New York – Week Eight

This past week work was almost painfully slow. For hours at a time the office had five or less people working, and the phone would sometimes go more than fifteen minutes without ringing. Although it was very peaceful, it was also dreadfully boring, and I found myself working a lot on updating and adding to my blog. Since there wasn’t much to write about regarding work, the one element that got neglected until the week was over was this entry. Though the days at work were generally uneventful, there were two evenings in which there was sufficient activity to discuss.

The first is Wednesday evening. We had a participatory budgeting assembly scheduled for that night at a local bank. Our outreach coordinator wanted us to hand out some flyers in the surrounding area right before the event, and sent our team to the local housing projects to stick them in doors. Each building in the projects is about 20 stories tall and each floor has 15-20 apartments. To get into the buildings, because they are locked to non-residents, you just wait for someone to enter or leave. From there, you just traipse up and down the stairwells until you have left flyers sticking out of every door in the complex. It’s completely exhausting, but also very fulfilling, if you imagine that at least a few of the people who get the flyers actually read them. In general, I don’t particularly enjoy doing outreach at the housing projects, primarily because being inside the buildings feels like being in jail. The floors are linoleum and the walls are cinderblock, these narrow passageways made of cheap materials lit only by dim overhead florescent lights. The entire combination gives off the eery feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. I have never appreciated how truly privileged I am to live in a building with carpet hallways and a doorman who smiles at you when you arrive home.

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What the hallway of a housing project looks like in New York City. This is not a jail. People actually live here.

The actual participatory budgeting assembly was very successful. Although not quite as many as we initially expected showed up, there were enough that we generated a large amount of potential community improval projects. I was surprised to learn about many of the challenges that people in our district face- many are without proper kitchens, laundry facilities, and live in small spaces with large numbers of extended family members. All of this costs them an exorbitant amount of rent, even accounting for government subsidies, and one family often spends between 30 and 50 percent of their monthly income to pay for housing and its regular fees. This leaves them with minimal resources to pay for goods and services which wealthier families can afford through disposable income, such as fresh produce, extracurricular activities, and quality clothing and legal representation.

On that note, on Friday afternoon I had to opportunity to assist a woman who needed to help her aunt and uncle apply for subsidized housing through HPD (the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development) and NYCHA (the NYC Housing Authority). None of the staff members at our office had ever filled out one of the applications before, so I had the experience of teaching myself how to navigate the city’s electronic affordable housing lottery services without any help. When I was done, I felt very proud of my small accomplishment, but was aware that what I did was a small piece of the overall puzzle, and though it is a foot-in-the-door for this family, I did not actually do much to help them. Due to all the bureaucracy of New York City’s housing organizations, it can take upwards of six years for an application for subsidized housing to get drawn from the lottery, processed, and accepted. This means a family is likely to spend the better portion of a decade paying market rate for an apartment which they cannot afford, and subsequently living well below the federal poverty line, while they wait to have their rent legally decreased.

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The West Harlem Waterfront.

On Thursday evening my office held a staff party after work. I considered going, but after speaking to most of the interns with whom I am relatively close, I decided not to go, as they didn’t seem very enthusiastic about attending either. It began immediately after the office closed, but was on the corner of 14th Street and 5th Avenue, which is not even remotely close to being “on the way home” from my office. I heard a bit about it the next day, and it sounded like the only people who stuck around for more than half an hour were those who are over 21. In the end, I was fairly glad that I didn’t have to spend an evening watching other people get drunk while making small talk with people more than ten years my senior.

My roommate continues to be dramatically unhappy, to the point of calling anyone who will listen while she’s not at work, or skipping work, so that she can cry about how much she hates this city. Apparently New York is not for her. She has thrown herself into an imaginary crisis in which she has no idea what she wants to do with her life, and is convinced that she will be a complete failure if she doesn’t have a job secured the day after she graduates college. She seems bewildered that her daily affirmations and her relationship with “God” haven’t miraculously solved her problems, as is being a good Catholic will manipulate her brain chemistry and rid her of her prevailing depression. She thinks that she should just move back home and live with her parents forever because she is so stressed out and homesick from being in New York for the summer, and is desperate to be in an environment where she doesn’t have to take responsibility for her life choices. Despite the fact that she isn’t leaving for two more weeks, she has already packed all of her stuff and now it is sitting in the middle of the room, like a monument to her misery, waiting for her family to come pick her and it up.

