Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Moving, Moving, Moved

"NO, I CAN DO IT MYSELF!"

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.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Comfort/Discomfort

I have to post inspiring quotes on social media once a week for my job, and there are some that come up so often I've become tired of them. One of them in particular is:

"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone." - Neale Donald Walsch

Although I must admit I'm finding it especially relevant these days. I am, currently, at the highest peak of discomfort I have experienced upon moving to New York. In less than two weeks, I will be leaving my apartment for...some place I don't know yet in New York, hopefully another apartment, but perhaps a temporary residence of some kind. I never know what terrors New York real estate will thrust upon me each day, and yet...I have to laugh. Because, as another oft-repeated saying goes, "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn't make other plans. But man, has there been a whole lotta life happening these days. It's like New York is reminding me, don't get too comfortable! Never get too comfortable! It's bad for your health! Then again, so is a great deal of discomfort and maybe we're best just balancing somewhere in the middle?

I see the danger in comfort, New York, don't you worry. Like a really amazing couch, you just never want to get up and do something else. Especially after you have been out having a wild experience. Haven't we all had those days where we head to the comfort of our couches to recover after one too many margaritas, martinis, Jack and Cokes, or some combination of all three? We don't realize what comfort is until we've been away from it, but at the same time if we stay there forever, the comfort loses its power and it just becomes...stasis? It's no longer invigorating, so we seek out the wildness again, and the cycle repeats.

Well, here I am, uncomfortable. What I want to do is sit at my kitchen table and do work all day, and not see another apartment, not walk 30+ block length of my neighborhood twice in another day, not call another broker on the phone who tries to hustle me into telling him what I need in an apartment when I'm only really calling to see if this one listing is available. I am trying to get comfortable with the fact that I may be sleeping on a couch in someone else's home while I continue to look for an apartment after my lease is up, just to have some semblance of hope in the dwindling abyss that is the search for a place to live. 

But then there's the comedy of it all. In some of these apartments, I have to think they surely must be kidding me. Literal thousands of dollars for this? I raise an eyebrow and walk out. At one point I even said, "The thought of living here makes me incredibly sad," only to have my thought rebuked with the catch-all, you're-an-idiot-for-not-taking-this-literal-dump phrase, "This place is gonna go quick. It will be rented tomorrow. There's not a lot with your requirements." Fine. Then someone else can live in your apartment whose windows are surrounded on all sides by brick walls and I will take up on a very comfortable park bench with all the light I want, thank you very much.

I saw another apartment today that was not what I was looking for and I heard yet again what must be the requisite phrasing cited above. "I'm not concerned," I said with a smile and walked away from a woman I felt cocking her eyebrow at me. I felt nothing, except annoyance at how much of a liar she and so many others are. Apparently I have become so uncomfortable that I have come full circle and am now just comfortable in my discomfort.

Perhaps after all of this is over I will begin one of those delightful feast-of-freelancing streaks where the universe just hands more and more goodness my way. "Oh, you just had to find an apartment in New York? My b, let me help you out with a few heaping helpings of awesome." Oh, wow, thanks universe, that would be great!

So today, as of this moment, right now, I am feeling...like I have a ton of stuff to do. I'll find a place eventually. Honestly, knowing that and believing it is half the battle. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Soirée Compendium

I do this thing in my apartment called soirée. It started because I found that, when I first moved to New York, I was hanging out with a single friend here or there. I wanted all of my friends to meet each other, and I wondered how to do that. If there was just a way I could get them all in one room...

So I had a party, duh. At first, soirée had no name; that is, I didn't really decide to make it "a thing" until a few of them down the line. Once I did decide to make it "a thing," though, I thought saying "I'm having a party" was just so...ugh. I mean, it's something everyone says. I decided to use the French word for party because that's just infinitely better, as most things in French are. I wanted to have the soirées often, but I realized I by no means had the money for that, so I decided to make them potluck instead. That way, there's enough food and beverahhhhges for everyone, because everyone's bringing something (hopefully). They started small, but have grown to a sort of monthly event that people ask me about: "When is the next soirée?" I love hosting people and seeing all of my friends meet each other and make friends. I'm often surprised that my original intention for the soirée seemed to work out so well. The soirée is, I've found, one of the ways I've been able to define myself in New York for myself; they've become part of my identity. 

