Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Tripping Around the Sun

**I’ve learned over the last few months how easy it is to break good habits. I think the last time i posted on here I wrote about completing the book of essays I wrote, polishing it up and sending it off to publishers. In the meantime, I was really going to ramp up content over here in order to get marketing going. HAHAHAHA! Well clearly I am totally full of it, because I have done none of those things in the last few months. I had two people read the book, who both gave me terrifically constructive feedback, and then I never looked at it again. I think I needed a break from writing for a while. As i tried to put this post together it did kind of feel like getting back on a bicycle, except the chains are rusted and dragging on the ground. Forgive me for being clumsy; I’m trying to get my groove back, and this little post is my way of putting the training wheels back on.**

 

I published my first blog post the day before my 33rd birthday. It’s sort of cute but not mind-blowing. That was just about eight years ago exactly. Quick! Do the math!

Today is my 41st birthday, and rather than ebullient I tend to get reflective on my birthday so I thought i’d blow the dust off this thing and clear the cobwebs from my middle-aged brain. When exactly does middle age start anyway? Is it 42, 45? When you start singing Lionel Richie tunes in the shower? When you find the first gray hair in your eyebrow? Cause that literally happened yesterday. My biology has a strong sense of humor.

I’m about 30 minutes into 41, and so far, I like it. I woke up this morning to find three yellow roses laid on top of my computer, right in the window of the rising sun. At first blush it looked like my laptop was being laid to rest. Then I went to pee, and found three more roses propped against the medicine cabinet. I stumbled toward my dresser to fondle my gray eyebrow in the mirror– and there was another one. Moved toward the kitchen for my coffee mug, there were a few more leaned against the wall, right below my beloved spice shelves. And finally- because he always knows exactly what I want– three yellow roses hugged the top of my coffee machine. The color yellow symbolizes optimism, warmth, joy and happiness and I’m pleased to report that at this phase, on this morning, I feel all those things.

I’m writing this outside on my sliver of a patio in Queens and it is by all accounts, my happiest place. The sun warms the top of my scalp and if I weren’t surrounded by so much concrete I’d swear I’d stumbled into a nature preserve–that’s how loud the birds are chirping. There’s a slight breeze, cool enough that I’m able to wear sweatpants, and it moves gently through the swelling rose bush and my stalks of herbs that are finally growing legs. When the wind hits the right direction, I catch the faintest hint of basil. The universe knew I was supposed to be born in June.

At 41, I get excited by the strangest things. Every time I replace an old sponge at the kitchen sink, it brings a small thrill. Each night I put on flip-flops and carry scissors into my garden to collect the fresh oregano or cilantro for that evening’s dinner creation. In the mornings, before the sun is in full blaze, I water my herbs and flowers with military precision, making sure each spot is adequately tended. I hang my clothes each night on slim hangers that are all exactly the same size. These are little victories that represent a more stable, settled life.

I’m paying attention to my deepest needs and making sure I take the time to get them met. I started my own therapy and am in the midst of planning some career changes that may reduce some stress from my life. More and more, I trust and follow my instincts, even if I’m not making a popular choice. I’ve taken some time to get to know myself better, and I if I do say so myself, I like what I see.

Anyone who knows me knows I’ve been 41 forever– for the last 20 years at least– and it’s a delight to have the rest of my peers catch up. No one wants to meet at noisy lounges anymore or grab drinks at an expensive bar until 2 am. We’re content to linger on back patios or sit around in pajama pants in each other’s living rooms for brunch (I’m overdue to host one by the way). Friends geek out over food with me, humor me about my love for flea markets and fruit stands, send me pictures of beautiful dishes on Instagram. I always knew I’d find comfort in this phase of life, and I’m feeling good about the ground I’m standing on.

Last night, Vinny and I sat in our front yard on two orange chairs, one of which was a gift from one of my best friends several birthdays ago. We both propped cookbooks in our laps, thumbing through pages like they were magazines. Mine was a beautiful vegan book; his was, of course, a tribute to the art of making pie. The last few nights we’d heard the chimes of the Mr. Softee truck ringing down the streets and were hopeful we’d have a better chance of catching it if we waited outside.

We sat out there for an hour waiting for an ice cream truck that never came, and I’m sure if I looked hard enough I could find some type of metaphor in that. But the only thing I’ll ever remember about that night is how content I was to sit in my small front yard reading cookbooks with my best pal, overlooking this quiet street in a neighborhood I love so much. At one point, I looked at my husband–who looks slightly less boyish than he used to– and asked, “Wait, are you becoming a foodie?” Something was settling in him too. Suddenly he was captivated by a cook book and he’d recently ordered a tub of seasoning off the internet so he could cure his own Koji beef.

“I think I might be,” he said, and in that moment, all my birthday wishes came true.

 

 

 

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The Problem with Bias

 

Owning a two-family home is a very strange thing. There’s part of your house you never see, that you’re not allowed to enter, like your fancy friend’s piano room where they had all the breakable stuff and white upholstery. When it’s filled with tenants (which we always want it to be!), you wonder how it’s doing. How’s it decorated? Does the radiator make too much noise? Are they happy here? Has anyone punched a hole in the wall recently?

In January, our very first tenants moved out. They were great neighbors and we were sad to see them go. They were a Muslim family who owned hookah bars on a nearby street lined with Middle Eastern businesses. When they signed the lease in 2016, we had no idea the wife was already several months pregnant. I learned that a month or two later when I saw her taking out the trash with unshaven legs and a huge belly. Let’s just be honest– Vin and I were not happy about it.

