Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Deep Breath

"Are you still breathing?"

My yogi asks and from the depths of my power lunge I huff and puff, desperately trying to prove that yes, I am still breathing. Instead, my leg straightens of its own volition and I stand, limp on my yoga mat. I have not been breathing.

On the street, in yoga pants and sweatshirt, I walk lazily toward Whole Foods, but am stopped by a tall, scraggy Australian. "Are you looking for a job? Do you need a job?"

Wearing pajamas at 1 in the afternoon does not mean I am unemployed.

Later I am waiting tables. A group of four, two couples, ask me who I am voting for.

I grin and try to avoid the intrusive question.

"She's voting for Obama." Says the loudmouthed blond.
"No, how do you know that? You just think that." Says the pinchfaced brunette.
"Well, I don't think I should say, since I haven't even taken your drink orders yet."
"We're all voting for Obama. SHE'S voting for McCain. Its ok. You can admit you're voting for Obama."
"DONT LET HER SCARE YOU. You're trying to intimidate her!" The brunette is hopping mad in her corner of the booth and the blond continues to expound on all the reasons why Sarah Palin is an idiot. I mutter that I'll be back later to take their orders.

Another table of five can barely order drinks, they are so engrossed in their conversation. Two couples and a single man perched awkwardly in a chair at the end of the booth. Finally one woman informs me that they have a lot of catching up to do as he (gestures to the single guy) was supposed to be getting married.

"We were all supposed to be in Dallas today for the wedding but he called it off on Thursday!"

I have absolutely no idea what to say.

At the end of the night a certain B actor is sitting in the back of the restaurant talking to a young man who is with his costar. This young man has a buzz cut and a certain bearing that I recognize. He is surely on leave or just home from a tour of duty with the military, I'd say Marine.

B Actor gets louder with each martini. "I lived on an air craft carrier, twice in my life! The shit I saw man, the shit I saw."
"Really well--" The young man is cut off.
"I was at war. I was AT WAR. Its true. Me and ---------- were filming while they were bombing Iraq!"
The military man nods his head, a nervous smile plastered on his face. "What movie?" He asks.

In the taxi, the driver actually knows my neighborhood in Brooklyn and doesn't hesitate to take me there. We get to talking about the city and business.

"The economy's pretty bad. Everbody's feelin it. And its looks like Obama's gonna win so it's only gonna get worse."

I am too tired to argue.

"Really? You think McCain's the better choice?" I mumble from deep in the back seat.

"Yea. Obama's not even qualified to be president. He was born in Kenya. There's a guy in Pennsylvania that's got a federal lawsuit out to prove it. Show me his birth certificate, huh? How come we ain't seen it?"

"So. Whaddya think of Palin?"

"Ah she's great. I tell ya what, McCain shoulda been in this thing to win. He should win and then two years in resign cuz a health reasons or something and let Palin run things for the next twelve years."

"Yea? what about that stuff in Alaska, that she abused power?"

"Aw that was all ethics. They cleared her of all charges. She fired the guy cuz he tasered his eleven year old kid. A bunch a times. It wasn't about legality. It was about Ethics."

On Tuesday I go to Yoga to the People, so that someone will remind me to breathe.

The class is half the size it normally is. Everyone is voting.

Yogi says "This is your time to breathe. Get connected to your breath. Let everything else fall away from you." Her voice is soothing and earnest, but I cannot find the breath.

At Clinton's house, we all sit on the edge of our seats, watching the coverage. We are finding it hard to believe as it seems to go more and more in Obama's favor. And it does. Colbert and Stewart are brilliant. I drink too much Prosecco, too much Miller Lite and at some point, just enough tequila. Boyfriend and I stumble home, jubilant.

I dream that there is a miscount and enough people wrote in Sarah Palin. She is the new president. I wake up gasping for air.

But we all saw him, live from Grant Park in the heart of America, behind large panes of bullet proof glass, with his family and Joe the Senator. We all know what he said and how we felt hearing it. I am grateful for this breath of fresh air.

Barack Obama is the President-Elect.

My brother is whistling "High Hopes" in the living room as he watches CNN and I am still breathing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fear Factor

New York City presses down on you with all the weight and force of the myth and mob that is New York City while the reality of it bites at your heels.

It takes a certain amount of Aggression, Ambition and Drive to succeed here. Ambition has been dormant, afraid to fail amidst everyone else's success. Drive is in neutral, idling calmly as she waits for an open road. And Aggression is aggressing in all the wrong places.

Nearing the end of a 9 year stint in the military, moving forward into the second year of post-undergrad with no grad school in sight, I find myself without the safety net of an institution. All my choices have a heft that was not present before. It is no longer practice decision making in college classes or Drill Sergeants who make the decisions for me.

For the first time, I am working a job that I cannot afford to lose yet I certainly do not want to turn into my career. An actor who waits tables is fine, but a waiter who auditions is not going to satisfy Ambition, my sleeping beast. Of course at this point I am a waitress who doesn't audition which could be why she is too bored to raise an eyelid in my direction these days.

