August 10th, 2008
Since I offed my car, I arrive at the city in two ways: ejected into Chinatown pandemonium from a bus without air conditioning stocked with poor students, or sputtering via Amtrak into the catacombs below Penn Station. As I now have a job, I consistently splurge on the second option.
I’ve never seen the outside of Penn Station, though I’ve been shunted through it a dozen times. For all I know, the entire complex is dug into the mud beneath the East River, fed by a dozen tubes. Speaking of water, the tide of people rushing through grabs a hold of me and my duffel bag the second I’ve detrained, and it tosses me through newsstands until I’m thrown against a subway map.
I speak DC metro, a dialect that shares many phonemes of its New York variant. Sadly however, despite scattered cognates, the two are mutually incomprehensible. I speak of the Red Line and the locals exchange looks with sympathetic half-smiles. Ergo, I end up on the wrong train—or I end up on the right train, but it skips my stop for no apparent reason.
Backtracking several times, I finally hit daylight and the reaction is always the same: utter fear. DC’s crowds are lax—people stroll about on bloated lunch breaks on luxuriously wide and perplexingly clean sidewalks. The crosswalks tick down the time to the next signal, and things unfold like the innards of a neat pocket watch. But NYC crowds surge over and through each other like army ants stripping a carcass.
But today, there’s no time for terror and no time for carrion, because I’ve got a job interview. Hence the suit, despite the heat. Gloriously, I even manage to pick the right train.
I always run into the same landmarks when I’m in the city: the glassy cube marking a subterranean Apple Store, a Met Life logo perched on a skyscraper, watching my every move, like Jesus or Batman. I zigzag down from the southeast corner of the park (later Joey tells me the firm’s in a nice area).
Miraculously (or is it because I now have a Google Maps-enabled iPhone?) I find the building ninety minutes early, leaving time to eat a ridiculously expensive lunch and to go hit on the girl attached to the nicest pair of legs at the nearby Borders. (Grinning, I text Tamboli: I just got gunned down like a Kent State sophomore.) But this only knocks off a half-hour, and the heat is an entity unto itself on my back, so I return to the office and beg to be let in an hour early. I’m happy to wait on the couch.
The punctuality ends up impressing the interviewer. Indeed, I excel when I’m finally interrogated. Also, everyone in the office wears shorts and T-shirts. I’m reasonably sure I’m the only person on the island in a suit.
That done, I’m left with the rest of the day. Joey and Meagan plan on dinner, but they work late, so I spend hours writing. I generally avoid caffeine, but seeing as I just aced an interview, I treat myself.
This is enough time, as it usually is, to get used to the city. I end up on a bench in the park, people-watching, comfortable and happy. Notably, I don’t take off the jacket. For one, I look good. For two, if I’m going to spend the money to dry clean an outfit, then I’m going to enjoy an entire day’s worth of it. Meg finally calls and I head northeast to some Brazilian place.
Buses I find even more mystifying, but everyone is perfectly obliging. In fact, a couple is kind enough to make sure that not only do I get on the right bus, but that I get off at the right stop. (I say couple, but I couldn’t identify the sex of one of them. This is another phenomenon more prevalent in New York than the District of Columbia.)
There was a time I was afraid of running into college friends. What if whatever affinity we had no longer exists? What if we ended up just talking about old times and other alumni, unable to connect on anything new? But I haven’t worried about this in a while. I see friends annually to biannually, and sometimes have no other contact with them in between. And yet, we’ve never failed to fall into the same rhythm—sometimes it’s even improved.
The Hipps are no exception. We talk about old times, sure, but we talk about current elections, and new careers and directions in life with the same gusto. And we always laugh, and we always smile, and we always end with affectionate handshakes and hugs.
This isn’t because we’ve failed to change. Joey’s off to graduate school—not in music, either, which is the major we shared in college—but in finance. And Meagan, who’s an actress, has become involved with a hedge fund, a job she amazingly adores (her speech has become rapid, I hypothesize, as a result of being in a business community). So you see, we haven’t failed to change at all.
No no. But I have, and herein I suspect lies the reason we can always pick up where we left off. For no matter what comes—never mind the pregnancies and the weddings, the cross country relocations, never mind Joey’s continually coarsening politics or Meg’s new ability to rattle off quotes from the NYSE, or the friends who abandoned art and the friends who abandoned work, and never mind the changes in sexual orientation (granted, this has only happened once… so far), and never mind the sometimes rapid series of boyfriends and girlfriends, for despite how fast the rest of the world spins, I remain precisely the same. I neither grow nor mature. My tastes don’t falter, my ridiculous political opinions don’t bend—I shine on, a boring beacon in a world of flux.
When Meg and Joe moved to New York, I helped unload the van. Bizarrely, the day of my interview is also the day Meg’s plan to redesign the apartment comes to fruition, and she’s arranged for sales of several pieces of furniture (furniture that years ago I helped Joey drag up three flights of stairs in a Brooklyn shithole). Joey and I end up taking the same furniture out to the car of the new owners.
We go for drinks and dessert (I’m partial to pecan pie and ice cold martinis) and say goodbye. It’s far too late to grab a train home, so I snag the last available room at the YMCA. It’s on the top floor, and a narrow window opens onto an attractive view of Central Park and, beyond, the East Side. In the morning the buildings look like ghosts in the green.
I really have to move up here sometime soon.