Two women in my car are talking too loudly, first on their cell phones and then to each other: They do not recognize that they are in an enclosed space with other, tired people. The man in front of me is a commuting pro: He has earbuds on and is reading a very big book. The fresh, masculine scent of his cologne drifts over the seat, blown by the AC in my direction, and I am grateful. The last scent I experienced, on the A train from Tribeca, was the rank odor of a rag-swathed homeless man. Homeless funk always makes me sad.
"I hear e-commerce....my web site.....over-saturated....you're trying to fill your business....I didn't lose....I minored in Russian...I...I....I...I..."
The women chat and chat, oblivious. They make a loud, ping- ping-pinging in and out of my mind.
On this 100 degree night I am escaping Manhattan early. No sleepover tonight: I am trying on a new identity as a day-tripper. FF will pick me up at the station at 10:15 and then we drive the good stretch through suburb then countryside to Tiny Town, whose charm lies partly in its near inaccessibility to public transportation. Soon enough FF and I will slowly evaporate into the misty forests of the South, but for now we crouch cosily in Tiny Town waiting for the New York apartment to sell. When it does, we will spring into action.
Waiting for the - my - apartment to sell. My old friend. My shelter and refuge for 11 years.
The nicely scented man gets off in Metuchen and I reflect about the first time I met FF, right there on the platform in Metuchen. Metuchen helps me remember why I am doing this, why I am prosecuting this dramatic plan to break up with New York City.
This morning, I felt content riding the Transbridge Line into Manhattan with a light backpack instead of a suitcase. I got to my apartment, helped the real estate agent take photos, used Mop n' Glo on the floors to make them more photogenic, and then strode off to teach in the 105-degree of heat bouncing off every mile of steel, glass and cement. I was still content, as I slid carefully among the masses of sweaty people in this massive urban convection oven, evading the crowds, letting people enter subway cars and escalators ahead of me. It was easy to be generous: after all, I was leaving by day's end.
This is not the last goodbye, New York City, but it presages the last goodbye. And though I was feeling great all day with my little secret shining inside of me, now that I am here on this late night train sliding through the night, feeling alone with myself in the way I only do on trains, content has morphed to mope.
I experienced a stab of guilt leaving my apartment this afternoon to go teach my 5 o'clock class. Can you believe, dear Reader, that I left, backpack on, locked the door, and then actually reopened the door to whisper to the quiet, now nearly empty apartment, "I'll be back soon"? Well, I did. As if I were comforting it, as if it were sorry to see me leaving again having only just arrived. I animate things, as does FF (or did he only start since we met?), and my apartment is now animated beyond what is prudent for my own emotional well-being. It is an old friend wondering why I don't visit anymore.
("Wasserstein.....does bankruptcies....sounds SO familiar!.....Call me.....Divorce....technical action....now THAT'S a good attorney!...Philly?....ping-ping-ping...)
Tonight Urban Exile's real estate agent will post those lovely new photos on the internet and thus formally lead my old friend naked up to the auction block to be at the mercy of all comers. And I am running away to the country. Oh, what a bad friend I am!
What if someone comes to buy who wants to rip my arts and crafts beauty to pieces to achieve the dreaded "open concept"? What if they offer my asking price? What will I do? Will I hand over the keys and a complimentary crowbar and leave my old friend to the ungentle mercies of this appalling person? Really?
I've worked so hard to preserve my apartment, its beautiful architectural details, its solid oak-wood doors, its old glass door knobs, its thick, cool plaster walls. When FF came along, my friend perked up quite a bit: FF worked with me, adding impetus, spirit and purpose to the renovation, kindly adding his credit card to the mix as well. What I know about FF is that he would have helped whether or not I was going to sell. He just likes to help, which is one of the aspects of his character that won him my heart.
"The next station is... Jersey Avenue...." says the machine voice. I can still smell Metuchen man even though he got off two stops ago. Thanks for the memories.
It is true that my income did not suffice for some of the renovations that we did, nonetheless I could have afforded some of the work myself. When FF and I met, though, things that had never fallen into place before somehow starting falling nicely. Like the $165 custom wood radiator covers which always before had been priced over $400 apiece. Like the new windowsills throughout the apartment for $500, when always before it had cost thousands. When I was a woman living alone I presented as raw meat to ravenous contractors, dry cleaners and plumbers alike. When a nicely muscled man was standing next to me, saying absolutely nothing, the prices went down.
So now, my friend is looking pretty sharp which makes it even harder to say goodbye. Only my friend and I know what it felt like that hot summer day I moved in with nothing but a hot plate, some ugly wood end tables, a refrigerator and a mattress. Only my friend heard me cry all night when that relationship didn't work out, and the next one didn't either. And my friend watched me come and go, nose to the grindstone, working and sweating and sleepless, and also witnessed those rare times when I stumbled in, too late, too happy and maybe too drunk. My friend alone witnessed the hours of vocal and guitar practice to learn over 300 covers songs for the Finnish cruise ship gig. Yes, we have a lot of history together, my friend and I. And no matter where I wandered in the world, my friend was always here, waiting quietly for my return.
"Princeton Junction, next stop...." "So you need a kidney transplant?....Intense...My cancer is rising in Leo...ping-ping..."
One of my favorite students, who I'll call Aquaria, said to me comfortingly, "After all, it's just plaster and bricks. It's just a thing." Aquaria is older and wiser than I, and I know that she understands that her message to me is not as much true as it is necessary to believe. For we have to agree with ourselves to think certain things, true or not, in order to move on in life. I must not allow myself to think about my friend all alone, waiting still and darkened in the hot Manhattan night.
Yeah, it's just one of those things.
I hope I reach my stop soon.
Interested in Urban Exile's Manhattan apartment? Go to http://www.harlemhomes.com/sale_details.asp?listing_id=1758