From the Mixed-Up Files of My Past
Seventeen years ago today, I had lived in New York City for exactly 5 days and I was working my third day of training as a waitress at the Dallas BBQ. I was staying with my friend Tiffany until I could find an apartment for me and my roommate (who would be arriving a week or so later). All of my worldly possessions fit into two suitcases, and most of the money in my brand new Chemical Bank account would soon be used to secure our impossibly small, old, third-floor walkup apartment. And I was completely in awe of my life. I mean, I was actually living in the greatest city in the world! I was positive that the path to success was hard work, talent and a good attitude. (I have since revised this to include being in the right place at the right time and/or having a wealthy or connected family, both of which are unfortunately rather randomly bestowed.) The apartment I would find and rent for that first year was on Seventy-fifth Street, in the worst building on the block between First and Second Avenues. I was seven streets and five avenues away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I had wanted to go to the Met since I was a child, because I had read a book (that I loved) called “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” about a little girl named Claudia Kincaid who ran away from home and lived there. It was one of the first places I visited when I became a resident of NYC. My wonderful mother purchased me a membership that first year so that I could go any time I wanted. I could never have afforded such a luxury back then, and I knew it was no small amount of money for my mother at that time either. I was so appreciative. With the membership, I was free (and it was free of charge) to come and wander the galleries. I visited the museum often, to escape my shitty apartment and my shittier job, and to see these works of art, some of which I had seen in books and others I had never known existed.
The museum remains one of my favorite places in the city, one of the places I visit alone to relax and reflect. I don’t live or work on the Upper East Side anymore, but I keep my museum membership up to date, if only to support this great place and to enjoy rare days like today when I have a couple of hours to spare and an opportunity to stop by. Today I saw the Andy Warhol exhibit, which has been reviewed somewhat negatively. (I think the exhibit is questioning how much influence Warhol has had, and personally I’m still fascinated enough by the idea of Warhol and the Factory to give it a look.) The Met takes me on a journey – not only with the artwork, but also with my own NYC past, to my early twenties – to myself, the same but different. My mom knew I would need this and would love it, and it saved me sometimes. When New York seemed so much harder and lonelier than I had imagined, I could come here and see possibility. I could run away and hide here for a while, just like Claudia Kincaid. I’ve had the opportunity now to visit some of the greatest museums in the world – the Louvre, the Hermitage, the Vatican Museums, Uffizi – but the Metropolitan will forever be my favorite. It reminds me of the power and permanence of artistic expression. It reminds me to slow down and take a look. It reminds me of who I am and who I was and who I have always wanted to be.