biography

The Chrysler Building, for the Second Time

brokencup_0005

A beautiful, perfect, plain and pure white cup…

When I first visited New York City, in 2012, I went by bus, and distinguished myself at the end of the 10-hour journey, as we prepared to plunge into the Lincoln Tunnel, by hyperventilating noisily on my first sight of the glittering Manhattan skyline.

This, I reminded myself, was what I had been waiting for all my life: my homecoming to the city that had never been my home, my “Midnight Cowboy” moment.  It was merely a passing inconvenience that, to any casual observer, I was apparently in the throes of a psychotic meltdown or expiring from anaphylactic shock.

Luckily I was in New York City, and no one paid me the least attention.

I stayed in a hotel on the Lower East Side, Chinatown to be precise – I had chosen only the price range on a website that for some peculiar reason made hotel choosing into a kind of location lottery – a hotel whose rundown façade filled me with alarm, yet which, once I’d settled in and gotten my New York legs on, turned out to be not only acceptable, but charming.

This alarm-to-charm switchover was a metaphor for the city itself, and an apt first lesson for a New York neophyte, namely:  That anywhere else, a scary, too-small, sub-standard living unit might be a slum, but in The Big Apple it was a find.

For the next five days I set about living the way I fancied a real New Yorker lived, under the bemused, expert guidance of my friend, John, and heartened by the Looney Tunes capering of his fox terrier, Flora.

I brazened through Manhattan as though it were my private estate; traveled to Brooklyn on the subway (a quick and merciless ad hoc training session, consisting of a demonstrated swipe and a raised eyebrow, both administered by a real New Yorker in under five seconds, took place at my first, unsuccessful, attempt to mate MTA card and turnstile); and  refused to be a tourist, to gawk at Times Square, slouch around in trainers, or purchase tickets to some Broadway show.

I did, on the other hand, at 611 Broadway and purely by accident, find a branch of Crate and Barrel, where I bought two beautiful, perfect, plain and pure white cups and saucers from a deliciously snarky saleslady.

Everything about this saleslady was New York to me, from the nonchalant elegance of her outfit and the asymmetric perfection of her haircut, to her perfectly deployed daytime makeup and important yet self-deprecating jewellery;  when she greeted me with, “Can I help you?”, it was impossible to miss her silky undertone of Let me save you from yourself.

She had the air that working at Crate and Barrel was somewhat beneath her, but that just for my sake she would conquer her distaste and make a noticeable effort. I indicated the pure white cups and saucers I wanted, and to her credit, she whisked them off the display for wrapping as though no other selection would have pleased her quite as much. It was an admirable performance that somewhat mitigated my failure to have purchased tickets to anything at the Harold Clurman Theatre.

Everyone in New York, or so it seemed, dressed to impress;  walked, talked and ate to impress.  To step out of my alarming-then-charming hotel was to make an entrance, and god help you if you ended up on that stage in sweat pants and Crocs, with sticky palms and searching for your lines like an actors’ nightmare.  I soon understood that no effort I could yet make, no straining at fashion, or feigned worldliness or fast talking, would make the grade; I would never, not yet anyway, pass. The best I could hope for was not to be instantly labelled an out-of-towner.

For my first attempt, that would do.

Five days later, happier and wiser, I was no longer a New York virgin. My budget was blown; I’d seen the Monet waterlilies and Picasso’s “Le Desmoiselles d’Avignon”; I had shopped for food, been asked for directions, and made dinner for John; I’d been to Flatbush and, by the time I’d seen a guy jerking off at 23rd Street Station at four A.M., I felt reasonably confident that I’d covered all of the key New York experiences.  And I had acquired absolutely nothing that could be called a souvenir.

Nothing except those two beautiful, perfect, plain and pure white cups and saucers.

