Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Awkwafina's NYC and Me

It was a late March afternoon in 2013, and SC had come to visit me from Boston. We were sitting at my dining room table scrolling through Facebook and watching YouTube videos. A Facebook friend, the wonderful Oriana Leckert of the blog Brooklyn Spaces, posted the video "NYC Bitche$," featuring a hilariously loudmouth girl with long dark hair and giant glasses bitching about New York City transplants. We thought it was hilarious and I needed to know more about her. Who was she? A short rabbit hole into the internet later, we figured out she was Awkwafina, a rapper based in Brooklyn. She also had another hilarious video called "My Vag," a parody (though much better) of Mickey Avalon's "My Dick." Apparently she had already been written up in The Hairpin, Bust, and a few other lady-centric websites for "My Vag," a song she would later call simply "a crass celebration of having a vagina," with no feminist agenda. I liked her. She was not afraid to make fun of herself, and I couldn't remember the last time I saw a rapper reading a Joan Didion book in a music video. I knew I had to write about her. I pitched New York Magazine's The Cut and my pitch was accepted. I had been wanting to write for the vertical for years, and after many rejected or unnoticed pitches, it was my first big story there.

I met Awkwafina, whose name I would learn was Nora, at a coffee shop in the East Village. She had a deep, throaty voice and red lipstick and lots of take-no-shit native New Yorker attitude. She was more badass than I could really ever hope to be, and I instantly liked her and admired her. After the interview, we took some pictures outside, which I hoped the site would publish with my piece. I was overjoyed to find out later that they would. The piece came out and became one of the most-read articles on the site that week. My editors were happy with it, Nora was happy with it, and that's really all that mattered to me.

After that, Nora was kind enough to invite me to her birthday and to be in a music video she recorded that summer. And then, a few months later, she emailed me to tell me she had a project for me if I was interested, and to call her. Intrigued, I picked up the phone. She had a book deal, she said, to write an anti-tour guide to New York, and she wanted me to take the pictures. Yes, I said, my brain flying through space, wondering how this was possible. We would be working on a book together.

The next few months were a whirlwind of things like early morning trips to the Staten Island Ferry; accidentally walking down the Brighton Beach boardwalk with a woman who wanted to show us her home, though by home it turned out she meant a suitcase on the beach; trying not to get caught taking pictures with giant bags of durian in a mall in Flushing; and taking pictures of Nora taking selfies on top of the Empire State building. From the heat of August to the wild, frosty winds of December, we threw ourselves into the five boroughs. And I loved absolutely every second of it. I would not trade one alarm clock buzz for any day we spent laughing and taking pictures with a variety of hosts all across the city. Not only that, but I got to see parts of the city I maybe still would never have gotten around to seeing otherwise.

And now, there's a book to show for all of it, Awkwafina's NYC. The ever-hilarious Nora wrote a phenomenal guide to New York City that can show even native New Yorkers what's rad about their hometown but literally makes my laugh echo through my apartment and has me clutching my sides in agony from laughing so hard. I am so proud to have my pictures in her clever, thoughtful book. Awkwafina's NYC is available on Amazon, in Barnes & Noble, at The Strand Bookstore, and everywhere else books are sold, pretty much. It was a crazy experience to walk into the Barnes & Noble in Union Square and find a book with my name in it on sale; also McNally Jackson, one of my favorite independent bookstores in the city. 

The book cover and the inside title page
Finding it at McNally was especially funny because the clerk at the information desk said of Nora, "Oh yeah, she went to high school with my friend." I love that Nora's gotten to this point where people are saying their friends sort of, by extension, maybe kind of know her. And why wouldn't they? She's part of the cast of MTV's Girl Code; whenever her videos come out they're on the likes of Jezebel and BUST; she's on the radio; and I've even overheard "My Vag" (perhaps appropriately?) at a burlesque show. Whenever someone (wrongly) names Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" the song of the city, someone somewhere on the internet (rightly) points them to Nora's "NYC Bitche$." AND she's a verified account on Twitter and Facebook. If that isn't making it in our digital age, I don't know what is. I'm just happy I could even remotely be a part of the journey.

This Thursday, come on down to the official Awkwafina's NYC release party at Baby's All Right in Williamsburg. Tickets are $15, and they're available online here. Festivities start at 7pm and end at 9:30. Nora will be signing books, there will be DJs, videos, hilarity and, to use Nora's phrasing, general ratchetry. So stop on by and say hello! And buy the book, dammit :)