15 August 2007

New York is Spittacular!

I love New York. (And, no, I’m not talking that ho from “Flavor of Love”. Mr. Sharpton, if you have seen that show, you can’t argue with me on that one.)

As a native Los Angelena, I never thought I would utter (or write) those words. But I love New York. There. I said it. Deal with it.

It had been ten years since I'd been back to the Apple. Two trips were planned in 2001, both in September, neither ever rescheduled. I missed going there and was happy when the chance to go came up. The plan was to go for seven days, but it was extended at the last minute. Ten days in New York still isn't enough to do and see all that you want to do and see. But it is enough time for you to miss your car, your TiVo and the life you left back home. Yet, strolling around the city, which always embraces me, I started to fantasize about living there...if only for a short while. And that is so not like me.

New York has changed since my last visit. Of course, she has suffered a great loss. And time does change everyone and everything. But when I heard folks say, "I'm sorry" instead of "Watch where the hell you’re going!" when they bumped into each other, I bruised my jaw on the sidewalk. I thought it might be hallucinating from the jetlag. But it turns out that New York has mellowed with time. Don’t get me wrong; the edge is still there. But it’s so endearing when a New Yorker catches him/herself being super nice. They kind of stop for a second and check themselves, then let a little grin slip over their lips.

I lucked out on the weather when I went in early May. It was gorgeous. Warm days, cool nights and just a few days of rain, which I love. I didn't even mind the slight stick as the humidity rose. The days were just too beautiful to be bothered, though the swap cooler drips were a bit irksome. My initial reaction is always, “Is that rain or spit?” It’s easy to forget the window ACs and to walk a bit further from the buildings. And walk I did. Everywhere. I revelled in walking to Starbucks each morning, to the grocery store and deli, walking everywhere I could before I would hail a cab. (That's another thing that's changed...gone are the $5 cab rides across town. I nearly choked on my first $16 fare.)

Flip-flops served for walking shoes as I navigated the pavement, but I soon realized the prudence of closed-toe footwear. People spit in New York. A lot. Avoiding the lit cigarette in the hand of an animated chick talking on her cell phone is easy. Scoping out who might hock a loogie is more of a challenge. Men in business suits, guys on bikes, boys in jeans, old men on canes; any were potential spitters. Day in and day out, I would be agog (and agag) at the phlegm and saliva flying, all potential Hepatitis bombs. After a few days, I got used to it, and alertly watched the mouth, throat and jaw movements of those coming toward me. All in a day in the City that never swallows. Yet, there was one I couldn’t get over. The slobberer that stole my heart was the septuagenarian woman who gracefully pulled her walker over to the side of the building, leaned over and dropped a huge gob onto the sidewalk. In broad daylight! It was spittacular. Somehow, she managed it with a bit of dignity, if you can believe that.

My dear friend, Smith, moved to New York at the beginning of the year, and this was my first chance to see her new Tribeca loft. I was so excited to celebrate this huge move with her. The plan was to meet for dinner after we were both done with work on a Monday night. I intended to walk from SoHo, were I was hanging out that day, but after an afternoon of running around everywhere South of Houston in kitten-heeled flip-flops, my dogs were barking. Thirteen blocks (or however many she guesstimated) might as well have been thirteen miles. I hailed a cab.

I had been sick the week prior to this trip and was still from suffering a jolting cough that would strike with violence and little warning. There was merely a nanosecond between the tickle and the choking hack that followed it. Very sexy, I have to say. I sat joyfully in my yellow car, happy to be on my way to Smith’s. The driver and I exchanged pleasantries as we made our way from Thompson to Franklin, then I took a hit from my water bottle, squeezing the plastic to fill my mouth when it happened. The cough seizure. There I was, mouth full of Poland Springs, throat contracting, tickle intensifying. The water couldn't go down. As a matter of fact, it was heading up my nose as I tried to figure out what to do before I ran out of air. I really didn’t want to asphyxiate in a taxi. Or would I technically drown? Either way, something had to be done. And then I did it. I really had no other choice but to spit the water out. All over the floor of the cab. Well, not all of it. Some of it hit the floor, but most of it hit my seat than then rolled back down to my crotch, wetting the seat of my pants. Spittacular indeed. The only saving grace was that I was wearing black trousers. Quel nightmare had they been jeans or khakis.

I took a handful of tissues (probably the least absorbent material on the planet), to mop up what could only have been a few ounces of water (though it seemed like a quart) as I reassured the driver that I had not yakked up anything more than H2O. “It’s just water. Just water,” I assured him, mopping up the mess. Then I burst out into hysterical laughter, the kind that only jetlag, humiliation and a natural self-deprecating sense of humor could bring. The tears that were streaming down my face from the choking fit were replaced by those of unbridled chortling. I’m sure the driver thought he had picked up a loon...or a wacked out hanger-on from the Blohan entourage, who were also in the city that week.

Finally, my damp ass made it to my friend's loft. We walked her darling dog, and aired out my wet end, before going to dinner at Landmarc. We sat at the bar in the tiny bistro, sipping wine as we waited for our table. There, we encountered my least favorite type of New Yorker (although, I will have to say that every city has its own version of it): Spoiled, Pushy, Irritating and Tiresome.

