Marathon Shopping Trip: Another NYC Story

In NY, we didn’t have a car, which—come to find out—adds a layer of complexity to life, if you’re used to having a car, that is.  I don’t know many people here in CA that don’t have a car, or at least access to a car.  I’ve had a car of some kind—usually a truck—since I was 18, and what you realize when you no longer have a car is just how much your car becomes an extension of you.  An augmentation of your capacity and ability.  I can haul that couch for you.  I can take us to lunch.  I can be there in twenty minutes.  Until you can’t.

Take grocery shopping for example.  At the beginning of each month, Liz and I can go to Food-4-Less, spend 200 or so dollars on 10 to 15 bags of groceries, load it up in the car and take it home.  But what would happen if we emerged from Food-4-Less with our 10 to 15 bags to find that there was no car to load them into?  Answer to follow.

So while in Brooklyn, without a car, our shopping was pretty limited.  Sometimes we’d go to Trader Joe’s downtown and each carry two bags back to the bus stop.  Often we’d get groceries delivered, which was easy and convenient and got the job done, but ultimately it’s what you’d expect getting your groceries from plastic packages (thumbnail pictures of which you’ve clicked into your online cart) stuffed neatly into a cardboard box and shipped to you.  There was an element of hominess missing, and the majority of the time there just wasn’t food in the apartment, leading to lots of Chinese takeout from the place around the corner.

Until one day, we came up with a plan.  Actually, we came up with a plan to rehash a plan we’d come up with previously.  Previously, we had taken the train to Target, loaded up hundreds of dollars worth of household goods (i.e. pillows, towels) into two carts and hauled it all back to Crown Heights in one of the numerous car service cars or taxis lined up outside the store.  Why wouldn’t the same work for the Path Mark across the street.  So in the interest of filling our fridge and cupboards with fresh and familiar foods, we set out.

In all our shopping excitement, there were two things we failed to notice until exiting the Path Mark with our overloaded shopping cart:  First, the belly-button high cement pillars lining the outside of the store that we had passed through upon entering and which, we could now see, prevented, with their spacing of eight-to-ten-inches-shy-of-the-width-of-a-shopping-cart, the removal of the Path Mark shopping carts from the Path Mark premises, a detail that only becomes a problem when coupled with the other thing we had failed to notice:  no cars.  No car service cars, no taxis, no regular cars.  Nothing.  The avenue, stationed no more than ten feet from the stone-pillar barrier behind which we were now trapped, an avenue generally lined with taxis and car service cars and thus the centerpiece of our plan and its rehashing, was empty, and it was at this point that I recognized our third failure: failure to recognize the implications of administering our plan on the very day of the New York City Marathon.

I knew that the New York City Marathon was happening that day.  But I didn’t know that the New York City Marathon was one of the largest marathons in the world, with over 40,000 marathoners.  Here’s a picture:

Most importantly, I didn’t know that the New York City Marathon covered all 5 boroughs.  Meaning that it covered Brooklyn.  Imagine all those people in the picture headed for the Path Mark at Atlantic Terminal.

We weren’t the only ones, though.  Shopper after shopper exited the sliding doors only to join us at the barrier and gaze out at the cab-free street, evident in their eyes the very question burning so hotly in us: how the hell were we going to get all of this stuff, which we just spent ten percent of our income purchasing, home?  I could sense a panic in the air.  It was like the Titanic.  As our precious milk and eggs began to slowly spoil in our sun-soaked cart, I could feel the thick urgency in the deserted souls surrounding us; could sense, at any moment, carts would begin ramming into cement, plastic bags tossed across the street like grenades, roast beef stuffed into shirts or consumed viscously on the spot. 

I decided to take action.  The bus stop was four blocks away.  It wouldn’t be easy, but we could do it.  I instructed Liz to “Grab it, Grab it all,” and five to seven bags clutched in each of our four hands, plus one gallon of milk, we set off, at a light trot.

Taped to the bus stop pole was a sign.  B65 Route Suspended for Marathon.  Our arms burning with ache, the now-stretched-string-thin plastic of the bag handles digging into our fingers, we moved on.  Tried the 63.  Same sign.  We moved on, desperately, with no destination, forsaken by MTA.  For miles.  Forced to stop every block and lower the bags’ weight to the sidewalk, reenergizing before continuing.  Calls, from me, to “Leave it!  Dump it! Dump it all!”  Liz, sitting Indian-style on the sidewalk, gathering the contents of a broken bag around her like toys in a sandbox, crying back, “No!  We can’t!  I won’t!”

