Sunday, April 20, 2008

Forgetting Galileo: Me First and the Gimme Gimmes

If you are a New Yorker, the sun, stars and planets really do revolve around the earth. And for the inhabitants of this city, all of the earth, and thus the entire universe, revolves around Manhattan. Making you, a New Yorker in sheik bar in midtown drinking champagne at noon on a Sunday, the ONLY person on earth who matters.

Humans are naturally a bit self-focused. Its instinct. We are natural companions, pack animals, given that without others our own survivial would be comprimised and perhaps less fulfilling. But when it comes down to it, lets admit it - you want a bigger chunk of the buck's hind leg than your best friend. And you want it while its still warm. Even if he did help you take it down.

Manhattan is like all the world's hunting grounds condensed onto one island, with an abundance of fat, nice-looking deer but many, many more wolves. The result of which is that New Yorkers are totally, completely, inescapably, excessively, visibly and eternally self absorbed. To those of us who inhabit this city, everything and everyone we could ever want, desire, need and not need, is right here on our little island Manhattan. No matter where you are in New York City, the nearest deli, laundromat, bar, grocery store, gym, taco joint, sushi hot spot, clothing store, drugstore, Starbucks, loanshark, tailor, hitman, cupcake bakery...(I could of course go on) is no more than one mile away at any given moment. Gauranteed. My favorite sight in Manhattan is seeing all the people on the subway in the late afternoon on a Saturday, myself included, their hands stock full of bags -- lunch leftovers, shoes, groceries, Burberry's newest raincoat, toiletries, cupcakes, wine, chinese takeout, internationally acclaimed political novels, designer fragrance--looking at each other saying "WHAT a day that was! I do say, I'm exhausted!" And it IS exhausting, attempting to consume ALL that there is available to us at any given time, without leaving a single sock, blueberry muffin or lip plumper unconsumed, no designer sample sale or brunch place unexplored. And we are all, of course, on our way home to put away our things, digest for an hour, and then squeeze into those new shoes in order to fashionably inquire about the opposite sex over $25 martinis in a posh downtown bar. So much to be HAD, so little time. Any addiction you might have - drinking, eating, shopping, working, romancing, one night stands, fraternizing--whatever it may be, this city can give you your fix to the 9th degree and fast (Did you know that apparently there is a legitimate industry here called the "fetish industry"? Not stripper per say, not prostitute, just fetish worker. This kind of thing still blows my silly-little-Boulder-girl mind.) A friend of mine said the other day "If a girl can't find a man here, then you won't be able to find one anywhere. And here he is sure to be better dressed." How is that for a can't-sleep-at-night kind of thought? If romance is dead then I know who killed it. I'm not sure how, but I do know that Christian Dior and Manhattan were in on it together. Its as if we are all voluntarily stranded on a tropical island in paradise with absolutely everything (and everyone) at our disposal, left to either live in peace and slowly eat ourselves to death on coconuts and bootleg rum, or rapidly destroy ourselves a la Lord of the Flies.

Not only is there 24/7 access to our wildest and most whimsical desires, but we also feel we are the epicenter of all that is good, trendy, fun, important, impactful, exciting, meaningful, hip, and worthwhile. In New York City, it seems that all of the world's media, music, art, movies, shows, famous love stories, etc etc ...are made by us, for us and about us. If globalization is the future, then baby, we Manhattanites have already put first man on the moon - (and the reality show airs next fall). Apparently, we've got the whole world watching and talking about us - and its our job to keep doing things worth watching. So we will- and we will look good doing it. And can you blame us? We dont mean to be self-absorbed, its just easy to forget what life looks like if you ever get "off the island".

I realize how bad this sounds. After all, you are reading MY blog about MY experience in New York, MY perceptions of the New york that is just so good at being percieved. And for all of you fellow Boulderites who have ever lived in Manhattan, I KNOW you understand. ("Bubblehopping", verb--the act of hopping from one bubble to another, small to big, big to small.) But this is not the whole story. There is absolutely a choice involved. The pursuit of happiness in the land of plenty was never designed to be mindless, or easy for that matter. And evidence of this, of people making or not making the choice, is everywhere. Its not the choice to be happy, persay. Its the choice around what exactly you allow to make you happy. Tell me, New York, when is enough enough?

