apartment view of empire state building

New York Ephemera.

One subset of the responses to the news of our imminent relocation from NYC to D.C. has taken me by surprise: the many emails and notes that have read “I am selfishly going to miss your musings on New York.” They make me realize how much place seeps into the fabric of my writing, as I do not feel I’ve written extensively on the city. In fact, I have often felt sheepish attempting to wrap language around it. I still feel like a newcomer, an initiate, undeserving of the subtext that I somehow belong here. The day we moved into our first apartment in an an old-fashioned, art deco building on Central Park West, one of the porters appeared in our door frame with a ten dollar bill poking jauntily out of the pocket of his uniform jumpsuit.

“Will that be all, Mr. and Mrs. Shoop?” he asked. He had helped us with clearing some of the boxes and the like. The bill seemed an obvious invitation for a tip. Mr. Magpie and I exchanged an uncertain glance. What was the code here? We had been under the impression you tip at the end of the year, at Christmastime, based solely on information gleaned in conversation with Manhattan-based friends. But maybe you pay a little extra for dedicated assistance? We had no idea what we were doing. We didn’t even know what the term “porter” meant — it felt like it belonged to the lexicon of the 1920s! — let alone the purview of his responsibilities. We tipped. I still don’t know whether we were taken or the practice was the norm. All I can say is that we weren’t “invited” to tip on any other exchange with employees of the building, but that particular porter was very good to us.

It was a specific example of a generalized sensation of outsidership. We felt like rubes of a different dialect. New York is that way, with lots of informal but de rigueur behaviors that can intimidate, vex, and confuse. My hairdresser and I were talking about this the other day, and she said, “Oh yeah. When we were doing renovations for this space, my contractor told me, ‘And then you’ll need to tack on $10K for the super.'” As it turns out, if a crew needs access to some of the innards of the building while completing a project or reno, it is common practice to slip the super something. And that something has four zeros tacked to the end of it. “That’s just New York,” she shrugged. It struck me as both irritatingly and quaintly old-fashioned that such exchanges take place, “off the books,” and are the unequivocal standard for doing business. The contractor hadn’t batted an eye. Neither had my hairdresser: “You just get used to it over time.” I am sure variations of this happen everywhere the world over, but there is something particular and pronounced about it here in New York, something shrugging and brusque, and I have witnessed it countless times. It’s a sensation that goes hand in hand with the old New York adage: “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

There are many other practices not involving financial recompense that run along the same grooves. It took me awhile to accept this, but here, it’s not rude for people to shoulder against one another on the street corners while waiting for a light change, boxing one another out. It sounds soulless, but people don’t mean anything by it. Everyone is just trying to get where they’re trying to go, and are accustomed to the feeling of population density to boot. Related: it’s elbows out if you are grocery shopping at Zabar’s. Elbows out at any grocery in NYC, come to think of it. I was totally deflated — almost literally, as I was run down a couple of times in the aisles — the first time I shopped at the now-closed Fairway on the UWS. I left on the verge of tears and promptly signed up for Instacart. Other things I have learned: avoid empty subway cars (never, ever a good sign) and never let a taxi driver roll down a window and ask where you’re going. You must pretend not to hear and just climb in. Otherwise, the driver can coolly evade going in a direction he doesn’t want to go, and you’re out of luck. Wear a crossbody bag with a zippered top when on the subway. Avoid ogling at the strange sights you will invariably encounter — as longtime Magpie reader Carmen put it: “Head up, eyes down.” Mr. Magpie and I use “DNE” as a similar shorthand: “Do. Not. Engage.” Always take the subway when it’s raining. You won’t want to (a wet subway is an unpleasant subway), but you’ll get there in a fraction of the time. Avoid maxi dresses (and, when possible, open-toed sandals) when taking the subway, too — difficult in summer, but you’ll be a happier camper. If you are lost in Central Park, look for the green posts. On them, you’ll find a string of characters: the first will be a “W” or “E,” depending on whether you are on the West side or the East side, and the next two or three will indicate the closest numbered street (e.g., if a post reads W6701, you are on the West side, at the 67th street latitude. I don’t know what the last two digits mean. One of many NY codes I’ve not yet deciphered.) I have never gotten fully lost in Central Park, but many of the walkways curve and meander and you can end up well north or south of where you intended. I find the markers primarily useful when running — a quick gut-check as to where I am along West or East drive. Tip the super and doormen as generously as you can and take care to get to know them, as they can make your life heaven or hell. Be leery of “no fee” apartment listings. The fees emerge elsewhere — in elevated rent, or some other loophole. Generally distrust agents involved in renting or subletting apartments. I’m loathe to categorically denigrate a profession, but we’ve been through the wringer on that front. It’s a cutthroat business. Public restrooms are hard to come by and as a rule disgusting; plan accordingly. Never assume a restaurant can accommodate a full-feature stroller. Some don’t even have high chairs. When in doubt, tip.

