Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fairytale of New York (or, so THIS is Christmas!)

Christmas in New York started with ice skating, and ended with cake.

The Rockefeller Tree, outlandish decorations, snow, people in puffy North Face jackets and ugg boots (okay, EVERY New Yorker has North Face jackets and ugg boots - what's up with that?), Christmas with the Rockettes, sales, throngs of people everywhere, magical window displays, and a Christmas miracle or two (preferably a lottery win). This was one of the defining moments of my trip - insofar as that I had planned most of my trip around being here over Christmas and New Years, which basically restricted my travel to a similar extent as my lack of paid US employment had.

There are many types of Christmas trees in New York. This is Rockefeller's:

This is mine:

The day started off with ice skating at Bryant Park, something I've wanted to do since they opened a couple of months ago. It's free to skate there (though you have to hire skates if you don't have your own), and so I had arranged to meet up with my friends Tai and Nicky (kiwis), and their two year old daughter Evie for a couple of laps before we gorge ourselves on ridiculous amounts of food. I got there a couple of hours early (or they were a couple of hours late - depends on your perspective, I suppose), and donned my $12 pair of ice skates (solid blue plastic), gambled with leaving my shoes etc in an unlocked locker, and entered the rink.

I was awesome.

Well, I didn't fall over. Ice skating is just like roller blading. But since no straight guy has roller bladed since 1997, I was concerned that my first foray onto the ice would result in an ungainly double twist/splits combo. Fortunately New York was spared the wonder of my gymnastic dexterity, and so I managed to skate a couple of laps around the ice, along with the 250 others who had decided that opening Christmas with skating, and not gifts, was the way to spend the holiday. And yeah, I'd have to agree with them. At first I was a little unsteady on my feet - the ice was a tad bumpy and hadn't been cleaned for several hours (they use a zamboni to 'clean' it... a giant ice tractor which I would certainly not wish to be trampled by), but I soon found my ice-legs and was away.

My friends arrived a while later and we enjoyed a few laps, but by then it was difficult to do anything more complicated than follow a group in a slow rotation around the rink, much like primary school swimming pools when you used to try and make a whirlpool. I always did that, and then would just let the water drift me towards the middle - that was rather cool. Difficult to do that with ice though, so after a couple of laps we retired back to my friends' house for presents and lunch.

There was still some snow around the place from the weekend before, but it was by now rather grey and dirty and gross. So not a White Christmas, but a cold and 'might-as-well-be-a-White Christmas-anyway' Christmas, so that was nice.

We took a cab back to the apartment, where we started getting things ready for the lunch. My friends were having other kiwi friends over for lunch, so it would be a little taste of home during the holidays. I helped by setting up a toy train set, complete with death traps and dead-ends. Some of my best work, I think.

The friends arrived, and so began the feast. Eight hours worth. It was wonderful - much fun, much food, and much wine.

And so ended my Christmas.

On the way home, I saw Isabella Rossellini.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In the Nix (in the NYC)

I just met an American wearing a Wellington Phoenix jersey, but he wouldn't let me take his photo.

So you'll just have to take my word for it.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

I had hoped for a cold Christmas, and possibly even a little snow. New York gave me a blizzard.

Okay, so it wasn't quite snow over Christmas (since it's still a few days away), but it's a good enough dumping to see what it would be like to live in a city where it snows. Yes, I know how naive that sounds. I'm not pretending it's not. Still, it's all rather exciting to see it.

It started Friday morning, when I was watching Fox News (Fair & Balanced) - and along came a 'Breaking News Alert' which advised that the entire East Coast would be in for a blizzard over the weekend, resulting in a massive dumping of snow on Saturday. Much fear would be had by this snow, and the rest of the show would be dedicated to the impact of the snow on the economy. I, on the other hand, was more than a little bit excited. Yes, I have seen snow before, but only on a mountain, and it's not really the same when you're surrounded by snow, and all you can see is white anyway, to only see more white being dumped everywhere.

But this is New York - I've seen this city at its most vibrant, its most colourful, and its most full on 'move over or I'll stab you' crazy. How would this look completely covered in snow, and how would this affect my dinner plans on Saturday?

I live in the suburb of Morningside, New York City. It's located in the upper west side, near Columbia University and before Harlem, so is considered a rather neat area. It really is. Okay, so there aren't a great range of shops around - many deli, nail salon and cheap mattress accessory shop. But there are also many neat little restaurants, cafes, eateries and bars around here too - which makes enjoying the area exciting, and also expensive. But I'm only in New York once, right?

So Saturday night I arranged to go out with a friend for dinner to a nifty little French restaurant, which for the sake of this post I will call 'Nifty Little French Restaurant'. I was particularly looking forward to this, as

a) I like going out for dinner,
b) They had a fixed menu early bird discount dinner - three courses for $25 (approx $800 NZD, inc tax and tip).

As I left my apartment to go and meet my friend, I noticed that it had started to snow. Only a little bit, the kind that you see on "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - snowflakes gently falling down. Snowflakes gently floated down from the sky onto carolers on the street, and everywhere people stopped to look up, and marvel at what was going on. Lovely, right?

Okay, so that's what I wanted to happen. What it was actually like was a little more miserable.The snow started gently enough at around 1pm. By 1.30 it was raining sideways snow bullets in a way that reminded me of a normal day in Wellington (except with snow instead of rain). By the time the evening rolled by the blizzard had subsided somewhat (still with the snow, but less with the booming face-lashingness of it all), and the city was blanketed in a thick layer of crisp white snow, 10 inches deep.

I will admit to being a little like a kid at Christmas at this point. I was running around in my puffy jacket, gloves and beanie, trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue and make snowballs, no doubt embarrassing my dinner date to no end.

So, snow on day one is pretty awesome. Snow on days two, three and four, however... not so much.

