New Yorkers …… Walk

There are some days when I feel like Dorothy Gale.

Truly, when I look back on leaving New Jersey, it’s as if a huge tornado blew across the plains to Jersey City, sucked me up off of my foundation, spit out all the clutter like a maniac Pez dispenser and dropped the cats, our necessary belongings and me in a sweet little spot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  NOT Brooklyn.  NOT the east side.  The UPPER WEST SIDE of Manhattan.  Right near Strawberry fields. Nothing is real.  And nothing to get hung about.  My own private Oz, minus the munchkins; at least, as far as I know … at the moment.   The realtor said I’d NEVER find what I wanted within my budget on the Upper West Side but I held out, the magic happened AND I still have money in my pocket!

Even though I’ve been settled in for more than a year and a half, most days, it’s still the most amazing adventure to date.  Looking back, had I spent any time ruminating on the mammoth scope of this current life change, since it also included early retirement from my teaching career, I know I would’ve safely stayed where I was.  There were attempts to make me consider the alternatives.  The biggest potential stumble bump came from my brother who asked, “Do you think you’ll be ok?  What if you can’t make it?” Oddly enough, and without thinking, I responded “If I can’t make it, I’ll just move again … and it’ll be easier the next time since I’ll have less stuff.”  And that wasn’t a lie.  It was a truth from my gut, in the moment and I still feel the same way.  When I make my next move, my intention is to be like the Clampetts; taking only the things that will fit in my car. My friend Lou always said I was the most fearless person he knew.  Well he actually said I had the biggest set of balls of anyone he knew (and that I went all around the Mulberry bush to get to a point, if I was making a point) but his is a story for another day.

So here I am, a New Yorker with the driver’s license and yellow plates to prove it.  It was inevitable that I would arrive someday and, at the same time, it feels as if I’ve never, ever been anywhere else.  When we were young and made our very rare visits to New York, my ex-husband would always look at me as we were walking and say, “You look like you’d fit right in here, like you should be living here in New York City.”  Who knew he was so wise.   Who knew I would wait so long.   But here I am, 36 years after we met, 24 years after we divorced (and subsequently reconciled) and almost 7 years after I finally made the complete break from the relationship.  Within the simple truth of that complex math lies the heart of the journey that brought me here.  But, for now, let’s just stick with this story.

A long time ago a casting director, who’d lured me to an audition here in the city, told me that I wasn’t cast because I didn’t have “that New York snap.”  I’m not sure what that had to do with wanting to be cast in a production of “The Passion Play” but whatever; it’s been water under the GW for years.  Until now, that is.  I’m curious about “that New York snap” and whether it’s a fit for me.  So far, I’m not sure if it’s exactly a “snap” but, every day, I learn something about what it means to be a “New Yorker.”  So let’s go back almost a year for a new New Yorker moment:

6.12.12 … today I had a “to-do” list.  Among other things, I’d been invited, as a surprise guest, to a graduation and had a gift to buy.  The graduate, Ryan, a wonderful young man being raised by two of my dear friends, had been learning how to play guitar and was selected to perform in a musical selection presented by his eighth grade class.  It would be his first public performance and I was thrilled to be asked to be a part of his journey.  Plus, I love his dads and spending time with them, especially during these touchstones of life, are true blessings.  So last night, before rolling into sleep, I took inventory and carefully planned the day I’d wake up into:

First, thing … the car.  (NOTE: If you’re nutty enough to have a car in NYC, you know that life’s ALL about alternate side of the street parking)  It’s in a good spot for Tuesday, Wednesday is free and I’m out early on Thursday sooo … car’s not an issue.  Check.  Next …look through, organize and prepare interesting VO scripts that are posted, head to the 12:30 Iyengar yoga class then walk down to Sam Ash on 48th St. to shop for some fun guitar gear.  Check, check and check … sounds like a plan.   Goodnight, moon.

Of course you all know “Life is what happens to us when we’re busy making other plans.”  So when I woke, the sky was gray and the weather forecast promised a stormy day.  So … it was time for “plan B” to evolve.

I showered in preparation for yoga class and the subsequent shopping excursion and then discovered several interesting voiceover scripts needing immediate attention on my Voice123 account.  Given that audition submissions often require timely delivery in this marketplace, I copied them and jumped into “Studio Armadio” to record.  Then came the selection and editing process.  Before I knew it, more than two hours had passed.  It was 1:45, I missed class, it was pouring outside and I still needed to run my errands.  There was no way I was going to walk so the train seemed to be the best way to go.  I prepared to dive out into the dreary day.

