Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Androgynous Mystery

Woman 12/29/08

I love a good mystery. The twists, the turns, the investigations, the luck, and most satisfying of all, the answer. So, imagine my delight at having not one but two mysteries wrapped into one subject. I’ve searched online, and still no answers, so this is going to be fun for a little while. Though if I never get the answer it will ultimately be very frustrating.

It was the bag that caught my attention. From my vantage point, it was a large cardinal red canvas duffel with “Stanford Rugby” printed on the end panel. White accents, and a white panel across the length of the bag, with a name written in large black basic type.

The owner was wearing a snowboard jacket that was white with a cool grid print that reminded me of a city map. I couldn’t make out any brand markings on the jacket. It had light Carolina blue zippers and hoodie drawstrings. You could make out the grey lining since the jacket was open. There was a pocket on the left bicep and hand pockets lower down. Underneath was an unzipped black fleece and a red tee that I think read “Stanford Alumni”. I’m sure of the “Stanford” but the “Alumni” was partially obscured so I could be wrong.

Here’s the first mystery. The initial assumption was that this person was a guy. After all, large rugby bag with name typically points in that stereotypical direction. But, once I moved seats for a closer look ; shaggy hair like Ellen DeGeneres streaked platinum blonde covering forehead and ears, delicate angular face with slight acne on chin and around mouth, though no facial hair whatsoever. Add the round metal stud protruding out from under the bottom lip and the black eyeliner completed the face. The hands were small, clean and slim with manicured nails. Basically, all signs pointed to a woman. A young one.

She got up to leave and her beltless dark blue skinny jeans revealed a pair of dark green boxer shorts underneath. Her shoes were basic dark blue New Balances, though I cannot be sure. So, for a spilt second, the gender was really in question. Could it just be a wispy slight teenage boy? Or a young woman in college who is wearing a men’s snowboarding jacket, likes boxer shorts, and currently into her androgynous phase?

The second mystery just adds to this delicious stew. The name on the bag was “Jesse Gardner”. Looking up the Stanford Women’s Rugby website revealed no such person on the current or recent alumni roster. No name, nor a matching photo. The Men’s website is undergoing upgrading, but no such person can be found on the existing website. And a Google search has turned up nothing.

If she is not the team, is that bag her boyfriend’s or brother’s? Or a hand-me-down from another family member? It looked fairly new, so it’s not a second generation heirloom.

Two more little clues: a medium plastic Kinokuniya shopping bag, and a light olive-green Manhattan Portage messenger bag.

So, two mysteries. One more so than the other. But certainly both require answers.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reading Material


A quick glimpse at what NYC straphangers are reading on the subway.
(All readers are single unless otherwise noted in paranthesis)

Dreams of my Father – Barack Obama

Wall Street Journal (2)

Amazon Kindle Reader (2)

Human Factor – (author unknown)

New York Post (2)

Sing Tao Daily


InStyle Magazine

Eclipse – Stephanie Meyer

Nintendo DS

H&M Magazine

The Legendary Joe Meek: The Telstar Man – John Repsch

New York Daily News (2)

El Diario

Novena de Prosperidad – (author unknown)

Sublime meets ridiculous in holiday mailbag by Bill Simmons - ESPN.com printout

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Stylish in Winter

Woman 12/23/08

It’s hard to look fashionable in the winter. Like today, when the temperature is barely north of 20 degrees, and the wind cuts like a thousand razor blades. But some folks do pull it off, and you really have to appreciate the effort to stay warm yet stylish.

I saw her waiting on the platform, and her look immediately caught my eye. She looked like she was straight out of a J. Crew or Ralph Lauren ad. I wished I worked for either of those places because I would have hired her on the spot for a campaign.

She had on a pair of these beautiful tall riding boots right up to her knees. Slight quarter inch heel. Brown leather with simple square brass buckles at the feet, and straps featuring 3 matching brass grommets – hers were latched on the 1st hole. It was a warm, subtle, worn leather, though not beaten or weathered. The zipper was on the side, extending all the way to the top. From behind, there was a U-shaped slit cutout at the top of the boot; an interesting design touch I thought.

