Stray Cats

Last week on Canal Street I saw a Chinese woman get arrested for selling knock-off designer handbags. Looking on vacantly with wide-eyed shock and fright, she was handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police cruiser. This woman, clearly a new immigrant from China, is part of a large, complex knock-off luxury goods system in the Chinatown/Soho area that caters primarily to American and European tourists.

The next day, business continued unimpeded as if the arrest ever happened; that woman lost and potentially forgotten in the system. Further north on Grand Street, I frequently pass Spanish and French tourists carrying multiple bags from the myriad retail chains on Broadway back to their hotel rooms. Tourism and shopping are close cousins, contemporary activities basic to middle class life across the world.

The art world has awkwardly tried to tailgate on this actuality, chasing around tourist money with art fairs and biennals in every corner of the world. Dealers, artists, curators, critics and collectors flock to Miami this time every year hoping that living it up next to the beach might propel art sales and provide a career boost. Museums also feel compelled to lure tourist audiences with exhibitions that sometimes feel like decorative installations in shopping malls or amusement parks. Check out the latest from the Guggenheim and New Museum.

Museums are like stray cats after thanksgiving, tearing apart any trash bag at night to find the leftover carcass of a bland-tasting bird. If a little mouse runs by, they’ll forget about the ravaged turkey and try to chase that down instead.


Driving in New York

It’s a cliche that driving in New York City requires patience. After more than seven years of having a car here, I’ve learned that what’s more important is actually having a stern conviction to your core principals of the road. For instance, if you believe that you should always go north on 1st Avenue instead of 3rd Avenue to get to the Queensborough / 59th Street Bridge because past experience has proven a high probability of congestion around 42nd and 57th Streets, then always stick to that strategy. Here are other codes for cruising the grid:

When going crosstown east to west in the morning, use 34th Street. When going west to east, use 23rd Street. When going crosstown on either, always know which avenues are going uptown and downtown and avoid turn lanes ahead of time. For instance, traffic on 7th Avenue is one-way downtown. Therefore, when going east on 23rd, always be in the left lane when approaching 7th Avenue to avoid all the cars waiting for pedestrians as they try to turn right onto 7th. If driving to Flushing, Queens from Brooklyn or Manhattan, always take the Brooklyn / Queens Expressway (BQE) to the Grand Central Parkway (GCP) and avoid the Long Island Expressway (LIE). Never go uptown on 8th Avenue or downtown on 9th Avenue if you’re passing Port Authority (41st Street). These are just a few of my basic tenets.

There is an internal logic to the city that can’t be tricked and the principals of the road can usually be banked on, except during the late spring to summer when street fairs close off blocks upon blocks to motorized traffic causing ripple-effect jams far away. The next time you’re on the outer roadway of the Queensborough bridge, beating the congested traffic on the inner roadway, glance to your right and you’ll see why you can only trick the system with the wisdom.


Fish on Sundays

I wonder what Fish is doing now. Fish was a minor playground legend on the outdoor basketball courts of Lowell High School in San Francisco during the mid 90s. On Saturdays, after a day working at my parent’s dry cleaners, I would race north on interstate 280 to catch the last hour of daylight, looking for a little run on those courts. A few friends might already be there, and sometimes, Fish was around. But the real action at Lowell was on Sundays, when at least 3 courts would be running 5 on 5 games with a minimum one game wait. Fish usually arrived when the day was peaking with competition, sauntering in sleepy-eyed, looking like he didn’t want to play, much less be there. He would always be distractedly eating something – a bag of chips, a candy bar, a banana. He didn’t seem to want to do that either.

Fish was Chinese and likely got the nickname from the way he looked. He had big, bulging eyes, a small mouth that was always open, and a pronounced profile. Fish’s head would look good on a coin. Eventually he would loaf onto the court, shoes lazily scraping the ground. Ballers sitting on the sidelines waited in anticipation for his lefty jumpshot, launched usually from well beyond the 3-point line. He would always try to bank it in and was usually on the money. The real beauty in his game though, was the way he would dictate play with his ball-handling, getting even the most limited players the ball in exactly the right position at exactly the right time for them to score easily. He championed his makeshift teammates as if they were his little brothers, urging them on and instructing them with genuine enthusiasm. Fish would light up as the day went on, his gloomy disposition brightening as the weather eventually and predictably deteriorated. Basketball never stopped even though a summer fog always rolled in annoyingly in the mid-afternoon to that southern part of San Francisco known as the Sunset, bringing with it a cold, misty wind. Nevertheless, we ran until it got dark.

Sometimes after a full day of basketball my friends and I would drive to the Vietnamese spot in Daly City and each get a bowl of pho before heading home for a proper dinner with our families. Pick-up basketball at Lowell was mostly an Asian thing. Chinese, Philippinos, and Koreans owned those courts. Back then, we chased basketball.

Lowell was just one of a handful of possibilities during the week. On Fridays, I’d often meet up with childhood friend Ben Lei at the RSF (Recreational Sports Facility) on the campus of UC Berkeley for a night of intense runs. And I’d play at least three afternoons in San Jose State University’s gym, racing there after sleeping through an art history or graphic design class. At night there was either an intramural game or a less serious run with the after-dinner crowd looking for light exercise. Basketball junkies chase fleeting moments when they feel unconscious and unstoppable, when they reel off 5 or 6 games in a row, when they beat a clearly more talented team, when they shut up a trash talker. For me those moments were a sign from higher powers at how right the universe could and should be. It was a little piece of nirvana. Basketball will never quite be like that for me again. When life revolved around hoops, Fish was the man. Now, I struggle to remember what kind of sneakers he wore.