The “Watcher,” Vegas Psychology Tricks, and Horse Sashimi
Word on the Street: 8 Questions with Kristen
What am I going to encounter on the “ABCs of Alphabet City” Sidewalk?
My Sidewalk is about a neighborhood that has gone through a lot - and it is palpable. You’ll feel that sense of struggle and subsequent bond that forms. Alphabet City is a community of disparate characters, yet somehow they all fit together, whether through a community garden, a 50-year old dessert stand, or a politically-charged park.
It seems like there is a lot of talk about gentrification spreading into Alphabet City.
That’s true. Now is a rare, “in-between” time to see Alphabet City. Years ago, no one ventured here because it was too dangerous and the area didn’t seem to offer much to “outsiders.” That has changed over the past few years, but not so much so that we have a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s just yet. I don’t know if gentrification will be a 1 year or 10 change, but now is a brilliant time to explore Alphabet City.
What is something that surprised you as you created your Sidewalk?
There’s a guy I see everyday, holding court with his red walker in Tompkins Square Park - the unofficial Tompkins Square Park “Watcher.” While I walk past him daily, It took 3 years to become worthy of acknowledgement — first with a head nod and now a verbal “hi,” which is a huge step.
So while writing my Sidewalk, I actually went up to him and introduced myself. Turns out, his name is Tony, he’s 60 years old and has lived in the same house 2 blocks away, his entire life. Now that I’ve finally made it “in,” I feel like he’s got my back, should anything ever happen to me in the park. I like that. I’m proud to be on the inside circle.
What’s the craziest thing you have ever eaten?
Horse meat — in Tokyo. It was served as very thinly sliced sashimi. That was pretty gross. Really bland and tough. I’ll never do that again!
What is a place you are embarrassed to admit that you love?
Las Vegas. Actually, I’m not embarrassed about that at all. It’s an amazing city. I’m fascinated by how everything is done so intentionally to sherpa people through the experience. There are all these subtle tricks the casinos use to keep people spending money — pumping oxygen into the air, lack of clocks and windows, the busy carpets to hide dirt and keep your eyes focused on the tables — even if you do know “how the sausage is made,” you just have to go along with it anyway. Casinos have masterminded sociology to print money.
What is a must-have item when you travel?
Burt’s Bees lip balm. I think they put something in it that makes you addicted. If I don’t have it in my bag, I’m in trouble.
What is a foreign custom you find fascinating?
My mother is Indonesian, from Java, but she told me about a Balinese practice where they don’t let a newborn’s feet touch the ground for 105 days after birth. This stems from a Hindu belief that the baby is a reincarnation of a deceased ancestor, so the newborn is considered holy. So here’s a practice that is religious, but it probably also has good health benefits in terms of hygiene and infant mortality. That balance of religion and medical is interesting.
If you could travel with any stranger, dead or alive to anywhere in the world, who would it be and where would you go?
I would go to Tokyo with Helen Keller (activist who lived from 1880-1968, who was the first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree). Imagine being in Shibuya Crossing (the busiest intersection in the world) and learning how Helen Keller experiences a place like that. Can she feel the energy around her? Eating sushi with her would be a completely different experience. When I go somewhere new, I should ask myself, “What would Helen experience?” — just think about the things you might notice if you put yourself in her shoes.
About Kristen: Inquisitive at heart. Connoisseur of frozen pizza, bodega cats and useless fun facts. Lover of words, red wine and random acts of kindness.
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