Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Mailbox War

My father is a survivor of two wars.

The first was Vietnam (where he was a medic). The second was the war at home (where he was part-villain, part victim).

The war at home was not fought against my strong-willed mother, nor her strong-willed daughter (me), nor her strong-willed newborn (my brother, who was such an intolerable, shrieking toddler that we referred to him as ‘the Raptor’). Instead, the war at home was fought between two venerable enemies, and battled on civilian soil in the early nineties. On one side, my father in shorts and a polo shirt, a.k.a. Mr. Mom, who raised my brother and me and two dogs and one cat, while my mom bio-medically consulted her way through Europe, coming home only in stints.

On the other: the teenagers of Peekskill, New York and their arsenal of baseball bats.

At that time, there wasn’t much to do in town. One movie theater, one neon-signed shopping plaza (the main attraction tied between the pet shop and the hardware store). Not much else. And lots of bored teenagers in the summertime, half-assing wait or landscaping jobs during the week, coming home only to nurse beers and drive restlessly at night.

So they did what all red-blooded Americans do with energy, aggression, and an arguably poor upbringing. At low speeds in open cars, they swooped past mailboxes, improving their batting averages by smashing perched metal off poles.

We had just moved into the white clapboard house on a hill. Our mailbox was at the bottom of it. And because my parents had just begun to take pride in the place (recently out of the rental down the street), they renovated and improved, bursting with the satisfaction of their newly purchased home. One of the first acts my father took was to buy a beautiful mailbox as a prosperous symbol; a miniature bright, red barn, with a tiled roof and wide doors from which mail sprang.

And one of the first acts the neighborhood teenagers took was to smack it right off the pole in the middle of the night, denting the plastic and knocking off the doors.

When my father saw it, he knew. He had done his fair share of toilet-papering the principal’s house as a kid. But that was Halloween in Normal, Illinois. Not a summer spent destroying mailboxes in Peekskill, New York.

This was much, much different in his eyes. He had survived far worst virtually unmarked. He didn’t "come back from 'nam" to let a bunch of "punk kids" stick it to his young family, his new house, his new mailbox.

So he put it back up. Upon seeing this, the kids knocked it right back down. They too, had survived--plenty of fathers in town were out to prove a point with their mailboxes, dads that refused to be defeated, until the kids broke them down and the old guys gave up, heads hanging in shame, only to return to their wives and their kids with their shoulders shrugged in conquered disbelief.

But not my dad. Not him, not ever. My dad was of a breed these kids had never seen.

He ditched the cutesy, hard plastic in lieu of a sturdy wood structure bolted into a sturdier wood pole in the ground.

The next morning we saw, as we scaled down the driveway in our white Ford Taurus, the box lay splintered on the side of the road.

I remember what it looked like. And how my dad’s face hardened with determination, a smile flickered fast at his mouth. Even at ten years old, I saw what this meant. This was not over. This had only just begun. These were just the formative stages of what would be known forever after as The Mailbox War.

Next up was a traditional tin box, plain and black and just like all the others on the block. But it deviated when he encased it in a circular steel sheet, leaving gaps around the rectangular receptacle. Into those gaps he poured a yellow liquin plastic that bubbled and dried hard and puffy, like insulation. This he fixed to a metal pole, which he buried deep into the ground.

Now, instead of a mailbox, we had a space age monstrosity twice normal size, that gleamed in the sun with a terrible glare. As the bus lurched around the bend towards my house, I would instruct all substitute drivers to the “mailbox that looks like a big bullet” to ensure I was dropped at the right spot.

The teenagers had a hell of a time with this one, but they were just as committed as my dad. They bashed that thing mercilessly, over and over again, night after night. Try as they might, they dented the sheet and the insulation under the surface, but you could see from looking dead on that the mailbox protected by all this was entirely unscathed.

That was part one of my dad’s plan. To erect something that caused them to park their cars on the side of the drive, jump out with their bats and poles, and on foot, dance around the box, smashing it.

Part two was to hide his green and gold-flecked Buick at the bottom of the hill, obscured by night and the shade of pines. To sit in the driver’s side with his hands gripping the leather wheel, nodding off and jolting awake, his BB gun (previously used only for scaring squirrels away from the birdfeeder) at his side. Once he saw the flash of baseball bats by moonlight, the idea was to jump out, laughing maniacally and spraying the stars with BBs, forcing the teenagers to run screaming back into their cars, not before one or two of them soiled themselves, and drive away in hysterics, never to speak of that night again, and never to return.

Unfortunately, he never got the chance. The kids, perhaps anticipating an ambush, came at odd hours, and in strange patterns. Once they left the box alone for an entire week. A few days of sleeplessness and my dad’s fatigued ramblings caused my mom to put an end to that real quick.

Soon after, the mailbox was officially dismembered. Because the kids couldn’t beat it to a pulp, they blew it up, uprooting the pole like it was a diseased tree, and left it broken on its side in a nearby ditch.

At this point, we all congratulated my dad on fighting the good fight. The silver mailbox had lasted far longer than anyone could have imagined, and now that we had to erect number four, we wondered if we could just frequent a P.O. Box and live our lives in peace.

