Every Sunday when Cintra visited her grandparents, she'd find her grandmother in the kitchen stirring a pot of noodles. Egg noodles, for soup. Macaroni, for a cheesy casserole. Spaghetti, for her favorite meatball dish. No matter what kind, Cintra would fish one out and slurp it through her lips.
One day she heard her grandmother exclaim, "That's using your noodle!" She peeked into the kitchen. There stood her grandfather, hatless for once, head bent over the pot, and her grandmother scraping linguini from his scalp into the boiling water.
That night, Cintra feigned a stomach ache and ate oatmeal instead.
* *  *
There is a certain stretch of Sixth Avenue that I use quite frequently. This morning, I saw this there:
I remember the day she was killed. And every time I pass the spot where it happened and other times when I'm nowhere near Sixth Avenue I remember that day.
I did not know her. But I remember her anyway.
What you don't know, little guy on the uptown "D", is that I'm wondering if you're a miniature businessman or some doofy kid on his way home from a downtown school for precocious mini-Wall Streeters. Your subtly striped midnight blue pants (half of a suit, it appears) and dark blue shirt sans tie, big boy black lace-up shoes, sturdy briefcase, neatly combed short light brown hair and very thin wire glasses (they look "flexi"!) could lend themselves to either identity. I don't know what you are. Boy? Man? Beast?
In profile, little man boy, you resemble Tobey Maguire. Yes, you do. Your somewhat pouty lips. Your almond eyes and flirty eyelashes. Your hair, so well-groomed. Your mild manner.
What you don't know, little Mr. Peter Parker Tobey Maguire In Profile, is that for several stops I've been amusing myself by picturing you in the full Spider-Man getup, complete with webby wrists. Hanging upside-down, like in the movie, kissing that chilly ingenue. (But I haven't gone so far as to picture her as me.)
What you don't know is that you shouldn't turn to your left and let me see you from an angle other than your profile, because when you do, you look nothing like Tobey Maguire and everything like 16-year-old Josh Goldbluth on his way uptown to visit his Aunt Selma for a Tuesday afternoon game of rummikub.
P.S. It's cute how, when we both stand to get off the subway at 72nd Street, you look up at me all shyly, astonished that I am literally half a foot taller than you. (I know you wish you had webby wrists so you could scale me.)
For the kathousajillionth to the nth power time: No. No, people, no. No. I do not watch Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Or any other "reality" shows. Stop asking me.
I could not care less about it if I tried. I don't care to get all wrapped up in two-dimensional "reality" when I have the real thing in vivid 3-D just outside my front door. And, actually, on this side too.
Yes, it's true that I was quite attached to this season of American Idol, but after all was said and sung and done, who the hell cares about Ruben and Clay? The people in my real life even the ones on the bus who prattle on about whether they want to get off the crosstown 72 at 66th and Fifth or 66th and Madison interest me much much more.
"I get five, six hours of sleep, max," he says.
"That's nothing," she says. "I get four. On a good night."
"I only need three," another girl says. "Even on the weekends."
"I pull all-nighters at least twice a week," another guy says. "And some days all I need is a nap in my office after lunch. If I even take lunch."
When did it become all the rage to brag about a lack of sleep? When did it turn into a competition? When did sleep become the new diet?
"I only had a bowl of cereal this morning and a small hamburger patty, no bun, for lunch. For dinner, it'll be popcorn (94% fat-free)."
"I think I had a baked potato, plain, somewhere around noon, and the olive from my partner's martini during the late meeting. Dinner, if I even have it, will probably be a salad."
"Oh my god. I haven't eaten since Tuesday. Except for Swedish fish. Does that count?"
What's next? What other basic human need are people going to strive to deprive themselves of, and then feel self-righteous to brag about? Shelter?
"I had a great pre-war two-bedroom with a dining alcove on Central Park West, but now I live in Midtown in a studio apartment the size of an Old Navy dressing room."
"Really? I had a cozy one-bedroom with a working fireplace in Gramercy Park, but now I crouch in the ill-lit, rat-infested hallway of my ex-boyfriend's condemned Chinatown tenement!"
"I'm moving out of my Tribeca loft with private keyed elevator, exposed brick walls, random-width plank floors, walk-in closets, and stainless steel kitchen, into the ladies lounge at Saks "
" I mean the ladies room in Washington Square Park."
Who's the winner, losers?
Go on. Go to town. Amuse yourself. Make all sorts of limp jokes based on words that appear on the signs, i.e., "honk" and "yield". Work in the word "penal". Incorporate "$350" somewhere, in a reference to the cost of services rendered. Whatever. I don't care. I have a headache.
A few days ago, while putting on my watch, I suddenly realized I didn't know how to work its clasp anymore. A huge question mark floated above my head (it was actually dangling on a very thin, almost invisible wire I don't go in for fancy computer-generated effects) for the hour it took me to figure it out. Once the watch was secured on my wrist (that's where I'm wearing it these days), I promptly forgot.
That same day, I was confronted with the word "miniseries" (it came out of nowhere, I tell you) and didn't know how to pronounce it. I was pronouncing it as "mih-NIH-suh-reez" in front of mixed company for twenty minutes until I finally got it right.
Then I became all too aware of my own respiration. For the rest of the day (it wasn't even noon yet!), I had to actively tell myself to inhale and then exhale. And then repeat the cycle. And repeat it again. Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. I became paranoid that I wouldn't be able to do it while sleeping.
I haven't removed my watch since then. Or stopped monitoring my breathing. The latter kind of makes it hard to keep pronouncing "miniseries" properly, but I figure I can't have everything. (Including sleep.)
Know how you can stop being bored? (Other than that.) (Beast.)
You can draw me somethin'.
All the cool bored kids are doing it.
You're cool too. Aren't you?
Although I mention the Upper West Side quite a bit, it's not true that I spend 64% of my time there. Studies have shown that that figure is grossly inflated. I will not reveal the precise percentage, because that's just a little too personal. Sure, I'm willing to show you my lunch, and even tell you about it, but don't push it. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.
So speaking of Sides, and speaking of lunch, today my friend Kyria and I continued our PaneerQuest2003 at Chennai Garden, on the East Side. You will recall that I had a wonderful experience there three weeks ago.
