Faraway

I’ve always taken great pride in being a New Yorker (New Yawka, thank you).  It’s a huge part of my identity.  When I went to college, I thought everyone at my small liberal arts college would think I was *so cool* that I was from the City.  Turns out, they were not.  Upstaters are not fond of New York City, especially when it seems only people from the City can claim the title of New Yorker.  They also do not like the City’s simplified version of New York geography, wherein you have Long Island, the City, Westchester, and then everything else is Upstate.  They like to tell you about Central New York and Western New York, although to be honest, I would just nod along politely and go back to calling it all upstate.

Point is, even when I found myself in a situation where it was uncool to be from NYC I was still hella proud of it.

Interestingly, in England I get much more the reaction I originally expected when I say I’m from New York.  I have used my accent to command the respect and attention of a class of students.  When people notice my accent (and they always notice my accent), they ask where I’m from, and when I say New York, I have gotten an actual gasp of awe.  Even MR has gone on record saying that he finds the NY accent kind of hot (really??).  I’ve branded myself as a New Yorker.

I think I can claim the title.  Both sides of my family settled in NYC when they got off the boat from Italy and Germany.  That makes me a fourth generation New Yorker on my mother’s side and third on my father’s.  I went to NYC public schools.  I taught in NYC public schools.  My cousin is a NYC police officer.  I used to have a super thick accent, along the lines of ‘dawg’ and ‘cawfee’ and most of my family still does, even when the NY accent is dying out.  I even grew up in Queens, which is one of the more ‘authentic’ boroughs inasmuch as nobody goes to Queens unless they’re from Queens.  Or going to the airport.

It doesn’t get more glam than Bell Blvd, people.

My family being in New York was an institution.  It would always be–until it wasn’t.  The transition started a long time ago: distant cousins moved to Florida; my grandparents sold their house in Brooklyn and moved to the Poconos.  My father’s parents followed suit, and my uncle went to Jersey.  But that was all fine, because my parents were in NYC and they weren’t leaving.

Only–rents got high.  My mom kept looking at apartments and realised she could never move because she could never afford a new place.  My dad got sick and my sister lived too far away to help as much as she wanted.  New Yorkers will know that a drive from Croton-on-Hudson in northern Westchester to Queens is too much of a trek to do on a regular basis.  So my parents compromised–they moved to Tarrytown.  At first I hated the idea of them leaving NYC, but as it happens, I find Tarrytown amazing.  Gorgeous views of the Hudson, amazing restaurants, still proper NY food with good pizza and bagels…MR and I visited my parents there and promptly fell in love.  We would move there in a heartbeat if we thought we could ever afford it.  But we can’t, so we settled for visiting.

Actual view of Tarrytown–it is actually that gorgeous.

 

Also delicious NY pizza here. And the bagel place next door rocks too. I am getting hungry.

Only then my sister moved to Massachusetts.  My dad’s no longer with us, so that left my mom alone in Westchester.  She shouldn’t be alone–she’s kind of isolated from everyone because she doesn’t really drive and everyone’s pretty far.  Not just my sister, but to get to her brothers in Staten Island and Brooklyn is easily a couple hours’ journey involving several modes of transportation, including a boat to get to Staten Island.  So obviously my mom needs to move to Massachusetts.  I 100% think she should do this.

But selfishly, I think that my ties to New York are getting severed.  My children will never be able to call themselves New Yorkers unless they choose to move there.  But even then, won’t they be transplants with their British accents?  And can I even call myself a New Yorker anymore?  I don’t live there.  When I go to the States I will be visiting family in Massachusetts, and I almost spit out the name.  Not because Massachusetts is a bad place (I actually quite like it, if I’m honest), but because it’s not NY.  And the bagels and pizza will suck.  So if I don’t live there and don’t have ties to the City, how can I claim it as ‘my’ city?  Do I have to start saying ‘I’m originally from New York’ instead of ‘I’m a New Yorker’?

When I left NY for England I thought I would probably come back.  But gentrification and skyrocketing rents mean that the financially comfortable life we lead in Coventry is well beyond our means in NYC, an injustice that stings.

