Posted tagged ‘life’

The Only New Yorker Who Hates IKEA

June 19, 2008

There are not many firsts left to be had in New York City, but yesterday marked what seemed to be a pretty big one. New Yorkers and Brooklynites began lining up at five on Monday morning, prepared to camp out with their tents and sleeping bags for the next 48 hours. They weren’t waiting for tickets to Britney’s post psychosis concert tour or for one of those riot inducing “I’m not a plastic bag” totes. They were waiting for a store to open.

In their defense, IKEA’s PR stunt masters advertised free couches worth $399 to the first 35 people in line and there were also free Swedish Meatballs to celebrate the opening of the first New York IKEA. But you would think it would take much more than a couch to get someone to play homeless on the streets of Brooklyn for two days straight. And did they know they still have to put the couch together themselves?

ikea-cat-some-assembly-required

IKEA is a brand that twenty and thirty-something urbanites seem to drool over. If your town has an IKEA and a Trader Joes you know it is a trendy place to live. If it has its own section on Craigslist and even its own fringe newspaper, you’ve made it. I spent three years living in New York, listening to stories about this ultra cheap Swedish furniture store, but did not get to actually experience it until last year. After wandering through the store (which is the size of a small village) picking out a desk, dresser, and bed that would both go together and fit in my room, I brought the name of my selections over to the bored looking IKEA employee who informed me, one by one, that each of my carefully selected, awkwardly named pieces were sold out.

Once I found a set that I could bring home the same day (who cares if it was made for twelve-year old girls!) I weaved my way through bathroom textiles and $6 floor lamps before arriving in the warehouse where I had to figure out how to lift the long flat boxes of wood that would soon become my furniture. I was quickly discovering why IKEA was so cheap: they make you do all the work. They don’t have those big machines to get your Klippan Loveseat—which is somehow condensed into a 3” thick box–off the top shelf. You have to do it yourself, and then lug it around with you while you search the endless isles for your Dalselv bed and Malm dresser.

ikea dresser

And that’s the easy part. Once you get the boxes home, don’t expect to actually have a bed to sleep on for a couple more days. Because what you just got a killer deal on is actually planks of wood with pre-cut holes in them. You thought you got a bed for $200 but you were wrong. You got boards painted white and a little picture book of how to turn these sliced up trees into furniture.

I don’t think this would fly in any other industry but somehow IKEA gets away with it.  My dad is a homebuilder, and if he sold his customers pre-cut wooden boards, some loose tiles for the roof, and some screws, and handed them a little booklet that illustrated–with pictures, no words–how to put the house together, he would be able to give them the “house” for much less too. He could probably cut the price in half! But his customers would most likely be crushed in their sleep by the materials he sold them.

My couch lasted three months before the back started caving in. Now whenever someone leans too hard on the back of my couch (you know, like sitting) I have to pull it out from the wall and push the back end back up. My dresser (pictured above) has six drawers and five are still attached and three are still fully attached on both sides. It constantly looks like a robbery just took place in my room even if it is otherwise completely neat.

Unfortunately, for many New Yorkers who do not want to invest too much into their apartments, IKEA looks like the best option. There are two Kmarts in the city but they have a sparse selection of furnishings and they haven’t gotten the trendy thing down like IKEA has. And New Yorkers still have to survive with out the cheap and chic Target. Even though my $700 worth of forest materials turned furniture have less function and absolutely no resale value, I can see why it is so tempting to just go back and buy more low quality furnishings there. I would just stay away from anything that has potential to kill you while in use, like bunk beds.

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The Day the Sun Won

June 18, 2008

Last week, during the second day of the crippling New York City heat wave that inspired this post I think the sun managed to singe my brain because I was getting a little bit loopy. Since I moved into my apartment just last September, I only had to suffer through a few weeks of the smelly New York summer before October came around, allowing me to open my windows and let the cool air flow in. Being a Florida girl, I knew very little about these things they call window units (I think that’s the technical term) and had never even seen one until I caught a Law and Order rerun that centered around a little girl who was crushed by a falling unit. So I didn’t have a very positive or clear image of window units, nor had I ever needed one until now.

I survived day one of the heat wave by alternating between my neighborhood coffee shop and my room, where I sat propped up in my bed with my tiny fan blowing directly at my face. I briefly wondered if my pose might be reminiscent of a supermodel’s but then the sweat started pouring defiantly down my face and my hair blew back and wound itself into one big rat’s nest. Thank god I’m not in a profession that requires any sort of attractiveness.

