Ariel Reverie in A New York State of Mind

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A New York State of Mind

            I didn’t want to be overtly cliché when talking about the city. That was the sole intention of mine when visiting New York this past week. The fear of discernible prosaicness hung over every action, reaction, and every tourist attraction visit. The city is complex in its beauty and I wanted to capture it exactly the way it was framed in my mind. Obviously with so many people moving through its veins it would be quite difficult to generate a new and fresh perspective that hasn’t been quantified in a similar way before. But I wanted to avoid the stock and often times contrived conclusions to what the city is and what it means. This experience was all my own.
As I’m editing pictures from my recent trip to New York I’m caught between the newly conceived veneration I’ve stored for all that it entails and my unwavering capability to break it all down by remembering that I was merely a visitor within its limits. While I loved every bit of sprawling concrete and fell victim to the comfort of surrounding crowds, my legs struggling to keep up with the flow of pedestrian traffic reminded me that I was a tourist. I’m from Colorado where we move slowly. We make scheduled and organized stops to look at the sunset or the mountains every now and then. We always know which way is west.
It’s always been a dream of mine to be a writer in New York, ever since I began writing rhyming poems about boys I liked on the blank space on my math tests. New York is the land of possibilities, home to some of the most talented creatives. I wanted to be among them, even if I wasn’t considered one. This trip was part of my impossible dream: could I live here? Could I survive in this foreign and often times foreboding city? Aside from my tourist wonderment, which resulted in constant picture taking, my almost immediate taxi carsickness from La Guardia to the hotel, and my difficulty of keeping up with the undulations of the city streets, yes. As overly used as this narrative is, New York does have it’s own state of mind; one that is both complicated and intoxicating. When you’re there, you feel it with every movement. In some small way, it’s a part of me already.
Each physical step after that realization came with more conviction. The city’s strengths lie in its sense of urgency. Its bustle is what keeps the city moving like a systematic grid, a fast-paced chessboard of sorts. You may not know exactly how to get to where you want to be, but you damn sure know where you’re going. And one day, hopefully, I will become a part of that impossible dream in real-time, just constantly trying to keep up and hoping that some of the moves I make are the ones that will get me where I want to be.


Take the “L” and Wait in the “L”

            The first thing I noticed when I stepped out of the airport was the line for the taxi. New York is like the Disneyworld of cities, only instead of the immediate satisfaction of finally getting on the Tower of Doom, you are instantly overcome with a towering sense of urgently having to pee and you feel as if doom is your only destiny because you’re forced to hold it in for what seems like twelve moon cycles.  You wait in line for the bathroom (because the improbability of finding a public restroom is closely related to finding gold in your front yard so people flock to the only publically operated toilet), you wait in line to go into a niche hipster clothing store, you wait in line at street carts to buy a pretzel the size of your head, you wait in line for a taxi, and if you feel compelled to wait some more, you hop into the closest line even if you don’t know what it’s for because maybe you’ll be somewhere in the front part of the queue and you’re tired of taking the perpetual “L.” Instead of waiting, Mike and I sat at a bench and stared at our phones until the line never got shorter. For all we know, we were watching looped footage of the same people exiting the airport.
            I’ve never been as carsick as that first taxi ride. Constructed by Satan-enthusiasts, the suspension on that car was designed specifically to capture the movement of tires turning over every bump, crack, ant, and leaf in the road. It was like we were crushing over the bones of small children and the only available method was in a violent thrashing akin to a fork stuck in a NutriBullet. I heard a tourist in the hotel lobby gripe later about the way people drive in New York. Colorado fosters some pretty passive aggressive drivers who absolutely will not allow you to go above 65 mph in the left lane of traffic, especially if it looks like you have the audacity to appear like you want to be at 75 mph. They hold their middle fingers up to the windshield proudly as they brake-check you, unafraid of the possible consequences had I been a crazy gun-wielding sociopath. While somewhat used to bad driving scenarios, in New York I looked on in horror every time someone cut across four lanes of traffic in 3 seconds with little to no warning while hundreds of people tried to cross the street simultaneously. I was half-expecting to witness vehicular homicide so I memorized every detail in case I was called in for testimony. Traffic laws are merely suggestions here, I conceded. I held my head down as I listened in on the hotel lobby conversation, but in my mind we all high-fived in bitter agreement.

