Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Graham Home for Old Ladies

Every so often when I'm in Brooklyn, I'll get ambitious when I have time to spare and walk to disparate parts of the borough. One such time was yesterday, when I traveled from the Lorimer Street stop on the L train to the Annex Cafe in Fort Greene, a 2.8 mile walk. While I usually doubt the pacing of the Google Maps walking figure because I have short legs and don't like to rush anywhere, the 58-minute trip time was very accurate given the aforementioned details and the fact that I was also schlepping maybe five pounds of camera equipment on my shoulder.

My trek began down Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, populated by its banks and sandwich shops and unusual interior design stores, which later turned into Williamsburg Street West. My jaunt down this street became a tour of the Hasidic part of Brooklyn. Even in what was nearly 90-degree heat yesterday, the men still wore shtreimels, large black circular hats surrounded by fur, with their long black jackets, longsleeved white shirts, and black pants. Women had their arms and legs covered, their heads topped with wigs. I trotted past them in my linen pants and tank top, my hair in a bun at the top of my head, chattering to my mother on my phone, every so often receiving a look from them as if I were a mohawked punk with my hair a shade of something like neon pink and spears hanging from my septum. What on earth are you doing here?, they seemed to say as I walked past their school buses and apartment buildings and flyers pasted to streetcorners all printed with Hebrew phrases. Gentile, goyim, I must have seemed in comparison, though they wouldn't have known my own Jewish mother was on the other end of the phone.

Williamsburg Street West turned into Park Avenue and then a left onto Washington Avenue where the real fun began. I had never walked through Clinton Hill before, and was unaware of its proliferation of 19th century townhouses and mansions, many of which today have been converted into multi-family homes. Some, however, are just straight houses smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn, with curling wooden porches and staircases, some even with the original glass the buildings were constructed with when they were first built. The street was part of the Clinton Hill Historic District, which features many homes of similar structure up and down its streets. While the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an escape from urban life for wealthy professionals, by the end of the 20th century it became quite the opposite. Patti Smith wrote of an apartment she and artist Robert Mapplethorpe shared in the area in the 1960s, writing "its aggressively seedy condition was out of my range of experience. The walls were smeared with blood and psychotic scribbling, the oven crammed with discarded syringes, and the refrigerator overrun with mold." Today, though, it has experienced a resurgence, with many parts of the historic district clean and tree-lined, young people and families milling about.

My favorite spot on Washington Avenue, however, was a building that read "The Graham Home for Old Ladies" and was built in 1851. The plaque stopped me in my tracks: were our forebears so blunt as to call a female retirement home such a thing? No, as it turns out. According to The New York Times, the building was originally built as the "Brooklyn Society for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females," by a wealthy lawyer named John B. Graham. Ladies had to have a certain level of manner and propriety to be admitted to the venue in the era, though once the area and the building went into decline in the 1980s, far less was required when it became a brothel. It became empty in the 1990s, however, and was redeveloped in 2000 to be condominiums. Its plaque is simply a modern nickname for a building full of apartments that sell for over one million dollars.

Shortly I turned down Lafayette Street, which was more familiar to me as the home of Brooklyn Flea, and found myself in the familiar territory of Fulton Street after turning down South Portland Avenue. I holed myself up in Annex, a coffee shop populated with a mix of modern tables and chairs that were still somehow friendly in light tones of wood. One of the edges of the space featured a raised area populated by spiky green plants and luscious, sloping leather chairs that looked lovingly broken after the shop's opening just five years ago. I was supposed to meet friends next door in about 45 minutes, so I sat in one sipping an iced coffee and reading Joan Didion's The White Album while I let my body relax. It's funny, I had walked past Annex so many times on jaunts through the neighborhood and I never actually had the occasion to go in, but I would go back in a heartbeat.

