New York: Audit

New York has been on my mind, over the past few weeks. When things get difficult or uncertain, I do an audit, to determine whether this place is worth it. Obviously after fourteen years, the pros have won, but it has been a real struggle.

My first apartment in New York was a fifth floor walk-up, jr. one bedroom, that I shared with my former college roommate. The building was near the UN, so technically I lived in a good neighborhood. It’s just that my building was the ragtag outlier in the middle of doorman buildings filled with diplomats and bankers. The people living in my building had jobs, just not good ones.

Strangely there was a fancy restaurant on the bottom floor of my building. Bill Clinton ate there frequently, so did a colony of mice who migrated upstairs to sample our food. I developed a tick from seeing them scurry around my apartment. Yes, I attempted to kill them, but New York mice are smart. They don’t just willy nilly walk into traps. They walk up to the traps, sample the peanut butter and then peace out back to their nest until they get hungry again. I had one walk into the living room look at me dead in the eye and then keep on moving, like no big deal. Zero fear. Long after I moved, I would catch something out of the corner of my eye and my body would involuntarily jump. People at work thought I was crazy. I guess it could be classified as PTSD.

The amenities, shape and design of the apartment was also less than stellar. The bathroom was off the kitchen. The plumbing was so bad, the toilet frequently overflowed and flooded the kitchen. I went through a lot of bleach during those years.

The kitchen was ridiculous in itself. It had a sink and about a foot of counter space next to it. The tiny stove was directly in front of the counter, which made the counter useless. The stove was only partially useful. It had four burners, but you could only fit two pots on the stove at one time. The oven was so tiny and powerless it took six hours to cook a tiny turkey. Through all those complications, I managed to become a good cook.

I still think of those years in that apartment fondly. I had a great view. Bruno, the landlord, left the roof door unlocked, so the tenants could have an outdoor space. My neighbor Adrienne and I used to go up there to get air and smoke cigarettes. On the 4th of July, we watched the fireworks crowd free.

My photography idol Gordon Parks lived down the street. I came out of my apartment building one afternoon and there he was across the street. Like someone had placed him there for me. I screamed like a crazy person “Hi Mr. Parks!!!” He turned and said “Hello” very politely. I realized in that moment, maybe I needed to find my chill. The next time I saw him a couple of weeks later, I said “Hello, Mr. Parks,” calmly this time. I didn’t want anything from him, I just couldn’t believe my good fortune in living so close to a legend. I saw him a lot over the years. He was always pleasant and greeted me back.

While working at Time Warner, I got free tickets to a screening of the documentary Unstoppable: A conversation with Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis. Mr. Parks was in attendance. After the movie, I rushed up to the stage with everyone else to finally properly introduce myself. When it was my turn to speak, He said

Gordon Parks: I remember you from the neighborhood.
Me: Yes, I am the crazy girl who screams at you from across the street.
He laughed and grabbed my hand
Me: (Nervous giggle) I am a photographer and you have always been my favorite. You are someone I have tried to emulate.
Gordon Parks: Oh Thank You!

Unfortunately, our conversation was cut short because Melvin Van Peebles Sr. asked why I wasn’t as excited to meet him. Then Mr. Van Peebles proceeded to hit on me. That’s another story for another day.

Mr. Parks died a year later, in his apartment down the street. I am grateful I got to know him, even a little bit.

As a child, dreaming of moving to the city, this is what I envisioned my life in New York was going to be. I didn’t envision the struggle, but who does.

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