notes from new york city, april 2020

the trees are getting greener, if you can believe it

The gingko tree outside our window was one of the first on the street to bud, thanks to the way the tall apartment building across the street is shaped. It dropped all its leaves overnight in November, the first cold snap of the fall. Ever since then it’s been incredibly ugly. Little nubs on its spindly stick branches, like an infestation of warts. Every morning between November and April I’d wake up and look at the nubs, insufficient for any of the things a tree is supposed to do—like make shade, look nice, or be green—and think, I hate this fucking tree.

Yesterday I was riding my bike up Allen Street and stopped when I hit Delancey. A truck covered in bright LED displays drove by. The back screen was showing an advertisement for chairs and the sides had an animation that read THANK YOU TO OUR FIRST RESPONDERS on top of an American flag. The truck was blasting the final triumphant chorus of (Theme From) New York, New York by Frank Sinatra way too loud and rattling the buildings. UP. TO. YOUUU. NEWWW YORK. NEEEWWWW YOOOOOOOOORK! Just begging for pedestrians to rip off their pants and reveal sequined skirts and stop and high kick in place. I laughed from behind my mask so hard that I accidentally sucked it into my mouth when I breathed in.

I’m calling my mom and my grandparents more lately. Texting my dad more. They all keep going places. Last week I called my mom and she was wandering around in the Sam’s Club, looking for a big box of lightbulbs and some other piddly thing she doesn’t urgently need. But going to Sam’s is a fête, the pandemic social equivalent of attending a black tie gala. On Tuesday, my granny said she had to drive my grandpa—who’s going crazy from sitting all the time—to the store to pick out a specific type of printer paper he prefers. My other grandma says she’ll start going back to the gym when the governor reopens it. They’re all restless and I can’t keep tabs on them, except for calling every few days. I think of how my mom used to watch from our front door when my little brother pulled away from the house in his red truck, away from guaranteed safety and observation, away from her.

The city is getting greener, I noticed earlier this week. The other gingkos on my street are budding now and somehow, there’s all these tulips everywhere in full bloom. Who planted these? Pink flowers that I uniformly refer to as “cherry blossoms” (they’re not all cherry blossoms) are all over, in the parks where people sit in isolated little pods and in front of lucky peoples’ apartments. I always imagine you must have to be rich, to have a tree blooming like that outside your house. But probably it’s something even more illusive: just plain luck.

In the recurring nightmare I’ve had since March, my 56-year-old mom is pregnant and in labor and something is going terribly wrong. I’m the only person with her and we’re outside somewhere in the dirt. She’s weak and can’t stand up on her own, blood starts coming out of everywhere, and when I try to grab my phone from my pocket it keeps slipping out of my hands. Sirens are all around but none of them are for us. I can’t get an ambulance to come and take her to the hospital.

The greenness outside feels like a mirage, what with the cold. It’s never warm enough this time of year. Normally around now I’m wearing my jean shorts that I pulled out from under my bed, laying around with friends in a park for half an hour when a cloud moves overhead, and then remaining cold down to my bones all day long until I can take a hot shower and soak it out of me. Spring here is no good, for someone who grew up in a place with ten months of summer that gradually dip in and out of what equates to a New York City October. I’m looking at the green trees growing out of the sidewalks and can almost feel the hot, damp air of July and August. Can almost feel the big breath of humid night air hitting the bottom of my lungs. I spend the whole summer taking deep breaths.

A new fear: I’m scared Greg Abbott is trying to get my family killed. I’ve long hated the cabal of goonies who govern the state where everyone I love most lives, but now it feels personal. Does Abbott know that going to the gym too soon could kill my grandma? Does he know that I can’t do anything to stop any of them from my apartment in New York? Does he realize how ridiculous it sounds to earnestly say on the phone, “I’m worried you’re going to get sick and die? I keep having these dreams where you die?” It’s impossible to say this without sounding hysterical. Maybe you’ve tried it recently, and so you know.

My brain is trying to reconcile the way the city looks with how it feels. In the background of pictures taken on my fire escape last summer the gingko is so full you can’t see sky through its leaves. I can’t believe it ever looked that way but do know that the tree was part of how I decided this was the right apartment. The edges of the portrait of summer are filling in around me. I forgot how good it feels to stand up on both feet on a bike and let the chain click underneath you while you move forward without effort.

i never remember the cat piss

memory is manipulative

I have this vision of a perfect night I either had a million times or never at all. It goes: a bunch of us are in a car at night in wet swimsuits and soaking through our beach towels and jean shorts, the windows are down and it’s so late that all the lights turn green right when we pull up, someone’s playing music and everyone is scream-singing along, maybe the driver pulls some funny shit like tapping the breaks to make the car bounce, no one has any sense of how fast the car is moving.

