NYC Week Fourteen: 10 things I miss about home and school (aka rural America)

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

I’d just settled on the bench, purse and my bag of leftover food from work on my lap, one per leg. Done with work, time to wait for the F train and go home.

“Meredith?”

I looked up to see a familiar face, soft round features I recognized but couldn’t place. Danny’s, I knew that’s where I knew her from but . . . I felt my brain sputtering to find a name. None came.

“It’s Kyle,” she said.

Kyle. Yes. That’s right. The name I was trying to remember was wrong — I was thinking of her doppelganger who’d worked nextdoor.

“Is this for real?” she asked, half smiling.

“Yeah.” My only word. Still in shock.

“Do you live in the city?”

The M train screeched to a stop. The doors opened.

“Yeah.” Again, all I could manage.

“All right — me, too. I have to get on this train, but it’s good to see you.”

“Yeah.”

She climbed aboard. I stayed where I was, smelling tbsp on me, thinking of Danny’s, and trying to soak in what just happened.

In a city of 8 million strangers, I’d run into someone I knew from home.

Growing up in small town America — “small town” meaning a town with two main intersecting roads and no traffic light — running into someone I knew required only that I step out the front door. Or the back door. Neighbors, even if I didn’t know them well, I always greeted with a “how’s it going” when I passed them in their driveways on my way to the library, bank, post office, or park. I only didn’t vocally greet neighbors if I was running or if they were the creepy ones. But I took for granted that I’d see people I knew — even if I traveled 45 minutes to the nearest Walmart, I expected to run into a familiar face.

It’s not like that here. There’s one older short, black man I end up on the same bus and train with every once in a while. We nod our acknowledgements and occasionally shrug our shoulders at each other in response to weirdos on the F. But that’s it. And my not seeing people I know isn’t just because I don’t know anyone — even New York natives are surprised when they run into a friend on the street.

There are a lot of things I miss about home and school, living in the City. Most of them have to do with fundamental differences between rural America and urban life, and most of them I rarely thought about before living here. Running into familiar faces is one. Below are nine more.

1. Going “the back way” on quiet dirt roads canopied by trees.

There’s nothing like following a long day of work with a quiet drive through the hills. The roads are narrow — I typically pray the whole time that no one will come the other way — but the silence, the scenery, and the dirt and stones your tires kick up as you ride over hole after hole is well worth it.

2. Air that smells like water, dirt, and trees — not exhaust fumes, smoke, and dust.

Because even the exhaust coming out the back of your little 2001 Corolla doesn’t ruin what the trees and creeks are giving back. And let’s face it — people, even when they try to smell good, still smell bad.

3. Local food that’s actually local, as in you picked it yourself in your backyard or your neighbor’s field.

If it’s not in season, it’s not fresh and it’s not local. Strawberries are one of the first crops to ripen. Then raspberries, then tomatoes, then blueberries, apples, corn, potatoes. Picking, processing, and freezing things yourself is the best (though labor-intensive).

4. Backyards with enough room to play volleyball, soccer, and run through a sprinkler — all with their own space.

This would be my backyard at home. And a lot of my neighbors’. Plus, there’s a park two blocks away with basketball court, playground, baseball diamond, and enough grass for casual soccer and football games to take place simultaneously. When I’m home for less than 24 hours in a week and a half, I’m going to find some grass and roll in it.

5. Fresh roadkill venison you don’t think twice about eating because you know who hit it and when.

I grew up eating more deer meat than beef, and I miss it like crazy. It’s a meat you eat and still feel healthy afterward. At least, I do. And yes, a lot of what I ate was hit by someone’s car. These things happen on dark, curvy roads at night. No reason to let the animal go to waste.

6. Open fields, open roads, and open roads next to open fields.

One of my favorite views is driving home south on 205, where the road runs along the hillside and the valley lies spread out beside it, trees, fields, a barn here and there. You realize how big this one corner of the world is, and then how big the world must be in comparison, and how small you are. And you quiet.

7. Quiet.

No trains rumbling past. No airplanes or helicopters flying low overhead. Cars, but few buses, little honking, screeching brakes typically belonging to teenagers or a tractor-trailer or that guy nobody likes. Sirens, but not constantly and always making way for a crew of emergency personnel you trust, because you know them. They live down the street.

