Friday, June 27, 2008

homeward bound

since i'm going to meet the rest of my friend's family this weekend at his cousin's wedding in pennsylvania -- and since monday is my birthday -- i thought i'd push play on this classic: simon and garfunkel at monterrey in '67.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

home away from home

i was way too busy shooting a music video in the middle of union square today for the title track of my CD "talkin' fishbowl blues" to blog about home -- so i thought i'd include some shots of the first scenario, which show me "at home" as a small fish in a very big bowl, surrounded by city life. i really loved the concept for the shoot and the way it unraveled the meaning of the song. everyone was so enthusiastic and full of ideas and eager to do a great job. it was a wonderful experience.

to read more about how it all went down, click here.

the opening shot
this is the opening shot.

on the set in the rain
this is john of london, england pretending to be bentley farnsworth.

director and cameraguy and me
this is the director and one of the cameraguys (both of whom are indonesian) discussing a shot.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

spitting image's version: "our house"

this is an irresistable UK spoof of the madness song "our house" from the oh-so brilliant and sorely missed spitting image. i included the lyrics for the sake of clarity.

i know it's about the housing market across the pond, but the situation is basically the same as what we're experiencing here. the economic/financial situations in each country all over the world are more interconnected than we realize.

one world government, anyone?

Dad believed what Maggie said
Get a mortgage buy a home
So dad took out a great big loan
For a while there we were chuffed
Now the market has collapsed
And we're absolutely stuffed

Our house, in the middle of a slump
Our house, no one wants to buy this dump

Dad is desperate to sell
But now our homes worth even less
Than a pension from Maxwell
Our living room's a mess
Full of magistrates and bailiffs
Trying to repossess

Our house, in the middle of the boom
Our house, it was worth a small fortune
Our house, left us in a dreadful state
Our house, why the hell'd we decorate

We really caught a cold
Nowhere we can go to now
All the council houses have been sold
Our dads taken some stick
He's still voting Tory though
By God he must be thick

Our house, didn't work out like we planned
Our house, prices dropped by fifty grand
Our house, threw us out and changed the locks
Our house, it is now a cardboard box

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

my voiceover demo is DONE! yippee!

dan duckworth at voiceovers unlimited emailed the voiceover demo to me a few hours ago. it’s only about a minute long. i’m absolutely over the moon that i got this done. it sounds fan-freakin’-tastic! don’t believe me? click here to listen for yourself.

i decided i wanted to try my hand at voiceovers because i figured, if i made money when i sing, why not when i talk? i got proactive, i set goals and priorities, and now i’ve got another stream of income, just like that—one that i can stay at home and do, at my leisure in my pjs if i feel like it.

all of this is already starting to pay off: last friday i just recorded an episode for season 2 of PBSwordworld! (i’m the elephant…)

Monday, June 23, 2008

celebrate me home

for today's monday video selection, i thought this kenny loggins song would either really move you or totally cheese you out. let me know which feeling overwhelmed you first.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


the sermon this morning at times square church was about -- you guessed it -- home. since it fit so neatly in this month's theme, i thought i'd include it on my blog.

it was called the most difficult journey of all and revolved around the prodigal son's return to his father's house. if you'd like to hear it, click here.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

yes, it's true!

on thursday night -- juneteenth! -- i won the jazzmobile 2008 jazz vocalist competition. more details and photos of me with that oversized check later. in the meantime, you can read all about it here.

what a great way to start the summer!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


at first i thought this was some sort of a joke, but it's true: some italian guy sees his ex at a bar, drags her to his place and makes her do housework. (!!!) one can only guess as to what could be seen with a glimpse into their relationship window, especially if it revolved so heavily around her ironing his shirts. they need to convict him so he can go to prison and iron and fold laundry for the next 10 years.

the world is a very sexist place. i wonder how often this actually happens. a lot, i imagine -- they're just not telling it.

Man accused of kidnap to get ironing done
Italian man accused of kidnapping ex-girlfriend to get ironing, dishes done
updated 5:32 p.m. ET, Mon., June. 16, 2008

ROME - An Italian man was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping his ex-girlfriend from a pub, taking her home and forcing her to iron his clothes and wash the dishes, police said Monday.

The 43-year-old man dragged the woman out of a pub in the port city of Genoa, shoved her into a car and took her to his home, where he made her iron and wash dishes after threatening her, they said.

Police arrived at his house after being tipped off by a friend of the woman who watched the scene at the pub.

