Category Archives: New York

On Maybe Someday Quitting New York

I’ll admit it– I’m a commitmentphobe. Except for my daily iced skimmed lattes, I cannot commit to anyone or anything for an extended period of time. I change jobs every 12-18 months; apartments every 18-24 months; and tv show loyalty every 2-3 seasons.

Perhaps this phobia is the reason I returned to New York after college. New York is a city replete with individuals unwilling to settle or accept the status quo. It is where people with insatiable desires pursue limitless possibilities. It is, quite simply, a city that never sits still.

And until recently, it was this very quality that made me feel at home. However, like any New Yorker who has even been trapped between a homeless man and a Jesus freak on a packed subway car, I get sick of it sometimes. Instead of embracing that feeling, and accepting that New York– like every other city– can be imperfect, I feel incredibly guilty for judging it.

This week, though, I read Ann Friedman’s wonderful piece- “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at 24.” And in her typically succinct prose, she reminded me that I was not alone in my less than enthusiastic sentiment. I didn’t have to defend the city where I spotted my first cockroach or had my first bed bug scare. I could criticize its imperfections. And better yet, I could leave. I could move to any other city, state, or country– and still pursue a meaningful career in media and policy.

While most of my friends consider me the quintessential New York Jew, I realized as I read Friedman’s piece that I could retain that persona outside of New York. As the saying [sort of] goes, you can take the New Yorker out of the City, but you can’t take the City out of the New Yorker.

Now, I’m not booking my one way ticket to Nairobi anytime soon. But, for a brief moment this week, Friedman allowed me to consider the possibility that I could perhaps be true to who I am and not be so entirely committed to just one city.

On a Dr. Meg kick

24 hours ago I made a decision to opt out of the production path I have devoted the last year and a half of my life to pursuing. It was the most terrifying decision I have ever made, and one that has raised all sorts of questions regarding my professional aspirations and personal branding.

One friend remarked, “Yaffa, this will be the third job in three years. When do you hunker down and just accept your present?” A financial consultant, she was used to the ways of an industry that valued loyalty and rewarded quantitative success. But as a woman operating in a complex and ever-changing media space, I knew my path would never be as linear as hers.

This realization can be both an invigorating and debilitating feeling– one that provides freedom, but removes any sense of actual security. And one that inevitably sends me running for the one and only Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist who specializes in twenty-somethings. Author of “The Defining Decade,” Dr. Meg focuses her research on the importance of the decisions we make before we hit 30.

Nearly half way through my defining decade, I find myself wondering if I am living by the words of Dr. Meg. Am I living with intent? Am I making wise, calculated decisions with some sort of end-game in mind? Would I have something to show for myself by the time I hit 30– something more than a few shares of Starbucks stock and old copies of The New Yorker?

I rewatched Dr. Meg’s TED talk, one that has attracted close to 2.5 million hits since it first appeared in February. And this time I took notes. Though her TED talk focused on three main ideas, I gravitated towards the first two:

1) “Getting some identity capital”–adding value to who you currently are and who you may hope to be

While I am one of many lost New York souls struggling to define what I want out of my professional career, I do believe that each career jump I have made has been somewhat calculated. Each jump has been about getting  me closer to my happy place– a place where I feel fulfilled, challenged, and most importantly, inspired to be the best possible me I can be.

Though to a future employer it may not appear as such, I am exploring AND making it count. I’m “leaning in” and negotiating salaries. I’m playing hard ball and asking tough questions. And most importantly, I’m speaking up– embracing the Wellesley confidence I spent four years developing and two years applying in a professional setting.

2) “The urban trade is overrated”– instead of huddling together with exclusively like-minded people, find others who challenge you and form your “weak ties.” According to Dr. Meg, your weakest ties are the ones who help you advance, professionally and emotionally; who force you to define and refine your views; and who challenge everything you ever assumed to be true.

