What is it about the thought of an impending snow day that sends everyone into a flurry? Yesterday, I decided for whatever reason that it would be smart to take a cab home from school. I know- traveling by car is exactly the type of thing you don’t want to do in a weather-induced state of emergency. Hey now, I was tired, and I was really missing a friend of mine I’ve been neglecting lately… Sleep.
Anyways, I hailed a taxi from the corner of 122nd and Broadway, from where my driver decided to turn right/ uphill so we could take Riverside Drive. We almost made it to Claremont when the vehicle started sliding all over the place and inevitably backward towards Broadway. I nervously pattered a catalogue of four letter words as the taxi’s rear bumper neared our starting point with impressive haste. When my driver finally, and thankfully regained control of the vehicle I asked him if he could take a different route, to which he replied “Get out, we’re going to die… please take a snow mobile!”
Its moments like these that make me miss New Mexico, and also make wonder why my friends ever question my desire to stay inside when the white stuff pays a visit. Luckily for me, my good friend Danielle (see Vampire Jacob? for pic) was able to do the impossible this afternoon in making me join her and several of our friends for a snow day visit to Central Park.
Initially intended to be a sledding adventure, my friends and I decided to wait for our friend Adele in an untouched snowy patch of awesome near the West 72nd street entrance to Central Park. While she made her way to join us, we began building snow men, and of all things, a fort. After about an hour of sculpting (and laughs from passersby), a group of elementary school children enthused by our architectural efforts ran inside our fort.
The children quickly suggested a snowball war against the female members of our group. In retaliation, our girls unsuccessfully tried to claim a giant evergreen to hide under as the munchkins attacked them fiercely with impeccable aim. Mind you, my group totaled 6- Lindsey, Adele, Nicole, Danielle, Tyler and me. This left me and Tyler to deal with about 10 children setting up camp in our fort while charging after the girls.
After watching what seemed like a mash-up gone wrong between Lord of The Flies and Gossip Girl, we convinced the children that, since they worked so well together, to be on their own team, with the understanding they were free to take our fort when we abandoned ship. With a wicked smile, the self-proclaimed leader, and Jacob-proclaimed Lord of The Flies agreed.
Now that the girls were safe behind our fortress walls, we were able to rightfully declare a snow war. Hey now, I know what you’re thinking… six college students against a group of seven year olds seems highly unfair, but I must impress upon you the old adage that dynamite comes in small packages.
We must have lasted about five minutes while the children feverishly attacked us. Each of us was targeted and successfully hit in the head with several snowballs as onlookers laughed and added sports commentary while taking pictures and video. After we realized that we had clearly been beaten… and pummeled, we retreated, and gave up our fort for the children to occupy. Before we took to the yellow stained road, several of the munchkin’s parents and babysitters thanked us for playing with their kids as well as entertaining them.
As we were about to head back toward the street, we all decided on an impulse to continue with our initial plan to go sledding. After about fifteen minutes of wandering about the beautiful winter wonderland that I wish Christmas could be, we found ourselves at the Bethesda Terrace cheering a group of daredevils (and eventually Tyler) as they raced down a makeshift hill and ramp on the steps which lead down to the famous fountain. Finally, just east of the terrace, we found ourselves claiming an empty pathway to sled on.
After about thirty minutes of laughs, failures and screams, we slowly meandered back to Central Park Park West where I bid my friends goodbye out of sheer necessity to thaw. I’m happy to report that my toes still number ten and they are indeed now warm and dry
Sometimes I wonder if dying is a little bit like taking the subway home alone in zero degree weather after a late night out. No, I’m not talking about about the morbidity of freezing among the day’s lingering grunge, but rather, that the journey seems likely to be similar. Think about it, you’re celebrating at a bar or restaurant… you could be with people you love, people you hardly know, or you could be alone; this represents your life. Suddenly, for whatever reason, the celebration ends and you’re really alone. You walk by yourself to the subway station, and after you swipe your metro card, you hope the train comes quickly because, well, it’s cold. You wait and wait, and even though your genius playlist is shuffling through your favorite songs, you start likening the train to Samuel Beckett’s Godot… will it ever come? Then, in sporadic intervals, people start to pass by. No one of course will stand near you because for all they know you’re the next Craigslist killer. These people are like Pozzo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot; for some reason and by the sheer fact they exist, they offer you sustenance… that is, the satisfaction of knowing that you aren’t alone.
