Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight

Now you’re in New York

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

i love NYC

 

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Never Give a Hoarder a Cupcake

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Adventures in New York City house-hunting.

 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about living in New York City, it’s that anyone who lives here is always up for real estate chit-chat. As one of my friends said, it’s our version of discussing the weather.

That’s because there are always crazy experiences attached to renting apartments here.  We all have horror stories about roommates who watched us eat to make sure we didn’t drop crumbs on the floor, or cramped studios with rats the size of kittens, or kitchens without a single inch of counter space so you had to lay a cutting board over your stovetop just to cut into a tomato. We all know someone who paid $2,000 for an apartment that didn’t even have a refrigerator or were woken up every night to an opera singer practicing down the hall.

Most New Yorkers aren’t shy about how much rent they pay, especially if it’s below market. Whenever someone compliments my mother on a sweater or handbag, she quickly reveals the price she paid for it. “It was only 10 bucks! Can you believe it?” Sometimes she even keeps the tags on just to remind herself what a bargain she got. New Yorkers are the same way with rent; it’s a badge of honor to have landed a good deal. I knew a girl whose entire family has lived in the same apartment on Mulberry Street (the main street in Manhattan’s Little Italy) for over 100 years. The apartment is the size of a prison cell and there’s no tub or shower, so she’s spent her entire life washing herself in the bathroom sink. HOWEVER. It’s rent-stabilized at SEVENTY-FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH. That’s less than our cable bill.

I would absolutely give up bathing for $75 rent.

Anyway, I bring this up because like I’ve mentioned before, Vin and I are in the throes of looking for a new place. We’re moving on from renting to buying, essentially tethering ourselves not only to a huge financial anchor, but also to New York itself. Vinny is a native New Yorker, so permanently committing himself to his hometown is not something that triggers moments of panic or intense self-reflection. But for me–an import, a transient, another one of those NYC wannabes who rambled into the city from somewhere else– the switch from renter to buyer feels heavy and conclusive. My time here is no longer temporary, living in NYC is not something I’m scratching off a bucket list or  ”just trying on”  before really settling down. This concept of New York permanency is something I’m still wrapping my head around, because frankly, it’s not what I would have ever predicted for myself. When I first moved here, I thought I’d live in NYC two years, three years tops.

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Occasionally in this house-hunting process– usually after I shake my head in disbelief or gasp in disgust at a price on a completely unimpressive, yet ridiculously expensive property– Vin will look at me and apologize for being from New York City. He knows our lives might be a little easier if I’d married a nice boy from Omaha.

But I didn’t. I married a boy named Vinny from Queens and we spend our weekends scouting properties in the still (relatively) affordable parts of Brooklyn. If my estimations are correct, the down payment for a place in my husband’s hometown will cost right around what most people in my home state pay for their entire house.

I’m finding my adult life to be very entertaining so far.

In good news…we went to a bank recently to ask for a loan. And we got one! Our mortgage lender looks and sounds just like Sofia Vergara, and it’s nice to have something so pretty to look at while talking about something so stressful.

Because now, the fantasy portion of our house-hunting process is complete. No more sighing over beautiful brownstones with polished oak floors and winding staircases. We have a budget now. It’s about to get very real. The ads that amuse me most are, “Bring your architect and contractor!” Sometimes I think they’re tempted to quip: “And don’t forget your first-born child! You may need him as collateral!”.

So now we swap stories about how crazy buying a house or apartment in New York City is. We laugh over listings that park phrases like “in pristine condition” next to photos of dark, dingy caverns with wall-to-wall orange carpet and interior stone walls that look like something out of a Flintstone’s cartoon. We panic when we meet people at open houses who tell us they’ve put offers on four different homes in the past year, and lost them all to investors who made 100% cash offers on million dollar houses. We joke about trying to befriend elderly people in the neighborhood so we can have first dibs on their properties when they get ready to sell. Or, you know, die.

I asked our loan officer, “Have you ever heard of someone accepting an offer not because it was the highest, but because they liked the buyers?” I’m holding onto a faint hope that what Vinny and I lack in financial resources we can make up for in charm.

To my delight, her answer was yes. She’s heard of several situations where the sellers were eager to turn their keys over to people who they felt would really cherish the home. Not everyone wants to sell to developers or semi-professional house flippers with padded wallets.

