I’ve been floating this week. That’s the best way to describe it. Buoyant, I say, and my roommate is cleaning in the other room and I can hear her dropping things on the floor. The holidays in New York are full of contradictions. You can feel like no one stayed and everyone stayed. The streets are emptier, yes, but those who remain in town huddle for warmth in any space enclosed by four walls. I tried to go to a pizza place for dinner on Wednesday and there was an hour-and-a-half wait. Last night I met a friend for drinks at a neighborhood bar, and at ten p.m. it was full of semi-famous-looking people just sitting to eat.
For Thanksgiving I went to a friend’s new apartment in the Upper West Side. There were supposed to be eight of us but there ended up being four – two pulled out at the last minute on account of food poisoning and another two on account of reasons unknown. Though: my friend’s newly-adopted black lab pup more than made up the difference with its infinite supply of energy and pee.
The same friend just moved a few weeks ago from the Hell’s Kitchen area, and after dinner she told us a story, half of which I’d already heard, about her apartment before that.
The half I’d heard: She’d lived for four or five months in the separated basement quarters of a family’s house in Astoria. Whenever there was a heavy storm, part of the kitchen would flood because of the poor drainage at the bottom of the outside stairs to her door. After a painful back and forth with the owner to get the drain fixed came the worst of the floods, which happened in the middle of the night. My friend woke up to her (previous) dog jumping off the bed. She heard him yelp. Then: sloshing. She turned on the lights and her apartment was the Titanic: floating garbage cans, dog paddling in the water, the whole deal. The shoes in her closet were ruined and so were bottom racks of books and DVDs. She immediately ran up the stairs, pounded on the owner’s door, and the woman let her in and let her take a hot shower and spend the rest of the night in the guest room. My friend quickly broke her lease, left the apartment.
The half I didn’t hear: Months later she started getting notices about her credit, about new accounts being opened in her name at the old address. She put filed a fraud report, froze her own credit, and some time after that an agent contacted her and asked her questions about the fraudulent accounts. More time passed. More meetings with men from other bureaus, including the Secret Service. An agent requested to meet in person, showed her at a table in a Starbucks near her office a series of photographs and asked if she recognized any of the people in the photographs. She didn’t, she told him, and pressed him for answers. The agent said the photos were of all the others who had filed fraud reports. Who had lived at the same address. The house in Astoria was part of an elaborate identity-theft scheme. The owners would get tenants to stay for a few months – long enough for them to change all their bank accounts and primary billing addresses – and render the unit unlivable, driving out the tenants. The owners would then forge signatures on lease extensions and open retail credit cards in the tenants’ names. The Amazon credit card opened in her name, my friend said, had a balance of a hundred and eight thousand dollars on it. The Apple card had eight thousand. Now she pays a credit reporting company twenty dollars a month to send her emails whenever there’s a change in her credit score.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. Because I’ve been thinking about that story, yes, but maybe because I’m also increasingly troubled by the State of The World, and feel like our current solutions fail to address the root causes of these problems. That by treating the symptoms, or worse, distracting ourselves from the symptoms, we’re only making the causes rebound in stronger, more debilitating ways. I’m being vague, I know, but it’s because the feelings are vague, because floating is a vague sensation, a sense of groundlessness; you’re not sure if you’re going to go up or fall to earth.
We’re on the cusp of something, and I think you feel it too. I know that I’m personally on the cusp of something, something that a good friend of mine who is a fan of Joseph Campbell would say is the “Abyss” part of the hero’s journey – the going away and facing yourself in a dark cave, before some transformation and subsequent return. But that might be overly dramatic, and I’m increasingly wary of thinking myself as any kind of protagonist. I’d rather be the narrator in this analogy, the silent observer. Or not even that. More like the transitions between the paragraphs. The air between the words.
I suppose I’m also floating because I have never been so sure of so many things and so unsure of so many things in my entire life, and the limbo I’ve been experiencing this week – it’s a lot softer than I could ever have expected.