Time flew quickly and soon it was time to pop next door, to Habana Outpost to meet AR and his friend C. We would grab sandwiches and head to Fort Greene Park, where the Alamo Drafthouse was showing a free screening of Best in Show. Cuban sandwiches in tow, we made our way to the park and found a perfect spot on a hill so nobody of the hundreds of others in attendance would block our view. Night fell and the air cooled and we watched Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge and their standard poodle Rhapsody in White compete against other dogs in Christopher Guest's 2000 film. , We ended up making friends with an Italian Greyhound behind us who would give us all kisses and cuddles throughout the movie, though we suspect he was really just after the pork from our sandwiches.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Weeknight in the Life

I've been finding more often than not that all the nights of my week are jam packed. There was a time when I eschewed any activity in favor of yoga, but I seem to have deviated from this path in the last few months or so (don't worry, I still exercise during the day) in favor of a host of other activities. Below is a sampling of what this looks like from this week:

Monday

SC, B, and I gather at Boxers in Chelsea for the season 8 finale of RuPaul's Drag Race. The evening was hosted by she of the towering hair and perfect hourglass figure, drag queen Alexis Michelle. We were supposed to meet at the delightfully grungy Boots & Saddle in the West Village, but it was sadly closed due to flooding after a rainstorm. The next best option was Boxers, which is always packed for Drag Race, and we knew it would be especially so tonight for the finale, perhaps even more than it would have been because people who were also going to Boots & Saddle may have also ended up in Chelsea that evening instead. The venue was swarming with people, but B managed to find us some real estate in the center of something like five different televisions. This, after all, was our playoffs, or World Cup, our Super Bowl of Drag. Not only that, but I had been in the house all day so it was nice to be out interacting with other humans. Our beloved Bob the Drag Queen was in the top three representing our city. Hashtag #TeamBob was everywhere, and Alexis told stories of performing with Bob around town. And at the end of the hour and a half finale, Bob won! The bar let out an enormous cheer followed by bursts of applause. We walked out into the night, pretending to "walk into the club purse first" as Bob had done on the show.

video

"I expected to be running into people and high-fiving them!" SC said as we made our way down a rather quiet 20th Street. "But I forget not everybody watches Drag Race." It's an insular world, maybe, but it's ours.

TuesdayI had the distinct pleasure of being asked to be a judge at The Prose Bowl, a monthly literary event at Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn. Founded by writers John Hague and Christopher Green, the premise of the series is that four people, all of whom enter their names in a hat at the beginning of the evening, are picked at random read a work of fiction that's 900 words or about five minutes long. The story is then judged by a panel, and the top two writers enter a lightning round, where they tell a story that's about as along as a tweet. The winner is decided by audience applause and given a free drink and a "doo-dad of infinite impracticability." 

On the judging panel with Green and another regular judge Jordan Zolan, I was worried I would be too mean, the Simon Cowell of the group, if you will. Listening to the stories, immensely creative for a few short minutes, I really enjoyed the challenge of coming up with a (somewhat? hopefully?) insightful critique to share at the end. I did at one point say "more fangirling, less sadgirling" in one of my critiques, which rather comically ended up on The Prose Bowl's Twitter later. The winning story was a hilarious tale about purchasing a couch from a Craigslist ad that ended up covered in cat pee. It included the wonderful line "She stays thin because she lies so much," in reference to the seller of the couch, who vehemently denied the cat urine incident. If you love free, interesting literary events, it's definitely one worth checking out. You can also read a recap of Tuesday's event on their blog here.

Wednesday

I actually did go to yoga.


Thursday


SE knows I love surprises and though he doesn't, he managed to keep a secret our plans for Thursday night for a few weeks.

"Meet me on the corner of 45th and 8th at 6:30pm sharp!" he said.

We met on the southeast corner, and he pointed to a pizza joint across the street. "I thought we could go and check out some of this amazing Times Square pizza," he said, possibly joking but I wasn't sure. I raised my eyebrows and said okay, befuddled yet amused. "But first I thought we could go see American Psycho." Ohhhhhhhhh!
We had discussed the musical previously, so it was fun to be surprised with tickets.