All lessons learned the hard way, fumbling through the city. With time, some of our initial awkwardness have faded, especially as corners of the city have become as familiar to me as the arrangement of furniture in my childhood home. There are blocks that feel — as strange as this sounds — as if they belong to me, as if they are extensions of my living space here, similar to how it used to feel to pull down the alley behind our Chicago home in order to back into our garage, or to turn onto Tilden Street off Connecticut Avenue in D.C. Safe, home, legible. Those illusions are routinely disturbed by the realities of city life — strange interactions, dog poop, overflowing bags of garbage — but still. This has been our home, and I love her.

When my Dad visited earlier this month, he insisted upon running in the Park despite extreme winds and ultra-cold temperatures. “I had to pay my respects to Jackie O.,” he said, and I knew what he meant in a visceral sense. There are many corners of this city to which I feel pulled to pay my respects as we wind up our time here — most of it in and around the blessed Park, that bastion of green and hope that buoyed our spirits and enabled our life to go on the past year. In it, we have identified optimal sledding hills, preferred benches for coffee and conversation, ideal running routes depending on conditions (like my father, I love running around Jackie O., but the bridle trail is too muddy if raining), favorite playgrounds, and sloping greenswards perfect for picnics that are less trafficked than Sheep Meadow and more accommodating of our dog to boot. There are areas to avoid (mainly south, where all the semi-dead horses cluster and poop) and playgrounds too big and busy to be enjoyable (I’m looking at you, Heckscher Playground, where, incidentally, I caught a man attempting to filch my wallet from my stroller! Shame on me for not knowing better, but still. Another lesson learned.) I feel most at home on the 1 train. I know all its stops by heart, including the one that lets me out literally beneath my best friend’s apartment. I spent many afternoons and evenings skipping up its steps en route to see her, and then her growing belly, and then her sweet baby, born three months before my own son. There is a narrow dirt path along the north side of Sheep Meadow that blooms overgrown with fragrant lilac in the early summer and I cannot help myself: I must cut through there whenever I can. There are streets on the Upper West Side — namely W 85th and W 87th between CPW and Columbus, and then a string down in the low 70s — that make my soul sing. They feel gracious to me, the faces of the brownstones somehow arranged into beneficent smiles, the trees posing proudly in elegant arcs, the foliage generous. I love emerging at the Christopher Street stop downtown — home to many of my favorite restaurants in the city and positively alive. There is a block in the West Village where my girlfriend Inslee used to live and when I think in some abstract sense about New York culture and art, I think of that block, and the many beautiful things she painted while perched in her beautiful studio upon it. And I think, too, of the year I held an in-person book club with Magpie readers, and we occasionally descended upon her studio or her adjacent apartment to discuss books and life and how they intersected and it was one of the most meaningful threads of experience of my life. Flatiron is like a second home to us, as we have faithfully dispatched our daughter to and from that neighborhood every day of the school year for the past two years, often ducking into Eataly for groceries after, or occasionally treating ourselves to coffees at Ralph’s or Devocion (neither far away). I will never forget the bloom of the trees flanking the playground in Union Square, where we’d often let mini roam around after picking up goodies from the farmer’s market there: her face peeking through the bars of the playground equipment while the pink magnolia petals rained down on my sister and I, watching her from a few feet away. Then the picnic my sister and I enjoyed in Sheep Meadow while I was eight months pregnant and desperately uncomfortable — the way my sister listened to me and chased mini for me and then walked me back to my apartment at the chelonian pace of which I was then capable. Meanwhile, my daughter learned to scoot on the wide plaza in front of the Metropolitan Opera, and enjoyed countless dripping ice cream cones while gazing distractedly into its dancing fountains. My son learned to walk in the grass of The Great Lawn in Central Park. His first few days of life were spent in a small bassinet looking out across Fifth Avenue towards Jackie O. Reservoir. I cannot take a cab up Madison without several intense flashbacks to the many trips to the hospital for testing and sonograms while expecting him and then the morning I went into pre-term labor that eventually, thankfully fizzled out. I remember standing at the corner of 98th and Madison, calling my mother to let her know it was a boy. “A boy! A boy! Oh, Jennifer, I am so happy for you!” she said, and that conversation, in the shade of the hospital, against the whizzing-by of cars, is the primary memory I call upon when thinking about that pregnancy. 98th, Madison, my mother’s happy voice, my heart in my throat — a boy, my boy! My New York baby.