She has obviously developed a severe eating disorder in addition to crippling social anxiety, to the point of avoiding other people and blaming herself for taking comfort in cookies and television, and purposefully ignoring her missed days at the gym. I don’t judge her for her eating or exercise habits, but she certainly judges herself. I feel deep pity for her, because her paranoia about her body and her life has caused her to lash out harshly at others- she yells at her parents over the phone and assumes her co-workers hate her, as well as frequently calling both herself and those around her ugly and fat. I do my best not to internalize what she says, or in any way mimic her behavior, though it is challenging because despair is highly contagious. I am sure that the people around her resent her immaturity and find it exasperating to always have to be reassuring her that her world is not, in fact, crumbling. Though I will be, in all honestly, elated, when she leaves and I never have to see her again, I hope her loved ones assist her in seeking appropriate mental health counseling when she returns home, for the sake of her sanity and theirs.

On Saturday I got up and, before venturing off in search of a new place to explore, went looking for a Korean restaurant I heard had good pork buns. Sadly, I didn’t find it, and was very disappointed. I might make one more pass next weekend, just to make sure it is no longer in the location I am assuming it is. After my unsuccessful search, I took the train to Roosevelt Island, a sliver of an island in the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. I had heard it has an old, abandoned hospital laying in ruins, which I thought might be interesting. Soon after arriving on the island, I discovered the airtram. I had no idea what it was, but was overjoyed when I found out that it’s a small carriage that transports passengers between Roosevelt Island and Manhattan, and that it takes Metrocards as fare! (Since I have an unlimited Metrocard, I can ride as many times as I like!) After riding the airtrain from Roosevelt Island to Manhattan and back, I began wandering the island.

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The East River from the air tram.

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A tourist inside the air tram.

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Looking north along 2nd Avenue on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.

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Me in the air tram.

I sat for at least an hour and read a book on a bench at the edge of the island, looking out over the Manhattan skyline. I stopped to take a few pictures at Four Freedoms Park (where Hilary Clinton held her presidential campaign kickoff!), before finding the old hospital. It used to house smallpox patients, and is one of the only buildings in New York City which has been preserved in its ruinous state. After walking the loop around the island, I stopped at Starbucks and treated myself to a frappacino, and then took the train over to Queens. I had a bakery in mind that I wanted to get something sweet from.

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The Queensboro Bridge, facing Manhattan from Roosevelt Island.

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The UN as seen from across the East River on Roosevelt Island.

 

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Southpoint Park on Roosevelt Island.

 

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The abandoned smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island.

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Four Freedoms Park at Roosevelt Island.

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Me at Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island, with the mid-town Manhattan skyline behind me.

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Me on Roosevelt Island, overlooking the East Harlem skyline.

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The East River and the banks of Roosevelt Island.

As I was walking in the direction of the bakery, I saw signs for the Museum of the Moving Image, and decided to stop in and look around. Even though I didn’t think I’d be particularly interested in the subject, it turned out to be a very interesting museum. There were sniffable e-books (Little Red Riding Hood), an Iranian Revolution experience game (with a sign-up list for the pre-release of the full video game), and an interactive display about the decline of unmonitored wildlife and the affects of human presence on nature preserves in Canada. They also had old film cameras from the early days of movie production and costumes and set pieces from the television show ‘Mad Men’. Overall, a worthwhile few hours.

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An old camera in the Museum of the Moving Image.

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An old camera in the Museum of the Moving Image.

