Recent Work By Rebecca Schiffman

My parents have had subscription tickets to the New York City Ballet for over thirty years, dating back to when the company performed at The City Center.  They moved up and up as better seats became available and settled in the exact two center seats of the eighth row.  Until the recent renovation, courtesy of David Koch, one ticket read “enter from left,” the other “enter from right.”

Tonight I took the public bus to the public library to return, browse, and borrow some books.  I was car sick (or bus sick) on the ride down Fifth Avenue.  I still harbored resentment for the driver of the previous bus I had just missed, who closed up and advanced the bus twenty feet to wait out the red light at the crosswalk instead of the bus stop where more riders could have boarded. I decided my present driver was okay but not good enough to prevent my bus nausea.

My favorite bus driver is one who seems as eager as I am to reach a destination rather than just making his/her rounds, and he takes pride in his confident, skillful maneuvers that let us just make the light and continue on for a few more blocks saving, literally, minutes.

Sometimes I think of getting the driver’s name and calling the MTA with praise but then I wonder if the qualities I like most in this driver are the same qualities that would be considered by the MTA to be related to the breaking of certain guidelines.

My nausea persisted so I got off the bus two stops early and schlepped a tote bag of hardcover books to the Mid-Manhattan branch library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue which is open until 11pm on weekdays.

More than usual, perhaps because of the heat, the scent of urine and shit wafted through the bookshelves, but was not as nauseating as the bus ride.  And, perhaps because of the time and day, 9pm, Tuesday, there was an unusually large ratio of weird old men shuffling around to not weird old men not shuffling around.

I dumped some books in the book drop (two days early!) and headed toward the elevators where there stands the only obvious recent improvement in the cleanliness of the library, an automatic Purell dispenser.  I took some Purell and took the elevator to the third floor.  Yeah, I already knew which floor the Art books are on because I am someone who takes buses and goes to libraries.  I even take buses to libraries.

More old men shuffling around, not seeming to know each other but similarly styled in academic wear and would be presentable but for their unshaven faces and yellowy-white unwashed hair, and a third “je ne sais quoi” quality.

I visited my favorite shelves and amassed a pile of books too heavy to carry home.  I picked a chair at one of the communal tables and began skimming, editing out the least useful.  At a parallel table, a few seats to my right and facing my direction, one of the old men who seemed particularly skittish in the way he was turning the pages of a book that he was reading at a diagonal, said to the girl across from him in a muffled, gravelly voice, “Are you a model?”

I saw from behind as she lifted her head in surprise, paused, and then sternly answered “No.”

The man went on about her having an interesting face and something else about models.  She said, “No, and I’m not interested in that, sorry.” and went back to reading.

The situation felt familiar.  I am sure that is the kind of thing I used to sometimes get asked by weird old men, or naive (or scheming?) country bumpkins and I felt a little surprised, a little jealous, and a little relieved that I was not the one being asked.  I wondered if I would have had an answer as effective as hers at shorting the conversation. Her answer implied to me her experience of having been asked those sorts of questions before.

Now it was time to see if that old library copy card still had any juice on it.  Around six years ago, upon returning from Nepal, I took out six books on learning to speak Urdu, (because I had bought a CD in Kathmandu by a Pakistani band called Strings who sing in Urdu) from this very branch, got as far as kind of learning the Arabic alphabet but without any meanings, and returned the books late enough to rack up a $46 fine.  This copy card was at least that old and I had miraculously remembered where I saw it last and to bring it.

I picked one of the heavier books to copy parts of so I could save my back the weight.  I shifted the rest of the books into a neat stack in front of my chair and placed my large, three quarters full Poland Spring water bottle on top to indicate that these books were not abandoned and should not be reshelved.

I found a nearby copy machine.  My card had 35 cents left on it, enough to make two copies at 15 cents each, and it worked.  I then refilled my card with a dollar bill at the nearby card vending machine and copied more pages.  I was impressed with the system and myself for having seamlessly blended back into it. The color copies were still $1 each which seems old-fashioned considering how these days everyone prints photos from home like it’s nothing.

I put my copies in my tote bag, walked back to the tables and scanned for a tall clear bottle to locate my seat.  I saw that same man who was interested in models rummaging through and spreading around my pile of books. I came up next to him and said somewhat hostilely, “Excuse me, those are my books.”

He said, “I’m sorry, I thought they were abandoned.”

Right then I noticed my manhandled water bottle.  It was rumply with many dents and still standing but with a slight lean.  I replied, “I put my water bottle on top of the pile to show I would be back.”

I quickly gathered the books I wanted to take, and my water bottle from which I made a note not to drink and to throw out as soon as possible.

I signed out some books with my tiny library keychain card which I keep on a ring with similar cardlets from Duane Reade, The Food Emporium, Staples and CVS.  To be honest, I can’t find the Staples one and I bought a roll of double-sided tape today (the one labeled “permanent” though I worry I may in fact find that I need the “removable” kind and have to pay for a whole new roll of tape) and was too lazy to look up my card using a phone number (which phone number?) so when the cashier asked me if I had a Staples Rewards Card I said no, which in a way is true since I did not have it on me.

This time I caught the first bus I saw, an M4 going up Madison Avenue.  This bus’s breaks were way too loud but at least the vehicle itself moved a little more smoothly.  The metrocard reader was not working so the bus driver waved riders in, motioning for them to keep moving and not worry about the fare.  That seems to happen quite often and it always feels like a happily fortuitous occasion.  The bus driver does not have to wait for riders to find their metrocard and then figure out which way to insert it and the riders do not have to pay.  I have an unlimited Metrocard but I still appreciate losing the hassle.

Service on several bus lines was reduced last week due to MTA budget shortages.  On the bus, with my fellow passengers, I thought, “That’s a shame.”  I imagined getting into an argument with some Libertarians or Republicans I know, who in this particular scenario I had just made up, were against having public buses.

A small Indian woman was pestering the bus driver for directions.  She mentioned Columbia Presbyterian Hospital which I sometimes took the bus to and from during the three months I participated in a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) study there.  But I heard that is one of the routes that has been changed so I didn’t chime in.

Whenever I saw a man in a suit on the subway, I used to look at his shoes to try to judge what type of man in a suit he was. Whether he was a really rich guy on Wall Street riding home after work to avoid traffic or some poor schmo with beat up semi-formal work shoes who has to take the subway because that is his only option.

I stopped being as interested in the shoes of suited subway riders when I learned that really, really rich people don’t ride the subway at all.  Sure, Mayor Bloomberg rides the subway to work but he has to be driven to a stop other than his own and have a large security escort.  But non-mayoral really, really rich people don’t ride the subway.  They have drivers.  And so, they do not really know the subway lines.  They do not have an appreciation for the colors and letters and the joy of a perfect connection between two trains that do not come very often and the special knowledge one gains of which trains run infrequently at night and how to get up from those folding seats without creating a loud bang.

But some fairly rich people do ride the bus.  Most people who have been in New York for a long time or who have grown up here ride the bus.  But the crazies usually ride the subway.  Although, once, a crazy guy on the bus, who, by the way, did not smell, called me an “anorexic salad-ass ho.”  At first I thought he was just an asshole, but when he ended his rant with something about God, I was relieved to feel that he was actually just insane.

