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Ecuadorian transplant, Queens resident, professional artist and former graffiti artist Lady Pink cut her teeth painting New York City subway trains in the 1970s. At that time, she was one of the only ladies in the graffiti scene. Today her work can be found in galleries around world. But her real passion is community-based art: Pink leads aspiring young artists in mural projects all over the city.
When you’re doing illegal work you have to prepare a little bit differently.
When you’re going out at night, you don’t take a sketch with you. You have to have your work memorized. Otherwise you’re going to have to eat the piece of paper while you’re running.
And you have to do it under extreme pressure, with your knees shaking, your heart in your throat, and you’re scared to death. And yet you have to perform…the sun is coming up…you have to finish.
I got my start as an artist at the age of 15 by painting on the New York subway trains, which is not exactly allowed, but I had a passion for my art and nothing could stop me.
People come from all parts of the world and paint on New York City because this is the Mecca for graffiti….. When you come to New York City, it’s unpredictable. The energy is infectious.
I think that NYC is such a very quickly changing place. It is nearly impossible to try to preserve something for the sake of art.
And when we painted subway trains, perhaps we learned that lesson the hardest of all. You paint your train, , kiss it goodbye – you might never see it again. Maybe someone won’t even take a photo of it, and it will just be a memory.
[Background: “Finish those spaces up for me. Is this a good outline for the [inaudible]? I think so. I hope I don’t mess it up.”]
People still call me a graffiti artist but I haven’t done any illegal graffiti in a couple of decades.
Painting murals is how I set an example for all to learn. You know, it doesn’t take any more than just a little bit of permission from the owner of the wall, and you are good to go.
Back in the day, Lady Pink ran with a graffiti group called The Crazy Five (TC5), tagging and bombing her way around the city. She starred in the iconic hip hop film, Wild Style. She even met her true love while bombing a subway car. On their first date, they were chased by the police. They got away – and eventually got married.
Lady Pink’s colorful, feminine style caught the attention of the art world in the late 70s and she graduated from the streets to the galleries. Unlike many other artists accustomed to permanent gallery space, Lady Pink accepts that her artwork will not last forever. “When we painted subway trains, perhaps we learned that lesson the hardest of all,” she says. “You paint your train, kiss it goodbye – you may never see it again.”
Today, Lady Pink and her husband run a business from their home in Queens commissioning murals for neighborhood projects and businesses. She paints with young people whenever she can. “I think it’s important to hand down my skill, my art, my craft. Mural painting isn’t taught in schools,” she says. “If just meeting an artist can inspire these young people to pursue art as a career…I think I’ve done my deed.”
My colleague Erin Horan came across Lady Pink. During the initial interview, Pink offered great insights into the NYC graffiti scene – its evolution, challenges and potential. We filmed a show she had with a few other female artists at Causey Gallery in Williamsburg. But we also wanted to recreate graffiti art’s history as Lady Pink described it. So we experimented with a lot of point-of-view shots to give the feeling of what it might be like to do illegal work. We also spent some time crawling around the city’s subways to capture the sounds and sights a graffiti artist might have encountered in pursuit of cars and walls to bomb. We shot at 5Ptz in Long Island City, the mothership of all graffiti projects in New York and a hot topic in the discussion about public art and private property. It seems 5Ptz will be torn down sometime in the next few months to accommodate plans for a new condominium; the property owner, who for years has allowed graffiti artists to paint there, has decided it’s time to sell. We wanted to allude to this issue with images of 5Ptz matched with Lady Pink’s discussion of preserving art in the public sphere.
A devastating injury earlier this year nearly put James Bonavia out of the professional wrestling business for good. Now he’s back, and the 6’9” building superintendent known by his fans as Malta the Damager is ready for a rematch.
[00:00:03] I always tell people that James Earl Jones was a porter in a building, you know, until he scored his role as The Great White Hope out on Broadway and then uh, things changed drastically for him.
[00:00:23] Malta: What’s up my dude?
Jay: Hey, sup my brother.
Malta: You already know.
[00:00:38] It’s going down tonight! Tables match, kid!
[00:00:58] Malta: Hello?
Malta: Hey what’s up man, how you doing?
Friend: What’s time’s it start?
Malta: It starts at 7:30 or 8, probably more like 8, these things always pop off late.