This is definitely an existential crisis.  I want to go home, but I don’t know where home is.  Faraway is the City that raised me.  That’s part of me, but I don’t think I’m part of it anymore.  I live in Coventry.  I like England and I like Warwickshire, but if I’m brutally honest I still feel like an outsider.  I’m always the only American, and that gets a bit lonely, particularly when I have to explain/ represent some of the idiocy this country gets up to.

So where is home?  I don’t know.

 

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Source: Faraway

Rolling Stone

The phrase ‘rolling stone’ calls to mind a couple of things:

First, the adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which people tend to take as a positive thing–no baggage!  Life of freedom!

But I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s take: “How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”

It’s a pretty bleak picture, leading a nomadic life.  I’ve made the move to a completely new place four times in my life, and each time there was a long settling in period where I was finding new friends, getting used to the place (for every place is different from New York City), and trying to carve out a new life that would in some way match up to home.  This is a tall order.

Each move I’ve made has been worth it for one reason or another.  I went to college in upstate New York and found that the rest of the country, and especially the rest of New York state, does not view the City with any kind of awe or reverence–more fear and distrust.  I saw what life was like in a quiet-ish college town where the only thing open past 2am was Wal-Mart.  I learned that life outside a throbbing metropolis is very different to life in one.  Along the way, I also made some decisions that would influence the trajectory of my life–making a couple of really important friends, finding my first boyfriend, choosing French as a major, discovering that after all, I did love to teach and wanted to make that my career.

My junior year abroad in Paris was the fulfillment of a dream.  I saw Paris for two days my freshman year of college and fell in love.  I have never loved a city the way I love Paris.  The grace and beauty among the grit, the centuries of beautiful architecture clashing with the odd extremely modern building, the food, the people, the vistas everywhere I looked–it was all amazing.  In a year, I went from quasi-conversation to highly proficient in French, which I consider an achievement.  I traveled around Europe for the first time. I found the fun in being a penniless student.  I made friends in a strange land.  I loved it, but I also grew fatigued from thinking and working in another language constantly.  In retrospect, I would look at the relationship I clung to as a weight holding me down, holding me back.  But I came back from that year wiser and more confident in almost every way.

I went to Durham, North Carolina on a mission for love.  There I found a love of sweet tea, barbecue, and fried chicken, but also saw that I am definitely not a Southerner, and that urban sprawl is not really my cup of tea.  I also went thinking myself a romantic heroine and came back shattered and disillusioned–I had given so much up for love, a chance to live in France again, a chance to return home to my friends and family in New York, and it all ended up in nothing.  I thought then that I was a fool, and the bitterness stayed with me until I found a man who I really loved, and who really loved me, and then I realized that year beyond the Mason-Dixon line was only a year of preparation.

Now I’m in England for almost exactly a year, and in a way all the other moves have prepared me for this one, and yet not prepared me at all.  I know what it is to be homesick, and how to deal with it.  I know that eventually, I will make friends, even if I’m a slow mover.  I know how to navigate all the cultural differences, because in their own ways, Oneonta and Durham have the same amount of culture shock as Coventry when you come from NYC.  But of course nothing in these moves could prepare me for the other shake-ups–immigration, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.  Those are what make this journey its own.

I don’t regret any of these moves, and I value the struggles I went through to settle in new places.  But they are struggles.  I need roots.  I need to belong.  I need a home.   I cannot call myself a free spirit in that regard.  Sometimes a little weight holding you down to a place is a good thing.  It’s good to have a home.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

I meant to get this post out before Christmas, but then Christmas happened quite suddenly.  Nevertheless…

I’m pretty proud of myself this year.  I not only managed to make a few presents, which I’m happy to see were well received, but I also sent out Christmas cards and mailed Christmas boxes home and to friends.

This may not seem like a feat worth being proud of.  After all, people send Christmas cards all the time.  It’s the done thing.  But this has always been my trouble–I’m often one for thoughtful ideas, but I never carry them out.  I do think of all those little social niceties, but I rarely go so far as to carry them out.  I have a friend, who I greatly admire for being a pro at this.  She is the queen of finding inexpensive but awesome presents, of getting you something just because she thought of you.  When I dog sat for her once, as a thank you she included a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure at a place we liked to go to together.

