Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Celebrity Epidemic

 I'm a bit of a celebrity whore. Okay, okay...I'm a huge celebrity whore. Except not the literal kind. I just like finding celebrities to see what they're wearing, who they're with, where they are, what they're eating. You know—just totally normal, non-stalkerish stuff like that.

As you can imagine, Manhattan is an excellent location for random celebrity sightings. My parents are convinced that Central Park is just crawling with 'em. Every time I call home while walking through the park, they say (simultaneously while on speakerphone): "Do you see Barbara Walters walking her dog? Is Kelly Ripa there with her kids? They're always in Central Park. Are you sure you don't see them?" I hate to break it to you, Mom and Dad, but I've never seen a single celeb in Sheep's Meadow or near the Reservoir or skating at Wollman Rink. But once I did follow Ethan Hawke as he pushed his kids in a stroller around Union Square Park. At a discreet distance, of course.

My first significant celebrity encounter occurred at Baldoria, the fancy Italian restaurant I used to work at to pay for the voice lessons my meager editorial assistant’s salary couldn’t cover. Jerry Orbach used to frequent the restaurant, and while I should have been more bowled over to be seating Lumiere, he somehow seemed like more of a customer than a star. When he and his lovely wife sat down at a table for four one day, I joked to the bus boy (which was no small feat, considering the language barrier) that they were probably waiting for Benjamin Bratt and his wife. So when I got a phone call at the hostess station from someone claiming to be Benjamin Bratt, I assumed it was a joke. It wasn't. When he and his tall gorgeous wife arrived five minutes later, I almost passed out, which is extremely strange seeing as I had never watched a single episode of Law & Order and only thought he was mildly cute in Miss Congeniality. But he suuuuure made my heart go pitter-pat in person.

I led the couple to the Orbachs' table and offered to take Ben's delicious-smelling soft leather coat for him. (Of course I smelled it—wouldn't you?!) After he handed it to me, he said casually, "Oh, I forgot to take my cell phone out of the pocket." He leaned over me, his face mere inches from mine, as he checked every pocket in the coat that I was still holding. When I peeked at him through my eyelashes, he was staring at me with an I-know-that-I'm-totally-making-you-nervous-right-now look in his eye. And he was. I have the unfortunate distinction of being an easy blusher, and within seconds my skin turned completely red and splotchy from the center of my chest to my forehead. I kept his $10 tip taped to my bedroom wall for three years.

My big mistake was acknowledging Ben's celebrity status. By doing so, I put him on a higher level, making myself lowly in comparison. If I had been completely aloof, we would have remained equal. For example, if I were to see Katie Couric, I should slyly observe her from a distance without identifying her as someone special. What I definitely shouldn't do is put her in an overly enthusiastic headlock while taking a picture with her, as my sister once did.

But I get it. My sister was just excited because that type of thing doesn't happen in upstate New York. A celebrity sighting in Rochester consists of seeing the dapper Don Alhart, co-anchor of the 11pm news on WHAM-TV Channel 13, buying an Auntie Anne's pretzel at Eastview Mall. Don't get me wrong—I love me some Don Alhart. But he's no Benjamin Bratt.

In New York, you never know what may happen. You may be having a drink at your favorite local watering hole and see the Real Housewives of New Jersey
file in after their performance of My Big Gay Italian Wedding off-Broadway. You may meet Shelley Duncan, a hot new Yankee (now an ex-Yankee), who gives you free tickets to games, lets you polish off the contents of the mini-bar at his suite at the W, orders pizza for you and your friends, then ends the night by throwing apples off the giant private patio with you at 4am. You may know a girl who went to college with NBA players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, join them at the VIP area of Suede, then head to Richard's gigantic Tribeca loft for the Spam-filled after-party (with Wilmer Valderama, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Robert Iler, and Taye Diggs), and eat your way through his Costco-looking pantry at 7am. You may even find yourself being cornered by Richard Jefferson's brother, who (ten minutes after you meet him) offers to drive six hours to your parents' house the next day for Thanksgiving dinner and when you politely decline asks if it's "a race thing."

