Dec 27 prompt: Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?
When I first moved to New York to start my graduate degree, my plan was to get the degree and move the hell away. Who could live in this filthy, expensive, loud, expensive, chaotic, expensive, cement-bound city?
That was in 1988.
I’m still here. And with a family no less. And because of a significant design flaw, wherein giving birth to a child does not automatically also produce a full-time nanny, New York life did not get simpler with the addition of children.
I’m not one of those New Yorkers who insist that New York is the only place I could ever live – I have this fantasy about living in a small town in a warm place by the sea (with, of course, great schools, a good library, politically liberal people, and a few fab restaurants. Too much to ask?) Sometimes I even think that living in LA would be great – and then Husband points out that we’d have to drive everywhere and I hate driving. To which I respond that it’s my fantasy, thanks, and in my fantasy, we live in West Hollywood or Silver Lake where I could ride a bike around and not have to spend every waking minute behind the wheel of a mini-van. Husband mutters things like “mudslides” and “earthquakes” and “the Valley” and then we stop having the conversation.
All of which is to say that my daily life in New York is not an unbroken romantic engagement.
This prompt reminded me of a day last summer, however, when I had a “wow I love this place” moment – an afternoon of ordinary joy, I think you could call it, because it started with something very simple: a bike ride.
I ride my bike in the city a lot; it’s the most sensible way to get around, especially if you have to go anywhere on a diagonal. I ride in all kinds of weather and even until I was about seven months pregnant with Caleb–can I tell you what kind of stares a hugely pregnant woman gets as she sails by on her bicycle? I looked like Miss Gulch after over-indulging at a pig roast.
This particular bike ride was in the late morning on a weekday, during those glorious weeks in June when the boys are still in school but my teaching semester is finished. I rode west and then south, along the river, where I sat for a while and eavesdropped on the conversation this guy was having about the relative merits of small versus large dogs in NYC apartments. His own dog seemed barely contained by his wee swim suit:
Further south, then turned east and cut across near City Hall, through the lunch-time crowd in City Hall Park:
There were about six chess games going on, each with its own audience. These guys were so intent I think a bomb could’ve dropped and they wouldn’t have noticed.
Then over to the east side, and turned north, along the East River, where I wondered yet again why the East River parks languish while the Hudson parks gleam with glossy infusions of hedges, flowers, and shade trees. I stopped under the Williamsburg Bridge and considered Brooklyn, where I lived for twelve years before moving across the bridge. Typical of my pattern, I left Brooklyn just before it became the “it” locale. Every neighborhood I lived in, in Brooklyn–Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope–became wildly popular just after I moved away. Whether that means I’m wildly ahead of the curve or that I’m so unhip nothing can happen until I leave, I’m not sure (though I tend to think the latter).
Under the bridge:
I liked this view so much, I took it twice:
I didn’t see anything extraordinary on my bike ride – just the constantly evolving stream of New York. Sometimes it’s overwhelming but sometimes? Sometimes that stream of life fills me with joy about the fact that I get to live here, that all of this abundance is available to me.
I love when you write about the city, Deb. You always get it right. Have you ever read Joseph Mitchell, Up in the Old Hotel? Beautiful writing about a long-gone NYC. One of my favorite books.