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Out Of The Blue And Into The Black

Deserve’s got nothing to do with it – David Webb Peoples

November 18, 2003

George Orwell said that by fifty, a man has the face he deserves. I know he said this because I read it in a Roger Ebert movie review. Ebert has a face deserving of several men and a complete sofa set. But at least he got the Orwell quote to me.

I wonder what New York is doing to my face. Thankfully I’m still a few years shy of having the one I deserve, but when I get there I’ll probably spot bits of this city in it. Maybe I’ll recognize the Gowanus Canal in a particularly severe brow crease or traces of Manhattan’s illuminated vitality in the corner of my eye. My future expression will likely just embody the essence of a crowded Q train on a Tuesday night, but that’s all right too.

Most of us have a few select spots for catching our own reflection, and their specific attributes lend to impressions of self. For me of late, it’s been the windows of closing subway doors or the framed rectangular mirror above the cutting board in my kitchen. When I see my face these days it’s as it is in the company of strangers or while boiling pasta. These are in fact appropriate settings and reflect different states of being alone. Steam and people you don’t have to talk to make equally good company.

***

I went to see the matinee in Brooklyn on Saturday, after reading the Ebert review. It was a romantic comedy with ensemble cast featuring Hugh Grant. It isn’t the heart-gratification or yucks I envy most in these films, but the wide variety of interesting occupations and lives the characters lead. The offices and homes are warmly lit and everybody has such specific if undefined purpose, it really seems irrelevant if they’re getting any or not. My existence has been a spotty thing by comparison, and deservedly so seeing that I’m using movies as an acceptable barometer.

Hugh Grant’s London and Woody Allen’s New York probably do exist somewhere. But were most of us able to experience them, they would still lack the scripted wit and flattering angles. This is why I reserve self-glimpses to the kitchen mirror. I know how the lighting hits in there and I’m always funnier while cooking linguine.

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I took my dad to see Wall Street when he was here. The Stock Exchange is situated down a stretch of angled streets preventing easy access. While much post 9-11 security has subsided in New York, you wouldn’t know it down there. Armed guards patrol and nobody is allowed near the building without proper identification. These measures are in line with what was of supreme importance after the attacks: getting the nation’s money center up and running. On the front of the Exchange hangs one of the largest American flags I’ve ever seen. The message is both clear and pointed: You may have made a dent, but you didn’t get to the bank.

Make no mistake – New York is all about money. The city has tremendous heart, but it doesn’t leave the house beating without its wallet. It’s a cold truth, as undeniable as beauty’s fleeting edge or the persuasive powers of a loaded weapon. And it’s detectable on every level, whether you’re shopping Fifth Avenue or just buying a round for friends. You needn’t be extravagant or careless to burn quickly through a hundred bucks in this town; if you’re not paying attention it can just happen.

At least the city makes no attempt to guise this with folksy pretense or illusions of affordable charm. Places like Brooklyn provide some economic refuge from Manhattan’s crazed push for consumption, but it’s all relative. If you’re going to live near the glow, cash will burn. Fortunately, weekend matinees at the Cobble Hill Cinema are still five bucks, and I’ve never looked good in the same suits as Hugh Grant. Now there’s a guy with a face I deserve.

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I went to a gathering of literary types on Sunday night, billed as “Drinkers with a Writing Problem.” It was much like a writing group, with more direct and honest intent. While what constitutes decent prose can be debated endlessly, a good glass of Scotch is undeniable. This occurs to me in the middle of typing the last paragraph, when the doorbell rings and the UPS guy shows up. He’s brought a box of winter goods my mom has sent out from California, including a few flannel shirts and some warm socks. To the side of the package I feel something hard and square. It’s a bottle of twelve year old Chivas Regal. Everybody thinks his or her mom is the greatest, but sorry folks- this debate is officially closed.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights
“Out of the blue and into the black”
– Neil Young

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