Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Dr. Wang Newton

When I meet Dr. Wang Newton outside of Di Di Dumpling on E. 24th Street, the sky has just recently cleared from a flash downpour. Wang arrives, hair majestically coiffed, black and streaked through with a flash of blond. Somehow, though it’s just rained, they are a vision of capital F-Fashion, long tasseled earrings, sharp and flowing shapes of black fabric encasing their frame and black sneakers decorated with gold accents. Wang isn’t normally photographed out of their drag king attire. Rather, their onstage persona is often the focus, that of a 1970s-Vegas-style emcee, a Taiwanese version of Wayne Newton attired in a red or black embroidered suit, an Elvis wig, aviator-style glasses, thick eyebrows and moustache, a giant red lace thong in their pocket to dab away perspiration for comedic effect.

Wang has chosen Di Di Dumpling because they say it has the dumplings that most closely recall their mother’s. We dive into a batch and Wang tells me the story of how their drag came to be. Wang (which is, of course, just their name onstage) has been a drag king since 2004, when they attended a Halloween party calling for black attire and a wig of some kind. Wang Newton was born that night, lyrics of “Danke Schoen” in hand. The “Wangpire” has since evolved, and they have performed around the globe, beloved by Time Out New York in particular as “joyously mad.” They host and produce a variety show full of what Wang describes as “gaysian flair,” called Happy Beginnings. The next one, themed “Crazy Rich Slaysians,” will take place August 15 at C’Mon Everybody in Brooklyn.

By day, Wang works in marketing. A few times a week, they spend time at The Assemblage, a wellness-driven space in the Flatiron District. Upon entering, a crystal and dried flower arrangement asks us to set an intention for our visit. We head to the roof, decorated in wood, stone and lanterns, with a magical view of the city’s skyline. Some seats are still wet from the rain but we find some dry tables and make ourselves comfortable.

Wang’s preferred brand of comedy includes what they call culture-fucking and gender-fucking, messing with perceptions of culture and gender we’re fed, parodying these ideals to show how ridiculous such things are. Among Wang’s inspirations for comedy are Dave Chappelle and Sacha Baron Cohen, whose new show Who is America? Wang found particularly revelatory. Wang hopes to bring a ferocity and swagger of performance they like to call “Big Wang Energy” to the stage, each time further realizing the Wang Experience.

Light begins to fade from the rooftop. We head downstairs to a communal space laden with chandeliers, tuffets, pillows, and an installation of mushrooms plastered onto the walls. The energy is quiet before we go back out into the world for bubble tea, one of Wang’s favorite treats from Taiwan. Wang readies a straw and smiles, about to puncture the tea’s plastic lid with a pop. “This is my favorite part.”

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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Eight Years

I feel like it’s a good sign that I was so busy on Monday I didn’t remember it was my 8th anniversary of living in New York. Running around Manhattan with friends on what I decided would be my day off, it only occurred to me the following day when I saw someone else wrote about their own anniversary. But New York, please know that I never truly forget about you, that I am perhaps always out celebrating you, the place where I became the person I always wanted to be. You are my first love, my forever love, but I’m sure you won’t be my last.

I had been thinking for a few weeks what I would write in honor of our time together, but two experiences in particular happened to unravel in the last 10 days. I feel telling their stories together will do you justice in all of your stunning highs and blistering lows. If living here has taught me anything, it’s that with every sparkle there are also bits of broken glass. And yet when the light hits those shards, they somehow sparkle anew.

*

On Friday, July 20 I am putting on the nude party heels I like to wear with my orange romper, the one I hardly ever get to wear because I often simply don’t have the occasion. I walk to the end of the block and realize the subway would be impossible on such stilts and decide instead to take a cab down Studio 123 Bowery near Grand Street. Up several tall flights of stairs, I am attending the launch party for a photography book of male nudes. Strangely unerotic, the pictures are tacked to a brick wall painted white.

