Friday, November 27, 2009

A Hotbed of Pontification

You know that scene in "Annie Hall," the one where Alvy's stuck in line for the movies in front of a man who's "screaming his opinions in my ear"? "It's maddening," Alvy says to Annie before turning to the man: "Aren't you ashamed to pontificate like that?" Apparently no, Alvy realizes. The man is not ashamed to pontificate like that.

And I don't think many people in New York are, either.

I recently watched "Black Narcissus," the 1947 Academy Award-winning film about nuns who go crazy in the Himalayas (it's similar to Three Cups of Tea, but instead of a burly, go-getter like Greg Mortenson trying to build a school among jagged mountain peaks, it's a gaggle of sexually repressed ladies with severe emotional problems). Anyway, Jack Cardiff, who won the Oscar for cinematography for the film, said he derived inspiration from the works of 17th Century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, whose work just happened to be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week... just 40 minutes away from my home in Brooklyn. So, after watching the film, I went to see the paintings.

Indeed, the similarities were apparent. Both figures—Cardiff's celluloid nuns and Vermeer's oil-based milkmaids—are lit from the same angles with direct sunlight that streams in, usually through an open window within the frame. (Above: poster advertising the film "Black Narcissus"; Below: Vermeer's painting Young Woman with a Water Pitcher.) How exciting! I politely enjoyed the moment. I doubted anyone else within the hoard of curious onlookers at the Met was silently evaluating Vermeer's use of light, as imitated by Jack Cardiff, because they just so happened to see "Black Narcissus" the night before... it was certainly obvious that she wasn't.

She was a little woman, probably in her 50s, who stood at the front of the pack. She was next to an Asian kid—maybe a college student?—and it was unclear to me whether they were standing next to one another intentionally or as a stochatic byproduct of collective picture gazing, but he didn't seem to mind her.

"This was where the Renaissance started," she said while gazing at the 18" x 16" painting The Milkmaid. "These guys were masters, I mean they really were masters."

The Asian kid didn't really say much, although he briefly pointed out the fine detail of speckled light captured on the loaf of bread in the foreground. "Yes! I mean you can really feeeel the material," she said to the kid, as her shoulders came up to her ears, her eyes shrunk and the skin around them creased. She straightened up and looked back at the milkmaid. "It's really amaaazing."

It didn't help her case, as far as I was concerned, that she never smiled and carried an air of sophisticated indifference. Her salt-and-pepper hair jutted out from smack dab in the middle of her melon in rigid strands that stretched over her forehead, her ears and the nape of her neck like a star burst or an explosion that she knew was there but pretended not to notice. This rigid aura crept down to her jacket—black, military-style—which formed a canopy, like a bell, above her little legs (bound by tight black pants) and her feet (protected by clunky black clogs). It seemed appropriate that she should also be carrying a big, black messenger bag.

I eventually walked into the other room. Her voice was nauseating. (Really, it was the only one I could hear among the muffled whispers so politely supplied by everyone else in the room.)

"I mean, it's right next to this mundane thing, so it's very... impressionistic." Within seconds, the blabber mouth was behind me, staring at a picture on the opposite wall, her left arm bent with her fingers pressed against the small of her back, while her right arm floated off to the side, wire-rimmed glasses dangling from the delicate grip of her petite fingers, as if they didn't belong to her, as if she didn't care, as if the only thing that ever mattered was the art—the ART! "They didn't just INVENT something," she continued, now speaking to a woman who seemed more her age but remained just as silent as the Asian kid had been. "They used it to be extreme, not merely for an ACCENT." Good lord.

She moved on to another one, stared at it for a beat, then said: "I don't like it. He's got a deforrrmed... face. No. It's just too comical."

Of course, the scene from "Annie Hall" ends when Alvy and the man pontificating behind him bring up Marshal McLuhan, who suddenly emerges from behind a movie poster and proceeds to discredit everything the pontificating man had previously pontificated, and Alvy then turns to the camera and says: "Boy, if only life were like this!"

Unfortunately, it's not.

