Monday, December 22, 2014

Easy, Quickie, Last-Minute Gift Ideas for the Randoms in Your Life

It’s crunch time. I’m only halfway done with my holiday shopping, and don’t particularly care. These are all just items and objects. This is the luxurious kind of stress.

Shopping for my friends and family is no problem. I know exactly how to satisfy their needs and tastes. However, most of us have people in our regular lives we’re not close to, but have that obligation to buy holiday gifts for. Constant-contact co-workers, lovely neighbors, great new acquaintances, etc. These are the types who used to be responsible for my worst retail angst. Cologne? Lotion? Gloves? Xanax? A decorative basket filled with tangerines and Triscuits? How the hell do I know what they could use, when the only talking we do is small?  

Many years ago, it all became clear to me. Chocolate or wine. If I teach you anything, let it be: when in doubt, gift chocolate or wine.

Neither are unhealthy, neither are as impersonal as a gift card, you never need to pay more than $25 for either, and - most importantly – you get the peace of mind that neither will go unused. Even if it turns out the people you give the chocolate or wine to don’t eat chocolate or drink wine, they’re sure to know at least one person who does who they can re-gift it to (while making themselves look good in the process). You don’t have to worry about your money going to waste.

One holiday season, my first NYC boss at my first NYC job got me an Armani Exchange scarf. “That’s a little extravagant,” I thought, “We ain’t tight. But, so what, he’s rich and I do so much for him.”

He left the tags on. That scarf came off the A/X clearance rack, after getting marked down about 5 times before a final price of something like $21. The following year, he got me this:

Each holiday season, I gave him a bottle of shiraz or syrah. His face lit up every time he opened the bag, lifted up, and studied his spoils.

Monday, December 15, 2014

OK, Now I’ll Admit It – Having a Bad Thyroid Sucks

My childhood/teenage asthma often led to an annual bout of bronchitis that kept me out of school for two weeks, mostly because I milked it for all it was worth. Nobody could lower her head in agony, or sabotage a thermometer reading, like me.

“But you’re not wheezing anymore,” someone would insist.

“Purely due to your catching me at a good time,” I answered weakly but firmly, fluttering my eyes. “All I need is one more day. What does it matter if I miss a Friday?”

Friday was usually a big day on Days of Our Lives. After two weeks of catching it promptly at its air time, not far from my beloved grandmother, I dreaded having to slum back to settling for the recorded version.

In college, I caught one virus, which didn’t last more than 72 hours. In my early twenties, I once lost my voice for another 72 hours or so. Sickness- and symptoms-wise, that was pretty much it for the rest of my twenties. Aside from dental visits, I rarely bothered to book check-ups because I didn’t need them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started having “symptoms” that turned out to be a thyroid condition I didn’t take too seriously.

I went through a major health scare last month. Something much worse than a thyroid problem. I netted about 35 hours of sleep in 3 weeks, just based on all the anxiety. My symptoms’ worst-case scenario was that bad. Some words of advice - never obsessively Google your weird symptoms and come to an airtight self-diagnosis. The hyper-Googling will quickly convince you it’s the worst-case scenario; and the specialist you frantically schedule an appointment with will most likely look at you like you’re nuts. I didn’t mind that latter bit.

Last week, all the test results (have you ever had a 7:30 a.m. trans-vaginal ultrasound, before a long day of work?) for the worst-case scenario came back negative. The great kind of negative. The only tests that came back positive (the not-great kind of positive) were re: my thyroid levels, which I’d thought I had under control via nutrition and exercise, but now it’s back to the endocrinologist I go, for the first time in years. Never in my life have I had so many doctor’s appointments in a one-month interval.

“All I want for Christmas is my health,” I said, 3 weeks ago. “Nothing more than a continuation of this annoying but manageable thyroid thing.”

And I got it! Until the grand dame of a head cold I came down with, earlier today.  

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Mug Shot, Just Mug Shame

Although I rarely remember it’s there, when you walk into one grocery store in my neighborhood, the first thing you might notice is the Shoplifters Wall of Shame. Floor managers take a picture of every thief they catch, print out a black-and-white copy of that picture, and hang it above a towering stack of red shopping baskets. In each photo, the shoplifters hold up the item(s) they tried making off with. Many of them smile pretty for the camera.

“How could someone do that? I’ve never stolen anything,” I’ve thought, shaking my head.  I mean, dammit, one time I was the only visitor at a tiny museum in England, where nobody manned the front desk that sold postcards for the equivalent of twenty-five cents. I took a postcard, leaving behind that twenty-five-cent equivalent, along with a note detailing how honorable I had been.

It’s so easy to forget that I actually have stolen something. It’s so easy to block that night out. Ten years ago. A beer mug from a local beer garden. I was blindingly drunk when I stuffed it into my oversized handbag, after the guy I was out with not only suggested but encouraged it, as a way to avenge the epic fight I’d gotten into with a bartender who accused me of underpaying him when I hadn’t. I found that mug in the back of a cabinet earlier this year and now keep it at the edge of my desk, as a writing-utensils holder, as a reminder. In 2015, I’m giving it back. That’s my New Year’s Resolution. That way it’s simply something I’ve borrowed, like an overdue library book.

Meanwhile, I recently went to the grocery store, picked up a red basket, and happened to glance at the Shoplifters Wall of Shame for the first time in months. The first photo I saw was of the security guard I blogged about a couple of months ago, holding up the same bottle of wine he once tried handing over to me in my office. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

6 Reminders I Got While Volunteering (as a Tribute) at a “Small Business Saturday” Event

*The most down-to-earth New Yorkers live in Queens. Salt of the city.

*I’m cut out for standing in the cold, glovelessly handing out free stuff to people who weren’t expecting it. Makes me feel like Oprah. I could do it twice a week, if provoked.

*It takes more grit to maintain a small business than it takes to start one. Anybody can start somethin’. Not everyone can keep it going.

