January 28, 2010

Open Letter to the Universe

Are you there, Universe? It's me, Sandi.

A year ago, I put my fate in your hands. I turned myself over to you and took a flying leap into a pool of cliches about seizing the wind and throwing caution to the day and other such nonsense.

At first, I gave you a little time to think about things. I didn't look for a job or ask anyone for help. Instead, I traveled to London and for the first time since 1995, I realized I don't want to live there.

When I came back to New York, I started receiving some signs from you. I ran away from the city again to escape to Joshua Tree, CA, where I spent Valentine's Day drinking red wine and eating chocolate by myself in the desert. The next morning, my hosts invited me to spend the summer there.

When I came back to New York again, I was recommended for a consulting gig by a former coworker, and was flown to LA on the company's tab just a few days after returning from there. I spent two days being anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours late for a number of meetings. I squeezed in a few minutes with Ziggy Marley's wife, who'd also been referred to me by another former coworker. To be honest, I didn't really want to work another children's album. I kind of played hard to get. And I got the job.

And it's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.

But you know all this, don't you?

After spending a month in Joshua Tree, a separation from New York that I hoped would reignite our romance, I returned to the city looking like a different person, thinking like a different person, and even more isolated than before I left. My ears hurt from the constant noise, the cars honking and the drunks yelling, the trains screeching and the sirens wailing. I couldn't hear you anymore, Universe. Were you still speaking to me? Were you sending me signals that were just drowned out by the fever pitch of everyday life in New York City?

I spent almost two months waiting for you to tell me something. I wasn't really working. I wasn't really going out. I wasn't meeting people; I wasn't talking to the people I already knew. I didn't want to miss your call. I just waited. And waited.

You didn't call. Did you? Did I miss your call?

For three months last fall, I worked because I thought I had to. I worked because I thought I wanted to. But your silence was deafening, and I started to doubt my ability to make my own decisions. I was convinced I was doing everything wrong. I was abandoned by you, the universe, as I had been abandoned by my own parents, by my former employers who pretended to love me and then cast me out of their family too. By then, I'd gotten used to abandonment and betrayal. I'd been betrayed by New York City, too.

For the last three weeks, I've sleepwalked through every day. Eyes open but not seeing. Heart open but not loving. Body moving but not touching, not advancing, not impacting.

I'm ready to wake up now, Universe. Are you there? Do you recognize me? Is it you that startles me at night, when I sit straight up in bed and try to focus on whomever is watching me sleep?

Is it you that called me back to QVC?

Will you send me back to California, maybe this time to stay?

I don't know what you have in store for me, but I'm still in your hands. Cradle me and tell me everything's going to be all right. I'll try to listen to what you have to say, and I'll try to not make mistakes. But I need to do something, and something soon.

Your servant,

January 23, 2010

Photo Essay: Filthy Friday Night GlaMOUR, Gorgeous Magic.

I may not work in pop music, but occasionally I've got some friends in high places.

Last night, Sebouh and I were the token squares at the music video shoot for Semi Precious Weapons' eponymously-titled single - or, rather, for the newly-recorded version of it now that they're signed to Haus of Gaga/Interscope. I usually don't quite fit in with their crowd: I'm certainly older, fatter, and more sober. But I love hanging out with those guys. And I love witnessing their rise to the top, opening for Lady Gaga being only one of many future successes.

Here are some of the most striking images from last night's shoot at Webster Hall's Trash! party in The Studio:





camera zoom






Justin take


hula spin

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Putting Pop Music on Pause

I came to work in the music industry because I love pop music. I love it dearly, unashamedly and unabashedly.

My foot in the door to the industry was in the classical department of Atlantic Records, where I was usually the youngest person around, and got too drunk at fancy parties and spent inappropriate time with the artists. Because I was at Atlantic Records, which celebrated its 50th anniversary during my tenure there, I was surrounded by pop music: the music videos playing in the lobby, the piles of CDs sitting by the freight elevator, the rolled-up posters and other memorabilia in the promo closet in the same conference room where I stored my opera box sets. And then there were the celebrity sightings.

I saw Phil Collins go into the men's room as I toiled away at my desk and answered the phones.

