The Brooklyn Ink: Has the Miss Subways Pageant Gone Off the Rails?

This article was originally published online for The Brooklyn Ink on November 4, 2019. 

MTA enthusiasts sipped on Cuomo’s Tears (a cocktail of vodka, pear and soda) and Signal Problem (tequila plus rosé) at the third annual rebooted Miss Subways pageant on October 3rd. The pageant is the rare event that combines activism with the scrappy spirit of the subway system. It’s where the earnestness of longtime subway riders rhapsodizing about their favorite line exists alongside the playful verve of New York’s performance art community. But on a drizzling Thursday night in a loud, cramped, bubbling cauldron of pageantry at Littlefield, a Gowanus performance venue, the tone seemed a bit askew.

One might ask: Why dedicate an entire pageant to transit? A visit to the pageant brings some answers. Between slices of vegan pizza, young audience members peer into early cameras provided by the Museum of Interesting Things and watch what is supposedly the first film recording of subway graffiti. Around 8 p.m., Parker MacLure, last year’s reigning “Miss Subway,” draws the audience to their seats, channelling Cher while singing a joyous yet wry rendition of “Miss Subway of 1952.”

It’s a reminder that the old Miss Subways, which ended in 1976, was a beauty pageant, one in which women competed to have their faces on subway posters. The rebooted pageant may have “miss” in its title, but it is open to subway superstars of all gender identities. Subway cars no longer sport pictures of the winner, however the winner becomes an unofficial public face of MTA riders. Previous title holders, like Lisa Levy, advocated for those riders at public meetings while wearing her Miss Subways sash.

The subway is unique among New York infrastructures in that it is a daily necessity, and commonality, that many locals share despite differences in age and socioeconomic conditions. Riders can bond over the steady stream of delays and renovations and the lack of accessibility at many stations. The Miss Subways pageant is a reflection of the multitudinous ways that New Yorkers interact with transit: you can observe moments of pride, rage, laughter and political anger all at once.

Alex Low, one of the organizers, describes the event as a “rallying cry for the subways” that is “bringing attention to the ongoing funding crisis that’s been going on in the subway and ongoing performance issues on the subway.” The proceeds are split between the The City Reliquary Museum, the producer of Miss Subways, and the Riders Alliance, a non-profit that advocates for subway reform. Low says the event also allows for a little of the old subculture to come to life.

Although the pageant means different things to different people, it seemed that subculture snark might have overwhelmed the activist component this year. The judges are local celebrities like “Reverend” Jen Miller, the founder of the Mr. Lower East Side pageant, the Anti-Slam open mic and a now-defunct museum devoted to the Troll Doll; Roger Clark, a longtime reporter for NY1; Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels; and Michele Carlo, author of Fish out of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the (Subway) Tracks. Lincoln Hallowell, the host, dons a dapper tux and delivers sly jokes at every turn, giving the pageant a variety show flare. All of them, it might be noted, were older than most participants.

First, the contestants perform, trying to impress the judges and audience alike, and then stand before the judges for a Q&A. Contestants include Samara Dunne, who performs a regular character of hers called The Wicked Witch of the Upper East Side; Rob Coover sings sardonic folk songs about subway unpleasantries; Traci Cappiello raps encyclopedic about the subway stations while wearing a crown of MTA tickets; Angela Choi leads audience members through a guided meditation; Marissa Guitierrez-Vicario dresses as a dog in an Ikea bag on the G train; and the band Theophobia commits to a platform of pretending to have never ridden the subway before.

Michele Carlo, a judge, found it “was really interesting and cool to see that weirdo culture is still alive and kicking in New York City, even with all the gentrification and the changes. The Lower East Side scene that I came out of”—in the late 1990s and early 2000s—”no longer exists…that neighborhood has been totally gentrified.”

Beth Haines, the Assistant Director of the City Reliquary Museum, describes Miss Subways as “cathartic,” a way to decompress from the stresses of transit. But it is certainly not quiet. Many audience members come with a favorite station in mind, and will make it known with applause. Some cheer when Rebecca Bailin, a representative from the Riders Alliance, walks on stage during intermission and urges audience members to text #Cuomo’sMTA in protest of recent fare evasion measures.

