i was in a hotel in brooklyn. wrappers and empty bottles of mini-bar extravagances on the bed and my laptop in front of me. i was furious at mapquest.
mapquest said that it was impossible to go from 235 meeker avenue to the address on 63 westbrook to see my facebook friend michele piersiak if i used a car. and yet, when i looked at the map, it looked fairly straightforward to me. cab it to the manhattan ferry station, take the ferry and take another cab in staten. somehow mapquest seemed to say with a frisson of nearly gallic contempt: mais non! i then asked mapquest about public transportation.
“Non, Non, Non!” mapquest squealed. “quel horreur!”
so i said please, mr. mapquest, what if i walked to the staten island ferry station and took the ferry and then walked from there to my friend’s house?
“Four hours seven minutes,” he replied. “Nine miles.”
“I betcha i can do it in under three,” i said.
i wasn’t figuring on getting lost, sidewalks closed for construction, my feet hurting, my bag heavy, and then there was the williamsburg bridge:
and after i got across the bridge it was just a matter of asking ten different new yorkers where the ferry station was. ten different new yorkers, ten different answers. i was starting to think that mapquest had severely misunderestimated (to use a bushism) the travel time.
however, i got to the ferry station and determined that the ferry is a pleasure never to be missed. and it’s free!
once on the island, i walked through the downtown, through quiet neighborhoods, through little Sri Lanka, past a muslim day school, a golf course, and a river. by the time i reached my facebook friend michele piersiak’s house, i had done my time just as mapquest had predicted.
i might have regarded this as a failing. i had destroyed my feet. i had been stubborn when i should have known that mr. mapquest is always right. i should have taken a cab.
but now i don’t regard that as a misadventure.
hurricane sandy has destroyed the ferry station. island residents have no gas, their homes and businesses are flooded, the power is out, there are buildings that will never be rebuilt. i was privileged to get to see staten island as it was. so i look back on a miraculous walk.
although next time maybe a more comfortable pair of shoes.
two months ago i made a commitment to facebook friend michele persiak that i would fly into new york just to take her to lunch at her favorite restaurant laconda verde. why? because michele had been experiencing a period of anxiety attacks and agoraphobia that made it impossible to leave her staten island home. what was a place that would motivate her to walk around the block, take the bus a few stops, go to the store, all to get her ready for the trip across the water to manhattan?
i think it’s the sweetest most adorable endorsement of a restaurant that michele was willing to make major life changes and overcome obstacles in order to go to the restaurant laconda verde 377 greenwich in new york.
i flew in the day before our luncheon and had a chance to wander around. i walked into the shop sabon, which sells sweet smelling soaps and candles and lotions. the proprietress said that it was a company tradition that first time customers be welcomed with a ceremonial washing of hands. new york is brutish, dirty, sweaty, hot and sometimes overwhelming. this is how to be welcomed in new york and it is the same experience i hoped to offer michele when she came into manhattan!
sabon has three different locations in new york and while i was at the one at 1371 6th avenue, you can find the others at sabonnyc.com
the hotel st. james is an unassuming little boutique hotel on west forty fifth street and you could be forgiven for walking right by it, as i did. i got there just when the doormen and the valets and the bellboys were on break. nonetheless, it is the most magnificent fan-tabulous hotel in all manhattan! the lobby is a commentary on ikea postmodernist minimalism and dusty plastic flowers.
the desk clerk raised an eyebrow–i had cheated on my diet in the past few days–and he assigned me the supermodel suite on the twelfth floor. how do i know it’s the supermodel suite? it’s on the twelfth floor. and the staff very helpfully shut down the elevators. getting to my room was a great workout! and coming back downstairs to tell them that the magnetized key card didn’t work just doubled the fun!
you don’t need blush or highlighter powder at the hotel–everyone has a natural, pink glow, in part because they are true environmentalists who don’t believe in air conditioning! coming back up to the room after getting my card fixed i figured i was ready for a refreshing shower.
