i’ve always had a love affair with new york. it’s always been a city that’s a part of my soul. and i remember the first time i went there. it wasn’t the longest amount of time I had been in the car by any means, but this was different. We weren’t driving through miles of flatlands with no signs of life (except a sign directing you to the nearest Waffle House) on the way to Disney World. We were going to New York City, or more specifically, I was going to New York to spend a week with my aunt Janet. My mom was fairly cool as mom’s go, but as a kid growing up in the late seventies, New York was where it was at, and my aunt lived right in the middle of it. Even though I lived in Philadelphia, a seemingly big city, it couldn’t hold a candle to New York—the glitz, the glamour, the seediness (I didn’t know much about the seediness, just that New York was).
My aunt was a bit older than my mom, and they were both very pretty when they were younger; they even went on American Bandstand. While my mom settled down and started a family after high school, my aunt moved to New York, where she was “discovered,” as they say, and started doing some modeling and appearing as an extra in movies and TV shows. I always thought of her as being like the women I saw in the pages of her magazines and I was going to get to see her life firsthand. I was beyond excited.
After looping the car around the block endlessly, my dad finally found a parking space and we made our way up the four flights of stairs to Janet’s apartment. I gasped when I walked in. She lived in what I think was the tiniest studio I’d ever seen. The kitchen had a stove with two burners, the bed was basically a cot, and you could barely do a full circle in the bathroom. There were stacks of books and magazines everywhere, and her closet was stuffed to the gills. On the table there was a small black and white TV. Suddenly this didn’t seem so glamourous. Where in the world was I going to sleep? My mom and dad were nervous about leaving, I could tell, but Janet assured them I would be alright and that she was taking me everywhere. That night, we had pizza for dinner on TV trays.
It was a whirlwind of a week. For the first couple of days, I just went with her to work, and sat at a desk while she saw patients. We would stop at a newsstand by her house and she’d buy me whatever magazines I wanted, some were in different languages, but I didn’t care. I chose by the person on the cover. My favorite part was commuting to her job, because we had to take the subway or walk to a bus stop. Since we went from Harlem to midtown and sometimes over to the Bronx, there was always an interesting variety of people to see. Then by mid week, we went to a studio because she was shooting an ad. Everyone was running around, carrying clipboards. A few woman were touching up janet’s makeup, and other people were adjusting the set. i was fascinated. who knew so much went into creating a half page ad?
between that week and until i was a sophomore in college, i spent up to two weeks with her in new york. she moved around alot, from harlem to alphabet city to chelsea to hell’s kitchen (not so hellish anymore). after a while, she trusted me on the subways by myself. i walked to the met, or bergdorf’s or down to soho. we went to coney island, watched shakespeare in the park, spent hours in strand bookstore. over the years my love for the city has grown and grown, and i’m always going back to explore more because you’re never done. i wouldn’t trade my time there for anything…it’s the one thing i miss about living on the “left coast.”
pics from wired.com, nylon.com and and nyc.com