Monthly Archives: June 2009

What I Love About New York City

There are many things that I hate about New York City.  I hate the pigeons, the rats, and the abundance of dog excrement on the streets.  I hate the hot stickiness of the subway platforms, and the way taxi drivers take liberty with your life.  I hate the trash that gets piled up along the sidewalk, regardless of whether it’s trash day or not.  subwayBut most of all, I hate the smells.  I hate the smell of wet, grimy New York after it rains in the summer.  I hate the salty, sweaty smell of people standing too close in the subway.  I hate the smell that sneaks up on you, all of a sudden, as you turn a corner and oh!, that is nasty.  New York is full of these unpleasant surprises, where pigeons can grow to be as tall as man, and the alley behind a seafood restaurant can force passersby into wind sprints.

But there are also many aspects of the city that I love.  I love street vendors, Central Park, and overlooking the skyline on a warm summer evening.  I love happy hours that can last from 4 pm to 4 am.  I love how a single restaurant can have an artsy scene, and a punk scene, and a hipster scene, and a pop-your-collar banker scene.  I love the unconscious mixing of all different people and different backgrounds into one, into a unique New York City culture that can be best described as a clusterfuck, a word that can only be said seriously in New York’s executive boardrooms.

grandcentralHowever, above everything else, I love the chatter in the city.  I love the crazy people talking to themselves on the subway.  I love the snippets of conversation I hear while walking by couples, like “I never should have done that”, or, “But I trade debt securities for a living”.  I love the passion of New York City, with all the yelling and the swearing and the impassioned, vehement debates (“He was talking about Bristol, not the 14-year old!”). I love how you can have enlightened conversations about everything, from the Iran election to the latest A-Rod debacle.

I’ve been in New York for six months now, after moving from LA.  The always-sunny, carefree culture of Los Angeles still pulls at me sometimes, even though conversations there revolve solely around the new celebrity in rehab.  Then again, in LA, I don’t have to deal with mysterious smells and flocks of disease-carrying birds.  But now that I’ve become fully immersed again in the angsty, Type-A, New York City life, I feel more at ease that my brain isn’t wasting away in a Hollywood-induced haze.  So, LA vs. New York?  It’s a matter of body versus mind, I guess.

As of right now, I think mind is winning.

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Dictators… They’re Just Like Us!

I often wonder what our society would be like if people actually cared about politics around the world.  Thus, I propose a new theme for the next issue of Us Weekly; let’s keep it entertaining, but let’s also make it educational as well.  So instead of the 12th cover featuring Jon & Kate, we thus present… Us Weekly: DICTATORS!

DICTATORS-SHADES

It’s always easier to hide shadiness behind shades.  Pinochet ruled Chile from 1974 to 1990, with democratic elections happening after he left power.  Thus, if Us Weekly asked 100 readers in Times Square “Who wore it better?”, the anti-Pinochet respondents would be summarily dismissed.  On the flip side, similar to his 2009 re-election, Us Weekly would likely confirm that ailing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il won 99.9% of the vote.  Of course, this would be reported by the Korean Central News Agency, which is run by the government.  Faux-democracy lives! 

DICTATOR-FLAG

These men are definitely representing their country… in life AND death. Robert Mugabe is the current President of Zimbabwe.  In 2008, his party lost the initial presidential election with just 43% of the vote… so, no, Mugabe did not wear it better.  However, he refused to concede, and after a wave of violence, Mugabe won 86% of votes in a run-off election to remain President.  Mao Zedong ruled Communist China for over 30 years, from 1943 to his death in 1976.  His portrait still hangs over the Tiananmen gate, but let’s be honest… he wasn’t a pretty man. 

DICTATORS-FASHIONPOL

So, is camouflage “in” again?  Omar al-Bashir is the current President of Sudan, and has been in office since 1993.  With this picture of him, is it surprising that he’s married to his cousin?  To the right of al-Bashir, Pervez Musharraf served as the President of Pakistan from 2001 to 2008.  Musharraf’s regime as “dictator” was not as extreme as some of the other dictators in this issue, although his mustache means business.  Lastly, Hugo Chávez also may not be considered a true “dictator” since he’s been re-elected since he became President of Venezuela in 1999.  However, he’s on this list because Wikipedia cites him as being a “threat to democracy in Latin America”.  If it’s on Wikipedia, then it’s obviously true.

