Monday, June 30, 2008

Generosity breeds generosity

I think that the Scrooges of the world have simply never had a meal bought for them by a well-meaning acquaintance. Truly. Because anyone who has had a meal or a dessert or any small token purchased for them unexpectedly out of the plain kindness of another person’s heart—that simply makes you want to pass that kind of generosity on.

I say “on” because you should not necessarily feel indebted to the particular person who did the kind action for you, although I once believed that was what I was feeling—an intense desire to pay that person and only that person back for his/her generosity. But no, instead I feel that because a kindness was done to me or for me, I have received a sort of “good karma,” and I now have a duty to extend that karma to someone else.

This all sounds very “new age,” particularly for someone like me, but it is simply a feeling I have been having recently, as I have been witness to several different individuals’ unselfishness. It is a basic lack of penny-pinching, of who-owes-how-much and where-is-my-fair-share-ness that amazes me, because I have always had such a calculating give-me-my-due demeanor. I admittedly walk from grocery shop to grocery shop until I find apples for less than $1.49/lb and. I do get upset if I walk away and discover that I was charged for two heads of broccoli when I only purchased one (as occurred two nights ago). But, for instance, when I was out with my cousin the very day I moved in, walking along the sidewalk, and she asked if I was thirsty, and we stopped to buy juice from a street vendor, I fully expected to have to pay for my own juice. However, she waved my money away and handed me my bottle of pear juice. I was amazed. She didn’t have to do that.

Of course, “she’s your cousin” you might argue. But then I went to The Heights with my suitemates and their friends, and several of us who had already eaten dinner split chips and salsa. I was the only one who didn’t drink alcohol, so when it came time to pay the bill, I was going to contribute some cash while everyone else paid with their cards, but Alisha told me to forget it, she’d cover it. “Are you sure?” I asked, my money still in hand. “You really don’t care?” And I could tell, by her voice, her demeanor, that she really didn’t care. Really. It was only a few dollars, but still.

So now I want to treat other people to these frivolties. I can’t wait to have people come visit me so I can buy groceries and cook for them. I can’t wait for them to use the rides I have stored up on my Metro Card. I don’t mind spending money as much anymore. I think it just has to be on my terms. I don’t want to be forced into it by anyone. That’s not the same. That’s not generous. And then I start worrying.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Peek at Where I Live

My beautiful bedroom. (A great deal larger than anything I ever stayed in at Rochester or in England, that's for sure!)

The bathroom. (Clearly pre-lived-in, as it is very clean and very empty.)

Our living room. (Not very homey, but we are only here for two months. I wish this had been my undergrad dorm!)

And finally, my favorite: the glorious, gorgeous kitchen! (Can you see the dishwasher? All those cabinets? The counter space?!)

How Things Work Out

Sometimes, the chance randomness of life overwhelms me.

I was spending my afternoon in Riverside Park, reading in the sunshine. It was about 2pm, and I wanted to make sure I got back in time to pick up my packages from the Columbia package store, which my roommate Alisha had told me was open until 3 or 4pm. I had gathered my things and begun walking down the path back toward the 116th street exit when I noticed a roughly college-aged girl in a bikini top and cut off jeans shorts awkwardly wielding a football. The two boys on either side of her seemed to be teaching her how to throw it properly. Somewhat entertained, I paused to watch. However, as soon as she saw that she had a spectator, the girl grew even more self-conscious, which made the process take even longer. I tried to appear as though I was still walking, while glancing over my shoulder to see how she did, but she still hadn’t thrown the ball by the time I had maneivered several feet down the path. Finally, one of the boys looked up in my direction.

“Okay, hotshot,” he called. “Do you want to throw it?”

I was a bit shocked that he was talking to me, but now that I had been called out, I set down my backpack right there in the dirt and went over to them. I am not a football player, by any stretch of the imagination, by my throw didn’t tumble end-over-end and almost had a spiral to it. The two boys nodded in affirmation.

“Not bad,” judged the one who had called me over. “You’ve thrown before. I can tell.”

