On: Target

29 June, 2010

My office is on a prime block in Chelsea, just around the corner from the City’s first – and now positively humbled – Whole Foods. As such, the sidewalks below are often dotted with eager young folks, each sporting a colorful t-shirt bearing the name of some universally sympathetic charity (saving animals, feeding children, restoring the planet, and the like), preying on those city dwellers who clearly embrace some notion of Bleeding-Heart-ism, as evident by their willingness to pay for overpriced organic groceries. Thus, my daily jaunts in and out of the office – on my way in, lunch break, Diet Coke break, on my way home – are marked by a game of Sidewalk Chicken, where not only must I avoid the chatty, smiling good-doers-for-an-hourly-wage-+commission, but I also must dodge my fellow pedestrians, engaged in the same game.

Last week, I noticed that among the young men and women making a difference with their name-tags and clipboards, there stood a positively adorable gentleman, with longish, wavy brown hair, a chiclet white smile, something of an Abercrombie-model physique, and – well – he was simply very attractive.

Must deny impulse to take a second glance, or – horrors! – to smile, lest I be sucked in to his charitable scheme.

As I rode the elevator up to my office a few minutes later, I contemplated the blog I would write about my clear conflict: how to resist this most wonderful specimen for the sake and preservation of my practically non-existant wallet? (I should clarify that my policies on charity are:  a) I will give to the charities I choose to, on my own time, and b) I will give to those charities once I no longer have to work 2 jobs to make ends meet.)  As I became wrapped up in the variety of work-related and non-work related tasks on my plate, the would-be blog entry fell to the wayside.

Over the next few days, however, in my comings and goings, I kept an eye out not just for any colorful t-shirt and clipboard, but for the one attached to the hottie volunteer.  Of course, I had every intention on ignoring him the way I ignore all of them, but just seeing him, I thought, might make my day a little brighter.

Last night, I left my office in the usual rush in order to make it to class at 6:00pm (hooray for a cross-town bus!  boo for it’s reliability!)  As I walked, I kept my sunglasses (otherwise known as Invisibility Specs) firmly planted on my face, looked burdened by my many heavy bags (not really an act), and ramped up my general hustle to prove that I was short on time.  The sidewalk along Seventh Avenue was surprisingly scarce for an early evening, and so I saw him from down the block – this time, wearing a navy blue t-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, I’m sure a leather and/or hemp bracelet and/or necklace, with a leucite clipboard wedged into his left fist.  A broad smile spread across his face; he crouched down a bit and began a funny little dance (which would have looked plumb ridiculous had anyone else done it; but when he did, it seemed charming and cute).  Surely, there was someone walking behind me who had engaged him.  I kept my abstractly-bemused-decidedly-non-curmudgeon smile in place and waited for him to address Phantom Pedestrian Behind Me.

But he didn’t.  His smile – an orthodontist’s wet dream – was for me.

I think I blushed.

He turned to follow my path and jovially asked “Hey, do you have a minute for …?”

I had to cut him off. “I’m sorry, I’m running late for class.”  I smiled widely, but kept walking, to prove my point.

He reached his arm out, towards my shoulder, then pulled me closer to him…

…to keep me from walking into the woman in a motorized wheelchair who was exiting Whole Foods.

Whoops.

“What class?” he asked, as he lifted his hand, going in for a low-five.

I smiled to overcome being so flustered at the near-wheelchair-toppling and held out my palm.  “Typography,” I replied.

He brought his hand down.  Low-five, indeed.

“A graphic designer!” he exclaimed, as he squeezed my hand.

“Trying to be.”  Another attempt to widen my smile.

My turn to squeeze his hand.  “Next time,” I said.

“Next time,” he repeated, as we let go.  “You promise?”

“I promise.”

I glanced over my shoulder; saw my path was free from motorized wheelchairs and the like, and threw one more smile over my shoulder towards him as I skipped down the block.  I held the smile, in case he could somehow see, in case he called me back, as I breezed down to 23rd Street.  My cheeks felt hot, but I blamed the summer sun.

