Thursday, June 26, 2008

Doing it and Doing it and Doing it well: Keep at it Manhattan

They say in business, and life in general, you should do one thing better than everyone else instead of trying to do many things well enough. New Yorkers do three things really, really well. Cut corners, drink and keep out boredom. Oh, and make egg bagels. No one does a bagel with egg better than New York delis...

#1- New Yorkers have the absolute best strategies for getting there faster, getting it cheaper, finding that extra inch that puts them first over the line. If its just before rush hour, then take the 6 from 23rd to Union Square and transfer to the express. This will take you approximately 20.47 minutes. If it is rush hour or off hours, then its faster to walk to the express instead of waiting a lifetime for the 6 train or bargaining for 6 inches of body space on a crowded train for just one stop. These hindrances can cost you up to 8 minutes, where are walking the extra few avenues will take you approximately 5.8. If it is neither rush hour, nor off hours, then its a toss up - you can then make the decision based on how your legs are feeling or the quality of shoes you are wearing. If you go to the very last car on the train, you will save 45 seconds walking accross the platform to your daily exit and instead will arrive right in front of it. The best grocery store to shop at is Trader Joes - it is right next to whole foods and the same groceries will cost you at least 20 dollars less. However, you must go to Trader Joes ouside of rush hours, or else you will spend literally an hour waiting in a line of nearly 1000 people to check out. Right before closing at 10 is the best time. There are also several staples you cannot get at Trader Joes, which will necessitate another trip to another bodega or grocery store. Go to Brooklyn for the best sushi for the best price and the little laundromats on the upper east side for the cheapest tailoring. You'll still want to wear closed toed shoes in alphabet city. Dont go out at night in the meatpacking district unless you know someone - for we New York nobodys, its time better spend dressing to the nines and going to the lower east side or the swankier side of get the idea. If there is a corner to be cut, an edge to be gained, a dollar to be saved, New Yorkers will be the first to cut it.

#2 - I used to wonder how New Yorkers spend such an outrageous amount of money and liver function on alcohol. The first time you order a martini here, expect to turn out both your stomach and your wallet. Its damn expensive. So expensive, you'd think that people would boycott, protest, rise up, start patronizing local liquor stores instead of putting all of New York's fashion students through school with four shots of jager. Nope. New Yorkers are street smart on everything except alcohol. Its the one rip off that manages to continually slip underneath our radar. Maybe its that a 16 dollar mix drink doesnt seem THAT outrageous after you've already had three. Then you wonder how Manhattan's ER's manage don't get overrun every Friday night with alcohol victims. Particularly by the heavily bronzed fashion avenue aspiring models who subsist on crytal light. How do these leafy waifs down three grey goose and vodkas in an hour and still stay standing while Im white knuckled against the bar? It is one of the great mysteries of this Great Big Apple. But I suspect it has something to do with expensive bottled water, top shelf liquor and really, really forgiving friends.

#3 - I've been planning on writing a book. I figure, it would be really great to really commit to my one true love (hopefully mountain biking wont get its feelings hurt by being my #2) and finish my first novel by the time I'm 25. It doesnt even have to be that interesting these days - I've got it all worked out, it just has to be about New York, hopefully about the fashion publishing industry and be easily converted into a screenplay featuring Amanda Bines. Everytime I think about this commitment I get very excited. I can see myself up at night, writers glasses on in my underwear with a glass of water and a laptop, breezing through my life-changing new novel. Tonight, I say to myself on the train, tonight I go home and I write. Then the night comes and Im working late, spending 20 minutes on the train, an annoyingly long 15 minutes walking, an hour running, another hour showering, 20 minutes making dinner, 10 minutes cleaning, my glorious 30 minute daily gab with Ericka, 20 minutes downloading hte new Coldplay album and suddenly its 12:15, Im getting up at 7 and instead of my image of myself on the train, Im drinking wine out of a starbucks mug and falling asleep against my bedroom door after writing one measly line, that isnt even that good. This is a great example of how New Yorkers never get bored. And if you ever do, gasp, have the time to even think about being bored, there is the toothpaste you need, the dreaded work-out guilt, Pinkberry, Gossip Girls reruns, brunch dates, things that you forgot to tell your roomate over Gchat that day that you were DYING to tell her, and, when all else fails, SOME kind of bar within a 30 foot radius of your apartment (and a garunteed good one within a half mile radius). Good thing most New Yorkers commute or all newspapers would quickly go out of business. And Barnes and Noble for that matter. Those hot, never bored commuters will just LOVE my new novel...its all about them! Sidenote - not enough New Yorkers recycle their newspapers, magazines and bottles. We really need to work on that... Maybe Ill dedicate my novel to New York's devoted recyclers, 10% of proceeds go to Eco-Cycle in big green letters...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Welcome to the Concrete Jungle: The Beginnings of a Swampy New York Summer

Drowning in split pea soup - you try to scream but your nose and eyes and throat fill up with hot, thick, grainy broth, your limbs try to thrash but they only wave slowly in the stiff broth, you want to close your eyes and just expire but you cant force your lids down over the hot mess covering your entire body. Yep. Thats kind of what its like.