I can be made to feel bad very easily and I do not like feeling bad.  I like to read on the subway.  In fact, it is the only place I can really read and make progress in a book.  So when a performer comes into my subway car and does some break dancing, there are really only a few routines that have been used for years, I often become annoyed.  I want them to know, “I’ve seen your act before, I’ve had a long day and am just trying to get home and I was hoping to sneak a little reading in, and if I wanted to be entertained I would go to a performance and maybe pay some professional performers of my choosing.  I just want to read, I don’t want to see your act so why would I pay you?”

But once when I was making a particularly serious face and staring at my book, trying to transition from staring into reading, a breakdancer in the troupe gave us, the mostly reluctant audience, a lecture.

He was pissed off.  Not because almost no one gave him money.  It was because of our attitude and I fear that my unamused expression was a large contributing factor to his indignity.

What I heard him say to me, in essence, was, “you don’t have to be a bitch, we’re trying our best and you’re sitting there pretending not to see us.  At least smile when we’re finished, clap, you don’t have to pay us, just give a little respect.”

At the time I was so taken off guard that in my head I became very defensive and imagined all sorts of things to yell back.  But the next day his point began to sink in and I am actually grateful for the talking-to because I feel that I now am able to respond appropriately in an honest and friendly manner, by boldly smiling and not paying, when someone unexpectedly performs at me.

Back to the bus ride home.  I got off the bus at 86th Street and walked home with an armload of books. The library no longer gives plastic bags but you can buy one for $1, or not.  I hoped I would run into one of my ritzier neighbors on the way in and they would notice the library stamps and call numbers on the books I was carrying and they would realize that I go to the public library and this realization would also be a proud, in their face assertion of my Jewish, liberal upbringing and my Jewish, liberal family and our continued presence in this ever-WASPier building.


Yesterday, early evening, I went to the Strand Bookstore on 12th Street and Broadway.  The store is just slightly overflowing with used and new books presented on tables and in aisles of shelves that almost reach the ceiling, reminding me of a school library.   “Eighteen Miles of Books” is their current motto.

My brain feels like one of those toys you have to push to make little bright objects bounce around in a clear dome over a loud grating noise.  Or a bingo dispenser, lots of stuff cluttering around and occasionally something comes out.  Or a garbage can at a rich person’s house or in a knick-knack store that’s going out of business.  You can see some good stuff in there but when you reach in you have to cringe past some gross gunk like banana peels and uneaten noodles and worse and you feel your way in the dark to find the valuable bits that can be wiped off, de-grossified, salvaged for future use.

Not to be dramatic.  I just can’t sleep so I’ll see what I can find in here (pointing to head.)

1.  At some point in middle school I went to a party where you could have your photo put on a drinking cup.  My friend Steph and I had two photos taken of us, and then each one put on a cup.  In one photo I looked really good and Steph looked okay.  In the other photo Steph looked really good and I looked okay.  I wanted the photo where I looked better but Steph said she wanted that one- why would she want to have a good photo of herself rather than one of her friend?

I forget what we decided on, but I felt vain and still do since if I were in the same situation today I’m pretty sure I would still want the better photo of myself.

2.  A few weeks ago I took a road trip to New Orleans with my friends Charlotte and Wilmot.  To pass the time in the car we played what turned into a sort of game- “Who Would You Rather Hook Up With?”  It was usually hit or miss, with many questions getting the answer – “Duh, of course (so and so).”

The fun was in thinking about the preferences of the person you were asking, and coming up with the perfectly balanced pair, balanced in either desirability or repulsiveness, and eliciting a “Hmmmmmm” or an “Ew!”

One of us wondered wether you could take all of someone’s answers and put them into a computer program that would figure out the perfect match.  Wilmot began, “But wait!  Rebecca, you said…” and I was somewhat skeptical of whatever he was about to say since he doesn’t know me as well as Charlotte and so had asked me a lot of “Who Would You Rather” questions where my choice had been obvious to me and Charlotte.

But he continued, “You said before that you would rather hook up with C over H, right?”  Yeah.  “And I’m pretty sure you picked H over G right?”  Uh huh.  “But didn’t you also pick G over C?  You’ve created a circle!  Or a triangle.”

Wait a minute.  I thought about it and he was right!   I don’t know how Wilmot had stored all of that information over the past several hours.  But I kept going over it in my head and it was true.  The answers had to do with the real-life context for each choice but it still blew my mind- and Wilmot said that my triangle would definitely be an obstacle for our computer program.

It’s really slim pickins in here today…what else?

3.  I first heard the phrase “slim pickins” in the movie “Lady and the Tramp.”

For years I thought the word “Buick” was a synonym for car, just like automobile, rather than a brand.  This is because when I was around five I was watching “Annie Hall” with my family and during the scene where Alvie is trying to kill a spider with a tennis racket and says the spider is the size of a Buick, I asked, “What’s a Buick?”

My mom said “It’s a car.”

So, be very careful what you say to your children.

I saw the movie “Murder by Death” for the first time last week and decided I want to start using the word “malarkey.”

That’s it for now.  Goodnight, sweet Internet.

A very U.E.S. (Upper East Side) Night for me was August 5, 2008.

I broke my third power cord for my apple laptop. I managed to post a note on facebook asking if anyone had an extra before draining the reserve battery power playing boggle on facebook (known as Scramble.) Frustrated, I cut in half two old power cords that had broken in different places and tried to join them while everything was plugged in. This created a fizzing sound and crackling sparks. With no internet I napped most of the evening.

I woke up at around 10pm feeling energized. Perhaps tonight I would finally check out karaoke at Dorrian’s Red Hand. For the last few months I had been receiving weekly invites on facebook to Tuesday night karaoke from a barely-known friendly acquaintance. Having previously only heard of Dorrian’s in connection with the Preppy Murder, I was surprised to see that it was still a popular bar attended by people with no ironic intentions whatsoever. I had maintained a strong morbid curiosity about the place from researching Upper East Side crimes and watching the Law and Order episode based on it.

Stripes

I happened to be home the last few Tuesdays but had been too lazy or intimidated to venture over there. Nights when I stay uptown are meant for cleaning my room and watching TV. If I were to go out I would go downtown where my friends are. But feeling kind of lame and shut in from my nap I was eager to get out of the house. This was the night.

Packing my phone into my purse I saw I had a message. My friend David had replied to my facebook post- not only did he have an extra power cord he was about to throw away but he was once again staying in the 70’s between Madison and Fifth. I called and arranged to pick up the cord in 30 minutes.

I walked down 5th Ave listening to Jawbreaker on my mp3 player. Mostly people walking their dogs, waiting limo drivers, one person sitting alone in the middle of the steps of the Met. I kind of wanted to go sit and talk to him or her – too far to tell. I saw a group of 7 or 8 kids sitting on the steps of some sort of embassy. I had a nostalgic feeling of being on vacation somewhere with my family and seeing the cool local kids hanging out, and wanting to meet them and be included. Or maybe I was just thinking of the Simpsons episode where that happens to Lisa.

There were three girls sitting on a bench on 5th Ave. talking and smoking. They probably all left their parents’ houses nearby to meet up and had to hide their smoking habits. I wanted to photograph the kids on the steps and the girls on the bench but I felt like I had lost my gumption for approaching strangers. I thought I should get a little drunk before the next time I walked around with a camera.

