the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Bright lights, big city

Last night I returned home from a long weekend in New York City where I took some time to sleep and eat and wander around aimlessly like a proper tourist, forcing myself to release what had become some sort of death grip on the sails of life and work and the idea of my future. If I had read that sentence after the first or second or even third time I visited NYC, I would have furiously shaken my head and then sent myself an email going, “You do know that there are places like the beach or a spa or, I don’t know, Mexican prisons that are more relaxing than New York City, right?”



All you have to do is look up a hotel in Manhattan and read the Yelp reviews. Consumers who have not grown to love the living, frantic force of that city, who may not be capable of loving it, invariably say something along these lines:

The room was the size of my grandmother’s coffin. ONE STAR.

The view out of my window was the brick building next door. ONE STAR.

I chose this hotel because it sits along a side street and not along a main avenue and I still couldn’t sleep through all that noise outside so I have to give this one star only because they won’t allow me to give it zero stars and if I keep writing a few more words I may get away with the longest run-on sentence on this entire page and then I might be able to go on with my life but probably not.

These reviewers did not get the Oompa Loompa that was promised to them by no one.

One of the best ones I ever read said something like this:

Now I know that I may not be the target market for this hip “boutique” or whatever you call it hotel — I’m in my fifties and I don’t like to go to “the clubs” — but if I pay for a “suite” that promises I’m going to have a “couch” in my room, that “couch” had better not take up the entire room. I had nowhere to put my luggage.

He had me at “target market.”

You know what the target market is for any hotel in NYC that doesn’t cost a year’s tuition to an Ivy League university? “Very small deaf person who doesn’t mind the persistent smell of hard boiled eggs and is capable of shampooing their hair in a shower whose water pressure is similar to what comes out of a drunk hobo as he pisses himself in his sleep.”


Was your room was the size of a coffin? You’re lucky it was that big, Walter. Go rewrite your review. You noticed that the building outside of your window was built out of bricks? This leads me to believe that your view wasn’t straight into the window of a hoarder with a thing for dead rabbits, Janet. Rewrite your review. All that noise in the city kept you awake at night? The jackhammers and police sirens and out-of-tune church bells that play a four-minute hymn you are not familiar with? The CVS next door sells earplugs, Brandon. LOGIN TO YOUR ACCOUNT AND REWRITE YOUR REVIEW.

Guess what, Target Market. There was a goddamn couch in your goddamn room like they goddamn promised. Put your goddamn luggage on the goddamn couch. Your review should have said, “THAT’S RIGHT. FIVE GODDAMN STARS AND A GODDAMN ORANGE PEANUT. FOR YOU.”



I don’t know when or what the turning point was for me, but all the asinine things you have to accept (like: walk 40 blocks or pay $20 for a death-defying cab ride or spend an hour figuring out which subway line gets you there and how to get to that line) have dimmed to a low humming nuisance and let everything else that is wonderful to experience bubble gloriously to the top. Now New York is food and music and art and architecture. It’s dancing lights and mysterious steam. It’s sculpted steel and fractured wood and water in the cracks of the sidewalk. It’s wind that teases my hair. It’s the smell of gasoline and pretzels. New York is an out-of-tune church bell right outside my hotel room that banged out a four-minute hymn I did not know every morning at 7AM. And this morning I missed it.

  • NGunderground

    2013/02/19 at 2:37 pm

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

  • filmlady

    2013/02/19 at 2:42 pm

    BEAUTIFUL pictures, Heather.

  • Kate

    2013/02/19 at 3:05 pm

    That last picture is stunning!! I love NYC, the fast pace, all the people, the diversity, the energy. The Natural History Museum, Central Park….aahhh. I can totally see going there to re-charge. Good for you!

  • Erin

    2013/02/19 at 3:16 pm

    I agree with Kate, that last picture’s a NYC masterpiece! It took 3 times for me to finally fall in love with New York. The first two times, I had that exhausted/gross/overcrowded/tourist/stink attitude. And then, it just changed. Now, nothing but love.

