Sunday, March 29, 2009

Laundry Day

Laundry in my building costs $1.75 for one load in the washer, and 25 cents gets you 8 minutes in the dryer. Just to be clear - when I was in college, it was actually cheaper and easier for me to do all of my laundry at school than to bring it home to my parents.

The washers and dryers are also located in the basement of my building. When I was a kid, the basement was a kind of mystical land that belonged to the doormen and the staff. They had what I can only imagine was a rec room in the back, and had covered the walls with posters and images and sayings, stickers and photographs of celebrities, and a political poster of George Pataki turning into Rockefeller. There was furniture down there, and christmas lights, and books and mirrors. It was dark and there were only florescent lights, but they had little pull strings to turn them on, at the bottom of which were glow-in-the-dark plastic traffic lights. There were definitely roaches and all the metal boards creaked and banged, but it was a place of wise sayings and interesting nooks. I always thought the basement was neat, and moderately off limits except for the laundry room. It felt almost as though the washers and dryers had grown there like weeds, that no one had planned anything, that it all just kept accumulating.

All this is gone, now, in the new wasp-washed building I apparently now live in. They closed off the back of the laundry room for storage with this ugly partition, and they made the doormen remove all their knick-knacks. The place is bare. They even got rid of the old door at the far end of the basement dividing the doormen's space from the rest of the building, with it's red lights and music. It broke my heart when I looked over one day and discovered the door was gone. I walked to that end of the basement where I'd never been, and walked through where the old door had been and discovered that it wasn't some lounge, but just another area of the basement. It was so sad. Everything is gone. It's just another place to do laundry, a sterile part of this sterile building (which, by the way, will start locking its doors at midnight. For those of us without children in the building who tend to have people over late in the night, this sucks. For those of us who have been here since the crack addicts walked home on mornings before taking carpool to school, it just seems ridiculous - we managed all those years with barely a doormen, and now we have two stationed in the lobby all day, and a locked door and doorman at night. Who are we trying to keep out? The other wasps? I digress...)

So laundry. It's expensive, and now it's kind of boring. But the real kicker is that the
machines still require quarters. I have to find seven quarters for wash, plus four or five more for drying, in order for me to get anything clean. That's eleven or twelve quarters! Most people outside of New York have never seen twelve quarters in one place at one time because if you have quarters, you probably spend them since they're worth 25 cents, and that's better than 10 cents or 5 cents. I spent my whole life regarding quarters as gold. When I got to San Francisco, and had a washer and dryer in my house, I still had a lot of trouble parting from them - it's just ingrained that you never ever give up quarters. They should be pried from your cold dead hand.

Today is Sunday. This didn't occur to me until I wanted to do laundry, realized I hadn't collected my weekly quota and would have to go to the bank. Except the bank is closed. Normally I would head over to my parent's house, who still have a stockpile of quarters even though they now do laundry in their apartment. But they're out of town. So I meandered over to the Food Emporium, not knowing if they would give me anything but a dirty look.

"Hi!" I said brightly.
"What do you want?" The cashier answered.
"I was wondering - could I possibly get some quarters."
"How many?"
"As many as you're willing to change," hoping that the joke would lighten the mood.
"I can't change them until you tell me how many you want," displeased and not liking my joke.
"Oh sure. Um... anywhere between $2 and $5...?"
Silently she opened her cash register, and took out $3 in quarters. Then opened up the next roll of $10 and got out $2 more. We exchanged the currency. I smiled.
"Doing laundry?" she asked.
"Yeah. And the bank's closed."
"Yeah," and she smiled. And I left.

And for some reason, it just made me love New York again.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Spring - and a renewed sense of excitement for New York

So it's been a rough winter. In more ways than one. 

For one thing, I forgot what winter can be like (temporary insanity, since I fucking grew up here and went to school here, and understand all too well what it is like to really spend a day walking around in sub-freezing weather). I guess I had a kind of idealistic view of it, a true Californian idea of the seasons "Oh gee isn't that quaint, it gets cold and then it gets warmer so you really appreciate your surroundings and your body on this earth. Wow, I can't wait to experience the changing tides of this our Mother Earth." And then I remembered that I'm not a Californian, that I'm actually a New Yorker, and winter fucking sucks. It is, I soon remembered, brutally, unforgivingly cold and windy. The snow is nice in November, but really really tiresome on March 20th. It just doesn't end.

