Do I really hate cats? Probably not. But I can tell you one thing; I don’t fit in with serious cat people. I went to New York’s first cat café for VICE and interviewed happy kitty lovers who stood in the rain for 5 hours so that they could pet cats … but never visit animal shelters.
Public service announcement: every major city has tons of animal shelters with dogs and cats that would LOVE for you to visit and kick it with them. They’re chilling in their kennels all day, gazing longingly through the chicken wire, praying that you’ll take them for a walk or scratch behind their ears or even talk to them in that high-pitched voice that makes your significant other cringe. You don’t need to get drenched in a lemming line for half your day just to say what’s up to some animals.
This is completely unrelated, but I cannot iterate strongly enough how good the new Afghan Whigs album is and how much pleasure it is bringing to my workday.
So many of my friends of the rock ‘n’ roll persuasion dangle on either side of what the Whigs do, either opting for something a little more grungy and mainstream or snottier and less accessible. But for God’s sake there should be a fantastic band playing heavy soul music right now and this is it, even after all those years. Emote a little.
Why do people make New Year’s resolutions? They’re conceived in a state of undoubted drunkenness, when one is feeling ultimately miserable from holiday indulgence and begging for some sort of self-affirmation that you will lose 10 lbs or “date better guys” or whatever. What people should really be making are birthday resolutions. Birthday resolutions strike when you’re already in a state of hyper-awareness about getting older, can look back with better accuracy at all of the stupid things you’ve done in the past 365 days, and hopefully capitalize on the idea of “wisdom” with “age.”
Here are my BIRTHDAY RESOLUTIONS (28TH YEAR OF LIFE)
1. IT IS MANDATORY THAT I END MY ADDICTION TO SUGAR
This one is the most serious. My friend’s 90-something Korean grandmother told me that when you eat sugar, parasites grow inside of you and munch happily on all of the candies and cookies and lovely treats that you stuff into your face. Even though I believe this to be … false, to put it lightly, the very concept of it has disturbed me for some time. I am absolutely, unequivocally, physically addicted to sugar. I find ways to sneak it into everything and for my birthday two of my friends made me the most delectable s’mores ice cream cake that my lips have ever beheld, so I will have to begin as soon as the cake is gone (which will likely be in 24 more hours). There is no other way.
2. LEARN HOW TO USE TWITTER
The other day some obnoxious troll commented on a post that my boyfriend had written for a relatively popular music website, and went on some ridiculous rant about how writers should be ignored if they have less than 1000 followers on Twitter. Obviously, I disagree with this strongly and wanted to vomit all over my keyboard at the site of his comments. But, like the Korean grandma sugar-parasite legend, it still stuck with me in spite of its obvious lack of factuality. Working in media, one needs to, at the very least, try to be less averse to all things Twitter, since there seems to be a collective idea that it’s “integral” to “modern culture.”
3. BE LESS SARCASTIC
I just realized this one while typing out why I should learn how to use Twitter. But honestly, as someone who vouches for earnestness so earnestly, I should be better about practicing it.
4. STOP BEING A WUSS
My former roommate was reading a self-help book titled The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking. One day, I was leafing through it and read a considerable portion about what can be learned from Stoics, a formal philosophical practice that entails placing less emphasis on the demand for “true happiness” and more on developing tactics for managing uncertainty, regret, and insecurity. It mirrored what another friend told me he learned from Allen Carr’s The Easy Way to Stop Smoking; accept times of mild to moderate discomfort and unpleasantry. Welcome them, and recognize that you can survive them. Understand that all experiences are finite and that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen, and, even if it does, it likely isn’t something you can’t withstand. And even if you die—well, we all do. This is actually a very liberating thought, and one that I am trying to integrate more into my daily experiences rather than leaning on complaining and avoidance.
5. START DRESSING MORE LIKE AN ADULT FEMALE AND LESS LIKE A TEENAGE BOY FROM 1994
Just kidding. I’m going to wear overalls and band t-shirts all summer.
I moved to New York on September 1st, 2013. I often get asked, by people both here and in California, whether or not I like it. And I feel like I should be completely sure how to answer them, but I’m not.
