Sometimes we all long for a perfectly ordered, symmetrical world, even when we know that is all a fantasy. Last week was a hard one for me, and I didn’t feel much like taking pictures, nonetheless as I was walking along I had to pause for this sunset. Then headed down a Greenpoint side street to get a better look, and while I was there I snapped a few quick shots with my phone. Now that the snow has become dirty, the streets and sidewalks filled with that ubiquitous slush and New York City is disappointingly monochromatic, I longed for the pure, cold light of last week’s sunset. Then I had some fun with editing. One of the best things about living in this city is being able to inhabit both the fantasy and the gritty reality at the same time.
We’re in the heart of the awards season of the entertainment industry. I find it all fun, but I just don’t have the patience to watch all the of those shows. I skipped the Golden Globes, but I spent quite some time the next day watching this GIF on repeat:
Seriously I could watch that thing all day, and while Twitter and press all loved it, and looked for the stories behind the ‘feud,’ I think the most likely backstory is that images like this are the result of the drinking of alcohol and the presentation of awards occurring simultaneously.
In any case, even though these days I do watch more TV than movies, it is still the Oscars that remain the only must-watch awards show of the season in my book. The nominations were released yesterday morning, and there’s one thing about them that’s left me somewhere between angry and failing to understand. It’s not about who got snubbed, or which unworthy picture was nominated. Rather, it’s the same thing that perturbs me every single year when the Academy Awards come up.
Why, oh why is there a Best Actor and a Best Actress category? In a world where Hollywood is far from the last place where discrimination based on looks, race, gender and more exists, it oftentimes feels like the last place where it’s tacitly accepted, as though it’s a given, not a bad thing, not something that should change. But it strikes me as mind boggling that no one has noticed the inherent problems in breaking down the acting categories by gender. Imagine if that were done with directing? Certainly a lot more women would win well deserved academy awards for their directing, but it would be so clearly sexist. And we would be robbed the opportunity to examine and discuss the inherent sexism that prevents women from succeeding as well as they should in that role. Separate but equal isn’t a good way to go about things, whether you’re talking race or gender.
I don’t for a minute propose that we drop two acting categories. We all tune in to see the stars, not the best cinematographer. Rather, I think the Academy ought to recognize the Best Actor and Supporting Actor in two separate categories: Drama and Comedy. That way, we’d get to see just as many movie stars, a hugely disrespected category of film would finally get better recognition, and maybe that three and half hour broadcast would drag a little less, because there’d be some real funny people on the stage. And Hollywood might be forced to further confront some of its problems with how it treats women, and consider the inherent problems in breaking people into groups based on gender.
At times it’s easy to forget that New York City is on the water, and has the attendant waterfront that goes along with that. When I first moved to Williamsburg, prior to rezoning, the East River had much more of the place mafia dumped bodies kind of feeling to it, more than a fine place to take a stroll. For all the time I’ve lived here, there has been the waterfront park on Grand which continues to have a pleasingly shabby and wild, but nonetheless amiably welcoming, feeling to it. A park that has been fully incorporated into the neighborhood.
But the Northside of Williamsburg now has a fully constructed, and quite snazzy promenade, in large part courtesy of those new waterfront towers that have been built over the last decade. Perhaps courtesy is too strong a word, considering the size of the tax and code breaks the developments reached in exchange; I’ll be more inclined to give credit when Bushwick Inlet Park is a reality and when you can walk along the river safely from Greenpoint to the Navy Yard.
But for now there’s several blocks of beautiful promenade, and park with a picturesque rocky beach, just a couple of blocks from my apartment. And in the evening when I’m headed home or running a few end of day errands, I’ll look up at the sky to see the makings of a beautiful sunset. And I’ll want a better view. And I’ll remember that in ten minutes I can be standing on west facing shore, looking over water at sky and one of the world’s most famous skylines. And so I go an watch the sunset and take pictures. And today was one of those days, and also happened to be the first day of the year.
Watching the natural beauty of a sunset play out over the Empire State building was the perfect way to begin 2016. Also, there are roses in bloom in January. I’m hoping that these blooms have more to do with this being an el niño year than carbon emissions, but it’s probably both. It’s eerie to see these flowers in New York in January, but nonetheless, they are beautiful.
