Exhilarating isn’t even a strong enough adjective to describe what every morning was, waking up in New York City those first few months after I had moved. It seemed every single day was an adventure all its own, discovering something totally new about the city or experiencing changes in myself. You go out the door into the street where you live and you are instantly sucked into a pulsating flow of real life happening at you and to you simultaneously, joining you with the City’s natural rhythm. You become one with New York, with little or no effort and it defies you to not dance along to the musical beat.
Originally I envisioned December as being the perfect time to move, with the holidays coming up. I would be there for Christmas and New Year. Normally the City was decked out in colored lights everyday of the year, but it was amazing to see what was added to reflect the festive glimmer of the season with gorgeous holiday displays and over-the-top store windows. What I didn’t count on was the fact that many people go home for the holidays to be with family. My new roommate Matty was going back to Ohio for the last two weeks of the year, leaving me to enjoy the very small apartment all to myself. I was fine with this, because I didn’t want to rely so heavily on him to be my mentor and guide. I needed to learn City life alone – to find my own peculiar place in a magical land.
Richard, my boyfriend-in-waiting, was becoming an enigma. He always seemed caring and quite protective of me in the big, bad City but he was extremely guarded and at times mysterious about himself which I couldn’t understand and he wouldn’t talk about when confronted. I was pretty much crazy about this guy and made my feelings clear to him from the start. I knew there was no one else in his life, not even any Exs, so why his reticence? We would rendezvous several nights a week at Marie’s and go out to eat regularly, but he avoided ever coming to the apartment or inviting me to see his. Despite our time together, it didn’t feel as though we were moving towards a relationship and that was front and center in my life, even before a career. Of course I never believed those were my priorities at the time. In fact, should you have asked me then, nothing was more important than an acting career. “That’s why I’m here”, had been my stock answer. In any event, Richard was going home to wherever that was, so I would be left to Christmas with only the people at my neighborhood Smiler’s deli where I shopped daily, a few first-name-only acquaintances from the bar and Coleen, the only person in our apartment building I knew. She was a forty-something-year-old, Irish American ex-nun who lived downstairs and taught public school somewhere in the Bronx. Coleen was a sweet, gentle lady with a big, big heart and horsey buck teeth to match.
And of course there was the 12″ black and white television set which was the only thing of any value in the teensy apartment and a huge source of comfort to me. TV did not sign off here like it did back in the land of Cleves – at least not WPIX, so I fell asleep to it at night and awoke to its grey beacon each morning. It sat on a wire milk crate that Matty had swiped from the street. The bed was actually a cheesy air mattress purchased at Lamstons on Sixth Avenue, but it served to keep one off the floor enough to not be crawled upon by the friendly gang of cockroaches who inhabited our building. The studio apartment had a horrible old ceiling light fixture in the center of the main room and just enough space to fit the makeshift bed, a small chest of drawers (also a street-find as I remember) and a bright orange plastic beanbag chair in the corner opposite the TV, that was as uncomfortable and useless as it was unaesthetically pleasing to the eye and Matty loved it, though I never understood why. My Baby Ben wind-up alarm clock that I brought with me from Ohio was our only time piece and it loudly ticked from its perch atop the battered chest. There wasn’t any room for knick knacks. Ashtrays and glasses, coffee cups and the like had to sit on the floor, like everyone who came into the room.
There were no auditions coming up for possible work until after the New Year. I spent my first days alone, walking the West Village and looking into shop windows and admiring apartment buildings as I acclimated myself to the confusing maze of winding street patterns there. It was totally opposite the rest of Manhattan which is arranged in a logical grid of east-west numbered streets and north-south running avenues. Having no telephone in our apartment, I had adopted a phone booth off Sheridan Square as “my phone”, from where I religiously called my parents collect every two or three days and reported in so they could be reassured I had not been abducted, mugged or murdered. I was also spending a good deal of time writing and receiving mail from friends and family back in Ohio since I was telephonically incommunicado. My good friend Alena and I were corresponding almost daily and her witty and creative cards and letters kept any loneliness which might have crept in at bay. She was the friend from University who had originally connected me with Matty. They were both from the Youngstown area and knew each other from local theatre there. I was missing her in my life, because she shared in the dream to move here herself and although borderline legally insane, she was one of the most entertaining personalities I had ever met.