I am chatting with the host, who introduces me to his friend, W. Are you an artist person, too? I ask. And indeed she is. In fact, she is a drag king and soon we are in a lengthy conversation about gender and drag and New York, walking around looking at work and chatting chatting chatting. She has been performing her drag persona, a 1970s-era game show host of sorts who pats the sweat off his face with an extra large red lace thong. The host of the party then introduces us to two Venezuelan gentlemen, one a fashion designer and one an interior designer, and soon we are laughing and talking about Big Dick Energy, who has it (Beyoncé) and who doesn’t (Jay Z). And we are having such a good time, that we all decide to go out for dinner together.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor isn’t far, and I’ve never been there, so I suggest it, everyone approves and we go. We find, however, that there’s a 40 minute wait once we arrive, so we put our names in, go next door to Apotheke, a cocktail bar made to look like a 19th century, you know...apothecary. We sip drinks made with duck fat or smoked pineapple or dandelion root, and before we know it our time is up (and maybe a little passed). So we walk the few steps over to Nom Wah and are seated immediately--close enough to closing time, it managed to clear out a bit before we arrived. First opened in 1920, it looks like a deliciously older diner with red and chrome accents and beige walls.

We settle into a booth and we put our faith in W to order for all of us. We dig into turnip cakes and bok choy and shu mai, all of which W has expertly ordered in Chinese. Our laughter echoes through the restaurant and we talk about pegging and if Oprah is a top or a power bottom and where you can get the best Venezuelan arepas in town (it’s in the Rockaways, apparently). How serendipitous that four such people should enter each other’s lives on such a Friday evening?

Exiting the restaurant, we part ways, not before watching some older teenagers making a rap video in the street. They invite me to be in it and I make my way to the lens, throwing up my middle fingers as they’ve instructed me to do. I feel like I’m always doing it internally (and, often, externally) anyway. You know, like a lady.

*

On Tuesday, July 31, I am headed downtown early so I can have lunch before a meeting at 12:30. I get on the Q train at 86th Street, and there’s a young woman sitting across from me diagonally. I watch a man perhaps twice her age see her and sit down next to her and begin talking to her. She has her headphones in, her arms crossed in front of her. She is not interested and is quite possibly annoyed. And yet he keeps chatting away, turning his body toward her. At the next stop, more people get on and he moves closer to her to make room. Oh no, I think to myself. She is visibly uncomfortable. I hate that he is doing this to her, I hate that he doesn’t get the hint, and I’m angry for any woman who has ever had to uncomfortably endure a man’s advances no matter where she is, whether it’s on the train, walking home, in a bar, or what have you.

By the time the train leaves 63rd Street, I have had enough. Somehow in my anger and, frankly, fear, I have devised a plan in my head to get her away from him. Right before the train is supposed to arrive at 57th Street, I walk over to where she is sitting. What’s supposed to happen is that I start talking to her but, good ol’ MTA, the train stops in the tunnel just before 57th Street. I notice my leg is starting to shake and I stand near her just holding on to the rail. I’m worried that if I don’t, I will fall over. And then the station’s tiles begin to reveal themselves and I turn to her.

“Excuse me, didn’t you go to school with my little sister?” She looks at me in a swift beat and she understands.

“Notre Dame?”
“Yes!” I say.
“Your sister is Emma?”
“Yes! I’m getting lunch, do you want to come? And, you know, get off the train?”
“Yeah!” she says, and what ends up being a perfectly choreographed moment we leave the car and the doors close behind us. My leg is still shaking.

She thanks me. It’s so easy to tell guys off when it’s your friends, but when it’s me I feel stuck, she says. I understand. I understand too well. I am shaking for every time I had to steel myself to walk back to a train in the dark in a neighborhood that’s a little too quiet, every time a man hit on me at a bar and touched me without asking, every time my friends told me they were too scared to move, to fight back, to leave. Whatever I did on the train, I did it for her and I did it for them and I did it for myself. And she was fine, but I was a mess because I was thinking about all of this when the doors finally closed behind us and I started to cry in the dingy 57th Street NQR Station. There are so many times when we can’t help and so many times when something goes so horribly wrong because no one was there. What would have happened? Would he have followed her off the train? Would he have tried to get her number and not left until she relented? Would he have touched her? I tried not to think about it.

