Wednesday, December 10, 2014

New Yawk Today: Midnight Train

When I got on the L train at Lorimer, I noticed that the guy sitting next to the door was curled over in a peculiar way. He looked like the usual downwardly mobile Bushwick denizen: plaid jacket, dark jeans, broad belt with large silver buckle. I liked his curly light brown hair and in other circumstances, I might have found him attractive. But his face was rather grey and he definitely did not look well. He looked harmless enough, though, so I sat one seat over from him.

As the train careened through the tunnel towards Bedford station, his equilibrium seemed to get worse. He leaned over so far that I thought his head might end up on my lap. But at the last moment, he straightened himself up with a grunt. I exchanged glances of amusement with the girl across the aisle. After a moment, he began to lean over again. This time, his mouth opened slightly and a thick strand of drool dangled like a white thread and slowly dropped to the floor.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
His bloodshot blue eyes opened for a moment and he mumbled, "I'm okay."
"He's just drunk," the girl on the other side of the train said. 
The guy attempted to stand up and as he did so, he reached toward the seat as if to pick something up. Whatever this invisible item was, it was apparently wrapped around the metal arm rest.
"I think he's a little more than just drunk," I observed to the girl. 
The guy was now leaning against the door of the subway. Everyone was casting furtive glances at him, in that New York kind of way, not sure if we ought to ignore him or do something about him, since he looked like he might keel over or start vomiting or both. Then water started to cascade out of his pants, darkening the denim of his jeans. It was so surreal that it took me a moment to realize that he was urinating. So much urine poured out of him, it created a little lake that promptly began to form finger-like rivulets. Everyone hopped out of the way to avoid the urine that was now spreading throughout the train car. The guy continued to lean on the door, unaware that he had peed on himself.

He finally sat himself down again as I got off the train at Union Square. I wondered if I should find the conductor as I headed toward the stairway for the N, R and Q trains. But the train had already started off.

In the area at the foot of the stairs, a blond tattooed busker was packing up. I recognized him as Morgan O'Kane, a remarkable banjo player whom I've seen performing at a few places in Brooklyn. He was in the middle of a conversation with another busker, one of those black guys that drum on plaster buckets.
"I like this area," O'Kane was saying.
"Yeah," the drummer said, "It's near the ky... the key... what are these things called?"
"Right, kiosk," the drummer nodded, "Sounds Japanese, don't it?"
He offered O'Kane an enormous bag of trail mix.
"You want some? I only eat the peanuts out of these."
"Sure," O'Kane said. 
The offering and the acceptance of the trail mix seemed to seal the deal. O'Kane opened up his banjo case and cleared out the money that was already in it. The two of them sat down to play together in a weird and wild amalgamation of Appalachia and inner city that instantly drew a crowd. I watched until I saw the guys that had congregated on the stairs making tracks. Throwing a dollar in the banjo case, I hurried upstairs to catch the arriving train.

NYC, it's an adventure just getting home. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New Yawk Today: A Fight on a Rainy Day

I've been spending much of this week with a friend who just went through a surgical procedure. She lives in Williamsburg and I usually don't mind spending time here, getting out of my usual zone and seeing what's new here. Today, however, I woke up to pouring rain, rather chagrined I was on the Brooklyn side of the river. I had promised to run an errand in the East Village for another friend in Europe. Not the good day for it. The cat curled up contentedly in the corner seemed to have the best idea for what to do on such a wet afternoon. But after fixing us a nice frittata and a strong cup of joe, I decided to go and get the errand over with.

I was okay with this decision during the half mile trek to the L train, but on the half mile trek down Avenue B, I started to grumble about slogging out in the rain. My ancient Persian Lamb coat, usually impervious to weather, was soaking wet by then. I was thinking about poor sheep out grazing in the rain and how they must feel. The fur had absorbed so much rain, it felt five pounds heavier. I could feel the damp down onto my arms.

