Saturday, September 30, 2006

Phone Photo Op - Pigeon Hole

The train platform at the station I frequent in the Bronx is level with the roof of an adjacent residential building. This is a member of the family of pigeons I see every morning from the platform. They live in a hole in the guttering of this roof. This little guy just reminded me of an old man sitting on his front front porch in the morning. Unless this is a lady pigeon.
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Friday, September 29, 2006

"Fast" Is An Understatement

To describe this city as fast is an acute understatement. To describe life in NYC as an emotional rollarcoaster is intensely accurate. Extreme highs so easily coincide with extreme lows that they almost feel simultaneous. I guess that is possible anywhere, but in New York City, it seems like the rollarcoaster is a little bit faster, a lot more emotional and overwhelmingly draining.

For the third time in less than a week, I missed applying for a less than ideal, but nonetheless suitable apartment by just hours. I used to think that real estate brokers' statements like "apply now before it's gone," "will move quickly" and "won't last," were just exaggerated sales pitches.

Nope. Not in this city.

Phone Photo Op - Taxi Cab Rights

I took a cab back to the Bronx from the office in Midtown last night. Approximately 125 blocks for the grand total of $30. Thank God for the West Side Highway. As we drove under the lights of Times Square, I felt it was my civic duty to take a few moments to familiarize myself with my rights as a taxi cab passenger.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Burning the Late Night Oil

11:35 p.m. and still at work ...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

America's Next Top Air Mattress

Worked late tonight, got back to Tokii's apartment and watched America's Next Top Model on the DVR. I think DVR is the best invention ever.

I was laying on my air mattress in Tokii's living room, watching the aspiring next top models bicker about petty situations and confront the challenges associated with this week's theme, all while living in an amazing house. I suppose it's easy to judge when you're laying inside an old sleeping bag atop a bubble of air, but watching girls cry in unappreciative shock and disillusioned horror as one of the world's greatest hair stylists cut and dyed their hair was oddly entertaining. One of the models looked at herself in the mirror and said, "This is just not me."

Wow, I thought, you thought you were modeling 'you'? Since when was the modeling industry about the self-expression of each individual model rather than the inspiration of the designer? Yet this seems to be a running "coming of age" theme from season to season among girls who claim to have wanted a lucrative modeling career all their lives. Is this irony or is it just annoying to watch others go through things that just aren't that bad?

And sleeping on an air mattress every night isn't that bad either, but perspective has everything to do with it. Lately, I've started missing having my own address. My old street and apartment address in North Carolina was never significant to me because it wasn't that hard to get it. Now, two months later, living in New York City, I am almost longing to write my own address on an envelope or submit a magazine subscription. The frustration of the rental market in this city has been starting to get to me, but according to some co-workers, a two-month apartment search really isn't that long in New York. What the ... ?

There are so many things you can't do without an address, but you don't really notice these things until you miss them. Like I can't get a New York driver license or a library card (the New York Public Library is strangely not unlike Fort Knox). And one of the harsher realities of New York City, which I fortunately do not have to deal with thanks to my best friend's willingness to harbor me and the 14 boxes of my former apartment in a corner of her living room: You can't get a job without an address; you can't get an address without a job. Once again, what the ... ?

In light of the cumbersome existence that I now share with thousands of others struggling for a Home, Sweet, Home in NYC, I would like to take this opportunity to pay homage to the air mattresses of the Big Apple. Inflatable beds are the best thing since sliced bread and DVR.

Phone Photo Op - Infamattress

Not exactly a NASA-approved Temper-Pedic memory foam mattress, but it's all relative.
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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Yankee Fans

I left work this evening at 6:45 p.m., which must be a record. As I stepped onto the 4 train, I practically drowned in Yankee emblems. Hmmmm, I thought to myself, must be a Yankee game tonight. I'm a sharp one. I know.

On the Bronx-bound train headed up the green line, I must have snuck dozens of glances at a middle-aged man and his two young daughters. All three of them were covered from head to toe in Yankee attire. The father - though I wouldn't necessarily describe him as obese - had one of the roundest bellies I've ever seen. His two daughters must have been about 12 and 6 years old. They weren't doing anything out of the ordinary, but I was drawn to the way the man kept looking down at his little girls.

The older one stood next to him clutching the pole. The other was kneeling on the seat in front of him with her elbows in the window sill looking out into the darkness of the subway tunnel. The look in his eyes was one of tender pride and excitement, but I don't think it was because he had tickets to a Yankees game and was about to see Derek Jeter. He had the look of a father who couldn't wait to see the wide-eyed stares and uncontrollable smiles of his young daughters as they took in the aweinspiring sights and sounds of a packed stadium.

Even if you've been to Yankee Stadium before or pass by it everyday like I do, there is an energy in the air when the Yankees are playing. Having traveled beneath the entire length of Manhattan and under the Harlem River, the train emerges from below ground into the Bronx and Yankee Stadium looms ahead. On game nights, the passengers turn to peer into the gap of the stadium wall. The train races down the track and begins to slow into the station, and you get a half-second glimpse of the grass sparkling under the lights and the thousands of people lining the stands. As the little girl perched in the window sill pointed excitedly at the gap in the stadium wall and looked back up at her father, I wondered at that moment what it must be like to witness the marvel of a tiny person you created.

