Manhattan writings – Intro to the apartment – written November 8, 2012
Arriving to my Manhattan apartment
A mouse sat on the kitchen counter enthralled with the melting ice cube I had carelessly left behind. Lucy (I instantly decided she was a she and assigned her a name) had her eyes closed as she slowly licked the melting water off it’s surface. She was entranced, her narrow little tongue caressing the refreshing cold object she was so happy to have discovered, so much so that she somehow didn’t notice my quiet arrival. The apartment was stifling hot so I wondered not how she had fallen into such an unusual activity. How close could I get before she scampered away?
I imagined myself getting so close that I could lick the other side of the little, wet, disintegrating ice cube. Flash back to grade one when I fell for that cliche prank of being tempted to touch the icy flagpole with my tongue on an icy January morning. That feeling of panic when you realize you have taken on a dare too quickly, without giving it enough thought. Now your tongue is stuck, instantly frozen in place. If you’re lucky, you would have touched it with the very tip, causing less to lose. I wasn’t so fortunate, I had greedily approached the frozen metal pole as if it were an ice cream cone, anticipating the pleasure of the cold sensation like a cold lick of a popsicle. Not wanting to face the consequences of pulling away, the longer I waited, the worse it became. There was nothing to do but to squeeze-up my face and rip it off, leaving a good chunk of tongue skin behind.
Now came the embarrassment. In addition to the burning pain of leaving part of my tongue behind, now I had to bare the taunting and laughter of the knowing faces who had gathered to witness my torture and gullibility. This added-up to an overwhelming experience that only worsened the situation when I ran towards the school doors in a sobbing fit of tears, my hand and scarf now covered in blood from touching to assess the devastation, my mittens somewhere behind, forgotten. The first teacher I came to had no patience or sympathy for my naive stupidity, in 30 years she had seen this countless times with 6 year-olds both more clever and more dull than me. Sent to the washroom tap, “not to make a mess!” I felt defeated, deflated, and I just wanted to go home.
Of course all of this is true, except for the part about Lucy. I just imagined her as part of things one might encounter in a run-down, mid-town Manhattan walk-up. (With an extermination notice for next week on the front door.)
(PHOTO showing the front door & extermination notice at end.)
My apartment for the next month was one that I rented directly from the owner using a website, airbnb. I saw photos of it and I knew the location well from looking at google maps online. I could envision the views right around the corner from previous trips to NYC, but the experience of living in the exciting Theatre District for a month, that was very new. As the taxi made it’s way into the heart of Midtown I could feel the adrenaline and excitement of this latest adventure commencing, unfolding in front of me. I have always loved NY, what an opportunity.
I arrived just after 11PM to a city still grasping towards recovery after Super-storm Sandy. A week prior to my arrival, Sandy had downed power lines cutting off hydro to thousands in New York City and New Jersey. In Manhattan she had flooded subway lines, tunnels, and basements; she had closed bridges, fell trees. Not far away she had left a stronger legacy of ruined homes and car write-offs. A week on, many still suffered early winter without heat and light.
Today was Election Day for the entire USA. People were looking forward rather than backward in anticipation of the election results and what that would mean for the future of the country, the economy, themselves. My taxi had crossed Times Square , and as much as I wanted to settle into my new home, it could wait, I needed to get over there and join the crowds of excited people surrounded by super-sized election coverage on all the mega screens and on temporary stages with news broadcasters set-up talking into their microphones showing America’s most exciting outdoor space in the backgrounds. I took a quick look around the flat and found the cause of the nauseating chemical stink that overpowered the overheated air, an air “freshening” electric plug in. Zip-locked away from my breathing space, I opened the windows to a burst of fresh, clean renewal and headed out the door to take in the night, to join the throngs who had gathered in nearby Times Square to share in the election excitement together.
Situated on 9th Avenue near the corner of 42nd Street, the bright lights of the buzzing Theatre District were apparent as soon as I rounded the corner. There was definitely an excitement in the air, people of all walks strode by in loud, excited chatter.