So after the errand, I decide to catch a cab back. There were no cabs on Avenue B but on Houston, I manage to flag down a nice cabbie. I'm always curious about cabbies and I have a habit of reading their names on that little card in the dividing window. Once, I hailed a guy whose name was Man Fuk Sun. Another time, I was in the chariot of a certain Primitivo de la Cruz. And a friend once regaled me with a story about a cabbie who's name was Asswipe. Trying not to laugh and just to hear it said aloud, he asked that cab driver, "What's your name sir?" The cab driver responded jovially, "As-WEE-peh!"

Well, my cabbie didn't have such a colorful name. But it was a little unusual that he had Schneider for a last name since he's black. I wondered in my mind if Jewish people owned slaves way back when? Or did he come by the name Schneider in another way? Adoption?

Anyway, Schneider and me had a quiet ride, talked a little about the weather. There was a bottleneck when we got off the bridge. Nothing major and it just about $10 to get back to the 'Burg. But then half a block from my destination, a black car with California plates was stopped in the middle of the street. Two Latino guys were in front of the community garden having a serious argument. I couldn't hear what was going on. Schneider and I surmised that perhaps the black car had been swiped by another car? Other cars stalled behind us and started honking.

Then a large white guy with orange hair in an orange hoodie emerges from the drivers seat of the black car.  Oh, wait, so the Latino guy wasn't behind the wheel?

"C'mon, let's go!" Orange says to his friend on the street, who at that moment, tears open his raincoat Superman-style and drops it onto the ground, revealing a tie-dye tee shirt. He raises his fists and challenges the other guy, "You wanna fight?"

There's a push-shove brawl in the rain. Now the cars really are honking. The meter keeps ticking. My cabbie curses. I roll down the window and call out to the orange hair guy, "Can't you just pull the car over to the side so we can get by?" Orange hair guy glances at me but ignores my request, continuing to whine at his friend, "Get in the car!" The chorus of car honking gets louder and louder. I am getting a bit worked up, "Fucking pull over to the side, man!" Finally, Orange gets back in the car and roars off down the street, leaving his buddy still fighting in the rain.

New York, man. Good day to stay in.

Man, that fight cost me an extra $3 on the meter. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Not Your Peon (a short rant)

I just said no to a Production Coordinator job for a short film and the (paltry but much needed) $600 that went with it. Good script but I do not need someone else treating me like a nonentity.

"Call me in the morning," he emails.
"Okay, I gotta be in Brooklyn at 10:30 so I'll call you at 9."
"Not before 9:30," he replies.

This was at 2AM last night. Oh okay so I'm gonna get up earlier and hustle to Brooklyn by 10 and sit on a stoop to call him, so I can accommodate his wish for a little more sleep? And I'm not only filing SAG paperwork and getting insurance and finding locations (within two weeks!), but I also volunteered to do a script breakdown and shooting schedule (no 1st AD on this shoot) because I can't stand a poorly organized production. The only thing I wanted was a Producer credit rather than Production Assistant, which for some reason he thinks I am. And rather than jumping for joy that someone would actually take on more responsibility, this guy (an older writer and actor) says, "Call me at a time that's totally inconvenient for you so I know how badly you want this job."

I actually did wake up earlier to convenience him, but then I thought that this augurs poorly for how I'd be treated for the rest of the production. Ugh but I gotta scrounge up some cash...

Monday, October 20, 2014

New Yawk Today: on city etiquette & Chinese douchiness

So it's 10AM and I'm just waking up, listening to the city sounds outside. The traffic. The hum of people. I can hear someone's cell phone ring and one lady seems particularly loud. So loud, it almost seems like she's in my apartment. Wait a second, what the fuck? Through my half open door, I see that a Chinese woman has just stepped into my living room with a rolling suitcase.
"I'm looking for so-and-so," she says in Mandarin, looking around.
I hurriedly get up and emerge from my room.
"Oh!" she says in surprise, "Does so-and-so live here?"
"Who are you?" I demand, "How did you get the key?"
She beats a fast retreat as I chase her to the door.
"I don't have the key," she says and pantomimes sliding a card between the door and the lock. 
I look at her like she's insane. She sort of shrugs in response as she exits, like, how was I supposed to know this isn't so-and-so's apartment.  After she leaves, I double lock behind her.

