April 22, 2010

Photo Essay: Earth Day at Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I hadn't been to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden since the Cherry Blossom Festival in 2006. I was happy back then. I'm trying to recapture some of that joie de vivre.

I hadn't really even seen cherry blossoms since then, since my trip to the White House last year placed me in D.C. past peak.

Earth Day seemed the right day to go, to not only avoid the crowds of the big festival the weekend after next, but to catch the cherry trees before visitors had shaken all of the blossoms off of them.

Cherry blossoms aren't the only attraction to the botanic garden now though, as evidenced by the gorgeous photos in the BBG's Twitter feed.


sleeping duck


A real highlight was the Lilac Walk, the most fragrant area of the garden in bloom right now, full of bees so distracted by the sweet offerings on either side of the walkway and above the arbors, they didn't even pay attention to us. Their incessant buzzing was unavoidable, but it was not for us. We weren't what they were after.



Most of the daffodils were completely gone by now. Though some of the tulips were on their way out...

Double Dutch

...many were still gorgeous, standing tall, with their vibrant colors on full blast.


The garden was sprawling, sunny, and mostly peaceful. It's nice to sometimes feel smaller than the world around you.


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April 20, 2010

Make a Wish

Among the nicknacks that I've actually kept in my apartment is a little blue Egyptian glass perfume bottle. A friend saw it on the shelf and joked, "Is there a genie in that bottle?"

"Huh, I wish," I sniffed.

"Oh yeah, what would you wish for?"

I turned the corners of my mouth down. "Well, I know I'm supposed to wish for more wishes..."


"But I think I'd probably wish that I could eat whatever I want and not get fat --"

"--and stay healthy," he interjected.


Really? That's what I would wish for? So much for being pro-social, passionate about free speech and human rights and open spaces and historic preservation.

But the whole genie-in-a-bottle wishing thing never works out anyway, so what's the point of the exercise? For one wish, you have to use up all of your other wishes to make sure it goes right. If you wish to fall in love, you have to also wish that he falls in love with you, and that you're able to be together for a certain minimum period of time, etc. etc. etc.

The randomness of it all makes any wish-come-true fertile ground for unpredictable entropy, and the inevitable realization that what you wishes for isn't what you really wanted at all.

Better that it all be left to chance...

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April 19, 2010

Life for Rent

Tribe, closed
photo courtesy of Eater NY

I recently rejoined Crunch after letting my New York Health & Racquet Club membership expire. I only joined up for a month because, in these days when I'm not sure where I'm going to be living or for how long, I'm avoiding commitment as much as I'm avoiding regret.

I explained to the membership staff that although I wasn't a new member per se, a couple years had passed and I just wanted to try it out for a while to see what it was like now. A short boy snidely flipped his highlighted bangs off his forehead in response and said, "Getting better every day..."

At first, I was thrilled to be back. I always loved Crunch, and was in good shape when I was a member. But I quickly realized it wasn't the same place that I joined in 2003. Kara only teaches one pilates mat class now. Mimi only teaches one bellydancing class. Sarina only teaches one Masala Bhangra class (with the addition of one new, related class, "Bar Bhangra"), and no one else teaches it at all.

I wanted to shake that snide little boy, and shout in his face, "Are you KIDDING?" Not only had they dramatically reduced my favorite class schedule, but they'd closed a number of their gym locations, both in New York City and around the country.

Today, on a trip to pick up a UPS package from their service depot in the middle of nowhere on 11th Avenue, I planned to go swimming at the only Crunch with a swimming pool, on 42nd Street. It, too, had closed.

The closure wasn't surprising and was by no means significant on its own, but I started to feel really sick of seeing the things I've loved about New York fade into oblivion. The New York I knew and loved for over 10 years, MY New York, has been transforming into a ghost town with every shuttered Blimpie, defunct record store, and bar that can no longer afford its lease. With the losses of First, Global 33, Luna Lounge, and my dear beloved Tribe, the haunts of my youth now haunt me and my older self. What's next to close? Rodeo Bar? Arturo's? Or, God forbid, Marshall Stack?

