The People in My Neighborhood: The Cyclist

The Daily Life Text

I still remember the first time I ever saw Aileen outside of our usual haunts. We were both on the Upper West Side. She had a plastic carrier bag in one hand and was standing in front of a plate-glass window looking at some clothing items. The shop was Clothingline, when they used to have a brick-and-mortar, and I remember standing just near her, wondering if it was the same girl that…

Yep, it was. We exchanged hellos, and then some random platitudes. I can’t remember when we started hanging out after that, or if we actually did. I do know that when we did actually start shooting the shit together, it was in ways that were so far removed from the way we actually met that you might consider it lucky that we met at all.

So enough dancing around the shrubbery–how did we actually meet?

Answer: On bikes, both strong as can be, both confident, both just discovering, I think, what kind of a person extreme competency makes you.

Aileen and I met in 1997, during training for the 1997 Boston-New York AIDS Ride. I did it with my then-boyfriend, who lived in Boston. I was living in New York, and I trained for the thing largely in my living room, on a hydraulic trainer. But I did go on one or two training rides, and it was there that I met Aileen. We would both go on to complete the 1998 AIDS Ride together. Aileen would ride in support of an AIDS Vaccine across Alaska later, and I would ride across Montana in support of the same cause the year following.

Like I say, I’d never seen her in anything other than spandex before the day I saw her standing in front of Clothingline, but I do remember thinking that this woman of bright smile and open demeanor was one to keep track of.

We floated in and out of each others’ lives for years; and then we lost track of each other. Later, we floated back into each others’ orbits, and have known each other through a fair number of birthdays. I have spent two New Years with Aileen. One was a year in the height of my social life, when I had to hit five New Year’s parties, dragging along a boyfriend who wasn’t too keen on all of the shuffling. It was just before Aileen moved to Colorado.

Aileen was, at the time, the coolest person in my immediate circle. She was the quintessential New York girl, the one I wanted to be, with a terrific apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, two cats, her bike stored neatly away. She had a bar at which everyone knew her name. She knew the firemen and the guys who rode Harleys; her hairstylist was her best friend; she introduced me to lots of different people. She played the guitar. Her friends were vastly different from her. She picked up and moved to Colorado, a couple years after I was considering, and eventually not ready to, move to Montana.

Later, she would be a rock in what might be the absolute most confusing time in my life. But I had no way of knowing this. In fact, Aileen has been there through the Married Man, the Cocaine Addict, the Ego-Maniac, and countless friend rotations. (Why do we give our ex-boyfriends capitalized nicknames, but not our ex-friends? Maybe I should start. Well, there’s Dead-to-Me, but that’s about it…)

I also didn’t know, at the time, that Aileen can write. And if now I am eternally frustrated that she doesn’t do more with her writing, I also know that our relationship is indicative of the way I’d like to approach life, and my fragile wish that more of the world will eventually know Aileen’s writing: what’s meant to be eventually will be.

Aileen’s bike is in a corner now, and has been for a little while. It’s a lovely hat-rack. But it’s kept free of dust, and Aileen knows it’s a beautiful machine. She also knows that she’d like to get back on it. Wouldn’t it be nice if, one day, Aileen and I got to ride our bicycles again together?

The People In My Neighborhood: The Teacher

The Daily Life Text

Almost at the bottom of my second cup of coffee. In accordance with my self-imposed rule of posting more than once a month on this thing, here’s a series of posts about the past week and the people in it. But really, it’s about the varied people in my life, and how they got there.

On Wednesday I went down to my friend Alan’s school, Bronx Science, to talk about ShelterBox. Alan and I have been trying to put this together for a long time. He managed to squeeze me into his Comparative Government class, all seniors, all two and a half weeks from graduating.

The awesome mural at the entrance of BxSci HS (photo: BXSci)

People, can I just say how incredible it is to watch a friend teach? Even if it’s just taking brief command of a class and then turning it over to you; there is something remarkably moving about the process of watching someone you know and love; someone who’s lived a long and storied life, part of which you’ve been there for; stand in front of a class of students who could be unruly, but aren’t, in his presence.

