Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cut

The film crew that’s been shooting a TV pilot in my neighborhood has overstayed its welcome. This isn’t the first production team that’s ever set up shop on my street, but all of the others stuck around for hours or days – not weeks. I’m living in an occupied zone – will the shooting never end?

Earlier this month, there was an extensive(yet evasive) notice on my apartment building’s front door, courtesy of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre, and Broadcasting, announcing what was about to happen, and encouraging residents to remain patient and cooperative. Years ago, I interviewed for a publicity job within that office, which very likely would have entailed the drafting of comparable memos - I came that close to being part of the problem.

It’s possible that they’re shooting some of their scenes in the middle of the night, while I’m tucked in my bed, dreaming about living in the woods. But from what I’ve witnessed, the occupiers’ favorite times to intensively shoot are during weekday rush hours. When you’re already running late for something important and your mind is elsewhere, there are few scenarios that will catch you more off guard than having a snotty production assistant glide out toward you from nowhere to curtly send you off on an alternative, more roundabout route. One of my neighbors just told me that there’ve been times in the past week when she wasn’t even given the option of an alternative route – she was imperiously instructed to stand in place and wait for a segment to conclude. When the crews aren’t around, they’ll leave their lines of plastic orange cones along the side streets, to remind us that they’ll be back.

As of about 3 years ago, whenever I watch a TV show or a movie that flashes to an outdoor scene that takes place in a densely-populated urban setting, I instantly wonder how many innocent civilian lives were temporarily disrupted by the process. And it’s such an obnoxious temporary disruption. By way of comparison, there’ve been construction crews that have worked in my neighborhood for long periods of time and, in spite of the noise, they were never any trouble. Those crew members were friendly and hardworking, as they performed a service that eventually produced materially beneficial results. But the people of the mainstream entertainment industry consider themselves part of a singularly elite class – their presence is our privilege. We give them our patient cooperation and they give us . . . yet another network-TV police drama (that I predict will be canceled within 14 months of its debut).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

April 5th

My dad is one of the biggest women’s sports enthusiasts I know. When I was back home last December, he demanded that I say goodbye to my Real Housewives of Beverly Hills rerun (right in the middle of the now-infamous dinner-party episode), so he could watch the UConn-Stanford women’s basketball rematch (the two powerhouse teams hadn’t faced each other since the 2010 National Championship game). My favorite childhood memory is of playing backyard-hoop basketball with him when I was 8 and 9 years old, and one of my biggest regrets is not having stuck with the sport much past that age. Another regret is not having gone to more women’s home basketball games during college, to more consistently support my school’s nationally-renowned lineup.

It’s March again and the real Madness is the media’s ongoing devaluation of the female ballers, which has led to the general public’s devaluation of the whole scene. The 2011 Women’s NCAA basketball tournament kicked off yesterday, and I had to get onto Google to track down the schedule since all of the mass e-mails I’m getting about brackets, and all of the televised coverage I’ve seen, are about the men’s match-ups. I’m bored. Thus far, the New York Times’s treatment of the 2011 Women’s Roundup has been deplorable, and this morning’s ESPN SportsCenter report was just as lacking.

Research has continually revealed that girls and women who play sports tend to be more self-empowered than the ones who don’t, as they’re more likely to view their bodies as functional instead of purely decorative. The more athletically-oriented girls and women I’ve ever spent time with have been palpably more take-no-shit confident, emotionally secure, and happier than the ones who aren’t. The media likes to seasonally promote individual women’s sports like tennis, figure skating, and gymnastics – the ones where young ladies wear short skirts or leotards, and artistry/the aura of traditional femininity is usually more of the allure than raw athleticism.

There are a number of women’s games today on ESPN2 – a station that has also brought jump-roping competitions into our lives. This year’s Women’s NCAA Final Championship game is on April 5th – the night after the men’s business is officially squared away.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Suitability

I own a grand total of two business suits. Putting one on allows me to play a rousing game of dress-up. About 4 times a year, I become an actress, posing as someone who’s eminently concerned with rules, decorum, and color-coordinated camisoles.

