Friday, March 31, 2006

Items for a good mood...

Lengthy updates via email from cross-country friends

The very last sniffle of a cold

A found twenty-dollar bill

Cold lemonade or hot tea, depending on the weather

Sample subscriptions to magazines boasting implicit simplicity

A deep breath and a deep stretch

A cell phone chirp indicating a new text message

A snarky comment prevented from repetition aloud

A soft bed, with high thread count sheets freshly laundered

Low glow from an antique lamp

A well-thumbed book, the third time read

Free lunch, and even better, at a restaurant

A scary movie, and someone to split buttered popcorn with

Al fresco anything

Having someone tell you there’s something in your teeth, immediately

Impromptu invitations

A sick day for your boss

Sunlight through the sunroof

Dew on grass, and then feet on dew


Icy water, without the ice


Sunday night before a Monday holiday

The burger at Wellville, Blue 9 or Corner Bistro

Bryant Park’s fountain

The still of seven a.m.

Being second in line (first is the worst, second is the best…)


Blue-bottomed pools

When someone refers to you as their best friend

Rooftop cocktails and fireworks

Bare arms and legs in the afternoon

Sunglasses that don’t pinch



Knowing that, on Friday morning, the entire weekend lies ahead

Thursday, March 30, 2006


The class is named Nia and is conducted by a slight man with abs of steel.

His skin, hair, and eyebrows all the same color; a light golden brown. His blue eyes dart over the room by way of the mirror into each of our reddened faces.

“Just look at how amazing you all are!” He exclaims with glee.

A girl in the first line with an incredible body and unfortunate face, swaying her hips in violent gyration, stops singing along to the blasting lyrics of “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone” to grin wide at her reflection.

A heavy-set Frenchman at the back of the room stops his hairy legs to the beat, his matted comb-over damp.

“Okay. Now, Riverdance!” our Nia man commands as he leaps higher than the Lord of the Dance himself, legs gliding through the air with the ease of a gazelle.

We fly in a fury around the studio, the mirrors now fogged, in different directions, nearly colliding with each thump to the floor.

The tempo shifts into a seventies bass, and a warbled voice fights its way through the studio speakers. The rest of the class knows what’s coming. I’m a newbie, and I do not.

“Hot sand! Hot sand!”

At once, the class is on its toes, skipping from imaginary burning spot to spot, limbs flailing and shaking with each jump.

“Be free!” He bellows. “We’re free!”

“Free!” Two participants echo faintly, through gulps for air. I nearly smack into the left wall with an overly enthusiastic hop.

I'm reminded of gym glass, of running until I had no breath, of jumping off the swingset with no fear of broken bones which inevitably lay ahead, of the parachute game when we threw a billowing ocean of nylon above our heads and raced underneath before it floated down and trapped us from the world.

Nia is ridiculous. Surely the other gym members are snickering at us through the glass, svelte girls with rolled yoga mats waiting for their time in the room, beefy guys bulging from beneath their strained tank tops, passing on the way to dead lifts. Our Nia instructor is ridiculous, purring self-esteem increasing encouragement and praise with each breath, a plastic smile permanently fixed on his face. The other participants are ridiculous, their frenetic flailing and spontaneous moans and shouts.

I am ridiculous, keeping up by stealing glances at my reflection, pondering my possible success as a dancer. If only I could work a small bit on my flexibility, I start to think I’m not half bad…

It’s all ridiculous. But it’s really fun.

“Be free!” He commands again.

This time, when the class shouts back, after ensuring that not a single soul sees me, I manage a very small mouthing of the words.

“I’m free.”

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Week

Keeling over in a gin-soaked sweat is no way to begin hump day.

I realize this.

Whole wheat blueberry waffles from Trader Joe help absorb some of last night’s sugared rum. But the rest remains.

I knew not to mix liquors.

During my nauseous commute, I try to pinpoint a moment.

When did it become too difficult to go out during the week? When did it become that I found myself entrenched in my sad little routine of work, the gym (or homework as an excuse not to go to the gym), and Idol, so much so that any break from the ordinary results in excess and disorientation?

There wasn’t always this. There was a time that I flew out of the door, holding close to my first few paychecks, to work functions, to catching up with friend functions, just functions in general really, each night of the week.

There was a time when I went out on a Tuesday, quite hard, and the entire next day at the job I felt it, churning in my stomach and across my feverish forehead. And fell asleep in my cube on the sharp of my elbows. And then on the chugging subway downtown I knew what was coming. At five thirty, the day after I had drunk myself to sickness, I pressed up the underground stairs, and began a slow, sloshing jog home out of necessity.

A young father with his little boy passed on the right side of First Avenue, then stopped to look at the flash of a glowing cell phone accessories display. The young boy was bundled up in red fleece; the father’s smile shining. They turned to continue their winter walk. But not fast enough. I looked into the boy’s eyes, and as he stared back at me, I leaned over.

I said to his father, in a pitiful voice, “I’m sorry.”

Then I threw up, all over the sidewalk. And as I was heaving, I saw in the corners of my eyes, before they rolled a little back into my head, the father grab the child and scurry off.

I said it again when I finished, this time to no one. “I’m sorry.”

Not any more.

Now I’ve shied away from drinking during the week so much that a few cocktails send me packing at eight thirty. And a grilled cheese doesn’t wipe a clean slate from the Tuesday before.

I wonder what happened between then and now, because I certainly don’t feel any more grown up.

Monday, March 27, 2006

House of Orchids

In the house of orchids, fragrant air hangs heavy; scents of vanilla, honey, and wisps of rosewater around every turn.

Three separate houses for the blooms, and three separate golden retrievers to guard them, though the dogs spend most hours lazing on their sides near the glazed pots, tongues happily panting out of their smiling mouths.

In a babbling coy pond in the first house, fiery fish swim unaware of the Spanish moss feathering downwards, nearly dipping the edge with their curled prongs.

