Crankster

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Research

First off, apologies for taking so long to write a fresh post. One of the reasons for the delay is that I was researching the dark world of online publishing. My experience with blogs is embarassingly thin, and I find myself wondering about how different people write them, what the rules are regarding conduct, etc. I decided to ask my friend John, who's already offered a nice critique of my posts, if he could suggest some other sites that he felt were particularly well-written, especially creative, or notable in any other way. He sent me a list of a few blogs that he particularly likes.

Before I get too far into this, I have a request: if you have favorite blogs, I'd love to have the urls. Please post them in the "comments" section. Thanks!

Okay, back to the point at hand. I've spent most of my spare time over the last four days reading El Guapo in DC, in which a Guatemalan Washingtonian, El Guapo, documents the events of his life, all of which he deals with in an incredibly cool way. Reading through it, I imagined that it was being narrated by Strong Bad. If you aren't familiar with these sites, be sure to check them out. Particularly Strong Bad. Some of my personal favorites are Dangeresque 3, Dragon , and Japanese Cartoon.

Another one that John suggested was Waiter Rant. Now, to be honest, I don't have an awful lot of sympathy for waiters. More to the point, I have had too many meals ruined by snooty, self-absorbed, condescending tray monkeys with huge-ass pepper mills to feel much affection for them. However, this site is incredibly human, and it makes me...well...care about waiters. It's a strange sensation for me, and will take a while to handle.

Two of the other sites, Opinionistas, and Clublife highlight an ongoing battle between John and I. You see, John is an on-again/off-again New Yorker, while I've spent the last fifteen years or so in Southwest Virginia. Having lived in the City, John some definite ideas about the proper way to do things. For example, a few years ago, when John came to stay with me, we decided to go to a friend's art opening in a small gallery (Yes, we have both galleries and art openings in Southwest Virginia).

John: You're not going in that, are you?
Me (looking down): What?
John: You're wearing jeans.
Me: Yes. I am wearing jeans.
John: You can only wear jeans if you're the artist, or you're a fellow artist.
Me: Says who?
John: It's just the way it's done.
Me: Where?
John: In New York.
Me: I don't know if you've noticed, but we're not in New York.
John: Trust me, nobody will be wearing jeans...

Not having been to many art openings (Okay, just because we have art openings in Southwest Virginia doesn't meant that I actually go to them), I decided to follow John's lead and changed into a pair of slacks. We went to the opening. Where everyone was wearing jeans.

John and I, in our years of friendship, have had this conversation, or some permutation thereof, dozens of times. I don't blame John, as I have had similar discussions with almost every friend who has moved to New York. It's as if getting an apartment in the city automatically means that you have to devote at least twenty percent of your brain to the accumulation of New York trivia, not to mention the thirty percent that goes to remembering New York etiquette. You have to remember all the acronyms, all the personalities, all the "in" areas to live, all the subway lines...

I don't have a problem with this massing of information. In fact, it seems to me that every city has a similar data dump that its citizens have to absorb in order to function. As a new citizen, you need to learn who makes the best pizza, where to get the best deal on socks, where you should not walk at night, and so on.

My problem with New York is that it seems to be convinced of my need to know this information. Further, because of New York's access to the media, it is in a position to vomit New York trivia upon the rest of the country. Think about it: how much useless New York information is currently clogging your brain. Do you know who Lizzy Grubman is? How about Donald Trump, Michael Bloomberg, Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, and Al Sharpton? Do you know what a "Subway Series" is? I do--and I don't even watch baseball! How many New York bridges can you name? Do you know where the "bridge and tunnel" crowd lives? Can you tell me what the area south of Houston street is called? How about the big green space in the middle of the city?

Admittedly, part of the problem may be my own trash-compactor brain, which absorbs the most inane facts and pukes them out at the most inappropropriate times, but if you were able to answer even half of these questions, then part of the problem is New York.

New York is the cultural equivalent of that obnoxious couple sitting at the next table in a restaurant. As much as you'd like to mind your own business and pay attention to your meal, you can't, as they are loudly discussing their divorce, their family, their reproductive health, their feelings about race, their latest colonoscopy, and so on. Before you know it, you've absorbed every detail of their lives, and you're only halfway through your entree.

It's worth pointing out that I like New York. Actually, I really like New York. I like its museums, stores, food, and parks. I like its smells, textures, tastes, and sounds (especially since honking horns has become illegal). I like the people, the conversations, the energy, and the diversity. I like the pragmatism that New York seems to encourage, and the courtesy that it displays at the most surprising moments. My wife and I are planning to move there and, frankly, I'm really looking forward to it (although I'm a little worried that she'll make me read this post again in a year or so just to chap my ass).

A few years ago, Virginia refused to accept a barge of New York trash. The then-mayor, Rudy Giuliani, publicly stated that, as Virginia was the recipient of New York's culture, it should be willing to accept New York's refuse. Giuliani's argument was that we owed New York, and accepting a load of garbage was our way of paying up. Giuliani, by the way, neglected to note that Virginia ships enormous amounts of marijuana, moonshine, and guns to New York. Personally, I think that this evens the score.

I've lived in or near three cities in my life. This (admittedly limited) experience has showed me that every city has on ongoing conversation with itself, as it determines its style, its future, the relationships between its citizens, and so on. In New York's case, though, this is a conversation with eight million participants. As Opinionistas and Clublife show, it's hard for the rest of us to escape the din.

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