After what seems like an eternity and several trains that pass by because they’re too full, your train comes for you. You realize after taking a seat that it is no warmer in this subway car than it was on the platform, and that your breath is still forming clouds in front of you. After looking around, you realize that the people in your current surroundings are a little more extraverted than those on the platform; some are drunk, some are really drunk, and some are just staring into the abyss. These people are like Joseph, Inès and Estelle in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit. You feel as if you’re in purgatory and will never be rid of them because the train is now running local, and home, although approaching, seems to be getting farther and farther away.
Finally, your stop arrives and you step onto the dimly lit platform and make your way upstairs. It seems the closer you arrive to your doorstep, the colder it gets and therefore the longer it seems be to be taking you to reach your final destination. When you at last make it to your apartment and ultimately your bed… heaven. Sleep after the hour that has just passed is like the eternal rest that we find in classical German poetry. No need however to run into the woods in the blistering cold to find peace, because now you’re fast asleep and hopefully you have nowhere important to be the next day.
- Existential Tooth Trinkets – The ‘Waiting for Godot’ Jewelry is Inspired by the Absurdist Play (GALLERY) (trendhunter.com)
- raiding for godot (righteousorbs.com)
- The Cowardly Lion Waits for Godot (online.wsj.com)
So guess what!? I didn’t win the Mega Millions jackpot after all, and instead of sleeping so I can get up early and spend some quality time with my father in Santa Fe (believe me, my alarm is still set for 8 am), I’m sitting writing to all of you about my now over-caffeinated nostalgic thoughts, that is, whoever YOU are.
Shortly after I compared the numbers on my multiple losing tickets, to the Mega Millions website, I started going through an old photo album of mine from my senior year of high school. You know, those things we documented our memories in before Facebook ..? What I found were not just memories, but dozens of little promises I had made to myself. No, I’m not talking about anything like curing cancer or single-handedly battling world hunger, I’m talking about all those little “maybes” we had whirling about our seventeen year old heads.
I have spent my life on the verge of becoming a hoarder, prevented only by an obsessively clean mother and stern roommates. While going through my photo album, I came across the graduation announcement of a classmate of mine who I had never really been friends with. I opened the invitation and realized that I had graduated high school and gone about the last five years without even realizing what our class song was. Apparently we had voted “Our Lives” by The Calling as the musical representation of our various public school careers and relationships. I do remember however, that our student body president had been disgruntled by the selection and decided to play another song over the stadium speakers, which I was too distracted to pay attention to, thanks to the beach balls, silly string, and alcohol that were exhanging hands and pockets around me. I decided to Youtube (or rather VEVO) the song originally intended to be played at my high school graduation, and out of nowhere, that sickening and uninvited nostalgia started creeping in.
As the video played, I continued to go through the pages of my photo album, and out fell various business cards of people I had met at local, state and national student retreats and conventions… again, this was before you could just Facebook somebody and decide from their wall and photos if you actually wanted to extend your friendship beyond “liking” the occasional status. I was also amazed that within my mounting piles of scrap was actually a little map that pointed out the location of my favorite gelateria in Florence, Italy ”Perche’ no!” (why not!? in Italian). I have been telling every friend and acquiantance of mine who has since traveled there to try the pistacchio gelato at this fantastic little gem of a shop.
Still looking through photographs of my senior trip to Italy, I kept seeing pictures of myself with other students from another school. At the time, I was convinced I would become lifelong friends with these randoms… I haven’t spoken to any of them since. I also found photographs of places and things I promised that I would someday take the time to enjoy, like Venice’s Cafe Florian in the piazza di San Marco or the Rialto Bridge, which (due to an annoyingly short city tour) I never got the chance to walk on.
I also promised myself when I graduated, that I would one day live in New York City. I thought that by virtue of making it to Manhattan, I would somehow have it all figured out. I’m realizing now that while my location has changed, I’m still trying trying to get to point B… although point A+/9, or wherever it is I currently am is giving me more life lessons than a book of soul food chicken soup or Oprah power secrets could possibly manage. What I have gained is the ability to realize that family is not bound by blood, that people can come into your life and somehow present more value than an aunt, cousin, or in some cases as equally as a parent or sibling. I am so lucky to have gained this type of family in both old and new friends.
