i don't venture into manhattan much, but when i do, i am always fixated on the suits. i don't remember the last time i saw a suit on bedford street that wasn't hasidic in nature. maybe they dematerialize if they try to walk into hip town. perhaps there is an invisible portal of which i am not aware, sucking out the intruders before they dilute the newly constructed identity of this place.
the other day i had a dentist's appointment on 69th st, and decided to walk south to 39th to buy some fabric. it's an interesting sociographic odyssey, if you will permit the term, walking south on the east side. first i trekked through the park, where i saw: tourists, joggers (unemployed? high enough on the totem pole to leave work early? personal trainers?), bums (not too many of those, thanks to the cops), nannies with small children, pigeons, and a park service guy picking up leaves (futility embodied).
emerging from the park onto 5th avenue, i saw a sea of bobbing heads at 53rd st. it is strangely beautiful to watch a mass of suited new yorkers walking with purpose on a busy st. they swim past each other without missing a beat. good haircuts, leather briefcases. cell phones, taxis, healthy juices, sharp lines intended everywhere except in the faces, where they come uninvited.
further downtown, things look a little shabbier. people are constantly loading and unloading things. trucks, vans, taxis, subways, feverishly cycling people and items through the city. i'm sad that i was in brooklyn for the blackout and not walking down the avenues - i'm curious to see what this highly different pattern of movement would look like on the street. more people, but with less purpose.
in new york there is a way of assessing people around you without looking at them. perhaps this is the way in other cities, but nyc is where my experience lies. you let your eyes slide over them, retrieving relevant information, which may or may not pertain to: possible danger, attractiveness/lack thereof, erratic behavior that may flail in your direction. this is especially true on the subway. no one turns to look at anything, but everyone sees everything. although, most of the information is immediately discarded; there's too much to actualy take all of it in; our feeble minds must arm themselves against implosion. i think people wear sunglasses on the subway so they can look at everyone else without being found out. eyes that accidentally meet always dart away just as quickly. to stare at someone is to intrude on what fragile personal space we have managed to construct amidst the constriction. people from other places often misread this shiking from contact as coldness, but i think it belies our warmth; we are so vulnerable in the face of even a glance that we control our gaze, respecting others' right to the illusion of space in the hope that they will return the favor.
10am in the morning in manhattan looked like dawn today. it was grey and thinking about rain. the sun was sleeping in. i surveyed the bleak scene at union square, a little wet and cold with only a few brave and overly enthusiastic sunday morning shoppers beginning their tromp. i took the train back to brooklyn, and decided that the neighborhood is a much better place to be in the rain. at least there are faces to recognize amidst the washed out concrete colors.
pending further insightful commentary on brooklyn life, and in revolt against recent political events, i include here something written by the late, great, claud cockburn--- journalist, fighter, communist.
"What arouses the indignation of the honest satirist is not, unless the man is a prig, the fact that people in positions of power or influence behave idiotically, or even that they behave wickedly. It is that they conspire successfully to impose upon the public a picture of themselves as so very sagacious, honest and well-intentioned."
standing outside the Bedford L today, i saw Nextel's new ad poster. The main tag reads:
"I DO, THEREFORE I AM"
then there are pictures of snappy phones with these other phrases under them:
"MOVE MOUNTAINS WITH JUST ONE FINGER"
"MATCHES A WORK ETHIC, NOT AN OUTFIT"
"WANT A FASHION ACCESSORY? BUY A POODLE"
this sparks a few trains of thought.
first, i am in new york now, where people are about Doing, rather than Being, as seems to be the case in san francisco.
second, it's interesting how ad campaigns work by opposing themselves to other ad campaigns. i would never have thought of my phone as a fashion nugget before the fashion nugget phone ads (nor do i know, but the idea exists). now that meme gets used as a platform for this other meme.
third, i wonder if they thought about the bedford ave market before putting that billboard there. perhaps they think that people here want to think of themselves as being anti-fashion, though that would be a laughable delusion. although the people around here arn't as work obsessed as our manhattan counterparts, so that wouldn't make so much sense. although they do like to think of themselves as blazing intellectuals, to which the descartes reference applies, but not so blazing that they are useless and ineffectual - they are thinkers, but who also do, or something. ok i think i'm done pulling this one apart.
