Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dying is Easy, Comedy is Hard

NYC is expensive. No one will argue this, especially not me as I just signed a new apartment lease (yay!). But, just as I believe the city tries to make up for urban life by bringing us suburban experiences, it also tries to make up for the cost of living by offering tons of free events. One of these free events is every Sunday night at Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB). Another is Summer Stage in Central Park, which recently featured UCB.

One of Kater's suggestions for my 28 Things list was to go see a show at UCB, a theatre in Chelsea and also the name of the comedy/improv group that started the theatre. Many SNL, 30 Rock, and Office stars have passed through their doors. UCB offers comedy and improv shows every night of the week and has a training center with improv and skit-writing classes. I've wanted to go to UCB for a while and finally had a reason when I put it on my list.

#8 Go to a show at Upright Citizens Brigade

The Sunday night show at UCB is called ASSSSCAT 3000 (I have no idea why) and I was told to try and get there around 7 to stand in line to get tickets for the 9:30 pm show. Aubrey and I probably got there around 6:45. There is also a 7:30 show but you need to buy tickets in advance for it and it looks like they sell out quickly. We picked a pretty miserable day to wait in line because I was recovering from a bellini-filled bridal shower that afternoon and it was about 100 degrees out, but we had a fabulous time as we usually do. After Aubrey and I got bored with catching up, playing many rounds of "would you rather", and listening in on phone calls of people complaining about being on the west side, we decided to strike up conversation with the lads behind us (Nathan & Matt) who we ended up hanging out and laughing with the rest of the night.

At 8:15, a woman handed out the tickets and when they got to the girl in front of us, she ran out. I'm sure I looked like I was about to cry after all that wait time. She asked Aubrey and I how many were in our group and we immediately disposed of our new friends and said "Just two! Just us!" She then said, "Usually I have five more tickets so just line up and come back with everyone else." Of course paranoia arose and I was nervous that she wouldn't recognize us or that someone else would be at the door, but she assured us that all four of us, including our new friends, would be fine. We dubbed ourselves "The Overflow Five" (the fifth member is a mystery) and went to grab some food together and discuss the dangers of dolphins.

We got back in line around 9:15 and huddled together as it poured harder than it has all year. The weather gods certainly were against us that day. We almost didn't get in because the woman who told us she would remember us did not immediately and she tried to send us to the standby line. "But we're 'The Overflow Five!!!'" we all exclaimed and she let us in, either because she remembered or because she thought we were cool for having such a great name and presence.

The show was AWESOME. We had a few regular UCB members as well as Zach Woods (Gabe from The Office) and Bobby Mohniyan from SNL. Two UCB members came out to work the crowd before the show began and were asking for stories from the audience about crazy things that had happened to them that week and then made jokes from those. When the show actually started, UCB member Ilana Glazer was responsible for associating stories with audience suggestions of topics. The other members would then improvise various skits from the stories that Ilana said. They ended up going in 10-15 different directions with ideas that were triggered by Ilana's stories and then Ilana would tell more stories about what something in the skit made her think of and the group would continue from there. After a brief intermission, it started all over again. Their skits included a frat party, a meeting of the Allied and Axis powers, and a fight between Staples and Office Max employees.

The next Tuesday, UCB was performing at Central Park's Summer Stage. Nathan and I went after work and Aubrey met up with us afterward. This show featured some of the same players as the Sunday show, including Bobby Mohniyan, and also added Scott Adsit, Pete from 30 Rock. The part of Ilana was played by a radio DJ from Hot 97 who name-dropped at every chance he got. From his story about going to Ikea with Eminem, the performers got into a skit where they were customers in Ikea who were being hunted by a Swedish worker and who couldn't escape because you had to build the exit yourself. There were also many scenes that included vomiting at amusement parks and celebrities using humans as chairs.

It was all really cool to watch how everyone's minds worked to come up with the skits and to see how everyone reacted to each other's performances. As would be expected, the skits go in a completely different direction than the person who started them intended. It was funny to watch them laugh at each others suggestions and then have to follow their leads without knowing what was next. I imagine it is quite difficult as it always is when you don't know what's in the future. At least I know more UCB shows are in mine.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012


"Oh, what a wonderful day was Saturday in Brooklyn." ~ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

On Saturday, Caitlin, Tracy, and I met up in Brooklyn to eat our faces off. We went to the "Smorgasburg" flea market for artisan food vendors in Williamsburg, open on Saturdays all summer. This was another suggestion that was repeated by a few people for my 28 Things list, but I am counting this as one of Caitlin's since we went together.

#7 Go to Smorgasburg in Brooklyn

Caitlin is one of my closest and foodiest friends so it makes sense that the majority of her suggestions for my list were food-related. Those who I hang out with the most all came up with several awesome list items and there are a few repeat suggesters on my list because of this. I am really looking forward to one of Caitlin's food challenges in particular, to come later this year.