I had a sense that the people one sees on Fifth and Madison on week nights are unique to other areas. The characters are like me- people that decided to stay in, have a mellow night, but then decided to get some air, sit outside and think. No one is in a rush to meet people. Maybe a few are going to stay at someone’s house in the neighborhood and have a backpack with a change of clothes, or they’re getting off work from a fancy restaurant and headed home.

Got to David’s building- one of the few like mine where the doorman is also the elevator man. The door/elevator-man left me on a lobby bench to go up in what I assume was a manually operated elevator to retrieve my friend. The lobby had two mirrors facing each other creating an infinite reflection like in my lobby.

David handed over the power cord saying he’d come out for a cigarette but I easily roped him into walking over to Dorrian’s. What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night when you’re living off Madison Avenue?

Tuesday is big garbage night in the neighborhood. We passed one trash grouping containing an amateur bust.

Bust in Trash
And another pile with two vacuum cleaners placed in front of a large fan. David noted the juxtaposition of sucking and blowing.

Vaccuums and Fan in Trash

Further along the walk I spotted a license plate, definitely customized but I didn’t know what it meant. I explained to David that I have to photograph all vanity plates I see. I have since started a separate blog just about vanity plates to justify this obsession. David asked if anyone had ever harassed me for photographing their plates. I answered that it never happened since the owners were never standing there.

The car was parked tightly between two others right in front of the entrance to a building. A doorman stood outside talking to another guy. I squeezed between the cars and held my camera close to the plate. As I took the picture the not-doorman guy demanded “Why are you taking a picture of my license plate?” Nervous but laughing I answered, “I photograph license plates for fun, it’s just a personal project. What does it mean?” “It’s Albanian” he said. I had recently photographed a plate that said “Albania 1” so now it’s an official category in my collection.GJONAG1

ALBANIA1

Continuing our walk, we accidentally missed Dorrian’s because I had thought it was on the West side of 2nd avenue. Second Avenue in this area is also known as Restaurant Row. A waitress in Mustang Grill and Tequila Lounge sent us back South. Turned around, we spotted an anxious crowd standing outside an establishment, caddy corner from us. Is it actually hard to get into this place? We crossed over and stood outside, a little embarrassed. A young man wearing khakis and a navy blazer, gold buttons and all, lingered in conversation with some smokers. Four college-age guys probably home for the summer were trying to go in but were being kept at bay by the bouncer who casually informed us that we would have to wait a few minutes for people to leave.

Another barely-known friendly acquaintance/recent facebook friend arrived. He gave me a kiss hello and then ignoring our plight of waiting in line, he waltzed passed us and shook the bouncer’s hand as he walked inside. But the bouncer had been truthful – a few minutes later we were all allowed to enter.

Why is it so satisfying when our stereotypes are realized? We had to push through countless young men wearing pastel colored polo shirts, khakis, and white baseball caps and girls with blow-dried died blond hair and short dresses. We made our way to the bar and I saw that Peter, the friendly acquaintance who had invited me was actually tending bar. However, both bartenders would have been indistinguishable from the rest of the guests had they been standing on the other side of the bar. I suppose it makes sense- bartenders on the lower east side have tattoos and wear black but I guess I had assumed that uptown bartenders wore uniforms. The fact that Dorrian’s bartenders were dressed like the clientele and actually seemed to be peers of the clientele, which I knew was true at least in Peter’s case, gave me the impression that it was a friendly, tight-knit, fraternal establishment, outwardly and inwardly.

Once we got our drinks we made our way through the chaotic sea of pastel toward the corner which seemed to be generating the waves of excitement. Lost in the crowd it was easy to regain my friend who stuck out like a sore thumb for being the only man dressed in black. Reunited, he recounted overhearing the following: “You play lacrosse, bro?” “Naw, bro, water polo.”

Me and David

Karaoke was being performed (I cannot recall which song!) by several blond ladies, each with a microphone and occasionally helped by a karaoke MC off to the side. Several tables had been pushed against the back wall to make a clearing on the floor.

David and I watched, entertained by the spectacle and our own musings. He said it would be interesting to map out the carbon footprint of the combined hair drying spent that day on every girl at Dorrian’s. He also noted that he had never before seen people really dancing to karaoke. It was true- someone chose to sing Twist and Shout and the entire crowd danced along, getting down on the floor during the quiet part even more enthusiastically than the crowd at Beatrice where that song has oddly become a staple.

Dancing

Twist and Shout 2

But they danced to any and every song and occasionally members of the crowd, including myself later on in the night, would grab one of the extra tambourines and accompany the singers.

Songs I saw performed include “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Lovin’ is What I Got” by Sublime, a Bon Jovi ballad (I forget which) and I participated in a group rendition of “Whatta Man” by Salt n Pepa. After a few drinks I felt ready and signed up for “Reminiscing” which I only knew (and loved) because a friend had burned it for me off an Easy Listening compilation. I can’t remember if the Karaoke song book listed songs by title or if I just stumbled across it because I had never before heard of the group who sang it, The Little River Band, until I saw it in the book that night.

When I handed my selection over to the MC he did a double take, asked me if I was the one who chose “Reminiscing” and then gave me some sort of “Niiice” or thumbs up. That greatly reassured me since he could at least help out with the melody if I got lost or take over completely if I froze.
Me and the MC:

Me and the MC

There were a few repeat performers who seemed comfortably seasoned at the sport and who acted as good samaritans joining in on one of the many available microphones if a singer was lost. One such person was a large Italian-looking fellow with a friendly face and a pink short-sleeved polo shirt who helped me out on two songs without trying to steal the show. Another regular was a tiny young man in a suit who seemed to know everyone.

Several times toward the end of the night, songs were dedicated to the bartenders or the bartenders were each given microphones and sung between pouring drinks.

Bartender Singing

In the bathroom I heard one girl plead to her friend, “Just stay a little longer!” and another girl in a slight wine, “You know this isn’t my scene. I don’t belong here.”

The novelty of the place did not wear off and we ended up staying ‘till close. A few guys lingered about the sidelines, looking determined or desperate to accomplish one more thing before ending their night. I had just signed up for “Crazy Train” by Ozzy when the MC called out last song and another melody began. I went up to him and said “No time for ‘Crazy Train?’” He answered no. But when the supposed final song ended he called me up anyway and I performed “Crazy Train” with the large man in pink.
Crazy Train

Happily drunk and my curiosity filled yet even more piqued, I walked out with David onto Second Avenue to see scattered stragglers hailing cabs. We walked back to Madison Avenue which was by contrast completely deserted, and parted ways to walk the avenue in opposite directions. Who knew such fun could be had without leaving the neighborhood? I’m not sure what to think about these “preppies” who are called such even in magazine articles hung on the walls inside Dorrian’s. It’s not quite the same world as the one in which I grew up although I did spot one Dalton classmate whom I’ve never spoken to as far as I can remember. Further investigation is needed.

As I am about to put an end to an 8-year procrastination on recording my second album, I have gathered some thoughts from that stretch of time, that I would like to share.

