“The Grass is Less Green on the Other Side” by Ezra Wolkenfeld, Washington Heights

Borders July 13, 2011 22:54

topic: BORDERS medium: TEXT

as shared at the PenTales event themed “Borders”

Ezra introducing PenTales at an event in Washington Heights

When I first decided I was going to move to New York for some amount of time, which was by complete and utter dumb coincidence shortly after Meira (my girlfriend) decided she was going to NY, and after my dreams of being a garbage-man were shattered by the harsh truck-driving experience requirements of reality, I made sure to arm my self with the lowest possible expectations, really they were more like apprehen-tations.
The credit for intentional and intensive negative anticipation goes largely to my brother Nati and his sage advice. Among his pearls of wisdom were: don’t get in a car with Ouriel Hassan, try eating veggi burgers with a slice of cheese in a bagel- both of which I eventually discovered on my own to be completely on the money, and finally, and oddly regularly, don’t ever ever EVER go to New York. It’s cold and dirty and just plain awful.
So, bracing myself for what I had been informed, and then re-informed was a terrible decision I packed up my (read his old) winter clothes and I made sure to leave behind any laughter or optimism, which would obviously be of no use to me in my new and purely evil environment. I even decided I would write a blog and came up with a clever name for it: The Grass is Less Green on the Other Side, which I totally patted myself on the back for and used as a joke whenever I could bring it up in conversation (kind of like right now). Anyway, fully prepared, I trudged out to the airport and braced myself for the worst.
I also kept in mind my dad’s advice, which consisted mainly of stories about how everyone in New York is a violent criminal and I should shank the biggest guy I see on the first day or else I would never survive.
Well it has been almost a few months now and the truth is, I still haven’t written that blog entry. Now is that because the bleak soul-crushing despair of this place has completely pulped me of any motivation to do anything at all? Is it just plain laziness?
Maybe, or maybe it is because NYC just isn’t that bad, arguably not that bad at all. Sure, the first thing I saw when I got to the Heights was a lady defecating in the street, and sure stuff costs more, and sometimes the subway has a mystery smell and the sun has become more an abstract symbol of warmth than an actual provider thereof. BUT the truth is that the snow is beautiful! And in the summer people stayed up late and played dominoes and loud fun music outside and now babies get to ride in cool little VIP plastic stroller bubbles, and I found a big cool Gumby doll in my apartments recycling bin and the very EXISTENCE of the subway is so awesome and convenient. And I’m sure there are lots of really cool stuff out there which I am finding bit by bit.
Now I often say that all places seem pretty much the same to me; and in many ways that is still true, but in a place so basically physically different, those differences become much harder to ignore and, hopefully, easier to appreciate.
As I type this from my messily written half-sheet of paper, it suddenly occurs to me that the Washington Heights movie theater might provide a surprisingly good analogy. From the outside you would swear never to set foot in the place, you would question whether movies indeed show there at all. You might just, if you never did go inside, conclude instead that someone just put a lot of thought into keeping names of movies up to date and assembling reasonable looking times for what was clearly some sort of dark seedy home all sorts of “criminal underbelly” sort of activities. You might even construct an even more elaborate, unnecessarily complex and completely unlikely scenario involving an intricate web of crime and intrigue involving secret codes hidden in movie postings on broken down buildings that probably were never even movie theaters at ANY point.
BUT if you DID go inside, you would see a really charming interior, with nice decorating and comfortable chairs; and sure, the guy told us we couldn’t go in yet, but then didn’t let us know when it was time to go in as we heard the movie start, and it was weird that the urinals were filled with ice (be careful by the way, you WILL spray yourself with your own freezing urine). But the movie was nice and they let us stay while it started over again and the price was very reasonable.
In other words, the grass may be in an actual technical sense less green or alive, or extant in general, but when you cross borders its important not to hold on to the criteria from your old context. You have to appreciate a place, like anything else, on its own terms and chances are there is more than enough there to appreciate.

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