Why are New Students at the New School Smoking?

Why are New Students at the New School smoking?

For some first year students at The New School, smoking cigarettes is a social tool. But will the “friends” made while puffing away, stick around for as long as the effects from smoking will? For many students, that relationship has yet to cross their mind.

“I feel like a lot of people here feel like they’ve seen it all and done a lot. There’s an assumption that you’ve seen something,” said Maya, a freshman at Eugene Lang College.

I met Maya in the courtyard. She wore dark sunglasses and smoked a cigarette as she talked among friends. Though Maya has smoked since high school, she says her smoking has increased since coming to Lang from Seattle because her friends at the university smoke. “Pretty much everyone at Lang smokes,” she said. “I come out here (the courtyard) to smoke with friends.”

Like Maya, Lang freshman, Alex and Maizy were also smoking outside. The pair met because they both live in the Stuyvesant Park Residence, the new freshman dormitory on 15th street. At Stuyvesant, the pair agreed that smoking is a social mechanism for meeting other students. “We met because we were smoking and everyone goes outside to smoke,” said Alex. “Outside of our dorm is the place to be.”

Maizy is from Los Angeles and has smoked since high school. She has found making friends to be a challenge because she says freshman are so eager to meet new people that it’s difficult to make sincere connections. Because of the desire to feel included, student who aren’t smokers have begun smoking. “People feel like they have to be out there,” said Maizy. “But than I watch them suffer as they don’t enjoy themselves.”

However, Justine, a Lang sophomore, who has lived in the dorms at Loeb Hall since freshman year, says she doesn’t smoke because she thinks its “gross.” and that she wouldn’t compromise her health to fit into certain social circles. “I’ve never had a cigarette in my life, she said. “I think it’s a social tool.”

Lucky for Justine, students can’t smoke inside the dorms as New School regulations prohibit smoking cigarettes and cigars in all university buildings. But the university’s Code of Conduct says “rooms/suites are designated as non-smoking unless all of the occupants agree to allow smoking. In accordance with both The New School and New York State law, smoking is prohibited in any hallways, stairwells, or other common area space.”

Maizy said she planned to quit smoking when she moved to New York, but has yet to do so because of its social prevalence among the student body. “I was going to quit when I got to college,” said Maizy. “But than I got here and it was woah, explosion of smokers.”

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Rent-A-Vet

On countless corners in New York City vendors peddle their wares, offering everything from phone chargers and iPod covers, to art, books and DVDs. To judge by the sheer number of vendors, one might wrongly assume that selling merchandise, and securing space in New York is easy. Not so.

A lottery system in place for all applicants, save for war veterans, means that many are never selected or may even have to wait for over ten years to receive their vending license. A woman selling incense outside of Whole Foods by Union Square described the latter as a common situation. Many who depend on vending as their livelihood have circumvented the system, and have used the veterans’ privileges by renting their licenses, or even them.

“People actually rent the veteran, the veteran becomes a part of your business,” said a vendor on 14th St. between 5th Avenue and University Pl., who asked not to be named. “He might be sitting there, and working with you, or even just sitting there and taking a percent of what you make.”

The vendor explained that because this is illegal, needs like these are not publicized, but word travels through the vending community.  “It is a very disciplined relationship, the veterans find out through word of mouth.”

Art being sold at union Sq. Only art is permitted in the park.

Different licenses are granted to vendors, depending on the nature of their goods. Books, art, and spiritual material can be sold by anyone, and are protected under the First Amendment however, vendors still need to get a Tax ID, and secure a space. For vendors selling general goods, a general vending license referred to by most vendors as the ‘white license’  is needed from City Hall. Often it is vendors who are selling general goods that rent the veterans, and their licenses.

A more specific license, known as the ‘yellow license’ is used to purvey particular goods, and through distinctions such as  ‘Consumer/Cigarette’, vendors holding these licenses are allowed to sell cigarettes and candy.  Surveillance of yellow license holders by city officials is much more stringent, and one such holder explained that his kiosk is visited every three months, without specific notice, and his business is surveyed.

