Bertha's List: August Edition
Living in “the city that never sleeps”, my favorite time is watching it wake up. The first rays of sunrise bathe its streets, its brownstones, its fire escapes. Commuters balancing their briefcases on one hand and large cups of coffee in the other walk by children in school uniforms lugging their book bags and homemade lunches. Bodegas open up their doors, the smell of breakfast wafts onto the sidewalk. Garbage trucks hum alongside the curb, underneath the windows of the slumberous few who snore away in Orpheus’ arms, unaware of the world that moves without them. I walk home breathing the fresh air in great gulps. It’s only mid-August but you can already taste autumn. It’s a reminder that summer, with its lazy afternoons in bed reading Posar Desnuda en La Habana and its balmy nights at BAMcinématek watching Magic in the Moonlight, are on their way out.
Every last day of summer becomes precious, made more so by its impending demise, and every occasion is an opportunity to open-toed wedges. Occasions like going to see Cate Blanchett in The Maids for Vicky’s 25th birthday. Watching Blanchett light up the stage tugged at the same heart strings as watching Shakespeare in the Park’s King Lear under a starry night sky. It’s reason enough for which to relentlessly pursue an acting career because, by God, when it’s good, it’s really good.
Thursday afternoon I sit on a Washington Square Park bench killing time (read: people-watching) until my workshop starts. I briefly go over my sides and I begin to doubt my choices. Not only my choices in the scene but my life choices as well. Here I was, in the theatre capital of the world, going in for a film/TV workshop. Had I ultimately picked the wrong town? I’d set my heart on Broadway long ago but it was a place for singers, dancers, triple-threats— skills which I sorely lacked. I dreamed about a career in indie films and the occasional, meaty Off-Broadway role. Had I made a wrong turn somewhere? Maybe I would fare better in a little town called L.A., with its sunny disposition and blinding movie stars. A town built expressly for the magic of cinema. A town responsible for creating all the movies I’d grown up on and adored.
I was at a crossroads. The same one, I’m sure, every actor faces at a determined point in their career: East vs. West. Did location even matter all that much? Cate herself started out in Australia. Or maybe the better question was, if it came down to it, could I really start all over again? Moving was not just a pain in the ass; moving cross-country required courage. Before I further unravel on the precipice of a mental breakdown, I firmly remind myself that fear hasn’t stopped me before. It has never been my tether to a person, place, or whatever other proper noun. All the qualities I lack, I make up for in gall. If the time did come, I would be ready. Until then, I knew my reason to stay. New York may very well be done with me but I’m not done with New York quite yet. I tuck away the sides and doubts in my bag and walk over to the workshop, wearing the same wedges I wore on my date with Ms. Blanchett. I hoped the casting director would see in me what my friends claimed to see and which sometimes eluded me. If nothing else, I trusted my shoes to lead me exactly where I needed to be.
By the following week, I was slowly slipping into all-too-familiar despondence. The kind that rears its ugly head whenever the incessant machinery of my busy brain has nothing to tinker on. No auditions, no call-backs, and no hours at the office (Ah, the hangups of freelance!) meant that I felt as productive as a flimsy umbrella on a rainy day. My hands weren’t made for vacuous hours of idleness and they itched for something to do. I offer to dog-sit Jasper for the week. I pass the time picking up his poop, walking him around the block, eating, reading the screenplay to Annie Hall and writing out a half-baked idea for one of my own. Maybe inspiration visits only the bored and pays in kind to the receptive and willing.
The end of summer also heralded the start of a new school year. Lizy sends me a picture text of Gigi, my sweet niece, attending her first day of pre-Kindergarten. She looks so grown. It makes me think of that Stevie Nicks song: “I’ve been afraid of changing/‘Cause I’ve built my life around you/But time makes you bolder/Even children get older/And I’m getting older too.” Impermanence. It is the only constant and in this business of building empires we often forget that. Even moments of great joy are tinged with sadness because, as wise crones well know, this too shall pass. And yet, as fleeting as those moments may be, they should be relished despite or perhaps in spite of their transience. It’s things like spending an afternoon at the Central Park Conservancy, hunting down a lobster joint in South Street Seaport, dancing on the rooftop of Jimmy at the James, or brunching on dim sum with good friends that make the ride worthwhile. It’s the little things, really. The little things that add up to a well-lived life.
As the third week of August closed in, I was ready to kick the “mean reds”. Things at work were picking up and I was back to my usual 9-to-5 routine: mornings at the office, cooking dinner in the evenings, logging miles at the gym, and waking up early on Saturdays to the tranquility of a cup of coffee and the NPR news. My own kind of hermetic heaven. Things were looking up professionally as well. Hard-Bitten, 3tO5’s first project, was entered into film festivals resulting in my first IMDB credit. It was a goal that had long been on the list; its realization made sweeter by having come about through a self-made film.
Friday afternoon Ryan, Jian, and I put on our bathing suits and head to the public pool in Central Park. I rarely ever swam in my own backyard pool when living in Miami so I could only blame the impetus to jump in a cesspool of bacteria with 70 other perfect strangers on my longing for unending summer. Whatever the reason, we walk down Lenox Avenue and crossing the intersection we’re stopped by the sound of halting brakes and a loud thud. We turn around to find a young woman, no more than 25 years old, slouching in the middle of the street. After the initial shock subsides, we rush over to help as she hangs up the phone— “Mom, I gotta go. I just got hit by a car.” As Jian calls 911 and Ryan helps her up, I answer her phone because it’s ringing incessantly and she’s disoriented and it breaks my heart that the caller ID reads “Home”. I talk to a concerned mother who is on the brink of hysterics and I say her daughter’s fine, just a bit shaken up. I would want someone to have the same reassurance for my mom. The cops who show up on the scene are completely unfazed, probably because they have seen it all, but most likely because getting hit by a car must be run-of-the-mill. She gets driven off in an ambulance and we continue on our way, ultimately fine but also a bit shaken up. It’s not a city for the faint of heart.
On Labor Day weekend we rent a car and drive up the George Washington Bridge, heading for the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. Living in a sprawling metropolis makes it easy to forget how much man is made of nature. As soon as my feet stepped on that hiking trail, I was happier than I’d been in weeks. I was enraptured in the beauty of it all, the pungent smell of pine trees, the sheer force of the rushing waterfalls, the chirping birds. I couldn’t help myself, I plunged in the river at the first chance I got. The temperature was cooler but it tasted like my childhood. The muddy water reminded me of all those summers ago, spent on my grandfather’s farm, when my cousins and I would beg our Tío Chinge to let us swim in the river. It was comforting to know that although children do get older, that little girl still loved plunging in at the first chance she got. Life and rivers are, in their onward course, very much alike.
On the way back to the city that never sleeps, we sped down I-80 with the windows open. I was wide awake. The corn fields stretched out for miles, my family back home was healthy and safe, my closest friends were in this car, the sunset rivaled the sunflowers in its yellow splendor, a catchy pop song played on the radio, my hair whipped behind me in the blowing wind, my world was at peace and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so anchored. I leaned back into the headrest and cherished this perfect moment in time because I knew, after all, this too shall pass.
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