Saturday, March 13, 2010

square one

There are certain relationships that seem so perfect, so meant-to-be right, so love-at-first-sight, that you almost can’t believe it’s really happening to you. Everything just seems to fall right into place, and you walk around in a happy glow, so thrilled that life has given you such a winning hand.

Well, as they say, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. You may remember my lovely new apartment, the one I just moved into on Feb. 1, the one where I was finally feeling settled after nearly two years of shuttling from one spot to another. It had seemed so serendipitous, the way we found each other — it was enough to make me believe in fate, or the universe looking out for me, or something.

I’d loved the industrial feel of the apartment, with its lofty ceilings and huge metal-framed windows — it clearly had started life as a manufacturing space. The owners had taken care to create 54 quite nice apartments, with good kitchens and big bathrooms and great layouts. Unfortunately, in all the to-do of converting the building into rental apartments, no one seems to have taken a moment to officially convert the building from commercial to residential. And somehow, after years of tenants and leases and amenities and staff (and years of annual inspections by the Fire Department), the city apparently never noticed this minor detail, until this past Tuesday, when the Department of Buildings somehow got prompted to take a look at the situation, with the result that the building was shut down on the spot, and I and the rest of the tenants were given a couple hours to pack up some necessities and find a place to stay.

And it doesn’t look like this is a paperwork issue that’s going to be cleared up in a week or so. Not only was the building never zoned as residential, but it violates some fairly serious codes, like the one about residential buildings having more than one staircase or “egress” (no one ever says “exit” in the world of planning and zoning), or the one about residential buildings having a fire escape, or the minor one about residential buildings having sprinkler systems. As the very sympathetic cop said on Tuesday, as he briefed us shell-shocked tenants in the lobby, “I feel for you guys, I really do, but there’s no way we can let you stay here. God forbid [pronounced ‘Gad fehbid’] there’s a fire in the stairwell — you’d all die. This place is a deathtrap.”

Hard to argue with that logic. (And very hard to understand how those fire department inspectors managed to miss all this over the years.)

That sympathetic cop was joined by several other of New York’s Finest, along with a contingent of New York’s Bravest in three fire engines, the OEM, the Department of Buildings, the Red Cross (to make sure everyone had somewhere to go that night), and, of course, a few intrepid reporters who were salivating over the story of an entire “luxury” apartment building (no one told me it was luxury!) being evacuated, and all its occupants being vacated with almost no notice.

So, crazy as it seems, I’m back on the hunt for an apartment, less than two months after finding this place. I have no brilliant insights to draw, other than increased appreciation for Cindy Adams’ sign-off: “Only in New York, kids, only in New York.” In terms of my sanity, I’ve managed to not utterly freak out (after a few minor breakdowns in the first 48 hours), and I haven’t gone back to my apartment for more than a couple minutes at a time, so I’m already moving on, and not getting too stuck in “But this place was perfect for me!”

Hopefully, my return to living out of a suitcase will be limited to a couple weeks; as much as I enjoyed some of the adventures of the past two years, and the footloose-and-fancy-free-ness of it all, it had been such a relief to finally have a place of my own again, to start to put together a routine and some (relatively) long-term plans. I must admit that, in the immediate aftermath of the evacuation (the Post referred to us as “evict-ims,” which I thought was pretty cute), a part of me wanted to toss everything back into storage and pull a 25 days in _________, skipping town on the drama and hassles.

But my five weeks in the deathtrap were great, really, and I want to have some kind of focus and direction right now, to set up a bit of a life for myself. So this afternoon (a nasty, cold, rainy, windy, raw afternoon), I’ll be back out there with a broker whose instructions include “no illegal conversions,” looking at apartments and hopefully (please, Universe, please) finding the next next apartment without too much trudging and angst.

Friday, March 5, 2010

hearts and minds

He was sure that he wouldn't feel at ease for even a moment until he knew exactly when he would once again press her tightly against himself. She said yes. And the sense of relief that came flooding into his soul was so powerful that for a brief moment he even questioned if their getting together the next day really mattered to him at all or not. But that doubt was quickly dispelled, for he had read enough literature to believe that anxiety, even more than jealousy, is the great driving force of passion.
— Françoise Sagan, That Mad Ache

There’s nothing like romance for dredging up slag heaps of irrational, overwhelming fears: fear of pain, of humiliation, of abandonment, of need and neediness, of vulnerability, of rejection, of loss — et cetera, et cetera — all leading to an antsy anxiety that makes it difficult to simmer down and focus on anything else (like, say, writing a blog post).

