Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Sliver of Romance

I don’t know what I expected to happen. After all, I’d moved to a temporary apartment in Queens in anticipation of possibly leaving New York. But that August day I moved in, by some strange twist of fate, I became the most popular girl in school.

Starting that night, the night of the day I moved into my new apartment, I began collecting new Facebook friends, cell phone numbers, text messages and dinner invitations like every night was my last night on earth.

Had moving to Astoria somehow hit the reset button on my New York City experience, reinvigorating a confidence, attractiveness, and sex appeal that had been dormant for over two years before?

It helped that I had new places to hang out, populated by gregarious guys ten years my junior who mistook me for their age. If they ever found out I wasn’t, it usually didn’t matter (though I did field some strange, backhanded compliments like “Wow, you’re the most gorgeous older woman I’ve ever met,” other observations like “Wow you’re the oldest woman I’ve ever kissed,” and oddball questions like “So what was the world like when I still had a tail?”). Unlike all the guys before who took my number and never used it, they texted me later that night, the next morning, and for weeks later. They left missed calls on my phone, even after failed dates with no love connection. And instead of asking me to go home with them, they declared, “I would love to take you out some time.”

Jackpot.

Inevitably, though, the conversation would turn to my career and my job search, and I’d mention having just returned from LA, or having just booked another trip there. Their faces would fall, and they would ask, “You leavin’ me?”

“Sorry, I need to go where the job is…”

But that didn’t stop me from pursuing them, or more importantly, letting them pursue me. “I’ve earned it…” I would tell my friends, noting my tremendous weight loss, numerous heartbreaks, and years of celibacy. I seized the dates, trying to forget those I’d lost, who never returned my text messages or calls. But no one person really stood out. When one date turned ever so slightly apathetic, I dove back into my pool of candidates, fished back into my cell phone for another number of a suitor whose name had not been programmed in, but whose identity I had to try to memorize based on the context of his message.

Unfortunately, they all read like some Mad Lib for the Gentleman Caller: “Hi, it was great to meet you last night at __________. I would like to take you out for _________ at ____________ sometime this _____________.” And they rarely included their names.

My time in New York seemed to be urgently ticking away, but it was less about the job prospects I’d had out of town and more about the lack of job prospects anywhere. I was convinced I’d have to move back to Syracuse into Mike and Maria’s attic, or pick any small town with a low cost of living and get a job at Old Navy or Target – places that refused to hire me in Queens. And despite knowing that my residency in New York was very much temporary – or maybe because of it – I replied to every message, went on every date, and drank every drink.

I didn’t think anything serious would ever come of it. I mean, it never had before. Why would it start now?

But that didn’t mean I couldn’t or shouldn’t go to dinner. After all, girl’s gotta eat.

In the third week of November, I spotted a tall, serious-looking guy across the room at a party and grabbed my friend Michelle to ask, “Who. Is. That?”

“Oh yeah, that’s my friend’s ex-boyfriend but they’re just friends now. Do you want me to introduce you?”

“Are you sure they’re not dating?”

“Oh no, they’re totally just friends now.”

“Gimme a minute. I’ll let you know.”

I then made a beeline over to him, introducing myself, flirting, joking, and bouncing around a scatter of topics that ranged from bourbon to architecture to pizza. We went out a couple of times over the next month, each date making my heart pound harder and head spin faster. He was busier at work than most of the other guys, and not as effusive, but I was pretty sure he felt the same way about me, even though we only got to see each other every few weeks. And I could live with that, because I didn’t really want to date anybody else. I’d kissed all the frogs a person could possibly withstand.

And then, a month later, right before Christmas, I received a job offer in LA. It made me recall dating my first boyfriend (and pretty much my only one ever), who I met about six weeks before flying to London for a study abroad program, and how we spent nearly every night together to maximize our precious time together. I was anxious to tell my new guy about the offer, and desperate to tell him in person rather than in an abbreviated written message, but he couldn’t fit another date in before I left for Christmas in Syracuse. So while I negotiated and counter-offered, I agonized. I didn’t want to stay in New York for a relationship – and financially I couldn’t afford to – but I didn’t want to cut our time short, either.

Because of the holiday, negotiations took a couple of weeks, but right after New Year’s – a New Year’s Eve spent apart, bafflingly and heartbreakingly to me – I was finally ready to accept the job offer, and I still hadn’t told him what was going on. I fired off a text message, and received a much-anticipated, nearly-immediate reply: “Will I get to see you before you leave?”

“I hope so.”