So yes – perhaps against my better judgment, in the sense that I do not feel I have fully earned the right to write about her – she has been here, steadily coursing through my writing, an anchor to my musings and an umbrage to my thoughts. Will the move to D.C. alter the ebb and flow of my essays? Will my thoughts expand, or contract? How will the rhythm change?

These are things I cannot know, but —

At least I have a couple of years of writing to revisit when I am feeling lonesome for New York. Even the pieces not explicitly about New York, as I have discovered in the course of writing this post, sing a New York song. I’m proud to have sung it.

ILNY.

Post-Scripts.

+A few posts specifically on the topic of NYC:

NEW YORK BY NIGHT

A NOTE ON A SMALL CAFE IN CENTRAL PARK

MY MOST MEMORABLE THANKSGIVING HAPPENED TO TAKE PLACE OUR FIRST YEAR IN NEW YORK

ON LIVING IN NYC AT THE PEAK OF THE PANDEMIC

REFLECTIONS ON TWO YEARS IN NEW YORK

NEW YORK IS STILL A SHOCK

ONE OF MY HAPPIEST MEMORIES IN NYC

+Two pearl statement sandals worth considering: these and these. Both of which would look amazing with the black and white fashion picks here.

+Adore this ribbed top for pairing with skirts or white jeans.

+Cutest little puzzle for tiny hands.

+Perfect summer bubble for a baby boy.

+Chic scalloped jute rug for a front door.

+Currently in my cart.

+I hate to blow up her spot, but one Magpie reader let me in on the little secret that is TJ Maxx online. They don’t make searching for brands very easy, but if you are patient, you can find gems like this floral eyelet Shoshanna for $129, a gorgeous white maxi that looks like LSF for under $60, and a BMW ride-on toy for your boy’s next birthday.

+When we move and have more kitchen space, I am excited to get one of these learning towers for micro!

+There are still some great end-of-sale finds at Net A Porter, including this gorgeous black dress.

+Chic rattan storage bench.

+Swooning over these marbleized taper candles and decorative Easter eggs. Wow.

+My biggest tip for outfitting a child’s wardrobe? Buy on sale in advance of the next season. There are some great deals of winter coats right now, like this fire engine red puffer for a boy and this Jacadi style for a little girl.

+Tiny Lilly diaper sets for little girls…meep!

+Adorable seersucker shift for a little lady.

+These trousers in the blue are a fantastic $10 buy for little boys this spring. Pair with blue and white striped oxford and tiny loafers. Too cute!

27 Comments

  1. Ahh, this made my former-New-York-resident heart sing! I remember writing a long journal entry shortly before moving from New York in 2014 … I should revisit it ๐Ÿ™‚ In this essay, I especially loved your musings on the corners of Central Park that have captured your heart. That’s what the bridle path around Jackie O Reservoir and also Cedar Hill were for me when I lived in Manhattan! Such a special, special place <3 <3 <3

    xx

    1. Oh I’m so glad!! I have loved all the replies to this post from New Yorkers/former New Yorkers who remember the same haunts!

      xx

  2. This essay moved me to tears! I can so relate to all of these feelings. And it made me long for New York – especially the memories I have of NYC just before and after my son was born. It was a glorious spring and they are so vivid!

