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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Taxi Driver

I googled ‘New York’ and ‘blog’ and ‘writing’ last night and what did I get?

For one, a neat blog called New York Hack by a woman who posts her daily life as a cab driver in New York. Her profile has been viewed (at this writing) 82,715 times. Um, whoa.

For some reason, I remember hearing that there were only three women cab drivers in New York. Or maybe that someone had only encountered three. Personally, I don’t remember how many female cabbies I’ve seen. Two? At least one. I know I’ve stopped in my tracks at least once and thought to myself, ‘Oh, neat.’

The amazing thing is that this female cabbie has written a book about her job and it’s coming out in late August. Its perfect title: ‘Hack: How I Stopped Worrying About What To Do With My Life and Started Driving A Yellow Cab.’.

Hello??? How much more cool could it get?!?

Throwing down the gauntlet of the expected and becoming a cab driver, the rare female kind. The thought appeals to me, as I’m sure it appeals to many (hence the 82,715 profile views) – every day different, meeting people, the element of danger, an unstructured workplace. Encountering bite-sized adventures while driving in a place only slightly calmer than Super Marioland. At least she doesn’t have to constantly find parking spaces.

This brings to mind an article I’d read about someone who’d given up his law career to sell hotdogs in front of the building of his old law firm. I’d told my mom the story when I was in the midst of my ‘Wouldn’t-it-be-great-to-open-a-small-boutique’ phase.

Needless to say she didn’t think it’d be great, and she didn’t think much of the lawyer-turned-hotdog guy. I remember her raised eyebrows and incomprehensible mutterings about college tuition.

Oh well. One can always dream.

Photo by Bugged Out Cars. For more great images, click here.


Sunday, June 24, 2007


Yesterday was one of those rare, perfect days in New York – brightly sunny and cool, with no hint of humidity. Spring and Fall are rare in this city of extremes; it is sadly either uncomfortably hot or cold.

Mark and I enjoyed a mini shopping spree in the East Village and Soho. The streets were not so crowded until we got below Houston. Mobs of tourists moved slowly among the bazillion boutiques, buzzing between Agnes B, Prada, Bloomies and the endless one-off stores.

At my favorite store, Mark bought me a pretty dress. It was a sweet gesture, and he was jubilant. Mark is having a great year so far, and he was celebrating, toting around a big wad of bills.

We topped it off at one of our favorites, an Ethiopian restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen. The waitress brought us the giant savory pancake covered with vegetarian dishes and a beautiful spread of lamb bits in the middle. With each bite we said out loud, ‘deeeelicious’, or ‘wow’, or ‘so good’, until we’d completely gorged ourselves.

It was a really nice day, and I went to bed full and exhausted. Despite this, I awoke at 4 am, my head full of mental chatter. I got a drink of water, then another, and then I couldn’t settle back to sleep. I took a hot shower to relax and thought about Bhuddism, about cleansing my mind and being immersed within the present moment.

As I settled back, Mark woke up. He was hugging his pillow.

’How come you’re up and down?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘We were consumers today.’


At some point I fell asleep, and I awoke this morning to clatter in the kitchen. Mark was busy making his coffee, emptying old grinds into the garbage, opening and closing the fridge, steaming the milk.

I’ve heard these sounds a hundred times before. I lay quietly with the sheet pulled up over me, taking it all in.

Photo by Soupflowers. For more great images, click here.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007


There’s a young interior decorator at my office that’s caused quite a stir. He’s barely out of design school but somehow thinks he knows everything.

A group of us gathered last night at Lure to say farewell to a fellow coworker, and he was the hot topic of conversation. There was endless recounting of every pretentious, silly thing he’s said, how clients have tolerated him and then snubbed him, and his unending sense of entitlement.

I have the unfortunate experience of having to work closely with his guy, who I’ll call Thomas. Through the day, I send my peers emails titled ‘Working my One Last Raw Nerve’, ‘No, Really, I Can’t Stand It’ and ‘Put Me Out of My Misery, I Beg of You’.

Despite all my experience, I’d been relegated to ugly stepsister. Conference calls are shouting matches – Thomas tries to take over by bombarding everyone with useless questions. Afterwards, I take an Advil. I’m trying to take this as a challenge, where I stop playing nice, but it ain't easy.