Will Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, and Zac Pelaccio stop cooking, no longer able to afford their locally-sourced ingredients and inventive menu specials?

Where will it stop? Will it stop?

The worst part is that these abandoned storefronts, these out-of-business businesses, are so quickly and easily replaced. Rather than being able to relish in a town that once-was, a town that could-have-been, leafing through its relics and vestiges like a living scrap book, I must confront a new sign, a new menu, a new owner, a new clientele, new smells, new flavors, new seats at the bar, in a new place that will soon become some other New York girl's favorite.

It's not just the places being replaced. I am being replaced.

Hipsters moved into Greenpoint, where I struggled for seven years, paying the rent in cash to a Polish landlady who spoke no English.  My current neighbors are a rotating cast of young, unfamiliar faces that seem to change every day.

As I grow old with each passing year, New York is

And nothing I have is truly mine.

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April 18, 2010

The End of an Era

Yesterday was the 4th annual Record Store Day, the music and retail industry's attempt at revitalizing interest in independent record stores and, therefore, in buying physical music product.

I was on my way to Sounds, the only used record store left on St. Mark's Place in the East Village, when I heard some young hipster boy describing it to his even younger female friend, who didn't really get why bands would play inside a store, or why anyone would want to buy a "seven inch" that only had two songs on it.

When I first moved to New York, I spent a lot of time on St. Mark's Place. I didn't quite fit in with the squatters, or the tattoo and piercing guys, or the rasta guys chanting "smoke, bud, bud, smoke," but I loved thumbing through the 88-cent CDs in their dusty bins, and being able to get a brand new CD release in its shrinkwrap for a fraction of the price of, say, Coconuts, even if it turned out that it was a promo copy I was buying.

I loved hanging out in record stores so much that it not only led me to choosing the music business as my career path (having spent every Monday new release day in London at the listening stations in Virgin Megastore, Tower Records and HMV), but also getting my first job. In my interview at Atlantic Records, my first boss quizzed me on what I like to do in my spare time, and we commiserated about hanging out in Tower Records when we had time to kill, or, in my case, when I needed some free entertainment (provided back then in 1997 by instores from Ben Harper, Cowboy Junkies, Erasure...). I was hired pretty much immediately after that.

So hauling a load of used CDs from my gradually emptying apartment down St. Mark's Place yesterday, on Record Store Day, I reminisced about that block between Second and Third Avenue that's now seen its own revitalization, mostly in the form of chain restaurants and retailers like Chipotle and Supercuts. The crowds that I wove through with my cart in tow were mostly tourists. For a moment, I wondered whether Sounds would even still be there.

I managed to get my three bags of CDs and cart up the brownstone-style staircase to Sounds' front door, and barreled in. "I've got a lot today..." I announced.

"Here's the thing," the clerk said. We've known each other for a long time. He knows how many promos I've received from my job over the years, but also how many CDs I've bought myself. "We're not really buying used CDs anymore."

"Oh really?" I asked, looking around at the healthy stock they had, still very much open for business, with a few middle aged shoppers flipping through the yellowing plastic security bases in the bins.

"Yeah, so I can give you like $10 for these but..."

Hmph. I was thinking I'd get more like $50, but I agreed to the deal immediately anyway. I could use any bit of spare cash these days, but more importantly, I needed to get these things out of my apartment, and off the list of items I'd have to either move or store.

As I rolled my empty cart out of the store, I knew that this would be my last trip ever to Sounds. Sadly, I couldn't remember the last time I was actually in another record store, a real record store, since Tower Records closed. I've had no reason to visit the various indie shops in downtown's west side (Rebel Rebel, Generation Records, etc.), despite having worked for over six years close by. I've stopped buying 7" singles, and pretty much all vinyl altogether. I still buy CDs, but pretty much anything I want I can get at either Best Buy - which is a quick get-in-get-out process instead of the leisurely stroll I used to take through Virgin or Tower, singing and dancing to the music overhead - or Amazon or, I suppose if I must, iTunes. I didn't even go to Amoeba the last time I was in LA.

