Things I like about fall in New York City:
1) It stops smelling so “New Yorky.”
(aka like urine)
2) Less sweating.
Summer in New York is just one long odyssey of walking walking walking between air conditioned spaces and un-air-conditioned hell holes packed full of people and sweat, much of it mine. I’ve always been quick to overheat from any physical exertion, but that wasn’t a huge issue until I moved to a city where it was humid and I was always in a hurry. But soon after I moved here in 1990, I found the perfect tool for dealing with that: iced coffee. Walking around with an iced coffee in my hand was basically how I controlled my body temperature, because I really didn’t seem able to do it any other way. To my mind, there are no other iced beverages. Iced tea, either sweetened or not, is gross, and soft drinks aren’t my thing. I do love lemonade, but can’t drink that now because of my acid reflux — which is why I had to give up the coffee.
Giving up iced coffee meant I had to learn how to walk slower. This is no mean feat for me, especially as I seem to have taken on more responsibilities and preoccupations as I’ve gotten older. I try to give myself more time, but then something always falls through the cracks, so inevitably, I end up rushing for whatever thing I have next on the agenda, and showing up there as a big, messy sweatball. So during the summer, the tradeoff generally means choosing to be late, which I also hate.
Since iced coffee left my life, the only solution I’ve found to this problem is autumn.
3) I can wear my leather jacket.
Fall in many ways evokes in me nostalgia for the era of my 20s and 30s, when I actually spent a fair amount of time on how I looked. I mean, not really, since many of my memories from that time are of never feeling thin or pretty enough, hopeless infatuations with people I didn’t know how to get to like me, and bad sex. However, while I generally don’t spend serious money on clothes any more, last year I did splurge on a new leather jacket, which is attractive but which, as a “mid-season”-weight jacket, I can only really wear it, like, this week. But when I’m not thinking about how impractical it was to buy, I do think I look good in it.
In general, holiday decorations annoy me. I do like Christmas decorations, because who doesn’t like colored lights and animatronic snow people shivering. But hearts and bunnies and dried out corn? Why? However, I never get tired of seeing a fake skeleton buried in someone’s front lawn. It’s so crazy that we do this thing every year where we dress up our houses with death, ourselves as sexy nurses and our children as cute animals — for the same holiday. There’s just something about how human beings like to be scared that reminds me of how weird we are. Plus, Halloween is both non-denominational and non-patriotic, both of which I really appreciate as an American Jew.
5) I have finally won the war against the ants in my car.
I have a 2002 Toyota Camry, which used to belong to my brother and his family. When I got it, it smelled funny from all of the things that my nephews managed to hide in the door wells and the pockets behind the seats, and I occasionally still find the odd Cheerio. Still, it’s held up pretty well, all things considered. Recently I got in an accident which had a portion of the car dragging on the ground, but I got a local mechanic to put in some screws in key places, and now it’s good as new! (Or at least still okay to be driven without generating sparks off of the pavement).
But let’s be clear: I don’t take very good care of it. I do change the oil regularly because I need for it to work, and if the engine light comes on I will take it in, but it’s old, I don’t have money to burn, and I don’t care how it looks, so I hardly ever get it cleaned. As a result, because I live in a neighborhood where we have trees, this means that a layer of mulch tends to accumulate eventually in all of various cracks that a car has — in the gutters on top, around the engine, in the rubber around the trunk. At one point, when the gutters filled up (who knew cars had gutters? The things you learn!), this made the car leak, which eventually made it smell, which was unpleasant, but solvable (I think. I mean, it only smelled in the summer when the upholstery heated up, so, Yay for fall! And hopefully the smell won’t come back next spring).
But somehow, toward the middle of the summer, this resulted in an ant infestation in my car. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened, but I think it was because these tiny seed pods landed in the crevices, and they had ants in them, and those ants nested, and I didn’t realize that, because sometimes I only see my car once a week when I have to move it, until that process was well underway. Until I noticed, one day, when I took it grocery shopping, that there was a plethora of ants crawling around, and then, holy shit, there were three full-on colonies of little white egg sacks living in the space between three of the four doors. I didn’t want to full-on fumigate the car because I didn’t need it to smell both gross and poisonous, so, instead, I just slowly went around spraying them all with Tilex. Believe it or not, this actually eventually worked — along ant traps, and then the change in weather put the final nail in the ant coffin. But there was one particularly embarrassing incident this summer where we went on a trip with friends and took everyone in my car. I thought I had the ant situation under control, until, at one point they happened to notice that their luggage was covered in them. And at one point there was one crawling on their child. Oops.
