New York, I Hate You

Saturday, February 20, 2010 by bg
This post started out a simple response to r.s.' most recent post about the film New York, I Love You, and morphed into this sprawling rant on, well, you can read for yourselves. DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind this is written during a particularly dark and dreary time in my life marked by nothing but work day in and day out. I'm not always this cynical. I'm sure once my schedule calms down and the weather gets nicer I'll be singing a different tune.

OK, I followed r.s.' suggestion to watch New York, I Love You. I was excited for this movie since I loved a lot of Paris, Je T'aime. I missed more than one invite to see it before its release, never saw it when it was out, and waited until it was available to watch instantly on Netflix. BON. Here we are. I may have polluted my experience by reading reviews before seeing the film, especially since one of my favorites concluded by saying that the film will "make you want to move." Turns out they were right.

I've really given a lot of thought as to why I so disliked this film. It boils down to the fact that I have come to be repulsed by anything that romanticizes New York. But b.g.! Its the "Cities of Love" series! They have to be love stories! WRONG. New York is not a place you come to fall in love. New York is a place you come to either pursue wealth or waste it. Paris, on the other hand, is a place where you enjoy life. You drink wine, you laugh, you smoke cigarettes, you read existential books, you fall in love and have sex with anything that isn't nailed down. It's a romantic city. I have a hard time finding anything romantic about New York, and I grew up here. Call me a cynic (and yes, I am openly admitting that I am a cynic at this point), but you don't fall in love in New York. At least not in the way that this movie pathetically attempts to capture. Prove me wrong. On second thought, don't.

Let's move on. The reason I'm writing this post is to share an alternate idea with you; one in which instead of watching quasi-artsy vignettes of people who have nothing better to do than swoon and blink cutely in each other's eyes, we could enjoy a film that captures the amazing variety of life and lifestyles that exist in New York that make it the amazing place it is. For me, it is the vast, overwhelming, shocking amount of discrepancy that exists between every one's lives in New York that make it such a stimulating place to live. We share sidewalks with people who have gone through it all, had it all, have it all, have nothing, are dying, were just born, are going through WHATEVER and come from WHERE EVER. A billionaire waits at a stoplight next to an immigrant who slaves doing maintenance for minimum wage. A whore orders coffee after a neurosurgeon. How amazing is that?? And for that reason, I think it was sacrilegious to waste such an amazing chance to show a variety of situations that truly illustrate New York life from different angles.

Obviously, I'm not the first person to have this idea. In 1989, the film New York Stories was released. The premise: three notable filmmakers (Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese) create short films that aim to reflect different aspects of New York life. I haven't seen the full film, but I get the jist. It's still a little inaccessible imho. Here's a taste:

All insults aside, I like the way that a vignette-setup film allows for a more "flow of consciousness" style narration of the myriad of angles from which to view that anathema of a term, "New York life". SO, since I know you all REALLY wanna know, I have made my own version of New York, I Love You that I'd like to share with you here. Here's my pitch:


VIGNETTE I: Precious.
A young girl and companion waits on a subway platform in the winter. She wears a North Face Steep Tech, skinny jeans, a Puma purse made to look like sneaker, and complicated, colorful Nikes. She holds her Sidekick in one hand, speaking loudly to a woman while gesticulating at key points in her speech with her other. Her French tips catch the dull sunlight.
People are generally ignoring the scene being made, although two young men begin addressing her, at which she rolls her eyes and begins to move painfully slow away from them, narrating to the person on the other end of the phone, in colorful language, how the two young men are accosting her.
She inserts a manicured finger carefully in between two cornrows and scratches gently, following it up with a firm series of pats in to the same area. She bends over laughing at something her companion has said. They board the train.
She walks through the sprawling station at Times Square.
She arrives at her destination, Foot Locker, removing her jacket to reveal a black and white striped polo and a shiny gold name tag. She is almost thirty five minutes late.
She works her day, at her pace. She takes breaks often, usually to use her phone. She receives multiple calls throughout the day from her grandmother, who is at home with the girl's newborn baby. The grandmother complains to the girl that the baby is acting up. The girl offers her special brand of comfort.
The girl's stomach is flat as a board, despite her recent delivery. She gets paid tomorrow, she tweets, because "Divas get money". She makes plans to go shopping the next day with a friend from school for a present for her boyfriend, who is three years her senior. She expresses the desire to spend $150-$250 on this gift, most probably clothing. She thinks of the red Louis Vuitton purse he bought her recently, and how that made her look to her friends. She smiles devilishly.
Her grandmother bounces the baby on her knee.
The girl will be eighteen next week.

