I skipped my last day of school to go to my first day of work. My first career day of work that is, I've been working in grocery stores and movie theaters since I was fifteen. Graduation day I took off work, other than that, college was behind me. Not long after starting, I put in two months notice of my resignation. Conversation with a superior led me to believe there was a long tradition of paying your dues and waiting your turn on the East Coast. I quietly declined this proud tradition by opting to base my career mobility on merit and work ethic in the West Coast. I read my name upon their shit list form the moment I mentioned LA, until the last time I stepped out their door. This means the following account of my first job is probably unfairly dystopian. This also means that there was now a countdown, a timed sprint to revisit and consume as much of the lingering NYC experience as my 10 to 7 job would allow. Unfortunately, this timer also counted down the remaining time to find a job from across the country.
A half buried hole in the Brooklyn Navy Yard was my first home after Pratt. It was the cheapest place I could find- sandwiched three ways between housing projects, an abandoned, rusting naval yard, and the underpass of a huge expressway where lunatics lived in wheel-less cars. Vines weaved in and out of broken windows and haunting echoes called from the ancient, towering ghost town at the end of the street. Cockroaches poured out of light sockets and holes in the kitchen tile. I kept my food and dishes in plastic containers. I took a mile's circuitous route to my front door after a certain time of night. I just kept telling myself LA was on the horizon.
A decent amount if this period was spent in painting in the cockroach free luxury of my friend's apartment.
Titmouse was the place of my first employment. And my first impression: they had upgraded up from the boutique studio of my internship to the multiple floors of a Manhattan skyscraper. The upgrade was in scale alone. A glass, electro-sealed elevator encasement room gave way to the dim, deep set cave. Spiraling downward, the studio was a heaped collection of heavily trinketed cubicles and offices. 9 or more hours of precious, limited NYC daylight were spent in the artificial glow of a computer screen. It was an dark, monitor lit burrow where people stuffed their outside lives. Each workstation was scattered with toys, posters, DVDs, books, figurines, stickers, printouts, stuffed animals, and all the countless other bedazzlements of contemporary nerd culture. Memorabilia from everything anime, comics, cartoons and sci-fi was crammed into those tiny work spaces. The whole building felt like that heavily curtained, vampiric bedroom of your nocturnal Summertime burnout friend from high school. The individual cubby-hole shrines where dotted indents in the cave interior, wrapping corners and spilling downstairs. Below, the most densely populated barracks of the ant colony merged to form one unified hole known as “the pit.” My seat was in the pit. Day after day I worked cleanup- the lowest peg on the artistic totem pole with a barely livable pay to reflect the status. Tracing other artists drawings proved to be less than creatively fulfilling, especially considering the unpaid overtime at the peaks of schedule madness. I wasn't surprised to hear the LA hate speak. I wasn't surprised to hear Veterans, founders, and other long time East Coasters had begun the migration out of the pit. Now that worker ants like myself were making the crawl towards the light, employee leakage and turnover were at an all time high. I could empathize with the panic and the loyalty. But I can also empathize with sunshine and a non hostile work environment. The judgmental passing remarks only served to reaffirm my decision.
My final appreciations of that New York vibe.
Bonding with my fellow dregs and interns of the pit formed a trench comrade. We'd time passing bosses to duck out undetected a bit early and catch the train uptown. Starring out the front window of a subway car feels like riding the world's largest mine train. A spotlight parts the sea of passing black- sending scurrying rats across wobbling tracks, jolting you to and fro with the lumbering body of the steel giant. Rickety beams and irregular side tunnels shoot past, offering unexplainable movement beyond the edge of the light. Our sketchbooks served a map through the Natural History Museum's forest of taxidermy animals, the transition of ecosystem charted in sketchbook ink: bobcat to buffalo to antelope to elephant. Even the endless river of tourist children ever asking "are you drawing?" could not damper the inspiration of the life size fiberglass whale hanging overhead. When our artistic muscles gave way, we'd collapse into a booth at Shake Shack and revel in the champion of fast food.
On ongoing, baseball related story had begun developing.