When I talk about missing Texas I’m really talking about a lot of things. It’s that feeling of being in a car at night with your friends, but so much else. The smell of chlorine, burning the backs of your thighs on leather car seats in the daytime, always sweating, the way people say hi when they pass you on the sidewalk, the way it smells in a bar when the doors are open, beer mixing with the night air (night air is sweeter), walking outside during certain months and hearing locusts buzzing in the trees, vodka sticking to a styrofoam cup, the way the moon and stars look all fuzzy on cloudy nights.

A lot of it does have to do with being in a car. There’s something about being in a car. I talk too much about how bad I miss my Jeep, the first car I got and only car I’ve had. My mom sold it to this French couple three months after I moved to New York City and my internship turned into a job offer, like I’d hoped and planned. I didn’t even know any French people lived in our suburb.

The Jeep was a Problem. We knew this before my dad bought it from the CarMax, it being an American-made car, a GE-made car, but I wanted it so bad and it was safe and affordable enough. Not one of those Jeeps they always tell you will flip over on a dime. First the passenger-side window kept breaking. It would just fall down into the door. I had it taped closed with duct tape for a while but it kept melting off in the heat. Then the AC was always on the fritz. For at least two summers, including the one when I moved to Austin, I had a little generator hooked up to the cigarette lighter, and a miniature fan plugged into the generator. It hung from my rear view with my Yankee Candle air fresheners and blew hot air at my face.

Still I loved this car.

One day I was talking a lot about missing the Jeep and Lauren goes, “Hannah that car always smelled like cat piss.” I forgot about the cat piss. Immediately when she said it, I remembered getting in the car on hot days and getting hit with the acrid and unmistakeable scent of cat piss. A cat I adopted when I was depressed had pissed on the back bench seat once and anyone will tell you, there’s no getting out cat piss.

I get it all tangled up. I can’t separate certain things. Nostalgia is like a floral perfume, or maybe like a stack of Yankee Candle Beach Walk air fresheners dangling on the rear view of a cat piss car, in that it overpowers and masks everything in its vicinity. I miss so much about Texas but what if what I miss is not Texas but being young and stupid enough to speed around after a few beers and not care how the car smells. It’s maybe possible that I don’t love cars but just hate the trains.

I still don’t know how my mom had the Jeep smelling good enough for that French couple to buy it.

blue sky

we're doing this

I’m thinking about how after this we’ll be stuck in a time capsule for a while. The same music and movies and shows playing on repeat for months.

I’m thinking about how it feels like a gift that the new Strokes album came out on Friday and is actually good.

Taking off for a run headed west on 3rd and crossing Avenue A when the bass line in “The Adults Are Talking” kicks in feels indescribably good and like a gong ringing outside both ears. it’s normal it’s normal it’s normal.

The sky looks bluer but probably just because I don’t see it as much.

Today Natalie got a postcard in the mail from her friend Rachel. It made Natalie cry and she said “this sucks” in the kitchen in a way I could tell she meant it. I was thinking of sending postcards and letters to friends but now I’m not sure. After my run I looked at postcards in the stationary store across Avenue A. I was going to buy some but then saw the guy was selling N95 masks and that felt like a good enough excuse to walk out and think about it some more. I just got paid and got my government stimulus check at the same time and I know it’s just money burning a hole in my pocket, nowhere to spend it since we can’t go anywhere.

Little things can feel good: Drinking a sip of cold wine while I’m in the shower, letting myself dance around in the tub to that Strokes album again.

I passed by Shane’s building on my run, headed back east along Broome. With the bars below his apartment closed I can’t recognize which building his is anymore. I never looked up at it before, only ever looked for Home Sweet Home on the street level, for people crowded around on the sidewalk outside, smoking cigarettes and wearing strips of clothes.

I’m thinking about how this Strokes album is always going to remind me of the time I was always in my apartment and could go running down the middle of busy streets in the West Village. Crossing the full width of lower Manhattan in the bike lanes and roads.

tiny dancer(s)

consuming art in isolation

We went to the Houston Nutcracker at least once every two years growing up. I always sat next to my mom, we always snuck a bag of M&Ms back into the theater after intermission, and I always knew that if I looked at her during a certain part of the pas de deux at the end of Act I, I’d see the glint of a tear shining on her cheek in the stage lights, made especially bright at that moment by the white, fake snow starting to fall on the dancers a hundred yards away. When I was little I mistook this for some adult sadness she had that I, as a kid, wouldn’t understand, and the crying was distressing to me; I wanted to comfort her. As a teenager, still not quite understanding it, it made me embarrassed to see her crying like that in public, even if no one could see us.

