Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

18 (very) Random Facts About Me

 

- When I was 10 or 11, I placed 1st in a horse show at summer camp. My horse was named Copper and he was 1,000 years old. He farted the longest slowest horse fart ever right in front of the judges. I was sure I would place last.

In college, I had to do a magazine spread using a new program called “Photoshop”. I had no idea how to use it and the whole thing came out dark and blurry. I was convinced I’d fail. Instead, I got the highest grade in the class; the professor called it “moody”. My instincts have been off ever since. Sometimes I don’t know when something is good, bad or great. One nice side effect of this is that I’m the furthest thing ever from a perfectionist. I let things shake out and they’re usually okay. (Most of the time, anyway. Some things I’m actually really uptight about…).

- In fifth grade, I got a fork stuck on my lip in the school cafeteria. The prongs got twisted in an industrial dishwasher, so when I put the fork in my mouth it decided to stay there. Eventually the vice principal had to come to the table and twist it off while the whole cafeteria looked on in fascination for several minutes. If you ever catch me inspecting my fork before eating, thats why.

-If I were in a position to request my last meal, it’d be a bucket of fried chicken, fried shrimp dunked in tartar sauce and a really thick chocolate malt. This is no time for salads.

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-I once walked out of a bathroom and into the lobby of a mental health clinic with my skirt tucked into my underwear.

- I once walked into a bathroom at the Mexican restaurant where I worked and saw my boss on the toilet. He was relaxing with the newspaper. This was before smartphones. Our working relationship was never quite the same.

- I resent Stephanie Tanner for ruining the song “Motown Philly”. I associate it now with embarrassment and shame.

- Several of my favorite (therapy) clients to work with have been mandated to treatment through federal probation. Sometimes I think I’d like to work in a prison as a mental health counselor. I had a job interview lined up at Riker’s Island but chickened out at the last minute, mostly because I don’t want to have to take the Riker’s bus to work.

- My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Corn.

- Everything I know about the art of seduction was learned from Tawny Kitaen in that Whitesnake video where she’s rolling around the hood of a car. However, no one has been or will be hotter than that, so we should all just stop trying.

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- I didn’t believe in psychics until i saw the show Tyler Henry, Hollywood Medium. Now I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of having a reading done.

- I don’t know how to measure this, but I’m pretty sure I talk to myself more than the average person.

-I am a bit smug about being a child of the ’80s, because I think it was the funnest decade ever with a ton of personality. Prince dying last week was very significant to me, and I still can’t believe that the idols of my youth– Prince, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston– are all gone. Lately I’ve been crossing my fingers and hoping that Blondie, Madonna and Janet Jackson are all off playing cards in a bunker somewhere.

- I’ve made a lot of mistakes- some bigger than others. When I look back, I picked the wrong choice a few times. I don’t regret any of them, because they’ve always lead to figuring stuff out, whipping things around and discovering the right move, which I always appreciate SO much more than I would have if I’d picked it the first time around. I’d never request a do-over for any of my mistakes. They’ve always been useful to me. I hope I make more. (P.S.– I will.)

- I vacillate between thinking the internet is the greatest and the worst thing that’s ever happened in modern society. It usually depends on how many people have bumped into me while looking down at their palm that day.

-Things I’m terrible at: making fried eggs and pancakes look presentable, reading maps, following specific instructions (i leave almost everything up to interpretation), precision in general, staying awake during movies, making phone calls (i have always hated this task), putting clothes away after wearing them, any type of confrontation, getting to the gym.

-Dairy makes me bloat something awful but I’m in denial because of how much I love cheese.

- I was actually wearing white pants the day I got my first period. I’m such a cliche.

- I’m really not into scatalogical humor, most Jim Carrey movies, horror films, staying up or out late, self-righteousness, unnecessary criticism, excessive cell phone usage, Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and capers.

 

 

 

 

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HGTV is ruining all the plans I had for my life.

 

I avoided HGTV for years, for various reasons. In my 20s, I couldn’t have cared less about real estate or renovations. In my 30s, I totally became interested in real estate and renovations but feared watching these programs would mess with my head too much living in New York City, where you have to sink your expectations down to subterranean levels. There’s a feature in the back pages of New York magazine where they show what you could get elsewhere for what you’re paying in NYC. One time they put two pictures side by side, same price. One was a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side. The other was a castle in Spain.

This is why I’ve avoided HGTV. I don’t need to sit in my dark basement studio knowing you can get a tennis court with your house in Atlanta, or a movie den with your split-level in Tennessee. As someone who loves to cook, it’s like a tiny pinprick to the heart when I see what they’re doing to kitchens across the country these days. That open concept thing with the island covered in a half-mile of carrara marble, topped with a big ceramic fruit basket and stools where your kids can do homework. Oh! And the storage! The cabinets that inch all the way up to the ceiling! The hidden drawers for tiny wet sponges and tall wooden cutting boards. The pot-filler sink faucets behind the stove. Those big, beautiful, 6-burner stoves…

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Throughout the house-hunting process, I’ve submitted to watching these programs– mostly Property Brothers and Fixer Upper, though I’ll sometimes catch Flip or Flop if I have nothing better to do even though I don’t find that California couple particularly endearing. I’m really in awe of the construction process– how someone can take something so wrecked and visualize its possibilities. I’m amazed and impressed by people who can peek behind a wall and diagnose what’s going on back there, and have solutions for how to make things better. I also love seeing the overall design–the tiny tweaks like widening a doorway or choosing just the right paint color to catch the light.