this picture from the st. james website doesn’t do justice to the supermodel bathroom which is so slim and compact that only a woman with a nineteen inch waist can brush her teeth without standing in the tub. i am learning to suck in that tummy!
real estate is pricey in manhattan and i was surprised by how reasonably priced the st. james is.
a picture of somebody else’s guest room and the pool from their website. i haven’t found the pool but since i cheated on my diet maybe that’s a good thing. i might alarm chic new yorkers if i wore a bikini! and besides, i’m on a mission and shouldn’t get distracted.
in may of this year, i crossed over to staten island in the ferry to meet michele persiak, the 317th facebook friend in my friends list. michele is an agoraphobic who rarely left the house and then only with the help of a “safe” friend. i was very honored that i counted as a “safe” friend and we went for a walk.
michele is a wonderful twentysomething gal who is just too young to let herself be tied to the house this way. i asked her what her major goal in life is and she said it was to become a psychiatrist and help people who have anxiety disorders. i asked her what her “minor” goal was and she said it was to one day dine at the restaurant laconde verde which is on greenwich street in manhattan. she had read that robert de niro owns the joint and that it was the superswankest restaurant she could imagine. a bus ride, a ferry trip, and a cab ride away. it might as well be on the moon.
supermodels are allowed their eccentricities. so if michele wants to bring her pet stewie, i guess i have to say “okay!”
but i promised michele that if she broke things up into little parts she could call me and i would make reservations. she started walking a block every day, then two blocks, then a trip to micky dee’s, and then out for a meal with our mutual facebook friend carolyn quinn. carolyn called for reservations. and i booked my flight. and we’ll be joined by azusa watanabe who is coming all the way from japan!
this is exactly how supermodels do it! and it’s going to be four supermodels having the supermodel life! if you want to join us please do! but make sure you work it like a supermodel!
mapquest said it was going to take me four hours and forty seven minutes to get to f2fb friend #317 if i walked and i just couldn’t believe that a city could be that big. i also couldn’t believe that the funny, witty, supportive, beautiful facebook friend michele piersiak was housebound. i figured she’d meet me at the ferry station in staten island. or that she’d catch me at one of the places downtown.
i was wrong. well, i wasn’t wrong about her being funny, witty, supportive, and beautiful. that was definitely the woman who answered the door of the house near forest avenue. but she is (was) housebound. for about a year and a half her world consists of reading, the treadmill, dvd’s, the computer that sits next to the couch in the living room, caring for her pets and keeping a house for her and her boyfriend.
stewie is a caped dragon lizard. she may be very lovely to other caped dragons, but i didn’t find her all that attractive. in fact, i got sort of nervous when michele took her out of the cage. after all, who’s to say that caped dragon lizards want a little fifty one year old human flesh after a regular diet of crickets?
michele can sometimes leave the house for brief periods with her “safe” people–her boyfriend, her parents, her sister. but by herself, she doesn’t even try to check the mail on the curb. it’s been this way for a few years but was exacerbated when she lost her job. i’ve noticed a lot of my agoraphobe friends have a major shift inward when there’s a job loss. and with eight percent official unemployment, i think there’s a hidden group of people that is affected.
michele wakes up every day mad at herself and sad that she is in this condition. the couch is starting to feel old. even playing xbox is feeling pretty old. for me, since i’ve never done it, i thought it was a kick!
this is not wasted time. well, it’s wasting time for me to be bowling on xbox (and nobody should have to witness me trying to play golf!). but it isn’t a wasted year for michele to have been housebound for a year and some months. every day has increased her understanding and sympathy for those who are afflicted with panic attacks, agoraphobia, post traumatic stress disorder, ms, etc. she has a major goal of someday being someone who helps those people. i think she definitely has something to offer the world in that respect. she already has helped–for instance, she set up a group of ten people from around the country who set a goal of walking around the block. at a prearranged time, everybody got on a conference call with their cell phones and walked around their respective blocks together! isn’t that an amazing use of technology and an amazing creative idea?
