Monday, December 23, 2013

Free Markets, Where Are You When I Need You?

At my beloved T.J. Maxx, you can waltz in and be left to your own devices. You’re not a target. You get your personal space.

I’ll no longer enter a tiny boutique, just for browsing purposes, if I look through the windows and see that it’s empty. Been there, done that, a few too many times, having the owner latch onto me, providing a detailed history of each item I suggest looks cute, laying on the passive-aggressive guilt trip if I leave without a bag in my hand.

Retail is not my therapy.

It’s outdoor holiday market season in the city. I work a block away from one. Another market is on my route home. Each vendor’s stall is a tinier version of a tiny boutique. My strategy this year was to walk through them with my earbuds tightly in place, to keep the artisans from pouncing, to keep them clinging to the assumption that any of their stories or proposals would fall on deaf ears. I forbid myself from buying anything that couldn’t be eaten. NO MORE JEWELRY was my main market mantra.

It got off to a promising start – macaroon dealers; the smells of Korean barbecue floating through the air; beautiful hand-crafted necklaces that I glanced at but didn’t dare go near; bundled-up out-of-towners, visibly thrilled to experience Christmas in New York.

I made five seconds of eye contact with a vendor who took on a troubled expression, moving her lips enough to get me to remove one earbud. I thought she was in pain.

“Can I borrow your hand?” she asked.

The phrasing caught me off guard. Pouncing ensued. She grabbed my hand, dipped her fingertips into the waxy puddle of a small burning candle, and massaged the wax into my skin, talking up its restorative benefits.

“These would make good gifts,” I heard myself say.

“Yes,” she agreed, gently rubbing, “they would.”

“I walk through here pretty much every night,” (also untrue), “so maybe I’ll swing back by and pick a few up later.” How’s that for a proper goodbye?

She smiled. I didn't go back for the candles, but look forward to wearing my new earrings and pointer-finger ring to Christmas dinner

Monday, December 16, 2013

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall? Book Online or Dial 212-247-7800

When a co-worker and I ordered tickets to see Handel’s Messiah at Carnegie Hall, there was much contention during the seat-selection process. I was content with sitting in the $12.50 balcony seats, but the world keeps flinging little reminders that not everyone is like me.

“You’re too good for a balcony?” I reacted. “Eva Peron wasn’t. Romeo and Juliet weren’t. I’ve sat in all different sections of theaters and auditoriums, large and small, and feel privileged just to be present.”

She said the last time she sat in a balcony she was basically almost driven to jumping off of it, and promised she would never put herself in that position again.

At one point, it got so heated I said we’d have to sit our separate ways. That I’d hit the bleachers by myself while she sat amongst those who aren’t happy unless and until they’re able to confirm the exact color of the conductor’s bow tie. In the end, the holiday spirit got the best of me, and I huffily agreed to pay the $25 (plus a $6 service fee) to sit beside my buddy.

Did I mention that she’s 71 years old?

Whenever I tell my dad about a party or an event, he loves to get a head count. “Was it well-attended?” is a question I’ve come to expect. In this case, he was surprised to hear how many empty seats there were, as Carnegie Hall was apparently a place to be when he frequented New York, decades ago. The last time I saw something there, it was equally under-attended. While my mind says $12.50 (which, for those of us who aren’t 71, is less than what it costs to catch a movie five blocks uptown) isn’t bad and wishes more locals and tourists took advantage of amounts like that, my always-up-for-a-stretch legs and arms say Hallelujah!, the more empty seats there are in front of, behind, and next to me. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sing On, Soweto

I decorate my home very gradually and particularly, refusing to exhibit anything that wasn’t love at first sight. Several walls or sections of walls remain blank canvases until I find just the right coverage. About five weeks ago, a song came on my Brenda Fassie Pandora radio station. It was love at first sound, and the second I saw the cover of the album it’s from (The Indestructible Beat of Soweto), I knew this is the visual that belongs on the lower righthand side of the wall above my desk.

One of my bigger regrets is not having studied abroad in South Africa. One of my bigger goals is to overthrow that regret by traveling through South Africa as an older, savvier adult.

Nelson Mandela once lived in Soweto. He’s a big deal to my family, and to many other families. I taped a huge poster of him on a wall in an old room of mine. In times of disillusionment, I sometimes looked up at that poster, to help get my focus back in check.

When a Supersoul you’ve never met but have always looked up to dies of old age, the effect can be similar to when a long terminal illness takes away someone you’re close to. You know the end is coming any day and assume you’re ready for it; when that day actually comes, you’re not as emotionally prepared as you thought you’d be.  

I still haven’t found the album cover image in the size and form I’m looking for. A colorful ceramic butterfly hangs on the wall as a place-holder until it comes home to rest. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

Why Stop Now? More of What I’m Currently Pleased About

*The delicious homemade stuffing I prepared last week

*How quickly the finger I hurt while chopping ciabatta bread for the stuffing healed

*That ciabatta loaf had garlic in it, which was the stuffing’s secret weapon

*When I fell down while putting the finishing touches on the stuffing, my face hit the floor instead of the stove’s sharp edges

*Even though one quadrant of my face is a little sore when I touch it, there are no breakages or bruises

*By the looks of it, I have enough celery, onion, and herbs to make another pot of stuffing this week

*I’m not the only person I know who routinely trips, tumbles, spills, or bodily crashes this way

*This other person and I are back to living on the same coast

*She can still take business trips to NYC

*The framed close-up picture of the two of us, that I keep on display above my couch, is what first made me realize I have the same mouth as my late mother

* Telephone calls, text messaging, email, and Skype have yet to go out of style

*The photo of her toddler that she sent me last night is the perfect new wallpaper for my phone

Monday, November 25, 2013

Things High Up on My Thankfulness Chart Right Now

*Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album is getting turned into a Broadway musical