So this weekend we’ll make our way back to Brooklyn. Vin will come equipped with lots of smart questions about boiler pumps and property taxes, and I’ll come in swinging a wicker basket filled with freshly baked mini-muffins, just in case the sellers are home.

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Top 8 Places I Dream About Moving To

Every time I post about the difficulties of living in New York, my friends opine on my Facebook wall. “Let’s all move away together!” “Commune time!” The thing that binds us here is not always NY itself, but the people here. What’s the fun of moving to a new place into a big house with ample parking if you don’t know anyone to invite over?

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So sometimes I fall down the rabbit hole of fantasizing about other places. I’ll see a program on HGTV or something where they’re fixing up some beautiful $250,000 house in Atlanta or South Carolina and I start pining for something a little easier, a little bigger. And weather! Enough with this frickackta winter weather! If we’re going to do a mass exodus, we are definitely following the sun.

And even though the likelihood of this ever coming to fruition– the mass exodus, all of us getting good jobs in the same area, the building of our commune–is extremely low,  I thought it would be fun to examine a few alternative living scenarios.

 

1. Austin, Texas

My top choice for alternative living is Austin. It’s a great town with wonderful people, amazing food, fantastic music and a million different things to do. The biggest bonus is that I already have family and friends there. Plus, breakfast tacos are my happy place.

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2. Charleston, SC

Never been, but I hear it’s warm and sunny with lovely architecture and delicious fried Southern food. Porches + lemonade + fried chicken= a life of fat pants and happiness. For some reason, I fantasize about what Charleston is like. Perhaps a visit is in order!

3. Santa Fe, New Mexico

I grew up with a dad who wore bolo ties through most of the early 90s, so I have a real soft spot for the American Southwest. We were the family with chili pepper lights on their Christmas tree and entire rooms dedicated to the traditional southwestern motif. I find the landscape and continuity of the architecture in Santa Fe really alluring, and my hair looks great in dry as opposed to wet heat.

4. Arizona

This pick is for our friend Aubrey, whose family lives in Scottsdale. I know this would be her top choice for exodus, and I think I could survive there as well, since I am programmed to love heat and dread winter. Unfortunately, I’m married to someone who I’ve heard will spontaneously combust if the temperature hits over 105, so this one might not work for us.

5. Santa Monica California

This won’t be much cheaper than the way we’re living now, and we’d probably spend half our day sitting in traffic, but I visited my best friend in Santa Monica two years ago and really fell in love with her lifestyle. I could work as a therapist to the stars and Vin could finally wear all his Rip Curl clothing in its intended setting.

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6. Portland, OR

We could line up a field with yurts and eat gourmet donuts all day. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.

7. New Orleans

I have a feeling our buddies Bridget and Chris would cast a vote for New Orleans, a city close to their heart. We could all live in historical homes and throw beads off our balconies during Mardi Gras parades. By night we’ll hit bars and hear zydeco. We’ll wake up on Sundays and eat beignets, all day.

8. Hawaii

As long as we’re talking about escaping crazy city life, we may as well do it up right. Aloha, bitches. Pass the spam fried rice.

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If you guys have any other ideas you’d like to share about a lovely place I may have overlooked, I completely welcome your input, even if there’s a strong possibility it will make me cry. Don’t be telling me about 75-degree day in your area right now. I’m emotionally fragile.

 

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I Found You

Sunday morning I told myself I was going to sit down and write but instead I stood up and walked out the door. It was still cold but the sun was shining, and I could think of nowhere I wanted to be more than Central Park. So I hopped on the subway and took myself for a stroll.

The snow still clung in patches and the tiny lakes were trapped under a sheet of ice. The trees were bare and with the exception of a random opera singer in a tunnel, the usual street performers were nowhere to be found. It’s the time of year when people are starting to come out of their cocoons and give a long walk a fair shot. It’s one of my favorite times of the year, when we all feel collectively hopeful. It felt like a beginning.

I walked to my favorite spot in the city, Bethesda Fountain. I sat and watched people take pictures of themselves with the frozen water as a backdrop. I watched a toddler dance to to the music from a saxophone player, who eventually bent down and gave her a high five. I did what i usually do, which is sit and look around and take stock of where I am and what’s around me.