In a year when Governor Cuomo announced a $5.5 billion subway renovation plan, the L train almost shut down and the MTA strengthened police presence in a controversial plan to curb fare evasion, politics and pageantry intertwined at Miss Subways, but it seemed that theatricality got the upper hand. Some wondered if the emphasis on art and performance — things that make Miss Subways distinct — was diminishing the threads of transit activism undergirding it.

There were a few unexpected tensions. During the Q&A portion, some of the judges asked risqué and potentially embarrassing questions about subway etiquette or what contestants would do in certain uncomfortable situations. Michele Carlo asked Rob Coover, who was wearing a skirt, how Coover would use the “Miss Subways” platform, pointedly emphasizing the word “miss.” Upon hearing that, an audience member shouted “This is 2019!” towards the judges’ table. One judge asked a female contestant which line she liked for intimacy. Manspreading and male arousal came up.

Marissa Guitierrez-Vicario, one of the contestants, was disappointed in the tone of the Q&A. Guitierrez-Vicario, who was drawn to Miss Subways for its striving to challenge “traditional ideas of what a pageant is” says, “I think we have to think critically about the implications of answering questions about homelessness or about sexual misconduct, things like that, that could come up and are, again, meant to be initially portrayed as lighthearted. Being a woman on the subway, being someone who believes in advocating for the rights of the homeless, it was challenging…navigating a space where people want to laugh, but also these are issues that are important to me and I think when we have opportunities to use platforms in a positive way, I think we should use them.” Guitierrez-Vicario says that she exited the stage before the judges finished their questions in protest of questions other contestants had been asked.

When the judges crowned the winner—the band Theophobia—some audience members seemed surprised. A few could be heard booing and appeared visibly stunned. The band, comprised of Dylan Mars Greenberg, and Matt Ellin, with guest Ben Pernick, looked shocked too. They posed for the cameras onstage and held their mouths agape in a faux pageant scream for several minutes. Ellin says that winning was “really strange. We did not think that was going to happen at all,” adding “We thought, it was just a fun thing we were doing because we’re in a band together, and we just thought it’d be a cool way to plug the band a little bit.” When asked what they would do if they were to win, the band said, according to Pernick, that they would “release rabid wolves onto the subway,” to get rid of the rats.

What does it mean for a pageant with ties to activism, when the winner is selected for irony and performance value, while other contestants professed their love for the subways?

For Curtis Sliwa, the band epitomized “the anarchy of the subway system. They were like the 2019 version of the Clash in the New York City subway system.” The judge says the group reminded him of the activist culture of the 1960s in New York, and that he would be interested in seeing them at an MTA board meeting where “Everybody at the meeting would be paying attention trying to figure out what the hell they’re talking about.”

In response to questions about the unexpected winner, Alex Low stressed what is unique about the pageant’s approach to activism. “Policy issues can sometimes be very dry. What Miss Subways has the power to do is to bring items to life – to make it a lot more colorful. I come from an advocacy background. Advocacy is wonderful in all its forms, but sometimes you need someone from a different walk of life, or someone with a little more flare to bring an issue to life in a different way.”

The Brooklyn Ink: Life Inside the ‘House of Collection’

This article was originally published online for The Brooklyn Ink on October 11, 2019. 

The Williamsburg that Paige Stevenson, 52, once knew is disappearing, one $16 cocktail, designer thrift store, and trendy outdoor food market at a time. Stevenson moved into the neighborhood in 1989 after her college graduation, hearing rumors of inexpensive rent and a culture accommodating to artist sensibilities—and budgets.

In the early 1980s, Williamsburg was a post-industrial neighborhood. By the 1990s, the neighborhood became an enclave for artists escaping gentrifying Chelsea and SoHo. Now, when most people think of gentrification, they conjure up images of Williamsburg (observe one New York Times article featuring photos of what locals were wearing outside of the newly-opened Whole Foods back in 2016). Perhaps that old school Williamsburg bohemia is already gone. Or maybe Stevenson is helping keep it alive, through a makeshift community space that doubles as an Instagram sensation.

In 1989 Stevenson paired up with three friends and found a glum 5,000 square foot apartment on 315 Berry Street, a clunky beige building with factories for bookbinding, painting, and framing on the first floors and a knitting and clothing factory (or “sweatshop,” as another tenant Noah Jemison, 75, who goes by Noah Jemisin, described it) on the third. It wasn’t easy living. They had to put up walls and install electricity. There was only one window, but luckily it faced south, which allows Stevenson to take care of a lush indoor garden today. For Stevenson, it was “empowering” to learn how to maintain the space and do construction on her own. Roommates, friends, and partners have come and gone, but she has lived in this lofty sixth floor apartment for 30 years.

