Tag Archives: New york

Veterans – A special thank you

From all of us here in New York, thank you for your service. Will we see you next week in my native Virginia? Follow the full YouTube link.

Drew Hildebrand, Program Director at the Institute for Government and Defense Advancement.
Drew Hildebrand, Program Director at the Institute for Government and Defense Advancement.

Virginia is for lovers, but I love New York

My hair required the full 30-block walk to air-dry into a limp shag. I had fresh bug bites trailing up my arms and I was wearing flats. It was Halloween morning and my first day on the job in my office at 44th St. and Madison Ave.

Hurricane Sandy had made landfall in New York three days earlier and mere hours after I hopped off my bus with a single suitcase from Virginia. My apartment wasn’t ready yet, so I had to stay in a Greenwich Village hotel. By hotel, I mean hostel, as my room was the size of a galley kitchen and I had to share a bathroom at the end of the hall with the other guests.

As the storm rolled in Sunday night, I sat alone watching Mayor Bloomberg on TV as he warned of impending mayhem. And then he repeated himself in Spanish. I was impressed.

Occasionally, I would measure the storm’s severity against the state of a single tree planted on the rooftop of a nearby a high-rise building. As the sky darkened around the potted sapling, it would continue to bow back and forth with growing effort. This is the last image I saw before everything went black.

The transformer supplying power to lower Manhattan caught fire, shutting down the electric grid south of 34th Street and left half the city without power for two weeks. Later, aerial images of the city reflected a brightly lit and barely touched Upper Manhattan, while its lower half was barely visible. It kind of looked like a black and white finger-shaped cookie.

There would be no charging my phone, no hot showers, no hair drying, no warm food, no TV. I was effectively camping in the greatest city in the world and paying hundreds of dollars for the pleasure. I had 40 blocks to trounce in order to plug my phone into the outlet behind the cash register at a deli. I cried.

On Survival

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. “

Goodness, New York will beat you down until you’re humbled beyond even what you think you deserve.

Virginia is for loversA born and bred Virginian and a native Loudouner, I’ve been told my entire life that I belong in New York. I’m no longer clear on what this says about me. My first job was as a newspaper journalist for the publisher of this magazine. When I left after five years, I left my mark as a glowingly successful magazine editor with a critical eye and a talent admired by young girls near and far.

New York saw me coming and laughed in my face to the tune of Sandy’s strong winds. I’m not the shit, this much I now know to be true.

Sandy launched a long and relentless initiation into the ebbs and flows of this city. The good news is I’m less offended now. I no longer notice when a simple request isn’t cushioned between a “please” and “thank you.” There’s no time for filler words when we’re all existing in varying degrees of survival mode. Just get it done.

I never knew the meaning of a deadline before New York. My new title is “digital content director,” which essentially means I’m still a writer even after having sold my journalism soul to the marketing devil. Such as it is, I now produce more content in one week than I could have ever churned in one month in Virginia.

My ambition hasn’t changed; but my expectations of myself and others has reached such a high level because I now exist in a culture of healthy competition and collaboration. Not only do I want to sharpen myself against my coworkers, but I don’t want to let them down. It’s a daily game of better, faster, stronger. Sometimes I win, oftentimes I lose.

On Manners

“Southerners are nice on the outside, but hard on the inside. New Yorkers are hard on the outside, but they’re soft on the inside. “

A Mid-Westener shared this with me. Here in New York, we from the South, Midwest and, well, basically, anyone who was born outside the borders of the tri-state area — we are different.

The fact of the matter is, New Yorkers don’t have time for pleasantries and some people don’t appreciate that. Smiles are sparse on the streets as a means of self-preservation. The rule is: Do not engage.

They’re not rude; they’re just not opening themselves up to the crazies. I no longer feel guilty for not asking “How are you, today?” to the my coffee guy. On the other hand, Southern hospitality really gives me an edge. When I need something from a coworker, I still lead with “How was your weekend?” or “What’d you get into last night?”

It still gives me pleasure to see them lean back, their body physically shift into a more comfortable position to engage in a chitchat session– like I’m winning at making people softer one day at a time. A manager made a point to commend me for planning a happy hour for a coworker’s birthday. Is that all it takes to move up the ranks here? Am I working late for no reason when I could just bring in some snickerdoodles instead?

A man once stopped me in the office lobby.

“I’ve never seen anyone smile to themselves before,” he said.

I still smile. People still stare without engaging. The implication being I’m likely batshit crazy.

Loyalty

There’s a saying that you’re always in search of three things in the city, “A better job, a better apartment and a better boyfriend.”

Gone are the days when a person will spend his or her whole career advancing through one company. It may be generational, but a New York employee is considered to be loyal if they stay with a single company for longer than six months.

