Cooper Chronicles: I.9

(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.)

is it possible to fall in love with a city?  if so, then i think i’m completely smitten with this one.  its loud noises can be intimidating; its smells are not often the greatest, and its sights not always classy or artistic.  but, just like a boyfriend that you fall head-over-heels for, these seeming flaws only serve to make it more endearing.

there was a thought-provoking comment sent to me right after the second or third letter i wrote.  it said that, supposedly, it takes three weeks for a person to become psychologically accustomed to something — and the sender wondered how long it would take for me to become used to the city that was then leaving me in wide-eyed wonder.  after last week’s letter, then, the same person wrote again and said that it looked like i had gotten “used” to new york.  maybe so; i’ll grudgingly admit it.  but not so used to it that i don’t love every minute of living here.

the transition has been from a love-at-first-sight euphoria to a close-friend rapport.  you know how completely enamored you are when you first meet someone you really like?  there’s a mystery about them that fascinates you.  you want to spend every minute of your time being with them, getting to know more about them.  then — sooner or later, it’s bound to happen — they disappoint you.  you discover a flaw.  you’re temporarily disgusted with them, but you gradually forgive. and, eventually, you grow to love the flaws in their character as well as the good points you fell in love with in the first place.  better still, whatever disagreement you’ve had serves to bring you closer together, and you become even better friends than you were in the first place.  i still don’t know as much of the city as i would like to.  but hey, i have five more years to do that — and i love the suspense of not knowing what lies around the corner.  literally.  i don’t know whether it will be an ethnic grocer’s, an upscale jewelry shop or another interesting bum.  but even if it’s something distasteful, i can accept it.  nobody — or no city, for that matter — is perfect.

no, i’m not doing a psychoanalysis of my relationship with the city.  i’m NOT, i tell you!

so, this week was supposed to be the *big* critique, the deciding vote.  but instead of mercilessly terminating this project, they gave us two more weeks to adapt, refine, and polish.  in the words of charlie brown, “AUGHHHHH!!”  (the final crit will be on october 29, for those of you who want to start praying in advance. :)  we worked and worked on our joint for this crit.  we built an entirely new model with refinements, took black-and-white photos of its inner workings, and made a new set of drawings.  the crit was neither harsh nor overtly positive; like most of them, it was encouraging and helpful, while so abstract it left my head swimming.  i love how your joint is so <insert random high-flown architectonic term>,  they would say.  ah, yes, we’d answer, we tried to make it that way.  all the while, we were wondering WHAT they — and we — were talking about. i suppose part of the class is picking up the lingo … and that must include some degree of faking it.  sigh.

our drawings were our weakest area, as was the case with all of the groups.  i suspect it might be because, perhaps, oh — they never TAUGHT us how to draw.  hey, i like to learn on my own, but it’s frustrating to spend a long time on something and have it torn apart because your “presentation” or “conceptualization” is slightly off.  i remain optimistic, though, and resolve to work harder and seek more advice from elders on the next set.  again, we stayed in the studio past closing time.  this time, though, i took some alternate advice and signed the list — using my best friend as an alias.

dorm life continues to be oh-so-exciting.  it seems that every week the R.A.’s plan a special event to make our lives more interesting; last week was the infamous Pasta Night, and this friday was the Dating Game.  i actually didn’t go to the latter — nuff said.  call me crazy, but i think i *probably* had something better to do.  (although all my friends that played ended up with free movie passes and restaurant gift-certificates.  maybe it was a bad call.)  instead, i did some reading for literature class and relaxed.  then raquel, sara and i had a “girl’s night out” and went to see “practical magic,” a movie that looked like a chick-flick but had too much occultish-based themes to be all that charming.  we had fun being together, though.