But these shows make me feel some funny feelings. Sometimes I watch them and wonder: “Am I screwing myself out of an easier life?”. I know I’ve written about this before, but If I lived in another part of the country (or world, why sell myself short?), my life could look a whole lot different. I won’t deny that sometimes seeing these pretty houses makes me feel less satisfied with city living. If I lived outside of a city, I could stock up on paper towels at Costco, have an actual dining room table, spring for the extra-tall bottle of olive oil, the one that would never fit upright in a New York City kitchen cabinet. A wrap-around porch? A kitchen made for family gatherings? An extra bit of closet space? A price tag that doesn’t make me feel like passing out? These things sound nice.

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(Exterior of typical “Fixer Upper” house in Waco, Texas. Approx $250K (after full gut renovation). 

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(Exterior of typical 2-family home in Astoria, Queens…. quite a bit more than 250K)

Anyway, there was one particular episode of Fixer Upper that kicked me in the teeth a little bit. Not enough to make me uproot and move to Waco, just so we’re clear. (I went to Waco once about 20 years ago and can’t remember one single detail of that trip, which makes me feel like it’s probably not the place for me).

Chip and Joanna were showing this couple– a very young couple– a few places to renovate. The couple looked no more than 24 or 25 years old and they owned an adorable, popular coffee shop in town. Let me repeat… they were in their early 20s, owned their own brick-and-mortar shop AND were able to afford a really nice house.

And that’s not something that’s easily possible here– not unless you’re a Wall Street banker, a movie star or the off-spring of a real estate tycoon.

Several people I grew up with in Galveston own businesses in our hometown. One friend and her husband own an awesome surf shop. Another couple opened a saloon-themed bar on the Strand. There are classmates who own home-cleaning businesses, small restaurants, a party rental company. I think it’s amazing that so many people I know own businesses there. It makes the whole town feel connected. I do miss that.

My hometown is very supportive of small, family-owned businesses. Chains have never been a big deal there; they didn’t get a Starbuck’s or a Target until I’d already left. Back in the day, Dad only bought suits at Schwartz’s, which was owned by his best friend’s next door neighbor. We would never drive off the island to Lens Crafters–it was criminal to get our prescription glasses anywhere other than Patti Zein-Eldin’s. We were only allowed to pump gas at one station in town. It was owned by my friend’s dad.

I have an idea for a little shop I’d like to open one day. It came to me while grocery shopping in Texas two months ago. I could tell you about it, but then you might think it’s such a great business idea that you run off and try to make it happen in your neck of the woods, leaving me high and dry. We’re all friends here; I don’t want that kind of competition. So I’ll just keep it tucked behind my ear for a while.

It is a small and simple idea, nothing flashy about it at all, and the catch is…it would have to be in New York City because it fills a void here. Isn’t that what makes businesses thrive? They fill a void of some kind?

It’s something I daydream about from time to time when I allow myself to picture the different shapes my life could still take. Julia Child didn’t become Julia Child till she was 40, you know.

For anyone keeping track, I am almost 39.

An almost-39-year-old born-and-bred Texan who is for all intents and purposes now a bonafide New Yorker. At this point I’m used to the crowds and the potpourri of human odors and the subway tracks that flood with swamp water every time it rains. I’m accustomed to sticky summers and seemingly endless winters. I’m very used to living in relatively small quarters, and in fact, I have grown to appreciate how little space there is to clean. I mean, what would I do with a four-bedroom house with two sitting rooms and an enormous backyard anyway? Truth is, I know I’m right where I belong. I’m a Queens girl now. Those cararra marble counters will be there for me in another lifetime, or perhaps further down the road in this one.

I may need to lay off Fixer Upper for a while. They just had their season finale anyway.

Time to join the Tiny House Nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Day in the Life: St. Patrick’s Day, NYC edition

 

10:30 am: Leave for work. It’s St. Patrick’s Day in New York City and suddenly every single white person (and a few Chinese) thinks they’re Irish.

10:36 am: I offer to help a woman carry her stroller up the subway stairs. Her son, roughly age 2, faces me. Due to my own 5-lb weight gain and a recent wash, my pants are so tight the zipper refuses to stay up. My fly plummets as I head upstairs, inadvertently exposing myself to this innocent woman’s child, reinforcing the idea that no good deed goes unpunished, and no pants shall be washed until I lose a few L.B.s.

10: 42 am:  The train is filled with people headed to the parade. I spy a group of laughing moms in green wigs, holding hands with little boys in tiny shamrock shirts. A group of musicians in suits and green ties, fiddles and banjos tucked beneath an arm. Lots and lots of off-duty NYPD and NYFD wearing freshly-ironed parade uniforms. I had no idea this many cops and firemen lived in my neighborhood, but I suddenly feel enveloped by a faux-Irish web of safety.

10:59 am: Exit train at 57th Street, even though my office is below 10th. Anytime I can combine exercise with people-watching is a win. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by the pace of city life, and feel like I need to go build a hut in a field or something. I know the energy of St. Patrick’s Day will provide that shot in the arm that keeps me going here a bit longer.