I love nyI only know a handful of people who are happy in their current role. Sure, this is a symptom of “the grass is greener” syndrome, but in New York there’s also the knowledge that there are thousands upon thousands of other jobs out there waiting on the other side. There’s always the next step. There’s always a new opportunity. I’m not sure what this says about the state of our happiness or contentment, but I know the feeling is mutual because companies here don’t reward loyalty. If you’re underperforming, you’re gone. It’s as simple as that.

The struggle to be a woman working and living in New York is real, as the kids say. The truth is the insecurities I felt about my career and talent remain the same – it’s just that now the self-doubt reflected back in a larger mirror. I still don’t know if I’m making the right career choice. I still don’t know if I’m any good. I still don’t really want people who know me to read my stuff.

There will always be better writers. People work way harder than me and they’re much more creative and have better grammar skills. They write without curse words.

I ask myself the almost-daily question as to why the hell I’m here. I don’t really know, other than that New York is all the while accepting of my shortcomings. Knowing that there will always be someone better than me means that I have nothing to lose.

It also means I really have no other choice than to put my fingers to the keyboard everyday. New York allows the room for me to believe that any storm can be faced if I show the ability to bow back and forth and not break.

New Yorkers: Think Before You Eat

The more color variation, the more fun.
The more color variation, the more fun.

New Yorkers: It’s time to slow down and think about what we’re putting in our mouths.

Why? September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. There’s no need to list the statistics on what we all already know – more American children are obese now than ever before. But, legislative bans on sugar and sodium are not the solution, education is.

Good eating habits start at home. This concept can be hard to fully grasp for some, including me. I was raised in the South where a typical meal consisted of hearty servings of meat and starches. Our family’s pantry was never devoid of cookies, crème pies, sugary cereals and potato chips. I will never forget my first sip of Cream Soda. It could have been relabeled Crack Soda – I just could not get enough.

I don’t believe any of us quite understood the extent to which our family’s poor eating habits were contributing to our poor quality of life. As a child and into my teen years I was often lethargic, cranky and unproductive. I now wonder where I would be if only I had learned how to make healthier choices earlier in life.

I don’t blame my parents who were simply carrying on a culture of eating that was prevalent in the 1980s. Everything from our culture, religion and income influences how we eat. But although New Yorkers in general tend to be pretty health conscientious and information on eating healthily and exercising regularly is prevalent, our children’s waistlines continue to expand.

Carrots-of-Many-colours-Wikimedia-Commons-Anna-Jackowiak-Why-should-I-eat-more-fibre-Reduce-Risk-of-heart-diseaseJAMA Pediatrics’ list of adverse effects brought on by obesity in children is long: early on-set puberty, greater risk of behavioral and psychological problems, depression, anxiety and eating disorders, among other ailments.

It hasn’t been easy for me to write a new normal of healthy eating and regular exercise, but I do it to be healthy, more alert and perform better at my job. My hope is for kids today to be educated before they develop bad habits that will one day need to be reversed.

Halloween is just around the corner followed by a months-long, treat-filled holiday season. Start by setting guidelines for your family’s choices rather than dictating what they can and cannot eat. Include your kids in your grocery shopping so they can take pride in their food choices. Slowly introduce fruits and vegetables into their snack circuit. Encourage slow eating so they really enjoy their meal for all its textures and flavors. Lastly, sit down together for dinner. That’s when rather than focusing on the food the focus will be on family.

How to Avoid an Eye Laceration

Pace yourself when sipping your first glass of $7 Sauvignon Blanc at happy hour on Friday. Perhaps chug some water between your first and second glass. Take note that everyone around you is munching on half-price oysters, sliders and sushi and you’re not. Eat something.

Take the subway instead of a cab to your apartment so you realize how tipsy you already are. Perhaps pick up on the fact that the vodka drink isn’t necessary in order to re-do your make-up. Don’t believe it when you tell yourself that the benefits of the coconut water are rehydrating you while the vodka dehydrates you.

At dinner, let someone else suggest ordering a bottle of sake for the table. Don’t pick the 19 proof brand sake that’s in a tin bottle resembling a diesel gas can. Or perhaps don’t wash down the sake with a vodka soda. Realize there’s no need to order another bottle of sake to celebrate a fifth friend joining the table. Eat the rice that came with your salmon teriyaki because you do, in fact, need the additional carbs.

Eye glasses aren't so bad when smiling is involved.
Eye glasses aren’t so bad when smiling is involved.