I've seen taxis skidding on the street, narrowly avoiding pedestrians. I've been a victim of 'fake footpath', where the ground appears to be solid concrete, only to be melty snow slush the same colour of solid concrete - not nice when you plunge your foot into that! Not least though, snow after day one loses much of its magic and lustre, and quickly becomes various shades of yellow, brown, or pink, and full of litter and other junk.

But I don't let it get me down. I got to see snow in New York City. I'm happy.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Of Statues and Sunsets

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The crazy that is Times Square

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

New York, New Yorkers, and No Work

There's a lot that can be said about New York City.

Of course, it would be impossible to talk about this city without first mentioning the people. I love New York as a city, but I think that I love New Yorkers more. When one thinks of a 'typical New Yorker', most times you'll think of very busy, rushed pedestrians, trying very hard not to be delayed from getting where they're going. I was prepared to be exposed to a people that are rude, arrogant, and opinionated. That's the impression I had got from television, and some friends and family.

But I was wrong.

New Yorkers aren't rude, they're focused. There is so much going on in this city with all the lights, signs, homeless people, pan handlers, people handing out fliers for the latest musical/play/charity event, that in order to survive in this city you really need to just put your blinkers on and focus on getting from A to B. Otherwise you risk suffering information overload in a city full of stimuli (and tourists).

The thing that has actually really impressed me about New Yorkers though, is that they are genuinely very helpful, even to tourists. If you ask for help, or if they see you struggling, they will go out of their way to make sure you know where you're going, and what you need to do to get there. New Yorkers are, in fact, the friendliest and most helpful people I have met on this trip so far. Without their help, I would have been seriously lost and confused for much longer than I have been.

It may also have something to do with my accent. I have certainly noticed that having a New Zealand accent has done me many favours in terms of making friends, getting assistance, or even a girl's phone number. I don't know quite what it is about it exactly, as New York is so full of tourists and immigrants that it can't be the exoticness of it. But I don't ask questions of something that works so well in my benefit (Your Honour), and so I just enjoy the extra attention. I have been told however that I sound more British than Kiwi, and tell me that I certainly don't have a typical NZ accent. Since I haven't met too many kiwis in NY (other than the ones I already knew) I can only assume that they mean that I don't sound like the Flight of the Conchords. Thank you, Bret and Jemaine.

I am making friends too. I'm not meeting as many people as I would have liked, which I believe is largely due to my only just moving to the city, and also with not having been able to find a job. I think that there have been opportunities for work here - I could have possibly worked in a bar, or handing out fliers, or some such. But my goal for NY was to get a job that would complement my job back home, or would utilise my skills or whatever I have to make a difference. I know that sounds wanky, but I realised a while ago that I really am a public sector employee, and that I most likely wouldn't be happy working in the private sector.

And so I made a conscious decision not to work in the service industry, as although I would possibly have made a fair bit of money (esp given that people tip rather generously during Christmas etc), I wanted a job on principal, not just to make money. This has ended up nearly killing me financially, since I'm still having to spend NZD in a country where the dollar keeps changing its mind every day. Couple this with the fact that my job back home has been rather temperamental in paying me, means that my visa card is getting a bit of a hammering! At least I get air points...

Despite all my love for this city, I am starting to see how it could destroy me. Completely and utterly chew me up and spit me out. This is certainly a city which can make you feel isolated and anonymous, unless you can find a way to balance that out somehow with active social networks or some kind of creative outlet. Which is something I haven't really developed here yet, though to be honest I think most of the blame for that lies with me, since I haven't made the effort to make many social connections here outside of a few key friends in the city. Still no luck with the improv either. Shame, but the groups I have seen here are all rather average. I'm hoping to check out at least one other group before I go (Asskat and PIT), but we'll see how that works out.

There is a lot that can be said about New York City. I love it here, but life here requires constant care and vigilance. We shall see how this goes.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What made me famous

Back in August (London) I visited the happiest place on Earth - the Borough Market. There I somehow made it to television. Here is the link to my very embarrassing debut.


Guess I wasn't really ready for my close-up after all.

Monday, December 7, 2009


One of my goals for New York was to get a job. Another goal was to watch a live taping of The Daily Show. The former I have as yet been unable to achieve. The latter though, I'm achieving as I write this.

Right now I'm standing in line on 11th avenue between 51 and 52 streets, waiting to see the funniest daily talk show on tv. I love this guy, I mean I was excited to see Letterman because he's famous. But I'm excited to see Jon Stewart because he's hilarious!

I've decided that since it's now very unlikely that I will be staying in this city past January 5, that I'm now just going to make the most of this city while I can. I plan on seeing at least one Broadway show a week, and I still have to get to the Statue of Liberty.

My 'job' is a complete bust, through (and I feel I can say this honestly) no fault of my own. I was completely ready, willing and able to jump into that project, but it's hard enough a project to do on its own, let alone when nobody shows up to the office! Still, I met a couple of people through the 'project', so I guess it can't have been a complete waste of time.

But I'm happy. The weather is starting to get really cold, and may possibly snow today. I'm standing in line to see somebody I genuinely admire, and I have a pretty cool apartment (thanks to my handy earplug investment).

But there is a kind of peace to knowing that I'm not going to stay past January. Now I can stop looking up jobs online, stop getting down that I haven't had a single interview since I got here, and finally take some time to enjoy the city that I'm now living in.

Well, for another month, anyway.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The biggest slice of pizza I have seen in my entire life. I kid you not.


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This is probably better

Snow wise, I mean
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And now it's snowing!!

A little bit, at least.
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Laundry Day

Most apartments and such in the city don't have a washing machine or dryer, so I have to use a laundromat. It's kind of cool that so many people in the city have to use this to do their washing.

Okay sure, I know there are a few that send their clothes out, but for many, this is a perfect chance to chill out, as it's not always the best idea to leave your underwear unattended for too long.

It's also reasonably affordable. $2 gets you a double load wash done, and it's 25 cents for six minutes in the drier. So a load of sheets (today's adventure!) will only cost me around $2.75 - much cheaper than washing your laundry in Sweden ($40).

