You know I love New York City.
Growing up I was obsessed with everything set in Manhattan. Woody Allen films and Judy Blume books. Broadway.
Two particular favorites were the Pacino film Author, Author and Marsha Mason’s The Goodbye Girl, because both films have to do with raising kids in New York while pursuing a theater career. I probably watched them 5,200 times each on channel 19 on the 8″ screen in my kitchen (most likely with a jar of peanut butter and a spoon hidden under the table cloth for quick bites when no one was looking).
Remember that whole life visualization plan called, The Secret that everyone was obsessed with a few years ago? As Rob always says, I secreted the shit out of my adult life. It’s what I wanted. I could see it clearly. And guess what? I got it. Here’s to the power of positive thinking.
But the reality isn’t always so great.
A few days ago I took Beatrix to the playground across the street from our apartment and while there, I had an encounter. You should know up front that I am not a giant fan of the neighborhood I live in, I think it is dirty and loud and really far away from everything, but (and this is a big and worthwhile but) we have a giant and nice apartment. We moved here when I was pregnant with The Beaz and we got what we wanted; space and an elevator after years of living in 5th floor walkups. The neighborhood isn’t unsafe, it’s more that we don’t really do much of anything up here. There is a shortage of commercial “stuff” (a recent high point was the addition of a 7-11 store).
But we do go to the playground, which is directly across the street from us and at the bottom of Fort Tryon Park (which is very pretty and houses the famous Cloister Museum).
- (Editor note: I can’t seem to get this paragraph to “un”bold. Sorry!) So it was a beautiful day and Beaz and I were having fun. It’s a big playground with a lot of open space and it attracts a wide variety of people. In the day time it is full of old men sitting on benches reading the paper, and young guys doing pull ups on the monkey bars. In the afternoon it has the school kids–high school age on down–and they hang out or do tricks on their skateboards or bikes until they are bleeding. There are usually a few little kids and they stay in the playground area with a big play structure and swings.
On this day, Beatrix was pretending to be Dora the Explorer (complete with a back pack) and a little boy wanted to play with her, and his name was actually Diego. For real. Now all you parents just said, “Oh wow!” but you non-parents probably don’t know that Diego is Dora’s cousin in the cartoon. So Beatrix was like, “Oh hey, Diego, I’m Dora!” because of course Diego would show up and help her look for tigers, because she’s Dora.
We’re having a great day, one of those rare perfect weather days, but a little while later a guy and his son showed up and they are walking their dog. Immediately Beatrix (Dora) says, “No dogs! No dogs!” because she’s very into the signs at the entrance that have the pictures depicting no smoking, no litter, no feeding the birds, no bike riding and importantly, no dogs. She’d already screamed at a kid riding a bike NO BIKE, so you can imagine when she saw the dog. It was a problem for her. It was an even bigger problem for me because the dog was a pit bull. OKAY–calm down–I know there are nice pit bulls, but this dog was big and very muscular, and straining at the leash trying to get to a squirrel. It was jumping on the benches and the guy–a big muscular 20 something year old guy–could hardly contain him. Here are all these little kids, no bigger than the dog, and he’s just walking around, all through the little kid part of the playground. I was mad, but as a general rule of thumb I’ll avoid an argument with a muscular guy and his strapping young pit bull . I wanted to say something. I didn’t.
But another woman did. She started yelling at him that there were NO DOGS ALLOWED and telling him he had the
whole park to take the dog in (the park is huge) and the playground is the ONE PLACE (she was screaming) where DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED. Atta girl. He was mad, they got into it, and Beatrix and I (along with all the other little kids and their fellow chicken parents) quickly migrated to the other side of the playground where the “big kid” swings are.
We played happily for a while, and I kept an eye on the dog fight, feeling rotten that I’d left the woman taking a stand for all of us, but I have to say, she kind of had it covered and was fearlessly taking on this dog owner. As Beatrix played “Tinkerbell” on the swing with another kid (they were “flying” by swinging on their bellies and running to push off), we were joined on the swings by a group of about five teenagers, who came and took over the rest of the swings. They were flirting and smack talking each other and screaming f-ing n-ger at each other. Wow, I hate that word (the “n” word). I just don’t think anyone should be saying it at all, no matter what your race is, I think it’s demeaning. I understand that there is a movement to “reclaim” that word, but maybe it is one word that should just be let go. Too much baggage. Find a new word.
It went on for a couple of minutes, and it was getting worse, so I finally said to the girl who was the worst offender, “Hey–do you mind watching your language? You are surrounded by little kids.”
She looked at me and said, “No, it’s my mouth. I’ll say what I want.” Then she looked at her friends and said, “I f-ing hate white people.”
Nuh uh. She did not just say that.
I was in no mood to argue on this pretty day and in front of my kid, but I had to clarify, “This is not a “white people” thing, it’s about little kids. Period. Any little kid.” She then yelled at me that Beatrix hears worse language than that and she went on and on, wanting to escalate it into an argument so she could look tough for her friends, but I wasn’t a willing participant. I swooped up Beaz, who started screaming that she didn’t want to go home, and we left the playground entirely. This made Beatrix really furious, and me too, because it was a beautiful day in a year of rare beautiful days. But there was a pit bull and a vocabulary lesson we couldn’t stick around for.