But that's why we have blogs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tell Me a Story

Q: What do you get when you mix Ray Bradbury, Rod Stewart, an east-Asian porter and a Spanish tour bus, with a religious cross made out of sugar cubes, a generous shot of pepper-laced vodka, and a festering pool of watered-down cow shit?

A: You get a Moth, of course.

A Moth (or, The Moth, if you're talking about the read deal: ) is simply a gathering of people who like to tell and/or listen to stories. The event—in no way reminiscent of that bland butterfly cousin with a maniacal fluttering compulsion, though named for it (the original crew of storytellers swapped tales in humidity-ridden Georgia, to a far-reaching audience of the beastly insects)—was founded by George Dawes Green, who, after moving to New York, "missed the sense of connection he had felt sharing stories with his friends back home." So he recreated it in his living room.

That was 12 years ago. Now, The Moth stories are broadcast on radio stations throughout the nation and have featured such storytellers as: Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Gopnik, Ethan Hawke, John Cameron Mitchell, Susan Orlean and—as of last week—Claires! (Although, as we have no professional connection to the public airwaves, we acquiesced to the living room version.)

Last week, more than a dozen people crowded into our Brooklyn apartment to hear stories based on the night's theme, "I Had it Bad," and nearly 10 people spoke. While most of the stories featured awkward encounters, physical ailments or some sort of heartbreak, one centered on the hilarious embarrassment of public nudity (and, no, this was not the tale of the pepper-laced vodka).

From what I could tell, the night was a success. And if we can generate another theme with the power to inspire such diverse topics as sugar cube crosses and festering cow shit, I think the Moth will have to make a comeback.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Awkward Pose!

While Claire W. trudged up the hill, past the "stupid people," in Prospect Park, I soaked myself in my own sweat. Face flushed, heart beating, and sweat beading down my back I slowly and methodically made my way through the 26 poses that make up Bikram yoga.
Now, I am not a particularly profuse sweater, but Bikram promises to leave you slick and somewhat light-headed depending on your level of experience. I've taken about 5 classes now, and I'm hooked--I often find myself wandering over to the 105 F studio at 27th and 6th after work.
I've tried Vinyasa yoga before (not heated) and was somewhat ambivalent. I took a few classes, but didn't get the same amount of satisfaction. I've tried to pin down what it is about Bikram that makes me come back for more.
Perhaps it is the physical manifestation of my efforts--a large amount of sweat--that I can wring out of my towel and clothes.
It might be because it is so much more regimented than Vinyasa. All teachers (as far as I have experienced) are created equal, simply because there is no time for personality. All 26 poses are done twice, for a given amount of time, that amounts to 90 minutes. Bikram does not deviate from that regimen.
It could also be the rhythm. I respond well to rhythm. Many of the instructors I've had count during the breathing exercises, or during the poses, so that you know exactly how long you need to be where you are. Or how slowly to exhale, so that you don't spend precious seconds without air in your lungs.
Also, unlike Claire W.'s running exercises, there are no pedestrians or strollers to deal with (that would make for something completely different, I imagine).
Regardless of the reasons, I feel fantastic. Everyday. I might hate the practice while I'm in the middle of it--a big, hot, sweaty mess--but I'm always glad to have put myself through it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

"Valhalla, I am coming!"

Claire W:

Earlier this evening, while Claire B. was sweating out half her body's water content doing bikram yoga, I decided to strap on my iPod and my water belt—why am I the only dorky runner in New York who seems to have one?—and take a jog around Prospect Park. (Alas, I'm too stingy for $7 yoga.)

I've run the inside loop so many times it's become routine. So, I decided to run on the sidewalk around the park, a path that begins with an uphill climb...

Now, I'm not good with hills, but I've become accustomed to the gradient on this route. What I'm not accustomed to, however, are urban obstacles. Ironic, right? But New York parks accommodate runners; they insulate them from the perils of city life by giving them their own lanes: white lines painted on the concrete to delineate exactly where you can and can't go. Bikers have their own lanes, too, and pedestrians (in addition to the giant field in the middle of the park and the numerous surrounding hillsides) have their own paved walkways, which snake through the foliage.

On the sidewalk, all rules are off.