I love little gestures like this–they go a long way to making people feel special.  That’s the thing about Christmas cards too–it shows you were thinking of this person enough to hand write a message, however brief, and what’s really special in this day and age, pay for a stamp.  My husband’s family is very big on cards.  They are extremely important parts of birthdays and Christmas, and at Christmas the standard boxed cards won’t do.  They get each other the personalized ones that say “To my brother and his wife” or “To my son and daughter-in-law.”  My family is not so big on cards–in fact, I don’t think my parents have ever gotten me one and it’s never so much as crossed my mind, let alone bothered me.  On reflection, though, I think it’s part of the same thing–people like that little effort because it makes them feel special.  And that’s what makes the little gestures so important.

I’ve always recognized this, and I’ve always wanted to be the person who does those little gestures.  I get little brainstorms all the time for things I could do, but then I always fail in the execution.  My thoughtful friend has produced fantastic Christmas and birthday gifts (the coolest post it note set ever inside a box inlaid with mother-of-pearl from her trip to Syria, for example, or a handmade star from a German market are examples that leap to mine).  I know her taste exactly, partly because our tastes can be very similar, but somehow I never remember to get things in time for birthdays or Christmas.  And I always *want* to.  It just never happens.  The same is true with my husband.  I’ll be thinking I’m thirsty and yet am too lazy to get up and get something to drink and then all at once he brings me a glass of water.  I make him plenty of tea, but I never think to do it randomly, and I never do it without asking if he wants it.

I’m not entirely sure why this is.  Sometimes I know it’s a confidence thing.  I don’t want to be pushy, or ‘creepy’ as my mother-in-law uses it, meaning someone who seems to be currying favor instead of making an honest gesture.  I also hate the thought of doing something nice and having the gesture received with bemusement or contempt.  Which is crazy of course, because I well know how lovely those little gestures are.

Another part, it has to be said, is that impulse which prevents me from finishing things.  It’s laziness, but also something else, something that keeps me from going all the way through with a project.  And then there’s the fact that I tend to have very grand ideas which can’t be accomplished in time.  I used to think that each Christmas card had to have a long and thoughtful note with it.  That means each card can take as much as 15 minutes, and who has the willpower to sit there and write cards for over 8 hours?

This year, something changed.  When I was in Edinburgh, I saw something that was perfect for my friend.  Instead of looking at it and thinking how I should get it and subsequently walking away, I bought it.  I did miss sending it for her November birthday, but I got myself together enough to buy presents for her and her husband and their two small kids.  Not only did I buy them, I went to the post office and *sent* them.  I cannot stress the fact that somewhere along the way in previous years, something would have collapsed with this plan.  I would have been missing one present, or never made it to the post office.  The same is true for the Christmas cards I sent out.  I ordered little business cards with our new address for next year, and sat one afternoon and wrote out a stack of cards and then made my husband sign them.  And then they went to the post office.  Again–a Christmas miracle.  I can’t help but wonder how this happened so suddenly.

I think it’s the being away from home.  When I first got here, people would often ask me if I was homesick yet.  At the time I was gearing up for my wedding, and full of the knowledge that a good group of people who were very dear to me were on their way shortly.  I was also dazzled by the idea that I didn’t have to say goodbye to MR.  We had been so used to counting down and saying goodbye, and back in July, I was stunned that that period was over forever.

But the wedding passed, everyone came and went.  I still love seeing MR every day, but it’s not brand new and shiny–he’s becoming part of my every day life.  That’s very good, but it means I’m starting to think more about all that I left behind.  The first day of school where I taught caused me a pang.  I would kill to go out for dinner and drinks with my high school friends.  And this is only the second Christmas in my entire life that I’ve spent away from home.

So the Christmas cards went out, the presents got made, the boxes packed and sent because I needed to feel connected with the life I left behind.  I know I made the right decision, but after the first flush I’m realizing that moving across an ocean is no easy thing.  And that I don’t want to say goodbye forever to the people I left behind.  They still mean something to me, and I can’t show them by simple conversation or everyday activities anymore.  All I can do is send a card and write on facebook.  But it’s getting me over my laziness and shyness, because I want all those people to know I’m thinking of them.   I would quote the song in the title of this post, but that may be just a bit too cheesy and sentimental, and I don’t want to hear about it from MR, as he inevitably will read this and tease me for being a sentimental American.

