Goodbye NYC

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I found a trove of undeveloped film while packing and took it to L&I Photo, a lab that long ago moved from 17th Street to 22nd Street, but now it’s gone, and this was especially upsetting because when I quit my job there as a foot messenger in 1992, they told me I could have it back whenever I wanted. So much for that backup plan.

(There weren’t many interesting photos on those rolls, but I’m posting some other photos.)

Scan-20I had gotten that job after months of marching through the Manhattan streets filling out applications, which is what people do when they aren’t skilled enough to panhandle. After a while I began to wonder if it was possible to just get paid to walk around all day, and then my prayers were finally answered by L&I. I would sit on a bench by the window in the photo lab and read, and then every so often I’d be asked to deliver some contact sheets to a photo studio somewhere in Chelsea, I’d often browse through used bookstores on the way back, maybe stop to smoke on a park bench, and because the other messengers often didn’t show up for work at all, my employers were very pleased with my productivity.

You walk around the streets of New York all day, every day, you see some things. I saw the back of a garbage truck engulfed in flames, the driver had no choice but to dump its contents and pull away to a safe distance, leaving an enormous, smelly bonfire of garbage on the middle of 5th Avenue. We gathered around it in a large circle as if performing some native ritual. When the firemen pulled up, they laughed to our sarcastic applause.

At nearly that same spot, I saw four men with knives hold up a taxi cab like they were robbing a stagecoach. They had not accounted for the cop car stuck in traffic on 17th street. Someone pounded on the window. “That taxi’s being robbed!” The cops peeled out in reverse, a perfect James Garner maneuver. The robbers split in four directions, but one was caught, and I expect that was all they needed.

bobI lived in Williamsburg at the time, which back then was poor, and destitute, and best of all, affordable. We rented a five-bedroom railroad above a video store run by a guy named Bob. We called him landlord Bob. He was a haggard, bulbous-nosed, coke snorting, porn vendor who demanded the rent be paid in $100 bills. He was like a god to us. When he died, old New York died with him.

More on that place some other time.

When I returned to Williamsburg after college, it was as if some hipster fairy had waved her sparkly wand over the Polish travel agencies and check cashing places, transforming them to sushi bars, and cafés. Later would come the high-rise condominiums and artisanal cheese shops. I moved to Astoria where I’ve been ever since.

DSC_0137Having also lived in Boston, and managing to squeeze in stints in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well, I can say that New York is unsurpassed in its ability to unite so many disparate people through a shared sense of wonder and drudgery. We suffer together on the 4 train, we swoon together in Central Park. We survive and thrive on the best food in and of the world. We listen to each other fight and fuck.

No matter where you live, you can get to Union Square this evening for cocktails.

Within the last three days, you overheard something hilarious.

There is a special thrill in the skillful navigation of a crowded subway station, knowing exactly which stairs to take, where to stand on the platform to maximize the efficiency of your transfer. Your arrival home leaves you feeling exhausted, yet victorious.

DSC_7676They say New York doesn’t love you, but it will try to seduce you with an endless stream of surprise gifts—a job interview resulting in a new friendship, a brilliant cup of coffee, or even just the sunset diffused through an orange haze of rain over the Manhattan skyline. It will try to seduce you with the knowledge that every moment, something truly wonderful may happen.

I have been here through blackouts, blizzards, hurricanes, and of course, 9/11. As I ready myself to leave New York—in three day’s time—I take no comfort in the prospect of potentially avoiding the next disaster, but rather find myself terrified I might miss it.

The War on People

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What I find so viciously awful about the war in Iraq is the (not always) unspoken, but palpable attitudes held by many Americans that by virtue of having been born in the Middle East, these people are somehow complicit in their own demise. At best, perhaps, it’s too much for us to handle, and it’s comforting to think that maybe when a bomb in Tikrit kills thirty people, they all sort of deserved it somehow. We certainly would feel differently if a bomb went off in Zurich. Or Boston.

At the beginning of the war in/on Iraq, Bush said “…the United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people. Our quarrel is with Iraq’s dictator…” Out of millions of Iraqis, we really just hated this one dude. But we couldn’t just kill him. Political assassinations are illegal under international law, so in order for us to get rid of Saddam Hussein, the one person in Iraq with whom we supposedly had a quarrel, we unfortunately had to kill a whole bunch of other people along with him in order to make it legal. Depending on how you define legal—and you should really define it the way you would cast a film. Could you picture Harrison Ford playing Walter White? Would that work for you? Could you imagine the United States killing a bunch of people in a Middle Eastern country? Does that seem plausible?