For many who are using a veteran’s general vending license the potential to be visited by city officials, although less structured than those for yellow license holders, is one of the reasons why the veteran often becomes a present member in the business. Some have even complained about the behavior of police in enforcing rules such as table length, and distance from the road. White license holders often have the freedom to move between a designated area, as in the case of my interviewee- who has the freedom to sell anywhere between University Pl., and 7th Avenue.

However, vendors often maintain the same spot said the source, and that there is a kind of “vending etiquette.”

“People in this area [Union Square] will arrive very early to set up, and they even get into fights,” he said. “Some people make friends and help each other out, different blocks function differently.”

None of the vendors approached were comfortable discussing the renting of a veterans license, and none of those approached were willing to share their names.

Kitchen Life

It’s just past midnight on a cold Sunday and Soomin Lee, 22, is standing in his kitchen in Peter Cooper Village, sipping a tall glass of whiskey and making an extravagant version of macaroni and cheese. He is slim, tattooed, and baby-faced, with a red bandana holding back his long, shaggy hair. Sweating slightly, he begins emulsifying his rue (thickening a sauce by adding milk). Besides his faded black sweatshirt, tight blue jeans, and impish grin, Soomin looks like a stereotypical chef: Briskly and almost violently lifting, shifting, and whirling the large pan over a high sparking flame, he mumbles to himself, wiping his brow, tasting and stirring repeatedly. Suddenly, he drops the pan and begins darting from one corner of his kitchen to the next, rapidly dicing an entire onion into tiny identical cubes, reaching his hand into boiling water to try grab a noodle, popping it into his mouth while simultaneously pouring wine and milk and butter into the sizzling pan.

Soomin doesn’t measure—or even seem to think—before he adds one ingredient after the other. “I eye it out” he explains, “that’s thing about the professional kitchen, you tend to repeat yourself so much that you memorize the recipes, and then you stop fucking referring to them. At first it’s all chemistry, it’s a science. Plus we’re constantly tasting, all day long. But [we] learn to just know when its done.” Cocking his head to the side, he pours the sauce into the bowl of steaming noodles. “But judgment and timing is one of the hardest things to learn” he admits.

He pauses to gulp down the glass of whiskey, wink, and examine his work. “Oh yeah” he shakes his head and moans, “Look at that glaze! Look at that pure sexiness. That is one fucking sexy sauce.”

I sit beside friend Hawk Donofrio, 21, and watch in awe as Soomin adds his final touches to the meal, then pours two glasses of red wine (and another large whiskey for himself) and serves us in one swoop. “Dude!” Hawk exclaims, “It’s like you have five hands!” to which he simply chuckles and responds, “Dig in.”

Rather than sit with us, Soomin jumps up onto the kitchen counter, bowl in hand. But he doesn’t eat immediately—first, he studies both of our expressions as we take the first bite. I hum in satisfaction. Hawk smiles, shaking his head slowly, licking his lips. Soomin smiles shyly, lowers his eyes,  and begins to eat.

Soomin Lee is the youngest and most inexperienced cook in the four star French bistro, Bar Baloud, located on 64th and Broadway. But this hasn’t stopped him from moving up in the culinary world: he has been promoted twice within the past six months, offered three jobs (with double the salary to encourage him to leave his current position), and is presently collaborating with an international business owner to open his own restaurant within the next five years.

But he has been interested in food long before he went to the Institute of Culinary Education, (ICE) on 23rd between 6th and 5th avenue. His earliest memory is of eating a fresh oyster on the beach. He was four when he first lifted a pan. “My grandmother is from old world Korea, and she would have to cook for the family,” he says, “so she taught me how to cook when I was a very little kid. But she’s old fashioned, and it wasn’t really ever a plan for me to eventually become a professional cook or a chef. [But] I kept experimenting all through childhood, and would always cook for myself and for the family whenever I could…”

“She hated when I made dumplings,” he continues, grinning “it was a woman’s job, a time to gossip and talk with the other girls in the family. But I started really enjoying learning about [cooking] and practicing, and I’d get addicted to recipes, and eventually it turned into this career, which I love.”

Suddenly Soomin’s features change, sharpen; more seriously and with emphasis, he adds “I love physical jobs: I was a messenger, a drummer, I worked in a printing press. I love the idea of applying myself to something that has such direct effect on people, gives them such pleasure. And at the same time I get exactly what I want out of it, and it’s very rewarding. And I love cooking. I love creating through it. I think it’s an incredible medium.

