17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

City of Extremes, City of Contradictions

New York City: There’s something about living there that tugs at your soul and makes you feel like you’re really living in the world rather than just driving by it on a suburban street. When I taught high school there, my walk from home to school consisted of a treacherous crossing under the subway line at Queensboro Plaza and then walking along Queens Blvd (known as the Blvd of Death because of all the accidents that occur there), across a bridge, and down Thomson Ave--it was a miserable, gray, industrial, filthy, smelly walk, always accompanied by wind, traffic, and a few sketchy looking characters. I hated that walk, especially on rainy, snowy, or just cold days. But I remember it now with a sense of having really lived it, having braved the elements, having really connected with the city and the people around me. I don’t think I will remember my trips to Target that way.

Some of the contradictory extremes I see in New York:

It’s distinctly American: I think of all the flags that sprang up on doors, balconies, banisters, car antennas after September 11th as the rest of the country rallied around the city. Yet it’s also very un-American and international: I believe Flushing, Queens claims to be the most ethnically diverse zip code in the world; the subway line that connects the Asian neighborhoods in Flushing with Manhattan has been called "the International Express"; and my high school students literally could not get their minds around the idea that I am American and nothing else, that my family came from somewhere else but it was over a hundred years ago, and I’ve never known a member of my family who wasn’t born in the States—these things aren’t real to most of the students who attend the schools of New York City. It’s also the best place in the world to find cheap, authentic cuisine from anywhere in the world, and I mean anywhere: Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, China, Japan, Thailand, India, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Germany, France, Hungary, Egypt, Lebanon, even Bulgaria, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, Ethiopia, Armenia, Indonesia, and the Carribean.

It’s a metropolis but also an intimate neighborhood, where we knew our butcher, baker, and green grocer, and the old Ukrainian woman on the bottom floor of the next-door building, who held our hands, kissed us, and insisted on babysitting our children ("when you have a baby") every time we walked out on the street.

It’s chic, fashionable, and classy; people live in brownstones in Brooklyn or doorman-attended apartment buildings on the upper west side; young singles and newly marrieds eat in trendy cafés and restaurants after buying flowers at the corner grocer on the way home from their corporate jobs; people shop at small boutiques in the Village or the large stores at Harold Square; people meet at Starbucks to pretend they’re European . . . oh, I mean, to talk art or literature over coffee sipped at small, indoor café tables. But it’s also down to earth, earthly, and down-right filthy, grimy, and full of ugliness—the ugliness of miles and miles of stone and cement, redeemed only by manicured flowerbeds and unspontaneous trees; the ugliness of homelessness made faceless by newspapers used as blankets and bodies turned to the wall; the ugliness of underpaid, overworked immigrants who man hotdog stands instead of teaching philosophy like they did in their home countries.

For me personally, New York equals Queens. Although native residents of Queens consider "the city" to be Manhattan and (some of them) rarely go there, "the city" for me and dh consisted mostly of the streets and avenues of Queens, the Italian salumeria on 30th Ave, the Greek imports store on 32nd Street, the Mexican restaurants on Broadway . . . Joey in Astoria and Floozgirl highlight all of it best. Our favorite part about living in Queens was being members of the church there, getting to know people that we otherwise wouldn’t have known if the church didn’t force us to serve and love those around us regardless of their background.

And, for me, the contradictory extremes of the city consisted of this place where I took on enormous Church responsibility and made good gay and lesbian friends. A place where I worked in the sexy halls of high-end publishing and taught remedial reading classes in a hallway with students sitting on file cabinets because there was no classroom available. A place where I sat at the feet of professors from one of the country’s best universities but did most of my learning wading into the lives of the city’s young people as they attended some of the country’s most failing schools. A place where my marriage flourished in its first three years but where my much-hoped-for first child wasn’t born.

Now that she has been born, I (and my dh, of course) have paid the city the highest tribute we possibly can: we’ve named our daughter after the New York neighborhood we came to love while we lived there: Astoria.


  • Sunny, I admit, when I first heard her name, I was floored. It has grown on me though. Every once in a while I utter it outside of giving my address, just to imagine holding a baby with that name: Astoria.

    Your post was beautifully written, and I will return to it whenever I am having a day like your walk to work. Thank you.

    And knowing the travels ahead of you, I SO look forward to the rest of your offsprings unique and inspired names! Tokyo anyone?
    posted by Blogger Kage at 5/28/2006 06:38:00 PM  

  • Wow Sunny that was so well done. You captured it beautifully. I agree with you on all points except good mexican food. Haven't had that yet!!!