When she sat down, the design of the boot revealed its ingenuity- they were there to allow her knees to bend 90 degrees, so the leather in front would actually be covering her knees. Sort of like armor. Brilliant. Such well engineered riding boots. Form and function.

Her formfitting green corduroys were tucked into the boots. They were a moss-green, slight hue of yellow. Most of it obscured by the parka-length winter coat. It was dark chocolate brown, wool, and had two exposed large pockets in the lower front. What made it stylish were these straps running down the front. They were the same color and material as the coat, but placed like suspenders. And around the waist, they were effectively the loops of her 3 inch belt (again, same color and material). Subtle, but quite interesting. From behind, you’d see one panel running to the waist, from the front two – suspenders as a design reference.

The high collar of the coat had another buckle and strap. Hers was open, with the tan cashmere scarf wrapped around her neck. And extending from the back of the scarf, there was a white hoodie – made of a thin cotton-like material.

The look was topped off with a tweed newsboy cap. Her short curly hair peeking out. Her face without makeup except for lipgloss. Very youthful and fresh.

There were 3 disappointments however. Her hobo style handbag was brown pebblegrain leather, with braided handle and no brand markings. Matching, but boring. She had on these neon pink fleece gloves that were somewhat out of character. And by her side was this yellow Forever 21 plastic shopping bag. But maybe I was expecting too much.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Old Memory

Today is the first real heavy snowfall of the season, and for some reason it reminds me of the first real snowfall I remember experiencing in person.

I had seen snow before, albeit in a limited fashion; when we had a short family USA vacation that had detours to the Midwest, and a stopover in snow-covered Tokyo. So, while the concept of snow was not foreign to me, a real snowfall was something I had yet to experience. After all, we did grow up in a tropical country prior to immigrating.

It had actually started snowing that day sometime in the early afternoon, while we were still in class. I was sitting in Mr. Sullivan’s chemistry class, which had these large bay windows looking out the front garden of the school. The flakes were just falling slowly, and everyone got excited because it was the first snowfall of the year, and of course they were hoping that enough snow meant school cancellations for tomorrow.

It didn’t really make too much of an initial impression on me because it had just started to snow. The ground was flecked white, but nothing really impressive. Why was this dusting so exciting? It looked to me that someone had just dumped flour on the ground and that was it. It was still snowing when we made our way home. And true to my usual after-school routine of afternoon television and light snacking, I didn’t really pay all that much attention to the continued snowfall. It hadn’t snowed any harder by my estimation.

After dinner, my brother and I were wondering about the snow, so we pulled back the curtains on the sliding French doors leading to the backyard deck to take a peek. The second the backyard floodlights came on, it was the most amazing sight to two snow rookies. Everything was covered by about four or five inches of snow! The deck, the backyard, and the fence, even the neighbors’ yard – as far as we could see. And it was snowing harder than before; to this rookie, it seemed like a blizzard.

My brother and I quickly put on our winter clothing, which really was a heavy parka, jeans and sneakers with thick socks, and proceeded outside. We were so excited we even brought with us a camera to document everything. I was going to send everyone back home a picture of us playing in a snowstorm. We ran around the backyard, played catch with this rubber football, and tried to taste as many snowflakes as we could. It was my first major snowfall and I was going to savor every single moment.

We used the entire roll of film. I still have the pictures. You can’t see the flakes really well. And the flash washes out the background. But the expressions are unmistakable.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Man 12/11

I keep reading that once a man establishes his style, it never leaves him. And I’ve often wondered if I’ll be that way, though I’m still young enough to have changed my dress style every few years. Check back with me in a few more years.

He was in his 60’s maybe even his 70’s. He had on this camel hair winter overcoat, which had this spread fur collar and large lapels. The fur was brown and it looked like he had this lion’s mane stretching from his shoulders down to his chest. And he also had a fedora on his head. A navy blue with the brim turned out. Honestly, he reminded me of Al Pacino’s character in the movie, Donnie Brasco. Look up the movie poster, age Pacino another 25 years, and that’s your guy. Similar hat, similar winter coat.

