Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Hello Google crawlers (and any poor soul who may have wandered in to see if I am still alive and utilizing the English language). I feel that it's time to explain something. This blog was created to celebrate, gripe about, and generally describe the New York state of mind. Well, I have left that country. Call it the onset of middle age. Call it a yearning to escape the claustrophobia that comes of living and thinking cheek by proverbial jowl with a multitude of dudes and dudesses. I dunno. I just got tired of it. It's a hard place to live, as anyone who's ever done it will tell you.

I knew I was leaving when I began this blog, and I suppose What I Saw was always meant to be a sort of final love letter to the city. It ended up being more of a Dear John letter, and that is perhaps more appropriate to the situation. I knew I was leaving. I knew I'd miss it. I knew I wouldn't miss it at all. (Both are true, by the way, and logic be damned.)

Long ago I started a list of things I'd miss and things I wouldn't. Here are a few:

The way the west village feels like Paris when it rains.
Shops with names like The Lively Set and Tea and Sympathy.
Meeting friends on street corners and watching them approach, knowing them by how they walk. (I know that works elsewhere, too, but it seems more romantic in a great city of millions)
Being able to get the absolute best version of whatever food you desire, as long as you're willing to trek there.
Walking and walking and walking, and always something remarkable to see.
Outlandish garb of every variety.
Sweet proprietors of delis, dry cleaners, restaurants, and a million other tiny businesses who are delighted to see you because they recognize you from yesterday, and hope you'll come by tomorrow to keep their business in, well, business.
Bus rides. No really, I like them, when they're uncrowded and it's Sunday morning and it's like watching a parade outside a wide and gently rocking window.
The view from the Empire State Building. Damn, it's fine. I never saw the view from the Twin Towers - I had an attack of fear of heights combined with fear of being crushed in the elevator on the way up, and my sister kindly agreed to stay down on the ground with me, where we looked up and marveled at their height from below. I have pictures of that day - it's the last time I saw those towers alive.

I don't think I want to talk about the things I won't miss. It seems like insulting an ex after you've left and it's all history, and it was really just a difference of lifestyle and outlook - nothing worth dissing someone about behind their back.

Anyway, more things I'll miss:

Yonah Shimmel's wonderful knishes, hot from the microwave on a cold day - burn your hands and eat them with mustard. Gorgeous. Breakfast.

The gritty garment district, a hub of commerce and fashion students that makes everyone else feel out of place. I was sent there on a mission for bridal fabric for a friend once, and had a terrific time begging swatches from the salesfolk.

The lower east side: including accidental Shakespeare heard in a parking lot on a blazing hot day, glimpses of really old world Jewish culture like Bialys in the window, pickles sold out of barrels on the street, and encroaching chinatown.

Bridges. Queensboro in a cab - a long twisting view of the island behind and to the right. Brooklyn, perpetually for sale to suckers and always reminding me of that Cher movie. Manhattan - I never can figure out where it comes in, but I know it gave Dumbo its name and perhaps its chic.

A sudden burst of music from under the footbridges in Central Park. Mysterious, echoing, sometimes jazz, once an accordion played by a Polish immigrant under the decaying mosaics near the fountain.

Quite a piece of work, all in all. Good luck to you.

Tuesday, November 05, 2002

Okay, here’s the thing that truly made me leave. I noticed it again yesterday as I was walking along in the light and pleasant drizzle, watching a young stick with red lips and red boots and a red leather coat look around to see if her various reds were attracting the attention she’d hoped for.

A great many people here dress as if for a parade. This in itself does not bother me. I rather like it.

What does bother me, however, and ultimately contributed to my feeling that Enough was Enough Already, is the sense one has when visiting New York City that to live here would be a grand spectacle, an ever-changing panoply, a buffet of eternal champagne and myriad caviars—in short, a parade.

I spent five years waiting for the parade. Granted, I lived in Midtown, which almost never sees anything interesting walk by. It’s an endless stream of old women pushing poodles in prams (yes, I know that’s interesting, but is it exciting? Is it worth leaving Iowa for? No way in the shade.) and young round-bodied men with more money and confidence than sense or sensibility boiling out of the bars at 11pm on their way home to a sodden sleep and a too-early morning meeting.

But really, I have a friend who lives at the veritable Apex, on Clinton between Stanton and Rivington. The grand Crossroads of Cool. And does she have an exciting, paradeful time of it? Only marginally more than me. And that’s because she’s got pets and has to go outside and walk them occasionally.

It took me far too long to figure this out: New York can be Boring. One can have No Life here. No more of a life than any suburb-bound housefrau, and housefraus get dishwashers to make their lives easier, and I’ll bet not a single U.S. housefrau has to haul 40 pounds of laundry across four city blocks every week.

Yes, I admit it. It was laundry that made me leave. Laundry and the lack of parades in my honor. There probably were parades in my honor, but they all happened in the 80s, when I was young and strong and creating parades elsewhere.

At least the poodles are entertaining to watch on my walk to the train.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

This blog will be on semi-hiatus while I get my head in some kind of shape to make observations that are more than just groaning about dog crap and traffic. The truth is, I just don’t have much time for reflection (or observation) these days, and it’s stultifying the blog. We’ll resume when things chill out and I find a less commuteful way of making a living. I will occasionally report in when I see something worth writing about, but don’t expect the every day note.

