Posted tagged ‘New York City’

City, Rain, Bike

December 9, 2012


Tired at the End of November? (National Novel Writing Month)

November 30, 2010

Horse Cart? Horse Cab? So Much To Brush Up Against

Back in New York City and find myself tired tired tired.

All that physical energy that seemed so boundless in the fresh and cooked air of a Thanksgiving break in the country now seems sadly dissipated.

What has sapped me?

The grind/stress of the job?

The lack of frolicking!?  (Unpopulated spaces somehow lend themselves to dashing and dancing in ways that don’t quite work in most urban settings.)

Or, I wonder, as I drag myself to the subway through all the faces and vehicles, bodies and clothes, concrete and glass, is it the entropy of brushing up against so many different beings and energies–all that collected history, mortar, CO2?

I could point to the end of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month).  Am I tired simply from having scribbled and typed 50,000 extra words over the course of November?

And then I look about me on the train and see that a whole bunch of people have a slumped (non-)edge to them.    Were we all plotting throughout the past month?

(Is that why we’re plodding now?)

Did they also do Nanowrimo?

Mouse Plotter(?) on Train???

Mosque Near Ground Zero – Really? (Park51)

August 10, 2010

What's Going On Now at WTC Site

I’m not a huge fan of Islam–I don’t know enough about it to have a position of any substance.  I admit that I am suspicious of any faith which seems to keep women in a subordinate position (but that makes me suspicious of many orthodox faiths).

As a result, perhaps, I haven’t much followed the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate, even though I live in downtown Manhattan.  Based on the extent of emotion stirred up, I thought the mosque was planned for the actual Ground Zero site; that it was somehow, with other shrines, to be on one of the memorial “footprints” of the two towers.   Despite my own strong bed towards religious tolerance, I could understand why this might upset some.

After actually reading more, however, I’ve realized how misguided I’ve been; that the whole issue is another tempest based on stewpot of misrepresentation.  The planned Mosque isn’t to be at the Ground Zero site at all; but on Park Place (Park51) , a couple of blocks away.

Okay, Park Place is near Ground Zero in the same way that anything in downtown Manhattan is near Ground Zero.  Downtown Manhattan is the thinnest part of the island; the World Trade Center site is large.

If you live down here, you quickly realize that everything (especially the subway stations) is both close and far – that is, technically, just a few blocks away, but a long frigging walk.  Blocks are big, and the differentials in blocks–in cityscape, tenor, view, even in weather (wind shear)– are consequential.

The news accounts highlight factors such as “500 yards” and “13 stories” in a way that gives one the  vision of a face-off–  Ground Zero on one side, the Mosque (whose visitors will surely be tittering inside) on the other.   These terms are just ridiculous in the context of downtown Manhattan.  500 yards = if that’s even accurate–is many buildings away;   13 stories is a shrimp.

What makes the debate stranger – setting aside the whole issue of what this country and city stand for – are the facts of what is currently happening at Ground Zero:

Hawking.  People selling ghoulish photo albums and NYFD hats and cheap American flags with the names of victims stenciled in.


Shopping.  Right opposite the site stands a true world trade center – Century 21.

And, on the site itself,  which, as some 9/11 families have pointed out, is a de facto burial ground due to the impossibility of recovering ashen remains, a large building is rapidly rising, destined to lease commercial and office space.

(THIS POST HAS BEEN CORRECTED; An earlier version mistakenly referred to the location of the proposed mosque as Park Row – a couple of blocks east of the WTC, rather than Park Place, a couple of blocks north.)

16th Day of National Poetry Month – Vacationing Away From New York Limericks

April 16, 2010

New Yorker In a Car (Outside of New York)

Unfortunately, this 16th day of National Poetry Month was so busy I had little time to focus on much poetic.  A good day, in short, for draft limericks!

I’m sorry to say that the limericks I did  (which connect as one longer poem draft) have a fairly limited subject matter;  they describe that feeling of “going to seed” which may descend on vacation, particularly a family vacation, in which normal exercise and eating routines are put to the side; this feeling may be particularly pronounced in the case of the peripatetic New Yorker.

