In A Sentimental Mood

I was first drawn to New York while out to dinner with my family at age ten. I pointed to a large black and white photograph of the skyline and asked my father where it was taken. He told me it was New York City and then continued talking with my mother. I stared awhile at that photograph. Overhead, I recall jazz music playing, though don’t trust me on that. I tend to romanticize every detail of my past. The worst day of my life? I recall it through rose-colored lenses, and I suppose that’s a good thing for the heart to rely on.

But the image stuck with me and a swirling feeling in my gut told me, I would go there for myself. I would see it all – the fire escapes and scaffolding above fruit carts and old men sitting in front of the family store they’ve owned since coming to America. I would stroll endlessly down avenues, in and out of cafes and bookstores and hat shops and map shops, filling the day with a treasury of people, and the things they sold in the stores they tended.

Duke Ellington, "The Duke"

And now, here I am. I’m not a tourist and not quite a visitor, but I’m certainly not a New Yorker, either. So what am I doing here? There is magic, I think, to living in a place for a time after spending so many years dreaming about it while falling asleep to Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood.” But it’s an earned magic. I didn’t like the city at all  when I first moved here, age 18. I wasn’t ready, but it certainly prepared me for better days elsewhere (Hanszen College, Rice University, Houston, Texas).

And now I’m strong enough to return, and every now and then, come back to the electric thrill I sensed half-way across the country growing up. Here is what I like to do now – I walk or run and look around, I listen to music, I look for food, for families. I note what they are doing, how they live. Everyone leaves an impression on me, the entire city is alive, and changing. And I work. I work very hard here, because it makes me feel good, because I don’t know what else I would do with all this energy. I don’t look forward to sleeping. But I guess, that has never been a strong priority for me.

Just because I love the image, though it has little to do with this post.

I talk to people, all sorts of people, and the only thing we have in common is the fact that we’re sharing an elevator, or we’re in line to buy iced coffee, or we’re awkwardly huddled in the subway…actually, that is one time no one talks. But there’s an invisible thread of common humanity in New York City and when it appears, you feel like you’re apart of this huge family and that somehow, they all share something with you.

But there’s a lot they don’t share with me. Because New York doesn’t have Kansas City barbecue, or my best friends from grade school, high school, or college; it doesn’t have lazy days by the pool, or taking a ride in the country at night to look at the stars; it doesn’t have the heart of the community I left New York to find (which I found in Texas), but it does have a piece of my heart, that it always will.

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