One of the reasons soirée was so easy to do was the size of my apartment. It has a massive living room and dining space that, at times, have held thirty or more people, all relaxing and drinking and eating and getting to know each other. In a few weeks, I will move to a new apartment, which is utterly bittersweet--my building is going condo and I am being kicked out, but I hope that means I will be able to continue my New York story and my soirées in another, equally wonderful place. 

To celebrate the last soirée--in this apartment, anyway--that just happened a week or two ago, I've compiled all of my soiree invitations together. They start out rather tame, then get utterly ridiculous, as do their corresponding titles and images. I found as time wore on that I got more and more creative and sometimes more (hopefully hilariously) obnoxious (often vulgar and completely politically incorrect but, you know, for comedy and in good fun) with the invitations; it really became another creative writing exercise for me. Looking back at all of the invitations allows me another way to see the passage of time, how crazily and quickly it runs past (including series of roommates and apartment names.) Take a look below at the insanity that is my house once a month or so, and please forgive the misnumberings, as I'm sure there are many. Math has never been my thing, unless I'm counting karats. 


May 27, 2011: Potluck Extravaganza
Hellooooo darlings! This Friday we're having a potluck at Sweet Caroline (our apartment) and you're invited because we think you're fabulous, interesting, and very, very sexy. So if you're an old friend or it's about damn time we were new friends, we hope to see you Friday night at 8! 

Bring your friends, lovers, your friends' lovers and, most importantly, something delicious! The kitchen will certainly be available for use if you so desire. Write what you're bringing below so we can make sure there are no duplicates (and that we won't just be drinking our dinner...). If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or proposals of marriage, please feel free to ask.

Champagne kisses and caviar dreams, Us



August 13, 2011: One Year Anniversary Potluck Spectacular!
Hello darlings!

Join me as I celebrate my one year anniversary in New York, and because I think you're amazing and I really just feel like throwing a party in general!

On Saturday the 13th, bring a delicious treat, your friends, your lovers, your friends' lovers and more for an evening of pure delight--I mean, how could it not be if you're there? :)

Yes, I will be making my world-famous baked brie, along with roasted vegetables and probably a pasta dish of some kind. As always, the kitchen will be available for use if you need it. Write what you're bringing below!

If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or proposals of marriage, feel free to ask away!

Champagne kisses and caviar dreams,
Me

October 7, 2011: Soirée! The Third
Hello kittens!

Yes, the time is upon us yet again for another S
oirée! You know the drill: bring something delicious (other than yourself) and all the friends, lovers, and friends-of-lovers you like. Come soirée it up and be fabulous...so, you know, no different than a typical Friday night.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, concerns or proposals of marriage they will be eschewed with a firm hand. Or addressed. I haven't decided yet. Hope to see you there!

Champagne kisses and caviar dreams,
Me

December 10, 2011: Yes, we are fabulous. Don't you want to Soirée with us?
Darlings, Soirée 4 is indeed upon us! This time we celebrate not only the coming holiday season, but the one-month anniversary of the arrival of Sweet Caroline's newest resident.

You know the drill, kittens--bring a treat of your choosing (edibles and libations are both happily welcome), as well as your friends, lovers, and friends of lovers. Elyssa's World Famous Baked Brie is on the menu, as always.

And again, if you have any questions, comments, concerns, or proposals of marriage, the answer is definitively no. Or just ask and we'll see.

Champagne kisses and caviar dreams,
The Ladies of 3E


January 21, 2012: Soirée the Fifth
Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs! Soirée the Fifth is upon us, and you know what that means. Bring your gorgeous self (and your friends, lovers, and friends of lovers if you so desire), a delicious treat (solid or liquid), and your party face because we're going to soiree the night away. Oui? Oui.

Comments, questions, and concerns can be addressed to Her Majesty the Queen, c/o England. Or us. We might be too busy sipping Champagne, though, so we can't make any promises.

See you and your fabulousness then.

