Bedford, New Hampshire
Every week I tell friends that reports of New York City’s death are greatly exaggerated, at least if you live in Inwood. My aggressively normal, working-class Irish and Dominican neighbors don’t have second homes, and there weren’t many restaurants in the first place, so the streets feel unchanged. Besides masks, the only sign of the past year’s troubles is the corner fruit vendor’s poster, which diplomatically suggests that ‘Black Lives AND All Lives Matter’.
Everything’s fine, I assure myself and everyone else, as I do my best to spend as little time here as possible. Now that my job as a book editor is fully remote, possibly permanently, I’ve been splitting my time between my apartment and my parents’ home in New Hampshire. Most of the members of my very large extended family, including my six-week-old nephew, live there within a few miles of each other, and they’ve generously welcomed me back to the family compound.
As a former homeschooler, it’s a little unnerving to be editing in my parents’ living room while my younger brother, temporarily exiled from Washington DC, works across from me. Were he to attempt to irritate me by pretending his pencil was a flute, the scene would be an exact replica of my 10th-grade experience. As it turns out, he’s now a more diligent worker than me, and I’m duly chastened when he suggests I stop sharing memes and let him get this grant written.
February is a bleak month in New Hampshire, but this year it brought an unexpected joy: for the first time in four years, no one in my family wanted to talk about the news, real or fake. Whether this is because of Trump’s departure or my new nephew’s arrival, I’m not sure, but either way I am grateful. I didn’t have to reassure anyone that, no, we were not going to be under ‘Marshall Law’ tomorrow. I didn’t have to explain that the head of a pillow company was probably not going to reinstate Trump. Had my mom heard about that one thing Biden had done? Nope. Did my dad know or care that GameStop was going to the moon? Absolutely not. My Twitter-addled brain got a much-needed detox.
Very soon after I started spending time in New Hampshire, it became clear that if my new ‘based in New York but spending time in the country’ lifestyle was going to work, I needed to buy a car. I desperately wanted one of the old Volvo wagons imprinted on my brain during a homeschooled New England childhood, where my main outings were to the library and to a farm that sold bootleg raw milk. They’re easy to find in my price range, and they have the I-just-lost-the-Cold-War look that I view as the pinnacle of taste. Unfortunately, my braintrust talked me out of pursuing my dreams, and I settled on a sensible 2011 Nissan Versa.
Aesthetically it’s not quite what I was going for, but at least its CD player has allowed me to resurrect my college music collection.
For those worried that America will never be the same again, I can provide one reassurance of continuity: the DMV is just as terrible as ever, maybe even worse. When I showed up on time for a 6:30 a.m. appointment to register my car, I was delighted to find that there was no line. Maybe these COVID restrictions weren’t so bad after all. I shouldn’t have gotten excited. Despite being the only customer (supplicant?) there, I was still given a number and instructed to sit and wait my turn.
If the car was my biggest pandemic purchase, my green canary, Mr Pepys (pronounced ‘Peeps’) was my best. Pepys arrived at my apartment in early May, delivered by the still-functioning US Postal Service; he has brought only delight, despite sounding like a small car alarm when he’s excited. I mute his enthusiasm by throwing a blanket over his cage before getting on call snow, but my colleagues and authors all know his song. I’ve had at least one agent pitch me a book about birds because of Pepys’s appearance in a meeting.
Taking agents’ calls while sprawled on the floor of my high-school bedroom has its charms, but invariably after a week or two in NH, I begin to worry that I’m regressing as an adult. One can only enjoy the overwhelming generosity of one’s parents for so long before wondering if one is getting too soft.
Arriving back in Inwood most recently, I decided to prove I was an adult by eating something I hated in childhood. Dropping my bags in my blissfully empty apartment, I headed to the farmers’ market around the corner to purchase a half dozen oysters. A quiet night in with Mr Pepys, a glass of wine and a shellfish I associate with grown-up company seemed like just the thing for restoring a sense of agency.
Alas, I’d not factored in the difficulty of shucking — though I’d served oysters before, I’d always managed to commandeer a guest for that task. The evening ended with me slurping oysters over the sink, a splinter or blister or burn (don’t ask) on every finger.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s April 2021 US edition.