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By Jade

Middle-aged men.  Exactly nine of them.  The nine who comprise NKOTBSB.  They will don more sequins and rhinestones than you wore to junior prom.  Jordan Knight will look like a more handsome, fit version of your dad and sound like Frankie Valli after a hard day.  All nine will thrust their pelvises and sparks will fly. Not metaphorically.  I’m talking about actual pyrotechnics, synchronized with the motion of their taut, sexual hips.  The big screen will flash a tight shot of Donnie Wahlberg’s junk, it will be glorious, and you will screeeam.

Middle-aged women.  Thousands and thousands of them.  When they bought their first NKOTB cassettes, they wore braces and paint-splatter leggings.  Today they wear denim jackets over flowy tops, accented by wedding rings. They will squeal with delight when Joey McIntyre croons, “Girl, I’ll be your boyfriend.”  They will believe him.

Twenty-something women.  They will also wear flowy tops–but from Forever 21 and not Kohl’s–over short shorts and gladiator sandals.  They will get a little misty when Nick Carter takes the stage.  They’ll sing along to “As Long As You Love Me” and perform dramatic reenactments of the “I Want It That Way” music video.  They’ll update their Facebook status no less than three times during the concert and post a photo album the next day.

Girls who dress up.  They come in packs.  Some will wear hand-decorated T-shirts professing their love for Howie “Latin Lover” Dorough (who is mad creepy, btdubs).  Some will rock neon wigs in colors that clash with their tights and manicures–on purpose, of course.  They will be drunk.  They’ll ask you where their seats are when they’re standing right in front of them.  In a moment choreographed against the line “Am I sexual?”, they will all throw lacy thongs onto the stage.  Nick Carter will put one down the front of his white satin pants.  Yes, really.

Boyfriends.  Fourteen of them, total, in a crowd of 20,000.  They will have beers in both hands.  After the show, they will be treated to you’re-the-best-boyfriend-ever-for-coming-with-me sex.

Naughty by Nature.  Because, apparently, NKOTBSB is down with O.P.P. in New Jersey.  (No, seriously.)

Photo credit: Perez Hilton

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By Jade

“You real sexy.  Need some help with those groceries?”

I didn’t see his face–the city has taught me to avoid eye contact–but it doesn’t matter.  They’re always the same.  While I’m rounding the corner of my block, or the one on the way to the subway, they talk to me.  Something about my body has given them permission.  But I don’t talk back.  Instead, I adjust my posture and my body answers for me: “Not interested.”

It’s a funny thing, talking to strangers.  It’s a universal mandate of American childhood: Don’t do it.  They want to steal you or touch you or otherwise corrupt you via the unknown.  But as you get older, you learn who the good strangers are.  Your parents’ friends, the grocery checker, attractive people.  As shy as I used to be, even with my own extended family, I became exceedingly outgoing in college.  And if there was one thing being a writer (or listening to The White Stripes) taught me then, it was that every single one’s got a story to tell–if you get him talking.  So I got people talking.  And I turned strangers into friends very easily.

But then I moved to New York, where we’re all so guarded, in the daylight, among strangers.  Doormen of our own lives, really.  I ride the subway with the same faces every morning, offer up my seat to the same pregnant woman at least once a week, and exchange coy looks with the same Irish-looking guy in biz-cas, but I’ll never know their names.  Even my voice forming an “excuse me” as my body tries to negotiate its place on the subway sounds jarring.  Because you’re just not meant to talk during the morning commute.  So I try to cover the “excuse me” with a cough, try to suck it back inside, but I can’t.

I’ve talked to strangers.

I spent the weekend before last outside the city, in one of those other places I call home.  Princeton is the kind of place where strangers don’t really exist because it’s one big country club and you’ve all done enough to get in.  So you talk to someone because he has a cute dog or a cute baby, or because you’re digging her tiger print dress, or because you’re an undergrad who wants to know what life is like two years out.  You exchange pleasantries, or maybe find your soulmate, and it feels good.

But sometimes the conversations you have with strangers aren’t the kind you just strike up–even in places like Princeton.  And I came to understand that very clearly that weekend.

Long story short, I found myself in the waiting room of the Princeton Medical Center ER (accompanying a friend who is fine now, thank Goodness).

