(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing. Introduction here.)
the brass-colored key slid into the keyhole, making that satisfying sound that keys make when they’re in the right lock. i reached into my aluminum cubby and collected the various pieces of mail that had been delivered — mostly bills or promotional items for former tenants of our apartment, and one letter for sara. something for me, too: a printed postcard advertising “ABSOLUTELY FREE emily oren — VACATION to the CARIBBEAN! i smiled and started to drop it into the trashcan, when something stopped me and i looked at it again, more closely. there was my address: “emily oren, 150 forsyth st., apt. 4a.” it hadn’t been forwarded from the post office — there was no yellow forwarding sticker. whoever had mailed out this card, had known my new address!
i hadn’t been living here ten days, and *someone* already knew how to pester me. the only people who had my new address were my family and potential employers, and i didn’t think either of them were angry enough with me to give my address to snail-mail spammers. strange, and mysterious, that they had found me so quickly. i wonder why these people don’t work for the FBI? maybe this pays more…
yes, we’ve moved in. the room that seemed *unbearably* small at first now just seems cozy; sara and i have maximized our space using my dad’s favorite word: CONSOLIDATION. the rest of the apartment is much nicer, too; my plants enliven the balcony, sara’s computer hums happily from the IKEA desk, and herbie’s TV and couch make our “living area” seem truly livable. our friends who live at home or in the dorms gaze wistfully at our gleaming tile bathroom, wood floors, spacious windows and pretty dishes and say, “i wish *i* had my own apartment.”
it hasn’t all been fun and games, though; one night, raul sat sara down and had a “talk” that turned into a shouting match. he slammed doors, accused her of lying and deceiving him about the living space, and threatened to leave instantly without finding a replacement. sara cried a little and even yelled back, which impressed me when i heard the story later (she’s generally too nice to yell, even when people deserve it.) the next night, the four of us sat down, with sara’s mom as mediator, and had it all out. it felt good to get some stuff off our chests and clear the tense air a little. all decided that raul (who hadn’t been misled, but was a victim of several misunderstandings with different parties) would stay through the summer and help to find a replacement for himself, and then move out.
living with boys is an adjustment in itself. sara and i exchange That Look quite frequently, and speak in low whispers in our room about the unwashed dishes, the toilet seat that was left up AGAIN, and the constantly blaring TV and stereo that plays salsa music and Jerry Springer. we’ve learned that some issues need to be taken up immediately, and some “swallowed” and dealt with.
the neighborhood, although sketchy at night, is very much a neighborhood. unlike the dorms, which were right in the middle of a commercial area, our apartment is near several housing developments and across the street from a family park. (our balcony overlooks trees and a community garden, satisfying my daily requirements of greenery). to the west is Soho, with all its designer galleries and shops and cafés, too cute for words. i nearly had a fit when we were walking one day and spotted a “boulangerie,” a real French bakery with a restaurant attached, where the signs were in French and the waiters spoke with Parisian accents. the summer heat has brought about increased slowness of life, and even when busy we can take time to enjoy the luxury of stopping somewhere we’ve never visited before.
life has settled into a pretty comfortable pattern. i don’t have a job yet, and have spent most of the time i *would* have spent working, looking for work. my luck with retail stores has been mostly bad; Banana Republic gave me a nerve-wracking lie detector test that i probably flunked, since they never called me back. the Pottery Barn interviewed me twice and practically gave me a locker in the changing room, and then strung me out for a week before dropping me altogether. then, a week and a half after giving that end up entirely, another establishment seemed to take interest. ironically enough, it was the one store that i hadn’t even filled out an application for — just casually left my resumé at the desk — and didn’t know a *thing* about. it’s called Tristan & America; they’re Canadian-based and trying *very* hard to make a good impression on New York. (one thing i discovered about retailers — they’re very often obsessed with their stores. this particular interviewer said, over and over again, “this store is just the GREATEST thing i have EVER seen in my entire LIFE.” i guess i came across as intense enough for him, because he kept shaking his head — “i am SO impressed.” but i’m not counting my chickens this time.
