How to Be Young, Poor, and in Love

“A butterfly can flap its wings in South America, and in Central Park you get sunshine instead of rain.” 

The Universe has a funny way of deciding who it chooses to send in and out of our lives. Some of those people become main characters, some have supporting roles, and others are day players, around for just one episode. It tends to be those with the smallest part that can have the greatest effect.

Let yourself hear the weight of my words, read them slowly, fully allowing each one to sink in as I say: last night was one of the best nights of my life. My girlfriend Jessica and I met Feliciano the eighty-five year old photographer from Argentina for dinner at a little Italian bistro in the Meatpacking District.

Feliciano has been living in the hotel I work at for almost one month now while on vacation. I don’t know why this man keeps coming into my life but I sure don’t mind. The man is alive, in every single sense of the word. He makes the people around him glow; he finds a way to turn the key to unlock what they are hiding from the surface.

Jess and I arrived fifteen minutes early and were greeted by the old man moments later. Before we sat down, Feliciano asked the waiter to take our photograph. New friends. The three of us toasted to life as the sun sank low in the West over the Hudson River, casting a surreal painted vanilla sky that would have inspired Monet.

Conversation flowed with such ease. He never spoke of himself, only when asked. He talked briefly about his fifty years living on West 23rd Street in Chelsea, his humble beginnings in Argentina, and how much New York City has changed. He kept stating the great importance of true friendship, intelligent conversation, hearty meals, and health.

There was a moment of silence in between words. The three of us sat rapt in our stillness and took in the scene around us as we dined outdoors on the New York City street. It was dark now, the sun had set. There was the distinct sound of expensive shoes on cobble stone streets, horns honking, and the warmth of laughter.

If I close my eyes, listen to the city, experience the scent of the food, sense the cool summer air on my skin, it is almost as if I am young again, sitting on the streets of Paris.”

He slowly opened his hazel eyes and stared with admiration at the two of us through his glasses, as if he was captivated, deep in a lost memory:

“There is something romantic about being young, poor, and in Love in New York City, isn’t there?”

His words seeped deep into me. I allowed every single one to marinate in the moment. A question he knew did not require an answer.

***

After a full course meal of Northern Italian food, tiramisu for desert, and three rounds of Pinot Gigio, Feliciano said it was time he went back to the hotel to get some sleep. I offered to pay for the meal. I’ve never had much money and so I tend to get uncomfortable when others treat. I  couldn’t help it; Feliciano insisted  it was his pleasure. Jess and I walked Feliciano back to the hotel, where all the staff knew him by name and greeted him like family.

“There is nothing like new friends and intelligent conversation. We must come back one year from now.”

And with that, we said until next time to Feliciano from Argentina.

Jess and I left Feliciano as better people than before we met him. An internal fire, like burning furnace for life, had been stoked. We rode the subway uptown back to our neighborhood, got off a stop early, and sauntered slowly up along the East River under crescent moonlight. The air was quite cool now, as I held her tightly under my arm. We headed back to our tiny matchbox studio apartment and made love before drifting off to sleep sometime around midnight.

My alarm clock sounded for work at 5:45 AM. I thought for a moment, it was all a dream. I write this narrative in my journal as I glance up between my thoughts, peering out over patches of robin’s egg blue sky hidden by indigo feathered white clouds hanging low, teasing the tops of skyscrapers, with no place to go, simply drifting toward the ocean.

- EC

© All rights reserved 2014

***

photo

Myself, Jessica, and Feliciano

New York City Apartment Tour

A tour of my cozy 200 sq ft studio apartment in Manhattan.

•Location: Upper East Side, Manhattan

•Rent: $1400/month

•Building: Low rise Brownstone 5 stories tall. Built in 1905 (pre-war)

•Apartment: 200 sq ft studio, 1.0 bathroom. 12 foot ceilings. Second floor. Alley facing.

•Transportation: Subways 4 5 6 at 86th St

To see what the apartment looked like when I first moved in check out photos on my Facebook Page.