On the way out of the playground, Beatrix picked up a used condom.
Really, she did.
I think it might be time to move.
It makes me sad and mad and left feeling like, Really? Am I there? Am I at the point where my tolerance for Manhattan has grown so thread-bare thin that we have to leave? I have put up with $6 gallons of milk and broken elevators (or no elevators) and no dishwasher and roaches for 20 years, but now, in one day, a dog and a teenager in playground puts me over the edge? And then I go into further despair, thinking, is this is where we are in our lives? Living in a crummy neighborhood at the tip of Manhattan and barely scraping by despite Rob working all the time and me auditioning for jobs that would barely cover my babysitter if I got it?
Meanwhile, while my union is negotiating a contract that is all about trying to “save jobs” because the threat out there is that eventually the Broadway theaters will go non-union. Listen, it’s not that I am against the contract Actors Equity is proposing–they get a lot of gains including a woefully needed pay increase. I am against the fear mongering. At the negotiating table, the producer’s point to Cirque Du Soleil, which is coming to Radio City Music Hall, and claim it will suck up the Broadway audience and greatly impact ticket sales. Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t. Historically, Radio City and Broadway have lived side by side for years, and audiences filled the seats in both venues.
But what I know for sure is that it’s a great negotiating tactic for the other side. The producers found a way to use Cirque scenario to their advantage. Remember Waiting For Lefty. The big boss always argues that jobs are drying up and there are a million people just waiting to replace you. So tow the line, buddy. Meanwhile the money people who are doling out the fear, pocket the cash.
This is happening in my business, and businesses all over the country, because a recession is a great time to make cuts while increasing productivity. Be grateful you still have a job! Work harder for less! Sorry to get political, but if I learned one thing in my depression era class, it’s that we’re in big, big trouble when the distribution of wealth is as lopsided as it is right now. And not just in theater. Everywhere.
Rob gets upset when money comes up; he thinks it’s him. That it’s his short comings. I blame the recession because I KNOW it’s not him. I watch him work tirelessly. If we must lay blame on a person, put it on me. I’ve been out of work for two years.
I know that most families leave for the ‘burbs. Rob and I both know that we have been swimming upstream in an expensive city with kids for years, and we are getting tired. Cirque or no Cirque, Broadway gig or no Broadway gig. It’s just getting too expensive to live here with kids. More and more we look at ads for teaching positions out of town, and we try to pretend that a dishwasher and a washer and dryer and a dog are choices we really want in our lives. That the decision to go is ours, and it’s not that we are getting kicked out.
But do you want to know what I really want?
What I really, really want?
To be able to make enough money working at the top of my profession that we can actually afford to live here–in the city of our dreams–and not feel like we are failing when we are admired by others so much for “making it.”
As I say to Rob all the time, “It’s just money. We have so much: it’s just money. We are so lucky.” But at some point, the money thing has to be taken seriously. And I think we might be there. It might be time to go.
But (and now you should know that I am laughing out loud with the absurdity of it all), the TRUTH is, and this is so obvious that I can’t even believe it, I really DID “Secret the shit out of it” because if you remember, Marsha Mason cries through the majority of The Goodbye Girl. She is out of money and alone raising a kid, until the very broke Richard Dreyfuss shows up and even then, they can only be together if he takes a job out of town. Remember? He leaves New York to make enough money to live in New York. She even gets mugged in one scene and they take all her groceries. Even in Author, Author the bulk of the movie is spent worrying that he is going to lose his giant Village brownstone (which houses numerous children from various wives) if his play isn’t a giant hit.
And then it was a hit, and he was loaded….but he couldn’t find love.
Because nothing in New York is perfect or easy.
Not in the 70’s when those movies were shot, and not now. It is, what it is, what it is.
It’s the fear that gets you.
So….I guess as a kid I wanted all the sturm und drang that comes with this life. I really did, and I wasn’t afraid of it.
So, maybe it’s time for me to “Secret the shit” out of something a little…easier…for phase two of our lives?
Or maybe I’ll just remember that all these great stories are brought to you by Sharon Wheatley’s life, because it’s what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid. Occasionally glamorous, usually scraping by, but always grateful and amazed that I’m actually here and doing it.
And I don’t feel shame, I feel pride. Because even with a pretty empty bank account we have a lot. You hear that Rupert? A lot.
And a lot of people are in the same crap financial position we are in right now.
And fear sucks.
And it will all get better.
And my friend took me to high tea at The Plaza with her Groupon Coupon. Like THE Plaza. With Eloise and stuff.
And I got a really cool audition today.
And underneath it all, New York keeps pumping along.
And opportunity is right around the corner (and all that optimistic crap that I inherited from my Dad.)
As Kate Monster says, “I feel better now.”
Thanks for listening.
For the next blogisode in this series, go here.