The rest was pretty indicative of his style as well. Grey polyester slacks, yes, real polyester. There was a blue blazer underneath that winter coat, paired with a faded white shirt. No tie, no jewelry. But, one more detail that could only be him – black rubber rain shoe covers fitting snuggly over his black wingtips. The laces were just peeking over the covers, and the wingtip pattern was discernable at the very top of those covers.

Underneath the fedora was a head with close cropped white hair. His big nose complimented his big ears. What was interesting were his thin lips. Well, they were in a half-sneer, half pursed clench for the entire ride. Showing his straight yellow teeth, and giving one a sense that he was searching for something intensely. His square glasses probably added to his look. These rounded-edge square bifocals of a light brown color.

This man was reading the New York Times – main section, all with a facial expression that made it seem his life depended on it. He wasn’t marking anything or doing the crossword, just reading briskly, yet that expression clearly indicated something else. He raised his eyebrows every so often, and the serious reading lines on the forehead. It was like watching a ventriloquist reading the paper. No sound comes out of his mouth, but the lips are open the entire time in a forced smile – or in this case, a sneer.

There was this worn plastic shopping bag in between his legs. It was a New York City library bag that was orange on white, with the names and addresses of area libraries in reverse type. Perhaps he was a serious reader after all.

Monday, December 8, 2008


The ones that got away.

Man - carrying a roll-up bag with the Wusthof logo, meaning he was armed with very, very sharp kitchen knives. He was in grimy sweats and also had an Army Surplus canvas backpack. But I think most people gravitated to his mop of curly red hair.

Petite girl - dressed ordinarily but had on a pair of ballet flats that were decorated with patchwork illustrations of lions. The right had a lioness and the right had a lion.

Man – with plaid red pants, black carcoat, and serious black eyeglass frames from Armani.

Woman – dragging the largest pink suitcase with abstract butterflies print. And her face was painted like she was a modern-day geisha.

Woman – in pink fishnet stockings. On her lap was a multi-colored polka dot vinyl tote bag. She was a very obvious bottle redhead.

Old Chinese man in a classic brown leather bomber and grey wool pants. Topped off with a crisp Yankees cap.

Woman –looks like the middle sister of Christina Hendricks and Sarah Polley. Wonderfully tussled just-got-out-of-bed long auburn hair.

Boy – carrying a black backpack that was a multi-color water gun print. Add his shaggy hair, and he’s a hipster in the making at 12 years old.

Motorized Wheelchair

Man 12/5

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a motorized wheelchair in the NYC subway in a long time. Well, I’ve definitely never seen such a large man in a motorized wheelchair in NYC. He must have been somewhere north of 250 pounds, maybe even over 300. He resembled an older Frank Black (from The Pixies); just as bald and rotund, but with a lot more weight. Clean shaven, no earrings, no tattoos, no distinct markings.

No one bothered him at all, nor did anyone really stare too much. Funny, but it’s safe to say that NYC is one of the few places where a man like him might feel invisible.

The chair itself was pretty large. This grey office-chair sized vinyl high-back, that had a pocket on the back and a grey headrest. The armrests were black, as was the seat belt that was wrapped around our guy. And the chair was attached to the motorized wheels with only on short poles. Imagine all that weight balanced on 4 small slender round metal bars. The chassis of the motor was black, though the cover on the battery pack was a metallic midnight blue. And there were two round red lights on the battery itself, along with a sticker indicating the make and model - “Jazzy 614 HD”. I looked it up and the chair costs $3699. Ouch!

There were 2 Lands End canvas tote bags hanging from the headrest behind the back of the chair. Both white but one with Carolina blue and the other with navy blue accents. And there was also this simple black leather messenger that looked small on his lap, with the strap over his right shoulder.

He was wearing a navy blue winter ski parka, which curiously had no branding. There were 2 pockets across the chest, 2 larger pockets across the waist, and a hood. The corduroy slacks were a faded grey, and his socks were ordinary white tube socks. On his feet were white New Balance sneakers, model 550. I’d guess that they were around size 12 or 13, which gives you a better idea of his physical size. One could also just make out the light blue flannel shirt he had on, peeking out from under his parka.