Before I started working at "record" labels, I spent two of the best years of my life working in the music department of books/video/software/music retailer Media Play, still my favorite job ever. And now, 15 years later, that era of my life is officially...closed for business.

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April 12, 2010

City Conversations: At the Dentist

"Yeah, so it looks like I'll probably be moving to California by the time my lease is up in August," I said once my dentist's metal implement stopped probing my molars.

"You know, a change of scenery would probably be good for you," he said, with a snap of his white rubber gloves. "In Thailand, change is thought to bring on good luck. They can't move around their country the way that we can here, so they just change their names to change their luck."

"Oh yeah?" I said, surprised and kind of jealous. I've always hated my name.

"Yep," he said with a grin, the overhead fluorescent light glinting off the corner of his metal-framed glasses. "My wife changed her name, and then she met me!"

I guess even if I don't move away, I can always change my name...

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April 11, 2010

Photo Essay: Low Tide at Dead Horse Bay

I find it hard to believe that there are any areas of New York City that I've never heard of, that have never turned up in my research of places to visit, photograph, and hike, but it turns out that there was at least one: Dead Horse Bay.

Named for the horse carcasses that once populated the shoreline in what's now the Gateway National Recreational Area, south of Jamaica Bay and across the street from Floyd Bennett Field, Dead Horse Bay (then known as "Barren Island") was populated by horse rendering plants until the 1930s, and became a dumping ground ever since the automobile forced horse-and-buggy carriages off the road, making horses scarce. So much crap was dumped there, that when the landfill was capped, the cap burst, spewing garbage all over the beach into the ocean.

Now, especially at low tide, the beach - not far from the lovely and clean Jacob Riis and the disgustingly oily Rockaways - is littered, nay, completely covered in rubble, so much rubble it puts the Salton Sea to shame.

There are no fish skeletons, but you can find some old horse bones.

Some of the debris is surprisingly in tact, beckoning scavengers to come and collect treasures from the last two centuries - mostly glass bottles and jars, but also industrial waste, toys, shoes, and bathroom fixtures.

There are at least two boats buried in the sand, revealed by the low tide.

All the glass is fairly well-preserved despite the water's rush over it (and their tinkling together as a result of the incoming tide), but many of the relics have succumbed to rust.

Much of what we found had been or was being reclaimed by the sea and by nature, overtaken by plant life and mussel shells and a multi-colored variety of God-knows-what.

On the south end of the bay, we came across an area that smelled not rotten, but burnt, a practically volcanic blacktop tar ooze having dripped down into the ocean, still soft underfoot.

On the north end of the bay, we found huge piles of rubble - red brick, schist, and other types of rock and stone....

...and an artificial surface rendered dark brown and mushy from tide after tide washing over it. It squished underfoot and attracted a few expected beach-dwellers, like ducks and shells.

Walking along the beach, my sneakers couldn't help but shatter the glass underfoot. My inner environmentalist wanted to recycle all of the glass. My inner urban explorer wanted to leave it just as it is, to not disturb a single thing, and simply document it. Both of them find it appalling that it's still possible that a part of the city can be left to rot, its filth and stench so embraced by the National Parks Service (which operates the Gateway National Recreation Area's Jamaica Bay Unit, of which Dead Horse Bay and Floyd Bennett Field are a part) that they even host a walk through its "treasure-laden beach."

More on Dead Horse Bay from....
Atlas Obscura
Nathan Kensinger
Underwater New York
The Kingston Lounge
The Brooklyn Rail
The New York Times

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April 10, 2010

Knowing What You've Got

For the last two weeks, I've wanted to stop by The Ace Hotel's Liberty Hall to see Q-Tip in his DJ residency, but for the past two Fridays, I've been too tired.

Sitting on my bed last night, energy sapped, I started thinking about how much I wanted to go, and how it was so easy to bail on something that happens every week. "There's always next week."

