Memories of New York / by Dana Roberts

Memories.jpg

Why is it that we never seem to photograph the places where we live, where we work, where we eat, where we sleep, and where we spend the majority of our time? When we studied abroad in Barcelona for a single semester, Lou came back with over 10,000 iPhone photos, and yet, when we search our archives for photographs of the years we lived in Manhattan we can’t find more than a handful of good images. And so, on a recent trip back to New York we decided to fill in this hole in our archive by heading down to the Lower East Side and shooting a roll of 35mm film. We set out to capture the neighborhood which had been our beautiful home for two years, and combine those new images with old memories into an extended visual essay that could live on our home on the web, wildweroam.com. Squarespaces’ sponsorship not only made this trip possible, but their beautiful, all in one platform also allowed us to easily combine images and text into a page we’d always have with us. It’s a beautiful experience going out and shooting a roll of film, but it’s even more important to actually use those photos, to display and organize them, and share them with the world.

 Then there’s those Saturday mornings in Tompkins Square Park....

When I think back on our life on the Lower East Side, I see familiar street signs flashing by - Clinton, Rivington, Essex. I feel the warm, sticky, exhaust-filled air as we jog across the Williamsburg Bridge after work. The day you injured your back carrying our enormous air conditioning unit up five flights of stairs seems to divide our New York history in two. Before that day, life was filled with quick freezing showers and long sleepless nights. We’d wake up laughing at how sweaty we both were and how little wind seemed to move through the wide open windows. After, we felt like real grown up New Yorkers, dashing from one overly cooled building to the next, a little too cold inside, a little too hot outside, typical Goldilocks problems.

LESFILM_20170928_0005.jpg
LESFILM_20170928_0003.jpg

I think I got a little carried away at the dog park... They felt so close in real life, but they look so far away on film...

As I wade through these memories, I keep coming back to those Sunday mornings in Tompkins Square Park with a bagel and a coffee in hand. We would stand outside the dog park for hours debating when would be the right time for us to have one of our own (it felt so good to be building a future together even if it was hypothetical at the time).

How long will I be able to hold onto these details? I try to remember our favorite barista and her silhouette appears, but I can’t see the details of her face. And what was the name of that bar we went to with the brass band and good whiskey? The thing is I can’t decide if these details of life are even that important. For me I still have the feeling of our New York years, some strange combination of total exhaustion, pride in our postage stamp of an apartment, over-caffeination, nights in Alphabet City, 1 dollar dumplings, summer afternoons playing soccer on the East River, too many late night slices, waiting for the F train, our first double dates, fancy nights at that Catalan restaurant, bottomless brunches, and bagels with my brother...

“In certain favorable moods, memories -- what one has forgotten -- come to the top. Now if this is so, is it not possible -- I often wonder -- that things we have felt with great intensity have an existence independent of our minds; are in fact still in existence? And if so, will it not be possible, in time, that some device will be invented by which we can tap them?” - Virginia Woolf

Some parts are a blur for sure, but not that feeling Sunday morning when I’d wake up and my heart would start racing, dreading the work week ahead, the tears barely held at bay, on the edge of a panic attack--but let’s forget that for a moment, because today is for rosy colored glasses, for seeing only what you want to remember, and letting the rest fall to the side, for thinking as we walk down the street that “maybe we should live here again,” even though two days later that idea will seem impossible, and I’ll wonder how I even thought I’d want to go through all that again. But I guess that’s how memory works, it’s a little like pencil on paper, sometimes you can erase the parts you don’t like, but no matter how hard you try that first mark is always visible if you look closely enough.

And so for those of you who are still reading and also saw our video from this New York trip here are a few of our stories that we weren't able to capture on film. 

Taking the time to sift through my brain, locate these memories, illustrate them, and combine them all in this visual essay was one of my most rewarding nostalgic endeavors. It makes me want to keep a travel journal while we’re in the van because I can’t imagine how much richer and more vibrant the stories will be when the memories are still fresh. But I guess isn’t that the point? How easy it is to forget to reflect our our daily life… the mundane never feels important until your environment changes.

