Tag Archives: Brooklyn

“Tell me what’s a black life worth / A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts”

You might think I’m only going to write about race, and many of you might roll your eyes.  You’re right–not about rolling your eyes, but about the first part.

Some of you probably might even delete me because you’ve had it with me by this point, since everything I have been posting over the last couple weeks has been related to race and the current state of things.

However, I haven’t posted any blatantly anti-Trump things. I am normally pro-choice–the women’s rights stance, yes, but also the you-being-entitled-to-vote-for-whomever-you-want-stance, and I like to not get into politics on social media.

That being said, I can’t say that I particularly trust anybody who doesn’t believe that Trump is racist and out of his mind. He is harmful, hateful, and volatile. He is a 100-year-step-back for our country. Support expressed for him and his views causes me to narrow my eyes in the same way that a subtly racist or sexist comment one might make, however much in passing, makes me wary. I might appear to have ignored this comment in the moment, but for the rest of the time I know the person who has made said comment, I will always remember it. I will always wonder what this person thinks about me.

In another time (in another political climate) I would apologize for this rant, or for being so black-and-white, so quick to cut someone off because of what he or she believes. In fact, an urge compels me to do so right now. I’m notorious for saying sorry for things that aren’t my fault, so much so that people often make fun of me.

I apologize especially when I’m at work–if I reach for your money too quickly; if you accidentally drop your quarter when I’m reaching for your money; if I feel I’ve left you waiting too long at the counter. A couple of days ago, I had a hand in screwing up a customer’s order at work–the wrong food got put in the oven and the customer had to wait ten more minutes for the right food to come out–and I gave him a piece of pie to make up for it. I felt terrible, apologizing throughout the entire interaction, even when he was on his way out and didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. After all, I didn’t need to apologize that much; homeboy got a free piece of blueberry gooseberry crumble pie as a result, and he gladly accepted it. Even still, I felt guilty.

I’ve heard the rhetoric about apologizing: women are conditioned to do it so often for things they hardly need to apologize for. For things that many men won’t even think about apologizing for. I think this is true to an extent. But I also think that it depends on the person.

For me personally, “sorry” is often a social lubricant. When I say it, I want you to know that I am empathizing with you, or at least trying. I want you to know that I genuinely care about not making you feel awkward or uncomfortable. I know plenty of males who have the same problem with apology vomit–they “sorry” everywhere, all over the living room rug, and suddenly you’re knee deep in it and you’re vaguely annoyed because it’s irritating. But bad habits die hard. I should know.

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“Here’s your ticket, pack your bags / Time for jumpin’ overboard”

Until last night, I wasn’t sure about how my next post would go, or when it would be. I was too busy living life at full speed to sit down and write. This summer has been a relatively formulaic one as summers go: Three days out of the week I’ve been watching documentaries and discussing them, all the while frequenting Brooklyn Roasting Company like it’s my job — even though I already have a job, which is already that of an employee at a(n equally hip?) coffee shop that also sells pie. I’ve been at said job for the other four remaining days of the week, educating inquisitive Gowanites about the differences between a crumble and a streusel, lemon chess and chocolate chess. (Simplification: textured oats versus uniform crumbs; lemon bar versus chocolate pudding.) So basically I’ve been working seven days a week.

I know it’s been forever. I’ve felt slightly ashamed of not keeping whomever uses the few spare minutes of their days to catch themselves up on my less-than-riveting life — although I do have a published book review on The Rumpus, a dearth of knowledge about topics ranging from intersex people to J. T. Leroy to OxyContin addiction in West Virginia, and a new found appreciation for peach pie to show for it.

I’ve seen a lot of things, too. A man with a shopping cart full of water bottles who laid his (?) 2 year-old baby down on the seat of an F-train to make room for her in the bottom part of the shopping cart. The cart was chained to one of the subway poles by some questionable wire, but loosely; once he removed the baby from the train seat and set her inside the bottom of the shopping cart the entire thing would rattle around this way and that, causing me to flinch every time the front end of the cart bumped against the pole. With each tap I would peer into the cart along with the rest of the riders to see if the baby was hurt. It was such a bizarre and disturbing sight that I didn’t even wonder how the man had gotten the shopping cart up and down the subway stairs until long after he’d trudged the shopping cart, full of miscellaneous items and a baby, out of the car and onto the platform at the East Broadway station.

