Category Archives: Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100

Two Subway Nightmares, Two Very Different Responses

Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

Photo courtesy of New York Daily News.

This weekend, as I entered the grounds for Afropunk Fest, a man patted me down from shoulders to ankles. I opened my bag, showed him its contents and received entrance. This process, I imagine, happened to thousands of people, all in an attempt to prevent gun violence, or any form of widespread violence for that matter. This is not a procedure unique to festivals. The same goes for sporting events – NFL, MLB, etc. We willingly encounter these safeguards, in order to ensure the reality of modern-day America – our frightening gun violence epidemic – doesn’t interrupt our mass entertainment.

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The MTA and the Odyssey

The cover of this week's Village Voice featuring a great and maddening story on the MTA.

The cover of this week’s Village Voice featuring a great and maddening story on the MTA.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 58 titled “The MTA and the Odyssey” highlights my train ordeal this morning, in the wake of a Village Voice cover story about the subway system’s shortcomings.

In this morning’s wee hours, after attending a dud rap show featuring hacks, wacks and lame MCs, I boarded a train from Manhattan’s Lower East Side returning to Astoria, Queens, unaware I had set into motion my own epic henceforth known as “The MTA and the Odyssey.” My six-mile trip northeast lasted longer than most feature-length films, as garbage on the tracks, a Queens-bound subway line ending its route prematurely in Manhattan and a Times Square station clusterfuck conspired against my desire to pass out in my bed. At least my ride included a drunk white guy dispensing invaluable knowledge on why ordering chicken fried rice is a pro move. Gotta look at the bright side while waiting for the MTA to investigate why gigantic chunks of filth litter the train tracks.

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Middle America Hates My Household

The lower Manhattan skyline, as seen from the Staten Island ferry, is much more beautiful than my front door. Photo cred: Me.

The lower Manhattan skyline, as seen from the Staten Island ferry, is much more beautiful than my front door. Photo cred: Me.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 57 titled “Middle America Hates My Household” riffs on a thought I had the other day while watching my landlord show me to open our new door lock.

Middle America hates my household, is terrified of it, wants to bomb and shame its inhabitants. OK, I admit maybe not my literal address in Queens, but rather people who look like the men, women and children who reside in our narrow slice of a two-story brick rowhouse, worship the same old gods as them and obsessively watch and critique RuPaul’s Drag Race like them.

This epiphany struck me last week while watching my landlord’s step-by-step tutorial on how to open our new front door lock. Just press in on the door as you turn the key, Mohammad repeated, loudly, as if reciting winning lotto numbers. I stared at the crown of his bald brown head, gray and black hairs cloaking the sides, as he pressed on the door. The wooden door opened and I saw his door in front of me, a square piece of cloth with Arabic written on it hanging in the door’s center. Truth is, I kind of hated Mohammad at that instant too. Not because he was Muslim, but because he believed me incapable of opening his new lock – the one he purchased after the old lock stopped turning and locked me inside the house. I nodded when he asked me if I understood his teachings, walked through the open front door and inserted my keys into the inside door to the left of his – the one to the upstairs where my gay dance choreographer roommate and I reside.

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Bury My Heart in Concrete: Long-Distance Relationships in NYC

It's not all love and rainbows in NYC. It's broken wine bottles in snow too.

It’s not all love and rainbows in NYC. It’s broken wine bottles in snow too.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 55 titled “Bury My Heart in a Concrete Jungle: Long-Distance Relationships in NYC” examines how the city’s transportation logjam creates relationship hurdles.

The world has a long-distance love affair with New York City, as evidenced by the tens of millions of visitors it attracts each year. The city’s residents, meanwhile, have long-distance relationships with each other. Examine a map of the five boroughs absent of any knowledge about New York’s clogged transportation arteries and you would wonder how this is possible. Manhattan, the borough I called home the longest amount of time, stretches only 13 miles from Marble Hill to South Ferry. Almost anywhere else that is no more than a 20-minute car ride, 30 minutes at most. In Manhattan cars are often not part of the equation. The travel time quotient is extended due to several factors when you take public transportation – wait times for connecting trains and buses, additional time for walking, stalled trains and investigations, etc. If only owning a car in this city were practical. If only, if only, if only.

Long-distance relationships in NYC are almost inevitable unless you live with your partner, live on the same train line, or live in the same neighborhood. I learned this my rookie winter in the city, much to my chagrin. As for living in a different borough than your special someone my advice is to invest in an unlimited call and text plan and pray one of you finds an affordable apartment in the other’s borough. What? You think the G train is gonna save your Brooklyn/Queens relationship? The G train laughs at your relationship!

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A Different New York Stage

On the 6 train the city's homeless make their voice heard. Photo via NYTimes.com

On the 6 train the city’s homeless make their voice heard. Photo via NYTimes.com

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 54 titled “A Different New York Stage” looks at how homeless subway riders’ pleas for help raise difficult questions in the greatest city in the world.

While riding the uptown 6 train into Spanish Harlem on a nightly basis this past summer I encountered three, four, maybe five beggars in a single 25-minute train ride. These people, most often men, laid bare their circumstances with hints of shame and desperation, trudged through the car afterward seeking a dollar, spare change, or a smile, and then opened and closed the door between one car and the next, to repeat this process with a new group. This sequence happened in the minute it took for the train to trade one stop for another. Soon, a new person took my car’s moving stage, the circumstances different but no less shitty.