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A line of folks wraps around the front of Carnegie Deli. Gaggles of tourists in green boas and dip-dyed red beards and blow-up hats swarm the sidewalk. Vendors have replaced scarves and handbags with green shirts and Irish flags and goofy green tiaras. I feel like the only drip on the way to work. How is everyone always on vacation here?

11:03 am: Pull up my fly again.

11:06 am: I make it to Times Square. It’s pure insanity, more so than usual. There are Elmos everywhere. Furry red with big palms and bug eyes delighting toddlers and annoying adults. There’s a guy on stilts dressed like the Statue of Liberty, two Minnie Mouses and the cowboy from Toy Story all hanging out in the street. Out of nowhere, Spiderman jumps in my face.

“Jesus!” I yell, even though I totally recognize him as Spider-man. He can’t fool me in that costume. I don’t like it when people jump in my face. One time I waited in line three hours for a haunted house only to make it three feet in before begging to be let out.

The timing of Spring Break coinciding with St. Patrick’s Day spells danger for the streets of New York City, as there are hordes of college-aged people wearing green in Times Square right now. They’re jumping on the stairs of the TKTS stand. They’re marching past the M&M store. Whole groups are skipping down the street in wolf-packs, singing at the top of their lungs, lyrics indecipherable because they’re all rip roaring drunk. I haven’t seen this many loaded white kids since Spring Break 1998 (Cancun, baby!) when my friends and I took a bumpy booze cruise to a tiny fake island for a barbecue cookout and wet t-shirt contest**.

 11:15am: Like everyone else in New York City, my Pandora station is set to “Ronnie Milsap Radio”, and as I continue hoofing down Broadway, the song Rhinestone Cowboy comes on, the fortuitous timing delighting me. “Rhinestone Cowboy” is not a Ronnie Milsap song, but that’s how Pandora works, see. It’s an Earl Campbell song, who I like a lot because he popularized a little tune about my hometown called Galveston, which is actually a Jimmy Webb song. But Rhinestone Cowboy reminds me of my first time in Times Square, not much older than all these drunk morons, fresh from the airport and riding in the back of a livery cab with a driver who instructed: “Don’t look up so much” and “Stop saying Houston. It’s pronounced How-ston here.”

I’ve been walkin’ these streets so long
Singin’ the same old song
I know every crack in these dirty sidewalks of Broadway
Where hustle’s the name of the game
And nice guys get washed away like the snow and the rain
There’s been a load of compromisin’
On the road to my horizon
But I’m gonna be where the lights are shinin’ on me

11:16am: I get misty-eyed at the poignancy of the lyrics. Been here 16 years now, and I too know every crack in the dirty sidewalk. My God, where does the time go?

11:17 am: Pull up my fly again.

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11: 29 am: Make it out of Times Square alive, continue to pass hundreds and hundreds of people–young, old, jolly, buoyant–dressed in green as they make their way to the parade route on 5th. Today’s weather is glorious and it’s the unofficial season opener for women who enjoy being scantily clad. It’s technically still chilly enough for a sweater, but I’ve seen more bare midriffs and shoulders than expected, even a little peek of some demi-cup green bras.

11:35: At a crosswalk, I stand across from two girls, both of whom are wearing green tutus and white crop tops.

11:36am: To my left is a gentleman indisputably high on crack, pants dripping down his thighs, teeth like a bomb went off in his mouth. He fumbles into the middle of the street, waves hello to the pretty girls and yells “Erin go Bragh, mothafuckaaaaaaaaaaaas!”.

11:40- 12:30: Continue walking through various neighborhoods on the west side of town, through the armpit of 34th street, down through Chelsea and into the West Village. I shed a tear as I walk past the old Loehmann’s, shake my head at all the stupid banks and chain drugstores, walk through 8th Street, where all the cool shoe shops used to be. I’ve been here long enough that I can now say “Remember when?”,  or “Remember that?” and have it actually mean something.

12:43 pm: As I get closer to work, I switch the station to ’80s Pop to juice myself up for the day. Like magic, the line “She’s a maniac, maniac on the floor” comes on just as I trip over a terribly parked bicycle, sending me flying forward. I’m due for a good face plant, so I’m not terribly surprised.

12:44: A guy walks right by me, never asks if I’m okay, even though he sees me rubbing my knees and palms and hears me saying, “Ouch, ouch. That hurt.” His Irish eyes clearly don’t give a shit about me, and he probably assumes I’m drunk. That’s what I love about New York City; you can trip, fall and cry your eyes out and no one even notices.

12:45: That’s also what I hate about New York City.

12: 50: Officially starting my work day. Clients drip in one by one, most wearing green. One client (not mine) is really in the spirit, wearing shamrocks from head to toe. Tiny shamrocks all over his pants, tiny shamrocks all over his shirt, even shamrocks all over his baseball cap.

12:51:  Oh wait, those aren’t shamrocks. They’re marijuana leaves.

3:00: A supervisor walks by my office and congratulates me on being the new fire marshal for the 2nd floor. I had not been made aware of this new role, nor had I received training for it, but apparently I’d been fire marshal long enough that someone had time to type my name on paper, frame it and hang it in the lobby. I assume (and hope!) the new gig comes with a cool hat.

3:01: “Sweet! I got promoted! I had no idea!” I exclaimed. “What does being fire marshal entail?”

“You have to get people out of the building calmly if it’s on fire. Also, it’s not a promotion.”

