“Close your eyes and tap your heels together three times. And think to yourself, there’s no place like home.” ~ L. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz
A week ago, I wrote this blog from the 4th floor hotel room I was staying in Albany, NY. A couple of hours later, I got on south bound train and headed to New York City where I spent three sweltering but wonderful days walking through my former haunts, eating a number of delicious meals, and catching up on the artistic lives of several of my old friends in the city.
When I arrived at my friend A’ s apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen, red-faced and panting from dragging my suitcase up Tenth Avenue, the first thing that struck me was how changed her block was. It was lush and green, canopied with trees. When I lived on that block in 1990, the trees were saplings. Now the maples and oaks hang over the street, offering shade where once there was none. As I sat on the stoop guzzling water and waiting for A to return from work, I also marveled at the sound of the city: the color and flair and blaring brightness.
New York is the Carmen Miranda of cities. She’s no wallflower.
It’s strange. It’s almost as if everywhere I looked I could juxtapose a snapshot of what I remembered of it, next to what it has become.
At its heart, it is still the same. But everything from the stores to the restaurants to the prices (!) have changed — drastically. $3.50 for a cup of diner coffee. Want a refill? Another $2.80. Menus carry not only descriptions of the food and the prices, but also the calorie count of everything you order. No corn muffin or rice pudding for me, thank you.
The streets smell like urine and there are haggard and homeless and heartbroken people side by side with the willowy models and guys dressed in three piece suits. It was Fleet Week, so Naval officers in their crisp white uniforms were hanging out everywhere. Neon signs advertised coffee houses and food porn and swanky hotels. Even after twenty years away, it still felt so familiar. But I realized it no longer feels like home. I’ve lived in Phoenix as long now as I lived in New York City. And as hard as it is for me to believe, Phoenix was calling me home, even after just a few days respite.
My friend, J, who was taking care of my animals while I was gone, messaged me on Facebook: “Your animals like me just fine, but they miss you.” And I missed all the familiar comforts of my tiny little rental house. It may have ugly tan carpet and be in need of a coat of paint here and there, but it is my home. It is my sanctuary, the nest that most suits this bird these days. I like getting my hands dirty watering my tomatoes and digging out the god-awful mint plants that are trying to kill the grapefruit tree. I like the bright blueness of the sky and the plethora of oranges ripening up out back. I love the bougainvillea splashing fuchsia flowers against the stucco walls of the backyard. I love listening to the dog bark and dig and patrol the yard. I love my air conditioning — having re-experienced NYC without A/C — much to my abject horror.
I am spoiled by the solitude I have in this house. It is my writing studio, my lounge, my retreat. As an extreme introvert, this is important. My sanity depends on it.
When I got ready to leave New York on Tuesday, I took the E train downtown when I should have headed uptown. Realizing my mistake only when we got to Canal Street, I dragged my suitcase down the platform, schlepped it up the stairs, onto the overpass, and back down the stairs to the opposite platform. I added 40 minutes to my commute to JFK, but I also learned that I still have a good sense of the city. My intuition about what’s right (or wrong, as the case may be) is still working just fine. I hiked all over the city, up and down stairs, into train stations and out of them. I figured it out — like I always have. I may not be as young as I was when I first fell in love with New York, or be as resilient as I was then, but I did OK. And that was a heartening realization.
When we landed at Sky Harbor (Airport) I was so glad to be back. J met me. We stopped and got burgers at In ‘n’ Out on the drive home, without being reminded we were eating 15,000 calories at 8 o’clock at night. My dog barked and yelped and cried and nearly piddled on herself she was so happy to see me. The cats gathered in a semi-circle around my desk chair, taking turns rubbing their warm faces against my legs. The house was cool and my bed felt like an oasis after a week in the wilds. I love to travel. I love seeing old friends. But L. Frank Baum was right. There’s no place like home.
© 2012 Shavawn M. Berry All rights reserved
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