Somewhere in New York City

Students in Helene Stapinski’s Writing About Place master class write vignettes on a favorite place in New York City– a corner, a hidden spot, their own take on a more well-known location.

Published: December 9, 2010


Liz Bowen

I’m usually freezing when I go to Chinatown. Sometimes I’m downtown to catch up with a friend over phở and salty plum soda; sometimes I’m there to tag along with my boyfriend while he scopes out cheap groceries—50 pork dumplings for eight dollars, a thick stack of won ton wrappers for 99 cents. I keep my gloved hands stuffed in pockets as I rush past purse vendors like a thief, clutching my own bag tightly under my arm. But around that time of year when I start seeing my breath outside, I always come back here parka-clad because always, Chinatown means food: steaming, slippery, spicy, good food. It means pre-packaged kimchi and tiny cartons of soymilk, pineapple buns, green tea cake. Sriracha making my nose run. The swelling satisfaction of a belly full of noodles, the mmmmm, the chopsticks digging the last bits of rice from the bowl. The warm weight of your soul settling in your stomach, heavier and slower than winter.


Ted Malawer
Contributing Writer

When I was sixteen, I used to travel into the city every Saturday to study music in the Juilliard School Pre-College Division. During lunch breaks, I would buy a sandwich and a soda and take them into the Lincoln Center Plaza, where I’d sit on the ledge of the fountain, surrounded by the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera and Ballet, Lincoln Center theater, and stare at the massively beautiful gray buildings, imagining that one day I would be performing inside of them.

Then years later, I have abandoned my dreams of becoming a professional singer. But I still find solace in the middle of Lincoln Center; my favorite time to visit is in the evening, when they sky is dark and the yellow-white lights of the buildings reflect off the water from the circular fountain that shoots and spurts into the air: up, up, up and down in soothing, rhythmic patterns.

In the winter, I watch the fountain with a hot chocolate in one of my gloved hands, the cold air nipping at the parts of my face that aren’t covered. Around me are tourists, or fellow New Yorkers, standing alone or with friends and taking pictures, coming to or from the opera and the theater or simply passing through. I stand with my eyes trained on the fountain, and just watch. Something about the rise and fall keeps me coming back for more, day after day, year after year.


Caitlin Palmer
Contributing Writer

When I first moved to New York, I thought the Globe in Columbus Circle was the center of the world. It was a shining steel beacon glinting in the September sunlight every time I left the subway at 60th and Broadway, a sign that I had gotten out at the right stop and was a block away from home. For a slowly-adjusting girl from the suburbs who was forever getting off at the wrong stop or emerging from the wrong exit (coming out at 57th and 8th could have me wandering around confused for a good 20 minutes), the sight of this silver structure meant success, that I had a chance of surviving in this city that’s larger and louder than life.

I always assumed the globe sculpture was as important to New York City as it was to me. It is in Columbus Circle after all, and I thought it ironic but fitting that the famous explorer whose statue stands a mere 50 feet from the model of the world he had a part in creating is not facing the globe.

Recently I learned that this globe, the world in the center of New York City, which in turn is the center of the world, was commissioned to sit by the entrance of the massive black Trump International Hotel and Tower. Instead of a symbol of hope and direction for lost souls, my globe is a glaring solid steel sign of Donald Trump’s wealth and power, a lone ball at the base of yet another phallic skyscraper.


Joseph Klarl
Arts & Culture Co-Editor

At the back of P.J. Clarke’s on Third Avenue and 55th Street, there’s a small round table, separate from the rest and surrounded by wooden walls slathered in ancient layers of thick, black paint. Like a coffin standing upright, the tiny space is occasionally claustrophobic. And an expanding gut filled with the chef’s bubbling macaroni and cheese only heightens that creeping sensation that the walls are closing in. Luckily, there’s a slim opening in this chamber, connecting the lone table to the busy dining room. Positioned at the perfect angle to keep diners hidden while allowing them to spy on the hustle nearby, it’s a favorite seat among famous guests looking to gorge unnoticed. Though non-celebs are afforded a seat, too, while that unrivalled aroma of beer and burgers, and those fragments of late-night conversation swim through the crevasse toward the table. As stragglers wait to be seated under crooked frames and antique lamps, as bowtied bartenders take orders where Johnny Mercer once readily wrote hit songs and Frank Sinatra drunkenly forgot them, there is a looking glass on it all, just out of view.