I should be used to this behavior. My industry, the industry of high end hotels and beautiful homes for terribly wealthy people, is rife with divas. You have to have some gumption to advise how a person should live, what their living room should look like, or which tassels to purchase for their 12 foot curtains.

But there are divas who have opinions and talent and good taste, and there are divas who try but can’t deliver. We tolerate and come to love the first kind, but have no patience for the second.

My friend Nancy works at another design office. Many of her clients are movie stars and moguls, and her boss is the President of the National Diva Association.

Nancy tells stories about the latest escapade - how her boss threw a tantrum over slightly mismatched hand towels, or the late delivery of a vase, or scuffmarks on the floor. Nancy does raspy imitations that make me laugh, but I know the reality is excruciatingly stressful - the diva barks the orders while the minions scurry around. It is not a democracy.

On shows like Top Design and Top Chef, you see the same stuff – self-assured, opinionated, high performers looking down on their peers.

The quest for perfection and the competition bring out the worst of people. Drama makes for good tv and good late night chatter, but like many experiences, it’s all funny until it happens to you.

Photo by Sorgine. For more great images, click here.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Things to Come

Checking out the latest New Yorker online, I came across a slideshow on work by Arup, a prominent engineering firm. They’re constructing new buildings all over the world that defy materiality and make you ask, ‘How did they do that?’ The image of the CCTV building going up in China wowed me. (For what the building will look like finished, click here).

Building such buildings is like sending things into space. Nobody has do it, and in light of global warming, wars, diseases and all else, it makes you wonder sometimes why we do. Sure, we do these things because ‘we can’, but is that reason enough?

I don’t know much about CCTV, except that its construction budget is the equivalent of 600 million US. It will house the broadcasters for the 2008 Olympics, and the designer, Rem Koolhaas, has been a known icon-maker since the 90s. He designed the Prada store in Soho, which cost 40 million dollars and had the biggest circular elevator at the time, traversing between its two floors. (Yes, that’s two, which is one more than one).

China’s gesture is huge – hiring a renowned architect to design an icon, and putting 600M into a single building. It’s a gesture that says, yes, we have faith that this thing is going to stand up. Yes, we have enough money and optimism to throw at one building. And yes, we’re concerned with how you guys over there see us.

Sometimes I wonder about the meaning of architecture. It’s easy to lose sight of things when you’re working on 10,000 square foot houses for wealthy couples. My daily focus is not to impress the world, but how the steam shower works, whether the fake beams are wide enough, and how the endless list of details will get done on time.

Humans are adaptable. If we had to, we could live in grass huts or glass cubes. The difference between buildings and architecture, of course, lies in symbolism, which elevates the mundane to the sublime. Buildings have the potential to gesture to our neighbors: the future is coming, it’s going to be good, and mine is so much bigger than yours.

Photo by Shapeshift. For more great images, click here.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Notes from the Underground

Yesterday, I went on the subway ride from hell. I was trying to get from Park Slope to Greenpoint. Usually you take the F toward Manhattan and transfer to the G. Simple.

I got on at 7th Avenue. Of course there were no signs posted on the platform and no announcements on the train. Suddenly the train went express, skipping several stops. I get out at the next opportunity at Jay Street, which is near the Brooklyn Bridge. Thinking the F was messed up, I change direction on the F to get out at Carroll Street to catch the G.

But no, the G was messed up, too. The regular trip would have taken two trains. Because they were doing construction, the new trip would have taken four trains.

But since I’d missed the memo about said construction, my trip took seven trains. Seven trains, transfers, marching up and down stairs, walking across the platform, waiting, etc. Seven trains and two hours, all because I had paid my two bucks and I wasn't going to pay any more to go from here to there.

If I'd been more ambitious, I could have stayed a bit and rode all the subways on my fare. There's actually has a name for it, and it's called the Subway Challenge. Why anyone would want to do this is beyond me.

The rules of thumb about the subway are simple. They should make a list in all the tourist guides and subway stations, just so we’re all clear:

1. If there are signs posted on the platform, look at them. Chances are, the trains are messed up.

2. Never get off a train and jump onto another train unless you know what train you’re jumping on to.

3. Never, in the heat of the summer, get into the car that looks empty. There's a reason for it. Either there’s no a/c or a smelly guy or something else wrong.

4. Never fail to understand English because you will be at a sad disadvantage. You will miss announcements and wind up in Coney Island.

