Manhattan’s Secret World

[Editor’s Note: Everyone gather round and welcome a new guest to this here weblog. Exile On Pain Street submitted the winning entry for the Tag Line Contest, and as his punishment reward, he has chosen to post some of his brilliant work here for you to consume. I’m so sure that you’ll enjoy this enough to navigate the blogosphere to Exile’s blog and click the follow button that I won’t even tell you to because I know you will whether I tell you to or not. Take it away, Exile!]

Twindaddy ran a new-tagline contest and I won. For my just deserts, he has foolishly allowed me to guest post here. I’ve decided to re-post something I wrote in 2010. It’s important to me and it was written long before I migrated to WordPress, so it’s new to you.

~~~~~~~~~~

The current recession has kicked me in the plums pretty hard. For the past 22 months, I’ve worked as a consultant at about a half dozen investment banks, none of whom are in any mood to hire on staff.

Back in 2009, I went through a three-month period of unemployment. Since then, I’ve had scattered 2-3 week outages of work. I consider myself fortunate because I know some folks who haven’t weathered this recession as well as I have, so I’m not complaining. Much. We were never in any financial distress. My Bride and I live frugally and that helped keep panic at bay.

But something wholly unexpected happened during those work stoppages. I tasted what life is like when I’m not obligated to sit in an office all day, every day. And the sweet flavor has lingered in the windmills of my mind. It’s like the time I was gifted a first class upgrade on a flight. It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me! All it did was show me how barbaric coach is.

There’s a lot of life going on outside my Manhattan office window. And sitting at the dinner table with The Daughters and My Bride every night is what it’s all about, isn’t it? But that kind of lifestyle takes money. Lots of money. I’m just a regular guy.

I went for a walk at lunch yesterday. It’s been sunny and cool all week. I wound my way through the Village and as I passed the Greenwich Village Bistro on Carmine Street, I heard music.

GV bistro1

I poked my head inside and stumbled onto this scene.

GV bistro2These three old rattlesnakes—one on a beaten upright piano, one playing a trumpet with a mute and one playing a trombone—were pumping out New Orleans jazz tunes. At 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday! They were masters of their craft. This is why I love this town so much. You can go out for a walk and it’ll show you a magic trick. Presto!

I took a seat at the copper top bar and ordered some split pea soup. The barmaid called me “hon” and chatted me up. There were only two other tables of customers. They were playing to an empty house.

GV bistro3There was one other person sitting at the bar. A soft, pudgy black guy who was working on a music score. At one point he yelled over to the musicians, “I’m gonna sing one, okay?” The piano player started a mid-tempo chug, the trombone came in, then the trumpet, and the guy sitting next to me sang, in a silky-smooth voice, a song about missing New Orleans. I almost wept into my soup.

GV bistro4There was a guy sitting at a table typing away on his Mac. How did he do it? How did he maneuver through life so that he’s able to spend his afternoons in this grand manner? [Fun fact: The waitress in this pic is the piano player’s granddaughter. What a joy it must be for both of them.]

GV bistro5

I think it’s too late for me. Do you know they just opened an Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney? I love Edward Hopper! He’s a Raymond Carver short story on canvas. Why am I sitting in an office all day instead of visiting the Hopper exhibit? For the past nine years I’ve spent close to four hours a day commuting. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I wouldn’t say that I’m wallowing in some Kafkaesque abject nightmare—I’m not suicidal—but life could, and should, be so much sweeter. Don’t you think?

This is the LAST thing I would have expected unemployment to teach me.

GV bistro6

 

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About Twindaddy (328 Articles)
Sometimes funny. Sometimes serious. Always genuine.

58 Comments on Manhattan’s Secret World

  1. The last time I was unemployed I spent a lot of time in front of my Xbox…

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  2. Interesting to see what effect it had on you, yes! I must say I agree with you – Hopper is great. I hope your job stuff has turned out well without you having to leave behind these interesting new views :).

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    • Thank you for your good wishes. Things are better professionally but, believer it or not, all these years later, I am still feeling the effects of the recession. A good, swift, kick in the plums will do that. And Manhattan continues to charm. I suppose it always will.

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  3. Ah Lord Mark, I near felt that, the music, the sheer beauty of that place you live in… I’m jealous, know I am. I don’t stumble across those missing NO very often, ever, but it sounds like there are a thousand stories around you like all the time. I want those. And now back to the slog, so that I can open my Manhattan office… easier said than done, son.

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  4. Right about now, unemployment sounds pretty good to me, so thanks. (Well, except for the damn bills, that is) My company is undergoing a serious transition and I’m not liking the looks of it. I may take a bit of zen from your post and feel more comfortable with whatever happens.

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  5. Snoring Dog Studio // March 10, 2014 at 8:25 am // Reply

    Life is going on all around us while we remain stuck in our cubes and in our heads. I’m trying to get ready for retirement and your post reminds me that I better figure out how to take advantage of what’s been out there all along.