I also saw a white man accuse a black female Walgreen’s worker of not trusting white people, call her a “lying bitch,” and then storm out because his EBT wasn’t working. Or something like that.

Finally, I saw the sweat of a tall man on the subway slide down his temple, slip from his collarbone down to his right arm, and then drip onto the shoulder of a poor unsuspecting short girl standing below him (pretty much literally) on a crowded L-train.

Yet none of these things inspired me to write. Not alone, anyway. And then — suddenly — a fire was lit beneath me. Literally.

Well, kind of. In reality, the fire was burning high above my head, roughly six flights, in fact, around a quarter to 1 a.m.

Last night/this morning, just about as I was settling in to my bed to partake in a rerun of Murder, She Wrote (maybe I should lie and say I was watching The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?) on Netflix, the buzzer in my apartment rang.

It caught my attention, but not enough to get out of bed or do anything about it. Drunk people ring the buzzer pretty often. Non-drunk friends of my roommates ring the doorbell, too. Maybe it was an expected guest? Even though pretty much everyone else in my apartment had seemingly gone to bed for the evening, my reasoning was enough to forge through the opening credits of my show.

Then I heard galloping down the stairs. Yes. Galloping. And I actually thought, “Wow — either Star gained some weight, or the neighbor upstairs replaced his pet dog with a pet horse.”

Suddenly the galloping coming from the hallway turned into a frantic banging on our front door, or maybe it was only on the door downstairs. I’m not sure. I heard one of my roommates shout “What the FUCK–!?” and I realized that this was not a drunken person who was just lost banging on our door. This was something bad.

It was enough to break my attention from Angela Lansbury. I sprung out of bed, flicking on my lights, heart racing as I heard my roommates from downstairs yell to my roommate and myself (whose rooms are upstairs), “Guys! Get up!”

I flung open my door to see the three of them dash by in a blur of pajama-ed, barefoot chaos. “Zee, run! Come on!”

I didn’t know what was going on, so I ran out the door with them. But instead of following them out the front door, I went right, out the back door and into the courtyard.

Why?

Well, in those three seconds during which I discovered I needed to flee my apartment, I had deduced that the banging was coming from an angry gun-wielding intruder who had broken in through the door in the basement that led into the hallway, and was chasing my roommates up the stairs (which would explain why they were running so fast). Thinking it best that we split up, because that’s what they do in movies, I ran out the back door, where I thought there would be more places to hide, rather than the front.

I know.

This became problematic within the three seconds after I’d decided to go the different route, all stemming from the fact that once I went out in the courtyard I was stuck there. You need a key to get back into my building from the back, and a key to exit from the gate that fences the backyard of my building in. Had a gunman been chasing me, and had I not scurried behind something soon enough, I would have been toast. The fence was too high to climb.

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Becoming a “real” literary person…or a really literary person? Whatever.

Since this is my first “real” post in awhile (the last had been sitting nearly finished in my drafts folder for ions), I feel like recapping.

In the last few months since I’ve blogged, I’ve:

-Gotten friendly with the J-train.

-Gotten very, very mad at the L-train.

(…and the rest of MTA for that matter)

-Considerably reduced my coffee intake (somewhat. I went TWO whole days without a cup. It only went that long, but knowing I was capable and still friendly to customers was inspiring).

-“Created” a new favorite summer drink (lemon syrup, seltzer, crimson berry iced tea, NO CAFFEINE).

drink

-Watched The Jinx. Realized I would love to make a documentary sometime. Especially one involving murder.

-Realized how fantastic the show “A Different World” is.

-Visited Asheville, NC for the first time and saw my beautiful friends from UNC.

-Gotten a tattoo (!).

-Started an internship.

-Finished an internship.

I will pause at this last one on the list. And since the one year anniversary of my college graduation is coming up, I think some reference to the hurdle that was undergrad deserves to be made.

So let’s say you’re about to graduate from college. You’ve finished your finals–dotted your I’s, crossed your t’s–and from now until the day of graduation, it’s smooth sailing. You’ve bought your gown, you’ve secured your graduation tickets, you’ve gotten drunk at senior bar golf, and at a random bar in the daytime, and on a Tuesday, and on a Tuesday at a random bar in the daytime, just because you finally see freedom on the other side. Stress? What’s that! Troubles? Who are they? Troubles are for silly underclassmen who haven’t worked nearly as hard as you did for those four years of undergrad! They can suffer. You’ve paid your dues.

