I think I might start posting my typos collection more publicly. Mostly they go to Sorabji.MOBI, but that’s blocked from search engines.
The folks at “Ask A New Yorker” have been kind enough to allow me to post stories at their site. I approached them some months ago proposing that I write regularly on the subject of (what else?) payphones in New York City. I am piecing together a narrative history of payphones in this town, specifically focusing on my personal experiences and reflections. It’s not going to be a straight timeline but more of a grab bag of stories and anecdotes with a certain quantity of historical perspective. Publishing stories to Ask A New Yorker could serve as a preview for that collection, or it could simply be an end in itself.
One of the accounts for this narrative history will be a longer version of “No Dial Tone: The Mysterious Story of an Astoria Payphone” — my story about a memorable encounter I had one night when a payphone started ringing on Broadway in Astoria. I may never know what that incident was all about but I maintain it was some ham-handed attempt by producers of a reality TV program to mine the streets for material.
I am not sticking exclusively to payphones. “In Loving Memory?” asks if the Central Park Conservancy should consider removing plaques which bear the name of one of the most notorious villains in modern times: Bernard Madoff.
A couple of months ago I found MyFirstApartment.com, an entertaining collection of stories about the first apartments people lived in when they moved to New York. Submitting that story was easy since I had already written an account of my days at the Parc Lincoln, a subject I’ve explored at somewhat interminable length on sorabji.com.
The story at MyFirstApartment.com is called “Early 1990s on the Upper West Side: Transient hotel, the Apology Line, and a general cacophony.
Memories of the Parc Lincoln do not torment me like they used to but I will certainly never forget Room 317.
432 Park Avenue is a nearly-completed residential tower in Manhattan. It will rise higher than the Empire State Building. It will be the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere. I just want to know who will actually live in this structure, particularly at the 1000+ foot levels of the highest floors. Will anything so seemingly normal as raising a family occur in the 8255 square foot penthouses that sit as high as 1255 feet above the ground? The floorplans are bizarre to me. Rooms seem relatively small for the accommodation, and the “breathtaking” views would become nauseating after a while. The sudden appearance of this building (along with the nearby One57 and as many as 4 more to come) seems ominous to me, an almost apocalyptic foreshadowing of society’s unsustainable path.
From our childhood comes a dull hum, trickling through our bodies as kindling feeds a bonfire. We think it signals something cosmic but evidence does not exist. Radiators tick. Vehicle ignitions sneeze. University crackpots continue their insatiable gravitation toward untenured plutocracy. Lights blink. Attentions fail to span even the slimmest distractions. You endure conversations with neighbors and remote relatives, establishing transient connections across your legendary centuries. They ask questions that you are unavailable to answer — questions of sobriety and turmoil, of hunger and abatement, of insidious contentment. You do have answers but who does not? We answer grandiosities with common complaint, humor with chaotic dismissal, indifference with utter destruction. I read volumes of contorted explanations, fleetly ingesting social and political dismay, before rebounding from God’s ingenious evaporation. You read other tomes, underlining words and highlighting what you thought were memorable phrases only to revisit your annotations and find you had chosen insipid prattle. You barely recognize yourself in papyral violations committed years ago, those urgently self-important touchups serving only to prove that you were there. We closed those books, handing them to the silent past where they slumber upright in hourless rectitude. The shelves have fallen and the books grown stale as revelations mount. Hammer meets nail. Scalpel hollows skull. One by one the sorted come asunder, confused by the singularity of something so complex as a planet’s billions of lives, promising to never again squander the serenity of fairness.
Pursue redemptive alcoholism.
Strip a jelly bean to its bone.
Calculate three hundred and fifteen thousand six hundred and twelve minus pi.
Calmly digest expensive tchotchkes.
Inform strangers of their notoriety.
Blend in to rotted woodwork.
Bring lunatic dogs home.
Steal candy from balloon-wielding arsonists.
Timidly murder your education.
Sleep calmly in mausolea of the wealthy.
Read none of the letters I sent you.
Train yourself to potently vanish.
This audio comes from a cassette tape I found at a thrift shop. Since the store owner did not know what content the cassette contained she gave it to me for free. It is 38 minutes of a strangely rhythmic pulsating continuum. There was probably music on this cassette but it gave way to the tape’s deterioration. It reminds me of how cassette tapes, recorded over multiple times, sometimes let the previously recorded songs bleed through, emerging from the silences between the songs recorded on top of them. What survives of this tape could be a base track for something more substantial. Or it could just be an annoyingly irregular, seizure-inducing heartbeat type of sound used in torture chambers.
