Friday, July 08, 2005

Trying to live a life that's completely free

Seasonal employment is the greatest! With no timebound responsibilities, I've been free to pursue all of the free entertainment opportunities available in New York City thanks to a combination of our tax dollars and the largesse of corporate sponsors. In the last week alone:

  • The Museum of Modern Art is free every Friday from 4-8 PM (it's normally $20), and the sun sets late enough these days that those who are concerned about sundown can actually go! This was my first time in the new building, and I'll have to go back on another free Friday, because I certainly didn't see everything, nor do I have the attention span to stay there long enough to see everything in one fell swoop. While I can't say I understand art, especially "modern" art, a lot of the stuff there is stunning, and I can appreciate it without "understanding" it.
  • Biking is always free! Once you've absorbed the sunk cost of a bike and a helmet and a lock and a Camelbak. Also, toeclips rock my world. Continuing my project of biking to every bikable island in NYC this summer, I biked across the pedestrian bridge at 102nd St to Randall's and Ward's "Islands" (once upon a time they were separate islands, but the landfill linking them has left the original separation indiscernable). The monstrous Triborough Bridge is inescapable anywhere you go on the island, and next to it is Robert Moses's palace from when he ruled as emperor (now the headquarters for MTA Bridges and Tunnels). Beyond that it's clear that the city just owned the rest of the island and filled it up with a smorgasbord of public facilities: extensive parks, a stadium, the NYC Fire Academy, a psychiatric hospital, a water treatment plant, and something with a nondescript name like "Operation Help" except that wasn't it.
  • I was in Central Park on both Saturday and Sunday, and I have never seen the park so empty on a weekend with such immaculate weather. Everyone must have gone off somewhere for the 4th of July weekend. On Monday I biked up to Fort Tryon Park (I had never been there before), and upper Riverside Park (or whatever it's called in the 140s or so) was the opposite of empty. I'll let the reader draw his/her own sociological conclusions. An unsolved mystery is all the people who were barbecuing -- do people really keep these huge barbecues in their apartments year-round and schlep them down to the river for the 4th of July (etc.)? Or do those barbecues live in the park? These were not the small camping stove type things. Fort Tryon Park itself is very high up. Robert Moses's successors (if I'm correctly guessing the chronology) did a good job covering up his messes -- even though the strip right along the river belongs to cars, the scenic terraces above are set up so that you can't see the highway.
  • On Saturday, there was a free Nick Drake concert at Central Park SummerStage. Yes, Nick Drake himself is still dead, but this was other artists performing his material (including one album in its entirety). I wasn't all that familiar with his work before, though a group of my students used some of his songs in a movie about brown dwarfs that may qualify as the most creative project I've seen in my class. MF pointed out that brown dwarfs are an appropriate metaphor for Nick Drake's career, since he never achieved enough mass (in his time) to start fusion.
  • Every Monday night in the summer is the free Bryant Park Film Festival, featuring films from before I was born. This week was the James Cagney classic White Heat (1949). Like Central Park, Bryant Park was emptier than I have ever seen it during an outdoor movie. I mean, there were still at least 1000 people there, but normally you have to get there at 5 PM when the lawn opens and grab a spot; this time I showed up at 8:45 (just before the movie started) and there was plenty of space all around. It has been suggested that the Bugs Bunny short before the movie is always thematically connected to the movie: this time it was "Bugsy and Mugsy", which established the gangster theme.
  • The Bronx Zoo is free every Wednesday (with a suggested donation; normal admission $11). Those gorillas are the best.

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