Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rachel's Dowry

When I moved to New York City, I brought exactly my weight in stuffs. I know this because of the scales at the airport and the overweight luggage fees I was charged. For the first few months of my new life, I had some clothes, bedding, one coffee mug, and one kitchen knife to my name. That was it.

Some sympathetic friends, a move to my present apartment, and a few good street finds greatly increased my material worth. In dowry terms, I almost had enough to score a husband from a good family: bed, couch, bookshelf, end tables, plastic samurai sword. Things were good and getting better.

Just last week, I finally achieved my greatest furniture triumph to date: the dining room table and chairs. Unlike end tables and lamp shades, a large table isn't something you can find on the street. Believe me, I looked hard. I didn't want to pay the $100-plus it would've cost to eat my meals sitting down at a table like a normal person. Instead, I stubbornly stood at my kitchen counter for six months, eating in front of the microwave because it was too much trouble to walk the three feet to the sink.

I'm a classy broad, as you can tell.

I scored this lovely hardwood table and matching chairs from a friend moving back to Hawaii. Beautiful, aren't they? Anything in the free to $50 range is beautiful to me, but these are especially lovely because I now own a) too much furniture to move on my own, and b) enough to furnish my own apartment, both markers, in my mind, of true adulthood.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Punk Babe in Corporateland

One of the things that a broke writer in New York will find herself doing at one time or another is temping. What is temping? Think of it as Rent-a-car for big companies, except the car is me and my amazing typing skills. Since the economy blows harder than a humpback whale surfacing off Keahole Point, I haven’t had much temp work, but this week and last week I managed to get a gig with a large consulting firm that will remain nameless due to contractual restraints on my part. Suffice to say, they are Corporateland, America the Formal, with pantyhose and suit jackets for all.
People in Hawaii may have trouble understanding this, because even when we wear formal clothes, we giggle about how silly and formal we look. We know that as soon as we get into the car, we’re going throw the heels in the backseat and crumple the suit in the back of the closet for next year. I worked just down the street from the state capitol: even our senators wear aloha shirts on Mondays unless they’re going to be on TV.
Not so in New York. These people wore suits like we wear bathing suits back home. I took a look around the office today and suddenly realized, This isn’t a novelty for them. This is how they live.
It was somewhere between this thought, the lame office jokes about neckties and binder clips, and the realization that my black suit made me look like a Hassidic teenage bride, that I was struck with the urge with pierce my lip with a safety pin and spray bourbon out of my mouth into the faces of my cubicle mates. I wanted to shave my head, tattoo my collarbones with raised middle fingers, and take a razor to my stupid fucking skirt until you could see my ripped black underwear.
In short, I wanted to go punk.
I never understood punk before now. Like I said, in Hawaii, we’re casual. Personally, I never wore anything that I didn’t have fun wearing, as evidenced by the picture of a seven-year-old me dressed as Catwoman at the grocery store. And since I was raised by a bunch of barefoot, nonconformist, sunbathing-nude-in-the-backyard hippies, I never had that soul-crushing, skin-itching need to rebel.
Now I see that this need is what created the punk movement and I finally understand why so many good punk outfits are based on English school uniforms: formalism, class hierarchy, and savage hypocrisy—listen to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” if you want to know more—make their sufferers long for release, revenge, and rebellion.
Hence my desire to shed my corporate threads and kick my cubicle to shreds. But I’m going back for two more days, because otherwise, “How can you have your pudding?”

Save the Mail!