During the show, SE told me he had made reservations at a restaurant uptown, but apparently the kitchen closed at 10pm and if the show got out later than 9:30, he wasn't sure we'd make it. It didn't matter to me, I said, that I'd be happy with Papaya King, but I knew he wanted this evening to be special. Magically, as we were making our way up 8th Avenue after the show amongst throngs of other people, a cab stopped right in front of us to let two women out. We got in and made our way very quickly uptown, to 70th and Columbus. "Ye of little faith!" I said, patting his shoulder as we got in the cab. The restaurant, it turned out, was Parm, one of my new favorite spots that now had a location on the Upper West Side as well as in Nolita. We had walked past it one evening and I had told him about the amazing eggplant parmagiana sandwiches and he had remembered. We arrived at Parm with about 10 minutes to spare, maybe less, before the kitchen closed. Our waitress, perhaps eager to leave, came over and asked for our order quickly--two eggplant parmagiana heroes, please--and soon we were chowing down into the crispy, tomato-y goodness on perfect sesame-covered bread. It was heaven. And SE, who isn't really even an eggplant or tomato fan, loved it just as much as I did.



Friday

I am on deadline, as ever, and I am a little late to meet SJT and L at Le Poisson Rouge, where we will shortly see the goddess, the high priestess, the Divine Miss P, the one and only Patti Smith. I realize that this is the fourth time I have seen her royal radness in person, and I am just as excited as I have been every other time. The evening is a benefit for a retreat community upstate and Patti is the star act, with her daughter Jesse on piano and her son Jackson on guitar. She is a warm and funny presence onstage, and sometimes when she's speaking I feel like she's my mom, too. She covers Prince's "When Doves Cry," and it's incredible, as is everything else she does with her voice. The stage lights turn a slight purple and bounce off of her silver hair, making it look purple too. Afterward she simply says "Prince!" with a smile, raising her hands upward to the sky. I could listen to her sing, talk, recite poetry forever while she wears one of those black blazers she always wears and her custom boots made for her by Johnny Depp to look like those he wears as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's films.


video

After the concert, we head to the Olive Tree Cafe for sandwiches, hummus, and a carafe of wine. We gossip and discuss theatre and SJT tells a story about when he accompanied a singer at a synagogue and really enjoyed the deli platters afterward.

Eyes heavy with wine, we part ways and I traipse into a cab and then, eventually, my bed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Little Cinema

I should have known that something inside of a venue whose exterior was covered in vibrant splashes of blue and yellow paint would have knocked my socks off, but now I know for sure.

The event was Little Cinema, a movie and live performance series, and for starters it was at The House of Yes. Though I realize this is now sacrilege, last night was my first time at the venue. I can say for certain it will not be my last.

The House of Yes is a creative events space in Bushwick, and its current incarnation is actually its third. The first space was in East Williamsburg, built with the desire for "a true creative live/work space that could host an occasional dance party or circus class," as the venue writes. But it grew into so much more: today the venue hosts aerial dance performances, concerts, comedy shows, dance parties, film screenings, and so much more. 

Entering the space, AR and I were greeted with a wonderfully wacky visual stimulus package of subtle tile flooring in front and a disco-mirrored bathroom in the back lit up with bright red lights. We were there to see Little Cinema's production of 1970s New York cult classic The Warriors. People were dressed in brown leather vests a la Warriors, some even wearing feathers in their hair; others were dressed up as Furies, the facepainted, baseball-attired, batswinging gang that comes at the Warriors in Central Park. Tiny tables stood to our right, where you could sit and order Mediterranean food from Queen of Falafel next door.

As a first timer at The House of Yes, I could feel the creative soul of the place even when in the bejeweled bathroom (AR and I traded notes on this--the men's bathroom features a mannequin sculpture that sprawls above the urinals) and on the patio attired in ivy and funky, wonderfully mismatched sculptures. We met up with the lovely Oriana Leckert of the blog and book Brooklyn Spaces, who was rightfully agape that we had never been there before. "This is what my soul looks like under X-ray!" I said to her as she nodded enthusiastically. My experience of it was more like "House of YAAAAAAAAAS!" than just "House of Yes," to say the very least.

And then we went inside the theatre, through a door covered in a beautiful, almost art deco sunburst of wood and mirrors. We found some high-top seats and buckled ourselves in (figuratively). We sat in the back of the house, the 22-foot, HD projection screen waiting for us. Every Little Cinema experience includes performances matching the theme of the film interspersed throughout the screening.

