So, I finished up my internship, and then I left New York. It kind of snuck up on me too. And my internship boss started freaking out a bit because she was suddenly running out of interns. But it happens at the end of every season, and she gets over it and gets new interns. She did say I was a good writer, which was nice.
-The way I left New York was that I got on an absolutely enormous bus—one might even call it a Mega-Bus—and the bus took me and a few other people to Boston. Now I'm here at my friend Willie's house, and tomorrow morning we're going to leave on our camping trip. It'll be in Vermont, which is only 2½ hours' drive away—it takes a little getting used to how small these states are up here. But I'll write about that when I'm done. What about New York?
-On the whole, I'd say it was an exceptionally positive experience. Even though I'm definitely still not a big-city person, I now know what it's like to live in a big city. But if all I gained from New York was being able to rule out a lifestyle that I'd already pretty much ruled out, that'd pretty much make it a waste of two months. I also gained something pretty great to put on my résumé, which is certainly good, but it's also not even close to all that I got out of the city. What I got was an experience. Like Aunt Irene said commenting on the last post, if I want to be a writer, I need to experience as much as I can. I found that I was looking at some things from a writer viewpoint. For example, just yesterday, on my last subway ride ever, sitting down the car from me was a woman with a tremendous voice, relating a story at full volume to her friend. I was reading my book about edible plants, and glared at her a couple times. Then I realized that she was a lot more than loud and annoying. She was also putting more feeling into the delivery of a story than anyone I may have ever seen. I couldn't even tell what the story was about, since I was at the other end of the car and the words got blurred with all the train noise, but I just watched her tell it. She jumped up into high, incredulous voices, and then with no pause she swooped down into a preposterously manly voices. She never seemed to breathe. Almost always she was acting out the story with her hands too, using them to guard her head against something heavy falling on her, or spreading them out to show something hugely expansive, or lifting her arm up to punctuate a deep "WHOOOF" sound effect (which popped up several times—I really wish I knew what she had been talking about). Eventually, instead of being angry that she was so loud and distracting me from my book, I just grinned and watched her performance. Once I started enjoying it, I thought to myself, She might have to be a character in a book I write sometime. But I'm more than a writer, too; in fact, one could make a convincing case that I'm not really a writer yet, since I've never really tried to sell anything I've written (though I still write, so I count myself as some sort of writer at least). I'm also just a person, and I like to keep these experiences just as experiences, since experiences are what make up a life, once they've turned into memories. I've certainly had two months packed really dense with experiences. Free symphony concerts, tasting home-brewed beer at a friend's house, riding a fixed-gear bike, watching punk music lovers dance by skipping around a circle at top possible speed and collide with each other. These are the things that, whether or not they make it into a book I write, if I ever even write a book that gets published, are what I'm now going to be able to tell people I've seen, and laugh with them, or maybe commiserate with them, or just talk with them. Everything was new and amazing. Even if it might not have been, I made it that way anyhow.
-I shouldn't write any more than that, because I've got an early morning tomorrow. Willie has this strange thing where he's apparently constitutionally incapable of getting up later than about 5:30 in the morning, and as a result he also never goes to bed later than about 9:30 at night. So, during our camping trip, I suspect we'll both end up synching our sleep times to the hours of the night, making midnight a real midnight, instead of the late-ish evening that it usually is for me. If all goes well, maybe I'll be able to keep it up a long time, at least up until I try polyphasic sleep. That would be another excellent experience. That's the most common kind, especially if you expect it to be.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I suppose it has been a while since I wrote. I guess it's because I've gotten into a bit of a routine, where nothing terribly new happens that I want to report to you on. That's my first clue that it's about time for me to mix things up, and indeed I'll be starting the biggest mixup of my life so far starting on the 30th, which touches off my long period of being nomadic for as long as I can. On the 30th, for the first part of my long nomadic stretch, I'll arrive at my friend Willie's house. Then he'll take me and Kane and probably some other of our friends to the scenic White or Green Mountains: he hasn't decided yet. We'll camp and hike for a week, during which time I'll have occasion to break the soles of my feet back into toughness after two months of mostly coddling them with shoes or flooring since I've been here. I'll also work on a set of muscles that I've been paying a little bit more attention to lately, the ones in my legs. On an especially stationary day for me last week, I decided that I really, really had to go blow off steam. So I jogged to Prospect Park. Which was only, like, three blocks, so I also jogged within Prospect Park. Then I had to go back and get something, so another six blocks. The reason I came back was that I discovered on my first trip that the New York Philharmonic was going to be playing some music there, and a few people were going to watch. One of the more awesome things about New York is that it's one of very few places in the world where you can just happen upon a professional orchestra giving a free performance of such music as, to take this night's fare, the "Polonaise" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, the Symphonic Dances from Bernstein's West Side Story, and selection from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. I was slightly more jaded to this than you might initially expect, unfortunately, because I had just two nights prior gone to Central Park, in a whole other borough, to see them play, and tonight only half the program was different (the first half). Even so, I'm not one to pass up a free trip to the symphony that carries with it an opportunity to jog and an opportunity to watch celebratory fireworks after the show. So that is why I came back and watched them play all of the above-mentioned music beautifully and with feeling, while I reclined on the grass at the front of the crowd of thousands of picnickers and music-enjoyers sprawled all across a cluster of the park's baseball fields. Then I got a view of the fireworks lifting off from a fenced-off area and exploding in the sky, and still got home in time to take Kane's cute old incontinent dog out on the deck.
