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Dating in NYC: Dating in the Land of Zero Effort

 

Online dating profiles reduce humans to commodities.  Instead of nuanced individuals with provoking personalities, we transform into a collection of photos and vital stats such as: height, age, body type, diet preferences, religion, political views and our favorite books and movies.  In New York City online dating profiles should just include a few photos and a zip code, because honestly that’s all that really matters for so many singles.  If you live in Brooklyn, trying to date a person in Queens could be considered a long-distance relationship. Staten Island and the Bronx might as well be in other states, and New Jersey is the vortex.  It seems much easier to get into the Garden State then it does to get back.  Even though over 19 million people live in the New York City metro area, commuting via subways, buses and cramped highways is challenging.  Even when I meet men offline, most conversations start like this:

Guy: “Where do you live?”

Me: “Brooklyn”

Guy: “What neighborhood?”

Me: “Flatbush”

And then I see the facial expression that says everything I need to know.  Their eyes will squint, their brow will cease and it looks like they just smelled some week old Indian food.  No one has ever lit up and smiled after hearing it.  Some men have actually broken off the conversation after the word ‘Flatbush’ and walked away.  They’re hardly subtle about their complete disdain for my section of NYC.  On online dating services, things are much worse.  One man went so far as to indicate on his profile, he was only willing to consider ladies who lived on the “L” train, or within a short biking distance.

According to the latest census estimates here is how the city breaks down

  • Brooklyn     2,565,635
  • Queens       2,272,771
  • Manhattan   1,619,090
  • Bronx           1,408,473
  • Staten Island   470,728

Given the odds, I should have the easiest time of it.  The problem is Brooklyn is huge and the subway system doesn’t easily connect every neighborhood.  So to get to Mr. L train, I would have to jump on the Q train, take it into Manhattan, then transfer to the L train and take it back into Brooklyn.  My journey would last an hour maybe 45 minutes, which is just too long for most folks in this metropolis.  The Bronx and Staten Island are like different countries to me, and my commute to some parts of Queens could take over two hours.  When a guy hits me up and lives in New Jersey, he’d better live in Hoboken, Jersey City or another part of NJ that is easily accessible via public transportation.

I’m not a huge fan of my neighborhood as it has a higher crime rate than others and is a bit farther out from Manhattan, but my rent is much cheaper and my apartment is larger than most.  By most Manhattanite standards, my ‘hood is the middle of nowhere.   From what I’ve found the most ideal location is Manhattan, as its central location makes it easier for anyone in the outer boroughs.  Although anywhere above 125th Street is the mysterious hidden borough called ‘Northern Manhattan’.  Just as it’s more difficult to get furniture delivered to neighborhoods like Washington Heights, Inwood and Spanish Harlem, it’s also harder to get anyone to travel to the far reaches of the Island.

I guess I just magically need to make more money so I can afford to live in one of the most expensive places on earth.  I’m not expecting much, I just get sick of always being stuck at home with my cats watching “House of Cards” on Netflix.   In my neighborhood I’m mostly hit on by teenage drug dealers.  I’m not speculating on their illegal activity, I’ve seen them openly sell drugs right in front of me.  The average age of the guys who yell “Hey Baby” at me is about 16.  Since Flatbush is hardly hip, most of the age appropriate men who live here are very much married or living with someone.  I just don’t find a lot of single men age 35-45 anywhere, but I especially don’t run into them in my part of Brooklyn.

I think this is why those hook-up apps like tinder are so popular.  They really do take away all effort completely.  Want free sex from a somewhat attractive female who is easily accessible, in more ways than one?  Just swipe right and hope she does the same.  I still refuse to get that desperate, until then I will remain in Flatbush and hope that somehow a guy might want to ride the train for more than 20 minutes to see me.  Or maybe I’ll get a job managing a hedge fund tomorrow and move to a mansion in the Hamptons. When I live in my sprawling estate I can pick up guys at the local tennis court, or while riding the ponies in a co-ed polo match.  Anything is possible I guess.

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Dating in NYC: Sorry stranger, I’m Not Meeting you for Breakfast

Egg Sandwich 5of7

Egg Sandwich 5of7 (Photo credit: Food Thinkers)

I have only been single for four years in New York but it seems like forty.  So far in my dating escapades I’ve been stood up, watched as my dates have had meltdowns, broken out into tears, ramble on about an ex, tell me they want to date one of my friends, insult me to my face and expect sex immediately.  I have had a few wonderful dates – only to never hear from the guys again for reasons I will never understand.  What can I say?  It’s been fun.