The new romance in my life, while pretty great in many ways, faces a few significant hurdles / potential dealbreakers that leave me feeling very unsure and hesitant about how to proceed: Should I dive in and shoot for happiness, even if it’s short-term and ends in tears, or should I hedge my bets and adopt a cautious, practical, wait-and-see attitude? Should I be open and trusting (major effort for me), or should I be guarded and self-protective? Should I bolt?

How you would respond to these questions probably reveals how much of a romantic you are (it’s kind of like a Cosmo quiz, without the exclamation points and sex tips). My path in the past would have been a demented combo platter: throw myself in full force without any due diligence, committing my heart 100 percent, but not tell anyone, least of all the object of my affection, and instead maintain a brittle veneer that was somehow supposed to hide and protect me.

Of course, that brittle veneer doesn’t do much, in the end. I remember one boyfriend, at the messy denouement of our relationship, saying, “Funny: I’d always thought you were so tough.”

Yes, very funny. Actually, I’m tough in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of situations, but when it comes to romance — not so much. Instead, I veer recklessly from utter giddiness and delight to utter dejection and despair, with occasional forays into a state of being curiously unmoved and resigned — the “whatever” mode.

For example: In this current situation, with the aforementioned hurdles, if he’s being prudent and advocating caution and talking up the importance of behaving sensibly (as if!), I can feel myself, as the words are coming out of his mouth, wanting to say, “No! Let’s go for it! Let’s do that fools-rush-in thing!” and simultaneously wanting to retreat to my corner and get that chip back on my shoulder, the one that indicates that I don’t care at all, fine, do what you want, makes no diff to me. Whatever.

Anxiety might be “the great driving force of passion,” per Mlle Sagan, but I’ve had enough of it, thanks. I’d be happy to move past this stage, into one of happy anticipation of what is to come, with a reassuring sense of security. I hate feeling (especially at this point in my life) that wanting what I want is a mistake, that being vulnerable is something to hide, or to conquer, or to be ashamed of.

I suppose the goal right now should be to live in the moment as much as possible and have fun and enjoy. I mean, it’s a new romance, it early days yet, it could go in a million different directions, why borrow trouble… And yet, I do feel I need to somehow also keep tabs on the potential for serious damage and decide at some point if I need to cut my losses.

This, of course, would involve handing over the reins to Reason, being practical, exercising Good Judgment. Just as I can be tough at times, I can also be rational and reasonable with the best of them, only not when it comes to love and all that. Faced with love and all that, my rational side is tossed into the back seat, and the foolish romantic me is at the wheel, careening recklessly down the highway, flattening signposts and passing on the right.

I don’t think it’s so much about which is stronger, the heart or the mind, as it is about which listens better. Our minds are right there, part of the conversation; we can create compelling arguments, remind ourselves of past mistakes, resolve to act differently from now on, logically and reasonably try to choose a smarter, safer path. Our hearts, however, remain stubbornly deaf to all of this logic and reason and continue to feel whatever they damn well please, regardless of whether it makes any sense at all. The split between the heart and the mind can be a torment, as we toggle back and forth from one extreme to another, trying to find some kind of solution that appeals to both. (How great would that be!)

But when there isn’t a solution that works all around — when our minds are saying “bail” and our hearts are blithely whistling a happy tune and not listening — it can be such a relief to finally admit that you can’t win an argument with the heart (mainly because the heart isn’t even participating in the argument — it’s pulling a Bartleby, calmly stating “I prefer not to” no matter how forcefully you try to engage it in battle). The moment of surrender — of throwing in the towel and letting the heart lead the way — is to feel the relief of giving in: you stop fighting, stop trying to take the wheel, and just sit back and check out the scenery.

Of course, I’m headed god knows where, but maybe that’s not all bad.