Like that non-boiling watched pot, a celebrity sighting never happens if you try to force it. It mostly happens when you walk down the street, see someone and think, "Oh. There's Richard Kline, the guy who played Larry, Jack Tripper's best friend in the pivotal sitcom Three's Company
. Weird..." and go about your day. In short, celebrities aren't just in Central Park. They’re everywhere. Like bedbugs. You just have to keep your eyes open and ignore them.

***I'll 'fess up. I've taken a few celebrity pictures in my day. Here I am with John Patrick Shanley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Doubt, who complimented me on my coat at his movie premiere.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New York at Christmas: A Guide to Sidewalk Etiquette

Dear Tourists,

It's that time of year again—city sidewalks have become busy sidewalks, and tourists are pouring into Manhattan faster than you can say Bloomberg. Unfortunately, that speed doesn’t extend to the typical tourist's walking pace. The thing is, tourists, that we New Yorkers love when you come to our city, spend money, employ us, and increase Manhattan’s desirability...but please, please, walk a little faster.

I am quite certain that the notion of New Yorkers as overly harsh, jaded busybodies stems from tourists' ignorance of unspoken sidewalk rules. We're perfectly pleasant as long as you keep pedestrian traffic moving at a steady clip. If you stroll—ugh, even the word gives me shivers—you might hear a few well-chosen curses fly your way. In an effort to decrease the tourist/local divide, I am humbly offering you a little gift this holiday season. No, it’s not a figgy pudding. It is a guide to Manhattan sidewalk survival. Feel free to share with absolutely everyone you know. In fact, I insist on it.

1. Manhattan has tall buildings, historic landmarks, and homeless people. You're welcome to gawk at any or all of these things. But if you do, move to the right-hand side of the walkway.

2. Never walk at anything slower than a semi-rapid pace. My Great Aunt Mary once got a ticket for driving too slow in a construction zone. Don’t be Great Aunt Mary.

3. Don't litter. Just don't. I wouldn't toss a dirty street meat wrapper on your Home Depot-ed lawn, so please don't drop one on my pee-soaked, rat-infested sidewalk. It's rude.

4. Do not take up the entire sidewalk by walking in a long row with 18 of your closest friends. Walk in pairs so that I can pass by when you inevitably slow down to laugh at a lame inside joke. Never fear—you can catch up with your friends when you wait two hours for a table at Carmine's.

5. Never expect cyclists, bike messengers, or pedicabs to adhere to the rules of the road. Or common sense.

6. You can still cross the street even if the electronic hand is flashing red. I promise.

7. You have a 3.6 second opportunity to take a posed photo. I will pause and wait for you for exactly that long. If it takes longer than that, you might discover that an image of a blurry stranger has obscured your shot of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Side note: Figure out how to use your camera before you leave home.

8. If you have to look at a map, make a phone call, reprimand your child, or pick your nose, move to the side. Don't make your problems my problems. 

9. Don't stop pedestrian traffic with a mid-sidewalk "Where should we eat?" group conversation. I am a 5'2", 105-lb mild-mannered Catholic girl, but if you’re in my way, I will start throwin’ some ‘bows. If I were foolishly holding you up from getting to your audition/yoga class/office, I would fully expect you to do the same unto me.

10. As for umbrella etiquette...don’t get me started. Don’t
even get me started.

Think twice before walking at a snail's pace with one of those giant SUV strollers, simultaneously slowing me down and blocking me from passing you.
Your baby doesn't have anywhere to be.

I do.

Jaywalking. Get into it.

13. Channel the spirit of Johnny Cash, a man who wore almost as much black as the average New Yorker, and walk the line. A straight line. Don't drunkenly weave back and forth, making it impossible for anyone to pass you. I know a number of trannies named Sue who would gladly accept a Folsom Prison sentence for the pleasure of clocking a sidewalk rover.

