Thursday, July 31, 2008
Here’s a bit more about what I mentioned yesterday -- being single.
In a nutshell: I’m all for it!
It’s taken me a long time to realize this, and lots of awkward attempts at relationships. I’ve always expected to meet a partner, and I lived many of my younger years anticipating his arrival -- thinking, I suppose, that's when my life would really begin.
Yet when I met someone and began dating him, I often found myself chafing against the time and effort it demanded. Things felt forced. My friends say that’s simply because I hadn’t met the right person, and maybe that’s true.
But deep down, I suspect that I’m just meant to be on my own. I’ve always been very self-contained. I do things by myself all the time -- traveling, going to movies, exploring the city -- and I enjoy it. My motto is, if you want to do it, do it. Don't wait around for someone to join you.
I’m a social person, and I enjoy hanging out with friends and being involved. It’s not that I’m a loner. But I live a lot of my life in my head, and I find that I am often my own best companion.
So I don't rule out a relationship, but realistically, it seems unlikely. I mean, I'm 41 years old, and I've never had one that's lasted longer than 9 months. My life pattern seems pretty established.
(Photo: Harlem, July 2008)
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Last night I went on a three-hour boat cruise around lower Manhattan with my friends David and Mark. We chugged up the East River around Ward’s Island and then back down again and around to Jersey City and the Statue of Liberty. It was fun!
The event was billed as a singles cruise for gay men, but I went just for fun. I didn’t try very hard to mingle, I must admit. (At this point in my life I’ve pretty much decided that I am better off single -- I’ll write more about that sometime soon.)
The cruise gave us a chance to see Olafur Eliasson’s waterfalls close-up. As we paused nearby, I asked one of the bartenders, who happened to be standing near me, if she’d ever been to Niagara Falls. She said, “No! In fact, I was just in Las Vegas last year, and I didn’t go. But I’m going back to Vegas this year and I won’t miss it this time.” I thought, holy cow. They say Americans have a terrible sense of geography, but that was a shocker.
(Photo: Morning glories on Edgecombe Avenue, Harlem, July 2008)
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
When I went wandering in Harlem on Saturday, I found this beauty salon on Frederick Douglass Blvd. at 139th Street. Tell me this isn't the best beauty salon name EVER?!
I'm not sure what it means -- maybe when you leave, you're so elegant you burst into tears?
Yesterday I took the afternoon off work and walked around Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with Lettuce and Chedwick. We found lots of street art, ate free pizza and plundered a Salvation Army thrift store, where for 99 cents I bought a t-shirt that pledges my love for Henry. (I was actually unaware of Henry's existence until I saw the shirt, but never mind.)
Monday, July 28, 2008
Have you ever heard of a book called “Sophie’s World”? It was an incredibly popular novel in Europe in the 1990s, and while I was in South Africa back then I picked up a copy. Its plot is built around the teachings of the great Western philosophers, so that while you’re reading about the characters you’re also learning about Kant and Hegel and Kierkegaard.
I found it an incredibly BORING book. I got about 1/3 through it and stopped. And that’s very rare for me -- once I start reading a book, I almost never give up.
The problem, I think, is that I just don’t get philosophy. At the risk of sounding shallow, I think it’s possible to think too much about things. To try to identify rules that order our lives and the universe, or our reason for being, is an exercise in futility. (As I tell my friends, I am not a “big question” person.)
After all, who says there are any rules at all? Who says there’s a reason for life or our existence? All those discussions involve human constructs that have very little to do with what’s actually happening around us.
Maybe if I’d studied philosophy in school I wouldn’t feel this way. I’d have some foundation for comparing the various schools of thought. As it stands now, philosophy just annoys me. If I met Nietzsche in the street, I would say, “Oh, get over yourself already! Go to the beach! Pet your cat!”
This is one reason Zen appeals to me. It’s not about talking or arguing or trying to work things out. It’s just about being present to what is. In fact, in Zen, you want to release your ideas about existence and self, recognizing that they’re only ideas. To do this, you sit. You let all the thoughts come and go, and see that they’re only thoughts. The wisest thing you can say in Zen is, “I don’t know.”
(Which, of course, is a philosophy all its own, I suppose!)