An elderly woman–Marge, as I would soon discover–entered the room, wheeled in by her equally elderly husband.  I didn’t know her story, or why she was in the emergency room, but the sight of her there bubbled up a dull, achy compassion deep in my chest.  I avoided eye contact in my city way, and partially out of respect for whatever delicate situation she might be in, and retreated back into the safety of my iPhone.  Until I couldn’t.

A yelp of pain, a flutter of hands, a look of desperation on an 80-year-old face.  Help.

Marge’s foot had slipped from the wheelchair’s footrest, and the weight of it hanging there had her in agony.

Her husband tried to support it with his own fragile hands, but his already crooked back was straining under the dead weight.

“Get a nurse!” Marge whimpered.  But if he let go, or moved her foot even a centimeter, he’d leave her in extraordinary pain.  “Get a nurse!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get someone.”  I spoke up.  “I’ll get someone right now.”

A wash of relief on Marge’s face, a thank you on her lips.  “People don’t normally go out of their way for strangers.  God bless you.”  I was her angel without wings.

I ran to the receptionist, who hardly acknowledged the frantic young woman in front of her, and even less the elderly woman moaning a few feet away.  “This woman needs help.  Please get a nurse out here now.”

“The nurse will be with her when it’s her turn.”

“I don’t care about her turn.  She needs help.  Right now.”

“Someone will be out here when it’s her turn.”

“Are you listening to me?  Are you listening to her?”

“I can hear what you’re saying.”

“Then why aren’t you doing anything about it?!”

At this point, I had raised my voice.  The woman, cold as a hospital room, retreated into her booth, slid closed the glass door, and sealed herself up inside.

I ran back to Marge.  Both of us were on the verge of tears.  “I’m trying.”

“Can you help me?”

So there I was, on my knees in a hospital waiting room, propping up an 80-year-old ankle with my small, nervous hands.  Her skin was ill fitting, as if it might tear at any moment, like that of an overripe plum.

“Thank you, darling.  Thank you.  Not many people would do this for a stranger.”

Marge and I had a sweet little chat while I was crouched there.  I tried to distract her from the pain by regaling her with stories of Reunions shenanigans.  Her smile fell around me like a halo.

Eventually, a nurse came (when it was Marge’s turn, I suppose).  We exchanged warm goodbyes.  I said I hoped we’d meet again under more pleasant circumstances, and I meant it.

We were no longer strangers.

By Jade

My apologies if you don’t live in NYC or some other metropolitan area where you’ve forgone the convenience of a car in favor of letting public transportation dictate your access to livelihood and sustenance (hey, at least public transportation is environmentally friendly!), as what follows will mean nothing to you.  You could always read it anyway and pat yourself on the back for choosing not to hand your entire paycheck over to your landlord and fill your lungs with taxi dust.

So, as you know or might imagine, there are trains that go different places running along the same route.  The good people at MTA New York City Transit have implemented a system of letters, numbers, and colors to help us figure it all out (and still, senior citizens visiting from Jersey will cling to their tattered, outdated subway maps–no more W train, what?!–no matter how many times since 1971 they’ve come into the city for “that new MOMA exhibit”).

I live along the yellow line, and I depend on the N and Q trains to get to and from my home and office.  But these vessels are not alone in their fearless journey.  Rather, they share a track with the scummiest of railroad scum, the R train.  Don’t get me wrong, the R train serves a vital purpose within Manhattan, shuttling underfed NYU kids in their all-black Urban Outfitters ensembles down to Canal for cheap dim sum.  And it helps the hard-working lifeblood of the city get to the not-yet-gentrified bits of Brooklyn and Queens.

But it doesn’t do a damn thing for me.  And it’s always an older train that relies on an actual conductor to tell you where you are, rather than the pleasant recorded voice whose platitudes I memorized within a week of moving to the city (Ladies and gentlemen, if you see a suspicious package on the platform or train, do not keep it to yourself…).  My beef with the R train, however, is not its overall inferiority, or even necessarily that it doesn’t serve my transportation needs, but rather that it fails to serve my transportation needs and it ALWAYS arrives before the N or Q.

Hideous.

