Sunday, April 25, 2010

Around the Neighborhood

It happened again this year. Was out sweeping Saturday morning and feeling a bit pissed. Couldn’t do my laundry because the laundromat was over-run with strangers, by which I mean people who were randomly doing their laundry. I do mine roughly the same time every week and know the other regulars. The place has been near empty the past two weeks. This week, it’s like they’re giving out $100 bills.

But I’m out there, windy/sunny day, and I notice an unusual amount of cars driving like maniacs through the neighborhood, meaning there’s some kind of traffic blockage nearby. I often look at the faces of the people driving this dangerously, and it’s always the same dumb, blank face gazing out the window. These people aren’t in a hurry because they have brain surgery to perform later in the day. They’re just typical Queens drivers who feel some burning need to get where they’re going in eight minutes instead of 10. I can’t stand the false urgency, the self importance, the gigantic vehicles, the lack of concern for anyone around them. These people get tiresome after awhile, but let’s face it, they’re everywhere. (And I spoke too soon, as later in the day, I saw a woman do a full 360 turn in the middle of an intersection, three times, in an SUV, I guess because she saw an open parking space she would have to back into and couldn’t make up her mind if she wanted to take the time to maneuver into it. It was like watching a dog chase its tail … a three-ton dog with the brains of an ant and the ability to crush me.)

But then I hear it on the breeze. A lone bagpiper playing “America the Beautiful.” The sound keeps falling in and out of earshot with the wind. That can only mean one thing: the annual Little League parade on opening day. The playing fields are about five blocks down on the back avenue. Sure enough, the bagpipes grow stronger, and then the kids appear in the distance, marching determinedly down the back avenue, in rows with their uniforms, parents shuffling along with camcorders and digital cameras.

I love seeing this and feel bad when I miss it. Any sign of normalcy in the city, I’ve learned to appreciate and nurture because I fell off the “let’s be ‘out there’ for the sake of being out there” bandwagon a long time ago. It’s nice to recognize that underneath some layers, this is just like any other town in America.


Speaking of out there, saw something weird on the street the other day. Another sunny day, coming home from work. It was one of those days that the gutters were filled with cherry blossoms, mid-April, all this stuff coming off the trees when the wind blows hard, such a nice thing to see blossoms in the gutter as opposed to dogshit or Dunkin’ Donuts styrofoam cups. But as I was cutting up one of the side streets from the main drag, I heard someone playing a piano. It was some barrelhouse-sounding stuff, rolling chords, Mead Luxe Lewis.

A few yards down the block, I could see who it was. A white guy in his 20s, not particularly hipsterish, just a guy, who had dropped his backpack and was playing a beat-to-shit upright piano that someone had put on the sidewalk for trash pick-up the next day. He was having a blast, and the piano was way out of tune. This is the kind of quirkiness I can live with, as opposed to the canned junk of flash-mob pillow fights and such. The guy was walking down the street, knew how to play the piano, was obviously feeling good on a sunny day, saw a golden opportunity, and started hammering out some old boogie woogie number he knew.

Sure enough, a minute later, an old Greek woman comes barreling out of the house with a broom, shuffles down her stairs and starts swatting at this guy, cursing him in Greek. But he was laughing too hard to take it seriously, picked up his bag and started jogged down the block. Again, we could use more guys like this in the neighborhood, as opposed to the ceaseless wave of muttering zombies with iPhones and left hands glued to their ears.


It’s been weird in the neighborhood. One depressing thing that keeps happening: film crews showing up all over the place for TV shows and movies. This is a terrible sign; they’re not choosing this place because it’s a slice of life. They’re choosing it for hipster quotient which is just another sign of the gentrification apocalypse that has been going on here since the turn of the century. There have been movies filmed here in the past that were neighborhood specific, or geared to recall a different time in New York (a lot of the neighborhood recalls 1950s/60s New York in terms of the housing), but what’s going on now is just bullshit. People who scouts locations for movies move to this neighborhood because it’s been deemed a hip/pricey place to live. So, obviously, they start looking around where they live and decide certain places in the neighborhood would look great in the show/movie.

