Knees creaking, viagra buy malady popping, doctor whining and grinding, I reach the summit of Manhattan Bridge and spy three old Chinese women in the distance. They swing their arms in exaggerated Tai Chi mimes, seemingly parting then promptly re-joining an invisible Red Sea. Over and over and over again.
It’s 6am when we pass each other by. I’m in my running kit, they’re in their colorful blouses and simple, flat-soled shoes. We say a ‘hey’ of sorts, as has become our morning ritual, then clench our ears in solidarity as a subway train rumbles by. It is a yellow line train. The N. And it suffocates all other sound, including the rasp of my lungs and their sing-song patter.
I run on.
Past graffiti’d rooftops and down, down off the bridge and into the belly of Chinatown.
Hey, look at me! Street weaver, dustbin dancer prancer! I zig and zag. I high-step over a fish head and strewn garbage. A quick wink to the statue in Chatham Square. Love your pigeon poop coat and hat! Then I turn right and head towards City Hall. Feet pounding, heart thudding. Brain ignoring the hard-hatted construction Joes buying java from a street cart.
I run on. On to the scruffy welcome mat of the Brooklyn Bridge.
You should know something about the Brooklyn Bridge. Yes, it’s a broad hulk of a bridge. Girthy shoulders with arms outstretched, spanning the East River and pulled taut in a constant Schwarzenegger flex pose. It is a ruddy giant bouncer at the door, fat with weight and substance and presence and checking IDs.
But hey, you can get all that from a postcard. You don’t need me to put the players on the stage in the theater of your mind.
But this is what you might not know about the Brooklyn Bridge.
When you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge from the island of Manhattan and to the other side, you are no longer in Manhattan. You are in Brooklyn, which - brace yourself - is not Manhattan but Brooklyn. Confused? Are operators standing by?
I run on, legs cranking up the incline, and reach the point where cement gives way to wooden planks. Now I’m on the bridge proper. First, the thrill of running on a stunningly beautiful man of a bridge, then the curiosity of looking down between the slats and seeing cars whizzing below me.
That’s right. Brooklyn is not Manhattan. I make this point, not because I’m crazy, but because I can no longer say, “I live in Manhattan which is not Brooklyn”. Because I now live in Brooklyn which is not Manhattan. Got it?
I think a train just jumped a track in my brain. Or maybe that was yours? Slight switching problem perhaps? But that’s what making the decision to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn is like. A fully laden train of pre-conceptions and bias suddenly changing tracks. A mental leap of zip code and grid streets and 212 area codes.
Ah, sweet Manhattan. The very name is a three-chunk overture. A song in the wind that tramples, “I am fast. I am furious. Label me grindstone for my air is thick with empty husks of human dreams”. At which point it slides into a 5-minute guitar solo.
Brooklyn, on the other palm, is a word that feels like a ball of wet bread in my mouth, waiting to be spat out. Well, that was until recently. It seems that I have finally reached the age of Borough maturity. It’s like my psyche hit puberty. It started to experience feelings of isolation then elation as it realized it needed to wear a borough training bra.
I run on. Turn my head to the east and I’m lifted spiritually by the sunrise. A giant red ball hugging the curve of the earth. The fine layer of smog turning it a juicy blood orange. Brooklyn rises before me.
I was tossed off the island, you see. Stuffed into a canon and shot out of the big top of Manhattan, only to land safely in the bosom of our lady, Brooklyn.
Well, that’s over dramatizing it. The whole thing started when I was sent this letter from my landlord:
According to our records, your lease expires on September 1st.”
(I will now point out that the envelope I was holding contained a new lease and a sexy rent increase for the shitty shoebox that I sometimes referred to as ‘home’.)
“If we don’t hear from you by August 20th, we will assume that you are moving out by September 1st and will advertise the apartment for rent on that date.”
Oh, my. What a cheery letter! A quick calculation on the abacus-like structure that resided in my skull revealed a somewhat startling result.
It was August 17th.
It was August 17th and that deserved a frown. And so I frowned. In my kitchen. In my tiny, tiny, Upper East Side kitchen built in 1901. I frowned. A real upside-down-smile frown. With those little crescent wrinkles at the ends.
Truth be told, I didn’t want to pay $350 more for that shit hole shoebox. I replaced my frown with a look of ponderation. Lips a little pursed. I mused to myself, ‘Noods, if you’re going to pay more, you should damn well pay more, FOR MORE’
That’s a good theory. But unfortunately you can’t really do that in Manhattan unless you’re more loaded than the question “does my ass look big in this?”.
Ah, Manhattan. The very name is like a carefully hewn shiv straight to the thigh of human potential.
Finding an apartment in Manhattan is a War on Willing. And if you’re not with the Willing, you’re against the Willing. Ergo, you are a broker. Gouge, gouge, ah my eyes! Oh, checkbook, show me on this doll where the broker touched you. Anyway, what was I saying? Ah, War on Willing.
You must be willing to walk up 6 flights of stairs. Willing to share with cockroaches larger than whippets. Willing to accept a view of a moldy brick wall, 2 feet away. Willing to….
And this is where I wave my white flag.
I’m old. I’m not really willing to do much anymore. And so I had a minor fritz about the fact that I only had two weeks to find somewhere to live. And I thought that was kind of unreasonable.
Then I complained to anyone who would listen. I did that for two days. I twiddled my thumbs, and did rend my garments in a semi-professional manner. Oh, woe, what am I to do? And still I did not look for an apartment.
Then, one afternoon I said, ‘ok, looking’. Within about five minutes, Lightning Ray sent me a craigslist link for a place in Brooklyn. By midday the next day, that place in Brooklyn was mine.
Brooklyn. The very name was like a tantalizing glimpse of a naked person through a half opened window.
Run. I wind down the far slope of the Brooklyn Bridge and into Brooklyn. I pass a man I see every morning, selling the New York Post to drivers as they wait at the lights. I pass a coffee cart with bagels and pastries and the smell of coffee beans hanging like a halo around its head.
Dumbo. I’m right on the edge of Dumbo now. It is a very silly name, and even when you find out what it stands for, it’s still a very silly name.
But I’m not thinking of that as I run.
I’m not thinking of a lot of things.
I am not thinking of my giant apartment with spa bath and full washer dryer and no furniture because I spent all my moolah on the deposit and broker fees.
I am not thinking about nearly being home.
I am not thinking of my 15-minute commute to work, which is shorter than when I actually lived in Manhattan. Though admittedly more subway stenchified.
I am not thinking of the pain in my knee, or the sting in my eye from the early morning squint. Or the fact that the marathon is in 19 days.
I am not thinking of the come and go, or the dreaming of Michelangelo.
I am not thinking of string theory, or string cheese, or string bikinis for that matter.
I am not thinking of bigger rents, or bigger debts. Or of deeper pockets or deeper conversations.
No. All I think of is the breathe in and breathe out. The machine. The in. The out. The inhale. The exhale. The thump. The lung sigh. I think of the pavement, and the road. The view ahead and the end of the journey. I focus on the churn of my step, and the swing of my arms. All around is sound and smell and the getting on of time.
My life expands, contracts. Stretches its hamstrings on the front stoop of the earth. And all I can do is run, Noodle. Run.
Toodle Noo. Here endeth the missive.
©Janeen McCrae 2007