I took the subway to work this morning, got off at a stop I knew by heart, and walked into a building where the front desk has known me for years. After work, I hung out at a bar on the lower east side, then had dinner at a restaurant I’ve been to dozens of times before. My feet took me on autopilot back to the A train, back to my stop, up the stairs, down the street, around the corner and into my apartment.
But I don’t work here any more. I don’t live here any more. And the apartment is empty of everything but echoes.
That dream, the one where you’re walking around your grandparents house, but you keep coming into rooms that you don’t recognize, that are connected to the familiar by strange geometries? I think I’m inside it right now.
All articles, tagged with “new york fuckin' city”
I have occasionally opined since moving to California that while I don’t miss New York’s sweltering midsummer, I did kind of miss real winter.
Ladies and gentlemen, the gods are not mocked:
Good lord ouch. I think whatever I was missing involved a lot more snow and hot chocolate, and a lot less icy knives being driven into my eyesockets.
Meanwhile, in lieu of anything actually interesting to say, here’s what’s been in my head for the last 48 hours. Buy the album.
Weird to Be Back (Firewater, from “The Golden Hour“)
Well I just touched down today
And it’s strange to say but
It’s great to see ya
I’ve been so long away
And I’ve been so long alone
Sorry for the delay
Oh turbulance and misconnections
Life’s a one way plane
Man it’s weird to be back home
So I just dropped in today
To check on all my old obsessions
Everything’s the same
Or maybe just a little worse
Just crashed in to say
No brass band, ticker tape parade
Must’ve been delayed
Man it’s weird to be back
Weird to be back home
Trust me, you want to go to
The RETURN of Dr. HAL!
FRIDAY, JULY 11th 2008
9 PM at
The Theater For the New City
155 1st Avenue BETWEEN 9TH & TENTH STS.
$10 Donation OR WHATEVER YOU CAN PAY…
A Journey through the Lands of Legend (& back
again) with side-trips into Science & the Dismal
Swamps of Superstition, conducted by an Old
Campaigner. Lyric Poetry, Gags, Secret Lore &
Painful Anecdotes, Humor both Intentional &
Inadvertent. Audience Question-&-Answer to follow.
Dr. H. Owll, a.k.a. Harry S, Robins, is a cartoonist, artist, radio & stage
performer who has performed the Fashion Show at Burning Man for the
past ten years. His night club act, “Ask Dr. Hal” with Chicken John, KrOB
and others, when in session runs weekly in San Francisco. A Founding
Member of the Church of the SubGenius, Dr. Hal has shown himself to
be only too happy to speak at (seemingly endless) length about that Cult’s
bedrock principles, e.g. The Conspiracy, Slack and “Bob” (J.R.“Bob” Dobbs).
He is the voice of Dr. Isaac Kleiner in the well-known computer game Half-Life.
!!!! —with special appearance by
N.Y.’s beloved performance-art sensation—
Z E R O B O Y !
—who can probably be persuaded to take over the show.
NOT TO MENTION— Games, Novelties and (if we’re lucky} Videos from KrOB,
San Francisco. Come one, come all. Para Adultos, but bring the kiddies, if no
childcare available. Comfortable lodge seating. Fully Air-Conditioned.
Scientific, educational, memorable. Dobbs Approved. AND ABOVE ALL—
DON’T CALL THE THEATER!
THIS IS ONE SHOW THAT’S ON THE DOWN LOW— KIND OF INFORMAL…
A D D E D B O N U S:
SIGNED ART PRINTS FOR SALE (CHEAP!)
FROM THE ARTIST!
A few brief notes on a long-delayed trip back to New York City, after over a year away:
— Good lord am I out of practice with east coast summer heat and humidity. I hope I haven’t become equally wimpy about winter, but I probably hope in vain.
— On the other hand, apparently I still walk fast even for a New Yorker, and still know how to melt through crowds while I’m doing it. (The trick is to be a droplet of water, and let gravity pull you horizontally through the gaps. I can’t describe it any better than that.)