The man, who was apparently furious at his ex-girlfriend for leaving him, was arrested on charges of kidnapping, police said.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

go figure...

maybe this explains a lot of the construction that's happening in the city and in my neighborhood -- although in my area, a lot of the renovation feels like they're planning a big party that hardly anyone will attend. sure, it's the city -- but as my friend told me months ago, it's still the ghetto, with all of the danger and the stigma that's attached to it.


One way to handle gas prices: Move

More people are looking to live closer to work and shopping, and find relocating saves them hundreds of dollars a month in gas.

By Steve Hargreaves, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- It may seem a bit drastic, but more and more people are taking what is perhaps the ultimate step in cutting gas prices: They're moving.

Peaches Stevens used to rent an old farm house in southern Indiana. She loved the setting, but her job as a high school science teacher was 62 miles to the north.

Coaching golf after school made carpooling difficult, and even though her Dodge Neon got an impressive 30 miles a gallon, she was still spending upwards of $400 a month on gas.

So she moved. Now Stevens, 49, rents a place eight miles away from school. Plus, she bough a Honda scooter that gets 80 miles a gallon. Now she can get to work and back for about $16 a month.

"I'm doing it all for economic reasons," said Stevens, who figures she'll save enough in gas to pay off the $2,400 scooter in under 7 months. "I loved [the farmhouse], but I do feel like I'm doing the right thing."

Stevens is part of a national trend of high gas prices playing a major role in where people choose to live. Factors like distance from work, access to public transportation, and proximity to shopping are gaining ground on square footage and whether or not the home has a yard and pushing people into more densely packed areas.

"The high cost of gas is cited as a driving factor in increased interest in urban living," said Jim Gillespie, chief executive of Coldwell Banker, a national realty franchise. "Over the past several years we've seen a boom in downtown living all over the country."

It seems like the people actually making the move so far seem to be renters as opposed to owners, as not renewing a lease is obviously much easier than selling a home.

While their wallets may be happy, whether the quality of life is improving for the people who move is debatable.

"I went from a beautiful home with a big back yard to an itty-bitty studio apartment," said Erinn Thomas, who moved from a suburb of Reno, NV, to the downtown area to save on gas. "But it's what I had to do to eat."

So 25-year old Thomas now rents a place just a mile from work.

She says she'll miss the space of the suburbs, but in addition to the $200 a month she hopes to save on gas, she also aims to pocket another $100 a month - and probably improve her health - by staying away from the Drive-thru window at the local fast-food joints.

"I don't have to drive anymore and I can buy a bike," she says.

In addition to personal health, some are also tipping their hat to the health of the planet.

"You cut your carbon footprint, which is pretty cool," said Jason Zulick, a 31- year old human resources manager from Orwigsburg, Penn.

Jason and his wife Tara moved to Orwigsburg from a town 25 miles away. High gas prices weren't the only reason they moved - the couple hopes to start a family and wanted to be closer to relatives in the area.

But they played a big part, and Tara's commute to her teaching job has been cut in half.

"We've saved $150 a month on gas alone just making the switch," said Jason.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

the noisiest building on the block

at about 8 am, the front door of my apartment building is propped open and the workers begin jackhammering everything. at least, that's the way it sounds. right now, the jackhammering is on the 2nd floor but for awhile, it was in the apartment above mine. when they were upstairs, every so often, it sounded like someone bodyslammed a baby elephant onto every flat surface up there. it shook loose the heavy glass fixture over the lights on the ceiling, shattering all over the living room. when i came home, it looked like the rug was caked in glass.

basically, as tenants vacate the apartments, the building owners renovate them and turn them into luxury digs. the other day, i stepped outside and realized that although they're doing construction on all of the empty apartments on my side of the street, my building seems to be taking it the hardest.

how nice were these newly renovated apartments? i was very curious.

the same hardworking guys have been coming in and out of the building for months. the africans and the west indians and the black folk always speak to me. the russians and the polish guys, not so much. when i new that they were working on an apartment down the hall, i whipped out a few glasses and some paul newman lemonade (my favorite!) and paid them a visit. of course, they let me roam around -- it's the best lemonade in the world. the apartment mirrored mine, but it seemed bigger -- probably because it was empty. they gave me all sorts of inside scoopage, though. in the end, they could flip the building if they get enough vacancies. new york city real estate is ruthless.

i'm not sure what my game plan should be, but one thing is for sure -- i'd better get one.