The House of Collection | Photo by Isabella DeLeo for The Brooklyn Ink

Stevenson’s cats prowl around the wood floor, sometimes swatting at each other. Between the greenery and the objects on the wall, Stevenson’s apartment is probably one of the best places to live in if you’re a New York cat: plenty to claw at. Observe old posters from friends’ performance shows, antique hip joints from old medical procedures, construction tools arranged like a phalanx on the walls, art pieces that she’s welded, baby doll heads arranged atop doilies, bicycle wheels, and miniature dragons. Her home is not just a home. It is the House of Collection.

Stevenson teams up with New York Adventure Club to welcome tourists and travelers of curiosity alike into her spacious yet cramped-feeling loft. All who step foot into her home are treated to a pleasant sensory overload, where every object has a history—or at least a hidden history that Stevenson wishes she could uncover—and no surface is left bare. Friends gifted her some things. Others are stuff that Stevenson found through her travels or discarded in New York. She talks about this one ornate suitcase that intrigued her on a street corner here in the city. She went to take a look inside, but didn’t find anything that pleased her. But next to it, in an anonymous-looking trash bag, she found a gorgeous set of tablecloths and linens that she took home. To this day, she pulls them out and uses them for a Thanksgiving or Easter dinner.

The idea of inviting strangers into your home with the frequency that Stevenson does might make some uncomfortable. But she’s used to sharing her space. Her apartment, she says, is less about the objects than “the people.” Friends still come and go freely in the home, even during our interview. She sees her home as a place of community outside of commercialization, which can be difficult to find in New York. It’s also a place of stability that honors sentimental objects, in contrast to the culture of the gig economy, where many young people are forced to sublet or rent for brief periods of time before moving somewhere else.

Paige Stevenson | Photo by Isabella DeLeo for The Brooklyn Ink

The bookkeeper and artist has a cheery, almost unassuming manner. She laughs, remembering the time an art club came to tour her home, and, as they name dropped famous artists, they told her that they appreciated that she didn’t know some of them. Stevenson says that she is not too “precious” with her collection. She’ll take a hammer off of her wall and use it. Being in her home is like being in the Cloisters and the Museum of Trash all at once. Stevenson describes it as her “sanctuary.”

She ended up needing to fight for the right to keep her home—for 12 years, she says, alongside several other tenants. As Williamsburg gained more real estate value over the years, management tried to drastically increase monthly rent or evict some tenants who had been given commercial leases and as a result they weren’t legally recognized as having residential rights.

The courts decided otherwise—and after a grueling process of appeals and a visit from a judge who confirmed that the apartments were indeed lived-in residences and not just commercial spaces, as management claimed—the tenants ended up winning rent stabilization in 2008. Now the building is the kind of place where stabilized residents can pay $600 per month for a large loft, and other, newer tenants can spend thousands for a studio or efficiency.

For residents like Stevenson who participated in the suit, the sustained effort to keep their homes was frustrating. One longtime sub-letter in the building, Ellen Goldin, however had the unusual situation of observing the court cases without being able to engage in them. She says that she could sense the friction.

The House of Collection | Photo by Isabella DeLeo for The Brooklyn Ink

Goldin, who has been subletting a seventh floor apartment for 30 years, says the building on 315 Berry Street is far from unique in terms of its history of a precarious landlord-tenant relationships. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Goldin says, she would go to gallery openings and hear many artists discussing “who their lawyers were.” Goldin says that those 12 years were difficult for building residents, particularly with tenants’ money invested in the lawsuit. Many residents would bicker with neighbors over small things, she says,  because of stress and financial burden.

Not all Williamsburg artists were as lucky as those in 315 Berry Street. Many have been priced out over the years, and now, Goldin says that the “neighborhood is largely unrecognizable, except there’s still some of us old people around and we recognize each other.” She talks longingly about how much open space there used to be in Williamsburg, and the throngs of artists who would paint and draw outside.

