travel

A Tale of Two Breakfasts

Greenwich Village before 9 AM on a Saturday morning was nearly deserted. There were signs of life: a City worker painting a light post, a milk delivery, and a sidewalk-washing. As a lone, out-of-town visitor in a summer dress, I felt alien in what was perhaps the hungover hush of the early morning.

I had gone to the Village on a macaroon run. However, the tea house would not be open until 10 AM. The Doughnut Project, right next door, would be open at 9 AM. Doughnuts it was.

The one on the left was creme brûlée with custard-like filling. The one on the right had a beet (yes, beet) glaze and a cream cheese filling.

I headed towards Washington Square Park where I would devour my doughnuts and tea. One street, I think it was Bleecker, smelled strongly of chlorine. Water flowed beneath the curb even though it had not rained, as far as I knew, and trash was on the sidewalk, placed at such orientations as to suggest deliberatation. All of those anomalies were probably connected, but I didn’t know how, and it made me uneasy.

At one corner of the park, near the Washington Square subway stop, there were a couple benches perpendicular to one another in the garden. There I sat and opened the box, refreshed immediately by the aroma of freshly-fried dough. I was in love. A man in his forties came to sit and eat his breakfast at the next bench. He pulled out of a bag a bottle of blue Gatorade and a styrofoam container with some type of lunch-like food piled up. He looked like he was a having a rough go at things. There was brief eye contact, but no further communication. I concluded that he posed no threat to me. My eyes wandered to a plaque on the ground. Apparently, at this very spot, the tavern that had inspired Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh once stood. Well, there I sat at that spot, eating my breakfast in the same space that another person was eating his, but we may as well have been in different worlds.

I liked the beet doughnut better than the other one, but they were both really good.

This John Varvatos is the former site of the CBGB. CBGB, the iconic club where so many famous rock bands got their start, was converted into this upscale men’s clothing store less than a decade ago.

Elvis Costello, above. Ozzy Osbourne on the loo, below. As you can see, these photographs and posters, as well as the grafatti and some other memorabilia, have been preserved and integrated into the clothing store. I spent quite a bit of time taking it all in. I must admit, I was a little disappointed at the lack of Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and Television stuff, as those happen to be my favorite bands that played at CBGB. I suppose it is customary to seek out experiences that validate our identity as people. Customary and a little weird, when you really think about it.

Sometimes, I wonder what it all means. What does it matter that I ate breakfast at a park where some seedy inn used to exist? Or that I wandered through a clothing store that used to be a club?

I must be homesick.

The remainder of the afternoon was mostly uneventful, as I’ve been laying low on account of the expiration of my subway card and an early morning flight on the horizon. For lunch, I had a frankfurter at Katz’s, no ketchup, just deli mustard and sauerkraut, like a pro. I had dinner at MasalaWala, which was a spicy curry chicken that really hit the spot. Spicy foods are essential in my world. Then I walked around the neighborhood just to get some exercise, grabbed a large acai bowl for some reason, and paid my farewells to the City.

I’ve said before (like a hundred times) that you can’t have individualism without self-reliance. And that’s true. You can’t be all FTDubs and then expect people to really care about you and validate you. At least, that’s never worked for me.

So far, I have been cautiously operating under the assumption that this relatively new American way is the right way. And that is a big, glaring assumption.

I don’t believe that gratifying the self is the way to happiness. Nor do I believe that negating the self is the way to happiness. Who actually knows the way to happiness? Besides authors of self-help books?

What’s clear is that there’s a lot that could be better. The polarization is obvious. The lack of genuine community is a gnawing ache that we’ve all felt for some time. And inequality persists.

I don’t know what should be done, really. I was hoping that the City would tell me. But the City doesn’t know, not any more than I do.

Still, it isn’t as if I’ve learned nothing this whole time. The City did have something to say to me. The City told me to stand on my own two feet. The City told me to push on, no matter what, and to get over myself. And for that, if nothing else, I’ll always be grateful.

I know I’ll look back on this trip fondly. But for now, I am excited to see my family, birds, and friends again out on the other coast.

travel

All Tomorrow’s Pickle Martinis

Shortly after turning twenty-one, I treated myself to a bottle of Tanqueray. In the world of spirits, gin was my first, my only true love. Out in the world, I drank beer, tequila, or whatever was convenient or socially appropriate, but in my kitchen, upon returning home late after a long, uninspiring day of work and school, I would sometimes mix a martini.

