Saturday, July 24, 2010

One night

Only after the tornado had swept through did he dare go out in the night.  From the window he could see the rain boring down as cars cowered on the sides of the streets.  Cords of lightening marbleized the sky and flashed through the apartment, keeping his daughter from sleep.  After it was over the sidewalks were streaked with long isles of silt left by the overwhelmed storm drains.  But people were venturing out, and the strange tornado had passed.

He met his two friends at the wine bar.  Above the din he could hear R&B songs he loved and knew well.  Occasionally voices would sing along with them.  The bar closed at a fairly early hour but they were still there as the tempo of the music picked up, as the bartender strutted behind the counter.  After the bottle of red was gone they ordered sangria.  This place made him feel sleek, that the people in the room were like the multitudes inside him.

They went to another bar, smaller and emptier.  He found refuge in vodka.  One of his friends had to leave, but the two remained.  The bartender was an artist who had made the earrings she was wearing.  She wrote down the address of her blog on two scraps of paper for them.  At some moment, when the two friends were talking about old and sad topics, he had enough of those old and sad thoughts.  He ordered some shots and decided that they would stop talking about the matter when the drinks arrived.  So they downed the shots -- the bartender poured one for herself, too -- and moved on, and his happiness returned.  A girl behind him was dancing to Lady Gaga, her arms long above her head, her eyes closed, smiling.  "Don't call my name, don't call my name, Alejandro."  He felt such joy and love!  The liquor had served its purpose.  The music, the dancing, himself and his friend at the corner of this bar.  Her earrings. 

Now they were in an empty diner.  He ordered spaghetti to sober up.  He didn't have any cash and the place wouldn't take cards.  He walked carefully to an ATM two blocks away and withdrew some money.  When he returned his friend was low in the booth and it was time to leave.

They were sitting on a bench in a median on Broadway.  Occasional white headlights coming forth, red taillights receding.  He closed his eyes to resolve himself, yet his mind pitched and rolled on its conflicting orbits.  The spaghetti returned, long and shining white on the soil.

He and his friend were walking up the street.  He suddenly realized that the darkness was paling, the sky softening into day.  He was embarrassed to see the morning come.  He wanted to be home.  He told his friend to get up, that now they should say goodbye and find a cab and abandon whatever was left of the night, before the light of a new day shamed him further.

He came home quietly into the gray light of the apartment.  His wife was on the sofa nursing their daughter.  She spoke softly, to avoid startling him, to welcome him back and to say good morning.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back to the gym

Tonight I went to my first non-Sunday morning gym class in a very long time.  I checked out the New York Sports Club on 125th Street for the first time, after getting all of the relevant details from L.  Where is the entrance again?  What floor do you take the elevator to?  When you come out, where are the towels?  The locker room?  The water fountain?  The studio?

I am always nervous when I go to a gym for the first time.  I assume someone will pick on me.  I have been fortunate to have never really been bullied before (except in some unpleasant professional situations, maybe, and also L can really become quite merciless under the right circumstances) yet I always fear some towel-snapping juicehead is waiting to attack.  Like if I spend too much time loitering on the gym floor, or if my gym performance is somehow not up to par, some dude is going to come sauntering up: "Ha ha, check out the poindexter!  Let's do that thing where we flush his head in the toilet!"  To combat this I make a point of walking very purposefully around the gym, even when I have no idea where I'm going, just to prove to all of my would-be tormentors that I know what I'm doing.  As a result tonight I basically walked two pointless laps around the weight area, trying to look as calm as possible while my eyes were darting around furiously trying to find a water fountain.  If things really get bad, I will just stop wherever I am and do some stretches, trying to find a recognizable landmark before I break into a flop sweat.  I did this tonight, and that's how a guy with biceps the size of my beloved daughter's head almost walked into me as I was touching my toes.  But hey, at least I looked like I knew what I was doing.

Once I finished my Lewis & Clark-style reconnaissance, I did a couple of pleasant miles on the treadmill and went to a weight training class.  The class was much worse than I expected; the light weights I picked originally turned out to be too heavy, so I had to go back for even lighter ones.  And shortly after that I reached that wonderful point in the workout where I couldn't even bear to hold any weight at all, so I was doing the exercises empty-handed, like a mime, but with less dignity. 

