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A Letter I Wrote To My Best Friend While Stuck Under A River Yesterday
Dispatches from New York

Another entry in the series in which a lifelong Miamian tries to deal with a place where there are no palm trees. Read more here. Or don’t, it’s cool.

Dear Pants:

I trudged down the street this morning (as the sidewalks were NOT navigable) with not enough coffee in me and sweating like a pig only to realize at subway station that it’s hard to tell whether my wallet’s on me or not when I’m wearing thermals. Spoiler: it was not. I WAS on time to work but also seemingly the only person going to work the entire length of the 3/4 a mile walk all 3 times I took it. Everyone else was digging themselves out or else buying supplies. I think I saw an old man buying himself booze and going home although I think it was probably just milk or something. I’d like to think it was Jack and he’s just going to drink himself back to bed like I wish I were doing.

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Dispatches From New York - On Returning (again)

Another entry in the series in which a lifelong Miamian tries to deal with a place where there are no palm trees. Read more here. Or don’t, it’s cool.

The Saddest Mojito Stand

Very little of Miami International Airport is familiar despite the innumerable times I have been here. I’m walking through a terminal (don’t ask me which) while trying to pump blood through my legs while I still can.

All around me are kids with their faces buried in screens. Laptops, iPod Touches, Nintendos. I walk through waves of smooth jazz and turn off my iPhone’s antenna to save battery, the digital equivalent of girding my loins for the trial ahead of me. I find and make my choice for my final meal in Miami for a while:

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Dispatches from New York - Post Halloween Blues
... or at least blue fingers

last week, in more humid times

There’s bits of candy corn smooshed flat all around me. I notice the first between the raised buttons designed to keep the blind from falling onto the tracks but now I can’t stop seeing them everywhere.

Is it wool weather yet? Time to give in to the seasons, to itch and admit it’s freezing? Many seem to think not and I see a lot of breathing into hands on the street. I have no way to judge myself; it’s not a subtle thing (like a fruit ripening in reverse) and at best it’s jilted and sudden. Today the padded jacket liner that made sweat is my savior, the scarves I scoffed at my security. The mercury breaks below 40 and I’m walking down the street smiling and whistling through newly chapped lips.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized that the sound I fell asleep to was the heat stretching bits of ductmetal. Fall is here. In Miami I used to call the months of October through January Flinter as it’s an abbreviation that sounds like a the smallest, sharpest speck of dust you can have land in your eye. Here it’s hard to avoid.

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A Tuesday - Dispatches from NYC

transit from my old apartment to my new

Only two things of note in the train as it leaves Greenpoint: the lights being brighter than normal and the smell of the half-eaten banana in the hand of the lady next to me.

All are ghosts. Up the steps, the station is filled with the smell of ammonia – they clean in here? When? Why? Tuesday at 11 am is not something I’m experienced with in NYC mass transit. The trumpet player on the L platform likewise seems confused.

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Returning to Miami - Dispatches from NYC

I just booked my second one-way ticket ever from the kitchen table in my Greenpoint apartment. A teacup full of merlot from a free bottle of Sutter Home is sitting in front of me, largely untouched. This is not because the process of redeeming a flight voucher is encompassing; It is because the wine is unbelievably terrible.

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A Neighborly Written Exchange In Greenpoint
Dispatches from New York

So a while back I spent a Saturday unsuccessfully searching for a night stand or an endtable or really ANYTHING to put a lamp on top of.

I returned home, empty-handed and exhausted, to a perfectly sized, perfectly colored night stand sitting on the steps of my apartment building. I left a note (which you can see below, and really is the whole point of this story) under a can on top of it. Later that night the stand was gone but the note and the can remained with a return message appended to it:

… and on the reverse side:

I have to be 100% honest: I like the drawing of the dinosaur much more than I did the night stand.


The Streets Are Cold and Paved With Gold
Dispatches from New York


The streets are cold and slowly being paved with gold. Fall is politely asking the trees to shed their clothes. The hailstorm last night was its way of insistence.

“Cold” is of course relative – I’m not allowed to call this cold by anyone I encounter. Regardless the weather (like everything else) is treated as special just because it occurs in New York. Said storm was tweeted and facebooked many times more than needed.

I forwent a jacket and am going to my first day of normal work in 2 weeks thanks to the Festival I was helping with being over. Yesterday was my first day off in over a week and I spent it moving very little and buying groceries with a friend and her 2 year old son. After the stress of four consecutive 14 hour days going to the grocery with a kid riding on my shoulders was an odd sort of relief.