If New York were a person, it could be Paris Hilton and the Dalai Lama, all at once. More specifically it would be Paris Hilton leading a meditation retreat in the Himalayas (now that I think about it, this analogy would actually be a good PR stunt and a good excuse to film her in her underwear) AND the Dalai Lama promoting his new fragrance (I can see it now - it would be called "Silence" and the tagline would be "To reach Nirvana, you must smell like it"). My point, made in bad taste here, is that this bubble is a really big and alive one... and along with the senseless indulgences you have 24/7 access to, you also have access to many different very real experiences, very interesting people and very meaningful human work. There are so many remarkable people here, some of the most remarkable in the world - people who have larger views of the world than anyone anywhere. People who have titles, success, achievements and primetime slots on Oprah... and people who don't. People who make an impact on everyone they come accross. People who are the best educated and people who help educate others. People who are always looking to help those islanders who have been lost or misplaced in the mad rush for not only survival but prosperity. People who can walk in the park alone, take in a museum exhibit, buy something nice, drink an exceptionally good cappuccino or just share dinner with a good friend and say "This is enough. This is just enough for me." People who could have everything (money, beauty, love, sex, etc) but choose to have just enough instead and give the rest to someone else. The unfulfillment and haunting despair that comes with chronic overconsumption of things and people just can't take hold in the heart of one of these people, who not only ask for just enough, but also recognize something good when it arrives on their doorstop... That cupcake could have tasted a lot better if I wasn't already thinking about my next bigger, better but miraculously less fattening cupcake. With all the overindulgence here, there are also these other more humble qualities, mixed into a throng of loud and quiet, feux and genuine, seen and unseen.

One of the reasons I came here is because the city is screaming in your ear to succeed - with the resources, support and training that I have been lucky to have had so far, there is no excuse not to. But in the mad rush to get, have and do everything, I hadn't thought about what I would do once I did succeed or once I did actually buy, eat and ensnare everything available to me. I suppose I'm glad I have not succeeded at much at all since I got here, save finding a place to sleep, good food to eat and good friends to eat it with. But maybe that is success enough for the moment, depending on what my requirements are for success. Self-diagnosed with a raging case of the Gimme Gimme's, I'm now given pause to remember--its absolutely crucial that a brand new New Yorker never gets "ambitious" mixed up with "insatiable".

Friday, April 11, 2008

The "Empire" Strikes Back: An Affair to Forget

Yesterday =The first day of real spring in New York City. The sun is out, along with the big designer sunglasses and open toed summer flats, and the people of new york are smoking an extra pack of cigarettes in order to get out on a break from work into the sunshine. It appears the days of bitter snows are behind us forever. Halleluiah.

Finding myself on the corner of 43rd and 5th avenue on such an exceptionally nice day, an idea strikes me...A free afternoon on the top of the Empire State Building! Sure its cheesy and touristy. But on a great day such as this, an official trip to the top for a small town girl could be delightfully picturesque and memorable, if not slightly cheeky. An image of myself in my fabulous sunglasses, my arms in the air draped over the top of the world, throwing my barrett in the air Mary-Tyler-Moore-style into a blue sky flashes through my mind and suddenly I'm marching up to the line for the ticket counter. There is a lot of empty rope and very little line to buy tickets, so I figure, given that its a Thursday afternoon, I'm in good shape as far as lines go. The wave of nausea that comes over me when the ticket costs 20 dollars passes quickly and I am happily on my way toward what I think is the elevator to the 80th floor.

If you are going to design a tourist trap, be sure to design it with lots of hidden rooms, blind passageways and no windows- kind of like a jail. Take it from the Empire State building. I find myself in the first winding line where all the people I thought stayed at home today are hidden. No big deal, its not a huge line and I already bought a ticket for 20 dollars so there is no way I'm going to bail now - that is enough for 6 big cupcakes from Crumbs and one Martini from the Upper West Side! I get through the first line, leading mysteriously around a sharp corner. bringing me into a hallway, where at the other end I see people getting into the elevators. Hooray! I am so Sleepless in Seattle right now. All I need is a true love and a curling iron! I'm getting really excited now too, because the line seems to be moving pretty fast, so Im strutting toward my place in the elevator. This is where the hidden room comes into play. Mid-strut, I turn the corner to discover that there is a screening room on the way- a whole room full of a winding line- and this one is NOT moving fast at all. Its hot, humid, the few windows that exist are covered in paper and, worst yet, they humiliate you for being stupid enough to stand in a line of this length by forcing you to take a photo against a blue screen as you cross the threshold out of the room 45 minutes later. Some post-modern torture tactic, no doubt. At this point I'm pretty much stuck. I'd really like to bail but the line is so windy and packed, it would be harder to try and make it out through all the non-english speaking tourists (i.e. "Excuse my I believe I am on the brink of an anxiety attack, and I wondered if by any chance I could make it through here to throw up please?" won't do the trick) than to practice stand-up meditation and wait it out. Plus I did pay TWENTY dollars for this.