As I started my ascent, I not only kept a good eye out for cracks in the sidewalk (I've tripped and fallen way too many times in my life, now, to ever claim another dignified downfall), but I kept my eye out for—yes—stupid people. Of course, said stupid people predictably materialize when you're walking down any given sidewalk in New York City, but when you're running up one, their stupidity seems to increase exponentially.

For example, here's a taste of what I encountered:

1. A man (presumably drunk) walking aimlessly on the sidewalk. You'd think, given his stunted motor reflex skills, that I would be able to judge his position on the sidewalk and sidestep him accordingly... unbelievably not so. As he wandered slowly right, I made my way left, only to find myself gradually nearing the curb as he suddenly decided he needed to go left, too.

2. Strollers. To clarify, I have no problem with the actual device—it's the person behind the wheel that can become very irksome. Listen, if you're pushing around a relatively large contraption in addition to your person, you might as well just think of the two as one... do not push the stroller to one side or the other without first looking behind you to make sure no one's coming. (For god's sake, there's a baby in there!)

3. Groups. People have a natural tendency to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, which I can understand because who wants to talk to the back of someone's head. But it should go without saying that this configuration is not ok on narrow sidewalks, especially when you're standing five people abreast. No one—not your fellow walkers, not even the ladies with strollers—wants to deal with having to bypass a human barricade.

So there I was, breathing heavily and sweating profusely, as if exposed to the 100+ degree heat of a bikram yoga class—except that I was just working extra hard to make it past all the stupid people that stood in between me and the top of the hill. I had been listening to Led Zeppelin, and as I approached the top, the stupid people dissipated and I finally looked up: there was the dominating presence of Grand Army Plaza, an 80 ft. high arch, topped with the sculptures of men, horses, eagles and flags all designed to be waving in the wind for dramatic effect. Then, as if on cue, "Immigrant Song" came on.

"We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow. Hammer of the Gods will drive our ship to new lands, to fight the hordes, singing and crying: Valhalla I am coming!"

And with that, I suddenly felt pretty badass for running against all those stupid obstacles.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Moving Day: Part I

Claire W.

Last Sunday, Aug. 30, Claire B. and I moved all our earthly possessions from the 4th floor walk-up in Hoboken, NJ, which Claire B. had shared with her roommate and I had littered with my possessions / self for the past month, to our 4th floor apartment in Brooklyn, NY, in a building with an elevator (a major luxury, when moving heavy objects against Earth’s gravitational force).

The move was relatively seamless—I mean, I had recently moved from CA, so I only had two suitcases and a large backpack to transport. And while Claire B. had a nice accumulation of furniture and full-size bed to think about, my meager collection of things (however illogically) allowed me to approach the move with comfort and ease, knowing that my personal contribution to the hassles of the move was relatively nil. Of course, I did my part to move furniture and such—I’ve never been one to let my beefy muscles lay idle—but lifting heavy objects was really the worst of it.

After we loaded the moving truck and Claire B. headed out to Brooklyn—nudged in between her parents and with all our possessions in tow—I hopped in a car with a friend of ours and zipped across Manhattan, and ultimately into my new neighborhood: Ditmas Park.

Making the Move Out East: a four-step plan

Claire W.

For anyone else planning a move from CA to NY, I highly suggest following a plan similar to mine:

  1. Meet a girl/boy with the same name as you.
  2. Become co-editors in chief of the school newspaper together (this will allow you to build a solid dynamic early on, crucial for near-effortless co-habitation).
  3. Make sure this person with the same name as yours has family in New York, or the surrounding area.
  4. Make sure that the family of this person with the same name as yours is, in a word: phenomenal. (We’re talking Mom, Dad, step-mom, sister and close friend who will collectively provide a moving truck, heavy-lifting, furniture, kitchen supplies and—now here’s the kicker—a bed for you, because otherwise you will be sleeping on the cold, hard floor.)
This will take some patience on your part, but, trust me, it's well worth it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Land of Wild Steeds and Miniature Men

Yesterday, Claire B. and I were told to dress-up: we were going to the races.

