Recently, I’ve been really at odds with myself — job security has been at the forefront of my mind. It’s really unsettling be suspended in this strange period of an unknown future. The impatient side of me just wants to know. Besides applying and making the best effort to market myself, I’m trying to focus on what is in my control. If there’s one thing I know about my future it’s that I want to spend this first stint in New York City. The city has pulled on my heartstrings since I first stepped foot when I was only 18. But more on that in a second.
This past week, I had to write a paper for my creative writing arts and culture class. The assignment was “TV taste” paper — a paper about a television show that impacted our lives in some way. I want to publish a few throwback photos from my first NY trip and my paper here — raw and unedited, though it will be workshopped by my class later this week. I know it’s a long piece, but one written deeply from the heart. Enjoy. 🙂
“Three Words, Eight Letters”
Nice to Meet You
I was looking at a skyline.
In approximately 22 seconds, my sensorial perception had been irreparably bombarded. Mechanical spires rose from the ground like some torrential, magnificent beast. Each tower — no two alike — had an unmistakable dynamism, a palpable energy I could glean even as an observer. Together, the mishmosh was magnificent and fluid, like a singular artist had woven the whole scene together with seamless flair and intentionality.
And then if that wasn’t already enough, a montage. A flurry of landmarks suspended themselves before my eyes: the Statue of Liberty in all her grandeur, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain during the springtime, the Metropolitan Museum of Art buzzing with morning activity, the intersection of Madison and 60th — a high-end consumer’s gateway, if you will — and Central Park, a sprawling lot of greenery juxtaposed against the blues and grays of cityscape. Cue a blasting saxophone and Frank Sinatra’s sultry voice, “Start spreadin’ the news…,” it was love at first sight.
Course Number: 10022
I pulled my sheets a little tighter around me and repositioned my laptop, comfortably settling in.
“And who am I?” I mouthed every word. “That’s one secret I’ll never tell. X-O-X-O” — the last words I breathed out loud, deliberately — “Gossip Girl.”
A newspaper junkie, a mock trial nerd, your average bookworm, I was 16 and obsessed with a larger-than-life vision of New York City. The only thing that separated us was a good 3,000 miles and a screen.
Picturing myself away from the isolating halls of my beach bum high school, on rain-drenched city streets dressed impractically to the nines, was a welcome escape. The doors to the City that Never Sleeps were open all hours of the night of course, and in insomniatic fits, would offer the perfect lullaby to coax me away from reality.
The City, in all of its tumultuous and unabashed glory, allured me. Only here, I felt, could grittiness be found alongside extreme opulence, could prix fixe banquets be as common as unsuspecting hole-in-walls, and 7-figure business moguls be found riding with ramshackle delinquents living paycheck-to-paycheck (if that) on the underground Metro. It was a metropolis of paradoxes I couldn’t resist. As if a decadent crème brûlée had forever been sitting right under my nose, “Gossip Girl” provided the spoon I needed to tap into its surface. And I couldn’t get enough. My love of New York quickly escalated, becoming gluttonous in its own right.
I slowly became schooled in this foreign language of the Upper East Side. God forbid I screw up the pronunciation or improperly accent something, for I would immediately be branded a fraud — and that simply wasn’t acceptable. From Ladurée to Hermès, from Givenchy to Yves Saint Laurent, I paid rapt attention to my teachers, albeit a clique of spoiled offspring bred from overindulged roots — if I couldn’t be an Upper East Sider by blood, then I could darn well earn the right through knowledge.
New York became my posterchild for a glamorous, glittery life, and I wanted in. Despite the catty, backstabbing tendencies of “Gossip Girl”’s headliners, I loved them all, not in spite of but for their repulsive behavior and teenage sensibility. The world, in my eyes, was too quick to judge.
I assured Blair I saw through her calculated conduct and unsavory quips, to the vulnerable little girl, who like me, was futilely seeking others’ approval. Nate was my all-around good guy friend and had more intellectual complexity than anyone gave him credit for. I promised Chuck he wasn’t vulgar or a hopeless disappointment, but a suave businessman with an inventive mind and a heart of gold. Serena was the girlfriend I could count on for laughs and advice, and beneath her blonde mane and infectious smile, she too was lost in the mess that’s life, struggling to understand her own identity. Together, we were the “non-judging Breakfast club.”
My doe-eyed naivete couldn’t seem to grasp that this, in reality, goes entirely against the ploy of the Upper East Side. If you aren’t born into old money luxury, you certainly aren’t going to get there through enlightened merit or the ethics of hard work. You will always be an outsider, a few steps below at the Met, an ill-intentioned, squeamish social climbing pariah. If I had any concept of this whatsoever, I didn’t care, or at least I desperately wanted to be the exception, so I continued to love — and love hard.
I stood at Grand Central, bags in hand. Truthfully, it was one overpacked carry-on — zipper bulging and all — and a backpack I had stuffed with all of my other so-called “essentials.” My coach ticket hadn’t afforded me the luxury of checked baggage or a town car waiting for my arrival, but it didn’t matter, because I had finally made it. I was 18 and ready to see if New York lived up to my “Gossip Girl”-induced expectations.
The first day I was beside myself but also skeptical. I half expected to see Serena and Blair shopping on Fifth or Chuck climbing into his limo. The absence of such a spectacle could have made the city feel empty, and I craved a extraordinary Upper East Side moment.
The moment came at the corner of Spring Street, diagonally across from the subway station. I had pulled out a crimson lace dress for the occasion — and black strappy heels. The scene: a restaurant, Balthazar. Even the name had an singsong sound to it and rolled off my tongue with an air of lavishness. Bal-tha-zar. I smiled to myself.
Inviting red awnings with gold type plastered over made the venue unmistakable, and due to frosted windows, it was impossible to sneak a peek of the festivities unless you ventured inside. As soon as my companion and I cracked open the door, we were plucked from the February chill, transplanted to a frenetic assemblage of plates piled high with appetizers and entrees, waiters in whites, and bouncing conversation that overwhelmed the room with life.
A host greeted us immediately. How many for tonight, Miss? And could he take our coats? Would we prefer a window seat? But I was dumbfounded and stammered inaudible responses, my heart filling to the brim with supreme jubilance. With a glimmer in his eye, he seemed undeterred by my awe, and we were off — him ushering us through an obstacle course of dessert carts and dinner spreads, somehow finding our way through the orchestrated chaos.
He sat us in a scarlet booth, tucked in the middle of the restaurant. It was warm and cozy, and I welcomed the moment to catch my breath. My eyes refused to focus; I was still caught in taking the flurry of the restaurant in. Like a page ripped out of my beloved show, Balthazar was drenched in golden light, and more bubbly than a bottle of Dom Perignon. It was as if we had entered an elaborate costume party, and the ambiance was sublimely intoxicating. I resolved to savor each taste, each song, each minute. If only for tonight, I could live the life of an Upper East Sider.
When the night drew to a close, I slipped my card into the bill pocket, stars in my eyes, without so much as glancing at the price tag. It was going to be a hefty tariff for a taste of this life, but decidedly worth it. My palette was whet, and if anything, I left Balthazar more addicted to this fantastical dream. Such a performance was only supposed to exist in “Gossip Girl” and yet here I was, embodying it. I resolved to be back, and soon. As the door closed behind me, I could have sworn I saw Blair winking at me from the corner of my eye. And I skipped down the street, freshly energized, one line kept echoing in my head, “I’m gonna make a brand new start of it…”
Do you feel this way about any TV show, city, or place? Comment below!