What happened here

It’s been a month for milestones.

On May 31, my site turned 13 years old.

On June 7, making the previous milestone and all others possible, I had 15 years without a drink or drug.

On Saturday June 28, Carrie and I celebrated five years of marriage by hiring a babysitter, eating a meal, and bumming around the east village.

Between these landmarks came a flight to Pittsburgh and back-to-back train trips from New York to Washington DC, and Boston.

In the last-named burg we put on a two-day design conference for people who make websites.

At home during this same period, our daughter outgrew last month’s clothes, began swimming, got a big-girl bed, attended and graduated summer camp, stopped being even slightly afraid of school, hung out with her grandma, and advanced so much intellectually and emotionally that it would qualify as science fiction if it weren’t the lived experience of ’most everyone who has kids.

Between all that came the usual tumult of client meetings, client projects, and potential new business, giddily intermingled with the publication of two A List Apart issues. Make that three issues as of tomorrow.

Been busy.

If I had to pick an image to symbolize the month, it would be me on a rerouted slow Amtrak train from Boston to New York, using an iPhone and one finger to peck out a strategic response to an 80 page RFP.

That would have been the image, but now there’s a new one. For now there’s today.

On the calendar it is Happy Cog New York’s moving day. Today I pack up what for 18 years was either my apartment or Happy Cog’s New York City headquarters (and was most often both).

I hit bottom in this place. Ended a short-lived, tragically wrong first marriage. Rebuilt my life one cell at a time. Found self. Found love. Became a web designer. Found the love of my life. Married well, had a magical child. Wrote two books. Made money and lost it a couple of times over. Founded a magazine. Co-founded a movement. Worked for others. Freelanced. Founded an agency. Grew it.

It all happened here.

This gently declining space that has been nothing but an office since December and will soon be nothing at all to me, this place I will empty and vacate in the next few hours, has seen everything from drug withdrawal to the first stirrings of childbirth. Happiness, anguish, farting and honeymoons. Everything. Everything but death.

Even after our family moved, the place was never empty. The heiress to an American fine art legacy came here, to this dump, to talk about a potential project. Two gentlemen who make an extraordinary food product came here many times to discuss how their website redesign was going.

When I wasn’t meeting someone for lunch, I went downstairs to this wonderful little place to take away a small soup and a sandwich, which I ate at my desk while reading nytimes.com. Helming the take-away lunch place are three Indian women who are just the sweetest, nicest people ever. The new studio is just far enough away that I will rarely see these ladies any more. I will miss them.

I will miss Josef, the super here, with his big black brush mustache and gruff, gently-East-European-accented voice. He will miss me, too. He just told me so, while we were arranging for the freight elevator. We were kind to him after his heart attack and he has been kind to us since he arrived—the last in a long series of supers caught between an aging building and a rental agent that prefers not to invest in keeping the place up. The doormen and porters, here, too, some of whom I’ve known for nearly twenty years, my God. Can’t think about that.

I will miss being able to hit the gym whenever I feel like it and shower right in my workplace.

And that is all.

This is the death of something but it is the birth of something more. We take everything with us, all our experiences (until age robs us of them one by one, and even then, they are somewhere—during the worst of my mother’s Alzheimer’s, she reacted, however subtly, to Sinatra). We take everything with us. The stink and glory of this place will stay on me even when we are set up in our slick new space. It will be with me long after the landlord’s collection letters have stopped. This place, what happened here, will live until my head cracks like a coconut, and then some.

And now I pre-pack. Adieu, adieu.

[tags]happycog, moves, moving, newyork, NYC, design, webdesign, alistapart, wedding, anniversary, zeldman, zeldman.com, 5years, 13years, 15years[/tags]

Number Nine

Early this morning, in my last deep sleep, I was tormented by a nightmare concerning our three-year-old. In my dream, she was chasing some happy bauble. Call it a big floating bubble filled with sunshine. The bubble blew out of the park. She ran after it. I ran after her.

The bubble floated above a big street filled with speeding cars. I called her name and shouted stop, but she did not hear me or would not listen. Giggling and burbling, all young enthusiasm for the chase, she ran into the street of speeding cars. I ran into it after her.

The pursuit continued, block after block. The oblivious bubble. The excited child, dashing into street after street of speeding cars. Me behind, never able to catch up, never able to protect her, never able to make her stop.

Happy Father’s Day.

[tags]dreams, family, glamorous, parenting[/tags]

Don’t sleep here

Makeshift bed at construction site.

The area above Madison Square Park in Manhattan is in a condo- building frenzy. Of course all of Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Queens) is in a condo-building frenzy. But above Madison Square Park there is a particularly feverish keenness to the activity, as the glamor of the Flatiron District moves north to a zone that was formerly best known for its gaudy wig and cheap lingerie wholesalers.

The richie rich are buying, and who can blame them? Proximity to Madison Square Park and the chic shops south of 23rd Street makes for an elegance that is almost Parisian—or at least suggests the possibility of such a way of life.

