The expectedness of Williamsburg with a cold

2016-03-25 16.52.30

I’m in Williamsburg with a cold, which makes me think of the famous Esquire article Frank Sinatra has a cold. It’s one of these heavy colds that hover above your eyelids like an IPA hangover. I’m in Williamsburg, with a tote bag I bought at a modern art museum in St. Petersburg. That may seem self conscious, but you tell me where I’m supposed to store my expensively assembled cold medication?

 

My gaze is filled with a hazy shimmer, as if I’ve spent the last few hours staring into the sun through a filter of Williamsburg dust. But all I did before I came here was to lie passed out in an apartment on the Upper West side that I’ve borrowed from a friend’s sister.

 

People might look at me and think I’m yet another local trying to cure a hangover with an afternoon stroll in the sunshine. But I am just another Swedish visitor. With a chronic cold and a tote bag filled with American strength cold medication. It dawns on me that cold medication is the least sexy medication there is. I don’t know what to make of that realisation, so I discard it in a trash can together with a snot filled kleenex. There are way more trash cans in New York than in London.

At least I look the part of a Williamsburg local, in my ten year old tweed jacket, washed out t-shirt and worn out brown leather shoes. Wait a minute, these shoes are Ecco’s, designed for old people who pay a premium for comfort. I look down at my shoes. Except for the faded leather, which gives them a lived in and well-travelled aura, there is an unmistakable conflict between them and Williamsburg’s hipster hangover atmosphere.

 

But what am I supposed to do, find a store and buy a new pair of shoes? I look around, but trying on shoes with this cold is not an option. That I even consider buying new shoes just to blend in is too discomforting to consider in my current state, but I know I need to confront it at some point.

 

In the end I feel ok walking around in Williamsburg like this, with a cold that just as easily could come across as a hangover to the untrained eye. Perhaps everyone here has colds, which would explain the area’s fashion street photography kind jadedness.

 

I got off the subway from Manhattan at Bedford Avenue and slowly walked down 6th street, heading towards Music Hall of Williamsburg. I needed a target for my fake hangover walk and I’ve always liked the term “music hall”. There is something democratic and communal about it, unpretentious and unassuming compared to the pompous “theatre”, the impersonal “concert venue” or even worse, “arena”.

 

It was also supposed to be in the same direction as a second hand shop I found after one minute of googling things to do in Williamsburg. I used to buy second hand clothes but now I only browse the stores, as if trying to reconnect with a younger self by swiping my hands over second hand flannel shirts and corduroy trousers. I don’t need you to tell me there is a sadness in that.

 

Now I’m standing outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is partly covered in street art that feel as expected and fleeting as a Snapchat message. I consider sending one to some friends, but I can’t figure out how to convey the feeling of fleetingness and it’s relationship to that medium. I put my phone down and take a right on Wythe Avenue.

 

Before I left London one of my colleagues told me I had to see Brooklyn Brewery. Since I need a target, and the map on my phone says it’s only a couple of blocks away, I figure why not? I blow my nose and throw away another tissue in another trash can. God, I love how many trash cans there are here. Who is in charge of these trash cans? I want to write a letter to the responsible party and thank them. In London I’ve walked absurd distances with banana peels, tissues and other discardable objects in search for one. The convenience makes me happy, which I suspect explains the comfortable shoes on my feet.

 

I reach the brewery after a couple of minutes. Just as I imagined it consists of a brick building in an area filled with venues brandishing exposed walls  and industrial light fixtures. I consider having a beer but end up opting for another pill from my totebag. I remain on the street outside the brewery where I take a photo of the exterior, in case I need to prove to my colleague that I was actually there. “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer” – Henry Lawson. That is what is says on the wall I’m taking a picture of. In cool black font of course. There are few surprises in Williamsburg.

 

There is a hotel across the street from the brewery. The entrance is on a diagonal corner of a multi story brick building and above it a sign that says hotel crawls up the facade. Two blond Norwegian girls in their 20s are taking pictures of it. A shit load of pictures. How I know they are Norwegian? I’m Swedish, I can tell these things. The Norwegians stand there, with their toned bodies, dressed in matching black outfits. I also want to take a photo, but it feels silly to take the same picture as these Norwegians, they make it feel banal. Why do I think like this?

 

I need a coffee, a positive sign since I never drink coffee when I have a cold. I swallow another red pill from my tote bag. The pharmacist who sold me the drugs I carry around told me when to take what pill. There was some kind of sequence to it all. But I kept nodding as she tried to explain the interrelatedness of the pills, as if it was a complex physiological process. I wished she would stop talking and just let me out of the store. When I finally made my escape, together with my pills and a shockingly large bill, I had forgotten everything she said. So I decided to randomly choose one pill from my bag every hour and hope for the best.

