New York City neighborhood bulletin

Men on the Street (STFU)

While I was walking down 59th street today to go to the 6 train and head home, I saw a group of about five guys surrounding a parked car, standing in the street and on the sidewalk, joking, laughing. I then noticed that their jeers were directed not within the group, but outside of it, to the woman walking in front of me. It was her they were yelling at.

“Hey! HEY!” they yelled, laughing at her avoidance as she kept looking at her phone and walking straight ahead, pretending she couldn’t hear them. Then one of the guys stepped in front of her, put out his hand in a gesture to say STOP, and she finally stumbled a bit to see what he was doing, and then he mimed rolling out a carpet for her to walk on.

She never reacted.

Once the train made it into the station after I stood on the hundred-degree platform for about five minutes, I closed my book, wiped the sweat off my face, and suddenly realized it was Saturday and remembered why I don’t visit Manhattan on the weekends. The train cars were packed, and so were the platforms, and this was going to be miserable. I thought about waiting for the next train, but it was going to be at least another five minutes, and it would be the same situation, so I just stepped on, balancing in the few inches of space available between the established passengers and the door. It closed, and I moved to an open space by the pole.

Sweaty Subway

Pretty much

Whatever guy was standing behind me sighed forcefully, blowing the hair on the top of my head. “Bro, it is TIGHT in here,” he said to his friend, laughing. I realized I was standing in between this douchey duo. “Tiiiiiiight!” I then felt a shift behind me, followed by pressure on my ass from what I felt like might be exactly what I didn’t want it to be. I moved a bit to make some space between me and this diptard behind me. At 51st street, diptard’s friend said his goodbyes between several unnecessary uses of the words “bro” and “dude,” and I moved to the other side of the pole and stood underneath an old man in a hat. He stood still, resting his eyes, and I figured I was now in a better position.

A few seconds into our journey to 42nd street, the train stopped. It was the longest time I’ve ever been stopped in the car of a subway train, and I kind of started to freak out a bit given the crowd. I started wondering how people would start reacting once they realized the train might be stuck indefinitely. While I’m entertaining myself with these thoughts, I catch the eye of diptard, who smiles at me. I do not smile back. I look away. Then I look down. I try to figure out where to look so I don’t have to make eye contact with this guy who I’m pretty sure earlier took advantage of the complete lack of personal space available on the train. But sure enough, a minute or two later, while the train was still stopped, I catch his eye again. He smiles again. I do not.

By this time, the old man I’m standing under, who had been praying quietly to himself while the train was stopped, had started to sing under his breath.

The train starts moving down the track again, and the old man stops singing and looks up, surveying the train and its many passengers.

We arrive at 42nd street and I get out, squeezing between people stalled, looking left and right, ducking under the arm of a tall man holding onto his girlfriend, apparently convinced that she will be swept away by the throng of people if he lets go.

I go down the stairs to the passageway that leads to the 7, and suddenly, some guy starts talking to me.

“Excuse me, miss.” I realize it’s diptard. I turn away and keep walking. “I couldn’t help but notice on the train that you have the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve eve–” I cut him off. I put my hand up in his face and said, flustered, frustrated, disgusted, “THANK YOU– I don’t want– just– get away.” At this point, I stopped walking so that he wouldn’t be escorting me down this disgusting, hot, subway platform. He says, “Alright, no problem,” with the confidence of someone who’s just had a woman tell him to get away from her, which, for many men, is unfortunately about as much confidence as they ever have, because the kind of guy who will rub up against you in the subway and breathe on your head and smile at you twice after he’s tried to catch your eye and gotten no response and STILL comes up and tries to hit on you doesn’t really care about the reaction he gets from women. At least, he doesn’t care if it’s encouraging. The more uncomfortable she is, the better, apparently.Douchey

As I watch him walk away from me, I notice that he’s wearing a sleeveless undershirt. Like everyone, he’s sweating. He’s gross. Like everyone. It’s a disgusting, muggy day in New York, and the subway is the worst place you could be. And yet, he hit on me. Which makes me wonder, what did he think was going to happen? The New York underground in the summer brings out the worst in everyone. You’re not going to make any kind of move on someone you like in this scenario. So why come up to me? What is the desired — or even expected — outcome?

