People can get used to anything.
One day I was sitting quietly at my desk at work, trying to be productive, when suddenly Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Five minutes later we received this email:
Please be advised that the building will be performing a test on the Fire Alarm System. The testing will be performed throughout the day. You will hear a siren. You will not have to exit the building. We thank you in advance for your patience and cooperation.
That was a little inconvenient. As if it wasn’t already difficult enough to concentrate in an office with several noisy, inconsiderate co-workers, now we also had to Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
The sound was impossible to ignore, even with headphones. The first day I was annoyed. The second time it happened—a day later—I was angry. Did these fire alarm testers realize they were sounding this intrusive alarm in the middle of the workday, in an office where people were Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
After the first few times, we ceased to confirm with one another, “That was fake, right?” We gave up flinching. We quit sharing pained expressions with one another. If there ever was a real fire that required the alarm to actually go off, I guarantee not one worker in that office would even look up until smoke had engulfed the entire room. We still couldn’t figure out why the alarm needed to be tested so many times since it was clearly working, but we stopped asking. The sound that I thought, upon first hearing it, would be the end of my sanity and the cause of me storming out of the building never to return had gradually morphed into background noise.
You may be wondering what this has to do with Harlem. Well, 5.5 years ago when I was getting ready to move to New York, my future roommate and I ventured into Harlem to view an apartment. We didn’t know much about the neighborhoods of Manhattan at the time, but we knew that the area this apartment was located in didn’t feel like home to us. We couldn’t put our finger on it exactly, but it just didn’t feel right. From then on, we wouldn’t consider buildings higher than 100th St on the east side.
Fast forward 5.5 years to now. The guy who wants to be my future roommate suggested we look in Harlem for a place. At first I thought, no way, but then I figured it’s been a while since I was a nervous recent graduate whose biggest adventure so far was finding her way from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side by herself. What’s the harm in considering it?
So I walked from the 80’s, where my lovely apartment is, all the way to 108th St, checking out the vibe and really thinking about whether I could learn to love the neighborhood the way I love my current one.
Here’s the thing. I knew that within a few weeks or months of living in Harlem, I would get used to the restaurants with menus only in Spanish, the gas station down the block, and the Transitional Housing Program building next door. I would get used to it because that’s what people do. We get used to whatever we need to get used to. But then I started thinking about all of the other things I’d gotten used to since moving to NYC.
Twice, I’ve gotten used to having a boyfriend who was only with me because he was too busy to dump me and not because he thought I was amazing. Twice, I’ve gotten used to jobs I couldn’t stand because it was easier than taking a risk. I’ve gotten used to how expensive everything is in this city. I’m used to the fact that it could take a half hour or 2 hours to get to the same place depending on the trains. I got used to all of those things because I thought it was the adult thing to do.
But, what I’ve realized recently is that adults can choose whether to get used to something. If I’m not comfortable with something, I can change it. Whatever I do may not fix it right away, but it will be a step in the right direction, regardless, because any step is better than staying still. Any step is better than just sitting there and Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiir, whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Which is to say that although I have nothing against Harlem, it is still not for me. But I’m glad I considered it.