 

I walk down 12th street, past McCarren park, and up on Driggs Avenue where I see a tea shop called Tea Bar. According to the sign, which is handwritten in white chalk, they also sell coffee. When I enter I feel overheated and sweaty. For the past few hours the sun has been attacking my tweed like chlorine based detergent attacks colour.

 

The girl behind the counter looks healthy, not only physically, like the Norwegians, but mentally, as if she’s just returned from a yoga retreat. It makes me conscious of my cold and I almost walk out the door again. But I’m too tired to look for another place and it doesn’t seem fair to blame her for my cold-induced insecurity. I order a flat white and ask if I can use the bathroom. She says of course and hands me a key that is attached to a long wooden stick. It’s the first unexpected thing I’ve encountered in Williamsburg.

 

In the bathroom I look at myself in the mirror. Then I urinate and leave, demoralised by the distance between my actual appearance and the slightly hungover local I imagined myself to look like. I pay for my coffee and walk back to McCarren Park, where I sit down on a bench and watch some teenage girls play softball. Behind the strike zone a large man, who might be their coach, or just a man with a giant soundsystem, puts on an N*Sync hit. Some of the girls in the outfield starts dancing. At first I assume it’s ironic, but I quickly realise it isn’t. I make a note that it’s a sign of the times, that teenage girls in Williamsburg now dance to N*Sync. Perhaps they always did? Soon after I learn that extra strong lemon cough drops and artisanal coffee do not go well together. I throw away my coffee and a used tissue in yet another trash can.

 

I’m in Williamsburg and life feels sideways. Fortunately the man with the giant soundsystem puts on a Clipse track I really like. I tell myself that the cold will pass, but by then I will be back in London and all I will take with me from Williamsburg are these poorly written notes that I’ve written next to a man in a leather jacket who just finished an entire full-sized bag of crisps in one sitting.

 

Also that was unexpected.

The Paris Review 209 (p. 83)

I read too much news and not enough fiction for a while. It wasn’t good for my soul. 

The Paris Review 209

“…young people now used their appearances as a means of shocking or disturbing others: he himself – and he was sure the same was true for all of us – had seen hairstyles far more extreme than the one Marielle described, not to mention tattoos and piercings of sometimes apparently violent nature, which all the same said nothing whatever about their owners, who were often people of the greatest sweetness and docility. It had taken him a long time to accept this fact, for he was predisposed to be judgmental and to find the meaning of a thing commensurate with its appearance, and also to be frightened of what he didn’t understand…”

The chilli plant

Chili plant

Yesterday at a dinner with some people; I told an old friend of mine I had bought a chilli plant. “Is that it?” he asked me. “Is that the whole story?” The people around the table laughed and I admitted that it was indeed the end of my story. I tried to save the awkward situation by explaining it’s the reason I write, since my stories make more sense in writing. “Well you should write a blog post then, or send us all an email,” my friend (what a dick!) said.

Challenge accepted:

The mistimed stand-up

“I bought a chili plant.”

“Don’t try and change the conversation”, she said, looking straight into my eyes as if she was a teacher talking to a child in a classroom. I didn’t understand what she was talking about; there hadn’t been a conversation before. Perhaps she interpreted the silent stares we had exchanged during the ceremony as a conversation. They had shifted from neutral to angry disappointment without any of us realising how, or why. Ok, that last part is not entirely true.

“I just don’t know how often I should water it; the peppers keep getting deeper and deeper red. I read somewhere that it makes them spicier. I got to do something with my chilli plant. Now that I have a chilli plant.”

She looked out of the large café windows, as if she had given up on me and was now bracing herself for another distracting and irrelevant side-track to what was really going on. She had kicked off her high heels and was slowly rubbing her ankle. As if that would help.

I noticed the wrinkle running across her forehead, it used to just only come out when she was upset, but it was now a permanent feature. Our relationship had a similar feel, the occasional disagreements and arguments that used to come and go now felt like permanent features, lingering just below the surface, ready to jump at any time.

I loosened my tie and took a sip of my double espresso. It had already gone cold and the bitter taste made me cringe. I always forget that espressos need to be consumed as a shot; quick and aggressively. But as the chilli-plant conversation petered out in the airy afternoon bar, and our well-dressed appearances had since long lost their straight lines, the idea of doing anything the right way, including watering a chilli plant, felt like wishful thinking.

I had another look on the invite I had put in my coat pocket. My ex-girlfriend was now married, despite the fact that I stood up at the part where the priest asks if anyone has any objections, and just stood there, not knowing what to say, feeling how my girlfriend’s hand slowly slipped out of my grip.