Once I was done wandering around the museum, I resumed my sojourn to the bakery in Astoria, Queens. As I was venturing in the direction, I stumbled upon a small health drink and food bar, and decided to order a smoothie. It was the most fantastic blend of fruit I have ever tasted! I ordered all tropical fruits (mango, pineapple, banana, and coconut water) with a handful of spinach, which caused it to turn the most vibrant shade of green! I drank it the rest of the way to the bakery, and enjoyed strolling along the quiet streets with a cool, delicious treat. Astoria is so calm that it almost makes me believe I am in the suburbs. When I got to the bakery, I took my time deliberating what I wanted, and ended up only paying a little over five dollars for a gigantic piece of brownie cheesecake and a large hunk of banana-walnut pound cake. I ate the cheesecake for dessert that night, and saved the pound cake for a sweet breakfast. Before I left Astoria, I stopped in a little boutique shop next door to the bakery and picked up birthday cards for all my friends, so that I can send them before I leave for Morocco. I came home exhausted and happy.

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The quaint streets of Astoria, Queens.

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The green tropical smoothie. It was surprisingly delicious.

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Colorful French macaroons in Martha’s Country Bakery.

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An outstanding slice of brownie cheesecake from Martha’s Country Bakery.

On Sunday I did my weekly grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, and then went over to Penn Station to get on a train going north. However, the uptown A train, which would normally take me to the Cloisters, was not running through Penn Station, so I instead hopped on the next downtown/Brooklyn/Queens bound A train on the other side of the platform. I decided to go to the beach in Far Rockaway. The last subway stop before the shuttle train to the beach was a small town called Broad Channel. It is just a few streets on either side of the highway, adjacent to the wetlands of the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, and surrounded by Jamaica Bay. I got off the train, with the intention of going to the refuge to spend a bit of time amongst nature before going off to dip my toes in the ocean. In the end, I couldn’t find the access point to the wetlands (maybe there isn’t one), and I instead walked along the streets overlooking Jamaica Bay and took a few pictures of boat docks in the water, and the Manhattan skyline in the distance. I did find a small pizza place, where the owner made me a fresh batch of garlic knots, served with the most outstanding tomato sauce I’ve ever had, for just two dollars.

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My favorite picture from the weekend. True serenity found in New York City. Broad Channel, Queens.

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Jamaica Bay.

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The Manhattan skyline as seen from Broad Channel, Queens.

 

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The owner of Tommy’s Pizza making a fresh pie. It came out of the oven looking delicious, I wish I had taken a picture of the finished project.

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The garlic knots I had at Tommy’s Pizza. I have never had bread so delicious.

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This yard, with a deck and a pool (not pictured), exists in New York City.

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I cannot equate these flower with the highrises of downtown Manhattan. It’s hard to believe they are technically in the same city.

After finishing my snack, I took the shuttle to the beach, and commenced burying my toes in the sand and reading my book for an hour, before finally going in search of an old fort I heard was a few miles down the beach. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, despite the gale force winds battering the shore and blowing sand into everyone’s eyes. I ended up not quite making it to the fort, as it, like the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, was difficult to access but it was a very pleasant walk by the shore. I eventually got tired, thirsty, and hungry, so I broke down and bought a bottle of water and a scoop of ice cream on the way home. By the time I got back to the train station, my hair was a tangled mess from the wind and the various ways I had attempted to pull it out of my face, and my entire body was sticky from the salty air, as well as covered in a layer of sand. I had such a fantastic day, I didn’t want it to end, but the hot shower I took back in my room felt amazing.

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On the “subway” to the beach.

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“The Shore”

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A great day for a stroll along the beach.

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This is how breezy it was at the beach. No special effects necessary.

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American flags were a staple beach accessory at Rockaway Beach on this average Sunday in July.

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A house one block from the beach in Far Rockaway, Queens. Another piece of architecture I have a hard time equating to my mental image of New York City.

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A cool treat at the end of a hot day.

I again have no definitive plans for this weekend, but am considering going to a free movie showing at a film festival on Friday evening on the Lower East Side. I’ll keep everyone posted!

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