Category Archives: Brooklyn

The quarter life crisis: resolved

There is a moment in every aspiring Brooklynite’s life when she finds herself strolling down Smith St, listening to Hedwig and the Angry Inch– ice latte in one hand, recently- purchased Sven clogs in the other. And in that moment, the world, or at least that tiny patch of Boerum Hill,  feels like her oyster.

Today is my 25th birthday, and for the first time since the start of 2014, I am excited about the future. The Sikh astrologer I bumped into in front of my apartment affirmed my new sensation. He said today would mark the turning point to a year that has thus far dealt me some serious blows. And while he subsequently asked for $20 in exchange for his prophecy, I am inclined to believe him.

Though I have no concrete evidence to substantiate the prophecy of a better tomorrow, I’m listening to “Wig on the Shelf” and bopping around brownstone Brooklyn in the hopes of proving the adage “If you will it, it is no dream” true. After all, half the battle is psychological.

I’m also wearing color– something I try not to make a habit out of because I have a New York rep to protect. But today, or for the remaining hours of the 28th, I am breaking with the norm, sporting some sunshine, and daydreaming about the next mountain I plan to climb.

I’m also trying to channel some of the positive energy that birthed this blog. I began this journey when I had returned from my year abroad, when I still very much believed in the power of idealism. And while my idealism has been somewhat diluted, it’s still there– somewhere in the recesses of my body and soul.

This summer I begin the idealism revival. But first, a knish and beer tasting!



When the victim becomes the consoler

One of my journalist friends recently returned from a trip to the Congo. While most of the participants on the trip were fellow journalists and aid workers, two patrons also tagged along. These patrons– who I will refer to as tech wives (the wealthy spouses of Silicon Valley coders)– had little sense of the challenges they would face.

One day, toward the end of their trip, the participants visited a rape shelter, where 10 Congolese women shared their horrific stories of sexual violation. The tech wives, already overwhelmed by the Congolese realities, burst into uncontrollable tears. And in a cruel twist of fate, the rape victims began to console them.

Upon hearing this story, I vowed to never ever become a tech wife– to never exhibit such selfish disregard for those most pained by life’s inequities. And then last night happened.

About a month ago I joined ACTION Youth Media as a project mentor. In this role, I began to work with a group of Coney Island teenagers (mostly from the projects) to create documentaries on critical issues facing their community. We explored gang rape; stop and frisk; and a variety of other sordid realities entirely removed from my own experience.

Though I feared I would fail to connect with them; that they, justifiably so, would never trust a privileged white girl from the brownstone-riddled side of the tracks, I thought I was beginning to make some headway.

And then Eddie died. To be precise, he was stabbed to death by 15 kids who followed him into the McDonalds across from the Coney Island train station. Though I did not know Eddie on a personal level, he was a close friend of several of the teenagers in my program. And his untimely departure affected these young men and women in ways I can’t begin to explain.

As I listened to my students describe his murder, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I had to use every bit of strength in me to not cry in front of them, to not devolve into one of the tech wives. While I’d had no formal training in group therapy or social work, I needed to keep it together. I needed to be the objective outsider, who listens rather than speaks; who offers some hope of a brighter tomorrow, even if she only half believes it; who looks the gravest dangers in the eye and says, “Is that the best you’ve got?”

But I wasn’t a superhero, and I couldn’t be all those things in that moment, so I tried to do the one thing I had learned in my high school AP Psych class: create a sense of normalcy. When kids’ worlds have been knocked upside down, they need to feel like they can be right side up again. They need their 6 pm media class to continue as scheduled. And so it did. Despite this tragic beginning, I brought the conversation back to the topic at hand: the gendered nature of police investigation and interrogation.

The boys claimed that the police stopped them fairly regularly, but the one female student in my group said she had never been frisked. There was a gender divide, and it was inextricably linked with racial profiling. And, of course, with the search for Eddie’s killers. But it was also a part of the documentary we would begin shooting in two weeks–  a documentary that would ask the question, if gendered-profiling is unfair, how can we fix the criminal justice system so that it creates a safe space for everyone in it?

It was one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had, but it also felt like one of the most important I would ever engage in. And when class was over, one of my students turned and said, “Ms. Yaffa, this shit is complicated. This whole god damn world is complicated.” I  channeled my inner Whoopi Goldberg-gone-rogue-nun and replied, “Amen.”


