Today, the internet was down at work and everyone kept pacing around everyone else’s cubicles, cracking jokes, breaking into song, chatting and gossiping. It felt like the hallways of a college dorm. It felt like being trapped indoors during a storm with people you’re warming to.
Last night Ben and I walked to the BAM to see Blue Is The Warmest Color, which is a long and tearful movie. I didn’t cry, but there was lots of snot-dripping crying depicted with big fat tears. It was realistic and prolonged and beautiful, like a life. It made me feel reflective and sexy and hungry. And that is my review in its entirety.
Tonight we cleaned the apartment. We have capital C Company coming tomorrow and I’m always a bit nervous about inviting outsiders into my messy little place with its grimy windowsills and too many books. Now I’m burning a pumpkin souffle scented candle in a pretty white jar. I had chocolate and red wine for dinner, as one should, on occasion. I have Fanny Price and her ball on my mind and I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I like that.
This weekend I put on my sneakers and jogged for the first time in months. Ben and I made our way up to Prospect Park. I huffed and puffed and complained that my throat was hurting from the crisp air. We appreciated the trees. I begged for water. We walked. We pointed out dogs. I focused on my breathing.
This weekend I ate french toast and drank mimosas out of stemless glasses on a little patio.
I curled up with hot chocolate mixed with kahlua and sambuca on a leather armchair by a roaring fireplace and read Mansfield Park, while Ben laughed quietly next to me, reading Me Talk Pretty One Day.
This weekend I bought tickets for the American Ballet Theatre’s performance of the Nutcracker at the BAM in December.
Ben and rearranged our artwork and hung some old prints on the walls, high-fiving when we got one to hang just right.
I listened to the marathon runners go by out my bedroom window. A block away, a live band played all the music my dad likes - The Beatles, The Traveling Wilburys, The Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu.
This weekend I ate peanut butter cookies and took a long, hot bath. I pulled up the big, grey, feather duvet and hid under it. I reveled in the radiator’s hissing.
Lily came across this playlist before she should have. It was a present I was working on to give her the day before she leaves, but she discovered it a day early on her own, without knowing I had put it together for her.
I wanted to make you something to accompany you on your journey. When putting this playlist together, I tried to keep a particular mood in mind, choosing songs that felt melancholy, dreamy, bittersweet, and hopeful. These are the songs I can imagine listening to while staring out the window while the country passes by. They are songs about leaving, about transforming, about aching. I had fairy tales in mind. Daydreams and shadows. Sad songs, love songs, songs about saying goodbye. So here they are, 75 handpicked songs with gilded edges, and songs meant for crying your heart out into open palms.
Joni Mitchell - A Case of You
Nothing like a little Joni to get this playlist started off right. Our wise Joni. Picture Sandra Bullock singing along to this in the car on her way to save Nicole Kidman in Practical Magic. Picture me listening to this in college in Canada - Oh, Canada - over and over, sitting on my dorm room floor. Part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time. So perfectly describes what it means to be changed by someone.
Basia Bulat - A Secret
I like this little ditty. It’s short and sweet and sounds like things hidden in giant old attics. A music box of a song. An old letter with swirly script. A present. A prize.
Fiona Apple - Across the Universe (Beatles cover) (obviously)
I don’t know if Beatles covers are acceptable to you, but I’m chancing it because this particular Fiona version has been a favorite for so long. It’s such a zen song - perfect, I imagine, for giving oneself over to a long train ride and existing solely in the journey. Nothing’s gonna change my world, nothing’s gonna change my world. Repeat as necessary until you believe it.
Bill Withers - Ain’t No Sunshine
Moody, bluesy, self-explanatory.
Jenny Lewis - Bad Man’s World
It is a bad man’s world, isn’t it? With you and me and Jenny Lewis just living in it, trying to be bad girls and not really succeeding entirely. It’s a bad girl song for girls who are good, in spite of themselves.
Warpaint - Billie Holiday
This song sounds a bit like an incantation. A children’s rhyme, twisted into something ever so slightly darker.
Plants and Animals - Bye Bye Bye
Unfortunately not an NSYNC cover, this song nevertheless delivers. It’s probably THE most emotional song about change I know. What’s gonna happen to you? You have woke up too soon and found the world rearranged and now your feelings have changed. Say goodbye to before (bye bye bye), you are not welcome anymore. The door’s been shown to you, but only if you go through. It so perfectly describes that feeling of waking up and feeling like suddenly everything has changed, like you are being pushed out of your old life and into something new. And yet t’s hopeful at the same time - the door’s been shown to you, but only if you go through. There is a way out into the unknown and you have only to walk through.
Andrew Bird - Candy Shop
This song found it’s way on here because of its old-fashioned, tap-dancing appeal. I can imagine you doing your signature tap shuffle, bow in hair, to this one. It’s upbeat, old-fashioned party music.
The New Pornographers - Challengers
Possibly the most apt song on the list. Kept thinking of the line wander the West Village in flames. And also, especially this one: Be safe, you say. Whatever the mess you are, you mind, ok? Can’t seem to get a consensus on whether it’s “you mind” or “you’re mine”, but either way, I think it’s perfect.
Rogue Wave - Cheaper Than Therapy
The music I want is cheaper than therapy. I’ve always believed in the truth of this line.
Sufjan Stevens - Chicago
What a wonderful, soul-filling, swell of a song for traveling. It’s about leaving behind your mistakes, fleeing them literally and then recreating yourself somewhere new. It’s transformative and brilliant.
Slow Club - Christmas TV
It’s ok to have scars, they will make you who you are. It’s ok to have fears, as long as you’re not scared of coming here. And in the middle of the night, call if you wanna talk, cause you know that I wanna talk to you. Sometimes all you want is someone who’ll watch Christmas TV with you. It’s a song about coming home.
Debussy - Clair De Lune
Maybe you’ve heard it too many times? Maybe it doesn’t sound like lakes and lilypads to you. To me, it’s still lovely. Clair de lune is French for moonlight, in case you didn’t already know. (I bet you knew.)
Sia - Day Too Soon
I’ve been waiting all my life, I ran away, I ran away from good. I don’t know if there’s a person alive who doesn’t know what it means to run away from good, at least once in their lives. There’s some good that needs running from to find out who you are. Once you know what you know what you’ve been running from, you can recognize it when you see it again.
The Cranberries - Dreams
I mean, obviously. A song about getting up early and walking down the sidewalks of New York with a bounce in your step. About changing every day in every possible way. I know I’ve felt like this before, but now I’m feeling it even more. Isn’t that just New York, for you?
Morrissey - Everyday is Like Sunday
When I was twenty two, I took the train home from a weekend at my boyfriend’s house upstate. Just before dropping me off, he said something that hurt my feelings and all at once I knew that it was over. He was not the person for me. I listened to this song on repeat for most of the way back to the city, crying the whole way. Every day is like Sunday, every day is silent and gray. I felt exactly like that. The Sunday dread of the week beginning, the deep down knowledge that something wasn’t right.
Martha Wainwright - Factory
This song perfectly captures the moment when you walk into a party and want nothing more than to leave. These are not my people, I should never have come here. It’s that alone in a crowdness, the fight or flight instinct. Playing out my very last chance to run, run, run.
Iron and Wine - Flightless Bird, American Mouth
This song takes a listen or two. All of your street light eyes wide on my plastic toys. There’s something about the way it builds and the way he sings with such vulnerability Have I found you?
Ingrid Michaelson - Giving Up
Sometimes I think every relationship I’ve ever had can be summed up by the line What if there’s always cups in the sink? What if I’m not what you think I am? While it is a song about giving up, it’s far from hopeless. It’s about giving up on pretending to be something you’re not and giving over to reality in all it’s beautiful, ugly mistakes and pain and unknowable what ifs.
Beirut - Goshen
Why is this song so inconsolably wistful? You’re not the girl I used to know. Oh, I know the feeling.