8. Trees. Good for climbing or just sitting under.

Maybe an evergreen or a maple. And if it’s maple, best if someone taps it in the spring for sap — thus, real maple syrup. Trees are everywhere: the front, back, and side yards; the edges of the park, all over the hills that border you on every side. In the fall, they’re the best: orange, yellow, red, evergreen. In the winter: snow-tipped, the pines looking like frosted shredded wheat or something equally sugary and delicious. In the spring: new leaves, like a new page of a new life, budding from thickening branches. In the summer: green, green, green. All shades.

9. A clear, cool creek you can wade in barefoot and follow under the road and into town in one direction, or up the hill and into the woods the other way.

Toward what we like to call “civilization” or away from it, into what actually looks more orderly and less chaotic than anything people put together. No honking bus drivers or swearing cabbies, no swerving around or weaving through slow-but-not-really lanes of traffic, no derailing trains or flooding subway stations — because there aren’t any. Just you and creation. And the reality that, yes, this is good.

M3367S-4504205

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: Church. Worked out (my route in 10:38 plus sprints and various other things).

Monday: Internship. Worked out (included 51 push-ups).

Tuesday: Work. Worked out (sprints with my housemate, plus core).

Wednesday: Internship. Worked a catering event for Spoon.

Thursday: Work.

Friday: Work. Made a specific goal of applying to writing jobs this weekend. Ran into Kyle while waiting for the train to come home.

Saturday: Mother’s Day brunch at church (always a weird thing to be part of as a woman who’s nowhere near motherhood). Choir. Worked out (highlight: box jumps on the front step). Did laundry. Read narrative nonfiction/longform articles (reading recommendations coming tomorrow). Wrote this blog post.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare

Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

Last week, I posted this piece on Medium. I wrote it last semester for Advanced Creative Writing and have been holding onto it, waiting to be sure I wasn’t returning to my old job and wanting to be careful about where I shared it and how.

Names have been changed, but those who know me know the place and the people — all of which still mean a lot to me. Read and feel free to comment, keeping in mind that this story is close to my heart.

When the perfect job becomes a total nightmare: Some things shouldn’t change. My first job was one that did.

I miss the dragon kite. I miss the picnic table in the back parking lot, the neat stacks of Coca-Cola trays, the recyclables organized next to the green dumpster with April’s butcher paper note forbidding residents of the Ironclad Building from putting their trash in Benny’s dumpster. I miss the parmesan bread twists, the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and homemade Focaccia bread. I miss the muffin-offs, setting Brett’s strawberry cheesecake muffins against my blueberry lemon poppy. I miss the fresh produce: crisp and tart apples, blueberries the size of your thumbnail, peaches whose juice drips down your arm and off your elbow.

I miss Benny’s Market as I first knew it. I miss the Benny’s that was all of this.

I only know Benny’s from behind the counter. The first time I stepped inside, I was job-hunting with my best friend. I’d never been there before and our 90-second stop furnished me with only . . . READ MORE.

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.

NYC Week Six: Rejoining the workforce

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

I rose early this morning, beating the sun by a hair. Crawling out of bed, I shut off my alarm, turned on my desk lamp, and paused, sighed.

6 a.m. Day has broken. 

A quick trip to the bathroom, splashing water on my face, and then back to my room, on with another light, dig in my shirt drawer for the second of two new t-shirts: charcoal gray with sky blue text across the chest, reading “spoon-fed”.

Look out work — here I come.

Oatmeal, scrambled eggs, and a full glass (well, mug) of milk. Wash, dry, put away. On with the boots, scarf, coat. Double-check my pocket for my phone and MetroCard, my bag for my sneakers, wallet, keys. Button, button, button, button up. Unlock the door in front of me; step into the waking world, sunbeams tinting the sky; lock the door behind me. On to the bus stop. On to the subway station. On to Manhattan. On to work.

This past Thursday, I filled out tax forms for my new part-time job as a counter person at tbsp (pronounced tablespoon), a restaurant operated by Spoon Catering on 17 East 20th Street. (Apparently, tbsp’s tables came from Cooperstown.)

tbsp
It’s cuter on the inside.

For the first time in a long time, I’m the new kid on the block, the one who has to ask questions about everything from “what’s in the frosting” to “do we have more of these” and “what should I do with this”. It’s tough going from a system you know inside-out to a brand new work setting that’s similar to where you’ve worked before, but different in the way it runs.