Glancing up at me, almost nervously, he continues “And it’s craft before its art. But I really like the idea that you can apply [art] to it. I mean, you eat with your eyes, your nose, even your ears. And in that respect I think its one of the greatest potential art forms.”

He believes that experiencing cuisine involves more than the food, but the service, the environment, and the atmosphere all of which are, according to Soomin, “meant to give you bodily pleasure, in every sense.”

Still, kitchen life is hectic, consuming, and dangerous. Cooks endure grueling 10-12 hour shifts without breaks, 6 days a week. Pay is low: Line cooks typically make $19,000 to 25,229 a year, sous-chefs and executive chefs make between $25,000—50,000. Bar Baloud, owned by the legendary Daniel Baloud (“the God of contemporary French cooking in America.”) is particularly hectic. Soomin describes the pressure of his job with a mix of exasperation and conceit. “Everyone knows we put up the highest numbers…” he explains, “It’s the craziest place on the planet! Well—as far as restaurants go.”

Today, Soomin completed a 14 hour double shift, severed his right index finger to the nail, and is running on less than four hours of sleep. He begins work tomorrow at 6 A.M.  Nonetheless, he is oddly energetic and upbeat. “I got tagged today!” he says, a manic energy flashing in his eyes. “Wanna see?” Before I have time to answer, he rolls his sleeves up and reveals the latest “tag,” or burn, among a jagged array of light pink and deep brown scars. One ropes wildly around his entire wrist, another forms a perfect crater of cauterized flesh just below his elbow. He pokes at the bleeding knife wound absently and mumbles, “I should probably get around to super-gluing this one closed.”

But Soomin doesn’t seem to mind the way his arms look, claiming ” it’s part of the job.” Many of the burns originate from the same kitchen-ware and are therefore identical in location, size, and shape. Because of this, a chef can often spot another chef almost immediately. “But “Most people probably think I’m some sort of nutso masochist…” he giggles. “I’m lucky it’s only my arms, not my face or my balls yet.” (Often, coworkers burn their lower regions when accidentally leaning into flat plates that reach 670 degrees) Later, I overhear him telling Hawk about a female pastry chef who “smoldered her face” and never looked the same.

The worst injury he’s seen in the kitchen? “Once a chef severed the major tendon in his thumb when he was sharpening a knife carelessly” he pieces his thumb with an imaginary knife, “The knife went right through him. He just went into the emergency room, but he severed it so cleanly they couldn’t put it back together, and he still can’t use his thumb.”

Another time, a cook cut the entire tip of his pinky finger off, straight through the nail. He refused to go to the hospital, insisting there was no time. Instead, he threw the severed flesh away, heated a metal spoon, disappeared into the hallway, cauterized the wound, and got back to work. “Because we’re fucking busy” Soomin says simply and with hint of pride. “It’s like, do that, or get fired. Your choice.”

Physical injury is not the only downside of the job. Psychological melt-downs are not uncommon, especially at the infamously chaotic Bar Baloud. Two weeks ago the head saucier of five years suffered a mental breakdown and never came back in to work. On Monday, Soomin’s AM station (in charge of making cold dishes, soups, appetizers and prep) was serving 400 people. Halfway through, “some new kid screwed up and just broke down. Crouched on the floor in the fetal position and cried like a baby.” Soomin raises his eyebrows, pausing for emphasis, and takes a heavy drag from his third cigarette. “And everyone’s just running around this kid on the floor, you know? We don’t have time to stop and take care of him.” It’s hard to tell whether Soomin feels guilt or disbelief as he lowers his voice and adds: “And then Chef reaches down, takes the cell-phone out of his pocket and calls the kid’s mother. When she picks up, Chef just goes, ‘You wasted 60,000 dollars of college tuition on your son. He’s never going to make it as a chef. He’s fired.’ And hung up.”

He may not break down publically, but even strong-headed Soomin admits he isn’t impervious to the stress. His symptoms mimic those of a war veteran: He is jumpy, hyper, tense and angry. It usually takes him several hours and a few stiff drinks to wind down after work. Even on his rare days off, he worries about the kitchen, estimates how many customers are coming in, and calls to check in on coworkers. At night, if he can sleep, he wakes up sweating and feverish, frantically chopping imaginary beats and carrots in his bed.