Phone Photo Op - Yankee Stadium

Not tonight, but a random glimpse through the Yankee Stadium gap from a Manhattan-bound 4 train.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

The Sound of My Mom's Smile

As much as I want to keep referring to one of my superiors as The-Devil-Wears-Prada "boss" for the entertainment value, I really can't anymore. I really like her now. Sure, she made me feel like an idiot for the first week or so that I worked there, but she's hardcore, she's business-savvy, and she's good at what she does. She knows she's not well-liked by some people in the company, but if she cares, I can't tell. Afterall, it's not friendship; it's business. And I understand her level of intensity and meticulous detail. I get her.

She just got back from celebrating the 40th birthday of a friend (they went to Mexico), and The-VP "boss" just left for Italy with her husband. That's how the big-timers live.

I actually took a lunch break today. I went to the temp agency to pick up my paycheck and took a walk in Bryant Park. There were dozens of squad cars parked on 5th Avenue between 41st and 42nd Street (in front of the New York Public Library). The officers stood around in bunches of 8-10 along the sidewalk. I wondered what they were doing, but I didn't want to ask so I just kept walking.

My boss(es) extended my assignment with the company so I'm now employed beyond September with a good chance at a permanent position, which I'm not banking on or letting myself get too excited about yet. However, this evening, I forwarded an email to my parents that the general manager had sent me early today. My parents were really excited and impressed by what he had written with regard to my performance within the company.

I finally left the office around 8:30 p.m. As I was walking down West 43rd Street toward Grand Central, talking to my mom on my cell phone, I couldn't believe the amazing luck I've had. I moved to New York with no job and no apartment (well, I still sleep on an air mattress in Tokii's living room next to the front door of her apartment), but 11 days after I moved here in August, I happened to be placed with one of the most successful companies in the United States. It's been a really hard road that finally got me to this city, and it feels really good to have a few things go my way.

How many people move to New York City every year and wait tables for months or years before they are able to catch a break? Then again, I'm not an aspiring model or actress. And not that waitressing isn't a noble profession (in fact, based on my own experience, I believe it to be one of the hardest in the world), and advertising sales isn't exactly my big break since I'm not extraordinarily passionate about it ... but a job in a highrise on West 42nd Street, right between Grand Central and Times Square, and across the street from Bryant Park? What?!?! I know it's not that I am any better than anyone else or did anything differently. It was all sheer luck - just the right place at the right time.

Even if I don't end up becoming a permanent employee, this is a kick-ass first job in New York City. I'll go back to sulking about being homeless tomorrow, but I don't expect anyone to feel too sorry for me. Of course, I know that luck can run out at any time, and that shit will suck. But I'm not doing too poorly for a former military brat who has spent the last 10 years in Western North Carolina.

As I walked across the floor of Grand Central's Main Terminal, below the elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling, I said to my mom, "This was a good idea, wasn't it? I am so happy I moved here."

"Me, too," she said. I think I could hear her smiling.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Six Degrees of NYC

Last week, Tokii, Candice and I watched a new show on ABC called Six Degrees. The pilot was a little disappointing, in that the storyline seems a little unrealistic, a little too convenient, a lot unbelievable. And you have to wonder how far the story can actually go because there are only so many ways you can tie six people together until it's no longer interesting. Six Degrees is yet another way to romanticize New York City.

And that is why we'll probably keep watching it. I'm sure, in some way, many of us want to believe in the romance of this city. And in some ways, it does exist. Not in such wonderfully orchestrated and obvious ways like those brought to the TV screen in this show, but in smaller ways that lured people like me to want to live here, to want to fall in love with New York. Naive? Of course. A little hokey? Very. But I probably wouldn't have taken the risk of moving up here without a job or an apartment if it weren't for blind faith, a little bit of naivety and a borderline hokey dream of becoming a New Yorker.

As the show opened with a skyline view of New York City, I turned to Tokii and Candice and pointed at the TV screen: "I live there!!!"

"No," Candice laughed, "You see our parts of town on Law & Order."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Magnolia Bakery

Today I took Tokii to Spa Bella on the corner of 23rd Street and 7th Avenue. I didn't tell her where we were going. I just told her to block off some hours in her Saturday afternoon. We walked from the C train and just as we were about to pass the spa, I stopped, threw my arms up and said, "Happy Pedicure Day!"

We had pedicures today to celebrate her birthday. A little late, I know. But her fiance was in town last weekend to spend time with her before he left to go play basketball in Japan so I wanted to let them have their space. Afterward we went to Magnolia Bakery.

I don't know if Magnolia Bakery was quite this popular before its cameos with Carrie in Sex & the City, but I decided today that it's reputation is well deserved. When we got off the train, we asked a random person for directions. He pointed down the street, "Take a left on Bleeker. You can't miss it. There will be a line on the sidewalk."

Tokii looked at me, "Was he serious? There'll be a line?"

Yes, was the answer. There was a line out the door and around the corner. We took our spots at the end of the line and waited about 10 minutes to get to the front door. As I looked around the block, which was predominantly residential, I couldn't help but wonder how annoying the touristic presence of the bakery might be to those who live near Bleeker Street or around the corner on Perry Street, where Carrie's home comings and goings were filmed, although the Sex & the City character was said to live on East 73rd Street.

At the entrance, a young man stood in an apron "rationing" the crowd.

"You two been here before?" he asked. We shook our heads. He laughed, "Ah! Cupcake virgins!"

When a few people exited the bakery, he held the door for us, "You may enter, ladies. Enjoy!"

Tokii bought a slice of buttercream cake, I ordered a small, round pecan caramel cheesecake. People were crowded around the cupcake self-serve in the front window, which Carrie and Miranda had made famous in several episodes, so we decided to split a cupcake, too. We packed our little white boxes, paid for our pastries and went back to the train.

