Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Concrete Jungle


I go my way alone, grow my own
My own seeds shall be sown
In New York City...


I’ve been living in New York for just over a month now, and it’s hard to believe that this is my new home. For most of my life, New York has been a mystical sort of place. Like Los Angeles, it was a city that I’d heard of every day in way or another, but had never seen firsthand. This existential notion made me feel like New York City almost wasn’t a real place. All of that made the experience very surreal upon my first visit in late February 2002, especially on the heels of the 9/11 attacks.

It was my senior year of college and my club hockey team had made the trip up to the city for the national tournament. We didn’t have a lot of time to sightsee, but through a coach’s connection with the NYPD, we were able to take a private tour of Ground Zero normally reserved for families of the victims. Simultaneously visiting the city and the site of the terrorist attacks produced one of the strangest feelings in me. Not only was I finally in New York City, but I was bearing witness to the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in this country’s history. I was walking on hallowed ground, and suddenly both New York City and 9/11 were very real to me. It hit me the hardest when I saw hundreds of pictures of those missing. People my age—real people—gone forever. In the end it was a sad afternoon, but also a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


Onto a happier note… Not long ago I asked a friend who moved to New York earlier this year what he thought about living in the city. He responded by saying that at times, the city can make you feel the lowest of lows. But at others, like walking home at night, you look up to the sky, take in the cool night air and feel that you’re living in the best city in the world.

So far, my experience has been more of the latter. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, but upon moving to New York, my prevailing feeling is that the city is a living, breathing entity; a massive colossus of concrete. And its life force is the collective population of its 8.2-million people, always moving and dynamically interacting.

What sets New York apart from other places is its personality and charm; it has character, and everything feels real here. Real people, real places, real life. They’re all part of something I like to call "the three Ps": people, promises, and possibilities. And they’re all interrelated.

The people are largely what make New York New York. As the ultimate melting pot of culture, it’s a people watcher’s dream. On the subway alone you’ll see members of every race, age, country, class, gender, transgender, and so on. And the best part is that nobody cares. There’s no racism, no discrimination. Nobody cares about the different colors of our skin or our other petty differences that are given more attention elsewhere, because none of it matters. In New York, there are bigger concerns and ambitions that simultaneously bring people together and send them on their way, as is evident on the subway every day. The city’s driven by opportunity and individualism, but as New Yorkers, there’s also a palpable sense of unity—that we’re all in it together.

Then there are the possibilities. With so many different types of people and things to do, the possibilities seem endless here. You never know when you might run into Tim Robbins or what random thing you might get into on a Saturday night. The possibilities are completely open and invigorating. In a sense, living here feels a lot like being in college, especially not having to worry about getting a DUI as you stumble home from the bar. And judging by the sheer amount of drinking that people do here, it does indeed feel very much like being back in college :)

I’ve noticed that people who’ve never been to New York City have the perception that the city is this dark, cold, dangerous place (as is often portrayed on TV and in the movies). I, too, had that perception before I’d ever visited. Apparently the city was that way before Rudy Giuliani was mayor and proceeded to clean up the streets. Like any city, NYC has its bad parts, but for the most part, Manhattan is now one of the safest places in the U.S. And while it can be cold, it was also about 55° and sunny on December 28th (for what it’s worth in this hottest year ever).

The other common misconception is that New Yorkers are not friendly people. From who I’ve met so far, I can’t confirm this to be true. I will say that New Yorkers are not as openly and immediately hospitable as, say, your average Southerner, who will usually flash a friendly smile and a quick hello as you pass them by. But most locals are still helpful and respectful as people would be anywhere. And again, there’s that feeling that we’re all in it together. New Yorkers and transplanted New Yorkers all understand what it’s like to be lost in the city, and don’t have a problem telling you where Hudson Street is or where to get on the C train.

All that being said, New York obviously isn’t for everyone. Even I had the same initial feeling that most people have after visiting for the first time: “It’s a nice place to visit, but I could never live there.” And here I am.

It’s true that you sacrifice some peace, space, and money by living in New York, but for most people who are here, the rewards are greater, and the future is promises. And for me, the best part is knowing that at this time in my life, I’m where I’m supposed to be.


...and I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Buddy


And now I will tell you the story of Buddy the Cat.

It was a rainy Saturday night on May 4, 2006 when I returned home around midnight. Little did I know that a stray black cat was watching eagerly from the parking lot as I entered my apartment.

Shortly after getting inside, I heard an odd animal noise outside my front door. As I got closer, I realized it sounded like a cat meowing. Cautiously, I creaked the door open to find just such an animal looking up at me with bright yellow eyes.

