The Witty Wordsmith

New York, late winter, the sky is an intense shade of grey. The trees remained bare of any lively bright leaves. In the midst of the eerie grey, a remarkable bit of sunshine played peek-a-boo behind a rainy cloud.

On such an idyllic winter’s day, I set off on foot for St. Nicholas Park in Harlem. It’s a most wonderful park, which fades into hilly fields of green. Regardless of the cold, I’ve always adored sitting on a park bench and reading a good book. Quality time with a book is my ideal form of therapy. I fade into a character’s shoes and forget any of the day troubles.

On one riveting expedition, I sought a most wonderful park bench. As, I picked a perfect little spot for literary madness, the cold winds penetrated through my layers, and pea coat.

For once in my life, I shivered. The goose bumps on my arm grew more sensitive. At that point, I had to look elsewhere for a romantic date with my used book from the Strand bookstore.

I wandered through Harlem’s Hamilton’s Heights neighborhood. It’s the perfect backdrop for any quirky film (Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums was filmed there). The brownstones are eccentric yet sophisticated characters in their own right.

The hills have provided an escape from the quintessentially Manhattan painting. Bay windows, dramatic stoops and old world charm could inspire poets, painters and playwrights of life to create a proper work of art.

While heading up the hill toward Broadway, I was craving a hot chocolate from the Chipped Cup (my favorite coffee shop, uptown). On that pleasantly quiet Sunday, everyone had the same idea.

The quaint coffee shop was filled with patrons. I was disappointed, since I just wanted was to read a good book. So, I headed back down to 145 street.

To my disappointed, Dunkin Donuts was also filled to the brim with people. I didn’t want to go back to my apartment, since I was really craving a coffee shop. Instead of giving up hope, I took an unexpected turn.

The Eighth avenue subway provided the ears with a classic sound, which only a raspy record player could rival. I found my reading spot, a seat on the subway platform. Even though, the subway has many distractions, I’ve always found it an easy place to concentrate on a book there.

When the A train arrived, I boarded it merrily. I even found a seat. However, distraction found me. “Why don’t you put a chip in me, so you know where I am at all times, said a girlfriend to an equally angry boyfriend. They fought. They whole train watched. Trying to hold back laughter, I tried very hard to not loose concentration on my book.

The arguing heightened into theatrical satire. “Fuck it, I can’t think with this racket going on. At least, there aren’t break-dancers on this train, ” said I. “Showtime,” yelled a boy with a boom box.” Break-dancers with a giant boom box appeared from the blue to everyone’s annoyance.

My eyes didn’t leave my book. Anyhow, my brain was completely distracted. I made it to West 4th Street. Randomly, I decided a cannoli would be amazing.

So, I boarded the F train to Second Avenue and ended up in the East Village. I headed up First Avenue and into the old world charm of Veniero’s (legendary dessert restaurant in the East Village). I ordered a cannoli and opted for a cappuccino rather than a hot chocolate.

I took out my book and found a swell place to concentrate. It only took a long walk, two trains and another somewhat long walk to find my literary Zen. Regardless, my literary Zen was a whole lot better with a delicious cannoli accompanying it.

Dream Oddity

Close to me by the Cure blasts as I drive past fields of tulips, ponds with fog rolling gently and green colored hills. In this middle of this kingdom of tranquility and chirping crickets is a tiny shack. Although, it’s quite homely looking, the shack serves delicious coffee.

Inside the coffee shop is a handsome and charming man. However, I spend the whole time at the line trying to convince him to pay for my coffee. What? Why so cheap? He tries to charm me with his wit. However, jaded me isn’t buying it.

I go outside for an electronic cigarette. The shack has a vast field where men wearing tights are fighting with very large swords. William Shakespeare would adore the chivalry. As the men battle, my cardigans and khakis turn into an Elizabethan era fashion statement complete with tights.

This look may work in Hell’s Kitchen, but not for me. I want my khakis. The men doing battle are quite handsome. I forget the cheapo inside, revel in the fighting and sip my gourmet cappuccino. What ends up being a real life battle sequence is actually a magnificently staged Shakespearean play. A minute later the curtains go down and I wake up to my real twenty-something reality.

Dreams are like plays. You are either an audience member or an actor giving the grand monologue. Some dreams can be a very emotional and sometimes evolve into a dreadful experience. Other three act masterpieces leave one riveted and with a desire for the light drama to continue.