*Not having to deal with any airports this Thanksgiving weekend

*Bearing witness to all natural developments within the sky: rising and setting suns; rainbows; twinkling little stars; varying color schemes, cloud formations, and moon phases

*Public libraries 

*Graffiti artists  

*Unconditional love

*Conditional love whereby each party keeps his or her end of the deal

*Soft lighting

*The 12- or 13-year-old oversized hoodie I wrap around me, like a child’s special blankie, all fall and winter

*Chrissy Teigen’s tweets

*Free spirits who aren’t flakes

*Snowflakes

*The hot chocolate recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa box  
*A glass I pulled out of my cupboard that has Chinese characters etched on one side and the English translation on the other side:

Ten Ways to Good Health
Less Alcohol, More Tea
Less Meat, More Vegetables
Less Salt, More Vinegar
Less Sugar, More Fruit
Less Eating, More Chewing
Less Words, More Action
Less Greed, More Giving
Less Worry, More Sleep
Less Driving, More Walking
Less Anger, More Laughter

*Wireless bras with a little bow front and center

Monday, November 18, 2013

Further Incentive to Take My Time During Rush Hour

One Monday morning at a summer job, when I was an age that tempts many older people to refer to you as “a baby,” a co-worker I’d never seen before told me she owned the same top I was wearing and would be walking the halls in it herself on Thursday. I normally go out of my way to prevent this “We’re Twins!” extravaganza from happening, so it wasn’t great news. But I grew more preoccupied with the idea of planning a week’s worth of outfits in advance. If I did that, I figured, I wouldn’t be late for work or for play.

I signed off on every piece of clothing and jewelry I wore to work last week the night before. It didn’t get me out the door any quicker. Unless I have a meeting, or otherwise suspect that any tardiness could hold another person or system up, there are mornings when I’m not quite as punctual as I technically could be. Sometimes it’s due to reasons outside of my control: my neighbors and I were trapped inside of our building’s foyer after the inner door handle developed a dastardly mind of its own; a manhunt for an escaped prisoner delayed my train; two tied-up pit bulls excitedly encouraged me to come over for a meet-and-greet and it would have been inhumane not to pay my respects. Other days, the reasons aren’t as riveting.

(Incidentally, the older crowd still refers to me as “just a baby,” and to my face. It’s dismissive.)

Baby occasionally rides a morning train she’s nicknamed her really-pushing-the-envelope late train. Its uncrowded last car contains an older passenger who is currently her favorite person in the Tri-State Area (no need to get to know him, that could ruin everything). She gets off before he does and they exchange big, show-me-your-teeth smiles on her way out, wishing each other good days. The ritual uplifts her.

After I’ve crossed paths with certain souls more than twice, I find it impossible not to speculate about the lives they strongly lead or sadly follow. Where are they coming from? Where are they headed? Why do they look so distraught when they think no one is watching? How empowering might it feel to successfully catch the same train (same car, same seat) every day - or is the lack of variety adding to the distress? 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Deliver Me from the Food Shortages, Express Lanes, and Illusions of Qualifying for Top Chef

In my first string of New York minutes, I cohabited with locals who relentlessly ordered their meals in. They would wake up or come home and get somewhat settled before picking up the phone to place an order for delivery, sometimes from eateries stationed down the street. What a bunch of lazy asses, I decided, you couldn’t pay me to live like that. We children of Started-from-the-Bottom-Now-We-Here immigrants value home-cooked meals over making bicyclists hazardously weave through buses and cars to fetch our hot food.

Fast forward to about ten years later. In the past week, I’ve called out for delivery twice, with the updated standpoint of: Bring me my dinner, and be quick about it. In fact, bring enough to last a couple of days so I have leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch, as I’m in no frame of mind to cook or shop for what’s missing in my kitchen. It's alarming how often someone who’s out foraging for food so much can have nothing left to nosh on. That’s the downside of high metabolisms and the upside of living in communities where it’s commonplace to drive to the grocery store and stock up with impunity, instead of having to make multiple on-foot trips, settling for as much as you can carry for five blocks. The idea of ordering groceries online and having the cargo dispatched to my doorstep hasn’t sounded nuts to me in months. Neither has the idea of sending my laundry out. I’m at the edge of my bed in suspense about what will seem normal next.   

The act of being a New Yorker, one who’s really a part of it all, can periodically sap the energy out of you, to the extent nowhere else I’ve lived has. It’s almost like being an older version of what you were in college (the last time I had meals delivered with any regularity), when you and the people tightly packed around you were up at all hours, fighting to balance the serious with the social, maturation with exploration, without burning out too soon, and the thrill of finding a free Coke at the bottom of your delivery bag can be all it takes to keep the mojo humming for another night. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Try Walking a Mile in My Mary Janes

It’s fair to say I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about how I’d answer: “If a genie granted you three wishes, what would you ask for?” (I used to watch and read a lot of Aladdin- and Arabian Nights-related material.) Lower alcohol tolerance and at least one mob connection have long served as my first two wishes. I’ve gone back and forth with #3, but now I’ve got it: I’ll take two same-sized feet.

My feet aren’t even a simple, solid half an inch apart. They’re probably more like two-fifths or three-sevenths of an inch apart, or different widths, or whatever it means when one shoe is too tight while the other is too big, or when both shoes are too tight or too big but in completely different places. It’s why I rarely walk long distances in anything other than sneakers or Nike flip-flops (which are sneakers with a thong, have excellent traction, and won’t get nasty or squeaky in the rain) – they don’t hurt or require any painful “breaking in” trials that hardly end well. Like many women, I own more than a dozen pairs of shoes. All because when I buy a new pair it’s hit or miss, even if they feel OK in the store. Since it’s mostly a miss, at any given time I only have one pair of non-athletic shoes I can briskly walk more than 20 minutes in without blistering or cutting up my feet. At the office, I have a drawer full of nice shoes. They’re for wearing around the office. At home, I have a closet floor lined with shoes. A third of them are for in-home use or special occasions, after commuting to the special occasion in sneakers or flip-flops.  

