Monday, July 20, 2015

Homecoming to Jackson Heights

I was born in Elmhurst Hospital in Elmhurst, NY. Elmhurst is a neighborhood in Queens, a heavily Asian and Latin neighborhood. At the time we lived in Jackson Heights, a neighborhood that’s largely a combination of South Asian and Latino (Central and South American and Mexican). When I was a little boy we left the neighborhood. But Central Queens always seemed like home. I had fond childhood memories, and I often visited my aunt there. After finishing up at Cornell University I ended up staying with my aunt. Queens seemed like the perfect place to come out of the closet as being gay, as I had such wonderful memories of it.

But childhood memories are deceptive. Children are often not fully aware of what’s going on around them. In my early 20s upon moving back to Jackson Heights, I rather quickly got to know my neighborhoods. I was living in the historic district, near the post World War II apartments. The neighborhood had a diverse array of food, and as someone who was an exchange student and who studied Spanish at the university, it seemed cool to be able to use that in my everyday life.

I soon started looking for work. My first few jobs were temp jobs in the banking sector. I used the money I earned to buy more clothes. Walking around the neighborhood, I was often offered bazooka. Bazooka wasn’t the gum. Bazooka was a crack cocaine derivative. Two people on my block I’ll call Marco and Fred would offer it to me all the time. I quickly rejected it. Fred and Marco were aggressively insistent. When I would go grocery shopping, in order to get to my place I had walk past there’s. They would ask for my food. During the day in those days I would dress professionally, a sign in their minds I had money. I was afraid of Fred and Marco. But in order to get them off my backs I told them I did 5 years in a state psychiatric hospital for arson and that I was on a variety of prescription pills and therefore had no need for crack. That wasn’t true, I would never do arson or anything violent. But Fred and Marco didn’t know that. So they were nervous and stopping offering me drugs and stopped trying to get my food. Marco and Fred in those days hung out on 37th road. It was called Vaseline Alley as male prostitutes sold their services to other men in those days. Eventually the NYPD under Giuliani cleared out Vaseline Alley, plus prostitution generally went online to sites like Adam4Adam.

The other two notables on my neighborhood were the grandparents of the block. Jim and Louise, an elderly couple who had lived there before the neighborhood had changed demographics. They were friends with my aunt. Through my aunt I found out which of our neighbors were bad. Allegedly, Jose and Jose had robbed a candy store and killed the owner. Those two were creepy enough, so it wasn’t like I was going to ask them detail or if what Jim and Louise said was true. They were friends with Julio, a crack addict male street prostitute.

But not all of my neighbors were bad. Though I would say I eventually learned appearances can be deceiving. Alfonso was a recovering drug addict who got a job, got married and raised a family. I knew his daughter Elizabeth. She was often outside with her friends Stephanie and Anthony. They were in high school. As far as I know they were law abiding, and they certainly never gave me trouble. Last I heard from Alfonso Elizabeth had gone off to college. Alfonso was nice and always friends with my aunt and with the elderly landlord couple. There was a huge Pakistani family in the apartment above us. The guys worked as cab drivers and they also worked for our neighbor Anit. Anit was a photographer and filmmaker. The men and Anit had their differences as they were Muslim and Anit was Hindu. Still, they worked together professionally. Anit also had others who worked with him. Matt, who lived across the street from me looked like a stereotypical California surf dude. He was tall and blonde. He worked at NBC Universal.

After getting reintegrated into my block, I decided to explore the gay bars in Jackson Heights. My favorite drink in those days was red wine. I soon got to know a number of people in the bars. My friend Anna worked as a secretary and then a licensed massage therapist. She always came out to the bar early in the week. We often discussed spiritual topics and what we read about herbal treatments. Matt hung out in those places, and he was friends with George. George was a neurologist. He shared my love of fantasy and sci fi movies, and we could talk for hours about Xena, Charmed, Hercules, and related shows. I was friends Pedro, the bartender from Peru. Yosef was an accountant who lived in Chelsea, in Manhattan. But he hung out in Queens. Frank was an older man who worked for a car service. Frank would appear in the bar at rather odd hours, as his work schedule varied. It stressed him out and he drank rather heavily. The bar was pretty much a home for Frank. He often slept in the bar. He was lovers with Gerald, a retired professor who lived in the East Village. Those two fought frequently.