It's raining today, so not much with the sightseeing. I'll probably just hang out and catch up on some work, and also maybe some DVDs. Also it's rather chilly, and the natives are thinking it's going to snow soon.

Exciting! Maybe I'll get a white Christmas after all?

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Brooklyn and her Bridge

I was going to walk down Wall Street today.

I walked to Brooklyn instead.
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Tipping: not just a place in China

One thing I've noticed here is that, aside from the cost of accommodation, the price of everyday items is generally either comparable or lower to the cost of things back home.

Clothes are cheaper, movies and entertainment are a similar price, and food is cheaper. Or so you would think.

Eating out at a restaurant is great fun, and New York has great restaurants every few metres. Mains (here they call them 'entrees') are generally cheaper back home; where you might pay $30 for a steak in Wellington, you could pay $20-$25 here for the same. This is especially impressive given that Manhattan generally has to import everything.

But New York (well actually the entire country) doesn't make it that simple. Why would you, when you can make it confusing and difficult to predict? You see sales tax (their version of GST) is never included in the menu price. Of anything. Food, clothes, goods and services all exclude tax until it's time to pay the bill, which just gets confusing. A $20 steak will now cost $23.

Why tax is excluded I'll never understand. McDonald's have a commercial over here which has a man wandering the streets with a $1 note, asking people 'what can I get for this?'. Of course when he gets to McD's he is answered wit a swagger of burgers and items that I would just as soon eat as I would run a marathon. But the point is, they lie.

I went into the offending restaurant my first week here, with all of $1.25 in my pocket to satisfy my craving for self destruction, and ordered a 'sweet tea' from there $1 menu.

"That will be $1.09"
"Excuse me?"
"Plus tax, sir"
"Then it's not really a dollar, is it?"
"Of course it is sir. The tea is a dollar, but the tax is nine cents"

I gave him my $1.25, took my sweet tea and change (which I didn't put in the charity box), and nearly lapsed into a diabetic coma from the sweetness of the tea. So I gave it to a homeless man. It's what Jesus would do.

So we have sales tax, to help compensate for the relatively low price of food and such. But then there's tipping. Here you tip anytime anybody does anything for you, outside of simple retail or deli service. This is particularly true of any place with table service.

Typically a tip should be at least 15% of the total bill: 18% is expected, anything more is to reward good service. So basically you tip for service, not good service (though you don't have to tip for bad service, a smaller tip is generally still expected). Also the nicer the restaurant, usually the higher the tip (thanks, peer pressure!). It's not unusual for a $400 bill to have a $100-150 tip.


What initially seems to be a good deal in this city will usually screw you with the fine print. Something I'm starting to become very familiar with, the longer I spend here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First night: little sleep

There's a pipe in my room which connects the whole building's hot water. Every time someone uses hot water it gets noisy. The more that use it, the noisier it gets. Keeps my room warm though.

Today, I buy earplugs.
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Monday, November 30, 2009

My new room

A bit small, but I'm very happy with it.

Mainly because it's mine, but also mainly because I get the food network in my room.

I'm a very happy Kiwi.
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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Seven Worlds Collide

I went to the New York Planetarium yesterday.

I hadn't so much intended to go there yesterday, but I was in the neighbourhood, and needed desperately to use their bathroom, so I paid the $24 entrance fee and went in. It was worth it just to use the bathroom.

The planetarium is a permanent exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, and so I spent a little time checking out the space exhibits in and around the planetarium before I was due to go in.

What struck me at first was that all mention of Pluto had been erased from the exhibit, what with it not being a planet anymore. It left me feeling kind of sad; like Pluto was the skeleton in the Solar System's closet, or some bad historical mistake that had to be wiped from public record. It's okay Pluto, I'm not a planet either. (I saw that on a T-shirt).

When it came time to visit the planetarium, we were shepherded into a massive windy line, then mustered into the elevators, and finally herded into the waiting room and theatre. The seats recline, so that we could get a direct view of the domed ceiling.

The ceiling was the screen - or the screen was the ceiling. Either way it was cool. The film opened with a rumbling and some pretty awesome special effects (which made a baby cry), and was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg (which made the republicans cry).

The focus of the film was primarily about how awesome the sun is, but it also showed a portrayal of the big bang and other such cosmic niceties. It was quite impressive, and very well done.

I couldn't help but almost doze off in several places however, as the chairs were altogether way too comfortable. I'm normally a pretty light sleeper, but I reckon that if I had nodded off, not even the big bang would have woken me.

After the movie, I saw the dinosaur exhibit.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Operation New York: Phase Two

You may have noted my excitement in my previous post. It is true, I have a new apartment. That is to say that I found a place in the city to live in for at least the next month or so.

I don't really know what I was doing differently. Maybe it was luck, or statistics (eventually somebody's going to respond to your email!), but likely it was that I had both increased my budget for the month from $1000 to $1300 (made easier by only having to pay for one month), and lowering my expectations.

I have seen some nasty places in this city. I have also seen some laughable ones: I saw this one place in Gramercy Park, a studio which I had decided to take on the spot. Then they wanted $1200 a week. Not $1200 a month. I put my chequebook away, threw up a little into my mouth, and walked away.

This place however, is pretty cool.

It's located in Morningside, Manhattan - a suburb just south (?) of Harlem - buy very nice. A cursory walk around the neighbourhood reveals many wonderful looking restaurants, bars and shops. It's a 3bdr/2 bathroom furnished 5th floor walkup (i.e. no elevator).

I'm sharing with two guys, both American, and both in the film and tv 'industry'. Yep; they're pretty cool. Jason (the one I've met), and I have a lot in common. We're both foodies, love British comedy and drama (esp Spooks) and got on really well. I think I'm going to like it there.

Still no luck on the job front. Now that Thanksgiving is over (separate post to come on that), nobody will really be hiring until after Christmas, which is when I'm due to leave bfor back home.

