I was talking with a friend the other day about the cult of busyness that exists in New York City. Actually, I wasn’t talking with a friend, I was more talking at her. I was complaining that these past few weeks have no joke been the busiest of my life — busier than finals weeks during college, busier than I can’t even think of when else I was busy — but whenever I try to talk to people about it, they just counter it with their own busyness. Like, they don’t even say, “Oh, what are you busy with?” They’re like, “Oh, yeah, I’m so busy too, I had to wake up this morning early because I had a meeting, and then I have like drink plans every night this week, and then this weekend I have to go to two baby showers.”
And I’m like, “Seriously, fuck you.” Because those aren’t actually things that are stressful. They’re just time fillers. The stuff I’ve been doing has been heart-wrenching, brain draining shit that has left me so depleted that at the end of every day, Caleb is like, “Did you take a Valium without telling me?” And I’m like, “Nope, I am just exhausted.”
Normally, I’m not busy at all. Normally, I can start drinking at 2pm, or go see a movie on a Tuesday afternoon, or have lunch for three hours, or keep up with the Kardashians after breakfast, and it’s no problem. But these last few weeks, I’ve just really needed just one person to be like, “Man, you sound like you’re stressed, I am willing to give this one to you.” The only people who would beat me in the busy competition at this point are working mothers, and I would never deign to complain to them.
You know you’re really fucking overwhelmed when things you normally dread start to look enjoyable to you. Like for instance, cleaning the bathroom. Or taking the subway during rush hour. Or going to mail something at the mailing store. If only because for a few short minutes, you don’t have to be thinking or writing or producing anything. You can just be in the moment, wordless.
I almost entered a state of euphoria when I went to the mailing store yesterday. I had to print out my manuscript, which took about 10 minutes. During that time, all I had to do was stand at the counter, and talk to Omer, the man who owns the establishment.
Those of you who work from home know that there’s a weird ecosystem that exists in residential neighborhoods during the week. Everyone who stays hidden on the weekends sort of comes out of the woodwork. The elderly. The disabled. The unemployed. The misanthropes. The career alcoholics. If you live somewhere long enough, you start to recognize these people. They recognize you, and frequently, you find that you congregate in the same places. Patches of sunlight. Benches. The laundromat. The pharmacy. The tables outside of the bakery. Eventually, you introduce yourself, and then every time you walk past them, they greet you with a, “How’s it going, Brie?” It makes you feel like a celebrity.
One especially popular place is Omer’s mailing store. Omer is not the effusive type. When you first meet him, you sort of feel like maybe he hates you for bothering him. But then, if you go in enough, he starts to ask you how you’re doing. You notice that he offers a sort of safe haven for misfits. The preppy looking kid clearly on crystal meth or some other amphetamine who, despite his erratic behavior, is allowed to charge his phone by the copy machine. A stray cat named Amber that stalks you as you walk around the store, considering the ballpoint pen options.
Standing at Omer’s counter for ten minutes, I was witness to the many different sorts of people who are at home during the weekdays in my neighborhood. The irritating Brooklyn moms with their gigantic diamonds and fresh produce and muted clothing. The extremely feminine guy who paid for a package he was sending upstate using cash he pulled from a green sequined wallet. The older woman who cooed at Franke even while she barked and snarled at her with her tiny rat teeth. This strange guy with Lionel Richie hair who gave me his number, and told me he wanted to talk to me about a top secret proposal over a Saturday afternoon game of pool. On this occasion, Omer stepped in, and saved me. “Excuse me, I have to help her, she’s been waiting,” he said. The guy creeped backwards, and departed with his eyes still on me.
Just as I paid my bill, someone croaked behind me, “Hey Brie!” It was Johnny, one of my favorite guys in the neighborhood. All day, every day, or at least when the weather is nice, he sits outside of the Laundromat, shooting the shit with whichever one of his friends have stopped by to see him. Johnny has lived in the neighborhood since birth. He used to work in “sanitation.” He has a tan and two teeth. I adore him.
"Hey Johnny, what are you doing in here?" I asked him.
"Just stopping in," he said. Johnny was making the rounds. He was checking the spots. He was seeing if anyone was up to something interesting.
A few minutes later, I ran into him again, this time shuffling past the pizzeria. “You didn’t say goodbye!” I scolded him.
"Yeah, well," he said.
"See you around, Johnny," I said, not wanting to keep him.
"See you soon, Brie," he said. His regular spot waited for him in a patch of sunlight across the street.