Lately the trend is a man who I have written about before on this blog – The Coward.  A coward will ask me out only to never actually make the date happen.  It run into cowards more often than actual dates now.  I would say for every date I actually go on, I get about 8-10 men who ask me out, but never follow through.  I tell them when I am free and the claim they are busy.  This goes back and forth a few times until I give up.  The newest ploy  is an invitation to a mid-week breakfast date.  I have gotten such an offer a few times, yet I have never taken such enticing bait.  A typical proposal goes like this,

Well I would love to see you but things are really bad at work for the next couple of weeks.  You seem awesome though, and I really love your pictures.  Do you really play the ukulele?  How about we meet for breakfast sometime next week.   That’s the best I can do.

Even if I had a normal 9-5 job.  It’s not as if New York City is a calm and tranquil place in the morning, and virtually no one has an easy commute.  So what would I have to do?  Get up at 5AM, get ready by 6AM to meet you some place at 7AM so I can rush get a cup of coffee and make it to my place of business by 8:00?  For that to work we would need to work pretty much in the same neighborhood, which is unlikely in a city with five boroughs and 8 million people.

Lets say I don’t have a 9-5 job.  So I am still going to have to get up at 5AM get ready.  Get on a crowded train to meet you near your workplace, where we fight to get a table, then rush to get a plate of eggs.  You go to work, and I go home.  Wow that sounds like fun!  I really don’t get enough time on a rush hour train from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Or maybe you work in Brooklyn, but in an area that is going to cause me to take the Q train into Manhattan then transfer to an L to then walk several blocks in Williamsburg to meet you for that same plate of eggs and make the trek home.

I seriously want to ask these men.  Has anyone ever done this before?  Has it ever occurred to you why most dates are in the evening and on the weekends?  Do you think your God’s gift to women that I will crawl on hot coals to share a brief time in your presence only to have you decide I live too far away, have a weird job, and I am just not worth the effort.  And lets not get BRUNCH confused with BREAKFAST.  You didn’t ask me for a leisurely weekend morning activity in the East village filled with Mimosas, Bloody Marys and vanilla bean french toast.  Brunch is a morning after a drunken night New York tradition!   You asked me to breakfast – a meal many restaurants don’t even serve because why should they?  No one but tourists goes out for breakfast, unless it is a local place in a residential area of the city, and there is a 90% chance you don’t work on an area with cute little bistros on every corner.  Maybe by breakfast you meant a latte in an impossibly packed Starbucks in midtown, the neighborhood where every Starbucks is ALWAYS IMPOSSIBLY PACKED!

The weekday breakfast date is telling me one thing – I am not worth the effort.  I get it, as we are just strangers and the likelihood that this is going to be some match made in heaven is slim.  So I understand not wanting to jeopardize your job for the sake of a bad date.  Something tells me though you are still finding time to go out drinking with your buddies, and occasionally hooking up with random women.  You keep an OKCupid profile up more to tell yourself that deep down you really are looking for something with more substance.  I get it.  But you are probably going to end up liking one of the random women you hook up with, and you obviously couldn’t care less about some online blonde.  So instead of insulting me with a “breakfast date” just get off of the site and stop wasting my time.  Breakfast is normally the awkward meal you might feel obligated to have AFTER a date, not before!

Hurricane Sandy – Update from Brooklyn

I am writing this for my non-New York based readers of which there are many.  As you probably know the New York metropolitan area was hit by a major storm earlier this week.  I live on high ground in the center of Brooklyn near Prospect Park.  Living through Sandy was extremely scary as it sounded like jet engines were taking off on the side of my building.  The wall of my six-story brick building built in 1940, would actually shake when the winds got bad.  I have been extremely fortunate however in that the roof of this building held, and there was no damage to windows or the structure’s overall integrity.

Within two days some businesses were back and running.  The day after the hurricane struck I witnessed a fully uniformed sanitation worker removing debris and a postal worker delivering mail.  Meanwhile most privately owned businesses were shuttered.  The New York City subway is only partially operational and there is no practical way of getting from Brooklyn into Manhattan.  As far as I know most of lower Manhattan is still without power.  Most of my friends are struggling artists who rent tiny apartments in extremely old multi-unit buildings.  I know they are safe but I have no idea how much they have lost.  We are all losing income and work.

Coney Island USA, the non-for-profit organization committed to preserving the traditional spirit and history of that area was badly hit.  I have gotten conflicting reports on the damage but as far as I know the entire first floor was underwater.  They have lost irreplaceable memorabilia, and the ancient building in which they call home as suffered extreme water damage.