(Photo: Playground in Hamilton Heights, July 2008)
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Queen Anne's Lace
I was wandering in Harlem yesterday when I found this doorway to an industrial building, surrounded by Queen Anne's Lace. I love it when I find wildflowers in an unexpected corner of New York. Happy summer, everyone!
Saturday, July 26, 2008
I went to see a very strange movie last night: "Kabluey," with Lisa Kudrow. I'd like to say I liked it, but I'm not sure I did. It's about a loserish guy who agrees to help his sister-in-law while her husband serves as a soldier in Iraq. She clearly doesn't want him there and treats him terribly -- in fact, everyone treats him terribly -- and he winds up dressed in an absurd costume, promoting office space in a stripped-down corporate park owned by a failed Internet company. Even with performances by Conchata Ferrell and Terri Garr, several laugh-out-loud moments, and a relatively positive ending, the film seems to take a dim view of humanity. I left the theater depressed!
(And this was after I schlepped out to Brooklyn to see it, because it's no longer showing in Manhattan.)
As for today, it looks like we'll have nice weather for wandering and photography, so that's on my agenda -- even though I probably should be painting my apartment.
(Photo: Doorknob near Ninth Avenue, July 2008)
Friday, July 25, 2008
Man on Wire
Last night I went to see a screening of “Man on Wire,” a documentary about Philippe Petit and his daring, unauthorized 1974 tightrope performance between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Afterwards, Dick Cavett interviewed Petit and the film’s director, James Marsh, on stage.
As unbelievable as it sounds, Petit managed to sneak into the World Trade Center with a crew of accomplices, rig a cable that stretched across the two buildings at the roofline (1350 feet in the air!) and walk across it not once, but several times. He didn’t just walk it, he performed on it, kneeling and lying down.
I was surprised at how moving Petit’s performance, and Marsh’s film, were. I expected a mischievous movie about a daring stunt, but there was also an exceptional beauty in Petit’s goal and its achievement. It was a kind of performance art that blew apart people’s notions of fear and possibility.
When Petit spoke afterwards, he said he never “tries” to do anything. He just does. You’ve got to admire that kind of certainty and direction!
(Photo: Tarpon Springs, Fla.)
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Did you ever see a movie or read a book that was supposed to be tragic, but instead was unintentionally funny? This is the essence of camp -- the reason why “The Valley of the Dolls,” for example, has a huge cult following of people who laugh at every pill-popping scene.
I found a new example of this kind of melodramatic hyperbole Tuesday night while reading a novel. The book shall remain nameless, but suffice to say I found it on someone’s stoop among a stack being given away for free. (Which should have told me something, right?)
Allow me to set the scene. A man is visiting his catatonic, religious-fanatic friend in the psychiatric hospital. He is trying to break her out of her stupor by bringing her a Bible.
“Pray for me, Selina. Let me hear you pray.”
I place the palms of her hands together.
“I’ll pray with you, Selina. What do you say? I don’t know how to pray. You’ll have to show me.”
The same blank stare. I put her hands back on the Bible.
Dr. Towbridge pulls me away. “No use. She won’t accept anything in the real world.”
I turn back to her. Touch her hands. “Look at me, Selina. Please!”
She doesn’t stir. Like a mannequin propped in a chair.
“It’s no good.” The doctor touches my arm. “She doesn’t know you’re here.”
“Make her know.” I challenge the doctor.
“Only God can do that.” The doctor sighs. “I can’t reach her. Neither can you. She’s in a different world now.”
“What is to become of her?” I stare into the doctor’s face.
“Nothing.” His lips barely move. “She’s a vegetable.”
“Meaning?” The horror of it defeats me.
“She’ll be hospitalized forever.” He turns away.
Now, am I being mean and cynical, or is this not truly cringe-inducing dialogue? Who would actually say, “What is to become of her?” I picture this entire exchange taking place in dramatic stentorian tones, with wide sweeps of their limbs and exaggerated facial expressions. My Advanced Placement English teacher from high school would weep -- not because of the tragedy, but because of the tragic writing.
(Photo: SoHo, September 2007)
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Tarpon Springs is an old settlement in northern Pinellas County, Fla., that became popular with Greek immigrants who specialized in diving for natural sponges. Given its Greek heritage, a lot of the buildings are painted blue and white.
