The holidays are a time when many of us are reluctantly pushed into public places to go through the motions about being happy about the holidays. Sometimes the very happiness of the holidays are mocking and angering. Sometimes the very image of others’ happiness is a slap in the face, and the holidays give other people’s happiness a particularly cold sting.
There’s no reason for the holidays this year to be any different. A cursory glance at the world at large doesn’t give the impression that there is much to celebrate.
It is my goal again this year, as in previous years, to not go into a single store to buy a Christmas present. I would rather be an antisocial Grinch and do all of my shopping online.
I get enough of the horrendously-behaved crowds in my everyday life. The holidays are a time to reflect on the blessing we have. While living in New York City is one of those blessings, living cheek-by-jowl with millions of other human beings is not. It’s an odd conundrum: We love New York, which wouldn’t be what it is without all of its people, yet a good many of those people are detestable.
But what else are we to do? We can’t live life as disgruntled hermits. We are social creatures and the people who are successful in living outside of society don’t live very good lives.
And besides, New York is beautiful around the holidays. Even the most jaded New Yorker can appreciate how beautiful things can become around this time of year. I embrace the “bah-humbug” aspect of the holidays in every way possible, and even I feel pangs of civic pride to see our city landmarks decked out in their holiday finery.
Here are five things you can do to experience New York City at its Christmastime best:
Gingerbread Lane at the New York Hall of Science consists of record-breaking gingerbread houses and you even get a chance to take home some of the gingerbread once the holidays are over. And the New York Hall of Science is a good place to escape to from the holiday scrum of Manhattan. It is in Queens, the greatest and most American New York City borough.
The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden has been running for over 20 years and runs until January 19. It features trains that run through beautiful models of some of New York’s greatest landmarks. The models are all made from plants. It’s like a New York-centric Rose Bowl Parade that doesn’t suck. It’s in The Bronx, and if you take some time to stroll through the Botanical Gardens, you will be amazed that you’re in a big city. It will be much less crowded after the holidays.
The Grand Central Terminal holiday light show is going to be crowded. Grand Central Terminal is always horribly crowded but it’s so beautiful that it’s worth it. The holiday light show will make you glad you went there.
Free reading of A Christmas Carol at Housing Works Bookstore Café. More than two dozen writers take turns reading from the Charles Dickens classic at this event. The book store raises money for Housing Works, an AIDS charity. Some free literature will make you feel better about yourself over the holidays.
Time Warner Center’s Holiday Under the Stars is a display of large lighted stars at the Time Warner Center’s large great room and are specially lit in a display that is set to music. The Time Warner Center does not have much to offer the non-millionaire shopper, so here is a chance to enjoy some nice holiday spirit at the center’s expense and maybe avoid some of the horrific crowds that clog other venues.
Holiday markets also abound. Union Square has one, as does Bryant Park, Grand Central Terminal and Columbus Circle. Here is your chance to buy last minute Christmas things or feel OK about doing some real retail non-online shopping this year. These may be crowded but there are enough of them and these are large enough that you should be able to find a nice place to shop among these many markets. They also usually feature local artists selling their work.
Whatever you do, get out there and see the holiday sights. Even if you hate the holidays and want to piss on everyone’s parade, it only counts if you do so in person.
The platform at the Flushing Main Street subway stop is usually packed with commuters trying to get on or off one of the subway trains. There’s not room for much else on the platforms there. The 7 line is one of the most crowded lines in the entire subway system and the one benefit of this is that it is usually devoid of crazies, panhandlers and performers who don’t have the sense to stay off of rush hour trains.
But yesterday as I got to the station and boarded a train, a solitary dancer was on the platform. He appeared to be either mentally ill or high on crack. Perhaps he was both.
The entire time I was there, the man danced to music that was playing only in his head. He danced with a collapsible cane or walking stick. He even gesticulated with this stick at one point, incorporating his vulgar motions into his crack head choreography.
I was inspired to take a short video of his performance. He is blissfully unaware of how he appears to others. He hasn’t a care in the world. He’s amused by his own motion as others strive to avoid him.
The dancing crack head is a reject, one of society’s ultimate outsiders. He is an object of ridicule in the minds of the other people on the subway platform, who were not dancing, but paying money to take a miserable, crowded journey so they can spend time away from their families and work. Perhaps our crack head dancer was the only sane one in the station.
As we head into the holidays, New York is a city divided. It has always been a place of vigorous debate and contested policies, but the latest controversy over race and policing has dialed up the vitriol and indicates a further departure from civilized debate.