But what sucked about this whole thing wasn’t really the ants. They were just a symptom of how the choices I’ve made in my life have turned out. I mean, does anyone else who’s 50 and went to two highly-ranked institutions of higher learning have a car like this? You could say I’m living “like an artist,” but I’m not sure I ever consciously chose that. Basically, I pursued the goal of earning a living from creating stuff that I like and enjoy making, and built my lifestyle around that, rather than comfort and security. Or perhaps, rather, you could say I failed to build anything at all, working instead toward short-term goals that eventually dropped me…here, in this place where I find a giant pile of ants in the dregs of my tea upon returning to my car after a day of manual labor for which I am way over-educated. And while I’m still working toward my original goal of becoming a filmmaker, and some other intermediate ones of finding work editing or teaching full-time, it’s become more and more evident to me recently that changing careers at this age is really hard. Nobody wants to hire old people when they can hire young ones for less. That’s always been true, but now, thanks largely to the tech industry, you don’t have to be a famous Hollywood movie actress to be considered washed up by your mid-40s, you can be just about anyone!
Anyway, the ants are gone now, so at least that’s one part of my existential crisis that I don’t have to re-experience every single time I get in my car. Yay, fall!
Things I dislike about fall in New York City:
1) I inevitably have failed at beach season.
I complain about the heat a lot, but one of the only good things about it is getting to relieve it by swimming in the ocean. This year, I got in two trips to the beach at the very end of the summer, but on the first one, the water was closed. Yeah, this is something that actually happens in New York City when there’s too much waste in the water because of weather and tide conditions, or the occasional leak at a sewage plant. At least they told us the water was closed before we paid the parking fee — another common aspect of beach life here — so we visited the Marine Park salt marsh, and then had Indian buffet food for lunch, which was okay, but not the same. By the time I got to the beach for the second time, a week later, it ended up being too cold to swim.
Fall is when New York City wakes up and realizes, Oh shit! There’s only a few months left to fix the sidewalks and potholes before winter comes! Well, duh. Considering that fall comes before winter literally every year, could you not have started planning ahead in, say, July, so that every single street corner or street in my neighborhood isn’t torn up at the same time? I’m sure there is a reason why they don’t do this work in the summer, like that people go on vacation then, or kids are out of school making the streets busier, though neither of those things makes sense and they kind of cancel each other out. But if so, I’d like to know what it is.
3) Parking gets harder.
I know it’s a stereotype that New Yorkers spend their summers in the Hamptons or Upstate, but seriously, enough of them do that it makes a difference when you’re trying to find a spot after 10 pm. Really, it does seem like everyone’s car returns this time of year just to make my life miserable. And the really fun thing about driving around for an hour looking for parking at 2 am is that the entire next day, all you do is see parking spots. It’s like whatever pattern-seeing part of your brain it is that you have to train to do that goes into overdrive and then that’s all it’s good for.
4) What autumn really is is the Season of Selling.
I don’t dislike holidays, and I certainly don’t mind the fact that, in the fall, there’s a Jewish holiday like every few days, because it means every week there’s an extra day or two with no alternate side parking regulations in effect, and see #4 for how I feel about that.
But what I can’t stand is how our corporate culture gets into full gear to flog one holiday after another starting in August, leaping from Back to School to Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas with no time to breathe in between. I’m constantly having seasonal wreaths and pillows of one new horrible sort after another shoved down my throat every time I go to any chain store like my local Rite Aid (oh, excuse me, Walgreens, who now own every drugstore in the entire world, apparently, and have rearranged them so that I can’t find anything). And sure, this happens all year round, but at no time of year does it feel like a constant sell-a-thon as much as now.
This is partly, of course, because it’s just a constant ramp up to Christmas — and the fact that I work on commercials doesn’t help. Spending time in the belly of the advertising machine in anticipation of Christmas is kind of like hanging out with that cymbal-banging monkey toy for days on end, only you’re inside it, listening to the clanging and watching exactly how the gears of Corporate America crank out this grotesque image of ourselves that they want us to embody. So far this season, I’ve worked on spots that show a “hilarious” shopper stampede gone wrong on Black Friday (only the cartoonishness of the violence keeps people from getting hurt in the spot, but I’m pretty sure a few actors came away sore from filming it); people endlessly repeating how their holiday will be absolutely RUINED if they don’t get a giant TV; ads for Rolex (no need to elaborate about the douchiness of a product that exists only so people can show how much money they make by owning it); and a chain of stores whose ads I work on every year, which always feature women and children literally begging for gifts in the most stereotypical way possible, repeating endlessly lines like “Santa, Pleeeaase! I’ve been so good this year!” and “You love me, don’t you honey?” — because yes, the absolute best way to teach your kids anything/show love for your spouse in this country is to buy them stuff.
5) Toe warmers are coming.
Another terrible thing about working on holiday commercials in September is that you are getting your feet wet in fake snow while also sweating because it’s 82 degrees, or you’re breaking out your long underwear to shoot at an ice rink all day. I almost ended up using toe warmers at the ice rink because I forgot to bring my winter socks and boots — you know, those little toxic chemical miracles that you expose to the air and they heat up and you stick them in your shoes and they are lifesavers, because even though you know they’re going to end up killing the earth because what the fuck could possibly be in them?!, all of my super-low-temperature-guaranteed winter gear still isn’t enough to save my poorly-circulated extremities when I’m outside for 12+ hours in the New York City winter.
I didn’t use them, but there’s nothing sadder than having to think about toe warmers in September. Let’s all enjoy autumn while it lasts. Because toe warmers.