I bet you don't remember that I was talking about my nomadic schedule. I sure didn't by the time I got to the end of that paragraph. But it turns out I was, so I'll keep going with it. After the Mountains of Some Color trip, I'll head back to Cincinnati for but a few scant days, then turn right back out the driveway so I can go acquaint a fresh generation of new freshmen with the splendor of the Manitowish waters. After that, and a bit of socializing with people I haven't seen for a long time, I'll come back to Cincinnati and gather my traveling party and we'll sit around a big map of the United States on the floor and trace out a route that takes us to as many as possible of the interesting places contained within the imaginary (but powerful) lines that delineate this nation. Via rail, of course; and then we'll put that plan into action with all due speed. So that's the rest of the nomadic period, if you're interested.
In fairness to New York, I suppose it's more that I'm getting used to it; it hasn't actually been getting that routine—witness the two free symphonic concerts I watched. And also witness last night, when I went to a gathering of freegans. A minor effect of this is that I can now claim to have been to a majority of the boroughs of New York (I haven't checked off The Bronx or Staten Island yet, and maybe I never will). A more substantial effect was that I had a night full of fun and delicious food, but mainly fun. I talked with a woman who's very strongly for animal rights about hunting, and my ideas from my old "Replaceability" post. And about fabric with someone else, and about spelling bees and foreign languages and all sorts of stuff. It made me wish, heartfeltly, that I could get together with these people more, but unfortunately I'll probably never see most of them again. I guess I'll just have to find other people like that in someplace where I'll be for a little longer.
Witness also that I've been shuffled back into the East Village, and this time my host is here more often and wants to give me a bit of a tour of the place. I've already found out much more about the place than I knew before. For example, he told me that all the adventures in Jack Kerouac's Subterraneans actually took place right here, across the street from where we were sitting in fact, and Kerouac just translated all the action to California when he wrote the book. I'm sure there are tons of other stories like that buried around here. Regina Spektor came from the East Village, for example, and tons more I don't know about yet.
But another reason I'm glad I'll be getting out of the city soon is one that everyone I know was thinking about before I even came. What am I, the hairiest dirtiest nature-boy hippie, doing in the biggest most frenetic city in America?, everyone has wondered at least once. And I thought the same thing too before I came. I've made the best of it, but I'm coming to the conclusion that I was quite right about myself, because I'm definitely starting to feel suffocated in this Land of Infinite Boxes. I keep wanting to go outside and do something, but there's no outside here. It's all just more and more boxes; the outside is inside because it's all enclosed within walls. Lately something that's been plaguing me is the realization that there has been entering my ears since the first minute I came here a hum, a thrum, or a din of some sort generated by the haltlessly pulsing electricity that is the filling of the heart of this city, and by the motors that flock over every paved surface they'll fit on. I've had one or two moments of peace, in the deepest reaches of Central Park. But other than that I've been hearing from humans for about fifty straight days. I like humans, but that's just too damn much.
