New York City

I Have Gone Insane: Brutal First Impressions

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

Me next to my sign in Central Park.

On the subway ride to Central Park, I clutched my sign and bit my lip. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this,” I said to my husband. My heartbeat was pounding in my ears.

I made my way through Central Park, searching for the perfect spot: one with lots of foot traffic but still quiet, and I set up my sign and hat. I took a deep breath and prayed that no one would beat me up. Immediately people stopped and stared. Then the cameras came out. I started panicking that I would soon be ridiculed on the internet like the typewriting hipster.

A few months ago, I had the idea of starting a business called Brutal First Impressions. Most of us surround ourselves with people who wouldn’t want to hurt our feelings. While this can be good for our egos, it can also hinder our growth, and we can become comfortable with habits that might be off-putting for others. I figured that for a small price, I could be the one to tell it like it is: put on some deodorant, that shirt is terrible, you talk too much when you’re nervous…that kind of thing. But first I wanted to gain some experience. Why not try it out in Central Park!

The first guys to try it out.

The first guys to try it out.

I set the price at $5. At first, the people walking by would take pictures and laugh, saying, “that’s the best idea ever!” but they weren’t paying me for it. As soon as I lowered it to $1, people started lining up.

I asked each participant for their name, a handshake and a smile. Then I would ask them to take a few steps back and walk towards me, and then turn around slowly. At that point I would critique everything that I saw.

Here is some general advice I had to give almost everyone:

  • Make eye contact when you shake hands
  • Show your teeth when you smile
  • Keep your chin up when you walk

I couldn’t believe how many people needed that advice, and as soon as I said it and they tried it out, they seemed like new people.

2012-10-31 22.28.02It wasn’t easy being mean. A crowd would typically form around whomever I was critiquing and I could tell that they wanted to see tears. At one point I told a guy he had dandruff, and his friends practically cheered. I told another guy that he needed to pluck his uni-brow. When the crowd ohhed and ahhed at this, I asked to see a show of hands for who thought he should pluck his eyebrows. Almost everyone raised their hands. When I wasn’t mean, people would start heckling me saying, “Come on, this is supposed to be brutal.”

2012-10-31 22.23.04The whole time I was doing this I kept expecting someone to ask me my qualifications. I had my response all figured out: I’m classically trained in art and literature so I have a discerning eye and a critical mind. I learned how to evaluate presentation styles from my years as a teacher and teacher trainer. But the only person who asked for my qualifications immediately answered for me: “You’re a woman. Women know how to criticize.”

I was surprised that people were really interested in my story. At one point I had four guys sitting on the bench next to me asking my life story (ladies, this is a great way to pick up men if you’re interested). Everyone wanted to know how I got the idea and how much money I was making. So here’s the grand total…for 3 hours of sitting in the park, meeting interesting people, I made $43. I definitely want to try this again. I think I could make a lot more if I get better at working the crowd.

Originally, I wanted to do this because I thought it could help people present themselves better. At the end of the day I realized that I helped in a different way. I got people to laugh and not take themselves so seriously. I got people taking pictures and saying “only in New York.” I figured someone’s going to go back home and talk about the crazy lady they saw in Central Park. As an aspiring writer, I feel great that I gave someone a good story.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (the final part)

We are now down to the last mile! If you haven’t read my earlier posts, I am recounting the walk my husband and I took a few weeks ago. From the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip, 13.5 miles, over 200 blocks, we really got to see the city I call home.

In the last post, we had just finished dinner in Little Italy. It took us a little while to find our bearings after dinner. Once you walk south of Houston St., the easy to navigate grid of Manhattan all but disappears and you’re left wondering the twisted, diagonal streets of downtown. If you’re interested in the urban planning of Manhattan, I recommend this interesting article. The grid of Manhattan was originally described as the “republican predilection for control and balance … [and] distrust of nature.”

After the hectic crowded streets of Little Italy and Chinatown, the city bursts into a collection of impressive, European-looking municipal buildings and lit-up sky scrapers. I always expect to see Batman flying around this area.

During the daytime, Wall Street is bustling with pedestrians and cars, but at night it is nearly empty. This is a really great place to visit (during the day) if you have kids. The South St. Seaport has fun museums and a boardwalk. You can take a boat ride around the city, or just walk the cobblestone streets.