Finally in Queens, walking down the street, I see a group of four guys talking. Two are sitting on a stoop and two are standing on the sidewalk, facing them. They are taking up the entire sidewalk, forcing me to walk through the group. And I know they’re going to say something. Because a group of men always says something.

As I’m passing the last guy, he says, “You are looking beautiful today.”


I wanted to turn around and say: Do you say that to every single woman who walks in front of you? Why? Why do you feel the need to say something to a woman just because she’s alone? Why do you feel the need to say something when you’re with your friends, especially? And if you hadn’t said something, could I have just walked by unbothered, or would someone have fulfilled the obligation of every shithead guy on the street to make women feel uncomfortable?

I wanted to say: It is not your duty nor your right to comment on how I look just because you can see me.

I wanted to say: Stop saying that kind of shit to women on the street. They don’t like it.

I wanted to ask what he wanted to happen in that scenario. I have never once heard of or seen a woman stop in her tracks, grateful for the catcalls (no matter what this article says). I’ve never seen a short fling or a longterm romance blossom from one stranger claiming the other was looking good on the street. So that can’t be what he expects.

But there’s no point to asking; I know the answer to the question. To look cool in front of my friends. To make you feel uncomfortable. To make myself feel stronger/better/more manly by exercising the power that I have as a man (especially with my friends here to back me up) over some woman who’s walking alone on her way home.

Domaine Baillat winery

How Americans can live in France (without teaching English!)

At some point in every traveler’s life, one will ask oneself, “Could I be an English teacher?” And one will ask that question because it seems like the only feasible way to travel and live around the world is to teach English. This, at least in the countries where I’ve worked, is because a business has to prove to the government (in order to get a work visa for an American) that they must have an American — youhopefully — do the job, and only an American. And typically the only job an American can do better than a native of the Czech Republic, Turkey, France, et cetera, is teach English. The odds are in your favor here.

But it’s a bit of a mess to get a work visa as an American in Europe. Should a company or school choose to hire you over the many other qualified and likely more experienced candidates, you have to have time and money to get through the process. Here, the odds are not in your favor.

It’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. What’s more likely is that, if you search long enough, you’ll find a job at a school, but you won’t get a work visa. They won’t even try to get you a work visa, opting instead to  pay you in cash, “under the table,” as English teachers have learned to say. (Shhh, don’t tell!)

So once you decide that you don’t want to be a teacher, you better start looking for other options. I won’t lie: there aren’t many, if you’re a regular ol’ Joe like me and the thousands of others who take the TEFL route.

Option 1 of 1: WWOOF: Willing Workers on Organic Farms
They change the acronym all the time, but WWOOF (not to be confused with stood for Willing Workers on Organic Farms in 2012.

Most people are familiar with the basics of the program: offered in countries all around the world, WWOOF seeks to make the connection between people who are willing to work while they travel with farmers who need a little extra help. You don’t get paid, but you get free housing and food.

Each country, from Canada to India, Afghanistan to Brazil, has a network of hosts. To view the network, you have to subscribe to a country’s listing. Gaining electronic access to the list costs 20 euros (and I think it grants you access for a month from what I remember), which is a bargain when you consider that you’re getting set up with real people who are looking for volunteers like you. You’re completely avoiding getting spammed or tricked into something. These are real people from around the world who need help.

Interested already? Check out France’s subscription page

Once you pay the 20 euros (PayPal being the preferred method of payment), you can look around at locations and settings. You can work on a farm in Normandy or on a vineyard in southern France (remember, I just have French experience with WWOOF). You then email the hosts of places you’re interested in to see if your schedules work together (they may not have room for you when you want to go), and if everything works there, you make a plan.

