Archive for the ‘Life in New York’ Category

There is one other thing I kind of really wanted for our wedding.

You might not know this about me, but I love jazz.  You might not know this about me because I didn’t even know this about me until I moved to NYC.  You see, I have a mixed history with music.  I played the flute from fourth grade onward, retaining a delicate and undistinguished hold on a second string seat (practicing never figured high on my priority list).  While I liked to be “in the middle of the music” during our concerts, I didn’t like other concerts.  I remember a high school class trip to a Vivaldi symphony where I fell asleep.  I remember enjoying a No Doubt show that my brother Jarrod took us to, but there is usually a level of “required” enthusiasm at these things (jumping and shouting and doing things when the lead singer says to) that I didn’t like very much.  Also standing, there is way too much standing  all around with live shows.  Who wants to pay $30 to stand for 4 hours?  While I like live music if it’s a Jason Mraz-wannabe, I’m never the one who seeks it out.  If you say “have you heard of the Shins?”  I would say “weren’t they mentioned in Garden State?”  When everyone else had to have the iPod, I was content with the manual management of my collection of 17 CDs (90s gems, like Pearl Jam, Live, Radiohead, Rusted Root–those were the days).  You get the idea.  I’ve never been a music enthusiast.

Something I did discover and love in high school was swing dancing–there was a brief craze for about a year, and then it died off, leaving me tapping my toes in the ashes and wondering where everybody went.  Classic swing music is, of course, basically all jazz, but I didn’t make the connection.  I thought I liked dancing.  I’m not sure why I thought this, because I don’t really like to dance under most other circumstances.

It turns out that I just really liked the jazz.  And being flung around in the air while listening to jazz is pretty fun too.

I started going to jazz in the city* because there are a lot of cheap or free shows, and I relish things with the words “cheap” or “free” in them.  (I took all my cues from a most venerable tome: The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to New York City.  You’ll be able to spot it in the bookstore because the man on the cover is bending to pick up a nickel…)  I would find myself enraptured, listening and bobbing happily in my seat for hour-long stretches before remembering to whisper with whichever thus-marginalized friend had accompanied me.

Anyway…the point, the point.  Despite the fact that we were quickly approaching and exceeding our wedding budget, I really wanted to have some live jazz at the wedding.  I puzzled for a moment over who might know some viable starving artists.  I proposed rustling up a quality act from the ragtag melange of subway musicians, to which Matt swallowed diplomatically and said “well…um..love, there will be children at the wedding.” He didn’t love the idea of untested strangers sharing our big day, even if they were bassoon-toting.  Ok, good point.

I ratcheted things up a notch and emailed my old roommate, Katie (now a proud resident of the city of London).  Katie was my jazz enthusiast buddy in NYC–though “buddy” is really the wrong word; “guru” is more on point.  Katie was a serious jazz musician in high school and even studied at a conservatory for a few years post-high school before deciding to study fashion.  She knows about 98% more about jazz than I do.  Whereas I would say “well this…song is upbeat and fun,” she would say, “this is (someone more obscure than Ella Fitzgerald) doing (something more specific than “improv”).  That harmony line is SO romantic.”  To which I would say “absolutely” and order another round of martinis.

While I have no idea what kind of money jazz musicians make, I suspected in my gut that it was more than I was offering.  But, my offer was still more than 3 people would make baby-sitting for 4 hours, so I was hopeful.  In less than a day, bless her soul, Katie rustled up a drummer she knew from her creme de la creme days of jazz, and he just happened to be alive and well and part of a lovely NYC trio with regular gigs.  So, not starving, but apparently happy to help a friend of a friend.  I went to see them play at their weekly gig as the melodious live music at Sprig, a fancy NYC bistro (in the Lipstick Building, which I had never heard of!  Apparently the top has a slant-cut like a tube of lipstick).  I went up and met the group during one of their breaks, and they couldn’t have been nicer.  Anthony, my contact, sat and chatted with us for several minutes, and he told me the group would be willing to learn music for the ceremony if they don’t already know it.  And he assured me that they can play anything, which Katie had said as well.  I booked them on the spot.