  • jawnbc

    2013/02/19 at 3:44 pm

    Born and raised in NYC, and while I’m glad I left I think everyone should spend a couple of years living there. A lot of frustrating, even maddening things–but it’s NYC baby! No place like it in the world.

  • Maggie

    2013/02/19 at 3:54 pm

    Just moved from New York after 7 years there (though to Paris, so it ain’t all bad), and your post made me very homesick. Good thing I’m going back for a week in April, bitchez.

  • Suebob

    2013/02/19 at 4:07 pm

    I was surprised at how much I liked NYC. I don’t see myself as much of a city person, but it pulled me in. The amazing thing was how familiar it felt, maybe from watching all those movies and TV shows filmed there. Breakfast at Tiffany, Manhattan, Sex & the City – I was RIGHT THERE.

  • HeatherArmstrong

    2013/02/19 at 4:13 pm

    Thank you! I was really inspired this trip and only used the camera on my phone.

  • Ron

    2013/02/19 at 4:14 pm

    “…have dimmed to a low humming nuisance and let everything else that is wonderful to experience bubble gloriously to the top.”

    Yup, because that’s New York. For all its nuisance, insanity and expense, it is truly (in my opinion) the GREATEST city on the east coast because it GIVES you back so much. I lived there for 5 years, but now live back in Philadelphia and yet, every time I go there it’s like coming home!

    I always tell people that my body was born in Philly, but my soul was born in NY!

    Awesome photos, Heather!

  • Katybeth

    2013/02/19 at 4:17 pm

    Love the frantic twinkle of the last picture. Captures New York beautifully. The hotels not a fan, but I am never in them long enough to care too much.

  • Sarah

    2013/02/19 at 4:19 pm

    We get it done all right.

  • JJ - 84thand3rd

    2013/02/19 at 4:24 pm

    I only lived there for a year and a half a long time ago but the minute I hit Manhattan I take a deep, true breath. Yes, it may be smog filled and smell like pee but something about that city calms my soul. (Yes, I realise I’m just a little bit crazy) Love the fairy light tree, I miss those!

  • Ann Price

    2013/02/19 at 4:48 pm

    I totally get this. I moved to NYC at 30 and thought I would be too old and set in my Midwestern ways to appreciate all the noise and chaos of the big city. Not so. I love it. I feel more alive here than any other place on earth. And you’re right, there is something magically hypnotic and relaxing about all that walking and communing with strangers. Even though you’re ignoring them. Now two kids and almost 9 years later, I am happy to call myself a New Yorker. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. If you move here, give me a shout. You’d love Queens.

  • DebbelerN

    2013/02/19 at 5:27 pm

    This is why I live here!

    Your photos are *stunning*.

    Apropos of nothing, I feel like an aggressive (bad) driver when I admit that New York cab drivers haven’t ever / don’t bother me.

  • J. Kane

    2013/02/19 at 5:39 pm

    You are never too old for New York….. My husband and I have been addicted for nearly 20 years! Every aspect of the place blows our minds! Stepping from the laid back streets of Australia into the canyons of NY is always a mind blowing experience that we long for. I hear soundtracks as we walk and every vision is a movie set waiting for us to star. Thanks for reminding me, a great read!

  • Celeste

    2013/02/19 at 7:18 pm

    NYC is AMAZING!! Every.Single.Time. I visit, I find it more & more intriguing. My absolute favorite place to stay is place with shoebox sized “cabins.” It’s called The Yotel. It’s totally modern & minimal, but it’s perfect, especially if all you’re going to do in the room is sleep & keep your stuff in there. Let’s face it, it’s NYC and who sleeps while they’re there anyway?!?

  • Josette Plank

    2013/02/19 at 7:18 pm

    People need to camp more in tents for, like, a week in the rain with a bear rummaging through their food sack at night. After that, any hotel room will feel like the depths of civilized bliss.

