May 16, 2005

My Mental Scrapbook

Just when you thought it was safe to visit The Cerebral Outpost, I’m back again from my birthday weekend trip and have dozens of little stories to tell. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. Almost every moment of my weekend in New York City was scrapbook-able. What’s unusual about that is the fact that I grew up there … yet I am finally able to see it from a tourist perspective. And oh what tourists we were this past weekend!

I often feel like one of the luckiest people on earth to have grown up in such a diverse and ethnically-rounded city, with such hope and promise and overall weirdness. The entire time I lived and grew in NYC, it never occurred to me that I was being shaped and molded into the adult I am today with each step I took, each person I met, every mistake I made, and every opportunity that came my way ~ whether I grasped it and made something of it, or side-stepped it and moved on. And now, as I step back and look into the mirror of my very soul, I can see it all so crisply clear … and it amazes me.

I thought about what type of post I might create upon returning to my little routine here and decided that a list of events might make for an easier read than my typically long-winded narrative* form. In the future I may expound on some of these happenings, but for today, I want to get something published so that I can make my rounds and visit all the wonderful blogs I’ve missed over the weekend.

Below is a list of some of the more outstanding lessons I learned while visiting my hometown this weekend. They’ve already been added to my mental scrapbook and will remain there, safe from torn edges and dust bunnies, forever.

1. I learned that it sometimes pays to take a totally different driving route and risk getting completely lost in order to avoid a four hour traffic tie-up. Can you say George Washington Bridge? That confounded thing should have been built sixteen lanes across to accommodate today’s traffic. If you're coming from New England, DO NOT TAKE THE GW, take the Triboro or Whitestone.

2. I learned that I’m getting closer to home when I can see landing gear and wing flaps in operation on approaching planes. Between Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark International Airports … there was damned near as much sky traffic as there was land traffic. I can deduce that for every person afraid of flying, there must be at least 4,895 who clearly are not.

3. I learned that the skyline of Manhattan, amazing as it always will be, screams “VOID” where the Twin Towers once stood. It’s always so bittersweet to me now ~ evoking both a “welcome home” and a “oh good Christ, look what the fuckers have done” feeling inside me.

4. I learned that ~ how everyone in NYC isn’t 400 pounds is just short of a miracle. The food there is incredible, and no ethnic style is left out.

5. I learned that the same people who undoubtedly complain about lines at their local bank or DMV (department of motor vehicles) will stand CHEERFULLY, in the hot sun, on a three hour line to get on board the Circle Line so they can visit Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty and walk on her turf.

6. I learned that people whose lives have somehow taken a most sour turn along the way, can fit everything they own into a small shopping cart, and still manage to whistle or sing to their heart’s content while pushing said cart from one garbage can to another ~ all throughout the city ~ all day long. They never seem to tire.

7. I learned that there IS pizza, comparable to Pal Joey’s, on Staten Island ~ and that the only time you can get a seat in the place is during lunchtime on a Saturday afternoon. (that must be when everyone is at the mall or still sleeping off a Friday night out on the town) GO DENINO’S … woo hoo!

8. a) I learned that tourists seem unable to wipe huge grins from their faces at every street corner as they realize they are seeing something remarkable, for the first and perhaps only time in their lives in this city.
b) I learned that once you approach the footprints of the World Trade Center, start to read the time-line from 9/11, see the list of victims nailed to the protective fencing that surrounds Ground Zero, and notice the still-broken concrete slabs and cross-shaped metal beam that was pulled from the wreckage that day, there isn’t a smile to be found among the throngs of people. Not one. The faces all look the similar; some tearful, some stone-like, some almost angry, but most ~ quite reflective and somber; in a word, disbelieving.

9. I learned that they renamed a section of the street I grew up on in honor of my friend Annie who lost her life while working in the South Tower on 9/11. Seeing this new street sign gave me such a strange buzz.

10. I learned that a man can squeeze himself inside a clear box smaller than the one your monitor was packaged in. No really, I saw this. He also hoisted himself up onto a pair of stilts then wrapped his ankles around the back of his neck ~ in mid air, while balancing on his hands. Incredible.

11. I learned that you can play Big Band music ~ perfectly ~ on a steel drum! Also incredible.

12. I learned it’s quite easy to get romantically sappy when you’re standing in a park late at night with your honey, under the lights of the Verrazzano Bridge with the city skyline off in the distance.

13. I learned what great fun it is to hear my own accent echo back to me in every person we came in contact with over the weekend. Nothing like a bit of familiarity to perk you right up.

14. I learned that you can find “that perfect picture,” framed no less, on a street vendor’s table in Battery Park ~ and if you jump up and down a little, pointing and gasping and smiling really brightly, your honey will buy it for you ~ right then and right there. Especially if it’s your birthday!