I bumped into Mike Rutherford on my way out of the ladies room in the publicity department.

I rode the elevator with Jimmy Page, Aaliyah, Scott Weiland, Ahmet Ertegun himself, and Flavor Flav (who invited me to move into a crib with him after I complained about my Brooklyn apartment).

I missed Stevie Nicks by a narrow margin as the elevator doors closed with her inside and me still in the elevator bank.

I kissed Kid Rock at the Warner Music Group Christmas party and held his red leather pants for him outside of Irving Plaza.

I went bowling with Hootie & the Blowfish.

But despite how close I was to the legendary Atlantic Records artist roster both past and present, I was always on the outside looking in. I had to beg for Tori Amos and Matchbox 20 concert tickets, abscond with a signed Stevie Nicks box set, and lurk down the hallways to catch a glimpse of Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani.

I worked in the classical department of Atlantic for four and a half years, eventually taking on jazz, world, blues, country, and comedy artists as well as a couple cooler alternative and electronic acts. I had a meeting with Andy Garcia about a jazz soundtrack to a movie he starred in, which rendered me speechless and utterly starstruck. But I still didn't get the chance to work the pop music that littered the Billboard charts I still monitored, as I did when I was 12 years old.

At my next job at Razor & Tie, I worked plenty of wacky - and successful - projects, but only one could really be classified as pop music: Neil Sedaka. I had the pleasure of visiting him in his Park Avenue penthouse, wiping my washed hands with his monogrammed guest towels, and holding his parrot on my arm. I drank champagne with him to celebrate his reappearance on the charts after a number of years. And I was tickled to have helped.

Although Kidz Bop sold millions of CDs during my term as its lead marketing executive, and it certainly consisted of pop music, it doesn't count.

So last year when I had the chance to work with Ziggy Marley, 12 years into my music business career, I thought, "Finally! A pop star!" Maybe he's best-known as Bob Marley's eldest son, but he's a Billboard-charting pop star in his own right, with his single "Tomorrow People" from the late 80s. Sure, I was helping him release a children's album, but it didn't matter to me. And I couldn't be prouder to see him perform on the Thanksgiving Day Parade and root for him to win a Grammy this year.

A few weeks into 2010, I'm still trying to figure out what the next big project will be for me to work on - either as a continuation of my consulting business, or as a full-time, long-term assignment. And as much as I don't want to work at another record label, and am interested in exploring another industry, I have that nagging feeling that I've failed in achieving my dream of working with pop music. Can I possibly give up on it before my work is really done?

Or maybe can I just take a break....

January 22, 2010

Photo Essay: Lady Gaga's Monster Ball at Radio City Music Hall

I didn't go to many concerts as a kid. I remember seeing TV commercials for Huey Lewis and the News performing at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in fourth grade and dying to go, and knowing there was no way my sister and I could convince our parents to buy the tickets and drive us. We saw a couple oldies acts at the New York State Fair's free stage, but it wasn't until I was in college that I really got to see a proper show on my own, without parental supervision (Tori Amos' "Under the Pink" tour, at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse).

Things are different for kids now. They're carted around to soccer games, dance classes, and play dates from birth. When I helped launch the Kidz Bop concert tour, we saw newborns and pre-teens alike being dragged by their parents through the aisles, with bags of popcorn, buckets of soda, and multi-colored pigtails. They bought t-shirts, stayed late to meet the cast, and posed for toothy photos that their parents posted on their own Facebook pages.

Whenever I asked my parents to do anything when I lived with them, they always treated it like it was a big favor. From letting me wear nylons and lip gloss to picking me up from drama rehearsal, I owed them bigtime.

So although I lived through an exciting time of pop music in the 80s which gave rise to many of my favorite artists of all time - Stevie Nicks, Madonna, George Michael, Prince, Michael Jackson, Billy Idol - living in a small city with parents that wouldn't even let me apply to more than one out-of-state college prevented me from having real, face-to-face access to any of them.

So what do I do now? I spend more money on concert tickets trying to see late-career concerts by these arena-touring artists than I do on anything else.