I took to it with a youthful enthusiasm that made up for my lack of experience and equipment. I didn’t have one of those stainless steel hourglass things to measure, but I did have my trusty Pyrex measuring cup. I’d first pour in about 2.5 ounces of gin. Then 0.5 oz of vermouth. The vermouth was tricky because that measuring cup only had 2 oz increments, so it left something to the imagination. As I quickly discovered, a dry-vermouth-to-gin ratio that is too high will render your cocktail undrinkable. I was really deep down in the trenches. Next, I’d carefully drop in the ice. Let it melt. Sometimes, I would then scoop out the ice and use it to chill the glass (yes, I had martini glasses). Finally, I’d give it a good stir with a spoon, take out the ice if that wasn’t already done, pour it into the glass, and drop in three little green olives.

I had a lot of musings about the whole thing, as you can imagine. For example, I was against using Bombay Sapphire East, which has lemongrass and spices that are not always found in gin, in a dirty martini. So, considering how geeky I was about all this, it’s kind of shocking that now, only a few months later, I’m in New York and I haven’t had a single martini, let alone the famed pickle martini.

I had heard of the beautiful Bowery Hotel, so today I thought I’d have a looksy since it’s not too far from where I’m staying. I’d heard good things about their lobby bar and martinis. I fancied that I might have a drink there if I felt like it. I got a little bit dressed up, but nothing too fancy. I reapplied makeup and headed back out.

First, I needed dinner. I wanted a salad because, let’s face it, there hasn’t been a whole lot of green in my diet of late. And I didn’t want a grocery pre-packaged salad because the last one I’d gotten was gross. I went to a sit-down restaurant not too far from the hotel, alone of course, as one often does while traveling alone. When I went in, the waitress asked how many, and I said “one.” She seemed kind of surprised/saddened by this. This reaction is not uncommon, but usually it is concealed a little better. I always try to just ignore it because, as I have said before, you can’t have individualism without self-reliance. The truth is, life ain’t all slumber parties and picnics. Aloneness happens to the best of us, and it can be embraced rather than glossed over. She thought for a moment and decided to “put me” in the back because the tables in front were taken and the bar was busy. She wasn’t trying to be rude or insulting, but somehow I did feel insulted at that moment. It was dark and lonely back there, except for the waitresses walking by and the busboy coming up the stairs with ice, and I wondered what the hell I was doing in that restaurant and existing on this planet. It was like they put me there because they were afraid that my solitaryness would ruin the vibe of the laughing and chatting people at the bar. During this trip, I have been pretty successful in not indulging in negative feelings, but this was kind of a low point for me. I have been having a good time, I appreciate the opportunity to be here, and I do enjoy having the freedom to do absolutely whatever I fancy. But that doesn’t change the fact that evenings are a little harder than daytime. Luckily, I’ve had this blog to keep me occupied, instead of being out at some bar, feeling out of place and wishing that I had someone to talk to, someone who didn’t just want to sleep with me.

After dinner, which was nourishing if not much fun, I did take a peek at the Bowery. The lobby is very nice. I saw the bar, which was dark and rich, tucked away and empty save for the bartender. Then, I just left.

I don’t regret my days of having a drink or two by myself. Maybe some people don’t understand it, but it seemed like a natural and reasonable thing to do at the time. It just doesn’t anymore. It isn’t even that I care what people think about me, it’s just that I’m never in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. Without any significant distractions, the sensations that I feel as alcohol is first metabolized are overwhelming to me now. I don’t want to wonder how much faster my heart is beating. I envy people who don’t even notice or care about those things, and if you can help it, I’d advise you to take it easy too. I’m not saying that one should throw caution to the wind, but really, life is much too short to be going down some rabbit hole or another every five seconds. Take it from me.

I’d like to think that someday I’ll come back here to New York City, maybe with a good friend or my soulmate, and that we can go to some of the places that I didn’t want to go to alone. And yet, if I don’t, I feel like that’s alright too. Yes, this trip has been even more sober and responsible than I even thought it would be (some of the highlights of my day include geeking out over buildings and eating over a pound of organic seedless grapes), but I’m glad for it. I know that I’m not the quite the same person that I was when I came here, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s only for the better.