But then, once you finish your impromptu musical number down the street (see: 500 Days of Summer), you learn that you have one more task: Suddenly, whomever was originally picked to deliver the commencement speech (Oprah, Bill Nye, Kim Kardashian, Left Shark from Katy Perry’s Super Bowl performance) has fallen ill, or tripped over a rake and poked their eye out on the handlebar of a rusty bicycle that  was inconveniently missing its rubber grip…so now you’ve been selected to deliver the Big Speech. Suddenly, you have one more hurdle to hop over before you can be done. You want to cry, or at least a bowl full of Reese’s peanut butter chocolate chip cookies.

This happened to me earlier last week, on a much lower scale, in a much less terrifying way, because I like to exaggerate. I am far past college graduation (almost a year to the day, even), and neither Oprah nor Bill Nye nor Kim Kardashian nor Left Shark have poked their eyes out on random bicycle pieces.

Last Tuesday morning, when I was heading to Gowanus for the last day of my internship at Ugly Duckling, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time at my internship; in fact, I really appreciated everyone I met and had a great time. It was only a few blocks away from my pie shop, which meant I didn’t have to learn about a new part of Brooklyn, or a new transportation system. Or buy coffee on my way in.

My reason for happiness was at how crazy this semester has been. The extra class through which I got the internship in the first place was a lot more work than anticipated, and my four day work weekend shifts were physically exhausting. When I realized shortly after I started the internship that it would mean literally not having a day completely to myself–internship Mon/Tues, class Tues/Wed/Thurs, work Thurs/Fri/Sat/Sun, rinse and repeat–I grew perpetually anxious. When I could finally go to sleep I would toss and turn, thinking about all the things I needed to get done the following day. Then I thought about all the things I needed to get done the following week, and the following month, then in the year, and I found myself resetting my sleep timer over and over again. Four hours later I would have to be up for some reason or another.

I also tend to stretch myself a bit thinner than I probably should. I came up with the idea, at the last moment, to interview three of the writers who were going to be reading at an annual UDP reading at the Brooklyn Public Library. It was a hassle, but my “purpose” of having this internship for class was to have one project that we start and complete in the duration of 4-6 weeks. For weeks I stressed about what this project would be, hoping I would just be given one. But after a while, I realized that I would need to take the initiative. After all, the presse had been great enough to welcome me in randomly, without really applying to be an intern. They treated me like all the other interns, even put my name on their site. They even offered me coffee, for Pete’s sake! The least I could do was find a specific project to do for them.

So I did. I assumed the task of reading three books by UDP authors, coordinating interviews, and coming up with questions to ask them about their work and then post online. Reading three books is nothing, unless it also means reading poetry, an idea that has made me feel a bit uneasy since undergrad. I’ve never been a poet. In undergrad, I struggled with Sir Walter Ralegh and Keats and that woman who always wrote about her dead children (I think her name was Katherine something?)

I really appreciate Gwendolyn and Langston and Edgar and e.e. and even Emily, but modern poetry does not seem as “easy” to understand as those poems were (although Emily Dickinson was no walk in roses, either…). So many things that I had peeked at from UDP, albeit beautifully printed and beautiful sounding, had left me scratching my head. I didn’t feel like I “got” it.

How was I going to read these books of modern poetry, come up with coherent thoughts on said books of poetry, come up with coherent questions regarding said books of poetry, build Rome, save those kids from that burning building, and keep up with school and work in the span of two weeks? It seemed like an impossible feat, one meant to be narrated in the Rocky & Bullwinkle narrator voice.

‘Twasn’t.

But it got done.

I ended up loving all three of the works, and I ended up learning what modern poetry can actually be. In all my prosaic bliss, I assumed poetry had to be in verse. I unlearned this from each of the writers I interviewed, although I never blatantly mentioned this to any of them. The things they were doing with the form were new and refreshing, in ways that apply not just for poetry but for writing in general. They also sometimes ended up drifting into nonfiction, too–something I personally appreciated.
My interviews came out pretty darn well if I do say so myself–particularly the one that I did on the phone–and by the time I finished the last one for their Tumblr page, I was feeling pretty dang good. I could finally cross one more thing off my list, and I would get to meet all of the writers in person the day of the event, and everything was blue skies and sunshine and rainbows. On to the next project, so to speak.

