New York City can be a bit of an asshole sometimes, in every way possible. It’s too crowded, too dirty, too stinky, too aggressive, too fast, and on top of all that, really expensive. After a while, you start to wonder if you’re becoming a bit of an asshole yourself. Am I too loud? Too aggressive? Too pushy? Too impatient? Did the stink rub off on me?
When that feeling comes over us, Vin and I know it’s time to get out of town for a day or two. And when we do, we like to check ourselves in at a bed and breakfast. Hotel rooms remind me of apartments, and I already live in one of those. But B&Bs are real, grown-up houses with wooden shutters and knick-knacks and windows and elbow space. You sleep in a big room filled with books and plants and a nice person who knows how to make good coffee serves you frittata and scones fresh from the oven in the morning. B&Bs are wonderful, and I’m always surprised when people say they’d feel uncomfortable in one.
So we booked a room in a place called Henrietta House in Ashford, Connecticut and drove out Friday night after work. The traffic was, predictably, an asshole. Starting Memorial Day weekend and stretching into the summer, most people get the same idea as us and head as far away from the city as possible.
We clarified prior to leaving the city that our itinerary was to do nothing, and that’s exactly what we did. We sat on the back porch, napped, read, played guitar, stepped over chickens, and ate delicious food. The air was cool, and we slept like logs under a big puffy cloud of a blanket. Parking was easy so we went in and out as we pleased. The most strenuous thing we did was a very light, short hike.
We were in Connecticut, birthplace of lyme disease, so we navigated the trail with the precision of tightrope walkers, trying not to brush into anything suspect. When we stumbled on a tiny bridge crossing over a lovely little stream, I urged Vinny to sit down, close his eyes, and participate in a mindfulness exercise with me. I crossed my legs, one over the other like a pretzel, shut my eyes and drew in a deep breath. I concentrated on my breathing–in and out, in and out–and tried to focus on nothing but the movement of my diaphragm and the calming trickle of the stream below us.
I finally opened my eyes and glanced to my right, expecting to see Vin in full lotus, floating off on some higher plane into a state of zen. Instead, I found him playing Clash of Clans on his dumb phone.
“Vinny! Mindfulness!” I yelled. Because everyone knows the way to get your husband to feel more relaxed is to nag him into a meditative trance.
So he powered off his phone and we both shut our eyes. It’s lovely when you find someone you can share silence with.
“I can’t believe this babbling brook doesn’t make you have to pee.” he said. That boy talks too much.
“It does. Let’s go. Mindfulness over.” Sometimes I shudder to think of everything I might accomplish in this life if I didn’t have a bladder the size of a walnut.
The next morning we shared breakfast with the owner Marian and her assistant Jasmine, two women I found myself relating to in very different ways. Jasmine had already moved around quite a bit at 26, and geeked out over things like good cheese and coffee, just like me. And the inn’s owner Marian was a fellow Texas gal and UT alum, who’d also found herself out on the East Coast years ago. She was great fun to talk to–well-traveled, well-read, opinionated, bold–and I found myself comparing her to many of the smart, sassy Texan women I’ve known through the years, many of whom I’m lucky enough to share a bloodline with. She has this great old house with deep brick fireplaces and wide-planked wooden floors. She travels, and fills her home with beautiful, special things. She gardens. She loves cooking, and cares deeply about fresh, real food. She has big glass jars of flour and sugar on her kitchen counter where she rolls out buttery scones and homemade pie crust. She belongs to a memoir writing club.
She is living my Act IV.
I’m still not exactly sure which act I’m in at the moment (the latter part of Act II, maybe?) but one day I will outgrow it, of that I am certain. One day I will grow tired of city life, of crowded subway cars and overpriced cereal boxes, and I will want to chuck it all and head out to the country. It doesn’t actually have to be the country either, just some place with slower speeds, cleaner air and better customer service. I used to picture my Act IV as a summer camp owner, but in recent years “Bed and Breakfast owner” sounds much more appealing because, as my grandpa says, kids can really “clutter up a place”. Clearly, I’m not rushing to get to my Act IV- I still have a few other things to tackle first. All I’m saying is I can see retirement in the horizon, and I think I’m going to be really good at it.