she also has a minor goal. and it’s something tantalizingly out of reach and will require her to do some work. some planning. some practicing. and it will need YOU! but i’ll get there.
i was insanely honored that michele let me be a “safe” person for the day. we walked to her boyfriend’s place of employment (man, he was a little freaked out by that!) and then we pushed the boundaries a little further. we saw a house that had a three foot wide, five foot tall shrine out front. i like it when people of all faiths feel good about presenting their beliefs to the world!
so the minor goal, an interim goal if you will, is that michele would like to dine at the robert de niro restaurant laconda verde at 377 greenwich street in new york. it would require driving to the staten island ferry, taking the ferry into the city, a cab or bus ride, then being in the restaurant and actually staying long enough to eat and then to return home. to michele it seems out of reach. but the day after i left staten island, she went on several walks with her parents and her sister, pushing herself a little more than usual, to get a few blocks outside of the “safe” zone. she has made a deal with me that if i return to new york she will go with me to the restaurant.
mr. de niro, i’m betting the prices at your restaurant are a bit dear. but i’m sure if you’re half as good at cooking as you are at acting, the food’s great! michele probably would also like just to shake your hand. to meet you and say “thank you for motivating me to change myself!”
so this is where YOU come in. if you know mr. de niro or if you know someone in the restaurant industry, if you know someone in new york, i think a gift certificate to laconda or a menu from the place, a message from de niro — even just an autographed picture — would do the world at motivating michele. and once she achieves the minor goal, she will know that the major one is, okay, just a little harder but perfectly doable. and that’s the one that helps everybody!
so i’m happy to hear from YOU about whatever you come up with for ideas or inspiration or maybe mr. de niro, if you’re reading this blog???
mapquest said it would take me four hours and forty seven minutes. a fourteen mile walk punctuated by a five mile ferry ride to see f2fb friend #317 michele piersiak. i sometimes do an eight mile walk around the perimeter of winnetka, so i figured it couldn’t be that bad.
oh how wrong i was. my theory about new yorkers is that they do fifty three terrifying things and that’s before they get to work. i didn’t expect to be scared in quite this way.
the williamsburg bridge is the seventy-fifth longest suspension bridge in the world, which makes any american immediately say “pshaw! there are seventy four others that are much tougher!” still, i got stuck along the 1600 span that towered over the water. i couldn’t move forward and couldn’t move back. this happened three times. each time, i had a vision of me being the homeless chick who lives on the williamsburg bridge, unwilling to leave or to move. accepting handouts and generally letting personal hygiene take a backseat. i’d be an object of pity, scorn, and perhaps curiosity. i’d feed pigeons. i would have several pet rats who would be attracted by my pungent body odor. i’d lash myself to the bridge during storms. i’d lose my cell phone!
i had to get unstuck. i was so scared my feet had fallen asleep and if i didn’t get moving the legs would be the next to go. i started saying thank you. thank you to the rain. thank you to the shoes i was wearing. thank you to the guy who had helped when the mapquest directions were just a bit . . . off. thank you even to mapquest. i said thank you to my facebook friends, pausing only briefly as i realized the reason i was going across the bridge was to meet f2fb friend #317 who had introduced herself on facebook. i thanked american airlines for getting me to new york. i thanked whoever built the bridge (later i learned construction on the bridge began i n1896 with henry hornsbotal as the chief architect and leffert buck as his engineer)
as i approached the end of the bridge i felt an odd exhileration. and it wasn’t just relief. it was a sense that i was buoyed up by all the people i had thanked, even by henry and leffert although at that point i didn’t know their names.
and i got off that bridge and found the staten island ferry . . . thanks to five different new yorkers who made me think that new yorkers are the friendliest people on earth! i thank them too!
staten island ferry
i didn’t expect to get choked up by the staue of liberty, so i sat on the side of the ferry that does not get the view of the statue. but as we approached, i couldn’t help myself. statue of liberty, dollface, i’m grateful to you!
and so i was wrong. it could be that bad. and yet, it also could be wonderful!