As a child growing up in the Central New Jersey suburbs, I loved visiting New York City. Back then, my mom was usually the one who took us to the city. A cousin on my dad’s side of the family had a dental practice there, and we’d go in for checkups. She also had family in the Bronx, and I remember at least one visit to the zoo. But the trip that I remember the most was the one that made New York City magical to me: A day in Manhattan around Christmastime.
I think it was just Mom, me, and one of my three siblings. She took us to lunch at B. Altman’s and we got Christmas stockings to take home. I’m pretty sure we toured all of the decorated department store windows, though I don’t remember for sure. The pure magic of the day is what’s stuck with me the most over the years. After that, my memory of New York City was like that of a snowglobe–every time I shook it in my mind, it held so much glittering wonder. It was breathtaking and I fell in love.
There were sporadic trips in later years, including a limo ride to Dangerfield’s Comedy Club after the Senior Prom. Museums, shows–as people the world over imagine what it’s like to visit the Big Apple, it was nearly aways as accessible to me as the apples in our fruit bowl. If the familiarity–and proximity–to the city didn’t breed contempt, it certainly made me at least take it for granted. I took in the view of Paris from the Eiffel Tower, but never visited the World Trade Center. I visited the Prado in Madrid before I ever thought to visit the Whitney. I hung out with friends at cafes along the Mediterranean before taking in the rooftop views of New York City over the Hudson from New Jersey.
After graduating from college, I landed an entry-level editing job with a publishing house in Manhattan. I was excited: It was exactly what I’d wanted to do. And it was magical, for a time. I was living at home and had money to burn. The Big Apple was, for all of us, the Big Oyster. Dinners, bars, clubs, the holiday party at the Metronome–we had a blast.
However, after roughly 18 months, I realized I wasn’t where I wanted to be job-wise, so I stayed in the city, but went to work at a non-profit, and then a broadcast news company, and then a film internship. But the city had lost its magic. The soul-sucking daily commuter grind took its toll after several years. You either live in the city, or you don’t. Merely visiting to eke out a living tarnishes its shine.
I distinctly remember the day that I was done. Married then, and commuting to Port Authority by bus, I exited the station along with the rest of the commuter swarm. It had been raining and the sidewalks were slippery. Walking at my usual quick pace, eyes focused straight ahead as if I wore blinders, I slid in something that I still don’t want to identify, and fell to the ground. The stream parted around me and reformed. Not one person stopped to help.
I was annoyed, and disgusted, and done. In addition to bruising my knee (and my ego), whatever the substance was, it had ruined my pants so completely that I had to pop into the only “clothing” store open at that hour–Kmart–and buy something to wear. Although I didn’t quit the city that day, it was not that long afterwards. For the last two decades, I’ve worked in Jersey. First in Princeton, and then from a home office.
Fast-forward all those years. I’ve actually used my proximity to New York City to entice friends and family from out of state, and out of country, to come and visit me. Just in the last several months, I’ve visited the city four times for purely social events and each one has been fantastic. Last week, my 12-year-old daughter and I had a wonderful Mom/Daughter Day Out in the city, going for lunch at a French bistro and then taking in a Broadway show. She and I both adored it. I could feel my old love for the city reblooming in my heart. This time, absence really did make the heart grow fonder.
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