What do you guys think of the place?
IMG_1637.JPG

How to Live in New York City as a Broke Twenty-Something

Since starting this site I’ve received a lot of questions along the lines of:

“I want to move to New York City to pursue art, singing, acting,  dancing, photography…but its never going to happen.  There is no way I can afford to live there.”

***

There is nothing new about my story. Since the first wave of immigrants passed through Ellis Island, millions of people have flocked to New York City to pursue a better life. It is a city built on dreams. Thousands come with the changing seasons and leave just as fast as summer crept out the back door.

I graduated from Northeastern University  in 2013 in with an absurd amount of debt and a degree in I still don’t know what I want to do with my life.

Actually, I knew what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do scared me more than anything, that is how I knew I had to do it. Two weeks after graduation I caught the 6 A.M Greyhound bus from Boston to New York City and landed in Spanish Harlem with a little under $1,500 to my name. Comfort is the enemy of achievement.

***

I am launching a YouTube Channel. I share weekly advice on how to live in New York City as a broke twenty-something. I don’t mean broke as in your parents forgot to pay your first and last months rent. I’m talking about the artists, the actors, singers, and dreamers who will have to work a day job to pay for the chance to potentially make it happen.

I created this channel to share tips and advice I’ve picked up over the past year and a half since moving to New York City in order to help anyone who has ever even thought about moving here to pursue their passion come up with a realistic plan to make it happen.

Subscribe for new videos every Sunday night, outlining tips and advice I wish I had known before I moved here, everything from how to live in a 200 sq ft studio apartment with your girlfriend,  how to leverage Craigslist, where to find the best thrift shops, and more.

I want to hear from you! What questions do you have about moving to New York City? Tweet @erikconover with the #askeriknyc or comment below to have your questions answered in a video.

 

-EC

Climb That Goddamn Mountain

We tend to toss around inspirational quotations on the internet without fully grasping the weight of the very words we strive to embody, myself included. With that said, there is a quote I came across by Jack Kerouac that has become my life manta since moving to New York City over one year ago.

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”

Twenty-four hours ago, I was gliding down the face of a head-high wave, surfing a point break where the Ogunquit River meets the Gulf of Maine. I followed that river north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

***

I write this entry in my red leather-bound journal 4,459 feet up in the sky, as a mammoth cumulus cloud caresses the summit, briefly igniting a refreshingly cold rain in the distance. The veins of the mountain flow to life, cascading down the peak feeding Echo Lake miles below. My lungs have never inhaled air so pure. My lips have never tasted water so crisp, untainted by man.

A sea of green below extends for one hundred miles in every direction, blanketing the rugged landscape. Drops of sweat pool on my brow, down my chest, soaking my white t-shirt from the three-hour ascent up the Flume Slide Trial to the summit of Mount Liberty. My hand is shaking as I write. My heart is pounding. My endorphins screaming. I am alive. I am standing on top of the world, with my little brother and older cousin by my side.

An inspirational quotation means absolutely nothing unless we act on it. Live it. Practice what you preach. Climb that goddamn mountain. Time goes on. So whatever you’re going to do, do it now, don’t wait. My mind is clear . . . back to Manhattan . . . mountains await.

What words do you live by? Tweet or comment below.

-EC

The view of Mount Liberty from the Summit of Mount Flume

IMG_4178 There is no feeling in the world like standing on the top of a Mountain

Click here to see more photos from the road trip

My Kind of Town

July 15th, 2014: Theater District, Manhattan 

Erik Conover

” The most courageous thing you can do in life is to do what truly makes you happy” …easier said than done.

Three weeks ago I met a wise, vibrant man named Feliciano who imparted those words of wisdom to me as he firmly shook my hand and said goodbye. The Universe has a funny way of deciding who it chooses to send in and out of our lives. Some of those people become main characters, some have supporting roles, and others are day players, around for just one episode.

As Feliciano left the pool that day, I never expected to see him again. I was left only with the memories from a thirty minute conversation that had greatly inspired me. I decided to internalize the wisdom Feliciano passed on to me in the best way that I know how. I wrote it all down.

