from my stop on 25th Street. I run down to 23rd Street hoping to catch it.

I slow down ever-so-slightly as I approach the doors, and they close. I have to rap on them with my umbrella to get the driver to open them. I am forever running for buses that don't stop for me.

I climb the stairs to the bus that did not kneel for me, and a man looking for change is blocking my way in. I offer him three quarters, two dimes and a nickel for his dollar as the bus pulls away, sending me staggering into the other passengers and a wheelchair. Someone pushes past me to vacate their seat, one that I try to sit in but is too small for my frame. As I trade coins for dollar, I hear him say, "Thank you ma'am, thank you," but I'm too concerned with falling over to look at him, so I simply nod and stumble.

I am running late for my 12:05 p.m. movie.

The Sunshine is setting up for a premiere tonight so barricades block the ticket window and direct me inside to purchase. I agonize over the popcorn smell I'm normally able to avoid by going straight to the stairs.

I burst into the darkened theater, already showing previews, and try to adjust my eyes to find a seat. I don't love the dark. I use my hands to guide me along the row of seats, stopping in between previews when the screen goes black and I can see nothing.

After the movie, it starts to sprinkle, but having gone without popcorn and soda, I'm starving and in the unusual position of being on the Lower East Side during the day. I walk to Essex Street Market under threatening skies and assume a position on a barstool at Shopsin's. I'm anxious over how much time I spend examining the menu. I know they don't like that but it's been a while since I've been there, and they've re-expanded it to include much of their original menu from the Carmine Street location.

I choose the "Zen" and then sheepishly cringe when Kenny Shopsin's son Zack shouts from the kitchen, "How do I stuff French toast?"

Kenny, in his usual post against the wall, shouts back, "What the fuck is in it?" and they launch into a debate about what the dish is and how it should be prepared. I'm ready to get kicked out at any moment. Kenny, looking a bit thinner than the last time I saw him, hoists himself out of his chair and takes on the task himself.

I notice another debate happening, this one about two girls in the corner who are still holding their menus and whispering to each other. I quickly figure out that they asked for something special - whole wheat French toast? egg whites? - and pissed off Kenny, who's now refusing to serve them anything. And they're refusing to leave.

They try the whole "you can't not serve us because we're women" thing, as though they're some kind of civil rights activists ready to handcuff themselves to the lunch counter. Apparently Kenny had called them "dirty whores," something he calls people he doesn't like regardless of their gender. I catch their eye and say, "I'm getting served. It's not because you're women."

But they persist and get more and more indignant, as Zack threatens to call security on them. I walk over to their table and advise them in a low voice, "If you read any article about this place, you will see that this is just what happens. You should just go. You will not win this."

I walk away as they call after me, "We're not trying to win anything!", and I start to hate them as much as Kenny did. When somebody is cooking for you, you have to play by their rules. With only seats for about 10 people in his place, Kenny has plenty of regulars that he likes to take care of. He doesn't need anybody new fucking up his system.

The girls confer a bit more, weighing their options, and get up, knocking down their water glasses and saying, "Thanks. It was great" in the same voice that they order their pinot grigios and chardonnays in.

"Bitches," I say.

Zack and Kenny thank me for being cool and tell me that the next time I come in, I can get away with a lot. I happily lap up the last bits of my French toast stuffed with chicken sausage, red pepper and fresh mozzarella, exchange names and shake hands with them, and leave to face the deluge outside.

I walk a half a block to Sugar Sweet Sunshine for a cupcake and a cappu. A girl is digging in her wallet for change while the man behind the counter waits to make my drink, tsking and sighing. Who knows how long she'd been there, but as I examine her, I notice her fistful of change and worried look.

"Do you need money?" I ask.

"Uh, yeah..." she says, a little embarrassed but not as much as I would have been, having ordered a $2.50 iced coffee in the rain with no money to pay for it.

"How much?"

Thankfully it was only $0.50, which I give her gladly, if only just to speed up my own order. She dumps her wad of change into an awaiting palm and grabbed her iced coffee, sinking meekly into the chair I had my eye on.

As I get my cupcake and coffee I sit awkwardly across from her, sharing the same coffee table to steady my drink on as I read magazines and wait for the rain to let up. How will she get home with no money?

I finish my magazine just in time for a group of French high school students to come barrelling in from the rain, rearranging chairs so they can sit together in the tiny space in front of the cupcake case where I have parked myself. My cue to leave.

As I stand up, I realize how much I have to go to the bathroom, but there wasn't one at Shopsin's and there isn't one at Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Having been through this plenty of times on the LES at night, I am confident I can find one on the way to the bus, but when I step into Ray's on Houston (my former go-to public bathroom), I slip on the rain-slick floor and dump half my remaining coffee on myself and the floor. I grab some napkins and bolt for the bathroom, which now requires a key.

Aborting the mission, I leave Ray's and become disgusted with my depleted coffee and my elevated bladder level, ditch the cup and use the bathroom at One and One, another old haunt. Although it has stopped raining, it starts up again at the bus stop as I glance curiously at a guy who keeps looking at me. We ride the bus across the aisle from each other, but no words are spoken. He gets off at 14th Street and the sky opens up again, letting out another wrath-filled flood onto First Avenue. I get off at 26th Street, and within the one block walk to my apartment, am soaked, lace cuffs of my yoga pants dragging down below their normally cropped level, umbrella too small to protect the entire circumference of my body all at one time.

I get home and wipe my feet with a towel that is still wet from my shower this morning, the humidity not helped by the air conditioner I left on while gone.

And then I sit in the dark - too dark for the afternoon - and listen to the rain and thunder. When it lets up, I consider getting my nails done, going to a party, doing anything but sitting in this apartment, but then another crack and I know I am in for the night.

And still somehow I am exhausted from this day and don't really want anything else to happen. New York City already happened.

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