Sunday, January 30, 2011

Shots Fired, Man Down.

The title of this post is not a metaphor.

I came home after midnight. Early by Saturday night standards. I was still feeling a bit of one of the beers I'd just had with an old friend I hadn't seen since visiting the city in April. I didn't have anything to do until around pm the next day, so I started doing something that I thought would be productive. That quickly devolved into finding ancient video games on my laptop's hard drive, transferred from a computer my parents had when I was in seventh grade, booting it up, turning the sound off, and turning on an audiobook, just like I would do at age 12. Similar to when I was that age, I kept playing just... a bit... more... until it struck me that it was now 2am. I switched the thing off, shuffled around a bit and went to bed, still listening to the audiobook. I switched off the lights at about 3am.

Every once in a while, in Chicago, once in Panama City, a couple times elsewhere, I'd be hanging out with some friends and we hear some sort of loud bang outside. We'd sort of look at each other and one person or other would wonder aloud "was that gunfire?" Usually we'd think it was possible, but it also could have been a firecracker or something.

This night was the first time I heard the noise and was certain I was hearing bullets. About a dozen rounds were fired, somewhere very close to my building by the sound of it. A man yelled something after the firing stopped. The sirens started up almost immediately, got ever so slightly louder over the next twenty or so seconds. They kept on for about a minute. Then nothing.

I woke up the next morning about half an hour before I'd set my alarm, 11 or so. I'm a late riser these days. So when someone rang my apartment's buzzer, my first thought was a rogue couchsurfer. My address obviously isn't publicly available, but I'd agreed to host a couple within the next month. Had one of them decided to show up unannounced, a couple days early? I slowly got up and dressed, and after the second buzz, didn't hear any more buzzing.

But as I rounded the corner, I heard voices outside my door. Very unusual, since my building's hallways are cramped and unheated. I peeked out and saw a man talking to the woman across the hall from me, who was telling him she'd been asleep most of last night. I went back, got shoes and opened my door.

Sure enough, it was a pair of police detectives who wanted to know what I knew about last night. I gave my statement. No, I wasn't sure exactly how many shots were fired, maybe ten or twelve. No, I couldn't make out what the man had yelled. The short man with a tiny mustache and classic felt overcoat took down my name, some notes I could read, and my phone number. He said I'd probably get a call in a few days asking about the voice, so if I could remember anything...

I asked him if he could tell me what had happened. He was a bit evasive. He said it would be all over the news. I expressed a little surprise, and he said it was probably on New York 1 right now. I told him I didn't own a TV. He said someone was shot by a cop. He shot at a cop and then the cop returned fire.

EDIT: Multiple friends and family have since emailed me the news stories found on the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Wall Street Journal. Sounds like the cops were undercover, pursuing someone they thought might be armed from the way he'd adjusted his waistband. He survived, and is being charged. The police's response is also under review, to see whether use of deadly force was justified (if it's not justified when you're being shot at, I'm not sure when it is).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Upgrades and Problems Solved

Pause for plug: Vote for my stories in the Tweet Me A Story Contest! Mine are the 13th and 21st on the list-- you'll see my name next to them. You can vote for as many as you want. I personally also like the one about Adam and Eve.

Look! A real bed! And it's comfy! It's been a long time coming but I am finally no longer sleeping on a leaky air mattress loaned by a childhood friend or a futon given to me by my girlfriend. I'm sleeping on my own bought and paid for, full size, combo foam and spring mattress. With a box spring. And nice memory foam mattress topper. And that goose-feather down comforter from my brother. Can you tell that I'm excited?

The bed was the very first item on a list I'd started making a few months back. Back then when I was basically unemployed, living off my savings, I stuck a piece of paper onto the wall next to my desk. On it, I started writing a list of all the things I wanted to buy that weren't essentials for living (like food, or replacement light bulbs for the ones going out around me). Now I've been able to turn this around and start buying those things and crossing them off the list.

This spending spree has been brought on by two good developments:

First, tutoring is finally starting to take off. I was worried that this month would be a lean one, but it was anything but. I subbed for three different students, took on a short-term one for a paper on Hamlet, and got a long term one who needs help in at least four subjects I'm qualified to tutor. So, for the first time ever, I have already earned enough to cover my bare-bones expenses for the month by tutoring alone.

Second, after a lot of phone calls, emails, house calls, tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth on all sides, I got ConEd, my electricity provider, to reevaluate their bill. Turns out their meter reader (and, incidentally, my super) misread my meter by 1,000 kWh. So instead of wanting nearly $300 for 34 days, they now want about $115 for 64 days. Much better.

That with a Christmas present of a little shopping excursion with my mom at Target, and I've got a bunch of new stuff for the apartment. A red microwave, extra sheets, and, here's the exciting one: a power drill. From the power drill comes more cool stuff. Like a couple extra square feet of counter and shelf space I just put into my kitchen using a couple $1.50 brackets and a discarded piece of a computer desk a friend of mine never figured out how to put together.