You see, Claire B's grandparents own three horses, which they keep and frequently race at Monmouth Park, NJ. They were heading to the Park that day (despite the fact that their horse had actually been pulled from the race) and invited us to tag along. How could we not? Horse racing is associated with so much popular imagery: binoculars, parasols, suit jackets and bow ties. There's Audrey Hepburn, sitting in the stands in her ostentatious black and white ball gown in "My Fair Lady"; there's Nicely Nicely who so famously bets on Paul Revere in "Guys and Dolls"; there's the alluring draw of the betting tables that propels the action in "The Sting"; there's the legend that was Seabiscuit and the legend that will one day be Barbaro; and, of course, there's the beautifully muscled steeds, captured mid-run by Degas and his quick-moving paintbrush. So there we were. Dressed in our Sunday best, Claire B. and I were at the races.

It was what I expected, at first: large white buildings, people in elegant straw hats, well-manicured greens and signs above the betting tables that boasted "cigars, snacks and air conditioning." The park had a very traditional feel to it.

Though, as we walked between rows of brightly colored lawn jockeys—those 12" statues featuring little white men in riding boots with fabulous posture—I couldn't help but think of an episode of "The Simpsons." It featured evil jockeys who resembled the Keebler elves... I couldn't get their chant out of my head: We are the jockeys, jockeys are we, we live underground in a fiberglass tree... The mythic prestige of going to the races was beginning to fade. By the time we sat down in our box above the crowd, it was nearly gone.

While somehow grand and illustrious, horse racing was also somewhat absurd. Each person in attendance was given a pamphlet, which detailed the ranking, age, gender, family lineage and genetic make-up of creatures with names that sounded like cheesey romance novels—"True Love," "Little Dovefeather," "Meadow Blue"—and names that were just ridiculous in nature—"Essence of Time," "Hanna Banana," "Indian War Dance." Then, of course, there were the names that were just plain obscure: "Thenputitback," "Hobbitinthehole," "Myprincesssallyson." Imagine men in panama hats, holding thick cigars, and saying in deep raspy voices, "I've got $200 on 'Little Dovefeather,'" or the announcer yelling, "'Hobbitinthehole' falls back and 'Myprincesssallyson' takes the lead!" What a mouth full. (Meanwhile, I couldn't stop the jockey anthem from replaying in my head... We live underground in a fiberglass tree...)

Oddly enough, it wasn't until I stared down into the arena that the obscurity of the whole experience really set in. When you see a Degas, you see the horse at eye-level, in the midst of intense action, and you see a fiercely determined jockey hunched over on top. When you see a horse race from up in the stands, you see the horses and jockeys in action for about two minutes, but most of the time you see the interim; you see wild, chestnut-colored beasts unsaddled, walking among little teeney men in shiny florescent uniforms. The contrast is surprising. It seems completely irrational.

I found it hard to make sense of such a strange confluence of dissimilar things: bombastic gamblers, sissy horse names, Eliza Doolittle, Keebler elves, wild steeds and miniature men... but, in the end, I think that's what's most fun about going to the races.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Walla's Week in Review

It's been some time since I last posted, almost a week, in fact.  So instead of regaling you with several long-winded accounts of my no doubt intriguing daily observations, I'll sum up the past week as such:

1.  Important realization: always have cash — you're way behind the times, New York, learn to accommodate people who only have plastic. (Haven't you heard of saving the planet?  Not wasting paper?  Sheesh.  Side note: no recycle bins on the sidewalks of NY, either... I mean, I know I went to college in hippie town, CA, but come on...)

2.  People in Hoboken are really nice! — went to a café without cash (whoops) and didn't have enough change for the $3 small coffee I ordered, but the nice woman standing next to me graciously threw down three bills (then proceeded to giggle uncomfortably while repeating this mantra: "pay it forward, right?  just pay it forward... ha ha ha, haha..."  I thanked her and promised to do the same.)

3.  People in Hoboken are also really funny — passed a guy on the street the other day whose facial complexion matched the color of his shorts: salmon.  (He also had on a muted lilac colored t-shirt, which made him look like a bruise in loafers.)