My dad scoffed at this suggestion, and got to work on his ultimate structure. He knew he had created a mailbox that could almost withstand the beatings, but a pole that could not. His solution: an iron pole cemented into the ground. As a nod to the would-be destroyers, he bolted a new version of the maimed mailbox on top, daring them to continue to try.

The box stayed atop the pole, through the winter, then spring. It seemed this had ended it. Once in a while a new dent would appear on the sheeting, but for the most part, it was left alone. No more explosions. The teenagers had been handed. But this is not the end of the story.

The hill on which our house stood was at a very dangerous turn of the road. I lost Peaches-the-cat to whizzing cars careening by. It was accident-prone and everyone within a ten mile radius knew to proceed with caution.

One day, a teenager, maybe one who had fought in The Mailbox War against my dad, maybe not, but to be sure, one who was not paying attention and one who was driving a borrowed BMW far too fast, swerved around the curve. And drove right into our mailbox. He hadn’t slammed on the breaks to avoid hitting it, assuming it would give with the thousands of pounds of steel and fiberglass of the car, figuring that the pole would bend and the box would pop off like the head of a dandelion, and he’d slow to a stop.

Instead, the car wrapped around the immovable object we called our mailbox. The airbags went off, the car was destroyed, he was in tears, his mother arrived in a rage, my father was apologetic and concerned for the boy’s safety. But our mailbox, it stayed.

The boy was perfectly fine except for the tongue-lashing he received from his mother, “I can’t believe you did this, you said you were going to be careful with the car, I never should have let you borrow it, your father is going to kill us both!

Almost immediately, my dad dismantled the mailbox and its pole. He couldn’t, in good conscience, let it stay, knowing that bad drivers endangering their lives and the lives of anyone who happened to be nearby, could become fixed in a metal swirl around it.

He constructed a normal mailbox after that. One that was flimsy, and like most others on the block. But the funny thing was, it was never touched again. Maybe because that kid actually had been a perpetrator of our previous boxes, or maybe because the other kids were tired of it, or maybe they thought it was a trick.

Nevertheless, they stayed away.

My dad remains, to this day, victorious (if a not little notorious, as well).

Friday, May 26, 2006

Middle School Weekend

It’s Friday night and I’m blogging.

Let’s make this even better.

It’s Friday night before Memorial Day, I’m in yoga pants at nine p.m., alone in my apartment with three-quarters of the roommates gone. And watching Freaky Friday in the background on ABC’s TGIF lineup.

Last time I did anything even close to tonight, a hot pink B.U.M. equipment sweatshirt was tied snugly around my waist, a cucumber mask dried stiff on my face, and ABC kicked off my weekend with Carl Winslow and Balky.

And to think, I was dreading this. I’ve spun a web so tight, jam-packing my calendar with work, projects, lunch dates, obligations, weekends in the country, happy hours, errands, spontaneous and completely unnecessary shopping, meandering walks that start with a shag puppy sniffing the ribbon of my flip flops and end with homemade, chocolate-flecked ice cream, so much so that I haven’t had much time for vegging in a meaningful, restful way. I thought it would be boring, wasteful, pathetic.

But, I’d forgotten how delicious it is.

Even with trepidation, part of me had been craving this. Yesterday, I ran, and as my bag slapped my side and I scraped the point of my right heel on the curb with a stuttered scuff, I had a moment of want for suburbia. Of sleepovers, and videos, and items in bulk, pets, and space…

I’ll get a taste of that while I’m sorting through dusty boxes in the barn, tossing kept Trapper Keepers, Caboodles, and Nirvana tapes. My mom insists that I spend this weekend purging her house of all the things I’ve allowed to accumulate for the past thirteen years. The items I've made them cart from house to house insisting that I needed them, that I would use them again. So pack tonight and up too bright and too early for the morning ride. No fun partying. No running off to a fabulous locale. Just home again, home again.

For a barbeque with the extended family and earning my keep by grilling the ribs and chilling the Pinot to perfection. Bare feet, the lawn, the tink of ice cubes in my parents’ two o’clock cocktails. Leather couches, a spic and span kitchen, the bursting bookshelves. A room that is no longer mine. A household that voluntarily awakes before nine on a weekend and beds before ten each night.

I’m easing into it with this “middle school night” on the couch. Shedding that cosmopolitan skin, that exhausting dance. Now that there is no one around to see me, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to subscribe to the idea of busying myself or risk frittering away my days. I don’t have to pout my lips, fluff my hair, have a plan.

I’m sure it will get old quite fast. But for right now, it’s relaxing and new. And come Monday, as I exit the train from Connecticut, the city will be just as I left it.

Glittering and impossible as always.

A place that doesn’t take kindly to middle school reminiscence and chick flicks. Thank goodness home does...