Lissie - Go Your Own Way (Fleetwood Mac cover)
This is a great breaking free, escaping song. I mean, I can’t imagine anything more freeing than shout-singing at someone “you can go your own way!" unless maybe it’s whispering it to yourself on a train ride across the country. Open up - everything’s waiting for you…
Gotye - Hearts a Mess
This song creeps up under your skin and stays there. Those of us with messy hearts will always understand.
Oren Lavie - Her Morning Elegance
Another rainy day song, about the unknowable inner lives of everyone, and the sad details in the dull everyday. And she fights for her life as she puts on her coat. And she fights for her life on the train. She looks at the rain as it pours. And she fights for her life as she goes in a store with a thought she has caught by a thread. She pays for the bread and she goes. Nobody knows. There will always be days when going to the store or getting on the train feels like a fight for your life. This song will help you through them.
Meaghan Smith - Here Comes Your Man (Pixies cover)
For levity’s sake, something with a bit more bounce. I’ll be damned if I know what it means, but I know that it always reminds me of the way it feels when you’re first falling in love or in lust or into a particularly exciting crush, and the object of your affection enters the room. It’s that lit up from within feeling.
James Vincent McMorrow - Higher Love
A sad, but hopeful, song, a bit like a prayer. Just this steadfast belief in something more, something higher, something better.
Antony and the Johnsons - Hope There’s Someone
More dismal/hopeful music. His voice is so unique and strange. The song is a bit nightmarish, with ghosts and oceans and dreams. Oh I’m scared of the middle place between light and nowhere.
Teitur - I Was Just Thinking
Long-distance love song. A song about postcards and phonecards and pining.
Johnny Cash - In My Life (Beatles cover)
Just sob unabashedly, it’s fine.
Camera Obscura - Let’s Get Out of This Country
It was difficult to choose a Camera Obscura song for this playlist because there are just too many that would work well. But this one is just so perfect for leaving. It’s hopeful and resilient. Let’s get out of this country. I admit I’m bored of me. I drowned my sorrows and slept around, when not in body at least in mind. We’ll find a cathedral city - you can convince me I’m pretty… and of course What does this city have to offer me? Everyone else thinks it’s the bee’s knees. An absolutely perfect getaway song.
Lisa Hannigan - Lille
This song is a lullaby. Let it rock you in and out of sleep.
Lia Ices - Love is Won
Mysterious and gentle and magical. A puzzle planted on the forest floor has grown tall by now.
Blitzen Trapper - Love the Way You Walk Away
I like the folksy vibe, which feels especially right for travel. I’ve been feelin in the way, kinda underfoot on a Saturday. Reminds me of barn dances and hayrides and old guitar picks.
Bright Eyes - Lua
Oh, such an end of the evening, sad-drunken song. A New York City hangover of a song. I know that it is freezing, but I think we have to walk. I keep waving at the taxis, they keep turning their lights off.
Adele - Make You Feel My Love (Billy Joel cover)
Apparently, this song was originally written by Bob Dylan, but Billy released his version first, so I’m calling it his. It’s the perfect gloomy weather song, plaintive and caring. When the rain is blowing in your face. And the whole world is on your case…
Elton John - Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Crying on the subway. I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.
Audrey Hepburn - Moon River
Yes, I am trying to break your heart. Audrey Hepburn on a fire escape. Or Carrie and Big doing the twist in his empty apartment. Whichever New York reference you prefer. Two drifters off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting round the bend, my Huckleberry friend, moon river, and me. It is impossible to hear those words and leave this place and not cry, at least a little bit.
Travis - My Eyes
This has been a longtime favorite song of mine. It’s so joyful on the ya ya yay's it makes me tear up. Welcome in, welcome in. Shame about the weather…
Matt Damon - My Funny Valentine
I may have scared you half to death that time I made you watch The Talented Mr. Ripley with me, but you have to admit that Matt Damon’s version of this song is amazing, and tender, and so perfectly sinister. It’s creepy and lovely.
Damian Rice - 9 Crimes
This song is dark, and always reminds me of a car crash in the rain. Is there a movie where this song plays over a car crash in the rain? I don’t know. All I know is, it feels exactly how it does to know you’re doing something dangerous, and doing it anyway.
Laura Marling - Night Terror
I like that this song is about nightmares, and protecting our loved ones from their demons. I roll over and shake him tightly, and whisper, if they want you, oh they’re gonna have to fight me. The video is spooky and wonderful.
Mr. Little Jeans - Oh Sailor
This song is to remind you that when you are adrift, you have the ocean. You have the wind. You are being held afloat, and looked after, and you are not alone. I also just love the children’s voices singing in the chorus.
The Barr Brothers - Ooh, Belle
The line ooh Belle, sometimes I’m overwhelmed can bring me to tears all on its own.
Nick Drake - One of These Things First
A song about what might have been, had things gone differently. About paths not taken, lives not lived.
The Smiths - Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want This Time
So fantastically self-pitying and hopeful at once. Hopeful finally, in spite of all the disappointments in the past. Just cautiously, prayerfully hopeful.
Broken Records - Problem With Remembering
Sounds like a waltz playing on a record player in a faraway room. And I held your hand, and I thought I would die. Cause it will never feel like this again in our lives.
Rachael Yamagata - Reason Why
Perhaps THE perfect breakup song. I cannot tell you how many times I have listened to this song after a long, painful breakup. Nothing better captures the resentment, the love, the hurt feelings, the inability to stop yourself from wondering what might have been. So I will head out alone and hope for the best. We can pat ourselves on the back and say that we tried. And if one of us makes it big, we can spill our regrets, and talk about how the love never dies. But you and I… know the reason why I’m gone and you’re still there.
Lana Del Rey - Ride
I mean, come on. Such a marvelous song for traveling cross-country. Watch this video 10 times in a row and it never gets old. It’s this sort of seedy, biker, torn up jean jacket and wind in your hair kind of song. Beers in dive bars and the freedom of the open road.
Jaymay - Sea Green, See Blue
Won’t you miss me? you said inside Grand Central Station. This one is just chock-full of great lines (you moved to Montreal to be closer to France, how’s that workin out?) although perhaps the best is I miss not being misused. I miss it all, so I guess I lose. Ain’t that the truth? Those of us with the misfortune of missing everything have to feel the loss of things all the time.
Cat Power - Sea of Love
So utterly simple. Every deliberate strum of the guitar feels like it pulls directly on your heartstrings.
Blonde Redhead - Silently
A mythical song, with it’s own sort of offbeat magic. It’s a song about travel by sea. About realizing things too late.
Peter Gabriel - Solsbury Hill
This is how it should feel to pack up and move - exciting and positive and fresh and your heart going boom, boom, boom. Grab your things I’ve come to take you home.
Regina Spektor - Summer in the City
This song is very much tied up in my love of New York. For me, it is walking, lonely, around Union Square. That moment when you think you recognize someone and they turn out to be someone else and you feel lonelier than before. The desire to feel anything at all. I’ve been stayin up, drinkin, in a late night establishment, telling strangers personal things.
Rufus Wainwright - The Art Teacher
I looked at the Rubens and Rembrandts. I liked the John Singer Sargents. He told me he liked Turner, and never have I turned since then. It is a song about the people that change you and shape you, and I love picturing the story as it unfolds.
Stars - The Aspidistra Flies
I think this is my favorite song for a rainy day. It’s foggy and soft. Run to the window and call out my name. We’ll meet where the sun goes to hide from the rain.
Michael Nyman - The Heart Asks Pleasure First
This is from the movie The Piano, and it’s gorgeous in its intensity. Powerful and transformative.
Nico - These Days
I love this glum little heartbreaker. One of the best lines in any song ever, and one I constantly repeat to myself - Please don’t confront me with my failures. I had not forgotten them.