Dual Identities: Annie and Jay-Z

No, I’m not an orphaned red head living in the Great Depression. And no, I’m not an impoverished minority born in an urban ghetto. But this week I found myself simultaneously identifying with Annie and Jay-Z, humming “Hard Knock Life” each morning on the F train.

The problems began one fateful Wednesday when I was working late, editing a potential litigious piece in our winter issue. Determining that the second week of November was sufficiently late enough into the holiday season to listen to some Christmas tunes, I turned on Celine Dion’s “Happy X-mas” and got my professional groove on.

After 24 Christmas songs, I had completed my final edits on a 6000 word piece. I was elated, relieved, and ready to revel in the holiday spirit. And then, of course, G-d laughed. As I entered my apartment, I was greeted by a wave of cool air. The heat was not on, and the boiler most definitely had gone to that special place all boilers go when they die (heaven? hell? Staten Island?).

I did what any responsible tenant would do. I called the super– only to discover he had been fired for smoking weed in my basement. The new super, seemingly drug-free, promised to check on the problem and address it in a timely manner. Two days later, he had discovered that the problem was more serious than initially observed. We needed an entirely new boiler, and our management company was not going to provide space heaters or hotel accommodations while it dealt with the burden of ordering a new contraption for the basement.

A weekend without heat, and I was starting to reconsider the whole notion of living in the developed world. Angola- a war torn African country I’d recently become well acquainted with- was looking mighty appealing, and I’d always wanted to learn Portuguese. But, of course, G-d laughed again, and we had a gas leak, which was soon followed by no hot water.

And while the lack of heat and hot water might be enough to make anyone transform into a Scrooge, it was not what sent me into a “Hard Knock Life” tizzy.

Without the basic necessities of bougie Brooklyn life, I ventured onto the island of Manhattan and stayed with my wonderfully generous friend in her glorious one bedroom apartment overlooking Madison Square Park. For one week, I was a Manhattanite again.

As much as I have worked to make Brooklyn my own, to embrace the idea that I can make another borough my home, I really miss Manhattan. I miss feeling like I am at the center of something significant. And while I spend five days a week breathing the midtown madness, I have so little time to embrace the only place I’ve ever really called home.

So when the week came to its end, and I returned to my still heatless Brooklyn apartment, I curled up with Woody Allen’s Manhattan and feel asleep dreaming of my return:

a note on moving: don’t do it.

I’m not sure who Murphy is, but if I ever unlock the identity of the man behind the infamous laws, I’m going to buy him a round. When Murphy remarked, “Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong,” he almost certainly referred to the act of moving apartments in New York City.

Or, as my friend– the Beloved Roommate– recently remarked, “I’l l raise my babies in this apartment before I move out.” Why? Because carrying the contents of your life down a fourth floor walk up and up a fifth floor walk up is masochistic. Because buying curtains to create the semblance of privacy inside a bedroom meant to be a living room is downright absurd. And because standing in line at IKEA for two hours just to buy a spatula and an energy efficient light bulb is all together unfair.

Despite all this, I somehow find myself in the throes of  moving– boxing up two years of post-collegiate life into 8-10 extra large Home Depot boxes. Now the art of placing all my material belongings into flimsy pieces of cardboard is in and of itself a chore, but of course, as Murphy is quick to note, “Whenever you set out to do something, something else must be done first.”

Before I could box up the contents of my old apartment, I needed to create a semblance of a bedroom in my new apartment. The first order of business, given the time of year: uninstall the air conditioner unit in Nolita and re-install it in Brooklyn. A seemingly simple process, right?

Enter Teresa– a robust former stage manager capable of assembling and disassembling entire theatrical sets across the country. Together she and I embarked on removing my AC unit, and together we watched as it plummeted three stories down to its untimely death. And sizzled. So instead of AC installation, the first order of business became acquiring an AC support system to ensure we didn’t send another  indispensable cooling unit to an early demise.

And while Teresa worked on building a sturdy AC support system, I logically turned to my curtains– which according to the package they arrived in– were the exact same size. Well I  suppose this wasn’t China’s finest workmanship because there was actually a 5 inch difference in length between them. Rather than schlep back to the store for an exchange, though, my mother recommended we safety pin the bottom of the longer curtain.

Her idea seemed like sheer brilliance; a classic demonstration of problem solving skills at work. I’d run to the drugstore and pick up a pack. But of course drug store #1 was sold out, drug store #2 was closed for Memorial Day, and drug store #3 only sold an assorted colorful array of pins. And Lord knows how I loathe colors.