Last weekend, I was in Washington D.C., our nation’s capital, for the National Postmasters’ Association of the United States (NAPUS) conference. I myself am not a postmaster unless you count my email inbox, which is always at zero unread messages by the end of the day. But my aunty happens to be a postmaster on the Big Island—20 years of service this July!—and since my Hawaii relatives rarely make it the 6000 miles to see me in New York, I took the NAPUS conference as an opportunity to brush up on the gossip from the islands and get a few hundred miles south, where it’s actually spring.
This post is about the post. Did you know that the United States Postal System, the USPS, currently loses $20 million every day? That’s twenty million smackers every twenty-four hours, according to sources within NASPU.
It’s not inconceivable that Americans could wake up one morning in the near future to discover that the USPS no longer exists. If any other nation-wide company was operating at a $140 million a week deficit, they’d have to be suckling on that fat bailout teat like A.I.G and the auto companies. In fact, why isn’t the USPS begging for money? Why isn’t anyone in the news talking about the imminent demise of the postal system? It’s the freaking mail! It's so much a part of the fabric of our lives that it’s almost impossible to imagine a world without it. Can you imagine having to pay all of your bills online or over the phone? Or using email for all of your correspondence? How about reading all of your favorite magazines in website form?
Maybe the collapse of the postal system won’t be such a shock after all.
Between the environmentalists screeching about the all of the slaughtered trees to make your credit card statements, and the collapse of the financial wizards who inundated us with credit card offers during the bubble; between fax machines, email, networking sites, and the slow death of the publishing industry; between the merge of FedEx and Kinkos; and the rise of private mail service providers like UPS and Mailboxes. Etc., who really uses analog mail anymore?
Not to lay the blame solely on the consumer. One thing I noticed hanging around America’s postmasters is that these are people living in the past. They all hopped on the federal payroll gravy train, got their paid vacations and sick leave and pensions and other great benefits, and are now in complete denial that their industry is under threat.
I’m not a postmaster and I wasn’t allowed into the conference rooms, instead spending my days looking for used bookstores and Ethiopian food. So how do I know that the USPS is in denial over the fast approaching obsolescence of their own industry? Because last weekend was the first I heard that the USPS was losing twenty. Million. Dollars. A day. The mainstream media has kept up a constant flood of bad news from this financial meltdown, giving us the gory details of stories as big as the A.I.G bonuses to insignificant little scuffles between Jim Cramer and Jon Stewart over who's the biggest believer of his own respective bullshit. But not once did I read an article, watch a news story, or even catch a Tweet about the woeful condition of our postal system.
Did I mention they're losing $20 million a day? Whoever does PR for the USPS should be fired.
Should we care? Do we really need the USPS, now that we write letters over email, stay in touch over Facebook and Twitter, and ship our Christmas presents through UPS?
Try this one: Imagine going to FedEx to mail your mother a birthday card. Maybe it's time to say "fuck the trees" and send your student loan company a check next month instead.

Ninja Quest: Japantown New York

Stop looking. It’s not there. There is a Chinatown in Manhattan, another in Queens, a Koreatown a few blocks away from the Empire State Building, and an unofficial Senegaltown just up the block from my Brooklyn apartment, but there is no Japantown in New York City.
I’m sure I just discouraged many potential Hawaii-to-New Yorkers like myself from setting foot on these city-islands. Denizens of the tropical islands need Japanese culture the same way New Yorkers need a 2nd Avenue subway line (see
previous post on pushers). Hawaii is closer geographically and culturally to Japan than to the mainland US. We get choke Japanese-Americans and you can’t swing a surfboard in Waikiki without hitting three Japanese tour groups. Sushi, sashimi, mocha, Bon Dance, Hanamatsuri, Girls Day, Boys Day—all widely-used vocabulary in Hawaii Nei.
Of course, I’m biased toward all things Nippon. In fact, I’m a little otaku. I love Hayao Miyazaki, Fullmetal Alchemist, and miso soup. I love sushi, hot sake, and
cats that slide into boxes. I’m a taiko player, a member of the Kona Daifukuji Soto Mission, and a secret initiate of the I Love Ninja clan. Oh, whoops—better finish this post before my ninja overlords come for my blood.
Where can a Hawaii transplant go in New York City to satisfy her cravings for Japan? When I first moved here, it was fine to get the occasional care package from home stuffed full of arare and a month’s supply of Kikkoman miso mix, but I was always afraid the freakishly large Brooklyn rats would get to the package before I did. So after much arduous searching and travel—actually, I was kind of lazy about it. I ran into these places and many more in my regular ramblings around the city, and these are the ones I’ve been able to find my way back to after discovering them.

Sunrise Market, a grocery store in SoHo on the corner of Broome Street and West Broadway. Distinguishable by the red flags in the doorway. Good deal: $1 bags of frozen edamame. You can get all the staples: shoyu, cooking sake, nori, arare, myriad Pocky treats, and Kirin and Saporo beer. It’s small, but thorough.

Katagiri & Company Japanese Grocery, 224 East 59th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Sunrise Market’s pricier Midtown cousin. Also has a Katagiri household goods store next door. Edamame is twice as expensive here—it’s near Central Park, what can you expect?—but they have a good selection of thin sliced beef and pork for shabu shabu. Household store next door has dishes, books, and hashi. I bought a paper wallet there of a naked woman playing with a kitten for $3. Cheapest boobs in New York.