I don’t know what I expected. We went out again, resulting in more spinning and swooning. I confessed that I wanted to find a way to still see each other even after I left – not exclusively, and only as long as we were both available to do so – and he responded with an answer that surpassed my expectations: “I can’t make any promises, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”

I didn’t have any right to ask for anything. But I couldn’t not say anything. I had to tell him. I had no choice.

In the days that followed, the silence was deafening. No morning after text message. No replies to my messages, save for a couple of terse responses like “Thank you” and “Can’t make it.” Two months after meeting a nice, smart, professional, handsome, age-appropriate guy who shared my interests and sent my heart aflutter, and less than two weeks before I was going out of town, I knew I’d lost him.

I waited an ample amount of time to be sure, but my time was running out, and I couldn’t let another guy fade away like that. I confronted him. He gave me reasons of work and time and needing to take care of himself and needing to not worry about making someone else happy. All these reasons I’m sure are true, though I would have loved to try to make him. Yet I cannot understand: what is the point of dumping me for those reasons when I’m moving out of town? With only a week left together, why couldn’t he just say a proper goodbye, leave me with a romantic wave from the train platform, and then let me go? I would think the leaving was enough reason for us to stop seeing each other, and if not a good enough reason, certainly a good enough excuse.

I was really dreading saying goodbye to him. And now it’s broken my heart to not say goodbye to him.

But what else did I expect?

I wanted any sliver of romance I could get, and I’m so grateful for what I did get. I blame my departure for creating a sense of urgency on my part which likely freaked him out and made him run away. But maybe my leaving only accelerated the inevitable departure from him in my life, the leaving I have been on the receiving end of so many times before.

I don’t blame him, but he will remain in my heart as the one that got away…

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

My God, What Have I Done?

Ever since I started to tell people about my new job and move to LA, I’ve dodged one repeated question: “Are you excited?”

I’m not. I haven’t been.

Ever since I got the job, I’ve felt an enormous sense of trepidation.

It doesn’t make any sense. I should be happy. But the relief I feel about ending a two-year consulting stint and job search has been offset by the anxiety of starting a new job, with new coworkers, new employees; of waking up in a new bed, embarking on a new commute, sitting at a new desk in a new office; of finding a new apartment (again), buying a new car, and finally getting some new furniture.

All of these are good things. But I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy the newness of it all. My older self sees the newness as a threat, an act of aggression, even though I don’t want what’s being taken away from me, and I do want what’s been given to me as a gift. For the last two years I have not had a job, and I have missed working with other people; and for the last five months I have not gotten a good night’s sleep, and I have been living on bare-bones possessions.

I know myself pretty well, though. I recognize this feeling I have. I press the palms of my hands against my newly-emerged cheekbones, and I interrogate myself, “My God, what have I done? What am I getting myself into?”

I did the same thing on the drive from San Diego to Joshua Tree in June 2009.

I did the same thing on the way to JFK for my flight to Tunisia a year ago.

Both turned out to be some of the biggest landmark experiences of my life.

So I have to ignore those trepidations, those inward inquisitions that keep most people from jumping out of planes and from getting nude mud-scrubbed by a Russian woman.

I know what I have to do.

Book a flight and give myself a couple of days to find an apartment. See as many apartments as possible. Pick one.

Once I have an address, hire movers.

Once I have a move date, book my final, one-way flight to LA.

Once I have an arrival date and time, book a rental car.

Pack. Laundry. Dry cleaning. Goodwill. Pack.

Movers arrive and depart.

Pack.

Eat.

Say goodbye.

Drink.

Eat.

Don’t cry.

Finish packing.

Get to airport.

Get on plane.

Sit and wait.

And so here I am on the plane, making lists of groceries, sundries and supplies I need to put in the trunk of my rental car and drive to my new apartment. I know how to do that.

I don’t know how to buy a used car. I don’t know how to get a parking permit. I don’t know how to maintain a car. All this I must figure out in the few short days before I start my new job.

I know how to start a new job, but it’s never fun.

So one thing at a time.

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The Things I Left Behind: LA Edition

I left my Astoria apartment this morning for the last time, with two rolling suitcases, a purse, and a big Trader Joe's shopping bag in tow.

I'm bringing a lot with me on the flight to Burbank.

But I left a few things behind.

I left the cheap full-length mirror.

I left the white plywood shelves that once housed my LPs.

I left the hot pink plastic hangers that have become so brittle, they often break under the weight of the clothes that hang on them.

I left the plastic shelves I'd bought for the bathroom, because there was no room in the medicine cabinet for my makeup, bandages, medicine, and other essentials. I left the plastic shelves I'd bought for the bedroom. I don't want to live in a dorm room anymore. I'm leaving plastic behind.

I left the white metal shelf that's designed to go over the toilet, but I'd fashioned into an office since I bought it in 2001.

