Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Although this does not bode well for the future of my relationship with NYC, I feel compelled to change my number one slot.
So, with as little bitterness as I can muster...
1) all the coffee shops I never knew were there
but really - that sucks
Thursday, November 27, 2008
In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I would give you a list of twelve things that I am thankful for in New York. Why twelve? Well, ten seemed played out, and there are twelve days of Christmas which makes no difference whatsoever but I figured that sounded like a good number. So here we go - a themed posting...
12) The Brooklyn and GW Bridges, and that little footbridge at 102nd to Ward's Island
11) the view out of my window, across Broadway, with all the Upper West Side water towers
10) a working mass transit system (except on weekends, which sucks)
9) Central Park, Riverside Park and that little park at the intersection of West Broadway and 6th in TriBeCa
8) corner pizza parlors, Grays Papaya and good bagels
7) the walk down Broadway to Columbus Circle; the walk up 6th Avenue to the park; the crosstown bus
6) work ethic and intensity
5) bars hidden behind hot dog shops
4) the trumpet player down on Broadway whom my roommate serenades at night from her 10th story window
3) the New York skyline from subway platforms in Astoria
2) the miracle of running into people you know everywhere in a city of 8 million people
1) Oppenheimer's The German Butcher (and every unique place like it) where we get our turkey
Thursday, November 13, 2008
When I was in middle and high school I couldn't run the mile. I walked vast portions of it, and was frequently last. My Brearley PE class would go out onto the Johnny Walker promenade or meander over to the Asphalt Green (you had a field to go play on? we had fenced in astroturph on 92nd and York Avenue), and I would despise every moment of it, convinced that I couldn't run and was a total athletic failure. Which, let's be honest, in terms of running I most definitely was.
Meanwhile, every morning of my entire life, my mother rose at 6am, drank her coffee, put on her running clothes, and went out to the reservoir. She would meet her "running buddies" or go alone, in heat and in freezing cold, in the morning dark or the streaky dawn. She was home before we went to school. This established two things:
1) mornings were mine and my brother's time with my dad
2) my mother was a better runner than I was
Just to be clear - my mother is a runner. She ran the marathon. There was a point when she was running six miles a day. Six! And I couldn't run one. I tried to run with her once in high school, in upstate New York, and ended up crying. And I never tried to run with her on the Rez. I wouldn't even go near the Rez. That beautiful area of the park remained always my mother's personal domain (although I know she would have more than welcomed the opportunity to run with me) - and I think, in some ways, when I think of my mother I will always think of Central Park and its runners.
Then, last summer, in the month after I graduated from college, my friends and I went to a house in upstate New York in order to do theater. We ended up talking to the trees, making noises in the woods, making dinner together, and running every evening. That last was approached with great apprehension by yours truly, but once I established the rules (we stop when I want to stop. No questions. No judgements), and began to approach it as the bonding exercise that it was, I found myself able to run further and further. Without the pressure of trying to run for a set distance, or timing myself, running like my mother does - with friends and for fun - became extremely natural.
So natural that, upon my return to New York that summer, I summoned up all my courage, put on my running clothes, and jogged over to the Rez.
From my apartment to the reservoir and once around is two miles. I went running every day that summer, and into the fall once I found myself in a meaningless job that hurt my back from hours of sitting. When I went to San Francisco, I tried to keep running but it just wasn't the same - running down Bryant Street to Cesar Chavez, all the way to Mission, down around the bend to Valencia, back up to 24th Street and down the crowded street I loved the most back home, may have been the same distance, but it just didn't compare to the very very East coast beauty of the Jackie O. Reservoir. And as soon as I came back, I immediately got back on the track.
The Reservoir is a beautiful lake in the middle of Central Park. It has a running track around the top and a horse path around the outside, with all these bridges crossing back and forth to where the runners are. People walk and run all day, morning to evening. It doesn't feel like a nature haven - none of Central Park does. Buildings peek out over trees on all sides, and you never forget for a moment that you're simply in a more verdant area of one of the most powerful cities in the world. And that's part of the appeal. It doesn't seem out of place or inconsistent - it feels like a natural aquatic extension of the city itself. When the city was more dangerous and gritty, the water was surrounded by a high ugly chain link fence. Now that the city is gentrified, it is encircled in a pretty black iron gate which peaks at chest height.
And here's the second truth of this article:
I have stopped running. For the time being. Because I am not, ultimately, my mother (as much as I look like her, running from the same apartment she ran from for 25 years). It is too damn cold for me, and I love having my mornings to sit and write. I've been going to yoga and walking to work. I'm packing my running shoes away for the winter.
But you better believe I'll be back out there come spring. The cherry blossom trees will be in bloom - I missed them last year, but there's not a chance I won't be jogging under their beautiful white and pink flowers in April.
Monday, September 29, 2008
I had never really considered that adults in New York also take advantage of the city's multiple parks and playing fields to create their own teams - but they do! Of course a city as competitive and well organized as New York would be filled with people who would like nothing more but to fill up all their free time with more activities. This is not derogatory; I think it's great. I'm among them, ready to spend every waking moment busy - I'm just not athletic at all, so sports are kind of out. But that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of them as a spectator.
I got the opportunity this past weekend. One of my friends, Emma, is a rugby player. She's been sending emails to all her friends from her artistic life to come out and support her, but, true New Yorkers all, we've been busy. I found myself, however, with a Saturday to kill and decided to attend her game out on Wards Island.
