Posted: January 28, 2012 in New York City

People have the ability to tolerate situations that initially seem intolerable. At first, the idea of spending just one day in this tiny, mouse infested West Village apartment seemed out of the question. But when you compare it with other scenarios, poverty stricken human beings living in huts with dirt floors , without running water and in despotic countries  where no opportunity exists for advancement, our temporary situation seemed tame in comparison.

This however, was no consolation to Helena. 

“So we’re essentially one level above living in Afghanistan, is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“I’m just saying that our situation is solvable. The place isn’t that bad.”

“Yeah, if we were one of the mice, maybe.”

In truth, I wasn’t happy with our situation either. I hate mice, for starters. But I was trying to play the realistic role and come up with an affordable alternative. We had originally planned to stay there through the rest of the year, but judging by Helena’s reaction, this was probably not going to happen if I wanted to live in peace.

“Maybe we made a mistake,” she said. “Maybe we shouldn’t live here.”

“You mean here in this apartment.”

“No, I mean here in New York City. It’s kinda scary.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This was coming from the same person who had been convincing me to move here for the last year.

“Hey, you’re the one who wanted to come here in the first place!” I said. “I told you we may be replacing  roaches for rats! I told you that the apartments here are small! I told you…”

“I know what you told me! I’m entitled to change my mind, aren’t I?”

“No! No you’re not! You’re not entitled to change your mind! All we have to do is find a nicer place to live, that’s all.”

“I can’t live in that apartment even one day, Robert. I just can’t.”

“So you want to go back to Miami.”

“No! I don’t want to go back there.”

“Thank God.”

“At least we got out of there. There’s nothing going on there. Can’t we go live in Los Angeles?”

“Why? So when you get there, you decide you don’t like it either and want to move to Topeka? Forget it. Besides, California is in worse economic shape than Florida.”

“Well, then where?”

“I can’t believe this.” I muttered. At the same time, I felt a slight twinge of relief. I knew what Helena meant. New York can be daunting. I was always concerned that the quality of life we had become accustomed to could deteriorate here, at least at first. The city was expensive and there was no guarantee that jobs would be forthcoming during this recession, even though New York had relatively lower unemployment than many other cities, especially Miami and Los Angeles. There just weren’t any guarantees.

“Remember I mentioned Atlanta to you a few months back?” I suggested. “ It’s very affordable there. And the city’s fun too.”

“It is? Can we get a house there?”

“I’m sure we can find a house there that’s less expensive than Miami. I can call my friend Mitch and ask him. He’s in Marietta.”

“Call him.”

“You’re serious about this. I mean, I mentioned Atlanta to you months ago and you said no, no, no. It had to be New York…”

“I know what I said! Stop reminding me. I just didn’t think it would be this… scary.”

“But we’ve been here twice already! Why wasn’t it scary then?”

“I don’t know! It just wasn’t then but it is now, OK?”

I shook my head, realizing that trying to make sense of all this would be futile. I got on the phone to call Mitchell.

“Yeah! There’s plenty of places to live around here!” Mitchell said brightly. “You can probably rent a home here for under $1000 a month, and a nice roomy one too.”

“Are you kidding me?” I asked incredulously.

“Absolutely. There’s a housing glut here. So there are a lot of wonderful places outside Atlanta that have big, gorgeous houses, and they’re all empty! You’ll love it here. It’ll be great to have you around.”

Mitchell is one of my closest friends. We worked together on many television projects, he as Director Of Photography, and I as Director. He was a talented, optimistic guy who would bend over backward to help a friend. The idea of living in the same town as he and in a large, affordable home that would cost me way under what I ever dreamed I would have to pay until we decided to buy something, was very enticing indeed. I told Helena what he said. Her tear-tinged eyes brightened up.

“I would love to live in a house, baby,” she said, placing her hand on my arm. “Not just for me but for you. You deserve a nice, big, beautiful house. You shouldn’t have to live like this.”

I smiled because I knew she was sincere. We decided to take a walk through the Village and think about it. We scooper up our laptops in cased we found  a Starbucks and left.

The day was beautiful. It was in the 70s and a cool, gentle breeze blew. As we walked down Bleecker Street, Helena asked me about the weather in Atlanta.

“It’s great.” I said. “It doesn’t get hot like in Miami and it doesn’t get too cold either like up here.”

We turned towards Hudson Street and strolled by all the little restaurants, stopping by to gaze into them and peruse the menus. There were Spanish restaurants, Italian, Japanese, even a few Peruvian.

“Are there a lot of nice restaurants in Atlanta, too?” Helena asked me.

“Well, there are nice restaurants but you won’t find the variety of South American cuisine you find in Miami or the large selection of everything like here.”

We were major foodies.  We didn’t cook, but we did eat. You could tell that by just looking at me but not by looking at Helena. Her waist was the girth of one of my legs. That’s because she never overate, something I still hadn’t quite mastered all these years. But she did have a sweet tooth.

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing at a line of people a block and a half long waiting to go into a bakery.

“That’s Magnolia Bakery,” I said. “Remember in Sex and The City? That scene where Carrie is talking about her new boyfriend… what’s his name?”

“Aidan. Come on. I want to try it.” She said and crossed the street to stand in line.

I hated standing in line, but this particular line was quick. As we waited, I watched the sun set over the Village skyline and I put on my I-Pod. Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb was playing, so I raised the volume. I watched all the people walking briskly to and fro, the cabs whizzing by and the sky turn a beautiful reddish yellow as David Gilmour’s guitar swam in my brain.