That evening I packed them with care for the bus ride home, taping the tissue paper in place and nestling them in the folds of a sweater so they wouldn’t be jostled. On the Megabus, all through the night, I checked on them hourly, as though I feared they might spontaneously crack and disintegrate as Egyptian relics are supposed to.  Sometime around Rochester I awoke with a start, believing that I’d only dreamed I’d packed them; that I’d actually abandoned them in the Chinatown hotel room.

~

Once installed in my Toronto apartment, my cups exerted a special power.  They created a morning ritual around themselves, made the mundane fact of caffeine addiction into a Zen ceremony. I loved the dark reflective pool of steaming coffee held in the thin circle of white porcelain, loved how the cup felt in my hand, how well balanced, how perfectly it met my lips.  I loved that we, the cups and saucers and I, had finally met, that we shared our secret of New York.

The cups and saucers began to relax, let their hair down, so to speak. The newness and optimism dissipated, and they became subtly but unmistakably aloof—

so that you felt they’d let you drink out of them, but would be hyper-vigilant for any rude noises you might make, and they’d watch to make sure you always used the saucer, so you shouldn’t dribble on your nice pants— klutz! –

– yet they were no less dear to me for all their little foibles.

~

I cherished those cups for the next four years; I guarded them like a father guards his nubile fifteen-year-old daughter. Not everyone got to drink out of those cups. Sometimes I would use one myself, but give my guest a two-dollar President’s Choice mug, just to make my position on their status clear, vis-à-vis my good dishes.

Sometime during the last reign of roommate terror, both the saucers got smashed in the Great Late Night Dishwashing Debacle, a tale too bloody to recount today. I must emphasize: Both saucers.

But I still had the cups.

Now it was like I’d bought my daughter a sports car and she was staying out late driving around with boys and getting home JUST in time so I couldn’t say anything about it.

Then one day — a day like any other day— I was in the kitchen and lo! the spirit of my mother shone round about me and I was sore afraid, and my arm made a great sweeping mother-movement and clattered through the stack of dishes like the rampaging hand of god and swept one of the cups off the draining board.

I actually cried out: “NOOOOOO!”  A great big werewolf howl.  As though howling could arrest the fall.  As though how I felt could change anything.

After all those weeks and months, after four years of caring for and protecting and chaperoning that cup, it was, in the end, me that broke it. Little old careless mother- distracted me.Chrysler-Building2

This is the way the world ends. Love, life, your white cups, your nice pants. Your marriage, your job, your great-aunts and your grandsons.  All the things you care for.

Everything:  All the people you mistrusted! All your wariness and boundaries and push-backs! And then it’s you that messes up!  You!

I actually contemplated smashing the other cup deliberately, right then, just to get it over with.   You know what I’m saying?

You only ever see the Chrysler Building once for the first time.

~

— {For John H. and Flora. Bisous. ♥}

Advertisements

 Today’s Existential Forecast™!

DavidGravatarToday will be overly diffident, with occasional outbreaks of sarcasm followed by regret.

Competence will be nominal-to-intermittent as measured in “oPrahs”.

GENERAL: A collapsible umbrella advisory is in place. The rims of cups containing scalding beverages are farther away than they appear.

Wear socks to determine if there’s water on the kitchen floor, or go barefoot to locate the one remaining shard of broken Champagne flute.

Three PM brings 100% probability of reliving the split with your ex as you change the Band-aid on your heel. Downcast gives way to defiant after a swig of “Absolut”.

Evening finds you unsuccessful in your attempt to mask your home’s lingering smell of chain-smoking with a devil-may-care spritz of Axe Personal Fragrance.

Yes, that caller with a private number is “Collections”.

TECH INSIGHT: Take extra care to place your smartphone in your back pants pocket, so when you sit down you can accidentally send your account director that text you drafted calling him a “sociopathic catamite”.

It’s best to get these things over and done with.