— I could have kissed the first subway I took. (Unfortunately I know all too well where the 1 train has been, so I refrained.) After a year and a half of trying to pretend that MUNI + BART + SamTrans + CalTrain + VTA + GGTransit + Partridge + Pear Tree somehow adds up to a functional public transit system for an area with 1/5th of NYC’s population (hint: IT DOES NOT), being back in the arms of my beloved MTA was a revelation. Yes, it’s dirty and loud and stiflingly hot and often smells kinda funny, but the trains go everywhere and go there often. Not a single time in nearly a week in the city did we wait for more than 10 minutes to get a train. Usually, they pulled in a few moments after we walked onto the platform. (Yes, I do remember that it doesn’t always work that way. Trust me, I have banked more subway karma than you can imagine over the last 18 months.) This is how it’s supposed to work, people.
— It’s amazing how certain habits are linked so completely to a place, a time and a state of mind. A year ago, for reasons that are not particularly interesting, I gave up coffee. Minus the initial few days of headaches and unconsciousness, this was a completely easy transition to make: I simply stopped drinking the stuff, and never had any problems with craving or backsliding. But that first morning in Manhattan, when I walked out onto the streets? Right then and there, I would have killed my own mother for a cup of coffee. Now I know how ex-smokers feel when they go into a bar.
— You forget how loud New York is. San Francisco is, technically, a city, and has all of the sources of noise pollution that come with that designation: car alarms, honking horns, reversing trucks, jackhammers, construction… but SF’s volume knob is limited by law to “5”, while Manhattan Goes To Eleven. By the second or third day I’d adjusted, but standing at the corner of 30th and 7th on my first day there, I really wanted to be able to hit the mute button.
— And speaking of jackhammers… there is nothing quite like being woken up at 7am by the sound of not one but two of these babies digging out a 3-story basement into the solid schist bedrock of the Upper West Side. This is technically a complaint, but I’ll give it this: I got over my eastbound jetlag really fast.
— It’s very, very strange being in New York without a home or a job to go to. On Wednesday afternoon, M and I were sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park, resting our feet and watching the cute NYU students go by, when I was overwhelmed by the sensation that I must have forgotten something. After all, it was 3pm on a weekday: surely there was a meeting that I was late to, or a deadline that was looming? The feeling never really went away.
— Holy crap I’ve missed good pastrami. And decent apples.
— Moving to California has made me a worse Jew than ever before, which is saying something. On Thursday afternoon, M and I went downtown to perform a serious attack on the famed Century 21 discount store (imagine Filene’s Basement but with better merchandise and more fistfights), only to find that it was closed. Because it was Rosh Hashanah . I am off the map and off the calendar: two years ago, I wouldn’t have even needed to think about it to realize that they (and J&R, and B&H, and indeed half the city) would be closed.
— Speaking of my New York friends, I have a message for all of you: SPEND MORE TIME IN RIVERSIDE PARK. Seriously. M and I walked down the west side from the 79th Street boat basin to 14th street. They’ve almost finished all of the renovations, and it’s fucking gorgeous. But apparently they haven’t mentioned this to anybody, because it’s also empty. Go get some quality time in now before people figure this out and it becomes as crowded as the Sheep’s Meadow.
— We were there just as the season turned. It can happen overnight: one day it’s hot and muggy, the next day there’s a chill and a snap and a clarity that wasn’t there the day before. I didn’t realize until it happened how much I missed it.
— More than any other place in this country, New York goes on without you and never looks back. The death toll of the things and places that made up “my” New York was small but strongly felt. My favorite ninja date cheap sushi restaurant: gone, sold to new owners who kept the furniture but jacked the prices and dropped the quality and the interesting rolls. The nerdgasm store on St. Marks Place that sold nothing but vintage video game equipment: gone, replaced by a crappy porn/lingerie store that I predict will itself be gone by the next time I visit. The tiny community garden across the street from our apartment: turned into a monstrously ugly 6-story condo. The 2nd Avenue Deli: gone, maybe coming back, maybe not. The Eagle, the Batcave, Korova Milk Bar, and the bar at 2nd Ave and 6th that
— San Francisco is cute. Manhattan is…stately and severe. Its beauty is all ochre and orange and brown: stained concrete and rusted steel. You know just looking at her that she’ll break your heart and you’ll keep coming back for more.
Hm, that all sounds kind of negative and bittersweet, which is mostly not how it was at all: I had a blast, and wish I could have stayed longer. But for better or worse, this was the first time that I’d been back when I was really there as a visitor, without any other task at hand than to hang out with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and it’s a strange transition to manage. Next time will be easier.