I was reminded of my 3-month stint as a third grade teacher in the South Bronx, when we had weekly fire drills and I had to get 25 kids from the fourth to the first floor quietly and efficiently. It was the job that convinced me I’d be better off working with adults, which lead me to study social work. I love it when stories come full circle.

3:10- 7:39 pm: I pull my fly up no fewer than 20 times. Screw the hat. I hope the new gig comes with a good pair of pants.

I work until 8pm. I hate late nights. I’m a morning person, always have been. After 6:30pm, my brain changes shape, turns mushy like avocado.

8:10pm: Vin picks me up in the car, and we head back to Astoria for food. We skip the pubs and head straight to Bon Chon, where they serve Korean fried chicken– double fried and dipped in honey-soy and hot sauce. If we could get away with it without dying, we would eat here every day. When I eat this chicken, I actually hear angels singing. On this night, a sweet Celtic harp pings softly in the background.

We skip the Guinness in favor of Earl Grey tea. I wipe my hands clean of chicken wing residue, lift my steaming mug and greet my husband at the end of a long and interesting day in New York City.

“Erin go bragh, mothafucka. Erin go bragh.”

 

 

*And for the record Ma: Yes, I was asked to participate in the wet t-shirt concert, and no I didn’t do it. I sat at a picnic table and ate chicken wings instead. I love it when stories come full circle.

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13 years

 

This is the first time I had to do the math to remember how many years we’ve been together. Was it 2001 or 2002? Is it 12 years or 13? I interpret this to mean we have passed some sort of invisible benchmark where neither of us is sitting around holding up fingers, counting time, asking ourselves “It’s been 3 months, seven days and 55 minutes…I think it’s really going somewhere!” Could this really be something? Could this be…LOVE?

We’ve been together 13 years, but it feels more like three. We’ve been together since I was fresh-faced and 25, and now my eyes crinkle at the top as I inch toward 39. Thirteen years makes our relationship a gawky teen, wide-eyed and hopeful but thankfully short on angst and ennui. The training wheels are off. We’re really in this thing, albeit still a little awkward.

Thirteen years in means less spontaneity, and more durability. Thirteen years in means planning ahead for fifty years in, and making decisions now that will help us feel secure then. It’s not the dopamine-rush of year one, or the wobbly uncertainty of years two and three, it’s the shelter and safety of having some real time behind us, of having shared experiences that really shaped us as people, taught us as individuals, and bound us as partners.

Sometimes I think there’s a certain amount of luck attributed to each person, and I used all mine up when you hitched your wagon to mine. Sometimes I think that the universe has already given me so much good by putting you in my path that I couldn’t possibly be eligible for more. Now I think that you are my luck, and your presence in my life is such a grounding force that it helps me create my own abundance. 

Thirteen years, and in a lot of ways we’ve only just begun. In the grand scheme of things, 13 years is a tiny drop in a big bucket. We’ve still got a long stretch of road ahead and though I’m no fortune-teller, I have a feeling the view’s about to get more interesting.

And at the risk of sounding like Thelma and Louise, let’s keep going.

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in which i compare a puzzle to life’s great metaphor

 

I’ve been really anxious lately. Lots of racing thoughts, funky stomach, sweaty palms. This morning while laying in the dark, I tried to calm myself with some slow, deep breaths. I’ve been taking a lot of slow deep breaths lately.

I’ve also been doing a lot of puzzles. Not sudoku. Not crossword. Old-school jigsaw, baby. Three hundred pieces? Don’t insult me. It’s 1,000 or bust. Five hundred if I’m short on time.

What an amazing distraction a puzzle is. Your mind narrows in on a singular focus, and with each piece that clicks into the greater whole you get a quick hit of accomplishment. It’s overwhelming at first, all these tiny random pieces cluttering up the place, but after you start seeing sections come together– a pond here, a tiny clasped hand there– the picture becomes clearer, your goal reasonable and within reach. Puzzles are a great metaphor for life, don’t you think? Upfront they’re a big old mess– random, scattered, messy, unclear. But you keep at it, piece by piece, and eventually things start making sense. You see the forest through the trees–sometimes literally, depending on the picture.

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I’m partial to puzzles with a lot going on. I want buildings, people, cars, colors, textures. You need pieces that distinguish themselves from the others. Growing up we had a 2,000-piece monster of Santa Claus. Not one jolly guy, which would have been reasonable, but 50 tiny Santa Clauses, which is just scary. When it comes to choosing a puzzle, you want to avoid too much repetition or sameness. No one wants to piece together 40 stacked logs of firewood or an endless flat ocean. Go for the Victorian street scene with colorful hoop skirts and old gas streetlamps and pushcart vendors and tiny street urchins. Put yourself in the middle of Times Square with bright yellow cabs, blinking Broadway marquees, breakdancers, buildings, the Naked Cowboy, people dancing around with chickens on their heads.

I realized my affinity for puzzles during the blizzard last month. I needed something to keep me occupied, so I found an old box in the back of the closet and went to town. It was a challenging puzzle– a tropical scene with lots of blue ocean, blue sky, pebbly sand and dark palm trees, but I stuck with it because I often start things and never finish them, and I wanted to prove to myself that it didn’t always have to be that way.

During the workday, I’d text Vin and ask “Is it sad that all I can think about is getting a happy meal and finishing my puzzle?”.