    1. Aw, Emily! I’m so glad you have those parallel memories of navigating NY when pregnant and then just after your son was born. Mine was also a spring baby! So vivid. Not included in this post: the time I went all the way down to FiDi for a fashion event when I was nine months pregnant and then thought I was having labor pains when I was descending into the Subway to return. I remember freezing on one of the steps and saying: “Oh my God. Oh hell no am I going to be in labor on the subway.” But I am stubborn and decided to get onto the Subway anyway — I was almost to the platform and I didn’t feel like going all the way back up to find a cab. Haha! I was SO relieved when it turned out to just be those horrible lightening pains that come towards the end of pregnancy and SO SO relieved when I ascended at the Columbus Circle stop. Whew! I decided that was the last time I’d venture so far from home while so pregnant. Haha ๐Ÿ™‚

      xx

  3. Oh, Jen!! I have bookmarked this post to revisit when I’m missing my trips to the city! I found myself both nodding and chuckling (maxi dresses and open toed shoes! take the subway when it’s raining! when in doubt, TIP!) and thinking “a- HA!” (green post codes in Central Park!). What a delight, as if you wrote it just for me. ๐Ÿ™‚ And how lovely to know that I’m not alone in knowing I will miss your New York song.
    I especially loved your mention of Inslee, as she is the one that led me to you! I stumbled upon her artwork years ago, purchased a few for my home, began gifting her calendar to my BFF (and myself) every year, and read her occasional posts, one of which linked to your blog. And here we are! Thank you for taking us along for your ride in NYC and cheers to a new one in DC. Hugs! xo H

    1. Ah! I am so glad she brought you to me! She is a talent, a force, a joy to be around, and I’m lucky to call her a friend!

      Thanks for writing in – glad you enjoyed this post ๐Ÿ™‚

      xx

  4. Such a transportive post! And though I only attended 3 book club meetings in person, each one stands out in my mind as such an inspiring gathering of womenโ€” and as emblematic of how great NYC can be. I am so grateful you did that! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you – so grateful you were a part of it! What an amazing crew ๐Ÿ™‚

      xx

  5. Great post, loved your musings on NYC. I lived in DC in my 20s so I’m looking forward to reading this next chapter!

    I’m ok with you blowing up the TJ Maxx spot ๐Ÿ™‚ The deals are so good it seems selfish not to share! I bought a Kobi Halperin dress last year originally priced at something like $650, for $150. Don’t trust the “original price” because they are usually wildly UNDER-inflated, so you are actually getting an even better deal. It must be some sort of contractual obligation with the brands. Can you tell I spend a lot of time looking on there, lol.

    1. Ha! I also was musing over contractual obligations on TJ Maxx since they make it SO hard to search for brands and some brand names are even hidden from the search results page.

      Thanks again for the tip!

      xx

  6. This is so beautifully written. I spent one glorious year living on Elizabeth and Prince, and this post made me ache to be back!! xo

    1. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love how so many Magpie readers have little pockets of New York that they are called to and/or have called home. For such a busy, international place, it’s funny how personal New York can feel.

      xx

  7. I <3 new york. I miss living there every single day. I lived two blocks from Central Park for part of the time and it really is a magical place. On a late summer day when it's still light out at 8pm, during the first snow, when the flowers are in complete bloom, and autumn when the trees are literally neon yellow and orange. I discovered something new in there every time I went, which was almost every day. Going there late at night when the tourists are gone is particularly special.

    1. Hi Elisse – I love all of these vignettes, too! A seriously special place to live. xx

  8. โ€œ And I think, too, of the year I held an in-person book club with Magpie readers, and we occasionally descended upon her studio or her adjacent apartment to discuss books and life and how they intersected and it was one of the most meaningful threads of experience of my life.โ€

    I feel so similarly! When I moved out of New York, the book club is what I missed most. Unequivocally the highlight of my months for that period. <3

  9. Beautiful Jen! Thank you for sharing this, it makes me think fondly of all the small little New York memories in my own head. But, as a fellow Washingtonian who is living back in DC now, I can’t wait to hear all your musings on DC once you settle in. Safe travels and moves to you!