As I always loved X-Men comics (and other Marvel Comics) I went to a local comic book store in Jackson Heights. There I met Paul the hippier owner. The main people who hung out there where Serbian twin brothers Adrijan and Darko. Darko was a normal stable man. He ended up marrying a woman from the old country, and they had 4 children. Adrijan was a cringing machoist who attended S& M conventions with his sexually liberal girlfriend Michelle. The Serbian twins were good friends with Raul aka John aka Franklin aka Davio aka Daniel aka Gustavo, the cool man of many names and many a bar fight. I always had fun at that shop. Adriana, Tiffany, and Isabel were the girls who hung out there. Tiffany was the lover of Paul. The others made fun of her and called her ghetto because she was originally from Harlem. The others in the shop accused Tiffany of being a player, so there was often tension between her and the others. The relationship between TIffany and Paul fell apart when she pawned his mother’s old ring, which was a gift from the heart to Tiffany.

From time to time I would hang out with Yosef. We would hang out at the beach. It was fun for us as we were both swimmers. I learned that Yosef was really a swimming instructor, not an accountant. He worked part time. And that wasn’t the only think Yosef was hiding. He lived in a low income apartment in Chelsea and was on welfare as he made so little money from his swimming instructor job. Yosef exploited the system in ways I never thought possible. His low income apartment had two bedrooms. He paid $500 a month in rent. He rented out both bedrooms for $1,000 each, while he slept in the living room. He collected food stamps and medicaid, so his income from his low income apartment was obviously unreported. As time went by, Yosef became a bolder con artist. He got yet another low income apartment (also in Chelsea) and rented it out as well. The second low income apartment was an 80/20. 80/20 apartments are 80 percent luxury/market rate and 20 percent low income. So Yosef got a low income apartment in a luxury building in a prime location. He rented it out to tourists he found off craigslist and off certain agencies that find temporary housing for European and Asian tourists. Yosef began taking vacations to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic.

As for me, the type of jobs in banking I was able to get quite frankly sucked. The better, more interesting career paths were out of reach. Since that clearly wasn’t going to work out in any worthwhile way the effort I put into work went down. I began hanging out at the bars more often. To be completely honest what was the point of having a regular job, I began to wonder, when the Yosef’s of New York City did so well financially by living this less than conventional lifestyle. Of course that’s just a polite way of saying criminal lifestyle. Still, I decided it was not a good idea to do anything that could put me behind bars. Still, it seemed nice that people from the clubs could take such extensive and frequent vacations all over the nation and the world. I began wondering about some of the others. I did know legitimately wealthy people from Cornell who worked as lawyers or certain other professionals (I looked up their post graduate lives via Google). And at the same time, I respected people’s right of privacy not to prime into every claim. But still, I wondered. I myself had legitimately been all over the US and I was an exchange student in Paraguay. I’ve visited Brazil. So I personally like to travel. But something seemed a little off with some of my friends trips.

At this time, Anna and I had become close. She lived in Manhattan. She was often in and out of town, so she would ask me to house sit for her. I glady did so, as who wouldn’t like to stay in Manhattan if only temporarily. Of course, I should have been a bit more suspicious on how does a secretary/massage therapist afford a Manhattan apartment. Still, Anna was nice to me so there was no reason for me to question her or get into her business. She had her share of family drama with ex husbands and the rest of her family. Still, her children had grown up and become productive citizens. Who doesn’t have issues or drama in their life?

At this time my friend George had grown tired of working as a neurologist, or so he claimed. He got a job at a floral shop owned by Cassandra and her brother Miguel. George and Miguel often went to Colombia, supposedly to visit Miguel’s family. One day I got a hysterical call from George. He told me a disaster had happened on their last vacation in Colombia. But he sobbed so loudly he couldn’t talk straight. He said he had an e-mail for me. I checked my e-mail. An article from a newspaper named La Patria (from Pereira, Colombia) showed a picture of Miguel. I read the article in Spanish. Miguel was unfortunate enough to be busted in an airport in Colombia for trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country. George called me back to tell me he and Miguel were supposed to run coke for Cassandra. But George always made Miguel carry all the coke. So when they got busted, George put all the blame on Miguel. Miguel got locked away in jail in Colombia and 14 years later to this date I never found out what became of him. George was hysterically guilty as he was truly close to Miguel. But he quickly got over it. Cassandra, after attempting to smuggle coke herself, also got busted in Colombia and did time there. Upon returning to the states she existed the drug business and legitimately stuck to working as a florist. Or at least that was the story George told me 10 years ago. Cassandra refused to speak to George again as she wanted to cut all her ties to that world, so I have no idea what she’s currently doing. Similarly, Pedro the bartender got busted. He would work for two months, and then stay in Peru for one month. Allegedly he was taking care of a grandfather who had cancer. But the reality is he was a mule. A mule is another name for international cocaine runner. Pedro got fired by his job (they suspected something shady) and after he attempted his last run he got busted on the Peruvian side. I’m told by those in the business that due to increased scrutiny at the airports, most drugs are brought in on cargo ships and cargo planes as it’s two difficult to get drugs past the airports. Unless of course one wants to put the drugs inside condoms and place them in one’s own stomach or intestines.

