Sometimes, I swear, I actively try to steer clear of getting involved in a conversation at the cafe, to stick to my own writing or reading or thinking. But I usually get sucked in. Something gets me. Yesterday, it was a very lively, passionate woman from Trinidad speaking excitedly about a cabin she'd purchased in the Catskills, seven acres for a mere $22,000. I nearly spit out my coffee...
"Did I hear you correctly?" I said.
"Yes," she said. Granted, the place--a one-bedroom cabin--has no running water or electricity and is a long haul up a big hill. But still. A home for that price? I was intrigued, to say the least, especially since the first thing I felt like doing when we got to the Catskills to ski over the February break was looking for an old barn to buy. I could picture my antique turquoise-painted pick-up parked outside this fantasy barn home, picture myself easily with a cool ceramic coffee mug staring out at the mountains in between typing away at my blog or book.
She was so cool this lady, has grand plans for a studio for herself and one for her boyfriend, for an expansion of the one-bedroom to offer freedom and space for her two city kids. Awesome. She got a gold star and wore it proudly.
I headed into the city for a dentist appointment and, once there, waiting to be tortured, I received a compliment from a lady on my crazy-patterned summer bag with black-beaded handles. "Great bag," she said. "Is it some expensive designer?"
I laughed. "It could be, I guess, I don't know. I got it at TJ Maxx, though I saw the same one for double at a boutique near my apartment." I looked at the tag, curious. It was no brand I had heard of. Obviously, I didn't care either way, but she had piqued my interest.
She sighed, audibly, taxed by the concept of shopping it was clear. "Is there a TJ Maxx in the city?" she said.
"Oh yes!" I said, giving her the location. I want to take her there, to help her find clothes, to help her find her fun self. "They should have personal shoppers there, but they don't. It's worth it, though, to sort through all the junk. You get such great stuff!" I should work for TJ Maxx and Marshall's, get paid for as much business as I throw their way. In this economy, a lot of people who didn't want to do the legwork are coming around. Now is the time for designer discount. As the lady got up to leave, I gave her a gold star. "Good luck shopping!" I said. I know it's hard for some people. I wish it was hard for me. So does my husband.
Post-torture, gums aching, I needed sustenance and, stuck in midtown, couldn't figure where I might go to get a bit of sunshine. I remembered from my expense-account days a great Greek spot that feels like you've left the concrete jungle for the Mediterranean Sea, despite its outdoor patio's proximity to the exhaust fumes off Madison Avenue. I couldn't remember its exact location so I began to ask people who might know around me. Ray, the doorman at a fancy hotel, took it upon himself to find out, running inside to check with the concierge and running back to give me the information, that it was just a few blocks away, on 48th St.
"Thank you so much!" I said. "I knew it was right around here..." With that, I gave him a gold star, a big one. He was a big guy and a small one would have looked wimpy.
"Here, have this pen," Ray said, trying to hand me his pen in exchange for the star. I laughed.
"You've already given me something!" I said, and walked away waving goodbye to my new friend. Whoever says people in Manhattan aren't nice are wrong.
I met a friend at the Greek place, Avra (I finally remembered its name,) and we talked a lot about the difficulties of the work/life balance, of trying to do a job job and the mothering job even half decently when doing them both at the same time. There is not a second to breathe during the years of raising little kids with a full-time career, and staying home is no easier, just different. Rewards are hard to come by in either case. I gave her all I could, a rare if brief lunch with a friend in the sun and a gold star, a big one that she placed on her blouse before she headed back to the office after an emergency message on her Blackberry.