I’ve seen a cobbler. I’ve ponied up for drugstore products designed to close gaps or ease chafing. Nothing helps for long. Shoes hate me, I hate shoes; the barer the feet, the closer to the glow of my nail polish I’ll be. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

What Can Happen When Some People Go for a Drive

The first unusual thing I noticed while walking up Central Park West on Friday night was how civilian-free the sidewalks were. NYPD officers and barricades were everywhere. As soon as the lady walking 10 feet ahead (the only other pedestrian in sight) breezed through an open passageway between two of the barricade gates, to get to the other side of 81st Street, an officer slammed the gates shut, right in front of me.

Five years ago, I would have made a snide comment. These days, I handle my outrage in a more dignified manner, coldly ignoring, with a faint smile, the person who has just wronged me. As far as I was concerned this cop wasn’t even there, our noses not many inches apart, subtly trying to get my attention. I had music to listen to, phone apps to fiddle with, a barricade gate to lean against, trees to stare at.

But my detainment was taking forever. Two of the officers directing this intersection’s vehicular traffic were dressed almost militarily. When I finally broke down and acknowledged the cop who’d been minding me, I got the full briefing.

“It’s for the president. He’s coming through any minute now.”

I yanked the buds out of my ears and, like twenty-first-century Ani DiFranco, wasn’t angry anymore. Obama was about to drive crosstown, through Central Park, on his way to dinner on the Upper West Side.

“Ya wanna meet him?” my cop asked, with an “I can tell you’ve had a long week and deserve a million-dollar pick-me-up” expression.

“Yeah, can I?!” All of a sudden, I adored the NYPD. This cop was a younger, jollier, Irisher version of Joe Pesci at the beginning of Home Alone, when Pesci masqueraded as a police officer. They have the same accents, the same tonal qualities.

“Nah. Not even I get to.”

I went back to snubbing him.

When you’re unexpectedly detained for more than 20 minutes, it gives you time to think about topics you might not normally dwell on for long, such as: When was the last time I got held up by a presidential motorcade, and how does Now compare to Then? It was two years ago, in Midtown. The young cop who drove an NYPD van behind Obama’s SUV had a nervously thrilled look on his face when he gingerly turned onto 7th Avenue, as if this was the most important task he’d ever carry out, fully aware he was in the thick of something not everyone can say they’ve done. He was having a deathbed-memory moment – in his final hours, should he get proper time to reflect, he’ll dredge up that drive and feel warmer.

My cop from the other night chomped on gum, and clowned around about the President of the United States having an Upper West Side-based girlfriend. When I told him I was no longer pissed about all the waiting, he said he was pissed and wanted to go home. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Objection

Going to law school has been the most laughable decision I’ve made, so far, and I’m still upset with every person who never tried to talk me out of it. Come to think of it, nobody tried talking me out of it. My immediate family members had reactions like, “You?”; “How come?”; “Well, we certainly won’t be contributing to those bills,” but that wasn’t enough. 

At the time, it was fun assuming the next 3 years would amount to a continuation of college and getting to say, “I’m putting myself through law school,” something I said frequently because it sounded heroic, to me if not to anyone else. When 21-year-olds from middle-class backgrounds speak of paying their way through an expensive law school, take it to mean they’re nose-diving into an enormous pool of debt. Paying back a debt isn’t as gratifying as the tale of how and why you're plunging into it, and I’ve stayed relatively quiet about this later process.

My 10-year law school reunion is coming up. I have the rah-rah registration reminders to prove it. I prefer other forms of correspondence from this outfit, ones that solicit honest opinions instead of attendance or money. For instance, awhile ago, I was asked to fill out an “Alumni Attitude” survey. I eagerly complied, selecting my answers from an innovative menu of options:

How would you rate your decision to attend?  Fair

How often do you promote the school to others?  Never

Which best describes your experience as a student? Poor

What are barriers to your participation in alumni activities? Just Don’t Want To

Name a person who had a special impact on your student experience and a description of the relationship. I wrote about the guy who ran the convenience store behind my first apartment building. I went in there to buy junk food after class at least twice a week, and the uncommon warmth he radiated served as Exhibit A that not everyone in this new environment was a lost cause.

He’s the one I’m interested in crossing state lines to have a photo-happy reunion with. And I just might. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Beauty Sleep’s Unattractive Side

These past few weeks, I’ve slept like a drugged woman. That hardcore, REM-heavy sleep. Is it the reduced caffeine intake? Is my thyroid back on strike? Has someone been slipping sedatives into my jasmine tea?

I’m pretty sure the insomnia/hyposomnia will return, at least on a freelance schedule. Part of me misses it very much. Contrary to what the experts and their studies may suggest, the extra sleep has not curbed my appetite, nor has it improved my attention span, complexion, or creative juices. If anything, I’m more apathetic about what anyone says or does, and apathy is one of the worst attributes out there. An apathetic person is as atrocious as that person who constantly plays the role of devil’s advocate. (You know the type: You and your party will be seated around a table. When someone mentions Shaker Heights, Ohio or Newton, Massachusetts, you’ll say that everyone has an ex or an old family friend or a former roommate from Shaker Heights or Newton. Six out of the seven others will nod or chuckle on cue – until the Menace-to-the-Merriment suddenly says, “I’ve never known anyone from Shaker Heights or Newton,” in a hella self-righteous or put-out tone.)