Well, enough about that. Let’s discuss Chelsea. I spotted this po-mo-looking building from the Highline. I guess it doesn’t show well in the picture, but the windows are frosted in such a way that when you look at it, you feel that your vision is blurred, maybe from being myopic or maybe from being high on drugs (come to think of it, the two aren’t all that different). The Highline is the site of old railroad tracks far above street level that were converted to a green space in the 90’s.


Reflections of new buildings and construction equipment, ubiquitous in Chelsea today as the charming red brick residences. I must admit, when I saw some “for lease signs” on apartment buildings in Chelsea, I imagined myself moving to Chelsea. Can you believe it? Well, the millennials gentrified and appropriated, but maybe us late 90’s kids will do things differently.

Then again, it is true that these parts of New York are safe now, which is good. People like to point that out. If you just see Chelsea today, you don’t understand why Elvis Costello evidently did not want to go there (anyone remember that song?), but if you imagine Manhattan in the 70’s… heaven above, I would stay the heck away from Chelsea too, and the street where I’ve been staying for the past week.

I don’t think a more adorable take on Noah’s Ark has ever existed.

Some more highlights from my brief, but enlightening, Chelsea art walk.

Chelsea has a kind of no-nonsense, unpretentious working people’s vibe, especially with all the construction going on. That feeling is more pronounced than it is in the Lower East Side. Then again, I didn’t spend that much time in Chelsea so it’s hard for me to compare. As such, one feels out of place, guilty even, for strolling around on a weekday looking at art with an iced matcha latte in hand. Even though there are a bunch of other people doing it too.

One tip I may share: go to Los Tacos No. 1 in the Chelsea Market. Unless you really know your tacos. Even then, I can’t imagine anyone being too disappointed by these juicy, street food style tacos with just the right amount of chopped white onions and guacamole. And a thin layer of some kind of queso sauce, I believe.

This is the Equitable Building. This office building from the early twentieth century was so high compared to the surrounding buildings that it blocked sunlight, and its many office dwellers congested the streets. As such, this single, gorgeous building was actually the catalyst for zoning laws that we know today.

Well, that was quite a trip. From the proverbial Main Street, to Wall Street, to the machinations of my consciousness. I think we’ve seen about as much as we can handle today. Or, at least I have. Who wants a martini?

travel

Reference Point

It’s astounding how often people ask me for directions here. Apparently, wearing a satchel and looking bored on the subway makes me pass for a local, or at least someone who knows uptown from downtown. If only they knew.

In the morning, I finally gathered up the courage to go to Russ and Daughters, which is a pretty famous deli type place in the Lower East Side. I don’t know that it’s downright intimidating, but it’s not the type of place that panders to clueless tourists, that’s for sure. I stood around for a while trying to catch someone’s eye so I could order. That was also the approach I took at the boulangerie in France. It did not work at the boulangerie, and I finally had to make myself known vocally to get my tarte aux pommes. Finally, someone from behind the counter spoke to me, and I blurted out what I wanted.

“I’m helping someone else. Did you take a number?”

As a matter of fact, I did not even realize that there were numbers. I hadn’t heard any numbers. My eyes darted around, looking for the number wheel. Someone was kind enough to point to it. I was so embarrassed. A few minutes later, another guy behind the counter asked me if it was my first visit. I just smiled shyly and nodded like a five-year-old girl. What an idiot I am sometimes.

I finally got my lox and coffee, and it was well worth the awkwardness. I had a toasted onion bagel with dill and horseradish cream cheese, topped with salt-cured lox. The salmon was like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life. It was thinly sliced, positively melting in my mouth, with a kind of sweetness that I could detect even through all the salt. The only problem was that it was very salty. I should have seen it coming, considering that salt-cured was part of the description. In the end, I had to throw some away. I knew it was a sin, but what could I do? I didn’t want to get dehydration palpitations on my way to Central Park.