Jeff Hanson - This Time It Will
I first heard this song on one of those brilliantly colorful fall days. I was driving home from work in Saratoga Springs, on the roads that wind around Saratoga lake. The leaves were red and yellow and then this song. This song! His remarkable gentle, feminine voice and the lyrics about dejavu (haven’t I done this all before? maybe I have, I’m not sure…) and feeling stuck. And the friends that really were aren’t really now. Ah! This one just kills me.
Fleet Foxes - Tiger Mountain Peasant Song
Sounds mythic and woven - like a legend, told in front of a fireplace in some dark cabin at night.
Vashti Benyan - Train Song
Ok, maybe a bit too on the nose, but it is perfect for train travel.
Neko Case - Vengeance is Sleeping
I happen to really like this title. The lyrics are very poetic and a bit opaque, but the intention with which she sings always slays me.
Duffy - Warwick Avenue
Another amazing breakup song, and one that’s especially good when you’re the one doing the leaving. I imagine it’s also good for leaving town. She has such an amazing, powerful voice, and was anything ever as true as you think you’re loving, but you don’t love me ?
Wilco - What Light
To be honest, I don’t actually have a particular attachment to this song. No anecdote or story. I heard it out of the blue a few weeks ago and liked it and felt like it deserved a place on this list, so here it is. Make of it what you will.
Guster - What You Wish For
An old favorite. There’s something so buoyant about this song, especially at its climax toward the end. And what you wish for could come true! You aren’t surprised, love, are you?
The Be Good Tanyas - When Doves Cry (Prince cover)
This song reminds me of lonely gardens. The kinds with old stone fountains, butterflies, eyes peering from trees, wings out of the corner of your eye. I think it’s about becoming something you never meant to be - something needy and desperate.
Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova - When Your Mind’s Made Up
Christ this stubborn song. So, if you ever want something, and you call call, then I’ll come running to fight. And I’ll be at your door, when there’s nothing worth running for. This one always leaves me in tears.
Peter Sarstedt - Where Do You Go To My Lovely?
The words to this song are so delightful. I suggest memorizing them and singing along. It’s just that sort of song. Well you’re in between 20 and 30 - that’s a very desirable age.
Emily Jane White - Wild Tigers I Have Known
Holdin flames. Holdin hands in hearts. This song is poetic and lovely.
Joshua Radin - Winter
I love his voice - sounds a lot like Simon and Garfunkel. I should know who I am by now. That’s the opening line! You know you’re in for it. Remember this song when you have that gut feeling that you’re about to do something you’ll regret. But I don’t have to make this mistake. And I don’t have to stay this way.
Tori Amos - Winter
Another winter song. What is it about winter? Absolutely heartbreaking. I used to listen to it over and over in high school. When you gonna make up your mind? When you gonna love you as much as I do? When you gonna make up your mind? Cause things are gonna change so fast. Be careful with this one. If you listen to it when you’re feeling fragile and missing your parents, it’ll tear you to pieces.
Aimee Mann - Wise Up
This song is featured prominently in one of my favorite movies, but it stands on it own beautifully. It’s a song about growing up, about learning that these emotions and tears and feelings are ceaseless. It’s unending. And being crushed by it all will continue until you accept that. It’s painful and it’s perfect. You got what you want, but you can hardly stand it though, by now you know, it’s not going to stop. It’s not going to stop. Til you wise up.
Rilo Kiley - With Arms Outstretched
Listen to this one at dawn one morning on your trip. Listen to it as the sun comes up and through your window as you speed across the country. It’s 16 miles to the promise land, and I promise you, I’m doing the best I can.
Barzin - Words Tangled In Blue
This one is about the messes we make in our own minds and the things we leave unsaid. Just a sort of slow, contemplative song.
The Weepies - World Spins Madly On
Oh god. I’m sorry for all these heartwringers, but I just couldn’t leave this one off. I thought of you and where you’d gone, and the world spins madly on.
Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights
I don’t know what to say for this song. If you don’t already know it and love it, you may actually hate it. It’s a weird, creepy, wonderful song, and I highly recommend watching the video, practicing her moves, getting a little drunk, and singing along. All you need to memorize is this part: Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy, I’ve come home, I’m so co-o-o-old. Let me into your window!” Just sing that loudly and with gusto, over and over.
Daughter - Youth
And if you’re in love then you’re the lucky one. Cause most of us are bitter over someone. Setting fire to our insides for fun. I like that it’s simply entitled “Youth.” Does that mean we stop torturing ourselves when we get older? I certainly hope so. Until then, all we can do is keep heaving through our corrupted lungs and collecting pictures from the flood that wrecked our homes. All we can do is keep going.
Do you know that scene in Ghost World near the end, after everything has happened - graduation, jealousy, and drunken mistakes, terrible jobs and boys and men and adventures in diners - after all of it, Enid and Rebecca are sitting on the bench, holding hands and not talking? I’ve been thinking about that scene a lot lately.
At the same time, I keep thinking about the scene from Anne of Green Gables, where Anne and Diana are standing on sand dunes. Is it sand dunes? Or a grassy hill? Either way, they are standing on this ridge, looking out ahead at the sunset or the sunrise or the future. They are wearing these gorgeous white dresses and the wind is blowing their hair. All of a sudden they look older than they have before. And Diana says she wishes she were rich, so that she could spend the whole summer at a hotel, eating ice cream and chicken salad, and Anne, in the most Anne way, says “You know something, Diana? We are rich. We have sixteen years to our credit, and we both have wonderful imaginations. We should be as happy as queens. Look at that. You couldn’t enjoy its loveliness more if you had ropes of diamonds." And Diana says "I don’t know about that." But you know that she agrees deep down.
MUSIC (a list)
Track List For CD
Pink Martini—Hang On Little Tomato
Santogold—Go, feat. Karen O.
fun.—All the Pretty Girls
Neko Case—Buckets of Rain (Bob Dylan)
Ruru—House of Cards
Alex Winston—Animal Baby
Swanky Tunes—XOXO (original mix)
Mumford and Sons—Winter Winds
Martha Wainright—Don’t Forget
Party Ben—Ooh La La Summer Nights
Ellie Goulding v. the Jackson Five—I Want You Back v. Starry Eyed
Nina Simone—Turn Me On
Cat Power—Naked If I Want To
Harry Nilsson—Don’t Forget Me
Etta James—I Just Want To Make Love To You
Albert Hammond, Jr.—Hard To Live In the City
The entire Fun. album, but especially Some Nights and Why Am I The One, of course, and even more specifically, that point where he nearly screams Why am I the one always packing up my stuff? Ohhh! As if he’s just then realizing how excruciating life is.
Countdown by Beyonce and the video for the song were a particular obsession of ours. I remember trying to choreograph a dance to this together in my kitchen and also drunkenly once on a subway platform, although the latter might have been alone, my memory is a little hazy on that point. There was at least a week during which I would wake up and watch the video immediately. I couldn’t start my day without it, and Lily and I would gush about how the colors and the clothes and the cat eyeliner in this video were the spot on reflections of our souls.
There was Nicki Minaj, blowing up on the music world like a giant bubble of pink gum. We used to recite her tongue-twisting lyrics like a mantra on our walks from work to the bar, as if learning them could make us tough and weird and capable like her.
The New York, New York remix from Friends with Benefits - a not particularly good romantic comedy that we watched in a little theater in Brooklyn, drinking awful Mike’s Hard Lemonades and eating chocolate chip cookies. The song had staying power, though, and it filled us both up with that feeling of MAKING IT THERE, and there meant HERE. Right here, doing it, living it, fucking dancing our way through the streets in these vagabond shoes.
New York by Caitlin Rose and how I knew immediately that Lily needed to hear it because it’s a song about Not Staying in a place which is a specifically Lily thing in my mind. The first time I heard it, I went home and sent it to her right away, a song about suitcases and southern drawls and nights spent on someone else’s couch.
Cults. Specifically, the fall of 2011 - listening to Cults and wearing legwarmers and shorts and kind of grooving around my apartment, drinking wine and planning our Halloween costumes, watching scary movies and eating candy from a big mixed bag, feeling creeped out and excited and strange.