Unfortunately, my weak ties are pretty weak. After embracing my loony leftie tendencies, dormant during my teenage years, I made the leap, moved to Brooklyn, and now reside with my kind of thinkers. Attending a Muslim wedding in Kansas City was the closest foray into another world that I have gone– and that was only for a long weekend.

And so for the second half of this decade, I’m trying to meet all those out and about conservative-oriented individuals who fear Brooklyn the way I fear Texas; who believe my body is their business; and who actually enjoy watching sports like golf and cricket. Which is all to say I should probably send George W. Bush a get well card post-heart surgery.

Everything is copy

Nora Ephron’s mother had a saying: “Everything is copy.” And as I enter another period of major change, I’m beginning to take comfort in that adage. In place of viewing all the challenges I’m facing as insurmountable obstacles, I’m viewing them as copy– or material for my blog.

There are the little challenges, like accidentally bordering the subway car with the homeless evangelist preaching his Jesus loving speech from West 4th to Herald Square. And then there are the bigger challenges, like finding a new apartment– roach and rodent free and with space for a full or queen size bed– that doesn’t cost more than my entire month’s salary.

And rather than fixating solely on the challenges, I’m trying to treasure the New York moments. For example, last night a coworker invited me to a concert downtown featuring a hip British band: The 1975. It was in a dingy lounge in a quasi-shady part of town, and it was absolutely perfect.

Though I doubt any of the group members were alive in 1975, I embraced their name and performance. And afterwards, I had the good fortune to meet them. Rather than exemplifying the self-absorbed celebrity stereotype, they were extraordinarily friendly and engaging.

When the night came to its inevitable conclusion, I did not go home and begin editing my screenplay. I did not look up dream apartments far beyond my price range. I didn’t even open up a graduate school admissions booklet. I just sat in front of Hulu and gave my mind a solid night off.

And for a girl who doesn’t have any vacation time in the foreseeable future, one night off felt like a blessing. It may not have given me the world’s best copy, but it gave me something to write about and something to ruminate on. My mother refers to it as a “simple pleasure”– something that is relatively cheap, but entirely necessary in helping a person to recharge and re-engage with the complexities of her life.

So this morning, as I darted for a cab after my train car stalled and the clock continued ticking, I reminded myself that my world would not crumble. I would make it to work eventually, and I would complete all of the tasks on my to-do list. And if I didn’t, there was Friday. T.G.I.F.

My encounter with Awkwafina

My out of town friends often suspect that I grocery shop with Peter Dinklage and lunch with Kirsten Dunst. And while I have had close encounters with both celebrities since returning to New York– the former while walking his dog, the latter while eating tacos– my day to day existence is rarely defined by famous people sightings.

And at this point, even when I do spot a People Magazine cover girl, I don’t slow my stride. Perhaps I’m jaded, or perhaps after a year in television production I’ve come to accept that celebrities are people too. Regardless, celebrities don’t give me pause.

The individuals who make me almost miss my departing train are of a different genre. They are the undiscovered subway slickers, who talk softly, scream louder, and otherwise spark my imagination. Simply put, these characters don’t ask for attention; they subtlety demand it.

One such example is Awkwafina.  At the time I didn’t know she was behind such hits as “Yellow Ranger” and “NYC B*tches,” but after watching her quasi-rapping performance on my morning commute, I knew she was destined to be a YouTube sensation, or at the very least the subject of one Daily Beast article.

However, during that particular train ride, Awkwafina was significantly more subdued than she appears in her music videos. She sported her signature black frames, but she rapped quietly– almost melodically to herself. And she seemed to avoid eye contact, which made her all the more fascinating to me.

And perhaps because I am a unique kind of subway rider– the kind who finishes her reading material two stops too soon and is forced to look about the car for the remaining portion of the ride. During that period of time I stumble upon such gems as Awkwafina– seemingly benign characters who my womanly intuition tells me to pay attention to.

Of course, working in music television I am constantly scouring the web for the next undiscovered sensation. So when I stumbled upon Awkwafina’s new music video today, I paused and  realized I had met that girl  before. I’d even politely said “Excuse me” to her while rushing out at my stop. And that same girl, mumbling beats that no one seemed to notice except me, was on the verge of YouTube greatness, with over 100,000 YouTube hits already for her song about Bushwick boys and East Village girls.

