Sunday, September 26, 2010

Home of the...Braves!

I went to high school in the 1900s. True story. I love how Laura Ingalls Wilder-ish that sounds. As if I will follow it up with something like, “And I walked five miles to school. Uphill. Both ways.” My walk was obviously not uphill both ways. But I did carry my cello to school once a week for one terrible year. And that was back when my giant permed hair and shellacked mall bangs weighed more than my bony little 4’ 10” body. The cello barely cleared the sidewalk by two inches, which did not bode well for winter days with significant snowfall.

When I realized that I would be home for my high school's homecoming parade, I knew I had to go. It had been 15 years since I left high school, which is the same amount of years current sophomores have been alive. Creepy. When I walked the two blocks from my parents' house to the parade and I passed well-maintained turn-of-the-century houses with well-manicured lawns covered in fall leaves and well-dressed little families wearing Braves merchandise in cherry and grey (my school's colors are cherry and grey, not red and grey), I felt as though I had stumbled onto a movie set. It honestly looked too precious to be real. I felt off-kilter, as if I couldn't tell if that moment was fiction or reality. I imagine that Marty McFly felt much the same way when he gazed at Hilldale after taking a ride in the DeLorian prior to going back to the future. Or maybe it was more like the last scene of “The Hills” in which Kristin says goodbye to Brodie and the camera pulls back to show (shock of shocks!) lights and other cameras, leaving you wondering how many of LC's mascara tears were legit.  In any event, the stroll down memory lane (which is actually called Park Street) made me remember all the things I love about my hometown.

Interestingly, the parade wasn' I remembered it. First of all, it was short. If I had sneezed, I would have missed it. Also, the floats didn't seem to involve much tissue paper or chicken wire, which confused me. Isn't that the very definition of a homecoming float? There weren't that many students actually on the floats, which was strange. Perhaps they were taking a stand as conscientious objectors of the new “no grinding” policy at school dances. Also, our awesome logo of a Native American brave in profile had been replaced by the logo of a PC (read: bo
ring) Native American blanket. I imagine that would put a damper on our signature shouting of “BRAVES!” following the Star Spangled Banner’s “And the home of the…” We certainly wouldn’t be shouting “BLANKET!” at that point, right?

On the other hand, there were several pleasant surprises—some of my former teachers were in the parade and remembered me, everyone seemed to be in a fantastic mood (most likely due to the lack of subway trouble—and subways—on their way into town), and admission to the homecoming football game was an absolute steal at $2.00 a head! I could've bought an admission ticket, two hot dogs, a soda (which is called "pop"), and two Ring Pops (meaning lollipops stuck on plastic rings, not sodas) for the cost of one beer in Manhattan. Incidentally, I learned that beer is not sold at high school football games. Curious. That doesn’t stop certain homeowners and their friends from drinking in their backyards while watching the game through their chain link fences, however. If I ever move home, becoming friends with said homeowners would be a top priority.

Everyone is just so trusting here. I had a hard time holding myself back when I saw a pile of backpacks belonging to marching band members just sitting on the grass under the bleachers. Was no one worried about theft?! As high schoolers, they probably only had extra sweatshirts and Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers in those bags, but still.  Those sweatshirts and Lip Smackers were probably their only possessions in the world. Wouldn’t they want to guard them with their lives? After living in Manhattan for so long, I get nervous when my purse isn't in direct contact with my body at all times.

Do New York City schools have homecomings? They certainly don't have homecoming parades, as far as I can tell. The parade market seems to have been cornered by the Puerto Ricans. Manhattan schools might still have school spirit activities and a dance with a homecoming court, I suppose. If so, kids would probably start competing to be homecoming king and queen at the same insanely early, post-natal/pre-potty training time that their school admission forms are due. Without a homecoming king and queen flaunting their superiority from the backseat of a convertible, how do students identify the prettiest people in school? Could city kids actually be missing this very important rite of passage?

