It’s Ash Wednesday in New York. This woman looks really excited about it; I would feel the same way if I had ash particles crumbling off of my forehead and into my eyeballs all day.Going to church six days a week as a child, I relished religious holidays. But I have a special place in my heart for Ash Wednesday. I always loved when someone got a really big smudge on their forehead, you know, one that gets all over their hands and looks like they were playing in a chimney, like they with drawing with a leaky magic marker and then itched their forehead. I also loved when the priest got overzealous pressed too hard, and the person looked like they got shot in the face with a paintball.
In New York, ashes take on another level of significance. They can really tie together any outfit to make the perfect statement. They compliment any houndstooth or herringbone and can really add a flair of modern elegance to a work suit. Earrings? Leave them at home today. And that little black dress will never look so good going as it does tonight going out to dinner- the perfect accent. So, go on, order the steak. He won’t be able to hold himself back from paying. And none of that bangs-over-the/forehead antics- don’t hide your light in a bushel basket.
Fashion tip: big scarves are not only good for concealing hickies, they disguise the fact that you’re only wearing a white Hanes undershirt to the office three days a week. This saves you the headache of buttoning your shirt in the morning and loads on dry-cleaning.
Always ahead of the latest trends here at justinthecity.com.
I woke up this morning to find I’d accidentally pulled the entire top sheet off the bed. I sort of clung to the ball of fabric which also swam amorphously about my face, which, under any other circumstances might have smothered me to death.
I turned on the space heater to thaw the a 3-foot span of wooden floor around the bed, which turns into an ice rink every night while I sleep. “I’m not getting out until this warms up.” I committed to no one- to the circulation gods of my apartment: an elderly woman with several fingers she can no longer feel and an old, bearded man with a toe amputation due to frostbite.
As I showered, I contemplated washing my hair. I eyed the shampoo and conditioner in the shampoo carriage auspiciously, but then the thought of lathering up twice in a row at 8 AM on a Tuesday morning proved too daunting a task. I considered using my new loofah, but then I knew it would be too compact to enjoy, so instead I lightly bar-soaped myself, like a prison convict, and called it a day.
As a concession, I shaved for the first time in a week. My mustache stubble had grown so long it was beginning to curl over my lip, like it used to do when I was 15 before I discovered what a razor was, when I could have doubled as a Mexican bus boy.
I stared at my hairline in the mirror a moment.
It feels like it’s playing a game in which it tries to sneak up my forehead without me noticing, until I look back, and then it’s stationary again- until I look away. I toyed with the idea of ordering a generic version of Propecia off the Internet again.
The last time my hairline played this cat-and-mouse game, I broke down and ordered pills that arrived from India in grey unmarked boxes. After I took the first one and didn’t collapse or grow another finger out of one of my fingers, I began to take them diurnally, until they impaired my ability to get erections. “Just too soon for this”, I thought one day at my computer, surfing generic versions of Viagra to counter the side-effects.
I took a comb and swept it over to the side. “I can’t deal with this today,” I thought looking at my reflection, and I felt a momentary kinship to my 75-year old self, who I picture doing the same thing with the last remaining strand of hair on my head, unless I get plugs.
As I perused my underwear pile and let the heat of the space heater bathe my feet, I contemplated why I only allow myself to wear my cheap, embarrassing underwear, but never my nice ones, why I always choose to wear the horrible pair of K-Mart underwear with the cartoon tool belt on it on days I get undressed at the gym or go for a physical. I rationalized to myself that, rightfully, I did not want to wear out my expensive underwear; I only put those on when I know I have a 100% rate of certainty of getting laid, which is why they’re still in the packaging.
I put on a pair of old Ralph Laurens I assume I bought years prior 50% off at Filene’s Basement before it went out of business. Or Marshall’s- you know, the ones that were probably defective from the laboratory, that you don’t discover have a weird seam in the front not depicted on the model until you open them. “Last wear”, I thought to myself as I pulled the stretched out elastic band over my waist, which sat atop my skin like a winding coastal road.
I remembered my boss was out of town, so I surfed my wardrobe for the ugliest sweater I could find. It was my way of eschewing the work day, rejecting vanity. I know when to seize an opportunity.
As I pulled the camel cowl-neck turtleneck out of the pile, I thought to myself, “Why haven’t I thrown this away yet?” And in that same way that humans like to occasionally smell their fingers or re-visit poor decisions made at an earlier point in time, I placed the knitwear over my body and looked at myself in the mirror. “Why did I ever buy this?” I brooded as I played with the floppy layers of the cowl neck, remembering that the sweater reminded me of every teenage girl on television from the late 1990’s, and also why it was 75% off on clearance. “Last wear.”
I got to the office and poured myself a cup of coffee in the break room. “Nice cowl neck”, my co-worker commented as she passed. I turned around and stared blankly into her back as she walked away, trying to calculate what percentage of her tone was sarcasm. I dryly called behind her, “thanks.”