DRESS TIPS: Tentative recos are clip-on tie and loafers OR scarf with brooch and ballet flats. Crocs and sweatpants? Play it by ear, but only definitely if you’ve completely forgotten that at 1 P.M. you and the team are treating Ronald Lauder and Renée Fleming to lunch at The Carlyle.

Distractibility is high today, clocking in at eight-out-of-ten on a scale where:

1 equals making yourself a cup of instant coffee in under 30 minutes but still forgetting the milk is off;

and

10 equals setting out to check your calendar and ending up eight hours later with a new operating system that’s worse than your previous one (the “Ubuntu factor”); PLUS an order confirmation for purchase of a vintage “Mister Potato Head” kit from eBay; and a whole slew of hate mail from “just-repeal-it-then-impeach-the-socialist-towel-head-dot-com”.

Fig. 1:  Emotional turbulence (note decorative cushion)

Emotional Turbulence (Fig. 1):  There may be unexpected gusts of low-self-esteem-induced hysteria.

EXPERT TIP:
Never, but we mean NEVER, take refuge under a tree.

Instead, watch for the throwing of a small, decorative cushion, which signals that the hysteria has passed.

You’re welcome!

FUN FACT:
Count slowly from the outbreak of hysteria to find out how long until the cushion-throwing!

Today’s ATF (Asshole Tolerance Factor): Zero, peaking at 1. Some of you might want to remain indoors.

We’re just sayin’.

Overall outlook for —

MEN: Breezy, but with toe rubbers. You’ll despise, yet be powerless to change, the general perception that your mother still buys your clothes, and/or that you’ve just left a Presbyterian seminary.

As our fashion maven has it: “GAP ‘Relaxed Fit’ is death’s French kiss!”

POINTS TO PONDER: The way your boss stares at your sandwich while adjusting her pencil-skirt will make you question the cool-factor of waxed paper. Also egg salad.

WOMEN: Brave, with just the tiniest tragic hint of your grandmother’s pill-box hat. You’ll spend the day trying to project the plucky vulnerability of Dorothy Gale, while actually coming across as a more vitriolic Dorothy Parker, only without the redeeming wit.

WHAT WOULD IVANKA DO?: A Singapore Sling* at The Algonquin or similar establishment may help with your tendency to assume the role of “Ms. Quark-y Gluon Who Holds the Universe Together”.

But your PMS will hate you.

High tonight? (as in, Will you be…?) Seriously? Like, does the Pope wear Balenciaga? We totally think he does!

This has been Today’s Existential Forecast™ : We face the world so you don’t have to!™

~

*[Sorry — That should read “A Singapore Sling or five”. My bad! LMAO!! — ed.]

My bedroom is a portal to Hell +PLUS+ Carole King has much to answer for

sydow

Just ask Max…

Welcome, campers, to my first official blog post of 2016, and I have to say, I’m  absolutely choughed (rhymes with “choughed”) that so many thousands of you have written to me care of 392 Sherbourne, my squalid Toronto basement-in-the-sky, thanking me for my online efforts over the past year and a half.

Actually that’s a blatant lie, no one has written to me on this topic.  Or any topic really. And there are exactly 206 of you, so it would take each and every one of you writing to me at least five times to even push the level into four digits. Five times!  Don’t faint, dude, but this means you’d have to actually finish something.

OMFG, I am like SO BUSTED?!

Appreciation or no, yours truly has, geewillikers, outstanding contributions to celebrate. For example, my creation of a new online archetypethe literate troll (I trash your opinions and correct your grammar, and instead of Cheetos, think caramel-baked brie stains on my Harry Rosen bowtie); slowest response to Facebook messages (personal best – 4 months);  and Olympic-level distractibility (sets out to check email, ends up 8 hours later with a new operating system).

And let’s not forget the top-rater:  World’s longest blog posts.   I have single-handedly transformed the quick daily update into an infinitely-revised Proustian agony clocking in at 700 words plus.  And that, as my great-aunt Georgiana would have said, “takes some doing…”

(more…)