Sunday, September 29, 2013

Standards of Beauty and the Dynamics of Attraction in an Urban Metropolis (Alternate Title: The Universal Appeal of Awesome Rockin' Boobage**)

** Alternate title credit to the writers of South Park for their episode Major Boobage

Since moving to New York City I have had to adjust the way I think about my appearance and the role of human aesthetics in every day life. The city's role at the heart of fashion and advertising make it the arguable origin point of the beauty narrative. More importantly, there are mad hotties all over the place. An average person must learn to deal with this. Luckily, it's not that hard to do once you realize that beautiful** people do not have any kind of monopoly on happiness.

Despite the vast diversity of New York City I often find myself in neighborhoods where I don't quite fit in. Whether its an ethnic enclave or a pocket of wealth, I am regularly surprised by how homogenous certain areas remain. I don't bring this up in order to discuss socio-economic dwelling patterns, but rather as a launching point to discuss an issue which has been on my mind a lot lately: Standards of beauty and the dynamics of interpersonal attraction.

Men, bless their hearts, are predictable in their tendency to leer. I am moderately attractive, but not so attractive that it is a given that everyone will stare at me, so I have actually been able to glean a fair amount of insight into the relationship between attraction and status simply based on who makes weird faces at me on the street in relation to how I present myself.

The street is really the best place for this experiment because there are fewer variables at hand than in any situation where there is potential for conversation or having to deal with the implications of "being seen together". Split second reactions to another person's appearance on the street defy the "10 point scale" that dictates who is too attractive for whom. At the heart of it, a person is either pleasant to look at or they are not, and the street is the only place where both a 10 and a 2 can appreciate a 6 without having to apologize for it or deal with the implications. I myself do not subscribe to this particular ranking system but I accept that it exists.

Rule #1 is that everyone likes boobs. If you sport some cleavage then everyone, not even just men and lesbians, will look at your boobs (If you are a straight woman or a gay man who cannot appreciate great cleavage than I don't even know what the point of you is). However, since they only have a brief moment as you pass on the street, they do not have time to also make eye contact or register anything else about your appearance so any and all data collected in the presence of cleavage is inconclusive. The same is true for great butts but unless you are with a friend who is taking notes for you it is impossible to measure how often other people look at your butt.

I think everyone can agree on the above statement. Nothing else I have to say about any of this can be considered universal because I am my only test subject and the variables are numerous. I know how science works, people. This isn't science.

That being said, here are a few things I have observed often enough to assume that they are always true.

-Men in nice suits don't look at me when I am dressed eccentrically, but they do look at me if I am wearing a shift dress and heels, as long as I am well groomed.

-Hipster guys don't look at me if I am dressed conservatively, but they really like it when everything I am wearing looks like I stole it from an obese gypsy.

-Men in tight Ed Hardy type shirts always look at me no matter what and raise their chins at me suggestively. I assume they do this to all women, just in case.

- Men who walk with their arms around the girl they're with are among the most likely to look at me if I am dressed in body conscious clothing.  Men who walk NEXT to the girl they're with but don't make body contact with her don't look at me at all, because they are able to look at that girl. So ladies, if a guy if being publicly affectionate towards you in a way that makes it impossible for you to see his face, he might be scoping other chicks.

These are all indicative of fairly obvious truths, but it says a lot about how style works in New York City. My style isn't definitive and on one day I might look like I'm on way way to a business lunch where on another I look like I'm on my way back from an underground rave. I should mention that I have never been to a rave; I just often look like I go to raves. Either way, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the abundance of perfect human specimens in New York, and having the power to conjure a wide range of personas through my appearance is very comforting to me, even though I am just fine with being myself.

**It is difficult to write about beauty without getting caught up in the semantics so allow me to  to clarify that what I'm trying to discuss is what makes another person pleasing to look at. At some point the word beauty was taken hostage by the notion of self-worth, and it is important to me to keep these two ideas separate. It has always been my opinion that "Everyone is beautiful" is one of the most damaging ideas ever to be propagated to the masses because it simultaneously renders the word meaningless while still upholding the notion that beauty, however you define it, is intrinsically linked to a person's worth. I know it's a less romantic way to put it, but I think what we should be saying is "everyone is valid".  I apologize for being precious with my words.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Following Strangers

On 9/22/2013, For the second Sunday in a row, my plans to visit The Bronx were derailed by beautiful weather. Again the sunny, breezy early autumn perfection coaxed me into such a state of euphoria that I couldn't bring myself to take on the sobering task of exploring the far away neighborhood. I knew that I wanted to leave Queens, though, and I was having a hard time picking a new destination, so I decided to walk to the nearest above ground multi-train station (Queensboro Plaza for me) and catch the first Manhattan/Brooklyn bound train.

