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These Vagabond Shoes

Letter From Manhattan

February 9, 2004

Moving around New York City can be like living next door to the toughest family in the neighborhood. On Monday you’re getting your ass kicked by one brother and come Tuesday his double-sized sibling fills in. It makes little difference; either way you’re in for a beating. And under the main tent, even the dominating learn to submit. When everybody’s dishing out, somebody’s got to be doing some taking.

“Manhattan is the loneliest place on earth. Welcome to Hell. Lots of good coffee though.” This is Kelly’s input, via email from Iowa. I’ve grown used to the loneliness, if not much better at handling it. Good coffee helps, and Levain Bakery at 74th and Amsterdam brews a mean cup. They also make the best oatmeal raisin scones I’ve ever tasted. This is my routine for the first twenty minutes of each day. It’s after this that things get challenging.

On reflection, it would have been better to move here with job prospects. I figured I could get by at first on part-time work, but even these positions are highly sought. Many people who land jobs after moving here do so because they know somebody. Employment can then lead to meeting more people and developing both social and professional networks. That my networks are lacking seems less the result of poor effort than difficulty getting started. Who knows, though. It could be that I simply suck at it, or prefer my position outside the pack.

***

I joined the pack unintentionally on Sunday. Still unfamiliar with Central Park’s jogging routes, I cut in at West 77th and found myself in the middle of the New York City Road Runner’s 10K weekend race. It’s hard to get out of these things once you’ve wandered in, and several miles later I crossed a finish line to the cheers and support of complete strangers. Their enthusiasm faded when they realized I wasn’t wearing a number, so I kept going, heading north towards Harlem.

I’m not sure that I understand the idea of running as a social activity, and tend see it more as a solitary pursuit. I’m often trudging along at such an embarrassingly slow pace that I don’t want anyone observing me. The Roadrunners do attract a fair number of competitive athletes, along with those shuffling and chatting, working off their weekday scones. Perhaps it’s another networking opportunity I’m missing, and might even provide potential work, handing out roadside water in paper Gatorade cups. I suspect that even this position requires knowing somebody on the inside track.

***

You can’t feel established living in sublets. For me, this is a well-tested truth. There is no solace to be had in another’s futon and if you’re looking for it you have to bite the bullet, sign a lease, and buy your own. But apparently I’m not ready for this, and have again chosen a temporary living arrangement. My philosophy shifts with each new set up. The current place is small, dark, and a bit shabby, but situated in Manhattan’s affluent Upper West Side. I figure that this combination should provide decent motivation for getting out of the house. If I remember to shave and bring a piece of mail with my home address, I might even find a local debutante willing to cover my bar tab.

I forgot to bring the mail Saturday night, and ended up in a Barnes and Noble on Broadway, flipping through a thousand-dollar Muhammad Ali coffee table book. This proved an insufficient reminder of my isolated status, so I returned home to chip some of the frost from my tiny refrigerator’s freezer section. Halfway through the job I punctured one of the cooling coils and freon gas began to hiss away, coating the inside of the fridge with a toxic-smelling substance. Worse yet, the unit stopped working and my four-pack of Tenant’s Lager remained at room temperature- an entirely unacceptable state outside of its home country. This cheered me up enough to call it a night.

***

It’s been a week so far in Manhattan, and every morning I’ve managed to get out the door and attempt to make a day of it. Formulating comes with varying degrees of difficulty, as evidenced by the quality of this column. I don’t even know that I’m entitled to this space anymore, seeing that it was originally dubbed “Letter from Brooklyn.” What’s my angle now? A guy who grew up in Marin County attempting to make the monumental leap to the Upper West Side? Talk about unimaginable hardship. Stay tuned, if it doesn’t get any more interesting I’ll make something up.

2004 Rick Monaco All Rights

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