Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Confession: Reading Absorption

I may have missed my subway stop because I was too absorbed in a book.  I may also have done this three times already.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Metro Book Club

In the style of one who has clearly not grown up with it or had to deal with it for very long, I must admit that I am a little bit in love with public transportation.  Never fear, I will get to the considerable frustrations with it in due time, but before you hurt yourself rolling your eyes, New Yorker, hear me out.  Or at least, just indulge me.

When I studied and taught at the University of Tennessee, my commute from my door to the parking lot was roughly 20 minutes in the morning class-rush, 12 minutes for the 5:30 AM arrival to my office to work on my thesis.  My first semester teaching for Roane State required an abominable 45-minute drive to Harriman to teach an 8:00 AM Basic Writing class on Mondays and Wednesdays, but my last semester teaching included a delightful drive of only 10 minutes during rush hour to Bearden High School.

Every day now, my transit time from door to office is about 40 minutes.  But I love it because….I get to read.  It gives me time to read for pleasure, a hobby which I could barely make myself practice in between reading student essays and trivial department-assigned composition readers and rhetoric texts.  Finally, I can make a dent in those 50-odd titles that have been sitting on my bookshelves, unread, for years. I’ve already read about six books, and that at a pretty leisurely pace, considering that I primarily read on the train (downtime at home has, sadly, been devoted to catching up with the rest of the world’s new obsession with Downton Abbey or rediscovering Arrested Development).

But I love New York public transportation more because other people read.  So many people.  The means differ – smartphone, Kindle, traditional book (for the purist). I’ve previously discussed the dedication to reading on the train, and that is no small feat.  But I’m impressed with not only the number of people who read on the train but with the astonishing variety of what they read.  I think that what people read is incredible insight into their characters.  Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but I will certainly judge a person by the book cover he or she holds.  When I enter a house, one of the first things I look at is the owner’s bookshelves; if they’re floor to ceiling or you have an entire library (and the shelves have a higher ratio of books to knickknacks and trinkets than vice versa), you earn bonus points.

Reading a history textbook, The New Yorker, and Huysmans's Against Nature, respectively.

When I returned from my visit to New York last Autumn, I returned with a glowing memory of the subway.  In this day and age of smartphones and technology and twitter, in this city of innovation and business and capitalism, people read!  Voraciously!  And they read literature!  It’s not just fad-reads like The Hunger Games or book club favorites like The Help, though they have merit; I've seen people reading Thoreau. Kierkegaard. Pamuk. O’Connor.  Faulkner. Huxley. Nabokov. Dostoevsky!

And...Tina Fey.  Last week, I stood next to a twenty-something man in a casual blazer and jeans, stylishly eccentric knit cap, carefully planned colorful socks, nice facial hair – he was quite attractive, to be frank.  But he was not the kind of guy I thought would be reading Tina Fey’s book. I observed him reading, enjoying the uncontainable silent laughter that lit up his face every few minutes. I fear that I’ve become a bit of a creeper, staring at everybody with a book on the subway, trying to see what they’re reading.  I’ve been in more than one situation where I’m so intent about discovering the title of the work in their hands that I miss their transition from absorption in their reading to staring back at me in offense.  Whoops.  But it also gives me ideas; I constantly think, “I want to read that!”  At least I know of some good bookstores where I can buy the book…

Right now, I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay that has been on my bookshelf for a good five years.  I had just finished reading some essays by Michael Chabon, so I figured it was time. Next week…who knows? (Actually, I already finished it and moved on already thanks, in part, to some unexpected subway construction this past weekend.)

This guy was reading music.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Daily Press Dog

Yeah, I usually cuddle with my dog in coffee shops on Sunday mornings, too.

Consequences of the Stairmaster

In addition to keeping up with running in the city, I’ve also joined the local YMCA. Suffice it to say, I really miss TRecs at UT and The Rush; I was so spoiled by plenty of space, up-to-date and available equipment, challenging yet effective classes and instructors, and generally pleasant (well, as pleasant as possible) workout experiences.  But it has led me to a realization:

When working out and living in the city, one must adopt a different mindset when approaching a weights or cardio agenda.  For instance, from recent experience, I have come to the conclusion that the Stairmaster is never a good idea when living in New York.  After all, you should always expect that the escalator from that really deeply-dug subway platform will be broken. And if you have used the Stairmaster that morning...your legs will hate you.