I just wish they’d get the fuck out, the whole crew of them. Last night coming off the train was like being in A Hard Day’s Night. I’ve noticed there’s been a film crew by the subway train the past week, and don’t get me started on these douchebags. Don’t know what it is about film crews – the self importance, the arrogance, the total lack of respect for the people who live in a given neighborhood – but without fail, these people always conduct themselves like assholes, as if we should be thanking them for throwing off our routines, taking up space for days on end and bringing absolutely nothing to the neighborhood but more empty hype.

I’ve heard they’re shooting scenes for a new Pacino movie, but no one cares about Pacino anymore, it’s all about young co-star C_____ T_____, who must really play big with teenage girls. (I’m not printing his name lest a search engine picks it up. The only people who would be googling this guy are teenage girls and gay guys in search of this clown displaying his washboard abs on the red carpet. A blog like this would be like reading Chinese for them.) The subway station was mobbed with them, all giggling and carrying on, grabbing each other, squealing, pushing each other, making asses of themselves … the same way they once did for The Beatles and Elvis and whoever. It took five minutes to get out of a station that normally takes 30 seconds. No police presence, near fights, which would have turned into riots in no time with all these kids milling around … just a major annoyance.

But maybe this is just another thing like the Little League scenario mentioned above and I should take heart? These kids were acting like rubes who had never seen an actor or famous person before. I have. Anyone who gets on the train and goes across the river does, routinely. And when you do … you realize that they’re just people. Some of them are incredibly beautiful. (I recall seeing Marisa Tomei at an outdoor café near the Museum of Natural History one afternoon, and it was like she had a spotlight on her, the woman was just stunningly attractive.) Some really strike you with their presence when you randomly encounter them on the street, building lobby or elevator. But, honestly, after the bolt of recognition that lasts about 10 seconds, they’re just people, and you get over it. I surely wouldn’t hang around squealing in a subway station to see one. I wouldn’t hang out anywhere to do so. I’m not sure what looking at a celebrity is supposed to do for you? Touching one? Getting one to sign a piece of paper? Honestly, no one gives a shit, least of all them, for which this stuff becomes a routine annoyance. And I see beautiful women every day, probably with a lot less baggage than any celebrity.

But look at our culture. This shit is as bad or worse than it’s ever been and grows more vapid by the minute.


The public school next door has been weird lately, too. Weird in the sense that a few months ago, someone thought it was a great idea to install a loudspeaker somewhere on the outside of the building, so that the entire neighborhood is now privy to all the sounds that come from a loudspeaker in a school. Mainly beeps signaling the beginning and ending of class periods. But, without fail, the morning announcements, too, which go on for about five minutes.

They happen just as I’m getting ready to leave my apartment at quarter after eight. And, man, I would hate to be a kid in that school. I’ve gathered the principal over there is a woman, and from these announcements, she sounds batshit crazy, or treating 12-14 year-old kids like infants as opposed to humans. Her tone of voice is always a little too “and that’s why the sky is blue, little Johnny, now isn’t it beddy-bye nappy time, boo-boo.” The worst came a few weeks ago when she made up new lyrics to Queens “We Will Rock You” to match some recycling campaign the school was apparently running. Imagine a middle-aged woman in a dress suit braying “We Will Rock You” into a microphone in a school office. I was 13 or so when “We Will Rock You” came out … and never would have predicted that something so stupid would one day happen, or be considered in any way normal. She’s trying to reach kids … by warbling out a horribly uncool version of a 30-year-old rock song that was popular when she was kid. (But I’m guessing I missed some newer TV show aimed at kids using “We Will Rock You” in one of their episodes.)

Imagine answering to this woman, and I guess you can gauge why NYC school are such a mess. Other days, what sounds like a drunk janitor is braying out “Happy Birthday” in Bill Murray's insincere lounge singer voice. I’m assuming picking out a hapless kid, or favorite teacher, to serenade. The effect to people outside the school listening to the loudspeaker is to think the place is being run by heavily-medicated inmates in a lunatic asylum. Which is probably your average New York City public school in a nutshell.


Last bit of weirdness. I usually don’t bother people on the subway train … how hard is it to sit still and mind your own business … but I’ve noticed an odd thing with some women lately on the train, something I’ve seen at least a dozen times over the past few months. I hate to single out women because guys tend to be complete assholes on the subway train: the grapefruit testes leg spread, the “little big man” act of taking up too much space, the pole leaners, the fingernail clippers … basically describing grown men showing they were raised fatherless (even if they had one). They are legion compared to the women with issues on a subway train.