Emily Helck
Contributing Writer

Twice a year, I can see scads of naked women from my office window. Well, they aren’t completely naked. Most of them have stripped down to their underwear. The veterans wear Spanx and tank tops under their clothes. My office is on 18th Street, in Chelsea, and across the street from Barney’s Co-Op, where in September and February there is a massive sample sale. From my perch on the second floor, the women look like ants swarming at a picnic. At a first glance, they seem to scurry aimlessly, but upon closer study, a logic to their movement will emerge.

I’ve been among them a few times. There are explicit “No Trying On” rules, which everyone flouts. Women disrobe in front of skinny mirrors, while five or six others wait impatiently. The cold florescent light makes everyone look awful. There’s always one woman wearing a thong, and probably regretting it. The racks are organized by size, and are full of orange brocade coats, shiny gem-toned blouses, and tattered Dolce and Gabbana gowns. Some people say you can’t call yourself a real New Yorker until you’ve bought something you regret at the sale.


Dom Blanc
Contributing Writer

The steps rise to the door of a Brooklyn brownstone. The door at the top is shut, but the gate at the bottom is open, welcoming. Before a key is placed into the lock, before entering the warmth of the corridor leading to the third floor, leading to a place calling home, the stoop answers the call, offers a sliver of comfort that is not so confined. The stoop is perhaps not as comfortable as the couch in front of the television, but it is still warm from the day’s sun. It leans against the building, stretches itself toward the street, connects today and tonight. It has seen countless people passing, and offers companionship after the day is dome—there is still more to see. There is a place to rest and observe. A place to drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and say “hello!” to neighbors; a place to avoid the inside of upstairs and the finality of a shutter-quick day passed.


Peter Jang
Contributing Writer

The Emerald Inn is a pub, a gin mill, a thing of the past. It is an island amid a tempest of loud heels and temporal brands. It is burnished wood, stained glass, and glinting Heidelberg mugs. It is Charlie, who is all smiles and Irish cheer and Mike, who has worked both sides of the bar for fifty years, drafting frothy pints and shooting countless doubles. It is a beer and a shot to start the weekend, a front row seat at the Yanks game, a booth with friends and strangers. It is that rare moment when all that is important is in the now, where there is no past or future. It is a thousand precious details bound in one place at one time and is so singular that it can only be called one thing: the Emerald Inn.


Anne Wimmer
Contributing Writer

I’m going to hell. So says the street corner preacher, spit-covered microphone in hand, leashed to a portable speaker, pacing the sidewalk while the lights and colors of Times Square dance in the background. The end is nigh, death is near, and the world needs to repent to whatever flavor of the week savior this particular person’s representing. I’m not sure why the fate of humanity is tasked with this guy, who inevitably looks like the Unabomber. No one pays attention to his rants, except for a few Midwestern tourists taking pictures of a “real New York crazy person.” But as passersby pound the cold, hard pavement, avoiding eye contact and rushing to their destinations, it’s nice to know that somebody still cares.


Naima Coster
Contributing Writer

You can see the undersides of both bridges. The Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge are twin structures, one blue and one brown, stretching across the water toward Manhattan. The bridges form a triangle around the park; a field of grass and you are the center. You can hear the rumble of traffic and trains, the quiet lapping of water where the grass ends and slopes down to the East River. On the few yards of rocky shore, children hunt for stones to hurl across the water, in the direction of Manhattan.

On the Fourth of July, there are fireworks. You can watch the fireworks burst over the water and beyond the silhouettes of both bridges. You can run over the endless grass, under the open sky. There is only one tree in the whole field, but its branches so expansive, you can play under it for hours, climbing and shouting, convinced you have found a forest that is thriving in secret at the edge of Brooklyn.