Sunday, May 31, 2009

Then and then and now

Pershing Square (outside Grand Central) in the 1940s

What is it about photos that stirs the soul? Many thanks to Gothamist for helping me discover these Flickr photo collections of NYC from various eras. I love looking at old photos of New York City. It's amazing to see how far the city has come. Some of the photos from the 1800s look almost fake in their simplicity -- there were trees! And barns! In the city proper! To look at photos of what is now a burgeoning urban zoo from way back when is both a tribute and a eulogy.

Take for instance Trinity Church, located on Broadway downtown where Wall St. begins. Many famous figures are buried there, including Alexander Hamilton. So the place has been around for awhile.

Here it is in the late 1800s:

Unbelievable. This shot was taken from east of the church on Wall St, facing west. Townhouses of no more than 7 stories! Above-ground power lines! A general lack of din! Not many people. A far cry from the crowds and noise of today.

Here it is in the 1940s:

This shot is from the same angle as the one above, but further west on Wall St. That's Federal Hall on the right and the Stock Exchange on the left. Love the truck in the shot -- an instant frame of reference. Look at the people's clothing...look at how open the area is. No fences or cops like today. A bygone era but approaching today. The church itself looks so different. I can't say if it's the sun, the film or the technique. It look likes a movie set.

And today:

Tall buildings everywhere. People everywhere. And yet still so damn beautiful. I wonder if George Washington ever walked or rode up Wall St. -- he must have, right? And now there is a statue of him here. I realize that New York City is much younger than, say, Athens, Rome or even London or Paris. And yet there is already so much history here. When I walk around down here in FiDi I can't help but think about the millions that have tread before me. What were they like? Where did they go? Were they happy? What was the city around them like?

I am normally extremely camera-shy and by proxy I'm not usually into people photos. But the human element in the Flickr NYC collections are mesmerizing. Their eyes alone say so much. Such proud people. I like looking at photos from the 40s/50s/60s to see what my parents' lives were like growing up here. And from the 10s/20s/30s to see what my grandparents' lives were like (two of my grandparents grew up here, two immigrated just before WWII). Though I can't explain why some of the photos make me cry. The photos of the 70s and 80s don't touch me as much. It might just be too close to now, a real or fake memory rather than an era I never knew.

I wonder what our time will look like to future generations. Many of the current city movements are about a movement back to nature -- no cars in Times Square, Summer Streets, etc. -- yet many new skyscrapers are under construction reaching higher into the sky than ever. As our historical records become digital I hope we don't lose the qualities a photo can bring. One simple click makes an amazing time capsule. That's a pretty powerful tool.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Weekend of free

It's Memorial Day weekend and here in the city that means many of the residents flee out to the Hamptons for the weekend. I enjoy the emptiness, which I prefer to think of as a little more room to move around. When I lived on the Upper East Side it was almost comical how few people were left -- it was like "I Am Legend" up there. Down here in Financial District though it was still pretty crowded with tourists in town for the long weekend. I only mind when I'm trying to get to the 4/5 subway line and everyone is trying to take pictures of George Washington.

The last few days have been much better. One thing I do appreciate about myself now is that no matter how hard I try to be moody and depressed it never sticks. I can do it for 2/3 days max. I used to be able to go for months. I am so glad I've grown out of that and receded into optimism. It's tiring being sad. Plus NYC is just always so alive. The kinetic energy is impossible to repulse for too long. T stayed a few extra nights because he was in protector mode and I totally appreciated it. I of course responded by giving him a had time. Especially when I did the math and realized that he's turning 40 in a couple of months! Or 39 again as I used to tell an old acquaintance. We played it loose -- he hung out with friends while I was at work.

One common thing that happens here (and really everywhere) is that my friends will disappear for months at a time and then reappear just as suddenly. So it went this past week with my friend J, who works in the fashion industry doing something international. A buyer maybe. On Wednesday nite T and I went out to dinner at Brasserie with her and then went to the Top of the Rock -- one of my favorite places in the city. Just adore the view.

My big project this week was all about music. My first project is a poster. I took the lyrics to one of my favorite songs and designed it into a text art poster. It came out really cool, I must say. I finally got around today to researching printing costs. A friend had recommended Zazzle and the cost was going to be $180 or something ridiculous like that. But Zazzle was having a 70% off (!) sale so I ended up paying $60. Pics to come once the finished product comes.

