Saturday, September 20, 2014

New Eyes and Happy Accidents, Part I: Brooklyn

From the sounds of this title, you may have some horrible idea in your head that my eyes have fallen out and I miraculously found new ones. Praise the good Lordess RuPaul, that is not the case, kittens; it's merely a metaphor. You can take your gasping face off now.

What it does mean, though, is that I was having some trouble with New York. The trouble was that I was seeing and experiencing and doing a lot of the same things and nothing was feeling beautiful and sparkly anymore. But when something is as you don't want it to be, you simply have to change it.

The first instance happened a few weeks ago, but then Fashion Week started and I never got a chance to write about it. On a particular Saturday, I woke up with no plans, an unusual occurrence to say the least. And then I remembered what I used to do before I had plans every weekend and I wanted to go out and see what was happening: I simply looked in Time Out New York. On the list of events, as it is every weekend until it gets cold, I saw Brooklyn Flea. It was one of those cases of saying to myself, Oh, I love Brooklyn Flea! But I never go! So I decided to go. I used to have a meal before I went out to save some money, but today I thought I'd check out some of their amazing food vendors. I was not disappointed.

The food that sounded the best at Brooklyn Flea, which on Saturdays is the Fort Greene location (my favorite! At this rate you'd have to pay me to go to Williamsburg.), was the brisket sandwich at Lonestar Empire. It also had the longest line. I decided to wait because I didn't really have any place to be and upon reading the words 'brisket sandwich' I developed a Pavlovian drool. They carve the brisket, covered in a thick blackened crust of spices, right in front of you and serve it on a potato roll. Pickled onions and cucumbers are available for sides, as well. It fell apart in my mouth, savory and smoky, complemented by the softness of the roll and the tang of the onions I chose to put on it. I sat there in bliss, licking my fingers. So far, this trip out to Fort Greene was totally worth it.

I then perused a variety of wares both new and old. I knew there was a man who sold vintage Playboys, which I have always flirted with putting on my walls as decoration--only the cool ones from the early 1960s, though, not the trashy ones from the 1970s+. I was out of luck for that day, but the gentleman did happen to have a 10th Anniversary copy of Rolling Stone from 1977 with 50 pages of photographs by Annie Leibovitz and an essay by Hunter S. Thompson. I left it there casually, though on the inside I was leaping about like a banshee. OH MY GOD ANNIE LEIBOVITZ AND HUNTER THOMSPON OH MY GOD. I came back like a cool customer an hour or so later and managed to talk the gent down in price. The magazine was mine! I'm reading this and realizing how much of a nerd I am, but to each his own, no? Everybody loves something weird. I also managed to snag a vintage Photoplay magazine from 1939 with actress Norma Shearer on the cover. After I bought that, I left because I was worried one or both of the men who sold me the magazines would realize what fools they were for selling these to me at such low prices and come running back. They didn't, of course, but it was fun to think they might, that I might be a fugitive from vintage magazine justice.

In the thick humidity of the day, I decided my next stop would be for ice cream. I heard of Brooklyn Farmacy, an old-fashioned ice cream parlour, right when I moved to New York (it opened the spring before I moved here) but had never actually gone. Seeing the location of it was off the G train, and knowing that I try to never take the G train unless absolutely necessary, I decided to walk there instead. It would be about a 40 minute walk, through Fort Greene and Boerum Hill, but I love walking and I decided to explore.


Eventually I got to Farmacy (I think the walk would have felt shorter if I knew where I was going!), and I was immediately enthralled with the exterior: mint and white, with a neon red cross in the window. The space was actually an apothecary in the 1920s and retained all of its interior architecture--with the help of a few construction angels (read more of the fascinating story here), the business got off the ground in May 2010. Swivel stools line the bar, and the soda jerks wear white paper hats, while the jerkettes wrap a bandanna in a bow around their hair. I order a children's sundae, with homemade strawberries and cream ice cream, shortbread cubes, homemade whipped cream, and hot fudge on the side. The shortbread comes on the bottom, the ice cream on top, followed by a mountain of whipped cream (you can see the flecks of vanilla bean in it!) and, of course, a cherry on top. I taste each individual part of the sundae, and the ice cream is easily some of the best I've ever had, strawberry or otherwise. The flavor is sweet but subtle, quite literally "strawberries and cream." The whipped cream is fresh and sweet, squeezed right from a paper bag onto the sundae. I am actually, absolutely in heaven. Like the flea market, it's easily something I'd have no problem schlepping all the way to Brooklyn for. The humidity outside seems to have disappeared, and all that exists is this cool treat that made the walk totally worth it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Symbiosis: Coexisting Backstage

It occurs to me that I've never actually written about what being backstage before a fashion show is like. Each person's experience is different, of course, but here's what mine is like.

