The way other people live

Regular readers know that the current recession has kicked me in the plums pretty hard. For the past 22 months, I’ve worked as a consultant at about a half dozen investment banks, none of whom are in any mood to hire on staff.

Back in 2009, I went through a three-month period of unemployment. Since then, I’ve had scattered 2-3 week outages of work. I consider myself fortunate because I know some folks who haven’t weathered this recession as well as I have, so I’m not complaining. Much. We were never in any financial distress. My Bride and I live frugally and that helped keep panic at bay.

But something wholly unexpected happened during those work stoppages. I tasted what life is like when I’m not obligated to sit in an office all day, every day. And the sweet flavor has lingered in the windmills of my mind. It’s like the time I was gifted a first class upgrade on a flight. Worst thing that ever happened to me! All it did was show me how barbaric coach is.

There’s a lot of life going on outside my Manhattan office window. And seeing The Daughters and Mrs. Wife in the evening is what it’s all about, isn’t it? But that kind of lifestyle takes money. Lots of money. I’m just a regular guy.

I went for a walk at lunch yesterday. It’s been sunny and cool all week. I wound my way through the Village and as I passed the Greenwich Village Bistro on Carmine Street, I heard music.

ny+1I poked my head inside and stumbled onto this scene.

ny+2These three old rattlesnakes—one on a beaten upright piano, one playing a trumpet with a mute and one playing a trombone—were pumping out New Orleans jazz tunes. At 1:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday! They were masters of their craft. This is why I love this town so much. You can go out for a walk and it’ll show you a magic trick. Presto!

I took a seat at the copper top bar and ordered some split pea soup. The barmaid called me “hon” and chatted me up. There were only two other tables of customers. They were playing to an empty house.

ny+5There was one other person sitting at the bar. A soft, pudgy black guy who was working on a music score. At one point he yelled over to the musicians, “I’m gonna sing one, okay?” The piano player started a mid-tempo chug, the trombone came in, then the trumpet, and the guy sitting next to me sang, in a silky-smooth voice, a song about missing New Orleans. I almost wept into my soup.

ny+3There was a guy sitting at a table typing away on his Mac. How did he do it? How did he maneuver through life so that he’s able to spend his afternoons in this grand manner? [Interesting factoid: The waitress in this pic is the piano player’s granddaughter. What a joy it must be for both of them.]

ny+4I think it’s too late for me. Do you know they just opened an Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney? I love Edward Hopper! He’s a Raymond Carver short story on canvas. Why am I sitting in an office all day? For the past nine years I’ve spent close to four hours a day commuting. There doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. I wouldn’t say that I’m wallowing in some Kafkaesque abject nightmare—I’m not suicidal—but life could, and should, be so much sweeter. Don’t you think?

This is the LAST thing I would have expected unemployment to teach me.

ny+6

26 thoughts on “The way other people live

  1. What a great place to find. Definitely one to put on my list should I ever make it to New York.There are little spots like that all over London too – probably the only thing I miss about London.

  2. lovely tale, extremely well told. would have loved to have spent the afternoon there… thanks for sharing your love of the city. this one may be my favorite yet.

  3. Nutty: I can appreciate the country and I’m sure where you’re living right now is quite beautiful. But, for me, nothing beats a city. Nothing.Daisy: It practically killed me to get up and go back to work. Is it better to not know about this stuff or is it better taste it and have to leave it behind?

  4. I desire that life, to wander around until the coffin lid is nailed shut. Unfortunately I have chosen to be a cog in the big wheel. My fav days are when I take a sick day and just dotter around with a camera and no agenda. It’s amazing the cool life around us when we open our eyes. Good luck..

  5. I was unemployed for almost 15 months (before and after 9/11), and what you speak of is spot on, i kinda always knew it, felt like Henry Miller bumming around my city, sitting on the stoop reading my paper and listening to birds in the sunlight while all the people shuffled off to work, it’s living without the yoke and it’s glorious.

  6. SF: Thanks for the good luck wishes but it’s never going to happen. That’s just the reality of the situation. Something tells me I’m not alone.Kono: At this juncture in my life, long-term unemployment would never work for me. I’ve got little kids. Plus, I like to take in a play every now and then and there’s also that rare book monkey on my back.

