A Little Extra Time

Working as a background extra in New York City is really glamorous.

Last week, for example, I had to get to midtown at 5 am to catch a charter bus to Long Island. It’s amazing how much activity is around at that hour of the morning. We will be shooting some scenes for a tv series.   

50 minutes later we are in a quiet, residential area with very large lawns and brick fences. We check in to the holding tent, get our wardrobe, report to hair and makeup, and then hang around in this  big, hot tent for the next 4 hours. (Bonus: tons of free food and drink!!)  After awhile some of us head to set, which today is the front lawn of a mansion.  The house sits back from the water and a huge lawn leads down to the bay. A few sailboats drift slowly by. It’s very picturesque, tho we are not allowed to take any photos. The morning is beautiful but already very hot. In the 80s and it’s only 10:00. A large white wedding tent is set up on the lawn. There are white tables with white tablecloths and ‘champagne’ flowing from little fountains. The Production Assistant eventually assigns our starting point, a makeup artist rushes to refresh hair, droopy in the 80 degree heat. The show’s stars are cooled with battery fans and protected by umbrellas so nary a sweat mark will be seen. We are all in our places, dressed for another era, a previous century where they wore powder blue polyester.

“Background! First positions,”  the P.A. calls.  My ‘husband’ and I stroll slowly, arm in arm, among the partygoers, silently greeting our guests. We walk to the other side of the tent, and head back to the beginning. “Cut! Ok..regroup at first position.”  We stroll, smiling, nodding, along our same path.  “Cut! Regroup at first position.”   We stroll, we smile, we wave, we raise our glasses.  “Cut!”….

I could go on, but you get the picture.

I’m wearing a polyester pantsuit and shoes with teeny heels that sink in the grass. I step and sink. I have to pick grass and dirt off the little heels. We are all very, very hot.  The temperature is now in the 90s and we are wearing clothes that stick to our skin. But we’re all happy to be here.

Many hours of strolling and smiling later, of hanging out and eating huge amounts of carbs, the light is quickly fading and we hear those three little words, “That’s a wrap!”  We head back to holding, our tent away from home. We’ve had a 10 hour day. We are all happy with the day, chatty and full of energy.  But mostly, we are so excited to put away [burn on a giant pyre] the polyester suits we’ve lived in for the past two days.

We wait in line to check out, get forms signed for our lavish paycheck, and return our clothes to Wardrobe. Street clothes on, our space cleaned up, (grab some last-minute snacks), we eventually get on the bus for a quiet evening ride back to the city. The chatter and gaiety of today behind us, we retreat back into the 21st century, our phones, into our own spaces. It’s dark outside and peaceful and quiet in the bus. Perhaps many of us will see each other again – maybe in some other era, some other century.

So what makes this worthwhile? The enormous minimum wage ‘background talent’ get for a 10+ hour day? Maybe it’s the remarkable allure of being a tiny part of ‘show business.’  I think what makes it worthwhile is what we all give to it.  We show up – sometimes at 5 am –  knowing we may be thoroughly bored for hours, the day might be long and tedious at times, but we will also meet interesting people and enjoy a day filled with fun, food and surprises. Most of all, we all have a great time. I gotta go now, I have to get up at 4 am to do it all over again.

The Smell of Success

Taking the A train last week, dozing a bit, I am suddenly aware of the smell of….curry? Not yummy-like-you’re-in-a-restaurant curry, but that leftover, microwave overheated smell. Two women across from me are eating some stinky spicy wrap thing, lettuce shreds spilling out onto the floor. Frankly, after touching the turnstile and the grab pole, the last thing I want to put in my mouth is something my hand just touched. But New Yorkers are pressed for time. We have to rush here and there, so eating on the run is acceptable. Generally, though, on the train you want to avoid stuff that smells. Fritoes, for example.