[00:01:15] I’m not going to be wrestling forever. Like I said, I’m 41 years old. There’s always that hope that you can make enough money and to retire and pay off my house. I don’t even need to make a million dollars. If I can just make enough money to pay my house off, I wouldn’t need to live away from my family five days a week to make decent wages.
[00:01:34] I wrestled this guy Big Daddy V, I never met him before right. Big guy, 6’9″. For him to just come down me with all five hundred pounds with his Ghetto Drop move which is a modified Samoan Drop. It’s bad enough that what I went through, broken ribs and a punctured lung. I’ll say this, I think I gave him a little bit too much respect. He’s got no respect for my family, he’s got no respect for the fans of the FWE. And now I’m pissed bro.
[00:02:00] Ladies and Gentleman, Malta the Damager!!!
[00:02:10] Just like when my collar bone was broken, just like when I dislocated my shoulder, it’s always my family who’s there suffering through the whole thing. They don’t want me to wrestle anymore. I feel like it’s something that I was born to do, it’s something that I’m good at, and it may not be Madison Square Garden, but let’s just say, for me, going to this place over here in Bay Ridge, St. Pat’s, that’s my Madison Square Garden.
James Bonavia was born to be a professional wrestler. His grandfather was a bodyguard for the Archbishop Gonzi of Malta and his uncle, Barron Mikel Scicluna, was an early pioneer in the World Wide Wrestling Federation. At 6-foot-9-inches tall, it didn’t long for Bonavia to join the family legacy.
After 17 years of working the independent circuit in small venues around the Northeast, the Astoria native is nearing the end of his career. His body has suffered decades of abuse and he has never been called up to the big show. His wife and kids want him to retire, but Bonavia couldn’t turn down the chance to get in the ring one more time with his nemesis Big Daddy Viscera.
Bonavia is known as Malta the Damager by his legion of fans. Hundreds of anxious spectators showed up at St. Patrick’s Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn on October 5th to witness his highly anticipated return.
I discovered Malta the Damager while working late at CUNY one night last spring. An old girlfriend of mine called and invited me to come see her building’s super wrestle at a church on 59th street. In less than ten minutes, I was blown away by the dedication and artistry of these incredibly skilled men and women. During our shoot, James loved to tell me that “it’s easy to hit a man with 100% of your force. It’s much harder to do it with only 30%.” This point really stuck with me because I’d never considered the subtle difficulties behind this kind of performance.
I was drawn to Bonavia because he has a special way of articulating his passion for the sport. He truly loves wrestling and has made huge sacrifices to continue pursuing his dream. His wife and kids live in rural Pennsylvania while he stays in an apartment at the building where he works. It’s clear that he lives this lifestyle largely because it allows him the scheduling flexibility to continue wrestling. A lot of folks would probably see him as a pretty tragic figure, but James also liked to say, “Hey, you gotta respect a guy who’s dedicated 17 years of his life to just about anything, right?”
Former social worker Carmen Victorino, 34, is the proud owner of Le Femme Suite, a pole dancing studio in West Harlem. Her business empowers women by helping them get in shame, feel sexy and build relationships with other women in a community where female bonding isn’t always easy.
We try to just keep it sexy. Keep it sexy, you know. Because we’re women. And who doesn’t want to be sexy?
I just don’t want to do wood floors, mirrors and poles. You know? I wanted to use the sexy sofas, the nice bar, the lighting. You know it’s just that elegance, that chicness to where women when they walk in, they want to stay.
That’s the thing, I want you to stay. I don’t want you to leave. My name is Carmen Victorino. I am 34 years old. And currently I own Le
Femme Suite. I put myself in what I would like to come in if I wanted to do pole dancing on a continuous basis or include it as part of my lifestyle.
This is how I created a space to where for this hour and a half or two hours, you’re not a mom, you’re not a wife. You’re just you
and at the same time you’re able to build up that inner confidence.
I already had that envisioned in terms of ok, how can I turn this and make it different? Just the physical, just the environment alone. Now, what’s the mission?
I want to do something to empower women.
It has brought even coworkers and you know, girls from the neighborhood that live nearby. So now from coming to pole classes because they live, they met here and you’re like oh you live in the area. So now they come together to class.
Women in Harlem are a little bit more aggressive and you know, they do walk around as if they have a chip on their shoulders. And that’s a reason, one of the reasons why I also decided to do this in Harlem.
To alleviate that. You know, just to show the women here in Harlem that we can all get together and share something in common and you know, build that, what would you call that womanhood kind of thing that you know a lot
of us in Harlem don’t have and can’t find.