So, if you're not familiar with The Warriors, a brief synopsis so you'll understand. The Warriors are a gang from Coney Island. They head all the way up through Manhattan to the Bronx for a meeting of all the gangs from around New York. While they're there, they're blamed for a murder they didn't commit and spend the rest of the film trying to get home without getting murdered by (mostly) all the gangs who were at the meeting.


Little Cinema then awesomely accented the film with accompaniment of gorgeous, improvised rock and roll from their house band, Black Lodge, as well as performances by some of the city's subway dance crews, Waffle NYC and It's Showtime; an aerial performance by women dressed as girl gang The Lizzies; and an actor from the film itself. Happily, the performances seamlessly blended in with the film and were never a disruption, only an enhancement--perhaps it makes sense, then, that the event was called The Warriors Remixed. It shouldn't have been a surprise that this was done well--this was Little Cinema's thirteenth event, after all. Other showings included Purple Rain, Labyrinth, Donnie Darko, American Beauty, and Basquiat, among others. They all feature performances themed around the films and then have a themed dance party afterward that's included in the price of your ticket. The event is every Tuesday at the House of Yes, and costs $10-$15 depending on when you get your ticket. You can also reserve a table or even their famous clawfooted bathtub, which comes with butler service, free wine, and dinner.

It was a fantastic way to watch the film, its scenes of '70s New York with graffitied subway cars and murky, gritty streets, with a giant room of people who appreciate it and also love that it's been made into a fun, new performance. I'm curious to see what Little Cinema does with other iconic films, too: they won't have to do much convincing to get me to "come out to play-ay-ay...."

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Aspirational Sconces

For so many of us, apartments are just boxes we live in but for others, they're adorned with the trimmings of a non-transient life. Not just a poster on the wall, for example, but sconces. Not just a couch, but an armchair and matching side tables. I found that I've always been somewhere in the middle myself. I have framed and unframed artwork on the walls, a smattering of tchotchkes on my bookshelf, a weird shortening tin that I use as a side table.

As much as I love New York and I don't foresee myself leaving ever, I notice there is a detachment to the way I approach decorating and perhaps thereby living my home. I have never had champagne-colored chiffon curtains or sculptures or painted my walls like SD; I do not have a mirror decorated with sheet music or a spice rack or a mug rack like M & S do. I don't have incense waiting at the ready or teas displayed in glass jars or the pale white of Christmas lights warming a dark room like S & J. I tell myself it's because I don't have the patience to get in-depth into interiors when I've already hung all my stuff I've wanted to hang on the walls--vintage Rolling Stone magazines and my Marilyn canvas and my photos from backstage at Fashion Week--but really I fear having to uproot myself from a place that doesn't actually belong to me.

Yes, of course, I have wanted to paint an accent wall a deep crimson like Pantone 3546 C  so my home resembles the titular character's bedroom in Along Came Polly, but I always think about how long I might stay in one spot. What if, after spending all of this money and time to paint my wall red I have to move because of something out of my control like the rent going up or my building going condo like last time? I wonder if I stopped spending time thinking about what my dream home would look like because I am already in my dream city and that is enough? 

I was talking with HanOre recently about what we might like our apartments to look like. Her dining room table departed with one of her roommates last year, so there has been a big, open space in her apartment for some time. I mentioned SD's sconces to her as something I aspired to. Not necessarily the same style, but to live in a home where sconces looked like they belonged. Aspirational sconces.
"What kind of sconces would you have?" she asked. I paused to consider.
"Something a 1930s lesbian in Hollywood would have, I think," remembering photographs of homes of stars like Alla Nazimova and Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, metallic art deco accents lining the walls.
"I understand. We will have these when we are roommates," she promises me. Then I wonder, how does one even decorate with a sconce? Are there nails and hammers or drills involved? Do you space them evenly or just do whatever the hell you want?