I write songs; Folk/Pop(ular) songs (I’ll call them folk songs) as opposed to classical (formal) music, to make a simple differentiation which probably leaves many things unaccounted for.
I generally think the following:
A folk song is comprised of three elements.
Chords  –  Vocal melody  –  Lyrics

Many of the songs I love express feelings so universal that I and others feel the urge to sing them in the shower or play them around a campfire.  These three aforementioned elements are all that is needed to transfer a song from one person to another.  Each person who chooses to recreate a folk song brings to it their instrument of choice and style of playing, their unique voice, and the character with which they deliver the lyrics.

NEW YORK CITY-

Today’s issue of The New York Observer ran an article about me by George Gurley titled “Who’s That Girl? It’s Rebecca Schiffman!” Maybe I’ve been out of school too long because lately I’ve had the urge to write letters to Harper’s Magazine responding to various articles. Once I begin the effort, however, I quickly become discouraged because I know Harper’s usually publishes responses from people of some related scholarly authority, and unless I have some revelatory insight on the subject, which has not yet happened in these mere self-assigned challenges, I will not be saying anything new or worthwhile. But now an article exists on which I might be a leading authority! So here is my response. 

Bilineweb

George interviewed me over the last several weeks and I must first say that he did a great job of parsing the hours and hours of taped rantings to output this fairly accurate and vivid (graphic!) depiction of where I am in life.*

Illuminating some references:

Title: I am assuming George based the title “Who’s that Girl?…” on an article in Vice Magazine that he alludes to when he mentions he saw my bare ass on the internet, called “Who’s That Ass?” The April, 2007 issue of Vice Magazine featured a cover photo by Ryan McGinley of my and Lily Wheelwright’s butts sporting fox tails, and an interview with us inside.

Randy: During the interviewing process George was indecisive about what alias to use for his friend. For a while we were going with ”Tommy” but on the last day he said we should try to think of something better. “How about Randy?”

The way he said it, which was nonchalant, made it seem like “Randy” was one of many casual name suggestions. I never particularly cared for the name Randy, but after a few seconds when I realized it’s obvious function as a charactonym (which should be made clear to the reader from the scene in the taxi cab where Randy unzips his fly,) I said yes.  And I wonder if George’s mind is so well-exercised at these writing assignments that he can subconsciously come up with this kind of literary
device.

Quoteweb

Some Beef:

Stands: I am pretty sure I said my brief relationship with Randy was the longest one in a while past a “two-night stand,” which is a phrase I like to throw out now and again. Since George has everything I said on tape, I do not accuse him of misquoting, but merely selecting one quotation when I would have selected another.

Painting: The only part of this article that made me cringe (well, not including the part about buying lube, but even the word “lube” alone, along with “pube,” which incidentally is also used in this
article, makes me cringe) is when I read that I have “a style reminiscent of Lucian Freud in its tactile depiction of nudity.”  Well-phrased, perhaps, but the main thing I dislike about Lucian Freud
is the gross, pasty viscosity of the strokes he uses to form nudes in his later work. My paintings depicting nudes are all done in watercolor, the least tactile of the paints. I would describe my method
of rendering as quite the opposite- using flat color fields to create the illusion of a three-dimensional naked body.

Missing shpiel creates unwanted slant: I talked to George about so many parts of my life, but I honestly cannot remember if I gave him my whole Upper East Side shpiel. Whether I did or did not, had he included it, I do not think he could have gotten away with the epithet “Park Avenue-bred” to describe Charlotte Kidd, who is probably one of the coolest Upper East Siders either of us (yes, I will venture that on his behalf) has met. So I’ll include my shpiel here as briefly as possible:

I grew up on The U.E.S., thought it was lame, went to college downtown, realized that was even lamer because everyone thought they were not lame, moved back uptown and discovered The U.E.S. anew.
I started a photocopy zine in 2005 called The U.E.S. Journal which I sold at St. Marks Bookshop and which I now maintain as a blog.  In short, I’m proud to be an Upper East Sider, and you can’t use that tone on me, you know the one, where you say that I’m from uptown and I’m supposed to feel ashamed.

When I met Charlotte she was introduced to me as a writer who grew up in my neighborhood. I asked her if she would write something for the zine and she wrote a great piece.

Missing credit: The Observer did not photograph me for this article. I recognize the photo included in the online edition as one I took of myself in Paris two summers ago to show a friend via e-mail the
sunglasses I had just purchased near Les Puces. I am guessing they nabbed this photo from my MySpace page. But, more importantly, in the print edition, they used a photograph by Tim Barber, also on my MySpace page, of me performing at The Canal Room. This photo was not credited and should have been. This should have been taken care of by the permissions/licensing department.

Factual Error:
My jeans are from APC not ABC. A forgivable mistake since, even had a fact checker contacted me I cannot imagine he/she saying “And Ms. Schiffman, just to be sure, who makes your jeans?”

Mereadingweb

Clarifications:

Mexian food: George writes “They picked up some fish tacos then stomped up the stairs to Randy’s East Village apartment.” Since anyone who knows me or reads my TNB posts knows that I do not eat seafood, I just want to ensure everyone that we did not pick up fish tacos. Randy picked up fish tacos, I picked up “Macho Nachos.”

Woody Allen: George quotes me as saying “I just feel like he’s a great contemporary example of a decadent figure … and so far in the head that his body is sort of in decay and not very healthy. And the thing with Soon Yi is sort of decadent, you know, just go for it.”

I would like to clarify that I know nothing of Woody Allen’s actual health. Besides the fact that he is pale and thin, and clearly not a tan rock-climbing surfer, I imagine he takes good care of his health. I
was mostly referring to his self-portrayal in his work which I think makes him a contemporary version of Nietzsche’s and Huysmans’ decadent figures- a person overly intellectual, obsessed with death to the point of morbidity, and who loves women- and my point in all of this is to embrace decadence- a decadent person can still produce great things for the world, and probably will more so than someone who constantly meditates- and Woody Allen is awesome.

Welbutrin: In case the reader wonders how it is that I ended up ”taking too many anti-depressants” so that I was up all night twitching, here is what happened. First of all, anti-depressants are prescribed for OCD at a higher dose than for depression, so there is already a greater potential for side effects. One night in Paris I took my medications, and then an hour later forgot I had already taken them,
and took them again.

Fallout:

I cannot decide which part of this article I worry will upset my father more- the details of my sex life and nighttime escapades or the fact that I say “like” so often. It honestly might be the latter.

My mother and her friend are concerned that I come across as a slut. That is their first reaction. It is funny because mine was that I come across as a prude, someone who goes home with men but does not sleep with them. It is difficult for me to gage how I will be perceived, especially by other generations, although I am a little surprised at my mother because I think she likes the show, Sex and the City.

As regards safety, the bars I frequent are not like those in a movie, near an airport where a serial killer may take home a prostitute (I have no particular movie reference for this). They are scene-based establishments where you always meet someone through someone who knows
someone, etc. This is illustrated by the fact that I first met George through his relative and then by chance hooked up with his friend during the course of the interview. In fact, this particular scene is
so incestuous that I am pretty sure within five years everyone who hasn’t been filtered out through a committed relationship, moving, or death will have hooked up with everyone else. Of course a serial killer could be among us, just like an anvil could fall on my head while crossing Park Avenue, or my plane might crash.

