Saturday, September 30, 2006

my friend and i go shopping...

my friend says that before he met me, he didn't know that he needed certain things. like containers for leftovers, with lids that fit. or dish towels. or an armoire. (he doesn't have any closets in his apartment.) or pot holders. he was perfectly happy yanking things out of the oven with the tail end of his shirt or whatever else was within reach. what a guy.

the other day i convinced him to go to national wholesale liquidators to get a few necessary items. it was quite an adventure.

i hadn't been there in years. it didn't matter because it hadn't changed at all. all of the goods were piled all the way up to the ceiling, mesmering everyone. i call it "the sam's effect." look at it this way: when you walk in, you're literally overwhelmed with all of the stuff on the shelves. you think to yourself, what is all this? no one needs all this stuff. and then you focus on a few things here and there. a waffle iron. a steam iron. a water purifier. a microwave. by the time you get to the end of the first aisle, you wonder how you got through life without any of this. you feel grateful that you've found the place because it's so unbelievably cheap. and even though you don't necessarily need a george forman grill, you're making a mental note to come back and get one.

the store really is basically a miniature version of sam's wholesale club, big lots and cub foods rolled into one -- they have everything you can think of inside, at bargain basement prices. and yes, i mean everything. ladies lingerie. mountain boots. lucky charms cereal. kitchen appliances. jumper cables. hot rollers. if someone were dropped off naked in front of this store with cash money and/or credit cards, they'd walk out with absolutely everything they'd need to set themselves up.

one of the main items i made my friend get was a 9 inch round glass baking dish, so i can make pie at his place. he was pretty happy about a computer keyboard he got for $5. and yes, i have a list of things i'll get on my return trip. it's the place i'll go before we hit IKEA. but that's a whole other conversation...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

well, surprise, surprise, surprise!

what really shouldn't be a surprise at all is that i came so close to being the hulk. they probably tagged me with wonder woman because i'm a girl...

Your results:
You are Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman
Green Lantern
The Flash
Iron Man
You are a beautiful princess
with great strength of character.

Click here to take the "Which Superhero are you?" quiz...

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

the one and only freddie king

my friend ralph says that this video is what made him want to play the guitar. after repeated viewings, i can definitely understand why. at the moment, there are other things that are compelling me to keep learning and playing but i have to admit -- the longer i watched this, the more inspired i felt.

who knows? if i had seen this as a kid, i probably would never have picked up that clarinet...

Monday, September 25, 2006

paula and lois

i got a phone call the other day from paula. she was in town from beaver county, pennsylvania with her husband and her little girl, catching up with friends and seeing the sights. could we see each other some time this weekend? she had sent me a smattering of phone calls and e-mails warning of her impending breeze-through but only some other part of me had paid attention, so her crash landing into my afternoon was a bit of a happy surprise.

or maybe the surprise is that she's in my life. this part of it, anyway. she was supposed to be trapped in my idiotic urban beginnings, like a mosquito in amber. from time to time, i would hold a memory of she and i up to the light and examine it closely, marvelling at how well preserved it was. i wondered what happened to her like i wondered what happened to all of rest of the people i had known then, a garden variety of freaks and weirdos and posers that i was pretty sure i'd never see again. and then one day she e-mailed me. and then she called me. and then she showed up and we met up and everything started up all over again, like it never stopped.

she's probably just as surprised as i am.

she and i met at a bar on the upper east side called name this joint. i can't remember exactly what she did there but i was a cashier at the spot in the back called atomic wings that served * you guessed it! * buffalo wings -- and yeah, they were actually good. it was my first job in the city. frankly, i don't know why they hired me. no one else would because i didn't have any "new york city experience." my not being able to type didn't help much, either. it took a year to live through that particular catch-22, it was one long gut-wrenching emotionally draining snag. everyone was so dismissive, so sure that i wouldn't make it past the winter. i watched my southern friends leave in waves. i was immovable. i had dreamed of living in new york city all my life. i wasn't about to turn high-tail and run home because it was cold and snowy -- colder than anything i had ever known, actually. i got some long johns, a decent winter coat and i kept going.

