A Blind Move
See that window? Right there, straight ahead. Look.
There are letters, bright and overlapping and backwards, because they’re meant for outside reading, but they say it clearly: Brooklyn. There’s a man behind the counter with a mustache curled tighter than the Pringles man’s handlebar. The tables are wobbly, the floors a little grimy, and the vinyl booth benches are cracking and thin, but it smells like coffee. There’s low chatter filling the place, and pretentious people sit working on their laptops, each tapping away at what’s sure to be the next big thing, glad to be in a place where others will notice them and wonder what they’ve got.
I’m one of these pretentious people. There is something pretentious about it, isn’t there? Writing in a coffee shop. But whatever, it works. It’s inspiring, and something like a friendly competition, sitting with other people who are creating things. I found this place while out walking today, and that’s because I live here now. The walk was aimless, really. I started at my apartment in Bushwick and walked until I found the spot I wanted to be. Today, it was DUMBO. I do this often these days, just walk, find what I find, see what I see, the world is my oyster.
Last year, on a hot, muggy, August day in Memphis, the great armpit of the Tennessee, I called my parents and told them I had accepted a job in New York City. It wouldn’t be accurate to say they were shocked, because I had told them for a long time that I wanted to do this. My parents were at least a little surprised, though—when I tell you no one actually expected me to follow through with this plan, I mean it. I’ve never been the impulsive type. I didn’t even go away for school, and I only lived out of the house my first semester (during which I still spent a lot of weekends at home, writing. Lame, I know). But I had started to feel stagnant, trapped, and I didn’t want to wake up one day at fifty-two never having done the thing I’d always said I wanted to do. So I did it.
I gave my notice at the school where I’d worked for seven years (the only place I’d ever had a job, because, as I already mentioned, I previously was not about trying new things), packed up a U-Haul, and drove my meager belongings for sixteen hours to an apartment I’d only seen in pictures, where I’d be living with three roommates I’d never spoken with, unless you count a handful of texts about Wi-Fi decisions and kitchen supplies. My mom, who was at the time moving between treating my departure as a betrayal, an adventure, and a forever goodbye, decided to accompany me.
I know what you’re thinking, but let me stop you. No, I didn’t have some romanticized idea of New York Living in my head. I didn’t think I would move to the Big Apple and make some grand discovery that couldn’t have been made in Memphis. I did need to get out of there, though—at least for a while—and New York had always fascinated me. I had wanted to work in the publishing industry since college, and this was the place to make that happen. I’d also written a book that deals in part with homesickness, which I didn’t really know how to write about, having never experienced it, and if you’re thinking to yourself, that’s a crazy reason to move across the country, well.
We arrived in Manhattan in the early afternoon, just two country-folk hauling a trailer with the entirety of my net worth, listening to old country music (really).
My anxiety level was ratcheting up as we pressed into the thick of the buildings, and as we rolled into Chinatown, I had this sort of half-smile creeping onto my face. Look at me, Mom, my smile said. I’m excited about this. Not worried at all. Stop looking at me like that.
It was my mom’s turn to drive when we got there, and we quickly found that driving a large box of a truck through tight Manhattan lanes was not an easy thing. Our side mirrors, extending gracefully from the side of the truck like three-foot-long wings, kissed no less than four other unsuspecting drivers’ mirrors. Curses were flung through open windows, but for the most part, the drivers just popped their mirrors back out and continued on. I couldn’t believe it. Make no mistake, if the same had happened in Memphis, the bored PD would have had three cops there in ten minutes.
We finally made it over the bridge and into Brooklyn, trusting Siri like Michael Scott trusts a GPS. I could feel my mom’s anxiety radiating as she stared out the window at the graffiti scarred buildings, and it was contagious. We finally came to a stop outside the address I’d memorized two weeks before, and it was—not what I’d expected. I opened the passenger door and dropped three feet to the pavement, my knees nearly giving out from the nerves. I buzzed my apartment.
“I’m Austin,” I said, trying to sound as normal as one can while on the verge of barfing. “The new roommate.”
