City that never sleeps (because of those stupid reverse-gear backup warning beepers)

Good to be back.  I spent all day Friday in airports and on airplanes, immersed in the world of roller suitcases and $9 bottles of water in newsstands filled with every single tabloid featuring pictures of a recently-adultified Miley Cyrus and rumors of tattoos and nipple slips and not a single piece of readable material outside of maybe a moldy Baseball Insider hot stove report with 48 pages of circle-jerking over Jeter’s next big payday, and maybe a 4-point type mention of Tulo’s big $160-million dollar deal somewhere under the mandatory required notice of circulation numbers and where to contact the publisher on page 96.

Actually, Friday was a marathon day, mostly because I could not sleep at all in New York, even with the help of all of the various pharmacological cures my Doctor Feelgoods give me.  (One advantage to a full-bore PPO plan in the hot potato days of plausible deniability-seeking doctors who pass you off to every specialist known to the medical profession any time you have a complaint even slightly off from their knowledge core is that opportunities abound for you to drug-seek elsewhere.  Not that I doctor-surf for Oxy like a right-wing hillbilly talk show host with an itch to scratch, but every time I go to see a new specialist, he or she will immediately rattle off a script to some new wonder-drug that may or may not help my ails but will surely get them another step closer to that Aruba junket with their pharmacy sales rep.)  I forgot that sleep in New York is a careful balancing act of drugs, white noise generators, and the learned ability to tune out the sounds of a garbage truck’s BEEP BEEP BEEP backup alarm at three in the morning, punctuated with the occasional siren bouncing off the buildings.  A decade of guidos, gunshots, and garbage trucks outside my first-floor window always made sleeping an annoyance, but when I’d leave and end up in the middle of nowhere, in a hotel where there wasn’t a shouting match ten feet from my head every hour, I found myself tossing and turning like it was the day before some big event (audit, wedding, presentation, sale on some Apple product I didn’t need, etc.)

My hotel suite cost roughly what I paid for a car back in college, per night, and had the two-bed setup, each bed just big enough for me to roll over once before I fell on the floor.  I remember decades of having a twin bed like this, even on occasion sharing it with someone for various acts of fun, and I never had issues.  Now, even a queen bed is a tight fit for the mountain of pillows and blankets I encase myself in every night.  Was this trip damned to be one of those “the more that things change” reminders?  I don’t know, but I did enjoy the iPod/iPhone dock built into the clock radio.  I had some fears because most of our team was on the same floor, and I didn’t want everyone to hear me at three in the morning, singing along to some Venom song about Satanic sacrifice at top volume while playing Angry Birds in a fit of insomnia and checking my facebook hourly on my $34.95 per day WiFi connection.  The room was barely bigger than the two beds, and when I got there, I thought it didn’t even have a bathroom like one of those cold-water shooting pads you’d rent out in Spanish Harlem in the 70s when you needed to kill a prostitute, but then I saw it hidden around a corner, a low-flow den of sample-sized soaps and a toilet that took around 45 minutes to flush each time.  At least the place had a standard bible AND a Mormon bible, which made it that much easier to smash pills into snortable chunks of powder.  (I took the copy of the Mormon bible, with some vague idea to either read it and write a parody, or use it in some sort of art project, although I’m sure I will forget all about this and in two years, when I’m digging around for books to dump on Amazon (probably every “get over writer’s block in 56 seconds or less” book I bought in a tirade in the last year) and wonder why the fuck I had a copy of the LDS book in my collection.)

So yes, New York.  I didn’t do as much walking around as I wanted, mostly because it was December, which meant the time of year I usually spent every waking moment trying to find a heated astronaut suit on some Russian eBay ripoff so I could make the ten-block walk to the subway every day without further aggravating my constant upper respiratory infection with that wind that whipped through every seam and zipper of every coat I ever owned.  I wondered if the city grew or my memory of the city shrunk, but then I realized as I wandered up and down Lexington in the middle of the night, I realized that I never looked UP when I lived in the big smear.

That sounds stupid, but it’s true – when it’s your daily penance to hustle up and down the sidewalk from subway to work to lunch to work to subway, you keep your head down and barrel forward at top speed, cursing every mouth-breather and inbred from a flyover state that stops on the sidewalk to look at a massive foldout map and see how far they are from the statue of liberty or ground zero or whatever the hell tourist spot they are ambling toward.  Even zen pacifists that never step on ants will, within fifteen minutes on a New York sidewalk with shit to do and places to be, turn into a bloodthirsty offensive tackle of NFL caliber and look to plow down every single person not sprinting at top speed in front of them.  This aptitude came back to me quickly, as I knocked over nuns and old ladies on the way to the subway, but I noticed this look up/look down thing when I pulled out my camera for a quick picture to prove I actually was in the city and not on some Vegas strip club junket (you need as much evidence as possible with these new expense report systems – receipts are never enough; I’ve been bringing a pro HDV broadcast camera and taking video of waiters and hotel desk clerks holding up a copy of that day’s newspaper just to make sure I don’t get burned on reimbursement checks.)