The limerick form is five lines, with a rhyme scheme that is typically: A, A, b, b, A; with the first, second and fifth rhyming lines longer than the truncated couplet of the third and fourth lines.

Traveling New Yorker

There was an old gal from New York
who watched what she put on her fork;
still, outside the confines
of the Four and Five lines,
she felt herself turning to pork.

The thing is that life in the City
made her walk through the nit and the gritty,
while, whenever afar,
she traveled by car,
quite bad for the hips, more’s the pity.

So she worried, this gal from Manhattan,
as she felt herself fatten and fatten–
too many fast treats–
too many cheap eats–
and just about all came au gratin.

Oh, for her home—twenty blocks to a mile;
twenty steps too, till the average turnstile.
Sure, there was soot,
but she’d breathe it on foot.
Once back, she’d stay put for a while.

“A Man Steals A Bicycle….”

March 11, 2010

Big Bicycle, Small Silver Box

Like many New Yorkers, I sometimes buy an egg sandwich in the morning from a little stainless-steel cart parked outside of my office building.

I love these stainless steel carts; my daughter calls them “boxes.”  While she was in high school, she would go out every morning at a time that was somehow called lunch, and buy “box coffee.” It was reasonably good, very cheap, reliably hot.

The carts remind me of little, square, Airstream trailers, everything silvery and compact, the glass of the little windows, as slightly dulled as the 1950’s, showing the Art Deco curve of crullers; the boxes of tea displayed on the top shelf, even green tea, brightly anachronistic.

My particular silver box guy is named Nick; he is from Greece.  For some years, I thought he was from Macedonia, and, trying to be nice, commiserated throughout the late summer of 2007 about the forest fires there.   But I have finally gotten it into my head (after several bemused corrections) that Nick is from the Peloponnese (Olympia).

Nick would be unlikely to make a corresponding mistake about where I am from.  Like almost every silver box guy I’ve ever dealt with, he has a memory akin to Borges’  Funes the Memorious.   He knows the caffeine, dairy, egg, ketchup, bagel and doughnut preferences of a few hundred regular customers, many of whom simply greet him with a grunt, or (the more polite ones), a nod.   (People waiting for coffee tend to be quiet.)

Nick and his some silver box occupy my corner every single weekday, rain or shine.  His only vacations come when the police cordon off the street.  His is one of the few businesses, other than Goldman Sachs, that has done well  in the economic downturn.  His prices for a substantial breakfast are so much cheaper than lunch prices in mid-town that, over the last year, more and more people fill up early in the day.

I really like Nick.  He treats everyone with friendly respect, never even rolling his eyes at  their requests for eight sugars, or their bacon sausage cheese, grape jelly, and ketchups on a roll.

Besides all that, I look like his mother.

He has told me this a couple of times.  I’m never sure whether to be insulted or touched.  (Nick is younger than me, but not that much younger.)  (He also once made a guess of my age, a wrong guess;  we don’t talk about that time.)

I asked Nick today about his mother.  He laughed and said that he had told her about me.    (This time I actually did feel touched.)  Then we moved on (it takes a while to cook eggs) to the Greek economy.  He shook his head sorrowfully, murmuring about the tough time people were having, the tough times that were expected for a while; higher taxes, higher expenses.

“A man steals a bicyle, he goes to jail,” he said.  “He steals a million dollars, he goes to…” he shook his head.

“The Ritz,” I finished.

We bemoaned stealing and dollars (both millions and the lack thereof).

I asked him if he could visit Greece soon; he wistfully shook his head ‘no’ again, wrapping my sandwich in thin silver foil, passing it through the small silver space.

“A man steals a bicycle, ” he said again, “he goes to jail;  he steals a million dollars….”

