Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Life in NYC

... is great. Lots to do and see, etc. Just like I pictured it. But who wants to read about that? Here are two recent episodes of note.

Today I came back to my temporary digs and, finding the air stiflingly hot, thought I'd use the AC to pull in some cold outside air. Turning the dial, however, I realized the cold air would just blow in on its own if I opened the window. So I opened the window. And then I watched the white, 40-pound, 8,000-BTU air conditioner topple matter-of-factly out into space. It happened so quickly that I barely had time to grab the power cord and feel it rip gently apart. A concussion seemed to shake the building, though in reality nothing short of a bomb or wrecking ball would shake this brick fortress.

I leaned out, all shock and horror, to see the AC on the fire escape two stories down. It rested amid the shattered remains of a plastic flowerpot and a spray of dry winter dirt. No flowers. No pot anymore. Just dirt. And the AC.

Most peculiar. I'd opened that very window just a week ago.

I waited to see a head emerge from the window two stories below. Or any window anywhere. I waited for shouting. I waited for some other event to roll back the tape and replace the thing that had just happened. When none of these events came to pass, I walked down the hall to the elevator and took it to the fourth floor, where I discovered that the last door on that hall opens into a men's room. A young actor adjusting his hair turned from the mirror to register surprise at my entrance, but I, hair askew and eyes alight, ignored him. I pushed open my second window of the day, climbed out onto the fire escape, and made my way cagily past the other windows to the air conditioner. The dial had fallen off, so I slipped it into my back pocket and stood up to stagger back in with my dented cargo.

A word or two about this building. Up to the fourth floor, it is devoted exclusively to studios for actors, singers, belly dancers, and other riff-raff. The fifth and sixth floors are zoned for residential tenants. On the top floor, where I'm camping out, each unit has an enormous north skylight, so these units have historically been devoted to fine artists, who are in turn very devoted to their fine studios.

The fourth floor men's room presents a small incursion into the otherwise rectangular floor plan of one of the rehearsal studios. It is the part of an "L" that is not part of the "L" -- negative space, for the art and architecture types among you. Somehow, the actors and singers who patronize the studio were unfazed by the massive WHOMP! of an air conditioner slamming onto the fire escape mere feet from their well-coiffed heads. When I slunk past their windows just minutes after the impact, nobody reacted or even seemed to notice.

CSI: NYC. The AC had been inadequately mounted -- essentially perched on the edge of the window without a platform or brace -- and that's why it was so quick to leap to its death. I guess I'm responsible for replacing it. Life in NYC. I'm just lucky no one was standing below.

Life in East Hampton

Before we begin, a moment for search engine trivia: easthampton calls up 1.24 million results. East hampton (two words) calls up 12.4 million -- a tenfold increase.

Now let's go back in time. Late last week, I was a houseguest in East Hampton. Tony, posh East Hampton. Celebrity mansions surround the stately, yet unassuming seven-bedroom beachfront house where I spent a few days.

Saturday. Five of us had gone to dinner in nearby Bridgehampton -- our party consisted of my old friend whose mom owns the house, his girlfriend, a couple they know, and me. It was a good time. I even fell off my chair laughing at something my friend said, much to the delight of at least one adjacent diner. After dinner, after the hijinks, I needed a walk. A constitutional, said the doctor among us. Nobody else was interested in a metabolic boost, so I went out alone. Stuffed and a little drunk, but lucid and steady.

Just getting off the property took a couple minutes. In my friend's neighborhood, all the hedges stand at least 15 feet high, and it's only because of leafless winter that any structures are visible through them. Steven Spielberg's hedge, for example, stretches about a quarter-mile, punctuated every 20 yards or so by discreet black camera housings atop skinny poles. Only one house stands less than 50 feet from the single-lane road, and that house is Grey Gardens, where the Maysles brothers shot their celebrated 1975 documentary about two deranged bluebloods (soon to be a major Broadway musical!)

It was a dark and stormy night. No, really. It was. Only the occasional driveway lamp illuminated the wet, narrow roads. When a car came toward me, I stepped right up against a hedge, thinking of Stephen King's crippling country lane accident. A minute or two later a car came at me from the other direction. Seemed odd given the low density and late hour.

But it wasn't the car that seemed odd. It was me. I had on a broad-brimmed all-weather hat with the hood of my raincoat pulled over it. To a policeman paid to protect the ultrarich from the unexpected and undesirable, I presented the likeliest interrogation candidate for miles around. The young cop rolled up alongside, blinded me with his high-wattage searchlight, and asked in a soft voice who I was and what I was doing there. Having lost or been robbed of my wallet the previous week at MoMA (more Life in New York), I had no driver's license to offer. Good thing I'm white. Well, the other white people. Happily, I had my host's address and my California driver's license number memorized. The cop ran my CDL and DOB, then announced, "Your license is suspended!"

What I learned from him: About 21 years ago, I allegedly neglected to pay a speeding ticket in rural New York. I guess it never came back to haunt me in California because it predates the days of a connected national database of minor infractions. In fact, I have no recollection of such a trip to the hinterlands, nor of a speeding ticket awarded for going 75 in a 55mph zone. Thanks to a recent spate of bad car luck, however, I've been driving more slowly than ever, which is good, because I'd been driving my host's car that very morning for two hours.

After warning me three more times not to drive in New York State until I'd sorted out the ticket, the cop eventually left. I walked on for another 20 minutes or so, keeping track of my lefts and rights, standing at the end of a cul de sac to peer through blackness at the crashing surf, and finally returning to share my weird story with the rest of the group. Hilarity ensued.

As planned, I left the next morning for Manhattan. Monday, I set to work. The New York DMV told me to call City of Monroe, County of Orange to settle this ticket from the last century. The first Monroe city employee I found was helpful:

"Looks like you have some felonies here too!"

"What?!" I hadn't even gotten up to full splutter when she recanted.

"Oh, wait a minute. No, no you don't. Here we go." She referred me to another clerk, who looked up my infraction and read me the details and told me what to do.

There were more calls, but I'll spare you the tedium. Salient facts: There is no statute of limitations on a speeding ticket. Clerks in Monroe have no idea what the fines are now or were then. None. None at all. Only the judge knows the actual fines. The judge cannot levy a fine higher than the original fine. Car insurance rates may follow the conviction date, not the citation date, so if I simply plead "Guilty" and pay the ancient, deflated fine, my insurance premiums could suffer for three years. In order to plead "Not Guilty," I have to spend $30 and 75 minutes each way on a bus trip to Monroe, NY. There, I'll file my plea and post the $100 bail to secure a court date in three to four months, at which time I'll go back up to Monroe -- another day, another $30, easy come, easy go -- to state my case.

Of course, if the arresting officer fails to show up, the judge dismisses the ticket. And how was your day?

The Fish Course

And now, because you've been so very patient, here are two wall sculptures from the lobby of the Sag Harbor Cinema, a well-preserved old movie palace out in the Hamptons.


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