Anyone who’s ever ridden in an airplane or lived in an apartment has worried about being disrupted by a constantly crying baby. The wife was due in December, so we enjoyed our last wail-free months as though we were expecting a baby of our own. Then the baby came on Christmas Day and was the most beautiful child I’d ever seen. His eyelashes curled up to his forehead and his full jet black hair laid across his tiny head like a rug. His parents carried him into the doorway of his first home– our home– and soon after, all (ok, most) of my fears about living below a baby went away. Obviously we heard him crying from time to time, but it didn’t disrupt my life and truthfully, his parents made more noise than he did. On warm evenings when I sat out front,  the older brother or father would sometimes prop the baby in my lap for a few minutes if they were coming in or out. There was something really sweet about having a family living above us. It gave our house warmth, and it made the street feel more neighborhoody. (I know that’s not a real word, but people use it all the time, so I’m taking liberties).

Sometimes I really like being wrong.

When our tenants told us they were leaving for a bigger space, my hope was that another family would occupy the space, or at the very least, another couple. Families and couples tend to plant roots longer than roommates, and we didn’t want to have to continuously look for tenants. There’s only so much touch-up painting I can do before I start to lose my spirits and good humor.

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For three weekends straight, we lined up showings with various pairings of couples, friends and siblings. We met two dancers trying to get their big break in the city and several sets of young lovebirds looking for their first shared apartment. One couple was only weeks away from their wedding; another was nervously expecting their first baby. Their families came from Spain, Serbia, Italy, India, Puerto Rico. One woman was even from Texas. Meeting prospective tenants was fun. It’s really nice to get to know people in your neighborhood without having to leave the house.

My top draft choice was a couple (he Muslim, she Mexican) with a little baby girl named Valentina. They were sweet, kind of quiet, and if I’m being honest, the idea of keeping our famously multicultural neighborhood diverse will always appeal to us in a major way. (*Clearly, we have no control over who actually applies to live here, and choosing or rejecting someone based on their ethnicity is total housing discrimination– just sayin’).

They kept calling us and asking questions; they wanted to know how many other people had inquired about renting the apartment, when the move-in date would be, what the school situation looked like. I was pretty sure we had found our tenants and new neighbors, and felt great relief. But then they ended up getting a place closer to the wife’s job. I was totally bummed. I’d just gotten over my fear of living below a house filled with children, and then none of them apply to live here.

Want to know who did?

THREE different sets of very young, white, male roommates.

I started picturing stacks of empty, grease-stained pizza boxes and dishes piled to the top of an overflowing sink. I thought of the marble floor in the bathroom covered in misdirected pee. I thought of noisy Friday nights with two drunk dudes stumbling up the stairwell that runs over my head. Our old neighbors grilled sheep in our driveway for Eid al Adha; I pictured the new tenants asking to borrow our folding table so they could set it up for beer pong.

I thought back to all the young white dudes I knew in my early 20s. The ones who funneled beer and belched the alphabet. The ones who asked me out and never called again. I’d had some unsavory experiences with young white guys. Never once did I consider the good experiences with young white guys (like, ummm, marrying one?). That’s how bias starts, right?

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Ultimately, we found our tenants– two 23-year-olds straight out of college, just starting their very first jobs in the big city. I was sick with the flu the day they saw the apartment, and had no idea what to expect. On move-in day, two sets of parents pulled up front and helped them move in a few humble pieces of hand-me-down furniture and cheap rugs. It was like day one at the college dorm. I kept expecting someone to drag in a lava lamp or a giant Pulp Fiction poster, but then remembered it was 2018.

After they’d settled in a bit, I went upstairs to introduce myself to our new tenants and their parents.

I saw their faces and my whole attitude switched. They looked so young, like kids. They were born the year I graduated high school. They’ve barely squeaked their way into the millennial generation. Suddenly I found my attitude toward them softening. I felt oddly protective of them, like a big sister or den mother. Once their parents drove away I found myself wanting to make sure they had sufficient blankets and nourishing snacks. As Vin and I ate dinner I wondered if I should ask them to come down and join us. They hadn’t gone out or ordered takeout, and I began to grow concerned. Why had I been so afraid of these two?

They’ve been upstairs for two months, and I have to admit– they are delightful people and fabulous tenants. They are incredibly studious and hard-working, responsible and respectful. They work out at 6am before going to the office and keep their TV at a reasonable volume. They do their partying outside the house. There is no screaming or stomping or yelling happening upstairs. They lock all the doors and separate the trash. On Sundays, they sit out front and read in the sun, just like me. They venmo the rent to us a day before it’s due. Two weeks ago they rang our doorbell and gifted us a bottle of wine to say thank you. I find myself hoping they will sign the lease for another year or two. Everyone warned us about becoming landlords, and how hard it would be to find good tenants. I was really worried that young guys would be a terrible fit, but the truth is, you never really know what people are like until you take the time to know them.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, sometimes I really like being wrong.

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I Like Home Too.

 

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Vin and I have this game we play every time we get out of town. He’ll ask, “Can you imagine growing up here? What do you think you would have been like?”  “Do you think you’d be different?” Vin has only lived in New York City, and I think he has a difficult time imagining life any other way.

