Fifteen Blocks South, a Whole ‘Nother World


I took Caleb to a birthday party in Soho today—dropped him off in a loft the likes of which people like me usually see only in magazines—and then I took a little vacation.

Now, we only live about fifteen blocks away from this party; close enough that we rode our scooters instead of taking the train. But it’s funny the way New York works, you know? We walk constantly; we’re always zooming from one place to another, but as EB White said in his wonderful New York essay, once you leave your immediate neighborhood, you’re no longer in “your” New York.  And it’s true: I am writing this in a café that this morning I didn’t know existed, and I feel like I might as well be in another city–in another country, even (of course the fact that I’m wearing headphones and thus can’t hear anyone’s conversation fosters that illusion).

Vacationing here in hipsterville (truly unfamiliar territory to me these days, not that it was ever my home turf), I gleaned some insight into the natives who make these streets their home. The people who live here clutch at their phones like old Italian ladies clutch their rosaries. The natives mostly wear jeggings and clog boots (even the men)–or they are extraordinarily skinny Asian women with huge handbags and camellia-ed flat shoes.  The people in this country wear interesting spectacles and there are no children or fat people–they are against the fashion laws that govern the six blocks from Broadway east to Mott and down to Grand.

One man, sitting next to me, rejected the faux-casual urban polish: he wore full-press Harley: t-shirt, bandanna, leather jacket; his Harley helmet rests on the table; his moustache was designed to fly in the breeze and his “authentic” motorcycle boots looked like they might actually have touched a motorcycle. The fact that he’s writing fiercely with a Mont Blanc pen in a moleskine notebook, however, makes me think that despite the mustachios, during the week he runs a hedge fund.

What else did I learn?

Well, cravats are back. Also duffel coats.

And it seems that the people in this country—despite, or perhaps because of, the electronica soldered to their ears—haven’t heard the rumors about the death of print culture: the bookshop is doing a brisk business and magazines are being purchased with alarming frequency.

After about two hours, I had to go back to the lovely loft to collect my son (I thought about asking if I could move in, a middle-aged au pair, but then thought that might be a tad forward of me) but–as a result of my impromptu foray into another culture?

I feel energized, as if I’ve had a vacation.

And I’m seriously contemplating a pair of jeggings.

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3 Responses to Fifteen Blocks South, a Whole ‘Nother World

  1. a guy October 23, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    You always seemed to me to be from something like that world, or at least one several map spaces closer. Didn’t you live in Park Slope exactly when it was super cool? And you’re the first person who ever spoke the words “Matthew Barney” in my presence. Now maybe I have myopic grad student vision–maybe to say “cooler than me [sic]” is to say very little!–but I promise you that I and others like me weave narratives in which you are the skinny Asian lady with the interesting glasses.

  2. Dick Horwich October 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Since I’ve lived on the Upper East Side most of my adult life, it’s 14th St. that seems to me that edgily alien neighborhood, despite teaching at NYU all these years. You and Cyrus have always been my Virgil as I descend, via the #6, into the (less than) infernal southern strata of Manhattan. Your piece makes me want to go further. The guy in Harley drag with the Mont Blanc sounds like my lost twin (though if he’s genuine, he’d turn up his nose at my Honda Interceptor. btw, speaking of the death of print culture, did you see Roz Chast’s New Yorker cover the week before last? I might have to buy the original.

  3. Deborah Quinn October 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm #

    @alfie: you know, I think I may actually BE a skinny asian woman. In my dreams. The way I think of it, I was stupid enough to not buy property in any of the neighborhoods I lived in, all of which got really really hip as soon as I moved away. Which is why I live where I do instead of in an fabululon deluxe loft in lower manhattan. Sigh. I gotta say though, disdain for interesting spectacles aside, it’s nice down there, in that there soho. Probably even better on the weekends, when there aren’t so many tourists. Like me!

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