Saturday, September 3, 2011

A New Chapter

Dearest blog followers:

You may have noticed that I haven't been posting many new adventures of late.  I have a good reason for it, though!  I've been working hard (along with my fabulous friends Kimberly Yates, Yu Lew, Andrea Steiner, and Elizabeth Foster) to turn this blog into a web series.  It'll be the same format - I do stuff around the city and tell you about it - but you'll get to watch all of my adventures in short segments on Youtube.  So . . . stay tuned for the first two episodes of . . . Lookadoo's Twenty Dollar New York!  (

Thanks for following!

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Legs and a Twenty

Last week, I issued myself a little challenge.  I gave myself three hours, a twenty dollar bill, and just my legs with which to travel myself to a little adventure in New York.  I took off my imaginary blinders, threw away my agenda, turned off my phone, and set off to enjoy the presence of my own company for an afternoon. It was a sunny Saturday when I exited the stage door of the Sondheim Theatre on 43rd street and I decided I had absolutely nothing and practically everything to do.

First things first: where to go?  I turned toward 6th Ave (so as to avoid the tourists on 7th) and lightheartedly joined the sea of commuters and tourists headed uptown.  Like a moth to a flame, I was instantly drawn toward the oasis of green about ten blocks in front of me.  Peeking through the jungle of concrete and steel that surrounded me was the center of New York photosynthetic resuscitation that is Central Park.  It was, forgive the pun, a breath of fresh air.  I had made my decision.  I would attempt to get lost and un-lost in Central Park (which was surprisingly easy even though I spent months traversing its paths while training for the marathon).  I passed the old stone gates at Central Park and 6th avenue and commenced my adventure.

I strolled idly past families pushing strollers, children with painted faces, and college students playing frisbee and tried to imagine what it would be like to have an entire Saturday off.  Before I could delve too far into my somber reverie, I spied the one thing that could remedy even the worst of my melancholy moods - cotton candy.  A small man in front of me held a gargantuan cloud of pink, blue, and yellow spun sugar above his head.  If it had been balloons, he would have floated away to Jersey.  I surrendered the first two of my twenty dollars, chose the happiest color (pink), and walked contentedly toward what I imagined was north.  With the first few bites, the sky was brighter, the air was cooler, and I felt ready to continue on my adventure.  Suddenly, in front of me was a little cottage-like structure that I had never before encountered and I toted my cotton candy up the walk, a grown-up Gretel without her Hansel.  Turns out, the building housed a dairy in the nineteenth century and was now an adorable little visitor center for the park.  I walked through and leisurely read the signs.  Who knew that, well, first of all, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858, and that when the did, they designated the area south of 65th street the "Children's District"?  I sure didn't.  Now the close proximity of the chess area, carousel, zoo, and the ballfields all made a little more sense.

I continued my stroll down a hill behind the dairy and ran smack dab into The Mall, a long tree-lined stretch of statues, performance artists, and, well, the obligatory greenery.  I decided to head down the lane and read the statue inscriptions as I passed.  Turns out, they're mostly literary folks, so I read, walked, and spent some quality time with the likes of Shakespeare, Hans Christian Anderson, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns, and many other famous folks that were immortalized in bronze.  At the end of the mall, the foliage opened up to the gorgeous entrance to Bethesda Terrace, the pond behind it, and the happy people paddling around in the sunshine.  Interestingly enough, I had never taken the time to walk down the stairs and under the gorgeous sandstone structure.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  AND to make the stunning view on a perfect afternoon even better, there was a wedding party taking photographs in front of the fountain, a food truck with chipotle grilled cheese sandwiches, a cool breeze, and a picnic table that was calling my name.  I took a load off and spent nine of my remaining eighteen bones on a snack with which to watch the young lovers and their overheated wedding party.  After finishing my snack, I walked down to the pond, sat at the waters edge, and watched the turtles swim and frolic around each other in the albeit oily and polluted water.  I took deep breaths and enjoyed a rare taste of what seemed to be the ennuyeux of another age.