I feel like I've missed an opportunity to live and work in the city though - it was my goal to pick up some work while I was over here but the pickings are so slim (unless you're in finance) and the competition for work is so slim that I think I would have to really make a go of it here if I wanted to get anywhere.

What does that mean? Basically I think that if I were really trying to make it work, and didn't have the safety net of my return ticket home (or my job back in Wellington), then I would probably just apply for anything and everything that I can, and accept whatever I can get until I find something better.

The problem with that is that I've already been doing that, to some extent at least, and haven't even had so much as a rejection letter, let alone an interview. Things will pick up though, given enough time.

But then raises the second problem. New York City is not the capital of New York state. So there are very few policy jobs going. Those that are require a PhD or experience doing that exact same job for ten years elsewhere. I'm just not sure have the experience to compete fairly in this city.

Basically my only hope now is to network like mad - and either get a job or star in my own reality show. Either way would be fine with me.

Unless it's a True Hollywood Story. That would suck.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I wasn't built for shopping.

Today I am shopping at an outlet mall.

Today I spent a whole lot of money.

I may need an extra suitcase.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finally. I got something right!

I now have an apartment.
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The answer!

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Haiting the uncertainty

Still no apartment.
Still no job.

I am however, continuing to look. I have seen a couple of other apartments since my last update, and while they have been rather lacking, each apartment has been an improvement on the last. I don't think it's necessarily my fussiness that's letting me down, rather it's my desire to be able to access a full bathroom and not suffer from exposure just by getting into bed.

I'm also no closer to figuring out what this pro bono/volunteer/internship job thing is about. But here's what I know.

I'm helping out a lady who's also the Vice President of an organisation called "Yele Haiti" - a non-profit that's dedicated to the economic development of Haiti, founded by Wyclef Jean (but that's not what I'm doing). She's interested in initiating several development projects in Haiti, as well as in other developing countries, and she needs people to research these projects to see if their viable or interesting.

"So you're a research assistant?" I hear you ask. No.

She has some research assistants, yes. But that's not what she wants me to do. At the moment, there's a lot of showing up to the office and sitting on my laptop (which is now fixed by the way - sans any documents or photos that were on there before!), researching papers from the World Bank on Community Driven Development, or looking up the latest uses for protein powder in emergency food relief (answer: protein powder is used as an emergency food). This research appears designed solely to keep me occupied until we can brainstorm 'corporate strategy'.

I think the problem (aside from my not knowing the first thing about 'corporate strategy'), is that she's running around trying to manage 13 different projects at once, without a clear idea about what she wants to achieve out of any of them. This results in a very directionless suite of projects, and some very confused interns/research assistants/kiwis. I think what she wants me to do, maybe, is to give her some advice on project management, and keep her on track for what she wants to do.

I'm not sure if I'm on the right track with this, and this whole project thing could be a bust. Or it could just be completely disorganised. But then I'm used to disorganised projects; I've been living one for the last 28 years.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just another Sunday afternoon

Sunday came, and Sunday went.

I had hoped that I would have been able to find an apartment by then, or by the end of last week, but to no avail.

Not for lack of trying, mind. I have seen one or two places, and made many unanswered enquiries. In this predicament I have found myself back in a familiar comfort zone; it almost feels like the weeks leading up to my trip to Europe.

There is a feeling of anxiety about leaving what is essentially a new home. Looking for a place in the city opens me up to all kinds of uncertainty, and possibly risk. Not least due to the fact that I most likely only have until the beginning of January until I fly to California, and I still haven't been to visit my grandmother in Louisiana.

But these are all things within my control. I still have time to address all these concerns, and I think I'm going to have to. So with that in mind, I approached a couple of agencies who promised (one even guaranteed) that I would find a place that I was happy with. For a nominal fee.

One such company wanted to charge me $150 (non-refundable) for a retainer to help me find a place. They would make appointments for me to look at, and if I found a place I would then need to pay them the equivalent of one month's rent as a commission. Now since I'm really only looking for a place for the next six weeks, that would have effectively doubled my rent for the entire stay. It took me a while to figure that out, and was hidden quite well in the fine print. Thankfully not well enough.

Finding the agency on craigslist should have been my first clue. Having their agency hidden on the fourth story of a derelict building in mid-town Manhattan (sharing a building with a 'discount' travel agency - yes the quote marks were included on the sign, and a $5 psychic) was the second.

Fortunately I noticed what I was in for before committing myself to anything, and was able to leave having only spend a little time (and no money).

The second agency, also from craigslist, appeared better. Or at least more realistic. They guaranteed that I would find somewhere I liked, or I would not have to pay anything. Well, I would get a refund. So I ponied (yes it's a word, ask The Queen) up with the $100 fee and headed off to my first appointment. Washington Heights (also known as Spanish Harlem).

Washington Heights seemed like it could have been anything; walking out of that subway stop made me feel like I had taken the slow boat to Puerto Rico. Nothing bad, but the whole community was vastly different to anything I had seen so far: storefronts and businesses written mainly in spanish (or very poor english), with all variety of latin music playing, from rap to the Gypsy Kings.

It only took me 20 minutes or so to find the place, which turned out to be yet another rental agency. Kind of. To get there I had to enter a salon full of Latin ladies with giant hair and massive fingernails, and 'ask for Sonia'. I was sent upstairs to a joint florist/makeshift rental agency. I described what I was looking for. Something:

•access to kitchen etc.

I was told (in very broken english) that she had the perfect place for me, and that after I saw this place that I "wouldn't look at any others". Excited at the possibility, I took the address, and found it just around the corner. It was an apartment building that could have been taken straight from Skid Row. But books having covers and all that, I rang the buzzer.

No answer.

I rang again, and noticed that the self locking door was being held open by a juice box. One that had been there a while. So I opened the door and was warmly greeted by the smell of stale urine. Still determined not to be judgemental, I climbed the six flights of steps to the apartment (as the elevator was broken, and possibly also the source of the smell) and knocked.