Yet even as that was happening I was thinking how great it felt to be there.  I really like group exercise scenarios -- having someone else deciding what to do and leading a group of people all contributing to the tacit peer pressure to show up and perform.  The culture of the 125th street gym seemed to be really pleasant.  A nice mix of people, a lot of classes going on (a couple hip hop classes, two spin classes, a couple of weight classes).  I feel like I've given myself a pass from going to the gym since the baby was born -- I should be home, after all, bonding with Alice and taking the burden from L -- but I think I will be making more of an effort to get to the gym to recapture some of the stuff I loved about our old neighborhood.  I'm really glad it worked out tonight -- that I was able to get there and that no one gave me a noogie or challenged me to arm wrestle -- and I know I will be hurting tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New TV

We have some really exciting news -- yesterday we got a new TV, one of them fancy flat-screen ones with the HD's.  We opted for the "Dynex" brand.  At first I thought Dynex was a new prescription drug I should ask my doctor about ("side effects may include dry mouth, chronic persperation, and nymphomania") but it turns out they just make TV's.  We spent a frustrating hour or so trying to get the screen resolution just right, trying to make sure our inputs were correct, comparing our zoom options, and checking to see that we weren't wasting our time on AV-2 when obviously we needed to be at HDMI-3.  What are we, farmers?

We christened our new television, which is the culmination of decades of innovation and technological breakthroughs and is designed to capture every individual raindrop, blade of grass, and glittering city light caught on camera, on a fantastically bad episode of "The Bachelorette."  I think the new TV heightened my own sense of shame and personal embarrassment on behalf of the participants, but otherwise it wasn't that different from normal, low-definition "Bachelorette."

What strikes me about this show is the weird cult mentality that seems to infect all the participants like a cold sore.   All of these people -- the bartenders, pharmaceutical representatives, teachers, lawyers, and medical equipment salespeople -- are linked along a sordid chain of previous contestants, starting with the Ur-Bachelor, who lived 3,000 years ago and rejected one contestant who went on to become the first Bachelorette, who in turn sent one of her cast-offs to be the next Bachelor, and on and on in perpetuity.   All of the participants reassure each other constantly that they are there for "the right reasons," such as serial making out and the opportunity to recreate pathetic school-girl fantasies of fairy tale romance.  And all of them aspire to be one of the lucky few who get to drag their chipper Bachelor or Bachelorette (with their telegenically capped teeth, angular jawbones, and classy hair extensions) back to their home towns, where their poor innocent family members have to spend a day ogling the couple and dividing into weird little interview clusters to talk about how all of them are all there for the right reasons.  It seems like a particularly exquisite hell to have to explain, justify and defend your make-believe-let's-pretend-TV relationship on camera to your grimacing parents, siblings, and in-laws.

All of this became much clearer thanks to the Dynex ("call your doctor if your retinal discoloration lasts longer than a week").  We have learned to fast forward through the actual date parts of the show, unless it looks like people are fighting.  Bring on the conflict!  Bring on the artifice!  Bring on the ugly cry!  These are the real right reasons to watch.

("...Please don't use Dynex if you're a werewolf.")

Monday, July 05, 2010

Independence Day weekend

We had a wonderful weekend.  But right now I am sitting at the table in our godforsaken apartment as the ceiling fan shoves great glaciers of hot air around the room and as beads of sweat gather at my temples.  It is so hot.  The heat bundles itself in these rooms and starts weighing down.  I expect the bed to buckle at any moment.  And it's 11 o'clock at night.

Friday:  We took the D and Q trains out to Brighton Beach and Coney Island.  Brighton Beach is the home of a large Russian population, and we ate lunch at a boardwalk Russian cafe, where we tried borscht for the first time.  Pretty darn good!  Like a weird gazpacho!  The quiet of Brighton Beach and the width of the boardwalk there reminded me of Rehoboth.  We walked across the hot sand to the water -- the sand of course being riddled with broken glass, because since this is New York City every nice thing must have an edge to it, which means that your typical idyllic beach will be liberally sprinkled with shrapnel -- and found the ocean to be freezing cold.  We continued up the way towards Coney Island, where we fought the urge to buy fried things and took in the spectacle.  I appreciated the history -- the parachute tower from the 1939 World's Fair, the amusement park rides from the same era.  Following our beach tradition, we had some photo booth pictures taken, and were happy to include Alice for the first time.  Later we ventured out onto the pier, passing fishermen and families and men cat-calling the women.  Looking back towards the beach, seeing the Wonder Wheel and the housing towers and the train snaking through it all, I was struck by the vastness of New York City.  Here we could feel ocean breezes, hear the caw of seagulls, see the wide blue sky over the water.  How many worlds, how many places this city contains.  (Walking along the beach, I was also struck by the sheer brazenness of people -- the  wildly inappropriate bathing suits, all those swathes of unrequested flesh -- that actually made me feel embarrassed for them, on their behalf, but I preferred to focus on the breadth of the City, thanks very much.)

