We always romanticize our first time, holding it up high in our hands, turning it this way and that, allowing the stories we eventually tell about it to filter through the prism of all that followed. Three times I’ve moved to New York City, but it was the first when unbridled exuberance met myth and monster. I secured a one-third share in a one bedroom railroad apartment in the East Village back in the early nineties, claiming the weekdays, while my upstate roommates alternated weekends. The New School of Social Research offered their full curriculum for non-matriculated students, and here is where I pushed against the borders of my known world.
Four days out of seven, I’d bounce into morning in the dingy, dark room on east 10th street like it was a palatial pre-war on the upper east side. I never saw its structural or aesthetic flaws, but that probably was more attributed to its soot-blackened windows than any lack of observation. It didn’t matter anyway – I was living in NYC in my early twenties! What did I expect for only $250 a month? Before I’d head into the fray and wail three floors down, I’d put the dented teapot on the sole electric burner, turn the greasy knob to the left, and plumb the dorm-sized fridge below for leftovers. Usually there’d be pork lo mein or maybe some pad Thai in one of those ubiquitous Chinese to-go boxes and the room would stink like charred pig and soy sauce as I ate standing up, plastic fork scraping my unbrushed teeth. I hadn’t yet developed coffee addiction; no caffeine was necessary as adrenaline anchored me to the rooftops as I swung through those early days of kick and bliss. I was free! I could do anything I wanted.
I’d hop into the yellow- and black-tiled tub, turn on the sputtering shower head and surrender to the warm wash of the chlorine-scented cascade, rinsing last night’s revelry down the drain. I unsuccessfully tried to ignore the mildew on the shower curtain, as my nose scrunched at its musty intrusion. I’d just swing by a bodega on my way home and buy a new one; house cleaning was certainly not going to encroach on my weekday jaunts around the Village. By the time the jasmine tea was brewed, I was slipping off my damp towel and into the softened leather of my black cowboy boots. I donned the rest of my city uniform, inhaling the lingering lavender of my white tee as I pulled it over my head and secured the cool, metal buttons of my Levi’s. I squatted a few times to stretch out the stiff, rough denim, giving me some wiggle room. I’d check my backside in the full-length mirror on the inside hall closet door and smile. I looked good. I felt good. I was ready for anything.