Last night, after buying overpriced tickets on Stubhub, I had the chance to see Lady Gaga at the peak of her career, in concert at Radio City Music Hall. It was an event. Edith and I were surrounded by young poseurs wearing their own sparkly eye masks, corsets, leotards, and tiny, jaunty hats - male, female, gay, straight, it didn't matter. Everyone looked totally different from each other, but somehow in the montage of all the painted faces, we saw a common thread of impersonation that was undeniably Gaga.

Sure, we were a little old, us in our mid-30s, getting spilled on by frozen cocktail-swilling underagers from New Jersey. But we were a part of the chaos and mayhem - truly a Monster Ball - as much as, say, Diddy was, seated only a couple of rows ahead of us. (We wonder: did he have to buy his tickets on Stubhub too?)

Whether Lady Gaga was hoisting a keytar or getting showered with nuclear green sputum on the enormous video screens, she was a presence to be reckoned with.

"Do you think I'm sexy? Because I think you're sexy."

Not since Madonna has a pop star evoked such emulation and adulation. In more than one costume and speech, Gaga was evoking her own best Madonna impersonation, for a new generation.

We got to hear Gaga's real powerhouse vocals on a couple piano-driven ballads, including the cabaret version of "Poker Face" and her tribute to her father, "Speechless."


"Do you like my show? No? Then you can f-ing leave!"

Boys Boys Boys
"Boys Boys Boys"

Poker Face
"Poker Face"

Bad Romance
"Bad Romance"

I'm not sure I'm one of the "little monsters" that Gaga addresses in the audience. The most dressing up I did for the concert was wearing my silver star-shaped earrings and a pair of four-inch heels that allowed me to peer over the heads of the dancing girls in front of us. But am I misunderstood, lonely, and tired of being told "no" - the commonality that the former Stefanie says she shares with her fans?

Most certainly, I am.

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January 18, 2010

Photo Essay: Riverdale Park

Ever since I was working full-time at the end of September as an inhouse consultant, I've been dying to get outside. The weather held up relatively well into the fall and winter - enough to allow me to walk to/from work nearly every day - so it was killing me to be inside during all hours of daylight.

It's been a pretty wintry mix since I was relieved of my duties before Christmas, so today was really the first nice day during which I could experiment with some winter hiking with Edith.

We went to the Bronx. Its surprising woodsiness - opened up now that the leaves have fallen - has been calling me back.

Our destination today: Riverdale Park, a narrow little strip of forested area between the Bronx's affluent estates and the Hudson River, bordered at the top and bottom by the Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil Metro-North stations.

Near the northernmost entrance of the park, with muddy trails and a view of the Palisades in the distance.

The ground was covered by fallen leaves, branches and trees, and thicket.

The long shadows of winter were upon us even though it was only late morning.

There were clear signs of civilization: not only the houses to the east peeking out from between the trees, but the occasional wrapper and bottle.

Despite the deadness around us, there were tiny sprouts of new grass growth underfoot.

A couple steep, muddy paths served as diversions to lead us down to the train tracks.

Across the street from the Forest Preserve part of Riverdale Park is the Raoul Wallenberg Forest, a designated Forever Wild site. It was surprisingly less woodsy than its neighboring forest, and was lacking the distinct trails that we'd slipped and slid on (as did the dogs and dog-walkers that we passed along the way) across the street.

Despite its Forever Wild designation, we found some ruins which looked like a pool, but shattered by the trees that are now growing up from inside of it. It was very curious to us at the time, but according to Forgotten NY, the site used to be part of the 1890 James Douglas estate (later occupied by U Thant) and there are remnants of mansions "scattered about"!

On the next nice day, I think I'll have to go back to Pelham Bay Park and Van Cortlandt Park before the leaves start to sprout again...

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January 15, 2010

The Female Rip Van Winkle

Last night I dreamed that I'd fallen asleep for 37 years, and when I woke up, I looked exactly the same, in fact, better - no wrinkles, no gray hair, no astigmatism - and the people I returned to were unimpressed.

I think they were glad to see me up and awake, but 37 years is a long time to be away.

I usually don't want to wake up out of dreams....