So what exactly appeals to a cook like Soomin?

Part of it is the impermanence of the position. In the back of every cooks mind, there is a common goal to make it out of the kitchen, open up a restaurant, and finally put personal vision and creativity into his or her work.

“For now, I’m a cook, not a chef.” Soomin says, stating sternly “But like my chef Damien said to us the other day: if you’re not here to open up you’re own restaurant one day, the doors upstairs. You can fucking get out. Because we’re all here to start or to continue or finish our time serving somebody. So we can finally open our own place. And that’s why you’re a chef. Because you have to know it in order to run it.”

Ultimately, however, it’s his zeal for food and dedication to his kitchen that drive Soomin to succeed despite all obstacles. It’s a lifestyle and a passion most people will never fully be able to understand, but to Soomin, the pain and anxiety are worth the sense of joy cooking brings him. He believes firmly in putting love into everything he makes: “Love for the food, love for the art” he says. “And also love for your kitchen, because really, whether you like them or not, at the end of the day [they become] your family.” To him, compared to all other careers, professional cooking takes the most toll but reaps the most rewards. “The great thing about this is that it’s a very specific kind of happiness,” he explains, “because I’m detached from the people that I’m making happy. I can be an asshole behind closed doors. In the end you’re doing it for people that don’t know you exist, people you’ll never even see….I’ll never see them taste the food but I know exactly how they’ll feel when they do. And I love that.”

Of course, like most young adults, there are times when Soomin doubts his choices and his future: “I miss being in a band, I miss performing…I miss sunlight” he murmurs, smiling sadly. “But I know I’m going to become a chef and open up a restaurant well before I’m 30” Then, for the first time in our conversation, Soomin hesitates, wavers. “And that’s asking a lot, that’s asking a lot. That’s pretty bold and risqué thing to say.”

A moment later, he returns to normal: crooked smirk, eyes full of mischievous charm and beaming confidence. Almost to himself, he says, “But that’s how I do it—I fucking go until it’s done. I’m going to be the best. Just give me a few years.”

Spiderman!

Spiderman has forsaken the sights and sounds of Midtown  for the excitement of lower Manhattan. Garbed in a spiderman suit, Shaun, entertainer and rickshaw runner extraordinaire, from Miami, Florida has filled the city with screams and laughter since his arrival to the city. Termed NYC Fun Run, Shaun takes interested New Yorkers for a ride in his rickshaw and jumps up in the air, and runs across the surfaces of buildings and edges of vehicles, much like his fictional counterpart. Using his and the riders’ body weight, Shaun keeps the rickshaw balanced (see highlighted link for visual sense.)

Shaun can often be found in the Lower East Side at St. Marks- for New Schoolers who want a free ride.

(Filming by Billy Kaufman)

Cars > Bikes

On Tuesday, December 14th,  a 33 year old woman died as result of injuries caused by a biking accident on Nassau Ave. in Brooklyn, raising the death toll of New York City bicyclists to 24 this year. Gawker reported that Solange Raulston was side swiped by a flat bed truck moving the same direction as her while she was on her way to work. 2009 has been an important year for bicycle activists hoping to raise more awareness about the benefits of a bikeable city, and the importance of safety that comes along with it.  More and more people are braving the streets of New York via bike. Bikes are ecological, economical, and fast, but in a city where the streets feel unsafe even in a car, is it good that more and more people are opting for bicycles?

Biking accidents have been around for a while, in fact the first ever reported automobile accident, according to the federal highway administration, was in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist. But this year’s bike accidents seem especially brutal. And the politics behind biking in New York are getting more and more heated.

The bike lane fight in Williamsburg has received a lot of press around the city. Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative to make a greener city somehow involves buying hybrid cars for all public officials, but also hurries to paint over already existing bike lanes.  In a telling quote from a New York Times article on biking in the city “ …the overwhelming share of the deaths, 92 percent, involved a moving motor vehicle, while only one death in that period happened in a bicycle lane.” While the Bedford community’s argument for removing the bike line to safeguard the children in the area is an important concern, does this statistic not hold its weight as well?

