It’s late morning, an overcast, recently drizzling sky threatening to become very wet, and I’m walking down Broadway, at about 39th St. It is all fancy now, with outdoor tables and chairs, lush, potted plants, and other rotating installations. I stop to touch one of these plant filled cubes to see if the greenery is real or plastic. It’s real. I decide to take a picture. While I’m snapping my photo, another woman walks by, also reaches up and touches the cube. I laugh and say, “I just did that.”
We get to talking about how much Broadway has changed over the years as we fall in step in a downtown direction, and how lovely this little strip in the upper 30’s is now. We each mention how we go out of our way to take this route on our way to our respective destinations – my part-time office, her studio. I ask her what she does. She’s a costumer, and an interior designer. She often works with plants, greenery. She asks what I do. I tell her, “Communications, and writing. I’m mostly a writer, though.” It feels good to say.
We compare more notes. She even knows a friend of mine, another costumer on Broadway. Aah, Broadway, not much work anymore, contrary to what you might think. Everyone is doing lots of different things these days.
We’re both “freelancers” now. Aren’t most artists and creative people working in NYC? Friends from out of town may think she’s a loser, ask when she’s going to get a real job. This is a real job. This is how it works now.
We all have about 35 jobs. I joke that I feel like an immigrant. But is that an outdated stereotype? I guess we can all feel like immigrants now – tenuous, not firmly anchored, struggling to obtain benefits, insurance, no secure social safety net to entrench us in warm and fuzzy nationalistic glow.
By 37th St., it’s time to part ways. Me to my office near 5th Ave., she to her studio down near 26th St. We introduce ourselves. I’m Carla, she says. I’m Deborah, I say. We exchange a firm handshake, a hearty smile, a thank you for sharing this New York moment and a sincere wish for a good day. No exchanging of business cards, no networking. Just this wonderful moment.
I continue east to 6th Ave., remembering how I was feeling yesterday approaching this same corner from the South after a trip around the corner to Duane Reade to buy a box of super tampons (for those extra heavy flow days). The woman at the register had double bagged my purchase, for modesty, I suppose.
Afterwards, I had stopped into a Guy & Gallard café (fancy deli food chain masquerading as something more upscale) for an iced beverage. The three young men behind the counter were all engaged in something else and I wasn’t clear if any of them was going to tend to me. One finally gave me his attention. May I please have an iced coffee, half decaf, half regular? No enthusiastic acknowledgement. I waited, watched. He finally bent down to open a cooler behind him, and I said, again, can you please make it half decaf and half regular? (Caffeine really messes with me.)
He turned to me and said, I heard you the first time. Somehow, I had… insulted? annoyed him? I thought about it for a second. I felt a flash of anger. But I was still moving slowly from the heat outside, and had been working for the last couple of days to temper hormone sourced crankiness, so I figured a response from me was probably not a good idea. Clearly, he already thought I was a bitch.
Oh well. He handed me my plastic cup, and I thanked him. As I stepped over to the adjacent counter to add half and half (the best way to drink iced coffee) to my beverage, it suddenly hit me. He probably made this all caffeinated, just for spite. I looked over at him, searching for a clue in his body language. He was saying something to his co-worker, stealing a glance back at me. I’m sure I was right. Fuck that bitch, he probably thought. If I said something now, I would prove him right. Damn it.
I took another free muffin sample (tasted like cardboard, but gave me the sugar rush I was looking for) and paid for my drink. I felt tired, vulnerable, a little of the city’s diffuse anger pressing down on my spirit. I walked slowly back to my office. Later I suffered from a jangly caffeine buzz that reminded me why I quit drinking coffee in the first place.
Today, despite the weather, I’m wearing a brightly colored flowered blouse. It’s something I used to do all growing up – wear bright colors to school on rainy days. Sometimes I think you just have to act as if…