21 February 1998: My radio-station colleague Cheryl Uitti the other day said how we’re all haunted by the media image of the white woman.
2 March 1998: Symbolism, paradox, irony, appearance/scene-setting: the literary tools of my new journalism. But are these too pat, too easy a set of analytical tools?
4 March 1998: I’m here at the station late again tonight, but this time it was exciting. Talking with [reporter colleague] Rob about stories, about my organic agriculture story, about using simile, about being passionate and using that to pitch public radio. And I got excited about the crack house story tonight on “All Things Considered” — how raw that was, and how incredible. Maria called and I got excited just telling her all the details of the Whitacre sentencing [I attended] today — how technical the jargon and details, yet how informal the interaction was. And the judge semi-scolded Whitacre before he read the sentence: how Whitacre was unlike most defendants in that he had opportunity, he was a “meteoric” success, but that his motive was “garden variety venality and greed.”
4 March 1998: Taking a shit is an act of health.
6 March 1998: On plane: Substance/denial/meaning: the fallacy of food and material “pleasures.” There’s no meaning for me there, and therefore little pleasure from food these days — so little desire for candy, shrimp, etc. A hollow experience.
How many people are like me? You don’t hear this (old-fashioned) idea in pop culture. But you can’t legislate or really even preach it and have this idea accepted. People have to see the emptiness for themselves.
6 March 1998: 5-ish, Barnes & Nobles near NYU campus, New York City: There are so many people here. Yet they aren’t all famous. A few rise up — maybe there’s hope for me.
Taking pictures of small things as emblematic of the whole is false.
Old wooden water tanks on top of buildings.
I don’t even want to stop and read things now. I’m too dazed and my attention captured by all the sights around me — buildings, people, etc.
7 March 1998: NYC, hotel lounge, near Chinatown/Little Italy: The fruit seller, the bean curd (?) seller, the mob guys I see out this window — I don’t know them, they’re meaningless, they are symbols, objects to me. The “mob guys” outside “Maria’s Restaurant”: old Scorsese-looking guy smokes a cig, puffing it, not really smoking it, his hands in his pockets, standing there while a young, somewhat unraveled-looking Chinese guy talks excitedly to him. Then the younger guy, who is sweeping thru this and ignoring the guy when he directs his talking and hand-slapping to him, this young guy whips out some bills, the Chinese guy takes them, goes on to a retail store down the street, slides in thru an opened door. Those two stay there like they are conducting street business as much as the curd seller and his shopping cart are. Not long after, they went inside (maybe) and closed the garage door. And a kitty there later — too perfect.
7 March 1998: The subway goes below our hotel. Little tremors, sound like thunder, when it passes.
The older buildings here in Chinatown: lots of dirty walls, old water taknks on top of the buildings.
Lots of foreign voices here in C-town. This would surprise me more if I didn’t hear this with some regularity in Champaign-Urbana. See, I am somewhat worldly compared to how I was in high school.
This city is laid out differently from what I thought from seeing it in movies.
Lots of activity at the fruit stand pretty early — at least there was when I got up at 8.
I’ve seen some pics of NYC in movies, etc., but even those establishing shots don’t move. There are hundreds of views of even the same building, and so the one shot you get in a movie is so 2-D, so shallow, unreal. The richness of even just one building in the flesh vs. a single picture of it.
I’m planning on walking the city today. Even I’m a bit surprised at my — what’s the word — brashness? Comfort with the city? I’m not even sure I would do this with Chicago or D.C. Here, the “good” area is lots bigger. When I look outside at the fruit stands, etc., and see all the moving people, going places, I get a little hesitant to go out into that, to fight crowds, etc. But then I know I want to and I brace myself — but not much because I’m not that reluctant.
9:40, The bean curd guy packed the crates and buckets into his shopping cart, strapped it down with a bungee, and wheeled his business away.
