Features

A Room of Her Own In New York City

From Susan Parker
Friday July 11, 2003

Before heading to the Edward Albee Foundation’s artist residency program in Montauk, New York, I stopped to visit my friend Marlene. Marlene pulled up stakes and moved from San Francisco to New York City several years ago. Not so remarkable, you may think. People do it all the time. Hell, New York may even be cheaper than San Francisco these days.  

But I want to give Marlene a pat on the back for doing what some people might not have the nerve to do. Sure, kids go back and forth from coast to coast all the time. New graduates show up for awhile and then move on. My 30-year-old friend Amy has moved between New York City and San Francisco a total of four times in the past eight years. My friend Carol escaped from her parent’s home in the New Jersey suburbs to the Bay Area a dozen times when she was in her early twenties and didn’t have a dime. But Marlene was fifty-nine years old when she moved to Manhattan. She’s not a kid anymore. She doesn’t couch surf, cocktail waitress or pick up odd jobs here and there. She isn’t in college. She doesn’t have tattoos, piercings, an MBA, or dotcom experience. She isn’t an artist and she’s not pursuing an acting career. She does not write screenplays. She didn’t know anybody in New York City when she relocated there. I think that takes guts. I’m proud of her. 

“It’s not such a big deal,” Marlene assures me as we sip herbal tea in her tiny apartment on Manhattan’s upper west side. “I had a sellable skill. I knew I’d find work in New York.” 

“Yes, but you did it alone, Marlene,” I argue. “You weren’t transferred here. You didn’t follow a husband or significant other. You weren’t guaranteed work before you came to New York. It would have been easier and safer to stay home in the Bay Area.” 

“You make it sound more challenging than it was, Suzy.” Marlene shrugs and butters her toast. “I had the finances to move here. Many folks don’t.” 

“Yes, of course you did, but you worked hard for that cash. It wasn’t inherited or given to you. It wasn’t somebody else’s money. You’re a self-made person and you should congratulate yourself. Not many people would do what you did.” 

“Court reporters make good money. We can get jobs anywhere. Want more tea?” 

“Marlene, you chose a smart profession. You’ve used it advantageously. I think it’s extraordinary that a woman of your age has started over in New York City. You’re an inspiration. You’re what the song is all about.” 

“What song?” 

“New York, New York. I wanna wake up in a city that never sleeps…” 

“Just wait ‘til you spend the night in this apartment. You won’t be sleeping much yourself.” 

It was true. The pipes in Marlene’s brownstone walk-up banged, clanked and let off steam all night long. Taxicab horns and police sirens filled the hours after midnight and the garbage collectors arrived early in the a.m.  

In the morning Marlene dressed for work as I lay snoozing. 

“I’m off to court,” Marlene said breathlessly as she wrapped a silk scarf around her neck and placed a straw hat over her graying curls. “I’ve laid keys on the dresser for you. Remember, there are five locks and all the keys turn to the left except for the silver one, which turns to the right. Good luck. It only took me a year to figure out how to get into this apartment. I hope you can get out.”  

She paused and smiled. “I’ll see you tonight for dinner.” Then she turned and skipped out of the apartment like a twenty year old. As she was leaving I heard her humming softly to herself, “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere…” “You’ve already made it,” I called out after her, but it was too late. I was safely locked inside.  

Susan Parker is spending the month in Montauk, New York as the guest of the Edward F. Albee Foundation. For information on this artist residency program visit www.pipeline.com/~jtnyc/albeefdtn.html.