New York in the summer can be frustrating. It’s incredibly hot, and not the fun heat of childhood summers where running barefoot in the grass is interrupted with a dash through the sprinkler. This is the grey, city heat of cooked concrete and festering garbage. The temperature is made worse by the subway which runs poorly during heat waves, forcing commuters into long waits on subway platforms that are hotter than the street (turn your AC around and you’ll get an idea of what air conditioned trains do to a subway platform).
During a recent heat wave, after transferring from an already delayed train, I was forced to abandon a sweltering subway platform which was stacked ten deep with rush-hour commuters. Instead of sweating it out, waiting for the train, I decided to walk home. Sometimes the walk on a summer afternoon is nice, a cool breeze funnels down the avenues and you can find a local vendor selling shaved ice. On this occasion, however, twenty blocks in 90 degree heat along 4th Ave – one of Brooklyn’s more industrial, pedestrian roads –was murderous.
The afternoon was hot and still bright. I was irritable from a vexing day in a cubicle and a long uncomfortable commute that didn’t get me home. Everyone on the street was ugly and miserable: the unkempt mother yelling at her kids; the horribly dressed hipsters attending their unemployment; and the derelict soul twitching, half drunk, on the sidewalk. All of Brooklyn’s miserable stereotypes and me, in July: ugly, angry and frustrated.
My iPod, shoved in my ears on shuffle, selected a soundtrack for my angst. I listened with one ear while I checked my voice messages with the other. The only message that played lined up perfectly with a new song starting (Our Window by Noah and the Whale). The introduction came on slowly: the plinking uncertainty of piano keys while a voice from a windy road in Cape Cod entreated me. It was a sad, sentimental message made awkwardly cinematic by the music. Suddenly I felt old, sad and tired: like life is nothing more than a compilation of missed opportunities. The song was building slowly, incorporating the tones of grandfather clock chiming, and the message was lamenting deeds undone. It seemed like another opportunity was about to pass me by. I didn’t like that feeling so when I got home I booked a flight to Prague.