At the comic book store, it eventually fell victim to new development. The owner Paul moved on to opening up another store elsewhere. The man of many names, now calling himself the Sphinx is the same as ever. He still gets in bar fights and can still drink everyone in any bar under the table and still remain standing. It would take something industrial strength to put him down. The Serbian twins, sadly, both got played big time. Darko found out his wife Bojana cheated on him many times and was only interested in marrying him to get US citizenship. He had their children dna tested and found out he was the father of only two of them. They got divorced. Adrijan’s girlfriend, Michelle, after she tied him to the bed during an S&M act, left him tied there and robbed his apartment. Poor Adrijan was found two days later, still tied up and alive. His girlfriend had fled the country. Adrijan had valuable baseball cards, gold watches, an expensive stamp collection, and a rare coin collection. All of this was stolen by Michelle, and these assets were worth an estimated 800k. We still don’t know of Michelle’s whereabouts. Oh, and what happened to my friend Matt . He was a typical Jackson Heights case after all. He turned out to be a gigolo, and this was confirmed by people who saw his dirty little deeds in action at various Midtown Manhattan bars. He was evicted from his apartment. That wasn’t the end of him. He swindled his way into a lover’s apartment, and stole quite a bit of money from the lover. After that, he disappeared. Perhaps he returned to his home state of California (if he is really from there) or maybe he went to jail. Or perhaps he went elsewhere. Who knows?

The aunt that I was staying with retired and moved away. Now there are those who thought why stay in Jackson Heights, which is so full of such sketchy characters? So my friend Anna had decided to rent out space in her apartment in the Upper East Side. I happily moved in. From Queens to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. That was a great transition. I loved living in Manhattan. I was a shorter train ride to work in midtown, and on a good day I often walked home. It was nice living more upscale people and not around the scammers of Jackson Heights. All was apparently well. But I of course forgot that I met Anna in Jackson Heights. I’d been living there for awhile, lots of men came by the apartment to see Anna. Noises came from Anna’s room that sounded like Cape Buffalo on the savannah in heat! And clearly these were too many men to be boyfriends. Anna confessed that being a licensed massage therapist didn’t pay enough to live the lifestyle she wanted, so she had become a prostitute. She made an upgrade to her career and become a madam. So gave me a deal on the room, free rent in exchange for writing the advertisements for her business. She recruited desperate illegal immigrant girls from places like Jackson Heights, Corona, the Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, Woodside, and other neighborhoods full of immigrants. She pimped them out.

After a few years of living in Anna’s apartment, I ended up moving to a nice part of the Rockaways (the Jewish part of Far Rockaway). I loved living there, where in the summer I went swimming in the ocean on a regular basis. Hurricane Sandy ended that, unfortunately and now I am presently out of New York. Still, I fondly remember my Jackson Heights days and my New York days. I know real success in much harder than it appears, and aside from inheriting money from one’s parents or having influential parents who are able to hook you up with opportunities, there are no magically easy paths to success. For many, it won’t just happen. Others are determined to make it happen in any way possible, no matter at whose’s expense or what laws they have to break. The tales of Jackson Heights would be the tales of a significant portion of any large international city. In these places, the traditionally hard working people are basically treated like suckers and are played by the every economy of the city itself. The nature of New York’s economy encourages the shenanigans of those I mentioned in Jackson Heights, and clearly not just in Jackson Heights. Anna slept her way all the way up to an apartment on the Upper East Side, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Two English professors I had and the cranky old man Frank said there’s only two ways make money, to inherit it from your parents or to steal it. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. And by the way, Frank can be found in the same spot in the bar that he has been occupying for 30 years, still fighting with his lover Gerald. Some things never chang

A Hipster in Do or Die Bedstuy

After my living situation in Chelsea was no more, I decided to try out Brooklyn. I first looked at that hipster haven, Williamsburg. Williamsburg was full of creative, educated people. Unfortunately it was out of my price range. But I soon found out many creative types were moving to Bedstuy and Bushwick. So I went on Craigslist and I found an one bedroom apartment I could afford. Finally, I wouldn’t have to deal with con artists and hookers as roommates. So I signed for the first apartment I looked at, near the subway station Bedford/Nostrand Avenues on the G train. It was just a few stops away from Williamsburg or Downtown Brooklyn. The G train is often called the ghost train as it doesn’t frequently run and has only 4 cars, but it has convenient connections to both the L and A. The L and A trains both go to parts of Manhattan that I do business and socialize in. So it seemed perfectly convenient when I moved in that cold winter day. I didn’t even see any hoodlums there, so rumors that Bedstuy was ghetto seemed greatly exaggerated. Of course, crime always does down in the winter in New York, and up in the summer when it’s warm enough for people to go out.