Ballet shoes, jazz groups, this wedding has already been so fun and a real blessing.

*New Yorkers or visitors: My fav spots include the free Sunday night show at the Harlem American Legion Hall, the $3 cover show every night at FatCat in the West Village, and $5 cover/food nights at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in the Time Warner Building.


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Ode to Marcella

As most of my New York friends know–Marcella Martinez is getting married in May!  That’s really soon!  After a few years of living with anywhere from 5 to 8 roommates, Marcella went to Africa last year to do some non-profit work with her then-company.  She was pretty tired after all of that, and somehow landed a gig watching dogs and caring for horses at a former Christian rehab facility turned community do-gooder-organization in Mozambique.  Now, working in the middle of no-where Africa with twenty colleagues, many of whom are of the four-legged variety, is not exactly on the Match.com top-ten list of ways to get a date.  But, Marcella doesn’t really do things in ordinary ways.

Soon after her arrival, I got a email from her about a “tall cute South African man with an amazing accent” and her sneaky plot to pretend to read emails each night in the common area in hopes that he would come and chat her up.  Which he did.   Quite a bit.  (The camp frowned up “fraternizing” due to their rehab roots and the small size of the workforce)  Well, the rest (international dating and then a crazy move to CT by Andy this year) is history, and they got engaged in January.

Her bridal shower was this weekend and it was the first major “friend event” I’ve missed since being in China.  Missing things you wouldn’t miss in regular life is the one hard thing about being so far away.  So, in honor of Marcella, I would like to share a poem that I wrote for the occasion, entitled:

“Why Marcella Martinez is Practically a Super Hero.”

Practically a superhero is my friend Marcella,
She’s arguably handier than a genuine fella.
She can drive your ATV, van, boat, or go-cart,
And prefers movies and YouTube to jazz and fine art.
She’ll tighten your doorknob, dispose of your trash,
Even schedule repairmen, though “real” chores make her laugh.
She keeps her room in a frightening state,
Does her hair semi-weekly, but it always looks great.
She’ll drive you cross-country or poke around Rome,
Carrying bags when your weak wrists can’t quite make it home.
To a simple observer, more cautious, less chic,
It’s seemingly rash, bagging a man in Mozambique.                                                                                                                                             But those who know about page-turning plots,
Know that husbands will hide in the least likely of spots,
So that without removing their cape, boots, or gloves,
The most deserving of superheroes can at last find true love.

Best wishes Marcella and Andy!!

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This photo may not be from China, but it IS a photo of Matt chasing me through the photo booth at Jean and Glenn’s (“Glean”–their joint name 🙂 ) recent wedding.  (I know, clearly my escape skills are lacking)  Matt and I were milling about in the photo booth line when he decided that we should enact a five-photo-sequence drama.  We did a few practice moves and then got in the booth, only to find out there is a limit of 3 photos at a time…which caused Melissa to hit the big red button again.  Which you’re not supposed to do apparently, but the photographer-attendant thought we were amusing enough to let us finish our drama.  Here is Phoebe enjoying the sequence after it was complete:

This was a fun wedding.  In addition to a photo booth, guests could fill signature “Glean” mugs with different kinds of candy, drop their seating card in a mailbox to vie for a Virginia baked ham or Kansas City BBQ (the competing meats from the bride and groom’s home towns), and pet an eight-foot blow-up zebra toy Jean had procured at some shop in NYC (to complement the wedding’s black and white polka-dot theme, of course.  The zebra’s story was recounted in their amusing, anecdote-stuffed wedding program).

Part-way through the reception, Matt looked over with a devilish gleam in his eye.  He had finished his polenta.  “What if we dragged the zebra to the photo booth for a picture?”  This was no small proposal–the zebra was huge, people and equipment blocked the path between the hapless creature and the aforementioned booth, plus, well, it was clearly not the intended use of Jean’s blow-up zebra.  (Though, what IS the intended use of a blow-up zebra?)  I agreed, Bonnie-and-Clyde style, though hoping to eschew the dramatic death scene.