Now that I'm back in New York, I'm having a pretty quiet week. (Which is a good thing, because my stomach began acting up again on my trip. Too much eating out, maybe?) I'm getting back to sitting and staying home in the evenings, reading. It's so terrific to be able to do that -- a vacation from my vacation!
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
You may remember the last time I went home, my Dad and I spent a lot of time talking about his family. Well, since then, my Dad has gone on a genealogy binge. He’s tracking our family tree not only on his side, but on my mother’s as well -- which is interesting because they’ve been divorced for more than 30 years.
During my visit last week, Dad shared with me his latest efforts, and everything he’s found is pretty consistent with research done years ago by my maternal grandfather and others. There are still a few mysteries, particularly when we get back to the 1600s, when records were scarce, and I’m hoping Dad and the Internet can help clear those up.
It was fascinating for me to comb back through my mom's records, which include letters from long-dead relatives and pages from family bibles, as I tried to confirm what Dad has found.
The biggest boost came when I found a seven-page essay written by my grandfather about his family and his childhood. When I was a kid, I remember sitting on the couch with him as he told me a story about a turkey roosting in a tree, as strange as that sounds. I was young -- my grandfather died when I was 9 -- and I could never quite remember that story. It always bothered me, because I knew it was family lore he meant to hand down to me.
Well, on page five of his essay, there it was:
“Father’s parents raised turkeys. One old Tom roosted in a tall white pine back of the house. His position in the tree became a weather indicator. At one time his father remarked about a position the old Tom took and predicted a severe storm. What followed was the blizzard of 1886, which has not been equaled in these parts to this day.”
It may sound inconsequential, but I was so glad to find that paragraph!
(Photos: My mother's parents in their younger years.)
Monday, July 21, 2008
Back in New York now, safe and sound after visiting the family in Florida. I had a great time, despite choosing one of the rainiest weeks in recent memory as my week to visit. Anyone who’s ever been in a Florida rainstorm knows they can get a little crazy, and I had to drive through one in particular that was like a half-hour-long car wash. (Me with my rusty driving skills!)
I love those storms, though -- their power and the blasted-clean feeling of the landscape after they pass. They cool things down and remove that hot, sweaty stickiness from the air. (Well, as much as it can be removed.)
I love Florida in general. It still feels like home to me. I know it so intimately -- all the lush summery grassy smells, and the plants and bugs and birds, and the architecture of the clouds. New York feels like home too, but in a different way -- culturally, maybe, and intellectually. Florida feels like home viscerally.
I always tell people I wouldn’t move back, but who knows. As my life’s circumstances change, anything is possible. I certainly still have roots there. The downside is, so much of what I love about Florida is constantly under siege -- the landscape, the flora and fauna, the old cracker culture. It can be a painful place to live, watching all of that fall to bulldozers.
The two sightseeing highlights of the week were going to Dunedin and Clearwater Beach with my mom, brother, sister-in-law and adorable niece, and driving up the coast from Tarpon Springs to Hernando County on a different day with my mom. I also saw lots of friends and spent time with my dad and my family on his side.
And now, back to the grind!
(Photos: Top, coastal Hernando County, Fla.; bottom, sponge boats in Tarpon Springs.)
Friday, July 11, 2008
I went to a gallery show of street photography last night, where this photo by my friend Jesse was among those exhibited. It was interesting to see what caught the judges’ eyes, and to speculate about what made each photo successful. I love Jesse’s pic and most of the others, but a few were a bit bewildering. Several of us agreed that good street photography involves a precise combination of luck and skill -- being in the right place at the right time with the right equipment and settings. Sometimes those mysterious powers converge and a brilliant image is the result.
Starting today I’m off on vacation -- a 10-day trip to see my family and friends in Florida. I don’t plan to blog during this time, because I think I need a vacation from blogging just as much as I do anything else! (Besides, I don’t travel with my computer, so I’d have to use my mom’s, and that involves more complications.)
I’ll be posting again on the 21st and thereafter. Everyone stay cool until then!
