Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

You Can’t Go Home Again

 

Hoboken was the first place I lived when I moved to the New York City area. It’s a teeny little town–only one square mile–on the other side of the Hudson River. To you non-NYC folk, this means that Hoboken is in New Jersey which means my Queens-born husband has a tendency to stick his nose up in its general direction. I’ve hinted during our house-hunt that I’d be open to buying in Hoboken. Vin has been less enthusiastic about the idea. (I believe the phrase he used was “over my dead body”, which means there’s still a 50% chance of me moving there.)

Anyway, it’s set up like this: Once you get off the train that connects the city to Hoboken, you walk along the waterfront, where you get some really killer views of lower Manhattan. The next street is all gorgeous old brownstones, the kind that give you chest pains and make you reconsider a career in finance. The street after that is almost 100% bars, restaurants and tiny boutiques. The rest of the town is mostly tree-lined and residential. It’s a nice-looking place.

hoboken waterfront frank sinatra park

But Hoboken is a chicken wing town. What I mean is, any town with a superfluous amount of beer and chicken wing specials on any given weeknight is a very young town. If you live in Hoboken, chances are you are either very old and Italian, around 29 1/2 with a yuppie spouse and a fat little baby, or fresh out of a dorm room. It’s very well known as a recent-post-grad haven. You can’t throw a rock in Hoboken without hitting someone between the ages of 22 and 25.

I don’t remember how I heard about Hoboken, but I found my first roommates there via craigslist, which in 1999 was still pretty new and considered an excellent way to get yourself murdered. I responded to an ad for an “open house” to find a third roommate for a place on 8th and Willow, and showed up drenched in sweat at the tail end of July with about 25 other girls in their early 20s. We were all trying to win favor with the two lucky lease-bearers, two 24-year-old girls offering an incredibly small, windowless bedroom to the person least likely to stab them in their sleep.  The bedroom for rent was right in the middle of the apartment, dark and tiny, with a door that swung into the room instead of out into the hallway, so that every time you tried to leave you’d have to wedge yourself through the narrow slot between your twin-sized bed and the wall. But at $550, it was a steal. I got the final rose that day and moved in three weeks later, a bold move on my roommates’ end since I was broke and unemployed with no prospects on the horizon. 

At 22, Hoboken was like heaven. I’d never lived in walking distance of anything before, so having groceries and cocktails and tampons only a block away was very liberating. I’d temp and job-hunt in the cit during the day, then at night I’d put on cute outfits and lip gloss and try to meet new friends., either in Hoboken or back in Manhattan. The local restaurants and bars were packed with people my own age, so it felt like college got extended by a year or two. There was a dance club two blocks away and I liked to wear really tight pants and make out with relatively attractive strangers there. We lived next door to a greasy Chinese takeout restaurant, which I believed was the greatest gift God had ever given me. I lived on egg rolls and ambition. They were good times.

For the past 14 years, I have looked back on those early Hoboken days with great fondness and affection. So on occasion, I like to call up my friend Kim– who lives in New Jersey– to see if she’ll grab dinner or drinks with me in my old stomping grounds. I hadn’t been there on a Friday night in a while, but it’s safe to say that Hoboken Friday Night hasn’t changed a bit.

But holy shit… I sure have.

I chose a restaurant that was Mexican/Japanese fusion, meaning I could have chips and guac as an appetizer and sushi as the main event which is basically my idea of a perfect evening. We sat in a precious little backyard with Christmas lights strung up through trees. I had a strawberry- jalapeño margarita to whet my appetite, and excitement began to build around the “Guacamole Trio” we ordered.

guacamole and chips

When it arrived I was disturbed to discover that they had topped three tiny bowls of fairly decent guacamole with ill-advised toppings– a heavy dose of cotija cheese (bland at best, but not completely mad at it), a smattering of diced pineapple (eh…okay, but I prefer mango), and a handful of soft, buttery-yellow corn kernels straight out of a can (OFF WITH THEIR HEADS). Not only were we in New Jersey, world-renowned for their delectably sweet farm-fresh corn, but we were also smack dab in the middle of summer produce season, putting fresh corn at a cost of like, I don’t know, two cents an ear? Haven’t they seen all the documentaries? Corn is the cheapest food product in the freaking world. Plus, who puts corn in their guacamole anyway? It was like a crime against delicious appetizers. And New Jersey farmers. And Mexico! (And Japan, by proxy). 

After our meal, I suggested we go to a rooftop bar around the corner where I’ve oft romanticized one luxurious night I had as a plump-faced 23-year-old, getting smashed with girlfriends while admiring the New York City skyline. At 38, the first stop in the bar is naturally the restroom, a petite space with a meager line and an impudent little patron using one of two narrow stalls as her personal phone booth while young girls with tanned skin and short skirts waited patiently outside the door for their turn to empty their aching bladders, filled to the brim with cheap beer and sparkling wine. When it was finally my turn at bat, I tried to imbue my flush with disapproval, holding the lever down slightly longer than necessary to discursively coax the birdy from her perch. She remained undeterred, so I soaped and rinsed my hands, then made a second attempt at eviction by giving myself the most thorough electric hand-dry of the 21st century. (*as this post goes live, it’s now three days later, and she is still in the stall screaming: “No…I’m at City Something…I can’t remember what it’s called…whatever, it’s on 14th Street, use google maps”.) Eventually I surrendered and dragged Kim upstairs to the roof top deck, where I hoped to enjoy a cocktail (I was imagining gin or vodka, infused with cucumber and fragrant fresh herbs), a great skyline view, and most importantly, a chair.

The space was 1,000 times smaller and less appealing than I remembered it, with a huge crowd of recent college grads all standing and packed tightly around three large TVs, sloshing beer and blowing smoke up each others’ nostrils. I grimaced at Kim–who at almost 30 is my very youngest friend–and said, “Girl, no. I can’t do this. Can we go find some ice cream or something?”

