Monday, June 29, 2009

New York, New York

My dear friend Adrienne wrote a paper for her Communication and the New Economy class at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She emailed the paper to me with a little note: "... I hope you find it entertaining."

I had no idea that my life had been referenced in the subject matter: "New York, New York". I was more than entertained.

“Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it - New York, New York. These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray. Right through the very heart of it - New York, New York.” (Kander, 1977)

For as long as I can remember New York City has been the place where fashion, theatre and artistic hopefuls flock to become a part of the cultural class that nurtures the New York City economy. As an undergrad, I participated in many of my universities musical theatre productions and became friends with many of the musical theatre degree seekers at our university. Many of these individuals are still close friends of mine and one thing about them has yet to change. They all are living for the day that they can move to New York City and become members of the creative class. It is as if the only place you can truly become a successful member of this class is New York City. Their professors encourage them to perfect their skills so that they can compete with other hopefuls in the city. They graduate with a degree in dance, theatre or art and as soon as they can sell all of their personal possessions and book a flight, they are on their way to New York City. More often than not, these same individuals end up working two or more jobs, auditioning on their days off, subletting a room from a stranger in a Brooklyn apartment, far from the Manhattan lifestyle they came seeking. Is it not possible to “make it” anywhere else? I believe it is, but like Currid says, “The “walkability” of New York’s streets and neighborhoods makes run-ins possible between those offering artistic skill sets and those needing them” (Currid, 2007 p. 9).

A good friend of mine, Katie [last name erradicated], made the decision to move to New York City five years ago after realizing that she was turning 25 years old and still had not moved away from the small town our undergraduate university was settled in. She decided to get a second job as a server at a casino in Cherokee, NC and save the money for the move. A year later, she sold her car, rented a minivan and drove to New York City. She slept on a friend's couch for three months and landed a job at [company eradicated] as a temporary worker. The temporary job led to a full time position and she is now the executive assistant in their advertising sales department. Because of her job, she has had numerous run-ins that have led to career advancement and even a guest spot on [television show eradicated]. Katie has the kind of handwriting that people pay for when it comes to event invitations. In the case of [company founder's name eradicated], she was looking for someone to hand-write placecards for a company project. [Company founder's name eradicated] saw a memo Katie had written to a co-worker and liked it so much that she asked Katie to hand-write the said placecards. I have a hard time believing that this could have happened had she moved to Memphis or Nashville. Whether we agree with Currid (2007) or not, she is correct when she says that the odds of making connections that can advance you artistically or culturally are far better in New York City than other United States cities. Katie is one of the lucky ones. If you google her name, the first thing that comes up is an article about how her move to New York City has been the ideal situation. For Katie, New York City has lived up to the expectations Currid (2007) writes of. Unfortunately, other friends of mine have not been as fortunate.

In chapter 6 of the text, Currid (2007) discusses gatekeepers within the cultural class. Reading this chapter immediately made me think of the television show Project Runway. Every week, Fashion model Heidi Klum tells the designers how in the world of fashion, “one day you’re in and the next you’re out.” Currid (2007) refers to this when she says that tastemakers, certifiers and peer reviewers pick who the cultural and artistic “winners” are. Small groups of people determine your fate. Too many people, this does not exactly seem fair, but I know individuals who have dealt with this harsh reality, specifically when it comes to breaking into the Broadway scene. As an undergrad, I worked under Terrence Mann, who originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in Andrew Lord Webbers, Cats. While working with him, I would often hear him say, “It’s not the talent, it’s the type.” You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you do not look the way the “gatekeeper” wants you to look, you are out and someone else is in.

I do not think there will ever be a day when New York City is not a breeding ground for the cultural class. People will continue to flock there in hopes of becoming members of this class and the more people that come; the more money will be spent in the city and the wealthier the city will become. As desired as membership in the cultural class is, it can be difficult to get there and be successful. Many cultural class hopefuls end up as “starving artists”, working and waiting on that big break. I cannot help but wonder if these same people would be struggling the way they are if they had moved to a city like Nashville or Atlanta. These cities are known for their up and coming cultural class and the cost of living is far less than New York City. People make it to the highest ranks of the cultural class via these cities as well, but I believe people are in love with the idea of being able to say, “I made it in New York City”. Even I must admit that it has a nicer ring to it than, “I made it in Atlanta”.

