November 29, 2009

Walk Softly and Carry a Plastic Scraper

2008 2009

Ever since I took a tour of the old 1964/65 World's Fair sites as part of Open House NY a couple years ago, I've been fascinated with Flushing Meadows Corona Park, especially the old New York State Pavilion. About a year ago, I went skulking around the park to get a better look at the towers and circular "tent" with the suspension cable ceiling. I tried to get a good look at the famed tiled floor, which was reportedly a huge reproduction of an old Texaco New York State road map, but I couldn't see much. Tall weeds, brown and dried, had sprouted out of the cracks in the surface, which was covered in construction equipment, metal, plastic and rubber in white, yellow, and caution orange. The building which had been built to celebrate the state and exhibit art had become a glorified storage area, neglected, and abused.

The two-thirds of the New York State Pavilion that remain unrestored - the towers and the Tent of Tomorrow - recently received landmark status and a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts that will hopefully help the disintegrating structures finally catch up with the Queens Theatre in the Park, the former Theaterama that still looks great and operates successsfully after a multi-million dollar restoration in 1993. Last week, I heard that the Department of Historic Preservation at NYC Parks had started a volunteer-based, slow restoration of the tent's tile map floor, and I jumped at the chance to participate.

New York State Pavilion's three buildings, Queens Theatre in the Park in the foreground

View of the towers through the suspension cable ceiling, standing outside

My entry was breathless with the rising sun, whose bright white rays illuminated the numbers and letters on the map below, the only indication at first that there was any map down there at all. Casting all thoughts of conservation or preservation aside, my feet led me out to the middle of the floor, walking along roads and highways, crossing from town to town, through mountain ranges and lakes and rivers.

In choosing the four by four foot tile to restore, I settled one that looked so far gone that no one else would tackle it. It was so covered in dirt and vegetation - mostly moss and green grass, not the tall weeds I'd seen a year before - that I couldn't even decipher any town names on it. As I dug away at the dirt with my hands in work gloves, occasionally aided by a plastic scraper, I uncovered fragments of terrazzo and the colored glass and marble bits that it is comprised of, deeply buried roads, a cutout where a red Texaco star once stood, and a number 4. For three hours, I kneeled, leaned, crouched, hunched, and most comfortably sat spread eagle while the Queens Chronicle photographed me in my bright orange hard hat, green PVC-ed work gloves, and black pants covered in dirt and grass. For a few hours, I got to work as part gardener, part archaeologist, and part historic preservationist, and felt that what I was doing actually mattered.

I was kicking myself the entire time that I couldn't stay three more hours, but I'd managed to finagle tickets to see A Streetcar Named Desire starring Cate Blanchett at BAM that were very difficult to get, so I had to go. As I dropped off the artifacts that I'd bagged from the two tiles I helped restore - fragments which will be cleaned and classified and hopefully one day reunited with its original tile - I felt like I'd helped a little. Maybe at this point it was just performing triage at a disaster site. Maybe it was a complete exercise in futility.

The plan is to cover the floor with a mixture of sand and gravel and then with construction-grade tarps to try to shelter it from wind, rain, snow and ice, hoping freezing it in its current state and preventing any further destruction (not to mention vandalism, thievery...). It may stay like that for ten years before any more restoration happens. But it's something. Before I get my hopes up about some of the adaptive reuse ideas  - most notably an Air and Space Museum - I have to remember that they have been kicking around for decades already. The towers may fall before the Parks Department's "studies" are complete. How can the long-forgotten park compete for budget monies with more popular parks in more prestigious neighborhoods with fewer ethnic enclaves than Flushing Meadows Corona Park's neighboring Asian and Hispanic populations?

At the most basic level, I was thrilled to get inside the building that I stare at every time I take an airport cab to Manhattan. To stand in the middle of the circular building and look up at the sky through the suspension cables that still hang, though their colored fiberglass panels have long-since blown onto the Grand Central Expressway. To walk on the world's largest roadmap, gently, after it has been abused for so long by stage hands painting sets for the neighboring theater, and construction crews driving their machinery across it.

I took a long last look, knowing that I may never be let in again.

Despite the neck strain, aching elbow and sore wrist that only three hours' work afflicted me with, I would still spend every weekend on the floor of the Pavilion, if I could...