Wards Island is small area of land off the coast of Manhattan on the Upper East Side, above Roosevelt Island, filled with playing fields and insane asylums. It is connected via landfill (thank you, NFT) to Randall's Island, which has more playing fields and more asylums. It's not very big, maybe three miles around, but big enough to fit the bases of three bridges and plenty of green.
I have a special place in my heart for Wards. Back in the days when I played softball (7th and 8th grade), we used to have some practices and games out under the big beautiful bridges. The grass was sparse and infected with glass, and the water usually smelled like pollution, but it was kind of wonderful playing out in the middle of the East River. And of course, Field Day was there every year, and therefore when I think of Wards, I think of Brearley and the red and the white teams, and school spirit and really ugly red baseball uniforms.
I grabbed my friend Justin (another hard working New Yorker recently transplanted from SF), and we meandered over there. The only ways onto the island are via bus, car, or walking across a foot bridge at 102nd Street. We took the bridge, and it is the first time I have ever walked across one of those skinny tall passages which dot the East River. It was rainy and humid and cool and warm - ideal rugby weather if I know anything about rugby (and I don't).
It was wonderful. It was an absolutely lovely way to spend a Saturday. Emma came off the field for a bit, and taught me all about the sport (which, by the way, makes no sense and is as violent as you think it is, but is thrilling to watch). Then, there was a barbeque and lots of beer, and Justin and Emma and I sat on the ground and ate burgers and watched the men's team play (which is more brutal).
They are clearly redoing Wards and Randalls. The fields where rugby teams were playing had been converted into turf, which was disappointing until I realized that by now the fields would probably have turned to mud and turf was actually preferable to the needle scattered alternative. Of course, the turf sheds, which is weird and synthetic and gross, but it seems to really be the best alternative so who am I to argue. When Justin and I walked around the island, we saw all these beautiful wrought iron lamps put up along a new pathway. It looks like it's going to be a nice place when it's finished - well landscaped and well used.
Of course, they're not done yet, so our walk was marred by vast stretches of construction and I was saddened to realize that the fields where we used to play were all under construction, fenced off and covered in concrete. It was disheartening, to say the least - both Randall's and Wards are pretty barren at the moment, and not a little sketchy in parts. I had Cat Steven's song "Where Do the Children Play?" stuck in my head for most of the walk, and despite the very nice job they've done fixing up the fields where my friend played, I was nostalgic for the old New York, the New York of broken glass and sparse glass and bridges with graffiti where private school kids played next door to unemployment offices. It was New York - a melting pot, rich and poor and everything in between and there was no effort to pretend that the city was anything but a dirty and utilitarian city, and we played where we found space and a patch of green.
Of course, I'm being a brat. The island will be beautiful. It was just another example of the changing landscape of my hometown.
And the game was great, and the footbridge was awesome. I highly recommend weekend games, if you can get away from your own free time activities.
1) it is a coffee shop
2) it has decent coffee
3) the waiters will let you sit there for hours - it can be, at times, near impossible to actually get your check, which is an anomaly most definitely
Unfortunately, like all things good in my once deli-filled neighborhood, Georgia's too is slowly losing that which makes it truly unique: it is becoming a restaurant.
Yes, a restaurant - just like your average brunch place on Amsterdam Avenue, or the aptly retitled "Bloomingdale Road"(the once and well mourned Boulevard Restaurant of my youth, totally redone with a WASPy makeover - the mural of a diverse and slightly crude New York City subway platform long gone forever). This means that soon, it will lose all three of the above qualities which make it my monument to what the Upper West Side could be if it got rid of a few banks.
I realized I had never, as yet, really used Georgia's as a real coffee shop - I hadn't sat there reading or typing on my computer or sipping coffee leisurely by myself perusing the Times. I had certainly gone there for a cup of coffee and chatted for hours with friends, but never alone and never for writing. And ultimately, the reason I love coffee shops so much is that it is a chance to sit with my laptop and get some writing done without forgoing human interaction - I can be solitary but not alone. Coffee shops were my great savior on my loneliest days out west - I'd grab my computer or my book and head over to Philz or Revolution or anywhere, really, and suddenly I'd be surrounded by people who loved the ambiance as much as I did. And we were connected, through coffee and work and folk music over the speakers.
So, I decided that before Georgia's goes the way of my deli, I should at least try to sit there with my computer.
I was confident that I wouldn't look totally bizarre, since I'd seen people by themselves at Georgia's before - the small coffee tables are perfectly conducive to singledom, but are more frequently occupied by multiple people, increasingly with food. But I went early, when I was sure I wouldn't take a table from a lunch customer, and brought my laptop and got to it.
I felt pretty weird at first - I sat down at a table outside, and realized that sitting outside in the West Village or in the East Village or really anywhere else is not like sitting outside on Broadway, with all of the morning traffic and rush hour madness passing at top speed. It's a weird feeling - watching other people who are not prepared for you to be there looking askance and walking faster. Broadway, the street of theatrical energy, is not for idle coffee and computers.
On top of that, the early morning crowd was peopled with young mothers and their very young children, having a chocolate croissant and a chance to breath for a moment. I, a single 23 year old on my beat up laptop and sweatshirt about to head off to her low-paying theater job, don't exactly jive with the vibe.
But I got over it. It was lovely out. And my part of Broadway really is one of the most beautiful in the whole city, with pre-war buildings and wide sidewalks - it's a pity there aren't open air cafes everywhere because it is a singular experience, watching the cars go by and all that space to stroll up and down. And my coffee was warm and my quiche was damn good and I'm not married or pregnant and that feels pretty fucking good too. And I got some work done. And I used Georgia's the way, in a perfect world, I would use it all the time. I don't think I'll go back there with the same purpose - I've found an early morning place close to work that I can go to that is actually a coffee shop, and I'd rather not make passersby any more nervous than they already are. But it felt good, like I was taking back a little piece of my neighborhood.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
There is nothing like September in the city.