(Note re above post:  it’s not intended in any way as a criticism of what Obama has done, or is trying to do, with respect to overseeing and regulating financial system, executive compensation, etc.  )

Chopin at Financial Center – Clarification

March 3, 2010

I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my March 1 post about the Chopin Festival at the World Financial Center.  That post was definitely written from the sour side.  (Sorry.)  The problem was that at the free concert on the first night of the five day festival (March 1 – March 5), I found it hard to get the din of the Financial Center’s diners and bar revelers out of my ears enough to fully enjoy the music.  

So, here’s my clarification.  Yes, there is a lot of background noise in the evening concerts at the Financial Center; the acoustics are terrible, and, yes, if you are an imaginative person, you may well feel barraged by brutish and uncaring-for-Chopin commerce.  Nonetheless, the festival is magical, what with (i) well, the Chopin, (ii) the unflappable pianists, and (iii) the fact that free live music is going on all day long from 9 a.m. to about 8:30 p.m. every single day this week.  Perhaps the nicest part, in fact, is not the highlighted evening Chopin concert (which has increasingly famous pianists performing as the week progresses) but the pianists scattered about the different parts and buildings of the Financial Center’s public spaces.  Several grand pianos at once, each next to six or seven dark folding chairs, each playing different unamplified Chopin piece, Nocturne, Etude, Mazurka. 

Passers-by, primarily workers in the Center, residents from the neighborhood, tourists from Ground Zero, are really pretty considerate;  a hush that only slightly buzzes attends the running brooklike notes.  It’s sort of the opposite of elevator music, and though there is sometimes no one sitting in the folding chairs, the entire space seems to be uplifted.

Morning Snow In Lower Manhattan

February 25, 2010

Thick Morning Snow on Lower Broadway

This morning approaching Lower Broadway, the snowflakes were thick and feathery, almost warm.

The last ticker tape parade I went to, people just threw reams of paper out of the upper windows.   That was after they’d emptied their shredders.

The shredded paper worked pretty well; though it was not exactly confetti-like.  Still, it at least fell in fine (if long) jigsaw-edged strips, like big strings of miniature paper dolls, the occasional paper arms clinging to a cornice or window ledge.

The reams of  loose paper that were thrown once the shredded paper ran out was thick, heavy, and fell in gushing slants, the pages looking as if they might decapitate one of us jammed down upon the crowded sidewalk, the papers descending like a kind of divine (or at least bureaucratic) vengeance.   A snow of writs.

But today’s snow, thick, clean, feathery, makes for a sky of redemption.

The people on the sidewalk, where the snow disappears even as it lands, don’t seem to notice it much.  We trudge ahead, faces grim with Thursday.

But what I imagine inside every single snow-frosted head is that there is some part of the brain whose tongue, (brain-tongue, even pinker than the pink lobes of the cortex), or, among the squeamish, whose hands (brain-hands) is/are sticking out towards the thick flakes, anxious to taste, capture, hold, some of this soft white light, this proof of something other–something to fête, something to cheer, something as big as sky.

“Connecting the Dots” on Terror – Going Through the Motions

January 5, 2010

I find myself unaccountably depressed tonight.   That is perhaps not accurate–my depression can probably be accounted for by a number of factors—a difficult and contentious day, stress, hormones, age, cold feet.   (I only turn to the comfort of my fabulous hot water bottle in the middle of the night.)

Then too there is Obama’s speech on terrorism,  the continuing failure of U.S. intelligence agencies to “connect the dots”, the continuing sense that while we bicker here, allowing the assignment and/or avoidance of blame to take precedence over doing a job correctly, plots are hatched, terror and destruction are planned.

I don’t particularly blame Obama.  He’s not the guy directly dealing with the “no-fly lists,” or taking calls at the U.S. embassy at Nigeria.  But that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot happier or secure.  One problem is that it’s hard to believe that this is an issue that can be solved simply by putting more systems in place.  The lapses don’t seem to arise from problems with protocol so much as attention, alertness, intelligence, in the truest sense of the word.