Perhaps the one cardinal rule to remember about every show during Fashion Week is that no show starts on time. If a show is marked to start at 1pm, it will actually start around 1:30, sometimes later if the designer is especially fabulous (or just...running really late). Personally, I've never waited more than 45 minutes.

That being said, call times backstage (when I arrive) at a show are usually two to three hours before its slated start time. Yesterday, for example, showtime was 2:30pm, and backstage call time was 11:30am. And even before I get there, people are already swarming. A desk is set up with two young gals in black, probably interns, checking people in. If it's at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week tents at Lincoln Center, I'll get a backstage pass tag in a color and or pattern for that designer (each designer has a different color so they can't be duplicated and used for another day by sneaky folks). If it's off site, as many shows are these days, in event spaces or galleries, I'll be given a bracelet or simply be allowed to roam free with my camera. I'm usually there to photograph backstage beauty for Her, which, as I've written before, is the magazine for which I am the style editor (follow my NYFW exploits here if you like!). The PR companies who have brought me there represent the brands being used on hair, nails, skin, and/or makeup. I try to wear all black so I blend in and people ignore me because I find I get better pictures that way.

When I arrive, I immediately find a place to plonk down my massive black leather bag, which I have unofficially dubbed my Fashion Week bag. In it, I have any and all sorts of things I might need for the day: memory cards for my camera, phone charger, a Luna bar for when I get hungry, and sometimes my laptop if I have lag time between shows, or even a pair of heels. But usually not because during Fashion Week I tend to dress like a grunge/punk version of an Olsen twin (post- Full House, pre- The Row), with a black cashmere beanie, a long black cardigan, and lots of black eye eyeliner.

I take out my camera and my phone and I begin shooting. The clothes I like to wear during Fashion Week don't usually have pockets, so I end up shoving my phone in my shirt so I can snap pictures for Twitter pretty easily (#nyfw). I'm ducking in between models having their makeup done, wedging myself in between the stools or chairs on which they sit so I can get some interesting shots. I inevitably bump into a makeup artist and say sorry--I always feel bad for doing this because I'm very much invading the space they need to do their work. But we all need to coexist, I guess, because my work allows their work to be seen, so...symbiosis? Sometimes I'll see another photographer I know and we'll hug and make chit-chat briefly. Then, more shooting. I'll also have introductions to the hair stylists and makeup artists at the show, and I listen to them talk about their inspiration, how they took the feel of the designer's collection and made it into a ponytail or a swoop of eyeliner (this is my favorite part, because I love seeing how people's minds work in their own creative niche).

I watch hair get teased, weaves added to too-thin manes, hair sprayed and sprayed again with thickeners and conditioners and oils and gels. Nails get polished and unpolished, on the toes and the fingers, cheeks are rouged and lips darkened and eyes glittered, all from scratch, or sometimes not from scratch when a model has come directly from another show. Sometimes they're late and everyone has a heart attack.

All the while, more interns stuff goody bags and place clothing lists on each guest's seat. Models will take the tiniest plate of food available and fill it with grapes. I will snitch a half a bagel someone's torn off or a zucchini stick and the PR girls who brought me there will sneer at me. Sometimes there is boxed water or Vita Coco, but at Lincoln Center there's infinite Diet Coke because the brand is a sponsor.

Hair and makeup takes forevahhh because there are like 20 models and like 5 people to do their hair, 5 people to do their makeup so the girls will often have to do a model rehearsal while they have one eyebrow painted on or they're still wearing the foam flip flops from having their toes laquered. They line up backstage and go walk the runway as if it were showtime, then they go back to getting their hair and makeup finished. While the girls do rehearsal the hair and makeup staff freak out--
"I haven't even straightened her hair yet!"--but they always finish in time. All the while, I am taking pictures, trying to challenge myself to see something I haven't seen before.