*Kids, including the shy ones, love getting a balloon. The way their faces light up when you ask if they’d like one is a thing of beauty. Surprise any young kid in your life with one balloon a few times a year.

*By kids, I mean developmentally, emotionally - not just people who are kids due to their chronological ages. Some of the biggest kids in the game are well into their 30s and 40s. They need balloons too. If they catch you holding a batch, they’ll straight up approach you to ask for one (of a certain color) for themselves. Why not surprise them with a balloon a few times a year as well?

*I’m very proud of what my friends do for a living and for their communities.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Imagine This

Walking through Central Park the other night, I was all but chased down (if you’re ever walking around, minding your own business, earbuds firmly in place, music at full volume, it guarantees you nothing – anybody desperately wanting to talk to you will move hell and earth to do so) by 3 people standing just inside the 72nd St. entrance, 20 feet away from Strawberry Fields. The kinds of people who have spent tons of time in the Bay Area, but not San Francisco proper. The kinds of people who passionately pull strangers aside to sign petitions on behalf of the environment, but habitually leave lights on in unoccupied rooms. They belonged to a “leadership group” and invited me (along with several others they had just assembled) to announce my vision, around the John Lennon memorial. My vision for the world, mind you. I asked whether it would be videotaped, and they said no.

“Sure!” I eventually said, and as they led me (in the dark, in the cold) to the John Lennon “Imagine” circle, I stressed out about my vision, big time. It had to be good. (Any stress I may have felt about the possibility of getting whacked was slightly overpowered by a feeling best characterized as: “How bad could John Lennon lovers be?”)

One by one, we strangers of all ages, races, shapes, and sizes went around the circle, broadcasting our visions, really putting those visions out there. Of course, it was videotaped because how couldn’t it have been? “Leadership projects” like these were made to be filmed, and I have no problem imagining the organizers firing up the bong before they watch their handiwork on loop a few weeks from now.

When one organizer pointed the lit-up iphone at me, I looked into it and said my vision for the world is More Kindness and More Mindfulness. An updated version of my vision would be: more kindness, more mindfulness, and more people practicing what they preach more often.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Now I’ve Written About It

Oh, how some people dress for the airports. On weekends. On overnight flights. Some aren’t doing more than dropping others off, dressed to kill, dressed to be seen, dressed for world domination. They’re the same ones who mousse up their hair or squeeze into heels for a 5-block strut to the post office, I just know.

(I would dominate the world in a long black or navy cardigan, pink tank shirt, sterling silver jewelry, dark jeans, and pink flats. Pink is more of a power color than red, even looking and sounding more arresting, so similar to “punk.”)

From my experiences, and experiences retold to me, the higher the net worth you project, the more of a target you can become. A bulls-eye for everything. As an adult, I’ve lived in many apartments - the swankiest address I’ve had was the only one to have suffered a break-in attempt (or what I still describe as a break-in attempt, even though the ground-floor window the predator opened from the outside was protected by bars). 

The first time I ever tried boarding a plane in shoes other than sneakers or flip-flops, a customs person (interrogating passengers “at random”) pulled me aside to ask whether I traveled for business or pleasure, and how much cash I had on me. He said I seemed like someone with a lot of money and he needed to make sure I wasn’t bringing more than $10,000 onto the island. (Is this what Zsa Zsa Gabor has to deal with? I bet she dresses up to hit the skies.) When, because he asked, I told him I write, the questions didn’t stop - he asked if I would ever write about our conversation. “Maybe,” I said, and he flipped around the ID badge hanging from his neck so I could no longer see his name and picture. 

I haven’t worn my best shoes to an airport since. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Just Was Always Meant to Work in a Helping Profession

It happened again. I was in a public space, needing a few questions answered, and assumed the person I asked for help worked there, when it turned out she didn’t. I end up doing this to people all the time. People end up doing it to me all the time (I believe this is called karma). Making too much eye contact, while having Midwestern manners and wearing shirts with crisp collars, can be all it takes, from the hallowed hallways of Graceland to the produce sections of grocery stores, where I’ve skillfully directed those looking for bags of onions away from the aisles where onions are sold individually.

The difference between me and some of the others is that I don’t get too sensitive or defensive about getting mistaken for an employee because I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad place to end up.

At one boring conference downtown, I spent so much time idling around the kitchenette (where the coffee, tea, and continental breakfast items were spread out) by myself, attendees eventually assumed I ran the room, coming up to me, asking, “Can you give me more milk?” or “Has this fruit been sitting out for long?” or “Why is it taking so long to replenish the pastries?”

“Oh, I don’t work here,” I said, in the beginning, my mouth half full with a muffin, but I later couldn’t bear to miss a beat. After almost an hour in there, I had gotten a real feel for the place, knowing how and where everything went. Or should have gone.

“That’s quite a bit of dairy in 5 minutes, pal. Take it back, take it black, it’s better for you. You’ll have some cheese with the lunch that’s coming out.”

“Don’t touch that.” 

“Shouldn’t you get back into the audience, all ears to the panelists?”

“Come on over here fella, I gotta bunch of red grapes that will change your morning.”

Wow, is it an honor to be considered an approachable expert about certain subject matters.    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Oh Ho Ho No

When we were children, my best friend and I co-founded a club devoted to Christmas. At its peak, there were a total of four members – the two of us and our little brothers. Meetings began in July or August. We sat on floors and discussed all things (minus anything having to do with religion) Christmas. We called it The Christmas Club. When I brought it up a few years ago, she declared it the best club she’s ever been in, and I feel the same way.

Larger society has piggybacked onto our childhood initiative and formed its own Christmas Club. One that’s not as sweet and innocent as ours. This adult takeover of The Christmas Club is too much of something good, like binge-eating your once-favorite food to the point where you rarely crave it.

