Monday, February 27, 2006

Lessons from the Studio

Hands raw from compressed and vine charcoal, gummy kneads and conte...I wonder of life lessons. Can I glean what's true in the world from what renders true on the page?

The figure forms before us; open blinds, errant hairs, cellulite be damned. Her preferential stance is an arched neck, strong thighs and splayed hands. Her face, permanently fixed in a scowl. We're meant to draw her weight, her effort, her insides out. We're intimate, eyes to soul, until her timer beeps twice.

She's traded for a man my father's age as the clock strikes four. I am the only one immature enough to smirk when he scratches his ass mid-pose.

The professor implores us, take each section learned and fit them together like interconnecting puzzle pieces. We're to build from one to the next, never fully forgetting the last, though it's impossible. She says everything we'll ever need to know in life, we'll know at the end of our stay in the eighth floor studio. In here, the lights buzz, fixtures are smeared grey and we're all students once more.

My fingernails are dirty, jeans spattered with ink. Across the room, a regal speech writer has a deep smudge from nose to ear.

So much escapes me when I look for it. Life lessons, what could they be? Striving for beauty is striving for truth, perhaps. Learning to see instead of assuming what we know. Finding the aesthetic in the weird, the ugly, the ordinary.

Smearing a beloved sketch when asked only to draw an inferior one in its place seems as though it teaches nothing at all.

The models shifts into an energetic gesture at the professor's urging, spread-eagle on a chair, pointed fiercely at me.

I'm beginning to see. Perspective, inner energy, the importance of averting one's gaze from another's genitals...

One can learn so much about life from within the art studio.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Boss

Team bonding is a must at the office, she tells me, and with bonding comes alcohol, always.

A new boss buys rounds of shots for everyone. Many Lemon Drops later, the team is snatching pizza from each other's hands, laughing through mouthfuls of cheese at sexual innuendos. She eats four slices--can I believe it?--sure I can, I've done it too, I say--and then she announces she's heading home to bed.

The boss lives far from the island in a duplex with his wife and young daughters. He's slipping, he's slurring, he can't brace the journey. He asks, in front of everyone, if he can sleep over--can I believe it?--sure, he's drunk I say--and then she throws him a skeptical look.

No funny business, he says, and at this antiquated turn of phrase, he's believed.

He treks to the Upper West with her--a generous girl--with no extra bedroom. He snores gratefully through the night on the air mattress as she shivers under the second-best blanket (she's always been a gracious hostess).

She wakes him the next morning, they ride uncomfortably to work together, they share aspirin. We IM over it, how funny, how weird, we say. Won't the wife be angry, I think. But he was her boss, she replies, how could she say no?

She comes home to clean, work out, start the weekend, deflates the plastic and notices something.

It's wet.

As is the blanket, the sheets, even an edge of the pillow. And it smells.

She calls me, laughing, frantic, confused.

" new boss...the one with a wife...and a daughter...that got drunk...and insisted he sleep over...and I'm I let know the one...he...he peed on my air mattress!"

The new boss's first order in the office? Soiling the extra bedclothes of his inferior.

So, is now a good time to ask for a raise?

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Joneses

No one will take us to dinner, so we take ourselves. The elders and their promoted assistants. They pick Perry Street and we oblige.

Though remarkable, it’s too expensive for us, even in new positions. They come boasting Burberry totes, YSL blouses, spring Manolos. We shift uncomfortably in J. Crew.

They don’t offer to trade their exorbitant wine selection when we politely protest. They don’t offer to pick up the tab though they are many years and dollars ahead of us. We would never allow it, but still, it could be nice to hear…

We eat bread, order chicken, drink tap and glitter conversation. We earn our keep in this club by spinning tales.

We walk, not cab, home. Once there, we warm Hot Pockets and wonder if we’ll ever, ever fit in.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Two boys in the living room, men really (they were both 28), five floors to walk up, no air conditioning, adjacent to a graveyard in the East Village, 8x10 and $750.

I said yes immediately.

When I first moved to New York, I said yes to everything, just like I promised. Yes to the first lousy job I was offered, yes to the first apartment I stepped into, yes to the table of rowdy boys now handing me a chocolate brown Guinness. After I said yes, one of them, with a deft slight of hand, dropped a shot of Jameson into the glass.

“Drink!” They shouted, staggering their encouragements as the foam began to thicken.

