Saturday, December 27, 2014

On Manspreading and Subway Etiquette

The Smug Smugness of a Classic Manspreader

So, Manspreading. It is a scourge among subway riders in need of a place to sit. If you're a frequent subway rider, it's likely that you've already encountered this situation.

For those of you who don't know what it is, check here for a brief explanation. Check here for many very funny, but very real visual examples. It basically refers to people (almost always men), who spread their legs so far apart that they take up enough space to fit two or three people, while other people in need of a place to sit wish death upon them. Manspreading is basically just one of the many manifestations of douchebaggery, or jackassery; both of which go hand-in-hand.

Yes, I'm talking to you, mouth breathing frat-boy. And you, too, self-centered but not self-aware guy of any age or race. I don't care if you're the second coming of John Holmes or if you're Shane Diesel's doppelgänger, your junk is not big enough to warrant spreading out beyond the width of your shoulders.

Aside from the fact that Manspreading makes the culprit look like a complete jackass, it's mostly a big deal when there is a train full of people and there's nowhere else to sit; and those empty spaces are being taken up by the guy who thinks his balls deserve to breathe more than people standing need to sit. For people who've been walking or working all day, a seat on the train is treasured. Not that these idiots care.

For those of you who would like to avoid being one of these lowly, despised Manspreaders, here's a solution. A simple, definitive, easy to remember rule of thumb:

If the outside of your knees are in a position that is wider than your shoulders, YOU ARE MANSPREADING.

Although there are some guys who are legitimately so huge/wide that they take up the same space as two people, the simple rule of thumb above can still be applied to everyone. Since each person's shoulders will usually take up the most width when sitting down, keeping your knees at least parallel to your shoulders will ensure that you are not encroaching into seating areas that could be used by another person.

It's all about common courtesy. Easy, right? Apparently not so easy for Manspreaders. Let's all try to raise awareness among these dummies. They apparently are in desperate need of some etiquette training, empathy training, not mention a few IQ points.

Thankfully, the MTA in New York City is attempting to address the problem.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Brooklyn Schmooklyn (Bushwick Is Still Shitty)

According to several articles I've read over the past several months, including this one, "Brooklyn is so over." I find it interesting that this opinion is circulating around some parts of the interwebs these days. Not because the opinion is interesting, per se, but because this is not a new opinion to me.

Basically, I've never thought Brooklyn was all that great. Well, perhaps it's better than the Bronx or Staten Island, but not great enough to want to live there. Not, like, on purpose. 

Sure, some parts of Brooklyn are very charming. Neighborhoods like Park Slope, Prospect Heights, DUMBO, Cobble Hill or Brooklyn Heights have their appeal. Greenwood Cemetery is absolutely beautiful. I'd probably enjoy living in one of those neighborhoods if I ever want to live in a place that offers Manhattan rental rates without the Manhattan appeal.

Even Williamsburg elicits a malaise-filled, "Meh" out of me. Call it 'The Burg' or 'Billysburg' or whatever other clever moniker people are inventing at the moment. I still think it's overrated. Despite the stunning beauty in some parts of Brooklyn, there's simply too much of a suburban vibe there for me; I came to New York City, in large part, to escape from all things remotely suburban.

For me, being in Manhattan often gives me a jolt of adrenalized blood that rushes through my veins like a volcanic eruption of life exploding out of a newly ignited, defibrillated heart. Brooklyn (specifically BUSHWICK) gives me a feeling much like the L-tryptophan induced food coma and drool-fest that I experience after Thanksgiving dinner; but instead of being on the couch at mom and dad's house, I'm often surrounded by black and brown snow in a dirty, smelly, rat infested back alley next to a garbage bin with a Puerto Rican flag over it, while reggaeton music is blaring in my ears at full blast, poisoning my soul every second that it's playing.

I will say this, though: The sunsets looking into Manhattan from Brooklyn Bridge Park or Brooklyn Bridge can be incredibly beautiful.