Monday, June 16, 2008

who can it be now?

thanks to last friday's entry and my current stay-at-home mentality, i thought this week's "home" themed music video choice was a fairly obvious one.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

i wish i could go home to ATL to celebrate with my 92 year old daddy, but alas and alack, my situation is such that i cannot. but i did send flowers. and i'd like to think that this snarky little card would make him laugh.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

good news!

the good news is, i'm one of four finalists that have made it to the 3rd round of the jazzmobile jazz vocal competition. i just found out that one of the judges may be hard bop drummer grady tate. what many people don't know is that aside from his definitive jazz drumming style and the countless albums he's recorded with basically everyone, he has another discography as a baritone. i was first acquainted with his work as a part of schoolhouse rock! via mathematics rock! singing two "numbers" for them: one for six ("i got six! that's all there is!") and another for nine ("naughty number nine").

who says television is bad for kids? schoolhouse rock! still rocks.

i wanted to post this on my music blog when i wrote about what happened at round 2 but it wouldn't let me youtube these videos.

here's i got six!

this one is naughty number nine

birthday season

earlier this week, i made a birthday package for my nephew ezra and sent it to ATL right after his special day. thanks to my friend allowing me to cherry pick my way through a longbox of material that he didn't want anymore, i managed to send 19 batman comic books. and when that didn't seem like enough, i put nine 1 dollar bills in an envelope (he's 8 so i gave him one to grow on), with a little note. i was going to include a free scoop of ice cream from baskin robbins but i thought, whoa -- that wouldn't be fair to the other munchkins, his brothers and sister. so i backed off. i'll probably send something like "free ice cream scoops for everyone!" before the end of the summer. it's an auntie thing to do.

i know it seems insignificant, but that was a nice little morning, making his bundle. and it made me feel like such an aunt, when he called -- unprompted by his mother, believe it or not -- to thank me. he also thanked my friend, who is still in awe of how polite those children are on a casual ordinary day-to-day basis.

my goal is to not forget any kiddie birthday this year. so far, so good.

Friday, June 13, 2008

the knock on the door

i got a knock on my door the other day. when it happened, it seemed to echo throughout the entire apartment, like something ominous was about to happen. like something out of a hitchcock movie. my friend and i looked each other dead in the eye like he was steve mcqueen and i was ali macgraw and we were on the lam. ah, peckinpah. i actually felt a few seconds of genuine panic.

i know that it's weird, i know that "people don't do that," but i don't care. those "people" don't have to walk a mile in my converse all-stars. and if they did, they'd never make it across the street. i never answer the door. and i know very few black people who do. answering the door is the kind of thing that happens in the suburbs or on television. they answer the door on your favorite sit-com. in reality, it's not the thing to do in the ghetto. it's just not. there's absolutely no such thing as an unexpected visitor in this neck of the woods. when someone wants to come over, they call first to make sure you're home. or you plan it out. you say stuff like, yeah i'll be home around 7pm. swing by, we'll have ice cream. but they don't just knock out of nowhere. only cops do that. and even then, i'm not opening the door. that's a great way to rob someone at gunpoint. you can buy a cop uniform anywhere.

a few years ago, my next door neighbors got robbed by two guys pretending to be cops. they flashed badges and everything. and they had small children in that apartment! heh. not me, buddy. i ain't goin' for that okey-doke. you're going to have to shoot me through the peephole. and you'd better not miss.

i even know actors who keep cop outfits on hand, in case there's last minute on camera extra work or under fives to be had.

and hey -- remember that deranged guy that pretended to be a fireman who knocked on his former co-worker's door on halloween? he raped her, beat her up -- for 13 hours. he even videotaped everything. why did it take months to find him?

so like i said the first time: if i don't know that you're coming over, i'm not answering the door.

so yeah, it's funny now but for some reason it wasn't funny in the moment: there we were, watching the daily show and we're both looking at each other as we silently ask the same question and run through our mental database of who it could be. all of that in a glance.

so he gets the door. it's this guy, a 19 year old kid really, from the 2nd floor. he's dark skinned, with these contacts that make his eyes look hazel, almost vampiric. he's dominican, like almost everyone else in the building. and he's flaming. i like this kid. he's got two little brothers and they're adorable. i always make sure to give them kindereggs at holloween. and a baby sister. and his mother is kind of a saint. so he's got my full and undivided attention. i want to help him for his mother's sake. she's that much of a sweetie.