My coworkers, my parents, or my friends back in California (many of whom I still text or Gchat with on a near-daily basis, one of the few plus-sides of contemporary tech-communication norms) usually pose this question as well-meaning small talk, but I’ve yet to come up with a confident answer. I feel 100-percent sure that I needed to move here at some point my life, and 110-percent sure that I chose the perfect time to do it. But whether I think that New York is patently better to live in than San Francisco or any other decent metropolis? Well, I’m just not sure about that, no matter how many people tell me that the colloquial Big Apple is the best city in the world. There’s so much to it, I know, but it lacks trees (especially of the palm variety), decently priced avocados, and underdog charm (something that’s rapidly and violently being sucked out of my beloved San Francisco).
The house that I left behind was at the base of Bernal Hill. I would take 6-minute hikes from my front door to its peak, where I could ogle all of the Australian Shepherds in the city as they chased each other in circles around its slopes. Once, some local do-gooder mischief-makers dragged a stand-up piano up to the top of it, and people would play concertos and shit while others would sit in circles around them like hungry first-graders. Another time, someone made an expansive crop circle at its base out of red rocks. It was magical.
I moved to the three-way border of the Mission, the Excelsior, and Bernal Heights in January 2010 when I was 23, a refugee from the even more sickeningly gentrified neighborhood Hayes Valley. That same month, that particular stretch south of Cesar Chavez, then a bit of a no-man’s land, was dubbed “La Lengua” by local blog Burrito Justice, named for its tongue-like shape and high concentration of pupusa restaurants. At the time, it was considered slightly peripheral, almost an outskirt, a place for lesbians and musicians and Latino families. The primary attractions for my demographic were a very affordable spaghetti restaurant (love you forever, Emmy’s), a fantastic late-night taqueria (Cancun, obviously), and a dive bar with a superb $2 photo booth (love you too, Knockout). We had friends who wouldn’t come over because we lived “too far,” even though we were less than 10 blocks from many of their favorite bars. There was no Rock Bar or El Amigo or Virgil’s Sea Room or Ichi (in their places were two Mexican pool bars, the infamous Nap’s 3 (RIP), and an admittedly mediocre sushi spot that no one really misses). Even just four years ago, it was a great neighborhood because it was an actual neighborhood, not yet a bloated, price-inflated, new-condo strip mall.
This year, it got voted the Hottest Neighborhood in the Country, something that I’m sure the Mission was awarded shortly before it started getting soul-sucked by Google Bus riders. How quickly things have changed.
My dad was born and raised in the Sunset District, and my grandfather was brought to San Francisco by his Russian immigrant parents. Both became restaurateurs—it was truly the family business, and probably a huge influence on my eventual foray into food writing and media. Before my dad joined my grandfather, however, he was a bail bondsman, with most of his clients being Vietnam draft dodgers and other hippie types. (Now, in his state of full brainwashed addiction to Fox News, I sigh at the thought of this.) He also owned nightclubs and comedy clubs, the Old Waldorf, The Matrix, X’s, and the Punchline. In the ’70s and early ’80s, there was a vibrant, dirty music scene in San Francisco, a thirst for culture and subculture and drugs and grime and leather jackets, that week by week since has been replaced with untucked polo shirts and Google Glasses and people who think that Tartine bread could somehow be objectively better than a fresh Oaxaquena torta.
My grandfather owned Tommy’s Joynt, a still-standing no-bullshit corned beef sandwich dive on Geary and Van Ness. He died in 1999, but sometimes I read the Yelp reviews anyway. They’re peppered with rants from entitled self-identified foodies who don’t understand why anyone would want something non-artisan, served on a tray, palatable for the working class and for people who don’t give a shit about quinoa or kombucha, and reviews from people who gave one star because their drunk friend brought in outside food and had to throw it away when anyone who has worked in a restaurant knows that this is against the law.
