Monday, June 02, 2014

Your Neighborhood Librarian Does New York


The number of posts I've started with "Oy." It's many. I usually go back and delete it, but not this time I don't think.

We've just returned home from New York City. I love New York. I love New York like a really great tree or a crazy friend I don't see that often, or, or - like a city I used to live in. I know it but I don't know it. I like going back to places I know to see what they've cooked up lately, or if they haven't changed. I am sad that the Spanish place behind the bus station got closed by the health department. I am sad about that for two reasons, come to think of it. I am happy that you can now get pork donburi less than ten blocks from the Javits Center.

I love that the harp is still lit at the Tap Room.

I love that the New-York Historical Society still has that idiotic/genius collection of everyday and extraordinary attic items in its climate-controlled Luce Center, and that they've added a life-size bronze of Abe Lincoln to their front step.

But man this trip socked me right in the gut.

Oh by the way - I love you, my New York-dwelling friends, but this trip was too unpredictable and work-packed to try to steal away and see any of you. Except our nieces, but nieces are family. And they're fairly flexible schedule-wise, being also very youthful. Bob and I are coming up again in July though, so CLEAR YOUR SCHEDULES.

So, I went up on a Tuesday afternoon, sharing an unusually pleasant bus ride with my friend Paula. We were worried it was going to be raining when we got there. It wasn't. More on this later.

I nearly got nailed by a cyclist getting out of a cab with my luggage in front of my hotel. Bike lanes! There are bike lanes all over the damn place in New York City now! Who'd have expected that? "Where am I?" I thought. "Toronto?"

That night all the lady librarians from my old branch ate dinner at Coppola's, an old-fashioned Italian place not far from the American Museum of Natural History, where I had my first librarian job. Afterward, we walked past the museum and I babbled about the human remains stored on the 5th floor - shh! and the night I got locked in the Anthropology storage and the romance novelist/astronomy librarian who got to go to the opening of the Rose Center for Earth and Space in 2000.

People ask me if I miss living in New York and I guess I don't. I miss my friends, but we never had any money and our commutes were long and our apartment smelled like carpet and soup and had no light.

Lyrebirds in storage at AMNH.
But man I miss that museum. I knew all of its ins and outs, and it had a lot of ins and outs. Secret stairways, hidden doors. Hippo skulls lined up on a catwalk under the roof. Crazy scientists. Thousands of tiny stuffed birds laid out in shallow drawers in cabinets rising 8 feet tall.

There's a book that tells some of those stories, the rather stupidly titled Dinosaurs in the Attic (the dinosaurs are in the basement, duh), written by Douglas Preston, who used to work at the AMNH magazine before he got famous for writing gory thrillers with Lincoln Child (those books still have sort of an anthropology theme if you notice).

Maybe after the kids go away to college I will go live in NYC for a few months and update that book.

The Upper West Side - all of New York, really - is just teeming with kids nowadays. Most of them are about the age of my Milo - who is twelve - or younger. When I lived in New York, NOBODY had kids. I am serious. I worked in a museum with 2000 employees, and I can only think of three professional staff who had kids. One apiece. And NOBODY who was around my age - I was in my early 30's - was even thinking about starting a family. Hell, even Milo wasn't exactly planned per se. And when I found out I was pregnant, in January of 2001, all of our friends were like, "You're having a what?"

I have a theory about where all these kids came from. More on this later, too.

All of us library people were there for Book Expo and two attendant preconferences. Very stimulating, very exhausting. I got to hang out with people I admire and respect, people I have worked with at a distance, people I know well but never get to see, funny smart people, people I hug on sight.

Me, Lois Ehlert, Chris Raschka, Peter Sís, Raina Telgemeier.
I moderated a panel discussion on Wednesday that I had been very nervous about (four internationally-renowned author/illustrators, three of whom have been commanding great respect for decades and the fourth of whom is going to) but which went off just fine, so I was able to relax after that.

There were some pleasant surprises at the book festival. Lisa Scottoline is funny! So is Kathy Reichs! Everyone's favorite Dread Pirate Roberts, Cary Elwes, is a bit nervous speaking to crowds! Librarians LOOOVE Stan Lee!