I used every second of my workday's lunch hour to locate my next job. Companies must fund the move for relocation hires, so they tend to hire locally. It was around this time that I began to lie about my "Glendale, California" address. The plan became to stir up my newly released portfolio among animation circles and hope somebody cared upon my arrival. It was a goofy plan but I had to leave no stone unturned. I produced a lot of artwork attempting online attention. The daily housework of searching for industry jobs without connections was upon me. Monday bought my domain name, Tuesday built my site. Wednesday emailed industry lunch dates. Thursday updated my resume. Friday paid film festival dues and filled entry forms. On went the carefully budgeted weeks, and countless online applications. My still functioning Pratt ID allowed my nights be spent sneaking into the Pratt labs, burning DVDs of my senior film, and sneaking out before the faculty spotted me. Lunch allowed my noons be spent mailing those DVDs to film festivals. I lived in line at the 34th street post office. Tall rows of windows gilded marble floors with midday light. Elegant, Corinthian pillars held the majestic patterns of art-deco ceilings skyward. My nearby neighborhood post office was a pantheon, a tribute to the city's scale and history. Yet there I stood, analyzing a mysterious stain where I once appreciated the scale of the architecture. I paid more attention to the florescent wash on the wrinkled frowns behind the counter then the surreal grandiosity of the building surrounding them. My tired outlook had allowed the magic of the once captivating city to fade. Forcing optimism was too difficult, I instead mailed more DVDs and redoubled my efforts to get the hell out of there.
Some of those DVDs landed, as evidence by Polaroids with new friends at the nation's biggest animation festival.
The clock crawled at Titmouse. 7 strikes, time again- uptown train- scrolling checks on a last minute to-do list: A trendy Manhattan restaurant, a comedy Club, a colossal toy store, and the Society of Illustrators. Past the venerable charcoal sketches from advertising's most stylist eras, round the creaking vintage staircase, I emerged onto to the penthouse lounge. First glance served a succession of quick montage cuts: violins, asparagus, a chandelier, and of course, an oaken bar beneath a stately painting of the room I was in. These accouterments and more seemingly ripped from a film set at a 1930s banquet. I felt young, sheepish.under-dressed, and out of place. But, I couldn't pass up the free meal my entry donation price coincidentally allowed this night. I had to come for the Maurice Sendak show- a favorite children's book illustrator. The Society of Illustrators however, lived up to its high sounding name, and I found myself wondering form the first floor gallery through prestigious halls.
A month-long sublet allowed me reprieve form the cockroach sanctuary and I moved for the second of three times that Summer. More Pratt ID magic delivered shopping carts on which I piled my all my earthly possessions and braved the war torn sidewalks of Brooklyn. Noisy, exhausted, and humiliated I shoved the heavy cart for miles through laughing brownstone cookouts and annoyed storefronts. My relative poverty lead to rather unpleasant solutions. On the plus side, the narrow buildings formed a forested enclosure hidden from city streets and available through the back door.
Half my time was up. I had made progress, however superficial. A website, a resume, a film, a demo reel, business cards, festival submissions, applications, scheduled lunches, and online attention needed only time to deliver results. Or so I hoped. For now, there was nothing to do by kick back and enjoy the breeze of Americana. The fourth of July exchanged music and aromas across Brooklyn rooftops. Ours was aluminum, giving the impression of celebrating independence day from atop either a solar panel, a lake of mercury, or the shiny surface of a sun-orbiting satellite. And although our NYC version of a backyard was coated in reflective silver, I've rarely enjoyed the spirit of the holiday so completely.
Time moved faster now, blurred together, drifted towards the centrifugal force of the impending move. Events and days melted to spin one activity into another: an outdoor bluegrass concert gave way to the 24 hour gas station where we waited for AM pancakes. This in turn gave way to a bizarre loft party where people disappeared in and out of indoor tents underneath the LED glow of a giant paper-mache jellyfish. A live orchestra kicked in and I was again returned to an outdoor venue where they scored Beasts of the Southern Wild live in the tepid New York night. Even the Brooklyn streets drifted past on long walks where friends and I said sappy goodbyes thinly veiled by talks of philosophy. shell shocked projects melted into enormous parks, into leafy, vine covered manors, into cutesy gentrified boutiques streets closed for the night, and finally back into my apartment's stoop. The drifting slid into a stillness and the walks came to a rest in a quiet, final goodbye to old friends.
I always move in the Summer. Farewell Texas.
See you soon, California.
A sucker for symmetry, I book ended my new York experience with a touch of sentimentality. Mike's dinner was the first diner I'd ever eaten in. Both my first visit to New York and my first, sleepless night at Pratt finished with Mike's diner. You can slide past the neon signs and into a booth dipped down cozy, eye level with the street. But this time I sat at the counter. I ordered a slice of pie and a black coffee. The old man beside me told me stories about Vietnam and I tried my best to trade him decent stories in return. We talked about California. He told me I'd be back. He said if I wanted to swap stories when I got back, I knew where to find him. I paid my bill and caught a cab to the airport.
Stay tuned, next time: California! Explanations for this and more!-
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