Okay, so I'm a native New Yorker and I do take for granted some city etiquette that newbies might not know. Like, if your friend isn't home, you don't fucking break into their apartment.

But most newbies aren't really arrogant. Most of them are just clueless. If they take up all the sidewalk, it's not out of entitlement, but because they have no sense of space. If they don't meet your eyes, it's because they don't know how to deal with people, not because they feel a sense of superiority. If they get coffee at Dunkin' Donuts rather than the fantastic coffee shop next door, its from a knee-jerk sheeplike instinct, not because they're snubbing the locals. But this Chinese lady? Apparently, she thinks it's okay to just let yourself into someone else's apartment.

Which makes me think of this recent article, Douchebag: The White Racial Slur We've All Been Waiting For. Attempting to articulate the imbalance in race, gender and class that we've all been feeling, Michael Mark Cohen says, "The douchebag is someone — overwhelmingly white, rich, heterosexual males — who insist upon, nay, demand their white male privilege in every possible set and setting."

The lady that barged into my apartment is a Chinese version of the douchebag. I don't have a word for this, but all of us Taiwanese (and Hong Kongers too) are keenly aware of an arrogance in the Chinese mentality that is pretty damn douchy though they aren't aping white male privilege. Like that recent row about Chinese people who allow their kids to piss in the street. Okay, fine, I understand that there's a cultural thing there. I had differences with a Portuguese woman who also thought it was okay for her kid to piss on the street. But it takes a pushy Chinese version of a douchebag to publicly call for parents to bring kids to pee in the streets of Hong Kong. I wonder if there is a Chinese slang that would articulate this better.

Anyway, it's too much of a lovely sunny autumn day to keep thinking about douchebags. Maybe I should learn how to double lock my door. But then again, I've got this perverted insistence on trusting my fellow human, which probably needs a better word than stupid or naive.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New Yawk today

Seen in NYC today:

- A yellowjacket caught in a subway. Everyone does the duck, swipe & dive yellowjacket dance. 

- In the ladies room, I hear from the next stall,"Oh shit!" A torrent of clear fluid floods the floor. Has her water broken? I'm about to say something when I see in the space under the stall, a box of Patron tequila being carefully set down. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

East Village to East London: Hoxton, Hackney and Bethnal Green (Part 3)

I spent the last few weeks of summer two blocks away from the canal in the Haggerson area. Or rather Hoxton, since I was just south of the canal. I love this corner of London. Like the far East Village (the area I refuse to call Alphabet City), it's a formerly industrial area and one of the most bucolic parts of the city.

This was the only one map I found that really shows the neighborhoods. But it doesn't show the canal. Limehouse (where the canal begins) is by Canary Wharf. See the the double decker bus? Imagine a blue line going up along the road above the bus and then making a left by Victoria Park and swerving under Broadway Market. Map by Running for Crayons

I was a five minute walk along the canal to Broadway Market, which I've written about previously. There's a fantastic Saturday market on this little strip right below London Fields, but even when it's not the weekend, it's amazing. Yes, there's a Costcutters, but beyond that, no other major chain stores. It's all mom and pops: a dozen great cafes and restaurants, a handful of Muslim groceries, a small pharmacy, a sewing store, a 300 year old pub and a nice assortment of other drinking establishments. Oh and THREE bookstores. Totally my kind of neighborhood.

View from Solche Cilician, a Turkish place at the bottom end of Broadway Market. I liked the breakfasts here and the view of the gasworks along the canal.  

I took this picture back in January when I first found Broadway Market. The strip is full of good buskers on a Saturday when the market is happening. This is in front of the Dove, a popular pub. Next door is Stories, another good place for drinks and up the road is The Cat & Mutton, which has been there since the 1700s. 

Broadway Market sells everything from food to vintage clothing. 

Never did try the pho here, but there always seemed to be a line. And the price is so right. 

I remember barbecued eel on a stick from my Taiwanese parents, but jellied eel? Sounds, um, interesting. At night, this place is a gin joint. Literally. That's all they have.  Check it out

One of my favorite cafes to hang is this gourmet grocery, La Bouche. Free wifi and a fantastic window to people watch. 