My first “holiday” party invitation came a few days before Halloween and I made a face at it. Radio City Music Hall’s tree and lights have been up since last week - and got the face too. And some of these chain stores. I salute the retailers and organizations creative enough to come up with other fall marketing campaigns. (Here, I’m talking about non-pumpkin-themed fall campaigns because I haven’t decided what’s worse – the Christmas marketing movement or the pumpkin-spice one.)

Santas on the streets and Christmas songs on the airwaves in October. Tween me would have been thrilled, vindicated! Thirtysomething me: (1) asks what harm there is in everyone agreeing to wait a few more weeks (here, I’m talking about an official embargo); (2) prefers Thanksgiving to Christmas; and (3) wonders why so many people obsessively focus on the future, on what’s next instead of what’s now. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Seeking to Hire an Unflappable Personal Assistant, Who Will Report Directly to Me


Method of payment: Popsicles (flavors negotiable) and the privilege of blossoming under my tutelage.

Benefits: See above.

***An internal candidate has been identified but (promises of popsicles notwithstanding) has not applied for the position - yet; thus, I am still accepting applications and will consider a handful of qualified candidates***

Responsibilities (Minimum 2 weeks of related experience):

*Short-order cooking, baking, tailoring, and document shredding.

*Starbucks, grocery store, and drugstore runs. And I mean that literally, especially on the way to these places. Your pace must be no slower than a steady, 11-minute-mile jog.

*Serving as the chief middleman between my super/landlord and me.

*Serving as the chief middleman between lots of other people (located near and far) and me, which will include answering my door every time the bell rings and, if the ringer offers a “Can the Dead Live Again?” pamphlet, gamely responding: “Damn right they can. Just the number of Jerry Garcia tribute bands on the Atlantic seaboard alone shows that the Dead is as eternal as Beethoven and Billie Holiday.”

*Treating my birthday as a national holiday (without expecting to get the day off) and profusely thanking me when I, in turn, treat yours as one.

Skills/Requirements:

*Spirit, guts (which are fancy words for confidence); remaining highly energetic, but calm, all at once.

 *Proficiency in not only rolling with the punches but in not hesitating to roll out some of your own, when the situation calls for it. I’m essentially looking for an unarmed version of Mikey from season 1 of The Sopranos.

*Must know CPR and best practices for nursing a wound after someone (who will go unnamed) has tripped and fallen on concrete, really scraping herself up again.

*Must never take an expression/concept like “dance like no one’s watching” all that seriously.

*Must have at least one big dream and an even bigger fear of not attaining it. You must be someone who will not settle for or limit yourself to popsicle stands for too long and will treat me to a few popsicles when your time comes.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What Nine Out of Ten of the Best Writers I Know Have in Common

My reaction to finding out today is National Day on Writing:  


                                   Image courtesy of http://realitytvgifs.tumblr.com           

Malala Day is one thing, but National Boyfriend Day was October 3rd? Can September 17th or 18th be International Fizzy Water Day? That’s around the time, one year ago, I started falling hard for the stuff.

At least a few times a year, and most recently last Wednesday, people ask me for specific writing advice. What makes a good piece of writing? How can they improve their own writing? They’re not aspiring creative or professional writers as much as those who have come to realize that strong writing is as marketable a skill as tech-savviness.  

I give them a few small practical tips, such as getting rid of all unnecessary words and sentences to help keep the final product as short and streamlined as possible. I can think of several good books that could have been great books if the total word count had been chopped in half; and dozens of brutally rambling e-mails I would have taken more seriously if even two paragraphs had been knocked out.

But here’s my #1, big-picture, tip: avoid “how to” manuals on becoming a better writer and become more of a reader in general.

Many say those with solid liberal arts backgrounds (lots of coursework in English, history, philosophy, etc.) make the best writers – and, from my experiences, these people usually do write noticeably well. But one of the most effective writers I know is a former trophy wife who didn’t make it past the 7th grade and grew up on welfare. She’s just always read tons of great books, short stories, essays, and articles, which is why: she has impeccable grammar and storytelling chops; her vocabulary could match that of any Oxford don; and it’s upsetting to think of how many more opportunities would have come her way if she also brought formal “coursework” to the table.

Ninety percent of the most talented writers I’ve personally known would put reading for pleasure toward the top of their list of hobbies. They’re rarely without reading material during subway rides and might listen to the audio versions of books while driving long distances alone. They read during commercial breaks and long customer service hold times. They read to calm down and to rev up. It’s how they’ve rolled for years, if not for the better part of their lives, to the point where they have gradually absorbed what strong writing looks and feels like, producing strong writing of their own becomes second nature, and “National Days on Writing” become four more unnecessary words. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

An Earful

Someone’s dog once jumped on my lap to kiss me and, before I could kiss back, sucker-jumped my ear, ripped out my earring, and ate it. All in less than 10 seconds. I wasn’t mad at the dog. I could never be mad at an animal. I’m mad at the dog’s owners. Instead of an apology or an effort to make amends, I got, “Oh, how funny! He wants what he wants,” before they changed the subject, never speaking of it again. I didn’t think it was funny. Looking back on it, 15 years later, it’s not something I laugh about, it’s something nobody should ever remind me of, unless they want a 10-minute tirade that usually concludes with, “and I’m still owed a minimum of 14 karats.”  

I just sorted through the earrings section of my jewelry box. I’ve had and lost so many. They’re like socks and boys and drinking buddies and ideas. One minute they’re there, making me giddy; the next minute they’re missing and I smirk at how well I can live without them.

Back and forth, back and forth. That’s where I go whenever I think about whether I should throw out a pair of studs a hippie jeweler in New England sold me years ago. When I told her I was looking for opals, she said opals are a sad stone and bad energy, it’s a sign that I’d lost one of mine, it was time to change courses. That in jewel metaphysics, imperial topazes are good energy, so I should buy a pair of those. She also mistook me for a marathoner – there was a marathon in town that weekend, and she implied that I looked like someone who could easily hold her own in one. Not long after that, I pulled out my wallet and said, “Opal who? I think you’re onto something, imperial topazes are my next logical step!”