I finished it in six days and felt a glowing beam of pride. And why shouldn’t I have been proud? I took tiny pieces of compressed cardboard and turned them into an ocean. Where once was nothing, I planted towering trees. In under a week, I built the entire sky. 

Vin came home and admired my masterpiece.

“Do you want me to take a picture of you with the finished puzzle?” he asked. He meant no sarcasm. He is genuinely supportive, no matter my hobby. 

“Do I want you to take a picture of me in my bathrobe and dirty hair in front of a completed jigsaw puzzle?” I asked. “No thanks. I think I’ll be able to remember this moment.”

I’ve done a few more puzzles since then. We went to Texas several weeks ago, and I was feeling overwhelmed by something so instead of wine I suggested a puzzle. We pulled out a card table and four of us silently got to work. Last weekend in Vermont, my girlfriends and I knocked out an abstract 500-piece jammy in just under two hours. When it was finished, we did a three-way high-five and felt like champions.

It’s nice to finish something you start. It’s good to do something other than fart around on the internet. It’s good to feel like your brain has one mission, and one mission only. These days, it’s often hard to see the forest through the trees. Puzzles help you do that. I hope 2016 does for puzzles what 2015 did for adult coloring books.  

As I broke the pieces apart and tossed them back in the box, I couldn’t help but think that served as a metaphor too. Clear the decks, start fresh, take on the next challenge.  

Or you know, just eat dinner at the table again.

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A Face Made for Pictures

Years ago, back in the early aughts, when I was but a poreless, fresh-faced ingenue, I was stopped on 23rd Street by a generally unthreatening stranger. I don’t remember how he phrased it exactly, but what I remember hearing was: “You have a face made for pictures.”

I thought this sounded better than the typical street comment, far more flattering than something like “Hey! I like your butt!” or “You look like trash. Can I take you out?”

I was young and naive so I stopped to chat with him for a bit, and as it turned out, he was actually a small-time movie producer. In fact, he was just coming home from filming all day. “Oh boy!” I thought. This was it! I am totally getting discovered right now! Id always heard about being at the right place at the right time, and my time had finally come! Wait till the kids back home hear about this– stopped by an actual movie producer on the street in New York City and asked to star in his next picture! I’m gonna razzle-dazzle ‘em!”

“So tell me…” I leaned in. ‘What were you just filming? Have I seen any of your work before?” My fingers were crossed behind my back, praying for him to say he’d filmed Grease I and II and was now working on casting part three. I would be phenomenal as Sandy’s Texan cousin, the one from Dallas with big hair and lots of jewelry who seems real “Aw, shucks” and superficial on the surface but shows great depth and emotional complexity once you get to know her.

“My movies don’t really make it to theaters,” he explained, “but they make a lot of money. They’re adult movies. Any chance you’re interested? I really mean it. You have a great look.”

So, porn. I have a face made for porn. I felt like calling my parents and thanking them for their genetic contributions. How proud they would be.

(PS: Please note that I only have the face for porn, not the body).

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“Can I draw you?”

It’s the line every woman has dreamed of hearing from a man since Kate pulled Leo into her wood-paneled cruise cabin and drooped a huge diamond between her double lattes. To be asked “Can I draw you?” indicates a face not just stunning but special, the kind that should be committed to paper and tucked away in a vault or framed and tipped on a mantle. Unless, of course, that drawing highlights your bare naked boobies– then it should be wrapped in butcher paper and tucked in your underwear drawer for safe-keeping.

Earlier this week, a young man took a seat next to me on the subway. In his lap was a sketch pad; his pants pockets were stuffed with colored pencils.

“Excuse me?” I asked. My ears were stuffed with headphones even though I was busy reading a book. I’m a New Yorker. I multi-task.

“Can I draw you?” He asked again. He had a very serious look on his face. I recognized that look. It was the look of someone startled by beauty, an artist who had finally found his muse. A man looking– really looking– into the heart and soul of a woman. As a 38-year-old in the dead of winter, I was neither poreless or fresh-faced; I was slightly chapped and quite ruddy, with a complete and utter absence of anything resembling a youthful glow. But I guess you could say he found my inner glow, and who was I to deny him the joy of capturing that?

“So, where will this drawing be going?” I asked. I was a bit more cautious in my older age, and didn’t want to find my face wallpapering a mens’ restroom in midtown or attached to some product placement for hemorrhoid cream. I support art and the people who make it, but I have a face made for porn, and I need to protect myself. Plus, if he was going to make money off my dry chapped face, I wanted in for 50%. I’m a New Yorker. Let’s make a deal.

“Well, my main goal is for you to give me 20 bucks when I’m done with it.”

“Sorry, that’s not gonna happen. I’m on a tight budget right now.” My ego dropped to my shoes where it belongs, and my nose went back into my book. The artist tried again and asked the dude across from us if he could draw him, but he was getting off at the next stop, so the artist turned his attention back to me.

“Can I still draw you while you read? Would that be ok?”

“Sure, knock yourself out.” I was curious to see his artistic interpretation of my face. I’ve been drawn as a cartoon a few times, and I actually found the likeness pretty remarkable. My mother sat for an artist as a (blonde) teenage girl and he drew her with thick black hair in a gauzy one-shouldered dress like Cleopatra. Mine were always a bit more literal.