A week passed. It was the day the article I was featured in profiling ‘New York City’s Hottest Lifeguards’ was published in the New York Post. I was sitting pool side reading On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac, when I looked up to see Feliciano standing at the edge of the pool, news paper and cappuccino in hand, admiring the view of the Lower Manhattan Skyline. He turned to me and said,

“The funniest thing just happened to me. I was minding my business, reading the morning paper in the Hotel Lobby. I turned the page and there you were! My friend Erik the actor. I had to come up and see if you were here!”

We spoke briefly this time. I could hear in his voice the sincere care and concern when he asked me how I have been, and what I had planned for the day. I told him that I have been very busy.

“Today I am working at the pool from 7:00 AM until 2:30 PM. I have class from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Afterward, I am teaching myself a British accent for a big audition this Saturday, and if I am not asleep by 10:00 PM I want to write my thoughts on the day in my journal.”

He simply responded, “Do you know what I am most excited to do while visiting New York City after working here for half my life? …Nothing at all, I’ve earned it.” With that he smiled and went to go read the paper and enjoy his cappuccino in the shade.

***

I do not publish stories on my site nearly as often as I would like to. To do what truly makes you happy, to live your passion requires more hard work than most people, myself included, can imagine. I recently came across a thought-provoking quote that I find very relevant at this point in my life,

” Your passion is not that for which you do not have to work, or that for which the work doesn’t feel like work, but that for which you are willing to work – even when the work is grueling.”

This morning, once again I was greeted by my new friend Feliciano the Photographer who finally informed me that he is actually living in the hotel for the month while on vacation. Again, he asked me how my day is shaping up. I told him,

“After work I have rehearsal with some students from my acting class. I want to go for a quick run, meet my Girlfriend for some poutine, and manage to work on my screenplay a bit before bed.”

He smiled at me with that same wise grin of experience he revealed when we first met and said, “Anything great either begins or ends up in the Big Apple. New York City is my kind of town.”

-EC

© All rights reserved 2014

The Great Pretender

“Get to know New York’s City’s hottest lifeguards”

Recently I was asked by the hotel I work at if I would be interested in being interviewed by the New York Post for a story spotlighting lifeguards in New York City. I agreed.

The day of the interview a thick blanket of clouds covered the city, making my pale skin illuminate. “For a lifeguard you’re mighty pasty. Aren’t you guys so-posed to be all bronzed?”, remarked the photographer. A few shots lounging around the pool, swimming in the water and then time for the interview. The questions were lighthearted and playful, designed around the cultural stereotypes associated with lifeguards, poking at sexual innuendos and summer fun. “What’s the worst pickup line you’ve ever heard? Where do you like to get wet?”

The interview came out today. From it one can make many assumptions. From my appearance, to the stereotypes that come with an actor working a day job in New York City.

Kurt Vonnegut once said, “We are what we pretend to be so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” Be authentic to yourself. For the first few months after I moved to New York City last spring, I didn’t tell anyone where I was working or what I was doing. For some reason I felt a strange tinge of embarrassment and I wasn’t sure why. I wasn’t fully committed.

That was then, this is now. I moved to New York City to learn more about acting. I got into classes. I found an internship. I started writing everyday. Once I fully committed to believing in myself and what I want in life, I truly realized that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Choose the path you want to take and own it. Run down it as far as your legs will carry you. Live it. Believe in yourself l everyday with every fiber of your being, because if you don’t, who will?

Once upon a time, in what almost seems like another life, my father and I were fishing on Absecon Creek in my home town. I remember looking around the creek with all the wonder and awe that boy sees when he looks at the world. The wind was calm. The water was like a sheet of glass extending an eternity out from us. Where the horizon stopped and the orange sky started bled into one. My father told me to look at my reflection in the still water.

He peered over the rail of our small boat, looked right into my eyes through the glass reflection and said, “Life is a blank slate. You can become whoever you want, whoever you desire or dream to be, and if one day, you look in the mirror, and don’t recognize the man staring back at you, you have the choice to start again. That’s the beauty of life.”