Day two I awoke at five that morning because even at that hour, my apartment was already baking in the 90 degree heat. My survival skills told me I had to take a cold shower and get somewhere that had air and a plethora of outlets to feed my computer.

sunny ny

Sometime after my third soy latte (Woody Harrelson convinced me to stop eating dairy, but that’s a story for another time) the rumbling air conditioner that had been keeping my little coffee shop cool and dry seemed to suddenly pause to consider the odds of fighting against this incredible weather, and just like that, it gave up. The brief sputtering that gave way to silence should’ve been my cue to relocate, but I continued on, happily puttering away on my computer, oblivious to the heat that was moving in. Three hours later, the caffeine wore off and I was hot and incredibly grumpy. I get kind of feisty when I’m in a bad mood (also when I’m drunk) so I decided I was going to stop hiding from the weather and embrace the beautiful sunshine: a sort of valint challenge to the sun.

I packed up my computer and headed over to Central Park. The four avenue walk seemed to take forever and my tank top was sticking to my back by the time I made it to Sheep’s Meadow, which was completely desolate compared to the last time I was there on Memorial Day. But the fact that this field, which was usually bustling with sun bathers, Frisbee throwers, and illegal beer vendors selling Milwaukee’s Best for $5 a can, was still and quiet, did not deter me. I pulled out my bottle of baby oil (again, I’m from Florida), took off my shirt (I had on a sports bra) and took a nap. It was almost four by the time I got to the park so I figured I couldn’t get in too much tanning trouble.

You might think this story ends with me getting a 2nd degree burn and hideous sports bra tan lines, but it doesn’t. My southern skin fared fine, it was the rest of me that didn’t do too well. I woke up two hours later and saw some creepy looking dude staring at me from under a tree. Time to go. The walk back was even worse and I actually had to do something I’ve only seen very obese people and tourists do and stop to rest on my way home.

Once I made it up my six flights of stairs I had cold water and my not so sexy spot in front of the fan. But my apartment was not much of an escape. I still didn’t have one of those deadly window units and every Upper East Side place that might deliver one to me was closed by now. I considered going to a movie for a two hour, $12 escape, but that didn’t solve the dilemma of how I was going to survive the night. I couldn’t get Chris Brown’s “No Air” out of my head and my skin was probably still soaking in all that heat from the park. It was time to call in reinforcements.  I got my man friend, Chris, on the phone and started reminding him how guilty he would feel if I died in my sleep when he had had the chance to come to my rescue. I could tell he was less than pleased with the prospect of coming into the city to bring and install an air conditioner when he had to be at work in New Rochelle at seven the next morning, but when I threatened to fake illness so I could spend the night at Sloane Hospital down the block I think he started to feel bad for me. And when there was a brief silence in our phone conversations and I told him it was because I might have passed out a little, he audibly sighed but was quickly on his way.

In a truly heroic move Chris drove 30 minutes to deliver and install my very own window unit, which can cool my little room in less than 60 seconds. And although I have only used it a couple times since, he can now say that he potentially saved my life, a statement which will be especially useful when he sees my father again, who likes Chris just about as much as any dad likes the man who dares to date his daughter. My dad likes to grill potential suitors on what they are doing with their lives, and at least Chris will have a good answer this time: saving my life. Now that I think about it, I was the one who actually did him a favor. So Chris, I’d say we’re even.

New York Neurosis: Avoiding Cranes

June 11, 2008

Lunch atop a skyscraper

 

After the first crane accident occurred in New York City, just 10 blocks from my Upper East Side apartment, I started to take notice of another towering structure that loomed just a few yards away from my 6-story walk-up. I tried not to think about the crane as I sat writing from my top floor apartment, in my favorite sun drenched spot by the window, or as I walked up from the subway, spying the hunk of metal soaring over 30 stories high. But the more I tried not to think about it, the more neurotic I got.

 

Then came the second crane accident. I got word of the second collapse when I was away in San Francisco and after seeing CNN’s grainy satellite picture of the tree-lined street I was sure it was my own block that had been terrorized by another falling crane. And when the banner below the image announced “New York Crane Collapses on Upper East Side” I just knew it had to be the intimidating steel structure that causes me to scurry away from my window every time there is a strong gust of wind.

 UES Crane

I texted my roommate first to she if she was alive, and second to see if the crane had actually swung through my bedroom window or speared its way through my ceiling, both scenarios I had considered thoroughly, calculating the angles and breaks with my journalist’s math skills.