…   …   …   …   …   …

Now, of course, I am still faced with a dilemma:  I have promised to engage, rather than politely (or impolitely) ignore him the next time I pass.   But I still have no interest in donating money to whatever cause he may be hawking that day. What to do?  What if one of his Volunteer Colleagues approaches me before he has a chance?  Can I still wear my No-Charity-On-The-Street scowl for his peers?

I won’t avoid him, won’t blow him off next time.   I feel, if nothing else, I owe him for helping me avoid tripping over the old and infirm woman in the wheelchair.  I’ll give him a minute of my time, but not a dime of my money.   Which is more valuable to him in the end?, I pose to you.  Even if I just get a few minutes alone with that smile, I’d consider it charity for me.

Besides, I could get a hell of a movie deal out of it if he asks for a date.

*

On:: my ass

20 June, 2010

Who: Me, all by my lonesome, walking to the G train
What: A most heinous and immature violation
Where: Williamsburg, Brooklyn; center of the overly-ironic-but-oh-wait,-do-you-know-what-ironic-even-means-? universe.
When: 12:00am midnight; an early summer night.
Why:.. …?

Having spent the afternoon with my friends wasting our livers away at the Brooklyn Brewery; and my evening/night at a nearby Williamsburg bar chatting with some shy, but lovely (and decidedly not gay) guys, I headed home, in pursuit of the G train that would eventually provide an uninterrupted voyage back to the safety of my comfortable and colorful neighborhood of Carroll Gardens.

I find Williamsburg’s streets to be unnecessarily complicated; I made a minor wrong turn and needed to retrace my steps. The night was bright and filled with hipsters; I concentrated on my destination and the map on my iphone.  I could still taste the last beer I had strained to finish – a smoked ale that left my mouth feeling like a barbecue, and could feel it’s effects coursing through my head.  I had arrived at the Brewery – feeling fresh and charming in new haircut and new t-shirt top that I had made – at 3pm, which meant the last 8 hours were filled with malt and hops and general insanity.   My freshness had faded long ago, overcome by beer, the heat and an overwhelming hunger (did I really choose to forgo eating pizza because of it’s caloric value?) and I was eager to get home, fill my belly, and drift off to sleep.

Metropolitan Avenue, relatively empty, was finally bringing me towards the subway, and I was finishing up a text to my friend in LA that my day in Williamsburg had been long but not unenjoyable, when all of a sudden I heard a whoop! coming up from behind me, then the pounding of sneakers on pavement, and before I could figure out that meant I should get out of the way —

WHAM!

Two hands slapped me, my poor little tush, and the two men (boys? teens?) they belonged to ran off in front of me, into the night with another whoop.

“HEY!” was all I could think of to yell at the moment.   The guys had disappeared down the nearest sidestreet.  There had been no one else around to witness it.  My ass stung, and I felt the phantom hands still there.  After a moment’s freeze, I quickened my pace, but couldn’t find the perps down the street.  My phone was shaking in my hand.   And I kept asking myself, over and over, What the hell just happened?

What does one do in a situation like that?   I am, I suppose, lucky enough that this was the first time I’ve been physically harassed, but I can now start to understand how it feels to be a victim, to have wrong done unto you for no other reason other than you’re there.  It hurts.

My derriere smarted the entire way home, a tender and unpleasant reminder of the heinous assault.  I was angry, cranky, no longer drunk in the least but lightheaded with confusion and hunger, despite my loss of appetite.  I was reminded why I’ve often felt like I dislike people as a general rule.  Part of me wanted to engage the people on the subway and shout Do you know what just happened to me?  Why didn’t you stop it?! while another part of me wanted to simply turn invisible.

A week and a half has gone by, and I don’t think that the incident has really left any huge scars, emotionally-speaking.  But neither have I recovered fully, and I wonder if we, as women, ever can.  Or if we ever should.

Another reason to stay away from Williamsburg.

*

It’s no secret that a large part of my delight with my neighborhood is the dominance of locally owned shops and stores.  The nearest Starbucks is a lengthy 1/2 mile away, which, in this urban landscape, is unheard of.  There isn’t even a chain supermarket within a 10 block radius, and there only chain restaurant in the ‘hood – the abominable Pita Grill – thankfully shut its doors last year, and a charming new bar and restaurant (which are in no short supply in fair Carroll Gardens) arose in its place.