Once hair and makeup are finished, it's time to get dressed! Dressers help the girls into "First Looks," the first outfits they will wear on their first trip down the runway. They steam the clothes, lint-roll them, and put sticky tape where there needs to be sticky tape. If they have an outfit change in the show, the dresser will help change them quickly without damaging the clothes. At that point, I go into the audience and wait for the show to begin--I don't like to take pictures backstage at this time because I feel it's a violation of models' privacy. I mean, they signed up to be photographed, but not while they're naked, you know? At least not today, anyway. So I go and sit and everyone's noisy and running around backstage while people are filing in to sit in the front of the house. Extra special people are photographed with bright white flashbulbs from their seats in the front rows. And then the lights dim and the show begins. I watch. And 15-30 minutes later, it's over. Until next season, anyway.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Higher Burning

I think by the time I discovered 5Pointz, it was already super well-known and, for whatever reason, I simply didn't write about it. It's old news, I thought. But I've written about so many things that are "old news," that were "new news" to me, that it's strange to think I would've passed up the opportunity to write about such a fantastic space. 5Pointz, also known as "The Institute of Higher Burning", was a 200,000 square foot aerosol art space housed in/on a former factory in Long Island City, Queens. It drew graffiti artists (and I do mean artists) from all over the world who sprayed gorgeous, vibrant images -- letters and faces and drawings exploding with depth and color, never just some lame tag of someone's name in a thin line of spraypaint-- on its many surfaces: walls, windows, floors, doors, you name it. In fact, if you went to take pictures there, you were asked to credit any artists' work you end up photographing. It was really more of an outdoor gallery. As someone who is almost cosmically drawn to color and vibrance, it was a visual feast.

And yet, yesterday demolition began on the place that was from 1993-2013 a graffiti mecca. In its stead, as is almost cliche these days, will go a building of luxury and affordable condos.

5Pointz didn't go quietly, though. This past fall, when the building was entirely whitewashed to signal the end of the space's use, artists came back and painted over the wash. When their work was painted over again the next day, they came back again. It continued like this for a while, until eventually asbestos abatement began, which is the first step in the demolition process. I remember seeing one tag in particular around that time that simply said "Art Murder." I could not and cannot help but agree. I don't know where artists who have created such unique, place-sensitive material will be able to continue producing their work, but one can only hope a kind building owner somewhere will allow the artists to turn their building into crayon box fantasy castle just as 5Pointz did.

In Summer 2011, my friend BK and I went out there to do some shots of him breakdancing. Unfortunately, I never did anything with the images, but I felt like this would be a good time to share them, in loving memory of 5Pointz.

What are some of your memories of the space? Please share in the comments!

Monday, August 11, 2014


Though I don't mention our fair New York in this piece, I think our experience of the city is very much part of the energy with which Robin Williams lived his life. We laugh, we dream, we survive and sometimes seek chaos. Through it all, we keep pounding, as Williams did until his death. With that, I hope you'll permit me to share a few sentiments about his passing.

"Did you hear?"

I had called my mother at approximately 7:40pm today, Monday, August 11.

"Daddy and I are sitting here and we're just shocked, speechless. I feel how I felt when your grandmother called me to tell me John F. Kennedy was shot," my mother says. "How are you feeling?"

I didn't really have any words. I had a bunch of work to do, an interview to transcribe, emails to send, articles to edit, and when I found out I suddenly I felt everything stop. Like I was moving slow motion through water, grasping at nothing and trying to stay afloat. I barely felt my brain move.

Robin Williams was 63 years old. And he was easily, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors we not only ever had, but will ever have. The wit so quick, the turns of phrase so clever, the improvisational ability beyond and off the charts. Not a single human could compete. And why should they even bother to try? There is often great beauty in just watching genius bubble and thrive before your eyes, undisturbed.

I knew Robin Williams was talented even at a young age, watching behind-the-scenes clips of him in a sound booth, headphones strapped to his ears as he improvised dialogue as Genie in Aladdin. A stream of characters poured from his mouth and I sat there, jaw on the floor. This man was making all of these noises? And he was just one person? He gave such life to the swirling orb of blue that, for me even as a child, there was really no other reason to watch the movie.

