Congestion is the quintessential picture of Manhattan. Elbows to ribs. Purses to chest. Hopscotching to potholes and train vents, around strollers and hand-holders. The melding of tourists, Manhattanites and Manhattan migrants. Their eyes diverted from where they are--ahead, away, in their maps or at their handheld devices--ignoring each other. Ignoring their symbiosis.

The most obvious hub for tourist-native meltdown is Times Square.

But this weekend, that all changed. The city decided to try something new, something that could be indefinite if all goes well. No more cars, no more traffic. Welcome to Times Square: The Pedestrian Mall.

A Memorial Day glimpse from The New York Times

This is an interesting sight, yes. But the larger picture, or perhaps, an aerial view, is even more interesting. Tourists are isolated in this neon mecca. Manhattan migrants are on the outskirts passing out coupons to Broadway shows. Cabs of Manhattanites are beyond the border of cones, racing to get from downtown to uptown. Divisions have been made.

Last Sunday, I wasn't aware of the city commissioner's latest public space project when on my way from Central Park to the theater (note my NY-savvy terminology, as opposed to "watch some play"), all traffic came to a standstill and was diverted in another direction. Seven blocks from the theater, my friend and I hopped out of the cab, already late, and started running in our cute summer matinee outfits, dodging tourists and peddlers and families of five. We avoided eye contact and crosswalk signals. We were on a mission. However, I still managed to take note of marquees announcing Jeremy Irons in "Impressionism" and James Gandolfini in "God of Carnage." I did a quick take at the mile-high flashing Coke billboard. I smelt the roasted nuts coming from the street vendor.

I suppose the symbiosis of New York can also happen to the person.



bridge - (n.) a connecting, transitional, or intermediate route or phase between two adjacent elements, activities, or conditions.

Two months ago, I lived in the city of bridges (eight to be exact) and three months from now, I will live there again. That's why I thought it was odd that this weekend as I meandered through the pockets of Brooklyn, the only pictures I took were of bridges.

Not once did I pick up my camera when I walked down tree-lined Greenpoint, much like Portland's Mississippi Avenue, crowded with patios of young people nibbling on eggs florentine; or when I stared up at the rows of brownstones in Fort Greene, an east coast version of my Nob Hill neighborhood with mismatched walkups stretched out from the sidewalk; or when I perused the Dumbo flea market, housed in a stone archway between contemporary art galleries, like the Pearl. Instead, I never lost sight of the Brooklyn Bridge from the moment I got off the train in Brooklyn Heights to when I trotted downhill to the flea market toward the water. That was when I finally took out my camera, mesmerized by the sheer heft of its foundation, the gothic detail of its towers--confident, grandiose, storied--its suspension stringent yet dipped in feminine curve. As I turned away to head home, that's when I realized I hadn't stopped to capture anything else all day. 

After I got back on the train and navigated my way through closed stations and repaired lines, and arrived at my sublet, where I walked past my roommates who are practically strangers, I went into my room, painted the brightest of blue days, and downloaded my pictures. 

Suddenly, the bridges seemed quite fitting. 



I've recently been reminded of a few pet peeves. But my irritations weren't as cut and dry as I remembered them. For instance, I hate...

1. Strange men telling me to "smile" when I walk down the street. But it's not that I'm upset by the attention (or any attention), I just don't appreciate people telling me what to do. Catcalls, whistles and "hey mamacita"s don't bother me. (Heck, sometimes, I'll even say "hey" back.) But being bossed around does. 

Today, on a my way for a run, (yes, I walk to a park, I run around it, and then walk back), dressed in faded track pants and a hoodie, I felt a man brush up beside me. He put his smiling face in mine and started saying way too much. I had my iPod on so I continued to ignore him, but when he kept blabbering, I finally pulled an earphone out. "You should at least get a greater pace going if you're going to exercise. Move those arms!" I put my earphone back in.  I mean, really, what woman is going to be charmed by such advice or even demands of emotion, like smiling? (Okay, maybe one who doesn't have the same issues with authority as me.) Hell, maybe these guys just get off on the look of female contempt. 

