softening hard experience

I am sitting in a be-kippled apartment, archiving my evening

The battle between the forces of conservatism and the forces of change is being played out everywhere. Some want to keep things as they are, and the others just see the status quo as entropy. You don’t even have to look very hard.

[By the way, this, for some reason, is an mystifyingly long post, which I can’t really explain, and for which I apologise. It’s an experiment.]

Take this evening, for example. I am still looking for an apartment, and had made an appointment via Craigslist to see one at around 7pm in the neighbourhood I am staying in. (A neighbourhood, a fellow resident informed me earlier today, that is sitting on a lake of industrial waste larger than the Exxon Valdez spill.) The apartment was matter-of-factly described, and gave away few extraneous details beyond the building’s age.

The house, on a quiet street of terraced houses in historic Greenpoint, looked well-kept, solid, and typical of the two-family brick house of the area. I rang, and the landlady, and her tenant of ten years, came to greet me and ushered me inside – where I was met with a sumptuous hallway, with original fittings, sliding wood-panelled doors, carved banisters, and a reassuring sensation of solidity, craftsmanship, serenity, like being in a vintage Rolls-Royce, the Oak Room at the Algonquin, or a falconer’s glove.

I followed the tenant upstairs, into a simply decorated living-room around thirty feet long, with a wooden carved archway in the middle, panelled wardrobes down one side, and three windows giving onto the street. This led into a small-ish (in comparison) bedroom, maybe fifteen feet across, but still comfortably large enough for a double bed.

The tenant parted the stained-glass doors, and walked me into a room overlooking the garden, which he was using as an office, but which, at more than double the size of the bedroom, might on its own accommodate a small restaurant. “You could, if you wanted, use this as a spare bedroom,” he offered, tentatively.

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I am crossing the street, worrying about protective headgear

It’s proving difficult to find an apartment that suits my height. One Craigslist ad described an apartment I made the mistake of going to view as having “soaring ceilings”, a fact that might have been true, were I the same size as Prince Rogers Nelson or Dustin Hoffman. Knowing that I can leap spontaneously in the air when walking through my living space, without spreading my brains across the ceiling, would be a weight off my mind.

I was walking back from seeing an apartment this morning, waiting to cross at the lights by the Atlantic Yards, wondering whether I would just have to compromise and start wearing protective headgear, when I heard a voice.

“Do you run?”

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I am in a diner in San Francisco, chewing too hard

The “Big Bopper” I have ordered in Lori’s Diner, just off Union Square, in contrast to the rather enticing picture on the menu, is somewhat overcooked, therefore dry and unappetising. The lettuce is tasteless, though crisp. The tomato leaves a plasticky aftertaste in my mouth. The blue cheese looks suspiciously like a slice of Boursin. I daren’t taste the red onions. But do I speak up?

I have a couple of hours till my flight back to New York, to reflect on an emotionally draining weekend. Which I will do, while softening my patty with “Yellow Mustard”.

I am in a Medallion cab, being ranted at by a millionaire

America really is the land of opportunity for immigrants. I reflect on this as my cab driver – who, in true fairy tale style, has three houses, three daughters, and three Medallion cabs – tells me that he is a millionaire. Of Pakistani origin, he tells me he lived in London for several years, and then moved to New York in the year that I was born. “It was easy to get in back then,” he says, “not like nowadays, after you know what.”

It’s Memorial Day, I’ve just got off a plane, and I am rather tired. But he knows he has a captive audience.

“You can see it in the documentaries, and in the books. The media too. Don’t believe anything they tell you – they’re just working to protect the government. You need to know the truth. I’ll tell you, how can a building collapse when it’s hit halfway up?”

I attempt to offer a plausible explanation, but he’s only just hitting his stride.

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I am waiting for a bus, trying to get home before I freeze to death

So I am in town, clearing the final details before I finally move here, and the city is locked in ice and snow. It has been gruelling so far, with lots of work, lots of socialising with friends old and new, unexpected drinking, and pained long-distance phone-calls from dripping phone booths. I seem to have found an apartment through friends, at least for the first month, which is a relief.

After an impromptu evening – over which I cast something of a pall – with new friends in the East Village, I head back towards Brooklyn and bed. The L turfs me up at Bedford Avenue, from where it is just too cold to walk back to Greenpoint, so I huddle in a doorway to wait for the 61 bus. Another man is waiting a few feet away, and after a few minutes, he walks into the middle of the empty street, cranes his neck, and pronounces to the freezing wind:


He turns to me and says, “It’s fuckin’ ridiculous, you wait 30 minutes and then three show up all at the same time… It’s fucked. Pleased to meet you anyhow. My name’s ******* *******, I’m Basque.”  Let’s call him Euskal Etxea…

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