ReadyMade Magazine: Hitching Post

February/March 2006

Hitching Post:

Six standout proposals that put "Will you marry me?" to shame

I told my fiancé straight up—no public engagement crap. If you put my name on a Jumbotron, I will say no. Mind you, Chris and I had already decided to get married. Our egalitarian engagement felt right, but we missed the element of surprise. Plus, my great-grandmother's ring was waiting for me, and I hoped he'd ask my mom for it.

One Saturday in May, Chris handed me a note that began, "Your mission, should you choose to accept it…" Then he walked out, and I walked into a well-plotted treasure hunt through my favorite New York City haunts – Mayrose Diner, Veniero's (an Italian bakery that serves my favorite napoleans), Other Music, and the Strand. My dearest friends, who had flown in from across the country, were the treasures at every stop, and each person had a pre-written clue to give me that would lead me to the next destination. The tour finally landed me at home, where Chris was waiting with a small black box and my family ring. After that day, my usually skeptical mother started saying, "If you don't want him, I'll take him.


Wired: She's Got Code

December 2005

She's Got Code

At age 5, Arfa Karim Randhawa saw her first computer lab. She remembers wondering, "What's inside these boxes?" At 7, the schoolgirl from Faisalabad, Pakistan, was PowerPointing with ease. And by age 9, her father, a UN peacekeeper, persuaded a local technology institute to let her enroll. She passed the final exam after four months of study and became one of the youngest Microsoft Certified Professionals in the world. That title mean she's qualified to help businesses put Microsoft products and technology into action.

Back in Redmond, the brass was impressed. In July, they flew Randhawa and her father to Microsoft headquarters, so Bill Gates could meet the whiz kid. She politely grilled him about the dearth of women working for his company. "Come to Pakistan," she told him. "You'll find women interested in technology." Now 10, Randhawa is working toward a lead developer certification. In the long term – say, by age 15 – she hopes to become the youngest MIT or Harvard grad and then to return to work in Pakistan. Watch your back, Bill.

Arfa Karim Randhawa

BUST Magazine: Nathan's Famous

October/November 2005


Discovering the wicked wit of Vijai Nathan

"My comedy is the equivalent of showing my balls," says Vijai Nathan. To illustrate her point, the comedienne recalls a comedy festival performance she gave in South Africa. "There was the 'Mainstage' and then there was 'The Danger Zone' where all of the performers were men, and two of them got naked," says Vijai. "After one Mainstage performance where I talked about sex as an Indian-American woman, however, they switched me to The Danger Zone." This last bit makes her smile wickedly. Apparently the festival organizers weren't hep to the fact that Vijai's standup covers it all, from her father's Playboy collection to her dating habits: "For a plate of curly fries, I'll blow you."

Vijai NathanNegotiating tricky race relations is also a hallmark of the 33-year-old's work, since she credits racism for bringing her to comedy. "I use humor to get back at the racists I encountered growing up," she says. Vijai was raised in a predominantly white Maryland suburb, where she faced various challenges because of the way people saw her. "I was the only 'black' person in my elementary school, so I once played the role of Martin Luther King, Jr." She pauses. "I also played Tooth Decay." After college, Vijai saw an ad for a comedy workshop, took two sessions, and was hooked. "Comedy freed me. Onstage, no one could tell me that I couldn't be who I wanted to be." After a few years doing "really bad Clinton impressions," Vijai started talking about her family, and she hit pay dirt. "I connected with audiences by telling my truth." For Vijai, that truth includes hilarious anecdotes performed lovingly in her parents' India-inflected accents, like the one about the day her mother overheard her singing along with Madonna, and put a stop to it by insisting, "Vijai, you are not like a virgin, you are a virgin!"

Last year Vijai was named one of the "Top Ten Standup Comics of Color" by NBC. She recently adapted her one-woman show, Good Girls Don't, But Indian Girls Do, into a screenplay and is "dying to write a musical called Bollywood Bitches." But despite the strong ties to her heritage that she retains throughout her many projects, some audience members still just don't get it. "At one show in the South," Vijai recalls, "a drunk guy in the audience hollered, 'Woo! Keep it going for the Cherokee!'"

Village Voice: Best of NY 2005

October 12-18, 2005


Best Halloween Doggie Costume Contest - GREAT PUPKIN
Big Bird. Yoda. Spider-Dog? You'll see these costumes and more at the annual GREAT PUPKIN in Fort Greene Park, where hip dog-owners clothe their canines in witty costumes and vie for prizes. Last year, a little pug dressed as Neo was a crowd pleaser as he gobbled gruel from a dish. Warning: There is a high potential for cuteness overload at this event, so bring your camera.

