Paula Rosenberg Freelance Writer: Online Portfolio

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New York Press Personal Essay: My Own Private Michigan

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This is an essay that was published in the New York Press in April, 2009 in the 8 Million Stories Column.  It is all about my transition from Michigan to NYC.

New York Press 8 Million Stories Essay  (Please note that the New York Press folded in August of 2011, the link no longer works, but you can read the article as it appeared below).

My Own Private Michigan

We have all read numerous stories about twenty-something girls who, after ODing on episodes of Sex and the City and aspiring to be the next Dorothy Parker, pack up their provincial Midwest lives to conquer New York City. Two years ago I was one of those girls. After graduate school I took a job at a college in New York, packed two suitcases and parked myself on my older sister’s sofa bed as I began the Herculean task of searching for an apartment in this town.

Getting the hang of the logistics of the city was the easy part. I eventually found a few hundred square feet to call my own and mastered the subway system. The one thing no one could prepare me for was the solitary confinement. As an undergraduate student on a campus of 1,200 students I had felt like a local celebrity. I was a cabinet member of student senate, co-president of the thespian club and a student ambassador. Everyone on campus knew who I was.

In a crowd of eight million it was alarming how one could feel invisible. Everyone was lost in the individualized worlds of their iPods and BlackBerrys.The only time I felt strangers noticed me was on the subway where my large frame would brush against the crowd. I had been a plus-size gal my whole life, but it seemed less noticeable in Michigan as apposed to those moments on the train where I felt all too visible.While it was possible to make brief albeit often negative encounters with strangers I would never see again, it was hard to become a regular with anyone.

In a city of 3,000-plus restaurants and coffee shops, it was challenging to find one that felt like it belonged to me. I began to miss my Grand Rapids haunts. I would crave the skim Sir Carmel-Lot from Common Ground and miss how Fouad at Marie Catrib’s would always comment on my taste in clothes and shoes before serving me a Bulgur Wheat Salad. Working in Midtown, the businesses were so crowded during the lunch hour that I was lucky if someone remembered my face let alone my name. I decided to take charge and create my own hybrid community.

I began to frequent certain restaurants and stores on a regular basis hoping that I would form some recognition among their workers. I would walk out a certain exit of the subway just to pass the tailor who would always smile and wave at me. On the weekends I would go for walks through the different ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn with a constant smile on my face.This strategy produced unwelcome results.

When I finally had some alterations to take to the friendly tailor, he was happy I came into his store. He finally had the opportunity to pinch my boobs and tell me that he liked curvy women. I now use a different exit at that station.The only person I would seem to run into on a regular basis during my weekend strolls was the old Ukrainian man from Sheepshead Bay who liked to follow me around and ask me to make love to him. I was starting to understand the appeal of being inconspicuous.

I thought perhaps I was not cut out for New York after all.Yet when I went back to Michigan for a visit I saw things in a different light. Witnessing urban sprawl after being away for a year was depressing. The lack of convenient public transport was all the more apparent, as was the absence of ethnic diversity and access to a wide variety of art and theater.While it was wonderful hanging out with old friends whom I considered family, I grew homesick for my new hamlet.

It was when I stopped trying to make positive connections that it actually started to happen. The Mudtruck crew outside my office grew familiar with me and on occasion would offer me a free cup of coffee. George at Metro Marche knew my name and was always ecstatic when I would bring friends there for lunch. After dropping 70 pounds, people riding transit began to comment on how they liked what I was wearing as opposed to grunting when they had to squeeze by me. I was forming my own little West Michigan.

I started loving my life in New York. It wasn’t the fantasy life depicted in countless movies and sitcoms. I don’t have a closet full of Manolos or cocktails at the Algonquin Hotel, but I do get to enjoy the occasional Broadway show or exhibition opening in Chelsea. I even manage to form connections with other Midwest refugees, which include the occasional potluck and all-night Euchre tournaments. I suppose it is possible to have the best of both worlds.


Written by paularosenberg

May 16, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Posted in NYC, Personal Essay, Published Work

Tagged with ,

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