I admit it. I interact with people through technology. Nothing would ever get done otherwise. But, when I can carve out a hot moment, I'd rather shout a hello than write one, or grab a cup of coffee with someone rather than listen through a plastic receiver pressed into my ear. The experience is just richer that way. It's in the eyes. Plus, in-person tête-à-têtes make for juicier details.
Like you probably do, I e-mail or call a litany of folks on any given workday. What's the scoop on such-and-such? Or, Off the record, what's really driving xyz? Or, What are the issues nobody's talking about?
For the ever-curious journalist a day on the phones is a good one. Who else has license to openly admit having a limited knowledge of a given subject matter only to then be granted access to a top expert in the field? And, there's no pretense. There couldn't be. If you don't understand, you're obliged to say so and have the nugget explained again so you can fully wrap your mind around it. Even when you do understand, it bodes well to repeat back that which you understand as you understood it. And, when the question you've got a real hankering to answer has been ducked, you can be creative on the fly in figuring out how many ways to ask the same question so that it's answered. All without being considered rude.
Thus, a day spent at a seminar, meeting sources face-to-face--who've picked up the phone or e-mailed you back along the way to teach you all those wonderful things--is an even better day.
And on Monday night at the first free event of the fall season for the Center for Communication at Hunter College, it was equally rewarding to see the faces behind the arts and entertainment articles I had read in New York magazine and Time Out New York, the Daily News and The New York Sun.
For nearly two hours, the panel of writers and editors spoke about writing on the arts and laughed about overcoming the glare of envy from the other side of the newsroom because they got the "best gig" as one of the speakers put it.
A-haaaa. So this is how they dress, and talk, and gesture. And this is why they do what they do. And why they love it. And why it's not work. And where they get their ideas. And how they got their lucky break. And how they decide what millions of people will read day in and day out.
You might be surprised, as was I, that the auditorium was not packed with young college students. Instead, students made up only a small fraction of the crowd. And they actually seemed the least interested, a few in back of me saying "that wasn't so bad," when it was over. The bulk of the crowd looked to be in their 30s and 40s. Taking notes and asking questions.
The lineup of free fall events at the Center for Communication is impressive. Check it out. Speakers from Air America; David Chase, creator of the Sopranos; Michele Ganeless, general manager and evp for Comedy Central.
I hope it comes true for all those people sitting there in that auditorium scribbling feverishly into their spiral notebooks.
Your Girl About Town
It was a quarter to six -- when the show was to start.
I was eyeballs-deep in work, but my pace had slowed to a crawl. A jaunt to the park seemed a justifiable distraction.
Within minutes, I was out the door and on my way.
I had read about the summer events -- mostly orchestra concerts -- that took place at the Naumburg Bandshell (a structure dating back to 1923) and had ambled past the carved-out open-air concert stage many times, but always when it was vacant.
Walking past the august St. Ignatius church on Madison Avenue I saw carefully manicured men and women and children streaming in. I cut over to Fifth, passed the last of the lingering art vendors, and entered the park at East 72nd Street. As I veered left on the paved road, I headed deeper into the park toward the Naumberg Bandshell as dusk set in. The wind blew with might.
Truth be told, the bandshell appears less impressive in person than it does on the Web site.
Entering Central Park from the Upper East Side, you leave behind the maintained flowerbeds and clean, orderly sidewalks for a larger space, one that in spots is rougher around the edges and electric.
At the bandshell, men were disassembling microphones and speakers on the stage and loading the equipment into two vans parked in front of the stage.
That must have been a quick show, I thought, or maybe the time was changed. I wondered if I was at the right place. Looking around I saw no audience gathered...or even dispersing. Perhaps there were two bandshells in Central Park?
Down I sat on a bench, taking in the breeze.
Next to me sat a woman with short, wispy red hair wearing glasses and a brown mid-length raincoat.
Suddenly, into the space between us came a man scurrying. He was short, wearing glasses and a white tee shirt that bore a faded Earth Day motif tucked neatly into buckled khaki shorts. Tufts of curly white hair poked out from around his ears.
"Oh you're here!" He said with exasperated breath to the woman with the wispy red hair sitting next to me.
"You’re the only one still here that I know! Will be nice to see a familiar face from the stage." He was talking quickly, then ran up to the stage.
"Is there an event going on here tonight?" I leaned over and asked the woman.
"A poetry reading," she said. "Part of the Vigil for International Peace."