One new roommate bought me another before I finished the first. His name was Jeb, and I’d already seen him wearing white underwear as he stood in the kitchen, brow furrowed in concentration as he cracked his knuckles, snapped his wrist, and limply lassoed the couch. He’d promised he’d teach me in due time. I took the drink from him in hopes it would get me closer to my first couch-corralling lesson.

Mark, the other, was blonde and loved a girlfriend who never took to me, quite wary of my status as a roommate and my propensity for saying yes. He sat next to me as I downed Jeb’s gifted "Irish Car Bomb". The girlfriend left soon after, but not before pulling Mark aside, furiously nodding her head as she spoke, her curls and hoop earrings tangling together.

The other boys parted too, and when we walked home that night, I felt protected by two new older brothers, ones I never had in Connecticut. Though my sandals were digging into my not-yet-summer-hardened feet, I walked lightly, deeply inhaling the thick summer air and swinging my handbag at each stoplight. After the rigorous walk upstairs, I collapsed on the bed in my tiny, hotbox of a room. Mark stood, loopy, at the door, and eyed me as I tossed off my wedges and gingerly touched my sore toes. I waved goodbye to him, then motioned for him to shut the door. Instead, he stepped in and sat on my pillow and on my hair.

“You really shouldn’t be in here,” I warned, smiling to lighten the conviction in my voice. I sat up.

“Why not?” He asked, returning my smile with devilish intentions. I scooted three inches to the right, the only free space on my single bed.

“Because I have Tyler and you have Monica and they’d be pretty angry to know that you were in here.” I didn’t smile this time. “So come on.”

He leaned towards me, breathing on me, forward and forward, until he was almost upon me.

“No,” I said. He grinned and attempted a second try. Again, I said no. He drew back, his face growing ugly for a moment. He jumped to his feet.

He stomped out of the room, slamming the rickety door on its hinges. A day and a half later, I was asked to leave. They said I was too young for them, I was on the phone too much, I was never there on the weekends so I wasn’t enough a part of their lives. Then they said I was immature, and wasn’t what they had expected, and I was a silly, stupid, vapid girl and sent me on my way, back down the five flights of stairs in August’s cruel heat. They wouldn’t hold the door for me. I scraped my fingers on the frame as I carried a laundry basket filled with books. The girlfriend watched me with a sneer when my hand drew blood, and as I turned my back in shame at losing at the first thing in New York I’d tried, I heard her whisper something about me I’d like to forget I heard.

With tears stinging my eyes, I learned a lesson then, the importance of saying no, and since that first declaration there have been many others. No, if it makes me feel bad, no if it makes someone else feel bad, no when something feels off. Whatever the consequence.

Right or wrong, New York has taught me to say no. Far more than it ever beckons me to say yes.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

So long, Annabella

Annabella is an exotic beauty with gorgeous legs and impeccable fashion sense. She’s kind, caring, with enough fire to keep you guessing. She’s well-read, well-versed, has outside interests, loves the comfort of a relationship but always maintains her individuality.

So why can’t she get a decent man in this town?

We craft a chart of her conquests over the past two years. There have been rich businessmen, bankers, hipsters, musicians, all. They have been young, they have been old, they have been Chelsea, Upper West, Brooklyn. They have nothing in common but for the fact that they have lost her.

Anabella’s sex appeal is unmatched to just about every male she meets. Many have ditched relationships to be with their ideal, an insatiable vixen. That is, until she wants to eat take-out on a Sunday night and watch “Drawn Together”. All of a sudden she’s clingy, needy, un-sexy, just because she wants to give the thong a rest once a week. And Sunday is a day of rest. (Please guys, for at least some things. You’ve no idea the torture of a thong, heels, tight jeans, dangling earrings, nightly skin regimen, hair removal, and salad.) Maybe Annabella has been meeting the wrong men, but how can one ever tell until it’s too late?

Annabella tries abstinence from kisses and alcohol. She avoids touching them so she won’t be shattering their minx-y illusions, just smiles and nibbles small plates at dinner, perhaps offering up a peck on the cheek at the end of the evening for thanks. She sips maybe one glass of wine and cracks non-offensive jokes. They lose their interest. So to the boys, Annabella is too Madonna when they want whore. She flips it, and suddenly they can’t see themselves settling down with her because she’s too masculine with her emotions. She says it’s just about the sex, so they treat her like a prostitute. She tells them that she doesn’t want a relationship; they want one. She tells them that she does; they run for the hills.

So now she’s looking elsewhere and may have found “it” with a country-club-boy-turned-scientist who’s in grad school, many, many states over. Men of New York, how could you let this one get away?