Oncidiums are Rorschach inky in flats spread along the counters. Their markings bleed gold and purple onto pillowed white. Lemon threads edged along magenta blossoms. Green and maroon spiky black widows. Each variance of the orchid looks alien sitting next to the next; each one more exotic and more surprising than the last.

Some sprout fat green bulbs like onions at the base, their leaves thick and flowerless. Others hang in wooden boxes; their white and green roots snaking out low and long through the draining gaps, and brush lightly along the backs of buyers as they navigate through the man-made jungle of the greenhouse.

Tiny buttercup wings in white and orange smell like honeysuckle. Near them are Miltoniopis hybrids, monstrous and vivid.

For the price of a muddled mojito, I select a modest plant; with lavender tinged petals and a sturdy stalk. It's placed into a brown box, nestled in the back of a car.

I take it home to New York, away from the comfort and safety of timed sprinklers and monitored temperature, into my small and shared apartment. It's a little momento of the weekend and the outside world, of seasons and change to come.

It will be a little sanctuary, sectioned off on a table in the living room.
If only I can remember to water it.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Desert's Park (cont.)

My feet pounded heavy into the soft earth, the ground below me giving with each staccatoed step.


My lungs, wailing a tight protest with each breath, felt in my throat and in my head.

Tyler jumped a painted Cuckaburra exhibit sign as though it was an Olympic hurdle, his left arm outstretched, pointing, indicating a change of direction.

“There!” He bounded up a mulch mound with me at his heels. I trailed close, one arm gingerly touching my sleeve at its tear; my other arm flapping at the elbow, smacking me in the ribs as I investigated the damage.

At my back, the chain link fence faded distant, before me was a service shed, a loud generator buzzed unhappily, the surface dusty with the dirt of August, spitting flecks of wood and rock from the reverberating flat-top.

All clear.

No workers in view as we leapt, spinging high, over the tracks of a children’s train ride. Twenty yards ahead, the red caboose chugged away, and a young boy with a face-full of spun sugar turned, maybe at a single, passing curiosity to peek a glance behind him, and seeing us, let out a hollering yell. And pointed.


Still, the trees kept us clear, impervious to onlookers. The trees, gnarled like old men’s joints--(the kinds of trees witches’ caldrons are stirred under in nightmares)-- reached their arthritic, distorted branches to the cloudless sky, partially blocking the lift’s view.

But we had to go beyond the cover, a distant dog bark was a slap reminder that we were breaking and entering a theme park in a country further away than any other from home.

The lift’s cables were directly over Tyler and me, all the cars passed, us in their direct sights. The people above in the glass could gaze upon from many feet away, watching our desperate scramble through the manicured landscape, hiding quick in piles of dirt and behind strategically placed stones, scaling over and under lesser fences past the animals, the flavored ice stands, the cars hanging heavy on the line, ascending higher and higher the closer they came to us. Which meant…

“The skylift!” I managed, the words gasped lilted. We shot forward, now slapping sneakers on stucco, our floppy rubber soles whapping loudly. The cartoon maps on wood posts with bubbled arrows led our hopes and our legs. "Keep going!"

At once, the skylift’s entrance in front, directly in front, a steel oasis, beckoning to us, with a bored operator at its helm, perched on a stool, picking his teeth. If we could just get to it, we could hop on, zip through the sky to the other end of the park.

No one, no matter how smart, or how fast, could ever catch us. If we could just run fast, far, free. If only we could get to it in time, before the bored operator raised his slack-jawed face to greet us, before the people in line we needed to cut could protest, before the owner of the dog or the security guard in the lot or any number of hidden cameras around the park realized what we had done.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

Desert's Park

“On three,” He stood, holding the thinly coated chain-link fence, right at the point where it bowed open.

“Are you ready?”

I glanced in the direction of the overweight security guard, waddling along the opposite end of the parking lot. The enormous blue of the sky lit rows of cars in flames of silver and red. He progressed between them with labored steps, surveying every three cars or so for permits. He stopped, still. He pointed his face towards us, towards me.

I held my breath and froze, crouched, one leg dug under the fence.

The security guard sighed, then trudged on.

“He sees us!” I whisper-shrieked, sharp, shrill. “He sees us!”

“Ssssssh,” hissed Tyler. Then again, “On three.”




In one motion I tore under, snagging a lime-green sleeve, the sleeve of my new lime-green zip-up on a spoke of metal. He pushed under and over.

"Go,go, go!” Tyler flew past me in a flash of cruddy sneakers and faded baseball cap. We’d been camping on the beach in a strange country for weeks, slipping past on watery shots in backpack bars and strange farmland. We had no more money.

Earlier that day, we chased a few wallabies and I stuck my head in a stuffed crocodile—the largest stuffed crocodile in the world, mind you—and snapped photos. An animal sanctuary was where we found ourselves balancing the weight of a very sleepy and stoned Koala in the crook of our arms, its black tapered claws digging delicately into our shirts and skin as we snapped even more. That was the last of our fruit-picking money, we were driving on fumes and the smell of meat-pies and bananas, the glimpse of a kangaroo corpse at the edge of the road, common as a deer in Connecticut, and the exhilaration knowing that we held our own lives in the palm of our nervous hands at every turn, and we could disappear forever in the red of the desert, and no one would ever know how we met our fates but us and possibly God.

This is why we climbed under the fence when we saw the cartoonish signs for the territory’s--(maybe even the entire country’s)--largest theme park, replete with fully functioning exotic zoo, roller coasters that broke every code for American safety standards, a sky-lift for miles on which one could gaze down and squint to see an untouched jungle to the south, low blue mountains to the west, and directly down a pack of dingos moving dangerously close to several babies and their incredibly brave, or incredibly nitwitted, parents.

We didn’t know which. Because to survive here, we had to be one or the other, and as we scraped our knees on the powdery dirt, partially hidden by a giant mango statue and a line of low shrubs, we simply didn't know which one.

Tomorrow, the rest…

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Two Booting

I’ve always loved the idea of a video store, but not the actual application.