15. I learned how much fun it is when you’re with someone from out of town (my man is from the Midwest) and they get approached by a guy with holes in his pants offering a Rolex watch from his filthy shirt pocket. “Now I feel complete,” said Ed, as we strolled away hand in hand, “I’ve been hit on by a NYC-Rolex-vendor-bum.” (I’m thinking Ed has a mental scrapbook too)

16. I RE-learned to hate the fact that along with the building of the VZ Bridge, came the traffic, noise and half the population of the borough of Brooklyn as they shifted to the more “rural” Staten Island through the years. I’m all for community growth, but this is borderline ridiculous already. Triple parking is the norm there now, and the quiet little streets out on the South Shore are now lined with obscenely huge mansion-style houses with Hummers, Lexuses and Mercedes in the driveways. What do all these people DO for a living? Christ.

17. I learned that it’s important to remember that you cannot automatically take a right on red in NYC like you can in Connecticut and New Jersey. Unless, of course, you are suicidal.

18. I RE-learned that walking 10 blocks in the city is NOT the same as walking 10 blocks anywhere else in the world. It’s like the equivalent of walking 30 blocks anywhere else. Sadly, I didn’t remember this until AFTER we walked 10 blocks. We yellow-cabbed it back to the ferry, thank you.

19. I learned that one broken down truck can turn the Van Wyck Expressway into a parking lot inside of three minutes. The “parking lot” doesn’t start to move again until the driver of said truck is already home eating dinner. Why? There’s two other lanes in which to go around the thing; I just want to know why we sat still for an hour?

20. I re-learned the grand picture of devastation to families on 9/11 while visiting my nephew’s gravesite – just behind his headstone, were FOUR stones in a row, all belonging to firefighters who lost their lives at the WTC. This was just one cemetery on Staten Island, just one small corner section of an enormous cemetery, and there were four graves just behind my nephew’s ~ each marking someone lost to this event.

21. Mostly, I learned that as much as I love this place I now call home, this rustic and quaint town with cows and horses and pig farms and wildlife, I miss the city that is ever-engrained in me and I so much appreciate the fact that I had the marvelous opportunity to grow up there and to be shaped by all that it is.

Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes and for stopping by my blog, leaving your kind and thoughtful comments and for sometimes cracking me up with your humor and wit. I had a lovely weekend and though my legs are a bit tired, my soul feels refreshed! Now off to make my rounds and see what’s new in everyone else’s lives!

*I knew I couldn’t shorten this up. Why do I even try?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a fabulous birthday you had! Even found the pizza! I hope you will expound on the many pieces of your scrapbook!

8:47 AM  
Blogger Sask 1 said...

Good to see you back Carol and that you had a lovely birthday.It was so nice to read about your visit.The sadness from some of the memories and your joy from others.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Becky said...

I'm so glad you got to make your trip! What a great way to spend your birthday! On a selfish note, I've missed your writing and was counting the minutes until you got back!


10:21 AM  
Blogger psuche said...

Happy Birthday Carol! It sounds like you had a wonderful trip with some ups and downs but that is what makes them memorable.

Going back to the place where you grew up from 'away' is always an interesting experience. You can see everything with new eyes and appreciate what you had and what you have now. Though we're glad you are back with us country folk again! ;)

12:59 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

When you saw that guy fold himself up into a little plastic box, were you on the grounds of Castle Clinton on Friday? That's where we saw him. Wasn't he amazing? A human pretzel!

I just got home; I'm exhausted and my feet are blistered, but I'll write about it tonight or tomorrow. Glad you had a wonderful time - and too bad we didn't run into each other on the way.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy belated birthday, Carol!

I enjoyed your scrapbook!

I personally prefer the GW, but I always make sure it's not rush hour. I love the Palisades Parkway anyway. It's so pretty. Maybe things have gotten worse since I last drove to NYC which was a couple of years ago.

Some things I miss most about NYC are *The food (and I WOULD weigh 400 pounds). *Walking- I used to walk from the Village to the Upper East Side (90's) often. *SHOPPING *Street performers *Diversity. And then there's my family, too.

Welcome back!

4:34 PM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

What a great mental picture you painted for me. I haven't been to NYC for 6 or 7 years, and when I am, it's always Manhattan. I'd love to move around some and see the rest of the place, but never enough time. Thanks for doing it all justice. Glad to have you back.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Kenju ... YES! That's exactly where we were when we saw the human pretzel man. How cool is that that we were at the same place at the same time? You should have recognized me. I was the one who looked weary and much like a hag. *grin*

5:42 PM  
Blogger hooey said...

Nice blog Carol. I, too, have a blog; a very progressive one.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Mr_Mystic said...

you make NYC sound like a place I want to visit.

6:53 PM  
Blogger L said...

very nice post-- it sounds like you had an absolutely fabulous birthday!

7:25 PM  
Blogger The Rambler said...

Hi Carol,

I liked your latest post. Welcome back by the way. It's the best description I've read of New York in all of it's weird and amazing ways. My wife has been to New York City and she says it's incredible. I've gotta go someday.


7:32 PM  
Anonymous Your friend Joanna said...

Happy Birthday Carol! I love NYC. I want to live in Manhattan someday, for a couple years. This is my first visit to your blog. It's funny, when I read your words I heard them in your distinctive voice. I mean your actual voice, they were already in your metaphorical voice. I thought of you because I finally broke down and started my own blog. So now we can be blog buddies. Good to hear from you!

9:43 PM  
Blogger riskybiz said...