(Have a nice weekend, wherever you are...)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A few of my favorite things

I never was partial to the song, but I love the message. Below, my additions:

Watching a video at home, passing a bowl of salty, butter-slathered popcorn

Fresh notebooks, weighty pens, small Post-its

Saddle leather, boot polish, horse brushes, bundles of hay, bags of feed

Whipped potions and creamy creams in glass bottles, perfume sprays, jewelry boxes filled with strands of pearls and gold studs

Conversations at 2 a.m., preferably in a pub, bed, or middle of a field

A full bodied red, or a crisp white, depending on the occasion

Crystal chandeliers, corduroy messenger bags, satin and grosgrain ribbons, plastic beads

My dad’s cigars and cologne, my mother’s scarves and lipstick, my extremely un-hip, but worn-to-perfection painting jeans

A Boxing Day party, book club, the Kentucky Derby

Thick soup and cold breadsticks, margherita pizza, meatballs in the wintertime

Thickly spread triple cream French cheese, citrus sorbet, homemade gazpacho in the summertime

The front of the line, the top of the tree, the bottom of the boat

Pressing apple cider, sweeping the porch, chasing the dog, scaring the cat

Freshly waxed wood, scrubbed grout, bleached bathtubs, plates still hot with dishwasher steam

Free samples, sample sales

A found newspaper on the train, good graffiti, lopsided street signs

Articles on entertaining/money-saving tips/travel/relationships

The classics, carved marble, Roman noses

The chirp of “peepers” on a clear summer night, sleeping sound machines, Australian rainsticks

Salt-dried hair and sand-dusted feet after a day at the beach

Pajama pants, an empty bed with cold pillows and a warm duvet

Striped headbands, solid canvas and linen, patterned tights

Cheeks sore from laughing, gliding my tongue over polished teeth after the dentist, light back scratches

That new car smell, wood fires, rubber cement, scented wax

Monogrammed stationary in white and acid green, rolls of stamps, a real letter

Favors, wagers: both paying up and cashing in

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Last Night

Last night, I figured I’d spend the time before the gym pre-emptively negating it, and headed to Chickpea for a shawafel (the result of cross-breeding a turkey shawarma and falafel; Chickpea’s version is cheap and green-tinged with herbs).

On the blocks there, it was the usual mix of east-villagers; leggings and bubble skirts, Vans, bangs, gold jewelry, bulldogs, and the scary blonde man (who I’m not entirely sure isn’t Sebastian Bach) who always stares at me from the “New and Improved” Punjab on First Avenue, which isn’t new, and couldn’t possibly be improved, and smells like meat even though they don’t seem to sell any.

After the shawafel, I walked with my head low, gripping a half-full Diet Coke, cursing the gym and Mondays in general, as the wind whipped hard. Coming up on Fifth Street, I caught a glimpse of a girl in a black trench, with bare legs and a sour expression. As we passed each other, she tossed her hair and stared into me with two blue, hang-dog eyes, and I suddenly realized it was none other than Chloe Sevigny (for the record, she looked great, but was shorter than I had imagined).

Then, not ten feet afterwards, I saw a procession of blinking lights, fire engines, and cop cars, which had all assembled dangerously close to my apartment in the twenty minutes since I had left.

The road was blocked by trucks, sprayed with glass, and littered with rubberneckers. Then, the jaws of life emerged from the back of a van. At this point I had already chalked up an interesting night, given what I took to be a very cool celebrity sighting and quite different than my usual “oh, there goes Julia Stiles” or “doesn’t that baby kind of look like Abe Vigoda?” encounter. But my morbid curiosity took over and I still had a few minutes to kill, so I crossed the street to align my view beyond the crowd and past the sirens to see what had happened.

Twisted against the corner light pole was a crippled black car, windows smashed, hood contorted, the whole frame in a grotesque shape. That itself would have been enough to contain a crowd’s attention. But what everyone was fixated on something else, the culprit of this accident. That cause? A standard blue and white police van with its front bumper entrenched so deeply in the side of the black car, I momentarily questioned if the jaws of life were summoned to extricate it.

And you could tell, without even knowing who had the right of way, where the stop sign was, or what the traffic light had been, just whose fault it was. No wonder there were so many officers already on the scene. Luckily, it looked like no one was in need in medical attention. Just a few city cops in need of a P.R. polish. Pedestrians bustled, snapping pictures and calling friends.

“New York’s finest!” A beard with a telescopic lens shouted.

After that, I figured I couldn’t have more of an unexpectedly exciting evening, so hightailed it to the gym, musing that though it was only Monday night, it was already turning out to be a pretty good week.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Looking Glass

I’m no longer one of those girls, with bangs and a ponytail, chewing a pencil’s end between dark-blue nails, sporting an ironic T-shirt, and over-swearing as I scribble animé in my duct-taped journal, flashing glances at Chai drinkers through turquoisey-glowing glasses, which I only wore to draw and to read and to look older.

Now I’m semi-corporate, still part ragamuffin and dash of poseur, posturing, wearing my glasses now not to embark on a literary journey or cartoon another installment of “Andy and Ben”--a strip about a punk and his tree-hugging sidekick--but to glean information from charts, perched at the monitor, feeling the buzzing migraine band creep across my temples, self-medicating with coffee at 4 PM and popping Ibuprofen like Tic-Tacs. The doctor tells me just to wear the glasses for reading the screen, that my actual vision is near perfect, but that one eye is near-sighted, the other is far-sighted, and though together they are fine, just the act of looking causes undue stress on both of them. She tells me this like I am an anomaly.

Special = weird.

This is the new angst. Listening to the doctor. Responsibility. Corporate hangovers. Being too young and too dumb to be considered an asset. Lost, adrift in a river of too-much, too-much. Too much wanting, too much ambition, much too much envy of Chanel wallets, Buddakan’s shortribs, exclusive parties, Belvedere and cranberry.

