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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Goodbyes are Hard

They're hard, and they're exhausting. This week has been filled with goodbye lunches, goodbye dinners, goodbye drinks with different sets of friends. It always feels more final than he probably is. And it's gut wrenching! Last night was the toughest so far, saying goodbye to the Punk Ropers. 

It's funny how you can usually trace the good things in your life back to a source of something you thought could never be positive. I'd signed up at the YMCA about three years ago as a way to deal with an event that had me sad and angry. I thought working out might get me the balance I needed.

I never expected that just signing up at the local Y could lead to meeting a friend that introduced me to an amazing group of people. I always looked forward to Wednesdays playful, childlike jump roping classes. At my first happy hour with them, which I went to alone, I was approached by so many friendly people that really wanted nothing more than to get to know me. That's one of the things that amazed me about this group. Everyone is so genuinely welcoming. And after that, they're incredibly supportive. They notice your improvements. They cheer you on. And they mean it!

Looking around the room every Wednesday I was proud to call so many types of people my friends. The artists, the musicians, the photographers, the DJ, the bartender, the film guy, the food stylist, the ceramicist. They worked together outside of class. They inspired each other. It inspired me. Because I don't have any of these artistic talents!

Last night, as they all gathered to send us off in the back garden of a sweet restaurant in north Greenpoint, it seemed unreal that I won't see them for classes, for happy hours, at parties, around town.

My hope is to teach Punk Rope out west and create a similar group of real, genuine, talented people that care for each other and the community. It sounds sappy, but I hope I can recreate the spirit somewhere new. Maybe that will be my talent.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Transitions are Hard

Alternate title: Transitioning Back to a Lifestyle of Which you Were Previously Comfortable but Not So Much Anymore Because First Transition Must Have Been Successful.

When I first moved to NYC, it was some of the hardest times of my life. I'd made the decision to pave the way for a new life for us, even though I had no apartment, no permanent job and not many friends. I stayed with a high school friend I hadn't seen in years who lived way down in Brooklyn. He was just as lonely as me and worked the night shift at a bakery in Staten Island, so we never even saw each other long enough to commiserate.

One of the weirdest transitions for me was actual transit -- the MTA. I hated waiting for that Q train outside in all types of weather. I couldn't stand that half mile walk to the station, especially in the rain. And when I finally got a seat on the train, I couldn't believe people would just squeeze right in to the seat next to me. Strangers were always squished next to me on the train -- and it baffled me that they didn't think twice about it.

The train ride to Manhattan was an hour and 40 minutes. 

It was hard getting used to a small apartment. The last two years in college I shared a house with friends. I was used to two levels, four bedrooms, two bathrooms. A yard. A deck. Space. And now I was shoved into a tiny living room that I shared with countless roaches.

The neighborhood was almost entirely Jewish, save for my friend and I. This meant there were no creature comforts for me to grab onto. The grocery store -- which was closed on Saturdays, of course -- didn't have egg nog at Christmas. There was no bacon, egg and cheese option at the Dunkin' Donuts. That Ash Wednesday I spent the entire evening shuffling around looking for a Christian church. I was unsuccessful.

Then the call came that my car was sold. My parents were thrilled. I hung up the phone and tried not to cry. There was no turning back now. No more personal space while traveling. No more control of when we get to go. Back to waiting for a train that, when I finally get on it, I'll be stuck on for close to 2 hours with nothing but my sad thoughts to entertain me.

Thinking back on it, I'm not sure how I found the willpower to stick with it. I guess I just knew it was part of the transition. I knew eventually I'd get a job, I'd find a place in a neighborhood right for me, Rob would move down and we would be together. Those were the only thoughts that kept me going.

And it all worked exactly like that. We moved into a great apartment near his brother in a neighborhood we loved. We were 20 minutes from Manhattan. Everything was open on Saturday. My taste for bacon shifted to kielbasa. Instead of the weekend car trips our friends back home took, we explored the city on foot. We walked to Williamsburg for bagels every Saturday. We learned the patterns of traffic and knew when it was safe to cross the street. We watched the neighborhood grow and flourish. We stayed in Greenpoint for 8 years.

And now here we are making the reverse transition, and I realize how deeply rooted in the city I am. I'm already nostalgic for that terrible G train. I've learned to love being shoved in with the other straphangers -- it meant we were all in something together, trying to succeed in the city, taking the same route to Grand Central. We're schools of fishes traveling in packs, trudging up to the sidewalk, breathing the same polluted air, off to walk the rest of the way to the offices where we try to make something of ourselves.

It's funny how I used to want a car so badly, but this time, buying a new car was a process I didn't enjoy. We ended up buying the same make and model of the car my parents sold years earlier. It's ten years newer and it has a hatchback instead of a spoiler, because I'm 30 now, not 16. I've only driven it a handful of times. I've found I'm a little shaky behind the wheel now.

