Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Abeer Hoque

When I meet Abeer Hoque in the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room at the New York Public Library’s Main Branch in Midtown, she is a vision in magenta and cerulean, her dark hair dipped at the edges in bright blue. She has been working on her first screenplay and likes to tell herself she will work on it for just 15 minutes a day (it’s usually more).

I met Abeer through my reading series, having read her work many moons ago on a now-defunct website we both loved called Nerve.com. Since then, she has become the author and/or photographer of three books--2013’s The Long Way Home, a book of poems and travel photography; 2014’s The Lovers and the Leavers, a book of prose, poetry, and photography; and 2016’s memoir Olive Witch. She has also been a National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow, among many other accolades. Her work has appeared in Elle, Catapult, Bustle, and Slate, to name a few, and she has been profiled, excerpted, or reviewed in Vogue India, Good Housekeeping, Brooklyn Magazine, and more.

Abeer was born to Bangladeshi parents in Nigeria, where she lived for 13 years before moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She then lived in Philadelphia for college, San Francisco for grad school, Bangladesh and India doing her Fulbright, and then traveled the world for several years, visiting over 30 countries. She has lived in New York for five years now.

We take the 7 train from Bryant Park out to her home in Jackson Heights. As the train crosses above ground over the various parts of Queens, Abeer talks with an ease and openness, a comfort with herself. It seems like she is never scared to share, to talk about difficult topics that might have the rest of us (me included) shaking in our boots to offer to another human being. She walks on the earth with lightness as we leave the station, ankle bracelets and toe ring catching what minimal sun there is that day, her long skirt swishing in the breeze. The main drag by her home is dotted with multicultural restaurants, serving Thai and Peruvian and Uruguayan cuisine.

Her apartment, which she shares with her roommate, is dotted with drawings, plants, books and colorful paraphernalia from her travels. Abeer normally works at a standing desk, and has an anti-fatigue mat placed beneath it (a gift from a dear friend) so her feet don’t get tired. Light flows into her kitchen as she pours me a smoothie made from arugula (her favorite leafy green) and a host of fruits and juices before she prepares us a salad for lunch. She slices crisp veggies, toasts walnuts, and mixes together her own dressing before tossing it all in a big wooden bowl. We sit on her couch and crunch into carrots and radishes and more arugula and talk about writing. More light fills the room despite the cloudy day.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...on Independence Day

I was all set this morning to send out my Miss Manhattan Hangs Out, when it occurred to me that, of course, today is a national holiday, and nobody checks their email on such a day. On this particular holiday, in fact, many people are far away from their computers or their jobs of any kind, with office/establishment closures and it being the height of summer and all. Not wanting to have a fascinating person lost to the wilds of one’s day-off inbox, I’ve instead decided to hold off this week’s Hang until next week, when (perhaps) everyone’s usual Wednesday attention spans will be restored and instead offer you a bag of Independence Day party favors from other times I’ve hung out across the country in these warmer months.

These kinds of events--my friend James Harrell’s 30th birthday wedding to his drag persona Diane A. Lone, my friend Stephen Chan’s bachelor party, the annual Mermaid Parade on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York City’s Pride weekend, and more--are, to me, what make America worth celebrating. They’re arenas of love and acceptance, joy and creativity, kindness and community, and of people who have paved their own way.

So with an intro shortened to exactly 250 words on this here holiday, I present to you some of my favorite moments from the summer. Whether you’re on the beach, in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, or inside blasting air conditioning, I hope you’re enjoying your time however your heart is happiest.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Emily Raleigh

Emily Raleigh is just about to make tea when I arrive at her apartment, her mug from Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas waiting at the ready. She’s bubbly, full of expressive hand gestures that occasionally include adjusting the clear pink glasses that rest on her face.

She’s just returned home from her office job--she is the Assistant Director of Marketing at Fordham University--and despite the growing summer heat, her apartment is filled with the chilly blast of air conditioning. When Emily comes home, normally, she starts working on her other job at Spire & Co, the uplifting website that empowers and motivates young women to pursue their ambitions. Emily founded Spire six and a half years ago after preparing a field guide for her sister about how to navigate high school as a driven young person. This then evolved into a magazine shortly after. Emily and Spire--a name chosen because “it means to breathe easier and the highest peak on a summit”--have since been featured in Marie Claire, MSN, and MTV for their dedication to inspiring content. The site has since grown to include campus chapters, a 300+ person conference and other live events, email newsletters, daily content, and more.