  10. As a fellow Upper Westside resident listening to the rain with my coffee this morning, I felt so uplifted after reading this post. So many moments of me standing in solidarity with your stories/ observations and thinking “YES!” to myself that others feel this way too. Going on my ninth year living here, at some point you realize (without any big milestone to mark the occasion) that you’ve learned to surf the NY waves from the crests of runs in Central Park to the troughs of riding the subway. As the highs and lows happen more on a fluid basis, I found myself really loving and embracing NY for all it is and I love that you’ve found that to be true as well.

    Thank you for sharing your stories/ experiences with us; they always make me walk away with a reminder to be grateful more often that I live here. While I’m selfishly going to miss the New York narrative woven throughout your posts, I’m really excited to come along for the ride as you rediscover the details of DC in your next chapter!

    1. Thank you, Kristen! You probably know MANY of the specific corners I referenced in this post. The highs and lows happen on SUCH a fluid basis — often within seconds of one another. Ha!

      More to come on New York, and then on DC!

      xx

  11. Chills, beautifully written. Having lived in NYC for many years, I can relate on so many levels (leaving the grocery store in near tears, the unceremonious apartment hunting). And yet, still feeling like an outsider. Having left the city, I can now say that, while I’m so grateful for my time there, as there is literally no place in the world like NY, I do not miss it. I find that my tolerance for the brusqueness has waned, and its as if I am starting off at square one again whenever I return. I am looking forward to hearing your musings on beautiful DC and wish you all the best!!

    1. Hi Danielle! Oddly reassuring that other former residents of NYC have gone through the same range of emotions. Sometimes part of my squeamishness at saying “I’m a New Yorker” is that I don’t feel I’m as tough as more tenured New Yorkers. Like, do the weird things on the subway not register in the same way? Or do they just stop talking about at a certain point, a la my hairdresser shrugging and saying “you just get used to it”?

      Anyway, thank you for the well wishes!

      xx

    1. Ooo I LOVE a pearl detail, Cynthia!

      And thank you. It has been an adventure! Fun to share and process here with all of you!

      xx

  12. Iโ€™ll definitely miss your musings of New York. I feel transported by your writing and love stepping into the city and into your world.

    Iโ€™m also looking forward to seeing how DC makes it way into your writing. I moved from DC in the middle of the pandemic after living there for 12 years and loving it so much. It feels a part of me now and I still feel so much grief over having left it because it was such a beautiful, vibrant chapter in my life. Iโ€™ve loved the times youโ€™ve mentioned DC in your writing over the years – like oh, someone else loving my home – and Iโ€™m so excited to follow along with your next iteration of life in DC.

    No matter where you are, thereโ€™s a romance and love in your writing that I enjoy so much. Thanks for sharing it.

    Have a scone at Bread Furst for me!

    1. Thank you so much — what a compliment! Is it self-indulgent to admit that I thought about your description of my writing in fits and spurts on my run this morning? “A romance and a love in your writing” — !! I do think I am quick to fall in love with places, with people, with little details. It’s heartening to know that comes through in my writing…

      I hope I can celebrate some corners of D.C. in writing that will be familiar and cheering to you…!

      xx

  13. The spirit of the city has definitely made its way into your heart! I must take exception to one thing you noted: the CPS carriage horses are some of the best cared-for horses in the world and live great lives. The people who object to them would willingly send all horses, and any working animals-support dogs, for instance-the way of the unicorn. The carriage horses are under a constant spotlight and every inspection finds them to be healthy, calm and well cared-for, including regular vet care and an annual five weeks of vacation on farms outside the city. Many city children would never know how big really horses are, how soft their fur, what they smell like, the sound of hooves clopping, the humor and the spirit of sharing as resting horse and opportunistic city pigeon eat grain out of a plastic bucket on the ground. Far from half dead, they show us how living creatures can adapt and thrive in lives people might not expect, as youโ€™ve adapted to this amazing, currently a little funky, Big Apple, and made it your own. Enjoy the coming spring weekend….

    1. Hi Carmen – I stand corrected! You bring up many good points, especially the note around how city children might not otherwise have exposure to farm animals without them. My kids LOVE observing those horses. My dog, on the other hand…not so much. I think she thought they were enormous rats or something. Proof that she’s been sequestered in the city for too long, as she’s a farm dog by breeding!

      Anyway, thanks for reading along and always sharing both truthfulness and love in your comments on NYC!

      xx

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