No trip to the Wall Street area is complete with out a visit to the famous bull. It’s always fun to watch people pose in front of the bull and wait for them to come up with the brilliant idea of posing next to the giant bull testicles in the back of the sculpture. This happens almost every time. People are very predictable.

It’s also worth it to visit this area at night to see the construction lights of the new World Trade Center.

By this point in our walk, Broadway, the avenue we had been walking down for the entire day, disappeared and we were just hoping that we were still going in the right direction. I hate to admit how many times I’ve walked this area thinking I was going east when really I was going north. It’s super confusing, I tell you!

Finally finally finally, we reached the Staten Island ferry; the southern tip! We quickly posed for a picture and then ran in to use the bathroom and got some more water.

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We made it!

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The Statue of Liberty is hiding somewhere out in that darkness.

We were tired and exhausted at this point, but we couldn’t go all this way with out stopping by the water and enjoying a few moments of peace. It was now 10 pm, but the docks were busy with men who were fishing. They all seemed to know each other and looked at us like we were the odd ones. Perhaps we were the odd ones. After all, who walks the length of Manhattan in one day?

Would I do it again? Absolutely.  I had been to almost every neighborhood we walked through before but it was so nice to see how they all fit together in the massive quilt of diversity that is New York City. Nowhere else can you see so many different styles of architecture and so many different kinds of people. Nowhere else can you eat so many different kinds of food and hear so many different accents and languages. Walking down Manhattan felt like a tour of the world.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 5)

Sorry for the delay in this series – I was in L.A. and Santa Fe for the last few days. I’ll tell you all about that soon, but, first things first, I need to finish telling you all about our journey from the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip.  In the last post we were enjoying some tasty dogs in the flatiron district.

For the next ten blocks, we kind of stumbled around in a tired, over-stuffed stupor. At first I thought I was imagining all the bells and singing, and then I realized that we were in Union Sq. just in time for the Hare Krishna show. For my first few years in New York, Union Sq. was definitely my favorite part of the city. My sister went to NYU and her dorm was right around the corner. When I’d come to visit her, I’d tried to spend as much time in the square, watching all the skateboarding punks, the old men playing dominos, the street performers, and the people selling jewelry and apple pie. Even now, with a Whole Foods, DSW and three Starbucks, I still think it’s the perfect spot to spend the afternoon people-watching and getting a true sense of the diversity that makes NYC so unique.

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The Hare Krishnas in Union Sq.

Just when I thought I couldn’t walk any farther, we crossed the 200 block marker, and I felt a sudden rush of energy. “Let’s walk to New Jersey!” I joked.

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200 blocks!

A good representation of Little Italy

We made it to Little Italy just in time for dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures because I was too focused on finding a restaurant and it was pretty dark, so this is someone else’s picture of the garlic scented streets.

Here’s my advice for eating in Little Italy: be careful of the specials. We chose a restaurant where the entrees were all between $15-$20. I ordered one of the pasta specials and as the waitress was leaving to put in our order she casually said, “oh yeah, because it’s a special it’s going to cost a few extra dollars. That’s ok, right?”

“Sure,” I said, and then fortunately added, “Wait, how much exactly?”

“$69.”

At which point I nearly choked on my water, and immediately ordered something else. Pasta needs to be covered in gold if I’m going to pay that much for it. That really rounded out my experience of feeling like a tourist.

Ok, we’re so close to the end – only a mile and half to go.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 4)

In the middle of our 8 hour walk of Manhattan (which you can read about from beginning here), we started to pass through the region that most non-New Yorkers think of as “New York.” Oh Times Square, I have such a love-hate relationship with you. While I can sing every line of Rent and Les Miserables, and I love knowing that so much culture and creativity is jam packed into about an acre of land, the never ending hoards of tourists who don’t know how to walk in a straight line brings out the most spiteful, bitter New Yorker in me. When I walk through Times Sq. I have Al Pacino’s voice repeating in my head, “hey, I’m walkin’ here!” And while I’m ranting, why does anyone go to the M&M store? Seriously? You can get M&Ms at any grocery store.