Sometimes known as "WTF"?

2. Cats. I realize now that it's not cats that bug me, it's cat people, or any pet owner for that matter. Why must they only talk about their animals? The same rules apply to people with children: Cutesy stories about little ones regurgitating breakfast are not interesting to people who don't have them. 

My new roommate has a cat. She's kinda cute, white and fluffy; I can deal with her. (The cat that is; actually, the roommate, other than what follows, isn't so bad either.) But when I came home the other day, there was another cat. This one looked like every other gray straggler on every other street corner or in every other bodega. (Really, what is up with cats roaming down the aisles of the mini marts? Isn't there a NY health code against this somehow?) Whitey was not a fan of sharing her territory and went into hiding. Frenzy ensued. Trying to get Whitey out, talking about getting her out and the social breakdown of cats became the preoccupation of my roommate for the next several hours. I nodded and listened, when all I wanted to do was watch the "I Love Money" reunion show and eat my string cheese. 

Okay, I get why she thinks I'd be interested in what's consuming her immediate world. Sure, I'm self-involved too. But at some point, when I notice people have lost interest or have stopped humoring me, I'll snap out of whatever diatribe I've ventured off on. (Another one of my pet peeves is boredom - being subject to it and inducing it.) 

I think the "New York City Cat Meetup Group" needs to do more advertising. They have less than 300 members. (This may be a reflection of what I knew all along - people in NY have way better things to do than hole up in an apartment with a cat. Well, most do anyway.) I think social networking groups for cat people would not only rescue bystanders like me from nights like this, but these groups would also take care of the source of the problem. Such as why cat owners choose companionship with an animal that snubs most humans and looks perpetually pissed off. 

(I was going to apologize for cattiness of this entire entry, but I think I'll apologize instead for using a bad pun and then pretending that I didn't purposely use it by apologizing and overusing parenthesis.)



Several nights ago, I learned firsthand that there are two sides to my Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg: Hipster and Hasidic.

To the north is hipsterville--with sprinklings of ethnic color for good measure (pricey vintage stores and all-day brunch spots alongside $5 T-shirt marts and mobile fruit stands). To my south is the home of more than 60,000 Hasidic Jews. (Yes, 60,000. Trust me. Keep reading.)

While I was aware of their existence (I mean, I've seen a number of spiraling sideburns linger on the Broadway border before), I didn't I expect to find more action in their neighborhood at 10 p.m. than I'd regularly see around the dive bars on the other side of the tracks.

Apparently, my friend and I picked the right night for a walk. On Hasidic turf, on what to us was just a regular Monday, kids were running down sidewalks screaming Yiddish, and men were popping out of synagogues and bakeries that were, for some reason, still open. Upon further inspection, I noticed all these males were coming and going from a barricaded intersection. Here, in this closed-off enclave, children and men gathered around what appeared to be a scarecrow, or a dummy constructed of sticks, hanging from 10 foot pole. A ragdoll ready for sacrifice.

My friend and I stared, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did, so we kept on walking. (Note: We were the only non-Hasids out and about.) When we got to the next intersection, we saw another sacrificial totem. Then another. This one had people dancing and singing around it. This one, suddenly, went up in flames.

At this point, I needed to get the scoop. One man explained to me that the ceremony is honor of Rabbi Simeon, who was born and died (by being set on fire) on the same day (yesterday).

I'm not sure how long this went on; I probably went to bed before these pre-mitzvahed kids did. But the hood creates an interesting dichotomy, and apparently a hotbed of conflict. Upon further research, I found out that Williamsburg Hasids hate hipster fashion as much as the rest of us.

From an article in last September's New York Magazine:

"I have to admit, it's a major issue, women passing through here in that dress code," Simon Weisser, a member of Community Board 1 in Williamsburg-Greenpoint, told the Post.




