Sunday, May 30, 2010

Swap Monster

Yesterday, my friend Jessica asked me to help her with a day of shooting on her doc. Her film is all about second-hand clothes and where they go to die. It's not where you think. In fact, most people don't think about where clothes end up but I remember having a glimpse of it when I stood in an African market with lots of used clothing strung up for sale. Where did they come from? Us, of course. So our clothes are made in the developing world and then they go back there when we're done with them. What's the harm? I'm going to leave it to Jessica's film to have that say.

But in the meantime...

On a gorgeous, if humid, Saturday we met in the morning and shot all day at what must be the biggest clothing swap on earth. It's called Score! which is exactly what you say when you find that perfect item, you know? In the past, they have had 1000 people show up. I'm pretty sure yesterday's swap must have been close to 2000. It's a feat of organizational brilliance and major good vibes. People drop off their stuff, pay a few bucks to get in the door, take whatever they want (there was awesome stuff there! not just clothes but housewares, children's, games, electronics, books) and save everything from heading to landfills, giving them new life. Everyone saves money on the things they need and gets rid of a bunch of crap taking up space at home. The items are all put through "quality-control," and the stuff that doesn't pass muster is never put out on the "floor," which in this case was Brooklyn Yard, right by the water and shaded by trees. All the stuff that wasn't good enough to be combed through by a million Brooklyn hipsters and families goes into bags and is sent off to a fabric recycling company.

The proceeds go to charity (this year it went to a youth activism group). There are tacos, beers and great music (the people wandering in the sun holding a beer had the RIGHT idea - I, however, was wandering with a boom mic, trying not to smack people as I turned around).

By the way, it is super fun to do the jobs of people you work with but have never done yourself. I've never been the audio guy! Ahem, audio girl. It was fun.

Aaaaand, even though we didn't have time to look through the treasures together, a girl standing next to me declared, "Now these are great shoes but they don't fit me. Here, you have to take them." She just handed them to me, new dead-stock multi-coloured leather espadrilles with rubber soles. And they were my size. I got to go home with what will be my new summer shoes. Whee!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Little Devil and Marina's Tear

On the subway, we saw a little man in a black suit and his tall partner, a woman at least 6 feet tall. It was kind of cute when they walked arm in arm because he didn't come up to her shoulder. Kind of cute except...he had devil horns. His head was fully shaved and he had horns, one on each temple, and even though he was absolutely tiny, yes, the horns suggested evil. At first we thought his horns were hair, shellacked into place, but no, they were just really finely-detailed plastic glued onto his head.

We all stared, trying to figure out his horn situation, Isaac's entire family, as we were traveling en masse. And when we ascended to ground level, I saw we were at 666 Fifth Avenue. The devil was coming home! To New York City.

In fact, he was just going to the MOMA. I know because I saw him there.

I enjoyed the Marina Abramovic retrospective, and Isaac and I had a nice chat with a lady as we sat in the room where Marina was performing her stare-down. Our new friend told us about the next man in line to sit with Marina. He had met Marina on a train outside Amsterdam, where she used to live, five years ago. He was broke, had been evicted, and didn't have enough for train fare. She paid. They started chatting and he asked what she did. She said she was an artist and "into pain." After their encounter, I don't think they ever saw each other again until he took a seat in front of her.

Isaac and I, with our new informative friend, stared, trying to see any sign of recognition in Marina's face. There wasn't. But a few minutes in, things started to change. The man wasn't verbally saying anything but his body language was a different story. He was sitting tall, leaning towards her, beseeching her with his posture. Finally, she smiled and dropped a fat, juicy tear.

Knowing the story of this man made it a different experience, watching these two people sitting silent in chairs.

In other news, Happy 1st anniversary, Isaac!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Live and Rest in Peace

Katie emailed recently and told me that Will Munro had succumbed to his brain cancer. Hearing news like that reduces everything to plain truths, doesn't it? There's no time to waste. I didn't know Will but saw him around a lot, went to his parties. He did so much for Toronto in his short life. It's not fair to lose someone like this so young, and although I didn't know him, I'll remember the way he contributed to communities, shaping them, making life more interesting and fun for those who knew him and beyond. It's inspiring that he worked at it every day.