Maybe that’s one of the things that really burns about San Francisco’s class war; the giant influx of new residents who have never and will never work a service job, or know what it’s like to have to wipe down a table when someone has drunkenly soaked it in their own interpretation of an Irish car bomb, or hang back up a pile of two dozen dresses that someone left in a dressing room instead of bringing it out for you to sort on a rack. Like most people who grew up in the area that I did, I was born with some kind of silver spoon in my mouth and undeniable privilege. But I’m glad that my parents never raised me to be above working at a record store or a restaurant, because that is when you see people’s true nature. When you are there simply to serve them, to assure that they have a good time, and they really have nothing to gain from being kind to you. They also feel like they have nothing to lose by yelling at you for taking too long to refill their water. And in spite of that, even though now I’m sitting at a desk in an office with free Lara Bars and soda, I still feel the urge to bus people’s tables whenever I’m at a restaurant.
San Francisco was once a place where people in the service industry could afford to live. And other non-white-collar people too; performance artists, drummers, political writers, radio show hosts. You’ll find them on the next ferry to Oakland, if they’re not there already.
I miss San Francisco. When I left, it felt like a languid, gap-toothed lover that I kept getting wine-drunk with over and over, each time ending up on the same couch giggling and eating the same quesadilla. I felt overly contented, uncomfortably comfortable. It’s hard to remember sometimes that that can be a bad thing, but it’s the same reason that if you wear leggings every day, you’ll get fucking fat. Resistance can be very valuable.
But in New York, the resistance might be excessive. A trip to Target takes a week to plan. Leaving the city is almost unheard of unless you magically befriend someone in ownership of a car, or are willing to spend $100+ to Zipcar it far enough out of city limits to feel like a real day trip. Mediocre cocktails are regularly $12 or more. But the difference is that New York knows this about itself, and shrugs. San Francisco is in the midst of an identity crisis. Is it North Beach strip clubs, or Haight Ashbury burnouts, or 24th street immigrants, or Valencia hipsters, or preening SOMA tech peacocks? And can all of the above possibly live together, fairly and happily, in a space only 7 miles by 7 miles?
What I had in San Francisco as a younger person will never be again, because I will never be 23 and devoid of responsibility again. But I carry with me literally hundreds of flashes of running down the street, barely able to breathe because I’m laughing so hard, happy that things were still kind of weird and dangerous and unpredictable.
So I don’t know if I’ll be here for a long while, or what my next frontier will look like. It’s hard to chase beauty when you find it in things that are a little bit ugly. San Francisco, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be back for good. Maybe in six months, maybe never. But I’m not ashamed to say that I miss you, or at least my memory of you.
Note: I realize that there are worse things than what I’m about to describe. Cancer, the Steubenville rape case, paraplegia, the 2008 financial crisis, etc. But honestly, I think more people have nightmares about this than any of the aforementioned.
Friday began as a day like any other. I woke up exhausted and shuffled blindly to the subway, where I saw a stray rat dragging an unidentified foodstuff through the tracks and felt very glad that it was 20 or 30 yards away, pacing in a valley where I was untouchable. I took the elevator to my office, ate Raisin Bran with almond milk at my desk while hunting through infinity-googol-plex photos of pumpkin pie slices on Getty, and listened to the same Mission of Burma song four times in a row on the subway. I invented the thoughts and desires of fellow commuters while picking lint off of my boiled wool sweater, got off two stops from my house and pretended that it was exercise. I went inside, listened to A$AP Ferg and drank a glass of Vouvray with my roommate, and suddenly remembered that it was my turn to take out the trash.
Taking out the trash is a somewhat involved process at [my address]. One must:
1. Drag the usually-exploding garbage bag down the stairs (leaking quinoa and crumpled paper towels along the way)
2. Throw open the quick-slamming front door
3. Walk about 10 feet to the right
4. Properly insert and turn a small gold key into the large, locked padlock on the plastic dumpster. Remove the padlock and open ‘er up. The dumpster also opens from the front, but typically one only needs to raise the rather heavy dumpster-lid and…
5. Aggressively throw the trash bag into one of the large silver cans within. Shut the lid, relock the padlock, get outta there.