 

After making fun of my terror, my roomie reassured me that the crane actually fell more than twenty blocks north of us, and math skills or no math skills I knew that meant we were safe…for now. Ten blocks south, then 20 blocks north, if this pattern continues, according to quantitative reasoning (ok, I don’t actually know what that term means) our apartment is next! My dad offered to mail me my ski helmet, and although he was totally patronizing me, I called his bluff and it is due to arrive via FedEx tomorrow. Countless tons of steel vs. three inches of padded plastic? Whatever makes me sleep better I guess!

 

The Holy Trinity (?)

May 19, 2008

I once told my old boss at Style Publications that the guys I befriended in Spain were like different action figures: the air traffic controller, the firefighter, the man who owned a motorcycle shop. But for the ones who made the biggest impression on me I think a more accurate description would be The Holy Trinity. I’m definitely not trying to put them on some heavenly level, in fact, for Miguel at least, I’d like to do just the opposite,  but it is funny how, looking back, each one of them seemed to have their distinct role to play. Let me explain: 

MIGUEL

Miguel, the previously mentioned Argentinean, was an air traffic controller who aspired to be, not an actor, but the guy who does the horrible voice overs for the movies. I didn’t understand it at the time but apparently Brad Pitt’s voice over guy is just as famous as Brad Pitt in places like Argentina. In the short time that we dated (mid January just after I arrived until Valentines Day) he made me brownies in the microwave using only sugar, flour and chocolate and they were actually semi decent. Take that Top Chef! Yet he scoffed when I tried to introduce him to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and despite the fact that he enjoys a chocolate pastry and a cigarette for breakfast each morning, he chided me for eating something so unhealthy.

 

Miguel would be The Father because of his age and because I met him soon after I arrived in Spain, before I knew much Spanish or had even begun understanding the culture. He confessed to lying about his age; he told me he was 25 and then said he lied and was 28. I’m thinking he was probably 30. I was 20 at the time. Not cool. Also if we went a few days with out seeing each other, the next time we got together he would always exclaim in frustration “when are you going to learn Spanish?!” As if he was so disappointed our communication wasn’t perfectly fluid after a couple of days apart. Disappointment is definitely a fatherly quality.

 

 

 

ALEJANDRO aka ALEX

The Son would definitely be Alejandro. He liked me to call him Alex because it was more American and at the age of twenty-something (I was afraid to ask after the Miguel incident) he still lived at home. Because of his history with Americans he knew this living situation might be perfectly acceptable in most European cultures, but for Americans it really threw us off. But because of his lighthearted nature he just laughed it off and could easily joke about the whole ordeal.

 

I met him at the little bar across the street from my apartment–a small cave bar with low ceilings, dim lights, and Moroccan inspired decor and the best hand crushed mojitos you will ever find in Spain. He was with his ex girlfriend, I would later learn, when his radar for American girls picked up our broken Spanish and thick American accents. He invited my roommates and I to his own birthday party the next night and even wrote us directions on a little bar napkin. Uneasy but curious, my roommates and I (we were dubbed The Katies because our names are all variations of Katie which is especially difficult for native Spanish speakers to pronounce) ventured off to see what a Spanish birthday party was like. It would be this same logic that got me in a cab heading towards the suburbs of Madrid one evening to “see what a Spanish house party is like.”

 

The party was pretty much what you would expect, until Alejandro came out in a Care Bear costume swigging champagne from the bottle and pronouncing “I am lover bear!” in broken English that disintegrated into laughter. Any uneasiness The Katies initially felt was quickly washed away with champagne and laughter. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

Alex is The Son because like many Spaniards my age, he just seems so much younger! People there were often amazed that I left home at 18 to go to college, as if they couldn’t imagine being on their own that early in life. But I guess in their culture, it is kind of unimaginable. But even if living at home is the social norm, his relationship with his mother is not. She still picks up after him, even wakes him up some mornings and doesn’t flinch if he’s not alone in bed. And as a painter, she has even painted a nude picture of her son, which I was not fortunate enough to see. But all in all, Alejandro’s good natured, laid back personality can often be seen as childish but more in the way of a man who never fully grows up…like Peter Pan. In a good way!

 

 

 

PEDRO 

And that leaves Pedro, inaccurately dubbed “Fat Man,” with the title of The Holy Spirit. He was one of the bartenders at Plaza Menor, the quaint bar across the street, and the only one who spoke a bit of English and tried to understand our Spanish. Although he was only slightly pudgy, I woke up one morning remembering only that I’d met a fat man who was a bartender and whom I thought I’d fallen in love with.  And after telling The Katies this, our three brains were able to put the events of the night together and figure out who I was talking about. While the love turned out to be an effect of the mojitos, the desire to get to know Pedro reamined.

