Welcome to the Out There Side

This is the first entry of what could be called a “running blog” — though most of it will be conceived not while running, but rather its flip side: walking. Either way, as Dr. George Sheehan advised: “Never trust a thought that you have while sitting down.” Sheehan was echoing a sentiment of one of his heroes, H.D. Thoreau: “Methinks the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” It is in the spirit of those roving philosophers — and many others — that this humble blogger embarks on this literary journey, from a lovely little place called the Upper West Side.

This blog series also stems from a photo-essay that I recently published, on the architecture and design website Common Edge, about being an essential worker in New York City during the COVID-19 crisis. The final image from that piece is above, depicting a gorgeous tulip garden on the block where I live. It’s currently closed due to the NYC “pause,” or “lockdown,” or whatever you want to call it.

In the past I’ve been reluctant to start a blog, as it reminds me of planting a garden: Are you ready to feed, water, nourish, and weed this thing continually? Or will you let it go to rot, like so many other dry patches, right out there in cyberspace?

I’ve also clung to the silly notion that writing should mainly be paid work — as it has been throughout most of my journalism career. But in these times, I now think, screw that! Thoreau never made much loot from his writing; he carved pencils, taught kids, and bummed off Emerson. Yet he left behind ideas that still resonate. To paraphrase another great thinker, Shakespeare: “The [creation’s] the thing / Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

However, this blog does not purport to “catch the conscience” of readers, royal or otherwise. Instead it simply offers (hopefully) a good read. Rather than politics or religion, I intend to draw on trusted defense mechanisms: observation, empathy, and levity. Nor is this blog really about me. Rather, it’s about the world around me, which happens to be (IMHO) centered in the most livable neighborhood in the world’s greatest city — and, currently, smack dab in the biggest shitstorm I’ve ever seen.

This is a universe unto itself, with topics ripe for the picking. Indeed, the hard part about creating this intro is figuring out where to start. There is the aforementioned tulip garden, for instance. The real story here this spring is a fabulous website, westsidecommunitygarden.org, featuring images shot by photographer Robin Langsdorf. But I haven’t finished interviewing Robin, or the people who run the garden, so I’ll have to circle back to this topic.

Then there is the sad case of Tal Bagels, a culinary institution for 24 years, which recently had to close its doors and was threatened with eviction for being late with a rent payment. Yet the place opened up again a few days later — because the city doesn’t allow landlords to pull this kind of eviction crap in the current crisis. So the real story is the backstory, requiring investigation.

Then there is the foyer of my new office. It’s my secret spot, arguably the best place in our ’hood. But it’s home to a beautiful family of ducks, making it popular with photographers. (They are a bunch of Tony Sopranos with long lenses. And they’re not so great at social distancing, being mainly obsessed with getting “the shot.”) I’m afraid if I write about this special locale, more people will find it, even necessitating authority figures. So I’ll put it aside.

Then there is the topic of face masks, which have of course become essential gear during this pandemic. The big question is, How do you wear one of these things with panache? It’s now an element of taste and fashion, as demonstrated by several friends and family members:

But the topic of masks is actually rather complex, with a lot of moving parts, a cultural history dating back to ancient times, and hot points of debate in the current climate. So further exploration is required.

And then there is the happy news of the reopening of Bodega 88 — our round-the-corner fave bar — for curbside and pickup and to-go drinks, so long as you order food (wink wink). Bodega had closed because the order-to-go model wasn’t financially viable, but with warm weather and sidewalk service, it’s back — a return toward neighborhood normalcy. I talked to the owner David briefly. We’ll need to circle back.

Many other examples abound. In short, there is more stuff to write about these days than there are hours in the week. We’ll have to take this a chunk at a time — I envision weekly installments. While the aforementioned shitstorm rages on, life goes on as well, not all of it bad. As Max Ehrmann put it so well in his 1927 poem “Desiderata”:

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

See you ’round the ’hood, and the blog.

All images by the author (jackcrager.com).

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