5. Never use your outside voice, unless you want everyone to know you’re not from here. Plus, the rest of us are trying to get some sleep.

6. Never go during rush hour unless you have to. Why put yourself through that?

7. Never sit in front of the subway map, unless you want strangers to be on intimate terms with the part in your hair.

8. Never just stand there at the doors inside the train. It cuts down traffic by half.

9. Never put your feet up on the seats. You could be fined fifty bucks.

10. Never take the 6 train at Union Square unless you never want to hear anything again.

I’m sure I’ve missed a couple.

For more lists by crotchety New Yorkers, look here, or here.
For the actual rules, click here.

Photo by Henry Roxas. For more great images, click here.


Saturday, June 16, 2007


In the subway I noticed a guy with a huge white shopping bag. It turned out he was carrying a 5,000 piece puzzle, depicting an enormous castle in the midst of a valley. It looked like Switzerland.

It baffles me sometimes when I notice so many people trying to pass the time. You’d think that since we’re so pressed for time, we wouldn’t want to squander precious moments on Sudoku or crosswords or, my pet peeve, the dreaded Search-a-Word.

I see a lot of Sudoku and search-a-words on the train, devices that take you away from where you are. Yet another benefit of mass transit – you don’t have to be focused or awake or sober. All you have to do is survive it.

Sometimes on the weekends, Mark and I will cozy up the couch, each with a laptop. He will play World of Warcraft, the hugely popular online game replete with dwarves and quests and monsters.

I will battle it out on an online scrabble game, formulating 7-letter bingos and using the three-letter words I’ve been studying. He will turn to me and ask, ‘baby, can you find me the map for Dazalar in Ironforge? I gotta use my taming rod against the nightsaber stalker.’

Mark spells out the names and I open a new window for a search. Meanwhile, the seconds are ticking down in my game. Often the tv is going on at the same time or we’d be listening to a podcast. We are passing time doing useless things, but at least we are multitasking, doing several useless things at once.

I suppose that is the luxury of leisure – having enough extra time in our lives to fritter away with useless things. Without them, we’d feel like we had no time at all.

Photo by Lisa Danilko. For more great images, click here.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Formula

The other night I saw a rather different Law and Order episode.

Tracy Pollan, a familiar face, was the lead actress in this two-part show. She played a rape victim on SVU (the episode entitled ‘Closure’ from 2000), the special victims flavor, which focuses on sexual crimes.

Initially, the camera follows her by the hour as she’s interviewed, examined and probed. It was the first year of the show, when Mariska Hargitay had a different look (much more makeup around the eyes). Someone is fingered for the crime but there’s not enough evidence to hold him.

Part Two aired nearly a year later. More victims had surfaced in Philadelphia, and their testimonies are edited together. Stabler and Benson find enough evidence to take their suspect to court. The edited part was dramatic (tight focus on their faces) and it was a slight deviation from the usual formula.

It’s the formula, rather than the characters, that make Law and Order work – investigate crime, try the crime, and get the bad guy all within an hour, while encountering moral dilemmas along the way. The show is shot in a straightforward, realistic way that isn’t mannered and never becomes dated.

The formula has allowed Law and Order spawn offspring and a huge following since 1990. But the other night I felt a surprising relief to see something slightly different.

I usually catch the show by accident, and watch it with the same sense of security as visiting a chain restaurant, or eating directly from the box – I know what I’m going to get, which is good and bad. Good in that I’m not going to encounter any nasty surprises, bad in that I won't remember it the next day.

There are only a few Law and Order episodes like the ones I saw, that is to say, memorable. The ones intermingled with the Baltimore-based Homicide from years ago also stick in my mind, because two fictional shows were woven together in a way that made them both seem real. As far as all the other episodes go, well, I don’t recall.

Photo by Michael aka Hatman003. For more great images, click here.


Monday, June 11, 2007


I read some great links recently about saving money, at A Home in the City and The Simple Dollar.

Living in the city can be expensive. Before I met Mark, I never, ever ordered in. It was a luxury to have someone carry my food up four flights of stairs. I cooked almost all my dinners, usually one of three things.

These days, I try to make my lunch, but it’s not easy. Commuting between Mark’s place and mine, I have a hard time remembering what’s in the fridge. My work life has been insane, so I have little energy to cook when I get home. Mark also dislikes eating the same thing twice in a row, so we rarely eat leftovers as a couple. (Reheated pizza is the only exception).