On the other hand, it’s useful to consider the subway ride itself as a bit of a workout.  After all, sometimes in the rush hour crowd or in the company of pole-hogs, or when besieged by a condition of shortness that makes reaching up to the ceiling bar an uncomfortable strain, you are forced to balance, to surf the subway and to anticipate the driving habits and mood of the conductor.  Like any surfer will tell you (I would guess…I don’t know that I’ve ever met one, and I’ve certainly never surfed on water…), the proper stance is wide, knees-bent, ready to accommodate any tricky movement and to quickly redistribute your weight; you will get those leg muscles to work.  Even when you do have a pole to cling to, it takes effort to stay upright in the midst of a lurch, and that bicep comes in handy.

It’s important to develop these muscles (though preferably without the assistance of the Stairmaster) to avoid the subway stumble that everybody does and everybody laughs at.  And God forbid that you might stumble and – gasp! – touch someone.   

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Modus Operandi

I dropped a phrase in a previous post – “Isolation M.O.” – and I feel that it deserves some explication.  When people ask me about New York, they often ask me about New Yorkers: “Is anybody nice?  Is everybody rude?”  Now, that’s just not fair.  For one thing, hardly anybody I’ve met is actually from New York City, so they bring their cultural practices, including the way they relate to other people, from a myriad of hometowns. For another, people are people everywhere.  They have problems here just like they have in Alaska, Hawaii, or Tennessee (although the kind of problems may change or be exacerbated here because of the setting; at the core and at their origin, they exist for the most part independent of the particularity of NYC). They also have personalities here just like they have elsewhere; there are exceptionally optimistic, cynical, kind, rude, etc. people everywhere.  Let’s be frank:  there are angels and douchebags wherever you go. You can’t escape. 

Despite these considerations, there is something to be said for the character of a place.  It’s one of the first things I noticed in New York, this incredible devotion to avoiding contact with others.  It’s a stereotype based in remarkable truth that New Yorkers move quickly, especially as pedestrians, but there’s more to the description than just quick movements.  In the (remarkably non-)bleak midwinter, the cold plays a role, too.  Picture a woman on the sidewalk on her way to work.  A huge scarf is wrapped around her neck and the lower half of her face, but in her haste, a few sections of hair escape and blow backwards in the wind that is created as much by her pace as by the chilly wind blowing down the avenue.  She may have either beautifully precise eyeliner and heavy mascara or no makeup at all, but it is impossible to tell because she, like many New Yorkers, walks with eyes downcast, the crown of her head pointed forward as though navigating and parting the sea of pedestrians before her.  Hands in pockets, she blows past you, and you’re not a little offended that, despite your efforts to walk quickly, too, she easily passes you, tall heels clicking.

I’m not a stranger to keeping a brisk(-ish) pace when I have a destination, and I’m certainly accustomed to developing a frustration and even anger for slow pedestrians, side-by-side pairs, and meanderers of all ages and backgrounds.  I think this develops in part from my dad’s many hours spent in airports – he knows what gate he needs to get to (often in a hurry) and gets there – and in some part I may have adopted that; maybe it’s overcompensation for the short legs that make the long strides of the New York speed difficult to attain.  Plus, I no longer have a car; I have to find another outlet for my road rage.  However quickly I walk in this city (physically and metaphorically), I still feel like I’m being passed by.

The speed is almost less noticeable than the downwards glance.  In some ways, it’s necessity: sidewalks are often uneven and cellar doors might be open. It’s also a way to avoid the whipping wind.  But I think the key word there is “avoid,” averting the gaze so as not to catch another’s eyes.  That would mean…communication.  Acknowledgement.  Opening the doors, even for a fleeting second, to contact.