 

Oy vey

This blog mentions tv a lot, I’m starting to realize.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  First is that I currently can’t work due to visa restrictions, so I spend a lot of time with the tv during the day, because when you’re alone in a house, tv is good company.  But also, I love tv.  Living in England is about a billion times easier than living in France was, if only because I can have my comfort tv, and I can understand it all.  I get to see the shows I love best from America, and experience the awesomeness that is British television (cue laughter from the Brits reading this blog).  Also, I get to watch the new season of Downton Abbey months earlier than I would in the States.

The newest British reality offering that has caught my attention is a reality show called “Jewish Mum of the Year.”  Like most reality shows, it does what it says on the box–Mums show off their Jewishness, and presumably get crowned for having the most chutzpah.  This show makes me homesick, but also puzzled.

I have to admit, the accents throw me.  Obviously, as this show is produced in Britain, the ‘Mums’ all have British accents, which makes me realize that to me, if you’re showing stereotypically Jewish people, they have really thick New York accents, the kind where people pronounce things as gawgeous.  To hear such very British accents seems very inherently bizarre.

I should point out that I know full well not every Jew has a super thick New York accent.  I have plenty of Jewish friends who were born and bred in New York City, and plenty of them have very light accents or none at all.  I’m referring more to the stereotype, the Mike Myers’ Linda Richman of “Cawfee Tawk.”   By the same token, I also know plenty of New Yorkers who are not Jewish but who have that accent, like my mother.  In reality, the culture does not necessarily go in the accent, but when you’re talking about a very stereotypical show, that’s what you’d expect after all.

Which really is the point of it–I’m not exactly sure why being a Jewish Mum is worthy of a reality show.  To me, being Jewish is no source of novelty.  I can’t even count the Jewish people I know, there are so many.  I’m not Jewish myself, but I have Jewish relatives.  I know Orthodox Jews who are careful to keep kosher and obey all the laws of the sabbath and cultural Jews who I’ve gone out with on Yom Kippur after they’ve eaten a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich (at least the eggs were parve).  Even typing the word ‘Jewish’ so much seems weird to me, because it’s not something remarkable to me in the least.

I have long said that being a born and bred New Yorker means that you are a little bit Jewish, no matter your race or creed.  My family will toss Yiddish phrases into our conversation on a daily basis, recounting our schlep on the subway and the putz who insisted on standing in front of the doors.  Even my  very vanilla white father uses it–when he took me and MR (who is the husband; I can’t think of a nickname, so initials it is) just after we got engaged, he ordered cognac after dinner and announced that he was going to see if MR was ‘mensch.’  I’m not exactly sure why being a good and admirable person is connected with drinking strong digestifs, but my father has a weak grasp of any foreign words–he used to call fajitas ‘frijatas’ for years.  The point is more that he even thought to use the word.

My family hails from Italy four generations ago.  Those four generations have created enough of a gulf that I feel much more comfortable with Jewish culture in New York than I do with modern Italian culture.  I’ve been to temple and Passover seder; I know the traditions of a Jewish wedding and a bris, and I’ve been to a whole bunch of bar and bat mitzvahs.  I’ve eaten Kosher; I’ve eaten kugel and chopped liver and snacked on matzoh. The numbers say this isn’t just my experience.  Wikipedia tells me (using some strong sources), that New York City has a Jewish population of between 1.7 and 2.0 million, depending on whose statistics you use.  That makes it the second biggest “Jewish population center” in the world, following only Tel Aviv.  It’s also 9.1% of New York’s population.  How could such a large group not leave a mark on nearly all the inhabitants of the city.

I love “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” because the culture of it is so completely foreign to me, and I blink in amazement as I learn about the values of this culture and what it’s about.  I can’t quite understand why being a Jewish mother should get the same treatment.  I haven’t lived in England long enough to say anything at all about the influence of Jews in this country.  All I can say is that for me the reality show is meant to showcase the ‘other.’  Those Real Housewives, for example.  I’ve never encountered anyone who lives like that.  A Jewish mother?  That’s just life.