Our new apartment will be the top level of a house. It has two bedrooms. There's a deck and a yard. It has its own washer dryer. There's a private driveway where we'll park our Subaru. 

We're already planning to walk everywhere.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Nostalgia Part 2: Music

Once I got to thinking of all the great things we've done in NYC, my mind kept going back to shows we've seen. Not just the musicians themselves but the venues, old classic theater-style institutions and standing-room-only warehouse-style lofts. It was fun to decide last minute to go see a show, at a place we'd never been to before and an artist we'd never seen before. There was always something new to experience.

We saw Brad Mehdau play unworldly jazz piano at a little performance room at NYU, then again at a tiny stage just a few steps below the sidewalk in the West Village. We saw Beck and MGMT at the Palace Theater, which is just as cool as it sounds. There was the last minute trip to see Fiona Apple at Terminal Five, crowded into the middle with hundreds of iPhone-welding strangers, our ears ringing the rest of the night. There was the epic Leonard Cohen concert at Madison Square Garden, a man pushing 80 years old rocking the massive space. Same goes for the long jam sessions by Neil Young at the new Barclays Center (but he wasn't as great at Lenny C). A fellow Graceland-loving friend and I went to see Paul Simon one night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, completely star struck. We saw Ryan Adams at Carnegie Hall, on the last row possible, getting dizzy looking straight down onto the one man show. Everything anyone said echoed across the whole space. The acoustics made it feel almost intimate.

Then there were the more hipster-inspired shows. We got into the Rosebuds one year and went to see them at the Bell House. They performed one song on the floor, and we all hunkered down together to perform "Bow to the Middle." We saw Ambulance LTD at the Bell House too, and got so into their music we saw them again in the small basement of Union Hall in Park Slope.

We saw Yeasayer at a Pier on the Hudson. Neko Case's beautiful face and songbird voice on a sunny afternoon at Summer Stage at Central Park. Andrea Bocelli on another night at the Central Park Mainstage, on a gloomy summer night with thousands of people hiding under umbrellas but refusing to leave.

Brooklyn Bowl was one of our favorites. We could go for a 10 minute walk and be surrounded by the crowd, watching RJD2 spinning tracks and being completely mesmerized. Almost to the point of not seeing Aziz Ansari right next to me. (Almost.) We discovered Dead Confederate here one night and became faithful fans, heading to the Mercury Lounge one a random weeknight to see them. We liked the Mercury Lounge and went another night to see Fujiya & Miyagi (and while they were great, I admit I was a little disappointed to find they weren't Japanese).

There were the offbeat shows outside of NYC too. Radiohead in New Jersey, and we won't travel to NJ for just any show. Then the night I dragged us to Weird Al in Long Island. Once I saw him perform in a fat suit I felt like could be complete for me.

There were some random makeshift venues too. Like the Foreigner show at Citi Field after a Mets game. A ballpark makes such a great venue. It really made me wish I had gone to the Pink Floyd concert at Yankee Stadium. But the weirdest venue might have been the Apple Store in SoHo. We saw Talib Kweli perform a random show to only a handful of seats on the upper level. I'd spent the day bicycling through Central Park with friends and finished off the day with hip hop downtown. That was one of the best perks of living in the city. You didn't even know what your day would turn into. Sometimes there was no need for planning.

There were shows we went to to support budding musician friends, and friends of friends. There were the shows in the back room of the Gutter, underground on Bleecker St, at jazz center Fat Cat, at Rockwood Music Hall with the owner himself manning the lights in the small space above the door.

It's hard to believe I won't be shouting chants of Encore! with the crowds anymore. But I feel like as long as I remember the possibilities that come with simply being surrounded by the energy of the city, we'll be back. Until then, I'll have to live vicariously through my music-loving friends. Instagram everything, ok guys?

Friday, June 21, 2013

One Week to Go!

It's down to the wire now -- one more week before we pack up the Uhaul and head out of here. I'm proud to report we've done good work on our bucket list, which seems to get changed around pretty often, but we've hit the big ones:

1) The Cloisters. We drove up on my birthday and saw the tapestries, the old Medival works of art, the beautiful garden with old European architecture. It's like a secret museum in a secret, secluded spot on a hill. I'm surprised it took us so long to get there. 

2) We didn't get to see the Nets, but we DID see the Mets. Twice. I didn't even have it on my list that they had to win, or that Foreigner had to play a live free show after, but that's the way the dice rolls in NY. You make a little bit of effort and the city rewards you with extra awesome.

3) Dinner at Eleven Madison Park. We did that. I'll be eating noodles at home for the next four years to make up for it, but it's just as well. Blog post on EMP here. That honey duck with lavender was amazing.

4) We saw a rooftop film. I forgot to put it on the list before, but this is something we'd wanted to do for a long time, and when a friend texted me to invite us last Saturday, we went. There was a live local band and animated shorts. They weren't all my favorite, but I'll miss the art and creativity hidden underground and above treetops and everywhere else in NYC.