Sincerely,
Us and our fabulousness
The Ladies of 3E


September 1, 2012: Soirée V: Return of the Soirée
Yes, ladies and gents, it's true: Soirée is back! Just in time to celebrate the arrival of fall (well, sort of...whatever, it's September, new beginnings, la di dah).

You know the drill--bring something delicious, other than yourself, as well as your friends, lovers, and friends of lovers. Show up being awesome, and be prepared to meet other equally awesome folk. I mean, it is a 3E party after all. We're tall and short and blonde and brunette and fabulous, we just attract these kinds of people.

So yeah, see you then, fools!
The Ladies of 3E


March 16, 2013: Soirée VI: Return of the Soirée, Part Deux

Dahhhhlings,

It has simply been far too long since we have seen your gorgeous faces and lithe, nubile bodies sprawled across our apartment all at once at various angles. So we invite you to return (or join us for the very first time!).

You know the S
oirée protocol: bring a treat of your choice (animal, vegetable, mineral, champagne, etc.) to share potluck style with le crowd. Also bring yourself. And your friends, lovers, friends of lovers, and so on. No large-scale firework displays, please. You know what happened last time.

We hope to see you there in all your radiant, effervescent glory. You really look great. Have you been working out?

Sincerely yours,
The Ladies of 3E
May 25, 2013: Soirée VII: What Happens on the Roof, Stays on the Roof

Yes, that's right: grab your sunglasses because the world famous Soirée is heading northward! And by northward, we mean the top of our building. You know, the roof. In case that wasn't clear.

We've got a delicious deck ready and waiting for your sinewy figures. Join us for some good ol' Vitamin D, not to mention yummy goodies courtesy of us and yourselves (you know Soiree policy--bring something tasty, besides yourself). We're starting early because day drinking is excellent, especially when it's (hopefully) warm and sunny out.

So yeah, see you there! Don't be lame or scared of the outdoors. I promise there will be no mountain lions. Though there may be cougars HEYO! Bring yo' frandz 'n' luvvvahhhz.

**CALL US when you get here so we can let you in! There's no buzzer on the roof because this is not The Four Seasons. Do they even have that there? Whatever.**


October 19, 2013: Soirée VII: C'est L'Automne, Mes Chiennes!

It's fall, my bitches!

(That's what the title means. In French. Clever, no? We know.)

It is our first official 
soirée as the Blue Banana Triad--see, that's us above!--so come into our home with your soirée face on, ready to lounge languorously on our furniture and contemplate the important matters of the day: Should Stephen do drag as a British woman? Will Jesse and Mildred elope to Hawaii? What is the likelihood of Elyssa breaking a limb once she starts skateboarding more regularly?

Come find out the answers to these questions and more, especially with your goodies in tow--not just your gorgeous face, but your potluck contributions. You remember how this thing works, don't make us remind you.

So yeah. S
oirée. Potluck. Bring your face, and the rest of you if you're so inclined. Friends, lovers, and friends' lovers are welcome, and our kitchen is at your disposal.

Okay? Okay. See you chiennes there. 


November 9, 2013: Soirée IX: There Will Be Champagne

Twenty-five years ago, there was an explosion of glitter in one of the operating rooms at Hollywood Memorial Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. The glitter was followed by a stream of feather boas, diamonds, and Veuve Cliquot. 

Somewhere in the universe a rift of fabulosity had opened and I was thrust into the world. Clad head to toe in Baby Dior (strangely, this part is not a joke), I made my way out into the world with a full head of brown hair and blue (yes, blue--they've since changed) eyes.

And now, in the midst of an endless parade of rhinestones and silk cocktail dresses, I have reached my twenty-fifth year of life upon this planet.

So you should come celebrate with me. Tres fabuleuse! <--I just made that word up. I can do whatever I want because it's my birthday.

There won't be Daniel Day Lewis and there won't be milkshakes (as far as I know) but there will be birthday cake and there will be champagne.

Bring your gorgeous face and your sinewy figure, dear loves of my life; your friends, lovers, friends of lovers are also welcome.