“But I bought a chilli plant for us, so we could have something together”, I tried again. But she had already started reading The Sunday Times, and it was not so she could read the garden section and look for watering instructions for chilli plants.

Yes (this is another feeble attempt at putting a philosophical perspective on another workday)

Outlook flags

May 1st is a holiday in many countries to mark the International Workers’ Day. In the UK we just work. It is problematic when most of your colleagues are in the let’s-get-drunk-cause-it’s-the-weekend part of the world. Or are just in the wrong time zone. My in-box looks eerie as I wait for urgent help from someone in Costa Mesa, California. Is it still urgent if the answer won’t arrive in at least five hours? Or is urgency something only attributed to a question, and not to the potential time frame of the problem solving?

Yes, this is another feeble attempt at putting a philosophical perspective on another workday that has the vitality of a really damp cloth (read: if you don’t know how to read it, I won’t help, because I’m not getting any answers to MY questions, am I?). I am waiting. I’m not patiently waiting. I’m involuntarily angrily waiting. Time is running out. Soon I’ll activate another out of office reply on my work email and escape to what some would call “a very random place”. My options are becoming limited, the time to solve my urgent issues almost gone. I look at the time but it doesn’t look back. I’m invisible to time. I have my needs you know, I have red flags all over my in-box, things need to move, I’ve got other things to do, I tell my Outlook. What I about my deadlines, I cry. No answer.

I put my blue coat on and take a walk; I buy an overpriced fruit smoothie. I look at uninspiring clothes in an uninspiring store. Some rain falls on my head. Slow lazy rain, doesn’t even make my hair wet. Useless rain. Rain that makes me think about my in-box. I check my in-box on my phone, hoping it is less inefficient than the London rain. But it is as eerie as before, and my flags are not going anywhere. Damn those flags, I tell no one. All my colleagues are gone when I return to my desk. Where is everyone? Then I realise they are in the all-day meeting I was supposed to attend. Instead I am sitting here waiting for answers. Come on answers.

I try sending a couple of emails, to instil a feeling of productivity. I tell myself it is a cornerstone of what a good employee should be; productive. Out of office replies bounce in my face. I open a PowerPoint document and stare at all large gaping holes where I don’t have enough information to proceed. I add a picture I don’t like to one of the slides. I change a headline I don’t like. I wonder if the new headline is even worse. I stare at the blinking cursor in the PowerPoint presentation (I wonder if it is the cursor or I that blink). All I see are symbols of wasted time.

I sit here in the office, waiting to be set free, to finalise things. For a couple of minutes I forget about my inbox, I’m filled with a misplaced attitude of can do. I feel like I’m in a Nike commercial, like I am running across the soft office carpet with a sense of liberation, I’m flying, I’m KLM, I have wings, I have Nick Cave quotes in my head. Soon after; I have no answers, I am a Swizz cheese.

I blink. And my in-box looks at me; no new emails. I walk to the bathroom, the TV in the lobby shows riots from somewhere in the Ukraine. But all I can think about is my in-box.

The potential calming effect of too much order (sleep deprived notes from Frankfurt)

Frankfurt

Impressions from a recent visit to Frankfurt: The stewardess on my Lufthansa flight efficiently distributes drinks in the cabin. Do I write efficiently because she is German? I’ve had 4,5 hours of sleep. Late last night I stood in my hotel room on the 31st floor; looking out over Frankfurt’s bank building skyline in my underwear, with that misplaced self-esteem a couple of drinks and a good view tend to bring.

At a restaurant next to Frankfurt’s beautiful opera house someone said she thought the service was patchy. She also thought I was from New Zeeland, which clearly undermines her observational credibility. I took a run by the river Main, it was Sunday and the lawns that track the river were filled with people. It was sunny and warm and made me think of summer. When I got back to my room there were drops of sweat on my glasses. I looked up the weather in London on my phone; when I saw that it was raining I was relieved, as if it was an achievement to happen to be in a place with sunshine. Then I realised I had forgotten my cufflinks in London and something turned cloudy.

When I arrived at Frankfurt’s airport, which is just as nice as you would expect Frankfurt airport to be, I took the train to the city. It was very silent, even more silent than you would expect a silent train in Germany to be. Across from me a man sat hunched over a black rug sack where he was hiding a beer. Even he was silent. Despite the empty Sunday streets everyone stopped for red traffic lights. Not me, I kept on walking like a rushed Londoner.

