November 30, 2008

A First Time for Everything

It's nice to know that there's still room in my life for plenty of firsts. With as much crap as I've gone through, as many subjects as I've studied, places I've travelled, I can still find new experiences, new things to see and do.

I think I had my first real non-dysfunctional Thanksgiving this year, without being a "guest." Maria's family has embraced me to the point of making me one of their own, and although I still struggle with calling her parents "Mom" and "Dad," they have absolutely no problem giving me birthday cards addressed to their daughter and telling me to cover up and drive safely.

Of course, like every family, they have their problems. People get sick, disagree, forget things, whatever, but all the while, there is love.

I'm lucky to be receiving some of it.

To officially kick off the holiday season, with Christmas and my next trip home less than a month away, Maria took me to my first drive through Lights on the Lake, a Syracuse holiday tradition in Onondaga Lake Park. I'd driven through something similar in Springfield, MA while spending Thanksgiving with Jon in college, but even after having grown up in Syracuse, somehow I'd missed this annual ritual in my own hometown.

Big costumed characters greeted us at the entryway, including a big penguin. I think Eric would like this.

All the themes were pretty fantastical, and they kept getting more and more elaborate as we drove farther through.

If only that damn car wasn't always so close in front of us. We kept trying to stop to take pictures to give some space ahead but the car behind us kept getting antsy.

Watching all those reindeer and gingerbread men fly over our heads, while we listened to the Christmas radio station, really put me in the holiday spirit.

Or was I already in the spirit once Maria and I put the turkey in the oven and we all sat down around a table stuffing our faces with stuffing and actually talking to each other?

November 20, 2008

The New Yorker

I travel a lot, so I get to experience all kinds of folks. And sometimes in my job, I end up on the phone with parents from around the country, and I'm astounded and terrified by them.

But thank God I get to experience something outside of my relatively tiny, homogeneous New York circle.

But come on, this is New York, the promised land for people all over the world. Most of us, however, don't encounter much ethnic diversity at all unless we go to Harlem to be hip and celebrate Obama's election, or we take a cab with a driver from Haiti or something.

My New York crew is comprised mostly of non-New Yorkers, graduates from Colgate who I've known since I was a teenager and who come from all over the States. The rest of them are pretty much across the board white, accentless, and either Jewish or Christian or, most commonly, at least agnostic or atheist.

So who is the New Yorker? If you watch Top Chef like I did last night, you think that New Yorkers are poorly dressed, inarticulate, bitter, bitter people with a bad attitude and a thirst for criticism. If you watch most Hollywood films and TV productions like the yet-to-be-aired Showtime series that was being filmed at Baruch College in my neighborhood the other night, you think that New York cabbies are crabby old white men who smell of cigars and pizza sauce.

How can the stereotype of the New Yorker not have changed since the seventies, an era of television which largely informed my knowledge of the city through sitcoms like The Odd Couple? How is it possible that Hollywood is still perpetuating that appalling iconography?

Sure, some of those guys do exist, the Queens College graduates who pronounce "toilet" like "terlet" and the girls in Bensonhurst who don't move out of their parents' house until they absolutely have to, and often they're extremely charming (or is it just me?). But New York has become such a hodgepodge of cultures and accents and beliefs, it's hard to characterize who exactly a "New Yorker" is anymore.

Am I a New Yorker?

After 11 years of living here, I'm realizing more and more that I'm not. I don't want the stress anymore. I don't want a Valentine's Day full of couples, a New Year's that costs me $150 without even a single kiss, and a Thanksgiving with absolutely no one to hang out with. I don't want to be identified with a city that steals your wallet, punches you on the subway, calls you a dog and barks at you, and threatens to stalk you. Worse yet, a city that promises to call and never does. And takes all your love and money and never gives anything back.

The city is changing - it's a lot safer than it was in 1997 when I first moved here - but I'm not sure I can wait for it to change enough until it's the right fit for me. And the more people keep perpetuating the stereotype of this city being filled with people behaving badly, the more people will think it's a license to behave badly.

Sometimes I just want to put myself on a little higher ground.

November 13, 2008

City of Brotherly Love

I was suspended 54 stories high in the Philadelphia sky today, when the rain came in and the fog settled. A white, billowy blanket draped itself across the skyline, covering the picture window of the Comcast tower like we were flying in an airplane through the cloud line. I couldn't see past myself.

On our way out of the Comcast headquarters, we decided to try to take public transportation to the Amtrak station, but became hopelessly confused by the regional rail, trolley, and subway options that irrationally intertwined before us. I couldn't see past my confusion.

