NYC Week Eleven: False fronts

Read last week’s post here or view all other New York City posts.

The Ironclad Building on Main Street in Cooperstown looks well-kept from the outside: two clean, windowed storefronts on the ground level, second- and third-floor windows surrounded by if not fresh, at least not peeling paint.

The Ironclad Building

You would never guess, from looking at the outside, that the Ironclad Building has an uneven staircase made of raw, unfinished wood with holes allowing sunshine, shadow, and all matter of dirt from climbers’ shoes to fall through onto the equally uneven, possibly more treacherous staircase below. You would never guess it has a slight bug problem, seeing the types of hairy creepers that prefer hanging out in dusty corners of old buildings.

Down the street, the building housing the Village Library, Police Department, and Art Association has kept up similar appearances.

Ctown library
Looks can be deceiving.


Grand columns flanked by low balustrades, double doors taller than Goliath, seemingly flawless stonework. No wonder the bad roof — collapsing over books in the library, forcing the Art Association to close its main gallery — came as a surprise: it looked fine from the outside.

In New York City, many buildings are similarly old and grand, but the fact that they need reconstruction is made obvious by the scaffolding set up in front of building after building after building. No street is scaffold-less; something is always in-the-works. But the construction is mainly on the front, the first impression, the facade.

What comes to mind when you think of a city?

I think of appearances. Appearances and everyone obsessing over their own because they have something to prove — to themselves, to the strangers in the subway, to the world. They have to make an impression, and a unique one in order to be memorable. So they dress in strange patterns, clashing colors. They pierce their noses, lips, and eyebrows; gauge their ears, shave their heads, dye their hair, paint their eyelids, lips, fingernails. 

They can’t just rest in the body they’re in, accept what they look like when they wake up. They won’t. Because that person isn’t them. They want get as far from that person as possible.

I hate appearances. I hate that others define us by ours and that we turn around and define ourselves the same way. I hate the constant pressure (especially on women) to look good, have it all together — skin flawless, every hair in the proper position, clothing perfectly matched, fit, and situated — and the guilt and self-consciousness that settles in when we don’t. I hate the fact that makeup exists and people feel ugly without it. And I hate that people use their appearances to conceal who they really are.

In the Christian community, we have a lot of conversations about the expectation of perfection, which brings us to church on Sundays and keeps us there pretending our lives are perfect, we have it all together, and whatever we don’t have all together we’re just waiting on God’s timing for — when in reality, our lives are falling apart, we’ve been crying ourselves to sleep at night, and we haven’t prayed since last Sunday. This is an unfortunate reality for many Christians in many churches, but it’s at least talked about and those conversations typically bring participants into genuine conversations about what they’re struggling with and what they need prayer for — outside of Christendom, a call for genuineness leads to whining and unwanted advice — confrontations, really. And we all love those so much.

But there’s a deep-seated need to be real.

“Don’t you get tired of this?” I asked a co-worker earlier this week, in reference to his constant just-kidding-but-only-sort-of badgering. His favorite toward me is, “Could you just work for five minutes?” which anyone who’s ever worked with me knows is just too funny.

“Don’t you get tired of spewing it out? ‘Cause it’s exhausting to deal with,” I said.

Not a beat later:

“Come on, Meredith, just work for five minutes.”

“Really?” I said. “I was just being real with you.”

He shook his head at himself. “I know. I’m sorry.”

What do we lose when we bury our problems deep inside and gloss over our surfaces so nothing seems wrong? What are the consequences of allowing issues to burrow deeper into our beings while we pretend they’re not there and promise others we’re just fine? What staircases are we eroding, what books are we damaging, what galleries are we closing?

If the inner man is more important than the outer man, the answer is probably those that are most important, valuable, and beautiful.

To remember:

The Lord said to Samuel, “Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7


Brooklyn 1

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church.

Monday: Internship.

Tuesday: Work.

Wednesday: Internship. Went to Brooklyn for the first time in order to do research in the Brooklyn Historical Society’s library.

Brooklyn street He is risen

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Good Friday service — went straight from work, sang with choir. Truth brought to life.

Saturday: Slept in. Budgeted. Went thrift shopping for kicks and giggles. Got groceries. Chilled. And (as usual) spent too much time on this blog post.

Published by meredithsell

Freelance writer and editor. Nerding out over health & fitness, women's history, and untold stories.

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