Calm > chaos

Each morning, I have one hour to myself, from 7:00 to 8:00. It’s the only time of my day when someone doesn’t require my attention. At work, at home or even walking down the Avenues, it seems like someone is always in my face. During that peaceful morning hour, I sit in the same coffee shop and either read blogs or write or pop my earbuds in, listen to Howard Stern and make loud snorting noises that cause people to stare.

Recently, an elderly derelict has taken up residency in the same coffee shop. He’s always there during my morning caffeine ablution. He’s not homeless or insane–he doesn’t smell bad or babble incoherently–he’s never drunk. But he’s clearly on government assistance and doesn’t have anywhere special to be during the day. He takes the seat near where customers wait to pick up their coffee order. Customers who are, more often than not, tourists, this being midtown Manhattan.

His move it to engage someone in conversation while they wait. But once they have their coffee, they’re not free to go. His stream-of-conscious dialogue doesn’t have a natural braking point and since most tourists are nice people who don’t want to appear rude, they stand there, trapped, nodding their head and sipping their coffee. Perhaps they feel they’re having an authentic New York moment. He tells them about hanging out in Studio 54, a book he wrote, an album he recorded and other sundry events that are entirely plausible. But eventually they start that slow dance towards the exit.

I never engage him. I know he’s lonely and just needs someone to talk to, but my heart hardened years ago. When I first moved to NYC, I used to carry a pocket full of quarters to dole out to the homeless on the subways and streets. If I didn’t have any change, I’d at least make eye contact so they felt like human beings. But it became too much. I was overwhelmed by the tsunami of sadness, so the destitute became invisible to me. It’s a defense mechanism many New Yorkers employ. A coping device to help deal with the grind of the city.

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I’m one of those poor bastards trying to sort out the Affordable Care Act. I’m just a consultant and need healthcare for my family. I won’t go into the details because how boring would that be? But here’s how another in a series of live chat sessions opened yesterday. It tells you everything you need to know about how well the system is working.


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Bergdorf Goodman holiday window display. Monday, December 16, 6:30 p.m.

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I made my annual holiday pilgrimage to the Morgan Library to view the original manuscript for A Christmas Carol. From Dickens’ own hand, a cultural touchstone was born.


Just look at this mess! This stuff is such a thrill for me. How the printer was able to make heads or tails of this is a mystery.


I read A Christmas Carol every December. It puts me in the proper spirit. It’s maudlin and overwritten, but it gets the job done. I have to read those last several pages alone because I always see them through a veil of tears. Scrooge’s transformation washes over me. So embarrassing.

“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas…”

*     *     *


Carnegie Hall, Monday, November 18, 7:45 p.m.

36 thoughts on “Calm > chaos

  1. Aww, you big softy.
    (I think that’s the saddest thing about cities. I know it would be impossible to engage with everyone, but in many ways it’s that whole underbelly which breathes real life into a place )

    • Hi there! Happy holiday and all that jazz. Welcome.

      Look…I’m not proud of it but for some reason, that Dickens story really pushes my buttons. You’d think I’d get used to it but I haven’t yet.

      I suppose without the underbelly this place would seem too antiseptic but it became relentless so I ignoring it. A bit of a coward’s way out.

  2. A coping device to help deal with the grind of the city.
    sugar, i so understand this! for me, it was a defense, but it also burdened my heart, so i left lalaland. here in my little town, it’s different, or maybe that’s just what i tell myself. xoxoxox

    • Oh, I’m sure it’s plenty different. You’re not imagining things. It seems those are your two options; ignore it or relocate. But you have to do something or it just drags your ass down low.

  3. I came here to say something else, but just fell in love with your “confirm you are not a spammer” button below. Amazing. You have my word, and I’m not even a professional like FFMTX0204.