I will never understand why parents insist on taking their ill-behaved spawn out to nice (read expensive) restaurants. As a sometime-patron of these establishments, I don’t mind sucking down my $15 glass of wine with my $40 dinner and $12 dessert (which requires another $15 glass of wine to accompany it), as long as I can do it in the company of other adults, and not with a poorly-reared kid talking loudly, kicking chair legs and, eventually, bursting out into a howling cry. I will also never understand how those parents have the knack of seeking me out and placing the child within throttling distance of me. It’s uncanny.

The AARP-aged baby-daddy forced his way over to the bar area to grab the lone empty chair next to mine where he intended to squeeze himself, the mother of the five-year-old girl who would later drive me nuts, and another woman who looked like she could be the sister of either parent (or a partner in a unique “arrangement”). Smith, who has adopted the easy-going New Yorker status (which was easy to do since she always had the kumbahyah of her native East Bay), spotted two chairs opening up on the other side of the tiny bar, and offered to move us so the “family” could take our space. When the offer was posed to him, the man just looked annoyed, like we should have done that upon their arrival. That just made me want to stay put, but the girl started fidgeting, as children are prone to do, and I knew that the next phase was whining before going into the full-out cry. Better I get into a more neutral corner.

Finally seated, Smith and I enjoyed our wine (wisely served in half-bottles...we each had our own), our yummy dinner and the most perfect dessert...Cotton candy and champagne. Yes. You heard me. Perfect, pink cotton candy. With champers. Yum.

On our way home, Smith and I looked at the posting of places for sale in a real estate office window. I began fantasizing about having a place in NYC, and tallying how many books I had to sell in order to make that happen. At the same time, I had to wonder what was happening to this LA woman? Did I really want to move to New York?

Yes and no.

In my fantasy world, I would have a pied-a-terre there so I could fly out and spend some time when the mood struck...and then fly back home to Venice when it got too hot, too cold, or just too much. It's my fantasy world. Let me have it. And, in my fantasy world, I also have a brownstone in Dublin and a little cottage in Tuscany. So there. And the New York I knew and loved wasn’t really reality-based. It’s one of make-believe and pseudo-privilege. The privilege of going there on someone else’s generous dime. Per diem. Nice place to stay. Friends to see. No need to be anywhere at any inconvenient time. Never needing to take the subway or a bus. I’ve never had to suffer the horror of the humid summer, trod through the slush and sludge of winter. Bundle up only to strip down (wait, I have done that one, but only over a few days’ stay). I’ve not had to stress over finding a place to live. Struggle moving furniture. Deal with dragging home hefty purchases. Nope. I get to go there and be fabulous. Even the times I have gone there on my own ticket, it’s as though a red carpet has been placed on the cement for me. I’ve stayed with friends in welcoming lofts or flats, so I never have had to pay for an overpriced hotel. We’ve always managed to fine the best cheap restaurants in town (so we don’t have to split an appetizer for dinner), and, even though I am on a perpetual budget, it’s still all about the cab for me (one subway ride was enough). So I love my particular New York. Very much.

One other thing I adore about New York is that you will always run into someone you know, famous or otherwise, whether it is the rude dude crowding you at the Landmarc bar the night before, or the hot guy from “The Office” walking by you at Marc Jacobs. There’s something comforting about a familiar face in a sea of a million Manhattanites. When I saw our bar neighbor, I had to text Smith a “guess who I saw” message. I had to text her again that same afternoon when I found $6 on the sidewalk. I always find money in New York. And how could you not love that? Sure, it wasn't $600, but it was a partial cab ride or a Starbucks and nice tip. I was careful to make sure there wasn’t anything relating to bodily functions on or around it when I picked it up. Purell is your friend in New York City.

I decided there were two slightly touristy things I had to do on this trip. One was to go to the World Trade Center and pay my respects. The other was to visit my book in Times Square. I took a cab from Gramercy Park to Church Street. I did not know there was a small, antiquated cemetery there with centuries-old headstones marking the departed. It was eerie and heartbreaking at the same time. That place survived when so much was destroyed. I lasted about seven seconds before the tears started to well. I did not want to be the girl from LA crying at the World Trade Center nearly six years later. But that day still has a deep and visceral effect on me. I said a little prayer and began walking to Times Square. I made it to Washington Square Park by the time the rain started. I was wise to pack an umbrella. I would have been such a good Boy Scout.

By the time I got to Union Square, the rain had gone from a spattering to a full-on downpour. I was sliding around in my flip-flops, suddenly realizing that what I was walking in probably wasn’t all rainwater. It was at that odd time in New York City when every flipping cab is off-duty. Have they not seen sense in all this time to stagger shifts? Since I was near the apartment, I threw in the towel. Even though it was five o’clock, I grabbed lunch (still on LA time) and went back home. I never did make it to the book viewing, but I’ll be sure to visit her next time.

On my last night in New York, I was treated to my first trip to Broadway. Being a student of film, I’ve never been drawn to stage work, finding it too acty. But “The Year of Magical Thinking” is beyond theatre. And to be spitting distance from Vanessa Redgrave while she recants Joan Didion’s tragic year, it’s all you can do not to run up to the stage and give her a hug and a cocktail. I resisted the urge. After that magical ninety-minutes, my friend and I made our way back home, deciding to have a quiet dinner in rather than to go out. I offered to pick up the meal than to wait for it to come to us. The spittle of rain accompanied me on my walk. I saw it as New York’s way of kissing me goodbye. It will be much sooner than ten years for me to go back to that spittacular city again.

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