Whenever someone decides we’ll rent a movie, we bound out the door, our eyes and minds alight with explosions, small town stories, and sweeping foreign epics. Then upon arrival at a quite well lit and sterile (Blockbuster/Hollywood Video/Hellertown Dollar DVD), we designate different aisles in priority order, racing first to the new releases, then once finding nothing, to drama, then again skipping over “Sophie’s Choice” even though we never saw the end, to the “great director” section, and on to the horror section as a last, cheap thrill resort. When faced only with piles upon piles of choices like “American Psycho 2” (starring Mila Kunis), we curb our previous enthusiasm. Then we slowly but surely stumble upon a frightening conclusion.

With so many movies shot and shelved around the world, we can’t find a single one. Maybe it’s the store. Or maybe, it’s that we—gasp—don’t like movies as much as we thought we did??? (It’s here that, if they were physical entities, my Film minor and junior year internship would roll over in their respective graves).

We often leave the video store deflated, depleted, hang-dog low with a glossy airbrushed selection that we droopily slid over the counter. Usually something that one of us has seen, as a sacrifice, so that we can be sure that it’s semi-decent.

This is how I always thought of video stores. In Pennsylvania, in Connecticut, and even the first year of my stint in New York.

Enter a known hipster haven a few avenues away. Crumbly posters with graphic novel qualities affixed to the glass. Strange instrumentals pealing over the sound systems. Movies from camp to downright obscure, with classics sprinkled in for clout. Most of which are flicks even the most discriminating East Villager wouldn’t mind getting caught with, spotted with one tucked under an arm. And then there’s the food.

Two Boots Pizzeria & Video smells of sopressata and mushrooms, the hot air at an angular lift when you walk in. We love “The Dude” both in and outside of the movie realm. At Two Boots, he’s a Cajun bacon cheeseburger pie with tasso, ground beef, cheddar and mozzarella. There’s no way that these toppings maintain the integrity of pizza as it was intended, but we don’t care. They have Boylan’s Root Beer, and that’s all that really matters.

The video portion of the store displays bored clerks (boys with bangs, girls with cat-eye glasses) and a few couches scattered around one of those old two-player video games, the ones where you bend over to play and you can spill a whole Coke on the top and not short out.

The stacks of DVDs (nearly all DVDs here) are aligned neatly, their multi-colored spines form a bright mosaic on three of four walls. Even so, it’s still hard to navigate quickly, to find what we want. There are ironic choices we’d lean to if it was a few years ago, subtitled crawlers we want to want to see, but just don’t feel like fronting at the moment on either.

But because we are full of “The Dude” and Boylan’s, and because the new releases here are a jaw-dropping five dollars for a day’s rental, and because the selection is small but luminous, we take our time.

We pick a gem that we wanted to see in the theaters, but never did. And away from Two Boots, we walk with a lilt, regaling in our pick and our meal.

Blockbuster's no more fees policy somehow doesn't hold water in comparison.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Monday Away

From yesterday...

Today I take the day away from obligations and productivity to proclaim it mine.

The black ribs and spines of the train’s tracks lead to the horizon. I stand solitary at the edge of the platform, and squint in the bright snap, the cold first of spring. I am lone at the Greenwich station on a Monday afternoon, while everyone else in the entire world slaves away in a cubicle.


I see a slight, slow shift beyond the cover of the doors in the interior sitting area. Then one more. And once again. From people who do not work there, who are, in fact, not working at all. Those there, unlike those that preceeded them at rush hour, are not glancing at their watches and sharply swiveling their heads from side to side in an effort to glimpse an oncoming train. They are tranquil. They’re relaxed, sleeping, texting.

They exude peace, not worry at time or urgency or where they are going to and why, even for a moment. I seem to be the only one concerned with any of this (don't they have somewhere to be?).

On more than one occasion I’ve stepped into a sharp day, grumbled my way through stairways and past storefronts to arrive at my final destination; slightly rumpled and a few minutes too late. After a few hours in front of the nuclear glow of a monitor, an errand, a craving takes me outside.

I’ve seen them there. On the outside. Those reading, those lounging, those living on a Monday.

They bask in warm slats of sunshine through paned glass, idly raising a cup of hot chocolate—steaming in clouds—to their mouths, mid-sentence, eyes still wild from the promise of climax and crux of a story to come, tapping slim fingers on a sleek Vaio—click, click, click—in the middle of the morning.

These people.

With rosy cheeks, they fling off a rainbow of scarves, puffer vests, and tweed overcoats. They order strawberry cheesecake at ten in the morning if they desire, no thought to the time of day or caloric content, their books and square journals clasped in their able hands, their bags heavy but their loads light, and sit, as though their appointments have all taken them here, to this moment, where they are only to sip and to smile.

Who are these people?

The ones who have nowhere else to be during the day, who sample espresso with no irony at noon, no disciplined lunch hour and a quick conversation, check of the report later and a scurry back to the boxy buildings on the corner—no, not at all—but with the entire day free to themselves? Even more, their friends meet them. In groups, they congregate. Their bodies give, a soft thump, as they slip into a chair, shake the outside working world from their heads, and beam bright. They are alive, cognoscent, aware. They are.

I've always wanted to be one of them.

Today I take away from obligation and productivity because every time I fed either of the two, they get greedier, hungrier for more and I soon realize that they’ll never be sated. I just need the day away, the day to think, the day to walk. I do what I please, whatever I desire. Yoga, a one-man play, six subway rides, several frigid walks in the blustering wind. Today, I am one of them.

Today I begin to wonder if what I vilify is the act of being unconscious, of being confined, only to experience this city by stolen moments on lunch hour and after dark on the weekdays and after noon on the weekends.

I visit the student center and with a deep melancholy at an experience I took for granted when it was the norm, quietly and without rush, ride the escalator during the school's spring break, and after lost, come upon a quiet study room, where a man (though he must have been only been twenty-six or so) had fallen asleep in the comfort of the silence upon the government-funded couch, one hand limply preventing a pen from falling to the ground, the other deep within his boxers, protecting his most valued possession.