Everything was going according to plan until I reached step 5.
The bag was heavy. Our recycling regimen had really fallen off the rails in past weeks, and glass bottles and jars added serious pounds to the vegetable matter and god-knows-whatever-else that creaked within the thin white plastic. I aimed and hurled the bag at the closer trashcan, but it fell to the side against the edge of the dumpster.
Fine, I thought. No problem; I’ll just open the plastic doors at the front of the dumpster, shimmy inside a bit, and push the bag into the can. Be a good citizen and all. Obey the wishes of our landlord, Auggie, who once told my roommate that his goal in life was to make her happy. Also might have tried to kiss her on the mouth one time, which was pretty inappropriate. Whatever.
But then … the worst thing ever happened.
As I swung open the front doors of the dumpster as though entering a ghost-town saloon, the absolute most atrocious smell that my nostrils have ever beheld wafted right up into my face. Hear you me when I tell you that I have smelled some really bad smells. I’ve worked at dive bars, grown up with boys who don’t believe in hygiene and don’t understand expiration dates, and lived in Tacoma, Washington. But you know in Auschwitz documentaries when the survivors are like, “You never forget the smell of burning/rotting human bodies mixed with excrement?” That was my immediate thought when I encountered this smell. It was almost visual in its potency and had the presence of the poisonous green cloud that cursed Sleeping Beauty. Confused and repulsed, I froze.
And then, very suddenly, I felt a strange, warm, scratching and rustling sensation about my feet and legs. I looked down and covering the bodily area between my toes and my knees were NEW YORK CITY RATS. MANY MANY RATS. Probably more than half a dozen huge, brown, hairy, yellow-toothed rats. And while I’m certain that they actually intended to get away from me, they were doing just the opposite. Their little nails clung to my jeans. Their shit-matted fur brushed against my favorite boots. It all happened in a split second that somehow lasted forever.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to provide a visual so that you can understand why this was the worst thing ever.
Their tails are horrible, scaly, leathery, bitten-off. Their eyes, beady. Their skin mottled with … conditions. This is how the spend most of their lives:
I was not reminded of Splinter from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was reminded only of the bajillions of rats that I have seen running around the crudded veins of the subway tracks, noshing on KFC bones and human entrails, threatening to climb up the platform and ever-so-gently brush their bubonic-plagued bodies against us. But we thank our lucky stars that they never really do (or we at least should). There are between 8 million and 32 million rats in New York City, and they mostly keep to themselves … until now.
I leapt back and, in a way that I didn’t think I was female enough to be capable of, emitted a high-pitched scream that caused all of the mutant rodents to leap from my gams and scatter. I stood there paralyzed, backing away from the dumpster and hyperventilating while a group of Puerto Rican men laughed their asses off.
“I … DID YOU … DID YOU SEE THAT?” I asked them.
“What happened, mami, some rats? Rats in the garbage?”
“YES … RATS … THEY TOUCHED ME … THEY CLIMBED ON ME.”
One of the men came over and calmly shut the dumpster for me. I wondered if trash rats had ever climbed all over him and traumatized him beyond repair. Clearly not, I thought, as he fearlessly threw the plastic doors shut. Or maybe he just figured that all of the rats had already attacked me and were ready for a siesta. I owed this man thanks but was unable to form words.
“I WAS … THE RATS …”
“I seen some rats in there, little mice too, you know. Better be careful.”
I stumbled back up the stairs and into my house, trying to think of ways that I could sterilize my entire body. I had bought these particular jeans literally the day before and would risk ruining them if I washed them in hot water, and my boots were beyond beloved to me. I had resoled them three times; throwing them away was out of the question. But how could I possibly be cleansed of this incident? So far all I can think of is washing my hands for 2-3 minutes after touching either garment.
A year or two ago, I came across a photo of a truly behemoth rat allegedly found in a Foot Locker in the Bronx. I have left it behind a link so that you are not involuntarily plagued with the same nightmares that I was after seeing it, or if you are, you were at least warned fairly beforehand. I saw this photo long before I had decided to migrate to the East Coast, and I thought that it was merely photo witchery or alarmist propaganda.