I made my way to my desk and poured over some work I did not want to do- startlingly similar to yesterday- I hoped to losing track of both time and my existence. As I sat at my desk chipping away at emails, feeling the headache rise within my skull like a napalm cloud, a colleague came up to me and interrupted my reverie.
"Hey-ya. I wanted to talk to you about recalling this style because of the-" He stopped and studied me a moment. "That sweater makes you look yellow."
"What?" I looked down at the camel hue on my chest and back up at him. "I do?!”
"Yea.. Like, your skin..” He grimaced and scrunched his nose, like he had just caught me smelling my fingers. “You need to go ..tanning or something..”, seemingly a last resort.
"Maybe it’s because I shaved today-" I responded, as I ran my hands over my sallow flesh. "I’m always hideous when I shave." I nodded in confirmation at my own deduction as if to express, "yes- that’s it."
"Or maybe it’s my depression-" I thought aloud, looking past him in consideration.
He stared at me blankly and switched the subject before uncomfortably walking away. I called my hair dresser and made an appointment.
I continued to bury myself in work, until several hours later, I made my way down the hall to grab a document from the printer. I retrieved the paper, and as I was about to pass through the threshold of the door back to my office area, a small pack of co-workers from the design department crossed through from the other side. I stepped to the side.
"Nice cowl neck." One of them remarked.
“I hate this sweater.” I blurted out.
"I- Oh-, I-” She stuttered, not sure how to respond.
"I’m throwing it out. After work. Never wearing it again." I resolved, like an Asberger’s patient.
"Oh, I just-" She tried, "I liked-” She continued walking.
And then I pulled my necklace out over the top of the cowl. Because there was nothing left to do at that point- I was a jaundiced woman of the 90s, and it was time to own it.
Now I’m home wearing my “blue jean” pajama pants, which became an item in Sky Mall after I purchased them- just to be clear; I set trends.
The sweater is hanging over the arm of the couch, still shapeless. But I think I learned something today.
I’ll never be a ‘pretty’ person. I think it’s taken me years of trying and failing to figure that out. And I’ve always wanted to be.
But I’m short. Clunky. I have to buy size 34 waist pants to fit my thighs because I’m a thick black woman. Sometimes I’m tacky. But sometimes not feeling pretty on the outside forces you to try to find beauty on the inside. And maybe terrible clothing choices serve as a reminder to that we’re all vulnerable; we all make mistakes. We all occasionally think we’re fabulous only to discover we’re the only one who agrees. But there’s no avoiding it. Because no matter how hard you commit to it never happening again, history has a habit of repeating itself.
Today it is 20 degrees outside. So I just ate an entire bar of chocolate in protest. I took a chance on the sea-salt caramel variety, but in hindsight I regret this decision because I tried to get too elaborate. I should have just stuck to straight chocolate. Really fucked it up this time.
This is, of course, after the woman at Chipotle made me a burrito so large she had to consider re-rolling it because the tortilla couldn’t handle all the filling. I stood on the other side of the glass partition countering her struggle with an expression of mixed uneasiness and doubt about its structure, but inside I feared she might try to remake it by taking out some of the filling. My greatest fear. I silently cheered her on.
Though I watched her fumble with the burrito, trying to pack the insides into the confines tortilla, like too many clothes inside a duffle bag, mumbling “filled it too much..” as she went, she folded the outside edges over and watched as rice avalanched out of the front. She held the sides and pulled the innards back in with one plastic-gloved hand, like loose stuffing inside a teddy bear, and grabbed the remaining circumference of the tortilla in preparation for her final, time-sensitive, make-or-break move. In a last ditch effort, she pulled a flap over the bulging rice, and at the same time, she nimbly grabbed a sheet of foil, folding it over, so the two layers in combination would hold it in, sort of like a girl in Spanx.
I breathed a sigh of relief. She made the right decision.
I met her craftsmanship with a smile of calming reassurance. “I’ll eat it here.” I responded, I really feel like I got my money’s worth. Damn the man.
The burrito broke apart midway through eating it, but it wasn’t anything a fork couldn’t clean up. I dropped the cap of the tabasco sauce on the ground, so instead of putting it back in the communal tabasco pen, I left it on the bottle on the table and stealthily slipped out of the front door. I didn’t have a rag to clean off the top. I panicked.
And here I am. Monday night. Wearing the same jeans I’ve been wearing since Thursday- a burrito and a chocolate bar in- in an apartment where the ceiling crumbles onto the floor when the person above me practices dance workout videos. And I’m about to marathon episodes of Netflix shows until my monitor light burns out.
But it’s okay. Because it’s my crumbling apartment. And my calorie bomb. And my one-on-one New York night. And there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Maybe being single isn’t so bad after all.