My muscles are sore from last night's Nia, my eyes bleary from typing, and I feel heavy. I can feel the weight of my body, the stress on my bones, and for the first time. I feel like a lumbering animal, heaving my way through the day, thumping my feet ungracefully, toes cramming into leather stillettoed points.

Painful shoes. Grumbling. Memos.

This is it.

This is what it means to be an adult.

First, my eyes will get worse, to the point where I’ll have to wear glasses all the time or get contacts.

Then my hearing will go.

Soon my joints will soften, only reminding me of their presence when it’s about to rain.

Unbuttered toast and Matlock, just around the bend…

Is this me, now? Through my glasses, in the looking glass?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sonny Lubin and Me

Sonny Lubin is a nice, decent young man. Now.

But as a child he was nothing short of a raging, temperamental brat in coveralls (his parents’ words, not mine).

One who could be found engaged in a myriad of naughty acts at any given moment. Smacking his baby sister on the back as she struggled to transport Cheerios from sticky hands to her open lips. Dancing and screaming at the top of his lungs, pumping his little legs furiously and waving his arms to block Sesame Street’s latest episode, never budging no matter how much I pleaded.

And stealing my favorite book in the entire world, the slim red one with the textured cover underneath its smooth protective jacket. The one titled, “Who Sunk the Boat?” that illustrated the story of farm animal friends who collectively decided to take a lazy lap around the lake in their rowboat. As each animal lowered his heavy body into the vessel, each sunk the boat a bit more. The chubby pig, the overfed horse, you get the idea. Then, a mouse jumped atop the crowded pile, and with one great crack, the boat snapped and bottomed-out.

I loved that book. I begged my parents to read it to me before I was tucked in most nights, and I always brought it with me to Sonny’s house. Because my mom was friends with Sonny’s mom and my dad was friends with Sonny’s dad, and they had grown-up dinners as a foursome. And while our parents sloshed wine in cheap stemware, we were to play. So I brought my book over (because Sonny was a terror, his playing was rough, fraught with shoves and crying, tantrums and yelling) to alleviate my dread.

Sonny knew this. He knew I loved that book, that I brought it for protection, so that when he ripped up rugs I could thumb through the pages instead of attending to him, changing my mind each time regarding the culprit of the sunken boat (at first I thought it was the mouse, but then again, maybe it was the fat cat’s fault before him, and the mouse was just a scapegoat to blame as the boat was sinking anyhow).

Sonny had gone after the book before, the reason I even knew of the cover’s texture was because he had stolen the jacket and tossed it into the pool. But after it was fished out and put back on, I kept the book close, and his parents warned him to stay away, so for the most part, he took out his anger on the walls, my stuffed animals, and his mother’s shoes.

But one day, it happened.

He threw a fit (his mother infuriated him by insisting that he finish his vegetables) and when I was fastening the Velcro on my purple sneakers, he did the unthinkable.

He stole the book. And he ripped the binding, he crumpled the illustrated pages, he threw it across the room where it hit a lamp with a sickening thud.

At four years old, I had never felt such pain. I couldn’t read the book in its entirety, but I had each page and image memorized, I knew each animal by heart. In that moment, I knew something else in my heart---sheer agony. I wailed so loud and uncharacteristically, that my parents hurried me home. I cried hard into my mother’s shoulder, slobbering on her silk top. I sniffed, a liquid pool in the center of my room, and even today I remember the rough grain of the carpet against my cheek as I sobbed.

At dinner that evening, as I moodily pushed macaroni and cheese from side to side on a plastic plate, my dad told what he would do to teach Sonny a lesson, if only he was a little boy, too. He’d give Sonny a wedgie that would leave him hanging from a low branch. If that didn’t work, he’d clock him. But my dad was not a little boy. And neither was I. The only little boy was Sonny, and he got everything he ever wanted. And it seemed it would continue to be that way.

Not long after, I found myself back at Sonny’s. He had spent the better part of a week in the living room corner, supposedly thinking about what he’d done, to me and regarding a few other acts he had taken against his sister. His parents promised reformation. So I was there again, a forced sleepover since my mom was away on business and my dad had a very early morning meeting.

I stood in a blue bathroom and brushed my teeth with the door open.

The night before, I had also stood in the blue bathroom and brushed my teeth with the door open. Sonny was learning the first step to becoming a man; how to urinate standing up. And he wanted to practice. So he did, while I was there.

I yelled at him that he was disgusting, to never do that in front of me again. Not only was it shocking to me that he would expose himself, but because he did so while staring at me obscenely and sticking his tongue out, rather than affixing his eyes on the john, he teetered back and forth while he did it, precariously slipping this way and that, inching ever closer to me and the blue sink.

The following morning, I was determined not to let him get away with it. Not again. Not after the book. Not after I warned him the night before. So when he came into the bathroom, I managed through a mouthful of foam, “You better not.”

But he did. He lifted the lid on the toilet, he pulled his pants down and he started to go. And as I stood there, my face as red as my broken book, and my tiny fists clenched, ready to fight, not flight, this time.