Throw in a few crooked windows, some rainy days, and a smashed mirror, and I, too, have resigned myself to raise my future children in my new apartment. I mean, it least it has a stoop.

And the Nolita fairytale comes to end.

“How do I get there?” said my mother when I confirmed her and my greatest fear– that I was in fact moving to Brooklyn, leaving the convenience of the island of Manhattan far behind me.

“Uh, I think the Brooklyn Bridge. And then you drive down Court St. until you hit Carroll Gardens,” was the only answer I knew to give. Because, in truth, I didn’t have a clue as to how to reach my future humble abode.

In that moment of panic, I reflected back to my Nolita move two years prior. Before taking up residence in the adorable downtown neighborhood, I had zero sense of its geography. Life, for me, happened uptown– where a neatly laid out grid helped directionally challenged individuals orient themselves. But anything beyond the grid, well that was just not a place a nice Orthodox Jewish girl ventured (until the summer of 2011, that is).

Of course, two years later, and it’s so hard for me to imagine I ever had a life above 14th Street. And yet, despite this awareness, I am still inexplicably on the edge. Moving around Manhattan is one thing, but migrating to another borough is an entirely different story. My life is about to change– and I’m not convinced it’s for the better. It’s the first major life decision I’ve made without any sense of certainty regarding the payoff.

Which is to say, it’s the first significant risk I’ve taken.  Instead of playing it safe, sticking to the places and people I know, I am venturing into the unknown– and it’s pretty terrifying. And yes, I know I’ve moved to foreign countries, gone to college where I knew not a single soul, and chosen a professional path unlike any the Orthodox world has known. But all those choices  were calculated risks with high rewards.

This move is far less calculated and with far fewer rewards (aside from living within walking distance of my favorite cheese shop: Stinky Bklyn.) It’s what I call the Big Question Mark. While it is an opportunity to explore another neighborhood, in a quiet brownstone-lined area, I have no idea if I will love it or loathe it.

Perhaps the first step to achieving the former is learning how exactly my mother can get to Carroll Gardens? That and listening to Sara Bareilles’ new track on repeat:

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I just wanna see you
I wanna see you be brave

And by bold, I mean Brooklyn

Insomnia has never been my thing. Excessive caffeine indulgence, yes. Black clothing compulsion, definitely. But getting a solid night’s sleep, most definitely not. That is, until now. My mind has been racing amid a flurry of activity– namely, finding a new apartment, directing my first short film, and balancing my job and relationship.

And so I’ve taken to late night Netflix watching. In the absence of an actual television, it’s the closest I can come to 3 am informercials. Only instead of buying a ridiculously expensive hair straightener,  which I don’t need because my hair is naturally straight, I am catching up on political mayhem in House of Cards.

However, the one thing I can’t seem to get past every time I watch the show is that Zoe Barnes, a struggling young reporter, lives in a one bedroom, sans roommates and with a balcony. She basically is living the urbanite’s dream. And while I recognize she lives in Washington DC, a city still significantly cheaper than New York despite its burgeoning hipster class, I am jealous.

I am jealous of a fictional character’s one bedroom on top of a convenience store in a clearly questionable part of town. And all because I live in a city where I can’t even rent a studio without selling my yet to be born first-born.

It’s a frustrating first world problem when you recognize the beauty of your dreams and the practicality of your residency may never align– at least not on the island of Manhattan. And so I’m embarking on a bold new initiative; one I’ve been contemplating since graduation, but one I’ve been too afraid to execute– a move to Brooklyn.

As a self avowed foodie and reader of Adam Platt’s column in New York Magazine, I recognize that Brooklyn’s restaurants have begun their ascension. And if I want to be where the bougie dine, I best reconsider my zip code. It’s time to exchange the 10012 for the 11231.

And so after completing a few episodes of House of Cards, I’ve begun my 3 am quest to find the perfect two bedroom apartment in Carroll Gardens. (Hey, if the neighborhood is good enough for Solange Knowles and Jemima Kirke, it’s good enough for me.) I’ve discovered several reasonable options that offer bedrooms big enough to accommodate full beds– my litmus test for space.

These discoveries settle me, until I realize that I may be leaving the island of Manhattan. Fortunately, the point at which I come to this realization I am exhausted– both at the thought of moving out of my walk up and of moving into what is likely to be another walk up. And I promptly fall asleep (until my 5:35 alarm, that is).

