Sunday, October 31, 2010

"We Live in Hard Times, Not End Times"

So, yesterday was the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. And it was amazing! I'm still exhausted from the trip, but it was an amazing time!

Rachel and I left our building at 2 am Saturday to head to Penn Station. We had an event free taxi ride, and a low-drama time waiting for our train (though the police did come through, banging night sticks on columns and making everyone who was sitting on the floor stand up. For no discernible reason). At 3 am we boarded our sold out train and headed south to D.C.

We arrived in D.C. at 7 am, and I was happy to be back. I still have a lot of fondness for the city since my time living there two years ago. We went to a diner (Pete's Diner) for breakfast. It was just what you hope for from a diner breakfast - fast, cheap, filling, and not especially greasy. The decorations were a bit strange; the restaurant had clearly leaned heavily towards an Asia theme in their decorating, but had also gone all out for Halloween. This led to unexpected golden Buddha/cobweb and tapestry/pumpkin combinations. There was also a small Christmas tree on the counter.

After breakfast we met up with my dad and Ali, who had come from Charleston to attend the rally. We headed to the Mall - arriving at around 9 am. It was already pretty darn full! We got a spot in the first block, fairly near the Capitol. If I stood on tiptoes and tilted my head to the side, I could see the stage. I also had an excellent view of one of the giant screens it was being shown on.

Considering how widely broadcast and viewed the rally was, it would seem silly to give a play by play here (though anyone who missed it can watch highlights by clicking here). We did the wave with the Mythbusters, were continuously surprised by the people who came out of the tent ("I didn't know Cat Stevens was allowed in the country." "Ozzy? Seriously?" "It's like a random celebrity roulette wheel!"), and laughed at all of the comedy. To be honest, I could have done with a little less in the way of musical guests - but that's just me. It was a great time, and Jon Stewart's speech at the end was perfect!

Afterwards, the Capitol was completely flooded with people (it seems most estimates are that around 215,000 people attended the rally), so finding a place to sit down and eat was tough. But we desperately needed to sit down and eat, as it had been eight hours since Pete's Diner. We finally flagged a cab, and managed to get to a pizza place on U Street mere moments before other ralliers started clogging the doors. The pizza was excellent, but most anything would have been good at that point.

We had planned to do some touristy stuff in the five hours before our train came - we got in the metro and everything. But even though the crowds had largely dispersed above ground, it was shoulder to shoulder down there. We headed towards Dupont Circle to go see the embassies, and while waiting for the train to take us there we came to the mutual conclusion that we were way too tired. We fought our way back to Union Station, and spent a couple hours alternating between vacant staring into space and wild giggling at not much. We got ice cream from the Ben and Jerry's stand.

Finally, at 10 pm, we boarded the train back to New York. We got a free upgrade to business class, and spent half of the trip dozing. At 2 am we were back in the city, and started trying to flag cabs back to the Village. The first refused to take us, and the second only did after we agreed to pay double on the fare. Both of those things are against the rules in the world of New York taxis, and had I been feeling my sharpest, I probably would have taken their license plate numbers and reported them. But I had been up for 30 hours at that point (and that 30 hours was preceded by a four hour nap, not a proper night's sleep), so I just agreed to pay the extra and let it go.

Today I was still pretty tired, so I slept in and laid low. I gave out candy to the trick or treaters in my building, and did some readings for school. It was incredibly worth it though - the rally was fantastic!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Listen to the Sound of the World, Then Watch it Turn

Wow, this is only my third post in October, and October is nearly done. From ten in September to three in October - I can only assume that all the people I've been told are readings this are worried about my health or think I'm really lazy. What's actually happened is a combination of a few factors has thrown off my previously established pattern of doing things, and it's ended up taking the full month to get back on track.

With back to back weekends filled with wonderful visits (first from my mom and then from Angus), I had three weeks of cramming all my work into the middle of the week. Additionally, my classes started to test me a bit more - a midterm presentation, weekly 2-3 page papers, and a 5-7 page paper that I am even now halfway through have all been dominating the landscape of my mind. Add to this that I am going to the Rally for Sanity on Saturday (!!!!), and that's another week with extra work in the middle of it. I have two more 5-7 page papers to write before Thanksgiving, and once I get back I will start work on a 12-15 page paper and another paper that I currently have no information about at all.