Eventually, a bus.  We got on it, not caring what bus or where, just that it had seats, until it went 20 blocks in the wrong direction.  Rerouted, due to Marathon.  I wanted to cry.  Instead I fumed, shut down.  We nearly broke up.  Liz, who always saves the day, talked to the driver.

We ended up waiting for an hour or two in the shade of a building for a 65 bus that took us home, arriving at twilight—five to six hours from the initial implementation of our plan—to unload our groceries.  That’s it.  The end.

Liz requested I announce that despite all of these stories, we had a great time in NY.

First Week in NY Part 3: Scalpers and Batteries

Our first full day in NY, having arrived really late the night before (actually, really really early that morning) at our new apartment, we woke up early A) because we were hungry and B) because I had convinced Liz that we should get up early and go to Central Park and stand in line for Al Pacino’s final (free) performance in The Merchant of Venice (weeks later the show would move to Broadway and charge hecka hundred dollars a ticket), reminding Liz, who seemed more enthused about A) and less enthused about B), that if we were going to move across the country and be all adventurous and fancy, then this (B)) was precisely the type of fancy, adventurous thing we should be doing (as soon, of course, as we had fulfilled A)).

So after walking from our apartment for several miles in we-had-no-idea what direction towards we-had-no-idea what and finally finding a McDonald’s, we sat satisfied (at least, in regards to A)) over Sausage McMuffins with Egg and I figured out how to use Liz’s phone to GoogleMaps walking and subway directions from our location to Central Park, and after circling the same block numerous times in search of the indicated subway entrance, and walking up and down the steps of several such entrances and crossing streets and questioning annoyed MTA attendants in attempts to get on the correct side that would go in the correct direction, and then passing our stop twice, once one way, then the other (cuz we were on the A, not the C)—all behaviors that would become frequent motifs in the days to follow—we arrived at the Park, made our way to the Delacorte Theater, where we found the line that began at the box office and ended…ended…ended…0.7 miles and 13 minutes later at the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, Liz and I both thinking, at the same time, we would later learn, how nice it was to live in a city where this many people—and look, from all walks of life—would camp out in the Park—for days, it appears, in some cases—for the love of theater.  The love of Shakespeare.  It was so nice that we weren’t the least bit annoyed an hour later when we made it kind-of-almost up to the box office but the tickets ran out, just before we were approached by the first scalper, a stringy blonde girl who appeared to have given up on eating and now needed money to buy things that were probably not food (she reported that after waiting in line for twenty-six hours she had decided that she didn’t really feel like going to the show and would we like to buy her tickets from her), the first of about forty scalpers that would approach us before we escaped the Park, most of whom employed the muttering-under-the-breath method and all of whom we had passed on our wistful 13 minute walk to the end of the line.  The excitement continued as we crossed Central Park West to the Natural History Museum, outside of which we witnessed a “scalper fight” that Liz remembers better than I do but that consisted of a meth-ed out scalper boss lady shouting at her cranked-out scalper minion—who had waited all night but got tired and bailed shortly before the line started moving—that now she wouldn’t have enough effing tickets for her effing buyers and so forth.

The next two hours we spent in search of a Kmart, the hour after that, having found Kmart, searching for the Kmart’s entrance, and the hour after that lugging several bags of Kmart merchandise (those big bags they have, the ones you could put a toddler in, if you know what I mean) and a box of cat litter up and down a busy NY street in search of a subway entrance, finally giving up and paying way too much for a cab ride from Lower Manhattan to Brooklyn, unaware we had been in Lower Manhattan and unaware we had been super close to a number of subway entrances.

As the sun set on that first day and we realized we had no batteries for the pump on the air mattress we had just purchased at Kmart, I stood on our stoop and gazed toward that Big Apple, resigning myself to the fear-laden knowledge that the following day we would have to face her again, in search of batteries, not knowing—having seen only our small stretch of Crown Heights—that Brooklyn offered real stores that sold real things, and either she would consume us, body and soul, or we would emerge from her clutches victorious, batteries in hand.

First Week in NY Part Two: The Apartment

In a previous post, I mentioned things that Liz and I learned on our first day in NY, specifically what it feels like to carry a 20lb. cat long distances and that NY crowds are different from CA crowds.  Here’s another thing we learned: everything in NYC is smaller.  Or, perhaps more accurately, more compact.  For example, there are no houses.  There are homes, but not houses.  The homes are in buildings, and all the buildings butt right up to the next building.