I am eternally thankful I went to a high school with a full-scale homecoming. It's one experience Manhattan can't quite replicate. That one autumn week packed with float building, dress-up days, activity nights, school dances, football watching, and parade walking is magical. Exhausting, but magical. I still get a chill at the beginning of every Yankees game when the Star Spangled Banner plays. The crowd is courteously quiet through the last note, but I always hear all the people from every one of my high school football games shouting: “BRAVES!!!”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Celebrate Good Times--Come On!

Today is my birthday. I have reached the point in life when birthdays are more often celebrated with liquor than with cake. Such a shame. Cake is really good. In fact, my meticulous mother with a talent for dessert-creation made phenomenal character cakes for my birthday parties--Raggedy Ann, Sesame Street, Rainbow Brite. All the girls from my Catholic school class would be invited over for lawn games, character cake, and present opening. I loved my birthday parties.

When I started a job at Kidville in Manhattan, I was introduced to a whole new level of birthday party--the high-end kind. A Kidville birthday party includes a theme, games, gym time, pizza, party favors, and cake. A 90-minute party for ten kids with no additional frills costs almost $900. Two hours, a jumpy castle, and 20 kids would run you $2200. Parents can add on face painters, magicians, and even a kid-friendly band for an additional charge. Parents can also turn up their noses at the fancy cakes Kidville offers and bring in their own cakes that I can only describe as "fancy wedding-esque." Did I mentioned that these parties are mostly for kids who are too young to ever remember them? Once upon a time, the parents of one-year-old twins arrived with two identical two-foot high Jack-in-the-Box cakes. Only one was eaten at the party, and since the parents weren't interested in dealing with leftovers, I took the second untouched cake in a cab with me to a house party. It was a big hit.

The birthday party child would generally arrive accompanied by a parent (who looked haggard and/or uninterested) or a nanny (who looked haggard and/or uninterested). Those two types of adults seemed to fall into these two categories--those who ignored the kids and hovered by the food table, and those who ignored the food and hovered by the kids. This second category made life very difficult for me. There's nothing worse than babysitting when the parent is in the room, which is essentially what I was being paid to do. Actually, I take that back. There is something worse, and that is the parent who undermines your authority in front of the kids you are being paid to watch.

Three-year-old Jackson was a rebel. Rules were beneath him. When he started running around the gym the wrong way, I leaned in and said in my friendliest, kids-love-me voice, "Hey buddy! Don't forget--you have to go around that way so you don't get hurt!" Jackson looked up at me, smiled sweetly, threw a foam block at my face, and continued going the wrong way, practically injuring two other kids. I looked at Jackson's dad, already embarrassed by the reprimand that I was sure would ensue for little Jackson. But it didn't come. Instead, Jackson's dad leaned back and laughed unabashedly, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he admired the spunk of his son, the future ex-con.

Every single child at Kidville was dressed in an outfit. And I mean, an outfit. I had a hard time not gasping when I saw designer labels on mini jeans, little collared shirts, and fancy kicks. Especially because those labels would be covered in food within 90 minutes. The birthday child's outfit often cost more than my entire wardrobe. I can still hear a very Long Island mother screaming to her daughter: "Don't get pizza on your Juicy Couture!" Except it sounded more like this: "Dohhn git peeeetzah on ya Joooocy Ca-tooo-ahhh!" It's really fun to say. Try it sometime.

I'm not sure if the high-end birthday party is one of the differences between downstate and upstate or if it's just a sign of the changing times. After all, my parties got fancier at the years went on. I had a bowling party in seventh grade. Current party prices at that same bowling alley today run $12 to $17.50 a person.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Day in the Life

"So...what do you do all day?"

I get this question a lot. A lot. And I don't actually mind the question itself; it makes sense. The majority of the people in my hometown grow up to tackle the professions you learn about as children: firefighter, teacher, lawyer, teacher, homeless person, teacher. In fact, I come from a whole family of teachers: my father taught middle school math, my mother taught reading, my brother teaches first grade, and my sister teaches teachers. Two aunts taught, and two other aunts were secretaries in schools. I even taught a section of the Freshman Writing Seminar at Boston College before I realized that I teaching is a lot of work that I don't care about doing.