Regarding my promiscuity or lack thereof, the reader may judge for his/herself based on his/her personal knowledge of how Americans do or ”should” live, where I sit on the spectrum, whether or not I sit there with crossed legs, etc. I can only give you the facts.

I go out dancing and drinking every week and this is where I get much of my “fodder” for writing, music, and painting. I can never tell if I will meet someone I like enough to go home with next week or next year, but let us say, just to say something, that I might go home with someone every few weeks. Maybe we just go to sleep, maybe we kiss, maybe we fool around, and just maybe we will “do it” (still one of my favorite expressions) as was the rare case with Randy (which makes it all the more strange that we continued to see each other at all if you believe certain common wisdom.)

Why?:

I recall a dinner conversation from when I was around 12 years old, where I learned that for each of my parents one of their greatest fears was embarrassment. Hearing them say this later in life left an impression on me. At this time I was as a very shy person and felt inhibited by fear of embarrassment.  When I learned that this inhibition might not go away on its own, I began making a conscious effort to rid myself of it.  Although I still have much work to do regarding inhibitions in certain social situations, when it comes to sharing information about myself, I can no longer find any line telling me what to keep inside and what to reveal.

One rule I would like to follow in life is to never do anything of which I would be ashamed if the whole world knew. Shameful acts include things like lying or manipulating for selfish reasons, and being a bad friend.

Here, I would like to point out that there is a difference between shame and embarrassment. Some friends have asked if I feel embarrassed about this article. I am not a linguist and do not know if there is an actual etymological relationship between the English word ”embarrassed”, and the Spanish word “embarazada” which means pregnant, but I am giving it a metaphorical relationship right now. Being embarrassed is like a blushing, or a timid pride about a natural secret you have to let out. Yes, I feel a little embarrassed or self-conscious, but those are feelings I thrive on.

I am not, however, ashamed of anything George wrote about, and I knew I would not be, since unless George were to completely fabricate something, and that too I knew would not happen, I did not tell him any of those secrets. I am still working on those. The reader here is privy to a small step for me in that I am even writing that I have certain memories or thoughts of which I am ashamed.

To elaborate further, since I can:
A continuing theme in my artwork, music, and writing, is the overlap of specificity and universality. I have written previously about first grasping this sentiment in Andre Breton’s Nadja. What I have
gathered is that within the field of art and expression, the subject upon which I have the greatest authority, and where I have the most potential to offer something truly interesting, is in relating those events that could only have happened to me, and me alone, based on my individual place and time in the world. I find that the more honest I am with myself and others about these experiences, the more people can relate to what I am sharing. In fact, this paragraph is my footnote to George’s mention of my painting ”Endearing Moments…#1.”

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George

I just realized that while George has been politely referring to me as Ms. Schiffman, I have been calling him by his first name. I suppose it’s necessary to do that when writing for a big, legitimate newspaper. But since I am a mere blogger in the wild wild west that is the world wide web, I make no apologies.

I think George Gurley and I are on a similar page, or share a sentiment, that being the value in revealing oneself. His honest inclusion of his own experience while interviewing a subject, for me, makes his writing, and the fact that he wrote it, more worthwhile. One root for this sentiment, historically speaking, comes from art critics like Walter Pater, Gianfranco Baruchello and Henry Martin, who realized the futility in trying to describe an artwork or artist objectively. Instead, they put forth their personal reaction to their subject, along with their own prejudices, so that the reader could then add or subtract these two things at his/her will.

George was quick to realize that I am eager to try to answer any question put to me as honestly as possible, and I appreciate him for recognizing me as a worthwhile mine for information. I also personally like how he and his friends, including Randy, still carry that musky scent of the old-school reporter who drinks, is a bit of a lech, and can get me a seat at Elaine’s 45th Anniversary.

-End-

*To make this post even more Talmudic (in its cylcical references,) I will add this footnote. “Parse?” “Output?” Yes, I’ve been reading computer language manuals. But I found the best one I have ever read in my life. Why’s Poignant Guide to Ruby. Not only is it a great tutorial, it’s a great novel! You have to read it to understand. And, I don’t have to tell you, (or do I?) that the Talmud is widely regarded as an early model for the internet.

I was a late bloomer.  Drinking never appealed to me in high school.  Maybe it was because I was shyand/or depressed.  I was always filled with contempt for people around me who were loud, horsing around, unaware of the circumference of their waving limbs, bumping into me, stepping on my toes, totally unapologetic about having more fun than I was having- right in front of me.

However, after a long, calculated process of overcoming my shyness through various personal tests that I created for myself (I’ll go into these shortly), having settled upon and embraced Welbutrin as the cure for my depression, and having discovered that I love the sweet taste of Bourbon – my life is a lot different.  Better, I’d say.

Having become a happy person, everyone around me endeared themselves to me by their mere existence.  I remember sitting on a bench at a bar watching a jock-ish, bridge-and-tunnel guy attempting to flirt with a slutty bridge-and-tunnel girl.  I thought about how each of them had probably taken some care earlier that day in picking out their outfits.  If I were asked to fill out a survey I would have had to admit that I found their ensembles rather “tacky”, but no- because right then I imagined them looking in the mirror, measuring their insecurities and pride, feeling hopeful about the night’s opportunities, just as I had, and I loved them.



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In high school and college I had always prided myself on not relying upon alcohol as a crutch, as I imagined others did in order to talk to people and have a good time.  I practiced one of my personal exercises at a club, Don Hill’s, where I would stand somewhere near the middle of the mostly-empty dance floor, legs together and straight, hands dangling at my sides, no cigarette or drink to play with, staring straight ahead, and see how long I could hold that position before the awkwardness and embarrassment overcame me.  Other more practical goals I set for myself involved approaching and talking to strangers whom I wanted to know.  That was rewarding in both increasing my confidence and making new friends.

So, starting around two years ago, I would let someone order me a Makers and Ginger.  That’s my drink.  Unlike past occasions when people thought they could turn me onto alcohol through a vodka cranberry which I found bitter and would nurse throughout the entire evening, barely making a dent, I actually enjoyed the taste of the Makers and Ginger and eventually would finish it.

One of the biggest changes that came with drinking was my new-found ability to dance.  My whole life I had sat on the sidelines and physically resisted both friends and strangers who tried to pull me up from my seat by my arms onto the dance floor.  Dancing is now one of the elements I most look forward to in a prospective night out.

I have to interrupt my apparent direction and reveal my true train of thought, that even now as I type, I still feel I have a toe stuck in the Alpha Zone.  I’ve only heard about the Alpha Zone once, secondhand.  My friend Ben told me about a scene in a documentary he had just watched on Jimi Hendrix.  One of Hendrix’s buddies describes him as being in the Alpha Zone before he died.  He says it’s when you know you’re going to die.  I don’t remember any further details but I immediately recognized that I already had my own interpretation, my own sense of this, and now I could give it a name.

So from here forward, whatever you know about Jimi Hendrix’s Alpha zone, or if it is a well known phenomenon in general, keep in mind that I am referring to my own variation.

The Alpha Zone is when you are moving just slightly faster than your thoughts – your inhibitions surface just as you’re already performing the questionable task.  You watch almost in slow motion and disbelief when it’s already too late, it’s just up to chance whether or not you’ll land unscathed.  Then again, sometimes in the Alpha Zone, you’re not doing anything, you’re just sitting there, but you know that you have no control and therefore anticipate your time coming sooner than later, maybe so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.