But opals are my best stone, my birthstone, and it’s OK to be sad. No opal has made me as sad as I was when these imperial topazes started looking funky after a few months of use. The topazes have become earrings I wouldn’t be caught dead in or posting a picture of. Before I retired them, people having a conversation with me would suddenly stop talking, furrow their brows while staring at my earlobe, bring their heads closer to my head, and ask, “Is there even a stone in there?”

I’m keeping them. I’m treating these topazes the way I treat retaliatory e-mails – as evidence. I loathe imperialism. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

This Is Morphing into More of a Passion Than a Hobby

So many times have I texted an acquaintance, only to receive nothing in return. Days or weeks or months later, when these acquaintances contact me about something completely unrelated, I confront them about the earlier text. And they’ll insist they never saw it, that they got a new number, that my: “Remember the chiropractor guy from that piñata party last year? I just ran into him at the Hell’s Kitchen Rite Aid” message might have gone to someone else who wordlessly read, formed an opinion about, and deleted it.

I’m not like that. I let all mis-texters, such as the following person who texted my number from her gmail account, know they’re headed down the wrong path.

Gmailer: Hey Brew! My phone isn’t working but I wanted to text to make sure u can still do my hair tomorrow.

Me: You got it! What do you have in mind this time around?

Gmailer: I know I want a side part!

Me: Now why is that?

Gmailer: I just like it better.

Me: But why though? Does it change who you are?

Gmailer: Are u texting the right person? Lol

Me: I’m just thinking. Have you ever considered letting your hair grow and do its thing naturally?

Gmailer: Yea I will after this one. Over the winter probably late November until spring I’ll give it a break.

Me: Glad to hear it, but why not now? What makes “this one” so different? Still just thinking about the way things are for us. For us women.

Gmailer: Girl y are u getting so deep?! Lol. I have homecoming and stuff so I just wanted a fab weave for that. Last year I went weaveless in the winter that’s when I normally give my hair a break.

Me: Oh yes I am getting deep. Who says you shouldn’t work the look you were born with? Own it? Love it? Is it any coincidence that weave rhymes with leave?

Gmailer: R u ok??? This doesn’t seem like you. Are you joking? I would call u but my phone is broken.

Me: I’m not joking at all. What happened to your phone?

Gmailer: Oh ok. I’m not sure where this is coming from but if it bothers you no worries, I don’t have to get it done. I dropped my phone in water :(

Me: It’s coming from my heart and soul. Which is all that matters. And consolations: the phone-in-water thing really is a bitch.

[It went on, but not forever. The moment the mis-texter slips into silence, my work there is done.]  

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Best Gifts Really Do Come in Small Packages

The late-afternoon/early-evening security guard who patrols the floors of my office has gotten me hooked on protein bars. I’m becoming a protein bar connoisseur and have started buying them in bulk. So far, I prefer the Think Thin brand, with Luna bars making an excellent showing as a first runner-up. If, for any reason, a Think Thin bar is unable to fulfill its duties as a cheap and easy hunger-quencher, Luna would be asked to step in and take care of business.

It all started this past spring when the guard, our protector, knocked on my door a little before 5 p.m., to hand me a pack of Lindor white chocolate (without removing the $3.29 price tag). A few days later, he tried giving me an entire bottle of wine.

During the workweek, I sometimes get really hungry at about 4:30 p.m. And almost every other day, for weeks, that would be around the time he’d appear with a treat to tide me over until dinnertime. The wine is the only offering he has allowed me to politely decline.

After the wine came more chocolate. Followed by heaping handfuls of Werther’s Original. One afternoon, he set a bar of Muscle Milk on my desk, which turned out to be a protein bar. I’d only ever had one protein bar, years ago, and remember finding it too gross to finish. But two days later, I got dangerously hungry less than two hours after lunch, didn’t want to buy an overpriced snack from a vending machine or the newsstand in the building’s lobby, and pulled the (vanilla toffee crunch) Muscle Milk out of my drawer. It hit the spot, in a way almonds never have. A week later, he delivered an equally satisfying Special K bar.

At first I was all, “This is so inappropriate, I have to get him to stop.” When he did eventually stop, it turned into, “Where the hell is this guy? I’m starving here,” compounded by also having to deal with a Werther’s-loving co-worker badgering me about whether a new supply had come in.

So I’ve had to resume foraging for snacks independently. Even though I know protein bars are processed foods that aren’t great for you, they’ve got to trump the bags of Sour Patch Kids I used to hoard, and my Costco membership card is about to come out of a long dry spell.   

Monday, September 22, 2014

Calls and Responses

Some people who don’t live with their parents check in with their parents by phone every day. When there are no grandchildren or childcare situations in the picture. When no parties involved are facing any crisis, frailty, or major life event. When walking down a crowded street, six inches behind another person:

“I ate a quesadilla earlier. It had chicken, mushrooms, spinach, cheese. Maybe Monterey Jack? Or Cheddar? I can’t remember. Now it’s gonna bother me. You’re so right, dad, I should pull up the menu online. I’ll Google it later and call you when I do. I haven’t talked to you or mom since yesterday, you don’t love me anymore. I really want a muffin right now even though it’s after 6 p.m. Is that weird? Have you ever wanted breakfast at night? Two joggers are running toward me and I thought one was barefoot, but her sneakers are just lightweight and flesh-toned. Can you believe I turn 28 in 10 weeks? How does it feel to have a 28-year-old child? Not great?! Put mom on so I can ask her how it feels to have a 28-year-old child. Hi mom. You’re right, you don’t have a 28-year-old child yet so it is premature to ask until the day you do! My left elbow kind of hurts right now, you guys.”

