A few weeks ago, blogging friend Marinka invited me to attend this mommyblogger-type PR event that was going to happen in the Oak Room at the famous Plaza Hotel in New York. The event was a promotion for an international competition called the Product of the Year. I looked it up online, and learned that it was an fairly new event in the United States, in which various supermarket consumer products, such as those in beauty, health, and snacks, each vie to win their category (after paying the hefty submittal fee).
At first I told Marinka that I wasn’t going to the event, figuring it was a mommyblogger thing, and I would feel odd. Marinka persisted that I should come. Clearly she was desperate to tell her friends that, “I am with the brilliant @Neilochka at this event,” so everyone on Twitter could ooh and aah, and she would gain more followers. So, understanding her true motivation, and being the gentleman that I am, I agreed to attend as her platonic “date.”
The night before the cocktail party/event/PR shindig (on Monday), I received an email from Marinka, saying that she had a cold, or as she dramatically wrote — “I am on my deathbed” — and that she couldn’t attend the event. She said I should still go… by myself,. but I refused to step into a den of mommybloggers without her support; I decided to skip the event as well.
Yesterday, I received another email from Marinka. She was feeling better, and we were back on!
I dressed in my nicest Michael Kors shirt and a trendy sports jacket, despite it being seventy degrees outside, and headed by subway from Queens into Manhattan . I had never been to the Oak Room (Fifth Avenue and Central Park West), but I knew that it was a classy establishment.
I arrived earlier than I expected and had an hour to kill. I wandered up and down Fifth Avenue. At the Abercrombie and Fitch store, the line was around the block. I wondered if there was another mommyblogger event occurring simultaneously? I questioned a few of the people online at the store, most who were German and Italian tourists. I got my answer. There was no special event. These people were salivating European tourists who flew all the way to New York primarily to buy as many pairs of jeans as possible with our weak, spineless dollar, and then saying “Arriverderci” to our beloved America as our economy continues to sink into the Grand Canyon, much like Americans who used to go to Tijuana for cheap tacos and Mexican blankets.
I will be honest. I have never stepped foot INTO an Abercrombie and Fitch store, despite there being one on every block in Los Angeles. But I did wonder: Why are they so popular with our European friends? The half-naked guy in the poster?
I continued my urban wanderings. Most tourists love this strip of Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center to Central Park, but as someone with little interest in Tiffany jewelry or expensive watches, I got bored. I bought a stale pretzel from one of the street vendors and headed for the Plaza Hotel.
On my arrival at the hotel, I was surprised to find another crowd gathering, this time right in front of the entrance of the Plaza. There were several cop cars, and news vans from each of the local channels. Perhaps I too quickly pooh-poohed this mommyblogger event, thinking it a minor happening in the big city, when in reality, it was the toast of the town, the BIG shindig of the night, and I was going to be on Page Six of the New York Post.
I sat by the edge of the famous fountain across from the hotel and went on Twitter, wanting to ask Marinka when she was going to arrive.
I learned two things from Twitter.
1) The news media was not here because of this product event, mommybloggers, or me. The night before, Charlie Sheen had some “allergic reaction” in one of the hotel rooms, and proceeded to go crazy and destroy the hotel. Perhaps he had eaten one of those stale pretzels from the street vendor on Fifth Avenue.
2) Marinka was still sick and could not attend the event.
#2 was a big blow. I thought about going home. I don’t like going to parties by myself. Memories of all those parties in high school that I was too afraid of attending, of walking in by myself, the fear that no one would talk to me, pounded in my head, like a nagging evil step-brother.
But then I heard the voice of reason, of confidence.
“You’re a man,” said the voice. Be a f**king man!”
It was my Penis. He was talking to me. It had been a long time since he had spoken to me directly, giving me advice.
“Don’t be afraid of the mommybloggers. They’re going to be intimidated by YOU!”
My Penis was right. I am someone. I AM BEAUTIFUL! I embrace my imperfections. I am authentic. Or whatever the current mantra is.
I would attend this event. And I would talk to others! I would speak openly about my opinions on these consumer products. Like I belong. After all, I do buy potato chips at the supermarket, just like the next guy.
But I still had an hour to kill, so I did what comes naturally to me. I continued to waste time on Twitter.
I wrote some more tweets about the Plaza Hotel and Charlie Sheen, hoping to impress friends in Oklahoma that my life in New York is 1000x more glamorous than their sad, miserable, suburban life in Tulsa, where the only excitement is the introduction of a new all-you-can eat BBQ rib plate at Applebee’s. After all, how often does Charlie Sheen go into a drug-induced tantrum in a Tulsa hotel, throwing furniture out the window?
Exactly. Only in New York.
As I played on my iPhone, I noticed a photographer setting up his camera to my right. He was aiming his lens towards me. It was an expensive camera, so I assumed that he was either a professional photographer or a German tourist who just bought a very very nice camera and tripod at B&H because of the weak dollar, and is now laughing at our country’s failure.
As I sat there, playing on Twitter, the photographer tried to get my attention. I looked up and he was gesturing to me. He was pointing down and saying something I could not understand. I understood the gesture to mean that I should continue to look down at my iphone and not his way. Was he trying to frame a shot of me sitting by the fountain? I was the only one sitting by the fountain, and I imagined that my sitting there alone by the fountain WAS a cool shot. I’m always reading how my blogger/photographer friends like Kate and Sarah search for off-the-cuff photos of daily life. And here I was, some guy — a young executive, perhaps? — wearing a nice shirt and sports jacket, absorbed with his iphone.
