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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Monthly Archives: February 2010

Since my time in my high school youth group, I have held very dearly the privilege of involving myself in the local church. You can not truly know something without delving deep into the things that make it real. Like it or not, religion, like the the food we eat and the music we listen to, is foundational. As I grow roots in this city, they are still shallow, and I can not presume to have any of it “figured out.” Some of you have asked me about my experience with the church here. Please know that my tendency and preference is to experience things from the inside out.
In this case, I write as an observer.

The streets here are lined with churches – some small, others large, Gothic edifices with Latin inscriptions and Roman numerals dating them long before any of the surrounding buildings had even been conceived. What goes on inside them? Many are open to the public, almost acting as museums while offering worship services. St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Madison Ave is a great example. They offer somewhere around 5 masses a day; one in the afternoon is in Spanish. I like to go there on Sunday afternoons and read, reflect and pray. The cavernous spaces catch all the tourist’s noise and create an odd sense of peace. Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope offers an ongoing collection of chamber music performances geared toward children in addition to standard services and Sunday school classes, althought I have never been inside. Another church meets in a small space above a corner store down the road from us, at the corner of Dean Street and Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights. Saturday and Sunday nights it pumps out boisterous, high intensity praise music that nearly lures me upstairs every time I pass it (and I don’t even like praise songs). Across the street on the opposing corner, the large and austeer Bedford Presbyteriam Church makes no noise. Sometimes I wonder if anyone even goes in.

I have walked in reformed Christian circles for long enough to know that a discussion of the New York church would be incomplete without Redeemer. I visited the church at its Hunter College Auditorium meeting and heard Tim Keller preach. He was every bit as impressive and unassuming as I imagined he would be. My fiancee Amber and I listened to some lectures that he and his wife gave for premarital counseling so I knew what to expect. Sitting in the back of the theater listening to him preach was almost the same as hearing him on the computer. The music is billed as traditional, although I am not sure which tradition they are aiming for. A brass quintet accompanies an organist, and a song leader sings from the lectern, apparently not through a microphone. The singing on the part of those attending was minimal and forlorn. I have decided not to return until Amber and I are looking for churches together in April.

Park Slope Presbyterian Church
My friend Sarah took me to this church when I first got here, and it has been my first choice ever since. They meet in a school, much like the church I worked at in Gainesville and attended for 6 years, but not in the auditorium like most. When you enter John Jay High School on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, you are ushered upstairs, through foam green hallways and stairwells, past the large auditorium into the cafeteria. The room is dirty and obstructed by large collumns, but it is well lit and deep.

Each morning members of the church set up chairs and the musicians bring their equipment with them. The pastoral staff wears traditional robes. They partake of communion each Sunday. They greet each other by name and pass the peace. The atmosphere is full of the joy and frustration created by large numbers of young children chattering and dancing in the makeshift aisles. For all the things that it is not – specifically everything that a large, beautiful church on 5th Avenue in Manhattan can offer – this church is truly a group of people seeking community in something greater than themselves. That is what I look for in a church, and since I found it early, I was spared the hassle of looking elsewhere. Of course when Amber arrives, we will select a church together. For now, I am content and pleased to attend it.

The music is very interesting. A female song leader backed by a band of four or five including drums, bass and a pedal steel guitar guides the congregation through hymnity young and old. It is never what you might consider contemporary, but it is fresh and exciting. Having led worship for so long, it can be very difficult for me to be led in it. I am constantly critiquing what I hear and reading in to the music, noting the demeanor of the musicians and their relationships with the leader. The process always happens the same way, and it is nauseating. At Park Slope Presbyterian I have found it easy to sing and worship, and I even find myself laughing at a particularly good riff from the pedal steel player from time to time. (I went to see him play at a club in the East Village and was pleased to see that he brings what he has to a Sunday morning worship service.)