Now Awkwafina may not be the next big thing; her fame may stay relegated to the cybersphere entirely. But for one short train ride I got to experience why I’ve chosen New York as my home. I had the fortune to encounter a somebody who everyone on that packed train car thought was a nobody. And I got to do so without flashing cameras or angry publicists ruining the beauty of the moment. A moment in which a girl put pen to paper and let her creative juices flow–  for all and none of the world to see.

I’m not who you think I am.

On a recent Wednesday night I found myself in the emergency room waiting area of a New York hospital. Like many people who aren’t characters on medical dramas, I detest hospitals. I see them as breeding grounds for death and disease, and on occasion I’ve been known to slap a nurse silly. (Granted, I was seven at the time, and the nurse was waking me at 2 am for a routine though entirely unnecessary cat scan.)

This time around I tried to refrain from physical violence. Only this time around I was seated in the waiting area between two ERs: the regular and the psychiatric. And as I sat there plotting my inevitable escape, a woman recently released from the psychiatric ER approached me. Instead of initiating conversation, she just stood there for a solid 90 seconds— invading my personal space through non-verbal communication.

Then, suddenly, she shouted, “It’s Lena Dunham!” She, of course, wasn’t the first to notice the resemblance. At least once a day en route to work some tourist or native New Yorker will stop and ask for my autograph, mistaking me for my significantly more successful and articulate doppelganger. And in those moments of mistaken identity, I will humbly clarify that I am neither rich, nor famous, nor willing to go naked on camera.

However, this recently released psychiatric patient did not believe me when I attempted to deny her claim. Instead, she began to scream louder, attracting the attention of fellow waiting room visitors and ER doctors alike. And those doctors—rather than save lives, or something—stopped their time-sensitive procedures to weigh in on the matter. Some, like the psych patient, thought I was a celebrity in denial, while others stated I was “too pretty” or “too chubby” to be the director/producer/actress in question.

After several minutes wasted on non-life saving discussion, I interrupted, “Seriously, people, if I were Lena Dunham, don’t you think I’d have a private waiting area? Why would I wait around for an ER doctor to assist my friend when I could make a few calls and have an ER doctor at my apartment door?” The room went quiet, and then a small child—barely six—said, “You may not be Lena, but you’ve got her sass!” And, as you can imagine, there was quite a bit of laughter after that. Even the psych patient chuckled.

As the doctors returned to their imminently important duties, the woman who had created the entire debacle took a final look at me and said, “You’re right; you’re not Lena. Your boobs are too big.” And with that she walked away, leaving me and my boobs alone.

Lesson from a former District Attorney’s Office employee

Rule number one in appropriate criminal etiquette:  Defendants exclusively attack people they know. Only certifiable psychopaths attack complete strangers. Therefore, when– as a member of law enforcement– you begin an investigation, you assume all friends and family members of the victim to be suspects first.

December 3rd, 12:30 PM– A 58 year old man is forcibly pushed in front of an oncoming Q train and immediately dies from the collision. I proceed to text my roommate to inform her of the crime, as she and I pass through the station of the alleged murder twice a day Monday-Friday.

She immediately panics. A killer is on the loose, and he is lurking within a 10 block radius of our two offices of employment. I, however, retain my signature desensitized New York cool. Which is to say, I return to rule number one of appropriate criminal etiquette. There was clearly an altercation between two people familiar enough with one another that one person’s rage propelled him to commit a state crime. Such brutality rarely springs from a chance encounter.

I then call my mother and ask, “Do you think I’ve offended any family member or friend?” Confused, she asks why. I explain the 49th St murder, and then state, “But I should be in the clear because these things tend to happen between people who know each other. So if I haven’t angered, frustrated,or offended anyone too greatly, my life is mine to live.”