I went back to the hotel to get more water. As I walked, a homeless man sitting against the wall by an abandoned storefront shouted at me: “hey I have the same thermos as you!” I looked back, feeling myself smile. “No way!” was probably what I said. He held up his bottle, which was a different color and a different design, but the same manufacturer. I gave him a kind of thumbs up, but in the uncertainty of the moment, my hand likely took on an odd, crumply shape. What a mess I am. When I walked back that way later, he sort of waved his sign around. I did not give him anything, although I had thought about giving him the gummy bears I’d put in my purse that morning, but that bag was already opened, and homeless people can be more particular than you might think. After I had already passed him, he shouted, “Miss, I really need something to eat.” I smiled at his bizarre timing. Then, I felt bad that I had not given him anything and that I had made fun of him in my head. Maybe I would have if he had asked the question right to my face. I can’t help but think about the beautiful little piece of smoked fish that I had thrown away and the food that I never gave to that man. The collateral damage of my existence?

Being in New York is negotiating. Even if you’re not hustling here for real, every day you’re analyzing situations and people and cars, defending your place on the sidewalk. You learn the rules, which are different from the rules that I have always known. Like the take-a-number thing at Russ and Daughters.

The homeless man had tried to be nice to me so that I would help him. He was haggling in his own way. It almost worked, but he obviously did not know the rules about how to interact with me. And how could he? Who actually does?

I nearly went blind for this one, but it was worth it. It’s a statute commemorating a 19th Century war hero.

I got this shot of the Plaza before heading off to rent a bike. I was actually terrified to ride a bike around Central Park. I’ve hardly touched a bike since I was a kid. It’s true that you never forget, but boy, you get pretty terrible at it if you don’t practice. I’m just glad I didn’t hit anything or fall off during the two hours I had the thing.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I almost got a cool shot of the Atlas statute, pictured below, reflected in the glass of the Cathedral. That would have been some great symbolism. But I got all anal about focal points (what am I, a photographer?!) and missed it because a big bus got in the way. I could have waited for the light to turn green, but then other cars would have been whizzing past. So, I missed the opportunity to be all cynical about Catholicism, and perhaps religion generally. Well, maybe we all need a break from the numbing irreverence of everything.

The two pictures above were taken in a building in Rockefeller Center.

Well, that’s self-explanatory.

I believe the figure on top is Mercury. The four figures on the bottom represent the four races. I read that somewhere. It’s kind of a gush about international trade and industry and blah blah blah. Oh, Art Deco, how I love your style. But how outmoded is your philosophy to us wary 21st Century folks.

This is the best pizza I have ever had. It was nothing but pistachio pesto (lots of little pistachio pieces, not very basil-forward at all, and I couldn’t even tell if there was basil), fresh sausage, lots of good olive oil, and mozzarella cheese. I was in pizza nirvana.

This couple sitting near me was talking to one of the waitresses. The fellow said that the pizza was great, but it just wasn’t the same as pizza in Rome, and they all seemed to agree on that. At least two of the waitresses seemed like they were from Italy, judging from the accents.

I don’t know if I could handle a good Italian pizza. My brain might explode with pleasure.

Don Antonio is definitely a place to go for great value and authenticity.

At Katz’s, you also take a number, but they don’t call your number. Rather, you get in line, and they write your total on the ticket and you pay as you’re leaving out the door. See, more rules. Also, you don’t sit at the tables closest to the wall unless you have waiter service. Learned all this the hard way by actually going there and trying to get my bearings.

I have to say, I’m not a big fan of the egg cream. Yes, it’s a refreshing drink and yes, it has a nice, rich kind of chocolate aftertaste. I tended to perceive the chocolate the most after swallowing. In short, it’s nice, but it didn’t change my life. Still, I think I kind of understand why some people like it so much. It’s the same reason that I and many other grown Californians go to Inn and Out to have an ice cream shake. It reminds you of your childhood and so many happy times.

travel

Lit Only by a Neon Chandelier

I was up and about before 9 today, eating two mini Kind bars around Chinatown, headed towards my destination of Brooklyn. I had a heck of a time finding the pedestrian walkway. I walked under the overpass and frantically looked around and then down at Google maps. Well, I found it in due course. The first thing that happens on the walkway is people try to sell you water and hotdogs and pictures of Marilyn Monroe. Then, you probably notice the wood planks that you are going to be walking on. I did not want to trust the planks. I imagined meeting my watery grave in the East River. Of course, it was a ridiculous thing to be afraid of. If anything, you would die from the impact with the cars and highway below before drowning. It was shaping up to be a morbid morning.

