New After School Activities. . .

Since my arrival in New York City I’ve tried to make a conscious effort to try new “things”.  “Things” outside of my normal activities.  Sometimes “things” that I’m not entirely sure what I’m signing up for.  But mostly any”thing” that is worthy of a story.  The following is a brief list of what I’ve gotten into so far. . . and this is only the beginning.

Free Documentary – I mentioned to a friend that I had attended a free documentary.  She said “well now you are definitely a New Yorker.”  I felt a sense of pride from her remark.  The first documentary I attended was at a local bar named Barbes.  The first Monday of each month the bar uses a back room normally used for live music to show a free film made by a local artist.  This particular Monday was a film about the history of Roller Derby.  Let me tell you, I had no idea Roller Derby had such a scandalous  past.  It was a story of betrayal, sex, money, power, and lots of girls in tiny uniforms on wheels beating the crap out of each other.  It was awesome.  

During the film I began to notice that I was surrounded by some members of the local NY teams.  If I would come across one of these girls in a dark alley I would turn the other way.  Don’t get me wrong, they all seemed very nice but they all had a presence that was quite intimidating.  After the documentary I was approached by two of the girls on the local team.  One was wearing a shirt that read “Queens of Pain”, the other girl’s shirt was inscribed with “Manhattan Mayhem”.  They asked how I liked the movie, to which I replied “it was educational”.  And then they asked if I would be interested in joining the local team.  Now, I just watched a documentary where the number of injuries I witnessed were almost too many to count.  By the end of the movie I no longer cringed or felt emotion when a girl would twist an ankle.  I thought long and hard before answering, because what better way to get a new hobby than trot around NYC in a “Hell on Wheels” t-shirt.  But thinking of my history with coordination I politely declined by letting them know I would bring the team down. . . literally. . . like take people out on my own team when I inevitably fell.  They appreciated my honesty and I left.  I walked home still thinking about how I now possessed so much random knowledge about roller derby.  Thank you free documentaries!

Happiness Art Show – I recently reconnected with a friend from undergrad with the help of facebook.  (Ahh facebook, the great people connector and best way to waste time when there are more productive things to be done.)  My friend, Irena, has been living in New York City for 5 years.  She was into computer programing and such (I say “and such” due to my lack of vocabulary to describe anything regarding technology) until she decided to return to school.  She is now a student at the Visual School of Arts in lower Manhattan.  After we had exchanged a few “oh my god, what are you doing these days” emails over facebook she invited me to come to her end of semester art show at VSA.  The theme of this show. . . happiness. 

I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect.  I remembered Irena as a bubbly, happy, love life kind of girl.  I wondered if this happiness themed art show would be all puppies, babies, and pink carnations.  I dusted the cynical chip off my shoulder and decided to go.  When I arrived there was cake and bubbling champagne at the door.  As I entered I saw a variety of large scale exhibits mingled in with the crowd.  The first exhibit I encountered was Irena’s.  Her idea of happiness had to do with celebrating and recognizing all the greatness in people.  She had constructed a stage and red carpet for people to walk on.  She also had made medals, trophy’s, and other shiny objects that people could hold while on the stage and have their picture taken.  Somewhere in the world, there is a picture of me on this stage holding a bronzed cat with the plate that says “You Are The Cat’s Meow”.  You’ve got to love Irena.  After spending sometime talking with Irena, me and my piece of cake wandered off to see what other students had created.  

One guy considered the happiness to revolve around bicycling.  He had constructed an enormous contraption of revolving bicycles.  Another girl felt that happiness was in the “trashy treasures” of life.  She had constructed her entire exhibit from garbage and items she had found thrown away.  She even had made a “couture” dress from used napkins.  (From afar I would have asked her where she bought it, up close I wanted to ask her if someone had had dirty fingers. . . some napkins were a little smudged.)  Her point was that happiness can come from giving old and used things new life.  That we should appreciate what we have.  Other exhibits featured board games of our childhood, candy and ice cream, balloons, and my favorite, a giant bed.  (Sleeping on an air mattress these days I was tempted to curl up in this exhibit.)  

I stuck around and soaked up the happiness for about an hour.  I found Irena and thanked her for the invitation and congratulated her on her work.  I am very HAPPY that I went.  I was amazed at the creativity that went into these displays.  I was also amazed at the detail and scale of these projects.  Thinking of some of the lousy papers I towards the end of my graduate program, if this had been my end of the semester project it would have been two popsicle sticks taped together.  These students, however, didn’t seem to lose any steam or drive.  All of their work was truly amazing.  With so many negative things in the world to focus on it was a privilege to be immersed in a room full of nothing but Happiness for an hour.

Secret Science Club – My constant quest for uttering sentences that begin with “Did you know that. . . ” has gotten prompted me to attend a Secret Science Club outing.  How does one find out about a science club that is secret?  Well it turns out you just need to sign up for a daily news letter called the Gothamist and such information is waiting for you in a neatly organized email in your inbox.  I guess they have misunderstood the definition of “secret”.  Anyway, this particular session of the secret science club was taking place at a pub in my neighborhood and covering the topic of memory and Alzheimer’s disease.  What better way to spend a Tuesday after work than hearing first hand about how my mind will start to deteriorate over the years.  I guess I have to balance out the week from all of my happiness encounters earlier.

After work I headed over to the Belle House, grabbed a beer and waited in an incredibly long line along with other secret science club members.  Who knew there were so many people seeking out strange information over a beer just like me!  I found it comforting.  In line I started talking to a guy who slightly resembled Christian Bale.  I was asking him how often the science club met, what topics had been covered, had he learned anything.  I wanted to ask him for his phone number and address because he was incredibly attractive, but figured I should keep things strictly science-y for now.  He talked about how he’d been coming to these for a year or so.  Topics had ranged from the human body to botany to submarines to electromagnetic forces.  I tried to make a joke about the science club being focused on one discipline but he was immersed in informing me that too many people who don’t truly love science are now attending.  I guess I was part of the problem and my attendance was probably bastardizing his view of the group.  Ooops.  He continued to talk about photosynthesis at such detail . . . for no reason. . . that I began to think he resembled Christian Bale from American Psycho.  I started to slowly back away and ended up faking that I had to use the bathroom.  

Once inside and seated the lecture began.  The lecture was given by a neuroscientist at Columbia University.  He showed many videos of tests being done on mice to show they could memorize skills.  I’ve never seen so many video clips of mice swimming in my life.  But basically you can teach an old mouse new tricks.  He also spoke about AD and how it affects the brain.  The lecture moved onto what our brain memorizes and how repetition helps.  He told us “In life, in order to be remembered you should strive to be above average or below average, we tend to forget the things or people who are just average.”  So my new life plan is to strive to be above average so people remember me.  My plan b is to be subpar if all else fails. . . I guess that’s the difference between being famous and infamous.  After the lecture I split pretty quickly since it was a school night.  I also wanted to avoid any other science conversations that would highlight the fact that I know nothing about science.  I would most certainly be open to attending another secret science club session. . . it is always good to learn more facts so I can wow people with my “did you know” sentences.

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