 

The street between the bar and our apartment was so small, maybe 6 steps apart, that we could hear the sound of the large creaky door opening as we groggily woke up from our daily afternoon siestas. The sound of Pedro slowly opening the heavy metal door was often my alarm clock-my cue to awake from my post class nap and start getting ready to go out for evening.

 

Fat Man is The Holy Spirit because he always seemed to be right outside my window (not in a creepy way) and because he is still a very elusive character in my mind. Although we saw him almost every night, whether it be for one of his unforgettable mojitos that I still sometimes crave, or just saying goodnight as we stumble home past his bar, I never felt like I got to know him beyond the superficial neighborly relationship. He gave me his e-mail address on my last night in the city and we both looked close to tears when we hugged goodbye, but I somehow lost his e-mail in my move and I never heard from him. So Pedro, if you read this, my apologies for the nickname and please send me an e-mail! Otherwise, I’m sure I will make it back there soon enough; I just hope Plaza Menor is still where I left it!

 

A Belated Introduction

May 18, 2008

Jungle in Ghana

I started this blog as an experiment–a test where I could try out promoting myself and the writing I have published–as well as play around with writing in an unedited arena where I can pick my own topics. Its still coming together but I just wanted to introduce myself so many the jumble of posts will seem less random!

I just graduated (literally! Like last week!) from New York University with a double major in Journalism and History. Writing and journalism have always been passions of mine and after spending a semester abroad in Madrid, traveling became one of my other loves.

I could (and have) written endlessly about my experience in Spain, where I was lucky enough to live with two crazy girls who were just as adventurous and open minded as me and made for perfect companions when we visited something like 11 different cities on a shoestring budget. The three of us learned so many things about traveling, about the cities we visited, and about ourselves while staying in hippie communes in Budapest, communal hostels in Berlin, and unfriendly hotels in Dublin. Before that I had never been a traveler, just a tourist, and it wasn’t until that six-month long experience that I even fully understood the difference. Since then I have spent a summer in a reporting program in Ghana and I’m currently trying to work out a trip and possibly even a move to Buenos Aires.

I have interned at a lot of great magazines in New York City—Seventeen, Business Travel News, Interview, and Rolling Stone—and have done some writing for a glossy in Tampa, where I’m from. And now that I’m finally done with school I’m hoping to graduate to gigs that actually pay!  And despite the economy and the struggling print industry, I remain armed with this false optimism that my friends from Spain like to make fun of us Americans for. I am on the hunt for that elusive fulfilling job that I can be passionate about! 

Home Sick for the Road

May 17, 2008

ba

In between the chaos of graduating, ending my internship at Rolling Stone, and making big kid life plans I often catch myself day dreaming about my next big travel adventure. Last week I filled my Amazon.com shopping cart with over $100 of books. And used ones no less! Now I’m reading Wanderlust and a Fodor’s guide book on Argentina and constantly pulling out my albums from last year’s adventures in Ghana and Spain. I swear my big red suitcases that double as a closet are staring longingly at me from across my tiny NYC apartment.

I’ve been talking about moving to Buenos Aires since I got back from my semester in Madrid over a year ago. Although I met so many interesting, intelligent, and just totally fun Spaniards while I was there, it seemed like wherever I went I met someone from Argentina. The first “local” friend I made in Spain was an air traffic controller/wannabe voice over actor from Buenos Aires. Because I met him before I really got a handle on the Spanish language, and because he admitted to lying to me about everything from where he lived to if he smoked, our relationship did not last past one honey rum soaked Valentines Day, and it really wasn’t all that memorable as a whole, but the way he described his home country really was.

The Paris of the West, the Big Apple of the South, something in me is convinced that this thriving city is where I’m meant to be. Something about a place that has overcome hardships, both political and economic, makes it so appealing in a strange way. Much like in Berlin, a city that has endured not only the loss but the shame of WWII and The Cold War, the attitude of perseverance just invigorates me and makes me optimistic.

If I ever want to move down there, now would be the perfect time in my life, but since it feels like I’ve been working to get a good job (both in school and in the six magazine internships I managed to pack in during college) it feels like such a huge leap to run away from that path even if it only is temporarily.

But for now I will continue reading about other people’s wanderlust and try to contain my own while I try to make decisions about the very near future.