Noticing New York

Some people notice the buildings. They look up, the backs of their necks wrinkling like old men’s foreheads, and they strain their eyes and get dizzy with vertigo. They notice the heads carved above the windowsills on lower Broadway. They notice the snazzy designs on the Flatiron and the dials on the elevators going from the lower tracks to the main concourse of Grand Central.

Some people notice other people. They notice the variations in skin color and, for the first time, stare at their arms encased in black coats and gloves and their chest wrapped in scarves and realize that on the crowded bus where the windows are all blocked they cannot see any reflections of themselves. They notice the possibility of their skin being any color at all; they could blend with any of the races siting around them or be a mix of any or all of them. They could be green or blue or polka-dotted and it wouldn’t matter in this moment.

Some people notice the reactions, the connections, the bizarre randomness of people finding one another in lines for coat checks, on street corners, inside corner delis, before entering a taxi, upon exiting an elevator.

Noticing everything in New York City is impossible. Noticing as much as possible is the constant, ultimate goal. It is a city evolving and living up to and through every stereotype it has ever had while building new and unique traditions for itself at the same time. Things are old and new, familiar and strange at the same time. There is a sense of having been everywhere before and seen everything, even as the unfamiliar shadows of taller buildings than those ever encountered before fill the streets and avenues. New York is a city of unnoticing lives being noticed by noticers.

Big Apple, Small Room

It took me a while to convince my mother that our apartment wasn’t twenty-five square feet. I needed to remind her that if it was, that would mean it was the size of my aunts’ terrace.

Nevertheless, the space is small, the bed slopes, the internet is having issues, the shower-curtain smells suspiciously of new plastic (was there blood on the previous one? Is that why it was changed so recently) and the air-conditioning not so much hums as grunts and complains loudly that its back is hurting. We shut the poor thing off and slept with the windows open.

Does it sound like I’m complaining? Oh, dear me, no! Part of life in the big city is the itty-bitty one room apartments that make up those jigsaw puzzles of lights-in-windows that can be seen anywhere, always, because it never goes completely dark here. I heard something about some legendary blackout that happened sometime, but I can’t imagine it. How would people so addicted to their machines function?

Friends, good food, and fun awaits. Oh, yeah, and then school starts in a couple days. But until then, I’m going to make the most of this place.*

*By that, of course, I mean I’m going to go with my mom to read at the Highline park. But hey, that’s pretty dang adventurous for me!

A Pause, An Apology

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve not been here quite as regularly during the past few days – and that includes not reading and commenting on all your wonderful blogs as often as I’d like.

The reason is pretty much the usual one when it comes to me: I’m stressed and getting ready to pack up my essentials and move back to New York for a semester. In addition to the logistics of wrapping up my summer vacation and getting ready to go back into study-mode, I’ve also been going through on emotional roller-coaster. One of the ways I contend with it is to remind myself that everything I experience, however painful and difficult, can always be used later as material. It might be a cold way of dealing with things, but it works.

On Tuesday night, my mother and I fly to Canada to visit my aunts for a week. From there, we go to New York for a couple days vacation before I go back to university, where I get to move into my shiny, new (well, newly painted, at least) single dorm room. Once it’s all set up, I might actually take pictures and post them here. Then again, I might be too lazy. In two weeks, I’ll be part of the team of students welcoming the freshpeople into the college by helping them move their things into their rooms.

So the next two weeks are going to be hectic, full of flights, family and friends. I’m going to do my utmost to continue updating regularly and reading your blogs, but if I miss a couple days, I’m extending my apology preemptively, and hope you’ll forgive me.

Book Review: “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton

Hard as it is to picture New York City’s 5th Avenue lined with houses, it is much more difficult to really grasp the way American high-class society functioned a mere century ago. When I read Jane Austen’s female characters’ trials and tribulations, I remember that she and they are some two hundred years removed from my world of tank-tops, flip-flops, cougars and boy-toys. The names of pastoral English counties and villages, if they still exist, echo in my ears as from long in the past.

Wharton’s Lily Bart, however, inhabits a world that includes Central Park, 59th Street, Madison Avenue and Long Island. These familiar names resonated within me as I read of Mr. Trenor’s crude flirtation with and near-rape of poor Lily, and reminded me that a hundred years is not so very long. It chills me to think that the same streets I walked just a couple of weeks ago used to be inhabited by a society that excluded women like Lily Bart if they were whispered about and tainted by the slanderous tongues of their so-called ‘friends.’

