Miracle on 96th Street

New York is a city of coincidence and chance, so much so that, “Only in New York!” lands with the weight of an obvious cliche. It’s a city of 8.5 million people, but the one who calls the number on your runaway dog’s tag just happens to be from your hometown. Only in New York! You’re pictured in the background of a news story for three seconds and someone recognizes you from it the next day. Only in New York!

It’s not uncommon to see to old friends run into each other on the train, delightedly catch up on years of absence, and part again a few stops later. I was once a third wheel to a Street Meet (another common site of chance encounters) between a colleague and their friend who’d become a Broadway actor. I moved to shake the Fancy Actor’s hand, only to realize I was pressing the packet of dental floss that had been in my pocket into their palm. (I may be prone to minor social faux pas, but I have great dental hygiene. “Oh, that Lydia.” they’ll say. “Always leading with her best tooth forward.”)

I think this is part of why New York is a cultural fascination for so many; it always seems to be teeming with serendipitous potential. Some of this magic must have rubbed the rust off my cynical soul because when Daniel lost his keys last week, I found myself parroting my own Only in New York aphorisms: All good things in all good time! Things have a way of coming back to us!

Daniel had taken Marcy on a run through Central Park, following the same path we take her down at least three times a day. Riding the elevator back up, he realized the keys were missing. The apartment keys, the mail keys, the building fob, the keys for the bike lock… all of them gone, likely jostled out of an unzipped pocket while running.

We retraced the run. No keys. We split up and looked again. Still nothing. We checked benches and tables, trash cans (you never know!), water fountains, fence posts, in short, every plausible spot a passerby may have tossed them. No luck. Daniel called our local precinct. Nothing there; but there was still the lost and found at the Central Park precinct.

By this point my peppy recitations about the magic of New York had run dry for Daniel, although I’m not sure he ever really believed those keys were coming back. It was very improbable that a passing tourist would pick up a pile of keys, Google the Central Park lost and found, then hike more than a mile to deliver them. It was Saturday. It was cold. The keys were gone.

I wasn’t giving up. All good things in all good time! Those keys were coming back! On to the Central Park Lost and Found! As it turns out, there is an entire section of the Lost and Found exclusively for recovered keys. It’s a cardboard box, the kind you’d expect to find free kittens nestled in. The contents of the box look like the crowded mouth of a teenager sporting new orthodontia. Twisting piles of metal, keychains, car fobs, and not one of them belonged to us.

New York is big, and bright, and beautiful, and sometimes you feel swept up in its magnetic energy. It’s a place where you find yourself believing that anything is possible and magic is real. But it’s also just a place full of people, like every other place full of people. Sometimes it’s a place where you lose things. As often as you hear stories of chance reunions, you hear about another* marriage proposal gone awry after the diamond engagement ring was accidentally dropped into a sewer. (*yes, another. This exact scenario is bizarrely common here.)

Sometimes, you must make peace with the things you have lost and move on. New keys can be make, bike locks can be cut. It’s an inconvenience, but not a tragedy.

The other day, Dan was leaving the park with Marcy. There was a groundskeeper scooting around in a golf cart. “What would you do,” Dan called, “if you found a set of keys?”

The man prevaricates. “Well, what do they look like?”

A brief description, then some rustling in the back of the golf cart.

And there they are. Daniel’s keys.

Only in New York.

The Astoria Borealis

I lived in Washington DC as a child, at a time when violent crime and gang activity was especially prevalent in the city. The safety lessons my parents imparted went beyond Stranger Danger and into full bore survival tactics. What will you do if someone pulls a gun while we’re shopping? What if someone breaks the car window on the Beltway? What if there’s a gang fight at school? All these what ifs were presented over and over until we could produce a clear Run-Hide-Fight response plan.

It sounds a bit extreme now, but we had been huddled bystanders in armed robberies and parking lot gunfights while living there. The triple homicide in our neighborhood was the final push my parents needed to relocate us to an ultra-rural cowtown. But as the saying goes, you can take the gal out of the city, but you can’t take the excessive crisis planning out of the gal.

Our move to NYC has widened the landscape of my What If game, presenting an entirely new set of potential disasters. When we chose to live and work on the island of Manhattan, my What Ifs kicked into high gear. It’s an island! What’s our flood zone? How will we evacuate if there’s a hurricane? What if there’s a threat that closes the island? What locations are most likely to be terrorist targets, and what is our relative day to day proximity to them? What if a disaster occurs while we’re at work? Where will we meet? If there’s a fire in our building and we need to exit off the balcony, what’s the best way to carry Marcy? To be clear, I feel very safe living here. I just can’t seem to stop my mind from wandering to potential disasters.

Last week, we had our first chance to confront a real life What If. What if it’s after 9 in the evening, and the black sky in the east lights up as bright as any sunrise? What if the brightened sky suddenly turns blue and proceeds to flicker for three minutes? I had not prepared a response plan for such a scenario.

Daniel and I stood on our small balcony, watching the blue lights race across the sky. It was quiet outside, save a low electric hum. There weren’t any sirens, and we didn’t see anyone else coming outside to watch. A glitch in the matrix just for us? An alien invasion? The northern lights? Nuclear war?

Watch the Riveting Video Here! (https://www.instagram.com/p/Br7w5wgHbhv/)

We honestly thought it was nuclear war. As the blue lights kept flickering and Twitter failed to give me any reasonable answers, Dan put his arm around me and said, “If we’re about to be annihilated, know that I love you.” Comforting!

As it turns out, there was an underground fire at a power plant in Astoria. The blue light was caused by the electrical arc tearing through oxygen and nitrogen atoms. Amazingly, no one was harmed, though nearby residents were understandably scared into fleeing.

And I learned an important lesson. Sometimes, no matter your What If planning, there’s nothing to do but watch. If I am to greet the end times, I don’t want to spend my last moments scrolling through Twitter, looking for verifiable explanations. It either won’t matter (because of impending annihilation) or there will be time for answers later. Maybe it’s enough to lean into each other as the lights roll toward us, and say, “I love you.” again.