What I really mind in the question is the tone. People ask in several different ways.

1. They ask to legitimately find out what I do.
     I understand this one. They are curious. I look forward to informing the uninformed.

2. They ask in order to secure gossip to pass along to their friends/relatives.
     I also understand this one. They either want to build themselves up by telling people that they know a starving artist in New York, or they want to tear me down for bucking the upstate system and choosing the road less traveled, which will inevitably lead me to a life of ruin and possible prostitution.

3.  They ask to make me feel bad about not choosing a real career.
     Well, I have a career. I actually have a couple of different careers. How many careers do you have?

I imagine that I have the same reaction to this question as do stay-at-home mothers. People seek to belittle mothers and artists by quantifying their time. Like them, I am busy without having an office or a nine-to-five job. Like them, I often don't know what day of the week it is because my weekends don't have more significance than my weekdays. Like them, I often find myself eating Fruit Roll-Ups and watching the Disney Channel.

In order to better understand my lifestyle, here is a day in the life of an actress/writer. This is Wednesday:

7:30     Wake up and prep hair and makeup
9:00     Coffee with a casting director friend to discuss agent issues
10:00   Dance audition for a Broadway musical (could take 1 to 4 hours, depending on turnout)
1:30     Lunch at home
2:30     Freelance work
4:00     Voice lesson
5:30     Dinner with a friend on break from a Broadway show
6:30     Freelance work
11:00   Bedtime
12:00am My actual bedtime
As you can see, I don't sit around and twiddle my thumbs all day. In fact, I often wish I worked in an office because the hardest part of my schedule is that it's entirely self-motivated. It's up to me to make sure that I get everything done and find opportunities to forward my career(s). I have to manage my own time management. For example, I may be scheduled to do "Freelance work," but I may find myself tempted to "Stalk people on Facebook,'" or  "Take a two-hour nap," or my personal favorite, "Watch all four seasons of 'Felicity' to examine the existential dilemma that may arise from an unfortunate haircut." Sometimes temptation wins out. Especially if I'm in a JJ Abrams sort of mood.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do have more free time during the day than the average business person, and I often glory in doing things like laundry and grocery shopping at non-peak times. But I don't do nothing. I work. I just sometimes get to work at home in my pajamas.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Magic To Do

I've had a lot of really odd, odd jobs, but this one takes the cake.*

Today, I am a Magician's Assistant.

Having not seen any type of magic show since SUNY Geneseo hired a hypnotist to entertain my half-petrified/half-drunk freshman class on the first day of college, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I showed up at the Waldorf Towers and announced to Ionna, the beautifully-accented front desk attendant, that I would be Steve Cohen's assistant for the weekend.

I was immediately given a key card so I could instruct the elevator to take me to the much-coveted 35th floor. I had actually been in the Waldorf previously--I sold Broadway tickets at extremely inflated prices for a ticket broker company that masquerades as a helpful concierge service, but that's a whole other story. When I gingerly stepped out of the elevator and onto the plush carpeting of the 35th floor, I decided to "accidentally" walk down the wrong hallway to get the lay of the land, and I suddenly found myself eyeballing the Presidential Suite. Now, I assumed that "Presidential" was only used as a synonym for "Fancy and Expensive," but it seems that I just my country mouse way of thinking. The Presidential Suite has been occupied by every President since Herbert Hoover. Seriously. I later found a plaque in Steve's suite noting it to be the suite in which LBJ received Pope Paul IV. My very Catholic parents were blown away by that one.

Seemingly mirroring my anticipation, the doorbell to Steve's suite went "ding" but not "dong." Steve showed me around the suite, and though I couldn't have imagined it beforehand, I found upon seeing it that it was exactly as I would have imagined--beautiful classic (huge!) rooms with ornate formal draperies, chandeliers, old-fashioned furniture, and original fixtures. I promptly fell in love with the bathroom, with its tan and black checkered floor, which seemed to be transported there from Daddy Warbucks's mansion.