Like any great pair of thieves, we took advantage of the naturally occurring power vacuum (who is really in charge of inflatable zoo creatures at a wedding, after all?), and pulled off the trick with confidence and an air of casual authority that repelled questioning.  I walked in front of Matt shooing people out of the way, and he grasped the zebra by the thoracic cavity and dragged it henceforth.

We settled the animal in its new home, amidst jealous looks from other, less clever, would-be miscreants.  We waved over the group from our table–including Peter and Phoebe Eavis, John and Kara Kim (first night away from Samuel!), and Michelle Walson and Jeff Kuykendall, for a rousing zebra-stuffed photo party (John Kim promised to send a scan of those shots, still hoping he will!).  After the crowd saw this, the “zebra at the photo booth” bit took off like silly bandz [1], on a scale so un-anticipated that Matt was kicking himself for not somehow scoring contractual zebra-usage royalties.  The crowning moment, in my opinion, was this shot of Jean’s father and step-mother straddling the zebra.  As it turned out, this finely crafted inflatable toy can sustain the weight of two adults!  (very unfortunately, this photo was taken the millisecond before Jean’s dad held up bunny ears to top it all off.  You can kind of see him going for it though.)

And now for the main event?  The dewey-eyed couple started dating last fall, clicked immediately, and were engaged within two months.  Remember, it only seems crazy if it hasn’t happened to you.  (Peter and Phoebe, going on 14 years of matrimony, were engaged in 3 weeks!)  Best wishes Glean!

[1] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/05/13/eveningnews/main6481251.shtml

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In a borough-traversing move after work last Friday, I hopped on the 2/3 train, pointed toward Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn.  I had my boots, gloves, umbrella, and blackberry, and I was determined to prevail despite the storm.  I had a show to catch. 

A word of background.  I live in a social set-up in Harlem’s Sugar Hill that is really a Seinfeldesque world—3 apartments of friends in the same building, and an auxiliary apartment (you know, in case of bomb scares on our block or a herd of aggressive llama) about a ten-minute walk away.  Eighteen of us in total (nine men, nine women, and unlike Seinfeld, no one has dated each other just yet)  One of the guys downstairs, a soulful Floridian transplant, had invited us to watch his music set, “The Clown of God” at Park Slope’s own Tea Lounge.  With a set title like that and no context, who could resist? 

I met up with two girlfriends before the show at Olive Vine Pizza

54 7th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11217-3616
(718) 622-2626

We caught up on life over excellent humus and falafel and an ok vegetable pizza.  The highlight of the meal, other than the sluggish Turkish coffee, was the hot-out-of-the-over pita bread.  You can tear a hole in these feather-weight whoopee-cushions of dough and squish out a rush of steam at your friend (which I couldn’t help doing with the arrival of each pita order).  We sat in an outdoor section of the café that had been haphazardly winterized with plastic walls, droopy ceiling tapestries, red Oriental rugs, dim lamps, and a sneaky space heater that either blasted us or remained perfectly still (not making eye contact).  One table was “out of order,” as the drip from the ceiling could not be contained.  It felt a bit like eating in a clandestine Mediterranean fort, and I suspect we told each other better stories because of it. 

My dinner-mates were deterred by the storm, and so I left them chatting over coffee.  Next stop—the show. 