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So how was your day?
Dispatches from New York

Wake from benadryl induced slumber that was filled with fever dreams of going to a gym in the back of a Walgreens with a moustached 80s star. I’m pretty sure it was Tom Selleck’s head on Hulk Hogan’s body.

Take hottest shower known to man. Drain every fluid save blood and lymph. Throats fine today but my nose won’t stop running – inverse of yesterday. Can’t get the neti pot to work and wind up coughing out chunks of nutrigrain bar from the back of my throat.

Not enough time but have leftover iced coffee anyway to cut the fugue. It kind of works. I used Benadryl in an attempt to sleep 16 of the past 20 hours of my life. It sorta worked.

Walk half mile into wind to station. G platform. Then train. Then herd to L platform. Then squish. I thought the lady rolling a cello in a case around was crazy for being here at rush hour until saw the guy with the tuba.

Ebb and flow of transit. The L gets worse the later I leave my apartment but the 4 gets better. I get lucky with both and don’t have to cough in anyone’s face.

The trip on the 4 is always longer than it should be. An impossibly thin Asian woman with impossibly high stilettos takes the steps singly and slowly as I exit to Wall Street, the breeze making me again long for a hoodie. When I moved here in June I forwent packing any cold weather clothes in favor of art supplies. In retrospect this seems foolish and at least partially to blame for this sickness.

It’s a beautiful day out but everything is covered in the fine layer of fuzz illness brings. I will probably leave work early but being a temp means serous budget adjustments should I do so. So – they get typhoid Mary in their midst and I get to make rent. We all win!

After 3 surprisingly productive hours I seek a new quest: soup. Godspeed, stuffy warrior.


Then and Now
Dispatches from New York

It’s in the 70’s up here right now. In Miami this would mean Christmas is around the corner. Here it means snowmageddeon is around the corner.

In the spirit of the not-season, I found the following today:

… and now.

I miss Burdines. Granted though I don’t think I ever set foot inside this Burdines – Dadeland Mall all the way.

Image above is via the highly recommended If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats


Rainy Wednesday
Dispatches from New York

67 and rainy and nearly impossible to leave the apartment in. Jeff Mangum whines in my ears as I walk out the door and lower my umbrella into the wind like a damp Quixote. I am wearing a shirt with unrolled sleeves for the first time since arriving and on my face is the manic smile on that every transplant to a large city has while succeeding in convincing themselves that this was a great idea.

The definition of a commute is when the adage “life is a journey not a destination” is demonstrably false.

The cubicle was empty when I arrived about a month ago – some promotional materials and a little rotating carrel filled with paperclips, pens that had run dry, a highlighter, and an arcaic letter opener welcomed me. The drawers were empty. The top shelf was filled with the things my predescessor couldn’t find a use for, mostly papers and the like. I added to it a half empty Poland Spring water bottle that now has its own ecosystem.

There wasn’t enough espresso in the world earlier and there continues not to be enough now. There is a fire alarm test going on and a strobe light is flashing 20 feet away and 20 degrees above eye level. It’s presently the only thing keeping me awake.

During lunch the working pedestrians in the Financial District fight for sidewalk space with the edges of their umbrellas, gingerly clashing above while shoulder rub below. Not unlike fencing it’s a subtle dance – unlike fencing it’s massively awkward. The rain doesn’t stop the tourists from marveling at the bull’s balls or from getting in everyone’s way.


I go back to work but wish I was going back to bed.


... and then she told me about an awful Tommy Lee song about the kid he had with Pamela Anderson
Dispatches from New York

“So I was walking down Keap, not far from the Lorimer L stop, when I came across a half-black guy and a peroxide blonde girl making out hard in the middle of the sidewalk. The best part was his car door was still open with the engine running with some blues song BLASTING out. I had to stop and ask myself ‘did I just walk into a fucking Levis commercial?’” – Gispert

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The Wash
Dispatches from New York

College Park Laundromat
Image courtesy of LaurenProfeta on Flickr

I see a spinning pile of froth through impact resistant glass windows – many windows one froth. Little $1.75 portals to a land called clean.

Maybe one day I will be an old man who goes to laundromats and stares at women putting their dirty panties in the machines. Maybe I’ll start a website devoted to this subject while I am still young enough to maintain an erection and feel self disgust. Maybe I’ll just move to an apartment with a washer-dryer.

There’s reggaeton. There are damp easy-iron shirts hung over the back of my chair and I’m leaning forward and scribbling while a slow burning ache develops midway between my shoulderblades and tailbone. The sun is going down.

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Oh, hi August

Good morning August. Technically you started yesterday but I was so hungover I had the pleasure of avoiding you, which is alright as things aren’t really any different than they were yesterday or the day before – the garbage on the street doesn’t glisten and the train’s brakes still sound like nails on a chalkboard.

