Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Threatens NYC, a Second Home For Me

There was a time in my life when if someone asked me, "If you got to visit any one place in the world right now, where would it be?" my answer would've been a quick and decisive "New York City." For an artsy Southern California kid who grew up in the suburbs of safe, strip mall-laden Orange County, New York was a fantasy land - a moody metropolis that provided that fledgeling version of me a bottomless pit of inspiration. So one could imagine the delight that overcame me when the one animation studio, Blue Sky, offered me my first job out of college, and that chance of being a New Yorker, at least for a small piece of my life. That's why when I started hearing about the Hurricane Sandy threats, I can picture a real place under fire (or under water), with real people, real places, and real emotional ties for me.

As with any new place one visits, I came to the Big Apple with a slew of expectations and ideas set by pop culture and the collective consciousness that created the colorful stereotypes, archetypes, and A-types that shape our image of New York. Phrases like "Hey! I'm walkin' here!," the pushy cab drivers, and sardine-packed subways filled my imagination to the brim. You can thank Ghostbusters, Seinfeld, Woody Allen movies, every super hero story, the list goes on and on, for my preconceptions about the City that Never Sleeps. But with every fantasy comes the cold shower of reality. Perhaps, I eventually thought, the grandeur was too grand, the lifestyle was too fast, the people too aggressive. With cliches like "If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere," it suddenly occurred to one that that message was not a challenge or a point of pride, but perhaps a warning.

If the state of New York was a friend introducing herself to you, she wasn't the type who was coy or quiet when you first heard her spoke. She was the type that came in with a musical number with flash and pizazz - my exposure to the city was somewhat on the spectacular side. I was flown out in style by Blue Sky and shown the sites by some warm new friends in a very condensed 24 hours. When one of the story artists learned I had never been to the city, before I could blink I was dining with friends in the hip East Village neighborhood, trying not to be overwhelmed by an endless array of skyscrapers from the concrete jungle. I was eating some of the best food in the world. I was basking, at the time, in the exciting future that laid ahead of me.

Little did I realize at the time, that excitement and newness goes hand in hand with unfamiliarity, feeling lost, and yes, often finding myself in a lonely state of mind in a state of countless people.

After being courted there, the people who gave me the impression of being my new BFF's inadvertently abandoned me for their familiar routines and I eventually had to go find new friends and new routines of my own. Doing that in Manhattan sounds like a walk in the park, where there are a million things to do, a gazillion things to see, and a plethora of things to experience. But it turned out that a walk in the park it was not. Besides, their park was really big. I had to look hard in the most unexpected of places to find what I was looking for - namely friends.

Before Manhattan, I lived in suburban White Plains when I first moved to the east coast, simply because that was where my work was. But I got bored and eventually decided to move into a run-down, 1500 a month, pre-war studio apartment in the Upper East Side. It was my first apartment, my first lease, complete with a view of fire escapes of the back of buildings, and the ever-so-roomy interior of a walk-in closet. Was I excited? Sure. Was it comfortable? Well, if anyone remembers that scene in the movie Big, where Tom Hanks spends his first night on his own only to be surrounded by sounds of police sirens and the rants of shady characters, my first night wasn't too different from that.

It wasn't long before I became one of the denizens of one of the true Alpha Cities of the world. I woke up at six to take the six up to Grand Central every morning and rode the Metro North into White Plains. New York-style pizza was a staple. Those North Face puffy black winter jackets were practically uniforms from how often you saw locals wearing them. And for the first time in my life, I truly understood that a scarf was not a fashion statement in some parts of the world, but a necessity. The arctic winds were so harsh at times that it felt like a thousand needles stabbing your face. And it was often so cold that you'd find yourself cursing at the air as you trudged from one miserable point A to another miserable point B.

As I stated before, with great excitement came great anxiety. It didn't take long before eating bad Chinese food by yourself (or even great Indian food by yourself, for that matter) and watching House by yourself got old. I had to find friends. It was the reason why I moved to Manhattan, where the people were closer to my age and more privy to doing stuff and going out. Weirdly enough, I found some random friends in a Christian youth group, and I'm not even Christian. I met my friend Colleen when she was passing out fliers to her church's Christmas show. A few house parties (or "apartment parties" rather) later, I met some other warm friends who I still keep in touch with today. I felt like a body snatcher, though, going to these church groups, but secretly going there for the friends, but not staying for the Gospel. But hey, I thought, friends are friends, and no one's going to fault me for that intention.

Eventually, before I even got a chance to settle, my stint at Blue Sky was cut unexpectedly short and I had to move back to sunny California. I still think about my former home and when I read about the storm, my sense of empathy for residents there is a bit more heightened than it would be if I never lived there. At the risk of sounding trite, New York has a special place in my heart, complete with valleys as well as peaks, experience-wise, and my message to Hurricane Sandy is this: if you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Dug Up Some Old Files and Found This

I was looking through some of my old art files and I found the pages to a little poem I wrote and illustrated. It's suppose to be printed out in book format, so hence the page layout. I enjoyed making and re-reading this, albeit it ends on somewhat of a dark note...