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.