he wants to talk to me about modeling. modeling!? get this: someone stopped him in the street, said they were an agent from elite and after an initial meeting, decided to work with him doing runway -- for 40% of his take. i balked. first of all, while i'm sure that happens to lots of people in the industry -- every other model, from gisele to alek wek started exactly this way -- it sounds like a total con. just because it happened to them doesn't mean they aren't going to pull your leg or try to use you up. he's telling me about what a fierce walk he's got. who cares if you're getting used up? the average modeling career only lasts until you're 21.

i didn't tell any of that to the kid. instead, i told him the numbers that never get an argument out of anyone: my manager has never taken more than 10% and neither has any agent i've ever worked with. and i can write that 10% off at tax time. i'm doing on camera and voiceover work now, but even when i did print work in college, no body took that much. i know visual artists who have to fork over 50% to the galleries that represent them. elvis gave up 50% to colonel tom parker, his manager. but that was their deal. that wasn't the norm. i don't know any runway models who give up 40%. and runway is an important distinction to make because that's where black models get paid as much as white ones.

as i'm talking to him, i look over at my friend who's standing in the kitchen and he makes a face. then i look at the kid and realize that he's making the same face, too. of course, this made me laugh. but then the kid thought i was laughing at him, and that made me feel bad. so instead of explaining why i laughed, i apologized, brought him inside and gave him my card. i know quite a few fashion designers and stylists and the like. if he wants some advice, i know of a few people that he can call.

the last thing i said to him was, you can knock on my door whenever you want. and you know what? i actually meant it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

all in a day's work

housework (that daily constant), a commercial audition (in chelsea), two voiceover auditions (from home), a full workout that includes a boxing conditioning class (in soho), a piano lesson uptown (and yes, piano practice for at least an hour) and round 2 of the jazzmobile jazz vocal competition this evening at the alhambra ballroom (in harlem), with all the getting ready prepwork that goes with any gig.

still don't think i do anything all day?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


sometimes people would ask me, are you on facebook? and i'd say, nope and that was that. well, i guess i got asked that question one time too many because yes, yes, a thousand times yes: i am finally at long last on facebook -- as a musician. i don't know what took me so long. i guess i'm not all that hip. (heh.)

to tell you the truth, i like it a lot better than myspace because it gives you room to grow your fanbase. the people that connect with you aren't necessarily other musicians.

anyway, i'll be posting videos, pictures and what not on that site in the next few months so if you want to see them, you know where to find me!

habitat for humanity in nyc

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

the old lady at the door

in the apartment down the hall that faces the street there lives an old lady and her small dog. a young woman lives with her, too. twentysomething. past college, easily. young and working and playing in the city. i've seen her chatting with paul and chad. paul is the one that introduced us. and yes, her name escapes me.

i'm not sure if she is the old lady's niece or her granddaughter or what but they seem close. the old lady is puerto rican or probably dominican. she speaks no english. in the few times that i've seen her in the hallway, she's usually carrying on a running conversation with her dog. the young woman looks white but she speaks spanish. they have the same heavy-lidded brown eyes, the same wiry determined frame. the same kind of pretty.

sometimes during the day when everything has levelled off sonically and there is a lull in the construction, i can hear the old lady at the door. at first i thought it was my bad 8th grade spanish playing tricks on me. but no. it was definitely her, and she was completely distraught. later, i asked paul and chad about it -- because they lived right next door to them, they must have seen and heard much more than i ever could. paul (who's nosy enough to know) said that the old lady is going senile. when the young woman leaves for work, she locks the door with a special lock from the outside in, so the old lady can't unlock it and wander off. evidently, she fell into the habit of doing just that and was found some blocks away in her gown and robe and slippers, her hair in pincurls, confused and scared, her little dog at her feet, faithfully following her lead.

the young woman comes home on her lunch hour to make sure that she's alright. but when she leaves, she locks her in again, and i can sometimes hear her messing around with the doorknob and the locks as her little dog scratches at the door and she begs for help in spanish.

today was especially bad, probably because it was almost 100 degrees outside. i'm sure she's okay, i reasoned to myself as i went into my apartment. i'm sure she has plenty of water. i'm sure the a/c is on. i'm sure that she's eaten breakfast. i'm sure that white-looking dominican girl will be here soon. i'm sure there's food and water in there for the dog. i'm sure, i told myself again and again. but the truth is, i wasn't sure. and neither was anyone else.

i went into my apartment with my mail and my groceries and my piano lesson and my problems. but i couldn't stop thinking about her, no matter how hard i practiced. so i went back out there, into that hot, sun-drenched hallway, to face the source of all of that whimpering.

as i approached the door with what little spanish i knew, i could hear the dog scratching, and when i spoke he began to bark. but she quieted it down with one sharp word. i heard myself talking through the doorjam and asking her: es mucho calor, no? que haces? tienes hambre? que quieres? somehow, we began to talk.