Oh wait. What's that you say? I haven't mentioned PaneerQuest2003 before? How silly of me. And what the hell is paneer? Oh, you silly silly bumpkins.
Paneer is the only cheese and the only dairy product I will consume.
And PaneerQuest2003 is Kyria's and my mission to find mouth-watering saag (or palak, as it's sometimes called) paneer in this city. Together we have gone on two missions: the first, last Tuesday; and the second, today.
Wait, though! Wait! Hold on! What is this thing called "saag" or "palak"?
Sorry, but you're on your own for that one. I can't be expected to do everything around here, can I?
So, anyway. Paneer. Kyria and I. Last week's experience was less than extraordinary. In fact, it wasn't even ordinary. It was subordinary. Subpar. We probably would have been better off at Subway.
Each of our dishes came with only one little cube of paneer. Take a look. Here's Kyria, holding up her sad, lone cube of paneer at a restaurant whose name rhymes with "Joyal Jangladesh" (I feel sorry for the place and just can't bring myself to type its real name):
It was a sad restaurant experience all around. At the beginning of lunch, the waiter brought us Indian tea that neither of us wanted (we'd asked for regular tea). At the end, he brought us free desserts that we didn't want. (We did take several pity bites, though.) And several times in between, he asked us how everything was, and we could barely eke out, "Uhmmm ... OK." I couldn't even look the waiter in the eye. And to make matters even sadder, the "garden" where we sat, which was heralded as the restaurant's big claim to fame, was more of a tent room festooned with what we interpreted to be the remains of a birthday party, complete with deflated balloons and a haphazard HAPPY BIRTHDAY sign. I can't even bear to think about it.
Today's experience was the complete opposite. The service wasn't the best (there were some pretty hungry heifers huffing down the buffet offerings)(Kyria and I were the only people there who ordered from the menu), but after the third request, she finally got her tea. But hey, we were there more for the paneer. We were not disappointed.
Take a look:
Sure, to you it looks like a bog. Sure, to you who don't know your saag from a hole in the ground, it looks like a swamp. But to those of us in the know, those of us who are oh so very paneer-sighted, it looked divine. And it was perfect.
But wait. Does that mean that PaneerQuest2003 is over? Having found the perfect paneer, should Kyria and I move on to something else? I worried. Would she and I go our separate ways? Would we have nothing to talk about anymore, now that we'd had such grand success?
"Well," she said, "the service wasn't that great, so ..."
... we're going again next week! Somewhere new! It's not like there aren't at least 100 other Indian restaurants in this city.
We could be looking at PaneerQuest2004 and 2005.
P.S. We also had samosas (this photo does not do them justice).
Today I almost bought an umbrella. I fondled a few at a store, but couldn't decide if I wanted to go with something sedate, the way I always do, or something a little spicier. I almost went with the spice, and then decided not to buy one at all. It wasn't going to rain, and besides, even if it did, I long ago gave up caring about being caught in it.
I left the store and called my usual sidekick, M, to see if he wanted to meet me for lunch on the Upper West Side, and planned to cut through Central Park. But about ten minutes after making our plans, it started to rain quite hard, so I called M to cancel (he cannot be immersed in water and must be dry cleaned), and decided to just get on a subway and go home.
The streets leading west from Madison to Fifth Avenue (the east side of Central Park) were blocked off by police. I asked one of them what was going on.
"A funeral," he said.
I decided I'd satisfy my Harold and Maude morbidity, and started down East 63rd Street. This distracted me:
(You can see the detail of the door a bit better here.)
At first I thought, "Tree of life?" And then I wondered what kind of tree was relieved of its life in order to make a door decorated with a relief of a tree.
I changed my mind about the funeral and headed toward the subway at 59th and Fifth. But of course that was not to be. I can't believe that in the short period of time between regarding the synagogue door and deciding to go home instead of follow the funeral procession, I forget that Fifth Avenue was barricaded.
When I reached Fifth Avenue, just north of Bergdorf Goodman, I saw a crowd. Huge. Pulsing. Cuban flags and flags from other Spanish-speaking countries swinging and swaying in people's upraised hands:
Cameras. Applause. Laughter. Cheering at a funeral procession? What the ... ?
It was then that I confirmed my suspicions. This was the procession for Celia Cruz. La Reina de la Salsa. I got there just in time to see the horse-drawn carriage bearing her casket:
It started to rain more steadily and heavily, but no one backed away. Those who had umbrellas already had them open. Those who had braved the rain to that point opened theirs. Others just stood in the rain, undaunted.
Throngs of people walked down Fifth Avenue, following the procession. Here is just a sampling of how drenched everyone was:
I walked down Fifth Avenue until I couldn't walk any further. It was not fatigue that stopped me. I walk almost everywhere and for hours at a time. No, it was the crowd that inhibited my progression. I didn't understand why until I realized that I was only about a quarter of a block from St. Patrick's Cathedral, where services were going to be held. I literally inched forward. Clammy, drenched flesh, like so many fish at the Fulton Street Market, was pressed against me on all sides. I instantly thought of one of my favorite books, My Petition for More Space by John Hersey.
By the time I finally came to a full stop, the rain followed suit. I was just across the street from the cathedral:
The rain returned, this time even stronger than before. I had made "friends" with a small group of people around me. None of us had an umbrella, and we liked it that way. The rain was coming down so hard that using one would have been futile anyway. We were even more drenched than the people and dogs shown above.
Everyone was laughing and applauding. And chanting: Ce-lia, Ce-lia! Or calling out: Azúcar! In fact, the harder and more insistent the downpour, the louder and more insistent the chants and cheers. And when the thunder boomed a few times, and threatened to crack the sky, one of the Hispanic ladies I was hanging out with said, "Lluvia! The heavens have opened up for La Riena de la Salsa! Tears from el cielo!" And rain it did, for La Reina.
And rained and rained. Raindrops so thick and full and huge that if you opened your mouth and lifted your face upward, you could drink a cup within seconds. Some of us did lift our faces. And laughed maniacally. Others sang. If anyone was crying, the rain was certainly disguising it. But I really didn't see any tears. Everyone was so joyful and outgoing and full of life. We stood there for two hours.
