Letter about New York

Dear X,

Dude thanks for sending the Ebert article to me. It’s nice to know he was so approachable – sometimes I have these lofty dreams about being some uber famous mysterious writer who doesn’t take interviews like Salinger, but I don’t think that sort of behavior is in my blood. I want to teach so I can make myself as accessible as my professors were to me, and I think these things really do come full circle 

I’m slowly getting more excited about moving to New York, but there is still so much going on before I even make the move. I’m still going back to Taipei for a month for my brother’s wedding and then J’s bachelorette and wedding… 

BUT I just returned from a long-ish weekend in New York where my emotions ran pretty high, at least on the first day and a half. My flight was delayed three hours and I basically spent all of Thursday dragging my carryon through John Wayne chasing friendly but incompetent UA agents down asking, “Will I ever leave?” When I finally arrived in New York (or Jersey, actually) and waited an HOUR for super shitty shuttle, I was shocked by the cold. Shocked! I had packed a wool cardigan and a tarp-like trenchcoat, but it wasn’t enough. I used to raise my eyebrows at people who said, “It’s so cold I wear two scarves,” but I became like that this weekend, twisting two cheap scarves together to make one slightly thicker cheap scarf that didn’t really do much. 

The sad thing was, it wasn’t even that cold by New York standards: just 49-55 degrees or so. That made me think, “I don’t think I can do this.”

On Friday I went to view some apartments with an Asian broker around my age – she moved to NY from SF, loved New York yada yada yada even though she lives with her boyfriend in a basement somewhere an hour and forty minutes away. The whole time she emphasized that she was being “straight” with me and I don’t doubt that she was, but my god her listings were terrible. We walked through torrential rain to four apartments, three of which were literally about as big as my brother’s room (including kitchenette! Hot plate right next to the desk or bed! Your choice!) and only had one window, just like Rikers, the place all the rapists and pedophiles go on Law and Order: SVU. Not very much light in any of the units, which I need tons of. They were all in these rank old buildings that appeared to be on the edge of caving in, which I began to think was quite normal in NYC.

Perfect example of don’t judge a book by its cover. 

The last one was on the top floor of an old townhouse, and it was larger with more light (2 windows!), but the building through which I had to climb seemed to be on the edge of collapse. I had never seen such filthy carpeted and narrow stairs, and the studio was very obviously the servants’ quarters back in the late eighteen hundreds. I wondered about things like furniture and how they got into the living quarters. 

The broker seemed to think I was accepting the situation because I just nodded silently every time she said, “This one is reasonable! Totally reasonable!” I wanted to shake her unreasonably hard. Still, despite my initial disappointment I held onto this rather prissy conviction that my dream apartment in my desired price range existed.

So I was wet and cold and staring into these abysmal hell holes in not so great neighborhoods, and when I finally got back to my friend A’s apartment I just wanted to pack up and rethink my leaning towards Columbia. I decided not to stay shivering in the apartment and went out for a walk, ending up getting on a bus that took me to the Met where there was a great exhibition on fashion in Impressionism. The museum was crowded, but still warm and I ate a cupcake in the basement (silently promising to myself that I would never EVER do that sort of thing again: eating giant desserts alone in the basement of anywhere), and felt oddly in-between warm and cold, happy and not very happy. I was between the art and the lonely place I remembered so well the first time I went to New York – and this time I realized, staring at the crumbs of my Crumbs cupcake, that the art wouldn’t be enough. 

Later in the evening, I attended the admitted students’ night and heard Richard Ford speak rather earnestly about the “point” of the MFA (he got his from UCI), and considering that he is famous (in the writing world) and has two books from which I have quoted endlessly on my blog and in my diaries I was like, “Heeey.” I also talked briefly to Gary Shteyngart who wrote Absurdistan, which I think I borrowed from you but never read, but then saw prominently displayed in every single bookstore. 

He was very weird in person and quite short and wearing a plaid shirt with short sleeves. Actually most of the professors looked weird (long white hair, huge glasses, gawky eyes, pale papery almost translucent skin – I kept thinking a bit wistfully about Zadie Smith who is gorgeous and teaches at NYU) as well as some of the students (including several girls named Cora or Fiona or Wynona who were all either tall and willowy or short and fat (eating disorder alert, the lot of them) the former who looked as though they were made of cigarettes and the latter who clutched moleskins to their heavy bosoms because, well, that’s what serious writers us. Interestingly, I saw SO many people holding Moleskin notebooks that for a minute I thought Columbia was gifting them to us, but disappointingly there were only the wine and cheese and the company of my future classmates.  

Basically most of the students looked as though they all took themselves and their “craft” very seriously and basically, I milled around with a glass of water and said, “Published? No, but I have a blog.” 