Oh, and now that I know how much electricity the heaters use, I'm turning the electric heaters on for a couple hours a day. It's not exactly toasty, but man does 65 F beat 55 F (or in my bedroom, 50 F).

There are a bunch of little things going with it. The futon I was sleeping on is now a couch, joining a chair I picked up for free in the living room. The my bedroom door has a rubber sweep on the bottom, insulating the temperature on either side. All but one of my overhead lights are now CFL bulbs. So the apartment is starting to look like a home.

Starting to. It still needs a lot of work. But now I think I can start putting together the little things that'll make that happen. Anybody in NYC want to help design and decorate my space? know, that's a crazy idea. I've been waiting to have any kind of house warming party until I had the place really decked out. But what about a open house design party? Get a bunch of drinks and snacks, invite  my friends to my empty apartment, leave a lot of pens and paper around, and let them write down their ideas. What they would do with the space.

Hmm... What do you think?

Monday, January 17, 2011

My Next Show: Jack in By The Light of A Match Festival

I have a new play! I've been given a hilarious role in the show "Jack", part of a one-act play festival. The company is Snorks and Piñs, and the festival is called "By The Light of a Match." It's a series of one acts based on a re-imagining of fairy tales.

In my case, it's a meeting of Jack of Jack and the beanstalk, and the third little pig. After they've each been convicted of murder (of the giant and big bad wolf, respectively). This epic meeting requires a narrator. The narrator is a beatnik. The beatnik is me. Snaps, please.

Seriously, it's a good part in a fun show. First read-through is tonight, first performance is Valentines Day, Feb 14th. More details coming soon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Garbage Night

It started out as a normal night at work. It ended with me stuck in a freight elevator full of a couple dozen bags of wet garbage, partially open to the outside 27 degree Fahrenheit air, wearing no layers over my shirt at 3 AM.

I got to 230 on Fifth, the club where I am a server for private parties, on time at 7:30. As of New Years Day, we were no longer independent contractors, paid flat rates for parties ($30/hr, minus the first hour of work) and were now punching in and out at a standard $20/hr. Not as drastic a pay decrease as it reads, when you do the math, but it's still a pay cut. Nobody's very happy.

The party I've been called in for is a sit-down dinner. Fortunately it's a set menu, so I don't have to take orders. Unfortunately I have three tables with ten seats each to take care of, one of which is the VIP organizers table. The fun part is that the 300-person party is from Paris. Hardly a single guest speaks English, and many of them seem completely confounded by our inability to speak French.

It wasn't a grueling party, but it wasn't all that easy, either. I was told I'd be working from 7:30pm until 1am. By 12:30am, I was good and ready for what's called "Family Meal" where the kitchen feeds us dinner if we've been working long enough. The food they'd been serving our guests looked great, and we usually got the unserved extras from their dinner.

1am rolled around, and the party only showed the slightest signs of slowing down.  I glanced in on the kitchen, and found a massive bowl of what looked like what the farming side of my family would have called Pig Slop. There were a lot of ingredients, none clearly recognizable or appealing. That was family dinner.

1:30am, and we were finally given the signal to break down the tables and chairs, around some of the scattered guests who were still there.

Now, this is usually the end of the night. What we are expected to do as servers is mostly serve. There's some setup involved occasionally. Every once in a while we help break down tables and chairs. Blow out candles. That sort of thing. They like our all-black uniforms to look clean so that's usually the end of it.

Not this night. 1:45am the men were pulled aside to do some more heavy lifting and the women were released. 2:00am our boss decided that we male servers would be taking out the garbage for the party. Something we've never had to do before. Several guys made it clear that they did not think this was part of their job description.

I stepped up while the others complained and did most of the initial work. Three of us went down with the main garbage guy, Sebastian, in the freight elevator to the basement. From there, we hauled a couple dozen broken garbage bags to the other side of the basement to another freight elevator that opened up to the street. I don't know how but several of them left a trail of bright pink slime in their wake. I came close more than once to slipping and falling in it.

Then when one load went out to the street, they pointed out the other closet full of garbage we hadn't seen before, and the three of us were told to load that up. I had to convince the others to come and actually do the work (the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can leave). We started loading up the second freight elevator again while the building super told us loudly that we'd have to mop the floor after we were done.

The other two guys started getting sacks from the second load that had been sent down by our friends from upstairs, who had clearly left, leaving us the rest of the work. Sebastian and I loaded up the elevator to the street, and got in. We closed the doors and hit the street level button.

The elevator stalled briefly, and I had to fish out a piece of rope from under the door. Then the elevator kept going.

"Man," Sebastian said in his Mexican accent "It would really suck if this thing got stuck, huh?"

I really wish he hadn't said that.

Sure enough, five feet later, the elevator stalled again. This time the panel showing which floor just said "ST." Keep in mind, this thing opens up directly to the street, and there's a gap of several inches open when the door is closed. I'm still in my serving uniform of slacks and button down shirt. I don't even have an undershirt on. It's below freezing out there, and naturally it smells only the way several dozen sacks of wet garbage can.