Returning to the first story, throughout the last two years, every few weeks I would have a night where I would say “Now this is the drunkest I’ve ever been!” or a morning where I would feel a little crappy and think “Is this my first hangover?”  But after a night of drinking and dancing I would often wake up after only a few hours of sleep, more invigorated than usual.

When I conquered my sober shyness, I made the final push with such momentum by way of rationalization and reward that I think I may have shot passed the norm for which I was originally aiming, and crossed into that region inhabited by weirdos.  I no longer have any perception of where the line is.

Using this new found, but what I think must be innate ability to bluntly yet charmingly command a situation, and with a little extra spirit from some alcohol, I’ve had some fun or at least interesting nights where I went home with near-strange men (i.e. they knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who I knew) simply to see where they lived. I would let them kiss around my face while I looked at their iPhoto libraries and tried to extract conversation.  I’d let them pass out, sleep next to them, wake up early, maybe watch TV and leave, sometimes having made a new friend.  That really only describes one situation in particular but there are a few others with just slight variations.  Just to ease your worries, friends, I always text a certain pal the name and address of any stranger with whom I leave.

Other times I think I’m commanding a situation but it turns out not to be true at all.  Like the recent occasion when I was very excited to meet a stocky Jewish guy and asked just for his e-mail address to continue our discussion about comedy, only to discover he had given me a fake address AND fake unsolicited number.  That’s another story that I plan on delivering soon.

Then, about two weeks ago (11/17/07)…
The day after a typical night of drinking and dancing, I began my morning with the assumption that I had left my new digital camera at my studio, since it was not in my bag.  I checked my e-mail as usual and at first was pleasantly surprised to see a letter in my inbox from F, a recent friend who I don’t hear from often.  But the subject was cryptic: “Don’t freak out!”  I thought it must be a mass e-mail, but the letter read “I found your camera on the floor [last night]…”

I was very embarrassed but when I talked to him he assured me that I had not seemed that intoxicated and said there had been a drunk woman searching for her missing bag, rooting around through everyone’s stuff, recklessly pulling up different items from a pile and my camera must have fallen out then.  Still, I was disappointed in myself because I usually never leave a place without checking for four things: Camera, Wallet, Phone, and Keys.

A week goes by, I don’t remember anything standing out.  Then two nights of going out and having to wake up early the next day.  The third night is Thanksgiving and I’m determined to go to sleep immediately after dinner.  Maybe it would have been easier if I hadn’t convinced my parents to get a chicken instead of a turkey this year.

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I was lying in bed too tired to fall asleep without the aid of Tryptophan when a friend called to invite me to another Thanksgiving dinner nearby.  Hosted by a Russian family, I drank vodka and ate a steady, delicious stream of potatoes, Russian style coleslaw, and cornichons until 1:30am when they brought out the desserts.  It was a rowdy evening, but wholesome.


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The next morning (11/24/2007), I had to be at work at 11am, was the usual 15 minutes late, blah blah blah blah and somehow ended up out at night again, at one of my bar-with-dance-floor haunts.  Totally exhausted, but carefree and full of wired energy, I stashed my stuff somewhere, including my cash, so I could then search for someone to buy me a drink and not be tempted to buy my own if I didn’t succeed.

But I kept running into people I had grown up with and I didn’t want to seem like a mooch.  I texted a friend M, who is always willing to treat.  I wrote him to get here soon because I was thirsty but he kept responding that he was “ambivalent” about coming.  Maybe this was the first cave-in of the evening: Frustrated and losing nerve, I asked my best friend K with whom I had arrived to lend me money for a drink.  I borrowed $10, got my whiskey-ginger and started to make the rounds.

Of course right then, my drinking patron (M) arrived and not to pass up a freebie I soon accepted another drink from him as well.  So now I’ve got a drink in each hand which makes it difficult to maneuver in a crowd, so I worked at finishing one as fast as possible just to have a free hand.

In my circle I’m known for wearing a fanny-pack.  This is where I keep my Camera, Wallet, Phone, and Keys.  It’s especially handy for dancing.  A fanny-pack gives you the security of having your valuables on you without the awkward lopsidedness of a shoulder bag or purse.  It can even act as a buffer if someone tries to grind you.

But vanity…  For some reason that night, apart from my large tote which I don’t mind leaving on a chair because it only has things like an umbrella, magazine, book, bottle of water, etc., I had brought a small fancy purse just for walking around the club.  Within the purse was a fanny-pack holding my camera and wallet.  Earlier that evening I had misplaced my phone at K’s house and for some reason I had left my keys in my coat pocket, the coat being stuffed into the tote.

However many drinks later from my patron and other benefactors, I found myself talking to a guy to whom a friendly acquaintance had just introduced me, and who was waiting in line for the bathroom.  When it was his turn I said “It’s your turn!”  He said he was enjoying talking to me and to just come in while he peed.  No big deal, so I did, and mostly looked away while he peed and continued our conversation.  I have no memory of what we were talking about, just that we were the same amount of silly-drunk and seemed to share a similar sense of openness.

Then we made our way to the dance floor where he said, “Wanna make out?”

“Sure” I said.  So we kissed a little while dancing.  Then he said he had a girlfriend.

I don’t remember how I transitioned to the next scene, just that I was a little hungry, M wanted to eat, K wanted to stay, and I had no idea where my little purse containing my fanny-pack containing my camera and wallet was.  But M would take me to a very good restaurant and everything right there and then was so loud and full of motion and smoke that I just wanted to go eat.

I grabbed my coat and tote.  It’s not that I looked for my little purse and was surprised not to find it.  I had no recollection at all of where or when I had put it down.  So, I left my wallet containing my credit card, two ATM cards, expired learner’s permit, 2 different health care cards, unlimited Metrocard, magnetic key card for my studio building for which I have no replacement, and my new digital camera (replacing one I had dropped and broken), which I MUST have on me at all times.

M and I took a cab to Blue Ribbon where he ordered me a matzah ball soup, a fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens (I had ordered this combo a few nights earlier), and I chimed in a slice of chocolate cake.  I don’t even remember waiting for the food.

One thing I must make clear is that I do not and will not eat anything of the sea. I despise all seafood, ranging from the most obviously unappetizing crustaceans to seemingly innocent seaweed.  I cannot count the times I have been eating at a restaurant with someone who has said “You’ve just never had really good fish.  Try this.  It’s not fishy!”  And I would humor them with a small bite and a near-gag.  But what I’ve come to realize is this: Fish is inherently fishy. It’s fish!

I was a very picky eater growing up and the matzah ball soup, fried chicken, and chocolate cake is a good survey of the kind of foods with which I’ve always felt comfortable.  It does not reflect all the non-sea related food hurdles I’ve overcome and come to love such as eggs, cheese, steak, spinach, avocado, just to name a few.  But overcoming my distaste for seafood is not even on my horizon.

And in the entire kingdom of the sea, there is one subject I’ve always felt, and always said I’ve felt was the grossest possible thing a human being could put in their mouth.  That is shrimp.  It’s see-through and it looks like a giant bug.