CONEY ISLAND USA 

As rough as it has been for us, there are tens of thousands who have it much worse.  An untold number of people throughout the Eastern seaboard are without power.    Some have lost their homes while others have suffered great damage.  The death toll for New York City has reached 40, but there are many seniors and disabled trapped in difficult situations with no power, non-working toilets in high-rise buildings with no working elevators.  Due to these extreme conditions everyone here worries the death toll could climb if power is not restored soon.   There has also been looting and violence especially in lower-income areas.

I have lost jobs and I am never in a great place financially but I just donated to the American Red Cross and I am urging everyone else to do the same.  You can also help out by donating blood, as blood supplies were badly depleted due to the storm.

Many have a perception of New York City as being a rich person’s playground.  While there is some truth to that reputation, the majority of New Yorkers are struggling artists, the working poor, and middle class folks just trying to make it.  We also have countless seniors, disabled and other vulnerable citizens that trapped in difficult situations.  Some families in Long Island, New Jersey and the surrounding areas have lost everything.  Even homes in Brooklyn and Queens have been completely washed out or burned to the ground.  Many families were in a difficult economic situation to begin with, and now this.   Please give what you can, your donation will be used to give water, food and shelter to people who desperately need it.

RED CROSS HURRICANE RELIEF 

We will bounce back, and hopefully construct more safety measures to prevent this kind of widespread damage if another storm like this hits us again.  We are only as strong as our weakest link, and right now there are parts of this area that are extremely in need.  Please do what you can to help out.

Much love,

Juliet

The Night a Feminist Fell in Love with Machismo

D train, led by car #2590, entering Bay Parkwa...

D train, led by car #2590, entering Bay Parkway on the West End Line. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to living in the big city, I have a bit of a fear problem.  I don’t have a valid driver’s license in part because driving a car freaks me out, I lose all confidence when I am lost in a tiny town or village, and I have a strange fear of getting stranded in the middle of nowhere.  All of my fears of life in the country are totally irrational, but in the big, bad, scary city of Gotham, absolutely nothing freaks me out.  I have seen people publicly having sex, been flashed by men on the subway, grabbed on the street, nearly pick-pocketed, had many screaming matches, and I couldn’t even begin to count the times I have witnessed public urination and even defecation on my neighborhood streets.  None of this makes me flinch.  When a man grabs my arm on the street, I immediately unleash a torrid of obscenities.  A would be mugger doesn’t want to deal with a screaming woman shouting at him especially a woman with my kind of volume.  When threatened, I am not exactly demure and I am not exactly quiet.

I have what some would call a reckless habit.  I like to go see shows late at night in places like the East Village, Williamsburg, Bushwick and the Lower East Side.  I am a bit of a loner, and I don’t enjoy the stress of having to coordinate a “Let’s go see a show” buddy, so 99% of the time I attend most late night events by myself.   I also usually know performers in the shows I go to, so attending shows by myself is not a lonely endeavor. My mode of transportation is almost always the New York City subway system.  I have lived in a metropolitan area for nearly 20 years, 8 years in Chicago and 11 in New York City.  I take public transportation daily, but I have yet to file a police report or get in an actual physical altercation with anyone.

The other night I did my usual and hopped on the Q train to see a show at Coney Island USA.  I went to see my buddy Fisherman and his orchestra of sorts – a lighthearted burlesque show with live music, my usual fix.   After the show I hung out with some friends and around 1 am I left to take the subway home by myself.

As usual when the train is in the station, only one car has its doors open.  I decide to sit in the air-conditioned car and not on the muggy platform.  A dozen or so people are already in the car, including a rather strange-looking fellow.  He has shabby white hair and a raggedy beard.  His outfit looks like a twisted throw back to the swinging sixties.  He sports a brightly colored tie-dyed t-shirt, a denim vest and jeans covered in political buttons.  He is colorful yet filthy.  The raggedy hippie is either flying drunk, on drugs or mentally ill and is probably a combination of all three.   I chose a seat as far away from him as possible.  He is loudly muttering and getting into fights with people on his end of the train.  I couldn’t tell what exactly what he is blathering on about, but I knew that the rest of the car is completely annoyed with him.  He isn’t just sitting there being a drunken idiot, but actively upsetting others while engaging in fairly hostile language.

By the time the car starts moving, he is subdued.   My mind goes elsewhere, he is just one of many crazy people I will encounter on any given day in New York.  The train only moves a few stops from Coney Island and all of sudden I look up and the crazy hippie is nearly right on top of me, muttering incomprehensible drivel.  Standing on a few feet from where I am sitting he reaches out an arm in my direction to grab me.  I immediately stand up and shout

“Get away from me…Don’t touch me”

Instead of backing off he lunges for me, getting angrier, he tries to explain himself.  I jump back a couple of feet and stand my ground.  I am alone, in low heels and a dress with long blonde hair and my huge blue eyes.  Even though I feel unstoppable, I know I look like one big target to someone mentally deranged.  I am often pointed out by a crazy person on a train car, even when I am not looking up.  Call it a doll syndrome or a Barbie complex, the mentally unhinged always love picking on the baby-faced blonde.  As I stand there waiting for what to do next, I hear a non-verbal threat from a seat near me.  Two young men, in their early twenties with thick Brooklyn accents immediately jump up and threaten the man to sit back down.