At that moment we were both unsure about what to do. The cat obviously wanted to seek shelter from the storm, but could he trust me? I was skeptical about allowing any creature to enter my apartment, but I didn’t want to turn away what appeared to be a friendly cat in need.

After a few seconds, the cat entered my apartment and began surveying the scene. Would this be a suitable place to stay for the night?

Immediately I called my girlfriend at the time, who had cats of her own. She would know what to do.

Soon thereafter I was equipped with cat food and a litter box. Up until then, the cat had been understandably standoffish. But the second I dumped that dry food into his bowl, I was his new best friend.

One of the best moments came later that night when I got into bed. The cat quickly sprang up onto the bed and sprawled out against my leg, purring like crazy. He’d found a new home, and he was a happy boy.

***

Although I love pets, it wasn’t my intention to keep the cat, mostly because it wasn’t mine and I was used to living alone in my controlled environment. But after I received no responses to my "Lost Cat" signs around the apartment complex, I wasn’t sure what to do.

My girlfriend warned me about letting him outside, never understating the perils that lurked in the parking lot and the immediate outdoors. She had indoor cats, you see. The cat that was staying with me was not one of those, and he let me know it about every 30 seconds.

The next day, against the adamant admonition of my girlfriend, I decided to let the cat outside. He was free to roam and do as he pleased, and it felt like the right call. If the situation was somehow reversed, I’d hope he’d do the same for me.

Of course, he didn’t return for the rest of the day. When I told my girlfriend about it, she sadly muttered, “Well that’s not what I would have done.” Well, you weren’t locked up with him listening to his incessant whining all day long. I still feel justified in saying that.

Later that night we were watching Lost, and my girlfriend, an obsessive cat lover (if you haven’t figured that out by now), was still a little down about the situation. When in the middle of the episode, we heard a little scratching sound on my screen door. Sure enough, it was the cat. He’d found his way back. Needless to say, my girlfriend was overjoyed.

At that point I interpreted his return as a sign that maybe I was supposed to keep him. Sure, I wasn’t looking for a pet and he was real whiny, but he was also the most affectionate cat I’d ever met. Even as a lifelong dog lover, I knew that this cat was special. So I decided to give him a new home.

***

I remember taking him to the vet the next day. When I filled out the information form, I didn’t even know what to put for his name—I didn’t have one.

In the meantime, the vet’s instant impression of the cat was a positive one. He dragged him out of his carrier but was met with no vocal resistance. Immediately he said, “Oh, you’ve got a real friendly cat here.” And that first impression proved to be true for everyone who ever met my cat.

The vet estimated that the cat was about 2 or 3 years old and had already been neutered. So where was his owner? The vet informed me that, sadly, many people abandon their cats. Just drive out to a random apartment complex and dump them off. I guess I’ll never know for sure, but to this day that’s all I have to go on.

But, what to call this new creature who with me was to share my humble abode? No good names really came to mind, other than “Midnight” or “Whiny”. But there was one word I kept referring to him as, because it just seemed natural. After a few days of doing this, it hit me. It was so simple, natural, and true.

Buddy.

As I said, all of my friends who met Buddy agree that he’s pretty much the best cat ever. He’s got the sweet affection of a dog that wants attention and needs to explore the outdoors (often when nature calls), but the independence of a cat that you can leave at your apartment while you’re gone for the weekend. Buddy is a rare breed of cat, or cat dog, which I think is a more accurate classification.

Much to my surprise, I discovered how easy it was to treat Buddy the way almost every other pet owner treats their pet: like a baby and a member of the family. Before I knew it I was singing stupid songs to Buddy and asking him what he’d fixed me for dinner when I got home from work. I found it amusing anyway.

Buddy also made me smile. There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t just look at him napping in the fetal position or listen to one of his many sounds of satisfaction and not crack up. Buddy was one of the funniest things in my life and I don't think he ever knew it.

***

Out of all the sacrifices I’ve made in moving to New York City, giving up Buddy has been the hardest. Think about it: My car is at my parents' house, and while playing hockey here is much more inconvenient, I can still do it. Buddy, however, is a companion I no longer have.

All of this didn’t fully hit me until I pulled out a picture of him the other day.

It’s easy to get sad from dwelling on what you no longer have, but you have to look at the positive side of things. I gave Buddy to a former co-worker of mine who had fallen in love with him the first time she cat-sat for him back in March. Buddy still has a good home, and Lisa is thrilled to have him.

As for me, I think about the fact that I rescued Buddy from abandonment and gave him a good home for a year and a half. I gave him love, and he showed me love in return; by greeting me at my door every night when I got home from work, by scampering home to meet me upon summoning from the porch, and by curling up against me in a little ball every night when I went to bed.