Bush clarified, our quarrel was with “…Iraqi’s dictator, and his aggression.” But when was his aggression his, and when was it someone else’s? The idea was that Saddam Hussein radiated aggression like a brilliant, angry sun, and by snuffing him out, peace would fall across the land. He was the Wicked Witch of the Middle East.

Now, many years later, Saddam Hussein is dead, and militants are rounding up Iraqi soldiers, tying their hands behind their backs, pushing them into ditches, gunning them down, and posting photos of the massacred bodies on Twitter. Nobody really knows how many have been killed, but guesses range from hundreds to thousands. Maybe by killing Hussein, we only unleashed his aggression where it filled the atmosphere, raining hatred and anger down on everyone’s heads. Maybe we should have held Hussein in a cage, figured out a way to harness his aggression as a renewable energy source.

By the way, I recommend Paul Chappell’s Peaceful Revolution.

The Bad Plus

In my ongoing quest for interesting, artful, emotive instrumental music that isn’t jazz (my deep love for jazz is not all encompassing), I’ve stumbled across The Bad Plus. I feel like this is the sort of band I should feel embarrassed to never have heard of.

This is what happens when exceptionally talented musicians play art rock, and the results are fantastic.

For the Love of Lucifer

In case you missed it, last night there was supposed to be a “Black Mass” at Harvard, and it really worked out perfectly. The Christians got to express moral indignation, to march through the streets in the name of all that is holy and righteous, the Black Mass was moved to a tourist bar, and the “Satanists” (does that mean anything?) got some much-desired attention.

Sadly, the Black Mass was not to include a blood-soaked orgy, which I think would have been appropriate, or at least entertaining, or at least worth marching for or against. Maybe a viewing of Eyes Wide Shut at least? After these evil, wicked devil worshippers relocated to the Hong Kong Lounge in downtown Boston, an anonymous waiter told the Globe they appeared to mostly be sitting around, drinking. And alcohol is evil, we know that.

Nothing like this has ever happened at Yale.

The biggest problem with Satanism is that they appear to have a very agreeable belief system. According to their website, they believe in compassion, empathy, justice, science, personal responsibility, noble actions, and so on. But they clearly don’t believe in is savvy marketing.

Was the Church of Hitler already taken?

I want to like these people. Maybe it’s because I root for the underdogs, or maybe it’s that statue planned for an Oklahoma courthouse lawn. Brilliant! Or maybe I do find they have an interesting spin on Christian mythology.

But did these people decide they wanted to practice compassion, reason, justice, and so on, and conclude there were no pre-existing options?

Satanists claim to have been “demonized,” but that seems rather backwards. You literally chose the image of a demon to represent your belief system. Please don’t try to claim that you were here first, and then these Christians came along and maligned you. You co-opted their thing, not the other way around.

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Paris & London

I finally assembled this footage I took of a trip to Paris and London four years ago. I would have liked to spend a lot of time putting the music together, but I can’t allow myself to get sucked into that wormhole. So, here it is.

Rejections

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I’m not sure why I jumped at the chance to buy a collection of rejection letters, which is sort of like buying a box of bloody razorblades. Do I just delight in pain? The thing about being a writer, or trying to be a writer, is coming to terms with your pathetic insignificance in the literary universe. You are not even one glittering star in an infinite cosmos—you are more like dark matter, that invisible stuff that is pushing the universe farther and farther apart, and until recently, nobody even knew you were there. The saying “You can’t please all the people all the time” is completely useless in the literary universe. More often, you can’t please anybody, ever. And this question about who you’re writing for, this is also silly. You’re writing for one person, in this case, Lee Klein, who is the editor of the online journal, Eyeshot.net, which—and I’m just saying this to be mean—does not appear to have had a design update since 1998. Writing for Lee Klein, and people like Lee Klein, is depressing, frustrating, and awful. They are fickle, weird, fussy, and if this book is to be believed, they read your submissions half-drunk and sleep deprived. Klein, at the very least though, has taken it upon himself to write back, and to write back honestly, possibly with some equal frustration, and probably with a lot of genuine kindness. Or brutal kindness, which is perhaps what I was hoping to find in this collection of his rejection letters, and I think I found it. Klein’s rejection letters are half notes on style (or even half-notes on style), and half ramblings on what he did that day, and what the weather is like, which at times feels kind of self-absorbed, but after a while you get the feeling that Klein is really just like anyone—a frustrated voice searching for an audience, any audience. I’m tempted to submit to Eyeshot in the hopes of receiving one of these rejections myself, or maybe just to annoy him. Anyway, if you like writing about writing, I recommend this.