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January 14, 2010

Disregarding Deadlines

One of the many NYC nightlife newsletters in my inbox today reminded me that we have one month until Valentine's Day.

In the past, it has been a deadline I would pay close attention to, maketing the cutoff point past which I am sure not to have a date for Valentine's Day, if I don't have one already.

During MLK Jr. weekend 2001,  I met a sweet, drunk Irish construction worker at Stromboli Pizza, kitty corner from Tribe. I was eating a slice inside, and Brian had walked by, seen me in the window, and come inside to meet me. I was freezing, having left my winter coat on my Tribe barstool to save my seat while I bolted across the street for a slice, hoping it would absorb the concoctions in my stomach.

Brian was short, cute, stubbly, with a squinty smile, and liked me. I dragged him back to Tribe and canoodled with him for a while in the bar before taking a cab all the way to deep Queens (Maspeth) with him. We spent the night together but mostly slept, and it was nice. I was wearing a new bra. He noticed.

For the next three weeks, I tried to find the best way to get to Maspeth without a taxi. I took the 7 train to Woodside and walked, which was too far and a big mistake. I took the 7 train and then a gypsy cab from the Woodside station, but I couldn't afford to keep that up long-term. I finally started to navigate my way through upper Brooklyn and Queens on the Queens bus system, spending 45 minutes, maybe an hour and a half, winding my way across the border in a route that driving directly would have taken a mere 15 minutes.

For his construction jobs, Brian usually got up at the crack of dawn, worked hard with his rough hands, and got out earlier than most office workers, so he'd go straight to the pub. I think he was drunk most of the time we spent together.

Three weeks later, Valentine's Day came and went. No mention from him. No utterance from me, but it was on my mind. I wasn't seeing anybody else. Neither was he. But it was still too soon for Valentine's Day.

We still saw each other after that, but things never progressed. To be honest, my feelings were hurt, and I started to get really annoyed when his hangovers (or morning drunkenness) increasingly made him late or not show up at all.

That was the only time I ever had any chance of having a date on Valentine's Day. And it wasn't chance enough.

In the years since then, I've boozed my way through the night, trying to forget I'm alone, trying not to be alone. Last year, I broke the cycle and went to Joshua Tree for Valentine's Day. I spent the day taking a sound bath at the Integratron, walking around the Date Festival in Indio, and walking easily through nature. I spent the night drinking red wine, eating chocolate, and writing on my laptop. I was drunk and alone, and happy.

I think it was the next day that my hosts at The Desert Lily mentioned their artist residency, and wondered whether I might want to come back in the summer. I did. Since then, The Desert Lily has changed me and my life for sure, but how much has not been fully revealed yet.

This year, I took my cue from last and booked another trip: to Tunisia. On Valentine's Day 2010, I will be returning from a nine-day excursion to a small country that's precariously situated between North Africa and the Middle East, with landscapes that have inspired the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and George Lucas. I suspect my mind will be in another place when I return to JFK on Valentine's night, but just in case it's not, I get back just early enough to squeeze a little bit of romance out of the evening...

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January 11, 2010

My Week-Long Membership in the Weight Loss Church (So Far)

I went to my second Weight Watchers meeting today. I've tried an online food diary before with some success, but my weight is so far gone now that I need something stronger. I need the meetings. The group therapy. The humiliating weigh-ins. The constant reinforcement of the Points system.

I was really sick and kind of delirious during last week's meeting, which was more pontificating in nature than the audience participation I expected, so I tried a different one this week. When I weighed in (2 days early), the check in clerk seemed impressed. "You lost 1.2 pounds in a week. Really good," she said, as she nodded her head and raised a brow.

"Only ONE POINT TWO?" I thought. I'd been starving myself all week, so strict on points that I wouldn't even redeem the ones I'd earned by working out.

