Category Archives: New York City

N is for New York City

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Once you fall in love with a place, you can never leave it, because the place never leaves you. NYC is such a place. It is the city where I feel like I belong.

NYC is more than a city to me–it is a being, and presence, in my life. NYC has taken care of me in ways I never thought imaginable, has watched my back, and changed the course of my life. It has saved my life. It has made my life. It is where I learned who it is I truly wanted to be, at the fulcrum of my life. Even if who I wanted to be would entail great fundamental change.

Even if the great fundamental change would nearly kill me. Even if NYC would bring about that fundamental change in spectacular fashion. It is the place that brought truth and forced me to see things around me as they really are. It is the place that brought me many great, true friends. Loyal and smart and courageous people.

I was born in New York City–Queens, to be exact. I spent my early childhood years in a nondescript brick apartment building overlooking the Long Island Railroad, spending days wheeled around by my grandmother in a stroller to a Korean-owned karate studio down the street, to chicken and pizza down the hill, to a sewing factory down the hill and around the bend, and a playground down the hill opposite of the sewing factory and pizza.

The pulse of life there is a tempo to which I set my life.

One time, a few years ago, I got on the 7 train to Queens. The train made a certain tha-thunk on the elevated tracks once we hit Queens–in that subway car I felt a great reunion between time and space; that sound, that rhythm has been with me my entire life. That specific tha-thunk. Tha-thunk. Tha-thunk.

I thought I’d imagined that sound.

But no, it was real.

I returned to NYC to reside as an adult, a few years ago. My husband at the time came home and said, “We need to talk.” I didn’t know about what we had to talk, but I was worried–could I have missed something between us? (Little did I realize). But then he said, “My boss wants us to move to NYC part time–would you be okay with that? It would be immediate.”

I think I said yes before he ended his question. I don’t know. All I heard was “EeeeeEEEEEeeeee!!!” in my head.

NYC was a centrifuge.

Some of the best times of my life were spent in the setting of that great city. I didn’t even mind the jackhammering (okay, I did). And I loved that I could step out into the sidewalk into a din that said with absolute certainty that this city was the center of the world.

I even loved the summers–the hot heat off the concrete, the water dripping off air conditioning units, and the balmy evenings walking the East Village sucking on popsicles.

I loved brief Spring, with the elation New Yorkers feel when the weather turns warm and the trees turn pink and white with blossoms. When New Yorkers ditch their boots and parkas and sweaters and don dresses and woven shirts. And walk around in shorts when it is 65F, just because it is no longer 30F.

I thought Winter, with its Christmas lights and frigid air and sidewalks slippery with ice or gritty with salt, was most charming. Especially when the snow fell and hushed the city.

And Fall. Of course Autumn, when I rifle through my drawers for my scarf, long buried through Summer, so that I can walk outside look up at the trees turning flame in Tompkins Square Park or Washington Square.

I loved running into friends on the streets of NYC, a thing that happened way more often than you would think in a city of millions. It made the world seem small, and my friendships large.

I loved that the city never slept–that I could have dinner at 11pm on a regular basis, if I so wanted. That food could come to me. That services were top notch. I loved apartment life.

I loved the honking cars. I loved that people honked cars.

I counted my rat sightings my first year in NYC. One time, when I was walking on 1st and 1st, a rat wove expertly through my feet as I walked. I did not scream. I giggled.

I wrote the bulk of my novel draft in NYC, at the Writers Room and at downtown cafes. I was so inspired.

And last month, I said goodbye to my NYC apartment. I did not say goodbye to NYC, because I plan on returning–but the lease was up, and I had to move my things out. I moved my possessions into a storage space into which the movers expertly fit a life. Everything went in. They shut the door, and I put a lock on it.

We were not sure all would fit in that small space, but nothing in my life was left behind.

That evening, we met with a friend at a bar, across the street from my now-empty apartment. I wasn’t sure how I felt–but that empty apartment did not feel as bad as I thought it would feel. I was leaving it as I left it. It felt like a fresh start for someone else, and a clean slate for myself.

A chapter had ended in my life, in more ways than one. I was a mom. I was newly single. I had fresh vows, all to myself. But I wasn’t sure if I felt hope or relief or elation or grief. In hindsight, I realize I felt them all.