Dreams by the Cranberries and its resonance due to the opening scene of You’ve Got Mail, and how we played it walking through Central Park in the fall of 2012 when the leaves were russet and gold and the tunnels were chilly and men were jogging up and down the stone steps by the fountain, while we drank hot ciders with the contents of airplane bottles of rum in them, hazy, perambulating over the rolling green hills. Changing ev-er-y day in every possible way.
Also: if all goes according to plan, I will have a fake ID by Monday and you know what that means? We need to go out dancing ASAP.
I thought a lot about our Valentine’s Day last year, which was a week before we both signed up for OKcupid. We went to Home Sweet Home and I danced my ASS off and didn’t care if I looked dumb and I got so sweaty I had to put up my hair. You got your shit stolen and took a picture of me in front of that Relationships are Gay sign, which I later put on my online dating profile. After your stuff got stolen I think I bought you a sandwich and a subway ticket and we were both still kind of upbeat and probably drunk and I feel like it was a pretty nice Valentine’s day, too, despite life, and thieves, and the lack of romance.
We used to joke that Lily’s drunk “tell” was when she’d get up from her seat and start to tap dance. Sometimes I’d join in, sober or not, happy to have someone to make a fool of myself with. Early on in our friendship I taught her a simple step that makes you look silly and feel nimble. We’d practice it after too many cocktails on sidewalks in the West Village.
We danced at Lily’s 21st birthday party, pushing dollar after dollar into the jukebox, jumping around the empty dance floor at a little dive bar in Soho. We danced in our chairs and we danced in bar basements, and we danced on streetcorners, giggly and full of odd, late night energy.
I remember getting drunk and kicking up our heels to the theme from Footloose in a bar, piped in over the stereo from my ipod by a bartender who liked to indulge us, and the 4 or 5 other patrons who were left in the early morning hours were laughing and dancing, too. It felt good, the dancing and the being drunk, and the up too lateness of it. That’s how our friendship always was - an inhibitions down, slurring, falling, laughing kind of love, that could turn into tears at any moment. An after midnight thing, to be enjoyed over plates of BLTs and french fries in a booth, or slices of pizza eaten standing up and makeup smudged and tired as hell. A confessional, swooning, chatty thing, trading advice over barstools and paperbacks out of purses, and chocolates square by square from a foil wrapper.
Buying condoms on my way home tonight. That feels like a cvs trip we should be taking together.
Can you believe that the 24 hour CVS by the West 4th Station closed? Just recently, too. It’s one of those seasonal Halloween shops now and then I don’t know what it’s going to be after this. We used to stop in that CVS all the time at night, after getting off our evening shift at 11:30. We’d browse the nail polish and the candy aisle and buy shampoo there. It was this little haven of glowing fluorescent light, wedged in between sex shops and tattoo parlors and a nail salon and the IFC center, and I depended on it because no matter what time it was, or how awful your night had been, the CVS would be open and the cashiers would be awful and you would wind up outside, having bought things you didn’t know you needed. I know it’s just a CVS and I may be the first person of all time to get nostalgic about a CVS, but if anyone ever could, it would be me, or Lily.
My apartment became a capital P Place. A place to meet up, to nestle on the sofa and put on makeup and eat takeout and sleep. We exchanged Christmas gifts on it and cried watching movies. I kept bedding in the ottoman to make up the couch for impromptu sleepovers. It was such a constant in our lives. Over the course of three years, Lily lived in two boroughs and five apartments, with a total of 16 different roommates, while I stayed in one, collecting furniture and picture frames from the street, various wineglasses from the dollar store, and more books than some small libraries. Lily likes to cast things off as she moves, shedding anything unnecessary and cumbersome, and I’ve often envied her rolling stone attitude. But I can’t imagine us without my place in Park Slope. It was both lighthouse and ship’s cabin, a guide and a safehaven, carrying us through all manner of stormy nights, and yet ever present, unchanging, and stoic as a signpost.
I remember changing our clothes in the locker room at work. It seems like we spent days in that locker room, and maybe it would be if you combined all the 15 minutes here and there, tearing off uniforms, and trading tops, and perfecting our eyeliner in the bathroom mirror. Lily sometimes says she never feels like she got the Real College Experience, because she didn’t do the dorm and campus, 4 years in one place thing. But I think that locker room is a pretty close manifestation of it, honestly. All those girls, those bodies, those lives, stuffed into one little echoing room, and you’re craning for space at the mirror, and about to go out, destination uncertain, fixing your hair, fixing each other’s hair, and borrowing blouses, hemming and hawing over cute shoes or comfortable shoes, because it’s always one or the other, never both. I’ve cried in that locker room, and Lily has, too, and we were there on New Year’s Eve one year, changing into party dresses (hers silver, mine gold) when the clock struck midnight. We were in that locker room in the space between 2011 and 2012, and then we ran out of it, blowing noisemakers and tossing paper party hats, meant for the hotel guests. And it was like the passage of time was a palpable thing, which we had both chosen to ignore completely.
Caroline, from here until infinity, you can assume that my answer to any bar-related or blog-related “are you in?” questions will always be, “Hell. Yes.”
Yeah, there are people winning the Olympics at 16, but there are also people living lives of quiet desperation at all ages, and here we are living this beautiful adventure in the greatest city on earth. You’re already bold and amazing. However much this entire city sometimes conspires to make you feel like you aren’t (that might just be me, don’t let me project).
And I can’t speak for all your friends, but I don’t think you’re boring. Literally like two days ago I was feeling insecure about how you’re clearly wittier than me. And of course I like you. You’re in like my top ten people of the world.
One sunny summer afternoon, we covered ourselves in sunscreen and rode the subway out to Rockaway Beach. Floating on our backs in the waves, we made plans to rent an apartment there one day, something beachfront with a balcony, far away from the thick of Manhattan, but close enough to ride into the city once in a while. It was the middle of the week, so the beach was uncrowded. The sky was an endless blue, and we were impossibly light.
During Hurricane Irene, we both took up residence at the hotel and worked double shifts. I brought a suitcase full of cheez-its and fruit-rollups, a red cardigan, and my video camera, and we jumped on the king size bed and watched the storm from our corner suite wreak havoc on the streets oh Soho. At night, we ran out into the rain and showed up at the only open bar for miles, soaked to the skin. The bar glowed gold and hummed with the sudden outlet of nervous anticipation of so many people kept indoors, hurricane-diligent, for too long. Lily kissed someone by the jukebox while I squeezed out the ends of my hair onto the floor.
I remember the day that I bought an entire backpack full of alcohol and set it all up on my kitchen table, the bottles of vodka and chambord and dark rum and whiskey, and we tried our hand at mixology, following recipes from a book, concocting awful things in plastic cups, eating pizza and wearing vintage nightgowns in my living room in the middle of the afternoon. Then we went to see a terrible romantic movie that we mocked in whispers throughout, and afterward we went out for giant slabs of chocolate cake. It was Fashion Night Out and the city was swarming with models and girls with fashion blogs, and we watched them from the window of this little whitewashed cafe, eating our cake, and drinking tea and coffee from giant ceramic teacups. We were still kind of drunk, and exhausted and the girls paraded through the streets of Soho in vintage dresses and high heels, while inside we both got stomachaches.
And I remember bluegrass bands with handsome singers, golden whiskey sours piled with maraschino cherries, and nights up late dancing to soul train on a wide, wooden dance floor, dizzy as a couple of disco balls.
Late one night we were leaving a theater after seeing a play in Times Square and the whole world was lit up, and it was cold, I think, and Lily had to stop to change her shoes. And as she bent, I couldn’t stop looking around at the sparkling advertisements and the newspapers blowing at our feet. It was beautiful and scary, and I felt like I could run around the city like a child on a playground or like a woman in a nightmare. Like the city was very big and also very much mine, whether I wanted it or not, and then we ran to the subway, kicking up plastic bags and shivering and laughing and relieved to be on our way home.