I’m used to Danny’s Main Street Market, the place where if you’re behind the counter, you not only take orders and ring out customers, but you make bagels, come up with sandwich specials, wash dishes, mop floors, sharpen knives — and you answer questions based on your knowledge from doing everything behind the counter. I’m used to a place where, by being hired, you’re expected to do it all. And I’m used to knowing exactly what “all” is.

Now, I’m the newbie, the one who busies herself with straightening paper bags and stocking soup cups because she doesn’t know what else to do — only to find that it’s actually the paninis that need to be restocked, meaning the cold sandwiches need to be transferred to the grill. And, yes, the cold sandwiches are right here, on a tray in the rack under the counter. Be sure to put on gloves.

I’m used to being the one who’s been there for years, seen the place through ups and downs, multiple owners. Now, I’m the new kid who knows nothing and knows nobody, but knows, for sure, that she doesn’t agree with multiple co-workers’ choices (no surprise here) and knows she doesn’t want people who barely know her to write her off as a hater — especially since she actually loves people, loves getting to know them, learning their stories, and figuring out what they’re into and what makes them who they are.

Right now, getting to know the other people is what I’m focused on. I may already have some favorites.

Introducing (some of) my co-workers

Ashley: One of tbsp’s managers, Ashley thinks I look like one of the cheerleaders in Glee. She talks super fast and went to a Catholic school somewhere in the City.

Drew: Flamboyantly gay and super particular in all things regarding the new espresso machine. He recently received training in cappuccino art and, just this past week, I witnessed a girl Instagram one of his drinks. Excitement ensued.

Jenay: Full-time tbsp staff who’s working on a fiction book about the impact of generational abuse. She found out I studied writing and immediately launched into an introduction to her own thoughts and research on writing and publishing. She’s pointed out one literary agent who comes in regularly with a stack of manuscripts under his arm, and I’ve since seen at least one other person carrying binder-clipped, size 12, double-spaced, Times New Roman piles of paper.

Yordana: One of those people who’s so cool, you don’t know what to say. Studying criminal justice and psychology at one of NYC’s many universities, Yordana is barista for weekend brunch and works shifts during the week as well. You can tell just by looking at her and hearing her voice — low, confident — that she’s smart and she’s tough.

Brianna: Born in California, raised in Dublin, Ireland, Brianna has lived in New York since last September. Her accent is delicate, not always obvious, and Brianna is hard to read. I’m never sure if the look on her face is because I did something majorly wrong or because something completely different is on her mind.

Then there are the Mexicans who work in the kitchen, Jen the pastry chef, the owners Melissa and her husband (whose name I hear and forget every day I’m there), the weekend brunch staff, the weekday delivery guys, and a couple others — a lot of people to keep track of. I don’t think I’ll ever know everyone’s name (but we have a staff meeting tomorrow, so I’ll at least hear everyone’s name).

I always start off quiet, shy, and gradually become more outspoken. At the beginning, Customer Service Meredith interacts with everyone — customers and co-workers alike. The drive-thru voice turns on, smile grows big, and the problem-solver, who deals with difficult customers very sweetly, runs at full throttle. As time goes on and I get to know the place and people better, more of me and the inner workings of my brain leak out and those I work with, along with a few select customers, get to hear what I think.

I’m not there, yet, with tbsp, but in the past week, I’ve started to crack open a bit — the amount of cracking directly related to the growth in my ability to independently recognize my duties and fulfill them. I expect, as time goes on, this relation will continue and the less I feel like a know-nothing newbie, the more I’ll feel free to let my thoughts fly. I look forward to that.

Reflection

Bringing you up-to-date:

Sunday: The end of Faith Baptist’s revival, containing two messages from Paul Schwanke.

Monday: Dim sum (which I guess means real Chinese food) with a Chinese lady from church and Mara Burns. Internship.

Tuesday: I met fellow Taylor grad, Hanna Ryberg, at her aunt’s apartment building on the Upper West Side. We went for a run in Central Park, and then I walked a good bit of it myself (shorts weather!) before heading downtown to get my New York Public Library card.

Upper West Side  Good day to be outside Spring is comingCentral Skyline  Looks Familiar

Wednesday: Internship + 1.4 mile run in 11:15 + church.

Thursday: Worked at tbsp. Filled out tax forms.

