Sunday, March 27, 2016

I don't get it.

Every now and then, I encounter a New Yorker thing that I just don’t get. Sometimes it just seems odd; other times, it’s a way of living that I don’t (wouldn’t?) participate in. Take, for example, the concept of “books by the foot.”

At the Strand Bookstore:
We can assemble a great book by the foot collection for you that will satisfy the mind and please the eye. Book by the foot collections can be made to order based on color, binding, material, size, and height to match your specific style and home decor.
Who picks their reading lists by color, size, and height? Oh, I see, they’re not to be read. And Steven Spielberg is one of their clients? Oh, I see, maybe he’s doing it for movie sets. I hope so.

I also don’t think New Yorkers cook meals, but that just may be New Yorkers who live in apartments. Or maybe that’s just New Yorkers who live in Manhattan in studio apartments. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of this one.

My apartment has a dishwasher. As my cousin pointed out, there’s not enough room in the cabinets to have enough dishes to even make a load. There’s not enough room in the cabinets to stock any staples. A friend of mine’s fully-equipped, high-end kitchen still has only two burners. I was in a delicatessen one evening around 5:30. Suddenly, I was swamped by people ordering a half-pound of this, a pound of that. They don’t cook, they “heat up.”
New Yorkers and their kids ride scooters, not skateboards. Kick scooters, like Razors, the ones Sophie and the Alaska kids had when they were little and which are now clearly an old, dead fad. Not in New York. That’s what they ride here. My guess: in a crowd, it’s easier to pick it up and over a curb than bending down to retrieve your skateboard with your head in everyone’s butt. But that’s only a guess.
Runners. Runners here run in thick crowds, on concrete, around obstacles, on horrible paver stones. I am a spoiled runner. The idea of running in and around LOTS of people who are not running, who are strolling or just waiting for a bus – who are wearing suits! – is beyond unappealing. I can’t even believe these runners attempt what they do – why? They’ll ruin their feet on the concrete, and what kind of meditative experience is it? But that gets to Nature and wilderness and Alaska and me, and that’s a subject for another day.

I don’t get what the trucks are doing between 2 and 5 a.m. that can possibly make THAT MUCH NOISE right in front of the apartment building. The doorman thinks they’re unloading and reloading office furniture … every night of the week. I checked … and that’s what they’re doing!

Sometimes, the thing I don’t “get” is more profound. I spent one afternoon at the Transit Museum in Brooklyn. They had an exhibition on operating in crises: 9/11, the power blackout of 2003, Superstorm Sandy, etc. Going through the 9/11 photos and video testimonials was powerful. Regular subway operators described how they encountered terrified people in the Cortlandt Street Station and stopped to jam them on the train because they were so frightened. Bus drivers ferried as many people as they could out and home. Photos of New Yorkers – more than you could ever imagine – walking across the bridges trying to get home.
I was in San Francisco on 9/11 for a week’s run of my one-woman show. Flight 93 was headed to San Francisco; it was full of locals. The City was put on lockdown, the Golden Gate Bridge was closed. 9/11 felt very immediate. We all know where we were when it happened.

But I wasn’t in New York City. Ground Zero was GROUND ZERO here. Regular old people in their regular old jobs had to take on emergency duties, had to take on life-saving duties, had to conquer their own fears and step up. Had to live with what happened that day.

9/11 wasn’t TV coverage for New Yorkers. It was right here, and they had to deal with it, go to sleep to it, wake up to it, live with it. We all know the “you had to be there” feeling, the way you just can’t describe something to someone who hasn’t experienced it. The New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 were touched in a way that I was not. I have a new and profound respect for their ability to get up, get moving, help out, face grief. I imagine they look at each other and know, in their souls, “We were here.”

I wasn’t.

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