If you'd like something that's not birthday cake or champagne, you are more than welcome to bring it :)

(Was I laughing hysterically as I wrote this while sitting on my bed procrastinating from work? Yes.)

January 18, 2014: Soirée X: Year of the Degenerates
In case you're wondering, those are the Drapes, from John Waters' 1990 classic Cry-Baby.

Don your black leather jacket, or your metaphorical equivalent of one, anyway, and come on down to The Blue Banana, where morals come to take a nap.

The first rule of S
oirée? Well, it's not 'Don't talk about Soirée.' It's bring a goodie, or a bag full of 'em, or a bottle full of 'em, to share. Second rule of Soirée? Bring a friend or a lover or an aunt or an uncle, if you so desire--just make sure they're cool and don't mind a little debauchery and fine conversation, ya heard? We at The Blue Banana like to keep it klassy (the K is on purpose, thank you very much). And no, we're not entirely sure what we mean by that, either.

If you haven't started the year off right yet, now's your chance. Or maybe the day after...yeah, that might be better.

See your amazing faces there ;)

February 22, 2014: Soirée XI: U WANNA PUT WUT WHERE

It's February, so in the wake of all of the Valentine's garbahhhhhhge, we cordially invite you to not only 1) get tested, as the candy heart above so cheerfully suggests, but 2) come to our next soirée.

The Blue Banana will be ripe with leftover love and lust for you to revel in, like a good ol' Valentine's Day orgy. When did orgies go out of style, anyway? Ah, those were the days.

So come on over, bring a goodie (drinkable or eatable variety, or you know, whatever else), and bring yourself. Friends, lovers, friend/lovers, lover/friends are all welcome. Bonus points if you have a specific phrase for them that you use, with extra points for creativity. Examples: "This is my parole officer," "This is my manicurist," "This is my personal mixologist," etc.

So yeah. See you there. Try to leave your syphilis at home, but if you need to bring it, we understand.


Saturday, March 29: Soirée XII: Blue Banana, So Hot Right Now

This winter won't bloody end, so we're gonna bring the heat. In the form of you, our favorite supermodel. What?

Yeah, that's right, bring your best Blue Steel or Magnum (but leave those effing duck lips at home) and get ready for your closeup, Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms/Mx/Sir/Lady Fierceness because the world and the Blue Banana are your runway. NOW PUT THE BASS IN YOUR WALK, COVER GIRL/BOY/BOI/ZE/PERSON. Or don't, whatever.

But there may or may not be a walk-off and/or a pose-off. Remember, a photographer lives here with two supermodels already and she is used to striking at any moment.

You know the rules of S
oirée: there are no rules! Ha jk, there totally are. Bring a deliciousness in the form of food or beverahhhhge and, in this instance, your smokin' hottness is absolutely required.

Get in, loser, we're going strutting.


...And then I actually can't post the last one because it's much too vulgar, but here is the image I used, as our Blue Banana send-off. Whew, this was a long one! Thanks bunches if you got this far :)

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Stand By Me

"Stand By Me," the 1961 classic sung by Ben E. King, seems to be a favorite, if not a staple, amongst older subway entertainers. I have heard the doo-wop group at my stop singing the tune many times as they try to sell the CD they've made, their a cappella beats filling the muggy station with a smoothness that makes the wait for the train just a little more bearable. Tonight on my train, there is a man singing an uptempo version of the song, tapping his cane along with the melody in a manner much faster than I think King originally intended. He sings and it's pleasant, and people give him a few dollars. 

I wonder why the subway musicians choose this song in particular; I'm pretty sure this is the one I've heard most often, out of any of the famous doo-wop classics.

"When the night has come and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see."




While I will admit the song now conjures up images of silver subway interiors and a barrage of disinterested passengers, it also makes me think of dark, starry nights and a couple holding each other close, dancing. I'm sure it's been a choice for many a bride-and-groom dance at a wedding. Yes, it's a love song, but it's also a song about support. I know the theme resonates far beyond subway performers, and I think it's a good choice for New Yorkers in general. Much unlike Manhattan, no man is an island, as the saying goes, and we all need some backup every now and then. It's nice to know that, even on this small tract of land swarming with people, there are those who are willing to make time for you, willing to stand by you and say, even when you feel like you're worth nothing, that you are worth their time. In a city that moves as quickly as ours, sometimes there is no greater compliment. 