Best Place to Sit on Library Books - BRYANT PARK
Next time you lounge on BRYANT PARK's grass, consider that 1.5 million books are less than six feet below your butt. Thirty-seven miles of the New York Public Library stacks run beneath the esplanade, in a storage facility added in the '80s. With books below, trees can't put down sufficient roots on the lawn, which is one reason for the open space. And you thought it was so you could see the big screen.
42nd Street and Sixth Avenue, Manhattan

Best Place to Do Tobacco-Related Research - GEORGE ARENTS COLLECTION
George Arents would have been pissed about the smoking ban. He bought his first book about tobacco at 17, and 60 years later, he owned almost every important tobacco-related work, plus many literary works that refer to tobacco only incidentally (Jack Kerouac is in good standing here). The New York Public Library now houses the GEORGE ARENTS COLLECTION, where researchers browse while being watched by two cigar-store wooden Indians. No smoking in the room, please.
Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, Manhattan 212-642-0110

Best Place for a Morbid Yet Scenic Picnic - PRISON SHIP MARTYR'S MONUMENT
Taking your gloomy girlfriend on a date? Settle into the grass beside the 143-foot-tall PRISON SHIP MARTYR'S MONUMENT. The nearby crypt holds the bones of 11,500 people dumped off British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Thoughtful (and weird) Brooklynites saved the bones that washed up on the shore and eventually housed them here. Cast your eyes over a lovely view of downtown Manhattan while you enjoy the creep-out factor.
85 South Portland Avenue, Brooklyn


Best Place to Avoid Farting - QUIET PARTY
The QUIET PARTY's creators bill their Silent Dating as a unique scene and cultural phenomenon. Guests use paper and pens to scribble notes to each other in absolute silence. This quirky way of meeting people is a great way to break the ice, but what happens if you need to, uh, break wind? Best to skip that heavy meal at Mama Mexico before socializing silently.

Best Place to Get Aroused by Writing Instruments - FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL
Pen perverts have been hitting the FOUNTAIN PEN HOSPITAL for a quick fix since 1946. Their shiny glass cases house hundreds of sexy fountain pens from Aurora to Waterman, and they don't mind (too much) if you salivate over the curvy bodies and rich lacquers. For a strangely sensual experience, check out the Namiki-Pilot Vanishing Point Collection, which features fountain pens with delicate nibs that retract into the hard metal body. Oh, ecstasy!
10 Warren Street, Manhattan 212-964-0580

They're naive, nubile, and approaching a quarter-life crisis. Recent graduates are perfect for a sexy summer fling! Disregard the Barney-purple robes carpeting WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK ON NYU GRADUATION DAY; underneath, the youngsters hunger for life experience. One drawback: You can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone deep in debt, but face it--you're not looking for a sugar daddy. You want a sweet-faced baby boy who'll be good to his new hot mama.


Best Anarchist Political Folk-Punk Singer - MISCHIEF BREW
Erik Petersen, a/k/a MISCHIEF BREW, has the face of a sweet teenage boy about to get into some serious trouble. His music is a gypsy mix of folk, punk, and swing. The androgynous characters in his foot-tapping tunes lament the current condition of these United States and blaze alternative paths. And did I mention he's also a cutie?

Best Open-Air Opera Singer - SCOTT REIBURN
On warm summer nights, you might hear SCOTT REIBURN's rich baritone voice floating through Fort Greene Park. The jolly Juilliard grad says it's the best practice space in the city, so when he wants to let loose those golden pipes, he serenades the neighborhood with everything from Mozart to Donizetti, making Cumberland Street feel like Piazza della Signoria. His arias have another benefit: When they hear opera, creeps scurry away.
Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn


Best Scent Indulgence for Your Inner Goth - BLACK PHOENIX ALCHEMY LAB
The liquor may be illegal, but you can buy a vial of Absinthe fragrance from the BLACK PHOENIX ALCHEMY LAB website for 20 bucks. The brainchild of Coney Island native Elizabeth Moriarty, this online perfumery specializes in wicked scents like Embalming Fluid, Kali, Dragon's Blood, and Danse Macabre. BPAL (its name among friends) has a diehard following that waits upwards of 30 days to receive these olfactory delights.

