11 April 2010

Omer 12: What Counts

Omer Day Twelve

"It is a sad privilege of man that he is able to love and fondle every creature and yet to hate those of his own species! Hatred between man and man arises from the fact (1) that one has in fact injured the other with wrongful word or deed and so has really endangered his existence; or (2) that they have come into conflict in the pursuit of the same objective, and so apparently frustrate one another." == S.R. Hirsch, Horeb.

Don't laugh but I think of this quote whenever I walk the dog around the neighborhood and alight upon another resident (one might even say a 'neighbor') of this urban idyll who coos and jiggles with joy over encountering my dog, but just can't muster up the energy or the focus to greet his fellow human being.

There are days when I chalk it up to just plain old urban alienation--we are so lost in the element of the great city's cacophonous busy-ness that by force of habit we look past what we expect (another face in the crowd) but still relish the exotic, the unusual, or in this case, the jovial countenance of the canine. Of course, that may be too benign. There is likely some misanthropy involved--some barely sublimated competition for a piece of sidewalk, even a for a hipper, competitive edge.

Walking down Vanderbilt Avenue in the warm sun these days with my kids, I like to mischievously point out how all the hip individualists dress the same. Their uniqueness a shared pride, I guess.

Speaking of *The* Vanderbilt, we finally tried it last night--Prospect Heights' newest restaurant, with a robust Smith Street lineage, owned by Saul Bolton. The beer was cold and delicious (my bias for Six Point, made by two guys from Madison who opened up a brewery in Red Hook recently) and the food was quite good. But the service really got to me. There was always a commotion, with too much hovering, and every time a plate had less than a third of its original content, some eager waiter or waitress was descending upon us and offering to sweep it away.

I thought the point of a *tapas* bar was to linger, eat, drink, converse. You know, in a moderately relaxed way. But what I find in my neighborhood is that the experience of many places isn't about the experience but it's about the *experience* in an annoying, overly self-conscious way. I was practically expecting to be greeted by a cheerleader with a big V on her sweater, claiming "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE A TABLE AT THE NEW RESTAURANT IN PROSPECT HEIGHTS THAT IS OWNED BY SAUL, A SMITH STREET PIONEER!"

Rather than having the privilege of serving a customer, I felt that I was supposed feel privileged to be there. And that, my friends, annoyed me. It made me feel like a dog, expected to be happy for a treat tossed my way while my owner--the wallet--paid for time in the kennel. Each clean plate swept away; every fork and knife magically made to disappear. No dessert? Not a problem--we have more dogs to sweep into this cage once we clean it of you--Cutey! Smoodgy woodgy!

I was ready to go; and as long as I can get a cold Six Point brew somewhere else, I won't go back.

OY! Feeling the hate! Rabbi Hirsch--Why? Why? "They have come into conflict in the pursuit of the same objective, and so apparently frustrate one another." It's true, Rabbi. I chose to live in this city; in this borough; in this neighborhood. It comes with a price--the veneer of *cool* which rears its head, even when you walk around the corner for a meal with your family. What did I expect? And so I push, push, push to understand.

Walking home, we stopped in at Unnameable Books, lingered, and went home with a bag full of books for ourselves and the kids. I found a copy of Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District. I remembered one time Ben saying that the interesting thing about walking around New York after a certain number of years is coming to the realization that you've seen two or three or four iterations of a space at the same address during your years of walking around. It made me wonder about those memories that linger in some places, animating voices that remain long after its inhabitants have gone; and it made me thing of those places that never created the right atmosphere to allow for stories to be told there, memories to linger, a legacy to form.

The counting of the Omer, I think, offers up that reminder to us--that experiences are to be had, so that they can be remembered, and counted--recounted--for future generations.

1 comment:

HW said...

It's not just New York. I have had similar dog experiences here in laid back, moderately sized Austin. Almost every evening when we walk our dog, we meet other dogs and learn their names. But only rarely do we, the humans, introduce ourselves.