The meeting was already in full swing, with a lively discussion about "Filling Foods," one of the new features of Weight Watchers. Diane, the meeting leader, a thin, older woman with bottle-gold hair spouting phrases in Italian, was going around the room asking when people got hungry and what they ate to satisfy themselves. I threw my coat down over on the side of the U-shaped seating area and rifled through my gym bag, looking for my cell phone to silence. Woman after woman, aged 25 to 50, rattled off their late afternoon hunger pangs, and tricks to get around them: 11 almonds (only 2 points!), a banana, frozen grapes, brown rice pudding, a slice of bread grilled with fat free cheese, fat free pudding, string cheese, carrots, hot tea, oatmeal, yogurt. With every grocery item enumerated, I got more and more depressed. The corners of my mouth were sinking down, my lips sealing together in the dryness of the room and the coldness of the weather, refusing to participate.

I was staring at the top of Diane's head, trying to find the part in her hair but becoming fixated on the curl that sprung out from the exact middle of her hairline above her forehead. Her scalp was shining through ever so slightly from underneath it, and the curl bobbed a little when she nodded her head, which everybody seems to do at Weight Watchers meetings.

An occasional sniffle would break my silence, and Diane - as she was walking all around the room to call on the meeting attendees who raised their hands to commiserate - would stare at me, still addressing the entire room, but focusing in on only me. My brow furrowed as I looked up at her, waiting for her to shift her gaze and walk away.

Unlike the last meeting, no one talked about the weight they'd lost today. I really need to hear that it's possible to drop 25 pounds and keep it off, or 85, or 40, or even 10, but today, my fellow members' accomplishments included not weight loss, but behavioral modifications: not eating an entire package of peanut butter Christmas candies, going to the gym after a long day of work, and walking home instead of taking the bus. Welcome to the small triumphs of my life. I need something bigger to inspire me.

Last week, there had been a new member orientation after the main part of the meeting that explained the Points system and went over the basic tenets of the program. I was planning to sit in on that part again, just to reinforce the belief system a bit more to keep me going for another week, but the meeting broke up and everyone dispersed pretty quickly. I sat in my chair a little too long maybe, because Diane came over, leaned over with both her hands on her knees, and asked, "Now, are you ok my dear?"

I'm still a little congested, and hadn't spoken to anyone all day (despite it being one in the afternoon), so I croaked out a, "Yeah, why?" that made me sound like I was about to cry. Diane explained that she always likes to "check in on" the folks that don't have anything to say in meetings, and before I could confess that I was new and shy, she moved on to the next person behind me.

In truth, I could use somebody to talk to. My friends have all heard me rattle off the amount of points in everything from my brussels sprouts recipe to raw oysters to deviled eggs to a glass of wine, but those are the same friends that tell me I look great and hold the weight well. Those are the same friends who invite me out for drinks and dinner and frown when I can't eat something.

I'll keep trying different meetings - there are plenty of days, times, and different locations in Manhattan - but so far, it's hard to imagine that this group's membership will give me any sense of community. My standards are always too high, my judgments always too harsh and immediate, but I know for sure that I need to be supported by people who expect more out of themselves than the woman at last week's meeting who wore a red sweater dress hiked up so high, I could see the top support of her control top tights. Her accomplishment for the week: "I'm just glad I only gained 0.6 pounds!"

I'll be tracking my progress here and on Twitter - hopefully not obsessively - with the tag #ODBAFA, a lovingly self-flagellating acronym for "Operation: Don't Be A FatAss." The last time I lost 30 pounds, I was working at a new job, still drinking a lot of alcohol, and had a September deadline of my high school reunion. I was also seven years younger. I'm not sure what it's going to be like on my second try, but for now, I have the free time and the mental bandwidth to give it a good shot.

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Excuses, Excuses

Personally I think living your life with no regrets also means making no excuses. But sometimes excuses make you feel better. Maybe the point is to not do anything that needs excusing.

My three month membership comes to an end tomorrow. The service has failed horribly in stimulating my love life. Though started only "as an experiment," my time on has made me think about all the past failures in my love life. Out of all my 34 years, 15 of which have been spent actively dating, I still have never had a real boyfriend. At least, no relationships that lasted longer than a couple of months, and no short-term yet monogamous and committed ones. (Not by both of us, anyway.) The older I get, the more I start to think something was really wrong with me.

My first boyfriend lasted a couple of months before I left for a semester in London. Even then, at 19, it was freakish that he was my first, but I think he was glad. Not glad enough to stop dating his last girlfriend, or to at least tell me he was still dating her...