I was totally intrigued by the chair. Six wheels. Two small ones in front, two large ones in the middle, and two smaller ones in the rear. The smaller wheels were black, with black 5-spoke star rims, and were on a swivel. The larger wheels were grey with steel rims in the same style but not on a swivel, but covered by mudguards. A pair of bright yellow shock absorbers in the front stood out from all that black and blue .

The joystick controller was on the right armrest, near the front. And because his body was so large, you couldn’t see the left arm at all. It was hidden from general view by that parka. His feet rested on this large plastic plate attached to the frame of the wheelchair. And from time to time, he would actually move a foot off the plate, and then back on.

The man parked his wheelchair in front of a set of train doors. Leaving just enough room for a small sized person to squeeze between him and the seat partition to exit or enter. He was asleep for most of the ride, and given his level of comfort, I’d guess that he was a veteran straphanger.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Subtle Big Hair Girl

Woman 12/4/08

One of my pet peeves riding the NYC subway is when someone treats the train like their home. They are either having a full meal, or doing something on their laptop, or leisurely lounging. Folks, if the MTA wanted to let you put your feet up and sit in comfort, they would have made the seats La-Z-Boys.

She was spread out over 3 seats. One for her ass. One for her Ugg clad feet, and one for her Puma handbag. That bag was brown corduroy with dark leather accents and brown handles. There was a Puma logo on the side of the bag and a metal logo dangling from one of the handles. It was like a miniature gym bag.

Her slim legs were fitted with faded black jeans, which were tucked into those tan Uggs. On her stretched out legs was this medium sized shopping bag from Something Else Footwear, and the bag was stuffed so full, you could clearly see a pair of light blue jeans peeking out from the open top.

The look was classic Staten Island / Jersey Shore princess. Long brown curly hair with blonde streaks, styled back so that there was a slight poof of hair on the top of her head. Think Joan Cusack in Working Girl or any John Hughes movie featuring girls with big hair. This was the more subtle version – if big hair can be subtle.

And she was tan. Well, her face was almost orange, but her hands were fairly pale. It could have been the amount of make-up used, though you could still make out her old acne scars on her forehead. She had the smoky eyes look, choosing to highlight her big eyes with an ash-blue eye shadow and lashes that reached for the stars. The rounded nose completed her face.

Her giant scarf almost covered most of her shoulders. It was a sea-green paisley pattern with shiny flecks throughout. She was wearing a black short cropped trench style coat that came with a slim black belt. And though the jacket was buttoned the entire time, you could see the sleeves of her chunky red sweater sticking out of her jacket cuffs.

It could have been the giant sparkly hoop earrings that completed the look. Or her nonchalant “I am better than the subway” look on her face.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Man 11/29

It’s really been shoes or reading material that triggers my interest. This time, it was both. The book? Believe it or not, John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I’ve never read it, nor seen the movie. Not even the James Dean version.

Now the shoes. These were dark brown leather boots. It was the texture of the leather that was interesting- wrinkled in a crumpled paper sort of way, which at first glance gave it a weathered look, but really was quite new. And while laces were visible, there was also a zipper on the inside half of the boots. Plus, there were these strategically placed rivets around the shoes. Four total on each boot. And finally, there was stitching that reminded me of wingtips. This man was wearing boots that looked like they were a cross between Euro-trash and wingtips.

The rest was more uneventful. Dark skinny jeans. No markings, labels or fancy stitching. Possibly A.P.C., H&M or Uniqlo. His jacket was a dark brown leather bomber with a black fur lining that also included the collar. Again deceptively basic. The leather was textured, and reminiscent of Bottega Veneta. This was not the exact Bottega weave, but similar with all the squares. No extras on the bomber, just two basic side zippered pockets on the outside, and a basic metal jacket zipper.

The green sweater was a basic crewneck with a green on dark green diamond pattern. And he was wearing this green scarf that was essentially a summer silk scarf. Striped pattern with yellow and brown stripes and same colored tassels. But still a paper-thin silk scarf.

The guy had no ring, no watch, no earrings. The only accessory was this black messenger bag. This time, really basic. Smooth black leather. Worn over his right shoulder, and sitting on his lap as he read his book.