"Heat Wave crashes in to the northeastern seaboard." "New York under fire." "Scorching temps to continue through Tuesday." "New York - Its HOT!"

These are the headlines crammed into subway trash cans, sweat stains running the ink. Walking, standing, talking, eating, no matter what you are doing, you wish you were either sleeping or dead. The whole city waves with heat, runs with sweat, reeks of bloating, humid rot like a corpse in the southern sun. Subway cars blow sticky hot air through molten underground vats of stagnant hot air. The long canyon of Park Avenue fogs with dirty humidity. The City moves slower than usual, struggling to flex its bustling limbs in sweltering wet temperatures. Ugh.

OK ok let me back up. Saturday morning, 8:30 am. Im jammed in a corral with hundreds of other women, waiting to run a 10K. We'd all love to be doing some last minute stretching, but we're packed in back to back behind the start line, listening to the pre-race speeches, waiting and sweating. Looking around at my fellow runners, most of us are looking like we already ran the race - sweat running around our ears and shining on our top lips. None of us had the heart to ask what the current temparature was. We knew we were screwed when we left our apartments and the hot breeze made us sweat harder instead of providing any relief. The gun goes off and we're off and running.

The first few miles are uphill and genereally enjoyable - steady pace, saving the real energy for a big push the last two miles to beat my last 10K time. All around all you hear is clop clop clop of hundreds of feet on the payment, steaming breath, the friction of sweat-drenched nylon reluctantly rubbing together as your shorts stick to your inner thighs. I start my Ipod.

By the time we hit Harlem at 9:15, its somewhere in the 90s, Im sure of it. The whole neighborhood has an industrial yellow haze, like soupy smoke rising from a factory, except its the smog and humidity condensing in the rising sun, souping over the neighborhood, leaving lower Harlem looking juandiced, shabby and spoiled. We turn into the park and the group has hit the normal slow-down around 2.5 miles, accented with heat exhaustion and the weight of our own sweat. We hit another hill and you can almost hear the group of runners groan collectively. My hot and tired body is asking, why, why must I do this??

Around 4 miles the the training kicks in, and just in time. I feel refreshed, energized and steady, comfortable in my pace enough to push it back up to race speed, grounded in my heavy legs, solid in my body's intertia. Im passing people now, hanging round the left side, my favorite spot to be, frinding on the edges of the moving, sweating, flexing mass and bouncing gradually toward the front of my wave. My training helps me make up time on the hills when the rest of the group lags and soon Im back up to 8 minute miles, breathing is fast but easy and Im all warmed up and ready for the finish. This wasn't so bad at all, now was it?

Mile 5. Im a dead weight in the dead, dead heat. The humidity has taken an unexpected turn for the worst, the sun has brought the lower layers of the atmosphere to a boil, leaving central park like an oil bubble in a skillet in between hot lumps of buildings. My time stays almost where it is but now those 8.5 minute miles are labored, beat to death out of my heavy legs and dragged out through this steaming swamp of a park. Breathing is like sucking sand through a straw. Waves of heat rising up from my body's overheating core sindge the backs of my eyeballs and when I emerge from them Im somehow still running, still moving toward the finish line like a ladybug through hot tar. Im not going to stop and walk because, well, I dont want to, but also because it takes too much energy to stop - the law of intertia has set me in perpetual motion until I either reach the finish or pitch forward face first one my thighs run out of glucose.

Mile 5.8. Oh. God. This is awful, terrible, miserable, woe is me and my exhausted body, now just a mass of muscle and guts liquifying in the oven of my thin, deep frying skin. Every once in a while a thought hits me, wait a minute, this is VOLUNTARY?'

Finish line is .2 miles ahead. Normally this is the time to use your last burst of energy and speed to shave off that last half minute. I reach for it...and find that it is 100% not there. My gunpowder is gone and my reserves thrown overboard in sweat by an overheating nervous system. I dont even see the people lining the finish, and I cant even focus on hte clock long enough to see those final seconds. The women around me are falling like flies, red in the faces, dry heaving, swearing. I cross the finish line and my vision shrinks to half. Pass out or vomit, which is it going to be? Out of courtesy to those finishing behind me, naturally, I crash into the portapotty just accross the finish and choose vomit. Well hello first heat wave of the summer.

