Sunday, September 17, 2017

Queens of Rockaway

It’s a blustery day as Mag and I board the new(ish) NYC Ferry to the Rockaways at Pier 11 in Manhattan. Wind flaps loudly, deliciously through our hair and sunglasses, and it’s cool enough to wear a sweater. The sky practically is cloudless, just that bright swath of never-ending blue so beautiful Crayola can’t help but name crayons after it. Mag’s scarf, wrapped with effortless chic around her neck, blows in the breeze and she looks like a European model off-duty. I stand next to her holding onto the railing in cutoff shorts and my mother’s college sweater, feeling Gidget-esque. 

I’m well aware this may be my last beach trip of the summer, because isn’t that always how Labor Day goes—we and 498 of our closest friends have piled into this ferry to feel the sun’s rays on our faces by the sand once more, before the obligations and occupations of fall tie up our weekends until summer comes along again in a year. 

For the price of a subway ride ($2.75, for those outside of the boroughs), the ferries make the trip to the beach at the far reaches of Queens a far more palatable experience than it had been for some of us (namely, me) previously. I remember the first time I went to Rockaway Beach I took the A train, which was an interminable ride through the bowels of first Manhattan and then Brooklyn and finally, good ol’ Queens with at least two switches in between to get on the “right” A train or transfer to the Rockaway shuttle. The prospect of going there left me to the beaches of South Brooklyn, Brighton Beach, Coney Island, and my beloved Manhattan Beach. But given the new ferry, I was eager for a day trip of sorts—the Rockaway Ferry takes about an hour, and you can sit on the top of the boat in the sunshine. Normally it stops first at a pier in Sunset Park, but when we took it on Labor Day weekend it was running express, so it took less than an hour. Friends recently took the A from Washington Heights-ish to get there, and I love them dearly but they did it wrong. To be on the boat feels like being a 1950s glamazon driving a convertible, cat-eye sunglasses, headscarf, lipstick and all. It is not, to say the least, a feeling one gets on the subway. 

Docking at Beach 108th Street in the Rockaway, the sun has risen a little higher in the sky and it’s time to put away my mother’s sweater. We make our way to a Brazilian luncheonette close by, Beach Bistro 96, which serves up modern takes on Brazilian classics in a tiny room patterned with palm leaves. We munch on decadent pão de queijo, fluffy balls of cheese bread, then dive into mushroom quinoto and tapioca, a sort of small Brazilian crepe made of tapioca flour. 

Tummies full, we make our way to the beach and set up shop. And by shop I mean a place that doesn’t have too many people where we can lie down and talk or not talk, getting crispy tan from the sun. Mag lays down a Bloomingdale’s towel from perhaps the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, a “Gold Card” that makes me smile. “Usually I get made fun of for bringing this towel places,” she tells me. “But I was like, I’m seeing Elyssa, it’s fine.” Happiness is having friend who understands, no? 

And our day goes as planned. We talk and don’t talk, I fall asleep, we talk and don’t talk some more. There’s great joy in being able to just sit with another human being and enjoy your surroundings. I think it’s when we get to that point that we don’t have to question our friendships anymore, living in a comfortable silence that doesn’t need to be broken. 

I get a little crisper from the sun than I intend, plus the tide is creeping up to us ever closer. We depart and head for something sweet at the newly-minted food counters built after Hurricane Sandy destroyed whatever was there before. Mag opts for a root beer float and I nibble on a fruit juice popsicle while we listen to the DJ’s eclectic mix and men from a local labor union dance and sip beer in their folding chairs or both. 
Back on the boat later, my skin is warm from the sun. The moon appears over Red Hook as we ferry past, the Statue of Liberty behind us and Manhattan in our midst once more. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

As I walk down 23rd Street, clouds hang in the sky, unavoidable gloom everywhere until I see the fabulous marquee at the Gramercy Theatre: Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin.

The comedy duo, who rose to popularity via their zany, odd couple-esque advice and sketch show  “Just Between Us” on YouTube, are making the second stop on a U.S. tour promoting their new book I Hate Everyone But You, published on September 5 by Wednesday Books, a new division of St. Martin’s Press. The book has become an Amazon bestseller, praised by Publisher’s Weekly for its humor, multifaceted characters, treatment of friendship and queer-friendly storytelling.

“Just Between Us” currently has over 750,000 subscribers on YouTube (and more than 100 million views). Gaby and Allison—known as Gallison by fans—both write and star in the show, with Allison as a quirky neurotic and Gaby as an equally quirky laissez-faire libertine. They speak honestly (and hilariously) about everything from sexuality to gender identity to crushes and more. Their work on the show has led to pilots developed with MTV, FX, 20th Century Fox, and YouTube Red, as well as inclusion in the Tribeca Film Festival’s new Digital Creators Market and the Sundance Institute | YouTube New Voices Lab. “Just Between Us” has also been featured in Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Entertainment Weekly, and countless others.