Lily is not an innocent by any mean, but to be fair, she is painfully honest with herself. She’s manipulative, shallow, wasteful and sometimes tactless, and knows herself to be ornamental rather than useful. But she’s the heroine of this beautiful book, and despite her many shortcomings – or maybe because of them – I loved her from the first chapter. Her fall from grace is described gradually, through a series of events that are seen by her social-circle as indicative of her ‘fastness.’ In truth, she’s not fast at all – she’s rather picky, and though she intends to marry someone rich enough to support her gambling habit as well as her wardrobe, she never manages to follow through on these base instincts.

Wharton’s language is subtle, but any reader attuned to the nature of witty word play that floods novels of a certain era will be able to pick up on the truth behind the niceties: the couple having marital difficulties are clearly cheating on each other, Mr. Trenor is asking for physical and not monetary repayment of Lily’s debt, Gerty Farish represents what Lily might have been under different circumstances. So much of this is between the lines, however, that a reader trying to ignore the hints will lose a lot of what is being conveyed.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the book is the way Lily’s change of outlook affected my own opinions. The odious Mr. Rosedale and the gossiping Mrs. Fisher became my favorite characters by the closing chapter – their knack of speaking the blunt truth rather than beating around the bush was refreshing in Lily’s world of careful conversation and venomous whispers. Wharton’s ability to change a reader’s mind is to be admired.

I highly recommend The House of Mirth, although I daresay you won’t find much to laugh at in its pages.

In NYC

Dear Blog, Dear Bloggy-Friends, Dear World,

I’m in New York City, and it is fabulous. Last time I was here, I was extremely thin, painfully thin, and I’m told that I actually looked ill. In that state, I was absolutely terrified of the cold, since it seemed to penetrate every pore of my body and froze me to the bone.

Now, however, I’m managing to enjoy the cold like never before. I leave the apartment I’m staying in well wrapped in a new coat, new gloves, an old scarf and a very old hat (it was my older brother’s baby hat, apparently) and I feel snug as a bug (and where does that expression come from, anyway? Who ever said that bugs were snug?).

My spirits are high, higher than they’ve been in a while. I bought three classics today, as well, and having these books in my room (Howard’s End, Pride and Prejudice, Vanity Fair) makes me happy.

So. In a week, I move into my dorm room. Over the next few days, I’m enjoying my re-immersion in the city. I’ve also experienced some lovely interactions in the past few days with random people, so I’m hoping to find some time to write little tidbits about those.

I hope you all have had a fabulous weekend! Did anyone else spend the weekend walking about a city? Has anyone bought new books?

Dawn and Dog

Dawn’s alarm clock rang at three in the morning, the witching hour. Rubbing her eyes, she sat up, blearily trying to see whether or not her dog, Tuft, was lying on the bed. Putting her glasses on, Dawn determined he wasn’t, so she kicked the covers back violently and got out of bed.

“Tuft! Here, Tuft!” she called as she pulled on a dressing gown and shoved her feet into old, battered brown slippers. The medium sized mutt came running into the room, his tongue lolling, and began to sniff her frantically. Dawn bent down to pet him, and said, in the kind of voice usually reserved for babies, “Walk? Want to go for a walk? There’s a good boy!”

Five minutes later, she’d exchanged her slippers for flip-flops, and was walking down 45th Street, Tuft pulling at his leash. It wasn’t cold, exactly, but there was a dampness in the air, and Dawn could smell the air coming off the river. She walked slowly, letting Tuft sniff out this lamp-post and that car, and held her small can of mace tightly in her other hand. You couldn’t be too careful, that’s what her mother always said.

It was at the corner of 45th and and 9th that it happened. Tuft stopped, growling, and Dawn stopped too. Once before, Tuft had saved her from interrupting a drug-deal that had been going down in the middle of Central Park in broad daylight. Dawn didn’t know how he did it, but the dog was something special. She looked around now for the source of whatever it was that was making Tuft nervous. The streets were almost deserted though. A lone truck was trundling down 9th Avenue, but it was moving away from her. 45th Street appeared empty both in front and behind her. “What do you see, Tuft?” she murmured to him. “What do you smell?”

The dog was looking straight up, and his nose was wriggling furiously. He stood up on his hind legs and pawed the air. He growled as he fell back to the ground and then did it again. Dawn had never seen him act like this. She looked up, too.

“What the…?”

