Tag Archives: NYC

Walking with E.B. White in NYC

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I was back in NYC accompanying my daughter on an apartment hunt in Brooklyn. A number of years ago I lived there, briefly. Times have changed. In my day finding an apartment in NYC was largely a matter of securing a sublet through a friend-of-a-friend. Today, agents host open houses and publish floor plans with photographs of rentals online, much like selling properties.

Getting about NYC on foot has changed too. No more notes in hand, maps in pocket, or memorized directions. Where we used to count blocks, look at street signs and be cognizant of numbers, now it’s follow your phone. Walking GPS style. Everybody’s doing it. It’s a different world.

That must be why, while trailing my daughter who was being led by her phone, I met up with a kindly old gentleman dressed in a gray overcoat and hat. He looked as baffled as me, in part; the other half of him was very much at home. No wonder, it was E.B. White, writer and contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine for more than 50 years. And here I thought he had been at rest on his saltwater farm in Maine all this time.

Just the thought of of New York and some folks rise to their feet with Sinatra’s song, “New York, New York,” ringing in their heads. Some settle in with Bobby Short’s melodies, while others get bubbly with Cole Porter. To me, E.B. White was, and always will be, not only the voice of the magazine, but the voice of the city.

I’m not sure my daughter even knew he was there on the apartment hunt that day. She was out ahead, as I said, but both E.B. & I walked rather slowly, preferring to see things as we go.

Not much of a conversationalist–he’s still making notes in his head for The New Yorker, I told myself–he nevertheless came up with just the right words every time.

At each appointment I went in to tour the apartment with my daughter, while E.B. lingered on the sidewalk. He just turned up his collar, adjusted his hat, and waited. Then we’d fall in step again. We did this all day, all over Brooklyn, through a dozen appointments. In short, a delightful day.

The apartment hunt, you ask? It ended on a well tree’d street in Boerum Hill. Sometimes it all comes down to a certain slant of light, and we found it in a lovely old home there.

“It’s where any one of us would place a writing desk,” I suggested to my walking companion, pointing out the window from the sidewalk. He looked up and nodded knowingly.

And with that he tipped his hat and walked off in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. Back to his beloved Manhattan.

 

 

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Bird Park, San Diego

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I remember my uncle’s visit in Southern California. We were living in Laguna Beach at the time, and, recently widowed, he was traveling to New Zealand from New England. We were a half-way resting place and ever so happy to have him.

My uncle looked upon it all incredulously. From Connecticut to California it must have been like landing on the moon. Main Beach is to Laguna Beach what “The Town Green” is to New England. In Laguna, a well-tended lifeguard tower stood in lieu of a white gazebo. And sand and surf where there was usually a lawn. Main Beach bustled with people, tan, fit, and half-clad.

I was seeing all this through my uncle’s eyes.

“Everyone’s in motion, aren’t they?” I asked. He could only nod.

Today our daughter lives across from Bird Park in San Diego. Bird Park is a part of Balboa Park, the famed legacy of Kate Sessions. Balboa Park may be to San Diego what Central Park is to New York City.

There is something so timeless about this scene from our daughter’s front door: a child and a swing, families picnicking. Strollers, bikes, rollerblades, scooters. Stretching routines and soccer practice.

Constructed in the shape of an enormous bird, Pershing Drive is the “branch” on which the “bird” stands. Employing native plantings to attract local birds, Bird Park is the brainchild of San Diego artists Robin Brailsford and Wick Alexander.

I raised my children not far from here in this climate when they were very young. Out every day, all day, is how I remember our time together. We were card-carrying members, regulars at The Wild Animal Park, now Safari Park. Strolling The Kilimanjaro Trail, lunching at picnic tables, napping in a double stroller while still moving.

A short jog off The Kilimanjaro Trial, we liked to cut through an Australian Rain Forest exhibit for the girls were fond of wallaby’s and kookaburras—as amused by the names as much as the animals. For me it was the vegetation, a green respite from the dry brown heat of the African-based trail. In the shelter of the rain forest I pointed out bronze signs in braille to two little girls who were learning to read English at the time. Their fingers running over and over the raised dots in each sign.

Sometimes you are all of one place. The climate became us. The park, wildlife, and horticulture, became us. I could see my daughters in khaki uniforms one day working summer jobs there. But then we moved. How did we ever move to the desert when San Diego was desert enough? I ask myself this now.

I live on an island now, and I have become it. I hear from friends that the bulbs are pushing up, and I must return.

Life moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes in circles, sometimes in avian shapes. But never in a straight line.