Brighton Beach

Sunday: I started out Independence Day with a nice long run in the morning through Riverside Park.  As the heat settled on our skin and in our clothes, we walked down to Lincoln Center to watch a movie, baby in tow.  Here is our thinking: we did this last week with a matinee of "Toy Story 3," where the theater was empty and Alice was as well-behaved as one could reasonably expect.  L would jump out of her seat as soon as the baby started to fuss, and there was no issue.  Sunday we figured we would go see "Sex and the City 2: A Big Mistake" (see the pun there!) because (a) it's long, (b) it's playing in a place that's air-conditioned, and (c) everyone knows it's horrible, so no one will be there and it won't be a big deal with the baby.

Well, apparently the bitter old women of Manhattan did not get that memo, because they were out in full force.  Why were they seeing this movie everyone hated, six weeks after it originally came out?  Worst of all, the theater was configured in such a way that you entered by the movie screen, which means all the other patrons see you as you come in.  I could feel a collective wave of feminine disdain overtake us as we entered with our stroller, so we hustled to the back row to suffer the withering gaze of some freedom-hating old hag.  When I came back from getting popcorn, I actually took off the hat and sunglasses I had been wearing, so people wouldn't think I was the jerk who brought a baby to the movie.

But you know what, haters?  We did bring a baby, and she did great.  L had to take her out a couple times, and I had a few artificial coughing fits to camoflauge her gurgling, but she did great.  No crying. (We did note the fact that under normal circumstances, we would be part of the disdain brigade, harrumphing about how a movie theater is a completely inappropriate place to bring a baby, but thanks to the challenges of parenting and perhaps even a slight mellowing of my temper, perhaps I am evolving.)

Unfortunately, the movie was horrific.  It was really offensive against the middle east, and somehow the characters were even more insufferable than usual.  Why does Charlotte have a full-time nanny?  She doesn't have a job!  All the characters who were mothers sucked at it.  And their partners, the fathers, were simpering and spineless.  And the karaoke scene made me want to gouge my eyes out.  Other than that, two thumbs up!

We walked back to the piers on 125th Street and set up an impromptu picnic to see the fireworks.  We made friends with the sweet family to our left and watched the sunset sink across the Hudson.  The weather was perfect and the people were friendly, kids chasing each other and people eating sandwiches on their blankets.  When the fireworks started we found that our view was blocked by a clump of trees -- and then hundreds of people were shifting and jostling for a better view -- but at that point it didn't matter.

125th Street piers

Monday: Today I took my first Manhattan bike ride, after a morning stop at the local bike shop to outfit the old bike I had as a teenager, which has been dormant for about 15 years.  After pumping the tires, checking the brakes, and buying a helmet, this evening I rode down the Hudson to about 72nd Street and back.  I know it's no excuse for an actual workout, but it felt great to move, to force some air around me in the illusion of coolness.

This afternoon, after lunch, I took Alice home alone so that L could enjoy a small piece of the day.  The baby and I stayed in the cool oasis of her room. We read my favorite children's colonialist allegory, "The Story of Babar," as well as "Make Way for Ducklings," and a brief selection of "Moby-Dick," which she did not enjoy.  Then I was holding her in my lap, and we were both sitting there rocking, me relaxing in the cool air and quiet moment, feeling her weight on me, and the baby with the pacifier in her mouth, restful in my arms.  I looked at her and she was smiling sweetly, even with the pacifier, and then something happened and she was looking so clearly in my eyes, and smiling so broadly -- I started speaking to her and she would coo right in response, her mouth wide and open and happy, her eyes so intent on mine, laughing together.  At that moment I expected her to speak, to say my name or her own, or to tell a joke, or to laugh like her mother.  For a second she was not a baby, but my friend.  A brief moment of such connection.  During those moments I wouldn't have been surprised by anything.  It was so lovely.

Eventually it passed, and her adorable haze returned, clouding her thoughts, her needs.  But that moment!  My mysterious daughter.

It's been a wonderful weekend.  Now time for a last cold shower, and an escape into sleep, on top of the sheets, under the fans.