Eventually the rain got cold, and a bit of a breeze chilled our skin. I couldn't stop shivering. But I didn't want to leave. Like the others around me, I wanted to stay to see the casket of La Reina come out of the cathedral. And then, just before it did, the sun came out:
And her casket, draped in a Cuban flag, soon followed:
The crowd was still very thick even after everything was over. We stood around talking for a while, and then went our separate ways. It started raining again. First gently, like a wink, and then a downpour, like raucous, jubilant laughter. It didn't ease up for my entire walk home.
I was so glad I didn't buy an umbrella.
Anyone who knows me on any level at all knows that I am not the "domestic" sort. Occasionally I document some of my domestic shortcomings on this lovely website, and almost daily discover yet another household task that I am incapable of performing without suffering what a panel of esteemed experts has come to call a psychotic episode.
Why, just a few weeks ago I proved myself yet again. That time, it was the vacuum cleaner. It seems that the vacuum cleaner was quite the cannibal and had absolutely no qualms about devouring its own cord. I was mortified by the depths of my ineptitude, but bravely confessed my misdeed to the DOG. He laughed, we discussed options, and decided to take it to a vacuum cleaner repair place on 23rd Street.
We were happy with the friendly service we received, and my mood lifted considerably. My mishap cost about $50. This meant that I would have to go without dinner for two nights, but I figured it was worth it. Who needs food, anyway? I could eat the errant popcorn and raisins that I hadn't been able to vacuum while the cleaner was in the shop, and there were enough cookie crumbs on his side of the sofa to mold into a rather decent-sized cookie composite!
So today I was trying my hand at vacuuming again. I was in the living room, vacuuming under the cushions of one of the sofas. Marvelling at my improved skill with the hose attachment. (I had only recently started using it. I was branching out. I am nothing if not ambitious.) Wondering why there was no loose change under the cushions. (Answer: Because it is all in the washing machine.) (Am I starting to sound like Erma Bombeck yet? What's next? Will I start writing about how someone left a lone peach pit in the bottom of a big bowl in the refrigerator, or how my teenaged son drinks directly from the milk carton?) Things were proceeding smoothly.
All of a sudden, the vacuum stopped working. I thought, "What a nice feature. When it gets tired, it shuts itself off! Sort of like a little siesta!" Then I noticed the smell. The same smell I'd smelt the other time. I turned the vacuum off. I didn't want to start a fire. Mainly because I wasn't properly dressed and didn't want handsome firemen to see me in such disarray.
So this time it was worse. Everything. The smell, the severity of the severed cord. This time the cord was not only frayed, it was frayed in one spot (it looked like a dog chewed on it) and completely severed in another. I didn't realize that, just because most of the suction was diverted to the hose attachment, there was still a bit of pulling power at the base. I held the cord up to my face in dismay.
Scenes of the last vacuum cleaner episode flashed across my mind. The DOG and I walking into the repair shop to inquire as to price. He, taking it, in a cab, to the repair shop. Both of us returning to the shop a couple of days later to retrieve it. Its jubilant roar when we plugged its shiny new cord into the wall and flipped its switch. Even Taxi and Shana were there to celebrate the return of what they call "that green dog with the weird bark"!
Instantly I thought of hauling it to the repair shop again, before the DOG came home. I hoped he wouldn't spill a 20-pound bag of cake flour on the floor, or coffee grounds, or a sack of mulch, or the jig would be up. And then, just as quickly, I thought of ... Jan Brady.
Yes, Jan Brady, and the disaster that ensued when she failed to wear her newly prescribed "goofy glasses" and ran her bike into the kids' portrait that they were to present to their mother. (If you're not familiar with the episode, check it out here.) I remembered how disappointed Mr. Brady was when he caught Jan in a lie, and how Jan learned a very valuable lesson about owning up to your mistakes and taking responsibility for your actions. Lying, Jan realized, was not the answer. Telling the truth was!
So I did. I told the DOG the truth. Via MSN Messenger. "I suck!" I said, noting, of course, the bittersweetness of my verb choice.
And now ... I am packing up my things. Because tomorrow, I will be moving back home with my mother, my father, my two sisters, three brothers, housekeeper, and dog.
One afternoon last week, I was walking along Columbus Avenue with a friend, and who should we see but the elusive Loch Ness Monster!
I couldn't believe my good fortune! I reached into my sporty LeSportSac for my camera ... but it was not there. I closed my eyes and saw a freeze-frame of my desk at home, where I had left the camera beside a Banana Republic coupon I'd also forgotten. I may have cursed.
I knew that the one day I left the house (unintentionally) without my camera, all sorts of amazing, you're-never-going-to-believe-this things would happen and I would have no way to back up my claims.
Fortunately, however, I saw a drugstore just steps away, and zoomed in to buy a disposable camera. When I returned, my friend told me that Nessie had gone into a swanky bar across the street. We didn't want to seem like star-stalkers, but we couldn't help ourselves. We crossed the street and went into the bar.
I didn't realize until later that day, when I picked up the prints, that I had bought a Kodrock instead of a Kodak. But I think the little bird who worked inside the camera managed to peck out a wonderful rendering!
Nessie has never looked lovelier!
(I believe the dress is a Vivienne Tam!)
When did the simple act of leg-shaving become an undertaking fraught with such extraordinary stress and distress that it became necessary for manufacturers and advertisers to collaborate and come up with all sorts of implements to lessen the burden? Why do we now need "systems", complete with comfort grip handles or fully-integrated disposable shaving-cream cartridges, and all other manner of rotating/vibrating/gyrating/oscillating accoutrements, just to remove a bit of hair?
TV commercials show us women struggling with ordinary tools of the leg-shaving trade. These butterfingered beauties are in the bathtub or shower flailing about, manhandling razors as if they had no opposable thumbs. Blood is shed, and, apparently, a whole lot of sweat and tears (so it's a good thing they're in water, I suppose, to wash away one and disguise the other), over a simple activity that has now been elevated to the labor-intensive status of giving birth or self-trepanation.
All the sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing reminds me of the fussy flosser I wrote about earlier this year. This frustrated fellow couldn't deal with placing a thin strand of waxed fiber between his teeth; he had to attach all sorts of brushes and swabs to a battery-operated contraption to accomplish his lofty goal. Because flossing, like shaving and toothbrushing (which I won't get into now), is oh so very difficult. And apparently such a burden.
