My ignorance about New York City is a source of embarrassment, but also of great mystery. More than a few of my friends live in the city and try to satisfy my curiosity with first-hand accounts — about hailing cabs in the rain, people watching in Central Park, or eating matzo ball soup at the ubiquitous corner diner. Their comings and goings would sound, frankly, ordinary, were in not for the soft neon hum that saturates each undertaking.
Reality, however, has never gotten in the way of my fantasy life. Though the tide of yellow cabs and the cozy, greasy warmth of a diner have their appeal, whenever I imagine NYC, everyone is doing the Mary Tyler Moore twirl. Everyone is gaping and throwing hats into the air with sophisticated abandon, hats that just go up, up and never come down. Times Square is ablaze with honking and the clack of expensive heels, a kind of song, the the only lyrics to which are "This is your big break." The full moon balances atop the Empire State Building, beaming down like a spot light, glamorizing even the cops and the doormen and the other non-actors.
|Driver, take me to the bagels and the knock-off purses and the celebrities!|
But is the Empire State Building anywhere near Times Square? I have no idea. And why don't the hats ever come down? Do they hang suspended above the sidewalk? Do they disappear? This is my fantasy, but even I can't make sense of that part.
It should also be noted that there are no toddlers. Diaper wipes and apple sauce don't factor into the whole metropolitan idyll. Which is why we'll be leaving Pork Chop with my folks when Shelby and I board a train for NYC. Indeed, fantasy and reality are about to collide like a bunch of idiots twirling around on a New York City sidewalk.
The trip, which will take place during an undisclosed weekend (because burglars) has been a long time in the making, meaning that my anticipation and anxiety have reached dizzying heights. I have treated my nerves, however, with a numbing dose of retail therapy. Because what a mom with a relatively new home, a part-time job, and an unrequited love of Internet stardom needs is a $70 faux-leather mini skirt. With pockets! It has pockets! For, I don't know, stashing a few menthol cigarettes or a small shank.
My husband is an inveterate traveler; he bought our train tickets, booked the hotel, even made dinner reservations. Whereas I have been buying clothes in the hope that, when a literary agent sees me on the street, she thinks, "Would you get a load of those slacks! Now there's a woman with a story to tell." Common sense also dictates that if I bump into Tina Fey while I'm approachably eating a hot dog, I need to be wearing tall boots and a cable-knit sweater. It's just what a future best friend would wear. Wrinkle cream also figures prominently into my getaway preparations, because New Yorkers are attractive. Fact. And I wouldn't want to be taken for some kind of tourist.
Two days. That's how long we'll be in the city. And by "city" I mean "another city." We live a few miles from Washington D.C. — the seat of American power, crammed to the beltway with history, diverse, bustling. Oddly enough, I never find myself thinking, "If we run into Barry and Michelle at dinner tonight, I'd best be wearing my 'Why, yes, Mr. President, I am available to write speeches!' blazer.
But NYC isn't my city. For almost four decades, it's been a place I've visited only in books or in movies, a spectacular Frankenstein's monster cobbled together from The Godfather, Fame, and The Muppets Take Manhattan. I know. I know it won't be exactly what I imagine it to be. And that's for the best. How disappointing to invest all of this anxiety, all this anticipation, only to have my expectations merely satisfied. The New York of my imagination sounds lovely, but I've already been there.