Some people notice the buildings. They look up, the backs of their necks wrinkling like old men’s foreheads, and they strain their eyes and get dizzy with vertigo. They notice the heads carved above the windowsills on lower Broadway. They notice the snazzy designs on the Flatiron and the dials on the elevators going from the lower tracks to the main concourse of Grand Central.
Some people notice other people. They notice the variations in skin color and, for the first time, stare at their arms encased in black coats and gloves and their chest wrapped in scarves and realize that on the crowded bus where the windows are all blocked they cannot see any reflections of themselves. They notice the possibility of their skin being any color at all; they could blend with any of the races siting around them or be a mix of any or all of them. They could be green or blue or polka-dotted and it wouldn’t matter in this moment.
Some people notice the reactions, the connections, the bizarre randomness of people finding one another in lines for coat checks, on street corners, inside corner delis, before entering a taxi, upon exiting an elevator.
Noticing everything in New York City is impossible. Noticing as much as possible is the constant, ultimate goal. It is a city evolving and living up to and through every stereotype it has ever had while building new and unique traditions for itself at the same time. Things are old and new, familiar and strange at the same time. There is a sense of having been everywhere before and seen everything, even as the unfamiliar shadows of taller buildings than those ever encountered before fill the streets and avenues. New York is a city of unnoticing lives being noticed by noticers.
1. Walk around too fast. People at airports tend to dawdle, to meander, to amble. Avoid this at all costs. Walking slowly allows you to be caught by people you might know. Walking very fast and appearing to be late, frazzled, nervous or just weird will help to keep people from looking at you with too much concentration. Your face will also be blurrier.
2. Keep your gaze at far above or far below eye-contact level. Look for your flight on the screens repeatedly. Read your book while walking if you’re me.
3. Loiter in bathrooms. Peeing is healthy for you.
4. If you do encounter someone you know, have excuses at the ready. Make sure to have booked a seat in advance so that you don’t have to chummily sit together on the airplane. Drink lots of water so you can duck out and go pee during the conversation. Postpone any duty-free shopping until last possible minute for same reason.
5. In order to avoid steps 1-4, stop being a big baby and deal with the option of awkwardness. Remember that you are able to converse like an adult, that you are good at asking questions, and that you actually aren’t as anti-social as you sometimes think you are. Remember that you are ridiculous, suck it up, and take a deep breath. Things will be fine.
6. If step 5 doesn’t work, repeat 1-4 until step 5 becomes necessary once again.
The knitting store on the corner of Main and Copper streets had a long tradition of being the gossip hangout of the small town. Small towns are all the same, in some way or another, and they all have small shops and restaurants where the older residents would congregate and discuss the week. This town had this shop. The Yarn Depot. It was opened during the days when the word “depot” still seemed modern and inspired. If a new knitting store were to open now, the youngsters would probably call it Ye Olde Yarn Shoppe, trying to be twee and adorable. The kitting circle at the Yarn Depot all agreed that it was a good thing that none of the young people were interested in knitting.
Magdalene, Barbara, Lorna and Jack were the main members of the Monday night knitting circle. Jack and Lorna were the married couple who’d opened the Yarn Depot some fifty years ago, when Jack’s grandmother had died and left him a lot of money to “do something productive with,” as she’d written in the letter addressed to him that was found with her will. Jack’s parents were both scatterbrained, and his grandmother didn’t trust them not to spend the money on a trip to Africa. She didn’t approve of travel because she thought that there was nothing in the world that could compare to the good, old United States of America.
Some people thought Jack was throwing his money away and not doing anything useful with it at all. But Lorna, who had a better head for business than he did, assured him that while they may not make a lot of money, they would always make a small profit, enough to build up a college fund for their children over the years. She’d been right, and while the Yarn Depot had had its rough years, as all businesses did, it also had a steady clientele of regulars.
Monday nights weren’t open to the general public. Monday nights were just theirs. Theirs and their friends’. Maggie and Barb were their oldest friends. They’d all gone to high school together in the small town, and they all knew each others’ smallest quirks, likes, dislikes, pet peeves, oddball habits and deadly allergies. Every Monday night the circular table in the back room of the shop was always set up the same – there was a bottle of red wine for Barb, a bottle of apple cider for Maggie who was a recovering alcoholic, a box of sugarless cookies for Jack, who’d been diabetic for the last few years, and a bowl of potato chips for Lorna, who despised sweets.
The talk on the particular Monday night where everything started happening was directed at the usual things.
“I can’t believe I’m knitting baby booties. Again,” Maggie said. She pushed her big glasses up her nose.
“Have you gotten the ultrasound photos yet?” Jack asked.
“No, and thank goodness. I don’t think I can coo over another blob and pretend that I see anything in it.”
“Oh, you’re such a liar, dear,” Barb said, patting Maggie on the knee. “She cries every time.”