This is not to say that in the South, people lock eyes with everyone they pass on the street, adopting a goofy grin and a cheesy wave as they go about their “zip-a-dee-doo-dah” day.  The fact is that in the South, you drive nearly everywhere, so there’s not much opportunity to do the “pedestrian pass.”  Even on a university campus, at least everybody there is united with the common purpose of attending class, and the downward glance is often mutual, if unspoken, acknowledgement of and respect for each other’s hangovers.  No matter where I’ve been, I’ve often felt unsure of my glance.  It’s akin to the problem we face when we don’t know what to do with our hands when we’re not holding anything and have no pockets. When approaching somebody walking in the opposite direction, do I nod? Give a smile?  Say “Good morning, good afternoon, good evening and/or good night” (depending on how Truman Show I’m feeling that day)?  I want to be friendly, but should I reserve that to people I meet in the coffee shop or the bar? Or even waiting for the same subway since there’s longer contact?  Will smiling or nodding hello be awkward?  Seriously, sometimes it causes this much anxiety.*

But I think this mannerism of either perpetually looking down or being willing to meet another’s glance is important and very indicative of not only individuals but of the personality of the place.  A glance from a stranger or a quick hello can really mean more than anyone thinks – so much of our mood is managed in the details of life.  I remember one night in high school.  It was a typical angsty night; I had just gotten into some fight or another with my family and, equipped with the freedom of my trusty steed (a ’97 Grand Am named Geraldine), I had the means to escape, so I drove to Circuit City to spend a Christmas gift card.  As I was walking into the store, I suppose my face must have revealed my sadness.  A man passed me by, walking to his car, and simply said, “Smile.  You’re ok.”  It meant nothing – a fleeting moment and probably immediately forgotten by him, but such a tiny act of kindness really made me reconsider my own angst and instead feel grateful for the humanity and connection of which we are all capable.

I suppose I could just chalk that incident up to the character of the place I was in – that stereotypical (and often false) “Southern Hospitality” that we’re all so simultaneously fond and critical of.  Just like I can chalk up the avoidance of contact to New York.  Even after a week, I felt myself adopting the “isolation MO” like an accent: I walk quickly to my destination with my hands in my pockets, headphones in; on the subway, my book is out and my nose is buried in it, and if it’s possible to take a seat, I sit in a place with as much space as possible on both sides. I slouch down, meeting no one’s gaze; I even feel like I’m developing some back issues as a result. It’s not an affect that I particularly want or enjoy, but it’s remarkable how quickly I’ve adopted it, even unconsciously. 

So, no, everyone.  New Yorkers aren’t necessarily rude; they just don’t want to look at you.

*An amusing anxious glance anecdote: During my summers as a camp counselor in Black Mountain, NC, I used to go contra dancing with some of the staff on our night off.  We went to Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa.  I won’t go into all the details of those nights (and there are plenty that I would be happy to describe), but suffice it to say that contra dancing is somewhat of a cross between square dancing and Celtic folk or traditional English country dancing (think of those scenes from Jane Austen film adaptations that you’ve seen).  Every dancer has a partner to whom he or she returns after moving down the line and dancing with a stranger.  On the turns, you place your foot in the middle to create an axle of sorts, and, if you’re following, you spin to the speed and strength of your partner.  But just like your foot is planted in the middle, your face is quite stationary, and it’s almost a necessity to lock eyes on this stranger turning you in a dizzying circle.  I always found this incredibly awkward; I was usually a sweaty mess in the non-conditioned, North Carolina gym full of dancers, hippies, and body odor, so I was conscious of not looking my best, but I wanted to appear exuberant (which I generally was), so I often smiled. But it was one of those smiles that you awkwardly hold when the photographer's 1-2-3 turns into 16-17-18.... Several of these partners remarked with a touch of derision, “Well, aren’t you a happy one.”  After all, I was grinning my fakest grin as I locked eyes for that ten seconds of spinning.  Whatever, dude.  You’re wearing a Richard Simmons sweatband and a kilt.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Strand Bookstore, Literary Landmark No. 8

January 17, 2012

The Strand in Greenwich Village is a twofer: both a literary landmark and an epic bookstore, and “epic” is an understatement.

