Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Did I make it here? Trying to Recap 4 years in NYC

I am honored to send you the final "Friends of Jer" Newsletter from NYC
because, at some point, and in some way, you have been a part of my travels
here. Don't dispute me, if I didn't think so, I wouldn't be sending you this
email ;-) Thank you for your contribution to this part of my life's journey.

When I arrived in the Big Apple, I wanted to live both as a traveler and as
a New Yorker and I think I've made a good effort at it, though I am now
struggling with one question about moving on.

The one part of the implied question by Sinatra that is left unanswered is:
what is the objective standard for making it here, so that you know if you
can really make it anywhere?

I mean, we can't have subjective standards, because if you think you have
made it here, but you really haven't, and then you don't make it somewhere
else, well then, imagine the fiasco we'd have at that point.  The
revisionists would try to get the song banned.

Ok, I'm getting a bit excited here, but that's probably because all I know
is that I want to write something down to summarize my experiences here over
the past four years, but how do you do that? How can you look back at four
formative years of your life in which you saw so much good and some
significant evil and learned so much and just jot it down?

Not that it is similar by a longshot, but imagine how difficult it must be
to write a great eulogy or a biography.  How do we know all that has
happened within the hearts and minds of men? (read: men and women)

I'm torn because on the one hand, I know this is a turning point in my life,
but on the other hand, I know this is LIFE. Dealing with big changes is
LIFE, as is having your long distance telephone service disconnected for no
reason whatsoever and having to spend hours trying to figure out why and
more importantly, get it restored.  Is this the game of Life?

Are the special moments, the weddings, the births, the holidays, the big
games, what life is lived for or is it really any moment that you step back
and take that deep breath and just appreciate the fact that you are alive?

The preciousness and fragility of life has been driven into our minds in
ways that we could hardly expect over the past year, but have we integrated
those lessons into our minds as well as we could have?

I don't really know, but I do know that I appreciate Life for Life's sake
more these days. Is it me? Is it NYC? Is it this period in my life?

But more importantly, how do I know if I've made it here (or what 'making
it' means anyway)? Does anyone ever actually *make it* ?

Just for kicks, I'll share my stock answer (I'm open to suggestions): You
have made it in New York if:
1. you have withstood the process of searching for an apartment and moved in
(bonus points for more than twice)
2. you can find a parking space on the street without being stressed about

If that's indeed the criteria, I've made it, which bodes well for the
future, I guess. Maybe I just set criteria I knew I could achieve. Hmm....

Those of you who have followed my travels throughout Europe and Asia know by
now that I have a mildly disguised desire to view my own life in "epic"
terms and to engage in "epic" activities.  "Epic" being my word of choice
for reasons unknown to me, like our 'epic cross country trip in October.'
(Title Sponsorships is still available)

Maybe that's the way I give meaning and significance to what I do or perhaps
it is my own delusions of grandeur, but as Emily Waldman Ebner says "when I
listen to my walkman, I hear it as the soundtrack to the movie that is my
life," I guess I see people, places, events, and periods as chapters in some
great unfolding literary novel of grand proportions, a la War and Peace
(which took me one year to read)

So, now, as this chapter closes, and we see two more chapters on the horizon
(one the month-long cross-country trip with Tamar and two, our new life in
the DC area), it is a perfect time for some reflection and retrospection.
Whether I can actually do that or not, remains to be seen.

As I sat listening to the chords of Beethoven's 9th Symphony at Avery Fisher
Hall last night being played by the New York Philharmonic, I thought to
myself "THIS is how I want to go out. "

I read the words in both German and English..."Wem der grosse Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein, Wer ein holdes Weib werunge, Mische seinen
Jubel ein!"

(He who has won in that great gamble Of being friend unto a friend, He who
has found a goodly woman, Let him add his jubilation too!")

It was a magnificent (dare I say epic) performance, the symphony lasting
about an hour, but hardly seeming like a stretch at all, culminating with
the monumental efforts of 4 soloists, a full orchestra, and a full chorus,
rising into a crescendo and then stopping just like that.

There should be a word for that brief moment of total silence after an
orchestra has finished playing and before the audience begins to applaud. So
many emotions are taking place, like a collective pregnant pause. It's
similar to the pause between the end of one chapter in a page-turner and the
beginning of the next.

Or perhaps the completion of one book and the beginning of the next.

This weekend, in the synagogue, Jews celebrate the completion of the fifth
book of Moses (Deuteronomy) and the immediately begin to read the first part
of the book of Genesis.  I will have the honor of reading this in front of
my congregation, as not only we complete the cycle and begin again, but also
as my final public reading in front of my fellow congregants at KOE on 103rd
and Amsterdam, or as Michael Kellman has put it my "last hurrah."

Last night's concert was another last hurrah of sorts. It was the final
disbursement of the New York City culture tax which my co-New Yorkers (who
rent) pay. We pay for the opportunity to get a phone call at 7.15pm for a
show that starts at 8 and to say "ok, I'll be there."

I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Actually, that could be said for my entire experience here in New York.

