Arty Farty

“What do you want to do, when you grow up?” was a question, I was asked often as a kid. My answer was simple ” I want to be a writer in New York.” Often, I would get a sarcastic grin and have the same annoying question, “Why, would a nice boy like you want to live in dirty old New York?” Feeling a great sense of confidence, I smartly replied “Cause the suburbs are stupid. I hate clean & detest conformity.”  Even at the tender age of thirteen, I knew my ideal life path.

As I sit at the New York public library contemplating my big plan, my dreams are becoming a reality. When I finished my copywriting portfolio and moved back to the city from California, a strong feeling accomplishment accompanied me. Although, my portfolio was done, I had to make the hard copy look like a charming collection of paintings at MOMA. Therefore, I went to the arts supply to buy the binder and necessary material to make this arty vision, a reality.

The art supply shop was an unexpectedly delightful journey. The blank sketch books, paint brushes, kitschy notepads, art magazines and sea of other creative types running around with their portfolio binders made me feel right at home.

However, my artistic utopia was tested. As I glanced into the hard copy of my ads, there was white lining at all ends. In order for it to blend into the black portfolio page background, the white needed to be cut out. Fear raced across my right brain. “What if I make a mistake?” “What if I cut too deep and leave the edges uneven?” What if I accidentally cut through the middle?”

Then it hit me “if I am going to be creative, I need to take risks.” Creative life like the real world isn’t always cut in a perfect straight line. Sometimes, a little unevenness makes life more interesting. So, I started the snipping process, which was nerve wracking. Surprise, I did cut one end of an ad unevenly.

Utilizing a little scissor magic, I quickly fixed it. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it survived. From then on, I lost fear and became universally creative in the most intense situation.

Underground Show

Music is the lifeblood for my right-sided brain. David Bowie, Blondie, Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, the Ramones and Madonna supply stimulation while I work on creative endeavors.

New York rock bands from the early 60′s and the 70′s capture my interest. I was always sad that I never had the chance to visit CBGB’s, while it was still a piece of Downtown Manhattan’s quirky collage. However, the bands that emerged from the legendary venue live in my music collection.

While CBGB’s has been replaced with a pricey, John Varvatos shop, life south of 14th street still has a great music scene. For the longest time, I spent all my time downtown and didn’t walk into any music venues. One faithful Saturday night that changed.

Gino phoned me and asked, “Do you wanna see a show in the Lower East Side tonight?” I replied “I’m already in my pajamas.” With a little laughter, he said ” there are going to be half well off drinks.” I walked to my closet to pick out an outfit. “I’ll see you in 30 minutes.”

I took the subway to the Lower East Side and waited for Gino outside the Cake Shop (a coffee shop with an underground concert space). Waiting outside the venue was a parade of hip people. Black rim glasses, quirky style and a bit of irony were the fabric tied to the scene that night. I looked down at the horse at the left hand side of my shirt. “Oh, I’m definitely bringing preppy back.”

Gino met me and we walked downstairs to the show. It was packed, thanks to the drink specials, but I actually was excited to see the band. I hadn’t gone too many concerts.

After, Gino picked us up drinks, the band played. They had a distinctive New York rock band sound. It was Julian Casablanca meets Vampire Weekend. Thanks to my half off drink, I found myself jamming, even with my little horsey, distinguishing me as the lone prep.

I might have missed CBGB, but wow, this was truly fun entertainment. After the show, I felt excited. Not only did I have a fun time, but also did something out of the ordinary. I haven’t gone to many concerts since, but would be open for more fun.

Today, I have a concert playing in my head almost hourly. My favorite music listening experience revolves around ordering a chai latte, blasting Bjork on my iPOD and freely strolling the Lower East Side. It’s my form of creative therapy. Cheers to more loud music and booze.

Catwalks of New York

Strutting down Broadway toward Madison Square Park, I walk in the shady side of the street, since it’s not plagued with heat. In early autumn, the city is still cooling down from summer’s intense perpetual heat and humidity. Regardless of the unpredictable weather, I wear my all black cardigan combo. During my whole trip to Madison Square Park, I survived without schvitizing (sweating). The true test of wearing an overly warm outfit is not breaking a sweat after my peaceful park bench retreat ends.

I have to walk from 23rd and Park to Chinatown for lunch. I continue on with my strategy, although the sun comes to greet me unexpectedly. As I speed through the Bowery, I schvitz a bit. However, I find a stoop in Chinatown to cool off. By the time, Judy meets me I’m minty fresh and ready for a delicious early lunch.