I didn’t want to love the Strand, which is why I didn’t immediately rush to it when people (everybody) suggested it. “Have you been to The Strand yet? You have to go!”  I avoided it with the same guilty pride we use when we don’t want to admit that we actually enjoyed a common blockbuster film that “the masses” prize – you know, a James Cameron or Michael Bay flick. Or, for a better example, even though going to the top of the Empire State Building is cliché, no one can deny that it’s a phenomenal vantage point that acquaints you with New York and preserves some of the movie magic that we associate with the city.  So although The Strand is undoubtedly local and couldn’t be anywhere but New York, the last remaining used bookseller on the once-abundant Book Row, I nearly considered it too well-known and almost too “touristy” for my search.

Well, that was just stupid.

When I arrived at The Strand (very conveniently located close to the subway and all its connections at Union Square, thus easily accessible…), I probably didn’t enter the store for a good twenty minutes.  The temperature was in the 20s and I was wearing a skirt and thin tights, so my legs felt every whip of that wind.  But how could they (I) pay any attention when there were carts and carts of used books for sale outside?  Even before customers enter the store, they have entered a browsing paradise.

“Browsing Paradise”- [brouz-ing par-uh-dahys] – noun.  Origin: 2012 AD, United States
  1. Of or depicting the heavenly realms of bibliophilia.
  2. A place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness wrought by the presence of rare books and titles, gorgeous spines and covers, and the tangible accessibility to so many pages of wonder.
  3. The occasion upon which bookstore patrons may happen upon random finds near one another.  Multiple genres cohabitate on carts and in bins: Look at those editions of Thoreau and Michael J. Fox next to each other on the $2 cart; this must be a browser’s paradise.
  4. The slightly overwhelming circumstances in which one is confronted with 18 miles of books and, after spending an hour simply walking some of the aisles, realizes that one has not even made a dent in all of the possibilities.  Thus, one resolves to return.

"Hi, I'm a 19th century edition, just hanging out on the $2 cart."

Look what I found!  Yes,ladies and gents, my name is on the shelves at the Strand, compliments of UT creative writing.
Founded in 1927, the Strand features plenty of new but also used books.  Seriously, it makes McKay in Knoxville look like a joke. If I were so bold as to make an analogy…

McKay : Strand :: a child’s fingerpainting on the fridge : the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Literally, books are shoved into every nook and cranny of its four floors, and it has astounding sections of not only standards like literature, history, and philosophy but fashion, art, and photography.  It boasts (on plenty of attractive merchandise – and totes!) that it has 18 miles of books, and I believe it.  Apparently, Steven Spielberg ordered a 30,000 title library from the Strand; it probably didn’t make much of a dent.

It has so many of the ideal bookstore features that meet my criteria: charming and intriguing displays (even a featured author gets to curate his/her own display table to fill with their goodies of choice), good discounts, a great selection in clearly marked sections, used books, community involvement and events, and a unique character.  The displays are often humorous, and despite the sheer size of its shelves and inventory, it avoids feeling like a warehouse or too commercial.

New books that look old so you can build that impressive library display.

Way to keep up with the times.

Interesting neighbors.

My next journal?
 The Strand is incomparable.  Literally. I don’t think that I can compare it to my other finds because it’s created its own breed of bookstore; the smaller stores I’ve found can’t offer the same discounts or displays because they have neither the size nor the consumer base…nor the budget,  I’m sure. At Strand,  the sheer size and prospect of finding hidden treasures makes it impossible not to browse (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enter without purchasing something), but it’s also impossible to browse because you quickly get overwhelmed by the sheer size and prospect of leafing through so many volumes.  Sensory overload and overstimulation makes visiting Strand a guaranteed time commitment. 

Unlike some of my other local bookstore finds, the atmosphere is alive with energy, which is both a blessing and curse.  A famous writer or celebrity could brush your shoulder or stand directly across from you at the display table, but you wouldn’t notice because you are so inundated with the books in front of you and the activity of staff and customers around you.  To accommodate so many volumes, the aisles are narrow, and it’s not difficult to get trapped while someone pulls a book off the shelf – but not one on the top; those are some tall and nearly inaccessible stacks in such a hubbub.  Strand is by no means so heavily trafficked that you can’t enjoy looking at some titles and leafing through a few, but it certainly lacks the leisurely coziness of other stores. 