Further Reading:
New York City Dept. of Parks and Recreation Volunteer Calendar
City Moves In to Preserve World's Fair Pavilion - The Village Voice
New York State Pavilion, Relic of the 1964 World's Fair in Queens, Wins Approval As Landmark - Daily News

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November 27, 2009

Missing Pieces

What is it about childhood that sticks with you for life, and makes you wistful for the things you once had? How does this hold true even with a bad childhood, where food and stuffed animals and sticker books and twinkly lights were the only respite from the screams, tears, slamming cupboard doors and running vacuum cleaners crashing to the floor?

I have very few good memories from my childhood, besides a battery of tastes and smells from holidays, and trips with my father to the beach and the state fair. Thanksgiving never meant anything to me besides being subjected to an even more stressed-out, obsessive, compulsive mother who broke her back lifting the turkey out of the oven and then blamed us for it in the year that followed. But yesterday, despite a lovely and loving dinner with Michelle's parents, I still found myself longing for the comforts of a childhood long since past: green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, and those dinner rolls that come connected on a sheet, buttered before being placed in the oven, and then again afterwards while hot on your plate.

The three pies that we always used to split among the four of us - pumpkin, pecan and mince meat - never solved any of the family issues that we had, but every year my sister and I were distracted briefly by our father, sipping a hot black coffee, explaining to us why something called "meat" contained no meat at all.

I had a tiny sliver of pumpkin pie for dessert last night, topped with a delicious Italian meringue, and that should have been enough. When I returned to my apartment at night, I turned on my twinkly yellow and orange lights, and went to bed with the stuffed pig I have slept with since 1994. And although the fighting and the punishments and the blame and the resentment were gone this year, as they have been for the last 15 years, a comfort was still missing. I don't know whether I'll ever be fully consoled.

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November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's to enjoying the one holiday when you can reflect on where you are right now, in this very moment, rather than memorializing what has passed, or focusing on what you're supposed to be doing in the future.

I am thankful for all the friends and their families who have taken care of me over the years in my times of need, up to and including today. I may be a 34-year-old grown ass woman, but sometimes I still need the company and affections of mommy and daddy. Thanks to Michelle for letting me borrow hers.


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November 25, 2009

The Last Thing I Needed

The person in this office who has been described to me as "A Walking Sexual Harassment Suit" and "A Sexual Harassment Suit Waiting to Happen" came over to my desk today and started rubbing my shoulders. Flirtatiously he asked, "You don't mind that I'm doing this, do you?" and I turned around, smiled, and said, "Actually, yeah, I think it's kinda inappropriate."

He immediately backed away and put his hands in the air like he'd been caught with a lethal weapon by the police. At first, he apologized. And then he started to defend himself.

"My hands are clean - I just washed them," he explained.

"Oh, dude, I'm not worried about germs," I said.

"Oh. Well, you don't have to worry, I'm married," he defended further.

"That's not the point."

This guy has been swooning over me since we met, maybe jokingly, telling me how much he loves Upstate girls. He's even touched my foot in an attempt to tickle it (though in truth I was just sort of grossed out for him). He's never touched me in any other way until today, and I've been able to dismiss his behavior - and him - until today, mostly because technically he works at a different company and I don't have to deal with or report to him.

But the minute I explained that it was too much - that I didn't want to be touchy-feely in the office and don't hug, kiss, etc. at work - he started backing away from me and getting overly defensive, saying how embarrassed he was and how I didn't need to worry, that he would never talk to me again. That he had no idea I'd be so sensitive.

I tried to keep the tone light, joking that in those training videos, the classic example of inappropriate touching was the whole rubbing-the-shoulders move. But really, it's not a joke. And it's true.

Given the things that I have been dealing with over the last couple of years, this is the last thing I needed. But at a company full of young people who listen to dance music, drink in the office, and buy their drugs during the workday at their own cubicle, it's not terribly surprising. I was just hoping I wouldn't have to deal with it.

It probably won't happen again. I've learned my lesson and stood my ground, making my position clear. But now I've been labeled: sensitive, prudish, overreactive.

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November 22, 2009

Getting In Touch With My Inner Sixth Grader

I've had plenty of chances to see Bon Jovi in a big arena concert since moving to New York twelve years ago. But I never have. I'm sure I had every excuse: I couldn't afford the tickets, as a low-paid assistant in the music industry, or a post-9/11 layoff in the music industry. I was daunted by arranging car-less transportation to Giants Stadium or the Meadowlands.