My Shakespearean style dream last night woke up my subconscious. It brought my love of theatre with male characters, whom I fell in love with at some point in my life. The toughest part was waking up and realizing that a bunch of men in tights were not fighting for my attention in the play of life, oh well. Here’s to more dreams with men, coffee and lots of beautiful geographical scenery.

Don’t Eat Yellow Snow

Snow, something I daydream about during heat waves. Nothing is more cinematic than watching snow fall gently into New York’s tough sidewalks. Living in sunny California, the only snow I see is up in the mountains from a safe distance and playing with a snow globe, of course.

I miss living in New York and it’s seasons. Snow is something I always looked forward. The best feeling is walking out of my apartment and seeing the stoop buried in the white powdery stuff. The sound of my shoe crunching against the snow was the perfect accompaniment to my ipod’s groovy sounds. I never bothered with an umbrella as my hair was covered in snowflakes.

The best place to experience snow is Central Park. It melts slower than the rest of the city. It’s a vast winter wonderland, which would inspire Bing Crosby to come back from the dead and sing “White Christmas” all over again. Snow is pure. However, living in snow also has its pitfalls.

Black snow is a secret enemy of the avid walker. While walking on the Upper West Side, I excitedly bought a coffee off the truck and was meeting a friend. I’ve always walked fast and hate being stopped by a slow pedestrian. While power walking after heavy snowfall, a mom and her baby carriage blocked me. I maneuvered past her. I felt triumphant, while walking up 72nd & Broadway.

Unfortunately, black snow broke my successful maneuver. I slipped and fell in front of the busy Upper West Side intersection. The mom walked up to me and asked if I was ok. I answered sure, just a small fall. The biggest tragedy was spilling my newly purchased latte all over my winter coat. I got up, dusted myself up and bravely walked to Riverside drive.

However, dangerous it is to walk in snow. Nothing beats nights where blizzards hit the city. While most Americans hibernate during a snowstorm, New Yorkers hit the bars. I’ve had wonderful memories of having drinks with friends on the Lower East Side. The majority of the city’s twenty-somethings cram bars between 14th and Delancy Street. Walking out a bit buzzed makes the snow fall experience ever more dramatic.

The art of living in the Blizzard ends around March/early April. New Yorkers like to complain about how snow slips from pristine beauty to a slushy mess. The melted stuff comes rolled with leaves and stained in brown and yellow.

They always say don’t eat the snow in New York. I did once; it tasted like flavorless Italian ice. Obviously, I stay away from the yellow and brown stuff. Living in snow, is one of the world’s simple joys. It brings people together at apartments for hibernation dinner parties; bars and neighbors work together as a community to make the streets walk able. Remember don’t power walk during or after a blizzard, while holding coffee.

The Germ Capsule

Purell is a dear friend of mine. It keeps the germs away and makes me smile. No orange juice needed when I have the 99.9% germinator. However, there were those moments in life where I proclaimed “Oh shit, I left the Purell at my apartment.” Even after a careful survey of my messenger bag, no hand sanitizer to be found.

As an avid rider of the New York subway, my days without Purell were the equivalent of a Medieval soldier without his shield. On those days, there was always that one sick person, who happened to sneeze up a storm. Their favorite seat was always right next to mine, of course.

A couple days later, I made an art form of breathing out of one nostril. It inspired me to stock up on Purell and aggressively find a seat on the subway (as opposed to hanging on to a poll). Sometimes, there were the moments when I was the Loch Ness monster of the public transportation system.

In Tokyo, surgical masks are as common as black coats in New York. Everyone has them; they even come in a vast array of colors and styles. They use them for the obvious, to prevent germs spreading. However, I didn’t get the memo to bring a surgical mask to Japan. Hence, I became paranoid to sneeze. I would often times wet my lips, just so I wouldn’t sneeze in the middle of the metro.

All my memories of Tokyo take place in the winter, flu season. On one faithful metro ride to Ginza, my nose started to itch. I wet my lip and the sensation went to the back of my head. The itchy nostril feeling returned bringing its spew of menace into my throat. I was in the one train where everyone was sporting the surgical mask. The urge persisted I fought against it. However, troop sneeze-a-lot prevailed. I let a sneeze so loud; Godzilla would’ve run for cover.

I looked around and nobody cared. I am sure they were thinking “Purell, Purell where art thou?” Everyone was napping or playing on their mobile. Still, I didn’t catch on to the surgical mask trend.

These days, I drive a car. I feel like the boy in the bubble. It’s a relatively germ free place. However, I still miss my buses and subway, even if I am exposed to germs, the excitement of being in a big city makes up for a cough and sneeze later.