FullSizeRender-4

My second Hoboken home was on the top floor of this five-story walk-up building. My butt was a work of art.

So we walked back down the main street littered with bars and restaurants and eventually landed on a crepe place.  I ordered a simple crepe with lemon and sugar and a vanilla latte. We took a seat out on the sidewalk so we could enjoy the nice summer breeze and the sweet spicy fragrance of buffalo sauce tickling the air. When our desserts arrived, I took one look at my little glass mug and immediately recognized my “latte” as Maxwell House International Cafe Style Beverage Mix, that aluminum box of chalky powder one keeps in his or her desk drawer for emergency purposes only. My eggy crepe had been mopped with a sugary, lemon-flavored goo which stuck like gum to the roof of my mouth and made me long for Paris, or at the very least, the charming bistro in my neighborhood where crisp, delicate, lace-like crepes are spun from organic buckwheat flour before a gauzy sprinkle of powdered sugar and the gentlest squeeze of bright lemon fall upon them like light summer rain.

I looked around at the passerby–clean-cut bros in button-down shirts and packs of nubile young women in summer dresses and high heels, full of life and excitement and enough energy to yank them back into the city they had just returned from after a full day of work. The girls were prepared to walk blocks and blocks to the train in those heels, and they were flaunting the types of hairstyles that looked freshly blown. It all just looked like so much effort. Did I really do all that? Was this really my life at one time? My God, it seems like so long ago.

It was an interesting moment for me, for not only was I confronted with the fact I was now a crotchety old fart, but somewhere along the way I’d also become incredibly snobby. Where was the cooly unconcerned 22-year-old of yore, chatting with strangers and living life with unrestrained joie de vivre? Whatever happened to that young girl in tight pants making out with strangers and scarfing $2 egg rolls after a night at the club? Maybe she is gone forever, and all that’s left is a straight-laced working stiff with a love for quality food and sensible footwear. Perhaps this is just the course life follows, a few buoyant years of chirpy, non-chalantness before pining for watering holes where one can enjoy meaningful conversation, adequate seating and corn-free guacamole.

Or maybe that 22-year-girl is still there; she’s just trapped between her twin bed and a narrow wall in a tiny house on Willow Street, on the other side of the river. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

read more

10 Amazing Brunch/Breakfast Spots in NYC

 

A month or two ago I had a morning doctor’s visit before work. The appointment wrapped up much faster than I’d anticipated, so I had time to take myself out for a leisurely breakfast before heading to the office. I measured my choices, and decided to go to a Ukranian diner called Veselka in the East Village. I sat outside, pulled out a book and ate a terrific omelette with a side of latkes while watching people walk their dogs and ride their bikes. It was such a relaxed (dare I say, civilized?) start to my day.

My perspective and priorities shifted that morning. Before then, I had always hoped for wild fame and massive fortune, the kind of income that made designer clothing and long vacations a possibility. But that morning I realized that the only thing I really want in life is to have enough time and money to be able to take myself out for breakfast everyday.

That’s it. That’s the life. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to cook for myself. I want to sit outside under a striped awning, drink a good cup of coffee, and have someone with a friendly smile bring me a plate of eggs or pancakes.

When I’ve finally reached my financial goal, you’ll be able to find me at one of these places:

best brunch in nyc

 

1. Chavela’s, Crown Heights

When you grow up in Texas, nothing trumps a good Mexican breakfast, and this place is IT. I was immediately blown away by this place; the atmosphere, food, even the plating– absolutely perfect. The Huevos Ahogados were to die for. In my opinion, everything–food, books, countertops, your children– should be smothered in Jalapeño hollandaise.

ifyougiveablondeakitchen.com

Huevos Ahogados with jalapeño hollandaise at Chavela’s. Photo by ifyougiveablondeakitchen.com

2. Hudson Clearwater, Chelsea

This restaurant is so charming! It has no door available on the front of the building, so you have to peep around the corner for entry into a tiny garden, then walk up the stairs. Great atmosphere and really awesome food at this place. Try the Southern Eggs Benedict (poached eggs, house-cured ham, sautéed spinach, more jalapeño hollandaise on a biscuit) or the unbelievable cornflake-crusted French Toast with cinnamon cream. Yum!!

3. Sugar Freak, Astoria

Louisiana homestyle cooking GONE MAD. The menu here is ridiculous in the best way possible, but prepare yourself for an afternoon of lazy afterward. Funnel-cake pancakes? Mac and cheese topped with jambalaya? Praline-bacon-Lousiana BBQ Shrimp Benedict served on a grit cake? Lawd have mercy!!

cherry pepper cornbread waffle w pulled pork boromag.com sugar freak

Cherry-pepper cornbread waffle with pulled pork at Sugar Freak. Photo by boromag.com

4. Balthazar, SOHO

No tip-toeing around this one, Balthazar is expensive. But it’s the real-deal-holyfield of brunches. Go here when someone else is picking up the tab (visiting parents, expense account) because this place is special, and so are you. Best latte I’ve ever had, and the eggs benedict and sour cream waffles are total classics. You can also pick up baked goods and coffee at the small bakery next door for eating on the go.

5.  Veselka, East Village

Everybody in NYC loves this solid Ukranian diner, for good reason. Great food, open 24 hours, reasonable prices, no attitude. Oh! And they serve breakfast everyday, all day. Plus, where else can you find blueberry pierogies?

globalcitynyc.com

Photo by globalcitynyc.com.

