Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Todd Snider

You can make all the “cunning linguist” jokes you want to Todd Snider, but I promise you he’s heard them before. I got bored of making them several years ago and our friendship is better for it. Because Todd is, in fact, a linguist. Absorbed by the puzzles of language and the straightforwardness of mathematics, perhaps he has always been.

Todd found his linguistics path in a class called “The Nature of Language” we took freshman year of college. While it dissolved my brain into a puddle of tears covered in dust, he loved it. Todd got his Ph.D. in Linguistics from Cornell University in 2017, minoring in Cognitive Science. He is now a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem’s Language, Logic, and Cognition Center. He is interested in “the semantics and pragmatics of natural language,” or how meanings interact with context and with each other.

Todd lives in Israel currently and is in New York only sparingly. I am lucky, then, that I get to spend a chunk of the day with him. The data on Todd’s phone is not functioning currently due to international cellular phone nonsense, so he’s written down some places he wants to go. It is 11 am but I have no qualms about indulging in a blueberry lemon cupcake with him at Georgetown Cupcake.

Post-cupcake, we trot across Soho to Warby Parker, where Todd is curious about getting some new frames. After several (often hilarious and purposeful) failed attempts on both our parts, we find a pair that works--distinguished yet hip-but not-in-an-obnoxious-way rectangular black frames Todd resolves to procure at a later date.

At 2 pm, Todd has an appointment at The Black Tux to rent a suit for our friend’s wedding, so we continue to poke around Soho for a while. Our travels take us to Rudy’s Music, a legendary guitar emporium filled with all iterations of the curvaceous, glittery, colorful instrument, and to Rowing Blazers, a shop of preptastic garments designed primarily for the younger set. Todd tries on several blazers, one of which is great. The others just make us laugh. I remember the days when Todd used to wear baggy t-shirts and carpenter-esque jeans. These days, to my utter delight, he opts instead for button-downs and slim-cuts rolled at the ankle. He knows what a “front tuck” is and references Tan France more than once.

The Black Tux time has come, and before the appointment Todd works on a crossword puzzle on a whiteboard in the waiting area. Soon he slides elegantly into a black suit that needs only a few alterations. And now, since the grand suit experience is complete, we can eat. It’s a short walk to the aptly named Vegetarian Dim Sum House on Pell Street, where we can and do indulge in all manner of meatless extravaganzas as well as several pots of tea. Vegetarian dim sum is hard to find in New York, let alone Israel. I’m so glad he’s here.

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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 (BeyoncĂ©) 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 BeyoncĂ© concert, Marquita and her co-founder came up with the idea for Top Rank. While they only made a one issue, 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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