Ever since I left the nest at 17, I’ve usually talked to my parents once a week, on the same day, during the same time block. These days, I talk to my dad on Sunday nights between 7 and 10. In between Sundays we often email back and forth, and nobody is unhappy with this arrangement.  Even as a teenager, I couldn’t stand constant phone chatter, the constant ringing.

If you want to see me slip into panic mode, get my dad to phone me outside of our appointed hour(s). This ends up happening several times a year. At 10 a.m. one Saturday, my phone rang and his name popped up. Someone died, I thought. Someone else. Here comes another turning point, while I’m sitting in this tawdry smoothie café. My heart pounded, continued pounding as he said hello in a serious tone, and only stopped pounding when he asked whether I received the year’s supply of ballpark mustard he shipped after I told him I couldn’t find it anywhere locally.

Last night, he didn’t answer his phone between 7 and 10. I went through every possibility in my head, almost texting my brother that we may have an emergency on our hands, almost texting a few others to please respect my privacy at this time, until he finally picked up at 10:02.

Monday, September 15, 2014

That Voice from Above

After all these years, I thought I finally figured out who my upstairs neighbor is. But wrong person, mystery still unsolved, the suspense will neither kill me nor make me stronger.

We keep similar hours and I like when s/he’s home, the sounds of futzing around, soft singing, guitar strums. It’s a male voice, a tenor, that sings. I’ve heard the click-clack of high heels, a feminine footfall, twice.
I have now entered my building alongside two women who were on their way to the floor above me, not sure whether the younger and quieter one was a cross-dresser until the older of the two got in my face, pointed at Junior and accusatorily asked: “Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Mmm-hmm,” I said. They both had a gloriousness to them, unconventionally speaking, à la a con-artist duo straight out of a long-running Broadway musical – a pair up to no good, but on the cusp of belting out a detailed and catchy diddy to rationalize all the lies and manipulations.
“No one should ever discriminate against her,” Junior’s spokeswoman kept going. “It doesn’t matter what she’s wearing or who she wants to be.”

As if I had said or implied otherwise. As if I could care less whether this was a dude or a lady. I just want to know if s/he’s the guitarist, whose birthday falls on February 11th (Aquarians are notoriously creative individualists). I was home last February 11th and it’s the only time I’ve known him or her to have had anything close to a raucous gathering. Early into it, the small crowd sung happy birthday. And did not enunciate the birthday boy or girl’s first name.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ten (G-Rated) Things I Once Swore I’d Never Do, But Have Since Done


*Join Facebook

*Count carbs

*Come down with seasonal allergies

*Forgive a non-blood relative who has wronged me

*Go back to wearing heels

*Go back to Whole Foods

*Go back to making the sign of the cross and praying

*A crossword puzzle (or part of one)

*Fall in love with an Apple product

*Become a blogger 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Summer Travel Season May Be Winding Down, But Fall/Winter/Spring Travel Is A-Comin’

We all have reputations. Like the rest of you, there are statements, attitudes, and descriptions I’m used to being on the receiving end of, by now. Commentary I get on a regular basis, reflecting other people’s assumptions of who I am/what I represent:

“You work too much.

There’s hardly anything you say behind people’s backs that you haven’t already said to their faces.

Listen, you CANNOT ever write about what I’m telling you. I guarantee you’re already thinking about it.

I can’t believe you watch Real Housewives.

Looks like you’ve been drinking….”

Almost everyone, male or female, who has ever traveled with me or lifted my luggage has exclaimed some equivalent of: “Damn girl, you pack light.”

Now that one is all true, all inoffensive, all badge of honor. Let’s call me the Anti-Diva. I can easily do two weeks away from home with nothing more than a small suitcase, a roomy over-the-shoulder carry-on number, and a modest tote bag. I won’t pack more than two pairs of shoes. I’ll wear the same cardigan and pair of jeans more than once. I’ll use that little tote I carried-on as my purse for the duration of the trip. If I see a toy that would be perfect for a youngster I’m about to spend time with, but it would take up too much space in a suitcase, I’ll say “never mind, I’ll treat him/her to something bigger and better when I get there.”

I’m over airport security. I’m over airports in general. Amtrak and coach buses too.

Post-9/11, I’ve (accidentally) taken at least three round-trip commercial flights with a box cutter in my bag and nobody stopped me; yet everything goes to hell if there’s a 4 oz. bottle of moisturizer on me. And after recently catching a 20/20 segment that confirmed my worst suspicions about how mischievous baggage handlers can get with unlocked, checked-in luggage, I will continue to err on the side of packing like a pauper.

I need to go on more car trips.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Dedicated to Those Pouring Buckets of Ice Water Over Their Heads, Without Realizing What It’s All For

On Friday, the day before my late mother’s birthday, two friends group-texted me about making a donation to the ALS Association, in memory of her name. Although they probably contributed money when I fundraised for a Walk to Defeat ALS many years ago, this is the first time they’ve donated out of nowhere. But it wasn’t totally out of nowhere, in that I knew it had something to do with the Ice Bucket Challenge.

So far, this remarkable social media-driven craze has raised more than $70 million for what has been an under-funded, under-researched death sentence. Aside from that, what do I love most about the Ice Bucket Challenge? I no longer get completely baffled looks when I use the term ALS.

“What’s your mom have?” people asked the year she was dying, and “How’d she die?” in the aftermath.

ALS,” I said, to blank faces. “Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.”

“Oh, right,” they’d say, slightly less puzzled, having somehow heard those three words strung together before, knowing they meant something bad.

Now people get what ALS, those three letters, means. Except for the group of teenagers I ran into the other night.

“Ice bucket challenge?” I asked one, after another poured a bucket of water over yet another’s head, ice cubes cascading all over the sidewalk, to the merriment of all.

“Yeah.”

“My mom died of ALS, so thank you.”

“What’s ALS?”

After I told him, he looked so ready to cry that part of me wished I’d said nothing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

My Main Takeaway? All Cops Need to Wear Body Cams

I wouldn’t mind hitting the streets with a body cam myself. That would knock out the occasionally time-consuming burden of rooting around my bag for my phone. And then fiddling with the phone for many seconds before it’s ready to record.