7 March 1998, Saturday, nearly 11 a.m., Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, NYC: I’m writing this note while sitting on a bench in Washington Square Park! That’s the only real point to the message, is that it’s being written in Washington Square Park.
And as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that as I read this some time in the future, it’ll be more like a thing, a souvenir, than a memory, and that it won’t come anywhere near recreating this scene, which is to say, it’s a cloudy, cool but not cold day, pretty much meets expectations for an early March day. There’s a mild wind, and that’s cold, but OK to sit here for 10-20 minutes, but not much longer. There are a fair number of people here, more adults than any park I’ve ever been to, on a day when there’s no festival, anyway.
All ages of people, all manner — old, parents, lots of young-ish types, 30s and such. Guy with his dog on a 3.5- or 4-foot pedestal. Athletic sort of guy. He tosses a blue ball to the dog and it bumps/pushes it with its nose back to the guy in an arch [or “arc”?] People watch and photograph. Somebody said something like “that dog was in People magazine.”
Little pug dogs around me — little guy nosing all around. A younger woman walked by with a smaller, grayer pug — and the two women talked about the dogs — breeding dogs: “What do you do, put ’em together and let ’em go at it?” — the older blonde smoker with baby — almost a Fred Stoller kind of flat, slow accent. …
There’s a real police presence in the park — several cops walking around, a couple vans. NPR last week said they installed cameras to watch for drugs, etc. I haven’t seen any cameras. A woman during that story said she doesn’t mind surveillance cameras because it makes the park safer, able for her to use it. And I’m thinking about that now as I see the people here. Everyone seems upstanding, not even any gruff-looking people.
A park police guy tells the woman to leash the dogs. The blonde shoves her dog into a mesh basket under the baby carriage. The dog lies down, he doesn’t seem to mind.
How to describe my sitting here: I’m looking at this pad of paper and seeing the dark green bench, the brick and pavement and my red coat and blue-jean’d legs to the periphery of my vision. I look up, people are scattered at various distances — lots of sitting, walking, watching -(lots of cameras — are professional newspaper photographers here just to get slice-of-life shots? I mean, not that they shoot and print only off-beat photos here, but that this is a regular place to start.) There’s some greening grass, not lush or dense yet. Mostly bare trees, but some are pale, yellowish green with buds. At least the tree is that’s between me and the 85-foot tall monument (I remember the height from a tourist book I read last night).
The monument is north-center in the park. Big brick-paved, concrete-benches circle is in front of me, in park’s center — and another ring in the middle of that, 100 feet across, maybe. It’s sunken a few feet and step-benches line it, an amphitheater of sorts — a magician/performer was drawing a crowd there yesterday. We didn’t see his act but his circulating of a coffee can: “Any Irish in the crowd? Saint Patrick’s day is coming up. Get out your green.”
A dog run to my right — I’m surprised there aren’t more fights there amongst the leash-free animals.
It’s about 11:30 now. About 10 minutes ago, when the ladies leashed their pugs and left, the whole park play underwent a change of characters. The ball-dog guy left, the dog run cleared out, etc.
The mood here is just kinda mellow — it’s Saturday, nice day for a stroll in the park. There are little kids here, too, dad with two little kids 2,3,4 years at most, in a plastic wagon. Are they NYorkers, I wonder, or tourists. Do those kids live fulltime in Greenwich Village? Those kids are loose now, walking around. One of them does that bubbling giggle, up and down, elicits a smile from yours truly.
Lots of cameras here — is everybody watching everybody else?
I’m conducting a survey of the theory that dogs look like their owners. Not seeing much of a positive correlation in today’s research. I’m starting to get chilled — almost time to go. The park’s open “ceiling” is a nice break from the surrounding tall buildings. The giggling kids are both wearing many-colored fleece overalls, like the PJs I used to wear. One, a pink and purple suit, other, green and blue, with hats.