And then they have built friendships to where you know now they hang out on the weekends and you know they do things. So to me that is, is priceless.
Carmen Victorino, a 34-year-old single mother, was always a creative force. But, she played it safe. “I wanted to be a fashion designer or someone in the fashion industry,” she said. “And I remember my stepdad, he was like what are you crazy? That’s for rich kids.” So she went to college, got her degree, and worked for years as a social worker. When she was laid off from her job as director of a nonprofit, where she worked with efforts to empower women, the time had come to try something new and different. A pole dancing class in Midtown stirred her creative juices and touched something inside the former dancer—she was hooked. Victorino began conducting surveys in Harlem to see how the community might react to a pole-dancing studio, and the response was overwhelming. So she took all of her savings, her 401k and her daughter’s college tuition money and created a business she describes as a “sanctuary,” a relaxing women’s fitness club. She has been blown away by the impact Le Femme Suite has had on its clients in West Harlem, giving them a break from their responsibilities as wives and mothers and helping build friendships with one another. She admits that balancing life with owning a business has been a challenge, but she regrets nothing and has big plans for the future. “My dream is to be able to open up multiple locations,” she said. “I would love to expand to the UK.”
My colleague Kamana Shrestha lives just a few blocks from Le Femme Suite, over on Saint Nicholas Ave. in West Harlem. For months last year she walked by the studio, with its music blasting and neon sign blinking. Curiosity finally got the better of her and she went to check it out. Often drawn to stories about women’s issues and female empowerment, Kamana loved the story of Carmen and Le Femme Suite. We were both in a feature writing class last spring, so I was familiar with her story from the initial idea up through its eventual publication in the Daily News. It was a great print story, but for obvious reasons begged for visuals—the one tiny photo in the Daily News hardly did this fabulous place justice. So when Kamana pitched Le Femme Suite as a video story, I was thrilled and asked to be her partner before class was even over. Getting to know Carmen and the community of Le Femme Suite has been inspiring and empowering, which Carmen will no doubt be thrilled to hear. We’ve been offered a free pole dancing class and plan to take her up on that, j-school girlfriends in tow.
Paul Schwartz, owner of Peekamoose Guitars, has handcrafted custom-made guitars for almost 30 years. It’s something he takes a lot of pride in. But as technology makes handcrafting guitars more of a rarity, Paul embraces the new machinery to make his life easier.
You know, the hardest part about doing what we do is that instruments really are functional art. As much as it has to be beautiful, as much as it has to feel good against your body, as much as it has to sound great, there are, especially with stringed instruments, there are these mechanical requirements. They have to conform to laws of physics that will not change. And so, you have to develop techniques that enable you to get an instrument to become a bit more forgiving to the musician.
Making a prototype by hand, you know, when you’re starting to do a new instrument design, that’s great. You want to do it by hand. You want to feel the thing come alive under your fingers. But, once you’ve nailed it, and you’ve gone through the prototyping stage, and you are in a place where you know what you want it to be, and it’s just clearly defined, then you’re down to that point of actually being better off having a machine reproduce what you have done.
And when I first got the machine, or when I first thought about getting it, I had that moment of ‘oh crap, I’m being replaced by a machine.’
I know I can do it. I still have to use my brain and my skills of observation to make the right choices using the plek to grind the frets. It’s just that the plek gives me the freedom to not sit there and painstakingly measure and grind by hand.
So it’s a lot less wear and tear on me, and at 56 years old, I need less wear and tear, you know. It’s a big difference than when I was 28, and worked 14 hours a day and not feel it. Now I feel it. So, you know, I got to be a little more merciful on my body, you know. It’s not the same as it used to be.
Paul Schwartz, 56, used to play a lot of guitar. In his early 20s, he had aspirations of making it big as a musician in New York City. But once he learned how to make his own hand-made guitars from a mentor, Schwartz switched his career path. His playing days have been over for almost 30 years now.
Schwartz, the owner of Peekamoose Guitars, repairs and creates custom guitars in Midtown Manhattan. In his small West 30th Street workspace, Schwartz and an apprentice or two usually spend six days a week grinding, hammering, and drilling guitar heads and necks to give players they new toys.
But the advancement has affected the way guitars are made, and it has lowered the amount of handcrafters making guitars. Carving machines and ones that grind frets are shortening tedious tasks by hours. They also threaten the existence of the handcrafters.