“Yeah, in someone’s back yard,” I tell him. It turns out his name is Tim and he is studying pre-law at Columbia. He and his friends are all taking summer classes, which is why they are here in June. I wouldn’t have stayed as long as I did, except that his friend had a boom box on their blanket, and all of a sudden a Michael Jackson song started playing. I spoke up that I loved Michael Jackson, and the look of surprised shock on Tim’s face opened the gate into our conversation about music that led to Usher’s new CD, which led to the dance class he and his friend just took, which led to my tap dancing history, which led to his invitation to salsa or tango dancing sometime (he and his friend are looking for partners), which led to my asking if they play volleyball, which led to what sports we each play….

The afternoon did eventually end when it started raining. Long story short, the package store was closed and I never did get my package. My other endeavor for the day was to go grocery shopping, but by the time I returned to my room and took a shower, I just didn’t feel like leaving again.

Eventually, by about 7:30pm, I had rounded up enough motivation to go out and find food for the first half of the week. I decided to go to Target, but then as I started out for the subway stop, I remembered that because it was a weekend, the subway ran express uptown, past the Columbia University stop. This meant that I would either have to wait for a bus or walk the 21 blocks to the next subway stop where I could catch it to 225th street. Because I am impatient and was annoyed with myself for being so lazy as to wait until 7:30pm to do anything productive with my day, I decided to walk.

As I started out, I remembered Tim having mentioned a grocery store existing at 125th street. He had said that the best way to find it was to go down Riverside Drive. Thus, since I would have to walk past 125th street to get to 137th street (where I needed to catch the subway to Target), I decided to try and find this grocery store. If all went well, I wouldn’t even have to go all the way to Target.

I did end up managing to find the grocery store, but once I did find it, I knew I’d never be able to navigate my way up to the main street where the 137th subway stop was. Thus, I would just have to do all of my grocery shopping at this store. I went inside and began scoping the place out. As I wandered up and down the aisles, I heard from behind me, “I love New York, too.” I didn’t realize that the man who had spoken was talking to me until he was standing in front of me, pointedly staring at me. I looked up and smiled, suddenly remember that I have a button on my backpack that says “I [heart] NY.” The man was still staring, though. Suddenly, he spoke again.

“Your shirt…. Do you go to the University of Rochester?”

I looked down. I was wearing a grey T-shirt I had won from a random raffle at a UR soccer game. Actually, I wasn’t even supposed to get a T-shirt, I was supposed to get a Wegman’s gift card, but at the last minute, they kept the gift card and gave me a T-shirt. I usually sleep in it, but that evening I had been too lazy to change.

“Actually I just graduated,” I told him.

“I’m a UR alum, too!” The man pulled out his keys and showed me a UR keychain with the crest on it. “I’m actually attending my 20-year reunion this October!”

It turns out he was in that grocery store to pick up some tangerine popsicles for the employees at his restaurant. “They are absolutely the best,” he raved about the popsicles. “You really should buy some.” I passed him on his way to the cash register and he actually opened one of the boxes and gave me a popsicle when I said I probably couldn’t buy any because they would melt before I could get back to my apartment. Then he wanted to give me a business card but couldn’t find one, so I let him write his e-mail address in the little notebook I unfailingly carry around. “If you ever need help with anything in the city,” he said, “just shoot me a line.”

So if I hadn’t stopped and thrown a football around in Riverside Park with a few strangers, I wouldn’t have heard about this grocery store. If the subway didn’t run express uptown on the weekends, I never would have gone to this grocery store. If I had taken that goofy “I [heart] NY” pin off of my backpack (because now, being in NYC, every tourist shop sells identical merchandise), I never would have caught that man’s attention. And if I hadn’t won a UR T-shirt in a raffle instead of a Wegman’s gift card and been lazy/unselfconscious enough to wear it that evening, he never would have known that I went to the University of Rochester.

Life can be so incredibly random sometimes!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


What exactly does “down to earth” mean? That was the compliment I received last night, right before a goodnight kiss was proposed (I turned it down), and I spent the remainder of the evening thinking about whether it accurately described me and whether or not I was pleased to be thought of in that manner. I suppose it is a pretty accurate description—I am practical and rational, if I am anything—but for some reason it just doesn’t ring out like a compliment I should want to receive.