In Times Square the election, though not yet official for several more hours, had called Obama the continuing President of the United States. Manhattanites, with their open, liberal ways, were celebratory. So were the tourists, apparent from all over the world but more leaning from Europe. Lots of photos being taken of “here I am in Times Square on Happy Obama Day” and the like.
(PHOTO at end.)
I drank in the excitement as I wandered from one end of the square to the other, pausing here and there where the crowds were the thickest. Eventually I sauntered back to my rental apartment where I had a drink and happily waited for Romney’s concession and Obama’s acceptance.
Much of the world breathed a sigh of relief. Unlike America’s 50/50 viewpoint, the rest of us who had no vote but still deal with the consequences of American politics, we were probably more like 90 Obama/10 Romney. Too bad he will be stifled in what he is allowed to accomplish, he could really improve the country if allowed to. And the world. People will accuse him of not fulfilling promises, but how can he when his hands are tied behind his back. His power is not that great. Still, it is a good day.
“You did fantastic for your first class!” the instructor had chimed after I had done my best to not completely embarrass myself with ineptitude at a Varanasi Yoga class in Toronto to which my brother had encouraged me to join him earlier on my departure day for New York City.
So it is the next day and I wake-up feeling refreshed and ready to take-on the city! Just kidding, I wake-up with a marvelous headache, too many downward dogs and upward seals (whatever they’re called) have tired my shoulders to such a degree that they have decided that my neck should join in the strain too, to be fair I suppose, the tightness of which is continuing up my spine and the back of my skull resulting in an unfortunate sensation. Additionally, the softness of the bed – a poor, sagging mattress that has been supplemented into looking okay by the addition of a feather topper – has not appealed to my back, strained as it was by me trying to impress myself and others by my physical acumen in yoga despite not being in great shape. As soon as I start to sit up I realize, yesterday I was an overachiever.
I sit on the edge of the bed and narrow my eyes as I strain myself upright. What have I done to myself this time. Do I hate my poor body that I couldn’t just ease into new physical activities rather than acting like they were a mission to fully accomplish on day one no matter the outcome?
I stumble to the washroom, my left leg shooting pain emanating from the bottom of my spine.
I was just completing high school in the Kennebecasis Valley in New Brunswick when I got a registered letter. It was June, 1991, and the letter indicated, “Your license has been suspended for 6 months commencing March 18, 1991, due to the loss of points.”
I was, of course, curious as to why I had been suspended. On calling the licensing office I discovered that on the day I had driven past the line of buses to load-up band equipment from the music department for a Jazz Choir concert, one of the bus drivers had reported me and I had lost three points. I only had two points.
I was annoyed at the bus driver, there was no other way to get to the loading docks and school had not gotten out yet, there were no students walking towards the buses. But at least I was pleased to not have known. I had driven myself to school everyday up to this point, and now my suspension was half completed.
So it was that I found myself cycling down a quiet New Brunswick highway when a car suddenly cut me off to turn off onto a side road that had no exit. I was going straight along the shoulder, I could not have anticipated this car recklessly turning off at high speed almost right beside me. It was one of those slow-motion events, cycling along, imminent impact anticipated, not possible to stop, turn wheel to crash onto gravel rather than crash into car. As I went down I actually made eye-contact with the middle-aged female driver through her passenger window (I was very, very close) before I smashed to the ground and skidded to a stop just missing her bumper.
She didn’t stop.
A witness pulled-over and couldn’t believe what happened. I had ripped open my forearm at it was gushing blood, so much that I didn’t yet notice my disjointed back. My shirt was entirely torn, my legs were dirty, scratched and bloody – a photo would have been fantastic fun but those were the days before digital cameras and cellphones with cameras. I cycled home, more than 5km, the entire way with my left hand above my head to slow the relentless bleeding.
