Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Impressions of New York

"Our lives were moving at such speed that we just kept going."
—Patti Smith, Just Kids
First there's the eavesdropping, which is generally fantastic—on campus, the subway, the street, the park, any cafe or restaurant. Then there's the combative East Coast style of conversation, back again after I'd left it in Boston four years ago, and New York accents of all varieties, which are still new to me so I can't get enough. And then, of course, what people are wearing. There's the super hip/high fashion sort, really creative wacky stuff, amazing ethnic-wear (YES to turbans), the varieties of Hasidic hats, this year's version of undergrad chic (which appears to be dominated by crop tops, sequins, and boat shoes), not to mention my growing soft spot for the dowdy middle-aged Upper West Side look—baseball hats, Dansko clogs, button-up shirts worn under Patagonia fleece vests. I love it all. I take it all in, as much as I can, at all times. I stand on new friends' rooftops at night and stare out at the city, count the average number of stories, how many windows per floor on street-facing facades, the material treatment at levels one and two, try to see if there are patterns. (Have you noticed how many more maple trees there are in New York than Chicago? Cross your fingers that the conditions are right and that in a week or two the city'll be woven through with red.)

I am a little sponge in red boots, wandering up and down the grid, getting lost below Houston when the numbered streets end. I am having an afternoon ├ęclair with espresso in the front window; an evening donut with coffee in a sticky diner booth. I am walking past the million markets lining Broadway late at night, weaving around the bags of trash being heaved onto the curb by men moving in and out of the streetlights, in and out of mysterious sidewalk puddles and the occasional skittering rat.

I can't wait to go to the ballet at Lincoln Center. I will wear a velvet dress and demand to go to a fancy hotel bar afterward where I will drop a matchbook into my clutch and snap it shut.

Desire and striving feel more palpable here. Solidity and waiting, less so. The rivers and the mouth of the ocean are less impassive than the Lake, less singular. And the bridges make them human—they can be crossed, and even crossed quickly if it's very late and you shell out for a taxi. (Counting how many nights you'll have pasta next week.)

Walking past Barnard campus toward home, you look through the gate and through the lead-lined windows and into the dining hall. All of the girls with their clean hair are eating, talking, texting over their red trays. It looks so warm and young and not for you anymore. Now hustle home and finish that last essay, girl. You got work to do.