My New York Obsession

My New York Obsession: A Wide-Brimmed Park Ranger Hat of One’s Own

Writer and comedian Nikki Palumbo could have been the best ranger ever. Or at least sipped a lot of tea.

Photo by Hanna Benavides

As a kid growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey—redundant, right?—I was covered in dirt and sweat year-round, my hair frizzing out of whatever bow my mom tried to lasso onto me that morning. At best, I’d make it to lunch before I was rolling around in a field or climbing a tree, but more often than not, I’d launch myself into a pile of leaves before the first school bell even had a chance to ring.

I was the quintessential tomboy. So much so that I vaguely remember taking a career aptitude test in high school—you know, the kind that tells you what you’re best suited for in life, other than a sitcom trope—and one of my options was park ranger.

Whatever the case is, rest assured: Palumbo is on it. / Photo by Hanna Benavides

It felt like an insult at the time because I thought I very obviously had the skill set of a lawyer. (Now I’m a writer and comedian living in New York, so what did I know?) But I realize it’s my truth, because believe me when I say this: Ya girl loves a park. One park, specifically.

I love it so much that I’ve refused to learn its name. What I do know about it is:

  • It’s a lovely spot on the Hudson River by the West Harlem Piers.
  • It’s conveniently located across the street from a Fairway Market.
  • I’ve been there three times already this summer, and I’m aggressively arranging my schedule to spend more lazy afternoons there, reading, writing, and, quite honestly, napping.
  • It’s my oasis.
The road to Palumbo’s happy place is paved with…pavement. / Photo by Hanna Benavides

What’s so great about this park? Other than it being in the prime location of “outside” and “by the water” and “across the street from a grocery store with access to a clean bathroom and aisles and aisles of snacks, in that order, because I understand priorities”? The best part: It feels familiar. It’s divvied up into distinct sections of grass, like the backyards you’d find in New Jersey. There are a few thickets of trees if you’re jonesing for some shade. But otherwise, it’s a park stitched together by patches of open lawn with a few benches scattered here and there—mostly for exhausted cyclists to collapse on. Or young children to practice their plyometrics. 

As a comedian, I have to make strangers worship me and laugh, mostly at night. As a park ranger, I’d get to enjoy the cuddles of adorable animals, daylight, and not being heckled. Oh, and a wide-brimmed hat.

It’s a peaceful perch for all kinds. And it’s one of the few places in this sometimes hellscape of a city where I can daydream about being a park ranger. Because being a park ranger, in my humble and uninformed opinion, is the diametric opposite of what I do professionally. As a comedian, I have to make strangers worship me and laugh, mostly at night. As a park ranger, I imagine, I’d get to enjoy the cuddles of adorable animals, daylight, and not being heckled.

The cuddle is real. / Photo by Hanna Benavides

At my park, I get lost on these fantasy trails that can’t possibly be based in reality. I know almost nothing about what it’s like to actually be a park ranger. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, but I really mean it. I’d hate to shatter the image I have of serenity and fulfillment by doing any kind of research. Knowing what a ranger actually does just wouldn’t be fair—to me. On my mental hikes down this hypothetical career path, I can only see two things: a quieter, slower life and head-to-toe khaki. OK, three things: Top me off with a wide-brimmed hat.

You know, all the things tomboy-me would have loved growing up. Especially that hat. Park ranger would have been the most natural evolution for my gay Pokémon.

With Palumbo in charge, all the park’s creatures get along. / Photo by Hanna Benavides

I’m sure there’s actual work to do, but none of that ever shows up in my daydreams. Those are almost exclusively about being outside in the sun, somehow always covered in a little dirt and sweat. My park ranger missions (yes, they’re called “missions” in my daydreams because, of course, they are) would vary day to day, but might include:

  • Rescuing baby raccoons, but only if they’re not rabid. So…probably never rescuing baby raccoons.
  • Helping beavers build dams, because surely I have more engineering know-how by sheer virtue of being a human, even though my tail isn’t as functional.
  • Playing defense on Team Pigeon against Team Hawk.
  • Shooing skateboarders away from a chipmunk habitat I’ve designed myself. But shooing in the cool way, where I’m also on a skateboard.
  • Swimming some ducks to safety after a torrential downpour and being crowned their honorary leader.
  • Climbing trees (What kind? I don’t know. I’m sure one of my duties would be to tag every variety of tree, but again, I’m staunchly anti-research, and a tree is a tree is a tree) to rescue a kitten named Geraldine. I know: Operation Kitten Rescue is a firefighter’s job, but I’m taking it back for the rangers.
  • Or some other scenario that’s likely a direct rip from Snow White, because it was my absolute favorite movie growing up—even though I could have done without the dress, as well as sharing a residence with seven men—and probably my warped basis for how to commune with creatures in nature.

Mostly my day(dreams) would just be about making and drinking tea in a ranger station. That’s it, just a lot of tea.

And that’s usually what pulls me back into reality—realizing I need to pee.

Hear that? Yep, it’s nature calling! / Photo by Hanna Benavides

That could be a nightmare, but not at my park, where it’s the world’s calmest walk to the very clean and conveniently located bathroom in the Fairway. There I can buy snacks to ease me into another round of naps and nature dreams. Of course, I’ll need to put my shoes back on first since dirty feet have no place in civilization. And that’s still where I live, after all. For now. 

Nikki Palumbo is a writer and comedian in New York. Her other obsessions include burgers, hiking, and annoying the Internet with puns. She tweets at @test-email-nikkipalll.

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