To Call it Home

Yesterday, I joined the happy tourists with sneakers and fannypacks at Rockefeller Center. I was feeling especially happy and particularly pretty, and as it rarely does in August, New York was cool enough for me to sit for a while without sweating my weight. Just as it blew the flags of every country, the city breeze tossed my hair and dangerously ran my skirt up my leg. I barely noticed anything around me though – other than the fact that I was so damn happy, I could barely stand myself.

Though my level of obsession with NYC has been out of hand since I was seven, it isn’t always easy living here. There are reasons why Frankie says if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. He doesn’t just mean in showbiz or in being successful in the career you pick for yourself, but just surviving. The cost of living is significantly higher than most hometowns newcomers come from, and while you save money by buying groceries, those groceries are not only more expensive, but far less appealing than the dozens of restaurants that send amazing scents into the streets every minute. To make it here, to start on the journey that makes you a New Yorker, takes a lot of patience. It requires you to fail continuously, to succeed randomly, and to trust in whatever process is happening.

Sometimes, you find yourself sitting alone in the small room you pay so much money for, staring at your dwindling bank account, fearful of what the next few weeks will hold, and you wonder why in the world you came here. Those thoughts are hard to shake when you feel like you’re at the end of your rope or your heart is starting to get that city-toughness you hoped it never would. I’ve faced them – if I had not decided to major in journalism, if I had stayed in North Carolina, if I had gone another path, if I had never moved more than an hour away from the house that made me, what would my life be like? Would I be married with children? Would I have an actual mortgage and responsibilities that aren’t selfish at their core? Would I be a different person?

Would I be happy?

Maybe I would be. Maybe if different things fulfilled me. Maybe if I never had the feeling that I was destined for something much greater than what I can even imagine – maybe then. Maybe if I hadn’t grown attached to taking chances and barely getting by. Maybe if I hadn’t braved the city and fell in love with it. Maybe then I would have been happy in the country. Maybe I could convince myself to find peace in the ordinary, without striving for the extraordinary.

At those low times, I can almost believe that moving back to where it’s easier seems like the right decision. But then those high times come. Then that phone call that I had been praying for actually comes through. Then the city captures me in midtown, sending friendly smiles and good weather my way. Then that smile that I was missing for months becomes impossible to erase. Then the answer that I was waiting for becomes the answer I really wanted, even if I tried my very best not to get my hopes up.

And then, there I am, playing the part of a walking cliché, listening to New York, NY in my new shoes, making eye contact with handsome strangers and grinning a grin that came from my own hard work. There I am, looking around at the city that knocked me down a few times and realizing it wasn’t up to New York to make anything happen, even if ole’ blue eyes makes it sound that way.

It’s always been up to me to make my life what it is. The city is just there for some moral support and some really killer inspiration. It’s what it is, it’s New York – and it’s worth every struggle, every downfall, every dollar lost, every everything – to call it home.

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When I’m 80

Last night, Mr. Possibility and I attended the preview party for the new location of the Copacabana. For those of you unfamiliar with the Copa, it’s the iconic nightclub that launched the careers of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, a place frequented by performers like Frank Sinatra, and the inspiration behind Barry Manilow’s song.

Basically, ask your grandparents – or ask me.

After fourteen years of piano lessons, I developed a certain affinity for playing the greats, both classically and the songs bore from the Rat Pack. There is something romantic and beautiful about that period – where love hung on strings and was cherished instead of something we all felt entitled to. I’m sure those in the era worried about finding their match like so many do today, but at least then there was a certain innocence to relationships, and class was still in style.

I was excited about the event because I expected to be brought back to the time of the Copa dancers, to courting, and to dancing that didn’t involve grinding in spandex with bump-its in our hair. Not to my surprise, the crowd was primarily older – I was probably among the youngest in attendance. The food was incredible and bountiful, the music continuous, and the sangria refreshing – but something was missing.

Even with a new location and the same owner, the Copacabana had lost its luster.

Sure, the space was beautiful and I’m sure will attract tourists near-and-far, but that’s the problem. As I sadly reiterated my opinion to Mr. Possibility, he said, “Well, it’s not that time anymore, clubs pop up and have their ride and then they’re gone. We’re onto the next thing.” In the age of over-demand, where everything is simply a thought and a Smartphone away, we don’t grow attached to things as we used to. Even nightclubs that gave some of the best singers their humble beginnings.

Toward the end of the evening, a handful of original Copa dancers, now well over 80, graced the stage and told their story. They each held more enthusiasm individually than the current group of Copa dancers did collectively. You could see, even from far away, the love they had for the Copacabana and for New York. This place symbolized their youth, where they grew into themselves and their sexuality, where they mingled with artists who would become legends. This was part of their story; the Copa was a place that helped define them as girls, and now brightened their eyes as seasoned women.

As Mr. Possibility draped his arms around me and kissed my cheek affectionately, I looked at him and asked, “What will my story be?” I wasn’t looking for a direct answer, he knew that and didn’t give me one other than a few sweet compliments and words of encouragement, but as we walked through Times Square to another bar for some more sangria, I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind:

When I’m 80, how will I view this time in New York? Will I look back and replace all my memories of being flawed as visions of me young, healthy, and beautiful? Will Mr. Possibility be a fleeting face that I call the first man I truly cared for in New York? Will my friends, the ones that took me so long to find in this city, still be my friends then? What will I think of this blog? Or of my writing style as it is right now?

I’ve always imagined myself growing older and one day having the wisdom that only comes from experiences. I see myself still active, still pushing forward, still thinking creatively, if my body allows. Like the majority of Americans who fear being alone, I don’t want to be by myself rocking in a chair on the front porch of an old plantation house in Charleston, but I also want to make sure I have that look.

That look that those Copa dancers had. That look that says, “I’ve lived a good life. I’ve seen many wondrous things. I’ve tried things and tested my limits. I’ve explored my sexuality and what it means to be a woman. I’ve liberated myself and traveled this world and I know this city. I’ve loved and been loved. And I’m here, at my age, to show my face and my cryptic smile that’ll never reveal all of the joys I’ve had with people and places that you’ll never see again or meet.”

Daily gratitude: Today, I’m thankful for the laughs I’ve had to give me the lines that already appearing on my face.