SoHo (Babies in Manhattan, and the Perfect Sandwich)

26th August 2010

Went south from Washington Square, and found myself in a semi-pedestrianised cobblestoned heaven / hell of chi-chi restaurants. (Ah, so this is SoHo…) One was all terrace, with lunch time fashion types sunning themselves; that is, if potential eyes could constitute a sun. But there were almost no rubber-neckers, because all potential witnesses were themselves studiously checking their digital communicative equipment, checking their make up, or talking to a friend who was doing the very same.

The café I’d been looking for, Olive’s, recommended in the NFT for its amazing sandwiches, had a queue going out the door. (How much of their lunch break did people spend queuing for the perfect sandwich? It reminded me of something a young Hispanic architect had told me at 6 a.m. while tailgating at Bryan and Laura’s truck under a raised section of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, after their gig at Union Pool in Williamsburg. He said that when you were making good money, when you’d worked so hard to get to where you had, finally, arrived, you thought nothing of queuing for half an hour at the restaurant that served the best ramen, Kobé steak, the latest sushi, “because you deserved it.” Though it sounded a tad like the L’Oréal worldview, I knew what he meant.) Nearby, office girls sat on window ledges with their legs crossed, drinking plastic cups of iced coffee, checking their text messages so as to appear occupied, and not be seen vulnerably eating alone on such strange perches three feet off the ground. Sporty women, slim, forty-ish, went by with baby strollers like designer tanks. The sight of babies in Manhattan had a touch of the alien about it: of a customised humanity, cyborgised – not by technology, but by money: the feeding tubes of sheer liquidity it took to raise children in this environment.

Women passed behind mirrored shades, in black mini-skirts and polished black leather boots; bangles and necklaces jangled on their perfect, barely-moving breasts. They had severe Cleopatra fringes, like designer biker chicks without bikes, as if they’d just come back from shopping for an identity. Guys in check shorts, thick-rimmed prescription glasses, and de rigeur pork pie-esque hats stood around talking, like nerds who’d suddenly discovered they were hip. A blond, tanned, muscular dude in a white vest and jeans walked past the restaurant. He was handsome enough to be a Calvin Klein model (and probably was) but no one noticed him. No one was looking at, or watching, any one else.

I went to look for a café somewhere else. Who knows, maybe in a year’s time I’ll be queuing for the perfect sandwich, but not yet.

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Cyborg Subway

1st Sept 2010

There’s a sense of psychic armouring on the subway. Some people wear big, reflecting, non-introspective mirror shades from CHiPS underground: the touch of mercury in the glasses emphasises their cheekbones, and turns them into beautiful, cruel cyborgs. Certainly, they’re over-equipped with technology: always ear phones, sometimes huge stereophonic devices that would be better suited to Navajo code breakers in WWII than civilian life. They cast their eyes down to check their smart phones and, often, it’s the all-in combo. Totally integrated technology. Full. Metal. Jacket. Locked and loaded. All that is lacking is a jack to mainline into the arm (which tangentially reminds me of the snowboarding coat my friend John Loco wore during a San Anton Austrian ski / party season which had Ipod plug in, and a control panel on the arm: perfect for when the posse went off piste en masse, weaving through the fir trees on full moon nights after a party at the summit).

People have their books, of course; but to the non-cyborg eye, the armour a book provides, its distraction from others’ eyes seems valid, edifying, educational; so, as a non NYC veteran, I almost do not notice how many people are reading. I might well notice, for example, that the Asian woman near me – Japanese-Chinese: a beguiling blend – is reading, but that’s only because she’s doing it while standing up, rag-dolling in perfect sync to the carriage’s lurches. Otherwise, the readers’ armouring is, in Dungeons and Dragons parlance, more leather armour, to the titanium plate mail that morphs around the people with white earphones, some of whom are singing along to their music.

Which brings us to the confluence of two streams: the first is the aggressive, “don’t look at me (invade my bubble)”; the other, just as active, is “do look at me as I sing along to my multi-media device, I need you to witness me, provide me with psychic energy, to help me to surf to the crest of this moment’s sea of other people rather than drown in it.” If not mad, they seem clinically neurotic: a sane reaction to an insane environment. It’s a war for recognition, and a sinking into anonymity; hour by hour, minute by minute, the city is a stressor, a relief. Whatever it is, the city will amplify it, every element, every viral strain of personality, like a stack of speakers pimped and tweaked to an excessive output. It batters you until you realise you’re being digested. I’ve been here a week. I think I need to be sedated.