Some things just take a little getting used to.
Reasons to love New York:
Because our Potbolly’s awkwardly features an attractive man playing guitar and singing while you eat. He kept watching me while I tried to snap this, so I really didn’t get the shot I wanted. More importantly, what is that box he’s sitting in? It looks like a public toilet. Like after the song is finished it should descend back under the floor into a smoke-filled pit.
Regardless, he just sang “8 Days A Week”. Aka. How many days a week I eat at Potbelly’s.
Reasons to love New York #771:
Because we’ve awkwardly stationed this attractive man to sing and play guitar while you eat at the Potbelly’s on 37th and 7th Avenue. Evidently these girls are not very interested.
This isn’t the best shot, but he kept watching me as I processed through the line, so I eventually had to give up to hunt for an oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie. By 2 pm they’re a scarce commodity.
More importantly, what is that “stage” box he’s sitting in? It looks like a public toilet. It looks like after the last song it’s going to descend back under the floor into a smoke-filled pit.
He just finished singing “8 Days A Week” by the Beatles. Which, all said, should be renamed “The Number of Times a Week I Eat at Potbelly’s”.
The past twenty-four hours have sure been interesting. I traveled to Boston this weekend to visit family, and it seems life is having a little giggle these days
It started when I dropped my phone into a toilet at a Wendy’s truck stop, promptly after urinating into it. When I first heard the “ker-plunk!”, I knew what had occurred. “Why did I put my phone in the breast pocket of my jacket?” I though to myself as my stomach muscles tightened. And sure enough, as my eyes lowered to the bowl, my phone lay at the bottom of the yellow water, which I’d just used to relieve myself.
I wasn’t sure how to react. I just stared at it a moment, perplexed. At first I considered flushing, but visions of the toilet exploding thwarted that vision. I imagined management opening the bathroom door to a geyser of water and, me, screaming underneath.
I wasn’t sure if I should call out and ask for help. ”Excuse me, can someone lend me a hand?” But again I realized this was a truck stop bathroom stall, a place exclusively used for public sex and murders, so I neglected to move forward with that idea.
But time was running out. With each second, urine was filling the lungs of my phone, threatening her ability to ever turn on again, a four-day coma atop a bed of rice.
I looked at my precious iPhone, a prize at the bottom of the most conflicting pot of gold I’ve ever encountered, and I did what I never thought possible. I pulled my shirt sleeve up, clenched my eyes shut, an jammed my hand into the water. Like an electronic arcade claw, I blindly shot my arm to the bottom of the bowl and fished the phone out of the toilet.
I opened my eyes.
I stood staring at my soaked hand and phone, in horror at what I’d just done. I held it out like a beating heart. And I flushed the toilet, and my dignity, to cover my tracks, like nothing had even gone wrong.
I exited the bathroom stall as usual and made my way to the sink, one arm still rolled up attached to a dripping-wet hand. “All yours”, I said to the gentleman after me as I doddered over to the sink. I smiled at my fellow bathroom patrons as I turned on the sink and lightly rinsed off my phone face, as if that’s a normal procedure in which I regularly engage. As I ran one hand under water, I pressed the silver button on the soap dispenser. Nothing came out. I pressed it again. Not a drop. I frantically tried the knob, like the “door open” button on a stalled elevator. For one molecule of soap. For my life.
It was empty.
Instead of crying, I continued to wash my hands anyway, even though I had no soap on them, rubbing toilet bowl into my skin like moisturizer. Defeated, I grabbed a paper towel and walked out.
I returned to the bus and just left my contaminated hand outstretched for the two-hour duration of the ride.
This morning as I rode the subway to work I couldn’t help but notice the man looking at pornography on his cell phone. It was a small phone, but clearly depicted on the screen was a woman administering fellatio with a penis in her mouth. It was 8:30 AM on a Monday morning. The train was full.
I was trying to understand why he would be looking such a photo. It didn’t look like it was part of any Buzzfeed article. Besides, he looked like he was in his 60s so I’m not sure he’s an avid reader. He left the image on the screen for a while, for the entire walk as we switched from the local to the express train. He must have flashed 60 people. I know because I was walking behind him. Amongst the other questions running through my mind, I was interested in finding out who his service provider was- such a strong underground Internet connection. Not sure that was the right time to bring that up.
Regardless- here we are. Back at work, wondering if I’ve worn the ink off the letters on my keyboard yet, wondering if enough of my brain cells have evaporated to finally classify me as a vegetable.
And everyone is a flutter, wondering why all the dresses at the Oscars were mediocre, except for Precious who looked like she cut a hole in a shag carpet and placed it over her head, and now I’m wondering if I can legally change my name to “Adele Dazeem” to honor John Travolta’s pronunciation of “Idina Menzel” and start wearing the same liquid concealer he uses, which is also the same as Ms. Wanda, my favorite room-mom in the sixth grade. His toupee may also be made out of her hair. It’s unclear.