Naps, I forgot about naps. They are a daily ritual for these people, but not for me. I'm not allowed one.


Not tomorrow and not yesterday. But today…I sit down at a marginally comfortable chair, arms intertwined with the straps of my corduroy bag and wool coat. And I listen to the still until it lulls me to sleep. I have nothing to wake up for, nowhere to be, and no one to meet. Not today. is all mine.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

A History of Color

“Who can tell me what this is?”

The freckled strawberry-blond before us lifts a glass jar filled with small, clinking brown bits. He’s here to talk shop to a bored class. The traveling salesman from Windsor & Newton comes bearing ancient powders and free sampled paints. Pigments, primaries, the works.

“Crushed, they make this color; carmine.” The shock of crimson paint he smears on a gessoed page is a translucent and bloodied red.

“Seeds?” Ventures a cute sophomore with feathered bangs and feathered earrings.

He tips the jar forward, spilling onto a blue paper towel. “Sort of.”

She brings her face closer to the pile. “Wait. These seeds look like bugs.”

They are.

He illustrates by smashing a glass weller onto them, smearing the page with their corpse dust. After a dip of linseed oil, the red runs from their dried shells. He tells us the color is still made just as he's shown today; the bugs are grown by eggs hatched, then harvested, on cacti.

The next illustration is Indian yellow-culled from the crystallized urine of overfed cows, gorged on mango leaves, their urine stained a deep acid tone. That practice, he tells us, has since been banned once the British left India. Animal cruelty.

The final demonstration is for Mummy Brown, what used to be made from the mummified bodies of desert dwellers. It blotted the pigment a rich gray-earth. As an aside, we learn all black clothes were dyed with the charred remains of slaughtered livestock, their bones sold from refineries and farms.

“Where did you think the color came from?” He asks, incredulous at our surprise. “This happened until little more than a hundred years ago.” We never had thought of where the color came from, because we never stopped to question or care. Now, we look down at our black vinyl drawing bags.

We’re told we can be our own mixologists, like mad scientists in the days of patroned artists and crushed jewels for colors, in an East Village shop to fashion our own pigments. Glass beads, marble dust, and anything else can be added for texture, for glimmer.

He tells us this is the history of color. That if one wanted the use of one, one had to go out, find it, and somehow bring it into paint. That we are so lucky for what we have now, to live now, to exist as would-be artists now. A book upon the table displaying the graphic eroticism that got one Chilean artist arrested and banned many times in his short life of twenty-five years illustrates his points.

The strawberry-blond tells us that if we were to bring a new color to Windsor Newton today, and they found it viable, they would make it.

But he truncates our budding imaginations for color crusades with this. Unique chroma (his wording) is very unstable, very volatile, and very untrustworthy. These colors cannot be often recreated, they cannot be counted upon to stay deep and bright over time, and they do not react like other, more common hues.

They flash in a short time, and fade away afterwards, leaving no remnants of their former selves to generations in front of us.

But still, I'm in search of one.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Story of Laken

In college, I knew a wrestler named Laken.

Laken was 6 foot 3 with a shock of red hair that he wore long over his eyes, down to the unnervingly triangular soul patch underneath his lower lip. His skin had the alabaster tone and clarity of a Greek statue. His head alone must have weighed 18 pounds and his eyes were steely gray. His nose was too small for his face. He grunted.

He looked like he belonged on a Viking ship in some far off Nordic land.

And that's how he acted.

Laken wore skirts. Black wool pleated skirts. He didn't wear them as a joke, he just wore them. He also wore a pair of severe-looking black and red striped knee socks. The stripes distorted over his massive, knotty calves in bent curves. He sported necklaces and bracelets made of sharp punctures, some turned outwards to the world, readied for jabbing, and others turned on his own flesh, reddening his creamy skin. He liked that people were frightened by him. He encouraged it.

He enjoyed a hidden handicap, all too ready to share it with the skittish world. If you were to glance in his direction, you might doubletake because he was so huge and so odd, but not necessarily stare. Until he rolled up one of his long black sleeves and uncovered one of the most mangled arms ever seen.

The arm was almost normal if you squinted and it was that which made it so jarring, much like how The Elephant Man's one beautiful arm, no stronger and no less delicate than a ten year old's, would have looked usual and ordinary on someone else. As for Laken's, you would think for a moment that your eyes weren't properly relaying the shadows, then after a pregnant pause and a re-focus, you'd know. It was pinched in at the elbow so much that it was only about three inches wide, which wouldn't have been so bad if his other arm wasn't so gigantic with rippled muscle. The arm caved at his shoulder as well, giving him the appearance of having not only a flattened arm made of plastic, but a girlish one at that. The icing was a thick scar that roped down his bicep and then splayed out into a network of curving webbed lines.

He told one girl that he had been attacked by a shark while surfing the Pacific. That made him quite endearing to the sororities. We found out later that the rumor about the Great White wasn't true, but we didn't press it. There was no point in asking him what the real story was, we'd never be able to get it out of him.

Laken once approached me at a bonfire when the school was celebrating Wednesday, his massive chest covered in a delicate steel sheath and his face obscured with black paint. We chatted about how he was, the fact that his girlfriend had just gotten our school's mascot tattooed on her left ass cheek, how the History of Dinosaurs midterms were. Perhaps invigorated by the lukewarm beer, I ventured something that I never would have asked otherwise.

Disregarding his demeanor as best I could, I rubbed his mesh lightly between my palm and asked, ever so nonchalantly, "So...what's this? Chain mail?"

Laken drew his large face close to mine and I momentarily prepared for the passing of a dark secret between us. The whites of his eyes had spidery red lines.

"Yes. It's chain mail." He drew back, eyeing me. I took another sip from my cracked red cup, gulping it a bit too fast.

"Oh. I see." I knew full well not to ask what he was wearing it for. That's just what Laken stood for, and I wasn't about to indulge his little game of wreaking havoc on people's comfort levels. The best course of action, I figured, was to act as though this was the most normal of conversations and that his outfit, though interesting, was nothing out of the ordinary.

