New York City.
I've been living here for a month and a handful of days. Nestling into my little 5 bedroom apartment on the upper west side of Harlem. Decorating my side of the room I share and scavenging furniture, picture frames and lamps from curbs and dumpsters a like. The trees outside our front windows have been putting on a show for us, dancing through the colors from the edge of summer into shimmering red and gold against the grit and grim and new chilly wind of my city. The police station is right across from our third floor abode, and the constant cry of a siren has become a kind of lullaby. But our home is filled with cheer, and women. There are 6 of us all told and it's the very first time I have ever lived with girls. And the more I get to know each one I feel an immense sense of gratitude that I chose to live with these humans. They make making home here, easy.
I'm writing this on the subway, it's after midnight and I'm on my way home from work at the comedy club I hostess for. The subway car stutters a little as we pull into a late night station, the door open for a moment and then the I can hear the faint grumble of the conductor. The only thing I pick out over the garbled loud speaker is
"Stand clear closing doors."
And we do and then we rocket on again into the bowels of this city, the dark flashes past the rounded windows but because our train is running express at this hour we race through deserted stations, the light bright and fleeting and then again we go back into the dark.
I've got so used to this, funny how quickly one adjusts to something so foreign, so different than my cabin and mountains. But even here I am finding a new kind of home in the crush of people, in the windswept streets and bitter cold, in the faces of my new friends and the new apartment I call home.
The last month has felt rather unromantic, quite honestly, not a lot to write home about, it's been a lot of unpacking, a lot of scouring Thrift stores for things to make my shared room a little homier. A lot of trying to get organized and get enough sleep. But I figure for just moving two thousand miles, It's not so bad.
One thing I always encounter here is how this city drives you forward. It is a force of nature, with all of it's humanity. It pushes you, it will break you, if you do not learn to bend and give and fight and give.
It distills you down into the strongest and most potent version of yourself.
She is a strong willed city, full and teeming with life, with humanity. Not to be trifled with. But also to be loved. Like your overbearing aunt who always over feeds you on home-cooked food and all of her rich opinions.
But I find grace here.
Sometime last week I was riding the subway to school and sat beside a big man, sweating slightly in a blue stripped button up shirt with a bow tie. The moment I saw him, I just knew he was an actor, going to an audition, something about the panic sweat and fervent way he was reading his - what turned out to be sides, highlighted in pink marker- I sat beside him and practiced my own lines for my scene that morning, but when he stood up at times square 42nd street I lifted my eyes from my page and told him to
"Break a leg."
He turned and stared at me for a moment. And then, a smile kept across his face and lit up his eyes. It was as if he had really seen me, and I him for one single shared moment of humanity. His tension eased. His words were brief before he turned and with a spring in his step he stepped out into the crush of people crowding on the platform. "Thanks you. Thank you so much." I hope he got the job.
I find an amazing amount of grace on the subway, if I am open to it, that is. I ran into my roommate, the other night coming home from work, we were sitting in the same car across from each other and hadn't planned it or even known it for a moment.
Another night I helped a woman down the steps in queens. She was in great pain, helplessly she clung to me as I helped her down the long flight of steps. She kept thanking me and calling me angel-mama in broken Spanglish. But at the bottom of the stairs, it was I who walked away thankful and changed. To be able to help, to do something so small as help support a woman's weight down two flights of steps, it grows the fire of grace and faith in humanity that burns inside of me. I know I ask for flames from that fire a lot, it does my heart good, to be able to give back.
New York challenges you. It's been challenging me. I'm grateful for it, but damn so much city and concrete is a little intense. I've been making frequent trips up to the quiet of the cloisters. And the view of trees across the Hudson on the shores of Jersey is like a breath of fresh air. It is truly like breathing again, being under the canopy of leaves as they fall jewel bright and fluttering to the ground.
So far, I love my jobs. I'm a hostess for an upscale comedy club in Chelsea. We're actually one of the top ten places to watch standup in the whole US.
It's busy and frantic and a frenzy at times but as I start to understand the patterns and rhythms and as I start to make friends it gets easier. Now, almost a month in I actually feel like I am helping, rather than just being a bump on a log dressed in fancy black.
It definitely feels like a cliché though, wiping down tables and clearing plates of food and empty beer bottles, sharing my homegrown smile with these busy New York folks as I run drinks and place bar napkins. Nearly everyone who works there is an actor or musician or comedian for that matter. I feel like we could be an episode of glee or any other movie featuring the small town girl girl gone to the big, big city.
But it's a good job, it doesn't pay much and that's a little difficult sometimes -like at the the end of the month, or the beginning for that matter- but I've also started working for this really exceptionally wonderful family in Brooklyn.
She is an actress and he is a Emmy award-winning playwright. Which of course I didn't find out until I had been working for them for a few weeks. To me, they are just Kathryn and David, just kind, human people who care if their little wiener dog vomited on the carpet or if Eva went to bed on time. You can really tell how much they love their kids. I feel exceptionally blessed to be working for their family.
But even with working extra for their family and selling pretty much everything I can at home I'm still coming up a lot short. I probably shouldn't be surprised, New York is expensive and I have never needed so much money before in my life. What with rent and utilities and school, food, metro cards and moving in and bed buying fees. I took the plunge last week and realized that I should probably apply for food stamps. I had to sit with it for a few days, the proud part of myself shaking her head and grumbling that I can do this on my own. But quite honestly, and logistically where I am right now, I can't. I can always look for more work, and I am, but a girls got to eat.
I'm just trying to survive the best way I can.
So today on the phone I talked to Valerie, the woman who responded after 5 days from the food stamp qualification office. She so patiently explained everything to me and walked me through the steps. At the end, she welcomed me to New York and wished me luck with real warmth in her voice.
I felt like she is probably one of the most courageous modern day heros I will come in contact with.
After I hung up I got my computer and started researching jobs. I need another source of income, but after a diligent perusal of Craigslist and the most promising thing I could find was working for a foot fetish place, (just naked feet, nothing else! - was their tag line) I closed the tab in disgust and took a nap before work tonight.
But the reality is bare, I'm gonna need more income.
It's strange feeling like a transplant here, but it also feels rather right. I've never wanted to live anywhere else, not really. But I do here. I love it here, even when I'm immersed in concrete and crying horns and crabby people. There are always bright and shiny bits of grace, if you choose to seek them out.
All for now.