Commemorating

So today is 9/11.

Or 11/09 as my British computer is telling me.

And it’s eleven years now.  To the day.  Today, for the record, is also a Tuesday.  In Birmingham it is bright and warm and sunny the same way it was in NYC that day, the same way it was in North Carolina, where I was eleven years ago.

I’m not a person who dwells on that day.  The world watched in horror, but I was afraid.  I was afraid I had lost my mother, that one of my best friends had lost her father.  So many people I know lived in fear that day, and I was halfway down the East Coast, in a state where I didn’t belong and wasn’t particularly wanted by the boyfriend I had come there to be with.  All the phone lines were jammed and no one had internet–certainly not high speed internet.  I have been a lot of places, even set myself adrift in countries where I barely spoke the language, but I never felt so far from home as I did that day.

The fear subsided–my friend was sitting in the lobby of an NYU building in shock while a kind stranger waited in line for her to use the pay phone, when her father passed by the window she was sitting near and rapped on the glass.  My mother was engulfed in the dust of the Towers, but she walked from the World Trade Center all the way up to the 59th Street bridge and into Queens.  Miraculously, a van was going to Flushing.  She said that when she got into Flushing, the heart of Northern Queens and closer to Long Island than Manhattan, everything was normal.  Businesses were open, buses were running, people moving about.  She, covered in white dust, was a ghost, haunting everyone with what had just happened.  Because things were never going to be the same again.

For my mother, it meant sarcoidosis, the disease everyone is thought to have on House.  For New York, it meant a stinking hole, gaping in the bedrock of downtown, where two mighty buildings stood.  I couldn’t conceive of them being gone.  I had left New York for North Carolina but a couple of weeks before, and right before I left, and errand brought me downtown.  I stood beneath the towers craning my neck and marveling at their sheer size.  A month later, I could not conceive that they had been reduced to dust.

In the weeks that followed, I immersed myself in the news.  I started a scrapbook.  I wept when I read the headline in Le Monde: “Nous sommes tous Americains.”  I could not tear myself away.

When it was over, though, I dusted myself off and didn’t want to look back.  There is a part of me that was almost angry when the nation grieved as if it had happened to them.  “You don’t know,” I wanted to say.  “This wasn’t in your backyard.”  I felt protective and defensive of my city.  The first time I went to England to visit my friend, I was at her wedding.  In 2006, when I said I was from New York, the question which immediately followed was what I had seen that day.  But when people espoused the conspiracy view that seemed to have some weight in those days, that George Bush had plotted 9/11 himself, I flared in anger.  He was stupid, he was hardheaded, and he was bad for America, but he wouldn’t do *this.*  A monster couldn’t do it.

So today people remember.  The documentaries come on tv, even here.  They change their facebook profile pictures to the American flag and rainbows, or vows of not forgetting.  There’s nothing wrong in this at all, in fact, it is very moving, but I bristle at it.  I bristle because I don’t want to be there anymore.  I want to move forward.  I don’t want my city defined by this.  All the things it has done and been and seen, all the 8 million souls that pulse through it day after day–they deserve more than to be defined by tragedy.  We New Yorkers are tough.  We are survivors.  We’ll always go on and we defy anyone to stop us.  Which means not living forever in the worst day, but building better ones.

Where I lived in Briarwood, I would take the Grand Central Parkway to get to Metropolitan Avenue where I would grocery shop.  The trip along the Grand Central offered an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline, something I never fail to appreciate.  One day last winter, though, I noticed something different.  Instead of the hole in the downtown skyline I was accustomed to, the Freedom Tower was rising at last above the buildings.  Everyone I knew commented on how one day, it was there, shining.  And it kept growing, stubbornly rising, and I liked that best of all because it showed resurrection, strength, resilience.