One of Emily’s greatest passions is brand development. She’s curious about how others develop theirs--especially Oprah, one of her lifelong loves (her home is sprinkled with back issues of O and she even has the famed host’s 20th anniversary collection on DVD); and, of late, Reese Witherspoon--and constantly thinks about how to work on Spire. One of her latest initiatives for the site is an online bookstore, Spire Stacks, where readers can purchase “transformative reads written by and about remarkable women.” All of the books have been read by a Spire staffer, many by Emily herself. Her apartment is bursting with books in an array of colors and motivating titles, though in particular she is fond of Cleo Wade’s Heart Talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes.

Another of Emily’s newest initiatives at Spire is developing the site’s lifestyle podcast, Spire Sessions, which will feature interviews with experts on living one’s best life, like authors, leaders, and more. The podcast launches at the end of July, and tonight Emily is figuring out how to use her new microphone. The shiny silver Yeti is sitting on the edge of her desk just waiting to be plugged in as Emily peruses its box for instructions. Her pink fingernails glide over each instruction. She puts her headphones on and after following a few simple steps she can hear me laughing in stereo. Emily is driven by how to live her own best life and how to help others do the same, and it carries over into her work.

After the Yeti has been managed for the time being, we chat for a long time about career and motivation and dating and even personal style. Even as the hours have run past, she remains energetic, expressive and, as ever, curious.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Pride

Meet us on the northwest corner of 11th Street and 7th Avenue, SC says.

Boarding the 1 train at Times Square, there are a flurry of Pridegoers along with me. A beautiful boy whose face is beat for the gods with pink and green eyeshadow, a small star on his cheek, Pucci-esque print on his torso. His girlfriends wear glitter and unicorn headbands, and some other beautiful boys further down the train show off their muscles under barely-there neon tank tops. A person wears a transgender pride flag like a cape, pink button-down shirt tied just above their navel. For the most part, we are all getting off at similar stops: 18th Street, 14th Street, and, if you’re crazy enough to attempt to make it through the crowds, Christopher Street.

I exit at 14th, taking the 13th Street exit, and am greeted not by Miss Rose at the door, but our friend Johnny Five-O. That didn’t actually happen, but I can’t resist a good Scissor Sisters reference. What did happen was that I exited into a throng of people and police barricades, everyone kitted out in neon, mesh, glitter, rainbow regalia as they always are on this particular Sunday in June, which is always New York’s biggest Pride event. I am modestly dressed in a bright red tank top--today is not my day, of course, but I am still so proud of and full of love for my queer friends and colleagues and family that to dress without color would be, I think, to do them a disservice. I am forever glad and grateful to be able to show up and support them.

It seems there are more and more young people at the parade every year in their fishnets and leather collars, rainbow tank tops and suspenders and pasties. Though there is still so much that needs to be done in terms of acceptance and equality in this country, it gives me hope that young people who want to can make their way to an event like this and feel free to be themselves. Love is love, their shirts say. Kindness is magic. Queer and proud. A smile crosses my lips and stays there.

Making my way to the corner of 11th and 7th is a task, not just for the twisty-turny nature of the streets in the West Village, but for the cascading array of rainbowed humans I will soon be joining to watch the parade. They lean against barricades in front of restaurants while brunchgoers call over particular costumed individuals and sing the praises of their outfits. They stand on benches in front of coffee shops, obscuring the windows like a human curtain. And in this maze of people I eventually find SC, in the hot pink “Fierce” tank top from our Spring 2010 dance show in college. Cardi B blasts from a float passing by and he breaks out into song and dance, the streetlamp’s electrical box acting as his partner: “Said little bitch, you can’t fuck with me if you wanted to,” each word another bump or grind. Floats throw rainbow beads and K offers us beer cloaked in a brown paper wrapper. It’s hot and I have a sip of the stuff for the first time in what must be years, my mouth thirsty for anything, even a 24oz can of Corona. It’s cold and bubbly and I remember why people drink beer again.