But I also wonder if my home really does look like a place where a non-transient human lives, and I'm just in it too often to see otherwise? Or I'm just not all that into clutter besides that brought on by books and magazines which populate probably far too much surface area of my home? I sit on my couch as I write this, staring at my bookshelf. When I moved into this new place, I knew I had to get settled quickly or it would take me months, if not years to do it (I was not wrong...a piece of artwork I got probably two or three years ago only at the beginning of this year finally found itself a home in a frame) so I set up my apartment the exact same way as the last one. This time, though, I decided to change up my bookshelf a little--wild, I know. What will she think of next?? I arranged the books by color instead of just randomly by size. I have more tchotchkes now than I used to, too--a piece of wood from Norway that SP gave me before she left that smells like an entire forest; a bag of coffee from Guatemala given to me by a nomadic writer from my reading series; a 35mm Nikon film camera my aunt gave me that once belonged to her beloved boyfriend. In many ways, my bookshelf feels like the most homey part of my apartment. It looks like something that holds life.

But there are also the bears, Randolph and Matthew, the two four-foot long, massive creatures who keep the living room safe; and Mistress Veronica, a pillow handmade by artist Al Benkin from a screenprint of her friend, a dominatrix of the same name. A poster from the legendary City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco,  a photograph gifted to me by the artist Elaine Hargrove of a couple kissing in the ocean, and so much more that I've brought in here or has in some other way entered my living space that makes it my own, this box I call home inside the city that is more home than any box could be. I still aspire to sconces, but perhaps in the meantime I need to give myself more credit.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Rundown

Walking nineteen miles in four days is a lot, I think.

One weekend when EH was visiting, we kept tabs on the pedometer on her phone. She used it to track how much walking she did at the hospital where she works, and also to make sure she was getting enough exercise with her crazy work hours. After just one day of walking around downtown, I noticed how much walking we did, how many miles we walked and how many calories we burned.

The magic number to walk per day, as maybe you've heard before, is 10,000 steps. This amount of steps, which at about five miles burns about 300 calories, is supposed to prevent weight gain on top of your daily activities. I started using the pedometer on my phone to keep track of how many steps I took in a day--last week it was off the charts and I wasn't even trying, I was just going about my life as usual.

I was scouting locations for a photoshoot on Monday in Brooklyn, I was running to and from interviews, I was photographing a concert, I was just plain going to a concert, and by Thursday I was hauling myself around a photography fair, having to pause every 30 minutes or so just to sit down. I was exhausted, and the over-60 crowd at the fair seemed to be speeding past me. By the end of that evening, when I was home sitting on my couch, I discovered I had walked nineteen miles during the week. I relaxed on Friday, or did my best to, but the week shortly caught up with me and I was blowing my nose like a foghorn by the end of the night. On Saturday, I thought if I took a nap before going to a friend's play I'd be fine, but even after the show I fell into bed, unable to do all of the work I had planned on doing.

SE and I were supposed to have plans that night, but when he called I sounded like death. "What can I bring you?" he said matter-of-factly, in a way that told me I was not to simply say "nothing," because he knew by this point that "nothing" would have been a lie. "Hot and sour soup, please," I croaked into the phone. The Chinese restaurant staple has a magical gift of clearing out my sinuses. It's also way less boring than Chicken Noodle. SE arrived at my door a short while afterward, forced to gaze upon me in all my sweatpantsed/hoodied glory, eyes swollen and shoulders slumped. I practically poured the soup into my veins and shortly afterward was able to speak and laugh like a normal human. He left and prescribed me bed-rest. I did that, but only realizing after he left that I also needed Vicks Vapo-Rub and a decongestant and probably an ice cream sandwich to heal my wounds. I pulled on boots and a leather jacket and trudged myself over to Duane Reade for my loot. I found out upon coming home I had purchased the wrong medication, but the Vicks really helped my poor nostrils regain their freedom. I was sleeping by 10pm, occasionally waking up in the middle of the night to reapply more Vicks, and woke up on my own around 9 o'clock the next morning, fully able to talk without blowing my nose.

