Things Need Done

Tweaking things still. I had a feed set up from both Tumblr and Flickr, but the Flickr updates come in random bursts that I don’t necessarily want to have fed into the blog. So only the Tumblr feed is still active; all those photos are coming straight from my iPhone.

Check out the latest huge batch of photos from Flickr here; I got up early last Saturday to watch the sun rise and to walk around Manhattan while it’s empty. I walked continuously from about 6 a.m. to noon, and paid the price. My legs still hurt. But I got a lot of great shots. It was kind of a magical day. As you can see in the previous posts, I met a crazy squirrel, found a monkey, took many shots of Washington Square Park (including some experiments where I made various waves in the fountain and shot the results), and even found a lady’s wallet and got it back to her on Sunday.

Also on Sunday I joined my friend Elizabeth in her quest to visit every public pool in New York City. We went to the Red Hook pool. I’ve lived just a few blocks from this place for two years now and have never gotten around to visiting it. I had always assumed it would be a crummy experience, but it was beyond fantastic! I’ll be smacking myself in the forehead for quite some time in shame at never having visited it before. And just around the corner from the pool are the Red Hook food vendors – all Central American food. Salvadoran pupusas are the big draw. Good stuff. My neighborhood is full of surprises.

Noticing Things

I know I’m not a New Yorker yet because I still notice things that no one else seems to.

  • I’ve found USB flash drives on two separate occasions. The first one was a few months ago. I found an email address inside one of the documents, and sent a message, but never got a reply. The second one I found yesterday. I Googled the owner’s name and connected with her on Facebook[1]. I got it back to her last night.
  • Leaving the office a few weeks ago, I saw a large Post-It note attached to the bottom of a lady’s purse. I walked along with the hastily moving crowd of folks, figuring someone would mention it to her. No one did, so I had to. She was relieved; the note contained important info she would likely have lost had I not intervened.
  • Also a few weeks ago I found a debit card at the E train turnstile. I thought about announcing to the riders that Mr. Lopez had left behind a personal item at the turnstile, but wasn’t sure if that was the best course of action, so I just called the number on the back to tell them it had been found. It had already been reported lost.

1.) Something that would have been impossible just a few years ago.

Tall Manhattan Buildings That Aren’t Offices, Or Why I’m a Complete Idiot

After working at American Express for almost a year now, I’ve discovered something about our view to the north. When we look out the window, we see what looks like a large brick deco building with two antennae on top. What we are actually seeing is a brick deco building with a near-identical yet larger brick deco building directly behind it with two antennae.

I discovered this on Saturday when I attended a rooftop gathering in Tribeca, a charity fundraiser for‘s new comic strip compilation. Here is the view of the same building from the back. Note my office in the back on the right, and the lack of antennae. The building we see is 60 Hudson St. The building behind it is 32 Avenue of the Americas.

Looking at google maps, I see that the sightline from our office to both buildings is a completely straight line.

This drove me nuts for quite some time. I could never be sure if I was looking at 60 Hudson or 32 Avenue of the Americas. Turns out, it was both.

The fun part is the 60 Hudson is the old Western Union building, but has been converted into a carrier hotel, meaning that it primarily houses telecommunications hardware – fiber optic lines, switches, servers, etc. There’s very little office space in there. In a similar fashion, 33 Thomas Street is a massive telephone exchange building. I had often wondered what the story was with this scary, monolithic, windowless building. Who would want to work in there? Well, very few people do. In fact, the top section is mostly empty space for ventilation.

A similar purpose is served by Verizon’s 374 Pearl St. So that’s a total of four buildings in lower Manhattan that serve mainly as technology and telecommunications hubs. 60 Hudson, in fact, has so much diesel fuel in it for the emergency generators that it’s making the now-residential Tribeca neighbors very nervous, post 9/11.

“A Crimson Grail”

The weather was impossibly perfect. We loaded in at 11:30 a.m. and made our way up to Lincoln Center to set up. A fine day to stand around waiting. Although my search for a quick bite to eat was fruitless (not much in the way of to-go food in that neighborhood so I had to settle for a sandwich from Starbucks), I did enjoy relaxing and chatting with the other 199 guitarists at Damrosch Park. We took our seats around 6:30 and the crowd started filing in. And kept coming. And coming. I did not expect thousands of people.

Fortunately I was on the end of my section, right by the gate, so it was easy for me to catch Amy, Alllie, Caroline and Matt. They took up a spot right next to me. My boss, Marya, also stopped by to say hi. The crowd eventually had to be turned back because there were no more chairs.

Our hour-long composition started around 7:45, slowly building, section by section, into the final climax. Toward the end, the sounds became so huge and otherworldly that people started standing up to receive it.

We finished to a long ovation. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

UPDATE: The New York Times estimates 10,000 people showed up.

I’m Going to Play Guitar at Lincoln Center

I’ve been accepted as one of 200 guitarists scheduled to perform at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park next month. It’s a volunteer position, but it will be really cool to be able to say I’ve played Lincoln Center. Let’s hope the weather doesn’t cancel it like last year.

In 2005, the New York composer Rhys Chatham was commissioned by the city of Paris to write a piece of music. The result was A Crimson Grail, a work for 400 electric guitars, which premiered at the basilica of SacrĂ©-Coeur for La Nuit Blanche, an all-night arts festival. For its first U.S. performance, the work has been extensively revised by the composer for an outdoor performance at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park, to suit the dynamics of the park’s outdoor acoustics. A Crimson Grail will call on the talents of 200 guitarists (including 16 electric bassists), who will be selected from an applicant pool drawing on the many talents of musicians in New York City and beyond. The piece was rehearsed and soundchecked in August 2008, but inclement weather forced its cancellation. We are looking forward to its long-awaited World Premiere on August 8, 2009.

