@UWS café, one Wed. in Dec., 9am
The early hours are the hours of the regulars. The woman in the back grading papers, the other woman with a book, and the man with the newspaper. This week the mommy table is empty, school’s probably out.
The local daily parliament is in session: Four-five men in their 70’s sit and discuss politics and poetry and foreign-relations. Without a doubt retired professors. Today they are in the company of a 40th-ish looking man, a younger version of themselves. He must be a therapist or coach or social worker or wise man. Or perhaps, as my colleague C. later suggested, he was running a focus group. He was talking to them about aging. I am too far to be able to hear every word, but I hear some. The young man says: aging is about having to learn to do new things. There is a brief silence as people gather their thoughts. One of the professors, possibly the philosopher, says “Well, that depends on how you contextualize learning” and a conversation begins.
They are giving examples from their lives and attaching it to some philosophy or world view. It sounds like they are experiencing something very meaningful. They are relaxed and laughing and speak in turn.
My café-au-lait and cinnamon swirl are made to perfection. I am reading Paul Celan. This is here, the time is now.
@Downtown Chelsea-Union Square café, mid-Nov., shortly after the NYC primary elections
This place is power central. Not the cut throat Wall Street ends justify the means way, and not the power hungry of DC politics, but there is certainly a vibe here, an energy all its own. The power in fueled into positive energy by some measure of thoughtfulness or awareness or sensitivity. Or not. Sometimes it is just power.
Shortly after the NYC primary election I was sitting @ tarallucci e vino, absorbed in my book and not paying much attention to the conversations around me. Some twenty minutes later, and shift in tables. The two guys at the table to my right get up and leave, and a young man takes their table. I look up and move my stuff to make room. The young man to the right of the table that just left, is all excited and starts a conversation.
Did you hear what they were saying? He asks me, and proceeds to tell the newcomer and me, that the two both worked for the primary candidates, Quinn and de Blasio. They were both telling insider stories of their candidates, calling them drunk and abusive and rash and so on. And the whole time they are talking, I am tweeting live what they are saying, says our local host.
I am speechless on so many levels, but my first though is not, how could you, but, those two guys must have known this would happen.
So much for trust.
But most days it is not like this at all. People are civilized and are having pleasant conversations. My least favorite are the interviews. Interviews don’t seem to take place at offices anymore, just in cafés. Most of the time it becomes obvious very early on that this is going nowhere, but the interviewee is still trying to give it all she’s got. My favorite are two people with some work connection catching up. There are artist and designer, nutritionist and web designer. People working in the same office, people who went to school together. They are for the most part doing interesting things and often sound very invested, although almost as often they are trying to sell themselves. Yet, they are not robotic and not uniform. Each one has a unique personality and is candid about their strengths and weaknesses.
@upstate café, Winter Solstice
Sitting here at the crossroads of route 23 and 22, the people around me are a mix of weekenders as myself, the local antique shop owner, a few people who may be local or weekenders. The weekenders of Columbia County are unlike those of the Hamptons (designer cloths) or the Berkshires (tweed). This is the land of sensible wool, solid leather shoes, a bit of country plaid or a cashmere sweater. At the table across from me are two couples. They could be us, including the prerequisite European accent. They are discussing the upcoming winter solstice, and each one offers something related. One of the men says the word Bravado. Actually, what he says is the efficacy of false bravado. Hands down a winner for the power of self-assurance.
@nyc subway #2train. Dec. 17, 9am
They were already on the train when I got on at 96th st. Not my first choice, being stuck in a crowded rush hour morning train with an entire third grade, but here I am. And it soon becomes evident that it’s not really so bad. A group of kids around nine years old are seated along one side of the car, and an equal size group is standing. In all about 15 students, one teacher and one assistant. The kids are quiet and well behaved. The teacher is engaging them in an activity. She is calling out a letter of the alphabet, and the students call our professions that begin with that latter. It’s going pretty well until Q is called and no one comes up with a profession. The teacher, unfortunately, does not have a backup plans. I say to myself quarterback in hope that one of the kids will use it, but they are either too decent or don’t hear me. Now the teacher moves on to singing Christmas songs, and she does so in a delightful way. The kids know all the words are in singing in rounds and with a sweetness of children. I am humming along and smiling approvingly and exchange a smile with the woman standing next to me. She is half of age, of a different race, and she too does not look like she grew up caroling. It is in the subway where the best of the city comes together and I have my E.B. White moment.
What a week it has been here. Two weeks ago we were all watching the weather news, tracking the course of the storm, listing to Mayor Bloomberg’s evacuations and subway closures instructions. Many of my colleagues were rushing to catch the last trains out of ASIS&T so that they could get back home.
Many of us suffered lengthy blackouts of up to a week. The lines for gas were two to five hours long.
Just the we were reeling from the power outages and finding our way to work on reduced subway and train
service, election day came upon us.
Casting our vote required standing in long lines. Mine was on the short side – an hour and fifteen minutes, but two hours was the average.
After a late night of watching results and speeches, we woke up on Wednesday morning to a Northeaster that dropped constant sleet and snow all day.
I personally did not loose power at home and was able to help out friends who did. I had ten straight days of house guests and it was like summer camp, but you have to clean your own bunk.
All along work continues, planning classes, grading papers, responding to many many student e-mails about missed classes, deadlines, questions about assignments and more.
Well, that was just a way of describing to you what life is like in New York these days, everyday provides a new battlefront.