Variety is luxury. Then there’s Eric Gioia, the New York councilman who tried living on food stamps for a week, basically 28 bucks. He found it virtually impossible to spend less than a dollar a meal. And if you can’t afford food, you certainly can’t afford vitamins or a gym membership. It’s easy to see how people become obese.

So we do all we can to save money, and those of us who have money to save are lucky. Others are just trying to squeak by.

It’s all relative, as things are. For instance, I plan on ordering in for the next couple weeks, so I can make my own curtains. It might be twelve or fifteen bucks a meal, but I’ll save $800 and end up with great curtains. I could say no to the curtains and live like a monk, but then I think that beauty is priceless, and a part of fully enjoying my home.

I remember working at my old office, designing multi-million dollar homes. Sprawling, traditional houses were built with real slate roofs and elevators, often for wealthy couples. A 10,000 square foot house for two people was fun to talk about at parties. As a subject, it never got old.

My boss would shrug whenever clients changed their minds. The French glazed tile on the roof that was taken down because of the color, the house that was completely redesigned from scratch. Standing by my desk, he’d break news to me with a gee-golly-gosh chuckle. ‘It’s only money.’


Sunday, June 10, 2007


There were a lot more stray cats in Greenpoint last year.

A bunch of them lived in the parking lot near Mark's apartment. There was a small one I always noticed, white with grey spots. He didn’t look so good – whiskers at different lengths, coat a little tattered. He got through the winter, but I haven’t seen him in the last few months.

This year, a young grey cat lives among the garbage cans a couple doors from Mark. Someone has been feeding him besides me. There are empty cans here and there, and we take turns filling plastic take out containers with water.

Grey and I have an understanding. If we see each other, he waits, while I fetch a can of food from the apartment or the corner bodega. I say ‘hello’ a couple times, dump the wet food on the ground, and leave him alone. He meows at me repeatedly, and I have the feeling he knows who I am.

This morning, I sat out on the stoop with Grey. I was worried about the discharge coming from his eyes and the rain in the forecast. Last week, we had a big storm that tossed my petunias around (sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t!!) I was home, worrying about Grey. It was cold outside and there were high winds all night. I prayed to the Cat God for divine intervention.

So this afternoon, I walked down to the 99 cent store and bought a styrofoam cooler. I’d read that you can make a shelter with one, and that’s what I did – turned it upside down, cut a big entrance hole and smaller holes on the sides for air and visibility.

Grey wasn’t in sight, but I went to the basement level of the building where I usually see him. There was another cat house under the stoop, left by his other keeper, a cardboard box that’s sagging and badly stained. I set the new, very white, waterproof house next door with a board on top, to keep it from flying away.

There’s no way I'll know if Grey uses the new house, unless I venture down those steps again. I’ve read about trapping feral cats, and can only dream of catching Grey before winter. Before then, of course, he and I will have to talk.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Beginning of the End

Greenpoint is featured in this week’s Time Out as the next new thing.

On any Sunday two summers ago, Mark and I might be the only ones brunching outside the Greenpoint Coffeehouse. We’d see a couple people out walking their dogs if we were lucky. The menu was just half a page, but we had our favorites. It was enough.

Time Out is comparing GP to Williamsburg, the neighborhood next door. I’ve been noticing that the sidewalks have been growing crowded, and everyone looks like they just stepped out of a Gap ad. Mark calls them ‘hipster douchebags’ and a bunch of other names.

We thought GP would never change; there is a strong Polish family population that is highly visible. On Sundays, a steady procession pores out from church, all dressed up. Most of the shops have Polish names: Polam International, Bakery Rzeszowski, Staropolski Meat Market. In line for my smoked kielbasa, I am the only non-polish speaker. I act out what I need in mime.

Recently, a couple of nice bars and restaurants have opened, and the street next to the street next to the water has been repaved. New condo buildings have gone up, too, but they ain't cheap. Everyone wants to get a deal in the city, and now that GP’s gotten such PR, only more hype will follow.

Long Island City, just North, is starting to heat up too; LIC is slated to be the next Battery Park City (BPC), with high rises already planted along the water and a Whole Foods rumored in the works.