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    • Yeah, well, until this fateful afternoon, I had NO IDEA that life was going on all around me while I was stuck in my cube. I was blissfully ignorant. Part of me would have preferred to stay that way, to be honest. Like in The Matrix, I probably would have taken the pill that kept me numb. I forget which one it was.

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  6. Wonderful piece. I suppose sometimes the grass is greener, but we gotta do what we gotta do. Ideally we would find a nice balance between both worlds. By the way, loved this line: “And the sweet flavor has lingered in the windmills of my mind.”

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  7. One advantage of the years I worked in restaurants – my days off were weekdays, so I could often savor the delights of the city sans crowds.
    Now, I take a mental health day every so often to just go and play.

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    • The truth: At my age, I still play hookey from work every once in a while. Usually on a warm, sunny day. I won’t even tell my wife! I call in sick, come into the city and visit an art museum. Then I’ll go to the park. It’s such a juvenile way to act but it charges my batteries. And there’s so much to DO here. I can’t resist!

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      • Sometimes my wife and I will spend our evenings in the city, just to take advantage of some of the things around town.

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        • You’d be crazy not to! If you don’t take advantage of the good stuff outside this cracker box we work in, then all you’re doing is putting up with the noise, crowds, expense, dirt, attitude, etc., etc. for no reason. Taking advantage is what makes it all worthwhile.

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  8. Ahhh, Mark. So many of your posts make me long for my real home – the way it is NOW, or the way it was THEN. Either way, you remind me that I will always be a die-hard New Yorker, regardless of my zip code.

    The life force the streets exude just energizes me. I love the most unexpected things you can find, wandering around with no destination in mind.

    Just the comings and goings of the people in the lobby of my East Village apartment building on a Friday night was a parade that could keep my friends entertained for a whole evening! Goddamn, I miss that!

    Loved this post. And great tagline, by the way.

    xo,
    S

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    • And the city is so fluid! It’s always changing. I always say that in the decades I spent in New York, split between Brooklyn and Manhattan, I was ALWAYS BROKE but I was NEVER BORED. Can you imagine!? Not being bored once for 20-years!? I now refer to that period of time as ‘the good old days.’ Because they were.

      The GV Bistro is still there and you can still go there to hear music. What a great accidental find!

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      • You may need money to live in New York, but not to walk around and enjoy it. So much of the entertainment is free.

        When I bring my son there, he gets to experience things that he could never see here. Like an incredible guitarist playing Beatle songs in Washington Square Park, with a whole group of people, standing around singing. Beautiful. I want him to experience that. Joy.

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        • In New York, there’s a dark poetic panache to being broke. The struggle is a noble one. In many other places, Los Angeles, especially, if you’re broke, you’re a nothing and a nobody. Maybe it’s my imagination but I think the city is more accepting of broke-ass people like myself.

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  9. It’s a fact I make the best homemade, split-pea soup in the land. I will send you some. Do you like ham-hocks in your soup?

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  10. Neat post. I enjoy this serendipity that brings us amazing finds. It actually only seems to work when we are open and aware – not preoccupied with being somewhere else. Manhattan seems to be rife with such finds. Our family was visiting Manhattan doing the tourist thing and we parked downtown and walked to the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. On the way back, our little girl, Chantal, had to use the bathroom, so we scooted into the first public building we saw to find a restroom. Turned out to be the Manhattan Club and while we waited, I stood in amazement and looked at the Heisman trophy on display. I’m not much of a sports enthusiast so I was completely unaware that was it’s home. Amazing.

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    • Don’t knock the tourist thing! (Was that a knock? Probably not.) When I have visitors, I always do the tourist things with them. They’re popular for a good reason–they’re fun!

      I worked in lower Manhattan for a while and never visited the Manhattan Club. That’s one of the most appealing facets of this place; you can live here a long time and still find something new to see/do. I suppose that’s why it’s so popular and bloody expensive.

      Chantal is a beautiful name. Well done, sir!

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  11. Maybe you should go into the tagline business. Become one of those , hot shot marketing type guys who can sit in cafe’s eating split pea soup and listen to Jazz. Nice.

    Upshot – what an interesting day you had 🙂

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    • I can be creative in short flashes. Small batches. I could never cough up an entire novel or anything super-involved like that. Perhaps a second career in advertising awaits me.

      Accidental days are the best, aren’t they? More, please.

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  12. NY is fabulous and I will be losing one of my kids to the Big Apple in a year or so, she is starry eyed and there is no talking her out of it and why would i? Now I have someone to visit! Great post. Thanks Twin Daddy for pointing me in your direction.

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    • This is a great time to be in New York. True, it’s expensive, but the economy is robust and it’s never been safer. You should visit! This place isn’t for everybody and you might not even like it, but you should see it at least once in your lifetime.