    In my city, there’s a campaign of posters hung all around downtown imploring the kindhearted to NOT give handouts to the homeless. It goes on to detail why that does more harm than good. I’m not educated enough to have a firm opinion on the matter, but I don’t slight you at all for the veil you’ve dropped. I’ll almost always buy a meal for someone who asks politely, but my experiences more frequently involve the askers being only interested in cash, and trying to shame me after I refuse to give it to them.

    • Well…are you?! A spammer?! I can see you’re not. You may proceed.

      Part of the reason I dialed-down my interaction with the homeless is that there were a few occasions whereby I thought I was really in trouble. Some of them are truly insane and they’ll hurt you. I found a hard heart was the safest policy.

      Re: buying a meal. Do you know what I do once in a while? If I’m eating in a diner and I see a couple who are obviously tourists, I pay for their meal on my way out. I remain completely anonymous! It gives them a fun story to take home.

      Your opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. What with that “I’m not educated enough…” crap. Knock it off right this second. Don’t make me spank you.

      • That’s funny we did that the other night for a mother and her 3 year old daughter-and sent them home with dessert.

      • Doesn’t that feel good?! It does! I haven’t done it for quite a while now. I must start again.

      • I like to do that, too. In a strange place like NYC.Oh! I don’t mean New York is strange…I mean, not where I live.
        Anyway, I did that, in New York.

      • You were correct in stating that New York is strange. It just IS! There’s no insult in that, my dear.

    • You should see those Burgdorf window displays! They’re like mini art exhibits. Every year they make a bid deal out of them, and with good reason.

      • Welcome and Merry Christmas!

        I just saw the Saks windows last night! I agree. They’re great. Despite what I wrote above, I thought the Bergdorf windows were too busy. Last year’s display was much, much better. Can’t win ’em all.

  4. ‘A Christmas Carol’ is fabulous – and a short story you can read at one sitting rather than one of his long novels. After writing it, Dickens must have felt like Irving Berlin after he’d written ‘White Christmas’.

    I don’t blame you for not talking to that guy – it’s definitely a job for tourists who won’t be hanging around for long.

    • It’s actually not that easy a read! Some of the sentences are, literally, an entire paragraph long. It’s like a bucking bronco. You have to hold on or you lose the thread of intent.

      If I spoke to that guy even once he’d never leave me alone. I could never go into that coffee shop again. So I keep to myself.

  5. I guess it was ever thus. I remember, even as a kid, you were constantly encountering this kind of thing…And as you said, you either become hard hearted or it will grind you down….There is a lot of sadness mixed in with all the wonder of this great city!
    And as for ‘wonder’—-Take, for instance: The Bergdorf Windows—More, please! And I recognized Carnegie Hall, the second I began scrolling down—Such a fantastic place; so many wonderful memories!
    There is no prettier place on the planet then NY at the Christmas Holidays.

    • I wonder what it is about the human condition that there will always be the downtrodden? It really is a problem without a solution, isn’t it? They’ve been around since long before I was born and they’ll still be here after I’m gone. I’ve gone from feeling crushing sadness to guilt that I no longer pay attention. The guilt is easier to live with.

      I hate to break your heart but the Bergdorf windows are just kind of okay this year. The widows last year were vastly superior. Here’s my post from last year with photos included.

  6. What a terrible crime to be lonely in a city full of souls. Each of us has a story to tell, tales to unfold and memories to pass on to those who come after us into the world. However, pity and weaknesses are currently bringing the world, certainly as I know it, to its knees. You are right to ignore sir.

    I was pleased to see you write “I read A Christmas Carol….” So many people these days prefer to sit and watch the works of such a genius on the goggle box, a big no-no when it comes to appreciating the works of such an intrinsic mind as the author.

    • That’s always been the dichotomy of New York. 8+ million people and, yet, there are times when you can be crushed by loneliness. I’ve felt it. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep your family close at hand. If you build strong, healthy relationships with your family, you’ll never lack for someone to talk to.