Another example:  there are no parking lots.  Or at least no big expansive parking lots like we have in CA, where no matter how busy Safeway is that day you can find a spot—though a longer walk—with an empty spot on each side.  There are parking lots, but no big parking lots, is what I’m sayin’.  Not even those big parking structures or garages that are all over San Francisco.  What there is is little lots—little little—in little enclaves between buildings, and in these little enclave lots are these elevators that take your car (not that we had a car) way up into the air.  That’s what they do in New York:  put it up higher.  Everything is stacked.  McDonalds and Target are all 2 stories.  Or 3.  School playgrounds are on school roofs.

The reason for this, of course, is that New York City is compacted with people, all of whom have stuff, into an area significantly small relative to other areas containing the same amount of people and stuff.  As we learned as we arrived at our apartment our first night in New York, dropped off at our stoop by a cynical cabbie at around one or two in the morning after a full day of travel.  We had subletted the apartment sight unseen—other than a couple of photos, but you know how that goes—from a pleasant Frenchman named Jean Louis who writes enthusiastic emails and who was studying Arabic in Spain.  I didn’t actually get a good look at the place for the first fifteen minutes, during which I battled through four trips up (and down) the three flights of narrow, steep, rickety stairs, transporting in each trip one of four sixty-plus pound and awkwardly-shaped (when climbing stairs, that is—hell on the shins) suitcases.  Once I caught my breath , I joined Liz, who had had fifteen minutes to begin perusing the joint, in perusing the joint.

We still had our poker faces from the cab ride over in full deployment, and neither of us said much.  Here are the highlights:  First, it kinda smelled.  But then, New York kinda smelled, especially in the summer, and in both cases, we got used to it.  Second, the lesbian couple that Jean Louis had rented to before us seemed to have been rather slobbish.  As a result, everything in the apartment, from the TV remote to the hardwood floors, seemed to be coated in an unidentified grimy film.  The couple had also had a dog, and though unidentified, there seemed to be an element of dog hair subtly incorporated into the grimy film.  Also, there were food remnants caked to the inner walls of both the microwave oven and the oven oven.  This, eventually though, would be remedied by a methodical, obsessive, and desperate process of cleaning on Liz’s part (other than the oven oven, which we never opened again).

Beyond all that, the principal characteristic of this apartment was just how tiny it was.  Tiny tiny.  The entire apartment—a one bed, one bath—was at least slightly smaller (if not just smaller) than the living room of the house I live in now.  I lived in an apartment in college, and our Brooklyn apartment was about the size of the front room of that apartment, which doesn’t include that apartment’s kitchen, two bathrooms, and two bedrooms.

The kitchen of our apartment in New York was big enough for two people to stand in, but only single-file.  If I was in the kitchen, and then Liz came into the kitchen, and then I wanted to leave the kitchen, Liz would have to first leave the kitchen, let me out, and then re-enter the kitchen.  The refrigerator door could open about 43 degrees before hitting the counter on the other side.

Our bedroom was exactly the size of one Full mattress, a dresser, and a small walkway for humans who wished to access the bed (again, single-file only).  Of course, that first night there was no mattress, but rather the space later to be filled by our mattress was occupied by a stained futon that the next day we temporarily replaced with an air mattress that required re-inflation at intervals of every 2.5 hours, participants rising and standing sleepy-eyed in the single-file walkway area as the mattress regained its form.

Yes, Liz and I looked over our quaint, tiny, filmy new home and didn’t say a word.  We were tired and—unbeknownst to us (or perhaps known but lacking specifics)—we had other problems to begin enduring the next morning.

First Week in NY

I claimed here that the next post would be about our first week in NY, but I think I’ll stick, for now, with our first day, maybe just our first hour or two.

We flew out, as mentioned, with all of our stuff packed into 4 suitcases and with a cat (in carrier) as a carry-on.  We had drugged Rooster (the cat) at the airport in Sacramento, the drugs not knocking Rooster out but rather putting him into a trance under which he spent the next ten hours uninterruptedly plucking at the mesh screen of his carrier at three second intervals, creating a race between the plane landing and Rooster plucking his way through his carrier and running free and high around said plane.

But the carrier held up and made it to LaGuardia intact, around midnight.  One thing we learned that day—and would be reminded of several months later, walking through Brooklyn for a vet check-up—is that a 19 pound cat plus a three-quarter-pound carrier equals 19.75 pounds, and 19.75 pounds feels like a goddamn lot of weight when you’re toting it through an airport terminal.