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      • I love NYC! I was last there Christmas time of ’12 and St. Patrick’s was under construction but not much had happened yet. Love the picture you shared. My sister used to live on the UWS and my kids have been a couple of times. We all love it. I do remember back in the bad old days in the 80s when Port Authority was scary, sometimes I kinda miss that. I’d rather have my kids walking around NYC now than downtown Portland, Oregon where we live.

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        • Christmas it THE BEST TIME to visit Manhattan. The city gets all gussied-up with lights and tinsel like a cheap, Lower East Side transvestite. People are generally nicer (except the locals who bitch about the tourists).

          When I moved to Manhattan my neighborhood was so crime-ridden that I had a few friends beg me not to take the apartment. They were afraid for my safety! But I had to. It was a gigantic, two-bedroom, rent stabilized beauty from 1932. Ironically, the street has since been gentrified and I couldn’t afford to move back there even if I wanted to. The exact same thing happened in the Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in. I’m sick of blazing the trail for wealthy white people and trust fund kids. From now on, it’s going to be post-gentrified neighborhoods only. I did my time.

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  13. I miss being unemployed every day of my corporate America job.
    I miss the freedom.
    I miss the lack of responsibility.
    I miss whole days of not wearing pants.
    I miss long lunches and day drinking and Facebooking.

    But I don’t miss the depression.
    I don’t miss depending on my boyfriend for money.
    I don’t miss being so bored that I can’t take sitting at home for one minute longer.

    But I definitely DO miss New Orleans, and would LOVE to hear that song. Never been to NY, but it’s on the list.

    One day. One day.

    Also–LOVE the tagline.

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    • No pants!? Is that what lead to your unemployment?! 😉

      I was never comfortable with unemployment. I had many friends here in NYC who lost their yobs in the great recession of ’09 and most of them took it in stride. They hated working for ‘The Man’ anyway and didn’t miss him. Not me. I like The Man. He allows me to pay my bills on time and stay out of debt. I hate being in debt more than I hate working for The Man. I can also see a play every once in a while. That’s a plus. It’s a trade-off, that’s for sure.

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  14. Oh! The memories! 🙂 Are those guys still playing?

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    • I haven’t been back there in almost three years so I’m not sure. I think the piano player is still there. I don’t know about the other. It was just an informal gathering each week. Nothing serious. Leave a tip in the beer picture sort of thing.

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  15. I think this is my favorite post of yours (Mark’s? Not sure who’s commandeering these comments) and I loved every second of reading this. Yes, this is what life should be. A jazz band at 1pm on a Wednesday. Not being stuck in an office. But I, too, have bills to pay and a child to feed, so it is not my every day life. But it’s my sometimes life, and I savor every one of these moments – whether they are mine, or yours.

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    • It is I. Mark. I have a hand in these comments. How did we end up in this fix? Sitting at a desk all day when there’s so much going on outside. I was blissfully unaware until this particular afternoon you just read about. Then the wheels started turning in my head.

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  16. I’ve been unemployed for the last six months (out of choice for health reasons), and although I am eager to start work in two days’ time, the time off has ruined me. I have spent hours writing in our riverfront park close to home and exploring the galleries and nature spots of my new city, and I wish I had spent more hours that way. I guess it gives us appreciation when we do have the opportunity to experience moments like those.

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    • It’s a bloody cold slap in the face, innit? I don’t mind my job but I really do envy people who get to do what they love for a living. In Springsteen’s “I Ain’t Got You,” he sings that he’s been paid “…a king’s ransom for doing what comes naturally.” That’s the goal. Many are called but damn few are chosen.

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  17. I remember this post, and love it. In fact, I was sitting in a bar on Sunday listening to three old geezers play guitars and singing (one of which was the Mr.) and thought of it, so it’s most serendipitous that you chose it for this guest spot as I was going to try and search it out.

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    • I picture loads of places just like this one out where you live. I’ll bet you know where all the good ones are. You see the most amazing, accomplished musicians in these joints. In many ways, it beats Carnegie Hall. And I’m not kidding about that.

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  18. you always find a way to remind to grab on to joy when it comes dancing by, sugar! 😉 thanks! xoxoxo

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  19. Nice one Mark, New York sounds like the shit, man, only ever got there once in my early 20s on business and wouldnt have seen a damn thing but for my Limo driver taking me out and showing me everywhere he could all night. I still have a shot glass he “gleaned” from Ramondos bar. Thanks for bringing back a great memory. Cheers REDdog

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    • This place IS the shit but it certainly has its dark underbelly. It can be friendless and cold. Expensive, too. If you’ve got a ton of money, then this is THE place. Your life is like an endless Gershwin song. One sparkling tony night to the next. Otherwise, it’s a struggle. But it must be worth it or it wouldn’t be so popular.

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  20. It’s worn well Exile.

    Like

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