A Conversation between Two Bookstores:
Small, cozy, independent store: “Hey man, we have some good reads.  Roger suggests this theological treatise, and Beth suggests this book on vegetarianism.  But, you know, read a few pages, see if you like it.  That cracked leather chair is pretty comfy.  Take your time, whatevs.  I’m just going to play you some Duke Ellington while you check it out, maybe switch to some indie band that nobody’s heard of yet.  Cool.”
The Strand:  “We have books.  We have totes.  We have gifts. We have rare books, collectible books, artsy books, picture books, word books.  Books, BOOKS, BOOKS!
(So many books, so little time for that panic attack you’re about to have….)

Of course I will return, and of course I will end up buying more books that I don’t need, but I will also find more small stores that I can “own.”  The Strand may be “a great bookstore to visit” and “a favorite store of mine,” but it lacks the intimacy that may compel someone to gush, “it’s my favorite place.” It’s a New York City favorite, not a neighborhood favorite.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Update (and it really is about to be Saturday night live)

I’ve recently put my literary landmark and bookstore quests on hold.  Part of me grieves for the loss of this brief exploratory chapter of my New York life, but never fear, intrepid readers; it will resurface – hopefully when the weather warms and the days lengthen. This moratorium results from developing a schedule: I now have a (pseudo-)job to occupy my hours, and I’m finding other weekly commitments to add to the schedule for Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday.* And those are just the standing commitments.

Having a weekly schedule gives me a stronger impression of rootedness in the city.  I go to work during the week, then I plan events for nights…or I go to a class at the Y, a very mundane local-y way to spend an evening, no? Last night, I’m happy to say that, at least a little bit, I initiated my first New York gathering.  I suggested a trip to the independent theater, and the final group consisted of two of the girls I knew when I moved here, a guy who was a friend of theirs in college, and one of my coworkers.  Could I be getting comfortable enough to allow the social engineering strand of my personality to resurface??  Well, let’s not get too hasty.

Afterwards, in a stunning feat of indecision (“What do you want to do?” “I’m up for whatever.”  “I could be persuaded to do whatever.”  “Whatever you want to do.”  “Whichever way we go is fine.”  “You choose.”  “It doesn’t matter.” “Right or left?” “Left or right?”  “What do you want to do?”), we found our way to a nearby, nondescript bar (literally, I think the sign was a letter-size chalkboard above the door) and had a few drinks.  For some reason, I found myself in a surprisingly upbeat, chatty mood, which I think can only be the result of feeling comfortable even though I had never before spent time with two of my companions. In that calm, mundane Friday night kind of way, I thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

And what better to follow a “mundane” New York night than with what I perceive to be more “New York” than the historic landmarks: brunch?  I met my friend Sarah for brunch at Cafeteria, a trendy, almost-touristy spot in Chelsea which, I’m told (by Sarah), was featured in a Sex and the City episode.  It’s certainly not one of those “you have to be in the know” places because everyone seems to know about it, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less of a destination. We split a spinach salad, we split a country flatbread dish, and we split a delightful conversation about ourselves, our friends, men, relationships, New York (wait, were we in that episode of Sex and the City?).  We did not, however, split our brunch cocktails.

(I regret to say that I did not take any photos; I am determined to improve in that area.)

So the great literary adventures may be paused temporarily, but I think I like the prospect of everyday life adventures, too.  Perhaps a mixture will suffice?

(Of course, the fact that I find any of this worthy of commentary probably speaks to the fact that I don’t really live here, at least not yet; if I did, the aforementioned events would be second nature and the social activities forgettable. But that’s the benefit of being a newbie.)

*On a personal note, I wonder why I am so quick to fill my schedule.  Perhaps I have more energy than I give myself credit for; perhaps I am just too averse to spending time alone.  To be sure, this scheduling tendency reveals my inability to find satisfaction with my current situation (whatever it may be).  One month I’m complaining about grading, grading, grading all the time and the next I’m whining about being bored, bored, bored.  The ascertainable difference, I feel, is that my time as a teacher occurred while I had established relationships and social events in which I could participate or organize, but the grading kept me from them.** In my New York weeks of “freedom,” I had plenty of time to find interesting things to do, but once darkness rolled around, the few friends I had upon arrival lived too far away or were busy recovering from the workday, and stores and shops closed early, and since darkness rolls around in the 5 o’clock hour…this limited me.  And I can only stare at the pink walls of my small room for so long.
Essentially, it comes down to supply and demand, that age-old economic concept of which I only know the basics but will still attempt to use to provide a fitting analogy: the more one works, the less free time one has, so the more one relishes the thought and, at times, the experience of having nothing to do. However, as our deficient human nature would have it, when this hardworker actually has free time, his/her conditioning to keep busy often prevents enjoyment of time off, which leads to self-induced busy work and even more grumbling.