I love fall in the city just as much if not more than I hate summer here. Even a comparably mild summer like the one we just had is like misery on a stick. The heat is awful, the humidity is worse, the city is disgustingly dirty, there are roaches everywhere, it smells, and everyone is seriously pissed off. Granted, I have never been to Coney Island, but I cannot find one worthwhile reason to be in NYC when the July and August heat is upon you.
But then comes Labor Day weekend. And like magic, the hot wet blanket is lifted. The muggy haze is swept away with a crisp breeze, and the air becomes clear and clean. The sun is bright and piercing, and the sky is bright bright blue. The architecture of the buildings really pops into a skyline, and the whole city comes alive.
Everyone who disappeared into the Hamptons or to Europe for the long hot August, returns reinvigorated after the long weekend, ready to hit the ground running. School starts, and fresh faced children walk jauntily to school. The park leaves turn a brighter green before they burst into reds and oranges, and the whole city feels like it's finally woken up from a groggy nightmare.
It seems like I'm describing a fantasy New York. But really, if I could tell you that unicorns gallop free along the Central Park horse path, I would because that is how joyful I feel. That is how much I hate summer, and how striking the contrast is for me. I'm putting away my fan and drinking some tea and going for a long long walk in jeans rolled all the way down.
God this a beautiful city. If you have never seen autumn in New York, then you have not seen New York.
But for good reason - I've been working. Working like a true New Yorker. And it feels great.
New York is a city of workers. Hard workers. People who love working, love their jobs, can't imagine life without the 9am rush hour. People come to New York to be around the people who are DOING IT, as my father likes to say - If you can think of a career, you can find it here, and you can probably find five hundred other people who are trying to succeed at it as well.
Most people I know who move to New York from somewhere else say the same thing: "I wanted to see if I could make it here." They come from all over because they want to be little fish in a big pond, and have the freedom to really swim.
After all, it's not just a drive to succeed, although that's part of it. It's a drive to be better than you are today. The environment is high stress, low attention, and no tolerance for failure. There are at least a hundred people behind you who want your job, and if you're lucky enough to be working in the field of your choosing, then you better step it up. And you can, because you are constantly surrounded by people who more accomplished, more experience, and more successful than you, so there is never a stopping point. There is no day when you wake up and think "Well, I'm pretty much the best at this, I guess I can just sleep in." You will never be the best, and that's what makes it worthwhile - there is no glass ceiling here, so you can always improve.
It's kind of marvelous, working in New York. It's not, ultimately, how I want to live, but there is something incredible about being surrounded every day by people who love what they do, who are fed by it; who come early and stay late, who care. They care desperately. The whole city is powered by love - it's not the love that powers San Francisco, but it's invigorating and stimulating none the less.
I've been caught up in it, because I, too, care about what I do. And I want to be the best that I can be. I'm eager to impress and to prove myself, and to grow and learn, and I feel infinitely lucky to be working in my field in the center of it all.
It is, however, nice to take a break.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Sometimes I read, sometimes I people-watch, sometimes I zone out. And sometimes, if I'm lucky, I'm entertained by the myriad performers who treat the MTA as their stage.
They're everywhere - on the platforms, in the trains, in the passageways between the 1 and the F. And what is wonderful is that there are just so many kinds and varieties, so many ideas of how to make money, ranging from the quite talented to the truly bizarre.
There are the standard four part gospel singers, who get onto a specific car with a call "Hello Ladies and Gentlemen! We're here to sing you an inspirational song. God Bless You All!" and in they start with "Mother Mary Don't You Weep No More" or "The Gospel Train is Coming". Yesterday morning, four men got on with a call of "Good Morning!" and I thought they might get assaulted by the uncaffeinated lot, but usually they are well received and frequently quite good. They're friendly and open and sometimes even get applause.
Then there are the one-man mo-town singers, who have no money and very little hope, but would prefer to get on a subway car and sing for money rather than just beg. My brother saw the same guy every day one summer, who would get on with the same speech and then start singing/speaking "My Girl".
Of course, there are the acrobats, who get onto emptier subway cars and dance or flip their way into passing the hat. Their less courageous counterparts clear out big sections in Grand Central and Times Square to perform their high showman hip hop break dancing - these involve a lot of calls to the crowd and panning to the audience, with loud music from a boom box and four or five guys in great shape playing to the women.
Then there is the man who plays the Chinese flute/guitar instrument down on the 1 platform at Times Square. He's been there forever, playing strange songs in minor keys while I wait for my uptown train. He was recently usurped, however, by some woman with a portable karaoke machine who sings pop star diva songs into a microphone over piped in music.
Of course there are a variety of standards, like the theme from The Godfather played on the violin, which crops up everywhere in anonymous tones which echo around the station. Recently I've heard multiple renditions of "Jesu, Lord of Man's Desiring" which seems like an odd choice, but hey whatever.
And then there are the truly weird - like the guy on the 7 train who played such classics as the Pink Panther theme song and "Hava Nagilah" on a hand-held keyboard with a tube that he had to blow into in order to play. Or the guy playing classical flute with his eyes closed while the express train tried to throw him off balance. Or my friends and I singing "Let's Open Up a Restaurant in Santa Fe" while dancing through the train one drunken night.
