It’s Dec. 27, 2014, which is almost 2015, and I’m ready for it.
I carved out a bit of time in my break for filling out internship applications, and instead I’m sitting next to a pile of Hershey’s Kisses wrappers with my dog at my feet and I’m blogging instead. Go figure.
I don’t like to forget things, but I often do. That’s why I try to scribble my thoughts down whenever I can. Even if it’s not well-written, or if it’s one giant rambling mess, at least it’s been recorded. So I’ve decided to share a memory from 2014. Read if you want to, or not.
Let’s start with New York.
Two days after I arrived, I decided to skip out early on the mixer for the business journalism conference I was attending. I was ready for dinner, and after reading novels and stories and blog posts about New York, I knew exactly where to go: Greenpoint in Brooklyn.
Greenpoint is one of the few Polish neighborhoods in the States, and I was eager to eat authentic pierogi. Roll your eyes at me if you must, but America is full of sickening pierogi imitations. It had been two and a half years since I had last visited my grandmother in Poland, so two and a half years since I had tasted real-life, actual, laboriously hand-made, cheese-and-potato peasant pierogi.
Thank you, God, for smartphones, I thought as I found my way to the G-Train. I was still dressed in the outfit I had planned for my New York Stock Exchange visit earlier that day, complete with a pencil skirt, blazer and oversized black heels. When I got off at the subway at Nassau Avenue as dusk fell darker and darker into night, I felt completely out of place.
Just walk around like you used to in London. I thought. You’ll find a place to eat, easy peasy.
Except for a few things. I knew London fairly well. This was the first time I had ever set foot in Brooklyn. I was surprised to see that the streets were almost completely deserted. I saw a few mothers with strollers head inside their brownstone homes. Gentrification had taken over the Greenpoint of my imagination. Silly.
I walked into the first restaurant that I saw. It was a narrow place decorated with Polish memorabilia with a bar up front and booths in the back. The bartenders and waiters were dressed in traditional Polish costumes, and although I’ve never been crazy about cheesy tourist vibes, I was too comfortable in the heated restaurant to consider walking back out in the cold. So, I sat down at the bar, ordered a bottle of Tyskie–my uncle’s favorite beer, which has an okay taste, not great, but I didn’t know of any other Polish beer–and opened the day’s Wall Street Journal so that I wouldn’t be bothered.
Not ten minutes later, I received a glass of red wine.
“From the man sitting behind you,” the bartender told me in Polish.
A few things you should know about me before we move forward: I’m 23 years old, and I’m small. Five feet tall on a good day. I’m the sort of person that grandmothers look at and ask, “Well aren’t you terrified to be out in the city on your own?” And the truth is, maybe I should be, and sometimes I am, but I often feel at my most comfortable when I’m on my own and exploring. That is, until I get unwanted attention from men. Like, for instance, the 60-something year old man who was eyeing me and who had apparently sent me that glass of wine. Oh God.
This was the first time I had been to a bar on my own, and it also happened to be my first time in New York. I had no idea what proper protocol was for this situation, so I smiled at the old man politely and took a sip of the wine. He then came over to sit next to me. I felt terribly awkward and was totally sober. I was going to have to sip on the wine a lot faster.
“Cześć,” he said.
“Dobry wieczór,” I replied with a formal “Good evening.”
Then he got real personal, real fast. He told me his name, and the fact that he hadn’t been to Poland for thirty years, but he was going to go back in a couple of weeks because he had cancer and that’s why he couldn’t drink alcohol, you see, and it was a terminal illness and that’s why he wanted to die in the country where he was born and grew up.
I felt bad for him for a moment. And then he said, “That’s why you must live in the moment, you know, and live without regrets.”
I’ve been hit on by enough slimy men to know exactly what that meant. So I breathed a sigh of relief when my pierogi–my gorgeous, delicious, authentic piegori!–were placed in front of me.
“Ah, I’ll leave you to your food,” the man said. “It was lovely meeting you.”
Saved by pierogi!
I was just about to pay the check when he came back over. He had a beer in his hand. The wine and beer had gone to my head a little bit, but for not being able to drink alcohol, this man now appeared flat-out drunk.
“You look so young, you know? Like no older than 19,” he said.
Whoomp, there it is. I assured him that I was 23 and spit out that memorized joke about how lucky I would feel in ten years. But he didn’t laugh politely as everyone else did. Instead, he asked where I was staying.
“I’m all the way in New Jersey,” I said. I got out my phone and began to draft a text to my friend Kouichi. Hey, we need to meet up.
“New Jersey? Cholera. That’s not New York. Come with me, I’ll show you around in my car,” he said.
“Oh, no, I–”
“Why not? Live in the moment, Kasia! This is New York City!”
He was leaning in closer to me, reeking of beer. I implored Kouichi to text me back, hoping that he would connect with me on some trans-city brainwave.
My phone buzzed. Yeah, let’s meet up! I’m in Times Square. Where are you?
“Actually, my friend–he knows New York well–he was going to show me around. He’s in Times Square, so I better leave–” I was thankful for Kouichi, but scrambling for words.
“I can take you there!” the man insisted.
“No, that’s all right. I’d rather just take the subway…”
“Well at least take my number.”
Now, that I could deal with. And that’s how I ended up with “Tomek Brooklyn” in my contacts.
The pierogi, by the way, were totally worth it.
Anonymity is contentment.
When I was studying abroad in Cambridge, on a given lazy Sunday I would take the train on my own to London. Then I’d take the Tube to whatever stop seemed compelling: just me, my Oyster Card and a city running on the energy of millions of strangers.
On a cold but crisp January day,
Walking with feigned purpose,
You can see the whole of London on Parliament Hill.
But the people don’t recognize you.
They don’t even look.
How refreshing, how energizing
To observe an entire ecosystem of humans
And languages and words
And trains, boats, buses
And trees, bushes, ponds
To feel like you’re involved in it all, but removed from it too.
No need to live up to expectations in the city.
In high school, I had a fantasy that I would move to New York City. I’d go in college, of course, as any respectable eighteen-year-old would do. I had never been to the Big Apple before. This wasn’t uncommon in the Ozarks. People didn’t have a lot of money in that neck of the woods.
But I didn’t move, of course, because reality stopped by and forced me to look down. My feet were planted firmly into the Missouri soil, and I couldn’t afford to relocate.
(Technically, I couldn’t afford to attend a small liberal arts college and spend an entire year abroad, but I suppose $30,000 in student loans is better than $100,000.)
The desire to live in the city–to look up at a skyline of glass buildings instead of looking down at dead grass–never left. What a thrill it would be, to live in a space miles larger than I am, made of multiple histories, cultures, lives, stories. The thought scares some. It vitalizes me.
In two days, I’ll finally be in New York City. I’m going for a conference in business journalism, and I’m eager to learn what I can. But I’m also pining for that city sensation,
the paradox of being both a part and apart.