Whenever he asks these questions, we’re usually in a car whizzing by houses that are much, much larger than ours or walking down an impeccably clean street that smells like jasmine or gardenias. Sometimes we’re in a charming local store sniffing woodsy paraffin candles or admiring jars of rosemary-infused jams. On rare occasions we’re in a place so different from home it’s almost impossible to imagine a life there– on a bone-white patio perched on the edge of the bright-blue sea in Greece, or sweating in late December on the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan.

We think about how our lives could have turned out differently if we’d grown up in really small American towns like Saugerties, New York or Fredericksburg, Texas; if we’d have liked the same music or had the same types of friends. I wonder what kinds of jobs local kids have in the summertime and what their parents cook them for dinner. I wonder what dishes are becoming the blueprint for every future memory associated with home. If I’d grown up in New England maybe I’d reach for a bowl carved from soft bread and filled with clam chowder when I was having a bad day. If Cincinnati was home, I’d put chili on a plate of spaghetti and cover it with cheese instead of pour it inside a bag of Fritos and top it with raw onions.

And because I live here, I often wonder how different I’d be if I’d spent my childhood in New York City. Would I be a little tougher, a little quicker to assert myself? Would I have spent weekends touring museums instead of laying out in the sun? I sometimes look at my husband and think he would have been exactly who he is no matter where he was. Or maybe I just have a hard time imagining him any other way.

After a while we flip to, “What do you think? Think you could live here?”

Vinny always answers no. Sometimes in calmer, smaller towns, I picture myself in my 60s and answer yes. The only time I answered “Absolutely! I could move here right now!” was in Barcelona. I cried after our last dinner there because I wasn’t ready to go home. That’s the only place that ever happened in, and I think it means something, but I’m not sure what. At the very least I should probably start brushing up on my Catalan.

 

 

Last week we took a trip to the American South, starting in Charleston then driving our way to Savannah, and I don’t know why I never realized before how beautiful that part of our country is. The buildings are old and ornate with long skinny porches that creak underfoot and host hanging baskets of pink and yellow begonias and climbing trellises of ivy. Black wooden shutters frame windows and delicate iron gates tiptoe around small front yards and walkways. Narrow alleys are lined with cobblestones and history and the scent of very old money. Fathers take their boys to fish for bass and bream in the shallow salt marshes and tidal creeks. Majestic live oaks arch overhead and drip with Spanish moss like some kind of gothic fairytale dream, and just when you think the entire world has turned green an azalea bush erupts in a riot of hot pink.

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We check into our candy-colored bed and breakfast in Charleston and take a deep breath of fresh spring air on our side porch. We dress for dinner, which we’ve already decided will be fried chicken and crab cakes, served in a wallpapered room in the back of a restored Victorian house.

We carry our craft cocktails to the table and the waiter says to us, “I knew you folks were from New York City the minute you walked in, and I mean that as a compliment.”

“Thank you, “I say. “We take it as one.”

We spend the next few days walking around, taking our time, sleeping in formal old homes where we sip peach tea on swinging benches and cutting quick paths to our next restaurant. Once we start eating we don’t stop. We eat like our time on earth is running out. We slurp she-crab soup thickened with heavy cream and sweetened with sherry, stand in line for tiny buttermilk biscuits we coat in butter and sticky honey, dive into bowls of collard greens seasoned with ham hocks and tangy vinegar.  We swipe fried pimento balls through a river of green tomato relish and swirl a tiny pool of butter into a bowl of creamy hominy grits, topped with tiny bits of bacon and shrimp the size of my elbow. We did this for five nights and six days, until our wallets and waistbands quietly whispered, “Go home. ” Vinny demolished half an apple pie in the uber on the way to the airport.

We take our quick flight, eager to land before the impending snowstorm. We’d given ourselves a quick glimpse of springtime, but were headed back to our cold New York City winter. On the plane I read a book about traveling that I’d borrowed from my friend and dream about all the delicious places in this world I’d be lucky to see.

Eventually we begin our final descent and I look to my left at the familiar skyline unfolding beneath me. A smile spreads across my face like softened butter. Vin is asleep, so I nudge him gently in the arm. “Wake up, Vinny. We’re home.”

“Yay”, he says, and rubs his eyes. “I’m glad we’re here. I like home.’

“I like home too”, I say, and reach to get my bag.

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Under the Radar NYC: A local’s guide to the best non-trendy shops in Manhattan

I used to hide all my inside-spots like acorns, afraid of never getting a table again or walking in a store and knocking elbows on every aisle. But lately, I feel the need to compulsively tell everyone all about my favorite places in New York City, not out of generosity so much as fear.

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When I moved here 18 years ago (Eighteen! That’s almost 20!!), I was blown away by all the restaurants and merchants that were completely unique to the city. I refused to patronize chain stores and restaurants because there was never any need to. I’d buy Asian slippers and tiny ceramic dishes at Pearl River Mart and wander for hours at the slightly grungy Antique Boutique on Broadway, where I bought my first “winter” coat at 22. It was leather and dark purple. I bought it second-hand, and it looked like it’d been pummeled with a stick. One day I got caught in the rain and all the color drained right off of me and pooled onto the cement. I’d never heard of anyone spray-painting leather before and was completely mesmerized by the novelty. An American Apparel store now occupies the space. Blech.