In short, I like the church. It’s not perfect, making it the perfect place for me. As to the state of the church at large, I hope to have more to say as I continue to experience things here. I hope this helps you.var gaJsHost = ((“https:” == document.location.protocol) ? “https://ssl.” : “http://www.”);document.write(unescape(“%3Cscript src='” + gaJsHost + “google-analytics.com/ga.js’ type=’text/javascript’%3E%3C/script%3E”));
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When I arrived here on a dime, I instinctively became attracted to cheap food. It’s not that I don’t want to experience the finer things this city has to offer; I have just become content to wait. So what to do with a couple dollars and an empty stomach? Fortunately, there are many options in this scenario. Singles burn wholes in your pockets in this city – people around here just make them so easy to use. For me, it’s a bagel all the way.

I’ll save the calories per pound analysis for someone who cares about it and get on to my favorite bagel in New York. The french toast bagel at The Bagel Store in Williamsburg is incredible. Enormous, dusted in powdered sugar, crunchy, flakey, delicious. I order it toasted with butter, unless of course it just came out of the oven (the Internet tells me that true New Yorkers would never order a fresh bagel toasted – guess I haven’t arrived yet.) There are lots of people willing to make absolute statements on a whim (i.e. that was the best movie ever!), but understand this: that bagel is formidable, like a heavy force weighing against my self control. Fortunately for me, and much to my chagrin, the shop is difficult to get to from Crown Heights.

Apparently the art of the bagel is somewhat more nuanced than I could have imagined. Devoted food writers won’t seem to touch them, which I think is more out of fear than disrespect. The only way to navigate the world of New York bagels online seems to be relying on user reviews on Google Business listings or on Yelp.com. There are different varieties to suit varying tastes, and of course there is the elusive bialy. If you ever see one down south, order it.

Lately I have been considering a new direction for some of my time spent blog writing. I would focus entirely on food, and I am thinking bagels would be an excellent category. We’ll see. For now, I will keep conveying my experiences here. My next post: The Christian Church in New York City.

This post might be running against its grain, though. Blogger crashed safari on my computer three times. I’m not superstitious, but sometimes things just aren’t in the cards. Let’s see if Firefox is feeling generous today.

A friend visited me last weekend and I just sent him off at JFK. We saw most of the city in three full days and walked an excessive amount, even by this city’s standards. Now with the Rising in two ears and Bruce Springsteen squeezing smoky sentence fragments through his weathered vocal chords, I am back to work.

Forgive the title if that band from the 60s still has a corner on the phrase, or if Bono thinks he rightfully stole it in 2000, but today is beautiful. Beyond a glorious sunrise into a crisp, clear sky, several things have already tinted this week a golden hue. In no particular order, save in possible chronology:

1. The A train operator said “Good morning! Welcome back from the weekend.”
2. I have been able to listen to two albums in their entirety on headphones, and I am working on the aforementioned third. Enjoying good music while encased in these isolating headphones by Bose is like borrowing solitude in a carnival of commuters. And adding music to any series of events helps me to experience them with a full emotional spectrum.
3. I can still smell the coffee I had earlier on my clothes. It stands out somehow over the aroma in the air of the Starbuck’s Coffee I am sitting in, and I must admit it was the best airport brew I have ever had. That is not exactly saying a lot, but I am grateful for that Dunkin Donuts as it was opportune, timely and inexpensive. I am looking forward to flying out of JFK this weekend. As an aside, why is train station coffee always better than airport coffee? It seems like it should be the other way around.
4. Images from the trains I rode this morning, uncharacteristic of my usual route underground, surprised me. Tail sections moved like shark fins on the dark horizon as we approached Terminal 5 (no, not the venue) at around 6AM, intimidating each other and almost haunting me. Fantastic! A large hawk-like bird soared over Rockaway Avenue as we approached a tunnel, in line with the train and in phase with its speed. I imagined today as a film where that was a transition shot between movements, just as I transitioned from one to another. Smiling faces on the subway greeted each other with a vulnerability I rarely see here, and people helped young mothers stow strollers and elderly patrons find seats.

