My column is back after a summer hiatus, which means I need to write something insightful, which can be difficult because sometimes I have nothing going on inside my head but a series of anxious and obsessive thoughts that are in no way useful to anyone.
However, I remembered that I spent the month of July traveling, and that perhaps I could distill some insights or epiphanies out of that experience. I didn’t have any of the Eat, Pray, Love variety, but I did have one personal takeaway—a realization that emerged as a cohesive and consistent theme on my trip, and one that I can never pretend to ignore or be in denial about again.
I’m uncomfortable everywhere.
That is, I’m physically, psychologically, and emotionally uncomfortable in most environments. Over the course of my month-long trip, I stayed in a total of twelve different locations, almost all of which were uncomfortable. Here are just a few of those places:
Loft in Tribeca, NYC – This was an incredibly nice apartment in Manhattan that I had the luxury of staying at thanks to a hospitable friend. Initially, I was planning to stay at the apartment with her, but at the last minute she had to travel to Europe for work, so I was given the place to myself. It was a 2,000+ square foot loft in the heart of the most desirable/expensive zip code in Manhattan and probably rents for somewhere between $8,000 to $9,000 a month. (I’ve never asked, but simple New York rental math produced that number.)
Anyway, most people would have had the time of their lives staying in this apartment, feeling like Macaulay Culkin in the suite at the Plaza Hotel after he tricks the concierge into charging his dad’s credit card. My experience, though, was maybe closer to that of Sandra Bullock in Gravity or Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda.
To start, the place is a 3rd floor walkup in a building with loft ceilings, which, for a person who does no cardio and has an anxiety disorder, translated into physical agony anytime I wanted to leave or enter the apartment, preceded by a psychological matrix about whether I actually wanted to leave, or needed to. The loft was “industrial” or “turn of the century,” or whatever the sales term is for “old,” which meant the hardwood floors exposed you to the occasional splinter or elevated nail. While I probably would have been totally fine never paying attention to the floors, I couldn’t stop entertaining the idea that my skinny veiny foot would tear open on a protruding nail, and I would bleed to death at a rapid speed as a result of all the veins in my feet and die before the paramedics made it up the three flights of stairs. To prevent this from happening I wore socks at all times in the 90+ degree humid heat of New York in July and made sure to walk in such a way that my entire foot would hit the floor at the same time and not cut into something. Given that the apartment was 2,000 square feet, walking like a marionette puppet made things pretty tedious.
Greenwich Village Apartment, NYC – This was the apartment I stayed in after the Tribeca loft, which belonged to yet another generous friend. His parents happened to live nearby, so he stayed at their place and graciously allowed me to sleep in his bed. Everything about this apartment was perfect, except for the fact that it had enormous windows with no curtains and that by 5am, I thought I had woken up in the middle of a beach in Santa Monica. I tried to use my t-shirt as an eye mask and buried my head under the sheets but nothing worked until I lodged one of the blankets into the window, and later took a photo for my amusement:
Colonial House in Boston, Massachusetts – A beautiful house but no air conditioning and it was 100 degrees in Boston. A rotating fan distributed warm air over me as I slept on my friend’s childhood twin bed with a mattress from the 1940s that basically felt like a sack of baseballs and wire coils.
Loft Apartment, Houston, Texas – This apartment was delightful, except for the fact that it is home to a spoiled Bengal kitty that required feedings in the middle of the night and would meow more within the span of an hour than any normal cat has meowed in its lifetime. During one of my sleepless nights, I conjured up a “cat torture device” in my imagination. I’m convinced this device is brilliant for training spoiled cats, and I authorize any company (namely SkyMall) to use it and profit. It involves placing a cat in a large cage that has a sprinkler system located on its roof, activated by a remote control that you hold while in bed. When the cat meows, you activate the sprinkler from the comfort of your bed, which sprays the cat, causing it to shut up, thus training it to not meow like a dickhead.
My Mom’s House, Lake Tahoe, Nevada – My mom’s neighborhood in Tahoe has recently experienced a bear infestation, if “infestation” is the correct word to use for gigantic black bears. Just days before my visit, a bear walked onto my mother’s patio while she was sitting at the dining room table and pounded on the window. She scared it away by banging pots and pans, and told me not to worry as I stared at the behemoth paw prints that were left on the window. What resulted were endless nightmares, panic attacks, and attempts to put away any and all food before sleeping, including trays of wrapped candies and boxes of cereal, which I would stuff into the refrigerator every night and then take out in the morning.
In conclusion: I have problems, and I have them everywhere.
Shirin Najafi is a writer living in Los Angeles. She graduated from Columbia University with a degree in economics and worked in investment banking before deciding to quit and become a writer. She performs the voice of a cat in some videos (www.magicalstew.com) and is currently working on her first novel.