Cooper Chronicles: I.22

(An ongoing series for the month of January, these are letters written to my family and friends during my college years in New York, when I discovered my love of writing.  Introduction here.)

it’s a familiar drill: the subway pulls into the station and jerks to a halt, temporarily throwing everyone off-balance.  people squeeze out and squeeze on, and nobody worries about being polite.  sometimes near-brawls ensue as feisty old “pepperpot” ladies fight to the death for a seat.  my solution is to glue my eyes to the floor, ensuring that no one will take offense at my actions, but even then things can get tricky.  (penley once got a verbal lashing from a woman after he *sneezed* on the train.)  it’s more than a little frightening at times, but that’s all part of the fun.

the subway drivers have different tactics for communicating with their unruly passengers.  some speak loudly but unintelligibly, like the drive-thru workers at McDonalds: “bshwaba schomp bishebish.  (pause)  i SAID, BSHWABA … “  some are gently chiding: “let ‘em off folks, let ‘em off.”  then, there’s the occasional psychopath, which we encountered last week.  “you people gotta let these guys on!”  (there was a crew of workers hauling boxes onto the train.)  “step aside!  let ‘em on now!”  we stayed in the station for three full minutes, the doors opening and closing as people pushed to get a spot.  finally, we took off.  as we hurtled through the dark tunnels, he came back on the loudspeaker.  “okay, they gotta load some freight onto the cars at this station too, and if you people don’t do a better job of getting along with them, this train’ll go out of service and you’ll have to wait for another one.  if that’s the kind of people who are ridin’ the subways, i don’t want to be drivin’ ‘em.”  i shared a glance of amusement with the businessman across from me, who remarked, “gee, i’m sorry, dad.”

i have fallen in love with photo class.  in the strange world of late nights and stressful Saturdays, neither of which i’m fully used to, it’s so refreshing to have a creative outlet that’s just plain fun.  on wednesday, i got up early and went to Alphabet City to take pictures.  our theme for the week was shadows and reflections, and i snapped shot after shot of strange metal structures jutting out of windows or furniture laying on the sidewalk for the garbage crews to take away — even junk can cast a stunningly beautiful shadow at 8:00 in the morning.  i was gone for an hour and a half, and when i got back to the studio to find that the film hadn’t engaged and no pictures had actually *taken*, i didn’t mind retracing my steps and taking them again.  playing the photographer is such a fun part — it allows one much more freedom to do and say bizarre things.  (i’m reminded of my drawing teacher, who tells us to mutter and speak foreign languages to avoid inquisitive questioners.)  and there’s no fear of losing my anonymity with so many places to shoot — uptown, midtown, downtown, the park or the bagel place — everywhere in this city is a picture waiting to happen.  the tough part is choosing shots that aren’t so obvious.  ah, oui, j’suis artiste … i take pleasure in stopping suddenly and staring down at a back alley or up at the façade of a building for five minutes solid, while passersby weave around me.  those who start to give me ugly looks stop as soon as they see the manual camera with monstrous zoom lens hanging around my neck.  “photographer,” they say to themselves with a pitying smile.  they don’t know my secret — it’s fun being a weirdo.  in fact, i may take to dressing in pink feather boas and sequins too (kidding, mom.)

developing is one of those enjoyable mindless activities.  wind the negatives, measure the chemicals, time them, agitate the container, wash the reels, cut the negatives, print a contact sheet, choose your prints, fiddle for hours with the contrast, lights and darks of the prints.  and when you’re done, you have these wonderfully huge pictures in striking black and white, suitable for framing, a product of your own two hands and a couple of useful machines.  our photo teacher, while tending towards nerdiness, is at least nice, and (to his credit) he has some work displayed in the MoMA. it’s a little hard to take him seriously  with a name like zeke.  plus, he says things like, “okay, we’ll be dealing with space next week … you guys know about that, right?  space?  architects do things with space, right?”  but at least  he uses no expletives when critiquing our work.  :)

with so many cheap places to eat around here, and so little time to cook, i’ve gotten into the habit of eating out almost every meal.  last week, i confess, i had Domino’s pizza for the first time since moving here.  (i still haven’t visited McDonald’s yet!)  New York pizza is a myth as far as i’m concerned — despite the fact that the slices are the size of small children, it has nothing much to offer besides grease.  but those good ol’ fast-food chains taste the same everywhere.  VeggieLovers was just as good as i remembered it, but one look at the bill reminded me that we were in Manhattan — and that this wouldn’t happen again any time soon.  $15.99 for a medium pizza (which was NOT enough to feed two starving college students) is pretty steep any way you look at it.  i enjoy choosing from the cultural mecca of restaurants — spanish, japanese, ukranian, middle eastern, italian, chinese, malaysian, and mexican.  to name a few.  but it was nice to taste authentic mass production for once. 

maybe someday i’ll learn my lesson about seeing movies at the MoMA … we did it once more on tuesday.  went to see “metropolis,” which was written up (again!) in an enigmatic way, and was supposed to be a classic.  it’s a futuristic story of what would happen to the world if we stopped caring about each other and only pursued money and power — made during the silent film era.  (i was most impressed that there was a live accompanist who played the soundtrack for two hours straight.  WITH NO MUSIC!!)  there was quasi-religious imagery sprinkled throughout, with strains of “Be Still My Soul” in the background.  the moral of the story, flashed on the screen for a full minute at the end of the movie, was “Mediator between the Brain and Hands must be the Heart.”  (it didn’t make any more sense in the context of the film.)

this week was the calm before the storm in architectonics.  we have another crit on thursday, and although i don’t anticipate anything nearly as traumatic as last time, i’m still pretty nervous.  this cube project is starting to go stale, i think — apathy has settled over most of the class, and we’re all hoping that this one will be the last — that they’ll assign a new problem.  working by ourselves has been both liberating and much tougher.  we shall see, we shall see.  mostly, i’m much calmer now because i’m fully expecting to get ripped apart — i can imagine the professors making a list and saying, “okay, we were nice to emily last week, right?  hmm, can’t let that happen again.”  weird school.

this morning, on the way home from church, i heard a loud voice behind me: “EMILY, COME HERE!”  i didn’t think God spoke like an old Brooklyn woman, and i’m at least partially aware that there are a few other people around here with my name.  i didn’t even look up.  the voice grew more agitated — “EMILY, BEHAVE YOURSELF!  I MEAN IT!!”  i continued to ignore her until she spoke right in my ear. “EMILY!”  i whirled around to see a woman carrying her unruly white poodle.  never a dull moment.

pete says we go to a nerd school — i have to admit, it seems so when you spend your entire day off (from 9:30 to midnight) at the studio.  such was friday, and so will be tomorrow.  and now i must fly to take this week’s roll of film (a delightful form of homework) before the light goes …