We were stuck there like that for about half an hour or more. I suggested a way to get the doors open from the inside. We were close enough to the street that it was only a very short climb up and out. At first he said we should stay because we'd need to talk to the building staff when the thing was being fixed. After another ten minutes or so of small talk, he finally noted that I was in a single shirt while he was wearing a sweater. He said I could go.

We hauled the interior door open by the rope, and I managed to reach the latches for the outside door and climb out into the street.

When I went around back through the lobby and up to the top floor to the club again, not only had all of the other servers left, but so had our boss. The kitchen staff was there though, and I managed to catch one of them just as he was about to shovel the rest of the pig slop into the trash. It was cold, and didn't taste much better than it looked, but it was the first food I'd eaten in over seven hours. The kitchen guys felt kinda bad for me and got me some mashed potatoes, too. I think speaking Spanish helps in these situations.

I used to sort of like this job.

Friday, January 7, 2011


Thank Google for Android and Calendars.

My schedule is somewhat unpredictable. My current target is acting, which calls for coming into auditions within 48 hours notice. I support this lifestyle by tutoring kids in their homes. Sometimes they set appointments in advance. Sometimes their fathers call me at 11pm, say they're in big trouble, and can I come to help by 8am the next morning?

Every audition and student is in its own place. So how can I remember all the places and times to be where when?

I don't. I leave that to the internet.

When I first signed up for Google Calendar, I tried using it as kind of a novelty. Honestly it wasn't much worth the time and effort to enter in the few things I had on my schedule, since I'd remember them all anyway. If I had a lot to do, I would put it down in an old-fashioned paper planner. The one I kept on the corner of my desk throughout college.

But nowadays, I keep that all online. I'll enter it into my computer and it's available on any computer hooked up to the internet. More importantly though, it's on my phone. I pull up my phone on my calendar, tap the address of my next appointment, and it comes up in Google maps. I use maps to get directions via the subway, and then once I'm off the subway maybe turn on the phone's GPS to make sure I'm walking in the right direction after that.

My parents often make fun of people who have to enter in all their little appointments in their digital planners and phones, partially because it takes them two to three times as long as it does for my parents to just jot something down in their paper appointment books. Thing is, my parents have offices to keep their calendar in. I work all over the place. It may take me a while to enter stuff in. But everything after that becomes a lot faster. No looking up directions, transit schedules, or maps. Just make the pretty blue triangle follow the pretty dotted line on the little screen I keep in my pocket.

Until I run out of batteries, that is. Then I'm kinda screwed. Until I get in front of anything else with internet, anyway.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years Blockade

It was 11pm at Seattle Tacoma International Airport. I had chosen probably the dumbest seat in front of my gate: the one facing the TV news monitor underneath the speaker. Just where you want to be to get some sleep before a red-eye flight. It was the night of December 30th, so between a special on urban transportation around the world and reports on dire flooding in Australia, New Years in New York City was the big headliner. The crowd at Times Square, CNN reported, was expected to top 1 million people. Probably one of the biggest parties in the world. Probably.

I'd bought my plane tickets months in advance-- I wanted to be in New York for New Years in Times Square. That was before I started telling people who lived here about my ideas.

They thought I was nuts.

Times Square, they explained, was the very last place anyone would ever want to be for New Years. Yes, there is a ball on a stick and it mechanically slides down a few feet. To be able to see it, you had to show up around 2pm, before the police erected barricades.

Yes, police barricades. New York City likes its barricades. No, CNN reported, there had been no threats, no warnings from any government intelligence agency, and no suspicious rumors, but that wasn't going to stop the New York Police Department from shutting the whole place down, arming huge patrols, mounting an array of security cameras everywhere, and putting up a triangular perimeter of barricades, restricting the movement even of residents and employees within the square.

By the way, inside that perimeter, there are no public restrooms. Zero. Some people come wearing diapers. I'm not making this up. Now the suspected amount of muggers and pickpockets I can deal with (don't carry anything valuable), the drunk people I can deal with (general attitude and not wearing anything I can't wash), but the stories of diapers were kind of what put it over the top.

But I'd heard rumors that you could get a clear line of sight, albeit a far one, from the 42nd street library on the east side. So I thought I'd try my luck.

Even that had been shut down. There was a huge crowd of people there by 10pm, probably long before, and the police had blocked it off, too. So much for that. I wandered a bit soaking up the general atmosphere, and seeing how close I could get.

The picture above wasn't the closest I got to Times Square, but it's probably the best representation of what I saw.

Skipping a story that's longer than it is interesting, I ended up in a party in Brooklyn for the actual countdown. We saw a live video feed of Times Square, and afterwards a lot of people were interviewed. Funnily enough, I don't believe a single one of them was from New York City. Considering that there were 1 million people there, and that the city's normal population is around 8 million, that's quite a feat.