I’ll admit to sacrificing comfort for style. When it comes to fashion, I’m obsessed. I don’t follow up on trends, but adore combining outfits. My favorite time of the day is (believe it or not) the morning. I wake up after one of my many dreams of marrying a European prince and joyfully design my outfit for the day.

Ties and cardigans are my favorite staple. I love combining bold hues such as a black cardigan and trousers with a grey tie. It works well for three seasons of the year. For summer, I typically just do the collard shirt with jeans or khakis look.

Although, I probably was born wearing a shirt and tie (even though my parents tell me otherwise) there are times I do break the rules. One winter it was so cold in New York, I had my ugly laid back green winter coat shipped from California.

I felt like an oversize green bean in that coat. It was quite warm, but lacked the classic style of a pea coat or trench coat. One night, I went to a party at a Lower East Side hotel with Nicole and Krista. When we walked out of the party, a full on blizzard welcomed us.

We made our way toward First Avenue with snowflakes flying at high velocity. Even though, I wasn’t stylish with my green coat and old sneakers, it was a cozy walk in the middle of New York’s infamous bad weather. “Wow, now I know why people dress comfortably.” My cozy fashion stage didn’t last. I traded in my green coat and old sneakers for loafers and blazers.

David Bowie sang the “fashion” song. Not gonna lie, I’ve walked up Spring Street listening to that song while mentally transforming the sidewalk into the runway at New York fashion week. The city is a giant catwalk, where fashion trends are born.

The catwalk isn’t just fashionable Nolita or the trendy East Village. Styles are born at vintage shops in Brooklyn, along Harlem stoops and even on the 6 train. New York will always be the living breathing fashion magazine brought to life.

Bohemian Life

Bob Dylan sang those legendary lyrics “how does it feel? To be on your own like a rolling stone.” When I first heard those lyrics as a teenager it spoke to me. I knew that I would not live a traditional life. Therefore the idea of being a starving artist in New York City was romanticized, since it represented my interpretation of the Dylan classic.

Being the arty type meant going against the archetype set up by generations of parents who groom their children to wear a suit and carry a calculator like it’s the Holy Grail. Films and books, I read about made being poor in New York look so damn good.

The clichés were correct. My room was so tiny; I would extend my arms and could easily touch both walls. I didn’t have closet space and the radiator couldn’t function 99.9% of the winter. Like most New Yorkers, I had a severe case of claustrophobia.

In the city, we are surrounded by canyon like buildings, people in every corner and a general lack of space. Instead of moving somewhere boring where strip malls, supermarkets and baby strollers run wild like dolled up brunettes at Bergdorf Goodman’s, we learn to love claustrophobia.

Lack of closet space, no worries; just put your sweater collection in the kitchen cupboards. Small bedroom space means it’s a wonderful day to hang out in Tompkins Square Park. While staying warm is easy with an abundance of charming bookshops like the Strand.

While gleeful attitudes toward claustrophobia are inevitable, sometimes the flowery perspective is put to the test. One winter’s night, Nicole, Krista and I were en route to the Guggenheim Museum for a party. Bands, art and booze were the allure of the grand feast.

We arrived and the whole place was hopping. There were all kinds of people representing every ethnicity and subculture of New York. It was a fashionable crowd. At first, the party seemed like a delight. Then the crowds and music levels increased as the museum’s walls narrowed. Claustrophobia was out to get us.

Therefore, we took a couple swigs of wine and left the party early. We hailed a cab and took a journey to the Lower East Side. Everything from Park Avenue to the view of Stuy Town from FDR drive shined with charm. After a lovely dinner at a restaurant on Essex street, I was reminded why I can tolerate claustrophobia. Wonderful friends and delicious food make living the city an absolutely amazing experience even with its flaws.

I had my struggling New Yorker era. My life mirrored the lyrics of the Bob Dylan song “on my own like a rolling stone.” However, nothing beats living in New York. There’s no other place, which inspires me more. Keep the space and sprawl found in the rest of America, I’d take Manhattan please.

Memories Of A Delicatessen

Matzo ball soup, a pastrami sandwich complimented by superb rye bread, a black and white cookie washed down with a coffee inspire my taste buds to do a happy dance. For years, the Jewish deli has been an integral part of my dinning experience. I love Reuben sandwiches; have acquired a taste for pickles, but still frightened to try gefilte fish.