4.  Sometimes people actually do meet your expectations — my friend Megan and I approached a guy at a bar: "has anyone ever told you that you look like Buddy Holly?"  Sure enough, as soon as Megan had accessed the album art on her iPod, we held the palm-sized screen up to said guy's face and, yes, the resemblance was uncanny. (I mean, really: the glasses were an added bonus). 

Thus concludes Walla's Week in Review.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Claire B Weighs In

Today I'm going to get the keys to the Claire Lair. I hope.
I called Semyon, our lovely, yet incomprehensible, Russian broker for the super's phone number. Joe, the super, or Super Joe, we'll call him, is a pretty nice guy. In fact, he was the one who showed us the apartment in the first place. Even Super Joe said he'd be delighted to have us, the Claires, as tenants. Then again, who wouldn't?

So, step one: get Super Joe to call me back
Step two: get the keys from Super Joe
Step three: rejoice!

If all goes well, we'll begin moving some things in this Saturday. Mostly small stuff like decor, books, and a few big bags of clothing. Just think of it: two weeks from now, we'll be completely moved in! The thought of it thrills me to the core!

Of course once that happens, we'll be able to write about all sorts of interesting apartment-happenings. What those are remains to be seen, but rest assured that they will be riveting accounts, full of action and witty banter.

I'll be in the neighborhood after work anyway, visiting my pseudo-step-sister, Coralina, in Prospect Park South. Ditmas Park is an easy hop down from there. Anyhow, Coralina has spearheaded this arts festival called The Last Supper for the last few years, and the next festival is coming up in September for its fifth year running. It is a smorgasbord of art, music, food, and film. A cultural miasma and a feast for the senses. I've been delegated a smattering of tasks, including, but not limited to, editing press releases, finding sponsoships, compiling letters of collaboration, and really just keeping up on Coralina and helping her get things done. It's a huge effort and everyone is so passionate about what they're doing that it's hard not to love.

In any case, if all goes well, I will have the keys in hand by the end of the day to our new apartment. I'll just stand there, in sunny silence, imagining the empty space and white walls brought to life in the coming weeks by the presence of Claire and Claire.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What is sophistication, anyway?

I just got back from seeing "The Animal Collective" live in Prospect Park, Brooklyn.  While this was my first time seeing the band perform, it was also my first introduction to their music, as well as this musical genre.

Wikipedia describes it as "freak folk" or "noise pop"—I think either will suffice.  The night's performance consisted of three guys: one stood behind some electronics with a headlight attached to his floppy head (it looked as though his skull was filled with sand and his neck made of cloth), another stood in a striped shirt and baseball cap hunched dramatically over a guitar or a percussion instrument while swaying evenly with the beat, and the third wore an enormously oversized white t-shirt and hummed long-winded notes while creating rhythms at the touch of a button.  The music defied norms.  With 20 min. crescendoes and endless repetition, it was two hours of sound—mostly unintelligible, and absolutely without end.

To be quite honest, it reminded me of the Teletubbies.

To those who've seen the show, perhaps you were as bothered as I was to constantly hear those space-aged, pot-bellied creatures exclaim, "Again, again!" after every single movement.  Tinky-winky picks up his frickin' man-purse and Lala's over there shouting: "Again, again!"  And he proceeds to go through these simple mechanics nearly a dozen times.  Personally, it made me want to stick my fingers in my eyes.  But little kids went absolutely bonkers every single time that damn motion got repeated.

It wasn't so dissimilar at the show tonight.

Lyrics, notes, rhythms... they're all repeated endlessly, and it seemed the crowd got even more excited the longer these sounds persisted.  I didn't want to seem square—I had just read about Stravinsky's opera, The Rite of Spring, and how on opening night its acrimonious melodies caused riots in the theatre because it sounded so unconventional (though really it was just 'progressive')—I wanted to interpret this music with an air of sophistication.  But, I found myself thinking the same thing I did when I saw the Teletubbies: "Oh my god, seriously?  Again?"  