6. Sarabeth’s, multiple locations in Manhattan

You know them for their fancy jams in your grocery store, we know them for their classically tasteful brunches all over this town. Can’t really go wrong with a breakfast or brunch at Sarabeth’s. I could really go for some lemon and ricotta pancakes with blackberries right about now…

7. Tal Bagels, locations on the Upper West and Upper East Side

I don’t eat bagels often, but when I do, I schlep to the Upper West Side to indulge in an Everything toasted with full-fat cream cheese, piles of lox and sliced red onions at Tal. An extravagant dining experience this is not, but this casual shop is my favorite place in the city to grab a really great bagel and schmear. Perfectly chewy on the inside, slight crunch to the edge.

tal newyork.com

Bagel with lox and cream cheese at Tal. Photo by newyork.com.

8. Peaches Hothouse, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

I have always said that should I ever be lucky enough to make it into heaven I would like to be welcomed at the pearly gates with a bucket of fried chicken. I’ve tried a lot of fried chicken in this town–not all of it, but a lot– and so far, Peaches Hothouse has earned a special place in my heart. Go with a friend– one of you order fried chicken (Nashville style)– and one of you order the French toast with bourbon peaches. First you split the plate. Then you split the pants. Then you go to heaven, and do it all over again.

9. The Haab, Woodside, Queens

This tiny hidden gem of a neighborhood joint is serving up some of the best Mexican breakfast in New York City, and I consider myself a tough critic in that category. Go as early as possible (they open at 6am!) to snag a table and order the incredible Huevos Tapatios– two eggs over easy with Mexican sausage served on a fried tortilla with both spicy and creamy sauces on top. At $8.95, it might be the best bargain in this whole town.

yelp the haab

Photo courtesy of yelp.com.

10. Milk & Roses, Greenpoint, Brooklyn

When a delightful backyard is the setting you’re after, you’ll have a hard time doing better than garden seating at Milk & Roses. With all the quirky hats and tattoos, you’ll feel like you’re sitting right in the middle of a GIRLS episode, but that’s part of the charm. Try the apricot pancakes or their righteous BLT.

milkandrosesbistro.tumblr.com

Garden at Milk & Roses, Greenpoint. Photo by milkandrosesbistro.tumblr.com.

 

Runners-Up:

Astoria: 

Ovelia, MP Taverna, Il Bambino, Queens Kickshaw (get the smoked gouda-black bean-guava jam sandwich!), Cafe Triskell (best authentic French crepes in NYC)

 

Long Island City:

Sage General Store (Try the chicken chilaquiles or the Wisconsin Pizza with bacon, ricotta, caramelized onions and creme fraiche! )

 

Manhattan:

Jack’s Wife Freda, Cafe Mogador, Ciao for Now, Clinton Street Baking Company, Gallow Green, Doughnut Plant

 

read more

Now you’re in New York

 

He was leaning against the railing in baggage claim, all bent elbows and casually cocked knees. He had a full head of very thick dark hair and tortoise-rimmed glasses like Clark Kent; his shirt was untucked but ironed, in shoes reserved for people who summer in places like Nantucket or “The Cape”. His stubble was only four or five days old, and it made the rest of him look more relaxed. On our wedding day, I requested not a fresh-shaved face but five-day stubble. In my opinion, five-day stubble is the perfect amount of facial hair on a man.

The guy was holding a simple bouquet of purple flowers and I became extremely invested in seeing him reunite with whomever he’d brought them for. Picking up someone at the airport is always thoughtful, but in New York City, where few people drive and cabs are plentiful, the gesture is especially loving because it’s completely unnecessary. The only reason you pick someone up from the airport is because you want to make his or her life easier and more pleasant. In New York City, you only meet someone at the airpot when you simply can’t wait another minute to see them.

We’d received a text message that our baggage was delayed and wouldn’t hit the carousel until the next plane had landed, which actually worked out great because I got to stick around longer and wait for the reunion. The guy was starting to look a little anxious, but he refused to take out his cell phone and fiddle around with texting or twitter to kill time. He was fully present for this person’s arrival and didn’t want to distract himself from it. I liked this about him.

And then…there she was. Long and lean in simple but chic black clothes, with sleek dark hair and a wide-brimmed hat that tipped over her eye like a wink.

He walked up slowly and admired her for a minute before reaching to hold her, and then they made out in the middle of baggage claim like she had just come back from war, even though her outfit indicated something more like Rome or Paris….Vienna maybe?

They kissed for a good three minutes while her suitcase went round and round, blissfully unaware of the crowds rushing past them in a dizzy blur. Outside the glass doors, the roar of honking taxis and buses made my ears burn, but inside La Guardia, on an average Sunday night, two people who looked way too beautiful for the real world turned baggage claim into a movie set and I knew I was back in New York City.

i love NYC

 

read more

Never Give a Hoarder a Cupcake

 

We got excited about a two-family house on a quiet, tree-lined street off of Ditmars and decided to check it out. A crowd had already gathered on the sidewalk, and a hulking Greek agent stood on the front steps with his hands on his hips like the Jolly Green Giant, waiting to show us his plentiful crop. Ho-ho-ho, seller’s market.

As we approached, the realtor said to Vin:  “Didn’t I sell you a vape last week, man?” The realtor must have confused him with some other long-haired guy in the neighborhood, because the only thing Vin ever smoked was a box of eclairs.

“Uhmmmm, noooo. Do I just look like the kind of guy who would buy a vape?” Vin asked. This was off to an excellent, super professional start.

We chatted a little bit about what we were looking for and where we currently lived. When I told him the cross streets of our current apartment, the realtor mentioned that his doctor’s office was on the next corner.

“That’s where I go to deal with my emotions,” he said flatly. Oddly enough, the next thing out of his mouth was, “So what do you do?”

“I help people manage their emotions,” I replied.