I walked into my internship gleeful and grinning on Tuesday, the morning of the event, feeling pounds lighter. I thought I’d crossed my t’s and dotted my i’s. Then one of the editors casually asked me if I would be willing to introduce one of the authors at the reading later on that evening, and boom, I felt my face fall, down through the old creaky floorboards of the third floor of the Old American Can Factory. It fell so far and so fast that it probably had time to skitter through heavy incoming heavy traffic and eat some chicken tikka masala in the Whole Foods across the street before I finally answered him.

Sorry, what?

I felt as though I’d just been asked to step on a Brooklyn-bound L-train naked. My first instinct was heck no! In fact, every single bone in my body screamed it as I flashed that smile I reserve for people who ask me for money on the street, and for regulars who ask if we have any more whole salted caramel apple whole pies left at the end of a busy day at the pie shop. It’s my I-really-don’t-want-to-say-no, but, well…”no” smile.

The UDP editor who asked the question, probably one of top ten genuinely nicest people I’ve met since moving to the city (and I’ve met a ton), could sense that I was a bit uneasy. “…Or not,” he said, going into damage control mode. “We can go over it, maybe, and discuss what you’re going to say? We’re just in a bit of a spot. You totally don’t have to if you’re not comfortable. I know it’s a stretch and it’s very last minute.”

I kept smiling that aforementioned smile, then said, “Uh, okay! Yeah! I’ll…think…” and sat down to finish what I had thought, ten minutes earlier, would be my last internship task.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I didn’t already have one of those weeks where I would be stressing about stretching far beyond my comfort zone: The following day I had an interview with a documentary series that I’ve been hoping to intern for this summer, and the day after that was literary agent night. In three different instances, one day after another, I would have to play the role of someone who was a charming public speaker, someone who was competent and intelligent and perfect for your documentary internship, someone whose book you would fully get behind. I would have to play the role of someone who was wonderfully well-grounded in the literary field, someone with a cultivated literary presence. I would have to play the role of someone who was both witty and well-spoken.

I would have to play the role of someone who…I actually would like to be? Hey, wait a minute!

After I came to the realization that I would have to get used to these sorts of things if I wanted to be a writer, a “real” person, literary style, I grew a set of literary cojones and decided to write the sh*t out of that introduction speech.

“One of the most important things about an introduction for an author is honesty,” a UDP editor told me. “So be honest.”

So I was. I gave myself up to the audience in the very beginning of my introduction by telling them that I didn’t know what half of the words the writer had used meant in our interview. To be fair, the guy works for Google and has been a taxonomer and lexicographer (i.e., a person who compiles dictionaries).

Anyways, this advice on behalf of one of the editors was precisely the creative inspiration I needed to write a short speech that I thought was pretty funny and felt confident enough reading to an audience…up until a few minutes before. As I waited for the first poet to finish reading, my heart pounding fast, I felt that same feeling I felt during my English literature graduation ceremony last year, the one where I pictured myself walking up a flight of stairs to the stage and falling and hitting my head on something, over and over again, in one of those terrible meme loops that never shows the end result, just those seven seconds of disaster. When it was finally my turn and I stood up and climbed the stairs (didn’t fall), suddenly I didn’t feel like I was in my body.

No, I felt like I was Kevin Arnold in The Wonder Years.” And not “felt like” as in one of those “wow, this is just like one of those coming-of-age epiphanies Kevin Arnold had, when he realizes he has to finally grow up.” But I actually felt like I was Kevin Arnold because for some reason I heard Grown-Up Kevin Arnold’s voice in my head. Not Zakiya Harris’ grown up voice. Kevin Arnold’s.

It was very bizarre.

Then I was off, telling my little jokes, not sure if anyone was laughing, for going for it anyways. Apparently, the audience found funny in a good way; the writer did, too. It ended up going really well, even though I couldn’t make out any of the faces in the audience and even though I almost knocked the podium off the stage mid-speech (yet ANOTHER THING in this post that involves “falling”). The night only got better than there. I was given some goodbye gifts, hugs were exchanged, and promises of future interviews with more UDP authors were made. My literary cojones swelled with pride. With that night, I truly realized that I’m not just a student anymore–I have to be so many other proactive things as well. I make my own success I suppose.