The girls and I met up at Bedford Ave off the L line around 10:45. Smorgasburg opens at 11 and we wanted to make sure we were there before the lines got insane. The day was somewhat gloomy, but it was perfect weather for eating outside. There were about 70 awesome food vendors to choose from but I tried to pick just a few so that I can still pay rent. I'm not the best at describing food, but I will do my best.

For breakfast, I chose a mini brisket sandwich from Mighty Quinn's BBQ, mostly because Caitlin was raving about this BBQ all week. This vendor is one of the most popular at Smorgasburg so I had to give it a try early on and the mini sandwich was a perfect size for me. The man preparing the sandwiches was using two different cuts to get a good mix of lean and fatty meat. The brisket certainly was messy, but very delightful.

One of my favorite food discoveries since moving to NYC has been fried chicken and waffles. I've even (now embarrassingly) been known to create my own with chicken patties, Eggo waffles, syrup, honey, butter, and applesauce (I'm quite the chef...). So I definitely had to try the Buttermilk Channel's fried chicken and cheddar waffles with watermelon salad. I had this incredible dish for my lunch just a little while after my brisket breakfast.

For dessert I chose a yellow peach and basil popsicle from People's Pops. They also do shaved ice there off a huge block of ice but the flavors looked a little too sour for my tastebuds. The popsicle was a good mix of flavors and very refreshing.

We walked around Brooklyn a little bit more, going to a non-food market, a famous meat store (Meat Hook), playing with tons of "adopt me" puppies on the street, AND stumbling upon places featured in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" which I've been rereading on the subway, including on the way *into* Brooklyn which made me feel pretty awesome.

Nerd alert.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

How Do You, How Do You Sleep?

As I described in this post, I really don't like being scared. But it's not like I feel scared on the subway at night, it's more that I'm scared of spooky things like ghosts or mummies chasing me. One of the things on my 28 Things list is a little more nervewracking than other items because I expected to be terrified by it, a performance of Sleep No More, suggested by Dan. And I was happy for this suggestion because that's what I wanted the list to be, things that I might not necessarily have volunteered myself for. This also ended up being one of the most unique experiences I've had in NYC.

#6 Sleep No More

Sleep No More is an interactive theater experience presented in the fictional McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea. The "hotel" is about 100 rooms made up in old warehouses and as an audience member, you find your way around the hotel and can follow any of the actors from whom you wish to see more. The performance is based on Macbeth but has some Alfred Hitchcock-ian aspects to it.

If this doesn't scare you...

Nicole and Kater came on this journey with me. Our tickets were for 7:45. The way the tickets work is they start people throughout the night but perform the whole piece just once. For example, Mondays - Thursdays, you can start at 7:30, 7:45, 8:00, 8:15, or 8:30 and the performance goes until around 10:30. On Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to a regular show, there is a late-night performance starting at 11. I would suggest trying to get tickets for the earliest entrances so that you have the most time to explore the hotel.

Kater, Nicole, and I met up at the Half King and pregamed, ate, and talked about how nervous we were before walking over to the hotel which has no signage, just a line and a bouncer. I had knots in my stomach and Kater was "on the precipice of a nervous breakdown," but we went inside and faced our fate anyway. We had to check everything we had and I became even more nervous, mostly that I would somehow lose the girls and be kidnapped by the actors or something and be left without my phone and not be able to reunite with them and be trapped in the warehouse forever. 

We "checked in" to the hotel and got three playing cards, a 5, a 6, and a 7. Walking to the bar down the dark, twisting hallway was absolutely terrifying. When we got there it was cold, spooky, and smoky with smoke-machine air, and we learned that our card numbers indicated how we were supposed to enter the hotel, the 5's first, the 6's second, and the 7's third. We quickly decided that we were in this together and would break the rules and pretend we didn't know each other if we had to and all go in at once.

One of the actors who looked like Joseph Gordon-Levitt came over to our group and started talking to us in a creepy monotone voice and put his arms around us. We giggled because we were so scared and tried talking to him like he was a normal person. I asked him if anyone ever told him he looked like JGL and he said "You are so nice" in the creepiest way possible. I then became nervous that he would remember us and pull us into a back room and murder us as part of his performance.

When the 7's were called, we went to Joseph Gordon-Levitt and got our masks. Everyone in the audience had to wear white Phantom of the Opera-esque masks during the entire performance. We entered an elevator and Kater had been warned by a coworker that sometimes they open the elevator and push someone out all on their own. We tried to stay in the middle as much as possible but that didn't end up happening in our elevator. Then we were let loose without any instruction at all into the abyss of the hotel. I pride myself on being fiercely independent, but at that moment I wanted nothing more than to hold on to Kater and Nicole as we made our way through the first couple rooms.