But I’m starting to notice the neuroses with women a lot more lately. There’s the usual: women who appear to be bag ladies with the number of bags they’re carrying, save they’re dressed for office work. I don’t get it. What are they carrying that’s so important? And when you think it’s maybe a one-off thing, that there’s some special event at work they’re carrying all these bags for, you see them the next day and realize, no, this woman carries four bags on the subway train to work every day. Which normally doesn’t bother me, save they’ll hover over any seated person with an air of expectation that this person must give up his seat because she’s so over-burdened. Yeah, well, as noted, I know the “bag lady” routine, have seen it possibly thousands of times now in my NYC life. If I got up every time someone tried to manipulate me out of a seat, I’d never sit down on a subway train.

But this is a new one on me. I like sitting on the end seats of the newer subway cars because they’re wide enough to comfortably fit two people. The only times I get crowded are when a guy roughly my size will try to sit in one of those seats, in which case both of us are uncomfortably crowded. I’m assuming these guys are new to city life and don’t recognize you should just go on standing in a situation like this, or they’re just douchebags. Probably both. I size up every seat before I sit down, and if it looks too cramped, I stay standing.

But these end seats for two are great. Even large women aren’t a problem in them as they seem to position their bodies differently (smaller shoulders). Some people don’t like those seats because homeless people tend to favor them when they camp out on a train. But from what I’ve seen, routine trainriders can be just as scuzzy as any homeless person. So unless there’s some residual stink on the seat (which does happen sometimes) from a homeless guy camping out there, I grab that seat.

And a woman will sit next to me. A small woman, which suits me fine as it gives both of us more room. I’ll notice in the corner of my eye that she looks slightly nervous. Nothing horrible, just a person who has a lot on her mind. She’ll break out her make-up case and start doing her make-up on the train … which seems like a real bad idea, but hey, people run late and this takes a good 5-10 minutes. (I’ve also noticed, unfortunately, that beautiful women never apply make-up on a subway train; it’s always average to homely-looking women. I sometimes feel like grabbing their whirling hands and saying, “Stop, it’s not working” or “Stop, you’re already beautiful” depending on how the situation breaks.)

A woman putting on make-up on the train is in constant motion. Her arms are jerking back and forth, her hands are constantly moving over her face. It’s annoying to sit next to someone in any situation who moves that much. On a crowded subway train? It’s even worse. Again, it gets tiresome after you’ve seen this repeatedly for years on end. But after a few minutes, the woman gets her make-up on, and I think, good, now this woman can relax and take it easy the rest of her train ride.

But no. She opens her purse, gets out her iPhone or Blackberry and starts tapping out a message. As we all know, it takes a good five minutes to send out a text message of any length. Again, constant thumbing, this woman has been a non-stop flurry of motion since she sat down.

She gets done tapping out the message, puts her iPhone away, and I’m thinking, finally, she’s done monkeying around.

But no. She opens up one of her three bags and pulls out one of those god-awful free newspapers you can get at the entrance of any subway station. (If you’re reading these things, you should stop and buy a real newspaper.) It’s always the free newspaper. Always. And she starts “reading” it, but she’s not really reading it. She’s flipping through it, absorbing god knows what. She gets done the paper, and I’m thinking, finally …

But no. Her leg starts twitching. She’s sitting with her legs crossed, which takes up more space on the train than I do at twice her size, and does that until it’s time for her to get off.

In short, the woman is a nonstop blur of neurotic activity that is one small step from sitting next to someone with Tourette’s Syndrome. The fidgeting is endless, and I wouldn’t be noticing this, save I’ve seen this a lot lately, much more than usual. But I’m thinking, the same way I’m psychologically drawn to these end-cap seats on a subway train, because they’re roomier than the bench seats in the middle of a train, these women are probably drawn to them, too, so they can indulge in their routines on the train, knowing they’ll have more room to move, even with a big guy sitting next to them.

So, I just sit there, motionless save for clicking to the next track on random play on the iPod, or checking my watch, or looking out the window if it’s not too crowded. Knowing, like all things in life, that this, too, shall pass. It gets worse than this. And then the wandering mariachi band comes through the door and starts hammering away on “La Bamba” …

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