But I take it all back. If the End of Days is near, New York rats are leading the way. They’re powerful, and plentiful, and I think that they’re hoarding dead human bodies in our dumpster.
On the bright side, at least they weren’t tarantulas or cobras. That’s the only way that I can think sunnily about this thing that happened, this terrible, horrible thing. This worst thing ever.
I skipped a couple of weeks of playlists because I’ve been very busy with very strange new occupations.
Since arriving in New York, I’ve become a yes person. Yes, I’ll write an article about GMOs for your website. Yes, I’ll part-time waitress at your Lower East Side restaurant. Yes, I’ll assist with your matchmaking business. There’s no room for no’s right now, and that feels good. Busy as hell, but doing something different every three hours every day of the week. I feel like a human petri dish full of agar growing a dozen different fuzzy multicolored little cultures. Still hoping that one will take over the others at some point, but right now this feels just fine, walking 40 blocks a day.
Here’s to trying to hustle.
1. Q Lazzarus—”Goodbye Horses”
Watched the Elijah Wood slasher flick Maniac this week, which was gruesome, super psychological, and legitimately eerie; something I wouldn’t say about many contemporary horror movies. On the other hand, the second half wasn’t very good. But like its better-known predecessor Silence of the Lambs, it has this really great 1988 dance ballad with one of the hookiest synth lines ever and that haunting, swaying melody. All I can think about is psychologically disturbed people slow-dancing to it with corpses, and yet it maintains its romance. Tried to do karaoke to it last night but sadly it was not to be found. Someday. Great article about the cultishness and legacy of this song here.
2. Drake—”Hold On, We’re Going Home”
I saw Drake’s performance of this song at the VMA’s and was like OH WOW, he’s SINGING and THIS IS NOT BAD and then I totally forgot about it until three days ago when Drizzy’s album leaked and a gent mentioned how amazing this song is. Oh god, yesterday I was so gluttonously agreeing—I probably listened to it 15 times in the last 24 hours.
Okay, may we briefly reflect on the ongoing legacy of Degrassi: The Next Generation? I was up on Aubrey Graham/Drake/Jimmy years before he even ended up in that wheelchair that everyone loves to put him on blast for.
It’s only when seeing 14-year-old Aubrey pal around with Sean Cameron and Spinner Mason, taking middle school breezies out for Canadian milkshakes like it’s his job and giving them tender tongueless smooches, that you can truly appreciate the development of theDrizzy persona and the delightful novelty of him rapping “She just want to smoke and fuck / I said ‘Girl, that’s all that we do.'” (In “The Language,” not this track, which is the for-the-ladies R&B croon of the album.)
3. Desireless—”Voyage, Voyage”
When people wax about French New Wave, they’re usually talking Breathless, but don’t discount dark 80s dance music from the land of berets. Desireless was the cross-continent cross between Siouxsie, Human League, and Berlin. There was a time when I was fluent in French. Sadly, that time has passed, but I still find the language, especially when sung by a breathy lady, to be the equivalent of half a Xanax and a glass of wine. If you found yourself rewatching Megan Draper’s “Zou Bisou Bisou” o’er and o’er, here’s one for ya.
4. Ride—”Leave Them All Behind”
Embarrassingly, one thing that I got super excited about when moving to New York is the Topshop flagship store. Whether it was because of the impressive variety of angora sweaters and crop tops or just my unabashed materialism, I walked in and whirled around in wide-eyed glee like the kids in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
BUT I DIGRESS. I heard this in Topshop the other day. It’s been hard to leave behind my friends, family, and Sheltie-Corgi mix on the West Coast, and it was just really right for that moment. Which is all you can ever really ask for in a song, anyway.
Wheels turning around Into alien grounds Pass through different times Leave them all behind
5. Lykke Li—”Silver Springs”
Angelic Scandinavian dark-pop dame Lykke Li covering one of Fleetwood Mac’s best and most earnest songs. Best song on this compilation by far, and the only one that does justice to Stevie and her brood.