There are a few shops and boutiques that line the main avenues of my beloved neighborhood and surrounding territories, all of which carry the most amazingly cute/sophisticated/beautiful/well-made/trendy/stylish clothing/shoes/housewares/stationery/accessories – and all of which I cannot afford.  It’s the tragedy that afflicts folks like me who are struggling to pay our rent, because living in the place we love is of utmost importance to our precious happiness (having lived in places that I did not love, this imperative cannot be underestimated).  So I traipse around (and impress my neighbors) in my Daffys/Loehmanns/TJ Maxx attire and try to fool everyone, while drooling over the overpriced goods for sale in the ‘hood.

Yet, I would be the first to bemoan, like most who have chosen to live in this idyllic corner of Brooklyn, the closing of any such shop, as the character of our piece of the world would be significantly diminished.

One of the industries hit hard by the Big Box Store and Online Takeover is that of the small, independent bookstore.  Between Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, there are at least four such stores, each serving a slightly different part of the population with what and how they stock their shelves.  I linger in these bookshops, building lists in my head of the volumes that I want to devour, and taking in the smell of paper – sometimes fresh and clean, sometimes distinct with well-worn histories.  I find titles I never knew existed, and am reminded of all of the tomes I’d meant to read at one point or another.  I smile when I see a copy of a book I liked, glad that someone else has the chance to enjoy the experience.

Last night, I began another new class at the School of Visual Arts, not an inexpensive endeavor, but one that I consider entirely worthwhile.  Just like in my college days, the first class brought a thick syllabus and a list of required reading.  And, as in college, I’ve embarked on the quest to find the best deal available to buy these books that will guide me on my potential new career path.

But now, I am torn–do I concede to Amazon.com’s low prices (as the magical $25 minimum for free shipping has blissfully been reached), or do I shell out more money from my eternally tight checkbook in order to buy the books from one of my local bookstores?  The savings seem minimal:  I devised an approach that by purchasing two out of the three books from the local store, I spend only $10 more than if I bought them all online.  Surely, supporting neighborhood stores is $10 well-spent.  But I was raised in discount stores and membership clubs, where “retail” was a four-letter word and “clearance” was a religious experience.

How, then, to reconcile this dissonance that is making my head hurt?!  I know what I want to do; I know what I think I will do–but the sting of paying full-price (curse the very concept!) is still acutely felt.  I wonder if I’m a bad person because it seems I’m willing to pay an extra $10 to buy 2 out of 3 books locally, but the “additional” $18.31 of buying all 3 books locally seems somewhat outrageous.

The Cheapskate Urbanite’s Dilemma.  Recall my delight at discovering a 20 oz. Diet Coke for $1.25 – in Chelsea, no less!  If I get so worked up over saving 50¢, which decision will let me sleep better at night:  saving the neighborhood, or saving $18.31?

*

Summer Reading

8 June, 2010

What literary trends are filling the minds of young women in New York?   As recently seen clutched in the hands of City denizens, there’s more to the library than “Twilight” and Dragon Tattoos…

  • On the subway this past weekend, a woman walked on reading a paperback of “Homo Thugs.”  At last!  I’ve finally found someone who’s just starting the series… I’ve seen two people reading “Homo Thugs II” in the past few months, and was disappointed that I had never seen the original.  My fellow subway rider was seemingly engrossed in the rather thick book, so I could only sneak surreptitious glances at the awkward cover image.
    • As I wrote the above bit, I decided to Google “Homo Thugs II” to see if there was a subtitle that I was missing, something along the lines of “Homo Thugs II: Thugz in Tha Citay” or, of course, “Homo Thugs II: Electric Boogaloo.”  While I found no such subtitle, I did come across a mind-bending definition of the phrase, courtesy of UrbanDictionary:  “Homo Thug:  someone who is both gay and a thug.”  Wonderful.  Just in case you didn’t know what “homo” meant.  This is why the masses should not be responsible for research material.
      • In performing my Google search, a gotta-love-’em Google “smart” banner ad popped up along side my search results:

        My prayers have been answered.