I got older and moved to New York City and in one of my better ideas to come out of a depressive episode, developed the habit of listening to the entire Nutcracker suite on long, meandering runs around even grayer neighborhoods in the winter. I was running up Graham once on a cold but sunny Saturday afternoon and the second pas de deux, in Act II, came on, and I felt stinging and then warm tears in the pockets my eyes. I was already out of breath, still not used to the counterintuitive mechanism of sucking in thin, cold air, it was the most inconvenient moment for my breathing to be disrupted by the staccato of crying. I couldn’t help it, it felt like the music was pulling some hidden warm goo out of my chest like taffy warmed up between your palms. I cried and kept running, glad it was cold enough out that my tears and scrunched face could be mistaken as symptoms of the weather.

The dancers in the video on my screen are two inches tall and not exactly pixelated, but flattened into the background by the quality of an iPhone camera and compression of Instagram’s platform. They’re in apartment living rooms with their midcentury modern couches. They’re in those buildings where whole walls are made of windows, the ones you pass by on the sidewalk and think, Who could live in a place like that, where everyone can see in all the time? They’re next to their babies wriggling around in car seats on the floor. They’re on rough, unfinished rooftops you’d break your lease for stepping on. They’re on the only square of unfurnished space in a tiny bedroom. Sometimes they’re outside in a patch of grass that’s just started growing back in the warmer weather. They’re all alone, the only dancer in the frame, their movements stitched together with another dancer who’s alone somewhere else.

I watched the video in the middle of the day at the desk I bought to work from in my room, “until this is all over,” and I can go back to an office (if an office will still have me). The first time I feel tears burning is about two-and-a-half minutes in, when the music swells and the video shows a man dancing on his graffitied roof on a sunny day. The second time is when a woman scoots on her knees across her floor, smiling with teeth, the only dancer in the video who smiles. The tears stay behind the vault of my eyes like this until the end, when horns flare and one woman dancing in a field that looks like it could be in my grandparents’ pasture turns into many people dancing in tiny frames, alone in different places: on suburban sidewalks, in kitchens, out of garages, in front of rivers. That’s when I lose it and start to sob. That’s when it’s streams of tears down my cheeks, and feeling like I have to just laugh at it all, because. Oh, my god?

One time, driving back home from the Nutcracker, I asked my mom, “What about this makes you cry?” And she told me it was the way the French horns sound at that particular point in the music; she’d played the instrument all growing up, and something about the sound there was still touching to her. It felt like one of those answers grownups give you when there’s something more to it that you wouldn’t understand. Usually that feels like smoke and mirrors, a tactic to distract you from asking more questions. Sometimes it feels like it’s because they don’t have the answer themselves.

Throughout this whole ordeal I’ve kept it relatively together. I cried a little in early March, when I realized my birthday, on the 20th, would be spent without my mom and without most of my friends. Since then I’ve tried to adapt to these rules. I stay in my apartment and only go to the grocery store when I need to, which is to say, a little too much. I run outside but in the middle of the road; just like I knew would happen, the sight of closed stores and empty streets is normal to me now. I stick my arms out of my window at 7 p.m. every day and clap and watch the neighbors beat their pot a few windows down. Even then I don’t really cry because I’m too distracted by all these people. Look at all these people.

I want to say I cry because: I’m touched, beyond measure and words, by the idea of dancers dancing to music playing from their iPhone speakers, in their living rooms and rooftops, around the world but mostly in New York City. I imagine all of them dancing at the same moment in time, even though I know that’s improbable and they probably did it when it was convenient. This makes me cry more. It feels like someone is putting a warm blanket around my heart. I want to say it’s that: The thought of people making art right now is too much for me to accept. It’s a gift I don’t deserve. It’s a gift I don’t understand, having been stunned so thoroughly by what’s happening that I can’t even journal, like my grandparents and parents keep telling me to do, and can only manage stoic fragments.

I sent a link to the video to anyone I figured I could reasonably text without getting an odd reaction. I sent it to my roommate in the next room, the only earnest text in a string of TikToks and memes. I dropped it in my work Slack not once but two times. I sent it to people I only barely know on Instagram. if u haven’t seen this yet u gotta watch it. I sent it to Lauren, “Join me in cry This killed me” She sent back a sob emoji and reminded me of this time we saw a dance performance together, sometime last year: “Seeing Alvin Ailey was great but was the best with you. Because u get so pumped.”

To cope or maybe because I’m stupid, I’ve thought, Things are fine, I miss less than I thought I would. But what I miss is this: I miss the feeling of electricity between your arm and your friend’s arm in the small seats of a dark theater, when something beautiful is happening in front of you and everyone is looking at it, feeling different things but feeling them together. I miss Kelsey touching my right arm and telling me why one painting is goopier than another. I miss Lauren telling me about how they kept destroying the big red canvas so many times, inexplicably enraged by it. I miss walking the same few galleries in the MoMA with different people, seeing how it felt to look at the big Pollock or the recording of Frank o’Hara reading poems on the little TV screen, together. I miss the way people bump into you and step on you heels in the pit of a concert during your favorite song, jumping around in a way that would be violent if it weren’t perfect. I miss looking at something and thinking, It’s this, isn’t it?, with someone you love very much.