New York City. The city that never sleeps. The city of 4 AM pizza parlors and an around-the-clock subway system. The city where dreams become reality. The “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”
New York is an extraordinary place, an island where the world’s richest people collide with most destitute on the unassuming Park Avenue pavement. New York is freedom. Power. Sex. Art. Expression in its most unadulterated form, and her alluring mystique intoxicates the mind, leaving those who come to visit longing to see her again, lusting after her seductive enchantment, like the lingering perfume of a woman who has just left the room.
New York is glamorous. Captivating. Powerful. She knows how to leave you yearning for her magnetism. She is confident, self-aware, clever. However, she can also be beguiling.
We all want to believe in what we see. We want to believe that New York is a place where people move to become someone, to party until the sun finally peeks over the jagged skyline, to fall headlong into a torrid love affair that will leave you crying in bed only to hear a knock on the door from the person you thought only wanted to be your friend.
New York is not a happily ever after story. It’s not an escape. Not a refuge. People say, “You’re so lucky to live here”. And there are more layers of “I want to move here” than there are coats of paint on my wall. But, wait a minute. Not so fast. New York is a relationship, like everything else. A give-and-take. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. And though New York can be fabulous, she can be dually unkind.
New York is demanding. Competitive. Oftentimes cut-throat. She can be sadistic and unrelenting, forcing you to work 80-hour weeks before deftly plucking away your income at the end of every month in the form of a rent check. She gives you one spectacular night, only to leave you waking up alone in the morning, left with nothing but the memory of her soft lips and the phantom waft of her scent. And you sit in bed, reeling, feeling abandoned, played with, wondering why you’re still doing this.
Living in New York can feel like you and she are at the same cocktail party. You want nothing more than to speak to her, to get to know her, as she glances at you seductively from across the room, but you never seem to be able to maneuver through the crowd before she disappears again. Yet the one moment she slips by you, placing one white-gloved hand on your waist as she passes, is everything for which you live.
And the rest of the time you struggle. Whether it’s for rent, a significant other, an escape from a soul-crushing job, or fresh water supply for a drying stream of friends, everyone here struggles. But we live for that promise of a dream, a break, a clue to one of life’s many unanswerable quandaries. And in the mean time, we try to fill the voids: searching for Mr. Right. Waiting for a call back. Counting the paychecks until the credit card balance will finally resets to zero. All the while hoping New York will find us and bring us into her exclusive circle and turn everything around.
In New York, sometimes you’re in love; sometimes you’re not. Sometimes, you walk out the door imbibing the unique wonder of the best city in the world, and sometimes you’re ready to throw in the towel- to go somewhere that doesn’t torture you, lead you on, reward you just to knock you off your pedestal. “Enough is enough.” But just when you’re most frustrated, angry, depressed, and try to forget about her by going somewhere else, if even for a weekend, she always knows to welcome you back more beautiful and exciting than you ever remember her. That’s her power.
But maybe the truth of the matter is this: New York doesn’t love anyone. Maybe she just wants to keep you enthralled and disappoint until you finally break down and leave. She lives for that. It’s easy to dash dreams that never had any substance. Shatter weak hearts.
Or is New Yorkcapable of love? Maybe she is just looking for sincerity, someone to look past the glamour, the sex appeal, the red lips and the long white gloves. Someone to love her for her flaws, even when she tries to mask them behind bright lights and expensive heels. A little honesty. Truth. Someone who won’t simply use her for her opportunities, but someone who can accept failure, appreciate the ugly parts. Someone to love her with no make-up on.
Not so different from the rest of us.
As with most things, New York is flawed. Terribly. Coming here isn’t about throwing everything away and chasing a dream, a big break, and extravagant parties. That’s ephemeral. Fleeting. It will leave you lonely and desperate for more.
New York is learning that sometimes life falls down and scrapes its knee, but instead of putting a band-aid on it, to acknowledge the raw skin, and to try to trudge forward even though the wound is open and tender. Only then do you become stronger companions.
Someone tell me where one finds a coat like this and why a stoplight would ever be a decision for embroidery on anything. I’m confused. Also, is it a coat dress? Why is it so long? ..Could be cute belted. Just a thought.
But anyway, who in the design department was like, “I know what we should do for next season: stoplights. Great next edition to the 8-ball.. And it should fit like a Snuggie.”
And in turn, who would pluck this coat off a hanger (or out of a bin I presume), and declare, “Yep- this is the one.” Sometimes I do not understand how things come to fruition in life: the Holocaust, Honey Boo Boo child, all of the “Big Mama’s House” movies, and this coat.
Cheers to my first day off since the New Year. Time to do some celebratory shopping.