In the days after 9/11, my mother said what helped her get to work was the idea of the English after the Blitz.  Bombs would rain down on London, Coventry, Canterbury, but the next morning the people would dust themselves off and go to work and get on with their lives.  Now there are memories and reminders–there are but a few scant remains of the quaint medieval Coventry–much of it is modernistic now.  But life goes on, just the same.  And that, more than anything, is what I want for NYC.

Other things not to miss about New York

I told you there was more.  Starting with:

Winter

Summer is pretty bad, but I think winter in New York may be worse.  The humidity is still around, but it turns into a bone chilling damp that somehow gets inside your clothes.  The temperatures plummet, and in the depths of January the temperatures can reach near zero.  If you’ve not experienced near zero, it is the kind of cold that makes you want to crawl inside a tauntaun.

And it snows.  I used to love snow as a kid–couldn’t get enough of it.  But that’s because there was less of it.  When I was a kid, school closed for snow days only a handful of times, and that was only because I went to private school from K-8.  When I was in public high school there was exactly one snow closure, for the blizzard of ’96.  (Ok, that’s actually 1996, but the Blizzard of ’96 makes it sound more dramatic, like in the Laura Ingalls Wilder book The Long Winter when it snowed so much no trains could get through and they almost starved.)*

Since I’ve become a teacher, school seems to be closed for snow with much higher frequency.  Of course there was the famous time when the mayor closed schools in expectation of a storm that never came, but there have been plenty of other moments.  And then there are the days when school should have been closed but wasn’t, and getting to work was a death defying attempt.  New Yorkers get even more selfish and stupid in the snow, so in addition to the ice and general mother nature danger, the pedestrian or driver must slalom around poorly driven cars and general insanity.

New York snow is disgusting, too.  When it first falls, if you are lucky to be standing somewhere like Central Park, or Rockefeller Center with the Christmas tree, that is really magic–a silent city, a frosting of fluffy snow softening the hard edges of the buildings.  When New York is that quiet, it seems that there really could be peace on earth.  But that only lasts for half a minute.  Then sidewalks are shoveled, and drifts pile up on the sidewalks waiting  for someone to fall in.  Then some of the snow starts to melt, and because the drains are blocked by more snow, lakes of slush form at every crosswalk that only an Olympian could clear.  But dammit, I try, and inevitably get my legs splashed.  What snow remains gets mixed with ice and turns black.  Literally black with all the dirt, and you realize how seriously dirty NYC is.

The mayor

Ok, I’m not the most political person on earth.  I’m not without opinions, but they mostly come from the Daily Show and Bill Maher, and people are always bringing up examples from the news which mystify me.  But I loathe our current mayor.

He is smug and self satisfied, and he thinks he knows everything about anything ever invented, including education.  Somewhere along the way Bloomberg had a teacher that traumatized him and he has now made it a personal vendetta against all educators.  His dumbass ideas make my daily life more difficult, they keep me from doing the job I need and want to do, and they’re hurting the kids in our city, clever kids who need a lot of help, not a lot of tests.  Rah!

Chris Rock once said of Rudy Giuliani that he’s kind of like a pitbull–you really want him around protecting your house, but if no one’s attacking you, he might kill your kids.  This was very true.  Giuliani had his own brand of crazy (anyone remember when people would get a ticket for taking up more than one seat on the subway–even on an empty car?), but I can remember some things he did that made my life better, like the one fare MetroCard.  Bloomberg raised MetroCard fares.  That sucked too.

But you know, Giuliani was crazy too.  And Dinkins was just ridiculous.  I’ve decided–I’m not limiting this to our current mayor (although he is the worst of the lot to me), but all mayors.

Idiots/Inconsiderate People

New York gets a bad rap for being rude.  By and large, New Yorkers are actually good people.  I always say, stand on a street corner with a map (out of the path of traffic) and people will come up to you and helpfully offer directions.  They will even get into jocular arguments with other New Yorkers about which is the best way to go, and help you with your bags (please refrain from theft joke here).

But hey–it’s a city of 8 million people.  Some of them are mean and a lot of them are stupid.  Add to that the oblivious tourists and on a daily basis you can encounter enough people that when you get home you’re amazed you didn’t murder someone.

