A Queens Kind of Party

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A friend asked what Franco and I do these days.

I said, “Nothing really. Just read and drink coffee. Sometimes we see other humans, but mostly we just read and drink coffee.”

Gone are the days of drinking until 4 a.m. (though we’ve had nights like that). Or lying around recovering from nights like that (I guess one can’t exist without the other). Or riding planes, trains and buses en route to and from each other (because, hey, we live together now. WOO.).

Which means we have more time to do the things we do by ourselves, together.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re in New York! Aren’t you supposed to have lofts and go to parties in lofts and know people who know people who have parties in lofts?

Sorry, my friend. It’s not that kind of story. This is a Queens kind of story. An I’m-livin’-in-the-same-apartment-as-my-invisible-Greek-landlord-who-lives-next-to-some-gruff-but-nice-older-Greek-Italian-gentlemen-who-hang-out-on-the-stoop-all-day-talking-all-kinds-of-politics-and-societal-situations-but-still-remember-to-say-hi kind of story.

And in my story, we party, all right. We just do them alone. Or with one other person. Preferably somewhere quiet. Definitely air-conditioned.

At our parties, instead of drugs, we got sandwiches. Instead of kegs, we got coffee.

And for entertainment, we got them all. Fiction! Nonfiction! Sometimes with pictures.

So, hang onto your trousers. I’m about to show you a weekend in the life of us.

It doesn’t get any more exciting than this.

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After two years of writing, I’m in a period of consumption.

Often, it involves super important current events. Like, did you know Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen are dating? And Andy and April got married? And Miguel exists?

What a hoot.

When it comes to writing non-work-related stuff, though, I’ve totally hit a wall.

Hence, the DSLR.

It makes me feel like I’m making stuff.

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On this day, we’re about to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

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After growing up reading 800-page books about dragons and saving his lunch money for comic books, Franco’s 11-year-old self is finally vindicated.

Take that, super cool classmates with your super cool social lives! When you’re 30, you too will enjoy these delightful works without all the angst.

Hm. Well.

Moving on.

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After buying tickets, we sat across Kaufman Studios.

We sipped coffee. We people-watched.

Then we lined up 30 minutes early.

At 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I thought it was excessive.

gotgI was wrong.

In a distant theater, my brother was also watching the movie.

The following conversation took place some days before, but it gives you an idea of just how big a deal this was.

(He’s in grey.)

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The movie, by the way, was awesome.

I loved it. So did Franco.

We wanted to discuss.

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IMG_0247We Yelped.

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But ended up stumbling upon a quiet bar on a quiet street, and decided to go inside.

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With a name like Snowdonia, how could we not?

IMG_0271We had a table by the window I didn’t want to leave.

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So we stayed until the sun went down.

IMG_0274The next morning, we walked by the swankiest laundromat on the block.

IMG_0276And waited for a very special person.

The lady at the counter told us she’d be there at 1. Maybe.

It was 12:50.

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Eventually, she did roll in. The maker of delicious sandwiches.

“You look 18!” she told me.

“You must get carded all the time!”

If she weren’t so damn delightful, I’d still eat her banh mi.

But I wouldn’t be happy about it.

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OK, I’d still be happy.

Because look at that banh mi.

Just look at it.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

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To the ends of land

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I don’t have a hometown. Or at least I don’t have just one.

Saying Richmond feels untrue. By the time I moved there, I was a fully formed human being. Saying New York feels incomplete, because I spent a good chunk of my formative years in the Philippines. Saying the Philippines only touches on the beginning. And makes people ask what happened to my accent.

If home is where your heart is, then I’m a citizen of nowhere in particular, which is just another way of saying I have no real identity. I’m a mishmash of sorts, and for this I feel I can assume whatever personality I need at any given moment. I can blend in, use and lose my accents, one of which often emerges in a drunken haze.

“Where ees my MACdonalds?” I might say to you in slurred Taglish (Tagalog + English).

It’s one of the few remnants of my time on the other side of the world. That and my propensity to think I have some kind of survival skills in the outdoors. Like, if I happened to be left alone in the wild I’d be able to rub two sticks together and make fire. Or dip my index finger in my mouth before pointing to the sky and saying: NORTH.

It’s how I end up in these situations.

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On one of those San Francisco days when you can wear a T-shirt without having to pretend to be warm in it, I ended up on a leisurely hike. Leisurely, that is, as defined by avid outdoorsy people and He Who Kicks Ass For A Living.

As for me, I’d spent the last year walking three blocks to and from school and biking when necessary, like when I was in school super late and it was way too dark to brave the elements on foot (which, in downtown Richmond, is all the time).

Whatever dudes, I said to my imaginary naysayers. I can do this.

And do this I did.

I climbed some steps. I stood next to a wall. I walked on an incline so steep those 75-year-olds walking their Chihuahuas had no chance to get past me.

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The best part was seeing the many different shots I could take of the Golden Gate Bridge. The farther I walked, the more it revealed itself. There it went, behind a branch. And then between some shrubs. And then between some other shrubs.

I stopped every time I saw it, forcing the San Franciscans to surely roll their eyes. By the time I got to a clearing where the bridge was in full view, it suddenly was no longer picture-worthy. It wasn’t even trying anymore.

