March 4, 2004
I’ve Got Cramps
What little style I have, it's being cramped. New York will do that to you.
My toaster is the perfect metaphor for life in the Not-Big-Enough Apple.
The appliance, unlike a standard toaster that situates the slices of bread side by side, is a slender affair. It toasts the bread not in parallel, but in sequence, thereby saving valuable counter space. I've never seen such a toaster, but it's the one that's been provided for me in the tiny "kitchen" of my furnished studio.
When I was explaining what I thought was a poignant example of how tight space is in New York, I was sitting in a packed bar on a too-small stool with a group of New Yorkers. They looked at me, with what I thought was a deep understanding of the gravitas of my toaster situation and the accompanying need for more space in this life. A silence fell over the crowd. Nick, a musician who lives in a Hell's Kitchen studio with a girlfriend and cat, gazed at me and said:
"Really? Where can I get a toaster like that?"
New Yorkers pride themselves on how well they use the space they have, on their closet shelving and futons and shower caddies. I say, I need a little elbowroom or I might go insane.
Speaking of going insane, if you want to go to the pharmacy to, for example, pick up your "happy pills" here in Manhattan, the aisles will be just a little more narrow than they should be. Grocery stores have room for one cart per aisle, and heaven help you if you pause too long to pick out your preferred brand of fat-free refried beans while some dude with three kids in his cart eyeballs you like you just yelled "The Yankees suck!"
We native Californians may be prone to phrases like "Hey, man, I just need some space." But I really do. I need room to roam, or at least to toast.
I long to be Carrie Bradshaw, penning love letters to New York. But that would be like dating a guy that you're supposed to like despite your obvious lack of chemistry. Yes, it's cold and hard and mysterious and tough and I tell you this, I do not embrace the struggle and wear it as a badge of courage. I don't like struggle and I don't like badges -- quite frankly, I don't have the closet space.
While my grandparents are from the Bronx, I lived most of my adult life in Los Angeles, the city people here love to hate. For the life of me, I can't figure out why.
Here's what they say about you, Los Angeles: "Those people are superficial, you never really know where you stand."
You know what? I don't want to know where I stand.
I'll take fake over the brashness that some New Yorkers try to pass off as being "direct." Do not tell it like it is. We don't need to know how it is. How it is can be painful and cutting and we're all better off with a smile and a "good to see you, let's get together" even if we never do. Direct is efficient, like toast in sequence. It saves space. Polite or "phony" if you must call it that, takes breathing room. "Your idea sucks" is a studio apartment with the shower in the kitchen. "I like your idea and I appreciate the work you put into it, but it's not what we're looking for right now" is a three-bedroom house with a two-car garage to house both my feelings and the broken-down jalopy I call my sense of well-being.
If I hear one more parable about how it's not the place you are in but how you see your surroundings, someone is toast. I may be a sad sack with a penchant for isolating, snacking away my feelings and not playing well with others, but you can't tell me a sidewalk full of snow and sleet, a subway full of feel-copping cretins and the severe erosion of my personal space isn't making it worse.
I want to love it here. I see glimpses of grandeur; Grand Central Station and the New York Post with its shamelessly cheesy headlines make me momentarily swoon for living here. Those who love this place tell me spring makes up for all of this, that I will fall in love with the place when the snow melts and the women stalk the streets in sundresses and Manolos.
I'm grateful to have work in my field and, like an athlete who gets traded, I go where the work is and I'm lucky to have it. Still, New York, I'm waiting to fall in love with you. I'll give it another season. In the meantime, we're on a long, bad date and I just want to go home to the city that does sleep, because you know what? I'm tired. And it's no mistake that the largest-size bed is known as a California King.
Teresa Strasser writes from Manhattan, where she is a feature reporter for Fox's "Good Day New York." She's on the Web at teresastrasser.com.