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A cartoon drawing of me with my other dance team compadres in high school. I’d say “guess which one is me!” but my name’s right underneath it, so that kind of spoils the fun…

When you know someone is drawing you, it’s impossible to just sit there and breathe in and out like a normal person. I was happy he was sitting to the left of me; that’s my good side. But he was sitting so damn close I knew I’d have to do a bit of facial contortion to really get the best angles. I found myself trying to elongate my neck and make my cheekbones look more angular by cocking my head slightly to the right. I tilted up my wool cap to show off more of that beautiful forehead. I wiped my nose to make sure there weren’t any little surprises.

As we approached 57th Street, he focused back on closing the deal.

“I’m getting off at the next stop. Do you want this picture?” This guy’s affect was totally flat, devoid of all emotion.

cartoon drawing woman

I looked over at the portrait of my face and felt a twinge of sadness. His version of me looked so melancholy, completely spiritless. I looked like every other commuter on the subway–weary, bored, exhausted. Plus– and there’s really no way to say this without sounding like an asshole– I thought I was prettier than that?

He’d scribbled a big 5 on the corner, and I’m still not sure if that was his calling card or some kind of subliminal message, but I ended up handing him a $5 bill and taking the portrait home. It was all I had, and I could appreciate this guy’s hustle, as well as his talent. Artists have to pay the bills somehow, and he’d come up with a pretty interesting strategy.

It’s not the kind of thing I’ll lock in a vault or tip on the mantle, but it’ll definitely make a fine addition to my underwear drawer.

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A Robe made for Queens

 

I got a big, white, fluffy robe for Christmas this year. When I opened it, I wasn’t sure if I’d get any use out of it. Who wears robes these days? I asked myself. Turns out, I wear robes these days. I’ve been wearing this thing every day. It actually pains me to take it off when I leave the house. If they’d let me wear it to work, I would.

It’s not a slinky silk or toasty flannel. It’s not the kind you monogram and hang in the Four Seasons bathroom. This robe is a full-on velour blanket with sleeves. It’s almost unimaginably soft and ridiculously cuddly. When I tie the thick sash around my waist I look like Lebowski and feel like a swaddled child. When Vin hugs me he calls me his “little bear cub”. Did I just make this weird?

Suffice it to say, the year has started with ease and familiar comforts. Homemade chicken soup and too many chocolate chip cookies. Netflix on the couch with socked feet and piles of blankets. Dinners in dark restaurants with friends–warm fried chicken and flaky biscuits smeared with butter and honey. Winter is not as wicked as I’ve always thought it to be; in fact, if you do it right, the downright coziness is almost better than an afternoon warming your face in the summer sun.

I said, almost.

We’re watching Making a Murderer each night (you too? How funny.). We come home from work, eat a little bit, then I put on my big fluffy heaven robe and drape myself across Vinny’s legs. I’m a blanket for him, and he’s an ottoman to me. We yell at the screen, grab the sides of our heads in anger and despair, and yell terrible things at the TV screen. Last night he brought home a cookie the size of a pancake and we ate the whole thing. Unlike the rest of the resolution-making world, I didn’t join a gym on January 1st. I discontinued my membership to save money.

Like I said, this robe is going to get a lot of wear this season, especially once I grow out of all my pants.

Now be a lamb and fetch me a hot chocolate, would ya?

 

 

 

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Thoughts on New Year’s Eve-Eve

 

I’ve always wanted to go to one of those really fancy New Year’s Eve parties. The ones where men with slicked back hair wear sharp tuxedos and women pour themselves into tight sequin dresses and bloody their lips with bright red lipstick. I’ve pictured myself in a huge ballroom with a live band on stage; huge floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch out across the length of Manhattan skyline, revealing the million tiny nightlights that show up for work every evening. It’s the kind of party where confetti falls like rain from big blankets hung across the ceiling and champagne bottles are popped open by perfectly capped teeth.

In this particular fantasy, a man who looks like 1987 Tom Selleck strides toward me, leans against a wall and asks, “So what do you think about this party?”

I smile– no teeth, all lip. “I love it. The music’s great. I would have given up some of this raw bar for some Rotel dip, but that’s just a personal preference. What about you?”

“I’ve seen better.” He’d say, leaning against a railing. “Or at least I thought I had, until just now.” He lifts up the corner of his mustache to reveal a smirk, a smirk that says “Hey, baby… you wanna get out of here?” and “The only thing hotter than Rotel dip is you.” Then he winks and nods before asking: “Are you here alone?”

“No, I’m here with my husband. He’s the skinny one with the bushy beard and long hair.” I point across the room, to the dessert section. “See him over there? He’s the one flirting with that pile of donuts dusted with glitter.”

“Huh, oh yeah.  Good looking guy. That’s a rookie ‘stache though.”

“Tell me about it. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after he nosedives into the powdered ones.”

“Nice meeting you, pretty lady.”

“Likewise. Enjoy your evening.”

Alas, nothing like that ever happens on New Year’s Eve. I haven’t been approached by a handsome stranger in public for centuries now.  The last ten years, we’ve mostly attended intimate affairs at our friends Aubrey and Mitchs’ house, where I inevitably end up falling asleep on the couch long by midnight. It’s sweet of them to continue inviting their narcoleptic friend to all their parties.