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Why do I always forget that Letterman is based in NY?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how many t.v. shows are filmed in NYC. From Good Morning America to Saturday Night Live, from The Daily Show with John Stewart to The View,  you can see the live filming of almost any show here.

On this particular day there was a campaign to raise money for breast cancer research. What better way to raise money than sending out a bunch of naked models clad only in paint and feathers, asking for donations? I never saw the Elmos and Mickey Mouses so neglected.

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At this point we were super tired and hungry but I refused to eat in Times Sq.

We made it out of Times Sq. without tripping over any kids, or getting sold comedy tickets – phew. Next up, the Flatiron district. Mad Sq Eats, a collection of food booths that represent some of the tastiest restaurants and food trucks in the city, sets up across from Madison Sq. park during the spring and fall. There’s nothing like having a beer in the middle of busy intersection and watching the sun set on an icon of New York City architecture, the triangular Flatiron building. I got to try Asiadog for the first time, but if you ever get to this spot during the right time of the year, I recommend Roberta’s, or Red Hook Lobster. Warning: it’s super crowded and it sometimes takes 30-40 minutes to get your food.

OK, we’re getting so close to the end, but there’s still Union Sq., Little Italy, Chinatown, Wall St... on man, I’m getting tired just thinking of it. Stay tuned!

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 3)

Three weekends ago, Mike and I had the brilliant idea of walking from the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip. In the last post, we had just finished walking 100 hundred blocks, or 4.5 miles. We could do this walk every weekend going down a different avenue (avenues run north and south, streets run east and west) and the experience would be totally different. On this particular walk we went down Broadway for the whole trip.

Walking down from 107th st to the 70s, we noticed all the bodegas. Until I met my husband, a Hoosier, I didn’t realize that bodega wasn’t a universal concept. Bodegas are just small grocery stores where you can get everything from plantains to sorbet. They’re on practically every corner of this city. I always love the fruit and flower stands in the front. It’s a nice pop of color on the otherwise gray sidewalks.

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A typical bodega

Finally, we reached the 70s. This is where some of my favorite architecture of NYC stands. When you visit this area, you really get a sense of the wealth and history of old Manhattan. I’ve never been to Paris, but this is what I imagine it to look like (especially The Astonia building).

Next up, we reached Lincoln Center. On this particular day, there was an arts and craft fair and a farmer’s market. We’ve been to Lincoln Center for lots of different shows, but it was nice to see it during the daytime.

As we approached Columbus Circle, we noticed the drastic change in the buildings. Chrome and glass started to appear. Everything got much higher and squarer. No more frilly French architectural details 😦

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The buildings are like the people – so many styles all crammed together.

Alrighty, we’re about to enter midtown. 8 miles down, 5 more to go. Stay tuned!

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about the beginning of our walk from the northern tip of Manhattan to the most southern tip. Walking south of the George Washington bridge, we stumbled on some churches with unique architecture. At one point, we crossed a Jehovah’s Witness church that was just getting out, and we walked through a crowd of people who were more dressed up than I’ve ever seen in my life (lace gloves, hats, canes as accessories, parasols, you name it). We felt pretty shabby.

In another twenty blocks, we arrived on the hallow blocks of Columbia University. It’s very easy to think you haven’t aged at all since college until you surround yourself with college students. Mike and I felt ancient. It didn’t help that we were sore from walking for over an hour.

We almost reached the hundred block mark without realizing it, but we were distracted by a party for the Pope. One of the great things about NYC is that there is always a party go on.

100 blocks down, nearly 200 to go 🙂 In the next installment, I’ll show you some of my favorite buildings!

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Professor Von Awesome’s Ghost Hunting Safari

the whole cast

The cast of Ghost Hunting Safari

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of seeing The Serious Theatre Collective’s presentation of Professor Von Awesome’s Ghost Hunting Safari. This show was billed as “an evening of music, puppetry, burlesque and necromancy,” and it delivered.

In the back of a quintessential Lower East Side bar, the mood is spooky with a live band playing haunting music and the room lit with candles. The menu offers unique, custom libations such as “The Asphyxiatin’ Vixen” and “The skirt Chaser.” I recommend “The Possessed Exorcist.”

