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Eat-In Kitchens

libOf course the coffee’s HOT! So don’t be stupid!” Mazzola bakery, down the street on Union, includes this admonishment on their coffee cups. It’s the little shit that I appreciate about New York, still found in select corners and available to anyone willing to pay attention. I was giving a young visitor a tour of Manhattan last year when she stopped in the middle of a typically crowded street, looking upward. As the oblivious masses passed on either side of us she pointed to ornamentation on the buildings – cornices adorned with eagles and gremlins, faces of all description – just above our field of sight. It was a temporary revelation. I knew subconsciously that they were there, these small details, on many structures beyond the Chrysler and Empire State buildings. But how often did I really see them?

It passes you quickly, life and this city, and is impossible to take in minute to minute whether you have all the time in the world or none at all. It comes in moments, watching your kid kick a ball for the first time or walking with your father in to a newly constructed ballpark. The realization is overwhelming; these instances are finite yet surround us daily. My early experiences in New York are still fresh in my head. A lot of the in-between has faded yet I can see that first drive in from JFK on the BQE with my friend Sara, so thankful that there was someone here to greet me yet struck by how ordinary and ugly the roadway was. The next morning, up after a sleepless first night in an unfamiliar sublet, I walked around Brooklyn brick and brownstone sipping coffee while my brain began the weeks-long process of settling. A few hours later, disembarking the F for the first time at 42nd .. “holy shit” .. about summing up where my head would be in the coming months. “Real-time appreciation” as I put it in what I was writing back then. This seemed about as good a description as any.

We’re always running or hiding somewhere, doing something to get us out of that real-time. I realize this is no novel concept and entire wings of bookstores are dedicated to living in the present, be it via yoga and meditation or scaling mountains and jumping out of airplanes. I recall being in the kitchen, late night, at a party on the Upper East Side about a year after I moved here, practicing signatures on a small black chalkboard with a woman who told me she got the feeling that I was running away from something. It was no Svengali Moment, but as I considered the plethora of life points from which one might run, I kept coming back to death. Running from or toward it are equally pointless but attempting to ignore it is futile as well. Perhaps running (walking, sitting) with it is the trick .. but I’ve indulged the point enough.

I’ve been looking at real estate lately. Just the term “real estate” is a bit ridiculous for what qualifies in this city. Living spaces that would be considered constricted corners in many parts of the globe are referred to as ‘spectacular’ and ‘unique’ without a hint of irony. Brokers urge buyers to act quickly and bid high, mostly with good reason. As I squeeze in to these tight spaces with the affluent minions, sweating as is my way and trying to size up who these folks – most younger than I and in some cases just out of college and with their parents – are, I can feel the last vestiges of my real-time appreciation slipping away. It isn’t that the pursuit is pointless. Buying houses and nicer cars and having kids and friends and parties and careers .. I mean hell, I’m OK with it. You can’t sit on a Tibetan cliff every day of your life giving careful consideration to a branch. But something in me, even at this late stage and perhaps as result of misguided privilege, wants to reject .. well, giving it so much thought. And waiting out on a point in the harbor on any given night is that statue, stone-faced despite copper exterior, delivering what I imagine to be the greatest straight-line in the history of urban comedy.

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