“Oh, I was just kidding about that last part. I don’t need to work through my emotions. I don’t have any.”

for sale

This was not the house we saw or the realtor we spoke to. I’m sure Anthony has emotions.

 

He took us quickly through the first floor apartment and down to the basement, which was bursting at the quickly fraying seams and stuffed from floor to ceiling with several decades’ worth of crap.

Suddenly, out of nowhere a man appeared from behind the boxes, like he’d just parted the dank and dusty sea and entered the promise land. His large belly sunk like a boulder beneath his tight white undershirt and his hair had not been combed. Like the real estate agent, his attention went immediately to Vin.

“Are you in the military?” he asked my husband, who at the time was wearing blue jeans, a surf t-shirt and a glorious mane of long brown hair.

I made a grab for the bulk of his hair and asked, ‘Does this guy look like he’s in the military?”

I regretted my sarcasm immediately when the realtor introduced him as the owner. Everyone knows you’re supposed to sweet-talk the owners if you want to close the deal. A friend told me she wrote a lovely letter to the owner of the house she wanted to buy, and it paid off royally. Damnit, I knew I should have baked something.

I quickly changed my tune and told him what a nice big house he had. The room smelled of mildew and general wetness, and the ceiling was about five inches above my head and ten minutes away from giving up all hope. I put a smile on my face and silently prayed that an avalanche of knick-knacks and old newspapers could hold on upstairs for one more day, or at least until we’d left the basement.

We were then lead back upstairs to check out the first level apartment, which in essence didn’t look so bad. A few nice windows, decent width, wood floors I could actually see. There were a few other real estate agents in the room, one of whom gave us an innocuous warning before heading up another set of stairs to see the second apartment.

“There’s a woman who lives up there. She was the owner’s mother’s best friend. She worked many years as a school teacher, so you may see some lesson plans on the wall.”

“Great,” I say. “Maybe I’ll learn something.”

We began the climb, and immediately understood that he had completely undersold the situation, especially to someone in the mental health profession. This apartment was a case study in hoarding. I was–of course—fascinated, but also claustrophobic and sweating bullets. We were on the third floor, surrounded by a half dozen people and 35 years of clutter, and there was no fan or A.C.

We were walking through what the literature refers to as “goat paths”, narrow strips of clear area, surrounded on all sides by piles and piles of stuff.  Every centimeter of wall space was covered with something– a picture, a receipt from 1990, a newspaper clipping, a note, an index card, a journal entry scribbled in Greek or Spanish. The ground was so completely covered there was no way of determining if the floors were tile, carpet, parquet, or stained with the blood of a thousand men. There could have been meat buried in the floorboards for all we knew.

The current tenant was standing in the kitchen by the stove, wearing an old housedress and sponge curlers in her hair. She was very sweet and asked me if I spoke Greek, or Latin, or Spanish or something other than English. I hate disappointing people. Especially teachers.

We thanked her for allowing us into her home, and made the walk back downstairs, wiping the sweat from our foreheads with the backs of our hands. On the way down, I thought to myself:  Whatever happened to home staging? Is that still a thing, or is it just not a thing in New York City?

“Listen,” I said to the realtors, who were hanging out in the living room. “How are they going to get all of this stuff out of here? You know you can’t just go in there and throw it all away, right?” Anyone who’s seen the show Hoarders knows that, but I wasn’t sure if they’d seen the program or not.  If they had, they probably would have hired a specialist to come in here before they invited the neighborhood to walk in and inspect the house.

“Oh no, it’s no problem. She’s moving back to Greece, so we’re just going to take it all down and ship it to her country.” This plan did not sound likely to me at all.

“You’re really going to take down a million little pieces of paper and ship them to Greece? I don’t know about that…I think you’re going to have to call a professional therapeutic team in here to work with her.”

One time, I gave a client with a hoarding issue a cupcake for his birthday. He was very touched by the gesture and looked at it wistfully before speaking.

“You recognize I’m never going to eat this, right?” He was going to keep the cupcake on a nice plate in his fridge and look at it every so often. It was a gift, and therefore had meaning and significance. I wondered how many “cupcakes” this woman had been given over the years.

I looked around the house one last time before parting. It had good bones, some nice solid woodwork, and was on a beautiful street. But I was standing on land that was about to become a battlefield, as the current dwellers were about to go head to head with a group of eager real estate agents who were probably going to rush them and their stuff out of this house as quickly as possible. This was New York City, where time is of the essence.

And because there must be a moral to every story, like the teacher upstairs I too want to post some lessons on my wall. I’m leaving them here, in the hopes that someone may learn something.

1. Never put an offer on a home where you cannot see the floor. 2. Do not involve yourself with a real estate agent who claims to have no emotions. And above all, unless they are very, very hungry, never give a hoarder a cupcake.

cupcakes

 

 

 

 

 

read more

This is Marriage (2)

 

Sometimes, when walking to dinner in our neighborhood together, I like to imagine we are Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunrise, two young, alluring people with sharp tongues and bright ideas who spend hours just walking around and talking about the greatest things in life– philosophy, passion, love, sex, books, travel, food. We wander slowly, treading carefully down cobble stone streets, using our hands to fill out our sentences. We ping-pong ideas off one another, and almost never run out of things to say. It’s easier to picture us like this when we’re strolling by tiny sidewalk cafes and charming fruit stands because our town in Queens looks vaguely European that way. It becomes a challenge when passing Dunkin’ Donuts or the auto body shop just off the feeder road.

These have been my favorite moments of the last 14 years, the length of time it’s taken us to go from coworkers to friends to partners to spouses. We started our walks on lunch breaks, two kids fairly low on the totem pole escaping their cubicles to go play outside. We’d walk all the way down from 23rd to 14th Street, pointing out women we knew were models and artfully dodging people from Greenpeace or Planned Parenthood asking for money or overpriced midtown salons trying to sell us a full day of beauty. We’d grab a bowl of noodles, plop ourselves on a park bench in Union Square and watch the world go by.