The link to Lincoln Center’s page is here. Warning: it doesn’t look good on my version of Firefox.

Walking Zen

Walking in NYC can be difficult, primarily because of all the other moving obstacles. NYC pedestrians, if they are destination-focused, tend to walk much the way commuters in, say, Dallas, drive: at a constant speed of just-past-comfortable, and with a desire to get out from behind anyone in their way.

Much like my fellow New Yorkers, I have a particularly swift walking pace. This speed is set unconsciously by the nervous system, and I’ve recently learned that walking rhythm is actually is handled by the spinal cord itself without any assistance by the brain. This means that whenever walking speed has to be altered, the task of changing pace is transferred up to the brain for a conscious decision. I’ve noticed that I get vaguely agitated when this happens.

Breaking rhythm seems to be something my body wants to avoid. When presented with a jam of people, my feet will often take the same number of steps, just in progressively smaller strides (often until I’m making near-imperceptible baby steps). It’s as though my brain is an irascible boss that my nervous system really doesn’t want to bother.

All of this depends on whether or not I’m actively trying to get somewhere. If I have no particular destination and am just enjoying walking around, I tend to move slower and with more flexibility to changes in speed. I mosey.

So my goal for my daily commute is to mosey more. But it’s hard. I have to really pay attention to each step. Unlike meditation, where breathing is controlled voluntarily in an effort to quiet the mind, walking mindfully requires the exertion of energy and a lot of environmental navigation (the tracking and predicting of others’ movements and the shifting of speed and position to compensate). To actively subvert natural biorhythms is a tricky business. The brain has only so much bandwidth with which to juggle all these activities, which is probably why it farmed out the walking rhythm to the spinal cord in the first place.

It’s a challenge. Most of the time I end up just reminding myself every few minutes to slow down.

Stray Observations

  • Having a job on the 19th floor with several miles of visibility has allowed me for the first time in my life to be acutely aware of each day’s sunset, and how it occurs slightly later each day than the one previous. I should also mention that I’ve now been working at this job longer than last year’s stint in advertising. So far, so good.
  • I think I feel like a New Yorker now, or at least more so than at any point in the last year (and yes, it has been more than a year now), as I recently told myself I needed to “run up to 52nd” to get some shirts at H&M. That I consider this task a simple errand indicates a sizeable shift in my thinking. Manhattan has now become casually traversable. Nevertheless, I’m still not yet convinced that I belong here or want to stay long-term.
  • Not until John McCain said “the fundamentals of the American economy are strong” did I begin to wonder whether that was ever in question. Now I know that it may well be. More and more I hear people referring to the American Experiment as something with the potential for failure.
  • I’ve bought my tickets for SXSW in Austin! Tara now lives on the east end, which is great because I’ve always wanted to explore that area. While she’s at work I’ll most likely bike around and take pictures. This actually excites me just as much as seeing bands play. Oh, and the Texas Guitar Show is in Austin this year, same weekend. And the Austin Record Convention. That should all be enough to distract me from turning 33.

New York Stories

This may be the first in a series of overheard or otherwise witnessed from the sidelines stories that tell me to write them down.

I was at Partners & Crime mystery bookstore recently in the Village, when an elderly gentleman came in with a request for any books by a particularly obscure author. He spoke slowly, and somewhat loudly, as he mentioned that he was a little hard of hearing. In his working years he had been a writer and editor, and he had recently remembered the name of a writer (the name escapes me) whose books were praised when they were in print but had since passed into obscurity.

There are two ladies who run the store, and the one behind the counter ran her usual search and came up with nothing. She said she doubted that these books would be easy to find anywhere. The man mentioned that this particular store had always come through for him in his previous requests for hard-to-find mystery novels. She tried to let him down easily.

The other woman arrived to the discussion at just this point. She asked for the details, heard the author’s name and promptly contradicted the other lady. Partners & Crime had, in fact, just recently acquired two books by this long out-of-print novelist, unbeknownst to the lady behind the counter. The old man exploded with delight.

What followed was a merry denouement of amazed gratitude and good cheer. I bought some books, too.

Obama Singlehandedly Saves Print Media

OK maybe it’s not that big, but the New York Times and other major newspapers nationwide are busy ordering additional runs of yesterday’s paper. My friend Margot emailed me this morning to ask me to pick up a copy, so I tried to find out where that could be done. Here is what the line looks like outside the NYT office. The Times is also selling copies online for $14.95, but currently I’m seeing this message:

The website is loading slowly due to high activity.
Please return later to order if the wait is too long.
Don’t worry: We have an abundance of Nov. 5 newspapers!

Score one for traditional media. We’ll miss tangibility when it goes away.

Odors of Autumn

The smells of this city are vastly improved by chilly air. Nothing smells good here in the summer, and so now that October is upon us, even bus exhaust starts to smell fantastic. I wandered around the Polish enclave of Ridgewood, Queens, yesterday and every five minutes it seemed like I was having a Proustian episode of involuntary memory from all the scents. Even bodegas smell better in the fall.

Also last night, Caroline hipped me to Goodbye Blue Monday, the coolest bar/coffeeshop/venue I think I’ve ever seen. For those of you Arkansans who remember Jasper’s Junk N Java, it’s a lot like that, but in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Here are some interior shots. I want to live there.