NYC Neighbors: Terra’s Terrible Tantrum

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Archibald Motley’s “Getting Religion”

 

In NYC we all live on top of each other.

Crying kids, yelling neighbors, loud parties, sex, you hear it all. In my little coffin of a room I have neighbors above, below, and beside. Walking up the stairs to my apartment, I pass more neighbors than used to live in my South Dakota development composed of two acre lots. In NYC your personal space, your personal life, is separated from others by thin walls.

You run into people on staircases. Smile, nod, get out of the way. It’s polite but curt. NYCers have a reputation for being brash and unfriendly, and that’s partially true. We got places to go, things to do, and whereas the rest of the country gets from place to place hidden in their cars, we walk the streets exposed to the weather and the smells and when we bump into someone its flesh and blood and not an exchange of insurance information. Further, while you can hide from the world in your car when you’ve had a bad day, in NYC it’s all on the street. So yeah, we’re all on edge a bit more, but maybe that’s just perception because there is nowhere to hide. But we’re friendly, too, and when parties collide on the roof (the night of the lunar eclipse was special, people playing music and dancing around, and burning lists of past pains in pagan revelry) we enjoy meeting a neighbor or a stranger. Not friends, but friendly. And in a pinch we help each other out (forgotten keys, package pick up, feeding the cat).

It’s in moments of conflict, though, that neighbors begin exchanging notes and because the walls are thin, everyone knows when something is going down. In this way it’s easier to be a good neighbor in NYC. Continue reading

Harlem Sketches #3

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Bodega left. Bar beyond (two blocks).

Bodega. 136th and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. 2 AM

It’s a bender and I want one more beer so I wander downstairs to the 24 hrs service window at the bodega. I start to make my order through the glass shield that separates me from the attendant when a dude shows up with some ladies on his arm. He’s middle aged, short, got a belly, and is decked out in nice threads, a gangster cap, and a gold chain. He barges right in on me and begins making his order, talking a mile a minute.  “Excuse me. Boss [referring to the attendant], give me Miller Light, tall boys. Two of them. No, make that Bud. And ladies, wait, what do you want? Cigarillos? Boss, two cigarillos, wait, what? No cigarillos, oh Newports? Excuse me. Boss, Newports.” He looks at me and I’m just smiling, tired, a little drunk, and amused. “Sorry boss,” he says to me, “I’m just making a quick order.” I nod, “Sure man.” He looks at me, “I know you. You hang around here.” I cock my thumb behind me, “Yeah, I live right back there.” “Yeah, boss, I’ll only be another minute. I know you.” Looking back at the ladies, “Girls, you want something else? Miller Lights? Ok, boss, two more Miller Lights. Come on, boss, hop to it!” Turning my direction but speaking rapidly to no one in particular, “Damn hot night, these nights. Damn hot.” His money goes into the turnstile window, it spins and the goods arrive. He’s off as quick as he arrived.

“Alright, boss,” I say to the attendant, “A tallboy, St. Ides.” It’s a rapper’s beer. I don’t like rap, but 8.2% works just fine by me. Continue reading

Rage Against the Machine: Mr. Robot Gets the Axe

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Today I finished watching Mr. Robot. I don’t mean that I caught up completely on the show. What I mean is that I tossed it aside into the tomb of the other shows I dropped because they didn’t make the cut. Some people find it odd that I drop shows like yesterday’s garbage, but that has always been easy for me. I am very jealous of my time. Now Mr. Robot will rust away beside the ruined forms of Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Affair and all the other victims of my jealousy. Why would I do such a thing? Well, the short answer is that Mr. Robot is a badly written show. I don’t know how else to put it. It Is not very often that I am so repulsively driven away from something. If I must, then I will extrapolate a little.

Mr. Robot is a painfully laborious metaphor for adolescent angst and daddy issues that are felt strongly by this young generation. It’s simple and boring. The protagonist is robotically controlled by his father manifested as some kind of stress induced hallucination. We’re talking high school creative project level concepts here. Aside from that not a whole lot happens. A hacker group takes down society, but not really because most everything still functions. The entire plot (and I use that term very loosely) is framed by a character that is not simply an unreliable narrator but an incomprehensible one. Obviously that doesn’t make for good storytelling. A better name for the show would be maybe “Let’s Do Drugs and Mope Around Because Capitalism,” or “Screw the System with a System Reacting to the System”. Everything evolved is involved, and the writers of the show don’t seem to understand that basic reality. In fact Mr. Robot is only superficially involved and to an extent that watching it is like a never-ending car crash somehow spiraling into an infinite navel gaze because dad wanted me to get a job.