**There were certainly other issues with grading, and I’m not saying that I dearly miss it.  Or really miss it at all.  But I do miss students and teaching.***

***Wait a tic, this is my blog, not my personal journal…apologies.

I Totes Love Totes

In a pedestrian environment, it is absolutely essential to have a good tote bag.  Women may have big-ass purses, but who really likes carrying those around?  But a tote bag...that is unisex.  Everyone can sport a sturdy, practical bag.  But it's not just having the bag; it's what's on the bag, too.  Sure, there are generic totes with no logos or clever phrases or quirky artwork.  Maybe those are even ideal. However, in this city, what kind of bag you carry can be just as revealing about your personality as the clothes you wear or the book you read (well, that last one might be a trump card). Are you ironic?  Vintage?  Rebellious (I saw a bag with nothing but a decided expletive scrawled on it; definitely to the point)? Funny?  Practical?

I thought this guy had a pretty solid choice:
I wish I was a little bit taller

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Packed Like Sardine-Cattle

Since a significant portion of my day is spent in transit and in public*, I have decided to devote a new section of this blog for my legion of followers (last time I checked, there were 8.  But hey, I’ve always said that’s my lucky number since my birthday is 8/8**.  So that works.) Originally, I was going to call the short vignettes that have been piling up in my mind “Subway Stories,” but I’ve also recently begun to appreciate the wonders of the bus, so that was a bit too limiting.  Therefore, I’ve settled on “Transit Tales” because alliteration is catchy (read: easy and lazy).  I also considered “Conveyance Considerations” and “Pedestrian Passages,” and I might get more inventive and get rid of the alliteration altogether…

Not that any of this titling discussion matters***.  But feel free to weigh in on titles.

The point is that walking and riding around the city by cab, bus, or (especially) subway, provokes much hilarity, concern, and general thought. The experience is at times mundane, at times profound, and often ridiculous. 

So I’ll start with this brief yet painfully obvious observation upon which anyone who has ever ridden an express train into Manhattan at rush hour could remark:

Nowhere has the expression about being “packed like a herd of cattle” (or some variation) resonated so clearly with me or been so apparent as on the A train heading into Manhattan in the 9 AM hour.  I know how Bessie feels.  If anyone has ever wondered what it feels like to have your nose thrust into a stranger’s armpit, praying the desperate prayer that he or she has used deodorant that day, all one needs to do is ride the subway. 

Even when it’s that crowded, people doggedly adhere to that New York priority of isolation (or, perhaps, independence is a kinder, more positive word to use).  As much as possible (and it’s often not), they struggle to avoid contact with the people on the train – that is, trying to avoid contact with their fellow sardines.  Or cattle.  Choose your metaphor.  This results in interesting displays of balance; often, it’s too crowded to reach the pole, and as the train lurches forward, back, or to the side (somehow, inexplicably, I think it manages all three directions simultaneously), commuters fall into the people around them, their weight transferring to a stranger’s arm, back, bag.  Granted, with the crowd, they don’t fall far, but in an effort to avoid contact, New Yorkers on express trains have developed the most amazing reflexes.  They jump back to their standing position, once again vainly attempting to avoid contact with others until the next lurch…or, gratefully, the doors open and travelers disembark.  But then…a bigger mass of people is waiting to push in. Indeed, “crushing mass of humanity” takes on new meaning.