The people who seem to love Brooklyn the most seem to be either: first and foremost, people with lots of money in nice neighborhoods; moms who find it comforting to see baby-strollers everywhere in Park Slope; twenty-somethings living in whatever part of Brooklyn is still relatively cheap and gritty (i.e. crappy); hipsters pretending to be whatever the hipster crowd is pretending to be at this moment (we used to call them "posers" in the 80s and 90s, and yes, they're still in Brooklyn); or born-and-bred locals who are trying to hold on to the neighborhood's past identity--despite the influx of hipsters, white yuppie transplants, and gentrifiers--instead of moving to neighborhoods east or north of where they live.

As for myself, I live in a neighborhood of Brooklyn known to some people as Hell. Maybe you've heard of it. It's called Bushwick.

For the majority of 2013 and 2014, I spent most of my time in Bushwick, because this is where the girl who would eventually become my fiancé lives. And since she is currently on a lease in her apartment until May 2015, I had no choice but to move to Brooklyn if I wanted to live with her. I had to make a tough decision to move there, but I ultimately decided that I loved her much more than I disliked having to live in Bushwick.

For the record, I'm no stranger to bad/ugly neighborhoods. I grew up in some crappy looking, sketchy neighborhoods as a kid; but Bushwick takes the top prize for bullshit neighborhoods. I've never disliked living anywhere as much as I dislike living in Bushwick.

If I made a list of things that suck, ranked from most crappy to least crappy, I would put "Living in Bushwick" pretty far up the list. Like, just below, "Being engulfed in flames."

Still wondering why I dislike Bushwick so much? I'll tell you. Oh Bushwick, where to begin.

Well, for starters, it's uh, gritty. There's that word again.


People love to use that word instead of shitty, but there are no buzzwords that make it anything other than the shitty neighborhood that it is. There's really no nice way put it.

(1) It's dirty. It makes other dirty parts of New York City look clean and sanitary. (2) It's ugly. (3) It smells bad. (4) There's garbage everywhere. (5) No one gives a damn about keeping the neighborhood clean. (6) It's sketchy. (7) The neighborhood is full of obnoxiously loud young guys who drive cars with obnoxiously loud mufflers that have obnoxiously loud stereo systems that they play at full bast at all hours. All of these things are prevalent in all directions within at least a 5 block radius of where I live in Bushwick.

Bushwick has a large population of people from various hispanic cultures. Yet, the irony is that (8) as of 2014, finding decent hispanic food anywhere in the neighborhood seems nearly impossible. The one place I thought might be good is this little Cuban Sandwich shop on Myrtle Avenue, but it's run by a couple of young caucasian dudes who apparently have no idea what a good, authentic Cuban sandwich tastes like (I grew up eating authentic Cuban and Dominican food in Miami).

There are many, many more unflattering things that I can point out, but I'm guessing you can see where I'm going with this.

I'm not sure exactly what it is that people who are trying to make Bushwick sound like the next up-and-coming neighborhood really see in it. I suspect they're trying to convince themselves that it was a good choice to move there. I can't imagine any other reason why I would ever hear anything positive about living in Bushwick.

So if you're over 30 years-old, have reasonably high to medium standards, and are considering Bushwick as a place to live, let me save you from the inevitable cognitive dissonance you'll experience in trying to convince yourself that you're glad you moved to Bushwick: it sucks.

Clearly this is all just my opinion, but it's an honest one. Try not to hate me for it if you love Bushwick or Brooklyn in general. I know there are many of you out there.

It's just that I like nice things.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Where I Am Now

"If ever there were a time that I need to 'go for it' and take chances, that time is now."

Famous last words.

Nevertheless, that's the mindset I'm clinging to right now. Not by nature or because of some kind of indomitable optimism, but by self-imposed will. I think that I'm simply determined to not let my fear get the best of me. Fear of the unknown, fear of change, fear of taking risks. In many ways, it scares the crap out of me to leave everything I know and move to a huge city with few real friends or family.