Eventually, I peeled myself off the rock and headed toward what I thought was downtown-ish, but the minute I knew my exact location, I took a sharp right and intentionally got myself lost again.  The path soon opened to a quiet little body of water lined by benches with a perfect view of the oddly juxtaposed perennials and skyscrapers.  I found an empty bench, opened one of this month's book club books (Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises), and enjoyed a half hour of repose and intermittent entertainment by the clueless tourists that passed.

I figured it was about time to head back downtown, so I looked up, found the nearest large man-made structure, and headed towards it.  After a short bit, I found myself on the west edge of the park right about 72nd street.  I was back on the grid.  It felt as if I had just experienced a little fairy tale of my own making.  I found a clock and realized that it had only been about two hours, but I felt completely refreshed, rejuvenated, and a little more informed on New York's history and activity-filled backyard.

A New York Book Signing

On a recent Saturday night, I joined my fabulous agent, Carolina, in attending a book signing at a trendy bar in Manhattan. Now, previous to this evening, the only book signing I had attended was one where I was the designated signer; a quiet, civilized affair in a back room at Barnes and Noble. This new book signing was a whole other well of ink. Apparently, when you're a famous author whose best-selling book is about to be made into a major motion picture, your shindigs are slightly more elaborate. It also doesn't hurt if your chosen literary genre is chick lit. Who knew.

Here's the skinny: Emily Griffin (of Something Borrowed fame) threw a huge shindig at a glossy little chic locale called Pranna to celebrate the release of her fifth book, The Heart of the Matter. Also on the author's upcoming publicity agenda was the soon-to-be-released film based on her first novel, Something Borrowed, which will star Ginnifer Goodwin and Kate Hudson.  If that wasn't enough excitement for the evening, at 10pm, the ladies-only signing was to open up to admit everybody's single male friends (as if anybody has THOSE in this city), a deejay was to start spinning (do the whipper snappers still use the term "spinning"?), and all the single ladies would live happily ever after in wedded bliss.  And buy Emily Griffin's books.  Yeah . . .  You see where I'm going with this.

Now, good news first.  I truly believe that any experience, no matter how crazy or lame or boring or stressful it is, can be overcome and even made fabulous by good company.  Case in point: running a marathon (see my blog about the adventure).  Long story short, I had a great time doing the marathon because of my fun running buddy.  The same is true of Ms. Griffin's book signing.  Carolina invited her friends to join us at Pranna for some book signing fun.  There wasn't much book signing going on as far as we knew, but the company definitely made the evening worthwhile.

Now, the bad news.  I'll start with the promotional materials.  On Emily Griffin's website, the invitation to the shindig that says things like, "A girls' night out, matchmaking, and book signing event", "Meet Emily's most eligible bachelor friends", and "VIP gift bags to the first 100 girls who purchase Heart of the Matter".  Anybody see something WRONG with these blurbs?  I looked around the packed bar.  I did not see a GIRL anywhere.  I saw smart-looking, well-dressed professional and, I'm assuming, upwardly mobile New York women.  I saw no girls anywhere.  And as for Emily's eligible bachelors?  (I looked at the pics online.)  Most of these women could do so much better.

In spite of the lame invitation, we smooshed into the crowded bar and joined a line to purchase Emily's new book.  The line, by the way, was moving NOWHERE.  Supposedly, there were passed appetizers with which to bide our time, but only one of the four of us managed to snag a piece of unimaginative chicken before the server was swallowed up into the undulating high-pitched mass of black cocktail dresses and perfectly coiffed hair.  As we chatted, we slowly inched closer and closer to the books-for-purchase table as we were jostled side to side by women squeezing their Physique 57ed bodies toward the bar for one of the assortment of pink cocktails that were being promoted.  Again, I'm assuming if it were a male author and a bring-your-eligible-single-women-friends shindig, the cocktails would not be pink.  But, obviously, that kind of event practically never happens.  Don't get me wrong, I will drink a pink cocktail if someone gives it to me.  But really?  I prefer a brown one.