Suddenly, Kevin beckoned me, and we started following a local man - was he Indian? Pakistani? - who took us all the way to the right train, stopping periodically along the way to try to leave, thinking we'd figure out where we're going earlier than we did. But as confused as we were, baffled by a metro system that wasn't run by the MTA, this Philadelphia stranger dropped us off at the information booth and turnstiles just steps away from the right train. And then he turned, waving, and went in the opposite direction, wherever he was headed in the first place.

I can't always see the good in things. I can barely ever see the good in people. But in a low-hanging, white-out fog today, I could see clearly, even for just a moment.

November 09, 2008

Come On, Get Happy

I didn't do much this weekend, at least nothing as splashy as my last several weekends, full of travel and exploration.

So it gave me a chance to appreciate the small things, to take note that some things do go right in life.

In no particular order, these are the things that made me happy this weekend:
  • losing another 1.5 lbs
  • fixing my desk drawer with some packing tape and nails
  • discovering that my crap camera on my new phone actually takes gorgeous lo-fi grayscale photos
  • swimming
  • brussel sprouts, at home and at Bar Milano
  • free underwear coupons from Victoria's Secret, which just keep coming even though I refuse to sign up for an Angels credit card
  • the annual Christmas explosion at Rolf's

The last year has been the slowest year of my life, and now that the days are shorter and sure to get colder, there will be less and less for me to do to entertain myself when alone on weekends except Christmas shopping. So I have to make the most of every small joyful event, otherwise I just won't last the year.

November 02, 2008

Falling In Queens

Last weekend when we took the train upstate to Beacon for our Bannerman Castle tour, I noted the gorgeous Hudson Valley foliage and bemoaned the lack of it in New York City. Edith had assured me that there were, in fact, turning leaves on the trees in Queens, but I didn't quite believe her til I took a trip myself this weekend.

It's a little past peak this time of year, just after Halloween when wearing flip flops is no longer quite possible, but in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the trees intermingle greens and reds and yellows and of course the requisite brown.

I headed to the park this weekend not for a colorful autumnal stroll, but to snoop around some of the buildings from the 1964 World's Fair that I had seen on a walking tour two years ago. Since I first spotted it, I've become a little obsessed with the New York State Pavilion and its three observation towers, whose blinking red lights are clearly visible from the Grand Central Parkway, the Van Wyck, and the LIE, and therefore a regular sight on my way home from the airport. It's a living relic of a time not too long ago, a ruin that was built to be futuristic and now stands useless, decaying.

New York State PavilionTower entrance
With all of the proposals to turn the thing into something fantastic - most recently, a proposed space museum - the towers stand there, waiting, blinking, slowly falling apart, unpreserved, unstabilized. I keep waiting for that red light to go out.

Adjacent to the towers is the "Tent of Tomorrow," which was built basically as a big advertisement for Texaco but also hosted art shows for the likes of Warhol, and even provided the setting for a music video by They Might Be Giants. The red and white paint is peeling and there are huge shifts in the cinder block walls on the outer facade. The interior is overgrown with weeds (pretty much destroying the mosaic tile map that used to form the floor of the place), and looks like it's become a storage facility for the Parks Department. Why are there always barbeque grills sitting in abandoned buildings?

I pressed my face in the gate opening to see inside, to catch a glimpse of the original splendor, despite the rusty, overgrown mess it's become. Curiously, there's still a light on inside the tent, a singular lit bulb, on even during the day.

Some of the structures around the old World's Fair grounds are still standing, and even in use: the restored Unisphere, the Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art (formerly the New York City Pavilion), and Terrace on the Park, a former heliport that looks like a big table looming over the park, currently used as a banquet hall / catering space available for rent. It looks like there's an observation deck on the roof where helicopters used to land, but of course when I was skulking on the grounds, everything was locked up. I really want to call and tell them I'm getting married just so I can get a tour of the place and take some pictures.

Although normally open, the Queens Museum was closed on Saturday too because of an elevator accident the day before. Which is just another reason I have to go back, again.

How many more ruins can I really visit? And how do you choose between Bannerman Castle and High Bridge and the smallpox hospital and the High Line and the typhoid hospital and Ellis Island's hospital and Castle Clinton and all the forts and other historic buildings around New York City - around the country - around the world? Can you preserve them all? I suppose some get stabilized as a historic ruin, like Eastern State Penitentiary, and others get fully restored to a usable attraction if enough money is raised. And I suppose some buildings just fall down before they can earn historic status. I don't think you can save them all.

But in the meantime, I'll try to visit as many as I can.

Further Reading: New York State Pavilion
NY Daily News: Are Web pics of damage to restored New York State Pavilion map real?