Now I sit in the Bronx. Cheesecake and my half of the cupcake consumed. I don't know that my tastebuds have ever been this happy over sugar, flour and iciing. It was everything Carrie said it would be.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Advancements in Social Etiquette

The company I work for has several big events coming up during Advertising Week. One is a Monday morning breakfast with the icon of the company and the CEO; the other is a day-long event celebrating one of the magazines.

Today, I was confirming attendance of clients who will be at one or both events. Emails. Follow-up phone calls. After one particular call, I had just spoken with the president of a communication firm and discovered that I had to call back to get the names of her family members for our VIP list.

"I am just calling back to request the names of your husband and your children for the guest list," I said into the phone.

"Sure," the voice on the other end replied, friendly yet firmly, "My partner's name is Marilyn and my daughters are ... "

Oops, I thought. Shiiiiiit. I feel just a little bit ignorant. I'll have to remember not to make assumptions about similar matters in the future. And it's not just because I live in New York City now. Social etiquette in many parts of our world continue to advance. I don't think society is advancing fast enough, but for someone like me - who considers herself to be liberal and open-minded - even I don't always keep up.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gone are the Days of Elevator Music

This afternoon at work, I was riding in one of the elevators after lunch and read the following on the small flat-panel screen in the upper left corner above the doors (where weather updates, news headlines and fun facts are looped for the viewing pleasure of elevator passengers between floors):

"According to, Captain Jack Sparrow was the most searched pirate, over Blackbeard and Captain Hook, on National Talk Like a Pirate Day."

It made me think of a former colleague of mine in North Carolina so after exiting the elevator, walking down the long hallway and sitting back at my desk, I sent him an email with regard to the latest fun elevator fact. He knows why.

I guess flatscreen TVs are taking the place of elevator music. It's probably so we don't have to look at each other in such cramped quarters. Ever notice that people on elevators always look up (or down) anyway?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

It Gets Late Awfully Early Around Here

When Yogi Berra said it, he was referring to the bad sun conditions in left field at New York Stadium. When you live in New York City, that is exactly what happens.

The other night, after getting back to Tokii's apartment and preparing my customary microwaveable dinner at 10 p.m. yet again, I had to ask, "Is it just me? Or does midnight come really fast in New York?"

Tokii stopped what she was doing and looked up inquisitively, then replied, "Yea. Yea, it does."

"I know right," I said. "In North Carolina, I was eating dinner by 7, passing out in front of the TV by 8, and crawling into my bed by 10. Up here, I am getting ready to eat at 10:30."

I thought about the other night when I stayed out with friends the latest I have ever stayed out in New York since I moved here. By the time I got back to the Bronx it was 4 a.m. I called Terrence on my cell phone when I got off the train so that I would have someone to hear me scream if anything bad happened to me during the five-minute walk to the apartment. As I approached the building, Terrence voice was skeptical over the line, "Are those kids?"

"Yea," I said. There were about half a dozen 10-ish year olds squealing and running around on the sidewalk by the main entrance as the drug dealers looked on from their stoop. As usual, one of them got the front door for me.

"It's 4 a.m.," Terrence said.

"I know," I said.

As I crossed the lobby and began walking up the stairs, several children came running down with slices of birthday cake, balloons and unwrapped presents. A child's birthday party was just ending.

Wow, I thought. These kids in the Bronx just out-partied me tonight.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Bringing Down the House

My best friend is amazing. I went to see her perform tonight in a one-woman show at The Juilliard School of the Arts. I arrived in Lincoln Center just in time for the 7 p.m. curtain call and took my seat next to Tokii's fiance, who was proudly preparing to video his future wife's performance. In Tokii's show, she portrayed a variety of characters, including a proud, domineering mother who is dying from breast cancer, a detached ex-husband and father, a neurotic daughter and her disillusioned boyfriend, and a less-than-competent psychologist. I know I got choked up nearing the end of the play because not only was it touchy subject matter (with light and dark humor incorporated throughout that derives those laughter-through-tears emotions), it can be a rollarcoaster of sentiments to watch someone that you love as they take their craft to new levels. Her one-woman show was an overwhelming success.

Oh yea ... and today's her birthday and I haven't gotten her a present yet.

Stealth Bomber Sighting & Girls' Night Out

Last night, I met up for the first time with Eileen in the East Village for dinner with two of her friends. Eileen and I played volleyball together in middle school. We were never really friends. She was a cheerleader and hung out with the popular crowd. I was awkward, lanky, lacked fashion sense (more so than other middle schoolers in the early 90s) and had about four friends.

I happened to run across Eileen's myspace page in an odd, almost unbelievable way. Last November or December, I was sitting in my boring apartment in a boring town, scanning the myspace photos of artsy, trendy and/or socialite-ish New Yorkers, and I happen to notice that her picture looked strangely familiar - like an aged composite photo of a someone I only remember as an eighth grader.

I clicked on the picture, whose screen name was "Eileen." Immediately I remembered her last name so I went to the search feature on myspace and entered her full name. Her picture popped back up in the search results. Wow. I thought, she looks amazing! Feeling a little like a weird stalker, I read some of her blogs and looked at her photos. Then, I thought, what the hell? Let's send her a message. So I did and she responded. I couldn't believe she remembered me. At first, I thought she was just trying to be nice, but I believed her after she mentioned that her immediate recollection of me (upon seeing my photo and message) were side barrettes, shiny shorts, jeans with different color panels, and cotton T-shirts of various solid colors - my exact wardrobe rotation in middle school.