5) I knocked off the sushie biggies. We ate at Yasuda and had the best omakase either of us have ever had. I got to try Karumazushi, which has been on my list since I ready Garlic & Sapphires years ago.

Updated to-do list:

1) See the old City Hall subway stop (still)
2) Go to Spa Castle (Because a day at a regular spa wouldn't be enough, right?)
3) Ride the ferry (it's only a few blocks from me; I have no excuse for this)

Even if we don't hit the rest of these, I'll be happy with everything we've been able to do lately. Right now I'm getting a little more focused on the big road trip ahead. I've never had to wonder things like "Should we make a pit stop in Casper, Wyoming?" before. It's kind of exciting. Sights are shifting to the road ahead.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Nostalgia & Gratitude

It's weird to live what used to be my normal life with the constant thought of whatever I'm doing is the last time I'll do it. Will this be my last drink at Annisa? Is this piece of sashimi the last I'll have at Momo Sushi Shack? Will I ever walk the Williamsburg Bridge again?

Then I get to thinking of all the great things I've done in NYC in the past... almost eight years now. And I just feel lucky to have ever done them at all.

I've been in Greenpoint long enough to remember the good old days of the McCarren Park Pool, before it was the disaster of an actual pool again. There was the time we walked through the park and heard live Modest Mouse through the speakers... then saw them at dinner. There was the time we sat outside the walls to listen in to Wilco because we didn't want to pay the (super small) admission fee. There were the summer pool parties where we'd listen to random bands and drink beer and watch people play volleyball in the pit. This was before they moved the "pool parties" to the waterfront, before the loads of security, before pets weren't allowed, before most the people there either came from Manhattan or the brand new luxury apts.

Down at Prospect Park, there was the time we brought a picnic and listened to the Met opera on the longest day of the year, watching the day turn to dusk and the bats fly overhead. And it was free! We went to Celebrate Brooklyn and heard an awesome mix of hip hop with Talib Kweli and Mos Def. We watched Enter the Dragon with the soundtrack dubbed over by a Brooklyn band. We drank beer in the shade to Blonde Redhead, we snoozed to Bon Iver.

There were art openings and random pop-up museums. Brooklyn flea markets that came and went out of nowhere. Smorgasburg every Saturday, with dozens of food vendors right on the water. Before it went all hipster-yuppy with kids and babies and strollers. When it was just dogs, lots of dogs. Pre-hipstocolypse. This past weekend I was shocked to see so many older men with SLRs that looked like they just strolled out of their brand new luxury loft and wanted to document this strange new neighborhood. They're becoming the new normal themselves.

Greenpoint alone has hosted so many great events. There was that day they had a mac 'n' cheese competition and everyone in the neighborhood went on a crawl to the bars and restaurants for a free taste. The annual Phil Collins Day parade on Franklin St. The random brass bands that came by Greenpoint Ave some nights, and all the windows lit up as elderly Polish and young 20-somethings looked out. The time local chef Cody Utzman was on Chopped and cooked the featured meals for us as we watched at the bar called TBD. The drinks we had at places that are no more -- Blackout Bar, Gypsy Bar, Veronica People's Club. The times we saw new piers and waterfront parks pop up, prettifying what was once empty and industrial. The time they filmed a tv show right outside our apartment and we thought some place was legit getting robbed. The mornings we woke up to the sound of whirring and looked outside to see hundreds of people whizzing by on the bike tour. The time I took a walk and found the Boardwalk Empire set, before it aired, before they blocked it off to the public. Watching Girls and wondering if life really does just happen to revolve around Greenpoint.

The classes! I've learned so much random stuff in NYC. There was the trapeze class where I learned to jump, swing, and latch on to a guy on another trapeze. Where else can you learn this circus stuff? There was the Italian cooking class where we learned a debone a rabbit, and the dessert class I took with the pastry chef from Eleven Madison Park. I mean, come on! I made a puppet at a puppet workshop by myself on a random Saturday because no one else wanted to get a Groupon with me, and I didn't care. Then there was the exercise. There were zumba classes, jump rope classes, pole dancing classes! Yoga in sunlit, hardwood lofts in Astor Place and in Williamsburg. The Punk Rope games -- where I came in first place one year! The Half Marathon, where I came in 18,000-something place.

The food. The bars. The rooftop parties. Dinner parties, brunch parties. Always new places to try, new people to meet, new experiences to have. We never had the same night out.

I'm about to trade all this in for a comfortable two-bedroom a mile off campus in Pullman, Washington. I'll probably have one or two places to grab dinner. There's one movie theater.

I could be sad to leave the place I came to experience for a year or two and ended up staying almost a full decade. I could be scared to move away from a city that both challenges me mentally and wraps me up like a baby. But instead, I just feel grateful that my 20s were spent experiencing city life. I grew and changed as my neighborhood did the same. Now I'm 30 and I'm moving out. It seems right.

I'm ready.