My mother quickly affirms that as far as she is aware, I am not on anyone’s hit list. I take solace in her affirmation and hang up. But just to be safe, I board a different train to work today. After all, he may not be my killer, but somebody’s killer is on the loose, and I’m not about to spend 20 minutes squished between him and a subway poll.

NOTE: A suspect was apprehended around 3 PM this afternoon. I have returned to my old commuting routine.

A man who can change a lightbulb.

My super, Phil, and I have a very love/hate relationship. I love to pester him with seemingly absurd rental requests, and he hates to respond to them in a timely manner. Consequently, after two weeks of living in virtual darkness because one of my ceiling bulbs is out and Phil has yet to replace it, I get a little less loving. And oddly enough, Phil becomes a lot more amenable to my requests.

On this particular Monday, when I finally cornered him beside our apartment dumpster, I expressed my distate for his slow-as-molasses work ethic. He countered with, “Can’t your boyfriend do that for you?” I quickly chimed back, “I don’t have a boyfriend. Well not if you don’t count the sanitation engineer.”

To which Phil said, “Well what can I do for you?” Within minutes he had climbed the three flights to my apartment and replaced a long dead bulb. Then when he had resolved the matter, he paused and said, “Don’t lose faith, sweetheart, there’s someone out there for you. I just know it.”

When I expressed doubt that I could find a man who was both right for me and capable of changing a ceiling bulb, Phil quasi-volunteered himself. “I’m tall. But I’m also psychotic so you should probably continue the manhunt.” Did I mention Phil and my mother are the same age?

I guess Phil could read my dismay because he then changed the subject. “Do you like Solange Knowles?” And while I have kind of always had a thing for the younger Knowles whose most notable accomplishment is teen pregnancy, I was shocked that a 50+ Hispanic man from the Bronx shared my affection.

But a minute later my super and I were watching the latest Solange Knowles video and gushing over her killer suits and rocking dance moves:

And when the music video concluded, Phil said, “Just remember, you’re a good statistic. You’re the type they use in fancy pants college brochures.” Then he went to unclog a toilet, or something equally unappealing.

Finding my special snowflake.

At a recent lecture given by Jennifer Egan, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner in fiction, Jacob Weisberg asked Egan to whom she had dedicated her award winning novel. Egan paused, glanced around the room, and then whispered, “Ok, this is New York… my therapist.” Chris M— the mysterious name listed in the opening to  A Visit from the Goon Squad— is her life long therapist.

Not surprisingly, the audience applauded. Egan’s admission was honest, and in a city that breeds a certain degree of superficiality, that was refreshing. It also fell in line with several New York cliches, including the infamous everyone-has-a-therapist one. And yet, as I sat there, applauding with fellow lit nerds, I thought how hypocritical of me to praise Egan for this, when I, in fact, was quite wary of over priced psychology.

But in her admission I also found strength, or maybe just a hint of inspiration. Enough to propel to make a move that 22 years of living had not yet done for me– to move past the stigma I associated with therapy: that anyone who has a therapist is broken in some irreparable way. I mean here was a woman who had a Pulitzer, a husband, and a brownstone in Brooklyn. She was living my dream, or at least a dream closely aligned with my own. And she didn’t seem particularly dark and twisty and Tim Burton character-esque.

And so I made a few calls, shopped around for about a week, and finally settled on a West Coast native whose most notable feature is her lack of shoes. In true Berkeley fashion, she conducts entire sessions free of “those foot shackles,” as she so notably refers to them. I suppose she is a bit of special snowflake herself, but perhaps that is why I find myself so wholly trusting her. She has quirks, and as anyone who has spent five minutes with me knows, so. do. I.

Together she and I are beginning to unravel the history of a 20something on the verge of her 23rd birthday. It’s exhilarating and darn right terrifying. Get ready for the ride.

