Getting it and Not Getting it

What can compare to the vertigo I feel when walking along a subway platform with a train speeding by - then suddenly the ground beside me drops away as the end of the train roars past and the tracks below are laid bare?

How could I have seen it in me - the instinctual reaction to yell at a surly man three-times my size when he impatiently pushed my underfoot son out of his way while trying to rush to catch his train - if I were not in this place?

Or the relief I felt that William (walking a few strides ahead with the other two in the stroller) did not see it happen - because that jerk would have unleashed the fury of his quiet rage?

How would I have known what it was like to be in such relentless humidity? I mean really BE in it - where my legs slip against each other because even  my knees are covered in sweat, and the air is so thick with it my mind fights the panic of feeling like I can't breathe?

How would we have known what it was like to share licorice with the missionaries on the subway? Or watch Henry play peek-a-boo with the Asian grandmother, even though we didn't share a language?

Would I ever have become friends with the two men who run the corner deli/grocery, because they have the best price on milk ($3/gallon!) and so I'm there pretty much every day? And the kids pick out their bag of 25 cent chips (unheard of!), and I sit and chat with Ali about his three daughters - and he slips my three kids a sucker or a giant wrapped Swedish fish or a pack of fruit snacks on our way out the door. And Ali sells Boars Head meat - and the guy behind the counter (who's name I didn't have time to learn before we had to move on) makes the best turkey and mustard sandwiches, enough to feed me and all three kids, for $5.

Who could have prepared me for the devastation I felt when that sublet ended and we had to move away from my store?

Especially since when we first moved there - I made fun of the store because of the sign. Across the overhang that wrapped around the corner, it boasted "Newspaper Chips Candy Hot Cold Drinks". I would snort to Bill that we should for sure go get some Newspaper Chips, and some Candy Hot.

The actual name of the store was in tiny letters above all that nonsense - it's called the Sweet Apple. But for me, the name "Newspaper Chips" stuck. Which I started to feel bad about, because I really wanted Ali to succeed - sometimes when I'd go in for my daily run of milk, he'd look so tired and smile around a yawn in greeting. So then I started just calling it Ali's store.

And now it's an hour away.

Who knew I'd be able to sleep just fine knowing there were mice in my kitchen (which William set up elaborate traps for, but we only ever caught one. Poor thing!) - but I can. not. handle the cocroaches we've seen since moving to this new sublet. We've killed seven, so far. They're all named Herbert (After the annoying store manager in One Magic Christmas. Remember, Mom?).

My baby crawls on that floor!

How could I have foreseen all the things I am ashamed I always took for granted?
  • Like trekking my groceries only as far as the trunk of my car.
  • Or being able to do Laundry the same day I decide it needs to be done - and not having to walk two blocks hauling said laundry to do it. 
  • Grocery shopping, in the middle of the day, with the kids - without having to consider how much each thing will weigh on the walk home.
  • Being able to leave a box of cereal - sealed - on the counter instead of in a secure cupboard or in the refrigerator.
  • garbage disposals. I've been in apartments that didn't have one - but that was always the exception. I always knew there was one in my nearish future. Same with dishwashers.
  • Elevators. Here, if there isn't an elevator, chances are, we won't be going (like the second floor of H&M, for example, which we walked for an hour and a half to find yesterday - and all the good stuff was on the second and third floors. But guess what? they don't allow strollers on escalators. With good reason - but I don't like people telling me where I can't go. Especially in this city. I do what I want.) Let's not talk about how right now, we're living in a third story walk-up. No. I said we're not talking about it.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE. Everyone at McDonalds, Target and Costco hates you. Sometimes they don't hate you at Payless Shoes. And they don't hate you at seven-eleven if it's the one in Washington Heights, but they DEFINITELY hate you at grocery stores. I had become used to having pleasant encounters with those who wanted me to buy their wares. Here, they don't want to bother with you. And they especially don't want to bother with your kids.
  • Unless it's a local place. Like Newspaper Chips. Then they LOVE you. The more authentically New York, the more pleasant. That's the rule of thumb.
  •  Access to public restrooms.
  •  Baby changing-tables in restrooms. Anywhere. At all.
  • Diapers in general. Not everywhere sells them - and most places sell cheap and sorry-excuses for diapers that really act more like a wad of napkins taped to your baby's butt. You still have soaked clothes within two hours.
  • That people understand the innocence and sometimes obliviousness of children. Most of the time, the lovely black lady is willing to tell Daphne about her intricate wrap of hair braids when Daph asks, "Why that lady head look like that?". And most of the time, the people on the subway turn and just smile when Henry grabs at their pant legs, book bags, whatever he can get his hands on when crammed together on the train. But I can't tell you how often people use the foulest of language shouting to each other right over my children's heads, or blow their cigarette smoke directly into our path as we try to pass. Sometimes, I just want to shout HELLO! KIDS! But then there are the few like that man who saw us walking down the sidewalk and held his cigarette behind his back and smiled as we passed. Or that woman at the bank who saw us coming and instead of rushing past to avoid getting caught in our inevitable roadblock, went back out the door and held it open for us so I could push the 3-kid laden 1-kid stroller outside. Those people put a real lightness in my step and I think, Man! I love this town!
Since moving to New York, we have lived in three different spaces. William has lived in four. We're moving again, tomorrow. To another sublet.

We didn't get the 'basement bungalow' on Marble Hill. I really thought we'd get that one.

I really wanted that one.

But you can't exactly compete with a 'close family friend' who suddenly needed the place, instead. Believe me, I've tried to come up with a way.

Did I mention I really wanted that one?

It had Spanish Tile.


Kristen said...

Seriously girl. The memories you bring up!!

Yes, I distinctly remember the lady at Costco that hated everything to do with her life. And the people at the airport? Hated their life too. And hated you for being in their life. And NO, do not even try small talk or you get a dirty look.

Wow, hauling laundry for a family 2 blocks? You deserve a huge award. I had a w/d when I lived there... if I hadn't, I might have died. Still in dirty clothes.

And I remember how I loved the feeling of the subway rushing by because then I got a burst of cooler air down in the stuffy subway?

All the small deli's make the BEST sandwiches in the world. Nothing compares, and you will never want to eat Subway again.

And the DIVERSITY of the people. From all over the world in one city.

Still not sure how you are doing all this, moving and all, without a car. I'm halfway convinced you are superwoman...

Charms said...

Stepper the MIGHTY,

You sure have earned your title, haven't you? Sheesh.. just reading about your life makes me tired.

You ought to go to Serendipity and get some of that frozen hot cocoa that everyone talks about but I think, is really a milkshake in disguise.

There are lots of things about a city that are harder with kids. But you sure are handling it well and giving them, and yourself, the adventure of a lifetime!

So freakin' awesome.

Lizzie said...

Can't wait to kill the roaches for you when I get there... I'm a pro now.

Dene Low said...

Stepper--I really feel for you. Been there, hauling 3 and then 4 small children all over Texas, Kentucky, and Europe. You are amazing and doing so well with the circumstances. There is a reason why we do these things while we're young.

Danyelle said...

I don't think I will ever have to visit New York- or want to. That is just an adventure like no other. Hang in there. :)

craftyashley said...

I cannot even begin to imagine! Just know that you'll come out the other end of this stronger than you started. Which is oftentimes little comfort, but still. I do love hearing of your adventures, at least. I am counting my blessings as I throw another load of laundry on.