The Borough Lullaby

            My hotel room was probably the most accurate example of what my apartment would be like size-wise if I were to live in New York. It was about 400 square feet equipped with a full kitchen and a bathroom. When my friends who live in Harlem came by, one commented that the kitchen in our room had more counter space, which fit approximately four king-size Reese’s packages. We only had two suitcases between Mike and I, but by the second day, I already felt overwhelmed by objects in the small bedroom area. I’ve been watching a lot of Hoarders reruns lately and our room started to feel like it was closing in on us. I imagined my growing souvenir collection and my newly acquired “I <3 NY” shirt becoming a breeding ground for cockroaches. I try not to let my mind wander too much, but when I do my life becomes a sad TLC show. How does one breathe when all the furniture is strategically placed three inches away from each other with just enough room to squeeze a small body through? A thought to keep in mind for future New York apartment decorating: leave space for air.
            It definitely felt good to leave our makeshift apartment whenever we could. We took the subway to Times Square where I ate approximately one sausage pita and one spicy hot dog, which were bought from a vendor who was a chronic eye-roller. Both food items were consumed with sustenance in mind and were not tasted. Teenagers in prom dresses were taking pictures on the sidewalk. What a different kind of life you would lead growing up here, I thought. During my prom, we had reservations at Olive Garden.
Like a true tourist I grabbed some event and tour pamphlets. Everything was closing down, as it was around midnight. Though still much louder than my suburban neighborhood life, Times Square seemed almost serene as some of the lights started to turn off in unison. We sat down and observed the people around us and watched as the stores closed their doors.
When we got back, I Googled the boroughs of New York and subsequently what “boroughs” meant. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island were all little worlds of their own made up of their own smaller neighborhood worlds. While counting them aloud, I slowly fell asleep.


The Mascot of New York is A Panhandler

Music is better in New York. Food is better in New York. Even if it’s the same as anywhere else, you start to drink the proverbial water. Even the clothes are better and I visited the same stores I would back home. We walked through Soho’s shopping district, which was part designer, part sketchy jewelers who sell knockoff Rolexes. Instead of the TV trope of a guy in a seedy alleyway offering contraband straight from his trench coat, salespeople from the corner gift shops send a shady third-party member upon customer request. They guide you around the corner following a network of equally sketchy people who are casually sitting pretending to read a magazine or leaning against a building along every block. I definitely began to question the intentions of every person idle on the sidewalk as they were probably a part of the many different strings of illegal activity, but like the guy passing through the subway cars explaining his fictional financial predicament and boldly requesting money from strangers, you just end up ignoring it. If New York had a mascot, it would be a man demanding you to give him all your money.
There are a lot of brands that are sold through a larger distributor, and in New York many of them have their own standalone stores. It was cool to see Brandy Melville, Stussy, or Supreme, as I’ve only seen them sold through stores like Pac Sun or Urban Outfitters. I was awestruck by all the options. I was also unprepared for Soho’s fashion as I did not own a pair of Adidas shoes, a black leather jacket, and black jeans with slits in the knees, or bring a backpack, though now I suddenly really wanted to buy them. I wanted them on my body. I would not stop until I checked these items off my list. I so badly wanted to be from Soho, or at least appear that I was from Soho, but without a trust fund I was unfortunately unqualified and grossly unprepared.
 We stood in line for Supreme unaware it was the day of release for a new graphic T-Shirt. I scanned over every item just to make sure that every minute of waiting was equivalently met by two minutes of thoroughly examining the brand’s products, even if I had no intention of buying it. I left with one hat and many stores later, with no leather jacket. But you better believe that hat was better than one I would have purchased in a different state.

