Monday, April 28, 2008

Poem Interlude


"Whatever it is, it avails not - distance avails not, and place avails not." Walt Whitman

The world is full of closed-off things
(bulldozers, broken walls, plywood and chain)
but only because the open is so persistent,
trees poking through the cracks, stars
ducking around the scaffolding, the soon-
to-be battened air free right now, cool now
as the ghosts of curtains pushed open by
tongues of air and toes of light. The buildings
haven't put on their skins yet, and the earth
here could be fields waiting to be planted,
for all we know. Lines are getting straighter
but only because asymmetry sprouts
like weeds, because rooms are like ships,
because streets are treacherous in their
exuberant patches (concrete, asphalt, cobbles
and bricks). Things are baking behind doors,
light is slipping like water through blinds,
and a space that will be closed off is open
now, we can look across the river awhile
longer. A heart within a heart within an eye:
the world is full of fear only because joy is
so persistent. Sometimes every living thing,
even here, takes off its clothes just to float.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Five Things

Remember the movie Sliding Doors, in which the mousey British version of Gwyneth Paltrow misses the tube and carries on with life while the hipper blonde Paltrow boards the train and finds (what any hip blonde person would find) love, etc., etc.? In literature, modernism set in motion the incorporation of other points of view into a single person, the creation of the "meta-narrative," the possibility of other (often internal) lives (I board the tube but think about myself not boarding the tube). Post-modernism questioned in wacky ways the singular "I" altogether, seeking less to reveal something about an individual and more to reveal something about society (the tube is an enormous Twinkie...there is no tube). (This post is far too ambitious already, but suffice it to say that, in my mind, modernism is a very urban, disjointed, but ultimately cohesive and celebratory movement, while post-modernism fragments us before taking us back to one and then to nothing, in a far more nihilistic move. Hope versus...Beckett.)

How many versions of ourselves are walking about? After going to Mass today (there's a spiritual multiverse, surely: girl from Illinois raised Jewish, comes of age as Unitarian, finds peace in Buddhism, explores Catholicism) I thought I would take a nap. But - the crux! - I also needed to buy groceries. As a testament to the ability of moments to change the course of lives (or just thwart naps), consider that I bought groceries thanks to the sound of a marching band. Because the band prompted me to make that choice, here are five other things I saw, in the vicinity of the BQE, that my self that took the nap did not:

1. A parade in honor of a saint, marching up Lorimer.
2. A man (parade of one) who walked parallel to me on the other side of the street, all the way to the grocery store, carrying a radio blasting old-fashioned Italian music.
3. A little girl in rainboots staring into a subway grate.
4. An old man with a beard on a very small bicycle.
5. A skater kid wheeling a bag of laundry to the laundromat on his skateboard.

"Here we are all, by day; by night we're hurled
By dreams, each one, into a several world."
- Robert Herrick (pre-modern...or is he?)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meanest Tuna Salad Sandwich

When I was still a young'un in the City, and Williamsburg not even a glint in my eye, my dad and brother Kyle visited. My dad's a wonderful cook, so I tried to schedule their trip around what we would eat. He wanted to do tapas at some point, and wasn't it adventurous to find a spot off the L to have them. However, when we arrived at our wasn't there. (Can you arrive at a destination that isn't there?) So we went to a sandwich shop, I have no idea where...perhaps somewhere on Bedford. (I love how, when you're new to a place, geography doesn't exist, maps contouring to your mind more than to real space. For instance, I came to NYC solo by train my freshman year at Grinnell (1998), purportedly to visit my pen-pal Jackie, with whom I'd been corresponding since I was five. After sneaking into her dorm-type room (she was a ballet dancer and here on some kind of stipend, in all-female housing), I stayed at an uptown hostel and then moved into the Gershwin Hotel, which until years later I had the distinct impression was somewhere around the East Village...though it's smack-dab in the Flatiron District.) It turned out that all of the sandwiches at this place were named after famous people, and there was one called the Leonard Cohen. I don't remember what was on it. Could have been oysters and strawberries, or somesuch, but was likely something more prosaic and palpable. I think of it today because I just read an interview Cohen did in 2001 (he was 67), after his long stint on Mount Baldy, with the monk Roshi. Apparently, his life had become so mundane and peaceful that a highlight was whipping up the "meanest tuna salad sandwich" for lunches.

I appreciate the bliss of mundanity. Actually, I think it should be called the bliss of the seeming mundane. Life is as exciting as we choose to see it, even if the day is spent drinking coffee, going to therapy, buying catfood, taking photographs of newly emptied lots, and trying to revise a grant. Joy is contagious, and I'm catching my own sickness again and again. This same kind of feeling hit Cohen when he was 65: "There was just a certain sweetness to daily life that began asserting itself. I remember sitting in the corner of my kitchen, which has a window overlooking the street. I saw the sunlight that shines on the chrome fenders of the cars [nice pentameter, there], and thought, 'Gee, that's pretty.'"

I don't recall which sandwich I had that day in 2002, but I'm in good company: M.F.K. Fisher notes when writing about "one of the nicest suppers I have ever eaten (with her father and sister)," "I forget what we ate."

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Rabbit II

The Red Hook Fairway building, as captured by the illustrious GK. Okay, it looks a little prison-like here, but the point is (ahem) that in real life it's a pretty remarkable example of a factory being "recycled" rather than "neutralized." (Regarding the latter term, please see Dr. Robert Beard's answer to the question, "How does war affect the way we speak?")