  • LucyVP

    2013/02/19 at 7:25 pm

    Went to NYC for the first time for the first week of August… yes, in effing August – one million degrees with a zillion percent humidity. LOVED every minute of it! Walked almost everywhere, saw almost everything, slept like a baby in my downtown Manhattan hotel in the middle of noise, two blocks from Central Park. It looked onto/into other buildings and there was an insane Blogging women’s conferencing in the hotel. Why are people complaining about hotels?!! They came to New York to see the hotel????? Get over it and enjoy life.

  • Loretta Benedetto Marvel

    2013/02/19 at 7:58 pm

    I live in the suburbs outside NYC . Almost every weekend my husband and I jump in the car and drive 25 minutes to the upper east side and have coffee in a little Milanese cafe. None of my friends or family understand why we drive into the city for COFFEE. But we have really nice coffee places here with really good espresso, they say, why would you drive into Manhattan? Yes, we do have perfectly lovely cafes. But when we are sitting in the imposssibly narrow cafe, balancing our cups and croissaints and hefty NY Times on the impossibly tiny table, we eavesdrop on the Italian, French, Czech, German, and Swedish heard all around us. We watch the incredibly good-looking upper east siders leave their incredibly expensive strollers and tiny dogs outside while they bring in their babies dressed in wool coats trimmed with velvet. And then we hold out breath and act impossibly nonchalant when Christine Baranski sits at the table next to us and crosses her long legs and puts on her reading glasses to peruse the times. Or Fran Lebowitz comes in and orders a pot of brewed coffee and works on a script and then nods at us when she leaves. Sometimes we walk to the boating pond in Central Park, sometimes we just jump back in the car and go home. Oh and by the way, they DON’T have the same coffee in the ‘burbs. They just don’t!

  • Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

    2013/02/19 at 8:47 pm

    I just saw a homeless guy’s dick on the downtown R. But this post makes me happy I live here.

  • Jackie Bragale

    2013/02/19 at 9:12 pm

    You got an orange peanut? An orange peanut for ME?

  • Alpha Mom (TM)

    2013/02/19 at 9:19 pm

    isn’t NY wonderful?

  • Jane

    2013/02/19 at 10:04 pm

    I love this– such an accurate depiction of the city. I was born and raised in Manhattan and I can’t imagine ever leaving. As you say, it is a frenzied rush of noise and light, but I find it so invigorating. The darkness and silence of the country makes me more anxious than New York ever could. New York is alive, and every day it reminds me what it means to be alive.

  • Michael Mathews

    2013/02/20 at 12:52 am

    I had the same moment at some point in my life – I used to be intimidated by the vastness and afraid of what terrible things might happen. I was annoyed by the noise and crowds trying to navigate any of the major intersections.

    Now I can’t wait for a chance to spend a 3-day weekend there. I hop off the subway, drop my bags at the hotel and go explore!

  • Leslie Gates

    2013/02/20 at 4:19 am

    I was there this weekend, too, and I wish I would have seen you to give you a mom-to-mom fist bump.

  • MissCaron

    2013/02/20 at 6:22 am

    LOVE THIS! My sister just moved to NYC from LA and she was both excited and nervous about the change and over the past few months has come to fall in love with the city in a way she never felt possible. I haven’t been up to NYC in years so I’m excited to visit her in May. It’s one of my favorite places, noise, traffic, and all.

  • carey florentino

    2013/02/20 at 6:53 am

    I’m not a fan of NY. Each time I’ve gone, I’ve longed to experience what you described, but alas, no. It’s anxiety and panic. every. single. time. So I don’t go willingly. I go full of optimism and hope, and am crushed by not having a prescription of Xanax to tap into.
    But you make me want to keep trying. I want to see with my own eyes what your photographs capture.