Speaking of that phone, I’ve been glued to it since last Wednesday, following the chain of events in Ferguson, Missouri on Twitter. If you’ve only kept up via newspaper articles and TV news segments, you don’t know the half of it. The most thorough and up-to-date coverage is on Twitter, by way of briefings, quotes (from peaceful protesters, unruly protesters, peaceful cops, unruly cops), photos, and videos provided by on-the-ground journalists and community representatives.

I’m sleeping like someone waiting for her 9-month-pregnant best friend’s water to break. Everything else (my day job, drafting this blog post, communications having nothing to do with Ferguson) feels like a bothersome distraction from my moment-to-moment updates. The past two nights’ tweeted material has left my stomach in knots, while making me wish I stuck with journalism. 

As a campus news reporter the first two years of college, I liked year #1, tolerated year #2, and resigned not many weeks into year #3. I didn’t love my editors and most stopped speaking to me after I quit (including the one who once asked to see my inhaler, put it in her mouth, and took a puff before handing it back and strolling away, as if we knew each other like that), giving me an aggressive version of the silent treatment each time we crossed paths. But I liked interviewing people, overhearing people, recording their words, listening to explanations of why they think the way they do, sorting it all out into a narrative. That’s one way to become more capable of understanding more than one side of an issue.

The reporters risking their lives (probably for very little money) to show and tell the world what’s really happening in Ferguson have been tear gassed, threatened with assault rifles, arrested and released without charges. With respect for them all, I’ve developed a particular fondness for the front-liners I’ve mainly followed this week: the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery, USA Today’s Yamiche Alcindor, freelance journalist Amy K. Nelson, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly, and BuzzFeed’s Joel D. Anderson, who don’t look much older than 30.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Delicate Cycle, Indeed

Not having laundry facilities in your own building is the pits. Much worse than not having a 24-hour doorman or access to a rooftop deck.

The act of doing laundry becomes a production that could transform you into a frequent hand-washer and air-dryer. It could transform you into someone who swings by T.J. Maxx for a pair of kitchen towels and 5 pieces of clearance-rack underwear, to give yourself 5 more days of not having to pull out the granny cart and push a giant bag (not unlike the one Jolly Old St. Nicholas slides down chimneys with) around the corner. Or, in my case, around a couple of corners, up an incline, and across a busy street because the laundromat around the nearest corner is too chaotic and claustrophobic for anyone’s optimal psychological well-being.

Making the trip to the laundromat is just that – like taking a trip. A journey. There’s packing involved - the detergent, reading material, lip balm, phone, chewing gum, keys, the coin purse I use exclusively for storing quarters that’s now falling apart because all of this has exhausted the poor thing too.

If it’s too hot to wear pants and my skirt has no pockets, the tube of lip balm gets shoved down my cleavage.

Image courtesy of http://openclipart.org

I taught myself how to do laundry. My mom tried teaching me before I left for college, and I didn’t watch or listen carefully (I may or may not have offered my signature, “It ain’t rocket science” line, or something close to it, as an excuse). She’s been dead 10 years this summer and I never got to ask how her machine-washed clothes smelled prettier than roses without being as overpowerfully fragrant as many other machine-washers’ finished products. It doesn't matter how much detergent I use or what brand, whether I include fabric softener and dryer sheets, whether I’m at a public machine or the private one she once used - none of my freshly washed clothes have smelled as good as hers, but every load I do gives me another chance to create a more similar scent.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rest(?)room

A friend of a friend (legit) made the following announcement, circa 2006: “There are only two kinds of people – those who get walked in on while in the bathroom and those who do the walking in.”

I say there are three kinds: the former group; the latter group; and those who were put on this earth to represent both tribes.
There used to be a Mexican restaurant on the east side that had a $1 margarita night. That was where you could find me every Monday after work. One night, about $3 in, I made my way to the bathroom, thinking I locked the door behind me before proceeding to the toilet. After less than a minute, the music and voices from the bar grew louder, as if the music and voices had moved inside the bathroom to join me. “Oops,” said a male voice. I turned, squinting up. A burly man-child squinted down. Although he later assured me he didn’t see anything he hasn’t seen before, I haven’t been quite the same since.

And so the phobia began. Today, there are few things I dread more than using a single-occupancy public bathroom. I never trust the lock. But something as manageable as a phobia mustn’t interfere with what a girl’s gotta do.  
I have now walked in on somebody in a single-occupancy public bathroom. A handicapped bathroom, no less. How jarring to sail through an unlocked door, wonder why the overhead light is already on, and see another person turn toward you, even if that person is just using the sink and seems to enjoy the company.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Advice I Wish I Received Before Entering the Professional Workforce

This summer, many kids have started their first full-time jobs. They look so cute and optimistic on the subway and carrying those Panera or Chipotle bags back to their desks during their lunch hours. They still, with great earnestness, use the term “lunch hour.”

When I began my first 9-to-5 office job, my parents and other mentors gave me stellar tips on how to navigate the new terrain. Here’s some of what they didn’t convey:

*If you microwave popcorn in the floor kitchen, it’ll stink up most of the floor for at least 20 minutes. People will follow the scent to your work station and expect you to share.

*Be very afraid when someone asks whether you’re a team player.

*Street smarts beat book smarts.

*Ignore any list of how much $$ the rest of your “team” makes, even if it’s perched atop a fax machine you’re about to use. It will only infuriate you. 

*Nepotism is alive and well, beating out street smarts and book smarts. 

*Every time you stay at a five-star hotel on an all-expenses-paid business trip, leave a cash tip for the housekeepers.   

*When a team member has massively pissed you off, don’t take deep breaths – take a walk. A brisk one. Around the block. A few times, if necessary. Swing those arms. It does wonders.  

