Wild Rumpus Sports

Buy My Gown

Okay, so I have now officially become one of those people who gets a blog on FasterSkier, updates it for a while, and then drops it when they realize that it actually takes work and does not lead to instantaneous fame, fortune, and book deals like Bill Clinton’s. Apparently, my last post was in November, which is just embarrassing.

Now, I know that pretty much the only reason you people even go to FasterSkier is to read about what I’ve been up to, so I’m sorry to have kept you on pins and needles. But, wait no longer! In this post, I will try to update you on all the things I’ve accomplished in the last eight months without putting anyone to sleep.

So, going back to November. Actually, I don’t really know what happened in November, but in December I left for Europe, and went to the Tour de Ski. Unless you were living under a rock (or like normal people you don’t pay attention to bylines), you probably knew that, so I’m not going to go into it in any detail. Suffice to say that highlights include a Topher locking himself in a bathroom, risottos of various flavors, and a Sarah Palin sighting in Oberhof. If you want to see my personal photos from the trip, you can look at this album.

After I got back from the Tour, I went back to school in New York, and cross-country skied a grand total of two more times over the entire winter. Then, between January and April, I spent pretty much all of my time doing schoolwork, as one might expect a graduate student to do…even a journalism graduate student.

This “schoolwork” really consisted of writing a bunch of stories. Of these, the most important one was my masters thesis. As far as masters theses go, I’m pretty sure the one you have to write to make it out of Columbia Journalism School has got to be the easiest out of any Ivy League graduate program—it just has to be 5,000 to 7,000 words, which for those of you who are out of academia or the writing profession is a mere 20 pages. My cat could do that, and I don’t even have a cat. However, for me, at least, this was still pretty hard.

Fortunately, because I managed to sneak my way into this rad investigative journalism program at Columbia, I had the privilege of working with a pretty awesome advisor. His name is Wayne Barrett. If you want to know what Wayne is like, you have two options. Your first-and-more-comprehensive option is to read this article. Your second option is to think of Marty Hall, subtract eyebrows, and replace skiing with journalism, and then you’re pretty much good to go.

Wayne basically gave me and his other advisees a few suggestions of stories to work on; in my immeasurable wisdom, I decided to pick the one that involved public finance and pension funds because those seemed like two things that would be good to learn about. Wayne gave me all his files on this story, and then I started accumulating files of my own, and eventually my locker came to look like this:

For this story, I spent a lot of time in the basement making phone calls, went to one meeting, and met one anonymous source in a Starbucks, which was pretty cool except for when the guys at the next table tried to have the homeless guy sit down with us. Eventually, I got the story published in the Daily News—though it ultimately got pulled down due to some miscommunication (not due to any errors!). Its permanent home is here. The whole process of writing, editing, and publishing it was a pretty fun experience, and though I’d like to think I could have tackled projects like this if I’d stayed at FasterSkier full time, the truth is that while Bill Marolt may have a six-figure salary, he is not yet to the point where he is developing large condominium projects, paying for lobbyists to do his bidding, or slamming Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk policies as he gears up for his campaign for mayor in 2013—at least, not to my knowledge. (If it is to your knowledge, I can be reached at nat@fasterskier.com or 207-841-4199, and documents can be shipped to me care of my mom, 87 Second St., Hallowell, ME 04347.)

Other stories I wrote in the spring included the ones I did for my radio class. If you didn’t know, radio is pretty cool. Don’t take it from me—Andy Newell and Sam Evans-Brown think so too. In any case, over the course of the spring semester, I learned how to make radio stories by sticking microphones in peoples’ faces and then cutting up their answers with fancy computer programs. I also hosted our weekly broadcast a couple of times…shirtless. (The best part about radio is that nobody knows you’re not wearing a shirt.) (Also, for the record, I don’t know why that show that I hosted sounds like it’s broadcast out of a didgeridoo, but it’s not my fault.)

Photo, Keldy Ortiz

Eventually, it got to be the end of May, so then I graduated, which was pretty rad. Also, I am selling a blue gown. Or trading for a pair of Carbonlites or a mountain bike.

Seriously though, once I got my masters degree, it was only a matter of time: the New York Times was on the phone three days after graduation, and now I’m working as a metro reporter making seven figures and living in a sweet studio apartment on Park Avenue, since that’s what people with masters degrees do, right?

Haha, wrong! Gotcha! This may seem baffling, since most people, like me, do get into journalism for the money and women, but in fact, I am not making seven figures and living in a studio apartment on Park Avenue.