And then I got a little teary-eyed, because I’m a sap and I can’t help myself.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and talk to the 22-year-old girl who moved here with only three duffel bags and an alarm clock and thank her for giving it a shot. I’d applaud her for listening to her gut and trusting her instincts. For trying something and sticking to it, even when it got difficult or lousy. For not listening to her father’s advice to stay put and look for a job in “corporate America” (sorry dad). For introducing us to penne a la vodka and street hot dogs and knish, even though they’re way too heavy and I sort of hate them.

New York is a fun place to visit and a hard place to live. It’s too expensive, too crowded, and too temperamental. Sometimes I hate that I love it, for those very reasons. I’ve taken steps backward, and made a few choices that in hindsight, I shouldn’t have. But moving here was never one of them. That 22-year girl really believed in us, and she did us both a favor. New York ain’t perfect, and neither am I.

But I’m glad we found each other.

 

 

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Last Friday Night

 

Hey! It’s Fashion Week in New York City! Know what relevance this event has in my life?

None! Bupkus! Nunca! No soy fashionista!

I mean, I’m not a total mess. I always make sure my pants fit and I’m not running around town in khakis and a tophat or anything, but the actual fashion scene is not one that I have ever been a part of.

But the food scene. That’s a scene I can get in on. Although, sometimes that’s pretty out of my league too.

Friday night Vin and I went out to dinner with our friend Zach, who used to live here but now lives in DC. Now this guy is a food connoissuer. He’s the kind of guy who roasts bone marrow in his home kitchen and breaks his wrist swirling wine after the waiter does his first pour. He can pick up on on notes and essences and knows all the right words to describe food like “astringent” or “gamy”. The cool part is that none of this comes off as remotely pretentious; he’s simply a guy who really knows about food and truly enjoys a sublime meal.

We knew we had to pick a good place for a palate of his pedigree.

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The first time we went to this particular restaurant it was located inside an old diner car. I ordered a spanish omelette, and when it arrived it had some kind of weird black gook mixed in among the potatoes.

“What’s this black stuff?” I asked the waiter.

“Oh, that’s brains.” I sent it back and asked for the brainless version. Save the jokes, please.

That restaurant closed when they lost their lease, and was replaced by two separate restaurants– one during the day and another at night. The day version is inside a classroom of an old school, which has since been converted to a museum that also serves as a dance club. You eat at kiddie’s desks and order off a chalkboard menu. New York City, man.

We went to the nighttime steakhouse, which is located inside an old auto-body warehouse. It’s an open kitchen, so you can watch the chefs sear filet mignon and furiously whisk pan sauces. You can also see your dinner swimming right around the cooks’ ankles, as there’s a fresh trout tank running along the bottom of the bar.

We ordered stuff like beef tartare with raw egg, foie gras gnocchi and a way too expensive bottle of wine. I reminded myself not to gasp at the prices and simply enjoy the atmosphere, my company and an exceptionally interesting meal. I also reminded myself not to think about the fact that my dinner had oxygen in its gills only ten minutes before being laid to rest on a mound of butter-braised cabbage.

Saving for a house is a real bitch in this town, marked by hand-wringing and sacrifices at every corner. But if you can’t go out and enjoy a pretentious meal every once in a while then why even bother trying to stay?

 

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An Update on our House Hunting and How We’ll Become Millionaires in Six Months

 

You didn’t click on that thinking I had the solution to getting rich, did you?  Oh, bless your heart. You did.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. I am looking for tips on how to become a millionaire in six months. Because most of the time, Vin and I feel like that’s what needs to happen in order to buy a decent-looking property in a safe, convenient neighborhood in New York City.

Sorry if this title was misleading. This post is really just an update on our housing situation. This past year has been all about saving for our first home purchase. We talk about it incessantly. Zillow and Street Easy are the new Facebook, refreshed constantly. I pin images of pristine white kitchens and he dreams of a covered place to park his car.  I allow myself to dream too…about how much easier this process would be ANYWHERE BUT HERE. Vinny never has those dreams. That man is a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker. His heels are dug into the concrete and they’re never leaving.

DSC_0739Cell phone right hand + hot beverage left hand = True New York style

So here we are. Still in our garden-level apartment in Queens, collecting nickels and crossing our fingers that rubbing enough of them against one another will scrabble together a down-payment for a house. This is another area where Vin is standing firm– we are buying a house, not a condo or co-op. It must be in New York City– not Jersey or Westchester or Connecticut or Long Island. And the kind of house we buy must accommodate more than one-family, so we can have tenants rent out the other floor and help us pay off the mortgage. It’s actually a really smart plan, and a great way to invest.

