Tucked away in a quiet corner of The New York Public Library at 42nd Street sits a small, clean, neatly appointed classroom. At 3:30, we commandeered it for an impromptu meeting with an attorney.
For half an hour, the secret, quiet room was a lawyer’s office. In it, after discussing various ways the deal could end tragically, we signed five copies of a contract to purchase an apartment. I wrote the biggest check I have ever written in my life. And then, like bats startled by light, we flew off in different directions.
The attorney headed to his next meeting. The wife hopped a bus downtown to hand our documents to a secretary at the seller’s lawyer’s office. And I ran here.
We do not own a home yet. A lot could still go horribly wrong. But after two weeks of frantic paddling, we have dived cleanly into the murky deep.
Have you ever bought clothes while traveling, and been unable to fit everything in your suitcase when it was time to go home? That suitcase is what my days are like now. For starters, The Wife and I are buying an apartment—or at least we are attending all the meetings, filling out all the paperwork, hiring all the attorneys and assessors and brokers and fixers, faxing and messengering and hand-delivering all the documents, auditing all the books, returning all the missed calls, sending all the e-mails, digging through spam traps for all the missed e-mails, rescheduling all the appointments, raising all the money, applying to borrow all the much more money, digging and refilling all the holes, and running up and down all the staircases that are supposed to lead to us owning a place.
Timing is the secret of comedy and an ungovernable variable in life. Our first-time homebuying marathon comes during one of The Wife’s busiest weeks at The Library, and amid a frenzy of new client activity at Happy Cog and the planning of next year’s An Event Apart conferences. In my idiocy, I agreed to speak at other people’s conferences, which means I need to create the content for those engagements. I am days behind in everything because completing the Findings From the Web Design Survey sucked nights, days, and dollars. It was our Apocalypse Now. The dog is sick and requires constant watching. The Girl must be taken to preschool and picked up and played with and loved and taught and put to bed.
My life is like everybody’s. I’m too busy and I’m grateful for everything, but I worry that I will miss some detail, forget some essential, give less than everything to some e-mail or document review or design.
I intended to write about the Findings From the Web Design Survey on the night we finally published them, but there was nothing left inside. I intended to write about them this morning, but instead I have written this excuse for not writing about them. During my next break between brokers, I will clear up one area of confusion as to the motivation behind the survey’s undertaking.
My cold is in its second week; I slept less than four hours last night. Yesterday we decided to check out the housing market in our neighborhood and ended up making a bid. Anxiety woke me at 1:00 a.m. and kept me eyeballing the dark ceiling for hours.
Tomorrow, if all goes to plan, we will publish the findings of the web design survey. The findings document alone will weigh in at more than 80 pages. It has been less work than building the pyramids, but I may revise that opinion by the end of the day.
“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.
First day of preschool
It’s our daughter’s first day of preschool. I’m excited and nervous, as if I were the one beginning an education. And in a way, I am. For, even more than the first time we let someone else hold her, even more than the first time we let someone else watch her, her first day of school is the true beginning of our sending her out into the world and away from us.
Nothing says Buddhism like raising a child. To cherish what has already changed as you look upon it. To hold most tightly what you must most let go.
A gloomy, rainy September 11th in New York City. An eye doctor visit in the morning left my eyes dilated. For hours, I was overly sensitive to light. It was a perfect way to experience this city on that day.
In my apartment building, a woman boarded the elevator going down. About 60 years old, carrying someone else’s clothes to the laundry room. We were the only two passengers.
“Wet Tuesday,” she said. “Hot day, six years ago. Six years ago, my daughter was on TV, running for her life.”
In the doctor’s office, with dilated eyes, I siphoned bandwidth from an unsecured wireless network and read The New York Times on my iPhone, holding the handset close to my face. An article about Gen. David H. Petraeus’s testimony generated hundreds of comments. At least four of them were rational.
At 1:00 I braved a sudden monsoon in Curry Hill to meet a friend who was traveling in from Brooklyn. He told me he’d been somewhat concerned about coming into Manhattan on September 11.
At 3:30 I was home, hanging wet clothes from the shower rod and thinking about Iraq. I cannot stop thinking about it.
At 2:00 am I woke up. In my dream I had been trying to bring the soldiers home.
[tags]9/11, september11, nyc[/tags]
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.)
I sat at my desk today with just one goal: to write the web design survey results article for A List Apart, or at least to make a good start of it. As the day draws to a close, I have not written a word on the subject. And I know I will not. Maybe tomorrow.
I write well, but find the work daunting. Beginnings, especially.
San Francisco. California’s jewel. America’s prettiest city. Cool fog and hot startups.
I last left San Francisco on September 10th, 2001. It was a good day for flying. I had gone there to speak. Normally when I present at a conference, I stick around, listening to the other speakers and chatting with attendees. But I saw little of that conference and even less of San Francisco, for accompanying me was she who is now my wife. Even from the heights of Coit Tower, I only had eyes for her.
On October 4–5, 2007, I return to the city by the bay for the fourth and final Event Apart conference of 2007. The schedule of presentations, published Monday, outlines a holistic approach to web design rarely seen on conference stages.
There are sessions on writing the user interface and developing effective content strategies (art direction for words, if you will). Sessions on designing and redesigning brands, adding ’zazz to tired layouts, and creating designs that scale to accommodate a thousand users or millions.
Someone who’s actually done it (and at a big company, yet) will share insights on promoting and nurturing standards adoption in the workplace. We’ll find out how CSS really works and what IE7 means to developers. And we’ll learn how to design and structure forms to maximize accessibility, improve semantics, and allow for more flexible styling.
The world’s foremost expert on the subject will tell us what’s wrong with online video captioning (a concern in our increasingly YouTubed world) and how to do it right. And from one of the founders of the usability movement, we’ll gain clues into how people follow the scent of information—and how that knowledge can help us connect users to the content and functions they seek:
…how the quality of links affects whether users click on them; how longer pages actually help users get where they are going faster; the three types of graphics; how users follow a scent; and four ways your design could be blocking their smell.
An Event Apart San Francisco presents one of our most striking speaker line-ups yet: movers from Google and PayPal, shakers from Apple and A List Apart, passionate leaders and experts, all. Plus two big parties, sponsored by Adobe and (mt) Media Temple, where you can network, job-hunt, swap horror stories and phone numbers, or just boogie the night away. Plus breakfasts, lunches, and snacks on both days, and a dandy bag of swag. All for $795 (reg. $895) during the earlybird savings period through September 7th.
Readers of zeldman.com can take an additional $50 off by using the discount code AEAZELD. Enter that code in the discount coupon area of the registration form to get all of AEA San Francisco for $745. Seating is limited and this opportunity won’t last forever. Don’t leave your seat in San Francisco. Tell your corporate overlord or generous uncle about An Event Apart San Francisco 2007 today.