Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Tree Grows in Hell's Kitchen

You'll see this tree while waiting on line to get into Jon Stewart

The tree in Betty Smith's novel is an Ailanthus or Tree-of-heaven. It's a native of China and considered a weed in the US. All an Ailanthus seed needs to grow is a little dirt (cement will do in a pinch) and some spit and it'll grow into a huge tree. Smith used it as a metaphor for a poor Irish family's ability to thrive during tough times in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

This tree outside my building in Hell's Kitchen is a Gingko, also a native of China. They're all over the streets of NYC—easy to spot because of its fan-shaped leaf that turns taxi-cab yellow in the Fall. It's very salt tolerant, so it can stand up to hundreds of dogs pissing on it every day and has a small root system that won't buckle up the sidewalks. Its fleshy berries—that smell like vomit when stepped on—are said to help improve memory.

I loved this tree. There was a little bird house in the branches that somebody had hung back in the 90's. It was a quirky bit of beauty on a cruddy-looking block.

Two years ago, the tree was hit by a truck that was backing up to make a delivery to The Jon Stewart Daily Show next door. The trunk snapped in half and lay on the sidewalk for two weeks, before the city took it away.

But it's not dead. Branches are growing out of the stump. It's quite lush. And perhaps it's a metaphor for what this neighborhood is going through.

I'm just not sure what that metaphor is.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Here is Memories of New York

Memories of New York on 5th Ave and 26th St.

I’ll be the first one to admit that New Yorkers are snobs when it comes to touristy things. We don’t do the Empire, we don’t go to the Statue of Liberty and we don't shop in souvenir stores.

But secretly we love that stuff because we love New York--that’s why we live here paying all that ridiculous rent for an apartment the size of a laundry room in the rest of America.

And we’re thrilled when we Uncle Phil and Aunt Louise come in from Des Moines and stay with us (as long as they don’t stay too long) and we can do the touristy things (but it’ll be Top of the Rock and the Staten Island Ferry instead of the Empire and Statue of Liberty), yet we’re still hesitant about the souvenir shops. There's something about them that…well, that gives us hives. It's a little bit too much like being from Des Moines.

Memories of New York, however is the kind of souvenir store that New Yorkers can actually go into without fear of bumps festering on our epidermis. They stock fabulous, yet useful items baring the symbols of The Center of the Universe.

Bottle openers, pot holders, refrigerator magnets, travel mugs, books.

Books! OMG! They have an amazing selection of books! Beyond the Zagats and Fodors. Beyond The Blue Guide and those coffee-table books that nobody ever reads.

I discovered A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York there--and I‘d never seen that anywhere in the New York sections of the bookstores that I usually haunt. I squealed with delight as I brought it up to the register.

And Memories of New York carries You Are Here.

So you can buy a copy there. And so can Uncle Phil and Aunt Louise.