Virginia was living in Williamsburg itself. She lived with her roommate Billie. We often hung out in the East Village, going to movies and bars and taking the L train back to Brooklyn. But Bedstuy certainly had it’s rough side. Despite gentrification, gunfire was a problem during the summers. Bedstuy, which had seemed gentrified in the winter, was pretty ghetto in the summer. I wished I had listened to all those who warned me about moving to Bedstuy. But as a broke freelance writer, what else could I afford? Virginia and I were both living in less than ideal circumstances, due to our shared career path. Virginia also freelanced as a writer and we both went to Cornell. Virginia, desperate not to live in unsafe circumstances, convinced a women’s group that she was battered when she wasn’t. She was able to move into a women’s only residence run by nuns. The women’s only residence was cheap, and she saved a lot of money by living there. I thought about moving in with priests to get a decent price for a Manhattan location, but never got around to doing it.

As for me, I too needed a way to raise extra money. I had dental problems, and I had to pay off student loans. So I decided to get roommates. I rented out my apartments to two Norwegian girls, who paid a lovely amount of money for my apartment each month in cash. I crashed in the upstate NY home of my friend Yosef, who was my mentor in every thing that had to do with NYC. As the cash came in over a period of 10 months, I paid for my dental work and reduced my student loans by one third. As for what I did for fun when not writing, I did what I always do. I took the G train a few stops to Williamsburg and went swimming at the gym on the corner of Bedford and Metropolitan. I went there on a regular basis. I also went to Metropolitan, the one gay bar in Williamsburg at that time. During the time I lived and hung out in hipster people, it was a revolving door. Many creatives moved in. Many creatives moved out in a few months, totally underestimating what it would take to establish oneself in a career in anything in New York. It’s particularly difficult in the creative fields, where multiple factors such as talent, luck, family connections, education, and things I likely haven’t thought of all way in. The instability of this crowd made it difficult to bond with anyone long enough to have a decent boyfriend. Those that stayed any length of time had to resort to extreme measures like Virginia and I did. Everyone loves a success story, but those A listers are few and far between in a city of 8 million that has been a revolving door for centuries.

My last week in my apartment ended on a crazy note. I went three different birthday parties, one thrown by a group of friends, another with my family,and another with a group of friends. Upon leaving my place to go to one of my parties, I went to the store and came back. Michelle, my crackhead first floor neighborhood sat on the door steps. She was drinking out of a bottle of vodka. She had refused to move and allow me into the apartment. Not wishing to get into a fight and in trouble for punching her out, I called 911. The police always come in force in Bedstuy. Ten officers arrived. They urged me that everything was fine. I went in the house to get my camera, as I was going off to my celebrations. As I left my building and walked down the street, Michelle got up in a cops face. He slammed her to the ground and told her she had one more time. About a week later, her husband notified me he wanted to speak to me. But unknown to him, I had already packed and shipped all of my belongings out. I was just enroute to get my bus ticket. He informed me that we needed to have a serious discussion. I told him to knock on my door at 9pm the following night. I went to Port Authority, got my bus ticket and returned to my apartment. I picked up my suitcase and my laptop briefcase, called a cab, and went back to Port Authority. I boarded the bus and went off to my next adventure.

My Time in the Party Scene in NYC’s Upscale Chelsea Neighborhood

My Time in the Party Scene in NYC’s Upscale Chelsea Neighborhood

After learning that my friend Anna was a prostitute, I moved out of her apartment located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I desperately searched on Craigslist for new roommates. None of the places I saw seemed to be good options. I figured the next roommate would be a crackhead or a serial killer with my luck. And unfortunately, even a studio in one of the worthwhile parts of NYC (Manhattan below 96th Street or East River Brooklyn or East River Queens) can cost upwards of 3k. I did not have the kind of success in my day job or in my writing that could afford a proper residence. It was either live in a high crime ghetto where rent was cheap, or do the roommate thing. But of courses, crazies, con artists, and other assorted freaks come with the territory when you’re dealing with roommates.