Sonny teetered with one hand steadying him, and finished doing what he had set out to do. He took a moment to proudly beam at his work, and then at me. His version of a victory dance included a little jump.

But with that jump, with his hands up and his pants down, he lost his footing. He veered forward and back, and to steady himself from falling to the floor, he reached out his hand and gripped my shoulder to right his balance.

When his fingers touched me, I couldn’t help it. I shouted, now at the top of my lungs,I told you not to!”

In one slowed-down, underwater motion, I swung hard, my tiny fist of fury finding Sonny Lubin, caught literally with his pants down, square in the nose.

For all of Sonny’s bullying, for all of Sonny’s balancing, he fell to the ground in a heap, screaming bloody murder, as I turned back to the sink in the blue bathroom, spit and rinsed, put my toothbrush neatly away, and then ran like hell.

I got in trouble. My parents were called. His picked Sonny off of the floor, dried his tears, pulled up his monkey-patterned pajama bottoms. But even as his father took my hand and sentenced me to the couch for a time-out, I saw a tiny glimmer, the smallest of smirks at his mouth.

Same as on his mother’s face as she sternly asked me what the heck did I think I was doing. Same again when my parents came to pick me up, and as I sat in the backseat of our Volvo, thumbing again through the torn pages of my favorite book.

I don’t recall much about Sonny after that. My parents tell me we were together there plenty of times before we moved away, but I don’t remember a single one. What I do remember is no more tantrums, no more Sonny in front of the T.V., not much of Sonny at all. He left me alone, he minded his business with his sister, and he grew up to be a very nice young man.

One who claims not to remember this story, even at a recent wedding, where my dad repeated to him, as his mother and father howled in laughter...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I have a question, a small request—I like to reason, just a favor, just permission. I want to ask it. The forces that be, do not. Which is why they’ve forced their shriveled little hands (because this is how I imagine The Fates, as gnarly old women in tattered rags, constantly cackling at me from above and pointing with thin gray fingers) and pushed a meeting from Friday, to yesterday, to today to tomorrow.

And, as if they know that I really want the answer to be positive, they’ve thrown in the second straight week of black rain this May.

As if anyone who addresses this request (or any others floating out there) needs a reason to be in a bad enough mood not to grant it. So everyone is grumbling along, slipping in rain-slicked lobbies, muddying leather shoes, soaking their morning papers, and prepared—simply, ready—to say no/bad/wrong.

Even me. Even as I sport a spring skirt and a forced smile. Because with that extension without expiry, I’m starting to think so. Of this idea, this light bulb that was just positively brilliant last week. Fading fast, that confidence could fizzle and pop at any moment, leaving only a scorched ring and bits of clink in the glass. Swimming hard against what I do need.

I need to radiate positive energy and warming rays. I need to ooze yes. Though I anticipate a no, I need a yes in return.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Mushroom Hunt

For mother’s day, we’re in search of morels—clusters of brainy stems ripe for snatching and stowing in a rolled Ziploc.

We span the woods, the marsh, the ravine.

Two tugging diversions are no pedigreed truffle-sniffers. They’re yip-yappers; their white muzzles and paws quickly growing a dingy gray in the muddied leaves.

In a clearing, as the skies part, we come upon a morbid sight. A graveyard of all kinds. Uprooted trunks thrown clear across the stream create a network of makeshift bridges, snapped branched scattered and strewn haphazardly by the storm. A group of bones; half a pair of antlers from a ten-point buck and three femurs. Further, a fox scull missing its jaw.

Saddened some by what we didn’t find and what we did, we retreat with the dogs, the empty baggie, under the cover of trees, cracking seed pods and bark with our shoes.

We try again, the city this time, venturing into a dark shop fragrant with deep tones of dirt, chalk, expensive fungi.

Shelves of stained glass bottles, artisan olive oils, tubs of rich Nutella, vacuum-sealed packets of dried organic beans.

Tins of mud masks, whipped and flavored liquefied honey. Chestnut, cherry blossom, and truffle (perfect they say, with a tart and firm sheep’s-milk cheese).

Himalayan salt slabs; great pink and orange squares edged with crystals.

In the refrigerated alcove, a treasure trove. Flats upon flats of mushrooms, cool and silken, some glistening still from their pick.

Porcini, blue foot, shitake, trays of sea beans boasting a sharp, briny bite. Above, slim boxes of morels: gray, alien, and perfect. We nearly indulge, but find our resolve last-minute. We know they exist in the woods beyond the pool and pond, and we will find them someday.

I choose blood-orange marmalade and when I tip the bottle the orange film slides, coating the glass. Black and chamomile tea in finely woven drawstring bags. A dark and slightly bitter chocolate bar.

They pack the purchases in tissue-weight paper bags. Instead of giving morels, I’ll take mom to lunch at Chanterelle and watch her unwrap the smaller, less precious gifts. And I won’t tell her what I tried to find for her but couldn’t, because that could very well ruin next year’s surprise.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The About List

I’m envious of others’ “about” lists. So here’s my own. I’m starting with fifty and working my way up.

1. All pets in my house have had very strange names. Laffete, Zydeco, Zephyr, Zen, Luca, Jellicoe. The only pets I’ve named were when I was six: two cats--Peaches and Cream.