Feeling the need to reevaluate your station in life? Stare into the eyes of a homeless person/impromptu public speaker riding the subway. It’s humbling and horrifying, if you stop to look up from your phone. Life’s fragility, in all its unpredictable forms, comes into focus. You realize the gap between you and them is small. At least I have on many occasions.

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My R-Rated Takeaways From Nobel Economist Stiglitz’s TPP Speech

The world will not be smiling if the Trans-Pacific Partnership passes, economist Joseph Stiglitz warned this week in Queens. Photo via The Guardian.

The world will not be smiling if the Trans-Pacific Partnership passes, economist Joseph Stiglitz warned this week in Queens. Photo via The Guardian.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will fuck us. It will fuck our 11 nation partners. It will fuck their residents and small businesses, their environments and their healthcare systems. It will leave us all fucked. And for what reason? The bottom line of multinational corporations. Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.

That was my abbreviated, R-rated takeaway from Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s speech Wednesday night at P.S. 69 elementary school in Jackson Heights, Queens on the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. The 73-year-old Columbia professor and Clinton administration veteran, of course, did not resort to vulgarities while questioning the Obama administration for supporting the “trade agreement” which could have devastating impacts for all countries involved. The plan being drafted in secret by the Asian-Pacific partner nations and 600-plus corporate lobbyists is its own obscenity, a potential stain on the global market that will not be easily removed, the economist warned.

“When you have issues of secrecy … ” Stiglitz said to the hundreds gathered inside the auditorium, “the natural question is why. What are they trying to hide?”

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How I Will Know I Arrived In NYC

MTV cribs, Astoria edition.

MTV cribs, Astoria edition.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 53 titled “How I Will Know I Arrived In NYC” is a tongue-in-cheek peek at adulthood and materialism in the Big Apple.

Three years ago I moved to New York City with little more than my family name and three suitcases filled with clothing not suitable for polar vortex temps and enough books to start my own Washington Heights library wing. I lived out of those suitcases for months. Eventually I purchased a flimsy, three-drawer Target plastic dresser to appease my then-girlfriend. My suitcase and plastic Target dresser days are no more, although what that means is hard to pinpoint. I’ve accumulated Earthly possessions – a flat-screen smart TV, a chair allegedly used as a prop on “30 Rock”, a mini-fridge and a framed Royal Tenenbaums poster I rescued from a storage facility – but I would hesitate to say I have “arrived” in NYC.

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How To Avoid Going Broke in NYC

Viewing a Jackson Pollack original, surprisingly, is one of the ways not to go broke in NYC.

Viewing a Jackson Pollack original, surprisingly, is one of the ways not to go broke in NYC.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 52 titled “How To Avoid Going Broke In NYC” explains how to rough it on a budget in NYC.

Months ago while “working” on my roommate’s short film one of the female production assistants inquired about my role. Producer, I replied with a grin that suggested the title suited me. When she pressed for more details I fed her legit-sounding bullshit about coordinating the project’s Kickstarter fund and even provided her a fictional web site address for myself. She hung on my words, convinced she was talking to “somebody”. When I tired of the deception and revealed I didn’t produce the short film she fled, presumably to find the real producer.

I experienced a similar situation earlier this month with a high school teacher I had not seen in over a decade. He asked me where I lived, and when I answered New York City, his heavily moisturized, wrinkle-free jaw dropped. My esteem in his eyes rose like a skyscraper. He sat up straight, devouring details of Big Apple life. Would he have done the same had I revealed I never left the bayou after high school? Of course not.

Thing is, anyone can live in NYC if they’re crazy, adventurous, and/or determined. Sure, rent is almost as high as One World Trade, people here give no fucks about courtesy and everyone thinks they will be the next big star. How does one survive then in this concrete jungle of chaos and material excess? For starters, you have to know how to avoid going broke or have a trust fund. Full disclosure: I do not have a trust fund.

Here are tips on how to avoid going broke in NYC that I have cobbled together over 2+ years living here.

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Things I Would Rather Do Than Go Outside

A heat wave is coming!

A heat wave is coming!

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 51 titled “Things I Would Rather Do Than Go Outside” is fairly self-explanatory. :)

New York City is in the midst of a heat wave. AccuWeather predicts temps in the city will hit 12 degrees when the clock strikes noon. That may sound dreadful, and believe me it is, but it marks a 10-degree upswing since overnight. So yeah, NYC heat wave 2015!

Here’s a list off the top of my head of things I would rather do than go outside:

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My Life Off The Rails

The train does not stop for light snow nor does it stop for light sleepers.

The train does not stop for light snow nor does it stop for light sleepers.

Cajun Tomato’s NYC 100 is a periodic series chronicling my experiences and observations as a New Yorker. Post No. 50 details what it’s like to live a stone’s throw from NYC subway tracks. Short answer: Loud.

When I was seven, the nightmare known as Hurricane Andrew woke south Louisiana in the dark, cutting power for hundreds of thousands, ripping off roofs and downing trees with impunity. I slept through it. My first three months in Northwest Portland I lived in a dilapidated three-story house next to the kind of karaoke bar whose real entertainment was the shoving matches that happened outside at closing time. I slept through it. Today, an above-ground subway line passes 30 feet from my window 24 hours per day. It’s a damn good thing I can sleep through anything. If not, my life off the rails would be hell.

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