And when I looked up, I saw this massive city, buildings climbing in every direction, and not a hint of economic downturn.  I mean, you look in almost every other American city, and it’s nothing but boarded up stores, closed restaurants, vacant lots for sale that will always remain barren.  The last time I went to Elkhart, I started playing this game while driving around where I would take a shot of tequila every time I passed some retail location of my youth that was either shuttered or turned into a Mexican grocery, and within fifteen minutes, I was blackout drunk.  But in New York, there’s stores opening inside stores, every corner of office building lobbies and subway tunnel filled with people selling wares.  The only thing I saw closed were the subway token booths, which were apparently shut down so they could afford to raise prices again.  (Wait, what?)

I went back to my old office for a half-day; most of my work stuff involved training-type meetings in the hotel convention center, but on Thursday, I had a morning of open time, so I got on the 6 and headed down to NoHo to work at the old digs.  First, taking the subway brought back so many strange memories.  Just the feel of that yellow plastic card going through the stainless steel slider on the turnstile (and of course, 1 in 2 times saying “please swipe your card again at this turnstile” at the exact point you push your entire body weight against the still-locked metal bar preventing you from advancing in the rat race) – that reminded me so much of my daily trip in the germ tube to the office.  I did remember to grab onto something when the car started so I didn’t get launched across the car, but I did keep forgetting which side the doors opened on and how you needed to get the fuck out of people’s way when they needed to exit at their stop.  When I got to 632 Broadway, I was too early and locked out of the elevator, so I got to hang out in the lobby and talk to the doorman about how many tens of millions Jeter would need to get.  I also went to the deli across the street for a Diet Coke and balance bar, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the mass of office workers getting their caffeine and bagel fix.  I always forget how personal space is a premium in the low-10000 ZIP codes.  In most other cities, you’d end up in a domestic partnership if you stood this close to other people for this long.  Here, it was standard operating procedure.

Stepping into the old office felt so — weird.  I mean, I spent every weekday of 2001 to 2007 in this place, hunched in a cube in the back corner, typing away at user manuals consuming mass amounts of Coke while downing heavy doses of DayQuil during the cold season.  (This was, thankfully, before the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 stifled everyone’s creative juices and prevented us true artists from buying Sudafed by the case.)  My old cube was still open, so I crashed there with my laptop and entered this strange time travel vortex, my muscle memory relaxing straight into the position I assumed for so many years.  And then I opened the filing cabinet under the desk, and found damn near every printout I made in those six years, carefully filed in my haphazard organizational system (files like “MIR space junk”, “fake celebrity porn”, “government conspiracies”, “failed Microsoft projects attempting to topple Java”, “standards documents I will never use”, etc.)  Talk about a mindfuck – it was like that insane recurring dream where you’re back in high school, except there’s no chance of dream-banging a 16-year-old cheerleader on videotape.

But yeah, that lack of sleep really killed me.  Thursday night, after a trip up to the Bronx to visit a guy who used to machine lower receivers for M-16s at his cousin’s bowling alley (he’s making a lot more cash now turning out bootleg $60 iPad stands), I think I went to bed around 2:00 and woke up at 4:30, unable to sleep but unable to stay awake, doing nothing but cruising various photo sites on the iPad, looking for some good Kim Jong Il snaps for an art project in the event that the shit does indeed go down in Han-Bando.  I went outside early, hoping to scare up a danish cart or cold bagel, and ran into a contingent of EMEA sales and service guys, who informed me that there were no good diners in all of the UK, so we went to one of these gastro-hipster places that probably used to be a Thai-French fusion restaurant three years ago but was now a diner with some of the appeal but none of the grime of its 80s counterparts you used to find littered all over the city.  We bitched about old documentation and ordered rich food that promised diabetic comas in short order; I got 5000 calories of corned beef hash that must have contained an entire pound of butter (i.e. perfect) and got all nice and lethargic for a morning of training.