There are inherent difficulties:  planning and executing an attack appears to be a whole lot more exciting than working in a comprehensive and general way to stop attacks.  (I don’t mean the foiling of a specific attack;  almost every single James Bond movie ever made demonstrates how exhilarating the foiling of a specific attack or specific villain can be,  especially if the villain is surrounded by scantily clad women.)

But what about the many possible amorphous attacks?  The few hundred thousand, or more,  villains?   The lack of scantily clad women to attract and hold the attention of attack-foilers?  (Perhaps this is one reason to support the installation of body-scanning devices as part of airport security.)

People have a hard time with big numbers, long-term risks, lists of names (even for a state dinner).    It is mind-numbing to try to connect dots where there are tons and tons of them, and yet, no clear underlying picture.   So many bodies, so much shampoo.

There is a failure of attention throughout societal structure, a lot of going through the motions, even when the motions don’t actually do the job.  (Note the S.E.C. and bank regulators.)   The situation reminds me a bit  of the feeding machine in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, which spills soup all over Chaplin’s chest, but still, observing its routine, extends a dainty napkin only to Chaplin’s lips.

The feeding machine is unthinking.  But sometimes people are so dulled by the stimuli and repetition of modern life as to also become unthinking.   They are bored;  they become careless.

I think of several New York City cab drivers I have had lately who actually read the newspaper while driving.   Seriously.  They unfolded the paper over their steering wheels, and not only looked at it while the lights were red, but when traffic was slow (which, in NYC, meant most of the drive.)

I sat in the back seat feeling terribly nervous, but did not say anything, at least not,  “put away that newspaper.”

These are attitudes that are going to have to change.

Ink Pot Pill Box Hat – Beginning of Decade/End of Era

December 28, 2009

Ink Pot Pillbox Hat (after Rene-Jean Teillard)

With all the newspaper articles, I’m taken back to the beginning of the decade/century/millenium, or maybe just before, when everyone worried that Y2K would wreck havoc with all known security and operational systems, even perhaps bringing the end of the world as we knew it.  Flights scheduled for December 31 sold at heady discounts, and one guy I knew, who had a record of moving violations while drunk, was happily confident that the imminent self-destruction of the DMV’s computer system would finally give him a chance to get another driver’s license.

(Lesson:  the “end of the world as we know it” does not generally happen according to calendared anticipation but with utter unexpectedness of  box cutters taken onto a plane.)

Putting all that aside, the beginning of the decade/century/millennium brought a range of unexpected developments not only in the world, but in  my personal life. The first big event was the bursting of pipes in a snowy country house.  (This led, years later, to a second marriage.)  In the midst of those burst pipes, we also lost electricity for a few days (not because of Y2K, but an ice storm); for a day or two, we had to ship a dear old French friend, then houseguest,  to some one else’s house since our friend, then in his 90’s, suffered in a house lit by candles and heated by firewood.

Thinking back, I can’t help but focus on that same French friend, who died at the beginning of the following year, in early January 2001.  Rene-Jean Teillard, he was born to an aristocratic family in the Pyrenees in 1906 or 7, and there schooled by Jesuits, which instilled  in him a lifelong hatred of Catholicism.  He was a resistance fighter in World War II, who escaped capture by the Nazis by pretending to be mad, and later rescued several U.S. paratroopers in the French countryside.  This rescue (the paratroopers were from the South) led to Rene’s being awarded the “key to the city” of Tupelo, Mississippi, a town which welcomed him on visits throughout his life.

After the war, Rene emigrated to New York City.  I say, New York City, because although Rene later became a U.S. citizen, his move was definitely to New York.  He simply adored New York, believing it to be a place where one could do, see, be, anything; where freedom and possibility were literally made concrete.  He had a talent for design and friendship, was gifted with creativity and charm.  He opened a hat shop, where he made beautiful, stylish and above all, playful hats, whose sales and rentals sent him around the world four times.   (I’ve drawn one of the simpler ones; the more elaborate featured small pianos, flower pots, balloons….)