the other end of my employment search has been through a slew of temp agencies, which run from *extremely* ghetto to reputable. i’ve been to many interviews around the business districts of Wall Street and Midtown. i love the feeling of stepping out, dressed to kill, and striding purposefully into a ritzy hi-rise office building. the turbo-elevators in those buildings are incredible. three seconds (no joke!) and you’re twenty-five floors higher. i try not to look too wide-eyed, as if i do this every day. the interviews have been good for me, too; i’m no longer the least bit nervous before one, and i’m getting near-perfect scores on the MS Word and Excel tests. (yes, they have tests for computer programs; the questions start with “save the current document” and end with “create a template called Sandal, protect it as an Shoe File, and merge it with the databases Sock and Hosiery.”) and surprise — i can type 80 words per minute! who knew? actually, i’ve practically memorized *that* test, too: “keeping customers happy is the key to our business. in the end, service is all we really have to sell, and service means good customer relations. it starts with the first contact and is a never ending daily job …”
of course, what complicates my search for work is my summer physics class, which runs three hours in the middle of the day, four days a week. it’s almost exactly the same as the physics class i took in high school, with the added disadvantage of a not-too-bright teacher who prefers doing exercises from his book of “puzzles” to explaining the guts of physics to us. also frustrating are the art students, who — i try not to be judgmental — raise their hands and say, “wait, why did you add v-squared to *both* sides of the equation?” despite these few stumbling blocks, i’m sailing through with a solid A by reading the book and doing my homework every night. (it’s so easy to stay caught up when you only have one class … )
random funny story: the other day on the train, i overheard a man talking to his friend about how ungrateful his girlfriend’s kids were. “i take ‘em to the Gap and they like, ‘we’re bored, can we go now?’” his friend grunted menacingly. encouraged, he continued: “i told ‘em, ‘we’ll go to K-mart — we’ll keep it real simple. i’ll buy you clothes. you gimme a problem, im’a bust you over the head wi’ some Martha Stewart.’”
mommy would be proud.
the weather is generally sunny and hot, making us terribly appreciative of my father’s efforts in installing an air-conditioning unit. in the evenings, though, it turns breezy and cool, encouraging exercise — penley and i have been running in Central Park a few times — and long walks. the sunsets are unbelievable — the high concentration of chemicals and pollution in the air heightens the color to deep, intense oranges and firey reds, and the clouds all around turn incredible shades of bright pink.
on one such evening, penley and i were on top of the “castle” in Central Park (i don’t know what its function is, but it’s an old stone building with turrets that overlooks a rocky valley — hence, “the castle.”), blowing bubbles. i almost always carry a little bottle of them in my backpack, especially when it’s such nice weather — it’s a lazy activity that provides maximum amusement with minimum effort. we were having races to see who could get more in the air at once, watching the air currents carry the bubbles higher and further, and trying in vain to get some of the other park patrons to enjoy this pleasurable pastime. (who in their right minds would refuse an offer of bubble-blowing, you ask? well, you’d be surprised.) later, as we walked past the Egyptian Wing of the Met, we saw a dozen or so figures silhouetted against the glass wall, sitting cross-legged in a row. in front of them paced a young man, small and wiry, wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts and screaming at the top of his lungs. i was a little wary, but my curiosity won out and we crept closer and closer until we could see what was going on. presently another man came around the corner and said something we couldn’t hear, and the first guy screamed, “WELL, THAT’S STUPID!” and began putting on his clothes again. a dialogue followed, but it wasn’t until about ten minutes later that i realized it was a memorized script. this was a group of actors putting on a performance for anyone who cared to come by! we watched until the “end,” when the last two characters left. then there was some scattered applause from the crowd, which had grown to about 20, and we stood up uncertainly. “i guess it’s over,” penley said. they play itself was mediocre; the idea of a spontaneous theater production in the park at night was very, very cool.
with a new season comes change, and for me that meant a new haircut. it’s been long for years and years, but i decided to spring for a salon and tell them to chop it all off — something the stylist was reluctant to do. “are you ready for this?” she kept asking. i was nervous, but i liked the end result so much i didn’t care — it’s above my shoulders now, cool and summery. i can’t really explain why i went to a salon, except that i’ve never been to one before and just felt like being a little extravagant. not too extravagant, though — i called vidal sassoon and hung up in a HURRY when told that a woman’s haircut ranged from 85 to 115 dollars. eventually, i settled for “hoshi coupe,” a salon that’s based in paris. crystal, my stylist, did a great job. she was one of those people who look really fashionable and stylish in things that would make the rest of us look ridiculous. *her* hair looked a little too new-york for me. (bleached blond spikes; sort of like your prom date, abby.) well, it went with her thick, glittery eyeshadow.
one of the neatest features of our new abode is our balcony; it’s small enough to be cute, but large enough for two or three people to sit comfortably out there. about a week ago sara was out there when she heard a voice above her say, “hey!” she leeeaned out and looked up and saw a guy about 25 years old, holding out a small business-sized card. “wanna come to a soirée on the roof? it’s next friday.” she showed me the card later — it was very designed-looking, blue-grey with minimal information printed on it, and laminated. woooowwww. she, herbie and i went to it; the crowd was mostly older, but they were fun people and we had a good time. the roof makes its own party; i had never been up there and didn’t know how easy it was to go, but it was amazing. we could see *everything*. there were a lot of architects there — in fact, one of the party-throwers was practicing in the city — and i got to hang out with a few of them. all offered sympathy for me in my plight; and one said of the profession, “if you don’t love it, get the hell out of there NOW.” he was in it for the money, and sorely disappointed. thankfully, i do love it — i’m going back for more.