It really looks like this sign was actually printed this way. I appreciate a sense of humor in law enforcement.

Of course, the romance of the Bridge caught up with me. I like going under stuff. When I was a kid, I liked tunnels. In particular, I remember that there was this tunnel we would go under on the way to LAX. I liked to watch the lights in there receding as we whizzed past in our taxi. As I approached the twin arches, I imagined myself emerging at the other end a different person. Yes, I do realize how ridiculous this all sounds, especially coming from a C-section baby.

As I walked along the street, I saw a tequila bar and maybe I smiled because it reminded me of a day that I felt happy. I wondered where all the good times had gone. Then, I wondered why I cared. A plastic takeout bag with a smiley face on it blew in the wind and ended up underneath a car. They weren’t gone, they were just changed.

I went to Prospect Park. At first I was like, “whatever, park.” But it’s a really nice park and a nice neighborhood. There are all these trails you can wander down, and you can be all alone if you want to, which is a nice change. I feel like these parks are necessary to keep people sane. I can always use some sanity, so I got into the experience. I saw a puddle and imagined that I was the puddle. It was nice. A lady walked by and smiled at me. Maybe we would all be happier if we made like puddles every now and then. There are a lot of little brown birds with orange chests. At Central Park, I once saw a bird with the prettiest orange beak. No connection.

I also walked along the fence by Greenwood Cemetery. I didn’t go in the cemetery. There were rolling hills and nice trees, grave stones in the shapes of spires, angels, and crosses.

I wasn’t feeling very shutter-happy during this time. I suppose I felt that nature and death were too intimate to be casually photographed by my iPhone.

Next, I got on the subway and headed towards the Lite Brite Neon Studio that I’d heard about. To no one’s surprise (I can’t read a map for my life), I couldn’t find it and even passed by it once. Finally, I located the street address, a nondescript industrial building across the street from a large Whole Foods. I went in and was greeted by a neon chandelier. It was otherwise an empty entrance with stairwells. I walked downstairs and found another neon chandelier. I was really excited at that point. I felt like I was in a video game. I found a room where a man inside appeared to be making neon signs. And there was another door that led into the workshop. Someone smiled at me when I walked in. Then, someone else politely told me that it was not open to the public, contrary to the impression that Atlas Obscura had given me. So I left, but oddly enough, was not disappointed. I’d made quite the trek into Brooklyn to get there, but at least I’d had some fun along the way. And there wasn’t another tourist in sight. Kudos to me for getting off the beaten path.

I decided that I wanted to see Coney Island. I got on the N-train, which was the right train, and the sign on there even said “Coney Island.” It seemed auspicious. However, we were not going to Coney Island at all. We ended up back in boring Manhattan. I got off at the first stop and transferred. I figured I’d see the Statue of Liberty for good measure. However, I was also tired from my Brooklyn adventures, so I just got on the Staten Island ferry, which was closer to me than that other ferry that takes you directly to the Statue. I wasn’t really in the mood for the whole history lesson either. I just wanted to see the thing.

travel

Art Overload

My feet have been hurting all day from walking around the Met, so yes, I am rather short on pithy observations. It’s a humbling, terrifying amount of art and it gets me on a kind of intellectual tailspin, and then I feel like a tool for being in said tailspin.

First, I have to say something about my breakfast. On my way to the subway station, I walked into several coffee shops and then walked out because I wasn’t feeling a chocolate croissant or what have you. All I wanted in the world was a wholesome bagel and some iced coffee. I gave up and decided to try my luck in the Upper East Side. As I emerged from the staircase leading up to 77th and Lexington, there I spot a Pick a Bagel. It’s moments like those that I 100% believe in God. And then, that begs the question: doesn’t God have better things to do than cater to my breakfast cravings? Anyway, Pick a Bagel is my kinda place. They don’t mess around, as you can see from the picture. No sad-ass little Philadelphia tear-away container thrown into a brown paper bag here. No sir. I got my pumpernickel slathered in jalapeño cream cheese on both sides because this is America.

Fun with filters.

These struck my fancy. I’d like to say they’re Celtic. Or maybe they’re from present-day England. Like I said, I saw a lot of stuff.