For the first time, the man in my bed is not just present, he is future too. It is not that we both live in the same place so let's see how things go. It is actively choosing to stay in the place where we both are. There is nothing else to keep us here, no careers or family. And so the relationship takes on a level of intensity both because of how we feel for one another and also where we are in our lives. In deciding to bind our paths together we are limiting the directions we may travel but gaining a partner for the road.

Perhaps this sounds negative. I am just becoming aware of how each choice affects the next set of options. As of yet, I am without regret. More than that, I am happy. But this burgeoning comprehension explains my inability to make a choice. To choose a path, to unleash my energy and focus. Whether it is acting or writing or something involving an office and health insurance. Once I choose, what will be crossed off and no longer an option?

And still my beast, she sleeps.

Drive, with no Ambition to spur her on, purrs along the path of least resistance, learning about food and wine in order to succeed as a waiter. This will do for now, till someone presses the gas...

And Aggression. Aggression jostles the morning commuters on the subway. Aggression hates New Yorkers in the morning. Aggression speeds up and cuts through the crowds on the sidewalk. Aggression picks a fight with Boyfriend. Aggression turns on me.

I am frozen with fear. My next move, unmakeable.

Then the summer heat breaks. The breeze whispers into the Village on a Saturday morning as we stroll hand in hand up Broadway and the rock hard shell I have been encased in crumbles around me. The cool air prickles my brittle skin and my pace quickens. We buy vegetables at the Greenmarket and wander from booth to booth talking about nothing of any importance. Eventually we descend into the subway, catch the L home to Brooklyn and curl up with the New York Times.

I stop feeling sorry for myself while my beast...

she stretches catlike and growls.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Are You There Hillary? Its Me, Allison

Are you there Hillary?

It's me, Allison.

I know you're probably angry and I know you're disapointed that I chose another over you.

But since your purpose was really to better this country and not just a personal quest for power, I know you'll let whatever bitter taste is still in your mouth go.

You'll rise up and take this woman by her hair and shake her down to size. You will send this smug attack dog running back to the wild with her tail between her legs.


Because I am scared of this woman who wants to legislate my personal decisions based on her religious beliefs.

I am frightened of this woman who thrust her own child into the harsh media glare to further her political campaign.

Because I have lost respect for a maverick politician who makes choices based on the best way to win the election and not the best way to govern once the election has been won.

So, Hillary...could you fix this please?

Monday, August 18, 2008

the campus life...

The hipsters, who have taken over the neighborhood where I now reside, have turned it into to a post college campus. People in my apartment building leave their doors wide open. Like we live in a dorm. And across the street, there’s the coffee shop that’s also a video rental place next to the Natural food store and deli counter. And on the other side of Campus, or two blocks up and one over there is another coffee shop, a bigger natural food store and another complex of warehouse loft apartments.

In college we got work study service. Now it’s hipster service.

I leave my apartment and go across the street to the coffee shop and order a toasted bagel and cream cheese. Seven minutes after I order, the barista notices that I am waiting for something.

Barista: Oh yea you wanted a bagel right? Toasted? Cool. Yea alright. And cream cheese? Ok. Right on. Yea.
Four minutes later
Barista: Can I help you? Oh right man. Here’s your bagel with peanut butter.
Me: Mine was cream cheese.
Barista: Oooh , I totally gave cream cheese to the guy who wanted peanut butter.
Me: It’s cool, I’ll take peanut butter.
Barista: Right on.

I take my bagel home to find that it is in fact cream cheese.

My street looks like a Broadway set for the musical Rent. The old brick buildings have been professionally graffitied with huge mural-like street art, in bright colors. If it weren’t for the occasional rat I would think I was in the Brooklyn exhibit of Disney’s Around the World at Epcot.

A few blocks away there is genuine graffiti and the kind of streets you don’t want to walk alone at night. But here, at the heart of campus, they’ve taken the look of the street and made it cartoonish and PG. We say we live in Bushwick and cab drivers roll their eyes, “One of those Urban Pioneers. Ten years ago I wouldn’t drive out there even in broad daylight.” But they take us there now. Our little community has smoothed over the grit, polished up the rough hew and settled in.

And we still get to say we live in Bushwick. There’s a certain ‘street cred’ with living so far out. We won’t settle for Williamsburg, that Satellite Manhattan. No. We are too authentic for so cookie cutter a spot as off the Bedford stop. We live off Morgan, that Satellite Williamsburg.

My boyfriend meets me late on Friday night when I finish my shift at a West Village restaurant. On the way home, we stop in Williamsburg proper for my favorite: bar burgers and beer. Spike Hill offers excellent both so we commandeer seats at the bar and commence to munch. When the second or third round of beers is gone, (somewhere between 2 and 3 AM) Boyfriend finds it difficult to get the bartender’s attention. Two girls with those busy, studded ankle strappy sandals and brightly colored sundresses come up and easily get service. They order very specific mixed Grey Goose drinks. Boyfriend, who just wants another Stella, begins to steam.