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<For non- NYC folks, these are the types of houses we’re interested in buying. Nothing flashy. Almost always attached, with two or three separate apartments inside. It’s the kind of house Vin grew up in, with all three floors occupied by family. But we want strangers so we can take their money. Yay!!  >

There are only a few problems. Multi- family houses are plentiful, stunning, and in immaculate condition in a few beautiful areas of Brooklyn like Cobble Hill, Park Slope and Fort Greene. Hooray, right?! But don’t throw any confetti our way- they are almost always several million dollars. I don’t know if you have gleaned this from me and Vin by reading this blog, but…we do not have several million dollars or a down payment befitting such a purchase. That’s some Sarah Jessica Parker shit.

We’d love a multi-family home in Queens, but we’re having trouble finding any in areas we’d consider living, or would have an easy time finding renters.  The neighborhood where we live now offers almost nothing. No one’s selling. The few who are are charging an absolute fortune or accepting only cash offers. CASH OFFERS! Who are these people that can give cash offers on a freakin’ house?!!

DSC_1349Perchance to dream–our ultimate NYC abode. We would rather live in one of these babies than a mansion anywhere else. The Brooklyn brownstone. Siiiiiiiiiigh.

And then there are the old-school brownstones in the “still up and coming” neighborhoods of Brooklyn. They are listed with hyperbole like “You can’t find prices like this anymore!” next to a soul-crushing number like $900,000.

Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx are not on the table. We’d be open to Harlem, but are probably already priced out of that area.

Anyway, Vin and I took another step yesterday and attended our very first open house. Actually we found one open house on Zillow, and there just happened to be about five other open houses going on at the same time in that area. That area was Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

I believe the term they use for people like us is gentrifiers.

The first house we stumbled on by accident was absolutely beautiful. It was completely restored with exposed brick and pretty mantles and an enormous basement. The third house we ended up seeing was shown by the same well-known realty company and was in equally great condition. Still, they were both so modern and polished (and uh, expensive), and we’ve always kind of hoped for something with a bit of character, something we can really pour our own personalities into.

Enter House #2. Holy shit was this place a dump. The minute I walked in, I felt afraid for my own safety. The walls, the ceilings, the stairs, the floors– they all looked one big sneeze away from completely caving in. Walls and floors were rotting. The ceiling looked craggly and loose, like cottage cheese. It had clearly been neglected for over a decade and had likely housed a gang of squatters.

pink fireplace

This was the only redeeming quality of the house. Oh, I’m a sucker for these. But seriously, that was it. I’m not spending $800,000 for a money pit with one pretty feature.

gross

There was crap everywhere. Boxes of crap. Piles of crap. Just unexplainable crap. You can’t see it in this picture, but there was an enormous family-sized can of creamed corn just hanging out in the corner. So much for home staging.

i have no words

 This was taped to a door in the renter’s basement apartment. I don’t…I just…I don’t know anymore.  All I can say is, I could actually picture someone dying in this house, so our hunt continues.

And we’ve only just begun…

Wish us luck.

Give us strength.

Send us money.

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ANOTHER Holiday Gift Guide. But this is the Straight-outta-Queens Edition.

 

They’re a bit redundant at this point, but I just wouldn’t feel like a real blogger if I didn’t come up with my own holiday gift guide. I’m a big believer in shopping local and supporting small business owners, so my list focuses on products and services available in my own neighborhood.

Just in case you don’t know much about it, let me give you a brief rundown on the dynamics of my very special neighborhood. I live in Astoria, Queens, which is just a few subway stops outside of midtown Manhattan. Astoria is extraordinarily diverse, which is my absolute favorite thing about it.

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While it’s traditionally known as the big Greek neighborhood in New York, it also has a really large Middle Eastern population as well as European, South American and Bangladeshi communities. We have more small businesses than national franchises here, which keeps the neighborhood authentic, diverse, dynamic and interesting. The restaurants are outta sight, and we just have a lot of good stuff here (even if the stuff on my list is largely tongue-in-cheek).

That said, welcome to my neighborhood. Here are some great gift ideas for all the queens in your life.