To add to the general discomfort, my clothing rebelled against me. In about mid-December my boot zipper stopped working, so I had to pin it with safety pins - which led to wet socks. And soon after that, my last button on my frayed coat popped off - which led to a lot of really unattractive layering. And then the zipper on my favorite warm man's sweatshirt broke too - so that led to some more creative and bizarre layering in the true tradition of Lillian's sense of style, with safety pins and a fair amount of disregard for other people's raised eyebrows. It would have been more humiliating if anyone in the city could raise their head against the wind. Luckily they couldn't.

Furthermore, my radiator clanks. Really loudly. Now I understand why my parents couldn't sleep - the radiator in their former/my current room echos throughout the apartment. I am not exaggerating. It is awful. I finally figured out how to make it quieter, but I still had to sleep with a pillow over my head just in case.

Last year on my birthday it was 80 degrees and I spent the day outside in Dolores Park before getting high and seeing my then-boyfriend play a gig. This year there was a blizzard and I spent the day in a windowless basement.

Meanwhile, the whole city got depressed. Including myself. It's called seasonal depression, and everyone I know suffers from it because it's not just the dark and the cold, it's the fact that you can't go outside for prolonged periods, because when you do the supposedly kind and giving earth assaults you from all angles. Everyone feels like they're not doing enough, that their life is not going in the right direction, that they should quit their job, that they should disappear into the naked city, that their apartment is too small to hold all of their emotional baggage even though they don't have any furniture to speak of. It's quite amazing, and actually talking about it makes you feel surprisingly less alone - but in mid-February that's cold comfort when Phil shows up and says (like he does every year) that we get six more weeks of winter hooray.

Of course no one actually quit their jobs this winter, because the real kicker of the winter of aught-9 is the economy - the unending spiral that we have found ourselves in, which is enough to make even elementary school kids nervous about their parent's place in the world. So we all just slogged along and got worried and felt trapped.

Well, everyone, that is, except me. Because this winter I also quit my job. I decided to quit in January, and voiced this, and then stayed on until mid-March. This made for a very weird couple of months in the basement. And then I left.

And I think it is fitting that it is now spring - or will be very soon. The economy, as you know perfectly well dear reader, is still in terribly crisis and we will probably not pull out of it anytime soon. And consequently I am having a miserable time trying to find a job. But I feel a profound sense of rebirth.

Because, of course, I would be remiss to not mention the exciting things that have happened this winter. Like:

I directed a show, and it went up in January. Sure it was off the J train in a part of Brooklyn I'd never been to, and it was in the equivalent of a first floor apartment with a kitchen. But none of that really mattered because it rocked.

I am in a show right now, which will go up in a week - hey! You should come see it. It's called Negative Space and it's playing at The Looking Glass Theatre at 57th Street. Which is in Manhattan, baby!

Both of these shows are produced FullStop Collective. FullStop is the company that I started with my friends from NTI and it is actually taking off and working. This winter we formed an administrative body, joined up with Fractured Atlas and started moving forward.

Meanwhile, I have also started going to something called the Creative Forum, run by two guys who went to NTI during different semesters. People show up, bring something they're working on, a monologue, a piece of poetry, a play, whatever, and then we all talk about it. It is incredibly stimulating and has made me want to really start writing even though I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing.

In short, I have found an artistic home, and the New York downtown theater scene is increasingly less daunting. And that alone makes me want to stay here. Which is currently the plan. And that's kind of wonderful.

So - it appears that winter is over. And I think I am finally and honestly loving New York for what it can offer me, instead of hating it for what it is not.

That said, I'm going back to Cali for a six week sojourn in May and June - just because, you know, sometimes I miss my heart.

(I've recently been introduced to the song "going back to Cali" and now it is constantly stuck in my head - man I don't think so)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Oppenheimer's (which, as you may recall, was the number one thing I'm thankful in New York) no longer exists. It closed.

Although this does not bode well for the future of my relationship with NYC, I feel compelled to change my number one slot.

So, with as little bitterness as I can muster...

1) all the coffee shops I never knew were there

but really - that sucks

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Themed Post

Happy Thanksgiving!

In the spirit of the holiday, I thought I would give you a list of twelve things that I am thankful for in New York. Why twelve? Well, ten seemed played out, and there are twelve days of Christmas which makes no difference whatsoever but I figured that sounded like a good number. So here we go - a themed posting...

