Sunday, January 16, 2011

City Porch


People who live anywhere but New York City take outdoor space for granted.  In L.A., the only other city I've lived in my adult life, even the shit-ass lowliest apartments often had balconies (and sometimes swimming pools). The last time I lived there, for the same price as my grungy New York apartment, we had a whole house with a yard, a hammock, a hot tub, and a resident pet bunny. We barbecued -- even in February. 

One of the nicer aspects of the Upper West Side apartment I rented in 2004 turned out to be its fire escape.
 Sure, the paint job was decrepit and probably lead, the satellite dish towered over us, and there was only a 3x6 foot area available for humans.  But on warm spring and summer days we would put out a fleece blanket and read, play cards, or even nap.
In spring and fall, the fifth-floor faux-terrace afforded us great views from above of the blocks' trees in their white-flower stage and then their colorful foliage stage. And when snow fell, we could measure its depth on the metal railings. 
(The rest of the year we tried not to notice the underwear and shoes that had somehow gotten tangled in the branches.) 
Even Jasper, the cat, appreciated the fire escape, because there were always pigeons and doves coming by to roost, providing his version of a nature TV channel. One spring, Sydney called me to the window to see a flock of bright green parrots had landed in a tree across the way. (Sadly, my camera didn't capture them). 

So one of the most appealing aspects of the new Harlem apartment we just moved to was the fact it had a real, full-fledged balcony, up on the eighth floor in a fairly low-rise (at least for now) neighborhood.  No more worrying that if I fell asleep I might fall through the opening. When the weather turns warm, we could get real outdoor furniture. maybe a grill. 

But already, every day we see seagulls and hawks flying around at eye level, and it struck us -- why not get a bird feeder? Surely there are species who don't want to eat the frozen McDonald's bun detritus, who will immediately seek out a real bird-driven restaurant with such a nice view. So we went online, and discovered there are a lot of bird feeders for sale. None of them seems particularly geared toward a city apartment balcony, so we just had to wing it. 
Well, we're three days into the experiment, and you might see this and say, wow, the birds have already eaten nearly half a tube's worth. But that's not actually the case. What we learned the hard way is, it's pretty windy up on the 8th floor. And the feeder has been making slow gyroscopic turns, spreading its seed below kind of the way the sand trucks spread on snowy streets. Every now and then we peer over the edge to see if birds have landed on rooftops below to gobble up the spillage. But none of them has figured out where it's coming from, so we're just left with this weird prop jutting out from our railing, slowly winnowing its contents to an unheeding city. 

I guess the moral is, you can't always force the city to give you a country feeling. Still, the views have been nice. 

4 comments:

Sal Nunziato said...

I love this, and I'll tell you why. For seven years straight, sometimes 4 times a year, I had stayed in the same apartment in New Orleans. It was at the back end of the FQ, on the corner of St.Philip and Royal. It had a private balcony no more than 12 feet above the street.

I would sit there for hours at a time, day and night, reading, listening to the iPod, sipping something, and watching so much goping on below, while friends would be wondering why I wasn't doing something New Orleansian, like...anything else.

That space was often the best part of my trip. I saw it all and no one saw me.

Enjoy it.

Voice from Your Past said...

You can get a tray that will attach to the bottom of that feeder which may help your "seed-spraying" issues.

MJ said...

i just put up a feeder downtown, but no birds have found it yet. i'm thinking of putting some fruit up on the railing to help out or maybe a humming bird feeder. those are a little brigher and more colorful. Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I have neighbours below who do not like the spills from my feeder..
I hang a small child's plastic umbrella upside down under the bird feeder.
Spillage is caught to be recycled to the feeder.