Greek column. Ionic. At this point, I was still reading stuff and geeking out. I had energy, both mental and physical. It was a simpler time.

Who doesn’t like dolphins?

So this Margherita from Serafina was good. Creamy tomato sauce, nothing overly sweet or canny about it. Kalamata, with pit, always good. Chewy, no-nonsense mozzarella. I was sad that there was only one piece of basil. It was a good basil leaf. I could have used about six more of those. I’m a basil kind of girl.

Flora, as in Flora and Priapo. I wasn’t a fanatic about it, but Bernini assisted in sculpting the pair, so I suppose it’s one of the more well-known sculptures I saw today.

I’ll be back at the Met tomorrow because you can go for three days in a row when you buy one admission ticket. I know I won’t see it all, but maybe I’ll feel more zen about the whole thing after a good night’s sleep.

travel

Architecture and Morality

True to my ways, of course I had to begin this post with a title ripped from an 80’s synth pop record.

My impression of the subway so far is not too favorable. I found the map and the layout confusing. It’s not all that different from the Underground, but I liked the Underground better. I found the Underground slightly more intuitive for my severely directionally challenged mind. There was also less pealing paint. And hell, that “mind the gap” thing was pretty cute too. Everything is better with a British accent.

Mainly, I’m just bitter because I wound up at Yankee Stadium when I was supposed to be heading towards West Village. Really, I have no one to blame but myself for that one.

So, after I got out of there, I decided to just take an Uber. Otherwise, I would have missed the play I was supposed to see, and I’m glad now that I didn’t miss it.

Girls and Boys is a funny play in more ways than one. I did think that its emphasis on male violence was a little heavy-handed. I loved Carey Mulligan’s performance and the rigor and seriousness with which she dealt with the theme of violence and the specific topic of family annihilation. At the same time, I thought that the writing was flawed because it draws rather sweeping conclusions about men in general. While it is generally true that men are more violent than women and that there are serious social problems that need to be addressed, I don’t think that relying on this stereotype is always the right approach. When we couple racial and gender stereotypes, we get bad consequences, as we’ve seen time and time again.

I had to get down on my knees to take this photo of Grand Central Terminal from the stairs leading down to the Dining Concourse. People probably thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care! Sometimes you have to get your hands dirty for a better shot.

More GCT.

The Chrysler Building. I’m a sucker for all things Deco, so NY is clearly my kind of place.

My lunch at the Great Northern Hall, a delish Danish rye porridge!

PS: If you haven’t already, check out Rockwood Music Hall. I heard a band called the Felons and a vocalist named Liana Gabel today and rather enjoyed it.

travel, Uncategorized

From Point A to Point B and the Lower East Side

LAX makes me think of palm trees. And purple and blue geometric shapes. I know that makes me a fool.

Suffice it to say, I still have some silly, romantical ideas about what it means to travel. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to believe that it was only one year ago that I was leaving the country for the first time since I was a child to go to London with my classmates. Who was that girl who watched breathlessly out the windows during the descent into Heathrow, admiring the view of the buildings from thousands of feet above and all the way down to the greenery by the runway? And who was that girl who obsessed for weeks over some nerd in the tube who had looked at her in a certain way? Who walked around the city in high heels until her feet bled and whose friends ordered her gin and tonic at bars, even though she could have gotten one herself? I feel as though I hardly know her.

The trip to JFK was fairly uneventful. Probably for that very reason, the anxiety crept up on me when I got on the plane. My heart wouldn’t stop pounding until we finally got up in the air. Really, it’s always the anticipation that kills me.

Then, when I got to the hotel by the airport in Jamaica Queens past 2 AM, the first thing I did was a bunch of frantic Google searches on the tap water because I was super thirsty on account of the humidity, fresh out, and of course it was an ungodly hour so I couldn’t buy any. I’m one of those assholes who gets persnickety about drinking water. It was hard to sleep that night because my heart was pounding because I needed sleep. Quite the vicious circle. Nonetheless, when I sprang out of bed at 9 AM, fully awake, my hormones in sync somehow with the local time, I was ready to put the weird night past me and get out into the city!

I dropped off my bags at the Ludlow, which was to be my real hotel. I regrouped with some yogurt and headed out to the Tenement Museum.