The past summer Eric Garner, a black man on Staten Island died in police custody after being arrested for selling loose cigarettes. A video of his arrest and scuffle with police was widely broadcast. A grand jury declined to indict the police involved in his arrest and the finding was met with instant and widespread protests throughout the city.
Some of my friends are out on the streets getting arrested or leading protests against the police. Some of my friends are in law enforcement or are retired cops who question the motives and the tactics of the protesters.
The Eric Garner grand jury findings came only a few days after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri declined to indict a white police officer for the shooting of a black teenager there. In Missouri, the grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer in the shooting of Michael Brown has resulted in several nights of looting and rioting and at least one blatant and under-reported racial killing.
The question is whether protests are going to hobble travel too much. The police are determined not to let that happen, but when thousands and thousands of people take to the streets at once, it’s usually the best the cops can do to try to steer them in a direction that doesn’t clog things up too much.
New York has had its race riots in the past but is less likely to have them today despite being one of the many epicenters in the country for racial disharmony. While we have the same constant churn of racial and ethnic distrust and ill will as the rest of the country, we don’t have the critical mass of complete hopelessness and depravity in large areas that usually act as a crucible for riots. And while our population of professional protesters helps promote a climate of racial grievance, it also knows it has to keep things from getting too violent if it wants to stay in business.
There used to be a gentlemen’s agreement between police and protesters. Years ago, protesters would sometimes block streets or buildings and get arrested. They wouldn’t get too aggressive and the police in turn would process their arrests on the spot and then let them go. Under Giuliani that changed. Police started putting protesters through the system, which can often mean a night in jail or at least several long hours in a police holding cell. Mayor Bloomberg generally kept to those policies.
I urge protesters not to attempt to stop the subways and busses from running; however just you think your cause is, when you throw a monkey wrench into the fragile works of the New York City mass transit system, you are playing with fire. Hell hath no fury like a New York City commuter purposely delayed.
The protests will continue and no minds will be changed by them. The divisions that existed before these latest incidents will remain and people’s views will only be intensified by what they see as the excesses or the ignorance of the opposition.
I look forward to going hunting every year. Last year, after two years of getting nothing, I got a small button buck in the Connecticut woods. It gave me a great feeling of accomplishment and I returned to the woods this year with a much-bolstered sense of confidence.
But a deer was not in the cards this year. This was the first season I’ve gone hunting when I didn’t even SEE a single deer in the two whole days I was in the woods. Even in the previous hunts when I came home empty-handed, I had at least seen deer in the woods.
I saw deer while I was driving to Connecticut and back. There is no shortage of deer in the world. The woods of the suburbs and country are still sick with the beautiful beasts. And I have a good spot as well. My favorite hunting spot is a bluff that overlooks a healthy slice of woods. I’m elevated and out sight. It has given me many chances to get deer.
My friend Steve, a very experienced hunter who has taught me a lot about hunting, said the deer were moving differently this year. It was windy on one day we were out and deer don’t like to move around when it’s windy—the wind carries their scent to potential predators. Steve said that some years that’s just what happens. You can sit for hours and days not see nothing. That’s hunting.
Hunting is a noble venture, and it requires a lot of patience and discipline. And that’s actually one of the best things about it. Hunting means you have to be silent and quietly observe nature for many hours at a time.
The first day I went out this year things were cold and windy. Leaves falling from the trees and swaying branches will sometimes catch your eye. Your mind can play tricks on you and you’ll see deer in every movement of the trees or leaves. You’ll hear a sound in the distance and think it may be the sound of some game approaching. It will turn out to be nothing but the wind.
Every clump of brush in the distance could be a missed chance at a shot. I found myself scoping in on things just to maintain my aiming acuity and in case these shaded areas of the woods turned out to be a delicious venison.
The second day I went out was about a week later and it was the last day of the hunting season. Snow had fallen and the woods were blanketed with a layer of white. There were fresh deer tracks not far from my regular spot. I got there plenty early and stayed quiet. I still saw nothing. It was beautiful to see the woods covered in snow, even seeing different animal tracks in the snow made the trip worthwhile.
Steve tells me that hunting is all about time in the woods. The more time you spend in the woods, the better hunter you become.
I’ll add that more time in the woods makes you a better person as well. Everyone needs some quiet time to contemplate nature. Everyone needs hours at a time in the outdoors where you don’t speak at all. You are quiet and watching and waiting. The peaceful quiet is its own reward, and may be your only reward that day. Sometimes that’s enough.