In an outdoor restaurant near Lokalbanhof, south of the river, I met a Texan man. He told me I was the first Swedish person he’d ever met. He didn’t seem too bothered by the fact that he wasn’t the first Texan I had met, or he just hid it well with his mouth full of chewing tobacco.  He told me I had to try the Frankfurter schnitzel, “it’s fantastic”. I know there are few words Americans overuse more than fantastic. But I order the schnitzel, with a side of sauerkraut, since I like outsourcing my decision-making.

Later the same evening I leaned forward slightly as walked back to the hotel, due to the size of the portion. A colleague told me she thought the city was beautiful. “And a bit boring perhaps”, I added. Although one evening a stressed cab driver, who missed his turn and kept repeating “scheisse” to himself, left us in the city’s red light district. We walked past a couple of harmless looking teenagers smoking weed on a street corner. I don’t know why I thought Frankfurt seemed less boring after having seen the red light district and people smoking weed. Perhaps it made me think of Amsterdam; a non-boring city with the same attributes.

But now, when I think about it, even the junkies and prostitutes we passed on our way to the restaurant, where some people found the service to be patchy, had an aura of unobtrusiveness; as if Frankfurt’s great skyscrapers had a sedating influence over the city. The potential calming effect of too much order.

A bigger bone (the battle against work-Patrik)

Image

Before Christmas I had what some would describe as a couple of busy weeks; longer than normal hours, intense time pressure and deadlines traveling backwards in my Outlook calendar until they crashed on some god-forgotten day, not seldom a Friday. Unanswered emails poked my brain, looking for attention like spoilt children with no ice cream. You know those kinds of weeks; when you’re more like a machine than a human. ‘

I was coming home exhausted, work tumbling in my head like unwanted load of laundry. Some might rightly point out that I should have expected more work following my recent promotion. I’d like to make it clear I do get this point.

However.

The problem arose after work, when I was supposed to turn my attention from work-Patrik’s determinedness to get things done and juggle people’s expectations, to dreamy writer music lover Patrik, who makes themed playlists about sunshine, and who likes to engage in things far away from the suit-heavy work-Patrik reality, such as writing in this blog. The so-called spare time is when the other Patrik is supposed to thrive, leaving work-Patrik behind the revolving doors of his Victoria Street office building.

Physically the transition wasn’t complicated; I left through the doors and entered the sea of office workers on the street. But when the wind of freedom – or that damn Victoria Street wind tunnel as some prefer calling it – hit my face, and I could smell the fresh air – or pollution that prematurely ages people – my brain didn’t follow suit. Like an angry child refusing to move work-Patrik stayed in my brain.

It didn’t matter which music I tried and play in my noise cancelling headphones. My brain was a dog running after a bone, solving problems I’ve had clearly moved to the next day in my calendar. They’re not supposed to be sorted now; I tried telling my stupid brain. Naturally it didn’t listen, instead it continued to mull over potential issues tomorrow might bring, it phrased e-mails and decided which task I needed to handle first (always the one I least want to do by the way), and what meetings I needed to schedule.

I walked to Waterstones through Green Park’s darkness, taking my place in the silent line of office workers also rushing to get away from their work selves. It looked like we were all struggling in the cool December wind. I couldn’t tell if there was an actual silence, or if my headphones were just blocking out the sound. We were all trying to block it out. I entered Waterstones, where I once sat next to a famous Swedish sculptor. It’s an oasis of calm. I sat down on the third floor, in the art section, and began reading a book by a Swedish musician (Kristian Gidlund, pictured above) I once interviewed in my student radio show. He recently died from cancer and the book collects the blog posts he wrote after finding out that he had the disease.

It describes the painful treatment, the many goodbyes and how he came to terms with the fact that he would never have any children. That he would never become a father. It was depressing, but it also grabbed my racing mind and put it firmly into place. I was locked inside the book’s painful lines and suddenly office-Patrik was somewhere very far away.

It’s what great books and stories can do; simultaneously take you somewhere else, while also making the present feel more real, more meaningful.  As I sat in the red comfortable chair on the third floor by the art section, my mind felt cleansed by something other than alcohol or exercise. A statement of cultural power impossible to get from the Evening Standard on the tube ride home.

I just needed to throw a bigger bone, to my stupid brain.

A song for sunny winter mornings (from The War on Drugs)

I have an Itunes playlist called “dust, smoke and sun in the eyes”.
I know you find it pretentious.
So do I.
But The War On Drugs always fit in there.
Like a perfect soundtrack to driving across the US.
Now they are gearing up to release a new album.
This pearl of a song is the first taste.
They sound sunnier, a bit less hazy.
But undeniably continuing to walk familiar The War On Drugs paths.
A song to drive a car to.
To ride a bike to.
Or to sit still and just think about moving to.
If you like Kurt Vile, and who does’t these days?
This song will be your friend.