A few more floats pass, a few more beads are thrown. Sweat dripping from foreheads, we head to the icy cool of The Hangar, a gay bar on the west side of 7th Avenue festooned with Pride flags and televisions playing the parade. We sip tequila and soda and dance, alcohol slowly beginning to pulse through our veins along with blood. I leave to shove a Philly Cheesesteak down my gullet while sitting outside of a bodega, because I’ve only eaten half a grapefruit thus far that day. A group of teens sit next to me shouting “Happy Pride” at anyone they find attractive which, given the West Village during Pride, is a lot of people. “Y’all look fierce!” I say to the boy on my left, mid-sandwich. His hair is platinum blonde and he has the words ‘Die Alone’ tattooed on his right leg. “Thank you!” he says, as his girlfriends in rainbow stripes and short shorts dance to Cardi B’s “Bickenhead” pumping out of the speaker someone is rolling past in a red laundry cart. Soon other strangers join in on the sidewalk and there’s an impromptu dance party, with everyone shouting the lyrics in front of the bodega. “Don't matter if you fuck with me, I get money regardless.”

I go back to The Hangar, past people with a cooler selling “Diet Water,” and J buys us a shot of Fireball. I wince, because the last time I was supposed to have that was 8 years ago in college when I didn’t know better and just wanted to be drunk. But five of us shoot it just the same.

From there, we totter our way up to Chelsea gay bar Barracuda, a tiny space in what looks like it may have once been a brownstone or a clandestine front of some kind or parking garage or all of the above. Aaron Jackson from The Opposition dances next to us and I don’t say hi even though I’ve photographed him several times (he was in Broadgay, the live retelling of Sex and the City I love featuring all gay men, before he was on television/all of them got famous). We sit on a covered pool table and shimmy while we rest our feet as Prince and RuPaul and Lady Gaga play over the speakers, light so sparse it could be nighttime inside save for flashing beams of color overhead. The bar is packed to the gills with men of all stripes, some with long beards, some with the smoothest faces you’ll ever see on a living human, some wearing wigs so brightly colored you can see them even in the dark.

“Today is like Christmas and New Year’s and Halloween all rolled into one,” M says, his shirt swinging from his pants pocket. “But gay!”

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Suzy T. Cat

The “T” in Suzy T. Cat stands for “Trouble,” her mother Alissa tells me. Though Suzy’s father, Ian, has made the excellent point that it could, in fact, just stand for “The.”

Suzy lives in San Francisco and was adopted last June by her parents Alissa and Ian. She’s approximately two years old, an especially floofy orange tabby with perfectly lined, bright yellow-green eyes that would make makeup artists jealous. Despite all of her floof, however, Suzy is not much for cuddles. A few seconds’ embrace is all she will allow, and will begin to bat at your face (no claws) with a fluffy little paw should her clock run out.

Once upon a time, Alissa and Ian tell me, Suzy was a teen mom, having birthed a litter of kittens when she was possibly just six months old. They made a backstory for her, that she was living on the docks, a rough and tumble girl who’s now queen of the castle. Almost like Brandy of “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” fame, the 1972 hit by Looking Glass but, you know, a cat.

Suzy is curious, full of “meeps” instead of “meows,” little gurgles in her throat that Alissa and Ian imagine ask questions like, who is this stranger and what is her bright pink rolling box? (Answers: me; my suitcase) What’s inside the small black box she holds in her human paws, and why does it she keep pointing it at me? (My camera, to take pictures of you, darling!) In the time I spend with Suzy, she bats not just my face but my camera and the fringe falling from the edges of my cutoffs.

Suzy’s home is littered with toys like a furry black mouse, a treat maze she gets to play with every morning, and a bobble toy that will give her treats if she knocks them out just the right way. Alissa has also taught Suzy to touch her nose against a target and to high-five, which she now does with expert precision. Yet with all of her curiosity, Suzy is mostly interested in the snacks that accompany such tasks. That, and naps. She lounges in her cat tree or on the table, all the effort she can muster placed into a single, teeth-baring yawn.

Sometimes Suzy gets “zoomy,” as Alissa says, darting around the apartment in bursts. This has happened on more than one occasion when she and Ian are out, leaving them to come home to something knocked over that hadn’t been before. Knowing full well this could happen at any time, they have resolved to leave the apartment saying “Okay Suzy, be neutral!” knowing full well that asking her to be good is just too much to ask. Perhaps accordingly, when I wake up that morning a pair of my underwear has mysteriously been removed from my suitcase, my water glass a little emptier than it had been, droplets flung about the coffee table. A fluffy orange culprit sits innocently nearby.

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