miscellaneous thoughts from the upper west side after three months living in new york city
Every single day here is a fun puzzle I get to solve of errands, obligations, and travel time. Just as I get from the synesthetic math of a sudoku puzzle or from the orderly chaos of a crossword puzzle, I derive pleasure from solving these daily scheduling riddles. As I move about the city I’m calculating the known locations of Duane Reades and of subway stops and of friends’ places and of bars and of the National Geographic Encounter in this continuing equation where I both am and am solving for x. This city is unmatched in its ability to afford me this daily simple joy of doing things as quickly as I can, without a single extra step. Stop and smell the roses! you might say. The puzzle is the roses.
There are so many parts of the lived experience of New York that are left just off frame. One off frame aspect of my life here that I’ve come to appreciate is the perpetration of what I’ll call New York Life Hacks, otherwise known as “petty crimes.” It is certainly a crime to enter through the emergency exit door on a subway platform, but if I’m leaving it, and you’re try to slip through, that door may hang open a second longer than gravity might have assigned it. A former version of me might have gasped, might have alerted the authorities, but what justice would that serve other than my own? We call people like that “narcs.” “Live and let live” has not exactly always been a presiding motto of mine, but the cascading frustrations of living here have made it so.
For many years, my favorite two superheroes were Batman and Iron Man. Something about them being regular, ambitious, incredibly wealthy dudes drew me to them. They seemed attainable. They seemed to embody the promise of the mythological New York I’d conjured. To that effect, I’d always thought of Spider-Man, a New Yorker, as kind of…lame. Peter Parker should have been everything to me: late blooming, shy, and just a little pathetic. His embodiment as the antithesis of those concepts in the form of Spider-Man seemed at best aspirational to me and at worst depressing. That has since changed. The new movie Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse demonstrated the promise not of the mythological New York I saw glowing brown from my Long Island bedroom window, but of the real, wet curbs and crunchy salt New York in which I now live. Each conception of Spidey in the film, and most effectively Miles Morales’, showed me the street level necessity for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
I’ve thought about relationships with family, friends, and romantic partners less as the two end points that form the connection, and more as the space between those two points. That’s where the “chemistry” is, that’s the plane that needs to be handled and regarded with compassion and deliberateness. A long distance relationship forces the galvanization of that space. There are ways to be 800 miles from someone and feel like they are in the room with you, to feel like they are touching you, to feel like the space between you is loose and vibrant. I’m so glad I have a person with whom I feel safe and confident to experiment and play around inside of the space between us.
There is so much dog poop all over the streets of my neighborhood. About every six to eight steps, my feet pass another turd, and another, and another. Every day of the week, all hours of day. The very considerate UWS dogs keep their business of all varieties primarily to the fringes of the sidewalk space, making West 107th Street more of an art gallery than a minefield of poops. I will never forget the very seasonal “turdle dove,” a single mushy dropping with the unmistakable silhouette of a dove that found its way to our block the week of Christmas. As much leniency as I’ve formed for various petty crimes, this feels like one that could be prevented by the addition of public use doggy bags and trash bins. But who am I, Jane Jacobs?
In 1992, the MetroCard must have seemed like a gosh darn technological marvel. In 2022, the MTA plans to phase them out entirely, which means it’ll likely be 2035 when it really happens. For now, it is 2019, and this terribly flimsy piece of plastic is the most frequent inhibitor to my transit well being. I have yet to nail the precise choreography that goes into quickly swiping through the turnstile without getting the dreaded PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN message. I’d say I have about a 65% success rate. I feel like an Olympic pole vaulter staring down my task most every time I am rushing to swipe, hoping against hope that in the instant between my swipe and my crotch hitting the turnstile, I will have been granted access to the wildly popular and completely functional New York Subway System. If the MetroCard were just a little bit stiffer (if not credit card thick, think health insurance card thick) I feel like my effective turnstile percentage (ETP) would rise.
My god, the exhilaration of living life outside of the quarter system. At school, it did not take very long for the unbearable pace of assignments, classes, rehearsals, and social obligations to shorten my attention span. The farthest ahead I might have been able to conceive at a given moment was the upcoming weekend. In New York, I feel like the container of my thoughts is so much bigger, and the relentlessness with which new things have to be dealt with feels more manageable. I feel clearer minded in my priorities, more capable of my ambitions (which now seem higher), and more glad to be executing every single day without the dreadful slog of everything that came with school. I remain appreciative for everything it allowed me, but, wow, using all of those things it allowed me without the sacrifice of my sanity and well being? That’s awesome.
I know a lot of people who have done bad things. Such as: hurting people I love, acting cruelly, failing a promise, being willfully ignorant to the point of violence, forgetting, demeaning the marginalized, choosing fear over love. These facts, the stories they suggest, the people they accuse, have recently come into my mind alongside another fact: that I am more alone and singularly responsible for my choices and actions than I have ever been. The energy I have to bear leaden chips on my shoulder and cerebral tension around my eyes has never felt less worth it. There are ways to challenge and push yourself and others to be better, and that is a responsibility I feel like we all have to each other, by coming from a place of forgiveness over a place of hard-heartedness. New York has breathed into me what feels like post-grad acceptance for the way people are, while I still breathe out an aspiration for the way people could be.
I have never considered myself a very big reader, but it wasn’t until the last bits of my time at school that I realized what it is about reading that actively disconcerts me. There is something about the mass of a book, the legitimacy of the statement that it exists, that it takes up space, and has weight that sends my brain whirring. I look at books, especially hard cover ones, with a sense of improbability, that there is no way I could make it up that mountain alive. Until I went off social media and did a true audit of all of the apps on my phone, I hadn’t considered the possibility of compressing my books into bytes and pieces. Instants from deleting the Books app on my phone, I instead moved it to where Facebook used to lie, and purchased the first Harry Potter book. 40 days later I had read through all seven books, entirely in iPhone screen sized sections. It was my first time ever reading the books. What seemed so impossible in the form of thousands of pages on my Great Neck book shelf now seemed within grasp. I’ve since read Becoming and now am into another fairly lengthy novel. Hopefully I get to the point where I can read a printed book, but for now I am thankful for my phone for being my gateway to a world I’d never entered.
being paid to act
When I made plans to move to New York, I recognized one sad and frightening truth. It would be the first time in my life that I would go somewhere my brother had not been before me. He haunted every stage and every audition room and every classroom I had been in, often cutting a path of well-liked, positive, and hard working memories in his wake. It was an enormous privilege to have worn the badge of confidence he gave me everywhere I went. But New York was going to be different; there would be no wake to ride. Or so I thought. In my fourth or fifth true audition in the city, I was asked “Are you related to Jon Schneidman?” Stunned as I was, flabbergasted really, that the man who asked it had worked with my brother 15 years prior, I was also heartened. Something felt cosmic and appropriate about that moment, and I walked away glad.
Since then, I’ve been cast in a role that that audition got me, and am, for the first time in my life, a professional actor. I thought I’d have a crisis of motivation, that suddenly the task of rehearsing would feel dirty and sullied somehow by the business interests of some higher up individual behind a desk. So far, it has not been so. I am beginning to recognize how lucky I am to be doing this: to love it, to enjoy it. “You mean I would do this for free (and I did for many years) but now I get to do this and also make money?” I think to myself nearly every day. It’s small, it’s a start, it’s flawed, but it is worth it. But so is the miscellany of New York, and for now I wouldn’t have it any other way.