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Commentary: The Apartment on 29th Street

HOST: This spring, commentator Pola Lem has been a nomad. To avoid the two-hour commute from her dad’s place in Queens, she’s slept in at least a dozen different apartments. Now, she’s back at 29th St., an apartment she knows well.

LEM: On a warm May night with summer creeping in through the open windows, this place is almost the way I remember it. The taxis horns waft in from 6th Avenue, and midtown lurks in a purple-orange haze.

Lois bought this apartment in 2001, when she and my dad were dating. It’s a vast space in an industrial building. My dad designed the floor-to-ceiling wall of books in the living room, poured the concrete island in the kitchen, secured what seem like endless miles of track lighting.

I used to live here on weekends. I was 11, and I didn’t like Lois very much.

For one thing, she got to spend more time with my dad than I did. And for another, she made me do stuff, hang my towel up to dry instead of dropping it on the bed.

Lois saw me go from 11 into those awful, tumultuous teenage years… I was thoroughly uncool, my face was breaking out, math tests were a constant anxiety. I just wanted to grow up. I remember looking in the mirror and wondering, when I’m a real person in ten or fifteen years, who am I going to become?

Lois, meanwhile, was big-city, thoroughly adult. She threw dinner parties, played Moby and drank pinot grigio.

I’ll always remember Lois’s apartment on the night of her 50th birthday. There were forests of lilacs in tall vases, candles illuminating the glass table, and a bathtub full of ice and wine bottles—pinot grigio, that is. Guests buzzed and glasses clinked. It was dazzling, and not just because the world looked a whole lot bigger back then.

In the next few years though, things changed. My dad and Lois broke up, but we stayed in touch. I went on to college, and Lois moved to Brooklyn. Last May, her tenant moved out. So Lois said I could stay here to spare myself the two-hour commute from my dad’s place in Flushing.

The apartment’s up for sale, so now, it’s just me. Looking out across the living room, I feel at home. The concrete countertop, the wall-to-ceiling bookshelves, those miles and miles of lights. But I’m thinking about what lies ahead.

I’ve got a recorder now and in two weeks, I’ll have a paper that says I know how to use it. On some days, I feel I’ll make it to be a public radio rockstar, like the people I look up to. But on other days, like today, I feel just as lame as 14-year-old me: my face breaking out, worried about schoolwork, and still wondering who the hell I’ll become.

This evening, Lois came by the apartment. She was cleaning out dust from under the table and I helped her move some boxes.

I told her how I felt, and what she said stuck with me:

INGRAM: You want to enjoy the whole process of life. It’s not about destinations. This moment is very precious.

So, instead of getting flustered about my future, I think I’ll worry about pestering sources for my next story. Even if it does take a few years to become a rockstar.

HOST: Pola Lem is trying to enjoy the moment, and drinking pinot grigio, of course.

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