I was under the impression that part of this experience would be trying to solve a mystery of some sort, so when we went through the rooms I was looking for clues everywhere. The rooms were full of the creepiest things possible, jars with bones inside, dolls hung up without heads, tattered clothes hung up in a maze, animal heads, basically anything that could possibly give you nightmares. There was a room with a forest inside, and a floor of abandoned hospital beds and bathtubs with deep red water. Eventually, we found our first actress and followed her into an abandoned cabaret room and watched her unlock her dinner tray which appeared to be raw meat, eat, pull out a ring from her mouth that had been in the meat, put the ring on a finger of an audience member, and then get up on stage and cry and laugh as she mouthed the lyrics to the Tony Bennett recording of "Is That All There Is" which is a song from the 1960s. Needless to say, I was pretty confused.

Throughout the night, we found more and more performance parts, and without spoiling too much, there were many fights in the hallways, people going crazy while alone, full nudity, and some dancing. But very few words were exchanged between the actors, at least in the scenes that I saw, so it wasn't super easy to follow. Toward the end of the night, all audience members were led into one place for one final performance scene with all of the actors and then we all went back to the bar. There we met Joseph Gordon-Levitt again and he greeted me with "there she is" in a completely normal and not creepy voice.

I'm not going to lie and say that I understood everything that I saw. I can definitely see why there are people who have gone several times to try and see different scenes that they missed. At $90 a viewing though, I can't imagine I'll go again - I still have 22 things to do!. Afterward, I did look up a brief synopsis of Macbeth to try and figure out where which scenes that I saw went in the play. I think it may have been a good idea to read up on Macbeth before going but maybe that would have ruined it for some audience members. I also think that in hindsight, you should absolutely split up from your friends. The worst thing that I saw happen was someone being taken into a hut by themselves in the forest room and we heard later at the bar that he was just served tea inside. I think it is a individual experience and when the girls and I did get split up toward the end, it was fun to hear about what things they had seen that I hadn't.

And just remember to stop following the actors when you leave the hotel. Don't try and cross the street to follow them as they are going to go smoke a cigarette across the way. And take off your mask before trying to hail a cab. No one wants to pick you up in that mask. No one.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Yankee Doodle Dandy

I feel a little badly for Staten Island. It doesn’t exactly have the best reputation, recently perpetuated further by the world of reality television. As someone who grew up in NJ, I understand how annoying it is to have people think that all of NJ is big hair, muscles, and garbage, (although my muscles these days are looking good) and I would like to redeem Staten Island of all of the above a little bit. One of the most fun summer nights I’ve had this year was indeed in this borough off of the island of Manhattan.

A few people suggested I go to a Staten Island Yankee game for my 28 Things List, but I’m counting this one as Dave’s contribution. Dave grew up and lives on SI and acted as my “Staten Island Spirit Guide” for the evening. Nicole and Kat joined us on the adventure and I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised about how I was welcomed to Staten Island. I had driven through SI on what seems like hundreds of trips to Long Island from Delaware over the years, but I had never gotten out of my car (which is a good thing because I shouldn’t be parking my car on bridges).

# 5 Go to a Staten Island Yankee Game

As part of the suggestion, in order to get the full experience, I had to go to a game that had fireworks and take the Staten Island Ferry there. I decided to set up a trip to the opening day game on June 19th. Nicole, Kat, Dave, and I met up after work that Tuesday around the South Street Seaport where we could catch the ferry. The SI Ferry is free and people use it to commute on the daily but it is also a nice trip for tourists to take to see the city from the sea. It's a good view AND you can get a beer while you travel to the farthest away borough of the city. Kat and I ceremoniously shook hands with SI as we approached the dock.

Another ferry from our ferry


Lady Lib & a Sailboat

View looking down
The SI Yankees are a minor league team of the NY Yankees, hence the "Baby Bombers" nickname. When my dad found out I was going, he said I would be close enough to talk to them while they were playing. I told him it wasn't like a Little League game, and he tried to convince me that I would be booing them and they would turn around and say, "Hey, Erin, I don't come to your work and tell you how to do your job!" The stadium was definitely smaller than Yankee Stadium and we were pretty close, but luckily, the players couldn't hear us because Kat was yelling, "You'll never make it to the Bronx like that, pal" at a few of them. The SI Yanks didn't play all that well in this particular game against the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Sometimes injured Yankee players play on the team a little bit until they get 100% better and are ready to play for the majors again, but this was not the case in our game. In fact, we were surprised to find out in the program that all of the players were about seven years younger than we are. It was a shame considering that Kat and I wanted to meet our husbands that night. 