Kuba and I picked a few favorites and Googled what we could about them (many have their own websites) before we emailed Christian, who seemed to be a very nice man, about coming to work on his vineyard. We were very grateful he approved, as we made a last minute decision to leave Istanbul about a month before we had originally planned. We had no money and, if we left Istanbul, no jobs, so WWOOFing was our only hope. It was so great to have that option for the in-between moments of travel.

I have a few blog posts about working in Montlaur on Christian’s vineyard, but the highlights were that he was a very kind and generous man, the village was gorgeous, and the work was easy (five hour work days are a piece of cake). It was a vacation to stay there with him and help him out.

But beware: not everyone has this experience. We heard WWOOF horror stories from fellow volunteers while at Christian’s. Therefore, I would advise looking into and talking with potential hosts as much as possible (without annoying them!) to get a good feel for what the environment at particular farms is like. Some hosts are very strict. Some, like Christian, just need a few extra hands on the vines and like to have meals together.

Do a little research, get excited, and go WWOOF!

Prague beer fest

Travelers: Not brave, just desperate

I don’t know how many times I’ve told someone about a trip and they respond with, “I wish I could do that!” Or how many times I’ve shown pictures of a new city I’ve visited or exotic food that I’ve eaten and people say, “LUCKY!” or “So jealous!” Of course, these could just be nice comments from observers, not saying anything more than “Congratulations on having fun” in a less formal way.

But I’ve also come across people who really mean it. They really are jealous. They really do wish they could do it, and somehow separate things I’m capable of from things they’re capable of.

This is how I saw things when I was 22: basically, you can start your career, or you can travel. One is “safe” and one is adventurous. One is responsible and the other a way to have fun before you get too old/start working for your retirement/get married/have babies/accumulate so many obligations, material goods, and debt that you’re tied to your life as it is today for as long as you can imagine.

You can chase money, or you can live your life. There’s a certain amount that you need to eat and sleep in a bed and live. Whether you live comfortably or safely or just adequately is up to you and your needs. But you don’t need much. You just have to decide what you really want.

Anyway, here’s how I did it, savingonmininum wage — or close to it.I couldn’t find a job after I graduated college. So I worked at a summer camp, just to get out of Oklahoma for the summer. It was temporary and it was in Idaho and it was at a Lutheran camp (I know nothing about Lutheranism and had only recently learned how to pronounce the word “vicar,” though I still couldn’t tell you what it is). I think I made less than $2,000 that summer and I worked 18 hour days most of the time. None of that money went to my travels.I came back to Oklahoma with as many prospects as I had left with: none. So I took my aunt up on what was probably just an empty, albeit polite, offer to house me in her basement in Denver while I looked for jobs there. For three months, I worked at Ann Taylor Loft and saved what I could. Then I moved back home.

I continued working at Ann Taylor Loft in Tulsa for $9.50 an hour. I also got a job at a liquor store for $8 an hour. And with those jobs, living with my parents and not paying for housing or food, I was able to save to go to Prague to teach English. The only expenses I had were car insurance and gas, which probably totaled around $250 a month.

I get that I was lucky to live with my parents after college. But at the time it really sucked. It was a blow to my ego and it made me feel like a real loser. But I still could have saved up. It would have taken me a lot longer working two part-time jobs and getting paid less than $10 an hour, but I was also living in a city with one of the lowest — if not the lowest — costs of living.

I chose Prague because it was also a cheap city. They had a legitimate school (TEFL Worldwide Prague) where I could get TEFL certified in a month and gain teaching experience, and I felt comfortable with the idea of committing to a few months — one, at least — in the city.

I had no idea what I was doing. I was scared shitless. But I also didn’t want to stay in Tulsa, Oklahoma for the rest of my life and start working for my retirement at 22. So I just went.