No one said grad school was going to be easy. In fact, they said the opposite. And, lo and behold, they were being honest. None of this should be taken as complaining. I'm enjoying my classes (mostly), I'm feeling about 20x more confident than I did in the first month I was here (as in, I am no longer concerned they will realize what a terrible mistake it was to let me in and ask me to leave quietly), and I'm definitely learning and growing in new directions. Some of it is stressful, but in a good way. It's good for me that my essays are challenging to write. It's good for me that I don't get all the readings right away. Because if it were easy right off the bat, what would be the point of paying so much money and spending so much time away from my fiance, family, and friends? No, I'm glad that I'm having to work hard and stay busy. But it does mean that I've been having fewer dazzling New York experiences to share with the internet.

Of course, that's not to say I'm not having any. I recently journeyed to Brooklyn with Michelle and Rachel to get what is widely reported as the best pizza in New York: Grimaldi's (the other main contender for the title, Lombardi's, is where Angus and I got pizza during his visit). The key to having these famous New York experiences, as I have said before, is to have them on week nights. I have been by Grimaldi's twice before - both times on a Saturday - and seen lines that stretched around the block. People waiting 3-4 hours to sit down and order pizza. Our wait? About ten minutes. And yes, the pizza was amazing. But it was not a pizza that I would stand in line for four hours to get. I haven't met that pizza yet.

Other news? No, that's pretty much it. School, and I was lucky enough to have some delicious pizza with lovely friends. Saturday is my whirlwind journey to DC for the Rally to Restore Sanity, which I expect will be thrilling, exhausting, and wonderful. And next week, being a new month, seems to hold the promise of classes settling back to a level where they are still my main concern but I have time for others. So expect to see more words from me in the coming month, and excuse an October of only four posts (I expect I'll get the one about the rally in under the wire).

Monday, October 18, 2010

You're In My Heart, So Until Then

So, this week I saw my favorite comedian - Russell Brand - twice. The first time was on Tuesday, when he gave an hour and a half long interview at the New York Times building, followed by a book signing. In my eagerness to get a good seat I arrived an hour and a half early, securing myself the 24th place in line. And since the 23 people ahead of me were apparently people who waited hours to sit in the third row, I sat on the first - smack in the middle. It was great, he was hilarious and the interview was really interesting. During the Q&A a 14 year old boy stepped up to the mike, and Russell Brand went on and on about how he could be the new Justin Bieber before hopping off the stage to give him a hug. At the book signing afterwards I got a copy of his first book (he's touring to promote the sequel) and waited for my signed copy. I give him a lot of credit - he's not sleepwalking through what I imagine is an incredibly monotonous schedule of book signings. He talks to everyone who gets a book, really studying them with an intensity that almost makes you feel self conscious. Then after the book is signed he offers a hug, generally by saying "Give us a cuddle." And he seems to take the hugs seriously, pausing and closing his eyes as he embraces each giddy fan. By the time it was my turn I was feeling quite flustered, and distinctly uncool. I decided to limit my engagement to saying I liked his comedy and moving along.

He signed the book and then fixed me with the intense look and said, "I remember you."
"Seriously?" I asked, surprise sounding a lot like skepticism.
"Yeah. From the audience."
"Right. I was on the first row." My plan to say something nice sprang back to mind, but flustered, I went for the first thing that caught my eye. "I very much like your scarf."
"Thanks. I got it today." He said, and then gave me a hug.
"Also the stand up comedy." I added lamely as I felt the flow of the line pushing me away.
"Thanks very much for saying so." He responded, with what seemed like genuine gratitude.

The next evening, I attended his book signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, because my friend Rachel is also a big fan and she couldn't make it to the night before. I had really wanted to see the interview, so I just decided to do both. This was a much different event, complete with an interview with E! (You can watch the video here. I couldn't spot us in it, but there is some footage of the madness we were in the midst of) and attendance by the paparazzi. There was a brief talk/Q&A where he accepted a garland from a Hare Krishna, and engaged in a bizarre back and forth with the bolder audience members. Then there was a book signing. At one point he stopped the line for a good 10 minutes to visit with a little girl in a wheelchair who was hoping to get her booked signed. He signed the book, posed for pictures with her and her parents, and had what looked to be a pretty in-depth chat with her. It was all very sweet.