One of the best parts of the game was definitely what went on in between the innings to entertain the crowd. The "cheerleaders" (if that's even what they're called) seemed like they were high school students on their summer jobs. But the games they played with volunteers from the audience were pretty legit. One game was called "Aww Snap" and included two fans tethered together and trying to fetch apples to put them into a bucket. Another was a woman who got to collect about 300 lotto tickets with a shovel, but we will never know if she won anything. During "Drop the Needle," two participants had to complete the lyrics of songs that were playing and they both got them wrong but were told they got them right, which bugged me, because that is a game I would have DOMINATED. And there was a joke competition with little kids where I learned this gem - Q: Why was the broom late? A: Because he overswept. 

In addition to the games, instead of the subway races on the big screen at Yankee Stadium, there was a Staten Island Ferry race for the crowd to root for. And then there was the Thriller Dance. It was remarkably hilarious. 

The SI Yankee mascots were pretty confusing, I had to google them to figure out what they were and found out there were three, Scooter, Red, and Huckleberry - the last of which happens to be the name of the amazing dog my family had growing up, but he was no where to be found. And for the record, they are all cows.

After the game, the fireworks show started. I'm into fireworks and will probably never be in town for the Macy's 4th of July show over the Hudson. My family lives at the beach at home and that's a great vacation week, so I enjoyed seeing the show over the city, which you could see from the stadium.

When it was time to go, our group hung out in the SI Ferry station for quite some time where we were greeted by an aquarium and a reminder that although we had just enjoyed the fireworks at the game, they were illegal, as if this was some sort of foreign port back into Manhattan.

The trip back on the ferry was just as fun as our ride out. We stood at the bow of the ship this time. Kat and I were a little worried because we had forgotten our passports so we weren't sure if we would be allowed back into Manhattan. Everything thankfully worked out just fine.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Harry Potter and the City that Never Sleeps

I didn't anticipate when I started this blog that I would actually have a Harry Potter label as a way to organize my posts, but after the third blogpost about HP, I figure it's actually useful. After all, in NYC I have experienced THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP and a display of props and costumes from the movies at Discovery Times Square. I've referenced HP in random posts, because he has played a big part in my life over the last fourteen years (including when my frousins and I performed spells on each other during one of my cousin's weddings years ago, yup). I have also of course seen the last three movies in the city and even wore this awesome t-shirt during the last one:

I felt *so* cool

"Potted Potter - The Unauthorized Harry Experience" is an off-Broadway parody by two actors who go through the entire series of books and movies in one play. This was enough for Kat and me to want to go, although I think we paid more than one should for something like this. We went to the show the last Tuesday in June and saw a lot more kids there than I expected. Because I consider myself a full-grown adult and don't think anything strangely of me liking Harry Potter as much as I do, I sometimes forget that the HP series is actually for children. I thought the parody would be a little more adult-focused but some of the humor was very obviously for the easy laughs of the children.

I also thought the show would be just two guys acting out all of the books quickly, but it was more that they were acting out that they were acting it out, if that makes sense. Jeff was the HP expert and Dan was his friend who was helping him put on the play. They discussed on stage how they were going to act everything out and Dan "forgot" to get other actors and spent all of his money on the dragon in book 4 than on the rest of the set and the props - and the dragon (spoiler alert) ended up to be just a stuffed animal. The set Dan prepared contained a desk, a large colorful train for the Hogwarts express, a painting of a tropical scene with words on it saying "Forbidden Forest", a wardrobe "to get to Narnia", and a coffin. It became clear that Dan had no idea what he was doing.

The best part of the show was when we played a game of Quidditch in the audience. I had certainly never done that in a theater before. I wish I had volunteered to go up on stage and be a Seeker because really, when am I going to be on stage anytime soon, but they selected kids anyway so I probably sadly wouldn't have been chosen. The audience was divided into Gryffindors and Slytherins. Kat and I were Slytherins because you can't spell Slytherin without ERIN. A beach ball globe was thrown into the audience, goal posts were revealed, and fans came on to help the ball stay in the air a little better. Eventually, Jeff came out dressed as a snitch and the Gryffindors won because their Seeker fought a little harder to tackle him than ours did.

Potted Potter is only playing in NYC until September 2nd so if you want in, get your tickets now. You should definitely check it out if you are a huge HP fan and feel a void in your life without new books and movies and have already been to the Quidditch World Cup and to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, and have nothing HP-related to look forward to. But now what do *I* do to fill the void?


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Proud. To be. An American.

Happy 4th of July, readers!

My favorite patriotic picture of the last three years

I hope you all enjoy your Independence Day celebrations! My vacation has been amazing so far!

Some patriotic posts to tide you over:

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