2. I’m double-jointed. Thumbs and toes.

3. I’ll eat just about anything and like it, except for tiny whole fried fish, orange sea urchin goo, and polenta.

4. The sound of tapping rain on windows always lulls me to sleep. Also, the backseat of a car as we ride over a bridge, morning meetings, and hot afternoon baseball games.

5. I refer to bad special effects as “like 1996”.

6. I learned how to make a mean tomato sauce through many experiments in a cramped Florence apartment with sautéed spinach, whole tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and spicy sausages from the market square.

7. I applied to be a zookeeper at the Bronx Zoo, but they never called me back. Even though I clearly printed on my application that I was willing to clean any cage necessary.

8. Shopping makes me feel better. No matter if it’s peep-toes, art supplies, or books.

9. I’ve gone to two middle schools, three high schools, and attended semesters at four different colleges.

10. I save folded notes of praise and encouragement to reread when everything feels impossible. Though I never can find them when they’re really needed.

11. When I am old and successful, I vow to give every single inexperienced kid who asks and is willing to work hard, a chance. I don’t understand why people in power usually aren’t willing to mentor someone who wants to break in but doesn’t have the country club connections.

12. I like boy-movies like T2, Predator, and Fight Club. I also love watching Food Network, particularly Barefoot Contessa. She’s always doing something delicious with lemons, asparagus, or biscuits.

13. Everytime my hair grows past my elbows, I cut it all off, and get really distraught with the results.

14. I’m a bad driver, made worse by the easy access of public transportation in the city and semi-controlling boyfriends who love their cars. But I love driving through winding country roads in the summer, whipping past green with all the windows down.

15. My first word was “no”.

16. I approve of plastic surgery if it makes you feel good and you’ve tried everything else. I especially approve of enjoying trashtastic plastic surgery shows and not being ashamed.

17. I was on the swim team when I was six, painting when I was eight, and riding horses at twelve.

18. I wish the following things were acceptable: sweatshirt dresses and jeans at work, daily naps, mandatory birthday vacations, singing in public, portable heaters, French fries from Shake Shack for breakfast.

19. I wish the following things were not acceptable: eating while on the subway, derogatory names, kissing up, full-time anything, all-nighters, extremely expensive purses, pricey drinks light on alcohol, bragging.

20. My bark is worse than my bite. Though I typically bite off more than I can chew.

21. At my first real media party, Pink signed my cleavage. At my second, Adam Brody asked, “what I was doing later”. I haven’t had as great of a story since.

22. The prerequisite for anyone who dates me is that he must give good foot (rub). Followed closely by being witty and loving animals.

23. Though funny, smart, and pretty are lovely descriptors, I secretly lust after being called talented.

24. I love the smell of cut grass, tomato vines, lavender, peonies, fresh laundry, hot coffee, pumpkin pie.

25. I love the taste of grapefruit, strawberries, cherries, avocados with balsamic, garlic and mozzerella, cold clementines, vanilla yogurt, and unsweetened iced tea.

26. I love the sight of stacked book spines, a made bed, flowering gardens, umbrellas for the sun, crashing surf, and moss on my mother’s antique stone benches.

27. I’m a packrat. I hold ripped pictures, single-wrapped pieces of gum, and various coins in all of my handbags.

28. I always wanted an older brother. But I love my younger one.

29. I wish I had one of the following careers: marine biologist, novelist, sous chef, artist, teacher, surfer, designer.

30. I’m not that fond of old movies, particularly those in black and white, no matter how hard I try to be that girl.

31. I have lots of jewelry but I never wear any of it. My grandmother’s sapphire ring, my mother’s ruby earrings, my own gold watch gifted to me on my 21st birthday…I just don’t feel like I’m old enough to wear it yet, I’m scared that I will break it all.

32. I think I’m a good listener, advice-giver, and dancer. Also, bathroom cleaner, menu planner, photographer, multi-tasker, and mess-maker.

33. I went to religious sleep-away camp and was not asked back.

34. I learned to drive stick on a tractor at a banana farm in backwood Australia.

35. I live my life in spurts. Creative, happy, inquisitive, productive, and sometimes, lonely.

36. I’ve never tried POM juice because I don’t like the bottle’s shape.

37. I go off on tangents. All of the time. And I say too many words when I shouldn’t say any.

38. Even when I was a little girl, I would pick the most expensive item in the store, without looking at the price tag, as the one I wanted. I remember this best when picking out an Easter dress, and slipping my fingers over flowered satin when my mother asked me to choose.

39. I like yellow roses tinged with pink and orange, nicely wrapped packages, wooden boxes, wheelbarrows filled with earth.

40. I think everyone looks better with freshly washed hair, bare feet, and slight sunburn.

41. I admire New Yorkers who are polished and can navigate in the West Village. Also those who go on spa and ranch vacations.

42. Pet peeves are poor grammar (though mine’s far from perfect), interrupting (ditto), and people who look over your shoulder for other people at the party (this, I never do).

43. My net worth is nearly nothing, but I also have no debt.

44. I often get myself involved in life-threatening situations (on the catamaran dragging on treacherous coral reef in the middle of the Dominican Republic, falling asleep in a tube in the Cape, riding donuts on iced parking lots).

