Tag Archives: nyc

Deciding On Lew Yongeles

The New York Mantra: “The best place to take a bullet is in the girlfriend” — spotted on a  man’s t-shirt at the Food Emporium in Hell’s Kitchen… yes, he was shopping alone

The Californian Mantra: “We’ll melt your popsicle” – from the song “California Gurls” by Katy Perry… you know it’s a Californian song if they deliberately (?) misspell one-syllable words

In the past few weeks, several readers have emailed me about my semi-bicoastal life, asking me for recommendations about New York versus LA.  One person even wrote me a very long and sincere note, though our email correspondence fell apart after she asked if I could recommend any plastic surgeons out here in LA.  (Uh, no, but I would advise you to steer clear of the ones who advertise on bus benches.)

Since January 2008, I’ve lived for more than a year in both LA and New York, in Hollywood and Santa Monica, the Upper East Side and Hell’s Kitchen.  What I’ve learned is that, in our society, people fall into two separate yet equally important groups: the hardcore New Yorkers, who hope to crush, conquer, and rule the world, and the Dionysian Southern Californians, who seek medical advice from strangers.

These are my recommendations.

If you want to meet a wealthy guy who wears cuff links on the weekends and pretends to do cocaine just to sound like a nouveau-riche douchebag, you should live in New York.

If you want to meet a girl who barely looks eighteen, popping a morning-after pill while nonchalantly eating an ice cream sandwich outside of a CVS Pharmacy, you should live in LA.

If you want to start a political conversation with your foreign taxicab driver about the ethics of tax reform (“How can you possibly support the estate tax?  You drive a CAB!”), you should live in New York.

If you want to start a car radio showdown with an elderly gentleman driving a black Mustang and blasting Vivaldi in the middle of Please-Don’t-Shoot-Me Sketchtown (a.k.a. downtown Los Angeles), you should live in LA.

If you want to run into a throng of teenagers outside of a movie theater, badmouthing the high school slut who they call “Bobblehead”, you should live in New York.

If you want to run into a throng of middle schoolers outside of Hollister, giggling over the thongs they just bought, you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to ride the subway with hunched, grizzly men who carry an empty coffee cup in one hand and a can of paint thinner in the other, you should live in New York.

If you want to eschew public transportation altogether and instead drive along a highway death trap (cue Commander Chuck Street, jovially, reporting the morning traffic: “Another casualty accident on the 405!”), you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to see a pigeon eat couscous off the sidewalk while narrowly avoiding a splat! death-by-bicycle, you should live in New York.

If you want to see a golden retriever play Quidditch in an Air Bud-Harry Potter mash up for the ages, you should live in Los Angeles.

If you want to date someone who works at a glossy bank that is placing a big short on middle-class America, you should live in New York.

If you want to date someone who doesn’t have a job outside of going on auditions, working on his/her memoirs/screenplays, and exercising, you should live in Los Angeles.

…and finally,

If you want to live a normal, happy existence with 2.4 kids, a hanging tomato planter, a library full of James Patterson books, and a social life that doesn’t involve big red Solo cups, you should live in Westchester.  Or Pasadena.  Anywhere but New York or LA.

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Goodbye, New York

It’s been five days since I left New York, and as is the case with week-old nostalgia, I often find myself thinking about the city.  I’ve always loved the vibrancy of New York, the energy, and even the street meat smell.  Since I left, I have found myself missing those aspects of the city: the pavement-pounding commuters, the holier-than-thou coffeeshops, the 3 AM chicken and rice.  Most of all, though, I miss the people.  I miss the tour guide in Midtown who attracts customers by telling people his name is Kofi Annan (“Really? I’ve totally heard your name before.  You’re a famous tour guide!”).  I miss the crazy (and perhaps sight-challenged) men who would hoot at me in the mornings (“Hey baby, you’re looking fine in those Old Navy dress pants.”).  I miss the friends who came with me, during my last week in the city, to visit a heralded NYC institution–the Olive Garden in Times Square.

While I lived in New York, I had my complaints too.  For me, the city was expensive, crowded, and dirty.  Rats were everywhere, as if the Pied Piper had settled in Manhattan.  Over the last four months, I lived on the Upper East Side, where Juicy-Couture-wearing poodles would be juxtaposed with the pigeon-poop-lined sidewalks.  I’d dodge feces of all kinds (dog, rodent, fowl) as I walked to work.