"So," I ventured with a grin, "Where did you get it? It's so cool." I looked into his eyes, waiting. He again leaned closer and I shuffled forward to meet him, sloshing beer over my cupped hand.

"I spent the last 40 hours making it." Laken righted himself and stood with his fists at his sides.

I sipped again. "You spent 40 hours making that?" I suddenly envisioned Laken hunched over, huddled in bearskins, crafting each tiny clip by light of dying embers.

Laken didn't move, didn't blink. "Not 40 hours. The last 40 hours."

It was then that, without so much as a goodbye, Laken turned away from me and began stomping towards the dining hall. He was a large man and he needed to eat. Suddenly he stopped, realizing that he had rudely interrupted our conversation, and turned around, waved his mangled arm goodbye, and with his skirt blowing in the wind, went inside.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Joy of Reading

A few Sundays past, when I had reason to be in the neighborhood, I would find joy on the Upper East Side. I loved to ride the escalator to the top floor of Borders and sit, bag slung over chair, behind a pile of stacked books and magazines. And just read.

Sometimes I would finish entire books (“He’s Just Not That Into You” being one as it was small and pink) at the high wooden counter, sipping an iced coffee to justify my thumbing through pages I would never purchase. It was a small pleasure for me, to be able to survey the stacks in an orderly, logical fashion the way bookstores are composed (damn that Dewey Decimal system, I’ll never understand it), with no snooty librarian and no proof of residence and no big imposing steps and aisles typical of the city’s municipal libraries. No pressure to pile literary musings, reference books, business manuals and titles that begin, “The History of…” in my arms. No unspoken code broken if I took to a magazine, because an institution is meant for learning, not gratification.

Plus, Borders provided intimate solace. Quiet. Warm. Smelled of hot chocolate and coffee beans. And the freedom to fritter away the afternoon on my guilty loves: how-to instructionals on money management, organization, and career advancement. (None of which I’ve since mastered in the slightest.)

For me, it was a fresh start up there, beyond the scaffolding and crowds of the streets below. A start that could change dependant on my moods. Where did I want to go that day? Anything imaginable was reachable. Anything envisioned, I could simply pluck off of the shelves and was immediately immersed in another land, another world, another life.

As I've gotten older, the bliss of a bookstore has replaced the opportunity of libraries, now synonymous with term papers and late fees. The magic trapped in the children's section of the library dilutes by the time you arrive as an adult. No painted construction paper on the walls, no colorful seats, no big open space to lie on the floor, no Dr. Suess mentalities reflected in the architecture of the room.

No matter how fashion, indie music and angst may change me, once in a bookstore I am transformed into that loud little girl again. The one with blunt bangs and tiny Smurfette icons at the corners of her candy-pink glasses, who for three years in a row won the elementary school’s summer reading award at Buchanan-Verplank’s library (an accomplishment I was proud enough of to mention to a boyfriend, who not-so-politely informed me it was horribly nerdy and should be kept to myself). Back then I’d devour Judy Blume (I read and re-read “Fifteen”, sighing as I computed the math--an excruciating eight years before I’d be a sophomore). Also, anything on Egyptians, dinosaurs, and ocean dwellers. Finally and forcibly, I’d read Newberry Award winners (from my parents’ “summer reading lists"). When I was smaller and at the library, everything my mom and dad told me was true. I could do anything, be anything in the world that I wanted. All I had to do was see it to become it.

Back there at the library and now at the bookstore, time is stagnant and the world is accessible. There are no boundaries, no limitations to what I can dream. No one interrupts, no one says "no". No one has authority to tell me what I can become, because there, I am anything I want.

And there, it's never too late to wish, to want, to hope.

To aspire.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


In honor of the chill coming tonight...

Blood orange sorbetto, champagne chocolates, cashmere pajamas, and a flickering fire.

These are the things I’d have if the day were owned by me.

Whole grain oatmeal, bloated inbox, construction buzzing beneath me, and a flickering phone light.

These are the things I have because the day is not.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Insult to Injury

Goodnight. Don’t let the ________ _____.

Apartment 10 was a real find. In budget, only two floors to walk up and prime East Village location--you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hipster. Once signed for, it held four roommates, soon fast friends.

One guarded an empty truck at night, hoping to jumpstart his film career. One interned at a separate indie film outfit. Another worked at a theater company on a stipend. The last, me, sold her soul to the devil for an advertising gig that paid $27,000 a year. With that, I was the breadwinner. We all came from so-called “top ten” schools, but apparently, nobody cared but us.

We congregated in Apartment 10 at night to swap tales, green graduates discovering life lessons on the L train each morning. Not bad for our first year beyond the bubble, we’d thought. We’d watch The West Wing, read scripts the boys brought home, make Hamburger Helper together. We were astonished that life was as easy as it was, that we all got along, that our shower schedules miraculously worked out, that while we weren’t eating well, we weren’t exactly going hungry.

This city, this life, was what kept our mothers up at night? This wasn’t so hard, we’d thought. This was even kind of fun. We went, puffed with the satisfaction of well we were doing, how we had somehow discovered the world of entry-level in New York was not nearly what everyone made it out to be, smug for weeks.

It would be far more dramatic to assert that one gray morning we woke up, the skies shifted and everything changed, but that’s not quite true. It was more familiar and usual than that. Just one hot evening. Just like all the others. Just an ordinary day, like everyone says, it was an ordinary day, then tragedy struck and we were forever changed.

I traipsed across town with Annabella to my first business (read: free!) dinner. Somewhere between 47th and 49th street I stopped, in need of adjustment. Cloth was chafing my ankle and right where my new sock dug into my calf, it itched. So bad, in fact, it felt a bit like poison ivy. I rubbed against the offending spot for relief, fished in my handbag for my cell (also brand new, now that I supposedly needed one for work) to check the time and my empty inbox, and continued to walk.

Not two steps later, I had to stop again. I pulled up my jeans to find at least seven angry-looking mosquito bites form a constellation of sorts, the lowest point of which I had just made twice as big by scratching.