An object was floating high above her. It looked like a badly put together Lego space-ship. But it couldn’t be a space-ship… could it? As she watched, lights winked on and off on different parts of the misshapen thing. Suddenly, a spotlight went on and blinded her, framing her and Tuft in its beam. She winked hard, trying to adjust herself to the sudden light and to see something through it. But it was impossible, there was no way she could see past it. Shielding her eyes, she knelt down, leaning over Tuft and hugging him. He was still growling.

“What is it what is it what is it what is it?” she muttered. “This can’t be, this is like a bad science fiction movie, this is ridiculous, this is-” but she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She fell silent, shaking with fear now, and bent her head over the dog, breathing in his scent, which as gross as it was – and, amazingly, a corner of her mind was rational enough to think to itself that Tuft needed a bath – the smell felt more real than anything she’d just seen.

Tuft began to bark now, trembling in her arms. Dawn heard what sounded like an echoing bark, as if in answer, and the spotlight went off. The darkness blinded her now as much as the light had at first. She looked at Tuft and then looked up at the floating thing, and then back down at Tuft. He was still growling and barking alternately, and she realized he was trembling with anger, not fear. It was as if a dog had come into his territory and had threatened him.

Looking up again, Dawn watched as the space-ship, or whatever it was, floated a little way down 9th Avenue. Tuft was now wagging his tail and his hackles were going down. He licked Dawn’s face, but she kept looking up, watching the thing hover onward. Tuft barked again, and Dawn, surprised by the loud noise right in her ear looked at him. When she looked back into the sky, there was nothing there.

For the second time that night, she said “What the…?”

**

When Dawn got to work at five, she picked up one of the newspapers that had been delivered to the convenience store that she owned. There wasn’t anything in it about tests on flying crafts done in Manhattan or about strange blimps being sent into the sky around three in the morning. There wasn’t even some splashy article about how the alien-nuts were warning everyone that there would be ETs coming to earth one of these days. Nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever.

Dawn threw the newspaper down, opened the locks on the door, and went inside. She turned on all the lights immediately and looked around, making sure there was nothing weird lurking in the room. Finally, as she set up the till and began counting the money that had been in it over the night, she decided to shrug the whole thing off.

“New York,” she said aloud to the empty store. “Anything can happen, right?”

4. Marty and Claire [2]

Claire dug out some clothing from the big suitcase that sat beside the mattress on her floor. She hurriedly threw on her usual baggy jeans, a big “I Love NY” t-shirt that used to belong to her mom, and shoved her feet into her tattered Converse high-tops. Back in the kitchen, Marty had found a paper and pen in his breifcase and handed her a list with some essential groceries before giving her a few twenty-dollar bills.

“If it’s too much or too heavy, call me and I’ll come help out with the carrying home, okay? Got your cell? Your new keys? Okay, Honey, see you soon.”

“Bye, Dad,” Claire skipped out the door and locked it behind her with a resounding ‘click’ as the bolts fell into place. Marty sighed just a little. This is why you moved, he reminded himself, to feel that she was safe.

Also, so she could be close to her grandparents. Marty hadn’t told Mr. and Mrs. Adams yet about the move. It had been rather hasty, and he wanted to surprise them. He wasn’t sure yet about how Claire felt about being reunited with them – after all, the last time she’d seen them, she was ten. Now she was just fourteen, which seemed to Marty to be miles away from the sweet and innocent little girl she’d been. As he began to dig in another box for cutlery to arrange in a drawer, Marty thought of the last couple years and the gaping hole that was Susan’s absence in their lives. Claire had gotten her period, had bought her first bra, had started eying boys – all without a mother to help her through it. Marty did the best he could, trying to be the hip dad, the cool dad that girls could talk to. He felt he’d succeeded, more or less, since Claire and he were on good terms and she wasn’t embarrassed around him about the changes her body was going through. But still, he always felt inadequate. Susan would have done things better, he felt.

As Marty indulged himself in nostalgia and meloncholy, Claire took in the bright and beautiful sunshine that made Victoria Road, their new street, seem to glimmer. The neighborhood sure was lovely, she couldn’t deny that. There were trees planted in the sidewalk every few yards and the apartment buildings all had expanses of lawn or flowerbeds in front of them. A warm breeze warmed her face, and she noticed the pleasant sound of the leaves rusteling.

It’s so quiet, she thought. Certainly different from Manhattan. As Claire walked down Victoria Road, only two cars drove by. It seemed unthinkable to have so little traffic after the constant rush-hour that permeated the streets of New York. She liked it very much, she decided. As she turned from Victoria Road to Brushfield Street, she saw her target, Bill’s, the little grocery store that she and her dad had marked last night while driving the U-Haul. She took the list out of her pocket and entered the store.