The sun was beginning to set. Perfect light. I tried to imagine who he thought I was. Did he think that I came straight from my fancy office — a law office, maybe, where I am almost a full partner — in some tall skyscraper, and I’m taking a little break on my iphone before I head home to my wife on the Upper West Side. Or perhaps the photographer was documenting the alienation of modern urban life. All around me was activity — thousands of people whizzing by, honking cabs, even news vans eager to get the gossip on the latest celebrity scandal, and here I was, alone, my face reflected in the glowing screen of my iPhone, talking to virtual friends instead of embracing real life.
I love art. I love photography. And I vowed to give the photographer the shot of his life.
I cheated my face a bit to the side, as I had learned in film school, and concentrated my focus on my iphone, faking a posing like an “alienated young New York executive alone with his Iphone,” half-hoping that my photo would end up as the cover for the next issue of New York Magazine, a special issue on “Has Social Media Stolen Our Souls?”
My acting was superb. Helen Hayes, the grande dame of New York theater, would have been pleased by my performance. But the photographer didn’t seem pleased.
“No. No.” shouted the photographer, despite my best model pose.
He left his tripod for a brief second and ran to me, pointing downward.
“No. No. The back of you jacket is in the FOUNTAIN!”
So that was it. The photographer was not telling me to look down at my iPhone so he can shoot my portrait. He was trying to tell me to look down because the back of my sports jacket was dipping in the filthy water of the fountain.
“Sh*t,” I said to myself.
I slid the jacket off my body, trying to shake it dry. What do I do now? It was time for my big event.
I remembered my last “product event” that I went to in Manhattan. It was about a month ago, a preview of the new washers and dryers for Whirlpool/Maytag. At the end of the event, one of the representatives handed me his card and said I could contact him ANYTIME with questions about effective techniques for washing and drying.
I wish I hadn’t left his number on my desk. I could have called him.
“Uh, yes… Maytag/Whirlpool PR guy, this is Neil Kramer from “Citizen of the Month.” Do you remember me? Well, I am going to another PR event today. I was supposed to go with another blogging friend, Marinka — remember her? She was there too. But now she has a cold and canceled, so I am going by myself, but I am a little anxious, and to make things worse, I just dipped my nice sports jacket into the famous fountain across from the Plaza Hotel, and every local news station is five feet away from me because of Charlie Sheen acting crazy and destroying the hotel, and now I see some of the news people are looking MY WAY, hoping that a new scandal might be developing. What should I do?”
My phone rang. It was Sophia. She would have to do for advice instead of the Maytag repairman. I told her my dilemma. Her advice (after laughing at me) was that I should go to the hotel bathroom and use the heated hand blower on my sports jacket!
Clever. Now do you see why I married her?
But I soon discovered a new obstacle: The Plaza Hotel uses real towels, not heated blowers.
The clock was ticking. I was already fifteen minutes late. While in the Plaza Hotel restroom, I did my best to wring the back of my sports jacket dry, and then headed for the Oak Room. I prayed that the room was very very dark.
Luckily, it was dark. And I wasn’t alone without Marinka. Twitter friend Jessica from Momma’s Gone City was there, as were Andrea, Linda, and a dad blogger named Dada Rocks. They may not have been intimidated by me, but they at least spoke to me.
It was fun to learn more about the business expectations of those who frequently go to these types of events. The idea of dealing with brands and PR firms is still foreign to me. Note: Citizen of the Month is a very poor title for a PR friendly blog.
“Citizen of WHAT?!” someone asked me. “Like Citizen watches?”
The event was decent enough, and no one noticed my wet sports jacket. The organizers gave us then opportunity to “vote” on the products along with the real judges, but I have a feeling our opinions were not very important, and that we were merely asked to help in order to give us something to do as we drank our cocktails. There were several displays of consumer products, M&M chocolate covered pretzels to new alcohol-free mouthwash. We were give a checklist to judge the products in several categories such as “innovation” and whether we “like the product,” but since there was only one wrapped containers of deodorant, toothpaste, mouthwash, bug killer, etc. on the table, there was no way any of us could honestly or accurately rate these items unless we all passed around the deodorant, each tried it on our underarms, and then compared notes.
At a certain hour, the other three women bloggers had an appointment at another event, this one sponsored by Scrubbing Bubbles. At first, I giggled, finding the concept of a Scrubbing Bubbles event as absurd, until I learned that it was occurring at The Rock Cafe at Rockefeller Center, and I immediately stopped laughing. (boy, these mommybloggers live the high life! No cheapo street pretzels for them!)
I decided to walk my new blogger friends to Rockefeller Center, where I could catch the E train back to Queens.
As we crossed the street from the Plaza Hotel, we approached the Paris Hotel, an art house movie theater that has been here for decades. There was a line outside the theater; the patrons had just started entering. I had never heard of the film, and I don’t even remember the name, but it was some art film from a Spanish-speaking country. There was a young scraggy, disheveled homeless dude standing outside the theater. As we approached him, he turned to the four of us, sensing that we were compassionate writer-types, and asked us for money so he could BUY A TICKET to the movie.
You can write me an angry letter, if you want, for laughing at the plight of the homeless in the big city, but whatever happened to begging for a quarter for a cup of coffee?
Money for a ticket for a art film? Does this happen in Tulsa? No. Only in New York!