Tough Enough

I was about to start a rant about how I can’t handle the fact that this cold weather won’t go away, but then I remembered two things: 1) even I’m not interested in hearing what I have to say about the weather, and 2) complain as we may, Midwesterners secretly take great pride in our ability to deal with sub zero temperatures. Sometimes we even go out for ice cream when it’s 10˚ below zero, just to thumb our noses at Mother Nature. It makes us feel tough, like survivalists. Like Jeremiah Johnson, even.
My recent trip to New York confirmed my long-held suspicion that New Yorkers share a similar mindset with my people – not about how cold it is living in New York, but rather how tough it is to live there. I think New Yorkers all derive a certain amount of satisfaction from the fact that they can successfully navigate around the biggest, most diverse city in the US.
Vivian certainly falls into that category. As she led me around her fine city, I kept saying how much I love New York. I love admiring the architecture, and I love watching New York children get on the subway with such confidence, and I love how everyone seems more intelligent and cultured there. I told Viv that if I weren’t so happy in Chicago, I would consider moving to New York. Perhaps fearing a repeat of my ill-fated romance with Seattle, Vivian tried to rein me in:
“You think you know New York, but trust me, you don’t know New York. I thought I knew the city before I moved here, but knowing where good restaurants are in the Village and maneuvering your way through the city day after day are two very different things.”
Viv put me through a mini boot camp while I was visiting so I could get a real feel for New York. We trekked from Harlem to the Upper West Side, from Chelsea to SoHo, from the Village to Chinatown, barely stopping for food or water.
Everything was six blocks away, no matter where we were.
“Vivian! My legs are numb!” I whined, as I hobbled toward the Whitney in my not-yet-broken-in shoes.
“It’s only six blocks away.”
“You said that twenty minutes ago! Do you even know where we’re going?”
“Of course I do. But is it on Lexington? Yeah, I’m sure it’s on Lexington.”
“See – if I had my cane, this would all be going so much more smoothly.”
“My god – will I ever live down the cane incident?”
“Depends on how long these next six blocks are.”
“And besides – it’s no colder here than it is in Chicago. You should be used to this.”
“Yeah, but in Chicago I’d be wearing my ultra thin silk long underwear. Fashion takes a back seat to comfort in the Midwest – don’t act like you don’t remember that.”
Vivian told me about how she studied maps of Manhattan when she first moved there, learning the boundaries of every neighborhood, and the quickest routes to each of them. As we sat in a bar later that night drinking tequila mojitos, Viv drew me a map of the city, detailing all the major streets that slice up the island. Then, as we hiked around the city the next day, she kept quizzing me on where we were.
As we sat on the subway, she asked, “Okay – now we just passed 14th Street. What neighborhood are we in?”
I tried desperately to picture the map she had drawn on the napkin, and said, “Uh… Hell’s Kitchen?”
“Wrong. The Village.”
A few minutes later, she’d ask again.
“Okay, now we’re south of SoHo, so where does that leave us?”
“SoSoHo?” I giggled.
Vivian sat silently, shaking her head.
“No wait – Chelsea! We’re in Chelsea, right? Battery Park?”
It was a bit like an Abbott & Costello routine, with Vivian playing the perfect straight man Bud to my bumbling Lou.
“Jenny, how could we be in Chelsea when we are going south?”
“Did we circle back maybe?”
As I spent more time under the fierce tutelage of Mme Vivian, and finally realized that Houston is not pronounced like the city, I began to feel more confident in my ability to find my way around the city. Particularly if I hopped in a cab.
So once Vivian saw that I had begun to understand the subject of geography, she presented me with another great challenge of living in New York. As we were walking around looking at the galleries in Chelsea, she said to me, “At least once every day, I see something that triggers my gag reflex.”
I scoffed at her claim, and told Vivian that there are disturbing things in any big city, and now she was just trying to pretend to be “street.” Although I had to admit that I was occasionally disturbed by the overwhelming smell of raw chicken and urine that hung in the air in certain neighborhoods, I still rolled my eyes and mocked, “Oh, yeah! New York is sooo tough! Whatever. Did you ever think that maybe you just have a sensitive gag reflex?”
Vivian just raised her eyebrow, and started to say something, but I continued my rant: “I mean, Chicago has way more murders than you do. You’re not so tough. I saw a homeless guy throw up one time.”