This is sounding too optimistic for me, so as a disclaimer, I fully expect something disturbing later to taint the whole thing. But for now, I am delighted to share it. What have you seen today?

So much snow. It falls haphazardly, though not without grace. Even when it comes down sideways, the wind carries it along with a certain elegance. No matter what path it takes, the snow comes in waves up here – relentless, unforgiving waves.

It isn’t always dramatic. I listen to it at night – it sounds like popcorn bouncing off the inside of the bag just before it’s time to take it out of the microwave. From my bedroom you can see the edge of our roof terrace. That is my barometer – if the snow resting on the ledge grew while I slept, it is still snowy enough on the street to wear boots. Of all the things I imagined this city to be, snow covered is not one of them. The weather has taken me by surprise, even after I prepared myself for a real winter. Manhattan is almost completely frozen, and so are we who skate across its streets and sidewalks.

As I understand it, most of my friends and family around the country got some snow last week, too. Cheers!

I received some very good questions based on my last post, and I would like to address them all in time. First, I will answer my mother’s, both because she asked first and because I think it will provide some good background.

Let me begin by disclosing the album I am listening to right now: Songs for Silverman, by Ben Folds. Possibly a masterpiece, but what do I know?

Freelance in NYC
A week or so ago I mentioned doing freelance while I search for full-time employment. As a courtesy to my clients I have chosen not to discuss the organizations specifically, but let me tell you about what I do for them. I am considered a content or copy writer.

Content Writer
I provide content and copy writing services for Web sites, print and radio/webcasts. Typically, a Web site begins with a basic structure and design and needs to be filled with words. This is a more complicated process than you might imagine. Many designers lack the time or proficiency to write effective copy.  My words are strategic, and my writing blends a variety of skills into one service that is in high demand nationwide.  So I begin by assessing the needs of the site. In some cases, they might go beyond writing.  If so, I include them in my recommendations to the site developer.  I research the organization, its industry and its market and I draft content.  The content of a site exists in a very awkward place in that it must be written for humans but engineered to perform well with algorithms used by search engines to deliver the content to people.  And of course, that is all changing each day, so I have enjoyed learning more about the future of Web content as I research to write.  In addition to Web sites, most companies create print materials or collateral to reinforce their presence online.  Brochures, business cards and informational packets are particularly useful at trade shows or conferences where large numbers of prospective clients or customers are gathered in one place, and I write for these publications as well.  Establishing a voice that is appropriate in tone and syntax to the people my clients are targeting is difficult, but it is the most important aspect of my services. My first client was a Web designer and Ecommerce site developer.

My education at UF and my experience qualifies me to do more than write, but I enjoy it most of all. If you know anyone in need of these services or if you don’t know where to start, let me know.

All for now.  Next, I will address the void in my life that was created when Dan left.  Also, I have some thoughts on the very excellent questions about the church in New York and I will tell you about the one I have been attending.

By some miracle I have not gotten sick yet. With Dan sick when I got here and Alan and apparently sick for the last 2 months, I was certain it would bring me down. As of now, I feel fine. If this ridiculous weather had its way, though, we would all be done for. Going from a piping hot train to freezing rain hitting my face sideways on my way home to a 65 degree apartment is New York’s way of confusing my immune system, I think. Mom always said I would catch a cold if I didn’t bundle up, but up here, I think you will catch one if you don’t adapt to all of the changes in temperature appropriately. For now, I am in survival mode with the millions here just like me. 


Beyond that, I have been at a loss for blog posts and topics. Let me know if there is anything you would like for me to write about and I will try to address it soon. 

CBH

Dear Friends,
All those Florida tourism signs in the subway have been taunting me since I arrived. After all, I must succumb to their prodding. I am pleased to announce that I will arrive in Gainesville on February 26.

Very affectionately yours,
Christopher Hiatt