The worst NYE was 1998, when I attended a Matchbox 20 concert in the middle of a parking lot in Houston. I don’t even remember liking Matchbox 20 very much, but somehow I always ended up at their concerts because it was 1998. Anyway, December is still warm enough in Houston to have outdoor concerts, so a small group of us went to enjoy $11 draft beers and greasy tacos. At 11:45, my bladder (the ultimate party pooper) decided it could no longer participate in the events, so I excused myself to the powder room. I say “powder room” because it sounds a lot more delicate than “a big line of porta-potties.” The line was a million people deep and barely moving, but I had no choice but to wait in it. As I stood there, it became clear to me that not only would I not be getting kissed at midnight, but most likely I’d be squatting over a disgusting plastic hole, my pants down around my ankles, breathing in the veritable potpourri of smells one can only find in a modern-day outhouse.

At the stroke of midnight, I heard whoops of laughter, cries of hope and joy, screams of “Happy New Year!” echoing through the hollow walls of my porta-john. “Happy New Year”, I mumbled to myself. I worried that spending the stroke of midnight on New Year’s in a portable toilet was a harbinger of things to come.  That a moment like that would imbue the following months with oppressive obstacles, less-than-ideal circumstances, and frankly, shit.

And of course, that didn’t come to pass. I don’t remember anything particularly distressing happening in 1998 because I was in college then and protected by the magical forcefield of youth. If that were to happen this year? Why, the results could be disastrous.

So instead I’ll put on my flat shoes and a t-shirt of breathable cotton and Vin will tweak his facial hair with some beard wax. We’ll head over to Mitch and Aubrey’s house for some tasty snacks and a champagne toast. The gang will clink glasses and toot paper horns, and I’ll be curled in a ball on their mid-century-style sofa in the front room, sleeping my way into 2016, dreaming of Tom Selleck.

 

 

 

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Not Home for the Holidays

This past July, Vin and I went to Texas to hang with my family and sweat all over ourselves. We spent one afternoon splashing in dad’s pool and everything felt right with the world.  It was a perfectly casual summer day, and there was literally no where else I wanted to be. Dad kept bringing out pitchers of frozen cocktails, my niece and I were knocking around in the water, and we basically spent an afternoon laughing our heads off. Then Vinny got a text message: His sister had the baby!

We all lifted our plastic margarita glasses in celebration. “To Baby Kevin!” But Vinny looked sad. He wanted to be back in New York with his family. Something important was happening, and he wasn’t part of it. I could see it written on his face, that wistful sense of longing when you realize everyone is hanging out and carrying on without you. I felt bad that he wasn’t there; he wanted to be and he should have been.

I have that feeling all the time. It started when my parents divorced, and intensified when I moved to New York. I’ve lived thousands of miles away from my family throughout my adult life, so you’d think by now I’d be used to it, but I’m not. It still sucks.

airplane with sunset

It crops up on anniversaries and holidays, when I should be there, but I’m not. It happens on Mother’s Day, when I’d love nothing more than to bring a bouquet of flowers to mom’s door and cook her breakfast. It happens on a sunny Saturday afternoon when friends and neighbors gather in dad’s yard to drink cold beers and eat fish tacos. It happens when babies are born and school plays are produced and birthday gifts are unwrapped. I wish hanging out with my family weren’t an elaborate production. I wish it didn’t involve planning and plane tickets and large sums of money. I wish I could drive over for Sunday dinner like it’s no big deal. I want to share lunch with my niece in her school cafeteria on a random Tuesday. I want to eat mom’s Mickey Mouse waffles next Saturday for breakfast.

But more than sadness, I carry guilt. I created this distance. They all stayed in place, and I chose to move. I feel guilty that I’m not there to participate fully in our family life. I wish I had the time and the money to attend every important event with them. I keep waiting for my mom or dad to get a wild hair and move to New York City. In a few years I’ll put a bug in my niece’s ear, convince her to apply to Columbia or Fordham or Hunter. My brother will kill me, but I’m willing to take that chance.

A few weeks ago, mom sent me a text message: “Your brother’s wife had the baby!” I lifted my coffee mug in the air and toasted “To Baby Aiden!” even though no one was there to clink the other side. He was born in late November and I’ll meet him in early February. I timed our next visit with my niece’s 11th birthday. It’s about damn time I attended one of her parties. Pretty soon she’ll be too old to have them.

I just packed up the Christmas box I’m sending to my sweet niece and brand new nephew. It’s filled with books and toys for the baby, baking supplies for our big girl. We travel to Texas every other year for Christmas; this year we stay in New York. It is what it is.

Included in the box is a book from the ’80s called PEOPLE. It’s the most wonderful children’s book I’ve ever seen, filled with illustrations of people from every possible country and culture to help children notice and appreciate the vast and beautiful diversity in our world. I think it’s actually out of print, which amazes me. The world could use a few fresh new copies of this book.

I found it abandoned on a curb in Brooklyn, while trick-or-treating with our New York City nephews and their parents. I already had a copy of the book at home; it’s been one of my favorites since childhood when my aunt and uncle sent it to my brother and me. Scrolled on the inside cover was a brief but touching dedication– “To Jennifer and Adam– two very unique and beautiful people”– Love always, Aunt Renee and Uncle David.

Growing up, I barely saw my aunt and uncle. They spent their young married years sleeping in tents in Greece and teaching English in Japan. They were never around on Christmas morning and I’m pretty sure they never huddled around the cake as I blew out candles and made a wish. They weren’t a big part of my childhood, but I feel very close to them as an adult. They’ve hosted us countless times in Austin, and we’ve shown them some of our favorite spots in New York. We learned how to make authentic paella and pan de tomate together while traveling in Spain. I hope one day to have the same relationship with my brother’s kids, the ones I barely see.

