Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: new york

New York and Paris

I had been planning to write about New York for this post, but it is Paris at the top of my mind, and it’s hard to access the mental space that talks about building cities and representing the on film when you see familiar ones being ripped apart before your eyes. What is sure to be lost on us is that the terrorists usually fail in the long run, provided the events are recognizable one-offs — Paris will remain Paris just as New York remained New York before it, and Paris remained Paris before that, and so on. Just as the stories of old New York so often evoke the stories of today’s New York, the stories of old Paris will continue to evoke the Paris of the present and future.

I was here to talk about New York, though, and how it is portrayed on television, mostly through three current shows that I think capture what has been called the three fundamental experiences of New York in important and distinct ways. The three experiences of New York are the ones I read on one of those ‘Poetry in Motion’ placards I saw on the subway about a decade ago, despite the fact it isn’t poetry, per se, and it’s the one by E.B. White from ‘Here is New York’ that flatters Brooklyn washashores like myself:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.

I’m pretty sure that’s the second-best quote about New York of which I know. Until recently, it was the best, but the new king is fresh and mostly notable for who’s saying it and where he’s saying it, and for the fact it’s perfect. It’s Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, on the city he fought to play in:

If you’d rather skip the video, the nut is this: “New York is the greatest city on the planet, I think” he says. “But you’re not a New Yorker if you don’t wake up some days and be like ‘man, fuck this place.'”

Nothing in the world has ever been truer than that, except that people probably hate living in Paris from time to time as well, and that’s the rub: the places people bother to hate are generally the ones they love even more. If no single number instance of terror can shake the feeling, it’s because that small bit of extra love makes all the difference. You compound it over and over, and nothing can rip it apart.

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The most beautiful sight in New York

The return ticket on the admirably named SeaStreak Martha’s Vineyard costs something on the order of $100 one-way. It’s worth it for the city approach alone. First, you’re hugging Long Island, with a house or two visible in the formless coastline on your left. Then the houses and terrain get bigger, more pronounced and then WHAP—there’s Connecticut on your right, beginning the gradual process of pinching you toward Manhattan, which is still invisible for about 20 minutes as the features on both sides of you grow and grow and grow. The sun is also setting to your right, its reflection off the water pointing back at you in white, then yellow, then gold, then orange, then blood orange and finally red before, in an instant, vanishing completely.

And then you see it.

Straight ahead of you, a small row of rectangular gray shapes on the horizon that takes up no more than one-twentieth of your visual panorama. But make no mistake: you’re headed right for it. You get closer and closer and it still doesn’t seem to grow but the houses on your left do, to the point you realize you’re looking at mansions, and look at all the sailboats in the water now here at dusk, and there’s “West Egg” and now “East Egg” and as the lights turn on in the June 20th night, you look for a green one, and you continue…

The lights are popping on in front of you now and suddenly the gray shapes are bigger, less rigidly rectangular and they are not all visible. You approach the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges, sailing underneath both of them against an amazing pinkblue sky. (You text your friend below and implore him to take in the views). Immediately after the Whitestone, the boat slows down, as if slammed in the face by the idea of New York, but really just because you’re in a no wake zone from here on out. The breeze is still defined, but it’s no longer relentless. It alternates hot and cool, and you have no idea—as you pass LaGuardia Airport now, under the belly of a plane—how it happens, but it’s great. After LaGuardia, there’s Riker’s Island, and you have the only view of it you ever want.

You hang a left after Riker’s, and the city is no longer in front of you: It’s vertically materializing on your right. As you face it down just beyond Astoria, you see the railroad bridge imposed upon the Triboro imposed upon the skyline. It might be the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen. And then Astoria Park passes on your left and you’re past it, and now there’s nothing between you and Manhattan and the FDR on your right and suddenly this isn’t New York but Hong Kong: A megalopolis on the water effectively using its waterways not just for function but for wonder and awe. You watch the streets pass as the sky darkens and the lights get brighter and brighter, reds and greens and the blue of the Empire State Building, which is no longer just the building you work near. It’s the symbol of a city you are, at long last, able to see with new eyes.

As it builds to a crescendo you hear a voice behind you. “Bryan, are you getting off?” Pulled from your—my—trance, I nod and head below, ready to enter the belly of the beast.

Atlantic Antics

Yesterday was the Atlantic Antic street fair along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I know because I live a block away from Atlantic Avenue, and took in the sights and sounds of the event, which stretched for a good mile and a half or so. The temperature was in the upper sixties, and the sky was cloudless. It was a perfect day for a stroll.

Barely had I gotten there when I was yelled at about America’s involvement in Afghanistan. “We need to spend money where it REALLY belongs—on health care!” a guy yelled while failing to hand out fliers. No one was engaging him, despite his best efforts and one presumes the crowd’s general agreement. It’s one thing to read Frank Rich, it’s another to engage the maniacal guy at Atlantic and Boerum. How very un-Rich like that would be.

It was at this point that I noticed I was walking behind supporters of Bill Thompson, the comptroller who is running for mayor. There were two of them holding placards aloft, yelling “Bill Thompson for mayor!” This being a big event in a part of the town that could skew anti-Bloomberg, I wondered whether the candidate was leading the group himself, but he wasn’t—it was just those two, who received almost the same response as Mr. Afghanistan until someone yelled in passing, “Bill Thompson! That’s my man right there!”