On Wednesday, I moved to New York. Well, to Brooklyn.
New York City is a place that I’ve long peered at with endless fascination, a hive of both strangeness and obviousness (like, they aren’t lyin’ when they say that it’s humongous, and there truly does seem to be an unparalleled concentration of pizza and saxophone players). Also, it is clearly the best place on the continent for people-watching.
When I was a kid, maybe six years old or so, I learned of Brooklyn through a combination of the Super Mario Brothers series and cop shows. My impression consisted of an assemblage of very large, very impressive brick buildings filled with brave, mustachioed, virile Italian men with caring grandmothers. When I told my mom that I wanted to live there, she laughed at my naïveté. Brooklyn was a different place back then, a far cry from the mixologized leather-bag craft fair and emporium of long-legged women with competitive sunglasses that it has become in the post-American Apparel era.
In my teen years, I developed a new mental archetype of New York based on my obsession with The Ramones and Lou Reed. This time, I imagined an endless sea of tough-talking ripped-jean ugly-hot 20something men flicking cigarettes into gutters, tinkering on drums in warehouses, breaking hearts, and generally being “cool.” You know, occasional knife fights, The Warriors, that sort of thing. This concept is actually considerably closer to the modern reality of Brooklyn, but with fewer shankings and face-paint gang wars due to Giuliani’s much-discussed transformation of da big apple.
I never quite shook the desire to “check it out,” and when my 27th birthday passed, it became clear that my opportunity to experience it—even in its current incarnation—wouldn’t last forever. So I quit my emotionally crippling job, packed up, hopped a plane, and here I am.
Here is a list of the emotions that I’ve experienced since I arrived: enthrallment, anxiety, terror, joy, depression, exuberance, wonder, fear, sadness, excitement, happiness, exhaustion, and mostly being totally overwhelmed by everything.
The day before I left to come here, I finished a mixtape that I had been working on for weeks for someone very dear to me. I had made mixes for this person before, but this one would be different; it would serve as a physical embodiment of our goodbye. I deliberated over the inclusion of each song, the flow from melody to melody, and the imagined experience of listening to this musical sequence in a variety of contexts, even if most of them are unlikely. I don’t know how often this person will listen to the mix that I made for them, but even if they skim it and bury it, I find comfort in having made it, in trying to please someone other than myself in spite of the pretty selfish act I’ve just committed; the act of following some strong but abstract whim and leaving behind many people that I love beyond words to join a crowded ant farm of hustlers.
Here are five songs that are found on that mix.
1. Julian Lynch—Terra
This is the opening track. I couldn’t remember where I had found this album or this song—I thought perhaps Julian Lynch was one of these cult-followed 70s songwriter types, a Chris Bell or a Nick Drake or something. Then I suddenly remembered today that the person for whom I made this mix actually introduced me to Lynch and that he’s contemporary—Pitchforky, actually. But the fact that this song is timeless enough that I couldn’t immediately recognize that should serve as a testimonial to its qualities. Something about it reminds me of Coltrane, or psychedelic-era Beatles, or looking at pictures of my dad when he was my age.
2. Beach Boys—Diamond Head
Aside from maybe Debussy’s “Clair De Lune,” there is no piece of music more relaxing than this obscure, instrumental, hammock-swaying tune from the Beach Boys. An audible piña colada.
3. Lungfish—Fearfully and Wonderfully
This band is beyond underrated. The sense of straining, wanting, trying in every Lungfish song conveys a sense of masculine passion that I can hardly describe. I wish that this was always the second-to-last song at closing time.
It’s very interesting that this song is called “Joy” since its subterranean production seems to convey more of a tone of mystery, even a conversation with hidden subtexts, like staring at a lacy thing through a roughly cut crystal.
4. Fleetwood Mac—That’s All For Everyone
Does anything off of Tusk really need a footnote at this point? I don’t think so. But I will mention that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks went to high school three blocks from the house that I grew up in in Menlo Park, and that for many other reasons it was hard to put the Bay Area in my rear view mirror, even if it’s not forever. I really miss every lovely and terrible little thing, all the time.