when every other girl was longing for dolls, I longed for books. Everytime I got money from a grownup, usually around my birthday or the holidays, I knew just what to do with it. Invest in paperbacks and hardbacks. Even after my mother took me to the bank to open a savings account. My bookcase filled up faster than that account ever did. The items on the shelves have rotated and changed over the years, but the bookcase is still with me. Though now I'm the tall one verses the days when I had to peer up to the top shelf.
Besides loving to read, books were my escape route. I could vanish into far off places and imagine myself anywhere than where I resided at the time. Walking was out of the question as I lived in car country. Instead of walking with my feet, I walked with my mind as far as I could go. Books opened up a whole new world for me, encouraging a desire to see a different view than what existed outside the living room window. Everyone laughed at me. Bluntly told me that I would never make it outside of said car country and that I shouldn't expect anyone to help me if I were to venture past the limits of their horizon.
Then I put on walking shoes, dragged a suitcase full of clothes and books to this city that I made my home. I also didn't ask for help. In that first year I had to create makeshift shelves as I was living in a space that was not my own. After finding my own little private corner in my new hometown, I put my walking shoes back on and ventured back to car country to grab the two things that mattered the most to me: my bookcase and my books. And in the start of my new life, with a window that provided a different view, one thing from my past remained unchanged: those shelves filled up faster with new additions than any other room in my apartment.
Repost from 2010 as I regroup and refocus from the chaos of the last few weeks :)
Wasn't feeling well, but there is only so long that I can stay in the house before getting cabin fever. Had enough strength to go somewhere familiar.
"Hello Mr. N"
" Oh hello!, you know what you're doing so you don't need my help." He says in his thick Russian accent and gestures to the back with a smile.
tabletops, shelves, floorspace and every corner filled with books, ledgers and boxes documenting over 100 plus years of history. All permanent, and a stroke of luck for me the originals as the state is too poor to document anything. Anger from the records keeper as no one seems to care.
Almost breaking my back to coax a cabinet to open it's drawers. This thing must be as old as some of the dusty ledgers around it. Been through it on three separate occasions and each time it refuses to open a different drawer.
Fingers black with dust as I gently sort through papers and for the second time this month I hear how unusual I am from the bespectacled man in the corner.
" You know, where I came from...history was destroyed on purpose, and here I go to work surrounded by it. People need to listen to what is in the documents as this is our future, not the technology that can rewrite history." He shakes his head and stares off in the distance for a minute. I try to keep the pages of ledger book from coming loose.
The silence came first. The only thing that could be heard were Muslim prayers blasting from a radio in the bodega across the street. My neighborhood had never been that quiet. Unless you count the winter nights somewhere between dusk and dawn.
Lights flickered like mad for hours, everything was prepared just in case. The wind a resounding roar that rattled the glass and the trees in the courtyard. But that was it in my neck of the woods. When it was deemed safe to go out I do what I normally do. I donned my sneakers and starting walking.
Walked over one hundred and twenty blocks down and back, addresses in my pocket to help guide me as I bounced back and forth from East to West to bang on windows and climb up stairs in the dark to check on elderly friends of mine. Passed banks running out of money, passed the ambulance stuck in a slow ride down Broadway even with a police escort. Passed the tourists that could turn a dangling crane on 57th street into an attraction. In one building the doorman refused to let me climb over twenty flights of stairs to check on someone out of safety concerns but was kind enough to take a note up to the spunky lady on the 20th floor whose smile and laughter masked a deep pain and fear of getting old. In another building the super offered me a slice of pizza on the way out. I smiled and declined saying others needed/wanted it more than me.
Lights come on. Phone call from the boss out in Queens. " Get your rest cause you're gonna need it."
Can't go back to the office cause thirty feet of water flooded the basement and over twelve in the lobby. Have to relocate a portion of 6000 employees with no space to put them. Chaos on the first day as more and more people show up with heartbreaking and humbling stories.
My house was surrounded by seven feet of water. Is it hot in here? Maybe I feel that way cause my house still doesn't have power.
I have my parents and my brother staying with me. They both lost their houses, one to the storm surge the other caught on fire. I'm just happy and grateful to be here.
When we went to my mother's apartment, it was surreal. Everything looked normal except it was soaked and thrown in disarray. Except for the little angel on top of the bookcase. Lady stood her ground.
Bouncing between New Jersey and Brooklyn to help create some sense of normalcy. First time out there my boss gave me a ride.
" I hope this isn't an indication on how the day is going to be." He says. "On the highway I got a flat tire, then my son says he can't find his cellphone ( it was found in the house, after he suspended service) and now I need to get gas. I passed/called over twenty stations and none have any. I really don't wanna go all the way to White Plains."
" What about New Rochelle?" I ask as I pull out the phone that knows how to do more things than I can think of. Boss doesn't hear me, lost in his frustration. I call one gas station listed on Main Street. " Hi. Do you have gas?"
" YES! YES! WE HAVE GAS! COME UP! NO LINES!". I hadn't even hung up and he was racing towards the expressway.
" How is that possible?! I call twenty and you call one and find one!" A grin spreading across his face.
It was the tallest ladder I had ever seen. I marveled it more out of curiosity than a desire to scale it. During a weekend preparing for a wedding reception it was nice to look at in between cutting flowers and setting forks.
The uncle of the friend who was having the reception, who owned the ladder and the barn it sat in watched me counting all those rings.
" Wanna go up?"