This guy might have been torn down by now. If not, he's at this minute asking, "Why can't Williamsburg do more of what neighborhoods like Red Hook seem to be doing, at least as two bicyclists witnessed on Friday: rehabilitating old buildings and using them for new apartments and shops, rather than razing and starting from an almost always inferior scratch?" The building that Rabbit is referring to is a pre-Civil War coffee warehouse on the East River in Red Hook that has been converted into an immense Fairway. Kent Avenue, listen up!

Pop Fix

Sound Fix is a too-good-to-be-true music-store-meets-venue-meets-bagel-shop on Beford and North 11th (the part of Bedford that won't inspire a hipster-induced panic attack on a sunny Saturday afternoon). They have a free gig almost every night and a fun drinks menu that includes non-alcoholic fizzes and root beers and the like (the place was introduced to me by my friend Jared and some of his AA chums, which evidences its status as a truly cool space, not just a cool place when you're drunk). Anyway, a band I like called Ravens & Chimes played there awhile back, and I drank some wine. Then I walked home. The end.

p.s. I didn't take the photo.
p.p.s. Points for identifying their first album title's reference.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Settepani Interlude

Lorimer between Skillman and Conselyea: a coffee and three amaretti. A newspaper: protesters have tried to organize a peaceful torch run near the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi to protest China's occupation of Tibet.

Hannah Arendt said in 1957 that the world was becoming more connected, that "all peoples on earth have a common present...and every man on earth feels the shock of events which take place at the other end of the globe." But isn't reading about shock while drinking coffee on my end of the globe different from feeling the shock? Funny how to know nothing is to feel no shock, but to know everything is to find oneself in a similar place...unless it's possible to connect to some universal aura, coffee or no coffee, and to feed joy with or without amaretti, shining it back into the world, a torch.

Emerald City II

Another angle on the photo featured below, with one of the new multi-million-dollar condos on Bayard Street in the background. As this Brownstoner article points out, "The condominium projects underway on Bayard Street are located [outside] the [approved] height-restriction zone, but the developers broke ground in February 2005 and had foundations poured at the site while prior zoning rules, which allowed taller buildings, were still in effect... By racing to get foundations laid before the rezoning took effect last May, the developer managed to sidestep the height restriction."

My upstairs neighbor Ann used to be able to look out her window and see the McCarren track and the Manhattan skyline. For now, I'm graced with a view of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Transfiguration (built between 1916 and 1921) and the Empire State Building (built in 1930-1) outside my kitchen window - but there's a newly emptied lot behind me with freshly sunk pylons and premonitions of people who will live there when the floors rise up and the ceilings close in. Sky for now...

Emerald City

Since moving to Withers Street at the beginning of 2007 (after stints on the Bowery, in Marble Hill, Astoria, Clinton Hill, the LES, Sheepshead Bay, the LES again, the Financial District, and the UWS), a lot of the old Williamsburg/Greenpoint factories have come down, and their colors with them. I've gotten photographs of a lot of the graffitied buildings, now ghosts haunting flat earth like just-plowed fields.

It's strange, to have the image of something (graffiti) that itself was an image intended to comment on a place and a time - and for neither place nor time nor image to exist anymore. In this way all the photos of demolished factories on Under the BQE are kinds of Emerald Cities, places elsewhere, vanished, and we back in Kansas. Or we're living in the Emerald City, blessed and bestowing and oblivious to what's outside and what, perhaps, is being lost.

I just know that when the "scaffolding of doom" goes up around a factory, those plywood sheets strung together with nails and chain, my heart leaps a little. Says the Wizard, "Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Return of the Non-Native

Years ago, after I moved to the City from Iowa but before I moved to Brooklyn, I had a couple blogs, one about poetry and politics, the other about cooking and food. Good times, as my friend Daniel would say, but I deleted them both when I recognized that I just wasn't keeping them up and I didn't really want to leave relics of myself lying around cyberspace like so many old tires. It seems that detritus might be detritus even if it is just made of numbers and light.

Fast-forward to around two months ago (fast-forward, then rewind) when, over lunch at a vegan restaurant in the West Village, my friend Chris suggested that I start posting some photos of my neighborhood online. I thought about it but, "No, I'm not getting back into that world. Nope." Then tonight, after a great run on the McCarren Park track, feeling particularly happy, I mulled it over again and decided, "Why not?" My commitment was strenghtned by a visit to the site of media guru Chris Brogan, who offers a list of 100 blog topics he'd like to see covered. #4 is "A Community I Love," which is what, ostensbily, I'll tell you about here. That said, I've been told by fortunetellers and the like to avoid formulizing my life, so this may be about my "community" as much as it's about my community. It's open. Let x=x.

My Community is Under the BQE and on either side of it, with Williamsburg to the south and Greenpoint to the north. I'm on the edge where streets that have been running nearly east-west tilt to run northwest-southeast, all the way to the East River. My community is changing like a prairie on fire, but that's okay. I'm not here to decry the new but to bear witness to the amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience of living in a New York City neighborhood that is changing faster than probably any other neighborhood (at least visibly) and which has a once-in-a-city experience to transform its skyscape in a short period of time. We who live here now will never again see as much sky as we do now, or as the Italians who've been on my street for decades or the Polish who've been on Nassau for decades or the artists who've been on Bedford since the 80s saw even before the Changes started happening. We're all blessed, in this little corner of the world, on this little pinhead of time. One of my favorite poets writes,

"How wondrous strange it was at that moment
to be in the flesh."

And it is.

So I raise a glass of wine from Fame Discount Liquors on the corner of Metropolitan and Union, to a land neither before nor after time but firmly planted in it, like a palm tree in a desert, or like the BQE itself, giving perpetual shade and sounding of perpetual sea.

Is a great blog born? Probably not. But perhaps it will be more than a tire.