      Not only do I read it, I’ve read the same copy every year for ages. It’s a paperback with yellow, brittle pages. I can’t dog-ear any of the pages because the corner would chip off. I’ll NEVER replace it with an e-reader. Never.

  7. Even in my little corner of earth, i’ve learned to avert my eyes from the pan handlers. They stand near stop lights here, with signs asking for change. The city requires them to register for a license, and they are only allowed at certain spots, and during daylight. How weird is that? i donate a good bit to the food bank. Cash, not 2 year old cans of mashed pumpkin, or creamed corn…

    • Do they allow certain spots so the public knows where to avoid them? Clever. I’ve been reduced to giving money to performers in the subway. They give me a few minutes of entertainment and I tip them for it. But the broken have become invisible to me. I’m kind of ashamed. I think what it’s turned me into is sad.

  8. “Maybe they’re thinking they’re having the authentic NY experience”—good point. I think that sometimes about where I live, a corner of England sometimes held up for its supposed authenticity of behaviour.

    I performed in a dramatised version of A Christmas Carol last year. I am fucking sick of it, if you don’t mind my authentic language. Tired of it. It’s becoming a secualr version of the Bible.

    Your appreciation of its textual emendations—that’s a different matter though.

    • People arrive a city with certain preconceived notions about the experiences they’ll have. I believe that they subconsciously look to fulfill them. I’ve probably done it myself. Ironically, as I type this, he’s not here this morning. First time in a long while. I wonder where he could be?

      I find that once per year is about the right dosage of “A Christmas Carol.” Any more than that would lay waste to my sensibilities.

  9. I’m jealous of your one free hour in the morning… If I could convince myself to wake up a little earlier and have a similar routine then I would probably be able to take over the world. But no, I choose sleep. Always.

    • As an experiment, you should try it for one week. I swear, this one hour of solitude keeps me sane. I protects me from episodes of road rage and from dumping a cup of coffee in the keyboard of some people I work with. It’s better than recreational drugs.

  10. In London – particularly around near where I work – the homeless are everywhere. I never give money, although friends of mine occasionally buy a meal / food or donate directly to the shelters. But I do look people in the eye if they ask me for money, and respond with a “sorry.”, usually they’ll say “Ok, have a good day” and I’ll reply in kind with a “you too”. Sometimes I’ll just smile and acknowledge them in some way. To be honest, the charity collectors on Oxford Street are actually more aggressive and off-putting to be approached by. Work that one out.

    Yesterday I was walking around central London and there was someone asleep on the street, and people had left bags of food and what looked like gifts for when they woke up. You see a lot of people handing over bags of shopping at this time of year.

    • I used to interact with the homeless but it ground me down so I stopped. I don’t feel good about it, that’s for sure. It’s one of the more unsavory parts about living in a big city, but I’d still wouldn’t trade it in for a nice, quiet industrial park office nestled somewhere in the safe outer suburbs.

    • You should see this manuscript! It’s supposed to be English but I don’t think it bears a resemblance to ANY language!

      Happy Christmas to you, as well. A Happy New Year, too.

  11. Yeah I wouldn’t mind dishing out ‘maudlin and overwritten’ stuff like Dickens if I could stir the emotions as he does. To be a writer that inspires one to take arms against evil , to right wrongs and defend the helpless would sure give me job satisfaction.
    And so to my best wishes for you and yours to have a happy holiday and the best of health and happiness for 2014. I include the pooch.
    Keep blogging. That’s an order!

    • Dickens is the BEST. That’s one of the guys who was instrumental in getting me to read for pleasure, and not just because it was an assignment. A Tale of Two Cities did it for me then, as Scrooge does it for me now.

      Happy Christmas to you! I have a dream that you and I will sit and share a propre cup of tea one day. You never know! It can happen!

  12. Mrs. Maur spends some of her time feeding the homeless at weekends, I only found this out recently. I thought she was just meetings friends for coffee. That’s the woman I was lucky enough to hook up with.

    Nollaig Shona a chara.

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