Two Bridges, Sandy and a cupcake election: the whole watermelon

So many bloggable things have happened over the last two weeks. At risk of failing the first grade writing workshop checklist on my wall, which includes the question, “Is it a seed story?” (as opposed to a “watermelon story”), I’m just going to list them.

The seeds are out of date, so here’s the whole watermelon.

Sunday

I went way downtown, even below Chinatown, which in my mind was always the end of Manhattan. The little pocket of the Lower East Side between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges may have its own neighbourhood name, but “Two Bridges” is one of those in-between neighborhoods, like Hell’s Kitchen or Murray Hill. If they were Australian country towns their claim to fame would be a sign boasting that they’re “the gate-way to…” somewhere else.

I spent the afternoon at St Joseph’s church with 72 members of the North American Craco Society (Craco Italy, not Krakow Poland). We celebrated the Feast of San Vincenzo, Craco’s Patron Saint, with mass and then lunch in the basement cafeteria. It’s another story. I hope it will turn into a published one before the year’s out.

I left the reunion at 4pm to get into the subway three hours before the MTA was due to shut down in preparation for Hurricane Sandy. Early evacuation was just taking effect as I crossed the Grand Street exit off Manhattan Bridge. Traffic heading in both directions was snarled and the queue outside the Lucky Star Bus window on the Bowery was snaked around the block. Families sat on suitcases looking nervous, cold or bored and a young couple close to the office window screamed at one another so long and loud their yelling drowned out the traffic noise. The pair stood nose to nose the whole time, spraying each other with shouting and spittle. People in the queue behind them covered one ear and wondered if they should be afraid. Yet somehow – either used to this routine or used to long uncertain waits for transport, accommodation or evacuation – neither one raised a hand once.

The Bowery, at the Manhattan Bridge exit

Monday

School was cancelled in case the storm hit while people were commuting. We had a wonderful rainy day at home carving pumpkins and weather-watching.

I learned I have to mind my manners, when Ruby said to a relative in Sydney on the phone: “It’s just wind, New Yorkers take these things so seriously,”  If I’ve rolled my eyes at what I may or may not have called a propensity for hyper-caution here, I apologize! Cynicism doesn’t suit us.

Snapped: The skyscraper crane swinging ominously over midtown on Monday

Still at work late in the afternoon, Martin wasn’t taking things at all seriously until he watched a crane collapse two blocks from his office. He came home early after that and we spent the rest of the night watching the storm on TV, occasionally checking on the real thing outside the window. The wind outside was noisy but apart from a chunk of scaffolding flip-flopping down the sidewalk, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic on 85th Street as it was on TV.

Tuesday

New York Magazine’s photo of lower Manhattan’s power cut

Everybody uptown awoke to an island that had been cut off at 49th Street. New Jersey, the Rockaways in Brooklyn and Staten Island were awash with debris, sodden and in some places flattened.

I wondered if the statue of Craco’s San Vincenzo, lying prone in his box next to the alter at St Joseph’s, was still in tact. I wondered about the guy I accidentally pushed off his stoop when I exited through the church’s (obviously seldom-used) cafeteria door. I hope he found a safe place to sleep in time.

Wednesday

Still no school. No subway. Traffic on every corner was gridlocked and every business was short staffed as a result. Those that opened were over-run with “downtown refugees” – up to shower, charge phones, shop and eat. We met a dad and his daughter outside a locked playground and while the children tried to pick the padlock with a stick, then gave up and used the stick/lock-picker to play spies, he said their return home to an apartment near the Chelsea Market was uncertain.

Block Party: trick-or-treating, stoop-to-stoop on 87th Street.

“They told us it could be from three weeks to six months.”

The West 87th Street block party still went ahead, thanks to a neighbourhood that had the foresight not to decorate too early. It was a little more subdued than previous year but the spiders, webs and ghosts that climb the brownstones between Riverside and West End Avenues each year were still out in force. Locals still dressed up and socialized on their stoops, dishing out candy to the hundreds of kids who run from step to step.

A father and son team had set up a hotplate over their fence and were grilling hot dogs for anyone tired of candy. Their neighbour two doors down offered “spiced wine for the moms?” while his giant St. Bernard dozed next to  a cauldron full of candy and kept its owner’s feet warm.

Sunday

The Marathon was cancelled.

The unofficial marathon: with flights and hotels booked and miles of training behind them, there was nothing stopping runners getting their time in the sun with four laps of central park.

I feel for the runners who psyched themselves up to run 26.8 miles. But everyone, runners included, felt for the people on Staten Island who were still chipping away at the debris around their houses. They could really use those generators, space blankets and bottled water earmarked for the marathon route. I didn’t see any animosity from the runners in letters to the editor in the days afterwards. The only real malice came from the New York Post itself, which had launched the campaign to cancel the event in the first place.

Poor Bloomberg, he did a good job last week, he willed the Marathon to go ahead but there was no win-win in this one.