The three of us were drinking whiskey at the bar. Toasting our lives. Talking dreams. Talking goals. Flinging jokes. Teasing each other. But at some point, it became too much. My grief welled up, and at that bar, I found no room for tears.

I excused myself and sat inside a bathroom stall and cried. I didn’t know for what I was crying, only that I was. But now I know. I was leaving New York. And it hurt. It felt like cleaving.

I had to leave NYC again. But the city will never leave me.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers like Susan Ito in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

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Sleep No More: Novel Writing

Sleep No More

Sleep No More, as described by The New York Times, is “‘Macbeth’ in a hotel,” because it’s kind of a play kind of performance art kind of voyeurism kind of spectator sport but not really any of the above. Which is why the NY Times calls it “‘Macbeth’ in a hotel”–the vaguest of monikers.

And yes, it has a little to do with Macbeth. But not really. Kind of.

The hotel in question is called “The McKittrick Hotel” built out of the ruins of three abandoned Chelsea warehouses (it’s not really a hotel, and never was a hotel, so again, kind of but not really).

Sleep No More is fiction down to the studs in which the audience spectators roam without agenda or direction. In which spectators are as much the performance as the actors; at one point, I looked around the room and wondered if the actors saw us in the same way we saw them, as we stood in masks that hid facial expressions.That they were our mirrors as we were unto them.

For the first hour, I roamed confused and alone and dismayed and frustrated and frightened, fighting every impulse to tear off my mask and leave. I didn’t really “get it” and felt very lost, just as one might feel when invited to a large, sprawling, ghostly, hotel all alone. But not really alone. Because you’re surrounded by other ghostly masks.

But then–a character rushed by, followed by a handful of white-masked spectators. I followed. Her hands bloodied, she attempt to wash them; ah, Lady MacBeth.

It was then I had a character to which I could be devoted. To follow. To be my proxy for the landscape. My curiosity intensified, and my fear receded. I followed the character through all manner of darkness to the end. A character can be a very effective tour guide.

My Sleep No More experience was not very different from my creative process. I understand that everyone’s experience is unique and based on the solitary–the performance is designed to that end, the masks making it so that people have a hard time reuniting within the space, the darkness making it so people cannot see each other. Together, but alone. Kind of.

Sleep No More:
I’m led through a winding tunnel void of light–some people feel their way through–and in my case, I yelped and a member of SNM’s staff walked me through, my hand on his elbow. Thinking I was going to DIE. Thinking no one told me about this darkness. Thinking what had I gotten myself into. Thinking hell no. Thinking I had to do this.

Novel-writing:
Darkness, (not so) coincidentally is a state that I associate with my creative process, and the source of my inspiration. It is discombobulating. It’s frightening. Terrifying. Like falling. Like dying.

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I’m reading at Jimmy’s No. 43

A short post–barely a post, really. Just a little note:
I’m reading in the Sunday Salon Reading Series at Jimmy’s No. 43 in NYC on Sunday 11/20 for Men Undressed.

I’ll be reading my sexy (well PTSD-twisted-sexy) scene at the Salon.

In my earlier days in NYC, I attended a Sunday Salon reading series, and sat in the audience, drinking a cider, listening to the fantastic alum waiters of Bread Loaf read. It was tremendous. I thought, “It must be so cool to read here.”

And now I am. And I hope to see you there. 🙂

Jimmy’s No. 43 is located in the East Village in NYC at 43 East 7th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Reading stage is past the bar and to the left, in a cove in the bar. Attendance is free. Reading starts at 7pm.

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Y is for Yard

Our Yard

When I was a little girl in Queens, our yard was the street, the playground, the corner store. It was in Queens where I gained an affinity for the tempo of a city, the rat-a-tat-a-tat metronome of jackhammers, car horns, manual cash registers, and games of punchball that forever set my personal pace for all things to come.

And where I finished growing up in the Los Angeles suburbs, our yard was the fenced-in portion of our property where I meandered without interaction. It was there that I built a keen interest in botany and gardening, as I learned the names of flora and learned to grow vegetables like only a girl without companions would. All the time reading book after book on companion planting and plant diseases and the various shapes of leaves, trying to satiate the rat-a-tat-a-tat tempo in my bones.