I grew up 15 minutes away from Pearl Harbor. However, I didn't step foot on the USS Arizona until I was 28. Blame it on my lack of interest in historical guided tours, youth's fixation on the immediate present, or my taking for granted what was in my backyard, but it took moving away from Hawaii and coming back on vacation with a boyfriend before I even thought of visiting the WWII landmark. He was the one who suggested we go.

Don't get me wrong, I know it's disconcerting for me to be impassive about an event that killed or wounded nearly 4,000 people where I grew up; it happened only five years before my father was born. I can only take solace in that I'm not alone in my indifference. Many of the friends I grew up with have never been either, with the exception of maybe a third-grade field trip. 

Since I can't recall a time when the bombings have made their way into any causal or even political discussion had or overheard in Hawaii, it could be argued that now, two generations after the attack, local people think of Pearl Harbor as just another base, another exit on the freeway that they pass on their way about their daily business. The bombings happened during a time most of us have never lived through on a corner of an island we usually have no reason to visit. Its impact has been relegated to a few paragraphs in textbooks, a part of American history, which is much different than Hawaiian history and less pertinent to local culture. I believe because of its geography, Hawaii always has, and probably always will have, a strange disconnect with Mainland America. 

The other day, I ventured to Ground Zero for the first time. I have been to New York on one other occasion since 9-11, but having made the token tourist stops on a pre-9-11 visit in 1998 (Statute of Liberty, Times Square, Central Park), I didn't think to do anything but simply be on vacation (i.e. shop, eat, drink) while I was here last. Visiting Ground Zero honestly slipped my mind. (Again, the only excuse I'll offer is that murky Hawaiian/American paradox: I'm almost too familiar with the tragedy's impact because I'm a media-consuming American, but the event's distance, enormity and its aftermath has left me somewhat desensitized because I'm a self-centered West Coaster, and well, a media-consuming American. Like I said, I'm not proud of my bizarre disassociation or my priorities. I know if I were a tourist from another country, this would probably be the first place I'd go.)

Almost eight years after 9-11, if there weren't posters advertising the soon-to-open September 11th Museum stapled to the site's perimeter, a tribute center in a neighboring storefront or a staircase leading to a covered walkway for photo ops, Ground Zero, almost, almost could pass as another construction site in the city. Sure, a steady stream of people circle this block of Lower Manhattan, but a steady stream of people plow through every block of Manhattan. Ditto for the cops manning the fenced-up site; cops commonly patrol "no trespassing" zones.

In the covered overpass, I was one of several tourists taking pictures through a roped-off glass window. Behind us, businessmen in designer suits shuffled off to the World Financial Center at the other end of the walkway. 

After I took some photos, I paced the overpass for a bit, stopping at several windows, trying to look past the cranes and scaffoldings. But I felt like I couldn't strain my neck far enough to get inside this space that was now just a dock for steel, concrete and piping; I would never be close enough to walk in the dirt where those buildings once stood. After a few minutes, I joined the rest of the tourists. I took a last photo and walked away.

I wandered to the FDNY memorial wall, located off a side street. I found another handful of tourists reading several handwritten tributes. Around the dedication plaque were a few bouquets of dried flowers.


When the memorial was resurrected in 2006.

Of course I'd be silly to think I'd find New Yorkers grieving here on their lunch break. Naturally, I'm sure they avoid this crowded area as they would any crowded area. But I don't assume to know what goes through a New Yorker's mind, nor would I ever suggest that 9-11 compares to Pearl Harbor, an event that happened 67 years ago. However, time, memory and the instinct to move on--call it self-serving, human nature, or simply survival--make curious allies.



Noise comes up a lot in my writing. I seek loud, musical, buzzing distraction when I want to escape my own head; I absorb sensational disturbances to mask internal ones. For instance, I often put on my iPod to walk three blocks to a boisterous bar because I've been sitting at my desk all day, struggling to admit on the page that I've turned into my mother.