The smell inside Magnolia Bakery was intoxicating. The fresh baked cupcakes, coated on top with fresh, delicious creams, the huge cakes… German Chocolate, Velvet, Vanilla… The place was tiny but well organized. The line would curl around the place, so we could admire the baked goods as we waited, undoubtedly to tempt us into purchasing more than we had originally planned.

“Ooh, look at those cupcakes!” Helena cooed. “What’s that?”

“Red Velvet Cake, I think.”

“Oh, my God! And what’s that?”

“German Chocolate. Look at those brownies!”

“Yum! What’s in it?”

Whenever Helena was excited about what she was seeing, she always asked rhetorical questions.

“I’m going outside.” I said. “This is all too much for me.”

“You’re not gonna get anything?”

I shook my head and walked out the door to wait for her. It all looked delicious but I didn’t want to indulge in all that sugar, deciding instead to save my appetite for something more substantial.

Helena walked out with a big chunk of German chocolate cake. I had a taste. She had just a forkful and put the rest back for later. The cake was light and full of flavor, smooth cream leaving a light coat on your palate mixed with crunchy bits of coconut. 

By now it was dark and we decided to head back towards the apartment. I looked up at the skyline and could make out the Empire State Building in the distance and smiled to myself.

“Ooh, what’s that?” Helena asked, pointing at a smoothie bar. We walked inside and it smelled of fresh fruit and vegetables. Indeed, the smoothie menu’s ingredients were all fresh and they made it right in front of you. I couldn’t resist the temptation so I ordered a strawberries and banana smoothie blended with apple juice and frozen coconut milk. I watched them throw the fresh fruit into a blender, pour the juice and scoop up the frozen coconut milk. Helena opted for a spinach, kale, parsley, romaine, cucumber, celery, lemon and apple juice. I tasted it and could actually feel the vitamins and nutrients surge through my body.

We strolled through Bleecker and, after Helena got sucked into another shoe store, I peeked into a place that sold old vinyl records for $20 a pop. I shook my head, lamenting the fact that I had given away all my vinyl LPs when I replaced them with CDs, never dreaming that vinyl would ever make a comeback. Having listened to vinyl growing up and enduring the scratches, pops and skips, I still couldn’t understand why anyone would prefer it over the quality of today’s technology, but there were at least a dozen and a half customers there, perusing through all the records as if they were mining for gold.

It was getting late and we decided that we had no choice but to head for the apartment. We couldn’t bring ourselves to call it home. On the way though, we noticed a quaint little tea shop with huge windows displaying a wood floor, wood bar and wood seats and tables.

“I’d love some green tea,” Helena said. “Can’t we just go in there for a little while?”

“Until we’re so sleepy we don’t care where we live anymore?”


I agreed and we walked in. The waitress was very pleasant and she sat us at a rather large table for four, since we were the only ones there, and gave us a small red booklet menu.  An array of macaroons and pastries stared across from us, beckoning to be savored. Helena walked over to see what they had. Macaroons in all flavors:  dark chocolate, raspberry, vanilla, coffee, cinnamon.. . I ordered a drink called a Matcha latte, “matcha” being a finely milled green tea that purportedly had over 100 times more antioxidants than regular green tea, mixed with milk and served either hot or cold. I asked for it cold. It came in a glass and it looked like a green milk shake but it wasn’t thick, more like the consistency of an iced coffee.  I sipped on it and it tasted like a sweet herbal mix.  Helena returned with two small dark chocolate macaroons and ordered a small pot of hot green tea.

We both turned on our laptops and I started researching how much it would cost to make the move to Atlanta. Soft music, early 1920’s jazz, permeated the tea shop as we sipped on our drinks.

“I love this place…” Helena muttered, her eyes surveying her surroundings,  as she nibbled on a macaroon.

We were there for over an hour and a half. I had ordered another matcha latte and Helena was sipping her green tea slowly, immersed in her laptop. During that time, I was able to find and purchase reasonable train tickets to Atlanta and a hotel room to stay in for a few days until we found a place to live in. I called Mitchell and he said he’d be happy to help me buy a used car. A car was essential in Atlanta.  Fortunately, Mitch was a car aficionado and he knew where all the great deals in the city were. He even offered to hold on to our boxes at his home until we settled into a place. All in all, adding together the train tickets, the hotel stay and the cost of a used car, it ended up being pretty much the same as the rental of this Village apartment for six months if you amortized it over that period of time with the money we were going to save by renting an affordable house in Atlanta.

“Where’s Hell’s Kitchen?” Helena asked me.

“That’s in Midtown, why?”

“Is it nice?
“It’s a pretty popular area. Like the Village. Why are you asking?”  I was pretty sure  I already knew why.

“Did you know that there’s an apartment available for rent in Hell’s Kitchen for just a little more than we have to pay for this apartment in the Village? And it looks brand new!”

I stopped sipping my latte mid-sip. I looked at Helena, knowing full well what she was thinking. She looked at me, smiling and blinking innocently.

“You realized I just booked our train tickets to Atlanta and made hotel reservations.”

“Maybe if we give this apartment a try for just a week or two, we can see if we can rent a better place somewhere nearby.”

“You want to stay here then.” I asked.

Helena smiled and blinked again.

The soft jazz in the tea shop was playing Louis Armstrong. I looked out the window. It was getting late but people still scurried by, lights were still on, restaurants were still full. I felt a surge of excitement and a thrill to be here.

I turned on the laptop again, cancelled the train tickets and the hotel reservations. I was home.


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