Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Random snapshots of New York City

One thing that's stuck with me since I was in the City (as I still call it) is a friend's comment that Zen is not popular with hipsters. I thought this was a rather amusing observation. The idea of a religion or philosophy being popular or hip is absurd to me, but I shouldn't be surprised in the least. Since I don't want to malign sheep, I'd rather not say "people are like sheep", but that's the expression. Sheep do a very good job of following one another around, and it's a rare sheep that does it's own thing. If they run to the right, they all run to the right. If it's time to sleep, they all sleep. If there's a coyote to the east, you can bet all your money that they're all looking east.

People aren't as good as sheep when it comes to sticking together in this way, but they do seem to want to be alike, even if their self-image is that of being different. The hipsters in New York do a pretty good job of being different in exactly the same way as every other hipster. I went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, supposedly the hipster capitol of the world, and I didn't see much in the way of creativity, except when I visited CB I Hate Perfume. On the street, everyone looked pretty much the same. There was a lot more diversity on 28th Street and Park Avenue, which is thought of by most New Yorkers as just another street in a generally boring neighborhood.

Being hip has always been tyrannical. When I was young and living in New York, the unwritten dress codes for getting into clubs made me crazy. I've undoubtedly written about this before. I know I've written about my aversion to purple, the color of "kookiness", and finally made peace with it, for it's a great color that comes in a myriad of shades.

Quite frankly, whether you're hip or decidedly plain, the tyranny of "fitting in", wherever one lives, is just ridiculous. I've moaned about feeling like a nutcase wearing slightly fashionable clothes in a rural village. Not wearing a sweatshirt and jeans at the General Store is akin to wearing a sign that says "I'm an outsider." Wearing a lavender sweatshirt with lupine design on the front and a pair of light blue jeans in Williamsburg, Brooklyn produces the same result. Honestly, a person who dares wear such "unfashionable" clothing in that part of Brooklyn would practically be a pioneer or a daredevil.

Right before I left for New York there was a news report about a child who was taken away from her family by social services because she was obese. One person posited that this was classist, and that no one would take away an anorexic kid from an upper middle class family. I was thinking about this a lot while I was in the City, for I saw an awful lot of women whom I wanted to pull aside and whisper in their ears "maybe you'd like a little bite to eat?" When I asked people I was with who lived in the City if they noticed how many anorexic girls there were on the street they seemed shocked. Everyone in New York is gorgeous! Not so, not so at all. In the heat of summer, with less clothes on, there were an awful lot of legs that looked like they'd come straight out of a concentration camp. That kind of skinniness is a bit frightening to me. A leg should not be thinner than my forearm, even if my forearm is a bit thick.

I saw a girl wearing fur-lined knee-high boots on a subway platform. It was so hot and humid on that platform I was sweating profusely. She looked perfectly calm. Later, when I mentioned it to a friend, it occurred to me that she was a heroin addict. Really, that stuff keeps one cool as a cucumber. And skinny.

Getting back to 28th and Park Avenue, we stayed at a "boutique hotel." It cost about the same as a hotel in anycity, USA, because it was in a "boring neighborhood." Yes, the shops closed at 9:00pm, which is nearly shocking in the city that never sleeps, but the hotel cafe stayed open late and it was charming. The rooms were tiny, but the bathrooms were simply luxurious and as clean as any I've ever seen. The cafe had Victorian velvet sofas where one could lounge and watch the stream of people go by. I sat for a while and knit and thought I was in heaven. I had forgotten how much I like to people watch.

One thing that's truly lovely about NYC is that on almost every corner is a neighborhood deli that sells cheap bouquets of high quality flowers. The variety is tremendous. One can get orchids for four bucks. I know it seems absurd for me to be raving about this when I live in the country and grow my own flowers, but my flowers only bloom for a short amount of time, and if I want a bouquets in my house all year long I'd be spending a fortune. Not only that, one can get asparagus for one dollar a pound.

Don't get me started. Tourists think eating in New York is expensive, but they don't know what the real deal is. It may be an expensive place to live, but to eat, no. There are countless ethnic restaurants that serve up food that makes cooking at home seem like a bad deal.

I know this post is all over the map, but I've been trying to write something for days. I'd intended on writing a somewhat in-depth entry about thinking for oneself, but then memories of my recent trip intervened. I'd trashed blog entry after blog entry all week, so I made a deal with myself that I'd post whatever the hell I wrote tonight. So, here it is, folks, a piece of poorly constructed writing that lead to nowhere. Take from it what you will. Next time I'll do better (I hope).

Photo note: The corner of Bedford Avenue and ? in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Look! There's a Subway! Is that hip? No. It's the bicycle racks that are. Not that I have anything against bicycle racks, mind you.


jmcleod76 said...

Poorly constructed? Perhaps, but no less interesting for it. Would you believe I have only been to New York once in my life? And that was only two years ago. My family never took vacations when I was a kid, and if we had, they would have all been to Florida. My parents hate cities. They thought Pittsburgh was terrifying - or my mom did, at least. My dad just didn't understand the attraction. I think I could be happy living in New York, at least for a year or two. M would sooner sit through a series of root canals. But it's the things you describe - the dirt cheap ethnic restaurants, the flower sellers on the corner - that attract me. I may like some of the things that are "hip" right now, but no one could ever accuse me of being a hipster.

Thanks for this snapshot!

(Oh, and, I think taking a child away from her -his?- parents because of obesity is classist. How about providing that family with the services of a nutritionist and fitness trainer? That's got to cost less for the state than paying for placement in a residential center or foster home, and makes much more sense ... Grr!)

BitterGrace said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. It made me feel as if I'd been to New York myself. It's always easy to get suckered into the idea that I need to do something major while visiting the city--music, theater, art, serious shopping, etc. All of which costs a fortune. But it's really great to enjoy just being there. I like to picture you knitting in the hotel cafe!

Julie H. Rose said...

New York has become one of the safest cities in the country. It feels strange to me, actually, since I lived there when it was quite dangerous (and a lot less expensive). If one even ventured into the subway, everyone seemed to wear shades. Now, folks actually look at one another. THAT feels truly weird!

As for the museums, I practically lived in them as a kid, so I feel okay about passing them up. I often wish I could see the Kabuki or opera, but I don't plan these things. What I miss about the city is strolling, and the diversity of people and FOOD, so that's what I do. Walk, eat, talk, and rest. Maybe I'll do another post about the visit. I really enjoyed myself and wish I had stayed longer, but I missed my cat!

jmcleod76 said...

Some hotels allow cats. Maybe not nice, inexpensive ones, though.