I boarded an N train with no arrival point in mind. I relied on a new game that I like to play called  "Follow the Hottie". What I do is pick the most well dressed and attractive person on the train and go wherever they are going. I don't actually follow them once we're off the train. I'm not THAT creepy. I just have a theory that well dressed, attractive people are more likely to be going somewhere interesting, which means that whatever train stop they get off at might yield an interesting path for me as well. I know that there are a lot of holes in this theory, but it's just something that I do when I can't make a decision so it doesn't really matter whether or not it's true. My only condition for the game is that If they are going to either 42nd or 34th st then I have to find a new target because that's the area where I work and I never want to go there in my free time.

Today the winner (I decided this is a less threatening description than "target") was a man in his late 20s/early 30s whose dark hair was couffed to such perfection that I considered asking him about his product choices and techniques. I recently had a boy short hair cut myself which I proved to be incapable of styling, so I have a new found respect for men who "do" their hair. His pants were slim cut navy blue dress pants, which he wore with a patterned dress shirt (white with crimson, navy, and gold embroidered teeny tiny polka dots), a crimson cardigan, and gold and navy tie which appeared to be knitted. His shoes were a deep, reddish leather with slightly darker soles. Writing it out now it sounds gaudy and over thought, but everything fit perfectly and he looked fucking fabulous. He wasn't too tall or muscular, but his bone structure was model perfect and his eyes were sly and emerald. I was sitting across from him and obviously staring at him long enough to memorize his outfit (I actually took out my journal and took some notes) and he was so aloof to my presence that he either didn't notice or didn't care that I was fixated on him. People, I don't like to make assumptions because I know that personal style is not a function of one's sexuality, but I'm 80% sure that he was gay.  Either way, it's not like I was trying to date him. It wasn't about him; it was about where someone like him might be going, which turned out to be the 8th st stop near Cooper square.

Once off the train I realized that I still had no idea where I wanted to go, so I just started walking in a direction. The area where the train stops is not in the number grid so I decided NOT to take the time to orient myself directionally. It was sunny but cool and I myself was dressed to kill (I thought) and I just wanted to stomp it out around town. A note about my own fashion choices for the day:

This is a dress that I bought at Sears of all places a few years back which is navy blue with a sequined front. The dress itself is a cotton shift, but the sequins are the good kind which really gleam and sparkle under light, the best kind of light being sunlight. It casts specks of light in a 180 degree radius around me when I walk in the light and it pleases me to no end. Usually I wear it on the 4th of July or for other festive events. Today I wore it because I fuckin' felt like it. To top things off I paired it with a huge, glittery plastic necklace and a wide brimmed shimmery straw hat, and burgundy tights which matched my  burgundy wedge booties. I was conspicuous, but it felt right.

After several blocks of blinding everyone in my path, I ended up at Tompkins Square at around 12:30, when I realized that I was very hungry and might do with a bit of lunch. It was Sunday after all and there are always brunch deals to be had in that part of town. I walked over to Avenue C and up to 13th street, which is an area where I knew of a few places, but everything was packed. I kept walking until I really just needed to sit down and eat something, so I settled for a $6 sandwich at a non-descript pizzeria with some outdoor seating.

After recharging I walked over to Union Square, where I went to Whole Foods in order to use the bathroom. Usually they don't enforce the "you must be a customer" rule but today there were actual men in suits checking receipts before letting people in, so I went down to the beer section to see if I could find something suitable for an afternoon outdoor drink-and-read, which I had planned for when I got home.

The guy working in the beer section assisted me in picking something comparable to a Vermont favorite, Heady Topper, which unfortunately is never distributed to NYC. The fact that I was able to A)ask for his help to begin with and B) ask him if he was not only familiar with the beer but might be able to suggest something similar is a point of pride for me, because I often struggle with such interactions. After finally using the bathroom, I left with a 6 pack of canned IPA from North Carolina and some apples. I sat in Union Square park and contemplated my next move while I munched on an apple.

