The city landscape gave way to the puzzle of buildings stacking up block by block. The familiar rays of the sun shine less bright, having to fight crevasses to break through. Rain drops seem to love the challenge and come down in torrents when they’re ready. The wind whips up in the urban tunnels. The city of dreams and the city of lost souls. ‘If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.’ For those seeking discovery, this urban maze becomes whatever challenge you least expected. Highs as tall as these buildings, and lows further beneath the surface than the subway tunnels. The hard concrete a clue into the struggle it takes to survive here. The majesty of her architecture a symbol of what inspiration can do when met with struggle and opportunity. People packed into subway cars, buildings, city streets and never meeting. On their way to something they should have taken care of yesterday. The only thing that does stand out here are the eyes of the novice. The overwhelmed girl trusting a bit too much in the sincerity of others. “You’re so nice” they say. “Just wait until you’ve been here long enough.”
“$30! Mani/Pedi!” screamed the Barney purple sign outside of Yolanda’s Nail & Spa on 2nd Avenue and 45th Street in Manhattan. Big enough, purple enough, and loud enough to lure in the hip, young corporate-types and this wandering tourist. It’s cheaper to get your nails done in New York City than most anywhere else in the continental United States, but that comes with the price of making sure you pick a salon that treats their employees fairly. It was a Friday, which meant the city’s salons upped their prices for the weekend. There’s something about $30, though, that seems both perfectly reasonable and not demeaningly inexpensive.
“Hello! Mani, pedi?” inquired the owner, perched behind her hostess desk. “Yes, please. Thirty dollars?” “Yes! Thirty Dollar! You, go! Pick out nail color!” Aggressively happy to have my business, I walk over the the white column in the middle of the salon, wrapped on all four sides with colorful Essie and Opi nail polishes, and start the arduous task of picking just the right shade of pink.
My nail artist, Zoe, started the process of cleaning up the mess of uneven nail ends and messy cuticles. I’m thankful for her diligence. A good manicure, like a great haircut, is something you appreciate if only because you can never recreate it nearly as well on your own. As she started to apply the light pink nail polish, she stopped abruptly. “This not good. You want white” she advised. I nodded my head, and knew she was spot on as she applied the color I really wanted, but had overlooked.
“Massage?” In New York City, this question holds so much weight. When you’ve been hustling around all day, dealing with hoards of people on the subway and on the sidewalks, constantly being almost late for everything, being asked if you want a massage felt like Mr. Rogers wrapping you in one of his comfort sweaters. “How much?” “Twenty dollar for thirty min” she replied. “Yeah, ok”. Zoe walked me towards the back of the salon and sat me down in the tilted massage chair. I thoroughly melted away as she began to crunch and work the multitude of knots that nested near my shoulder blades. My brain released every bit of dopamine it could produce. I immediately lifted my head, just enough to be heard, and offered to pay for another thirty minutes. I dare say, it was the most relaxed I have ever felt in New York City. I kept thinking how stupid I was for never taking advantage of this when I lived there. It was so relaxing and so recharging that when I got up after it was all over, Zoe and I hugged. It was such a sincere moment; me being grateful to her and her acknowledging how good her work was. I felt as though I found the best nail place, and best nail woman, in New York City. This is my gift to you.
“You ready to close out already? You can’t go yet. Stay for a glass of wine on me” insisted Jim, our bartender. “Oh. I can’t…are you sure? Thanks. This is the second time this week I’ve been stood up” confessed the 30 something woman sitting next to me, dressed in her sleek black turtleneck, black jeans, and thigh-high boots. Jim had already proved himself a worthy wine pusher by bringing over several bottles of French reds for me to try before committing to a full glass. I liked this guy even more now that he I could see the empathy he wore on his sleeve.
Vanguard, on 2nd Avenue and 30th Street in Manhattan, is a great date spot and a terrible place to get stood up. Something about having to walk downstairs to enter the bar feels exclusive. Like a best kept secret. The dark browns and reds that highlighted this sunken space provided a warm glimmer against the flickering candlelight. An old black and white film played silently above the bar, highlighted by the marble countertop surrounding Bartender Jim. Framed vintage advertisements and French subway maps adorned almost every inch of these walls. The few booths and tabletops that are here sit mostly empty. The draw of the marble bar is irresistible. Some come here solo, looking for a warm space to pull out a journal and start writing. Others come here with friends after work to vent over one too many glasses of Cabernet Franc. And some, like the older couple across the bar, came here to make this spot a wine-tasting, slow-dancing, spot for romance. All of us with the perfect view of the other characters that occupied this space tonight, make it impossible to ignore the girl who was left here alone. I felt bad for her. We all loved Jim’s act of compassion, and now we were all aware of her punctured heart.
Silently inserting myself into her situation, I decided that what this woman deserved was a man who knew what he wanted and was confident in his decision. Like the gentlemen who had no interest in tasting anything. He knew exactly the glass of wine he wanted to order. A young man that looked like he was pulled directly out the New York improv scene: black hipster glasses, maroon zip-up hoodie, and New Balance sneakers. Sure, he looked like a kid, but the assuredness and maturity of his ordering style left me with a temporary fantasy that he could be a great fallback for our lonely homegirl.
I snapped out of this intrusive daydream and ordered an earthy red, the Camembert and Apricot Preserve flatbread, and a glass of sparkling water. The latter of which I attempted to use to get rid of whatever the yellow stain was that just showed up on my new, white coat. The water helped some, but good ol’ Bartender Jim came through with a helpful follow up, “Did you spill red wine on your coat?” “Oh no. Just some stain I noticed on the way here.” “Oh. Cause I have some of this spray stuff that helps take out red wine stains.” A few pumps and scrubs later, stain be gone. Bartender and superhero. I’ll definitely be back.