I'll find my own words to close out my three-year chronicle of "Becoming a New Yorker", but I could not agree more with the final statement of Adrienne's essay.

Oh, and she got an A.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How Do You Deal With a Mooch in NYC?

... Hopefully, better than I am.

The Scenario
The Mooch moved to New York City from Arizona in the last week of December in 2008. The Mooch shares a full-size bed with my roommate, who has been a close friend of hers since high school. The Mooch does not allow my roommate's own dog sit on or sleep in my roommate's own bed in the apartment for which The Mooch does NOT share equal financial responsibility. The Mooch's best friend lives in Harlem, but - regarding location - our Hell's Kitchen apartment is more convenient for The Mooch. The Mooch still lives with us (note the date of this blog post).

The Error
The direct fault I carry in this situation was believing that the best friend of The Mooch - and mutual friend of ours - was completely out of line for initially wanting to charge The Mooch $600/month to share the mutual friend's $1200-studio in Harlem. I wrongfully thought that the mutual friend was trying to take advantage of The Mooch's unstable relocation situation and wanted to profit from having The Mooch stay with her. In all actuality, the mutual friend was fairly requesting upfront that The Mooch assume equal financial responsibility for the space they would have shared. She was well within her rights - as both a New Yorker and as a friend.

However, my roommate and I - initially and foolishly finding it harsh to charge The Mooch immediately upon her arrival in the city (even though millions of other NYC transplants begin paying outrageous amounts for a roof over their heads the moment they change their zip code) - offered to let The Mooch stay in our Midtown apartment under the following conditions:
1) She could stay with us as long as she needed.
2) She could sleep in my roommate's bed (with my roommate) regularly; she and her boyfriend could sleep on my couch whenever he wanted to stay over; she and her boyfriend could use my room whenever I was out of town as long as they washed the sheets before I returned.
3) She should start contributing financially as soon as she could.

Number 3 was where we went wrong. The Mooch moved in the last week of December in 2008. By May 2009, she had still been unable to secure full-time employment, yet refused to consider waitressing, retail or other gigs not befitting "a recent college graduate." By June 2009, she had been living with us rent-free for five months.

Things I Now Know Since The Mooch Moved in Six Months Ago
1) After one month - or even just two weeks of staying in our $2500-month, 600-square foot, two-bedroom apartment in Midtown - The Mooch was no longer a guest; she was living with us.
2) Once she began forwarding her mail and listing our address on West 51st Street as her own - The Mooch was no longer a guest; she was living with us.
3) Once I began overhearing her tell friends on the phone, "I'm back at my apartment now," - The Mooch was no longer a guest; she was living with us.
4) Once she began asking me and my roommate if her out-of-town friends could stay at our apartment during their NYC visit - The Mooch was no longer a guest; she was living with us.
5) Once The Mooch stopped allowing my roommate's own dog into my roommate's own bed - The Mooch was no longer a guest; she was living with us.
6) I should not have assumed that The Mooch would have a personal sense of self-accountability for the space she shared with us.
7) I should not have assumed that this said self-accountability would compel The Mooch to feel responsible for contributing to the rent within 1-2 months (maybe even three, tops).
8) I should have been clear on my expectations instead of assuming that The Mooch had the same sense of personal responsibility that I have (e.g. when I slept on an air mattress for three months in the living room of my best friend's $1000-South Bronx, two-bedroom apartment, I contributed $200/month toward their rent, bringing their equal portions to $400/month each, and I took it upon myself to keep toilet paper, paper towels and other "communal items" fully stocked over the three months I stayed there).
9) The Mooch once tried to pretend that she didn't know we were out of trash bags, even though someone had emptied the trash can half way to make more room instead of buying more trash bags (and my roommate told me that she had not touched the trash). The Mooch also often acted like she didn't have to buy more toilet paper because she bought the "last round". She'd rather substitute travel tissue paper, napkins and paper towels while waiting for me or my roommate to get the next round of TP, which always made me want to scream, "Dude! You live here rent free! We shouldn't be taking turns buying the toilet paper; you should always buy it!" But I didn't.
10) My roommate and I are enabling The Mooch to have no sense of urgency to find permanent, full-time employment, to have no need to pick up a second part-time job after finally obtaining a full-time job with a low salary in late-May, and to take a week of unpaid leave from said low-salary employment to go on vacation with her boyfriend to Aruba in June. Rather than help her develop into a proud, independent New Yorker, we allow her to spend her money frivolously instead of paying a fair portion of the rent. Meanwhile my roommate and I continue to make careful decisions and sacrifices in order to sustain our lives in New York City. We are enabling The Mooch to do things that most middle- and lower-income people cannot do when they first relocate to New York City.
11) The Mooch moved in with my roommate and I just six months after we began our $2500-month lease on West 51st Street. Just like the mutual friend in Harlem was within her rights to expect rent immediately from The Mooch upon her relocation from Arizona, we would have been within our rights to ask her to split our $3000-broker fee three ways and divide the monthly rent fairly between us. If we had known that The Mooch was going to end up staying over half a year (not to mention the $5000-security deposit and first and last month's rent that my roommate and I paid up front), we would have expected an equal contribution.
12) I was wrong for denigrating the mutual friend for wanting to charge The Mooch half the rent on her $1200-Harlem studio.
13) I am a coward for blogging about this instead of telling The Mooch how I really feel.