Or maybe I just didn't want to shatter the image I had of Jon Bon Jovi from 1986.

When I heard American Express was going to be announcing a link to buy tickets to an exclusive acoustic concert starring Jon Bon Jovi on their Twitter feed, I didn't question it. I bought two $50 tickets (despite my current freelance fixed income) and invited Michelle to join me at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall for an intimate evening with the band's frontman and namesake, as cute as ever, as beloved as ever, promoting a new album and his charitable work.

What could be better?

Unfortunately, my inner sixth grader, who never really grew up, disagreed. She thought Jon was kind of a jerk. And she wished that she'd never shattered the perfect picture of the guy hanging inside her school locker door.

Let me clarify: Jon still looked hot. He sounded good. He sat on a barstool and answered questions honestly.

The problem?

Maybe he was too honest.

I didn't want to hear him talk about how he's the CEO of a worldwide brand, and take credit for all their success. I didn't want to hear about how his songwriting is right up there with John Lennon and Leonard Cohen (whose "Hallelujah" was performed by Jon in his best American Idol contestant impression).

I wanted him to be humble and modest. To be thankful for the fans. Not to bitch about those of us that just want to hear the hits.

And I missed Richie.

I've waited nearly a week to write about this because I wanted to feel something more about the evening than the exclusivity of "I was there and you weren't." My own tweets showed my disaffection in the moment, and those feelings haven't changed as I have reflected on the night.

Do I regret going? I don't know. I still love "Never Say Goodbye" and "Bad Medicine" and even "You Want to Make a Memory" from their Lost Highway country album. But when you see things as they really are, and your dreams are no longer deferred but faced head-on, sometimes you have to give the dream up. Maybe it was the wrong dream to have from the beginning. Maybe it's better to focus on a better dream, rather than the unreasonable fantasies of a sixth grader.

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November 18, 2009

The Poetry of Seduction

My day was made so much brighter today when I received this email from Tim, 28, in Staten Island:

its not hard to find love if you willing to take a chance my name is Timothy i am looking for a relationship with a honest woman and a woman who know how to have fun and be silly sometimes and who is loyal cause that mean alot to me i had saw your picture and i was like i like you and i would like get to know you so im asking would i have that chance? anyways you are beautiful and i would like hear from you have a good night beautiful

I almost want to reply.

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November 15, 2009

Meet Me Halfway

It's been five months since I got up early to fly to San Diego, checking my month's-worth of clothing and toiletries at JFK and retrieving them after a tearful hunt in SAN.

I drove from San Diego to Joshua Tree, CA stressed out, with night befalling me. It felt like it was going to storm. The wind on Twentynine Palms Highway nearly rattled the doors off my rental car. And it was not warm, unusual for the desert.

I wasn't sure if I was going to stay a month or three, but either way it felt like a long time. Once I settled in, started hiking and driving and exploring and photographing and writing voraciously, the time flew.

Still, after a month, it was time to go home.

At the time, a month seemed like a lengthy trip, but now I'm wishing I was back in the California desert, away from rain and tall buildings and a stifling office with no windows and a sink full of dirty dishes and a cell phone that never rings. I'd rather be high up in the hills, where no signals reach my phone.

I started my inhouse consulting gig at Ultra Records about a month and a half ago, not knowing if it was going to last three or four months. I still don't know, but on a daily basis, I am increasingly hoping I am past the halfway point. Each day weighs on me like a sentence. My feet drag and my lids droop, making an arrival before 11 a.m. nearly impossible.

Once I'm there, I smile and giggle, offer candy in a ceramic pumpkin, toss my hair back and cross my fishnetted legs like I belong, like I'm pleased, like I plan to stay. But every day, I imagine what it will be like when I don't have to go there anymore...when I can travel again...when I can see the light of day for longer than two hours (if I'm lucky: an hour's lunch, and a half-hour to and from the office through Madison Square Park and along 23rd Street).

Friends, family, colleagues and business connections have been asking me what's next, in January when I again switch places with the woman whose maternity leave I am covering. I shrug my shoulders and dart my eyes up and out into the distance.



And with whom?

I am certain of a few things: that I will leave this office sometime around the new year, that I will go to Tunisia at the end of February, and that whatever I do and wherever I go, I will be alone. If I leave New York and my friends behind, I will probably be more alone. But maybe that's something I have to do.