I left the box spring and the bed frame. I'll be sleeping on a murphy bed from now on.

I left two rolls of packing tape. I hope to not need them anytime soon.

I left the lilac-colored towel that smells of smoke.

I left the bath mat, bathroom and kitchen towels, paper towel holder, and cleaning supplies I'd bought for the apartment.

I left an old skillet.

I left a dirty pan in the stove.

I left a wine glass, and a few bottles of vodka and bourbon that only had a little bit left in them.

I left a mostly-eaten container of hummus, a half-full tub of Fresh Direct peanut butter, and various cheeses, condiments and spices.

I left both sets of keys, though I worried I would forget something and would need to return, and climb through the window again.

I left without saying goodbye to some.

I left kisses planted on others.

I left a crying friend, a worried friend, and many excited friends.

I left behind men who I could have loved, but they would not let me.

But I don't think I forgot anything, and I left behind nothing that I could have taken with me to my new life in Los Angeles...

Related Reading:
The Things I Left Behind
To Leave, and Not Be Left Behind
Leave No Trace: Workplace Edition
Leave No Trace

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Time in Queens, Calculated

I thought I would need about four months after moving to Astoria to get my life together, find a job, and move back into my own place - either elsewhere in New York City, or elsewhere in the world.

Turns out I needed an extra month.

Here's how my life in my third borough breaks down since August:
  • 5 months
  • 1 roommate 
  • 1 bottle Moroccan rose wine
  • 1 broken wine glass
  • 1 teacup
  • 3 plates
  • 3 bowls
  • 1 pot
  • 1 flood
  • 1 set of lost keys, 1 Good Samaritan, 1 fire escape and 1 living room window climb
  • 1 bellydancer costume, thrice worn
  • 5 trips to LA
  • 1 canoe 
  • 2 tours
  • numerous pickle martinis and picklebacks at Sweet Afton
  • 2 packages of pita
  • 19 new Facebook friends
  • 1 computer crash
  • 6 loads of laundry
  • 10 brunches
  • 3 bagels
  • 1 peanut butter hot chocolate
  • 1 visit to the taco truck, 2 tacos
  • the endless clanging of heat pipes
I really loved my time in Astoria. I'll miss it here. But now that I'm sleeping on an air mattress with no sheets, on pillows with no cases, in an apartment that never stops smelling of my roommate's near-empty beer bottles and smoke of various substances, I'm ready to go.

There are still tons of bars and restaurants I never got to visit, drinks and meals I never got to have, faces I never got to kiss, and bridges I never got to cross. But it was impossible to do everything in five months.

I feel satisfied that I did a lot.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Casting My Fears Aside



I like to push my boundaries, but what I did yesterday challenged me nearly as much as - maybe more than - skydiving.

I went to the Russian and Turkish Baths in the East Village.

I'd heard stories of its steam rooms, saunas, and scrubs, and the opportunity to be beaten by sticks, so I decided to give it a try before I left New York. Although I had spent a full day in the hot and cold pools of Rudas in Buda, I hadn't been brave enough to experience the Turkish hammams in Morocco or Tunisia, where a fellow bather, I was warned, might turn to me and give me a good scrub with a brown bar of soap. (Instead, I opted for a more European-style argan oil massage conducted by a young, beautiful Moroccan girl who seemed disaffected by her unlimited access to my nakedness.)

I had some making up to do.

For an obsessive planner and researcher, my arrival was baffling. The counter clerk asked me if it was my first time, and then asked a fellow client who was checking out to explain to me how it works. I was pointed to the women's locker room, given a key, and assured that "someone" would offer me services. I could do what I want, and then pay upon exiting.

Wait, where are the towels?

Wait, what am I supposed to wear?

Wait, where do I go?

Sure enough, a tall, tan, Russian man in the equivalent of a black cotton hospital gown greeted me, handed me a towel and a gown for myself. When I told him I wanted "the mud thing" (the Black Mud Treatment), he pointed to a short, curvy, black-haired woman who could have been 40 or 60, and said, "Then she will take care of you."

Her eyes lit up. "You want mud?!"

I nodded and stuttered.

She grabbed my arm, brought me to my locker, and told me to take everything off. "Do I wear my bathing suit?" I asked her.

"Bring it."

"So I wear...nothing?" I persisted.

"Take everything off."

"OK but...." I stammered. She then started taking my pants off for me.

When I got the gown on. its armholes were so huge that each of my breasts popped right through them. My mud consultant looked at me tsking and sprung into action with a "no no no," pulling the gown off of me, turning it around, and replacing it on me backwards, rolling and tying various pieces of it until it fit me perfectly and tightly.