In closing, I am giving my resolutions and promises to myself- not for the new year, but for the next five yeats by using the lessons I’ve learned from the last five.
1. In the last five years I have gained and lost fifty pounds. I am promising myself to continually strive to improve my health so that I may not only fit into those amazing $19.99 jeans they sell at Uniqlo, but also so I can be around for as long as possible.
2. I have continually made excuses to myself as to why I couldn’t be in a serious relationship “yet”. I keep telling myself that I’ll be ready for commitment when I get to a specific point in my life, but honestly, I don’t even know what that is! I’m not saying that I am going to move in with the next guy I date, but I do promise to stop making excuses and to let whatever happens in that area of my life take it’s course. What I do know, is that I have definitely been on at least 50 first dates in the last five years, and I am exhausted.
3. Since I have five years, I do promise to order lunch at Cafe Florian… after a walk on the Rialto.
4. I promise to try and think more positively about others when my first, second or even third impression of them is not so savory. I am saying this because when I first got to New York, there was a group of people who I strongly disliked, and finally after years of mutual distaste, we realized that both parties were to blame. I was the new kid, they were trying to protect the fort, and since we were all dealing with our own various insecurities, years of whispering, rumors and REALLY dirty looks ensued. Needless to say, we are all now friends and I can’t believe that I have missed out on having these folks in my life. But as they say… better late than never.
5. Finally, I will try my hardest to keep the excitement and curiousity that I had when I graduated high school. Since life is a journey, I promise to never be disappointed in where I currently am in life, because even if I’m not there yet, I’m on my way to something, and I’ll tell you what that is when I get there.
Da Mihn Mean was born Da Mihn in 1981 in Beijing, China. At the tender age of three, her mother had her start piano lessons -by the age of six, she was forced to practice nine hours a day, and if she repeated any one mistake too often, she was beat with a bamboo stick to remind her that she must always strive for perfection. This made Da incredibly unhealthy in her expectations of others. If she was perfect… why couldn’t others be as well? Da completed her studies at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and went on to study at the Royal Conservatory of Music in London and the Manhattan School of Music in New York for postgraduate studies in music theory. It was imperative that Da be successful in everything she did. Every day, she wore a Chanel logo necklace, Louis Vuitton logo shoes, a Dior logo sweater, and alternated between Armani, Gucci, and Prada clothing which may or may not have had the logo printed all over the fabric. To her, this raw display of fashion elitism made her the poster child for success. She was a musical genius with the body of a model, and she made sure everyone knew it.
My first few weeks in Da’s class went just like any other. I worked hard and tried to get Da’s opinions on her favorite composers and received recommendations for a few upcoming concerts. Da was very receptive, and when I took her advice and saw a Janacek concert she suggested at Carnegie Hall, it seemed that we had even become friends to a degree. Every Monday and Friday, Da had one person give a ten minute lecture on a piece of music they liked and explain why. When my turn came, I chose the Salve Regina from Poulenc’s Les Dialogues Des Carmelites. I played a cd and explained that although the voices of the 16 nuns diminish one at a time throughout the piece as each are executed, the music only becomes more intense as it softly dies out to leave Sister Constance singing alone. When she is joined by Blanche from the mob, there are no voices left singing and they look into each other’s eyes without saying anything. Constance then continues her prayer and walks toward the guillotine with new confidence. Blanche then starts singing “Deo patri sit gloria” (all praise be thine, O risen Lord) on her way to the guillotine and is executed. The opera then finishes with a ghostly chorus of the Carmelite nuns singing together in heaven. The reception by the class was amazing, and Da seemed elated at my choice.
