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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Monthly Archives: June 2010


We found a great group of people yesterday at this church in our neighborhood. It meets in a beautiful old Lutheran church on E 84th Street. The sanctuary is lined with stained glass, and there is an awesome neon cross bolted to the facade. Sorry, you can’t really see it in the picture.

People at this church literally surrounded us. We ended up going to dinner with a few couples and felt immediately welcome. The usual awkwardness never really showed up, which was a nice surprise. I think a brief moment of tension over theology between me and one the leaders had Amber on edge for a second, but besides that it felt great. We can’t wait to go back. Oh, and they preach the gospel.

Thanks to Manika for showing us this wonderful group!


I’ve always hated the idea of looking for a church the way you would a car. When people talk about church shopping, I almost always roll my eyes. It’s not because I underestimated the complexity or difficulty of finding a church (although I did), and it’s not because I resented those people (even though I do sometimes). It is simply because I believe finding a church should be different than standard consumption. When you look for a church, you are looking for a place where you can grow in Christ, and the best way to do that is through active contribution to the church.

With that said, I had no idea how difficult it was to find a church. I naively sat on a church staff and asked questions like “Why won’t they just come up and talk to someone?” The answer is because it is freaking scary and otherwise undesirable. Rob Pendley once threw a statistic my way that said finding a new church is one of the most frightening experiences an adult will encounter. My friends know I’m not timid, and I have no problem talking to people I don’t know. But when you enter that space, something changes in even the most extroverted. What is it?

Amber and I visited an Episcopal church today. I had only attended a couple of them in my life, and this one is close and had an inviting website. So we went to give it a shot. I’m not sure if we will go back, although a wonderful woman greeted us after the service and told us how happy she was to see us. When we found out she drives in from the Bronx, our hopes for this one bright spot in an otherwise dreary and theologically lacking context faded. We discussed the service over brunch. Next week, it’s back to square one. Finding a healthy church where we can both be fed and grow in active service is our top priority. We’ve moved in, found jobs and are adjusting to married life in the city. Now we must find a church. I am amazed at how difficult it is.

If you have a suggestion of a church on the Upper East Side (other than Redeemer Pres.), please do let us know. Google searches only get you so far.

Well, we’re back in New York and trying our best to recover from last weekend. What an experience! There’s more to say than I can find time for, but I wanted to put down some highlights before the memories grow too distant.

First, we saw Stevie Wonder. I’m not sure how it worked out this way, but we ended up being in the front row. He entered the stage playing a keytar with some large men guiding him to center stage. Once he got there, he absolutely destroyed us. He played “Heard it Through the Grapevine” completely through a talk box, making Frampton look like amateur hour. His voice was amazing, and the show’s energy was unbeatable. I am so glad to have been there, even though I’ll admit I had no desire to see him before the festival.

That same night we saw Jay Z. He was great.

The next night, Dave Matthews Band closed out the festival. It wasn’t the way I imagined it would be. Definitely a polished, perfect performance of a band that is winding down.

Camping was miserable. Tennessee was almost unbearably hot. I have no idea how most of those people do it, because we lived in relative luxury compared to them. Maybe it’s the drugs.

We sat side stage at the National and Pheonix, both of which were unbelievably good. The lead singer from the National got drunk and trashed the stage with a mic stand. Sort of frightening.

The Flaming Lips were wonderful as always, although a guy overdosed right in front of Amber and I. That was pretty disturbing.

My biggest surprise (next to Stevie) was Norah Jones. I will never mock her for that song that made her so popular again. She is tremendously talented.

We watched Steve Martin play the banjo for a little while, and Amber and I got a red carpet style video of him (I’ll post it later.) He’s actually really good (although when Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers are in town, good is a word relative to their perfection).

I recommend looking up Neon Indian if you’ve never heard of them. I know I hadn’t, but there show was awesome. It reminded me of MGMT, Ladytron and M83 for various reasons. I think if you blended those bands into one, they would be Neon Indian.

If you’ve ever scoffed at the John Butler Trio, don’t because they are probably better at music than you. They’re definitely better than me.

Tenacious D. What a surprise! Jack BLack’s voice is every bit as beautiful (and powerful) as it seems when he is in movies. We made it in time to hear them play Tribute, which is one of my favorite songs. I just love those guys. Their music was very powerful, and it shocked me. They really filled up the main stage.

