Saturday, June 07, 2014

ancient beads and old friends

We met by the clock in Grand Central Station yesterday evening, in the midst of the rushing Friday night post-work crowds.  She was wearing these beautifully bright and simple beaded necklaces, white and blue and yellow and green and all the colors of the rainbow. I complimented her on them and she just looked at me, surprised, and laughed, and said, "Emma, you made these for me!"

As soon as she said it, of course, it all came rushing back: that year or so in high school of obsessively stringing beads and crocheting skull caps (mostly burgundy and, of course, black). And I couldn't believe that she still had these necklaces, tucked away somewhere safe for over twenty years. She looked beautiful and happy in a flirty summery outfit and those bright and cheerful beads, and it felt indescribably warm -- this realization that she'd saved them all this time.

What's magical and heartbreaking in the world so often revolves around the waxing and waning of relationships. I've written a lot over the years about the waning part of things, have perhaps (some would say definitely) wallowed more than is helpful in the endings of things. But lately, over this past year, these past few months, even just this past week, I've found myself reveling at the pure good fortune of having the people that I have in my life.

Erica and the fact that despite long stretches of little communication, somehow our conversations and letters always feel, to me, deeply connected.

Jill and our sometimes prickly but life-long love for each other.

Nick and his willingness to accompany me to random dinners and random parties and weekly lunches and long walks-and-talks down Broadway or Riverside or Central Park West of a beautiful spring evening.

Lauren and her gorgeous New York brashness and deep understanding of some of my inner most insecurities.

Johanna and our friendship's propensity for being a safe place for endless conversations about grief (though also about silly movies and wonderful books and what's really the best ramen place in this town).

Ari-love and, well, everything.

And Cindy, my friend of the beaded necklaces and flirty sundresses and crazy beautiful curls. Cindy with whom my friendship has been waxing and waning since middle school, but mostly waxing. We two are so awkward, sometimes, in the world and with each other and yet I don't know that it is possible to love a friend more than I love this woman.

So we met up yesterday at Grand Central and headed down to BAM, where we joined her brother and his husband for dinner and wine and the wonderful hilarity that was Ask Me Another.  Afterwards we wandered around Brooklyn, ostensibly looking for the C but secretly enjoying the wandering and the beautiful June night. We got home to my place just before midnight and promptly went to bed, both of us early risers and done in after a long day.

This morning was filled with tea and talk and apples with peanut butter, and then it was time to leave for work. She waited with me at the bus stop and then made her way home, and I've been left with this sense of warmth, this sense of being suffused with love and well-being, ever since.

A woman I knew in college once wrote a piece about her father's death and the "boundless luck" that had exemplified an adventurous and fulfilling life.  I've always remembered that phrase, and peered at it suspiciously, but perhaps in my old age I am beginning finally to understand it. Perhaps not the adventuring, exactly, but the sense of contentment that she also seemed to imply.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

'i've lived in new york for five years...'

"I’ve lived in New York for five years, long enough to understand why some people hate it here: the crowds, the noise, the traffic, the expense, the rents, the messed-up sidewalks, the weather that brings hurricanes named after girls that break your heart.

It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here. But New York repays you in time in memorable encounters. Just remember: Ask first, don’t grab, be fair, say please and thank you, always say thank you — even if you don’t get something back right away. You will."
(Bill Hayes, Lessons From the Smoke Shop)

Saturday, May 31, 2014

(not) at the bus stop

I've written before about my recent habit of walking in the morning to a different bus stop -- for the bit of extra exercise, for the bit of extra time outside in the light and the air before a day in my humble basement library, for a few extra minutes of looking up at the branches and the sky and feeling the wind on my face.

I catch the same bus most mornings, and the bus driver -- jovial and talkative and funny -- always has a boisterous greeting, a cheerful question, a humorous quip.  Last week for some reason I left earlier than usual one morning and caught a different bus down to work.  I was crossing Broadway at 114th and suddenly the bus that was stopped at the light started honking. I ignored it at first but eventually looked up and realized it was my bus, the one I hadn't taken that morning, and my crazy awesome bus driver was waving wildly at me and grinning and honking his horn.

He hasn't let me forget it yet: the day I spurned him for another driver.

Friday, May 30, 2014

'roland ducked beneath the tape...'

"Roland ducked beneath the tape and then just stood where he was for a moment, listening to the honk and pound of the city on this bright June day, relishing its adolescent vitality. He would never see another city, of that much he was almost positive. And perhaps that was just as well. He had an idea that after New York, all others would be a step down."
(Stephen King, The Dark Tower)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

facial recognition

I found myself chatting with a woman last weekend at Bill's wife's memorial service. I knew who she was -- a friend and colleague of Bill's at ISERP -- immediately, having met her several years ago at Bill's and Jill's wedding.  But apparently she's come in to my library on a semi-regular basis in the intervening years, and apparently I never recognize her.