REM sleep brings out the big dreams. In my waking life I’m more of a doer than a dreamer, which could be why I look down on sleep-mode dreams, good or bad. It’s obvious why the bad dreams suck. With the good dreams, when I wake up, I’m sad they weren’t real. This week, I’ve had nerve-wracking dreams about several specific people and situations. I minored in psych and have taken a dream-interpretation pseudo-seminar, so I generally understand what they mean. I half-wish I didn’t.

I also recently dreamed about getting an insane amount of backlash for wearing the suede clogs I haven’t worn since the late ‘90s, but have considered adding to my hostesswear collection this fall. Years ago, I had a dream about a co-worker of mine going on an assault-rifle rampage during a staff meeting. The next day, there was an office shooting in St. Louis. That’s why I’m now more cautious about putting on the clogs. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

That Signature Sense

Last month I trudged through six different airports and blame their duty-free supercenters for getting me back into wearing perfume, after having successfully weaned myself of the bottles for close to a decade. Inside of those brightly-lit travelers’ traps, I browsed, listened to sales proposals, eventually needed to use up about 30 euros before re-crossing my favorite ocean, and there are only so many bags of meltable Milka chocolate I’m willing to cram into a carry-on.

The aromas of the Versace perfumes, particularly the ones located on the discount rack, were intoxicating. Since then, every now and then, I’ve dabbed a drop behind each ear before stepping out. The habit doesn’t hurt, and is something I like to think Liberace might not have been able to leave home without doing.

My mom hardly ever wore perfume, and when she did it was usually a label I didn’t love. But when I picked up the heavy black bottle and sprayed some of the scent onto my fingers in the Palermo airport two weeks ago, my worries temporarily floated away. Two other bottles I sniffed took me back to my high school persona, more than merely looking at them would have. In junior high, I toted around and publicly broke big bottles of Malibu Musk, a brand that was conspicuously absent from the duty-free inventories but an odor I can still sort of call up in my head. During an uncomfortable two-day cold I came down with a few weeks ago, the main downer was not being able to smell the fresh espresso, pesto, and mountainside air, although my mood changed when I ran into and kissed a stray dog on a cobblestoned street. He resembled a dog I used to have who, after going both blind and deaf, loudly sniffed his way around and outside of the house, just as contentedly as he’d done when his eyes and ears were intact.   

Monday, September 30, 2013

Fountainheads: This One’s For You

Before I headed to the charismatic city of Florence (I still can’t believe Jersey Shore filmed there) for a few days last week, someone advised me not to feel bad if I ended up not seeing everything. 

I don’t.

I found a way to deeply experience the city, its residents, and the local culture, which I couldn’t have done if I speed-walked through the streets in a blistered-feet frenzy, to line up for yet another Renaissance art–packed chamber. I guess reading the Florence pages of an Italy guidebook was less stressful than cramming for a Series 7 exam. But keeping track of which museums are and aren’t open on Mondays, which ones are closed every second or fourth Monday of the month, noting the three different locations of Michelangelo’s David (with the warning that only one of the three happens to be legit) - who deserves this? An alternative strategy is to wander aimlessly until you stumble into someplace that looks more compelling than not. If it’s closed, forget about it and keep moving, directly into the nearest gelato emporium.

Florence is another Italian metropolis that features a special fountain, with the idea that if you surrender a coin, you’re guaranteed a return trip to the city one day (that’s what the guidebook says; according to Wikipedia, you need to rub the snout of the fountain’s wild boar sculpture to ensure a comeback – again, all too complicated). Instead of sitting at the bottom of fountains, my spare coins went into the palms and paper cups of elderly panhandlers in kerchiefs, who made beelines for me. My late grandmother occasionally wore a kerchief, and turning my back on these ladies would have carried the whiff of alienating her.

Italy is currently like me six or seven years ago – not on its best financial footing. Yet the word “deficit” could vanish from the budget coordinators’ heads and tongues if they’d start spreading the word that throwing a one-euro coin into a certain fountain will get the thrower the job of her dreams, or keep away the parking tickets, or reduce the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses that knock on her door, or make her spill red wine on her light-colored clothing less frequently. And that a two-euro coin toss will stave off the computer viruses, criminal convictions, and STDs, and may ultimately contribute to bringing down the price of a quart of milk. Although I’m slightly swamped these days, I wouldn’t decline an invitation to serve on any fountain-related steering committees, especially those holding their sessions within Florence city limits because I didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Duomo during my first visit there. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Some of How I Spent the Day Before I Fled the Country for Half a Month

*Slept In.

*Had coffee and a breakfast fit for a lumberjack.

*Lay around listening to Pandora; Worst-case-scenario speculated about my rowmates on the planes; Remembered that I never did go down to the Village to look for a marked-down, used-copy Italy travel guide.

*More coffee.

*Went to the hardware store for a voltage adapter.

*Swung around the block to the grocery store, to get refunded for a single roll of toilet paper I’d been charged $10.99 for the other night. (Always review your receipts. And minimize any chattering you do with your cashier, your bagger, the bagger over in the next aisle, and the floor manager while the cashier rings up your purchases, so you can pay closer in-real-time attention - or any attention at all - to the numbers popping up on the register’s screen.)

*Fell head over heels for a $20 shirt at Marshalls that has gamechanging potential; Feel similarly about a bottle of “Brilliant Blush” nail polish I found 10 minutes later.

*Checked my work email and was instantly disgusted by a message from the douchiest bureaucrat I’m forced to liaise with; Started drafting a response, but soon deleted it - he’s too emotionally frail; Logged out and vowed not to log back in until September 30th.

*Fixed myself dinner and a Skinnygirl Margarita.

*Ogled the Marshalls shirt.

*Stage 1 of the packing process; Unearthed a dressy scarf someone once brought me back from Italy that I never wear. Wondered what it would do to my karma if I handed it to someone else upon my own return, with a, “Surprise! This is for you, it’s from Italy.”

*Began a load of laundry, while the couple intellectualizing in the back corner got drunker by the minute.