She hugged me and we took the next train together. She just graduated high school and hopes to study linguistics and filmmaking when she starts college in the fall. She’s curious about being a film translator. She hugs me before she gets off the train at Union Square and tells me to stay in touch on Instagram. “Yes!” I say, smiling and waving before my train continues on to Prince Street. “Go be awesome!” And she went off into her future, one I hope is nothing but bright.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Marquita Harris

Marquita Harris walks up to me as I’m sitting outside of The Chipped Cup in Harlem and all I can think is “YASGODDESSQUEENYASGLAMAZONOMG!” But I feel like that’s an inappropriate thing to say to someone I’ve met just once, so instead I just say, “You look beautiful!” And I definitely mean it. Her dark hair bounces in elegant curls and big, round black sunglasses rest on her face. Slim golden hoop earrings grace her ears. She wears a marigold ensemble that pops underneath a worn yet chic denim jacket with black open-toe heels and a matching black leather bag. She owns the sidewalk.

A writer and editor, Marquita--pronounced “[mar-kee-tah]” as she writes on Instagram--currently works as the Contributing Features Editor at Essence but has also worked at Refinery29 and Modern Luxury. She has a Master’s Degree in Fashion Journalism from the University of the Arts in London. Marquita was also the Editor in Chief and Co-Founder of Top Rank magazine, a Brooklyn-based publication celebrating the voices of women from diverse backgrounds. Inspired after a Beyoncé concert, Marquita and her co-founder came up with the idea for Top Rank. While they only made a few issues, it was star-studded from the start, with icon Janet Mock on their first cover. Their work on Top Rank also showed what Marquita could do as a writer and editor, something she could present to potential employers in the future.

Marquita has lived in Harlem for the better part of a decade and loves her neighborhood. We find a spot outside at The Chipped Cup and Marquita kindly gets us some iced coffees. She asks me how I like mine, but worried that my usual “half and half, two Splendas, light ice” is too demanding, I tell her not to worry about it. She cocks an eyebrow at me and smiles--she knows better--and I relent.

She takes a seat across from me and we talk writing and writing and magazines and magazines. Like me, Marquita is a magazine nerd, and she has a special place in her heart for independent publications. In particular, she waxes poetic about Trace, the magazine that taught her to love magazines. Everyone has one, she says with a knowing nod (mine was ElleGirl). She’s hoping to do more writing in the future and even has a book project in mind.

Marquita moves her hands expressively when she talks, fingers bejeweled with silver rings twinkling as she gestures. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s famous crown symbol is inked on her forearm. Tilting her head toward the sky when she’s thinking, the sun catches her brown eyes with a perfect light photographers spend ages in studios trying to master. I’m surprised to learn she doesn’t like to have her picture taken because she’s a natural in front of the camera.

For a quick bite we move from The Chipped Cup to Bono, an Italian spot nearby. We nibble salads, talking about boys and men. Sophisticated and independent, she rightfully has no time for the former.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Tim Wyman-McCarthy

Tim Wyman-McCarthy never planned on liking big cities, let alone one like New York, but here he is, sitting in front of me at Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe, and Activist Center on the Lower East Side. It’s one of his favorite bookstores in the city, and he wanted to visit because soon he’ll be heading back to the West Coast, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley.

Tim has been in town for just one month, working as the Social Movement Intern for global humanitarian organization CARE. However, it’s not his first time in the city, by any means. Tim previously lived in New York while getting his master’s degree in Human Rights Studies at Columbia. It was, to say the least, a little different from attending university in his native Canada, but he quickly fell in love with the city and he’s glad to be back, even for a little while. And prior to New York, Tim also lived in England, where he got his other master’s degree in English Literature. He’s passionate about teaching and the opportunity to foster productive discussions allow for deeper understanding in the students he instructs at Berkeley, where he’s co-taught classes introductory composition classes with topics like "Language, Culture, and Indigeneity Before the Law"--his focus at Columbia was on indigenous justice and activism--and “Public Images: Photography as Political and Social Action.”