I am aware of the fact that I romanticize New York City, as if it were some kind of shangri-la or heaven on earth. It isn't. I know this. Yet, I refuse to let go of the wide-eyed awe and wonder that I've had for the city since I was three-years-old. Any doubts that New York City is not a perfect urban utopia can easily be removed by spending a lot of time on Bowery during weekends. In my experience, Bowery is a mecca for more douchebaggery than I ever thought could take place within one mile north and south of East Houston Street.

If experiencing that a few times doesn't convince you, spend a lot of time in Bushwick during the winter; when the streets and sidewalks are separated by four-foot high mounds of dirty black snow and garbage for what seems like the length every city block. This, and the fact that there are enough swarthy silhouettes and dubious characters walking nearby to ensure that you're almost certain you'll be mugged at some point in the very near future, should do it.

These realities sometimes make it difficult for me to tell if my opinions about New York City are a genuine representation of my intrinsic perceptions, or if they're a romanticized creation of my own imagination.  I've wanted to live and experience life in New York City for so long that it feels like I'd be betraying myself if I didn't jump on the opportunity to actually become a New Yorker. I'm not a stubborn person by nature, but I am about this for some reason.

Now that I live here, I have to ask myself, "Am I simply creating this narrative in my mind of where I want my life to go?" As if my feelings about the city might be the results of a fictional story that my subconscious mind has created, and my life is the means by which I am trying to create a manifestation of this fictional story. I sometimes wonder.

In any case, enough of that for now. Here are a few things that have taken place in my life, for those interested in reading. To recap, I stopped actively looking for employment in New York City for over a year. I settled into life in a new neighborhood, one that is very walkable, with nearly everything I could need close by. I've lived close to everything great that Fort Lauderdale (FL) has to offer, residing about a mile from the beach. The antithesis of the suburbs. And, my rent has been super cheap. I've been quite content with living in Fort Lauderdale for a long time since moving closer to the beach.

Yet, life is constantly happening around us. The tide sometimes brings new things to our shores. Sometimes they're good things, sometimes they aren't. In my case, the tide brought me someone to love. In August of 2014, I began chatting online with a girl who lives in Brooklyn. At first, we both thought nothing would come of our conversations because of the physical distance between us. But our relationship took an unexpected turn for the better without either of us realizing that it would happen.

The more we got to know each other, the more we realized how much of a great match for each other we are. Our connection grew quickly. Our personalities fit each other perfectly and we see the world in much the same way. Our thoughts and feelings are so in tune, it's as if we've known each other our whole lives. After a few weeks, we couldn't resist meeting in person. It felt right, and we felt compelled to spend quality face-time together.

So I booked a trip to New York City for September 11th, 2013. I booked a hotel for the first night, but she insisted I stay with her for the remainder of the trip, which I was thrilled about. Our first date was at Booker and Dax, which is a great bar that is part of several Momofuku brand locations. It's an amazing place. They use new techniques and technologies to rethink and create new versions of classic drinks.

Despite some initial nervousness, which was mutual, we both settled in and had a great night. We really hit it off and connected that night. Things went so well, we were holding hands by the time we left, and I invited her to stay with me instead of taking the train home. We both wanted to spend more time together. I could tell by her facial expressions and body language that she was happy and comfortable, and the feeling was mutual. She spent the night and we simply went to sleep basically wrapped around each other. It felt so natural, as if we had been a couple already for years. The next day, we both knew that we wanted to be together. It was that simple. We just knew.

Fast-forward a few months and several extended visits. I stayed with her for two weeks every month, on average. By the time December came around, we decided we simply couldn't live without each other. So, we made a plan. Either she would sublet her room for the remainder of her lease and come live with me in Florida, or I would move to New York City and live with her.

I took the initiative. I had started sharing the details of my new relationship with my boss, with whom I have a very good relationship, from the beginning. Surely, my boss had begun to see the writing on the wall and where things were going after a few months. Fortunately, the job I have is one that can be done while working from home, and I eventually requested to work from on a home full-time basis, so that I could relocate to New York City and live with my girlfriend.