DICTATORS-BEARDS

Some quick facts about these bearded beauties… Genghis Khan: Born in the 12th century Mongolia, Genghis Khan took over several parts of modern-day Asia before mysteriously dying at age 65. Fidel Castro led the Cuban revolution and ruled over Cuba for nearly fifty years; today, his son has taken over for him as President, while Fidel shops online for retirement homes in Florida.  Saddam Hussein grew out a rather unbecoming beard after he was captured by U.S. forces in 2003; he was later executed for crimes committed when he ruled Iraq.  Henry VIII was not a dictator, but instead, the King of England in the early 16th century; he is on this list, however, because he managed to kill two of his six wives.  Ivan the Terrible: Ivan was the czar of Russia for most of the 16th century…and oh yeah, he killed his own son.  Just one, though.  Not as terrible as Henry VIII, eh?

DICTATORS-JUSTLIKEUS

Well, to be honest… they’re really NOT just like us.  Josef Stalin led the Soviet Union from 1922-1953, but he didn’t hug too many babies in his time; instead, it is estimated that his policies caused more than 20 million deaths during his tenure.  Benito Mussolini was Italy’s fascist dictator who ruled for over 20 years until he was captured and killed by Communists in 1943.  And lastly, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the current crazy President of Iran who recently “won” re-election.  Ahmadinejad has set off waves of criticism for his anti-Semitic rants, his claim that no gay people live in Iran, and his anti-Western attitude as a whole.  But, is it possible that there’s a softer side to Mahmoud

If we can pull this off in Us Weekly, I can foresee a whole new breed of political news / entertainment.  Hey, having Rod Blagojevich’s wife on TV is a small step in the right direction.  So we’ll start with Us Weekly, and then set our sights on the news organizations themselves: “Next, on E! True Hollywood Story…Ahmadinejad and friends: Where are they now?”

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An Hegelian Analysis of Pop Culture, With Commentary on Flava Flav

(To be honest, I don’t know who Hegel was, but I’m the preeminent Flav scholar this side of West Texas.)

A few years ago, an interviewer asked me what my favorite movie was. In any other circumstance, the answer would have been easy: Miss Congeniality, a story about an undercover cop-turned beauty queen who saves Miss Rhode Island from exploding onstage, as William Shatner dances and serenades the crowd. A true classic, in my opinion. However, in that moment, I reckoned that Miss Congeniality would be about as well-received as an outbreak of swine flu.  A Beautiful Mind, I decided, was a safer bet. It’s my favorite movie, I told the interviewer, because it depicts how Nash overcame the psychological struggle within himself to bring about one of the most important mathematical theorems of our time.

And on that load of crap, I got myself into college.

Looking back now, it’s easy to see how this little white lie could have been conceived. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world where classical music and Jane Austen are seen as culturally superior to “Boom Boom Pow” and Agatha Christie. Our society favors the New Yorker over Us Weekly, Italian wines over Franzia, and opera over Oprah. A line is drawn between “high” culture and “low” culture, based on some ephemeral idea of quality as defined by tradition, or reputation, or, more likely, some really old guys. Many of us have accepted this order, convincing ourselves that we too are high class: the smartest, most accomplished, and best-looking scholars and future leaders of America… the creme de la creme. Why then, should we debase our exceptionally-gifted minds with the crap of the masses? Why should we indulge in tabloid reading and Britney Spears?

Some might argue that there is value in consuming “low” culture just as there is value in consuming “high” culture. As future leaders, perhaps we should study and understand the whole of American society. Bad TV, movies, and music are as much reflections upon the audience as they are vehicles of culture. Lindsay Lohan’s boozing can tell us a lot about the current attitude toward alcohol in America’s youth, which is important, because, as Whitney said, the children are our future.