I tried quite a bit. I panted up some steps and paused somewhere mildly steep. I thought back to a dark period shortly post-undergrad when I ballooned and, upon stepping on an elliptical, immediately got tunnel vision. I now suspect there was a strong correlation between my beer pong prowess and the size of my stomach.

But that’s all in the past. I’m now in late 20s territory, where drinking is observed in moderation. Things come in dishwasher-safe glasses now, and I know just how long until I roll over and fall asleep (Not that I drink in bed alone or anything, ever).

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I even climbed atop a rock overlooking certain doom into more rocks. None of those pictures are here, of course, because I was too busy enjoying the view. But if some do happen to emerge and I appear to be crouching on all fours seemingly uttering a yelp of some kind, know that that was a momentary lapse of bravery.

I was very, very brave.

Grad school…

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Takes a lot out of you. 

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Which is why you need lots of coffee.

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On most days, I make  (meaning I press a button) coffee to-go. But on this day I’m on spring break, so I get to drink out of a mug.

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As well as eat cereal out of a bowl while, get this, taking my time.

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I spent most of break on this couch. I read a lot and wrote a lot and slept a lot. I originally wanted to take a trip, but turns out being a grad student means having very little money. Just like being a professional means having very little time to spend that money.

The universe thinks it’s funny.

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Being a wallflower goes against what our professors tell us. The industry doesn’t favor wallflowers, they say. We must seize the day. Say our piece. Be in people’s faces.

But I think that assumes too much. Wallflowers see the world differently. They listen and absorb, and speak only to add value. They too seize the day, say their piece and get in people’s faces. Just sneakier. And, dare I say it, smarter.

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A reminder there’s life elsewhere.

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This needs no explanation.

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Postcards from different places, mostly New York, quotes and, ahem, manifestos, drawings by me and others, and some ad-like objects from first semester.

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My apartment has become a shrine for all the things I don’t have time to read. Here lie the magazines I subscribed to back in the days I had just a little more time to read them.

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I love that desk. It just sits there, looking pretty.

So there you have it, friends. I’m still alive. I still have much to tell you.

Art & Basketball

Before the Final Four, VCU was mostly known in the art, advertising and medical space. Sure, it didn’t make for much of a retort in a gathering of university students (“So what if our football team doesn’t exist?! We create art things!!!”), but it’s what I loved about it.

Group chants and rituals were foreign to me. I never understood the wonders of donning university clothes and, upon stumbling into a fellow Ram in a foreign land, taking part in acknowledgement: You, there, in that shirt that is similar to mine in color and origin that signifies our divergent yet shared experiences – you, my friend, rock.

The few times I got a taste of this elusive school spirit was with Hokie Nation, which I engaged in as a mere observer. I mimicked said chants and rituals, but they came from a detached place. Whenever I raised the ridiculousness of throwing away a perfectly good night after some sort of loss I couldn’t quite grieve, people simply said, “You just don’t understand.”

And I didn’t.

How could I? Blind sports fanaticism went against my very nature. I was always more into independent ventures than following the herds. While I loved certain things and ideas and people, I had no aversion to disagreeing when I felt it was warranted. In fact, I relished it.

Then came the Final Four. “Aren’t you excited?!” people asked. “The Rams made the Sweet 16.”

“What’s that?” I said.

More out of curiosity than school spirit, I tuned into this mysterious, saccharine-themed event. And there he was, this young super coach who oozed charisma. I, of course, was fascinated. I Wikipedia’d. And Googled. And read and read and read. It was a storyteller’s dream – the underdog who rallied a band of underdogs to conquer the mighty ones.

I was reminded of sports’ mystifying ways of bringing out the best and worst in us. And, perhaps more significantly, that nothing else is quite as unifying.

Suddenly, even in corners farther than the corner of my coast, people responded. No longer did I have to say, “Well, it’s in Richmond, which is about two hours from DC…” Instead, it was they who nodded: You there, with your affiliation to the university that spawned that wonderful run – you, my friend, rock.

They understood. And suddenly, so did I.

When I heard VCU was getting a contemporary art institute, I was pretty excited. I was even more excited that the architect was unveiling the design in an exhibit in New York. Last week, my roommate and I headed to the opening reception in Chelsea to check out the models and renderings.

I can’t quite articulate a building’s relationship with its environment like a true architecture nerd can. Nonetheless, I’m an admirer of design, shape and pretty things.

This, to me, says: Look at me, world. I am kind of rad.

It was so neat to have two of my worlds collide. In true creeper form, I eavesdropped on a conversation about Richmond and VCU between (I think) one of the architects and a woman. They talked about the city’s bars and restaurants and southerness.


This is me. Standing awkwardly after about four or five other awkward shots of me not knowing what to do with my hands, feet and, oh I don’t know, face. I am officially terrible at this.

This is Leah, officially not terrible at this. When she asked me to explain this Forking Time thing, I proceeded to read aloud the text on the page. She wasn’t impressed. (Note: This picture was taken at another exhibit.)

This is us, together. Behold our magical feet.

And away we went, gallery hopping into the night.

 Photo credit for watercolor: Steven Holl Architects
More art institute goodness here