Last Sunday I followed Alistair down Canal Street. We were headed to dim sum; I didn't know the spot.
"It's huge," he said as he described it. "There are escalators."
"How come I don't know this place?" I said. We took a left turn down a little dead-end street.
"Oh damn," Alistair and I said at the same time. There was a crowd of 30 people at the door, a woman with a microphone announcing the tables. We were going to have to wait so we took a number: number 92.
A few minutes later Alistair's friend waved at us from across the street, grinning. He knew someone at the restaurant, "we just say the name and skip the line," he said. Ten minutes later, our group of six were lead inside past a mob and up an escalator. Slowly, the restaurant revealed itself. The dining room was a wide, open space as large as a whole city block. There were at least a hundred tables and between them were waitresses pushing around carts of dim sum. I've never been more surprised by a restaurant in all my life.
We were seated and the carts immediately stopped to serve us. We were a little ambitious: duck and pork, steamed pork buns (my favorite), rice noodle rolls, two kinds of dumplings, and so on, and so on.
Mid-meal a Chinese dragon came through the entrance of the restaurant and danced in the small corridor. Chinese New Year was earlier in the week.
"You bring it to your business to get the demons out and to bring good luck," one of my friends said.
I started to feel that New York feeling in my chest: I'm in this place I've never heard of that turns out to be a spectacular marvel, and now dragons are dancing! You cannot love the city without appreciating surprises and irony. It was a great start to the week.
However, Monday had it's usual loneliness. Every other Monday night I go to writing group but that means a few hours wandering Flatiron beforehand. I used to go to a tea shop to write before it closed. Now I hover in the doorways of coffee shops searching for seats where there are none. After doing this twice I settled on my last choice: an expensive pastry shop.
I stood over a case of eclairs and chocolate mousse cakes and pointed to one.
"What is that?" I asked the man behind the counter.
"That is magnificent," he said. It was blood orange flavored chocolate mousse cake with a blood orange macaroon on the top. I bought it and sat by the door. The place was nearly empty. There was a man in his 60s by the door chatting up the staff. A girl waited by his table and he invited her to sit down. Another one, I thought.
A chapter from my book was workshopped at the weekly meeting. It went well until the very end, someone made a snippy comment that made my ears turn red. I brushed over it in my "old Ariel" way, but spent a night and the next morning feeling rage in my stomach. Oh, the things I could have said!
Tuesday night I met Alistair for karaoke. Wednesday morning I got up an hour early so I could do a Skype session with my French teacher. Unlike the first time, I felt a little more at ease. We went the whole lesson only speaking French. I can understand a lot but I am too fearful to speak.
That evening I took myself to get a manicure. I listened to the conversations around me (I'm always eavesdropping, always listening).
"Can you believe it?" one of the women told the receptionist as she slipped on her coat. "This time tomorrow I'll be on a beach."
I was intensely jealous. I had taken Thursday and Friday off to satisfy a days-off requirement (long story) and had been planning to go somewhere warm. My schedule didn't mesh with Alistair's business trip this week. I decided to make the most of it by scheduling a spa treatment. That night when I got home the spa called and cancelled. So much for that.
Thursday was Valentine's Day. Alistair and I decided no gifts and no plans. I cooked him his favorite dish, but otherwise I spent the whole day indoors watching TV. I wanted to be out in the city, shopping, having tea, seeing a film or whatever, but I felt too depressed to do anything. Out the window of our apartment was a sunny street, but I didn't feel deserving enough to even be on it.
Friday was unseasonably warm. Alistair and I went out to run errands and later that evening saw "The Favorite." A bunch of 20-somethings in front of us laughed so loudly to their own inside jokes that a man told them to "settle down." Smoke from their e-cigarettes clouded the screen.
"A great movie that was ruined by them," the man said to us when the theater lights went up.
Alistair was keen on going out on Saturday and I (still in my unconfident hermit phase) wanted to stay in. We did manage to have a dinner together at an Italian restaurant. That evening we watched a documentary series called, "The World's Busiest Cities." The hosts visited a man who lived in one of the Hong Kong "coffin apartments." He explained that he was a restaurant dishwasher forced to move into a coffin apartment when his parents died. It was so depressing to see his little yellow box, his TV, his clothes stacked in garbage bags. Last week I saw films and beautiful New York things and yet I can only think of the man who lives in the box.