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June 2010

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My grandmother’s recipes, meticulously filed and organized. I wanted to take better, more careful pictures of them, but I didn’t have my good camera with me and there wasn’t really time anyway, so they went on the carpet by the door to the balcony, and I did what I could.

On Saturday night we went to the Upper East Side and drank cheap beer in the sprawling, river-view apartment of some very rich people that a friend-of-a-friend works for. The family was away at their weekend home, as they apparently are most weekends, and being generous folks, they let this acquaintance of ours hang out and have friends over when they aren’t around.  Being there was great, but also felt like the set-up for a joke or a short story, or maybe the basis for an experiment.

From the start, there was a tinge of Big to the whole thing: choreographed fights with the kids’ glowing life-size lightsabers (the Star Wars fantasy probably more exciting for us than for anyone under the age of fifteen), a Wii system along with what looked like every available game. I sat in the mammoth kitchen watching across a  long, darkened dining/sitting room area (complete with fireplace) that was bigger than our whole railroad apartment, as people hit invisible tennis balls at a screen in the wood-paneled “library.” Part of the place was a “hall of closets” (there were, I think, six; all of them large or walk-in). John fixated on the amazing stereo system, controlled by a palm-size touch-screen remote that seemed to be able to access every song ever recorded. I made a joke about how the people who lived there must not really be rich, because they only had one giant oven; everyone laughed and told me to look around the corner in the kitchen, where there were two more. I peed in each of the four bathrooms, all of which had sculptural sinks and big showers surfaced in intricate tilework; the walls of one of them was made of oversize limestone bricks that looked like they belonged in the Egyptian wing of the Met. We could all be in separate rooms and hardly know that anyone else was there.

There are all these doors in New York, all these buildings you look up at and wonder about, worlds you’re shut out of until a random connection opens one up for you and offers up the life inside like proof of something you knew all along but didn’t quite have a reason to believe. I knew in a general way that lives like this were happening, but now there was a $300 tag on a basic tank top hanging in a faceless wealthy woman’s closet, a shopping bag from Barney’s with a sticker on it that indicates it came by messenger, because when you are this rich you don’t need to summon the energy to bring your shopping bags with you wherever you are going; everyone is more than happy to come to you. This is normal to these people: beds made up to look like monuments, marble surfaces and window seats and a service entrance, towels that are startlingly soft. Cliché as it is, it’s hard not to think that if you lived here you would be transformed. For your clothes to live in these closets, you would have to be someone else. For some reason I really wanted reasassurance that the owners were nice, that they loved each other.

I don’t like to think of myself as someone made uncomfortable by wealth, but it was hard to have a conversation that night without being distracted by what was around us. The distance between here and there is hard to process, even if my awe of the place didn’t necessarily have much to do with my desire for it. When we were ready to leave we hit the button for the elevator, and it arrived with the doorman inside, as I guess it always does, an escort between the swanky lobby and a floor only one family lives on. It was late and we were far from the subway so we took a cab home, and when we unlocked the door to the place where we live I think we were mostly glad to be back.

And then it’s summer again. Somehow it catches me by surprise every year. It always feels sudden, even when the weather has been circling around the inevitable conclusion for weeks, as if sighing and giving me time to get acclimated. Yesterday, a long and aimless walk through intermittent rain, a surprise eye-candy carnival, and a lobster roll on 7th Street. Today the Laundromat felt like it was about 90 degrees (the owners insist on advertising “Air Conditioning” on the window, though they haven’t turned it on in years).