And that's when I seem to miss out on things the most. When someone lives down the street, you've got so much opportunity to see them, you don't make much of an effort, and so you never see them. But when they move away, they feel so far, so out of reach, that you make every attempt to spend time with them, taking days off from work and paying fares for buses, trains and planes.

So recognizing this quirk, last night I rallied, put on fishnets and my sparkly flats, and braved the hotspot's weekend crowds, the throngs of celebrities and poseurs and wannabes that clog the lobby bar and The Breslin, and the bouncers who turn you away if you're not a hotel guest.

It was easy enough to get into Liberty Hall, paying no admission charge and showing no ID. I got a club soda and cranberry quickly enough at the bar. And I found a spot to stand against the wall to watch young, drunk girls with buckling legs rub up against their unhandsome dates.


Because it was Q-Tip's birthday and he took the night off.

Clive, the security guard, reported this as he complimented me on my glasses and bemoaned not being allowed to dance with me. "But usually it gets real crowded in here, and they open up that wall over there," he said. "You should come back next week, and maybe we can dance then."

With the promise of next week, I left to go home. I was glad I went, because I was able to find out exactly what I was missing out on, which was exactly nothing.

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April 09, 2010

The Best Life?

"Do you think it was in the womb?" my therapist asked, shaking her head as her earrings swished from side to side, blonde bangs vibrating against her forehead.

"This adventurous spirit of yours - where did it come from?"

Given my childhood, spent confined in a house with a reclusive mother and no visitors, I suppose most would say I'm still rebelling against my overprotective parents.

I have a different theory.

"Stuck in my house all that time," I said, welcoming the session's first glimmer of inspiration, "My only concept of reality was what I saw on TV, and -"

"- In movies," she chimed in, blinking through an admiring smile. "But most of your life is like a movie."

She recalled my stories of Tunisia, my adventures in the desert, my loves lost, my serendipitous encounters and opportunities that seem to drop out of the sky.

I nodded. "So when my life isn't like a movie, I think it's terribly boring. I think there must be something better for me out there, because real life isn't sitting on the couch watching TV, it's doing what you see on TV."

Unfortunately, that means that my standard for romance has been set by years watching CBS soap operas (or most recently, General Hospital), Grease and Dirty Dancing. My standard for friends is, well, Friends. My standard for careers lies somewhere between Working Girl and The Secret of My Success. My standard for excitement leaves me thrashing around my room all alone in the summer heat, waiting for my Clyde to come take me away. And we all know how that story ends....

In the meantime, if I must live, I must live well. And, like many of my fellow New Yorkers, I constantly have my eyes open for something better to come along. Here, in the greatest city in the world (so they say), isn't there always a newer hotspot, an older wine vintage, a stinkier cheese, a bigger bonus, a prettier girl, a higher floor, a lower rent, a stronger coffee, a shorter commute, a better option for anything you can think of? It almost makes the existence of any superlative, the -est of anything, inconceivable. We're always stuck in  pursuit of more, a perpetual state of chasing the -er.

If I was already living the best life I could possibly live, would I even know it?

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April 08, 2010

Life on Pause

Sometimes, you just know things aren't going to work out.

Your friends tell you they will, but you know they won't.

You're not being pessimistic. You're just being a realist.

And then reality comes to greet you like an old friend, "Hello, how are you?"

My LA job offer fell through. And I was simultaneously relieved and destroyed.

I wasn't thrilled about moving to Los Angeles, another big city where I'm even more of an anomaly and where I'll be at least equally as lonely. I wasn't thrilled about once again being second in command to someone who desperately needed my help, without receiving the proper credit for my input. And I wasn't thrilled about working at another record label, something I thought I'd never do.

But I was excited to have a real reason to move to California, with real money and real responsibilities and a real time commitment. Living life month-to-month is liberating but exhausting. I might like to know what I'm doing for the next six months, not just this month.

