I have this problem. My eyes are bigger than my muscles. Whenever I pack a bag, I pack more than I can possibly carry. This may seem like an insignificant problem, but when you realize five blocks into your 60-block day that your bag is ridiculously heavier than you thought it was, it becomes an extremely significant problem. I’m not sure if the problem is a result of ignorance, optimism, or stupidity. In my most impressive feat, I carried a full-size put-it-together-yourself desk from Rite Aid to my apartment unassisted. Why did I do this, you may ask? Because it was on sale for 90% off and the male Indian cashier said, “Do you have a boyfriend here with you? You're a little girl. You can’t possibly get it home by yourself.” I think his nametag read, “Hello, my name is Chauvinist. How may I help you?”
I was reminded of this carrying dilemma when I decided to make Christmas cookies last week for a cookie exchange. Sounds like a nice suburban activity, right? Well, if I lived in the ‘burbs, I would probably have recipe books and baking goods at my disposal. And if not, I could easily stop at Wegmans on my way home, buy all the supplies, and be back in my car in ten minutes. Of course, it wasn’t nearly that easy in Manhattan.
After begging my mother to send her recipe for my favorite of the professional-looking Christmas cookies she makes every year—cherry bon bons—I stopped at the Food Emporium on the way home from work. I easily found the flour, powdered sugar, and milk. I couldn’t find maraschino cherries anywhere in the baking aisle, so I consulted an employee, who first brought me to the chili aisle. After I told him that I was not looking for chili but was in fact searching for: “Cherries. CHER-RIES. You know, those little red things with a stem???” I was not feeling very patient that day. He next referred me to the ice cream sundae fixings. Not there. Then he walked me all over the produce section, and finally he consulted another employee, who found the cherries with the alcoholic drink mixes. It was a production, I tell you. And I was still short some sprinkles.
Regardless, I paid for these baking purchases and headed to my apartment, which was three and a half blocks, one avenue, and 97 stairs away. I felt pretty good about my purchases when I was in the store, but as soon as I walked a block, I realized that the 5-pound bag of flour, 1-pound packet of powdered sugar, half gallon of milk, and glass jar of maraschino cherries were much heavier than I anticipated. Especially in combination with my backpack, which contained my 5-pound laptop, power cord, sneakers, makeup, and change of clothes. I could feel all that weight compressing my spine with every step. By the time I got home and dropped all the bags in my doorway, I found red marks on my shoulders from the backpack, I had angry red stripes on my palms from the plastic bags, and I wished that I had never heard of cookies, exchanges, or Christmas.
Luckily, baking went well, almost making me forget the blood, sweat, and tears that it took to locate all appropriate ingredients. (Incidentally, I also had to trek to Whole Foods to find sprinkles. To make the trip worthwhile, I over-purchased there, filling my backpack and canvas tote with things like canned tomato puree and frozen pizza dough. I almost cried on the 15-block walk home.) Considering the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I had previously made cookies, I was quite proud of myself for the final product. I put the bon bons in Tupperware for our journey to the Upper East Side.
Since I had learned on previous occasions that I am incapable of carrying Tupperware in a plastic bag without tipping it over, I put my cookies in a big Macy’s paper shopping bag with a flat bottom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that said shopping bag may rip in half if you hurriedly dig through your purse for your Metrocard in order to hop on a train that appears just as you reach the turnstile. Sigh. I had to carry the Tupperware in my hands for the ensuing subway ride, raising odd looks from fellow passengers who had apparently never participated in an urban cookie exchange. Having one less layer between food and subway germs made my skin crawl.
In the end, everything worked out. Even though things didn’t go smoothly, I got the supplies to my apartment, I made the cookies, and I carried them to the exchange. And because everything worked out, I will continue to make the same mistake in the future. I will, without fail, put way more items in my backpack/large purse/canvas shopping bag than I can possibly carry comfortably, giving myself sore muscles, juvenile arthritis, and scoliosis in the process. It’s just a fact. I’m certainly not going to make two easy trips to the store to get the items I know I could carry in one uncomfortable trip. And I’m guessing that all the non-independently wealthy people from the Seaport to Washington Heights feel my pain. Manhattan isn’t just The Big Apple. It’s The Big 50-Pound Apple you have to double bag and carry up and down several flights of subway stairs by yourself because you would obviously never ask a random stranger-slash-potential thief to help you.