It makes you wonder what sophistication truly means.  Is "The Animal Collective" really a genre-defying breakthrough, and am I just a square?  Or, does the music just tap into the same impulses that made us happy when we were children?  I don't know.  But, it's funny to think that maybe the only thing dividing the Teletubbies from "The Animal Collective" is the pungent smell of quality bud.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Crowds: What Luck

Today on the subway I was reading about 'the man who mistook his wife for a hat,' a.k.a. Dr. P (this man's neurological condition was first discovered and documented by neurologist Oliver Sacks, but I read about it in Jonah Lehrer's book Proust was a Neuroscientist).  

Anyway, in the chapter that explains the phenomenon of sight, Lehrer explains that light enters the retina in a series of lines and then gets processed through the visual cortex of the brain, which ends up producing what most people know to be a clearly identifiable image.  But, due to a cortical lesion, "Dr. P's eyes received virtually no input from his brain.  He saw the world solely in its unprocessed form, as labyrinths of light and masses of color," (108).  This is why, when reaching out for his hat, Dr. P made the mistake of grabbing his wife's face.

I was thinking about this strange condition after getting off the subway in Union Square, while pushing through crowds as thick as Porterhouse steak trimmings.  Making my way through this blockage was challenging enough, but then I thought: what if everything around me just suddenly turned into blobs of light and color?

It would be impossible for me to live in New York.  

I think the next time I'm cursing the inconsiderate masses under my breath while fighting for my own little piece of the sidewalk, I'll remember Dr. P and remind myself that I should feel so lucky to even see a piece of sidewalk worth fighting for.  In the long run, I'd much rather be in a position to dodge annoying people than to inadvertently reach out and grab their faces.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Claire Lair Lives!

Just hours ago, Claire and I got word from our Russian broker, Seymon (pronounced Sí-mon), that our credit has been approved: as of Thursday, Aug. 14 our little 2-bedroom dream in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn will be a reality!  

It's perfect: the walking path from the Courtelyou subway stop to our little hide-a-way includes several very important features, like a bar/flowershop (yes, the two are connected... novel idea, huh?), a health food store / restaurant (for when we're feeling particularly vegan), and a coffee shop... a real coffee shop!!  These damn places were my sanctuaries in California and you have no idea how hard they are to find in New York.  (Well, at least in the neighborhoods we've been able to afford living in.)  Ah, internet and a hot cup of Joe... here I come.

And yet, while it does evoke undertones of perfection, this recent event in our NY lives does prompt some very important questions:

1. Was it necessary to go through a broker?

2. How will Claire W. pay rent if she doesn't yet have a job?

3. If we had waited, would we have found something better?

Not sure on any of these just yet... but I'm pretty certain that this is one of the most exciting things that's happened to us since I stepped off the plane.  And I'm not exactly sure how Claire B. feels about this particular part of the plan—in fact, I'm pretty sure she doesn't share my enthusiasm for this bit—but I am so psyched to finally have the chance to invite people over to the "Claire Lair"!


The Things I See When I Jog

I've been here nearly three weeks, but I already have a regular jogging route through the streets of Hoboken.  Although, today it was anything but.  

On Sunday a small commuter plane and a helicopter crashed in mid-air over the Hudson River, just next to my seaside jogging path.  It reminded me of US Airways Flight 1549, which had flown into the Hudson back in January; that incident I had only read about in the LA Times—this I got to see first-hand.  (I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't excited to be a part of the action.)  As I jogged, I passed cop cars, NJ emergency medical vehicles, fire engines and white news vans with space-aged satellites perched on top; I also passed docks that jetted out into the river—one in particular rested behind yellow police tape and flocks of cops because it held what looked like remnants from the collision that had been recovered by divers and tow-boats.  Embarrassingly enough, I had the gall to connect this visual to my secret television obsession: "Dexter."  This is the show that chronicles the life of a Miami Metro homicide dept. blood analyst who moonlights as a murderer... it's so annoyingly intriguing it makes me want to be a blood analyst, too.  (But not a murderer, thank god.)  I wanted to be Dexter Morgan, to walk out onto that jetty and investigate all the bits and pieces that lay there as evidence of what had happened.