 

BEAUTY TREATMENT GIFT CERTIFICATES

MASSAGE

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I had my first massage in one of these “body work” spas a few weeks ago, and let me tell you, that tiny Asian man pounded into my aching neck and back like I was a piece of pork tenderloin. $35, 45-minute deep tissue massage

 

HAIR REMOVAL

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Get your gal back in fightin’ shape with a set of well-groomed brows and a hair-free upper lip. With a $4 price tag, a service at this place makes for one hell of an impressive stocking stuffer. After she’s been waxed and buffed to a high sheen, take her out for a kebab at the corner meat cart for an additional five bucks. Call it one of your 12 dates of Christmas.

 

SALON SERVICES

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Every lady will tell you–there’s simply nothing worse than posing for your Tiny Prints family Christmas card with your roots undone. This photo is going to be stuck on 60 refrigerators for the next 20 days, give or take. Before sending your season’s greetings, treat your sweet to a day at the salon for a fresh dye and dry. Sneak a pack of ciggs in her purse for an extra special touch. They’re up to like $11.50 a pack in the city. That’s a pretty good gift in itself.

 

CLOTHING
FOR HER

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Some say only tourists would be caught dead in an “I heart NY” t-shirt. Au contraire, my friend. Deep down, we all want to look like we just tumbled off Canal Street. Three for $10. It is also a really good neighborhood in which to buy a burka, if that is your cultural dress.

 

FOR YOU

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Every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharp-dressed man (or woman). Put a vest on it. Put a bow-tie on it. Put a baseball cap on it. All items, $5

…the look on her face when you walk in the room looking this fly—PRICELESS.

 

AN ENGAGEMENT RING

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Listen fellas. You and I both know there is nothing more original than a Christmas morning proposal. Skip the long lines at the mawl and get her something big and shiny from Paulie down the street. Your girl will know she picked a winner when she finds out you traded all her old gold to pay for it.

You could go the predictable route and hide it in a piece of fruitcake or put a pair of antlers on her collie and tie the ring around its collar, but if you really want to make the moment magical, pop the question while crammed in coach so the stewardess can announce your happy news over the PA system. “HE went to Steinway Street.”

 

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This photo is apropos of nothing, but this guy kept yelling, “Lady, take my picture! Lady, take my picture!” and it just felt right to include him in this round-up, as it seems his store has plenty of good holiday deals going on.

(As he put his two fingers in the air, he solemnly said, “God Bless America.” He was really very sweet.)

 

LINGERIE 

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I can’t speak for every woman, but I always feel my absolute sexiest in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Between the avalanche of eggnog, my cookie-a-day habit and the chestnuts roasting on an open fire, all I really want to do at the end of the day is slip into a silky red nightie trimmed with marshmallow fluff and pleasure my elf.

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You won’t need any mistletoe with these stockings. You know what I’m talking about.

So when Santa sweeps through Astoria, Queens on his sled led by 12 Halal goats, I hope my garden apartment is on his sleigh-dar. I’ve been good this year, big guy. Don’t leave me out in the cold. And Santa, please ask my landlord not to increase the rent come January. Thanks!

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15 Years in New York (and I still can’t tell you which bridge is which)

 

It just occurred to me that this month marks fifteen years since I moved to New York City.

No friends, no family, no job, no furniture…just three hockey bags stuffed with clothes and a key to a $500 room in a shared apartment across the river in Hoboken. It’s a good thing I did this at 22, because I can assure you I would never pull this shit at 37.

At 22, I wanted adventure. It felt like I was on a tourist visa and my time here would someday run out, so I treated the early years like one long vacation. I knew I’d eventually move away and I did. I made it a full two years before I came running back. But why on earth would I do that? This place is crazy!

I came back because without great fanfare or ceremony, New York very quietly became home. Over the years, I acquired a lot of friends, family, jobs and furniture (most of it crap from Ikea, but whatever). There is no longer a push to finish up all the fun I’m going to have before I settle somewhere reasonable. Fifteen years ago I stretched my limbs and ended up here. Now my roots are tucked firmly underground, buried beneath a mound of cold gray concrete, deep with cracks and littered with sun-dried chewing gum.

Like any long-term relationship, it hasn’t been all cakepops and roses, and for all her architectural glory, culinary splendor, retail majesty, and theatrical glitter, New York City also kicks its occupants right in the shins with a melange of discourteous odors, robust armies of mites and vermin, hideously scary ROUSes (rents of unusual size), and dangerous tidal waves of human currents. Walking through certain streets in New York City is like being swept into a violently rotating tornado, a delirious funnel spun out of smog and bus exhaust filled with tattered newspapers, expired metrocards, crushed coffee cups, cheap broken umbrellas and paper sacks filled with barely-burnt sugared cashews. There are areas in Manhattan that feel like they’ve been set on fire, where the constant flicker of light and color make your eyes tear and the clamor of honks and blares thump in your temples like a steel drum.