today i sat on my steps and watched the Hasidic kids playing what looked like a version of red light green light. they looked like they were having a rockin good time. it's strange, though, to watch the girls running around, and know that by the time they are my age (24), they will be married and probably on their fifth child. i am a proud member of the judge not camp, and yet i wonder whether they are happy living in a world where their roles are so strictly defined, with no power to alter their circumstances. i think that people can be happy growing up in any kind of situation, as long as no more appealing alternative is clearly visible. but what must it be like to watch other women taking financial control over their lives and choosing if and when to have children? i'm guessing that the majority of Hasidic women see the alternative, and are happy not to have to fight that battle. but what about the others?
by a stroke of luck which involved only a small degree of questionable behavior, i have come upon the writings of George Bernard Shaw. i recommend him to all. his Treatise on Parents and Children is the only thing i could find online at short notice. i would strangle small puppies to be able to write like this. here's a taste, lest you be link shy:
"Childhood is a stage in the process of that continual remanufacture of the Life Stuff by which the human race is perpetuated. The Life Force either will not or cannot achieve immortality except in very low organisms: indeed it is by no means ascertained that even the amoeba is immortal. Human beings visibly wear out, though they last longer than their friends the dogs. Turtles, parrots, and elephants are believed to be capable of outliving the memory of the oldest human inhabitant. But the fact that new ones are born conclusively proves that they are not immortal. Do away with death and you do away with the need for birth: in fact if you went on breeding, you would finally have to kill old people to make room for young ones."
he's totally current, except that he was writing a hundred years ago. mark another down for 'nothing ever changes'. or maybe it's, 'stupid humans, we already figured this one out, why are we still running blind?'
Williamsburg gets a bad rap, or, depending how you see it, a good rap for the wrong reasons. Sure, there are 8 blocks of Bedford st. that are Extra Hip, but there are other things afoot in this threshold between manhattan and brooklyn ('threshold' status being totally dependent on the whims of the L train. ah sweet east river, so narrow, yet so wide, and always filthy).
for example, there are many Hasidic jews. i know because i live in their stronghold. dwelling in the midst of an extremely tight knit community into which i could never, ever be admitted has its pros and cons. first, they are pretty self-sufficient. this means that within two blocks of my house i have: two cobblers, a sewing machine store, a vacuum machine store, a lamp store, an appliance store, a bank, a butcher and a fruit market. new york is known for being highly convenient, but this is a fairly extreme example. also, they have Many children and many eyes to watch them, which means that there are always kids playing on my street, a rare sight in my experience of new york. children from the same family all wear matching clothes, which is cute and also odd. as some of you may be aware, Hasidic garb is highly distinctive. no, that photo wasn't taken sixty years ago, though it could have been. it is a beautiful and slightly eery sight to see hundreds of Hasidic men milling around the street after a service; the black coats and white shirts in headlights remind me of an abstract installation.
i'm a big fan of bathroom wall art. the bathroom at the verb cafe is particularly elaborate, with lots of anti war stuff and obscure poetry stuff and tags and different colored paint and whatnot. my favorite for this week though is this, written on a white patch over the sink:
Back in Five Minutes
this reminds me of the duvet discussion in fight club. except this time it's artsy intellectuals, not repressed ikea drones.
i am told that in new york city, by law, a building must turn on the heat when the temperature drops below 60 degrees. the current temperature in new york, according to our exciting friends at weather.com, is 52 degrees and cloudy. inside my appartment, i estimate the temperature to be 45 degrees and damp. having taken refuge in the Verb Cafe on Bedford st., home to your hipster friends and mine, i have warmed up enough to ask myself, when is my building going to notice that we are now living in October country? i can put up with all kinds of outside weather, but trees really hate to be cold when fumbling around for coffee in the morning. also, trying to paint with frozen limbs is a difficult process.- unless i want to wage chemical warfare on myself with my extremely toxic galkid oil mediums, i gots to keep the windows open.
my california soul weeps for the brooklyn winter about to grip it. at least they are tears of irony.
i have succumbed to the madness. does stating an opinion in this space signify the ultimate egoism, or the ultimate humility? i guess you can't answer that, since i have made no room for Comments from the masses. so i guess it's egoism for today.