I was sore all over so it took a couple of days before I realized that my back was wrong. A visit to the family chiropractor proved essential as he put my sacra iliac back into joint. The resulting muscle spasms lasted for several weeks, I could not move without pain, so I enjoyed the beginning of summer unable to drive, unable to cycle, and nearly unable to walk.
So the pain brought forth on that cold, damp November day, my first full day in NYC, was familiar to me. Fortunately I knew the proper exercises to get myself functional again, learned form a physiotherapist at an artist’s clinic in Toronto.
Day one had the post-election excitement as well as the anticipation of another storm, a Nor Easter that the city was bracing for later in the day. Flights were being cancelled, bridges were curfewed, across the water sand bags were coming back out after having just been removed, and hydro companies were paused in their reparations from Super-storm Sandy due to snow and high winds.
(PHOTO at the end.)
My apartment was on the third floor of a small apartment building notched into other buildings. From the fire escape it looked to be only one floor up because on the street level, entirely businesses, there were ground-floor expansions so that there was just this one small square of ground space a few buildings over and otherwise the roofs of all the various structures filled the entire courtyard. This block had nice quiet apartments on the interior side as there was no alley, just a middle area open to the sky but sheltered from street noise on all sides by the buildings. Those along 9th were by far the shortest, all standing 4 stories, the other new buildings extended a long way up but were designed to reflect light making it much sunnier than it would be if there was no buildings there.
Streetside, the main entry was a single black door tucked in-between a coffee shop and a Chinese restaurant. Inside was just a stairway leading up to the first apartments on the 2nd floor, the small building had 6 units in total. It was nearly always a surprise after lingering in the quiet apartment to open the door to the street and step out into the bustle of activity that is 9th Avenue. I loved the feeling of “living somewhere”, that is, living in the middle of the action rather than having to make my way to it. I have never appreciated suburbia, if I can’t walk to the basics (food,coffee,exercise), I feel cut-off.
Built in 1910, the building has the squeaks and character that one would expect to find. Large heavy radiators provide a surplus of heat and one controls the temperature using a complex venting system, opening the windows to various degrees to introduce cooler air. The washroom ventilation fan makes noise, but standing on a stool and touching the vent indicates that there is no air flow, whatsoever. So the washroom remains a sauna, windows open or not.
The kitchen consists of a closet-sized cupboard/sink/bar fridge unit and a kitchen trolly has been added alongside to provide some workspace and food storage. I have the full ability to re-heat any manner of cuisine with the accessories provided, so I am happy. There is a fantastic grocer around the corner on 42nd that carries a good variety of ready made salads and meals, directly across 9th is a farmers market as well as a butcher. Next to the Chinese restaurant below is a Deli for fresh sandwiches and all manner of snacks, there are two pizza places within calling distance, and there is a plethora of real restaurants along 9th for a dozen blocks. (It is nicknamed “Restaurant Row” and is a destination for dining.)
The living room is worn but cozy. A television is perched on a wooden-plank stand between two tall windows, a side chair in front of each. A tall bookshelf to the right displays personal mementos, candles and books, and a shorter shelf to the left holds more of the same. A deep, purple sofa from the 70s facing the television and windows separates a small work area which shares the wall with the entry door.
The bedroom has a deep closet, double the depth needed to hang clothes. The storage continues all the way to the high ceiling, which could use replacement. I was startled wide-awake several times before I realized I was just hearing pieces of ceiling plaster falling to the floor, dried-out by the pipes carrying hot water to the rads. Once I knew what the sudden noise was, I could ignore it even when sleeping.
The entire building stands 20 feet wide, as is the width of this apartment, bedroom beside living room. Throw in the walls, the bedroom was probably 8 feet wide and the living room 10. The entire place was about 450 square feet. It will be the ideal little space for me to explore Manhattan from, warts and all.
A Nor Easter hit NYC with snows and high winds on my first full day in Manhattan, one week after Super storm Sandy.
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