Today, Goldin prefers not to leave her home on weekends because of overcrowding. Even if the neighborhood used to be “rough” and she needed to chain the hood of her car to the grill for fear of it being stolen, Goldin felt that Williamsburg was once an “urban wilderness” that bred a certain kind of ingenuity. Before management installed an elevator in the building, Goldin created a makeshift pulley system with rope that would carry the residents’ groceries upstairs as they walked the stairs.

Certainly, the building on 315 Berry Street attracted artists. The painter Noah Jemisin, who has had work displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, moved there from Chelsea in 1981, when the rent was only $300 per month for a fourth floor loft that appears to be at least 2,000 square feet. According to Jemisin, the building was the first officially-designated artist residence in the Brooklyn neighborhood when it opened in 1980. Jemisin decided to move to the area because Chelsea was “already gentrifying.” He remembers the floors below him all being vacant, with the exception of a third floor factory, and that his room was the “coldest” in the building because it had “the last radiator on the rising.”

Noah Jemisin | Photo by Isabella DeLeo for The Brooklyn Ink

When Jemisin first walked into the loft, he says he knew immediately that it would be home. He points to the window, “this is why I bought it. The best lighting I’ve ever had.” Originally, his floor had three or four lofts, but over time, landlords broke them up into smaller rooms, which brought in a lot of young people. For Jemisin, “it killed the flavor of the floor” and made the environment more “like a college campus.” He says, “It used to be so quiet, and dark and secluded. I miss that part of it.”

As one of the original artists in the residency, Jemisin has always partially owned his space, so he never needed to go to court for rent stabilization. He pays $600 per month for a spacious loft, and the rent can only increase in small increments over time because he has rent control. Jemisin often looks out of his wide window, which practically covers the entire right side of his apartment. He points to where a nunnery used to be, and several community gardens, even a found-art display of a series of white doors that lined the street. Now, he stares at what’s taken their place, a building with a curved roof that almost looks like a pool. Jemisin says that, “Somebody made the roof wrong, it’s like a cup and it collects water and snow.”

Paige Stevenson does not actively gather new objects for her home. She’s at capacity. Now, she tinkers with what she has, often rearranging the items, which are “more than the sum of their parts.” As the neighborhood around feels more and more uprooted, she says, she feels that “We’re in a moment where we’re losing our cultural traditions.”

Film Era: Pageantry with a Vengeance – ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’ at 20

This article was published online for FilmEra.com on July 25, 2019. 

The Midwestern pageant queens of the #MeToo era are speaking out against workplace harassment, but the teen beauty contestant competitors of 1999 were setting their rivals on fire in open corn fields — at least, according to the outlandish, utterly crass, and possibly diabolical film, Drop Dead Gorgeous.

America is obsessed with the pageant movie. From Miss Congeniality to Dumplin’,Little Miss Sunshine to the wild card Sundance selection of 2013, Ass Backwards, pop culture loves to reclaim and reposition the pageant. In Dumplin’ a local competition in Texas that frowned upon bigger women becomes an opportunity for empowerment. The film is a joyous–and gorgeous–celebration of body positivity, queerness, and Dolly Parton. In the rom-com/dramedy, womanhood becomes something deeply pleasurable and ecstatic; in its own PG-13 kind of way.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is another beast entirely. And by beast, I am specifically referring to this one scene that has been scorched onto my cornea as if a fiery IUD has been plugged directly into it: I am, of course, talking about the scene where dozens of regional winners from across Minnesota gather together in a hotel and dispel vomit onto each other, from every corner of the lobby, oozing expired shellfish and bile. It is rapturous and cathartic. In watching this, I felt an uneasy cackle pour of me, as if expunging womanly guilt and shame and decorum.

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema.

At the time of its 20th anniversary, the dark comedy, Drop Dead Gorgeous has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, with a glowing New Yorker review and an Amazon streaming deal to boot. Contemporary viewers will likely feel uneasy with some of the film’s humor: director Michael Patrick Jann includes some rather tasteless jokes and creates an at times offensive caricature of a blue-collar community. The film is not shy nor is it particularly nuanced.