We never go out to lunch together now. Instead, I pack sensible combinations of protein, carbs and fat in our small shared kitchen and send you out into the world with a bag full of Tupperware. Now we take walks in search of brunch and dinner and always ice cream. And even if the meal isn’t memorable, the walk usually is because the setting keeps changing, but you are my constant. I get to admire your profile and you always hold my hand. Palm folded into palm– never fingers intertwined–because according to you, lacing fingers is for teenagers and puppy love and we are beyond all that.

When we first started dating we’d have 5-hour phone marathons where we’d yammer on and on about everything under the sun until we both passed out from exhaustion. A friend of yours said talking like that would never last, and he was right. There isn’t much to catch each other up on now; we share a home and a life, and as a result, our anecdotes.

Sometimes it feels like we’re going to run out of new things to say, and then one of us tells a story the other one has never heard before, and we both feel giddy with excitement. You’ll tell me about the kid who grew up on your block or the time you tried to impress a girl by speaking your shared native language, or I’ll share a memory that involved falling down or running into things when I wasn’t paying attention.

I’ll remind myself to be a better wife and a kinder person and encourage you to keep talking about what it is you do for a living, which, on a cognitive level is difficult for me to understand.

I’ll think about how lucky I am to create more history with someone as funny and sweet as you, and you’ll look at me with your head cocked slightly to the right with the corners of your mouth turned up and paint the words I love you with the curves of your face.

Last night when we walked to dinner we talked about growing older, not just the physical act of it, but what it must feel like to look in the mirror and see a wise old face that doesn’t quite match up with the young, dumb fool you feel like on the inside. We talked about Facebook and social media, and the kids who are growing up on it, and how one day they’ll be able to look back at nearly every day of their childhood and catch a glimpse of it, like one of those flip books where you turn the pages a mile a minute so it looks like the change happened while you blinked. Then I asked if you thought my feet were getting fat. There is room for all of it.

I doubt the way we talk to each other is anything extraordinary, but sometimes it feels that way. I doubt I love my husband more than anyone else loves theirs, but sometimes I think that I might. Sometimes it feels like we’re two characters in a movie, swapping thoughts and ideas and stories and there is something really romantic about all of it. Sometimes I think I should stop to write it all down, that these everyday conversations with my husband are not banal or mundane, but poignant and memorable.

And then it occurs to me that the two of us are probably not extraordinary at all, that this must be what everyone thinks after having a really good talk with someone they love.

marriage

read more

If you’re gonna spew, spew into this

A therapist’s office is supposed to promote relaxation. We paint the room in soft, soothing colors and turn on lamps instead of overhead lights. Some buy fresh flowers once a week (not me, I’ve got a house to buy) while others invest in fine leather sofas or beautiful, non-threatening artwork. You want to create an atmosphere that feels safe, calm and serene.

That is exponentially harder to do once someone has barfed all over it.

Due to difficulty finding childcare, several of my clients occasionally bring their small children into sessions. It is painfully boring for them as I have nothing in there that could entertain a child, so I usually just ply them with office letterhead and a red pen and tell them to draw their mother a picture. One day, a cute kindergartner came in with his mom. She was wise enough to supply him with an iPad, so we could talk and he could remain occupied.

His mother and I were in the middle of a very serious discussion when all of the sudden, without warning or fanfare, the little boy stood up, turned to face my big leather chair and puked up his entire homeroom all over it. It happened on a Friday, and if you went to elementary school in the United States during this century, you know that means pizza day. My pale green office was suddenly awash with pink.

I’m guessing mothers are accustomed to acts of violent and spontaneous barfing from time to time, but as a non-mother, this child’s sudden volcanic ejection caught me completely off guard. It was alarming to be in the position of having vomit on the chair, the rug and the floor and I looked longingly at the sink bizarrely placed in the corner of my office. It finally had an opportunity to serve a purpose, and the moment was completely wasted.

Once someone has puked in a therapy office, there is no more talk–there is only action–so I was more than pleased to be the professional person who needed to quickly flee the room in order to obtain enough paper towels to remove this incident from my chair, my rug, and my short-term memory.

I ran down to the basement. There were enough boxes of Kleenex to get a theater full of women through a Sunday matinee of Beaches, and not a single roll of paper towel to be found. I made a quick call to the janitor (clean up on aisle 9!) while discreetly asking people if they were hoarding towels in their offices. Finally the psychiatrist gave up his sad little roll, and I brought it upstairs.

The mother was on her hands and knees, furiously mopping off her kids’ backpack and my furniture with whatever errant cloth she could find. Meanwhile, the kid looked completely non-plussed and was back to playing with the ipad in another chair. He was smiling broadly and his little legs swung back and forth without a care. He looked like he was ready for his Friday night to get underway, maybe hit up an arcade or a G-rated flick on the way home. He wasn’t even crying. I cry every time I puke. It’s just so…upsetting.

I began to long for my own childhood. A simpler time when someone else was there to kiss my boo-boos, wipe away tears, undo my mistakes, and clean up my barf.

Maybe I should talk to my therapist about this.

read more

Health Freaks

 

When you live in a neighborhood like ours, you begin to recognize people on the street because you see them everyday. There is one teeny-tiny lady I pass frequently who’s around 4’8″, weighs under 100 pounds and appears about two coughs away from dying. She might only be 45 years old, but she looks like every old Italian or Greek widow ever portrayed in cinema, and always seems to be wearing a roomy black shift dress that billows away from her gaunt, withering frame like a Hefty bag.