If it ever gets to the point where you're about to pull the hair out of your head over the stress of the hair removal process, I suggest you forego any of these new-fangled shaving "systems" and simply relieve yourself of the stress by way of an old-fashioned razorblade pressed firmly against the insides of your wrists. That is, if you can find one.
P.S. Make sure to slice vertically, up the arm. It's more effective that way.
Feast your eyes on what I had for lunch today at Josie's on the Upper West Side!
It was described on the menu like this:
Roasted vegetarian "meat" loaf filled with wild rice, brown rice, lentils, red beans, seitan and mixed vegetables served with rosemary au jus
I don't know why restaurants even those that cater largely to vegetarian clientele insist on using non-vegetarian terms to describe vegetarian items. Tomorrow I'm going to go into Ideal Cheese and ask for the "tofu" block of mozzarella, just to see what happens. It's gonna be crazy! (Shannen Doherty and Jamie Kennedy are going to accompany me!)
P.S. The side dish is couscous!
P.P.S. My companion had a large salad! He said it was quite good.
I have just spent the past three hours prostrate on the floor outside the apartment that was once inhabited by a group of what I will generously call gypsies. (I documented the heartwarming tale of their occupancy here and here.)
Why did I do this? Because whomever is moving in and I hope with all the hope in my Lane Hope Chest that it's the stylish guy named Stan whom I met a few weeks ago, who told me he was moving in but whom I haven't seen since is having the floors varnished or shellacked or treated with some sort substance that, if one were inclined to inhale deeply for several hours while lying face down (that's what "prostrate" means, kids) (and I know you giggled, thinking I was referring to my "prostate", which I had removed years ago with the rest of my masculine paraphernalia) in close proximity to its source, would provide the same sort of effect one would get from, oh, let's just say, ECSTACY!
So that's what I did this morning. If you ever have the chance and the time! to do the same thing, I suggest you take full advantage of the opportunity. You won't be sorry. You will be relieved of some of your precious, hard-earned brain cells, but that doesn't really matter because they're rotting away anyway from your steady diet of inertia and reality TV consumption.
Spread the word.
I get the wishbone!
NOTE: Today's entry will appear in "serial" form (that's serial, not cereal, so avoid pouring milk on your monitor. And put down your spoon). It is quite long, so I will be posting it in installments throughout the day. Each installment will appear just under the one that preceded it not above it in reverse chronology, the way entries customarily appear here.
Let me tell you about a guy I'll just call "R".
In 1996, I bought my first computer, and was curious about these things called chat rooms. I'd heard stories about how ridiculous they were, so of course I had to check it out for myself. I don't remember which chat I was in when I noticed that one of the people involved was incredibly funny and seemed to be making comments that no one was quite getting. I was just lurking, but at some point I jumped in and started "siding" with him. I don't know which of us sent the other a private instant message first, but pretty soon we were off on our own, making fun of the rest of the people in the chat room who were taking it way too seriously.
We instantly discovered we had the sort of rapport that you'd see in a 1940s movie. Hepburn and Grant we were, online, in email, and on the phone. Every day I'd rush home from work and sign onto the computer via an excruciatingly slow dial-up connection, impatient even more than ever because I knew that outrageous email or drawings or Photoshop masterpieces were awaiting me. Some nights we'd "chat" on AIM for hours. Others we'd talk on the phone. We called each other at work. We were inseparable, even though we hadn't even met in person.
He sent me his photo. He was about six feet tall, quite lean, with good skin that was fairly tan. He had a great head of dark curly hair and a mustache. Big, bright eyes. A nice face, a fantastic smile, but not necessarily handsome. I don't think I sent him a photo, so I suppose I had the advantage. Although he wasn't my "type", I wasn't so narrow- or close-minded to base attraction on the physical.
Still, I was somewhat nervous about meeting him in person, which we knew would be the next step. What if he wasn't as dynamic and hilarious face to face as he was behind the monitor or telephone? You never know with these things. And of course there were the admonishments from people in my "real life". He could be insane. He could be a murderer. He could be a pervert. (I could only hope.) I knew that I was the same offline as I was online what you read was what you got but who knew with someone else.
When I finally did meet him in Princeton, he was a lot thinner than he appeared in his photo, and even though I knew from that photo that he wasn't that good-looking, he was even less so in person. I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed. I was. But within minutes, he had me laughing like mad. His humor was more appealing than any pretty face alone could hope to be. And his energy was boundless, like mine. I was relieved.
He walked with a limp, and I noticed, even through his jeans, that his legs were somewhat misshapen. He explained that when he was 18, he was in a car accident that should have killed him. The local newspapers reported that it was the worst accident of its kind, and he was the only person ever to have survived one of its severity.
I stayed with him and Alex (his goofy young Rottweiler) that whole weekend. We had a great time hanging out in Princeton, going to dinner, playing with the dog and giving her a voice that she used quite freely. We had a bit of a rough patch where a battle of the wills almost made me want to take the train home, but I stayed.
We saw each other quite a few times after that, continued with the email and instant messages and phone calls, but after a while I let things disintegrate. I can't even remember what happened, but I do know that it was my doing. I remember I hurt him badly. We fell out of touch.
About a year later, in the summer of 1998, I started thinking about him again. I knew there was a certain something between us that I couldn't just let die, so I got in touch with him. Fortunately I still had his unlisted phone number, and he still had the same email address, so it wasn't that difficult. He came down to my apartment in Philadelphia, on his recently acquired motorcycle, and from there we took off to New Hope. I'd been on quite a few motorcycles before (other stories for other days), but with him it was the best. I loved holding on to him. And he loved me screaming "Fuuuuuck!!!" into the wind.
What a difference a year made. I found him much more attractive in so many ways. Even physically. Was it because in the year that had passed I'd gone out with guys who, although much better-looking, treated me hideously? I don't know. I do know, though, that he and I seemed to be a perfect match now. We had an absolutely perfect time in New Hope. I spent the night in Princeton.