Amber Atkins (Kirsten Dunst) practices for the Mount Rose American Teen Princess title, tap-dancing as she applies makeup to corpses at the funeral home where she works. She is blonde, doe-eyed and popular in a more quiet way. But as the main competitor of Becky Ann Leeman (Denise Richards), the rich girl daughter of Gladys Leeman (Kirstie Alley) and president of the Lutheran Sisterhood Gun Club, begins killing competitors, she fears for her life. But for Amber, the pageant is her chance to make it out of the small town and become a journalist like her idol, Diane Sawyer.

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema.

Pageant films hold our interest because they illustrate the enormous labor of pursuing a certain kind of femininity: the bikini-clad and be-sequined sort, with grinning smiles enforced by Vaseline. In the world of this film, the pursuit of this kind of beauty and fame is one working-class girl’s ticket to success. Michael Patrick Jann brilliantly makes that labor a part of the form. Drop Dead Gorgeous is first and foremost a mockumentary: A camera crew enters into each character’s home and captures these girls as they attempt to perform, with various degrees of success, a cookie-cutter mold of beauty and poise.

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema.

There’s something unsettling about the film’s treatment of Amber, though, who haplessly, almost accidentally, curates the best performances. And yet, she is alone, looking on in horror and shock as her peers decorate the hotel with vomit. She is alone when her peers raze down a cosmetics corporation, pillar by pillar, in a fury that comes from deep inside. Instead of joining in, she walks back onto the bus that they rode in on. The cruelty of the film is that, for her, the performance never ends, even when she “makes it.”

The solitude of Drop Dead Gorgeous doesn’t feel too out of place with its horror. The film is loud and unrestrained, and deliberately overzealous. With extraordinary performances from Allison Janney and a feature film debut from Amy Adams — who plays the most glimmeringly innocuous cheerleader committed to film — the spectacle never ceases. It almost distracts from the fact that the film is basically hell for its protagonist; it is a world built on false promises and corporations that do not care. All this, one year before the easy, breezy glamour of Miss Congeniality. 

The Brooklyn Ink: Late Summer, Williamsburg – A Hip Hop Photoshoot

This article was originally published online for The Brooklyn Ink on September 20, 2019. 

He had more clothes in his silver Toyota near 5th and Kent Streets, but from several outfit changes we witnessed he had at least: a vintage red, white and blue anorak jacket; a red Tommy Hilfiger; a Nautica snapback; a canary yellow jumpsuit with thick suspenders flanking his torso that — with the jacket zipped up over them — made him look like he was wearing Hazmat gear. But most importantly, José Labrador, 38, had pristine white and blue Nike Airs.

Manaure Peñalver, 36, his photographer and friend from boyhood in the mountainous city of Caracas, Venezuela, admits that he isn’t as into clothes as José is. Still, he knows just enough to say that the vintage streetwear — which José, better known as DJ Mad Pee, exchanges for something new in his deep duffel bag every 30 minutes or so — is indeed a big part of the hip hop artist’s “identity.”

José says he has been in hip hop for 21 years and has “holy grail” items that you can’t get anymore, like the Snow Beach Polo Ralph Lauren. It becomes clear, though, that José is sinking his feet into a goldmine, when a kid on a bike zooms past him, yelling “got those off whites on, son!” as he pedals. The sneakers, with mismatched laces, bright orange on his right foot, and crisp white ones on his left, stand out even in the middle of this sweaty cobblestone street under the Williamsburg Bridge.

They have curated the photo shoot so that José and the gritty glam of Williamsburg can work in tandem. Manaure, who does most of the talking, says that they want the shoot to evoke a slice of “old New York.” As Manaure and José shoot in a few locations, starting at the cobblestones, then perched up against a rail overlooking the bridge, and finally on the bridge itself. It is there where José poses by graffiti and barbed wire, an image in particular which takes on a certain gravitas.

In between clicks of the camera, Manaure discusses how quickly Brooklyn has changed. He is an engaging talker, with an eye for history. Fitting, as he used to work as a print journalist back in Venezuela, for El Nacional. He says that Williamsburg used to be so “colorful,” as recently as 2008, and with a lot of “squat houses” and factories. Greenpoint used to have so many “punk rockers.” Now, he thinks Bushwick, his home, is where it’s at.

But the Williamsburg Bridge apparently still has something going for it. Manaure, who used to be a committed skater, says that the bridge is “legendary” for shredding. As cyclists zip by, José admits, breathlessly (in Spanish, Manaure translates into English), that its steep incline reminds him of the mountains back at Caracas.