Context can be everything, I suppose -- bring back the Bill factor and of course I knew who she was.  But I think at some point in the sordid, distant past I stopped looking closely at other people's faces. I was too busy looking at the cracks in the sidewalk in front of my feet, at the sky, at shoes and clothes and bodies hurtling through space. I was too busy obsessing over books or drugs or people I didn't know how to love very well.

Once, towards the end of college, I was walking across campus and eventually noticed a girl laughing and waving animatedly at me. I'd almost passed her by, this girl I happened to be deeply in love with, or crushing on, or whatever the proper terminology might have been at the time.  She finally stopped chuckling at my obliviousness and we went and got coffees and chatted out on the steps as the late autumn dusk settled in around us.

Later she asked me what it was I was thinking about all those times when my mind went wandering off and stopped seeing anyone. I don't think I knew what to tell her.

Later even than that, I think I more intentionally stopped looking at faces when I was out in the world. So many times I thought those faces passing by were people I knew, sometimes people I loved, and so many times I found myself smiling joyfully, longingly, only to discover it was someone else entirely, someone strange and unknown and not who I had thought it was at all.

Eventually it just seemed easier to stop looking, in the hopes that other people would stop looking, too.

I've gotten better about it in recent years. I try to look people in the eye, absorb their faces, remember their names, stop hiding behind my own lack of recognition. It helps to be dating a man who, I know, will always find me in a crowd even when I can't find him.  It helps to mind less about the embarrassment of introducing myself to the same person again and again. It helps to be able to just tell people that chances are I might not recognize them the next time we meet, and that they should just speak up for god's sake and say, "I'm So-and-so. So-and-so's friend. We've met twice before."

bridge, 5.24.14

Friday, May 16, 2014


I grew up in the northeast but we spent all of our summers out west. Northern Idaho is pretty dry, at least compared to New York. The hills surrounding the lake would be mottled with shades of green and brown, and beautiful, and the grasses would burn, and we'd sometimes lug buckets of water up the hill to water some of the younger apple trees and later, the flowers Grandma planted every spring at my father's grave.

You got used to it after awhile: the crisp, dry air and evenings cool enough for a campfire and cups of coffee out on the dock watching the early morning sun burn off the mist across the lake.

It was always something of a shock to deplane at LaGuardia or JFK or Westchester County Airport after two months of being at the lake cabin in Idaho. You'd walk out of the airport into that muggy, sticky, sweaty New York air and feel something akin to walking into a brick wall.

This morning, walking up to the bus stop, the air was sticky and humid and warm, and the branches I've been watching since deep winter are losing their stark shapes in cascading bowers of green.  My city's on its way to becoming its summertime jungle self again, and even the air seemed green and pregnant with rain.

'some of the books had actually become migratory...'

I did not particularly like this book, but I LOVED this passage.

"I don't see anything."

"That's right. And where on campus does even a very good locator spell not work?"

"I have no idea." Admitting ignorance promptly was the fastest way to get information out of a Brakebills professor.

"Try the library." Professor Brzezinski closed his eyes again, like an old walrus settling back down onto a sunny rock. "There are so many old seek-and-finds in that room, you can't find a Goddamned ting."

Quentin had spent very little time in the Brakebills library. Hardly anybody did if they could help it. Visiting scholars had been so aggressive over the centuries in casting locator spells to find the books they wanted, and spells of concealment to hide those same books from rival scholars, that the entire area was more or less opaque to magic, like a palimpsest that has been scribbled on over and over, past the point of legibility.

To make matters worse, some of the books had actually become migratory. In the nineteenth century Brakebills had appointed a librarian with a highly Romantic imagination who had envisioned a mobile library in which the books fluttered from shelf to shelf like birds, reorganizing themselves spontaneously under their own power in response to searches.  For the first few months the effect was said to have been quite dramatic. A painting of the scene survived as a mural behind the circulation desk, with enormous atlases soaring around the place like condors.

But the system turned out to be totally impractical.  The wear and tear on the spines alone was too costly, and the books were horribly disobedient. The librarian had imagined he could summon a given book to perch on his hand just by shouting out its call number, but in actuality they were just too willful, and some were actively predatory. The librarian was swiftly deposed, and his successor set about domesticating the books again, but even now there were stragglers, notably in Swiss History and Architecture 300-1399, that stubbornly flapped around near the ceiling. Once in a while an entire sub-sub-category that had long been thought safely dormant would take wing with an indescribable papery susurrus.

So the library was mostly empty, and it wasn't hard to spot Josh in an alcove off the second floor, sitting at a small square table across from a tall, cadaverously thing man with chiseled cheekbones and a pencil mustache. The man wore a black suit that hung on him. He looked like an undertaker.

(Lev Grossman, The Magicians, p, 127-128)