12) The Brooklyn and GW Bridges, and that little footbridge at 102nd to Ward's Island
11) the view out of my window, across Broadway, with all the Upper West Side water towers
10) a working mass transit system (except on weekends, which sucks)
9) Central Park, Riverside Park and that little park at the intersection of West Broadway and 6th in TriBeCa
8) corner pizza parlors, Grays Papaya and good bagels
7) the walk down Broadway to Columbus Circle; the walk up 6th Avenue to the park; the crosstown bus
6) work ethic and intensity
5) bars hidden behind hot dog shops
4) the trumpet player down on Broadway whom my roommate serenades at night from her 10th story window
3) the New York skyline from subway platforms in Astoria
2) the miracle of running into people you know everywhere in a city of 8 million people
1) Oppenheimer's The German Butcher (and every unique place like it) where we get our turkey

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And Every Day I Take One More Jogging Step Towards Becoming My Mother

Here's the truth:

When I was in middle and high school I couldn't run the mile. I walked vast portions of it, and was frequently last. My Brearley PE class would go out onto the Johnny Walker promenade or meander over to the Asphalt Green (you had a field to go play on? we had fenced in astroturph on 92nd and York Avenue), and I would despise every moment of it, convinced that I couldn't run and was a total athletic failure. Which, let's be honest, in terms of running I most definitely was.

Meanwhile, every morning of my entire life, my mother rose at 6am, drank her coffee, put on her running clothes, and went out to the reservoir. She would meet her "running buddies" or go alone, in heat and in freezing cold, in the morning dark or the streaky dawn. She was home before we went to school. This established two things:
1) mornings were mine and my brother's time with my dad
2) my mother was a better runner than I was

Just to be clear - my mother is a runner. She ran the marathon. There was a point when she was running six miles a day. Six! And I couldn't run one. I tried to run with her once in high school, in upstate New York, and ended up crying. And I never tried to run with her on the Rez. I wouldn't even go near the Rez. That beautiful area of the park remained always my mother's personal domain (although I know she would have more than welcomed the opportunity to run with me) - and I think, in some ways, when I think of my mother I will always think of Central Park and its runners.

Then, las
t summer, in the month after I graduated from college, my friends and I went to a house in upstate New York in order to do theater. We ended up talking to the trees, making noises in the woods, making dinner together, and running every evening. That last was approached with great apprehension by yours truly, but once I established the rules (we stop when I want to stop. No questions. No judgements), and began to approach it as the bonding exercise that it was, I found myself able to run further and further. Without the pressure of trying to run for a set distance, or timing myself, running like my mother does - with friends and for fun - became extremely natural.

So natural that, upon my return to New York that summer, I summoned up all my courage
, put on my running clothes, and jogged over to the Rez.

om my apartment to the reservoir and once around is two miles. I went running every day that summer, and into the fall once I found myself in a meaningless job that hurt my back from hours of sitting. When I went to San Francisco, I tried to keep running but it just wasn't the same - running down Bryant Street to Cesar Chavez, all the way to Mission, down around the bend to Valencia, back up to 24th Street and down the crowded street I loved the most back home, may have been the same distance, but it just didn't compare to the very very East coast beauty of the Jackie O. Reservoir. And as soon as I came back, I immediately got back on the track.

The Reservoir is a beautiful lake in the middle of Central Park. It has a running track around the top and a horse path around the outside, with all these bridges crossing back and forth to where the runners are. People walk and run all day, morning to evening. It doesn't feel like a nature haven
- none of Central Park does. Buildings peek out over trees on all sides, and you never forget for a moment that you're simply in a more verdant area of one of the most powerful cities in the world. And that's part of the appeal. It doesn't seem out of place or inconsistent - it feels like a natural aquatic extension of the city itself. When the city was more dangerous and gritty, the water was surrounded by a high ugly chain link fence. Now that the city is gentrified, it is encircled in a pretty black iron gate which peaks at chest height.

And here's the second truth of this article:

I have stopped running. For the time being. Because I am not, ultimately, my mother (as much as I look like her, running from the same apartment she ran from for 25 years). It is too damn cold for me, and I love having my mornings to sit and write. I've been going to yoga and walking to work. I'm packing my running shoes away for the winter.

But you better believe I'll be back out there come spring. The cherry blossom trees will be in bloom - I missed them last year, but there's not a chance I won't be jogging under their beautiful white and pink flowers in April.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Feeling Groovy

Weekend sports is a staple of autumn in New York. I used to play AYSO soccer in Central and Riverside Parks, and on Saturdays and Sundays my dad and I would trek out to one field or another, in the rain and through the leaves, to kick a ball around with the West Side Soccer League. I was on the Tornadoes - we rocked. It was important to me, and to all the other girls I knew who played soccer. And then it was important to my brother. And now it's important to hundreds of other kids all over Manhattan - I still own my father's manager's sweatshirt and wear it frequently.