In his 2012 New York Times article "The 'Busy' Trap," Tim Kreider talks about what he believes is the myth of busyness. We schedule and overschedule ourselves in hopes of giving our lives meaning when in reality, as he says, "More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter." We want to believe that we matter, and we don't want others to think we're meaningless, so we become "busy." It is, I believe, especially easy to fall into a habit of scheduling every hour of your day in a city like New York, where there is so much happening all the time. In the midst of all of this so-called "busyness," though, we doubtlessly make time for the people about whom we care the most. I find that when I give the excuse, "I'm sorry, I've been so busy," it means less that I haven't had the time and more that I haven't cared about making the time. We can make time for anything we want to, be it 30 seconds or 30 minutes. Standing by someone means taking the time to make the time. 

It means sitting in your friend's apartment on the Upper West Side on a couch covered in clothes because the hanger rod has broken, listening to your friend discuss an impending life change.

It means waiting outside a friend's dressing room at a department store in Soho and agreeing when they ask you to remind them not to wear lace-up shoes when you go shopping next time.

It means realizing you haven't seen someone in a while and having Indian food with them in the middle of their workday near City Hall. 

It means having a drink or two in the basement bar in the Financial District and reconnecting with someone who has been out working on their dreams.

It means scheduling a Hell's Kitchen brunch months in advance because you don't know the next time you'll be available and you want to make sure it happens. 

It means realizing that your loved ones are more important to you than any other "busy" you might encounter; you want to let them know that no matter how "busy" you might get, you will always be standing by them. And it's such an easy thing to do, an easy way to show you care, giving this gift of time we don't think we have. New York can be a lonely, isolating place, so knowing even in some small way that we are supported, that we're not alone, can invigorate us to take on another week, month, or year. Why would you not want to give someone such a gift? 

"I won't cry, no, I won't shed a tear, just as long as you stand, stand by me."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Paw Manhattan Visits Saks Fifth Avenue

This weekend, Maw and Paw Manhattan have come to visit from sunny Florida. The first day of their trip involved a torrential downpour, but also a visit to legendary department store Saks Fifth Avenue.

In the 1970s, Paw Manhattan worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, at 611 5th Avenue in Manhattan, selling men's shirts. He received a 30% discount on all merchandise and, he says, was thereby quite well dressed at the time. Today he is no different, in his classic uniform of button-down shirt tucked into dark jeans with a brown belt and matching loafers. Wisps of grey float by his ears and his bluish/greenish eyes swirl about the first floor of Saks, passing over colognes and lipsticks and handbags that weren't there before. Men and women behind the counters chat furiously with each other, some offer him spritzes of cologne he doesn't want. We're walking toward the elevator and he whispers to me, "I don't understand these haircuts on the men."

Paw Manhattan smokes cigar,
wears same shirt as Prince William
Save for the brief time period in the 1970s when Paw had a perm, he has never been much for trends, hairstyle or otherwise. In pictures from 25 years ago when he is holding moi as a baby Miss Manhattan, his haircut is the same as it is today when we are walking past the cosmetics counters. "What is that, a mohawk?" he asks, confused. "What's with all the hair on the top and none on the sides?" The visual conversation gap is understandable: the men working at Saks are, of course, of a rather trendy, outré variety--they wear skinny, knit ties and shiny, sheen-y suits--and Paw prefers to wear the same shirts as Prince William, he jokes. Paw is a traditionalist, a classic dresser. He has never seen the need to pay $300 for a t-shirt, like the ones they sell in the Dolce & Gabbana section upstairs, or have a brand name embedded on a wallet, of all things. "Why would I need to tell people it's Ferragamo?" he asks, looking at the leather goods in the men's accessories department on the 6th Floor. The wallet he is replacing today is the one he got on his honeymoon in Caracas, Venezuela with Maw Manhattan, a brown leather fold that's lasted him nearly 28 years.