“I don’t approve of having so many children. Two is quite enough. A fourth is really getting out of hand. And what if it’s another girl? They’re not going to check the sex, you know. They want to have it be another surprise.”
“Do you think they’ll try for a fifth if they don’t get a boy this time?” Lorna asked, casting yarn onto knitting needles the reached her knees. Her specialty was blankets.
“If that man has his way. All he wants is a boy to play ball with. I keep telling him and telling him-”
“She does, you know, she’s not just saying it-” Barb muttered confidentially to Jack.
“-that a girl can play baseball just as well as a boy can.” Maggie frowned at Barb but didn’t say anything. It was one of those long-time-couple things. She knew Maggie spoke over people and she’d given up on trying to change that a long time ago.
A lull in the conversation led Jack to exclaim over the cookies. Barb and Maggie baked them, using sweetener instead of sugar, and although Jack had a bad after-taste in his mouth from the artificial flavor, he told them that the cookies were “luscious, simply decadent,” so as not to hurt their feelings.
It could have shaped up into a pretty normal evening if it wasn’t for the fact that a knight, a fairy and a talking tom-cat rushed in through the front door, begging to be hidden from the maddened wolf-sorcerer who was following them.
The devil was perched gracefully on one shoulder. The angel that had been resting on the other had slipped off a moment before and was jumping up and down in frustration, trying to get its minuscule little wings to carry it back up to an ear. Its high-pitched voice was much too small to be heard from ground level. Why did people have to be so very big?
The angel sighed and gave up. It would have to find someone else. The devil had clearly won this particular person. The horned head peered down from its station and crossed its eyes and stuck its tongue out at the angel. The angel lifted its nose in the air and didn’t deign to take offense. But in truth, it was a little bit hurt. It never said anything bad about the devil, but devil insisted on just being plain mean. There was no call to be like that, as far as the angel was concerned.
Trudging to a mouse hole in the wall, the angel pulled a list from its pocket and began to peruse it, trying to figure out where it could go next. There were so many people who needed guidance, but the problem was that getting onto people’s shoulders was a lot harder than it looked, particular for a finger-angel like this particular one was. There were all sorts, of course – some were as big as people and didn’t have wings or halos or anything. But there were countless finger-angels that were expected to whisper into ears, but their wings were almost useless. They could only fly very short distances, so they had to find a series of steps up to people’s shoulders. The devils of similar stature had sharp claws that helped them climb their way up people’s clothes, which was a much quicker way to get up there.
A squeak sounded, tearing the angel’s attention away from its list. It smiled beatifically and raised its hand in a blessing. The mouse blinked and wiggled its nose, which the angel took to be a sign of thanks. With fresh enthusiasm, it began to walk through the wall to find the next person it needed to help.
As a twenty-one-year old college student, I’m well aware that I’m still living in a bubble of parental care and structured life, even though I’m encouraged to act independently and take on responsibilities of my own. Still, once I graduate (in two and a half years) I will need to deal with a monster scarier than in any horror story you can imagine: the infamous Real World. I sometimes wonder if I’ll be able to handle it. I’ve decided that there should be a specific school that teaches how to be an adult. Here are the courses I imagine:
-How to Manage Your Money 101 (a required course for the following electives: How to Be Frugal Without Being Stingy; The Bare Essentials: What Are They?; How to Take a Vacation Without Regretting it Forever; and the ever-popular How to Pay Off Your Student Loans.)
-Being Single (a required course for the following electives: How to Know When It’s Time to Break Up; How to Dump Your Partner with Kindness, Courtesy, and Minimal Ego-Damage; How to Survive Rejection; Bars, Beaches and Bowling Alleys: Meeting People; The Online Dating Scene: Going Digital)
-Tax Returns and Living Alone: Life Skills (a required course for the following electives: Leaving Home: Tragedy or Jubilation?; A Corner of One’s Own: Living with Roommates; How to Pay Taxes Without Tears; I Rented an Apartment: Now What?; Health Insurance: Step by Step; Robbers and Rapists and Muggers, Oh My – Getting Past First-Time-Out-of-the-Nest-Paranoia)
1) I’m tired.
2) A band of metal seems to have been inserted under the skin of my forehead – that’s the only description I can come up with at the moment for the headache that has been plaguing me all day.
3) I just got back from seeing the second Sherlock Holmes movie. It was exactly what I expected it to be – extremely fun, full of very yummy visuals of Robert Downy Jr. with his shirt off and/or tight pants on, equally full of romantic moments between Holmes and Watson and, finally, including the lovely voice and presence of Mr. Stephen Fry as the Other Holmes, also known as Mycroft.
4) Chocolate chip cookies are yummie.
5) They’re also sadly caloric.
6) It’s time for me to go to bed now before I get too into writing this list of absolutely purposeless information.