Thursday, September 20, 2007

Only in New York

Most people have heard this story, but I’ve got a little bit of writers’ block and haven’t blogged this one yet, so…here goes.

This is my favorite NYC moment in my 3+ years here.

So I do these walks – or did until I joined a gym. Long walks. Every Sunday. 10 miles a walk. (Closer to 8 or 9, but 10 sounds more impressive, and I’ve broken 10 about once every 6 weeks in three years of walks…so we’ll say 10 miles a walk.)

My walk was less than a block from being done. I lived on 12th Street at 3rd Avenue, and I was walking south on 4th Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets when I was stopped.

“Excuse me!” a baritone voice said.

Now usually when people talked to me on my walks, I kept going. I justified this to myself as ‘I have headphones in; I may not be able to hear him anyway; I’m a rude New Yorker; I’m just fitting in; I’m in a bad mood and I’m doing him a FAVOR by not talking to him.’ But for some reason, this was not one of those times. I stopped dead in my tracks, pulled my earphones out of my ears, and turned around.

I looked up to see a greater-than-6-foot black man with dreadlocks looking down at me. I looked up, hoping he would ask a question I could answer so he wouldn’t be disappointed and I could do good in the name of all things scrawny and Jewish.

“Yes?” My voice went up in tone, slightly unsure and slightly in anticipation of the impending favor I was hoping to grant.

“Would you like to have a karate duel to the death?”

He said that totally straight faced, as if this was as normal of a question as ‘do you have the time?’ or ‘where’s the nearest subway?’ I paused for a minute. Not to think over my answer, because we all knew I’d say ‘no’, for fear that he actually would duel me to the death and my karate is rusty at best, (seeing as I’ve never practiced karate or even dressed as a ninja for Halloween, my only karate experience is countless Jackie Chan movies) but rather just to replay the question a few times and make sure I heard him right.

“Umm…no thanks.”

“Okay,” he answered in what can best be described as the all-knowing movie-voiceover guy voice.

And just like that, he turned around and kept walking north on 4th Ave as I kept walking south.

I constantly wonder if he ever asked anyone else to duel him, or if I was the only one. For some reason, this question stays with me more than the obvious ‘why?’ question.

I also wonder what would have happened had I said ‘yes’, but I think some questions are better left unanswered.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mancini and Ginger Ale

Sometimes life throws little moments of perfection in with the hectic-ness of day-to-day living.

For me, it’s sitting in the CafĂ© Car on an Acela Express from Boston to New York looking out the window at the water along the Connecticut Coast with a clear blue sky listening to Marian McPartland’s solo piano interpretations of Henry Mancini while sipping a ginger ale.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Secret of Socks

Those who know me know that among the many idiosyncrasies I have, one is my life-long goal to obliterate awkward elevator silence. Most of the time, I fill this awkward elevator silence with awkward elevator conversation – or more common yet, awkward elevator monologue, but in these monologues I’ve explored a lot of things.

My favorite monologue came in the dead of winter last year when someone looked at me and said, ‘you look happy in spite of the weather.’ I said, ‘of course I am; I know the secret to true happiness!’ She looked at me quizzically.

I looked down at her feet, looked down at my feet, and, with my usual indefatigably cheerful tone said, “fleece socks!”

She looked at me, confused more than anything. (Why anyone who has ever shared an elevator with me is confused when I come up with statements like this is beyond me, but the point remains: She was confused.)

So I explained myself quite simply. Warm, dry feet are happy feet. And when I have happy feet, I have a happy body. And when I have a happy body, I have a much better chance of having a happy me.

I was caught in a rainstorm amidst a bad day on Tuesday this week, and after sitting in class for 2 hours trying to dry off, my feet remained unhappy. The rest of me was dry and getting over the horrible happenings of morning, but my feet – cold and wet. So I bought new socks. Within 5 minutes of new socks, and thus warm and happy feet, the world turned around. Phone calls started to come in my favor. Class work seemed less dull. My ginger ale tasted better. My ice cream – well that tasted fantastic!

(Good company always helps, but even with the best company in the world, without happy feet, whomever I’d share the ice cream with would not get to enjoy me for me because, well, my feet would get in the way.)