Let me say that I love storms, especially good old-fashioned thunderstorms; the kind that turn the trees sideways and the ocean upside down.  Unlike most people I know, I feel there’s something powerfully peaceful in the midst of a storm.  On the other hand, and again unlike most people I know, I can’t feel peace in a cemetery, go figure.  Perhaps it’s because storms awaken all my senses. Or maybe it’s that there are some great photographs to be taken of lightening and the ominous skies.  Or maybe, on both a physical and spiritual level, it’s knowing that, if you can ride out the black clouds and heaviness of the storm, something beautiful will come afterward; maybe even another great storm.  Some of my most memorable nights alone were spent on the sun porch back in Bergen County, bottle of wine on the table; glass in hand; experiencing the thunderstorm outside the windows and inside my heart.

So I’ve always enjoyed the rain. And I thought about walking anyway … for a minute.  I had my ridiculous animal print umbrella from mom’s collection but I’m just not a big fan of wet feet in sandals.  It feels wrong, eventually the sandals feel slimy and then they end up smelling like cheese doodles when they dry NEVER to smell the same again.  So when it’s raining, unless I’m bent on jumping in puddles (a streak of total rebelliousness left over from childhood), shoes, unfortunately, MUST replace the sandals or flip-flops.  Without socks, of course.  Being sockless tops my “to do” list all year round so giving up the flip flops or sandals for even one day in the summer (which, as you know, is as short as a spit) goes down hard.  It wasn’t exactly summer yet but it was warm, and I was wearing sandals so there would, unfortunately, be no walking today and no substantial exercise.  Unless I could make a later yoga class.

Metrocard in hand, I left the apartment and headed east toward the B train.  Much to my surprise, it was really nice out.  The temperature was perfect and I was almost sorry to have my jacket on.  But it was raining; I was already getting wet and would probably be glad for it later.  I had just received word that I would be singing “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” one of dad’s favorites, during the shoot for “Celebrity Ghost Stories” on Friday.  That meant that, during my 15 minutes of fame in my new career I would be singing, acting and crying … let me tell you, there are no coinkidinks, kids.  This new career path is calling me to “be.”  So, on the walk to the train, I was exploring various keys to sing in.  The scaffolding along 72nd street allowed me to leave the umbrella in my bag, which was a good thing.  Walking among the folks around here with an umbrella up can be as tricky as just …. walking.  In fact, someone decided to wave her closed umbrella around just as I was passing her and I had to use my hand to prevent the tip of her umbrella from ending up in my ear.   She laughed.  I didn’t.

The train came fast; I headed into Sam Ash and had a chat with a sweet young Irish lad in the guitar accessories department.  Part of my gift is metaphysically linked to Ryan’s developing music skills and keeping him on track as a storm looms in his path.  So I picked up a pack of picks … so that he can pick his battles wisely; a pick holder (omg … This is sounding like a tongue twister) … so that when he finishes a battle he can put it away and the coolest little headstock tuner.  It’s small, blends in with the aesthetic of the guitar and discreetly sits at the back of the headstock so no one can see it.  My intention for the tuner is to charge it with allowing him to remember to keep himself in tune as he moves into the life of a high school kid.  Oh, and I bought one for myself, too.

I left the store happy but also bummed at having to take the train back uptown.  Without yoga class and not having walked, as planned, there didn’t seem to be much exercise in my future.  Until, that is, I looked around and realized that there were people walking on the streets.  They were carrying umbrellas, wearing ponchos, sitting on top of tour buses wearing ponchos, buzzing in the streets going to and from wherever.   And then a thought struck me.  “If today is the only day that a tourist has to tour (oh god, another tongue twister), is he/she going to sit in the hotel because it’s raining?  NOOO. They’re gonna get out there and walk.  If someone needs to travel a couple of blocks for lunch or to run an errand for work, do they have to take a cab, or the bus or train?  NOOOO.  And what about the millions of dogs in NYC? Does a cab take them to their favorite spots?  NOOOO.  When it rains … people in New York … WALK … NEW YORKERS WALK.  SOOOO grasshopper … you’re a New Yorker … walk.  A little.  Walk to 59th street at least, if your feet feel too wet, head into the train there.  Deal?”  Deal.

So I … walked.  Of course I started out going the wrong way.  But, it wouldn’t be me if I stepped off on the correct path at the outset; there’s ALWAYS an adventure.  I find it funny that these mini adventures are always chosen subconsciously.  There’s something cool to be learned from them and explored on a larger scale.   Anyway … I thought I was taking a covered shortcut to 49th street when, instead, I landed back on 47th street and Avenue of the Americas.  If there had been a camera on me I’m sure it would’ve been amusing to see me trying to figure out north, east, west and south one hand holding the animal print brelly over my head while the other hand marked out the territory to get me back on track.  Dad sometimes couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag when driving, perhaps in addition to his great hair and twisted ring finger, my feet have inherited his non-sense of direction.