“Hey Buddy”

The hippie slumps back into his seat and immediately begins to antagonize the young men.  I can’t make out what he is saying as he is muttering nonsense.  I debate going to another car, but I figure the crazy old man could follow me, and at least in this car the two young Brooklyn thug types have my back.  Yet at the same time I worry that they would end up getting in an actual fight with the man, and as much as he is scaring me I don’t want to witness a full out subway brawl.

The two Brooklyn boys are both a tsunami of testosterone, loud, aggressive and fearless.  Things immediately escalate and the Brooklyn boys, threaten the hippie by pounding on the wall of the train car, just above his head.  The deranged hippie just keeps riling them up.  The moment things would calm down, the hippie would look at me as if I was a big juicy steak and he was a dog without a meal.  This is not lost on the two Brooklyn boys, who would then return to intimidating him.  At ear-splitting volume they shout

“Don’t you know what I could do to you?  Why are you giving me a hard time?  Why would you continue to disrespect us like that?  I could wipe you out old man!”

After a few more stops and screaming on the part of my younger protectors, one approaches me and asks when I am planning on getting off the train.  Then he walks over and asks the hippie what stop he was getting off on, the hippie replies.

“Whatever stop moves me man”

And with that the hippie looks over at me again.  Even though he is older, he is a huge and he probably could overtake me just based on his size.  I am stone-cold sober and have my phone out ready to call 911.  But it will be difficult to dial if he knocks me unconscious, or throws my phone onto the tracks.  Despite his claims of being a peace-loving “hippie” the look in his eyes screams predator.  The younger men discuss among themselves what they were going to do and wait until we got to another stop.  They then lure the man over to the doors, and when the doors open the younger and larger of the two position the hippie right in front of the open doors and scream

“You are getting out here!”

And with enough force to knock over three men, he takes the hippie by his shoulders and shoves him onto the platform.  The doors shut and the train moves out of the station.  The second the doors close a palatable release is felt throughout the subway car, the psycho is no longer a threat to anyone.   I slowly walk over to the two young men and thank them.

“Hey it’s no big deal, that guy was a monster, you could see it on his face, he won’t mess with you lady”

I ask what neighborhood they live in, because they remind me of a friend from Bensonhurst, a somewhat notorious old school neighborhood in Brooklyn.

“Kings Highway” “I am Irish and my buddy here is Italian, we grew up in Brooklyn, and we aren’t going to put up with some fool like that asshole, and don’t worry we weren’t gonna hit him, he wasn’t even worth that, we just wanted to scare him and get him off the train!”

His Italian friend responds

“And don’t worry we aren’t teenagers, I am 22 and he is 23 years old, we have seen more crap in our day…anyway have a nice night lady and get home safe”

I return to my seat across from a young black man and woman.  The young man has his jeans rolled up to his knees exposing his calves and his female friend is making fun of him

“Rolling your jeans up like that makes no sense, and your legs are ashy!  You can’t go around like that…you look crazy”

“Leave me alone girl, don’t you know my bunions are killing me!”

And with that I fall over laughing.  The couple looks over to me and we all starting laughing, about the crazy hippie, the tough Brooklyn boys, bunions and ashy legs.

Even though I know I am taking a risk riding the subway alone at all hours of the night, I don’t feel that scared.  Statistically I am more likely to die in a car wreck on a highway than murdered in a subway car in New York City.  When I first moved to New York I witnessed almost identical situation only less extreme.  A drunk man was causing quite a commotion on a subway car, and at after 15-20 minutes of putting up with him, three large men calmly walked up to him and pushed him out on the next station.  They didn’t even exchange words with the drunk man, the men just did what they thought they needed to do.

One of the most amazing things about living in New York City is the feeling that you are never really alone.  The lives of 8 million are constantly intersecting with each other, worlds colliding every day.  Our proximity gives us opportunities to connect with people of totally different backgrounds.  We can’t get in our cars and shut out the rest of the universe, we have no choice but to interact with one another, bound together whether we like it or not.  In a city that prides itself on its dog eat dog mentality and survival of the fittest philosophy situations like the Brooklyn boys and the hippie remind me that were are all in this together.

