Jessica Ma

Journalist. Poet. Hopefully, city-bound.

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The Calm Before the Storm

My almost-useless skill for Tetris came in handy today. With only two days (!) left until I leave for Paris, I have finally managed to finish packing. My entire life for the next four months fits neatly into two suitcases (one large, one small), a backpack, and a purse. Not too shabby, considering this is what I had to work with — and that’s not even everything!


(Everyone says I’m overpacked. I know, but I also change outfits like my siblings change the family mini-van’s radio station, so you see my problem.)

Of course, when you’re faced with the daunting task of packing up two seasons’ worth of clothes, you’re faced with the question, “What do I NEED?” And when you’re a certified procrastinator like I am, you wind up side-tracked, excavating crammed closets and messy drawers. The sudden need to rank my possessions by their usefulness, combined with my bad habit of making New Year’s resolutions, led to me sifting through a box of movie ticket stubs and old birthday cards for an hour. I was determined: clean up your room, clean up your life. Do I really need to hang on to this ticket stub? Of course I do, this is from the special screening of The Wolf of Wall Street! I saw Leo DiCaprio! Yes, but you saw it with your ex. Okay, but Leo DiCaprio!

My problem is, I’m a sentimentalist. I save doodles on Post-Its from my sister, gifts from old relationships, Christmas cards from relatives whose names and faces I can never match. I collect junk and never display it. I have half-finished scrapbooks that have more stickers and fancy paper than photos.

But this time, when I sorted through and unceremoniously threw out all of the crap in my room, it didn’t feel like another stage in a cycle. The packing made me realize that I’ll survive in France without my favorite book from when I was 10 and my mish-mosh collection of pin badges. I’m sure I’ll be fine without them when I return.


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Giants at Large Descends on Hofstra

The stage was like a comic book come to life: explosive word balloons with words like “Pow!” and “Bam!” dotted the columns which supported the lights and speakers. Four tall banners surrounded the stage, each depicting a musician drawn superhero-style. The fenced-in area designated for the audience was filled, but not so crowded that you couldn’t move about freely. Students with bulky cameras, clipboards, and headsets flitted around the edges of the room. Everyone eagerly awaited the band to take the stage.

Local Long Island pop punk/indie/rock band Giants at Large played a free concert Monday, March 31 at Hofstra University. The band was the star of the annual show, Live From Studio A, a program which showcases local bands and is run entirely by TV and radio students. It is broadcast over WRHU, the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication’s radio station, as well as on, which hosts several programs created by Hofstra TV and film students.

The show began with a loud, twanging chord and a crash of the cymbals, and it only picked up in energy and volume from there. During the band’s new song “Summer,” a mosh pit broke out: a large group of guys jumped around and crashed into one another. At one point, the audience huddled together so one excited fan could briefly crowd surf. The fans’ chaotic energy seemed to match that of the band. Bassist Brian Thomann was especially enthusiastic, spinning around and dancing as he strummed.

In between songs, pre-recorded interviews with the band were broadcast on two TVs set up on either side of the stage. The members shared funny stories about being on the road and the origin of their band.

Sophomore Brian Stieglitz is very familiar with Giants at Large and with the local Long Island music scene, in general. “I always go to shows on Long Island with my brother and the opening bands are usually local,” he said. “When you go to the same venues, you start to see the same bands and same people at each show. It’s kind of like a community and I love that.”

Freshman Nicole Vuono, on the other hand, had never heard of the band prior to the concert. A teaching assistant in one of her radio, television, and film classes invited the students and Vuono though, “Why not?” Since then, Vuono said, “I’ve been listening to their music on YouTube on repeat constantly.”

Some fans were noticeably more enthusiastic than others. They also seemed to have a rapport with the band, shouting funny words of encouragement. It turns out, these audience members were either very involved in the Long Island music scene or were part of local bands themselves.

