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City Magic

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As a seven year old, I always wondered why people referred to New York City as the Big Apple. Frankly, I've never seen many apple trees or anything of the sort in any of the five boroughs; New York City is a city, after all, and I don't suppose we're particularly famous for our apple orchards. There's probably a big, historical reference that explains the name, but to a child, New York City might as well be called the Big Skyscraper, the Big Car, or even the Big Pigeon. It was just coincidental that the same year, I visited the Apple Store for the first time, but for me, it was like an epiphany (a huge white apple can do that to a person)—and while I highly doubt that New York City was named after the Apple Store, my seven year old logic took to it like a duck to water. By the time I realized that the company had nothing to do with the naming of New York City, the Apple Store and its surrounding buildings had already become a second home to me.
The first time I visited the Apple Store was also the first time I visited Fifth Avenue. By then, I'd developed a love for shopping, and an appreciation for name brand stores. The rows of high-end shops, filled with beautiful satin dresses and soft cashmere sweaters were like a shopaholic's heaven, and I prayed it would never end. Unfortunately, a few hours later, I saw the beginnings of Central Park, and so I clung to my mother's arm, hoping to spend the rest of the day at Bergdorf's or Tiffany's. But she pushed me forward, past the tempting display windows and the pretty jewelry. I began to protest, but then I saw what she'd intended to show me—the Apple store, modern, classy—and sparkly. I really could have cared less about the electronics, but I'd always had a penchant for glittering things, and was enamored with it instantly. There was a fountain on the marble dais beside it, and immediately I asked for a coin.
A nickel in my hands, I scurried up the marble steps and practically tripped over myself in my efforts to get to the fountain. The bottom of it already held an assortment of coins. I closed my eyes, made a wish, and added my contribution to the little pool of water.
As such, that was my first memory of the Apple Square—my nickname for the Apple Store, the marble platform beside it, the little water fountain, and the FAO Schwarz situated immediately behind it. I visited it countless times, at least once a week, and when I moved to Manhattan, twice or three times a week, always in the daytime. There's something to be said about the magic of Manhattan at night—it's incomparable. I was in seventh grade, and it was a winter night, December 23rd, only two days before Christmas. The air was chilly—bitingly cold, and I must've looked like a marshmallow in my winter coat. Most of the people didn't give me a second glance, because, frankly, most of the people there were tourists, and they were far too busy marveling over the fact that in New York, the taxis are yellow. Aside from that, it was a movie moment: I had a warm cup of hot chocolate in my hands, and was just meandering around Manhattan, no particular destination in mind. The sky was pitch black, like someone had spilled black ink over its white clouds and light blue shade, but down on Earth, the streets were anything but dark. A million clichés could be used to describe it (the lights shone like diamonds; a feast for the eyes; the lights sparkled in the eyes of New Yorkers…), but in the end, none of them come close to seeing the real thing. The store windows are perfectly visible against the night sky with their colorful lights. In that, Manhattan is different from maybe every city in the world—the lights manage to be colorful without looking tacky. It's classy, in a way; or maybe that's just the air that Fifth Avenue brings out. The stores were all beautiful, all elegant, all brilliant, but the Apple Square definitely stood out the most. The Apple Store glowed silver in the nighttime; the logo seemed to be defying gravity, and the glass cube was reflecting all the lights of the city, glowing ethereally. It gave off an otherworldly effect, and as I stood there, I became aware that I wasn't the only one staring at it. Next to it was the fountain, its water glittering with the Apple Store's silver light. Its coins shone, and tourists and New Yorkers alike added to the collection, dropping nickels and dimes into the fountain. Beside that was FAO Schwarz, where dozens of parents were swarming, doing some last minute Christmas shopping for their children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. The square was alive with chatter, alive with shopping bags and Christmas wishes, and if I hadn't known better, I'd have assumed it was magic.
I go there now, and it has the same effect on me. Given, it's no longer Christmas, and I rarely have the time to visit it in the middle of the night anymore, but to some degree, it's still magical. Marble blocks make up the platform surrounding the Apple store. There are grey swirls, flecked by black and white, with a fountain resting in the center. An array of coins are scattered in it, representing the hopes and wishes of so many New Yorkers. Rows of trees—leafless—are lined against opposite of the sides of the square, facing FAO Schwarz, and a set of plastic tables and chairs are placed next to them. Friends, family, and couples alike are gathered there, holding cups of hot chocolate and chatting even in the biting winter air. The Apple store is an enormous glass cube, tinted teal as glass is, with the apple logo dangling precariously from the ceiling. Tourists and New Yorkers alike line up outside the store, pushing past one another for entry. Others walk out of the store holding white plastic satchels, the silver apple displayed prominently on it. On the other side of the Apple Square lies FAO Schwarz. A tall "soldier" stands outside the door, dressed entirely in red and greeting the customers. The inside of the store is vividly colorful, stuffed animals everywhere and red shelves, red walls, red carpets. Some steps back, there's an equally colorful candy shop, all in pastel colors. The assortment is more complete than anyone could imagine, and there is candy as far as the eye can see. There are life-sized stuff animals placed next to the escalator leading to the second floor, where children peer down, their parents standing next to them, making sure they don't fall down, or bend too far. Near the escalator is a giant, flat piano. An FAO worker is dancing on it, playing The Entertainer, and those children who aren't peering over the balcony are watching the worker dance and clapping along, begging their parents for the piano.
I don't know the history of New York, but I know the Apple Square like the back of my hand. A lot has changed, but a lot hasn't—and while I may have to share it with millions of New Yorkers and millions more of tourists, I like to think that at least the magical essence of it will always be distinctly mine.





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