45. I believed in another character besides Santa and the Tooth Fairy. He was the Golden Mosquito, he would reward me with a toy in the kitchen when I was good for the babysitter, and he looked just like C3PIO from Star Wars.

46. I believe that everyone deserves a second, third, and fourth chance.

47. I try to believe everything happens for a reason, but that reason is never revealed until many months or years later.

48. My friend and I pierced our tongues in high school, just to spite our parents. It worked.

49. I want to live a good and honest life, whether doing something I love, helping other people, or generally making this world a better place.

50. I love stationary stores, vegetable markets, dog runs, hot chocolate in outdoor cafés, walks around the block, scary stories and campfires, dangling my legs into a pool, fleece blankets in winter, the Fourth of July, fountains, and learning something new.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Want Not

My own little slice of the cosmos can be banked on from time to time.

Opportunities influx in multiples, then dissipate as regularly as the tides.

I’d like a new mantra. Don’t want for it. Then, it’s inevitable that it will come.

Pray, fantasize, hope? Each is a little piece of paper, vulnerable though seeming solid. Each blows away in a dry dust, leaving no residue, no negative of former thoughts, sand-slipped through clumsy fingertips.

Everything counted on gone, counted on because of the sheer volume of options, dwindled down to none, or worse, the one cast aside to begin with (the job half-done because it didn’t count, the relationship sometimes fought for because it surely wouldn’t last, if there’s three things before you then one, just one you might think, would work out). Bruised and deflated, an ego retreats back into its turtle-shell, whimpering—not to venture so fool-heartedly again (or at least until sufficient pity party is over).

Imagine the next time a boss, a parent, a huffy friend, high and mighty significant other demands, “What do you want for your life, your career, your heart?”

Nothing, not a thing, none of the above. Only then, I think, contentment, pared-down purpose, simple living in white moonlight and firefly flashes. Drained of envy and hard-worn bitterness, sour grapes and hints of deserving. Filmy, flimsy and light. Buoyant. Radiant.

Cut free from strings, routines and comfort snapped. Exhilaration with stability. Other oxymorons.

Fortune without the fame.

Character tall.

All wants, never needs, and not yet realized because of the self-fulfilling prophecy…

Want and you shall not receive.

Here’s when I’ll repeat my mantra. To trick my predictable luck, or lack thereof, into turning on itself and maybe, just maybe, flipping inside out.

Monday, May 08, 2006


The single are dropping like flies…

First the best friend from high school (brown silk and hot pink bouquet, Peninsula, soft jazz and mimosas complimenting Sunday brunch).

Then the one from college (pink strapless and beige bow, sweeping Pacific Ocean view, the band playing late into the clear, dark night).

This summer the childhood one (with fiery hair who spanned the shore for colored glass with me on all the Kielkooky Crawfish Cookouts while crawdads steamed silvery in pots under a canopy of willow trees).

And then, horror of horrors, the used-to-be-my-assistant.

Engagement, commitment, combined bank accounts, standing plans, asking permission, respectfully sharing the remote, overcooked chicken, obligation, nagging.

Trading turns in favor of togetherness.

Sacrifice, coordinated outfits, arguments over kibble and sour milk, proud and weepy mothers now asking “where are my grandkids?” not two moments before doing away with “when will you get engaged?”, splitting the last brownie, I’m-tired-take-me-home-right-now-I-don’t-care-that-you-just-bought-that-drink-I’m-ready-to-go-and-so-are-you…

Psychological hurdles to overcome.

Mortgage, budget, agreement on all things possible, harmony as the ultimate goal, plumbing, car repair, mowing the lawn, dusting.

Of course, none of that is guaranteed—all imaginary, all clichés.

They never joke of coffemates, cooking Sunday dinner for two, an arm to intertwine at the dog park while pointing out our favorites for the future, seats together at movies both pretentious and mass, foot rubs and pillow-swapping, video games versus a real person, unwavering affinity, surprise flowers, make-ups…

A positive force and supporter of every word, brushstroke, and cockamamie get-rich-quick-scheme.

One driver and one DJ to a car, reading aloud magazine quizzes, reruns on rainy weekends (because so much of what makes a twosome is this, and just this—the space between events and party shoes, between pomegranate margaritas and love songs).

Understanding. Knowing a team of two is impenetrable; cannot be defeated except by itself.

A ring, a dress, a fabulous party. All extensions of this. Not the culmination of knowing, but the next and legitimate stage in learning.

Still, the stigma remains.

I don’t want to be boring.

I don’t want to be old.

I don’t want to be an adult.

Just yet.

I want to hide his keys and watch the freak-out for 45 seconds, immediately after exiting the cab.

I want to make a fort from all the couch cushions and eat Cheez-its for dinner. And watch The Simpsons.

I know for me, no matter when, I’ll still have all these things. But still, that cliché of death-of-the-single, birth-of-one-trades-for-two, always in consideration, to agree, to conform, hangs over me.

It’s not right, it’s not true, it’s all in my head.

Maybe if I grew up a bit, I wouldn’t feel this way.

Sure, there’s nothing like a nice piece of jewelry to coax a girl into acceptance. Even as third graders we pontificated on what beautiful ladies we’d grow up to be, dreaming if we couldn’t be tiara-crowned princesses now, we always had our wedding to fulfill the gown and glass slippers.