Tea Lounge www.tealoungeny.com

837 Union Street
Brooklyn, NY 11215-1308
(718) 789-2762

I walked in, sighed, and though “I’ve missed Brooklyn.”  A jumble of mismatched couches, tables, chairs, and what is likely an uprooted orange and wood laminate booth from a local pizza joint, ramble through this spacious venue.  A staff of slender male hipsters with slicked up bangs and tight jeans serve 200 teas and any liquor you want with.  Their affected sartorial indifference plays well amidst the distressed brick.  Several of our friends had gathered for drinks and to watch Gio perform (our friend, his stage name is GioSafari, not to be confused with GeoSafari, the educational toy that will come up if you search for him on Google).  After a bumpy start, which he handled by joking “this is not what I envisioned” or starting over completely, he played a set of authentic songs, exploring the itinerant, passionate, and lonely path of the artist and lover.  His music is a catchy combination of guitar and harmonica that sounds like Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional stole a page from Blues Traveler (or just his harmonica). 

In the second act, he had a make-up artist paint him up like a clown and he read a simple children’s story about a travelling Italian juggler-clown whose story intersects with fame, loneliness, and the purpose of life and God.  He paused throughout the story to play original songs that yanked at the same themes, all the while holding us in suspense for the clown’s inevitable death (sorry, yep, the clown dies.  I knew it was coming).  It was a twist of music and theatre that was risky and unexpectedly fun.  You should follow him on MySpace or catch the next show http://www.myspace.com/giosafari.  All in all, Brooklyn delivered as usual, and my friends and I had a sleepy, hour-long train ride home to prove it.

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TGIF, ay?  I left work semi-on time for once because I wanted to check out some events at the recently minted upper west-side Whole Foods–every Friday their cafe offers free jazz (and usually some tasty samples) from 5-7pm.  I burst in at 6:30 only to discover that the jazz that night wasn’t really my style (too pop-music inspired, none of the old standards) and they were only sampling beer, which I don’t really like.  (I’ve toyed with the idea of developing a taste for beer, seafood, and lima beans for some years now but haven’t quite overcome the hump of reality)   So, I was hungry, the music wasn’t great, and the samples disappointed.  I hear the Whole Foods wine store right next door (ahem, I’m just saying, Trader Joes did it first) also has free samples from 5-7pm, but I was hungry and couldn’t shake a manic urge to sauté the quarter pound of loose brussel sprouts awaiting me at home.  (Oh, the common struggles of man).  So, all in all, I completely failed to extract any meaningful experience from my uptown Whole Foods endeavor, but here’s how to do it better: 

Meet a friend at the Upper West Side Whole Foods at 5:30pm.   Get a box of their really delicious prepared Indian food, and enjoy the jazz while you split some samosas and paneer.  Nibble the samples if they strike your fancy.  Then, about 6:30, mozie on over to the wine store, try their samples, and take home a bottle if you like.  You’re done by 7, ready to shower, relax, and head out for the evening, all for about $9. 

Upper West Side Whole Foods


808 Columbus Avenue at 97th St.
Phone 212.222.6160

So, chagrined, I went home, cooked up a delicious honey-pepper chicken, sautéed my brussel sprouts, showered, and headed down to the “Morningside Heights” Pinkberry (because we all know Columbia is not really in Harlem) to cash in on a two-for-one coupon before meeting up with a friend.  My plan was to give the second yogurt sundae (is this really a sundae?  Seems misleading…perhaps YoDae is closer to true) to someone on the street—maybe someone asking for food, or a beleaguered falafel cart man needing a shift in cuisine.  Again, total strike out.  I had ten minutes for this adventure and didn’t find a single person who looked inclined to accept an extra Pinkberry. 



2873 Broadway (between 111th and 112th Sts)

Phone 212-222-0191

 Instead, I snuck it into Cleopatra’s Needle, a classic upper west-side joint with an eclectic menu, average wine, excellent jazz, and no cover ($10 minimum per person).  My friend ordered a really good vegetable lasagna and we also enjoyed their hummus (though mine is better!) over glasses of Chianti and Malbec.   While the Champian Fulton Quartet cranked out some great old standards, my friend brazenly asked for two spoons and we shared the second Pinkberry ourselves right there at our table.  Jazz and yogurt—the next big thing? 

Cleopatra’s Needle


2485 Broadway at 92nd Street

Phone 212 769 696


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