Rachel bought a book to be signed, so I waited in line with her. When we got to the front she was just as giddy and flustered as I had been the night before. I was giddy, but not nearly as much as I had been.

As her book was being signed she said, "You have great hair." Which he does.
"Thanks!" He said, shaking his hair a bit and happily letting the curls bounce. "You may touch it if you wish."
We did. He gave Rachel one of his zen hugs.
When he looked at me I said, "Oh, I got a book signed last night."
"Where?" He asked. Then without prompting remembered, "Right! First row!"
"Right." I said, accepting my second Russell Brand hug of the week.

I may be imagining it, but I feel like he gave me a bit of a look as I walked away that said, "It's still cute now, but if you turn up in the next city I'm notifying security."

Of course, all this was but a blip on my happiness radar compared to the join that accompanied Angus coming to visit me for the weekend. He was here from Thursday afternoon at 12:30 until Sunday afternoon at 3:15, and every moment was wonderful. It was his first time in the city, and I did my best to be a good tour guide in the face of adverse weather (rain, heavy wind.. apparently we were on the fringe of a nor'easter). I made sure he got to eat the iconic food (pizza, Katz's Deli, and H&H Bagel), and got to attend one cool event (a reading by Bill Bryson at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square - this place hosts a lot of events!). We did tons of walking around, visiting the different neighborhoods and seeing the famous buildings. Obviously, there's still a lot more for him to see next time he visits. But it was fantastic to be together, though saying goodbye again wasn't easy.

Today I had a five minute presentation for my midterm grade in my Politics of the Gaze class, which was nerve wracking but I ultimately felt good about. I have quite a lot of reading to do this week, but I'm feeling like a pretty capable grad student these days.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

There's Nothing Like Finding Gold Within the Rocks Hard and Cold

For the past couple of weeks my friend Rachel and I have had a weekly brunch/outing. First we had brunch at Good Enough to Eat, visited the Museum of Natural History (strange but fun place - as evidenced by the picture of a sea monster they have hanging from the ceiling with no real explanation), walked through Central Park, and had dessert for lunch at Serendipity 3. We had such a nice time, we decided to do something similar the next week - when we had brunch at Norma's and then went for a walk in Central Park. We were huge fans of Norma's, and plan to return in the future - possibly on a monthly basis.

This week though, we're changing it up. We're both huge fans of Russell Brand, so on Wednesday we'll get a meal (probably lunch), and then go hang around Barnes & Noble until he shows up for a book signing. This will actually be my second Russell Brand visit of the week, as on Tuesday I'm seeing him interviewed by New York Times culture reporter Dave Itzkoff at the New York Times Building. So all that should be fun.

Me, being dazzled by brunch at Norma's.

Me, and a very enthusiastic duck statue with a Hans Christian Anderson statue reading "The Ugly Duckling" in Central Park.

In other exciting fun news, this weekend my mom came to visit me! Considering that it's now been a good month and a half since I've seen someone from home (unless you count the barista who I had met once in Charleston), you can imagine how excited I was for the friendly face. We had a fantastic time - we ate several delicious meals (at the Chelsea Market, a coastal French restaurant, Mud Coffee, and an excellent Greek restaurant) saw two incredible shows (Next to Normal and La Cage Aux Folles), walked a ton, and visited several interesting areas. We even tried to go to Strawberry Fields on John Lennon's birthday. We kind of did, but it was crazy packed, and a guy with a screaming toddler on his shoulders elbowed me in the face - which made me a bit cranky about the crowd thing. However, we did have a great time in the rest of Central Park. And Kelsey Grammar was in La Cage Aux Folles, which was an incredibly fun show. It was great to get to spend time together!

This week, or at least for the next couple of days, I've got tons of schoolwork to do. I have a midterm in one of my classes in a week, and tons of reading to do for the other two. And I need to get it all done in the next few days, since Angus is coming to visit Thursday - Sunday (!!!!!!!); I don't think I'll be doing any work then. Fortunately, we get Columbus Day off tomorrow, so I'll have time to buckle down and get ahead of the game. Hopefully.