Friday afternoon the movers arrived at our new apartment with all our furniture and boxes. By Saturday evening I had unpacked box after box of crystal, champagne flutes, pilsner glasses, brandy snifters, bud vases, and port glasses, but had yet to find a single plate or utensil. Eating was a challenge, but we could have drunk ourselves silly and in style if only we had anything other than beer available.
There we were though, in a "de-luxe apartment in the sky" on the 16th floor of a massive building--a building so big it literally has its own zip code. We're not the Jeffersons--but we're definitely living in a style that Linmans have not traditionally done.
The Upper East Side is not what you think it is... or at least, not only what you think it is. When I began working at Epiphany almost 8 years ago, I imagined that the congregation would be mainly people of privilege and wealth. The reality is much different--or at least more complex. The privilege and wealth are certainly there, and you can find real pockets of upper crust "Old New York" with its social clubs and exclusive enclaves, but in between the high rises on each block are the mid-block tenement apartments, full of seniors and people on fixed income and young people trying to make a go of it in the Big Apple. There are families such as my own that would be considered incredibly wealthy anywhere else in the country or world (I pay more in rent than many of my clergy colleagues elsewhere earn in a year) but who live almost paycheck to paycheck with the costs for child care and a just-big-enough apartment that the two-working-parent family requires. And there are neighborhood institutions--the family owned coffee shop, the local hardware/everything store where I can buy everything from a trash can to a greeting card to prescriptions, the historic German bakery where I imagine my grandmother and her sister bought cookies over 100 years ago when it was newly opened.
People on the Upper East Side are unafraid to complain and express their opinions; by 9:30am on Saturday morning, I had heard two people discussing the new marriage equality laws in the grocery store with disgust, had an interation with a man on the street who bemoaned the number of dogs in NYC, and been yelled at by a woman across the courtyard of my building to get the apartment number of the unit above my own where there were children singing on the balcony (evidenly a punishable offense).
We're finding that our building is the perfect apex of all these strands. It is a luxury building--the entrance has a driveway, fountain, and white-gloved doormen. But when you get inside, the decor in some of the public spaces reminded Jonathan and I of funeral homes. Dark, substantial furniture, carpets and art, dimly lit to soften the harsh lines of age and decay. Other areas remind us of hospitals--brightly lit, tiled, antiseptic corridors "behind the scenes" around the laundry rooms and management offices. Other aspects are more like a cruise ship--there is a hair salon, dry cleaner, and grocery store inside the building so you don't need to go outdoors for your staples.
There are rules about what elevator you can take for what activity--if you're doing your laundy, or have a grocery cart you're supposed to take the service elevator. If you're dressed acceptably, you may use the regular elevators. (Where is the tantruming todder elevator?)
Some of the residents have evidenly been living in the building for all of its 40 years--a real dash of dignity and zest and hard-boiled city people. Others, like us, seem transitory--we're here for a year, maybe two, but need a safe place to land and are thrilled with the huge playroom and park down the street. We are delighted with our good fortune, but don't imagine we'll grow old here like the people around us have.
I love the Upper East Side--with all its character and characters. And I am thrilled to finally be living within my parish's boundaries.