Instead, I am living in a single dorm room at Farmingdale State College on Long Island. There is no kitchen, and there is no alcohol allowed inside, but fortunately, there is a good consolation prize in the form of a high-quality dining establishment just across the street:

Okay, seriously though…starting a few weeks ago, I became an intern at Newsday, which is the daily paper covering pretty much all of Long Island, and a little bit of the city. It’s a pretty awesome paper—first of all, it’s a tabloid, so I get to have headlines on my stories like this one:

Second, they actually do really good journalism, and it’s been a good place to work. It doesn’t have the same name recognition or horsepower as the Times and the Wall Street Journal, but they’re very well respected, and have won a whole bunch of Pulitzer prizes. If the Times was APU, Newsday would be kind of like the Craftsbury Green Team.

Among the things I have discovered so far is that in general, Long Island is a pretty horrendous place to try to exercise. Outside my dorm (next to the Hooters), the road is a six-lane north-south race track that connects two of the island’s main east-west highways. I do a substantial amount of my training on the service road for the Long Island Expressway, which affords me an excellent view of people sitting in traffic on their way to work while simultaneously supplying sufficient particulate matter for my lungs to get a double workout. (Mom, don’t worry, I’m not actually training ON the expressway—the service road is, like, outside the guardrail and has a huge shoulder and generally no cars.)

There are a few bike paths, including one that goes to this sweet beach, but I’ve only done it once because they’re not actually that friendly there:

Yes, that is a bikeguard.

Anyways, I’m here for about four more weeks, then I have a 10-day vacation to go see my sister in Canada, and then I start a new, real job at this place called the New York World. It should be pretty sweet—I’m going to be covering city politics—and extra special bonus is that it comes with health insurance. While the job is in New York City, it’s only for about 10 months, and then most likely I will be trying to get a job somewhere with more things like snow and mountains, and hopefully equal levels of corruption to be exposed.

I’ve kind of fallen off the FasterSkier wagon, but hoping to maybe get involved a little bit more some time in the near future. If anyone’s ever in NYC and needs a rollerski tour of Central Park, you know where to find me.

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Texts from Thomas

This week, I logged into Facebook and noticed something that was pretty funny: “Thomas Alsgaard shared BACKSTREET GIRLS’s status update.”

I’m not really sure what or who the Backstreet Girls are, but perhaps I should back up, because you might be wondering: How did that dweeb Nat Herz get to be Facebook friends with Thomas Alsgaard?

It all starts four weeks ago—last Saturday, the day before the New York City Marathon.

I was hoping to interview Thomas before he participated in the race, since I figured he wouldn’t be too busy during his time here—I’d e-mailed him way back in early October when I learned he’d entered, and he’d agreed not only to an interview, but also to a rollerski tour through Central Park with me and the three other members of the Manhattan Nordic Ski Club. We were excited.

As the date approached, I e-mailed Thomas to fix a day and time for our excursion…and, I heard nothing. So, I e-mailed him again. Still, nothing. There was a phone number under the signature on his e-mail, and I thought about calling, but I also had a ton of work to do that weekend, so I figured that Thomas and I just were not destined to meet, and that it was for the best for me to focus on school.

That morning, November 5, I woke up at about 7:00, and checked my e-mail. Among the new messages in my inbox was one from the NYPD’s media distribution list. I thought about pasting the whole message below, for effect, but I’m worried that I might get arrested for doing so, so instead I’ll just say that the e-mail said that a guy in the Bronx neighborhood I cover had been shot one (1) time in the chest early that morning. He was rushed to the hospital, but was pronounced DOA (dead on arrival).

One of the reasons I moved to New York for journalism school is because it would occasionally present me with opportunities like these. This was the third guy that had been killed in the last eight days on my beat; I decided I should probably head up there and check it out, even if I had some other stuff to do. (Plus, there is a Mexican restaurant up there that supposedly makes really good tamales, but only on the weekends, and I wanted to try them. Having now tried them, I can state for the record that they are awesome.)

Reporting on cross-country skiing is one thing; reporting on gang violence is quite another. I took the D train up to the Bronx and spent the morning trying to figure out what had happened. Nobody was really interested in telling me anything, but through a somewhat absurd series of coincidences (recognizing a guy who I had seen once at a meeting who happened to live on the block who happened to be the vice president of the local police precinct community council; running into an outspoken local pastor on the street), I ended up with a pretty decent story, and I even got some confirmations from my sources deep within the NYPD. (Kind of a joke, kind of not.)

One of my photos--see, I really was at a crime scene.

As I’m getting ready to head back to my home on the Upper West Side, I check my e-mail to see if I’ve gotten a response to the request I’ve sent the NYPD for an interview request. Instead, there’s a message from Thomas that says his e-mail hasn’t been working, that he’s not running in the race, but that he’s still happy to meet with me—just send him a message on his phone. So, when I get home at 1:30, I do. Still, for two hours, I don’t hear anything, which is actually okay, since now I’m trying to write up this story as quickly as possible so that I can be really important and pitch it to all the big New York City newspapers like the Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Then, at 3:39, this exchange ensues:

Thomas Alsgaard (who, yes, is now in my cell phone as “Thomas Alsgaard): “I stay at 96 st and Broadway. We could meet some place there?”