" Nah, that's alright..it's impressive though"
Before I knew it the ladder was spread out in the middle of the floor in the midst of pumpkins, flowers and fake fall leaves. A huge grin was spreading across Uncle John's face.
" Go on! Climb up!"
I laughed, placed the flowers in my hand on the table and to the cheers of my friend who finally looked up from arranging party favors, slowly climbed the steps one by one.
I got within five of the top rungs before I loudly shouted that I didn't want to go any further. The view from where I was satisfied me. I didn't need to touch the light bulb in the ceiling.
During the dinner, Uncle John explained that he was able to measure his children's personalities based on that ladder.
" My eldest boy Justin, no more than four years old. Saw him eyeing that ladder. I pulled it out. He climbed up one step, looked around and went back down. He did that for each step, all the way to the top."
" My second boy, Tim shot straight to the top, looked around and screamed. Had to climb up there and bring him back."
" One was methodically, the other brash"
Contemplating this I glanced at the ladder in the corner and summarized myself. " Guess you could say I know when I've reached my limit and satisfied with what I got."
Just arrived on the seven ten,
Thought I’d see the old gang again,
but you know how they come and go, I’m just a stranger in town.
Ev’rywhere ev’ryone I see Seems to wonder who I can be
And I swear no one seems to care About a stranger in town.
I saw a cottage on a lonely old street, The weeds have grown ‘round the gate.
Somehow I felt that you would wait here, My sweet, but it looks like I’m too late. Guess I’ll leave on the twelve o’ two, Can’t believe that there’s no more you. Is there nothing for me, Will I always be A stranger in my own home town?
The universe has a funny way of speaking up when you need something desperately..for me that was some semblance of a vacation.
What I got was better. An unexpected phone call from a friend to watch their home and adorable flatmate for a week.. the home of a more accomplished writer than I, that is also a great place to write..Which was something I had really wanted to do for a long time, but life kept bouncing in at the most inconvenient of times.
So off I went, over a hundred and thirty six blocks to be exact to watch over a little tough guy who was just as curious about the strange chick walking through his house as I was watching him having a a standoff with two pigeons in the window..
where I gained balance and inspiration in a workplace filled with so many memories
and have an alarm clock that gently pushed earlier each day to say get up and open that can before you head out for work..
Just as priceless was getting to see a different view of my home. Appreciating what I have a hundred and thirty six blocks north. And grateful for the gift of experiencing a different serenity to the south.
getting up at an ungodly hour to pass out exhausted on a train that cost an ungodly amount of money..
In between brief intervals of rest, gazing upon waterways and greenery that don't begin with names like central, hudson or east..
Exhaustion ebbs away upon seeing the face of a dear friend..
She laughs when I remark in disbelief that her metro has carpet. Everything is foreign to me..especially the concept that you have to swipe your transit card twice, when you get on the train and off..
"Depends on what zone you end up in." she says.. I still think it sucks. must be a bitch to calculate every month.
Taking me around her city, she meets her match in the walking department. She glides in a Camry, I glide in Sauconys..
Downpour at the end of the day diverts plans to go someone where else, end up at an eatery familiar everywhere else but at home.
The medicinal remedy of quiet time and reflection was well needed and appreciated, though I am looking forward to return home. Recharged and sitting upright at a normal hour on a train that cost an ungodly sum of money..
the city you made your home, that molded you into the person you became and are becoming can always surprise you and comfort you and teach you a lesson at most inconvenient times.
through passing conversations, through a side glance in a mirror. through worn out shoes, dim lights in tenements and stately apartment houses.
through solitude, frustration, loneliness and joy.
Through dusty pages hidden in decrepit buildings, through words and actions of people long gone.
through your own reflection when you take the time and stop and look and before you realize it the tentacles have wrapped through every core of your being that you wouldn't be able to function without it.
" I always keep my passport in my bag..you never know when you just might need to get away. Just for a few days...from a Thursday to a Tuesday or something... Maybe one Thursday you may find yourself riding to JFK or Newark and looking for the long term parking."
" Just grab a toothbrush, take your credit card and some money and whatever else you need you can get over there."
Repost from last year, with slight modifications. As progress is always in constant motion..
Here's to closing out a year of pitfalls and mishaps and unexpected joys and surprises.
To pushing oneself to the limit and realizing that sometimes your best isn't always good enough.
To discovering new and amazing people, sometimes buried within your own heart,
here's to finding multiple ways to irritate government officials in new jersey who are use to shoveling out bullshit in the hopes you will go away ( they didn't learn the lesson..I'm the penny that keeps turning up)
apply line above to those individuals in new york city, it sucks for them cause I live here.
here's to learning to be still and silent and listen...sometimes too much. You may not like what you hear but it's better than standing at the bottom of the hill with the snowball gaining momentum. I'm the loony one pushing it back up the slope, battered and bruised in the process.
Here's to discovering in surprising, humbling and sometimes frightening ways that you are on the right path though it may be twisted and unclear.
Here's to doing it all over again.
Hope everyone gets everything they want in the New Year. Good health, a chocolate bar or mega millions.
I'd settle for my book to ( finally) be done and an oatmeal cookie. Hope to have both :)
I'm the girl who is pointing her camera in the opposite direction of the Empire State building, at the faded sign on a tenement down the street. If not I'm bothering the folks at the Municipal Archives digging up info on people long gone and writing among other things a biography on a man who did wicked things. Stay tuned.