Friday, August 16, 2002

This kind of weather sucks the energy and liquids right out of your body like a giant vacuum cleaner. A 20-minute walk nearly had me on the passed out on the ground. The words to describe it are all used up: sauna, steambath, yeah, yeah, yeah. It feels like nothing so much as an elaborate and very effective torture chamber.

I’m sure I saw plenty of interesting and/or disturbing things, but mostly I didn’t notice them. The tourists walking six abreast in my way keeping me from getting my errands done more quickly I noticed. The giant scary man yanking his shirt up over his face (he looked just like Mr. T., complete with Mohawk, only a fat rather than muscular physique) I tried to forget about. The hangdog Lab, plodding gamely along beside his sweat-logged master, I noticed and sympathized with. And that was about it. Every Snapple vendor looked like a mirage to me, a beckoning oasis which I was prevented from visiting because, having recently been brought back to a consciousness of the ever-hulking threat of insolvency, I just can’t swallow $1.75 for a single iced tea.

I washed up, drenched, on the shores of Soho after 40 minutes of this, and promptly drank 8 oz. of water without a pause for breath. Global warming is no hoax.
I had forgotten the impact of money—or rather, the absolute lack of it—on the psyche. Well, on my psyche. Funny, a little miscalculation, a little underestimation, a little forgetting about automatic investments on my dreadful losing stock fund IRA, and voila! Mentally I am back to my horrible mid-20s, when I was scraping by in a deadbeat sort of town in an economically depressed corner of the country, paying for breakfast in loose change and depending far too much on my parents to keep body and soul together.

Silly to feel that way when I have a paycheck coming next week and all I have to do is curtail spending enough to make that last $100 last nine days.

But there it is, the human body grows its lessons like limbs, and they stay with you, shadows of an amputation that still itch and hurt and scare the begeezus out of you.

Anyway, imagine my surprise and delight (extreme relief can feel like delight, I suppose) when I discover that TODAY is payday, not next Friday, as I had thought. And I am once again if not flush with cash, at least able to buy a cupcake for my brother if we happen to meet at the bakery.

The emotional significance of a steady bank balance and clean laundry are not to be underestimated.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Only in NYC can getting to work be such an adventure. On an otherwise unremarkable W train, we stop in the tunnel between 49th and 42nd Sts. Not an unusual occurrence at rush hour, of course. But the announcement is quite out of the ordinary: "Attention Ladies and Gentlemen. We are being delayed due to an unauthorized person on the tracks. The police are being called. We apologize for the delay. Please be patient."

Everyone sits and giggles and is relatively patient for a few minutes, apart from some heavy sighs. Then, even more remarkable, the announcer begins to give us detailed updates every three minutes or so. "The police have arrived and are pursuing the unauthorized customer from 14th St. to 8th. St." "The police have not yet apprehended the customer on the tracks, he is now down at Prince St." "The police have still not apprehended the customer. He is between 8th St. and 14th St."

And finally, "The police have caught the unauthorized customer at 14th St. We have not yet heard on the dispatch radio when we will be moving. There are trains in the station at both 42nd St. and 34th St. ahead of us. Please be patient."

Then another 10 minutes pass (with our announcer faithfully letting us know every few minutes that he has no new information and that the trains are still stuck in the stations ahead of us). Empty trains pass us on the interior tracks being moved, no doubt, further along the line to get passengers to work downtown.

Finally the announcer begs us to please write these numbers down: "The train you are on is the 814W from Astoria. Write these numbers down, ladies and gentlemen, please." People take out their pens, looking confused. "Please look at the train car number located at the front and back of each car and write that number down. Now, when you get to work, you may call this number (718-something) to get verification for your employers that this train was delayed for at least 45 minutes."

Then we start to move, with a little lurch and a general sigh of relief. The conductor once again asks for our patience, letting us know that although we are moving, there may be slight delays due to congestion.

Really, I ask you, is this not the best train announcer in the MTA’s history? The man should get a commendation. Not only does he keep us absolutely informed, including the kinds of details that usually get swept under a frustrating rug labeled "police investigation" by lesser conductors, but he even includes the farcical elements for our entertainment. We sit there, stuck, yes, but with the wonderful Keystone Cops radio play in our heads, images of a group of sweaty police chasing the miscreant carefully (watch that third rail!) through the fetid tunnels of the subway system, running all the way from 14th St. to Prince St. and back again before they finally nab the sucker.

Clearly this announcer has a great understanding of human nature. A prince among MTA monkeys. Thank you, kind sir, whoever you are.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

This morning on the train I saw cluttered rooftops as far as the eye could see; so jolting to realize spots of green popped up among them in about the same proportion of green-to-concrete as single blades of grass in the sidewalk. This place used to be all green, then it was mostly green for a long time, and at some point, it all became re-divided and subdivided so that green seemed a waste of Valuable Real Estate. But then, after a while, having no green whatsoever devalues the real estate, because, after all, who wants to spend all their time looking solely at what man has wrought. We think we’re so clever, we humans, but look at what we make, and then compare it to the grass and trees and meadows we dug up to do so.

As soon as we have Triumphed Over Nature, we get that queasy feeling that tells us we need our nature back.

I do, anyway.

Consider this: The inevitable result of progress is a slum.

Monday, August 12, 2002

Argh. Too-much-going-on-to-blog.

Well, Friday I saw a bunch of chic literati. I know, it's a weird mental image - people who are really into literature are supposed to look kind of greasy and wear lots of plaid that hasn't been ironed in its lifetime. At least, that's how they used to look in my day.

Now they look like rock stars - or at least rock star roadies.

I don't get it. I was at a reading at a so-chic so-smoky bar, one of those places where you're not sure whether the appalling lack of oxygen is due to cigarettes or all the egos. All I know is I was definitely Not Cool Enough. Which should be okay, and all, since I was there to see a friend of mine read, and with all the objectivity in the world, her work was far and away the best stuff there.

So, you know, I should have had that reverse-cool "I'm a friend of the band" kind of vibe going.

Listen to me, I even sound ridiculous trying to describe this place. Like an outsider mimicking their Ave. B-dialect.

Well, the point of all this is, I have no tattoos. My horn-rimmed glasses are functional rather than decorative, and I got them because I have spent too many long afternoons reading by daylight that faded into dusk before I noticed it.

I spent one of those just this weekend, in between traipsing out to see "Men in Black 2" and inhale some pasta and meats at a local joint.

My friend is a brilliant writer, by the way. When she's famous, she'll still have me around, lookin' even less cool than I do now, I am sure. But I can and will bring some awe-inspiring cupcakes to the premiere. Or opening, or whatever you call it.