But then you turn a corner onto a narrow street paved with crumbling bricks and spot a community garden you’ve never noticed before. You look skyward and catch an utterly bizarre installation peeking behind the glass of a local artist’s window. The wheels of your car tip onto the Queensboro Bridge and the skyline unfolds like a subway map to welcome you into the mouth of a postcard. You feel the first chill of rain on your forehead and, like magic, a man appears with fifty umbrellas.

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There is a reason New York City is photographed, filmed and rhapsodized to death. It can dropkick your spirit and swallow your soul, but if you have a high tolerance for frustration and confined spaces, you will be rewarded a multitude of inimitable quirks and charms found almost nowhere else. It can be daunting, and callous, and occasionally unkind, but one thing this city will never, ever be is boring.

In exchange for occasionally breaking your back and crushing your heart, as payback for pushing through biting winters and sticky summers, as pennance for small closets and very little kitchen space, you will be rewarded the guarantee to experience, witness, feel, taste, hear, smell or do something interesting every single day. Some days it’s spying a group of young shirtless men doing flips over groups of tourists in Washington Square Park or a man strolling casually around the East Village with an enormous yellow python draped across his shoulders.

Sometimes it’s walking outside and catching a movie crew filming on your stoop or watching a long-limbed model shift and contort herself for a team of photographers, right in the middle of a busy street. There are women here who push their dogs around in Maclaren baby strollers and men with buckets on their heads playing didgeridoos outside your subway station. It is a city shared by oddballs and outcasts, starving artists and superstars, executives and refugees, sometimes living only a block or a building away from someone living an entirely different kind of life.

You can go to the Bronx and ask an old Italian man to roll you a handmade cigar or a young shopgirl to pipe fresh mascarpone into a cannoli shell so crisp it immediately shatters under the weight of your teeth. You can head to Harlem and have your hair braided on the street for 25 dollars, or drive around parts of Williamsburg to witness dozens of Orthodox men in long black coats walk so slowly and calmly it’s like they’ve figured out the secret to life. You can take the 7 to Jackson Heights and have the most authentic dining experience outside of Pakistan, Colombia, or Bangladesh, or take a cab to midtown, Gramercy or Brooklyn and have the most memorable and extravagant dining experience of your natural born life.

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You will hear every language.  You will find a store for every need. You will smell a thousand different cuisines being cooked every day. You will never see, do, or experience everything New York has to offer because it is constantly, fearlessly, endlessly changing. If you live here, you’re never done. There’s always more.

You either love living in New York City or you begin to hate living in New York City. You either learn to accept its curtness, or you grow to resent it. People have strong opinions about this town. It’s not an easy place to live, but it’s also not an easy place to leave. There will never be a market for an “I feel ambivalent about NY” t-shirt.

This city is loud, grimy, ugly, beautiful, strange, sophisticated, sexy, exciting and just straight up weird. It’s a wonderful place, it really is. It is to me, anyway. At 37, I guess I still want some adventure. And so I stay.

Happy 15th anniversary to you and me, NYC. Loving you hasn’t always been easy, but it’s definitely been worth it. You’re my first, my last, my everything.

 

PS: You need a shower.

PPS: And where is that 2nd avenue train line you promised years ago?

PPPS:  Enough with the parking tickets already. We get it.

 

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Cheap, Fun Things to Do in NYC (in Every Borough)

 

Get your kicks ready. Put some cash on the Metrocard. These suggestions involve a lot of walking, and a lot of traveling from borough to borough. Most people complain about how expensive New York City is, but there are TONS of things to do here that are either completely free or extremely affordable. The first trick to getting the most out of a trip to New York City (or making the most of living in NYC) is opening yourself up to experiences outside of Manhattan, because the other boroughs add so much to the culture of the city as a whole.

The second trick? Get a really comfortable pair of shoes.