So what was I to do? Living in Manhattan would let me walk to work. I worked as a waiter in a wine bar/restaurant in Chelsea. Saving on commuting time would be great, plus I’d have all the convenience in Manhattan if only I could afford to live there. Various friends suggested I move into the subsidized apartments for artists. But those apartments had massive waitlists, I soon learned. Getting into an apartment like that could take years. What was I supposed to do, live in the shelter in the meantime? I finally decided to rent a room from my friend Yosef. Now Yosef I knew was a bit unconventional. He had two local income apartments in Chelsea that he rented out. I had been his friend for years. So he decided to give me a good price on one of the rooms. I moved in. Upon moving in with him, I learned that Yosef was more devious than I dreamed. In one of the apartments, he rented out both bedrooms for $1,000 dollars while he slept in the living room. His rent was only $500, so his profit was $1,500. He worked part time as a swimming instructor. But Yosef was such a schemer he had food stamps, and he went to the soup kitchens for free food. On top of that, Yosef carefully monitored the neighborhood for anything thrown out. Chelsea always has people moving in and out of town, students, interns, medical residents, law clerks, theatre industry people, film industry people, professors, etc. People often throw away good good because it’s not worth it to ship. So Yosef would scan the streets for good garbage. This way he got his air conditioners, his microwaves, his beds and other furniture all for free. Ditto his plates, pots, pans, drinking glasses and other kitchenware. The only thing Yosef paid for his apartment was his laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Yosef loved electronics. Electronics,and vacations to Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were the only things Yosef was willing to spend money on. He was the king of being cheap, as I called it. He called himself the king of craft. Though Yosef was a bit extreme, I would say as a freelance writer I learned a lot from him. Working as a waiter and freelance writer paid poorly. In order to be able to pay my rent I needed to cut costs where possible. So each day I worked in the restaurant was a free meal on the house. That in itself helped tremendously. I did go to the soup kitchens like Yosef. I even learned you could get free groceries from certain soup kitchens. I needed to cut expenses on food so I would be able to party at the city’s most exclusive clubs. I looked up a good friend of mine from my Cornell University days. I hadn’t seen Virginia since graduation. But I looked her up and found out she lived not too far away.

Virginia was a freelance writer and a temp. She also occasionally waited tables as well. She had been living in hipster Brooklyn with her boyfriend until they fell out with each other. She went on the boards at her job looking for a new room to rent. Isabel, a woman who worked at one of Virginia’s gigs was renting out a room in a Lower East Side housing projects. Virginia accepted the room as it was cheap and within walking distance to all the places she loved. Unfortunately, shortly after moving in that building, a couple of people not known to Virginia got shot. But she and Isabel were questioned by the NYPD, along with many other building residents.

As for me, I was taking advantage of all the area had to offer. I’m an excellent swimmer, and there were several New York City Parks Department Recreation Centers nearby. These city owned gyms offer yearly membership of $150 dollars, and they have pools. I went swimming at least 5 days a week. When I could afford to do grocery shopping I went to Whole Foods and Trader Joes. I eat a lot, and what I was getting for free from the restaurants and the soup kitchens didn’t cover all of what I liked to eat. Events at various film organizations were within walking distance. I frequently attended events at Tribeca and IFP. At one of these events, I met documentary filmmaker Lukas. Lukas had a phd in astrophysics from Harvard University. He had tried to move further in the academic world, and it just wasn’t working out for him. So he decided to do documentaries on various scientific topics. Lukas was a pretty smart guy and we started hanging out. I learned he had done volunteer work for the UN across South America and Africa. He always kept himself busy. However, he hadn’t made it big as a filmmaker. Depression came in, and he turned to coke which drained his already meager finances. Now, having come across my share of frauds and psychopathic liars, of course I didn’t believe Lukas’s claims. So I did my research and found out he told the truth about his educational and work history. That was pleasing.

Now everyone probably thinks if Virginia, myself, and Lukas were all having how could we afford to drink in the expensive bars in the area. Well, we looked young. I carried a backpack with me (I would go swimming earlier in the evening before going to the bars). Lukas would have his briefcase, and of course Virginia would have her purse. We would just tell the bartenders we wanted juice and that we didn’t drink alcohol. They would sell us big glasses of cranberry juice for $2. And we would sneak away at different points to the bathroom, open our bags and poor vodka or other hard liquor in the cranberry juice. We always carried booze in our bags. Granted this was low class but you do what you have to do in New York City. Isn’t that the whole point of being there? Lukas, Virginia, and I were the broke Ivy League crowd. We weren’t ever going to be Presidents, CEOs, or lawyers. Everyone always wondered why people like us attended top level universities and didn’t follow in whatever politician’s foot steps. We didn’t bother to explain. No one will ever really know why someone does or doesn’t do something. But we all felt that we missed our ship. Certain things have to be done in a very narrow time frame career wise, and if they are not done then you’ve more or less indefinitely lost your chance. You basically need the right internships and summer jobs, and your first job or two after graduation is critical. Things at Lukas’s post doctoral program ended horribly after a massive falling out with the professor he worked with. That was the end of him in academia. Virginia and I just never got good career building jobs in our first year after graduation, and after that things went downhill. So both of us gave up on normal things and ended up doing the freelance writer thing. All three of us exchanged tips on how to cut expenses and get over in New York City. Lukas had the rare cheap studio in a busted up tenement building in the Lower East Side. He got wind of this from another friend of his who hooked him up. Lukas was lucky because tenements in the Lower East Side continued to be bought out by developers. The new owners would evict those legitimately not there ,and buy out the remaining people. The tenements would be either gutted and renovated, or demolished and replaced by luxury condominiums.