Five years on, and I have come to think that nothing at all should be built in their place. The quiet dust, the exposed girders, the chain-link fences, the empty hole in the city’s heart: this is the best of all possible memorials. In a place where real estate is the most valuable commodity of all, choosing emptiness is the hardest and greatest thing. Cool pools of water surrounded by discreetly placed gift shops and soaring office towers: no. It would be a lie, a glossing-over, a deliberate choice not to remember.
When we are all dead, when those people who lost and grieved and wept on that day have left the earth, then let the imagineers come with their polished marble and their carefully chosen tear-jerking but inoffensive images and their dramatic re-enactments and turn this place into another Gettysburg, another Lexington Green: a place where blood was shed once, but now park rangers walk slackly and tourists gawk. It will happen, but let it happen after I am gone.
Five years on, I am in a place I never would have predicted: I am somewhere else. But part of me stays, always.
I’m leaving New York.
I’m leaving New York?
No, that makes no sense at all. How can you leave the place you’ve always been coming to?
Columbus, Ohio: an ever-receding shore, behind mists and clouds. Skinning my knee on a glass-strewn sidewalk. A concrete elementary school playground. Paternal grandparents’ house, full to brimming of tchotkes, photos, cameras and strange kitchen tools. The smell of film developer fluids. Gold Circle stores, gold circles on cafeteria tables. Little else. I don’t go back, ever.
Ann Arbor, Michigan: hormones, accellerating myopia, uncontrollable urges. Crushes, friendships, tiny heartbreaks. The single worst production of “No Exit” in human history. Baby sister born, father died, I’ll never have a girlfriend, oh my god I’m gay. A million miles logged on a Ross bicycle. Dial-up BBS systems and video arcade cathedrals. Caffiene and candy. Some memories still strong, others fading, blurring, melting into each other. I’ve gone back a few times: it’s a cute little college town, one of many.
Philadelphia: a shock to the system, a bit of an adjustment. Gunfire in the distance, gunfire nearby, bullets through the family room window, one gun pointed at me. Crack vials underfoot, helicopters overhead. The kindness of strangers and government assistance. Permanent friends, permanent entanglements, first kiss, first love, first lover: a woman so far ahead of me I could only gasp in wonder that she’d consider looking back in my direction. (Not the last to fit that description.) A weird place to do any growing up in, I left early, too fast and in the wrong direction, but leaving was right regardless. I go back to see parents and friends: happy to see them, happy to leave again.
Boston: Seven years of fun, no more and no less. From broke, unemployed and couch-surfing to internet rockstar in three years flat. I stood in the same place I’d always been standing, and it turned out there was gold under my feet: everyone rushed in my direction. Friends and lovers and minions and lovers and coworkers and lovers and sometimes all of the above, oh my. Signed a lease, bought a car, paid off loans. Did it all, and then was done: liked 2 clubs, 20 restaurants, one bike path, one radio station, one neighborhood worth living in. A person and a place called, so I walked away: No complaints, no prisoners, no regrets. (Well, maybe a few.) I still visit, still have friends and loved ones there. I swept out the last dust from the apartment in 1998 after the movers had gone, called a cab to South Station, and bought a one-way Amtrak ticket. I was going home.
But New York?
With New York, I fell in love. Big, stupid, come-abuse-me love. Love that merited full sentences.
“A city where every crack in the sidewalk is a symbol.” (Aesop Rock, our poet laureate.)
I’d been primed, god knows. Dad’s parents talked about the ancestral homelands: Coney Island, Brighton Beach, the Lower East Side. My mom’s boyfriend Greg told us bedtime stories of growing up in a strange land called the Bronx. Fantastical places like Fordham Road and Bainbridge Avenue, where graffiti sparkled, street gangs tussled, and sewer rats were pets. We had a rare family vacation in 1986 and drove there, crashing on a sofabed of one of Greg’s friends on City Island. I was 12 years old, walking around Manhattan, still in the seedy Koch years, and Nothing Had Ever Been So Big Or So Cool Ever Before.