Unlike some of his co-crafters who are guitar-making purists, Schwartz is taking advantage of these machines. He has two of them – a CNC and Plek machine – that he uses regularly to help build his four custom models for customers. He views the machines more as a blessing than as evil objects replacing him and his craft. According to Schwartz, he used to spend hours a week doing tasks his new machines spend minimal time on. At his age, Schwartz will take advantage of any machine or process that makes the job easier.
Schwartz’s workspace is a hodgepodge of guitar equipment and accessories. Guitar strings hang directly over guitar finish and paint. Adjacent to the strings is Paul’s workspace, which probably has not been cleaned up since before 2000. It’s a small workspace, and it may seem unorganized, but Schwartz knows exactly where everything is. There aren’t many windows in the office, but it’s probably better that way: when Schwartz is in his workspace, the only thing he’s concentrating on is putting together and repairing guitars.
Rashard Bradshaw, a.k.a. Cakes DaKilla, is a gay rapper trying to make it in the hyper-masculine world of hip hop music. From realizing he was gay in kindergarten to publishing his first record, Bradshaw’s journey is one of a kind.
Let’s see what I can put together…
My voice annoys the shit out of me… It grows on you, you know. But I hate my voice sometimes.
I got into rap in HS, it all started as I joke. ‘Cause a lot of people would assume that I was just this clown, you know, “oh he doesn’t know how to rap, he doesn’t know how to rap.”
I am not kind of like the mold people think of when they think about a rapper. The whole hyper masculine, macho, fuck bitches, get money… Like that whole mantra doesn’t fit into my world as a black gay male.
I knew I was gay since I was in kindergarten, thank you PBS for giving me the term, because I never really had that moment of “oh my God I am weird, what is this,” because I knew what I was, I kept moving and I accepted it.
Of course I wouldn’t say I am different, but I believe that my perspective is different, and it is always going to be different because hip hop and rap is so macho and it’s so male-dominated that to be a gay person is just being, is like being a female rapper but just hyper.
I realize that the media is going to find a box to put whatever you are doing, so people can digest it. I know a lot of people who get tagged with the “gay rapper,” “queer rap,” they don’t like it. But honestly, I don’t care, because at the end of the day no one is going to have the power to label what I do better than me.
I don’t really have a problem with people and my sexuality, because everyone knows. I wear my sexuality like open, not to be overbearing, but this is me, and I am not going to like censor myself for anybody.
Sorry show is over! [Laughs]
Rashard Bradshaw, 22, best known by his rap name Cakes DaKilla, has always known he is different.
“I never had a moment in which I doubted, I always knew,” he said. And he unapologetically lets his music channel how comfortable he feels in his own skin: “If you want to label me as gay rapper, or queer rapper, is certainly your prerogative. At the end of the day, nobody will have the power to label myself but me.”
Bradshaw started rapping in high school, “kind of as a joke,” but his talent did not go to waste: his first EP, “Easy Bake Oven,” was released in October 2011.
Today, Bradshaw combines his studies in Journalism with live performances and writing songs for his new album, bound to come out next year.
“I would love to make this a viable career, my profession,” he said. “But for now I am happy with were I am, musically speaking. I published an album! That is more than I thought I would get.”
Gay rap artists and their experience in the industry is the core of my partner Anna Halkidis’ master’s thesis. Rashard Bradshaw is one of her main sources, and she had the idea of telling his story visually. Bradshaw met us on a day notice, travelling from his hometown in New Jersey just to meet us for a couple of hours.
Bradshaw had been interviewed before several times, which can be easily told by the compelling way he tells his story. He was particularly concerned about his language, warning us from minute one that he curses a lot and apologizing for the possible extra editing we would have to do to hide that.
We were meant to meet with him again at his school in Montclair, NJ, and get images of him volunteering at the local LGBT community, but unfortunately our plans were disturbed by hurricane Sandy.
Tecmo Super Bowl, a more than 20-year-old video game, brings players together from all across the country. Erik Merliss, the New York champ talks about how the game became a part of his life.
Back in 1990, ‘91 It was just the craziest thing going around I wasn’t even a football fan. And kids, all they were talking about it school was Tecmo Bowl. They were bringing their cartridges in. And that was it.