Nat: “That’s great—I am at 115 and Broadway. There is a Starbucks coffee at 95 and Broadway—when is a good time for you?” (Subtext: tomorrow? Later this evening?)

Thomas Alsgaard: “As soon as possible?”

Right. Well, given that this is Thomas Alsgaard, and I am Nat Herz, we agree to meet at 4:15, which gives me approximately half an hour to get myself 20 blocks downtown and come up with whatever questions I possibly can. I do wish I’d had a little more time to prepare, but I think it ended up okay—Thomas seemed to be in a very good mood despite his having to pull out of the marathon, and he was incredibly accommodating…although he did let me pay for the coffee. (Topher, you owe me like $5 for that, by the way.) Things that didn’t make it into the interview: he was wearing skinny jeans, which I think is hilarious; he was entirely anonymous in the diner (Starbucks was too packed); but yes, Olympic champions still do have a pretty intimidating aura. (Nonetheless, we are now Facebook friends.)

That’s about all, except for one other story that I think is worth relating. So, I’m sitting at school last week, working on some stuff, when my phone rings. The caller ID says “private,” which is what my mom always shows up as. So, I answer the phone:

Me: “Hi mom!”

Phone: “Uh, hi. This is Rabbi Katz—I’m looking for a Nathaniel Herz who left a message for me earlier today.”

Me: “Yes, hi…”

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How to Become More Badass Than Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall in One Easy Step

So, it’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog—even longer, in fact, than it has been since Reese updated his blog. It appears that I am joining the long list of delinquent FasterSkier bloggers.

My lifestyle has undergone some serious changes over the last couple months, since I moved to New York City and started at Columbia. For example, instead of typing this post in my underwear and a t-shirt, as I would have done in the past, I am now typing it in my underwear and a collared shirt and a tie, something I would have punched myself in the face for doing just a few months ago. (For the record, did you know that a collared shirt and tie on top and underwear on bottom is perfectly sufficient for conducting video skype interviews? Just sayin’.)

Other ways things have changed: I have become a hardened New Yorker. How? Well, mainly, I got mugged. Fo real. No joke. I am now more badass than Andy Newell and Kikkan Randall combined.

So, as part of school here, I cover this neighborhood in the north Bronx called Norwood, which, I concede, is a place where you might not want to leave your valuable rubies and emeralds unattended on a park bench for more than a few minutes at a time. However, it is not a place where people regularly fear for their health and well-being.

A few weeks ago, I’m walking around on my beat, minding my own business, checking out some basketball courts under construction in a busy park in BROAD DAYLIGHT while wearing a backpack and collared shirt. In retrospect, I had not actually drawn a logo in block letters on my collared shirt that said “please mug me, as I am from a rural area of Maine where people smile at each other when passing on the street,” but I think that that is how two area youth may have interpreted it anyway.

So, yeah. I finish up looking at these basketball courts and try to leave the park so that I can go, of all places, to the police precinct, where I am trying to make friends with the cops. (Yes, I know, irony: I am about to get mugged while I am on my way to the police precinct.) Sample conversation between me and the NYPD:
Me: Can you tell me about any of the unusuals that have happened here over the last few days? (Translation: I just used the word unusuals, which makes me a hardened police reporter who knows what he’s talking about—will you please give me information that you’re not authorized to give me even though I am wearing a shirt that says “please mug me, as I am from a rural area of Maine where people smile at each other when passing on the street”?)

NYPD Officer: No. (Or some variation on this theme.)

Anyways, back to the story of me getting mugged. I am trying to leave this stupid park. But instead of finding the exit, I run into this fenced-off construction area, and there’s a guy walking the other way who says that I can’t go through there. So I’m like, okay, and I turn around, and then there is another gentleman who is walking towards me who decides that, instead of returning my friendly nod, that he will heed the instructions on my shirt and take the opportunity to lunge towards me and punch me in the throat.

Keep in mind that this is all unfolding with like one dude watching from behind a fence but apparently minding his own business, and then a handful of other people within a hundred meters or so, pleasantly enjoying their day in the park. Just another day in the Bronx. Anyways, I humbly offer the contents of my wallet and backpack to these dudes, as well as my dignity, and they proceed to make off with my iphone, $10 from my wallet, and my dignity, leaving my computer charger, library books, credit cards, and even my subway pass intact. Which is fortunte, because it means that I don’t even have to call my mom in Maine to have her drive me back to Manhattan from the Bronx! Also, my memory is not 100 percent clear on this, but I think they left the day’s edition of the Wall St. Journal, as well.

After a brief stop at several local institutions that do not let me use the phone, I walk the rest of the way to the police precinct, which was my intended destination in the first place. A wait ensues. Then, I am led up to the stairs to be interviewed by a detective.

