New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

017 : Ling Ma On The third floor of Henri Bendel, Manhattan
Born 1983 in Salt Lake City, Utah and Topeka, Kansas. Ling Ma currently works as a magazine editor. Why New York? I saw a street photo of Paper editor Liz Yeager. She digs the following Gotham bits: Once a woman told her to zip up her purse on the subway; picking up sandwiches (stuffed with the juiciest daikon radish) on weekends at Saigon, a bahn mi counter located at the back of a Chinatown jewelry store on Mott Street; and the Fairway supermarket at 74th and Broadway; the “Meeting Place” installation at P.S. 1. She is, however, a bit miffed by the drug dealer and former neighbor who beat his hapless girlfriend -- they ended up burglarizing her apartment; the fact that she can’t get a decent bowl of clear, brothy Tom Yum noodle soup that’s not tomato-y and heavy on the fish sauce; and overhyped restaurants, boutiques, or happenings that end up being crowded holes-in-the-wall when you try visiting them. For more info on Ling Ma you should send an email.

image: S. Ableman

“That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.”

After I gave my resignation notice to my boss on a Friday evening in September, I left my workplace at 40th and Broadway for one of the last times and walked a mile to Henri Bendel[1] to meet my best friend, and several of her college friends, at the store’s Chocolate Bar. Blocks pass quickly in New York, and on that evening the chilly breeze was nice amid the dusk and the traffic.

Though it was my first time at Henri Bendel, I didn’t linger in the main atrium to smell the Annick Goutal scents (there is a personal favorite in mind that smells like peaches and gasoline, issued once a year) or try a new hand cream. I walked up the spiraled stairs to the third floor, and there they were, a bouquet of post-collegiate girls sitting at a circular corner booth. I saw business wear, identically crossed pairs of legs, fresh-combed manes of hair.

We took turns talking about what we did, what we were doing, all these endlessly interesting things.

“I just quit my job,” I said. It was a relief to say.

“Uh, what?!” my best friend exclaimed. “Why, how, when?” The others devoured me with nervous questions.

I explained that it was something I had decided the previous night. The only way to do it was quickly, before I lost my nerve, and think about the consequences later. It had been my first day job, for which I oversaw from New York the manufacture of Bibles in humid areas of Asian countries. I didn’t hate the work.

My chocolate drink was cold and creamy; it matched the weather. I imagined the air inside my lungs was slowly condensing from the shift in climate—from the chilly weather outdoors to this interior retail roast. Unmoored by a profession, I was a vague, jobless entity now, and I felt myself disengaging from the careerist conversation.

The voices languished, and when there was little left to tally of our meager accomplishments, we gathered our fall jackets.

Between the Chocolate Bar and the exit elevator, one has to walk the length of the curiously situated lingerie department. I looked at all the delicious confections I could no longer afford, flimsy swathes of expensive fabrics in rashes of pinks, abnormal growths of lace, stitched hard blacks. I slowed my pace, marveling at these alien delicacies. 

If there was anything my first job had imparted to me, it was how to dissemble an object, in spite of its interesting whole, down to its unremarkable parts. A Bible—the ultimate exercise in product packaging—can be cross-sectioned and reduced to its paper stock, ribbon marker, mull lining and other assorted offal.

That’s when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of staring at those fragile bralets and bodysuits, when I refrained from deconstructing anything. I did not want to. More than anything, I wanted to be a sensualist. To live in a city that prizes and offers these luxurious and unnecessary articles at overmarked prices is wasteful, self-defeatist and terribly escapist. Specifically, I wanted to be a sensualist in New York.

referenced works

  1. Henri Bendel's web site calls the store a "Girls' Playground for trendsetting young women from around the world." Substitute "wealthy" for the euphemism "trendsetting" and it's a pretty accurate description. The shop is the most upscale of the handful of store brands (Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, etc.) owned by Limited Brands.

location information


017That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.— Ling Ma

016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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