One such attendee was Andrew Bilder, who is part of the band Bellwether. He said, “My first band was actually with Matt. I grew up with him, writing music together. We still play shows together.” Bilder said that what makes his childhood friend’s band unique is that “Giants at Large, on Long Island especially, fills a niche where they connect with the older guys–you know, like me and my friends, [who] have all been going to shows for a very long time–and they’re able to connect with younger guys who are in their early teens.”

Matt Lagattuta, lead vocalist and guitarist, was equally as excited about the show as the fans were. “We’re not used to playing [on] stages and [having] barricades and lights. It’s usually [in] a dingy basement, so this was cool for us.”

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Quidditch: the Latest Sport to Sweep College Campuses Nationwide

When most people hear Quidditch, they think of the cultural phenomenon that is the Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling. In the book series, Quidditch is (literally) a magical sport played on flying broomsticks. The simple fact that it’s played in midair should have kept the game strictly in the world of fiction. But ever since 2005, when Middlebury College created Muggle Quidditch, the game has gained increasing popularity among college campuses across the country.

According to the International Quidditch Association, which organizes teams and leagues, “over 300 universities and high schools throughout North America, Australia, and Europe” play Quidditch. And Hofstra University is no exception.

These videos focus on Adam Kwestel, a sophomore at Hofstra, who plays as both the Keeper (think goalie) and a Chaser (they score points) for the Hofstra Flying Dutchmen Quidditch team.

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SantaCon is Coming to Town

You may have heard of Comic Con or VidCon–conventions for comic book fans and YouTubers, respectively–but have you ever heard of SantaCon? Today marked the 16th annual SantaCon in New York, where thousands of people, dressed up as Santa and other Christmas-related people and/or beings, take over the city’s already-busy streets.

The New York Times describes the event as “a daylong bar crawl,” which has caused controversy in the neighborhoods the Santas walk through. Last year, SantaCon passed through Hell’s Kitchen; police lieutenant John Cocchi said the con-goers were responsible for “urinating, littering, vomiting and vandalizing.”

This year, in an effort to repair their tainted reputation, the organizers of SantaCon shared the route–which changes every year–with the authorities. According to the NY Times, the convention organizers have also gathered “‘helper elves’ to guide Santas who stumble off the path.”

Despite the bad press, SantaCon is trying to do some good. The bars which are part of this year’s route will donate a percentage of their profit’s during SantaCon to Toys for Tots, a charity which provides Christmas presents to underprivileged children.

Now, I’m always excited for a party, no matter the reason. In theory, SantaCon sounds great! People looking to spread Christmas cheer in the sometimes mean streets of New York; what’s not to love? However, as the article mentions, the drunken revelry poses a nuisance and potential danger to the neighborhoods. SantaCon ultimately winds up sounding like another excuse to drink excessively and then make bad decisions.

While I applaud SantaCon for its charitable efforts, its unruly reputation isn’t doing it any favors. Instead of spending an entire day drinking, perhaps each con-goer could bring one or two presents with them and spend the morning handing them out to shelters for families in underprivileged neighborhoods. After all, about 30,000 people attended SantaCon last year; combined with the proceeds from participating bars, this would greatly help out charities that seek to give underprivileged kids toys.

And isn’t giving–not drinking–what Christmas is all about?

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Warning: This Post is Not for the Faint of Heart

Map of abandoned mental asylums in greater New York Area.

A few weeks ago, I was on the popular humor website, reading an article about some of the creepiest places on Earth. I was surprised (and slightly terrified) to see Creedmoor Psychiatric Center and Kings Park Psychiatric Center on the list: my college campus is only 20 and 40 minutes from these institutions, respectively. However, it piqued my interest. If there were two mental institutions in Long Island alone, how many were there in the greater New York area?

This map has the location of seven abandoned mental institutions in Long Island, New Jersey, and part of New York state.

Now, a simple Google search of “abandoned mental institutions in New York/New Jersey” will reveal that there are definitely more than seven institutions in these two states. However, many of these buildings have been completely torn down, whereas I wanted to focus on asylums that are still at least partially standing.

A quick disclaimer: most of these locations are closed to the public and trespassing is illegal. If you choose to visit any of these sites, you do so at your own risk.

Happy exploring…