When you go home to drop off your friend’s stuff, reconsider before mixing more vodka coconut cocktails. Avoid awaiting the arrival of your coworker and his two friends. Perhaps consider sending them away. Instead of trying to cover up how drunk you already are, own up to how drunk you already are.

Don’t leave your friend at home when she falls asleep on the couch. Instead, stay home with her. Talk yourself into going to sleep. Stop and think – do you really need to barhop with your coworker, et al? Don’t drink that dark and stormy. Demand to go home when you feel the first wave of nausea. Go to your apartment and lay down in your roommate’s abandoned bed. Don’t scoot over to make room for your coworker. Don’t invite his friend to join you because you think you’re a nice person. You’re just drunk. Don’t initiate a conversation about a threesome because it’s not cute or ladylike. Don’t pass out without changing your clothes, without washing your face, without brushing your teeth or without taking out your contact lenses.

Wake up and drink water. Take out your contact lenses when you wash face. Don’t ignore the dryness in your eyes while you’re stuffing your face with a two-serving, fried chicken cemita sandwich in 10 minutes. Consider applying the eye drops that are in your purse. Don’t rub your eyes when it dawns on you that haven’t taken out your contacts in two days.

When you leave the Brooklyn Brewery to go home for a nap, actually get your ass off the couch and remove your contacts instead of just thinking about doing it as you drift off to sleep. Don’t just brush off the concern that arises when you awake with tears streaming out of your right eye.
Don’t assume it’s just your allergies acting up. Take out your contacts, put in eye drops and fresh lenses. Pop some ibuprofen and allergy medicine. Re-do your make-up and join your friends for pork belly and fried fish tacos. Take it seriously when your friends show concern that you may have pink eye. Decide that your eye really does fucking hurt – but only when you blink. Go home.

Don’t think ibuprofen will solve the problem that has overtaken your eye that is now red, swollen and full of mucous. Don’t pop more ibuprofen. Or Allegra. Or Benadryl for good measure. Call your mom. Put a bag of ice on your face. Call your mom again. Your eye is red and weepy and swollen? You have an eye laceration. Leave immediately when she tells you to go to the doctor.

Accept that you must leave your friends before brunch to go to Urgent Care. Describe your symptoms honestly. Don’t act surprised when your dyed eyes reveal lacerations under the UV light. Feel badly that there are not one, not two, but three cuts. Accept the prescription for eye drops and ointment. Don’t freak out that you can’t wear contact lenses or eye make-up for one week. Instead, accept responsibility.

Walk immediately to the pharmacist. Remember eyeglasses aren’t sunglasses and people can see you looking at them. Buy coconut water and Gatorade. Go home, take off your glasses and let your right eye cry itself to sleep.

Preventing sexual abuse in NYC schools

I once tried initiating a relationship with my high school biology teacher. I was 16 years-old and he was in his late forties – gray hair and all.

Coming from a broken home, I lacked a father figure and therefore found no issue with my questions about his personal life; did he have a girlfriend? If so, what was she like? I lingered around his classroom after school in order to be alone with him.

Looking back, it’s difficult for me to say if I ever wanted anything to come of it. I certainly goaded him. And, I certainly didn’t know what I was doing as a naive teenager.

He never took my bait. But, throughout the New York City public school system not every teacher shows such restraint.

The NYC Department of Education released a report earlier this month that it has fielded nearly 600 complaints of sexual misconduct against teachers and faculty since 2009. The special commissioner of investigations Richard Condon said 104 of those cases were substantiated.

Some of these cases have been highly publicized. Two examples include Colleen Finn, a teacher at Aviation Career and Technical High School in Queens, who had sex with a student at least four times in 2010; and Salahudin Bholai, a teacher at the High School of Graphic Communications in Manhattan, who allegedly text¬ed a student a sexually explicit photo.

While nothing ever happened between my teacher and me, it is worth noting that I never told anyone either. Some students, like me, think they’re already grown up and able to handle an adult relationship. More often than not victims blame themselves and sometimes it’s not until years later that they realize what has happened.

Parents should take care to notice changes in their children and not immediately equate them with hormonal imbalances. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, warning signs in children who have suffered possible sexual abuse include: nightmares, distraction, changes in eating habits, sudden mood swings of rage, fear or withdrawal and thoughts of themselves as repulsive or dirty. Teenagers may show signs of self-injury, inadequate personal hygiene or drug and alcohol abuse.

Don’t dismiss these signs. Instead sit down with your child or teen and encourage them to be honest with you. Remind them that they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Respect their need for privacy and be an active listener. Ultimately, try to help them regain a sense of control over their lives that was stolen from them.

AirBnB: Not just extra cash for tenants, but for all New Yorkers

During the heat wave of July last year, my 66 year-old mother rewarded herself for surviving the painstaking climb up my four story walk-up by parking herself in front of my window AC unit until the sweat subsided. It was hard to watch.