But, you say, there are stupid people where I live too!  I just yelled at some idiot that cut me off this morning.  To which I say–yes.  But imagine the sheer volume.  You’re surrounded by people on a claustrophobic subway car.  You cannot wait to explode off the train and breathe the free air where the Eloi live. You fear you are turning into a Morlock, but just as you resign yourself to surrendering your humanity because that kid has poked you for the twenty sixth time and the guy next to you is listening to his music so loudly that your own earphones don’t block it out.  But it’s your stop, and even if you don’t believe in God, this seems a miracle.  You claw your way to the doors, they slide open–and twenty people shove you further back into the car because they *need* to get on and don’t understand the idea that if you let some people off, there will be more room.  It is only through some Shark Week worthy thrashing that you find yourself on the platform as the train pulls away.

So you tumble onto the escalator.  Let us say this is Grand Central and there are enough escalators to make you think you’re braving the long dark of Moria, and you’re calming down enough to daydream of the $8 salad you’ll get for lunch.  Maybe you’ll even add the chicken for an extra $2, and live a little.  You’re nearing the top of the escalator…that tourist is staring at the downtown/uptown signs in iconic Helvetica…yes we know it’s a great font and the NYC subway is a pinnacle of graphic design…there are only three steps to fold up before you’re at the top, and the hundred people behind you.  MOVE YOU IDIOT THIS THING WILL SPILL ME INTO YOU.  But they don’t move, and when you inevitably stumble into them and begin a human traffic jam that ripples down the escalator they have the nerve to give you a dirty look.  And you just *wish* you had a Balrog’s whip of fire.

You pop into Starbucks to calm yourself, and you set your eyes on the last blueberry scone and just as you step up to the counter and open your mouth, some jackass steps in front of you, not only stealing your turn, but stealing your scone.  This is what NY is sometimes.  And endless stream of dumbassery.

Gentrification

I loathe gentrification on so many levels, my previous example of Times Square notwithstanding.  It is killing New York, and forcing all the natives out of the city.

One of my all time favorite books, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, opens with a description of Williamsburg, of the Jewish and Irish and Italian immigrants mingling together in the early days of the 20th century.  The opening passages mention the Tree of Heaven, the titular tree, and say that you might come to a nice neighborhood, very refined, but the tree is there.  And then the brownstones are hacked up into flats and mattresses push out of the windows and the neighborhood goes from refined to ghetto.  The tree flourishes because it likes poor people.

Now people are coming and hacking the tree down.  People will pay thousands today for what was a slum a hundred years ago, even twenty years ago.  My uncle used to tell us stories of his rough and tumble neighborhood–Park Slope.

What disgusts me is that people are willing to pay $2000 a month for a one bedroom tenement in the East Village, simply because it’s the East Village.  I would say let them be stupid, but what that means is there are no affordable apartments for people who grew up in New York and see it as a home and not a movie set.  The fiance talks about coming back, but then I wonder–where will we live?  Even the smallest houses on the fringes of sketchy neighborhoods are $500k.  And if a solidly middle class person can’t afford the City, then we must be creating one hell of a class war, on the scale of the French Revolution.  Except roaches could wind up being the foot soldiers here.

Sometimes I worry about the fiance.  He’s all about living in NYC, and planning to come back.  But he’s only been here as a tourist.  And he hates London, which to my eyes has a very similar style to NY.  He’s very cavalier about the winter and summer, for example.  I don’t think he knows that he won’t find any tauntauns to crawl into on those cold days.  It’s very hard to get a permit for them.  Thanks, Mayor Bloomberg.  First you take my soda, then you take my tauntaun.

*You know, when I think about it, those Little House books were pretty brutal. I should have guessed something would be up when in the first book Laura and Mary play with a pig’s stomach as a balloon on slaughtering day.  Echoes of Lord of the Flies much?

Things not to miss about New York – Summer

Don’t get me wrong–this is not a post about bashing New York.  I actually hate it when people bash New York.  Of all the places I’ve traveled to and lived, New York was, is, and always will be home.  But I’m about to leave this home, I need some measure of comfort to remind myself that it’s not all moonlight and roses.  Ok, none of it is moonlight and roses, but a good deal about New York is really cool.    However, you can’t really love something unless you recognize its imperfections.  So in order to assuage myself about leaving, a list of things I will not miss about the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.”

