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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