I think who I receive a compliment from dictates whether or not it is a compliment. For instance, I would never take a statement like “You look best like this” [in sweatpants and a T-shirt] as a genuine compliment from anyone other than Ben. I just know it wouldn’t be true, because no one else dresses like me and thinks about clothing the way I do except for him, so no one could use that as an honest compliment.

I guess it’s difficult to explain. Similarly, the only people who could ever tell me I am growing up to be anything like my mother and have that be a compliment would have to be those people who know my mother intimately: my father or Emily or my mother herself. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but compliments—true, honest, deeply felt compliments—are more complicated than they seem.

Calling for Nice People

Nice people make me want to cry. Truly. After talking to sales people and PR people, people who refuse to give straight answers at all costs, people who snap at me for simply trying to do my job (the grunt work of my editors—the fact-finding work, the price-finding work), after trying to make someone commit to some sort of price when they don’t want to look like the evil over-priced company so they just won’t give a price at all and want to be described as “competitively priced,” someone on the other end of the phone finally says, “Yeah, readers do need a price to see if they can afford that cabinet,” and I am nearly in tears.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is bravery?

Is it starting alone in a new city away from home…again?

Is it calling people on the telephone and pretending you are more important than you are—or at least more important than you feel?

Is it striking up a conversation with a stranger? Or smiling at a stranger who won’t smile back at you?

Is it approaching a potentially homeless, potentially infected, potentially crazy woman who looks like she has passed out on the subway and attempting to wake her up to make sure she is not dead or dying?

Is it telling a guy in plain and simple terms that in spite of how nice he might be, you are just not interested in dating him (and even if you were, you would not intend to fill every waking moment of your life with his presence)?

Is it being unwilling to “be part of the group,” even if it makes you an outcast?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The people I have “met”

Sun burnt knees

I was standing, waiting for the 1 train to come, when a gleaming, muscular black man standing next to me eating a tuna fish sandwich with no crusts spoke up. “Are your knees sun burnt?” he asked me.

I looked down at my reddish knees. It was one of those days that had reached 98 degrees with high humidity, and every extremity of my body was sending capillaries as close to the skin as possible. This always happens to me in hot weather, but I guess it doesn’t happen to black people…?

“No,” I told him, “I’m just really hot.”

“Mmmm.” He nodded. “That looks just like when my girlfriend gets sunburnt. She burns real easy.” And he was off, talking all about how his Irish-pale girlfriend get burnt all the time, how sunscreen makes her condition worse, how she tries to “keep up” with him but clearly has no chance, and he tells her all the time, but she just won’t listen, and just the other day she was outside for only and hour, and when she came back her skin got all red and then it peeled and swelled and nothing would help. He told me he had been running in Central Park, and I told him he should have waited until it was cooler in the day.

“It’s noontime,” I told him. “You should wait until seven or eight, when the sun isn’t so hot.”

“I didn’t go far,” he told me. “I usually run a mile, but after half a mile, I was like ‘whew!’ that’s enough.” He grinned. “A fifty-year-old guy like me can’t be taking it too hard on hisself, you know what I mean?”

It was then that I stepped back and took a good look at his defined pectoral muscles and tried to see the gray wooly touch of sideburns peeking out from under his backwards cap. Fifty? Our train arrived. Neither of us said good-bye.

I guess you don’t do that to strangers in the subway station.

A pen

Again, I was in the subway station, but this time I was waiting in line at the attendant’s desk to ask for a map. In front of me was this family—a father, a mother, and a daughter, probably thirteen years old or so—who were very obviously tourists, because they didn’t know what they wanted, nor could they decide what they wanted once they were given options. Both the mother and the father kept trying to talk to the attendant at the same time, asking him questions, and he was getting pretty fed up with them, seeing as his line was growing longer and longer, the more they bantered.

“Which question would you like me to answer first?” the attendant asked, pushing up his spectacles tiredly and staring at the couple while the girl fidget by the metro-card disposal bin (which was broken—a woman had just tried to deposit her ticket into it, and it fell straight through the bottom and onto the ground).

“We want to get to Chelsea,” the father said. “Where do we buy the tickets?”