What is kind of astonishing is that many of these people are actually musicians. Many of them have real talent, and possibly a degree from Juilliard, or at least enough to make them worth paying attention to. There were street performers in the BART station in San Francisco, but with the exception of the guy who sang "Cocaine" and really sounded like Johnny Cash, they were crazy and terrible - like the guy I saw playing the three string, out of tune violin. I say playing, but what I really mean is attacking it with his bow. Or the guy who mumbled/sang/threatened as anybody walked past. Most of the street artists here are better than the people I saw at an open mike in SF. After all, it must be incredibly difficult to get up in front of a group of angry communting strangers at all, let alone perform, that the standard, as with so many things here, is incredibly high.
I'm grateful to them - I usually don't have any money to give, but I try at least to pay attention.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I actually found it awhile ago, but I wanted to wait until I was sitting in it, with my computer and a cup of coffee, to actually write about it. It just felt fitting - just like old times.
So here I am! Cup of coffee, listening to the speakers play folk music quietly, little cafe table supporting my amateur writing, little wrought iron chair supporting my body. I love this place.
The first time I came here, I almost cried. During work that day, I had decided to go explore later that evening (after all, responsibility and boundaries do not impede adventure), and so had yelped "coffee shop" and "west village" and come up with a little place called Grounded on Jane Street. So I figured, what the hell, why not.
The moment I walked in, I knew I had found my spot. True, it is 75 blocks from my apartment, and probably about 20 from my work, but Uptown beggars cannot be choosers, and I am lucky enough to have stumbled in here one hot July evening. I stood on the red concrete floor and stared in wonder at the multicolored chalk on the hanging blackboards, and the couches and people on their laptops for the free wifi and the vegan cookies and thought, oh my god I'm back in San Francisco.
I walked up to the counter and asked for coffee and then, not being able to help myself
Lil: "This place is amazing."
Guy: "Oh. Thanks!"
Lil: "It reminds me of San Francisco."
Guy: "Yeah, I guess that was kind of the vibe we were going for."
Lil: "I think I'm going to cry."
I restrained myself, but just barely. I really did feel euphoric. I sat down to read on the red velvet couch and realized my search had come to an end. Sure, there would be more coffee shops, sure I would continue to explore, but now I had a coffee home base.
And here I am again. And again. My buddy the barista remembers me - that practically makes me a regular. Today I learned the other barista's name and pretty soon I'll be coming in with a "hey!" and so I have found my little piece of SF haven in New York's kickin' Chelsea neighborhood.
It is surprisingly easy, when you live in a dynamic city, to find your personality slowly shifting. I have found, in the last couple of months, myself fighting to keep my free flowing energy that I developed in the city of flowers. I am becoming aggressive, self involved, difficult. In my interactions with friends and lovers, I demand constant attention - I make noise, I invade privacy, I need constant affirmation and activity. It's distracting - I'm distracting - and even my sleep is fitful and active; invaded by light and sound, how could I sleep when there's still so much to do? Get up! Get up!
I find this frustrating. Endlessly, pointlessly frustrating. And the most horrifying part is that still the city won't let me alone. It is the only place I know where you can be surrounded by people and still find yourself hopelessly alone. There's no space to breath and yet no one to turn to. And the judgment, everywhere, from without and within, which comes along with living around people who won't take anything but the best from themselves or anyone else. It can be overwhelming and overstimulating and ultimately terrifying as you stare into the abyss of what you are and wonder "when will I ever be enough?"
Privacy is a precious commodity here. So is real contact. For every stranger I share a moment with, I thank my lucky stars. For every horn that breaks my concentration, I feel like screaming. Fucking horns. Fucking people. Leave me alone! Love me!
And so I become New York.
This little rant, me spewing my New York bile, does not, of course, take into account all the wonderful things that come along with being New York. Like a backbone, a spine. Like the ability to stand up and say "Enough with this passive aggressive bullshit, I don't deserve to be treated this way!" Like the honesty that comes with high maintenance, and the loyalty and the clarity. Like the constant reminder that I have to be the best and most important being in my own life, even when I don't live up to my own expectations, and if I have to yell my way into that spot, then so be it.
So be it. And so it bes. Every noisy second of it.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Living on the Upper West, I'm spared my hipster frustration. After Vassar, it is so bizarre to pass whole days, even weeks, without even setting eyes on a single pair of out-sized sun glasses, or one chunky necklace. In San Francisco, I lived in hipster-central (although secretly I believe that Mission hipsters really are much cooler than I am, and that their irony is much sharper but not as cruel as North Eastern hipsters - they are still hipsters none the less); so to find myself, after so many years, hipster-less is quite a shock and an odd relief.
(Of course, now my days are filled with obnoxious, entitled yuppies. I kind of miss the irony.)
Yesterday, however, I ventured into Williamsburg, aka hipsterdom's ground zero. It would have been one thing if all I had done was go to see the show which was the ultimate intention - if I'd gotten off the L at Bedford and speeded my way to the space, watched the show, and then scurried back to Manhattan. But my friend Jacob and I brought food and wine and had a picnic in McCarren Park.
I'm not going to lie - Williamsburg really is interesting. It reminds me of a grittier New York version of the Mission. There are little restaurants and diners, interesting bars, and a multitude of thrift stores. The buildings are all short, with long staircases, and the Williamsburg natives sit in lawn chairs out on the sidewalk, chatting to their neighbors and watching the youth stroll by. It feels like a neighborhood, it feels like a place where everyone knows each other. And you don't have to dodge baby strollers everywhere you go.
I was kind of awed by it all, as I strolled down Bedford Avenue. I kept wishing my neighborhood was more of a neighborhood - that I could afford to go to my local bars (that my local bars were even appealing). I kept wishing that my neighborhood had more people like me in it, and therefore had more stuff that I might like, more of a reason to hang out up there.