She once again grabbed me and led me downstairs to a metal chamber and what appeared to be a metal surgical table with a rubber mat on it. She hosed everything down, laid clean dry towels down, hung my bathing suit on a hook, and once again instructed me to strip and lie face up.

"My head here?" I asked.

She nodded and pointed and scurried out, while I tried to unravel the black gown from my body and hang it on the hook, dropping it in a puddle on the floor several times in the process. When she returned, I was naked, bending over, and never more confused.

"I get new one. Never mind," she said, and then guided me over to the table, gingerly and strategically placing a towel between my legs, though my modesty had already been thrown onto the floor along with my gown.

She dipped her hand into a small plastic cup full of mud, and began to quickly and roughly spread it over every inch of my body, gently bending and lifting my legs to get behind them. I gave myself over to her and to the mud, closing my eyes and listening to the echo of voices from outside of my stall, in languages and accents familiar but foreign. She was muttering to me in Russian, sweet nothings in my ear as she proceeded with her work, diligently, clinically, but tenderly. When she got to my face, my smile must've transformed into a scowl, because she switched to English and said, "Don't be afraid..."

She soon finished and laid towels over my limbs, midriff, chest, and eyes, leaving me alone to ponder, dry, and harden. My face froze in a mud-caked smile. It was nice to just let her take care of me, to go with it instead of fighting against it.

I heard her return marked by the slam of a metal door, and felt the rush of cold air as the towels were removed one by one. Then the sound of water rushing, the burn of it as it hit my legs, rushed over my feet. I sat up, as instructed, and squeezed my eyes shut as the water cascaded over the top of my head and down my face, gasping for air as it collected around my nose and mouth. "Don't be afraid..." I heard again, and I tried not to be.

I laid back down and the entire process was repeated, this time with a soap that felt and smelled like powdered laundry detergent. I've never been so scrubbed. I have no recollection of being bathed as a child - I always remember washing myself, even if in the tub with my sister or mother - but I felt as though newborn, the age scrubbed off of me, under the care of a maternal figure who wanted nothing in return. She only asked me, "Are you comfortable?" and, once, "Are you happy?" I was.

In the final stage of my treatment, though I was still lying on the table, she washed my hair, scrubbing the scalp, investigating behind and inside the ears. Turning my head from side to side, she conditioned and rinsed, silently but for the steady stream of water into my ears, which emptied when I turned my head the other way.

I probably should have done the mud thing last, because it seemed like a shame to go in for a schvitz in the steam room or sauna after I'd gotten so clean, but I did anyway. The rooms and hallways were littered with bikini-clad girls and hairy-chested men in shorts, their heads sometimes wrapped in towels, all young and hip as you'd expect in the East Village. In the Turkish sauna, the second-hottest room, I doused myself with cold water from an overhead shower head, its freezing cold rainfall released with the pull of a handle. But after an hour or so, with no one to talk to and plenty more to do in New York before I leave, I was ready to go.

This is a spa experience not for the faint of heart, and one that makes Spa Castle in Whitestone, Queens seem like a corporate dreamland. But there's something really genuine, honest, accepting, and welcoming about it - a no-frills approach to satisfying basic medical and emotional needs. It's as much about exfoliation as it is about human contact.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Countdown to Closure

I'm embarking on my last week in New York.

Now that the movers have come to collect everything I own and truck it across the country to my new apartment, all I really need to do while I'm in New York is squeeze in a few good last meals, and say goodbye to a few friends and loved ones.

Not surprisingly, my imminent departure has precipitated some long-overdue reunions. Last week, after I bade adieu to all my boxes, I finally went on a second date I'd waited seven years for. In 2004, my date - a friend I'd known and been interested in already for seven years - took me out once, and then promptly faded away as though our encounter had been random, foreign, blind, impaired. Seven years later, back across the dinner table from me, my date asked me, "So all those years ago, after we went out the one time, I never invited you out to dinner again?"

"No, you didn't."

"Did I say why?"

"Nope."

And then, the kicker: "I'm sorry."

He rattled off reasons of insecurity, instability, stupidity, and immaturity. He told me he was glad he'd spared me the trauma that he'd put his other dates through at the time. He told me how beautiful I am, how beautiful I've always been. And then he told me all about the girlfriend who he's dated for six years, with whom he's lived for three years.

I didn't really feel like I got the whole story from him - it was too easy for him to dismiss the breaking of my heart as the whim of a typical male - but I still felt a sense of closure, not because I heard everything I'd wanted to hear from him, but because I said everything I'd wanted to say to him. I can't explain why I'd waited so long.