The original heart of Jewish New York is the Lower East Side home to Katz’s delicatessen. I walked past it a trillion times. Most of my Lower East Side adventures commenced on Ludlow and Houston. I finally ended up going with Judy on one of our many food expeditions.

” You’re not a real New Yorker unless you have an egg cream” she said. I ordered an egg cream before my journey into pastrami sandwich land. The quintessential New York drink does not have any egg in it. Egg cream comes in vanilla and chocolate with seltzer water added. It’s very similar to an Italian soda.

Half way through my egg cream indulgence, the hot pastrami sandwich arrived. While other places have hot pastrami sandwiches, they have the tendency to taste like warmed up cold cuts.

Katz’s taste like real pastrami, freshly cook with a thicker cut of meat than the normal delicatessen. It was simply delicious and I was happy to add Katz’s to my favorite New York dinning experiences.

After my Katz’s experience I tried the fancy delis. I have fond memories of dinning at an upscale deli on the Upper East Side. Primarily, I went for the people watching. However, the prices were high and it lacked that mom n’ pops feel. Therefore, if I want matzo ball and pastrami sandwich fill, Katz’s or more traditional delis are my favorite choice.

Big In Tokyo

A group of old men playing chess while the quintessential folky earth mama sings about same sex attraction. The sweet scent of espresso is brewing filling the house with delight. This is the nostalgic coffee shop experience.

It’s a refuge from the workday without the hangover of a glass of wine. The coffee shop is also known the pub alternative where blueberry muffins, kitschy novels and cappuccinos populate the nerve of intellectual and social activity.

My twenties were spent hanging out in coffee shops. I love the coziness and the high level of creative activity. I’ve spent time in virtually every coffee house in Downtown Manhattan. My favorites are the Cake Shop (in the Lower East Side), the Bean (East Village) and Jack’s (West Village).

When I travel internationally, I typically have my coffee at 4 pm. My fondest memories are enjoying a coffee with my dad in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires while being immersed in the bohemian environment. While in Madrid, we drank cafe con leche (a latte) with little pastries. However, the most grand coffee shop experience is in Tokyo.

The three things, I love the most are looking at city views, people watching and (here’s a shocker) drinking abnormally large quantities of coffee. The Tokyo coffee house experience offers all three. My favorite places to grab a cup of Joe vary. Le Cafe Doutor in the Ginza district is fancy schmancy.

It’s located in the heart of the most moneyed high fashion slice of Tokyo. It overlooks the main crossing, which is surrounded by opulence. It’s designer shops, grand department stores and chichi cafes. The white chocolate latte is my vice there. I felt quite fancy sipping coffee there. That same day, I visited another coffee shop with a view, Starbucks in Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing is the busiest place one could ever visit. It’s Times Square x 100. I’ve walked Shibuya Crossing many times. However, I never bumped into anybody. It’s amazing. I wish more cities would adopt diagonal crossing. The Starbucks there overlooks that very busy crossing.

I know I could get Starbucks here, but none have the view of the Shibuya Starbucks. It’s a similar experience to Le Cafe Doutor only the crowds are funky. It’s more street fashion as opposed to haute couture.  I felt like a bird perched on a tree watching the millions of people watching below. It was simply amazing and my excuse for having Starbucks in Japan.

Unlike most cities in the world, Tokyo can offer the best coffee house experience anywhere you go. In Japan, the vending machine is big. New York wired me to have no patience. Therefore, standing in line can be a rather frustrating experience.

In Tokyo, I never had to worry about waiting in line. I could purchase a hot coffee from the vending machine, pick up a pack of cigarettes (back when I was a smoker and also from the vending machine) and have a quintessentially stress free experience. Afterwards, I would wonder around the city, put on some folky tunes and indulge in my own private coffee shop anywhere from a park to frenetically paced Shinjuku.

I love the quintessential coffee shop experience. It’s the pub alternative, where I’ve done everything from written huge thesis papers to job-hunt online. In Tokyo, the vending machine is queen and is my to go form of coffee on the run. Nothing beats the Tokyo coffee shops with grand views will always be my favorite places in the city.

The Perks Of Being A Film Snob

One fine winter’s day, I received my fifth grade report card. It was a spectacular one. I didn’t particularly love math and science (still don’t, yawn), but survived with a C. My parents were so proud that they decided to reward. They took me to the record store, where I bought Green Day’s “Dookie” album. Then they offered to take me to the movies.