i worked a wide variety of crap jobs for my first six years here while i did my art on on my own terms and on my own time -- that is, when i could find my own time. all of that ended when i got cast in the original company of the first national tour of RENT. how? by walking into a cattle call of what ultimately amounted to more than 6,000 people in five cities. and puerto rico, for cryin' out loud. but i digress.

paula belongs to those first six years.

paula lived with lois, who also worked at that bar. i remember how she would have a bottle of tequila in either hand and she would walk through the crowd, literally pouring alcohol down people's throats. sometimes they would lean against the bar and tip their heads back and open their mouths like starving baby birds, yelling until she came along and obliged with some jose cuervo. it was the kind of place only a former frat boy could love. then again, so was the neighborhood. we always made goofy faces at each other, whether anyone was looking or not because we were so over it. we knew that we had to get out of there before it got all over us.

lois was a sweet-faced brown eyed girl. she was also, as it turned out, greek-american. first generation, i think. she spoke greek fluently. i remember hanging out with her and listening to her talk to her mother one day and being really taken with how melodic it sounded. like a bird, singing its heart out. like me, lois wanted to be an actress. but i heard that from a lot of people when i first got here. the numbers dwindled exponentially as time went on until the only actors i knew were the ones that were actually working. but i guess that's the magic of living in the city. it will force you to put up or do something else.

she and paula were a study in opposites, in a way. she was grounded, a preacher's kid, with strong family ties. paula came from a good home but she was adopted, and something in her was looking for those roots.

the one bit of fun that the three of us would have after work was hanging out at king tut's wah-wah hut at all hours. it is a legendary place, and deservedly so. it was the coolest bar i've ever known, before or since. i have yet to go to a bar that's topped it.when we'd close the place down, lois let me sack out at her apartment, which was a few blocks from tompkins square park. we would lie in bed and talk until one of us would say, we have to stop talking and go to sleep. and then we would keep talking and talking and talking. lois meant a lot to me. she was full of feeling, she had a sunny disposition and she wasn't afraid of hard work.

that was pretty much my first year in new york city. lots of "no," lots of buffalo chicken wings, lots of former frat boys reliving their glory days, and lots of downtown freaks.

remember: this was the early 90's, when the city was filthy and dangerous, and when all of the lower east side was one gigantic toilet. no one could stop talking about david rakowitz, the guy killed his ballerina roommate, then boiled her into soup and fed her to the homeless people in that park. (he was just up for parole, actually. he didn't get it. surprise.) eventually, the homeless people decided to turn the area into their own self-governed sanctuary. and they did, for awhile -- until the city came in and evicted them, then bulldozed their shantytown. it was a crazy neighborhood. it was nothing at all like the well-heeled, well-dressed hipsters that chain smoke and sip lattes and walk their canine kitties in the long dark shadow of all that mess. whatever.

paula was quite the wild child but i always knew that no matter how bad off she seemed to be doing or what she'd gotten herself into lately, she was a good girl at heart and that she would eventually straighten up and fly right. and she did. she finished school, got saved, found her birth mother and her birth father and her half-siblings, got married, left the city, bought a house, had a kid. now she's an out-patient psychotherapist, with clients ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 60. she's even riding horses and writing again. i am so proud of her, for all her hard work -- but also because i know that things could have turned out a lot different. and she knows that, too.

the first time we got together, we wondered aloud as to what happened to everyone we used to know. between the two of us, passing stories back and forth, we filled in a lot of blanks. the one we really wanted to find was lois. the last i heard, she married a puerto rican guy that made her happy and moved to queens. paula has tried everything and she can't find her. maybe she's left the city entirely. maybe she doesn't want to be found.

paula has another life but she and i will keep in touch, and we'll hang out when we can. we'll keep looking for lois. looking and praying. anything's possible. she has to be out there somewhere...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

good things abound

something spectacularly wonderful just happened to me -- it's been two weeks now -- but i don't want to talk about it just yet, partly because the full impact of having it hasn't quite hit me. then again, as i write this, i realize it probably never will. i'm still a little shell-shocked. give me a minute to catch my breath and brace myself as i make the readjustment in the rest of my life. eventually, i'll let the cat out of the bag.