But as nostalgia goes, all my complaints about New York are now forgotten.  The good memories are the ones that remain: dancing with kilted Scotsmen at Gatsby’s, table-searching in the basement of 30 Rock, discussing pedophiles on Wednesday nights, finding the best fajitas in town (still Zarela’s), Zog Sports football, Central Park, 24-hour diners, even Joshua Tree.

I think that anytime something ends, there is an afterwards period of great reflection and self-doubt.  If I were in an early-90s TV show, I’d be sitting next to a bay window now, a single tear streaming down one cheek, watching the rain fall outside.  Am I doing the right thing?  Am I just being crazy?  Who chooses LA over New York??  Where did my stoic, hardened, East-Coast-is-the-Beast-Coast mentality go?

Well… I don’t know the answer to that right now.  But with regards to the city of New York, I’ll quote the modern-day, muscled bard of California: I’ll be back… perhaps.

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Take a Risk, Take a Chance, Make a Change*

* Yes, the title is from a Kelly Clarkson song.  I’m not ashamed.

During the summer before my senior year of college, I did an internship at a large investment bank in New York.  To get the job, I professed my love for DCF models and calculating betas.  I made myself sound like the most interesting person in the world: “I enjoy reading Reuters.com, making data tables in Excel, and taking nonlinear walks along the beach.  I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer A&W.  That company’s got quite the cash flow.”

I suppose it worked.  I accepted an offer from a prestigious bank in midtown Manhattan, working in equity research for the summer of 2006.

salesI thought I would need a few weeks to determine whether I’d find my calling in finance.  But after just a few days, I already hated it.  I hated the dress code, the formality, the hierarchy, and the Big Brother-ness of it all.  I hated the work, which teetered between mundane and soul-sucking.  Most days, I just felt like a highly-paid supermarket cashier, plugging in numbers and being rude.  I quickly learned that there were three tenets of business: 1) Jerkiness is a coveted personality trait…  2) “Fuck” can be used as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, insult, directive, and occasionally, term of endearment…  3) Lastly, in order to fit in, you have to be strongly opinionated about HR, women leaders, and taxes.  (The opinion must also be negative, although you can “support them in concept.”)

Throughout the summer, I felt like I was part of a giant sociological experiment, where you throw fifty impressionable college kids into (what I would consider) the worst job in the world (except, maybe, dairy farming) and record their reaction.  The people who loved it also seemed to hate it as well, but they had all accepted that hatefulness was part of the job — therefore it was palatable.  And for a summer at least, it was palatable, especially given the fact that we were well-paid, well-fed, and living in New York with an unlimited reign over the four-letter word dictionary.

lincolnNearing the end of my two-month stint, I had to meet with HR (ugh) to discuss full-time opportunities.  The bank was well-known for only hiring first-years from its summer intern class.  Even though I knew, deep down, that I didn’t want to do this for two full years, I still wanted to get an offer.  I still wanted to have a job lined up, even though I swore I wouldn’t take it.  I wouldn’t.  Even though it was a prestigious firm.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d built up a strong network.  I wouldn’t.  Even though I’d get to live comfortably in New York City.  I wouldn’t.  Or would I?

During my session with HR, I was bombarded with a barrage of questions that I hadn’t prepared for: “What are your three biggest weaknesses?  What would you title your autobiography?  Which historical figure do you identify with most?”  To the last question, I blurted out “Abraham Lincoln,” after a long, awkward silence in which I contemplated whether Chairman Mao had any redeeming qualities.  (For some reason, he’s the first “historical figure” that pops into my head.)  After trying to justify to HR that Abe was a perfectly legitimate answer (“I see myself in him through his honesty…his passion for humanity…his log cabin roots”), I realized that I would always be better at BS-ing about Lincoln than modeling cash flows.

So when I got my full-time offer, I turned it down.  I took another job, still in finance, but at a media company where I could learn to hone my creative talents.   And now, two years later, as I’m coming to the end of my term, I have to make another decision — whether to stay in my backup plan, or to go ahead and do something crazy, like compare myself to Abraham Lincoln.  Like eschew a stable finance career for the peripatetic life of a starving writer.  I’m leaning towards the latter, because I’m finally ready to give it a real shot now.  And I do truly believe that all things will work itself out in the end…

After all, the full-time offer I turned down, in the winter of 2006, was from Lehman Brothers.