I’m not sure if this is some metro twist on Murphy’s Law, but I kid you not, no matter when I come scrambling down the stairs onto the platform, the R train always precedes the one I so desperately need to deliver me from my daily grind or dubious night out.  And sometimes two—even three!—of these effers will whoosh by, disheveling my hair, before the shiny, reassuring N comes plowing down the tunnel.  It never fails.  Ever.  It’s as if the guy in the little ticket booth sees me coming and radios to the control center:

“Quick!  Reroute the N that was approaching and throw an R in there.  You know, just to prolong Jade’s stay on the platform a little while.  So that guy with the pedo ‘stache can stare at her for a few more minutes, and so she can lose a bit more of her already waning hearing ability while that guy bangs on an upside-down jug and asks for tips!”

Or at least that’s how it feels.

I think the forces responsible for this phenomenon perpetrate another I’ve oft observed: whether I’m going uptown or downtown, whether I need express or local service, and no matter which line I’m taking, at least two—and often, three!—trains going the opposite direction will pass before the one I need comes my way.

I’m not certain what I did to develop such pitiful subway karma, but it sure as heck couldn’t have been as bad as what this guy did.  Just sayin’.

As misery loves company, it would make me feel better to know that I’m not the only one grappling with the wrath of the public transit gods.  Have you ever been the victim of R Train Syndrome?

By Jade

This is a response to ‘How To be an Ivy League Student’ by Tiffany Chen, published on Thought Catalog on May 20, 2011.

Feel like you are in no way smart enough to be there.  Feel overwhelmed.  Bring with you a pink bedspread, clothes that won’t fit by midway through the year but you’ll continue to wear anyway, all the naivete of an eighteen year old who’s never been away from home, and all the “smarts” of an English major who decided to take Astrophysics in her first semester at the number one school in the country.

Beg your mom and dad, who have flown 3,000 miles to be with you on Parents’ Weekend, to take you back with them.  Cry when your mom, with tears in her own empathetic eyes, hits you with some tough love: “Stick it out for a year.  If you’re really unhappy, then you can transfer.”  For the rest of your life, love her more than she’ll ever understand.  Not for coming up with a contingency plan, but for making you stay.

Within a few months, join some clubs, make some friends, and ace your midterms–even Astro–because you went to office hours twice a week.  (Soon realize how silly that was.)  Feel closer to people you’ve known for two weeks, a month, a year than people you’ve known since kindergarten.  Spend every waking moment with them.  Decide you never want to go home again.  Decide this is home.

Join a belly dance troupe and rehearse 12 hours a week.  Years later, quip that you went to Princeton and majored in belly dance.  Join an eating club. Years later, attempt to explain what an eating club is and struggle to find the words.

Join also the chorus of, “Ugh, I am SO stressed…[midterms/finals/senior theses] SUCK,” but make deliberate efforts not to take any of it for granted.  Walk through the Gothic-style corridors, the garden, the town square, and breathe in the beauty and opportunities with which your hard work does and will continue to reward you.  Know that plenty of your classmates skip lecture regularly, but never miss a class (except that one time you were sick and forwent an Art History lecture, which you were P[ass]/D/F[ail]ing anyway).

Take a seminar for which you read the entirety of Toni Morrison’s literary corpus.  On the last day of class, sit two feet from Morrison herself.  With a trembling hand, give her a book to inscribe with your name, which coincidentally you share with one of the characters in Tar Baby.  Share a smile over that.  Pass Cornel West on your way out of the building.

Work a campus job all four years.  Be humbled by the apron they make you wear in the dining hall, but grin and bear it.  If the Office of Financial Aid has given you so much to allow you to live your dream, this is the least you can do.  Learn after two years that a library job means getting paid to do your homework and not wearing an apron.  Make the transfer.

Wonder how different your life would be if you’d grown up in a town like Princeton, rather than one where, at eight years old, you heard a 17-year-old being shot to death across the street over a drug deal gone sour, and where, at fifteen, your brother’s car was shot up in your driveway.  Where your Princeton acceptance was so unprecedented that the local paper put your picture on the front page under the headline “Ivy League Material.”  In some way, appreciate those experiences for propelling you forward and upward.

