There's No Place Like Home
It's nice to think tragedy will draw people together - make them kinder, softer, more willing to see beyond themselves. Surely it may happen some times in some places but I have just returned from New York and I'm here to tell you, it ain't happening there.
Until last week I had never found New Yorkers to be particularly unpleasant.
I would have said that they would neither go out of their way to be kind or unkind. Now, post-9/11, when they aren't being oversensitive, I found them to be crass and rude, or at least on edge.
Incident number one: in a large department store a woman tersely asks a salesperson, "where's the bathroom?" The salesperson contemptuously replies, "right in front of your face," (which it admittedly was but clearly, for whatever reason, the woman didn't know that) to which the woman screams in a voice I reserve for stray dogs when I find them attacking babies, "You don't talk to me like that." If I hadn't seen the salesperson folding sweaters for several minutes prior to the woman approaching her from across the store, I would have assumed this was another incident in a long-standing feud between an alcoholic mother and daughter rather than a brief exchange of information between strangers. They both took it so personally and were SO angry.
Incident number two: Yours truly enters a nearly full restaurant with two other people. We stand by the door for a few minutes until a server passes us and says it will be about fifteen minutes. There are empty tables but they are all for two people. A foursome in front of us appears to be gathering their things so I helpfully (and quite kindly as I am from the South) say to her, "I think they might be leaving," to which she replies in a voice dripping with something unpleasant, "Yeah, I know, I work here."
I wanted to cry, then leave, but the food looked really good, so we stayed. The food did turn out to be good but that hateful server never did warm up. Again, it seemed so personal; I felt her loathing us and I think if I had not been raised to know better I would have screamed, "You don't talk to me like that."
I heard several other arguments and bitter unpleasantries while I was out but nowhere was this new-found New York edginess and over-sensitivity more apparent than 116 Waverly Place. My sister, Andrea, lives there in a large railroad apartment with three other women. In the few days I was there I witnessed three breakdowns and two spats. One night, as we prepared to go out, we overheard what sounded like a scene from a high school interpretation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. My sister stood up mid-mascara application, without saying a word to me, and walked into the living room to talk down the melodramatic woman play-acting her breakdown. "What I am I going to do with my life sob, sobI have no talent sob, sob no one will ever want me like this." Andrea said some soothing words, blah, blah, then came back to finish the other eye.
"Is it always like this?" I whispered.
"It has been since the tragedy," she matter-of-factly answered. She seemed unaffected. But, at about 3 o'clock in the morning the night before I left she told me, "I have got to do something about my living situation." However, she couldn't afford such a beautiful apartment in such a lovely neighborhood without the roommates.
My friend Elizabeth lives alone in a lovely but tiny apartment. She has a separate bedroom but it holds nothing more than the bed. And she lives right above the super so she has to tiptoe in order not to incite him to yet again tell her, "You have always been the most difficult tenant here."
Heather and Brian live in a studio apartment the size, exactly, of my kitchen. Brian loves to watch sports. Heather doesn't but she is forced to because in an apartment that size it is impossible to get away. Heather says when she tries to read that it's not so much the sound of the television as the flickering of the screen that distracts her from her book.
From my friends, to shop-clerks, to servers, to people on the street, everyone seems to be gunning for a fight and on edge.
Here's what I think: Post 9/11 New Yorkers are scared. They are scared to be out on the streets, scared to be in restaurants, scared to be in stores.
But, the New York lifestyle is about being out. People didn't gather at their homes; they met in bars and restaurants then went on to other bars and restaurants. Suddenly, people don't want to be in these public places. (A friend who runs a formerly quite popular French restaurant in Soho said his business is down to 40 per cent of what it was last year at this time.) Suddenly, people stay home and they are finding out that home isn't so great. Living in a crummy apartment was the sacrifice New Yorkers were willing to make; now that they choose to actually be there, the sacrifice is wearing on their nerves. Of course they are edgy; they have to choose between being out, where they are afraid of a terrorist attack, or home, where they have to face the reality of their grim living situations.
Here is my solution: (and don't think I didn't tout it to anyone who would listen.) Move to Lexington.
Here you can have a vast, lovely, light-filled apartment with a brand-new kitchen on Irvine Road, our equivalent to the Upper East Side, for a mere $775 per month, which, incidentally is exactly what my sister pays to live in her fifth floor walk-up ward, with its circa 1940 kitchen, non-working toilet, crumbling ceilings and three lunatics.
And, the citizens of Lexington almost never yell at each other.
Stats: For Rent
104 Irvine Road
1 bedroom; 1 Bath
Also available, 2 bedroom; 1 and one half bath
If you have a unique or interesting house for sale contact Lissa Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org.