I was reminiscing with some nostalgia last weekend about the year that I lived in New York City after graduating from the University at Buffalo three decades ago. I really don’t know why I was thinking about it, but I allowed my mind to wander and recollect many of the different things I did while I lived there. I thought I would share about them here.
First of all, the Big City, for someone who had never even been to the Big Apple before, was overwhelming and overpowering, in a good way. I had been to “large” cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, DC, Baltimore, Orlando, etc., but nothing compared to New York City. I moved to Washington Heights on an invitation from friends at school who were Jewish; I stayed with them for five weeks. (In this post, I will identify people according to their heritage and/or ancestry, as that is what New Yorkers tend to associate with over nationality.) Washington Heights is a neighborhood composed of mostly Jews and Puerto Ricans. I really had no idea what I was getting into, but it was all good. It truly was culture shock when I first moved to New York, and for sometime afterwards. The biggest thing that I could not get accustomed to were the lack of trees and greenery. It was all just one big concrete jungle.
During the time that I lived with my friends, I searched for work and my own apartment. My friends set me up with contacts from temporary agencies to locate work, which I did within three weeks. Within five weeks, I secured a studio apartment on the ritzy and expensive Upper East Side. I had not had enough credit history established at that time, so my dad co-signed on the apartment lease with me. It was a very nice, pleasant, and comfortable place to live for the time that I was there. The apartment was close to many different ethnic restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and the subway. I did not keep a vehicle in New York while I lived there. I either traveled by foot, subway, Amtrak, or taxi cab. My apartment was also close to St. Monica’s Catholic Church, just five blocks away. It was very convenient to have a church of my faith so close by. I actually took an evening acting class at the church; it was given by a priest with a background in acting. It was pretty interesting.
My first official job, fresh out of college, was working as a temp at the Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York. I began as the secretary of the Investment Accounting Department. I loved working at this job. Everyone was so nice, friendly, professional, and welcoming. My supervisor, Ms. Georgina, a very Italian lady, was kindly and motherly, always being concerned about all of her subordinates. Everyone worked hard in the Department. I was the youngest person, and they looked out for me. They readily and willingly answered my questions about accounting and investment that I could not answer on my own. I had some experience in keeping my own investments by that time, but certainly no accounting experience. I learned very quickly how to read spreadsheets with lots of data. I was a person who paid attention to detail, so this was great for me. I remember actually catching some errors in my review of documents, and had enough courage to question them so that they got corrected.
After a few weeks working in the Investment Accounting Department, I was told that my new position was to work as the Secretary to the CEO, Mr. Greene, a very Irish gentleman. Apparently, he had taken notice of me, though I really had not paid much attention. So, I began working in his office, and he was always very kind and professional toward me. At one point, I approached my prior supervisor, Ms. Georgina, and asked her why he was always so nice to me, even to a fault. She let me know that she believed I reminded him of his daughter.
I remember one particular occasion that Mr. Greene was on a very upsetting conference call and I could see from two rooms away that his face was scarlet. After he finished the call, I approached him and asked if he needed anything – water, coffee, etc. He said he didn’t need anything, but appreciated my concern. The next day, Mr. Greene entered the office in the morning and greeted me by saying that I was “The Sunshine.” I guess he appreciated my kind, happy, and pleasant demeanor and professional work ethic. At that time, however, I was still searching for permanent work, and obtained it since the pay rate at Teachers’ was low and did not provide any benefits. I could not afford to stay there in those circumstances, though I wish I could’ve taken all of my colleagues with me to my new job. They were all wonderful!
I must also include that while I was working at Teachers’, the parking deck bombing at the World Trade Center occurred. I still remember that day, February 26, 1993. As I recall, it was a rainy and cold day. There were all kinds of emergency sirens going off all afternoon long, and Lower Manhattan was lit up like a Christmas tree due to all of the flashing lights of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene. My colleagues and I at Teachers’ had a good vantage point from being up high at about 10 stories off the ground. We could see smoke coming from the area of the World Trade Center, and of course, we had wondered what was happening. Soon, the radio news was reporting the bombing, and several of my colleagues got in touch with family members who worked at World Trade. Thankfully, they were all okay, but my colleagues were very shaken up, worried, afraid, and angry. It was a day, a scene, and an event that I will never forget. Sadly, that terrorism led to even more in the future, as we know and remember on September 11, 2001.