Like those things you’re manmade but unlike those things you’re imaginary – collectively anyway, like a corporation or a constellation.

For us though you render facts both signifigant and mundane, both of which I ponder on the commute to work on this sunny Monday. The rent’s due, but that’s hardly special and speaks to a shorter cycle. More pressingly it means summer, a longer figment, is winding down. We used to have another 4 weeks of freedom to look forward to at this point. Midway through my childhood they started frontloading hurricane days after Andrew and suddenly August meant school was here rather than just looming.

What does it mean though to the man on the train, staring out the windows and trying to stay awake? Rent we mentioned, bills aren’t worth giving that privilege, and the seasons are a while from doing anything worth pointing out.

So what August means is that it’s going to be godawful hot for a while longer and you’re going to be desperate for a change – kind of like the February of the Summer. If you have time you’ll take the vacation you’ve been putting off. If you don’t have time, well, it’s probably because change is looming inevitably. If you’re too broke to get out, you’re me.


An evening of eye contact

this has very little to do with anything

The eyes of New Yorkers are all rabbits in the forest. The slightest glance will send their heads snapping left or right to feign interest in the nearest wall or shrub, denying you the pleasure (if you can call it that) of eye contact. If I lived in a Tex Avery cartoon their eyeballs would fly out, bounce against the nearest set of bricks, then land back in their heads again while their expressions remained an unchanged pout.

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Trinity Church

Where Wall Street ends, God begins. This is Trinity Episcopal Church) on Broadway.

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Week 4 in nyc

taken by John Spain

July comes like an AMEX statement – not unexpected and not desired. 2 interviews during the week, neither of which were interviews per-se. Filling out forms at a temp agency that either treats their temps somewhat humanely or is good at lying. This was preceded by lunch with a guy who seems to think he can line me up a job at a major non-profit but not for a few months, possibly with some volunteering between now and then. In short: progress was made but I’m no closer to making next month’s rent.

The city is lonesome. “Animal Tropical”: are in town and on the metaphorical couch for the weekend. The bassist just left to wander and eat a “good meal,” both being commendable tourist goals. I mulled this before realizing that people here fall for one another quickly not just because it makes rent cheaper but because you need to fall in love to keep make this city feel magical, lest you wind up spending most of your time alone.

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Heat and the City

It is hot. Unlike Miami, wherein you spend your life racing from one AC-filled enclosure to another, few places here in New York have central AC. This unavoidably leaves every nook and cranny of you sticky and damp, possibly even a gushing river valley of damp and nasty and gross. The filthy crannies are flooded anew, like the Nile Delta, washing bacteria in nutrients needed for survival and an environment that speeds replication. The result: delicious, delicious B.O.

You think these thoughts while on a crowded subway with your face jammed into the back of a salaryman’s neck, wondering whether he or someone else will spray-n-wash the sweatstains out of his collar. Right now I think these thoughts sitting lotus-like in front of a box fan and wondering when I’ll feel like moving again.

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JS at TJ's
In which our hero seeks employment

So I go shopping at Trader Joe’s on my second or third day in NYC and notice a “Hiring” sign. If you’ve never been to TJ’s, imagine a store where everything is cheap, everyone is perky as hell, there is virtually nothing you actually need on the shelves, and yet there are way too many goddamn people. The grand marketing scheme of TJ’s is that the thrift involved, combined with the cheeriness of the staff, will make up for an inconsistent selection and insane lines. In other words, whereas places like Fresh Market will try to woo you with a shopping experience designed to resemble an artisanal gourmand’s cellar, TJ’s decor basically looks like a cafeteria and costs about as much as well.

When I heard they were hiring I figured why not — a year’s worth of managing a service window at a non-profit might have prepared me for this zoo, and if nothing else I could work there a couple of days a week so as to keep my head above water. I also wanted to wear a shitty flower print shirt and get free expired cheese. What can I say, I’m easy to please.

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Great time to move to New York, John. Now there’s an earthquake rattling dogs and birds in Harlem. Lord have mercy.

by , posted 3165 days ago

What’s wrong with you, Miami?
Buy David Mitchell’s new book, for God’s sake

david mitchell autumns

What’s wrong with you, Miami?

I don’t mean The Heat Lightning readers. You are the culture vultures, the exception proving the rule, the cool knot of folks who unwittingly find themselves discussing Kieslowski at a kegger.

Nothing against keggers per se, but the revelry makes it difficult for anyone to see how capable we Miamians are of literary appreciation. Cool elusive wordsmiths like Neil Gaiman and Amy Hempel breeze through San Francisco, New York, and Seattle, yet they pass on the Magic City.