(Photo: Chains and shadows in Dumbo, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Thursday, July 10, 2008
“The land was marble-smooth and it rolled without a pucker to the horizon. My eyes grazed across the green band of ground and the blue bowl of sky and then lingered on a dead tire, a bird in flight, an old fence, a rusted barrel. Hardly any cars came toward me, and I saw no one in the rearview mirror the entire time. I passed so many vacant acres and looked past them to so many more vacant acres and looked ahead and behind at the empty road and up at the empty sky; the sheer bigness of the world made me feel lonely to the bone. The world is so huge that people are always getting lost in it. There are too many ideas and things and people, too many directions to go. I was starting to believe that the reason it matters to care passionately about something is that it whittles the world down to a more manageable size. It makes the world seem not empty and huge but full of possibility. If I had been an orchid hunter I wouldn’t have seen this space as sad-making and vacant -- I think I would have seen it as acres of opportunity where the things I loved were waiting to be found.”
-- Susan Orlean, “The Orchid Thief”
(Photo: Street art in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Sept. 2007)
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Wow. I really do feel like I have just run a marathon. The past few weeks have been so unbelievably busy -- I think I’ve eaten about one meal at home, and last night was my first free night in ages.
I love just coming home after work, and relaxing with my cat and a book or movie -- yet it happens so rarely!
Last night I watched The Monkees in “Head,” their movie from 1968. Of course it’s pretty silly, which I expected, and it doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a fun piece of ‘60s culture. I think they were trying to mature from a fluffy kiddy band into something a little more relevant, so their music was heavier. Lots of psychedelic clothing, and cameos from the likes of Annette Funicello and Victor Mature. Very strange. I think I'd have needed a doobie to enjoy it properly.
(I always wanted hair like Peter Tork. Instead, I have hair like Telly Savalas.)
I’m going to Florida to see the family in a couple of days, so I’m also preparing for that -- getting spare keys made for the cat sitter, for example, and laying in a few supplies. I hired the sitter to look in on Armenia every day, so she won’t have to be boarded at the vet. She’s grateful, even if she doesn’t know it.
(Photo: 11th Avenue, June 2008)
Monday, July 7, 2008
Back to Normal
We wrapped up the family visit yesterday. I relaxed in the morning while they went on a Circle Line boat tour around Manhattan, and then we went to Central Park in the afternoon. We went to the zoo (which always makes me think of the Simon & Garfunkel song, “At the Zoo”) and watched the seals being fed and the red pandas snoozing in the trees. My nephew acted alternately interested and bored, like he’d seen it all before. For example, when I showed him an anteater, he said, “It’s just another animal.”
Ah, to be 10 again.
For dinner, we went to the Brasserie, where we were practically the only clients and we had an excellent meal. Then I packed them into a cab and walked home.
I had fun, but I’ll be glad to get back to my routine. I’m off to the gym this morning and then to work!
(Photo: Shadows in SoHo, June 2008)
Sunday, July 6, 2008
My family is still in town. Yesterday we went up to the Bronx to see Yankee Stadium at my nephew's request. He loves sports and has an amazing memory for statistics and players -- we saw a mural featuring famous players from the past and he could name them all, even though they weren't labeled. I was impressed! He enjoyed just walking around the outside of the current stadium and seeing the new one being built next door.
Then my stepmother and I went to see "In the Heights," which is a terrific Broadway show. It won the Tony for best musical, and I can certainly understand why. It was moving and the music was terrific. We had a ball.
(Photo: Mysterious box on a trucking company fence in Red Hook, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Saturday, July 5, 2008
Yesterday was a marathon of activity! In the morning, I met my family at their hotel in the financial district, and we walked down Wall Street and through Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the East Village. In Chinatown I bought a beautiful fruit called a Dragonfruit (above) -- I’d never seen one before. Sweet and slightly tangy, it looked better than it tasted.
We had lunch at Katz’s Deli and then came up to my apartment, where we relaxed with the cat for a bit before heading off to the American Museum of Natural History. We saw the blue whale and the dinosaurs, and went to the space show at the planetarium. Then we had dinner and went all the way back downtown to their hotel.
That’s when the real fiasco began! We’d been ambivalent about trying to go see the fireworks on the East River, because it’s such a mob scene. But their hotel was nearby, so we decided to brave the hordes. Problem is, the police narrowly restrict where you can watch the activities -- many streets are closed off, so thousands of people wind up being funneled through very small openings onto the closed FDR Drive, which is elevated and runs along the river. We were backed up on the sidewalk for about half an hour, scarcely able to move, before we inched our way up and finally got through the bottleneck onto the FDR.