As the semester went on however, we found ourselves increasingly stressed at Da’s behavior in class. She started giving us last minute assignments that were not noted on the syllabis, and informed us that we had only two days to finish each packet. Almost every time this occurred, the material in the packets was something that we were not due to discuss in our class or lecture for weeks. In fact, several of the packets contained material that we would never even discuss. She also began to run the class like a giant oral quiz on speed. She would write chords on the board that needed to be rearranged and would have us solve them one by one. If we were wrong, she would say “really? That was a stupid answer” in a condescending tone and go until somebody got it right… there was seldom explaination of how to correct one’s self when they made a mistake. When our midterms were handed back, she went to my Korean friend Grace and told her “I know you can do better, this is unacceptable for you.” When she handed me my exam she said “Good job.” When I asked Grace what she got on her exam, Grace replied “I got an A… she thinks I should aim for a perfect score.” When Grace asked what I received, I answered “B+.”
Things only got more stressful when Da friend-requested the entire class on Facebook. She started commenting on our statuses, and for a while, I viewed this as a good sign. My statuses are usually positive and frequently have something to do with music. One day however, she stopped me in the hall and told me “I saw your pictures Jacob… really, you are out of control and you need to stop.”
“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.
“You obviously only care about partying and that is unacceptable for someone as intelligent as you” she replied and then marched her Coach heels down the hall and out of the building. I then went to the library for a study session, but couldn’t concentrate. I left the group early and decided to meet my friend Emilia DiCola in her room to work on homework with her instead.
“Da told me that I was out of control” I told Emilia.
“Well that’s silly, why did she say that?”
“She told me that I only cared about partying and that it was unacceptable for me” I replied.
“What? That’s ridiculous” replied Emilia “You are far from out of control and you can’t help it if you go out once a week and five different people bring cameras along.”
“Exactly!” I exclaimed “and besides, on an average night out I can go to as many as 6 places, and it isn’t like I drink at every bar.”
“Right” said Emilia “and besides, you’re here doing homework the rest of the week, and aren’t the people in those pictures with you are all in the grad level courses she teaches?”
“Yeah… they are.” I replied.
I tried to shake it off, and when Halloween came, Da told me that she saw my pictures and thought that my spin on the Mad Hatter was one of the best costumes she had ever seen. Again, I took this as a good sign and tried to forget that we had ever had a confrontation… then she found me again the next day in the hall.“Really Jacob” said Da “you are out of control! You need to take yourself seriously and ask yourself why you’re here!”
“I really don’t understand what you mean” I said.
“I suggest you find some different friends” said Da as she walked toward the fourth floor stairwell.
I immediately went to the library to check my Facebook to see what she meant. Sure enough, there ten “new” photos of me from a night out I had the previous summer in Santa Fe. I was beginning to become a little paranoid and decided to talk to someone about my situation.
It was around this time that I had begun spending more time with Emilia; I found her candid commentary about life to be refreshing. She possesed a unique type of humor that I thrived off of and figured that she would have some good suggestions.
“Well I want to switch classes!” said Emilia.
“What! Why do you want to switch now?” I asked.
“Because she is really rude and does not explain anything” replied Emila “seriously, we are paying $50,000 a year to be here, and what do we get? A premenstrual doctoral student who is trying to prove herself by belittling us! It isn’t right!” Emilia became so angry that she threw an apple across the room which exploded into several messy little pieces all over the wall and floor. “Shit!”
“I agree with you” I said grabbing a paper towel “something has to be done about this… you know” I continued “she does have to have a minimum amount of students in her class so that she can get credit.”
“Then she should try being nicer” said Emilia.
“I know” I replied “I would just feel bad if she got in trouble.” Emilia agreed and we decided to just put up with our situation and try to do well.
About a week and a half before finals, Rachel Perez, Molly Spooner and I were invited to a dress rehearsal of Thais at the Metropolitan Opera. Rachel was also in Da’s class, and though finals were the next Friday, we decided that this was a rare opportunity and we decided to ditch theory and go. “It shouldn’t be that big of a deal” said Rachel “besides, we’ve covered everything, and she told us that we would spend Monday and Wednesday reviewing.”
“You’re right” I said “I don’t know why I’m worrying so much.”
“Just try to enjoy yourself” said Rachel “Thais is never done, and on top of that, its Renee Fleming!”
“Ok, I’ll go!”
When Rachel Perez and I went to class on Monday, Da passed out a sheet that read “final.”
“Is this the review?” I asked looking at the sheet “I haven’t seen most of this stuff.”
“Well maybe you should have come on Friday –we discussed all of this then” said Da in stern voice “I decided to move the final to today. Good luck.”