*Bought a Fodor’s guidebook at a bookstore in my neighborhood, full price.

*Trip #2 to the hardware store to return the voltage adapter that turned out not to be compatible with my phone charger’s prongs. The store was closed.

As much as I love my country, I’ve earned another break from it. Ciao!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dear Time-Travel Machine(s): Don’t Even Think About Sending Me Back to the ‘80s

In the late 2000s, an older native Manhattanite told me I would have loved living in the New York of the ‘70s. Whatever. She has also maintained that any native New Yorker who bumps into me would be able to tell I’m not from here, which was a far greater compliment than the ’70s pitch.

I doubt I would have done many cartwheels around this town in the ‘80s, what with the menaces including but not limited to: broad-daylight armed muggings; burglarized apartments; a much less visitor- and commuter-friendly Times Square; and Daddy Reagan lurking fewer than 250 miles to the south. There was also quite an AIDS outbreak, as the historical society’s “AIDS in New York” exhibit drives home. The New York Historical Society is my fourth-favorite local museum. Its exhibits are wonderfully curated and it’s on my route home from work. I’m waiting for someone to take me on a dinner date in the fine-looking ground-floor restaurant that sits across from the gift store, where elegant scarves and jewelry are sold near the quill pens I always almost buy. I still sulk about having missed the Society’s 2010 Grateful Dead show, but that upset was all the motivation I needed to start investigating and memorizing the opening and closing dates of all exhibits that seem up my ‘70s-tinted alley.

I’m not minding the New York of the 2010s. I can haunt Manhattan’s streets by myself at any hour of the night without feeling unsafe. It’s now possible to get a Shake Shack cheeseburger two avenues from my office or around the corner from the Society, instead of having to traipse downtown. And Studio 54 lives on. I’ve seen a marvelous production of Waiting for Godot in there with the elder stateswoman from paragraph one, who evidently haunted Studio 54 back when it was really the setting for some of the city’s most gripping theatrical performances.    

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Offspring of the Hyper-Well-Informed Shall (One Day) Inherit the Trait?

I was raised by a couple of news addicts. Print journalism and broadcast journalism were the ninth and tenth members of my household, and I sometimes resented the latter. To this day, I know not to call my dad between 6:30 and 7 p.m., as he cannot bear the idea of missing a moment of the ABC evening news, which is often followed up with more news on the TV and/or the Internet.

On the average day, my detailed knowledge of what’s going on in this world is spotty. I cover-to-cover read every issue of Newsweek magazine from my mid-twenties until that was no longer an option. I follow the New York Times on Twitter and semi-regularly set aside time to read beyond its headlines, particularly the articles pertaining to lifestyle and the arts. When someone referenced Bernie Madoff, several days after the world had been told his story, my “Who’s he?” was not courteously received. On September 11, 2001, I wasn’t aware we were in the early stages of a national tragedy until the early afternoon, thanks to a phone call from my aunt.

So I haven’t exactly been a wealth of information on what’s happening in Syria. As I walked uptown more than a week ago, an older lady walked toward me, beaming. When I stopped and pulled out my earbuds to hear what I was getting accosted about, she was midway through congratulating me on my “victory in Syria.” I thanked her. “But who is Syria?” she asked, before moseying off, in a daze. I should also thank her for being the one who most recently prompted me into reading and listening to more in-depth coverage about what’s new in lands far, far away from my personal and professional bubbles. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Stretching in Spurts

By 11:45 a.m. yesterday, it was clear I’d be able but not willing to leave my home base for the remainder of the day, even though I was wired from the morning’s caffeine and carbs. Have you ever been wired and lethargic at the same time?

I haven’t done yoga in awhile. Every now and then, my body begs for it. Going in for a refresher class is hardly a bad idea, but unless you’re a glutton for community interaction or gunning for guru status, yoga isn’t an undertaking that requires weekly appointments with an instructor or an entourage. As long as there’s a foundation of formal training under your belt and you have a reliable memory, you can run through the drills on your own, on an as-wanted basis.

Instead of doing 60 or 30 minutes straight, I rolled out my mat and left it lying in the same location all day. When I passed by, I periodically pulled over to strike and hold a few poses. While off the mat, I kept an eye on it from a reclined position on my bed or the couch, admiring how lovely the long purple rectangle looked against the color of my flooring. Following the example I’ve set with my ironing board, I may continue to leave the mat unfurled, out in the open, until it starts to become one with the surrounding d├ęcor. My philosophy about uncarpeted floors is that you can rarely have too many rugs.

This morning, I woke up feeling massaged – not deep-tissue massaged, but close enough. And removing this mat from my main closet has helped me notice that, although it’ll be tight, I do have the space to jam another suitcase in there. Upper West Side T.J. Maxx, here I come. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

An Evening Alongside My Dream Son

Teenagers (preps, perfectionists, goths, skateboarders, thespians, mutes, junior thugs) and I see something in each other. Who doesn’t value a good gravitational pull? Three of them strode into the Laundromat the other night and we, at first sight, had ourselves a bit of a past-life connection. The tall one sat near me in the waiting area, where I was playing round after round of Candy Crush on my phone.

“Excuse me,” it didn’t take him long to call out. I knew we’d speak.

“Are you scared of waterbugs?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. (Actually not really, although I used to be. It would have been too antisocial to say “No.”)

He pointed at a beast that slowly crawled a few feet away, on the other side of me. “Look at him go,” I narrated, following it with my eyes, pretending to care. I asked him what the difference is between a waterbug and an extra-large roach. His nonsensical, long-winded answer demonstrated that he hasn’t a clue.

