Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Let's Play Fireman

I'm walking down Clinton Street and see 2 guys holding up a 20ft. tall pole that has fallen over onto a car. Then 4 fire trucks and 2 police cars come. They shut down the street. Rather than just holding the pole up, getting the cars out of the way and then letting the pole fall where it wanted to fall... they had to play with their toys for the next hour. They tied the pole into place on the ground and then (after blocking the road and allowing no foot traffic even 30 feet away from the pole) got out their crane and proceeded sent a guy to the roof. Using some rope they tied a rope from the roof to the top of the pole and then some other ropes to people on the ground so they could safely and slowly guide the pole down. Had they just let it drop where it was supposed to go and would have anyway... estimated time of 5 minutes to hold traffic, clear the car, drop the pole, get said pole out of the street and depart. Instead, 20 guys watched 4 guys tie ropes for an hour. It's like they were practicing how to save a very tall man from falling. I'm surprised no Jaws of Life were used.

Good times.

This is not Sparta... but similar to the Greeks in a way.

Manhattan is a small island. It measures a mere 13 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at the very widest part. Yet when you live here it feels massive and fractured. This borough is easily divided with its own looks and feels to each area. I feel it isn’t a cohesive city at all but a collection of City-States.

Where one might feel totally comfortable on the Upper West Side, they might not feel comfortable at all in the West Village.

This often happens to me. Most of my life in this city has taken place below 23rd Street and above Canal Street. That’s just how it is. Most of the places I like to go and the activities I like to partake in as well as people I know (that live on the island) fall within these parameters.

When I venture out of them I feel less sure of myself and less like I fit in because they are not “my” parts of town.

Years and years ago I went to a birthday party for my friend Emily. It took place at a bar on the Upper East Side, an area I never go to that was and I believe still is very “Frat boy”. I arrived at the bar and as I handed my ID to the behemoth at the door he growled at me, “Tuck in that shirt.”

“Excuse me?”

“Tuck in that shirt if you want to come in. No untucked shirts.”

I wondered why that could possibly be important when the bar was so crowded inside that you couldn’t seen below anyones belly-button height anyhow. Could it be so they could see if you had any weapons tucked into your waistband? I know gangsta rap is big with the frat boys, but that’s a little extreme to think of them whacking each other at an UES bar.

I grumpily complied because it was Emily’s birthday.

“Tuck in that wallet chain.”


“No wallets with chains on them here.”

“You are kidding me.”

“Take it off or don’t come in.”

I sighed and undid the chain from my belt and tucked the whole thing into my front pocket. With those 2 demands at the door to the bar for some reason I felt more fish out of water and unwelcome than at any other time in this city at that point.

After finally being allowed into the bar I gave Emily a hug and a “Happy Birthday” and told her that I kind of wanted to leave because I just knew I didn’t fit in. I didn’t at this bar. I had UES camouflage on (Banana Republic button down shirt) and though it was somewhat correct, I had the wrong pattern on. Every man in the bar had a plaid Banana shirt on. I wore a solid. I know it sounds petty but it is strange to look around and see everyone in the EXACT same clothes and yours are similar, but just enough that you still stand out and are visually dismissed.

I ended up staying and talking to Emily and one or 2 others I knew and watching a boxing match on the TVs at the bar.

I left that night with some sympathy though for the UES and UWS people who put on their “black” or “Downtown” outfit and hit the bars in my area. You can just feel that they aren’t from your area though they mostly look like they do.

Most people don’t end up straying from their “area” or only visit similar areas unless they need to work or shop, or visit someone there. You will find cross-over between Chelsea, LES, East Village, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Greenpoint, and a few other Brooklynn nabes. Upper West Side and Upper East Side may visit each other as well as go down and spend time in TriBeCa and SoHo. In a city with such diversity you find most (myself included) stay to their own.

It’s a strange thing the NYC City-States.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sidewalks Are Not Meant To Be Eaten Off Of

Sidewalk dining is all over the city, and I’ve found it to be an ok experience so long as you aren’t in the East Village. Granted the tables are tiny and most often rickety to the point where you don’t need a shim under them to keep them level but rather a shoe, but on a pleasant day it can be nice. Drinks are the best thing to have outside; food is touchier, if only for the exhaust, mystery drips of water hopefully from a/c units, and other environmental hazards.

The worst hazard in this neighborhood though is the people. I used to enjoy sitting outside at Café Pick Me Up on Avenue A and 9th Street and reading. The best thing about it was if you got bored reading or just wanted to take a break from your book for a few minutes there is always someone interesting walking by or something happening on the street. I’ve seen a woman chase down a purse snatcher, grab her purse back, slap the guy and then walk away. I’ve seen fistfights, crazy dressers, drunks that are amusing and sad to see, you name it, and now I prefer to sit just inside and look out. One guy used to be such a regular that the café would chase him away at first sighting.

Sure the chairs are more uncomfortable outside than in, but that’s not the reason.

I learned quickly; back when I smoked, to never put your pack of cigarettes on the table while you sit outside because everyone will ask you for one. It’s mostly the homeless or drunks who hassle you for them but also the random passers-by. Annoying.

Now it doesn’t matter if you smoke or not. If you are sitting outside, chances are good that someone will interrupt you. A grubby hand might shake a cup in your face or ask you for cash. Or, someone might just come up and gibber at you nonsensically. Sometimes they’ll work the line of people outside other times they seem to just pick one person that is their new favorite person in the world.