in the meantime, i walk around smiling at complete strangers for no apparent reason at all.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

the real thing

on friday afternoon, i got a call from robert, my neighbor who lives around the corner from me in a co-op on riverside drive. he wanted to know if i was up for trying out a brand new swanky chinese place in harlem called ginger, on E. 116th and 5th avenue. he said it was healthy and traditional. that made me wary. healthy and traditional chinese food? in harlem? not possible. i'd been to enough bullet-proof shotgun chinese fried rice to-go situations uptown and eaten my fair share of dim sum downtown to know that when it's time to eat, what americans are used to is hardly anything like what the chinese prefer.

to tell you the truth, living in new york city has forced my tastebuds to transition to an entirely different level. my friend and i usually frequent places in chinatown that most people either ignore or don't know. it makes it very difficult to make do or even thaw something out when i can have the real thing.

but i would be on the east side in the evening anyway and after reading so many glowing reviews about the place and looking over the menu online, i was curious. we decided to meet up in time to beat the dinner rush. when i arrived, i was more than a little surprised. it was a really beautiful place, the kind of set-up you'd expect to find in tribeca or soho. anywhere but harlem. there were people seated here and there, but it wasn't crowded. yet. keith showed up and we decided to walk up the street to a lovely boutique called N (also brand new to the neighborhood) where i spied a black nicole miller gown that i have to have. the lush leather satchels cost as much as the dress did. and yeah, it was nice to see byron lars and tracey reese on the racks -- but how could someone open a boutique in one of the toniest sections of harlem and not carry their line? more on that later.

we returned to the restaurant, were seated promptly and ordered right away. the emperor's throne was a variety of appetizers on a platter that included a slaw that i practically inhaled. we also ordered four beef ribs to make our start a complete one. deeeeeee-lish. after we ate those ribs (which were so good, it was wacky), things took a surreal twist. strangely, there was always someone hovering nearby to make sure that we were satisfied. our water was always filled. our drinks were always fresh. the talk at the table was non-stop. i was up to my eyeballs in work. robert had just come back from brazil. keith was convinced that the whole area would shift gears enough to make all of mount morris not look like a ghetto anymore. we were surrounded by construction. lots of condos and luxury rentals popping up.

somewhere in there, the manager came over and announced that he had infused some vodka with pineapple and vanilla -- his own recipe -- and he wanted us to try it. by this time, there were quite a few people in the place. things were getting busy, but not overwhelming. when the wait for the entree stretched past the 30 minute mark, we got a round of drinks on the house and an order of baked egg rolls, which were exploding with crunch and zest. and no grease. by this time, i knew that i would surprise my friend by bringing him there for a night out uptown. perhaps dinner and a movie at magic johnson theater a short walk away. i remember thinking, we should spend more time in harlem.

that's right about when our waiter blurted, you're queen esther! i'd met him with brian keith jackson at bergdorf-goodman's, at a party i hosted there for franco mondini-ruiz's book signing. what a fun night that was. and the book -- high pink -- is drop-dead hilarious.

james apologized for the long wait and explained why it happened, but the service was so good and we were enjoying ourselves so much that we totally didn't care. then the food came. and it. was. spectacular. and no, we couldn't finish it. and yes, we had dessert. i'm still thinking about the ginger ice cream. and those ribs. and that slaw. and i don't even like slaw!

i think my friend is going to like this place...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

now, that's what i call entertainment!

here's a little something from everyone's favorite merman, Todd. watch as he shows us what a nyc public restroom really is.

(video clip courtesy of my friend, the self made man.)