So We started playing, just me and my buddies that I grew up with. It was just all the time, 24/7 we’d play season after season. And that’s all we ever wanted from 1991 you know when they came out with this Nintendo game, even when ‘92 and ‘93 came around, they made more of them for Super Nintendo but it just never was the same.
We would always go back to the Tecmo Bowl. We would always go back there just because it was the best game ever made.
My girlfriend back in high school, I taught her how to play. So she was pretty cool with it. But I mean we’re talking, this is 18, 19 years old I think as you get a little bit older, They are the enemy of Tecmo, the women.
So the one now that I’m with, the girl I’m with, I’ve been with her for three years and at first she’s like that’s awesome you’re playing a Nintendo game.
But as time went on, she hates it. She hates everything about it. She doesn’t want anything to do with it. When she hears the music of it, she says she gets sick to her stomach.
I have a son now, he’s not even a year old. She’s laid down strict rules that he is not to be playing Tecmo when he it’s of age, what I said is about 4, she said is about 12, 13 when something like that should be introduced. But anyways it’s not to be introduced to him. So we’ll see how that goes. We’re going to definitely have to revisit this one in a few years.
These tournaments are totally different than playing online and playing against your buddies. It’s straight up tournament style. You know Win or go home. Everybody gets together. People travel from all over.
And then this tournament in NY, the people couldn’t believe it. Even some of them that were there had played in tournaments with me before, they were like man, you got so much better. You’ve improved more than anyone I’ve ever seen in my life and just, it seemed like after the third round, everyone knew I was going to win it. I had the momentum on my side.
And no one could mess with me at that point. And since then, you know, there’s been a couple tournaments this year in CT, which I’ve won. Not as big as the NY one but you know, winning them is the best. There’s nothing like. Coming in 2nd, it’s cool. You know what, it’s good to be in the finals, but actually pulling that win out. That’s a whole different ballgame.
I got schooled in the beginning. Man, I was 49 nothing and I’m like man, I used to kill my buddies. How is this happening? So I just stuck with it and picked up on the stuff that worked against me and I started doing the same. Then you know what, after my 20, 21st match, I started winnin’. And winnin’ a lot by doing what they did to me. And it takes time just like anything else.
Erik Merliss of Wallingford, Conn. Is a competitive video game player. Specifically, he plays Tecmo Super Bowl, a football-themed video game first released in 1988.
Initially released as an arcade game, and later introduced for Nintendo for gamers to play at home, Tecmo has survived even as computers became household necessities and the internet offered many more distractions from that old, pixelated football field screen.
But getting to be champ didn’t happen without a few sacrifices. Merliss has had screaming matches with girlfriends over his time spent playing the game. (Today, Merliss has a girlfriend who tolerates his continued obsession with the game.)
In 2005, Merliss discovered the Tecmo Players Circuit, a site where Tecmo fans played online. But by then, his friends were already tired of the game play.
“I’ve kind of been on my own since then with those guys but when I do play them I destroy them. But it’s only every once in a while,” Merliss says.
He attends competitions held across the country. Last year, Merliss won first place at the New York City Tecmo Bowl tournament.
He says persistence and practice were the keys to his victory. Plus keeping an eye on how his opponents beat him at first, and using those same techniques to win.
Pro wrestler Malta the Damager says he’s a fighter who wrestles for his family’s honor. But this fight against Big Daddy V is about revenge. Big Daddy busted him up last April, and disrespected his wife and kids. Malta wants him to pay.
Malta: I want to be a family man and a wrestler and so far I been doing it for 17 years… And I’m riding on the double yellow line, right in the middle.
I have a wife who loves me even though i’m not rich. She loves me for who i am and my kids too.
Its always my family that there suffering through the whole thing. They don’t want me to wrestle anymore. You know? But I feel like I have to go in there and I have to defend the honor of my family.
I’m not going to be wrestling forever, like I said, I’m 41 years old so I’m not going to be wrestling forever.
I don’t even have to make a million dollars, if I just make enough money to pay my house off…. I wouldn’t need to live away from my family 5 days a week in order to make decent wages.
You know, I do it for them.
You know, people tell me yo, wrestling’s fake. I tell them yeah wrestling’s fake… because murder’s not fucking legal.
Are you going to, if I go over there and drop somebody 260 pounds 300 pounds on their neck and I kill em, are you gonna bring a 9 year old kid to watch me? I don’t think so.