To the end of the world, or maybe just the R line.

As a child I remember being taught to fear the outer boroughs of New York. They comprised this magical, yet dangerous unknown that tried and true Manhattanites dared not explore. And yet I wondered what lay beyond; a whimsical world of wonder, perhaps? At 22, I took the plunge, boarded the train, crossed over the bridge, and began a love affair with Brooklyn. But only accidentally.

You see I have a no good, very bad habit of getting lost in paperbacks. Of regaining a hold on reality only once the damage is done– the stop has  passed– and the train has reached the inevitable end of the line. Only when I find myself in the midst of mini-Moscow, a.k.a. Bay Ridge, a.k.a. the last stop on the R train do I realize my mistake.

But instead of indulging my inner Woody Allen neurosis, I have learned to remain calm. Seemingly cool. And an itty bit collected. “Never let ’em see you sweat,” right? And so I decide to explore, to take the advice of Nora Ephron- whose memoir is responsible for my current predicament– and view Brooklyn as a perfect remedy to my continual bout of wanderlust.

Not prepared to take on Mother Russia, I board the Manhattan bound R-train and exit a few short stops later in Park Slope– not exactly the hood, but certainly unlike a world I have ever experienced. Every man is attached, not to his wife, but to his baby. Which is to say every man is instantly attractive. Just as men unconsciously inspect women for child bearing hips (though my brief romantic history indicates otherwise), every woman studies men as they interact with small children. And as I observe excellent father material up close, I begin to wonder if this mysterious little neighborhood should be where I aspire to raise my kids.

But rather than ruminate on an improbable future, I turn my attention to the task at hand. I begin to wander 5th Ave, a street unlike its Manhattan counterpart, and take in the beauty of this urban-suburban oasis. A neighborhood that is defined by its brownstones, Park Slope reminds me that it is possible to have your cake and eat it too– assuming you are, of course, a member of the one percent and can afford to purchase a historical home on one of its central avenues.

And did I mention the food? There is no shortage of restaurants to explore or bars to frequent. Moses, there’s even a bar that serves unlimited FREE popcorn. It’s also within walking distance of BAM, which is my new favorite cinema/ballet/opera house. Sorry, MET, it’s not you, it’s BAM! I had the fortune of meeting a Nora Ephron disciple, a.k.a. my doppleganger, a.k.a. Lena Dunham there a few short weeks ago, and well, cliche as it may be, my life has never been the same.

That is to say my brief and wondrous exploration into the unknown was exactly that– brief and wondrous. And one I have repeated many times since, sometimes deliberately, but often accidentally– such as today when I completed Nora Ephron’s final memoir, one she wrote only two years before she died, and aptly titled “I Remember Nothing.” Not even my tendency to miss my stop when I begin reading her prose.

A funny thing happened on the way home from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn and I are beginning to bond, and I don’t mean in the superficial sense. The borough that once seemed so (geographically) far away has been an accessible best friend, providing constant intellectual stimulation and hipster-inspired entertainment. Last night, for example, it shared a Grease sing-along with me.

And this morning– perhaps the more comical part of my stay in the outer borough– it provided me with a remarkable cab ride. In a desperate attempt to make my tutoring appointment, I bolted from my friend’s studio, only to miss the 2 train by a hot minute. The next train would not be arriving for 17 minutes, and I, a German-blooded Jew, could not stand the notion of being late to anything, let alone a well-paid gig.

Nor, apparently, could the young gentlemen caller who happened to find himself in a similar situation on my subway platform. Upset, enraged, and just generally frustrated with the rather pathetic subway service the outer boroughs offer, he asked if I would take a cab with him into Manhattan.

Instantly images of serial kidnappers flashed through my mind. I’d seen videos about this in middle school– a seemingly harmless man offers a young and impressionable girl a ride, and a few months later her face appears on a milk carton. I was not ready to be a bad statistic, but then again, I had my DA badge on me. I could always flash it like I was some undercover cop if he tried anything not too kosher. Simply stated, I acquiesced.

And then I hailed a cab, as only a girl with Kate Spade yellow taxi mittens can do. I informed the driver of the two stops he’d be required to make, and Brandon– the aspiring actor and aforementioned gentlemen caller looked stunned. “Wow, you really took charge there.” Well, I explained, when I know what I want, I go for it. I am a Wendy Wellesley, after all.