14. Manhattan drivers are erratic, but standing two feet back from the curb when waiting to cross the street is an overly excessive safety cushion, and it blocks the sidewalk for people trying to cross your path. Stand a little closer to the curb. Or maybe even in the street. You won't get hit. Usually.

15. If you have shopping bags from Century 21, Chinatown, and American Girl Place, keep them tightly by your side. I really don't feel like being bruised by bags containing discount designer merchandise, fake Prada purses, and/or creepy dolls dressed exactly like your children.

And the simplest but most important (drum roll, please!)...

Walk on the
right side of the sidewalk! The right! Exactly the same way you drive and skate around a roller rink! The right!!!


Again, tourists, please don't be mad. I'm trying to help you. I love you. I need you. Your hard-earned cash pays for tickets to the show that employs me. I understand your cluelessness, and I want to clue you in. Plus, I am one of you...or I was. Just like Eva Peron and her descamisados. In closing, tourists, my message is this: When in Rome, do as the New Yorkers do. Treat the sidewalk as you would a highway—maintain a steady pace with the traffic, keep to the right, and stay in your own lane. 

...And if your to-go bag of leftover soup, salad, and breadsticks from the Olive Garden smacks me in the shin one more time, you and I may find ourselves in a road rage-induced fender bender.


P.S. When I visited NYC for the first time in March of 1999, a friend took this completely embarrassing picture of me high kicking in front of Radio City. At the time, I thought it was the coolest. Now that I’ve lived in Manhattan for nine years and actually work at Radio City, I am slightly appalled that I ever blocked the sidewalk and halted pedestrian traffic by doing such a thing. You see, we all make mistakes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Button Up Your Overcoat

I decided to take advantage of last week's lovely Indian summer (Can you still say that?!) to try on winter coats at Macy's. My hatred of the 34th Street Macy's is too great to comment on here; however, since I went to the store at 10:30am on a weekday, it was fairly manageable. In the 'burbs, end-of-season sales are an excellent way to go when making a substantial purchase, but in the city, when you wait that long, there's no inventory left. Thus, I went shopping while it was still 70-degrees outside.

I had a winter coat that I absolutely loved, but it had one overwhelming flaw: the zipper got stuck on a regular basis. It was a lovely brown quilted knee-length winter coat from Abercrombie, a store I almost never enter unless I want to assault my ears with music and my nose with overly perfumed air. I—shock of all shocks—actually paid full price for this seemingly perfect coat. It was feather light and toasty warm. The first time the zipper got stuck, I was at home, so I stepped out of the coat as if it were a dress and used a safety pin to unstick it. I foolishly assumed that I had purchased a randomly defective coat and exchanged it at the store for a new one.

Unfortunately, the new coat's zipper continued to get stuck again and again. Sometimes it would only catch a bit of the coat's lining, which I could pretty easily get free. Sometimes it would get stuck on nothing at all and a little bit of firm pulling and a quick prayer would help. But one time at the doctor's office waiting room, on a very cold day when I had zippered the coat all the way up to my nose, the zipper got stuck right at the base of my throat. At first, I wiggled the zipper pull, assuming it would give way. It didn't. I couldn't physically look at the problem, but I felt around the catch and realized that a chunk of my coat was stuck in the zipper, and I couldn't pull it out. And I couldn't pull the coat off over my head because it was still zipped so tight that it wouldn't have cleared my chin. Panic set in. I tried to pull my arms into the coat to maneuver the zipper from the inside, but the coat was too tight to get at it. My heart rate began racing, making me overheated, claustrophobic, and cranky.

It suddenly dawned on me that I was in a very public place, in a very small room, with several very bewildered people waiting to be seen by various physicians. I smiled at each of them as if to say, "Isn't this funny? I'm stuck in my coat! I must look ridiculous! Have you ever seen anything so hilarious?" They wouldn't make eye contact with me. Either they had no sense of humor or they thought I had some sort of dire disease that resulted in a mental imbalance. With red cheeks, disheveled hair, and spastic body movements, I probably did look certifiably insane.

