Tuesday, December 16, 2008

NYC <$20 a pair: Dumpster Diving on the Upper West Side

Score! (As we say downunder)

What's cheaper and choosier than finding a rococo chaise at the Salvos? Pouncing on a pair of apple green boudoir chairs turfed out with the trash!

It was precisely the good fortune of fellow Aussie Sarhys Page and me after emerging from a Cheap'n'Choosy night at the Hudson Hotel.

The hipper than thou Hudson - recently tarted up by Philippe Starck - turns hotel design on its head, with a pair of escalators bathed in a yellow light as the "stark" entrance, leading up to an impossibly dark lobby dominated by a dangerously low hanging mega-chandelier. (I need to publicly berate Mr Stark for placing mirrors in the ladies' restroom too high for anyone under 5-foot nothing).

On this night I was carousing with the first person to give me a break in advertising Downunder, John Doorley, and budding Aussie actress Sarhys (pronounced Sar-reece). We were partly celebrating being legends in our own lunchtime, having been featured in the same issue of Aussie coffee-table interviewjournal, Dumbo Feather.

(Click here to see the piece about yours truly in Dumbo Feather).

Planet pequeña!

We stumbled out stone cold sober as you do on a C'n'C binge, to spot this pair of ornate chairs perched on the pavement beside a pile of garbage bags.

"Oooooh, they'll match my kitchen perfectly!" squealed Sarhys. We hoisted them on our shoulders and made for the subway, getting all kinds of attention from bemused security guards and bystanders.

"You know you want 'em, getcha hairy eyeball off 'em!" yelled Sarhys over her shoulder.

On riding them down the escalators (see the video) we enjoyed even more leatherette envy.

"Ooooh, they'll match my kitchen perfectly!" squealed a woman to her friend. "I'll give you 30 bucks each for them!"

"Twenty bucks each," hissed a black gentleman lurking beside a post.

"Not enough!" shouted Sarhys.

"Tell him fifty!" advised another woman.

On the train we had the best "seats" in the carriage. I offered my seat to a fur-trimmed matron with pursed lips who pursed them even tighter and looked the other way.

I left Sarhys to get them all the way to Bushwick in Brooklyn, where they now adorn her kitchenette.

Update 2012: I knew her before she was a star! Sarhys plays feisty waitress in a new Melbourne web series, 6 SEEDS

Sunday, November 2, 2008

New York: Ducking overpriced workout gear at Daffy's

THE MOMENT I found an impossibly cheap'n'choosy yoga class in Manhattan, the next task was finding cheap-not-cheesy workout gear.

By cheesy, I mean the ubiquitous pastel pink, ice blue and minty green styles of the styleless triathlon world replete with arbitrary detailing. Chintzy inserts, piping and words like "Workout World" - for those who regularly confuse their sweats with their Sunday burka - who pays these "designers"? It's as annoying as those no-doubt all-male designers who insist on making pastel pink hiking pants for women. Oh yeah, give me some camel shit to smear on 'em in Egypt ...

I also dislike the arbitrary ornamentation on running shoes too. They Inc. would tell you it's for technical reasons, but I doubt it. I have a pair of ASICS "neutral" runners recommended by the knowledgeable hasher who sold them to me. They look like a crazy paver sewed them. They're white and an equally mud-magnetizing pastel blue. Apparently white is perennially popular because psychologically the color makes people feel "faster", whereas black gives one the sensation of concrete feet. I believe the arbitrary detailing is merely to justify exorbitant prices while keeping poor Chinese workers who can never afford Lasik chained to their overlockers 17 hours a day.

But I digress.

The first and most carbon-footprint friendly place to look for clothing in general, is the Salvation Army, Goodwill and other thrift stores. In that order. Especially for jeans - if you insist on buying a pair of $250 jeans when you can't really afford it, you deserve all the 20% APY coming to you. After scanning the racks on the Salvo's 22nd and 8th outlet and finding nothing, I had to ask the assistant: just where is your workout gear?

"It's the first to go, 'cos of all the gyms round here," he said.

Seems that even in hipster-central Chelsea, no one cares about fancy workout gear. Perhaps because gyms are the last place to actually meet someone. You just don't talk to anyone in those places - they're either herniating on their 10th set of bench presses or trying to hide their breasts or buttocks from you in the communal change area - as if we all haven't seen one, seen 'em all.