Sunday, September 17, 2006

God said no

i didn't get the bmi musical theater workshop. and i'm no longer a finalist for the jazzmobile vocal competition.

everyone says it's a really big deal to have been a finalist in both of those opportunities and i suppose that's true. to be honest, there were some pretty severe odds that i beat out to have gotten as far as i did. but in the end, when the smoke clears and everyone goes home, none of that seems to matter. everyone only remembers who won. when the awards are given and the names are duly noted, no one knows anything about the rest of the finalists. or that runner-up that was sooooo amazing. or who came in fourth place. that's just the way it is.

when they didn't say my name as a continuing finalist in the venue the other night, there was this a collective groan in the room that was so loud, it was almost tangible. as i stood on the sidewalk with my friends, many patrons came to me to congratulate me on my performance and to console me, which felt strange. and somewhat embarassing. there were some pretty bizarre moments. i distinctly recall a heavy-set woman reveling in the memory of some gig i did somewhere downtown with jc hopkins' biggish band that she loved and asking when i'd be singing with him again. when i told her that i had been replaced, she looked positively stricken.

later, on the train ride home, i turned to aj muhammed and said, i'm always a bridesmaid, and without hesistation, he said, no queen esther -- you are the bride.

well. i got home and i searched my feelings long and hard. was i upset? angry, perhaps? bitter, even? to tell you the truth, i felt none of those things. it took me awhile to figure out why. at first, i thought it was because i was some kind new kind of jaded. in the end, it wasn't the usual urban malaise. far from it.

i remembered a sermon i heard when i was a little kid about God's will. the pastor said that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing, to not get what you want. he said that sometimes, not getting what you want when you want it is actually the best thing for you. ultimately God has something better in mind, better than anything i could possibly imagine. clearly, there was a larger dynamic in mind, an omniscient omnipresent supernatural force hard at work on my behalf. i remember thinking that it seemed counterproductive to work against this force.

right then and there, that's when i thought -- why should i want what God doesn't want me to have?

after that, when i didn't get something, no matter what it was -- a part in a play, a pair of shoes that were on sale, that last piece of pie -- it flat-out didn't bother me. i'd simply say, God didn't want me to have that, for whatever reason. and i let it go.

think about it. the plane is oversold and your seat is confirmed but somehow you get bumped. that's a flight you missed for a reason. say la vee. you go to your favorite restaurant, they're all out of your favorite entree. not for you -- not that night. you meet a guy you like but he likes your friend. oh, well. it's a waste of energy to pine for things that are out of your reach, no matter what they are. especially when there are plenty of things that are right in your face that you're probably not taking advantage of.

not making the cut on thursday night's competition was no different. if God doesn't want it for me, i certainly don't want it for myself.

in the meantime, opportunity abounds. more details soon.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

a little more news

i'm still a finalist in the jazzmobile jazz vocal competition. out of about 300 entrants, there were 12 of us and they eliminated 4 last thursday. this coming thursday, two people will have to go.

read all about what was happening in my head on my blackgrrl rock 'n roll blog here. and if you're in nyc on september 14th, by all means, show up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

force majeure

i had carefully laid everything out neatly in my head: where i would go at this hour and where i would be by this time and where i was expected to go for that interview; what i would wear for this and what i would not wear for that; and how things would end up at the end of the day. then, once i was sure of it all, i wrote it all down and went over it again and again, fine tuning my busy day before it even arrived. there were escape hatches and plan b scenarios a go-go -- not that i'd need them. what could go wrong?

in a word, everything.

by noon i knew that i would miss my first audition at 1pm and that, even if i fought the powers that be PE style, i'd probably miss my second one at 2:10pm -- the bmi lehman engel musical theater workshop, the one i really wanted but at the same time was somewhat afraid that i'd get. you see, the problem is that although i'm out there auditioning and hustling for work like every other actor i know, as an artist i'm not a replicator -- i'm an originator. there's not a lot of work out there for me to originate, so sometimes i have to create/develop it myself. this works especially well with solo performance (because it's just me and a chair onstage) and with music (because i've taken the d.i.y. indie approach). more often than not, it's the fact that i originate things that keeps me working -- not that i auditioned for someone, and then they saw the light and gave me a job. sure, that's happened to me. but that's not what usually happens.