Los Angeles is also a favored stop for touring authors, but I think it’s more in the hopes of a fat movie deal than because of Book Soup. LA-LA Land deserves more author play than Miami? Please. Salman Rushdie loves us. Ondaatje, McInerney, Sontag. We can name drop until the next Man Booker Prize is awarded, but it won’t give us the literary cache we deserve. The big New York publishers see Miami as that fun-loving friend it’s great to party with, but whom they’d be horrified to see date their sister.

David Mitchell, arguably the greatest living fiction novelist, and easily the greatest fiction novelist under fifty, has also toured the usual suspects – San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Boston, Portland. For his next book, a luminous work coming out (in the US, anyway) on June 29 titled, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, David Mitchell is visiting Minneapolis.

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Tips on Relocating from Miami to NYC

Fundamentally Miami is not very different from New York. They are each incredibly diverse places with many people of different nationalities. Furthermore they are both places where things are “happening,” things like drug transactions and stabbings. Both also have clubs that you can’t get into. In essence, anything that’s creepy can and does happen in both, only with an added volume in New York and an added ennui in Miami. Thus creepy things in Miami just make you laugh whereas in New York they make you want to get in a shower with all your clothes on and never leave.

With that in mind please follow these simple tips to ensure a safe and rewarding relocation to New York until such a point as you give up and go back to Miami to live on your parents’ couch again:

- For ventilation purposes many apartments have windows directly situated above their toilets. Do not be alarmed by this or by the pervert that lives directly across from you – both are perfectly normal.

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Week one: John's Miami to New York "adventures"

I flew to New York this past Monday via the first one-way ticket I have ever purchased. I spent the flight reading The Great Gatsby and pretending not to smell the old lady farts that occurred like clockwork every 10 minutes.

My phone is the receptacle for these thoughts although it is nearly impossible to draw from my pocket. It has to go past my keychain, which is flush with NYC apartment keys and my own from Miami. There are three tiny keys I found on the streets of Rome that I nearly lost when walking on the featureless expanse of Miller Drive, on which I live. Correction, lived.

There comes a moment before every flight where I debate necessity. A long moment, like all moments are on planes, where everything you do is hurrying along only to wait. Today I’m not worrying about the flight itself (even though Spirit Air makes chicken buses seem like luxury liners) but of the destination. The whole of the last 24 hours has been doubt caused at least in part by exhaustion and now illness. No doubt this will continue, abetted by the realization that the people waiting for the plane are all the sorts I will be sharing a city with. There are lots of New Yawkers waiting, chewing their words like a dog would chew a chain and throwing their weight around.

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Leaving, writing, navelgazing

Yesterday I tore everything I own from wherever it was hiding and stared at it intently before putting it into one of two places: a pile (store, ship, gift, goodwill) or right back where it came from. In-between, I walked to the park across the street with a curly haired blonde girl and watched her swing while her daschund chased iguanas through poinciana petals and around the canal.

I thought to myself, as I walked through air so thick with humidity it was edible, of writing and plans for leaving the tropics. There’s a point to this navelgazing, I promise.

Of my 29 years alive I’ve spent 25 here. In my 18th year the first thing I read in my undergraduate career at UM was an old Playboy article given to me by my English 102 professor. The students there were essentially the dumbest I would share a classroom with in my 4 years there and every word of it was lost on them.

The article was about how the greatest threat and most intimidating thing to an author is a blank page needing filling. As someone who had been writing since he was 12, every word rang true.

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On leaving

places peoples and things

“Hello?” she said – or I thought she said. She could have been trying to remove cold chicken from her throat the hard way for all I knew.
“Liz. Question”
“John. It’s 9:30 in the morning”
“On a Sunday. The Lord’s day. As in good fucking Lord why are you calling me this early”
“I’m trying to plan my going away party and I wasn’t sure whether to make it a barbecue type thing or a beer and stupid kind of thing”
“What? Where are you going?”
“I’m moving to New York. My flight leaves two weeks from Monday. It’s kind of a reverse surprise going away party considering I haven’t really told anyone”
Her consciousness flickered a little brighter at this point. The same thing had happened a week before when I called my friend to tell her I’d be taking her sublease and it took me stating that, in no uncertain terms, I’d be mailing her a check Monday for her to believe I was serious. I’d waffled so far back and forth on whether I was going that she’d put an ad on Craigslist and gotten over 70 emails in various shades of desperate and creepy. Even though my taking her place was a relief it took about half an hour of hammering the point home for her to wake up enough to process said feeling.

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