The other was hanging up my basses and guitar, something I'd been planning to do since January. It was nerve-racking. I couldn't get the wall anchors in and neither could T so I decided to risk it with just the screws. I tested on the Ibanez (far left) first because, well, it was the cheapest one to replace. It stayed up overnight and so up went the other two...after a trip to Home Depot. The wall hanger's actual hanger piece had a long screw that was pertruding too far out the back to mount flush. A nice store associate offered to saw it down for me. Thanks nice guy!! I hope that having my guitars out and available all the time will inspire me to write and play more often. So far though T and I are just staring at how pretty they are.

Earlier today T once again proved how he's got mad skills. We were riding down the elevator when he ran into an old friend and somehow got us invited to a party in my own building. I could only laugh...I have a lot to learn from him or someone. We declined though. He left for Jersey for man stuff and I have plans to go surfing tomorrow if the weather holds up. I can't wait either way. These days off are so refreshing.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ancillary causes

Like most people, I spent most of college broke. For the first three years I spent any extra money I had on clothing. Not beer. Not food. Not drugs. Clothing. And it made me happy enough. (We've all got our vices.) I didn't really have discretionary income until senior year, which probably not coincidentally was the first year I gained weight in college.

Weighty issues aside I remember being so excited about my senior year. I was finally living in a cool apartment. I had a little bit of money to spare. I was getting ready to launch a fabulous career in journalism and/or the music industry (ba-dum-chick!). Every door seemed to be opening. My life seemed well in order.

So it was a shock what a disaster 2003-04 was. That year I also joined a sorority. It was something I'd wanted to do but didn't have the money for until 2003. But for some reason I got a major friend backlash about the whole thing -- they said it wasn't like me and that I changed. Maybe I did change, it's hard for me to say objectively even looking back now. I do remember feeling pretty lonely and commiserating that while one side of my life (the financials) seemed relatively in order, the other side (the social) had fallen into disarray. Much of my life felt out of control.

It helped spur me back East and eventually the move into NYC. That was a good thing. I had to make some difficult decisions. They say you're still forming who you are in your 20s and I re-examined my personality a bit. It felt weird doing it -- I literally evaluated my type of attitude and the way I reacted in situations. For a year or two I focused on consciously changing myself to be what I thought was more socially acceptable. While my social side slowly recovered to a semi-respectable state my financial side a-tumbled. Rent-poor became a term I got all too familiar with. Now an adult I had a serious conversation with myself that went something like, "Self, do you agree to become rent-poor if it means you're in a good neighborhood close to friends and happy?" "Yes, self, I agree." "Terrific, now stop talking to yourself, it's weird."

I think 2007 was probably the best year in terms of financial/social balance since college. In 2008 my financials started turning for the better and oddly enough, my social scale begin to tip downward once again. And now here I am in 2009 with the best pay I've ever made, rent-poor once again but loving where I live and yet goddammit I am fucking up the social stuff. In some ways it's worse because I feel like I am making the effort and yet the efforts are not yielding the results I want. I want to improve myself yet I'm not sure the concessions and changes I'm making are doing it. People must see through it? I'm not sure.

New York City is a tough, tough city to be social in when you don't know anyone. Even harder when you are still building yourself. At least that has been my experience. We are in so many ways a city of loners, a city where everyone is goal-oriented and driven towards their own personal goal. We often forget to step aside and see each other. I plead guilty on this as much as anyone. So if my failure comes from trying to please others and forgetting to please myself I don't mind taking a step back to become myself again. The issue is I've forgotten the right mix. I know small bits and pieces but the passive ingredient I introduced into my personality has overwritten some of harder pieces. It's an everyday battle to find the right balance. I am laughing as I write this because it sounds self-involved and silly. I must have missed this lesson when I was 4 -- how to make friends and influence people. Or maybe I just like crashing into walls. Repeatedly.

Poor T. He's crashing on my couch for 3 days in the middle of this existential breakdown. The guy just wanted to see the Financial District again for a few days. Ha, he had no idea what he was in for. He has suggested I make "Tubthumping" my personal anthem. It's a start.


On a much lighter note, I made T watch "The Bachelorette" with me last nite. During the show I was telling him that I would totally do that show. Much to his chagrin. He came from the logical side saying that the people on the show were there for all the wrong reasons. I came from the modern romantic side saying it would be way easier to find one guy out of a group of 25. (Romantic, right?) Then came the previews for the rest of the season where we already see that poor Jillian finds out that some of the guys were just playing the game rather than actually trying to love her (!), that some were just fame manwhores (!!) and that some maybe left girlfriends back home (!!!).

I turned to T and said I would never, ever do the show. He patted me on the head. Lesson learned.