He volunteered that he’s terrified of bugs and would have gotten up and ran if he were sitting where I was. Now we were talking. It was a startling admission, considering he had the presence of a person who would kneel in front of an oncoming tour bus if it meant protecting the two girls he came in with. How often are boys his age - and men two, three, and four times his age – tough enough to fess up to their fears that candidly, especially when they concern something so outwardly trivial? Half class clown, half varsity athlete, smart but not studious, Homecoming Court but not King, at risk of one day looking back at high school as his heyday – that was my first impression of him. My second impression is that only the authentically confident ones have any prayer of winning Most Likely to Succeed.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Can’t Take the Heat (or Bright Lights) and Will Gladly Get Out of the Kitchen

I’ve never been afraid of the dark. Although the light doesn’t intimidate me either, I don’t perform optimally under too much fluorescence or sunshine. Late fall and all of winter are my favorite seasons.

From about early June through late September, I keep my windows open. My kitchen window faces an apartment in a building that’s next door to mine. No one currently lives there. The previous renters were public nuisances who viciously screamed at their kids, in between blasting Celine Dion’s greatest hits, at all hours. “Shut up,” I occasionally sing-songed out my window, late at night. “Tell your mother to shut up,” the chief screamer advised. One time she lectured that I should have said, “Please keep it down,” while someone in the background calmly barked out something more menacing, something vulgar. With my bathroom window open, I’ll be sitting on the toilet, daydreaming about turtleneck sweaters and blizzard warnings, and hear the sound of someone in a different next-door building pop a tab to open a can of pop. (I don’t care how long I’ve lived outside the Midwest, I won’t say “soda.”)

It shouldn’t be much longer before I get new neighbors, replacements for Celine’s loudest fans. From my lookout point, I can see that those who own the place are getting ready to show the unit. I’ve smelled the fresh coats of paint from my kitchen. And I can see how they sometimes leave the overhead lights on when they’re done working for the day – this is what might drive me back to drinking pop. (In my office, I’m the colleague who turns off lights in unoccupied areas, including bathrooms, and in occupied rooms where there’s enough natural light streaming in.) Oh, the fantasy of constructing a zip line, like Kevin’s in Home Alone which allowed him to fly between his treehouse and the main compound, so I could wriggle through the window and switch it all off.

I would also not just switch off but unplug the window air-conditioner the masters of that house think nothing of running when there’s no one around for a cool down.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Go Ahead and Try to Take All You Can Get

My bank’s fraud protection bureau called, texted, and emailed me the other day. We haven't been in touch in awhile and it's always nice to hear from those I hold in high regard.

I used to be the one to initiate the contact. Among other snafus, I’ve fallen for an attempted banking-related scam in the past. The scammers keep trying their luck with me, this is what they’re doing with their lives. Now, I start off suspecting that nearly every caller, texter, and emailer who isn’t a part of my contacts list is out to grab my assets. I assumed my benevolent bank’s voicemail, text, and email were frauds themselves until I remembered how I’ve been spending money like a Bravo Real Housewife lately.

It’s a nightmare when someone seizes your account information or social security number and has his or her criminal way with it. But who coined the term “identity theft” (can I nail down a name and a date of birth)? It’s so dramatic, so Bravo and Real Housewives. When I first heard it, I thought it crossed over into brainwashing, forced lobotomy, or sci-fi territory. Good thing it's not that deep. If something is just a huge, drawn-out inconvenience, I'll cope. I'll eventually wake up from a nightmare. Inconveniences, the bigger and bolder the better, can bloom into good stories. I get joy out of being able to tell a new person about the weekday afternoon the underworld came dangerously close to stealing my identity, knowing that my real identity is complex, private, and incapable of going anywhere without my express authorization. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Dates We Save

I can think of only one time in my adult life when I’ve wanted to physically assault another person. It was immediately before a bridesmaid function. The bride berated her doting mother for being too talkative with the vendor in charge of the rehearsal-dinner cake. She went on and on, getting louder and louder, and we were in tight quarters. The mother chucklingly blew the tantrum off. My mother’s 2-year death anniversary was a few weeks away. 

Her 9-year death anniversary came and went last week. I worked late, commuted home, and went to bed at a decent hour. There were no crying fits, there’s no longer a need for anyone to drive me around the Catskills for the day to help cool my jets. Major holidays, including Mother’s Day, also now feel the same as most days do. Earlier this year, I reflected on the anniversary of my late grandmother’s birthday. But I keep forgetting the date of her death. Even though I always remember it, my late mother’s birthday hasn’t affected me as deeply as her deathday used to. Official calendar dates are given more significance than they deserve.

I’ve read about someone who gradually recognized that her late mother comes to her in the form of hummingbirds. Mine often communicates with me via a different winged creature, although she’s never allowed herself to be limited to one mode. While one of my loves (who lost his mom as a teenager) and I recently sat and happily chatted by an outdoor fountain for many minutes, our mothers were there too. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Shout-Out to Those Who Dance Knowing That Everyone’s Watching and Couldn’t Care Less

When I’ve skimmed through fluff interviews of high- or low-profile (female) personalities, one recurring question has tended to be some variation of: “Which aspect of your body are you dying to change?” My own answer would entail making the raised mole that tauntingly sits near the right side of my neck cleanly disappear.

This weekend, I bought what I thought was a dazzling maxi skirt. It turned out to be a dazzling maxi dress. A strapless one. No matter how hot it gets, I won’t wear a strapless top without a cardigan cover-up in public because of this mole. Since it’s in no danger of becoming cancerous, a dermatologist once conveyed, the removal would be considered a cosmetic procedure, which isn’t supported by insurance. A risky cosmetic procedure on account of this mole’s location. I’d likely get a scar in its place which could be itchy and more unsightly than the original nuisance itself.

There’s no chance of my dropping a dime for a new scar. I know how to get nasty permanent scars for free.

