By Shaindle Schmuckler | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Is this your first trip to New York?”
This is the innocent and friendly question asked of me by a New York City bus driver as I boarded his bus to 34th Street.
Not an inappropriate question, given that my daughter No. 4 walked me to the bus stop with a myriad of instructions for my trip to downtown New York, otherwise known as going into the city. “Don’t make eye contact, don’t talk to strangers, watch your purse, be sure you have exact change to come home, keep this paper with my address and phone number and the school’s phone number, just in case,” to name a few.
She was teaching in a special needs school near her apartment. Before I could stay “34th Street, please,” said daughter was directly behind me as I boarded, standing on the first step of the three leading into the bus and giving explicit instructions to the bus driver while dropping exact change into the machine designed for that very purpose. Then to my complete chagrin I hear: “My mom is going to 34th Street. Please be sure she gets off at the right stop.”
I sat directly in back of the bus driver. He looked up in his mirror just as I looked up, and he gave me this knowing look. The look he probably gave to all the idiots who dared board his bus.
Suddenly, all bets were off. No longer was I the independent woman I believed myself to be; nay nay, I say, I was now my daughter’s charge. Ah, how sweet! I suppose if one could call the complete disintegration of my self-image sweet, one could also call this a success story; I must have brought my daughter up to be a wonderful, thoughtful, kind daughter who took her responsibility of caring for her mommy very seriously. After all, she was a grown woman (to me, however, she was my baby), living and working in the big city.
I, however, called it embarrassing.
This New York was her New York. “Everything has changed, Mom. It’s not like when you lived here.”
I was so relieved she didn’t say “like in the olden days.” As I attempted to commit to memory all this information, I began to feel the same vulnerability a tourist from a small Midwestern town must feel. Good grief, I am a born and bred and proud of it New Yorker. Even better, I am from The Bronx.
Would you believe that when, on my return trip home, I went in search of the bus stop, I got flustered and had to ask for help? Somehow I had turned into a worried, disoriented tourist.
On this very same trip to visit my daughter No. 4 and her soon-to-be husband, my baby girl offered to treat me to get my nails done at her manicure shop. Talk about feeling like I was in a strange land! Although I am now a seasoned consumer of manis, at the time I was a mani virgin. I was shocked to discover New Yorkers were afraid of germs. Yes, the polar opposite of every one of my memories.
Memories that included riding the buses and trains as a kid and as a teen. Clumped together like sardines in trains that had the distinct smells of food, coffee, liquor, urine and sweat. The fabulous music played by unknown musicians, and the touch of an unfamiliar hand — no need to elaborate.
Back to the mani.
New Yorkers purchase their own sets of mani and pedi instruments. These precious instruments are kept in small boxes in the manicurist’s shop, each box inscribed with the customer’s name. When a customer arrives at the appointed time, the contents of these boxes are revealed. I did not have a box filled with instruments. You guessed it: My daughter had a set that she gave me to use. Thank goodness her Southern roots, including the ever-popular five-second rule, were not polluted with that New York state of mind.
By the way, not only did I make it back to her apartment without incident — unless you count the fact that I got off at the wrong bus stop and spent long, agonizing minutes looking for the key to her apartment, which fell to the bottom of my purse — I never had to use any of the telephone numbers she gave me.