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Monday, August 09, 2010

Veneer of Their Lives


From time to time, I need a reality check to put things in perspective. At one time, I occasionally turned to a good friend who had moved to the West Coast. He had a very worldly perspective, having traveled extensively to all corners of the globe. See Weather Means Whether here.

As I have written in stories like The Dark Ages, New Yorkers often have to tolerate very poor living conditions, even when paying substantial rents or purchase prices for apartments. Among residents, this is often a source of humor, jokes and sarcasm. The non-resident or visitor often sees displays of wealth in New York, but these glimpses of the city are just a veneer and often do not give the full picture.

The single biggest factor in living in this city, regardless of whether a person owns or rents, is that with little exception, the vast majority of residents live in multiple-unit dwellings, i.e. apartment buildings. In this environment, you lose control. Tenants above, below, and to the sides of you are a perennial concern and often a source of noise etc., frequently with little recourse.
On one occasion, said friend was in my apartment when I was feeling particularly shut in and frustrated by my various living conditions. Having a sense, however, that things could be much worse and that perhaps I was rather an ingrate, I asked him his honest assessment of my abode. After a moment or two of thoughtful contemplation, he said that in the scheme of things, I had a pretty good situation.

Romanticizing the past can also be a case of seeing only a veneer. In Better When, I discussed the illusory sense that times were better in the good old days.
Strolling through St. Luke's Cemetery, on Arthur Kill Road in the Rossville section of Staten Island, provided the reality check I needed. A photographer friend who accompanied me pointed out how many grave stones of children there were. (If you click to enlarge the photo, you can read the inscriptions). As we strolled the graveyard, I found it quite sobering, particularly the family of Morris and Eva Dixon, whose many children lived only some months to 3 years. I was heartened by their own headstone (lower right photo), noting that they were born 3 years apart (1855 and 1858) and died within one year of each other (1929 and 1930). I hope the Dixons had their joys as well as misfortunes and that these headstones serve only as a veneer of their lives...

6 comments:

Tracy said...

I love looking at gravestones. Lovely story.

Lily Hydrangea said...

A good reality check Brian.
Mine was last night when I watched "The Road".

Peter said...

You're getting to be more and more philosophical every day Brian :). Great post.

rosie said...

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Mary P. said...

How sad. We are really, really lucky to live in the times we do.
Good sanitation and modern medicine have sure helped. Without it, I may not have been here now, having bween a "sickly" child myself. Although I'm not sure what those almost weekly "shots" were, or were for, I still remember the furniture and linoleum of the doctor's waiting room.
And those terrible migraines were omnipresent throughout my pre-adolescence. Puberty brought a thankful end to them. I wish some of my friends would have been so lucky.

Brian Dubé said...

Tracy - I know a number of people who like looking at gravestones. Much about the past can be learned.

Lily - It does put things in perspective.

Peter - Thanks

Mary - all true indeed.