After we said our goodbyes to Marian and Jasmine, it was time to drive to our friends’ Tara and Evan’s house in another part of Connecticut, closer to the city. They were hosting a “porch party” to celebrate the completion of the new front addition to their house. Their home is already very beautiful and surrounded on all sides by lush trees and piles of soft grass. Their new porch is long and deep, wide enough to fit a big wooden table and all of our friends’ running children. When I walked up to their house, I was immediately reminded of the wide wooden porch that stretched across the main buildings at my childhood summer camp, where I’d sit on a rickety bench with a cabinmate, swinging our legs back and forth, trying to catch the ice cream before it melted into sticky rivers between our fingers.
I don’t know how to explain what I felt at that moment. It wasn’t envy; I’m happy for my friends, and I have no qualms about inviting myself over to sit in front of their house and lick ice cream off my hand. I guess what I felt was…confused. Conflicted. Reflective. Vinny and I have been spending all this time researching very specific types of housing in the New York area, but are we making the right choices? Are we looking in the right direction? Is spending all this money on a house in the city the way to go? Are our priorities all screwed up? Am I closer to Act IV than I’ve realized?
The next morning I woke up in a FOUL mood. I’m not a particularly moody person, so when a nasty one comes on it is swift, merciless, and I’m embarrassed to say–very, very unattractive. This one was accompanied by sniveling and pouting and not-hormonally-induced crying. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was off; I felt cranky and unhappy to be back in my small Astoria apartment. I had tasted a different life– a life where you shoo chickens instead of people off your back steps, where people are rarely in a rush, where the color green is not the exception but the rule– and I was having trouble finding the advantage of my living situation over that one. It felt like my apartment’s walls were closing in on me, making it difficult to breathe.
“What are we doooooooiiiiiiiiiing?” I cried to Vin. Poor guy had just woken up, and the first thing he had to listen to on his day off was my moaning. “This place is crazy. It’s crazy!”"There’s no physical beauuuuuutttttyyyyyyyyy here. It’s ridiculous to pay so much to get so little!” Sometimes New York City is the asshole. Sometimes I am.
To his credit, Vin navigates these moments like a pro. He is calm and patient with me. He’s a great listener. He lets me vent without letting me get myself too worked up. He’d make an amazing therapist actually.
After a good cry, I suggested we go for a walk down the street. It was Memorial Day, and there was a street fair right on our block. I needed New York to dazzle me that day, and I didn’t feel like going far to get it.
New York City’s summer street fairs are the same every time, and they pop up almost every weekend in different neighborhoods. It’s always the same vendors selling bizarre, random junk like $5 handbags, makeup samples, cheap bras and magnets. The humid air makes your shirt stick to your back, and is laden with the smell of sausage and peppers, fried zeppolis, and various meats-on-a-stick. There are bouncy houses and rides for the kids, boardwalk games, and live demonstrations from the Sham-Wow guy. I never buy or eat anything (unless Dough donuts show up–then I can’t resist), but I always walk through when I see a fair. The street fairs are synonymous with summer in New York City, and I’ve been here long enough to feel nostalgic about them.
By the time we reached the end of the street, I felt better. I needed a reminder of why this place is special and interesting, and why Act IV is still a few scenes away. I looked back down the street and smiled at the kids swinging hula hips around their waists, at the plumes of smoke from the barbecue pits, and the beautiful diversity of the people in my neighborhood. Then I looked down, and realized my fly had been open the entire walk. It was a sign from the universe, telling me to lighten up.
Last week I was chatting with a gentleman who told me how much he looks forward to seeing the pots of tulips on Park Avenue every spring. He goes for morning walks with a pair of scissors so he can bring them home and admire their beauty.
I thought that was a pretty crummy thing to do. Nothing beautiful or special is without sacrifice, and if you want flowers in your home, you should turn over your cash and buy them or turn over the soil and plant them, not steal them from a community flowerpot. And if you’re not able to bring them home, all you have to do is lace up your shoes and go visit them more often.
The natural beauty is there. You just have to walk a little further to see it.