Originally this was supposed to be a list, but I got onto such a tangent about the heat and beaches that I will have to separate my posts.  Nobody complains with quite the same finesse as a New Yorker.

The past three days have seen temperatures near a hundred degrees.  At 70, New York is delightful.  At 80, a pleasant, summery warm.  But at 90 degrees, New York turns into a sticky, smelly mess.  It’s like a kid with melted popsicle all over his face–if the popsicle were BO flavored and made with sewage and garbage.  On top of that, for some meteorological reason that I do not know (best guess–proximity to the ocean), weather here is almost always humid.  I’ve actually been to Las Vegas and experienced the dry desert heat people always say makes them able to live in places like Phoenix, and what they say is actually true.  That oven like heat is far more bearable than the pea soup of New York in summer.

Ok, so bad enough that summer gets pretty crappy, but a New Yorker’s options for beating the heat are few, and of poor quality.  Inside, most people have unit air conditioners. Buildings are older, and wiring for central air doesn’t really make sense for three months of the year.  So most people have window units in their apartments and houses–you can see them sticking out as you walk down any street in the boroughs, hear their hum.  Inside, of course, the gentle hum is magnified 200 times so that it sounds like you’re sitting in a jet engine, with only a small radius of cool.

So you say–f this, I’m getting in some water.  Good luck finding some.  Pools are only for the very rich, or those with nice backyards, or people who are willing to give over their entire backyard to a pool.  If you’re really rich, you can go to a hotel pool, which seem really swanky but cost probably a few thousand dollars for a summer membership.  The other option is the public pool, but that’s really like being squeezed onto a subway car in tepid water, except there is a slightly greater chance of being the casualty of a cannonball.  I’m not really rich, nor really a masochist, so my option is the beach.

Let me be honest–NY beaches pretty much suck.  You have to walk across a mile of sand to get to the water, and not only is it really difficult to walk across mounds of dry sand (garnering new respect for camels), this sand is also scorching hot, so that by the time you reach the water, the soles of your feet are seared a nice medium rare, complete with grill lines.  But of course, finding a place to set up your towel and chair is virtually impossible because every one of the eight million inhabitants of the great city of New York has decided to go to the beach.  Several loud boomboxes compete with each other, and children scream at a pitch far louder and shriller than seagulls.  But you can’t go back without dunking your feet in the water at least.  You came so far!  So you squeeze your towel in between two others much like wedging yourself into a seat in the subway* and go down to the water.  There are fabled beaches all over the world with glittering water in variegated shades of azure, turquoise, ultramarine, and cerulean lapping gently at bright white sand.   The New York beaches boast miles of dun colored lava sand, as I described, and gorgeous gray, opaque water which crashes onto the sand with such force it’s surprising more of Long Island hasn’t been pulverized into sand.  When I was in Nice they would shut down all the beaches for waves half the size of those at Jones beach.  And should you actually decide you have the superhuman strength to swim these tempestuous waters, you get the delight of experiencing water so cold Jack’s quick death in Titanic makes a lot of sense.  And then an unidentifiable clump of what might be seaweed or human hair brushes against your leg.

The fiance complains how tourist ridden Tenerife and the Costa Brava are.  I don’t get it and I do.  To me the Canary Islands and Spain are exotic destinations.  But when I told him I would be thrilled with a honeymoon in the Mediterranean he scoffed that that was a weekend trip.  I struggle to see the world this way, but yet I understand.  If someone suggested a honeymoon on the Florida beaches as someplace exotic and far flung, I would scoff at them.  I just have trouble aligning Mallorca with Tampa.  However, at all of the above the beaches are better than New York.

England doesn’t do summer with half as much punishment.  Arguably, they barely do summer at all.  The next ten days show temperatures in the mid-sixties with plenty of rain–i.e. April.  I might miss the 80 degree days of basking in pleasant warmth, but after a heat wave, I can honestly say goodbye to New York summers with a smile on my face.  Which might melt off if I step outside.

*Ok, I know I used this simile twice, but it was too apt in both cases to change.