As the new year is just around the corner, the mind naturally wonders towards New Year’s Resolutions. One year, the same year that the Williamsburg Cinemas opened, realizing that I hardly went to a movie in an actual movie theater anymore, resolved to go to one every single week. As I knew would happen, I didn’t come anywhere near achieving this goal, however, I went to a whole lot more movies that year, and so felt pretty happy with the results. For the last couple of years I’ve resolved to read 100 books over the course of the year. Unlike a weekly visit to the cinema, this actually feels like it should be a doable goal for me. I generally read a lot of actual books, and I read pretty quickly, and while it’s a reach, it seems like if I pushed myself towards that, it would be a breeze to have achieved half the books read by each December. I’d be happy with 50 books.
And it’s not just that I start off strong and then taper off in the manner of so many resolutions. It’s that I go through phases where I simply do not read books. And while throughout my life there have been a few brief periods where for whatever reason I didn’t do a whole lot of reading, the regularity with which my going weeks, or even months without completing an entire book is pretty directly related to the prominence the internet plays in my life. And this bothers me. I could analyze it, and make sweeping generalizations about the effect this ‘trend’ has on society, but I’ll leave it at saying that my life is definitely worse when I don’t read books on a regular basis. But I just seem to be going through these ruts. Normally I turn to murder mysteries or crime to break me out. Elmore Leonard crime and Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries are my surefire way to break a streak of illiteracy. But right as the summer was coming to an end I stumbled into such a patch, that nothing seemed able to fully cure me. My normal process is to read a book that doesn’t take a lot of emotional or intellectual energy and then once that is finished, try and read another book that is more challenging, and if I can’t get into it, go back to another ‘easier’ book. I put pleasure first, until I don’t have to, and truly longform reading regains its former role of feeling natural and necessary. I won’t say that for the last five months I didn’t finish a single book, but I will say that I have completely lost track of how many that I have begun, some of which are truly great and some of which I passionately fell in love with, but none of which I read in entirety. Quite frankly, it’s never been this bad. And before I could even think about what sort of resolution regarding reading I ought to make for 2016, it occurred to me that before 2015 ends, it would be a really good idea to pick up a book, open it to page one, and keep reading until the last page.
I originally discovered Melville House Books because of their novella series. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno, and I took it with me when I moved to Granada. I read leisurely over a couple of afternoons, enjoying every moment of holding that object of such a pleasing weight and texture. And then I put the book on my coffee table, and later on a bookshelf, enjoying the look of the bold charcoal grey of the color, every time I caught sight of it.
I loathe parting with books. I’ll give them away, but rarely will I sell them. However, while in Granada, not having access to a library with much of a selection of English fiction, I began treating the local bookstore that bought and sold used books as a sort of library that operated under a Vegas style, the house always wins influence. I’d buy a book and then go sell it, and subsidize the returns on what was usually a new book, very often by Paul Auster. I got super into reading Paul Auster while living in a basement apartment in Southern Spain. And at the end of my time there, when it was time to head back to Brooklyn, I took every single book that did not directly relate to the project I’d spent the last 18 months working on, and marched it down the hill to that bookshop to sell. Every single book except one, Benito Cereno. It was just such a perfect object, I couldn’t let it go.
And thus began my love affair with that lovely series of novellas. However, now that I go such long stretches without completing books, and have been amassing a nice little collection of those novellas for quite a few years, I couldn’t say with certainty how many I have lying about that I haven’t actually read. So as the final month of 2015 got fully under way, while about to hop on the subway, I glanced around for something to read, anything that might bring relief to the long spell of not reading books. For my birthday, a friend who knew my love of that publishing company, had gotten me a new tote and one the novellas from the series. The book was already in the bag, plus it nicely complemented the outfit I was wearing that day. I couldn’t go wrong.
