29 December 2006

More Fun with Numbers and Google

Every year, it takes me by surprise: tourists come to Manhattan over the Christmas break. They come all year 'round, of course -- a record 44 million of them in 2006 -- but I never expect them now. Sure, we are experiencing our second unusually mild winter in a row (it's partly to do with strong El Nino cycle, according to my friend Clive, and not entirely unrelated to global warming), making both a visit to the climate-controlled Rockefeller Center skating rink and a saunter through Central Park possible and comfortable. But isn't it nicer to be home, playing video games and eating cookies and staying in your pajamas until noon? That's what I'd be doing if I had the week off.

What really gets me is how early the tourists hit the streets. On my walk to work this morning, before 9am, I had to dart around several packs of them, as they meandered four abreast on the sidewalk, and stopped at the corner as the Don't Walk light began to flash. Don't they know the flashing only means Start Walking Faster? I was on 35th Street, thinking that staying off 34th, with its Empire State Building and Macy's and Penn Station, would mean an uninterrupted walk. Silly me.

Can we just go back to that 44 million number for a minute? That's approximately the population of South Africa. The entire state of California could have visited us, and they could have brought along the state of Virginia. Every American with osteoporosis could have come. Every American without health insurance. Every victim of identity theft. Every woman at risk of thyroid deficiency due to rocket fuel pollution.

Oh, I do amuse myself.

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19 December 2006

Buy now, save (the earth) later

After two long days of shopping this weekend, I am just about finished buying Christmas presents. The same thing happens every year: I tell myself that this year things will be simpler, then I see one more thing that would be just perfect to go along with the other perfect gifts I've already bought, and simple goes right out the window.

My cube-mate and I have been talking lately about the new environmentalism, the one that implies -- if not explicitly comes right out and says -- you can consume your way to a greener future.

Buy bamboo cutting boards instead of plastic ones. Solar-powered backpacks, to keep all your electronic gadgets running. Organic cotton t-shirts, fair-trade coffee, organic and fair-trade iPod cozies. What happened to the reduce part of reduce, reuse, recycle?

I suppose if you're going to buy stuff at all, you might as well buy some of these things. I bought my sister-in-law not one, but two bamboo cutting boards, in fact. Other people are buying them, too. The most crowded store I was in this weekend wasn't Bloomingdales or The Apple Store, but Cog & Pearl, a Park Slope boutique that sells artisan jewelry, housewares and clothing, much of it made from recycled materials. There were so many people that I stayed only long enough to note, not for the first time, that scarfs made from old cashmere sweaters are not only very nice, but very expensive, and I should really make something out of the pile of out-of-fashion sweaters I will never wear again.

Now there's an idea... guess what you're all getting for Christmas next year. How's that for simple?

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14 December 2006

Famous people come to see me

At my choir concert last night, these two comic actors were in the audience. At intermission, I watched
Bob Balaban buy a drink from the Snapple machine. It was the kind of thrill only a very big fan of Christopher Guest movies can appreciate. It turns out he's the father of one of my fellow altos.

Why was Steven Wright there? Who knows. Maybe he really likes the rarely performed Mozart Vesperae solennes de Dominica.

13 December 2006

Quick, let me get a pen

It constantly amazes me what people will talk about on their cell phones, in the middle of the street.

This morning, walking west on 35th Street, I was in front of a man ordering breakfast to be delivered to his office -- "and put bacon on that; and a Red Bull" -- and just as he was about to hang up, he remembered, "oh, I wanted to put that on my credit card," and proceeded to read out its numbers and expiration date. And not in what one might consider an appropriate voice for such a transaction, if there were such a thing.

When he'd finished, he admonished the person taking his order to "scratch that out as soon as it goes through," so no one could steal his credit card number. No one except me, that is.

04 December 2006

My Lovely Hometown

I’ve never been in love with New York. I grew up here, I’ve lived all but a few years of my life here. There’s a lot about it I like, more than a few things I couldn’t live without. Like my family or my best friend, I love it and take it for granted, but that feeling that so many transplanted New Yorkers describe, especially from their early days here, the constant discovery and excitement -- downtown on Saturday night! bagels and the Times on Sunday morning! browsing at the Strand!– they’re what you do here, but do you have to get so gushy about it?

I used to feel that way when I lived in London, where even the grimiest Tube stop seemed romantic and old world-y, and running up to the top of a double decker bus was thrill every day. I thought maybe it was feeling I could only have for somewhere I hadn’t known forever.

Lately, though, I’ve had a surprising, Woody-Allen-movie-(in-his-prime) feeling about New York. The last leaves clinging to the trees in Central Park, a steam pipe venting on Lexington Avenue (is that a sight you’d see anywhere but New York? Of course not; other cities have utilities infrastructures that have been updated in the last 120 years), the Maya Lin clock in Penn Station – are these not beautiful? How could I not love this place?

Given my present mushy state of mind, it was a little disconcerting, then, to see not one, not two, but three people spit in front of me on the subway platform this morning, in less than five minutes. Them, I’m not so much in love with.