Bud Lights and Love in the Carolinas

The first time I fell in love was on a drunken Saturday night.

I was nineteen, full of energy and arguments. My father had, with his head shaking and his mouth muttering protests, bought me the dress I wanted for my very first formal. It was a flimsy red polyester piece: strapless, short, and with holes cut out of the sides (flirty, fun, and inexcusably trashy, I’ll admit). But, I had just extricated myself from the very heavy arms of my first real relationship. I was out to have a good time, to hell with what anyone thought. I repeated this to my father. He begged me to wear my grandmother’s large black shawl that evening, and then to never wear the dress ever again. I promised him I wouldn’t (and why would I need to if the dress did its job?).

An extra fifteen minutes of exfoliating, a blast of my roommate’s French perfume on each of my shoulder blades, and a pop of my lacquered lips later…I was ready to fall head over heels.

Tyler pulled up to my dorm room in a Toyota Tacoma and I skittered in my patent leather heels in the dead of a Carolina winter to his truck. Once at George’s, the local bar where the dances were always held, I perched on a stool at one of the high wooden tables and waited for my Diet Coke. Tyler, brown eyes shining, big smile beaming, arrived with two Bud Lights. Then two more, then two more.

We drank Bud Lights all night because it was cheap, because the bartender wasn’t checking IDs for beers, because alcohol was the best social lubricant there ever was and we didn’t know one another. We wanted desperately to like each other, even if we had nothing in common.

We danced wildly, me with my hands on the edge of my skirt the entire time, pulling it down to protect my reputation, head back laughing. A friend of ours snapped a picture of Tyler and me, arms wrapped around each other, hysterically giggling at a joke we’ll never remember.

Last Saturday Tyler and I skipped the indie movies, the fusion restaurants, the exclusive clubs. None of those was a good reason to leave our warm apartment and empty our wallets. After flipping through an an old photo album, we braved the bitter cold for a few beers.

The first bar we went to was filled with hipsters and bare-shouldered girls. Though we have been known to frequent it, with a glance and a knowing nod, we turned around and left. Not tonight, we both knew. Tonight, we wanted to go back to a time when we couldn't see anyone else but us.

We walked another block in the New York winter, much windier and more familiar to us northerners than our college stint in the Carolina “cold”. We arrived at a near-empty dive bar, which in any other city would be smoky, and walked in with no lines and no attitude.

We stood next to each other, him with his parka still on and his cool designer sneakers, me in un-designer jeans and a two-dollar headband. We didn't talk about our jobs, our stresses, our need to succeed but not knowing how, we just made jokes, we remembered college and warm weather and when our parents used to buy us things.

We played darts for two hours, laughing a little lower and a little more knowing at jokes we’ll never remember, nursing one Bud Light each along the way. We only drank two because they weren't cheap, because we weren't surrounded by our college friends, because we liked each other anyway.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Almost There

Down on my luck, not quite out on the street. City dreams faltering as they're realized…New York is filled with those with and without talent who become happy and successful on a whim, the wings of a celebrity, and anything else. It's enough to make a girl crawl back to college.

I’m learning firsthand that maintaining a relationship in this concrete jungle is hard. Let alone the whole “making it” part. How can I navigate away from part-time and create a real contribution? How do I deal with aging too young, wishing to go back to a time when I was surrounded by friends and promise? How do I become better when everything seems set on making me worse? I’m not sure of the answers, but I will not let this city defeat me before I find out.

It's like I am at the cusp of knowing the path and look up to see the finish line obscured. I’m almost everything, it seems. I’m almost artistic, I'm almost literary, I’m almost happy. I just hope I’m almost there.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Sunshine Coast (Travel Writing)

My grandfather is a “digger”, a Bondi boy, a man who spent Christmas dressed in a charcoal tuxedo, his girl of the moment in a tulle gown, surfing until dawn. His tales unfold on the outer shores of Sydney and glitter with golden-brown promise. Though he moved to Scarsdale, New York at least 50 years ago, he still bears all the marks of a tried and true Australian. He’s tan. He’s unflappable. His speech is littered with strange words and phrases.

She’s as ugly as a hatful. Hand me the drink, not the billy. Bugger off. He’s said it all and more. One Christmas he asks me why I’m hanging around with all the old folks (himself and his daughter--my mother--included). I shrug, say I just want to be around my family, even though I don’t. He says there’s plenty of time for that later, and I need concentrate on being young. He punctuates this advice with a story about surfing in evening wear. It’s a moment between us, and it clicks. This is in my blood, and I have to get to Australia, land of the wild, bizarre and sunshine, one way or another.