Ever since Seth, there has been excuse after excuse as to why I don't have a boyfriend. There are the excuses I've used - I'm too busy with work, I'm too picky, I'm too fat, I'm too smart - but  there are also the excuses that the guys themselves have given me. Here are some of them, more or less in chronological order:
  • You were bitchy to our mutual friend, I got mad at you, and now I'm dating someone else. (now married to the friend)
  • I'm attracted to you but I don't think of you that way. (married)
  • I found out that this other girl I like likes me back.
  • I don't remember you.
  • My girlfriend is in the bathroom. (married)
  • I'm in love with someone else. (married w/kids)
  • I was interested in you, but now that you're interested in me, I'm not anymore. (married)
  • You made out with my friend. (married. The friend isn't.)
  • I don't want to be a boyfriend. (married w/two kids)
  • I don't think you know what you want.
  • You're not Jewish.
  • My girlfriend has cancer. (engaged, to a different girl)
  • I usually date tall, thin, blonde girls.
  • I live in Argentina with my beautiful wife and children.
  • I'm your eye doctor. (though truth be told, he never really gave me a real excuse, he just faded away)
  • I'm gay.
  • I'm drunk.
  • I'm busy.
  • I'm famous.
  • I'm a coward.
  • I'm garbage.
  • We were just hanging out. (lives with girlfriend)
  • Oh man, I was so drunk. (lives with girlfriend)
  • I'm in love and very happy. (with someone else)
None of them really answer the question as to why I'm single, only why that particular relationship (or, encounter) didn't work out. And there are a million other possible reasons. The worst excuses are those never uttered, instead swallowed by a voice that never calls again, left untyped by fingers that never write again. They just...fade away...and you never know why.

I get that there are guys who just aren't that into me, and that's OK. I ask guys out. I'm not shy. But now as I'm seriously considering relocating outside of New York City - where it's still OK to be single in your mid-30s - I wonder how I will ever find anyone in another city or town? Go trolling for divorcees and single dads? Become a cougar? Or just accept that I will be single for the rest of my life, as I have been for my entire life thus far?

Sure, I could extend my membership for another few months and give it more of a try. But it gets too frustrating to send thoughtful emails and unconditional winks to guys who never respond, and to go out for coffee with mediocre dates who never write again afterwards.

At least now when people ask me why I'm single, I can't say, "Well, I still haven't tried online dating..."

Further reading: Open Letter to My Potential Matches

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January 01, 2010

Open Letter to 2010

Dear New Year, oh Baby Decade:

I dressed up for you last night, but now I have dirty hair and haven't showered yet. It's our first day together and it's not filled with the romance I hoped for, instead plagued by a headache and a loneliness that together relegate me to shut-in status.

Since our relationship is new, I thought we should get on the same page about what we're doing together here over the next 12 months, nay, 10 years. I know you would like me to lose weight, to be kind and to cry less. I will do my best, but there are a few things I need from you:

I would like to not be sexually pillaged, assaulted, or otherwise victimized. However, I would like to have sex.

I would like insurance, or some assurance that I will not be hit by a car, catch malaria, get pregnant, or cut my finger while slicing limes.

I would like to remember the good times and be able to stop thinking about the bad times.

I would like to get married. I don't need a house in the suburbs or babies or curtains or a bridal registry. Just somebody to love.

I hope to sleep well at night and get up early in the morning.

I don't need a fancy job with a prestigious title and corporate perks. I would just like to work on something I love and not worry about paying the rent.

I need things to take pictures of. They can be people, color, lights, fruit, dead leaves, abandoned buildings, or sand-buried bottles, just something to inspire me.

I would like a pet-friendly apartment with a bedroom and then, a pet. Preferably one I'm not allergic to.

Less alcohol, more intoxication.







You don't have to understand me, 2010. Just accept me for who I am, and accept the things I cannot change.

Don't break my heart on Valentine's Day. Don't leave me alone on Independence Day. Don't make me regret my own birth on my birthday. And please don't make me cry on New Year's Eve, like I always do....

Love, your servant,

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