As Manhattan slowly becomes sanitized and gentrified the outer boroughs still feel much more authentic.  One of the things I love about Brooklyn, is that the old school tough guy mentality isn’t completely lost.   As Starbucks invade nearly every corner and mom & pop stores disappear, replaced by Dunkin Donuts it is nice to know that Brooklyn still produces some badass young men who are willing to get involved to help out a complete stranger.   Private school boys raised in luxury probably wouldn’t have thrown a threatening hippie off the train like that.  I was thankful for their lack of fear and street smarts.  I don’t want to live in the false safety of homogenized suburbs.  I want to live in a city with rough edges, and among people who won’t just sit back and take the world at face value.  New York City constantly surprises me and that is why I love this city so much.  Normally two super macho young guys would intimidate me, I never thought in a million years I would fall in love with brute male energy late at night on a subway car.

New York City – Eight Million Souls

R46 F train, led by car 6028, at Herald Square...

This is my love letter of sorts to the city that I have called home now for eleven years.  When I was little I dreamed of visiting here one day, I never thought I would live here and especially this long.  I also never thought I would find my voice by going through the worst possible hell of my life.  But isn’t that how it always works out. 🙂  If you live in NYC I hope you love this city as much as I do, and if you don’t you should visit at least once before you die.  There is truly no other city quite like it.

The subway system of New York city is in many ways the great equalizer.  The wealthy may live in posh neighborhoods but given the logistics city traffic and the cost of cabs nearly everyone takes the subway.  No gated communities exist in New York as once we are walking around the streets, or traveling in trains under the city we are all on the same level.   I didn’t realize it until I was editing this piece that all of my stories happened on the subway.  Considering most of us spend a lot of time underground surrounded by fellow New Yorkers it is not surprising this where we interact with strangers most often.

It wasn’t yet three months after the tragedy of 9-11 and I was suffering from one of many severe sinus infections I got that year.  My doctor thought all of which were a direct result of the ash and debris from the disaster that contaminated Brooklyn.  My now ex-husband and I moved to Brooklyn with all off our worldly possessions in a Ryder truck only five months prior to the tragedy.  It was the middle of the Christmas tourist rush and I am going to work, as a singing waitress despite my illness.  Every waiter knows you can’t call in sick, ever. Feverish and exhausted I exit my train at the Rockefeller Center station and I head out the doors, walking up the stairs I suddenly collapse.  I have no idea what caused me to fall, the fever, my balance being off due to my sinuses but I crumbled straight down as if my body just gave up mid-step.   Immediately I feel more than one set of hands on each arm.  Without knowing what is going on, I am back on my feet.  A small crowd is now assembled around me asking me if I was OK.   I was completely shocked by the show of kindness on the part of total strangers in my newly adopted city.   Dressed in jeans and a light blue big puffy coat and must have looked like a college student, so I guess I didn’t look like much of a threat to anyone.  I thank those who have helped me and tell them I am fine, I just have a bad cold.  When I arrive at work, my manager takes one look at me and sends me home.  I must have looked like death, because that never happened again.  I could chalk that incident up with the post 9-11 kindness that swept the city, but there have been so many other random acts of kindness.

Like the time I was on the subway and was crying uncontrollably after the relationship I know call Rebound #2 ended abruptly.  I was trying to control myself but I had just left his apartment and couldn’t get it together.  A lovely African American woman about my age, simply came over to me and put her arm on my shoulder and said.

“I am sorry, are you OK?”

I was worried she would try to start preaching to me, or hit on me or try to sell me something…but I was such a mess it was so nice to have another human being care that I simply said.

“I am fine, I just broke up with someone, he can’t handle my divorce…my divorce wasn’t my fault”

I had only left my husband less than a year prior to this and my entire story came tumbling out of my mouth.  This total stranger listened and calmly said.

“That happens to a lot of people, it wasn’t your fault…but you are going to be OK”

And then she calmly gave me some books that she loved about divorce and told me about her own story of being bisexual for a few years until she decided that she really wanted a relationship with a man and now considered herself straight and was currently very happy her male partner.   I had just met her moments before, and then her stop came up and she got off the train and wished me luck.

Then there was the time that for whatever reason I was obsessing about not being able to have a baby when I met a Jewish man in his mid-forties with an infant strapped to his chest.  It was obvious this man was completely obsessed with his son, as he kept touching his legs and arms and kissing him on the top of his head.  The baby’s name was Ben, and immediately became my best friend staring and smiling at me with his sweet baby face.   The man explained to me that he and his wife had Ben later in life as they were both in their mid-forties.  And without knowing any of my story, at this point I was getting better at not telling everyone on the planet, he said simply.