I finally arrived at the park, and spread my blanket out near a baseball game to read in the shade. It was absolutely beautiful (it has been remarkably cool for August, and therefore the city hasn't been rotting the way it usually does - one positive of global climate change), and there were people all over the park, eating and drinking and hanging out. The grass was not manicured like in Central Park, and there were Corona bottle caps everywhere, but I didn't really mind. When Jacob arrived, we ate picnic fare (cheese, bread, olives), and drank red wine out of little yogurt containers that I'd brought (which I thought was simultaneously cool and resourceful of me). It was so chill. Everyone was just there, there were no police patrolling with huge dogs (that will be a later post, believe you me), just people hanging out. we watched a group of little boys have a pow wow in Spanish and then execute their plan for the next twenty minutes. We watched a man doing something potentially sexual to the bench near us. We watched the game. We ate and chatted. It was lovely.
And as we left to go to the show, pot smoke wafted towards us from somewhere across the field.
Friday, July 18, 2008
I don't really know how it happened. I'm sure that I was on the uptown platform when the train pulled in. I was rushing to jump onto the train, and I guess I wasn't paying very much attention. I probably would have figured out that I was headed downtown if I hadn't completely zoned out for the next ten minutes. But, alas, I was thinking about a certain coastal city, and didn't see or hear anything until all of a sudden, everyone left the train and I found myself mysteriously at South Ferry. I automatically got up and left the train, then turned around and got back on the train to head back uptown, and then thought better of it and got off the train again.
Afterall, I'd never been to the bottom of the island.
So I left the station to go explore.
The Financial District is unlike anything I've ever seen. It looks exactly the way I've always assumed it would look and yet never really thought was possible. I had a movie version in my head, the New York of Batman, of stock brokers and playboys, of winding streets and powerful business - sleek, imposing, mysterious. In the blinding afternoon sunlight, the broad tourist ways were jammed with people and movement, everyone looking up or looking ahead and going somewhere. Then I'd duck into a darker alley, and I'd walk for blocks as lone business men on cell phones passed me individually. It didn't seem possible that this small area could hold such contradictions - even the building themselves were either bright and tall modern mirrors, or small and sturdy brick colonials. And it all existed simultaneously, but nothing seemed out of place - it all just served to heighten the reality of the neighborhood itself.
I stepped into Battery Park and walked to the water. I looked out over the heavy sunlight to Liberty Island, and thought, as I always do, that it's a real pity that the Statue of Liberty has so much land behind it - it should be water out to the horizon! But no. I walked around the park, listened to a man doing a old-New-York-vaudevillian "I'm a stah!" song and dance for some people in lawn chairs, and then watched what looked like a very easy and amiable citizen's arrest, complete with handcuffs.
I decided to try to find Wall Street, and consulted my trusty NFT guide. Unfortunately, it ended up doing little for me because once I ventured into the cavernous side streets, I was hopeless lost. I must have checked my guide eight or nine times, and got completely turned around when I realized there are two Pearl Streets and two Broad Streets. All the business men and women gave me a knowing look, and smirked as they passed. But I didn't care - I was unabashedly staring around me in wonder. The buildings and the crooked streets make you feel impossibly small. I've never been inside a canyon, but it has got to feel something like that - a kind of awesome power infusing the air. I walked past a row of bars catering to the afterwork crowd, and thought about the fact that I will probably never go into any of them. Delis were shutting down, and everyone had somewhere to be. But it is not frenetic, the energy, like it is in Times or Union Square. It isn't explosive - it's highly directed and clear. There's no room for the energy to go, and there are no bright lights or blaring horns - the momentum is totally pedestrian, which is what makes the whole place so darkly mysterious. It's kind of wonderful and kind of terrifying.
I finally found Wall Street. I was not as impressed as I thought I would be, but that's in the context of being generally awed, so take it with a grain of salt. I stared at the stock exchange, and thought about the name Exchange Alley and wondered what it must be like to work there every day. I'd always thought of Midtown as the center for all things business - the Financial District seemed so far away, and my father works on Park so Grand Central Station was always the beginning and the end of the center of New York, center of the world.
Boy was I wrong.
Monday, July 14, 2008
One of the first things I noticed when I came back to New York was how overwhelmingly efficient and totally abundant the MTA is. After the wasteland that was SF Muni transit, even the little things seemed totally remarkable, like being able to buy a 30-day monthly pass anytime I wanted (instead of having to wait for the first three days of the month) with my credit card (instead of needing to have $40 in cash) at any subway station anywhere in the city (instead of waiting on line at one of the three or four designated Muni-pass kiosks, which are all located in one area of the city). So imagine the sheer joy the first time I took the subway, and heard the robotic MTA voice call out:
“This is forty-second street. Transfer is available to the 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, Q, R, W trains. Transfer is available to the Port Authority bus terminal.”
My eyes glazed over. Holy shit, I thought. I could go anywhere.
Which is why, I believe, New Yorkers are so eager to give directions to confused tourists. There are simply so many ways of getting somewhere, that the very path you follow becomes a matter of deep interest and aggressive debate.
Like this morning, for example. On my way down to work (a straight shot on the 1, unless I’m running late in which case I walk to 96th and take the express to 14th street, then transfer over – even simple routes have multiple options), I sat reading while two girls stood over me, chatting. I wasn’t paying particular attention, until I noticed that they had gone quiet and were looking around nervously. Then one of them whipped out a map. They started talking in hushed tones. Ah, tourists, I thought. I was not alone.
