Sometimes luck comes into play. We decided on leaving in the middle of the week. We could have gone for Wednesday, dead center in the week, but for no real reason we booked our tickets for Tuesday. Watching every penny we booked weeks in advance well before any weather forecast could have indicated a preference for one day over another. With luck, our plane barely escaped the ten inches of a beautiful Wisconsin snowfall and landed at La Guardia only hours before the city shut down in anticipation of a major Northeastern blizzard. New York was beckoning us back with open arms and squeezed us in through an opening the size of a needles eye.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NEW YORK AND MADISON:
Madison – 10 inches of snow – and the wheels keep turning. Emmy’s hopes of another snow day are dashed. The scrolling type at the bottom of the early morning news reports all schools open. The morning runners are out in their spandex leggings and winter windbreakers, their rosy cheeks visibly pinching their frozen smiles.
New York – 10 inches of snow – and the beginning of 24-hour coverage by every local weatherman preaching the dangers of leaving your comfy seat in front of the TV and abandoning their mandatory snow alerts as they hold us hostage and increase their corporate revenues. The city shuts down as the streets turn to slush and unprepared pedestrians are forced to jump over clogged curbs in their Manolo Blahniks.
The realization I will always be a New Yorker. My fears of feeling like an outsider never materialized. I walked the streets, rode the subways, and bought my morning Starbucks as if I had only been gone on a long vacation.
For some unknown reason I left Madison with the car keys still in my front pocket. From the minute I arrived my right side seemed unduly weighted down by those keys ripping at the bottom of my pants pocket. Exchanging those keys for a seven-day metro card liberated my pocket taking my feet off the gas pedal and placing them firmly on the cobblestone streets of the city I so love. The exercise has reduced the binding sensation of a waistband that had grown a little too tight driving instead of walking in an area where tractor butt is a reality.
Two-dimensional cardboard facades of false happiness are in place for so many of us hiding our true selves and the fears lying behind the cardboard figures. But with friends the cardboard can come down exposing stories of hidden illnesses, sleepless nights, and the same fears I harbor of what tomorrow will bring. Being able to see old friends brought to light how flimsy the cardboard image can be and how strong the truth of friendship can help us each support the other.
Sixth Avenue around noon, halfway between West Elm and Restoration Hardware. I could see the rotating red lights of the fire trucks as I turned the corner from West 17th Street onto Sixth Avenue. The police had cut off traffic between 21st and 18th. I could see the smoke billowing up from the Westside of the street drawing me up the avenue like so many others curious to see what was happening. In about a block I realized it was the building I had worked in as a designer for Jack Morton Productions. Another old occupation gone up in smoke burning bridges to careers now open only to the young.
It was like stepping back into myself; meetings at the Javits, running from vendor to vendor looking for the perfect end table, and walking back into the designer only buildings searching high-end products for clients who could afford them. After competing and losing $10 per hour jobs hawking inferior furniture in a very small market, New York breathed a renewed sense of self-worth into a shaken sense of self-confidence.
It was on my way to the Red Hook ferry, the one I was taking to get to IKEA. The day seemed warm but the closer I got to the water the more the wind became a factor. On the Manhattan side you picked up your ticket at Pier 11. In the middle of the day the number of passengers was minimal. I got my five-dollar ticket redeemable for any purchase at IKEA and then went out on the dock waiting by Slip C for the ferry to come. With the wind blowing I had pulled my woolen scarf up around my ears hunching my shoulders against the cold.
“Lee?” the voice was unmistakable, the hint of Farsi still detectable in a small three-letter word.
There behind me stood Gordy-june, the june an Iranian endearment I added to the end of her name every time I saw her. Her diminutive body wrapped in a magenta wool coat and her head capped in a vibrant purple hat stood beaming a welcoming smile. Like a mother hen she reached up and wrapped her arms around my neck nuzzling her warm cheek against mine. New York is such a small plot of land it’s inevitable you will eventually run into someone you know. I was lucky enough to run into someone I adore and who so lovingly returns the adoration whenever we unexpectedly see each other. We rode the ferry together laughing all the way over to Red Hook about the little things in life; our kids, our lives, the little gossip about the people we had worked with back in our days at that same burnt building on Sixth Avenue where I was designer and she a project coordinator. Neither one of us felt the cold on that trip across the river. The warmth of a rekindled friendship warmed us both.