My first grownup apartment was not in New York, but in Los Angeles, where I moved after college for a bright new job.
There were palm trees outside, and a sunny porch that looked out onto a traffic-y LA street. After 3 years living on 114th St (and one in depressing Wallach Hall, in the Columbia Quad,) it felt eerily exotic. The sun in LA — it was always, always shining.
My best friend Urs from college flew out and we spent a lot of time at Ikea, shoving furniture into my Beetle with varying success, drinking bubbly on my porch.
Alli was passing through on her way to scuba dive in Papua New Guinea; and Lea and Toby were from Los Angeles and home for the summer. And so there was but one thing to do: Cook a feast.
Alli and I drove to Whole Foods, where I got lost in the maze-like parking lot, sweaty-palmed.
“You’re not used to this,” she said. “Breathe.”
We came home with steaks and sausages and beautiful California produce; and many, many bottles of wine, because they sell wine in Whole Foods in Cali, mysteriously.
Urs and I hadn’t been able to fit chairs in my little car, so we ate picnic-style on the new-apartment carpet, smoking weed that Toby unearthed from his pockets, windows open, traffic whir humming. Now that we were all here, maybe this place could be home.
When I moved back to New York three years ago, it was with a broken heart and a new job at the new Upper East Side Fairway. I started behind the cheese counter, where I preached the gospel of serious cheese.
I often walked across Central Park after my shift with a wedge of nutty, brawny, cave-aged gruyere in my bag, the sun setting behind me. It felt right to be back in New York, like I spoke the right language. My tiny kitchen filled fast with grassy Tuscan olive oils, grainy French mustards, salt in flakes and nuggets, little jars of anchovies and boquerones, vinegars for every conceivable vinegar application.
I thought I’d use my employee discount on groceries to cook lovely meals for myself in my (sunny!) 95th Street studio, but the lovely meals fast felt lonely.
I came to eat like a New Yorker: Egg sammies from the bodega, rice and beans from the 96th Street taco truck, Seamless, employee-discounted chopped salads at Fairway (I once took a group of French businessman on a salad bar tour. They were fascinated…Paris does not have make-your-own salads), and the occasional wonderful meal out — never ending garlicky tapas at Txikito, loopy, bright, tomato spaghetti at Scarpetta, and frothy beer and hearty rye bread at Hospoda.
And yet: my little kitchen. I fell cleaning the floor, and spent the night in the ER, broken-elbowed. I roasted chickens and set off the fire alarm. When Urs came to visit, we threw parties with panfulls and panfulls of dumplings, salads with fennel and blood orange. She shook up cocktails and rearranged my furniture.
Urs moved to Berkeley for grad school and travelled around the world during summers, but she always stopped at 95th Street. It was basecamp. She had places on her New York list: Momofuku pork buns, fudgy Levain cookies, plantains from La Caridad. I brought her dried cantaloupe from Fairway. But we’d return to my little kitchen, boiling midnight pasta, stir-frying veggies, scrambling eggs, talking until our sentences trailed off and we fell into happy sleep.
We arrive at the drippy but true conclusion: Jobs, apartments, and cities come and go, but we always have each other, our fits of giggles, bouts of angst, big dreams, light bulb revelations, heavy hearts, and fierce love. Friendship.
On Friday, I’m moving to Harlem. My landlord sold my studio for a lot of money in a few short days. In Harlem, There’s a big kitchen and an actual dining room, with lots of sunshine coming through big windows, and peeling walls that need some paint. But packing up a neglected juicer, a well-loved pan, my woody salad bowl, and my first chef’s knife, I can’t help but feel sadness well up…a kettle boiling in my chest. 95th Street was good to me.