I do know that I've spent too much time in my life not telling my romances how I really feel. I tell them what I think they want to hear. I desperately try not to appear desperate. I feign apathy, casualness, and spontaneity, and that's exactly what I get in return. I do not cling, for fear of pushing them away, and they do not cling to me.

I'm leaving New York now, so it doesn't really matter. I shouldn't really care about the carnage of my dating life over the last 14 years, the rotten carcasses, the empty encasements that litter my path like discarded exoskeletons. I shouldn't need to witness them, examine them, goodbye them or revitalize them.

Of course, I shouldn't need to add to their tally either, but I've foolishly tried to love and be loved right up until the very last moment that I'm in town. I've hoped a sliver of romance would be enough to satiate me and quell the loneliness, but, God help me, I need more than a date every seven years.

How can I keep wanting those who clearly don't want me? Isn't my biggest turn-on the powerlessness that a person feels against their burning attraction for me? Doesn't desire beget desire?

There are legions of men who have disappeared on me over the years, many of whom cannot be tracked down to the bar they work in or the band they play in. Maybe I'll see one or two more of the others before I leave. But once I go, I have to hope that my new dates, from now on, will stop fading away without a trace - if only I can express my feelings openly, honestly, and confidently.

You have to ask for the right thing in order to get what you want. If you don't ask for what you want, it's your fault if you don't get it.

Let me never again regret the things I've left unsaid.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Low Visibility

It's amazing that the government - or the Department of Motor Vehicles - allows people behind the wheel in weather like this.

I mean, you absolutely cannot see a thing.

You're driving behind some kind of truck on the New Jersey Turnpike South, even though you thought you selected the "Cars Only" ramp, and its rear tires are kicking up a killer mist onto your windshield, which does not shield you from the wind that carries water from above, below, and straight out in front of you.

To make matters worse, your windshield wipers are ticking frenetically back and forth like a metronome, clicking off the beat of your heart as its rate increases with the intensity of your blindness. It's daytime but it's dark, the water and wind casting a gray film in front of your eyes, as though driving in shadow, a shadow cast so widely that you cannot find any light source.

A momentary short stop and an entire sheet of ice slides off the roof of your car and descends upon your windshield, completely intact in one solid piece. The wipers cast it aside, with some difficulty, and if you're lucky, they don't get stuck.

Your eyes want to follow the wipers back and forth across the windshield, distracting you from where the real action is: the truck in front of you, and now the one sidling up to your right. Mist rises and scatters everywhere. The lines on the road disappear. You have no sense of lane and little sense of direction.

Yet you keep driving. You cannot see anything, but what else is there to do but keep driving?

You somehow have a sense of the road, whether you've ever driven on it before or not. You catch fortunate glimpses of road, shoulder, exit, sign, pylon, toll booth - anything that helps guide your way while you keep pressuring the gas pedal, despite your better judgment.

If you dozed off behind the wheel, you'd probably drive just as well.

But you are very much awake, and aware that some things are happening around you, yet you're not quite sure what. You hope that others can see you, that your clouded vision is an anomaly exclusive to you. If the other drivers know where they're going, how to get there and what's happening along the way, then maybe they'll let you amble past them, swerving and straddling lanes, scrambling for toll money, leaning forward over the steering wheel and squinting, as though that would help. You try following them, but their shifts in position don't make any sense, passing on the right, neglecting to signal and foregoing the use of headlights.

Who lets anyone behind the wheel in those conditions?

What makes anyone want to drive when they can't see where they're going?

Is this wet winter blindness no worse, no different than driving a convertible with the top up, peering through a tiny slit of a rear windshield, casting perfunctory looks over your shoulder to check a blind spot that has grown to encompass your entire rear field of vision?

Or crossing an intersection in the rain and snow, eyeglasses fogged and wet-speckled, with no idea whether the light is red or green or whether cars are coming or going? In New York, we walk with our heads down anyway, black umbrellas hoisted in front of us (rather than above) as a shield against blowing rain, with no regard of what other umbrella-toting pedestrian is about to crash headfirst into us.

Once after getting my pupils dilated, I walked home once from the eye doctor's office with my eyes shut tightly nearly the entire way. I would occasionally crack them open just enough to let some light in through my lash line, but I witnessed no more than the ground in front of me and the entropy of feet around me. Otherwise, I relied on the sounds of footsteps, engines, tires, whistles, and the sense of activity around me.

Who let me do that? And how in the world did I get home OK?

In the dark, your eyes can adjust, your pupils dilating naturally to let in as much light as possible. Your eyes can't adjust to being closed.

Your eyes can't adjust to the countless slings, arrows, distractions, debris, floods, storms, and other acts of God that are cast before them.

So you have to rely on that which you cannot see - only that which you can feel.

