Tuesday, November 25, 2008

i like cheap

My esteemed colleague Broke-Ass Stuart's book on living cheaply in New York has just come out. Here's an interview I did with him and his lovely gf back in February or so, when he was finishing up the research.

Q&A: Broke-Ass Stuart

Five bars in four hours: It's a slow night for Stuart Schuffman. The bouncy 27-year-old from San Diego is wrapping up months of research on his second book, Broke-Ass Stuart's Guide to Living Cheaply in New York. Due in November, it's part of a series published by Falls Media. The first book, which covered San Francisco, evolved from a zine Schuffman published in 2004, a gleefully impolite guttersnipe's survey of cheap-at-all-costs entertainment and food.

Schuffman's slogan is "Young, Broke and Beautiful," but you need to be only one of those things in order to appreciate his mission. He treats an evening of bar research as a scavenger hunt, with a list of likely venues in one hand, a reporter's notebook in the other and a digital camera in the pocket of his winter coat. ("It's not as warm as it looks," he says of the coat. "But I got it for $10.")

Tonight's quest begins when Schuffman gets off work, around 11pm (he had a part-time job at a sushi restaurant). At Peter McManus Cafe we find $3 pints of Bud. At Flight 151, an aviation-themed bar, Schuffman wins a drink in the hourly trivia contest, but the lousy jukebox outweighs the free beer. ("Power to the people!" he says. "Just don't let them pick the music.") At Rawhide, a black-windowed gay dive, we miss the gogo dancers but dig the cozy vibe. Finally, at an Irish pub — one of two places we try that won't make the book because they lack a sub-$4 pint — Broke-Ass Stuart sits still long enough to answer some questions.

So how broke are you really?

I'm fucking seriously broke. It's not just PR talk, dude, believe me. [His girlfriend nods.]

How did Broke-Ass Stuart first come about?

It started as a zine. I was working at a candy store in North Beach in San Francisco, and a guy from my neighborhood growing up came in. I was at a point in my life where I didn't know what the fuck I was doing. So this guy and his fiancee come in, and his fiancee gives me her card, and it says "Travel Writer." I was like, "I wanna be a travel writer." So I decided to become one. I did a little zine. Really little. One issue. And I did it for, well, the initial investment was like $50. I made a bunch of copies, and I sold them really quickly, so I made more. They sold quick too. So I did a Volume 2 about a year later, which sold even quicker because by then people knew about it.... After that I decided I wanted to do Broke-Ass Stuart, but I didn't want to do it all myself, so I had to find a publisher. And I found a publisher on Craigslist.


Heh. Yeah. Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don't.

How long did the first book take?

Well, it was cumulative. All the zine research went into it, you know. So it's hard to say: three years? or four months? I dunno.

What made you decide on New York for the second book?

Well, I wanted to, you know, "expand the brand." And New York seemed like the next logical city. Because if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere!

How do you even make the rent in New York on the income of a waiter/writer?

Well, living with your partner helps. But we've had to move four times since we got here. We've found all our apartments and roommates on Craigslist, too.

How do you find leads and compile your lists of places to check out?

I use Yelp a lot. They're sort of a dorky crowd, but you know. My ideal is to find a place on Yelp with one dollar sign and like one review, because that's gonna be a good bar. The places people consider cheap here — if the beer is $4 during happy hour, that is not cheap.

Is there anything you like to splurge on?

What do I splurge on? [He turns to his girlfriend.] Not a lot, right? I eat out. I don't cook, I always eat out. So my money goes to food. But even when I eat out it's still pretty cheap. I mean, you could stay home and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and save a shit-ton of money, but we don't do that. So my money goes to booze and food and rent, and that's really it. Since I've been here, like nine months, I've bought altogether maybe six articles of clothing. Seven. [Pause.] But I still look fly, I mean ... you know ... when it's not too cold out....

Whenever I do get money I spend it on travel. Plane tickets. Or if I get a chunk of money I spend it on shit that I need. I've just now got some money coming in, and I'm gonna buy a new pair of jeans, and I'm gonna hopefully buy like a nice cell-phone. Because my cell-phone FUCKING SUCKS, I hate my cell-phone. But I mean ... the way I grew up, my mom doesn't cook. My parents go out to eat three meals a day. When I'm not in town, they probably eat, like, cereal. My dad eats cereal, if possible, every meal. That motherfucker loves cereal. Dude, I love cereal. You know what? I love Cookie Crisp. Oh my God. [Pause.] When I was growing up, my house was like the center of it all, for my whole neighborhood, all the kids, and part of it was because my mom bought sugar cereals. [The cereal talk continues for a good 15 minutes; Broke-Ass Stuart and his girlfriend debate various brands and preferred levels of sogginess.]

OK, so there must be times when you're beyond broke: do you have any kind of a fallback, an emergency cushion?

Well, it seems like when I really need it, something comes through. And I think if someone was gonna, like, cut off my arm to settle a debt or something, my parents would help me out.

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