(evidently, that spanish i took in middle school still works. don't let them fool you, not for a minute -- nothing learned is ever wasted.)

of course i thought of my grandmother in charleston, sc and how comfortable her life is right now and what i would do if it were her and me against the world. it would break my heart to have to lock her up in an apartment in an urban setting like this one, but i'd do it in a heartbeat if that's what it took to keep a job and pay the rent.

the old lady was fine, sort of. she didn't like feeling trapped and i think that more than anything else, she wanted her husband. he died in the apartment a few years ago. either she thinks he's lost outside somewhere or she's waiting for him to come back from the store, or both. or something else. hey, my spanish isn't that good. but it was a nice chat.

she may be senile, but she isn't blind. apparently, she knows what i look like. she kept calling me morena.

Monday, June 09, 2008


this monday's music video: another beautiful song about home, this time from sheryl crow. i don't necessarily consider myself a fan of her work -- emmylou harris did it first and she did it way, way better than this -- but ms. crow has so many songs that i like, i almost can't resist appreciating her in this indirect peripheral way. great songwriting is definitely where it's at.

too bad i couldn't embed the longer version. visually, it's tremendous. but hey -- i can't have everything i want, now can i.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

i've got the cigar -- sort of...

i went into voiceovers unlimited/aaa voiceovers a few days ago and did the voiceover takes for each minute or so of commercial copy for my voiceover reel. i bounced in and out of the studio listening carefully as dan duckworth edited all six of them together with the music that we’d already chosen for each one, then cut all of it into snippets of mere seconds each and trimmed the excess fat (breathiness, etc) away. fascinating stuff. protools is a little miracle.

by the time he was done, the running time for the whole thing was something like a minute and 10 seconds—because no one has a real attention span and because of the nature of voiceovers, they don’t have to. they can get the gist of it in short order.

when i heard a rough cut of the end result, i was floored. it sounded so good, i could hardly believe it was me.

now i have to wait for the whole thing to be edited and synched and polished and all. that should take something like two weeks. here’s how it goes: they’re going to email it to me and then they’re going to make 12 copies and a master copy for me to pick up. i’ll also get a mailing list, so i can do a postcard mailing to let agents who represent voiceover artists know that i’m available – and that means registering at so that i can take care of all of that asap. my goal is to have all of this done – the demo, the mailing to agents, the master copy in my hand – by my birthday on june 30th. with that as a present to myself, anything else is extra.

yay! i’ll be working from home as a voiceover artist in no time!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

home away from home

when my friend realized that it was going to hit at least 90 degrees today, he made a point of putting in the AC unit that the window installers removed -- sooner rather than later, so that when we came home, we could sit in the coolness and not melt. such creature comforts are priceless in the city, especially when you don't have a lot of money and the weather turns nasty, like it did today. by midday, everyone was sweating so much in the street as they moved past us, they looked like they were made of wax and melting constantly without dissolving into the sidewalk.

its days like these that make you want to leave home for the enviorns of what can only be described as your home away from home: a place that's comfortable and relaxed, where someone is friendly enough to guide you through the pesky details of whatever's on the menu that's special and interesting and unknown, a place that you long to get to, like you long for your couch at the end of a workday. my friend, a former bartender/bar manager, doesn't like bars. tonight, we found one we both want to live in.

when you work hard, you have to make sure that you have enough fun to balance all of it out, or you burn out and out goes the cool city life you thought you were having. in these moments, your fun must be planned. i don't mind being "julie the cruise director" if it gets me the results i want. and to tell you the truth, it was a long beautiful nearly perfect summer day away from the sanctity of my couch: the jeff koons exhibit on the roof of the met museum for one; walking down 5th avenue with my friend as he ate a colorful sno-cone and reminisced about his jersey childhood; dinner later with friends -- and then dessert at tailor's in soho. i went there so we could try the absinthe gummi bears with espresso (my friend's eyebrows went up and basically stayed up when i told him about them), but we stayed for so much more. we realized that although the food was experimental, the bar downstairs was cozy enough to belong to us. i think we've found a home away from home.