That's all I had along that line. But here's another short thought that's occurred to me lately. While reading on the subway, I've noticed that there are lots of other people who read on the subway. The subway is a space where you have no connection to anything outside of the subway. Cell phones don't work, your view is usually of concrete wall, there's no WiFi. Books are the only thing that really works there. And so that's what people look at. Could this—here's my thought—result in New Yorkers being pretty smart? I have noticed that there seems to be a disproportionate number of smart people here. Maybe it's good for a society to have a little while of reflection each day, some time where they don't have to be plugged into anything or pay attention to traffic, just read, or, if they're not feeling that on some particular day, think about things. The subway may be smelly, infested with rats, often crowded, and sweltering hot, but its Purgatory nature might just be a good thing for people.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
(This is my second post today, because I couldn't resist. It's small. The other one meatier.)
Here in Kane's house I have found my Doppelgänger. The only trouble is I'll never get to meet him and compare notes, because he died in 1877. Even so, what do you think?
He was Gustave Courbet, 1819–1877, a French painter. I found him on the cover of a big book full of his paintings by the fireplace. I was transfixed.
This means we can expect that when I'm forty or so, I'll look like this:
In some of the books and stories I've read lately, a curious theme has come up: getting free food by salvaging it from garbage. The obvious reaction is to say that that's something that no one should even consider unless perhaps they're particularly close to starving to death penniless on the streets. But practitioners of dumpster-diving write that there's no need to be anywhere close to as afraid as most people immediately are. Food that's thrown away by commercial outlets is usually thrown away whole and uncompromised by fungus or germs. It's in large part just as hale as it would be if you pulled it right off the shelves, except that it might be a little warmer.
This is among the strange things that I've wanted to try. I attempted it a bit during college, in town, but all I ever found was a loaf of bread and a tapestry showing something that one of my friends tentatively identified as the Kaaba in Mecca. Then I forgot about the whole deal, all up until a few nights ago, when I realized I'm living mere paces away from a sizeable supermarket that probably throws out lots of food just because it's reached an expiration date that corresponds only loosely with germs that live in reality. So that night I went down to the store, but there was no garbage in front of it. Then, thinking about it, I realized I'd never really seen any dumpsters anywhere in the city. So I gave up on the night, but consulted the internet for tips on how people glean from the garbage in this city—because I knew people must, and that the garbage must go out somehow even if I never saw dumpsters.
I found a group online, a group of freegans—a term I'd seen before but forgotten about. It's akin to veg(etari)anism, but instead of refusing to support the meat industry, or for vegans the meat, dairy, egg, and even honey industries, by not buying their products, freegans go yet a step further. They refuse to support any food industry, by not buying their products, but rather living off the many excesses that we're surrounded by, most of us unknowingly. It's a way of rejecting the capitalist system. Another name for it is urban foraging. So, people subsisting on the food they find naturally occurring around them—only, in this case, their surroundings are a bit different from those of the original foragers. This group, I discovered from their website, was meeting up to give a tour and a course on "Freeganism 101" in just two short nights. So obviously I went. Here's my journal from that night.
I had worried that I might not find the freegans on time, or that I'd be seen as an intruder, since I didn't know anyone there. But with five minutes to spare I found them there in the park, with a handy sign that said who they were. They were wrapping up their fortnightly planning meeting. I sat next to a guy who asked if it was my first time. It was his too, tho he's been on their mailing list awhile. He's called C——. I got a few other names from people who introduced themselves while they weren't talking, though I only remember A——, a small, sturdy woman in her 30s or 40s, and G——, a longhair like me, who had a big tow-along cart. There were people of all sorts of descriptions. A sizeable contingent of twentysomethings like me and C——, but mainly, I think, people in their 30s and 40s. An east-Asian woman, three Russians who spoke lots of Russian with each other.
Some people feel like they've "finally made it" when they get to New York to do a modeling gig or a music deal or an acting job. I didn't feel like I'd finally hit it big until tonight, meeting all these people so interested in the art of living without contributing to the capitalist civilization machine. I knew there were such people out there, but only now did I finally see them. Being there with them was like a confirmation that all the crazy stuff I've been reading baout and getting into in theory really does happen outside the books and the few accounts I read onlyne, all these intermediated ways of geting to know about awesome things to do with your life. I had a onstant grin on, knowing I was finally somewhere I wanted to be.
A—— and a bunch of other veterans welcomed the newcomers (and everyone else too), and gave an introductory speech about what freeganism is. It's not just dumpster-diving, she said—though that's the claim to fame—the group also does soup kitchens, free markets, even wilderness foraging. (I asked who teaches the wilderness foraging. Z——, they said, but he got in an accident so he's out of commission for a while. Hopefully I'll have the chance to meet him and learn.) Then she told us some guidelines on picking good food—these boiled down to using pour five senses to make your own judgment as to the food's edibility, like humans did before expiration dates were invented—and gave us some tips like the proper time of night to hunt through trash (about 9 or 10; garbage trucks come around 11). And then we all—about 25 of us—headed off toward the tour's first destination.
