Single State of Mind
my life has officially begun—again
It’s been a mere two hours since I boarded this plane, said farewell to life as I knew it in Atlanta, and took the terrifying first step toward my new life. All my goodbyes have been said, my tears have been shed, and now only a few thousand feet stand between me and the world of a single woman living in New York City.
The pilot comes over the loudspeaker to announce that we are making our final descent into the New York area. I return my seat and tray to the upright and locked position so the flight attendant doesn’t yell at me, lift the window shade up, and look out at the sheet of white clouds below. As the plane gets lower and lower, the sheet becomes thinner and thinner, until finally all the clouds have disappeared. And there it is. New York City.
Dozens of mammoth skyscrapers are grouped in a large cluster, with the newly built Freedom Tower reigning supreme. They sit strikingly along the water beside picturesque bridges. It’s marvelous; majestic, even, like a kingdom right out of the pages of a fairy tale. And though I’ve seen this kingdom a dozen times before, it feels as if I’m laying eyes on it for the very first time. My vantage point, both physically and mentally, has me seeing this glorious city so differently from how I ever have; it’s bigger, bolder, and more mysterious than ever. It’s as if this city is speaking to me; it’s as if it’s begging me to come and play with it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to LaGuardia Airport, where the local time is three forty-five and the current temperature is thirty-three degrees . . .” Damn, thirty-three degrees! I think to myself. “On behalf of our entire Atlanta-based crew, we’d like to thank you
for joining us and look forward to seeing you in the near future. For those of you who are visiting, we hope you enjoy your stay. For those of you whose final destination is New York, let us be the first to say welcome home.” A grin washes over my face. I realize I am one of those passengers in the latter category. This is my final destination. I am home.
It’s not long before I’ve deplaned and am nearly skipping with eagerness through the terminal and to the baggage claim, where the first of my two suitcases, bearing the embarrassing neon orange HEAVY tag, is coming around on the conveyor belt. As I struggle to lug it off, a middle-aged man helps me. I thank him and wonder if this is the first of many more damsel-in-distress moments I’ll play in the future. I haul my two suitcases behind me as I make my way toward the giant yellow sign that reads TAXIS. The instant I walk through the double doors, a gust of bitter cold New York air greets me. I take a whiff. It smells a tad like garbage, with a hint of urine and maybe a note or two of sewage. But it also smells like freedom. I close my eyes for a moment and smile. Somehow this putrid, bone-chillingly cold air is the best I’ve ever felt.
I make my way through a zigzag of steel barricades and wait in the taxi line behind a handful of other passengers. I look around, noticing how similar everyone looks: phones out, headphones in, all-black ensembles. Meanwhile, I’m wearing the Sorel snow boots that I borrowed from my best friend, Kelly, a marshmallow-looking puffer coat I found on sale at Forever 21 just yesterday, mittens, and, to top it all off, a flamboyant faux-fur-lined trapper hat. My entire outfit instantly brands me as a Southerner who can’t handle a measly thirty-three degrees. I make a mental note of how to fit in here: black on black on black . . . on black.
It doesn’t take long until I reach the front of the line and am greeted by a man directing the long line of waiting taxis. “Where
to??” he asks.
“New York City,” I say proudly.
“Where in New York City??” His bored tone had suddenly acquired a hint of irritation.
“Oh, sorry, of course—the West Village, please.” I’ve said it in such an excessively overconfident and slightly pompous tone that there’s no doubt he knows I’m just a typical tourist pretending to be a local. He scribbles on a pink slip of paper that he hands to me before pointing to the second cab in line. The driver gets out, hoists one of my suitcases into the trunk of the yellow sedan, looks at the second one before telling me it’s not going to fit and puts it in the backseat. As I’m buckling my seat belt, the driver without so much as a flinch of his head back toward the plexiglass that separates him from my oversized suitcase and me shouts, “Where to?”
“The West Village,” I reply.
“Where in the West Village??”
“Umm . . . Grove Street, please.”
“Grove and what??”
Shit, I can’t remember. I pull up the confirmation email and shout out the number.
“Lady, I don’t need the number, I need the cross street.”
He rolls his eyes as I scramble to plug the address into my phone’s map. I haven’t even left the airport, and already I’ve managed to annoy both the man directing the taxi and the man driving the taxi. Finally, the map loads, and I shout victoriously, “Bleecker and Grove. Between”—I zoom in—“between Seventh Avenue and Hudson Avenue.” Though on closer look, it’s actually Hudson Street, not Hudson Avenue, and Seventh Avenue isn’t that close to Bleecker.
“Which way do you want me to take??” he asks.
He gives a second eye roll accompanied by his first audible moan. “Lady, which way? The FDR, Midtown Tunnel, or the bridge??”
Rather than succumb to being outed as a tourist, I channel what I think a New Yorker would do and pretend not to have heard him the first time, before rolling my own eyes and telling him to pick the fastest route as if that should have been obvious.