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November 08, 2009

Photo Essay: Race Against Time Along the Bronx River

When I was in the California desert this summer, I always felt I was in a race against time in terms of when it would get too hot to do any physical activity. Any time after 9 or 9:30 a.m., the day was done and I would have to wait until 5 or 6 p.m. to really exert myself.

Now that I'm back on the East Coast, and the autumn season is upon us with winter quickly approaching, I am in a race against time not chasing the cold, but chasing the light. I must get out there to do something before the sun goes down.

We set our clocks back a week ago, and I am really feeling the effects. By 6 p.m., it feels like I should go to bed. After a 5 a.m. bedtime last night and an after-noon rise, today I realized that I only had about three hours before the sun was going to go down and it would be too dark to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather outside. Edith and I rushed through brunch and hurried to Grand Central to take Metro-North back to White Plains so I could finally complete two of the three sections of the Bronx River Trailway that I had partially conquered this summer.

When we arrived to White Plains, it was already the Magic Hour, the sun at its late afternoon, low angle, casting severe shadows on everything in its path, and blinding us with its last-ditch-effort rays. But under bridges and overpasses, it was already dark.

The Bronx River Trailway was remarkably more autumnal than during my last visit, dry leaves swishing beneath our feet, trees glowing orange and red and yellow and light green through beams of golden light.

We paused to take lots of pictures, but we could see the sun slowly setting in the distance, shadows growing longer, and air getting brisker as we meandered our way down to the Hartsdale station.

gunpowder mill ruins

Like my treks up to the Bronx River before, our walk today was an interesting combination of nature and industry - where the woods meet stone retaining walls, old mill foundations, and a striking viaduct.


But we had plenty of alone time in nature, amongst the birds and squirrels and ducks and the occasional jogger.

Signs of destruction were all around us - both at the hands of nature, and of man.

By the time we got to Hartsdale, we'd missed our train back to New York by mere minutes, and with another train not arriving until an hour later, the darkness was fast approaching. After a quick examination of the train timetables, and an estimation of our distance from the next train station, we decided to keep walking, even though the "official" trailway ended at Hartsdale. We followed the train tracks - and, eventually, the river's banks - southwards another two miles to Scarsdale, balancing along narrow curbs while facing oncoming traffic, and squinting to see in the dark rather than from the sunlight that had blinded us just an hour before.

We walked 40 minutes to travel a distance that the train would have taken us three minutes to traverse, but we were glad we did it. It felt like unchartered territory, a native trail following the riverside where we could not get lost.

The minute we sat down on the platform bench at the Scarsdale Metro-North train station, night befell us. We were done walking for the day.

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November 02, 2009

Unfamiliar Ground

I'm back in Pennsylvania to present on QVC again, but this time, it's an entirely different experience.

Instead of lugging myself to Penn Station and trying to hog an Amtrak seat to myself, I rented a car and drove three hours southwest, an hour of which was spent between Houston Street and Watts Street on Seventh Avenue trying to wedge my way into the Holland Tunnel. Sitting alone and comfortable with a car seat all to myself in my Chevy Cobalt, I tried to hog a spot on the other side of a red light. Unfortunately, an officer on foot patrol, bloodthirsty with itchy fingers, caught me seconds before I was able to nudge myself out of the intersection and ticketed me.

Considering all the speed limits I've ignored, stop signs I've paused to admire, and hubcaps I've littered the road with, I had this one coming.

Once arriving into the greater QVC area, instead of escaping into the dark glow of Outback Steakhouse, spreading whipped butter on warm bread and licking salt from a green-rimmed glass, I squinted my way into a Friendly's for a grilled chicken sandwich with too much garlic sauce, fries, and some kind of "Hunka Chunka" peanut butter and fudge sundae, which will surely make my pants even tighter than they were a week and a half ago.

Instead of ducking out of the rain into the Sheraton Great Valley, where QVC presenters are treated like royalty and shuttled around at our every whim, I am holed up in the Holiday Inn Express, where my room smells kind of funny.

But there is free Wi-Fi and free breakfast and a recliner in my room!

The lack of familiarity will probably keep me awake again, on top of knowing I have to drive myself to QVC Studio Park at 3:30 in the morning.

But hopefully once I walk through their doors tomorrow, it'll all come back to me...

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