Making ‘Friends’ the Old Fashioned Way: with Cookies and a Couch

By Sonya Rehman

“Wouldja like a cookie, sir?” Scott Alexander asks with a lopsided smile to a man walking by. His arm is outstretched, and he’s holding a plastic container full of vegan chocolate chip cookies. Homemade and crumbly, many of the imperfect circles have broken in halves. Sitting on an inflatable green couch that he bought on E-bay, Alexander manages to attract quite a crowd at Washington Square Park. He’s been giving out cookies at Washington Square, Union Square and the Lower East Side for five weeks.

Scott Alexander by Isabelle Schäfer

While a few people walk past, their brows furrowed as they glance over skeptically at Alexander, many stop for a chat as they munch on the homemade cookies, holding the yellow business card that he passes out with them.

Working as a doorman to make ends meet, Alexander’s true vocation lies in music. And giving out free cookies at parks and public places allows Alexander to network, to meet “friends” in real time instead of just on Facebook, Myspace and Twitter. Before he sets out to a spot to hand out his free cookies, Alexander tweets his time and location in addition to announcing it over Craigslist. But he doesn’t meet many of his followers in person frequently.

With a little over 200 followers on Twitter and Facebook and 2,000 friends on Myspace, Alexander believes that music is the art of putting sound into a context and considers meeting people and giving out cookies to be a part of his music.

“It’s going to be a different experience,” he says, “when someone comes to see my show or listens to my recording – because they found out about it through seeing me on an inflatable green couch and me offering them a cookie — rather than if they saw a bunch of sexy-looking posters of me up on Broadway or something.”

Alexander’s debut album was supposed to be ready last March, but he says a sketchy producer and other problems have delayed it. But the experience hasn’t put a damper on Scott’s confidence.

Tall, blue-eyed, bespectacled and slightly chubby, Scott was born in St. Paul, Minn., in 1980. A graduate from UCLA in ethnomusicology, Scott moved to New York four years ago and considers himself to be an “under-appreciated rock star.” He lives in the city with his wife, Rebecca.

Getting up frequently to refill his fast deflating couch, Alexander finally finds the problem: a hole in the side. “Up until this recession,” he says while crouching down and struggling to inflate his couch with an electric motor, “I’ve been very fortunate to have a day job that allows me a pretty flexible schedule and to work for three to four days a week and support myself so I can focus on the music.”

Working as a doorman since he was 16 at an opera house in Minnesota, Alexander says that it’s frustrating to continue working as a doorman even though he has earned a degree. But he considers himself lucky to at least have a job that allows him to focus on his music – which he refers to as “non-repetitive pop.”

“I wanna be really honest about this,” he says. “I am motivated by the fact that the more friends I have, and that by making friends and people doing stories on me it will draw attention to my music – but, it’s also just really fun for me to meet people.” Inspired by other bands and musicians who promote their music over Myspace, Alexander said he believes that many wind up overdoing the online promotion so much so that it becomes unrelenting and annoying, making it harder for any other newbies who want to promote their music online.

Ariela Rubin, who found out about Alexander through her friends on Facebook, began following him on Twitter only recently. “I thought it was an awesome idea”, Rubin says enthusiastically. “I mean free and cookies – what can be better?”

But why vegan cookies, why not burgers or fries? “You don’t win friends with potatoes,” Alexander (a vegan himself) says in mock seriousness. As an afterthought he adds, “Also, I’m really good at making cookies.”

Kathryn Somerville, who had been taking photos of Alexander with her digital camera, just became his newest fan on Facebook. “I was in the park a week or two ago,” she says, “And he was here and I was like ‘that’s a cool couch, where’d you get it?’ And he offered me a cookie, and his card! And now I’m his fan on Facebook!”

Kalman Fox, who says he’s a stand-up comedian, more wary. “You gotta watch out,” he says. “Some people might think they could be poison in the cookies. He could be a crazy person – you never know, can’t go by looks. I’m kosher so I’m not gonna eat one.”

A woman, dressed in a black vest, pants and hat looks at Alexander’s couch and wrinkles her nose. “This is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen!”

“It draws attention!” Alexander says defensively, albeit with good humor.

Class assignment – Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Published in The Columbia Journalist.

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