There's a woman who lives near my apartment, just next to McDonald's on Atlantic Avenue, a big, ugly, sprawling street that cuts Brooklyn in half. Todd and I recently had the pleasure of meeting her while waiting at the crosswalk a few steps from her door. She's a kind of a caricature of a person -- she's in her 70s? 80s?, has wild gray hair, an angry face, a flowered nightgown, and black rubbery othropedic shoes. She's the sort of woman who inspires little kids to make up rumors about a neighborhood witch.
It was she who approached us. From behind us, we heard her bark, "Get me a hamburger!" We turned around to see her peeking out of the doorway of a modest brick apartment building. "Get me a hamburger. From the McDonald's," she clarified. We tried to pretend we didn't hear her, or didn't understand, but she wouldn't give up. We continued to wait on the curb, willing the traffic light to turn in our favor. "Hey! You! Get me a hamburger!" She persisted, and after a long uncomfortable minute, Todd and I gave in.
A few moments later, when we showed up at her door with a McDonald's lunch for her, we were met with grumbling about the cardboard drink holder, the lid and the straw. "I don't need this," she said, clearly annoyed, as she began peeling the accessories away from her soda. "I don't know what you need," Todd softly reasoned. "We only just met."
I think she did offer us a perfunctory thanks before she closed her door, but no money to cover the bill. Since then, from time to time, we've seen her scowling head poking out of her doorway, scanning the street for her next victim. Apparently she's established a real fine business model for herself. These days, we travel on the opposite sidewalk.
Apart from specific people, some things I'm going to miss about New York:
- Store cats. I really hope I'm wrong about this and that L.A. also has its share of store cats.
- Buildings that are taller than trees (rather than the reverse). I like looking up at the impressively detailed old architecture, which is everywhere; even Home Depot is housed in a beautiful historic building.
- Enormously cluttered independent businesses squeezed into narrow street-level buildings. They're not especially comfortable or easy to navigate, but they're the opposite of the bland, predictable, and impersonal franchise experience. There's a shoe repair place that I go to in Brooklyn where there's only room for one customer at a time; the owner (whose uniform is a thin wifebeater) is penned in by towers of broken heels and boots. He's a magician, and can grant new life to the rattiest of shoes.
- A diverse immigrant population, and the food and culture that goes with it. Knowing that it's only a short subway ride to neighborhoods where only Russian is spoken and people wear expensive fur coats on the broken-down boardwalk.
- Walking. If time and weather weren't ever an issue, I'd walk everywhere in New York. (Also, the pace! When I'm walking with others, I tone it down, but on my own, I walk the speed that other people run.)
- Being able to navigate the grid of my city simply by being able to count.
- The lack of rules, even when they're good for you. One thing that bothers me about the U.S. in general is all the hand-holding that goes on here. I like that New York not only doesn't hold your hand, but it kind of gives your hand a little slap if you stick it out there too helplessly. It forces you to toughen up a little by putting you in situations that might be dangerous or unsanitary.
The other night I was reading about the L.A. metro (which I'm determined to make use of, even though no one seems to give it much respect), and I noticed that passengers are given a fine if they eat or drink on the subway. I felt myself immediately bristle, not because it's not a wise law -- allowing food on the NYC subway can lead to disgusting things like gnawed and discarded food in the seats -- but because I don't want to be told what I can and can't do, even if it means sitting next to a chicken bone on my way home from work.
- The tacit space rules. Even if the city itself doesn't seem to have a lot of official regulations, there are plenty of unspoken social rules that the majority of people more or less follow: let people off the train before you get on, don't stop suddenly on the sidewalk (because someone might crash into you), don't carry a giant umbrella, take your backpack off on crowded trains, etc. -- basically, don't be a space-taker. Whenever someone fails to obey the space rules, there seems to be kind of a collective frustration among the space-conscious, as if to say, You can wear a garbage bag for a skirt or subject me to your gravelly rendition of Stand by Me, but for the love of God, don't carry a giant umbrella.
- Sidewalks full of people, and kids playing in the streets. Interacting with and being in the same space as lots of strangers. Again, this also goes back to the diverse population, but there's so much to look at just when walking down the street. Also, I like that a man dressed as, say, a baby, can walk around town without really getting ogled. Related to that: unlimited street photography subjects.