        My prayers have been answered.

      • I’m forced to wonder if stipulating “Gay Homo” implies something of a double-negative, and thus would those just be straight thugs (although I know they’re not)… or is it more of an exponential concept, wherein a Gay Homo is doubly Gay, as compared to either just “gay” or just “homo.”  Perhaps this ad is for people who have not read the Urban Dictionary definition, and do not know that homo (in this context, of course) actually ‘means’ gay.
        • Sorry to disappoint, but no, I did not click on the link, for fear of what would come up while I’m at work.  But please… feel free.  Godspeed, Gay Homo Thugs.
  • While walking back to my office today after my customary Diet Coke Break (found a crappy bodega selling it at $1.25 for a 20 oz. bottle in Chelsea!  Hallelujah!), I passed a woman clutching a book, and tried to glimpse the title.  I saw the first part of the title “Why Men Love…” but couldn’t make out the rest.  I quickened my pace to try to figure out what pearls of wisdom this woman was learning about the gender from Mars.  While the first three words of the title were written in a black serif font (very Times New Roman), the following word was obscured by her hand, but I could see was done in what looked like a fairly standard (read = ugly) handwriting font, in bright red.  I made out a “t” in the center of the word, and what looked like an “h.”  The word ended in an “s.”  Yes!  I had figured it out.  Of course.

    They have mommy-issues?

    What I really wanted to know was:  was this avid reader trying to figure out why men didn’t love her (assuming she is not a bitch), or learning how to be a bitch, so that she can find a man to love her?   Was she a Doormat or a Dreamgirl?

    • Needless to remind you, dear readers, that I have a whole host of issues with this book, based on, for starters, the ridiculous cover design and subtitle.  And that’s before I get started on the content.  (… of which I do not know, but I don’t have to stretch my imagination too far to figure out.)  Seems to me like this should just be combined into one Mega-Volume of Bullshit and Idiocy entitled: “He’s Just Not That Into You, You Crazy Bitch.”  Or perhaps it’d be more accurate as “He’s Just Not That Into You Because You’re Not A Bitch.”
    • I wonder if there’s an equivalent volume out there for men, called “Why Some Crazy Ladies Love Jackasses… and why that still doesn’t make it OK for you to act like one.”
    • I think the same advice goes for either gender and any number of orientations and preferences:  You attract more flies with honey than vinegar.  And while we can argue about the desirability of attracting flies, at least you’ve attracted something.  Yes, I know that Nice Guys (and Gals) tend to Finish Last.  But that, to me, seems hardly like an excuse to act like a Jerk in hopes of Finishing First.
      • Revision:  I take that back.  Yes, go act like a Jerk.  The Jerks and “Bitches” can partner up right away, thus making it infinitely easier for us Nice Gals and Guys to find one another, resting in the safety that the Vinegar-types are off the market.
    • Back to the book:  I do hope the young woman who was reading it finds what she’s looking for.  I just highly doubt that she’ll find it in such a tome.  And if that doesn’t work out…

I suppose it just makes a stronger case for becoming a Homo Thug.

*

On A New York Memory

2 June, 2010

Wherein I recall a vintage New York soundscape.

Growing up in Central Jersey in the 80s, we lived in the plush suburban periphery of New York City. As the product of two very New York parents (themselves the result of Brooklyn, Queens, Brooklyn and Brooklyn parentage), New York’s cultural legacy runs rich in my blood, but as a girl, my cognitive awareness of the city was fueled by what I saw on TV – the Nightly News more than Night Court.  In my mind, the Center of the Universe was a blend of the stories from the news of drugs, rape, murder, homelessness and filth and Adventures in Babysitting, which only mirrored what I believed the entire city to be.

My family maintained a fairly regular tradition of a monthly dinner in Chinatown, and these journeys were eagerly anticipated – not only for the promise of scallion pancakes and cold noodles with sesame sauce, but for the excitement of spending a few precious (and delicious) hours in the city.

