How to Lurk Without Dastardly Intentions

Lurking is one of my favorite pastimes.

Sure, it’s often associated with creepiness, what with it also being the favorite pastime of shady characters with hooks for hands, red feathery sombreros and slender yet pointy mustaches. Sure, you’re probably tempted to follow up each mention with “in the shadows.”

But lurking isn’t exclusively for dastardly deeds. It can even happen on a gorgeous afternoon. Saturday was one of those days.

Before I go on, let me preface this by saying it almost didn’t happen. I’d spent much of the morning lounging and reading and surfing (the dry land interwebs kind) that by the time I was ready to go exploring, it was well into the afternoon.

No matter, I thought. It was time to dust off the good ol’ DSLR, charge the batteries, and head on out.

The charger. Where was the charger? Not in the usual spots – the camera bag, on my desk, under my desk, under the bed, in the overhead closet, on the bottom right corner of the closet. It wasn’t in the common rooms or common closets or common nooks behind the couch.

Forty-five minutes of fruitless searching later, I panicked. I CAN’T GO ON. MY BLOG WILL CEASE TO EXIST. AND WITH IT MY WILL TO WRITE AND LIVE AND STUFF.

I then decided to do the next most logical thing. I would research DSLRs online, go to Best Buy, buy a new camera despite not having the funds for it, take pictures and somehow do it all before it was supposed to rain. In two hours.

And then I realized that was impossible. So I panicked some more.

As a last resort, I consulted one of the most amazing tools in reconnecting the dots of my scattered existence: my blog.

I knew the last time I traveled with the camera was here. The charger, I surmised, was either at the beach house or inside the cold, heartless depths of the bin that is airport security.

But then I also knew I charged my batteries right before doing this. Which meant the charger had to be in the apartment somewhere.

And then, I knew.

Looking back, it was quite elementary, my dear reader. The charger, I realized, was clearly on the left side of the closet, next to the ironing board, under a mound of sweaters I hadn’t worn in years and probably never will again.

The lurk was on.

I’m often asked (by my imaginary readers) just how to effectively lurk. I’m by no means a professional, but I’ve spent enough time creeping about to dish out some words of lurkdom. It’s actually very much like walking, which we all do in varying degrees day to day. What sets it apart from snapping a picture on the way to something is there’s intentional exploration involved. That’s where it gets a little less comfortable. Instead of nonchalantly snapping pictures on the way to something, this IS the something you’re walking to. It adds a bit of pressure and an element of “Oh man, am I doing this right?” You’re probably not. Because there isn’t one right way to do this.

The best thing to do is not to over think it. Here are some things that have helped me.

To effectively lurk, you must be incognito. So, put down your multicolored jeggings for now. It’s all about blending in. As for me, I wore the New Yorker uniform: black sweater, black jeans, black flats and black backpack.

Be flexible. The original plan was to gett off at Union Square and walk about 15 minutes to a coffee shop in East Village. But when I emerged from underground, there was so much activity there I stayed.

Observe. I honed this through reporting and from watching the photographers at the local papers I worked for. I must admit that blending in is much easier just with a notepad and a pen. With a camera, people get nervous. Sometimes they want to engage. It’s useful for a little bit of color, but sometimes it results in awkward pictures. I find that it helps to linger long enough for people to stop caring you’re there.

Observing means taking note of the little things. Just because there are 50 people taking pictures in the same place doesn’t mean you will all end up with the same pictures. I like to find funny or non-obvious things, preferably with people in it. I didn’t notice this until after I’d uploaded the picture, but this egg-grabber had bloody fingers.

Color is also neat. And don’t be afraid to get in people’s faces. I’m short, so I often get a lot of people’s backs and limbs in my shots. I don’t mind it, though. It adds movement and an insight into the plight of the vertically challenged.

Sounds are important. I wasn’t in the mood to talk that day, so I wore headphones without actually listening to anything. It’s useful for keeping some sort of distance between you and the subjects, and it also gives people the impression you’re not really listening to whatever they’re saying. Conversations are interesting. In New York, people are used to eavesdroppers and eavesdropping (One guy: “They inject it in your stomach?” Gross.).

The pianist, after a song: “We just met today. He got here two minutes ago.”

Be friendly. Maybe it helps I look 12 and harmless, but I find people are receptive to smiles. New York might be the exception in that people are used to having cameras around, especially on Union Square near the film school. In the event someone does say, “Get outta my face, you picture-taking chipmunk,” just admit defeat, put the camera down and slink off. The good news is, I haven’t had too many of those.

Be confident. The guy on the left actually gave me the death stare after I snapped this picture. He wasn’t having it. So, I did what any normal little person would do in the face of imminent danger. I stood next to him. He dared not look at me like that again.

I’d seen this guy before. Matthew Silver the Great Performer works for the universe.

Finally, just shoot. They say the best camera is the one you have with you (which explains why I’ve been Instagramming everything), but the DSLR has its purpose. I love its quickness and versatility. I love pretending I’m on a super important photo expedition somewhere exotic. I still get nervous when I pick up the DSLR for the first time in a long time. It takes a while to get confident with it. When this happens, I find the best thing to do is to survey the area, walk around, take a deep breath and just shoot.