By the time I got to Court Street, I was thinking about where exactly I was going to watch the Giants game when I came across a makeshift stage, constructed by the Parks department. There, a group of people were playing Middle Eastern music, and about a hundred people stood watching. “Stay here!” the MC urged. “Our first dancer is coming up right now!” He referred to her by name, which I have forgotten but remember had a real-world double meaning. We’ll call her Joy. Two minutes later, Joy was on stage dancing to the music. She was dressed in a brightly-colored silk-and-mesh outfit and looked exactly like a transexual. The crowd ate it up. I turned to leave.

Along the sidewalk, a man was playing a flute to accompany the music, to and for himself, in a storefront. A woman sitting in front of him shimmied to the music from the Parks Department speakers as Joy continued to swirl onstage.

I realized I was getting hungry. What to eat? There were so many choices. Most of them were standard street fair fare, like Italian sausage, french fries, fried cheese in many different forms and shish kebabs. There were several French restaurants along the route, and they hawked oysters and shrimp. There was even a crepe stand. My stomach was mostly full from the night before with spicy lamb meat, so I wasn’t tempted by the heavier stuff, though I did inquire as to the price of a falafel sandwich. I was told it was eight dollars, and resisted the urge to ask if he meant American currency.

By this point, I was almost back at my house, but I stopped to look at the offerings from the antique stores I’m too embarassed to go in. I learned very quickly that I should be saving old stuff—chairs that would be thrown out at a Queens school were fetching $600. The highlight were some high-ticket 50’s-era tin robot sculptures, which were arranged around a sign adminishing passsers by to “Please Do Not Touch the Robots.” Life lesson, learned.

After all this, I still needed food, so in the middle of this cross-cultural event in the heart of blue-and-Green Card America, I went two American classics: corn on the cob slathered in butter and salt, and lemonade, which I took back to my apartment. It was time for football! I knew the day would be better spent at the street fair, but I was drawn to kickoff like a kid to cotton candy. Sitting in front of the TV on a beautiful Sunday, I felt like I was participating in an American ritual as colorful and important as the street fair. Maybe I was just making excuses, but doesn’t football bring America together—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, generations and generations—just like the Atlantic Antic? The communists and the powerful? The sinner and the saints? The trannies and the… whoever?

Or am I just being corny?

Independents in New York: WTF?

Subtitle: “A Non-Partisan Political Rant”

I grew up in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, voters registered as Independents can vote in the Presidential primary of their choosing, and this always seemed to be an eminently reasonable way of doing things. The goal of the political process is to include as many people as possible, and this allowed voters who didn’t identify with either party to vote for anyone they felt like in the primaries. Unsurprisingly, I knew many Independents, and may have been registered as one myself at one point, I’m not sure.

(I do know that I launched my one and only ill-fated contrarian campaign for Mitt Romney against Ted Kennedy in 1994, but that was more of trying to show that I was an independent thinker in what I considered brainwashed Massachusetts. Young and foolish. Let’s move on.)

In New York, this is not the case. Independents cannot vote in the Presidential primaries. I was talking about this with a friend last night, who said that the logic behind it was likely an attempt by the parties to prevent any “gaming of the system” by, say, preventing independent Democrats from showing up and voting for a bad Republican candidate. The Web site Daily Kos recently advocated this strategy against John McCain in Michigan, encouraging Democrats to vote for Mitt Romney, and I’m rather disgusted by the whole affair. (You can’t make a name off complaining about the dirt in politics and then start throwing it yourself, the same way you can’t complain about the arguments made by a certain group of football fans, then start making them yourself). I think these fears are overblown: it doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, the faux electorate is opening up a Pandora’s Box by messing with the will of the people. Everyone stands to lose and almost no one stands to gain.

Still, that’s the law here in New York. Yet I know many people who are registered as Independents, likely because they don’t want to be classified as “belonging” to any political party which they don’t believe in wholeheartedly. For most of the elections here, that’s basically saying that they want to be kept independent of the process, instead of the Massachusetts ethos, where you independently choose where and when to enter it. My boss, who is more or less a pacifist who’s registered as an Independent, came in asking, “Did Hillary win New York?” I told him, “Of course,” and he answered, “That’s bullsh*t.” While I am an Obama supporter, my response was, “You don’t participate, so you have no right to complain.” And he doesn’t.

Let’s look at what party registration really is: it’s filling out a little box on a piece of paper. Even if you want to be registered as in Independent on principle for the long haul, it would take less than one minute to change your registration to vote in the Presidential primary. This campaign’s been going on for more than one year, so there was ample warning for this change. City residents can print the form here, and non-city residents can do it here. Then you send it in the mail and a little birdy sends you a confirmation a few weeks later that everything is changed. Ta-Da! You can switch from Democrat to Republican to Independent and back to your heart’s content (since originally posting, I have found out that a lot of this is not true). You can alternate parties by month, or based on the Knicks’ record. You can do whatever you want. You’re beholden to nobody. You’re independent to choose whomever you’d like to vote for (which always includes the option “None of the Above.”) An independent voter who actually gets to vote — what a concept!