I have discovered the secret to living a better life. Specifically, a better life in New York City.
Contrary to what my younger self would have believed, this secret has nothing to do with such glamorous life upgrades as a washer/dryer in-unit, central air conditioning, or even one of those little dogs that looks like a stuffed animal on percocet. Or percocet.
No, the thing that has drastically improved my life is incredibly simple. It’s a hanky.
Yes, I’m talking about a handkerchief. Like the kind parents tie around kids’ heads when they’re hitting a piñata. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to realize this simple tool’s unbelievable utility: I associated it with that once-a-year ritual of violently hitting a paper mache pirate. And with cowboys, James Dean, grandparents, and women fainting dramatically in old movies.
But that’s all in the past. What’s important now is that I’ll never leave my house without a handkerchief in my bag. It’s the all-purpose tool of this city, a thing that weighs nearly nothing and can do pretty much everything. It’s a napkin. It’s a koozie. It’s a headband or a jaunty neck accessory. It’s a seat-wiper, a subway-pole-holder, a nose-blower, a tear-dabber, and a smell-avoider. It’s a conversation starter (“I like your…hanky?”).
But its most crucial use—the reason I worship at the altar of this little piece of fabric—is the sweat rag.
See, I’m a Sweaty Person. And in New York City, sweat is seasonless. During the summer, I walk around looking like I just stepped out of the Equinox pool I do not have access to. In the fall, I am too easily convinced by the sight of Non-Sweaty-People in sweaters, only to remember once it’s too late that 60 degrees is never cold enough to wear anything fuzzy. And in winter, it only takes a few blocks of walking in a blizzard wearing six layers for the area under my coat to become a swampland.
On a hot June day five years ago, I pulled up to my first New York apartment, lugged three extra-large suitcases up four extra-narrow flights of stairs, and knocked on the door. My Craigslist-found sublet-host, who might also have been a prophet, gave me one look and said: “Always leave enough time that you can saunter to your destination. You don’t sweat as much when you saunter.”
Wiser words have never been spoken. But unfortunately, in addition to being a Sweaty Person, I am also a Late Person. A Late Person with Late Person-anxiety. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never saunter, I will never not be anxious, and I will never stop sweating. But I can do something about those things. I can carry a hanky.
It’s important to note, of course, that the hanky cannot do all of its aforementioned duties at the same time. Every superhero has limitations. But a hanky is cheap enough that you can buy multiples, durable enough to withstand repeated trauma, and at the end of a long day of wiping your sweat or dabbing your nose or protecting your white pants from park bench bird poop, it can go straight into the washing machine. So you can focus your attention on more pressing matters, like getting one of those in your apartment.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.