Annabella pouted in pointy heels. “What’s the problem?”

I scratched, letting my ponytail block her view of my leg. “Oh nothing. I just have all these mosquito bites.”

She frowned, “How did you get mosquito bites in the city?”

I replied, “I must have gotten them last weekend at Tyler’s house.”

She clicked her heels and continued her disapproving scowl. "Don't scratch."

At her expression's urging, I swore to wear bug-spray at every pool for the rest of the summer. And stop scratching. And limit my time in Pennsylvania, period. That would surely prevent future discomfort and embarrassing itching, right? She agreed it would.

She was wrong. I was wrong.

Over the next several months, all roommates of Apartment 10 became covered with mosquito bites. Our ankles, our wrists and our necks teemed with red welts. We tried to laugh it off, shift the blame to summer, spiders, stress, anything but what it really was. One night, we watched helplessly as a newscast finally shook our denial. Through red lipsticked lips, the coiffed reporter leered at us as she delivered the fatal blow.

“An infestation of bedbugs is hitting metropolitan areas across the nation, particularly in areas of construction and hotels.”

Then a close-up of a flat brown bug, bloated with blood.

I immediately clutched the computer with slick hands, cradled it in my lap, and I clicked. On instance after instance after instance of bedbugs infiltrating the city. Yahoo. Google. MSN. Posh hotels, cruddy hostels, apartments in every borough. It was true. Dear God, it was true.

“We have bedbugs,” one of us, I can't remember who, finally said in a trembled voice.

I felt, immediately, dirty and disgusting. I tore off the bedsheets and crammed them into the trash. The pillows and duvet weren’t as disposable so I firmly instructed the cleaners to immerse them in boiling water for as long as possible, until the very moment of fiber disintegration. Only then could I be sure they were safe and bug-free. I wrapped duct-tape around the floor posts of my bed, peeling the paint on the antique slats (a makeshift adaptation of coating the frame with oil, supposedly popular at the turn of the century). I encased my mattress in vinyl, squeaky and unbearably warm, so that whatever was inside would never get out and whatever was outside could never come in.

The exterminators sprayed our apartment after we gave it a deep, crevice-examining cleaning. Thin toxic film coated our furniture and our throats for days after, leaving a sickly sweet scent hanging in the air. But things only got worse. We learned quickly that the bugs weren’t promoted nor affected by our cleanings, our sprayings and our precautions. There was construction hammering the apartments directly above us, mice were crawling out to find new homes, and bedbugs were riding on the mice, a free taxi with a meal plan, as the bugs house-hunted. Vermin begat vermin.

We heard through our broker, as we desperately searched the housing market, that the entire block had been affected. We saw many, many other apartments, none of which would fit all four of us the way we had been accustomed to (four bedrooms and two baths—one for the girls and one for the boys) within our price range. We came to a heartbreaking ultimatum. Drop one of the roommates on the street with nowhere to live, or stay where we were.

Six sprayings later and nothing had changed. I took to the loveseat, my legs hanging off the edge, ankles chattering together in the midnight cold.

Sleeping was a luxury I did not have for nearly 14 months. As I lay prone and began the descent into unconsciousness, an errant edge of the bedspread or light gust from the air conditioning would inevitably brush against my skin, and immediately I’d shoot up like a rocket with my teeth bared, slapping my hands on the blanket, violently brushing them across my pajamas, snatching the pillows and slamming them against the wall in a one-woman pillow fight, shrieking, “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!”

There were times I had to leave work because the bites turned into a rash across my neck. Once, as my face pinked in embarrassment at presenting to the higher-ups, the creeping blush enacted a horrendous reaction with the bites. I was sent home.

I tried to make light of it, but nobody understood. Their logic was relatable. Bugs arrived when food was out. Bedbugs must have come because we left sticky crumbs in our beds, never washed our sheets, never showered ourselves. No matter how we countered to friends, family and coworkers--pointing them to the news reports, directing them to the internet, or illustrating how rigid we were with cleaning and washing and wiping that surgery could have easily been performed on the floors, they never really believed us. We were repellent, and that was that. Further, we were pink across our wrists and necks and we scratched all the time. People stopped coming over and we became a laughing stock. Stupid dirty kids living in an East Village slum.

Our moms now had a reason to be panic-stricken. They had a reason to be kept up at night, terrifying nightmares and anxiety keeping them from slumber. And so did we.

Seasons changed. Our fate didn't. Walking in the summer was hellish as sweat only spread the problem. Though in the winter, scratching the parched skin tore instead of providing relief.

A roommate moved out, another moved in, we all started screaming at each other since none of us had a solution. We pleaded with the exterminator to make it right, we yelled at our landlord, we fantasized about getting a lawyer. Apartment 10 became the innermost circle of hell, our punishment for thinking we could make an easy life in the city was to be sucked dry by unseen creatures of the night. To flail in agony all day at just the mere mention of the word "bed".

Our neighbors had turned over more times than we could count at this point because of the problem. We were the idiots who stayed, because we thought it would all go away, because part of us didn't really believe, even after months of this, that it was really happening to us.
One day, the roommate who worked at the film outfit, handed me a dog-eared an article.

It spoke of the last neighbors that we remembered, girls from Yale living in East Village squalor. They were suing, they were winning, and they were quoted. They had moved to greener, bedbug-free pastures. And the story of their struggle, our struggle, was in The New Yorker.

After the disbelief that we actually knew someone highlighted in the esteemed pages before me subsided, I was suddenly struck. I turned my head to my roommate to share my thought, and without missing a step; he beat me to the punch.

“We were this close,” he said in a low voice. “This close.”

“Yeah,” I finished. “We were this close…to getting published in The New Yorker.”

After all that we had been through, this was for me what stung the most. Living in a slum, lack of sleep and money, roommate relationships and cockeyed optimism deteriorating more each day--all of that was somehow manageable to a degree. At least it wasn't a shot in the heart, a reminder that I was slipping further away from success and my dreams than even when I had graduated--that I had taken a step back and was just fumbling to recover. But...this...this...