Huge signs affixed to newly rising high-rises and condo converted prewar office buildings trumpet the glory of living here. But there are other signs, as well.

Barely noticed in the builders’ gold rush, the poorest poor, pushed off the benches of Madison Square Park, take shelter in the very construction sites that signify their doom. When this building is finished, the rich will sleep here. ‘Til then, it’s the poor who do so. And what do they dream?

Related

[tags]americandream, housing, homeless, homelessness, shelter, cities, urbanism, newyork, newyorkcity, NYC, boom, highrises, condos, condosandcoops, nest, citythatneversleeps[/tags]

God Knocks

“It’s becoming a bedroom community for people who work on Wall Street,” the Wife says of our beloved Manhattan. While the housing market everywhere else incurs gangrene, prices here are sky-high and climbing. A new condo goes up every three seconds and an angel does not get his wings.

When I moved to New York City in 1988, it was possible to find a rent-stabilized apartment in the East Village, Kips Bay, and plenty of other places—to live an artist’s life, or a drunkard’s, while securing a semblance of middle class security and stability. People moved here to pursue music careers, acting careers, writing careers, anything that didn’t pay. Some even painted. They could live here indefinitely while the market ignored their talent.

Today the city is cleaner and safer, but a small one-bedroom in an indifferent neighborhood costs over a million dollars. It’s not just the poor and the old who are getting priced out. Not just the working class. Not even just the middle class. New York is still a melting pot, but its ingredients are changing as the city squeezes out all but the richest rich.

Brooklyn is where many families have moved and many creative people with or without families are moving, but Brooklyn’s prices are no better. You get a little more space for the same obscene truckload of cash, and you pay for it in subway mileage.

Any reasonable person who does not already own a place and is not fabulously wealthy would catch the first bus out of town and not look back. But if Osama bin Laden could not chase us off this island, neither will the lesser abomination of insanely high and continuously escalating housing prices.

Throwing our first stake in the ground, we have enrolled our daughter in a fine preschool. And when the newly-out-of-rent-stabilization but still-below-market rental lease I have ridden since 1990 finally ends next year, we intend to buy. Don’t ask me how we’ll do it. I only know that we will.

Which brings me to God and the knocking sound.

I awoke this morning to a quiet, insistent, knocking, high-pitched and hollowly wooden—as if a tiny woodpecker were signaling from the back of our bedroom’s bookshelves.

(I actually awoke to our little dog’s barking, something he never does. He also peed twice on the floor, something else he never does. And threw up all over our gorgeous white Flokati rug. But that isn’t part of the God story.)

When a person who has not been particularly spiritual enters a spiritual program, odd things begin happening. Atheists call these things coincidences. For instance, an addict in a big city fearfully attends his first Narcotics Anonymous meeting. Chairing the meeting is the guy with whom he first bought dope. Programs like NA and AA are rife with such incidents.

The Wife is in a very different sort of program, but it is spiritual, and it concerns really living your life. Yesterday in that program, she and a friend focused on the notion of our owning a home, even though it seems impossible here. Before bed last night, she said we could start the process of finding a home by taking an action as simple as reading Home Buying For Dummies.

So this morning, there is this knocking sound. It’s not coming from the bureau. It’s not coming from the desk. It’s not electrical. There’s no big truck out on the street causing the windowpanes to rattle. The sound is insistent. We cannot localize its source or account for it logically.

Doors cover part of a bookshelf. Searching for the source of the sound, the Wife opens the doors. Out falls a book: Home Buying For Dummies.

And as she picks up the book, we both notice that the sound has stopped.

How to make love to a ghost

Sunday morning, while dreaming, I began receiving messages from the other world. They covered matters of etiquette when interacting with the dead, and even offered glimpses of what the spirit life is like:

  • Do not accept food from a ghost.
  • Do not make love to a ghost, even if she is your wife.
  • Don’t ask ghosts questions about time. They don’t understand them.
  • Fill your eyes with tears. That is how a ghost sees.

These messages were conveyed clearly, and with authority. Although I knew their origin, I was not afraid. So matter-of-fact was my acceptance that I began framing what I was learning within a normal workday context. Specifically, I realized that these messages made the perfect Tweets.

For while Twitter may reduce the immense possibilities of communication to single-line banalities of 140 characters or less, it is paradoxically the perfect vehicle for distilling and broadcasting profound, irrational truths, such as those the dead share with us while we dream.

This dream also involved Robert Benchley and so many cartoonish implausibilities that it is possible that the messages I received came only from my own mind. But is that not equally infinite?

(The dream’s plot involved a luxury cruiser, torpedoed in World War II. Benchley, urbane in middle age, piloted a series of unlikely rescue vehicles, including a school bus that somehow managed to navigate the ocean and deftly avoid smacking into large chunks of wreckage. It was night, and raining, and black and white. A young Michael Keaton, who was sometimes a young Jack Nicholson, also played a role in the endless and pungently fraught narrative.)

[tags]ghosts, afterlife, twitter, webapps, robertbenchley, michaelkeaton, jacknicholson, dreams, death[/tags]