But everyone was kind and helpful, including a girl around my age from San Jose who gave up a full ride to Wyoming (they rejected me) for a no-ride to Columbia and who, like me, also likes writing about family (she is actually from Shanghai whereas I only get sick and throw up in Shanghai). There was also a gregarious black woman of about forty-five named Yvonne who was a professor back in Austin Texas but for some reason felt compelled to pursue an MFA with a focus on music writing and is now paying both her mortgage back in Austin and student loans. Because she was older I asked how she liked the classes (most of the students seemed to be late twenties early thirties) and she said, “Oh I love them! But there’s this one girl who writes exclusively about ex-boyfriends.” 

“Like Taylor Swift,” I thought. 

“Frankly,” Yvonne said, “I just don’t give a crap.” 

We walked out of the event together later that evening and she stopped me from turning on the path I’d come from, “Don’t walk through Morningside Park at night. I’m black and I don’t do that shit.”

I went out after that with my A and his friends (bright young things) from his graduate architecture program and mused at the various incarnations of “artistes: architects, writers, painters… Writers are somewhere in the middle – not so rigid as architects (all the bright young things seemed to me so angular, with their black and grey and white clothes – that and they were all Asian) and not so crazy as painters, though now I’m not so sure, having seen the collection of people who actually write for a living at Columbia. I label people so broadly and it probably hurts me (and them) but honestly, (and this is probably as close to damning the writer’s work as I’ll ever come – that and my awful habit of reading book reviews in lieu of the actual books…) it’s exhausting to note the details all the time. Sometimes I just want to say callously, “Oh? I didn’t notice because I don’t care.” 

And of course I am callous. During the admitted students’ night when someone asked me why I didn’t like the Bay Area. I responded, “I don’t like homeless people.” I felt several of my future classmates turn to stare. 

“Where I’m from,” I continued, “We pick the homeless up and drop them off in other cities.” 

More stares. I’m sure I made a rather distasteful impression on some of them, but they’ll get to know me once classes start and they’ll think what everyone things, “God she’s blunt.” 

ANYWAY – that was not the crowning and probably deciding factor of the weekend – FINDING MY DREAM APARTMENT. I went to meet with one more broker on Sunday and she showed me three brilliantly bright apartments in a five story walk-up, all within my price range and on West ZZth street between Broadway and Amsterdam, all gorgeously airy, with a window in the bathroom and in the kitchen, which was just large enough to accommodate a small small small dining table. 

I fell in love but was also heartbroken because it was much too early for me to lock any of them down without wasting $$$ on rent. I told her to keep an eye out for me for apartments just like these, and she nodded, though I could tell that she felt I’d be priced out once summer rolled around and rents routinely jumped up $200 or $300. 

I spent the rest of Sunday half brooding and half dreaming about said apartments and telling the universe that I wanted any one of these apartments, and convincing myself that I’d get one too, at my desired price point. But it didn’t seem plausible… but I still kept wishing. Demanding, actually. 

Then Monday, I was scheduled to see ONE MORE apartment, not through a broker but through a leasing agent that represented one building. I met him in the lobby and a rather disheveled, bony woman with piano hands came in behind me wearing wire-framed glasses and ugly shoes. The leasing agent, a man named Brian, asked me just as the elevator opened, “So, Betty, when are you looking to move in?” And I said, “August,” and the elevator doors slid open. 

“Betty?” the woman asked, and I paused to turn around as Brian held the elevator door open.

“Could I speak to you after you’re done meeting with Brian?” 

I thought her kind of weird. She seemed to me like a Berkeley professor or something. Rat’s nest hair and faded clothes. A Nokia phone. Lots of quinoa in the diet. I nodded sure, but was thinking, “Oh god what does she want…” 

When I came back down I asked her what was up, dreading that she might want to be roommates or something, but she basically turned out to be my angel in disguise. She was looking to sublet an apartment from May until August and was getting desperate because she had walked up and down the city, finding that everything was either too expensive or weird or the location was just not right (she had earned a hard won arts administration internship with the Lincoln Center) and was hoping to find something on the west side. My eyes lit up like the blazes and I quickly pulled her aside and lowered my voice: 

“Well, don’t tell Brian but I HAVE THE PERFECT PLACE!!!!” So we ditched poor Brian and put her in touch with my broker and the rest is history. 

So basically, I’m waiting for one final document to complete my rental application and voila – a gorgeous, sunny and clean studio on the upper west side shall be in my possession, hopefully by the end of tomorrow! I’ll show you video and pics when you come home. 

That said, please come visit me in New York. Anytime. My education remains to be seen, but my apartment will undoubtedly be the bee’s knees. 

love,

Betty 

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