I spent the better part of the morning getting quotes on hypothetical cardboard boxes filled with clothes purchased over the years from Forever 21, Zara and H&M. By the United States Postal Service and FedEx, shipping would cost more than my entire wardrobe. By UPS, it is slightly less expensive, but only slightly.
“What would the value of the items be, per box?” asked the Indian man over the phone. He owned the UPS down the street from my house.
I did a quick calculation, estimating that the average cost of each item to be around $15. Subtract things like the changing of the seasons and the fact that no one ever buys “Vintage” fast fashion, I realized my clothes were probably worth less than a UPS cardboard box, which costs $8.50. I could basically put one hundred cheap polyester tops in each box and…
“About $200 dollars,” I said with as much resolution as I could muster. I felt then rather tender and generous towards my belongings.
I saw, via landline, the Indian man raise his eyebrows.
“That…is….” he wondered how to say it nicely, “Well UPS declared value can reimburse you up to $100 if anything happens to your packages.”
“That’s fine,” I said quickly. I wondered how severe the pangs of loss I’d feel if anything were to happen to my boxes. I imagined a small gang of bandits, each holding a medium sized U-Haul box, howling with glee and racing towards their appointed meeting place. Some misty bank underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. They would tear open the boxes, see bundles of brightly colored fabric and hoot – because you know, sometimes polyester looks like silk. They could make a killing on E-bay. One of them would beam a flashlight on the tags and they would all be crestfallen.
“Who the hell spends over $300 shipping Forever 21 crap across the country?”
After I’d bought the boxes (from U-Haul, because UPS is certainly a rip-off) I slid open my closet doors and was myself crestfallen. My studio in New York is sunny and bright. It has four windows, which is three more than in the other units I saw. It has a full kitchen with space for a small dining table and a standard refrigerator for the giant tubs of greek yogurt I will stockpile. It has a bathroom with a triangular tub, checkered black and white tile and a sparkling white sink. There is not much room to dance around in (something I like to do in my home bathroom), but it has a window through which lots of light can stream along with the gazes of other tenants, for whom, one Halloween, I shall prepare some “Rear Window” action. It has hardwood floors, high ceilings, soft, cream-colored walls and it sits atop five flights of long, narrow stairs. There is no elevator in the building, but exceedingly sturdy legs is a small price to pay for sunlight, quiet, and other things that keep you alive in the big city.
My studio also has the smallest closet known to man.
It is smaller than Harry Potter’s broom cupboard, smaller than the closets found on Lilliput. Smaller probably, than the island of Lilliput itself. It is, to quote a million people before me, a crying shame. My closet at home is already not enormous, but my father, when he remodeled the house, had shelves and drawers built in to maximize the space, which I maximized to the point of it being maxed out. I also have an enormous dresser and ample space under my bed. I don’t think I qualify as a shopaholic, but I have a lot of stuff. Some of it, my friends chide, for a life I don’t live. I don’t have plans to reinvent myself in New York, but I would like to wear my leopard coat and sequined jacket and borderline bordello-esque heels without someone staring, then hissing, “What is it, Halloween?”
I have a feeling that sort of thing doesn’t happen in New York and if it does, the speaker is probably homeless and insane, instead of a man dining out with his wife and kids.
But for now, my father is reminding me the definition of “essential.”
“Are these heels essential right now? Is this leopard coat essential?”
Nothing is essential, unless you make it so.
My father reminds me that I’m going there to study, not to strut around in stilettos and sequins doing God knows what.
“Yes yes,” I say, waving him away, “I didn’t buy all these clothes just to leave them in California.”
“Yes, but NewYork is a walking city. You must wear sensible shoes. And when it gets cold,” he looks dubiously at the leopard coat. It’s not real leopard (you’re welcome, leopards), nor is it North Face, “You’ll need to wear something warmer than this too.”
Mentally, I start to allocate shoes to one box. Loud coats to another. Sensible things I can roll up and pack into suitcases. Sensible things are to be worn when moving in, when going to class. When riding the subway. And after one is moved in, the not-so-sensible things can be taken out, pressed and worn on the town with friends after the sun has set. Senses are both heightened and on the wane. But this is exactly right; one does not move to New York to be sensible.