After hovering and grounding myself, I continued around the block to avoid seeing folks I’d already passed on what I thought was my way uptown toward Columbus Circle and the train.   Did I honestly think I would be their topic of discussion and that they’d remember seeing me walking the wrong way?  And did I actually think they’d think I made a mistake in direction?  What am I thinking?  And then, as I continued walking, my inner monkey mind had to get into the game and started fighting with itself.  “You know, it’s a waste to get on the train at 59th and then go ONE STOP.  AND you know you’re gonna hate getting your feet wet, get on the train here.  Make it worth it.  Get on the train here.  NO … the walk feels good.  Everybody else is walking.  That’s what New Yorkers do … they walk!  It’s a town of walking.  Should I have a poncho?  OH GOD a plastic poncho!?!?!  I’d rather pull out my own teeth than wear one of them.  Oh, and how funny was it to see Pam the vampire in a yellow Walmart track suit on “True Blood!!!”  The writing on that show is phenomenal.  Alan Ball is a genius!  He’s the Aaron Sorkin of black comedy.  Are my feet wet?  Hmmm … starting to get wet.  Where’s the next train station.  JEEEEZ what are you complaining about? They’re only wet … it’s only water.  These shoes already smell like Cheese Doodles … UGH … FORGET IT ALREADY.  Walk. It feels good.  Your feet will dry.  But my arms are feeling wet.  I’m not sure how well this jacket is gonna hold up on this long walk.  WAIT … I’m at Columbus Circle already!  Let’s keep going.   Let’s go into the park!”  And, just when I thought my head was going to explode from all the thoughts, the monkey was gone as fast as it had shown up … for the time being.

Last chance … hop on the train or keep walking.  I turned into Central Park.  Well, I didn’t “turn into” Central Park but, rather, ENTERED Central Park at 6th Avenue and wondered if I’d get lost again.  Yeah … that’s right … I always get lost in Central Park and this is usually the time I whip out my phone and call my friend Louise so that she can get lost with me.   And it cracks us both up.  It’s to the point that ANYTIME I call her, she says in her best Joisey voice “Hiya Thelma, are ya lawst in the pawk again?”  She’s so great and I really miss her sometimes.   More than I thought I would.  But the phone wasn’t happening today … too rainy.  And I was too wet.  Didn’t want to get electrocuted or anything.  So I pressed on, opening my eyes and realizing that there were some familiar landmarks.   Maybe today I would find my way out easier.  “But what if I don’t?” I thought.   “So what?” came the answer.   Wet AND lost.  Now THAT made me laugh.

Initially I thought it would just be me and a bunch of wet squirrels in the park but I was wrong.  There seemed to be a good number of people who were out walking through the park, too.  And carts were out at every corner their nuts, dirty water dogs, ice cream and pretzels ready for any wet one who wanted to buy.

And then … in the distance … I saw a young couple, standing in the middle of crossroads in the park, wrapped around each other and kissing sweetly in the rain.

It took my breath away.   And so, I slowed way down simply to experience its arc.

They were young and cute.  He was tall and she was really not.  I’m guessing they were in their late teens and probably on the way home from school.  The way they held each other; the way they looked at each other between kisses, it was obvious they were in love, happy and enjoying the rainy day.  And they were kissing like there really was no tomorrow.  I realized how much I missed kissing and loving contact.  And a flood of sadness washed through me for a moment.  I took a breath … sit, stay, heal.  And tuned back in to their sweet love … a promise of something beautiful ahead for all of us.

IN THE RAIN … STOPPING TO KISS …  STOPPING TO LOVE … IN THE RAIN

I added it to the bucket list.

As I got closer, the couple broke and looked around trying to decide on a direction to take.  We exchanged smiles as I approached.  And the next thing I heard was:

HE:  “Let’s go this way.”

SHE:  “Why do you want to go this way?”

HE:  “UM … because I want to jump over the fence.”

SHE: “You want to jump over the fence???  Why?”

ME and MY MONKEY MIND:  “DON’T ASK QUESTIONS!!! … JUST JUMP OVER THE FARKIN FENCE WITH HIM DAMMIT!!!”

I didn’t watch to see where they went but, in my heart, I hoped they would jump over that fence and many others ahead ….. together.

It wasn’t raining as hard but I was soaked.  And it felt good to get wet, even in my sandals.

I learned a lot that day about myself and about being a new New Yorker and and I’m really glad I stayed above ground.  After all, the best discovery was that when it rains … lots of New Yorkers WALK … and kiss … and ….

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