I did one tour at the Museum, which was called “Hard Times.” We went inside a tenement that had been preserved and converted into a museum. This tenement had been built in the late nineteenth century and was occupied until the 1930’s, when it was condemned. You might think that a tenement would be completely shabby, but not this one. The inside was dark and hot and depressing, but there were some nice touches, like the moldings, wall art, ornate archways and things in the hallways. Nonetheless, the place would have been super crowded with twenty-two families plus two business operating in the basement level, if I remember correctly. We went inside the kitchen where quaint old containers of starch and other relics were placed about, along with a dining table and ironing board. The daughter of the family who had lived there during the Great Depression recreated the setup of their old family kitchen. She had many fond childhood memories of gathering with her family for meals and playing board games with her father there, in spite of the fact that it all took place during the Depression and there was an old cottage cheese box from the government relief organization they had at that time to prove it.

The whole time the tour was going on, I felt a little faint, but not to the point of seeing colors or anything like that. Definitely some travel exhaustion. It was really hot in there, and I had nothing to drink and nothing to fan myself with. I kept imagining myself passing out in front of all of those people. Somehow, I persisted through the tour, more out of pride than anything else. I just didn’t want to be that girl who couldn’t last five minutes in the tenement. I suppose it could have been worse. At least there were some open windows and a couple fans so you would get a waft of fresh air every now and again. Boy, I still felt terrible though, but I’m proud of myself for sticking it out to the bitter end. Anxiety be damned. I think that’s really the theme of this whole trip. I should get that on a t-shirt.

I officially checked into the Ludlow after the tour. So far, I could not be more pleased. The staff is very friendly and my room is out of this world. I’ve got these rich Moroccan bed posts, what appears to be marble countertops, cool retro brass fixtures, and some arm chairs and a table that evoke some mid-century Hollywood glamor. It all just works for me.

I hiked up to Mickey Likes It Ice Cream in East Village and wandered around Tompkins Square Park eating my double-scoop Pink Floyd. Which is strawberry and pieces of cheesecake. It suited me just fine. There was some kind of event going on there. People were lying in the grass sunbathing, in bathing suits often. Just all in one area. I thought there was live music, but I could find no band so it was just a sunbathing party of some kind. Puzzling.

I ate a very strange early dinner at Speedy Romeo’s. They asked me if I wanted to sit at the bar, and I said yes for some reason. So I got to listen to the waitresses gossiping. I don’t know if it made me feel less alone or if it had kind of the opposite effect. But the pizza made up for it. I liked that the thin crust was burned in the woodfire oven. I liked the Parmesan and all these other rich cheeses, cheeses that I’ve never even heard of but that reminded me of Delice de Bourgogne from Trader Joe’s with that kind of truffly taste. And I liked the little thin slices of garlic. It makes me think of one of those gangster movies… was it The Godfather or Goodfellas? That scene where they’re slicing the garlic really thin with a razor blade. That gets to me.

So, that was my day.

Sometimes, I still wonder why I’m here all alone, even though this is exactly what I wanted, and I can see many advantages to it. Sure, I’ve got my slogan. But is this trip really going to make me a better writer or a better person? Will I be purified eventually by the condensation water from air conditioners that keeps falling on me? Who’s to say.

Oddly enough, when I was taking this picture, there was a man nearby yelling and cussing into his iPhone earbud mic about social media. He was attracting some attention. Then again, it was nothing out of the ordinary. It’s always more reassuring when you see someone yelling and cussing with the earbuds hanging down versus the earbuds not hanging down. Without challenging the tacit assumptions about human behavior behind that judgment… well it was just an interesting juxtaposition. At one point, he said something like, “that’s just a reality you created.” Actually, it sounded even more profound than that. What can I say? Crazy or not, he’s right about that.

Book Revue

Book Revue: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

My two cents on a long overdue reading of The Poisonwood Bible.

The book I read before Poisonwood was Jitterbug Perfume. Needless to say, it was a little odd making that transition. In the beginning (ha), I had my doubts about how much I’d like it because I thought that the first chapter narrated by the wife of the psycho preacher was maybe a little too dramatic for my taste. Of course, just about anything is dramatic after you’ve just been on this romp about genius waitresses experimenting with jasmine essence and a smelly flute-playing goat with Tom Robbins. As it turned out, Poisonwood deserved all the ceremony within and around it, and now I feel a little silly for doubting it in the first place.