I wasn't ready to go home yet so again I just started walking, deliberately west this time. Then I headed north on 6th Avenue. I walked until the weight of the beer and apples was straining my shoulder and I could feel blisters cropping up the courage to emerge on the balls of my feet. I got on a Queens bound F train near 23rd street and rode that as close to home as I could get.

I arrived home feeling slightly sun-stroked but very content. I had a beer and half-napped in my "backyard" which is shared with the other apartments in the house and it mostly cement, but gets the job done. I am not afraid to tell you that I got absolutely no research done, which is why this post is void of any historical perspective. Next week I'm hoping for rain.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On The Emotional Health Of The Millennial Generation

There have been several (and by several I mean two so far, but something tells me more are coming) articles circulating which attempt to address the issue of why middle and upper middle class members of the millennial generation (born late 70s to mid 90s) are unhappy. One such article  (article A) basically claims that it's because we have unrealistic expectations which need to be adjusted. The other article  (article B) claims that its because we have been left a world that is disproportionally challenging and that no one has the right to judge our response to these conditions. My first response to both of these articles was "Oh, I wasn't aware that I was unhappy, but thank you for pointing out that I should be."

What is strange to me about both of these articles is that they both assume that happiness is a byproduct of success, and that success is measured against a particular standard. The standard being referenced, albeit indirectly, is essentially the worn out vision of The American Dream in which the stable family is a symbol of emotional wellbeing. The articles argue about whether or not the root of Gen Y's unhappiness is our sense of entitlement or our sense of frustration about the fact The Dream is no longer attainable.  I don't believe that either of these are valid arguments. In fact, I don't believe that most of us are really unhappy at all. We're just being told that we are.

Article A positions Millenials against "our" baby-boomer parents (though many of them aren't that really) and suggests that this generation's success has altered our perception of reality and warped our expectations. Article B suggests that it doesn't matter what our expectations are, because our education debt is higher, our cost of living is higher, and our options are fewer. Both articles ignore completely the fact that there are just a few more than 50 years of human history from which to source perspective on the topic of happiness. We are, if nothing else, an over exposed, over stimulated generation that has been bombarded with information from an increasing number of angles from birth and yet we seem to have no sense of our place in a broader human scope. Economic strife aside we're bound to have a few screws loose.

Regardless of their ideas of what causes unhappiness, both articles suggest that I'm definitely supposed to be depressed about the fact that my student loans are making it harder for me to save money, and that I have to live in Queens instead of Manhattan and that I don't have any reason to own a pantsuit. The thing is though, that I feel fucking fantastic most of the time because I have the freedom not to have children if I don't feel like I can support them. I have the option to fulfill my creative impulses privately (Ex: This Blog) while paying my bills in a job that doesn't own my life.  If I ever feel compelled to exercise my ambition am I free to do that as well. Young, single women in past generations didn't have nearly as many reasons to be happy as I do.  Furthermore, I just don't believe that some vague idea of maybe someday raising a family comfortably is a compelling reason to be consistently at odds with the world around me. Even if that was something I REALLY wanted I understand that we can't always get what we want, and with the population as bloated as it is I really can't get behind the idea that anyone "needs" to have children.

Article A suggests that Millennials are unhappy because we assume that we are special, and on that count we are mistaken. I think that's an irrelevant line of argument. A little confidence never hurt anyone. What does cause problems, however, is having ones emotional state both generalized and scrutinized on a regular basis. I've been doing a lot of research about NYC history and I for one would not trade being where I am now making the money I make for the chance to be some bank man's secretary/future wife in the era of Robert Moses. (Sidenote: If I could go back in time I would find Robert Moses and punch him right in the dick). If you are a Millennial and you are feeling a little gloomy because you're having trouble finding stable ground, let me remind you that there are worse things. And if you're NOT feeling gloomy then  please stop reading articles about how you might be unhappy! Stop it right now! I'm serious. This one included. STOP.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Aimless Walking in Manhattan on a Sunday in September

