As technology envelopes us all in an ever-tightening cocoon devoid of the most basic human contact, I find I make new friends about as easily as those survivors on Lost make ice cubes. But that's okay because—between working five days a week, freelancing on weekends and raising Julia—I don't actually have time for the friends I've already got. No, Margaret is something different.
They say that centuries ago, people roamed the earth in familial tribes, that eventually they scattered to the winds, but now and then you come across someone, a kindred spirit, who's out there every day, just like you, attempting to earn a living, and fall in love, and get to the gym, and return a call, and hand-wash her delicates, and touch another life. Sometimes a look is exchanged. You stop for a second and say something—"Can you believe that guy?" or "This has been the worst allergy season in years" or "I'd kill to have hair your color"—and a face in the crowd becomes a face you recognize, a face you look forward to seeing in the neighborhood. Then, little by little, that face becomes a person who anchors you, who nourishes you, who opens up the world for you. Margaret is a member of my tribe.
New York City is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, it is a very expensive place to live. The price for every single activity—whether it's sending your child to nursery school or buying a cappuccino or parking in a garage—is $11,000. It is not uncommon for couples to run through their entire life's savings simply by going out for Thai food and a movie. This fact, combined with the pollution, the noise, the constant threat of another terrorist attack, and the knowledge that there is always an episode of Law & Order being filmed in front of your supermarket (Jesse L. Martin has made it virtually impossible for me ever to pick up English muffins and a box of Cascade), tends to make most New Yorkers a touch snarky.
They will interrupt their very important cell phone conversations to snort derisively and inquire as to the state of your mental acuity should you take more than six seconds to order your $11,000 cappuccino. I've been cursed at, body checked, and left for dead all because I got the last throw pillow at a Jonathan Adler sample sale. I've been flipped off, ripped off and taken the long way home by every cabdriver in midtown. I've been spilled on, barked at, shoved aside, and woefully misinformed from Zabar's to Central Park. Make no mistake; New York is hard, the world is cold, and there are days when life is just plain brutal. But I'm still here. And so is Margaret.
Marian, Maggie and Natalia—the women who sneak Julia oatmeal cookies from behind the counter of the tiny gourmet shop on First Avenue—are also around. So is Mr. Thomas, who lives upstairs and knows all there is to know about theater. And then there's Jed, who stops to say hello each morning as he walks Spartacus, his mighty Chihuahua, past my bus stop. The truth is, I wouldn't dream of calling on any of these people if I were in trouble, nor would any of them come running to me. But we could, and we know it. Which brings us back to Margaret.
"Sweetheart," says the voice on my answering machine. "I haven't seen you in ages. Did you decide which preschool you're sending Julia to? Does she like camp? Isn't your boyfriend back from Europe this week? Call when you have a second to let me know that everything is fine. Oh, and I saw your last column. You are a very talented person, but white is not nice next to your face." And with one 15-second message, I feel...what? Loved? Sort of. Grounded? Sure. Part of a bigger picture? Absolutely.
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