“You have plenty of time to still have one”

And at the exact moment he said that little Ben kicked both legs and gave a huge giggle.  I explained that I was older than I looked to which he responded.

“My wife and I both thought that but I am 45 and here is, he’ll probably be our only one but you really never know.  My wife is 44”

When I got home I cried.  I felt like it was the universe letting me know that everything was going to be all right.  Even if I don’t get lucky enough to have a baby at age 44, that someone else had and that was enough to make feel good for them and for baby Ben.

When I first moved to New York, everyone said it was going to be a mean city, and of course I have seen some brutality and cruelty while I have lived here.  Fights on the subway, fights in apartment buildings, muggings, and shootings after the fact on the street.  Just yesterday a large African American man blew up at a tiny East Indian man screaming

“Why are you touching me, what are you some kind of Faggot?”

To which I replied,

“It’s a crowded subway, I think you are reading this the wrong way, he didn’t do anything.”

“Why are you paying attention in the first place?”

“Because I am sitting right here and I saw the whole thing, you need to calm down man”

“Well I have a problem with this…I have a problem with faggots”

“You are right you do have a problem”

And luckily for my safety he didn’t get my sarcasm although I kind of wish he had.  The East Indian man got off the train and the monster sized man got off the train and everything returned to normal.

On a relatively small series of islands with a population of eight million people we are bound to interconnect and cross into each others lives.  The collective energy of eight million souls spreads out over everyone on any given day people are born and others die.  Lives changed for better or worse, and dreams realized and destroyed.  Hearts broken beyond repair and hope in love renewed.  Proud parents sending their kids off to school and disgraced parents picking up their children from the police station.  Marriages beginning with huge elaborate weddings and marriages ending by picking up paperwork at the courthouse. Diseases overcome and people succumbing to the inevitable.

People come here from every part of the country and from every nation on the planet.  Some are dancers, models, musicians, actors, sculptors, poets, comedians, writers, chefs and painters.  While others are titans of industry, traders, bankers, scientists, doctors, nurses, professors, teachers, athletes, intellectuals and accountants.  Some were born here and live here because this is what they know, and others move here to pursue a dream however unrealistic or improbable that dream is to realize. If any of us thought long enough about the odds against us, we would surely move back to wherever we came from, but somehow we keep some faith and carry on.

It doesn’t matter how long you live here, or how you got here once you have been here a while New York leaves it mark.  This city changes you in ways that you don’t realize until you leave.  You understand that whether you know it or not, that human beings are not islands.  We are all interconnected and we are all affecting each other for better or for worse every time we interact.  I think it is why dating is such a challenge, as so many people are so terrified of “the hurt” that they just put up a wall 10 feet thick.  The longer I have been single the more the wall is up all around me, everyone is suspect everyone is a potential enemy or someone who might cause harm.   But, I have to remember we are all just people who basically want the same things comfort, love, companionship, stability, humor and friendship.  We have been hurt and we will all hurt others some intentionally, some out of a sense of self-defense and other accidentally, but we will also spread kindness, love and healing before we leave this world.  And I can’t help but love this city with the energy of 8 million souls all radiating outward into the collective spirit that is New York.  With our unrealistic goals and our undying ambition and belief that everything is basically going to work out.  If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t live here.  And it is why I never want to move, or if I do…I want the same qualities in wherever I end up.   Thank you New York for eleven of the most difficult but rewarding years of my life.

9-11 Ten years later: What I Remember

English: United Airlines Flight 175 crashes in...

English: United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south tower of the World Trade Center complex in New York City during the September 11 attacks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The more time passes, the fuzzier my memory gets.   A linear storyline dissolves into fragments composed of disjointed images, sounds, smells and feelings burned into my psyche.  Living through it I thought I would never forget every little detail of the disaster, but as I struggle to write this piece I find those indelible marks have become weathered and worn down.

My fiancée and I had just moved to Brooklyn five months before the worst terrorist attack on US soil.  We moved from Chicago with  all of our worldly possessions in a rented truck.  As soon as we settled into our humble over-priced one bedroom apartment, we both started working full-time jobs.  Like many other hard-working young couples, we paid our bills with little left over, but we were surviving.

Then one crisp September morning I woke up to the smell of something burning.  It was like no other smell I had ever encountered. a mixture of burnt rubber mixed with gasoline and ash. Instinctively I turned on our television. The first channel was static, and the next, and the next, until finally only one displayed the twin towers of the World Trade Center already smoking.  The picture barely came in and the news anchors desperately tried to hide the panic in their voices.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  Like so many others watching the horrible scene, I couldn’t acknowledge what was right before my eyes.