On Friday morning, she sat hunched over the bench outside my local bakery, the one that smells like meat at 8 a.m. because the owner of the bbq joint two doors down smokes brisket in their kitchen. She had on big dark sunglasses and round-toed orthopedic shoes that made her spindly legs look like toothpicks stuck into cocktail wieners. She had a cigarette in each of her hands, taking one last puff from the right one before using it to light the left. She looked like someone who had long ago thrown up both arms and exclaimed “Well! I’ve had a good run! Fuck all!”, and seeing her chain-smoking at eight in the morning made me want to hop on a treadmill, munch on an apple, chug a gallon of water and floss my teeth all at the same time. I felt a sense of urgency in my life, a pressing need to straighten up and fly right, and so before heading into work, I decided to buy a green drink.

I walked into a chain shop called Juice Press, where the girl behind the counter looked like Denise Huxtable after dropping out of Hillman and turning hippie. My jaw dropped when I saw the price list, and I almost told the chalkboard menu to go fuck itself for featuring a $15 smoothie. I don’t care if you’re blending gold chips or crack rocks into it, there is never any excuse for selling a booze-free drink for over ten bucks. If I’m gonna spend $15 on a meal, it better be in solid form and include a large piece of chicken.

So I walked down the street to a coffee shop that also makes juices and smoothies for under eight bucks. I make smoothies all the time at home, usually putting a mix of baby spinach and fresh mint in them which creates a nice subtle nutrient boost without the bitterness of other greens. This place didn’t use any spinach– just kale– so I went ahead and ordered the classic, a mix of kale and banana and berries and just a splash of apple juice. It looked like sea algae, had the mouthfeel of peat moss and tasted like apple-infused garbage. It began the separation process immediately, the fiber from the greens segregating itself from the liquid like it was insulted to share the same cup.

canyoustayfordinner.com

(Image from canyoustayfordinner.com)

The barista had some extra kale smoothie left in the blender, and offered to give me the excess.

“Oh no, I couldn’t,” I said, and encouraged him to drink it himself or give it to someone else behind the bar. Nobody wanted it of course, so I was left with more smoothie than I knew what to do with. I tossed back the excess like a shot of tequila, and instantly knew that drinking a whole cup of this stuff would be like trying to finish one of those ropes courses, where you have push through the pain to get to the glory.

I brought it to work, where it sat on my desk taunting me with its healing powers: I AM YOUR ONLY HOPE. DRINK ME NOW OR DECAY PREMATURELY LATER.  I shook it to make it all one color and texture again, then took another sip, this one even grosser than the first because the chill was wearing off. The only thing saving this smoothie was its frosty temperature and the longer I postponed the inevitable, the more lukewarm and the less palatable it got. It was thick and mealy, like trying to suck applesauce out of a straw.

A milkshake would have been gone in three minutes, tops, but this thing followed me around for hours. It came with me to chat with a coworker. We went outside for a breath of fresh air. It followed me upstairs to a staff meeting and plopped itself on the long conference table, squaring off against a big glass bowl of fun-sized Milky Ways. Halfway through the meeting I picked it up and took a big gulp in my effort to be rid of it, and made the puckered, horrified face I usually reserve for people who feel nothing when they hear the first few bars of Don’t Stop Believin’. My colleague across from me shook his head and smirked, not just because of my complete lack of poker face, but because he knew he had a big ham sandwich waiting for him on his desk downstairs.

At this point, the smoothie was nothing more than a prop. I had no intention of drinking it anymore, but I felt guilty throwing pricy food away. It hung around the rest of the day on my desk, a paragon of health maintenance and self-care.

Eventually a client wrinkled her nose and asked, “Jennifer, what is that?”

“Oh, it’s just a smoothie. There are greens in in, which explains the color.” I tried not to dissuade anyone from trying a green smoothie and seeing how they like it. In my line of work it’s important for people to learn how to make healthy decisions for themselves.

 

That night, Vinny and I had our usual Friday night summit of where to go out for dinner. We toyed with a few lighter options, but eventually settled on sharing a big plate of fried chicken at the new place down the street, promptly followed by a walk to the frozen yogurt place where I topped my Nutella-flavored treat with crushed Butterfingers and joy. Vin piled his with rainbow cookies, smashed oreos, and a river of hot fudge.

We’ve had a good run.

 

read more

A Day in the Life: Saturday in the City

 

7am: My brain says water, but my heart yells coffee.

7-9: Writing at my little rolling desk I’ve set in the yard for the summer. Every morning I go out back with my laptop, a towel on my head and pajamas on. I’ve imagined Hemingway in a similar setup. Every great writer gets his start in drawstring pants.

9: Vinny’s home!! Away in Sacramento for work all week, my long-haired love has just arrived home from his red-eye flight. He looks a hot, tired mess, but I am in no position to judge. We both slept terribly last night and I’ve got circles the size of beanbags under my eyes right now.

9:15: We are never up this early together, so we make the most of it and drive into brunch at a trendy spot in Soho where the food is highly instagrammable. The place is teeny-tiny, and elbows are flying everywhere as people steal their shakshuka’s soul with iPhone cameras. I spot a few couples eating their food in complete silence across from one another, clicking through their phones the whole time. Sign of the times, or sign of the end?

11:00: By the time we’re done eating the line to get in is down the block. It is composed almost entirely of 20-something Caucasian women in small dresses and denim cut-offs. I am waiting for someone to aim the phone down at the gutter beside them, which is teeming with filthy water that looks like diseased swamp and smells like old donkey. #nycsummer

12:00: We still have an hour on the meter, so we pop in a few stores on Broadway. First is Club Monaco where I want everything, followed by Uniqlo where I want nothing, and finally my old favorite Pearl River Mart which is a huge Chinese emporium that sells everything from kimonos and dragon heads to soy sauce and gag gifts. The selection was scarce as they’re going out of business later this year when the rent goes up to $500K a month because life is unfair and New York City is a cruel, heartless, son of a b.