Friday: Worked at tbsp. Called my family and talked to everyone except my 10-year-old brother. =(

Saturday: Worked at tbsp. Waited in a huge line at Trader Joe’s to get my housemate fancy salt from the Himalayas. Hit Aldi on the way back from Manhattan. Successfully resisted the urge to buy ice cream or chocolate or both. Ran 1.4 miles in 10:51. Ate chicken and rice soup for supper. Spent way too much time on this blog post. Oh, and I took this picture. Notice how what makes the buildings good are not man’s designs but God’s creation: the sun, the clouds, the sky.

Saturday park

When I made Art Spander a sandwich

One of the benefits of my summer job (working at Danny’s Main Street Market in Cooperstown, New York) are the random fascinating people who come buy sandwiches. There are conductors who work with the Glimmerglass Opera, construction workers and delivery men, Baseball Hall of Fame employees and interns, and today, Art Spander, an award-winning sports writer who’s covered everything from Wimbledon and the Masters to the Rose and Super Bowls.

He came at a quiet time in the late afternoon, somewhere between 4:30 and 5, and ordered a sandwich on gluten-free bread from my co-worker, Mikey, an 18-year-old high school graduate with a knack for getting people talking. (I need to study this kid’s technique. He learns interesting things about literally every customer he waits on.)

I overheard Spander telling Mikey about his recent travels for his sports-writing career (he’s 75 years old and currently a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and RealClearSports.com), so I nudged myself into the conversation and asked him where he’s written for. He shared the basic information that makes up the second paragraph on his web site’s About page:

Spander began his career as a news writer for United Press International in Los Angeles in 1960, and started writing sports full time in 1963 for the Santa Monica Outlook where he was the beat writer for the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1965 he moved to the San Francisco Chronicle, where he covered golf, football, baseball and basketball. Spander became the lead sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner in 1979.

Then he joked a bit:

You’re making my sandwich while you’re standing here talking to me, aren’t you?

I laughed a little, went to the back where I pulled the gluten-free bread out of the oven, whipped up his sandwich, brought it to the front, poured his iced tea, and rang him out. Then, Mikey and I left him alone with his sandwich, tea, and smartphone (I’m guessing he was checking Twitter).

He got a dry cappuccino before he left — all foam, no milk — and I rang him out again.

“I have to ask you, ’cause I’m a writing major,” I said, finally steeling up the courage to make use of my question-asking skills. “Do you have any tips for those starting out?”

Then, I listened again.

Art Spander gave me two pieces of advice.

1. Learn the English language. Dependent and independent clauses. Where the commas belong. Misplaced modifiers. Know it all — better than the back of your hand. That way, you can edit and make real corrections, not guess-it-goes-this-way changes. I ran, and I fell needs a comma. I ran and fell does not.

2. Read as much as possible about as much as possible. You may only be interested in writing about one topic, but you need to know what’s going on in the world, in order to understand the topic in its broader context. “Plus,” he said, “you never know what you’re gonna have to write.”

“This was never hard for me, because I’ve always had a lot of interests,” Spander said.

Me too.

I’ve been home this summer. Making sandwiches, slicing meats, interviewing people every once in a while with a recorder that catches more fuzz than an FM radio. What am I doing? Where am I going? How am I gonna get anywhere? These two tips were the pieces of affirmation I needed.

Know the language: Commas have always eluded me, but I feel very fluent in this language some call English and I prefer to call American. I know what a misplaced modifier is. I know the difference between independent and dependent clauses.

Read as much as you can about everything: I’m interested in everything, so this is easy. In fact, I’ve been doing it this summer. I’ve learned about how astronauts exercise at the International Space Station. I’ve learned about a man who, permanently damaged by an accident as a child, found some more of himself through running. I’ve learned about sex trafficking and the ways traffickers force their victims into submission. I’ve learned about addiction and am currently learning about the process of rehabilitation. I’ve learned about a fascinating documentary project and made moves to learn more from the creators themselves.

I’ve been making sandwiches. I’ve been slicing countless pounds of Boar’s Head meats. But I’ve been doing a lot more than you might guess from the amount of time I spend behind the counter in my Danny’s hat.

Today, I made Art Spander a sandwich, and I reaped two lessons for the young writer.

“That’s free,” Spander said, as he took his cappuccino from the counter and returned to his booth.

Thanks. I appreciate it.