Though the duo is based in L.A. currently, where they met, Allison is originally from Westchester County, New York and Gaby is originally from South Florida. They’ve built their empire in just three years, but are still kind and genuine to everyone whose paths they cross, attentive to their obligations, conscious of both their time and others’, especially as they make their way through their commitments backstage at Gramercy Theatre, running through the shows’ cues, autographing copies of their new book, talking to friends and agents.

Soon the show begins and the theatre is filled with an excited, delighted crowd. The show, which includes a totally improvised advice segment, also features Allison’s standup and Gaby’s storytelling, as well as never-before-seen videos, a reading from the new book, and more. One of the many wonderful things about the show is how Gaby and Allison make each other laugh in addition to the whole room.

Their Meet & Greet with fans is after the show, where they’ll sign books individually, chat, and take photos. Some fans even bring them gifts, like homemade jewelry and a painting. One fan, Grady, comes in with a parent. Grady has just begun high school that week after successfully starting a Gay-Straight Alliance in middle school and looks up to both of them, beaming while standing in front of them. “Thank you ladies for all you do,” Grady’s parent says, and I bite my lip to keep in tears that have welled up in my eyes. In a world that can be so unkind, it’s so beautiful that Gaby and Allison have created something that can have such a positive impact on a young person’s life.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Cecilia Salama

I've never seen Michelangelo's David in person, but I can only hope it looks as cool as it does on Cecilia Salamas hot pink socks when she shows up for basketball practice on Canal Street. Cecilia has been playing with Downtown Girls Basketball, a women’s only pickup team made of primarily artists, writers, and photographers, for several years. She is herself a multimedia artist whose work has been featured in Purple, i-D (in an article by yours truly, which is how we met), Hyperallergic, The New York Observer, and more. She also works full time as a Production Artist for a luxury jewelry brand.

The team is running drills when Cecilia arrives. Sunlight begins to fade slowly on the nearby Hudson River as the pickup games start, five on five, girls speeding up and down the pavement while Beyoncé and Cardi B play on someone’s speakers. They clap for each basket (Cecilia gets a couple of them for her team). Cars stream past on 6th Avenue. Soon it’s dark and players spill off into the night, lit by bright orange bulbs from a factory nearby.

We head to her studio in Queens. She has a new show called Displaced Desire” opening at LVL3 Gallery in Chicago with another artist later this month. Cecilia’s work for this show comments on long distance relationships, unfulfilled wants, impermanence, and more. While some of her work is multimedia sculpture with unusual materials like latex and plastic sheeting, she doesn’t like to limit herself to one medium and also brings video, painting, and installation into her projects.

The floor of Cecilia’s studio is dotted with splashes of paint and resin, boxes of tools and fabric and rope. Suspended from the walls with orange bungee cord is a swath of fluffy pink fabric. Plastic sheets are nailed to the walls as well, drawn on with crayon, painted on with metallic pastel paint, tied up with rhinestone collars or belts. Hearts made of digital images collaged together have the words “I Want” written on them. Shallow, square plastic trays are filled with paint waiting to dry around Ziploc bags of animal figurines. Cecilia changes clothes and begins painting then repainting different sheets, clawing at the metallic pastel pink with both her hands and a paintbrush. “No,” she says to herself, then takes the nail out of the sheet and replaces it on the wall. This time the placement works and she begins hammering the sheet again, the “I Want” collage in a different location than before. “Okay,” she says. “That’s good.”

She grabs another piece, a sheet hardened into sculpture and painted with a pale pearlized pink, and heads for the elevator. This one won’t go to Chicago. She is nervous about transporting some of her pieces—How do you protect plastic sheeting from being ruined in a suitcase? What if the colored paints peel off or the homemade airplane stickers get torn in transit?—but she seems calm and laughs quietly through a smile: “I’ll just…figure it out.”

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Clean.

Whenever I stare into my fridge and I encounter only an old jar of cocktail olives and two containers of sprinkles (one rainbow, one chocolate, naturally), I think of something someone told me once: that doing the little things in New York, like grocery shopping or laundry for example, sometimes feel so much harder than doing the big things, like maintaining and keeping a job. I know for me this idea feels so real, that while I am buried under the deadlines that creatively fulfill me and pay my rent, the dust bunnies under my bed begin to grow, my laundry pile reaches past the height of my dresser, and I start to seriously consider eating chocolate sprinkles by the handful. 