And of course, Miranda. I visited at least once a month, and I’d count days, hours minutes until I could cram myself onto a crowded bus and emerge, sweaty and blinking, 5 hours later, inside the Port Authority. Long phone calls between visits, planning our next assault on the city. A tiny apartment on the upper west side became my other home, the place I was always looking forward to. I’d bring back bagels, lox and marks on my neck to approving friends and co-workers.
The subway I took to work looked out over the harbor where the Statue of Liberty was lit up. I could get on my bicycle and ride over the Brooklyn Bridge, and call it my commute. Get on the train, ride to Coney Island, call it my vacation. Walk to the Brooklyn Promenade, take a bus to the russian baths. Stare at the masters in the Guggenheim, then stare at the sunbathers in central park. Laugh at the tourists in Times Square, laugh at the trust-fund bohos in the East Village, laugh at myself for my all-too-willing assimilation of the local prejudices.
A million restaurants, a million neighborhoods, a million bands, a million parties, a million possibilities all beckoned, and if I wanted I could ignore them all, sit in my sofa and feel the N train rumble by every 20 minutes like clockwork, like my lover’s heartbeat.
I coupled, cohorted, commingled, finally cohabitated, and it was good. Got cats, computers, and kitchen appliances. I played dot-com bingo: saw an IPO, founded a company, watched the whole silly soap bubble finally pop.
I paddled through the toxic Gowanus Canal and said “wow, I live here.” A woman threw up on my shoes on the subway, and I dined out on the story for a month. A taxicab doored me on my bicycle, and I took pictures of the bruises. It’s all part of the meter, the flow, the scansion, the beat the rhyme and the life. Little inconveniences, big rewards: $5 coffees, but 50-cent knishes. $30 cab rides, but a 24-hour subway. $12 movies, but “suggested donations” at the Met. Giuliani and Bratton, but KRS-One and Jon Stewart. Litter on the streets, but the roof of the Chrysler Building in the sunlight.
Like all loves, it came complete with pain and shock and heartbreak. Rising columns of smoke, endless phalanxes of emergency lights, a light rain of ash and cremated bone. Holes in the sky, holes in the hearts of my friends. Lasting aftershocks: cringing at low-flying airplanes, jumping at fire alarms and backfires. A slow process of reassembly, of learning to trust again; a sad suspicion that it can never truly be patched up— but staying with it because love demands it, love requires it, love imperator, love rex-n-effects.
Leaving feels like a betrayal.
“Not goodbye then. Until we meet again.”
New York City is currently sleepwalking through what may be the single most boring mayoral election in human history. Freddy Ferrer, amiable but completely useless loyal Democratic party hack, is being gently ground into paste by Mike Bloomberg, amiable but mostly useless RINO gazillionaire. When it’s interesting at all, it’s mostly interesting for noticing that Bloomberg managed to go from “wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire” levels of approval to a 40% polling lead over the chosen candidate of a party that, on paper, has a 2-to-1 registration advantage. But mostly it’s not interesting.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and you can’t have an election in NYC without some form of total insanity. Sure enough, just what the doctor ordered, ladies and gentlemen, let’s all get out there and support:
The top five rejected campaign slogans for Bernie Goetz for Public Advocate:
- 5. Vote Goetz: you can run, but you can’t hide.
- 4. Vote Goetz: Do you feel lucky, punk?
- 3. Vote Goetz: Put me in office, keep me off the subways.
- 2. Vote Goetz: He’s locked and loaded!
…and the number one rejected campaign slogan for Bernie Goetz for Pubic Advocate:
- 1. Vote Goetz or I’ll fucking shoot you.
Now that’s more like it.
Courtesy of the New York Times, this week’s entrant in the “best quote of 2005” competition:
So when Bob Henry, captain of the Rachel Marie, who is in charge of towing Smithson’s island, looked out across the East River Thursday afternoon and saw another piece of conceptual art gaining on him, he did not view the development kindly.
…not to mention an equally brilliant photo:
Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert: pretty much just as funny in person
The Daily Show Studio: small
The Daily Show Staff: inhumanly efficient
CBGBs: apparently unwashed since 1972 (the dirt has historical landmark protection)
Guitar Wolf: the coolest band in the universe
Our taxi driver coming home: the scariest driver in the city
Perhaps more detail tomorrow when I am not dead exhausted. Have I mentioned that I love this city?