I also got my important shopping done. Here is my NYC retail checklist:

  • Uniqlo. T-shirts, summer dresses, jeans.
  • Ricky's. Shampoo and conditioner. Shut up yes I buy my hair care products in New York.
  • Kiehls. Shaving cream. Shut up yes I've ruined my husband too.
  • Aedes de Venustas. Perfume. Miguel, one of the owners, is so amazingly nice to Milo and Ezra when I bring them in. "What kind of scent do you like? Like, citrus, or..." and Milo says, "Food!" Idiot. He and his brother are great at helping me pick perfume though. Sometimes I have to smell two dozen little cards and squirt candidates all up and down both arms, but this time I found a winner in three. Miguel gave Milo Jeux de Peau because it kind of smells like food - baked goods and apricot - and wow. Both kids were like, "No more calls - that's the winner."
  • Century 21. Shoes and kid clothes. Because I don't care how good for you they are, Fit Flops shouldn't cost more than about $30 and even that is high, and boys's shorts should cost no more than $10.

But I am stalling.

Hey, you know how people always kind of gripe about how thin New Yorkers are? Bob wore his Fuelband thingie while we were in the city and hit his goal every day without even trying. He went for a run in Central Park yesterday and by the end of the day was at 3x his goal. You just can't help being more active there.

Especially when the weather's so nice.

We went to Studio 54 last night and saw Cabaret! We neeeever went to shows when we lived there. I saw Picard in The Tempest but that was IT. I saw Mark Morris a couple times, but dance is not Broadway. Loved the show. I am so glad I have seen Alan Cumming growling "Ladies annnd.... gennelmennnn" in person in my lifetime. Although Michelle Williams was playing Sally Bowles and she was just so odd. I finally decided she was doing like a cross between Marianne Faithfull and Bubble from AbFab.

Then it occurred to me - Bubble from AbFab was also Little Voice, so I'll bet SHE's been Sally Bowles. And holy shit. Has she ever!

In order to see that show, we let the kids hang out in the hotel room by themselves. They're ten and twelve now, and fairly trustworthy. Ezra watched a documentary on WWII and Milo watched Animal Planet. Nerds.

Ezra was born in Baltimore. We moved here in 2002. Milo was born in Manhattan, on September 1st, 2001. This trip to NYC, under endless, faultless, enamel-blue skies, breathing sparkling sunlit air - I am not kidding, on a clear day the air quality in New York is crystal - strolling those wide West Side sidewalks on 11th Avenue near the Javits Center and enjoying breezes and 70 degrees... oh my god it was all I could do not to burst into tears.

Every goddamn plane that crossed overhead seemed to catch my attention. Not that I was afraid - even PTSD'ed-out I am not irrational - I just, I just couldn't seem to stop noticing them.

Walking to breakfast this morning, more damn beautiful blue sky weather. I grabbed Milo and hugged him around the shoulders and could not stop myself remembering the days after he was born, drinking in his tiny silky perfect-ness and how happy we were and how breathlessly, uncontrollably devastated we were at the same time.

I didn't cry in front of my kids. I pressed my lips between my teeth and smiled because I was happy, I am happy, I just feel all these tears building up until my face feels heavy and my cheekbones ache. I had such a wonderful week but I also wanted to be curled up in a fucking ball with my arms wrapped around myself IN a GOD DAMN CORNER.

We stopped in to the New-York Historical Society yesterday. Quiet, as usual, full of things that will make you laugh and things you didn't know - I recommend it always. They have a new movie, a ten-minute overview of New York history that is very professional and very proud and very fond. It made me cry twice, once during a photo montage of faces of immigrants and once of course toward the end.

That movie is narrated by Liev Schreiber, a native New Yorker who is actually the cousin of an old friend of mine. That friend had a baby - he's named Marco, which is kind of a cute coincidence - right about when I had Milo. We've never talked about it, but I wonder if that year affected her like it has me.

She's probably over it better though, not having moved away.

And I wonder if New York City has become a city full of parents, full of kids who know how to behave in restaurants and retail people who seem not to mind kids and museum programming with kid appeal and goddamn bike lanes because twelve and a half years ago on a beautiful blue sky day people got up from their desks and looked up and called their own parents to tell them they were all right and subconsciously decided that what their life needed was more love, because without the maximum amount of love a person can bear, other things are not bearable at all.

I, for example, love you. Good night.