A line of young girls extends along the wall of a hallway. Some of them are engaged in conversation, some slumped, sitting listening to music or texting on their iPhones. They each hold a large binder containing photos. An effeminate male voice booms out, asking that the Supreme and DNA girls move to the front. One girl looks up from her sitting position on the floor. This does not apply to her.
She has long black hair that flows down over her shoulders, though she normally wears it up. Her booker explained to her earlier that they would just ask her to take it down anyway. She wears a black tank top and jeans. She had worn her favorite Hello Kitty tshirt for good luck, but her booker told her not to wear it. He didn't explain why. She is fifteen years old. Next to her is a fake Louis Vuitton bag she had bought while sightseeing with her mother the day before. It is her first time in New York. The bag hangs ajar. In it is a pair of heels (also bought with her mother, at her booker's request), her book, and a workbook for math, which she should be doing, but isn't.
The girl walks into the room and smiles at a table of strangers. She is 5'11", and feels even more awkward standing in 3 inch heels that put her above 6'2". She thinks of being the butt of jokes in her middle school. She walks, her knees bumping together.
She walks outside and a car waits to bring her to another casting. She talks to her mother on the phone, reading her schedule off of a worn piece of paper that has been folded and refolded nervously a million times. She takes a picture of herself with her phone, sticking her tongue out and crossing her eyes. She is excited and knows she should be. She feels alone.

A young girl is setting a table in a dining room. She looks no older than seventeen, but she is already nineteen. She wears a long black skirt, a cashmere sweater, leather knee boots, pearl earrings, the bezel of her Chanel watch arced with diamonds. On her head is a Valentino scarf from which a thick black wig flows.
She sits on a couch, drinking a bottle of Coca Cola and texting on her Blackberry, which is housed in a pink plastic case. She sets it down next to a small leather prayer book no bigger than an index card. She goes to a computer and shops online, looking at Juicy Couture items on sale on
She walks into the kitchen, removes a tray from one of the two ovens under the counter. The appliances shine with showroom gleam. She throws away an empty Starbucks cup sitting next to her Fendi shoulder bag on the counter.
Enter A MAN, shaking cold from his body, smiling at his wife. He wears a big thick jacket emblazoned with the letters EMT. He wears a kippah on his short hair. His beard is long, black, coarse. From his waist dangles a beeper, a walk-talkie, and the strings of his tallith. He is twenty-two years old.
They prey, eat, talk about their day. They have just been married, and moved into this small apartment nearby people from their community, who have known them and their families their whole lives. They met 7 months prior, introduced by a matchmaker, a friend of the family. We watch and listen to their conversation. They get to know eachother more each day, both knowing they are to spend almost every dinner together, like this one, for the rest of their lives. They smile at eachother.