As bad as things were, we all held on to the hope we would make it. Now hope can be seen as good or bad. While it is nice to be positive, if you keep hoping for something that never happens that absolutely sucks. It’s something that many artists agonize on. Most would be artists will not make it. There’s a line of thought that says since your likelihood of making it is so small, money cannot be a primary motivation for doing artwork. You have to do your art because you love doing it above all other things. I feel that way about writing and swimming. I will do those two things no matter what. So I am in the school of thought do what you love because you love it, but understand you may face indefinite poverty because of it. The stereotype of the starving artists is a fairly accurate stereotype.

Yosef on the other hand, was far from starving. He’d come along away from the housing projects of the South Bronx. He took the money he made from his low income apartments and invested it in the stock market. During the latest bull market, Yosef sold some of his stocks at the height of the market and made a huge profit. He reinvested. How could Yosef do this and not get caught by the welfare department? Yosef’s schemes new no bounds. He placed all his ill gotten money in his grandfather’s account, who he had manipulated him to name him the sole heir in his will. He had never driven a car, but with his newfound prosperity he decided to take driving lessons. He got his driver’s license. Yosef had his grandfather buy a house and a car in upstate NY. Yosef would began spending his weekends in the countryside.

Yosef nearly got busted. He took interest in a crackhead girlfriend named Nora. She was from Florida. After Nora stopped crack, she gained weight and became fat. Yosef manipulated her into moving back to Florida getting a Section 8 apartment there, and renting it out while she lived with in New York with him. Yosef took the money from that too. What possessed his girlfriend to be this dumb I’ll never know. But anyway, they had a huge fight and the girlfriend turned Yosef in to welfare fraud. She was furious when he called her a fat ass ox. But Yosef was slimy than a snake. He and the other roommate living with us were all over 6 feet tall. So when the welfare investigators came over and searched the apartment, Yosef made sure we were gone that day. He claimed our clothes and possessions as his own. By this point he had already thrown Nora’s clothes in the garbage, so her clothes were not a factor in the search. Yosef then proceeded to turn Nora as living in New York to the government, and she lost her apartment in Florida. She became homeless.

My days and my social circle in Chelsea would soon come to a quick end. In all this time, cocaine was taking a serious toll on Lukas. He decided to leave New York City and return to his native Oregon. I would miss him, but I understood. I saw him off at the airport. Virginia had grown weary of being a struggling writer in New York. She felt she’d never achieve her dream of being a property owner. She felt her financial state limited her dating and marriage options as well. She had grown depressed. She decided to return home to the Midwest. So out of the crew that just left me and Yosef. Only a developer bought the building that Yosef was in. They wanted to gut renovate this tenement. They offered Yosef 40,000 to leave. Yosef laughed at this. But the developer seriously wanted all low income people out. Yosef was eventually able to negotiate $200,000. He accepted the buyout offer and left. He still had another low income apartment in Chelsea. I declined living in it. I began the search of looking for a new roommate all over again. Then I said the hell with it and I hit the road. As for where I went to, that’s a story for another time. But after all this time I do miss my Chelsea crowd. Sadly, we did not keep in touch. But New York City is like that, people are in and out of town all the time.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interview with Justin Lee, Asian American Film Lab's New Shootout Coordinator

Today's interview is with Justin Lee. Justin is Asian American Film Lab's new Shootout Coordinator. Justin joins AA Film Lab at an exciting time. AA Film Lab just had the Asians on Film Festival in Los Angeles, which is the first event that it's had in LA. Justin Samuels: What has interested you in working with AA Film Lab?

Justin Lee: I wanted to be around independent filmmakers. I wanted to be around more people like myself, people who are all making sacrifices to be around what they love. That was my initial interest. However, after talking to lovely Jennifer (board member); she made me realize the wider spectrum of the 72-hour shootout. For example, I get to come up with the theme! JS: Have you yourself dealt with the lack of diversity in the media?

JL:Yes. I work at a advertising production company- and the lack of diversity in the whole industry is astounding. Not that it’s on purpose or inherent- it just is. I think it’s backlash from not having more diversity when filmmaking was just coming out, but I’m sure a film historian could tell you more about that.

The lack of diversity isn’t just racial, it’s everything. Their promoting a certain shape: chiseled chin, dark brows, tall, skinny, ripped, big breasts...etc. If you don’t meet the criteria (I certainly don’t), people tend to pay more attention those who do. It makes who you are as an individual, what makes you interesting & good- irrelevant.

I think due to the lack of diversity, people lump minority groups together and stereotype them according to what they see. I deal with the lack of diversity in the media every time someone calls me Jeremy Lin, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Bruce Lee...etc. I want to be defined by me, not by some middle age white guy sitting in some Hollywood exec office saying “This Kung-fu movie is going to be great!”