José doesn’t live in Brooklyn. Based in Miami — among the art galleries and financiers of Brickell — he’s only here, he says, because he was performing a gig scratching at Santa Salsa, a Venezuelan restaurant in Bushwick. He enlisted his friend to do the visuals for his Instagram promo before he flies to Philadelphia the next day for a scratch session on the famed “Rocky” steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When filming, José likes to pull his drawstring tight around his hoodie, so that you can see his mostly-translucent salmon-colored glasses poke through. Manaure will take shots of José’s shoes, and of José on the phone, and of José pretending to swat the camera away.

Sometimes, José will yell — with a swaggering verve — directly into the camera and it might even look kinda cool. He might stop and take a selfie. But José will melt into a puddle on the concrete when a chubby pug named Butters walks up to his feet, sits down, and all but refuses to get up. True to form, after Manaure and José take their last photo with the colorful graffiti as backdrop, they pack up their equipment, grab their skateboards and fly down the crowded ramp, weaving in between the cyclists, as friends, rather than cameraman and talent.

Film Daze: ‘The Art of Self Defense’ Review – A Dark Comedy that Creates Its Own Rules

This article was first published online for FilmDaze.net on June 12, 2019. 

Casey Davies (Jesse Eisenberg) sits in an anonymous diner, fidgeting as he reads a newspaper when an irreverent French couple walks in discussing how dégueulasse the pre-made dinner coffee is as they begin to play a cruel guessing game. They look at the cowering Casey and callously guess what he is doing and thinking. From observing him, they say he’s sexually repressed and looking for a classified ad. Little do they know Casey knows French.

Director Riley Stearns swiftly sets up the rules of the game with this devastating and sardonic scene. Premiering at the Fantasia International Film Festival, the world of The Art of Self-Defense is one predicated upon unspoken hierarchies, where the bold take what they want and ridicule the meek for their own twisted entertainment.

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The Art of Self-Defense ©Bleecker Street

Casey Davies is, at first glance, a cookie-cutter archetype straight out of the pages of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. He’s a shy and odd bookish accountant who works in a concrete basement. He’s friends with his boss and tries desperately to befriend the office alpha males. To highlight his oddity when his coworkers leave a porn magazine on the desk, he quietly photocopies some pages out of it, staples them together, and takes the neatly-pressed makeshift booklet home.

As Casey turns to his doe-eyed dachshund, he sheepishly opens the pages to a headline that suggests that tough men should own wolves. Later, while walking out at night to get his dog some food, he becomes the victim of a horrific assault at the hands of three tough-as-nails motorcyclists. While recovering on paid leave from his job Casey decides to join a karate class to learn self-defense. Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) expresses a keen interest in him and invites Casey to join the increasingly intense, and unconventional night class.

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The Art of Self-Defense ©Bleecker Street

The Art of Self-Defense is in many ways a modern retelling of Fight Club, setting out to deconstruct and eviscerate the culture of toxic masculinity inherent to the iconic Fincher film. Stearns’ work smartly explores issues of gender and identity in his really quite meta film, turning “fight” in Fight Club on his head, and instead focusing on its less masochistic double, “self-defense.” Imogen Poots gives a masterclass performance as Anna, Sensei’s most accomplished student, who excels at her work but hasn’t received the recognition that she deserves simply because Sensei is a raging misogynist: he once blamed Anna for her own sexual assault.

Like its spiritual predecessor, or perhaps cousin, The Art of Self-Defense excels at creating a world in which an undercurrent of both rage and dissatisfaction exists amongst routine. Stearns’ approach is one of nuance, illustrating a world that is always on the edge of unraveling through minute details. In one particular scene, when Casey is ignoring the voicemails that have been piling up on his phone, the automated voice message lets him know that his box is full. The voice is not a robotic one, rather, it’s the voice of an annoyed woman whose lips seem to curl in annoyance when she pronounces the word “full”. This is the voice of a woman forced to labor, time and time again, for ineffectual men.