But that never feels like a very good idea.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

California, Here I Come

This week, I took my last trip to LA before I officially move there.

I had to find an apartment.

I gave myself less than three days to do it.

I suppose other people just show up in Los Angeles with no place to live and figure it out from there. They crash on a friend’s couch. They housesit. They secure a sublet or some temporary furnished apartment, and then take their time finding a place they’ll make into a more permanent home. That’s essentially how I moved to New York City: I brought a few of my things into a furnished NYU dorm room, and once Terry found our first Greenpoint apartment three months later, retrieved the rest of it from my parents’ house.

But I’ve already been living temporarily for the last five months. I’ve been camping out in Queens with most of my possessions in storage, preparing for a speculated move out of New York. I can’t move into another temporary space in LA. I’ve got stuff, and I want to put it somewhere, and keep it there for a while.

So even before the offer letter was signed, I scheduled my apartment search for this week. Despite eyebrow raises from my friends, I was determined to arrive, hunt, evaluate, and sign by the close of business Thursday. If I prepared enough ahead of time – with new listings emailed to me daily, prospects plotted out on a Google Map, blocks investigated on Google Street View, a GPS on hand and a full cell phone battery – I should be able to pick a place.

Right?

All I had to do was pick a place.

I landed on Tuesday at 1 p.m. and saw my first apartment by 2, kicking off a string of unsuitable residences throughout the Westside of Los Angeles. They were too small. They smelled weird. Their “stoves” were glorified hot plates. Their entryways were too locked, facades too foreboding. Their signs warned of too many carcinogenic elements in their 1970s building materials. They were downright…depressing.

I was moving to California, for this?

By Tuesday night, I’d already seen a dozen apartments, though I’d driven by half of them without visiting, making snap judgments based on their exteriors, their residents emerging from their front doors, and their driveways littered with shopping carts. I found one apartment at the end of the day that, although similar in layout to many of the others, stood out as being remotely acceptable. It had pink tile in the kitchen! A dishwasher! Ceiling fans! A bedroom! A courtyard…with plants!

Despite the resounding failure of my first day, I felt great Tuesday night. It’s easy to turn away from terrible things.

Wednesday morning became more complicated.

I found another apartment that was even more acceptable than that from the night before. Although it featured no ceiling fan and no dishwasher, and allowed no pets, everything in it was new, newly painted, or otherwise newly renovated. And despite an unimpressive exterior, its building was situated on a nice, quiet, residential block with trees and birds and sunlight. Compared to the offerings of the day before, I was so impressed that I applied on the spot.

But always hoping for something better to come along, I left the owner behind in the apartment with a promise to call if I decided to sign the lease. “Wait, you’re still looking?” he asked me.

Well, yes, of course. I had appointments to keep, and another day and a half in town.

My next stop might have been a mistake. I drove around the corner and visited a friend of a friend, who was looking to fill a vacant spot in her Mediterranean-style house once her roommate moved out. Even though I wasn’t looking to share with anyone, I was curious to meet her and see this house she’d talked up to me so much, and when I walked in, my stomach fell and eyes widened. The stucco walls and arches were part adobe, part Kasbah, recalling my love for the Moorish influence on architecture in the Middle East. Mosaic-framed mirrors hung on the walls. Perfume-scented air! Stainless steel appliances! A back patio and…gasp…a pool!

This is how the other half lives. I’d seen it. I couldn’t go back. I’d seen too much.

I spent the next couple of hours agonizing over my choices, weighing the pro’s and con’s of quality of life, trying to decide whether that quality was determined by the place I was living in, who I was living with (or not living with), the neighborhood, or the control I had over my own living space. I saw more unsuitable apartments, and I started to think I couldn’t live a good life in LA if I wanted to live alone. I kept reminding myself that despite my good (future) salary, I had a lot of debt to pay off, and undetermined (future) car payments and insurance to anticipate. If I was going to stick to my budget, maybe I couldn’t do it by myself.

I could live in that house. I could totally swim in that pool. I could sleep in that room and cook in that kitchen and pay that rent and smile those smiles. Closing out another day of apartment hunting, I left a voicemail: “I’d love to apply. Please connect me with your landlord so she can run a credit check on me. I’d love to live with you, if you’ll have me.”

Relief.

Except major life changes are never that easy.

A couple of hours later, I received a return voicemail: “Yeah, so there’s this other girl we’ve been talking to, and it looks like her transfer to LA is going to work out, so we kind of feel like we promised the place to her, and we kind of feel like we need to keep that promise. But good luck and let me know what happens! Sorry…”

Crap.

Panic.

I’d already crossed off nearly every apartment on my list of 25, and the only ones left were those for which my inquiries went unanswered.

