Maemi Park dubs me "Miller," as that is about all she knows of me, except for my waist size, shirt size, color of socks, and well, that I like boxers. Secrets of the trade are kept at the local wash and dry. Park weighs my bag of laundry each Saturday morning. I count on her keeping my clothes until the next round, since I only have enough room for half of what I wear at any given time. Her laundry is eight doors away, next to Mike's Cake Creations.
The corner store, like thousands of other shops in Manhattan, reads "Gourmet Deli and Grocery," on its navy blue awning, although our ideas of gourmet differ. This family-run shop serves well for Mr. Chloe's daily vegetable source, and cut flowers. My favorite grocer is four blocks north at 78th and 1st called Agata & Valentina. They import the real cheeses from Italy and France; fresh milk from inland farms, and fresh bread that won't keep past two days; dozens of varieties of olives; fresh pates, pastas, and desserts made in-house daily. The only thing stale here is Frank Sinatra's song, "Start spreading the news...."
There are too many local pubs to mention in Manhattan, but the closest, across the street, is David Copperfield's. Beer is the drink of choice. This bar offers the widest selection of imported draft in the city, the food is OK in a pinch. I prefer dining at The Barking Dog up a block on 76th. As the name suggests, and T-shirts of staff read, "Sit--Stay!" There is a pooch H2O spicket outside the front door to refresh your pal on a hot day. Food is consistently good and cheap, at around $12 for a full meal. Most of the restaurants on the Upper East Side average about $22 for dinner. You can dine for more in Manhattan, but we leave that for the tourists to pay in Times Square.
Mr. Chloe, my pet bunny rabbit, loves Central Park to the West five blocks. City gardeners fence off portions of turf from dogs, so I set him free to romp around and chew on the blades, take in the sunshine, and conduct his favorite sport of chasing pigeons. He'll sneak up on them, and then, with one leap he tries to catch one before it takes flight. He doesn't understand why they won't play. He attracts a crowd. They gawk and snap pictures, and prodigy children debate their parents why they need a bunny too.
He hasn't used subway 6 yet...he prefers taxis or being carried around the neighborhood. For the time being, I've given up driving, and I no longer have a car. I don't miss it. Walking is preferred whether my destination is the office at 57th and Madison Ave., or Lincoln Center at Columbus Circle. Except for the hand-full of days we actually have inclement weather, strolling remains my pastime.
Observing weather bonds me and my past wherever I live. I'm one block from the East River, which isn't a river but the waterway between Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. On the fire escape railing outside my third-floor pad, I've fastened a digital thermometer and record the temperatures each day. Unlike those stories of 50-foot snow drifts from October until May in the cold Northeast --told to me as a child-- I realize that myth was meant to keep us in Los Angeles. We experienced one afternoon of snowflakes in all of winter 2002, and nothing more. The coldest temperature was 20 degrees. The last freeze was March 23. Our first, Thanksgiving Day. The nights of Summer stay warm, sometimes not dipping below 80, even though the daytime may only warm into the low 90s. The highest temperature was 99 once in April and once in July. This year we had forty-four days at 90 degrees or above, and fifteen nights remained in the mid-80s. The river however will sometimes create a damp, cold wind here, whereas Central Park and the West Side remain pleasant enough for short sleeves.
Suburban friends have kindly accused me of becoming a Manhattan snob. This doesn't offend me; since the meaning has eccentric appeal. My retort: Why leave Manhattan when everyone is trying to get in? So, snob it is. Sit--and--stay!
This part of Manhattan, known as Lenox Hill, is also quiet. You read that correctly --silent. Typical sounds, even as I write this letter include; kids singing "Do the Hokey Pokey," or "Happy Birthday," from the building's nursery school next door; birds chirping in bushes outside my windows, and every night at 8 o'clock sharp, one 'arrrf' from a dog (whose owner brings it out onto the patio.) One bark, never two. That is it. When I first moved into my apartment I slept so soundly, when I awoke I'd run outside to see if everyone was still here. All the snobs were carrying on about their chores.
The apartment: Unlike popular television shows, where characters live in palatial Manhattan spreads, we are used to living close. Restaurants thrive because few people cook. My kitchen is well equipped for a studio, with shoulder-high refrigerator (most are the size of a woman's purse), range and oven (not a hot plate), and bathtub (most have only a shower stall.) The apartment is the size of a large bedroom in the suburbs. My place has preferential rent, and I still don't understand what that means, but I signed a lease that shows my rent, which is $650 less than the "actual" rent, and another $413 less than what the rent could be if times were good. The standard renewal is 52 pages long, and it took me a couple of weeks to actually understand what they were asking me to renew. Buying an apartment may be an option someday, but that will be an experience, since we have "co-ops," each with a board of directors who decide whether or not you are the right type of person to live in their building. And yes, that means what it says...but it works both ways. Being part of one ethnicity might reject you in one building, but it welcomes you into another. It is easier to find a job than it is to buy an apartment.
As I moved in, mayor Rudolph Guiliani moved out of Gracie Mansion. (Nothing personal I hope.) Our new mayor is a former journalist, Michael Bloomberg. He took office in high self-esteem; dodged living at Gracie, since he already has a swank townhouse, and agreed to work his term for $1 since he didn't need money. My guess had been that a journalist has no business running this country's largest city. I was right.
Unlike Guiliani, who used his iron fist with class, Bloomberg rules secretly, without debate. He dropped the recycling program and raised parking fines from $56 to $100. He wants the Olympics in New York City, but residents are not as excited as he is. New Yorkers, I think, prefer to live a little quieter now. Fame is not worth the price. Patriotism has shifted south to Washington DC.
What politicians say, and what residents feel reflect the vast difference in opinion between those living day-to-day and those who reign. Despite numerous obstacles, this city gets on. Every race, every religion, every type manages to coexist without much intolerance overall. "Hey," as they say, "If you don't like it here, move to Connecticut...."
No one has lost what happened 15 months ago. Some say, they haven't really dealt with it yet. As the two-story firehouse on East 75th reminds my neighborhood, with a lit candle in the window refreshed by the firemen who live there; zip code 10021 lost more residents than any other neighborhood in the city. Including two of its firemen. It is a small, one-truck firehouse, with a red garage door and brick walls. The mayor has ordered it closed, along with a dozen other stations. He wants to save money against a deficit we face of $7 billion, largely a result of one day in history. The petition to save this house is taped to the door with a pen attached by string. You'll find my name written there, middle of page two.