don't get me wrong

This one's (mostly) for Ben G.

No, I'm not living in an industrial loft. On the link below, my sofa is the one on the left after you scroll down.

As for Sammy, well, let's just put it this way. I discovered that he can name every Oscar winner from 1993 to the present. Impressive. Not unprecedented, but impressive...


holding pattern

For those who care, the sofa arrived yesterday... and was promptly broken by the movers as they brought it up the stairs! At this point, did I really expect otherwise?

Have a date with the boy tonight, too. [He needs a name... I will hereby christen him Samuel Beckett, in honor of Wating for Godot.] He made it clear, though, that he's gonna have to leave after we have dinner and go someplace else. Again no suprise there. On attend plus...


awaiting deliverance

It feels like I've been waiting forever. Waiting for my sofa to be delivered, for one thing. It's been almost two weeks now since I purchased it; that moment had seemed like the culmination of a long and arduous search to find the right sofa, the best deal. Once I'd found it, I thought my work was done. I'm learning not to assume that. Wait until delivery.

The sofa was supposed to come last Friday -- I even took a day off of work -- but the truck broke down. It was then supposed to come on Sunday, but they "forgot it" at the warehouse. And now it is supposed to arrive tomorrow. We'll see. The extension of this process is emblematic of where I am right now. I've latched onto this sofa as if it were a liferaft. Clinging to its bulk, climbing up into it, I assume, is what will save me from the sea of liminality in which I'm currently treading water.

The two weeks' wait has lowered my expectations, though. Even if the sofa does arrive as scheduled tomorrow, what is that really going to change? It will fill up space in our living room. It will give me someplace to sit and sprawl out on. But, in the course of setting up this apartment, every time I accomplish something, every time I cross another item off the list, I let out a deep sigh of relief and then realize that five other things have arisen in the interim that need to be taken care of. Things that hadn't even been on the list when I started. In the weeks I was waiting for the sofa, I realized that I needed wall shelving, a larger mirror, a new comforter, a bedside lamp. Will I be able to get all those things this weekend and get them set up? Realistically, the answer is no. More and more waiting, more and more transitionality.

It's been going on and on now, to the degree that I can't even remember what it felt like to be settled, to walk by a housewares or furntiture store and not think, "Oh, I'd better stop in there and see if there's anything else I need." My inner monologue is a never-ending calculus of when and where I can get the next item to advance "Operation: Domestic Bliss." I make advances and I fall behind. Two steps forward, one step back. There is progress, but still the final point seems obscure.

Are other people this end-result-fixated? Somehow I don't think so. Most people I know who've moved don't seem to look upon the process with the attitude that I seem to, an attitude more appropriate for a journey across the country in a Connestoga wagon. "How far along am I?" is my constant question. "Am I almost there yet?"

Which leads me, as it inevitably does, to ask why I think and feel this way. Why does the prospect of a housewarming party -- an occasion that will ostensibly mark the point at which I say, "The move is complete, this is my new house" -- why does that seem like an occasion of profound significance? Will it be this weekend or will it have to wait a whole week longer?? I am truly obsessed with the idea of introducing people to my new home, but paranoid that no one should see it until it has been fully established the way I want it to be. Like a painter fussily dabbing his canvas, I want everything to be just so because I have internalized this sense that somehow I am being judged on this apartment. Judged by whom? By my former housemates probably -- have I moved up a rung on the social ladder? By the infamous Helmut, who scoffed so famously at my previous quarters. "This'll show him!" I think to myself whenever I pay more than I probably should for some shoe rack or other item at Bed, Bath & Beyond. I want the agony to end and yet I am terrified of completing it because that means announcing, "This is the best I could do."

All the while that I wait, a parallel process is becoming more and more extended. Soon before I moved dealings with a new boy began; we met finally at the end of my first week here and (I thought) hit it off. Since then, though, my attempts to get together again have been met not with disinterest but rather with prolongation. Because of his schedule (he's a senior in college -- I know, I know, I don't need the eye-rolling, please!) and because his brother was in town and because of a hundred other things in both our lives it's been two weeks since we last met. But two weeks spent in quite infrequent communication. No surplus of flirty text messages or emails to keep the flame burning. Days lapse between responses; they feel like signposts on my Westward journey. They are always positive, though, and they allude to a desire to get together again soon, but there's no motion to rush into anything (certainly not my bed).

I can't really explain my faith in this extended courtship. There's something about what happens between us that seems definite (as the delivery of the sofa seems definite, even though I can't be sure which day it will finally arrive). Each time I despair of hearing back, I get another missive, another suggestion that we meet at this time a few days hence. I almost feel as if my intentions are being tested: what am I after? Can I stick it out to the bitter end? The benefit of all this prolongation, of course, is that it gives me more time to set up my apartment. It's not as if I'm sitting by the phone waiting for him to call (I have nowhere to sit, after all!). When he does finally come over here, he's going to see not some thrown-together space but a reflection of me, an environment in which every detail has been deliberately chosen.

And that's kind of scary. What is this mania with getting everything right? Why this steadfastness for a boy whom I've only met and made out with only once? Perhaps they both stem from the fact that I'm not getting any younger and what I long for is stability, permanence. An apartment that I've invested time and money in, where things are nailed to the walls. A boyfriend who's gonna stick, who's gonna fit into this apartment and become a part of it. That's what's underneath these twin anxieties, a longing to finally get the full shipment delivered, to get the whole set, everything, and to no longer be perpetually anticipating love and commitment, no longer traipsing over to the apartments of boys I'm hooking up with so that I can sleep in their beds and leave the next morning in the same clothes I came in with. I want a place of my own where I can stay in and someone who'll stay in with me.