So my feet may or may not have a mind of their own, but they certainly have emotions of their own which have an undeniable effect on my affect.

So I submit to you, the blogosphere, the secret of true happiness is simple: happy feet.

And that is the secret of socks.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Casey at the Bat

I apologize for the fact that I missed an entry-day. My internet has been on-again off-again, mostly off again. But it gave me time to reflect without writing, which, for those of you who know me, know is a dangerous thing.

But rather than try and put my brain out there for all to read as I usually do, I will spare you, just this once.

Instead, with the last month of the Major League Baseball regular season upon us, I will share with you a poem that I’m sure most of you have read. Casey at the Bat. There is nothing like hearing this poem read while the presenter is near tears at the end. But since this is not an audio blog, you’ll need to use your imagination.

We read this poem as a group in our nursery school graduation. We all memorized a stanza and then recited the last “there is no joy in Mudville, mighty Casey has struck out” line together. (Funny the random memories I have 17 years later…or is it 18 at this point…)


Casey At the Bat
Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despis-ed, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Blank Wall

My bedroom’s too small to decorate. I mean, I certainly could put something over the blank wall above the long part of my bed, but I’ve always liked having at least one blank wall. It’s like having a control in a chemistry experiment. Something to contrast and compare against to make sure nothing’s gone horrible wrong.

So instead of decking my place out with posters or making 8.5x11 printouts of pictures I’ve taken that I fancy, I’ve gone with practicality. One wall is filled by a bookcase and a mirror. One by an over-bed shelving unit with DVDs, books, clocks, radios, and – inexplicably – an umbrella. One wall is filled with a desk on the left half and an armoire on the right. This is me, so of course there are clipboards and whiteboards and a corkboard hanging, and I of course have calendar printouts and to-do lists, and even an NPR schedule. But from sitting on my bed, I cannot see the four most important things: The four 4x6 photos I have reminding me of a spacious life I’ve left behind. A life of open skies, beaches, winding roads, and perhaps most importantly, teaching archery.

But for some reason, I find my eyes drawn mostly to the blank wall. In a way, it’s the only wall I have a choice with. The room is such a size that the desk and armoire can only fit on that wall. I could reverse them if I please, or shift the armoire 90-degrees, but it’s pretty much set. The bookcase is the only thing narrow enough to leave me room to walk in its current location. The over bed unit can only go over the bed – and the bed cannot fit any other orientation than what it is. I cannot even push it to the opposite wall, as there is a furnace in the way. So that leaves me with one wall to do with it what I please. The blank one.

I could hang my Muppet Show poster if I wanted. I could put up a painting. I could buy shelving. I could find a tapestry or something of the sort to give the place color. But instead, I stare up at the blank wall and wish it were more blank. I wish I had the energy to retrieve the tape that’s up where the previous tenant had a poster. I wish I had some surface cleaner that would make it possible to clean the scuff marks that exist for who knows what reason. I wish I had paint and a roller so I could even out the lines that I see when the light reflects. I wish this wall to be even more plain than it already is.

Rather than embrace its flaws as character, I wish they didn’t exist. The bumps and holes on the blank wall above the mirror don’t bother me – well, not as much at least – and the dirt above my desk seems almost fitting.

So I have a blank canvas – almost literally – and I’m not sure if I’m stuck because the possibilities are (almost) endless, or if I’m stuck because I really think it’s more beautiful this way.

It seems like a potential metaphor – and a potentially damn good one – perhaps for me. Maybe I am my room and three-quarters of it are pre-set almost to the inch and that last quarter is a virgin wall waiting to be corrupted. Or maybe I just want to hold on to control it a little more. Or maybe it’s just a simple principle of design: White space is good.

Or maybe I should just leave it without making it poetic or making a metaphor out of it…but then that wouldn’t be me. Maybe I should let that blank wall be my readers’ own metaphor and the other three walls are the metaphors I blatantly spell out in almost every other post.

But tonight, rather than count sheep before bed, I’m going to look up at this blank wall and take solace in the fact that it is blank. And I’m just going to leave it like that.