I was heading to a job interview in the village on MacDougal street. A voice teacher and professor whose office is in his home, a third floor walk-up. Jose, the maintenance man let me into the building. I got to the third floor apartment and pushed the little gold doorbell. An arty looking older man with a shiny head welcomed me in. The apartment was bright, with a wall of windows. I thought it probably hadn’t changed since the ‘50s. Small, charming, with yellow walls. Not post-it note yellow, but a deep, warm color. Lots of antique rugs lay across the floors, which had developed a dark patina over the years. A cat scratcher was on the floor next to a baby grand piano, that was covered with an old violet-colored drape. It sat, too big for the space, in front of the white painted paned windows. I admired the iconic rooftop view of the back of apartment buildings with their retro, rusty fire escapes (these are called backyards in New York.)

The atmosphere was cozy, arty. I was in The Village in an apartment, I imagined, not unlike one where Willem deKooning or Mark Rothko might have hosted parties and readings, exchanging ideas and opinions, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. I was lost in 1959…. My host offered me tea and we sat in comfy old chairs. One of his cats walked in, skinny and probably dying, he said. They don’t know why, but then, he is 15 years old so…..his voice trailed off. He showed me the small, cramped office and all the files and phone books and remnants of an earlier era. He needed help. Filing, among other things. We talked about the position available and he said he had two other people to interview. That’s usually the nail in my coffin. For some reason, I come off well in the interview but then some other candidate after me is perfect and I lose the job. I’m still waiting for a response from a job I interview I had in October (I know…but she hasn’t gotten back to me so I still see an ember on the ashes.) I have learned not to get my hopes up. I would rather think the worst and have a positive outcome than get all charged up and be disappointed. We said good bye, I thanked him and he thanked me.

Across the street a charming little coffee shop was calling to me. It was a chilly morning and I decided to reward myself with an Americano and a scone. I got a Rosemary currant scone, the last one, and a small coffee, and thought I’d hang around, but all the tables were taken. So I headed back home and ate my scone on the train – untouched by human hands, of course – my mouth buried deep in the little white bag I held with my gloved hands, possibly looking emotionally disturbed. But at least scones don’t stink. And I got the job.

fire escape


Take My Seat…Please!

I came to New York later than most young hopefuls who arrive here to fulfill their dreams. I’ve wanted to live here since I was 20 but, as the saying goes, life got in the way. So here I am, 40 years too late. I made it. I’ve got it all but now I’m not really part of it all. I have some of the same hopes and dreams I had at 20 when I should have come here, but new expectations, lower ones.

My body and my energy deny it, but I am in the sleep aid and reverse mortgage ad demographics. Being an old fossil means if people acknowledge me at all, it’s usually to give up their seat on the train. The sign in the train asks riders to please give up your seat to an elderly, disabled, or pregnant person. I acknowledge their courtesy but I prefer to stand. Nobody’s gonna tell me I’m old. Heading to my weekly lunch date in South Seaport, I saw a cute guy on the train. He stood with his back against the doors. Black jeans, leather jacket. Ear buds. Attractive. He was only 20-something, so my admiration was pure. But he made me pensive; why didn’t I have one of those when I was young? So afraid to talk to boys, I never gave myself a chance to know one so I didn’t date. Men only want one thing, I was told. What is that? I didn’t really know, only that it was bad. Well I got over that fear, luckily because New York is a city for meeting strangers and making friends. Be completely alone if you crave it, but the opportunity for meeting people is tremendous.

Meet Ups offer events every night of the week to get together with people who share your interests. Mindfulness, Walking Tours, Bizarre & Wonderful NY Food gatherings. There is a Greyhound Playgroup. I love greyhounds. I’d like to go but would it be weird to show up without a dog? I could meet a guy with a dog…but then, he’d be 30 years old. I just got an alert for a new meetup, Laughter Yoga – a Good Time to Have a Good Time. I have never once laughed while doing yoga. I went to one called The Secrets of Grand Central, very enlightening. After the tour, the group headed to an Irish bar to watch football. Since I don’t have a tv and I love football, I was up for it, knowing everyone there would be under 40. I like to hang out with young people, tho this group all seemed to know each other. I sat at a table with a couple of nice young guys who were kind enough to talk to me. It was really loud and I couldn’t see the game anyway because two young women with really big hair, were standing in front of the tv, talking and gesturing and not even watching the game. And the bartender was busy with the youngsters at the end of the bar. I’m going to stick to the Over 60s playgroups.