SE and I sat in Central Park most of the day on a picnic blanket I brought that was much too small, eating gouda and watching a veritable circus of dogs pass in front of us. He made illicit bellinis for us and we listened to Rogue Wave and Metric and The Beastie Boys and Biz Markie. It was so nice to be able to sit in one spot and do nothing, even say nothing for long stretches of time. In many ways, it was exactly what I needed.

I recently stopped doing social media as part of my freelancing business--which is to say, I am fully employed as a writer and photographer now--and have been grinding my nose so hard against the grindstone that I have forgotten I still need my nose to breathe. I do this every so often, work so hard that my body just sort of goes "NOPE," then collapses underneath me.

My father called me Sunday night to yell at me about this. And by "yell" I mean speak very calmly and enunciate and say "I would like you to" and "do you understand?" at the beginning and end of every sentence.

"Elyssa, I would like you to remember to take time off so this doesn't happen again, do you understand?" he said.
"Yes, I understand, Dad."
"You understand, but do you understand?" he said.
"I understand," I said.
"Good. Then I would like you go to bed early tonight, do you understand?"
"Yes, Dad, I understand."

I love being busy; it makes me feel alive, like I'm earning every penny of my living. But all of the walking, all of the schlepping, all of the going and doing has to be punctuated with the relaxing, and not just because my dad says so (although as someone who built his own business, he knows quite well this is accurate). If not, there will be no going and doing to get done. "You are a one-man band," as my mother says. And the bandleader has to take care of her bandmates! In true New Yorker fashion, I am still learning how to relax. Lest I care to be blowing my nose again so fervently, though, I had better learn a little faster.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

"This is the only place I belong."

"This is the only place I belong," I said to SE in the back of a cab on Thursday night. Lights on 1st Avenue trickled past: pizza joints, drugstores, sushi restaurants, all open past 10pm on a weeknight.

I was talking about New York and I noticed the intonation in my voice. It was one that felt more akin to an angsty teenager pleading with a parent than a 27-year-old gal-about-town who runs her own business: not "This is the only place I belong," but "This is the only place I belong." I sounded like some sort of overdramatic pseudo-goth teenager in Doc Martens, ripped tights, and eyes rimmed dark with thick black eyeliner. Where had this voice come from?

SE had been talking about the suburbs, which he loves. A born and raised New Yorker, the idea of leaving the city's inner limits and having things like a front lawn and a driveway and a Golden Retriever and a mailbox you don't have to open with a key all thrill him.

But they're the things I spent most of my life trying to escape. Things like this cause my stomach to churn and fill me with a sense of my soul being ripped from my body. (Not so much the Golden Retriever, but, you know, the other stuff.)

I started saving money for an apartment in New York starting when I was 16 years old. I knew that I was weird, that I was different, for a long time. When I was 13 I first went on an Alfred Hitchcock kick then a Woody Allen kick, doing my best to see as many of the directors' films as I could; when I exhausted the options at my local Blockbuster, I made my way to Billy Wilder, Joshua Logan, and Frank Capra. I didn't have a subscription to any magazines like YM or Teen People, I wasn't allowed to watch cartoons, and I was happy to spend my weekends taking inventory of my parents' record collection. I made conversation more easily with adults than kids and was constantly wearing my mother's clothes from the '70s. I did not...belong. And though I didn't know a lot of other people like me (thankfully, I did end up finding some and am still friends with many of them), I knew where they were.

I read about the early eighties drag scene at the Pyramid Club. I read about the punk movement in the 1970s on the Bowery. I read about the '90s club kid scene and Andy Warhol's Silver Factory and Max's Kansas City and CBGB and Studio 54 and I wanted it all. In my mind I had found a place for the creative, rebellious spirit I wanted to be, that I would never have as a self-enforced overachieving straight-A goody-goody teenager living in suburban Fort Lauderdale. I wanted to get away from people who looked and acted and dressed and spoke all the same way and had the same experiences but more importantly I wanted to get away from myself. I wanted a place where I could be the person I always wanted to be.