Next stop: TJ Maxx and Filene's Basement. Here, it's all spendy Calvin Klein, Nike and Danskin - at $34.99 is still too much for a pair of yoga pants because you gotta buy three - you sweat, right? And, fellow shorty pantsters, if you're 5' nothing, forget it. As usual, the pants are not only too long, they flare at the wrong spot for the shorter woman, so even if you hem the bottom you end up looking stumpy. You have to run them in expertly and who's got time and money for that?

I stumbled into Daffy's by accident - I was waiting for the Talk to Talk Wireless Crackberry repair shop (148 W32nd, NY) to open when the skies opened. I took refuge The store on 34th St is inconveniently upstairs. You have to take an elevator. You stand there with "lady of leisure, rampant consumer, call me Imelda" written all over your face as you wait to be whisked upstairs. You pass Staples and a school of further education on the upper floors ... add "and you should be studying something and expanding your mind not your wardrobe," to the left cheek.

At first glance Daffy's looks, in a word, dowdy. All those cardigans and polyesters and slacks. Who wears this stuff? Someone. And no real 'designer' names to give it edge, despite the reviews.

Ahh, but descend to the 6th floor. That's where you find an entire wall - and then some - of workout gear.

I got a pair of Capezio Dancewear Capris for $11.99, down from $54. This is a genuine discount - it's full price in specialist ballet stores. There seems to be a range called Dee Ha or something, which is the main discount workout label. The tops, tanks, bras and combo top/tank/bras are good looking except I found the elastic shelf bra too tight for me, not matter whether I tried on XS, S or medium. By then the rest of it was hanging off me like a Sharpei dog so I gave up. But if it fits you - great!

There's Fila and a few other brands too.

Good luck, and if you're smallish and shortish, check out the kids wear on level 5. That's where I scored the pair of Gianni Ferre houndstooth strides you see below, for 25 bucks, down from $180. What spoiled brat gets to wear these threads? An overage brat like me.


Friday, October 31, 2008

New York: Downward Dog Days at a Buddha's price

YESTERDAY I mentioned the donate-what-you-will daily yoga class at Laughing Lotus.

I did my second session this week, as one can, when a class is affordable and you're paid a Northwest salary in NYC.

The studio is on the third floor of an old building with an old lift and a big, cheerful orange and pink banner out front.

The 1 1/4 hour 'community class', offered at 2.30pm each week day, is taught by student or "blossoming" teachers, as they are called. The suggested donation on the website is $5.50, yet I understand attendees donate between $0 and the standard class price of $11, depending on their capacity. The donations are directed each month to a charity of the school's choosing - it was the Obama campaign at one time, the Tsunami another.

It's heated - great in winter - who needs Bikrim? It walls are painted with soft yet vibrant colors, depicting deities like Ganesha, "Lord of success and destroyer of evil and obstacles ... an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears, and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being."

It has ample change areas and mats to borrow. And the student teachers are, so far, excellent. I notice they teach with the kind of studied repetition and consistency you'd expect from students fresh from under a textbook, but this has huge advantages. For the first time in my life, I feel I am actually starting to remember the names of some of the poses or asanas. And I feel I can actually take home some sequences and start a home practice. Update: I have since become a certified Vinyasa teacher as of 2009

I like to use two mats because my cyclist's knees and shins demand it - or I'm gettin' old. If you're a hygiene freak, you might want to bring your own as you can be unlucky and grab a sweaty one, although the idea is to hang them up. Lately I've been bringing my a wafer-thin, foldable Gaiam Travel mat and placing it over a borrowed one.

Lotus sell some pretty fancy nice mats too, ranging from $40-50+ in  the usual polarfleecy colors like purple and green. Some, like that Prana model, are strangely rubbery but pleasantly earthy, resembling a dirt floor.

My favorite teacher, Randi, a willowy Katherine Heiglesque blonde, introduced us to three poses I had never come across in 30 years of doing fairly straightforward Hatha yoga.

First, the Airplane: This is like a hovering forward splits in thin air - balanced only on your hands. It is remiscent of Circ du Soleil's "Dralion", where a Chinese pre-teen mimics a Swiss army knife with her body - balanced entirely on one hand. Except we got to use two (whew).