As I would learn when I got older, he embodied the depths of any character he took on, be it Mork (Mork and Mindy) or Adrian Cronauer (Good Morning, Vietnam) or Armand Goldman (The Birdcage) or Batty Koda (Fern Gully) or even dear old Mrs. Doubtfire. In everything he did, he simply lit the screen on fire. One could not look away. There is great truth and sincerity and feeling and power in his work--he was without a doubt the consummate actor.

The Birdcage is a film near and dear to my family's heart. My mother often tells the story of how she wanted to see the film in theaters, but my dad waved her off. Cut to a vacation a few months later, and my dad is hanging out in our hotel room while I am sleeping. My mother opens the door, only to find Dad in fits of all-consuming laughter, a rare state for his man-of-few-words persona. Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest and their antics are apart of our dialogue as a family. To this day, when I imitate Robin Williams imitating John Wayne --"Just get off your horse, and head into the saloon"--in the scene in the cafe when Williams tries to get Lane's very effeminate character Albert to "be less obvious," my mother bursts into peals of laughter. It's not me who's funny, of course. It's Williams's impeccable delivery of Wayne-esque mannerisms and speech while playing a burly and bejeweled gay man in Miami Beach. As usual, he was perfect.

I recall, though, when I saw his episode of Inside the Actors Studio, being old enough to finally understand his genius. Completely off the cuff, he whipped up character after character, from children who discussed Mourning Becomes Electra to Twyla Tharp, and so many more in between. I have always been terrified of improvisational comedy because my brain just doesn't move quickly enough; it is often paralyzed by fear and too many thoughts to function on the spot in such a necessarily clever way. But to see his brain in motion like that made me reel. I felt dwarfed by the enormity of his talent. I imagine many did.

As Williams himself said, there is a fine line between comedy and tragedy. The mind that so deeply inhabited those characters and brought life to those he created on the spot was also a deeply troubled one; perhaps mysteriously, the two so often go hand in hand. Williams was public about his battles with addiction, maybe in an effort to help those who also struggled. In his passing, it has come to light that he also struggled with depression. It's not beyond comprehension that a person with such stunning, glorious highs must also have stunning, unbearable lows; it seems a gift and a curse.

At approximately 8pm my best friend Jenna texts me. Upon coming home from work, she says her boyfriend told her of Williams's passing and after hearing the news that she broke down crying. In our 21 years of friendship, we have watched his movies, listened to his interviews, devoured his comedy specials in each phase of our development. He was a part of our lives, the way we grew up, as he was for so many people.

I'm sure in the next few hours, if not the next few days, weeks, or months, the publishing world will be exploding with think pieces about Williams--I am fully aware that I am not alone in my preparation of such words. At this moment, Twitter is exploding with grief--Danny DeVito, Steve Martin, Lena Dunham and even Barack Obama have all acknowledged the untimely death of someone who brought so much laughter and so much talent into the world. Publications compile their "Best of Robin" moments--Esquire, New York Magazine, Out, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker. But Robin Williams is so much more than a tweet or moment compiled into a list. He is, dare I say, an American institution. But more than that, he was a father, a son, a husband. A human being. And a damned good one at that. Here's to Robin, who changed all of our lives.

Here are a few of my favorite clips of Williams's work:

From The Birdcage:

From Aladdin:

And his Inside the Actors Studio episode in full is here.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Pittsburgh Diaries, Part II

Saturday, July 19
HanRo is getting married today! I have visions of her leaping from her bedroom like Monica on Friends wearing pajamas and a wedding veil, shouting "I'm getting married today!!" as she trips on her pant leg and falls to the floor in a moment of comedic perfection with no bruising. Or maybe that's just what I'll be like someday! Either way, it's an exciting day. Partly because it starts with Pamela's.

For the uninformed, Pamela's is a breakfast joint in Pittsburgh that makes easily some of the best pancakes--nay, hotcakes, as the restaurant calls them--this side of the...who am I kidding, some of the best pancakes ever. Loaded with butter, the spongy, thin cakes are crepe-like, with softly crispy edges that are somehow simultaneously sweet and salty. Standing in line as we wait for our table (because that is something else you will also do when you go to Pamela's, but fear not, time will go quickly and it will be worth it. Even Obama agrees...that's actually him in the restaurant, next to the Mrs.), I realize it has been over four years since I last had Pamela's, as my two trips back to Pittsburgh after graduating had not involved a visit, nor, I think, did my senior year of college, strangely. This location is new, decorated with endless accolades and publications and family photos of the owners and their staff, but here we are and we dive in and it's perfect, exactly as I remembered it however many years ago. It's nice when some things don't change.