We sit in Bluestockings, chit-chatting over iced coffee and tea, surrounded by zines and books about queer studies, feminist theory, racial equality. Tim’s eyes sparkle when he discusses teaching, yes, but also theatre. While he can’t sing, dance, or act, he laughs, he’s still an aspiring Broadway baby and has made sure to avail himself of New York’s offerings before he returns to Berkeley. As we move through the bookstore, conversation follows the patterns of the stacks: querying necrocapitalism, interacting with autism rhetoric, celebrating American Chicanx cultural, feminist, and queer theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, observing radical communist witchcraft. Tim is especially delighted by a display of books asking visitors to “Hex the Patriarchy.”

Shortly our friend Andrew arrives (he introduced us). Andrew has slowly but surely been making his way through Tim’s list of fiction recommendations and today Tim adds another to the list, There There by Tommy Orange, which follows a cast of Native Americans living in Oakland, California. Tim has promised himself to read just one non-fiction book, one fiction book, and one book of poetry at one time. It’s his way of satisfying his desire to just read everything all the time.

Peckish, the three of us make our way Uncle Boon’s Sister, a newish Thai spot a few blocks away on Mott Street. Tim orders green curry and discusses the etymology of the word “sincerely.” Andrew and I make our way through our entrees, but I notice Tim hasn’t. He looks down and laughs. “Typical Tim,” he says with a smile. Sometimes he talks so much his food gets cold.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Alex Marakov and Cassandra Chisholm

Wind whips through Cassandra Chisholm’s hair as we fly down Rouse Parkway in Columbia, Maryland. Her fiancé Alex Marakov is driving, a tassel from his 2015 Physics Ph.D. program graduation swinging from the rearview mirror. It’s sunny and hot and we’re headed to Baltimore, about 30 minutes away. They’ve made me a GoogleDoc that describes everything we’re doing today entitled “Elyssa ‘Bombshell Kissah’ Goodman Extravaganza 2018.”

I have had the pleasure of knowing Alex for almost 12 years, he a provider of great comedy and very tall hugs (he is 6’4”) since we met as freshmen in college. I have known Cassandra a fraction of the time--she and Alex have been together about three years--but she is an equal match in comedy provision, a giver of shorter yet by no means less powerful hugs. Together they are so vibrant and alive they sparkle, and it seems like their home is constantly full of laughter (not to mention delicious treats--Cassandra is a great cook). They call each other “Lady” and “Man.”

Arriving in Baltimore, our first stop is the American Visionary Art Museum. This was actually a request of mine because inside there resides a 10-foot-high statue of Divine. I really knew nothing else about the museum, and Cassandra and Alex had also not been before. Inside, it’s an explosion of vibrantly colored folk art, like a cross between New York’s American Folk Art Museum and Coney Island, everything quirky and old and covered in glitter or mirrors or beads. Their gift shop is also an adventure, and Cassandra and I comb through their wacky old jewelry and vintage advertisements and die-cuts and local artwork, occasionally bringing over trinkets to each other and giggling.

Our next stop is the Walters Art Museum, a free museum in Baltimore that houses tons of ancient works. In the museum cafe, we pause for iced coffee--it shocks them that I take two Splendas in mine and they joke that I am not invited back (I just like it to taste like coffee ice cream, okay?). But all is forgiven and we start to make our way through centuries of artwork. The museum’s newly renovated 1 West Mount Vernon Place is a former townhome turned into a gallery. We stare up at the stained glass skylight at the top of the spiral staircase in awe. Alex is particularly enamored of the ceramics exhibition they have, and loves one pot enough to walk past it on our way out as if to say goodbye.

Our last stop in Baltimore for the day is Hampden, a little punk neighborhood further north. We stop into Atomic Books, the place where famed “Pope of Trash” film director John Waters receives his fan mail. Many years of holiday cards from Waters line the wall, as do all manner of zines, fiction and non-fiction tomes, comic books, and graphic novels. Alex and Cassandra pick up a few of the latter but, devouring them, will need to come back the following day.

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