VIGNETTE IV: Undergrad.
We watch a group of group of Filipino nurses sit scattered at a nurse's station through a piece of plexiglass, the sounds of the the street echoing against it. Two of them are staring intently at computer screens, mice clicking every few seconds, yet they still partake in the conversation. They speak in Tagalog. If you listen hard enough you can hear the English woven throughout. Listen closer still and you hear the Spanish too. A middle-aged black woman wearing a 3/4 length powder blue lab coat, acrylic nails, and designer eyeglasses shuffles up and addresses one of the nurses, who looks up passive-agressively, interrupted mid-sentence. She nods at what the woman has to say, and turns her head back and relays the message to her coworkers, who meet the news with scattered laughter and rolled eyes.
One of the nurses begrudgingly gets up, and motions for a woman sitting at the other end of the station to join her. The woman stands up, and puts the bottle of hand cream she was just using into the pocket of her purple scrubs. She is middle-aged, has two children, and emigrated from Guyana 6 years prior. She is a Nursing Attendant, and does most of the grunt work.
They head into a reception area where two mid-twenties hispanic men are standing and talking, chewing gum. Beside them is a stretcher containing an eighteen year old girl who appears to be sleeping. She is a student at NYU, and has had too much to drink. Her friends called an ambulance when they got scared she might have alcohol poisoning.
The nurse and the attendant transfer her onto a bed, the nurse begins examining her. She moves and groans, opening her eyes. Two college-age girls sit outside, looking nervous. One checks her iPhone, leg jittering, biting her lip.
The situation is nothing new to these nurses, as they often receive drunk students from the nearby university. They wait for the girl to wake up.
When she does, she finds she has been unnecessarily changed into a hospital gown and a diaper. She looks around nervously, her eyes glassy.
The group of Filipino nurses are back at their stations, gossiping.

A group of homeless young people sit on an enclosed stretch of grass. They are all filthy. Some are drinking. Others are sleeping. Their style is dirty, hard, and punked out; dreadlocks (unintentional and otherwise), studs, ripped Rancid and Black Flag tshirts, holed pants with bandoleer belts. Piercings and tattoos galore. A dog with a black handkerchief tied around its neck lies slumped against a tree. It looks fed amongst its starving owners.
Two members of the group stagger away, hopping the fence surrounding the area, stepping awkwardly close to a young couple sitting on a bench nearby. It is spring, the park is full. The group doesn't seem to realize this. Or they don't care. Or they like the feeling of being on stage.
Two members of the group begin arguing loudly. They are drunk, or high, or both. Some people turn their heads at the noise, then quickly but nonchalantly redirect and focus their gaze in that way you must learn when you live in New York.
Another duo stagger to a tree that is within feet of two people sitting on a bench. One helps the other to pull up her holed denim skirt and urinate on the tree from a near standing position. She is laughing, high and drunk. The two people pretend to have a non-related reason for getting up and leave.
The dog and its owner walk to the nearby pet store to beg for dog food.
Another member lends out his cell phone (paid for by his parents) to call out for drugs.
A mid-twenties Japanese woman in designer clothes walks her three Yorkies.
Children scream and clank around in the playgrounds that bookend the park.

A thirty-six year old woman slowly walks up a ramp leading up to a desk at an overpriced gym on the Upper East Side. Sunlight flashes across the scene in waves as the windows of cars catch the morning sunlight and throw it in all directions, gone as soon is it came.
A young hispanic man looks up from his cell phone to scan her membership card, not moving from his slumped position, not making eye contact with the woman. They ignore each other in a practiced dance of nonchalance and feigned annoyance at the ritual.
She is in full makeup, black leggings that hug and accentuate her saddle bags, a wife beater and a black sports bra. She has an enormous diamond ring on her finger and two oversized studs in her ears, that snag her Japanese straightened hair often. Her face might have been pretty had it not been for the work. Her breasts swell disproportionately on her small frame, she arches her back and sticks them out.
She walks down a flight of stairs, clumsily placing in white iPod ear buds. We yearn to know what she could possibly be listening to.
We watch her over the course of the next half hour. She gently throws her sheared fur coat on a nearby railing and sits on a machine designed to strengthen the thighs. She faces a mirror, pushing out her chest and puckering her lips, and completes under ten repetitions of a movement that is obviously ineffective. Her phone, which she glaces at every few seconds, lights up with a call. She stops what shes doing and gets up, throwing her legs out in front of her with each step so her hips swing, tossing her pin straight hair over her right shoulder as she brings to the phone to her ear. She studies herself in the mirror as she speaks, smiling and laughing at the conversation, turning to look at her ass. After an extended phone call with a friend, discussing vacation options in St Barths, she takes a second call from her nanny. She hurriedly ends the call, obviously frustrated with the interruption.
She continues this dance for the remainder of her workout, thinking of how she'll pass the rest of her day.
Her nanny does not call again.

