That’s how we do this dance, this relationship, this give-and-take negotiation of me trying to live here in this apartment that costs more than anything I’ve ever owned, except maybe my college education, although after four years here it might actually be more expensive than that, too.
This is the daily grind, the navigation of, “What would you like to step in today?” In order to avoid the dog poo you must side-step into what may or may not be chewing gum that may or may not be sticky and may or may not ever leave your fifty-dollar, half-off, leather, designer loafers that have already had to be resoled once. Or you could step the other direction, but you will either a) knock into a stranger, b) knock into a car whose owner is watching it and decidedly obsessive about whether or not it gets scratched, regardless of the fact that it inevitably will get scratched, c) knock into some thorny bushes, or d) step into some slimy liquid that looks like plain rainwater but upon coming sole-to-sole with its viscosity you may find that it is actually human created. Or you could, of course step, into that pile of garbage that somehow always accumulates right around the side of the police station, and I’m not sure but might be actually coming from those high-up police station windows. Somehow that scene is just so clear, the one where the cops who are confined to desk jobs, some of whom want to be off the streets and kissed up to just the right people to get there and some of whom are itching to be back outside pounding the pavement and be given carte blanche to commandeer a cab anytime a potential criminal might possibly be outrunning them on a skateboard, so they constantly raid the candy machine and create cellophane airplanes out of the wrappers to float out the window, like a sixth grade science test to see whose balloon will parachute the egg to the ground without breaking it.
This is the average day’s negotiation of steps.
I try to put one foot in front of the other.
I go to the gym. I drive around for thirty minutes looking for a parking spot on either a Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday that demands street cleaning, and inevitably I’m always arriving when everyone is supposed to be moving their cars to the other side of the road. I see a parking spot, eureka! But there is already someone waiting for that spot, from the opposite side of the street, who honks and honks and pulls up into it from behind to assure that I can’t back into it. Fine, it’s yours. I pull up to the next block and find a spot. One hour limit, damn. And I’d planned to double up on the treadmill today. But of course I didn’t notice that until after I put the quarters in. I can either stop my workout mid-way through and come back to the meter, or risk getting a ticket. Which I will. Because five minutes past overdue and I have risked it enough times to know that I [itlaic|will] get a ticket.
So I pull out. Leave a dollar’s worth of time in the meter for the next guy, who is already waiting for my spot when they see my reverse lights shift on.
On to the next block, the next avenue, the next train of parked cars hoping that there’s a vacancy. At least on the metered streets the cars are evenly spaced, no half-car lengths between SUVs excluding one more car from possibly squeezing in, even though that many fit if this was Tetris and that was a winning player.
But really all the driving around is a fool’s problem; I know I am lucky enough to have a car to begin with. And like I’ve written about time and again, it is necessary for a small-town guy like me to be able to escape and feel the grass under my toes every once in a while.
“It’s just so ... cold, down here,” my other girlfriend, Kristen, started to try to explain about a downtown Manhattan neighborhood we found ourselves visiting last week. “I don’t know what it is, but it feels so ... vacant.”
“There aren’t any trees,” I noticed, and we looked around, and there weren’t. Someone forgot to install those tiny patches of dirt when they were building the sidewalks, and up and down the streets there was nothing but buildings, cars, and concrete. Even the people were mostly gone, this time of night. Little things like that mean that neighborhoods—or specific blocks of specific streets—are or aren’t warm and inhabitable.
But then again, if you find a good apartment, meaning a) close to a train, b) affordable, c) not full of bugs, and d) with a decent landlord, you take it, regardless of whether or not the street has trees.
Remember when I used to wake up and hear the birds outside the window? Remember when I could hear the water lapping? Remember that one magical summer when swans were nesting on the quay I could easily see from the windows of my borrowed bedroom?
Now, I hear the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the one I can never remember the directions of: is Queens east or west from here? It seems north, but that has meant I’ve gotten on going the wrong direction more than once. Now, I hear the construction from the two apartments in my building being renovated, since the landlord can probably charge double for them if he moves in some gentrifying white dykes like me.
When I first moved in, there were birds outside the kitchen window. My cats used to sit on the turned-off radiator as a makeshift window seat and try to hunt from behind the glass. The landlord cut the huge tree in the backyard down when he rebuilt the roof, I think because he wanted to throw the old roof down into the backyard without it hitting the tree. The birds who used to nest back there disappeared, then moved into the places where the bricks had fallen out of the building behind mine.
Makeshift little nests in the holes in the wall.
We fight a lot, me and New York City. We don’t see things the same way. We come from different backgrounds. But I always find a parking spot eventually, like I did this morning, one I didn’t have to pay for and for which I didn’t get a ticket. And even though all I see out my window, now, are the orange of the halogen street lamps and big, industrial buildings, there are still patches of sky that turn pink and orange when the sun sets. And sometimes, that is enough to make me willing to try another day in this concrete jungle.