I always want to try everything in the shop. 
This is me editing at La Bouche. Notice the glazed eyes and air of resignation. 
I love the unspoken etiquette of the city. If someone is getting attention from a bunch of cops, city dwellers know to stand around and act as witnesses. This black lady was getting ticketed or something and there was not only that other black lady standing by on the corner but on that patch of lawn to the right, there were another three or four people. And I was watching from the window at La Bouche.  

Broadway Market is bounded by the Canal on one end and London Fields on the other. This place so reminded me of the Grassy Knoll in Tompkins Square. No dog run, but there's a heated swimming pool on the upper end of the park. Yes, I said it's HEATED. And there's a decent pub in the park too.

Cutting diagonally through London Fields, you'd find yourself on Mare Street where the Hackney Picturehouse is. There's a performance space here too that I haven't visited yet. But I did catch Lucy here on Monday, when tickets are only £6. More about that film one of these days... 

My favorite part of this area is the canal. I never did walk the whole way to Angel. I only got as far as  that small finger of water that juts from Regents Canal called Kingsland Basin, where there were a few cafes right along the canal.

Towpath Cafe. Amazing coffee and what a location. 

Spent a couple of afternoons drinking too much coffee at the Towpath. 
This odd looking barge has a screening room for films. 
Towpath Cafe from another angle. Next to Towpath is Proud Archivist, a restaurant/bar/cafe with a serious art gallery. And also a little arepa joint run by a Colombian family.  

Inside Arepa & Co. Got my little fix of sabroso latino here. One thing that London doesn't seem to have much of.  
Selfie reflection at Arepa & Co. 
Coot mum & chick on the canal. 

Yep, that's the life... (click for a pang of jealousy).

In the other direction from Angel, there's Victoria Park, which was opened in 1845 as a goodwill gesture to the poor people of the East End and became known as the People's Park. There was a soapbox in the park that was just as important as the one in Hyde Park and also a pagoda and a bathing pavilion, which closed in 1989. More about the history of the park here. The area outside of the park is still pretty working-class, but now there's Victoria Village, a little pocket of gentrified hipster chic at the edge of the park. 

Entrepreneurial boaters selling coffee, hot dogs and ice cream at one of the entrances to the park. 

Pigeons on some weird sculpture in the park. 

Hanging by the canal lock.

House envy. 

Chicken-sized pigeons. I was told they were from Turkey. 

This pear tree was growing along the park. Also saw blackberries and grapes. 
Roman Road market near Victoria Park is a largely Muslim with requisite fabric stalls, but also fruit and vegetables. 
Ladies on Roman Road. 

South of the canal, on the way to Shoreditch, there's Haggerston Park and Hackney City Farm. There were several city farms set up in London in the 1970s and 1980s. According to Wikipedia, they were inspired by the community garden movement in the Lower East Side. The city farms are volunteer run and there's usually a produce market on the weekends.

I was imagining the Hackney City Farm to be like the Children's Zoo in Central Park, but it was more like a couple of yards with a pig, two goats and a variety of chickens running loose. 
Giant porker at Hackney City Farm. 

Goat getting some sun. 

Chicken face. 

When you've had enough of gazing at the goat and chasing chickens at Hackney City Farms, you can pop by this amazing Italian joint Frizzante, which is right on the outer edge of the farm. 
Random beefeater costume in Bethnal Green. 

Is it a mark of NYC gentrification that there aren't any more shop signs like this? 
This is Lucy Sparrow, at the Corner Shop, her art installation in Bethnal Green. 
Everything in the shop was made of felt. 

Kingsland Road is where you can find the tube and also an incredible assortment of pubs. Oh and this mosque, which made me want to make an animation where it turns into a rocket and blasts off into space. 

This is by no means exhaustive of this area.

I didn't manage to take pictures of Columbia Road. (There is a great art gallery there called Nelly Duff and of course the amazing flower market on Sunday.)  

I didn't take pictures of all the pubs and nighttime fun on Kingsland Road in Dalston (ah, Passing Clouds on Wednesday night!) 