I want to say, I don’t know why I sent this five minute video of dancers I don’t know to everyone I could appropriately send it to. I do know. I wanted someone to reach through their screen and put their hands on my shoulders and say, “It is so beautiful.” I wanted to look at each other with big pupils and shake our hands at each other and say a bunch of nonsense, amounting to, “Wow.” I wanted that feeling where you’re walking out of the air conditioned theater or museum or bar and into a warm night with your friend and both of you can’t shut up. I’m stunned by this feeling in the good way. I am in awe of this feeling, in reverence of it. How do we deserve this? It’s a miracle each time we get to have it. I can’t believe we ever get to have it.

Created by the dancers of the Martha Graham Dance Company in celebration of our work together and as a big THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to the Dancer Relief Fund. Thank you for your continued support. Please check out our GoFundMe page at
March 29, 2020

trigger happy

Not done talking about my green room!!!

Sometimes I do really feel like I am a Sim, and that my body is being controlled by some acne-faced pre-teen on a game room couch somewhere, and that is why I feel myself walking around to certain places and doing certain things with very little sense of why. (If this is true, I’d like that kid to know about the :rosebud: cheat code, I could use the cash!!!)

Last week I walked to Sephora after work to get a small bottle of this cologne (hot brag that I only really wear scents for men!) that I buy almost every year in the fall/winter. It’s a crime to wear perfume in the summer, when your body heat and sweat just turns it putrid on the subway platform. But when the weather drops below 70, it feels appropriate to smell like something more substantial than deodorant and laundry detergent.

I bought this cologne for the first time in 2015, in that cursed period of time when both Alex G and Beach House were releasing albums (!!???!!). I remember I bought it before going on my first ever Tinder date (which was…exactly four years ago today), an experience I predictably blew way the fuck out of proportion. I ordered this silk shirt for it and remember putting lipstick on while I waited for the G. I was 22 and that was young enough to do things like buy cologne before dates, and believe a person when they say “I’m sad you have to go out of town” as you stumble out of their SoHo apartment at 5 a.m. to catch a train.

I put on some sprays of this fresh bottle on Friday, before what ended up being a too-late night out with friends. When I first put it on, I felt the little tickle of thrill: it smelled comforting and like a promise, like the night was an Easter egg I was about to crack open. I kept pushing my wrist up to my nose to get little hits of the vibe. By the time I was in bed and the sun was coming up, it just smelled like naivete, and like shaky hope that’s falsely sweet like bubble gum and pops just as fast. I kept getting stale whiffs of it in bed and it smelled less musky and more powdery than I remembered, or maybe it’s my body that smells different now.

Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, the cologne had been washed off in the shower and I’d slept enough to be normal again. I got an urge to paint my room and it quickly felt like, if I ignored it, I’d be stuck with white walls forever.

I bought a gallon of paint, moved my furniture around, taped my room, and started actually putting green on my walls around 10:30 p.m. The first time I told my ex-boyfriend that I loved him, we were rinsing paint rollers off in the tub at my old apartment. It was summer and the sun was coming in hard through the little window. We’d spent the whole day painting my tan walls white, the only time I’ve ever painted a bedroom a non-color. He did something funny that I can’t share too many times or, I don’t know, pieces of the memory might come loose and fall off. But I looked at him and said “I love you,” and it was terrifying and good, and then we went to a party with too many boys and ate plain burgers outside.

Sometimes I’ll put on a particular song on purpose, just to see how it makes me feel (usually: sad). Or I’ll scroll back into my own Instagram and look at certain pictures and think, “how do I feel about this?” But other times these certains and particulars tap me on the shoulder like, “yeah bitch, it’s me” and I guess that’s what therapists mean by “triggers.”

Maybe this is how everyone is, likely it’s just how some people are, or perhaps it’s just me that had my brain scrambled so bad by that anomie time in high school, that now I have this problem where I can’t tell how something’s going to make me feel until I do it. The worst times are when I don’t even know I’m doing something until I’m all the way in it, painting my walls green and trying not to cry. Is that…just how things are? Sometimes this feels very chaotic and isolating; other times I’ll admit that it’s fun.

My roommate Natalie came home right after I started painting and she got down into her undies and a tank top with me and helped me paint until the room was mostly done at 1 a.m.. She brought us two glasses of red wine and queued all this ABBA and Electric Light Orchestra, and we make stupid, obvious jokes about how “this is how a porn starts!!!” and otherwise cracked each other up by being absolute tools. I couldn’t have known living with her would feel as nice as it does but I’m glad I tried it to find out.

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