When I am in the city, I am engulfed by the city. When I’m outside of it, I am hard pressed to go back in, like I'm under sedation or walking under a waterfall. Now I'm sitting at a favorite bar, drinking a lovely Grolsch in the East Village. All the young lives, needing to be reborn through alcohol, through fashion and anorexia, and all the older lives, needing to find someone, the one who lives in his/her neighborhood but doesn’t show up until the second quarter of life. All the color and the timelessness. All the lovely gays passing, holding hands, loving life more than me. All the women, mismatched, with no men, speed-dating across town on strange lines or buses. Then the ones who have a special someone, hug him into their breasts, feeding him with their womb motion. Also, girls whose whole lives lived through their noses, a voice rises from it, annoying and annoying those around her until one day she learns to breathe, to say things to herself. A father and son walk by. The boy, at five, says, “I’m kind of tired,” and yawns. This only happens in Manhattan. Suburban five year olds ball up their fists, pound at their mommy's waists after Caillou is over and vaguely know that the outdoors exist, go to bed and stare at the ceiling or kick off their covers and run in circles around their toy trains, pent up with energy.
Once, I met a cool, multi-colored scarf, German nanny friend in the city. (When you live close to New York City, you merely call it "the city.") I was a nanny, too. I was meeting her with her little boy ward. He scanned me with too-long lashes in an umbrella stroller. He was bundled in corduroy and had blond hair that cow-licked easily. Both of us saw the city as a playground and not the viable option to feed our souls. (Which is how I see it now. In fact, unless the trip to the city isn't centered on a music or literary event, it's probably a friend's birthday. Something specific and intentional.) That view of the city, the playground view can be limited. If one has done the soul fulfilling tours, then one can fall back to playground status, where sitting in a cafe for hours is viable, reflective, like the one I experienced in my intro. But on the first encounters of the city, one must open oneself to more than shopping.
Ah well, on this eighteen year old nanny trip, we went to the store where everything was big. Big pencils. Big clocks. Big crayons. We dined where the tourist ads told us to dine, at cliché and bad tasting restaurants in Times Square. I guess, with the kid needing bottles, and my quest for a good map, we didn't really obtain a life-changing experience. I have a photo of New York Trash. Someone had left half of their tattered belongings near a brownstone's steps in the village. The mattress ripped and peed on, the socks mis-matched with holes and syringes--plural--lying around, suggesting scenes we'd only seen in movies. This kind of trash still exists in the city. (The one I've attached is a recent trip to Queens.)
Tucker needed his diaper changed, smelling up the subway car. We went back to my friend's employer's hotel in Chelsea. The red-clad man held a door open for us. With women leaving trails of high-end peony smells, clutching brown leather bags with insignias on them we should have known, we were just some punky eighteen year olds, obvious "help" in the grand marbled foyer, crystal chandeliers dripping down above our jean jackets. The nannies.
In their hotel room, a vast two bed-roomed, high-ceilinged, all window apartment, the city vibrated beyond in dusk, suggesting glory untouchable to us. I helped fold up the poopy diaper while my friend used half a package of wipes to get all the nooks of this poor kid's blow out. He was very good natured about it. I think he was as relieved to be free of poop as we were to not smell it anymore. That's not always the case. In my years of nannying, I'd watched kids sit in it comfortably, screaming and running from the changing table.
I scanned the bedrooms. My friend's employers had a few dresses hanging from a closet door, the vast king bed held some of the father's dress pants and a ball of used towels sat in a heap in the well lit bathroom, lights left on. The walls in each room were striped shiny gold, muted gold. I have stepped into rooms like this for all twelve years of nanny-dome. Rooms filled with splendorous decorating. A hand-hooked berber imported from Italy that the kids spill pizza and cool-aid on, to my horror. Marble mined in exotic quarries, shipped and delivered, me signing for such an extravagance as if I'd ordered it. Subtler rooms with elegant, understated lighting, still as expensive, but seemingly not. I've known the lawn guy, Larry and the cleaning ladies of so many mansions. We never spoke of our employers but only went on about their children's lives, or how Larry might have to move to Texas to help his brother after a motorcycle accident.
I've lived among thousands of dollars of art that enriched every turn into the children's room with its shattered glass, or its mosaic statement. I've picked up clothing and thrown it in hand made wicker clothes hampers. I've slept with art staring down on me, life-size, ambiguous, pronouncing its myriad agendas into all my dreams. I've coveted, then let go, then coveted, then felt full. I will always be that nanny. There were times I spent whole afternoons without food, running after seven children, making sure they ate a pea with a bite of ravioli. I can still one-arm a diaper while the child is standing in a parking lot, sucking down juice from a sippy cup. I've sponged with dish soap, hand hooked berber. It's fabric loosens easily. It's not practical.
There were tours in Poland, of concentration camps where our tour guide's family all passed except for his sister. All the souls of shoes couldn't stand for his grief. He led us through that camp, as a favor, and would never do it again. (I'll write that story. I'm sure my Brit friend will be holding her breath.) All of these experiences, I flew by the seat of my pants, or really, on a family's coat tails, feeling lives, considering how these options might match a future version of myself.
Bits and pieces of these expansive lives that I've viewed are all integrated, some notions discarded with my early thirties' needs, some integral and viciously protected (like my love of modern art). Sometimes I think I have lived many lives already as a nanny. It's fed my writing career with plenty of perspective. I am in the waterfall, now, back in my writing office. I'm concentrating on this past life floating above my head in a million pieces like in Wonka. I have plenty of activities planned in the city. I am in the intentional portion of my writing career. Every step I ask myself, "Does this move me in the direction of getting published? Will this fulfill a goal? Am I supporting/strengthening a friendship?" Then, there are days, few and far between, but they exist, where I can intentionally coast. Maybe I'll go into the city, to play.