And yeah, a day of airports and airplanes.  I didn’t get the TSA Operation Grab-Ass everyone’s been talking about, but then again, I didn’t get Ebola when every 24-hour news alarmist said all five billion of us were going to get it back in the 90s, either.  I did enjoy the new (newly redone) terminal at JFK, and spent an hour perusing the used DVDs at some electronics store and almost considered dropping $60 on some super ultra 3-disc Apocalypse Now box set before I realized that the only machine I had with me with a DVD drive was my work Windows laptop, and I wasn’t even sure if Windows 7 plays DVDs out of the box without 200 hours of studying every aspect of DVD authoring and toggling a million registry settings and downloading several $100 versions of all of the crippled “lite” drivers and programs bundled with the computer.  Instead, I stuck to the kindle and got cover-to-cover on another fine book during my trip west.  I then bailed out the Toyota from its short stay at the long-term parking lot, and bumbled home the ten miles on the 880, driving like you’d expect someone to drive after being awake for 24 hours with only the good parts of a CPK Cobb salad (i.e. the meat, bacon and cheese and not the lettuce) from the Phoenix airport and two rolls of Certs to eat in the last ten hours.  I then gave the missus a $25 box of chocolates from the airport gift shop, said my hellos to the four-legged terrors, and slept a solid eight in the confines of my queen-sized cocoon.  Good to be back.

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The drive

Last week, I drove 40 miles each way to work, which is 400 miles a week, which is about 20,000 miles a year, or maybe a hair less when you count in the various holidays and days I break an arm or wreck a car or get sent to a trade show where, instead of questions about my work, idiots ask me questions about the parent company’s TV sets.  Today, I drove zero miles.  I sat at my kitchen table, with sunlight streaming in from my giant 17 foot tall wall of windows, with a cat sitting on the table next to me, and plugged away at my laptop.  It wasn’t bad.  I mean, I don’t have a work laptop yet, which meant running Windows in a VM on my Mac, and then running a VPN in that to connect back to Palo Alto, then a morning of trying to figure out how to get at servers in New York, but it worked.

I’ve done this drive for two years.  With my tiny car’s awesome mileage, that still comes out to about a thousand gallons of gas.  Add in the lunches and the dry cleaning of shirts and the cost of said shirts and pants, now that I get to sit around in jeans and a t-shirt, and I wonder how much it cost me to work.  Granted, I probably made much more than that, and it would be much worse if I cared about my appearance and spent more time in a Nordstrom’s or at a salon or going to a gym every day to obsess over my muscle tone, but it’s still freaky math the amount of money you pay to make money.  And that’s on top of essentially paying half of what you make to various forms of The Man.  So yeah, it would be cheaper for me to sit around in dirty clothes in some tea party wet dream of a borderline-anarchist land with no laws and no taxes, but it also costs money to stockpile ammunition.

I spent all day reading tech writing stuff that was my bread and butter from 2001 to 2007, and a lot of it’s still me.  Editing old work I haven’t thought about in years is a really strong and effective time machine.  I mean, the product has moved on since I left, and someone else worked on the docs, but it’s the same basic templates I created, and the bulk of the writing’s still mine, or at least a slight variation of mine.  It really pulls me back to 2003 or whatever, when I was hashing this stuff out for the first time.  And it’s somewhat stupid to get nostalgic about an era that’s largely documented on this very site, and that’s got some pretty solid coverage in my paper journals and in saved emails and all of the other crap sitting on my hard drive.

But red-penning my way through hundreds of pages of this stuff brings me back to the times I sat in the back corner of that office, hunched over a Dell, a giant second-generation iPod playing from its whopping twenty-gig hard drive, wondering what kind of fortified compound I’d build out of leftover shipping containers on my land in Colorado, what I’d do on my next big trip to Vegas, how I’d endure another weekend in Astoria, what I’d add to my Amazon shopping cart for my near-daily purchases I’d rapidly consume on the N train every day.  It makes me think of bad first dates and forgotten coworkers and random movies I saw for no reason other than the two hours of free air conditioning, even if it did cost ten bucks a pop plus a long train ride into “the city”.

And I guess I do lament the New York I resisted in that period, the people who were the status quo and how I knew I could never be them, and how I tried hard not to be.  New York is a land of old money, and a place of millions of people who come to this overpopulated ghetto of an island to somehow prove that they are old money, even if they’re tending a bar and running a receptionist desk.  It’s not like LA, where everyone is trying to get rich quick, where being a nobody from a dirt farm in Nebraska is actually a good thing, because you want to prove that you came from nothing and created everything.  I never came to New York because I wanted to be a New Yorker or because I wanted to follow some near-Parisian dream of being a bohemian but with a rich lineage. And there are millions of people who drive cabs or dig ditches or bust suds in a dish sink who have much different dreams.  But when you’re a white, single, early thirtysomething with a college degree and a desk job, it’s pretty hard to look beyond your demographic.