    I can't wait to hear your eloquent tributes for the rest of the places you live. We live through you...
    posted by Blogger Zinone at 5/28/2006 07:25:00 PM  

  • Sunny - New York = Queens for me, too! Thanks for the wonderful post. I love anything that reminds me of my NYC days. I miss them SO much. I feel like I grew up in Queens. It made me stronger. I watch the Today Show every morning while I'm working out just to see live shots of Rockefeller Center and to even see what the weather is like in New York that day.

    I also remember many a crazy walks from work, subway stations, etc., when you're up to your knees in snow, or it's raining so hard you even wonder why you're carrying an umbrella because it's NOT keeping you dry and rain is coming from every direction. I loved the diversity of Queens and I agree about the food... NOTHING compares to NYC food. Even the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants are amazing. That's something I've yet to find in LA. Except Zinone is probably right about the mexican... LA has NY beat on that as far as I can tell.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 5/28/2006 09:08:00 PM  

  • I love, love, love this post! Do you ever imagine taking Astoria back to the old neighborhood for the first time after she really understands that's where her name came from? It will be so cool!

    I personally can't wait to give my little Asher a copy of "My Name Is Asher Lev" and explain that this book rocked my world and that is why we named him after the main character.

    I still can't get over how much I miss New York. I am trying to "move on"....but posts like these don't help!!!
    posted by Blogger Jen at 5/29/2006 08:55:00 AM  

  • People around Astoria used to ask me all the time where I was from. I would usually answer California. But they would laugh and say "no, what COUNTRY?" The United States? "No, your family, what language do you speak?" Only, english. I know, kind of sad. It was so hard for everyone to wrap their heads around the fact that my family was just American too.

    Thanks for your tribute.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 5/29/2006 09:05:00 PM  

  • Thanks, Sunny, you made me miss NYC again. George and I have missed it all terribly since leaving, although in January of 2004, just before moving away, I had been complaining inside about how extreme NY weather can be, about all the black gum on the sidewalks, having to schlep everywhere, etc. But now I look back at the characters, the smells, and the Ditmars/Steinway area of Astoria with great fondness. But like you, it took moving somewhere else to get a baby.
    posted by Blogger Squiddy at 5/30/2006 12:25:00 PM  

  • Sunny,
    I don't know you, but just wanted to give you a thumbs up on the name!!! I think it's beautiful and have a girlfriend with a little Tori (Astoria) named while living in NYC also. Very cute!
    Good luck in the rest of your wild adventures......sounds like you'll have lots of name options :)
    posted by Anonymous cali at 5/30/2006 12:35:00 PM  

  • I'll readily admit that the west coast has NYC beat hands down when it comes to Mexican food. But NYC has DC beat on ANY kind of food.

    Jen, we're excited to take Astoria to Astoria right now when she can't tell the different between being in her crib and being on the street. The sad thing is that by the time she is old enough to appreciate Astoria it will have changed. It was already being infiltrated by Starbucks and gentrification when we left.

    Cali--we thought our Astoria was one-of-a-kind! Good to know we're not the only people crazy enough to name their kid after a place.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 5/31/2006 04:56:00 AM  

  • Love the post! I could not agree more that NYC is a city of contradictions. Most days I love it; some days I want to kick someone (usually the person who just finished yelling at me:). One example of many: usually when I run for the bus, I get no help from fellow passengers and often have the door shut in my face by the driver. Yesterday, however, a bus driver saw me slump when he closed the door and I was still across the street, honked his horn, and signaled me to come aboard. He held up everyone just for me. I was so grateful I almost cried putting my metrocard in!

    PS--a pet peeve is when people from or visiting Queens talk about going into The City. If Manhattan alone is The City, why am I paying "city" taxes? Until I don't have to anymore, I live in the city, baby!
    posted by Blogger newmom at 6/01/2006 05:40:00 AM  

  • newmom, I am guilty of saying going "into the city"...sorry. I will be sure not to say it around you.
    As far as the bus, it has brought me to tears for both missing it, and the bus driver stopping. And anytime I break into a run, for whatever reason, Pukey always says: Mom, are we catching the bus? so funny.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 6/01/2006 08:00:00 AM  

  • Sunny, Great post. It makes me want to come see everything you are talking about. I wish Pete and I would have come while you guys lived there. I hope we can meet Astoria sometime soon. It's funny, I just happened upon this blog and LOVE IT. It took me a while to realize that I actually knew someone on it. Best wishes to you with the baby and the move.
    posted by Blogger Jinjer at 6/01/2006 01:14:00 PM  

  • I miiiiiiiiiiiisssssssss NYC. So badly. I remember one day when someone said people from Queens were part of the B&T crowd. What? I thought that was just for the New Jersey-ers....
    That was a beautiful post. Oh I miss New York.
    Did you find a great Mexican place? We never did...it always had a Cuban, Puerto Rican or Dominican twist...
    Honestly, other than my friends, I miss the food of NYC the most.
    Great post!
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 6/01/2006 10:59:00 PM  

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