45 minutes later I am finally at the front, burned out the battery on my ipod and have been fully briefed on the love, work and social lives of every Minnesotan family in line with me, and Im thinking its possible that I have contracted every strain of the common cold out there, with 100+ respiratory systems being shoved up against one another and allowed to ferment. Being by myself and without musical relief I am forced to listen, check my cell phone repeatedly and feel inexcusably sorry for myself. Not only that, but under such mental duress, I find myself increasingly grounchy, orniry and self absorbed--Will this woman back OFF and give me some air space? These people may be stupid enough to wait in line but how did someone like ME end up like this? I LIVE here, after all. When I get to the top I am going to take this great picture of ME and it will all be worth it...

I finally make it to the photo station where they will no doubt not only subject me to walk up there alone with my headphones on, following the japanese family giving each other bunny ears, but then they will ask me to pay 30 dollars for it, with a backdrop of new york superimposed behind me. I decide my dignity must stay in tact. I will not submit to the photo, no indeed. My disobedience causes quite a stir. Evidently the photo coordinator has been instructed not to let any of his captors go without taking a photo. What begins as a "no thanks, I'd rather not" soon turns to "No I do NOT WANT TO", struggling to get by him toward my hard earned freedom in another line. I finally escape after it nearly comes to blows and the entire room is watching me wondering, why wont she just let him take her photo??

The elevators are finally in sight. After another line (which doesnt seem so long or so bad given the photo detention room) I finally make it onto the elevator, packed with other tourists, up to the 80th floor for a 6 minute elevator ride. I end up in the front, and cant wait to be the first to the edge of the observation deck. The elevator doors open (gasp for breath) into ANOTHER room and another line. Turns out we wait here for yet another elevator to take us the remaining 5 floors, and Im surrounded by, suprise suprise, the same minnesotans who just watched me stage a coup d'etat in the photo detention room. And guess what- now I get no cell phone signal. At this point I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I would have paid another 20 dollars just for them to let me down- but no doubt there is another line to get out just as there is to get in- and no space to walk there anyway (the whole room is filled with the line) - the place might be the biggest health hazard in the US and most definately the most uncompliant with fire codes. I start counting backwards, imagining all my happy places, even my back up one which isnt even all THAT happy, and making a list of all the people in line I would sucker punch if I wasnt stuck here in between their elbows, looking up their noses AGAIN.

The second elevator is more crowded, hotter, humid-er, louder and smellier than the first. I end up in the back corner while the attendents are literally pushing people in saying "one more, squeeze, there you go". I'm now, more or less, stark raving mad and visibly agitated, a brand new threat to society cramped up with an elevator of Denny's regulars and mini van purchasers who are cackling loudly, resting on me like I was an armchair, repeating "Well Gee this is one mighty tall building!" and fanning themselves dramatically as if they were the ONLY ones who are hot and uncomfortable right now. God bless America.

The doors open and I've been beaten into submission. Im a withered, sweaty, deflated version of my former self, limping out of my corner, falling over the threshold of the elevator red in the face from asphixiation and heat exhaustion...and I was very thoroughly sorry that I had thrown away the brown paper sack that I recieved with my bagel this morning. I drag myself out onto the observation deck, moved more by the crowd than by my own feet and fumble around blindly for my camera. YES. My picture on the top of the empire state building, AT LAST. I take a few pictures and finally identify someone to be the honorable bearer of this hard earned, expensive picture of me on the empire state building. She takes the camera and goes to shoot, then shakes her head and hands the camera back to me. "Battery exhausted" reads the screen. Superb.