Pearl River Mart, 477 Broadway between Grand and Broome Street. This department store is more Chinese than Japanese, but it’s so awesome I’m amazed it doesn’t implode under the weight of its own awesomeness. When I needed red envelopes to feed to the lions at New Years—Pearl River. Sake set for under $10—Pearl River. Cotton yukata—Pearl River. Bamboo curtains, rice cooker, Buddha statue, desktop fountain, samurai sword, rattan laundry hamper, rubber ducky, reflexology slippers, fancy macha tea, Christmas lights shaped like paper lanterns, teak nightstand, Chairman Mao propaganda poster—Pearl Freaking River, baby.

Pylones, 69 Spring Street between Crosby and Lafayette. There are actually 5 Pylones stores in New York, but I know how to find this one. The doodads, geegaws, and tchatchkes here not specifically Japanese, but you can get an egg timer shaped like a ladybug, a panda tape measurer, a cake server shaped like a Schnauzer dog, and flower-handled gardening shears, along with little windup toys and other miscellaneous, useless things whose cuteness factor is off the charts. And if that isn’t Japanese, I don’t know what is.

MUJI, paired with Museum of Modern Art. 44 West 53rd Street between 5th and 6th, 81 Spring Street between Crosby and Broadway. MUJI Store, 620 8th Avenue between 40th and 41st Street in the New York Times Building. They sell all sorts of household and design items, which are useful, but understated—even a bit bland—and prohibitively expensive. When I write the Great American Novel and get my advance from the movie studio that’s making it into an Oscar winner, then I’ll be able to shop here.

Chopsticks NYC, a free magazine you can pick up at Sunrise Mart, the New York Buddhist Church, and probably other places too. It’s a guide to Japanese Culture in New York City, and while the writing is bad and it’s mostly advertising, Chopsticks NYC is very thorough in terms of Japanese-oriented establishments. I wouldn’t use it so much for events, but if you want to find karaoke, spas, and restaurants, this is the place.

I also found a good Japanese bookstore, but I’m going to save it for my next posting, which will be on—you guessed it—bookstores. In the meantime, domo arigato and aloha!

A good way to freeze your nipples off

So last time I posted all of those pictures of the snow in New York City like I was some kind of badass Arctic adventurer for having jlangjlang in Central Park. Little did I know that just down the coast, a bunch of Jersey schoolboys were looking at the snowstorm like Hawaii locals look at hurricane warnings: Awright, surfs up!
That’s right, all of you surfers back home who think you’re Kelly Slater because you once surfed Pipeline when it was 1 to 3. These
Jersey surfers had themselves an awesome session with a foot of snow on the ground. Just watching the video gives me chickenskin. Special thanks to the guys at HI-Shredability for shooting and mixing the footage. Be sure to go through their backlog of episodes and see if you know anybody in the North Shore shots.
Ah, North Shore; I didn’t go often, but I do miss it, especially that moment when you’re just cresting the hill on the highway past Wahiawa and you’re about to look over the whole coast and see the surf conditions for the first time. Since I’m from Hawaii, people assume that I could surf before I could walk. If that were true, this would be the place to tell a story about riding a 10-foot wave or dodging a shark attack. Well, I don’t surf, but I’ll tell a surf story anyway.
I had a friend in college, North Shore native, Hawaiian-Filipino, whose entire family loved to surf. Early some Saturday, we’d cram into her little two-door and drive up to her mother’s salon in Wahiawa, where we’d jump into the back of her sister’s pickup truck with a dog or two and head up through the pineapple fields.
Then we crested the hill and spent at least an hour driving up and down North Shore, getting out, looking at the surf, getting back in the truck, getting out, looking at the surf again—picking the break was quite an involved process. And I’m just the beach bunny, so I don’t have a say in where we set up camp, but in my mind I’m thinking, “What are we, shopping for sex toys? Just pick one and be done with it.” We skipped Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay. "No get parking." Pipeline and Off-the-Wall was out too. "Get too many boys, they no like chick surfers." Same complaints every time, but we still had to stop and look, just in case.
Laniakea was always good: long break, not too shallow, small-kine shade in the naupaka bushes, though the waves tended to get a little choppy if there was wind. As a beach bunny, I liked Laniakea because of a turtle hangout spot on the eastern end of the beach. One time I saw some Texan tourists--is there any better kind for humor--doing exactly what you're NOT supposed to do, which was touch the turtles. "Oh, will you just look at them sea turtles, Dwayne?" shrieked Texan Wifey. "I believe the natives call that a HOH-noo," replied Dwayne. There was a crowd of Japanese tourists standing in slippers and socks in the sand, taking pictures of surfers, and they were very impressed that Dwayne knew this. "Honu, honu," they sighed and chirped, trying to snap pictures of the dark blobs bobbing around in the waves. So of course Dwayne and Wifey start lumbering into the shorebreak. (Did I mention they were fat? I mean, these two may have actually made it high tide when they got in.) They desperately NEED to swim with these turtles. The Japanese continue snapping pictures. They know that whatever is coming next, it's going to be picture worthy. I watch calmly, waiting to see if I need to jump up and stop one of them from picking the turtle up and hurling it like a Frisbee. (Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but that's another post.) Sea turtles are big, and these three at Laniakea were especially impressive specimens. One of them might have been three feet long. But it's hard to see that until you're right there in the water next to them and Mr. Turtle brushes up against you with his sharp beak, and you look deep into his watery eyes the size of ping pong balls and realize you're in an unfamiliar ocean with a creature older than the dinosaurs capable of ripping your fingers off with one subtle flick of its massive beak. Or so Wifey must have thought right before she leapt up and ran shrieking through the shorebreak, struggling for land. Dwayne quickly followed. The Japanese snapped their pictures and clapped politely, I congratulated the turtles, and a good time was had by all.
And that’s my surf story. Hang ten.

