Note: This was a part of my multi-genre research paper/project, which centered on New York City. We had to write in eight different genres to total 12 different pieces of writing about a central topic. Here’s my personal narrative. Part of this sprung from my entry in Line Zero Literary Magazine in Seattle, but was then rewritten to reflect sun up to sun down.
by Jennifer Dryden
Some days I forget what a small town feels like; I forget how I used to live in Iowa. In New York City, I venture to and fro, from street to avenue to street, from the Manhattan-bound N train to the downtown 6 train. I stick my head above ground on the crowded stairs to 28th Street and smell the sewer’s sour steam from one of the many-circled vents on the city streets. Fresh air? What’s that?
“Metro?” a Latina woman in an orange vest pitches into the ears of the exiting commuters. She wants us to choose her tabloid rather than her competition’s, standing on the opposite end of the subway exit. “Metro?”
“A.M. New York?” an early-twenties black man mumbles to us, without a smile, holding the headlines in his gloved hands. I often wonder if he hates his life or just mumbles, because most everyone ignores him. I wonder if he ever wants to throw the newspapers at us, me, for simply avoiding eye contact. “A.M.? A.M.?”
I walk past skyscrapers that stand taller than the clouds on foggy days. The top of the Empire State Building waves at airplanes above the thickness. The Statue of Liberty toasts to the clouds and solutes newcomers, mostly tourists. Glass doors crystallize the entryways into multimillion dollar corporations and apartment buildings that cost $2,500 a month for a 300-square foot studio. Guards and doormen tip their hats and nod at the businesspeople in suits and black dresses. Black trench coats, pea coats, and buttoned-up suit jackets help carry the confidence in this city.
Food carts park in the same spot every morning and I rummage through my tote for a $1.25 for a blueberry muffin to fill me until lunch. Key cards access my company’s floors, but only those. Friendly mailroom people greet with smiles and coworkers high-five in the hallways. The maze of cubicles becomes a blur on busy days and corners become roadblocks with collisions.
Lunch break arrives after pounding out emails and content for work, and I head to Madison Square Park to try and relax from a jam-packed morning. The revolving door releases me into a whirlwind of car honks, passersby’s conversations for split seconds, and change clinking in a faded McDonald’s cup held by a homeless man’s dry hand.
The city parks span an average of four city blocks with most of it concrete or cobblestone, but sprinkled with budding and bright flowers and a green lawn that hasn’t opened for summer yet. So I sit along a bench next to my munching friends and stare up at the skyscrapers that are filled with thousands of people. One is accented with a giant clock, some are a rectangle with glass windows, some have concrete stucco or brick. Sirens whoop around me, but I learned to tune those out months ago. Nannies walk their kids in train-accessible strollers, a woman walks by with five leashes attached to various-sized dogs, and a four-year-old zips by on a scooter. I blink and another group of ten strangers and creatures are galloping past in a mass. Oh, look over there it’s that famous cook from the Food Network, wearing orange Crocs. Mario Batali. Cool, but I hate his duck feet. My mind wanders.
City people are independent, self-doers, and dreamers. People knock into each other and place the blame on the other. It’s visually dirty and in the summertime it smells like garbage, but it’s the place with endless possibilities, entertainment for the bored, and the sense of success. No matter where you come from, no matter what you do for a living, you feel as if you’ve accomplished something just because you live in this city. I know I belong.
People are still passing me and my black dress pants are starting to heat because of the sun. I stand, shake off the crumbs from my sandwich, and head to grab hot chocolate from my favorite café on 27th. I thank God for a short line and order the cup to go. I’m half sad because when you order to dine-in, they always make the drink pretty with foam hearts or little leaves. It’s picture-worthy.
I swipe my key card and push the number 5, the children’s floor, where I spend five more hours at least behind a computer and in meetings discussing books. Outside the city rolls on, honks, yells, whistles, and performs its everyday business. But the five o’clock hour hits and I’m gone. I fling myself into Park Avenue and down the fifteen steps to the 28th Street subway station on the corner. I enter, along with rush hour, and aggressively make my way to the front of the mob. The train approaches and only for a slight second do I believe I may be pushed in front of it. After all, there has been a suspect on the news who has been pushing people. The doors open and no one gets out, but I push onboard, making it vocal for people to make room. You’re either vocal or you get pushed around. It’s a pretty easy decision to make.
I’m standing sandwiched between an overweight sweaty guy who needs to shave and a woman whose bag is about the size of my entire upper body. She holds it like a young child, wrapped in her arms and nestled to her chin – it’s a little over protective if you ask me. New York’s rough, but no one wants your crap, lady. My ironed outfit is no longer pressed, it wrinkles to conform to the crowd, suctions to the pole I’m smashed to, and absorbs the moisture from the fatty behind me.
We swoop into my transfer point and I exit at 59th and Lexington. I make a mad dash for the Queens bound N-train platform just as every other Queens resident does. I try to get down the steps without falling in my heels and this time I do. The crowd is filled with hundreds of people. I sigh and wait for two trains before I can board and stand in between strangers again; this time I keep my balance solely by the packed bodies. I’ve learned to surf the trains. We fly through the tunnel that goes under the East River and rise above ground, revealing Queensboro Plaza below.
I’m the very last stop so after seven stops everyone except a handful gets off. Finally it’s announced, “The next stop is Astoria, Ditmars Boulevard. Stand clear of the closing doors, please.” I’m relieved. The train pulls to a slow stop above Astoria – Astoria trains are above ground – and I’m impatiently standing by a subway door. It took me 45 minutes to get here; I’m tired of waiting. I exit the train, take the steps down and walk through the alley by the cooing pigeons sleeping in the cracked, graffiti-painted, concrete building. There’s new paint today – hearts are stenciled across the entire building. I shrug my shoulders, thankful that it’s not another junkie trying to spell a message to represent his gang. Hearts are pretty. The bridge I pass under on the ten-block walk home is infested with pigeons and I pray to God I don’t get pooped on. I’ve seen it happen. According to my roommate Lindsay, you can even hear it. Hearing the pigeon saved her once. She jumped out of the way just in time. Gross. I’m always pretty lucky. On rainy days I laugh at the pigeons… try getting through my umbrella!
I look behind me, and then scan 360 degrees to make sure I know who’s around. I keep one earphone out so I can hear any threatening sounds, usually car honks or cat calls. I keep a hand inside my coat pocket on my keys just in case. I open my white metal gate that I like to think of as my white picket fence, and unlock the wooden door of my brick building. I advance the marble stairs until I hit the third floor. Home. I enter and my bubbly roommate Corinne screams out from her room down the hall, “Hi honey, you’re home!” I smile. Yes, I am home. “Let’s make cupcakes!” I scream back.