Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.

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faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

I heart NY


This is a rumination about wanting. Not the type of wanting where people die in the absence of the thing that they want. Things like food, or health, or fewer bombs in the street outside. My pudgy elitist existence survives independently of such matters that trouble the majority of the people in the world today. This angst dwells on a full belly.

Not also the type of wanting where people live to achieve purposes and objectives, such as the job on Wall Street, the Boston Marathon, or the attentions of the young lady in the front row of the class. A large part of my life is spent studying such wants -- they have no place in this loose-lipped reverie.

This is also not about wanting the unattainable, something a million excruciated (and excruciating) lyrics and poems have attested to. It's about wanting that which we have no control over, which might fall into our laps as destiny's rightful due, or forever elude our gainsaying grasps. Maybe the reason I'm having trouble putting it in words is because we don't really have a word for it, do we? Maybe the story is what is required.

On Friday morning I took advantage of the services of my old friends at Fung Wah to skip down to New York City. The forecast was for rain, and my plan was to skip through to Times Square and thence New Jersey, where I was bound. But like all plans, the weather too ganged agley, and the driver didn't stop for a break, and I was in the city in bright sunshine an hour before schedule. Driving in past New Rochelle I was surprised to feel a thrill down my spine when I saw in traffic a representative of the limo service I'd used a million times before. Going over the GWB, I decided the day was too good to waste. I dialed a friend's number.

When the bus stopped in Chinatown, I said hello to the bridge and hopped into a yellow cab for Washington Square. While I waited for my friend, I wandered round the square, breathing it all in again. No one approached me selling nefarious substances (how come?) and hotdogs had gone up to two bucks each (crazy). I took a few photos, clandestine and otherwise. It was a beautiful day.


My friend soon came skipping out to the park, bedecked in blue. We retired to a coffeehouse in the West Village and waggled jaws over coffee and biscotti and the latest rumors. As we talked, I felt this urge to go uptown, instead of the quick exit via 42nd. She urged. I went. The subway lines were just the same; I changed at 59th Street, feeling groovy. It was fun to get into the car that would stop exactly next to the stairs, just like old times. Uptown, I surprised the folks who had been my close friends and associates for so long. I even caught the old old secretary on her way out outside the office (she arrives and leaves early). She hugged me, like always, and cried as she walked off. Upstairs I jumped the gang, and we then sat out in the sun, just like old times, until the call from my sister-in-law in Jersey. I left around 6.

I spent Saturday and Sunday nights in Jersey. (We watched four World Cup games, two French Open finals, and three movies -- that makes nine cheers for suburbia.) Sunday after lunch I caught the train back to Boston from Newark. As we pulled into NY Penn Station, the thought struck me -- this is the first time in so many years that I'm actually taking this train through NYC -- ordinarily I'd take it either going to / from Boston or DC. For those who haven't taken this train, it goes underground as it approaches Manhattan from the south, and crosses the island going roughly west to east, emerging in Queens where it turns northwards. As we came over ground, the first sight I saw was the number 7 train, that runs from 42nd Street in Manhattan to the desi ghetto Jackson Heights in Queens. I remembered the time as an international students' peer advisor I'd mentioned this train and its cosmopolitan nature during my welcome speech to an utterly mystified incoming batch. (That was also the year I'd got to shepherd these kids to the US Open being played right... there.) My train curved left, to the north, and the east coast of Manhattan came into sight. Between the UN building and the Triboro bridge, I thought I saw the Dakotas. In my iPod, John Lennon sang, "I didn't mean / to hurrrrrrrt you." That was when it struck me. I was nostalgic, all weekend I had been nostalgic, but it was for something I had floated away from without ever having any knowledge of the nature of the float.

I'd lived in NYC for the better part of six years. I loved the place. Evidently, I still do. But I had made a decision to move on, and my life was now elsewhere. Even today, as I struggle with the decision to move back to America, I know that it is not to New York that I must go, for it is not New York that beckons. Yet there is something about the place that called out to me with such purpose that every extra minute spent there, even though it may have been against my original intentions, even if it were in the stupid delayed NJ Transit bus queue, was worth its weight in worthwhileness.

I wonder why.