- The subway -- being able to meet friends anywhere in the city with little notice, having no need for designated drivers, being able to read on the way to work, close contact with a large mixture of people (this isn't always pleasant, of course, but it keeps you human), and (some) subway musicians.
- Riding my bike through Brooklyn. Even though it's not the greenest place to ride, I find Brooklyn fascinating to explore by bike. You can almost invisibly slip through neighborhoods and get a glimpse of other peoples' lives, as so much of it is out in the streets when the weather's nice.
- Not having a clue what current gas prices are, or makes and models of automobiles.
- Autumn and spring, and tights, scarves, and layers of clothing.
- In my neighborhood, the smell of fresh-baked bread and the sound of the prayers coming from the mosque on Fulton. Also, barbershops with immodest names like "Respect for Life."
- Humidity that brings life to my stick-straight hair.
- Coney Island, brownstones, rooftops, bagels, Fort Greene, pigeon coops and circling birds, breakdancing, inflatable union rats, snow (for the first hour), the skyline and bridges, the lonely tip of Roosevelt Island, stoops and stoop sales, fruit stands, bodegas, pizza, New York accents, block parties.
A few things I'm not going to miss:
- Oppressive city noise
- Carrying everything I need for the day on my back
- Wearing through my shoes, as well as not being able to wear even slightly uncomfortable shoes without significant pain
- The C and G trains
- Incredibly cramped restaurants/lack of personal space (People tend to be respectful of space here, but it's a drag to eat dinner on top of strangers, or to not be able to cross your legs at dinner without tripping the waitstaff.)
- Never being completely out of earshot
- Terrorist threats
- The Brooklyn Target
I'm currently in limbo, waiting for my old life to end and my new one to begin. It's strange, being in the middle of this brief period of overlap, and knowing that it's the point in my life that I will refer to in my future as When I Left New York, as well as When I Moved to L.A. Right now is the moment after I know what's coming, but before anything actually happens.
Neither of us ever meant to live in L.A., but Todd got a job we both agreed he couldn't pass up, a job writing for Conan O'Brien. When he told me the news, I was really excited for him, of course, and I briefly wondered if it'd be relatively easy to annul our marriage, since the ink is hardly dry and all. I ultimately reconsidered, though, because, man, I really like that guy. I even miss him when he's in the bathroom.
My aversion to the move has less to do with living in L.A. and more to do with leaving New York. So many of my friends live here, I finally feel established, and this is the first place I've lived where I've been completely content, and not at all anxious for what would come next. Not everyone who lives in New York feels so sure about it -- several people I know have confessed that while they like it here, it's clear it's going to be a short-term relationship. I, on the other hand, feel like this city is my keymaster. Even when I first visited at nine years old, I thought to myself, "I need to figure out how people live here."
I'm getting used to the idea, though, and I'm starting to get excited about the permanently pleasant weather, working in an office right on the beach (my organization has an office in Santa Monica), and trading my fire escape for a balcony, or maybe even a yard. We're also planning to drive across the country, just because it feels like that's how it's done when you move out west -- we get to make the transition a slower speed, and let our anticipation build as we get closer to our new home. The trick with me is if I treat something like an adventure, I'll think I'm enjoying myself. Anyway, nothing's permanent, and I like going new places. Also, I'm open to the idea that I'll actually like it there.
It's too early to look for an apartment (although I've already done that, thoroughly!), so for the moment, I'm mostly just trying to come to terms with my soon-to-be reconfigured life, appreciate the less obvious things I'll eventually miss, and see as many of my friends as possible before I go. We only have a few weeks left.
Hi, stranger. Todd and I got our official wedding photos back. If you'd like to see them, they're over here. (Non-wedding-related stuff to resume shortly...)
(Special thanks to Candice C. Cusic for doing such a great job as our photographer.)
