Posted by: trevormeers | September 30, 2010

Fresh Air! Times Square!

One evening this week about 6:00, a guy handed me a fat deli sandwich wrapped in a tight cocoon of wax paper. I tucked it into my backpack, walked outside past Grand Central Station, wove through a pack of men wearing yarmulkas in midtown Manhattan and found the van that was waiting for me. Four hours later, I was looking up at the Milky Way from my driveway in Jasper County, Iowa, and wondering whether the raccoons were going to come dig up my yard looking for grubs again tonight.

I’ve made this quick leap between universes more than a few times, but I’m still not over getting all gee-whizzy about it. The rapid switch in cultural atmosphere nearly makes my ears pop, and frankly, I’m not in a terrible rush to get over it. Considering New York a novelty this far into a career in publishing my make me seem a bit provincial, but it also helps me confirm that my heart hasn’t loosed its moorings on the prairie. Plus, it keeps business travel interesting. So I’m not ashamed to say, a la John Mellencamp, “I’m still hayseed enough to say, ‘Look who’s in the big town!’” Here’s who was there when I passed through this week:

Michael Scott’s nemesis – In the hotel the first night, I watched an episode of The Office, where Michael becomes convinced his insurance salesman is a member of the mafia. The salesman is played by the hitman Harry and Lloyd kill with a spicy hamburger in Dumb & Dumber. It’s also the guy I saw walking down Lexington Avenue the next morning. Trust me. I turned around and followed him for a few steps, listening to his voice to make sure.

The man who freaks out Michael, Harry, Lloyd and occasionally me on the streets of New York.

Death-wish joggers – As we crawled through traffic during rush hour, we saw a guy jogging in the street between parked cars and moving traffic. It reminded me of a story I read about a New York firefighter sideswiped by a bus while he was riding his bike to work. It dragged him a couple of blocks and put him in the hospital for a year or so. One of our van’s passengers said, “That guy’s jogging in the street? That might be the most insane thing I’ve ever seen.” Not quite. Because a second later, the jogger started cutting across lanes, weaving between yellow cabs, which is like jumping into a high-stakes, life-size game of Frogger. A few blocks later, we saw a woman weaving through a similar course on a Razor scooter, with earphones on.

Nervous van drivers – We had time to study the jogger’s habits because our van driver had pulled over so he could get out to talk to the driver of the BMW that just plowed into the side of our van. “Shoot!” the driver said as he flipped his gold shades up onto his forehead at the sound of crunching metal. He slammed it into park and said, “Sorry, folks. This could take a while. The accident is serious.” This also gave us a few minutes to study the guy who’d painted himself to look like the Statue of Liberty and was standing motionless on the corner until he freaked out unsuspecting foreign tourists by reaching out for them as they walked by.

Artsy junior highers – Jostling along on the subway, I started overhearing two squeaky-voiced boys giggling about some escapade from that afternoon. I figured they were rehashing their exploits in Halo or Madden. Then I heard one say, “Can you believe that Mr. Dreven wanted us to play that concerto that way?” and noticed the black violin cases hanging on their shoulders. It gave me a bit of hope for the teen species.

Geography challenged weather watchers – The tri-state area was a bit freaked out the afternoon I arrived because they’d had a tornado watch. At that evening’s pre-dinner schmooze hour, one local was telling me about this near-calamity and apparently felt I wasn’t grasping the situation’s gravity. She asked, “Do you have tornados in Iowa?”

Out-of-touch diners – During the obligatory “Tell us something that no one knows about you” ice breaker at our meeting, one guy in hip glasses and a perfectly groomed goatee said, “I’m trained as a meat cutter.” Someone asked, “You mean like a butcher?” The guy said, “Yes. My dad ran a meat locker in Iowa, so I know how to take an animal from living to, uh, ready for you to eat.” Most of the people around the room (who had collectively wiped out a steer’s worth of pricey steaks at dinner the night before) stared at him, dumbfounded at the notion that they had come face to face with a person who actually knew something of the black magic of turning doe-eyed cows into packaged meat. One woman finally broke the awkward pause and said, “Is this like a Silence of the Lambs thing?”

The filmmaker – In the society section of the Wall Street Journal, I read about a party held while I was in town for a Thai filmmaker named Apichatpong Weerasethakul at some apparently trendy spot called Monkey Bar. The writer reported that Mr. Weerasethakul glanced around the party at all the people (whom I assume were all quite beautiful and so over whatever everyone west of the Hudson is just discovering) and said, “I live in a wooden house in the north of Thailand. We have Wi-Fi and we have television, but we don’t watch. We have 300 fish and two dogs and all kinds of trees and no air conditioning. This is another reality that is a contrast of my reality.”

I may only have one dog and a few raccoons at my wooden house in the north of Jasper County, but when I visit the island that is Manhattan, the words of a guy in the outback of Thailand sound like the closest thing to home.

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Responses

  1. Ah, maybe my violin-toting son is in the running for one of your girls after all… Thanks for another great read, Trevor!


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