I can do this, I thought. I adore him. He has a perfect job he has his own very successful advertising company that he runs out of his house and it makes him quite a bit of money and makes him happy. He has two kids (a boy, 13, and a girl, 11) who don't live with him but whom I'm really looking forward to meeting. They're even asking for me. I love his dog, and, since I came around again, R told me she didn't have to be left in her crate when he wasn't home. He relayed the story of how one day he let her have free reign of the house when he went out, and expected, upon his return, to find the place in shambles the way he had any other time he'd left her out. However, before he'd left, he'd told her, "Jodi says if I let you hang out, you'll be good and won't tear everything apart." And sure enough, she didn't let me or him down. They never used the crate again. I took it as a "sign".
I don't know how often I saw him this time around, but one instance stands out in my mind. We were driving down I-95, on our way back to Philadelphia. "Aria" was blaring from the six speakers in his ridiculously luxurious car. We were laughing like crazy over nothing in particular. My favorite part of one of the songs was coming up, so I told him we had to be quiet to listen to it. I closed my eyes, but peeked through my left to see him smiling at me from time to time. He held my hand. The favorite part played, and I felt as if I was floating up into the sky. You know how people sometimes say they felt like they died and went to heaven? Well, that's what it felt like.
That August, he and his kids planned their annual trip to Long Beach Island. They all wanted me to join them, but I made up some elaborate excuse why I couldn't go. I have no idea why. Knowing me, I was feeling "fat" at 110 pounds and didn't want anyone to see me in a bathing suit. So, anyway, I constructed such a ridiculous lie that I actually began believing that my pretend friend's father had suffered a heart attack. Why I couldn't just tell him I didn't want to go was beyond me. Whatever.
He called while he was away, but I wasn't quick to return the calls. I started to retreat, just like I'd done the previous year. I probably didn't want to get caught in the ridiculous lie I'd set up. But R didn't seem mad. He pressed on. In fact, while on vacation, he sent me a rather unusual gift via express mail. It was a big box of Dutchies hard pretzels (we used to make fun of that name). I thought that was all, but then I noticed that the box had been opened. "What, did he have to eat one, and send me an old box?" But of course not. Inside the box was the "Aria" CD that we loved and a handwritten note on stationery that he made just for me. It said:
I dashed to the computer and wrote him a thank-you note, telling him I adored him and the gift. "Baby, you're the living end," I wrote. (The "baby" part was a joke. We both hated that word as a term of endearment, so of course we had to use it to make each other cringe. A little sado-masochism never hurts.)As with you, my wonderful friend, the joy is in discovering what is inside.
Thank you for allowing me the privilege of getting to know you.
R [Yes, he signed it "R"]
I was surprised that I didn't hear from him when he got back from vacation. I called and left messages, but he didn't call back. I figured that my games finally caught up with me. As he'd told me after our first go-round, self-preservation was vital to him. He'd gone through a lot of very rough stuff in his life (I have to respect his privacy and not divulge it), and he'd told me he didn't need more pain. I couldn't just play around with him so callously. Yet I did. So I couldn't blame him for backing out. But this time I was hurt too.
Apparently he wanted nothing to do with me. He got rid of the AOL screen name I knew. I kicked myself in the ass for missing out on what could have become a really cool relationship. I missed him like mad.
Three years passed. I was in another relationship. One night in early August I was sitting in this very room, when all of a sudden I was overwhelmed by the desire to talk to him. I had to know how he was, where he was, what he was doing. I knew he would get along swimmingly with the DOG. Although R was extremely outgoing and gregarious and the DOG was not, they had so much in common that I knew they'd take to each other immediately. Plus, of course, they both loved what each of them called my "running commentaries" on everything that passed in front of me. I thought it would be fun if all of us, including whomever R was seeing, got together for a nice vegetarian dinner. Indeed, R was the one who introduced me to a restaurant here in New York that I in turn introduced to the DOG and which became one of our favorites.
So with nervous fingers and a leaping heart, I called the number for his personal phone but was connected with a psychiatrist's office. I thought that was funny because we always joked about our mutual lack of sanity. I looked for a new number on the internet. Nothing.
I tried everything I could think of. I thought of finding his ex-wife's number and getting his number through her in the morning. I thought of contacting an organization that he chaired. I racked my brain trying to think of the name of his best friend. Still, nothing. But then it came to me. There was one thing I hadn't tried! So I tried it.
A screen came up with his name. Listed next to his name was the name of the place where he "last resided", which coincided with a town just outside Princeton. Still, there wasn't enough information on that screen for me to be sure it was he. The next step involved a small sum of money. I figured he was worth it. I desperately needed to hear his voice.
The paid search yielded more information, including a birth date. I couldn't remember R's birth date. I knew it was in July, but I wasn't sure of the day. Then I remembered it was several days after another friend's birthday of July 11. Then I remembered that yes, it was July 15. Yes. I'd found him.
You'd think I'd be happy to finally find him. But I wasn't. You see, the information I found included not only his birth date but his date of death as well.
The back of my neck was hot. It was cold. It was hot and cold. Cold and hot. Both at the same time. My head started to spin. My heart pounded furiously through my chest and at the same time sank deep within it. It almost leapt from my throat when I discovered, by reading old email, that the last time I'd seen him was exactly three years ago from the night I decided to find out what happened to him.
So I finally found out why I never heard from R when he returned from vacation. He'd died on Sunday, August 16, 1998 the day before I received the box of pretzels and CD. I almost literally fell out of my chair. I felt as if a vice were squeezing every organ inside my body, and an ice-cold clamp gripped my throat. I felt like I was drowning.
I didn't sleep much that night. I don't think I slept at all. I couldn't. I wrote the DOG an email (we lived together, as we do now, but we still sent each other email, as we do now) telling him what I'd found out. I had told him all about R a while ago. He was one of the good ones, I'd said. One who treated me the way I deserved. One he would love to meet. One who loved jazz and animals and coffee and me. They had a lot in common.
The next morning, the DOG and I searched the internet for more information. I don't know why I didn't think of it the night before. I suppose shock is a good enough reason as any. I sat by his side as he found a couple of articles that told us everything we wished we didn't have to know.
R drowned in the Atlantic Ocean while on vacation with his kids. He and his son were in the ocean around 8:00 on the morning of Sunday, August 16. They were pulled far from the shore by an ocean current and R had difficulty when he tried to swim back. His son was unable to pull him back to shore, so he swam back alone to find help. By the time he made it to the shore, his dad had disappeared. His body was found two days later.