I ended up having to reuse this mentality a couple of nights later at agent night, a much more daunting feat than everything else I’d faced that week. There were roughly ten students to every one agent. It was dog eat dog. When a classmate and I both gave each other somewhat quizzical looks after discussing how we both wanted to speak to the same agent, he jokingly said, “So this is what being a contestant on ‘The Bachelor’ must feel like.”

Bottom line is, I survived, and made some new contacts, too.

Oh, and I ended up getting that documentary internship. SCORE.

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Ginger Candy

Last week I made a new friend at the Bushwick branch of the Brooklyn Public Library.

It was a Tuesday afternoon, and it was my first time visiting the library in my own neighborhood. (I’m surprised it took so long–it’s rather convenient, and there are outlets at every single table, and it’s very neat, and relatively quiet. And a seven minute walk away as opposed to a nearly hour-long subway ride to the main Brooklyn Library. But I digress.)

I don’t know this woman’s name or where she lives, but I do know she is quite old, very little, and walks with a cane. She is Asian, but I am not sure where she is from. When I first met her she was bundled from head to foot and her glistening, smooth cheeks were touched with cold.

“Aren’t you hot?” she asked as she plopped down in the seat diagonal from mine, catching me off guard before I understood. I was still wearing my fuzzy brown head wrap–a wrap that I have convinced myself, due to the icy wind that has essentially worn me down to the core for the past few weeks, also doubles as a fashionable headband. Very rarely do I take it off. I think I have even started basing my outfits around this one fuzzy brown head wrap, consciously or not. The winter struggle is real.

I shook my head no, that I wasn’t too hot, then smiled, trying to get back into what I was working on. She giggled and began to unwrap herself, muttering brightly to no one in particular.

Feeling I hadn’t said enough in my reply, I added: “Just wait–you come in feeling very hot, but after sitting for a while, it gets very cold.” I gestured “hot” and “cold” with my hands, partly because I was trying to keep my voice low, and partly because I wasn’t sure if she understood what I meant.

A few seconds later she popped open one of the library’s loaner laptops that a lanky high school kid (if he was maybe fifteen years-old, am I old enough to call him a kid?) with a hi-top fade had carried over for her. She’d thanked him profusely, bowing her head as if he’d carried her across the library.

The high-schooler had simply grinned at her bashfully. It was nothing at all, I’m six feet tall, he seemed to say, but she’d kept thanking him even after he had already returned to wherever he had been when this little woman had voiced her concern about transporting her laptop to a table.

After this first interaction about being cold, part of me wondered if she would be a chatty person. And I will admit that I was somewhat frustrated–in the nicest way possible–that I wouldn’t be able to do what I needed to do because she would keep speaking to me.

I was partly right about the chatty part, but the frustration part quickly faded away. The woman spoke to me a few times. Once was about the Love Chapel Hill sticker on my laptop (she liked the way the word LOVE looked, but I don’t know if she knew of the place in particular). Another time, she spoke to me for assistance.

“Can you help me?” she half-whispered, half-sang. In rough English she explained she was trying to figure out how long it would take her to walk to a particular address in Brooklyn. She turned her loaner laptop around to face me.

Google Maps filled the screen, but that was all about all I could decipher. The rest was freckled with what I was 90% sure were Korean characters. I hesitated, then told her I would look the addresses up in my own computer.

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To Fall in Love With Anyone, Don’t Do This

Wednesday, January 7, 2014. 6:25 am. I’m warm and snug in my bed, in a stage of blissful, content sleep. The elated feeling that I have can only be compared with one that might come from, say, walking down the summer streets of Paris while holding the hands of a giant human-sized chunk of brie and an equally giant chunk of fresh French bread. That’s how into my sleep I am. I don’t mind that cheese and bread have hands, because I am happy and warm and fuzzy.

And then my alarm goes off and suddenly I’m wondering why I am awake. And not in Paris hanging out with brie and baguette.

As badly as I want to swipe snooze and roll over, I know that if I don’t leave my apartment within the next 35 minutes to head to Park Slope I will most likely be late to work. 6:25 am is not normally early for me, but I’d spent most of the previous night researching sex toys and sexy lingerie for my most recent freelance assignment. It beat writing about funeral homes, which was the last assignment I’d chosen.