Eventually the door was opened by a kindly old spanish lady, with only a little english. Fortunately I had only a little spanish, so we got along just fine. Until I saw the room.

It had a bed, and a wardrobe. The light didn't work, and the windows didn't open.

"No you don't want to do that, not safe!"


It seems that almost nothing on my list had been met, save for being somewhat furnished with a bed, a tv complete with "some cable. Not the good cable, but some cable". I thanked the lady, who appeared to be encouraged by my ability to climb the stairs, and advised her that I had other places to see that day, and thanked her for her time.

Sonia was right. I didn't want to look at any others.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Pond, NY

Ice skating in Bryant Park.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just to keep things interesting...

My laptop died yesterday. Completely. Utterly. Killing everything.
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Friday, November 13, 2009

...and the clock strikes one.

I may have a job.

Well, not a job exactly. More like an internship for a non-profit organisation.
Well, not an internship, more of a pro-bono consulting role.

And not so much an organisation, as much as something else entirely. If it all goes well, it could lead to a significant professional opportunity for me. If it goes pear shaped... well at least I have a return ticket home.

This could be either an amazing opportunity, or a complete waste of time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Yay! Yay! Boo!

New York is nothing if not surprising.

Take the other day for instance. I was walking down Times Square just minding my own business when I hear a voice say "Free tickets to David Letterman!" I turned around to see people just walking past her, completely ignoring her. Being the consummate gentleman that I am, I approached her and promptly declared that I would take a ticket to see David Letterman. Which I did.

Now this is the time where I ought to admit that I'm not the biggest fan of David Letterman. In fact, I often find it hard to watch; I don't have anything against the guy, but he an I don't share a similar sense of humour. If given the choice between seeing Letterman and Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show", I would totally see the latter. However, I have never been one to turn down a free ticket to anything legal, and it could be a great experience to be in a studio audience; so I went.

I was told to arrive between 1 and 2pm ('2.01pm is LATE!' was scrawled along my invite), to pick up my tickets, and was greeted by a giant line of audience members all filling out their "I have a trick" forms (I saw no tricks that day). So I took my place in the queue and waited to claim my tickets.

Once inside, I was greeted by a pep squad that clapped and cheered us into the ticket booth where we were to claim our tickets. One asked me if I was excited and ready to laugh and cheer. I told her that they were New Zealand's biggest exports, which somehow persuaded her to draw a thick dark line down my ticket and march me back out to the front of the theater. Thinking I had done something wrong (you shouldn't be funnier than Letterman), I started leaving the door when one of the ushers asked to see me ticket. Noticing the big red line down the middle, he placed me in a separate section of the theatre, away from everyone else.

Picture this, if you will. A throng of people, most of whom are from other states (generally the south or the mid-west), on one side of the room, all practicing their laughter and clapping. Me, on my own, on the other side of the room, facing the people practicing their laughter. Eager to avoid a high school flashback, I stood my ground and waited for a couple of minutes before one of the ushers escorted me outside.

"Congratulations! You've been chosen as a VIP in our audience today! You were selected because we thought you were one of those who would be most likely to clap and laugh at Dave's jokes".


His enthusiasm suggested that I take it as a compliment however, and so I put on my 'excited face' and went with it. Turns out that being a VIP means I get to sit in the front two rows, and have access to the bathrooms before the show. Yep. I got to pee - the others, did not.

As part of my VIP experience, I was led into the basement of the theatre, where we were given 15 minutes to use the restrooms before being 'pepped' by what can only be described as an 'audience fluffer'. A very enthusiastic young lady who could only have been on some kind of methamphetamine, came out and laid down the ground rules. Basically, we were to laugh. At everything. If it wasn't that funny, we still had to pretend it was the funniest we'd ever heard, and laugh accordingly. And now I know why everyone thinks he's so funny. Because they have to, or they get asked to leave.

Okay, so it wasn't that bad. We were told we could be thrown out if anybody wolf whistled (interferes with the mics, and is douchey), took a photo (douchey), or used their cellphones. But I couldn't help but feel like I was pimping out my integrity to watch a live taping of a talk show. Once I realised the absurdity of that thought, I saw that I had already pimped out my integrity just by being there, and so I might as well give them the happy ending they were craving.

Then I got excited. I found out that the special guest for the night was Bill Murray - one of my favourite comedians of all time ever (I really want to do a Ghostbusters tour of the city one day).

We entered the theatre, and watched the show. Letterman was funny enough; though I credit a lot of that with the liberal fluffing before the show. We saw it all - an opening comedian, a few songs from the CBS Band (they made us clap the whole way through their entire set - at least 15 minutes), and then an introductory set from the man himself. I had a seat in the second row, which was nice and close to all the action, though directly behind the camera man and queue card guy - meaning I watched a good chunk of the show on the monitors.

The show was funnier live (though not as hilarious as you might have believed had you seen me laughing), and Bill Murray was wonderful, if not a tad obscure (he wore Shakespearean period costume). Overall, a pretty exciting day and a fun show. I wouldn't say I was a fan of Letterman now, but I certainly think he's better than I gave him credit for. I had fun though, and even though I am sure I cheapened myself through clapping, it was a great experience.

The taping finished about 4.30pm, and I was in such a good mood that I bought a fake iPhone, which didn't work. Not my best move.


Tick Tock...

This week.

I'm going to do it this week. Something's gonna happen - I can feel it. Well actually I can feel that something needs to happen. Maybe it's the change of seasons, maybe it's the fact that I still haven't found a job or moved into the city, or maybe it's that I'm just getting a little stir crazy. Whatever it is, I have decided that by Sunday I will have found a place in the city.

I probably won't have found a job by then, but I think that being in the city will at least motivate me to either look harder for a job, or will allow me that chance meeting to bump into President Clinton and have him offer me a job at his foundation. It's how we roll.

I found an agency online that acts to find people apartments in the city - apparently from $200/week (I'm guessing 'from' is the operative word here). This looks promising, and will allow me to experience living in Manhattan, which should also give me the chance to do some pretty cool sightseeing without having to worry about missing the train back home.