As I stood on the platform later that evening, on my way home, I remembered what I’d thought about the book looking nice with my outfit, and so I took it out, opened it up and started reading. Book as fashion accessory? They’ve been used in far worse ways. Those are stylish little books, and there was something about the romance of publicly reading Baudelaire that was irresistible. I kept finding myself taking the book out and opening it up on the subway until that mysterious line was crossed, that nebulous border, that once crossed, leaves a reader unsettled until they are either reunited with the book, or have completed it.
This ad for Lyft might just be the most effective car service advertisement of all time, at the Nassau entrance to the G train.
When I first moved to NYC I remember a friend telling me that he’d tried to take the G train once, he waited an hour and left. It certainly has that reputation and were I embarking on late night travels I think I’d make other arrangements, but I do have to say that I have had amazing luck with that reviled train. I don’t take it regularly, but I do take it relatively often and have never waited longer than 10 minutes. And I’ve had to run to get to the first car of the shortened train more often than I’ve had to wait. But it does have the mystique of being the slowest most unreliable train around.
Going from the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side the other day got me thinking about the way we use articles and prepositions around the places of New York City.
At the street level, one oftentimes will say what street they are ON, but perhaps because of the frequency of the use of corners and cross streets, using AT is not uncommon. “I am on 42nd Street,” sounds completely normal. But I suspect that in part because of the frequency with which a person would be more specific in saying “I am at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue,” it sounds just as normal to say “I am at 42nd Street.” Perhaps this too is a nod to the speed at which this city and its inhabitants move. “I am at 42nd Street” can imply the person is moving north or south or towards the listener whom they are late for meeting. The exception to this is Bowery. I always say “on the Bowery,” never “at.” I suppose if I was late to meet someone, and they asked how close are you, and I was crossing Bowery, I’d potentially say “at Bowery.” But even if I wanted to clarify cross street, I’d reverse the formula so as to keep the article and have the preposition remain the same. It’s correct to place the street name first and avenue second whenever giving a corner on the grid in Manhattan. It doesn’t hold true the same way anytime you’ve gone off the grid (just outside of the numbers, not without electricity). I’d say “I’m at Grand on the Bowery,” or “I’m at East 3rd Street on the Bowery.” This is as opposed to the only other north-south running throughway that crosses Houston on the East Side intact. I’d have no issue saying “I’m at 42nd and Broadway,” or “I’m at Spring and Broadway.” Additionally, with Broadway, I’d have no qualms whatsoever about breaking the street-avenue format, whether to say Broadway and Spring or Broadway and 42nd. Were I to say 6th Avenue and 42nd Street, which undoubtedly I have, I’d feel it was me being sloppy, but Broadway, much like the course it takes through the Manhattan grid, gets its own set of rules. What Broadway never ever gets, unlike Bowery, is an article. Perhaps if I was making a stab in the dark at attempting to sound old-timey I might say you walk along the Broad Way until you’ve arrived at the druggist near the smithy. But if I ever desired to construct such a sentence I’d do a bit of research first.
Moving up to the neighborhood level, I’ve used on, at and in at various times for different neighborhoods, but articles are a bit more consistent and uncommon in how they are used. The only article used with any proper name place is of course, “the.” It is always used with the neighborhoods that end in “side”: The Upper East Side, the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side. There is no such thing as the Lower West Side, but the article is generally used with the West Village and the East Village, but never with Greenwich Village. If I ever said “Middle Village,” I’d likely use “the” beforehand, if only to emphasize that I was using such a funny term. Additionally were I to say simply, “The Village,” I’d be referring specifically to Greenwich Village, not to any of the geographically named ones.
The only neighborhood in one of the other boroughs, that I can think of, that will take an article, is the Rockaways. This one is a bit complex, as when it’s plural, it always takes the article, but when it is singular, it does not. And it is just as correct (probably more so formally, slightly less so in terms of common usage) to say Rockaway. It’s somewhat of a mystery where the plural comes from. While the Rockaways sounds like an archipelago of many islands, Rockaway is a singular peninsula. I would guess that the plural form is in reference to the several smaller neighborhoods that exist on the peninsula, or perhaps to multiple beaches. It’s believed that the word traces back to a Lenape word meaning “place of sand,” so to speak of it in the plural would mean sandy places.