I only had one hope left, found in a last minute listing generated by a last ditch effort of desperation: I’d increased my budget by $1000, expanded my geographic search to a couple of additional neighborhoods, and made a call for one final appointment, on my last day of my hunting trip.

And so, contrary to my summertime apartment search, the last apartment I saw turned out to be “the one,” the one that spoke to me, charmed me with its character, seduced me with its age and wisdom, and wanted me as much as I wanted it.

It’s clean.

It’s gorgeous.

It’s historic.

It’s quiet.

It’s affordable.

It’s sunny.

It’s on a palm tree-lined street.

What a reversal of fortune from just two days prior!

And it’s in the one LA community I could never imagine being fortunate enough to live in: Beverly Hills.

I am moving to California.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Off the Top of My Head

The roots of my hair are white. The ends are red, especially when they catch the rays of the sun, or the unforgiving glow of fluorescent light in an airplane lavatory. Somewhere between the roots and the ends lies the real color of my hair, the color I was born with. All black and cowlicked, my hair sprung out of my head in every direction. My head was full of that hair, after the three extra weeks of incubation I’d had in my mother’s womb, and that hair grew too quickly for the strength of its roots. It weighed down on them so hard that it fell out, in comb, on pillow, in bathroom sink, and down drain. It fell out when I slept. It fell out when I walked, or ate, or talked, or breathed.

But somehow, I’ve always managed to maintain a full head of hair.

My mother couldn’t stand the shedding. She’d refused to let us have any pets for fear of the fur, the rampant molting, dust, dander associated with a dog or a cat. At first, my sister and I managed to keep our hair long, as evidenced by early Sears Portrait Studio poses. I remember setting my hair in curlers and, once taken out, leaning my head against the wall behind me – much to my mother’s horror – while we waited for my turn at the camera. I don’t remember having long hair much after that. A punishment befitting the crime, I suffered a childhood of short hair, cowlicks blazing, gender baffling.

Even short, my hair still fell out.

I started to notice my black hairs turning white around seventh grade. Maybe whoever sat behind me in English class pointed it out. Or maybe the shocking stark sprouts revealed themselves to me during agonizing bathroom mirror sessions of squeezing pimples and brushing teeth. My classmates debated whether or not I should pull them out, whether one pulled white hair would beget fifty more, or whether I should just wait for the fifty more to sprout on their own, as they inevitably would.

I chose not to pull them out, knowing that I’d eventually see their rotten little carcasses somewhere around the house, after they’d joined their fellow black-colored soldiers in kamikaze missions off my scalp. I got a gruesome pleasure out of discovering those white wires glistening in the sinkwater, until I discovered a new, terrifying breed: a stark white tip shining from the end of a once-black strand. The white was spreading, and behind it, this hair had left a new, white root, ready to grow back entirely absent of pigment, likely to stick straight out of the top of my head.

Sometime in high school, when it was the thing to do amongst all foolish youths, I convinced my mother to let me grow my hair out a bit and get a perm. It was a genius solution, because although it forever changed the texture of my hair and exposed my scalp to searing, eye-stinging chemicals, the curls not only masked the ever-increasing whiteness, but they held onto the hairs on my head, refusing to let go of the ones that had let go of their roots. With a perm, my hairs came out in great big clumps all at one time, released from the curls only when I washed or combed, and not during meals or a healthy sneeze.

In college, the contrast of my two colonies of hairs had become stark enough that I allowed Maria to dye my hair with a drug store bottle, which cast a burgundy glow on my entire head and rendered my white hairs almost…purple. I quite liked it and continued the practice on and off, but in my final years at Colgate, working three jobs and still not saving up enough money to move to New York, I sacrificed vanity and beauty and let all my white hairs grow out, all the way.

And then I dyed them blue.

I remember standing in the shared bathroom of my senior year suite, a bathroom which always oddly smelled like cat pee, staring at the newly-washed roots of my hair. The legion of white had certainly turned blue, but the blacks looked paler, stripped of their inky pallor. Had my hair experienced its final straw and finally succumbed to the multiple chemical treatments I’d subjected it to?

In panic, I washed my hair again, and upon reexamination, decided the second wash had redistributed the dye enough to render my head an appropriately blue tint, with raging streaks of a bright, digital, electric, gas flame blue where the white once was.

At the time, coloring my hair was still a novelty, an elective procedure that allowed for experimentation with tone and style.

Years later, and for years now, it is very much of a necessity.