When you fly home for the holidays, feel completely detached from your hometown and your old life.  Have difficulty believing you’re actually the same girl who lived it.  Surprise your parents when [Billy Joel/Bon Jovi/Van Morrison] comes on the radio and you squeal, “Oh my God, I love him!  This is my SONG!”  They want to believe you’re the same little girl they kept begrudgingly relinquishing to a Newark-bound airplane, all of you wiping tears on the sleeves of your Princeton T-shirts, but they know you’re not.  They’ll realize you’re emblematic of the life they could have had if times were different and they didn’t marry at 23.  They’ll start to ask you for advice, even if they don’t understand some of the fancy new words you’ve acquired and routinely employ in casual conversation, like hegemony and fraught.

Feel a twinge of primal jealousy every time a girl you knew in high school announces via Facebook that she is having a[nother] baby.  Look forward to posting that update in about a decade.

Realize that the pages of this fairytale are turning too quickly.  Wake up one day and wonder who the hell you’ve become and where the hell you’re going.  Weep with pride when you receive an email from the Phi Beta Kappa Society informing you that you’re graduating in the top 10 percent of your class.  Be mindful of when and how you drop both P-bombs in mixed company.  Wonder if maybe an Ivy League degree really boils down to three things: a country club admission, a different way of thinking about the world, and social currency.  Pick up your diploma.

Have the fellowship for which you were chosen pulled out from under you because your dream non-profit lost the funding it would have used to pay your salary.  Shake your fist at the economy, and realize that an Ivy League degree does not make one recession-proof.  Spend your first summer in the real world sending out résumés and cover letters, some 80 to 100 of them.  Only hear back from the companies that are considerate enough (you guess?) to tell you that the position has been filled internally.  Thank you for your interest.

Refuse to move back in with your parents.  Tutor kids living in Michigan for the SATs via Skype and work at a consignment store.  Swallow hard when customers condescendingly ask, “You went to Princeton and you work here?”  Feel absolutely no need to explain yourself, but crumble a little inside.

Get anxious.  Apply to grad school.  Get into your top-choice Master’s program at NYU and turn down Columbia.  Get a Facebook message from your cousin, whose roommate works at a PR agency, acknowledging your interest in PR and asking if you want to apply for an internship.  Send the roommate your résumé immediately and accept the internship just as swiftly as it is offered to you.  Intern 30 hours a week while going to grad school more than full time.  Have no social life.  Have no idea what it’s supposed to feel like to be a twenty-something in New York City.  Get straight A’s and a job offer.

Accept the position and bring home a salary that’s less than a year’s tuition at your Ivy League alma mater.  Cringe when you allow yourself to think about this, but remind yourself how you said you’d give anything to have a full-time job.  Carve out a fulfilling social life.  Work with girls who graduated from award-winning PR programs at great schools like Syracuse and UNC, and apprehend how good they are at this job.  Wonder if and how your liberal-arts-English-Italian-poetry-loving degree is really serving you.

But come to understand how acutely it is.  Realize that a world-class education, the events you’ve attended, the 96-page thesis you had to write just to graduate, and the hands you’ve shaken would be objectively invaluable to anyone’s personal and professional development.  But know it’s the moments in which you’re chatting with Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the one book that absolutely brings you to your knees, and realizing the two of you studied in the same library that imbue you with confidence, make you believe in your capabilities, and attach you to a network whose chief export is greatness.

It’s when submitting vacation requests for the same weekend every year so you can drink under a tent with 20,000 alumni and as many of their friends and family–all of you decked out in orange, black, and tiger print–that you know you’re a part of a singular culture that opens doors to places you didn’t know existed, and those yet to materialize.  It’s sitting around a living room on the Upper West Side swapping stories about all the stupid shit you’ve gotten into with the best friends who have become your family, knowing you’ve seen each other at your best and worst, and knowing they’re going to be among the most powerful people in the country within a few decades’ time.

You think, hell, perhaps none of this is attributable to the Ivy League at all (except the Reunions part…no, really), but it doesn’t matter.  Princeton made you the person you were meant to be all along, and understanding that is the key to appreciating any degree for what it’s truly worth.

By Jade

Walk around like you’re in possession of a juicy secret.  You are.

Let your hips dictate your gait, but lead with your eyes.  Be sure they’re wide open.  Feel the tension in your lower lids.  Stop.  You’re overdoing it with the hips.  Remember, you don’t want them to know you’re trying.  Let’s be honest, you don’t have to.