 

Perching birds of San Diego, in no particular order: Black-chinned sparrow, California towhee, Common yellowthroat, Horned lark, Western wood-peewee, Vermilion flycatcher, Western bluebird, Barn swallow, Blue grosbeak, Yellow warbler, Savannah sparrow, Loggerhead shrike, Northern rough-winged swallow, Red-breasted nuthatch, Rufous-crowned sparrow, Gray vireo, Marsh wren, Fox sparrow, California thrasher, Lark sparrow, Black phoebe, Tree swallow, Dusky flycatcher, Sage sparrow, LeConte’s thrasher, Lawrence’s goldfinch, California gnatcatcher, Tricolored blackbird, Say’s Phoebe, Wrentit, Bell’s vireo, Yellow-breasted chat, Red-winged blackbird, Lucy’s warbler, Chipping sparrow, Western tanager, Spotted towhee, Dark-eyed junco, Hooded oriole, Song sparrow, Brown-headed cowbird, Rock wren, Olive-sided flycatcher, Yellow-rumped warbler, Black-tailed gnatcatcher, Bushtit, Verdin, American robin, Lesser goldfinch, Green-tailed towhee, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western kingbird, Violet-green swallow, Cassin’s kingbird, Black-throated sparrow, Phainopepha, Cactus wren, Purple finch, Scrub jay, Bullock’s oriole, Grasshopper sparrow,  Scott’s oriole, American goldfinch, Purple martin, Pacific-slope flycatcher, Lazuli bunting, Western meadowlark, Ash-throated flycatcher, Great-tailed crackle, Blue-grey gnatcatcher, Orange-crowned warbler, Brewer’s blackbird, Willow flycatcher, White-breasted nuthatch, Hutton’s vireo, Canyon wren, Crissal thrasher, Steller’s jay, Plain titmouse, Northern mockingbird, Bewick’s wren, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, Warbling vireo, Pygmy nuthatch, Bendire’s thrasher, American crow, Brown creeper, Mountain chickadee, and Common raven

 

 

 

 

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The Secret Gardens of Trump Tower

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

In 1979 Trump made a deal with New York City. If he committed 15,000 sq ft to amenities for the public, including terraced gardens, he could add twenty extra floors to Trump Tower. The deal net Trump $530 million.

The public, for the most part, lost.

Known as POPS, privately owned public spaces, the spaces are legally required to be open to the public under a city’s zoning ordinance or other land use law. Across New York City there are more than 500 POPS in 320 buildings, but Trump Tower’s gardens are not well known because Trump Tower itself, the corporate headquarters of Trump Organization, barely acknowledges the existence of these spaces.

In the past thirty years Trump Tower has been fined repeatedly on its POPS agreement. Signage to the gardens is neither noted at the 5th Avenue entrance to Trump Tower nor on the building’s directory. Paramilitary guards guard the Tower, joined lately by Secret Service. The 6 story atrium space is often closed for press conferences, and public seating replaced with kiosks selling Trump’s “Make America Great” hats.

One reporter made six attempts over a period of two weeks to get into the gardens, only to be told on one occasion that the garden was closed due to rain.

 Wait… closing a garden due to rain?

So I checked with some of my sources in the city: Dave Yourgrau, Program Director at Startup Institute; Sarah Yourgrau, Producer for Film/TV; and Yogi Shmuel, Real Estate Agent at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Were any of them aware of public gardens at Trump Tower? No, they were not.

“I have never heard of the gardens, nor do I know of anyone who has,” explained Dave. “Trump properties have a huge reputation of being unavailable to the public.”

Reporters from Salon, Business Insider, Crains New York, Untapped Cities, and aPOPS: Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space who have found a way into the gardens at Trump Tower tell us we’re not missing much. “A handful of hostas, a small maple tree, built-in granite benches, and a garbage can” was one description of the 4th floor garden. On the 5th floor, “A row of seven trees, probably Japanese maple or cherry (four of whom were dead).”

Not the flora and fauna one might expect in a garden, nor the visitors. Is nothing about this man, Donald J. Trump, natural? Has he ever grown so much as a geranium on a windowsill? My guess is he has not. To say nothing of a sense of civic duty. That deal he struck with the city of New York was never much more than a nod to nature on his part.

It was always about the twenty floors.

The importance of urban gardens to city dwellers cannot be stressed enough. Gardens restore both our lungs and our spirit. They provide a sanctuary, a connection and with nature, a sense of season, and an unhurried stillness. Lynden B. Miller, Director of The Conservatory Garden in Central Park observes, “People simply feel better about themselves and their communities when surrounded by beautiful plants.”

And those who plant, or provide a garden, know that they are doing something for the good of the world.

Donald J. Trump is missing this, all of this.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank You For Asking, But No, I Am Not Alright

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Photo By Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY A MAYER

I have my father on speed dial. He said to call any time I need to hear that our country, our world, will survive president-elect Trump. While the nation is going rogue, I am sitting on my island in the Salish Sea thinking this is not far enough away.