This is probably not healthy. It's definitely competitive -- competitive with Helmut, for one (he and the boy went to the same school and know each other... again, no eye-rolling!), but also competitive with the world in general, with my co-workers and with all those people I know who seem permanently paired off. It's unhealthy to be driven to that extent by competition, but I will no longer deny it! I want people to come over to my housewarming party and stand with mouths agape at how well thought out the place is, how homely it seems. I want them to envy this life, this stability of mine. Because only then will it seem like that stability has finally arrived.


the poor you have always with you

My time has been eaten recently and my mind distracted by the seemingly unending process of shopping for more and more of the things that one "needs" to set up an apartment. Every day I buy more things, maxing out my credit card, and yet every day the list of things I still "need" seems to grow. I long for the time when my new apartment, nice as it is obviously going to be, will finally and completely feel like home. I'm writing right now from my roommate's computer, with unpacked boxes littering my bedroom and unbuilt shelving systems obstructing the hallways. The environment sometimes makes me feel like a displaced person, but of course I know it's ridiculous to say such a thing in light of the thousands of people have been legitimately uprooted and displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

My frustrations with my move, my inclination to consider myself a wandering nomad, are indicative of the fact that we middle-class New Yorkers have no perspective on anything. We don't know how easy we've got it in New York, but we certainly know how to whine. Was 9/11 anywhere near as bad a catastrophe as Katrina? I would argue it was not. Far less real estate was destroyed. Beyond the 2,000 something people who died in the Towers, their families and friends, who was affected? Life went on. Tourism took a hit, as did the downtown economy -- but nowhere near the hit it would have taken had the entire city been destroyed completely. And the majority of the victims were middle-to-upper-income working people, some with huge pensions and insurance policies, people in finance, police officers and firemen who had unions supporting them and their families. You only had to listen to the voices of the siblings reciting the names on the anniversary last week to realize how white the victims of 9/11 were. Not all of them affluent, by any means, but probably pretty secure in their lives before those planes hit.

Down in New Orleans, everyone in the city has lost something, because the city is no more. There will be no "going back to business as usual" because there are no more businesses. Moreover, though, the people most severly impacted by Katrina have been the poor. To paraphrase Helen Schlegel in Howards End, "People who had little have less."

What did 9/11 prompt? More than anything else it made us into a nation of self-conscious whiners and worriers: "Why do they hate us?" It made us jittery, uneasy, suspicious of our neighbors, suspicious of unattended packages. It impacted the national psyche more than anything else; it's as if the flames of the World Trade Center transmitted the native neuroticism of New York from coast to coast.

For most Americans the impact of Katrina is already on the wane. I could tell last Friday when I was at a concert and the audience groaned audibly when the musicians began to mention hurricane relief. We're not worried about the long-term implications of the Katrina disaster because it seems out of our control: we can't control the weather, right?

The real problem with the Katrina situation, though, is not what might come next but what came before, the sorry societal setup that subjugates so many of our citizens to poverty. It took a big wind to blow the veil off of that and to get the media to pay attention. The wrangling about securing the levees and FEMA being subsumed into Homeland Security is beside the point. How as a people can we continue to underserve so many of our most vulnerable citizens and then, when catasptrophe strikes, leave them to fend for themselves? As this very perceptive column from the Chicago Tribune argues, Katrina is just a more dramatic example of the kind of calamity the poor face every day and which many of us never notice.

The point is not to shore up the levees. The point is to remember our fellow man, the people who could not evacuate because they had no transportation, no disposable income. I'm struggling to make ends meet right now, paying twice as much in rent and needing to buy a slew of things to equip my new home. But how blessed am I to be able to charge my purchases and defer payments. To get transit checks from my employer that allow me unlimited access to the subway. My frustration as I shuttle back and forth between Manhattan and Brooklyn these past few weeks has been intense, but how much more frustrating are the lives of so many of the tenants in the building where I work, for whom a one-way $2 Metrocard is a luxury?

When are we going to have the conversations that matter? Not about the Freedom Tower or democracy in Iraq, but about domestic democracy, about enfranchising all of the people who have been left behind by technological advances and by the economic boom. The Democrats aren't ready to have that conversation; they're glad that Katrina has pushed down Bush's poll numbers but they aren't about to start "class warfare." Electorally, they would be foolish to do so. Katrina serves them best as a tool for winning in 2006 and not the wakeup call that it should be to the fact that something horrible has happened in our policy towards the urban poor, something that has been going on for decades.

New York suffered a blow on 9/11 but it survived. But for many New Yorkers (perhaps the majority?), not much really changed on 9/11. Many young, black New Yorkers, for example, living in Brownsville, Brooklyn, or in the Bronx only came to know what the World Trade Center was because it was destroyed. They'd never been there, never been in the heart of their own city and they still haven't. They're cut off from prosperity, culturally as much as anything else. They function in the economy as consumers of cheap entertainment and sneakers, as people to fill up the prisons, but not as voters or constituents whose interests politicians give a damn about. Where are the memorials for the slow destruction of our inner cities? Because we can't pinpoint the date, does that make them any less dead? For all of them, 9/11 doesn't mean much.

I hadn't planned to write all this. My head's been full of comforters and kitchenware. I've been operating in bourgie mode a lot recently. Which makes me realize how easy it is to empathize with televised tragedy when the victim is someone who looks like you, who works a job like you do, who makes the money you make. You say, "That could have been me." That was 9/11 for you, where catastrophe seemed suddenly personal. The poor, though, even in their suffering always seem to remain invisible. It takes a major leap of analytical thinking to consider how the decisions that we make in our daily lives connect us to the impoverished people in Kandahar and Falluja and now in New Orleans (not to mention in Bushwick and East New York) who had little and now have less. They don't get individualized write-ups in the New York Times. We don't see their "Faces of Grief." They're lucky if we even count the bodies.