Everything pointed to Euro. It was the yellow mechanical pencil that he held as he was reading the book that threw off the judgement. He never used it once during that long subway ride. Just held it as he kept on reading.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Hipster English Country Squire

Man 11/29/08

I was with a friend, so it wasn’t really convenient for me to use my notepad. But my friend got to see first-hand the reason why I wanted to start this blog.

Based on my best recollection.

It was two of them. They came into the subway car together and sat perpendicular to each other. Both of them had their own reading material.

The best I could describe this man was hipster English country squire. That was his style. A black and white herringbone driving cap. A tan tweed blazer, under which was a chambray jacket, and a green wool sweater, and an untucked tattersall button-down shirt. Basic tan corduroy pants, and the piece-de-resistance: white socks with Adidas sneakers – also tan. Exactly as I named him. A hipster English Country Squire spotted in Brooklyn, riding the subway.

He was blond, and physically that was all I remember. His look just over-powered and overwhelmed him. But, hey, it a sight that even my friend will remember for a long time.

The best part? The seat next to the squire opened up and his friend moved over. And from the looks of it, they seemed to be a couple and not just friends. That was swiftly confirmed when the friend moved closer, and started reading from his book, How to Parent Your 4 Year Old Child. He was reading the book to the squire but it was almost like a very romantic bedtime story being acted out for the entire train to see. Perhaps it was the leaning into each other’s bodies, or the holding of the book precisely between both their laps.

The Reader? He was in an oversized winter wool jacket and skin-tight black pants, with a wool beanie.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Man 11/5/08

He had this green shopping bag. Well, it was this green tyvek, medium-sized tote bag, with greenbag.com, across the front sides.

Plus, he was really tan. Not George Hamilton orange, but a deep Mediterranean olive tan that suggested a Greek heritage. Even his bald head was sporting this deep tan, though the dark color served to hide the few leftover follicles on the crown of his head. The hair on the sides was short, and a mix of brown and white; colors repeated for his eyebrows.

His ears were possibly the largest single feature on his head, with prominent sunspots. His face was fleshy and sat on a double chin, and when paired with his pudgy nose, he gave off the look of an old prizefighter.

Underneath his olive ¾ length raincoat was a dark three-button suit. With a closer look, it was actually a dark navy blue with very subtle tonal stripes. And you could just make out the blue striped shirt with the white contrast collar, accented by the red tie, which had a basic pattern of blue and orange squares.

His shoes were black. Very basic lace-up Oxfords, like the sort one would get at Wal-Mart. Quite out of sync with the rest of his outfit, which though not quite Saks, did not deserve that quality of shoe.

The watch was the only piece of jewelry visible on him. Worn on the left wrist, it was a classic rectangular white-face encased in gold, and finished with brown straps. His nails were really close cropped, though his hands and arms showed a lot of hair. Perhaps reflecting his possible Mediterranean heritage.

Like most subway riders, he was reading. The New York Post. In fact, he was reading each page quite intently and looking over every piece of information like an archaeologist examining fossils. He had glasses tethered around his neck, but since they were not in use for reading, perhaps they were sunglasses.

Slowly, it seemed that he was preparing himself to exit the train. He brought out his LG flip-phone and gave the screen a quick check. Then he pulled out a small paper bag from his green tote that you could tell was holding one of those tall cylinders typically used for food deliveries. Gave that another quick check. Soup perhaps?


Woman 10/31/08

She had really sad eyes. Bulging bug-eyes that told of an experienced life. The eyes were highlighted with eyeliner and she had on red lipstick. No other signs of make-up were very evident. Her purple headscarf that housed skinny long hair braids out the back, but revealed a mix of brown dye and aged white roots in the front bangs. Interestingly, she projected warmth and friendliness.

It was really the clothing that made her interesting. She was dressed like an ethnic tribal woman. There was this short-sleeved full-length poncho. Black but covered with primary color geometric patterns that suggested a floral influence, with tassels on the bottom. The poncho was cotton.

Under that poncho? A cotton, long-sleeve black blouse with ethnic patterns on the sleeves. And that was layered over a black turtleneck. With a red scarf loosely wrapped around her neck. Continuing her look was this solid black cotton gypsy skirt, over black suede boots with a side zip. She really had a specific style, right down to the light purple nail polish.