She handed me a laminated post card. The event had been going on since 9am. Diego Costa. Lalia Madriguera. Korean Peace Dancers & Drummers. Project Harmony. African Peace Dancers. Baby & Merlin Peace Parots.
The open mic poetry reading was the conclusion to this cornucopia of performances to promote world peace.
"The Vigil for International Peace is a transformational, grassroots effort dedicated to promulgate peace through participation in art" read the postcard.
The man on the other side of me leaned over and spoke in German.
"Sprekentche deutsch?" I asked, using up two of the three words of German I knew.
He looked pleased and proudly nodded yes, rattling off a litany of multi-syllabic words in German.
"Nein," I said, exhausting my German vocabulary, and pointed to him. "English?"
He shook his head no, handed me his camera and explained to me just how I should take his photograph.
Horizontally. With the top of the bandshell in the background. He should appear full-length, head to foot. Without the vans in front of the stage.
Or at least that's how his hand gestures translated to me.
I took the picture.
He smiled. He was proud to be standing at the bandshell celebrating peace. He was a tall, brawny man wearing suspenders. He had a plump belly. The gravy-colored stain on his buttoned-up shirt endeared me to him. I didn't know anyone else around, so I stood there nodding as he talked to me in German.
"Holiday" he said and threw more German words at me. I nodded, raised my eyebrows and grinned, then through my hands up and shrugged and we parted ways.
I sat down again on the bench, mesmerized by the in-line skaters whirring about with earplugs shooting music into their ears. One man bounced around, swerving his body to and fro to a silent beat. He snapped his fingers. He was grinning ear-to-ear.
Miniature plastic, florescent-colored cones were stacked in a line. Skaters would approach them from a few yards away, pushing off and gaining spead before zig zagging through the cones. The skaters’ faces were intent, as if this was an Olympic sport, the gold medal hinged on their ability to get through the maze without knocking a cone over.
The disjointed crowd clapped with vigor when a young slinky man with slick black hair raced the course at lightning speed. Flawless.
The crowd did not clap when the man with bone-white hair and a receding hair line, wearing black elbow pads and black gloves, wound around the cones at a measured pace.
Drummers sitting on benches hit their hands hard on the skins of their instruments. In sync, a man shook wooden shakers. Bodies swayed to the rhythm of the drum and voices nearby let out a "yeah" here and there when a beat was particularly contagious.
How will anyone ever hear the poetry reading, I wondered?
Here was a mosaic of activity, the entire area a poem itself. The reading would be just one more splatter of paint strewn on the canvas.
Just then, the poet ran over to the woman with the red wispy hair sitting next to me.
"Margaret, I remember your name of course ... but," he said, looking me in the eye, "What is your name?"
"I want to call you two up to the stage when I start to read so it looks like there's a crowd out here to support peace," he said.
Now, I was roped in. Dedicated to not only sitting on the bench and listening from afar, but standing right in front of the stage.
I told him my name.
He walked away and I asked the woman, "What is his name?"
"I know I've met him before," she said, "but I don't recall his name."
Two or three stragglers emerged from the shadows to support the poet. Sure enough, Margaret and I were called up to the stage for attendance. And, sure enough, sheepishly we stood there in front of the stage ready to listen.
The sky darkened. A fuzzy light shone on the stage. The drum circle halted.
Harry, the open mic poet, read five poems all told.
And, he read feverishly.
The poems were short; the first one was called "Perspectives". Harry liked to use the word "you" a lot. And repeated the word "rally" a few times. Truth be told, the microphone was ringing so piercingly high and he spoke at such a hastened pace, it was hard to make the poems out.
Every time he said the word "you" the word was drawn out in a sing-songy voice and he pointed into the crowd. "But that is what youuu think..."
There were four of us scattered in front of the stage, leaning our weight from left foot to right foot, tilting our heads sideways.
From the corner of his eye, Harry looked at us from the stage. His newfangled fans.
When Margaret went looking for a bathroom, he called her back -- albeit breaking from the poem he was in the midst of reading -- "Margaret, where are you going? You're not leaving are you?"
Of course she wasn't, she said, slithering back in front of the stage.
Harry finished his poems. We, six now including the young couple that had stepped up, clapped for him. He looked relieved. He thanked us.
Next up at the mic was Cecil. He, too, was eager. Eager to read his poems about peace to anyone who was there, to anyone who would listen.
