Life, Literature

Throwback Thursday: “White Noise”

Okay, so it is technically Friday in my timezone. But in light of the Instagram and Twitter trend to share a little blast from the past on a particular day of the week, I decided to post an old tid-bit I wrote last winter about the winter before that. Huh? Just bear with me, it’s late. Oh, that and we’re supposed to get a massive amount of snow here in the coming hours, so I felt this piece particularly appropriate. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow”…too late?

White Noise

I moved to New York City in December of a year that was so desperately cold in our northeasterly corner of the country that it was painful to be out of doors and standing still. The cold that winter encouraged movement—walking, exploring. I thank the weather of that long season for forcing me to get to know Manhattan. I could not stop. But the snow banks got so high on the street corners that year that the brim of my knit hat prevented upward glances and so I’d often forget during these walks that I was actually in Manhattan. I could have been on the polar icecap where barrels of Christmas tree trimmings warmed the makeshift shops of tarps and two-by-fours that sold over-priced trees and pre-decorated wreaths for the holidays. But the prices here always bring you back; they are your GPS (as if you didn’t have the app on your iPhone). But in the case of a technological malfunction, just look at the receipt. Oh, twenty-five dollars for a salad and a tea? I must be in New York.

One of the paradoxes of the city is you never really have to leave your apartment if you seriously choose not to, yet the city draws you out. That or the size of your apartment. Cabin fever does actually exist here; it comes in the form of square footage. But you can have virtually anything delivered at almost any hour of the day. Admittedly, this gets old after a couple days with the realization that life is constantly buzzing around out there, even in the cold or the heat or the pouring rain. Looking around at the empty Chinese food cartons and pizza box that you are too embarrassed to bring down to the recycle bin on the ground floor, you realize you’re in danger of becoming that person. Like the abominable cat lady that never leaves her apartment. The Miss Havisham of the Upper East Side. As my best friend Bryn would warn me, too many days in my apartment could put me at risk of being the old single lady with too many candles instead of cats—“it’s the new sad thing,” she tells me. “And, Jac, it’s a fire hazard. Come on, get dressed. Let’s go to Bloomingdale’s.” I do have a lot of candles. But I’m still young-ish, right? Luckily, I never really took a liking to cats.

Regardless of any attempt to ignore the outside world, after days of greasy food and a Keeping Up With the Kardashians marathon (like you’ve never watched it!) I will peel off those ratty old sweats, put on the trendiest clean outfit I have in my closet and emerge onto the street with the swagger and resilience of a true New Yorker, like Carrie Bradshaw.

Life in New York City will inevitably distort your sense of time if you ever decide to leave the island and join the real world. It is kind of like Alaska. Who the hell knows what time it is. Anything that requires a specific time constraint is associated with things you wish you didn’t have to do—work, class, that dentist appointment you keep rescheduling. Perhaps nighttime Melatonin supplements should be made mandatory for New Yorkers in a place where any respectable dinner or event doesn’t begin before 9pm and you can stay out on a Tuesday night until 4am when other people are getting ready for work on Wednesday. You pass each other in the hall of your building—me with last night’s make-up succumbing to the gravitational force of the earth and the businesswoman in 4A in her neatly pressed suit passing briskly by as she looks at me with eyes of judgment through her designer frames. Maybe she’s just jealous. I’m going to order a grilled cheese and a large fountain soda for delivery. She has a meeting with her boss in an hour and hasn’t had a carbohydrate since ’05. So, there.

(But I can not pretend to be one of those fashionable New Yorkers. It is true, I still sometimes meet my sister for dinner at 6pm for the early bird special under the guise of happy hour.)

There is rarely ever a moment in New York City when all is quiet except for the occasion of a snowstorm. There comes a moment when the city falls silent and all that was grey and old becomes new again. Thanks to global warming, we haven’t had a storm yet this winter and I long for last year’s blizzards that nearly shut down Manhattan and made us all slow down a bit, if only for a moment. But instead of shutting down completely, the city becomes like white noise—the static of an old box television set when the antenna loses signal. Remember those? After living here a while, silence actually hurts your ears until you remember Oh, yeah, this is what quiet sounds like.  This year it snowed one time. In October. Considering last winter’s record-breaking snowfall and sideways buses parked on patches of ice and snow up and down the avenues of the city, this is not a welcomed change but a fear of apocalypse. I can’t help but wish the snow would come again like a cloth and cover up this place, and all its brutality, with a clean, white sweep. And with the melting waters wash away our iniquities. Especially mine. Will we ever find ourselves immaculate and new again? “Not with those tattoos you got,” I can hear my Dad replying.

I do miss last year’s snowstorms when my sister would let me borrow her car and leave the city to visit my parents upstate. To those from New York City, New York ends when you cross the Tappan Zee and find yourself heading up the Thruway past Yonkers, or cross the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey and head north on Route 17 and cross the state line again. From essentially anywhere north of the Bronx, you’re upstate. It’s only after you’ve spent some real time in small towns like Greenwood Lake, New York that you realize how large New York is, and how small you suddenly are outside of Manhattan. I would feel as if the swiftness of my sister’s sporty black Mercedes Benz was a time machine taking me back on four-lane highway to childhood. I would also feel incredibly out of place in a car I’ll never be able to afford in my college sweatshirt and sneakers that, like everything else for the past few years, I’ve been paying for with graduate student loans. Nevertheless, as I would find myself north enough for the wintry mix of the city to turn to robust snowflakes, they’d suddenly whiz by in the darkness like beams of light, as if Patrick Stewart was back in the role of Captain Picard taking me through the galaxy on the US Enterprise. He played a fantastic Macbeth on Broadway a few years ago, by the way. I went alone and sat in the third row.

And now, with the promise of a winter snowstorm far behind, I do look ahead to summer, of swimming and fireflies and hot dogs—those little tiles in a mosaic I can’t really bring into focus. Perhaps this is because what I’m really doing is looking backwards. I’ve learned that memory is a tricksy figure that distorts reality by blending what you think you remember and supplementary versions of the story you get from other people, from history books, old photographs, and maybe an occasional trashy TV show.

Outside the familiar sound of police sirens and commuter buses descend down my street from First Avenue and my neighbor is blasting something on TV in a language I don’t recognize. These have become the sounds of home, but I do long for white noise.