How to save money in New York without really trying

In the continuous struggle to save before I spend, I’ve set out to create a list of cost-cutting initiatives that may help my savings account break five figures by year’s end:

1) Babysit. Babysit. Babysit. Frankly, this isn’t all about the tax-free earnings; it’s about the coveted family kitchen. As anyone who has ever babysat can attest, a common parental adage is “Help yourself to anything that’s in the kitchen.” In other words, that $20 gourmet smoked salmon from Dean and Deluca is entirely yours for the taking. In this manner, you both earn and save, in this case on the cost of groceries.

2) Befriend your local barista. As a loyal Gimme Coffee!, Starbucks, and Balthazar customer, I have developed quite a rapport with my favorite caffeine-suppliers. And that has major payoffs. Take, for example, last Sunday when Gimme Coffee’s credit card machine broke. Jose, my favorite Peruvian barista, turned to me and said, “Pretend like you don’t have cash… that way I can give you a free coffee rather than turn a loyal customer away. Oh, and here’s a hibiscus doughnut, on the house. ”

3) Blog for anyone who offers non-traditional payment. If you are lusting after the Banana Republic Mad Men collection, go write for a fashion blog. Then when you walk into Banana, drop that you’re a blogger, have some samples ready to show you’re legit (even though you probably aren’t), and begin to indulge in the benefits of the “courtesy outfit.” Remember, though, there is only one type of review, and that’s a positive one.

4) Limit your restaurant indulgence to once a week. The exception, of course, is when a parent or friend (a.k.a. “dinner daddy”) offers you a no-cost dinner. Said free dinners are not a part of your food budget calculations, and in fact, should be pursued in the never ending quest to enjoy quality high-cost food.

5) Stop buying individual bottles of diet coke EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Since I am a weakling, incapable of carrying a 12 can box of diet coke up the stairs, I have chosen to spend $1.75 a day on my calorie-free soda indulgence, which over the course of the year adds up to a whopping $638.75. And frankly I am too poor to have such an expensive indulgence. I already indulge my coffee addiction; I simply must sacrifice the one of lesser significance.

And if all else fails, fill out your tax forms so you are taxed to the absolute max during the fiscal year. Then when 2013 rolls around be prepared to enjoy in the wonders of the almighty TAX REFUND. At least that’s my backup plan. So here’s to a year of zero deductions!

Just a spoon full of Britney makes the guacamole go down.

I live in two polar universes– one which embraces the new and another that cherishes the old. And since the days of my college essay writing I have marketed myself on this unusual trait, the daily dichotomy I so carefully and meticulously balance (please refrain from laughter).

However, there is a price to be paid for this perpetual state of juggling. Few people can understand me truly and deeply, and so I conceal many of my thoughts from my immediate social circles. I, as one British psychology student once phrased it, “selectively share certain aspects of my life, while maintaining a aura of secrecy around others.”

Fortunately there is a select group of young women with whom I am proud to say I am completely open and honest. It is with this group of biddies (largely Wellesley ones) that I shed my cloak of privacy and reveal my deepest darkest secrets, such as my affection for Britney Spears’ 2000 classic “Stronger” and my desire to begin a penpal exchange with death row inmates.

Yes, in the company of these particularly women, I shed all inhibitions and consume three baskets of tortilla chips in one sitting. In a crowded Mexican restaurant on a rainy Saturday night, I sip my 75-calorie margarita (made of tequila and agave nectar!) and vow to someday make them my bridesmaids. And then mid-vow, spontaneously break out into Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody”– fully aware that upon completion of my solo they will still willingly be sitting at the table beside me.

And in their presence, I recommend a weekend activity– a viewing of a musical improv’s group performance aptly titled: “Willy Wonka and the House of Horrors.” I make this recommendation aware that they are likely to nod in agreement; to think my rather sordid sense of humor and entertainment is worth the $7 tickets.

This ode to my favorite Wellesley women is a longwinded way of expressing my gratitude for their friendships and for a lovely sun and rain-filled weekend in their company. I  may be single and every so often (ok, more often than not) lament that reality, but on weekends such as these– when I find myself consuming my bodyweight in guacamole and with zero judgment from my friends– I realize 22 and single isn’t such a bad look for me.