So, this is coming from the Glamour survey of men so, you know, grain of salt or whatever, but 72—SEVENTY TWO, CAROLINE—percent of men said that they would only make sure a woman had an orgasm if they were sleeping with somebody they loved. I mean, that kind of reads with my experiences, I’m not shocked, I’m just indignant.
In conclusion: feeling pretty iffy on dudes and depilation right now. How was your Valentine’s?
There was the era of OkCupid and date after date with strangers and the emails back and forth about these men and their text messages and their terrible jokes and poorly written profiles. We traded date anecdotes with a mixture of pride and cringing regret, like war heroes swapping stories. We were both lonely, then, I think, and caring more than we had in a while, but trying to act like we cared less, about everything, including each other. If you start getting careless with yourself and with your friends, it won’t be long before you get your heart broken, and we both did. I was a perpetual combination of disappointment, annoyance, hurt feelings, and worry in varying degrees.
After I broke up with my boyfriend of two years, I dragged myself out of my apartment and went shopping. I was miserable and determined and I bought bag after bag of clothing and lugged them all home hours later. My wrists were aching, arms weighted down with things I didn’t really need. When I reached my apartment door, Lily was sitting on the steps outside. She had dropped out of school that day and had her phone stolen recently and still, there she was, looking glum and concerned on my stoop. We went inside and I pulled clothes out of bags on to the floor - half laughing, half crying at the mess. What a goddamn mess all of it was - my heart, our lives, that apartment. It seemed like nothing could last, like everything was stealable, disposable, quittable. But it wasn’t, was it?
This morning I yelled at these guys on the street. They were making kissing sounds at me, from about when I was half a block away. I didn’t plan to, but they just kept doing it and I was so tired and wasn’t wearing any makeup and was in jeans and hoodie, like, do I look like I left the house hoping to be cat called today? and so I just turned around and yelled, “I heard you, I’m just ignoring you! Shut the fuck up.” I was so mad.
The first of many updates.
OF COURSE I still want to be friends. How else am I going to get back the 80 bucks you owe me? No, but seriously, you are my best friend and you get it and I can write multi-paragraph emails to you about how I feel like a loser and I’m sure you will read the whole thing. Right now it is 10 AM and someone is straight up blasting DJ Got Us Falling In Love outside my window. Like, I think he just decided to park there and play some tunes, loudly. That’s his Saturday morning.
There’s too much to care about, and we can all only care and help so much, so we care and help when and how we are able—financially, emotionally able—and it’s not enough, but it has to be enough anyways because there’s nothing else.
There was the night that Lily was mugged (for the first time) and came bounding back over the Williamsburg bridge in the direction she had come, and she called me from hotel security, and I came back to the city from Brooklyn and waited with her while some cops wrote up a half-hearted report. That night I felt this pulsing maternal instinct coursing through me like caffeine. And all of a sudden, New York wasn’t this place that we could prance through anymore, invincible at all hours of the night. It wasn’t an amusement park of handsome boys and sparkling bars, with the Chrysler building hanging from the ceiling like a lit up chandelier. It was a place where a man on a bike could stop you on a bridge, away from storefronts and streetlights, and pull out a gun and change everything.
I had to admit certain things to myself then - not the least of which was that New York was perhaps making us jaded, after all. Living in the city can wear a person out. It can sweep you up like a hurricane and drop you somewhere else entirely. We fought, Lily and I. We saw each other less frequently. We put some distance between us, purposefully and unceremoniously.
But my relationship with New York and my friendship with Lily were one and the same, forged simultaneously on the sidewalks of lower Manhattan over ice cream cones and conversation. I found that it’s impossible to really leave a person or place you love that fiercely.
Read the post you wrote about us this morning (afternoon) and had tears streaming down my face. I’d like to frame it and hang it in my bedroom, so any man who comes in there will see it and know, but mostly so I will see it and know.
It’s funny because you and I are often willing to be so vulnerable on the internet, but though we talk about everything frankly, we rarely know how to verbalize our compassion (or our pain), or comfort each other in person when we need it. I think we care too much. Sometimes I want to hug you and I feel like one of those stoic 1950s fathers who has never hugged his children, but loves them fiercely in his own manly way. That’s a super weird analogy.
But I think we’re doing ok. I hope you’re doing ok.
And thank you. Thank you thank you. I love you.
And then out of the blue one day, Lily sent me a picture of her one way ticket out of New York, and I felt an odd union of loss and relief, having known that it was only a matter of time before she would pack up her things again and move across the country, while I was here to stay. It’s hard, you know, to be the one who stays, but that’s the lot you agree to when you befriend an adventurer.
Lily leaves next week and I have to admit I’m somehow still unprepared. It’s an odd thing to imagine cities going on without the people who made them real for you.
It won’t surprise you to learn that I cried listening to Elton John croon Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters over my headphones on the subway a few weeks ago. I am nothing if not predictably sentimental and prone to tearful rides on the D train.
Have you listened to that song recently?
Until you’ve seen this trash can dream come true,
you stand at the edge while people run you through.
And I thank the Lord, there’s people out there like you.
I thank the Lord there’s people out there like you.
It’s enough to break your goddamn heart.
So what’s the word for don’t-go-although-I-know-you-will and good-luck-although-I-doubt-you’ll-need-it? What’s the way to say thank you for three years of something like an understanding, a secret handshake I’ll keep in my muscle memory, without even having to try? Getting to know you has been something like finding my way.
Here’s to finding yours. I have every confidence in you.
Yesterday, Tasnim and Lily and I took a rowboat out on the lake in Central Park. Lily rowed with the awkward old oars, while across from her Tasnim and I joked and took pictures and teased. We had been waiting in line for an hour, and by the time we got a boat, the sun was going down, turning the water gold and bright in places, sweeping down sparkling through the trees and illuminating the towering, turreted buildings in the distance.
On the banks of the water, couples posed for wedding photos, arms clasped around each other, or bending back in an old-fashioned tango dip. The women swept their heavy dresses up in their arms as they walked to keep their hemlines out of the dirt. On the bridge, tourists gathered and shouted things at the boaters making their unwieldy way under the stone arch. Bethesda Fountain was like a painting in the distance, or like a prop in a play. The lake water was a deep olive green.
Tasnim and Lily are just as beautiful in person as they are in photographs, and I felt self-conscious and heavy in this wobbling piece of metal with them. There should be a word for the occasional mortification of remembering yourself suddenly. It’s so inconvenient, the way it drags you out of the moment.
Across the water at the Boathouse, the ceiling fans turned lazily above couples drinking white wine and mojitos from sweating glasses, as if it were August rather than mid-October. A man on shore told Lily that he loved her and Lily called back “I get that a lot!”
Tasnim posed, long-limbed and graceful beside me while I tried vainly to capture the moment with my camera. Some things are difficult to see so close up. But had you been standing on the banks, under the windswept branches of a langourous willow tree at dusk, you might have seen the three of us there, gliding along the algae-dyed water - Lily laughing at her own inexpert rowing, Tasnim bent double in giddy hysterics, and me with my scarf and tangled hair, committing everything to memory. You might have understood just how it was.
Yesterday we put everything back.
It’s been three weeks since we cleaned and bagged everything we own, in an effort to rid our apartment of bed bugs. Three weeks of rubbermaid containers, of tripping and climbing over piles of bags, of scraping knees on the bed frame, and falling trying to hit the light switch, and occasionally just saying “Fuck this. Fuck this.”
It didn’t take that long to put everything away. About 6 hours to get the brunt of it done. I kept thinking that it was like unpacking after a move, except we hadn’t gone anywhere, but really it was more like packing up at the end of vacation when you can’t figure out how you got everything in your suitcase in the first place. How things fit, but not exactly. How zippers stick and a certain amount of squashing and hefting is required.