New York City's $12 million snowfall

The talking head on the television said on Monday that every inch of snow falling in New York costs the city $12 million. Being the inquiring mind that I am, I went out into this luxury snowfall—the biggest of the year—to spit in the face of winter and curse all those crazy geese I saw flying north from my bedroom window, mocking me with the promise of spring. The beauty of the NYC snowfall is that the subways, being the underground realm of the mole people, aren't really affected--unless you count 2005, when a homeless person lit a fire in a subway station that got out of control and caused a track fire that killed the main switchboard of the C line. Mind you, this switchboard had been in use since the line opened in the 1930s. The C was out of commission for a year. So other than the occasional catastrophic roaring track fire, subways are a good way to get around in inclement weather.
I’m pleased to report that it was a fine thumping snowstorm, though there were an abnormal amount of Germans out and about taking pictures in Central Park. Didn't quite know what to make of this, but they did take my picture for me and didn't run off with my camera. For only the second time this season, I had opportunity to wear my enormous fur coat that makes me look like Bigfoot with a bad case of water retention. Special thanks to my good friend Yarrow’s grandmother for not giving a damn about those
animal rights pansies. In fact, special thanks to all of the dead grandmothers whose coats kept me warm this winter.
On a related note, please clean the old tissues out of your pockets before you pass clothes along to friends, loved ones, and
Beacon’s Closet.
Often people wonder if this is my first winter, me being from Hawaii and all. It’s not—I was in Spokane, WA for the winters of ’93-’94 and ’95-’96—and furthermore, Hawaii does have seasons. In the winter, snow falls on the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, the waves on the North Shore of Oahu get huge, and the ocean temperature drops so much your nipples feel like they’re going to drop off.
But I doubt any of those phenomena cost $12 million.
Click here to see my Facebook photos of the snowscapes of New York City.

