In New York City, no one really has a home base. Most of us don’t travel to work in cars so we spend part of each day marooned far from comforts and conveniences we could easily toss in the back seat if we had one: a fuzzy sweater, a comfortable pair of shoes, library books, a family-size box of Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies (what? I’m a family.) Instead we carry this stuff on our backs or slung over a shoulder in a giant tote bag that pulls relentlessly at our weak urban arms, stretching them towards the pavement like orangutan limbs. We defy common sense and lug bulky items onto the subway – things that should never be taken on a moving train: coffee tables, king-size comforter sets, pool cues, a chipped wooden headboard that probably has bedbugs but really looks like it’s worth something, a twin stroller the makers swore could be folded with one hand, because we know that squeezing them into a cab would be a hassle and we’re New Yorkers dammit – we can DO this!! Gamely we struggle, up subway steps, through the turnstiles and past train doors, overbalancing and apologizing but never giving up…mostly because it’s illegal to dump a 6 foot plaster giraffe on a subway platform.
I think about this in the Duane Reade, looking at their line of “Help!” products: adorably-packaged single-serving items one commonly needs in a pinch. Pain killer! Band Aids! Opaque nipple covers! Ok that last one is made up but if you’re wearing a summer-weight top they’d really come in handy during a flash thunderstorm (think about it.) For city dwellers already weighed down by other necessities (running sneakers, tins of cat food, rape flute) and tourists burdened by distinctly unnecessary items (I Heart NY t-shirts, Magnolia cupcakes, a caricature drawn on a grain of rice, tickets to Stomp) these products are life savers. I’m just surprised it took Duane Reade so long to come up with a way to commodify our needs. Sure, every drug store carries travel size items, but how often do you really need a palm-sized bottle of conditioner? Or a tiny can of Barbisol? On a given day, chances are the urban emergency you’re experiencing is more along the lines of a giant heel blister or a jacket stained with A/C leakage than a five-o-clock shadow or scarecrow bangs.
In my ideal world, I wouldn’t have to make a drugstore pitstop for emergency basics, because I would have a dedicated space, outside my apartment, of my very own. The stationary equivalent of a suburbanite’s car packed with Capri Sun and Paul Simon CDs, it would be strategically located to wherever I spent most of my time for easy access. I could go and recharge, or sit and think, or nap, or – just for a miraculous second – put down the giant fucking duffle bag of old heels and t-shirts destined for the Salvation Army across town. Having a space like that would make me feel great – like Little Orphan Annie when she arrives at Daddy Warbucks’ mansion. I would spin around grinning under my bad perm and jitterbug with any gay gardener or turbaned doorman who’d have me.
And that’s for a space as tiny as a bus locker. (Those don’t exist anymore, do they? Shame, because the idea that I could leave something heavy at Port Authority and skip away holding a key makes New York in the 70s seem like a utopia. THANKS TERRORISTS.)
The sad thing is, if I was a person with more ambition my Annie Warbucks dream might have come true. Right after I finished college I had the idea for something called “Siesta Village”. It was a place in the city – perhaps a single floor of an office building – where anyone could go to take naps, any time of the day, for as long as they wanted. I envisioned the space as a network of cubicles, separated from one another by hanging drapes or woven tapestries. Each unit would be carpeted, with a cot, a nightstand, a cubbyhole, and a place to hang your clothes. Nap sessions as short as a half hour could be purchased on the spot or booked in advance. (I envisioned a “frequent napper” card, embossed with the image of a sleeping kitten, where the 10th snooze was free.) The vibe at Siesta Village would be as quiet as a library, with no infuriating chimes or whale songs. Everyone would wear slippers, and pad around in an alpha-brainwave state of blissful half-consciousness. It would be a soundproof oasis at the center of a honking, angry, grit-caked city. I wasn’t sure how much to charge for a nap, but honestly? There were days when I would gladly pay $50 for a place to drop my bags and zone out for an hour before schlepping to my next appointment. It was a scheme that could only have been born of post-college culture shock combined with the trial-by-fire of producing theater in New York City.
Even though I never had any intention of trying to make Siesta Village fly as a business, I spent a lot of time thinking about the practicalities (because in any city fantasizing about real estate is just another form of porn. ) I realized that discouraging squatters would be a problem, ditto masturbators and people engaged in illicit affairs who wanted to use my carpeted temple for a lunchtime quickie. I thought of all the good people: the weary, sincere nappers who would be disturbed by the interlopers’ animal grunting, and the amount of time I’d spend with a blacklight and anti-bacterial wipes. It occurred to me that Siesta Village was an idea best preserved in dreams, as I dozed on the subway or hauled dirty clothes to the laundromat. Nevertheless, when a facility called MetroNaps sprang up a few years later, I was slightly envious. I consoled myself with the thought that a hooded La-Z-Boy is no substitute for a room of one’s own. Even if it’s just a bus locker.