I spent 6.5 minutes on the deck of the empire state building. There is indeed a line to go back down - and at this point I think it might be faster and better for all parties involved to just jump off. As Im waiting in line and passing into the elevator that will bring me back to my senses and my sanity, I hear a tour guide speaking on the microphone avertising a visual map they are selling."The average person spends over an hour to get up here and only 7 minutes on the observation deck. Dont be one of those people, ladies in gentlemen, buy this map and know what you are looking at so you can really spend quality time at the top". Damn, I came in .5 seconds short. After reaching the ground I went straight into the nearest bakery I could find, mourning for the minimum 5 years of my life that i left up on that observation deck. Beware future NY tourists - spend the 20 dollars on pizza.


My hard-earned souveniers

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

From 0 to 60: Ground Zero

There is a church out side the construction walls around Ground Zero - its the only place where the city still lets people mourn for 911. It seems out of place at first - this ancient church with a graveyard at its feet in the middle of tall, stocky, shiny, glassy, financial manhattan. But if you walk inside the tall black gate surrounding the old graveyard, decorated with shirts, and flowers and teddybears commemorating 911, you'll realize that this ancient churchyard is in just the right place - a soft spot in the heart of Manhattan, a knuckle of (almost) serenity inside the black iron gates that keep out the city's advances, a receptacle for blind grief among a world of unblinking (and unflinching) eyes. A literal tesimony to the saying, 'there is a time and a place'. Ground Zero itself is heroically bustling, overrun with cranes and banging construction, spitting orange construction workers and foreign tourists with shiny cameras. If you didnt stop to notice the size of the gap inside the blue constructions walls then it would look like the beginning of just another high rise. At first this seemed callous, ungrateful, sacreligious the way the construction workers and tourists tramp all over the gaping gravesite of the twin towers, carelessly and without ceremony. But then you realize - this is just so New York. Rebuild, renew, exceed. Stronger, surer, back on the old metropolitan feet -- all the while, knowing simply that, there is a place and a time for all the rest. My Dad used to tell me growing up, in the weekly spasm of never-ending grief over some silly friend or breakup- you can choose to make your own destiny, looking life (and loss) square in the face or you can be a victim. One thing is for certain, New York is no victim. The loss of that day in September will live in the very heart of Manhattan forever - literally and figuratively. The walls of the old St Paul's churchyard will be responsible for carrying the memory while the new towers go up and the gap fills back to the top. A time and a place. In the meantime - rebuild, renew, exceed...stronger, better, clearer.

Im seated in a glass conference room in the shiny new 7 World Trade Center - a building behind the twin towers, destroyed with them on 911. This is the first of the WTC construction to be finished, opening in 2006. On one side, its massive winows give an arial view of Ground Zero, a milling map of cranes, trucks, trailers and dirt. This side, the opposite side, gives a panoramic view of manhattan - the buildings of far away midtown rising out of the brown mist to meet me up here. It almost feels as though I should be gasping for breath this high above the city at the very tip of the island, clinging to the railing or flying paper airplanes off the top into the wind. But instead Im safely sealed in glass, surveying my new city from the quietest place in all manhattan - above it.
In this chair in the sky, I have all of Ground Zero behind me, and all of Manhattan ahead of me. A little nobody from Boulder, Colorado looking over the heart of the modern world, like some tiny, frightened empress surveying the masses of her new kingdom. How did I get here? What am I to do now that Im here?

6 months before, November 8th, 2007 - Its a sunny, warm day of fall in Boulder, Colorado. The people in my quaint little hometown are going about their usual business, visiting their usual coffee shops, talking with their usual neighbors, running their usual routes around wonderland lake, and yep, they are enjoying it. Life is good, usual, healthy, happy.
I'm in a ball underneath the desk of my cubicle on 1877 Broadway, Boulder Colorado. My office phone is ringing, coworkers walking past on the other side of the cube wall asking each other where I've gone, the sales team is on its way to lunch discussing which place has the best salads. I am in upright fetal position, knees to my mouth, my new dress pants absorbing the running of my nose, my hands smothering my nose and mouth to stifle the sobs. Im surveying the dark quiet cover of my desk, the only safe place in the world that I have to fall apart, in between meetings. The only time and the only place. In the dark of that tiny desk I'm surveying the ruins of my expectations, my relationship, my clear career path, my grad school aspirations, my dignity, absolutely all my plans, my life...and thinking, "I dont think I can survive this."