Another thing we learned is that New York crowds are not like California crowds, and after somewhat reluctantly bumping and shoving my way through men, women, and children and one-by-one collecting our 4 overweight suitcases from the baggage carousel and depositing them onto a cart and bumping and shoving (now with the aid of a cart loaded with 200 plus pounds of luggage) our way out the sliding doors, I spotted an open cab across the street and in a fit of adrenaline—charged by an arduous hour of cat-carrying and women and children bumping—I lifted all 4 of our 50-plus pound suitcases—2 handles in each hand—and awkwardly jogged toward the cab’s open trunk.

The cabbie did not recognize the address of the Brooklyn sublet we had rented sight unseen (our key had been FedExed to us by our friend Joe), but as we came closer to what our research indicated to be our neighborhood and our apartment, the cabbie began to repeatedly inform us that, “No, you don’t live here.  Not here.”  Not “You don’t want to live here,” but definitively, “You don’t live here.”

“This is what we call East New York,” he said, “This is the worst part of New York.  You don’t live here.”  Now to get the whole picture here you have to consider that we’ve quit our jobs and sold all of our stuff other than the contents (more or less) of the 4 bags in the trunk and it’s nearly one in the morning and very dark outside and this guy is repeating over and over, “No, you don’t live here.  Not here.  You don’t live here.”  The thoughts that Liz and I were having about the situation and the hypothetical conversations our minds were each having with the other as we sit silently in the cab are probably fairly easy to imagine.  But our faces?  All poker.

As we got closer to the apartment, the cabbie’s mantra changed from “You don’t live here” to “Past Washington.  Past Washington is nice.  You live past Washington.  You don’t want to live this side of Washington.  Past Washington is okay.”  When he got to Washington, he cut over to Dean, the street we lived on.  I looked out the window at the address of a building.  Then at the next one.  “Other way,” I said, “It’s the other way.”

The cabbie drove us to our apartment in silence.  Liz and I looked at one another:  Poker.

Moving to New York

In the Fall of 2009 my then girlfriend now wife Liz and I decided that at the end of that school year—we are both high school English teachers—we were going to quit our jobs and move to New York.  Just to do it.  And we did.  We notified our principal on Veteran’s Day and spent the next seven months, amongst other things, sending out cover letter/resume combos and responding to craigslist postings for apartments.

Our plan was to depart the end of July, and by the middle of July, we still had no jobs in NY and nowhere to live.  But we did have non-refundable plane tickets.  In June, we had sold all of our furniture and appliances in a three day yard sale and had put our other belongings—those that didn’t fit into four suitcases and two carry-ons—into storage.

Though we spent most of July jobless and concerned, Liz and I had each flown to NY for interviews—me sometime in June and Liz in early July.  I interviewed with Bronx Lighthouse Charter School.  Actually, I had already interviewed with Bronx Lighthouse—a phone interview in late May—after which they had expressed how excited they were and that they just needed me to come on out and meet them and do a demo lesson.  So Liz and I bought plane tickets (more plane tickets) and flew out and got an awful room at the HoJo in the awful Bronx and I gave a seventh grade lesson on making inferences from Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky,” after which we had another interview, after which they said they just needed to bring it up to the board, which would meet the next week, and then they’d give me a call, not telling me that in actuality they would never be calling me but instead would six months later be sending me a form rejection by email, leading me to the view—perhaps out of bitterness but perhaps also because they knew I had flown from fucking California—that the folks at Bronx Lighthouse Charter School are kind of assholes.

Unlike Bronx Lighthouse, the school Liz interviewed with three weeks later, Uncommon Charter School (who, it would turn out, despite the following, are also kind of assholes) paid for her plane ticket and put her up in a hotel.  Strapped for cash from the previous trip (as well as the upcoming one), we couldn’t afford a second ticket and Liz had to go alone.  When she called me from the airport on her way home—in tears—it seemed to have not gone well, but two weeks later, when they called to offer her a job, things began to look up.  The same week, we found and put down a deposit—sight unseen—on a sublet apartment belonging to a Frenchman named Jean Louis who was studying Arabic in Spain.

So on July 31st of 2010, our respective parents dropped Liz and I off at the airport in Sacramento, each of us toting two (two each) overweight suitcases (having planned in advance to pay for the extra bags and extra weight), a carry-on (one carry-on consisting of a cat carrier appropriately carrying a 17 pound cat), a personal item and a bottle of tranquilizers (for the cat).

Next post: Our first week in NY.