I’ve been here nine months now and making it my own place, like millions of (young) hopefuls before me who came and never left. I figure I’m in a whole different class of new arrivals: Applying for Medicare instead of grad school. No longer waiting for that ‘big break,’ I am still feeling lucky every day, overwhelmed – that’s a good thing – by all the possibilities that exist here, even for someone old enough to remember when movies cost $1.00.

Surviving Snowmageddon 2016

I’m from Minneapolis. “Wow, it’s cold there!” people chuckle with a wide-eyed expression and clearly no idea where that is. They’ve heard it’s cold. Its close to Canada – it’s not in Indiana.

Minneapolis gets cold, and it gets snow. Sometimes lots of it. If you grew up in the ‘50s and ’60s, you remember walking to school amid 4’ snow drifts. We call those the ‘good old days’ because we didn’t know any better. Maybe because we didn’t know we were cold. We were kids. That kind of snow doesn’t happen often anymore, and I am grateful for that.

New York weather is much nicer, as far as I can tell in my short time here. But this past Saturday, Snowmageddon 2016, was a Minnesota day. It started snowing in Brooklyn Friday night and all thorough the night and the next day, finally tapered off around 9 pm Saturday. We were snug and cozy in our lair, watching movies with nachos and beer, looking at the blowing, swirling snow out the window. We were grateful we had someplace comfortable and warm for the night.

Since this snowfall was predicted, and The Weather Channel suggested it would end on Sunday morning sometime, it didn’t occur to me to ‘stock up,’ though apparently that was the order of the day on Friday. Friends from Minnesota called to make sure I had enough food, had I made it to the store for ‘supplies?’ Like firewood? Bottled water? A shotgun? I asked.

We all understand the need for toilet paper and beer. But on Friday, the line outside Trader Joe’s looked like the apocalypse was at hand, snaking down the block, all preparing for one entire day holed up inside with no connection to the outside world. Would they survive? No one, apparently, was taking any chances.

Photos surfaced on Friday, the day before the big one, of stores in D.C., all with totally empty shelves in the dairy aisle. They had all run out…of cheese. Every brick, every bag of taco shreds…gone! It’s good to know that, up and down the east coast all were cozy and safe, and all had enough cheese. Nothing takes the gloom out of the apocalypse like a plate of nachos.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 22.13.18

The Gallery Opening

A night in Chelsea with hundreds of art lovers
(and those who came for the free wine)

The Chelsea neighborhood in New York boasts many art galleries. The openings can be big events and are a fun way to see several in one evening, with wine, snacks and plenty of socializing. Many of the buildings are large spaces with a few galleries on different floors and from my short time here, I’ve noticed many of them seem to have slow, teeny, tiny elevators. And since there are several openings on the same night there’s be a big line just to get up to the second floor, since using the stairs is not allowed after 6 pm. Last week on a balmy January eve, I picked a block between 10th and 11th to see three gallery openings. After a long wait and a short ride to the second floor galleries, the elevator doors opened to an already large crowd, dressed mostly in black. Right there, standing behind a table of snacks a nice young man in a white shirt eagerly asked, “red or white?” Red was my choice tonight. Cheese cubes with toothpicks, and a few Triscuits in hand, I was off to enjoy myself. I wandered through the crush, feeling right at home dressed in my usual black.

Often during gallery hops, I have an inner discourse with myself, an ongoing discussion in my head. Your art is better than this, myself hisses to myself. Why isn’t your art hanging here? Talk to people! Hand out your card, you slug, you have the talent to be in a gallery. I had to ignore my left/right brain bickering for the moment. I had to move on.