I have regular contact with a young-ish seasoned professional who went for weeks, possibly months, with a missing front tooth. The kind of missing front tooth an elementary-schooler would flash. She carried herself as vibrantly as she always had, quick with the same wide, open-mouthed grin, not minding the gap. If she were hit up with the “Which external part of you do you despise?” query, I have a feeling her response would hover along the lines of, “What do you mean?” Which is how I might reply when I grow up. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mind Over Platter

After not having had the pleasure of seeing him in awhile, I ran into a local shopkeeper outside of a Dunkin’ Donuts earlier this summer. The second-to-last time I saw him was nearly 2 years ago. I hadn’t seen him in awhile then either, and he told me I looked bigger than before, that I must be eating too much. He urged me to take up fasting. (When his shop later went out of business, he worked at the store across the street from it - until that outfit tanked too.)

Yesterday, I texted with a friend about her Ramadan routine. For medical reasons, she’s not fasting this year but her husband (the one who prodded me into creating this blog) sure is and I’m a little scared to call or text him when he’s not eating. Everybody should be scared to call, text, or approach me in any way if I haven’t semi-recently chewed or sipped on something. I’m not the lady at the party who will respond to an antipasti tray set before her at 9 p.m. with a flippant, “Oh good, I haven’t eaten since 10 o’clock this morning.”

I intensely dislike the feeling of being hungry (for food, that is; I can take those other forms of hunger that merely confirm you’re alive and underwhelmed with stagnation), and used to handle anyone undergoing a fast with awe, insisting that I wouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing. Except I probably could, as long as I reduced my physical activity level and really applied myself during the nighttime bingeing opportunities. I’ve lost count of all the things I once said or thought I could or would never do until the time came when there wasn’t much of a choice but to do anything otherwise. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Showered with Complements

One of my besties was in town all weekend. Between the undercover drug bust we passed within the early minutes of our reunion, the insultingly high daytime temperatures, the breezy middle-of-the-night walks home, or his comparing a standing-room-only Staten Island Ferry ride to being on a slave ship, I’m having trouble deciding which moments of the past few days were the most iconic.

He’s not someone who will wake up on work-free mornings, map out the rest of his day, and consult his watch to make sure he stays on schedule with the general plan. The subtle influence he’s gradually had on me is one reason I’ve grown more spontaneous.

My small group of besties, only one of whom currently lives in my metro area, and I are 100 percent alike and 0 percent alike. We’re alike where it matters.When another friend and I were stuck in L.A. traffic last summer, she mentioned that if she were to first meet her childhood best friend today, they probably wouldn’t have much longevity. Same with me and my oldest platonic soulmate, but she and I both put in the work it takes and show the respect it requires for any relationship involving opposite operational tendencies to last.

There’s a well-known quote or concept about how we become like the 5 people we spend the most time with. Sounds like it’s meant to apply to those we spend the most in-person, quantitative time with. Or it could be open to interpretation. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Standing in Line to Make a Return Trek

My Civil War Buff father takes an annual pilgrimage to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Not only does he not invite me or my brother to come with, every time I’ve tried inviting myself I’m rebuffed, occasionally via sophisticated, roundabout tactics. It could have something to do with what happened the first and last time we joined him, when we chose to spend most of the non-mealtime hours in the air-conditioned hotel room watching MTV instead of scaling the hilly landscape with our parents. That was 15 to 20 years ago. We were children.

When my dad called me to check in yesterday, he sounded drowsily at peace, the way he always sounds while there, by the battlefield. I’m encouraging him to apply to the park’s 2014 Summer Ranger Program, partly for the prospect of securing videotaped footage of him in the hat.

The days of my referring to those who travel to the exact same getaway spot every year (no matter the continent or which body of water it faces) as “boring” aren’t necessarily over. It’s just that I’m now honored to have become a member of this class. If the Zen will not come to me (and it won’t), then I must go to the Zen.

There are a couple of locations where I (my father’s daughter) head to for my own annual jaunts, making sure the two mini-treks are adequately spaced apart from one another, to maximize the joy both jaunts will bring me. I get to monitor how these familiar places have changed over time, even though I’m typically the one who has done the most changing with each return visit. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Borrowing a Cup of Sugar in Modern-Day Manhattan and Everywhere Else

A former boss who has given me oodles of invaluable advice about how to join the illustrious ranks of The Street Smart also gave me two blemished pieces of guidance: (1) Don’t ever date a guy you wouldn’t marry; and (2) When you’re living in New York, never socialize with the people in your building. The latter caveat is largely why I’ve maintained a friendly distance from my in-building neighbors, and could be why most of them have done the same with me. We dutifully follow so many rules.

There’s a unique and authentically sociable person who lives down the hall from me. Semi-regularly running into her is a treat. The Midwesterner in me has always said, “She’s really nice and interesting. You two should do lunch and get to know each other a little better.” The New Yorker in me said, “Don’t even think about it, girl. Keep that guard up. You’ve already got your crowd.”

It took awhile, but I allowed the softer, saner instincts to prevail. The upshot was a delightful brunch at a local eatery, an equally compelling stroll through the park, and a better sense of what I’ve been missing out on all these years this neighbor and I have shared a floor of over-priced rental property.

When many adults reach a certain age or station in life, they stop letting new people in, unless it’s for family- or business-related purposes. I’m all about the kind of downsizing that involves letting go of the ones who turn out not to have your best interests anywhere near their hearts. But my own evolving street-smart advice is to keep auditioning every receptive new person you have a natural chemistry with or curiosity about, the way you might try out an alluring new restaurant. Ideally at the alluring new restaurant. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

It’s Eighty Degrees, the Sun Is Shining – High Time to Pull Out That Paperback

Although I did remember the waterproof sunscreen, I forgot to bring a book to the beach yesterday. I didn’t end up needing either, but books are like tubes of lip balm or packs of chewing gum. I get uneasy when I’m out and about without having one on me.