" The walker-writer cannot help seeing, superimposed over the present edifice, its former incarnation, and he/she sings the necropolis, the litany of all those torn down Pennsylvania Stations and Les Halles marketplaces that goes: Lost New York, Lost Boston, Lost Tokyo, Lost Paris.
Rich or poor, white or black, gay or straight, for the moment, at least, everyone in the pedestrian swirl  is assigned the same human value: you are either in my way or not."- Philip Lopate  (On the Aesthetics of Urban Walking)

My original plan on Sunday, September 15th was to spend the morning exploring the Bronx, and then spend the afternoon researching what is probably one of the saddest neighborhood histories in the country. When I emerged from my basement apartment into the late summer morning though, it was clear that I needed to rethink my plan. It was too agreeable out to spend any amount of time underground, inside, or in front of a computer. The Bronx is a long journey from Woodside, and one that would keep me sliding through the bowels of the city for longer than I fancied fit for a day such as this. I packed my journal and Philip Lopate's "Waterfront" into my little backpack and alighted for Central Park, which is as good a starting place as any for a day of wandering, and I could get there with very little underground subway time.

The Q train dropped me at the Eastern base of the park and from there I started walking. I clambered up a boulder which overlooks The Pond with the intent of sitting for a moment to contemplate what I planned on getting out of the day. At the crest of the boulder I found a couple, both young and attractive, languidly melting into each other. At the sounds of my rustling the young man turned around, squinting, which I at first thought was his way of saying "I wish you would leave" but instead his face softened into a smile, and he stood up, offering me his iPhone and asking in a mild mid-western accent "Would you mind taking our picture?". This pleased me, because I decided that I must look friendly. I worry sometimes about whether or not I look friendly. I took their picture, and once they confirmed that they were satisfied with the result, left them in peace. As I picked my way down the stony path it occurred to me, and not for the first time in my life, that I should perhaps try to find a nice midwestern boy myself. They're always so trusting and friendly. By boy of course I mean adult male between the ages of 25* and 36 (*I am 25 at the time I am writing this in 2013), because I am not a pervert nor do I have any interest in A)coaxing anyone out of their adolescence or B) helping them regain their youth.

I strolled past the Central Park Zoo and ogled the seals for a bit, and then continued through the varied loveliness of the park. After a short distance, though, the guilt of spending my free day in an area that I had visited many times before got the best of me, and I exited at 69th street. I had already done some exploring up and down Park Avenue, so I decided to walk east. I had previously never been past Lexington (where the train runs) on the Upper East Side.

I headed out on 69th street but soon saw a building that looked interesting. I went to inspect it and wrote down the address. I did this a few times, letting my curiosity dictate my path, before deciding that 72nd street was a good route towards the water. One building turned out to be worth including:

867 Madison Avenue
Why I stopped: As Philip Lopate so eloquently puts it in the quote at the beginning of this post, I spend a lot of my time walking wondering what used to be in these neighborhoods. This building is not only old itself (commissioned in 1898), but is styled in a way that is deliberately old-looking, even for its time. Usually the only structures who achieve this effect are churches, so I was very curious to learn more. I assume there were many such extravagant homes commissioned and many of them have been torn down to make way for larger, more profitable structures., so I wonder why this one has been spared.
Currently: The Ralph Lauren Flagship Store
Origin: This was commissioned in 1898by Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, an heiress who never actually moved into it. It is known As the Rhinelander Mansion and you can learn all about it on Wikipedia. The style is French Renaissance Revival and it is quite striking.

I continued along E72nd street until I came to it's terminus, which was an elevated pavilion overlooking the East River with views of Roosevelt Island. The views were slightly grim but there were trees and benches and it was the perfect place to cool my heels and do some reading. It was only 1 PM by the time I left to go meet a friend at Columbus circle at 59th street. We then walked up Columbus Avenue to 96th street where she used to live, and then across the park to the east side and then all the way east to the river, and then all the way down to 42nd street and 5th Avenue where we caught the 7 train back to Queens for a night of Irish Pubbery. I cannot fathom how many miles I might have walked, but it was a good amount and I ended up needing to change out of my leather boots and into flat shoes.