A great-uncle of Isaac's passed away recently as well. He lived a long life. I met Marvin once at dinner and have been learning about his life, for example, yesterday at dinner with Isaac's family as they're in town this week.

And we're still thinking of our amazing next-door-neighbours who just lost their son in an accident. We've heard of too many deaths in the last few days.

Thinking about it is probably as close as I get to religion. I don't have anything profound to share, just the opposite. Death makes everything in life quite basic again, doesn't it? We have to live lots of life while we have it. We have to love lots while we have our family and friends. To end with a smile, can we just watch this together? (Close to the twentieth time for me, I'm sure). Big hugs to everyone.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Tiny Tot Studio Time

Bet you didn't know that the smallest apartment on earth could be turned into a recording studio. All you need is a handy Marantz from work and Isaac, whose hero is MacGruber. He set it up for me to record a voiceover for him. He even made a little guard for when "p's" pop by putting a pair of my tights around a wire hanger that he fashioned into a circle. Et voila! Home studio.

Monday, May 17, 2010

La Vie Quotidienne a New York

Every day, I have a million thoughts but don't have the chance to blog 'em.

Is "blogging" still a verb that is ok to use and not completely nerdtastic?

Anyway, a recap of our first two weeks in NY.

Our apartment still smells funny but we've kind of stopped noticing.

Isaac found a bedbug site online that is like the Facebook of bedbug-infested NY-dwellers and we found that our building has never been mentioned. Not a peep from our building. Knocking on a giant redwood. Hurrah!

We have, however, seen too many rats and cockroaches on the street and subway tracks. No little Toronto subway mice here. The rats are big. The problem is the garbage in this city. In whose world is it ok to leave so many garbage mountains, pest-buffets, just on the street? It's like lining the streets with cake. Rat party! Did you get your invite?

For example, yesterday we were riding our bikes on a gorgeous afternoon in Brooklyn yesterday and before I knew it, I'd run over a rat that had already been flattened by a car tire, rendered paper-thin on the pavement but still with an outline of grey fur and red insides. I KNOW. Too many vermin. Highly unacceptable!

Moving on (why must I write about all this gross stuff?).

Isaac and I have met lots of fun people and re-connected with old friends. Karaoke count thus far: Twice. That's a good once-a-week average.

Still discovering places to eat (and places to not eat - we are suckers from out-of-town, eating bad huevos rancheros, hopefully not for long).

We are riding our bikes everywhere and although NY traffic is scary (downtown Brooklyn even scarier!) the bike lanes are infinitely better than in TO. I've made Isaac promise that he will not let his mind wander as he rides because even if you're in the bike lane with plenty of space on each side, there may be a pothole or manhole depressed like, 5 inches into the concrete. Deathtrap! Riding your bike around town is like a game of Frogger, except that you're not a frog, you're on a bike and it's real life (only one life!).

Speaking of life, we just heard the terrible news that our wonderful next-door-neighbours in Toronto lost their adult son in a car crash the other day. It was shocking to hear. Life is snuffed out so fast and unfairly. It's a sad time on our street at home.

Before we left, there was a giant fire just up the street from us, which was devastating to the family of tenants. The other day, there was a fire here in the East Village that had city blanketed in grey smoke for blocks.

We had to leave our apartment because, as we discovered, all the windows leak and our apartment was soon too smoky to sit in. We escaped on a walking tour for the afternoon, popping into the Forbes museum (rich people can collect anything they want, including really old Monopoly sets) and the lobby at Parsons (really? art school can look like this?).
When we came back, the air was clear but I could still smell the fire in our towels. We are really at one with the neighbourhood. Smoke or thumping music of the I-need-ear-protectors-like-baby-Apple-at-a-Coldplay-concert, you can't block it out of our funny little apartment.

On our walking tour, we bought a smoke detector. Duh.