Frogger: The Streets Edition

            We were running late for our 7:00 pm reservation at a Korean food restaurant called Bann. We’re always late, but we had the unpredictability of the city as our excuse. There was some kind of marathon being held, which was incredibly inconvenient for practically everyone who had somewhere to be. People had been waiting for the surprise crowd of runners for over thirty minutes just to cross the street. Some people were brave and tried to break through the swarm. Mike and I were part of the impatient so we casually walked through the group. The first few marathoners, albeit annoyed, ran around us. While I was ignorantly commenting that it was like a game of real-life Frogger, a girl slammed her body right into me. Instead of running to the side to avoid me, she shoved her arms into my shoulders in one deliberate motion.
I got my first taste of New York in that moment as my eyes glazed over in instant anger. As a suddenly developed natural impulse, I pushed her back. She was pushed into the runners in front of her, cursed to herself loudly and kept running. Defeat. I triumphantly walked to the other side of the street. In true New York fashion, I thought to myself I’ve got somewhere to be. We got in a taxi that didn’t move for fifteen minutes because of the marathon traffic. It wouldn’t be a successful and healthy relationship if I didn’t politely remind Mike that I had suggested the subway.
It took us another thirty minutes to get to Bann, where we enjoyed a large barbecue platter that ambitiously stated it fed 4-6 people. The medium platter claimed it fed 2-4 people. I can’t imagine how ravenously starved 4 people who made the terrible mistake of ordering the medium would be. One large barbecue platter and $200 later the four of us left only partially satisfied. Mike’s empty stomach and the heavy liquor pours left me with a randomly drunk boyfriend who commanded ice cream. (Can I talk about how in New York I was never once asked for my ID? Either in New York I somehow don’t look like I could be cast as a regular on the Disney Channel or they are pretty relaxed with their liquor laws.) We found a place that made donut ice cream sandwiches and all was right in the world again.


Only Famous People Wear Hoodies to Fancy Restaurants

            While Soho was bougie in an I still want to be like that sort of way, 5th Avenue was lined with stores that are on a level I just can’t relate to and neither could half the people crammed into the area. It was cool to see some expensive stores but window-shopping was all I could afford.
I was upset that I couldn’t go into a shopping frenzy because I was trying to be financially responsible. Though disappointed, I was too busy noticing that Simon & Schuster was right next door to Aldo. A shoe store. I’m still beaming at that one. I tried to slip it back into conversation several points throughout the day.
We went into the Rockefeller Center, home to NBC Studios, where I would love to work one day. I daydreamed about stealing an employee badge and exploring the building. In my fantasy, I would meet a high-up business executive who would somehow perceive an untapped talent within me that needed to be fostered just by casually talking to me on the elevator. They would give me a job as a writer for a primetime show and I would modestly accept.
 I settled for the NBC Studio gift shop. I had been upset that I didn’t know about the NBC Studio tour before my trip, which I had learned about from one of my pamphlets. Online all the tours were booked weeks out. I complained throughout the entire trip. Why hadn’t I used my stupid obsessively pre-planning head of mine? Instead I wasted it on remembering to bring two containers of hand sanitizer. Useless brain.
Throughout our 5th Avenue and Rockefeller adventures, Mike discovered a food truck with what he claimed served the best ice cream. It was basic ass soft serve, but like I said, everything tastes better in New York. Even the ice cream cones, which were offered in double sizes, two cones stuck together with the ice cream swirled between both. Though I teased him about it, I secretly loved it too.
            I had never been to Central Park. I didn’t know how expansive it was. It even houses a zoo! Mike made fun of me for wanting to look at trees, but I was intent on going to the park. So after a full day of walking through 5th Ave, I made Mike walk through a small section of it and take pictures with me. An older couple sitting on a bench looked on as I instructed Mike to take a Polaroid of me standing by some trees. I wanted to ask them if they would like a Polaroid of themselves. Immediately I recognized this thought as creepy as if I was offering candy to a group of children in the park. They probably would have enjoyed a spontaneously procured keepsake but my social anxiety caused me to brand myself as a reverse pedophile. I let it go.
We took a taxi to another restaurant found through Groupon called 212 Steakhouse. This time we weren’t late because we pushed back our reservation knowing that the only way to be on time is to keep pushing back the time. Our steaks were served on a piping hot skillet still cooking in butter. It was amazing. We were significantly underdressed and you could tell by the service. We tipped 20% almost out of spite, but also because we aren’t terrible humans though my new Supreme beanie probably said otherwise. In Colorado I constantly feel overdressed. In New York, I felt like even my $80 dress was offending everybody. I kept pretending that people thought we looked famous. Who else would eat a $45 steak in a hoodie? Only the famous would.
The night ended with a quick look into Grand Central Station. The ceiling overhead was painted with constellations. I’m in a movie, I thought. I immediately wanted to be in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. We left, bought more ice cream, and sat on the sidewalk. In the distance a man was playing music. Hoards of people hurriedly walked past. A couple danced in line with the music, unaware of everything else around them.