With the neighborhoods that are named by sides I would always use the preposition “on.” And for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, each time I do so, I get a tiny jolt of joy, so that I never miss an opportunity to let someone know I am on “X X Side” anytime I am there. Because those are rather ungainly place names to text, especially with correct capitalization, UES, LES and UWS are three acronyms, in addition to NYC, that I am very fond of. If someone else said they were in the Upper East Side or even at, I wouldn’t think much of it, but I always say “on.” It is uncommon to refer to placing yourself in relation to a neighborhood as “on,” and I suppose that it is simply the “Side” portion of the name cancelling out everything else. In English a person is always “on a side,” never “in or at a side,” so that gets carried over to the neighborhood. The only other neighborhood that one can say they are “on,” is once again the Bowery. As that name comes from the Dutch word for farm, bouwerij, I’m not sure why it gets this treatment. In English it’s not uncommon to say “on the farm,” but so too, one can say, “at the farm.”
The distinction between using “in” and “at” is far more subtle. And in my own use the difference I can come closest to tracing is this. I would always say that I am in Williamsburg, Fort Greene, Bed-Stuy, Union Square or mid-town. However, I might say that I am at Times Square, Coney Island or The Rockaways. The first group are places I visit regularly and are places that I consider to be workaday. Places that I personally go to, but that are common to many New Yorkers would also fall into this category. I’m in Sunnyside, in Park Slope and in Battery Park. The “at” category seems to refer to places that are either a bit exotic in that they are out of the ordinary, special as in the Rockaways and Coney Island, which is also iconic. So while Times Square is never out of the ordinary enough for any New Yorker, there’s no denying it is iconic. As is workaday Wall Street where I would say at or on, perhaps in a nod to the Street part of the name, regardless of the street I’m actually standing on. I would be unlikely to say in Wall Street.
Zooming out again to a higher level of organization, I would always say what borough I’m in, although when I finally do make it to Staten Island one of these days, it’s very possible I will describe it as being on that borough, as “on” always feels right when discussing one’s relation to an island, except for Coney Island, which is no longer an island, but a peninsula. The Bronx are the only borough that will take an article. It is also the only borough of New York City that is part of the mainland of the United States of America.
Finally, looking at New York City as a whole, I have to confess something. When I am talking to another person who lives in an “Outer Borough,” I just about always refer to my trips to Manhattan as “going into the City.” I will even occasionally do this with tried and true Manhattanites, “I’ll be in the City tomorrow, let’s meet then.” Engaging in this linguistic habit means I don’t have a leg to stand on in objecting to those same Manhattanites using The City to refer specifically to their own long, narrow island. But when a person says New York City, or even worse, wants to offend the entirety of the Hudson Valley and Upstate, and says New York solely in reference to Manhattan, I see red.
Of course, all of this is completely subjective. I’d love to hear how you think pronouns and articles should be used in relation to the places of New York City, what your ideas are for the reasons these habits exist, and which New York City places you consider iconic, workaday and exotic. One thing though is not subjective. If your conception of New York City is bound by the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive, then you are sorely missing out on some of the very best parts. And that being said, it’s high time I took that Staten Island Ferry and pay a visit to Snug Harbor.
Without a doubt, the best part of staying on the Upper East Side is being able to walk in Central Park each day. This November has just been phenomenal weather wise, and as I’ve walked through the park, returning to the same path, I’ve found myself marveling at the trees. On a first meeting they are magnificent and striking. They become fast friends and during subsequent visits they greet you like a faithful companion.
Another difference to staying on the UES has meant having access to local television, and while watching the local news I saw a report about how there are plans underway to give various New York City trees email addresses. As I walked through the park I thought about what a wonderful idea that was, and wondered if the emails would remain unread or if there would be a system put into place like the USPS has with Santa Claus, except delightfully pagan. Both options have their advantages. One of the best things about trees is their stolid silence. You can confide all manners of secrets to trees, and never worry that they’ll betray your confidence. But too, what a wonderful job it would be to read what New Yorkers have written to trees.