Last night we got locked out because our finnicky front door lock decided to cross its arms and not let us in. We ended up making friends with an older couple who came by with their dog and they came up with the scheme for Isaac to climb down the fire escape from one of our neighbours above and pop into our window. This friendly guy Steve knew everyone in the building. He took Isaac up to a guy's apartment, explained the situation, and the guy said, "Unh uh," and closed the door. The next floor down, directly above us, a young girl in hot pants came to the door and said, "Uh, well, Jenny is sleeping, but I'll see." Isaac ended up going through the apartment, "Jenny" lifting her head from slumber for a moment to go, "Mm, hey." Isaac just kind of sauntered through with a wire hanger that Steve had dismantled into a hook-like device. Isaac pulled a MacGruber and got in to the apartment through the fire escape. Another hurrah! (Note to concerned individuals, there was a system involving a key that is too boring to outline here, so it's not like just anybody can just get in through the fire escape....I think).

Isaac was the hero of the evening! All eyes on Isaac.

Here's a photo I'll leave you with from a party we were invited to on the rooftop of a building in Greenpoint, BK. As Isaac pointed out, being near the water like that felt like we were on a cruise. Look at this city. It's worth putting up with rat sightings.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

It's A Celebration For One! Plus, Apartment Photos!

Here I am in the apartment where the three bare lightbulbs in the ceiling have mostly gone out. Two are dead and if the last one goes while I type tonight, I will be slightly scared to be home alone, mostly creeped out by the last thing Dad said to me on the phone yesterday before he took off from TO for Korea. We had a nice chat over Skype and then in parting, he said, "Be careful! Don't catch a cold and don't go out at night." Uh, ok, Dad. It goes without saying that I will wash my hands and try to avoid a cold but the truth is that I might want to go out at night some of the time, it being New York, and nighttime being an inevitable event that occurs each and every single day. What do you say to, "Don't go out at night?" In my case, you say, "Ok." Fingers crossed behind back. Did I mention I am an able-bodied 32-year-old human and not a defenseless sea cucumber? (Sea cucumbers are so defenseless).

At first it was funny but Dad's implied fear became catchy as a cold. Of all the things that could happen in a big city at night, well, mostly nothing bad happens but sometimes Law and Order plots happen. We all know they are ripped from the headlines and I totally shouldn't watch that SVU. Anyway, I know nothing headline-worthy could happen when I'm inside my apartment. Although when five-alarm fires happen, inside is where you don't want to be. Moving along to the real point of this post....

I want to celebrate but I am home alone! Isaac has gone to an animation event, leaving me to tend to my deadlines in peace. But I just got some good news via email! And it makes me want to party!

I! Am! So! Excited! Because!

I got in to a writing program at City University of New York! I can't believe it. It will be taught by top fiction editors in the city, and when we're talking about "the city," we know it really means top fiction editors in the English-speaking universe. It's a workshop for 15 students and how on earth I got in is beyond me. Honestly. Is there some sort of bizarre karmic thing happening? We've had such a run of amazing luck.

Luck, luck, luck! First of all, we're here in NY. Secondly, it's a cheapie apartment. Thirdly, I found the best bike ever yesterday (little thrills are what make life so great), and again, for very cheap. Mostly, I am lucky because I was accepted into the program of my dreams. Well, wait. I could go back further and say I'm also lucky because I have Isaac and then go back further and say that I'm lucky to have a cool family and also I'm lucky that I suffered only enough childhood trauma that I became marginally interesting, personality-wise, and not a complete weirdo. Ahh! I am lucky! Insert a joyous yelping in here!

I even think I'm lucky with what I used to think was the worst. I applied about 5000 times to get in to Columbia's journalism program a few years ago but didn't get in. When I found out I was first on the waitlist one of those 5000 times, I was heartbroken and I don't think I ever really got over it. Until now! Who needs an M.A. that would cost oh, $100 000 (is that way off the mark?) In this writers' program I'll be taking, there isn't a degree conferred (in fact, they call it the "un-MFA") but I think what I get out of it is better. Workshopping everything is totally my steez. I am so excited I want to celebrate but I am home alone and have two deadlines so instead of cracking a beer and calling a friend, I ate 5 cookies and took a few moments away from work to blog instead. This is the saddest celebration ever.