Given the circumstances, deciding not to take Buddy to the city with me was the hard-but-right decision. But at the expense of my emotions, Buddy and his new momma are in an ideal living situation, and they are both happy. And that makes me happy enough to live with my decision.

When people ask me how I got my cat, I have to laugh, because I didn’t choose Buddy. He chose me. And it was one of the best decisions I never made.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Road Home


A few weekends ago I returned to Nashville to put the finishing touches on my recent migration to New York City. Although I'd started my job in New York the week before, I had to return to Music City one last time to pack up the majority of my stuff and officially move out of my apartment.

What did I learn from the experience? That moving sucks. I guess I already knew that, but it's an easy lesson to forget if you haven't moved in a while.

Living in a roomy apartment for five-plus years and being somewhat of a pack rat, I'd amassed all kinds of stuff, especially stuff I didn't even know I still had. And I found out just how much when I actually had to sift through it all. Clothes from high school, old music magazines, random CDs and cassettes, kitchen items I'd never used, various tools and cables, assorted gadgets, computer peripherals—you get the idea. I was even kind of proud of the fact that the only bottle of vegetable oil I'd ever bought—from May 2002—had somehow survived with just enough remaining to not make me want to throw it away, despite the greased-over layer that clung to the outside of the container. Gross, I know.

It was hard throwing some things away, even things that held only practical value ("Those are perfectly good hangers and jewel cases!") Things that I kept not out of necessity but on the off-chance that I needed them. But in moving to a place like New York City where space is keen, I was forced to ask myself, "Do I really need this?" for about 75% of the items I had. And most of the time the answer was "no."

The real savior of the whole moving process was my dad. A week or so before I left Nashville, he happened to be in town for a conference and was able to take many of my non-essential items back to Ohio in one of our minivans. Originally thinking that one van-full would be enough, I arranged for movers to get the rest of my stuff on December 1st. I figured I would fly back to Nashville the night before and do the rest of the packing myself, then drive my car back to my parents' house in Ohio, where I would keep it while in New York. I was on a mission, just like when I moved to Nashville on my own. But my dad wisely realized that I would be under a tough time crunch to pack and clean up by myself, so he once again volunteered his services. I still felt like I could have done it alone, but that proved to be a gross underestimation. My dad was instrumental in every step of the way, helping me pack, shipping my items out, cleaning the apartment, taking another van-full of my junk back to Ohio, and providing insight garnered from dozens of previous moves. Dad, I couldn't have done it without you.

Again, you just never know how much.... Every time we were making progress, I thought we were getting closer to wrapping things up than we actually were. But even with visible progress, there was always something else to attend to in order to leave the place like I found it. I liken the situation to that of peeling an onion, minus the severe case of watery eyes. You're just peeling away layer after layer, thinking you're gonna get there sooner before later. But it's baby steps.

Seven hours later, the flotsam that had littered my apartment disappeared. All of my framed pictures and furniture that had seen better days had vanished. Gone were my belongings and any trace that I'd actually inhabited the place. The apartment was once again a blank slate, without any memory of me for the five-and-a-half-years that I lived there.

When we were finally ready to shove off, I sat in my car before starting the ignition, taking in my apartment for the last time. I felt refreshed that we'd restored the place to the best of our ability, and relieved that the ordeal of moving out was finally over. But most of all, I felt content to be closing another chapter of my life, as amazing as it was.

Yep, it was time to move on. Time to head home.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Soothsaying


Ken Devine: armchair critic and college football prophet.

_____________________________________
From: Ken Devine
Sent: Monday, November 12, 2007 12:41 PM
To: 'Shawn Smith'
Subject: RE: underdog?

As crazy as it sounds, Ohio State still has a chance to play for the national championship this season. A lot has to happen, but given the upcoming opponents for the teams ahead of the Buckeyes—and not to mention the parity this year—OSU isn’t out of it yet. Observe what could happen to allow the Buckeyes back into the race:
  1. LSU loses to Ole Miss, Arkansas (TRUE), or the SEC Championship Game opponent.

  2. Oregon loses to UCLA, Arizona (TRUE), or Oregon State.

  3. Oklahoma loses to Texas Tech (TRUE), Oklahoma State, or the Big 12 Championship Game opponent.

  4. Kansas loses to Iowa State, Missouri (TRUE), or the Big 12 Championship Game opponent.

  5. West Virginia loses to Cincinnati, Connecticut, or Pittsburgh (TRUE).

  6. Missouri loses to Kansas State, Kansas, or the Big 12 Championship Game opponent (TRUE).

  7. Ohio State beats Michigan (TRUE).

  8. Arizona State loses to USC (TRUE) or Arizona.
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