This week, while my mom is visiting her new granddaughter, I’m dog sitting for this cutie pie:
This entails spending the week on the Upper East Side. I’ve never spent a full week in Manhattan and it feels surprisingly a lot like a whole new world. Of course for a lot of my time here, Manhattan referred to downtown neighborhoods, and a week in ‘the city’ doesn’t generally conjure up the UES specifically, but it certainly has its own charms, and I’m very curious to see what life in New York City is like without any river crossings.
First up on the agenda is finding a source for cups of coffee beyond Starbucks, and luckily for me, on my first day here I walked past a cafe that I’d not seen before, called FIKA. At home base most of my cups these days have been coming from Konditori and Oslo, which is to say that the Scandinavian name sounded very promising. Peering in, the spot was bright with a minimalist bent. There was a long narrow counter along the window, lined with bright green stools, and it seemed the perfect place to sit with a notebook, alternating between writing and people watching. That afternoon I had my first cup of coffee there. It was dark, ominously so. I sipped it black, and was not pleased. Adding milk (which I often do) and then sugar (which I rarely do) made it palatable, but I felt disappointed the coffee wasn’t better. I sat down at the counter with my cup and opened a composition book and took out a pen. As the coffee cooled slightly the bitterness dissipated in a deeper way than the mere masking by milk and sugar, leaving a cup that was dark in a way that was rich rather than burnt. I left the cafe firmly decided that I’d both gladly have another cup of their coffee and spend a bit more time at the window counter.
Looking up the shop I learned that it was in fact a New York City based chain that had been around for quite some time (since 2006), though the UES branch was brand new. That the fifteen plus branches are all in Manhattan went towards an explanation of why I’d not seen it before. The coffee is quite good and the chocolates looked amazing. It’s definitely on the pricier side for a cup of coffee, and I tried both the cold brew and the regular drip. Both of which were very good. The beans are roasted privately for the company, by a Red Hook roaster. All locations have wi-fi, and FIKA is definitely an excellent spot to enjoy a cup while getting some work done or having a quick meeting.
A second spot I happened upon was a large cafe tucked behind a small storefront on Second Avenue. I’d surely have missed it, if not for the sandwich board out front, advertising caffeinated goods. While FIKA looked enough of a well oiled chain, which a visit to their website easily confirmed, no Google search was needed to see the DTUT was clearly one of a kind. The large space is decorated in what is a mix of cozy and charmingly rustic. Up front are rough hewn wood tables, high and long, around which draftsman’s stools are gathered. In the back are several couches. In addition to Irving Farms coffee, the cafe offers wine and beer and also has a full liquor license and cocktail menu. As I’d been to Irving Farms on the LES earlier in the week and been envious of the lattes I saw others drinking, I broke my generalized rule of always ordering a plain drip cup when trying out a new coffee place. The latte I got was serviceable but pretty disappointing, both visually and in terms of taste. On my next visit, I went with the drip cup, and it was well brewed, allowing Irving Farms great flavor to shine through perfectly. Wi-fi is offered there until 5 pm on weekdays, and patrons are asked not to use laptops after 5 pm or on the weekends. This is a nice touch for that spot, which is much better suited for a cozy chat with friends or low key after work social gathering. If you’re the sort of person who gets work done best after sinking into a couch then you might prefer DTUT to FIKA as a work space, but for me, I like the bright minimalism for doing my work and the rustic warmth for socializing.
Why four-letter, all capitalized words are such popular names for Manhattan coffee shops remains a mystery. Fika is a Swedish word for coffee break that refers to an integral cultural tradition that is perhaps analogous to the British tea, except that it occurs and reoccurs constantly throughout the day, but there is no tradition to capitalizing all the letters. I definitely needed Google to discover that DTUT stood for Downtown Uptown. I wouldn’t have guessed that.
I had a lunch meeting in the Lower East Side yesterday, and no matter how many times I am down there, I always think to myself that I should head down there more often. Several years back, Williamsburg was considered a scruffier version of the Lower East Side. This always seemed absurd to me in terms of real estate desirability as the public transportation in Williamsburg is more useful than that in the Lower East Side. From my house it takes me 15 minutes max to get to Union Square, and usually only 5. From the Lower East Side it’s often fastest to just walk half an hour. Of course this is all provided the L train is running, which several years ago it often was not. It has gotten a lot better, and nowadays I think a lot of people consider the Lower East Side a scruffier version of Williamsburg.
