The division of Manhattan is broken into latitudinal directions and polar adjectives: West and East sides, uptown and downtown. Segments of the city become generalised, specifically their streets and neighbourhoods, each with their particular energies and atmospheres that range from button-up formality to the flagrantly off-beat. These differences, very generally speaking, can be seen in the simple partition of the city’s East and West sides. The east side has over the years found a reputation of catering to the wall-street and fat-purse types and the west side reserved for the more bohemian, artistically leaning people. Though this is a huge generalisation – whole neighborhoods within the city defy these caricatures – that doesn’t stop these stereotypes from circulating and becoming engrained even in people from New York.
In her younger years, Nalini was admittedly one of those people. She had spent a good portion of her youth on the upper west side attending college and her part-time job as a bank-teller though from time to time she naturally found herself on the Eastside – where the stuffy big-wigs supposedly had lived – and while she had loved these eastward jaunts, spending her time ambling about Bloomingdale’s and catching up with local friends and chowing the now world-famous desserts of the interestingly named Serendipity, she had always fancied herself living back on the upper west side. Like countless others, she had bought into the erroneous story that the upper east side, however nice and charming, was solely reserved for the Elite, the up-turned noses and those with more money than sense. Little did she know that she was not only wrong but that one street over from Bloomingdale’s and its nostalgic dessert joint would be her future neighborhood, and not only hers but theirs; serendipity indeed.
Tom was a neighborhood unto himself. Extraordinarily jovial and kind-hearted, he created a community with all those he met and befriended, always ushering in a sense of warmth and belonging that gave him the renown of a trustworthy people-person. Tom moved to the upper east side from the West Village in the late seventies and settled himself neatly into the familial network of his sister, his father and stepmother, all within a few blocks of one another. Similarly to the network he created in the West Village Tom began to explore his new neighborhood and took joy in finding the hole-in-the-walls and places of high quality. One such place was a dive Japanese Karaoke bar on East 59th street, where one night he pulled open the door and sitting at the bar was a woman who not only seemed comfortable in her solitary company but actively relished it. Even still, he introduced himself. Knowing Pete behind the bar - a classic New York bartender with razor wit, a love for his patrons, and skills and service that would put the Carlyle to shame - Tom struck up a conversation with Pete, which inevitably expanded to include Nalini, and the first words between them were shared.
The introduction of the one to the other, and the gradual but natural inclusion of each into the other’s life, was a soft but profound paradigm shift. It began with the conversation, then both doing reconnaissance on the other via Pete, who assured them both separately that the object of their affection was a good person and not an axe-murderer, and then inevitably Nalini moving into Tom’s apartment on the upper east side. Though still positioned in the family dynamics, Tom’s relatives had a warm distance between one another, giving each the space to build their nest and truly have the freedom to make their own space theirs. Building their home came in tandem with becoming part of a different home, a different family dynamic of sorts, the micro relationships between themselves and the pillars of their apartment building, the greater community, and the macro context of being a pair that comprised one node in a net of many.
These holistic connections became so strong and so easily forged because of the beautiful internal life Tom and Nalini had built within the walls of their apartment, which gave them the love and support to expand their relationships outward to their eccentric and kindly apartment building, their block and neighborhood. They brought the abundance of nourishment from their nest outside into their community and it was a subtle love for one another that cultivated love for the stage their love was set on, imbuing every brick and building with the appreciation and intimacy of a true local. It is a process that gradually stretches over months and years and at first glance could easily be described as banal, but to come to love mundanity and see it as home is a profound thing.
It is a time when connectivity makes the world feel increasingly larger, vast and sometimes menacing. The beauty of a neighborhood is that, regardless of size, it can feel so small, intimate and personable, where even running errands can feel like catching up with friends. In a space where strangers lovingly coexist, they are free to share single-serving intimacies and vulnerabilities as mundane as a passerby’s smile, the familiar enquiries of the friendly doorman, or a compassionate hand picking up your dropped keys. Nalini’s and Tom’s neighborhood, like so many, feature a kindly bartender at the low-key local spot. But in their neighborhood, Pete was more than that kindly bartender. He was the spark that turned a set of gridded streets into a home, a beloved place for community and love neither could have experienced or imagined. It is a place of both living and thriving, a place that gives confidence to boldly explore and revel in presence, where one unlearns the story of where they should be and realise the beauty of where they are. A Neighborhood is where one and one become two, and two become part of the whole.