It turned out to be a fancy, designer grocery store. I learned that they don't use dumpsters in this city per a directive of Giuliani, and instead they put all the garbage out on the sidewalk in bags. So we untied these bags in front of the store—which, we had also been informed, was completely legal since the sidewalk is public property—and dug in. My first bag yielded about five cucumber slices, which I left, though I considered taking them—I didn't know how much we could expect to find, so maybe five cucumber slices was a good discovery! Then I got into another bag and found whole untouched ears of corn, ensconced in a big nest of husks, probably at least a dozen of them—more, at any rate, than I could use. They were completely mold- and ergot-free, not even any cornworms in sight, their only reason for rejection being occasional shrunken kernels or easily removed blemishes. I hollered out the corn find. By this time people were finding tomatoes, peaches, "honeycots", beautiful food everywhere. I got some chives as well, and some fruits. It was a terrific display of cooperation, too—if someone found something but couldn't use it all, they announced its presence to the group, like I did with the corn. Eventually, after more food than I expected, we exhausted the garbage there and moved on to the next stop, a Dunkin' Donuts.
Apparently, Dunkin' Donuts promises its customers freshly baked bagels and donuts each day. This means they have to throw all the unsold bagels and donuts out each night. Not too bad, it would seem, except for something else: they like their display racks to look full and bountiful all day long, even up to closing time. The result for us freegans: three garbage bags full of pristine bagels, donuts, and pastries, more than even our small army of 25 could handle. This really opened my eyes to how preposterously wasteful this culture can be. Dunkin' Donuts throws out, each day, enough bagels to satisfy a good fifty people's hunger for a day or so. (And at the same time millions starve in Africa.) Everyone there, especially the newcomers like C—— and me, commentied on how amazingly ridiculous this was. I was having a terrific and informative time.
We moved on to another branch of the same upscale grocery as the first one (lots of bananas, among other things), and then finished out the night at the absolute mountain of garbage outside an even bigger grocery store. At this one we put all our haul into a display pile before dividing it up, and it was a graphic illustration of waste. Dozens of baguettes and freshly baked artisan breads. Fruits, vegetables—an entire watermelon. And at least seven whole roast chickens. A—— (I think it was her) got our attention and drew lessons from this haul. This capitalist society, she pointed out, raises chickens, then kills them just so it can throw them in distant trash cans, lives completely wasted. It ships organic bananas from Guatemala, then throws them out at the first signs of brown spots. It tosses out whole watermelons because of cosmetic flaws. It's our responsibility to glean this waste, to keep it from going to the landfill, to avoid making even more waste by buying expensive and consumerist foods covered in packaging.
We split up the food among ourselves—in the process, I completely filled my enormous Army-issue backpack—and then we split up too. I went with C——, G——, and a woman whose name I've forgotten, to the subway station. G—— and the woman left; C—— and I thanked them for everything and took the train back to Brooklyn and talked the whole way. I felt like I'd finally had a successful night. You can bet I'll be at the picnic they're throwing this Saturday. Maybe I'll even cook something with all the food I got—it's way too much for just me to eat by then, and giving freely is one of the driving forces behind this whole movement.
Friday, July 2, 2010
As part of my nomadic time in New York, I moved to the East Village for a little over a week. This is because everyone's going on vacation at all different times.
- Darwin and his mom, from June 24 to July something. Before I even asked to rent they agreed to rent their house to someone else during that time.
- Kane has been in Ireland since early June, but his family's been here.
- Well, up until today. Today is when I start my ten-day shift of cat-sitting and plant-watering for them.
- But from June 24 until today I needed somewhere to stay, so Darwin's mom got a friend of hers, Michael, to let me stay at his apartment in the East Village.
