September 29, 2009

I Am 34

For a long time, my age defined me because I was too young to do so many things: too young to wear nylons and lipstick, to date, to drive, to see R-rated movies, to buy cigarettes, to vote, to drink, to become completely independent. My parents even made me wait until I was 12 to get my ears pierced, making me a freak among my classmates in the early 80s when brightly colored earrings were de rigeur. Even when I turned 12, they required that I get them pierced at the doctor's office, and that I pay for it. Once I came of age, my meager allowance wasn't enough to pay the fee, which my memory has perhaps inflated to $30-50, so I had to wait one more year until my 13th birthday to catch up with all the other girls my age.

Once I turned 25 or so, my age became more or less meaningless. I've always looked younger than I am. I'm somewhat age-agnostic when it comes to dating. And there aren't many more things that I'm too young to do, besides become U.S. President and, well, retire.

In my tumultuous 20s, many of my older female friends and work mentors assured me, "It all gets better in your 30s." When I turned 30, I was miserable, scorned, and over the next four years watched my love life deteriorate into nothing and my job become my worst enemy.

So now I'm four years into my 30s. I'm smarter than four years ago. I'm a better writer. I'm probably not any lonelier but I am more alone.

I am 20-30 lbs heavier and I watch strangers' eyes run down my body to my stomach, wondering if I'm pregnant and wondering if they should ask.

I am a whole lot grayer and I watch my friends' eyes glance up at the white stripe on my head, wondering when my next hair appointment is. The insidious devil keeps to itself for two weeks out of the month, and at week three sprouts a blinding beam of sparkling root, seemingly instantaneous, like birth. I give my friends the same look of consternation that I have on my face when I look in the mirror, and they quickly look away.

I don't really care about turning 34, or the significance of now being in my mid-30s, but as midnight approached tonight, I felt the same dread that irks me on New Year's Eve: the belief that the clock ticking over into a new day should be somehow a transformative experience, and the heartbreaking knowledge that it never will be. There is no kiss at midnight. There is no popped champagne cork. The closest thing to fireworks in the sky is Jupiter beaming brightly, cozying up to a waxing moon.

To celebrate midnight's arrival, I frosted the cupcakes I had baked for myself earlier today. I added droplets of blue and red food coloring to plain vanilla frosting and whisked it with a fork, watching it progress from a patriotic swirl into a lovely shade of lavender. I sprinkled colored sugar in hues of red, purple and white like my own little confetti party. And then I packed up the small cakes, sculpted and primped as fancy as little prom queens, in some Tupperware to take with me tomorrow, along with candles, plates, and napkins that I'd picked up for myself over the course of the year.

I swore last year that I wouldn't celebrate this year, but when it comes down to it, I can't help myself. My inner nine-year-old still wants to be able to request French toast for breakfast and eat pizza for dinner. Why pass up an opportunity like that?

In the end, though, it's just another day. Nothing pivotal is going to happen. Nothing's going to change. But at least I'll have a reason to get up in the morning.

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September 26, 2009

Comforts of Home

I spent most of my childhood with insomnia, forced to go to bed too early by my parents. I eventually would cry myself to sleep, nearly every night, but not before my sister would tsk and whisper, "Can you shut up please?"

I wasn't tired because my parents didn't let me do anything. At least during the school year, I ambled from class to class from 8 to 3, and was sometimes allowed to attend an after-school rehearsal for a play I'd been cast in. But in summertime, I really couldn't do anything.

My sister and I might play badminton in the driveway, but inevitably would get too frustrated with the birdie landing in the street or in the gutter of our garage's roof, forcing us to scrape it out with a rake or set up the ladder to climb and fish it out of the rotten leaves and bird droppings.

I might ride my bike, but for some reason I paid attention to the perimeter that my parents set forth, and did not go past: James Street to the north, Thompson to the east, Burnet to the south, and Teall to the west.

Nights in the summer were the worst. We'd take cool baths and change into billowy cotton nightgowns, worn too thin to be worn around our father, and go to bed when it was still light out. The window fan would rumble, but cast no relieving breeze on us, for our mother insisted on setting it to suck the hot air out rather than blow cool air in. Sweat would collect along the backs of our necks and knees, but even as a teenager I would cling to the soaking fur of a stuffed puppy or a small bear for comfort.

Amidst my whimpering and sighing, which often continued after I fell asleep, I'd wonder what was happening out in the world, what my classmates might be up to, what wonderful things might await me when I could finally leave the house. I never replayed the day's events in my mind because, as I said, nothing really ever happened except what happened on TV, what punishments I'd served, and what new accusations arose.