After several anxious weeks of waiting for the approval from the powers that be, I got the news. It was approved. I immediately called my girlfriend with excitement to tell her the news. "Guess what?" I said. "I'M MOVING TO NEW YORK CITY!" It seemed like such a surreal thing to say. Despite hearing the news, I still didn't want to get ahead of myself. "I'll get excited when it actually happens" I told myself.

In the months that have passed between then and now, we thought it might be nice for her to get away from the bitter New York City winter this year, so she came to Florida for a few days. But I had a surprise for her. I bought an engagement ring, and decided to propose marriage. We had discussed it many times over the past few months, and I already knew we both wanted that. It feels right. It feels like we belong together. So, I took her to the beach and we brought a bottle of wine. A nice, quiet evening of good conversation with the sound of the ocean in our ears and the sight of beautiful colors in the sky at dusk. I brought the ring, in case the moment was right.

The perfect moment did indeed present itself, and I asked her right there on the beach with ring in hand. And now we're engaged to be married.

At this point, I'm waiting for the announcement from work on a date to move, which I'm expecting in mid-April.

All of that said, it looks like I will finally be a New Yorker sometime in May, 2014. I'm happy and excited, nervous and scared, all at the same time. This will be a big undertaking with a lot of change for both of us. But it's a change I've been waiting for, for a long time. It's everything I've wanted and more. I never expected to have such a special relationship already in place upon arriving to the city that I've referred to as my Shangri-La for so long.

This is where it all gets real. This is where my romantic notions of New York City will be tested. I'm anticipating that it will be difficult for a while. New York City is a place where you really need to make good money to truly experience all the great things it has to offer, in my opinion. That doesn't mean there aren't many amazing experiences to be had there with a middle-class income; but working toward increasing my annual salary will only help ensure that we are able to fully enjoy all the great things the New York City has to offer.

In any case, no matter what happens, it's clear that the opportunity to live my dream has finally arrived. And I will do everything I can to make the best of it. I welcome the many experiences and adventures yet to come.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Where I've Been

The last time I posted here was in the summer of 2010. Nearly four years ago. My first thought is a very predictable, "Wow!"

Life seems to pass much faster than it did when I was young. I think it's because somewhere along the way, we realize there is an end game to all of this. I came to the realization that there is a limit to how much time we have, which has somehow embedded itself into my psyche at this point.

Yet, despite the fact that some people probably find the sober realization of mortality to be frightening or alarming, it has had the opposite effect on me lately. I am finding that my awareness of the limited time that we have in life has been forcing me to deal with, and ultimately overcome, fear. Instead of thinking something like, "I need to be careful and be thankful for what I already have," my actual thoughts are more like, "If ever there were a time that I need to 'go for it' and take chances, that time is now." Now more than ever, in fact.

But before I move forward with that thought, I want to go back to 2010 and fill in the gap between then and now, 2014.

At the time of my last few postings in 2010, the economy (and therefore hiring) was stagnant, still recovering from the financial meltdown of 2008, and was staying at its lowest point since the Great Recession started. I continued searching and applying for jobs in NYC throughout that entire year, and continued through the end of 2011.

The outcome of all that time and effort? Nada. A big, fat goose egg.

It was a reality that was both frustrating and discouraging. The truth is, I felt inconsolably melancholy. I hit rock bottom, actually; which eventually is what brought me to the crossroads between what I had been doing, and what I was going to do going forward. I was as low and depressed as I had ever been. So, I took a break from everything for a while and spent more time reflecting on my life, my state mind, and my general attitude.

I decided I couldn't go on the way that I had been for the last two years, or else I'd completely lose all heart. Either that, or have some kind of epic meltdown.

There were no other options but to change course, really. I wasn't about to live the rest of my life stuck in a cycle of misery and disappointment. By nature, I am a lover of life, love, and laughter. I needed to get that back. But I had no idea how to find my way back to the healthy, hopeful state of mind that I desired to be in; I just knew I wanted to be there. I needed to be there.

I languished for a while, devoid of ideas on how to get back a genuine zest for life. I began to think that it was an impossible task. Then one day something completely unanticipated happened.