Good blog and happy belated birthday.
I can see from your writing why my wife wants to go to NYC, I just can't stand big cities on my holidays, too many cars and people.
One day I will visit, I'll have no choice.

9:52 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


I'm glad you're back to blogging, but I wish you could be back in NYC at the snap of your fingers, anytime you want. I am thrilled you had a great birthday weekend there with Ed and I hope you get to visit as often as you want.

I love your mental scrapbook. Hold on to it. It's worth every moment of your trip.

12:10 AM  
Blogger Walker said...

Sounds like your weekend was a smash. It's so cool to see everything again as a tourist. I remember when Sara came here. I took her to see the city and I was amazed at what I was seeing again for the first time.

1:55 AM  
Blogger Nonsensical_Flounderings said...

Happy belated birthday. Glad you had a great time and I definitely want to visit New York. England first though, hopefully I'll have as good a trip as you had.


2:10 AM  
Blogger Michelle said...

Happy belated birthday!
NY sounds fabulous. I loved your list,so many wonderful places to visit :o)

2:53 AM  
Blogger frustratedwriter said...

welcome back! totally enjoyed looking through your scrapbook! what wonderful memories and it sounds like you had a marvelous time, just the thing for a birthday! looking forward to other posts about NYC!

4:41 AM  
Blogger Alisa said...

Welcome home! It sounds like you had a lovely trip and wonderful birthday.

6:59 AM  
Blogger dan said...

I want to go to NYC after reading that. I know people who have been and they all say the same.

So, as you're a native, now I know it MUST be true how great it is.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Green-Eyed Lady(GEL) said...

I'm thrilled to read that blowing out those candles on your BD cake didn't put too much of a mental strain on your synapses.

I'm eagerly anticipate NYC relapses regaled in full flavor. :D

8:09 AM  
Blogger Hick said...

Happy Birthday.

Why does it take 3 times as long to walk a city block in NYC as anywhere else? Is it because of all the people?

I visited when I was 15 and loved the place, but it is a long, long way from here and I don't see myself returning anytime soon. You helped me to visit it through your eyes. Thanks!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

Obviously you commented on my blog simply because you weren't getting enough comments on yours. Thanks for stopping in. If you read my post headed The Big Town then you already know that I've never been to New York. But Manila has more than its share of poor people and human pretzels too, so I almost feel like I've been there. Maybe that's because you write about it so well. I talked with my dad yesterday and he told me his sister has now heard about my webpage and wants to see it. She's 89 years old. If she reads it carefully she'll figure out that the man she was married to for fifty years was probably her cousin. My theory is that they both had the same great great grandparents.

12:36 PM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

I glad you had a good time and even more glad you are back writing.
You are so darned interesting..

12:56 PM  
Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt said...

You paint a great picture of NY. Now I don't even have to visit! Although I still need to taste the food!

1:54 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

Welcome back! That was nicely done indeed. #14 had me grinning :)

2:14 PM  
Blogger Mildred Garfield said...

I am a first time visitor to your blog and will be back. Loved reading about your NY trip.

Being an armchair traveler was a great way for me to SEE NY.

4:30 PM  
Blogger annush said...

You have learned a lot of really wonderful lessons...

I'm glad you enjoyed your birthday!

4:52 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Wow, more amazing descriptions of your child hood city to read...fabulous! You sooo make me want to see all these things in person. My brother visited NYC last year and talked about how somber and gut wrenching ground zero was for him and the atmosphere around it. How wonderful that they renamed the street after your friend Annie, what a lovely tribute to her. Welcome back Carol, always such a pleasure to read your posts.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous colleen said...

Between you and Kenju, I feel like going to New York now. And Hey, It's my birthday too! (My mind thinks in scrapbook or bloggish too).

5:43 PM  
Blogger kenju said...

Carole, the NYC posts are up (divided into two sections).

11:10 PM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...

Wow, Carol, what a great trip. New York's on the list to visit in the future. I'll have to check my blog to see what year, though, since Beth and I have our next 10 years of vacations planned.

Now did you take pictures for a real scrapbook? Scrapbooking is fun. Join us. Resistance is futile.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Lyvvie said...

That was a wonderful post! thanks so much for sharing.

I can totally relate to 13) I love the summer with all the tourists. If hear someone dropping "R"'s all over the place, I can't stop myself from talking to them! It's magnetic to link up with folks from your own tribe.

6:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HA!.. and you thought that the only word you get from me is by e-mail!.. thanx for the great mental pic of NY... I can visualise it again, you draw a great mental picture.. I did visit there for 4 days in 1971.... its a long way from Australia... and thanx for the great emails, Carol, its great to hear from you, Hi to Ed.. Kevin (cool blue ice)

8:24 AM  
Blogger Raehan said...

Oh my god! That was wonderful. I love New York. Your post so poignant and funny at the same ime. I miss it.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Carly said...

Happy birthday, a bit late


11:50 PM  
Blogger Lizabeth said...

Happy belated Birthday! You make New York sound more and more appealing every time I read yours posts about it. I'll get there someday. Currently is truly on the other side of the country.

3:09 PM  

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