*Many high-functioning alcoholics and cokeheads are lit during the workday. When that manic colleague with perpetually dilated pupils claims all the shallow sniffing (in the middle of January) is due to a pollen allergy, let skepticism get the better of you. 

*Use up all of your paid vacation and personal days.

*Aside from the beach, when it’s above 90 degrees and humid on a weekday, there are few spots more comfortable than an over-air-conditioned office. Savor it, and just smile and nod when You-Know-Who blames the latest round of sniffing on that frosty air. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

More Testimony Re: Why the U.S. Prison Industrial Complex Needs Complete Overhaul

While doing research on Angela Davis for a former professor’s book years ago, I came across documents detailing daily menus from Davis’s inmate days at San Quentin. Baked salmon loaves and coconut pudding. Eggs prepared a number of different ways. Meals sounding so tantalizing and balanced they came as a shock to someone who had been under the impression that prisoners, especially in the ‘70s, were on the bread-and-water plan. Is this for real? I thought. Prisoners eat better than me? Since then, I’ve longed to meet an ex-con who could back this up. One equipped to answer queries about texture, portion sizes, and whether this “coffee” includes unlimited refills.

The other day, I walked past a guy on a bench. He smiled, I smiled. Smiling turned into waving (music, either Tupac or the Dixie Chicks, blasted in my ears at the time), and I eventually pulled out an earbud to hear what he was saying. He was mostly saying that he got out of prison hours earlier, after serving a 10-year sentence, and was in the early stages of enjoying his freedom in the balmy Central Park air, despite having no family or friends. Now, is that for real? The prison system is allowed to just release people out into the open, without confirming they have a place to go? (He said his guards looked the other way during prisoner-on-prisoner rape. A recent New York Times article exposed local correction officers’ brutality against inmates.)

Pulling out the other earbud, I asked what I’ve wanted inside, in-person information on for years: “How was the food? Tell me everything, let’s start with salmon.” Among other descriptions, he said other inmates prepared the food - they spat into it and worms crawled out.

Prisoners eat worse than any recipe I’ve ever ruined.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Happy Malala Day!

Earlier this year I read I Am Malala, a memoir that hugely affected me. Westerners who aren’t intimately familiar with the developing world take lots for granted, such as clean water and not having to worry about getting beheaded on the way out the door in the morning.

Malala Yousafzai is the teenage girl from Pakistan’s Swat Valley who not only continued going to school after the Taliban forbid girls from doing so, but (along with her feminist father) became known as a girls’ education activist, when it would have been safer and easier to put up and shut up. Like many others (from East to West), the Taliban finds strong women deeply threatening, so one day in 2012 they shot Malala in the head (where the mind is located) while she rode the bus home from school. She survived, now lives in England with her parents and younger brothers, and still speaks out. She turned 17 the day before yesterday, spending her birthday weekend in Nigeria, comforting schoolgirls who escaped from their April 15th kidnappers and the parents of schoolgirls who remain missing.

Today is the second annual Malala Day. How can you celebrate? How about by showing more consideration toward people who don’t live like you; developing more self-awareness; supporting universal preschool and an increased minimum wage; contributing something useful to the society that exists beyond your own insular group; thinking of passivity as your worst enemy but thinking carefully before you act.

Malala Day, Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day, National Ice Cream Month. The true believers uphold the spirit year-round.  

                            Photo source: www.malala.org

Monday, July 7, 2014

Send Me Up the (Hudson) River Anytime

After this weekend, I see why so many creative New Yorkers move upstate to the small town of Hudson once they marry, start having kids, find more mobile means of employment, or simply want to invest in a multi-level piece of property without tempting bankruptcy. It’s roomier, quieter, friendlier, cheaper, only 2 hours from the city, less than 2 hours from the mountains. 
You can walk down the main drag to the sound of Jerry Garcia’s voice drifting out a front door, a few buildings down from some Jamaican patties. Although Hudson’s main drag is (blessedly) named something other than Main Street, it does include a hair salon that could not resist. 
This time of year, the main drag is a flag-happy strip. 
Those low-flying flags look charming until the wind gets gusting and, one by one, they start furling and unfurling, slapping you upside the head as you stroll.

I had the most delicious burger of my life at a farm-to-table diner called Grazin’, the first animal welfare-approved restaurant in the world, not long after standing centimeters away from a man with an intricately tattooed neck, shaved head, throat, and face. Eat your heart out Michelangelo, this icon and the artist(s) who inked him have got you beat.

Hudson, New York: 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Only Wild Horses Could Drag Me Back to Using a Term as Boring as “Decluttering”

So far this month, I’ve feng shui-ed a closet and a shelf in my fridge. I’ve moved on to feng shui-ing the top of my desk.

Good feng shui: fresh flowers
Although the ones displayed above are on their last legs, they’ve stayed alive for 9 days and have really had it good. I’ve run way behind schedule at least 3 times to clean their vases, feed them (homemade flower food: 2 tblps sugar, 2 tblps vinegar, 4 cups water), and tend to their other needs before leaving them on their own for the day. Can’t wait to replace them with sunflowers.

Bad feng shui: 

They’re the parts for a Nikon digital camera I bought 2 years ago and have never used. 
I stared and made flustered faces at the unexpected pile of parts that came with the camera for several weeks before unexpectedly getting my first iphone, which soon became all the camera I need. I now have no use for a Nikon and neither does anyone in my circle - they have iphones too. When people stop me on the street to take a picture of them, they hand me an iphone. I haven’t handled a real camera in years.