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Oddities in New York City

In order to live in New York City, you must have at least one of three attributes: you have to be a) certifiably insane, b) oblivious, or c) an icebox.  Why is that?  Well, let’s break it down:

If you are a) certifiably insane, then you will fit right in with the wackos and the strung-out boozhounds in the city.  In my ten months living here, I’ve seen the following oddities in New York:

  • nakedcowgirla gentleman jogging in a thong onesie
  • a person dressed up as Spiderman, casually walking down the street, as if window shopping
  • an older woman dressed as the “Naked Cowgirl” in Times Square, with very little covering her backside…

Of course, you can still survive New York sans-crazy if you are simply b) oblivious. By oblivious, I mean that you will inevitably encounter the following, yet you still won’t bat an eye:

  • sidewalkfeces of all kinds, including, but not limited to: pigeon, dog, rat, human, and hybrid combinations of all four
  • smells… bad ones
  • and many a sidewalk puddle so disgusting that, if you were to be splashed with its contents, would compel you to burn your clothing, and perhaps chop off any appendage that encountered the filth

Lastly, to live in New York, you also must become c) an icebox. This is not a suggestion; it is an actual necessity, especially in these recessionary times.  If you have a heart while living in New York, you will likely end up broke, homeless, or jogging in a thong onesie through the Upper East Side.  Since January, I have been asked for money by:

  • homelessjesussolicitors in the subway
  • solicitors living in the streets (one, with a pet rat nesting in her hair)
  • solicitors imploring me to help the children, support the troops, feed the hungry, cure cancer, go green, buy booze, and welcome back Jesus

The great thing about living in New York, though, is that once you get past the insanity, the filth, and the ever-present guilt (“sorry, I don’t have any cash, but here’s a cough drop”), you can pretty much put up with anything.  There is nothing out there that can make you feel uncomfortable, because we’ve seen it all, right?

Wrong.

Tonight, I was walking home from work when I encountered someone else who was walking step-in-step with me.  Now, this doesn’t seem all that strange… until you think about the unwritten NYC pedestrian rule.  The sidewalk is like a one-lane highway.  You don’t ever have two cars on the same side of the road, going at the same speed.  You either pass, or let the other guy pass.  But for three blocks, this woman walked right next to me.  I sped up.  She sped up.  I slowed down.  She slowed down.  It freaked me out.  Finally, I took a detour into Duane Reade to see if she would follow me.  But thankfully, she went on her merry way.

Is it just me, or is that whole scenario stranger than the 70-year old Naked Cowgirl?  Or… am I just heading down the path towards (un)certifiably insane?

Help.

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Work Diary: Sept. 17, 2009… The Routine

Female, 24, Midtown Manhattan, working in corporate finance but disillusioned… would prefer to be a writer, but doesn’t have the balls to pull it off yet.  Somewhat related to the ‘female’ part.

7:30 AM – Waking Up

Monday to Friday, my alarm goes off at 7:30 AM to the cacophony of Z100’s Elvis Duran and the Morning Zoo.  As with any quality FM morning show, I’m immediately thrown into a state of utter chaos: yelling, laughing, arguing, screeching, and the occasional clip of turtles having sex (one of the Morning Zoo’s favorites).  I’m not quite sure why I allow my brain to get filled with celebrity gossip, stupid news, and turtle copulation every morning.  But perhaps I just need some dysfunction to prepare myself for the day.

8:15 AM – Getting Dressed

talbots

It’s sad that choosing an outfit for work will be the most important decision that I make all day.  Most of the time, I simply try to look “not homeless.”  I have a rotating set of acceptable, uninspired work outfits that I choose from.  So my important daily decision comes down to whether I want to look more Banana Republic, or more J. Crew.  But given my stellar (lack of) fashion sense, whatever I choose and however much I try, I probably end up looking more Talbots than anything.  Evidence?  I own corduroy shorts.  They’re not cute.

8:30 AM – The Commute

nyccommuteOutside of war victims and child prostitutes, NYC commuters are the most miserable, despondent people in the entire world.  On my walk to work, I’ll see at least twenty pigeons, at least ten piles of overflowing trash, and if lucky, a couple  of rats.  But I have never, ever, seen a smile at 8:30 AM in the morning in New York City.  If I were to see someone smiling while walking to work, I’d probably pass out right there from shock.