He starts the meter. I slump back and rest my head on the greasy leather seat, knowing it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be home. I guess that’s not entirely true, since where I’m going isn’t my real home, but just a three-week rental. Long story short, I tried to find an apartment back when I was still living in the land of Depressionville, also known as Atlanta, but with thousands of options in dozens of different neighborhoods, it was more than my broken heart could handle. I couldn’t commit to something sight unseen again, considering the last time I did that, I ended up on a reality television show where I got engaged, which didn’t work out and left me so devastated that I bought a one-way ticket to a city I knew nearly nothing about. So to avoid being the village idiot yet again, I decided to take baby steps and go with a short-term rental while I searched for a more permanent pad. I settled on a cute place that was only slightly out of my budget in a neighborhood called the West Village.
As the meter hits eleven dollars, we emerge from a dark four-lane hole and out into the light. With my face pressed up against the smudged window, I find myself transfixed by my surroundings. The gray buildings are so high that their tops are invisible. Mounds of brown slushy snow are piled up along the streets next to sidewalks crowded with people moving quickly in their black peacoats and headphones. They weave past one another with an aggressive sort of ease. Backed by an occasional siren, horns blare from every direction, including from my own taxi. It’s everything I imagined
New York to be and more. There is an aura, a vibe, an energy that’s impossible to describe. It’s permeating so deeply that I can feel it from within the cab.
Finally, we arrive at Grove Street. The owner, whom I recognize from his Airbnb profile picture, is standing outside a nondescript brownstone nestled between what appears to be a German beer garden and a small grocery store. I pay the fare, a whopping forty-eight dollars not including tip, before getting out and meeting Jay, who introduces himself with a flimsy handshake. He’s much slimmer and shorter than he appears in his profile photo. He generously offers to help me carry my suitcases up the two flights of stairs.
“Well, this is it,” he says as he opens a red door.
There’s a glass side table immediately to the left of the door, on which I place my purse. Instantly, I realize that not only is Jay smaller in person, but so is the apartment. He begins giving me the tour, starting off with the alcove kitchen to the right, which is very . . . how shall I put this . . . it’s very . . . vintage. There’s a rusted stovetop above an oven that looks like it’s from the seventies, next to a matching microwave. A makeshift butcher’s block has mismatched coffee mugs, plates, and glasses stacked on it. It’s a far cry from Kelly’s ostentatious kitchen equipped with a Viking stove and a Sub-Zero fridge that I’d grown accustomed to while living there for the past two months.
The alcove kitchen opens up to the living room, which is much more chic. A large L-shaped light gray couch, adorned with a plush cream-colored blanket and coordinating colorful throw pillows, is positioned in front of the fireplace. A white shaggy rug lies below the lacquered white coffee table, where a vase of fresh peonies sits, along with a Diptyque candle and a stack of GQ magazines. Jay must be gay. That, or he has a stylish girlfriend who’s too busy being fabulous to have time to slave away in a kitchen. Next, he shows me the coat closet, which is jam-packed with wool trenches, a few furs,
and one eye-catching silver-sequined jacket that could only belong to a fabulous gay man.
“Sorry there’s not a lot of room. My partner and I, well, what can I say, we love our clothes.” He raises both hands and wiggles his fingers. Gay Knew it!
Next, Jay leads me to the bedroom, which barely fits a queen-size bed, but which is equally as chic as the living room. The bathroom is small; white subway tiles line the walls of the bathtub, and there’s a ceramic pedestal sink next to the toilet. It takes all of forty-five seconds for the tour to wrap, and Jay and I find ourselves back in the alcove kitchen.
“So, a few things to go over. There’s no garbage disposal; food goes in the trash. And no dishwasher, but there’s a sponge and soap.” He points to a bottle of Mrs. Meyer’s dish soap and a blue sponge. “So . . . I’ve cleaned out the fridge for you. The stove and oven work fine, though I won’t lie, we don’t really use either. And by don’t really, I mean, like, never.” He laughs in a please-don’t-judge-me kind of way. I laugh back in an I-don’t-plan-on-cooking-much-anyway kind of way.
“Hmm, what else??” He taps his Gucci loafer on the hardwood floor as he thinks silently. “Oh, the trash gets picked up on Tuesdays and Fridays, so you can just take it downstairs and outside to the bins. There are tons of amazing restaurants around the area, and the neighborhood is great. Super safe.”
“Awesome. One question, where’s the washer and dryer??”
“Oh, girl.” He tucks his chin into his neck and curls his lip. “There is no washer and dryer. I wish! But there’s a wash-and-fold place just on the corner. That’s where we go, and they’ll pick up and deliver for free.”
“Oh, perfect. Yeah, that’s what I usually do, too.” I lie so Jay won’t know that I don’t come from the land of Gucci loafer sophistication
where it’s customary to send your laundry out and have it delivered.