Then, nothing. I looked at my mom, who shrugged. About two minutes later, which is longer than it sounds, the door opened and we stepped into the lobby with my new roommate. I extended my hand, and he looked at it like he’d never seen one before. He tentatively shook, then turned without another word and led the way to our door. He unlocked it and stepped back for me to enter, but as I opened the door, something shot out between my legs.
“You let the cat out!” the roommate screamed.
“Cat?” I asked. I hadn’t even known there was a cat. Shouldn’t someone have said there was a cat?
He turned and ran away without another word. My mom, standing beside me, looked more worried than I’d ever seen her in my life, and I knew this wasn’t good. I clenched my jaw and opened the door—but it hit something. I stuck my head in to see what was blocking the entrance. There wasn’t just one litter box. There weren’t even two. There were three litter boxes, just inside the door, each having spilled a light dusting of litter on the floor.
I looked back at my mom, my shock as evident as the smell coming from inside. I wanted to tell her to go back to the U-Haul, to not look inside this place I had signed up to live for a year. I wanted to keep her from having to worry about me. But she was already worrying, and she was part of this now. I pushed the door open, scooting the litter boxes back, and entered.
The place was . . . interesting. A layer of cat hair covered just about every inch, and if you looked at the light streaming through the high windows, you could see more of it fluttering in the air. And the smell. Reader, words cannot do the smell justice, and that’s the God’s honest truth. I have nothing against cats in general, and although I would not normally choose to live with them, I was not entirely opposed to it. But this was a whole different ballgame. This was a cat’s apartment, and these people were living in it.
We managed to carry the bed frame inside and set it up in my tiny bedroom before I looked at my mom and said, “I can’t do this.”
“OK,” she said. It was not the response I expected. I thought she’d yell at me, say I told you so, tell me how nuts this whole thing had been. But in the end, I suspect she couldn’t do this either.
We walked outside and decided to go back to her hotel (leaving my bed frame behind) where I made dozens of phone calls and spoke with several real estate agents before I weaseled my way out of my apartment, for which I’d already signed a year lease. When I looked it up before calling, I read that this was normally a very difficult process—especially in New York—that could take weeks to work through. But I was on a mission, and in three hours, I had plans to go look at another apartment the following morning.
My cousin arrived that night, and she went with us to look at the apartment the next day. It wasn’t how we’d planned to spend her first day in New York, but she was a good sport. We toured the new apartment, and we walked through the neighborhood, and it was exactly what I wanted. There’s a park next door, where, on warm days, everyone in the neighborhood goes to lay out or read or play basketball. The walls in Bushwick are covered in art, and the people are nicer than I’d heard New Yorkers would be. This was the place I needed to live.
We had to wait the following day to find out if I would get the room. Still, even amidst the stress of wondering if I’d be living with six roommates (including the cats) or staying in an apartment that I really wanted, that day was, without a doubt, the best I’ve had in New York. Still to this day. I’ve had plenty of other great, memorable days, but that day was just better. Everything about it—the people we met, the places we went, the weather—it all added up to something very close to perfection.
Next morning, I found out I got the apartment, and we celebrated with Wafels & Dinges. Mom cried, believe it or not, and it was then I realized she had been even more worried than I about this apartment fiasco, though she hadn’t said so.
What a mom.
She went home later that day, and my cousin and I had a job to do: take my bed frame back from the cats. We managed to do so without letting them get out, if you are wondering, and as awkward as it was to face those would-be roommates, it was over in five minutes. But as soon as we got out onto the sidewalk, my cousin and I looked at each other. We didn’t have a box to put the bed frame pieces into, and we had to get them back to the new apartment. We didn’t think it would be possible to take the frame in a cab, so we walked six blocks, carrying five foot long pieces of metal over our shoulders like a couple of regular soldiers, and took the train. It’s not an easy thing, I learned, taking a bed frame through the subway.
I’m living in a place now where each day is an experience and people are boldly weird and no one cares. I get on the train each morning and make my way to midtown Manhattan, where I walk through the doors of Penguin Random House to help set up author book tours, which is a sentence that a year ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to write. Pretty soon, I hope someone will be setting up my book tour, too. I’m not sure I’d say I’ve found my own “Great perhaps,” and maybe I never will. But I’m closer to it here than I’ve ever been, and that’s a great place to be.