It’s my 35th birthday, and my husband and I are getting ready in our room at the High Line Standard Hotel, listening to “Concrete Schoolyard,” by the hip hop group Jurassic 5, a song we’ve only just discovered despite its 1998 release. It’s just loud enough that we can’t hear each other when we speak, and I finally feel like maybe we belong in this hotel. This, despite the fact that upon checking in, the resourceful gentleman at the front desk got only halfway through his sentence when explaining that their top-floor club opened at 10 p.m., before I interrupted, laughing, and embarrassed by my puritanical attitude before I’d even spoken. “No, no, don’t worry about the details. Too late for us. We’re parents.”
“Ah,” he replied. “A weekend away.”
Contrary to my effusive self-doubt, we were up late that night, despite prior proclamations in the same vein. That’s the allure of these New York City weekends, leaving our New Haven home — and sometimes our young children — behind. Wondrous experiences that manifest in a variety of ways: an extended birthday celebration with 14 friends over dinner at a narrow, candlelit table; Sunday mornings spent choosing one of a million well-reviewed brunch spots; or, when our children are with us, staying out all day, letting them nap reclined in their strollers as we drink beers. At noon.
Just as New York City beckons to us, an easy drive or train ride 80 miles away from our home — this lifestyle lingers just outside the ordinary realm we inhabit on a day-to-day basis. Ripe for the taking; and we do.
Connecticut is legit commuter country when it comes to the city and I often tell people that one of my favorite things about living here is easy NYC access. We visit enough that I know how to navigate the subway lines (fine, mostly the 6 train) and regularly spot places where we had afternoon espressos on prior visits.
We are not, however, familiar enough to achieve any semblance of residence status, a truth made quite evident if you spend any real time with my husband and I as we confusedly attempt new adventures, like using the credit card machine in taxis.
We have retained a brand of naivety when it comes to New York City. One autumn Saturday morning, we spent almost an hour bewitched by effervescent sales clerks in a tea store on Bleecker Street. Afterwards we visited a specialty bed manufacturer where employees invited us in to lay down on mattresses made of seaweed and horsehair while they made us freshly squeezed orange juice. Why not? It would soon to time to return home, to our modest yet lovely house by the lapping waters of the Long Island Sound. There’s no place good to have brunch in New Haven, I often complain. When we go home, we return to a more tedious schedule, and sleep on a mattress made of regular things.
These visits are important to me, especially considering this particular stage in my life, where it seems any semblance of freedom (so to speak) could be easily abolished with the purchase of a minivan, or the decision to work less and spend more time at home. Modern parents — and mothers in particular — often speak of their former life; the one left behind when your first child is born. But in New York, at least for this visitor, that life is revived with every esoteric art exhibit and cramped subway ride, reminding me that in the face of bustling humanity, the mundane is easily surmountable.
New York is all magic to me. Mostly, anyway.
Cut to the morning after my 35th birthday. The evening a delirious medley: that dinner with 14 friends at a long, candlelit table at an Italian place in Nolita, followed by drinks at a LES bar. I tired early (ok, I was the first one to go home) blaming the shot of whiskey I’d done with our server at dinner’s end, his birthday gift to me. That would never happen in Connecticut.
And it’s why, that morning after, I am a little hungover as I’m taking the elevator down to the first floor to check out before we catch the train home. There’s a 40-something woman riding with me, wearing a v-neck sweater and jeans, looking incredulously at the moving television screen on the wall, which plays an endless loop of spliced-together movie scenes. It’s a vibrantly colored celebration of debauchery, it seems, which this hotel has chosen as entertainment for guests as they ride between floors; there are devils with horns, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from “Ghostbusters” and showgirls with pointy bras, to name a few choice images. No moments of silence in this fair city.
“I don’t really get it,” she says to me.
As my head pounded, I smiled. “Neither do I.”