Michael's been in the apartment for a long time, and built up a pretty considerable amount of junk. Whenever I came out of his bathroom, for instance, I found myself staring directly at a life-size wooden cutout of Marilyn Monroe getting her skirt blown up by a passing subway. Until my snap-decision mind trained itself to realize this large human-shaped object was not a real human this was quite unnerving. But other stuff he had was more benign and fun, such as his extensive collection of vinyls and his other extensive collection of old, very good books, many of them first editions or autographed copies that he's accumulated during his time living in the epicenter of New York's independent bookstore scene, where so many authors visit. The East Village is also where Soft Skull started, in a basement a few blocks away from Michael's place, publishing the books that a strange man named Sander Hicks wrote. I found one of these books while I was in Park Slope, bought it from a guy selling books from a table. The back cover is taken up by a photograph of a dead mouse on a concrete surface, with Sander giving it an aggressive middle finger. Soft Skull has changed a bit since then, but it's kept the name Sander gave it, even though no one now seems to know exactly what possessed him to name the company that. The East Village scene is a tight-knit one, especially among the creative types: Michael used to know Sander, and one of his good friends, as I've mentioned before at some point, is an author we've published recently, Seth Tobocman.
I didn't have much time to enjoy being in the hub of everything weird and creative in New York City, so I tried to make the best of it. Since Michael was away and I didn't know anyone in the neighborhood, that actually turned out a bit difficult. But I saw what sights there are. The independent bookstores, of course. There are three within easy walking distance: Bluestockings, East Village Books, and Saint Mark's Books. Their anarchist books were about the extent of my acquaintance with the East Village anarchist scene, which I hear is particularly alive and interesting; another thing the East Village is a hub for is anarchists, and their kin. These sections of the bookstores weren't enormous, no bigger really than any other section, but that they were there at all was unique to the East Village's stores among all the bookstores I'm aware of having visited. I got some interesting books at these stores, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and hung out for a long time reading bits and pieces here and there, of zines and other interesting stuff. Soft Skull was well represented in these places.
The other thing I visited besides the independent bookstores was Tompkins Square Park. I first heard about this from the trainhopper I met at Punk Island; she told me it's where lots of travelers hang out when they're in town. She was right. It took me a while to find them, because they stay mostly in one corner. But it was obvious when I got to the corner, because everyone was: filthy, wearing dark clothes, carrying backpacks, and, for the most part, asleep. I was still crippled by not knowing anyone, though. It just didn't seem right for me to say to a traveler, "So, where are you coming from?" It seemed like it'd be a breach of etiquette, since I was obviously not a traveler myself. If I'd had filthy clothes and a backpack and at least a rudiment of a story of my own, I'd have felt at ease with them. But as it was I just felt like an intruder. So I moved on to other sections of the park.
It's a strangely sectionalized park. There are bunches of playgrounds where kids jump and run on the jungle gyms, and there's a dog walking park, and there's a place where bands play. These are all pretty normal things to find at a park. But then there's also the chessboard tables: these have chess players at them, but also, apparently, addicts of most known drugs. Particularly there were two women who, in the bizarre way their body fat hung, appeared to be melting before my eyes. They had rasps for voices. One of them asked me to take out the circles of tin that had fallen into her cans of tuna. I did, and I also watched some chess in progress, but I was too distracted to follow it, let alone ask one of the nice-looking old men if he'd care to clobber me in a game, so I kept walking around the park. For all its reputation, though, it's a surprisingly small park—you can easily see from one side to the other—and I had exhausted what I could do there, so I went back to Michael's apartment.
While I was staying there, I got lots of work done on my latest font, Walleye. This one's been tricky to make, for obscure reasons that would be hard to explain. They have to do with the unusual mix I've got going on of straight lines and curves. But it's turning out really well, I think; the trickiness mainly just makes me glad I waited until I had some experience with Bézier curves (the mathematical curves that make up each letter) to start this font. I've had to do some weird stuff with these curves. I also read a little while I was there, including the weird and spectacular If on a winter's night a traveler (which is about you trying to read If on a winter's night a traveler, but every time you get to the exciting part the book gets cut off by something and turns out to have been the wrong book anyhow). And I ate some pizza, ramen, and some too-expensive ice cream.
Then, today, I packed up everything I have in the city, except a bottle of sesame sauce that I forgot, and took the subway back to Park Slope to start cat-sitting. This apartment is about five times as roomy as Michael's and Marilyn Monroe doesn't peep at me in the bathroom, but all the same I'll still miss the East Village. I feel like I never really even got to know it, in some ways. But, since Michael's not disappearing, and I'll be staying with Darwin's mom again after I'm done here, I'll probably end up going back there at some point. So maybe I'll get to know it yet.