I couldn’t breathe or write for the last 3 weeks. Coming home at night to the mess was tiring, so I stayed out as often as possible. I went out dancing with Lily and Ben, wearing blood red lipstick and gold earrings, got gin drunk, and stumbled into my favorite little taco place for enchiladas in a foil container. I went to see Lindsay Faye talk about her new book at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca, while her husband served up a sweet cider-colored punch over ice in clear plastic cups. I breathed in that old and new book smell. I bought a copy and she signed it in gold ink.
I went to a drawing party with Eleanor, where the girls were all real artists, accustomed to taking off their clothes. I felt out of place and embarrassed and shy and my drawings were terrible, but everything was so pretty I almost didn’t mind. Candles and crackers and mason jars of wine, a friendly cat, a pile of charcoal pencils and drawing paper on the floor, and girl after girl with bright, bare skin, sketching earnestly into the evening. Me in my suede dress and tights, hiding my sketches by folding them into my purse.
I drank prosecco at a picnic table in Prospect Heights, and whiskey sours at a picnic table in South Slope. Movies in the East Village, diners in the West Village, walks around Cobble Hill, pointing out pretty restaurants with twinkly lights. The first day that felt like true fall I spent walking all the way to Brooklyn Heights, drinking hot chocolate, listening to Lorde’s album. It was cool and sunny, like September ought to be all the time, and the cafes were crowded.
One Tuesday night, Ben and I ate swiss fondue at a hidden little restaurant that looked like a log cabin, tucked in amid the warehouses and car lots in the ugliest part of Gowanus. Inside, the place was golden-lit and warm. There was a fireplace in the back and old blues music playing. We sipped red wine and ate cheeses and tarts, and afterward we lingered by the front gate and kissed in the dark.
What a pretty little life I’ve stumbled upon while trying to escape my own.
And yet, I cannot describe to you how good it feels to put things back into place. To slide the sofa back against the wall and run my fingers over the spines in the bookcase. When everything was unpacked, we hung a new picture on the living room wall like a monument and ordered Chinese food and sighed, deeply. And the sigh was gratitude and it was exhaustion. It was thank goodness we made it through that silly, awful thing. It was fingers crossed hopeful. I kept thinking “our home, our home,” like an incantation, like a two word poem, like a prayer.
I have a tendency to conserve my celebrating. I horde happiness like it’s something finite, worried I’ll run out. Ben got a new job and I thought, well, what are you waiting for? On the way home from work, I stopped at a bodega for flowers. Then I went to Dean and Deluca and stood at the bakery, hemming and hawing over the pretty desserts - apple tarts and chocolate cakes and butter cookies with key lime filling. Everyone in line at the bakery counter is delighted to be there. I let a British woman buy her oatmeal cookie ahead of me and she thanked me three times, while I grinned. Leaving the store, with my pretty cake box and bouquet, I suddenly thought how easily I could be mistaken for the girl I had always imagined I’d be one day. Then I remembered how I spent half the morning with the sticky L L L running down the length of my dress. I’m still me, I suppose. I came home with a fat bouquet of orange fairy roses and the prettiest little carrot cake with cream cheese icing and chocolate filigree. We clinked glasses full of cheap cava. To you! To us! To cheap cava!
I’ve been up to so many things. I’ve been walking and reading and lying in parks. I’ve been eating pan dolce stuffed with swiss cheese and buried in maple syrup. I’ve been jogging down 5th avenue at night. I bought a mod black dress with long white floaty sleeves. I finished writing my first short story.
At work, to pass the time, we pitch ideas for fake musicals back and forth. Clueless, the College Years. The Fast and the Furious, but set in the 50s. Cronuts!: The Musical. Something about The Cosby’s.
I fall in love with a cat at one of those pathetic sidewalk animal sales. Her name is Button and she’s slow and plump. Grey with a white belly. Could I be someone with a cat?
Avi and I plan an adventure. We are going to sleep on a riverboat in Connecticut in 2 weeks. No running water. Mountains of books. Amenities include electricity and 2 rocking chairs. Really.
I took the ferry out to Governor’s Island, where the buildings are brick, Colonial style and the houses are old and Victorian with porches and garrets and working shutters. There are blue bicycles everywhere, ice cream carts, french carnival rides with pedals and swings. Two carousels. There is an abundance of grass. There are long stretches of ocean view, the southern tip of Manhattan glittering in the sunlight, and Lady Liberty toasting us in the distance. There are playgrounds and sculptures and playgrounds made of sculptures. There are french fries in a greasy wax paper bag and glass bottles of sparkling water. There are lemonade chambord cocktails and so much wide, blue sky. There are trees and accordion music and an old stone church. Governor’s Island is a small town, outside of time. You can only arrive by boat. This city is an amazement.
Camping was the thing we had done as a family, and after the divorce, as two girls and a dad, and later, when my sister was grown and living out of state, as just one girl and a dad. Camping is something to do with the sound a tent zipper makes and the gathering of soggy sticks for a fire. It is something like a packet of hot cocoa with the hard little marshmallows, and hot dogs, and powdered sugar donuts in a white Freihoffer’s box. Something cheap and filling and too sweet.
I have climbed mountains with my father, who knows the names of trees and the calls of birds. We have rolled out countless sleeping bags together and talked about history (him) and heartache (me) under a nylon roof. My father knows the formations of stars and I have poked matching holes into my heart for him, year by year, memorizing the shapes, the sky, the sound of his voice, the things that are invisible back in the city.
This time, we came as three couples - my dad and his girlfriend, my sister and brother-in-law, my boyfriend and me - a chit chatting crew, like a family, but both more and less polite at once. We packed ourselves into two almost identical tan vans and unloaded our weird miscellany onto two campsites and three tents.
And the six of us shared a bottle of wine. We went hiking and climbing and kayaking. We ate graham crackers and chocolate and grapes and cape cod potatoes chips. We showed up for this because we wanted to, but also, maybe more so, because we love my father. We waded our bodies into the cold, muddy lake, and then under a screen house and we made dutiful smalltalk.
And the truth of the matter was that I hadn’t even really mastered smalltalk. Not at 14 or 21 or 26. I didn’t know how to speak comfortably with the woman who lived with my father and I didn’t know how to stop second guessing my own tone of voice. I was sometimes a silent sulking teenager, or else an interrupting, bossy little girl, sleeping in the car with dirty ankles and matted hair. And I spent the morning eating piece after piece of the blueberry cake I suspected she had made even when I wasn’t hungry. Because that is what you do when you don’t know how to talk to someone and there is a tupperware on the table, full of hopeful blueberry cake and all that it represents. You empty it and that means “thank you” and also “I’m trying.”
For $4.25 you can get a skinny hot dog on a bun, an almond butter granola bar, and a small San Pellegrino in a green glass bottle. You can get tangled hair and park benches and pigeons around your feet. You can get ivy growing over brick buildings, and window boxes of pansies, and dogs straining on leashes attached to bored old women. And if you call within the next 10 minutes, we’ll throw in sunlight filtered through leaves and a shiver in the air, even on an August afternoon. So please, don’t wait.
How is it already Simon and Garfunkel songs in your head weather? Over-steeped tea weather and cardigans folded in purses weather. After work screenings at the IFC weather. Blue-eyed boyfriends who smell like coffee shops weather. Is it nice where you are? Is it sunglasses and hot seat belts weather there? Is the ice cream headache front moving in? Will you a write me a postcard, a white sailboat or a green mountaintop or a tangerine sorbet sunset with no return address? Will I meet the mailman smugly just outside the front door because someone in sunny California or Colorado or Calypso Bay wishes I was there?
In August I buy gifts and wrap them in gold paper. I wear my hair higher and higher on my head. I sprawl on the old cream couch with my legs in your lap. I reorganize the bookshelves and stay up too late. I pick at the skin around my fingernails and lean all the way back in my chair. I buy lots of lemon juice, mild salsas, Espolon, big wet bunches of cilantro. My latest thing is shooting people looks that have no meaning in them - a smile, a slight raise of the eyebrows - and waiting to see what they will interpret there.
