View of George Washington Bridge from my bedroom. Photo by Tina Gallo at VHT Studios.
My love hate relationship with New York City stretches back about as far as I can remember. When I was little we would visit my grandparents in New Jersey and come into the City for the day. Usually it was getting tickets at the TKTS booth, enjoying the prix fixe lunch at Pergola Des Artistes, and then seeing a show. Sometimes it was something more adventurous like a Korean restaurant (not a fan then, but a huge fan now!)or a trip to the Met Museum where I could pretend I was actually living in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, or sometimes it was a trip to see the Christmas windows. One year it was the balloon inflating for the Macy’s Day Parade followed by watching the parade the next day from a terrace on CPW and 65th where we could reach out and touch the balloons. Trips to NYC were always magical and fun. As a country girl from rural, Amish country PA, I was in awe of the sheer numbers of people, culinary adventures, and magic of live theater. It was love, love, love!
In high school, I indulged in old-school binge watching–recording Live From Lincoln Center on VHS and watching on continuous loop:-) I was hooked! As I became a serious musician, trips to the City included joining my Nana at the Met Opera. My first Opera was Queen of Spades with the incomparable Dmitri Hvorstovsky in his Met debut. My desire to be a Broadway singer soon changed to being an opera singer. After working for a few years and earning several degrees in music I was THRILLED to be moving to NYC in 2006. I was working at the New York Philharmonic, singing all the time with small companies, and studying with some great teachers. I had lessons backstage at the Met, coachings in the basement of City Opera, and rehearsals all over the City and throughout NJ. I found an apartment in Inwood (aka the singers’ ghetto) and grabbed hold of life in NYC with both hands. I made $40,000 a year, paid $90 an hour for voice lessons, and had a very tight budget to be able to live in my $1275/month one bedroom, but I loved it. I ate a lot of beans and rice, sublet my apartment anytime I was gone, and built amazing relationships, plus I got to see many of my grad school friends as they crashed with me for auditions:-)
Lincoln Center Photo from wikipedia
It was not always easy. Adrian moved here and had an awful time getting a job. In what we would later recognize as the start of the broader “financial meltdown” the temp market froze up, his job offers disappeared (and in one awful circumstance, were rescinded because the Senior Executive who was hiring him took another position and the replacement for the Senior Executive wanted to bring a friend with him for the job Adrian had been promised). Adrian had a frustrating and interminable job hunt over the next two years that colored a lot of both our experiences in NYC and left us both with deep emotional and financial scars. In the span of just a few weeks, I bought my apartment, we started a massive DIY renovation, we broke-up, and then the family friend who had said she was moving-in as my roommate decided she wanted a place in midtown.
The first part of 2009 was not great (understatement of the year!!!). FYI-the roof of Avery Fisher Hall-ahem, Geffen Hall- is a great place to ugly cry. I spent a lot of time up there over the next 6 months. ***Spoiler alert-2009 ended on a much better note. I sang Brahms songs for mezzo, viola, and piano on a chamber concert with the New York Philharmonic, produced and sang in The Rape of Lucretia, Adrian and I got back together in August and got married in October, and I started my MBA at NYU:-)***. Even after we got married, though, it was still a struggle. He worked for a company where they ended up having massive lay-offs 11 months after he started and with their “first-in, first-out” plan, he was laid off. His next job had a horribly abusive boss and his most recent job unexpectedly filed Chapter 7, letting their entire staff go the same day. Going through unemployment in NYC is hard. Really hard! New York is not a place where you passively live. It is a place where you have to be scrappy and resourceful and enterprising. You have to grab on with both hands and refuse to let go. When you go through a difficult time, it can turn into a quagmire that can be very hard to crawl out of and supporting more than one person on one mid-level non-profit salary is very, very tight.
Photo by Jia Zhang
Grappling with the place you live can be hard, and sweaty, and uncomfortable, and scary, and sometimes downright terrifying, but the silver lining is that you feel like it is yours. I have lived in NYC for a decade now and it truly is home. I have built a life here. It is my city. I am a New Yorker and I have etched my path into this amazing island. I have my friends (my mommy group, my first small group, my kids’ friends parents, my work friends, and my neighborhood friends), my restaurants (Saggio, Malecon, No. 1 Chinese, Awash, and Burger Heights), my pediatrician (SoHa Pediatrics), my hair dresser (Yolanta at Sava Spa), my acupuncturist (Klara at YinOva), my Dim Sum place (Jing Fong), my cupcake (Magnolia yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting), and my train (A train all the way baby!). I also have the place I got food poisoning (food truck near Lincoln Center), a string of doctors we hated, years of terrible cuts from Dramatics, and some interesting stories from my 6 month stint as a Capoeirsta (FYI my Capoeira name is Fuba). I have knit a web of memories across the city (and then further imprinted it by puking my way across the city for all 9 months of my pregnancy-and that experience will stay with me forever!).
My New York is not Times Square and Broadway shows and the Empire State Building. It is fighting my way through the New Year’s Eve crowds and through police barricades to work the NYE show at Alvin Ailey. It is using the Staten Island Ferry and the American Museum of Natural History as places for my kids to run on the weekends. It is walking across Central Park to pick-up my son from school. It is seeing my friends on stage and backstage at the Met and on Broadway. It is seeing people I know on the subway on sidewalk almost everyday (NYC really is the world’s biggest small town!). It is turning pages for artists like Joyce DiDonato (including a very memorable recital where she tripped on her dress and faceplanted on the stage). It is forgetting that the stores I go to and walk past every day even have skyscrapers towering above me…and then stopping to look up at the Empire State Building when the sun is shining, or have a meeting in Hearst Tower or at the top of Brookfield Place directly overlooking Ground Zero, or flashing my ID at the Apollo Theater and remembering that my New York is also this iconic New York.
And our apartment…for all the quirks of living on top of each other in New York City (boy do I have some doozies to share with you, check back next week for those stories!), this is home. This is the home where Adrian asked me to marry him (right at my front door). It is the place I came home as a newlywed (and then had a honeymoon lunch at Le Bernardin). This is the home where I brought both our sons home after struggling with infertility (one as a toddler from Ethiopia after 20 hours of traveling and one as newborn after a 40 hour labor). This is the home where we have had thousands of moments of laughter and tears and joy and fear and love…so much love.
Baby photos by Alexandra Neuber and Photo from Ethiopia snapped on our phone
I have a love hate relationship with New York City. New York can be a hard place to live. We spend 3 hours a day taking our older son to and from school to try and ensure that he’s in a public school that meets his needs. We pay $250 a month to park in a parking garage where our car still gets chewed through by rats. When it is sleeting and slushy and I am slogging through the 20 minute walk each way to daycare with a thrashing toddler knowing that when I get home I will only have 20 minutes to get my kids fed, bathed, and in bed it is even harder. But New York City is also amazing! It has an energy and vibrancy and history and sense of community that may be forged out of all of us grappling together–fighting and throwing elbows, but also bonding together over our shared residence of this
tiny island big city.
As we get ready to move to Central NY this summer, my friends there constantly remind us that they are New Yorkers too. Yeesss…technically, but somehow, it doesn’t mean quite the same thing.