Of course, it’s obvious that most people don’t watch The Real World to isolate the psychological impact of seven strangers, picked to live in a house. So here’s a new approach: instead of trying to find intellectual ways to justify consuming pop culture, why not embrace it? Don’t sneak your Cosmo behind The Economist at the gym. Don’t pretend to channel surf on Flavor of Love. Don’t be embarrassed that you know all the songs on the Miley Cyrus CD. Almost everyone is affected by pop culture: we all know who Brangelina is and who K-Fed is not. We all know the words to “SexyBack” (they’re not hard…). So instead of fighting it, belt out “See You Again” unashamedly. Indulge in a little Flava Flav… and follow up with a Sandra Bullock TBS marathon. Enjoy the undeep, unanalytical, unintellectual publications like InTouch Weekly, filled with uncompoundable compound words.

So, I am finally ready to proclaim Gracie Lou Freebush, rogue cop, as my cinematic heroine. After all, the mindless crap that is pop culture today does not seem that mindless anymore. Whether that’s because it has made me dumber, or because I have learned to justify it in my own weird way, no one should feel guilty for their entertainment preferences (unless, of course, you’re a fan of Gigli). Don’t be that uptight, humorless guy who wears argyle socks, quotes Ayn Rand, and looks down on the rest of us while we get fitted for our grillz. Instead, dump the math, forget the opera, stop being polite… and start getting real.

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Desperate Times Lead to Desperate Measures (or DateACougar.com)

This is for all of you who are single: not tied down, not attached, and enjoying or hating every minute of it. You may be recently single, perpetually single, single and happy, single and desperate, single with kids, single with cats, or single with alcohol… Whatever brand of “single” you currently are, these are my thoughts on how singlehood progresses, by the years.

Note: For the guys, I’ve included a football translation, since everything else written below will likely never cross your mind… or will be at least 10 years delayed.

PREGAME (under 25)

You’re young, just out of college, and starting your career. You can justify going out every night. You don’t really care to be tied down just yet… Why not have some fun?

KICKOFF (age 25)

You were just out of school, fresh-faced and young…and all of a sudden, you’re 25. You’re now on the tail end of your twenties, 5 years away from 30, and halfway to 50. You’ve hit the last government-enforced age restriction, but being able to rent a car without a fee isn’t all that exciting. (At least you’re one step closer to the next milestone… getting your Social Security check in 40 years). So now you’re staring down your future, an empty martini in your hand, while all your friends are getting married and sending you pictures of their adorable gurgling babies. Maybe it’s time to think about settling down…

ADJUSTMENTS AT HALFTIME (age 26-29)

Remember that cute guy in college? The one who sat behind you in class, was mildly awkward, but probably very nice? He’s the guy you’d never think about going out with before, but now… well, you’re thinking about giving him a chance. You start to look at people in a different way: old friends, work friends, and friends of friends… how would they look in your wedding photo? You begin trolling around Facebook to find out if the cute guy in college is still cute… and finally agree to be set up by your mom on a date.

NEW GAMEPLAN (age 30-34ish)

OK, now that you’ve hit a new decade, throw out your old playbook and begin anew. You’re not quite desperate just yet… But yeah, speed dating is no longer all that strange, eHarmony is perfectly legitimate, and there seem to be some nice guys on Craigslist as well. Romance novels and Lifetime movies become idea generators: you start spending less time at the bar and more time at the grocery store…or the art museum… or the library. Even though you may not meet your soulmate at an AA meeting, at least you know that it’s an option, too.

THE HAIL MARY (age 34ish +)

The cute guy from college doesn’t have to be cute, the blind date doesn’t have to be charming, and potential suitors don’t have to be tall, dark, or handsome, as long as they have a job (…and are actually single). You have surpassed the cusp of desperation, where “settling” is an oft-embraced option… right there along with “cougarism”. And there’s no shame in putting yourself out there either, in the form of soul-bearing, heart-wrenching, often-amusing personal ads.

Actual lines from personals in this month’s issue of Harvard Magazine:

“For a really good time, join Science Connection, the singles group for people who can have fun and analyze it too.” – Way to drag down the cool Harvard name even more, guys.

“I’d like to lose my head and find my heart.” – Perhaps we can find your heart at the cheese factory.

“I may be the software for your hardware, in the most non-technological way…. Favorite activity: Burning bright.” – I don’t even know how to respond to this one, other than, “Call me?”

