I now live in a sleepy harbor town in Maine, but I still receive correspondence from young adults at the precipice of moving to New York City. Most are from the kids of family friends who have been coerced into calling me because their parents are convinced they must be homicidal or homosexual for desiring to live in a place like New York. The others come from seniors of the remote Missouri university I attended, who have never traveled east of the Mississippi River. They’re usually wondering if I have any career insights for the average East Asian Civilizations major and if I might recommend a roommate or seven willing to split rent. I tell each the only thing I know about New York: If you’re good to the city, it’ll be good to you.
I lived by this maxim from the moment I stepped over the threshold of my first apartment, which I placed a deposit on sight unseen, till the day I moved away, watching through eyes brimming with tears as the looming skyline grew faint in the rearview mirror. Where others decried the streets strewn with refuse and its faceless bustle, I regarded every tenement, every puddle of indiscriminate fluid, and each wad of gum clinging to my shoe’s sole as a vivid tile within the mosaic of urban dwelling. Always regaled with cautionary tales from those wearied by city life, I heeded their advice with the same interest a teenager reserves for counsel from his grandparents. I defied all their opining as rapidly as it was expressed. Stay above 14th Street. So I moved downtown. Don’t take the subway late at night. But I could always get a seat late at night. Every choice ending harmoniously, piloting my course into an intractable state of mind in which I believed no place was as harmless as the quaint island of Manhattan.
My husband, sure there were indeed many places more harmless than Manhattan, wanted desperately to move. G longed to have our children expert in things like catching fish and climbing trees rather than knowing good falafel and hailing a cab. Even though we moved, G continues to work in New York, still trapped in the furious boil of finance while we remain in a town in which the only notable happenings are the release of new flavors of fudge offered by one of the gift shops.
Every couple of months, breathless to again whiff air containing a trace of Anthrax and to behold schizophrenics who urinate in front of onlookers, I load our three kids into the car and make the southward trek. While it feels odd to enter the city in a car packed to the hilt with luggage and to check into a hotel, often one facing an apartment building in which we had once lived, I quickly transmute into my former self albeit with more cellulite and footwear that should be kept tucked out of sight at restaurants.
After arriving last week, I took a city sort of walk, one with purpose and elbowing. I gaze straight ahead as a local would, not like a rube assaulted by the visual stimulation. A tourist (with whom I cannot possibly identify) asks for directions, which I offer with a pitying smile that says, “You wish you had the key to this city, but I cannot give it to you because it’s mine and it’s sitting at the bottom of this absurdly large hobo purse I bought when they were de rigeuer here, like a decade ago.” I raise my chin and plunge forward, feeling sure I’ve still got that swing.
It was at that moment that my motherfucking wallet was stolen.
More grievous than the realization I’d been hoodwinked was the awareness I’d lost my driver’s license, an item I was going to need in order to fly to my parent’s home in Arizona in just two days. One alarmingly unstable phone call to the airline later, I had heaped the kids into a stroller bound for a police station, bent on procuring a police report, something the customer service representative indicated he’d seen green-lighted before. In Las Vegas. Before 9/11. Before Pantene Pro-V could down a plane.
We emerged on to the sidewalk when it occurred to me that I didn’t know the cross streets of a police station as I’d never before needed to utilize one. A patrolman fortuitously passing by said, “Your best bet is Times Square. They deal with yous all the time.” I winced at the way he said ‘yous’, cop talk for ‘Morons from Ohio with mace spray keychains and subway maps.’
We were buzzed through a door made of welded metal and plated glass at the Times Square Precinct. A German Shepherd, looking as though he enjoyed a steady diet of other German Shepherds, rested on his haunches as he sniffed the aroma we’d brought inside, a bouquet of desperation and poorly wiped bottoms. I scrawled my name across paper after paper as officers came and went, hoisting machine guns over the heads of my toddlers. Eyes wide and unblinking, they whispered, “Are those real or toys?” Before I could lie, the door banged open and two officers forced a man in handcuffs inside. “Keep this joker here till we can transport him downtown,” one of them barked as he pushed the perpetrator into a chair and cuffed him to it. The kids hid between my legs, peeking out to behold everything they’d ever seen in snippets of verboten television play out before them. I looked pleadingly at the officer taking my testimony, hopeful he’d understand that the kids were innocent to the realities of artillery and criminals and dogs that eat humans.
“Here’s your report, ma’am. Good luck getting on your plane. If you decide you’re brave enough to visit the big, bad city again, try a fanny pack.”
(Yes, we made it past TSA. With less documentation than a terrorist)