This was adding insult to injury.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Friday's Spring

I woke sleepy this morning. Rumpled, fuzzy, the remnants of a chest cold still very much present. Though Friday, I was weary and muted—long week, long winter. Scrambled work to do, homework to hastily complete, plans to be made…all looming cloudy from the pillow’s warmest spot.

Yellow reflections from the window glinted, a glare off of mirrored boxes atop my grandmother’s pot-bellied dresser.

In an effort to capture my elusive brush, I tossed sundries, lacquers, gold glosses, tints and creams aside. (All the markings of a polished girl, true, but she rarely exists in this room.) I drew a peek from the curtain, fingering the beige linen between my thumb and forefinger.

Outside: blue, bright, balmy. And projected at sixty-eight degrees by this afternoon, depending on whose estimate you believe.

I threw open, or as close to it as the unusually heavy weight allows, the door leading out of the apartment complex.

The distant chirp of birds, a thin film of dew, and that smell. Not garbage or shwarma or over-perfumed subway riders. Faint wisps of grass, morning light, and the promise of the day. Outside it smelled, just slight enough to catch, like spring had sprung.

Today is a day for springs in steps. Impromptu lunches, trashy novels in the park, walks home, cappuccinos, skipping down Fifth, white wine, sunglasses, biergartens, thinnest layers of the year, desserts.

This is Friday. And this is a day for a good mood. Today’s day is saturated sweet.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Summer Spent on the Marine Path

There are times when I think, I tell myself, that life will get no easier than it is today. No husband, no mortgage, not even a cat to care for. Just me. And if I decided to simply turn around and pursue a different life, one less chosen by most, one less approved by my parents, one less paid, it could be possible and wholly fulfilling. Today, I’m filled with such possibilities and I think back to a path I didn’t decide to follow.

I studied Marine Biology once, on the Outer Banks, on an island with no adults.

I worked outside for the summer, thighs deep in water, sleeves damp and soggy. Hours were spent chasing buried clams, slipping in the wet sand, tossing fistfuls at each other, dodging long curled pieces once we learned they were worm poop. Crab pots hauled over and hoisted up brought new life to our homemade aquariums, and it was from there that I plucked a big orange sea-snail--known after that day as Jonas--cupped him in my hands and sped-walked to the classroom, and gently as a mother’s touch, released him into my watery glass box.

We wore skinned knees and burnt shoulders every day after the first. We were ten years old again, but with a Jeep with no doors and no roof, and we drove fast and far with our feet hanging out to the road and the wind. We camped in the sand in Ocracoke, ten to a tent, and pumped a keg that we sneaked over the ferry under a blanket. We kicked phosphorescent tides up onto our legs and pushed each other in the moonlight as we filled our cups, then lay down right on the sand to watch the stars to the tune of the car radio, turned up as far as it could go.

We slept in triple bunk bends and stomached mess-hall meals. The food was off--everything tasted a bit like seaweed because of the air. After dark, we shot pool at the only bar in town; the Royal James, and it was there that, for the first time, I heard Janis Joplin’s mournful rasp in “Bobby McGee” over chicken tenders with hot sauce.

There was an island across from our island, and wild ponies were the only inhabitants, though they were squat and slow, they were wild still, and we watched them run across the salt-licked hills in groups of three and four. We sat in a rickety boat with a bum motor, puttering as far out as we could in the sound, and studied wild dolphins that followed us, flipping and frolicking and the professor told us that dolphins were the only other animals in the entire world that had sex for pleasure, and that’s what they were doing in a big heap next to the boat, and we turned our eyes away to be polite.

Today, I wonder, if it’s too late to go back. To alternate my gaze between the miscroscope and the ocean. To pursue that life lost, that summer spent when nothing mattered but the weather and the water conditions.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


My favorite haunt in college was open past 3 a.m. on Ninth Street. It boasted fresh-mex and crackled mariachi over twin speakers. Burritos were advertised “as large as your head” on makeshift posters plastered on the walls. We’d order watery pitchers of sangria while we played sticky rounds of quarters, despite the busboy’s protests, knocking rice and ice over the tables and onto the floor. It was where we came together, our unofficial student center, close enough to walk past campus, across the quiet main road that snaked through town. Breakups, makeups, and throwups were ever present on the outside steps.

One night, a newly minted sorority girl staggered in line, squealing at the lacrosse players and their quesadillas. Her eyes half closed, she stumbled once in her denim mini-skirt and flip-flops, smeared with floor salsa, and flopped her hand on the rim of the open service counter.

Fighting a stare, I went back to wrestling with the most difficult decision of the night--chicken nachos or steak taco?—and faced the chalked menu sign. A low gasp from members of the line rang out. The back of the girl’s denim skirt was suddenly in the air as she flung herself over the partition at the cooks’ garbage can.

“Here it comes,” a girl behind me exclaimed, “she’s gonna puke!” I took a half-step forward, contemplating rubbing her bare shoulder once in solidarity. Figuring I should (my order just put in), I continued towards her. But, before I could provide any comfort, she snapped her blond head triumphantly, arms outstretched, sequined cardigan half-open, nipple out, eyes still closed.

And munching. On a burrito. That she had pulled out of the trash.

Her friend, far more useful had she emerged three minutes earlier, pushed through the crowd.

ASHLEY!!” She screamed. The burrito was slapped from Ashley’s open mouth, her sour-cream covered hand was firmly gripped, and the poor girl dragged away by her friend, both entirely oblivious to Ashley’s demi-bra slipping lower and lower with each step.

Thankfully, late night face-shoveling antics are not a thing of the past for me. As long as I’m irresponsible enough to be out and hungry past 3, burger shacks and pizza joints will still be as much a part of my night as the Lychee Martinis and PBRs before them. They’ve opened a branch of the fresh-mex in my neighborhood, but the prices are astronomical and they’ve substituted lemongrass in part for cheese. It's just not the same.