I kept seeing previews and reading about Pulp Fiction. It looked beyond interesting. Of course, my parents were oblivious to movies, especially those with blood, guts and the words fuck + shit being uttered after every declarative sentence. Therefore, I told my folks, let’s go see Pulp Fiction.  ” John Travolta is in it,” I told my mom. She replied ” Oh I loved him in Saturday Night Fever.”

We arrived at the movies; I was sitting in between both parents. From the get go, Pulp Fiction started off with “fuck, shit, fuck.” It was followed by violence and then the opening theme song ” Miserlou” by Dick Dale. Both mom and dad starred me down. They feared I was enjoying the profanity and violence a bit too much. I just smiled nervously.

Then came the famous dance sequence with John Travolta and Uma Thurman. They calmed down a bit, until the drug overdose scene came on. That was followed by another stare down. More gun violence, cars running people over and strong sexual scenes made up the remainder of the Quentin Tarantino classic.

My parents walked out in shock. I tried to hold back my gleeful interior. Wow, that was some movie I told them. Thank you for my good report card present. They just nodded. We drove home. That very night, I decided I wanted to grow up and become a film major. Pulp Fiction also set a standard of high film achievement in my book. I never saw films the same.

Pre-film school years, I found myself quite attracted to independent, low budget and foreign films. Trainspotting, Kids, Last Days of Disco, Velvet Goldmine, Virgin Suicides and Metropolitan helped shape my love of excellent story lines and character based films. It was a stark contrast to the big budgeted blockbusters, which I saw more as appealing to the masses.

In film school, they wanted us to write those mainstream blockbusters. I opted for indie style films. In the tradition of Pedro Almodovar meets Wes Anderson, my characters were dark and quirky. They wrestled with mental disorders, coming out of the closet and getting their brains zapped. It didn’t fly in film school, but I enjoyed writing them.

After graduating with a BA in film, I did the quintessential office jobs in New York. However, I still found solace in the dark and chilly movie theatre. One of my favorite holiday memories in Manhattan revolved around the Sunshine Cinema in the Lower East Side.

I went there one Thanksgiving with Natalia. We watched a Pedro Almodovar flick with a gaggle of East Village/LES hip people dressed in all black. It was not only fun people watching, but it reminded me why I studied film. It brings people together and is another very effective tool of storytelling.

After walking onto Houston Street after watching the great film, I felt energized. It reminded me of the good old days in film school after we watched classics like Network and the Graduate.

I opted to pursue a career in copywriting as opposed to screenwriting. However, I learned a great deal about character development in film school, which in turn helped with the storytelling process through ad campaigns.

Not to say, all mainstream films are bad. The Addams Family, Bring it on and Legally Blonde are a couple films, which I love to watch. I do enjoy and appreciate the lack of special effects in indie films. The genre also tends to be more centered on a character driven premise. Thanks to my parents who surprisingly sat through all of Pulp Fiction and didn’t make me walk out.

Lower East Side

The New Museum is sandwiched between two very gritty buildings on the Bowery. It’s a modern white building housed in the epitome of old New York, the Lower East Side. The downtown neighborhood is also one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.

Regardless of the hipsters and yuppies giving it a less than edgy vibe, I still love the Lower East Side. Old tenement buildings; bars, cafes, coffee shops and social hotch potch of residents make up the neighborhood’s character. It’s also home to Katz’s, which has the best pastrami sandwiches and The Sunshine Cinema where I loved to watch indie films.

As I walked through, the Bowery listening to Florence and the Machine, I decided to finally make the voyage to the New Museum. When I arrived, they told me to visit the top floor observation deck. Views of the city still excite me.

My most touristy outing I ever had in New York was going to the top of the Empire State Building. I was sixteen at the time and thought it was beyond cool. When I actually lived in the city, going to the top of the Empire State Building never interested me. I labeled it a tourist activity.

Instead, I would partake in the most quintessential of New York activities, admiring the city from the top of a rooftop. Being on a rooftop of an apartment building says, ” Hey you made it.” I have fond memories of having parties on Lower East Side rooftops, while rain clouds threatened my the sunny disposition. I’ve also been locked out of a rooftop, which was nerve wracking. Looking back, it was glorious.

I took the elevator to the top floor of the museum and stepped into the observation deck. I roamed around taking pictures. To one side there were the red brick co-op buildings of the Lower East Side, the Williamsburg Bridge and the projects, while the Financial District was on the other side. The Village and with the buildings of Midtown towered ahead. It gave me a deep feeling of serenity in the high-strung wonderland.

