Monday, September 3, 2007

From the Roach Motel

Well, orientation is over and classes start tomorrow. Overall assessment so far: I chose the right program. I chose the wrong neighborhood.

I'm cranky. So far nearly everything has failed to happen in any remotely simple or straightforward way. My stuff still hasn't arrived from San Francisco, so I'm wearing the same jeans every day. I don't have any clothes to workout in, or shoes to run in, and my beloved bike may or may not be intact once it arrives. Renovations on my new apartment were supposed to be finished three weeks ago, but the hallway and corners are still lined with large buckets of various adhesives and paints, floorboards, siding, shelves, toolboxes, and stacks of tiles, all waiting to be pasted or nailed into their proper resting place.

Also, we have a roach problem. This is nothing new in New York, of course, but I didn't expect "having a roach problem" to mean:

Roaches crawl into the fridge for us to discover after they've died of frostbite.

Roaches crawl out of my laptop keyboard.

Roaches crawl out of my garbage can where there wasn't even any food.

Roaches crawl out of the drain.

Roaches crawl across my arm while I'm lying in bed at night.

New Yorkers always say the same thing when I say I think I have a roach problem: "Are you sure it's not a water bug?"

Why make a distinction? I'm told water bugs look exactly like giant cockroaches and make rude appearances in places where they're not supposed to.

"Oh, you're right, they're water bugs. I guess I don't have a problem after all."

I Left Kenya To Come To Kenya. I'm not the only person who's had this reaction to the male attention we get in the neighborhood. A friend who lived in southern Africa for four years said, "I feel like I'm back in southern Africa." Another friend who lived in the Mission in San Francisco said, "I thought I escaped the Mission when I moved to New York, but I moved to this neighborhood." Yet another friend said, in a dreamy voice, "I feel like I'm somewhere in Latin America."

Everywhere I go, unemployed men stare and emit a broad spectrum of caveman noises. People beg me for money. Men sneer "Chinita" when they pass me. I was so eager to leave Kenya and the infantile taunting perpetrated by grown adults, only to return to the States and experience the exact same harrassment, but in a new language. The up side: I recently discovered that I do understand one Spanish word: pendejo.

And Yet, It's So Unlike Kenya. Friday and Saturday nights in my neighborhood are for pulling your sagging couch onto the sidewalk, blasting the car stereo, and drinking 40s with the neighbors while watching the kids fight with each other. Every other night of the week is for kids in their 20s to inexplicably choose to gather right in front of my building at 3am, scream at volume ten, fight at at volume ten, scream abusive monologues at boyfriends or children at volume ten, or throw cardboard boxes at passing cars while laughing at volume ten.

Anyway, all of this means one thing: readjustment is going to take awhile. I haven't even had a chance to process the last two years in Kenya, and I'm already building a hefty collection of disorders after two weeks in New York.

More On The Expensive Thing. I'm discovering that New Yorkers have quite a talent for finding cheap or free stuff, which I suppose you'd have to develop to survive here. My student ID gets me into tons of museums for free, including the Met and Cloisters. I can also get $12 rush tickets to the symphony and $25 tickets to Broadway shows.

I've had a few moments when New York has started to strike me as an amazing place - when I was wandering through the maze of galleries at the Met the other day, when I stepped out of the Columbus Circle subway station one evening not expecting to see the lights of the buildings and Trump Tower reflecting off the Lincoln Center globe, when I walked across Bryant Park at night, when I sat in the spectacular cavernous reading rooms at the New York Public Library.

I've also learned some valuable lessons in my fortnight here. Most importantly, I'm never going to pay for drinks at a bar or restaurant again. The average poorly-made drink at a bar is $8-$10, but it's not unusual to pay $15, and when you reach the bottom of the glass, you're still sober. Only a moron would fall for that for more than two weeks. From now on this clever one is investing in a flask and an overcoat with an inside breast pocket for nights on the town.

If you buy a 7-day unlimited Metro Card, you have to ride at least 15 times ($1.60 per ride) to make it cheaper than buying a 6-ride card for $10 ($1.66 per ride).

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