The accessories provided her the finishing touch. A bare right wrist. A full left wrist with a watch that had a blue rectangular face and blue strap. 10 or so thin bangles, majority made of silver or stainless steel, one was resin with purple flecks on white, almost marble-like pattern, and one was multicolor. Pearl earrings accented with diamonds, or rhinestone that really sparkled.

With her backpack, she was taking up two seats. Well, it was really a knapsack. A black leather knapsack with a leather drawstring for it’s main compartment, and on it’s front pocket, a leather map of Africa. At first it seemed like a logo, but a harder second look showed the patch to be a cutout in the shape of the continent. And keeping with her look, the knapsack was quite worn and weathered.

She held her tortoiseshell sunglasses in one hand, and later replaced it with her cell phone from the knapsack. On her lap was this clear plastic yellow Ziploc folder. It was filled with forms of all colors and one could just make-out the logo of NYSCA on one of those forms.

This woman was soon having a conversation with a fellow passenger who’d originally been my first choice for observation, but she seemed to be drunk and sleeping it off. Well, turns out she had sleep apnea. And her birthday was 2/9/62, same sign as this woman.

The woman spoke with no accent, and when the sleep apnea woman exited the train, she pulled out a yellow colored pamphlet and started reading the black type. It was written in Spanish.

Crocs and Philip Roth


I think it was the Crocs that caught my eye. They were white, with multi-color flower and starfish buttons on them. It was the first time I had seen an adult woman with Crocs that were so decorated. Then, it was the book. She was reading a Philip Roth book – The Plot Against America, and a good 1/3 of the way though the novel. Crocs and Philip Roth, a new combination for the subway riding public of New York City to ponder.

She was blonde. Sitting diagonally across from me, was this dark blonde, seemingly natural, though the lighter streaks gave me some pause. Wearing a plain pair of black-framed glasses, reading her book. Her hair was shoulder length, but tied back in a ponytail. You could just make out the mole under her left ear as she turned her head slightly. A very plain-Jane librarian face. No make-up, no real hairstyle, and basic glasses.

The clothing was another window into her individualistic tendencies. If the Crocs and book revealed a lot, what do you ask about the woman who has turquoise tights on underneath her dark gypsy skirt? A gray singlet sits layered below a dusty pink tank top. Not sure if she had a bra on.

The rest of her was in the accessories. Well, first, a long necklace with pebbles made from sliver and colored resin. Then, a smaller necklace that had a single diamond pendant. One ring on her left middle finger – looked like a flea market ornate antique. No wedding ring, but a simple gold bangle on her left wrist. Looking down to her right ankle, there was a string bracelet visible while she was sitting. No earrings.

She was carrying a leather handbag that again reminded me of another flea market find. It had this frayed shoulder strap, and oddly enough a small troll affixed on the end of the zipper. A nod to her Crocs perhaps?

Most interestingly, I wasn’t the only one watching her. There was a younger woman eyeing her as well. And she herself was watching the men exiting the car at just about every stop.

The Descriptionist

I’d been toying with the idea of writing a blog for a while now, and couldn’t quite figure out what I would write about. There are enough shopping, fashion, food, parenting…etc…blogs in the universe at this point. I wasn’t going to do anything unless it was moderately original, and relatively interesting. Both of which I am assuredly not.

My inner thoughts - professional or personal, didn’t really seem all that interesting, and it also seemed to be a little bit much. I only have 2 cents worth, and I’d like to keep 2 cents to myself, or at least to those that would appreciate those 2 cents. I’m not looking to build a fan club of my opinion.

So, riding the subway one day, it suddenly hit me what I should write about. I would be a ghost writer. Literally. An invisible person who is able to observe and impart that observation in print. And it was the sight of this woman sitting across for me on the subway that gave me that Eureka! moment. I was going to sit across from her for at least 30 mins; surely I could come away with enough to write a credible blog entry.

And so, that started this blog. It’s starting with descriptions of people, but I’m sure it’ll gradually morph to other entities; living or otherwise.

Shout out to Scott Schuman, The Satorialist. When I grow up I want to be just like him. And my only two German friends with their own blogs.