After breakfast is another trip to Avalon. Everyone is able to find something rad, including moi: a pair of saddle shoes with silver spikes around the laces. Finally a pair of shoes to wear to Fashion Week in the winter! Praise be to Our Lordess and Savior RuPaul.

Then a brief stop in Shadyside, on Walnut Street, where there is a main drag of sweet little shops, but also an American Apparel and a Sephora. There's also very funky and awesome Kards Unlimited, always one of my favorite haunts in Shadyside. It has a fun, informed selection of books, some of which are labeled 'Books About Families More Messed Up Than Yours' and 'Books You'll Like If You Are A Serial Killer', alongside stuffed cartoon body parts, fake mustaches, hand-printed greeting cards, and handmade jewelry. Once we finish there, it is time for a disco nap because all the carbs from breakfast have caught up with us and we are old.

After a disco nap and a dolling up session, we are off to the wedding at Phipps Conservatory, a botanical garden. There are trees and flowers all around us, and there's even a waterfall! The ceremony is beautiful. HanRo looks stunning in an ivory gown, bright white flowers in her hands. I get the feels when she and her husband look into each other's eyes and repeat their vows. Afterward, we sip cocktails amongst the greenery. There are passed appetizers, including a famous Pittsburgh staple, a potato pierogi topped with a caramelized onion. Proceeding to the ballroom, we find that each of us have been given a special HanRo and JH coloring book (and crayons!), chock full of Pittsburgh history and word searches, as well as a pickle pin to don (long before Pittsburgh was known for its ketchup, it was known for its pickles!). They also have a cookie table, another 'burgh staple. Tradition!

Post-wedding, some of us wedding guesty folk head to another Pittsburgh staple, at least if you were ever a college student, anyway: Mad Mex, home of the 22oz. Big Azz Margarita. AM and I share one of these lovelies which, by some stroke of genius and Pittsburgh magic, is only $7 between the hours of 10pm and 12am. Mad Mex is near and dear to my heart--it is the place I went for my 21st birthday, had lots of margaritas and then drunk-dialed my mother. We nosh on Mexi-goodies and eventually shut down the bar.
Sunday, July 20
TS has set up a brunch for Pittsburgh folk and wedding guests at Zenith, on Pittsburgh's South Side. Though it hurt to wake up early, it was important to get there right when they opened (!) because we had such a large party. Also, it completed my superfecta of neighborhood visits -- Oakland, Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, and now the South Side. I had heard TS talk about Zenith many times before, especially something he called 'peanutty noodles,' but I had never been. Now having gone there, it is mind-boggling to me that I had never been before this trip. Zenith defines itself as a "Vegetarian Cafe-Art Gallery-Antique Goldmine" and it is so my thing I can't even believe how much my thing it is. Walking in, you're immediately surrounded by vintage oddities and curios, clothing, books, and god knows what else. Lamps stuffed with old Barbie dolls, mannequins wearing welding gear, antique liniment bottles and glass containers full of old Christmas lights. 

Tables are adorned in vintage tablecloths in a variety of colors and textures and you drink out of vintage glassware in infinite patterns. The buffet is chock full of delicious food--cucumber salad, couscous, cakes in infinite flavors you didn't know cakes even came in (mint chocolate, chili chocolate!), and of course those noodle dishes. My favorite is a penne walnut balsamic raisin concoction, but TS's peanutty noodles, which really taste like a ton of peanut butter has been stirred in with them alongside a bunch of vegetables (and I mean that in a really good way), come a close second. After eating, I traipse around the restaurant taking pictures and I even find a rad little pair of earrings for $1. Good god, Pittsburgh, you are spoiling me.

