Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The mind altercating powers of fog. (originally posted January 14, 2007)

This morning, I had a New York moment, something I haven't had in quite a while. The last city-specific event occurred on the subway while Allison and I were heading uptown to see a movie. A man was playing a saxophone in the 14th Street and 8th Avenue station, and Allison made the comment that she loved old jazz standards. About .5 seconds after she said this, we realized he was playing the theme song from "The Family Guy." Only in New York we thought. However, this morning I had another one of these moments, this someone be somewhat more symbolic.

On Sundays, I work at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. I started the job because I needed the second source of income, but now I do it simply because I love the job. But it's never easy to get up in the mornings on a Sunday, and today was no different. It was cloudy and drizzling outside, making it that much more difficult to give up the safety and warmth of my bed. But alas, it was not a decision whether I got out of bed or not, it had to be done.

Making my way to the subway was cold and quiet. I only passed about four to five people on the street. I assume everyone was either in church or asleep, or possibly in church asleep. The population of Brooklyn being hung over and in bed was more likely. The subway platform was the same. Desolate, with the exception of two pigeons, sparring over an abandoned bagel.

Once on the J train, the passengers, including myself, sat in silence. That early in the morning, it seems that no one has much to say. The day has just begun so any stories relating to what's to come are, well...yet to come.

One of my favorite things about the J train is the view you get while entering the city. Crossing the Williamsburg Bridge, one has the ability to see the entire island of Manhattan. I imagine it's how tourists feel when seeing the city for the first time, and admittedly, I still get the chills when I have this view. People who have never been to New York won't understand, but seeing that vast expanse of skyscrapers, capped off by the classic symbol of the Empire State Building is both terrifying and utterly exciting at the same time. It's as if you are part of something important, and no one else in the rest of the world can say the same. But this morning, the view was obstructed by fog, the type of fog that obscures everything around you.

I'm guessing we were probably over the middle of the East River, but I forgot I was in New York. The moment only lasted for about thirty seconds, and afterwards I thought that I could be in any city in the world, the only reminders of my actual location being the occasional Fung Wah tourist bus racing past on the bridge. But almost as if the city could sense the train's confusion, the fog cleared as we hit the coast of the island. And at that moment, the woman next to me began speaking in Chinese on her cell phone. A middle aged Mexican man walked into the train car, strumming a three stringed guitar and began singing in Spanish. All of the noise of the city was back as we entered into the Delancey Street station. Tourists on the train would have been unnerved, but living here, you come to depend on the noise. When it's not there, you lose all sense of direction, all sense of where you are and where you're going. For a brief second, the chaos that makes this city unique was captured in the first car of a J train.

Someone recently told me they would never come to New York if they could avoid it. I used to understand that sentiment, as the city CAN wear on you at times. But now I wonder if I can ever leave. I mean, where else can you find a jazzified version of a cartoon theme song?

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