Finally, we reached the table and a few of us purchased the book and collected the "VIP goodie bag".  Then, we looked for the "I-have-purchased-the-book-now-I-want-the-dang-author-to-sign-it" line.  It was, literally, about twice as long as the first line.  At this point, I gave up.  Well, my feet did, anyway.  I apologized to Carolina and her friends for my crassness, made a beeline for the restroom, and swapped my patent leather LaDuca design collection Kill Bill pumps for my ratty gym sneakers.  It was fashion suicide in a bar full of trendy New York women, but I didn't care.  My dogs were barking.  (I know, I'm cheesy).  When I got to the top of the stairs, I couldn't be sure, but my friends seemed to be even further from the front of the line than before.  Oy.  We stood and chatted, looked around, chatted some more, and passed another hour in virtually the same spot.

Eventually, some announcements were made (some kind of raffle) and there was a flurry of pictures and activity toward the front of the bar.  Not like we could see what was happening through the jungle of Diane Von Furstenburg, but apparently, something was happening.  I wasn't too excited about it, but I was slightly curious (Carolina told me later that Hilary Swank was in attendance - she's in the Something Borrowed flick, so maybe that was it).  Oh well.  I guessed I'd read about it the next day in Star magazine (not like I read that, ahem).  We stood for a little while longer and Carolina looked at me, "Okay, I'm done".  I sighed in relief, "Ugggh.  Me, too".  I wanted out.  Somehow, the scene was beginning to depress me.  I didn't know why, but in the middle of the snowballing party atmosphere, I was getting a little sad.  As we squeezed our way toward the door, I saw the first of the "eligible bachelors" arriving.  Yeah.  Not so much.  I said goodbye, grabbed a cab toward New Jersey, and pondered my feelings about the whole shindig.

I had some sort of itchy feeling about the whole atmosphere.  First off, I despised the promotional verbage because I HATE being called a girl.  Girls' night out.  Girls just want to have fun.  Valley girl.  "I'm a pretty girl, mama."  We are WOMEN, women.  If you are over 18, and I was pretty sure EVERYONE in that room was, you are a woman in my book.  Somehow, I find the wide use of the term slightly degrading to our sex.  If we call ourselves "girls" while men never call themselves "boys", what does that say about our continual fight for equality?  Shouldn't we make it easier on ourselves and step up to the grown-ups table?  Secondly, I was slightly depressed by all of the seemingly fabulous single women that surrounded me at the signing/matchmaking party.  If you didn't know, fabulous reader, single women outnumber single men in New York City by over 210,000.  That's pretty shitty odds if I do say so myself.  And this party was a prime example of the marriage crisis we have in Manhattan.  Not that I'm saying that New York women need to get married (trust me, that's a whole other blog), but if they want to, folks, the pickings are slim.  And the women are brilliant.  Well, the ones I met that evening were, anyway.  I guessed that was what bothered me about the shindig.  Well, that and I NEVER even SAW the author's face.  Seriously, that place was that packed.  Not that I'm a big chick lit fan (some would argue that Griffin is not chick lit, but by the attendance at the party, I would disagree), but I would have liked to at least see the author in the flesh.  Alas, no.  The party was 0 for 2 in my book.

I pensively rode home to Jersey and thanked my lucky stars for 1) buddies that can make any experience bearable and 2) the fact that I'm not single.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dhoonya Dance Bollywood Class

Today, my friend Brittany and I went to Chelsea studios to sample our first Bollywood dance class. For those of you that have been under a rock, Bollywood refers to the Hindi language film industry and is a slang term that comes from the joining of Hollywood and Bombay. Bollywood, largely based in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), is the largest film producer in India and is pretty huge throughout the world as well. Most Bollywood films are musicals and involve beautifully intricate song and dance sequences that are woven throughout the script. The genre has recently become more and more popular in America with the success of Slumdog Millionaire and Andrew Lloyd Weber's Bombay Dreams (not to mention So You Think You Can Dance, but I may be the only person that is a devoted watcher of that). Anyway, when Brittany received a "Groupon" ( for a half price class, we decided to check it out. 