The “Isolation M.O.” + crowd scenario also develops impressing feats of contortionism.  As more people pile onto the train and miraculously create standing space ex nihilo, people fight to keep reading their books, and I include myself as a soldier in this battle****. I’ve held my book up above my head, giving my arm a little workout as I try holding it steady; I’ve held it down against my stomach, trying to read in the shadow of my own head; I’ve held it out to my side, under the arm of somebody else, twisting my neck to see over their arm as they hold on to the pole; I’ve held it directly in front of my eyes as only the nearly-blind have been known to do.  That’s dedication.
*I think there’s a profound difference in labeling this traveling portion of my day as “in transit and in public” rather than “public transportation.”  The latter implies only a mode of travel, akin to “pedestrian traffic” or “commercial jet” or “makeshift raft à la Huck and Jim.” Separating the terms emphasizes that you are, indeed, traveling with the public eye on you…and your eye on the incredible variety and surprising characters of the public.
**Notice how I casually threw in the birthday so that you will all get out your smartphones or old school calendars and mark that glorious occasion. 
***I mean, seriously, the title of this blog is…well, a bit uninspired.  I will also take suggestions for changing that.
****Given the circumstances, the ability to maintain not only focus but absorption in a book is quite impressive, and I’m rather pleased with this developing talent.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Working Nine-to-Five (Sorry, Dolly, it’s actually Ten-to-Six. But never fear, I-I-I will always love you-ou-ou…)

In making the big move to the city, I have been incredibly fortunate.  I found a place to live before I moved here, and even if it’s not perfect, it’s on the whole pleasant, and I am becoming increasingly fond of the neighborhood, actually. I have people here in the city so that I’m not completely lonely, and I have people to make plans with and spend time with, and people that watch out for me and invite me in; I couldn’t do the cold-turkey move without any connections, I don’t think. I’m certainly not that brave.

And I found a job in a relatively short amount of time.  Two, actually.  I was officially hired by Panera Bread for a hot minute, but “quit” before I started training because…I found a little something else that makes me feel a little bit better about myself. During my first three weeks here in which I was as unemployed and unengaged as I have ever been, in between exploring and writing, I applied to a whole lot of jobs, career-track opportunities to which I’m only barely qualified.  I haven’t heard back from any of them and don’t really expect to.  But I did apply to the position I currently hold, to its somewhat shady advertisement.

It wasn’t an advertisement at all, really.  The job listing didn’t even say what the job really was or what company it was for.  (When I told my dad this, he asked, “Are you sure it’s a real company?”).  But the list called for a researcher/writer with an English background and, preferably, teaching experience.  Um, hello?

To this day, I have no idea why they wanted teaching experience, and I am still definitely working below my degree level (I hope that doesn’t come across as too self-important; it’s just truthful), but needless to say, the interview was short, sweet, and simple, and I got the job.  It’s a temporary full-time freelance position.  This basically means that it’s potentially only for two months (but my boss, Brett, has clearly indicated that there’s opportunity to stay on in the new but growing company), and the freelance business means that 1) I have to take out my own taxes, which is a pain and 2) they have the freedom to pay extremely little.  But it’s still more than Panera.  And it’s a standard, consistent schedule: Monday through Friday, 10-6. After so much craziness of teaching at random times and madly grading and lesson-planning in between, I appreciate the scheduled day…at least for the time being. And the little (ok, big) dreamer in me loves the fact that I go into a Manhattan office every day.

Here’s the breakdown: I work in the Herald Square building, literally right across the street from the gigantic Macy’s store.  Herald Square is the ending point for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Everyday I go in and…I stare at a computer for eight hours with my headphones in, rocking out to Pandora Radio, talking to virtually no one, and viewing my periodic trips to the bathroom as exciting changes of scenery.  But I shouldn’t complain – I have a job.  No, it’s not my dream job or a career, but with the circumstances of the position and my life, it’s a good temporary gig, and I did say I wanted something easy that I don’t take home with me.  I found it.

My work building

Even though it’s not challenging or intellectually stimulating, it’s really not awful, and I need to learn to be more grateful for opportunities! As I sit on the 24th floor of a midtown building surrounded by the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of”*, looking out at Macy’s, exemplar of everything materialistic in this urban setting, I research hiking and outdoor opportunities in state parks for developing apps called PocketRangers.  And I thoroughly appreciate the irony.