It's now 11 November, and I'm still here. This is my chance to push myself, jump in the deep end, and figure out if I can sink, swim, or just belly-flop.

This week.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What the Halloween?

One of the more interesting traditions over here is Halloween.

I really wanted to experience as 'American' a Halloween as possible, and so Ashley and I started by carving a pumpkin a couple of days before hand. Pumpkins in America are not like pumpkins in New Zealand. They don't eat theres, unless it's in something sweet such as a spiced pumpkin mocha/latte/donut/muffin/steak. Turns out there's a lot of admin in carving a pumpkin - the bulk of which is normally dedicated to scooping out the insides with your hands. For those that have never tried this, there isn't really any way to explain the sensation, other than perhaps it's like putting your hand into a deep dish apple pie, all the way up to your wrist (not my hand).

You keep scooping until you have gotten all of the insides out:

Then you get to decide what to carve into the pumpkin. I had initially wanted to do 'something kiwi' like a fern or actually a kiwi, but in the end decided that it would be better to go with the decidedly non-kiwi owl.

Not bad, eh?

But now I had one more dilemma - what to dress up as?

Once revered as a night full of spookiness and mischief, Halloween is now widely considered a night to dress up in funny, cute, or slutty costumes. This usually splits along gender lines: guys will usually dress up as something funny or lazy (I saw a guy dressed up as a toilet, another just with the word "Book" on his face. Facebook... good one mate, topical), with the girls usually treating it as a chance to really dress like a woman of ill-repute - I lost count of the number of slutty nurses, cops, little red riding hoods over the evening.

I found myself torn between the desire to be incredibly creative and clever, and my unswerving desire to be lazy. What could I do that would be unlike everybody else out there, would get a smile or a knowing nod from passers by, but which didn't require me to invest in hours of papier mache or a construction kit? I wanted something clever, yet captured the spirit of Halloween.

In the end, I went as something classic, with a contemporary twist. I decided to revive the Halloween traditional ghost outfit (complete with bedsheet and eye holes), but to make it relevant to today's society. So, in the spirit of the season, as well as to celebrate the Yankees making the World Series against Philadelphia, I went as "The Ghost of Yankees Past".

Now I know what you're thinking - brilliant, right? Yes, in this case you would be correct. Most people who saw my costume got it pretty much straight away, and thankfully nobody seemed to think I was predicting that the Yankees were about to die. Willem Defoe even liked my costume, and he wouldn't lie.

I met up with my friend Rohan to catch the annual Halloween parade in the city, but due to rain and us being stuck behind a large crowd of people we were unable to see very much. So after about 30 minutes of standing in a large crowd of zombies and Michael Jacksons, we decided to head to a bar to have a drink and watch the Yankees beat the Phillies. Which they did.

In there, we saw some pretty cool costumes:

I wasn't allowed to wear my costume at the bar though, as apparently there was some concern that as a ghost I would think I was invisible, and cause mayhem (though they said it was 'for security reasons'), so I was dressed only as a Yankee - a far lamer costume, particularly as it only looked like I was a fan. Later in the evening I was showing some new friends my costume, and was promptly told that there was no way I could wear that outside, or anywhere around them.

"Are you guys Phillies supporters?"
"No way man - that costume's 85% inappropriate - you can't come out with us dressed like that!"
"But I'm a ghost!"
"It's Ku Klux Klan"

These guys liked me - we got on really well. What worried me though was that if these guys thought that, then somebody who didn't know or like me might take it the wrong way and stab me. Not entirely the approach I had gone for. In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn't have worn the hat:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Boston Tale

I'm not quite sure what to make of Boston.

On the one hand, it's a very pretty city packed with natural charm and history, and pretty cool accents. On the other hand, I found the people rather reserved and guarded, which meant that conversations were few and far between. Also the 'nightlife' was, well...

I had found a neat little bar around the corner from my hostel called 'Whiskey's' on my first night, and had stayed for quite some time, having had a reasonable time, but lamenting that the bar was also rather empty. So the following night (Wednesday) I decided that I would make another go of it, especially as it was game six of the World Series, and the Yankees could win it that night. So I set out to camp out at the bar a second time.

Still a little tender from the night before, I started with a cranberry juice. I was a little early for the game to start, so I just hung out at the bar and made sure I got a good seat. Now the thing you have to understand about Boston, is that they hate the Yankees (though I'm not sure the rivalry goes back the other way); kind of like NZ/Australia. So my being there to watch the game and support their arch rivals probably didn't endear me to them too much. So I decided I would keep a low profile.

Well, that was until I realised that I had picked the one corner of the bar where all the other Yankees fans had decided to congregate, completely by chance. So I quickly made friends with them, and once they learned that I was both a Yankees fan AND a kiwi, I didn't pay for another drink for the rest of the night. That was cool. After the game (which the Yankees won, of course), we stuck around for a couple more drinks before the bar kicked us out. At 1am.

Everywhere in Boston closes at either 1am or 2am. Which is late, sure - but rather bizarre, and limits your options somewhat. It's usually around that time of night that you've decided if you're going to stay out or going home, and I had just then decided that I would be staying out.
Unfortunately Boston had other plans, and so I returned to my hostel - having drunk just enough to sleep poorly. I resolved that I would check out a different bar the next night, or maybe find some other kind of fun.

That's when I remembered the improv theatre. I hadn't seen any improv my entire trip, and while I feared the worst about the kind of improv I could be seeing, I had read some positive reviews online and was also rather keen to meet up with some fellow improvisers: network, share formats and philosophies, make friends, and party. So I put on my going out trousers and took the T (the subway in Boston) to the theatre, eager to make some new friends and to be inspired.