As soon as Professor Von Awesome, played by Mike Drummey, graces the stage you know you’re in for a fun, campy night. Mike is over the top hilarious and holds the show well as he explains how he stole the book of the dead, and how he will use it to bring back his beloved.

von awesome and gimp

Mike Drummey as Professor Von Awesome, and Jacob Callie Moore as Boobury, the somewhat gay henchman.

The only thing that overshadowed the humor was the raw talent. The team of writers (Lizz Leiser, Becca Worthington, Ricardo Delgado, Mike Drummey, Ari Kessler, Nick Masercola, and Jacob Callie Moore) understand humor and plot construction, and put together a tight production. I was blown away by Norman and Ursula Stuby’s creative props, especially the Indonesian puppet show and the ghost x-ray machine. Sam Durant, who plays Renaldo, can make the audience laugh with just a lift of his eyebrow. Annalisa Derr gives a sensual and hilarious strip tease as a burlesque dancer possessed by an old prude. This is a wonderful theater collective and I suggest you check them out now while tickets are just $15.

This show is like Monty Python and Young Frankenstein meets Halloween. If you like camp, music, and all things gholish, you’ll love it. The original score takes cues from hip hop, cabaret, and blues. The song that stood out for me was the Brian McNight-style explanation of ghosts. I was also blown away by Kirsten Rani Almeida’s range in the song “When Have I Ever Let You Astray?”

gypsy

Kirsten Rani Almeida as the stubborn gypsy.

Make sure to arrive early, as the noise from the bar can be distracting if you sit towards the back of the room. Remember that this is experimental theater so don’t go expecting Broadway-style production.

I love to support creative people who are working hard for their dreams, and I know you do too! They only have four more shows in NYC so click here for tickets, or if you’re going to be in Philadelphia towards the end of October, you can click here for details.

(Photographs by Morgan Shortell)

 

Mini Memoir Monday: The New Girl

This week’s mini-memoir was written by my friend, Tricia!

***

When I was 12 years old, I moved from my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. My mom packed up everything in our tiny pink stucco house, and we moved in with my grandparents in Albuquerque while my mom got her masters in education.

I’d been to Albuquerque many times to visit my grandparents, aunts, and cousins. To me, Albuquerque was a vacation—a place where we went to the balloon fiesta, ate sopapillas (delicious deep-fried pillows of dough) with honey for lunch, and visited my favorite Native American jewelry store. It was not a place where I lived, where I went to school.

I knew no one.

I remember my first day at school like a movie. I wore my favorite sneakers and my favorite long grey skirt that tied in the front. I also had to wear a collared shirt because Hoover had a dress code. I walked up to the large, concrete front of the building where all the students congregated. Huge backpacks hung off of tiny shoulders, weighed down by large keychain collections—the kind that said things like, “I’m awesome and you’re a bitch” with a shiny yellow smiley face.

A girl walking by with a friend stopped and walked toward me.

“Hey,” the girl said.

“Hi!” I said back. I was so happy that someone had talked to me.

“Are you new here?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I just moved here.”

“So you don’t know anyone?” she asked. “You don’t have any friends?”

“No,” I said, kind of embarrassed but still trying to smile.

I was sure that this was the moment that she’d invite me to hang out with her and her friend. My mind flashed with a picture of the three of us strolling down the hallway of the school, linking arms. Other students would look at us with jealousy. I couldn’t believe my good luck.  

“Oh,” she said. “That sucks.”

She turned around and walked away, rejoining with the girl she’d left behind and walking to the entrance at the other side of the school.

I watched as my first chance at a friend walked away, and students began swirling around me, pushing through the crowd to get to their lockers.

I couldn’t believe someone could be so mean, even if it was middle school.

My first few months were hard, but eventually things got a lot easier. It took a while, but I made two of my best friends to this day at Hoover Middle School.

When I left Albuquerque at 22 and moved to New York City, I thought back to how hard it was to adjust to somewhere completely new. I thought that the reason moving had been so hard in 7th grade was because, hello, it’s seventh grade, and I was a shy, nervous, extremely self-conscious 12-year-old. But moving to New York sometimes made me feel like I was right back at Hoover, standing outside the school while everyone else pushed past me, surrounded by their hoards of long-standing friends. Now, two years later, I have many friends that I adore, a great apartment, and an awesome job. I wouldn’t have achieved any of it without the initial struggle.