I crept away nonchalantly from in front of the stage and slipped out of the Park, leaving the circus for another day.
Your Girl About Town
At hearing this, a wave of knowing grins curled through the crowd (mostly grizzled heads of hair, speckled with a fair number of thirty-somethings). Kincaid, New Yorker staff writer from 1976 to 1995--whose entree drew oooohs and ahhhhs from the audience--offered the adage when introducing her previous Harvard writing student, Uzodinma Iweala, the Nigerian-American author of "Beasts of No Nation", as the premier reader of the 2006 series.
No seat went unoccupied as two of the youngest writers ever to appear in the 92nd St Y series, Iweala and Zadie Smith, read from their books. (Some listeners, though, were more engaged than others; the seventy-ish woman next to me nodded off two minutes into the reading, her head nearly nuzzled into my neck, her snoring clogging up my ears).
Iweala, referred to as Uzo by his professor, was tall and slim, wearing a robe-like shirt that stretched to his ankles. His initial tone of pleasantries, nodding and saying "This is the cool" as he looked out from the stage, grew serious when he opened the book he wrote.
Off came the glasses as he began to read. It was as if he, Iweala the writer, was transforming into he, the child soldier protagonist of the novel, before the listeners' very eyes. The inflection in Iweala's voice coupled with the present continuous verb tense in which the narrative is written made for raw, haunting storytelling. The selected chapter described what happened to the young child soldier as he was forced to kill a man for the first time. In stunning detail -- the buzzing mosquitos, the vomitting boy, the uncontrollable stream of urine -- an image was firmly planted.
Iweala, who was born in Washington, D.C., told an audience member in the subsequent question-and-answer session that the inspiration for the book came to him when he was in college and heard a former child soldier speak out about the harrowing real-life experience.
Zadie Smith, introduced on stage by her yoga instructor, appeared next. Wearing a slightly above-the-knee black dress with an elegant gold pendant, a mauve-colored head wrap, and knee-high boots, Smith read from her book with a refreshing air of self. In person, Smith seems every bit as smart, stylish, and sassy as readers of her award-winning books -- "White Teeth", "The Autograph Man", "On Beauty" -- might have imagined she'd be. Her words painted a vivid scene of a couple muddling through a marital slump, trying and yet failing to make ammends for a love gone far... too far...astray.
To see so many perfect strangers abandon their televisions and laptops to hear the stories of contemporary writers was encouraging.
The storyteller still exudes an alluring charm. Even in a time of ever-prevalent multi-tasking and techno-juggling. What attracts us -- that nagging desire to better grasp the human condition -- takes a powerful hold of us.
The literary series is just beginning. I highly recommend you check out the roster.
Up next: Janet Fitch and A.M. Homes. Monday, Sept 25th, 8pm
***If you're under 35 years old, $10 (over 35, $18)
You can order tickets online here
See you there!
Your Girl About Town
At the ripe age of 60 (though she doesn't look a day past 30) my Mom made her first trip to New York City.
Luckily, the torrents of rain falling on Friday gave way to blue skies and warm sun. Perfect for sightseeing.
We started Saturday with a scrumptious brunch at the Boathouse in Central Park where, of course, no spinach was served on Saturday. Hard to tell if it was the beautiful view, luck at not having to wait for a table, or the live piano music that won Mom over. She was thrilled with the selection.
Violinists, roller skaters, break dancers, volleyball players, mimes. Entertainers galore were to be found at Central Park. "I can see why people like it here so much. There is always something going on," said Mom, who had just passed the high school marching bands of the German Day parade as she entered the park from 72nd and Fifth Avenue.
Of course she liked the boutiques that flank Madison Avenue, and in particular, the perfumerie Bond No. 9 where each scent is named after a Manhattan neighborhood or Street -- from Nuits de Noho to Bleeker Street to Fire Island. *The scent called Peace is delightful. Light and breezy, not to sweet and fruity.
Mom made a new friend on Fifth Avenue and was amazed that the fantastic flowers in my favorite Fifth Avenue department store -- Takashimaya -- were real. One whiff was all it took to make her a believer. "Do you do the flowers for Trump Towers?" she asked, being a huge Apprentice fan.
And, it was requisite that I take Mom, longtime Today Show fan to the place where it all takes place, Rockefeller Center.