There only used to be one floor for men's furnishings, he says, with a small department of men's shirts and shoes on the first floor. Now there are two floors, floors 6 and 7. The 7th has designer boutiques--Michael Kors, the aforementioned D&G, Ralph Lauren, etc. The 6th floor features those shirts Paw used to sell--walls of them, across from the wallets and jewelry, next to the ties. There's a man with graying temples helping Paw, and I wonder if Paw still worked here if that's what he would look like--suit, nametag, shiny shoes. I don't know if I have ever seen Paw in a suit. But instead of staying at Saks, Paw went to live in Israel for a while and worked on a kibbutz. He thought about becoming a dual citizen and joining the Israeli Defense Force. Eventually he came back to the states and started working in finance. He has always had good taste in shirts.

Eventually Paw finds a wallet he likes. It's black, not brown like he originally wanted, and is devoid of visible branding. A perfect Paw wallet. He wants to switch wallets right there in the store but Maw says he should wait, so he does. Back on the first floor, we head toward the exit, but Paw pulls me aside. "Come here," he says. "I want to show you where men's shirts is." He says it more as if he wants to show me where he came from, his old neighborhood, where he grew up. In many ways, this is exactly what he is doing.

We walk toward the first floor Chanel boutique. Women in black stand behind the counter while women in not black peruse their wares. There are bags in a variety of oranges and pinks and reds for spring. Bright white fluorescent lights beam onto grey carpeting and I see a few of those legendary gold double Cs out of the corner of my eye. "This was men's shirts," he says, pointing at one section of the boutique. "And this was men's shoes," he says, pointing at the other. I think of the shoe department I saw upstairs that was almost exploding with oxfords and wingtips and loafers, an entire room to this singular wall. I see Paw thinking how times have changed since he worked here. "We used to have a lot of celebrities come here," he said. When I ask who, he names Howard Cosell, the famed sportscaster--which is fitting because Paw has always been a big football fan--but doesn't remember anyone else's name. "You know, famous people," he says. "Actors, politicans." He stares thoughtfully at the space for a few moments. I wonder if he's just had a vision rush of perms and polyester and wide-lapel collars or if he's proud of how far he's come or both. Eventually he turns to me. "Ready to go?" And we walk out.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Pathways

To call Thursday morning dreary would be a compliment. I heard what would turn out to be warmish rain dripping out of the gray sky when I woke up at 7am, and it continued throughout most of the day. I would have to remember to bring an umbrella. Part of me wondered why I was doing this, urging me to stay in my bed, and the other part shoved me upward and into the shower, nodding sagely. I was excited, nervous, and tired all at once.

I hadn't been in a high school in many years. I often have, shall we say, mixed opinions about teenagers. I remember vividly being one, and I was worried I would be staring into bored faces, bodies wrapped in crossed arms, begging me to just leave them alone. I was sure they would roll their eyes at me, they would give me attitude, they would talk back. But as I walked to the train, I shook it off. I had insight to offer. Or at least their school social worker thought I did. Geez, Elyssa, I thought. It's just a career day.

I was headed to a career day at Pathways to Graduation, or P2G as it's known. P2G is a New York City public school that's been set up for students who have dropped out of high school and are looking to earn their equivalency diplomas--their GEDs, or TASCs as they're now called in New York State. The students come from all across the five boroughs, are ages 17-21, and have likely experienced numerous hardships throughout their lives, their school social worker says. I remember myself at 17, and the idea of dropping out of high school was way beyond my maturity level. I can only imagine what these kids have seen or felt to even take on such a decision.

At 9am, I open the door to P2G. The first thing I see is a bulletin board showcasing of students in the acting program, then another board with a collage of students who are bound for two- and four- year degree programs. A police officer sits at the front desk and asks for my ID. I am approved, and I sign in. The walls are a bleak beige and deep hunter green, white where the paint has chipped away. On one floor, one of them has a drawing of two birds, one in flight.

I'm led downstairs to the basement cafeteria area, made brighter by a mural in a rainbow of colors topped with the word "Community." A cluster of professionals sit amongst the tables, munching on complimentary bagels and orange juice. Among us are an economist, a costume designer and stylist, a newspaper production manager, firemen, and more. Some wear suits, some wear jeans and buttoned-up shirts. I wore heels today so I can have some semblance of authority, since I often get mistaken for an 18-year-old myself.