Right now, I don’t mind the man in the light blue swim trunks with the crooked smile staring right back at me. He is living his passion.

-EC

© All rights reserved 2014

Erik Conover Actor

Casper by the pool

The Best Is Yet To Come

 -It was the coldest day of the year.

The glare of the winter sun dipping low behind skyscrapers was reflecting off the fresh snow pack in Central Park as I made my way uptown to the Guggenheim. When I say it was freezing, I mean, it was one the coldest days on record in over 30 years. The walking uphill both ways to work kind of cold you tell stories about to your grandchildren. I was on my way to a film screening. A very close friend of mine who runs an online fashion magazine  had asked me a week in advance if I wanted to attend a film screening in his place. He lives in Toronto and could not make it down to New York City. I jumped at the opportunity.

The evening of the screening I was warmly nestled in my prewar matchbox sized studio apartment. The cloud of an excuse began to form in my mind. Stay inside. Stay warm. Stay comfortable. For a moment I almost didn’t go…because of the weather! I layered up for the trek across town from York Ave to Fifth Ave. My passion pushed me right out the door.

The film was called, “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters”  for Barneys New York, shot by photographer and film maker, the iconic Bruce Weber, written by acclaimed  journalist Patricia Bosworth. The film chronicles the lives of 17 transgender young men and women and their extraordinary stories of love, passion, and identity.

I hurried my way out of the cold into the foyer of the Guggenheim Theater, heat blasting, my cheeks grew rosy and I began to thaw. As the warmth spread through my body I slowly came back to into reality from the cold and looked around. I realized I was quite under-dressed among tailored suits and cocktail dresses. I would describe my style as vintage Americana. I’m an avid thrifter. I showed up wearing my falling-apart tanned chukka boots, white long johns hugging my legs under dark Levis, a couple of layers of thermals with a grey crew neck sweater over, and my favorite tan beat-up leather jacket.

I sauntered my way into the theater. Not knowing a single person, I sat down alone and took in the scene. I saw Bruce in the corner by the stage surrounded by a flock of people. I had met Bruce briefly once before at his Lower Manhattan Studio for a casting back in September. Both times I’ve seen him and the man has this smile on his face and a look in his eye, like he’s in on some big secret; he loves what he does.

As the film was about to begin a woman with curly silver hair and kind eyes asked if the seat next to me was taken. I said no, I’m solo tonight and offered it up to her. She said she was at the screening in support of her friend who was the writer of the film. We began talking. Well, mostly I talked; she listened, until I started gushing about acting. She casually mentioned she was a lifetime member of the Actors Studio, and introduced herself as Mirra Bank.

The Actors Studio. Paul Newman, Martin Landau, Monty Clift, all the actors from the 1950s that I highly regard have been members of the Studio. To become a member is extremely difficult. One must successfully pass a series of auditions to be awarded lifetime membership. Respect. Mirra asked if I had thought about applying to audition for membership. I told her I had just embarked on my studies in New York and I am far from ready.

Mirra suggested I inquire about interning at the Studio. There are a limited number of internships available to actors willing to trade their time helping out at the Studio, for the opportunity to observe studio sessions. I took Mirra’s suggestion. The following week I met with the Executive Director of the Studio, who looked curiously at my green PDF resume, wondering how I even got to sitting in her office. I became an intern, and observed every single session this spring. I took what I saw at the Studio and applied it in my classes. I got to opportunity to be cast a part in the staged reading of a play at the Studio called, “They Shot Bobby” directed Patricia Bosworth written by Jim DeMarse.

Move forward openly with curiosity and amusement with your passions rather than with demands and hopes. Don’t expect it to go as planned but know that the unplanned may lead to the best later. Put on those long johns, say goodbye to the warm nest, and venture out into the cold. The best is yet to come.

-EC

© All rights reserved 2014

Erik Conover Actor

They Shot Bobby by Jim DeMarse 

A Place in the Sun

June 30th, 2014: Meatpacking District, Manhattan, 

Erik Conover

“You take good care of yourself and when…if…you get the privilege of living as long as I have you will be glad you did” 

Today I met a man named Feliciano.