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Lately, walking around the East Village on my lunch break has become a bit of a downer, as I pass so many empty storefronts that used to be filled with tiny cafes, ethnic specialty stores and funky gift shops. With rents in the city what they are– and Amazon at all our fingertips– I worry that the owners of my favorite local businesses will be out of a job in the next few years. I just finished reading “Vanishing New York”, and if you’re as concerned as I am about hyper-gentrification, you should give it a read too.

So I’ve created a selfish little list here. These are the businesses I frequent a lot and worry most about. I want everyone to know and love them as much as I do so they get to stick around another 50 years. Almost all of them are inexpensive, under-the-radar, and not trendy in the slightest. No one instagrams or twits about these places, which means they need help to keep their spirit (and their storefronts) alive. I’ve got a whole other list of Astoria, Queens businesses I’ll share later because my sweet little hood is stocked with terrific small shops.

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Dual Specialty Store: My favorite little shop in all of NYC. Just around the corner from the street affectionately known as Curry Row sits this tiny delight of an Indian and Middle Eastern spice and food store. If you love to cook, you’ll be mesmerized by the variety of spices and herbs here, all priced really well. Also a great place if you’re into incense, oils, roots, powders and obscure natural remedies. (East Village)

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Kaluystan’s: This is far from a hidden gem, and it’s basically Dual Specialty Store but bigger with an absolutely stunning array of food products. This is an international culinary wonderland, and I’m not being hyperbolic. If you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it probably doesn’t exist. (Murray Hill)

The Strand: The greatest bookstore in all the land! Every morning I struggle to not spend 20 or 30 minutes browsing their dollar bins outside. This place is a New York institution and if it ever closed there’d be anarchy in the streets. (Union Square)

Himalayan Vision: I remember being mesmerized by this tiny Tibetan store when I first moved to the city, and sometimes I can’t believe that it’s still open. I love decorating with their bright and beautiful throw blankets (currently on sale for $25) and it’s a great place for tiny trinkets, jewelry and gifts. PS: there’s another Tibetan store called Mandala on the next block. (East Village)

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WAGA African & Ethnic Shop: The gorgeous woven baskets out front make my heart skip a beat every time I walk by this special little shop on St. Mark’s. (East Village)

Paper Presentation: There are tons of chain stationary stores in the city, but I will always have a soft spot for Paper Presentation. The space is vast and beautiful, their selection of paper products simply exceeds all others and the prices are reasonable. A great place to visit if you’re even moderately crafty. (Flatiron District)

Zabar’s: The Upper West Side would lose their crown jewel if anything ever happened to Zabar’s! This quintessential NYC grocery store has an amazing cheese counter, babka, bagels and all the traditional delicatessen fare. Their top floor has great cooking and baking supplies, and if you ever need to send a gift basket that screams “I love NY”, this is the place to order it from. (Upper West Side)

Physical Graffitea: Physical Graffitea is a tiny tea emporium on the ground floor of the historic “Physical Graffiti” buildings that graced the cover of the Led Zeppelin album of the same name. Their selection is out of control, and the owner loves helping customers find their ideal blend. (East Village)

Tal Bagels: Old school bagels with just the right chewy-on-the-inside/slightly crisp on the outside texture, plus a huge counter of smoked fish. My favorite bagels in the city. This is the real deal. (Upper West and East Side locations)

Porto Rico Importing Company: My first, last and everything when it comes to all things coffee. Another NYC gem that’s made it over 100 years and is still kicking. I buy my coffee (French Sumatra, dark roast, whole beans) from this little stall across the street across from my office, and it’s the highlight of my week. Big bonus–it’s only $10 a pound for my favorite blend, which ends up being equal to most grocery store brands! I buy all my filters and little extras there too because I want this local business to thrive! (East Village, Greenwich Village, Williamsburg, Lower East Side locations)

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Chinatown Ice Cream Factory  These days there are a million places all over the city to get artisanal ice cream in wacky flavors (my other favorites are Morganstern’s (Chocolate Malt and Coconut Ash are TO DIE) and a combo of Earl Gray/Bourbon Vanilla at Van Leeeuan. But Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is not trendy anymore, and in this world of Instagrammable milkshakes, that’s a real problem. Flavors like green tea, red bean and mango will always have my heart. (Chinatown)

Eisenberg’s  If Carnegie Deli can bite the dust, anyone can. The lines for Katz’s are always around the corner, but I sometimes worry about a little lunch counter called Eisenberg’s (open since 1929) in the Flatiron District. If you’re in the mood for an egg cream, matzoh ball soup or great pastrami on rye as well as a heavy dose of major New Yawk nostalgia, please plan a lunch here soon. (Flatiron District)

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery  Truth be told, I hate knish. They’re really dense and heavy and just not my thing. But this place has been a fixture on the Lower East Side for over 100 years, and if it ever went away, it’d be a real loss for the neighborhood and the city. Grab an egg cream while you’re there. (Lower East Side)

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East Village Cheese– this post sat in my drafts folder so long that it’s already closed… NO MORE CHEAP CHEDDAR FOR ME!

McNulty’s Tea- Another amazing super-old-school tea shop that looks like an apothecary with huge jars filled with loose leaves. (Chelsea)

RIP: Antique Boutique, The Place, CBGBs, Broadway Panhandler, Bamiyan, Dojo’s, Yaffa Cafe, Carnegie Deli, Pearl River Mart (especially the original location on Canal), F.A.O. Schwartz, Caffe Dante (they once microwaved a croissant for me to refresh it later in the day, but still- a Greenwich Village institution!), the Campbell Apartment, the original Pommes Frites (I’ll never get over it), Yellow Rat Bastard, all the silly shoe shops on 8th Street

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In Texas, it’s like borrowing a cup of sugar.