I crave: short exploratory walks at night, libraries, maple syrup, white dresses, short hair, memoirs. I am anxious. Augusts bring endings and arguments and opportunities. I am poised for something. I am tense and talkative and strange.
I bought a man a bouquet of daisies,
chocolate cookies in a brown paper bag.
I kept forgetting to buy myself an afternoon,
an hour, an arabesque of time like a long, lean line.
I spoke to my own face because she reminded me
of my mother.
I drowned out everything like ears under bathwater
and hair pooling like a nest, like a crown,
like something rising to the surface
or sinking or sailing. I had red rings around my forearms
from the weight of shopping bags.
I had blood, I had headaches, I had sidewalk sale art
and the second half of summer to sort myself out.
I bought almonds and hand soap and novels and nightmares.
I forgot to buy myself the cool side of the pillowcase,
I forgot bus tickets and natural light. I forgot
which elevator number to push, my place in line,
my money, my nametag, my name.
I forgot to buy myself. I forgot by myself.
Forgot mirrors and scales and sisters and signs.
Forget me not knotted around my finger like a promise ring.
I am saving myself for what I know down to my palms.
I am reciting psalms for myself.
I am repeating what I know, handful by handful.
I am all knuckles and brine, a fistful of tissue, of time,
of memories calling themselves mine,
Ben is the kind of guy who will make the bed before he leaves for the weekend, so it’s nice for you when you come home from work. He’ll do something funny with the throw pillows every day just to make you laugh. Ben will leave you hand-written notes and bring home the sweet red wine you like. When you shower together, he’ll let you hog the hot water.
He’s the kind of guy who will do the dishes without being asked, who will find the way you whine his name amusing, who will carry a laptop bag big enough for all your books, and your sweater, and your bottled water. He’ll even carry your purse when the strap is hurting your shoulder. He will humor you when you ask him which perfume goes best with your outfit. He will read to you aloud until you fall asleep. He will take the glasses off your face and put the bookmark in your book when you pass out with the light on. He will not be offended if you don’t like his gazpacho. He won’t complain when you watch trashy TV and he’ll even listen to you explain which Real Housewife is your favorite and why.
He will proofread your resume and write the rules to drinking games with you. He will find it adorable when you point out every dog on the street. He will let you wear his t-shirt to bed every night, and he won’t complain if you sleep on his shoulder or his stomach, or with your legs all tangled up with his. He won’t mind when you roll over because you need your space.
Ben doesn’t judge you for not knowing about history or geography or math or any of the answers on Jeopardy. He’ll only tease you a little about your Spanish. He’ll make up new lyrics to TV theme songs with you, and when you go out to dinner, he’ll always split a pitcher of whatever you want. He will tell you the sloppy cake you baked is beautiful, even though it has melting off frosting and lettering like a first grader. Ben will get up at 6 AM to go to the gym with you, even though he works from home and could sleep in late if he wanted to. He will make you a sandwich to take to work while you run around like crazy in the mornings. He will carry all the heavy groceries.
Ben will sit quietly with you when you cry on the couch for an hour. He will make friends with your extended relatives at family gatherings and crack up your sister. He will play “Sweet Caroline” on the french horn for you. He will buzz you into the apartment even when you have your key and you’re just being lazy.
And when you get your period at work and end up with blood all down the back of your pink silk Banana Republic dress, Ben is the kind of guy who will travel to Manhattan to you bring you fresh clothes and a supply of tampons to save your ass. On his birthday. Three hours before a job interview.
That’s just the kind of guy he is.
Happy birthday, Benji. You make me happy all the time.
Things that happened last night, in chronological order:
1. Split my pants in the grocery store. Badly.
2. Paid for my stupid seltzer and yogurt anyway and shuffled home, past the creepy old guy from my building who loiters on the street all the time and almost certainly saw a good portion of my inner thigh and underwear.
3. Upon arriving home, opened the seltzer only to have it explode all over my face and arms and shirt.
4. Poured seltzer in a glass and added lime juice, which apparently can expire, and had.
5. Dumped putrid lime juice and seltzer mixture down the drain, dumped pants in the trash, removed shirt, deposited self on couch.
This morning, I put another one of those mini seltzers in my purse and headed to work. On the subway platform, I sat down on a bench between two other women. The one to my left was younger, maybe 20 or so, and the one to my right was older, about 30. The one to my right was peering into a shiny compact and expertly applying eyeliner. Blissfully forgetful of last night’s explosion, I began to open my mini bottle of seltzer, which, of course, hissed and heaved and shot out like a hot spring. I leaned forward as it fizzed over my hands, repeating “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” as the women on either side of me flinched out of the spray.
The woman to my left said “No, I’m fine! And that was a really great save!” and the woman to my right said “Let me find you a napkin! I think I have a napkin, I always keep them in my purse for my kids.” She didn’t find one, but it didn’t matter. I practically had to hold myself back from inviting them both out for drinks. It’s amazing how refreshing it can be when strangers react to you with kindness. I’ve grown accustomed to not expecting it, conditioned from years of being yelled at over the phone, shouted at on the street, ordered and jostled and snapped at.
Every person has, at one time or another, known the helplessness of a shaken soda bottle. That feeling of starting something that will finish on its own, with or without our permission. I feel like this all the time - that my life is a series of unstoppable disasters that begin with something small and innocuous between my hands. The unliddable, irrepressible pandora’s box of tears or lies or seltzer floods our palms, leaving only a mess in its wake. But this morning, after the second seltzer explosion and its aftermath, when the train approached and the women and I went our separate ways, I simply stepped over the puddle, feeling buoyant, as if I had been let in on a secret, a camaraderie, a clue.
On the subway, I am standing across from a seated man who is writing in an unlined notebook. He is plain, dressed in dull, dad clothes. Late thirties, maybe younger, it’s hard to tell. He glances up occasionally at someone else across the aisle and I try to pick out which girl is inspiring his scribblings. I try to read upside down without looking obvious, but the writing’s too small. I start to imagine that he’s a famous writer. Chuck Palahniuk? Chuck Klosterman, maybe? Do I know what Chuck Klosterman looks like? I recall only his ginger hair.
Some people get off the train and the man notices me staring. He almost smiles, a faint upturn of the lips. I do the thing that I do when I want to be friendly but I also don’t want to smile at a strange man. I sort of flatten my lips into a straight line. It probably just makes me look annoyed. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our expressions rarely match up with the emotion behind them. Not precisely, anyway.
As the train pulls into my station, I notice Fake Klosterman has another book underneath the notebook, balanced on top of his backpack on his lap. It’s a New York City guidebook. Fodor’s or something. I hadn’t pegged him for a tourist. He looked too relaxed, too comfortable. On my first trip to the city at age 10 or 12, I marveled at the buildings, the lights, the escalator after escalator at Macy’s. But what struck me most indelibly was the subway. I was shocked and delighted to find that for the cost of a single fare, you could ride all day, up and down the tunnels of Manhattan, watching the people get on and off. I imagined myself, grown up at 18, spending hours at a time on the subway, writing fascinating anecdotes about my fellow travelers in a notebook with a very nice pen. It was certainly a more practical fantasy than the one about riding circus elephants in spangled leotard and crimson ballet slippers.
These days, although New York City still lights me up like the Chrysler building, the subway has lost most of its romantic, bohemian charm. Years of stale and crowded cars, elbows to the shoulder blades, and soggy rides on rainy days will do that to you. But here, perhaps, was someone actually living out my childhood fantasy! I wanted to ask him what he was writing, where he was going, how long he’d been on this car, but the conductor was already crackling over the speakers to stand clear, so I stepped off without looking back.