For a split second, in those first few minutes of cajoling myself to get out of bed, I questioned why I had opted to quit one stable job that allowed me to sleep until eight in order to work two or three jobs at a time that sometimes started as early as 7:30 am and ended as late as 9 pm. It was the first time of 2015 I would wonder this, and probably not the last. But the knowledge that I would be done by two and have the rest of the day to myself was enough to get me moving.

Once I managed to pull some clothes on, toss a Carolina Alumni hat on top of my head, and break out into a morning that was still too dark for my liking, I was finally feeling like something of an awake human being. By the time I got on the L, I was maybe 50% of a functioning person. I felt like I was a whopping 75% of a functioning person by the time I got off to transfer for the G–enough, apparently, for me to whip out Kitty Genovese The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America1.

I hopped on the G. It took a couple of stops but I found a seat, next to a slouched over man who didn’t smell too great. So when the majority of passengers got off at a major stop (Hoyt-Shermalackalacka, or Hoyt-Schermerhorn, as more adept Brooklynites pronounce it), I low-key switched seats, opting for a window seat by a corner. I still had half of my ride left, and about 15% until I felt like I was a complete functioning person.

My butt had barely murmured “hello” to the bright orange plastic seat I’d decided to plant myself in before the young man taking a seat in the subway seat perpendicular to mine started talking to me.

I couldn’t hear him at first–or was I ignoring him? it was too early for conversation–so I continued reading.

He muttered something else. Cursing myself for not wearing headphones and seeming like I actually couldn’t hear anything, I peered up at him behind the binding of my library book, allowing the brim of my baseball cap to cover as much of my face as it possibly could. The guy stared at me anyway.

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Sixty-thousand four hundred and eighty minutes. How do you measure six weeks?

A lot can happen in six weeks.

In fact, I am so overwhelmed by how much I should probably write on these last six weeks that with each word I type I take pause (cough, stall) to reflect. When I come up with nothing, I take a hearty bite of my rice and beans that sits on the left side of this computer. Then I type a few letters, pause, reflect, rinse, repeat.

So how do I start? Well, I suppose I can begin by saying that I made red beans and rice from scratch a couple of nights ago. They are delicious.

All food aside, I will also say that the Changing of the Calendars Ceremony has officially occurred. It took me three days, but a 2015 calendar — an I Love Lucy themed one once again, of course — has finally replaced the old one.

I was somewhat alarmed at how gleeful I was as I unwrapped it from its thin plastic packaging. I mean, you’d think that by the time I owned the entire DVD series, read numerous biographies, and had at least four or five different Lucy calendars in my life, the buzz would wear off. But it didn’t. I was excited to put it on my wall, because It’s a huge contrast from my 2014 I Love Lucy calendar.

Last year, the scenes for each month had been in their classic black-and white-format. This year, the scenes are filled with playful bursts of color. Lucy as Marilyn Monroe, Lucy as Superman, Lucy as a showgirl in a top heavy headdress…every scene is depicted in bold colors, and tastefully at that. None of that washed out mumbo jumbo that the colorized episodes always seem to have.

Behind each scene of Lucy being ridiculous is a bright, vibrant pastel color that reminds me of one of Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe diptychs.

I’m hoping this pop artsy calendar is a sign that 2015 will be a refreshing change from last year. 2014 was fantastic–graduation, grad school acceptance, moving to Brooklyn–but I’m feeling like things will get even more exciting.

So far, in the first three days of this year, I have already reconnected with old friends over fun, crazy/sketchy karaoke in Koreatown. I’ve connected with new friends. I’ve learned to accept the G train, flaws and all. I’ve worked 22 hours at my new job. I’ve started Junot Diaz’s Drown. I discovered an awesome Panera in Brooklyn; in fact, I have only left Brooklyn once so far in the new year, something I feel strangely proud of. I also had the amusement (only amusing because I was in and out before it got so bad) of finally witnessing a line that didn’t just wrap through every single aisle of Trader Joe’s, but formed along the outside of the actual building. And all three of my faithful readers out there will recall how life-and-death Paneras in this area can be.

Big things are happening to me already in 2015, I tell you. Big things.