Tuesday – Election Day

Two candidates spent $6 billion convincing 57 per cent of the population to vote. Some of those voters spent 40 minutes (in Bloomberg’s New York electorate) to four hours (South Carolina), lining up to use as many different voting systems as there are states. From a the broken voting machines in South Carolina, to a touch-screen system in Pennsylvania that relies on an election official to dip his or her ID card every time someone votes, in order for that person’s vote to be registered (requiring an official to accompany every voter to their ballot?) to a six-page paper and pencil ballot in Florida.

My local Fairway Supermarket electoral system seemed entirely reasonable in comparison!

Never mind Ohio: Who won the Fairway Cupcake Election? Republican vs. Democrat cupcakes were sold through Nov. 5 for $1.49 each – buy as many as you like, as many times as you like – citizenship not required!

Great and small distractions: The Foo Fighters, E.B. Wight and Staying In

One of my favourite things about living in Manhattan, apart from reading what EB White wrote about it, is that it all happens with or without me. This weekend we stayed in, but the city followed us to our doorstep. The noise, the traffic, the closed playgrounds, the stressed out techies yelling into cell-phones. It could have been annoying. Instead, it felt like we were just here for the big party across the road too.

To coincide with the UN General Assembly, the Global Citizen Fund held this year’s free concert on the great lawn on Saturday night. All week we’d watched the equipment, barricades, recording trucks and trailers – full of sound-guys with headphones and lanyards – being parked along Central Park West. My Saturday morning exercise/ mothers’ group in the pine-tum was interrupted, mid-lunge, by a City Parks security officer hurrying us along so they could finish closing off the park.

By noon, some of the 60,000 people who earned tickets in the lottery were filtering out of the subway at 81st Street and heading into the park. By 5pm, when I went out foraging for wine and take-away, an intrepid school boy had set up a cake-table by the barricade that funneled crowds onto the Great Lawn.

The traffic has been chaotic, car-horns have been working double time and our lovely work out got cut short. But in return, I felt involved. Just by being affected by it, I’ve contributed to this great free event. The Foo Fighters, Neil Young, The Black Keys and K’NAAN should thank me, because I made way!

Like most of my feelings about this city, White has already put it so beautifully in his wonderful essay, Here is New York.

“New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants it or needs it) against all the enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute. Since I have been sitting in this miasmic air-shaft, a good many rather splashy events have occurred in town… I didn’t attend and neither did most of the the eight million other inhabitants, although they say there was quite a crowd…. I mention these merely to show that New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along… without inflicting the event on its inhabitants, so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his spectacle and so conserve his soul.”

BAKE SALE! a young entrepreneur sells cupcakes in the concert queue.

Aside from my missed squat-jumps, the show passed us by. Like last year’s Black-eyed-peas concert, we heard it second hand as neighbours in near-by brownstone buildings barbecued and sang along on their roof-top decks. We switched on the children’s air-conditioner to drown out the base and drums reverberating down our street and finished watching Homeland with our Mexican take-away.

The spectacle may be optional, but it’s nice when it happens on your doorstep. We can be participants by association.

“… The gift of privacy and the excitement of participation.” I always suspected it, but never thought of it in just nine words. This is what I love about New York!

Back-to-school, backdated

School started two weeks ago and I find myself overwhelmed by all the things I’ve been wanting to do for the last three years. There’s so much to do I don’t know where to start. So, in the interest of starting somewhere, I’ll start here.

Because this is me, I’m starting in the middle. I don’t read instructions before putting things together, hence my inability to backdate these two back-to-school articles. This should be the first post, and you’re supposed to be able to click over to “writing” and then click back into this main blog page again. I’ll figure it out. In the mean time, as much as I hate technology, I’ve discovered that I like linking things!

While I work on increasing my attention span, I’ll use this space as a warm up. And to release some of the mental clutter I’ve accrued over the last three years – living in New York, living in New York with children, running, writing and holding onto those delicious first impressions before they become too familiar. Once the clutter’s out, I’m hoping I can write short, snappy sentences and salable articles…

… Sound like therapy?

That’s so New York!

8am to 3pm. Let this be the Year of Getting Things Done!

MTA ad-space

During the summer, or maybe earlier, in the spring just after graduation, a poster on the C train proudly announced to commuters that “Poetry in Motion is back”. And what a lovely use of unused advertising space it is. Certainly a welcome change from the compensation firms suggesting we might be entitled to $$$ if our children suffer birth defects; the ads announcing that there are alternatives to abortion out there if we call this free and confidential number; and the ads asking, is cocaine affecting your lifestyle? Call this number.

I’d prefer Ruby and Henry to be sounding out these words:

(Un-blurred, it reads

Graduation

He told us, with the years, you will come

to love the world

And we sat there with our souls in our laps,

and comforted them.

Dorothea Tanning)