Back in 7 World Trade Center, chin to chin with the empire state building, watching the mach-5 construction of my life in New York City (a life that surely can;t be mine, can it?), this hustling and bustling just-who-does-she-think-she-is?? new self, the beginnings of something shiny and new while riddled with pot holes and unsightly cement mixers...I cant help but smile and think 'rebuild, renew, exceed'. 0 to 60 in six months flat.

Friday, April 4, 2008

April Showers bring May...puddles: Why I love Daffodils

My favorite flower is the daffodil.

Why, might you ask? Why not something more romantic, like red roses, more unusual like snap dragons, or more symbolic like wild flowers? Daffodils sure do seem like the middle child of all flowers - sure they are cute and all but they won't be inhereting the family estate, nor will they cause a family scandal or start a revolution out of pure angst like their youngest brother. But red roses of the world beware - nothing shines brighter than a patch of young daffodils popping through the low-hanging spring rains of New York. Nor is there any other sight more welcoming to thawing, frostbitten New Yorkers trudging through the early spring (pouring, I might add) rain, peering out from underneath colliding umbrellas swimming en-masse down the sidewalks (you can easily loose and eye if you are not careful. Best to use your own umbrella as a defense mechanism. When waiting at a crosswalk facing potential skirmishes with other umbrellas at major intersections, hold low over your head and tilt toward the advancing enemy. Never give an inch by holding your umbrella up above the others out of politeness. New York umbrellas are a cheap, sharp and pitiless species - You will get poked.) ...breath...than a patch of lippy yellow daffodils, tks tsking the puddley pavement, tugging on the skirts of the passers by and swaying in the rain. Man that was a long sentence.

I first fell in love with daffodils when I lived in England. And when I say love I mean the kind of love you feel for the woman who gives you directions to the train back to Manhattan when you've accidentally gone to Queens instead of 5th Ave at rush hour,...or the kind of love that makes you want to kiss the cahsier at the pizzaria when he hands you the first carbohydrate you've seen in 5 hours, hot and cheesy. That is how the the English feel about daffodils when they sweep accross the soppy green fields of England. Because Londoners know that when those little yellow faces first appear, they are bugle players for another another yellow visitor, banished completely from the earth for 3-4 long months by the cranky, sour English winter (duh, the sun). There was a day in March 2005 when, walking among the English daffodils and spending just two hours basking in the sun's sorely missed company, my cheeks were sunburned. There is a reason that people in the UK drink obscenely. Along with Midwesterners and Scandanavians.

New York daffodils are different than the English ones. They seem taller (perhaps in comparison to much shorter grass), more confident, and slightly less innocent. But you've got to give them this, since, instead of blooming outside a quiet english parish or a jolly english pub, they bloom alongside the fastest moving foot traffic next to Tokyo, shaded by towering high rises in three piece suites and getting peed on by ugly New York rat dogs who get fed too much people food. But I like both breeds of daffodils equally - the english daffodils charm the pants of the world as the sun's personal assistant while the New York daffodils loudly protest the rights of underprivelaged sidewalk daffodils worldwide. This is getting rediculous, I know...

In any case, the daffodils in New York are coming up in spades, in all different shades of yellow. Greying, bent over yellows and devilishly lavacious yellows. And they are just so adorable, swaying around on their long stems and yawning at everyone. They are genuinely happy, youthful flowers - so much so that when you pick them or buy them at the store, they last about 24 hours before they just flop over and expire. And what a sad sight a dead daffodil is, plucked from its twittering little patch of daffodil friends, no longer able to gawk at and gossip about people like a bunch of soccer moms. A daffodil is happiest and prettiest in its natural environment. It doesnt need a bigger bloom to get noticed, it doesn't need to stand alone in the spotlight and it is perfectly happy with its own unique shade of yellow, thank you very much. And THAT is why I love daffodils. In fact, I think I would make a good daffodil - Just resting on my laurels in the middle of all this mean, spiky grass, bobble-heading, wagging my yellow tongue and laughing loudly at the state of the world passing me by. Ok, ok, maybe I should just settle for being the world passing by.