Alan’s students are thoughtful and kind; smart and curious; loving and giving. They are reflections of Alan. Anyone who’s ever doubted the influence teachers have on their charges should witness something like this.

Later Alan took me to lunch. We had mac and cheese in the school caf. I love school cafs. We were in the teacher’s cafeteria, but whatever: same food. I only wish there were fish sticks and tater tots. Alan looks unimpressed here.

I, however, was impressed by the milk cartons:

Hello! “El Moo!”

Would you like to know how Alan and I met? It is a classic New York story. It was early summer, 2001. Maybe even late spring. I was working in advertising sales, and living in Astoria, Queens.

I liked it there. On this particular late-spring day, I dashed down the subway stairs at 59th and Lex, eager to get home, and ran into a wall of people. This is always a bad sign; it means the trains are bogged down someplace and we will all get home a little later, after a sticky subway ride all the way back.

I breathed out, “Ugh,” and looked at the guy next to me, doing a crossword puzzle. “Wow. How long has it been like this?”

He looked up from his puzzle and shrugged. “Dunno. Just got here.”

“Oh, okay.”

I opened my book (Carl Hiasson, but I can’t remember which), and he went back to his crossword puzzle. Not long after, our train arrived, and I looked at him. “Not bad after all,” I said, and he nodded.

We got on the train and I promptly fell asleep, which I did often in those days. You get to knowing where your stop is and your body figures out pretty quickly how long you can nap for, but the crossword-puzzle guy had no way of knowing that. So he watched, nervous for me, as stop after stop went by and I slept.

At the last stop, he got up and reached for my foot to shake me awake, but I snapped awake just in time.

“Oh. I was just about to wake you,” he said, and I grinned.

“This is my stop!”

We walked out together, and he asked about the book I was reading. We made small talk until I got to my corner. He lived only a block beyond, and it seemed we’d been living in that small radius for the past two years or so.

We didn’t exchange information.

But we ran into each other steadily for the next few days, weirdly enough, returning books and videos; picking up stuff; things like that.

We never once exchanged information, and then there came a stretch where I didn’t see him. And then came moving day.

I was moving into Manhattan, and I took the day off to do so. I tried to pack up and then, at around 10:30, realized that I still had dry-cleaning to pick up. I locked up my apartment one last time and went down the street. I turned the corner, and bumped right into Crossword-Puzzle-Carl-Hiasson-Book-Video-Library-Train guy.

“I’m moving today!” I squawked, or something like that.

“I’m late to work!” he returned.

“Okay, we have to do something about this,” I said, and finally, finally, we exchanged information.

We’ve been friends ever since. Alan was with me in the days after 9-11. He’s seen me through breakups and worse; several job changes; he’s been a constant shining star in my life.

I know his students feel the same.

yes, the only photo i have of us together. so lame!

I think I have survived

The Daily Life Text

What is there to survive, you want to know? None of it was bad. It was all very good. But it was completely and totally draining. If I were the type to keep scrapbooks, I’d now be staring at a pile of ticket stubs, napkins, photos and things to paste into said imaginary scrapbook. But I’m not, so here’s a digital photo dump.

Monday the 10th our good friend Audrey came into New York for the evening, and Jim and I went down to see her by train. At the Hawthorne station, I spotted these awesome steelworks. There’s a whole series of them, from hobos to women waiting at the station for people to come in on the train.

We had some lovely sushi in midtown. It was so nice to see her.

I miss Audrey. We used to see her a lot, and w are only lucky that she comes into New York quite a bit for business. Otherwise, the distance between Chicago and New York would seem a lot bigger.

The following Thursday morning, I went for my first jog with a group in forever. But the group didn’t show up. So I slogged around on the Bronx River pathway for a little half an hour, and then I went home and prepped for my morning meeting in Irvington, New York, where I was reminded of how much I like the river towns and their sharp slope downwards to the Hudson River.

You can just see the Tappan Zee bridge in this photo. I liked living there, back in the mid-90s.