so for me, it's all about developing ideas and originating things. the bmi workshop would allow me to be a part of a team that develops a musical. the thing that's so scary is that its a 2 year program with an initial 9 month commitment. in my world, that's a massively long time for me to sit still in one place. no going out on the road for weeks or months on end, no quickie weekend jaunts to perform here or there. no, no, no. oh, and here's the kicker: you have to be invited back for the 2nd year.

as i trudged through the day, my appointment time came and went and i lost heart. somewhere around 4:30pm, i began to see a light at the end of the tunnel and raced to midtown. i got there right at 5pm and was graciously allowed to perform my 2 songs -- a capella. i can't even begin to tell you what a stultifying experience this was. i thought i sounded awful. i didn't want to let the opportunity pass me by but as i left the building, i began to wonder if perhaps i should have. i consoled myself with the fact that at least i had enough follow-through and gumption to show up. and then i let it go. they'll let everyone know something in a week.

of course, i was early for my very last appointment: a reception for the 12 finalists in the jazzmobile vocal competition, at their headquarters in harlem. sometimes i forget that when black folks say "refreshments will be served" they mean real food, not hor d'ouerves. this was no exception. and not that i drink (because to me, it all tastes wierd when there's alcohol in it) but there was champagne! suddenly, the enormity of what it meant to be a finalist hit me and it was all so very exciting and humbling. and strange. strange, to be in a competition with so many people that i didn't necessarily know per se, but that i liked and genuinely respected. how would they choose? we were all so good...

as i left the building with one of the finalists, frank senior, on my arm, i saw a gigantic moon looming before us -- low slung, jaundiced and swollen. so that's why my day went straight to hell. the moon shifted in the sky and yanked the proverbial rug right out from under me. was it a full moon? i can never tell. "look at the moon!" i squealed to frank, who is completely and utterly blind. thankfully, frank is a real gentleman. as i realized what i'd said, he squeezed my arm good-naturedly. then i paused and began to describe what i was seeing. oh, if only his seeing-eye dog could have talked. he probably would have chewed me out.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

a little news

i'm on -- as an artist, a record label and as a music-lovin' individual -- for better or worse. give me a minute to put up photos and graphics and what not. i also have to find an online home/site for my label el recordings, but that can wait.

and yeah, i have to get rid of any and all references to queen esther marrow. how anyone could ever confuse us, i'll never know.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

what happened?

one of the most charming things about living in new york city is the way the weather changes on cue each season, like a child's picture book, with the appropriate settings and details. winter, snow. fall, leaves. summer, sun. spring, blooming things. to be honest, it's not every winter day in the south that it snows, which is why hardly anyone can drive when there's the slightest bit of ice on the ground. in texas, it stays mild all year round. i have sublime memories of running around in shorts and a t shirt in austin, in what was supposedly the dead of winter.

i don't know what happened.

last week, it was very nearly in the 90s, with picture-perfect days and breezy nights that felt like indian summer. today it feels as though the sun shrivelled up and died. there is wind and rain and a perpetually gray sky that presses down onto me whenever i'm outside, like it's trying to shove me onto the pavement. i don't like it. all i can think about are my winter clothes: what i have, what i need, what i must fit into. you know what? the real reason why i work out like crazy is because i'm too broke/cheap to buy new clothes every season. i've only got 3 weeks at best to get back into those woolen pencil skirts. God help me.

i don't even know what i want to look like this winter. one thing is certain -- i can't stand the way everyone is wallowing in the 80s these days. i was there and you know what? it was tacky then and it still is.

this weather change is too abrubt. like little orphan annie sang, the sun will come out tomorrow -- but that chill in the air isn't going anywhere. it's got me staying in -- playing guitar, writing songs, working out ideas. it's actually quite relaxing, to get so much done. i suppose anything that keeps me steady at it with the lyrics and the songwriting can't be a bad thing. and i've made sure that there's no reason for me to go out by stocking the fridge with plenty of good things to eat, for me as well as my friend.

oh. the reason why i'm pushing and shoving with my guitar playing is so i can get good enough to take a guitar/music theory class at the new school (my alma mater) this fall. i have to take a placement interview before i can register. that should happen in the next week or two. wish me luck.