He was an old-fashioned New Yorker, both generous and parsimonious in the extreme–you probably know the type, a person who will give you absolutely anything while also spending as little as possible on himself.   His rent-controlled apartment, a fourth floor walk-up on Madison Avenue, looked like the inside of a Faberge egg, with hand-marbelized woodwork, a deep purple canopied ceiling (in the bedroom),  and a combination of true Louis XIV antiques and furniture scavenged and re-made from the City streets.

In the hot New York summers, he stayed with friends outside of the City.  He was the ideal long-term guest in that, with his broad life experience (he was probably the only person ever to have had therapy sessions with Carl Jung and to also go to the circus with Elvis Presley), he was both (i) a great talker, and (ii) a great listener.  Above all, he was purposeful, capable of silently, independently,  and beautifully, repairing almost anything broken, torn, fraying.

He was not perfect.  French, he could be snide, classist, gossipy (although not with confidences), and he drank a fair amount of wine.  But he was above all interested.  A taxi ride with him was an education; by the end of it, one had learned, through him, where the driver was from, whom he had left behind, and what he hoped to do when he did or didn’t return.  The driver, magically, did not feel drained by this, but unique, valued.

His favorite word was “marvelous.”

I think of him at the beginning of this century because he was such a creature of the last one.    Who wore hats after Jackie Kennedy?  Who uses ink in the age of computers?  Does Tupelo, Mississippi still have a key?  Does France still have nuns?   Is New York still a place where one can do, see, be, anything?

He missed 9/11, for which I was grateful.  It would have grieved him beyond measure.

Faux Fir, Birch, Time

December 5, 2009

My little piece of Manhattan (way downtown) has been transforming itself.  Faux fir, twinkly lights, and all manner of gilded Christmas ornamentation, have infiltrated almost every public space.

The decorations are intended to inspire Christmas cheer.    Instead, they usually make me feel guilty, irritated.    (So much to do, and now Christmas!)   I sometimes think I’d just rather have big neon signs blinking,  “Shop Shop Buy Buy”.

What especially bothers me are the white sprays of some kind of wooden (or plastic) branches that seem intended to represent birch.

I’m not sure what birch has to do with Christmas.  (In fact, the branches may actually represent some variation of ice storm rather than birch.)

Their starkness, leaflessness, has a morbid quality.    Even punitive–I think of  the switches given to bad children by some European version of Santa Claus—the Italian witch La Befana?

The sprays of birch” may especially bring me down because the main place I see them is the South Bridge, an overpass over the West Side Highway, which is one of the prime viewing spots for Ground Zero.  The stark white branches punctuate each window except for the one with the best bee-line view of the old World Trade Center site.    (That last bunch of birches has been tactfully moved inward to an interior wall.)

The fire station directly across from Ground Zero is also festooned with a thick ornamented bunting.    Tourists peer in its garage.  The 9/11 Tribute Center next store sells teddy bears.

I know all of this is part of the natural progress of time—the transition of these few acres from unintended graveyard to must-see tourist sight;  I’m sure it’s all good on some level, as well as inevitable.

So why does it bother me?

Simple snobbery?  A bit.  Some of the decorations seem kind of plasticky.  Though actually, they are pretty nice for plasticky.  Also re-usable.   I can testify to this re-usability because they are exactly the same the year as the year before, and too, the year before that.

This, I realize, is what truly bothers me. The “before” element, the “last year” piece.  It seems too soon for Christmas decorations to be up again;  too quick for “before” to have become “again”.

(I’m not referring here to the fact that it’s too early to celebrate Christmas.   That prematurity was also the same last year.)

No, what bothers me is that it’s too soon to be this year.  Where did the last one go?   I can come up with specific moments, but certainly not 525600.

The idyllic version of time passing shows  leaves turning red, snow falling, that electric lime green of spring, black-eyed susans reaching out to a brilliant summer sky.

But here we are in downtown New York City.  Faux fir sprouts, dead white “birch” splays, ornaments blossom.

All this time I thought those decorations were goading me to shop, but what they were really telling me was to pay attention.  Right here, right now.

In the midst of that realization, I hurry on to work, late again.