We exchanged messages on myspace over the past few months and she offered invaluable advice about moving to New York City and becoming a New Yorker. When I met her last night, she was a fifteen-years-older version of the eighth grader I remembered. Hilarious, witty, radical and fabulous! At the restaurant last night, she introduced me to her coworker at a famous American leather goods company and best friend Annisha, and Annisha's lifelong friend Dana, who is a teacher in Brooklyn. Both being just as friendly, funny and fabulous.

After dinner in a trendy Greenwich Village spot, where we drank Sangria (that we all agreed wasn't that good), we headed to the Meat Packing District, where I got my first dose of Lower Manhattan night life. We toasted the night in a bar just blocks from Carrie's fancy apartment stoop in Sex & and City (in the show, her apartment was on the Upper East Side; in realty, the famous front steps and doorway are Downtown).

I arrived home at a less than decent hour, but realized that the rough neighborhood to which I was returning wasn't quite as intimidating as I thought it would be because dozens of late-night barhoppers were just getting back, too. Twenty-something girls were hobbling down the sidewalk in painful heels, the homeless were sound asleep instead of begging for spare change, guys of all ages were listening to music on street corners and once I came within view of Tokii's apartment building, I knew I was almost safe. The drug dealers who hang out on the front stoop of the building are almost like our 24-hour security and concierge. One of them stood up as I approached, took out his key and opened the door for me, told me I looked really pretty and said good night.

It was a good end to a long day that involved more disappointing bouts of apartment hunting that continue to leave me feeling emotionally drained. I'm glad I didn't spend the night laying on my air mattress, flipping channels on Tokii and Candice's TV and feeling sorry for myself. Tonight reminded me why I came to New York City - to have a life, the kind of life I want for myself in my late-20s, where something ... anything ... happens to me before marriage, babies, minivans and vacuum cleaners.

Oh yea, and a stealth bomber flew really low over the train station I frequent in the Bronx while I was waiting for the 4 train yesterday afternoon. It passed slowly overhead, banked left over Tokii's apartment and headed toward Manhattan. I don't know what the significance of including that sighting in this blog is, but it's not everyday you see a black, flat, triangular "Bat plane" fly over your head.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Real Estate Depression

I have self-diagnosed myself with a disorder that I am certain exists in this city. After extensive self-assessment, research and hearing accounts of other's horror stories, I have named this disorder "Real Estate Depression." Symptoms include moderate to mild heartache, intense pressure just behind the temples, and high levels of anxiety often amplified when waking up in the morning, in a sleeping bag, on an air mattress, in a friend's living room, and blinking through the early morning haze at your former apartment in 14 boxes stacked in the corner. It always feels worse when you wake up because the early-morning re-realization sets in that you really are one of the glorified homeless of New York.

It could always be worse. I know this. And I don't mean to sound like a spoiled American who is complaining about decent accommodations when so many others have nothing. But anyone who has tried or is trying to find a place to live in New York City is familiar with the following:

- A broker who tries to charge a broker's fee of 15% of the first year's rent on an apartment that should be "no fee" because the management company is all ready providing compensation.
- A broker who shows you one of the best units in the building and doesn't tell you that it's no longer available in order to use it as a lure to view a less suitable unit that they're trying to push (promising platinum and delivering bronze).
- A broker who combines appointments with multiple clients in order to show an apartment to more people within a shorter period of time. Unlike Open Houses (where crowds are expected), having to view a single unit with other people when you anticipated a private appointment only adds to the stress and competitiveness of the rental market and creates an uncomfortable air when you're trying to get a feel for your potential new home.
- A broker who makes unrealistic promises about the apartment, the building or the neighborhood over the phone or via email only to present you with the disappointing reality when you arrive.
- A broker who asks you how much you're willing to pay and then tells you that you don't have to pay him "monatarily."

Over the past month and a half, I have learned the following:
1) If it sounds too good to be true, there is less than a 1% chance that it isn't.
2) The terms "beautiful" and "spacious" - or any variation thereof - are all relative.
3) Brokers should only charge fees if the management company, landlord or owner is not paying the fee, but some do.
4) Don't let a broker talk you into something you don't want.
5) Brokers deal with a lot of apartment seekers everyday. Although they act like they sincerely care about what you want and need, they probably don't. Watch your back.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fashion Week

A friend of mine in Atlanta left a comment on my myspace page today asking me what it's like living in the city where Fashion Week is going on (Side Note: She's an "actual" friend - not one of those random myspace friends that you don't actually know from among your list of like 2,435,682 myspace friends). When I read her comment this evening, I realized that I have been almost completely unaware of most of the Fashion Week events (aside from your random scaffolding advertisement listing all of the major designers). Then, I realized how fairly odd it is - or maybe how oblivious I am - that I work right across the street from Bryant Park (where the huge Fashion Week tent is currently pitched), the company I work for has several floors in the same building as Michael Kors and Valentino, and I have been vastly unaware of the majority of the fashion activities.

I guess I can attribute my lameness to the fact that I get into the office at 9 a.m., often eat a cheap, microwaveable meal at my desk, and - like tonight - leave work after 8 p.m. Not that it's all the late, but after 10+ hours of Internet advertising proposals and a computer screen, I usually rush straight to Grand Central - or down into the Bryant Park Station if I have on painful stilettos like the ones I was wearing today.

