What is it about New York? I curse and scream in the summer when the hot trash fills my lungs and I can’t find a square inch of peace and quiet and I have to wear different shirts to commute in because we’re all a sweaty damn mess. I suffocate, in all ways.
And then I cry, ‘This is the last straw! I’m leaving! You can’t make me stay here another year!’ And everyone keeps walking by, unflinched by the crazy woman trying to hold a cell phone, and an iced coffee, and a Metro card, and some shred of confidence. Sweat is rolling down my back because it has to go somewhere. But everything is an uphill battle; every passerby, an unwelcomed guest in my personal space. I try to listen to music to drown out the parts of this city I hate, but it’s just stimulus on top of stimulus.
Then that first 50-degree Saturday hits, and the crisp, October air suddenly dampens the chaos, the sun lights up the buildings in new ways, and the world around me doesn’t seem so frenetic. I stand still and calm and let the wind brush over my face. I don’t mind that my hair, longer than it was a year ago, is swept in its path. I stare up at the old architecture set against painted sky, and I ask myself if people live up there on the top story behind the arched windows. My feet are so tired I take a car home.
In Chinatown, we pass by a florescent-lit fish market. Tall, Asian men stand in aisles between the ice in their long, white coats, arms folded, eyes on the people coming in and out. Some are refilling the stands with tuna; one is at the register patiently waiting for a customer. Everyone is wearing the same navy blue baseball cap. The floor tiles are dewy from the constant A/C and ice, but they’re clean. I don’t have to roll down the window to know that it smells like cold fish and bleach in there.
Situated on either side are two little stalls filled to the brim with tourist crap. The ones with the I ❤ NY t-shirts and NYPD pajama pants. They’re more like walk-in closets — I don’t think they occupy any actual real estate. Over-flowing with souvenier shirts and bags and sweaters, each is assigned one person to coordinate transactions. Ya know, someone somewhere made those things for someone from somewhere to buy and take back somewhere, perhaps for someone else. I think about who all those people are, and what they’re doing right now.
Strings of multi-colored lights are hung down Mott St. Some are in the shape of Chinese characters. They’re always on; they’re not just for holidays. I watch the people who live there walk underneath the warm glow. Perhaps they just came from the fish market and are about to prepare dinner for their family. Or themselves. Does it make a difference? Maybe they have a dog or a cat that is looking up at the stove, patiently waiting for their human to share.
As we cross the Manhattan, the sunset lights up the Brooklyn Bridge. I think about how it’s been standing there for over a century in the East River. With light coming from the west, I see tiny, silhouetted people walking up and down the wooden promenade. It’s supported by steel and stone, and yet it moves. Some are congested in pockets where the best pictures can be taken. The ones where you can get the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Some are sitting by themselves on a bench, watching.
It suddenly becomes very difficult to leave this magic behind.