I visited a variety of neighborhoods including Yorkville, the Upper East Side, The Upper West Side, Midtown, Sutton Place, Tudor City, and Murray Hill.  They are not the most endearing neighborhoods in the city, but there is certainly an interesting history behind each one, and that is something I intend to flush out on a day when I have slightly fewer blisters to attend to.

an So I pop my blisters, thinking I know better, and continue walking.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The John Mayer Effect

It is not cool to like John Mayer these days. It's not that people hate him, exactly. It's just that everyone in and around my generation (Millennials I think we're called) seems to have collectively decided that we don't want to give him the satisfaction of liking him.

The argument usually goes something like this: "I'm willing to admit he's a pretty good guitar player (speaker is establishing that they are generous by offering a compliment). He's not THAT good though otherwise he'd be playing real Blues (demonstrating their ability to know types of music, and therefor everything there is to know about said types). And I mean his lyrics are kind of pussy and he's basically just a sellout and an asshole dating all those pop stars (offering specifics to validate claim). That guy sucks."

This particular line of logic most frequently comes from males near my age (25-34) who definitely listened to enough John Mayer at some point in their past to develop an emotional attachment to his career path. Females don't seem to care much one way or the other at this point. They're too busy loudly professing their girl crushes on Beyonce. Either way, I think we all started experiencing a little Mayer related dissonance when magazines like Rolling Stone started telling us he was a Rock Star. They were telling us he was Jimi Hendrix. Meanwhile his songwriting style was more closely linked to likes of James Taylor and somewhere in there he started looking like Johnny Depp and acting like...well...also Johnny Depp. It was confusing times for those of us who were his prime audience at the beginning of his career.

Some of you might not remember, or might not have been born soon enough to know in the first place, that John Mayer's first album came out in 2001 and it was just a folky pop album. No one would have cited Stevie Ray Vaughn as an influence with a straight face. No one was expecting anything in particular from him. If you were very curious maybe you went on the internet (which took more effort back then) and found out he went to Berklee (briefly) and thought "oh neat so he knows what he's doing I guess". Mostly he was just a sort-of cute, dopey dude singing mostly about things OTHER than love and heartbreak. Remember (or look up) that 2001 was kind of on the tail end of the boy band craze and we were all a little sick of having 5 guys gyrating to the beat of their communal heart. I myself was 13. Too old for the former Mickey-Mousers but too worried about my place in the turbulent Middle School social dynamic to shun popular music. The more people my age I meet the more I realize many of us had a similar affliction. And we liked John Mayer. WE ALL DID. Some of us more openly than others.

I myself have a complicated relationship with Pop music in general. I grew up with a professional musician for a dad and a discerning wise ass for a mom. The result was that I became "critical" far before I had any of the knowledge or experience necessary to back up my sass. I insisted, to myself mostly, that my opinion was inscrutable. It was profoundly troubling to me that I didn't have enough authority to be taken seriously when trying to explain in the 4th grade why I was empirically correct in my decision to ONLY listen to the Beatles because everything these days was just "not as good". I'm not saying that opinion is wrong, but I had not done my research and wasn't fit to have it.

In Elementary School and Middle School I started going to school dances and I was furious to discover  that I actually liked a lot of popular music. I found an acceptable middle ground in pop acts that I deemed to be "original". This is ridiculous, of course, because I had nothing in my backlog of listening skills against which to compare my new discoveries. How was I supposed to know that Nelly Furtado wasn't the first person to do nasally, vaguely bluesy art pop? I offer this information to try to shed some light on my particular state of being when "No Such Thing" came out.

I loved No Such Thing and its parent album No Room For Squares.  I allowed myself to love it because it wasn't NSYNC and it wasn't Linkin Park (who I have never liked, even secretly). His music was permissible within my haphazardly defined rules of what a musically cultured person such as myself was allowed to like. That says a lot about me, obviously, but I think it also says a lot about the kind of artist he was at the time. He was definitely in it to make money but he was smart enough to know that he could do so without doing exactly what everyone else was doing. I know now that he was not so much original as he was opportunistic. That kind of music had happened before and it was the right time for it to happen again.

But that was then. Several albums of hyper sensitive man-boy lyrics later, there stands before us a scraggly denim man who seems to have a hard time endearing himself to the public. He elevated his profile by dating deliberately objectified women and I think we were all upset because...we expected better? Is that what it was? Did we assume his lyrics were an actual reflection of his personality and that he ought to be dating someone more dignified? I think we did. And I think that was our fault, not his.