Email me if you or anyone you know wants a small, purple, price-negotiable camera and matching carrying case. Opening an Ebay account would mean squeezing another username and password onto the log-in information list I keep in my day planner. Bad feng shui.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why I Might Organize a Senior Social in My Building’s Main Lobby

One afternoon a couple of years ago, I returned home to find a supremely strung-out dude buzzing up the intercom panel on my building’s front porch. He asked if I knew a guy on the sixth floor whose name I didn’t recognize but I’m pretty sure I know who he meant; he’s really nice, possibly around 70 years old. The person pacing the porch worked with this sixth-floor neighbor, who has a heart problem, and said no one in their workplace had seen or heard anything from or about him in a week, so this co-worker came by to check on him. On the elevator ride up, he mentioned how nervous he was about what he might smell when he reached the apartment’s door. I haven’t run into that neighbor since.

I live in a building filled with people, representing every adult age bracket, who live alone. People I’ve only ever seen alone. It’s the sight of the chronically-flying-solo elderly ones that distresses me to distraction.

Last night, I caught up with an elderly one who has survived breast cancer, uterine cancer, horrible seasonal allergies. She’s recovering from a major surgery and has deep relationships with many people, old and young, near and far. When she said she’s tired of them constantly calling and visiting her, in sickness and in health, I couldn’t feel sorry for her.

Monday, June 16, 2014

If You’re on a Low-Carb Diet, This May Not Be the Content For You

I have to be in the mood for a bagel. If I were sentenced to a lifetime of never touching one again, I bet I’d be OK.

Growing up in a bagel-loving household, 460 miles west of New York City, bagels were always around. Friday nights, on her way home from work, my mom brought back a dozen from a stall in Cleveland’s West Side Market that, until last month, I assumed were authentic New York City bagels, considering the degree of glorification they received. Turns out they came from Canada and just “tasted more like New York bagels” than other availabilities in our parts.

As soon as the cream cheese gets spread on, they all taste the same to me. I like doughnuts.

My dad sometimes won’t spread anything onto one. He’ll eat them like apples. One birthday or Father’s Day I sent him a dozen from H&H Bagels, when I lived an avenue away from its Upper West Side location, and he said he’d never chewed better. It’s what most people said when they tried one. Years ago, when that H&H went out of business, I thought it meant the entire H&H empire erupted.

Last week, while thinking about what to send my dad this Father’s Day, I remembered how much he fancied that shipment of New York City bagels. I came close to shipping out a dozen from another place that’s probably not as good, making it through the first steps of an online checkout. Before pulling out my Visa card, something made me google “H&H Bagels,” for inspiration. I found a page for an H&H on the East Side and assumed it was outdated, but when I dialed its out-of-state delivery number someone picked up after two rings, eager to efficiently take my order and personalize a card. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Two Questions You Should Never Ask Most People You Know, Much Less a Stranger

A sightseer from Arizona ambushed me on Sixth Avenue during evening rush hour last week, asking for directions to “the pier.” I asked which one. She didn’t care. Realizing this was someone who mostly wanted to stand around in the hustle and the bustle (and the heat) to chat about anything, I pointed westward and told her to walk in a straight line until she hit the river.

The “walk in a straight line” business could explain why she then confessed she’d just had two glasses of wine. I’m glad she came clean about the drinking (and yes, Virginia, there really are people who get bombed from 2 weak drinks) because it made me more patient. Until she asked how much rent I pay.

Whenever someone I’m not extremely close to asks: (1) how much rent I pay; or (2) how much money I make, I tell myself the next time it happens, I’ll chuckle it off and say, “We don’t talk about money, darling.” But I always end up blurting out the exact dollar amount, forever taken aback by either question when it comes.

She needed to know what I do for a living, which is such a Northeast Corridor thing to ask someone you’ve known for less than 5 minutes. When I said I was an editor, she lit up.

“For who?” she asked, and I told her that too.

“Never heard of it,” she answered, in a tone and with a frown suggesting it was my fault she hasn’t heard of it. Which, given one of my many job duties, it very well might be. Knowing the salary question was up next, I gave her a big smile, wished her luck, and walked a little faster toward my humble (in terms of everything but price) abode.

Monday, June 2, 2014

And This Is Merely a Partial List

Earlier this year, I regifted a set of never-used wrist weights to someone who later reported that a houseguest of hers “glommed onto” them. There wasn’t enough time or privacy to look up “glom onto” on the spot, and I thought she and the houseguest were onto me about regifting.

“Where did you find them?” she asked, wild-eyed. That’s when I knew I was in the clear, that glom was good. The weights came from either the Chelsea or Upper West Side T.J. Maxx, originally bought as a gift to myself, for under $15.

It amazes me how many Americans don’t shop at T.J. Maxx or Marshalls. It doesn’t amaze me how many European tourists crowd the racks of the Chelsea T.J. Maxx in particular, fiendishly filling up shopping carts with marked-down casualwear. I have happy memories of stopping by T.J. Maxx with my mother in high school, and going there with friends after a late-afternoon class and an early Chili’s dinner in college.

I’m further amazed by how many bargain-hunting virgins think these two stores only carry clothes, shoes, and handbags, unaware that T.J. Maxx and Marshalls are also places to fall into quality:

*Vases, ranging from simple to stunning;

*Sunglasses;

*Umbrellas with pretty prints;

*Luggage;

*Tupperware, Pyrex products, kitchen utensils, pots and pans. I found a Baccarat French press at Marshalls that cost less than any French press at the Target store, two floors below;

*Bathroom-sink hand soap – my current bottle smells like wild lavender; in reverse chronological order, my last three scents were pear, holly berry, and pumpkin spice;

*Yoga mats;     
                                                                  
*Jewelry - in a T.J. Maxx on Long Island, a loved one suddenly exclaimed that “T.J. MAXX IS THE BEST PLACE TO BUY JEWELRY!” She also once tried to convince me that the nursery school across the street from my apartment building is a methadone clinic;

*Olive oil, including huge $10 Sicilian imports, tasting much like the blends I sampled in Sicily;

*Miscellaneous goods along the checkout line, en route to the cash register, where (in addition to the omnipresent bags of Jelly Bellies), I’ve found $3 bottles of Essie nail polish and a 5-pound bag of coffee more potent than Starbucks.