It’s also oddly contradictory, now that I think about it, how so much of being a status quo New Yorker is all about getting out of New York.  You spend every free second slinging shit at the “flyover states”, but almost every big status symbol requirement has to do with where you summer, how you get a share on Fire Island, how you go upstate to see the leaves turn, how you go to Europe or “do” LA or go to Rio or whatever non-New York place is supposed to make you a New Yorker.  I never built in these escapes, and being confined to a little island with no car drove me nuts.  It’s why I would get a last-second flight deal and go to Pittsburgh and absolutely love it.

I still haven’t been back to New York since I left.  I’ll probably end up going back soon, and I’m sure 100% of it has changed.  And I know I could never live there again, but I am curious if I show up at the corner of Broadway and Houston, if the whole thing will feel like I never left, or if I will be overwhelmed, or if it will all seem like a strange dream.

I think I’m buying a new computer desk tomorrow.  The kitchen table is no AnthroCart.  And once the new laptop shows up, there won’t be room for two computers and a cat.

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Lost City Lost

So Lost City is an interesting blog, an attempt at documenting all of the old bits of New York that are rapidly vanishing and being converted into Subway restaurants and doggie day cares and five dollar cupcake shops in the Bloomberg wet dream of gentrification and sterilization. But I should say was, because the proprietor of this nostalgic blog has decided to close shop.

In a sense, I feel bad about this; I mean, I never found out about this blog until I heard about its closing, so I didn’t get to waste tons of time scouring its pages, looking for things I remembered that got bulldozed or scraped out to build yet another Bank of America branch.  One of the first things I found on his pages is that Chumley’s, the underground, speakeasy-like bar hidden in the village, once  a haunt of literary types and just around the corner from William S. Burroughs’ place, has since shut down because of a chimney collapse, and has been forever stalled in that “under construction” phase that means death. Anyway, I do love me some nostalgia, especially having to do with places I lived, so it’s sad to see a site like this go away.

But, here’s the deal: I know how hard it is to run a gig like this.  I worked on The Necrokonicon for a good four years before I finally scraped it into a paper book and shut down the original site.  It’s a thankless job, one that can generate some decent traffic, but that requires constant revisions, to the point where your full-time occupation becomes the maintenance of this profitless venture you could never hope to monetize.  You get constant emails from people bitching about how you got an opinion of yours “wrong”, and how you got facts backwards when explaining an urban legend that wasn’t true in the first place.  You find dead ends researching restaurants that have long since closed, in cities that don’t keep records of the past, with residents that have no long-term memory anymore.  Every little update becomes a political struggle, and you wonder if it would be easier to just write Twilight fan fiction and call it a day.  There’s some reward when you find a person that gives you some information that’s useful, or when you stir up the thread of nostalgia in someone who appreciates it.  But it’s also a bitch, and there’s never an end in sight, because you’re talking about a city that always changes.  So I understand the decision to call it a day.

What I don’t get is all of the negative bullshit being stirred in the link above that goes to theawl.com.  I started poking around this site a bit, and it’s sort of a hip New York-centric pop culture thing.  So it doesn’t surprise me that much that all of the commenters go off on this guy and proclaim the general uselessness of his work.  I mean, it’s hard to really explain the undertone of the comments without a complicated Venn diagram, but in general, there’s a lot of venom.  I’m not sure – do these people actually appreciate when a place like Zen Palate goes under and gets replaced by a TGI Friday?  I thought urban decay and throwback architecture is hipster cool, but there are people who actually seem excited about mallifying Times Square and building huge glass condos that will look asinine in five years.

I don’t know – arguing about urban planning with someone who self-identifies as a New Yorker is almost as futile as arguing religion with someone holding a giant sign that says “god hates fags”.  These are the people who claim the city never sleeps, even though I could never, ever find a 24-hour pharmacy within ten miles of my apartment, and yet Elkhart, Indiana, population 40,000 has at least a dozen.  I mean, there is a certain validity in the fact that you can’t keep New York into the exact thing it was the second you got there, because everything constantly changes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to try to remember these things.  Because we have no attention span and now with the death of all paper media and the twitter-ification of all things reference-oriented, you will find it absolutely impossible to look up something that happened five years ago without facing a sea of 404s.  All news has become blogs, and all blogs have a shelf life of even less than a Thai-Mexican fusion restaurant with a $14,000 a month rent in SoHo.  So I find it commendable when someone does try to make a reference of the past like this.  Because all of you are going to wake up tomorrow, a dozen years from now, and only have the vaguest of memories of that Shea-whatever-it-was-called place where the Mets maybe used to play, and every single maybe-relevant phrase you enter into google is going to redirect you to a CitiBank advertisement.

