Cooper Chronicles: I.24

(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.)

i’ve lived in new york for six months now.  i can name thirty good places to eat and five *really* good ones.  i can tell you where the most and least aggressive panhandlers lie in wait, and i can find my way to the MoMA blindfolded in a hailstorm.  but i still can’t dress for the weather.

my consistent ability to be dead wrong drives me crazy.  if it’s ten below and windy, i’ll come out in a thin gauzy floral dress and a light sweater; if it’s sunny and mild, i’ll be wearing thermal underwear and three jackets.  from the fourteenth floor, it’s hard to tell what temperature it is, and our windows only open a crack — not enough to stick your whole head out and check.  plus, the temperature in our apartment is misleading.  one of my suitemates continually cranks it up to 90 degrees and still complains that she’s cold.  since the thermostat is in my bedroom, i guard it with jealousy, but many times i’ll open the door and be almost knocked over by the wave of stifling heat.  i suspect she’s trying to roast the rest of us for an upcoming dinner party.

i can’t count the number of times i’ve wished i knew what the weather was like before i got dressed, or changed my mind about clothing at the last minute and regretted it.  this morning as i rushed to get ready for church, i proudly put on my long johns under my dress and got out my thickest coat, remembering how cold i was last week during the ten-block walk; i stepped outside and was greeted with pouring rain.  i resisted the temptation to buy an umbrella on the way there, since i already own four (guess why?)

calling the weather costs money, and i have learned not to trust what others say (“cool” could mean anything from fifteen degrees to fifty.)  and, UNlike my mother, i have not built up a particular attachment to the local weatherman.  so i hope my judgement improves soon.

i thoroughly enjoyed my sixteen hours at home last Sunday.  Forgiveness Vespers was as powerful as ever, and i was really glad i had come home to participate in it.  Lent began (page twelve this year, david) in the middle of the service, and will continue until April, when we celebrate Pascha (the Orthodox Easter.)  for Orthodox Christians, it entails a fast from meat, animal products, fish, wine and olive oil.  so i’ve been sampling lentil soup (i wonder if that’s how they got their name?) and plain bagels at all the restaurants around here.  so far, the winner is Karen’s on Astor, a gourmet vegetarian café that sells wonderful vegan soups — carrot ginger, tomato basil, and veggie chili, not to mention their fabulous lentil stew.  it’s good cold-weather food.

it was also interesting to board the train at 2:00 in the morning.  penley came with me to the station, for which i was quite grateful once we got there — there appeared to be a convention of scary homeless people on the bottom floor.  my plans for the way back, though, were made in such haste that i forgot to ask someone to meet me there — so i got off the bus at Times Square alone.  i planned to take the subway home, which you can do without leaving the Port Authority station, but for some reason it was closed off.  i was herded through a maze of tunnels until i emerged outside, on the “other” side of Times Square.  one word: sketchy.  it was quiet — too quiet — and sprinkled with the kind of moneymaking establishments that my beloved Giuliani *said* he was going to get rid of.  i thought i’d just walk until i found a subway station outside, but after ten or fifteen minutes of freezing temperatures and nervous whistling i asked a policeman instead.  after relating this story to my mother, i wasn’t sure i should have gone into that much detail.  thankfully, though, guardian angels don’t go off-duty. 

one, two, three, four, five, six little slices and an obstinate splinter adorn my fingertips as i type.  i spent most of last week making basswood models for the crit on thursday, and as i grew more tired i was less able to control my Xacto blade.  none are serious, but a little embarrassing — the only band-aids i own are bright green with pictures of characters from the Little Mermaid.  i try to hold my head high.

this week was just one more in the frenzy of activity that hasn’t ceased since i came back after Christmas break.  my personal habits are disintegrating — my room is never neat except for on weekends, and last week i slept twice on a naked bed because i was too tired at 4 AM to put the clean sheets back on.  and on friday, i discovered that i can turn my alarm clock off without knowing it; i woke at ten, an hour late for my class, and rushed over three minutes before it was my turn for critique.  i think my friends up on 58th street heard my sigh of relief. 

our crit, which was done half on tuesday and half on thursday, was a disappointment to all.  for some reason, the professors feel that none of us are working hard enough; though they admit that this is the hardest problem they have ever assigned (hard in its simplicity; bodies and a space are the essence of all architectural principles), they insist we need more “intellectual rigor.”  my crit sounded a lot like everybody else’s.  abraham liked my idea and my model was okay, but he threw a fit (this is typical) over the most minor element of my presentation: a few pages of sketches i had made early in the thinking process.  they were done, alas, in red pen.  then one of the other professors started snapping pieces off my model to see what it would look like.  their ostentatious attitude is starting to get to me, but at least i can still laugh.  in fact, i was emotionally affected the *least* during this one.  the most sound and consistent advice i’ve been given by students and teachers both about surviving at Cooper is this: work for yourself.  accept the professors’ critique only to the extent that you believe in it, and beyond that you can ignore what they say.  go with your ideas and your process, and if you can defend it, no one will stop you.  i’ve decided to do that from now on — working to please the professors is much too time- and energy-consuming, and i don’t need to be worrying about that on top of everything else.  

this weekend, then, was strictly time off for me.  on friday, penley and i journeyed uptown to see a Piranesi exhibit at Columbia university and check out their architecture studios, and shoot lots of film to make up for the weeks behind and ahead when we would have no time for our “fun” classes.  that night we rented a Russian film called “nostalgia,” but found it too hard to stay awake — so instead we watched “transformers: the movie.”  (there will be no comments about my declining mind, thank you.)  saturday, i worked on my next piece for Books and Culture magazine and caught up on the scores of e-mail messages that i hadn’t read in over a month.  let me apologize again to everyone who has felt neglected or cold-shouldered — i’ll try not to do that again!

norman’s sound and vision, the slightly-shady used CD/video store down the street, is having a sale; all of their used CDs are a dollar.  the store is constantly crammed with ferocious beasts who root through the boxes ravenously.  two nights ago, i was there looking for an album i had just heard.   as i approached the employee who was stocking the shelves, he suddenly pointed an accusing finger: “are you from Hard Copy?”  despite the manual camera around my neck, i assured him i was innocent.  “you sure?  i don’t wanna be on the six o’clock news or nothin’.”  playing along, i asked him if he’d mind answering a few questions and turning to the side so i could get a profile shot … the funny thing is, a few hours later, i saw the same guy in Kim’s Video.  “Hard Copy!  she’s from Hard Copy!  watch out!”  he warned the entire floor.  quite an engaging character.

today after church i tried to go and see a documentary about a prison in Angola that was said to be quite powerful and moving — instead (i *guess* it was a mistake) they directed me to one that traced the life and times of an obscenely egotistical dance choreographer.  hmmm, three strikes — maybe i should stop trying to see films at the MoMA?