My fiancé was at a meeting at the restaurant where he worked near the South end of Central Park.  I knew he was some distance from the disaster and should be fine.   I didn’t know anyone in the towers, I hardly knew anyone in New York City.

Our phone rang – an old school landline, not a cell phone.  I had no way of knowing that most cell phones had stopped working due to overwhelming stress to the system.  Soon even traditional phones would also become useless due to the volume of calls on the lines.  I heard her voice….an old friend from high school had managed to get through.

“Julie, are you OK?  Are you watching television?  Do you know what is happening?”

I knew it was an old friend since I’ve used my legal name of Juliet for most of my life.  Only friends from my childhood called me Juliet. It was my old friend Corrina from high school calling from St. Louis.

“This feels like a movie”

We both kept saying it over and over.  The same phrase repeated by millions, as none of us could comprehend it.  Then the first tower collapsed.

“Maybe that is just dust, that didn’t just happen…Oh my God…I hope they got the people out, how did that just happen?”

It felt like I was on the phone for just a few minutes, but it had to have been longer because while still talking to her the second tower collapsed.  We both kept just repeating the same questions to each other and to ourselves.

“What the hell is happening?  That couldn’t have just happened…how many people were still in those buildings?  They had to have gotten them out, they had to have gotten them out”

We decided to end the phone call, there wasn’t much she could do for me and I just wanted to sit down and try to calm myself. And I sat staring at the scene in front of me, the horrible burning stench still lingered in the air.  If I went to my bathroom I could see the black plume of smoke pouring out of Manhattan.

One more phone call got through before all the phones shut down.  It was my fiancé reassuring me that he was fine, but he wasn’t sure when he was going to make it home.  He ended up going home with millions of others mostly on foot walking over bridges meant for cars, in massive numbers.  The subway system was completely out of service , the city was in chaos.  My fiancé saw a co-worker crumble into tears while watching the footage.  She worked part-time in the towers and had no idea who she might have just lost.  When he finally left his job, he witnessed countless people collapsing to weep openly on the street, while others stopped to help them..

Meanwhile I sat by myself, in our apartment in a building of strangers, glued to the images on the screen.  The pictures that didn’t change for hours, which turned into days.  The burning pile of rubble, ash, smoke and misery that would not extinguish itself for months.

We lived about three miles away from ground zero, yet we found dust of pulverized concrete, steel and glass inside our window sills. The streets in our Brooklyn neighborhood had a blanket of a light mist of the same gritty powder.  As I rubbed the deadly sand-like dust between my fingers I found myself shocked that it had traveled so far.  We would later find out that friends who were also in Brooklyn found faxes and paperwork with the World Trade Center address in the backyard of their apartment building.

The sickening smell of the smoldering towers lingered for days.  In the months that followed we could see in the horizon two large black plumes of smoke, they became a daily reminder of the horror the city had just gone through.

Worse than the chaos was the silence in the nights that followed.  Brooklyn is never without some noise and yet for those first few days the complete lack of sound was unnerving.  When noise returned instead of the familiar clamor of trucks, cars, buses and police sirens we heard military aircraft, and helicopters overhead.  The jagged whipping of helicopter blades and the unmistakable whoosh of jet engines that seemed too close to the ground.  I knew the aircraft were there to protect us, but the bellow of their engines was hardly reassuring.  About a week after the incident, a young Ukrainian boy about 9 years old asked me a simple question as I was coming back from the Laundromat.

“What’s going to happen if one of the military planes gets shot down?  Where is it going to land?”

I had no idea what to tell him.  I wanted to say that something like that could never happen, but considering what we had all just lived through I was at a loss for words.

My fiancée got a gig out-of-town almost immediately after the attack.  We debated if he should go and decided that he had to go since we had already lost work and needed any income we could get.   So he left.   I sat in our tiny apartment all by myself and tried to keep myself sane with phone calls.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of the television.  Just like that first day I viewed it as the source of all my hope.  Surely today they would find a survivor I kept telling myself.  Surely today something will happen that will bring light to this horrific darkness.  Then a few days after the horrible wreckage the area was hit with a violent rain storm that lasted most of the day.  The heavy rain meant less hope of finding anyone alive.  I knew the chances of a survivor were low but I couldn’t tear myself away from the constant rescue mission played out in front of me.  It took about two weeks before everyone conceded that there was no hope, no survivors.

I went to prayer vigils with neighbors, who were complete strangers to me, and sobbed my eyes out.  They became more worried for me because it was obvious I was completely alone.  I memorized the lyrics to “God Bless America” I watched as some people couldn’t hold their anger in and began to lash out to anyone who would listen ranting like lunatics.