He hands me the keys and tells me to call him if anything goes wrong. I thank him and hug him goodbye. I’m not sure why I hug him, considering he’s a complete stranger. Maybe it has to do with the Southerner in me or the sequined jacket that I will undoubtedly throw on the second he leaves. He’s taken aback but out of courtesy follows my lead and, unbeknownst to him, gives me my very first New York hug.
I lock the door behind him, and just like that, I am alone in New York City, for the first time ever. I collapse on the couch, taking a moment to look around and process the small but charming apartment. I look at the kitchen, or lack thereof, and figure I can manage without a dishwasher or a garbage disposal for now, because, let’s be honest, I’m not planning to cook. Nothing reeks of depression like a single girl, alone in New York City, burning something in the oven. Though on second thought, it would be a good way to check out the local firefighters. I decide that for my real apartment I’ll definitely be needing a bigger kitchen, as well as a washer and dryer. I can’t afford to send my dirty clothes out every week, nor can I afford to gain a reputation as the Southern single girl who smells. I’ll also need more square footage, along with more closet space and an updated kitchen. Additionally, I’ll need a dishwasher and a bathtub and a garbage disposal. Though this place may not be perfect, it’s a roof over my head, a bed to sleep in, and, most important, it’s miles away from the shit memories of Atlanta. Plus, I am living in fucking NEW YORK CITY!
Speaking of living here, I can’t forget that I have some apartment showings tomorrow. As I’m setting reminders on my phone, my mom calls. Shit, I forgot to tell her I made it here safely. Come to think of it, I’m shocked that she hasn’t called me a dozen times by now, considering the last time we talked was more than three
“Hi, Pookie! How was the flight??” she squeals.
“Hi, Mom!” I tell her that the flight was fine and I’ve made it to the apartment.
“Ahhhh, yay! How is it? Faaaaaabulous??” She sounds like a white-mom version of Oprah.
“It’s really cute. Really small but cute.”
“Have you heard any sirens yet? Is it freezing??” The rapid-fire questions continue, and I’m beginning to wonder who is more excited about this move, Mom or me. Not only is she the quintessential type of mom who calls every day, usually at the worst moment possible, but she’s also the kind of mom who loves asking impertinent questions when she gets excited about something. It’s funny, because my mom was actually born in upstate New York, but she moved to Georgia to go to college and never left, so she’s this rare mix of Yankee-meets-Dixie. She’s super-friendly and talkative but avoids confrontation like the plague.
“Well, I told you everything is small in New York. I remember when Nanny used to live there. She just had a tiny little studio. It was on Bleecker and—”
“Christopher. I know, I know, you’ve told me a million times, Mom.” In addition to being a Chatty Cathy, my mother also has a habit of repeating stories, not just once but dozens of times. It must be a parental thing, because my dad does it, too. Only every time he repeats a story, his exaggerations grow. The first time he tells the tale, he caught a fish that was a foot long, and by the tenth time, I swear, the fish has somehow morphed into a great white shark.
“You have to go see her place. It’s right near where you’re staying. I can’t remember the apartment number.”
“Mom, I don’t think I can just walk into a building and randomly ask to see a place.”
“True.” She’s in the middle of asking me what my plans are for tonight when she abruptly cuts off the entire conversation so she can be on time for her daily mah-jongg game at the country club.
I hang up the phone and stare at my suitcases, which are still zipped with stuffed clothes inside begging for air. I know I should unpack, but I’m too excited. Instead, I grab my puffer coat, slip on Kelly’s snow boots, and take my very first voyage out into the neighborhood. As I’m walking, the air feels colder than it was a mere hour ago, but it’s crisper. With no scent of garbage or urine, it’s chilly but refreshing. The neighborhood is far less crowded than the streets I passed on my way here. It’s antiquated yet enchanting at the same time, and the sight of the bare trees lining the streets have me imagining just how beautiful it must look in springtime. I envision myself twirling around these same streets one day, only in a ruffled dress and heels instead of these snow boots. As I turn the corner onto Hudson Street, an overwhelming aroma of pizza pervades the air. A generic white and red sign that simply reads PIZZA has my mouth watering. I walk in and approach the counter, which displays a dozen different types of pizza.
“What’ll ya have??” a man in a white apron shouts at me.
“Two slices of cheese, please.”
“For here or to go??”
I look around at the dingy interior with its few dirty tables and a metal countertop. “To go, please.” I make my way down to the register.
I hand him a five, leave a quarter in the tip jar, and within minutes, I’m that chick. The one walking around the West Village in a trapper hat with a pizza box in hand. I’m tempted to devour it while
walking, but the pleasant sight of a small wine shop distracts me. I pop in. Forty dollars later, and I find myself headed for home. My first day in my new home has come to an end. And with nightfall looming, it’s time for me, my two slices of pizza, and my two bottles of wine to have our very first date in New York City.