On Being a Messenger

It’s been one of those weeks when one of the major reasons why I’m glad I get to go to work is because of the temperature. A heat wave has been passing through the area, and on Friday, the thermometer told me that it was in the high 90s. With no air conditioning at home, the office is a cool and breezy paradise. As I am typing this, my arm is sliding down the edge of the dining room table, and my back is sticking to the back of the chair. The fan is moving the edge of the tablecloth in the kitchen, and from the corner of my eye, it looks like there is an creepy animal skulking in the house.

There’s no strict dress code at the office. It’s a weird hybrid of business casual and what I would normally wear on my way to class in spring quarter before it gets outrageously warm. I wear a lot of sundresses, pencil skirts, dressier sandals, and jeans. On Friday, I was wearing a dress, which was a good decision.

I spent a third of my day playing messenger. Sent to pick up a check from one office downtown and then a proof for a book cover from another office nine streets away, I braved the blazing sun, the oven that is known as the New York City subway, and rode on a train without air conditioning. But mostly, it was fun running errands. I generally like wandering through cities. I borrowed a coworker’s monthly transit pass and daydreamed a little about how awesome it would be to live in the city with unlimited access to public transportation. On my second trip back to the office with the cover proof in my hand, I thought of the opening of The Bell Jar’s opening. “It was a queer, sultry summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” The Rosenbergs were long dead, and unlike Esther, I did know what I was doing in New York, but whenever I think of glamorous internships in the city, the image of Sylvia Plath and guest editorships at the now-defunct Mademoiselle wander into my brain.

The problem with releasing me into the wild streets of New York is that I have a very poor sense of direction when it comes to this city. Maybe it’s because there isn’t any Lake Michigan to serve as my proverbial compass, but even though most of Manhattan functions on a grid system, I have to recalibrate my brain each time I emerge from the subway to figure out what direction I”m supposed to be walking in. But that’s neither here nor there. What I really learned on Friday is that learning how to work the subway system requires a certain degree of attention to detail.

Multiple lines often travel on the same track, which was something I paid attention to in London, but it took me a lot of backtracking to find my way back to Penn Station from the MoMA. If that weren’t tricky enough, you can’t just wander into any old subway entrance and hope that you can get on a train that will take you somewhere. On the contrary, I absentmindedly stood on the platform on a downtown bound train before realizing that I really wanted to go north, costing me a good fifteen minutes (?) as I waited for my borrowed MetroCard could be reused.

Just when I think I have things figured out, something else crops up. A few weeks ago, I was eating lunch at the pedestrian plaza next to the Flatiron Building. After walking the few blocks to get there, I parked myself on a green folding chair and looked up to see the Empire State Building looming in the distance. Sometimes, I wonder whether I should be more embarrassed.

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