I am the type of New Yorker real New Yorkers love to hate: I was a transplant to begin with, and as soon as the pandemic got too hot, I bounced. Then I did the worst thing imaginable: bought a house in NJ. Living across the river is sacrilege to the most devoted New Yorkers.
But while I may live in the suburbs now, it’s not like I’m driving around in a minivan with soccer balls in the trunk and heroine hidden in the glove compartment.
A few months after relocating to Hell’s Kitchen from Seattle back in 2016, I was approached by a monk in a saffron robe as I walked the High Line. He headed straight for me and my big, goofy smile. He took my hand in his. I felt honored that a monk wanted to interact with me.
Then he deftly slipped a beaded bracelet onto my wrist and asked for a “donation.” I had only a single dollar on me, which I forked over. It was humiliating having so little cash on me and to have been hornswoggled by a monk. The ploy certainly hadn’t been worth his efforts that time around.
I watched as the monk moved on, pulled a smart phone from a pocket in his robe, and started checking his updates. Unless he had the Dalai Lama on speed dial, I’m pretty sure a monk shouldn’t have that kind of technology.
Over the next few months, I became aware that Manhattan is crawling with monks handing out bracelets…to tourists. I couldn’t believe I’d been taken in, when I was supposed to at least be pretending to have street smarts.
My husband always tells me, “Be cool, Angie; be cool.”
But “not playing it cool” is my middle name!
I refused to take the subway by myself for the first twelve months for fear of getting lost (despite knowing the city is on a grid).
Whenever I’m in the city I like to play a game: guess the source of that water trickling along the curb. Guess that odor. Guess whether that excrement on the sidewalk was left by a human or a dog. What was the nature of that mystery water that just dripped onto my head? Did it qualify as sexual harassment when that homeless man called me a ‘natural beauty’ or was it just the nicest compliment I’ve ever received? Why does this street wreak of marijuana when there’s no one around?
A New Yorker will happily give you directions. They’ll also call you an asshole for slowing them down on the subway staircase because you chose to carry your massive suitcase instead of taking the urine-permeated elevator that’s probably out of order anyway. They’re also willing to scold you for any other action that may be inconveniencing them.
New York is a weird place to be pregnant.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, women become sensitive to odors. Not a good time to be living in a city renowned for its stench and filth.
My husband would come to bed after a shower, and I would recoil from the smell of his hair.
“What? It’s unscented shampoo,” he’d say.
“I beg to differ!” I’d say, as I smushed my face into my pillow to block out all smells.
If the odor of unscented shampoo didn’t sit well with me, how was I going to make it through my day in a city of 8 million people that has all the smells?
I recall riding in a Lyft — which itself wreaked of air freshener — and opening the window to stick my head out so that I didn’t get too carsick. We passed piles of garbage on the sidewalk — hot garbage — cigarette smoking pedestrians, dogs whizzing on every surface, you name it. I probably turned 10 shades of green before reaching my destination. When you get out of a car or off a bus, you have to watch where you put your feet because there’s often a trickle of garbage water rushing by at the edge of the curb. You never know where it came from, and you don’t want to. The worst is when shops blast the sidewalk out front with bleach water, so your nose is assaulted with the pungent odor of bleach and urine at the same time.
It felt like the whole city was out to prank me.
By the end of the pregnancy, after gaining twenty-five pounds, I could barely get myself out of an underground train station any longer. There are always 50 stairs to climb, and each time I was like, “This is it; this is the staircase that does me in.” I felt ready to have a heart attack by the time I reached the last step. If my husband was with me, he’d plaster both his hands on my rearend to push me up the stairs, which was both necessary and humiliating.
After my daughter arrived, I suffered post-partum depression for a year. I was in crisis for several months. I used to walk down the streets of NYC with tears streaming down my face. Even when I was on the way to my favorite coffee shop! Nobody looked twice. New Yorkers have seen twenty weirder things on their commute to work than a crying pedestrian, and another twenty on their way home.
But no trial was harder than trying to breathe in a city that’s got carts selling nuts on one corner and hot dogs on another, human and/or dog excrement on the sidewalk, and piles of both bagged and loose garbage as far as the eye can see. Anyone who has ever been to NYC knows that Marilyn Monroe would never have danced over a grate with hot, stinky subway station air blasting up through it — they used a fan to create that effect.
You need a fan there. Better yet, a gas mask.