By the time I'd sent him the email telling him he was "the living end", his life had come to an end.
Sometimes I swear I hear his raucous laugh beside me. I'll be sitting by myself, drinking coffee on a bench, popping dark chocolate-covered espresso beans into my mouth the same kind that he and I overindulged on one afternoon to somewhat ill but hilarious effect and I will hear it. I will have to breathe deep and tell myself it was just my imagination. I won't close my eyes, though, because if I do, I will see his face and those eyes peeking at me as I sit beside him in his ridiculously luxurious car with my eyes half-closed, watching him.
Today you would have been 50, R. You would have laughed like the madman adman that you were to think that you'd managed to reach the half-century mark. I would have told you you didn't look a day over 90. We would have acted like we were 10.
I will try not to cry as I try to laugh today for you. If you were here, we'd be in your car you, me, the DOG, your girlfriend or wife, Taxi, and Alex heading somewhere to find the perfect spot to drink too much coffee and eat way too many hard pretzels with hot sauce. We'd find a bench big enough for all of us, and I'd provide running commentary. All day would be like "the good part" of my favorite song. I would wish it could go on forever.
♥ ♥ ♥
There's no delicate way to say this, so please pardon my indelicacy.
The moment I set foot outside my building this afternoon, I stepped in a fair amount of shit. I'm guessing or at least hoping, I suppose it was from a dog. But of course you never know, given that there is a rather tattered gentleman who fancies the sidewalk on this block as his personal toilette. So, anyway, yeah. I stepped in it. I even, dare I say, slid a bit, even though the soles of my boots are thick rubber with sturdy treads. (Bless the almighty gods for a high in the 70s, which led me to forego sandals.)
When a girl steps in shit, and when she slides a little having thus stepped, the best thing for her to do, rather than get mad, is to laugh and say, "Oh shit! Literally!" So I did. As I tried to scrape the boot against the sidewalk, I looked up and saw a sullen, dough-faced girl not eight feet away, reading a pamphlet outside the ground-floor yoga studio. I was still laughing and scraping.
She looked at me. I looked at her. I smiled at her and said, directly to both her and my boot, "Shit! Literal shit!"
I was hoping for some form of commiseration. Some sort of acknowledgment that what had happened was rather funny, but she just looked over at me with an expression of utter vapidity. The only explanation I could come up with is that she didn't know what "literal" meant.
Stupid shit for brains!
Too pooped to pop? Or just a soda sot?
Who am I to say?
I'm not here to judge.
Ah ha ha. Ha ha. Ha. Ahahahahahaha. Someone please stop me before I laugh so hard my spleen, pancreas, and other assorted members of my viscera dislodge themselves and make their way out of my body via portals that would rather not allow them egress.
These capricious Snapple snippets shatter my long-held romantic notion of a tiny Chinese village whose sole industry is based on every aspect of the fortune cookie manufacturing process. And the perky references to popular greasy fare dishes that are as close to authentic Chinese food as Snapple is to real tea leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
Oh, what would Confucius say!
Why yes, I have written about fortune cookies before. You can read that entry here.
Suggestion: Divert and avert your attentions and affections from the all-consuming insidious clutches of the internet. The fish fried online reeks of rancid oil that is rarely if ever changed. Return to the offline pond where the fish is fresh and the view stretches off into the horizon instead of two feet from your face. (Cool water. So refreshing.)
Poor Celine Dion.
Here she is, just another exhausted "mommy" whose days are full of Cheerios and Play Doh. Here she is, just another exasperated wife whose husband not only watches way too much golf on TV but plays it quite a lot with his friends. Here she is, just another overworked working girl trying to make a buck or 146 billion in order to build a modest 4,000-seat coliseum so she has a nice place to hang out after resurfacing from self-imposed early retirement.
Well, at least she doesn't actually have to pilot the private helicopter that takes her there!
OK. Everyone and anyone. Please stop sending email directing me to check out that Google/"weapons of mass destruction" search, LOL, ROTFLMAO!!! It's not new. It's not funny. It is, however, annoying.
I don't go around advertising that I have a cat. It's not that I'm ashamed of her, even though she does tend to say things in public that are quite embarrassing, and she never knows which fork is which when confronted with more than one in a place setting. It's just that we have a certain understanding: she respects my privacy, and I do the same for her.
Although I do draw pictures of my dog, I have never supplied a photo of him here. You see, he is a famous TV dog, and I cannot risk revealing his identity. One kidnapping and pocketbook-busting ransom demand was enough. I have, however, supplied a couple of photos of the cat, which I suppose is a breach of the privacy I mentioned above. (So I'm inconsistent in some respects. Be quiet.) In fact, you can see her here. Or here, in an entry dated one year ago today. She's the one on the left. It's not the best picture of her. She is much better-looking in person.
Or, rather, I should say she was.
You see, today she is ... no more.
This morning she was lying on my lap as I lounged on one of the living room sofas. We were reading a book. I noticed that quite a bit of stray hair was collected on her hips, so I started to brush at it with my fingers to get rid of it. There was more than appeared at first glance, so I decided to give her a "proper" brushing.
I put on my pillbox hat and white gloves and called to her. She put down our book and scampered over, excited about the brushing. I set to my task with great care.
I brushed her for four hours. Non-stop. I only stopped when I noticed that the brush was no longer raking gently over skin covered with black fur. The brush met no resistance. Instead, my tired hand and the brush were just sort of hovering over a huge pile of gray fluff.
Ahhh. How I admire and appreciate the stunning lack of originality and blatant copyright infringement. It's so refreshing!
Update, 10:20 a.m., 10 July 2003: An astute and watchful consultant on my legal team just confirmed my gnawing suspicion that the above is not an example of copyright infringement. "That is fair use," he said, "and even if it wasn't, it would be trademark infringement." Oh well. There is a reason I was disbarred in 1997. (My claim as to a lack of originality still stands.)
My adventures frequently take me to this place they call the New York Public Library. You see, while the internet is fun 'n' stuff, after a while you realize that hey, it's really not that much fun and that nothing can really take the place of actual books.