One of the things that's always attracted me to New York is, in fact, noise. But unlike the pretentious noise I succumbed to when I lived in LA--paparazzi flash, celebrity buzz, the jingle of keys given to the valet--NY noise has always seemed more authentic. I romanticized the notion that because one was surrounded by Manhattan's constant chaos--umbrellas clashing down Lexington, the stress of honking cabs, men muttering various languages in front of bodegas--one couldn't help but be aware, alive even, especially as a newcomer. In the only U.S. city that matters, every moment would be The Moment. 

Now that I'm here (okay, I'm only one week in), I have yet to concede my romantic delusions of NY, but now I believe that sometimes noise is just that. Noise.

There's one place I've grown accustomed to quiet--my home. It's my refuge. Currently, I'm staying in a loft where the JMZ trains run one story above me and the tracks block the view of my living room window. 

My view

Alright, so the cheesy part of me loves the sound of trains rushing by every four minutes. ("I am so in NY!" this cheesy part of me boasts.) But I'm also right at a train stop, convenient for traveling, but inconvenient for sleeping. Screeching tires and the recorded voice of "You are on the westbound J train. The next stop is Marcy Avenue. Watch for the closing doors, please," are constants. Although I do admit, it does get a little meditative after awhile.

In a converted loft (under the train in Brooklyn), conversions are made cheaply. I'm convinced that not only the walls in my apartment are made of plywood but so are the walls in the entire building. Apparently one neighbor has a drum set and the another just likes to play Rock Band. On one side of my bedroom wall, my neighbors always seem to either be chatting or cooking bacon, and on the other, I can hear my roommate punching the buttons on her Blackberry, which means that I can also hear every sigh she breathes into the phone and vice versa. Last night, as I lay in bed trying to read (yup, I was home and actually reading), my two roommates had a rant session about their exes after one walked through the door at midnight. "I hate her so much. If she comes back here, I will beat her," one says of the other's ex-girlfriend. About her own failed relationship she adds, "I'm realizing I can be without him. I'm working on my support system. [Phone rings.] Oh wait, I gotta take this. So-and-so just sent me this link on Facebook and maybe I can get into such-and-such for free on Friday."

Nothing against my temporary roommates; they are actually very sweet and accommodating. And living with them here in this apartment is very New York, or very young New York--in a large building with affordable rent in a hip area, surrounded by the sounds of all night partying and trains letting people off at 5 a.m. But my current living situation also serves as a reminder that I'm glad I'm no longer 25. 

Me at 25. Yikes.



... in NYC ...

1. From the window of a weekend rental in the Lower East Side: A sluggish parade of middle agers chanting "smoke more blunts" down St. Marks Place during lunchtime.

2. Peeking into a train car as I walked out of the subway: A man doubled over, his shoe submerged in a pool of chunky, blood orange puke.

3. In an art gallery in Greenwich Village: A svelte woman in head-to-toe black (long-sleeved silk dress, ruffly collar, tights, four-inch heels) with a matching black yorkie perched on her shoulder.

4. On Broadway in Williamsburg under the JMZ train: A police car slowly driving past three young women crossing the street. The passenger cop leers out from the window, jerks his head and grins in their direction.

5. From the showroom of Top Shop in Soho: The demise of 80s fashion. One-shoulder gold lame tunics, stretch pants with triangle cutouts and flower-embroidered acid wash short shorts.

Proof that there is nothing left to be milked from the 80s. Trendsetters, you may now move along. 



Street food consumed by 3 gals over a 3 day period in NYC: 

Slices of pizza: 9
Hot dogs: 2
Bags of candied nuts: 2
Giant pretzels: 2
Bottles of water: 25+

(Side note: Ounces of water needed to pre-hydrate before drinking alcohol: 24. Ounces needed to hydrate per drink while drinking: 6. Number of times this information was used while drinking: 0. Number of mornings spent regretting not using this information and overcompensating for it: 3.)

After three days of street grease, I agree with everything about this picture--his sentiment, the name of his cart and the haze.