I wanted to wear leather jackets and motorcycle boots like Patti Smith. I wanted to wear bright red lipstick and red high heels like a fifties movie star. I wanted to wear glitter for no reason and have nobody raise an eyebrow at me and sneer. I wanted to wear a mink coat and cowboy boots and a leopard print cardigan and have nobody look at me like I was insane. I wanted to wear fishnets and concert t-shirts with Chuck Taylors. I wanted to go to a place where the norm was a perpetual exercise in creativity, not khaki pants.

I wanted to go to gallery openings and walk up the long avenues painted with light at 3am because New York is always bright, because it really never does sleep, and I would never be stuck watching Friends until I passed out in front of the television because I had nothing else to do on a Friday night ever again. I wanted to meet artists and make my own work and walk the hallowed ground upon which so many of my idols have also tread. I wanted to eat at wild restaurants and go to a never-ending stream of concert venues, and dance until 4am then stumble into a diner and order a hamburger. I wanted to go to drag shows all the time and make friends with drag queens and drink martinis while I watched them lip-synch and perform better than any musical theatre actor I had ever seen. I wanted to go to plays on Broadway and experimental dance pieces way far off Broadway. I wanted to waltz in and out of record stores and vintage clothing stores and cafes without needing a car that I still couldn't drive because I had my feet and that's all that mattered.

I love my friends in South Florida and I love my family; I love the way the Atlantic Ocean turns my hair into a mess of mermaid waves; I love how the salty air hits my face as I drive up A1A; the way my skin feels warm and slightly greasy after being in the sun covered in SPF 4 the whole day. But I love New York, and I finally have the life I always dreamed I would have.

I have eaten dinner and watched Run Lola Run with monks; I have crashed a gala at the New York Philharmonic; I have photographed a dance performance inside the Museum of Natural History; I have hung out in artists' salons and gone to movie premieres and watched the sun come up in the East Village; I have walked Manhattan's streets alone and with friends and with lovers; I have bought a vintage shortening barrel at Brooklyn Flea and used it as a side table; I have interviewed artists who have then loved my writing and given me their work for free and it now hangs in my apartment; I have hung out backstage with musicians at Le Poisson Rouge and gone all the way out to Brooklyn only because I wanted a cup of coffee from a particular place; I have listened to pornstars read their non-fiction writing at a feminist bookstore; I have gone roller skating in an abandoned factory and drunk soju at a party in an abandoned bank. And I only want the adventures to continue.

I am the person I have always wanted to be. I cannot leave New York because I cannot, I will not, leave myself.

*

At 10pm on a Sunday night I am at a drag show in the basement of a gay bar in the West Village. I am watching Bob the Drag Queen ("first name Bob, last name The Drag Queen") bat his fluttery, fake eyelashes from under a white-blond pixie wig. His long red nails grip the bodice of his white leotard, detailed with black-and-white faux fur shoulders, his long legs covered in black fishnets that envelop feet nestled into white leather heels. At tonight's drag competition, called Look Queen, I will watch a drag queen with a beard eat a fake heart from a hand covered in long black fingernails; I will watch another drag queen whose dress is made entirely of playing cards and whose eye is covered in a heart made of pink glitter walk across the stage in homemade Alexander McQueen-style armadillo heels; I will laugh and I will be in awe and I will not stop taking pictures the entire time and I will think to myself, "This is the only place I belong," no special intonation needed.



Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Syndicate(d)

syn-di-cate
noun
/sindikit/
1. a group of individuals or organizations combined to promote some common interest


When I first moved to New York, one of the things I wanted most--in addition to your usual success, apartment, ravishing style sensibilities--was a crew. That group of people I could call whenever I wanted to hang out, to go to a concert, to dinner, for drinks, what have you. Basically I wanted my life to be Friends. This was, however, contrary to the way I had lived my life to the point I arrived in New York and continues to be this way--I had always been more of a floater, close with several people sprinkled in different groups. Other people, though, are very good at and have always been good at maintaining a close circle, and one of those is Akeem Duncan.