I plan on scrolling a little message to my own niece and nephew on the book’s inside cover, just like our aunt and uncle wrote to their dad and me. ”To Allison and Aiden– two very unique and beautiful people. Wish we could be with you on Christmas. We love you, and will see you soon.”

I’ll stuff the box with crinkled tissue paper and deliver it to the post office later today. I’ll feel good for a minute, congratulate myself for being a thoughtful and dedicated auntie. And then I’ll feel that twinge of guilt twist and burn inside, wishing I could always be there to watch them open my gifts in person.

 

 

 

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It’s Just a Season…

 

There is an enormous pile of rubble where my grocery store used to be. A wrecking ball tore through that sucker, and all that’s left is a mound of crumbling red ruins surrounded by a deep green construction fence. They’ve torn it down to make room for a huge pile of glass-block condos with a shopping center on the bottom floor. The old grocery had a going-out-of-business sale a few months ago, and all I got out of the deal was some half-price tin foil and a bag of cinnamon chips. They were already out of chocolate.

Up the street, our local bagel shop swapped out wood paneling and linoleum floors for white subway tile, marquee letters, and free Wi-Fi. Another bagel shop further up started selling Bacon-BBQ cream cheese; such a blasphemous mutation of a New York classic even my Bubbie in Houston is rolling over in her grave. My corner bodega now sells kale smoothies. My hair salon, where very mature women go for their weekly wash-and-set, just got a makeover too. They rolled over the bright green paint that made complexions sallow and painted every inch soft mauve, one wall covered in that plush upholstered fabric you’d see in a rich woman’s closet. I wonder if they’ll keep the sign in the window advertising group bus trips to Atlantic City. Somehow I doubt it. They probably consider it tacky now.

Astoria, Queens

The Athens Cafe, a classic Greek coffee shop where people could sip frappes and eat flaky honeyed pastries for hours, closed after 30 years. Now a trendy Southern spot where they slip duck fat in the biscuits takes its place. We went Saturday night. The biscuits were amazing. The duck fat really does add incredible flavor. What was my point again?

It’s getting crowded here. It’s getting younger too. Hipper. More hoodies and Chuck Taylors. More ironic beards than real ones. Tin ceilings in coffee shops. There are so, so many coffee shops. And rents! Gah! Don’t even talk to me about the rents.

But who am I to complain? Am I allowed to? Aren’t I being hypocritical?

I’m not a native New Yorker. I wasn’t raised in this neighborhood, or anywhere near it. I live in a city, where change is constant and inevitable. For me to expect Astoria to look and feel the way it did ten years ago is foolish and naive. This is not MY NEW YORK or MY ASTORIA. I didn’t found this city. I don’t get to decide who and what sticks around. I’m a hypocrite. I complain about change, while absolutely LOVING most of the changes.  Vin and I have tried almost every new restaurant in town. We are those assholes rolling in with wide-brimmed hats and skinny jeans. We would put subway tile in our kitchen if we had one. We crane our necks up at tin ceilings in coffee shops and sigh because we find them so beautiful. I’m exactly who real New Yorkers complain about when they complain about gentrification– I just got here earlier. Vinny gets a pass because he was born here, and also because he is Vinny, and Vinny is so damn charming it’s hard to be annoyed with him about anything. Plus, hello…his name is Vinny and what’s more New York than that?

Meanwhile, I worry about Old Astoria being pushed out by New Astoria. I sigh about potentially losing businesses I’ve never patronized. I want the shoe cobbler to have work forever. I don’t want the barber shop to let go of their striped pole or start serving shots of whiskey like they do in Manhattan. I hate how sugary their cakes are, but I’d never want that 60-year-old bakery to lose their lease.  What if they close the old vacuum repair shop? The one that fixes only 20-year-old models? Wouldn’t it be sad if that fabric store went away? What will become of the neighborhood if we lose the European housewares stores? The ones that sell fuzzy toilet seat covers and lace tablecloths that look like huge doilies? Where will Astoria find its charm then?

When I moved to Astoria ten years ago, it wasn’t the trendy neighborhood it is now. It was safe and there were plenty of things to eat here, but it wasn’t a place where the reputation was such that they could charge ridiculous rents for small, nondescript apartments. Now it is, which sucks, unless we are actually able to buy property here, in which case… keep growing Astoria! I think you need another really great pour-over coffee place on Steinway Street! See? Hypocrite!

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It’s early November, and the leaves are wearing their autumn colors. We don’t have a ton of trees on our block, but the ones we do have are definitely in their prime. It doesn’t get more beautiful than autumn leaves, it really doesn’t. Check your Instagram. Everyone agrees.

The changing of the leaves signals a last hurrah for the growing season, and the transition is fast, moving from green to red to gold to bare in a matter of weeks. We’re already through the better part of the show; the leaves will all be on the ground by next week, and the thought of it makes me sad. As the leaves fall and the branches go cold, I remind myself that time is a gypsy, forever packing up and traveling in and out of town. I remind myself that nothing is eternal; that everything–eventually– will change. That change can be good. That it’s all just a season.

sad tree

 

 

 

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About Jenn.


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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.

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