“Hey, where are you trying to get to?” said the man across the aisle.
“Oh, um... well, we’re trying to get to South Ferry,” said the girl, looking worried.
“Oh yeah. Well, yeah you’re on the right train but you gotta be in the first five cars.”
“Yeah, it don’t work otherwise.”
“Um, excuse me? We have to be in the first five cars?” said another group of tourist sitting across from me.
“Yeah. You’re in the second to last car right now. You gotta go up in front of the conductor.”
All the tourists look perplexed, and nervously consult their various subway maps.
“Does this train even stop at South Ferry?” the one girl said to her companion.
“Oh yeah” chimed in a man to their left. “You just have to get out at Chambers street and walk down to the first five cars.”
“Yeah,” said man #1. “Then you’ll be right near the World Trade Center Site.”
“Yes, that’s where we want to go,” said the girl.
“Yeah, you just walk out of the station, turn right, then you’re gonna want to walk a few blocks but its right there. You’re on the right train.”
“Oh ok. So... Chambers street.”
“Yeah,” both men agreed.
The other group of tourists still looked perplexed, but comforted by the fact that there would at least be an entire entourage getting off at Chambers street to travel down the platform towards the front of the train. And the girls were busy ticking off stops.
“What is this? Oh, Christian Street.”
“No, Christopher Street.”
“Right OK. Next up is Houston.”
We’re not in Texas, I thought, but I figured they’d already gotten enough advice for the day.
And I did miss that. How to get from A-B is important; it’s part of it the whole event. If New Yorkers didn’t care about the journey itself, we’d all ride around in cars. But the ride (or the walk) is what makes the city interesting. You make smart and stupid decisions en route every day, like transferring to the express, or deciding to take a different train when the usual isn’t running, and the whole process requires enough savvy and consideration that it almost makes the morning commute into an art form.
But giving directions is definitely an event – you usually find out where the tourist is from, the exact address where they’re going, not to mention three or four different ways to get to the destination, and various opinions on all of the above. In the end, the tourists are probably more confused than they were before, but it has inevitably enlivened the subway ride for everyone in their vicinity.
Friday, July 11, 2008
When you feel loved, you can do no wrong. You wake up every morning and no matter how shitty the day is, ultimately you find yourself charming, kind, smart, beautiful - nothing brings you down. When in love, you glow.
I knew no one in San Francisco, and yet I was totally at ease. I was calm, but still quirky; smart, but not elitist; savvy, but kind. I had removed all pressure - I wasn't performing. It didn't matter what anyone else thought of me because it was just me and my city, and I was content enough with that. There you have it: best version of myself.
I struggle occasionally in New York with a kind of regurgitated version of SF Lillian. She speaks the same words, but they no longer sound alive. I feel almost robotic - repeating phrases I picked up on the West Coast, which suddenly feel like cotton in my mouth. "I mean, I don't know, I feel lucky to have been there and now I'm excited to be here" to which my brain promptly responds "Shut up you stupid hippy." I will talk, but my mind is somewhere else (with the sun over the Pacific, maybe?).
I always become withdrawn after I lose love. I forget the person I was when I was in love, and I auto-pilot my way through daily interactions. It is difficult, I think, because I am so eternally shaped by my affairs that in the aftermath of the break up, or departure in this case, I have to relearn how to exist in my own body.
The New Yorker in me says "Fuck that. Let's go let's go let's go! Stay busy, start exploring, DO SOMETHING. Fake it til you make it, baby. Now MOVE."
The San Franciscan says "Be here now. There's nothing else you can do. It's all part of the journey."
And strangely enough, this is all the same advice.
The benefit of break ups, of heart ache, of home sickness, is that through that broken confusion, you find something better.
It just takes time. And patience. And plenty of alcohol.
Friday, July 4, 2008
When I was growing up, the neighborhood had a real character. Dangerous, yes, with drug dealers at every corner, and junkies stumbling back to the abandoned building on 88th and Amsterdam while my father and I waited for the morning carpool. But it, like so many other areas of the city, was defined by a long cultural history. Saying that you were from the Upper West Side meant something - it meant you were an intellectual, an artist (or at the very least, a person who deeply appreciated the arts). It meant you were not from the Upper East Side (a distinction which is becoming less and less defined). It meant you probably wore long skirts and schmatas and shopped at Liberty House. It meant you were part of a neighborhood, that you knew everyone on your hall, you chatted in elevators, you didn't go on Amsterdam Avenue at night, you went to Zabars before it was really cool to go to Zabars. It probably meant you were Jewish - my mother told me that she was talking to a Jewish friend of hers and without even thinking she said "Well, the Upper West Side Jews like us" which her friend found highly amusing (we are not, in fact, Jewish, and really no one but my mother actually feels like we are - but her point is that when you live on the UWS for 30 years as my family has, the culture is so powerful, and the association with the neighborhood so important, that in many ways you come to see yourself and the world from the standpoint of your friends and neighbors). It meant something.
I could tell you all about the evolution of my area. The Red Apple, a really kind of dirty super market, was replaced with Sloan's, another dirty supermarket, was replaced with Boston Market during Giuliani, was replaced with an awful toy store, was replaced with Duane Reed. Actually, Duane Reed replaced the toy store and the little bank on the corner, which became the huge bank on another corner, while the wonderful movie rental place with the great oldies section became a TMobile (there's another one three blocks away, and another one five blocks from that). The Gap and Banana Republic have been there for at least ten years, as has the Club Monaco, but the Deli on 86th turned into an Aldo in the last few years. The most upsetting was the really cool clothing store on my walk home which is now a Starbucks. Boulevard, the great restaurant/bar of my youth (best french fries, and crayons on the table) became a swanky place called Aix which is now empty. Murder Ink, the bookstore that my father loved, is closed. Now there is only Barnes and Noble.