I had to wear one of the suits all day on Friday, and haven’t had a day like that since the last time I wore one. People receive you differently when you clean up nice; the VIP treatment can have entertainment value. When I walked into an early-morning subway car, I was put in charge. I could do no wrong, and had everyone minding their p’s and q’s. People who weren’t in my way acted as though they were, nervously “excuse me, miss”-ing me. I was heading toward the Wall Street area, and looked forward to getting off the train, so I could blend in with all the rush-hour, business-clad pricks on the Lower Manhattan sidewalks. But since all the suits on those sidewalks were worn by men, a suited-up young woman turned out to be even more of a novelty than it had been underground.

I’ve always instinctively treated everyone (until they start acting up) as equals, no matter what they’re wearing, or how they look, or what they might be able to do for me. (In fact, I have a history of not getting along very well with the regular suit-wearers, as they’re often the ones who are up to the most mischief.) But most people aren’t like me. Authority figures, or those who look like they could be authority figures, are generally afforded more respect and better results.

Right now, there are a lot of mass protests and public demonstrations against organized bullshit, and I’ve sized up a lot of the footage. When you want something from someone, when you want someone to listen to you, presentation can matter as much as your underlying principles. Looking good will always be a form of power and there’s a way to leverage that power into something productively progressive. It doesn’t have to mean wearing a business suit or a party dress or paying lots of money or selling out. But it does mean understanding that presentation is a secret weapon that shouldn’t be discounted as a means of supplementing substance.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Freedom from Fishbowls

At my awesome day job, I’m lucky to have my own office with huge windows. I usually keep my door closed, in order to quietly plug away or blast good music.

Most of this closed door’s surface area is dominated by yet another window – one through which I’m carefully watched by all who meander around the outside hallway. The meanderers are rarely shy about venturing into my inner sanctum (with many feeling free to burst in without knocking) to talk about work, keep me abreast of the goings-on in their personal lives, or interrogate me about something they saw me do during their hallway surveillance. The door-window’s glass is perpetually smudged with the remnants of grubby fingertips. A former employee once pressed her upturned nose to the glass, while breathing heavily, to get my attention; if I look closely enough, I can still see traces of her legacy.

Whenever I desperately need a breather from the cage, I take a meal break at a drab deli a few blocks away, where no one I know would ever think to come looking for me. The food isn’t great, but I’ve had worse – like in my own kitchen. But I’m there to hide well, not eat well.

Everyone else who goes there is clearly doing the same thing, and the only business people mind is their own. There’ll be the occasional pair of friends loudly whisper-arguing about whose life is more hellish, but most people sit solo, slowly chewing in deep thought. Some look driven – you can visualize the wheels turning in their heads as they silently chart out possible next steps that could turn their circumstances around. Others seem more resigned to the under-satisfying cards they’ve been dealt.

This must be what the dining halls looked like in Soviet-era Eastern Europe. Your food is thrown onto a big, red plastic tray that’s not as cute or as sturdy as the ones I remember from my junior high school’s cafeteria. Uncovered wires peek out from the paint-chipped walls, all under dim lighting. This time of year, the premises are so drafty that diners often sit on the wooden-bench seats eating their soup and sandwiches without ever taking off their bulky parkas and winter hats. There’s only one window, and I’m usually the only one who opts to sit near it.

A few afternoons ago, I returned to my beloved bunker after having been away for months, and was relieved to see that nothing has changed. In between plastic spoonfuls of an edible paper bowl of spicy tofu stew and reading the latest issue of Newsweek, I was taking notes on everything going on around me – the pleasant loner seated two tables to my right looked like she was too.

I’ve always had a knack for finding unobvious oases in the middle of chaos. They’re usually outdoors, amid lots of grass, trees, and chirping birds. But in this town, even in Central Park (the entire west-side length of which I walk through 5 days a week), it can be hard to find public space that feels private and keep other people’s smudges off your glass.