Things The Mooch Does Not Know That We Know
1) The Mooch, who relocated from Arizona, is using my roommate and I to live closer to her boyfriend, who lives with his parents in Long Island. She doesn't want to contribute financially to our current living situation because she wants to save money while waiting for him to be ready to move into an apartment with her. So she is using us to be closer to him and foster their relationship until he is ready for cohabitation.
2) When The Mooch goes shopping with another mutual friend, that mutual friend reports back that The Mooch throws away her receipts, shopping bags and boxes and hides her new purchases in a large purse or tote bag because she doesn't want my roommate and I to know she has been shopping.
3) After searching craigslist job postings for about 20 minutes a day, she walked leisurely around the city throughout most of the spring months, with Starbucks coffee in hand, accompanied by the same mutual friend mentioned in #2 - instead of visiting more temp agencies, going door to door with her resume, and looking for jobs (however, she knows that we know not to even ask her to consider the food service industry even though we live in the heart of Hell's Kitchen and mere steps from the plethora of restaurants on Ninth Avenue).
4) The Mooch bought her boyfriend a $350-camera for his recent birthday, but led us to believe that she could only afford to bake him a cake.
5) The Mooch had just learned of her boyfriend's disloyal indiscretions a few weeks prior to his birthday - thus proving that she'd rather buy her cheating boyfriend a present than pay rent to her more-than-generous friends.
6) We were willing to do more for The Mooch than her own family was willing (case in point: her own brother and his new wife live on the Upper East Side and would not have allowed her to crash with them for half a year, rent-free).
7) The Mooch doesn't want to live in New York City. She wants to be a merry, little housewife, and her current boyfriend is the best - and maybe only - shot she'll ever have at achieving her marital, baby-making dreams.*
8) People who really want to succeed in New York City are willing to wait tables or fold T-shirts in a GAP or do whatever it takes to be self-sufficient. She is not one of those people. She shamelessly continues to take advantage of a generous living situation despite the fact that I am making it clear that she has worn out her welcome.

To be fair, The Mooch is relatively easy to live with. She is clean, she didn't often leave her stuff all over the apartment (though I often tidy up after her), and she is generally friendly. However, I initially became irritated when my roommate expressed her frustration to me regarding The Mooch's response to a possible receptionist position at the engineering firm where my roommate is an executive assistant: "I didn't move to New York City to be a receptionist." And I further lost my patience with our living arrangement when we asked The Mooch to begin paying $300/month on June 1 and she replied that she would rather pay $200.

To continue fairly noting the occurrence of events, The Mooch did end up taking the receptionist position at the end of May 2009, but not without some strong encouragement from my roommate. And The Mooch did begin paying $300/month on June 1 after I made it clear that it was not negotiable. But to be completely blunt, I don't know how The Mooch failed her NY teacher's licensing exams this month when she has supposedly been studying for the last six months - sans the responsibilities and long hours associated with full-time, or even part-time, employment. Maybe she should have spent less time walking leisurely around the city with Starbucks coffee.