Silence impressed me most when I used to make trips down to Florida. Wandering around the subdivision where I grew up, in the middle of a weekday, was like walking among the dead. With most people at work or otherwise occupied the houses were mostly empty. The streets crackled only with the sounds of leaves and twigs crushed under my feet.
Silences like this exist in bustling cities, too. Some years ago I walked around midtown Manhattan with a field recorder. This type of device is typically used for nature recordings on account of its super-sensitivity. That gadget picked up every scintilla of sound. Conversations taking place half a block away and at perfectly normal volume sounded like they were inside my head. Unable to differentiate the importance of one sound over another the device pulled it all in in such a way that made a seemingly calm city street sound like chaos.
When I removed the headphones I was startled at how silent the city seemed. Granted this was not Times Square, which is exceptionally noisy. This was in front of the Time & Life Building on 6th Avenue on a weekday afternoon. Noise came and went, to be sure. Sirens and car horns bleated past like floats in a parade. But on balance it amazed me how quiet and even serene New York suddenly seemed to me after hearing its every aural nuance cacophonously mashed together.
Pictures from Tampa in 1996 (using a Canon ELPH APS film camera) remind me of the silence that surrounds us. I rediscovered these images today. They make me a little sad (as do a great many things), but they also make me certain that the past itself is forever silent. These pictures, properly considered boring by most standards, find me payphone hunting around Tampa and wandering the deserted campus of my high school alma mater.
I made the move from sorabji.com to sorabji.nyc, a possibly needless flourish stemming from my decades-old fetish for solid domain names and noteworthy TLDs (Top Level Domains). .NYC is said to be available only to residents of this fine city. To me this distinguishes it from the other profligate TLDs that continue to propagate with needless relentlessness.
As I get used to the oddity of typing “.nyc” instead of “.com” I find myself actually thinking about this town and the odyssey of living here for 24 years. Is this really where I belong? Do I not owe it to myself to experience life in the rest of America?
Between routine cost of living increases and the imperatives of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) I may find myself priced out. Like some of the people featured in this story at the New York Times I could find myself paying for insurance I cannot afford to use.
“…some people — no firm data exists on how many — say they hesitate to use their new insurance because of the high out-of-pocket costs.”
I predicted this would happen, though I didn’t think it would happen to me. I had no reason to doubt the “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” cunard, a comment I now realize was taken a bit out of context but which should never have been uttered. My prediction that some of us will be ordered to purchase insurance policies we cannot afford to use was heard mostly by those who dismissed any and all negative sentiments directed at the ACA. If I was not yelled or shouted down I was simply ignored.
The people in the Times story sound like me, although unlike them my insurance is not new. I’ve had coverage for years. I will be forced to cancel it. To maintain a similar level of coverage I will have the opportunity to pay at least 30% more while also enjoying significantly higher deductibles, monstrously higher out-of-pocket expenses, and no access to out-of-network doctors. These options available to me now will probably disappear in January. I better get sick quick!
Alas, to ACA enthusiasts and those whose livelihood depends on it I am statistically irrelevant.
It is not specific to New York but, like everything else in this town, it comes down to money. The stampede of wealth that has turned Manhattan into a bathroom break for the conspicuously rich has passed me by. My enduring disinterest in wealth locks horns (as if I have any) with today’s reality. Unlike when I moved here New York is where people come to be rich.
I have no envy for the rich. With wealth comes responsibility and scrutiny. The responsibility (as I see it, though I know others disagree) is that sources of concentrated wealth owe a debt to the society that made them that way. The wealthy, as Ted Turner might say, should feel obligated to find ways to improve their society without fleering at it. The failure of many rich people to live up to that responsibility does not erase it. If I faced the unenviable responsibility of outsized wealth I would expect to face bottomless intellectual and moral dilemmas in finding worthy recipients for investment or altruism.
After writing most of the above skimble-skamble I remembered that today happens to be the anniversary of the day I left Tampa for New York (via a pitstop in Philadelphia). I used to mark that anniversary with some kind of sentiment, and I even looked forward to it like it was some kind of birthday. I’m not sure how I feel about New York any more.
I overheard someone say that when they leave New York they feel like they are “missing the party”. I know that feeling. Maybe it’s time to find out if the party’s over.