“We have to kill those bastards, we have to nuke them to dust, they murdered people just trying to go to work, just trying to go to work, they didn’t deserve to die like that…they didn’t deserve to die”

In trying to ease my isolation I bought some supplies and donated needed items for the first responders at Chelsea Piers.  The entire Westside highway was overcome with people, some extremely wealthy dropping off carloads of brand new boots, and others like myself with a small bag of first aid supplies, paper towels and toothpaste.   The volunteers had circulated lists of needed items all over the city: long underwear, saline solution, gloves, boots, soap, shampoo, tampons, deodorant, it went on and on.  Local restaurants were donating in shifts feeding hundreds at a time, so although they needed just about everything else they didn’t need food.

As I walked away from Chelsea Piers I saw enormous military vehicles lined up on the edge of the city, helicopters, service men, and trucks covered in camouflage.  Firemen engulfed from head to toe in dust walking around with a dazed look in their eyes.  Huge blood drives were held in every hospital, volunteers rushed to donate yet discovered the blood banks filled to capacity.

For months as I took the F train into Manhattan I would see the Statue of Liberty and the never-ending plumes of black smoke.  It was a daily reminder that the city had not yet healed from this gaping wound.  One morning I noticed a child across from me on the train who was straining in his seat to blankly stare at the constant black cloud that was the twin towers.  The kid was a total stranger to me yet I could help but think.

“Give that little boy a chance, don’t let him die.”

The thought of death and another tragedy happening any day was ever-present in my mind.  It felt like it was just a matter of time when the next horror would visit this city so packed with humanity.

In Grand Central Station and Port Authority makeshift memorials of Xeroxed photos of loved ones with the words “Missing” spontaneously formed on walls and pillars.  Some brightly colored and others pastel or white, these desperate attempts at finding lost loved ones filled entire walls.  They remained for months after anyone had any hope of finding remains much less survivors. News reports spoke of DNA testing on fragments of blackened bone fragments found scattered on the rooftops of surrounding buildings, or remains shifted out of tons of twisted metal and glass in the landfills of Staten Island.  Some families never found DNA or any remains.   Most had to create some type of narrative in their head, about what happened to their missing person.  Did they die instantly?  Die they suffer?  Did they accept their death?  Were they in pain?  Did they witness terror?

That Christmas our first in New York, I had to work a day shift waiting tables while my fiancée had to work at night.  Broke and desperate we had no choice as so much work had dried up.  To snap myself out of the spiral of self-pity I took the subway as close as I could get to ground zero.  I stood there with a small crowd and stared at the destruction.  No formal viewing platforms existed yet and there was no organized effort to allow the public to see the disaster site.  Small groups of us would huddle at one vantage point then to another getting as close as the police would let us.  As I stood there staring at this hell on earth I reminded myself that as bad as we had it, things could have been so much worse.

Then there was the night of the first bombs falling on Afghanistan.  A lifelong pacifist for the first time I thought–let them burn as I watched bombs and rockets light up their night sky.  My blood lust wore off quickly and I soon began to question the war and our motives but for that brief moment I had absolutely no sympathy in my heart for its victims.

I didn’t lose family members or friends.  My fiancée and I were strangers in a strange land, lost in an island of our minuscule apartment, forced to take jobs we would have normally avoided just to pay our rent.  Our debt exploded as we tried to make ends meet but we were extremely lucky.  We knew so many others that were somehow connected to a friend or a relative that had perished.  The sorrow lingered over the city for months, every milestone memorialized.  The first human remains found, the casualties officially confirmed, the day they finally got the fires out.  Over those months I worked at several benefits for the families of the victims.  People would try their best to stay in good spirits but then tears would start and then cascade across the event like a never-ending wave of grief.  Surviving wives and husbands looked blank and children seemed confused and lost.

Every time I meet a New Yorker that lived here during this horrific time, if the subject of 9-11 gets brought up, the stories pour out like an emotional avalanche.  We all start talking, our memories weaving in and out of our shared experience with none of us the same for having lived through it.  A couple of years after the attack we had a city-wide blackout.  Instead of rioting or looting the bars filled up and street corners became crowded with people laughing and sharing in the absurdity.  New Yorkers wouldn’t let anything like a little blackout dampen our spirits or cause us to turn on each other.  After living through the horrors of 9-11 and the months that followed, living without power for a couple of days seemed like a minor inconvenience.  New York City changed for better and for worse. We’ll never get back the many we lost, but through the tragedy we gained back some of our humanity.  We learned that we really were there for each other, and that we’d ultimately rebuild and come back stronger than ever.