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.