Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rock You Like a Hurricane

Coffee shop in my neighborhood, scroungin' up some bizness before Sandy.

My dad visited. Superstorm Sandy assaulted New York.

Although these two events seem unrelated – save for their chronological overlap – they both have me thinking about New York in relational terms.  That is, when something unfamiliar interacts with the familiar, when the foreign strikes home, I contemplate.

Ever since I returned to the city in August after visiting my parents, I’ve been underwhelmed, though subconsciously so.  The city hasn’t changed, nor has it lost its excitement or luster.  Nor have I gotten bored in daily life.  On the contrary: I began a new job, the “semester” of small groups and daily life started up again. I’m still meeting and befriending new people, growing closer to some, experiencing new events and music and cultures.  But this “daily life” has become integrated into “New York life.” Or, perhaps, “New York life” has become “daily life.”  That  I cannot figure out how best to phrase the sentiment points to the fact that the syntax doesn’t matter: they’re one and the same.

Of course, I’m still new here and will not be considered a New Yorker for many years to come (if ever).  But what the city has lost is the luster of the “new,” the excitement of a thrilling (or terrifying) adventure in my life.  In several ways, this is a blessing: I have multiple communities in which I feel part, I have a job and a daily commute, I have a list of favorite places to recommend to others.  In other ways, this loss is a curse (or, more generously, a disappointment): I’ve already felt somewhat restless, I now have to face the realization that my life here hasn’t turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and I’ve lost my sensitivity to the latent excitement of my environment.  As evidence, I present case study number one: my neglect of this blog, my personal record of my first year in New York. (Hopefully I’ll find the time to write some catch-up, but no promises.)

When my dad visited last week, it was his first visit to the city. Planning our itinerary became less about showing him around the city and more about showing him my life, now enmeshed in this place.  I sought to diversify the experience, to show him touristy New York and personal New York.  We walked around Central Park, but we also walked around my neighborhood.  We greeted the city from the top of the Empire State Building, but we also greeted my friends at a new, local beer hall.  We met with the city as we rode through its underground tunnels and walked its streets, and we fellowshipped with my new-found community.  Of course, his glimpse into my life was fragmented; I don’t normally go to nice Italian restaurants on Friday nights or visit the museum on Sunday mornings (though perhaps I should). But exposing my father – unfamiliar to the city and my daily routine – to the now-familiar aspects of my life was a daunting-yet-intriguing experience, if only for the fact that the juxtaposition exists.
Lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry (Pre-Sandy loss of power)

A foggy day in New York-town from the top of the Empire State Building, looking south. No lines!

Autumn in New York.  Central Park 10/27/2012.

The father conquers New York City.

Dead things at the American Museum of Natural History
When Sandy swept through, locking us indoors for a few days, trapping my dad here for a few extra, stressful days, but largely (and thankfully) ignoring my neighborhood, I was once again confronted by the familiar/unfamiliar divide.  Bare fact: a hurricane in New York is unfamiliar (especially because I was not here for Irene – and its pittance – last year). Being cut off from Manhattan for a week (and for the first time since I’ve lived here) left me with nothing but the everyday aspects of my life: my apartment, my friends gathering, a few runs to the park or the library.  Everything was wholly domestic.  At the same time, Sandy wreaked havoc on parts of the city, shutting down power in lower Manhattan (and at my work) in ways that I couldn’t imagine in my safe little Brooklyn nest.  The closest I got to the destruction was volunteering at the shelter in the Park Slope Armory, where nursing homes from the Rockaways evacuated their patients. And even after a few hours there, I was free to go home to my bed, to take a hot shower and curl up under soft downy comfort(er). I followed the news like most people in the country – via newspaper reports and friends’ Facebook feeds (we don’t have TV).  All of this unfamiliar tragedy was happening around me, but it still felt so distant; it was around the corner, yet I was able to distance myself and lose myself in party games, a run, a book (or four), Netflix, and selfish complaints of boredom.

Beginning of Sandy: we ventured out to get lunch at Nero Doro.

Nero Doro

Mid-Sandy: Making cookies (oatmeal chocolate chip)

Mid-Sandy: Roommate Dinner! (+ Dad)

My dad ended up renting a car and driving home, and I could hear the relief in his voice – not because of leaving New York, necessarily, but because of getting home, getting back to the familiar.  And I have to wonder, as I go back to work, as I recommit to classes at the Y, as the MTA resumes subway service, but as Sandy’s complications still trouble millions, will this city actually ever rest in me as familiar?  Does it already?  Or will it keep throwing surprises – good or bad – and shaking me up? My bet is on the surprises.

I actually relish the swing between familiar and unfamiliar, the forced re-examination of my life here, which I never want to become ordinary.  I want to be gently shaken and encouraged to look around, to be conscious as I walk through daily life, and I want "daily life" to be challenged - and I want to constantly challenge it.  

I just hope that whatever it is that makes me conscious the next time around can be a little gentler to the city than Sandy. 

Post-Sandy: People blatantly disregarding the "Park Closed" sign at Prospect Park

Post-Sandy: Have a seat amidst the fall foliage at Fort Greene Park