Comedy was a new factor this year. We saw Conan O’Brien, although we had to sit in a tent and watch a live feed because it was full. He was good, completely different from his show, and it was interesting to get a pulse on the drama between him and television. He isn’t legally allowed to appear on TV right now, hence the tour. Aziz Ansari was great, and we got to watch him in the tent. This was the pivotal moment where I actually felt bad about using our all-access passes. We walked by people who had been standing in line in the hot sun for hours.

Celebrity sightings were at a low this year. Amber and Sarah talked to Wayne Coyne from the FLaming Lips, and we watched Pheonix with McLovin. We also saw the guy from Top Chef a few times. Tom something. Besides that, we mostly encountered lots of artists we didn’t recognize.

If my friends who accompanied me read this, maybe they will remember something important that I missed. Otherwise, that’s it. It was a great trip. Now, it’s back to life in New York.


Amber and I just landed in Atlanta where we will rendezvous with friends and head to Manchester.

Lots of great music (and rain) is in store. I’m most excited about sharing this experience with my wife.


Sometimes when we walk in Manhattan I hear a sound that nearly stops me in my tracks. It is only an instant – a split second of mixed emotion – fear, anxiety, excitement, remorse, empathy, anticipation and an utter sense of loss. What could do this? What noise could have such power? The receipt printers in yellow cabs sound exactly like the smoke monster from Lost.  It gets me every time.

There are other sounds in the city that wield their own cathartic power. When a train breaks inertia to leave the subway station, it makes the most ominous sound. Imagine the exact moment that the knife-wielding psycho in your favorite horror flick goes for the kill. It’s that sound effect, and it is creepy. Oddly enough, it becomes soothing after a while. Sirens almost always build anxiety, but to keep things interesting around here the local authorities seem to have dispatched a DJ with every ambulance and fire engine. So, when you hear a siren approaching, you know you’re in for a loud, exhausting and unique sound.

An urban environment seems to breed a uniquely urban aesthetic. You see it everywhere in visual art. It pops up in familiarly urban cuisine. Even the music lends itself to the environments in which it is created. I posted a link to Ratatat’s LP4 a week ago. It is their forthcoming album, and it was written in New York City. (They reportedly live in my old neighborhood in Brooklyn.) After listening to it a few times, I began to notice something remarkable. With headphones on, I can easily drown out the buzz of the city. But with this particular album, I felt a degree of synchronicity just subtle enough to sense without noticing. I put it on our home stereo while doing the dishes one early evening, and its full effect struck me. But it was more than congruence or a pleasing sound – it is actually harsh and discordant at times. The music intertwines with city noise, sirens included, creating a harmonious listening experience that interacts with its environment. I have never heard anything like it before. Was it an accident, or was their music really influenced that much by it the city where they wrote it? I will start looking for this in other music, and if you notice anything similar, please let me know.

A few months ago, my friend Alan told me to “look up” in the city more. I did, and I was glad for it. Now I am telling you to listen up in your environment more. I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did. Happy Thursday.

I am expeditious underground. Speed is particularly important on the subway. I don’t run, though. The people who run really annoy me, because when I end up standing next to them at a crosswalk 5 minutes later, I have an imaginary conversation where I ask them if rushing was worth it, given they gained nothing. They never answer. The type of rushing I am talking about here is all efficiency and timing. Those who master its art spend much less time below ground.

But Friday was different. An older woman’s kind eyes caught mine as I picked the perfect gap in a crowd to make it upstairs and on to 28th street in record time. They interrupted my concentration long enough to notice a rolling bag sitting next to her. In a hushed, confident voice, she asked me to help her with it. Once we got upstairs with her things, which only weighed about 5 pounds, she wished me a nice weekend, I reciprocated, and we diverged. I can say, with confidence, that her act of asking me to help her made my day.

I’m wondering why we so rarely ask for help when we need it most. People love to be needed. It feels good to help, because it is good to help. And being helped by a caring person when you really need it is one of the most gloriously humbling and rewarding acts of capitulation. We all need help in one way or another (and everyone to a very large degree in the presence of God). Help someone today.
Or better yet, try asking for it yourself. Let me know how it goes.