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I Put a Spell on You – Carmen Spicer – Medium


Brooklyn, New York. 2015.

When you watch too much Sex and the City, every thought becomes profound when typed in a Word Document on an Apple laptop. Mine is a decade more advanced than Carrie Bradshaw’s — could that make my writing a decade more advanced too?

I have to admit that when I sit on my fire escape with a glass of wine and a cigarette, Nina Simone playing softly in the background, I feel it’s a magical moment worth writing about. But is it? If I wrote a blog about being a Brooklyn transplant, would anyone care?

After all, we’re all doing it these days. It’s not news that your super is never there when you need him and things like broken locks and mis-wired doorbells go unfixed for months. It’s no surprise that my privileged ass has to lug her laundry to a Laundromat or that I can’t walk down the street without being asked for a dollar by all the men who live at the homeless shelter that looks like a castle just two blocks away from my $2300-a-month apartment. Or that my radiator operates with no correlation to the temperature of the apartment — when it’s hot, it pumps out heat, so I open a window (the green freak in me screams and cries but the human in me ignores her), then when it’s reached subarctic temperatures throughout the apartment, the radiator inexplicably turns off.

In the neighborhood I live in, the streets are always full of people and music and conversations and arguments. Dark-skinned men smoke joints rolled with tobacco in the hallway of my apartment building. They often have to move from their seat on the steps to allow me to pass them as I run out the door, late for work or off to the grocery or a yoga class.

Their eyes red and glazed, they always nod or smile or wish me a good day. One guy always seems to be there whenever I’m coming home and he’s taken to opening the door for me. “I’m always here for you,” he told me once.

Outside, tall trees brush the sky between the brownstones. The streets are paved and there are lots of cars everywhere. The Laundromat on the corner is operated by Chinese people, always shouting over the machines and folding, shouting and folding. Bodegas house snacks and beer and Boar’s Head products and cigarettes and candy. No 7–11s in Crown Heights. The men who own the stores pull Virginia tax-stamped cigarettes out from hidden spaces behind the counter. Lottery tickets and cigarette butts litter the sidewalk. There are bars and coffeeshops and dozens of nail and hair salons on Nostrand Avenue. There are smoke shops and beauty supply stores and tiny storefronts with incense and sunglasses and hats displayed on folding tables outside. There are dollar stores where almost everything costs more than a dollar. There are a few abandoned gutted out spaces with broker’s numbers plastered in large signs on the façade. Wild flowers peek through chain-link fences.

My roommate demands that I show him the magic of New York. Does it really need to be explained? Does it exist? Or is it like Santa Claus, the Boogeyman, true love — just a figment of our imaginations that we sometimes believe in when we feel scared or lonely or have had a bit too much to drink? Wouldn’t all of life seem magical if Nina Simone was crooning in the background?

So what does make New York City so great? Why do we work and struggle so hard and so much just to live here, to survive here? And is it a privilege of the gentrifying class to experience this magic? Do the people who have lived here all their lives think we’re crazy for giving up nice, clean, perfect-room-temperature homes in Indiana, Nebraska, California, Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut that cost half as much as our shitty apartments in Brooklyn?

Are we just kidding ourselves?

The thing is, I don’t think so. But I’m not quite sure why.

There are all the obvious answers, of course. There’s so much diversity here — so many different kinds of people from all over the world who produce so many different wonderful things for us to experience. Chinese food ranging from $5 to $500 a meal, Carribean food in styrofoam containers, tango milongas, jazz clubs, hipster bars that play real vinyl records, nightclubs, Versace and Michael Kors, modern architecture contrasted by old brownstones, the parks and dogs and ice cream and margaritas, grass-fed beef and museums and a plethora of drugs, theater, and shows like “pay us a hundred dollars to get yourself out of this locked room,” the Strand bookstore, and Christmas lights all over the streets in the late fall and $10 bottles of wine behind bulletproof glass or $1000 bottles of whiskey behind wooden counters and bagels made by Jews and the West India Day parade and the 9/11 Memorial and street performers and protest marches through Manhattan and concerts in the park and comedy clubs in Washington Square and movies projected at DUMBO and improv at UCB and did I mention you can do all of this drunk because you never have to drive?

We judge people by their shoes and the books they’re reading on the subway and wonder where they’re going and where they came from, what their stories are. All of this while you have Nina Simone in your headphones, providing the perfect soundtrack to make all those train delays seem magical. Wonderful.

Or is it just the caché — like typing on an MacBook in a crowded café (just make sure it isn’t a Starbucks). The fact that you get to say “I live in New York City.”

Yes, I live in New York City where you can do anything you want, eat any type of cuisine, see any type of drag show or Broadway show or drink any number of takes on a Manhattan or waltz into some of the greatest museums in the world on any given day. But I don’t, because I work six days a week to pay my rent and do laundry on the seventh day because a girl has got to eat, right?

But we live in New York City, my friends. And you can brag about that to all the townies back in the Midwest with their fancy washers and driers and dishwashers and spacious supermarkets. Yeah — we’ve made it. We live in New York City. Where even a rat scuttling across the Metro tracks can be glamorous. If Nina Simone is playing in the background.

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