I couldn’t believe it –Da was punishing me and Rachel for taking advantage of seeing a closed rehearsal of a historic and sold out performance that we wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. I looked down at my paper and began to shake. I suffered from an anxiety disorder, and occasionally had to take medication before big tests so I could calm down and relax, but this was far from relaxing. I decided to slow breath for about a minute and was able to calm my heart rate down enough to where I could concentrate on the parts that I understood. When Wednesday’s class came, we reviewed for the departmental final under tense stress. When Friday arrived, we were handed another sheet that said “final.”
“Umm… what’s this?” I asked in an accusative tone.
“Part two of your final” said Da “I want you all to write an essay on the history of music theory and site all of the terms I have given.”
Da had spent the semester going over the history of what we were doing in hopes to help us further understand the actual theory portion of our curriculum. She had never once told us that we would actually be tested on it, after all, we had music history with Dr. Noon, and it was nothing like this. The class began to panic collectively as we all read the random historic terms, dates and places. The students in the back row whispered to one another while everyone in the front row just looked at Da. One girl even started to cry …when I began to laugh uncontrollably. “What’s so funny?” asked Da shocked at my behavior.I began to laugh so hard that I was screaming, wheezing and crying.
“You’re just so full of… SURPISES!” I yelled, now unable to breath.
The rest of the class erupted in hysterical laughter as they agreed. The uproar had caused Da to excuse herself to the ladies room. When she returned, we were all finishing our essays, with the occasional hiccup of laughter bursting out every few seconds.
Growing up, I was faced with image upon image of New York City. There were movies, television shows and magazines that all told the various highs and woes of the people that inhabited the famous boroughs. These various mediums all showcased an array of fabulous and not so fabulous lives, and the people who meandered there way in and out of them. More often than not, an oddball would come into the lives of our beloved Jerry Seinfeld, Felicity Porter and Carrie Bradshaw that made us wonder “Do people like this really exist?” and then we’d reassure ourselves with a “no… it’s only for shock value and entertainment purposes.” So after years and years of warnings from my favorite New Yorkers, I was still unprepared for the oddballs that would meander into my life.
The day before the Manhattan School of Music’s official orientation, I went to the school for a financial aid meeting, and decided I would take the opportunity to converse with a few of the people I met on the incoming students Facebook group. Anders Georg was a Norwegian baritone who had spent the summer in New York City learning English and was anxious for the school to start. I decided that after my meeting would be a perfect chance for us to meet up and go to a nearby shop for coffee and croissants. I had spent the prior couple of days commuting from a friend’s place in Queens and was excited to spend a little more time in Manhattan.
We went to a little place near the school that sold only vegetarian food and fair trade coffee, so naturally it was the café du jour of Broadway. As we sat at the quaint café, Anders went on about how he came to study with a world renowned teacher at a world renowned school and how it would make him a world renowned singer “but it must take 10 years” he continued “for voice, for everything, then I sing at Met”. If only it was that easy; there is so much more than studying that goes into making a world renowned opera singer. There is also no guarantee that any amount of world renowned anything with make you a world renowned something. Many people can go to Juilliard on full scholarship and never realize a satisfying career on stage. You must go to a conservatory with the attitude that you are in competition with yourself, and to be the best you can be, otherwise, you’ll never survive. Those that do this, realize that they are capable of much more beyond the Mozart concerti and Bellini art songs they have lived on for years. They are invited to a challenging world of Rachmaninov and Strauss, they climb the highest echelons of their art with vigorous energy to achieve something miraculous and unattainable. It was once said that opera singers are natural born aristocrats, through determination one can overcome previous short comings and endure the riches of the world without much thought from “old money”. Its true, what we do as artists is preserve an art form through music that was written for kings, and through serving the composer, we bring to life his characters, his dreams, and his soul. It is through this, that we ourselves become worthy of those so-called aristocrats who thrive off trust funds and hedge funds; by serving the art.