VICTORY (any age)

Honestly, if the above ads represent the pool of people who are currently single, we’re giving up right now. No more ordering salads, feigning interest, and suffering through awkward small talk. We’ve accepted it, welcomed it, and convinced ourselves that this was the plan all along: SINGLEHOOD 4 LIFE.  See, if he liked it, then he should’ve put a ring on it. Now we’re free to flirt with the gardener, make eyes at firemen, and own a bunch of cats without fear of judgment. But… if anyone has any suggestions for cats that can cook and clean, please let me know. I’m desperate.

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The Commute to Work: A Reflection on Mortality

It’s 7:03 AM, and I’m out the door of my Midtown apartment.  I wave at the doorman, bound down the steps, and start my journey to the wonderful land of work, work, work.  Unlike many New Yorkers, I don’t wear headphones on my morning walk.  My walk is an excuse to travel with my thoughts, sans the distraction of Lady Gaga imploring me to dance.  I think about my job, my personal life, and the latest news… but mostly, I think about what I want to get for breakfast.  Thus, my career anxiety is often interrupted by the everlasting muffin vs. bagel debate.  By the 9th avenue intersection, muffin usually wins. 

pigeonAlong my usual route, I sidestep many of the treasures of New York City.  Outside of 53rd street, there is always at least one food product that has made its way into the road.  One day it looked like a tub of mac and cheese.  Another day, it appeared to be some kind of chili.  My curiosity never gets me too close to the mystery slop though, mostly because a pack of pigeons is constantly steeped in the mess, devouring its breakfast.  The sight of winged rats picking at day-old mashed potatoes is both horrifying and humanizing: horrifying because it’s gross, but humanizing because it makes me glad I’m not a pigeon.  (I did some research, and my pigeon aversion is justified: urban pigeons only live for 3-5 years on average.  I’d guess that obesity contributes to their short life span as much as reckless taxi drivers.)

Unfortunately, my encounters with pigeon folk don’t end on the mashed potatoes corner.  Across the street from the Midtown North Precinct of the NYPD, there is a flock of pigeons that sit along a row of fire escapes above the sidewalk.  Because cop cars are parked outside the precinct, the walkable sidewalk space is very narrow.  There are always a few unknowing pedestrians who walk directly underneath the pigeon latrines.  I narrowly missed becoming a target when a dazzling white drop splattered a few feet in front of my shoes.  So now, I just walk through the middle of the street, instead of risking it on the brightest sidewalk in New York.

gwbridgeBy 7:09 AM, I reach my shuttle stop on a corner outside of a McDonald’s.  The shuttle picks up every day at this corner, to drive all us Manhattan-based employees into New Jersey for work.  So at 7:10 AM, I climb into an unmarked white van and sit uncomfortably close to co-workers.  The shuttle driver weaves through West Side highway traffic, honking, cursing, and checking text messages.  One shuttle driver managed to swill a gulp of Listerine and spit it out while still navigating the road.  The passengers hide our fear by making small talk about the weather and swine flu, although more than a few can be seen with their eyes closed tightly, just hoping that it’ll all be over soon.  

 Around 7:30 AM, we turn onto the George Washington bridge, the gateway between Manhattan and the dirty Jerz.  At this time, our shuttle driver reaches for his Bible, which he keeps in a cupholder.  He holds onto the Bible for the entire length of the bridge, then puts it away once we reach the other side… about two minutes later.  Apparently divine intervention is not needed for Jersey.  But the rickety shuttle keeps us all praying.  With every lane change, I reflect on my mortality as if I were a potato-fattened pigeon: Well, I’ve lived a happy life (shuttle swerves).  My parents would be proud (car honks).  I hope they use my latest Facebook photo at my funeral (obscenities hurled).

Our shuttle finally turns into the office parking lot at 7:40 AM, discharging a group of relieved passengers and a shuttle driver with minty fresh breath.  One might question why I, along with so many others, put up with a commute filled with pigeon poo and pious shuttle drivers.  Well, having such a harrowing commute is like flying on a turbulent flight, or hanging out with Ahmadinejad.  There’s the stress once you’re there, but then the extreme exhilaration once you’ve gotten the F out.  So, once I get into the office, work is easy by comparison.  And plus, I have a muffin to look forward to.

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