My final argument for why Mr. Robot did not make the cut will be made in the form of a simile: Mr. Robot is like a few high school boys got high while reading about Nietzsche and computer software before somehow finding a robotic replica of Bernie Sanders’ hand and using it to masturbate onto a bunch of strawmen.

 

Harlem: Panic Shopping and Escalators

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Marshalls. 125th and Malcolm X Blvd.

I drop by to get some athletic socks and then to browse the shirt aisle. An African man interrupts and asks the price of a shirt. I find the brand tag for him and it says $44. An irritated look crosses his face, “$44? Yeesh.” But then I remember to look at the tag inside the shirt and there we find Marshalls’ price: $14. His face brightens, “Ah, yes, much better.” He then decides to share, “Every week I buy one shirt and one pair of pants. No more than that. After several months, I will have a nice collection.” A disciplined fellow trying to make it in America. Bravo. He’s on the up and up. I wonder, though, about his ratio of pants to shirts.

Marshalls. East River Plaza. Between FDR drive and 119th and 116th.

Step up to the checkout with my purchase and pull out my Chase Freedom card. “Oh, a Chase Freedom card,” says the attendant. “Yeah,” I say, “they’re pretty nice.” “Oh,” she says, “I wanted one of those and applied for it but it was denied.” I raise an eyebrow and smile asking for an explanation (they’re not that hard to get). She laughs, “Oh I’ve maxed out all my other cards. My kids be like, ‘Mom, you can’t be doing that. They won’t give you another card.'” A bit less disciplined here. She’s on the down and down.  Continue reading

With or Without You, I Can’t Live: Jaybirds and Bluebirds

 

 

As a young kid, U2’s The Joshua Tree was the first real album I listened to. I loved it immediately.

The track “With or Without You” has always bothered me a bit. The sentiment is classic, “I can’t live, with or without you, I can’t live.” The paradox always struck me as rather stupid. Come on, Bono, make up your mind and stop whining. On the other hand, he is onto something: as much as the beloved might make one happy, there is a fly in the ointment, because she can’t make you that happy. The song suggests that the key to our happiness resides somewhere else.

Of course this goes hand in hand with the track “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” It’s gospel angst at its finest. Bono belts out his belief in the “kingdom come” and that “He broke the bounds” and “Carried the cross of my shame,” but ends declaring “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

As Augustine puts it, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” The rest doesn’t finally come to us until we slip the mortal coil.  Continue reading

The Bluebird Edge: The Tyranny of Happiness

When things went belly up with the wife, I initially kept it private and avoided mentioning it to my colleagues. Then one day, 0n the way to my carpool pickup, I ran into a fellow teacher and the game was up (Dude, why are you in Harlem at this time in the morning?). Coincidently, another teacher I traveled with was also in the midst of a breakup. We still laugh about that bright spring day when we both burst into tears over the demise of our respective relationships as we drove down the West Side of Manhattan.

While it was good having carpool buddies to whom I could fume, what galled me most was their disposition to the whole thing. She was awful to you, but, you know, stuff happens. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.

So much for the concept of marital loyalty. So much for the concept of betrayal. So much for having a spine and working it out.

But I’m talking like a jaybird. Continue reading

Men and Women: Jaybirds v. Bluebirds

 

 

Since the end of my marriage, Walker Percy has become one of my guys. The Moviegoer is a bleak read, but The Thanatos Syndrome is on a whole other level in my opinion. Dark, funny, mysterious, and hopeful: it is brilliant.

He has a keen eye for modern sexuality and relationships. This:

I discovered that it is not sex that terrifies people. It is that they are stuck with themselves. It is not knowing who they are or what to do with themselves. They are frightened out of their wits that they are not doing what, according to experts, books, films, TV, they are supposed to be doing. They, the experts, know, don’t they?

The Thanatos Syndrome 88.

Continue reading