8:45 AM – Getting to Work

Even if I’m dreading work, for some reason I feel compelled to get there as fast as possible.  I’ve learned to dodge tourists, puddles, and dog crap with astounding alacrity.  But once I actually make it to the office, I get the sinking feeling that I just arrived early to my own waterboarding session.  Why did I run through a blinking stop, hipcheck an elderly woman, and narrowly avoid death by taxi…so that I could be on time for work?

8:46 AM to INFINITY – The Work Day

While every day is different, here is an example of how I spent today, Sept. 17, 2009, written in the spirit of NYMag’s sex diaries.  (I would write those if I had an exciting personal life, but clearly, the only romance I ever encounter is the symphonic turtle kind):

  • 9:15 AM: I need to get a new ID card, since my old one stopped working.  The woman tells me that she does not have my current ID photo on file, so she has to take a new one.  nicknolteOf course, this is the one day that I had planned to be a hermit at my desk, avoiding people at all costs in my “I need to do laundry” outfit.  My new ID photo comes out looking like I just got hopped up on acid with Nick Nolte.  I manage to have a droopy eye and a double chin.  It’d be a perfect mugshot if I were getting arrested for crystal meth.
  • 9:25 AM: I run into a co-worker in the elevator.  The elevators in my building could rival the ones on Grey’s Anatomy for the “Slowest Elevators in History” award.  (Also, I always seem to run into the EVP of the company in the elevator bank.  Of course, I only see him on days when I’m getting in late or leaving early.  I never see him otherwise.)  Our elevator is packed.  Above another guy’s head, my co-worker asks me how I’m doing.  I say I’m doing well.  Then she asks, “Living the dream?”  “Every single day,” I reply.  The entire elevator lets out a collective guffaw.  At least I’m not the only one.
  • 10:41 AM: I get an email asking me to put together a few slides for investment bankers, because part of our company is expected to go on the market.  So basically, I’m being asked to do something that may lead to my ultimate firing, once the company is gutted and sold.  (It’s like asking me to sharpen the axe that will chop off my head.)  Still, I happily oblige.
  • 1:06 PM: I get an instant message from a co-worker, lauding me for one of the “most genius accounting jokes” she’s ever heard.”  This is the joke I wrote, in the spirit of Chuck Norris: “Keith Sherin can always recognize revenue, even from far away.”  I contemplate becoming a stand-up comedian for accountants… but then I remember that most accountants don’t have a sense of humor.
  • davematthews3:10 pM: I discover that there is a co-worker in another office named Dave Matthews.  I spend ten blissful minutes hypothesizing as to What [he] Would Say about about our Satellite operations.
  • 4:01 PM: I overhear a woman who sits next to me say, “My motto is, no one’s life is that fabulous.”  She’s obviously never met Tina Fey.
  • 4:02 PM: I get an email in my inbox from the head of HR, telling us that health benefits are changing.  I blame Max Baucus.
  • 5:25 PM: A co-worker tells me that she’s doing SOX testing.  I ask her what she thinks is better, wool or cotton?  (This is the second time in my life that I’ve made this joke, sadly.)  I chuckle silently to myself.
  • 6:45 PM: Heading home.  Another day, another dollar.

doughboyTOTALS: Two accounting jokes, one reference to healthcare reform, one fantasy about DMB in corporate finance, 50+ instances where I questioned what I was doing with my life (excluded above, since that just gets annoying), and one new ID photo in which I look like a drugged Pillsbury Dough Boy.

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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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Los Angeles vs. New York… Working to Live, vs. Living to Work?

Growing up in Boston and having gone to school in Cambridge, I had a strong conviction of East Coast superiority. I loved the history of Boston, the competitiveness in Cambridge, and, after spending two summers in New York, the pace of Manhattan. There was a gritty, dog-eat-dog mentality that permeated throughout the city, both up in the boardrooms and down on the streets. There was a toughness and an urgency that New York required, as evidenced by the fast walking, fast talking culture. And even though the suits could be parading around with million-dollar bank accounts, they all still carried themselves as if entering the school of hard knocks: brows furrowed, collars up, and wielding a vast repertoire of profanity.

