Two years ago I landed in New york City. A California girl, I was raised in the Bay Area where my street smarts extended to making sure there was change in my pocket for panhandlers and asking the cashier at the supermarket how their day was going. So when my nanny job relocated me to New york on a week’s notice, I found myself, at age 24, navigating the unknown street blocks of the Upper West Side.
Early on, I found people’s outbursts refreshing: I gave a nod to the man scolding his neighbor for double-parking his rear on the subway seats. At other times it was too revealing: I was considering mouthwash at CVs when a man ended his relationship not three feet away from me while yelling into the toothpaste shelf.
One day as I exited a train I was boxed in while searching for an opening.
“Come on, keep going!” said a cross lady.
“I’m trying,” I said.
“Not hard enough!” And with a robust push, I was slung against a Patrick Bateman look-alike who stuck his nose up in the air until I could unstick myself.
My intent was to consider it an isolated incident and march on at my own Northern Californian pace. But when I stopped at the window of a pet shop to admire clumsy puppies, a brown wiener dog walked up with his owner. several feet off, on the other side of a pole, the Sabrett-shaped canine lifted his leg. I am still uncertain if the flow caught the wind or curved all on its own but no matter, the tops of my feet were doused. No one, save yours truly, took notice. I circled the west Village seeking new flats and sympathy, unlikely to find either in the winter season. Instead dogs sniffed my feet and the liquid started icing over.
This was the day my alter ego, Cici Lopez, was born. In this beast of a city, where it is possible to meet 20 people or even one person with 20 personalities in any given moment, it seemed appropriate to give soft sarah some slack. Cici was my nickname at work and Lopez was my mother’s maiden name. Cici is sarcastic and sharp. She is the last one off the dance floor and tells taxi drivers how to do their job. Cici is not a mean girl but she refuses to be shortchanged on politesse. I like being her and it shows. when my sister Erin came to visit from California, my other half couldn’t be tamed.
“Can you walk faster?” I asked throughout the weekend.
When Erin came to me saddened by an old grouch who got angry when her phone vibrated during a film, I encouraged my sister to yell back.
Slipping into my new persona allowed me to navigate this city without sacrificing the even disposition of my upbringing. For instance, Cici knows an empty subway car of an otherwise full train means the air-conditioning is busted, while Sarah will miss her train in order to hear the rest of a busker’s song. Cici will negotiate the price of a mango in Chinatown but Sarah will stop to watch felines sunbathe on a sidewalk. Cici will have a wild night out, while Sarah makes sure she gets home safe and drinks water before bedtime.
My survival has been dependent on the yin and yang of this complex. However, now that I am leaving New york I wonder how regular my new personality’s appearances will be. Later this month I will head off to graduate school in Florida. I have heard it said that it is best not to stay in the city for too long because it will make me cynical. Perhaps I am getting out just in time. as I walked by the shooting of a scene for a horror film in my building, there was an actor sprawled on the ground covered in fake blood. The 3-year-old I watch asked about him.
“It’s his naptime,” was my callous reply.