our apartment is looking more and more classy, too.  each week, it seems, one of us buys a new poster or wall decoration or set of dishes.  sara and i found a wonderful shop called “fish’s eddy,” (it sounds backwards, doesn’t it?  “eddie’s fishes” would make more sense, but that’s new york for ya.)  which buys dishes from authentic diners all across the country and resells them for very little money — 75 cents per plate, to be exact.  we bought a bunch to supplement our meager supply of kitchenware, while ooh-ing and aah-ing over all the things we couldn’t afford.  i fell in love with an Henri Matisse (print!  not original!) at the Met, which hangs behind our kitchen table.  we’re always slightly shocked when we visit friends’ apartments that don’t feel the necessity to “decorate”; for us, it would be simply appalling to come home to four white walls and a few pieces of boring furniture.  

on saturday, i had the delightful experience of seeing my two dear friends jenny and toby again.  jenny’s class was coming to the city to see “chicago,” and toby came along for the ride.  jenny’s friend nina was with them, and it was great fun to show them around “my” city — times square, central park, fifth avenue, etc.  i felt a bit like a proud parent.  after a day of walking in dress shoes, though, my feet were not very thankful for the experience.  after the show, toby and i met the girls and the four of us took the subway to east village.  it was jenny’s first underground trip ever — she kept asking,”is it supposed to jerk around like that?  why are we stopping?  should we get off?  is this safe?”  (of course, we couldn’t give her a straight answer.  “well, it’s probably the driver’s first time, but it’s okay.  there *might* not be anything to worry about.”)  i showed them my school, my apartment, and my neighborhood, and we had dinner at a quaint little malaysian place, with bamboo furniture and a running waterfall in the dining room with goldfish swimming about underfoot.

that night was my friend jeff’s birthday.  kadar and i, along with jeff’s friend olga, celebrated by going swing dancing at a club in times square.  i almost had my first-ever experience being kicked out of a club for being underage — i had been under the impression that it was okay for under-21-ers to come if they didn’t drink, but apparently that wasn’t the case.  jeff copped a new-york attitude with the bouncer, who promptly copped one right back.  (“ya don’t like the rules at my club, buddy, ya can get out!” with that great accent.)  then — a masterful stroke — jeff backed down submissively, and once the bouncer saw that he had control of the situation, he grew benevolent and let us in.  awed, we stood meekly as the woman marked our hands with black X’s to prevent us from buying any, ahem, *adult* beverages.  (not to worry.  we just wanted to dance.)  we had, as always, a great time — even though the atmosphere was a little more subdued than other places we’d been to, we twirled and dipped to our hearts’ content in the tight crowds.  somehow, swing dancing is even more fun when you bump into other people.  we left early (my feet were screaming bloody murder after a day of semi-athletic activity in high heels!!)  came home, put in a movie, and promptly fell asleep in front of it.

today i limped to church — not once, not twice, but *three* times.  at Liturgy this morning i was accosted (in a friendly manner) by the choir director, who had met my mom, our choir director, at a conference in washington last week.  she invited me to stand with the choir, which i did, with mixed success.  the russian tones were easier to pick up than i had thought, but the foreign-language singing was a little beyond me.  i must have showed it, too — she offered to get me a pronunciation guide before next week.  after church i was invited to the rehearsal for a wedding that would take place that evening.  i was (again) much less confident of my sightreading abilities than they were, but showed up anyway.  after rehearsal, i had lunch with jeff at a ukranian diner (ah, the cultural richness of the city!) and went home, only to turn right around and come back for the wedding.  it was beautiful.  the cathedral was darkened except for scores of candles all around, and the music — hushed, sweet, and moving — fit the atmosphere perfectly.  afterwards, the reception turned decidedly ethnic.  champagne was distributed liberally (don’t worry! i was good!) and the more Slavic element of the congregation took to pounding the piano, dancing and belting out Russian folk tunes.  it was a sight.  i’ve been tapping my foot all night, humming, “aay-aay-aay-aay-aaaah …”

well, kids, i have work to do.  i’m counting the days until i go home for the first time.