But enough about my idiosyncrasies. Poisonwood was simply enchanting and, at the same time, an extremely mature novel. Reading it made me feel small. Stripped of a white, male, capitalist outlook, we see the earth as a cruel beauty (if you’ll excuse the gendered metaphor) who owes us nothing and gives us everything. And we see how dangerous it is when one group imposes its beliefs and ways of life on another while simultaneously exploiting that other group. This is a gross understatement, but it’s also one of the main themes of the novel.

I myself went to a Christian school from middle school to high school, so I know what’s up in that department. I have read the New Testament several times. I also hung out with a lot of Christians in college. I used to hand out leaflets to random people walking around campus. Leaflets! I was a different person back then. It isn’t even that I’m not monotheistic anymore… I just can’t see myself standing around, handing out leaflets.

I related to Leah the most. I was right there with her when she was a stubborn tomboy with an ardent faith in Jesus, eager to learn about the world and love people in any way she could. I also got it when she, quite understandably, turned away from religion after getting a taste of what life really is while nearly getting eaten alive by ants in the Congo. Yet, one never really forgets, as Kingsolver won’t have us forget. She would still pray at times throughout her life, just not in the same way. That’s just how it is. I can act all self-reliant and cosmopolitan one moment, and then, when something bad happens, there I am down on my knees. Doubt, fear, and guilt: it’s something that most Christians don’t want to talk about.

I was disappointed in Rachel’s character. There were moments where I thought that she was finally going to grow up, but in a way, she never did. Something about that part of the novel bothered me. As I saw Rachel arguing with her sisters about politics, reciting trashy propaganda while they confronted her with facts and rationality, I felt like I was watching a sitcom. I think I understand what Kingsolver was trying to convey about Western creature comfort tunnel vision, but I can’t help but resent the continual portrayal of the unintelligent as bigoted cyclopses. I understand that such people exist (many of them), but I feel that the binary opposition of good-smart, bad-dumb is itself elitist and self-indulgent. In other words, I wouldn’t equate the hard heart with the dull mind. The former being far, far scarier than the latter.

Overall, I found this to be a satisfying and edifying read.

Uncategorized

The check engine light within

“Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

-Anonymous

This morning, right after I filled up the gas tank, I turned on my car and it did a weird little half-start and the check engine light glowered at me. “Wonderful,” I thought, “I’m so glad I had the transmission serviced recently.” I debated with myself about whether to go home and complain to my daddy or take my chances and complete the drive to work.

As I left, I became convinced that there was something wrong with the car. “There’s more slack than usual in the gas pedal,” I mused. “Something’s not right.”

I pulled over and decided to  re-start the thing. I was so nervous that I turned the engine off without putting it in park first.

Well, I got going again. I was on the freeway, watching the tachometer like a hawk and listening for weird noises. That was about as methodical as I could get about the whole thing, considering that my knowledge of the internal combustion engine and whatnot is severely lacking. Everything seemed normal enough, and then the light just went off by itself about thirty minutes later.

I’d say there’s a possibility that there was never anything mechanically wrong with the car in the first place. It being a newer car built in 2012, it has all these fancy computers. Maybe it’s too smart for its own good.

Why did I tell you this boring story about something that has happened to a lot of people? I guess because it got me thinking about sci-fi stuff and my friend, the sympathetic nervous system. And the line between perception and reality that may or may not exist, depending on whom you ask.

I guess my car and I were meant for each other because I’ve got an overactive check engine light too. At the slightest provocation, I can create worlds of terror out of bad memories while anxiety punches me in the stomach so hard I can’t breathe and depression holds down my arms and legs in its own vague, ghosty way so that I hardly notice it on account of the punching. And then, I open my eyes after the pain settles, and nothing is there. Everything is eerily normal.

And Stella’s car glides merrily along the freeway.

 

 

 

 

 

Uncategorized

“To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect” AND More on Best 5 Monday Reads — PsiHub

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Best 5 Reads! I hope you enjoyed your weekend and had enough time to recharge yourself for a busy week ahead. 1) To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation […]

via “To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect” AND More on Best 5 Monday Reads — PsiHub