I arrived, fresh from Japan, knowing something about myself as a person,
something about the Internet and business, something about my Jewish
identity, and very little about the world of romance and women.

Now, I know more about myself as a person, a bit more about business, am
more clear about my Jewish identity and still very little about women
(though I do know how to romance them ;-)

-walked from Battery Park to the Bronx on Broadway (not all at once)
-visited all 5 boroughs on bike
-been to the top of the World Trade Center, looked out my office window upon
it, and watched it fall down
-seen plays on Broadway and human dramas in the subway that rival that of
the theater
-walked through museums housing some of the greatest art in the world and
seen the daily art worn and made by people from every country in the world
on the sidewalks that are the canvases of this metropolis
-been to Yankee Stadium and to Shea (on the field)
-fallen in love, fell out of love, and fallen in love again, this time
-experienced an economic boom and bust
-signed my first lease
-gotten married
-had a sigmoidoscopy (ouch)
-climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty and visited the Transit Museum
-attended weddings and funerals
-sat in Prospect Park, Central Park, Riverside Park, and Van Cortlandt Park
(just to name a few)
-talked with incense vendors, homeless people, subway conductors, taxi
drivers, and more than a few doormen
-been to Little Brazil, Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy, Crown Heights
-paddled a canoe in the Hudson, went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean on New
Year's Day (twice), took a boat on the East River
-walked the Brooklyn and GW bridges
-gotten hired, resigned, and started my own company
-seen world class ballet and opera and been to Carnegie Hall and the Met
-celebrated life being given and mourned about life being taken away
-picked up Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and now look up to see if a plane
is falling almost every time I hear one above me
-woke up at 4am to visit the Fulton St. Fish market
-eaten the food (a lot of it)
-sweated in the Russian-Turkish bathhouse
-walked through Greenwich Village
-watched the sunset from my roof
-ridden almost every subway line (I don't think I've been on the M train)
-seen the Xmas lights at Rockefeller Center

...just to name a few. Though it's impossible to ever "do New York," I'm
satisfied with my accomplishments here.

You know, it just occurred to me now that when I was watching the World
Trade Center collapse, I was so overwhelmed by the enormity of the building
and its demise, that it never dawned on me that there were people inside
whose lives were being extinguished at that moment. It's like two parts of
my brain. One says "people were killed on 9/11" the other says "I saw the
World Trade Center collapse" but it seems like a part of my brain didn't put
those two together.

Which is strangely ironic in some way, because the past 4 years in New York
have been, when you boil it all down, about people.  To quote Johnny B "New
York is the greatest City on the planet, with 22 million people jammed into
the metro area doing more diverse and interesting things, and from more
diverse and interesting backgrounds and places, than any other community the
world has ever seen."

I couldn't agree with him more. People think New Yorkers are rude, but to
paraphrase my sister Dina, "New Yorkers have more interactions with other
people per minute than almost anybody, yet we get angry at roughly the same
intervals as everyone else from a time perspective. In reality, New Yorkers
are the most polite people around."

In New York you learn how to communicate, and I'm not just talking about
using Spanish with the flower guy, Korean in the grocery, almost any other
language in the cabs, I'm talking about getting along with people. With so
many people here, from so many different backgrounds, it's amazing that this
city functions at all, but in reality, in functions quite well. The subways
and buses work, the stores get supplied, things get done and get done
quickly. New Yorkers assume that you want to get where you are going with a
minimum of delays and aggravation, so we unconsciously help each other
achieve our goals that way.

Besides, you meet so many different and interesting people here that you
just can't help have your eyes opened about new ideas and philosophies.

It's really a lesson in sensitivity as well as communication, since not
everyone is just like you, you need to work at understanding others.  But
what makes New York unique is the tolerance here. As opposed to some
countries in Europe or other places where 'tolerance' and 'mutual
understanding' is discussed and bandied about, here it just happens and no
one really thinks about it. Why should we? It's not that big of deal. Just
do it.

Sure there are whackos, but when you have this type of number, it's bound to

What I also learned about this city is that it is a city that is always
growing. In other areas, you'll have "the Old Town" or buildings that serve
as relics of another age which are main attractions. Here, the attractions
are the new buildings and the people. This is not a city stuck in time, it
is a city that is moving toward the future-and aggressively at that.

It's not the most beautiful city on earth from an architectural perspective,
but it represents the most beautiful of possibilities for people to live and
work together in harmony and safety.

We're going to miss the two all-night pharmacies and two 24 hour grocery
stores within 2 blocks of our apartment and all of the other amenities that
only this city can truly offer, but even though we won't be a part of New
York, it will always be a part of us.

Now, it's time for us to move on and, as my cousin Clay Epstein says "see
that there is life beyond the Hudson."

Again, thanks for sharing this chapter with me.


P.S. I'll be posting reports from our trip from the road (they may not be
personalized since I'm going to use a bulk emailing program for the month)

P.P.S. If the quality in this email isn't so high, it's because I'm writing
it with a fever. Or maybe, I'm forcing it. Or maybe, I'm just not a good

Most Interesting Observation
-Saw a business card the other day WITHOUT an email address on it. That
person really wants to do business, huh?