And this brings me back to where I started. I know, and the choices I have made show, that I don't really want to live in this city as much as I want some of the other things I have chosen. And I like what I have chosen, and life is good. So why this non-adaptive nostalgia, for something that I myself have decided is not part of the grand plan? It's a peculiar manifestation of post-decision dissonance, isn't it, that bumps up the attractiveness of the non-chosen option in strange ways while doing nothing to affect that of what has been chosen. What is it that makes us want what we have demonstrated we don't want? Sitting in the train speeding through Connecticut, I trawled my mind for a way to describe what I was feeling, but came up blank. I know some poet somewhere must have nailed it sometime. But yesterday, me and Amtrak and Sam Adams, we couldn't work it out.

13 Comments:

Blogger Old Spice said...

Lovely. You've encapsulated something I find myself struggling with often - the allure of the road not travelled. ("Why was I so set on law that I didn't do undergraduation in the US?" "What if I'd applied for History in the UK instead?")

I don't think we ever really do know if our decisions are correct. I can see myself leading a Fortune 500 company and still yearning for a life in academia or law.

I think it's something more than the grass being greener ... it's more like "what if the grass was tarmac?" (At the moment, I'm not sure if my dissertation is on the right topic, but that's another topic entirely.)

But I guess I reconcile it to myself by believing in some kind of destiny. Everything that happens, happens for a reason, I try to convince myself. Even if there's no logic or reason to it.

6/13/2006 4:31 PM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Beautifully written.
New York has always been more weekend getaway than home for me, but I know the allure you speak of.
All the best for the days and decisions ahead.
-MT

6/13/2006 9:56 PM  
Blogger km said...

If it's any incentive to return to USA, Summerstage starts this weekend. "Mother Courage" and "Macbeth" beckon, TR. I am *praying* for those tickets.

I was in the Village/Washington Square Park area all Saturday afternoon...any chance you were there?

I didn't know you could see the Dakotas from between the UN building and the Triboro...

6/14/2006 2:05 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

graduate:
so many aspects - interesting, isn't it?

mt:
thanks, i need it :-)

km:
gah, just what i didn't need to know. get those tix, man, and log about it!

i wasn't in wsp on saturday, only briefly on friday. and yeah, i don't think it's possible to see the dakotas from that far east, but hey, right then, i thought i did!

6/14/2006 10:37 AM  
Blogger Salil said...

Lovely read. Manhattan's a fantastic place. I disliked it when I first visited it with family as a child - don't know why, perhaps might have been the overdose of touristy travelling.

I returned this past March, and was blown away. The inner city, Central Park, strolling around Fifth Avenue with friends and shopping, plays on Broadway - it was an enchanting experience. It took me just a couple of days to fall in love with the place as well - and I'm hoping to return there in the near future (perhaps this fall break).

On an aside, I'm guessing your feelings about NYC have some parallels to mine as far as HK's concerned. Four of the greatest years of my life there in high school, and then off. I keep wanting to go back, sometimes even thinking I made a mistake in moving westwards, and then wishing that head hadn't ruled over heart in that decision.

6/14/2006 9:58 PM  
Anonymous Ph said...

Ah nostalgia! I absolutely loved the last line. But as for the rest, sigh, we all have places and people that we keep coming to, even if only in our mind.

6/15/2006 3:56 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

salil:
yes, nyc's a great place. absolutely. but hey - you're too young for this type of navel contemplation. go out and change the world, man!

ph:
welcome, and thanks! what would we do without our minds, right? :-)

6/16/2006 1:52 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Noo Yawk state a mind ...

So I'm not alone. Very nice to find someone who has the same feeling of "we look before and after, and pine for what is not and writes so well about it.

S&G (I loved your throw-away line about 59th Street), NYC, Sam Adams (though Lowenbrau runs it close) ... total Kumbh Mela stuff, bruddah.

J.A.P.

6/20/2006 4:22 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

deeply honored (dumbstruck silence).

6/20/2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

HonoUred! Grrrr.

J.A.P.

6/23/2006 2:53 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

j.a.p.:
U honored too? pretty cool :-D

6/24/2006 2:01 PM  
Blogger progga said...

TR, wandered over here perchance, following a comment (exploring the relationship between oms and their young) on JAP's blog. You have some lovely photographs - muchos kudos.

7/08/2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

hi progga, thanks for stopping by! i will confess to having lurked on your blog in the past - you and i have followed similar paths in a sense: bongs to corporate india to the east coast to china. hope to see you again.

7/08/2006 10:08 AM  

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