August was a particularly busy month, thank goodness, and in the midst of all my work, the last thing I ever wanted to do when I was finished for the day was dig out a vacuum or haul a towering cart of laundry to get clean. Maybe it was important for me to not do anything, as rest and relaxation are often required to keep one’s sanity functioning. Or maybe I was just too fucking lazy. Either way, the bunnies had grown to dog size and I was tired of looking at them around the same time I had a free day to spend on myself, so I took the opportunity to deep clean. 

Running the vacuum around my house, folding my clothes, dusting my blinds, spraying my mirrors with Windex, I didn’t feel like June Cleaver; rather, I saw it as an act of, dare I say it, wellness, an act of self-care. Every spritz and swipe was an act of solidarity, a vote of confidence in myself. Coming home to a messy room, a home that doesn’t feel or doesn’t look clean can seriously mess with one’s sense of well-being. Living in New York, this city that quite literally never sleeps if and/or since it doesn’t want to, this is not something that needs to be messed with. 

I wonder if this prioritization of chores is something New Yorkers deal with on a more regular basis than people who live in quieter cities. Because there’s less to do, is there more time to take care of one’s life? Or are people everywhere just better adults than I am, who know how to prioritize these things over going to burlesque shows; trying a fascinating new restaurant whose bread alone is swoon-worthy, let alone the rest of the menu; and binge-watching Difficult People on Hulu using a friend’s borrowed password? All of the above may be true. 

My mother told me a long time ago that you have to treat living in New York as if it were any other city. The Guggenheim is always going to be there. So are street fairs and coffee shops and, if you play your cards right and find genuine people who like you and who you like, so are your friends. Stepping away from the city and choosing not to engage with it and instead spend the time inside on yourself, on your space is as much an act of New Yorker-dom as is crying on the subway, taking a cab from someone who needs it more, and getting a slice from the pizza place below your apartment when you’re drunk before you head in for the night.


I’ve had the strange experience of having kept my room clean for a week now, something I sadly may not have done for any of my nearly 29 years. I think cleaning just never felt good before, it never felt like something I was doing to take care of myself; it felt like a chore. I don’t know that it does now. In an age where it seems we’re being taught that taking care of oneself is the ultimate luxury, as opposed to perhaps the fine clothes and jewelry of yore, cleaning my home rather feels, well, like luxury too. Imagine having time to spend doing such a thing? I may even be looking forward to my next date with Scrubbing Bubbles more than I care to admit. Tide, however, will still take some getting used to. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...for Six Months!

At first I didn’t know if I could keep up with the project at all. I didn’t know if I’d just be too busy, if I’d be able to find people, if I’d be skipping weeks out of sheer sleepiness. And yet here we are, six months since I started Miss Manhattan Hangs Out.

Maybe in the grand scheme of things that’s not a lot, but in a life where we pick up so many projects only to put them down a few weeks later, I consider it an achievement of sorts. I wish I could say something at this juncture like “This project changed my life!” but it didn’t so much change it as add to it, giving a name and a title to what I’ve always loved doing: spending time with fascinating people and having experiences.

Sometimes people don’t know what to do—“Do I just…look at you? Do you want me to pose? I’m worried I’m not very interesting.”
“But that’s the thing,” I say. “You’re already interesting. And just pretend the camera’s my face.”

Sometimes a person has a long day and it’s easy. Other times, we’re in a room for a short amount of time and I worry, how do I make a narrative here? But both ways it’s a positive challenge, one I’ve come to look forward to. There are stories everywhere, and part of the fun is discovering how to tell them.

Since beginning this project, I’ve gone to drag bingo nights, rehearsals, dance classes, podcast workshops, pottery studios, museums, people’s kitchens, and more. I get to be a fly on the wall of someone’s existence for a day, and it’s such a gift. There are countless times when I’ve left inspired, unable to believe that for a single day I got to be a part of it.

In honor of the people who have so graciously given me their time, I’ve decided to put together some images this week from a few past shoots. These are never-before-seen images, ones I wanted to use but didn’t for a variety of reasons: maybe the image just didn’t further the narrative; maybe I had another image just like it and I chose a smirk over a smile, a concentrating pout over a more relaxed one; maybe I just had too many pictures and some had to go. I’m grateful for all the moments, big and small, and I’m happy to share a few with you below. I like the idea of doing this every six-months to reflect, so we’ll try this again at one year and see how it goes.

As ever, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to Miss Manhattan Hangs Out, and if you have, tell a friend to! And by all means, if you’re interested in being a subject for Miss Manhattan Hangs Out or know someone who might be a good fit, please give a shout at elyssa@miss-manhattan.com. I already can’t wait until we hang out.

Until next time!

Yours,
Miss M


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