The last six weeks have been even more satisfying. I finally left a job that had been slowly eating my brain, bite by bite, bit by bit. One day, I woke up and realized I was killing myself for reasons that weren’t good enough. Okay, well, having money to eat/pay rent/go out was good reason. But I realized that I wasn’t happy with what I’d accomplished in the last five months. I felt like I hadn’t put nearly as much effort into my writing because by the time I got home all I wanted to do was unwind. I used work as my excuse for watching Netflix instead of writing.

This is probably the first time I will ever publicly admit this, but in many cases, writing doesn’t help me unwind. At least, the kind of writing that I feel like people would actually want to read doesn’t help me unwind. I wish it did, but it doesn’t. It was hard enough learning how to be okay with letting people read what I’ve written, and accepting criticism. But even after that, it’s really hard work trying to compel people, with words, to see and feel things the same bizarre way that I do. When it doesn’t work, it’s painfully frustrating. It’s painfully embarrassing, too.

So you can imagine my frustration when I looked around my bedroom, saw the things I had bought with money from my first job in NYC–my dresser, my wardrobe, my space heater, my phone case, books, my metro card…and felt like I’d sold out. For what? A little bit of heat?

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Midtown ‘n’ Motown

photo 1-1“MAROON 5 IS COMING.”

“IGGY IS COMING.”

“ARIANA IS COMING.”

I’m sitting smack dab in the middle of Times Square reading Double Indemnity by James M. Cain at one of those little red tables waiting for my mom to arrive. Every now and then, in the corner of my left eye, a flashy marquee of all of the artists who will be appearing at the VMAs the following night seizes and blinks. In the corner of my right eye is the rear chunk of a Walgreen’s that I will later go to fruitlessly in search of a bathroom.1

At a table in the dead center of my eyesight is a handsome man who’s totally doing the whole “backpack around Europe” thing in reverse. I can tell he’s European the moment he sits down because he has four or five huge bags with him, he’s alone and he looks upon the hordes of passerby with a casual smile. A few minutes after he sits down, though, he asks a tourist to take a picture of him with Times Square (and me awkwardly on the phone with my dad) behind him. Suddenly, his stoic cover is blown.

An elderly black man sits down at his table at one point. He turns his seat away from the European man, sticking to the ubiquitous stranger-danger barrier people always wear around the city. But within minutes, the black man can’t help but jovially ask the European man where he’s from and what he’s doing in the city. A couple minutes of friendly conversation ensues between the two, and then the black man picks up and ambles away with his own bags.

The whole time, I’m “reading,” partly absorbing the post-murder fallout that happens midway through Double Indemnity, partly being absorbed by the sea of languages that surround me.

There are fewer feelings peculiar than that of the one that comes when you’re reading a mystery novel in the heart of Times Square on a Saturday morning with no immediate sense of urgency.

Especially when that particular part of Manhattan was part of what made me fall in love with New York City in the first place. It’s what made me throw my NYC-inspired sweet 16 back in ’08, and it’s a place I always dragged my mom to when it came time for the holidays.

Before I  moved here, I was a bit worried that 1) I would not fall in love with Brooklyn the same way I fell in love with Manhattan, and 2) I would fall out of love with Manhattan.

The first one has certainly happened, but in a good way. Brooklyn is SO different from Manhattan, which is definitely stating the obvious. Granted, I still haven’t seen every part of Brooklyn yet and I’m not sure if I ever will, but all of the parts I’ve seen so far have been pretty great. I never realized how truly large and diverse Brooklyn is; how it’s harder to get from some parts of Brooklyn to other parts of Brooklyn than it is to get from some parts of Brooklyn to some places in Manhattan. I love how it feels like my neighborhood in Williamsburg is just that: a neighborhood. And it’s not rush-rush-rush all the time, because otherwise that would be terribly exhausting.

I haven’t fallen out of love with Manhattan, either, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s a love-hate relationship that I can only compare to drinking a large caramel frappuccino with whipped cream and caramel drizzle on top.

Actually, no. That’s not it. I was going to say that I thoroughly enjoy it while I’m consuming it and then afterwards I hate myself a little bit. I can’t honestly say that I thoroughly enjoy pushing my way through crowds of people who stop and take pictures every thirty seconds and run over poor unassuming pedestrians with their strollers and then look at them like they’re in the wrong for not darting out of the way.

Maybe it’s the opposite?

No. Maybe it’s like drinking a caramel frappuccino that wasn’t blended properly by the barista and every now and then, as you sip in the sweet and salty goodness, you get little chunks of ice that jolt you a bit and remind you that nothing can be blissfully perfect all the time.