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1. On the west side, Take the 1, 2 or 3 train to Columbia University at 110th Street. On the east side, take the 6 or 4/5 to 96th or higher, if you like. Walk down…all the way down until your feet collapse under the weight of you. I started doing this when I lived on West 93rd street. If I went after work I’d sometimes pass friends heading home on their commutes, which was really fun.

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2. Stroll through Chelsea Market (preferably on a weekday). Watch the bakers knead dough into bread. Admire the artistry on a million painted cupcakes. Imagine Giada DeLaurentis giving you a personal tour through Buon Italia. Sample the incredible selection of flavored oils and salts at The Filling Station. Buy a snack and walk out the back door…

3. Then take your gelato, or crepe or lobster bisque up to the Highline (one of the entry points is right behind Chelsea Market). It’s an elevated park that runs from Gansevoort to West 30th Street, and it’s great.  Hang on the bleachers, relax on the wooden chaise lounges, then walk the length of it. It’s a great vantage point, and there are always cool art installations to admire.

3. Ride the Staten Island ferry to Staten Island, and back again. It’s free, and a pretty lovely view of downtown Manhattan on a warm, breezy day. Alternatively, take the $2 tram over the East River to Roosevelt Island. No cars are allowed on, so you have to walk around. Its strange history is fascinating.

13. Amuse yourself at one of the city’s summer street festivals in various boroughs. They’re all basically the same, but that’s part of the fun. They sell the most random stuff (socks, toiletry samples, vegetable peelers?) and all offer the same food (fresh lemonade, Italian sausages, zeppoles, crepes), but they are so quintessentially summertime in New York.

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4. Take the Hoboken ferry  (or the PATH train) to Hoboken, NJ, and take a walk around. This little town is stinking adorable, and offers an amazing view of the city from the park at the water’s edge. Don’t forget to walk down the main thoroughfare in town–Washington Street. Tons of cute little shops, bars, restaurants and Carlo’s Bakery (from “Cake Boss” fame).

5. Hit the Brooklyn Flea and peruse the unique vintage goods. While you’re there, grab some delicious and unique grub at Williamsburg’s huge food vendor-palooza–Smorgasburg. There are smaller versions of this in Queens at LIC Flea and Astoria Flea.

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6. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn, then hang at Brooklyn Bridge Park for a while. It’s awesome. Walk back from Brooklyn to Manhattan, and behold one of the greatest views ever. I never get tired of this (until I get side-swiped by a bicycle).

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7. If you have more time to spend on the Brooklyn side, don’t miss a stroll through DUMBO (downtown under the manhattan bridge overpass). What a cool area. Check out the view beneath the two bridges and the vintage carousel on the water, then grab a pastry from the wonderful French bakery, Almondine. Keep going to the end of the block, then spend some time in the coolest bookstore/art space–  The PowerHouse Arena. (PS: If you’re looking for uniquely beautiful kids’ books–this is the place).

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8. Little Italy on Mulberry street is okay, but let’s face it–it’s cheesier than a plate of lasagna (much like this sentence). For a more authentic experience, head to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, long-considered the “real” Little Italy of NYC. Arthur Avenue Retail Market is a don’t-miss for food lovers (they  even have a guy rolling cigars up front, which is pretty cool). My favorite thing to do in the area is grab some fresh (AND CHEAP) homemade pasta and ravioli from Borgatti’s Ravioli & Egg Noodles to cook at home. This place is a gem.

9. You don’t have to hop on a train to bask in the splendor of Grand Central. It’s crazy hectic and nuts in there, but its splendor cannot be denied. (Also: I still haven’t done it, but you’ve gotta try the whispering wall in there). If you have a few extra bucks on you, spring for a cocktail at The Campbell Apartment on the upper floor. It’s classic NY.

10. Take the N or R train to Coney Island! It’s so retro, it’s fabulous. Walk the boardwalk, eat something greasy, do some grade-A people watching, and catch the Coney Island Circus Sideshow ($10 adults; $5 kids) around the corner from Nathan’s hot dogs. (Do the side show before you eat, not after–watching people swallow knives or drive nails through their nose (no, seriously) could make anyone lose their lunch).

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11. Grab a coffee and walk around the West Village, arguably one of the most charming neighborhoods in Manhattan. Feeling daring? Plop on someone’s stoop and read the Times.

12. Pardon the obvious, but get thee to Central Park! It’s hard to not feel good about life in Central Park. It’s wonderful. My favorite spot is the area near Bethesda Fountain, because there’s just so much activity always happening (photo shoots! acrobatic troupes! musical performers! disco rollerskaters!). I’d rather meet a friend for a lap around the park than happy hour.