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The Art of Self-Defense ©Bleecker Street

Initially, Casey’s Sensei is the image of an aspirational machismo–aspirational, at least, for the kind but quiet Casey. In the karate studio, the Sensei hangs up a list of the ten rules of his practice, with an addendum at the end that says “guns are for the weak.” His particular brand of individualistic, brutal, and bravado means that he must be feared.  That his physical body must be stealthy enough to kill any man and that it must be so psychical- and metaphysically advanced that he can teach his feet to “punch” and his hands to “kick.” The Art of Self-Defense is ultimately an exercise in reckoning with and breaking the rules of a suffocating, violent, and chauvinism through a language of listlessly deadpan humor.

Providence Monthly: Let’s Be Frank

The beloved Saugy turns 150 

The Saugy hot dog is a point of pride for many Rhode Islanders. Its rich and distinct taste, formerly only available in the Ocean State, gives many an excuse to brag about our little home. This year, the beloved summertime favorite turns 150.

Augustus and Alphonse Saugy – German immigrants who came to Rhode Island through Ellis Island – introduced their hot dog to a state that looked very different than it does today. The two would deliver their products from the production house on Canal Street by way of horse and buggy, hooves clamoring on then cobblestone streets, going door-to-door to sell the franks in white cardboard boxes with black lettering.

The Saugy is Rhode Island’s first hot dog, but it’s also one of our best kept secrets. Few people outside of the state are familiar with the product. To many, it’s so irreplaceable, so quintessential, that nostalgic former Rhode Islanders often order them to bring back to their home. The current owner, Mary O’Brien, says she frequently ships five or 10 pounds of Saugys overnight to customers across the country. One man in particular ordered the hot dogs for his ailing mom on Mother’s Day.

It is certainly not easy keeping a business afloat for 150 years, but smart leadership, modern technology, and most importantly, the loyalty of Rhode Islanders preserve this iconic food item. Over the years, the company has overseen the adoption of modern manufacturing technology, transitioning from a sawdust smoking process to a liquid smoke in their USDA and SQF-approved facility. Saugy Inc. recently introduced a skinless recipe (more like a ballpark frank) alongside the classic natural casing recipe, which provides that distinctive “snap” when you bite into it, similar to a sausage. Some locals recoil at the idea of eating a skinless. As Mary says, “Rhode islanders are very loyal to their brand.” The original Saugy still reigns supreme.

What’s next for this historic company? Mary says that she is planning on bringing back Saugy “Buckies” (bratwurst), alongside their own brands of relish, spicy mustard, and New England-style bun. She’s also working on takingthe Saugy to additional locations in Florida. Saugy dogs can be found everywhere in Rhode Island, but The Tavern on the Hill in West Greenwich serves up the largest Saugy menu, with 20 different recipes like the “Mac & Cheese” dog, the “Thanksgiving” and “The Cuban.”

This article was published online for Providence Monthly magazine on June 27, 2019. 

Providence Monthly: A City For All

This article was published online on June 27, 2019 for Providence Monthly magazine. 

“If I can get people here, this city sells itself,” says Kristen Adamo. As President and CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau (PWCVB), she has the important role of showing out-of-towners just how great Rhode Island, and more specifically Providence, is. Recently appointed on April 25, Kristen has enjoyed a long and fruitful history in the bureau, serving previously as the Director of Communications, where she ran marketing strategy and was later promoted to Vice President.

So, what’s in store for the year ahead? Kristen is working to make sure that the PWCVB tells the stories “of all of our community.” She’s in the process of setting up a walking tour of African American history in Providence and creating more content about local African American history on their website. “I’d like to do that with indigenous people, with our Latino community, we just want to broaden our perspective and tell stories that appeal to all Americans and all visitors.”

In the 14 years that Kristen has worked for the bureau, she has been a key player in Rhode Island tourism. One particular success is that she has raised the profile on Providence’s gastronomic brand, orchestrating Providence’s own successful “Restaurant Week.”

Throughout her tenure, Kristen says that “we’ve done a lot of outreach in terms of things like the LGBTQ community, we’ve built sort of a niche market promoting Providence as a great place for the gay and lesbian community. Recently, we’ve done a lot of work with promoting Providence’s neighborhoods as a diverse collection, and you can go and curate your own experience here.” Kristen also supports and oversees the hundreds of meetings, sporting events, and conventions that happen – and bring economic activity – here. There were 250 last year alone.

In her new role, Kristen wields her outreach, strategy, and marketing skills to shine a light on local organizations and communities. She says that one of the most satisfying, and joyful, aspects of her job is that she’s “really, really proud to help people with their small businesses.”