He seemed to respect that, but still claimed he knew very few girls who barked orders as quickly– and yet as innocuously– as I did. “I spend a lot of time with children,” I told him. “Oh?” he responded. At which point I told him about my crime-fighting day job, in which I care for adults who behave like small children with little understanding for the consequences of their actions. I could yell and scream and all together terrorize them, but honestly, firm straight talk is significantly more effective.

Little did I know that my professional revelation would spark an Occupy Wall Street conversation. Yes, Brandon, the struggling Brooklynite, was a protestor himself. And while he had managed to steer clear of the law, he had several friends who had been arrested and charged in the course of the protests.

I must say, it was fascinating to learn of the entire movement from someone operating within it. While he still maintained a day job at one of the most delicious restaurants in town, he spent his remaining hours working towards furthering the main objective of the movement– to change the way society sees itself. To force society to reexamine its taught behaviors and to move towards a less consumer, more communal driven condition.

While I wasn’t about to join him in the park, I respected his honesty, his sacrifices, and his willingness to speak to a complete stranger about his nights in Zuccotti Park– nights in which many of his belongings were robbed from him.  He provided a counter perspective, as only a true believer could. He didn’t sugar coat the reality of the situation, but at the same time, he still encouraged me to believe in its ability to move moutains.

And as a metaphorical mountain climber myself, his words really did resonate with me. As I searched around in my wallet for some money to pay the driver, Brandon stopped me and asked if this ride was just a “one time thing.” I asked if he wanted it to be, at which point he asked for my contact information, and I– convinced he was not a serial kidnapper– provided it to him.

I suppose that’s what my coworker Maya means when she says, “Don’t actively search for a guy. It won’t happen that way. But be open to one coming along. And Carpe Diem whenever the hell he does.”  While Brandon might never call, or he might but just in a friends-only context, it is wonderful to feel like I am finally doing something about my single status, aside for routinely kvetching about it.

My flirtation with hipsterdom.

There comes a time in every Orthodox Jewish girl’s life when she just wants to break free, expose her elbows, and perhaps, if she is feeling particularly bold, flash a little ankle at male passerbys. For me, this period of time came during my senior year of high school.

However, being a born again  exception to the rule, I took my little Rumspringa to a new level of extreme. I ventured into the world of hipsterdom: Williamsburg- to see a certain dynamic duo perform in a dingy skinny-jean ridden club.

Now while you can take the Jew out the of the Orthodox ghetto, you most certainly cannot take the ghetto out of the Jew. And so instead of dressing in the appropriate hipster attire (skinny jeans and flannel), I wore a button down Gap shirt and a pleated black skirt from some Jew-only clothing establishment.

Needless to say when I arrived at said club, I was overdressed and the subject of an exhibitionist gaze. As I entered, I felt as if a thousand Ray-Ban glasses made me the subject of their attention. I, therefore, was quite relieved when the performers– Matt & Kim– took to the stage. The Ray-Bans were temporarily distracted.

Last night Matt & Kim re-entered my life, taking to the Wellesley stage and reminding me of my failed attempt at religious rebellion. Only this time– though both my ankles and elbows were still very much concealed– no one stared at me in bewilderment. No one remotely questioned my presence at a borderline hipster concert.

Dressed in a flower power dress that screamed Anthropologie housewife, I was utterly perplexed. Had I somehow managed to attain a certain Brooklyn-esque credibility despite my adherence to Orthodox principles of dress? Certainly not.

I had, however, attained a different sort of credibility or acceptance for my quirky pants-free lifestyle. My fellow Wellesley women had grown to respect me for my inescapable Jewish approach to attire. In fact, as one Wandering Asian Gnome phrased it, I was “endearing.” Praise Moses– my mother’s not the only person who thinks of me in those terms!

Here’s to the band that reminded me it’s perfectly acceptable to dress in as much (or as little) as you’d like:

I left my heart in Brooklyn.

Avid readers, I have arrived in the land of cucumber sandwiches. The weather is glorious, in the rain, fog, and sleet sense, and the people– well, they continue to describe me as “gregarious.”

However, as many a New Yorker will tell you, you can take the girl out of the City, but you can never take the City out of the New Yorker. Hence my need to share the following video, which has made me incredibly homesick. It is an ode to my future borough of residence: Brooklyn, and documents the lives of Brooklynites, who adore Michael Jackson, Paris, and Sunday brunches:

And for those well acquainted with the Gentile Giant, expect a glorious guest post Monday morning!