In retrospect, I realize that I should have been slightly nervous about going to a suite belonging to a unfamiliar man with a penchant for making things disappear, but I seemed to be full of small town trust at that particular moment. And I had nothing to worry about. I knew that having a show at the Waldorf qualified Steve as being a top-notch magician, and I had seen his website ( with images of him being interviewed by David Letterman. When I saw a framed article featuring him in the Forbes "400 Richest People in the World" 2005 edition, however, my palms started to sweat. Was I klassy (yes, klassy) enough to assist "The Millionaires' Magician"?

Steve turned out to be a very thorough, lovely, and particular (in the best sense) boss. He has performed the show in his Waldorf living room to a capacity crowd of 50 over 250,000 times during the course of the last ten years, which makes a grand total, a lot  of people. My math teacher father would be so proud of me. Basically, when Steve said that the program should be placed on each fancy chair in a very specific manner, I trusted that he had a very good reason for saying so. My duties were simple--I was to wear a black cocktail dress and heels; check in the audience members, who had each paid $75 to $100 a pop; answer questions; place some props in the correct places; and give a welcome speech. As a performer, I am not shy about speaking in front of a crowd, but for some reason, I found this speech a bit tricky to deliver. Steve asked me to practice for the empty room, which I self-consciously did, and he gave me line readings for the jokes. For non-theater folk, this means that he spoke the sentence with the exact inflection he wanted me to use. This behavior tends to be an insult in the theater world, but again, since it was his show and I fully trusted that he knew what he was doing, I didn't mind the suggestion, but I somehow couldn't land the jokes correctly. The accountant in me was not bothered by this failure, since I would be paid regardless of my stand-up skills, but the performer in me was frustrated that I couldn't do what seemed to come so easily to Steve. In the end, I decided that the jokes suited his turn-of-the-century demeanor and cadence, but they didn't go hand-in-hand with my modern-day speaking pattern. Which contains a slight Rochester, or Raaaach'ster, flat "a," of course.

Steve has performed for Stephen Sondheim, Martha Stewart, and The Queen of Morocco. Siegfried (minus Roy) even showed up to the last show of the evening, and I was pretty sure he was flirting with me...until I googled him and found out that he and Roy used to be a couple. Steve's act, which is a combination of slight-of-hand, mind reading, and jokes, went over like gangbusters, and the crowds, which dutifully followed the jacket and tie dress code, couldn't get enough. I was quite impressed with the whole experience, including myself for being a part of it.

*Speaking of cake, my decorating skillz are coming along quite nicely. Read my blog on 9/4 if you're curious. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Beauty Is

The beauty part about New York City is that you just never know where your day will take you.

Today I was planning to take a Pilates class, do some freelance work, and maybe clean the tub. Little did I know that a friend of mine would contact me this morning with tickets to a taping of "The Daily Show" with Tim Gunn as the guest! Well, I quickly rearranged my day (meaning that I still went to Pilates and pushed the work and the chores to the bottom of my To-Do list), and started planning my TV-ready outfit. An hour later, another friend called with tickets to the U.S. Open. It never rains, but sometimes it pours exciting invitations!

Disclaimer: I am not telling you this to make you jealous or to tell you how popular I am. I mean, these fancy free invitations are not a daily occurrence for me. In fact, I spend most of my time curled up in front of my DVR and/or staring at Facebook and waiting for people's statuses (Is there a plural for "status?") to change.

Seeing as I do not care one iota for tennis, I had an easy time deciding between the two events. Even though I had never seen a single episode of "The Daily Show," I have friends who adore it. And I like my friends, so I'm assuming I will like what they like. Unless it's Avatar, which I refuse to watch on the grounds that hearing about it makes me want to scream.