Last night was one of the nights that I suspect I will clearly remember about being engaged. Much of the past eight-and-a-half months is already a blur of elements: lots of time staring at a computer, plenty of easy bar talk (people have specific how-are-yous, and I have concrete answers), and lunches spent running around the city with a dog-eared list. But there have been some moments that have encouraged me to pay attention to the present (rather than only focusing on the future wedding day itself), and those have been my favorites. Many of them have involved music, which perhaps isn't all that surprising, since music is good at pulling you back.
My good friend Al is in a bluegrass band called woodpecker!, and they have generously offered to not only play at our wedding, but to actually compose some processional and recessional music for us. It sounded like an incredibly good deal from the start, but it wasn't until we visited them at their practice space last night that the scope of it really sunk in.
They played a private mini-concert for us, sitting in an inward-facing circle in the center of a cold Brooklyn loft, while Todd and I sat next to each other and looked on as they produced beautiful noise. It was a concert I would've been happy to see under any circumstances, nevermind the fact that it's being prepared for our wedding. (crazy!) It made me feel really lucky that we know people who will go to such lengths for us. One of the unavoidable side effects of getting married is that your relationships tend to get magnified to the degree that you can suddenly see the parts of them that are solid and the parts that are weak. (It's a bit like seeing your friends and family in HD.) Sometimes it's not pleasant, but other times it leaves you with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Since I imagine I'll be distracted on my way down the aisle (I hear you get some stares as the bride), I'm glad I had the chance to quietly watch the musicians while feeling the warmth of Todd's arm on my back.
I never would've guessed that wedding planning would consume so much of my life, as I'm not especially drawn to tradition, and I don't know how to plan for anything that's more than two weeks in the future. However, I can be rather obsessive, and I have purposely unleashed and encouraged that part of my personality, because that's the only thing that makes it possible for me and Todd to have a wedding that isn't a surprise party for everyone involved.
Like me, Todd is an indecisive perfectionist, and we've spent inordinate amounts of time making miniscule decisions about things that surely no one will notice the day of the wedding. I am sort of glad that I don't know the actual figure of hours spent discussing music and combing through playlists, or trying to find place card holders that aren't painfully ugly, or searching for readings we like. (Man, we are picky!) That amount of time -- versus the amount of time we'll spend enjoying these items -- is simply depressing. Just to make it more worthwhile, I am going to spend some quality time with the place card holders at my wedding. And perhaps Todd and I will start using assigned seats at home from now on.
On the upside, I've enjoyed the planning process much more than I expected. The majority of it is creative, which appeals to me, and having a hand in every element of the wedding has been educational -- not only have I learned about the art of planning an event and delegating work, but I now know something about how dresses are made, the many elements of invitation design, the difference in calligraphy pens, and what various types of flowers look like.
Todd and I have even been taking dancing lessons, which, although they first threatened to be a disaster, have turned out to be surprisingly fun. I still feel like we're far from ready to go public, but we've made significant strides since our second lesson, in which our dance instructor looked at us in horror and asked us if we could even hear the music that we were dancing to. (Our most recent [and fourth] lesson, she exclaimed, for the first time, that it was actually kind of pleasant to watch us dance, a comment that surprised us both.) He and I have been better about practicing, although it consistently happens after 1 a.m., when we're not especially sharp and are more prone to bumping into each other.
The best of the planning experience has been spending time with friends involved in the process. To name a few, Elizabeth has taken me make-up shopping; Sarah and I spent a long afternoon at her kitchen table with a mess of envelopes and ribbon between us; Sean, Todd, and I merged our danceable music; Kim showed me where to find resources for readings (and became my default etiquette sounding board); Jena spent a day with me and Todd, photographing us at Coney Island; Joelle helped me find a dress for the rehearsal dinner; and, of course, Stef has not only helped usher the design of my dress from start to finish, but she threw me a ridiculously fun party, during which I rode a mechanical bull.
I've also liked this new dynamic in my relationship with Todd. Neither of has overseen anything close to the scale of this event (our level of event-planning experience ended at impromptu beers on the roof with a few friends), and we've planned nearly every aspect of this thing together. Even if it turns out to be a mess, it will be something we created together, complete with our attention to detail and our blindness for the big picture. It's been somewhat stressful, naturally, but it's been fun in a lot of ways, and, probably most importantly, it's been harmonious, which can only be a good sign.
Previously: West Virginia in sepia