I can’t complain about my day job. I lifeguard at a luxury hotel to pay the rent, my undergrad education, and  for my acting classes. The pool I lifeguard at is on the fourteenth floor rooftop and has one of the most breathtaking views of the great expanse that is New York City.

As I sit passing the time nose deep in a good book, an old man casually walks out to the pool deck, book in hand. He smiles at me and gently asks,

“Do you have a place I could sit and read in the shade?”

There are no umbrellas at the pool, even with all the available knowledge and pure data about skin cancer and the depleting ozone layer people still love to fry up on that rooftop. The only shade comes from a small overhang which I sit under.

I say to the old man, ” No, but I don’t mind standing, take my seat.”

“He replies, “Thank you. You’re very smart. Like me.”

“Whys that?”

He says, “You’re the only person at this pool who is not purposely exposing themselves to the sun trying to get a tan. An outlier. You take care of yourself, and when…if…you get the privilege of living as long as I have you will be glad you did.”

I am pale as they come…Russian and Dutch by birth…Of course I am in the shade I don’t really have a choice. I take this man in. He has a bright smile full of pearly whites,  a head of white hair, not too much balding. Thin in a healthy way. He’s excited to be alive. He can’t be over 65 I think to myself. So I ask,

“How old are you?”

“Guess, and be honest, don’t try and flatter me”.

I say 68. He looks at me, pauses, and takes me in for a moment. That wise grin of experience begins take over as he cooly says, “85.”

85 looking some 20 years younger. This is a man I want to talk to. It was scorching hot today. One of those days the sun feels like it has inched closer to the Earth . . . 86 degrees and humid making my auburn curly hair look like a bird’s nest atop my head. He asks if I want a drink and orders two tonic waters and lime.

He introduced himself as Feliciano from Argentina and we toasted to being the only two guys sitting in the shade reading by the pool. For the next 20 minutes we had great conversation. We talk about how he moved to New York City in 1957 as a broke 28-year-old, made his way through hard work. We talked about Jersey boys, Clint Eastwood, theater, and literature. He notes work ethic and great conversation as two things that are rare in today’s world.

“The majority of those Wall street guys, those people are little cogs in a machine, living in cubicles for $100,000 a year. The most courageous thing you can do in life is to do what truly makes you happy. It’s good to see a young man reading.”

Feliciano is a Photographer. Here is a link to his work http://felicianophotography.com/

-EC

© All rights reserved 2014

Make Strong Choices

Journal Entry, April 28th, 2014:

” How hard this is, how much work it will take. I have greatly underestimated. All I can do is smile. I know who I am, I know what I need to do. Buy into your choice whole wholeheartedly Conover.”

Make your own life. Your life is the direct result of your thoughts and the choices that you make. Make strong choices. Just decide. All you have to do is decide. Decide who you’re going to be.  Decide what you’re going to do. Decide how you’re going to do it. Decision is the ultimate power. Easy right? For most of my life I could never decide, never make choices. Something in the past year has changed that, a quiet, internal choice, and I began to see things clearly.

Do not be shackled by your circumstances. Do not limit yourself by the constructs placed on you by society that have been internalized. There will never be a perfect moment to decide, no such thing. The future is transpiring as we speak, shaped by the thoughts, decisions and actions of the present.

I’ve grown to love writing in my journal. Even if it is just to pass the time, or I am wrenching emotionally and need to spill it out on paper. I find peace in writing and expressing those words verbally. I mean after all what more can a man want then peace? Peace of mind, love, health, what you value changes as you grow older with the seasons. At times I don’t feel 24 years old. My body is in its prime, but my mind feels like that of a 50-year-old. Ripe with experience, failure, and a small share of right place right time. I wouldn’t call it luck.  But right place at the right time.

Come to think of it, my experiences here in Manhattan the past year or so are the result of happenstance, but mostly the result of taking action and pursuit when certain opportunities presented themselves. Choose to act on an opportunity…because the absolute worst thing you can do is nothing at all.

- EC

© All rights reserved 2014

Erik Conover

Choose to be happy