But even some necessities have been necessarily sacrificed in the two years since I left my last job. So, I have made do. I have let my white roots advance inches from my scalp, waiting as many as six to eight weeks for a retouch and refresh (as opposed to the normal three to four). Lured by cost-free services, I have subjected my head to the hands of beauty school students. I have even returned to the drug store bottle, touching up the roots myself, a practice for which I seem to have lost all skill and finesse, repeatedly dyeing my forehead and missing obvious white outcroppings at the front of my widow’s peak. And I have allowed the white to peek out of the once-dyed ends of my hair, giving the appearance of red but, upon closer examination, revealing a shade that’s closer to orange, blonde, or even…beige, a close cousin to off-white, which is dangerously closely related to white.

Sadly, when I got my new job, negotiated my new salary, and withdrew some funds from my retirement plan to help me relocate, one of my first thoughts was, “Oh thank God, I can start getting my hair done again.”

So in these last few days in New York, as I tie up loose ends and get my affairs in order, I look forward to enacting my revenge on the red and white invasion on my still-full head of hair, which still sheds if I think too hard. Whether it’s still in New York or immediately upon arriving in LA, I will march into a hair salon, and I will announce, “Single process please. And this time, pull it through.”

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Time to Say Goodbye

The worst thing that can happen to me is going through something I can't talk or write about, can't photograph or document, can't express or exposit.

That is exactly what went on throughout the month of December.

In my regular trips back and forth to LA, criss-crossing the country once again for meetings and hikes and drinks and dinners on the left coast, I stumbled upon a job opportunity. It wasn't planned, per se, but it did directly result from a systematic approach that included months' worth of email follow-ups and invitations to meet for a friendly visit, a friendly visit which concluded with a handshake and the parting words, "I think there may be a place for you here."

A week later, a follow-up phone call.

A week after that, a return trip to LA and five hours' worth of meetings with key staffers, potential coworkers, and possible future bosses.

The following week, a job offer. I burst into tears.

I was relieved. I'd only gotten one other job offer in the two years since leaving my last job, and that one was retracted as quickly as it was proffered. I couldn't keep paying the rent on a credit card. And I'd been laying the groundwork for so long to move to California, could it be that my efforts finally paid off?

I was panicked. After all that hard work, I actually had to come to terms with working in an office again, getting to know 40 new people, and uprooting my precarious New York existence to replant in Los Angeles. I actually had to do what I said I was going to do for two years.

I was overwhelmed. Because I hadn't approached the meeting with the intention on getting a job - only to make connections, swap stories, possibly put myself in the running for a consulting gig - I hadn't sufficiently prepared myself mentally for what that might mean. The story arc between the time I made first contact and the time I got the job offer was so compressed that I hadn't absorbed fully what was happening as I was careening down the road to a new job. My reaction of "Thanks!" quickly turned into "Wait, what just happened?"

I was grateful. I'd finally found a role that I was qualified for, even though none of us were entirely sure exactly what that role would be, or become. I knew I would have to adapt to my new surroundings, and to let them mold around me. We were all very much on the same page: we would figure it out as we went along. And that's just how I like it.

But of course I couldn't talk about the offer, the counteroffer, the negotiations, the emotional rollercoaster, the legal redlines, the career implications. As the last days of the year were falling away around me, until I knew that this offer was really real this time, I couldn't explain my urgency to see certain people, to eat certain things, to visit certain places. Silent and alone, I embarked on my Last Days in New York City, with no words, teary eyes, and slumped shoulders.

Last Wednesday, I signed the agreements, sent the emails and text messages, and made the announcement: I have a new job, and I'm moving to LA.

And now I know what I must do: I must find a way to say goodbye to New York. As much as I have hated this city over the last three or four years, it still breaks my heart to break away from it.

Now that I can start talking about it, my next few blogs are likely to focus on the simultaneous backwards glance at what's been and forward gaze at what's to be. Although I fly to LA this week to find an apartment - the next, necessary step in the process of physically relocating myself - I am a New Yorker until I take that final, one-way flight out of JFK, traversing the flyover states one last time while my belongings take a similar, labored, long trip in a moving truck somewhere down below me. But I don't have much time to cross my items off my New York Bucket List. I have too little time to kiss the faces, drink the drinks, eat the foods, hear the music I love. I have practically no time to change anything or make a difference here.

Everyone keeps telling me, "New York isn't going anywhere," but it will never again be the city it is right now. A few days, a week, months later, it will be a new city. And as much as they also say, "You can always come back," I know that I can't count on that. I have to say goodbye.

And I have to start figuring out how.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Search For Tomorrow

2010 was the year of...
Three days into 2011, I'm not sure what the new year has in store for me. I plan to pay off my debts, learn new things, visit new places, reach my goal weight, and live dangerously. But who knows what the universe will actually allow me to do...?

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