My second-least favorite aspect about summertime is having to constantly see and hear the term “Beach Reads.” Do non-compulsive readers turn more pages in the summer months than during colder-weather seasons? I don’t come across nearly as many lists and chatfests about the premier “Fireside Reads.” I just noticed a “What NYT reporters and editors will be reading this summer” tweet, and would rather know which hardcover Dave Itzkoff plans to hunker down with amid the opening flurries of a Nor’easter.  

An acquaintance recently asked me for a set of specific “summer-reading” suggestions when I was too hot and tired to think straight, so the only title I offered on the spot was Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings. I’ve suddenly thought up some others, which might seem more fireside-y than beach-y, but can be basked in year-round:

*We Take Me Apart – Molly Gaudry
*What Remains – Carole Radziwill
*This Is How You Lose Her – Junot Diaz
*The Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
*Unaccustomed Earth – Jhumpa Lahiri
*Just Kids – Patti Smith
*Re-read The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald (the words meant little to me in my eleventh-grade English class and mean everything to me now)
*The Godfather – Mario Puzo (an excellent prelude to the next season of Mob Wives)
*Anything by Jeannette Walls, including her latest
*Anything by David Sedaris, including his latest
*At least one major literary classic that you haven’t met up with yet

Monday, June 10, 2013

That Reflect Reflex

I asked someone what she would have done differently if she had the luxury of going back in time to edit the hours of her life, thus far. “Nothing,” she instantly answered, without blinking.

Uh, I can come up with plenty of things she should have done differently, just off the top of my head and in the years I’ve known her. And I’m a blinker.

One September or October, someone else, who had just observed Yom Kippur, unsolicitedly told me that she had absolutely nothing to atone for. So what’d she do all day?

I’m slightly freaked out by the earthlings who self-identify as angels, who don’t even regret not having any regrets. Flawless superhumans who frequently have flimsy memories and dole out the most avoidable damage.

If I could month-by-month edit my own personal history, I’d change about half of what I did and didn’t do between the ages of 9 and 21. For starters, I would have taken the piano lessons much more seriously, I would have spent more time looking where I was going so I wouldn’t have fallen down on concrete as much, 
I would have accepted more invitations. After knocking out that time block, I’d revise about a fourth of the decisions I’ve made and reactions I’ve released in the years since then. Notice how there’s been less to amend as the time blocks have trickled by. Perfection brokers miss out on the taste of progress.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

One-Fifth Miss, One-Fifth Ma’am, Three-Fifths Meeting the Two Broads Halfway

Several years ago, I glanced into a bathroom mirror and got a sneak peek of how my face will look when I’m a much older woman. It was the way the brightness of the hallway lighting interfaced with the dimness of the bathroom lighting, combined with the unmaskable exhaustion that had crept into my face itself. What I saw surprised, but didn’t disturb, me. I’ve seen it before, other times, in other faces. For a few seconds, it was as though I was having a staring contest with my mother. Seconds later, from another angle, I was making eye contact with one of my older cousins.

An older man who used to confrontationally hand out flyers on Sixth Avenue during morning rush hour initially, instinctively, addressed me as senorita when he trailed me down the street – until, overnight, I was renamed senora. At first I figured he was purely trying to piss me off, which he did, in retaliation for continually rejecting his leaflets. But he could have been calling it like he saw it. Most of us might look noticeably older or younger on different days of the week or different hours of the day, depending on the lighting and personal stress load we’re under; how much water, salmon, and red wine we’ve invited into our systems (regular red-wine drinking strengthens skin elasticity – Google it); or how recently we’ve exfoliated.

Yesterday morning, a friend emailed me a picture of the two of us, taken fewer than 24 hours earlier. There was that face again, the geriatric aura. Lovely. Although I don’t necessarily welcome it, I respect the aging process. There’s also nothing wrong with getting visual verifications that all the sleep deprivation is catching up with you – they can be just the wake-up call you need. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

What Is That Thing in Your Left Hand?

In 111 days, I’ll be in Italy. Between now and then, with the help of the World Wide Web, I’m teaching myself Italian. From “I haven’t done anything wrong” to “May I have another nectarine?” to “What is that thing in your right hand?” my online tutorials have placed me on the fast track to marginal competence.

While passing through a traditionally Italian neighborhood yesterday, I was poised and ready to practice my blossoming language skills. I spotted a caffe, opened the door, and the four or five men sitting in the middle of the smoky room abruptly brought their boisterous chatter to a standstill. They were the only people there and the vibe was very invitation-only.

I ordered a cappuccino. The dude who was the first to jump up went to work behind the bar. His amici resumed talking and I couldn’t understand one word.

I expected my drink to come in a take-out cup, but my host poured his delicately prepared mixture into a glass mug. By then, the rest of his crew had moved their conversation to a table outside. At one point, the most severe-looking member of the bunch stood up and peered at me through the window. As he saw, I was making myself comfortable on a barstool, the cappuccino in my right hand and a lit-up cigarette in my left hand. Not long after I had taken my opening sip, the host carried over a pack of Marlboros, a lighter, and a tiny Styrofoam cup for the ashes, setting it all down next to my drink. When in Roma.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Ohio. And you’re from Italy?” I asked.

“No. Kosovo.”               

That explained his confused expression when I grazie mille-ed him for the coffee. He was now traveling back and forth, in and out, from me to his boys. On one of his trips back inside, he got right up in my face to ask how I was feeling.

I felt 19 again. Not counting what may have gone on during a couple of after-dark escapades in the East Village this past decade, I haven’t casually smoked since one semester in college. I never fully inhaled, and many years after we graduated a friend revealed that everyone hated giving me cigarettes because I wasted them.

My handsome host, who speaks less Italian than I do, watched me closely enough to tell that I still puff like a poseur. He didn’t seem to mind.