I overhear the social worker talking to some of the day's speakers; she says she hopes students turn out today. "They have a tendency to not come when it's raining. Or snowing. Or when it's perfect beach weather," she half-laughs, mostly wishing they would just come to school all the time. "The weather has to be just right." They nod, understanding. It's not really about the weather.

We're brought up in groups to different classrooms. I, along with a technical theatre professional, the aforementioned newspaper production manager, and two electrical engineers, enter an English and Literacy classroom. Literacy, because some of the students don't read at a high-school reading level. There are posters of emperor penguins and bengal tigers drawn by students, each detailing facts about the animals, probably for reports of some kind. Words like 'jubilant' are written in thick black letters on index cards and pasted up on the wall. A white board is encircled in orange paper rickrack. We are seated at chairs in front of the white board, with a row of desks in front of us; that's where the students will sit.

One student sits down early. Her hair is in a black and auburn braid, and she wears a plum long-sleeved shirt with jeans and muddy hiking boots. Resting her elbows on a desk, perfectly filed nails resting on her face, she's talking about taking the latest TASC exam. It's made up of five sections: Reading, Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science. It was harder than the last one, she says, but I think I did okay. I hope I passed. Their teacher explained to us earlier that the TASC exam is now more difficult than the GED test used to be, but the accepted passing grades are lower. He doesn't know yet what it will mean for his students. They need to pass the TASC to earn their equivalency diplomas.

Facing the students seems a little bit of a 'head-to-head' scenario, but the teachers and social workers inform us regularly that it's just supposed to be casual, that our being there will give them the opportunity to ask professional questions.

Many of them do. They raise their hands and ask the engineers how circuits work, what shows the theatre tech has worked on, what publications I've written for. What our career paths are. Whether or not we have four-year degrees, or if they're needed for the kind of work we do. One girl has a lilac manicure, bejeweled with glittering stones, and her nails press up against her pencil when she takes notes. Some of the students are animated and excited about the different kinds of work: "That's so cool!" "I wanna do that!" One of them says to me, "Wow, so do you get to take pictures of models and stuff?" Another asks, "Do you get to write your opinion a lot?" I do sometimes, I laugh.

One girl scoffs, "I'm not tryin' to hear that!" when one of the panelists recommend not having a plan B, to just chase your dream career--she thinks he is referring to a different Plan B, and soon realizes what he means.

Many of them don't. Some of them stare at us with those bored eyes and pouting faces that suggest they would rather be absolutely anywhere else. Some of the students slouch backward and text throughout the entire presentation. At one point I whisper to one to put his phone away and, magically, he listens. I felt like a stuck-up school marm and I hated it a little bit. Praise be to the teachers who do that all day.

Some of the students are very taken with two panelists in our room, who have both experienced addiction and incarceration. They ask what made them want to quit drinking and what made them want to finish school. Their stories are inspiring--they completely rebuilt their lives. Just cut out the junk and have a goal and work hard and it's never too late to finish school, they say. They are completely right. I hope the kids are really listening and not just patronizing them. Later at lunch, I hear some of the kids talking about these panelists, admiring them for what they've been able to do, and I feel relieved.

Kids are filling out firefighter interest forms while eating their sandwiches. Some talk about the panelists, but many don't. I go over to a table to get myself something to drink, and one of the students comes up to me. She's the one from before who asked if I get to take pictures of models. "I was just wondering, so, like, how do you get into doing photography? Like, how do you become a photographer? Do you have to, like, go to art school for it and stuff? 'Cause I love taking pictures of my niece and I just get so bored sitting at home. I wanna do something, you know? I wanna take pictures. How do I do that?" She listens closely to my answer, we talk about portfolios, we talk about art school, we talk about community college, we talk about how she can get involved, what she can do, how to rent a camera, how you can learn to use a camera, and how it takes a lot, A LOT of work. But after we talk she seems hopeful, motivated. Her eyes sparkle, and she smiles and says thank you. I smile, too.