Post-brunch, it is time for AM to leave. We hug our goodbyes then TS and I hang out on the porch and have a long, meaningful conversation about relationships and academia and the two combined. There is something in the air that tightens my throat, makes me know that I'll be leaving soon. It's that same emptiness I felt when I pulled away after graduation: who knows when you'll be back? However, I still have a few more hours in Pittsburgh so I'm going to make them last. We head to Harris Grill, on Ellsworth Avenue, for drinks and vittles with SC, who is also visiting this weekend. We sit outdoors and make selections from their massive crazy drink menu, but as I page through I don't know who I'm kidding--I'm obviously having their famous frozen Cosmo. Or two of them. TS and I split a mac and cheese with veggies and it is absurdly delicious.

A few sunshine-y hours later, it's time to head back to the house. EL is picking me up and we're going to an outdoor concert at some place 30 minutes away that I've never heard of. Adventures! But before we go, TS has to leave. His drive back home is hours long. My throat does that tightening thing again. But luckily he's around New York with relative frequency, so I feel better when we say goodbye.

In EL's car, she says she hopes I don't mind that Pandora is on the Shakira station. We drive through Lawrenceville, the place where all the cool indie and DIY crowds hang out, and into the suburbs. The suburbs in Pittsburgh are different than other places I've seen because they're so country. Not in mannerism, but appearance: long, winding roads cushioned by green grass and a whole house's worth of space in between houses. Eventually, we roll up to the Hartwood Acres Amphitheatre and my brain sort of explodes. It's all trees and grass hills and and people in lawn chairs (some with Pittsburgh Steelers tattoos) and I just love it.

The air is cool and it feels like being in the mountains. We set up camp on a beach towel EL brought and we listen to the band Lake Street Dive strum their jazzy-bluesy sounds--one of my favorites is the song "Bobby Tanqueray." Parents hold their babies and a girl spins her LED hula hoop when it gets dark.

I felt that mythical summer feeling when everything is slow and moments have more meaning. In just a few hours I will be up and at 'em on my train back to New York. I want to sit and take everything in just a little bit longer.


And for your viewing/listening pleasure, here are two videos I took of my friends talking about what they love about Pittsburgh, while driving to Mad Mex. Probably more for listening since my video skills are sub-par at best. Listen for my chaotic ramblings interspersed with their commentary.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Pittsburgh Diaries, Part I

This past weekend, my dear friend HanRo got married in Pittsburgh, where she lives and where we went to school (at Carnegie Mellon, I'm not sure if I've mentioned this on here before). The weekend was a gorgeous swirl of friends, tree-lined streets, five-dollar cocktails, porch sitting, hilarious memories and sublime happiness.

Thursday, July 17
Penn Station
I board my very first Amtrak train out of Penn Station. The journey will last about nine hours from New York to Pittsburgh. It is the longest I have ever traveled anywhere by myself (even a flight to England is about 8 hours!). I am a little nervous, and I don't know what to expect. I loathe the bus for long trips, so the train was an easy choice on a budget. Throughout the course of the trip, I see beautifully decaying industrial buildings ("decay porn" as I think it's known), a bunny (!), and bikers and children alike waving enthusiastically at the train as it passes by.

On the train itself I meet a man named Rick who was in Massachusetts visiting his granddaughter. He is eating some excuse for a hamburger that has been warmed up in the microwave and his hands are covered in yellow mustard. He offers me Doritos and he has criscrossed America by rail. He doesn't like to fly because he doesn't want to have to take all his clothes off to get on a plane. As we get closer to Pittsburgh, I see a woman sitting in front of me wearing a Steelers' Polamalu jersey.

TS and AM meet me at the train and I am instantly excited to be back. "YOU GUYS! PITTSBURGH!" I squeal loudly, repeatedly the entire trip home. "HAPPY HanRo's WEDDING WEEKEND!!!" I have not been back in two years, and it is exactly as I remember it. Winding hills dotted with houses, each different than the last. Cars dotted with WRCT bumper stickers (Carnegie Mellon's radio station) and Steelers logos; the big, old brick buildings of the Strip District which once housed factories but now house a variety of funky restaurants and grocery stores; and lastly, Oakland, rife with its college-student friendly restaurants, coffee shops, and bookstores. It's where we spent so many days and nights trekking up and down Forbes Avenue, Fifth Avenue, Centre Avenue, and everywhere in between.