Anders, I quickly realized, was probably one of the most self-indulgent people I had ever met. He continued for a great deal about how he knew everything about opera, and that being European helped him greatly when it came to language study and music. After all, we have to frequently learn pieces in Italian, German, French and English, all which have requisites of there own in curriculums across the country. I learned in this conversation that he was a champion of languages and women. How women loved him, and how he was very eager to have sex with any and all incoming females who would allow. I asked him “Why don’t you try to have a relationship with one of the girls from your language course?” “Because they’re Asian! I can’t, I won’t, I’ll never!” .
It was at this point when I began to try and decide exactly what Anders reminded me of. He wasn’t particularly attractive, in fact, he was quite possibly one of the ugliest people I had ever met, but I couldn’t figure out why. He had pretty symmetric features, but they were incredibly exaggerated. His eyes bulged out of his head like a bug’s, and he never seemed to be able to look directly at who he was speaking to “but yes of course… world renowned” he would say, verbally directing himself almost violently toward you without ever looking you in the eye. It was almost hypnotically disgusting. He also had the posture of Quasimodo. When he began rambling about his distaste for Asian women, I decided that he looked like a cockroach… yes, perfect!
When you attend a conservatory, chances are, when you go to parties, you’ll be with other conservatory students. You never ask “What’s your major?” You can tell immediately whether or not someone is a singer, it’s not necessarily a gift, it’s more like an ability to spot the obvious clichés. Singers have a tendency to be the best dressed of the school; appearance is everything, and audition clothing tends to work its way into everyday clothing. They also tend to be the loudest and most boisterous people in a room. When you spot a non-singer, you simply ask “So what do you play?” As Anders continued with his discontent for Asian women, I noticed that other patrons of the café were looking at us with disgust… not him, us! Without trying to be rude, (after all, I was going to be spending a lot of time with Anders in a very small school), I moved the conversation to another topic. I decided to embrace both my inner and outer singer and pull out the necessary and inevitable questions.
“Have you had a lesson yet” I asked.
“No, but I just had a meeting with my teacher’s husband, he is also world renowned” stated Anders proudly.
“Oh, so what did you discuss” I asked rather interested.
“Technique, and school” stated Anders again “he is much nicer than my teacher, but I need her technique to make me famous.”
“Sounds intense” I said “When exactly did you meet him?”
“Right before I met you” said Anders smugly “We met near Met.”
“Oh Lincoln Center, how lovely” I said “did you go to Fiorello’s?”
“Yes” said Anders blankly “it was too expensive.”
I took a sip of my coffee “So what did you wear?”
“I wore this” said Anders with confidence.
I nearly spit out my coffee. Anders was wearing incredibly unattractive running shorts that looked like they were used for the whole of the 80’s in every city marathon the decade had offered. He also sported grass stained tennis shoes and an ill-fitting gray t-shirt that exposed the disgusting body hair that sprouted in patches all the way up his chest and back. I thought how unfortunate it would be to have pubic hair growing out of one’s chest and back.
“It’s so comfortable; I think I wear to lesson” he said “I learn better when comfortable.”
“So what are you working on” I interrupted.
“Oh! Umm…I learn new aria, very obscure, from very obscure opera, I already memorize, I so good at Italian, best language for me, yes.”
“Well what’s it called” I asked “I’m fond of nearly anything.” This was true; I spent the prior couple of summers working at the Santa Fe Opera, and was exposed to the newest of the new and the oldest of the baroque. My job encouraged me to research a lot on my own, and picked up some new favorites along the way.
“It’s by Handel” he said “from Julius Cesar.”
“I love Giulio Cesare” I exclaimed, and partially correcting him while encouraging he use the Italian title “It isn’t obscure at all Anders! In fact Glyndebourne just did a fantastic production of the opera a couple seasons ago, and now the entire opera world seems to be borrowing that exact production” I started listed off companies that I knew were putting on the opera when I interrupted myself and asked “So what aria are you singing?”
“Its Va Taquito” said Anders proudly.
“Oh… um, do you mean Va tacito e nascosto” I asked mildly confused. Here was a person who had just spent so much energy proclaiming how great he was at not only singing, but languages as well, and not only that, but he had supposedly memorized the aria in question and he was so good at it too. Had he really just mistaken the aria for Mexican food?
“Oh, umm, how do you say it?” asked Anders.
“Va ta-chee-toh!” I said “taquito is a tightly wrapped corn tortilla with beef or chicken inside.”