The show itself wasn't all that bad. It was a mixture of sketch comedy and improvised scenes, with very little reliance on audience suggestions. By this I mean that they still asked for input, but it was used to inspire scenes, rather than to drive the scenes. This, in my opinion, always results in better theatre. At times they were a little agressive, railroading scenes, going for the easy gags and with little focus on the relationships between characters, and at times I think they took the easy option, but overall not a bad show. My favourite scene of the night was a sketch at the end, which was a rewrite of One Day More from Les Miserable (recreated as One Beer More). It was actually very good, and a great way to end the show.

I was excited though to meet up with the cast afterwards, and so hung out after the show to meet up with the crew. I introduced myself to Misch, one of the cast she was my favourite of the night, but more importantly was willing to talk to me. She impressed me the most during the show, as she showed a lot of imagination, was bold in her offers, and didn't go for the easy gag. We chatted for a few minutes about improv etc, and exchanged email addresses, though didn't get to hang out for very long.

I then went and chatted to another of the group, but he was either exhausted after the show, or just not very interested as the conversation was extremely one sided. I found this very odd, because most improv groups that I've come across in my time have jumped on the opportunity to meet other improvisors, to teach and to learn, and to drink tequila. But I guess not this one.
Lame. Still, at least I got to see some improv.

So I headed back towards my hostel, and since it was still only 10pm, decided that I would head back to Whiskey's, to try for a third night of fun. When I got there, I saw that the bar was full of people, which meant a whole bar full of people to meet and talk to. Only, the bouncer wouldn't let me in.

I walked up to the door and was greeted by Chris, the doorman who I had hung out with on Tuesday. We were talking for about ten seconds when the bouncer told me that he'd need to see some ID. So I showed him my NZ driver's licence. Which he rejected, saying I needed a passport or US driver's licence to be allowed in. To Chris' credit, he did stick up for me a little bit, but bouncers have never been happy with their place on the food chain and so grasp at power wherever they can. This was one of those times, and so despite my having spent the entire night there the previous two nights, I was no longer welcome.

It would be different if I looked at all like I could be under the age of 21, but I haven't looked under 21 since I was 17. So I left the bar feeling rather miffed, and found another bar down the road - the only other one that was open and sans bouncer, and rather empty. So I sat there for a bit, drank my beer, tried making small talk for a little while, but nothing really stuck, and so I left to go back to my hostel.

I'm not sure what it is about Boston. I really think it's a lovely city, but I've also had a bit of a poor experience with the social side of the city.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Freedom, body odour, and canoli.

It's not really a sin if you've earned it.

I took the Megabus down to Boston on Tuesday for $8. It was a reasonably short trip (a little under four hours), the bulk of which was spent trying to restore my computer settings after a mysterious loss of my user profile. Once I arrived at the train station, I wandered around for a while to get my bearings, eventually giving up and pulling out a map, and headed straight to my hostel.

I checked in and went up to my room, to be greeted by a wall of stench that hit me like a brick wall. One of my roommates was already sound asleep in his bed, snoring, and judging by the smell, had exhausted himself by running a marathon. I dumped my stuff on the only free bed in the room, a top bunk, and decided that this would be a good time to go and explore the city.

I soon found a bar about 5 minutes from the hostel; a kind of student bar called "Whiskey's". I only ever intended to stay there for an hour or so, but ended up staying until after closing. I don't know quite what it was that convinced me to stay. Perhaps it was that I kept meeting people. Perhaps it was the constant supply of chicken wings that somehow kept showing up in front of me. Perhaps it was the trivia night that I found myself in the middle of. Or perhaps it was the fact that I wanted to put off going back to my hostel for as long as possible. By the end of the night I had met half the bar staff, and made a few new friends.

Seven hours later, I stumbled back to my hostel and, braving the smell, went to bed. But not to sleep.

You see, it turned out my roommates snore. All of them. I was sharing a room with three middle-aged, overweight men. When one started, another would join in as if on cue. It was almost as if they competed with each other for both volume, timbre, and amount of mucous that could be drawn. To make matters worse, the guy on the bottom bunk decided that this would be a good time of morning to 'make friends' with himself... with the result that I was convinced that I was in a particularly violent (but unusually brief) earthquake. Until I realised that I wasn't.

All in all I ended up with only a couple of hours sleep.

Sleepy, cranky, and possibly still a little drunk, I got up and made the most of the free breakfast in the hostel before heading into the city to explore. I started out with 'The Freedom Trail' - a path that leads you through much of the city area, as well as some of the significant historic locations of the city. The trail started just behind the Boston Commons, and along the way it covered the State House (where the Governor of Massachusetts lives), some very old pubs (including the one where Washington et al plotted the revolution), Paul Revere's house and a few other cool sites. It also took me through Little Italy and past an improv theatre for a local troupe "Improv Asylum". I made a mental note to catch up with them.

The Freedom Trail took me a couple of hours, at a medium clip, though I decided to turn around at one of the cemeteries. I probably missed out on some freedom, but my stomach was telling me that it was time to head back to Little Italy and so I did.

I headed to a place called "Mike's Pastries" - famous for their canoli. Now, I had never had a canoli before, and had no idea what to expect. Turns out it's kind of like a brandy snap - fried pasta stuffed with cream. Lots of cream. Solid, chunky, delicious cream that makes you feel guilty for even looking at it. The kind that makes you feel that you should go to confession afterwards and confess to undertaking a sin of the flesh.

I got the chocolate chip.

Monday, November 2, 2009

An Empire State of Mind (or, queue as folk)

There are certain things everybody has to do when they get to New York:

  1. See the Statue of Liberty
  2. Take the subway
  3. Ride in a yellow cab
  4. Get angry at traffic ("Hey, I'm walking here!")
  5. Eat a slice of pizza that's bigger than your face, and
  6. Climb the Empire State Building

The building itself is rather unimpressive from the outside, and if you're looking for it during the day it would be hard to pick out unless you knew exactly where to look. Inside the building however, is gorgeous. The lobby looks like it's completely marble, guilt, and oak. It's probably not of course, since I wouldn't know the difference between oak and any other kind of wood but you get the idea. It looked pretty.