In Berkeley, home of naturalized[1] yards filled with twisting rosemary bushes and overgrown abutilon and bushy waist high heather, I learned to neglect our yard. And cook and eat lots of yummy good food[2] instead. And try to be a hippie and fail at doing so. And start writing a novel. Rat-a-tat-a-tat.

In NYC, our block is our yard. On our block is a photographer’s studio where lanky, underweight, freakishly tall women models venture, sometimes holding black leather folders. It is a warehouse where street food carts go to sleep at night, pushed there by weary East Village vendors of hot dogs, pretzels, nuts, and Halal dishes. Sometimes I want to sneak in there in the nighttime and see all the carts parked, and hear what is the vendors discuss at the end of their days.[3].

Our block is where construction forever takes place. It’s not unusual to find a backhoe on our street. Sometimes the street is neatly sealed, but weeks later, the street is re-opened and construction resumes. Our street is restaurants I’ve never visited.[4] It is a bar at which I always consider nursing a hard apple cider, but never do. It is the bar I’ve always fantasized about growing up–the place so convenient that it’s like a second living room.

Our yard is things yet undiscovered. Windows behind which anonymous people live. A brownstone that later turns out to be an understated B&B. A museum. An empty lot.

Our block is our yard. It is smeared with dog shit on some days, splashed with vomit and beer others, and then the rain comes and wipes it clean. Thousands of people cross our yard in an afternoon. It is never quiet. There is always a brisk breeze. In every minute, something changes in the yard.

Every yard becomes a part of me.

Every yard becomes me.

[1] Weedy

[2] The food in Berkeley is tremendous! You’d ditch gardening as a hobby and head straight to the farmers’ market for incredible meal ingredients and various restaurants for amazing food, too.

[3] They don’t tweet, so I don’t know. I know that @BigGayIceCream tweets their whereabouts and celebrity customers–do they talk about who visited their carts? Do they greet each other as friends? Do they go straight home? Do they arrange for a nightcap together?

[4] Wherever I live, if there’s a restaurant adjacent to me, and even if I live in the place for years, I find I never go to the place across the street. So weird.

***

Joining Heather’s Abecedary, Fog City Writer, and other writers in working through the alphabet with short, memoir-like pieces. Except I’m going to go in reverse, beginning with “Z.” It’s called Alphabet: A History.

*I inadvertently skipped the letter “Y”–it’s here now, albeit out of sequence.

**AWGH. And this is when I realize I *did* do “Y” (Y is for Yellowstone).

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NYC, 1970

Dad, gas station, NYC
Above left: my father in front of his gas station in 1970. Above right: my father in front of his former gas station (now a BP) in 2011.

My mom and dad came to visit me in NYC a few weeks ago. My dad hadn’t been to NYC since he left town in 1978. He has many aged maps in his head of places that really no longer exist in the world. The Korea he knows, no longer exists. And the New York City he knows, no longer exists. SoHo does not exist in his mind. The Bowery is off limits. Queens is picturesque. The subways are covered in graffiti.

We went around and visited my parents’ various haunts. Their grocery store in Yorkville, which they owned for a short time in the early 1970s no longer exists. The hospital at which my mom worked has grown in size over the decades such that it took my mom a few minutes to recognize the building.

My parents’ faces wore an expression of shock. On the subway, they insisted on standing so that they could see out the windows and observe the city. Other passengers offered up their seats. We refused. They insisted. I told them why. They were delighted. Had the city changed? A lot my father said. A lot. He stuck his tongue out.

But other places still exist as is–the subway system it self, the freeways, the apartment building in which they lived with me as a newborn, the pizzeria we frequented, and even the gas station my dad used to own and at which he worked, daily.

Meanwhile, the city was changing under my feet, too–my history of the city through my parents’ eyes, and in the literal ticking of time.

The shore of an ocean or river will change a craggy rock over time. And time will do that to a city.

For more on my parents’ trip, you can read my write up on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Open City blog.

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Land’s End Great Gatsby Mansion: Last Moments

1.
A Sands Point Gold Coast mansion known as Land’s End is being demolished this week. The house is also known as the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan’s mansion in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

Fitzgerald lived for a time in Great Neck, across the water from Sands Point. I imagine he sat, with pen in hand, seeking inspiration and staring across the Long Island Sound, at the houses along the water with their carefree parties…just as Jay Gatsby stared across the Sound from the same vantage point and reached out his arms to the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock.