I’ve always had a good memory, and have held on to so many moments from those New York Outings.  I remember the magic of the Lincoln Tunnel, anxiously awaiting the tiled indicator between “New Jersey” and “New York,” and the moment when my parents would, technically, be in New York and my sister and I in the backseat would still be in New Jersey.  I remember the looks on my parents’ faces as we circled Mott Street searching for a parking space – my father would always turn down the radio to help him concentrate.  I remember bouncing up and down on my father’s shoulders as we walked towards the restaurant where our friends would be waiting for us, downtown feeling gritty as could be but often bathed in a warm, orange sunset.  I remember shying away from the headless roasted chickens hanging in steamy windows, the intoxicating smell of a hundred restaurants drowning in brown garlic sauce, and the oil that would cling to my fingers as I greedily devoured scallion pancake after scallion pancake.  (My appetite was as healthy as my memory.)

I have two distinct sound memories from these nights; two, that is, not including the laughter of our party’s conversation and banter.  One is awfully specific – we passed an honest-to-goodness New York rocker (or so I thought), walking down the street with a boom-box balanced on his shoulder.  He wore a denim jacket that was no doubt stone and/or acid washed, and I believe he was wearing sunglasses, despite the late hour and darkness.  This moment may have been my very first validation of coolness as (present-day Me is not so proud to admit this, but I remember how excited 6-year-old Me was) his boom-box was playing the first and only cassette tape that my sister and I owned/shared: Starship’s “Knee Deep in the Hoopla” (not that we knew it was called that), and it was blasting the second ‘best’ song on the album: “Sara.”  I tripped over my words as I interrupted any and all conversations our group was having at that moment to brag that we had that song too!  And to think – we heard it in New York City.

But now – on to what inspired this blog post, on to what it’s really about.  There was one other sound that I associated with growing up and Koch’s New York City; music that was as far as you could get from Blondie or The Ramones, or, gratefully, Starship.

It was the slow, soulful wail of a saxophone, moaning long into the New York City night.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not completely sure if this memory truly mine, or if, too, belongs to the movies and television shows of my youth.  Was not every low-angle shot of a desolate and dirty midtown street accompanied by the wail of a lonesome sax?  Surely.  But somewhere in the recesses of my long and twisted recollection lies the soundtrack to those evenings in New York City as a child, and that soundtrack consists of a low cacophony of languages underscoring the whoosh of cars and far away sirens.  The prominent sound, though, was that of the saxophone, which felt to me like a cry out to the lost souls I imagined roamed the city, uniting the disparate and displaced, the wayward and the worried, those who were still awake it hear it’s howl.

All of this was easily delegated to the corners of my mind, stowed away in my memory with the smell of my grandparent’s old house and the feel of bunnysleepers against my young skin.

Until this afternoon.

This afternoon, I left my office in search of liquid salvation, that sweet ambrosia called Diet Coke.  I walked outside and squinted against the bright June sun and breathed in the warm, heavy air.  Then I heard it – as out of place as a 25 year old memory, yet just as desperate: the whine of a solo saxophone, played by a man who seemed just retro as the tune he played.  In a white tank top tucked into red shorts, a long ponytail pulled at the base of head and a pair of cheap sunglasses wrapped around his head, this man played notes from that long-ago score as few passersby dropped spare change into a neon green case propped up on the sidewalk.

Instantly, I was forced to reconcile present-day awareness – a bustling Chelsea block, the middle of my lackluster workday – with this sound that came straight out of the 80s, out of the place in my brain that lives next to “We Built This City,” and out of nights filled with General Tso’s chicken and Häagen-Dazs.  I circled the block, taking in the fresh if thick air, and the saxophone’s notes followed me, linking my tedious day with an ancient memory of carefree nights.  It was so  glaringly incongruous, yet no one else seemed moved by this, the sound that was as vintage as the high-waisted jeans that have unfortunately come back in fashion.

Once back in my office, through the half-assed windows that let in the winter draft, the sax wafted in, although muted, and filled my afternoon with a strange nostalgia, for a far-away part of my childhood, resurrected by the sound of a New York that I never really knew.