Heat waves make New Yorkers excessively grouchy. The normal energy that it takes to live life as a New Yorker is now augmented by doing it in 85% humidity. I remember feighning heat exhaustion on those long training runs in Colorado summers, leaving at noon in July, coming back parched and violently grouchy but proud that I could endure such unnecessary suffering. This, I now realize, was silly child's play in comparison to a 7:30 pm run at sunset in the chicken pot pie that is now New York. New Yorkers simply cant shower enough in days like these. The energy it takes to towel dry after a shower is enough in this heat to bring sweat back to your upper lip. The pits of your knees and arms are perpetually sticking with your movements like the back of a curling sticker. And you are just never, ever fully clean. New York in summer is Marc Jacobs on a safari - it might be designer but now its drenched in sweat and reeks of 20 perspiring bodies packed into a subway. Getting dressed up feels like covering a spoilt, rotting dead body with that makeup they put on corpses for funerals. If we could run in between air conditioned buildings we would - but running in this heat is out of the question of course. Did I mention how hot it is?

Sunday I went to Brooklyn to watch the basketball game. Brooklyn is one cool place - Ill have ot write another blog entry about the glories of Brooklyn some other time...but believe me, its just plain cool in every way. The train took nearly 45 minutes to come - heat waves tend to screw the the electrical systems in subways like other forms of extreme weather conditions. 10:30om on a sunday, me and 200 other New Yorkers are sweating it out together on a tiny Union Square underground subway platform, vying for space under the silly little underground ceiling fans, blowing hot air around and finding new ways to express our annoyance without drawing too much attention to ourselves. Ah, new yorker bonding. You would think that because the subway is underground that it would be cooler than above ground. Not so. I think it may have to do with the fact that if you take an underground drainpipe that would normally be cool and fill it with hundreds of warm-bodied, disease carrying rats squirming over each other and emitting however many BTUs of body heat, then its probably enough to raise the temparature of the drain pipe by X amount. In New york of course, the rats are of both rodent and human origin. The train finally comes with ample air conditioning that nearly sends your body into shock, like throwing you from two days in a mid-summer Vietnemese swamp into a fishing hole in an artic lake.

Its a hot Brooklyn night, and the heat has churned up a fiery lightning storm. Im headed down a dark street unknowingly in the wrong direction. As I readjust to being above ground, the usual film of sweat soon recovers my face and my pores prickle as they reopen to the steamy night. Brooklyn, being a little more open than the streets of Manhattan stiflingly cloistered in by tall buildings, feels a little cleaner, a little less oppressive than stinking, steaming, sweating manhattan. The street goes uncomfortably darker - this is definately not 5th avenue. I pass by a spiralling old parish church- tall, spired and black in the molasses hot night, eerie in the lack of street lighting and backlit by a raging lightning storm in the distance, shots of yellow fire igniting the sky as if someone was taking a match to the sweltering, combustable humudity in the air. I somehow felt I had been suddenly transorted into a chapter of The Scarlet Letter, or maybe Heart of Darkness. He saw me before I saw him. Tall, thin, so black he was almost the color of the black church to my right, his head hooded in white. It was the eyes. I saw them from the whole length of the street. Fixed on me, burning, like white orbs in a black whirling sea. He walked slowly, as if in a dream, his eyes fixed on me with a not alltogether human glow. As if he saw only me and didnt see me at all, all at one time. My intuition had been throwing red flags the second i started down this street- now it was setting off flares. If I ran, would he chase me? The closer we came, he and I, the more I didnt like the whif of his presence. My knees refused to bend, the immense heat pressed out on my chest. I held my breath. Just as he reached me, lighting lit up the church behind us. I couldnt stand to look at those eyes up close- I shut my eyes and felt them looking at me sideways as we passed. A man emerged from a nearby building enough to shatter the silence, his front door slamming in the dark enough of a disturbance to allow me, the cornered rat, to scurry from the trap. I ran the rest of the way to 5th avenue, only to reach 3rd. I crossed the street, told myself I was being silly and superstitious, and as punishment for my silly fear, forced myself to walk back the way I came on the other side of the street. Sweat poured down my body and licked my hairline. As I passed the church a second time, I saw a tall, hooded figure in white pacing back toward third avenue - back down the long, spiny black fence of the old parish as if guarding it or confined within in. His arms swinging slowly and purposefully, like the mechanical murder of a beef rancher. He turned his pupilless eyes on me from accross the street. It took me .08 seconds to break into a run, thunder rolling behind the sound of my feet pounding the steaming street.