But also the best! I'm so happy I could cry. It's my party and I'll cry and eat cookies and work on my deadlines if I want to!

And for those of you who are interested in seeing what our precious little shoebox of NY real estate looks like, here is a photo of Isaac Skyping with his mom this aft, and below that, "my office." Maybe one day I'll let you see our unconventional bathroom situation. Let's just say that I joined a gym and I will be showering there pretty much every day. I, obviously, heart New York!

Friday, May 07, 2010

East Village is a Mash-Up of Rich and Developing World

Landing in the East Village this week, I got a distinctly developing-world vibe. People had their used goods spilled all over the sidewalk, selling random items like picture frames and old shoes. There are giant mounds of garbage all the time, both in bags for pick-up and swirling loose in the wind, newspaper pages flying around my feet. New York smells and is unbelievably loud. Don't get me started on our apartment where not a single wall knows how to behave (i.e. be smooth and flat) and our school-locker toilet room (not technically a bathroom since it's just a room with a toilet) is among the worst I've ever seen, and yes, I'm counting Mali and Indonesia.

I love it here!

The energy is contagious, the people are from everywhere. The other day, I walked home following a woman in an abaya, black fabric caught in the wind, every part of her covered except her eyes and her shiny purple cell phone.

Impossibly cool kids with giant 'fros skateboard down the street in packs and senior citizens scoot solo on Razors.

Downstairs, in the coffee shop on the corner, every table is taken up by a cafe dweller with a Mac.

Standing in line at the Trader Joe's, which snakes around the entire store and is actually quite complicated, I watched as a verbal tussle broke out between a young student wearing earbuds, an old white-haired lady (oldies do lose their inhibition, don't they?) and a lady who, in classic NY fashion, chimed in with her perspective on the entire incident (a perceived butting-in-line). The last time I saw an impromptu people mash-up was while traveling in Bamako, when Tania and I got into an argument with our shady cab driver and all the people on the street gathered around to work it out for us. In Toronto, it's like everyone is surrounded by an invisible force-field a la Lost, that inhibits anyone from speaking to a stranger. Your head could be aflame and passerby would just stare straight ahead. Here, I find myself chatting about Lady Gaga in line at the corner store, and you don't even have to be talking about a reigning pop icon. At the grocery yesterday, we had a full 5-minute conversation with a nice man. Topic? Red chile flakes.

It's a strange blend, the East Village, both riche-chichi and grimy. I know my impression of a developing world vibe comes from being Canadian, where it's really orderly and clean and all systems are a go, and only having experienced this kind of exciting unpredictability in places that aren't technically first-world. The East Village, though, is both. Rich and struggling, luxurious and...not. My eyes and nose say, Fancy AND smelly.

As our friend Dave pointed out, the vibe here changes with each step, from block to block. I love Avenue A and our proximity to Tompkins Square. Speaking of Dave and Jacqui, they had us over for a homemade pizza dinner with lots of wine, a welcome to the neighbourhood. It was so comforting! Being invited for a meal in someone's home is sincerely the nicest way to land in a new place. We're among friends already!

And celebs. I saw James Iha with his pug the other day and passed Luke Wilson on the street last night. That's about as much excitement as we've had because Isaac and I are just working a lot and setting up shop, i.e. lots and lots of errands. We are working in our funny little apartment, Skyping, typing, even recording V/Os (it turns out our first joint project ever will be Isaac's latest assignment which is an animation for a Dutch health portal...I'm reading the script - not what I imagined our first joint project would be, but it's fun!).

Tonight we will actually socialize by going out for dinner. A note on food: I am both in awe and fear. All this exciting, enticing food could easily become a trap in which my wallet and winter fat suit will become entangled (go away fat suit, it's May!). Taking a stroll here is like being at a carnival of food. Everything is enticing, exciting and you can't go a step without finding something delicious to buy and stuff in your face. Take another step and there's an entirely different but equally delicious food to stuff. Another step. Another step. Et voila, Pinkberry-falafel-hot slice-ramen overload.

That's all for now. I am off to a lesson at the Apple store in SoHo.