I knew there was already a group of nearly a dozen of my theatre friends from University who had all moved here earlier in the year in summer and fall. I could have easily gotten addresses and phone numbers, but I was purposely avoiding contacting them. I had spent the better part of the last four years with these people, living and breathing theatre together 24/7. I was enjoying a sabbatical from them to give myself a chance to meet some new blood, cultivate new friendships – all a part of my grand plan to begin my new life. But I will admit, knowing that they were so close was a temptation, as these important holidays approached and the sense of family was now a huge void in my daily life.
The weekend before Christmas I celebrated my first completed solo week by feeling as though I might be coming down with something, but of course there was nothing in the apartment like in your medicine cabinet back home. My God, you could perform minor surgery in my parents’ bathroom with the arsenal of drugs and medical accoutrement housed in there. There weren’t even any band aids or aspirin in the apartment – nothing! Didn’t Matty ever get sick, I wondered? I went shopping for a fever thermometer, aspirin, cough drops and kleenex because I was going to have to fight whatever was brewing all by myself. Stopping at the deli, I got a big container of OJ and by the time I made my way back to the building the trip up the six flights of stairs to our top floor apartment seemed almost too daunting for my rapidly weakening body. Once inside I gathered up the blankets, turned on the TV and made up my sick room, laying everything around me within easy reach, hoping a good night’s sleep was all I needed to cure what ailed me.
I was awakened a few hours later by severe chills convulsing my aching body. The steam heat was always too hot, yet I shivered and shook as though I were in the Siberian wilderness instead. I took my temperature and saw that it was over 101. Dammit, I felt like hell. I took two more aspirin and made a mental note of the time – a little before midnight. There was a holiday movie playing, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, I think. I slept soundly for a long time. I woke up, this time burning with fever. It was just before dawn the next day. My temp was almost 102 so I took more aspirin, drank another glass of juice and dragged my sick ass to the bathroom to pee. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I looked like hell. I had been feeling sorry for myself because I was all alone with my illness but now, after seeing my own ailing reflection, so glad that neither Matty nor anyone else could see me at my worst. I shuffled back to the mattress and quickly fell asleep. Hours later, sometime in the afternoon I guessed, my eyes half-opened trying to focus on the TV image. It was the same holiday movie from the previous evening and my blankets around me were soaked. Two thoughts crossed my mind nearly simultaneously: A) had I pissed myself and B) was I delirious or had the fever caused me to imagine the passing of a whole day? Luckily the soaked blankets were the product of my fever sweat, but I had no idea if I’d only imagined it was the next day, or indeed it really was. Why would the same movie be on the same channel twice in twenty-four hours? Had I just dozed off and only minutes had passed in flushed delirium? Once my eyes could fully function (I’d taken out my contacts hours before) I looked at the clock; it had stopped at a few minutes after five. AM or PM I didn’t know. I peered out the small window but the dawn/dusk winter grey made it impossible to tell. When had my life become a Twilight Zone episode?
I rallied a bit at this point, towel dried myself off and changed into clean dry clothes. I half thought about going out into the world downstairs, but realized I was already exhausted just from changing myself and certainly hadn’t the stamina yet to deal with all those stairs. I still had a fever well over 100 and had now graduated to feeling like shit, but somehow I knew I would live. All I wanted to do was take more aspirin, drink more juice and go back to sleep. There was a Loretta Young movie just starting. Before I even got involved in the plot, sleep overtook me once again. And so whatever day it was passed much the same as the day before had, as my Twilight Zone existence drifted in and out like a great comatose nap. This time hours of sleep registered in the proper brain center then, all at once I sat up with a start, feeling almost normal until I consulted my nurse, the TV set and saw Loretta Young in the same scene that I now knew for sure had played many long hours before. This confirmed my time warp fear was false, and that indeed, WPIX did play the same film twice in the same day. And the station alerted me that today was Christmas Eve. A little later on I was able to wind and set my clock to the time provided by the local news program.
I gathered as much strength as my still achy body could muster and showered and shaved, put on my glasses and bundled up to make a trip downstairs for provisions. I hadn’t eaten solid food in days, since before going to the drug store. I actually felt hungry and thought about how good a big, homemade bowl of Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo soup would taste right about now. On my way back from the deli, I spotted a vendor around the corner on Seventh Avenue who had been selling Christmas trees. He was still standing there Christmas Eve at 7:00 p.m. with two or three scraggily little bent Charlie Brown trees, remnants of the season. I bartered with him and bought the saddest one and took it home with me. After I nourished myself with soup and crackers, I was going to try to make some sort of Christmas for me to enjoy on my own.
To be continued……