Our first stop after dropping off some things at AM's house is Union Grill. Union Grill was a staple for us in school, mostly because of their $10 bottle of wine special. I order the only thing I have ever ordered there, the Turkey Devonshire: an open faced sandwich laden with turkey, bacon, and, in true Pittsburgh fashion, a pile of endless cheese. My arteries cower in fear, but my tastebuds rejoice. Eating something like this once every two years won't kill me. And besides, even if it did, it would be a lovely way to die.

Next stop, Razzy Fresh. The self-serve frozen yogurt spot was the first I ever knew of its kind, and now similar places are absolutely everywhere. It opened my senior year of college and instantly had  a cult following. If we couldn't think of anything else to do, we'd just go to Razzy. I sprinkle mochi and graham cracker crumbles onto my taro and pineapple frozen yogurt. It's like I'm in college again.

And then, perhaps the best part of the night, we went back to AM's house and we just...sat on the porch. A porch! I could hardly believe it. Imagine, a place attached to your house where you can just sit outside! I tried to treat my fire escape like a porch at my old apartment and my neighbor yelled at me. We sat and we talked for hours. And then? We went inside, and fell asleep in front of the television, then went to bed at a reasonable hour. It was utterly glorious. I mean, who even does things like that, am I right?

Friday, July 18
Today I am meeting one of my professors, the utterly incredible and divine Scott Sandage (if you aren't aware of his work or his awesomeness, please check him out here and buy his book). Scott was my professor for two classes, The Roots of Rock and Roll and American Individualism, but he could teach Quantum Physics and I would sit there with rapt attention, taking in every word.

Jerry's Records, Squirrel Hill
Much to my joy and amusement, my Carnegie Mellon ID still gets me a free bus ride from campus up to the big ol' hill. Before meeting Scott, I meander around to some of my favorite old haunts: Avalon Exchange, a funky consignment shop that just so happens to be having its famous $1 sale this weekend, where select items are, yes, just a dollar. Then I poke around at Jerry's Records further down the hill, a place where I spent many an afternoon surrounded by hundreds of thousands of musky, dusty old records in hopes of finding something that really struck me.  Eventually I make my way back up to the 61C Cafe to meet Scott. He arrives wearing glasses with bright green lenses and tells me he was just trying to get some settlers across a creek (he is writing a book about race and Nebraska from 1804-1941). Hours fly by as we talk, and soon he has to leave for a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. Later he will text me a picture of the stadium from his seats.

I decide to walk all the way from Squirrel Hill to Schenley Plaza, which is approximately two miles, give or take a bit. On the way, I stop at campus, checking out my old haunts in the photography studio and the creative writing center. It's a strangely powerful experience, walking through the halls of the buildings where I learned to be a person.

Behind Carnegie Mellon's campus

I walk through the back of campus and TS and AM eventually pick me up down near the University of Pittsburgh, just in time for me to take a few pictures of their famed Cathedral of Learning. We go to Lulu's, a Pan-Asian joint that's another of our old haunts, that, for me, has always been consistently mediocre. Still, it's fun to rejoice in its mediocrity and remember the times we used to go there in herds, and they could only seat us in the back where the one long table is. I have a plateful of noodles and a red bean bubble tea and we head home and back to the porch. AM makes sangria with peaches and cherries. She pours it nto our glasses from a pitcher shaped like a chicken (the "chicken spit" pitcher, as it's known), and I play with her orange tabby cat, delightfully named Hobbes. Fireflies sparkle as the night turns from periwinkle to navy to black. Tall trees in front of her house are highlighted only by the orange glow of streetlamps. Light rain begins to fall. The wedding is tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving, Moving, Moved


I have visions of myself as a toddler shouting this at my mother as she'd try to, I don't know, tie my shoes or pack a suitcase or make a bed or something that typically toddlers do not do on their own. As most small people do, I just wanted to be responsible for myself, to know that in my heart of hearts I really didn't need anyone else to do whatever task, no matter how menial, on my own. I am, perhaps stupidly, the same at 25. Though my vocabulary has increased exponentially, the sentiment remained the same when my mother telephoned to ask when I would like her to come up and help me move.