So when my six-month pregnant sister decided to return, my mom said, “You’re going to climb those stairs in that state?”

Yes, that’s exactly what she did since paying for a NYC hotel room was out of the question.

If I ever want family or friends to visit, I have to offer up my miniscule apartment as bait to leverage the cost of everything else. Who wouldn’t accept the offer considering the average rate for a hotel room in NYC was almost $300 in 2012, the most recent data available on NYCgo.com. That’s not exactly affordable.

AirBnB is a savior in this regard. What if I didn’t live here; does that mean my family would never visit? The answer is most likely; and I can see that being the case for many NYC tourists who flock to AirBnB in droves as means to end.

AirBnB, and any other like services, are under a microscope. Negative press and disenfranchised landlords have made a stink about its legality. There have been horror stories, yes, but for the most part it is a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Friends who use the service have nothing but praise for it and AirBnB offers a substantial amount in insurance money to its lessees. For tourists, the added advantage to saving money is the ability to feel like they’re a real New Yorker. We want to make tourists happy considering they’re the basis of an industry that generates $55 billion in economic impact and 363,000 jobs.

It seems one Manhattan Housing Court judge agrees – he recently ruled in favor of a tenant being sued by her landlord for using the service because, according to the ruling, the Multiple Dwelling Law that prohibits short-term sublets is “generally aimed at the conduct of owners of property, not tenants.”

This particular battle was won, but the company and its competitors face an uphill battle as the voices of landlords who condemn the legality of the practice grow louder. It’s time to think less about the chump change it costs landlords and more about the millions to be made if AirBnB provides even more tourists the ability to visit the city . That’s more money to be made – for everyone.

The nuisance of New York’s noisy streets

Note to self: Don't ever move into an apartment located directly above a night club.
Note to self: Don’t ever move into an apartment located directly above a night club.

Last year I was engaged in a Battle Royale over noise brought on by my neighbor – a hookah bar located directly under my first-floor apartment.

At the time, my roommate and I suffered from the usual naivety of first-time New York apartment renters when we listened to and believed the real estate agent who said there had never been any noise complaints against them.

We moved in on a Monday and slept peacefully for four days. Then Thursday came. At 10 p.m. a torrent of Rihanna’s melodies rose up through the floorboards and an overwhelming sense of dread coupled with bass beats was its undertow.

I was immediately awash in the truth that we had been lied to and were trapped in a wet-inked lease. How could anyone live like this? Our floors and walls vibrated and the dishes in our sink clinked along with every beat of the Thursday – Saturday show time.

Noise is the number one complaint since the 311 helpline was established in 2003, according to amNewYork’s Monday front page article. More than 3.1 million noise complaints have been filed in the past decade. I was among those voices.

I’m not perturbed by sirens, honking or yelling. But, I can’t handle bass during a weeknight. A war was waged on the bar owners and I became an expert in New York sound ordinance codes. Commercial establishments must limit the level of unreasonable noise to 42 decibels as measured from inside nearby residences. To give you an idea, the level of normal conversation is 50 dB(A) and stereos/boom boxes measure 110 dB(A). The next highest level is a jet plane, which clocks in at 130 dB(A).

I also became a prolific dialer and filer of 311 noise complaints. The cops – whose station was located across the street and whose desks were visible from my kitchen window – dutifully followed up with each complaint, but to no avail.

Two of the owners made half-hearted attempts to appease us. They said they would pay to install carpet and would caulk our pipes. They would do anything they could think of that wouldn’t cost them more than $50 and would also therefore be useless.

The other tenants could feel and hear the bass up to the fifth level. We had all become dependent on sleeping pills and wine. I begged the landlord to force them to properly soundproof. Maybe it had been damaged during Hurricane Sandy?

It was clear that they weren’t going to spend the tens of thousands of dollars to do this and it was also clear that if we didn’t vacate we would go insane. The night I found myself on the sidewalk screaming and pointing my finger in the owner’s face I realized the battle was a losing one.

We decided to skip out on the lease and move five streets down to an apartment our friends were vacating. We sent a letter from a lawyer stating they our contract had been breached. Two days before we moved out, I received a letter from the Department of Environmental Protection saying they would step in on the matter. It was a major victory.

We still live in our friends’ apartment. The window in my bedroom is single-paned and I can hear people talking on the street and car wheels striking manhole covers. A friend said the street noise reminded him of being in Venezuela. I haven’t called 311 once. The traffic is my lullaby.

Hannah Hager is an Online Content Director living in Alphabet City.
This article was originally published in amNewYork.