But even when the bended knee happens, if it happens, I’d think I’d agree with one small condition. I’d want to put off that party for just a little while.

Because even the illusion of un-responsibility is worth it.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The First Movie That Meant Something to Me: One Essay of Many

I've never been the sharpest at writing essays. And when one is presented to me for application with the topic already given, I'm worse still. Below is what I came up with given the issue at hand...
When I was nine, my parents took me to a movie that forever changed me. We arrived at the drive-in by way of stealth and my mom’s Ford Taurus. Five blocks before the entrance, I was instructed to pile my dad’s flannel over my head and crouch behind the driver’s seat. As they paid, my mind buzzed with possibilities. I knew nothing of the film, only that the title boasted two initials, one of them being “T”.

The moment the screen’s colors glowed into our car, I knew I would never be the same. Immediately I was bombarded with foreign worlds colliding, the magic of possibilities, and the power of love and conviction. No, it wasn’t a newly released version of E.T. that ushered in my adulthood. It was T2: Judgment Day.

Terminator 2 was the first R-rated movie I saw (hence the hiding). The film exposed me to robotic and bloodied violence (and the subsequent enjoyment of it), a naked Arnold (ditto), institutional perversion, the bleak future for mankind, and one badass hero: Eddie Furlong, who captured my nine-year-old heart with the first whip of his bangs as he sped away on a puttering motorbike.*

But even more, it solidified my status as a Gen-Yer, born the same year as MTV, and embracing technology, violence, and sensationalism as integral parts of upbringing. My baby-boomer parents felt equally justified in over-hugging and explaining too soon what death meant. Their enabling me to see the film spoke volumes about that time in parenting, and the results it would have on the ones being parented. Linda Hamilton’s bulging muscles echoed my mom’s power suit. I suddenly saw how murder could be justified, or that as humans we possessed the power to destroy the universe with our creations. Heavy stuff for nine years old, and endorsed by my parents no less.

This is why the film meant so much, and fifteen years later, I’m just begging to grasp the impact. The movie embodied the path my life would take, my desensitization, my jading, my “eh, I’ve seen it all” attitude. My mother tells me she didn’t know what drugs were what until her sophomore year of college. I was beginning to form my opinions by seventh grade. That loss of innocence is heightened with every fresh crop of tweens.

T2 was my coming of age, my notion of what to fight for. It showed that a mere child could change the world, and for any kids watching, that was pure inspiration. It meant something to us then, and it still means something to us now, forever crystallized in our minds as the greatest action movie of all time. Even as my roommates installed the surround-sound, we had the same, unspoken thought. The only way to test the speakers was to throw in the only movie that counted. And as we pressed play, I felt exactly what I had back then.

That this was the most kickass movie I had ever seen.

* When he taught Arnold how to say, “later, dickhead” it was a rallying cry for me to educate my parents on colloquialisms by repeating many times on the ride home.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Escape from New York

You’ve passed the divide from city to country the moment the heavy scent of lilac blooms and earth fills the air.

We celebrated my last Saturday studio by coasting in the car. We shifted in worn leather seats with our fingertips out the sunroof.

In Bucks County, we awoke early to the song of birds and high-pitched bark of the dogs. The pool’s drooping cover still on, we dipped our hands into the primordial broth, grasping algae and feasting tadpoles, an ecosphere created from rainwater and tarp. We captured it all in a jar once destined for beets and hot pepper jelly, and tossed in a red lily pad for good measure.

With a stick, we skimmed the pond’s surface of floating plants, shoving them down the water pump, forcing bobbing bits into the rushing stream.

We sipped chai and whipped froth, nibbled lemon curd on soft bread, breathed in the trees. The whole day was promised to us; our only restriction, which we placed upon ourselves, was that we were to spend it outside.

We soaped the car with cold water from the hose, using our thumbs to vary the spray—first on the wheels, then in the mouths of two yapping Jack Russells.

I read a Victorian-inspired novel to the far-off hum of a weedwacker, a small dog napping in the cast of my shadow; his greened paws limp from too much play. In front of us, the orchard, the grape vines, the vegetable garden bearing lettuce and asparagus. Peach basil lemonade appeared, clouded ice languorously drifting and clinking the glass.

The manicured shrubs rooted along the rock wall created a labyrinthine hiding spot for the tennis ball we slapped against a racket, provoking another shrill chorus from the Jack Russells.

Not long after we had dinner in the kitchen, wooden chairs skidding over the white tiled floor, we had to leave. There was a party to attend, a premiere overflowing with premium vodka at the PM Lounge. He scrambled for his fishing line; I applied makeup by the fading light through the trees. We carefully wrapped the tadpole jar in a quilt, vowing to return to the pond the moment they sprang legs.

The crunch of the tires on gravel, the last lingering squeak of the dogs, and we were gone. Sad for Sunday, suddenly unappreciative of our cosmopolitan life, once in a while we realize we’re just a little bit country at heart.

Luckily, we have every upcoming weekend of the summer to placate our wants, my parents in Connecticut, his in Pennsylvania, and always welcome to our mooching as long as we pitch in with the property’s upkeep, the cooking, and bring tales of the city every time.