Looking out of my office window
When I do talk to people, they are really quite nice.  I share an office with three other people.  Two girls research like I do, but there’s an older fellow named Adam who has clearly been with the other company in the family, a marketing group that develops products like university admissions forms, for many years.  He is delightful.  He tells me little anecdotes about his grandchildren cursing in the car, and he chuckles with obvious amusement. He says, “OK, OK!” all the time and reminds me of Bill Cosby. He speaks really loudly on his many phone calls and always ends his conversations with clients with “Be Good.”  Together with Bob and other-older-gentleman-whose-name-eludes-me, he forms the troublemaking triumvirate in the office, sharing old-man jokes and saying things like, “Bob, you have to come meet Leah.  Quite a kind young woman.  Now, Leah, watch out for Bob.  He’s touched.  You know, he’s not right. Got something wrong with him.” Or Bob comes in (after a phone conversation that we all overhear about how to sell Speedos to a private school): “Adam, are your corrupting these young ladies?  Such a bad influence.  You girls keep it down now.  Don’t get too rambunctious.  Keep this guy in line.”  I was also incredibly excited to discover that there is an Italian on the other side of the office; hearing the language makes me incredibly nostalgic.

When I leave the city one day (who knows when?), at least I will know where to go hiking, biking, rockhounding, or skijoring.  And looking at all of these parks really makes me excited to do so.   Camping trip, anyone? I’ve got the inside info.

*Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, I tip my hat to you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Coffee Shops in the City

One of the greatest benefits to filling my day wandering and writing* has been discovering coffee shops.  Although I have some Starbucks gift cards that I will take full advantage of, I prefer to support local coffee shops and try out their house blends.  (I’m trying my damnedest to be an astute coffee drinker because that’s the cheapest way to justify my extended presence in each shop.)

I’ve already mentioned The Daily Press because it’s so near to me and right in front of the entrance to the subway.  I started frequenting it not only for its convenience and simple charm (they play such an assortment of music, from Boston to hip-hop to jazz to a delightful hour of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours; they also have a projector, and they played a great jazz documentary in the background one afternoon); I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve actually been mildly stalking the staff.  I want to establish familiarity and routine in my neighborhood, so I’m trying to make myself a regular.

The Daily Press Bed-Stuy
But I’ve also stopped in and visited other local shops and chains, some near me and some simply happened-upon in Manhattan.

Joe, Upper West Side

Cafe Grumpy, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

Here, at Cafe Grumpy, I struck up a relatively brief but interesting conversation with a regular, Antonio, who is Italian but grew up in Cleveland.
News Bar, Greenwich Village, Manhattan.  It caters to the NYU crowd, definitely. A nice place to leaf through magazines without even having to pretend that you'll eventually buy one.
At News Bar, I sat next to the most adorable old men, drinking their hot chocolate and turning on the old-school charm with the younger staff.

Ms. Dahlia's Cafe, right at the end of my block.

Very charming ladies.  And they were playing Natalie Cole's Unforgettable the whole time.
This is just a small representation, and I might share more about each later.  They all have different personalities, some friendlier than others, but I have always enjoyed the coffee shop atmosphere, especially when there are regulars.

On a run the other day, I haphazardly discovered my favorite coffee shop/bakery in Brooklyn yet: Urban Vintage.  The owners advertise it as a Boutique Café.  The décor is delightful (and for sale) – vintage and upcycled pieces of antique furniture.  The chairs are wonderfully rich yet mismatched, so each table has a unique flair, especially those tables that are hidden back by an armoire that holds great frames or soaps for sale.  Swirls on gilded wallpaper coexist easily with exposed brick painted in random squares of muted antique colors. The food is very affordable and looks delicious; the sandwiches come wrapped in little leaf bows, and the bread is obviously fresh.  For the ultimate treat, I heard the staff announce someone's order: "Nutella latte with almond milk!"  Yes, please. I will certainly visit again.

*I've discussed writing in a previous post.  It's actually become a pleasant and therapeutic hobby, which doesn't necessarily depend on talent or skill.  I've actually found myself writing not only in my journal and for these posts; I started working on a screenplay (say what?).  It's a "movie," a short film really, that's been "playing" over and over in my head and is intensely personal, which is ironic because movies in our culture are so communal.