Add the apartment hunting and the four-hours of sleep per night average, and Fashion Week doesn't even get a chance to rank high on my priorities this year. Besides, as I wrote in my reply comment to my friend on her myspace page, I don't have the social status necessary to get into most of that stuff anyway. Oh well, just like all of the other stuff I've missed out on in this city so far (and there is so much to miss out on, you miss out pretty often), I guess I'll just have to try to catch it next year ... or the year after that ... or the year after that ...

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Little Things

The 5th anniversary of 9/11 was a benchmark for a lot of New Yorkers. Not unlike the majority of Americans, most of us cannot believe it has been five years. But getting to know people, who directly experienced September 11 in their hometown, has revealed to me how differently New York City remembers that day.

For those who lived and worked in or around Manhattan in 2001, a lot of how they view and remember September 11 has a great deal to do with the little things. It's the little things that much of the nation didn't think about immediately following the terrorist attacks or in the years after. The Devil-wears-Prada "boss" told me yesterday that September 11 is still hard for her because in 2001 she worked for a small company in the Financial District that lost a lot of its employees the day the towers fell. When Flight 11 hit the North Tower, a corporate meeting, which included a fair number of her colleagues, was taking place in a conference room above the impact zone. She was several blocks away in her office and immediately evacuated. It was days later when she was permitted to return and discovered dozens of BlackBerry messages that had been frantically sent by her coworkers to the company-wide email account while they had been trapped in the North Tower. None of the attendees of that corporate meeting survived.

My coworker and friend David told me that he and his ex-boyfriend had gone up to the roofdeck of the apartment they shared in Lower Manhattan after seeing the North Tower in flames on the news. He said that for miles, almost every rooftop was crowded with residents or employees all staring downtown in disbelief. His mother, who lives in Jersey, remembers seeing hundreds of cars left in the commuter lots by men and women who had parked in Jersey and taken a ferry or train to the Financial District. David's mother told him that many of those cars sat there untouched for weeks.

Little stories like that made me think of all the dry cleaning that never got picked up, movies that never got returned to Blockbuster, the apartments that eventually needed to be cleared of personal belongings and cleaned out by family or friends. And then I remembered how hard it had been for me to even just brush my hair in the weeks immediately following Rickey's death. The little, normal things took an unbelievable amount of effort when I had been so emotionally exhausted. My mother came to live with me in my apartment for awhile, and her presence had more to do with tending to the little things, like making sure I got out of bed. And then there was attempting to resume the small routines for the first time after Rickey died that made me think things like, "The last time I did this, Rickey was still alive ..."

Multiply that by 2,948 and a lot of little things become an even bigger albeit less obvious loss. I did not attend any of the hundreds of September 11 memorial ceremonies that took place throughout the city yesterday. I worked until 6 p.m. and then immediately jumped on a train to the Upper East Side to view four different apartments for rent. As it is often said, life goes on.

After the real estate broker and I parted ways on Third Avenue, I headed toward the 103rd Street Station to catch the 6 train. It was a moment before I noticed that a lot of people were standing on the sidewalk looking downtown. Two parallel beams of light were shining from the Financial District filling the space where the Twin Towers once stood. I took a minute to let my world stop for the second time yesterday, to remember strangers I've never met, and to wish inner peace for their loved ones, who I know are often haunted by the little things.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Wake Us Up When September Ends

I woke up this morning and began my new routine as a New Yorker (or New Yorker-in-training). I took a shower, blow-dried my hair, got dressed, put on makeup, grabbed a breakfast bar, walked out the door, went to the train station. But normal things feel unusually amplified on days like today. Not necessarily abnormal; just different.

I got on the train, which wasn't as packed as it usually is at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning. I grabbed onto a sidebar and leaned against the rear door. Directly ahead of me, sitting near the opposite end of the subway car, I immediately noticed the profile of a man who was reading today's edition of The Daily News. The entire front page was black, with the following in large, white text: 8:46, 9:03.

I looked at the flashing marquee on the ceiling of the subway car. In bold, red lights it flashed: (4) To Crown Hts-Utica ... [flash] ... The next stop is ... [flash] ... 161 St-Yankee Stad ... [flash] ... 8:18 a.m. I wondered if the thousands of people who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001, were thinking right now what I think on each August 3rd morning. This year, it was this: "Three years ago today, Rickey was waking up on his last morning ... Three years ago at this moment, Rickey was still alive ... I wonder what Rickey was doing three years ago at this very second."

I don't know the exact time that Rickey died. I don't know if that would make it harder or easier. But I do know that on every August 3rd evening, I feel an emptiness that I'm sure my mind and body create in order to keep me from vividly reliving the emotions that overwhelmed me after I learned of Rickey's death. Time is a funny thing.

When I arrived in Grand Central, I proceeded upstairs to the main terminal and sat down on the staircase opposite Vanderbilt Avenue next to a man sending a text message on his cell phone and a sign that read, "Sitting on stairs is prohibited." I watched the famous clock above the information booth. It was 8:43 a.m. At this time five years ago, the passengers on the first plane knew something horrific may be inevitable, but surely they were still hopeful. In the North and South Towers, the Trade Center employees were arriving to work, going through their normal routines. I stared at the clock as it turned to 8:44 and then 8:45. Five years ago today, Grand Central probably looked just like it did now: a mass of business suits racing in zig-zagging patterns across the main terminal floor. And then it was 8:46. The hustle and bustle continued.

As Joe.My.God once so eloquently described it: Grand Central Terminal functions as the mechanical heart of midtown New York City, pumping out several thousand workers and tourists on one beat, then sucking in several thousand more on the next. The rhythms of the terminal are fascinating ... Beat ... Four thousand, inbound from New Haven ... Beat ... Three thousand, outbound to Westchester.