Why we can’t just walk over to the river unimpeded is beyond me. But I digress.
By this time, my nephew was grumpy and it was beginning to rain. Then the fireworks began and he immediately put his fingers in his ears, closed his eyes and said “PLEASE LET IT BE OVER.” That’s when my stepmother explained that he doesn’t like loud noises! (He has Asperger’s, so he has some special sensitivities.) I thought, “Well, why are we even here? This was a really bad idea!” We watched for a bit but the kid was so clearly not enjoying it that we got out of there pretty quickly.
As quickly as we could, anyway, given the five zillion people around us and the strange police notions of crowd control. And you should have seen the subway home. Whew!
If I ever decide to try that again, talk me out of it.
Here, for your crowd-free benefit, is a video of a completely random portion of the show. Enjoy!
Friday, July 4, 2008
I went trolling through my archives to find some patriotic photos, and these were the best I could do. They're authentically American, at least!
My stepmother, stepsister and nephew are visiting this weekend. They're staying way down near Wall Street, so last night I took them over to the Fulton Fish Market and the South Street Seaport. My nephew, who's about 10, said he wanted seafood. So we walked around until we came to an Italian seafood restaurant -- and then my nephew ordered spaghetti marinara. Go figure.
We might try to see the fireworks tonight, but I'm not sure my relatives will want to brave the crowds. At the very least, we have a day of wandering ahead. It's great to have a day off!
Happy Fourth of July, everyone!
(Photos: Top, graffiti on East 15th Street, January 2008; Bottom, Sunnyside, Queens, July 2006.)
Thursday, July 3, 2008
-- I saw “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” an off-Broadway revival of a play by Christopher Durang, on Monday. A very peculiar show, darkly funny and disturbing, about the ways in which our lives, relationships and flaws all collide. Good, but definitely dark. I laughed, and then couldn’t believe I laughed.
-- I rented “Cross Creek,” the 1983 movie featuring Mary Steenburgen about the life of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. I’d seen it about 20 years ago and wanted to refresh my memory. It’s a good movie, and I like Steenburgen and her excellent co-stars (Ike Eisenmann - remember him?). But the real star is the scenery. Filmed around Orange Lake in Alachua County, Fla., it made me homesick for the woodsy Florida I used to know.
-- I also watched “Shelter Dogs,” Cynthia Wade’s documentary about the lives of animals in a dog shelter. It wasn’t nearly as depressing as I thought it would be. In fact, if anything, it was a bit hopeful. But as this particular shelter practices euthanasia, there were definitely some tough moments. (I was inspired to rent this after recently seeing Wade’s “Freeheld.”)
-- Over the weekend I finally finished “Jane Eyre,” and I’ve started “The Kite Runner,” which my mom gave me for Christmas. (I know, I’m practically the last person in the country to read this book.) It’s great so far. I’m about 90 pages in.
(Photo: Street art by Swoon, Red Hook, Brooklyn, June 2008)
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I’ve been thinking about the parade I saw Sunday. Some of my commenters said they weren’t too crazy about parades, and I’m not crazy about them either -- in fact, the only one I ever regularly attend is the Pride Parade, though New York has a parade practically every week in the spring.
I suppose one or two hundred years ago it was kind of exciting to see the military march by, with all their cannons in tow, accompanied by a big brassy marching band. For people who weren’t overstimulated by a constant stream of media and digital “infotainment,” a parade would have been quite a spectacle.
Nowadays, it seems to me, we’re better served by retreating from loud, lengthy productions. Quiet is what we need. Hence, our societal appreciation of the parade has dwindled.
And as long as we’re talking about subjects of previous posts, I was also thinking about my “flow” post from Saturday. I think I may have ironically left the impression that I’m somewhat rigid in my insistence on flow. So let me step back a degree or two from what I may have seemed to say -- for example, I do not number my clothes and rotate them in precise order. I just try to wear everything regularly.
I’m a little insane about being organized, but I’m not that insane.
(I do think I’d be an excellent personal organizer, though. I always figure if I get the ax from my current job, that’s what I’ll do!)
(Photo: Gas meters, Los Angeles, April 2008)
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