 

Did I ever tell you the story of how my dad met his next door neighbors? It is perhaps the most Texan story of all time. It’s really funny.

My dad lives between Galveston and Houston in a small marina town called Kemah; in the 2010 census the population was 1, 773. There’s a wharf down the road where people park their boats and a line of seafood shops sell fresh flounder and enormous shrimp shaped like bananas. Dad built his house on a large plot of land on the edge of a small lake, a body of water so placid and tranquil it barely ripples, even in a hurricane. Dad’s yard is the perfect place to drink a refreshing cocktail and watch the sun set. Every time I visit I’m reminded how different our lifestyles are.

One day, Dad was doing some work in his yard when a big snake slithered along his path. Now dad has all types of undomesticated animals wander around his area and come through his yard– coyotes howl at night, geese do running leaps across the grass and dozens of turtles line the edge of the lake, their hard shells docked along the shoreline like colossal skipping stones. One time we had to have a bobcat rescued from the top branch of an oak tree. Its eyes were piercing hazel and lined by a rim of bright white fur–gorgeous but terrifying.

Dad also has many domesticated animals, as he and his wife rescue anything with four legs. Most things wouldn’t cause a stir, but snakes could cause major harm to their six dogs and two cats. According to legend (aka: my father’s retelling), he handled seeing the snake in a very brave and masculine way, then ran a few blocks to the house next door to ask for help from his new neighbors. He still hadn’t met them yet.

Dad ran up to their front door which was framed by two box ferns and adorned with a seasonal homemade wreath.

“Hey! I live next door. Do you have a gun I can borrow?” He dropped his hands on his knees as he struggled to catch his breath.

“You don’t have a gun?” the neighbor asked. He wore blue jeans and a belt buckle the size of a salad plate. They called him Longhorn Bob, because he raises longhorns. Years later, at my wedding, he did a bidding call to auction off dances with me and Vin. He also served our friends shots from his best bottle of tequila.

“I don’t have a gun. But I have a snake I need to shoot.” said Dad.

Bob closed the door a bit and whispered to his wife Cindy, a beautiful blonde who rolls 60 enchiladas on Sundays just in case people stop by. “Cindy, this guy says he lives next door and he needs to borrow a gun to shoot a snake. What should I do?”

“How do we know he’s not gonna shoot his wife?” asked Cindy. This was a fair question.

“I don’t understand,” said Bob. “Why doesn’t this guy have a gun?”

When Dad retold the story to me, I laughed at the irony of the situation. My father didn’t seem suspicious because he was holding a gun, he was suspicious for not owning one.

Isn’t that funny?

 

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My Achy Valentine

 

Thursday, 4:15pm 

I take a sip, and immediately know. I’d just led a group in my office and had offered everyone present water or tea. I keep a little mug tree on my desk and most of the time consider it a pretty nice touch for a therapist’s office, except on the day everyone puts their dirty cups in the same spot and I mistakenly grab one thinking it’s mine.

Jenn: “OMG I’m panicking because I think I accidentally drank water out of someone else’s cup. I know I have the cold and the flu and probably Ebola.”

Vinny: “Haha, oh no!”

J: I’m going home to pour a bucket of hot salt water down my throat. This might be it for me. Game over.”

V: Ok baba. Get to gargling. You’re not going to die.”

J: “Don’t forget that I love you. We had a lot of good times.”

V: “You’ll be fine.”

J: “You can remarry. I don’t want you to starve.”

V: “Stop! You’re fine. But yeah– you better gargle that salt water.”

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Friday morning:

The staff doctor calls in sick. (in a health clinic, this is the sign of the end). The receptionist looks overwhelmed and slightly feverish.

Friday early evening:

Vinny finally arrives home after a week-long ski trip in Vermont where he’d been hurtling himself through fresh powder and guzzling hot chocolate with shots of whiskey. I pull myself off the couch to greet my husband in paint-covered black sweatpants and a dirty shirt. My head wobbles on my shoulders; its weight substantial and cumbersome. He immediately has to rush out to a work function.  I immediately rush to bed.

Saturday morning: 

I wake up to fresh flowers and crippling fatigue. I know right away I will spend the entire day on the couch with a jug of ginger tea and a remote control. Vinny heads upstairs with his father to paint the rental apartment. Throughout the day, groups of people tour the place, all of them healthy and attractive. I greet them from my horizontal position on the couch in a plush white robe. Refusing to shake anyone’s hand, I offer up a few patriotic salutes.

Flashes of warmth course through my neck and shoulders, so I’d remove the robe and immediately start to shiver. Beads of sweat pooled at the base of my neck, then they’d dry and I’d be cold all over again. Per my request, Vin went to the grocery to buy a whole organic chicken and a huge stick of ginger. I taught him how to make “my great healing soup” from my spot on the couch. The only thing he’d ever boiled before was hot dogs. Watching him skin and debone a whole chicken for me brought tears to my eyes. He takes my temperature throughout the day, presses his cool palm into my hot forehead.

Sunday- Monday:

Still achy and fatigued and laying prostrate on the couch. By late Monday, feeling better– take a walk, call clients and tell them I’ll see them in the morning.