The Phantom JMZ

I once saw an older man in a gray suit execute a flying karate kick at a closing subway door on the A/C line at Broadway-Nassau. He didn’t make it, but if he had, I’d’ve cheered for him. Not because it was an impressive move to pull off in a suit and tie—and it was the best urban ninja move I’ve ever seen below street level—but because he would have escaped the Broadway-Nassau station in style. I never get to end my adventures there with karate kicks and applause. Usually I just end up crying.
I get off the train here on the lowest level, the A/C line and think, okay, going to transfer to the JMZ. Follow the signs.
The nearest staircase leads up and has a helpful sign: Exit (but I don’t want that, I’ve already paid and I’m only halfway to my destination), 4, 5 (God forbid, the line in New York City most in need of those
pushers you see cramming people onto the trains in Japan) and JMZ (train to Chinatown and I hope I haven’t missed the lion dancers, because I’m broke and unemployed and need to feed a dollar to the giant sequined mask so I can get my luck for 2009).
Okay, so I walk up the stairs. Still underground. No problem, here’s another sign: JMZ to Metropolitan, and an arrow indicating a U-turn. Do I want to go to Metropolitan? Or to I want to go to—turn around—JMZ to Jamaica? Metropolitan or Jamaica? What about Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Uptown, or Downtown? Every other line has these concrete geographical categories that let you know where you’re going and where you’ll end up, but I’m in the metropolitan area already and I don’t need to go to Jamaica because I’m going to spend my last bit of cash on the Chinese lion and there won’t be any leftover for marijuana.
I pick Jamaica. Isn’t there a Jamaica in Queens? Queens is north of me, unless the JMZ doubles back through Brooklyn first, but I’m already at the very end of Manhattan, so I’ll know within a couple of stops if I’m not going in the right direction.
Follow the arrow to JMZ-Jamaica. I haven’t taken a turn, I must be walking directly over the A/C line, so why does the arrow now point down a staircase? Didn’t I just pop up from there? Sure enough, I go down the stairs and the signs on either side say stuff like, C to Euclid except late nights. Yeah, no shit Sherlock, I take the C to Euclid every day except late nights, I don’t need to go there yet, I’ve got to get to Chinatown and get my good luck. Where’s my JMZ sign?
Here it is—JMZ, up another staircase. Didn’t I just walk down from the upper level? Why did I need to take the stairs to get from one end of the corridor to the other? Doesn’t matter, I’m sure there will be a corner to turn at the top and I will be walking perpendicular or diagonal to the A/C line and then I’ll be in business.
Follow the arrow up the stairs, JMZ. But what happened to Jamaica? I don’t want to end up on the Metropolitan side, unless I do, in which case should I take a U-turn like the other sign said? Look, I can turn around at the top of this staircase and still see that first—or was it second?—sign. Again, why did I need to go down? No matter, now I’m walking this way, whichever way this is, and I’m following the arrow to the Exit, 4,5 Uptown, JMZ. I don’t want to go uptown on the 4,5, I’ve been on that line and I know that I can’t get to the JMZ from there. There aren’t even any signs to the JMZ once I’ve crossed over into 4,5 territory, because that’s the Upper East Side line and probably pretends it doesn’t have anything in common with the Chinatown line. So onward with the arrow, ignoring the left fork in the hallway that goes to the 4,5. This must lead to the JMZ.
Nope, just another staircase. This one has an iron gate in front of it. Dead end.
Fuck it, then, I’m going in the Metropolitan direction. At least I can get off at the next stop and transfer in the right direction, unless Metropolitan is the right direction, in which case I just wasted five minutes trying to find the way to a subway line that is blocked off and doesn’t go where I want it to anyway.
Deep breath. Don’t go down the stairs to the A/C again, that’s just what they want you to do. There’s nothing down there but the A/C and staircases going up, and you’re up already. Going away from the 4,5 now. That’s a good sign. JMZ, that’s a better sign. Points to another staircase to the A/C—don’t get sucked in, it’s a lie. See, here’s a staircase going up, haven’t seen one of these yet, I must be getting closer. Spring in the step now, lion dancers here I come!
Top of the stairs: another sign: JMZ. U-turn arrow, back the way I came.
No. I say, No! to you, you stupid fucking sign. I do not take a U-turn! I just came from that direction. You can’t tell me to go back! YOU take a U-turn if you’re so goddamn certain about it!
Now I’m starting to cry. I’ve got to get to Chinatown! I need to feed my dollar to the lion or else I’m not going to have good luck again until the next New Year! And if I don’t have good luck I’m never going to find my way to the right subway line and I may as well just lick the third rail now and give the
mole people that live in the tunnels a feast of electrified human flesh like they do in Tibetan sky burials where the dead are carved up and fed to the vultures.
Should I cry though? It’s embarrassing to cry in public. I never did it before I moved to New York, but nobody gives a crap if you cry in public here, so why not? One time I was on the subway and a woman had an asthma attack. She starting grabbing and groping people around her for help, unable to breathe or speak, and everyone, even the other women, shoved her away and made those little “Ugh!” noises you make when you pull clods of wet hair out of the bathtub. If no one stops for life-threatening dangers, they won’t stop for a crying woman who can’t find the JMZ.
There are always musicians playing at the Broadway-Nassau station. I think it’s just bands that have gotten lost and decide to spend the rest of their lives down here rather than waste the $2 they paid to get down here to ride trains that don’t exist and follow signs that lead you nowhere.
Just a theory.
I didn’t make it to Chinatown in time for the lion dancers. I bought a hot dog instead.