Me: “This was not how I wanted to get inside the precinct office.” (Translation: I am a reporter who would like to view the interior of your offices without being subjected to physical violence.)

Officer: “At least you’re not wearing bracelets.” (Translation: handcuffs. Fair enough.)

After telling the detective that I don’t have much of an interest in looking through, no joke, 7,483 mugshots to see if I can identify the perpetrators, I depart, and my work for the day is finished.

Other than that, things are going pretty well. The Manhattan Nordic Ski Club, which consists of me and three other exceptionally friendly dudes, has already had its first team practice, and we are excited for Thomas Alsgaard’s visit to the city in a few weeks.

I have been busy reporting. And I also managed to con some people into letting me sneak in the back door to an extremely awesome investigative reporting program that runs concurrently to all the other classes I was already signed up for. One of the teachers is a private investigator. So suffice to say that if anyone is laundering their SuperTour prize money, I will be the first to let you all know, unless Chelsea or Topher or someone else at FasterSkier beats me to it. Over and out from NYC.

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No Escape from the Guinea Hens

So, I’m not sure that anyone really cares, but I’m planning/hoping to keep updating this blog throughout my year of grad school in New York City. I do hope to write about ski-related stuff at some point along the way, but if that’s what you’re looking for right now, I’d suggest you head back to the FasterSkier main page.

I moved down here on August 1, into an apartment that is awesome, large, ideally-situated, and also, literally, infinitely more expensive than my lodging in Williamstown, where I was living rent-free.

The arrangement is kind of interesting. I came by the apartment through my sister, who went to school at Barnard for a year. Two of her friends were moving out of an apartment that was owned by one of their aunts, and they asked me if I was interested. I ended up getting a good deal, but because the place is rent-controlled and in a relatively nice building, it’s not actually supposed to be sub-let. Which means that I have no lease, and also that when I moved in, I had to do so between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. My mom was kind enough to help with this process.

School started on August 4th with orientation. And if you anything about orientation, you know that it’s scintillating: epic sessions of deans and administrators presenting information that is simultaneously delivered by way of printed materials. I had assumed that if Columbia thought you were smart enough to go to their grad school, they’d trust you with being able to read, but apparently this is not the case. To be fair, judging from some of the questions that were asked by my peers, perhaps some of them don’t know how to read. But anyways…

After four days of orientation, we started a month-long session of multimedia training that includes lessons in audio, photo, and video. We just finished the audio unit (you can check out my pieces here http://soundcloud.com/nat-herz/bond-parade-floats and here http://soundcloud.com/nat-herz/raymond-myrie-jr-profile-v-2 ), and now it’s on to photo.

Starting in September, I’ll be covering a neighborhood in the Bronx for the remainder of the semester. Most likely it’s going to be Norwood, a formerly-Irish community with now-shifting demographics. Needless to say, I don’t think it will be very much like covering skiing. So far this year, through August 7, there have been three murders in the area’s police precinct, which, while a 50 percent decline from last year, is (I think) three more murders than I covered at FasterSkier last season. Demographically, I think it will also be somewhat different. For example, according to the 2010 census, there are 7,391 people of Dominican descent residing in Norwood, or, approximately, 7,391 more than reside the cross-country ski world. I had hoped to be able to at least do some stories on waxing and grinding technologies, but my google search for “ski shop Norwood Bronx” did not turn up very much.

As for physical activity, things have been going fairly well, if not very ski-specific. My apartment is just five blocks from Central Park, which makes it very easy to access for morning runs, bicycle rides, etc. My excursions in Central Park are almost always the highlight of my day. Why? Well, I thought that it was because I was living in New York City, and people living in New York City are ridiculous. For example, in my first few weeks here, I have seen both men and women riding bicycles while wearing skintight pink clothing (the woman was in a one-piece, complete with pink shoe covers but no helmet), a woman pushing a dog in a baby carriage, and a 200-plus-pound woman go absolutely rocketing past me on a triathlon bike in impressive fashion.

At first my attitude about the people exercising in Central Park was kind of condescending, as I was sure that they looked strange because they were bizarre New Yorkers, while I looked completely normal and badass because I am normal and badass. But upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that with the exception of maybe Petter Northug and Kikkan Randall, we all have our own idiosyncracies and look pretty silly when we are exerting ourselves. Of course, this is a matter of degree, but the thing about exercising in Central Park is that you go past about 1,000 people every morning, and even if the factor of ridiculousness is constant between here and Maine, you’re more likely to run into hilarity in New York because of the sheer numbers.

That’s it. Actually, that’s not it. You know why? Because even in New York Effing City, you can’t escape those god-damn guinea hens:

Okay, this isn't exactly NYC. But it is just across the George Washington Bridge, on a bike ride.

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