While standing there in the town, which inspired so much of my creativity, an epiphany struck me. I need to move back to New York. As of recent, I’ve been calling California home again. Personally, I never found the outdoorsy and car centric culture of Southern California appealing. It served me well. However, when I left New York, my heart stayed in the city. Therefore, my goal became shinier than the holiday lights of Grand Central Station. It was time to work hard and move back.

I had a wonderful time at the New Museum, observing modern art and staying cultured. Staring at the Manhattan from the museum observation deck was more than inspirational. It reiterated that New York is where I belong.

Gay And The City

The unpredictable makes New York exciting. While, most American cities revel in the norm and expected, New Yorkers find joy in the mystery on the corner of 14th and Broadway. Romance is one of those oddities, which one often avoids. New York is the singleton’s paradise. There are too many men, too little time.

The New York City subway is as romantic as schlepping groceries up a six story walk up. However, the subway can produce some of the most romantic moments. Manhattan is America’s gay mecca. Naturally, gay is the norm.

I’ve found myself romanced on the subway. There was Mr. Hell’s Kitchen, who I met for an evening stroll in the Lower East Side. While we walked and talked circling the gritty yet hip sidewalks of Ludlow & Rivington, cupid’s arrow hit me in the head, ouch.

The Lower East Side has plenty of dark corners. However, we waited till we were on the subway to show how we really felt for each other. Right there, at the N train in Union Square, we made out. Both of us were completely sober. The subway kissing session was only that. After I walked him from the subway to his apartment in the west 40′s, the romance ended when the clock struck midnight.

While, I probably won’t make out with a guy on the subway again. There have been more subtle moments of romance on the busy train. During rush hour, a handsome guy sat leg to leg with me. Close leg contact is more understandable in people gridlock. As the train emptied, our legs were still attached. It seemed like someone had stuck us together with crazy glue. There was a certain amount of electricity. In the end I didn’t make a move and neither did he. Therefore, when his stop came, he simply left.

The innocent and over affectionate may have been part of my subway love story, but the awkward could also be added into the mix. One of the worst parts of the unpredictable is running into those guys who I dated from online that just keep popping out in the subway like Waldo. My remedy, get really involved in the New York Post and don’t look to the right side (or whatever side their at).

Gay happens, as does love. I’m not looking for Mr. Prince Charming. However, it’s nice to know he’s out there somewhere. He might be hiding under a rock or working at a cubicle overlooking Madison Square Park, but with gay being more accepted (especially in big cities like New York) coming out of the closet is easier. One could make out on the subway without one weird stare.

Dirty Filthy Art

Studio 54, CBGB, seedy 42nd street, burned down buildings, disco, punk, Andy Warhol and the emergence of hip-hop all characterize New York’s past. The city’s gritty past has always fascinated. My mom told me stories of visiting the city in the 70′s.

She told me of seeing freaky people on the subway, burnt cars lining the streets of the South Bronx and the smell of garbage rotting. Instead of turning me off from New York, she managed to develop my fascination with the city.

The New York, I called home was very different from the decadent decay of the 70′s. Cupcake shops, a slew of Marc Jacobs shops and family friendly Times Square were more of a main stay. Therefore, I always looked for New York’s edge. One ghost of Manhattan past, which is still around is graffiti art.

When I walk anywhere from Nolita to the East Village, I keep my eyes open to graffiti. Nowadays, there’s less edgy graffiti. There is almost mural art, which randomly shows up in buildings from the Bowery to Layfette Street. It marks today’s interpretation of graffiti art.

Authentic graffiti art often shows up in the doors of tenement buildings in the Lower East Side. I never really understand the writing, but the flamboyant letter fonts and sketching represent urban edge in the midst of gentrification. The most fun and unexpected place to see graffiti art is in bathrooms.

At bars and coffee shops, which line Ludlow Street, the bathrooms feature art on the walls. It is both an obscenity for the eyes (i.e. lots of penis drawings) and magical art. I sometimes, take longer in the bathroom just to observe art on the wall. It’s my own private modern art museum without the high-ticket prices.

New York has less graffiti these days. Recently, the New Museum had a display of an apartment door covered in art by the most famous street artist, Keith Haring. It displayed a time when the city was low on cash, but rich in experimental art. However, mainstream New York gets, it still lures the creative types. Although gentrification maybe here to stay, the city still is an exciting place to live. It also retains an appreciation for thinking outside the box.

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