“Okay, that’s gross, but really, who hasn’t seen that?”
“Well, Vivian – how about this – once I saw some cockroaches eating a dead rat in the alley.”
“You are so full of crap. You never saw that!”
“Well, maybe I didn’t, but you know it happens all the time. Okay, but this would make you gag – one summer, Natasha, Seamus, and I found a dead body down by the river.”
“Jenny, that wasn’t you. That was those kids in Stand by Me.”
“Oh, well… my point is, I think you’re just exaggerating a bit. You were a theater major, you know.”
“I’m just telling you. Gag reflex. At least once a day, Jenny. Like clockwork. It’s a reality when you live in New York.”
I dropped the subject as we continued our stroll. Just as we walked out of one of the galleries, I saw a man with two giant Rottweilers standing in the middle of the street. I thought it was odd, but there really wasn’t any traffic down these narrow streets, so I thought that maybe it was just more convenient for him to walk in the street rather than through the crowds of hipster art lovers roaming the sidewalks.
But then he stopped, and my throat twinged a bit.
It suddenly became clear that the reason the man stopped was that the larger of his two enormous dogs had either eaten too much fruit, or perhaps just returned from a trip to Mexico, as he relieved himself in the middle of the road. For about half a block. And then the man and his two dogs just walked away.
I glanced over at Vivian, who said nothing, but gave me a knowing look.
“Okay, yes. That was gross. But dogs will be dogs. Sometimes dogs get sick. And sometimes people have to witness that. Still – I think that was just a coincidence.”
About ten minutes later, I saw a woman and a man get out of a cab carrying their tiny Chihuahua. Even though they’re the “it” dogs now, and it’s annoying to see all the celebrity girls carrying them around in their Gucci dog carriers, I still think Chihuahuas are pretty darn cute. So I smiled as I watched the woman kiss and cuddle her dog, and fuss with its fancy little collar.
But then she set the dog down on the ground, and my throat squeezed tighter.
How can I say this delicately? It’s just that – I’m not a dog person, so I don’t really know how they work, but when the woman set the tiny dog down, a few things became apparent to me: 1) this was definitely a male dog, and 2) he really, really loved that woman. A lot. The sight of a tiny canine fully aroused is something I hope to never see again.
I told Vivian that I needed to erase those last two images from my mind, and didn’t want to risk the chance of running into another dog, so I dragged her into one last gallery. We were pleased to find some amazing paintings and sculptures in this one, and I felt content as we walked toward the door, planning where we would go for dinner that evening.
“Ooh – should we have Mexican? Or maybe Italian? I could really go for some pasta!”
But then I looked at the wall to my left, and my throat clamped shut.
Above the reception desk was a fifteen foot tall black and white photograph of an eighty year old woman. She was naked. And she was breastfeeding a baby.
I grabbed Vivian by the arm and covered my mouth as we ran out of the gallery.
In between gagging, Vivian and I let out bursts of laughter. If only my throat would have opened, I could have eaten my words. I conceded that yes, in fact, New York was more disgusting than Chicago, and asked Vivian if she was finally happy.
She said that she was, we went out for Italian, and never spoke of that day again.

5 Responses to “Tough Enough”

  1. Strode Says:

    hehe. New York is still a blast isn’t it? All of those people. You never know when you may find some little shop tucked away in a cellar. If I could afford it, I would probably make my way to the “city that never sleeps”, and live there.

  2. brando Says:

    this is exactly how my days would go every time i visit nyc. if only i had the courage to leave the hotel room.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    This is a wonderful re-telling of your visit. I hope you come back soon. There’s nothing like the city in summer. Come on, be a part of it.

  4. Gina Says:

    My first non-infantile trip to Manhattan (and therefore the first I remember) I had no sooner been warned by my aunt and set foot on pavement than I was greeted by my first sight — a man, very dirty, very high on something, with absolutely NO WHITES in his eyes, babbling incoherently and talking to ME. He was coming straight for me. I remember being hauled away right quick.
    I heart New York!

  5. heidi Says:

    I suppose since I have an honest-to-God vomiting phobia (emetophobia, look it up), I should rethink my whole “dream vacay in NYC.”
    Thanks for the warning. ;)