Friday, June 06, 2008

getting out of the house

with a nice cushy loveseat, cable/internet and guitars, and lots of voiceover work/auditions online, it's hard to get out of the house these days -- and with a piano teacher on the first floor, it's even harder to leave the building. i know when i wake up that if i don't leave my place before noon, i won't leave at all. for some strange reason, there's always something to do here. practicing the piano can take all afternoon.

on a good day, there's no freelancing. i'll hit the gym and go to work, making art. i know i'm making progress because the guitar is getting easier, the piano is starting to make more sense, i'm writing better songs and i'm getting leaner and stronger. i'm going to give myself until the end of the summer to hit pay dirt: a better left hand with my piano playing, a better right hand with my guitar playing, 50 new songs and a perfect fit in those corseted jeans i just bought last weekend.

in the meantime, talk about getting out of the house: i've got a gig with jc hopkins' biggish band tonight in prospect park tonight and then there's miona's birthday party in soho. tomorrow, there's chris' birthday party at a spot on indian row in the lower east side and then an art opening in billyburg. and of course, there's a picnic with the dreamland orchestra on governor's island on sunday afternoon for a jazz age lawn party: everyone on the swing scene decked out in vintage clothing from the 20s, a vintage fashion show/swimsuit contest, cars on display, a DJ and a parquet floor for dancing, and more.

okay, maybe i am getting out of the house. but don't let the busy weekend fool you -- i'm definitely hibernating.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

work from home

great news! dan duckworth (of voiceovers unlimited) and i have selected music for the voiceover demo and i've finally finished my vocal takes. in about two weeks, everything will be edited together and i'll get 12 copies on CD and a master copy, as well as a list of voiceover agents. i'm going to do a mailing as soon as its downloaded onto they can't hire me if they don't know that i exist.

my goal is to be able to do voiceover work comfortably from home -- although lately it's hard to audition because of all the construction in the building, but i think that's subsiding. or maybe they've moved to another floor.

this is my workspace:

my home workspace

i want a medical narration voiceover demo, too -- but i think i'll push for that by or before the end of the summer.

the problem with most actors -- most artists, actually -- is that they're so caught up in making art that they don't treat what they do like a business. it's not about waiting for the phone to ring. it's about getting out there and doing it whether the phone rings or not.

the thing that i love about voiceovers unlimited is that they didn't just make me a demo -- they showed me how to market myself, and gave me the contacts and the tools to pull it off. there were marketing workshops, one-on-one coaching, introductions to casting agents. you name it. they even suggest a system for losing weight, if that's what you need. working with them has really opened my eyes to a lot of what i should be doing for myself every day. it's been a great experience.

i actually love doing voiceovers and i'm so relieved that i've developed another stream of income. it's low stress, takes a minimal amount of time to pull off and it's fun. union jobs can pay as much as on camera work, easily.

all of this -- the commercial demo, the mailing and and everything inbetween -- should be up and off the ground by or before my birthday. i love giving myself birthday presents. this is a good one.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

home work

my corporate landlord in all of their benevolent self-serving money-grubbing glory has decided that every apartment in the building needs new windows -- not just the ones that are being renovated because they are empty. yesterday was my turn.

home work

i can't even begin to tell you how ginormous and beautiful these windows are. sure, you probably have this in the suburbs. but in new york city? i know people who have grown up their whole lives in the city and seeing this in harlem would be a shocking thing for them. and this isn't a huge apartment.

window work

and just like that, he popped the window right in.

window installer

i have to admit, it was strange to watch him work so quickly and with such exacting movements. he cut the frame for the outside and put the window in just so, and then someone else came in and nailed in the wood frame and caulked everything.

he had obviously done this a jillion times. i had never seen this before, so i took snapshots from my couch, riveted. my father was right: you can learn a lot by watching someone do something.

i could totally do construction.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

gentrify, testify

there's been a massive amount of construction in my building. a commercial development company bought all of the buildings on my side of the street, and although the rumor is that they'll flip the buildings and turn them into condos when the vacancy limit is reached, others say that it's more of a moneymaker to continue renovating each apartment as it becomes vacant and jacking up the rent to match whatever they're paying downtown. they've even put up green awnings at each entrance with the address and this really silly, pretentious name: the westbourne.