Happy lurking, friends.

It was a Saturday

… when the snow fell. It was the kind of day most sane New Yorkers would have spent indoors, curled up in bed with hot chocolate, an SO or a four-legged substitute.

But Lola wasn’t daunted. She threw on her rain jacket and marched outside. Snow, after all, is her preferred form of precipitation.

I’d spent the last two weekends in full hibernation. With Phil and the beast in town, there was no choice but to go outside.

Luckily, the Manhattan-bound train actually made all the local stops in my hood (circuitous routes to the city are par for the course on weekends) and, get this, we got to Chinatown without me having to emit my patented grunt of MTA displeasure.

Why were we in Chinatown on a Saturday, aka the day of monster clusterfudges? Two words. Joe’s Shanghai.

There, we were seated at a table of high-schoolers who all knew each other (At least I think they were in high school. One of them had a full beard, and beards always throw me off). The bearded one dominated the conversation, which mainly consisted of them congratulating themselves on their decisions.

“Great call coming here.”
“My inviting you to hang with us is so justified, since you recommended that we come here.”
“We are so amazing at life.”

When they talked about their plans to go to Strand — one of my favorite places in the city — it was official. I wished right then and there that I was a full-bearded, self-congratulatory manboy.

Coincidentally, Phil and I also were going to Union Square because of a show later that night.

We had the choice to go to Strand ourselves (effectively surrendering from the challenge I presented myself in PROBAATD a mere day after I made it) or go to Barnes & Noble, book-filled yes, but at least with the prospect of distracting myself with coffee and a cookie.

The cookie won.

“Can you solve this — First 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e (e is italicized so I’m guessing it has some kind of mathematical definition)?” I texted my brother.

After some back and forth that involved terms like “sliding windows” and the answer being a “clever use of SQL” [1] (obviously things I would never say), he asked me…

Him: Why are you reading that at 8 p.m. on a Saturday?
Me: I’m at Barnes & Noble waiting to go to a show nearby. So there.
Him: For shame. Reading tech books on a Saturday night in the greatest city in the world.
Me: What are you doing tonight in the most presidential city within 49 states in the continental US?
Him: Going to the market to get icing so we can make donuts……………..
Me: You guys are wild.
Him: We’re going to use REAL EGGS for it too. Watch out — badasses coming through.

Outside, we ran into this. I later found out it was this. I kind of wish I saw it, but there was another kind of party to go to.

Fuerza Bruta (Phil would like you to know that he took this magnificent picture.)

I took a few pictures, but my BlackBerry pictures came out much better. I think it had something to do with the ethereal, grainy quality of the good ol’ BB and a much greater sense of wonder I had as a first-timer. It was fun nonetheless.

(Just to give you an idea of how slow-moving making concrete plans can be for two young professionals living in different cities: Phil said he wanted to see the show after seeing my post in June. We are now in an entirely different year.)

Afterward, we headed to the Lower East Side, only to find an incredibly long line at our destination.

I walked up to the bouncer: How long is the wait?
Bouncer: I don’t know. It’s like one in, one out.
Me: Seems excessive to me. (Looks at Bouncer #2 standing in front of a door adjacent to bar #1.) Are these the same bar?
Bouncer #2: No. Different. Where are you trying to go?
Me: I was trying to go there, but never mind. Got any recommendations?
Bouncer #2: Are you just trying to grab drinks somewhere?
Me: Yep.

He then opened the door to reveal a dark space with a second door that opened to a hidden bar. There was no photography allowed, but I’m pretty sure I was in Narnia. Except instead of talking animals, there were bartenders (I mean, mixologists). I’m pretty sure I  even saw Ryan Gosling(‘s cousin’s best friend’s sister).

There was only one way to end the night: a late-late-night stop at Crifs, land of bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with egg and sauerkraut.

But here’s the thing: the hot dog made it home. My phone didn’t.

After some mild (read: major) panicking that may or may not have involved me dumping the contents of my purse onto my bed while yelling “I can’t figure out the cloud!”, I eventually succeeded in tracking and texting it.

Just how did I approach the subject with my phone-napper?

“Hello. I am your conscience.”

I’ll never find out if such a message would have moved my phone-napper to repent, because this supposed napper turned out to be my friend. I’d left it in his car.

And so ended my Saturday.

How was yours?

[1] Upon reading this, my brother had this to say:

Him: Oh shit. That’s mathematica code not SQL. My stupidity is now shown on the internet forever.
Me: I’ll edit.
Him: No, no. It’s good. Leave it. It shows that I am human. Fallible.
Me: Is that a common error to make? Or is it like a writer mistaking “than” for “then”?
Him: Probably the latter. Two totally different languages. Two totally different meanings. The syntax is totally different.

And there you go, interwebs. He claims the donuts were his undoing, much like the hot dog was mine. Must run in the family.

In case you were wondering, the donuts were “Not bad, but could use more awesome.”