The city now has over 420 miles of marked bike lanes and paths along the streets in all five boroughs — half of those created in the past three years. Another 200 miles are off the street, including Central Park and the Hudson River path. Biking activists are fighting for protected bike lanes which have already popped up in areas like Chelsea and the Lower East side. The idea is that if the parked cars simply switch places with the bike lanes, the rows of parked cars will create a steel barrier between the bikes and the cars. Though protected bike lanes are a great idea, many of these lanes abruptly end forcing bikers back into traffic.  Awareness of motor vehicle drivers will decrease accidents immensely, as many bicycle commuters have to use roads without bike lanes at least once on their commute. Also “being doored” has been a leading cause of biking accidents and was the actually a cause of a recent death.

As a migrant from Boulder Colorado where the weight of your bike is more important than the brand of your car, I was surprised to come to a place where biking caused such controversy. In my first three days here I had one bike stolen. A month later after saving up enough money for another commuter bike I got into the first of two accidents this year. The first accident was simply caused by an extremely large extremely invisible pothole that threw me off of my bike into moving traffic on Flatbush Ave. Luckily my bike and I were scraped off of the street by two fast acting bystanders who saved  me from a car moving toward me at 40 miles/hr.  The other was only two weeks ago when a car started turning into me as I was crossing East Houston. I was forced to turn into pedestrian knocking him off his feet and receiving hollering applause from a nearby crowd.

The NYC.gov website gives advice for safe riding in the city, and though some of it is common sense perhaps the most important thing for people to remember is to wear a helmet. According to the same article in the New York Times, “Only 3 percent of the bicyclists who died [in 2008] were wearing helmets, according to available data. Head injuries contributed to three-quarters of bicycle deaths.” Stupidity is also a leading cause a biking accidents. Waiting for red lights and slowing down for yellow lights are not just for cars. And for all you fixed gear riders out there, under NYC law all bikes must have working breaks. The government has even threatened to require licenses for bikes, a recent development in Chicago.

from nyc.gov

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of NYC bike politics is the resistance to bikers by certain communities and even the NYPD. NYC critical mass is a monthly group bike ride that brings awareness to alternate modes of transportation in NYC. Though the rides can sometimes get in the way of traffic, two law suits have been filed against police officers for unnecessary brutality against riders. In both of these cases the police officers denied allegations of being unnecessarily rough with the bikers, that is until video’s surfaced that showed otherwise peaceful bike riders being flat out pushed off of their bicycles by officers.

It looks like biking in New York is going to continue to be a battle, and until more bike lanes are added or drivers become more aware it is going to continue to be an extremely dangerous way to get around this metropolis. New Yorkers can’t expect the city to look like Amsterdam any time soon, and If ghost bikes keep popping up all over the city, and bike lanes already in place are being painted over, maybe us bikers will have to move to cities with bike lanes already in place rather than try and paint them on ourselves.

Patricio: The Pizza Maker From Ecuador

The Last Swipe

This week, speculation arose that government could take another swipe at students due to financial problems the city is facing. But this time it’s middle school and high students who’ve got reason to be concerned.

The paper exclusively revealed that after Sunday’s meeting between Governor Patterson and Albany and City Hall, it’s clear that the capital cannot afford to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s financial deficit. Therefore the agency will be forced to take measures in order to do so itself. This could mean cutting transit routes, laying off an estimated 700 employees, and most outraging to parents and students alike, eliminating the student MetroCard program. This system currently offers free rides to about 550,000 middle and high school students and is particularly relied upon by low-income families.

“Personally, I don’t think I like the idea of diminishing the MetroCards,” Govener Patterson told The Daily News. “They need the MetroCards to go to school.”

New York City high school students took to Facebook to publicly denounce the news. “Take away school metros?,” one student, who requested to be left un-named, posted in a status update Monday night. “You know how many kids are just not going to go to school.”

Student Metro Card

Formerly, the $160 million dollar program, received $45 million from the city and state, with MTA personally compensating for the rest of the funding. But with the city facing a $6.8 billion deficit, the state has cut back on its funding to the program to a low of $6 million. The MTA can’t afford to provide the rest of the money needed to keep the free metro cards flowing.