Chelsea studios, to most New York actors, generally reeks of sweaty feet and desperation. A large number of auditions take place in those numerous studios on 26th street and the hallways are usually lined in stretching scantily clad dancers, pacing buzzing singers, and actors talking to themselves. We entered around 5:45pm and were pleasantly surprised that all the crazies had gone home for the evening and the place was veritably quiet. We signed up at the door (it was assumed that we had already paid and nobody checked anyway) and entered the large mirrored studio. I looked around as the students filed in. There was something fishy about the student composition of this dance class. After a few minutes, I realized what it was. There were NO dancers in it. Now, I've been dancing since I could walk, so I can spot a dancer (or former dancer, for that matter) from a mile away. And there were none (other than myself and Brittany) in the studio. There were about forty women and a few potential candidates for next season's Biggest Loser, but no dancers. This class was going to be interesting.

Our beautiful and petite teacher walked to the front of the class and introduced herself. The class we took was entitled Bolly Basics and is recommended to all newcomers to Bollywood dance. Priya, our teacher, explained that we would do a quick warm-up and then would learn an entire dance by the end of the class. She encouraged us to ask questions, leave the room and come back, and participate as much as we desired. She even smiled and said that we were welcome to chat while we danced if we wanted. Okay, I got it, she wanted us to have fun. Then she turned on some Indian club-like music with a driving beat and started with a step touch. We tried various easy movements during the warm-up, mostly dance steps with specific hand movements, but it was at least a little fun. Priya was funny and charming and made everyone young, old, big, and small in the room feel comfortable, "Feel free to add hips and shoulders to any movements if you want. In Bollywood, the more hips and shoulders, the better!" She explained that many of the steps we were learning were derived from classical Indian dances that were danced around harvest time, so many looked like harvesting plants or stamping soil, etc. I realized that there was much more to this Indian dance stuff than met the eye. Priya, obviously, knew much more than she was letting on, but managed to just hint at details of the dance and focused more on the having fun part. It helped that the technique of this genre of dance lent itself to being easily danced by a lay person. There were no pointed toes, piroettes, or high legs, just bouncing, hip shaking, and expressive hands. I could see where a dancer advanced in this technique could do much more than we were attempting in the class, but the movement was easy enough for most people to catch on and interesting enough to keep me engaged for an hour. Our routine (which we did, in fact, finish before the end of class) was politely sexy and actually a bit of an oblique workout. Priya translated the words of the song as we danced and laughed as we did a "throwing heart" movement, "women are always breaking men's hearts in Bollywood dance". The ladies in the room giggled and threw their imaginary mens' hearts to the floor with an arm flick and a hip shake. 

We finished our dance and filed out of the room to the changing room where I heard murmurs of "that was fun" and "where's the next class?". I listened and realized I had enjoyed my introduction to Bollywood dance, but maybe not as much as the non-dancers. I planned to take a more advanced level the next time, but it's a rare and wonderful woman that up and decides to take an Indian dance class instead of just putting in an hour on the treadmill or the elliptical. I don't know if I were not a dancer if I would have the motivation to do so, but I was surrounded by women who did. I was inspired by their courage. Priya suggested some favorite Bollywood films to rent while a woman in her late fifties with dreadlocks put on her Birkenstocks (with socks!) and talked about the dance steps with a thin, hunched mousy looking girl of about twenty. We had all shared a lovely experience. It wasn't hard, it wasn't complex, and I will definitely not be adding Indian dance as a special skill on my resume. That wasn't the point. I had a fun time. That was.