Stories from our New York years

Pigeon Lady

Can one person really be the perfect embodiment of a cat lady and a pigeon lady? My mind may be playing tricks on me, but I remember seeing numbers as high as 20 or 30 flocking to her window and every once in a while I would catch a glimmer of her skinny, wrinkled hand reaching out filled with bird seed. Do you think her cats tried to kill them? The fire escape we shared with her should have been red, but it was painted white with everything they left behind. I wonder if they kicked her out when they revamped the apartment. I can’t imagine her living in a building with a chandelier, especially when she would leave the kitty litter rotting in the hallway for weeks at a time. Remember how we used to hold our noses as we sprinted up the stairs? The only hope would be that once we made it into our apartment the smell of her trash in the hallway wouldn’t be able to sneak under our door frame. Come to think of it, I don’t miss that apartment.

Atlas Cafe

When I started my first corporate job in tech sales, you were finishing your final year of university. Most Saturdays before I would head into the office, we would stumble out of our apartment with one destination in mind - Atlas Cafe. You looked so cute in your button down and stack of books, as you geared yourself up to take on your thesis. I always wished I could stay with you drinking coffee and eating bagels while you wrote. Can you believe we created a life where we spend all our days together and not just Sundays?

East River Park

It felt so playful to be outside, breathing in the spring air, wearing my new indoor soccer shoes that we had gone all the way up to Harlem to buy. It had been years since my days of soccer practice and away games and you shocked me with how your juggling skills had not deteriorated over time. We’ve since watched all your home videos and I feel like on that pitch I somehow met a younger you for the first time. Also, can we bring a soccer ball with us in the van?

F-Train

I have so many good memories about this train, but the one I can’t shake is running late for work on a winter morning, I decided to jump on a conference call next to the Delancey entrance. As the minutes passed my fingers kept getting colder and colder. When the call finally ended, I turned to run down to catch the train, but as I went to put my phone in my pocket it slipped out. As if it was in slow motion, I can still see it tumbling down the entire flight of concrete stairs, finally landing face-up showing me the shattered screen. The old man standing next to me quickly retorted, “Not your morning, hun, is it?”

Hurricane Sandy

We decided to stay when they said we should leave because of squid ink pasta leftovers. We had gone to Eatly earlier that week and spent far too much on some fancy food and decided that it didn’t make sense to leave since if we lost power our food would go bad. Plus we weren’t in the mandatory evacuation zone, just the suggested part. Instead we bunkered down with some bottled water, a full fridge and a few bottles of wine, waiting for the storm to hit. And after losing power in the night, and falling asleep to howling wind and rain, we woke up to what I’ll never forget. It felt like we were in the apocalypse. The power was out for all of lower Manhattan, our cell phones weren’t working, and everyone who was still in town was out on the streets surveying the damage. There were trees down everywhere, the streets had flooded picking up cars and dropping them off in other places, windows were shattered, but there was also this weird sense of comradery. Our corner bodega had a generator and somehow was serving coffee. After exploring our neighborhood, we decided to walk to the West Village with the hope that my brother and his then girlfriend (now wife) were home. We got there, reunited and after realizing that the damage was going to take a long time to fix we decided to call my dad. I can’t remember if we walked uptown for a payphone or cell reception, but somehow we reached him and like a superhero he drove into Manhattan when everyone else was driving out and picked us all up to take us to Connecticut. I know we probably should have left before the storm hit, but weirdly I am glad we got to see that side of New York and that side of New Yorkers.

My Writer

Ever since we met I always thought you would end up being a writer. It’s not that you even showed me that much of what you were working on, but it seemed like in the back of your brain you were always weaving stories. I think it was when you presented your thesis that I fully grasped why your professors were encouraging you to pursue graduate school so vehemently. But unlike your professors or your parents who thought academia was the place for you, I always saw you in a cabin, pounding away at your typewriter, telling stories like all your favorite authors. In a weird way I feel like my prediction was right - you may not be writing stories, but you are telling them visually now with our YouTube channel. And it might not be a cabin, but soon you’ll be in our van and that’s a pretty good equivalent.