On election day, I wore ironed white linen in honor of the suffragettes. And Buddhist prayer beads around my neck for good measure. We were giddy then.

But I should have known. A Trump-sized migraine had preceded the election. His supporters were hiding in plain sight. Some were even hiding in my extended family.

Without ever having met, Donald Trump and I go way back.

My first husband was a narcissist, and I am here to tell you that nothing good can come of it. I don’t know how I survived, but imagine arriving in NYC in the 70’s after the storm of the marriage, arriving on my arse, so to speak. In an era when Donald Trump was the golden boy, or so he thought. Building golden towers, hideously gaudy to everyone else.

Even then I loathed him. I may have had conflicted feelings about my ex, but I was very clear on Donald J. Trump. I had a plan to walk out of any venue should he saunter in, or cross the street if I saw him coming—but of course he was always riding limos, then as now. And fortunately I was spared.

Over the years, after extensive analysis of these two men, I was able to define my feelings as a toxicity to narcissism. And so I stay away from those types. Now here it comes back to me, embodied in one of its original suits.

What to do? What to do? First I will write this. It’s as much for me, you understand, as it is a message-in-a- bottle to the world. I need to know that I can still write.

Then what? This is what it’s like after that election, when you don’t know if you can see straight, if you can find your feet, or get out of bed in the morning. It’s an awful lot like my divorce.

Next I’ll retrieve the piece that I had started to write before the election. On the Madrona Tree, and our shared DNA with trees. For someone is going to have to care a wit about the environment in this new era. Right?

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The Virtues of Being a Basketcase

Alaska room pic

By KIMBERLY MAYER

 

Two books are before me on my writing table: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo and Mess, by Barry Yourgrau. Two drastically different books on decluttering—one, so Zen, and the other, well, messy. I have browsed, pondered, read reviews on each, but haven’t dove into either yet. Instead I seem to be writing my own: a case for baskets.

A long time ago in what seems like another life, I lived on St. Thomas USVI and my passion for baskets started there, at The Shipwreck Shop in Charlotte Amalie. Moving from one rental to another, I furnished my homes with straw rugs and tropical trees standing about in baskets, dined on mahogany plates from down island, and donned straw hats as protection from the Caribbean sun. I practically lived out of The Shipwreck Shop and the look has been with me ever since, even now, on San Juan Island in the Puget Sound.

Baskets, I have found, pretty much work with any type of décor. Lately, what I like is juxtaposing baskets with the industrial. A winning combination: rustic and industrial.

In my house what goes into baskets is extensive: scarves and gloves on an upper shelf in the mud room–called an “Alaska room” in the Pacific Northwest. Hats in a wall-hung basket. Two large baskets contain gifts ready for giving when the occasions roll around. I store stationery,  greeting cards, and candles in baskets. Folded dining linens in baskets. In bathrooms, extra hand towels are rolled into a wire basket, and a collection of European soaps in another.

The list goes on and on, and with that I need to confess to a few little hoarding habits of my own. Nothing compared to Mr. Yourgrau’s stuff, but still… I “collect,” as I like to call it, “affordable luxuries,” all of which are stored in baskets. Oh, and in the process I collect baskets.

“Finders need keepers,” states House Beautiful’s Sensational Storage Solutions. Marie Kondo, the Japanese cleaning consultant and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, would disagree. “A booby trap lies within the term ‘storage,'” she writes. Purging of belongings is Ms. Kondo’s modus operandi.

Mr. Yourgrau, on the other hand, author of Mess, accumulated everything of meaning, and if it didn’t have any, he gave it meaning. What began with gathering mementos such as cocktail napkins and coasters from well-loved restaurant experiences around the world, degenerated into hoarding plastic bags and cardboard boxes in his apartment in Queens.

“I looked like a storage help center,” he said on interview with NPR. “I thought they’d be useful when I eventually sort of tidied up my place.”

It can be a slippery slope. I confess to keeping packing peanuts for reuse as well as folded sheets of bubble packing plastic for the shipping of gifts. I keep them in baskets of course, out in the garage. Mr. Yourgrau lives in NYC and doesn’t have a garage. I don’t know what I’d do there; I would have to change my ways.

And seriously, Ms. Kondo, would you send me out for supplies each time I had to ship a gift? Perhaps your family lives within walking distance in Tokyo, but my family is all over the map.

Although Mr. Yourgrau has tidied up his place tremendously, his display of miscellany from table to table as seen in “A Hoarder’s Tale of Redemption,” The New York Times August 19, looks to me like Ye Olde Curiousity Shop down on Pier 54 in Seattle.

