What Kept Me Awake on I-95 [ 2005-08-08, 8:21 p.m. ]

It is officially August, that time of year when New Yorkers city-wide collectively mop their brow, heave a sigh and say Aw, Fuck it, then show up for work with wet hair, wear flip flops to meet with potential mortgage lenders, let their pit stains show and agree to eat entire meals at sidewalk tables mere feet away from rank garbage. Summer in the city has its sticky, sexy charms but for the most part, it feels like you are standing behind a bus, all the time, and the only chance of feeling a breeze is if someone near your sneezes or farts.

The shops have all started receiving fall goods and so no longer can you cheer yourself up with the thought of upcoming summer trips and the bathing suits you will need for them; instead there are cardigans and corduroy and greasy, flushed faces, hot and sticky from the humidity and nauseated by the very idea of trying on boucle at this time of year.

The mosquitoes are fat and lazy by now, zipping listlessly from ankle to ankle and then stopping for a moment on the screen window, swearing that they were just resting their eyes. Flat irons and hair dryers city wide are hibernating and Labor Day can't get here soon enough. The air smells of piss and car exhaust, yet still there are clusters of old Italian men who dot my neighborhood, wearing sweater vests and trousers and hats, never breaking a sweat. My air conditioner has been on steadily since mid-July and every day it blinks at me, begging for a reprieve, hoping I will say, Today, the fans are enough. But the fans are not enough, not nearly enough, not in August.

There are two terrific things about August, however. The first is that fall issues of magazines hit the newsstands and the second is that everyone leaves the goddamn city. Except for me. What this means is that I frequently can find a seat on the subway and am able to leave work early on Fridays and restaurants are happy to lead you to any one of many empty tables. There is a hush over the city, sweaty city-dwellers are muffled by the heavy humidity and steamy streets. Restaurants are vacant and entire blocks appear empty. Everyone who is anyone - that is to say, everyone who is not anyone I happen to know - has deserted the city in favor of a destination with better proximity to beaches and barbeques.

I grew up in a place where the summertime temperatures regularly topped 100 degrees but still required a jacket at night when the sun set and the cool, dark night washed the day off. In California, each summer morning is chilly and feels like a fresh start. Here, where the heat and humidity makes bodies glisten and clothes cling, each morning still smells of the night before and by the time August comes around, the entire city feels worn out, used, tired, picked over. We could all use a shower and fresh pair of skivvies.

In lieu of a Hamptons beach house or Berkshires cabin, we piled into the Celica this weekend and headed south on I-95 to D.C., anxious to see our friend Em's new house in Alexandria and meet the Republican Machine for which her husband works. Kent and Beck and I pulled into their driveway around 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and quickly had a beer and admired the rooms and the chair rail and the storage space and the yard. Brit and her husband were also there; we helped Em set up for the BBQ that night and laughed when Brit's husband had to make his first ever trip to Target in search of paper plates and tableclothes. And then all the babies arrived.

The adults definitely outnumbered the kids at the party, but my little circle of friends in New York is resolutely childless for the next few years, and it was shocking to suddenly find ourselves being scrutinized and questioned, as in "Oh, those must be your Brooklyn friends, the CHILDLESS SELFISH DEGENERATE ones. How nice to meet them." Since Em moved to DC she's been talking more and more about having kids as less an abstract idea and more a real, live possibility, and now I see why. She's got a houseful of lovely bedrooms, beautiful wide streets that just scream PUSH A BABY JOGGER DOWN ME, and a built-in network of yummy mummy friends to take that jump off the high dive with. Child-rearing is still very abstract for me, for most of my Brooklyn friends, and it was a bit alarming to suddenly feel as if we'd gotten in the slow checkout line some time ago: our peers were already in the car and on their way out of the parking lot while we were browsing US Weekly and waiting for the cashier to open that pack of dimes and send us on our way.

I have often thought that living in New York is the easiest way to prolong adolescence -- it's perfectly acceptable to dress like Mary Kate and drink like Tara Reid well into one's thirties, and most of the men I know are still in their Work Hard, Play Hard, Buy Playstation phase. But this weekend I was suddenly presented with an altogether different species -- Actual Adult Thirtysomethings, with mortgages and Subarus and offspring and washer/dryers. It was a little alarming, and not at all helped by the Pregnant Preppy Bitch who saw me and my friends and said, Oh, this must be the Single Brooklyn Group. Fuck you, Maternity Pants. We are all married and we are all fun. Forgive me and my Talbot-less friends, but we are not walking down your path, not yet.

Beck and Kent and I were thrilled to pull back into Brooklyn last night, and spent much of the drive home discussing the differences between the people we know Here and the people we met There. I hate to make it an "us vs. them" scenario, but somehow Em and her husband are the fulcrum for two very different populations, and I think both observed each other warily, and from a distance. How can you not want kids, they thought; How can you care that much about property taxes, we thought. What are you wearing, they thought; What are you wearing, we thought. It grew dark in the backyard and the bugs were out in full force, we were all sticky with heat and bug spray, but still could not find common ground. When Kent and I dropped Beck off at her apartment I made her promise not to have a baby or buy Lily Pulitzer clothing anytime in the next 5 years.

But, what snuck into my awareness this weekend was the realization that my Childfree Booze-swilling Circle of Irresponsible Friends might not always be the same comfortable bubble it now is. Eventually, someone might move away. Or get pregnant. Or both. I've assumed that things will stay just as I like them for the time being, but that's dangerous thinking. People grow up. They buy polo shirts. And start saving for their kids' college funds. I am utterly unprepared.

We parked the car and pried our sweaty backs off the car seats, dragged our hot and sticky bodies into the stuffy apartment, the apartment which has one bedroom and lots of sharp corners. Different cities is one thing, but we felt like we’d spent the weekend in two different worlds. Kent and I picked the dog up from Doggie Day Care and washed our faces and tried to get settled at home. The air conditioner was buzzing away at us, and the dog wandered over to her bed and napped. We were both restless, both tired and hot and sporting a blurry day-after look. I peeled off my clothes and changed into a fresh tank top, slid on flip-flops and made my husband take me out for a burger. I don’t want to lose this, I said over a beer, ten minutes later. Lose what, he asked. This, the neighborhood, the Sundays, the 4:00 p.m. burgers, any of it. I don’t know what’s next but I am not ready for it.

This heat makes people crazy. Inhibitions are lowered, tempers run high, and babies sit in strollers with matted sweaty hair and red cheeks. I thought a weekend away would provide a little fresh air and a reprieve from the city; I sweated my way through Saturday's party and cheered when we crossed the Verazzano back into Brooklyn. August is sticky and uncomfortable and a little rough around the edges, but despite all that, it is still summer vacation. I am not ready to go back to school.

(more pics from the weekend at the Me Me Me site)


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