Tuesday, November 25, 2008
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.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
We stayed until after Obama's speech, then went out into the streets, where the scene was equally amazing. Universal elation. Nobody was home in bed. I walked along Fifth Ave and up to Fort Greene, and on every corner people were clustered together in bouncy little knots, laughing and cheering and doing little victory shimmies. Every car that went by was honking; girls hung out the windows yelling. The whole way down the street, people beamed at each other, we all did, every single person grinned ecstatically at everyone they saw, like we'd all been given super high doses of the same medication and it was totally kicking in. People don't smile at each other that much on the streets of New York, generally speaking.
When I got up to Ft Greene, a huge street party was rocking the main intersection - there was a band, people were dancing. It filled up the whole street. I stood at the edge for a bit, still totally enthralled. Usually, seeing masses of people all in the grip of the same emotion freaks me out. But this was different. This euphoria felt hard-earned and deeply rooted, somehow volatile, and edged with a grim understanding of how terrible the same scene would've looked if things had gone another way. People were thrilled and overjoyed, yeah, but it was a complicated joy, and you couldn't miss the underlying whisper saying it was about damned time.
Monday, November 03, 2008
All of which is to say I was worried that when I went to see the current iteration of the band last night at the Zebulon (or is it just Zebulon, no "the"?), I might not get home in time to go to class the next day. My fears, it turned out, were unfounded. The show started right around nine thirty, and I was home by midnight. (I felt vaguely disappointed by this.) Steve has been living in Japan, apparently taking really good care of himself: he looks great. (He looks like some early, rejected version of the Pirate Johnny Depp, washed ashore and rescued by a Tokyo clown school run by kabuki bellydancers, or something.) Most of the songs had Japanese lyrics, or so he claimed, with occasional shouted choruses of hilarious simplicity ("Blah blah blah! Oh my god! Holy shit!", for example, and I'm only partly paraphrasing there). Everyone danced like maniacs. No chickens were harmed.
Here they are on MySpace.