When they had finally bought three one-way tickets, I stepped up and received my map and followed them down to the platform. There, my mind was wandering and I thought of something I needed to write down. I was scouring my bag for pen and paper, and I discovered that I only had paper—no pen. As I was searching, I could not help but overhear the couple’s conversation beside me. “Why do they have to be such assholes?” the man was saying to his wife.

“‘What question would you like me to answer first,’” he mimicked. “It’s a tiresome job,” the wife was saying. “Yeah, but it’s his job.” The man was without sympathy. “He should do it with some respect.”

I waited a moment for them to pause before I approached. “Excuse me, would you happen to have a pen I could borrow?” The man and his wife immediately said no; the wife did not even open up her purse. I told them thanks anyway and was about to turn around when the daughter stopped me.

“Wait,” she said, “I think I might.” She pulled one out of her purse and handed it to me.

“Oh, that’s the one she found on the plane!” her mother exclaimed. “She wouldn’t even have it except she took it off the plane.” I smiled politely, wrote down Simon & Schuster’s street location (which I had passed while walking to the subway station and didn’t want to forget) and handed the pen back.

“Thank you,” I told the girl. I didn’t even look at the parents.

A child’s smile

This one didn’t occur in the subway; it occurred while I was running. I was on my way to Riverside Park. Crossing Riverside Drive, I saw a father taking his two young children for a walk: a kindergarten-aged girl with close brown curls and a tiny boy who had clearly just learned to walk steadily on his own, as he was very mobile and loving every second of it. The father and daughter were heading down the sidewalk, but the son seemed interested in me, crossing the street. As I reached the sidewalk, he approached me slightly, and I smiled and pointed toward his father and sister, hopefully indicating that he was wanted.

Suddenly, with a great big grin, he bolted past me, heading right toward the street. I spun on my heel, my first instinct being to run after him and stop him. He was so little—no car would ever see him in time to stop! But immediately the thought “you’re a stranger” occurred to me. I couldn’t go running after someone else’s child. I might scare him into running even faster away from me and into the street.

Luckily, his father quickly ran after him and stopped him before he reached the curb. As I jogged away, I kept looking back to see the father kneeling in front of the son, sternly explaining to him that he was not to do that. I was relieved that the father was not yelling, that “proper” and effective parenting practices were being observed. But I was even more relieved that my lack of action had not resulted in a child’s death. I had looked into that child’s eyes, and I felt responsible. He smiled at me.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Chilling in NYC

I miss the simplicity of the things we used to do, me and my friends, to just “hang out.” We went to each other’s houses, played cards, watched movies, played sports. Here in NYC, you have to “go out” to be social. Buy drinks. Get ice cream. Go for coffee. Shop. In short, you have to spend money to be social. Sure, you can talk with the people in your company while you are doing these things (or, rather, shout mostly—at least in bars), but you have to be somewhere. You can’t just chill. You can’t do what would be qualified as “nothing.”

I took what would be considered pretty much a “nothing” day yesterday and spent it by myself. I spent my early morning catching up on email (using my suitemate Lindsay’s computer, which she let me borrow) and then took some paper outside and sat on the Columbia Library steps to write several letters that have been long overdue. After that, I went running in Riverside and Central Parks. (I recently discovered that Riverside Park actually provides a nice “path” down to Central Park so that I don’t have to use all of the main streets to get there and only have to go over a few blocks to enter at 96th Street.) Then, I took the most recent issues of EW, Time, and People (all of which we receive for free as soon as they come out!), my phone, and a water bottle, and sat in Riverside Park until it started to thunderstorm—at which point I hurried back to my dorm. (All the while—I must add—talking on the phone to my old Rochester friend Matt. Much to my chagrin, I am becoming rather accustomed to this cell phone device!)

