One end of the tape measure rests between the pads of my thumb and index finger. Meera stands eight feet away with the other end and Rohit takes notes. They closed on this apartment a year ago and are a few months from move in day. Their impending ownership delights me. As much as I love these urban nomads who have moved three times in two years, I really don’t want to help. Again.
"Honey, what about fixtures?” Meera asks. Her voice echoes against the white walls and bounces across the wood floor. Empty apartments always sound unwanted and hollow to me. “What about fixtures?” he asks without looking up. I smirk. Meera groans, “We have to buy them!” “I walked by a really nice light store in Flatiron,” I suggest and glance out the window. The sliver sized Romeo and Juliet balcony catches my eye. I am sure it is securely fastened to the building, but I don’t plan on standing on that thing any time soon. It is a seven-story drop from the apartment to the sidewalk. Given my luck these days, I don’t think I should chance it.
“Whaaaaaat?” Meera says. “Flatiron? Are you crazy? It is SO expensive. I buy wine glasses from Wal-Mart. We’re going to Home Depot, right honey?” “Yup,” Rohit replies. He has mastered knowing when to tune in and out of our conversations. “It’s required by law for Minnesotans to shop at Target,” I tease. “Why would I pay more when I can pay less?” Meera asks. “Am I really listening to this?” Rohit asks in a tired tone, “Wal-Mart and Money by Meera?” “What’s wrong with him?” I ask Meera. Normally Rohit PRETENDS we are annoying, but secretly finds us entertaining. “Oh he’s just mad because I don’t want to put in a faux brick wall like we had in the Upper West apartment,” Meera says. “I think they look very New York,” Rohit insists.
Meera rolls her eyes. “Honey! They are not going to increase the value of our apartment!” Rohit makes a face and returns to his notes. “Desi Girl, I have an idea!” “What would that be?” I ask. I never know which Meera I am going to get: the very serious medical professional or the goof who doesn’t like to wear shoes. “Move across the street from us.” Her beautiful brown eyes brighten and she smiles big and full, revealing perfect rows of pearly white teeth. She MUST be joking, with what shall I make the purchase? I have anti-money these days. “It’s considered affordable,” Rohit adds.
“Affordable” is a loaded word in this City. On the other hand, I am still thoroughly infatuated with Manhattan that I don’t see myself returning to Minneapolis any time soon. “Are you serious? You’d be okay with me living across the street from her?” I ask Rohit and point at his wife. “Why not?” Rohit asks, looking puzzled. “We would never see you anyway.” “Just make sure you close those curtains when you are having some lovin’ tiiiiime,” Meera sings. “I think I just threw up a little in my mouth,” Rohit deadpans.
* * *
The next morning it takes the better part of an hour to go four miles. Sketchy weekend subway service is becoming a regular nuisance. By the time the train pulls into the Harlem station I am certain I burned 100 calories sighing and fidgeting the whole ride down.
I rush out of the subway and onto the street. I wait for the light and inhale deeply and exhale slowly. Yoga is not helping. Tiny bubbles of tension are trapped under my skin and I cannot release them because I don’t know what is causing them. I just feel them all the time.
The walk light flashes and I cross the street. The air smells like meat and I remember to sanitize my hands. What I like about Harlem is what I like about Washington Heights. Real residential neighborhoods inhabited by real New Yorkers, who travel on rush hour subways to 9-to-5 jobs, buy groceries from the bodega and sleep in on Saturdays. Cabs are an infrequent sighting and it is comforting to see the same cars parked in front of my building. I find the requisite Starbucks, Duane Reade, Chase and Citibank locations at the intersections. But thankfully the big boxes cannot find enough space to invade my urban landscape.
I don’t fear Harlem like I used to. I have learned that no one in Manhattan bothers you if you act like you belong. So I regularly employ tactics like scowling, avoiding eye contact, looking bored and jamming on my IPod to underscore my native status. I haven’t been mugged yet. So far so good.
To be cont.