Then, 30 seconds later, an announcement over the loudspeaker: "It is 8:46 a.m. Please pause for a moment of silence for those who died on September 11." A few people stopped. Some even put down their briefcases. Two police officers removed their hats and lowered their heads. But the heart of Grand Central Terminal continued beating; most continued their full-speed-ahead pace. What did I expect would happen? For the world to stop? For time to stand still?

No. Life goes on. Human will is resilient. But for thousands who lost loved ones in New York City on September 11, time will stand still every year at 8:46, 9:03, 9:59 and 10:29. And I'm glad I let my world stop, too, even if only for but a moment.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Beyonce Before Work

Last night, I set my alarm on my cell phone for 5 a.m. with the full intention of being in Times Square by 7 a.m. for a front row spot at Beyonce's live performance on Good Morning America. But when my alarm went off this morning, I decided in less than 15 seconds that I really just wanted to hear her sing and really didn't need to see her up close. I reset my alarm for 6:30 and ended up catching the 4 train around 7:30 a.m.

After stopping at a Starbucks for a cappuccino, I arrived in Times Square around 8:15 a.m. and found a comfortable spot to perch on a metal barricade near the back of the crowd. Even though I started to feel a little tinge of regret for not arriving earlier for a better spot, I realized if I were closer to the stage, it would be really hard to get out of the crowd and get to work on time.

Good Morning America shut down 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenue/Broadway for Beyonce's performance, and the stage was set up just outside their Times Square studios. When Beyonce came on stage, there was a roar from the crowd that made you forget that it was still just 8:30 a.m. Forget coffee! Watching Beyonce perform live gave me enough energy to make it through my entire workday; this afternoon I found myself humming "Deja Vu" while I was uploading advertising proposals in FatTail.

In an era where it seems like anyone can be a pop star, Beyonce is a true performer, and this morning she made me a true believer. She is not just a pretty face financed by a slew of make-up artists, framed with satin locks made possible by professional hair stylists, and a body fine-tuned by top-of-the-line personal trainers. Though it helps that she is probably the prettiest person I have ever seen in real life, she has talent that mesmerizes. There was a fan on her that blew her dress up like Marilyn Monroe as she sang and pranced around the stage, which I had to admit was amazingly sexy. Watching her perform made me want to go to the gym and get ready for summer and a sundress.

She sang "Deja Vu" and another song from her new album, took it back with "Crazy In Love," and was getting ready to sing a fourth number when I had to go to work. I found my way through the crowd that had significantly grown beyond the half-block it had been when I arrived 45 minutes earlier, zig zagging down 44th Street toward 6th Avenue, and a few minutes later I was entering the rear of my office building on 43rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue.

As I was riding in the elevator, I thought to myself, I saw Beyonce perform live three blocks away, for free, before work. This city is the coolest. I tried to wipe that naive, new-to-the-city, just-happy-to-be-in-New-York grin off of my face, but I still can't help it. I know the magic of NYC will wear off after awhile, but for now, I'm going to enjoy it.

See Beyonce's "Deja Vu" performance this morning on GMA here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Often Does Lightning Strike?

"I want you to sing with rapture and dance like a dervish ... Love is passion, obsession, someone you can't live without. If you don't start with that, what are you going to end up with? Fall head over heels. I say find someone you can love like crazy and who'll love you the same way back. And how do you find him? Forget your head and listen to your heart. I'm not hearing any heart. Run the risk, if you get hurt, you'll come back. Because, the truth is there is no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love - well, you haven't lived a life at all. You have to try. Because if you haven't tried, you haven't lived ... You never know, lightning could strike."
-Anthony Hopkins to Claire Forlani in Meet Joe Black (1998)

Phone Photo Op - Chrysler Moon

A view of the Chrysler building and the moon from West 42nd Street while walking to Grand Central tonight.
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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Crisis in Corporate NYC

For some damn funny reading, here is a short, hilarious account of a day in the life of a New York businessman and my favorite blogger, Joe.My.God:

My workday wasn't quite so controversial - just data entry for some upcoming advertising proposals. And that can only get so crazy. The most exciting thing that happened in our office this week was when the VP of Digital Advertisng Sales walked in on Wednesday with the newest issue of Vanity Fair that hit stands in NYC and LA yesterday (the rest of the world had to wait until today to get their hands on the issue featuring pictures of TomKat's baby Suri). Not just any baby makes their debute on the cover of Vanity Fair with a 22-page spread, and the masses are still debating worldly-insignificant Suri-centric gossip. So, of course, I have to pose the deeply profound question: Why?

In a Suri-unrelated side thought regarding my work week: Though I say that the office is not particularly exciting, I am really starting to like advertising sales, which surprises me because it is not a profession I might have otherwise chosen had it not been for the staffing agency that hooked me up with this job. I am sure the fact that I really like the people with whom I work has something to do with that, but it's funny how things often work themselves out.

I've come up with my own little commute-to-work game. Each morning as the 4 train pulls into Grand Central, I try to find a new way out of the terminal onto 42nd Street, Vanderbilt or Lexington Avenue. If I'm running late or for the sheer luxury of emerging from the subway into a gorgeous park, I might try to catch a 7 train for the 0.4 mile ride (rough guess-timation) to Bryant Park, but lately I've been trying to take advantage of the morning walks to the office while it's still warm.