That’s a lie, actually. Not the fact that I stepped off, but the implication that if I hadn’t been in a hurry, I would have stayed and asked him questions. My fascination with strangers begins and ends in my own head. I keep assuming that one day my inability to stop taking mental notes about people I will never see again will turn me into a brilliant fiction writer, but I’m not much for plot or narrative arcs. I’m more like the subway itself, I guess - uncomfortable, full of lonely, chattering characters, and constantly stopping, getting delayed, and breaking down.
Heat wave. It’s 85 degrees by 8 in the morning. At the bagel shop on the corner, I ask for my bagel untoasted. Toasted bagels seep warm butter through the brown paper bag, making for a messy commute. I buy a mason jar of extra tart fresh-squeezed lemonade and immediately regret paying for something else I don’t need.
Outside, I am careful to plan all of my movements, taking only the most efficient routes, so I can move as little as possible. The jog up the subway steps leaves me huffing and pink cheeked. Without thinking about it, I veer toward the shade of scaffolding. It’s so hot, I imagine the graffiti on the buildings will crumble or peel or otherwise disintegrate. Every person I pass is half wilted.
On the streets of Soho, the morning commuters line up for men who sell big, sweating caramel-colored iced coffees and sugary pastries from their carts. Frosted donuts, cinnamon buns, and crullers are displayed in rows behind the glass, going sticky in the melting heat. There are fresh fruit stands on the corners near the subways, and outside the bodegas, sliced watermelon and mango wait hopefully on ice beside rows of sunflowers, carnations, long-stemmed roses, fat peonies.
In the office, the women leave their heels under their desks, cardigans are abandoned on the backs of chairs. The men roll up their shirtsleeves, loosen their ties. The afternoons are slow. After the first morning rush, the day deflates like an old birthday balloon, sinking to the floor in slow collapse. I sip room temperature jasmine tea at my desk all day, working my way up from easy games of Sudoku, to medium, then slogging through the hard ones, between phonecalls, emails, essays, banter.
By 5, it’s nearly a hundred degrees. The subway platforms are almost unbearable, the delays endless. I’ve been reading The New York Diaries. Dawn Powell and Andy Warhol’s entries are my favorites. They’re less serious, more concerned with parties and the prices of taxi rides than with politics or history. I prefer these details. My subway stop in Brooklyn is smack dab between 2 barbeque joints, and it smells perpetually of smoked pork. The cookout smell travels blocks.
Barely through the door and I’m unzipping my skirt, stepping out of it on the dressing room floor. I can’t get my blouse off fast enough. Too hot to leave the apartment, except to go to the laundromat or the liquor store, we spend evenings on the couch, drinking sweet red sangria with strawberries, lemons, and limes over ice. I keep the extra red wine in the fridge, the way I used to when I first moved here and was still getting used to the taste of it. In those days, I would drink it cold with a little plate of cheese and pepperoni, late at night after working an evening shift at the hotel. Back then, the apartment was so quiet and personal and everything I did felt like a secret.
I come home now to find Ben practicing his french horn on the bed and I flop down beside him, neither of us willing to move farther than three feet from the A/C in the window. Six in the evening is a dreamy hot hour. The cool air moves in swathes through the apartment, pulsing out to the kitchen. I stretch my tired legs to the end of the bed and listen to Ben practice scales. It’s good to be young and sunburnt and hungry at the end of the day. I let the city wear me out and rough me up a bit, and return home like tired kid, with skinned knees and a mischievous grin.
Froyo shops seem to appear out of thin air. Three to a block, sometimes. Ice cream trucks, with their incessant xylophone jingles make their way up and down the Brooklyn streets, well into the evening. My freezer is stocked with vodka and lemon sorbet popsicles. The ice cube trays seem to require endless refilling.
You can only buy $9 salads for lunch every day for so long before you begin to question your own sanity. Before the bank starts charging you a fee for having less than $100 in your savings account. At the pizza/deli combo beside my office you can get a chicken salad sandwich with lettuce and tomato, salted and peppered on a nice fat bun for $4. It’s divine. This week though, it’s a buttered onion bagel from the place on the corner of Union and 4th for lunch nearly every day. There’s nothing else as filling to be bought for a $1.50. Occasionally, I’ll splurge on a fresh-squeezed orange juice, pulpy and sweet, for the ride to work.
The D train today was astonishingly cool, though packed tightly with the 8 AM crowd, as usual. The air conditioning on the train is such a massive relief from the choking humidity of the platform. Honestly, every year I wonder if this will be the summer I swoon right onto the tracks. Last weekend, the temperature rose into the high 90s and I went all hazy and collapsed outside a Thai restaurant. Ben put me in a cab and I was dismayed to leave half my mojito behind. When I got home, I took off all my clothes and lay beside the churning air conditioner in the dark.
I have begun to break out in red welts. Only a couple, but large and red enough to worry me. Is it the heat? Stress? Some mutant mosquito or spider? Summer has a way of putting you in your place, aesthetically. Summer in the city reminds you of the parts of your body you have forgotten and how all of them sweat - the bridge of your nose under your sunglasses, the backs of your knees, and the base of your neck where the fine baby hairs curl. Jane Austen once bemoaned how the heat kept her in a continual state of inelegance, and I think of this often. I think of Jane, sweating in a floor-length white gown in some muggy English countryside when I feel the sweat run down my lower back in a cheap, black H&M dress that falls a good two inches above my knees.
I drench the ends of my hair in a Moroccan hydration mask, but there’s no defying the humidity’s effect. Makeup is useless, and I go without, except for tiny wings of eyeliner and a swipe of a lip pen in a light berry color called Purity. The bottoms of my feet go black and rough, as if I have been walking the streets barefoot. I like to soak them in the evenings, sitting on the side of the tub, and scrub them with a thick cocoa butter, the texture of wet sand.
A few weeks ago, Ben and I walked all the way to Williamsburg in this oppressive heat. We stopped in a grocery store for SPF 50 sunblock and applied it in a bar bathroom, between mimosas. Everyone in Williamsburg is under 30, and trying to out-dress and out-bohemian the next person. People sell used books and “vintage” clothes from the 90s on the sidewalks. Endless acid washed jean jackets and awful bedazzled things. Endless copies of The Corrections. The girls wear long skirts and crop tops. They grow their hair long and straight. The boys wear tank tops, cut off shorts, and beards or mustaches. The restaurants swell with people, brunch extends from 11 until 4. Chalkboard signs advertise watermelon martinis, white sangria, and garden seating.
Avi and I picnic in Tompkins Square park in the evening, and she describes her ideal wedding to me while we graze over blueberries, prosciutto, and cheese with apricot jam. We ignore the French movie on the outdoor screen, its subtitles obscured by trees and other picnickers. I take off my floral silk blouse and stuff it in my purse. It’s too hot for anything but the most spartan ensembles.
The subway stations are papered with signs about planned work and service changes. You can’t get anywhere easily at night or on the weekends in the summer time. My first summer in New York involved a lot of tearful walks home in the dark after midnight, not sure where I was, and dead tired. At the time, I felt very young and nervous and the streets still seemed threatening when the subway stopped somewhere unfamiliar. Now I realize I was usually only about 6 blocks from home. It’s strange the way cities expand and contract with the years, with your moods, with the weather. The streets of Brooklyn are like a living thing - an animal I am taming, patiently with long walks.
In the apartment, the summer is told like a story in cold showers and electric fans. I like to spend weekend afternoons in a tank top and cotton underwear, reading on a freshly made bed. If Ben’s out, I close the bedroom door and let the cold air fill the room. I brush out my hair until it’s smooth and flat, play music, dance for my dusty mirror.
Outside, children play on the hot pavement, while women watch languorously from the stoops of brownstones and brick buildings. The Mexican restaurants sell frozen drinks by the pitcher, and greasy tortilla chips with cold and spicy guacamole. On 5th avenue in Brooklyn, men without jobs hunker down in folding chairs, lined up outside the laundromat, like all this life going by is a parade just for them.