I had never really considered that adults in New York also take advantage of the city's multiple parks and playing fields to create their own teams - but they do! Of course a city as competitive and well organized as New York would be filled with people who would like nothing more but to fill up all their free time with more activities. This is not derogatory; I think it's great. I'm among them, ready to spend every waking moment busy - I'm just not athletic at all, so sports are kind of out. But that doesn't mean I can't take advantage of them as a spectator.

I got the opportunity this past weekend. One of my friends, Emma, is a rugby player. She's been sending emails to all her friends from her artistic life to come out and support her, but, true New Yorkers all, we've been busy. I found myself, however, with a Saturday to kill and decided to attend her game out on Wards Island.

Wards Island is small area of land off the coast of Manhattan on the Upper East Side, above Roosevelt Island, filled with playing fields and insane asylums. It is connected via landfill (thank you, NFT) to Randall's Island, which has more playing fields and more asylums. It's not very big, maybe three miles around, but big enough to fit the bases of three bridges and plenty of green.

I have a special place in my heart for Wards. Back in the days when I played softball (7th and 8th grade), we used to have some practices and games out under the big beautiful bridges. The grass was sparse and infected with glass, and the water usually smelled like pollution, but it was kind of wonderful playing out in the middle of the East River. And of course, Field Day was there every year, and therefore when I think of Wards, I think of Brearley and the red and the white teams, and school spirit and really ugly red baseball uniforms.

I grabbed my friend Justin (another hard working New Yorker recently transplanted from SF), and we meandered over there. The only ways onto the island are via bus, car, or walking across a foot bridge at 102nd Street. We took the bridge, and it is the first time I have ever walked across one of those skinny tall passages which dot the East River. It was rainy and humid and cool and warm - ideal rugby weather if I know anything about rugby (and I don't).

It was wonderful.
It was an absolutely lovely way to spend a Saturday. Emma came off the field for a bit, and taught me all about the sport (which, by the way, makes no sense and is as violent as you think it is, but is thrilling to watch). Then, there was a barbeque and lots of beer, and Justin and Emma and I sat on the ground and ate burgers and watched the men's team play (which is more brutal).

They are clearly redoing Wards and Randalls. The fields where rugby teams were playing had been converted into turf, which was disappointing until I realized that by now the fields would probably have turned to mud and turf was actually preferable to the needle scattered alternative. Of course, the turf sheds, which is weird and synthetic and gross, but it seems to really be the best alternative so who am I to argue. When Justin and I walked around the island, we saw all these beautiful wrought iron lamps put up along a new pathway. It looks like it's going to be a nice place when it's finished - well landscaped and well used.

Of course, t
hey're not done yet, so our walk was marred by vast stretches of construction and I was saddened to realize that the fields where we used to play were all under construction, fenced off and covered in concrete. It was disheartening, to say the least - both Randall's and Wards are pretty barren at the moment, and not a little sketchy in parts. I had Cat Steven's song "Where Do the Children Play?" stuck in my head for most of the walk, and despite the very nice job they've done fixing up the fields where my friend played, I was nostalgic for the old New York, the New York of broken glass and sparse glass and bridges with graffiti where private school kids played next door to unemployment offices. It was New York - a melting pot, rich and poor and everything in between and there was no effort to pretend that the city was anything but a dirty and utilitarian city, and we played where we found space and a patch of green.

Of course, I'm being a brat. The island will be beautiful. It was just another example of the changing landscape of my hometown.

And the game was great, and the footbridge was awesome. I highly recommend weekend games, if you can get away from your own free time activities.

As If We Needed Another Reason Why Gray's Papaya is Awesome

"Fools Rush In" may have captured it best - Matthew Perry, sitting on the side of a desert canyon, eating Gray's Papaya hot dogs air mailed to him by his mother and exclaiming "These are the best hot dogs in the world" or something to that effect. That's how I feel about Gray's Papaya; I get genuinely excited to introduce visitors to what is, without peer, the best and cheapest hot dogs in the whole world. I have been obsessed since high school, and make a point of going to the 72nd Street Papaya whenever I can. I really actually didn't need another reason to love them. But they gave it to me anyway.