Glittery Disco Balls

I don’t boogie, but I am a night owl. Hoot, hoot says the owl of night. Going out to a bar and dancing on a table isn’t my cup of miso soup. Often times, I have a natural buzz from pondering life’s philosophical questions, “how can I say thesaurus without lisping?” or “why aren’t there any dinosaurs in the bible?” These thoughts happen while the city morphs itself into a sleepyhead. All I want to do is walk, even in the darkness.

However, I’ve had my share of splendid nights out on the town. In New York, everything runs 24 hours, since the workdays are long and people are always up doing something. The subway, diners and Dunkin Donuts welcome those who are sleep deprived. Even in the world’s most happening cities, not everything runs 24 hours. Sure, some places have all night debauchery, but their metro/subways close early, wringing in the urbanite’s dilemma.

It’s a lesson, I learned the hard way in Tokyo. I ended an evening out in frenetically paced Shinjuku and had the need to take the subway down to Shibuya to fulfill a sweet’s craving late at night. After devouring a crepe and sipping on the most magnificent coffee, I walked to the metro station. Surprise, it was closed, since it was after midnight. Even though, I was on holiday, I didn’t want to spend my whole night wondering around. Therefore, I did the unthinkable.

I took a cab back to my hotel in Asakusa, which was quite a schlep. My sweet tooth cost me too many yen. However, seeing Tokyo by night was well worth it. I didn’t learn my lesson about catching the subway on time in London.

On my last trip to London, I met up with my British posse Sophie, Ella and Matilda. It was the dead of winter. The English capital felt like an Eskimo’s dreamland. Cold winds penetrated through my layers of clothes.

London is one of my favorite cities in the world. My English buddies took me all over. We hit a traditional pub complete with a portrait of the Queen mum pouring beer to display authentic British-ness. We then hit a couple of bars around the West End, from a gay bar to Soho House to a cave like watering hole, which served delicious booze and played Green Day (it really looked like a cave inside).

After too many laughs and whiskies, we emerged into the chilly London evening. I felt jet lagged and was determined to take a cab back to my hotel. They were going to North London, while I was off to Bayswater next to Notting Hill. We hailed for a cab, but all of London seemed to be in the classic black cabs.

I strategized a plan to finally obtain a proper cab. We positioned ourselves on all three different corners of Oxford Street. Alas, no cab would stop. I saw the distinctive red hued double decker buses pick up the survivors of the night, but I just wanted a nap. Finally, an hour passed and no cab. The wind chill effect took place. I used the collar of my pea coat to protect me from London’s harsh chilly winds.

Finally, Sophie suggested we take a car service home. After a quick sandwich stop, I left the West End in a chauffeured car, rather than a black cab and the cost was the same. London was more magical as my car made it’s way past the parade of window displays on Oxford Circus.

I got back to my hotel and slept wonderfully. The next day, I absorbed all my booze with a full English breakfast (toast, sausage, bacon, eggs over easy and a grilled tomato). I met up with my child hood friend, Rochelle that following night. Instead of playing cab spotting, we had tapas, hit a pub and grabbed the tube before midnight.

Nothing beats a night out in London, Tokyo and New York. I do enjoy the quiet nights in my backyard under  nature’s disco ball, the moon. I daydream, while remembering my adventures on late night subways and the taxicab scavenger hunt.

The Tourist Trap

Times Square, half of my working life in New York took place here. I’ve jaywalked the crossroads of the world in the middle of a blizzard, maneuvered my way through the people traffic and avoided the urge to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Sure, it’s the center of the city, but it’s a Disney-fied collection of chain restaurants one would find in Middle America.

That said, working in Times Square had its perks. Late at night, I’d turn off all the lights and watch the bright lights and extravagant outdoor ads smiling back at me. It was always a real treat.

Not so entertaining was catching the subway back to my apartment. Tourists tend to struggle with swiping their metro cards. At 42nd street-Times Square station, you could write a whole three act play, while these bewildered people attempted to enter the subway.

Times Square is classified as a tourist trap. This is any place prominent on a guidebook that is looked down upon by locals. Unlike a mousetrap, a savory slice of cheese is not needed to allure unsuspecting tourists. The only cheeses around are the souvenirs and overpriced caricatures, which are a mainstay of the tourist trap.

Even I have fallen prey to the tourist trap. Travel guides make some places completely alluring. Paris is a sophisticated town filled with high culture and an endless amount of tourist traps. Montmartre (the hill over looking the French capital) and the Eiffel Tower are more like a shrine to postcards and snow globes than anything the cool French bobos (French upwardly mobile bohemian crowd, somehow the French make hipster look chic) would ever frequent.