Tuesday morning:
I’m dressed and ready to go to work when my knees start to buckle and the idea of walking a few blocks to the subway seems an impossible feat. I feel much better than I had days ago, but still worried about getting others sick.

“I think I need to check in with a doctor,” I say to Vin, who was just about to leave for work too.

We get in the car and drive to urgent care, where they should consider changing their name because we sat in a windowless exam room for an hour waiting for the PA. Vinny played with every instrument in the doctor’s office before i was finally declared flu-free. We go to the pharmacy to pick up my meds, and Vin waits another 30 minutes in the car. It’s now 12:30 and he’s several hours late for work. It reminds me of how I got sick on our honeymoon, and instead of complaining about not being able to go out and do stuff, he spent an hour brushing tangles out of my windblown hair.

Tuesday evening:

Text message from Vinny,” Make some room on that couch baba. So so achy.”

Jenn: “Oh no! Not you too!”

V: ” I think this is the big one. You should remarry. I want another person to eat as well as I have.”

After a crappy subway ride home, Vinny opens the door and heads for the couch. I lay a blanket on him, the raggedy white throw I’d been coughing into for days. I cover his feet, and start the pitcher for tea. I touch his hot forehead with the cool palm of my hand and tell him to get some rest.

It’s my turn.

On and on we go.

And I can’t think of anything more romantic.

tea

My Great Healing Soup

-one whole organic chicken (skin removed)

-1 whole stick of ginger root, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

-as many cloves of fresh garlic as you can handle (i go for 6-8)

salt + pepper to taste

Boil all this together for a long time until it tastes really gingery and really garlicky. Remove chicken and shred, then put it back in the pot. That’s it.

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Somethin’ Peed in the Christmas Decor

For a long time, my husband and I rented a basement apartment in Queens. The ceilings were a hair over six feet and the particleboard cabinets had begun to crumble from the edges inward. My closet was in the kitchen and we served appetizers from our bedroom’s dresser drawers during house parties. Lacking adequate space, we stored the overflow in a dank unfinished cave behind the home’s washer and dryer. Most of our possessions back there eventually smelled like mildew, but one cold December day, they reeked of urine.

I don’t like to brag, but I have the greatest sense of smell on God’s green earth. It’s an extraordinary gift when seasoning dinner or saving people from burning buildings, but it’s a real drag when garbage has overstayed its welcome or something’s peed on your Christmas decorations. I’d just stumbled on a box filled with tinsel that smelled like a litter box and it made me feel very unfestive.

christmas decor

I called out to my husband. “Hey Vin! Come sniff these decorations. They smell like pee.”

Vinny thinks I experience olfactory hallucinations because he never smells what I smell, so when he agreed about the urine I knew I wasn’t crazy. It’s nice to have this confirmed now and then.

“Some kind of animal must have gotten down here,” I said.

“Jenn, we’re in Queens. When have you ever seen an animal?” Ummm, did he not remember the rat from last year?

The smell was so strong I began to feel nauseous, and I worried my eyes might never uncross. I wanted to uncover the mystery, but I also needed our Christmas box to spontaneously burst into flames or grow wings and fly itself to the curb.

Vin stroked his beard like an ancient wizard; in times of crisis or uncertainty, he looked to his facial hair as a sort of oracle. Finally he offered, “What if Vito did it?”

Vito was our former landlord, a funny and engaging man with whom we’d always gotten along really well. So when my husband accused the man of marching into his own house and marking his territory like a feral donkey, I thought he was the one hallucinating. It reminded me of the time I heard meowing on the subway and instead of looking for a cat began searching for a person with a bizarre vocal talent.

‘Why would someone pee all over his own property?” I asked.

“Maybe he was working down here and had no other choice. ”  he said.

I’d always admired mens’ ability to relieve themselves at their leisure. The female anatomy made spontaneous evacuation a much more challenging task, with all the hiding and squatting and modesty and whatnot.

I wasn’t ready to rule out a critter, but Vinny was convinced it was human pee, especially after discovering his grandparents’ vintage ornaments were missing.

vintage ornaments

“The ornaments are GONE! You wanna tell me a raccoon came down here and stole them? It had to be a person, Jenn.”

“Let me get this straight,” I debated. “You think our landlord came down here, took a pee in a box, then stole our ornaments?”

“YES.”

I dropped the subject, exhaled, and delivered the stinky box to the trash. Eventually we found the ornaments and ruled out our landlord as primary suspect. We found the mouse droppings an hour later, like tiny lumps of coal. We sang some carols, hung our stockings and toasted with eggnog.

Then we lit a big freaking candle so Christmas could smell like peppermint again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is Laziness. But this is also Love.

 

This weekend we painted for two days straight. Our upstairs apartment is back on the market, and the previous tenants dinged and bruised every square inch of wall on the way down. Friday night we tackled the bedrooms. I picked out a lovely, subtle shade of very faint gray.  I hope the new tenants are fond of their new light blue sleeping quarters.

Saturday morning we bought more paint and brushes and a bag of bagels, then I put on a big pot of coffee to share with Vin’s father, a man who says very little but always helps us a lot. We taped and edged and rolled for hours until every inch of the living room and front hallway was covered in a ridiculously crisp white. I’d asked for “the most popular shade of white” at our paint store, and apparently the people in our neighborhood eschew soft creamy shades in favor of a blinding institutional glow.