It’s not that I don’t feel for many of the people that come up, it’s the cigarette problem. As I’ve said, if I put a pack of cigarettes on the table, I’d get asked for them incessantly. It is the same problem that I have when I give a dollar to someone when I’m sitting outside, suddenly all the people who see that the doling of a dollar come over wanting one as well. It’s tough to deal with sometimes and though your skin gets thick it doesn’t get that much easier over time.

I’ve noticed less people sitting outside some restaurants and cafes now. These are more the places that don’t police their outsides as well and help their customers to have a nice hassle free dining experience. I think others have come to the same conclusion that I have, if you aren’t sitting outside in a courtyard, it’s just not worth it anymore. This isn’t Paris or Rome, its NYC and as Disneyfied as it maybe, it’s still not Main Street USA.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wax On, Wax Off

This is the sign in front of a new nail salon down the street from me:

Monday, July 2, 2007

Park Life

In the summer of 2002, no one thought that anyone cared about the World Cup. Of soccer or footie if you prefer. I myself cared about it deeply and have always been a huge fan. Screw baseball, basketball, hockey…pretty much every other sport. The World Series shouldn’t be called the World Series if they don’t play teams from around the world. The World Cup is the largest sports event in the world, larger than the Olympics. When you consider a country like Ghana cut production at their gold mines in half by the government so that there would be enough electricity to power the nation's television sets to watch Ghana in the World Cup. Think that happens during the Olympics? Not hardly.

The World Cup in 2002 happened to be in South Korea which is fantastic, but the time zone difference made it difficult at best to watch it here in NYC, yet it seemed everyone was into it. I found myself, like others I knew, taking “World Cup Naps” between 7-11 at night and waking in order to head over to the many, and by many I mean every, bar that was staying open all night and serving beer illegally past the 4am cut off for the games. Games started at midnight, 3 am, 5 am, and 9 am I believe. Needless to say it was an interesting month.

I was in Nevada Smiths with a bunch of Brits that I am friends with getting ready to watch England play Argentina. There was a lot of tension in the bar and the Argentines and Brits were not mixing all that well even though there were 3-1 Brit fans for every Argentine. Karaoke was going on, as it does some nights at that bar and the first game had yet to begin. The last performer of the night got up to sing about 5 minutes before the game began. He was a big bloke, probably a bit of hooligan in his native country. Then he began to sing “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” and I feared that ugliness would ensue. All the Brits joined in and the Argentines just kept quiet realizing how outnumbered they were. They then lost to England and it was a fantastic night.

My best night started out at an English pub in my neighborhood when England played Brazil. They were the first game of the night; the US was the last with their game scheduled at 9 am. We are settling in at the pub at midnight when we notice a tiny famous man in the bar with us wearing an extremely loud Hawaiian shirt and hitting on all the Brazilian ladies. Matt Dillon. When the England fans noticed him they changed their chant from “England” to “Dillon” and shook beer all over him. He quickly grabbed two ladies and exited quickly. England lost that game but we stayed late and had an amazing time. Later we were debating how to spend the time between the games. We decided to grab some beer and head to my place to play some Xbox to keep ourselves awake for the the couple hour interval.

We found ourselves somehow scoring a 12 pack of cheap canned beer and then heading up the street to my place. The sun was rising and everything was nice and blue with that wonderful early morning light. As we came upon Tompkins Square Park we heard some noise where there shouldn’t be any. We looked over and in the park (which was closed from midnight or so until about 7 am) there were a bunch of guys playing soccer. We watched a moment and then the 5 of us hopped the fence and went over and asked if we could play. Before you knew it my shirt and was off and we were divided evenly among the teams playing good old Shirts v. Skins.

As we started to play (illegally) in the park you could see grins creeping up and pasting themselves on everyone’s faces. Here we were, a bunch of guys in their late 20’s to mid-30’s suddenly playing a pick up game of soccer at 5-6 am in the sunrise. It was as if we were all suddenly 12 again playing a pick up game, running and almost skinning our knees on the pavement. There was a score but no one knew what it was.

Soon a police car rolled up and we paused for a second wondering what to do.

Then we knew.

We kept playing.

The cops just watched, either enjoying the game or entertained by the sight of a bunch of guys playing soccer and sweating out their beer from the night before.

Eventually a ball went astray and ended up wedging itself under the cop car. I ran up to retrieve it, figuring they hadn’t bugged us yet so what’s going to happen?

I got the ball and the smiled at the cops and they smiled back. I guess since we were obviously not doing anything wrong, why bust us for anything?

We ended up playing as the sun rose and until the park opened. Then we all headed out and when we got to my place, most people opened a beer and passed out. I stayed awake and watched the US win.

It remains one of my happiest most free feeling moments in this city. In the middle of a drunken night of fun, coming across a random game and playing and losing yourself in the moment, so swept up in the fever of the World Cup and the love of the game and the memories of it as a child.

When I think of my happiest moments in this city, that moment of walking by the game and discovering the game and then joining and playing is in the top 5. There is just something so pure about the game and our discovery and playing. I mean the circumstances we came from weren’t, but the outcome was. I think it was the randomness of it all and the ineffable feeling of playing a game that you love deeply, but also of playing the game, as if you are the child you once were.

Overheard Tourists in Times Square

Tourist Guy 1: Is that the New York State Flag?
Tourist Guy 2: Uhhh no. That's the Italian Flag.