“These fucking girls. This is Bedford. They don’t even know what this place was ten years ago. It wasn’t SEX AND THE CITY.” He spits out the words with contempt but I am mid-bite and unable to remind him that recently I arrived home to find him knee deep in season 3 with my roommate. “It was crack dens and punk rock!”

I swallow, and say pleasantly, “Oh. So you were there?”

He ponders this for a split second and says, still indignant, “No. But at least I wish I was.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

What the hell's a Hipster?

Webster’s defines Hipster as “a person who is unusually aware of and interested in new and unconventional patterns (as in jazz or fashion).”

I didn’t really understand the whole hipster thing until I came to New York, Brooklyn specifically. The Hipster’s mecca. Sometime, last fall, I was meeting an ex for dinner before I moved to New York-- one of those painful, awkward affairs that usually ends in a little forget-me-not lovemaking. I suggested some place in Bayview, my favorite Milwaukee neighborhood, but was told, “No, we are going to _____, don’t worry. It’s a cool little hipster spot. You’ll fit right in.” I didn’t get the term, but I’d never let him know that. I mean, wasn’t a “hipster” a beatnik? Or no, maybe the lead singer of Weezer is a hipster. I wasn't sure but I did “fit right in” and I liked the little café with random knockoffs of vintage decorations and furniture, slow service, microbrews and vegan menu options.

Now, I live in Bushwick, in one of those big old warehouses that’s been half-heartedly converted to residential“lofts”. My neighborhood is knee deep in that fabled period of rejuvenation/ gentrification/occupation by an unwelcome force, which seems to attack/rescue each Brooklyn neighborhood in turn. Before that I was in a sublet in Park Slope, a neighborhood that has emerged (scathed or un, depending on who you ask) from gentrification to become a land of strollers, boutiques and bistros. Prior to the sublet, I was in a hostel in Bedford-Stuyvesant. If Park Slope has been fully immersed and is just shaking the last droplets of water from her hair, Bed-Stuy is still running up the beach to avoid the waves of gentrification washing up on shore.

I’d never been to Brooklyn for more than a few hours really, just a few day trips into Williamsburg and once apartment hunting with my shell-shocked father trailing behind, praying that I would not choose East New York or Brownsville for my new home. I booked the hostel on the website where it claimed to be in Williamsburg but my trusty Not For Tourists Guide (which is totally for tourists) showed that really, I would be in the heart of Bed-Stuy. In the taxi from the airport, I stared at the neighborhood, disappointed by the obvious dearth of coffee shops and restaurants. This was all deli’s and metal gates pulled down to act as canvas for not very creative taggers. It looked dilapidated and sketchy and I felt vaguely nervous. What had I really gotten myself into?

The taxi dropped me at the corner of Tompkins and Greene Ave. I started down the block with my suitcase on wheels. Three black guys leaning against a car at the curb called out to me.
“Hey baby, where you headed?”
“Hey Sexy, you lost?”
I kept my eyes trained on the house numbers to the left.
“What-you a student? She a student.”
“Nah, man. She’s not a student.” Maybe it was the suitcase, or my bright and shiny whiteness but they knew where I belonged.
“It’s the yellow house!” one of them shouted and I looked up the street of row houses and saw one that was painted conspicuously yellow. It stood out against all the other row houses that were dark brown colored each with a bay window in the front and a high stoop, with a hidden entrance below the front steps.
"Thanks, man!".” I shouted over my shoulder and hurried up to my new home, at least for the next three weeks. I glanced at the park across the street and saw two old men hunched over a chess board.

It turned out that the hostel was a fixture of foreign white kids on the block and the older members of the neighborhood seemed to tolerate us as an impermanent amusement, confident we’d never last. At night when we sat on the stoop drinking forties and speaking in a variety of languages, the neighbors would pass and remind us that the police station was a few blocks away and tell us not to get caught drinking in public. On Halloween we got trick o’treaters and we raced through the house, searching backpacks and cupboards for candy. In the mornings, the guy next door swept his stoop and made small talk about the unusually warm October while we drank deli coffee and smoked rolled cigarettes.

It was probably the hipster café we found tucked around the corner, or maybe it was the 40 roommates, all new to New York, all eager and willing to stay in the Williamsburg bars till they closed and then spend nearly forever waiting for the elusive G train that made it seem so good and homey in Bed-Stuy. Or maybe it was sitting on a stoop, talking to the neighbors and walking to the corner deli that made me feel like I was really in Brooklyn; and I was really in love with it.
I am too old to live with forty roommates and so eventually I sublet in Park Slope, where I am too young and too childless to live. I liked it well enough for a few months but I was still convinced I would find a place more suited to my particular brand of individualism.
My search led me to Bushwick, (East Williamsburg to some including my NFTguidebook) where I found a big loft in an old warehouse complete with freight elevator and discovered that my particular brand of individualism is more or less the same as about a million other twenty-somethingers who all moved to New York from somewhere else. So now I know what a “hipster” is. Fucking Hipsters.