Sunday morning I had intentions to hit the gym and the grocery store before nine, but instead hit snooze for two full hours. My back ached, my legs wobbled and even my knuckles felt sore. I felt like an old dog, tired down to my bones. Breathing in paint fumes for two days made me groggy and lightheaded. I woke up at 8, and stumbled to our windows to open the dated vertical blinds we still haven’t gotten around to replacing. The sun sucker punched me, right in the eye. I let out a whine like a cranky child.

All I wanted was coffee because all I ever want is coffee.

good coffee

I’m one of those people who normally spends 20 minutes grinding whole beans and pouring hot water over fresh grounds through a funnel. There’s a whole meditative ritual behind it, watching the liquid drip through the paper and into the carafe, but in those moments when you really just need to mainline caffeine that whole rigamarole is too high-maintenance. That’s why a traditional drip coffee maker will always be welcome in my home.

But that morning, my laziness hit an unprecedented peak. I was too tired to make my own coffee– pour over or otherwise. I rang a little bell, hoping the butler might fetch me one. No one came, of course, so I hauled my tired ass to the upstairs apartment to get my coffee maker. It was still half full from the day before. I considered it a sign to take it easy, and against (anyone’s, everyone’s) better judgment, decided to reheat my day old coffee instead of making a fresh two cups.

I searched my kitchen for a pot because as much as I was willing to lower my standards, even I was too good for microwaved day-old coffee. Suddenly I remembered that my small pot was in the fridge holding Thursday night’s chili; I should have transferred it to Tupperware, but never got around to it.

So I did the next best thing and poured the cold coffee into a saute pan. I was totally out of Half and Half (WHY GOD WHY?) so I poured a thimble of two percent milk into the saute pan, then showered a teaspoon of saigon cinnamon over the top in my attempt to be civilized.

I cranked up the flame and when it came to a respectable temperature I poured it into my mug, where a nasty milk film spread like a virus across the top. I took a sip and began to gently weep.

“It’s still coffee,” I muttered under my breath, trying to convince myself that things weren’t so dire. I finished the whole appalling mug while laying across the couch in mismatched socks and a white chenille robe surfing instagram with the kind of dead eyes you only see on a child playing Minecraft. I could not recall a time I felt so out of it, so completely opposed to movement or productivity. I realize that the parents among you have likely synchronized your eye rolls at my dramatics. That, or you get me. You really, really get me.

Finally, Vinny woke up and stumbled into the living room in his boxer shorts. He wiped the sleep from the corner of his eyes and asked me how my morning had been.

“Not great,” I said. “I feel totally wiped and I was so tired I didn’t even feel like making coffee.” I raised my sad cup of day old dregs to show him how far I’d fallen from grace. “I reheated yesterdays’ coffee in a saute pan and it was awful.”

“Do you want me to get you a cup of coffee?” he asked. A crown of heavenly light beamed around the circumference of his head. I bit my lower lip as I struggled not to cry.

“You would do that for me?” I asked. I acted like we live on a remote prairie and he’d offered to ride into town on a buggy to get me just one thing. It felt like the kindest gesture in the world.

Now’s a good time to tell you that we actually live across the street from a 24-hour deli. It is literally seven seconds from my home, door to door. They sell half & half there, as well as ready-made coffee. The idea of putting on a coat and shoes and walking across had been too much to bear. And so I waited a few hours for my husband to wake up so he could make the trip.

He put on his shoes and was out and back in less than a minute. I put the paper cup to my lips and let the liquid warm my mouth and stream down my throat. It was lukewarm and sharply bitter, an absolutely terrible cup of coffee. But I drank the whole thing anyway,  because his gesture had been so sweet.

 

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The Life of a Writer

I have been a writer for a very, very long time. I uncovered my talent early, scribbling furiously in little pink notebooks while splayed on my Laura Ashley bedspread. My childhood bedroom was furnished with alluringly feminine pieces–a Victorian style makeup table where I learned to smear glitter all over my face, a canopy bed of wrought iron from which I strung dead dried roses. Vines from our home’s exterior crept inside my front window. I enjoyed clipping them with nail scissors and pretending I was trapped in the tower of an air-conditioned suburban castle. My early setting was very dramatic and inspired my craft.

Recently, I came across a diary I kept throughout my eighth year as a preternaturally evolved person. Please enjoy the early works of a burgeoning artist.

Prologue:
“I’ll always keep this book close to my heart. Through all the years of my life, I will keep this. My favorite page is page 8 about my best friend and me being separated forever.”
Signed, Jennifer (age 8)

Page 4: A Poem
Up in the Sky
“The sky is blue
and the clouds a new
When I sit by the window sill,
Way up in the sky
so high, so high,
up to the brightest star, and I sit and I
sit, And wonder where you are.”
BY: Jennifer P.
March 5, 1986
third grade
age eight 8

Page 8:
“I’ll never forget the day my best friend Magic moved to New Jersey. Yes, it was sad to see my best friend moving, but, it was needed. For her grandmother was dying. It was a tragedy and I cried for her. But I’ll never forget Magic’s smile. And I garentee you she won’t forget mine. And here’s a song I wrote:

Why do we have to be separated like this. We were meant to be together forever forever friends we will be oh, friends together just you and me.

“These words mean a lot to me. Magic was a dear friend to me. And I bet your buckles Erika isn’t even writing in her journal about her moving even though she clams that Magic and her were best friends.