I leave you (for now) with a parting observation: Only in Manhattan do moms push the baby carriage in black tights and knee-high boots. And of course, only here do they use said baby carriage as a battering ram to get across traffic.

Monday, October 28, 2002

Have you ever been to Edinborough? There’s a lot of dogshit there. As I was walking through a particularly thoroughly poop-mined stretch of NYU dormitory this morning, I suddenly thought of Edinborough.

There are signs threatening legal action, financial disciplinary measures (i.e., large fines), and general ostracism from polite society (which makes sense; I mean, who considers it polite to leave their dogshit in big piles for everyone else to ruin their shoes on?). And yet, if you’re not walking with eyes glued to the sidewalk in front of you, you’re liable to ruin a pair of shoes every time you set foot outdoors in Edinborough. What is it with people?

I would have thought this particular bit of rudeness to be characteristic of bad, lawless New York. But no, here you see many dog-walkers with their bit of plastic baggie (or worse, newspaper, eeewww!) clutched in the non-leash-holding hand, merrily scooting along the sidewalk alongside their airedale, or wolfhound, or coiffed little poodle. Some folks here do clean up after their dogs. Just not in NYU.

I doubt there’s any great meaning behind this, other than yet another way to divide mankind into the inevitable two parts: those who give a (pardon the pun) shit about the comfort of fellow humans, and those who do not. For the record, my mom assidiously cleans up after her pooch when walking in the park or other public spaces. In her own yard, puppy gets to do as she pleases and mom calls it fertilizer. This seems fair to me, though it doesn’t exactly make me want to spend much time wandering in her yard.

Thursday, October 24, 2002

The sun is shining but I’m dreary inside. Too much reading of the news, I believe. Sniper-terror-bestselling book about rape.

Outdoors a woman shoved into my side/bag to get around me so she could stand that extra two feet further into the street to wait for the traffic to clear. I followed her and shoved her back as I passed her. Never done that before. I was angry.

Certainly been angry but never chased someone down to clandestinely shove them right back. Not sure if I’d recommend it. Strangely unsatisfying, even though it was some sort of outlet.

Friday, October 18, 2002

Didn’t get much of a look at the world outside today. Instead, I shuttled back and forth on a total of six trains (or will have, by day's end). And I can attest that, in order of relative states of yuckiness, NJ Transit is the nicest by far. The N/R train is the ugliest, most airless, and foulest-smelling (those last two are no doubt related). In between is the PATH, which wins points for relative lack of filth, but loses them for overcrowded conditions, not to mention unbearably hot tunnels.

Anyway, I was hauling uptown and back for allergy shots (yes, I’m one of those people who’d be Darwined out of existence in the natural order of things), and as I was rolling up every sleeve on my body (three on each arm) I began to ponder friendship.

It’s my vote for the key to happiness, and a good sized chunk of the reason we’re here. But let me rewind slightly, so you can see why I would be thinking about friendship in the allergist’s office when I’m just there to get little needles stuck into both arms.

There’s a nurse there whom I don’t get to see anymore, and I really miss her. She’s still alive and well, mind you, but my new commute has changed my shots schedule, and so I see a different nurse now. She gives the shots about as painfully as Lillian did, but without that wonderful dose of high spirits and twinkling companionship that I could always count on from Lil.

You ever meet one of those people who just Have It? You don’t know how or where they found it—maybe they were born with it—but their perfect positioning right on the groove of life, Right There, is written all over their faces. Lillian is one of those folks. She has a face like an angel, and when she dies, that face will look as different as different can be, because it’s Lillian’s wonderful personality that makes her so beautiful.

Physically, she is a nicely aging black lady with that appearance usually termed "ageless." She has a daughter somewhere in her thirties, so I speculate Lillian’s a bit older than my own mom. But there’s something about her that reminds me of my favorite (and departed) grandmother. A combination of sweetness and spunk, more than a hint of mischief in her expression.

Oh Lillian, my Lillian, when you were sticking needles in my arm, I swear I didn’t mind the Youch! And the wait in the waiting room was just an excuse to read, and the packed N train home was—well, it was the subway, and we know how much I love the subway. Yech.

But still, it was amazing how cheery an expedition my shots were when I got to see Lillian. Since I’ve switched schedules, I hardly make it there anymore. It’s cursory, a hassle, and I’m always looking around, listening for her voice.

See, that’s why we’re here. To meet our Lillians.

Thursday, October 17, 2002

In an inexplicably good mood (relative to yesterday, anyway) this morning. Thought I’d better write quick, before it dissipates, or gets chased away by the random icky flotsam that swirls about Manhattan. Maybe there are currents of emotion as well as currents of air. Other people’s nastiness just eddies around one till it infects your own mood, usually by virtue of some physcial altercation. Even the ones as small as being bumped on the stairway can have that effect.

Weird dreams again this morning. Almost slept through my train. You know you’re up with the birds when 6:10am=sleeping in.

The weather has cleared and people are again shuffling around the streets in a more relaxed fashion, though the usual New York White-Rabbit-must-hurry rule is still in effect. I guess it’s the body language that’s different when the sun’s out. People stride, and bounce, and swagger in good weather. In bad weather they crouch and scurry and cringe.

Personally, I like to mosey.