Yeah, that’s the best comparison I could come up with (for now).

photo 2Anyway, Motown the Musical was wonderful, although there were a few things that gave me pause.

One was the fact that there was a little girl sitting behind me with her parents. I applauded them for exposing her not only to Broadway in general but “black” (and I use that term very broadly) music itself. Before the show started, the mom quizzed her on which songs she knew. I was impressed.

The only thing that was kind of frustrating was the fact that the mom thought it was a good idea to explain everything that was going on in the show—as it happened. So when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and Marvin Gaye was crooning “What’s Going On” in the background of what was probably the most politically charged part of the entire show, I had to deal with this going on in the row behind me:

Little girl: “What happened? Why is everyone shouting and angry?”

Mom: “Because a man’s life was taken, honey.”

Little girl: “But why was his life taken?

Mom: “They didn’t want him around anymore.”

Little girl: “Why not?”

(“Because people were ignorant and racist back then, and people are still ignorant and racist today, and people will probably always will be ignorant and racist. This is the world we live in and this is the world you are inheriting, so enjoy your innocence while you can.”)2

That’s what I wanted to say as the music grew into a crescendo and the looting, crying, terrified ensemble joined Marvin in “What’s Going On.”

Funnily enough, however, the mom did not explain the N-word when it was said. She might as well have while she was at it—get it all out in the open. It wouldn’t have been any more awkward than moving my head slightly left and seeing the little girl’s face right literally two centimeters away from mine.

Another weird thing that I hate to admit was weird but it kind of was at first, was the casting of Marvin Gaye himself. Now, I am totally open to colorblind casting, and actors and actresses should not be picked by the color of their skin. Usually.

But there’s something about Motown that makes me feel like the actors and actresses—at least, the main characters—should have been of some kind of black (I use that loosely) descent. Not really sure why, but it might have something to do with the fact that it’s a play that’s very much about the role of African-Americans in pop culture in the sixties through the eighties and the changing notions of “black pride.” It wasn’t anything like Wicked or Chicago where race isn’t really a big driving force of the plot,

(Note: I’d like to think that I would feel this way about any play whose driving force has anything to do with race/ethnicity.  Furthermore, it made me wonder if there were absolutely no qualified African-American males who wanted to play Marvin Gaye on Broadway. I mean, seriously? Something to look into.)

That being said, I bought into it relatively quickly—although Mom cried “Oh, I DON’T THINK SO” at the top of her lungs when he tried to do one of Marvin Gaye’s signature dance moves3, sending me shrinking into my seat in utter mortification. If anyone would know how someone trying to imitate Marvin Gaye should act, it’s my mom, since I’ve heard stories about her seeing him live with my dad back in the day. Apparently to my mom having the facial hair, the build, and being attractive isn’t convincing enough.

I would strongly suggest this show to any Motown fan, because it’s always fun seeing old classics performed in person and not just via YouTube. It even made me think of seeing tribute concerts—not the ones who claim to be The “Real” Temptations or The “Real” Supremes, but the ones who are fully aware that they are not really the group they are impersonating (even if one of the members lived next door to David Ruffin’s ex-wife’s niece’s fiance’s landlord’s cousin twice removed). It’s always fun seeing guy and girl groups with coordinated dance moves in nice suits and dresses singing pretty harmonies and all that jazz.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I was born in the wrong decade.


1This could have been a blog post itself, but when Walgreen’s didn’t have a bathroom I ended up at a McDonald’s, whose restrooms were public. I went in and saw there was a line. There were only three stalls, and one wasn’t working.

I’m waiting for a few seconds, and then the woman in front of me starts blabbering about how she’s going to sh*t herself because she’s been waiting so long. I smile politely, a bit taken aback, and then I humor her: “What’d you eat, so I know not to eat it too?”

I know. I’m hokey.

She’d only had strawberry shortcake and coffee, though, which demonstrated (and she pointed this out to me so you can’t call me out on old-people-hating) that she is in fact, getting old.

Meanwhile, the whole time I’m hoping that I don’t get in the stall behind her.

2Of course, I would never say such a thing to a child. I’m not that heartless. But seriously, she was all up in my personal space.
3The signature dance move is at about :57, if you were curious.

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