Even with its rat-race culture, I loved New York. During my senior year of college, I interviewed solely for jobs that were based in the city. Having grown up in the ambitious East Coast lifestyle, it just seemed like a natural progression to move to Manhattan, with its promise of hard work begetting career advancement.

img_0387I ultimately accepted an offer to work in a program which required a year in New York and a year in Los Angeles. When I got my first assignment, I was devastated to learn that I was starting in California. On a cold, wintry day in Boston, I packed my bags and flew out to the West Coast. I figured I’d just wait it out for a year until I got back to New York, where my career would actually begin. After all, LA was about its actors and singers, smoke and mirrors, and Britney and Kevin. Instead of M&A, I figured I’d just find T&A. It certainly wasn’t the same type of professional environment that I expected in New York.

img_0383Throughout my year in LA, I did encounter many examples of the superficiality that I expected when I first came to California. Most conversations centered around the gym, the beach, or the latest celebrity debacle. Meeting people out on the town invariably turned into a casting session. There was an endless supply of aspiring actors, models, and dancers moonlighting as waiters, secretaries, and personal trainers. There was a sleepy, slow pace to LA, where people mostly ambled along. Furrowed brows and premature wrinkles were nonexistent, if not for the worry-free lifestyle, then for the rampant use of Botox.

img_0271To my surprise, I found myself drawn to many aspects of the laid-back, West Coast lifestyle. One huge part of this was the weather. When I first arrived at the Burbank airport in January, I was greeted by 65 degree weather and bundled-up Californians. My landlord, wearing a thick black parka, apologized for how cold it was. (Over my year in LA, I could count on one hand how many times it rained. Almost 90% of the days were over 70 degrees and sunny…even in “winter”. I remember going to the beach in February, and just like in the Corona commercial, feeling disappointed when a cloud would appear in the bright blue sky.) The beautiful weather was something I didn’t expect, and it seemed to justify the slow pace of LA. Lying on the Santa Monica beach in the middle of March, I remember feeling rather smug–while my friends back in New York were shuttered away in their tiny apartments, I was out on the beach every weekend, enjoying the sun. While they were trekking through snow and maneuvering through the NYC subway system, I was cruising down Ventura boulevard in my car, windows down, radio blaring. While they were working weekends and long hours, I was putting in ten-hour days at most, with enough time to go to the gym and still get a margarita after work.

img_0281Yet even with this carefree lifestyle, there were often times when I felt anxious about the life I was living. I almost didn’t want to get too comfortable… it seemed like I was getting complacent or soft. I worried that I was losing my drive and ambition to the allure of comfort and sun. I didn’t want to become the stereotypical airhead Californian, without a care in the world. I’d think of the negatives of living in LA (the superficial people, the earthquakes, the traffic, and the smog) and remind myself of my East Coast convictions. I was bred to be a New Yorker after all, and there was some built-in angst that I had to have. Even with all the comforts out on the West Coast, I was never free from anxiety about my career, future, and ambitions.

A week ago, I moved back to New York to start the second year of my program. As I sat at my austere desk and looked out on the gray horizon, I missed the carefree days of life in sunny California. I can’t help but reminisce about LA and its anti-New York philosophies: work to live, don’t live to work. Life’s too short. Don’t worry, be happy.

A year ago, I would have thought that these philosophies were just an excuse for being weak, lazy, and of course, soft. Now, I’m not so sure. I don’t think I can ever completely embrace either side. As much as I loved LA, perhaps I’m programmed to feel guilt for “settling” or being too comfortable. Perhaps I can’t shake that gnawing ambition and ensuing anxiety. But now that I’ve seen how the other half lives, I don’t think I can bear the rat race of New York. I’m still awed by the intensity and energy of the city, but I’m not quite as keen to be immersed in it. Maybe that means I’m more willing to sacrifice career for life, in order to have fewer wrinkles when I’m older. Or, maybe I just need a few more weeks to get used to the fast pace of NYC again.

At some point I’ll have to choose… but I’m probably just not ready to do it now.

Update (6/25/09): What I Love About New York City

Update (10/14/09): Oddities in New York City

Update (3/31/10): I’m moving back to LA … Guess I’ve made my decision, huh?

Update (4/30/10): Goodbye, New York

Update (6/7/10): Truth is Beauty, and Beauty is Los Angeles

Update (6/29/10): Deciding On Lew Yongeles

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