My next place of employment was First Investors’ Corporation on Wall Street. I worked on Wall Street as a legal assistant! I still think of it to this day and am amazed to hear myself say it, however it was not all as great as it seemed. First Investors’ was definitely a corporation, and by that, I mean it had a cold, insensitive feel to it. It was very different from working at Teachers’. The pay was much better and I had benefits to begin after a three month probationary period, but truly, it was not worth working there because I ended up being very unhappy. I worked for a very professional attorney, a Jewish lady, in the Legal Department; she was kind, but she was focused on supporting the company rather than helping clients of the company, which I thought should’ve been more important. I guess she wanted to make sure she kept her job. The Legal Department was the bastion of protection for the company, and there were many issues that came up that required the work of the attorneys.
My job at First Investors’ ended up becoming a chore for me since the people, overall, were not really very friendly; they were concerned about themselves. I ended up disliking having to come to work each day. I became very stressed and looked forward to lunch each day when I could get outside and walk. At any rate, it was a good experience to have worked there because I then recognized that not every place of employment was the same. I had wished I could’ve stayed at Teachers’; I was very happy there, but also poor. Had I remained at Teachers’, I would not have been able to pay my rent and put food on my table.
Due to the stress I experienced at First Investors’, I sought other enjoyable outlets for my talents and energy. I would often go jogging along the East River, along the walkway between the river and the highway. It was not a pretty or attractive walkway, but it fit the purpose and helped relieve some stress. I also called about 30 different organizations, seeking volunteer opportunities. I really wanted to get into television and media, but got no bites with that. I ended up calling and following up on my inquiry with the Childrens’ Museum of Manhattan and was invited for an interview. The lady liked me, and gave me some time during one day per week to come and volunteer. After a couple of weeks, I approached her and asked for the opportunity to come more often, and ended up volunteering three times per week for a few hours. I loved working with the children who came through the Museum, and really enjoyed my time volunteering there. I was given a lot of trust and autonomy in working with the children, and was eventually given my own “room” to supervise while I was there. It was awesome!
With all of this, it goes without saying that I took in as much culture as possible. I went to musicals, plays, and concerts. I went out to eat at all different types of ethnic restaurants. I remember having Indian food one time, and it was so spicy that I was coughing before I could get a drink of water! It was the first time I had ever had Indian food – the curry did me in. I visited and toured every possible museum that I could, taking it all in as much as possible. I loved all of the culture New York had to offer!
During my time in New York, I also met a lady who invited me to volunteer for Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral campaign, and I did. At the time, I thought him to be a better candidate than the democratic incumbent. And, I am a person who will go either way – Democrat or Republican – depending on the quality of the person and his/her ideals. I sent mailers out to voters, made copies of fliers, and called wealthy donors, requesting campaign donations. Apparently, they liked the manner in which I spoke with people – very kind, considerate, professional, and appreciative. I would like to think that helped Mr. Giuliani secure some more funding, but I never saw the actual figures. And, at that time, I enjoyed volunteering on the campaign since Mr. Giuliani’s character was much better than I would say it is today. As you likely know, he was elected.
So, that was my year in New York in a nutshell. It was quite an experience, especially for a young adult, fresh out of college, who had never been to the Big Apple ever before (other than to Kennedy Airport on a trip out of the country). I’m happy that I had the opportunity and experience of being able to live there for the time that I did. Knowing my personality, however, I could never live there permanently – too much concrete and not enough trees. Nature fills my spirit, and without that, I was suffocating under the pressure of the City. It is, however, good to have these life experiences in order to make determinations about the future course of one’s life.