JS: How do you think the film, tv, and commercial/advertising media can be diversified?

JL: I was attending a panel where Spike Lee mentioned how films got green-lit. He brought up the film Soul Plane, a movie considered hurtful to Black America. It’s a film that basically reinforces black stereotypes.

I remember Spike Lee reeling about how there was probably no black person in that conference room when they decided to make the film. No one in that position of power who can say “Hold on a second, this movie is about what?!”.

We need more diversity among positions of power and influence. We need someone in that conference room saying “You know what? That’s pretty racist. No.”

JS: What can you tell us about the 2014 72 Hour Shootout? Where are the films screened or shown?

JL: The screenings are usually run through Asian American International, and a theatre will be provided to the shootout as time gets closer.

I can tell you that I’m super excited for it! I’m a big advocate for individuality and visual expression. I can tell you that we’ll probably see some form of those two as the 10th annual theme for the shootout.

JS: What does the Shootout Coordinator do?

JL: I think the most exciting thing about being the shootout coordinator is how much of our personality/work can be put into each shootout. We get to come up with a theme, a promotional video, do interviews, and basically represent each years shootout.

Usually when I coordinate it’s to support the producer. A lot of bookings, budgets, and a logistics (Which I will also be doing for the shootout). It’s kind of refreshing to be able to put some of my personality into this job.

JS: Have you ever worked with a non profit film organization before?

JL: Yes! I volunteered for the Asian American Film Festival back in 2011- but I think that’s it.

JS: Do you have any additional work planned with AA Film Lab?

JL:I really hope so, but you should get back to me at the end of the shootout!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Columbia Stages Presents the Physicists, Starring Jon Peacock

As Advertised by Columbia Stages.

Columbia Stages is proud to present THE PHYSICISTS, an MFA Directing thesis production, written by Friedrich Dürrenmatt, translated by James Kirkup, directed by Sina Heiss. THE PHYSICISTS will open at The Connelly and run from January 22-25, 2014.

This Swiss play was written in the early 1960s, during the Cold War, under the looming danger of a devastating nuclear attack. Durrenmatt brings his characters to life in a home for the mentally ill and with a good sense of black humor, investigates how people behave within social confinements and their power politics.

In the well-funded asylum Les Cerisiers, nurses have recently been meeting violent deaths. The assailants are two lunatics who believe themselves to be Newton and Einstein and their fellow inmate, Johann Wilhelm Möbius, knows more than he is willing to share . . .


THE PHYSICISTS by Friedrich Durrenmatt Translated by James Kirkup


Address: 220 East 4th Street, NYC

Showtimes: January 22-25 at 8pm January 25 at 2pm

Tickets: $15/$5 Seniors/FREE with Student ID.

To Donate for FREE TICKETS: (Please Share!):


Director: Sina Heiss Producer: Mia Shen Dramaturg: Ashley Minihan Choreography: Lia Bonfilio Scenic Design: Evelien Stichelmeyer Lighting Design: Daisy Long Costume Design: Brooke Cohen Sound Design: Manuel Mitterhuber Sound Engineer: Grant Jefferson Vocal Arranger: Regina Mallinger Production Stage Manager: Jenny Ainsworth Assistant Stage Managers: Kate Dial, Alayna Graziani Company Manager: Polina Bogacheva

Featuring: Lia Bonfilio, Ben Compton, Dianne Diep, Matthew Dunivan, Tim Elliott, Chris Holland, Cameron Jefts, Miranda Kahn, Toby Knops, Brian Keith MacDonald*, Jon L Peacock, Alexander Reed, Aubrey Lace Taylor, Vanessa Winkle.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

At the Golden Globes Adrian Bustamante Interviews Nathalie DuBois of DPA Gifting Suite

Today I have a guest interviewer, actor Adrian Bustamante. We decided to cover the Golden Globes and interview one of the gifting suite companies that provides gifts to celebrities at major events such as Golden Globes and Cannes. The company interviewed was DPA Gifting Suite , owned by Nathalie Dubois. Some of the major companies that were at her suite were Coco Libre, Herzog Wine Cellars, the Yes Bar, Toffee Talk, Jill's Chocolates, the Sierra Club, Hinerava, Arido, Salvatore Ferragamo, Michael Kors,and Doina Pirau. The companies ranged from food/snack and beverage companies to fine jewelry, sunglasses, and other apparel companies. Adrian Bustamante: What's the name of the gifting suite?

Nathalie DuBois: DPA Gift Suite.

AB: How long have you been doing the gifting suite?

ND: This is the 9th year.

AB: Is there anything you would say to set your gifting suite apart from others at the Golden Globes?