Today, I exited Grand Central into Pershing Square, and headed right on 42nd Street toward my office building right across the street from Bryant Park, which is under heavy preparation for Fashion Week (I think). I looked up and wondered if Joe.My.God was looking down on Pershing Square from his office and perhaps shooting more video.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Crossroads of the World

A couple of weekends ago, Tita Marie and I were sitting on a bench in the 61st Street Station in Woodside (Queens) on our way to see a movie at the AMC Theater in Times Square. Amidst our random topics of conversation while we waited for the train, she briefly mentioned Tita Cita (one of my mom's four sisters). Tita Cita died in the Philippines a few years ago from breast cancer and had lived in New York City a few times before the cancer made it impossible for her to continue working.

"You know," she said, "Your Tita Cita loved Times Square. Sometimes after work, she would get off the train in Times Square just so she could walk around and look at the buildings, the billboards and the lights."

I tried to picture my aunt, before she was sick, taking a detour after a long week of work, exiting the subway and ascending the stairs into the crossroads of the world. Surely she had been tired and ready to get home after a six-day stretch as a live-in housekeeper, but undoubtedly she was often lured from the tunnels by the excitement of the place where 42nd Street crosses Broadway. And surely she was smiling as she strolled about under the blanket of lights that keep Times Square from ever knowing darkness. She had smiling eyes - the kind of eyes that always looked like they were attempting to conceal an inside joke or a funny secret.

It was so hard for her to die from cancer - not that it's ever easy for anyone to let go. But I knew exactly what Tita Marie meant as she quietly said, "Your Tita Cita really wanted to live."

This afternoon, I rushed through work in a failing attempt to leave on time in order to meet Tokii for a spinning class at the gym. It was an ambitious endeavor because I haven't left work before 7 p.m. in almost two weeks. When I finally passed through the revolving doors that spit me onto 42nd Street, it was too late to make it to the class.

Randomly recalling my conversation with Tita Marie and since the afternoon downpour had reduced itself to a light drizzle, I decided to walk down the street to Times Square. I opened my umbrella and settled into the customary New-Yorker-with-a-purpose stride until I turned the corner and the signature billboards loomed overhead. Then I slowed down, stared up into the lights that will continue to mesmerize and dazzle the world long after I am gone and took a stroll for my Tita Cita.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Wisdom and Chocolate

I was sitting on a bench outside of the laundry mat, waiting for my clothes to wash, reading a book and eating miniature Dove chocolates - you know, the ones with inspirational sayings written inside the wrapper. Most said things like: Naughty can be nice; You're allowed to do nothing; Test your own limits and keep going ... but then I opened one that took me back to the day I first decided to move to New York City. There is certainly no shortage of people like me with the cliche dream of moving to New York in search and pursuit of success and happiness.

Make "someday" today. I just stared at the saying. It must have been 30 seconds before I realized I was smiling at this little foil wrapper. A little over a year ago, I had realized that someday was never going to come unless I made someday happen. I had realized that I was 25 years old and still talking about moving to New York City.

Fast forward to now. I've been living here for a little over one month. I made someday today and I'm working on making someday tomorrow. I looked around me. I looked at the spinning washers inside the laundry mat, I looked at the people walking by, I looked at the cigarette butts wedged in the cracks on the sidewalk, at the chipped paint on the curbs, at the aged pre-war buildings, at the cars stopping and going at the busy intersection. I started thinking about what I want.

I want to be Melanie Griffith at the end of Working Girl when she calls her best friend on the phone and says, "Guess where I am right now." I want varying levels of disappointment so that I'll recognize rapturous joy. I want to run with reckless emotion, find out if love is the size of an ocean, even if I crash down and burn out, at least I'm going to know what it's like to feel alive. I want to floss my teeth more regularly. I want to live life the hard way, with risks and chances. I don't want what's said to be easy; I want what is said to be worth it. I want to take random walks in this city and find the nooks and crannies that aren't highlighted in the travel guides. I don't want to believe that everything happens for a reason, but that I am the reason that some things happen. I want sights that my eyes can't believe, sounds that tug at my heart strings, feelings that take my breath away. I want to eat more fruits and vegetables and drink more water. I want to be swept off my feet on a regular basis. I want to stop wondering about the purpose of life and be one of the many purposes that don't require explanation. I want to save enough money to retire young and travel for pleasure. I want to take a carriage ride in Central Park. I want to do all the things I would regret not doing. I want a life like Anthony Hopkins' in Meet Joe Black, where you can wake up one morning and say, "I don't want anything more."

I'm 26 years old. I'm starting to figure out who I am. And I haven't taken the first step to being where I want to be, but rather I have plunged blindly and welcomed a little bit of danger. This isn't a movie, there may not be a "happily ever after," but in the words of Morgan Freeman, in one of his best of many best roles, "Get busy living or get busy dying ... That's goddamn right."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blogs At Random

I received a random comment from a random blogger so I visited her blog to check her out. I liked her immediately after reading her self-describing blurb:

"I created this blog so that I could send random thoughts out to random people for them to comment about. Some of my best conversations have been random. I guess that's why I loved Seinfield so much, I could relate. The funny thing about conversation is that you usually need more than yourself alone to do it, otherwise you're just bordering on the verge of insanity. So please give me your comments."

The funny thing about blogs is that we are conversing alone to anyone who will listen. Blogs are like having your own made-for-tv movie, where you can share your experiences with an audience (even though the character is supposed to be unaware of an audience - ultimately the actor's ability to create a character that connects with an audience is through an awareness of empathy and projecting a persona to which others can relate). In real life, there is no 24/7 empathic shareware. Thus, there's the freedom to do things we wouldn't normally do if we knew someone was watching.