I met Akeem many moons ago now when I was working with an arts collaborative. His magazine, an arts publication called Quiet Lunch, covered one of our events, and he and the publication stayed on my radar ever since. Akeem's crew, his syndicate, is a group of passionate individuals who don't think in terms of boundaries, but only possibilities, always seeking to continue developing the magazine as a network and an arbiter of taste. I have had the privilege of seeing Quiet Lunch grow, their connections in the art world blossoming to impressive heights. Akeem is one of those people who truly has an eye for unique talent--he featured artist Shantell Martin in the magazine long before Converse hired her to do artwork for their billboards, and I saw band Tei Shi in the publication eons before its lead singer was in Elle Magazine. In short, the man not only knows talent, but knows where to dig for it.

I was not surprised, then, that his first solo-curated exhibition, "Selfish" at Brilliant Champions gallery in Bushwick, was a stunning success. Every work in the show, be it painting or photography or mixed media or collage, was a self-portrait that inspired interest in process, was a stunning visual, and was a bold insight into the artist's imagination. It is, as the gallery says, "a vivid exemplar of imaginative introspection." Akeem, a curator in his very soul, brought together new artists (so new their first works were featured in the show) with artists he had met at different fairs around the country like Art Basel. I was especially taken with the photographic paper sculptures of Nate Lewis, the photo collage work of model/artist Louise Donegan, and Megan Tatem's delightfully deadpan and provocative self-portrait on a toilet, though I would say almost every piece in the show is strong. Akeem has never been afraid of new work, of new artists, and promotes them whenever he has the opportunity which is, sadly, not the case with most of the art world. I would highly recommend checking out the show at the lovely and petite Brilliant Champions if you happen to have a moment or several to spare.

On the night I was there at the opening, there was a gorgeous peacock, Dexter, who happened to be one of the pets of another artist. Walking outside, Dexter was perched on the artist's shoulder, a study in absurdity and elegance on a leash. But then again, I shouldn't be surprised. That's just how Akeem and his crew roll.

**

I had heard about this Bushwick spot--a restaurant/movie theater/cocktail bar in a former industrial space? Yes please!--in an article praising its cocktails and thought it might be fun to go. But I couldn't remember the name or the location of it. However, leaving the "Selfish" opening at Brilliant Champions, SE and I walked down Bogart Street to the train when we spot Syndicated. "Oh! That's it! That's the place I was telling you about!" I said emphatically, slapping SE on the arm of his black leather jacket. SE, who has a such a penchant for cocktails that his home bar likely rivals more than one bar in the city, was game if I was, so we went inside. There was gorgeous, art deco detailing on the steps as we entered, which was duplicated inside with sconces and light fixtures behind the bar, a welcome juxtaposition against exposed turquoise pipes. The ceilings were gorgeously, unspeakably high for any location in the five boroughs, but that's one of the benefits of making a restaurant in a former industrial space, after all. Windows topped the space and a giant bar in the center was stacked, pyramid-like with high-end liquors. The bartender was a fellow whose name was Tom but went by Cat, and I decided I would like to come back as such a man in another life. We ordered cocktails inspired by classic cinema--a Lawnmower Man for me (Hophead vodka, cachaca, market green juice, chili syrup, carrot juice, and lemon) and a Steve McQueen (Old Overholt rye, Carpano Antica, Dolin dry vermouth, whiskey barrel-aged bitters) for SE.

In the back of Syndicated, there is a movie theatre where they screen classics (and "classics") like A League of Their Own, Leprechaun, and Clueless for $3 per ticket, $5 for a double feature. But we perched ourselves at the bar and happily sipped our cocktails: mine, I'm happy to say, was easily one of the best cocktails I've ever had. As someone whose face morphs into something like Edvard Munch's The Scream upon the mere idea of drinking a green juice, I think that says quite a lot. The veggie taste was made subtle by the chili syrup and cachaca but, having had little to eat before I drank it, I was shortly, yet very happily, in my socks. We ordered grilled mojo skewers of chicken, lamb, and beef and Scrumpets, corned beef short ribs served with russian dressing (which had hardboiled eggs in it! How wild!). SE beared with me as I gushed (slurred?) about their crispy, juicy, meaty deliciousness. In the short space of an evening, this place we dove into on a whim became the second syndicate worth returning to Bushwick for.