I’m going into this this fight. its not a wrestling match, its gonna be a fight. I’m going into this fight against big daddy viscera. I’m gonna be like a caged animal. foaming at the mouth.
Malta: I was at a show when I was contemplating my retirement and then he comes out and starts attacking my wife on the mic and my daughter, and my son, and I don’t think the guy respects me at all.
And then, it’s bad enough with what i went through, broken ribs, punctured lung… i took his best shot, he hasn’t taken my best shot. he’s gonna see what i’m about. a dude who’s survived the streets of new york in the 70s and the 80s and the early 90s.
It might not be Madison Square Garden but let’s just say for me, going over to this place here in Bay Ridge, St Pats, that’s my Madison Square Garden
The reality of wrestling, it’s a lot more realer than people could imagine, it’s the business is rough rough rough.
Because wrestling is a big money business today, all the people who are in the independent circuit are like a bunch of dogs fighting over that one bone, which is the WWEE contract for a million dollars….
I mean, It gets grimy bro.
It’s something that I love, being a professional wrestler.
That’s just what it is, it’s a fight. You have to do whatever it takes to win
Last April, a wrestler named Big Daddy V broke Malta’s ribs and punctured his lung by lying him out on a table and jumping on top of him. Then, Big Daddy picked up a microphone to insult Malta’s family. On October 5, Malta sought revenge against Big Daddy V at the FWE Back To Brooklyn Wrestling Match. This is how the fight played out. In Malta’s words: It gets grimy bro.
Malta is just an amazing character, and I have to give Colin Weatherby credit for finding the guy, setting this up, and gathering a ton of footage – thanks Colin! Malta was such a great talker that it was almost impossible to figure out what to include in the piece and what to leave out – his stories about growing up in Queens and always living in the 80s in his head come to mind, as does the fact that he says he got his moniker from his time slamdancing at hardcore punk shows. But for me, not only did seeing this wrestling match blow my mind (I’ve never encountered anything like that), but the fact that it was held in the gym of parochial school called St. Pat’s in Bay Ridge – connected to a church and all – that was truly wild.
Paul Schwartz knows how to make guitars. But recently, he’s hired some helpers: a CNC machine and a guitar tuning machine called the Plek.
We’re known for making instruments to be as touch sensitive as responsive to human input as possible. Our philosphy has always been the instrument should just get out of the way and let the musician be a musician.
The hardest part about doing what we do is there are these mechanical requirements they have to conform to laws of physics that will not change.
So we have to find a way to sort of straddle the line between the actual mechanical requirements of an instruments and what the musician is bringing to the table.
Then you have to be able to reproduce those solutions with great consistency over and over and over again. Thousandths of a millimeter matter in terms of how it’s going to sound, in terms of how it’s going to feel.
[machine 'music' interlude]
If you spend eight hours carving every body getting it ready to spray, how much are you going to charge for that? who’s going to be able to afford that?
I was able to work with the machine and adapt what it does to deliver an end result that looks and feels the way I would have done it by hand.
Oh crap, I’m being replaced by a machine!
A lot of people look at that machine and think it’s evil because it’s taking the art out of it. That’s ridiculous. If anything you need to bring more art to it to get a machine to emulate what a human is capable of doing.
So its a lot less wear and tear on me. its a big difference when I was 28 and worked 14 hours a day and not feel it. Now i feel it.
So having a machine that allows me to still do what I could do relentlessly is a good thing. It’s that simple.
Paul Schwartz, owner and operator of Peekamoose Guitars on 30th street in Manhattan, has built guitars by hand since he was 28. Thirty years later, Schwartz is still at it but the laws of physics and age are a relentless strain on his body and his mind. The craft of building a guitar is part science, part art. There are the aesthetic choices that the maker incorporates like paint finish and body shape. But the points where the musicians body touches the guitar must be measured by the millimeter. It starts from the top of the neck, where each fret is individually curved, ground, sanded, and polished so guitarists’ fingers can dance lightly over the strings. There’s the way the grain of the wood on the guitar body must be planed exactly with the grain of the wood to release the most intonation. Schwartz fine-tuned his feel for these details long ago, but the work is tedious and exhausts his mind.
That’s when he hired robots.
A couple years ago, Schwartz was talking with a fellow guitar luthier who had discovered the Plek machine. The Plek is a robot that can be programmed to grind and polish frets to perfection. But the machine is complicated and Schwartz says the robot can only do what it is told — it’s only as good as it’s master.