Bunny Modern author sets his first babynapping scene in Wash Sqr Park. In reading that, I hadn’t quite pictured this, though in a strange way, not so far off, either. A group of about 30 or so college or high schoolers, probably, stopped and posed for a pic around the rim of the amphiteather inner-ring. They want a picture of them in Washington Square Park!
In a way, that’s the image/myth/legend I’m buying into, too, at least when I wrote the first part of this note. The park as a celebrity. A brush with fame! This park today seems safe, even dull — not particularly significant, except for its history, and that wouldn’t draw people. What draws them is the park’s reputation as it has been popularized in books, movies, etc. [and now in my own blog post. 21 Aug. 2016] For example, the Washington Square imprint is using and furthering the park’s countercultural image. From what I had heard of the park before, I thought it would be in a slum, not near university.
It seems a uniquely NYC phenomenon (or at least it happens a lot more often here ) that you overhear some interesting tidbit of a conversation. Do people talk more openly here than other places, or are their conversations more interesting?
This city, at least around here, has the existentialist image down — lots of thin, serious-looking people, quiet dressers, lots of them smoking. At least on a cloudy day like today it looks existential. Not depressing, per se, but mellow, detached.
My impression before coming here was that TV, sports, radio — common interests elsewhere across the country — aren’t as popular here in NYC because what is popular here (at least in Manhattan) are things like theater and books — what the people are into is books, etc., and I like that.
The scene before me is detailed, sharp — I think the overcast light helps that, lights things evenly so they appear saturated colors, etc., lots of detail. 11:50 a.m.
I moved to a new bench. Couple other things: lots of fences here now — unpaved areas fenced off — to save the grass? Snow fences around black metal pipe permanent fences. The statue of Garibaldi at east side of park the frosted-green patina of copper — the statue pedestal below is in poor shape. The statue is drawing a sword. Under that, on the pedestal, it says:
and that’s all. No other words, no plaque justifying this statue’s existence. But the concrete below the words is cracked, chipped, peeling.
I just looked up from my new spot — right ahead of me, to south of park, directly up the road, like a path directly there — are World Trade towers. Finally! I see a NY skyscraper.
You know, I want to walk around the city, see buildings and Central Park — but right now I’m waiting for Maria — she says she wants to go to only one Federalist Society [conference] session. “An odd group,” she said today. (I’m not sure if “odd” was her word, but that was the meaning.) And that was what I was thinking, so it surprised me a little to hear her agree. Too many conservatives, too many lawyers, too many men, too many bowties.
So I have another 45 minutes until I am to meet Maria and I’m not sight-seeing, but I’m very happy just sitting in the park this last hour, writing and observing. This is perfect. Nothing I’d rather do.
The mind-boggling thing is that this area has lots of people, buildings, things going on and things to see. And this is only one small part of one borough out of five in one city of (the cabbie said) 13 million people. There’s just so much going on it would be nearly impossible to write about. At least NYTimes does take an interest in the uniqueness of the city, in its style photos and “Living in the City” diary.
I still want to buy a NYTimes for $2.50 tomorrow (the low cost part of the charm, of course) but I don’t really feel much like reading papers this trip, not like I have wanted to read papers in the past, partly ’cause there’s so much else to see here and I have read the Times before but also I think it’s because I’m so sick of all news lately.
7 March 1998, 12:50 p.m., outside in front of NYU law school: It’s hard to believe some of these “Feddies” — more conservative than libertarian, I’d say — but still. This one plump guy who came out, wearing trench coat, hair quite short, glasses like George Will or something, with ear pieces on top — bow tie, white shirt pressed out by belly — pudgy, bland Rush Limbaugh face and smoking Marlboros — jeezus. Kinda like bland arrogance personified in a young body where it really looks affected and put on. Why — and how — would someone try so hard to look like conservatism larvae? I mean, it has to be a put on, right? That can’t be natural, right? I mean, the guy’s not 25, probably.
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