12:30: We drive home, taking a shortcut through Williamsburg which is full of bars and warehouses and artisanal cookie flavors like black pepper and tattooed people pushing Maclaren strollers with little babies wearing flower crowns. Out the window I spot a guy with a pompadour, the kind of mustache that requires wax and rolled denim overalls. I find myself confused because his top half says vintage parisian carnival worker while his bottom half should be in central Idaho digging up potatoes. Still, I’m in a 15-year old Honda with hair that hasn’t smelled shampoo in three days and plastic sandals I pulled out of a convenience store bin, so I’m in no position to judge.

12:35: We are both exhausted, and Vin almost falls asleep at a red light. I punch him in the shoulder and scream WAKE UP so we can make it home not dead.

1-2: Vin and I nap like sunburned children after a day at the pool. The air is warm but the sheets are cool and we drift into a state of almost narcotic bliss. Eating a heavy brunch and falling asleep reminds me of my Texas summer camp, where they’d sedate us with chicken fried steak and cream gravy at 12 noon on a 100-degree day, then send us back to our bunks to pass out for the next two hours. When we woke up, we’d pull out stickers and notecards and write letters home to our BFFs and mothers. Vin is still asleep, so instead I’ll write a letter to you.

Dear Nice Internet Friends,

Hi! How are you? How’s your summer going? What’s the weather like where you are? Is it humid? How’s your hair?

New York is fun but smells terrible. Restaurants stack black garbage bags like pyramids on the sidewalk and then the sun microwaves the old lettuce and banana peels inside them until we all start gagging and praying for trash day. On the upside, most people skip town on the weekends so things are less crowded and there are more ice cream shops than grocery stores here so dinner’s been fun lately.

My husband’s starting to talk in his sleep, so I’ve gotta go eavesdrop. He just mumbled, “oh, you looked so cute this week”, and I’m very suspicious of where his subconscious is going with this because his body was in Sacramento all week. Anyway, he’s probably talking about his cell phone, so I’m not too concerned.

LYLAS,

Jenn 

2:20-3: I hang in the backyard, daydreaming, zoning out, scanning the sky for answers to life’s biggest questions. When will I make my first million? Which borough does God prefer, and should we start looking for real estate there? Why do birds suddenly appear every time Vin is near? Who put the ram in the ramma-lamma-ding-dong? What happens to Tony at the end of the Sopranos?

3:00-5:00: Neighbors begin stirring in their own yards. To my right, the dirtbag who went to jail for turning his 2-family house into 9 illegally rented apartments is banging around the yard, trying to fix it up. On the porch above him, two shirtless guys grill chicken while singing show tunes. Across the way, a mother yells at her children and blasts Celine Dion so loud folks back in Canada can hear, and to my left, I peek over and notice they have unwisely painted the interior of their entire fence a heinous baby blue so it now looks like a nursery school playground in Miami. And then my favorite backyard character steps out on his deck across from my yard, the old Italian man who is always feeding the birds, who waves back at me with two hands.

5:00-6:00: Shower and get ready for night out. Heading to the BBQ/bourbon place down the street. I’ve commissioned a small group of friends to join us out tonight.

6:30-12:00 midnight: This is great. I love hanging out with my friends. They are nice and so funny. They all get an A+. The setting also ranks a high A, the drinks a B (fairly watered-down) and the BBQ, in my opinion, ranks a B- (tender, but criminally under-seasoned).

12:30: It’s Saturday night so my brain says party, but my heart says pillowcase.

12:45: The air is warm, but the sheets are cool, and I drift off into a state of almost narcotic bliss. Some people drool when they’re this tired, but I’m in no position to judge. I’m drooling too.

 

 

read more

38 Special

 

At the end of the week, I’ll turn 38. I remember when my parents were 38. I was in junior high. They were in the suburbs.

I’ve been on a quest lately to not think too hard or long about what it means to quickly approach an age that ends in zero and rhymes with Lordy. I’ve forbidden myself from trying to tailor my life’s choices to some kind of pre-ordained timeline because literally nothing I’ve ever pictured myself doing has been completed by the age I expected to, and it’s all worked out just fine. I have no intentions of reading or writing a blog post titled “The 38 things you need to get done by age 38″. I’ll do things on my own watch, thank-you-very-much, and I’m guessing you will too.

I’m not going to take cheap shots at my new age with self-deprecation and tired rants about ticking clocks. I’m not going to congratulate myself for how much I’ve figured out (girl, please) or chide myself for not having everything my childhood self would have anticipated my 38-year-old self to have by now. I’m not going to hyperbolize by spending too much time addressing the subtle lines framing my mouth, the extra fold of skin above my eyes or the elegant bunions on my feet. I’m not going to insult 38 by making it sound old when it simply isn’t. I’m also not going to lie and say that my brain functions much differently than it did when I was 22, because unfortunately (fortunately?) it doesn’t.

me in centrla park

I’m not going to generalize too much because 38 probably looks different on me than it does (or will, or did…) on you. I don’t know what 38 looks like to you. But this is what it looks and feels like for me.

Thirty eight is 25 years of wearing makeup and still not understanding how to apply eye liner so it doesn’t smudge all over my face. It’s searching high and low for the magical concealer that will erase the purple beneath my eyes without creasing at the corners of them. It’s wearing clothes that fit the season and my body type, and almost never the latest trend. It’s being in good physical health, and never taking that fact for granted. It’s putting on a wide-brimmed hat and looking exactly like my mother.