Then his customer, a professor of Industrial Design at NYU, had an idea to use a CNC machine to build the head stock of the Peekamoose’s guitar. Soon enough, a CNC machine moved into the show room and the two began the year long journey of designing a 3D rendering that would translate to Peekamoose standards. Schwartz still designs the bodies, and final shaping of the bodies.
I have always been fascinated by the artisans who dedicate their lives to their craft. As a journalist, I appreciate the dedication to fine-tuning every detail. In an time when more and more of the products we own are mass produced somewhere in China, I wonder whether humans will one day forget how to work with their hands. I hope not, and Paul was kind enough to allow me into his workspace to spend hours talking with him about his decision to use machines and his journey as a custom guitar builder in New York City. What is left unspoken in this piece are the economic pressures of his location in midtown Manhattan. His bread and butter are repairs and tune-ups. That stream of revenue allows Paul to spend time to build his custom guitars that nearly play themselves. I know because I plunk and when he placed one of his creations in my hands, it felt as it I couldn’t play a wrong note. It just let me play and got the hell out of the way.
Carmen Victorino knew that whatever business she started, it had to empower women. After all, she had worked as a social worker doing exactly that for well over eight years before getting laid off in 2008. She opened LeFemme Suite in 2009, and today the basement studio has become a sanctuary for women in the neighborhood looking to get away and have some well deserved “me” time.
If someone would have told me three years ago you were going to own your own business, I would say get out of here. But it has shown me that sky is the limit, it has shown me that sky is the limit and to never be afraid of anything.
This is an idea and my heart was with it and I said you know what I’m going to take a chance. And it better work cuz my kid’s money is in here.
I was a director for a not for profit for a couple of years, many years, and I got laid off. I took all of my savings, all of 401K, my child’s college tuition money and all of that stuff and I said you know what, I am going to jump the pool and I am going to give this a try.
I started out as a case manager and then into social work and I did a lot of empowerment, especially to women in every aspect of social services.
I put myself and what I would like to come in if I wanted to do pole dancing in a continuing basis or include that as part of my lifestyle. So in terms of, I said you know what, I just don’t want to do wood floors, mirror and poles. You know, I wanted to use the sexy sofas, the nice bars, the lighting. You know, it’s just that elegance, that chicness, to where women when they walk in, they want to stay. That’s the thing, I want you to stay, I don’t want you to leave.
Women in Harlem are a little bit more aggressive and they do walk around you know as if they have a chip on their shoulder. That’s the reason, one of the reasons why I also decided to do this in Harlem, to alleviate that. You know, just to show the women here in Harlem that we all can get together and share something in common and you know just build that, what you would call that, you wanna call it that womanhood kind of thing that, you know, a lot of us in Harlem don’t have and can’t find.
For this hour and a half or two hours, you’re not a mom, you’re not a wife. You know, your just you and at the same time you are able to build up that inner confidence and then from there it is getting you comfortable with your body. I know when I teach my students I tell them first we are going to start with touching our bodies because if you are not comfortable with touching your body, then you are not comfortable with touching a pole.
All the classes we try to keep it sexy, keep it sexy you know because we are women and who doesn’t want to be sexy, you know who doesn’t want to be sexy. And it doesn’t matter shape, color, size, everyone has their own sexy.
If it’s girl power you are looking for and a glass of champagne after a rigorous workout, well then LeFemme Suite is the place for you. Situated on historic Strivers Row in Harlem, the tiny studio not only offers pole dancing classes but also spa services and private parties of like its famous “cougar parties.”
But there’s just one catch: No men allowed. LeFemme Suite’s clients don’t seem to mind at all. In fact, the owner, Carmen Victorino, 34, said the women prefer it to be that way so they can let lose and be more comfortable with their bodies and sexuality.
“You are building relationships, it’s a women’s club,” Victorino said. “You can have some wine, you have fruits, so it’s just like a woosah,” she added.
The friendships the women build go well past the couple of hours they spend together in class. They meet in classes and encourage one another to keep fit while staying sexy and never lose that confidence.
LeFemme caters to women of all body shapes and sizes and not only teaches them pole fitness, but emphasizes the importance of womanhood in the neighborhood.
This is exactly the vision that Victorino had when she opened the studio three years ago.
She hopes to expand her business to the U.K. in the future.