After several more minutes of struggle, the nurse called my name. My coat was still zipped up to my neck. I sheepishly followed her into the doctor's office and told her, "My coat. It's stuck. I'm stuck in my coat." She replied in a mild island accent (don’t ask me which island), "Oh, no worries! My nine-year-old daughter does that all the time!" And she got to work, tugging and pulling and nudging and pleading with my stuck zipper. It took a good 20 minutes, but she was finally able to unzip my coat enough for me to step out of it. After that, I never used the zipper again. I used the snaps instead.

Now I’m on the hunt for a winter coat that is as warm and stylish as that damaged one. You’d think it would be more important to have a warm coat in Buffalo than in Manhattan, but I beg to differ. In Buffalo, you generally wear your coat to travel from your house to your car and from your car to your office. You may be out in the cold for less than a minute a day. In Manhattan, I walk at least 30 blocks on a slow day. New York City may have a fraction of the snowfall there is in Buffalo, but the wind whipping down the avenue is no joke. You know what else is no joke? Me. I fully marched back into Abercrombie with the coat to tell them about the whole embarrassing zipper incident. There might have been some stern voices and asking for the manager involved. And maybe a strongly worded letter to customer service. But in the end, Abercrombie took the coat gave me a portion of my money back. Of course, it doesn’t compensate for the pain and humiliation I suffered as a result of the defective coat. But it sure helps.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time Out

I must take a time out to tell you about a couple of things.

First of all, I am getting blog savvy! Hooray! If you want to keep up with me more easily, you can subscribe to my blog via email or RSS (which I don't completely understand) to the right.

Secondly, I never dreamed I would have international readers (I'm talking to YOU, Poland!), and I want to give a shout out to Canada, South Korea, Denmark, Slovenia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Ecuador...and Poland, my international champion.

Lastly, just when I was ready to buy a one-way ticket to the land of Wegmans, malls, and snow shoveling, a friend posted this incredible article on Facebook. I'll list the highlights below:

50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City

44. The epic feeling you get running to catch a train and succeeding...just before the doors close.

41. We get the inside jokes. Because, actually, we made them up in the first place.

40. That horrified look on our parents' friends' faces when we tell them we live in "Hell's Kitchen."

39. Sure, we work out next to Alec Baldwin, Padma Lakshmi, and Bridget Moynahan, and walk the streets with Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Tina Fey, but, really, we're kinda too busy with our own lives to notice.

38. Drinking is like breathing. Or slightly more acceptable.

26. Smart people are the norm, not the exception. (Which doesn't mean they're sane, but at least no one's boring.)

25. Except in select 'hoods like Park Slope and perhaps the Upper West Side, children are viewed as mysterious beings, rarely sighted and only occasionally understood, like pixies or magical small butlers. Until they scream, in which case, they are banished from the palace.

11. Complain about the MTA, but you can get anywhere in the city for just $2.25. Or $2.50 single ride, come 2011. Still pretty damn cheap.

7. Subway "prewalking," in which you walk to the exact right spot on the platform to board the train car that will save you the most time upon exit, exists and has a name. Gotta respect.

5. We are, as a group, anti-fanny-pack as much as we are pro-gay-marriage. Hetero marriage, on the other hand, we can pretty much take or leave.

4. 35 is the new 26. Or is it 45? Whatever, age ain't nuthin' but a number, and as long as you're younger than your IQ score, no harm, no foul.

1. If you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere. But why would you bother to go anywhere else?


Ahhh...I really needed that! I plan to commit this list to memory and use it as my mantra during that magical time of year when city sidewalks are dressed in holiday style, tourists run rampant, and I am forced to elbow small children out of my way in order to cross the street. I love you, New York!