VIGNETTE VII: Changement.

Young people move around a dance studio. Some are seated, some are standing, but few are staying still. They warm their bodies up, talking, venting, some silently studying their reflections in the mirrors that line the walls.
We focus on one girl. Her hair is jet black and pulled into a high, twisted bun. The top of her hair is gelled in place, reflecting light. She wears sweatpants over a leotard, sitting in a half split position in front of a mirror. She meticulously applies waterproof eyeliner. "Its the brand that Cirque du Soleil performers wear, it never comes off," the Sephora salesgirl had told her. The dancer didn't care, as long as it did the job and didn't run. The instructor of the class that is about to begin demands that the girls wear full makeup during class. The dancer is happy to oblige, thinking that Martha Graham would have had her dancers do the same thing. She smiles.
She finishes applying the makeup, and quickly spins her head to look at a clock on the opposite wall. Ten minutes. Perfect. She smoothly extends down and left to her purse, and procures a tightly wrapped parcel of aluminum foil. Her food for the day. She calculates it meticulously;
She has three technique classes that day: Graham, Ballet, and Jazz. There is a two hour gap between Ballet and Jazz, but she has to focus on her homework for the academic class that follows it. She removes half a peanut butter sandwich and eats it. She, like many others in her profession, knowing exactly what her body needs to perform without giving out. She will eat the second half after class. She plans her fifteen minute break: cigarette, sandwich, water, cigarette, bathroom, prep for Ballet. Perfect. She is a machine, and knows what and how much fuel she needs to function. She bends down, stretching her legs. Her back is a sea of bones, rising and falling in peaks and valleys, shifting with her movement.
She stands up and removes her sweatpants, shaking out her legs as she moves to her favorite position at the front of the room. She studies her reflection, wondering if she will ever be able to reduce the circumference of her thighs. But today is a good day, she didn't eat dinner last night.

Close up on a middle aged man's face. His eyes are closed. He looks haggard. Stubble outlines his jaw, his mouth slightly ajar. A worn leather briefcase sits haphazardly in his lap, exaggerating his discomfort in his seat, squashed between the wall and the obese woman sitting next to him, slurping coffee. A leather satchel dangles from his neck, containing his work ID and a monthly train ticket that he purchased earlier in the month. He wears it in plain view so that the ticket collector can see it without waking him up. He wonders if they have come around already. He was asleep before reaching the second stop.
He opens his eyes, blinking in the light that flashes intermittently across his face, and peers at the woman next to him. Close up of her fat, magenta lips extending out into space above the rim of the coffee cup, the slurp that booms out when they meet. The man turns and looks out of the window, grimacing.
He adjusts himself awkwardly, something jabbing at his thigh that presses against the wall of the car. He reaches down at pulls out the offending object: a worn red hardcover book, the dust jacket missing. It is E.B. White's essay "Here is New York". He begins to read. His voice narrates: "There is the New York of the commuter--the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night." He stops reading. I am one of those locusts, he thinks. He hasn't seen any part of New York beyond his commute since he first started dating his wife, and that was over 15 years ago. He puts the book back where he found it. He has not read a book since high school.
He gets off the train, starting the daily countdown until he has to get back on it to go home. Same as the day before. Same as the day after. And the day after that. And the day...

Clearly I find women much more interesting than men. Only women bleed. I have so many other ideas, but cannot continue laboring on this post tonight. I really enjoyed fleshing those out and getting them out of my head! Most are from personal experience/acquaintance at some point or another. The possibilities are endless!
Other ideas:
an immigrant working tirelessly at shit jobs
corporate whore(s)
celebs in west village
nannies on UES/everwhere in nyc

Ever thine,
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Alexandra said...

Loved it.

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