  7. Your bistro lunch sounds about as good a break as it’s possible to have. It’s got to be better to know this stuff, at least then you have the possibility of experiencing it again. Maybe when your kids are grown up and your mortgage is paid off you’ll be able to adapt your life to accommodate more good stuff. And even if you never manage it, at least you’ll be able to show your kids that there is an alternative to the relentless grind of hog raising before it’s too late for them. I don’t know Hopper’s work at all. I’ve seen the odd thing in a magazine but am pretty sure I’ve never seen an actual original painting of his, and at the moment there is no chance of me doing so, maybe one day though. Meanwhile I’ll dust off Cathedral.

  8. Because I work shift work, and because my commute is at most 25 minutes one way, and I am not quite fulltime, I have been privy to the wonders of the Dayworld for quite a number of years. I would not change that for anything! I love being able to do what I want in the middle of a week day, to avoid the traffic, avoid the Saturday shopping crush at the grocery store. And to go places (like museums, galleries, etc.) when there are only a few people about.I wish there was a way you could continue to explore that universe… without having to think about money to feed The Daughters and Mrs Wife, etc. A lottery win, perhaps?

  9. Eryl: I suppose you’re right and my life is richer for having this sort of thing in it, but it is torturous in some regards. Glad to hear you’re a Carver fan. Cathedral is one of his best.TB: Boy, stumble is the right word for it. I only feel clarity when I’m walking outside my office.Ponita: The fact that museums are empty on Tuesdays was one of the first things I discovered when I was laid off. The lottery? Not bloody likely. I play craps and like to fancy myself as a student of the odds. Hanging your hopes on the lottery is an act of desperation.

  10. It’s a cliche I know, but that sounds like a truly magical moment.This post resonates. I hope you won’t sneer at me for being a spoilt princess, but I found that 4years studying at university on a grant completely ruined me for buckling down to work in order to pay the bills…not that I would ever cite that as a reason for not giving students grants.Similarly, I’m finding that 4 years living alone are making it really difficult to go back to living with someone… Lovely post, thanks for sharing in a way that brings it alive.

  11. wonderful post. and, yeah, would like to live the lifestyle without cares and worries about money. now where’s that lottery ticket? they’re about to announce the winning numbers…

  12. HIF: Thanks. I’ve worked for an hour on posts that weren’t half as good and this only took about :15 minutes. Why is that?PG: No offense to any family or friends but I lived alone for 10+ years and really loved every second of it. I was never lonely.Gnu: Thanks. I suppose the desires I expressed are the exact same things that everyone wants.

  13. Love this post UB. For me, I’m feeling the old ‘if I only knew then what I know now’ thing a lot these days – before I allowed myself to be sucked into the system – the path we are expected to follow. Marriage, mortgage, kids, all the trappings of a middle class consumer. Love my husband, love my kids, but what a different route I would take with regards to home ownership, etc, if i could do another take. I love to escape for a few moments each day into the wonderful world of the city that you show us in your blog. The lure of career and conformity is so powerful. I hope my kids will better understand the value of time and experience and not become pawns of the system.Thanks for all your great insights.

  14. Lori: I don’t have very many regrets about my life’s decisions. None, actually! But it would have been nice to do something that afforded me more freedom. I followed the money trail, unfortunately.MIT: I *am* pretty lucky! At least I get these frozen moments to enjoy. But is it wrong for me to want many, many more of them?Nurse: That’s exactly what’s so great about Hopper. He is the master of sunlight on a windowpane.

  15. I think you would probably find some richness even if you lived in Ramsbottom. It’s all in the beholder.BTW I shall never feel the same about plums and custard:)

  16. i read this shortly after you posted it. the MITM read it after i told him about it. we’ve discussed this entry a few times since. you know what? we are in total agreement with you AND still want to know when and HOW we’ll get to really live that life! we also live in hope and continue to work our strange day jobs! xoxoxoxo

  17. Pat: That’s true, actually. You could put me in a room with a piece of string and I’d find a way to have fun with it.Ellie: I’m becoming quite adept with the cell phone camera, if you don’t mind my saying so.Savannah: Here’s what I’ve surmised; money can’t buy happiness but do you know what it does buy? FREEDOM.ZM: The first time I laid eyes on NYC I thought, “eewwww” and “more, please.”

  18. Oh I don’t hang my hopes on a lottery win at all. I still sock away money for retirement and all that. But I do buy tickets… just in case, you know. You can’t win if you don’t buy a ticket! I’d be happy with enough to pay off my debts…And it is never wrong to want more of those kinds of moments.

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