I've tried sniffing the internet in the split second between "clicks" from one page to the next, but it's just not as satisfying as putting my nose between the pages of a book and inhaling deeply. Although I'm more likely to do it in a very public bookstore than at a very public library, for many reasons (including some that you can glean from what I've said before about library books), sometimes I assume a devil-may-care attitude and dive in headlong.
This afternoon I went to the library to return a few books. I'm very conscientious and rarely keep the books past their due date, so I don't have to stand in line and suffer the humiliation of handing over some hard-earned pocket change to an uncaring clerk. I get to drop my books in a friendly book deposit bin that sort of resembles a mailbox.
Ordinarily it's not a difficult undertaking. But today's experience was a bit out of the ordinary. You see, I had been using a winning lottery ticket as a bookmark, and forgot to remove it from Kurt Vonnegut's Timequake before sliding the books into the deposit bin. It wasn't until I was at the redemption window of my local corner grocery, ready to fill my raggy pockets with riches, that I realized I didn't have the ticket in hand. I panicked, of course, but quickly retraced my steps (mentally) and realized what had happened.
I raced back to the library and breathlessly recounted my story to a disinterested clerk.
"Sorry," she said, "but once you put a book in the bin, you can't get it back."
"But I don't want the book. I want something of mine that's inside the book ... a letter from a deceased lover!"
"So if he's deceased, he won't know," she said, staring me in the face.
"That's not the point!" I said. "Can't you please just unlock the box and get the book for me? I mean, you don't even have to go through the books yourself! I'll root through! I know exactly which book I left it in!"
"We only empty the bin once a day, at closing time," she said. "That's our policy."
"Then I'll come back when you close. What time do you close? I can come back!"
She puffed up her chest enough that her name badge bounced. "Our policy is that at the point of return, you relinquish all rights to the returned item," she said. "Sorry for your loss," she added with a smirk.
And then I did lose it. It was not pretty. I was escorted onto Fifth Avenue by two lethargic, gum-chewing guards.
So tonight, under cover of darkness, and dressed from stem to stern in black (Calvin Klein lightweight linen so what if it wrinkles? no one's going to see), Ethel, Laverne, Shirley, Homer, and Bart are returning to the library with me. We've got everything figured out to the letter.
If all goes according to plan, tomorrow you'll be reading the words of a millionaire!
What could possibly go wrong?
I have fish to fry elsewhere (vegan fish, that is textured vegetable protein molded into an eerily accurate fish shape complete with gills and scales). While I'm away, amuse yourself with this cartoon by my pal Hugh:
While you're at it, buy some stuff from him (available on his site) so he can earn enough money to fly back to New York and introduce me to a fabulous older woman friend of his whom he says reminds him of me. I want to see how I'm going to turn out.
Now, go on. Get outta here, and go there.
Toodles, ta, and 'bye.
I'm not really one for "themes", but I suppose it will seem that way today, given that what I am about to present to you is, like this morning's post, related to fruit.
The gallant Grettir, whom I mentioned several months ago, has spotlighted a stunning work of art that I sent him as a special present several months ago. (Please note that I did not send it with the intention of having him display it on his site. And please also note that Grettir was enough of a gentleman to ask permission before doing so. This is why Grettir is great.)
Behold "l'Ananas de Jodi"!
Stick around for tonight's entry, which will feature cherries, mango, and a twist of zesty lime!
I don't know if you're aware of this, but apparently it's all the rage in Chelsea to wear a big fruit suit! Indeed, just moments before seeing this fellow, I saw a woman with a similar figure squeezed into a pair of pants this very same color. She would have made wonderful fodder for the Glamour "Do's and Don'ts" page, complete with the requisite black bar over her eyes to protect her identity.
I barred this fellow's eyes because I think he could have done much better than the pair of sloppy beige pants and ordinary white sneakers he's sporting here. Come on. This is New York. You're in Chelsea. What were you thinking, son?
P.S. Note the iced coffee grasped in another onlooker's hand!
Dear Miss Gardner:
Hello. How are you? I am fine.
I hope you remember me. I was one of your third grade students for the 1971-1972 school year. In the class picture, I was the one with the olive skin and a shag haircut fashioned after Keith Partridge. I wore a pinkish-purple, slightly shiny shirt that made me feel pretty sexy, even though I was only eight.
You may remember me as the Siamese twin of the short, spunky girl named Ellen S. Ellen and I were inseparable, except for the times you forced us to sit apart. I suppose we were a bit high-spirited. However, despite your occasional exasperation, you did appreciate our collective effort in creating The Buzzum Book, a hand-drawn (in pencil and blue ballpoint ink) tour de force housed between the black and white speckled covers of a wide-rule composition book. You admired our creativity and our dedication.
I think you should know that, although we idolized you and wanted to be you when we grew up in fact, you were the model on which I based "Miss Lawrence" we laughed at you behind your back. You see, although the "buzzums" were indeed limbless, happy-go-lucky, adventure-seeking characters who wore jaunty berets and always appeared in profile, there was a bit more to them than you suspected.
But I suppose I can understand your error, in part. After all, how were you to know that "buzzum" was Ellen's way of spelling "bosom"? And we never did correct you when you pronounced it BUZZ-uhm. I would like you to know, though, that although I did know the correct spelling (remember my perfect spelling quizzes?), we decided to go with Ellen's so no one would be the wiser. Including you.
So, anyway, I just thought you should know. I hope you don't feel like, well, a big boob for having been duped.
There is no air conditioner in this room. And it's all your fault. Therefore, you are being punished and must go to bed without a new entry.
However, I can't just let you starve, so here are some leftovers from one year ago. There's a lot on the plate, so make sure you lick it clean.
Remember, though, that licking the plate clean does not obviate the need for washing it.
You know how sometimes you'll be listening to a song on the car radio that you don't really love but it's better than a lot of the other stuff the other stations are playing, and then when the song is over, you change stations and find that a song you absolutely love, i.e. the original "The Lion Sleeps Tonight", is just ending? And how you want to kick yourself because you haven't heard that cherished song in years? And how you hate that you settled for a song that was just all right? Well, that's what happened with me the last time I went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant.