Meet Me in NBC Studios

            On the last day, we found tickets for the Saturday NBC Studio Tour. I had compulsively refreshed the website every few hours, just in case tickets would randomly be available. I had been beating myself up about not coordinating this earlier and suddenly I was overwhelmed by excitement. This is the only time being a hopeful optimistic has served me well. The flight wasn’t until the night, so we had the whole day. We woke up fairly early to make it back to Rockefeller Center for a second time.
An NBC page greeted us at the NBC Studio gift shop Kenneth from 30 Rock style. We were led into what can be best described as a security checkpoint through a door that looked like it was just part of the wall. The trapdoor led to a line, of course, where two straight-faced women rummaged through your belongings to make sure you didn’t have any weapons in the event you wanted to mace Jimmy Fallon, assumingly. There were no introductions or explanations upon entering the door, just the weight of immediate distrust setting a weird tone for the tour. One lady whispered loudly for everyone to hear Are you serious? She whispered it again when we were cautioned that photography was strictly forbidden, emphasizing the words with more irritation the second time.
Page 1 and Page 2 passed around a tablet for email addresses. We’re not going to spam you guys, ha ha joked Page 2. The job requirements for a page included a person with a sense of humor, I noted from my recent Googling about NBC pages.
            In classic New York fashion, we’re going to all cram into one elevator, said Page 2. Everyone laughed. Ashamed, I did too. It was probably scripted, but I was on the NBC Studio Tour! That was guided by two women slightly younger than me that have similar career goals and were active members of a place I wanted to work at! Who brandished real employee badges!
            The first stop on the tour was the studio where Lester Holt anchors the NBC Nightly News. To be honest, I had no idea who he was. But the room was small and it was literally just a desk covered in a blanket with a blank wall behind it. The room was filled with lights and monitors, but was extremely empty otherwise. I was surprised by how mechanical the space was. I imagined the guy sitting there giving news to no one but also to a whole nation. Stripped of television effects and generated backgrounds, he sits here by himself surrounded by crewmembers and talks to a camera.
            We made some small structural and historical stops, though I can’t remember the details because I was closely watching Page 1. She was quiet, but knew all the facts that were required for her to know. She wasn’t exactly outgoing (page job requirement number two), but she lit up every time she talked about where we were and who was also working within the building. She was explaining the sound panels that were created for Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show stage area and how the acoustics were invented with audience engagement in mind and she noticeably began to smile as she talked. At the end of her spiel, she asked if anybody had any questions. No one said anything. How do I get your job? I thought.
            The pages showed us control rooms, sound editing rooms, and the graphic editing room. Each area can be peered into from glass walls, obviously created and arranged for guest touring. It was like being in a zoo. Save a few stage and studio areas, we never physically stood in a lot of the areas we were viewing. Instead, we looked into them from the other side of the glass and watched them on display.
            The best part of the tour was that it was Saturday before summertime. That meant for us that SNL was being set up on the stage and people were rehearsing, something that not everyone who goes on these tours gets to see. It was also the show’s season finale. Through a window behind the audience seating, crewmembers were organizing the strikingly small sets. Fred Armisen from Portlandia was wearing a wig within my line of vision! He was blocking his movements for the cameras in a classroom set. The pages talked about some SNL facts, but all I could think about is how if I had the capability of being star struck, I would be in this very moment. Instead, I longed to be on the other side of the glass.
            The tour ended with the tour members recreating their own live talk show, which essentially meant that we chose roles to pretend like we just did something cool. There were options to be control room operators who I assumed pushed a fake button, members of a band who shook tambourines and hit bongos arrythmically, an announcer, a host and a celebrity guest who all read off of a teleprompter, members of the studio audience who were instructed to laugh or clap on cue, and what I got shafted as: camera operator.
I originally wanted to be the host because though I’m shy and timid, those adjectives are something that I just build up in my mind. I’m actually outgoing and confident, but something stops me from showing it. A teenaged girl “called it” mid-sentence without letting Page 2 finish her introduction about the skit. I graciously allowed it, because aside from pushing a marathon runner, I’m more of a pacifist.
I ended up behind a camera that was mounted not only to the ground so the equipment was unable to be moved, but also on one fixed point so not even the frame could be moved. The only operable piece to the camera was a zoom that’s setting was set to jerky and ineffectual. The teenaged host began the skit in front of my camera, peeking through a curtain. She came barreling out and read loudly from the teleprompter. I didn’t need to zoom because everything was already in frame so I stood there and watched the awkwardness ensue. When we watched it back, I realized that we were all actually being recorded not just the “actors.” When the camera switched to the three camera operators, I was the only one glaring. We were sent a link of the video directly to our emails, which I don’t know that I’ll ever watch. I see how it could be considered a cool experience but it was filled with too much novelty and made me leave the fake stage disappointed.
In the elevator I asked Page 1 how long she had been a page. Three months of a one-year program she said. She commented on how much she loved it. I should have asked what she wanted to do within the industry and what she was doing within the program to meet those goals, but instead I asked about if she had internship experience prior. She did, but seemed to have little job experience. I then should have asked if she had any advice about getting into the program. Instead, I built it up in my mind that she didn’t want to be bothered. I listened to her answer simple questions about the program asked by another teenager who had little knowledge of anything related to NBC, the program, or television. In the moment, I didn’t have any insightful questions. When I left, I thought of twenty. Useless brain. I left with my NBC Studio tour pin and 15% off the NBC gift shop.


