Friday, March 19, 2010

New York City

It was like, 4 days before anyone told me that this was the worst weather they could remember. Here I am thinking I'm maybe being a giant pussy after so much time in sunny-and-seventy-two southern california.

I really doubted my own memory of the northeast. The rain is supposed to fall downwards, right? Not be blown sideways into your face? Witness the horror of some kind of umbrella holocaust, the broken bodies littering every street corner. You do forget these little details about life up here, where you live and die by the weather.

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Getting ahead of myself.

I woke up on my last Santa Monica morning at 4am. My parents drove me into the airport, as is their wont. Here's me:

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I stressed about carrying my backpack on the plane, but then I remembered all the ludicrous rolling/folding/kitchen sink suitcases that everyone has now and just did it. I suspect I won't get away with that on some domestic Jordanian puddle jumper, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

On bus to grand central, staring out the window and thinking to myself how different the colors are, muted and grey. None of the deep reds and greens of california. The moment I walked into the station I breathed a big sigh of relief. To just stand on the periphery and be among the bustle of new york city felt so palpably satisfying. I couldn't help but smile.

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That first night was clear and beautiful. My gracious host met me in front of her building. We had been friends when I first moved to Los Angeles and knew absolutely no one. She's since become a busy lawyer and a even busier manhattan socialite. (I never knew so many different kinds of food, clothes and furniture could be delivered via the internet. What a world we live in!)

We turned right around and went to dinner with her roommate and her roommate's boyfriend at a fancily decorated 'indian-latin fusion' restaurant. The food was excellent and served on funny-shaped dishes with complicated serving instructions. By far the highlight of the meal was our waiter's moustache, which was quite waxed and pointed. We all speculated he would be tying a blonde to some train tracks after dinner.

Equally surreal but no less fun was the bar we went afterwards that was accessed through a phone booth in the back of a underground hot dog stand. Try the bacon whiskey.

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So, I should say that in planning this leg of the trip I had a lot of good intentions about making some business contacts in the new york post-production world, but by the time I started really getting into the nitty-gritty of bugging people, it became clear no one was really that interested in talking to someone that might be looking for work sometime in the distant future, maybe. Also, my shots from Alice didn't come through fast enough to get them on a reel, so it became less than relevant. Also, I'm super lazy and have no desire to start thinking about working again.

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The next few afternoons I spent just wandering. I think it says a lot about my personality that I feel most comfortable just picking a direction and walking. I don't even really like taking the subway or the bus, because that means you have a destination in mind. I'll roughly pick somewhere I want to go and just start walking. I seem to start slowing down around 4 or 5 miles in, and then I get coffee, which is as popeye is to spinach.

But as ridiculous as it sounds, it's fun for me to just be there, watch the people go by and feel the pulse of the city. Coming straight from Los Angeles makes comparisons inevitable and the best I can offer is this: New Yorkers are an intrinsic part of the urban space rather than just existing in it and on top of it. You get so used to dodging and being dodged. People move out of the way when you pass. Cars watch out for pedestrians and anticipate jaywalking. Everyone, of all races, classes and genders, moves with a keen sense of efficiency and purpose.

I can see why people dislike it. It's a peculiar kind of anonymity, where everyone seems to assume that everyone has very important business to rush off to. I felt right at home, but then I've been known to stalk down the 3rd street promenade like I'm hunting sarah connor.

Also, on an interestingly related note, very few people use cell phones in public, compared to LA.

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I did end up going to the MOMA exhibit of tim burton's work, which was very frustrating to do solo, since I desperately wanted to rant and rave about my experience in this area. It wasn't really as interesting, though, as the woman sitting in the lobby having staring contests with people:

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One of the other interesting things we did, besides eating an entire pig and partying at the science museum, is went to a live performance of a 'radio show' where it was performed on stage but not actually broadcast. There was some Q&A, a few live music sets from a band I didn't know called 'Cursive' and an obligatory homo-erotic radio drama. Kathleen got her name picked out of a hat to answer some questions and win prizes. Which she did, but has yet to collect. It was really well done and worth checking out: http://radiohappyhour.com/

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The other thing I wanted to mention is that photography is hard. One thing that always bothered me is that the actual technique and science behind a camera is very simple, there just simply aren't that many variables to play with. The thing is, cameras aren't really all that good at doing them for you. I'm not really very good at them either, but it really seems like after 100 years we still have people in a laboratory shooting grey cards and then handing what they make to a photographer who has several decades of experience telling him what f-stop a cloudy day will require.

I have some experience with creating and using tools designed by technicians for artists, and this frustrates me. But I will reserve suggesting solutions until I'm rich and famous.

Also: pestering random people on the street is hard. Sometimes I surprise myself at how timid I can be. I better get over that.

Also: I didn’t take that many pictures because it was raining like a mother$*#&er the whole time.

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So, the persistent question in mind is, of course, would I live there? In as much as I don't want to live anywhere for a long while, I would move here in a heartbeat. It's too many great things to ignore. Going back to LA after being here would be tough. But I'm so early in this process that saying definitively is silly.

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One last note: I sat across from a couple over dinner who told me a story. They had gotten married, and decided to backpack around the world. After a year and a half or so they had ended up on the coast of australia and were in a used bookstore. The husband picks up, at random, a copy of an LSAT prep book. Fast forward a few years later, he is just starting out as a corporate lawyer in a successful manhattan firm. We had always planned to keep travelling, his wife said, but it never happened.

This, to me, is the quintessence of a genuine life story - a curious mix of serendipity, hard work, the trappings of success and a tinge of bittersweet nostalgia for what was and might have been.

5 comments:

  1. I think the cell phone thing might be due to the weather. When the weather is nicer, people in New York use their phones in public as much, if not more, than they do in LA, based on my experience. I overheard more awkward cell phone conversations in New York than anywhere else in my life (Including one girl yelling at her boyfriend on the middle of the street that he wasn't discreet enough about their lives...) and I had this whole theory about how New York saps people of any sense of privacy, so of course you would have really personal conversations in the middle of buses, streets, etc.

    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures.

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  2. Loved the read!

    I spent a week in NYC last May, and I have to say that I'm probably the only person on the face of the earth who absolutely hates it, lol.

    People didn't move out of the way; they ran up behind me to blow piercing whistles in my ear. An unsettling eau de garbage and urine seemed to follow me everywhere. Worst of all, I had to crane my neck to see the sky, and I couldn't see any mountains at all. I guess I prefer my space to contain less people.

    Anxious to hear more about the travels!

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  3. "the quintessence of a genuine life story - a curious mix of serendipity, hard work, the trappings of success and a tinge of bittersweet nostalgia for what was and might have been" in the making: how nice to witness yours.

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  4. I think the picture with the advertising and all the people with umbrellas is fantastic. Good work.

    James
    www.memyselfandmybackpack.com
    www.twitter.com/andmybackpack

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  5. three things

    1) i thought you said you'd left you iphone behind. the second photo looks suspiciously as though it were taken with the iphone 3g ... hhhmm
    2) i HATE new york. not enough to not have visited it more than a handful of times. but enough to know i would crazy if i had to live there. but then where i live now reminds me of new york and i have yet to be locked up so we're good.
    3) in response to lsato-lawyer-lovers, you should watch this great german film called 'das edukators' which obviously translated to "the educators". it's splendid.

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