Novel Approach to New York City

Novel Approach to New York City

Maybe I’d go back to New York at the end of it, maybe I wouldn’t. The thought of not having to fight so hard every day made me feel almost giddy. I had forced myself to love that place for so long. The idea that I didn’t belong there-that I couldn’t belong-had been so crippling that I’d molded myself into someone who did belong, sharpening my elbows and edges every morning before I left the house.

– from The One that Got Away* by Melissa Pimentel


*The blurb’s claim that this is a modern version of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is only true in the sense that if this book was written and you then put a gun to someone’s head and demanded to know which of Jane Austen’s books it was most like, your victim might say Persuasion.

Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Shoe Repair Shop: MIA

Everyone survived, but I didn’t know that when I saw that my shoe repair shop was closed on a frigid Tuesday afternoon. Thankfully, the shock of the closed gate kept me standing stock still, disbelieving both the locked gate and taped-up “CLOSED STORE” sign. It was a passerby who informed me that everyone was alive and well. Until then, it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone’s life was in danger – even though I once suggested the place looked like a human smuggling front.

There had been a fire in the back, the well-heeled woman informed me, and all the shops on the block were irreparably damaged. I pressed her for details about my Russian pals, the not-so-friendly faces behind thousands of shoe repairs. She told me their business was over, and they weren’t coming back. I nodded as she gave me unsolicited directions to a nearby shoe repair, as though all shoe repairs were interchangeable. When she started eyeing me with concern, I thanked her and walked back the way I’d come.

For the remainder of the week, I spent my lunch breaks looking for a new show repair. My only requirement: the shop must be willing and able to repair anything I could carry – shoes, watches, leather goods, etc. Instead, I found shoe repairs that didn’t fix watches and watch repairs that didn’t fix shoes. Finally, I just walked into a barber shop and asked if they could fix my stopped watch. The young barber told me he’d be happy to, but it would have to wait till after 3pm. I didn’t want to wait, so he sent me to his buddy who runs the jewelry store down the block. A personal recommendation? I couldn’t turn it down.

The jewelry shop, a store smaller than my apartment’s living room, had three staff and no customers. The greeter and floor manager spent the 10-minutes it took the owner to take apart my watch beaming at me; the greeter from his station at the door and the floor manager within a foot of my face. The shop keeper, uninterested in eye contact, told me that my watch was broken and cheap. He asked me a few times if I’d put the watch in water; I assured him that I hadn’t, since it would have broken the watch. He nodded, and told me that in the future I shouldn’t put my watch in water. I liked the place, but they do not repair shoes. Possibly, they don’t repair watches either.

My time in the jewelry shop was heartening. Just as no barber can be sure that my watch is fixable, a woman in the street can’t judge what my shoe repairmen will do. Those guys are an unpredictable lot; hardy and fearless. Since never answered direct questions about anything, from the weekend weather forecast to their country of origin, it’s impossible to know exactly what they’ve been through. But the tidbits I managed to extract from them made it clear that they never thought they’d make it to America nor work in shoe repair. So, no matter what’s happened to them, I wouldn’t count them out. I’ll keep an eye out for them, and hope that when I find them, they’ll do the same for me.

NYC Error 404: Not Found

NYC Error 404: Not Found

There are exceptions to every rule. The rule of New York City – that you can get anything, at any time, anywhere – is no exception. You can get a shark on the subway, a watch at the shoe repair, or a diamond in the rough. But you can’t get a decent bank, doctor, or hair dresser for love or money. That’s why city slickers have an ingenuity all their own.

You can get free checking – but only at banks with fewer than a dozen ATMs in a 10-mile radius. You can get free ATMs – but your savings account interest rate is approaching zero. You can use online checking – unless your employer refuses to use them for direct deposit. Solution: open accounts with multiple banks.

You can get wonderful medical specialists – but your PCP won’t return your calls. Your doctor might return your calls, but they won’t see you for a second longer than five minutes. Your doctor might be willing to see you for more than five minutes, but their tremors are so bad that a nurse has to write out their medical instructions for them. Solution: switch doctors every year.

You can get a haircut, but it’ll cost you $35 – before tip. You can get a cheap haircut but the hair dresser will give you a style all their own. You can get a moderately-priced haircut, but the hairdresser will laugh at you. You can get an expensive haircut, but you may not be able to eat that week. Solution: cut your own hair.

Every city has its limits, but the inventiveness of its people knows no bounds.

Have a Seat, You’ll Feel Right at Home

Have a Seat, You’ll Feel Right at Home

I’ve lived in New York City for a long time, but few places feel like home. My optometrist’s office is one of them. It’s not about the welcome – the owners are always busy talking with customers in Korean when I walk in, and can only nod for me to wait my turn. It’s not the doctor – her professional, albeit personable, distance assures me that she doesn’t remember me from one visit to the next. The reason I feel at home is the chairs.

At Sam & Anna Optics, the chairs are covered in a richly patterned emerald cloth. It’s elegant and tasteful and when I first saw it, it seemed so familiar. It seemed like something from home. But my home never had a whole lot of cloth lying around. In fact, the only cloth I saw frequently was the tablecloth. When that thought struck me, I realized that was exactly why the chairs seemed so familiar. They looked like someone had staple-gunned a deeper-hued version of my tablecloth over a cheap office chair. I looked closer at the chairs. They were, indeed, upholstered in my tablecloth. A very tasteful version of it.

After ten minutes in the offices, I knew that Sam and Anna – the couple who owns and manages the store – were my kind of people. They know what matters in business – quality, location, professionalism – and what does not. Their chairs look good. Their chairs are comfortable. Their chairs are a great place to try on glasses. But their chairs are not expensive and are even cheaper to maintain.

And from there, it just got better.

Sam always makes sure I’m ok waiting a few minutes for my appointment, and gives me an accurate time frame of when the doctor will see me. Dr. Lau herself is fantastic. She checks in on me, as well as my vision. She explains what she’s doing, and answers any questions thoroughly. She also does not dilate my pupils, which my former ophthalmologist explained was an unnecessary procedure performed by lazy professionals. Dr. Lau also has an excellent sense of style, which she generously shares when helping me pick out new frames. Both she and Anna get involved in the search, and do their best to ensure I get something beautiful, functional, and affordable.

And that’s just the basic service.

When I showed up for a contact exam and forgot a case for my glasses, they gave me my choice of name brand cases. I didn’t even realize that Kate Spade carried a line of glasses cases. But Anna did.

When I forgot to ask for a letter to substantiate my appointment for my employer’s medical leave requirement, Anna wrote her first one for me.

When I called for an appointment as soon as possible, Sam offered me one that day.

When I show up for an appointment weighed down with grocery bags – the shop is a block away from Trader Joe’s – they don’t even blink. Instead, they help me arrange my heavy bags in a corner of the show room where no one will disturb them.

For all these reasons, and more, I recommend Sam & Anna Optics to everyone. And I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else, unless I was forced to. But this week, I don’t have a choice. I called today to book my next appointment and Sam told me that he couldn’t schedule one. The doctor was in a car accident, and is currently recuperating in the hospital. In response to my concern and wishes of a speedy recovery, Sam thanked me profusely. He then assured me that she’s on the mend, and asked if I could call back in a few weeks when she’ll be ready to see patients again.

I look forward to seeing her then.

Sam & Anna Optics

253 West 72nd Street

New York, NY 10023

(212) 769-1174