Milk sours. Eggs outlive their freshness. Bread turns stale. Meat goes grey and bad. What’s the expiration date for mountains, beaches, rivers and skyscrapers? When do beautiful landscapes start feeling empty? Hard to say. What does it look like when your landscape turns as grey as ash? Like a total eclipse of the heart.
“Our K-Mart is gorgeous,” I announce one day to my wife in a parking lot. “What?” She doesn’t see it. She’s looking where I’m looking and not seeing what I’m seeing at all. “No, really look at our-K-Mart for a second in its entirety.” My wife looks at it. “It looks like a K-Mart to me. Like every K-Mart in the world. Why is it gorgeous?” she asks. “Just look for a second at the view we have,” I say.
Behind the K-Mart in Asheville are rolling green hills with mountains rising in the near distance. “I guess,” she says. “Have you seen our beautiful Wal-Mart?” I inquire. “Check it out sometime.” We have to be somewhere doing something. We turn to go. “You need help,” my wife says. —-Old Mountains Make Us New Again, The Asheville Years (1999 to 2002)
We live at the ocean, but we never go to the beach. That first summer we lived at Carolina Beach, we bought beach tents and beach chairs and blankets. We got tanned. Floated in the ocean. Built sand castles. Wrote notes in the sand to ourselves. We played beach volleyball. Walked on the boardwalk. Rode our bikes to the beach because we have beach bikes we bought back in Florida living nowhere near a beach. Here we are at the beach. Perfect. We ride our beach bikes all around town. Happiness.
We bought little rafts with oars. Dreamed of learning to surf. If not actual surfing, maybe we would do stand-up surfing. It looked easier. Maybe we would own a boat. We thought hard about buying a boat. We’d have to take boating lessons. We’d have to learn how to read the water and the wind. The boat would cost money. And there would be some boat maintenance. We thought hard about all these things. Eventually, my wife bought me an inflatable kayak for $200 that could be deflated and put back in its box. It was as close as we got to owning a boat.
Eventually, we got enough sand in our crotches and sunburned backs that we forgot we lived at the beach and stopped going there. Our bikes sat in the garage more. The inflatable kayak was deflated and retired to a box in the garage. – Carolina Beach Blast (2008 to 2012)
It is our first winter in Pennsylvania. Look, it’s snowing, I say. My wife runs to the window. We take pictures. It’s beautiful, we agree. Snow coating anything and everything it touches, giving a beautiful white blanket to ordinary things. Each flake has its own special magic. Each falls to earth with its own grace making a tiny sound no one can hear. We think about the unheard sound of a snowflake and sit watching the snow fall for a very long time. Then we go tramping out in the snow making tracks. Andrew and I build snowmen. We are always bad at building snowmen. We have a brief snow fight. Then my wife mixes some fresh snow with vanilla. All three of us drink it. It tastes wonderful. We can’t get enough of it.
The snows keep coming. We stop making snowmen and drinking snow drinks. We learn that its very hard to scrape off a frozen windshield. We learn that car wheels tend to slide in the snow. We learn that sitting in a warm car in front of your office and thinking about sprinting into the office through the cold blowing snow makes you think of not going in at all. It’s a huge effort to leave the warm car and walk through the parking lot to the office door. Takes about everything you have. Then its time to start your work day running on fumes. – Life in A Snow Globe in Zelienople, Pennsylvania (1997 to 1998)
I went back to historic Salisbury. There was nothing special to see in Salisbury growing up. It was just a random place. A few cow pastures and rolling hills. So, what? But when I looked at it after so long away, I saw more than that. It was a rich land with deep character. As I drove past homes and parks and school buildings, I felt the charm. I passed one house where the family was playing on a trampoline. A mom was bouncing and laughing while her small children waited their turn. I had to stop myself from pulling over and asking for a bounce. Just one bounce. I like to think they would have let me have just one.
I wanted to stop at Dan Nicholas Park and explore it. My mom would always talk on the phone about going to Dan Nicholas Park as if it were something special. Come and visit us in Salisbury and we’ll go to Dan Nicholas Park, she would say. We weren’t tempted to go to Dan Nicholas Park when we weighed our options. It offered less entertainment value than we required and 12 hours travel time once we moved to NYC. So, we rejected it out of hand. But it turns out Dan Nicholas Park is quite wonderful. Better than the park where I remembered playing miniature golf in and eating pot luck chicken. Everyone should go there. There’s a bear and a gem mine. How can you top that? – Home Sweet Home Salisbury, N.C. (1968-1983)
A co-worker who lived in Brooklyn was ranting quietly about landscapes. “People say, look up. You see that? I say, yeah. I’ve seen up. I’ve seen all the up there is to see. I keep on looking down and moving on. I’ve got somewhere to be, and I’ve seen all the up there is to see in the 27 years I’ve lived here. Show me some mountains. Then I’ll look up. Until then, I’m looking down.”
New Yorkers look down a lot. This is to keep from stepping on something they don’t want to step in or tripping over people sprawled unexpectedly on sidewalks. If you want to instantly know who is a tourist and who is a resident in New York, look at where they are looking as they walk.
“Wow. Look at that,” I say. We are passing the Brooklyn Bridge in an above ground subway car headed to Brooklyn.” It’s a bridge,” my colleague says in a tired voice. “Sometimes I want to blow it up. I get so tired of looking at it. There would be a beauty in watching it collapse on itself. Not with anyone on it. And not really blow it up for reals. I don’t have any missiles and don’t plan to get any. But, in my mind, I think it would make the bridge more interesting if it were blown up.” I have a total love and worship of the Brooklyn Bridge so I tried very hard to not imagine it getting blown up.
I’ve heard Coney Island is “not all that,” my wife says. Really? I ask. Yeah. Really, she says. I was sure it was “all that”, I say. No, she says. So, we don’t go to Coney Island. We pass on it. It’s “not all that.” So, we’re not missing anything. We keep on not going for a whole year. Then one weekend when my wife is out of town, Avery and I go to Coney Island. Maybe all the people who have told her Coney Island is “not all that” were wrong. Coney Island is “all that.” Just in a different way than you thought it might be. The Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone are iconic and great as expected. But the broad boardwalk stretches on forever with a view of the ocean and is dotted with all kinds of characters.
This summer several long stretches of major Manhattan streets were blocked off for three weekends. A new perspective emerged walking up the streets usually choked and snarled with traffic. A zip line was installed along a street in front of City Hall. Exotic games were played. Live music performed.
A trio of world champion Double Dutchers from Brooklyn demonstrated their mad jump rope skills for everyone. They flipped and danced between the ropes. They amazed everyone for a while, then they invited the crowd to try. I looked at other people trying to do the Double D and failing. A few people managed it for a bit without getting tangled. Little girls seemed to have the most success. Some adults could do it, but not many and not for long. Some looked awkward. Most of the adults trying double dutch were women. A few men tried it with varying degrees of success. I thought of myself trying and failing. I pictured failing awkwardly. The music called out to me. But I let myself not try. I should have done the Double Dutch. Everyone should.
How long is the expiration date on a fresh perspective of New York City? I don’t know. I intend to keep looking up for a bit longer, never blow up the Brooklyn Bridge in my mind and do the Double Dutch at the next opportunity I get. – Bright Lights in a Big City, NYC Present Day