No they weren’t. “

***

(Can you believe I had a friend named Magic? Actually, her full name was Magic Rain And Moon Nelson D’Arienzo. This is what happens when you’re born in the ’70s.)… And yes, the “And” was capitalized.

IMG_5878

So, now do you get the idea? Do you see why I keep crackin’ away at this? You can’t ignore raw talent. You’ve either got it, or you don’t. Same goes for that latent bitchiness in my last entry. If it’s there, you just have to own it. I’m ready to step into my power guys.

So anyway, after a few years (I think it was 3.5, but possibly four!) I *finished* writing my memoir. I put the word finished in little brackets because it will never feel truly finished, I will never get it just right and if by some miracle I am able to get it published in the traditional sense, it’s most certainly not in final form. I’m pretty sure I overuse semi-colons to an almost criminal extent.

Part of me is reluctant to announce “I finished my book!” because now I’m on the hook for whatever comes next. And the truth is, I want something to come out of this. I spent a lot of time on this. I woke up at six–sometimes five– for years to get the writing in before work, when the house was quiet and my brain felt most alert. I wrote this entire thing while Vinny was sleeping; the dude never even saw me at my computer! I spent all spring and summer typing away on my little back patio and I wouldn’t be surprised if my next door neighbors think I have a gaming addiction with the amount of time they’ve seen me glued to my laptop.

I’ve read and fine-tuned each chapter a dozen times, and I can’t look at them anymore. I’ve clipped and rearranged and scrapped big chunks altogether. I’ve given it to a few people (the industry calls them beta-readers) and their feedback was encouraging. But still, when I look over it, I’m constantly asking myself, “Is this a book? Does it read like an actual book?” There are parts I know are good, and there are parts where I think it could be a lot better. It is nearly impossible to objectively read something you’ve written and get a grasp of whether it’s any good or not. Sometimes I read stuff I’ve written and get a kick out of it. Sometimes I read it back and think “Oh wow- this is trash.”

I have no delusions of grandeur here; I didn’t write the next great American novel and I am no Joan Didion. My book falls under the category of “lighthearted”, “easy to read” and “something you might throw in your beach bag”. I’m cool with it. I know what kind of writer I am. I’m hopeful that there are literary agents interested in publishing something like this, but really– I just have no idea what will happen next.

I will say that I am proud of myself for setting a goal and finishing it. Even if nothing happens next (which could very well be the case), I will always be able to say that I got this thing out of my head and onto paper, and I feel true relief in having done that. But if it doesn’t get published in the traditional sense, I will likely self-publish and advertise it here.

That’s where the next phase comes in — marketing myself. Sending queries to agents, proving to them I have a big enough platform to sell copies. Ugh, I’m so loathe to do this, but I’m pretty sure I have to. I’ll ask you this one time and then I’ll shut up about it, but if you like something you read here, please share it–either on social media or the old-fashioned way (with your mouth).

If you’re reading this, I appreciate you. I’ve taken some really long breaks and you stuck around! I’ve always had a really small readership, but it’s always struck me as a smart, encouraging, supportive and savvy one. Now that the book is done, I need to go out and find more people like you to join us here.

If you have any ideas on how to do that, I’m totally open to them. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be in the corner of everyone’s favorite restaurant, hashtagging my poached eggs so that shit can spread like Instagram wildfire.

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What To Do When You FINALLY Finish Writing Your Book (!)

 

Email Subject: Query: XXX (memoir/humor)

Dear kind, savvy and attractive literary agents (all 50++ of you),

I’m seeking representation for my memoir XXX. (My book is not titled XXX; I’m withholding here to add an element of surprise. On second thought though, that’s a pretty intriguing title, isn’t it?).

XXX is about a 22-year-old Gen-X Texas virgin who moves to New York City at the dawn of the millennium, marries a man named Vinny from Queens and fumbles through early adulthood while adjusting to significant cultural differences and a burgeoning digital age.

The story begins in puberty and ends on my 40th birthday, each essay chronicling an experience women of all ages can relate to or find humor in: growing up with quirky mixed-faith parents, a long season of sexual ungainliness, interviewing B-list celebrities as a hair magazine writer, competing on a TV dating show, awkward talks at the gynecologist’s office, urban house hunting adventures and basic reproductive turmoil. It also features practical advice on what to do if your boob explodes in a mental health clinic, you discover your landlord is a XXX (let’s keep that another surprise) and your husband grows a foot-long beard that makes him look like the caveman in a Geico commercial.

The 19 essays bounce between New York City and all across Texas, as my life has, for the last 18 years. Most of them are filled with loving and vivid descriptions of place, local characters, family and food—much of it deep-fried or slathered in bubbling cheese.

I’m a New York City psychotherapist who has been blogging about my personal life for the past few years. I intend to boost interest for this project by reigniting my lifestyle/writing blog Much to My Delight, while I continue developing stories for my next book.

Please let me know if you’d like to look over the completed 49,000 – word manuscript.

 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Jennifer P.

IMG_4598 *Hi everybody. It’s nice to be back. You’ll be seeing a   lot more of me. Unless you’re Tina Fey you need to   have an “established platform” to have a memoir   published these days. Stay tuned. Tweet at me, bro!

**I can’t believe I just told you guys I was a virgin at   22. I must really trust you. Although, if my Grandma is   reading this, I bet she’s feeling pretty smug.

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