Second, the Bird of Paradise, where you (somehow) bring your your leg up from behind and hook it over your shoulder as effortlessly as a double-jointed egret.

And third, the Compass, which I can't quite remember but it got my problematic right shoulder out of hibernation.

Sprinkling a good, solid class with a couple of advanced poses gives even nervous students a bit of a thrill, in the hands of a teacher who knows how to be welcoming and non-intimidating.

In a departure from most Yoga Classes I've experienced, the teachers do use music in their routines. This is more the norm in A.D.D. NYC, and only once did I have a hard time hearing because a particular teacher chose some jazz numbers and had it turned up way high. You might hear anything from reggae to Gregorian chanting to Alanis Morrisette. Strangely, after a while it seems like the way it should be.

Got flexibility - i.e. your schedule? I love this class - a gift of health and wellbeing to the working class of  NYC who don't report to Wall Street each day. Thank you Laughing Lotus.

Laughing Lotus
Community Class Mon-Fri, 2.30 - 3.45pm
By Donation

Pictured: Colin Freestone, a cyclist with a serious yoga practice. Read more about him in this trip report.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New York: Chowderhounds, rejoice - $3.50

Welcome Skintsters, to Cheap 'n' Choosy.

This blog was originally inspired by an article I wrote for the Eugene Weekly's Back to Campus Guide in 2005. Eugene is the land of the sliding scale, bartering for babysitting and 1001 different ways to make tofu palatable. It abounds with sub-5-10 dollar options to make you forget you're stuck in Eugene, like the amazing Pizza Research Institute's Vegan Chef Special slice, $4, or the Keystone Cafe's famous sesame oat pancake.

Even $10 is a big night out there, so the hunt for the superlative yet sub-$5 life experience has become my own private Idaho, ever since leaving Australia in 1997 to travel the world on a folding bicycle. Since then I've been sharing my finds for the discerning yet frugal fashionista, foodie and funseeker in my general Galfromdownunder blog.

But today, while partaking of a $3.50 cup of the dangerously addictive New England Chowder at the Lobster Place in Manhattan's Chelsea Market, I happened to share a table with a Barbara Morris of BakeOff Productions a la www.cookingwithamerica.com.

Barbara turns out to be a business writer, a foodie, a TV show producer, a yoga enthusiast, and educator - all the things that wag my waffle iron!

We got to comparing our lunch choices - her somewhat spendy lobster sushi which "didn't taste of lobster at all" and my scrumptuous chowder, probably 90% double cream - talk about telling your cholesterol to go take a hike! You know when you're hooked - you have a fridge full of food as I do at the moment, ample leftovers, a rotting banana, yet you make a resolute bee-line for an establishment, solemnly point out/dish out the object of addiction, mindfully pay then refuse a bag and lid because you know you're going to get stuck into it before you even locate a decent table. The Lobster Place's New England Clam Chowder does it every time. It's like eating pure velvet, with clams and potatoes chopped small and tender in a luscious creamy base. You'd never make it this way yourself because you'd n doubt blanch at the vat of cream in it. Best to skip that as a home recipe and eat it where the prep is out of sight and out of mind.

Barbara and I talked about food, books, tv, and why many businesses are so wrapped up in their own ideas about what makes good business they aren't clued in to what enables them to be paid. I usually reserved that kind of opinionated ranting for my FastCompany blog that I secretly hope no one reads if I ever want to work in this town.

Meeting Barbara inspired me to skip the absolute bargain donate-what-you-will daily yoga class at Laughing Lotus and kick start this blog.

The picture at the top of this blog is of the excellent $2.50 Magnum-knock off offered by the Euphoria Chocolate Company, Eugene. Right off the bike path, they dip a paddle of ice cream into a vat of hot chocolate then a vat of crushed almonds, hazelnuts or both. And remember - you can tell if an ice cream bar is real ice cream or just whipped up trans fat - real ice cream is heavy, fake ice cream, like those traffic cone shaped ice creams, are as light as a snowflake ...

I welcome your Cheap'n'Choosy suggestions. Together, we'll make affordable abundance a daily indulgence.