Long Island Sound

2.
I once spent an afternoon with a photographer who told me he went up to the Sierras to photograph Autumn foliage, but he got there too late after a storm–the leaves had fallen. So he photographed the forest floor, which was lit up with the confetti of golden Aspen leaves.

Today, I woke up in pain with a locked neck, but knowing the mansion was going down any minute, the demolition having started a few days ago on Saturday, we raced out to Sands Point, meandering the roads, passing numerous residents walking dogs in the mid-day fog, until we found the estate. My husband is a genius at locating obscure destinations.

We told ourselves that even if razed to the ground, it would mean something to stand on the site. What remained were two very large chimneys, and a small vertical section of the house, also containing two chimneys, still standing.

To see this, the last remaining day of a grand house of privilege that inspired an even grander idea, was privilege.

It was awe inspiring. Ghastly. A ghost.

It was not gone yet.

Land's End: gate unlocked

3.
The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time, and has been for 20+ years, for myriad reasons. For language. For structure. For its innovation. For its portrayal of the American Dream. For Gatsby. Because I am a child of immigrants who believe in the Dream. For my love of the 20s. For my childhood in the 80s, paralleling the 20s. For desire.

The object of Jay Gatsby’s desire was Daisy Buchanan, who resided in the house with the green light at its dock. This place with the pool at the edge of the land, and a lawn that runs all the way to the pewter water. It was Fitzgerald’s desire, too.

Land's End: gate

4.
I like to follow rules. I am such a rule follower that when someone tells me to “chill out,” I tell myself, “The rules are there are no rules.”

My husband has been convincing me to break a few rules here and there. For the last two weeks, he has been regaling me with tales of trespassing.

We didn’t know I’d trespass today.

I broke a rule for these pictures–the gate was unlocked, and I walked past the no trespassing signs. I walked no farther than halfway to the house, way short of the detritus and the one or two lonely and steadfast workers dismantling the structure.

5.
I once held a cat, a victim of a car accident, and watched it die in my arms. Its amber eyes lost a depth to them when the cat died, the color turning into straw.

The ghost of the house remains–I can still see the outline of its great shadow, and its footprint underneath the rubble, void of valuables and brick, long auctioned off before destruction. It was huge and looming.

6.
Inspiration cannot be dismantled.

More links on the Great Gatsby mansion:

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The carrots, the carrots!

Why are carrots in NYC SO BIG?!

Why? How? Why…?

Really. Why are the carrots SO BIG out here in NYC? The carrot you see above is typical of carrots in NYC–just…ginormous. It was procured at Fairway Market in Harlem–but I have seen similarly sized carrots at the Union Square Greenmarket, too.

Do they grow a different variety out here because of climate/soil? I have so many questions. So.many.questions.

But for now: NYC Carrots. #WINNING!

Also, I had the most WINNING (yes, Charlie Sheen’s “WINNING” has replaced “FTW” in our vernacular) ramen today at Ippudo. It was ramen-mazing:

Kumamoto Tonkatsu Ramen at Ippudo

I promise, this blog will get back to regularly scheduled programming soon. But it’s been a crazy week: I got the flu (some mega-germ traveled in someone’s body fluid (spit?) onto my hand, into my mouth, into my flu-shot-immunized body, braved the elements, and managed to take over the ship). This hijacking occurred during the week we were moving apartments. Any vertically-oriented minute was spent unpacking, or shlepping my body over to the new place.

Monday begins a new week: back to the novel. 🙂

And something I’ve been meaning to throw out for some time…
You should read Mat Johnson’s* amazing new novel, PYM. I just finished reading it, and did not want to put it down. The voice, the plot, the themes! If you don’t believe me, read the NY Times review, the Wall Street Journal’s review of PYM, or Salon’s book review.

And you should read Vida by Patricia Engel**, too. Pitch perfect stories that were recently optioned into/as a film. And for the record, Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times LOVED it.

*Mat is a friend and mentor/teacher of mine. Just sayin’.
**Patty is a good friend of mine–we met Mat together. Also, just sayin’, in the interest of full disclosure.

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