But the main problem is the banks. The fucking banks. There is a Bank of America five blocks from... another Bank of America. There is an HSBC bank which takes up half the block. The size of these places is totally absurd. And it's not like they've added more ATMs, they're just taking up more space. It's disgusting, really, all the energy wasted in those places, the poor economization of space, the completely anonymous feeling of walking into these huge and empty areas. I walked in once, and there was air conditioning coming from a vent above me, and heat pumped in through a vent beneath my feet. Really. When we asked about it, they said they couldn't do anything about it because it was being regulated by some control center in some other part of the country. Ultimately, I just find it so disheartening and bizarre. I mean, you can get money out, but there's nothing to buy because there are no stores left. There's no small business.
And with the small business goes the neighborhood. The yuppies have moved in. The buildings (like mine) are going condo. The last place that sold flowing hippie skirts just closed. Hot and Crusty has gone from dark and shabby to sleek and shiny, and now the pizza sucks. A lot.
Worst of all, my deli is gone. My deli is gone. If all you want is milk and a chocolate bar, you have to go to Food Emporium. I stood on the corner and almost cried the day I saw that it was empty. It breaks my heart.
If it becomes a bank, don't be surprised if one night I happen to accidentally hurl a brick through its shiny neutral exterior.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The opening riffs blasted at me while I waited for Lani, my new friend over at NYC transit. I was calling to find out the price ranges for a one month advertising campaign, the first assignment of my new job. They told me at my preliminary meeting (which was intimidating as fuck) not to bring the name of the theater into the conversation - I was just doing some preliminary research.
So, I prepared myself to be vague and coy. The answer to "What company are you with?" was "I'm with a theater company, we're just doing some preliminary research." That line had worked in San Francisco. I was ready and professional. I had forgotten that New Yorkers don't take bullshit for an answer - and my buddy Lani is a New Yorker of the first degree.
Lani: So, what's your company.
Lillian: Oh, it's a theater company. I'm just doing some preliminary research.
Lillian: Yeah. Like art. I'm just doing some preliminary research.
Lani: What's the company?
Lillian: ...it's a theater company
Lani: Which one?
Lillian: Off Off Broadway
Lani: uh huh
Lani: Which company?
Lillian: .... (fuck)
What I love is that it was aggressive, but friendly. He was genuinely interested, and wasn't going to take no for an answer. He was open and forceful in the way that born and bred New Yorkers can be kind and pushy, giving you directions as though the very method of getting somewhere were a matter of opinion.
Lani: OK great, what's your name?
Lillian: ... Lillian
Lani: That's a beautiful name, Lillian.
Lillian: ...Oh. Thanks!
Lani: OK, and what's your number?
Lillian: I'm really just doing preliminary...
He said he'd be in touch with me. I got flustered and laughed and told him I really didn't know anything, that I had just started there. He laughed, told me they did a lot of work with Broadway and Film and did I know the New York Film Academy? I did. Then I said I'd be in touch. He said, great, talk to you soon. And I hung up, generally discombobulated.
Monday, June 23, 2008
3) Hipsters in line
Odds are that whatever they're in line for is way too cool for me to be in line for, like indie films or ironic live music. So, when I found myself a couple of weeks ago in line for an indie film that was showing on a roof with a pre-show band playing loudly over the neighborhood, I wondered aloud what I could possibly have been doing there. Not only was I clearly out of my element, in my H&M dress, but I was also down in Chinatown, an area which I never visit.
That part was the exciting part. The shitty part was that I was alone, towards the end of a really long line, and unable to reach my friend Maya who had suggested I come to the show. As it neared closer to eight, I realized that all I really wanted to do was go exploring, so I jumped line, left a message on Maya's answering machine, and started off in search of a place called the Bowery Poetry Club.
I had hoped that the Club would have some sort of open mike or reading series. But, alas, it was a Saturday, and that meant the bar was open and a band was setting up. I decided to face my fears, and I went into the bar by myself. I was there for 45 minutes, watching hipsters arrive, and waiting for the band to stop setting up and play already. I left because after checking equipment for almost an hour, they left the stage and all got alcohol. I figured it was fruitless, and I really hated my canned PBR anyway (number 4 on my list).
But it wasn't a total loss - I was in a bar alone. Not looking to get hit on, just looking. And it really wasn't so bad. I will definitely be going back to the Poetry Club, although on a night when I can see if the place lives up to its name - because, ultimately I don't like going to bars by myself, but poetry readings sound pretty cool solo. But the point is, I didn't die from embarrassment, and I proved that I am perfectly capable of going out alone. Which is what I set out to prove anyway.
Bars are definitely more fun in a group. I've been going to a place called Greenwich Treehouse down on Greenwich Avenue in the West Village, because my friend Mike is the bartender there. Our group of friends hangs out there occasionally, and we drink beer while Mike does his thing - he is an excellent bar tender because he understands the performance aspect of the job. Anyway, he shows movies on Monday nights, and when the bar starts to empty out, we play Wii. The place is cool, and on weekends is pretty packed. They have a juke box. And aside from that, I'm starting to dig the West Village, with its pretty tree lined streets and small, themed hang outs. Christopher Street just feels apart from the hipster strewn East Village. I might just be ignoring the sad truth that hipsters own downtown Manhattan as well as Brooklyn and Queens, but I don't think so.
