Serving the City

I am sitting in the corner chair in my subletted room in Harlem, staring out the window.

Hurricane Sandy destroyed one of the two, rendering it filthy and unable to open, but the gentle breeze flowing in from the north side of the room provides enough refreshment. The open window also amplifies the street noise: horns honking, emergency sirens, trash truck operation and accelerating taxicabs. Perhaps the most fascinating sound of all is people, yelling.  The residents of Harlem yell, shout or scream all of their communication: greeting, curses, conversation and confrontation.

It’s just how they do.

There is no relief from the bright color in the room.  The curtains, bedding, accessories, appliances, picture frames — you name it – are all one color.  When the sun rises in the morning, my room is flooded with a blinding hue of hot pink.

My 26-year old roommate’s cat, Captain, has descended the windowsill after observing two men yelling — and laughing — across the street.  He now lounges across the small sliver of sunlight that warms my toes and the wood floor underneath. Captain appears peaceful, calm and sweet. Dare I rise from my chair and walk past him, he will attack me, mercilessly dig his claws into the flesh around my ankles, and sink his teeth into my Achilles.

It is never pleasant. Yet, somehow, I still feel compelled to pet him, refill his food dish and shower him with attention whenever he demands it.

Two doors down, at Peaches ‘n Klean, my laundry is fluffing in the dryer. The sexually ambiguous person who manages the place is either folding socks or eating a platter of takeout whenever I enter. She (he?!) dresses in a long-sleeved plaid shirt, oversized, fatly cuffed denim pants, and steel-toed boots. Her (his?) short hair is always slicked back behind a stiff-billed baseball cap, and her (his?) eyes are hidden behind Transitions lenses. For some reason the lenses remain dark.

The only reason I assume she (he?) is female is the presence of rather large, droopy breasts behind her (his?) shirt.

Sexually Ambiguous regales stories to her employees, but mostly for the benefit of anyone who will listen. She yells tales of her brother attending high school with Jackie Robinson, brags about how she knows Aretha Franklin — “She ain’ lost weight! Las’ time I saw her, she was all dressed up in yellow, lookin’ just like Big Bird!” — and what she will eat for dinner when she is “done foldin’ dese damn socks.”

“I’ll tell you what I’s gonna do, ” Sexually Ambiguous shouts.
“I’s gonna git me a can of spinach, cut up some damn garlic, sprinkle a little pepper and olive juice on it, and mix it all up real good. MmmmHMMMMMMM!  Shit’s satisfyin’.”

I am the only one giggling in the laundromat.

*****

It’s the end of April, and spring is finally here.

I never truly understood why people on the east coast so eagerly awaited the arrival of the season until I moved here. It’s always spring in California. I think it glorious, yet terribly monotonous.  You see, after a long and bitterly cold winter, with blinding blizzards, stinging rain, icy wind and slushy, dirty snow, even the slightest hint of sunlight on one’s face brings a flood of hope. Change. A feeling of accomplishment. Relief.

Winter is behind us.

Most trees and flowers have burst into full bloom, displaying a brilliant arrangement of color, pattern and texture I have never before experienced. Only a few trees remain bare, or struggle to produce budding flecks of green upon their branches.  Perhaps they are afraid to open up. Some days, winter seems to return with a vengeance, and we all question if this new season of warmth, breeze and comfort is here to stay.

This past week, however, each morning has proved faithful. The sun warms the east, even through cloudy skies. The birds chatter, chirp and sing noisily. Winter coats have been sent to the dry cleaner, and there is sudden, massive exposure of very pale limbs.

I realize how great of an accomplishment it is to have survived the winter. I secretly hope the more figurative winters of my life are behind me. At the same time, I’m not afraid of them anymore. Like all seasons, they come and go.

*****

As I begin month four in New York City, I am still living out of a suitcase. I’ve attended several auditions and haven’t gotten a single callback.  Hell, I’ve even accompanied myself on the piano, and still haven’t managed to raise an eyebrow or impress the people behind the table. I am not discouraged yet. These things take time. And politics.

Not all is in vain. I have finally secured steady work, teaching voice, piano and musical theatre students at a school in Brooklyn (just wait for their dating advice!). On the off-days and weekends, I cater.

One of the very first catering events I worked in the city was in February. My job was to serve hor d’oeuvres at a very large, extremely expensive and increasingly drunken party for Fox Sports. In attendance were sports celebrities, executives and employees of the company. (I am happy to report Troy Aikman accepted my offer for a crab cake on a crisp, fancy blue napkin!) As the hours dragged on, I became discouraged. I escaped to the bathroom for a moment, sat on the toilet with my head in my hands and felt sorry for myself.

“LORD!” I whined. “I did not move to New York to be a servant! I’m here to make a difference! To pursue my dreams! Not serve people!”

As soon as the prayer left my lips, I realized how ridiculous I sounded. As clear as anything, I heard the following:

Oh, but you are here to serve, Leslie.

I lifted my head, laughed and brushed away a tear.

“I got it, I got it. Good one, God.”

****

Month four proves I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I am so glad I took that leap of faith and moved here. God is beyond good. Maybe I’m not a big Broadway star, and maybe I never will be.

I can’t believe I’m saying this — but — it doesn’t matter.

I think I finally believe God will grant the desires of my heart, because they’ve changed. At the same time, God has answered my prayers in the most loving, faithful and gentle way, all the while guiding me towards the next adventure.

The greatest adventure of all?  He’s asked me to serve.

This city.

And, for the first time in my life, I am completely content.

4 thoughts on “Serving the City

  1. Rebecca says:

    Over the past month or so I have read every post on your blog, and wow! I admire your bravery and I have found myself so inspired by your story. After reading your blog, I even had the courage to finally start my own after some tough changes and hard, but rewarding decision I have had to make. I look forward to your future posts!

  2. I think you’ve found the secret mystery author of ThugKitchen.com. Well done.

  3. Sonja Bachl says:

    I love this!!!

  4. Sidna says:

    You are an amazing writer, Leslie. You bring the mundane and unattractive aspects of life and love to the front, and make them beautiful and colorful. Your passion for experiencing all that God hands you, is a gift that many are afraid of and steer clear of. You manage to “keep on truckin’ ” in spite of inconsistencies, and always charge on with a smile. I am so happy to have met you in Kansas City. Love you and your writings.

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