I found LeFemme Suite by chance when I went to explore my neighborhood when I moved to Harlem a little over a year ago. I would always pass by the studio on my way back home from grocery shopping or hanging out with friends. What caught me first was how bright and pink the tiny space was and also the upbeat music. Every time I passed it, it looked like there was a party going on inside. Curiosity got the best of me one day and I walked in and asked the receptionist about the place. She gave me a flyer with all the pole dancing classes offered at the time and told me I had to come back and experience a “new kind of fitness.” I have yet to take a class. But I did end up pitching a story about LeFemme and its owner Carmen Victorino in my Feature Writing class last semester. It was published in the Daily News in April and since then I’ve kept in touch with Carmen. So it was only natural that when an opportunity to do a video piece came up, I jumped to the chance. Julie Strickland was my partner when shooting the video and it worked out wonderfully. She was familiar with the print piece I had done last semester because she was also in the same feature writing class and was excited to work on a video version of it as much as I was. Carmen has insisted we come for at least one class and this time, I think I will.
Rashard Bradshaw, who goes by the name Cakes Da Killa, talks about making music, performing and what it’s like being an openly gay rapper.
:01-:05 My lyrics are about sex, money, politics.
:06-:17 Music and video plays
:18-:32 I knew I was gay since I was in kindergarten. I’m not the mold that people get in their minds when they think about a rapper. So for me like ‘Oh I could do that I could do that,’ it’s like you really can’t but I like that about me cause I actually can.
:33-:42 He raps
:43-1:10 I think people like my name so I’m glad I did it. It’s like cakes, which is basically like, play on like gay people being sweet. And you know and like soft and because everyone always says like you have such a baby face you look like such a baby doll, so what’s the sweetest thing, ok I’m cakes, but when I rap it’s so aggressive, so I’m like Cakes Da Killa, so it’s kind of like a cupcake but with a razor blade on the inside. That’s kind of how I visualize myself.
1:11-1:23 I have a lot of favorite things about rap music. I think performing, that’s my favorite thing because that’s where I get a lot of my fans from my live shows. And I just like entertaining people.
1:25-1:34 I know like a lot of people who get tagged with that gay rap, queer rap, they don’t like it. But to me, it’s just I don’t care cause at the end of the day no one’s going to have the power to label what I do other than me.
1:35-1:50 People are always like thank you so much for opening the door and for giving me the motivation to do me. And it’s just like for me I don’t think of this as like this big thing. This is just me doing something that makes me feel comfortable and something that makes me feel happy.
1:51- 2:00 I kind of like wear my sexuality like open, not to be overbearing but just because it’s me and I’m not going to censor myself for anybody.
New Jersey native Rashard Bradshaw has known he was gay since kindergarten. This didn’t hinder his dreams of becoming a rapper in the world of hip-hop, which isn’t accepting towards homosexuals. Bradshaw, who goes by the name of Cakes Da Killa, says he doesn’t have a political agenda or an LGBT message, he just simply loves to rap. And he believes he’s also very good. The rapper discusses how he got his name, his favorite aspect of rapping, and how people receive him. And while people some may not approve of his rapping career, he makes it clear that he’s not going to stop or hide his sexuality because it’s who he is.
I’ve become interested in documenting how gay musicians are discriminated against it in the music industry. From research I’ve found that in most genres, including hip-hop and country, gay musicians are looked down upon and don’t have a big chance of making it mainstream. I came across Cakes Da Killa after researching about the rise of openly gay rappers. The fact that he’s so devoted to rap music even in an industry that isn’t so accepting is a story I wanted to show in video.
Final Cut of 1-3 minutes due in class Wednesday, October, 26, 2011
Each final project will be posted on Vimeo on or before the deadline. Remember it takes time to upload and for Vimeo to process you video, depending on the time of day, the traffic at Vimeo and the speed of your connection. This process might take several hours. If I log on at the deadline and I can’t watch your video, for whatever reason, I’ll consider it a missed deadline and you’ll be automatically dropped a grade to start.
Each piece must be accompanied by the following five written journalistic elements, al f which must be posted to vimeo:
- a 240 character description of the story. (For use in TubeMogel)
- a longer 250 word description of the story
- a compelling headline and subhead that are SEO optimized plus at least 5 tags
- a word for word accurate transcript of the final piece
- at least three suitable links to the subject, story or theme from other sources
- a short behind-the-scenes story about how you found the character, something interesting that happened that’s not in the final piece, why you created this story, etc (great for blogging)