  • grad.nauseam

    2013/02/20 at 9:58 am

    I lived in NYC for almost 10 years and I miss it every. single. day. It IS relaxing, because it is so anonymous. There are no demands on you except to stay out of the way of other people going about their business. I had a really awful day once, and I walked from my office in Washington Square to Columbus Circle (54 blocks + and a few avenues), sobbing my eyes out behind my sunglasses for the vast majority of that time and NOBODY BOTHERED ME. Where else in the world can you do that?

  • mccn

    2013/02/20 at 10:28 am

    I love my adopted city, and I’m so glad you found the great things in it for you!

  • Linda

    2013/02/20 at 10:41 am

    One thing about New Yorkers, we never look up. We keep our eyes focused on the ground so we don’t trip over people rushing past us. We never see the tops of buildings because our destinations are inside the front door of these beautiful buildings. But I sure wish we’d look up more, the view up there is a lot prettier than yucky pee-covered sidewalk.

  • Megan Gordon

    2013/02/20 at 11:07 am

    New York is my heart’s home. Has been since I was a little girl visiting my dad’s lab in the city. It’s in my DNA. I never feel more alive then when I am there.

  • issascrazyworld

    2013/02/20 at 11:35 am

    I’ve only been once. I dream of it. I loved loved loved NYC something fierce.

  • Julia Bulia

    2013/02/20 at 11:49 am

    I’ve lived in Brooklyn for fourteen years, work in Manhattan. It’s a fantastic, wonderful city and yes, actually quite relaxing if you don’t only hang out in midtown or Times Square area (I work in Hells Kitchen, have to walk through parts of Times Square to get to work and I have to put on mental blinders or I’d engage a scorched earth policy). Otherwise, I get plenty of downtime living here. Check out other parts of the city sometime, if you get a chance. At the very least pop over to Roosevelt Island for some stunning skyline views…and experience the weirdness that is that tiny island. There’s a cute park and some old hospital ruins in the park as well that are fun to photograph (assuming the hurricane didn’t mess up the end of Roosevelt too much). Also: the cloisters, waaaay up on the west side! and Prospect Park in Brooklyn (and then go to the ‘doctor who’ bar and get your nerd on). I also love going to Coney Island a bit off season to sit near the water and read…but I’m not sure that’s a good idea any time soon considering the hurricane damage/recovery effort…might not be all that chill. Ps1 in Queens frequently has interesting art exhibits that tend to not be overwhelmingly crowded, at the very least it’s a neat building. Wander over to 5 Points (also in Queens) and take some photos before that building sadly goes condo or whatever horrible nonsense a developer wants to do to it…and don’t forget to take a water taxi or even a touristy boat tour (they’re fun I swear!) assuming you don’t dislike boats.

    Anyways, plenty of relaxing spots where you don’t feel like you’re contained. : )

  • HSP

    2013/02/20 at 2:31 pm

    Central Park is not downtown. 😛 But I’m glad you enjoyed your visit!

  • Kathleen

    2013/02/20 at 10:13 pm

    Agreed. There is a smell, a feeling, a beat that is unique to NYC that immediately makes you feel at home. The assault of the senses as soon as you open your hotel window, especially in winter time, is oddly soothing. The smell of the peanut and hot dog stands, the noise of the traffic, the billboards, the traffic, all of it, even the soot that covers your face and buries itself into your nostrils after a day of walking around in the city. I completely understand it being your escape destination; it is mine as well.

  • bradleytee

    2013/02/21 at 10:54 pm

    Heather- Great post !! You said a an awkwardly graceful sort of way. Thanks.

  • JMorr

    2013/02/22 at 6:33 am

    My husband and I were also there this weekend and saw you outside of the apple store! Small world!

  • Milici

    2013/02/22 at 8:07 am

    As a New Yorker I must say I really loved your last paragraph. Just saw one typo – the water in the cracks of the sidewalk you speak of is most likely dog pee 😉

  • Aerin

    2013/02/22 at 12:11 pm

    It’s not that hard to use the Subways.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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