Moving is never easy. If you’ve just moved somewhere, don’t stress and understand that friends will come. If you know someone who just moved, invite them out for coffee or a drink! You will brighten their day, and in turn yours as well.

Mini Memoir Monday: Three Rivers Make a Why

This week’s mini memoir was written by my friend, Matthais Sundberg. Enjoy!

matthaisI had been fired from a job I loved.

I got to watch cartoons for a living, worked with a man who built Wolverine claws and tommy guns and actually shot me in the head once. We made videos for the Internet and my company recently decided that my department was redundant and could be liquidated. So long, cartoons. So long, special effects guys. So long, free Coke in the fridge every day.

During my time at the company, I had been working for a man whom I look to as a mentor. He taught me the valuable lesson of ‘Why.’ He asked why, for every piece I was editing and assembling, I was putting our red robot on a blue background. I said, “I don’t know. I just did.”

He said, “Find out why and tell me. Don’t change it yet, but until you can give me a reason, maybe we should think of a new background for him.” From that moment on, I never did anything without having a defendable reason for doing it.

I learned later that the company I used to work for was to be sold to Google’s YouTube. I could have been a Googler, but I was redundant.

I worked for a while performing odd jobs. I work in the entertainment industry, so that means, mostly, being a production assistant on movies and television. It paid piss-poor, but it was something to pay the bills.

I ended up getting a job as a freelance editor for one of the first-ever video podcasts.  It was a job that made my editing better, because it taught me to look for the important things before making a project. Details are important.

I learned these lessons because the person I was working for did not know why he was doing things or what his details meant. He always gave the impression that he knew, but there was never a clear reason behind anything. Subsequently, it was not a successful company.

I worked at that job for a couple years, slowly becoming more integral and more important and less likely to be “redundant.” I found the more that I could inject myself into the anatomy of the company (and I use the term only in its most technical sense), he couldn’t fire me.

That also meant, I had nowhere else to go. I was stuck with this plan of action, even when he mysteriously ran out of money and couldn’t pay the five people that worked for him.

I slogged on. I worked on projects for the company that became increasingly fraught with politics. He was trying to create a deal with PBS, and even had a short-lived web-show with a very famous children’s TV creator. Meanwhile, I started to budget out and develop a refresh of the podcast brand. My version was more dynamic and fun and youth oriented, not talking-head-in-a-studio. Walter Cronkite was dead; his format should be, too.

One of the people that worked on the parenting show (with the very famous children’s TV creator or VFCTC) asked how I was doing. I said fine, that my wife and I were thinking about leaving New York City. It is a wonderful, terrible place, meant for the very young or the very rich; we were getting to be neither. I said that we were weighing escape options. Our list consisted of Portland, ME; Pittsburgh, PA; San Francisco, CA; Chicago, IL and a couple of other places that we had idly thought we might like to move to.

She perked up. “Pittsburgh?”

“Yeah, my wife’s family is from around there.”

“You want a job?”

“What?”

It turns out that the VFCTC had created another program and it needed an editor for some live-action segments in the middle. The only hitch was that the editor needed to be in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

My wife and I talked it over and I went to Pittsburgh to see if they might give me the job. The VFCTC was working in partnership with another company, so she wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh. I met with the partner company head, who informed me that he only wanted to look at my resume “because I’m curious.” He offered me the job right there. “Can you be here on December 5th?” It was the end of a snowy October. Without hesitating or consulting anyone, I said the only thing I could.

“Absolutely.”

A month later, my wife and I tearfully left our friends in New York, moved into a house we hadn’t seen, in a city we were unfamiliar with for a job I only knew about two months earlier. I quit from the podcast program in a grand way, still being owed roughly $1500, even telling the new host she should run away (which she did in the end; she runs a start-up with her husband now).

My mentor would have asked me why? Why do all of those things?

I’m an editor on the award-winning children’s program, “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and we’re about to finish our debut season. My wife and I have a dog and a yard and a house. We have a garden.

Though we miss our friends terribly, we are happy.