Lately I’ve been feeling exhausted (it is that time of year). Trying to find a balance between life, work and love, especially during mid-life, feels nearly impossible. I’ve been caught in a rapid, circular trap, rushing from one activity to the next (including sleeping and showering – I might be the king of the 7 minute shower) and before I know what I have done I am rushing out of the door to the next ‘do’. So yesterday I decided to take a small break. I woke up in the morning, grabbed the phone from behind my pillow, and called in sick.
Before I could begin my break I got up, made some coffee, and headed toward the deli to grab some milk. Halfway there (one block) and half asleep I thought a slice of pound cake might be a treat so at the store I bought myself one. Sitting in front of my laptop I worked on the finishing touches for an art project I’ve been on for months now and nibbled my cake with the coffee. I was working, yes, but as I had the whole day ahead of me I felt calmer already. Project done I checked all of my accounts for activity (email and Facebook) as I always do.
Oh how those hours do fly. The computer – once an object and activity of derision – now completely occupies my life. I cannot be alone. I network. I search. I watch. I rock. I roll. I draw on it, design on it, and I stare at my laptop for hours and hours on end. We all pretend to go pale when we hear of teenagers gaming for days but are we adults so removed? Day dissolved so quickly into afternoon that I barely noticed. When I looked up it was near twilight, and most of my day had been spent front of the glowing blue screen of my device.
This would not do. I quickly rose up and showered. After dressing I stood and looked west out of my living room window to watch the sun set so beautifully (as it does), staring across Queens toward NYC. I had decided to go out and try a Thai restaurant I had read about in a Times review; working nights rarely gave me the chance. I had an entrée already in mind: crispy pork with Chinese broccoli. I set out.
I travelled down Roosevelt Ave (a gritty change from the more genteel and village-like neighborhood of most of Jackson Heights) and cut right towards Elmhurst. It was night by now, and this was new territory. Walking across a couple of avenues west it became spookily quiet: a little chilly and very urban blight. I quickened my pace – ah! – Woodside Avenue. I spot the restaurant. As I enter it is nearly full – all of the bohemes and foodies of the area plus me. I am alone but I have a good book ( Joan Didion’s “The White Album” in a small vintage paperback). The pork and broccoli, chewy fat morsels meeting a pop of crunchy green in a vinegary meat broth, is superb ($8). I feel great. I feel like I am living. The meal goes down quickly and before I know it I am back on the street.
By now it is very dark outside. I am not feeling that solitary walk toward Roosevelt so I take a right toward lights and activity. I think this will also take me home. Ten years in Jackson Heights and everything on this side of town is new to me: Halal stores, 99¢ shops, vendors, fast food joints and by the time I am at 82nd street I see the Indian movie house (which I know) and a huge, well lit vegetable store called Mango Rico (which I don’t). I go right in - it is amazing. How could I have missed this store, three tiny blocks from home? I start to check out the produce lit by a warm yellow glow - a huge variety of cassava and roots I am unfamiliar with, a wonderfully fresh combination of South American and Asian food being rapidly stocked right before my eyes. The joint is packed with regulars all going about their weekly shopping and it is then that I think it (I know it): I love this city. So much around you all of the time and all you have to do is open your eyes! Mango Rico has a well-used quality that I love. We all peck around the veggies like chickens, picking up this, eyeballing that, each of us trying to forecast what might be good to eat this week. It is fulfilling enough to simply soak in the colors of the food. I grab two limes (20¢), a bunch of cilantro and parsley (79¢ each), an avocado ($1), a bunch of very fresh, tight broccoli ($1.29) and a couple of jalapeños (19¢) – just the things I am in the mood for. I walk out for around $4.
As I head home with my tiny plastic bag of treasures I feel more relaxed than I have in a while, pursuing these solitary pleasures but in the world, too. Nothing makes me feel quite as alive (save drawing and painting). The computer that has absorbed so much of my attention lately has also left me on empty (like the night shifts I pull down and the other ceaseless tasks we are all required to do every day). New York City is an especially tough place to get things done – mundane tasks feel almost impossible here. But to wander its streets – just for a couple of hours – what a wonderful thing to do. Senses reawaken. You are alone but surrounded. You are not just thoroughly but truly involved. For the few stolen hours that reality dissolves and you disappear into the crowded streets we townies become sightseers again, and it is in these rare moments I reawaken and realize something true: New York City is magic.