So I entered the lobby, and took my place in the queue to go up. Well, it turned out to be the queue to use the escalator to get to the place to buy tickets.

5 minutes.

Once I got up to the ticket area (second floor), I noticed that all the windows in the room had been frosted over, possibly to maintain our own privacy, but probably to prevent us queue-folk from getting a free view outside from the second story. The line for this was one of those snaky ones which wound back on itself several times.

30 minutes.

Once I got to the front of the line, I saw the price list: $20 normal, $18 for military with ID, free for military in uniform. This struck me as kind of odd - why would you want to distinguish between those in uniform and those who are on their day off? And then I realised that it's a very bad look charging somebody in uniform for something as patriotic as visiting a US icon. But if they're not in uniform, then it doesn't look so bad, and so you can charge them without risking backlash from the people in line.

At the ticket window, I asked for a single adult ticket to go to the viewing platform. I think I got her on a bad day.

"How many tickets?"
"One please - I asked for a single"
"To the viewing platform?"
"Child, adult, or senior?"
(looking up)"Child, adult, or senior?"
"Child, please"
"Do you have ID?"
"...here's my NZ driver's license"
"Sir, it says here you're 25 years old"
"28. What's the cutoff here in the US?"

This continued for a couple of minutes, and once they had worked out that my credit card was just like any other they had seen, I was finally in the queue to the elevators. They had two elevators taking groups of 8 people up at any given time, once an elevator from the top had come down. So I waited.

20 minutes.

I shared an elevator to the 60th floor with a group of Amish (no, I thought that too), where we then had to wait (also with frosted windows) for another elevator ride up to the 86th floor.

5 minutes.

Once there though - all the waiting seemed worth it. I could see all of New York from there - the top of the highest point in New York. Given that I refused to spend $10 on a map of the view from the lobby, I had to try and figure out the view. From my limited knowledge of the city so far, I could see Central Park, the Hudson River, a couple of bridges, and the Statue of Liberty.
I'm sure I could see other things, but I have no idea what they were. So here are some photos instead (spot the Statue of Liberty):

I spent about half an hour up there before queuing to go back down. Later that night I learned that you can buy your tickets online and thus jump a big chunk of the queues. So I know for next time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Intrepid. It's a very big ship.

I have spent a bit of time in New York now, in fact it's now a little over a month. And I realised I hadn't really done anything overly touristy. So I decided to change my approach a little, and take a day to do some sightseeing.

I started off by visiting the Intrepid - a retired Aircraft carrier parked permanently on the Hudson riverbed at the end of 42nd Street, which is now a dedicated floating museum of 'air, sea and space', complete with a decommissioned cold-war era submarine (including nuclear missile), a concord, and many different types of fighter jets (including an aermacchi training jet).

Using my military ID to get in for free, I started off my sojourn at the sub, where we were greeted by a stocky little man who very happily informed us that the nuclear missile we were only metres away from would evaporate all of Manhattan, and the surrounding boroughs, were it to still be active. With that in mind, we all made the appropriate 'oohs' and 'ahhs' while taking plenty of photos of something that could obliterate everything from here to Hoboken.
Inside the submarine were plenty of knobs and buttons and such, all of which looked very technical, old and impressive, and I had no idea what anything did.

Having seen 'Hunt for Red October' around seven times, I was totally surprised at how small the submarine actually was. This sub was supposed to crew 88 people (mostly sailors - though the photo is for officer's accommodation. Sailor's accommodation berthed up to 20[?]) for up to six months at a time, but was around the same size as my apartment back home:

Then I looked at some planes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Still no job... Boston?

Well, still no job.

But I have started applying for anything and everything that might even be 'slightly' suitable, from Assistant Director positions at major planning firms to a kitchen designer to executive assistant roles. Now normally I wouldn't think these positions were suitable, as I would assume some kind of experience or interest in the position would be necessary first. However, the job agencies I have registered with are convinced that I should apply for these jobs, and I guess they would know best!

I'm planning to go to Boston next week. It's about a four hour bus ride from New York city, and I think it will be good to feel all explory again and experience a completely new city. This is what I know about Boston:

  • It's in Massachusetts
  • It's where David E. Kelly sets all his tv shows
  • There's a Liberty Bell
  • Famous tea party
  • Hotbed of American history
  • Famous for Chowder (Chow-dah)
  • The Kennedys
  • Great accent
  • Harvard
  • Beans and cream buns
Hmm... seems I know a bit about Boston after all! I'm looking forward to it, now all I need to do is book my trip.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Steven

Okay, so not much has happened.

I had hoped that by now I'd be able to update on my latest adventures, misdeeds, or cultural faux pas. But...


I've spent the majority of the past two weeks trying to steam through as much work as I can for my job back home, while still trying to make the most of my time here in NY. I've done okay with the first task, but have somewhat failed in the second.

I have applied so far for two jobs in NYC - both with the office of the Mayor. I was hoping to find some temp work in the city, but it seems that all my requests to meet with temp agencies have fallen on deaf ears. On top of that, all of the temp jobs available in the city appear to require at least a few years experience in office management, a bachelor's degree from 'a top US college', experience in the financial sector, bilinguability, or great attention to detail. I don't have any of these.

And so, I have given myself until Thanksgiving to find a job in New York City. I think that's a fair goal. I have also decided that this week I will start looking for an apartment in the city - if I can't work there maybe I can at least live there for a month! I think my only option at this point is to sublet from somebody - it appears that there are a few apartments going right now, so (assuming I get paid this week) I should be okay with that.

I'm still having a fun time, but I think that moving to the city is what I need to do to kick it up a gear or two.

And give me more things to write about.

Monday, October 19, 2009

How to make a sandwich

I call this my 'America Sandwich'.

First, start with two slices of bread:

Apply liberal amounts of peanut butter:

Next come the lucky charms (try to get as many of the charms as possible on there)

Then the m&m's:

Put the sandwich together.

Now enjoy...?

.. ..

Hmm... maybe not.