I don't know what to do even though I know what I need to do. But even though she has it in her heart to completely take advantage of our generosity - and potentially permanently tarnish her close friendship with my roommate - I don't have the heart to tell her that I think she's a puerile, manipulative, indolent sloth - to put it lightly.


Dear Abby ... [sigh]

*No offense to current baby-makers; I totally want to be a baby-maker one day, but I refuse to use my current so-called friends in order to achieve my eventual, long-term dream of family life. Or step on my friends for any other reason, for that matter.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Looking in the Mirror

It was pointed out to me in comment on a post dated June 1, that my blog used to be interesting but has become lame. To be honest, I was surprised that someone actually followed my blog long enough to have had an opinion of when it was good.

However, being one who never shies from self-introspection, the comment made me wonder if my life had, in fact, become lame. Rather than be offended, I took it as an opportunity to explore what my blog was becoming ... since my blog is ultimately a reflection of what I was becoming.

This blog is written primarily for me with the intention that my older self will be the main audience. My motivation behind the blog was never to gain Internet fame or to garnish a book deal. It has served its purpose of documenting my own transition from North Carolina to New York City and the subsequent day-to-days. So I have no apologies that I want to remember what my body looked like at 29 or the sight of my friends enjoying a day on a Long Island beach.

if someone in cyberspace cared enough to offer a critique on the alleged progressive lameness of my blog, I had to at least be willing to take a look in the mirror and see if it was because I was losing my motivation to effectively document the world around me … or if my life was indeed becoming lame. And maybe it had.

I had been too busy trying to keep up with life in NYC to actually blog regularly about it. I guess I was no longer just an observer. I have been shamelessly backdating posts (which will continue through my last official post dated July 1, 2009) because I'm often too tired from long hours in the office or the night club. I've had too much going on at work to use lunch hours to people-watch some 20-odd floors below in Bryant Park. I use my Sundays to recuperate instead of taking my beloved city walks. And even deeper than that (or maybe shallower), I was surrounded by namedroppers, who revered night club promoters as if they were Gods, and arranged their social calendars around celebrity birthdays and music album release dates. I was beginning to covet designer exclusives and embrace materialistic ideals. Regardless of what any random reader thought about me, I was beginning to dislike what I saw in the mirror.

Anonymous’s June 1st post comment did not ignite my need to rediscover my true values, but it reaffirmed a slow change within myself that had already begun – though a little less consciously. In preceding months, I was becoming bored with the New York nightlife scene. All the things that were so exciting before were losing their luster. I was partying less and exercising more, giving up alcohol (though not entirely), much to the seemingly utter dispair of several friends. I was eating better and reading up on politics and personal finance. I even opened some mutual funds. And having achieved my goal of establishing a life in New York City by my New Year's Eve 2007 deadline (e.g. rent an apartment, secure employment, make friends to brunch with) - and having survived over the last three years, it is time for a new initiative as my 30th birthday approaches in January of 2010 and a new blog that will shed my cyber anonymity since everyone I care about already knows about this one anyway.

I’ll still spend the next few months, wrapping up “Becoming a New Yorker” through its previously intended end date of July 1, 2009 - the third anniversary of my first post. I can't say that I'll be able to suppress my new love for designer handbags. As shallow as it sounds, walking to work in Manhattan in a trendy outfit and designer bag in tow makes me feel good about not having spent my 20s having babies.

Regardless of the positive changes I succeed in making or the negative ones I knowingly choose to ignore ... in the end, I will have a record of my first three years in New York City – of my life … the good, the bad, the ugly, and even the boring … of becoming a New Yorker.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Hotpads' Rent vs Buy Heat Maps

Gotta love Thrillist New York for its colorful, politically-incorrect, slightly offensive yet always hilarious summaries of all things New York. In a simultaneous renter's and buyer's marketed created by Fannie and Freddie - if they didn't take you under with them, Thrillist New York has reviewed a handy tool:

New York's high-priced housing presents a conundrum: start mailing hefty mortgage payments to a bank, or resign yourself to abetting your Ukrainian landlord's enviable lifestyle of hookers and kasha. Pick your poison with Hotpads' Rent vs. Buy Heat Maps.