A friend of mine, who is a musician, has the largest collection of music that I've ever seen. I went out on a few outings with him at the time, enjoying steak, libations, and several interesting conversations. He is also very good at fixing computer problems. So, one day I had him fix a few issues I was having with my laptop computer. He ended up fixing the problem, but more importantly, he basically decided to download his entire music collection to my iTunes music collection. Quite an awesome thing for him to do, right?

So, now that I had a ginormous music collection, I began listening to music more often. Mostly my favorites. But on one of those nights, I decided to spend the evening listening to a group that I had heard about endlessly for most of my life, but had never listened to much.

The Beatles.

I had never really learned to appreciate their music before my buddy decided to download everything they had ever recorded for me; but there I was, after a few hours, with that look on my face. The kind of look you might have had as a kid the moment you discovered soul-stirring music that awakened your consciousness to the uniquely powerful stimulus of music for the first time. If you've been a music lover since you were young, you know the look. As a kid, there's nothing quite like hearing newly discovered, great music that makes you feel inspired and alive.

I don't remember exactly which song it was that had initially snapped me out of my melancholic malaise. Maybe it was Ringo's light-hearted, whimsical singing on With a Little Help From My Friends. That was definitely one of them, for sure. I remember hearing that song and immediately pepping up quite a bit. I'm pretty sure I played it twenty times in a row. It felt good. Even though I was alone in the room, the song somehow made me feel like I was in a room full of friends who were sympathetic to my plight; friends who were all in the same boat and could relate to how I felt in that moment and knew what I needed to hear.

One thing that eventually occurred to me from listening to all those songs by The Beatles, was that if you just read the lyrics without actually hearing them perform the songs, many of the songs could have seemed really depressing. Yet, when the very same lyrics were sung along with the music they created to go along with them, the band was somehow able to make even the most unpropitious lyrics sound quite merry.

It was the first I could remember an occasion where I found that downtrodden or broken-hearted lyrics could actually sound joyful, as long as they were coming from Paul's, John's, George's, or Ringo's vocal chords. It was like magic. No, it was magic. It's as if there's a subliminal message, however unintentional, that somehow said, "Hey guys, look what I can do. I'm going to play a trick on you by cheering you up with a catchy song that has some pretty damn sad lyrics. You're welcome."

I mean, think about it. Better yet, go listen for yourself. Songs like Don't Bother Me, Hard Days Night, I Should Have Known Better, I'll Cry Instead, I'm a Loser, Help!, Ticket to Ride, Eleanor Rigby, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away, It's Only Love, and on and on. They all leave you happier somehow, yet the boys are singing about things that probably shouldn't leave you feeling that way.

To this day, whenever I hear the words, "She's got a ticket to ride, and she don't care," I pleasantly sing and hum along; as if we should all be happy that the girl who inspired the song probably had one of the Fab Four wrapped around her finger at the time, and couldn't care any less about that fact.

But I digress.

The point is that, to some extent, I credit The Beatles' music for lifting me up from the abyss and bringing my mind to a much happier and hopeful place back then.

I eventually found myself in such a good mental state that I decided to get back to living in the moment and enjoying everything that South Florida has to offer. I have the beach, good restaurants, wine cafes, music venues, art galleries and much more, all nearby. I live in the 'Downtown' area of Fort Lauderdale, one mile from the beach and near the culturally rich parts of the city. In fact, it's the only non-suburban part of the city that's actually very walkable. Everything I need is within walking distance. Everything. Including the beach.

So immersed myself in all things local. I began working out at the gym five days a week. I eventually lost thirty pounds. I fostered new friendships and nurtured old ones. I went out more, became more social. I took out school loans and went back to college. I went back to traveling, reading, going out on dates, eating out, going to wine tastings, and even went shopping for new form-fitting wardrobe.

I lived this way for the better part of two years, and have felt like I've found my way, once again. This is not to say that life has been perfect and without it challenges and disappointments, but to quote Sinatra, "That's life."

And so, I've come full circle with this post, back to writing about where I am now. Which is to say:

"If ever there were a time that I need to 'go for it' and take chances, that time is now."