Unrelated Random Side Thought: Today, Tokii and I were watching a rerun of the MTV VMAs, and Tokii commented on Paris Hilton's overall demeanor: "I wish I could see Paris just once when she is unaware of a camera." I get what she means. You rarely see ostentatious stars burst into a genuine, unattractive laugh or make any unappealing expressions when they are aware of the spotlight. They carry themselves in an unnatural manner befitting an object of perfection. Like a Barbie Doll.

Back to blogging: Desolate, difficult or boring situations seems so much less desolate, difficult or boring in movies because of the communal empathy facet. Enter blogging. The cinematic equivalent to a diary. Your own Carrie's laptop on Sex and the City. Your shitty job seems less shitty. Your lonely nights seem less lonely. Your random moments find a purpose. Your life leaves a mark, even if it's just a tiny mark in the vast universe of cyber space.

So please give her your comments.

59th St & Lexington Station

While waiting for the N train in the 59th & Lexington Station yesterday, I was sitting in one of the wooden seats in the center of the platform, and I could not help but overhear a conversation taking place between three teenagers sitting on another bench on the other side of a very large trash can. It was not a particularly interesting conversation and I was not trying to eavesdrop, but it was more so the way in which I was actually hearing the conversation that was so alluring.

The shape of the ceiling in a segment of that station is a very narrow half-cylinder that provides for some interesting acoustics. Though I could not see the teenagers unless I sat up as straight as possible and peered over the trash can, I could hear their entire conversation as clearly as if it were being broadcast from a speaker hanging directly over my head.

At first, I swallowed really hard several times because it initially felt like my ears were plugged. And I kept looking up at the ceiling wondering where this mysterious conversation was coming from. Finally, I sat up and peeked over the trash can at the girls sitting on the other side. Sure enough - the movement of their lips matched the words coming out of the invisible speaker over my head.

Even as the R train pulled into the station, opened and shut its doors and then departed, I could still make out the majority of their words. I remember being amazed by a similar phenomena when I visited the Whispering Gallery in St. Paul's Cathedral in London, whose name refers to the remarkable acoustic which makes it possible to hear words on one side that are whispered against the wall on the opposite side.

Note to self: Never have private conversations in the subway no matter how loud my surroundings are or inattentive others may seem.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Real Estate Stress

Finding an apartment in New York is a high-stress, frustrating endeavor. I've started attending broker appointments expecting to be disappointed. In fact, my aunt and I visited two apartments today and both were duds. Fortunately, I'm comfortable in my corner of Tokii's living room, but how long can I live on an air mattress and out of suitcases and boxes? Luckily, I feel like our friendship is pretty invincible. My relationship with her is truly something I will never doubt. I am also comforted by the fact that my living situation could always be worse.

My aunt and I found an apartment last night that we really like. It is a large convertible two-bedroom in a pre-war building in Woodside (Queens), two blocks from the train, and 15-minutes to Grand Central on the 7 for $1200 a month. On the corner of the street (and from the train station), there is a gorgeous skyline view of Manhattan.

What's the catch? Well, the previous tenant of 40 years just died, and the apartment is not yet on the market. We didn't actually see his apartment, but rather an identical apartment of a friend of my aunt just a few floors below. One of her neighbors is close with the super so he is going to see if we can get the apartment after the old man's family divides his estate and before it actually goes on the market. I feel badly though that the apartment that might best suit our needs might only be possible for our family at the tragic expense of another's.

I was talking to Tokii about the apartment and the unfortunate circumstances while she was washing dishes last night. As she leaned over the sink to put a little muscle into the pot she was scrubbing, she said nonchalantly, "You know, I've heard of a lot of people checking obituaries for leads on apartments."

Friday, September 01, 2006

VMAs, Mass Celebrity Sighting and Almost TGIF

I left the office yesterday at 10:30 p.m. The-Devil-Wears-Prada "boss" also stayed late, but we weren't the only ones. A lot of people work late there. A lot of people work late all over this city. It is the city that never sleeps in a lot of different ways.

Just up the street, the MTV red carpet pre-show and the VMAs were going on. When I left work, I decided to take a short detour by Radio City Music Hall instead of immediately descending the stairs into the Bryant Park station. It was less than a five-minute walk away so why not check out the scene?

The show had just ended, and in the 5-10 minutes that I took to slowly stroll 6th Avenue and 50th Street, I saw Rick Ross, Paris Hilton (who I found to be prettier in person than she is in her photos, where she often looks like a high and/or sleepy albeit beautiful praying mantis), Johnny Knoxville and Company (obviously drunk and, as usual, treating every moment like it's the time of their lives ... you have to admire that), Rihanna, Axel Rose, Sway, Busta Rhymes (I took a picture of his car on my camera phone so I could send it to Jessica, his #1 fan), Jennifer Lopez and her future ex (actually, I shouldn't say that; they seem to be doing pretty well ... at least publically), and my personal favorite, Beyonce (I don't think I've ever seen anyone that pretty in real life). I might have stayed longer for some more celebrity sightings, but I was tired and still had a Friday of work to get through. Plus, my short detour had turned into an inconvenient maze rather than a scenic route because there were so many people and police barracades.

Speaking of Fridays and Beyonce, she'll be performing live on Good Morning America next Friday morning in Times Square, and Tokii and I fully intend to be in attendance. And then, I'll walk down the street and go to work, and Tokii will go uptown for class and rehearsal at The Juilliard School. I love this city!