I'm also relieved to not have to move out of my apartment in such a short period of time, with such little notice and such little time for rumination and marination. Now I can really plan ahead, properly look for an apartment, and maybe even move to San Diego instead of LA, where I'd rather live anyway.

It's a little embarrassing to have received a job offer that has fallen through. But by now, I know for certain that nothing is confirmed until you're sitting at the desk, or have received your first paycheck. And even then, even when you think your situation is set and you're  positioned securely for the next few years, anything can be pulled out from under you.

Anything, at any time.

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April 04, 2010

Photo Essay: Croton Point Park

Not surprisingly, I needed to get out of the city. Being in the city has been torture since I returned from California. It didn't really matter where I went, I just needed to get out.

Croton Point Park is a natural peninsula that forms Croton Bay in the Hudson River just off of the Croton-on-Hudson train station. It seemed interesting enough as an Audubon-designated site of importance, as well as the location of historic wine cellars that are thought to be the oldest in New York State's winemaking history. There's also a 3.5 mile loop trail that takes you through an area of wilderness, making the hour-long, $8+ train ride to and from it seem worth it.

Of course, I don't always get what I expect when I go on these adventures.

Like many of the suburban parks I've visited, this one is really designed for vehicular visitors. True, it's just on the other side of the Metro-North and Amtrak train tracks, but you have to cross over them via a bridge amongst cars whizzing by as you peer through chainlink that arches above you on either side. When you get to the sign welcoming you to the park, you have the choice of going left up a curved road that seems to lead to nowhere, or to the right which appears to have a marked trail.

I turned right because of the trail, despite the signs warning me not to climb the gravel-laden trail up the hill above it, for fear of model airplanes dive-bombing me from above.

Turns out that I'd stumbled upon the Westchester RiverWalk, which, when completed, will connect over 50 miles of Hudson River shoreline. The RiverWalk led me down to the river, replete with empty bottles of 40s, cigarette butts, and lots of driftwood.

I was clearly in the wrong place, but could see the park in the distance, so I turned back, retracing my steps back to the park sign, and proceeding to the left along with the traffic flow.

Signs of spring were few and far between, but there was lots of new, green grass that had been roped off, and some fine, wispy new sprouts of willow trees.

The recent storms had turned most of the picnic areas off the beach into wetlands, inviting lots of Canadian geese back with open arms.

I walked along the beach, thinking I'd find the nature trail...

...and instead, found a bathhouse that looked to have been abandoned for a long time, with relatively new signs indicating it was "closed for future renovations."

Using a hand-drawn map that I'd gotten from the park office, I navigated to a comfort station, closed. (I used a nearby port-a-potty.) I climbed up a steep driveaway to the nature center, which hosts year-round interpretive programs, closed. After retracing my steps back down, I wandered past a pavilion, empty. I meandered down a road for "authorized vehicles only," up another driveway, past another abandoned building...

...until I finally found a big brown hill with signs warning of owls.

Two gravel paths ran perpendicular to one another, so I took one that brought me up the knoll, where I could see the MTA buildings in the distance, where I'd first entered the park. I trudged back down the knoll, relatively certain I'd found the nature trail, but wondering where those wine cellars could be...?

Down the loop trail, I was surrounded by the dry, brown survivors of winter, crackling in the breeze, soaking in the sun. Indeed, I could hear a lot of birds singing and rustling in branches and bramble, but I could see nothing but...a whole lot of nothing.

It was nice.

The loop trail dumped me out by the baseball fields, where I had passed while searching for the park entrance. The trailhead is unmarked, behind the roped-off new grass growth, and deceptively gravel-laden, appearing to be a service road or driveway instead of a gateway to birdwatching. But ,if you know to look for it, you can find an Audubon sign that tells you you're in the right place.

I never found the wine cellars. I didn't discover anything that seemed to be left over from the amusement park that once occupied the southern tip of the peninsula. But unbeknownst to me, I had chosen a park whose 19th century structures place it among Westchester's watchlist for historic preservation, giving me two good hours of exploring and more than 3.5 miles of walking.

And a got a little time out of the city....

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