My favorite French tourist trap remains (drum roll) the Louvre. I’ve been there twice, I always took a picture in front of the pyramid entrance way. The art collection is overwhelming literally. The best art is skipping the Mona Lisa. It’s so small in real life. Paris will always be my pick for the world’s most beautiful city.

In Buenos Aires, the architecture screams Paris. There are cluster of buildings in Buenos Aires, which look as though they escaped chilly French winters for the humidity of Argentina. My most morbid tourist trap experience was the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s where high society is buried and Eva Peron, remains it’s most famous resident.

Not to culture shock anyone, but I was obsessed with the Evita soundtrack as a kid. I’m a huge Madonna fan and loved the film. I would hum and sing, ” Stand back Buenos Aires.” Some guys had loud hip-hop growing up, while I pumped up my Evita soundtrack. While in Buenos Aires, I wanted to see Eva Peron’s grave. Recoleta looks more like a small colonial town than a cemetery.

I kept asking people ” where is Eva Peron’s grave?” There was group of elderly American tourists. I followed them. There in a black marble grave was Evita’s grave. It wasn’t anything to really write home about.

Buenos Aires has this eclectic cosmopolitan population. Jewish, Italian, Spanish and Chinese make up a collage of cultures. However, one rarely sees the gaggle of American tourists (the stereotypical ones in tour groups, usually elderly and armed with fierce fanny pack) on the streets of Buenos Aires. They’re always too busy trying to find Eva Peron’s marble palace at the cemetery.

A hop, skip & jump over Brazil, the Equator and way up the Atlantic is London. It’s one of my favorite cities.  The red double decker buses, the novels of Charles Dickens, Brit pop from the 90’s, pubs (obviously), the edgy fashion and even the royal family’s history inspire my love of Cool Britannia. Like Paris, London makes tourist traps into very historical sites.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey are quintessential and important slices of British history. All are touristy, but incredibly interesting to visit.

I love the National Gallery and sometimes-even love hanging out on Trafalgar Square and staring at Big Ben from the distance. However, one touristy part of London, I can’t stand is noisy Leicester Square. Think Times Square meets Meatpacking District (douchey nightclub bottle service heart of trendy New York). The fast-food chains and huge discos don’t exactly inspire haikus.

Living in touristy New York, visitors were always identified by a fear of jay walking, a love of movies turned into Broadway musicals & stopping traffic to capture the city for their friends back home to enjoy. My current home in California is not a tourist trap. At times I do miss taking the subway at Times Square and the energy.

All cool places have their tourist traps. Regardless of how un-cool a typical tourist looks, I do give them props for exploring new and exotic worlds, even if they are armed with fanny packs.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.

My Own Private Igloo

Not long ago in the frozen tundra of New York City lived a boy who loved the cold & grey. While New Yorkers dreamed of Florida & grumpily walked to work on the ice skating rings known as sidewalks, he reveled in all that winter had to offer.

From the ice capped peaks of Central Park to the cliche but charming images of brownstones with snow covering the classic stoop, it was magical. He adored winter with swell coffee, heavy fog, lack of sun, superb soups, gorgeous fashion (especially pea coats) & the feeling of one’s face freezing over from Manhattan’s very prominent wind tunnel effect (the skyscrapers create this effect making it colder in the city than the outer boroughs).

I’ve always loved the cold. In fact, my nickname is the urban eskimo. Where did I garner such a nickname? It’s from my love of Arctic style weather. I like to think of my house as my own private igloo. It’s always chilly, perfect for the sweater loving crowd & also the ideal setting for soup consumption. The igloo effect extends to my car. After moving back to California from New York, my car a/c died. So I quickly, fixed it. Thanks to my car’s high tech a/c, I can wear nifty sweaters, drink hot java & find peace in a sea of sunshine + traffic jams.

I also find inspiration from the grey old sky. It stirs a nostalgia, which compares to watching an old black & white film, since they remind me of a long gone era. Some of my best memories take place in the grey. Therefore, it’s my most favorite time to sit down & write about these experiences. No harsh sun causing gridlock in my brain, just the soothing sounds of wind & rain dancing along the characters I develop for school & creative endeavors.

I see too many sunny days now. It makes me appreciate the June gloom, which covers the coastal areas of California. It is also an excuse to dress up in my favorite sweaters, enjoy a most delicious cappuccino & soup du jour.

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