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14. Watch some seriously impressive–and aggressive–basketball action at the West 4th Street Courts, otherwise known as “The Cage”.

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15. Take the ferry to Governer’s Island in the summertime ($2, round-trip). Once you’re there, you’ll marvel that this little oasis from the city exists. The Jazz Age Lawn Fest is held there for two weekends in the summer. My friends got engaged there two years ago, and the band even played them a dance!

16. Believe it or not, there’s a small wooden farmhouse at Kingsbridge Road and Grand Concourse in the Bronx, and Edgar Allen Poe used to live in it. Explore The Edgar Allen Poe Cottage in the Bronx and clutch your stomach as you learn that someone paid $100 for an entire year’s rent. Adult admission $5; $3 for students, seniors and kids.

17. Is it Tuesday? You can get free admission to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today (you can also get free admission here on Saturdays from 10-12). Is it Wednesday? Today’s the day to head to the Bronx; the New York Botanical Garden is free all day today (and from 9-10 am on Saturdays), and the Bronx Zoo offers pay-what-you-can admission. (PS: Admission to the Botanic Gardens in Brooklyn is free every weekend from November through February).

18. Grab a lemon or cherry ice from the Lemon Ice King in Corona, Queens, then cross the street to watch European men play bocce ball in the middle of the street. This is what New York is all about.

 

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19. Eating a full meal at Balthazar is an ambrosial experience, but it’s definitely on the high end. To indulge in their atmosphere and goodies on the cheap, grab a take-away croissant and a coffee (I had one of the best lattes of my life there) and walk around SOHO, window-shopping. It’s like Paris meets New York without maxing out your credit card.

20. See a super-cheap or free concert through Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell.  One of my favorite shows ever was there, and it only set me back three bucks!
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21.  The New Yorkiest foods are all the cheapest eats in town. Grab a slice, a bagel, a knish, a hot dog, a pretzel, some awful glazed nuts, a black and white cookie, or a Mister Softee dipped cone. Head toward nearest park. Delight in your New Yorkiness.
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22. Work off the calories at one of the free exercise classes available every day of the week, in every borough through Shape Up NYC.  There’s your basic yoga, Zumba, and Cardio Kick-boxing, but they also offer classes in African Dance, Women’s Self-Defense, and Pre-Natal belly dancing!

 

24. See a movie outside on a rooftop, a park or on a pier. They’re totally free! This year, I can’t wait for Princess Bride, Back to the Future, Zoolander and Clueless.

25. Think beyond Central Park–NYC is full of so many great, green outdoor spaces. Some favorites are Riverside Drive Park, Washington Square Park, Ft. Greene Park, Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City and Astoria Park. Lay around, read a book, people-watch, picnic.

 

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26. Eat donuts. They’re cheap. They’re delicious. They’re dough magic. New York City is donut crazy, and we have a lot of fancy-pants, artisanal varieties. The favorites: Doughnut Plant (Chelsea, Lower East Side), Dough (Bedford-Stuy, Smorgasburg), Peter Pan (Greenpoint, BK), Dough Loco (East Harlem), and the 100% vegan, totally adorable Dun-Well Donut shop in East Williamsburg.
27. Explore all the borough’s fantastic ethnic enclaves and marvel in the various cultures that comprise this wonderful place. Here’s a fun list of New York City’s ethnic neighborhoods. I love popping into grocery stores in different neighborhoods and stocking up on hard-to-find spices.
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28. Pretend you’re making a coffee table book and start a fun photography project with your camera or iphone. Once you start noticing something ubiquitous in NYC, take a picture whenever you see it. Fun ideas include bicycles, bodegas, hot dog stands, newspaper kiosks, people on cell phones, and abandoned metrocards.
29. Simply look up! Delight in all the odd little things that make New York City such a unique and wonderful place. There’s a whole lot of cool stuff happening way up high, from art installations, graffiti, larger-than-life ads and swank apartment penthouses.
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30. The best entertainment money can buy is a $5 round-trip Metrocard. Take the train to a neighborhood you’ve never been to before, walk around and explore. Think beyond Manhattan–some of the best things in New York City are tucked away in neighborhoods you’ve never set foot in.
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(All photos by Jenn of Much to My Delight.)

 

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