My charming companion and I ate at Curry Leaf, where the food was quite good but the waitstaff somewhat less than attentive and definitely far from charming. In addition, it was way too crowded for my taste. After we left and were on our way to the rest of our evening's festivities, we discovered a new restaurant on East 27th Street hailed on its awning as "A southern Indian restaurant, totally vegetarian ...and kosher too!" We peered through the window and saw a single man inside the otherwise empty restaurant. He reminded me of the "Please buy my candy" guy.
"Oh, how nice it looks!" I said. "I wish we'd seen this place first!"
We felt sad for the man inside the restaurant. The man and his clean, nicely decorated, spotless restaurant that no one was patronizing. I swore the man looked at us hopefully, and his heart probably skipped a beat or beat a little faster in anticipation of two people entering and sitting down at one of the brightly-tableclothed tables and enjoying some vegetarian kosher southern Indian food.
"We'll be back!" I said to him, even though he couldn't hear me. And we turned away and continued eastward on 27th Street.
Earlier this week, I went back to get a menu to take home, and when I went in to ask for one, the same man ran over to give me one.
"I'll be back!" I said to him.
I went home and devoured the menu.
Yesterday I went back to the restaurant for lunch. I planned to indulge in the $5.95 all-you-can-eat buffet, which immediately recalled my days in Philadelphia and the golden age of gorging on Indian food buffets. This buffet was much more seductive than any I'd enjoyed in Philadelphia. (There I was "famous" for my Indian food indulgences.) Although I chose the buffet over my usual Indian dish (saag paneer the only time I will eat cheese), I didn't attack it with the old lust. The desire was there, yes, but the need for promiscuity was not.
So here is what I ate:
I won't tell you what all of it is. Because I forget. I did ask Peter, the affable owner of the restaurant (and the same man whom I'd seen twice before), what everything was, and he sat down at my table and told me, but I was too involved with tasting the food and being charmed by him to retain that information.
Peter runs a very fine operation. He knows what he's doing. He was Leona Helmsley's butler for a while, so he is no stranger to exacting standards. (In the face of customer complaints, he says, he now knows to respond "like a zombie". He told me this with one of the most engaging smiles and genuine laughs.) And it shows throughout the restaurant and the and this is important to me immaculate ladies room (complete with pink toilet seat).
Peter endeared himself to me by asking me if I wanted to try a masala dosa. Of course I did, and I told him that if I hadn't done the buffet, I would have ordered one (along with saag paneer). He said, "How about if I make you one, for just a dollar extra? Would you want it?"
How could I refuse? Even sight unseen. But especially sight seen, which was in just a few minutes. Look:
If Chennai Garden hadn't already won me over the minute I stepped in to get a takeout menu, it certainly would have the moment I entered and was instantly welcomed by Peter. It would have with its dimly lit interior, brightly colored tablecloths, and fun Fiestaware dishes stacked at one end of the two buffet tables. At first I was put off by a be-yarmulked gray-haired and -bearded guy who wore a big bandage that appeared to be holding down one of his sideburns and his inability to eat without smacking and licking his lips with the same gusto Taxi does when presented with a new bone. But when I tasted the food, I understood the enthusiasm (if not the big bandage, which continued to perplex me for the duration of my lunch).
Chennai Garden was definitely worth coming back for. Definitely lip-smacking and -licking good (as revolting as that is).
As I told Peter that one night through the plate glass window when he couldn't hear me, and as I told him yesterday face to face when he could, I will be back. Soon. I've found my song, and I'm not switching stations.
Note: Chennai Garden is located at 129 East 27th Street (between Park and Lexington).
Please be sure that tomorrow, during your patriotic frenzy, you do not confuse these two things. One of them (Fig. 1) is to be placed in your four-year-old's hand and mouth, and the other (Fig. 2) is to be placed nowhere near him.
Don't get so blindingly patriotic that you can't figure it out for yourself when the time arises.
And just in case you need reminding, here are some dazzling statistics that I provided last year.
P.S. Actually, I do not condone the use of hotdogs, but I'm not here to shove my beliefs down your throat!
This was the scene on the northwest corner of 34th and Broadway yesterday afternoon, just outside Macy's. Note if you will (and you must!) the enthusiastic shopper in her ersatz "Hare Krishna" getup in basic black. As I passed, I heard her say, "Oh no! I just got it in orange at H&M* ... and now I see that white is the new orange!"
I was dismayed to see my dog, Taxi, accompanying these guys, given that he always mocks my vegetarianism and has told me on more than one occasion that he has a "secret" way of getting back at the vocal yoga students downstairs. In fact, just the other day he e-mailed me an article about "doga" and later smirked as he confided that the gravelly/sandy area of Madison Square Park where the sessions are held is the same area where he pees. So why this? I don't know. I'll ask him tomorrow, after he has been fully deprogrammed.
So anyway, I grabbed him and took him inside Macy's, where we ditched the white robe and outfitted him in head to toe Adidas. (Oh, and bought me a great Anna Sui top, and a stunning sweater and fantastic pants by Elie Tahari!)
* Schlock Central. Cheap, in every sense of the word.
This afternoon, in a rare fit of extravagance, I bought the magazine, In Touch Weekly. Apparently I've been extremely out of touch, because I'd never heard of this thing. But I have heard of this thing called plastic surgery that all the kids are talking about, and I do confess that I am both fascinated and disgusted by it. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, and often both at the same time.
The glossy cover caught my eye when I passed by the newsstand on East 34th Street where it was displayed. I wanted to buy it, but didn't want the man who runs the newsstand to think I was shallow and stupid. I didn't want him to think this is the only sort of literature I enjoy. Indeed, I was ashamed and didn't want him to think I was anything less than a highly intelligent woman on the go who was suffering a lapse in judgment and taste, so I bought six copies of Time, a bottle of spring water, a pack of Doublemint (serious gum, not the silly kind that makes bubbles), and the big back-to-school issue of Juggs.
Imagine my shock when I flipped through the pages of In Touch Weekly and found this among the "Before and After" photos:
I have never had any "work" done. No implants, no Botox, no injections. Someone is clearly out to get me, and I know who it is. She's a high-paid movie star who's just jealous that I managed to achieve naturally what she had to pay $350,000 to approximate. I won't name names, but her ex-husband's name rhymes with "Moose Zillis".