The summer between my junior and senior year of college I charge a ticket to my first credit card and embark on a big, rumbling jet. On the flight I doze on possibilities. I sign up to Work Australia under the premise that after a few relaxing days by the harbor, I’d be set up as a bar maid, sashaying brews back and forth to dapper business types and crusty fisherman alike. Barring that, I figure the fantasy could be rewritten using lattes. In between sunning myself and pocketing tips, I’d sightsee, maybe take a walkabout or two.

But what I didn’t count on is that while I am enjoying a complimentary bag of peanuts, Sydney is just beginning its decent into a Seattle-like winter. Or that jobs are scarce and few between. Or even that I have no experience behind a bar or as a soda jerk.

My program instructors tell me to “follow the sunshine”, trek up the Sunshine Coast and find fruit-picking work. An added bonus is the weather warms the more north I go. I buy a one-way bus ticket up, and follow when the British jump off.

We stop in Nimbin, a rolling emerald town not unlike Amsterdam in its marijuana-embraced mentality. A kid, no more than twelve solicits me for mushrooms. Another pushes something I’d never heard of. Cops drink Victoria Bitters amongst old stoners swaddled in ratty tie-dies.

Next up is a stint on Hitchinbrook Island, where a man teaches me to “bite the arse” off of one of the soldiering giant green ants that attack us, pinching red welts on our back through our shirts. It isn’t revenge, as I first figure, but a chaser to the shot of tequila ending this exhausting day. Never mind that limes are readily available. My hard labor, dragging branches teeming with the dreaded ants, is rewarded with four hours on the island’s private beach. The flat sand, the clear waters lit with white and blue, and the fossilized version of a crab several million years old is payment enough.

When I move on to Cairns, I hear of sweat-soaked bars like The Woolshed, the open gate to the Great Barrier Reef, and the meat pies. What everyone fails to mention, or maybe I just fail to hear, is the gang of giant bats that literally fill the trees like ominous crows every evening at dusk. They’re fruit bats with faces like sweet dogs and three-foot wingspans. They fly low, nearly hitting me in the face mid-flight, one streaming urine as it soars over a crowd of tourists. At a sanctuary nearby, I feed one a slice of chocolate pudding fruit, and he delicately nibbles at it while hanging upside-down, never taking his large eyes off of me. When I go diving, a white-tipped reef shark swims by as my foot is clamped down in a giant clam’s mouth. The scuba coach pries me free.

In Cardwell I find my calling, driving a tractor on a banana farm. I wield a weapon, a machete, running through fields slashing the young plants. The men that work on the farm with me are barefoot, letting the rain wash their filthy feet. One day they pull a six foot long blue snake from the depths of the banana clusters and proceed to throw it at each other, laughing as it sinks its fang into their bare legs. Another day they play baseball, batting a wasp’s nest with banana bunches. I tell my mother. She finally sends money.

On Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, I slog through shin-high sand to get to my campsite. Once at the shore of the freshwater lake, the sand is flour and the water is so clear it’s just as white. Near the middle it seeps up the blue of the enormous sky, the biggest sky in the entire world. The sun is too hot and the water too cold, but it’s still the most beautiful place anyone has ever imagined. Later that night, a dingo eats all my food out of the front of the tent while I am sleeping. I share a fellow camper’s baked beans on toast.

On my way back down the coast I rent a car. I see dead kangaroos littering the highways like deer back home. I pass an enormous hump at sunset, thoroughly convinced that it is, indeed, a werewolf. I turn back and inch towards it in my tiny compact, seeing a mass of matted red-wet fur and tusks. It’s a boar, a ferocious-looking giant boar, that probably weighs around 400 pounds.

I hold a sleepy, heavy koala and she digs her claws into my shoulders slightly, so that when I let go, she’s still hanging on me. I feed a giraffe through a broken zoo’s fence. I chase a wallaby around a tree. I crush a giant cockroach and sidestep a spider the size of my head.

I come back to the States to find my friends completing prized internships that will surely lead to illustrious careers. They think all I’ve got is a burn that takes three months to fade. But, I’ve gotten much more. Sure, the self-assuredness that comes from backpacking across a lonely desert. But more importantly, because of the tractor, I can now drive stick and I’ve got some new slang.
And I'll be back to surf in a dress.