"I don't really understand the purpose of that," I said, full of maybe too much pride, maybe too much hostility. To be fair, the last few weeks had been a rough road. I was seeing, at times, multiple apartments per day, at one point walking the length of my neighborhood twice, meeting brokers who could really give a rat's ass about what I was looking for in an apartment and thinking only about their own bank accounts. Many were fake, many were rude, almost all of them were liars. I felt out of control. My work was suffering in a huge way--having to take time out of my day to look for an apartment meant I couldn't be home getting more work, and lord knows I don't get a steady paycheck. I needed to do something on my own, to know that I could still, somehow, take care of myself. That something turned out to be packing up my entire apartment on my own (save for help TL gave me packing up my dishes--thank you for that, because it would have been incredibly dull otherwise) and moving a month's worth of my life to a friend's apartment in case I didn't find a place by the time my lease was up. Every day when I finished working or seeing apartments I would come home and pack, much to the chagrin of my friends who wanted me to come play. It was also much to the chagrin of myself who, having my roommates move out a week earlier, stood in front of a wall of boxes, packing tape poised at the ready, alone. I put on records to fill the silence in the room but also to silence my brain, as it was filled with anxiety and lists of things to do before I moved out. Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Patti Smith all kept me company as I folded clothes, ripped tape, bubble-wrapped glasses and emptied trash can after trash can full of stuff I just did not want to take with me. Honestly, I wanted company more than I wanted help. Taking four years of your life off of your walls and out of your closets on its own is a sad task, but that coupled with being alone is not a good combination. At one point I needed a hug so badly I curled up with the giant, four-foot teddy bear named Randolph that my parents gave me as a Valentine's Day present. I was sad enough to feel him hugging back.

Eventually, everything got packed away, though. And on June 30, the day before I was set to move out, the call came in. I had been approved for an apartment. Instead of crashing on AS's couch for a month, I'd be there for just two days--I could move in on July 3. On July 1, the movers came and cleared everything away. I heard them ripping and disassembling and covering for hours while I crouched in the doorway of my roommates' old room doing work, leaning up against Randolph with suitcases and bags and a cart filled with stuff scattered around me. I couldn't bear to watch the stuff go away because it meant my own departure was not too far off. And after everything was gone and only lint and feathers (I own a comforter from which they escape much too easily) remained, I walked around and stared at everything. I wanted to see every soiree, every late-night kiss, every cigarette out the window, every day spent working on the couch because I was too lazy to walk to the kitchen table. But all I could think about were the possibilities in the next apartment. How I'd have all of those things again in a place that was no longer nameless or faceless. The Polaroids would go back on the wall, the old copies of Rolling Stone would get hung back up, the living room would again be filled with people and I wouldn't be sleeping on a couch. But first I had to get all of this stuff downstairs and out of the apartment. That seemed like the most difficult part not only because of all the schlepping, but because of the emotional weight of the act itself. It was the last step.

In a series of five stages, I first moved Randolph, the cart and bags and suitcases to the hallway. Then from the hallway to the elevator. Then from the elevator to the building entrance, from the entrance outside and from outside to the curb. Before I moved everything outside, though, I placed my keys on the so-empty-kitchen counter and said goodbye to the old girl. I walked through each room and took pictures, stared out the living room windows and said, "We had a good run, didn't we?" The back of my throat felt tight and I felt my eyes water but nothing came out of them. I preferred it that way. Eventually a car came and the driver helped me load everything into it. It's funny, after each of the previous four years in my life, there was some sort of pomp and circumstance signifying its end--high school graduation, college graduation. But after these four, all I did was close the door behind me and drive away. Nobody cared if I was leaving or staying, and really there's no reason why they should have. In New York, people leave all the time. My departure wasn't special.

I sat in the backseat clutching Randolph. I watched my neighborhood slowly pass away from me and I held Randolph tighter.

I would shortly move the carful of items into AS's apartment by myself; then, two days later, back out again. I would unpack my apartment by myself. I would decorate by myself. Perhaps in another four years I will see such a task as a fool's errand as I look back and think, what the hell? I felt like I had something to prove, I will say. I wanted to feel like a "real adult," whatever the hell that meant. But real adults ask for help when they need it, or so we're told. They aren't supposed to be stubborn and they know their limits, be they emotional or physical, or so we're told. I don't really know if I knew my limits this time; or if I did know them, I didn't care what they were. I just felt like this time I needed to be the one taking care of myself.

So after all of this, I am still in so many ways a toddler trying to tie my own shoes. Perhaps in the next four years I will be different. Or maybe being an adult means acknowledging you were a toddler all along.