125th St. Refrigerator Magnet

The five years my husband, Frank, and I have lived in New York have been turbulent ones for the world, what with the Trump presidency and the pandemic. Not to mention the rise and fall of Quibi. 

Lest the universe get the idea that we can’t take a hint, we have decided to move. Frank has taken a job in the Boston area and has graciously agreed to let me follow him. I do my job from home so it doesn’t really matter where I am. To paraphrase the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer tune, Any place I hang my hat is work.

Somebody once told me that you can’t call yourself a New Yorker until you’ve lived here at least 10 years. That would mean my five-year stint makes me half a New Yorker, which feels about right. After all, I know the difference between a deli and a bodega, but if I’m waiting to place an order, I’d never say I’m “on” rather than “in” line. And I’m sorry, but after a night of barhopping, the correct late-night snack is breakfast food, not cheap slices of pizza.

After a brief stay in Brooklyn, we have lived the majority of our New York years on W. 125th Street. Of Harlem’s iconic thoroughfares, 125th is probably the most commercial. A lot of big chain stores have moved in recently, but there are still a few endangered independent shops hanging in there, and the sidewalks are still crowded with freelance incense vendors and, in the summer, people selling nutcrackers (which to my palate taste like Hennessy and maybe brake fluid?) from rolling coolers. 

Even the activities on 125th St. that have no obvious link to capitalism tend to exhibit that electric overabundance for which New York is famous. Walking my dog before bed on, say, a Tuesday night, we’re liable to pass a craps game, an argument, a love scene, and at least one group of revelers blasting “Maria Se Fue” at full volume. And that’s just in the first 50 feet. 

I don’t mean to suggest you can’t find moments of calm up here in Uptown. I was regularly treated to one of those magical breaks in the hubbub during the halfhearted morning runs I started going on for pandemic-era exercise.

My preferred route took me through Riverbank State Park, a big portion of which sits on top of an industrial structure with elevated views of the Hudson River and a grassy promenade far below and the George Washington Bridge in the distance. 

If I got there early enough, it’d be, to quote the Lin-Manuel Miranda tune, “just me and the GWB.” And I’d think, Sure this park is located on top of a sewage treatment facility. But it’s also nice.   

And isn’t that disorienting lurch between unspeakable filth and exhilarating beauty what New York is all about?

Yes, you’ll see rats. Yes, you’ll see mountains of garbage. Yes, you’ll see a bill charging you $24 for a single vodka soda. 

But before you’ve even had a chance to recover, you’ll get a glimpse of something wonderful. Like the skyline right before sunset. Or kids splashing in the spray of an open fire hydrant. Or Bob Balaban dining at an Indian restaurant. And you’ll decide this really is the best city on earth. 

I miss it already. 

[In case you’re worried about the future of this blog, allow me to reassure you: I intend to keep the site going from Boston. I’ll still catalog the stuff in my apartment—it’ll just be a different apartment.]

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