Monday, March 2, 2009

New York’s nuclear Winter: How one city wears the 2009 winter woes

The second day of March and no sun over the highrises for these New Yorkers. Only blowing snow with a sneaky, shifting wind and a loud Monday morning blizzard. Like the rest of the northern hemisphere waiting for spring to break and the first sign of life to stir from underneath the crust of the stock market, its still winter in every direction you look. Those of us who have jobs try not to complain. Those who dont are looking forward to warmer days. Pretty much everyone is waiting for the storm to break.

New York city is already a very different place now than it was one year ago when I first arrived with two suitcases and one shot-in-the-dark interview at L’Oreal. Corporate neon logos are burning out over Times Square. Downtown rush hour is thinner than ever – half of the train cars are in jeans. It seems the only people who don’t feel the wear are reality TV stars, and for good reason. Even Manhattan rent checks, signed in gold, are being forced to throw a few barrels overboard. The top of the world is crashing into the bottom. The bottom still keeping eyes upturned for a break in the clouds, ducking debris from the crumbling top. Whether you are working the bar in Prada shoes or watching the offices around your cubicle empty, the workforce has been forced to its knees. Not a good time to be in business. Or be president. Not even, some people are saying as they survey the ruins of their 401ks, a good time to be alive?

One year ago next week I came to the city. My life had no plot, my teenage story already undergone a center-stage, heart-searing climax and my protagonist looking for a scene change. One chapter to the next. One curtain call after another. And whoever said the sequel is never as good as the original doesn’t like the right kind of movies. New York to me then was an untamed jungle for an untamed heart – a world so far out of my reach that I could never again get bored with it wrapped around my fingers. I was both frightened, na├»ve and thoroughly broken-hearted…and I found that when you are any one of these three things, there is never a better time to do something so totally dumb and terrifying. I was ready to make myself and everyone who knew me ashamed and proud at the same time. Wether it was love that had let me down or I who had let it down – either way, I knew life would take me in and I was happy and confident that love would no longer recognize me if we ever crossed paths again. I'd gone away - and letting the old version of myself roll to voicemail. Looking up at a highrise on 5th avenue for my very first big-brand interview, I had felt I was at the feet of the world. What I didn’t realize that entire time was that it was the world who was at mine.

One year later under a fiery March blizzard as the Wall street heavyweights and corporate monarchies hunker down for the economic Battle of the Bulge and as we watch the snow cover the Brooklyn bridge and melt into the icy East river from our office windows, we know that history is in the process of being rewritten, borders redrawn and emperors brought to trial across this wintry economic landscape. This isnt a year that I’ve let pass me by. And it isnt one to laugh too loud at. Except when one has had one too many dirty martinis. In March I bought an airmattress to sleep on. In April I found a job. In May an apartment I still cant afford. In June my brother got cancer – and there isnt a month that passes that I don’t still grieve a little bit for that day it became official. In July I entered into my mid-twenties. In August, I took a breath, wondered what I was doing in New York and spent a sickening amount of money on shoes. In September I met the best kind of someone at the absolute worst time – and I still don’t know how such amazing things can be so completely random. (I asked a similar question the other way around when they told me that leukemia isnt genetic). In October I saved someone’s life – or my genetic material did anyway. In November I spent all month thanking whoever was telepathically listening for that scrap of matching genetic material. Starcrossed or just lucky? - you decide. In December I cried a lot – for better and for worse. In January I helped build a team and hoped they wouldn’t hate me. In February I decided I was both out of shape and in love – so I signed up for 3 days of kickboxing a week with a couple of ex-gang members who call me "Woman". And today on the second day of March I am right back to where I started – the world at my feet and me there at its, just waiting for spring.

These are tough days. I don’t blame the big brands for feeling sorry for themselves as lights go out all over New York city. And you cant blame the newspaper headlines when they too are running low on ink and out of advertisers. I like my job – but I still make sure I don’t keep more than one cardboard box worth of personal items at work. No one can say they feel like investing in anything except happy hour recession specials and what’s left of our futures. But then again – when you’re flying high its awful hard to find a good place to land. So you land right where you are. 24 years old and planless – worth nothing but what you can write your way in or out of. Or 21 years old and 150 days out of a stem cell transplant calculating the probability of relapse with every day that goes by ...because leukemia doesn’t always negotiate. Still, at the bottom of a recession there are less shadows to live in and fewer excuses to put anything off at all. In a universe that is flying away from its center by an accelerating number of Kilometers per second, every solar system becoming more and more isolated with billions of light years of empty space in between…and yet somewhere in all that space every once in a while, galaxies still collide. And I don’t know about you. But Im pretty much good with that. No time is ever a bad time to be alive. Especially if you’ve ever had to work as hard at it as one person I know.

So here’s to warmer days. And all the cold ones in between.