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Reason #8,234,123 New York City Sucks

Reason #8,234,123 New York City Sucks:

June through September.

Seriously, summer blows here. Find me a person that thinks it’s great to live here in the months between spring and autumn, and invite them to my place for an hour, and they will cry faster than those pieces of shit in Guantanamo after the CIA torture technicians crank up the Britney Spears albums. This city is a giant heatsink, and all of the office buildings that need to keep their giant unused conference rooms at a frigid 56 degrees are pumping out even more heat that gets absorbed into the concrete. Add to that the fact that people here shit, piss, and vomit pretty much everywhere as if it’s Calcutta, and the streetsides are giant open-bake ovens for garbage that is put out on Mondays and then possibly picked up a week later. And if you have the wise idea to get the fuck out for a weekend, forget it. Central Park is a baby festival on the weekend, intermixed in with the occasional gangbanger race war. And that’s on the weekend when there isn’t a culturally aware pride parade-slash-rapefest. I’m not trying to sound like I’m starting a Klan chapter in Astoria or anything, but I think if you have a whatever-day parade for your race or creed or religion or whatever, that’s fine, but after you have, let’s say more than about zero rapes or murders, it’s cancelled forever. Of course, maybe these people are pissed off by the heat, so maybe it’s justifiable. Who knows.

Before you start, here are the ground rules on what is known as the misery of my apartment:

  1. Bars on windows. No way to put in an AC unit.
  2. All wiring is from about 1812. We’re talking about that cheap aluminum, paper-wrapped, total catastrophe stuff, with the whole apartment hooked into two 10A breakers, which are conveniently located in the basement in a locked utility room, meaning if I trip a breaker, I have to get the landlord to come over (we have no super. yes, that’s illegal) and he’s out of town for months at a time sometimes.
  3. Yes, I know they sell free-standing air conditioners, fucknut. I have one. It’s the most expensive one that the most expensive Italian company produces. It barely works. It’s like making ice with a toaster.
  4. All of the windows are on one side, so there’s no breeze, and no real way to get one going with fans.
  5. I live on the first floor, so when I leave all of my windows open, I am treated to the sounds of the Caucasian-d/b/a-ebonically challenged neighbors, who are typically dealing drugs, screaming at the tops of their lungs, or smashing cars in the windshield with a brick to set off alarms and see which ones they can steal.
  6. For the 347 reasons outlined in Konrath publication 456-763-2A, entitled “why I cannot up and move at a split fucking second like all of you cocksuckers in towns in the Midwest with a 47% occupancy rates and rents under a hundred dollars for a 4-bed house”, I can’t move in the near future.

In another futile effort to make the situation better, I spent $100 on a Vornado fan. Oh wait, I mean “room air circulation unit” or whatever they call it. I just got it set up a few hours ago, and it’s actually working slightly better than my regular high-volume fan, but it’s much quieter, and doesn’t knock this high stream of sickness-inducing air into my face. (Yes, I know that allegedly, exposure to a draft or cold air or whatever isn’t supposed to cause a cold. But gee, whenever I point a fan right at my head and go to sleep, I wake up with a cold. And when I don’t, I don’t. That must have to do with Jesus or dinosaurs or my Tarot card reading or something else, right Mr. Scientist?) So maybe the Vornado will help. I’m hoping if I fire up the anemic AC unit and put the Vornado right next to it, I will get some kind of better cooling. And if all else fails, I will just spend way more time at Sarah’s, since she lives in an apartment built within the last two centuries that actually has AC units, ceiling fans, and no Eminem-wannabes three feet from your head playing with their shitty ringtones on full volume at three in the morning.

I have been working full-time on Air in the Paragraph Line (aka “the zine”), or at least as full-time as I can with a real job and almost no energy from constant heatstroke. But the layout is looking good, a lot of the text has been placed, and the guts are close to ready. The one person holding up the issue is, of course, me, because I can’t decide on what to include, and I think everything in the current inventory kinda sucks and I need to write something new, but any new effort is basically a tone poem that goes like this: “MUST / DRINK / MORE / WATER”. But seriously, everything is looking good and it’s a good read, with a lot of decent fiction, some longer stuff, and I like it.

You’ll also notice some slight changes to the layout here. I’m just trying to make things look a little better, work better, whatever. If you see something horrifically broken or wrong, please let me know. And if you have any ideas or thoughts on the look, I’d love to hear your thoughts. So drop a “you should have an xyz” comment if you have any wise ideas.

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