I'm not here to defend John Mayer. I'm pretty sure he doesn't need my help. I think his particular journey through the public sphere has been a more telling reflection of the we the observers than of his own talent or personal worth. I don't know him personally, but my impression is that he is a fairly intelligent and self-conscious guy who likes obviously hot, ambitious women. He has behaved no worse than any young man who has been told a few too many times how talented he is might act. I don't think John Mayer cares one way or the other whether people stop making mean comments about him, but I think we, the teenagers of the early 2000s, will all feel much better in the long run if we just focus on the stuff we liked, and forgive the stuff we don't.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Quality Time in Green Wood Cemetery With Some Wicked Old Dead Folks and Way More Parrots Than You Would Expect

I awoke today with the creeping realization, the crescendoing horror, that I was going to have to go to Best Buy to buy a new cable for my camera. Why? Because I was without a way to get my photos from my camera to my computer, and yesterday I went to Green Wood Cemetery. I wanted to write about it, but writing about a cemetery without any photos is mostly depressing. Luckily I found success,  so now I can share with you my experience in one of America's first "rural" (at the time it was) cemeteries. I apologize in advance if anyone finds this disrespectful to the dead. I believe in respecting living relatives who are coping with tragedy but beyond that I really don't see why one can't irreverently enjoy a cemetery.

Green Wood Cemetery was founded in 1838 in Brooklyn, and soon became one of the world's most fashionable places to decompose in peace. The cemetery spans 478 acres, according to the brochure, and encompasses ponds, forest, and hills which provide dramatic vistas.

An interesting thing about Green Wood Cemetery is that there are a surprising number of parrots living in it. It would be surprising if there were even one, but there is an entire population of them. Apparently Parrots have been nesting in Brooklyn since the 1960s when a shipment from Argentina got lost and the birds escaped. They actually nest near warmer powerlines (there are some right outside of the cemetery) to help minimize harshness of the foreign environment. If any of my New York friends knew about this they failed to mention to me, and for that I intend to hold a grudge. THERE ARE PARROTS LIVING IN BROOKLYN. I know they're just birds but I just think it's really rad and I wish I had known about it sooner.

Anyhow...I think the best way for me to proceed is to post the pictures I took and write a little bit about each one. So that's what is happening.

1. Two graves so old that no lettering is distinguishable. It makes me want to become a fashion designer so I can go on Project Runway and design an outfit based on these graves for which I will be kicked off.

2. Marble sculpted to look like a pile of rocks. 

3. A path leading into dense forest in a spooky graveyard? Don't mind if I do.

4. Many of these mausoleums have steps leading down to the water. Ghosts can fly, idiots. They don't need stairs.

5. This one grave is all by itself in an area that doesn't seem to receive any manicuring. 

6. Show off.

7. I kind of want to live in this one.

 8. (same as above)
9.It's like they're all staking out spots to watch fireworks.

10. I dig the etching

11. Some little tables, a few chairs? 

12. Chapel

13: Another pond.

14: Way to make it all about yourself, angel.

15: My reaction to the image above.

16: Entrance

17: Say Whaaaaat?

18: Civil War Monument

19: Civil War Monument 2nd View

20: 3rd view

21: Battle Hill

22: Yes, THAT Leonard Bernstein. I appreciate the restraint.

23: Just because you're dead doesn't mean your last name isn't hilarious.

24: Those aren't lions. They're Labrador Retrievers.


26.Why is he stepping on the hot lady?

27. Oh...That is some BULLSHIT

28. Not every grave was impressive

29. I sometimes worry whether or not bowling balls go to heaven as well

30. Not only a Golf Course problem.

31. Possibly my favorite. No legible inscription.

32: William M Tweed. More on him on another day. Google him.

33. I see you, storks or herons or whatever you are.

34. Creepin' in...

35. Birds, don't be stupid. What if I'm hunting you?

36. Seriously. Fly away. I'm a stranger. Stranger danger!

37. This was the only bloom on the whole bush and I like the color.

38: Half expected a Hobbit to come wandering out and offer me tea.

39: I had to stay and look at this one until someone else came along to look at it otherwise it might have sent me back in time (watch a few seasons of Dr. Who if this doesn't make sense to you).

40. PARROTS. Yes I am sure. They were bright green.