Wear your hair down.  Messy, carelessly tossed to one side is preferable.  Let it spill over your shoulders and back.  When you know they’re looking, use a manicured hand to toss it behind you.

If you really want to be authentic–you know, test the limits of your power–cover up.  Let them see shape, not skin.  Let them imagine.  Only you know for sure that what they’re imagining can’t come close to the real thing.

Smile out of the corner of your mouth every once in a while.  Make them think that secret you’re holding onto involves you getting pleasured in a way they’d die to see–even if it was only on videotape.  Never make that videotape.

Try not to let them see too much of your face.  Not because it isn’t the most interesting part of you, but because you don’t want to take a chance of them recognizing you anywhere down the line.  They’d feel an undue sense of entitlement, and we can’t have that.

Know that you could walk up to any one of these greaseballs eyeing you, or a similar caricature in any bar, and have him in your bed tonight–even though you live in an outer borough.

Know that’s not what you want.

Laugh coyly when the guy soliciting donations on the corner of 42nd and Lex tells you he’s not intimidated by your attractiveness even though he works for a children’s charity.  Feel obligated to merit his flattery by stopping to write a check.  Don’t.  Make a donation online when you get home.

Know you’re the kind of girl for whom Craigslist Missed Connections was invented.  Wonder if you’ve ever been the subject of one.

Feel validated by the attention, but don’t let it go to your head.  You still have trouble accepting that anyone finds you attractive and probably always will.  (Stop that.)

Never stop walking.  This is your city.

By Jade

Player-hating is pretty much as old as time.  You know, Lucifer, Pharaoh, Brutus, the whole bit.  But in recent decades, hatin’ has figured so prominently in pop culture–in our songs, in our memes–that it’s become a mainstream epidemic.  Hate is a strong word, so call them what you will–detractors, naysayers, Fox News correspondents, whatevs–but the Donald Trumps of the world get their rocks off by throwing sticks and stones.  Everyone will give you the line about words being the things that really hurt you, but honestly, a little dose of the haterade does a body good.

I’ve dealt with my share of haters.  Listen, there’s actually some scientific and psychological rigor behind what I’m about to say, so take a deep breath before you start hating on me, too.  Whenever you’re the best [or worst, to be fair] at something, you wear a target on your back.  Being beautiful or brilliant or any manner of superlative is a cross to bear.  And never one to hedge my language, I’m just going to come out and say it:  I’m smart.  Like, really, really smart.

But it’s not just that.  There are plenty of people who are super smart and use that as an excuse to be effing lazy.  If the waters aren’t choppy enough, if their brains aren’t being poked and prodded enough, they’ll fall into a general malaise of chain [and/or pot] smoking and grumbling to whomever at the gallery opening will listen.  Shut up.  Make your own challenges.  Don’t just be smart, do smart things.  Just be prepared for people to start hating on you.

Haters Gonna Hate

Just gotta shake 'em off.

So yes, being a smart, determined, and [gulp] attractive young woman (FYI, it’s taken years of external affirmation to even entertain this thought, and it’s one I shoot down on the daily) in a professional environment opens you up to all sorts of negative energy.  People would love to take you with your pretty little Ivy-trimmed degree and knock you down a peg.  I say, have at me.

The other day, someone had the cojones to tell me that I’m not special.  Ha!  Recognizing my excusemebitch glare, he was like, “Yeah, I guess everyone in your generation thinks they’re special.”  First of all, it’s “everyone thinks he or she is special,” because collective nouns are singular and take singular verbs.  Secondly: Eff.  That.  Maybe they all do.  But I defy you to tell me that’s why I shine, that I’m not an exception.  Newsflash: I am.

Look, contrary to what it says on my diploma, I don’t believe in entitlement.  I’m smart, yes, and I have an enviable rack, yes, but I get what I want because I work for it.  Self-actualization is a powerful engine.  But oftentimes, it’s fueled by haterjuice.  I need these fools to tell me I’m not the exception so I can be like, “Aw, that’s cute.  Now let me hold your mediocre hand and show you how mistaken you are.”

And truly, embracing your haters is win-win.  Telling someone she’s not all that and a bag of whole wheat pita chips makes the hater feel like a million bucks, and proving him wrong makes you feel like Oprah.

So, hate on me, hater.  I got nothin’ but love for ya.