Digging My New Digs While Mastering a New City
It’s been more than three months since I downsized and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Big Apple. I have taken only a tiny bite of my new city, but the adventures continue as I partake of its many wonders and offerings. Exploring New York City is a little like sipping a city version of a sparkling cocktail, once you get used to the taste. It goes down quick and easy as it sloshes from one pursuit to another.
I slowly make my new apartment my home. What is home? Because I’ve been a bit transitory since my husband died eight years ago—out of my house, into and out of my St. Louis condo and now into a NYC apartment, I have grown to associate the idea of home much less with a physical structure than with the objects that inhabit it and the people who frequent it.
After the move east, setting up the apartment--which couldn’t have happened as smoothly as it did without enormous help from my two sisters, is my priority. The NYC apartment becomes mine when the William IV Style Mahogany Library Table is put by the window with the ceramic oval basin planter placed underneath, the photos, paintings and glass pieces that were my mother’s and mine are placed on the walls, shelves and tables, the green Aubusson rug that had been in my dining room is put down in the new living room, and the tchotchkes are interspersed with some of the books I’ve written with Barbara, along with those penned by friends as well as some classics and first editions in my collection. This is my way of marking my new territory.
That task accomplished; it is time to find a community that I feel a part of. Within the first month, I learn directions, bus and subway routes, find the best grocery, drug stores, urgent care center, post office and public library near me (I just checked out my first book and participated in a Shakespeare reading of “Sir Thomas More”), make address changes, discover restaurants, bagel and pastry shops, nail places, hair salons, find and sign up with new doctors that is a frustrating endeavor with long waiting lists to get into many. Barbara helps me bump the line to get an appointment with an internist she knows who has a waiting list of one year. I start to tutor first graders in East Harlem, head to downtown Brooklyn to get fingerprinted and begin a literacy project helping kids write. My one sister escorts me to the center where I go through the paces to qualify for a senior Metro Card. These efforts make me feel grounded and part of the city.
And almost daily, I am hit with a barrage of questions from St. Louis friends who primarily want to know if I’m glad I moved. I will answer some of the questions here:
What surprises you most about NYC?
Getting used to no garbage disposal, the mephitic odors of smoke from cigarettes and cigars and more that permeate the air, long long long lines (which I was sort of prepared for) at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and the NYC system of multiple lines almost like horses at a racetrack where the number of your lane pops up on a screen or is shouted out by a store “barker” that it’s your turn to leave the gate. Going into a fancy Macy’s and when the doors open, employees line the aisles to sing holiday songs to welcome shoppers. How well maintained and well run the public grade school is that I tutor in every week. I am also surprised at how difficult it is to get into a temple that I like where there is a long waiting list of two years. Yes, two! This may hardly surprise some who frequent it on Friday night when shabbat services draw crowds of more than 500.
How easy it is to get around?
I thought it would be more of a challenge, but public transportation—now that I have the hang of it--is wonderful. All it cost me as a senior is about $1.25 for each ride. Do I miss driving? Not at all. What about when it’s cold and windy and I must walk? In St. Louis I could just jump into my warm car. I learn to bundle up in layers and move quickly.
What is it like being in the apartment? Do you like the building and the neighborhood?
It’s surprisingly quiet. The apartment is small but a terrific and well-designed space. I love the location and the building staff is friendly and helpful although they do have their hands out for tips. People tip from $5 on up for such services as delivering boxes or taking them away, hailing a ride service, fixing something in the apartment that isn’t typical maintenance such as a malfunctioning TV, computer or helping to hang a light fixture. I tipped our concierge $20 one afternoon for schlepping dozens of boxes down to my storage space and then rearranging everything in the space to fit.
Is it expensive to live there?
It’s an expensive city, that’s for sure. The one thing that’s less expensive than living in St. Louis is my utility bill, that’s partly because I’m in a smaller space that’s so well insulated in a newer building. I try to economize by taking subways, buses and walking rather than taking Ubers and taxis. Also, I’ve never been much of a shopper and spender, although I did have to buy some new furniture. Food at my nearby grocery store is pricey. Eating out is very expensive, but there are so many great restaurants from which to choose.
Can you sleep?
Yes. I feel very safe and the smaller surroundings make it a cozier setting than my condo. The windows are hermetically sealed. Although I face north and am close to the West Side Highway, I do not hear outside noise.
Do you hear your neighbors, and if so, is it tolerable?
I hear almost nothing. My neighbors have a toddler and a piano which the husband plays in the evenings. I do not hear either the child or the piano. And hopefully they don’t hear me when I play classical music or go on an expletive rant when frustrated with technology or the news.
Have you prepared any food for yourself yet?
Now what do you think would be my first attempt? Those who know me probably answered chocolate chip cookies. I made them for the building manager. I promised if she got me a new oven, I would bake her my cookies as a thank you. For Rosh Hashanah, I made a vinegar chicken recipe with olives that I read about in the New York Times. I forgot to adjust the oven temperature for a convection oven and the chicken came out a bit rubbery but tasted good, nonetheless. I made chicken soup with matzoh balls for the Jewish holidays. Since then, I’ve tackled a few additional recipes such as lemon bars, other soups and some inventive salads. A new upscale grocery store is just a few blocks from my building with good selections and tasty prepared foods. I made some desserts too for Barbara’s mother’s 100th birthday!