I think a past boyfriend once persuaded me to try a nibble of a piece of shrimp and I think I spit it out or winced as I swallowed it mixed in with some other flavors.

At Blue Ribbon our food had arrived.  I was excitedly looking over my crispy fried chicken which as I had learned a few days earlier came with honey instead of honey mustard without my even asking!  I had probably drank some water by now and taken a few bites of my food.  All of a sudden M is talking about how this is his favorite dish and lifts a giant comma of a shrimp off the edge of a martini glass, dips it in a dark sauce and holds it out toward my face asking me to take a big bite.

I leaned in an inch, met the shrimp, took a big bite out of the top fat part of the comma, grimaced and chewed and chewed.  It just tasted like a fried tastiness in a sweet and salty sauce.  I couldn’t taste the shrimp, but I had to chew and chew and break apart these unfamiliar bendable structures.  Still holding the remainder of the comma, M brought it closer and said to just take one more bite.  I chomped a much smaller piece into my mouth, joining it with the previous acquisition and I chewed and chewed.  Eventually I swallowed part of it and kept thinking about getting the rest of this alien being out of my mouth by way of my throat.  After my mouth was clear I drank water and ate mashed potatoes to get a new taste in it.  I tried to convey to M how crazy it was, what just happened.  And of course, here I would have a photo of the historic shrimp if I hadn’t lost my camera.

The cake arrived.  I was pretty full but managed to eat most of it.  M put me in a cab with money and I made it all the way uptown, home, probably around 5am.  My phone still missing but at least definitely at K’s house, I didn’t have an alarm to set.  I fumbled my way up to bed anyway.

I sat up at 10am, just the right time to get ready for work and sent an e-mail to friends who were out the night before asking if they’d seen my stuff.  I didn’t include F, who had found my camera the first time.  I was too embarrassed.  I made it to the office 15 minutes late and got down to business.  I didn’t necessarily feel hung over, but when I remembered the shrimp, and that it was still in me, I almost threw up.  I had to take measured steps to ease my nausea, sipping water, taking deep breaths, looking away from the computer, standing up.  I told my boss I’d barely slept in days and she said I didn’t look tired at all.

Soon A replied to my e-mail that my stuff was found and safe.  Feeling partially redeemed by chance, I e-mailed F to tell him the story and that I’d been too embarrassed to include him in my group e-mail that morning since he was the only one who knew that I had already lost my camera that month.  To my dismay he replied that once again he had been the one to find my belongings and had actually handed them over to A.

The more I thought about things, the more uncomfortable I began to feel with how much undeserved luck (Can luck be deserved?) had been bestowed upon me.  First of all, there was no reason why I should still be in possession of my cool purse, my wallet and its contents, my camera, and my fanny-pack which had even gone to Nepal and back with me.

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Furthermore, I had barely even been coerced into not only trying, but trying twice and swallowing the cocktail shrimp.  While sober, I might have done a thousand more questionable things before eating shrimp.  Now I realized that I might have ended up doing anything that night had I not been in the safe company of M and Blue Ribbon.

I don’t think I had been living in the Alpha Zone during the preceding weeks.  I was enjoying a robust love of life and had only been approaching the speed of Alpha at what might have seemed a safe distance if it was something someone could comprehend.  I guess you aren’t always aware of the exact moment of the crossover.  And this was not just an Alpha Zone of chance- it was my own doing.  My own lack of resolve, my carelessness, gluttony and vanity.  Now I’ve gotten myself stuck here like a spaceship crashed on an unknown and mostly unfriendly planet in a sci-fi series.

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There is a particular Alpha-related sensation I want to describe: The feeling of the sudden awareness of Alpha.  It’s that feeling when you’re falling and it’s too late to regain your footing or any control; you’ve given up everything to chance.  It’s part “Oh shit!” and part “Let’s see what happens.”  The “Oh shit!” part is fast and instantaneous, it flies right by you in time.  The “Let’s see what happens.” part moves in slow motion with you- until you land and sit there dazed and aware of the fact that you might as well have been a tree falling with no one to hear, or you clutch your bruised knee and breathe in or, well, luckily I’ve never had the other outcome – nothingness.

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After work on Saturday I came home to my messy death-trap of a room where on many drunk nights I might stand on an unstable stool and attempt a daring reach for a cup on a ledge or miss a step on my loft bed ladder and just be watching from my mind’s eye as I tumble onto various levels of mess, just waiting, curious to see if I’ll land in one piece.

Even after my drinking-based recklessness began I’ve still only managed to have these Alpha-conscious moments in my bedroom.  It’s the least safe place of all.  There’s no doting suitor, no annoyed but might-be-concerned suitee, and no M to watch out for me and it’s a ridiculous physically rigorous obstacle course.
That’s my bathroom door.

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I fear death a lot and I taunt myself by imagining my death written up in the New York Post.  I can just imagine a trying-to-be-sensitive-even-though-and-because-it’s-inherently-funny piece about a young New York artist and musician falling to her death from her rickety IKEA twin loft bed.  And if such a piece were written I would hope it would note, although I know it would not, that with this particular model of loft bed comes a warning label advising that only one person may be on the bed at a time, thus consigning the sleeper solely to nights of solitude.

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It’s Thursday, November 29, 2007, 2am as I write from my loft bed, and I haven’t gone out in the evening since that Friday, November 24.  That shrimp really made me think.

A few months ago I was walking down Park Avenue with Jay Israelson and he pointed out a very funny vanity plate.  It read “I Broker.”  We assumed it was referencing “I, Robot” by Isaac Asimov, but even if itwasn’t, it was still classic U.E.S. (Upper East Side).

Since then I’ve started a photo collection of vanity plates in the neighborhood.  My official parameters are 59th Street to 96th Street anywhere on the East Side of Central Park but by routine I generally keep to the 80’s and 90’s.  Other photo categories I continue to separately archive include neighborhood pigeons, cats, dogs, and awnings – I’m not exactly sure why I feel the need to do this, but it’s all very formally sorted out on my computer’s hard drive.

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Back to license plates.  I’ve never had a car, or a license for that matter, but I’ve learned a lot about license plates this past month from observing patterns.  I know that a regular New York State license plate consists of 3 letters, a space, and then 4 numbers.  Sometimes it can be deceiving when the first three letters happen to spell something and the 4 numbers look like a year.  There are also many exceptions to this format for New York plates, such as those on commercial vehicles, cars of doctors, as well as categories I had never thought of or even heard of which I have since looked up.  Here is the collection so far…

First, some exceptions.  These aren’t really “vanity” plates but they are noteworthy.

Civil Air Patrol – They’re actually called The New York Wing.

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State Magistrates Association

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Dentists and doctors seem to have an actual quantitative number, regardless of how many digits.  So it is exciting to see #755 considering how many dentists there are in New York.

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A sure sign that the art of chiropractry is gaining universal acceptance:

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You can’t leave out the diplomats.

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Here is a Volunteer Firefighter of Fire Island plate.  The father of an old friend of mine was a volunteer firefighter in Fire Island, the location of their country house.  I wonder if this is his car and he has since moved up to captain.

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Korean War Veteran:

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This plate below has got to be by far the most awe-inspiring, imagination-spurring, and intimidating of all license plates.  This was parked in the 80’s on York Avenue.