Either way, both neighborhoods have existed in parallel to each other, geographically and developmentally. But like all neighborhoods in New York, they each have their own very distinct personalities.
Years ago, one of my favorite past times on the Lower East Side was to walk along the Bowery visiting restaurant supply stores. When Bowery Kitchen Supply relocated to below the High Line in the Chelsea Market and began serving gourmet sandwiches, it became impossible to maintain the illusion that you were entering into a secret NYC world powered by grit, determination and cleverness. But the original restaurant supply stores still do exist, and while they are far more clearly geared solely to actual restaurants than a few of the stores a decade ago, they’re still fun to browse. At the end of the day, I think that this picture perfectly encapsulates the current state of the Lower East Side: a store selling $800 single speed bikes abutting a store selling used restaurant equipment. They were really nice bikes. But you could also go a long way towards opening a pizza parlor with the cost of a bike. And I also think it’s great both share the sidewalk. May it continue to be so.
The first year I lived in New York City, I met a young woman whose birthday was a couple of days apart from mine, and we organized a joint birthday party around pizza and ice cream cake. We went to one of those bars which serves a free, mediocre pizza with each beer. There are several, and I’m not sure which one we went to. And we brought along a carvel ice cream cake and a whole lot of friends. It most definitely felt like a throwback to childhood birthdays at pizza parlors and it was a fun way to enter my mid-twenties. Having moved to New York, I suddenly didn’t feel the need to act sophisticated and adult. It being my birthday, it felt like the perfect time to indulge in childhood nostalgia. I was reminded last night how fun that night was when a friend decided she wanted to celebrate her birthday party with an evening of bowling.
The Gutter is literally two blocks from the co-working space we both work out of. And while there isn’t that much of a shortage of impromptu meetings around art shows in the main room, business development lectures, decompression on a beautiful rooftop bar with unparalleled city views and a velvet rope one must pass to gain entrance or afterwork drinks at the German-inspired hall downstairs with a very serious beer list, an impressive collection of decorative gourds and several fireplaces, that does serve a good kale salad, but would never deign to screen a World Series game (although in fairness, many a high stakes game of Jenga has been played there, so it’s not all snobbery), we’d never been bowling at the Gutter. In fact, hard as I could try to remember, I can’t recall a single time I’ve bowled since moving to New York. I can’t recall the last time I bowled prior to moving to New York. There’s been some skee ball, some buck hunter, and of course plenty of pool (which I’m terrible at), and even a bit of mini golf (which I just flat out hate), but absolutely no bowling.
So we went to the Gutter. And yes, that’s the place where the doctor with ebola went bowling, not that that is at all relevant to a visit, but just felt that needed to be gotten out of the way. The place was huge and divey. Multiple TVs that at this point could be described as vintage, but more accurately ought to be called outdated, were showing the Thursday night game between the Bengals and the Browns. There was a limited number of beers on draft, but still a decent selection that ran the gamut. In the corner was the spot to rent shoes ($3/pair) and arrange lanes ($40/hour or $7/game). Normally one to be hypercompetitive anytime a game is being played, I just subbed in for someone who was leaving and bowled about 5 sets. The first time I managed to hit one pin with my two tries. The second time I hit a strike. I’d forgotten what a satisfying feeling that was, it’s pretty impossible not to leap for joy when you get them all down on one try. The next time I hit two gutter balls and after that a spare. I was running hot or cold, but it was fun either way. We ordered in pizzas from the new branch of Joe’s on Bedford Avenue. Classic birthday party stuff. On my way out, I stopped to use the appropriately grungy restrooms, and at the other end realized there was a whole other room in which a band was playing and small groups of people were swaying along to the music. I peeked my head in to find an exact replica of every music club I ever finagled my way into prior to turning 21. The whole evening was a stroll down memory lane, reclaimed from authentic 1970s era wooden lanes from a bowling alley in Iowa.