Thirty-eight is not fully understanding why, but finding a small, peculiar thrill in menial tasks like refilling soap dispensers and throwing out an old sponge in exchange for a new one. It’s opening the fridge and feeling gratitude for its fullness. It’s appreciating that I’m not living paycheck to paycheck anymore, that we’re actually doing all right, that we’ve hit a smooth spot in the road where we can just cruise for a while. It’s feeling like we’re not just two kids trying to figure it out anymore, but two smart, capable grown-ups who are making plans and getting things done.

Thirty-eight is right in the thick of it, job-wise. It’s working hard and taking pride in getting up each morning knowing I have somewhere to be, and something to do. It’s living within our means and saving for our future; skipping the labels and status symbols because no one really cares what we can and can’t afford, anyway. It’s tightening the belt in a million ways while saving room in the budget for good bread from the bakery and Sunday brunch with fancy lattes, because life’s too short to be joyless, and weekends are too precious to waste on sad oatmeal and drip coffee.

good coffee

Thirty-eight is having more friends who are parents than friends who are not. It’s loving their childrens’ laughter and big hugs and silly songs, but also feeling excited to go home to my quiet apartment, just my husband and me. It’s seeing friends far less often, but treasuring time with them even more. It’s sifting out who and what’s important, and adjusting plans accordingly. It’s fewer acquaintances, deeper connections, richer conversations. It’s being more comfortable saying no. It’s giving up on the idea of pleasing everybody and making good on the promise to always be true to myself.

Thirty-eight is fewer people calling me kiddo, and more and more addressing me as ma’am. It’s being practically invisible to 20-something boys and a sweet juicy peach to divorced 53-year-old men. It’s identifying with the parents in sitcoms instead of the kids. It’s getting excited over things like fancy vegetable peelers and front-loading washers and dryers. It’s passing groups of teenagers on the street and thinking, “Was I ever that loud?”. It’s spending Friday nights at home and feeling completely satisfied.

Thirty-eight is one month away from my 20th high school reunion in Texas. It’s not dieting or working out like crazy to prepare for it, but shopping for a nice dress that fits me well and is impervious to pit stains. It’s hoping they have fried shrimp and name tags because fried shrimp are delicious and I’ve forgotten a whole lot of names. It’s getting excited to reconnect with my first girlfriends, the ones I met in pre-school who’ve grown up to live with their families in beautiful houses but who live on in my mind as pretty 16-year-olds leaning against their first car on 103rd Street. It’s thinking about how simple things were then, but also reflecting on how pretty great things are now.

Thirty-eight isn’t the beginning, and it hopefully isn’t anywhere near the end, and there’s no way to measure if it’s hovering around the middle. It’s having some things set in stone and others completely up in the air. It’s lingering a little too long in the station between comfortable security and total freedom, and being caught in a weird head space of wanting to tuck roots underground while still fantasizing about running away to a muggy tropical island or a village in the south of France.

Thirty-eight is being curious about my future but constantly homesick for my past, being ready to peek behind the curtain to reveal what comes next while wishing I could yank back the trembling hands of that eternally ticking clock, so I could start at the very beginning and do it all over again.

cute me and vinny

 

 

 

read more

What it’s like to be a therapist.

This year, more than any other, I’m working with a lot of clients who are grieving. I have two clients who’ve lost husbands this year, and one who’s lost a child. They are some of the toughest sessions to get through, because their pain is tangible.

In seven years, I can remember exactly three times that I cried in session. Not a big cry– I’ve never done that with someone else in the room– but a tiny pinprick in the corner of the eye, the kind another person would never notice.

Actors are trained to cry on command, but therapists are expected to do the opposite. We need to be comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, because the last thing our clients need to worry about is whether  or not we’re okay. I mean, would you feel comfortable if you caught your therapist choking back sobs while you spoke? Probably not.

what it's like to be a therapist

It’s not stoicism that lets us do this, it’s repetition. Anybody can get used to anything, as long as they repeat it often enough. How do doctors perform surgery? How do soldiers shoot a gun? How does my brother–a child abuse prosecutor– look at evidence for his cases and still get to sleep at night?

These days I rarely cry when something is sad, and it sometimes makes me feel like a human totem pole–hard and wooden. I obviously have capacity for empathy (if I didn’t have that, I’d be very worried indeed), but it’s extremely rare for me to get teary-eyed when something is sad. Professional hazard, I guess.

I cry very easily, however, when something is emotionally moving. Wedding vows. Someone offering their seat on the subway to a stranger. Small children or old couples holding hands. The ukulele version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Last week a high school friend posted a video on her Facebook wall of her 8 or 9 year old daughter opening an email announcing she’d made an elite soccer team. The little girl lost her mind and was literally overwhelmed with joy, crying and exclaiming “I made it! I made it! Mommy, I MADE it!” before crumpling in a ball on the kitchen floor. Hot, happy tears streamed down my face. I watched it four times.

Sometimes it feels really weird to cry so easily at some things but withhold that normal emotional response from so many other experiences.

But last week I read Sheryl Sandburg’s post about losing her husband suddenly, and it absolutely gutted me. I read it traveling home on the subway after having spent a long day in my office, a dark little room where I hear people describe grief like hers every single day.

I read that post and cried, because it was sad and painful to read. I cried the kind of tears other people were likely to notice, and had to use the back of my hand to wipe them from my cheeks.

And it’s a strange comfort to know I can still do that.

read more

About Jenn.


headshot


Kindly ignore the "food/friends/fun" part on the top of this page. It no longer describes this blog; I just don't know how to change it. Pretend it says something more accurate like "Stories of my Life", or "For a good time, read Jenn". About Me: I'm a 30-something Texan who moved to New York, became a therapist, and married a guy named Vinny from Queens. I delight in observing the world around me, and write about it here.

Archives

Subscribe to my posts