Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Misadventures in NYC

For those who aren't in the "know", yours truly relocated across the country about a month ago. Here's the first installment of Dispatches from the Urban Jungle: this city is dirty and my metrocard won't work.


See, the problem with moving 3,000 miles across the country for love is that it probably won't end up working out the way you planned. Either the circumstances change or your feelings do. Apply this to any model that fits ---passions, people, opportunity (or lack thereof). When you're young you either don't know or don't care, and refuse to believe every sorry love song you've heard on the radio or infamous fall from grace you've watched on VH1's "Behind the Music". Plan A doesn't work out, so you resort --and keep resorting--until you hit Plan Z, and you realize that heartbreak, mixed with a small dose of spontaneity and pinch of fate, was probably the best thing that ever happened to you.

Consider this the outline inside which to paint my first week living in New York City.

I wasn't apprehensive at all until I was on the plane leaving Oakland. The flight attendant was giving last minute safety instructions on how to inflate our life jackets in case our plane decided to crash in the middle of nowhere. I was thinking about details because the larger picture was still too abstract. I realized that we weren't going over any water and even if we were, I can't swim, so the life jacket thing was pointless. The family sitting behind me was going home to Long Island and the boy, who looked no older than ten, was throwing a temper tantrum and saying "fuck" every seventh word ("Mom, I don't fuckin' unda-staand why we caan't just...") and kept kicking my seat. Suddenly, I noticed how the flight attendants all looked miserable and wore way too much blue eyeshadow. For the first time in my life, I was alone. I said three quick prayers before take-off:

Dear higher being/God/homie/DJ,
1. Please don't let my plane crash, but
2. If it does and I survive, please don't let me be stranded somewhere in Idaho with this punk ass little boy behind me, and
3. Let me stay optimistic, and not give in to New York cynicism.

Night was falling by the time we hit a thunderstorm somewhere over Missouri. It was gorgeous. Thick, ominous clouds filled the sky with yellow bolts of light striking every few seconds. I felt robbed of my senses because I wanted to hear it and feel it. I looked out and saw what I thought was a small bird, but realized by the flashing red lights on the wings that it was a plane. I watched as it ascended from the clouds and it looked like it was running from a bully. Bitch move, I thought to myself. I decided to relinquish the illusion of having control over anything, and just go with it.

This city, like anywhere else, is a beautiful place, depending on where you stand. On the days when it's sunny, I haven't gotten lost, the stars are aligned correctly and my soul is in the right place, the opportunities are endless. And then there are moments when I'm just annoyed. The streets seem swallowed in chaos and the city that doesn't sleep looks more like the victim of an insomniac nightmare than a youthful zest for life. But it's beautiful. Like yesterday when I stumbled upon a DJ spinning house music (!) in Central Park where a bunch of folks of color (!!) were dancing on roller skates (!!!).

I live in Brooklyn. Prospect Park, to be exact. Lefferts Gardens to be even more precise. It's a beautiful neighborhood full of West Indian pride. Jamaican and Trinidadian stores and restaurants line the streets and I hear "wha gwan" almost as often as I hear thick New York accents. Tomorrow is the West Indian Day parade, right down the street from my house, so the neighborhood is buzzing with infectious energy. I've been somewhat of a Brooklyn addict since I've been here. Went to a free show in Fort Green Park where one of my favorite DJ's, Rich Medina, was spinning. Visited some friends in Bed-Stuy and stumbled upon a film screening at a community center. That's the thing about New York -- it's hard to make plans because you'll always stumble onto something fabulous and unexpected.

I did made the mistake of going to Williamsburg on a Thursday night. Goddamn! It's like the hippies of the 60's went on an acid trip and made love to the vapid over indulgence and cultural fetishism of the 70's and 80's and birthed a whole new breed of white priviledge. All to a really bad Milli Vanilli soundtrack. But I did find a cheap bar with $3 frozen margaritas and $4 32 ounce beers in huge Styrofoam cups. Horrible for the environment, great for self-loathing. And I had the best conversation with an older gentlemen (late 40's, early 50's) who was born and raised in Williamsburg back when it was the not-so-hip place that white folks stayed away from. He spent 27 years upstate for a "misunderstanding", as he put it, and had just moved back home with his family. He was still reeling from the culture shock of it all, but was actually happy the neighborhood had changed and appealed to a different crowd. Different stokes for different folks.

My program is alright. I'm taking classes at CUNY's Center for Worker Education, learning all about labor law and history. It's inspiring because the worker's center is open to members of different unions throughout the city. There's a shop steward in my one of my classes who is dooope (think Laura Plummer), so I definitely want to talk with her a lot more. The people in my immediate program are decent folks --mostly well intentioned white people who are great for talking about surface issues (nightlife, music, etc). I made the mistake of talking about gentrification to a few of them who were all "but my parents worked so hard for what they have and i feel bad about moving into Brooklyn but gentrification isn't necessarily a bad thing" to which I had a "neither would my foot up your ass" reaction.

The really exciting news is that I start working at the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition on tuesday! It's a coalition of about 25 organizations in the Bronx that work on issues that range from organizing undocumented workers to planning community policing strategies. I'll know more next week when I start working, but for now I know I'll be working on a jobs survey and organizing to establish the first worker's center in the Bronx. (check out the website here:

The best part of life so far is, as always, the people. I've been hanging out a lot with bay folks, Pitzer folks, MAAP folks. Manisha has a great apartment in East Harlem and makes delicious spaghetti at 2 AM. Beatriz is moving to San Francisco, so we're trying to ease each other's anxiousness about swapping coasts. We're planning on having a MAAP pre-reunion reunion next weekend. More details to come. I met Jhaviy's dog -- a diva, much like her dadd(ies). And then there are new folks, who some of you will meet whenever you come and VISIT me! Overall, I miss LA's dry heat, San Francisco's open spaces, Oakland's...everything, but I'm making it in New York.

Sorry this update was so long. I hope everyone is lovely and happy.

p.s. Lots of people say hi. I say hi to everyone. Ellen (from the ARC board) says hi to CTWO staff. Amanda (Plumb) says hi to Neelam. Sayjal says hi to all her ladies and is thankful to report that she's found Black people at Columbia's Teacher's College. All four of them.

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