ND: Two different things. There are many gifting suites in this city. The main thing is we're French and the French are very picky. We're the only one that have an international business. We did Dubai Film Festival for 5 years. We worked in the Middle East. We also worked in Asia in the Hong Kong Film Festival. We did pre Oscar, and we've done Cannes since 2005. Aside from our international events, we do international brands. The quality of our products is much better than some of the other gifting suites. Everything we have is really good quality. We have products that range from snacks and beverages to apparel. The clients are welcome to go somewhere else, but they will see the difference. We have the most A list celebrities.

A:B Yeah, exactly. I've noticed that as opposed to other suites, you guys actually have tour guides. What made you want to go that way instead of the normal route where they walk through and just say hi?

ND: Simply because I want them to have an experience. We have to carry their bags. We introduce them to people so they feel comfortable. We don't want to bombard people with different colors. We have to be a bit more sophisticated. I once took my clients to a suite that looked like a really bad trade show. I thought I could do much better. Also being French, I thought we could bring sophistication to it. I don't like to use the swag words. My thing is not swag. Just really beautiful products.

AB: I notice the products DPA has are actually products that I can use or that I can consume. Sometimes gifting suites have a lot of useless things.

ND: Everything we have, I use myself or I believe in it. It's my integrity. I am not money driven. I will not take a product I don't believe in even if someone offers me a fortune. I am not able to sell anything I don't believe in. Everything I have in the suite I either have, use, or wear. An example of what I'm proud of is that Sharon Stone will come to my suite wearing a necklace I gave her two years ago. Or in September Felicity was wearing a clutch I gave her three years ago in the Monte Carlo Film Festival. She said it was her power clutch that she uses when she goes to important meetings. They don't give my products to their maids, family, or friends. They don't recycle my gifts. They wear them.

AB: Yeah, makes sense. How do you choose what companies are at your gifting suite?

ND: There's different ways. We do a lot of research. I buy about $300 worth of press a week. I go to trade shows. I have meetings with foreign consulate with their development, like L'Oreal. I go to fashion week in Paris and Mumbai. I go to luxury trade shows in Monte Carlo and Paris. I just search. Before that I produced fashioned shows, and before that I was a journalist. Producing fashion shows gave me an edge. A lot of people approach me, they want to be a part of me. To give you an example someone called me at 7:30 this morning after she saw a segment on Fox. She wanted to put 25 pairs of shoes in my suite. I told her no; it was at the last minute. It is through referrals that companies get into my suite. Clients and stars both refer companies to me. The handbags were referred to me by a star in Paris. We have fantastic reputations with both the clients and the celebrities because of our excellent service and that makes our image.

AB: Yeah, it definitely does. I noticed from talking to people that there seem to be a few more people from Northern California. What that happenstance, or was that something you sought out?

ND: People are from everywhere. You'll see many French and Canadians (especially people from Novia Scottia). I search. You see the stars have everything. So what we want to do is surprise them with brand new things, new drinks, machines, etc. When you're dealing with people like Charlize Theron or Richard Gere, you want to make sure its worth their time.

AB: No, of course. I think this is an amazing event. Thank you so much for your time. ND: My pleasure.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Caleb Hannan and Grantland Professionally Handled Dr. V's Story

Caleb Hannan is at the center of a major controversy. 8 months of research lead to an article that was recently published at Grantland. As a Stephen Krol, a man also known as Dr. V committed suicide. As Dr. V, Kroll lived under the name Essay Anne Vanderbuilt and claimed his gender was female. A number of activists felt that Hannan and his editors at Grantland were extremely insensitive in releasing information about Hannan.

Neither Hannan nor his editors were insensitive. When Hannan noticed major discrepancies in Dr. V's claims, he looked further into them. Originally he had wanted to do a story about this amazing new gold putter. But certain things about Dr.V set off red flags. Further research revealed rather unsavory details about her past, her criminal past, and the fact that her ex wives and relatives were all unwilling to speak about her. Most likely what horrified Dr. V the most is that Hannan's investigative journalism revealed things that opened her up for lawsuits and criminal prosecution.

I do understand why some in the transgender or gay community might feel uncomfortable with the prospect of someone digging around in their past. But this isn't a matter of someone exposing a transgender woman to the world. This was a matter of a reporting exposing a con artist, Dr. V, who lied about all aspects of his past. His educational record was fake, his career was fake, his name was fake, and yes, his gender was fake. Hannan would have been unprofessional to write about the criminal past of Dr. V, without revealing Dr. V's birth name of Stephen Krol and Krol's past (Including being married twice, being the father of children, having a brother-in-law who said now the world has one last con man after Krol's suicide, etc.). Perhaps those wishing to hide bad behaviors behind being gay or transgender should not that one cannot hide behind one's sexuality or gender identity.