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Initials:

These kind of remind me of in middle school when everyone would get their initials monogrammed on to their L.L.Bean backpacks.  I, too, had RSS done on a large red one.  (My middle name is Suzanne for Suzanne Farrell, the ballet dancer, and I am also Becky-Sue.)

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Then there are some that are more like screen names or a user name you’d use to log into your bank account.  You can tell the person specifically requested this particular combination of letters and numbers but it’s meaning is cryptic.  Sometimes it seems like, why even bother?  But I guess that’s why they’re called “vanity” plates.

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A rare view inside:

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Funny spelling:

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It’s a little unclear to me whether the plate above is meant to read “Meg and Kate” or “Megan Kate”.  I would guess the latter.  But this next plate has been driving me nuts.  It looks like I’m supposed to get what it means, like when you text someone “see you tmrw” – it’s obvious.  Any suggestions?

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Cute ones:

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I’m not sure what “Nit Devil” means, but it’s still cute…

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People with vanity plates often express themselves further with bumper stickers, etc.  It’s too small to see, but between the “Fish Tremble…” and the American flag is a National Rifle Association sticker.

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(Well, Venustas, your bumper sticker had some impact.  It got me to look up Mitch Landrieu who is actually the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana and whose father Moon Landrieu was the mayor of New Orleans from 1970-1978.)

Sometimes the message is not in the plate number, but around it:

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Hey, it’s true!  Washington D.C. doesn’t get representation!

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At first I thought the plate below belonged to a special advocacy group but according to the Wikipedia entry for District of Columbia Voting Rights,

While the District’s official motto is Justitia omnibus (”Justice to All”), the words “Taxation Without Representation”, echoing the Revolutionary
slogan, “Taxation without Representation is Tyranny!”, were added to
D.C. license plates in 2000 (although alternative plates featuring the
D.C. website URL are available on request), and there was briefly a movement to add the words “No Taxation Without Representation” to the D.C. flag.

Moving on, apparently you really only need a rear license plate.  I wonder if it is the case that the cameras for catching traffic violations always shoot from behind the car…

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And some more:

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It’s gotten to the point where I can’t walk down the street without
having to read each license plate I pass for fear that I’ll miss a
good one.  I also have to glance across the street and read those too, and sometimes I must even cross over to peak between cars which are parked too closely together to read.  So far I have yet to find another plate as bad-ass as “I BROKER” but my collection is just getting started and I’m sure there are many more gems to be found.

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Before I begin any cross-posting from The U.E.S. Journal I would like to share with The Nervous Breakdown the introduction to my first issue from a few years ago, as well as one of the first pieces I wrote for it.  Sure, The Upper East Side is just another neighborhood, but to me it also feels like a novel or soap opera, and I wouldn’t want you to jump in at a part that didn’t make sense or was boring.  Frankly, this also buys me some time to tweak (I hate that word, does anyone have a better expression, not including “flush out?”) my next few posts.

My name is Rebecca Schiffman.  This summer I spent a month in Paris.  In the third week, my Zagat.com subscription was due to expire and I wrote down the names of all the restaurants I still wanted to try.  The first was Le Petit Marché.  One night, after seeing The Simpsons Movie (in English) at The Forum des Halles, I walked over to Rue de Béarn and found a well-lit, very small and very packed restaurant.  The host saw me and yelled pityingly “Vous êtes toute seule!” and  seated me at a small two-person table practically connected to the next table where a young couple sat.  The host said to them “She’s alone.  She’s American.”

While trying to decipher the menu and assess what I could afford, I interrupted the couple to ask if the restaurant accepted credit cards (yes) and from there they began enthusiastically recommending certain dishes.  They had eaten there several times in the past few weeks.  We got into a long conversation that lasted through their aperitifs and I was very pleased to meet these friendly and intelligent strangers.

I didn’t mention that I had come to Paris with my boyfriend (it was a very serious relationship) and that after the first week, a very tense and depressing week, we broke up and parted ways.  This day I was in an open and eerie mood, still feeling high from The Simpsons.

Eventually I learned the couple’s names: Brad (Listi) and Kari.  They told me about their wedding plans and about Brad’s book and Kari showing LeBron James around New York.  I probably told them that I’m from New York, 25, still living with my parents, went to Cooper Union, have a painting studio, am a singer-songwriter, and write a zine about The Upper East Side, where I live, called The U.E.S. Journal.

Brad and Kari also told me about The Nervous Breakdown and at one point I jokingly said (I was nervous it would be imposing and awkward) that maybe I would submit something.  To my relief they both responded enthusiastically.  The plan was for me to check out the website and e-mail the contact there with links to my work.  A few weeks later, back in The United States, we began the process of setting me up to write for this very website.

That was one memorable evening from my summer which still reaches out into the present.  Going backwards, I want to describe the strange sensations I experienced in the hours before meeting Brad and Kari.

I am one of those people for whom The Simpsons is a very important part of life.  ‘Nough said.  I had pretty much given up hope that a movie would ever be released and I was delightfully surprised when I saw the first trailer on the Internet.  When the movie came out I had heard it wasn’t incredible- not as good as good as the South Park movie, etc…  I was determined to like it, though.

The Simpsons has gotten me through some very tough times.  During my first serious breakup I would lie half asleep watching the DVDs all day (only seasons one and two had been released), sometimes playing one episode three times in a row (Bart Gets Hit by a Car).  I could just listen with my eyes closed and remember which noises referred to which sight gags.  Alternatively, I could mute the tv and watch, remembering the dialog.  I would drift in and out of dreams where I was Homer, Marge, and Bart, and I started confusing my ex-boyfriend’s name with the name, Homer, when speaking to friends on the phone.

So now, in Paris, after another breakup, I was trying to be good to myself and have a good time.  Naturally, I took myself to see The Simpsons Movie.  It took me 30 minutes to find the theater because I was not familiar with The Forum des Halles and didn’t know that it was an underground mall.  The theater was one of the nicest I have visited- a huge screen, comfortable seats, and the rows going back at such a steep incline that it was nearly impossible for someone’s head or hair to block your view.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.  I won’t attempt to review it.  I barely judge The Simpsons these days.  I accept it as a reality, a part of life that cannot be questioned.  I am happy it still exists, like a beloved relative.

I found the movie strangely dark.  Much of the movie has to do with living in a dome.  If you stay through the entire credits there is a little scene with Mr. Burns and Smithers, and after the Green Day song finishes a very dramatic version of the Spider Pig song begins, maybe similar to a James Bond theme, with voices in the background warning “Look out!”.

Leaving the theater with that song in my mind, I followed everyone up an escalator that emerged onto street level in the middle of a park.  It was dark out, there were no tall buildings close by, the sky was a single matte cloud grey, and I had the feeling of coming out from underground to find myself in a dome.  I tried to trick my eyes into seeing the sky as if I were in a planetarium.  A few blocks into my journey to Le Petit Marché I passed a sign for a restaurant which read “Dome du Marais”.

It was one of those nights when the world around you seems made just for you.  I noticed objects left and right, patterns in the pavement, store names, people’s expressions.  Everything was an omen, but a good omen, and I felt that wherever I walked I would continue to find signs that made sense in the story of my life—like a foreshadowing, as if I lived in the world of a well-constructed novel.  Then I arrived at the restaurant.