Have I met anybody new?
Yes. I have made a concerted effort to form new connections. Shortly after I arrived, courtesy of my eldest son, I spent a Sunday afternoon in the home of a famous movie star (I promised not to name the people in this blog, but you can email me to find out.) He lives next door to another famous person, whose teenage daughters are causing some typical age-related concerns. There I met a lovely woman and her two young daughters. I invited the mother to join a group of us on an architectural boat tour of Manhattan. She couldn’t go because of babysitting issues.
People here are mostly friendly and open, especially if you ask directions. They tend to overshare and sometimes confuse me more. I met two women one evening when I got on the wrong bus. They love music and I told them I would email about an opera or good concert.
I also met an attorney while waiting for a subway, and we decided to make plans to go to a play. My eldest son introduced me to a journalist, and we had dinner together and attended a concert. That same night, I met two men who had just married. They live near me. I have become friendly with a woman in my building who lives a floor above me and is a good resource, the young couple and their toddler who live next door, and a single woman who lives on the other side of me.
I also tutor with some lovely women with whom I am slowly bonding as well as meeting a nice group of people at a nearby Jewish Community Center where I signed up to do some one-time social justice projects. I met a man while standing in front of a dumpling store reading the menu. We started talking and I found out that he’s a dermatologist and his wife a radiologist. Both are foodies, and we made plans to do dinner.
And Barbara so far has introduced me to a few of her friends—one from kindergarten—and we all went on the architectural boat trip around Manhattan.
Do you feel like you’re on vacation?
At first, I did because everything was unfamiliar. Now I feel as if I’ve lived here for a much longer time than I have as I fall into a routine.
How much have you been able to take from the NYC playbook?
Ideally, all that I want, but not as much as I wish I could. I am overwhelmed with choices of things to do—plays, lectures, museums, concerts, operas, street festivals and open markets, old and new bookstores and libraries, fabulous retail stores in all genres, tours of neighborhoods, great gourmet food stores, delis and pastry shops galore. The weather is good but getting colder now that it’s 2020. Fall was gorgeous fall and because I am near the Hudson River and a park, I have had many serene moments walking along the river or just sitting on a bench on a nice day and relaxing on the pier which stretches out into the water. It’s a side of NYC I didn’t know existed.
Is every day an adventure?
Yes. When I walk out my front door, I never know who I’ll meet or what will happen. Many days as I wend my way through the city, I feel as if I am living in a play. I see a truck almost hit a bus. The truck driver jumps out shaking his fists at the other. It escalates to shouting and obscenities. A cop pulls up in his cruiser, surveys the scene and is gone. I can’t tell if this is good or bad. I just want to be gone as quickly as possible. Sweat pours down my back. I rush by for I don’t want to be a bit player in someone else’s drama.
As I head to my tutoring gig in East Harlem one afternoon, an older woman trips while getting on the subway. People help her up and offer her a seat. I listen to the din in the station while I wait for a train. There are some musicians playing jazz. I drop a $1 into a guitar case. I overhear others’ discussions. One man is late for a job interview and is on his phone explaining why. A child begs her mother for a cookie. Her mother says, “no” and she starts to wail. Two students discuss a movie they’ve just seen and are laughing as their voices raise in disagreement about the plot.
I’m back out on the street and hear couples chatting in many different languages and holding hands, students streaming out of the many public and private schools in early afternoon, and people walking solo at a brisk clip often on their phones and carrying a cup of coffee. I hear sounds of sirens, cell phones ringing and homeless people begging for money and a meal. The rustle of garbage bags and the clunk and ping of cans falling on the concrete sidewalk grab my attention as I spot a woman going through the bags to sort cans and bottles in hopes of selling the disposables for recycling. A delivery man on a bike falls over, spills bottled water and Chinese food on the street as a group rushes to his aid then helps clean up the mess. Is the man okay? 911 is called. Sirens. Noise. Crowds gather.
Every day I am adapting more to my new life. As George Bernard Shaw said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” I am carrying those words with me as I learn about this city. I am steeled for new challenges. I am heady with my newfound independence and, although single, I am not looking for anyone to complete me. I feel very completed.
Do I miss my St. Louis friends?
Of course, I do. However, one of the dangers of looking back is the tendency toward idealization so I make a conscious effort to look forward and to live in the moment, as my kids would say. And for now, this is the city I call my own, the place I imagine when I shut my eyes at night. How will this all shake out in the long run? I don’t know, but it’s the not quite knowing that is part of the excitement and adventure.
If you have any other questions you’d like to ask me, feel free to do so in the comments and I will reply. Also, come visit. As my late husband always said, “NYC is a great place to visit.” And I’d like to update the adage: It’s also a pretty great place to live.