I saw a series of 3 works that had large bleeding blobs of black ink on newsprint paper. I got closer. Perhaps there was something meaningful, deep, and not just something that looks like a big accident. I’m an artist – I love abstract, non-representational stuff, so I have a true appreciation for the mystery and wit of a good blob – but more like a Jackson Pollock blob. These pieces reminded me of the rejects I toss out when I paint. I should hold on to that stuff from now on. A price list wasn’t around, but I’m sure they weren’t cheap. The framing was top notch though, boosting the value of these mediocre pieces, and giving them an undeserved dignity.

Friends gathered around the artists, an appreciative coterie, taking pictures, proud of their artist comrade who somehow, for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, got into a group show. In a gallery in Chelsea!! Do I seem bitter? Maybe a smidge. It’s my own fault, of course. I think my work should be there. And yet I don’t do much to promote myself. These artists must have had an ‘in’, but more importantly, they networked and maybe hired an agent to promote them. I need to do more schmoozing. I need to be a self-promoter. I need to have what it takes. When I figure out how to do that, I’ll be here posing for pictures with my enthusiastic devotees.

It was too beautiful outside to go home just yet. The street was wonderfully alive with enthusiastic gallery hoppers. I headed over to the next gallery down the block to appraise more art. Maybe I’ll have white this time.


A Halal Christmas


Christmas in New York. My first one, and I would be alone, family would be in other parts of the country. But it’s New York – no one is ever alone. In preparation for the big day, I checked out places guaranteed to host a swarm of tourists and fellow New Yorkers where I would pretend to be surrounded by lots of friends. I even prepared myself for a real New York Christmas: Chinese dinner and a movie.

Then I got the call from Minneapolis. My friend, Bill. So nice to hear from him. We hadn’t talked in months. So what are you doing on Christmas? I asked him, knowing he’d be with his family, or a girlfriend. Well, Midge…he paused, I was thinking of coming to New York and spending it with you, if that’s alright. Alright?! Woo-hoo, of course it’s alright, I assured him. What a gift! My Christmas ‘present’ arrived on a Sun Country flight the next day (delayed by fog and diverted to Connecticut.)

I had planned for an alone day, with lots of pointless activities to keep me busy the whole day and into evening, assuring myself that I’d be having tons of fun with hundreds of anonymous strangers. But now I could plan a very special weekend and see for myself what makes Christmas in New York so exceptional.

It was a warm but slightly drizzly evening as we hopped the F train. We went temporarily insane and got off on 50th at Rockefeller Center to ‘see’ the Christmas tree (gridlock on a massive scale but with the added pleasure of umbrellas in your face). I admit I did get my New York Attitude on, advising the out-of-towners on ‘Umbrella Etiquette!’ Fifth Avenue store windows were on the list of All That Is Christmas In New York and they didn’t disappoint. Saks Winter Palace was cold and icy and beautifully designed. Henri Bendel, Harry Winston, all were spectacularly appointed.

We headed up Fifth Avenue to the Plaza Hotel; the Palm Court for Manhattans in Manhattan, of course. Low key and yet slightly magical, the Plaza was decked out in its Christmas finest. Palm trees and Christmas lights. We lingered there for quite awhile and realized we best find someplace for dinner. And since it ’s New York everything would be open. But I was amazed to find many restaurants closed. We headed to a place on Third Avenue that was supposed to be totally overdone and decked out for Christmas. The website said, “Open Today” and in red letters, ‘Christmas May Affect These Hours.’ So does that mean they’re open? you ask? No, it means they’re closed. Trust me on this and remember it for next year when you Google map, “Restaurants Open on Christmas Day.”

Oh well, it was a beautiful evening for walking anyway, and we found a cool Irish bar with sawdust on the floor (I didn’t know they still did that) but the kitchen was closed at 10:00. So we meandered, finding ourselves down by the Flatiron. A vendor on the corner was still selling his fare and the delicious, spicy smells of chicken and lamb drifted our way. We looked at each other, smiling with the same thought. This might be it, he laughed..let’s have a New York Halal Christmas!

Thank you, Bill. I won’t forget it. Let’s have many more.