It’s a tough tradeoff; on the one hand, it’ll be great to have more than a handful of restaurants to choose from. On the other hand, sidewalks and restaurants and parking spots and subway seats will be fought over. Everything will become more upscale, yet bland. Just as what’s been happening to Manhattan, all the personality and quirkiness will be threatened.

Starbucks recently took over the old movie theatre on Manhattan Avenue, slapping its logo on the marquis. Meanwhile, Lomzynianka and Restauracja Relax are shaking in their shoes. I hope they can stand their ground.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

The Rat Race

I went to a long, fancy wedding last night with my friend James. It was in Jersey City, with a panoramic view of lower Manhattan. The city looked like a glimmering oasis, full of promise and possibility. It was the perfect backdrop for a wedding banquet.

James and I were seated along with another friend of the bride and several cousins of the groom. We groped for conversation, yelling out questions over the ten-piece band. So you do you live in New York? You worked with the bride for how long? What does she do again?

The one thing that sparked conversation was the fact that we were both from Brooklyn. ‘So when you moved to Brooklyn, did you stop coming into the city on weekends?’

‘I kept waiting for this huge life change’, I said. ‘But there wasn’t any. It’s the same. I just get on a different train.’ They nodded, but looked worried. They lived on the Upper East Side, were newly married and looked like a young power couple.

I know the feeling. You spend so much energy trying to get a foothold here that it’s hard to let go. There’s the feeling that there are 10 people waiting for you to leave, whether it be your place on line, your job or your apartment. It’s like going to the Barney's sale, noticing that someone has noticed the $300 shirt in your hand and not wanting to put it down, even though it’s a size too small.

James saw an acquaintance, who immediately confessed that she can never leave her rent stabilized apartment on 21st Street. She’s been there for ten years. ‘We might buy a place, but we’d still use the apartment. My husband could have his office there.’

‘Oh yeah, keep sending your mail there and all,’ I said. Discussing fraud with a stranger did not seem odd.

‘I’m moving to Jersey tomorrow,’ James said, pointing to a vague area out the window. ‘My apartment was a dump.’

I turned to look out at the city, and thought how the landlord must have someone lined up for the place already. Maybe it’d be her first time in New York. Maybe she’ll talk about it soon at a party - how she’s moved in, how it’s so amazing to live there, how excited she was. Then I wondered how long she’d hang on, before fighting with herself to leave.


Saturday, June 2, 2007

The Rules of the Subway

‘It was disgusting,’ Mark said. ‘The guy was clipping his nails on the train.’

I’ve seen it more than once. The women with their entire moisturizing and make up routines don’t faze me, but I can’t stomach the nail clipping. It is a bit too intimate. Once, I saw a guy pull out a battery-powered clipper and shave his whole face, on the subway platform. I didn’t know whether to laugh aloud or scream and run away.

Space is an issue, and New Yorkers treat the subway and streets as a part of their homes. And so it goes that there are so many laws that regulate our shared living room.

It’s not just that you can’t smoke in subways or subway stations, but you can’t eat or play your music. Aboveground, you have to pick up your dog poop. You can’t smoke in restaurants or bars. You can’t get out of a cab on the street side. And so on.

On the one hand, we have all these little rules so we can coexist. On the other hand, so many things go on that can't possibly be policed. I witnessed a guy steal a bike on the Upper West Side one Saturday afternoon, hacking through a thick metal chain, while a dozen people watched in disbelief.

I kept thinking, what should I do? Someone out there will come back to find his bike missing, and that's just wrong. But I didn't do anything, and neither did anyone else. (He was working so quickly that calling the cops seemed futile).

For a while, I went on a personal crusade against littering. Rules can be enforced, but littering is tough. It happens in a flash. There’s no proof, no tobacco-tinged fingers, aerosol can or leashed dog nearby.

If I saw someone drop the cellophane from a cigarette box, I’d walk up to them casually and say, ‘oh, you dropped something.’ They would turn around and often pick up whatever it was. But I stopped after confronting a guy on a train.

‘No, YOU dropped something!’ he cried, with hands on his hips.

‘But I just saw you drop that.’

‘No, YOU dropped that!’

We both looked at the crumpled napkin by his wife’s toe. It was a standoff.

I walked away from that one; the stakes were too high. Too many crazies out there, too many litterbugs, and too little space.