16 Handles

If ever you are having a bad day and need a place to go to eat your feelings, it's worth a trip to the east village to visit a little frozen yogurt shop called 16 Handles. My friend Rachel offered to escort me to this oasis of happiness yesterday and while I wasn't a fan of going south of 14th street, I would now go back every day if I could. It's a beautiful thing, this yogurt shop. Here's why.

16 Handles is on second avenue and 10th Street right in the tattooed Bohemian heart of NYU. I met Rachel (and Retta, her soon-to-be-born baby girl) at a coffee shop on 6th street and second avenue and we walked past the wafting Patchouli and piercing pagodas of Saint Mark's Street up to the glistening, colorful beacon of light called 16 Handles. The decor of the shop was much like any Pinkberry or Red Mango - minimalistic and really bright - but it seemed out of place amongst the dark, grungy bars and dusty bong shops of the east village. I was drawn towards it like Patrick Swayze in the last few minutes of Ghost, sucked toward a frozen yogurt heaven. We walked through the door and I immediately saw what all the fuss was about. Rachel explained that the thing that distinguishes this shop from the rest was that its name was not solely a reference to a well-known 80's film, but to 16 different flavors of frozen yogurt. And you get to mix your own! We chose a cup (large) and started pulling the handles to dispense the creamy goodness. I immediately became ten-year-old Michelle at the best part of the Golden Corral salad bar - the "soft serve" station. I mixed and matched like I was making a slurpee at the 7-11. In honor of research, I reasoned, it would only be prudent to sample as many flavors as possible. Right? I squeezed out cookies and cream, dulce de leche, pomegranate tart, New York cheesecake, peanut butter, and pistachio. As expertly smooshed more cheesecake yogurt into my cup, I happened to notice the nutrition facts that were prominently posted next to the handles. Not bad. 25 calories and 0 grams of fat per ounce. The nutrition facts varied from flavor to flavor, but they were all relatively healthy (well, as healthy as frozen yogurt can get). I finished my multicolored masterpiece and proudly showed my work to Rachel. "Ooh, nice. No toppings?", she queried. Toppings? I really was in heaven.

I scooted down the hall of handles towards the massive topping bar. Everything you could ever put on ice cream was displayed in a panorama of sweetness. Hot fudge, caramel, sprinkles, coconut, fruity pebbles, cookie dough, yogurt covered raisins, and at least eight types of crumbled candy bars beckoned me from the bar. I appreciated the selection, but only chose to scoop out cookie dough so as not to disrupt the flavor combination I had just created. Rachel and I walked to the front of the store where we met a cheerful young lad named Paul. He nodded knowingly at my excitement, "First time?", he asked. "And definitely not the last", I replied. As he weighed our treats, Rachel told me that she would treat me to my treat! Little did I know it would be a big treat. That will be $13.98. Oy. Thanks, Rach. I guess we had pumped more than a few ounces of frozen yogurt. We sat down and dug in. It was dreamy. MUCH better and significantly more like ice cream than that chemical-tasting Tasti-d'lite crap. We ate and ate. I must say that my favorite was the dulce de leche, but the pomegranate tart was an interesting and complex surprise. I looked up as a stunningly beautiful woman was paying Paul (heh, heh) for her yogurt. "I think I've seen her somewhere. Is she in movies?". Rachel shrugged and we continued shoveling. I looked up as the manicured woman's driver let her into the back seat of a slick black Escalade and walked around to the front seat to speed down second avenue. Well, I thought, if I were rich and famous and had a driver, I would do exactly the same thing. This stuff is good, people. Like, take-the-subway-south-of-14th-street-on-a-Sunday good.

We finished our treats, grabbed a couple frequent flier cards from Paul, and waddled out of the shop a little less rich, a little less skinny, and a lot happier than before. Thanks, Rachel. I'm so going back. Next time, though, I'll take the Escalade.