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2004-05-15 - 1:09 p.m.

NYC's least wanted

I have officially been introduced to a new aspect of NYC culture. Yesterday morning I woke up to one of those days that requires isolation from all human beings. As I dragged my aching head out of bed into the kitchen to make my morning’s life-breathing coffee, I discovered after the first pour that the milk was officially OFF, in spite of its downright frightening expiration date of 13 June (one month from now??). I couldn’t smell the problem because of this wonderful cold that has come to visit me. But that I could observe the telltale floating chunks….and that distinctive acidic flavor intermixed with that unique textural experience…blaaahh...I poured the wasted organic fair trade French Costa Rican and Hazelnut Roast blend down the drain with a sigh and prepared to go to work.

But the introduction to NYC culture occurred next: I turned around from the kitchen sink, I noticed Mizzy staring intently at the corner of the room. I investigated more closely and came face-to-face with one of those famous, NY-sized, immune-to-all-poisons cockroaches! This dazed slow-moving creature staring back at me was the size of a small European transit vehicle. I am proud to say that I did NOT scream or even flinch, but grabbed the nearest wad of tissue paper and terminated its little disgusting twitching life functions. This thing was freakin’ HUGE. And then I realized, it’s the first one I’ve seen. It’s probably only the SCOUT cockroach. The warriors are still to come!! (Our office technician’s helpful comment on this was that I should cheer up, maybe it *was* actually the big mother cockroach, slow moving because she’d just dumped 3000 eggs on my floor. But at least they wouldn’t get any bigger…)

Anyway, this forced me to delay my plans and sent me immediately into a cleaning frenzy. Those who know me know that I’m not the messiest person on the planet…but then they also know that my lifelong battle between order and chaos, in particular in my kitchen, is ongoing. And sometimes chaos wins and I need to Take Back the Kitchen. Yesterday I reclaimed my entire apartment. Hopeless though everyone tells me the battle with the cockroaches (who will probably outlive humans through the next and last world war), I am resolved to hold my own. I am initiating behavioral changes, starting with the small rubbish bin that goes out every other day, and ending firmly with an empty kitchen sink every night and morning. Those imperialist little multi-leg creatures may colonize in the end, but I don’t have to encourage them to institute “regime change.”

The day continued with more mishaps – sitting on a late, fully-packed bus that stalled on every street corner. The only nice thing about this experience was watching the entire bus full of people all sit and stand quietly. Certainly every last one of us felt the frustration of inconvenience, but we all seemed to realize that complaining loudly about it was not going to help anything, certainly not the driver who was doing his very best with a vehicle that shouldn’t have been in service in the first place. Many even thanked the man as they exited (myself included), a habit that continues to impress me but even more so when the service was clearly terrible.

When these things happen one shouldn’t even bother to continue with the rest of the day. Nevertheless, I went to the office and tried to pick up my keys. And…. I received keys for all of the wrong rooms – this is the third time that security has screwed up my key orders. I now have the keys to the offices of two of my senior colleagues, in addition to a spare key to a lock that no longer exists. Sigh. Well, given that this is the same office that arranged my college ID, I should not be surprised.

Fortunately, the day looked up – I downed my first cup of coffee by 2pm, and choked down a yogurt. I met the grants officer and established that my proposal is ready to be signed and submitted on Monday. My student helper has finished filing all of the papers in my office. With these two accomplishments I went into the city to see my friend Kay’s gospel concert – inspiring and wonderful, and surprisingly the first concert I remember at Lincoln Center. The musical director, with his pink tuxedo shirt and southern accent, interspersed this thrilling upbeat music with messages like, “Just calm down,” “this too will pass,” “you’ve survived everything, that’s why you are here, so cut whatever cords you think are holding you down and just fly.” Words that sound cliché out of context, but that fed the moment perfectly. Are these things that I write to you really so bad? Is this why the folks on the bus are uncharacteristically quiet in the face of an inconvenience that I imagine would normally cause a New Yorker to yell in outrage? Indeed, whether in New York or in their countries of origin, they undoubtedly have survived worse, and they feel how small a worry a stalled bus, a misappropriated key, and a gigantic sluggish cockroach really are. And they are right.

The night was warm and wonderful, and a splendid evening for milling about the Lincoln Center fountain. Perhaps it was starting my day face-to-face with a cockroach, but as I looked out at this weird and wonderful bunch of people, dressed in every way possible, every skin color imaginable represented, all body shapes known to God before me, I actually, for the first time, felt like I belonged here. I didn’t feel like an outsider, but part of the magic of the mix.

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