That is, I did until I hit the swarm of media personnel, all standing with their faces affixed to eye pieces and lenses that were tightly focused on that empty space in the water between all of the police boats.  It was just a wall made up of the backs of people's heads, with the intermittent glowing face of a bright-eyed newscaster holding a microphone, there to narrate the story.  I couldn't hear what any of them were saying, but the man standing next to me had a radio with him: "Two bodies have been found."  And with that, I didn't want to listen anymore.  This was not like reading about it in the Times, or watching it on TV, and it certainly wasn't like watching "Dexter."  I was 100 feet away from the wreckage of a crash that killed nine people; I saw the police boats swaying in the water, I heard the water lapping against the shore, and I realized that beneath those subtle waves, just 100 feet away from me, there were two people—not just bodies, but people.  From behind the stoic wall of print and broadcast news affiliates who wouldn't take their eyes off of the site for a moment, I felt kind of sad.

And I felt bad for stopping, for being intrigued by this kind of event, and waiting along with everyone else for something to just happen.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Apartment Hunting

We've set our sights on Brooklyn: yes, because we have very little money and thus have no choice, but also because we come from Santa Cruz, the land of hipsters, coffee shops, grungy neighborhood bars and bicycles... Claire B's current digs (Hoboken: land of joggers, strollers, high heels and men with briefcases chugging beer) offers very little of that.  

After a depressing Sunday stroll through Bushwick—which, despite its geography, is about the furthest thing from hip, happening Williamsburg on the planet—we discovered Ditmas Park, an affordable neighborhood off the Q train with a left-leaning coffee shop and only a mere fraction of the misery that permeates Bushwick.  So we ransacked Craigslist with as much gusto as we could muster and made appointments to view some of the apartments in the area.  

Six days, 12 apartments and one rejection later, it was Friday.  Claire B. had the day off so we decided to hit the streets.  In the day and age of websites, e-mails and text messages, we walked the concrete grid of Ditmas Park and rang doorbells to inquire about vacancies.  After four hours, several inquiries and about 40 blocks, we were apt to call it a day.  

But on our way to the subway, something caught our eyes: a large, gothic, fortress-like apartment complex with the sculpted faces of biblical figures (or pompous nobles?) nestled into the walls of the building.  We had to check it out.  As we searched for the super's call button, the front door slowly began to open.  Behind it stood a tall black man with thick-rimmed glasses, a bow-tie, a white collared tuxedo shirt beneath a patched leather vest, salmon colored pants and white oxford shoes: he was dapper in a bohemian sort of way.  Instead of a cane, he held a single crutch beneath his left arm.  If I were to give him a name it would be Chauncey or Percy, because he spoke with the most fine-tuned British accent I've ever heard outside of a Monty Python comedy routine.

"Hellooo?  May I help you sort out some matter?"

We explained that we were just in the neighborhood searching for two-bedroom apartments and wondered if there was anything in this building.  He let us in.  The lobby had a fireplace in the center and dark hardwood floors; it was very dim, which made it seem even more like we had just stepped into his fictional world of wilted British aristocracy.

"Yes, you'll want to speak with 'Mare-io' about this, he's just downstairs.  There."

Mario, apparently, was the super.  Claire B. spoke with him briefly, but was told that the building did not have vacancies.  We returned the the lobby and proceeded to tell Chauncey/Percy about our day, and the harrows finding a decent apartment for a decent penny.

"I don't know why in the name of heaven prices have gone so high," Chauncy/Percy said with a look of distain on his face.  But then he grinned, letting his front teeth rest on his bottom lip.  

"Just don't be despondent,"  he told us.  [Note: I've never ever heard someone use this word in a sentence before.]  "Yes.  You'll find something.  It's really quite simple."  He grinned.  We thanked Chauncey/Percy for his sage wisdom, then went on our way.

We left Ditmas Park without an apartment, but we also left with even more of a reason to return... we had just met a man with a bow-tie and white oxfords, who relied on a single crutch and and a fake British accent to get through his day... This is why I left that quiet mountain town in the peaks of California and came to New York, and this is why Claire B. and I are so keen to move to Brooklyn—to increase the chance that our days might be peppered with character, and our ears treated to the old fashioned sounds of words like "despondent."

(Our apartment hunt resumes on Monday.)