So I’m looking for a new haunt. There’s one within walking distance, open past 4 a.m. on St. Mark’s, where goth girls sling tater tots slathered with cheese and dogs smeared with avocado. It’s full of too-happy East Villagers instead of students, still making an incredible mess.

Could this be my new stomping ground, where I hastily try to prevent Saturday’s hangover with the greasiest food in town? It has been nothing but a pleasure so far, each time I’ve been present, it’s incredible. We’ve played Connect Four while waiting for our orders. But part of me is still just a small bit unconvinced that this could replace the Cantina of old.

Maybe I’m just waiting for a mini-skirted girl to stomp through the doors, close her eyes and shove cheesy trash into her mouth before I’ll know for sure.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Monday, March 06, 2006

At the very least...

You know you’ve been in New York too long when you feel a cold coming on, that inevitable thickness of throat, drip of sinuses and fogginess of head, and the first thought that pops into your mind is…

at least I’ll drop a few pounds…


“As assistants, we’ve all completed the craziest tasks and bent to the most outlandish demands,” says the shimmering blonde with the lavender scarf, over wine and tapas.

Flickering candles light the rims of our glasses with metallic white. To the left, girls toss their hair on first dates, to the right, men recount their game plans for the evening, and directly in front, the waitress passes, for a third time, without filling our tumblers with ice water.

We talk about one assistant we know who had to hand deliver a boss’s urine sample. Another dragged his society editrix to Beth Isreal for an overdose of Xanax. The last assistant is legend: the media buyer who became so drunk trying to show her bosses that she could “hang and bang” with the rest of them, she soiled herself on a white couch at the Fox upfronts. The back and forth through the media world was tremendously cruel, mass emails filled with comments, “Bet her boyfriend really gave her ‘crap’ about it!” and “I wonder how many hours she’s ‘logged’ trying to make up for that!” Some of the emails included pictures. Still, we laugh hysterically, reminiscing.

“I just want to be doing something with a purpose,” she says when the last fit of giggles subsides, her blue eyes lowered to her hands. “Something that’s bringing some good into the world. Before I’m too old and jaded to realize it’s not possible.”

“I know,” I nod, “Work should be one of three things: what you love, paid enormously well, or giving back to the world. Perhaps not in that order.” I nibble at the spinach flatbread, though I’ve already eaten dinner beforehand.

“Oh, you mean not fact-checking the latest ‘Stripper Memoir: What Latex and Lucite Taught Me About Life and Love'?”

We laugh. I say, “Oh come on, it’s not that bad.” Her face is grim.

“No, seriously. I just keep thinking, I graduated from an Ivy for this??”

Thursday, March 02, 2006


I’ve called many places home, the most recent a loft apartment shared with three roommates (always with three roommates, the people may change, but the number never will). I’ve lived in many houses, spent semesters abroad at different schools, soaked up sun in shares and called each one home.

At the end of the workday, I told a girl in the office that I was going home for the night. My mother called soon after, asking when it was that I was coming home for a visit to them.
The 200 year old house my parents reside in now is not the place (or places) I grew up. That was in a handful of houses, ever increasing in size, littered throughout the state of Connecticut. Memories of them run and rush together; though there are salient memories of each, I sometimes I can't recall which one I’m thinking of.

The things I miss from my real homes, my complete homes where my roommates are related to me by blood, struck me today on the ride to my adult home, where I would need at least an hour to tidy up and make the beds with hospital corners under the duvet just to diffuse my mother’s horror after arriving.

Tonight, the things I miss from home are:

Stoking the fire with the rooster-shaped poker, then at my father’s insistence, closing the flue before I go sleep

Quilt upon quilt on the bed, and the dog, for warmth

A white yard, days and weeks beyond the snowfall

No makeup

Home-brewed coffee and my mother’s scrambled eggs on Sunday mornings

Chirping birds

The blare of world news in the evening

My parents’ cocktail hour filled with an hour of Dewar’s, then a dip into the Talisker

A house that’s never dusty, never with a sinkful of dishes, never with piled laundry in the bedrooms

Good lighting in the halls

A mailbox full of bills and junk-mail that isn’t for me

Garden books, history books, school books, art books

Orange juice by the gallon

Two large leather couches and proper drapes

Ettigiers, moss-covered stone baths, and chandeliers of chains from my parents’ antique store

Cats jumping from the banister in the dark

The smell of my mother’s thirteen-year-old Lexus that they refuse to replace

My brother’s basketball posters and strewn video games

The washer and dryer

Sheafs of paper stacked like cords of wood in my mother’s office

The freedom to be barefoot all day

The drive to the grocery store, the best one, two towns over

Curving green roads

Sleeping in a screened in porch

The first chill of the pool

The square panes of summer sun

Walking along an open road with no cars

Deer in the lily garden

Horses beyond the fence at the neighbor’s yard

The sound of rushing water

The afternoon shade of golden, speckled trees

Maybe it's time I took a trip home...

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

You mean you've never...?

Since arriving in the city, I’ve heard friends that I thought I knew morph into beautiful creatures with shrunken hearts. Their chatter is limited to celebrity gossip (themselves believing that they are one), haute couture, hotspots, jet-setting, and money, money, money.

Just a sampling from the mouth of brats--words spoken with an air of disgust and a quick roll of eyes--what they’ve said to people we’ve known, their superiors, and, of course, to me:

“You mean you’ve never heard of…

-The Five O’Clock Heroes??

-Level V??


-JT Leroy??


“You’re wearing that, here?”

“Ever since Lindsay Lohan got word of it, this place is so over.”

“I saw this/them/the band over a year ago and thought it/they/the band sucked.”

“Who said that was cool again? It’s not.”

“I’m just not sure you’d fit in.”

“Well, I’m different than you. I can’t explain how I did it; you’d never be able to. Don’t even try.”

“Sorry, you can’t come in.”

What happened to everyone who wore flip-flops and jeans at summer BBQs, everyone who didn’t know what they wanted and how to get it, everyone who didn’t prefer Megu cocktails, MisShapes, and the Soho house pool above friends, family and bad television?