What started on an island for me, a passion for baskets, finds itself on an island once again. All my favorite things, close at hand yet out of sight. Call me a basketcase, but it’s working.

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Rhoda and I

Give me an open shelf and I immediately go into display mode. From the pragmatic to the aesthetic–whether we’re talking everyday dishes or a collection of shells–in my mind they occupy the same sacred space. A well-arranged shelf is like music to me. Where did this come from?

Ah yes, Rhoda.

Not since The Mouseketeers had I been so enamored with a television show. From 1974 to 1978, for the life of the show, I didn’t sit there with my ears on but I was hooked. Rhoda was at first a backstory of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and later a spin-off. She had all the right ingredients and captured my imagination in a way that Mary hadn’t. Unlike Mary, Rhoda wasn’t perfect. She had issues. She had verve. And Rhoda was a window dresser. Having moved from Minneapolis back to NYC at the start of her own show, Rhoda called out, “New York, this is your last chance.”

I was working as Communications Editor for G. Fox & Co., a large department store at the time in Hartford, Connecticut. My first gig out of college, editor of in-house publications. Unlike Mary, who was tied to her desk, I had the freedom to roam between departments with paper & pen and camera, attending events, getting stories, and becoming acquainted with both employees and management. And in all the world of G. Fox & Co., I considered the Visual Merchandising team the most creative bunch—far more creative than my department, or even advertising.

Inspired by my new arty friends, the window dressers, I rented a trendy loft space in a beautiful old building enjoying a renaissance at the time near Union Station in Hartford—an area undergoing a major effort in urban renewal. My high- ceilinged, light-flooded space was a blank canvas for all that I would do. A massive store window, if you will. I think I got as far as rolling in a wooden spool for a table, my first piece of furniture ever, to start my life around.

Rhoda married Joe. Then love bumped me off course too, and the next thing I knew I quit my job, left Hartford, lost my security deposit and first month’s rent on that loft, left my first piece of furniture behind, flew to St. Thomas USVI for a couple of years, and… we won’t go into it.

Let’s just say I should have stayed, kept writing, and set my stage. Two things that make me immeasurably happy.

Rhoda’s marriage to Joe fell apart too. The ratings plunged. Joe was the owner of a wrecking company, and my ex-husband might as well have been too. In any case we pulled ourselves up through design, Rhoda and I.

“What is design but the creation of orderliness?” states Mary Douglas Drysdale.

Today my blue & whites are in a hutch. Like things together, that seems to work.

Bookcase 3

A major bookcase is color- blocked like a Mondrian painting. When I’m watching a game and my attention wanders, it is most likely up to the books.

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In the master bath, a shell collection sits on pine shelves that once held Costco-sized spices, sea salt, pepper mill, olive oil and vinegars in a kitchen in Pennsylvania.

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In the kitchen today, much of what was once hidden in upper cabinets is now out. Stainless steel kitchen shelves hold all our white every day china and clear glasses. The idea is that what is used frequently, doesn’t get dusty. And as cooks in prepping we experience extraordinary head and shoulder space.

Live with what you use and what you love. And get rid of the rest.

Yep, I can see Rhoda winking at that.

 

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Wrong Number

Last night over dinner in Seattle a friend floated the phrase, “Urban Amish.” That’s me when I think of my relationship with the phone. Then this morning on Facebook another friend described attending an event at USC where all the students’ heads were down, and how she wanted to stand on the quad and shout, Look UP!

“I felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse,” she said.

I feel like that every day.

There was a time, I suppose, when I waited for the phone to ring. It might be a boy. Most likely it was a girlfriend. It could be for my mother, and that would tie her up for awhile. The phone hung on the kitchen wall then, and in my way I seem to have left it there.

I’ve upset everyone around me by not bonding with the cell phone.

“What, go for a walk without your phone?” exclaims my husband like I’ve forgotten my pants. At best I’ve left my phone at home charging. But it’s never with me. That is not the way I want to walk. I have a different purpose in walking in this world. I want to notice things. And to think my own thoughts. Call me crazy.

My sister in Boston jumps into her bright red Prius every day and drives it like a phone booth on wheels. All wired up with Blue Tooth, whatever that is, she conducts her calls with both hands on the wheel. She talks with her daughter in NYC, her son in NYC, her husband in the attic—he has recently moved his office into their remodeled attic—our mother, our father, our other sister, it’s magnificent really. And me if she could reach me. Probably not. Her entire drive is a chain of calls. Sometimes she’s got to go from one call because another call is coming in.

I know because I’ve flown out to be with her in Boston and ridden in her car. Sitting in the passenger seat and listening to her calls, I have to wonder, whatever happened to personal conversation? Or listening to the radio.

Silence doesn’t bother me either.

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