I was here for two weeks and it seemed that I really could live here if I didn't have to worry about pesky things like obtaining a working visa. Did I mention that my room was £100 per week? And it wasn't a hole in the wall with linoleum floors crawling with cockroaches either. No way is that possible in the East Village. Not even way back when. I'm already missing my walks along the canal and trying to figure out my way back for a longer spell...

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

East Village to East London: Whitechapel & Shoreditch (Part 2)

When most people think of the Lower East Side, they usually think of Jewish immigrants on Essex Street hawking pickles, elbowing Italian pushcart peddlers, Irish bartenders and Chinese laundry workers in that crowded grimy area of Manhattan where the other half lives.

Similarly, the East End is often equated with the Whitechapel and Shoreditch area, where the immigrant hordes of London settled their tempest tossed selves. I'm skipping my way through the history, but if you're interested in learning about it in greater detail, there's more here and here.

The Jewish history of Whitechapel is still really evident. Not sure what this building was, but it clearly was something Jewish once. This shop is where the Jack the Ripper tour begins. 

Looks almost heraldic. 

There supposedly were over 150 synagogues in the area once. Now it's mostly Muslim. 

Like the Lower East Side (and everywhere that poor people are gathered en masse), there's a radical past in this area too. The Freedom Press was founded by Peter Kropotkin in Whitechapel. Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxembourg and Maxim Gorky are known to have attended meetings in this area. They also probably drank together here and pounded on tables while having heated discussions.

The area has gentrified greatly, particularly Shoreditch, which I'm sure is unrecognizable to people who've been there for twenty years. But its working-class roots are still really apparent, though Shoreditch can seem like the Meatpacking at night.

Alleyway to a few Bangladeshi shops.  
Love the hand-painted signs on some of the shops. "Serves you right." 

The alleyways in Whitechapel where Jack the Ripper skulked are still really evident. The sign says that one of the Jack the Ripper suspects worked at this pub.

Typical night in Shoreditch.
Typical night in Shoreditch for the other half. Well, at least they have each other. 
I didn't manage to get any pictures of the Shoreditch joints that I liked except this place. It's an art house cinema with a bar and you can bring your drinks and sink into an extremely comfy velvet armchair. Those lighted boxes? They have a deep well for you to put your drink so you don't knock it over in the dark. Genius. I also really liked The Book Club
And more than any other area in the East End, this is still clearly an immigrant neighborhood, though now the immigrants mostly hail from Bangladesh. I learned a little about the history of Bangladesh while there that makes me eager to learn more. Did you know, for example, that Bangladeshis fought to split from Pakistan so they could retain their language? Naturally, this deeply resonates with a girl who grew up speaking Taiwanese when it was considered a subversive language.

Entrance to Altab Ali Park on Whitechapel High Street. There was a church here since the 1300s and archeologists have even found remains dating from when the Romans were in London. The last church on this site was destroyed in the blitz. There's a memorial here for the martyrs of the Bengali Language Movement and the park is named after a Bangladeshi guy who was killed in a racially motivated incident. 

Scene on Brick Lane. 
Treats at Tayyab's, a famous Indian restaurant in Whitechapel. 

Former Bangladeshi shop in a Victorian building that survived the blitz. 

One of the several mosques on Whitechapel Street. 

Bricks on Brick Lane. 

This is also the area known for street art in London. You can see my pics from the Shoreditch Street Art tour here. The tour starts and ends at the two biggest street markets in this neighborhood: Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane. I've already written about the Brick Lane market. Here are some pictures from Spitalfields Market, which is much more upscale.

Entrance to Spitalfields Market. There's been a market on this site for over 350 years. 

Bald twin lady heads. Some nice antique finds here, but prices are steeper than Brick Lane. On the other hand, you can't find a whole bin of silk top hats in great condition in Brick Lane. 

The spire of Spitalfields Church and I Goat by  Kenny Hunter. It stands on packing crates and it's the winner of a 2011 open competition. 

Some kinda demonstration in front of I Goat

Yeah, I did a double take too.