Later that day, my friend Nic, another ShelterBox Response Team member, came to visit me. It was Nic’s first time in New York, and after being stuck in traffic for sometime, we finally got back to my place and hot-footed it down to the Big Bad in time for Nic’s hair appointment with an acquaintance of mine. I had a pedicure in the meantime. (I am shocked, by the way, to realize that almost a month later, they still look pretty good.)

Spotted this building advert on the way over.

Later we went to see a friend of Nic’s art exhibit. It is art of the type I call stupid good: You don’t have to know anything about art to know it’s just damned good work. Damien Hirst bought two of the ones on exhibit, and although I’m not one for picked cows, I do trust the man has good taste in art.

We’d met Robert and his girlfriend Sarah at the exhibit, and then we went off to get Nic some good old-fashioned eats at Katz’s Deli. Yum.

Good haircut, right?

Nic was with us for a week. It was really nice, and pretty whirlwind, but it was immediately comfortable–Nic just sort of fit into our daily routines. She could have stayed for months and we’d not have cared one iota.

We took her to part of the Appalachian trail and the woods by us and in general had a great time. The day after Nic left, my parents dropped in.

We took them all over, too, and Dad took a bunch of pictures, but I’m convinced they’re all still on his camera. He still has photos on there from my brother’s wedding. That was at the end of January. Storage cards are a bad thing for some people.

My mom wanted to go to Bergdorf’s. I took her. We saw these. I want some.

They are salt and pepper shakers. More important, they are eggs with legs on them. Most important, they are hilarious.

We took them to Rhode Island. They liked it. I liked that my mom has always wanted to go there and never has been, and now she can say she did that.

My parents were in town for a week. Two days after they left we drove to Rhode Island again, for a wedding. But this trip was far more casual. We spent Sunday at Bluff Point, which is probably one of the prettiest places int he world. I could totally live there, maybe in this house:

Sprocket was happy, too:

And we saw lots of gorgeous flora:

Actually, all of these photos were taken at Hadley Farm, neighboring Bluff Point.

And then later we did actually go over to Bluff Point, which is a state park and at which you can mountain bike, ride horseback, stroll and swim if you’d like.

And fish, obviously. I like this picture. It has a Winslow Homer quality to it. But of course I flatter myself.

I love the fractal quality of these ferns. So pretty!

If you’re wondering why I’m taking photos of what looks likeĀ  a plain old gnarly root system, it’s because not three minutes earlier I watched a little girl, no more than 8 years old and wearing Crocs, kick ass down this section of trail. She just rode it, like it was nothing. So cool.

Here we are at Bluff Point. It was a nice day.

Later on that evening we went back to Narragansett, not far from where we’d taken my parents to see the Newport mansions, for my friend Tom’s wedding.

As usual, my head is enormous. But the dress, which I bought at a second-hand store in Pittsburgh, actually turned out OK. I had it taken up a bit. For $45 plus the $25 for the alteration, it was a steal. And I’ve always wanted a vintage cocktail dress…this one is from the 50s and has these stiff sized panels at the hips to give me more shape.

It was a really awesome wedding. Tom is Jewish and Sabrina is Brazilian, so their huppah was constructed of branches Tom had found after a windstorm in Central Park and a beautiful tropical cloth. It was adorned with tropical flowers. Gorgeous. Their declaration of intent was Buddhist, we recited a Shinto prayer of happiness, and their song choice was “Time After Time,” performed by two of their friends. Way cool. And we met some really nice people.

We drove home the next day and plowed through the workweek, and then we went to York, PA yesterday for one more wedding.

York is an interesting place. It clearly had had its boom time, but it’s a little downtrodden now. We stayed at the Lafayette Club, and that was interesting.

The portraits you see lining the walls are all of presidents.

The building itself is awesome. Definitely a little run down, but the historical details were fabulous. The price was right and the location–across the street from the reception site–was terrific.

Perhaps the best detail of all, though, was the old communication system.

It looks very muppet-like.

See?

Anyway. That is why I am tired. Now I am sitting here in my living room, realizing that I really must commit to more blog posts so things like this photo dump don’t happen again. My fingers are tired. I have bored you for 1150 words. I must stop.

‘Til next time,

Your friendly local airhead