It was a whirlwind weekend: Double-decker bus tour (yes, we couldn't resist--and the two-hour hop-on, hop-off tour is well worth the money). Pastis. Broadway. Tapas and Sangria at Pipa. Cheesecake from Junior's. Dinner at the South Street Sea Port. Mom had stamina to boot, and admitted a few surprises, "New Yorkers are friendlier than I thought they'd be." She had a wonderful time, she said, but wasn't converted to all-out New York City adoration "It's hard to get used to having so many people around all the time. Everywhere."
Try Monday morning rush-hour on the 4,5 and 6. Welcome to my world.
Her next visit? Cafe Carlyle for live cabaret and Museum Mile. I've got it all planned out.
Mom will be missed.
*Tomorrow night, Monday, Zadie Smith is giving a reading at the 92nd Street Y you don't want to miss. If you're under 35 the cost is $10. Starts at 8pm.
See you there.
Your Girl About Town
Last Friday, at the start of the holiday weekend, that Labor Day farewell-to-summer holiday, I finally made it to the Cooper-Hewitt Disco night. Yes, it was drizzling and dark, and windy -- but windy in an exhilerating way. Perhaps it was that feeling, of being wisped away, which precipitated the roadtrip that ensued the next day. But, back to Friday. It was one of those nights when you had committed to meeting people and as exhausted as you feel, come Hell or High Water, you're going to get there and meet those people. Also one of those Friday nights when you run home, plop down the work bag, change shirts ... and shoes, a spray here, a spray there, and there you go, blazing through the door like a comet. Sitting there in wobbly, wiry chairs on the green, green expanse of grass at the back of the museum was like sipping on a soothing tonic.
Looking up at the magestic-looking museum structure, I had this feeling (there goes my wild imagination ) that we were all gallavanting in the 18th century in the vast yard at one of our friends' places just enjoying the rainy summer night. But snap, the mansion was really a museum, not the backdrop to a Hemmingway novel. I quickly zapped back to reality once the New Age-y disco museum started bouncing between my eardrums.
Quite a few dancers, of impressive animation, took to the crushed-grass dance floor. And, quite a few couples were there with their toddlers, who were pushing around miniature play strollers and spinning about with the air of frivolity childhood inspires.
So convivial was the vibe, that a few strangers we did not know came up to our group of five women, subsequently pulling up chairs, and struck up some lively conversation. They were born in Virginia (I thought the friendliness was a little circumspect!) , transplants to the UES, and openly disappointed by the low turnout. Lauren, my friend who works at the CH, was quick to point out that the dotted lanscape was an exception to the norm, most likely a result of the dank weather and the mass holiday-weekend exodus. The museum is left open and lit from 6-9, and you are free to meander about. *Tomorrow is your last chance to check it out this summer.
There is one particular room in the museum to the left of the main hall (when you enter from the front entrance) that resembles a sun room, with its tall, slender windows and alluring thickly-cushioned, high-sitting bench that lines the peripheral of the alcove-like room. I made a phone call in this room, feeling the embrace of the dark mahogany walls. The current exhibition at the museum revolves around eating utensils theme and in this room there is a colorful utensils collection scattered atop of a wooden table.
I'd like to go back to the museum on a rainy Sunday and sit in this room. Or, better yet, a snowy afternoon, when I could sit on that fat cushioned bench and watch the snowflakes fall. Now that sounds like a plan. Don't get me wrong, I like my apartment. But all of our windows face brick walls. Rain or shine outside, you never know which from the inside.
Wonder if my laptop could connect to the Internet from that little nook at the CH. Te he he.
On Saturday, after sleeping the requisite rainy-morning number of hours, on a bit of a whim, I headed North in a car back to the old Syracuse stomping ground with a few friends to do some visiting and hiking. Going at such a pace all the time in the city, sometimes you physically have to remove yorself in order to stop doing five things simultaneously at any given moment. Nothing halts the raging Gotham momentum like a good old-fashioned roadtrip. It's the pinnacle of rejuvination. And, I was successfully dissuaded from lugging my laptop along, diving instead into every good tune, delicious commentary and scene.
And, after a few humdrum days of quiet wilderness and conversation, we three had the itch to come roaring back to Gotham.
Back to what is now for us home.
It's good to be back.
Your Girl About Town
*Tonight: Last chance to check out the Cooper-Hewitt Disco night for the summer. $12. 6pm-9pm. I will not be there. Birthday celebrations to attend to. Yes, Your Girl is growing up.