We'll find out more tomorrow when I go to a Christopher Street bar on a date. The place is called The Fat Cat and I've actually been before - I liked it. And my date said it's his favorite bar, which gives me hope that maybe I'll like him. And besides, if it doesn't work out, there are enough pool tables and ping pong tables to distract us from awkward conversation. Could be worse.
The final place of note that I've been to since my last post is The Beer Garden in Astoria. I loved it. It reminded me of a bar in SF that I really loved - a kind of hippy biker bar called Zeitgeist in the Mission. Big back yard, lots of tables, pitchers of beer. And all the bartenders were Czech. So were the guys at the table next to us. I thought that was pretty fucking cool.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I don't have air conditioning. We never did have it because we never spent summers in New York, and I cannot now condone it - not after my hippie make over in the land of composting. So, my roommates and I place a fan in every corner of the house and hope, like everyone else, for that crash of thunder.
I went for a run today, and had to stop before I was done because the heat was so thick, I felt ill. I figured that it was evening, and there was no longer any direct sunlight, so I should be fine. But it just sits on you, like you were in the South. Except you're also dirty. I rubbed dirt off the back of my neck today while I was on the subway. I would've felt awkward about it, except that I knew a) no one was looking at me anyway and b) if anyone else on that subway had rubbed the back of their neck, they would have found dirt there as well.
Then, tonight, it broke.
Laying on bed in my underwear, positioned directly in front of the fan and reading the Times, there was this sudden whoosh from the window, and my curtain exploded into the room. You could literally see the cold front move in. And then the lightning and the thunder and the wind and everything changed. Just like that.
And I was feeling down. I was missing someone, and the coast all at once (perhaps they are inseparable). And then this shift - Kate and I lying in her room today unable to move, now standing at my window as the apartment cools down and shampoo bottles fall in the bathroom.
Trees are falling onto the roof, and the lady with the dog on our hallway is freaked out ("This is very weird weather. Everyone's scared").
I think it's amazing. Heat storm with lightning over Broadway. And tomorrow it's only supposed to be 87.
It turns out my fears were justified. I have a feeling that the vast majority of my exploration will be motivated by the search for the East Coast equivalent of coffee heaven.
It's not that New York is lacking in coffee shops - in comparison to SF, of course, but not in general. It's that the Upper West Side is a waste land. I went online to a site called http://ilovefreewifi.com/manhattan/ which shows a map of Manhattan and little flags where all the coffee shops are. My neighborhood is pathetically blank. I also visited http://www.wififreespot.com/ny.html and http://cupofnyc.com/ which, though lacking the aggressive visual aid, were no more promising. I ended up on yelp.com which gave me some more detail but I was still faced with the sad truth.
So I sucked it up and hopped the 1.
I ventured to West 125th street and then strolled down Amsterdam in the blinding heat to a place called Max Cafe. I walked in and was pretty intimidated at first, since it was definitely a restaurant. But I glanced over and saw people with laptops and iced coffee, and I figured they couldn't all be wrong. So, I sat down and joined them.
It was really nice. Free wi-fi, decent coffee, and I sat there for three hours on only one drink. They also have beer and wine and food, which is definitely cool. It feels a little formal, but I got over it. And, I mean, it's not cheap, which sucks, but then again, I'm in Manhattan. Short of jumping onto the 7 and heading out towards Queens, I'm not sure how much less expensive it will get. Of course, now that the parks have wi-fi, I could always just brew my own and head East for thirty minutes before my old computer dies on me.
But that would kind of defeat my purpose.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
After seven months in a city that I loved, in a city that drew me to it before I even knew it, in a city where I felt free and easy, I moved back. Why?
Well, there is only one reason. Real Estate. In the end, it was just too good to pass up, this apartment I inherited. Because ultimately, it is more than just a really great apartment on the Upper West for super cheap. It's home. It's my life. (And secretly, I believe that my bohemian artist roommates and I are single-handedly saving the whole neighborhood from a yuppie invasion. It's really not such a secret. Besides, it's true.)
So I moved back.
I fell totally in love with San Francisco. I didn't realize what that meant, to fall in love with a place. It turns out, it is exactly what it sounds like - the city became my lover. I woke up grateful to be there, I spent hours just walking the streets, trying to discover every detail. I picked my favorite coffee shops, my favorite Mexican joints - I became "a regular." I knew which streets were the most beautiful, and how to avoid the hills. I learned this all quickly, voraciously, eagerly. It was head over heels, incomplete-without-you love, the kind where even the shittiest day, or the rainiest week can't make you miss your old lovers. I became quickly and irrevocably fond of the smallest annoyances, and gushingly pathetic over the great triumphs of my adopted city.
But, as with all my great love affairs, this one too came to a close because of distance. I had this lease. And I had to go back. I have tried, in the past, to keep my relationships going, to make the love stretch across all those miles. And I have always ended up missing parts of my life that were happening right in front of me because I was on the phone. Then the love affair ends anyway, and what is left? Nothing but empty lonely months that could have been spent being here now instead of there then.
So, I'm taking a lesson from my beloved city, the city that exists before and after and beyond time. I am learning to "just be" - just be present, just be where I am. And for now, I'm here.
Which is why I'm here, writing this blog.
It is not easy to come home. It is not easy to live in this apartment. Despite my good fortune, I am having trouble finding a reason to be here.
I'm keeping this blog to try to find the joy and excitement which came so easily in the sunshine state. I am keeping this blog to encourage myself to explore. I am keeping this blog so I will face New York like I've never been here before. I am lucky to be here, and I'm in, even if I have to force my eyes open in order to see this city.
Wish me luck.