When I was younger, my parents would pile my sister, brother, and me into an New York-bound NJ Transit bus to in their words, “air us out” on Saturdays. While this paradoxically often meant that we would spend hours wandering the halls of the Met, we were also treated to many a trip to Union Square Market. My mother would press ten dollars into our palms and send us off with a time limit and a goal – get yourself something special.
It is with this same mindset that I continue to approach Union Square, even though I have lived in New York for over two years and the novelty with which these visits were shrouded has worn off a bit. Armed with just enough cash to encourage shrewd purchasing decisions, I often spend hours languidly strolling from stand to stand in search of the best deals. The sensory experience of these trips is almost enough to sustain me. I would like to bottle the colors, sounds, and smells of the market, put them on a shelf in the back of my closet so that in the dead of winter I can take them out, one by one, remembering sun-dappled afternoons that seem farthest away in the middle of February.
My friend Elena and I went to the market on Monday in order to ward off the creeping sense that October was passing us by without us having properly taken advantage of its bounty. I am still having an intense love affair with the local crop of apples this season, but I also managed to tear myself from them long enough to purchase some sweet potatoes, squash, and a focaccia with goat cheese and zucchini. They were all something quite special. My mother has taught me well.
I wonder if there is some sort of metaphor here, which, as a college student with a propensity for pretending she has it all figured out, I am wont to believe. I spent my freshman year of college blindly testing the waters and experiencing things which were not, in a way, special. That wasn’t really the point of freshman year, and thus I have nothing but understanding for that girl who was just becoming comfortable enough in her own skin to take chances, even if the chances were on people also experiencing the same confusion. There is something satisfying in having gradually shed the skin from that year so that the chances I take now are only on something – or someone – who is worth it. I am the first to say that I feel like I wander from day to day hoping that the sense of purpose to which I desperately anchor myself will actually materialize into something – career success or some kind of romance, possibly. But I’m still wandering.
In a way, even though I’m living in a city where I tend to think I have seen it all, I’m really just waiting for something special.