The most “social” part of my day came when I returned to the dorm and discovered that my suitemate Ebony was making a trip to the Target in Harlem. She invited me to come along, and I agreed to accompany her in order to buy groceries. Thus, once again it has been a money-spending excursion that has brought me together with real people here in NYC.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Deja vu

I have moments here where I feel transported back to Brighton England. For instance, when I am grocery shopping. NYC is so crammed together, there is no space for a big, sprawling, suburban supermarket. As a result, everyone here buys from small, local vendors, from little shops selling little portions. Bags of chips come in single servings…if you can find them. Here in the “heart of America,” fresh fruits and vegetables are more prevalent than junk food—can you believe it? You walk down a street, and yes, there are flashing neon lights blinking at you and scantily clad men and women giants staring down at you from jumbo-sized billboards, but then you try to find a half-gallon of Ben & Jerry’s to make yourself feel better at the end of the day, and you’ll be lucky to find a convenience store selling a pint. Chances are, you’ll end up settling for a vendor selling blended ice.

Or maybe that’s just the part of town I live in. And the part of town I work in. And the part of town I’ve traveled to. (Upper West Side, Midtown, and SoHo, respectively.)

But then there’s the gym. Columbia’s gym absolutely transports me back to my experience in England, and not in a good way, either. This is not to say that people in NYC do not care about working out; on the contrary, they most certainly do. You will not see a more fit group of people than the runners in Central Park. If anyone ever tries to tell you that a body type is “unrealistic” or “impossible,” they should spend one afternoon walking amongst the Central Park joggers.

No, what I am referring to is Columbia University’s gym. Tuition to attend Columbia is a good $20,000, with student life fees amounting to around $1,000. For all of this money, I would expect a decently-equipped gym, and certainly one that does not make me feel depressed the moment I step inside the door. But here is the defining descriptor of Columbia University’s gymnasium: it is underground.

Now, I understand that I should not complain. After all, Time is housing me for free, and more than that, giving me free gym access for two months in New York City, the most expensive place to live (I am assuming) in the U.S. However, if you are going to build a gym underground, you had better give it amazing ventilation. Columbia’s gym has no air-flow. None. The air in that place is stagnant. And it is dark. And dingy. I am very interested to know when it was built. (I guess all of this researching for This Old House is starting to rub off a bit.)

In any case, Columbia’s gym reminds me a great deal of gyms in England. And it makes me miss that country.

Monday, June 9, 2008

New York’s Not Really So Big After All

Here’s why:

Yesterday, I decided to venture out of my “safety” containment area of Columbia University, the 1 line, and 50th street Midtown (where the Time Inc. buildings are located) and attend a second-hand Open Air Book Fair that a fellow intern at work had mentioned earlier in the week. I invited my cousin Kim along, and—after some confusion—she agreed to meet me at the site. The fair was located in SoHo which, conveniently enough, I had been to the night before with two of my suitemates. Therefore, I was fairly confident I knew how to get there, especially since the subway stop I needed for the fair was the exact same one we had used the previous night in order to go to the bar.

To make a long story short, I got lost. Very lost. First I got off at the wrong subway stop for my transfer, then the subway ran past my transfer stop (apparently because on weekends, all trains run express to Times Square, which I did not know), and then I wandered around Midtown for goodness knows how long looking for a subway entrance that would access the B line. When I finally got off at my final destination, it was over an hour after I had left, and who did I see getting off two cars in front of me? My cousin! Talk about bad fortune turning into good fortune.

Here is another story that shows what a small world the humungous city of New York can be. As I already mentioned, two of my suitemates and I went to a bar in SoHo on Friday night. Aileen (one of my suitemates, who is from Texas) knew a boy who knew a girl who knew a girl who knew a girl, so there were six of us in total when we initially entered the bar. As it turned out, the boy had just moved to NYC in order to start a job…with Random House! He was a book cover designer and would be starting work Monday. What’s even crazier is that one of the other girls was also going to be working for Random House—in the Alfred P. Knopf division!

So basically, I want to be her.

I asked a lot of questions and was really enthusiastic on her behalf. Maybe she will be able to help me get a job, maybe not. Either way, she will be a great source of information about a company that I am interested in working for. Therefore, I asked for her email address.

Who knew a bar night could turn into a networking night?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Internet Dependency

Everyone knows, subconsciously, that we, particularly Americans, are becoming more and more dependent upon technology. You hear people say “Oh, I couldn’t live without my cell phone,” and most people wouldn’t know what to do if they couldn’t hop in their car and drive five minutes to the grocery store to pick up a pack of batteries for their electric razor or a 75 watt light bulb for their kitchen light.

