Dates with myself in and around Bryant Park, often in this rotation: Kinokuniya, Muji, Sunrise Mart.
I am, undoubtedly, an introvert, which for some people seems to register as being quiet and hermit-like, spending days at a time at home. These things aren’t entirely untrue – that’s what stifling summer heat does to a person; don’t know if that has to do with introversion, though – but when I say introvert, I mean I get worn out from social situations fairly easily. I’ll spend a weekend with friends then feel the need to hibernate for a day afterward, rewind in my dimly lit room and idly watch YouTube on shuffle for hours at once.
On some of my hibernation days (I designate them), I have an urge to escape outside but not so much one to expend social energy, so I spend them alone, wandering the city. For the longest time I carried a stigma with doing things by myself – as though it would suggest to the people around that I was a loner and therefore pitiable; I was so conscious of image – but if it’s one thing that college and growing up has reinforced, it’s that solitary time is normal. Also, no one cares. Some days I just want to be with myself, and the best part is that I dictate the itinerary. I leave the house around noon, late for nothing, and make my way – walking, not running – to the train station.
I’m a little biased because I live along the D line, so I’ve spent quite an amount of dates with myself in and around Bryant Park, often in this rotation: first, Kinokuniya; second, Muji; third, Sunrise Mart. The first is on the Sixth Avenue side of the park, and the latter two on Fifth, so I find myself first at the Kinokuniya bookstore, which boasts three floors: the ground floor resembles any ordinary American bookstore, with recent titles to bestsellers, fiction to travel guides in English, and tempting little souvenirs by the cash register. The uppermost floor houses anime and manga in both English and Japanese, hobby goods, and a little Cafe Zaiya which sells pastries and prepackaged meals. And the bottommost floor is incontestably definitely my favorite, carrying stationery, craft and gift items, and Japanese books and magazines.
When I was younger, my mother would treat bookstores as though daycares; she’d drop me off for the afternoon at the local Borders – back when it existed – and I’d spend hours poring over book after book. Bit of a tangent, but I’m thinking Kinokuniya is functioning that way but in my adulthood, as I loiter in the basement floor, skimming fashion magazines and cookbooks, their designs sleek and minimalistic, pages glossy and new. I’d peruse the letter sets in the stationery aisles, thinking of friends to write to who’d appreciate the little rocketship patterns, then fiddle around with the pens and all their color variations, then the tote bags and pencil cases as if I didn’t already have so many, as if I weren’t using one at the very moment.
Separating Kinokuniya from Muji and Sunrise Mart is Bryant Park, which spans from Fifth to Sixth Avenue, 40th to 42nd Street. It’s modest in size at around 10 acres, but there is something charming about the greenery, the carousel in the center, endless forest-colored seats and tables suited for a quick chat or meal. I walk through it to get from Kinokuniya to Muji, passing by blue-collar men, students off from summer classes, couples, elderly. I recall a past summer in June in which they were showing King Kong on the lawn, mosquitoes biting at our legs. Around Christmas time the holiday market is open with vendors selling artisanal crafts and sweets; then there is the ice rink that always brings crowds for admission is free.
On the other side of Bryant Park, right across from the public library is Muji’s Fifth Avenue flagship store. It’s spacious inside, courtesy likely of the minimalistic decor, and I’m greeted by the scent of citrus and lemongrass; it’s called “Happy,” the girl behind the aroma diffuser counter tells me chirpily. And I’m as much of an enthusiast of Muji’s stationery as the next person – I’m sure that’s what they’re largely known for; I especially like the 0.25 mm hexagonal gel pens – but the lifestyle store features products beyond stationery, from clothing to kitchen utensils. Some days I’d just go to feel the texture of the sweatshirts and socks, lie on the mattress on display and dream of a seemingly faraway future of domesticity and settling down; Muji, in some sense, embodies home.
Then there is Sunrise Mart, which, like Muji, has several locations in the city, but the one in Bryant Park is by far my favorite and happens to be the largest. Unlike the others it has a second floor dedicated to dining in and overlooks the supermarket below, bustling during lunch and dinner hours, but rather mellow otherwise. Sunrise resembles very much your everyday Asian supermarket, but merges the functions of a bakery, restaurant (you can order food to be made), and grocery store; I purchase bottled green tea, a red bean bun, and a rice ball, and take them to the second floor to eat among other customers and employees on break. On days I’d come with a friend during some off-hour, it felt as though we had the entire floor for ourselves and our stories; on a day with myself, I write in my journal, basking in the sounds of hushed, surrounding conversation and pop music overhead. I think The Fray is playing.