A new, financially dispiriting tool from an established rental site, HP's maps counsel whether you should rent or buy via color-coded hoods: from light blue for steal-worthy purchasing opps (Jersey City, Forest Hills), to green for market average (Murray Hill, UES), to red for rent-worthy digs, e.g., SoHo and West Village (Manhattan's gated clubdivision). The site's calcs are automatically done via esoteric math wizardry, i.e., avg cost of ownership / estimated annual rent -- a formula that's confounded many a couch-surfer's TI81. To further assist your hopeless quest for shelter, HP plots icons for thousands of current listings, each clickable for photos and details, which even include moving solutions and storage units (there's an affordable option for you).

HP also provides additional real estate heat maps, like Household Income, Foreclosures per Household, and Median Age, thus illuminating another conundrum: how to get into the low-priced hood beset by a cabal of rent-control beneficiaries who just. Won't. Die.

See your options unfurled at

Sunday, June 07, 2009

All in My Head

There are two dates that strike a nerve with me every year: June 7 is the day Rickey was born; August 3 is the day he died.

I was reading the tweets of loved ones & strangers who recently lost a friend of theirs. In times of tragedy and loss, I'm always struck by how life goes on. I perused their tweets about missing their friend and their seemingly cheerful and unrelated daily goings-on within spans of less than 24 hours ... I suppose it all goes on for all of us at one time or another. And it will again.

But when will I stop trying to make connections out of coincidences?

I needed today to be a good day. And it was ... outside of my head.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

City of Perspectives

When I think of evolution, I think of birds and dinosaurs, prehistoric man and opposable thumbs. I don’t often apply the theories of evolution to everyday life or my progression through age. But I was struck yesterday by the notion of a constantly transforming New York City as I dipped out of my apartment building in Hell’s Kitchen and trotted down the front steps.

New York City is a very different city to a variety of people. I blogged about my relocation from Harlem to Hell’s Kitchen last year and was amazed by how the landscape of the city transformed within a mere six miles. Of course, there are the obvious and beautiful surface-level ethnic differences. Anyone can witness them by venturing from Chinatown to Little Italy to Harlem. There is the New York City for the native, the transplant and the tourist. But there are deeper levels of constant transformation that took me three years to consider or even notice.

There is the New York City of the train commuters, the ones who can often tell which stop is next – not by the conductor’s announcements – but by the bends and curves of the subway tracks, by the segments under seemingly constant construction or by the barely visible graffiti along the tunnels. They know where to wait on the platform so that they can exit the train near a stairway to the street or a connection.

There is the New York City of the pedestrians, which I became when I moved to a walk-up in Hell’s Kitchen with a 10-block commute to a Midtown office building. We are the ones who would rather walk 30 blocks than wait for a train or bus. We know where the shortcuts are between streets – for example, one could cut through buildings from W 50th Street down to W 46th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues and grab a coffee in the tunnel between W 47th and 48th, across from the old studio for The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.

There is the New York City of drivers, the ones who know the parking rules and which avenues and streets to avoid during rush hour. I became cogitatively aware of this difference yesterday when I trotted down the front steps of my apartment building and was stopped by a man who was trying to figure out the parking rules on my street. I realized that though I have lived on this street for over a year, I had no idea how long he could park outside of my building nor did I have any insider information on the best parking in the area. I couldn’t imagine how different my street might look from behind the wheel of a car. And the backseat of a taxicab does not count.

There is the New York City of the financially elite, who live and work in the upper altitudes of the Manhattan skyline. Their perspective dwells at a birds' eye view and through the back seat of a sleek black sedan or limousine.

Many New Yorkers can transition between any of the above at any given time, but just as many are partial to one particular form of transportation - which ultimately designates the New York City they know. It seems to be a trivial point to debate, but the mode of transportation one uses to get around the city probably forms their versions of New York City more than anything else. Everything influences the mode - residence, career, money, lifestyle. All determine how we interact with the city and thus determine our perspectives.

New York City is a landscape of evolution from its skyline to its culture, but the most personal evolution of all is the New York City of perspective.

Monday, June 01, 2009

ShopNYC - Episode 1

I am so excited about Natasha's first episode of ShopNYC!

Read more on Natasha's ShopNYCTours blog.

A Year Ago Today: Sex and the City: The Movie ... Life and the City: The Reality
Two Years Ago Today: Phone Photo Ops - Date Night