New York as the Underworld

I don’t know what I was thinking when I said to Payson, “Yes! Let’s go to New York in December!” I commend my adventurousness and youthful folly, I mean it, because I was getting quite sedentary in my ways, unwilling to travel. So, since the 25th of November, we have taken two vacations: First, a sailing trip to Catalina — more of that later — and New York, for yet another week. Payson found us a lovely little two level apartment on the Upper East Side, tiny, as New York apartments are, but quite adequate for our purposes. I was quite thrilled to see it, actually, and thought it would be a wonderful place to hole up in for a couple of weeks. It’s not that I forgot it would be cold; I hoped for snow which I haven’t experienced in sunny So Cal for several years; I was even aware that it might be so cold that I wouldn’t be able to do too much outdoors, though I did see myself roaming the streets in Union Square or the Village, window shopping, popping into a cafe to have soup or something hot. I even hoped in a way that it would be too cold to go out and I would stay warm and cozy indoors to accomplish a fairly important task of getting into my next project which required like a hundred hours of cleaning up of files before I could begin to think of landscaping the garden that I plan to make. So, I was wise enough to come up with all the scenarios so that I could plan my reaction to even the worst of them. The worst, when faced in advance, and planned for, can turn out to be the best. But more of this later.

But yesterday was quite hellish and I am grateful for the perspective that allowed me to see New York as the underworld. Once I had this mythic view, the hellish day became quite interesting, though tiring. Let me describe it. My first view of it as such came as we were driving back from the airport with friends — R&S — who came to pick us up in a limo. We have missed the beauty of fall and are in the heart of winter, the few remaining desiccated leaves hanging on to their mother trees like long withered desires, afraid to let go, and too old to hang on. The telephone and electricity wires looked like the entrails of a beast that had died and left them suspended above our heads. The high, narrow concrete walls of towering apartments buildings that block out the sky looked like the tunnels of hell.

Yesterday while Payson was away visiting with his brother, Larry (two blocks from us) — one of the main reasons of our visit here — I decided after several hours of doing the above cleaning up of files, to venture out onto the streets. I was quite bundled up in my long black down coat, a thick hat, scarf and gloves, wheeling a small bag to carry back groceries in, and could have passed for one of the many homeless black women (and men — hard to tell the sex of the bundles sometimes) on the New York streets. The chilling wind was so strong it almost blew off my glasses as I stepped out of the building. Even after I adjusted them back on, my eyes watered so much I could barely see a few feet ahead of me. I thought I would escape it momentarily by ducking into a shop that displayed fleece-lined leggings  which I have been looking for. I tried to open the thick glass doors and couldn’t budge them. I had to pull with both hands before I could open them enough to put a booted foot in the door. There were two of them, and by the time I opened both, I felt I had used up all my breakfast calories. The lady in the store gave me a very suspicious look, especially since I was carrying a wheely — shoplifter come to clean us out! I didn’t spend much time there before I headed out again. I won’t describe the rest of the experience walking to the grocery story and shopping in New York on a Sunday when the hoards are out, of the futile search for items on my list, of the mile-long lines lined by isles with all sorts of junk that I piled into my basket because I didn’t want to make the trip again. You get the idea.

I returned gratefully to the apartment battling my way through the tearing winds and made myself a cup of tea.

The day wasn’t over. By no means. We were going for a dance concert to Brooklyn with our friend Arny and that meant rides in the subway. If you haven’t seen the entrails of an underground beast, these are they. The tunnels of hell being ridden by people who are so unhappy at their condition that all they do while riding is play senseless games on their phones. The bright and brilliant light of the whole experience with the sound and sight of a black man in dreadlocks playing the steel drums. It was Orpheus before he found and lost Eurydice, again.

Just one more insight from Payson before I quit and return to that clearing I spoke about. Or at least, to a bath. Today I stay holed up the whole day, loving it. In New York, Payson says, people live in boxes. If you are poor and homeless, it is a literal cardboard box; if you are the working poor, in a small box, and if you are one of the richest, you live in a big box. But it is still a box.


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