Best Clothing-Style Names - JILL ANDERSON
Where else can you buy a slinky gown called the "Get Lucky Dress"? (Devotees swear that it really works.) What about an "Italian Widow's Dress," "Sunday Cinema Pants"? Word nerds and clothes-horses alike are extended family at JILL ANDERSON's boutique. She offers well-cut wear and timeless designs, and her rea-woman sizes make everyone happy. Check out the discounted Green Garb – gently used pieces that have been "recycled" by previous owners. 331 East 9th Street, 212-253-1747


Best Automated Voice - U-SCAN LADY
The U-SCAN LADY guides you step-by-step through the oh-so-difficult process of scanning your own groceries in the express lanes at large supermarkets. She seems nice enough, but it's hard to engage her in conversation, perhaps because she's so damn insistent that you "please place the item in the bag." She sounds tipsy when she asks, "Do you have any coooopons?" but cut her some slack--she has to entertain herself somehow.


Best NYC Contributor to Bush's "Healthy Forest Initiative" - ASIAN LONG-HORNED BEETLE
This creepy crawly isn't on the Bush Administration payroll, but it should be. Introduced into the area in 1996, the ASIAN LONG-HORNED BEETLE is a lean, mean, tree-killing machine. Its one-inch-long body packs a punch: Once it tunnels into the trunk, the tree is dead. If the parasite spreads, it could devastate our national forests. Luckily, the infestation is still limited, so it's possible to eradicate the critter before it teams up with the Bushies.

Time Out New York: Give 'em Hill

TONY Cover

August 25-31, 2005

Give 'em Hill

An obsessive collector and eccentric sisters share stories from their Brooklyn neighborhood.

Frank Cassa leans against his refrigerator and tries to push it aside, saying, "I want to show you this wall." The wall in question holds part of the world's largest spoon-rest collection (680 and counting), currently housed in his kitchen. Cassa's obsessive collecting has earned the energetic 88-year-old a day in the spotlight as part of Clinton Hill Art Gallery's "Summer Sizzle Series." On Sunday 28, Cassa – along with two other Clinton Hill characters, Joan and Margaret Vincent – will share firsthand accounts of the neighborhood's history.

"These chats are another form of art that we're bringing to the community," says gallery owner Lurita LB Brown. She began the series as a complement to her permanent exhibit of Brooklyn-based artists. "Older folks can chat it up for a long time," she says. The vivacious storytelling style of Cassa and the Vincent Sisters impressed her, inspiring an event called "I Remember When..."

The talk will take new residents and old-timers alike back to the time before Clinton Hill was an "it" neighborhood. What was once "Brooklyn's Gold Coast" because of its wealthy industrialist residents – most notably oil baron and Pratt Institute founder Charles Pratt – changed into a vibrant working- and middle-class neighborhood in the first half of the 20th century. Like neighboring Fort Greene, Clinton Hill lost much of its sparkle in the '70s and '80s. But as anyone who's tried to rent an apartment on DeKalb Avenue in the last few years will attest, the neighborhood is back in a big way.

Frank CassaAnd Cassa has been witness to Clinton Hill's evolution since he moved there in 1940. "My life has been very historical," he says, perhaps referring to his spoon rests, or perhaps his birthplace ("Union Street -- where Al Capone came from"). The spoon rest collection started in 1970, when Cassa's wife Katie – whom he met at a dance in Fort Greene Park in 1940 – brought home a sky-blue spoon rest from the couple's cruise to the Bahamas. After her death in 1992, Cassa continued Katie's collection to honor her memory. Friends and family brought home spoon rests from far-flung vacation spots – enough to garner Cassa a place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998. But he shares the glory with the woman who started it all, saying, "When I get to 700, I'm going to inscribe on Katie's tombstone – GUINNESS BOOK WORLD RECORD HOLDER."

The event's other speakers, Joan and Margaret Vincent, first met Brown when they came to her shop to have their baby pictures framed. The sisters – who always dress in color-coordinated outfits -- coyly eluded questions about the age of the photos, saying, "They've been around – well, since we were one."

Joan, who is about four years older than her sister, and Margie (with a "g" like "Fergie") have been turning heads in Clinton Hill since the 1930s, when their family moved to Brooklyn. "They love the diversity of the neighborhood -- they've never considered moving," says Peggy Sammis, Margie's goddaughter. They'll strike up a conversation with anyone, and have only one off-limits subject: baseball. Margie roots for the Mets, while Joan is a die-hard Yankees fan. Though they're Brooklyn gals at heart, the sisters are also world travelers. At press time, they were cruising to England on the Queen Mary 2.

For his part, Cassa has been starting a new adventure right at home. He recently fed $30 into the stamp machine at the post office just to collect the change. "The 2005 dollar coins were coming out. They'll be worth money! Let me tell you, I got the stamps for nothing." He pauses. "I called up Coin World and told them about me, and they're looking into it."