When I was 19, I wrote my parents a letter explaining that I’d be dropping out of college to go to “the school of life”. I thought I was very clever. My parents apparently got a chuckle out of it, so much so, that after my mother died I found the letter amongst her stash of adorable things that her children had made.
The school of life I attended basically consisted of moving to New York City and living with my boyfriend Don. We were not the most committed couple you’ll ever meet - once we got to New York, our relatively crummy relationship lasted no more than another six months, just enough time for us to spend the summer in an apartment in the Village and then land a "garden" apartment on the Upper West Side.
Looking out our apartment window in the Village, across what seemed like an entire block of undeveloped land, I could see the sign for The Fantasticks. One summer day an artist scattered reams and reams of typewriter paper all over the empty lot. It was art. It was the sixties.
I got a job at a boutique. I don't know what brought me to 116th Street and Broadway, across from Columbia that afternoon, but I was there and a Help Wanted sign hung in the window so I went inside the tiny, hip clothing store and got the job. My boss, "Auntie", was the concentration-camp-surviving Aunt of the owner who lived somewhere in Jersey. She had a faded, blurry, purple tattoo on her arm, a visual reminder, as if she needed one. She sat on her stool behind the cash register. I sat in my chair. We spent our days together.
If I had time, I'd often walk the thirty blocks up Broadway to work. Grab a hot bagel from Zabar's. Same routine going home. Heaven.
Slow forward to 2008, this morning and the e-mail from the Very Short List about The Works by Kate Ascher. Here's what they have to say:
How am I gonna resist Amazon 1-Click on this one? How are you gonna resist it?
"If you end up buying Kate Ascher’s excellent, handsome oversize book The Works and place it amid other, similarly sized coffee-table books in your living room, we’re betting, guests will zero in on it immediately.
The book gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the intricacies of New York City’s infrastructure — how electricity flows to millions of people; how traffic patterns develop and are managed; how gas, electricity, sewage, water, and subway tunnels all coexist peacefully deep underground; . . . . You don’t need to live in New York to appreciate The Works — it will give you an entirely fresh understanding and new found respect for how your city or town operates. "
And one more thing about The Works. That's how my father and I always ordered our hot dogs.