Nobu in New York

            For a day I couldn’t get the line Eatin’ crab out in Malibu at Nobu out of my head, a Drake lyric that I didn’t know reserved a place in my memory bank. Only the line was remembered as the abridged and misinterpreted Malibu and Nobuuuu and when Mike would ask me a question that called for a yes or a no answer, I would always reply in my best rapper impression with Nobuuuu.
Are you hungry? Nobuuuu.
Do you want to go into that store? Nobuuuu.
Apparently Nobu is a restaurant and there was not just one in Malibu, but also in New York. Mike made reservations to appease my unknown and unexpressed wishes. It was there where we were the most underdressed and I felt the most “famous.” There’s a Nobu and a Nobu Next Door, which is essentially the exact same restaurant, only it is next door to the original Nobu for reasons unbeknownst to me. At Nobu Next Door, the tables were so close together, the waiter had to pull the table out for me to sit down in the booth and then push the table back in. A couple sat down next to us. Mike and I talked about our plans to one day move to New York and what that would mean jobwise. In one rehearsed and calculated movement, the couple got up and left before ordering their food. Apparently they were not okay with the peasant conversation we were having.
Similarly while Mike walked to the restroom, a lady commented that he must be famous because of the way he looked. A compliment maybe, but unlikely. But like I said before, when people stare, I just pretend I’m famous and that everyone is curious as to who I am and what they may have seen me on, because one day I hope to be anyway. Might as well have people start questioning it now even if it’s at my expense. I ignored everyone and their judgments and ate my overpriced sushi because it was as close as I could get to eatin’ crab out in Malibu at Nobu and I was okay with that.
            Comforted by the bleak weather, we walked back to the hotel to get our bags before going to the airport. In true New York fashion, our plane took off into the nighttime surrounded by fog and light rain. It wasn’t the last day, I know that. Despite the city’s shortcomings, I barely noticed any chaos as I drank the water of New York. Every piece of my adventure was entirely my own. Even though everywhere we went, I couldn’t tell you which way was west, I knew this was a place I could get to know. The city is a part of me and I promise I will be back, New York.

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