I have personally prided myself on not becoming a slave to technology, or at least as much of a slave as my peers. When the iTouch came out, I didn’t run out and buy it. In fact, I downgraded from an iPod to a simple 2G Sony mp3 player when my iPod kept breaking because I was so fed up with “technology.” I am certainly not a slave to my cell phone, considering I have owned one for such a short time, I haven’t even paid the bill on it yet, I just purchased my first digital alarm clock this year (and it has no features fancier than a snooze button), and my watch dates back to 1998. On top of all of this, I am actually excited to be using public transportation here in New York City, have never owned my own car, and actually prefer walking places than biking to them (that’s a bit extreme, but I just don’t like biking very much).


Recently, I have discovered just how dependent I am on one particular facet of technology: the internet. I am 100% addicted to the internet. I simply use it for so much! I use it for every means of communication, from e-mail to Facebook; for banking transactions and statement monitoring; and for research research research! Every time I need to know something, my first reaction is “Google it!”

I say all of this in light of the fact that, currently, I have no internet in my dorm room at Columbia University. This is not to say that there is no internet access in the room; my computer just does not accept it. I seem to have the worst luck with internet and computers—this same thing happened at Rochester last semester. Part of me just wants to buy a new computer, but I feel that that would make me the ultimate slave to technology and the “American way.” We are such wasteful, lazy people. Really, if I were a decent conservationist and stuck to my morals, I would put in the time and find a way to fix the problem. The problem is that I don’t want to put in the time; I just want the issue resolved NOW. I want internet. Now!

Sometimes, I am so darned American.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

This NEW House

Since I’ve arrived in NYC
Columbia University Housing
The suite itself is amazing. It is far nicer than anything I have ever stayed in at Rochester. My bedroom is twice the size of any room I ever had at Rochester, and it is air-conditioned. Also, the kitchen not only comes equipped with a full sized refrigerator, a microwave, and ample cabinet space, it even has a dishwasher!

All of this notwithstanding, there are/were a few problems. To begin with, after waiting literally an hour to receive my Columbia University ID (which allows me access to my own dorm building), I went to enter the building and was told that my ID was not activated. It had just been printed minutes before, in front of my face, and no one had told me a thing about needing to have the card activated. This was certainly an annoyance, but what is even more frustrating is that we have received absolutely zero information about these living accommodations. I still have no mailing address, no idea how to work my room phone (thank goodness for foresight and my purchase of a cell phone), my internet is broken (although this could be due to my own computer, who knows), I don’t know if I have gym or library access, and I don’t know where any of the campus services are located (assuming any exist) or how to contact them. On top of all of this, I have no city map. (Brilliant planning, I know.)

To try and rectify a few of these situations, I took time after work today to go running. I ran around the campus to try and orient myself as well as possible. This was rather difficult, since Columbia University is comprised of mostly bridges and stairways and windy brick pathways between buildings all smashed together in the smallest space possible. However, I did manage to find the gym and to receive a sheet designating the hours of operation. Whether the swimming pool is actually in this same building and whether my Columbia University ID will give me access to these amenities, I have yet to discover. One step at a time, I suppose. Then, I ran around the local area, trying to find Central Park. Once again, Google Maps proved fruitless in terms of directions. It turns out that all I really had to do was run a little bit south and a little bit east (I think—I had to run downtown so that the numbers got smaller, and I had to turn left off of Broadway), and I ran right into it. Coming back, though, I got a little lost, since it turns out that Morningside Drive splits into two separate streets straddling the not-so-safe Morningside Park. I of course ended up on the wrong Morningside Drive and had to backtrack a good ten blocks to get back to campus. But on the brighter side, I found a few places to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

As for my first day of work, well, I will start by saying that Time was less impressive than I expected it to be. The orientation session was considerably less efficient than it could have been, and it began with a video that was riddled with technical problems. For a publishing and media company, I was a bit taken aback by this. I would write more about this particular day, but since I am stuck posting this at work, I will have to cut this post short, finish writing it in my dorm, where my internet does not work, and bring the rest tomorrow.