a stir of courage
The plumbing on the upper floor of 250 45th Street whistles a curiously consistent three-note pattern after each flush. Paint is caked on the walls in chunky, unforgiving layers, the outermost a discomfiting beige. My partner and I maintain an uneasy armistice with at least one mouse who occasionally darts along the walls or cuts life-risking rays across the floor. Horns and sirens blare during rush hour, occasionally overlapping in florid sonorities. Calls to Lauds and Vespers radiate from a prominent brick steeple on Sundays, the tintinnabulations left hanging in the air. At night, bags of refuse shiver with rats.
A stirring elation rings fresh in my ears when I remember my earliest visits to our apartment, a time three years ago when my presence in Brooklyn was more akin to a starstruck guest at a celebrity party. Our street—decrepit and shit-stained—still stretched a romantic distance from my provincial hometown in the West, which despite its reputation as a desert oasis, occupies my memory chiefly as a cloister of painful teenage trials.
That intrigue has since ebbed, and I relish the days obligations fail to call me out the door to brave clingy stares, grinding molars, inescapable grime. Jaundiced eyes and varicose veins limp along sidewalks in the form of street philosophers jangling coins in cups at passersby. An expat of the California coast, I am always forgetting adequate cold-weather clothing, and even when I do, the added layers seem to fit only in haphazard clumps. I can already sense that my constitution lacks the fortitude to withstand New York into perpetuity; I look forward to sentimentalizing from afar after taking a university job in some town with an insular culture to which my ‘big city’ sensibilities will seem foreign.
A high school band visit to Carnegie Hall provided the first brief pockets to take in the city; between our hotel and a nearby diner near midtown, the city was busy and boundless. One vacant afternoon, in a moment of ignorance later read as rebellion, I meandered through Central Park and into the Met Museum for hours in self-satisfied solitude. I had no sense of scale, no awareness of metrics like subway commute time, traffic patterns, skyline density, or neighborhood persuasion to indicate direction or proximity to anything noteworthy.
The one time I mustered enough confidence to reproach a cat-caller while walking from my school in Harlem, I shook myself to tears in the immediate wake of his resonant “fuck you” that rang through my guilty, oppressive whiteness. The sense of relief that he had not broken his gait beyond the turn of his head to issue his invective was profound. I later had stylishly pithy cards printed, intending to distribute them as a rejoinder to lewd looks, shifty approaches, and toothsome comments received while running. I have not yet stirred up enough courage to use them.