what's especially sad is that when they renovate, every other room becomes a bedroom, for the most part, and harlem apartments were never meant to be lived in that way -- especially on the west side. the people who move into these spaces never realize that. most places have a living room, dining room and a kitchen that's large enough to sit and eat in. and the larger apartments in the front also have sun rooms or sitting rooms. even my two bedroom apartment is supposed to be a one bedroom set-up: they converted the dining room into a large bedroom and put a closet in it, then sealed off a doorway that led directly to the kitchen.

the reason why they don't have anything like that downtown is because back in the day, harlem was meant for luxurious living. the sidewalks are broader, there are malls filled with flora and fauna that divide the streets with benches to sit and chat, and the streets feel more like thoroughfares than roads. and compared to what you'd find downtown, the apartments are cavernous.

the apartments downtown were created for immigrants: small cramped situations with bathtubs in the living room and bathrooms down the hall when they weren't placed in a closet. that's the nyc in the tenement museum in the lower east side. no one gets to wander through a harlem apartment unless they're watching one of those screwball comedies from the 20s or 30s -- and when you happen upon one of those movies, with the sumptuous marble lobbies, replete with chandeliers and whatnot, you have to keep reminding yourself that its new york city that you're seeing.

watching the disparity in these movies as a kid, i always knew that i would live in a palace of an apartment in harlem. why bother with any other part of the city? and although i've had pretty standard issue places so far -- with the exception of a cavernous place on riverside drive -- they have been huge in comparison to the apartments downtown and elsewhere in the city. i still want such a place. what's bizarre is that if i stay in this building long enough and if they actually flip the building, i just might get it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

a house is not a home

with this month's NaBloPoMo subject of home, this song a house is not a home was the first thing that came to mind. it sums up in this effortless way exactly what a home really is. burt bacharach wrote it -- i guess that's why they keep panning the camera over to dionne warwick. well, luther did some production for her as well and i think they had a hit song together. but her body of work overshadows everything she's ever done since then. it's bizarre how straight out of the 80s this feels. (heh.)

nevermind the vocal gymnastics. luther vandross was a tremendous talent -- as a vocalist, arranger, composer and producer. he will always be missed.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

a home is a house

i decided to do the NaBloPoMo this month. the theme is home. i'm not sure how i'll riff on it, but i'm looking forward to flexing and building some creative muscle and writing about something every day. let's see what develops.

serendipitous thing. whilst wandering through the philadelphia museum of art this weekend during a fun jaunt with my friend, i got lost in the gift shop and the house book by phaidon press haphazardly fell into my idle happy hands. (like i don't have enough to read already!) what a brilliant little book. it's basically 500 or so houses from all over the world in alphabetical order, based on architect/tribe/patron, with a paragraph or so of descriptive text and history on the place, along with it's name, if it has one -- like fallingwater, for example.

all of it got me to thinking about the kind of house i'd like to have someday. not that this hasn't crossed my mind lately. nyc real estate is crazy. i'd have to be a millionaire to have a house in this town, even in the ghetto i live in. the thing is, it's interesting to see how houses are a zeitgeist of the times and a reflection of the people who built/designed them.

here's the $64,000 question: what would my house look like, if i designed it? victorian opulent? buckminister efficient? german modern/minimalist? i'd definitely want something with some weight and history to it. probably one of those assemble-it-yourself sears & roebuck prefab houses from the 20s.

i've always loved frida kahlo's "blue" house, the way she and diego rivera lived together but not really -- they each had their own artist studios in the house, their own separate entrances and areas to entertain and sleep. i guess you can do that when you don't have children. and of course, like so many famous people's homes, it's a museum -- with her cremated ashes perched lovingly in her bed.

houses have their own secrets, it seems. diego rivera hid all kinds of things in trunks and sealed in rooms and whatnot throughout the blue house, not to be opened until God knows when. the benefactors/patrons/caretakers knew of these things and finally opened them a few years ago -- and it's quite the motherlode. over 30,000 pieces -- everything from books and magazines, to x-rays of her spine. now it's a museum exhibit.

he's not the only one that hid stuff. remember that drag queen dorian corey from the movie paris is burning that died a few years ago, and when they went into his apartment to collect his things, they found a dead body stuffed a trunk in his sewing room's closet? it makes you wonder how many other dead bodies are hiding in nyc apartments. makes you wonder, period.