Anyway, I had a delightful time at the taping and was quite impressed with Jon Stewart's ability to riff with the audience in a pre-show Q&A session. (For example, when asked what he did with his vacation week, Jon responded, "I spent time with the family. It's great to make people who love you.") Afterward, I stopped at Ink 48, a new hotel on 11th Avenue that was rumored to have a roof bar. As it turns out, the hotel has a GLORIOUS roof bar--open, spacious, breathtaking views of midtown buildings and the Hudson, moderately expensive drinks, fancy decor, and moderately fancy people. Sixteen stories above midtown, with a warm breeze blowing in from the water, I felt like I could breathe again.

And now I am back at home, curled up with my DVR and pretending to do my neglected work while staring at Facebook and waiting for people's statuses (stati?) to change. The Tim Gunn "Daily Show" episode will be on in 30 minutes. Thank you, New York!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Let Them Eat (Decorated) Cake!

When I signed up for a cake decorating class at Michael's on the Upper West Side, I can honestly say that my little suburban cup runneth over. This class appeared at the exact right time--amidst my unemployment checks and suburban yearning--but in true NYC fashion, the class wasn't a cakewalk.

The class schedule was clearly displayed in a kiosk in the front of the store, but no store employee could tell me about all the wonderful things I would be learning, and the materials were virtually impossible to find. Somewhere in the middle of digging through scrapbooking materials, custom picture frames, and fancy jewelry-making supplies, I decided to throw in the towel, and there wasn't a single Michael's employee on the floor to talk me off the ledge. I was hot, I was sweaty, I was hungry, and my arms were full of tapered spatulas, decorator icing, and piping bags. I was at a crossroads. I was furious with the city for making everything, EVERYTHING, so ridiculously difficult. But I was determined to get my suburban fix. I finally made it to the registers with the correct supplies (4 classes and materials for roughly $50, which my mother thought was shockingly expensive and I thought was a steal), and I arrived at my first class with dreams of buttercream roses dancing in my head.

To my surprise, I was not in a class with the white, middle-class, middle-aged mothers I had anticipated. Led by Peter, a self-proclaimed Spanish-speaking guido, my class consisted of Lea, a young, pretty, Hispanic mother who wants to start her own baking business; LaToya, an event planner who wants to add cake decorating to her business offerings; Esther, an Asian 20-something who looked like a yoga instructor and brought rice cakes to decorate instead of cookies; and Linda, an old, wrinkly, bleached blond cosmetology teacher who slows class progress to a crawl with her maddeningly daft questions and Sofia Vergara-style accent.

Overall, I had a fantastic time learning Wilton's classic star technique, but I realized that cake decorating and NYC living do not go hand in hand. At least, not my form of NYC living. Peter spent a lot of time describing the necessity of using the proper tools for every job, saying that he stores all of his supplies in 15 giant Target storage tubs. He also described the joys of the new dishwasher-safe piping bags. Um...I'm not sure if Michael's pays him a million dollars per class or if he lives two hours away next to a power plant where the property values aren't as high as in Manhattan, but Peter seems to have oodles of baking advantages that I don't. I have neither cake pan storage space nor a dishwasher in the seven-foot wall on the side of my living room that acts as my kitchen. This space is not just mine, of course. I share it with three roommates. I keep my canned goods in an under-the-bed storage tub because space in my one available food cupboard is at a premium. When the other women seemed to agree with Peter's  baking, storage, and cleaning methods, I felt my eyes narrow and my jaw tense. Am I alone? Am I one of Manhattan's poor? Does everyone in NYC have a kitchen in a separate room with rows of cabinets, a dishwasher, and (joy of joys) a fridge with a water dispenser?!

I have always been a ridiculous overachiever/teacher's pet, but I'm taking a stand next week. I will appear with my unfrosted cake, as requested, but I refuse to purchase the fancy turntable and cake slicer we're supposed to bring because when I return to my apartment after class, the only place for them to go is under my pillow.

Lo siento, Pietro.