day 295: soviet kitsch

{excerpts from "lenny hearts eunice," gary shteyngart's "20 under 40" new yorker story featuring the co-op in which both he and i live}

{with commentary}
First order of business when I got back: to celebrate what I already have. I began with the seven hundred and forty square feet that form my share of Manhattan Island. I live in the last middle-class stronghold in the city, high atop a red-brick ziggurat that a Jewish garment workers’ union erected on the banks of the East River back in the days when Jews sewed clothes for a living. Say what you will, these ugly co-ops are full of authentic old people who have real stories to tell (although these stories are often meandering and hard to follow; e.g., who on earth was this guy “Dillinger”?).
{eight months into ziggurat living, i've developed the same sort of secretive, slightly unsavory affection for said brutal '50s architecture that i have for late '80s volvo sedans. when i lived in southern california, the local drug store, my family's church, and the virulent beige cafeteria that served soapy green jell-o to which my sisters and i were addicted were all right next to leisure world, supposedly the largest gated retirement community in the country. moving to our tower was a bit like going home.}
Then I celebrated my Wall of Books. I counted the volumes on my twenty-foot-long modernist bookshelf to make sure that none had been misplaced or used as kindling by my subtenant. “You’re my sacred ones,” I told the books. “No one but me still cares about you. But I’m going to keep you with me forever. And one day I’ll make you important again.”
{i've seen and will admit to giving his wall of books The Bookish Hipster Appraisal; those of you who remember last summer's frantic apartment-hunting and co-op-approval-seeking posts (deleted in a fit of orwellian paranoia when we were getting ready for our co-op interview in september) might recall my sentimental favorite, a sixth floor balcony apartment with so-so views, a renovated kitchen, and good-looking modern furnishings. it also had stacks of the russian debutante's handbook and absurdistan tucked in the closet like a litter of kittens; it was gary's, you see. we totally yoinked his clever faux crown molding technique when we painted our bedroom gray, so i think of him fondly as i drift off to sleep.}
I celebrated the low-rise housing projects crowding my immediate view, the so-called Vladeck Houses, which stand in red-brick solidarity with my own co-ops, not exactly proud of themselves, but resigned and necessary, their thousands of residents primed for summer warmth and, if I may speculate, summer love.
{those houses were one of the big reasons joe was skeptical of casa de gary, actually, and part of why we didn't make an offer on it; they aren't so bad to look at, really, but they are indeed right there. though i've only run into the guy whose pit bull wears a fur coat that once.}
In my trendy old man’s getup I ambled with easy grace down Grand Street, stepping off each curb with the profound “oy” that is the call-and-response of my neighborhood.
{it sort of is, actually.}
She was disappointed by my apartment, by how far it was from the F line and how ugly the buildings were. “Looks like I’ll get some exercise walking to the train,” she said. “Ha-ha.” This was what her generation liked to add to the end of sentences, a kind of nervous tic. “Ha-ha.”
{OMG IT'S NOT FAR. and it's hipster-approved, fictional missy.}

{not that i'm defensive.}

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 could you live in an ugly building?

02 would knowing an apartment belonged to an author affect your interest in buying it?

03 why d'you think gary keeps those books in his closet?

04 how was your week? work carried me around town in its mouth and buried me under the azaleas; i've missed you, internets.


east side bride said...

why do you truncate posts in my google reader? whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?

kidchamp said...

because this site's held together by charity, packing tape, and misanthropy, man. truth be told, i barely know how google reader works.

LPC said...

01 If I may speculate - fraught, that phrase, fraught.
02 Because some phrases are fraught, yes.
03. I don't know. I'm a structuralist. The author's intent does not matter.
04 I missed you too. I don't know what the internets thought. They don't tell me. Or if they do, I can't hear them. Fraught is a matter of both intent and ability.

furiousmuse said...

1. yes. i daresay the one i'm in now is fairly unattractive. but it won me over in other ways & my neighbors are Bomb (including a lovely gentlemen in one of the townhouses i walk past en route to my garage. he, upon seeing me carrying a guitar, gave me a CD for the Celtic band he plays in.).
2. no. i'd be more interested in an old desk or typewriter. plus i don't dream of home ownership these days.
3. the books were shy. he's protective.
4. ugh, busy week. i've also been absent from the internets, coupled with reinstating my toastmasters membership as i ready for another go at our corporate training department (the hiring manager remembered me and called me on monday to let me know positions would be opening up within the next 6 months). lots of fun with the roomie, who is the most fabulous roomie ever. that's it in a nutshell!

kidchamp said...

indeed, LPC; we can split the difference and use aesthetically challenging if you like. on structuralism, i of course agree completely - i mean, you figured out months ago that i'm actually a freshman MIT project, right? this is all algorithms. (oh, i missed you!)

sara, so lovely to see you here again! i think you're right on the books; i like shteyngart anyway (the debutante's handbook in particular is grrrrreat), but the little bookden made me like him even more.

Peonies said...

1.  I could live in an ugly building in a city like London or New York, a city so wonderful that it doesn't matter what your building looks like (aka, a city I could never afford NOT to live in an ugly building in).  Here in Scotland, no.  There are enough pretty buildings for me to be suitably affronted by the ugly ones. 

2. Oh yes.  It could go either way though: author I like = we must live here now, author I don't like = get me out of this building now. 

3. So he could read them while hiding, like Jane Eyre behind the curtain. 

4. It was not wonderful.  But it wasn't awful either.  There were Large Scale Panics but there was also a dog-in-law and tadpoles in the park.  I'm sorry yours was shitty.  I missed you too. 

LPC said...

Galatea 2.0! One of my all-time favorites!

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: Could I!
02: Yes, but just how many cats?  One or two, or are we talking Hemingway?
03: “The books were shy.  He’s protective,” is the correct answer.
04: My job’s like, I’m jealous of Ivan Denisovich’s day, right?  That was my Thursday.
0?: Can’t wait to break out the Vuvuzela for Thundertome™!