I've lived a lot since then, going away to college, spending a semester abroad in London, moving to New York City, escaping to California for a month...But lately I've been feeling myself quickly regressing back to my childhood self. It's not just the gradual unsexing that being left behind in a cavalcade of marriages and pregnancies has precipitated. I'm drinking less. I'm cursing less. I've reverted to simplistic judgments of people, like "mean" versus "nice." I'm comforted only while clutching onto a sympathetic stuffed pig.

And I'm staying in, letting the world pass me by.

I think that there must be people having fun out there, in the rain, this Saturday night. I think that there are a lot of people who think they should be having fun, but really aren't. I'm in here, wondering about it all, rather than doing anything.

I've seen too much. People have shown their true colors to me. New York has shown me what it can do to for me. I keep putting myself out there, giving them all a second chance, and regret it all the time.

I know I should probably keep trying. But not tonight.

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September 23, 2009

Baggage Check

I've done a pretty good job of avoiding regret, but I've made no promises about avoiding anxiety. 

I was up at 7:45 a.m. this morning. Not to watch the sunrise, as I do every morning in California. Not to catch an early flight somewhere fantastic, or to get an early start to the beach or on a hike

I got up at quarter to 8 this morning, after six hours of sleep, before my apartment showed signs of day, to go to work. 

Although I have certainly worked a lot over the last several months - if you count blogging, writing press releases, watering the plants and advising Ziggy Marley on children's music - I haven't had a daily office routine since the end of January, when I left my job as head of marketing for KIDZ BOP. 

That routine, at least at the end, consisted of feeling disempowered and manipulated, crying behind my office door that wouldn't lock, and finding any excuse to leave town or work from home. 

Understandably, I'm not thrilled about subjecting myself to another potentially disastrous work situation, having spent months repairing my self-esteem and my love for music. 

The good news is, I do love music, still, and my new gig will put me back in a genre I care about (dance/electronica), amongst a group of colleagues more diverse than mommies and daddies and their adored babies, and in an environment that seems more supportive of women. 

I'm sure it's political in its own way - isn't every job? - and I'm sure that I'll collect a whole new set of baggage after working there for three months this fall, but I'm hoping that, for now, I can shed my baggage from my most recent office life (the last year or two of which was uncharacteristically bad compared to my entire six and a half years there) and start anew. 

I'm constantly trying to see the world with new eyes. My eyes are constantly clouded by people who have behaved badly, without remorse, without apology. 

I am unable to, or refuse to, forgive them, but perhaps I can forgive the human race. 

I'm working on it. 

So for now, I'm out of hiding. I am trying something new, scary only to the parts of my brain I can't yet turn off. 

September 21, 2009

Photo Essay: The Bronx River's Northernmost Pathway

There's a whole world out there that you've never even thought of. There are trees and berries and leaves and deserts and dams and forts and estates and ducks and criminals and driftwood and castles and rivers.

I went exploring the Bronx River again today, hoping to walk the five miles between Valhalla and Scarsdale but only making it as far as White Plains along the Bronx River Walk. I'd already completed Section 2 in early August, and had made a mental note to return in the fall when the foliage would be more scenic, but with a new (temporary) job starting on Wednesday, I thought my autumn free time might be running out. So I tackled Section 3 today.

The path along the Bronx River can get a little circuitous, but generally it's flat, winding, shady, and accessible by the Metro-North. I'm always worried about getting lost, and asked both a bus driver and a gas station attendant how to find the starting point at the Kensico Dam Plaza today, met with blank stares and vague gestures. But a short walk down Broadway (yes, because there's a Broadway in every town) led me to a huge granite dam wall, unmistakably the starting point of the pathway.

Kensico Dam

It's still early in the season, but a few leaves have turned and many more have fallen onto the path, breaking up the green I've quickly tired of with hues of yellow, golden brown, orange, and red, the sun casting its rays through the newly-turned colors more than green would ever allow.

As I got farther south, the pathway became more populated, more citified, so much so that it was easy for me to cut my walk short and head home early.

But I'm glad I have a little bit left (between White Plains and Scarsdale) to come back to and conquer.

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September 20, 2009

New York Botanical Garden, Past Bloom

The weather was gorgeous and summery on Saturday, so after hiding in my apartment for most of the daylight, I forced myself out to enjoy it. It was already too late in the day for any serious hiking undertaking, or any exploration too far out of the boroughs, so I braved the Bronx once again to visit the New York Botanical Garden for the first time.

I'd visited the Brooklyn Botanic Garden during the Cherry Blossom Festival a few years ago, and I guess expected something similar in the Bronx. But it is fall, after all, and most of the summer blossoms of daffodil, tulip, magnolia and lilac are nowhere to be seen. Still, summer is not yet a distant memory, so most of the leaves haven't turned yet, making for a nice walk without much to see.

Still, the Botanical Garden is a sprawling offering of nature, with boulders and trees and even some forest trails.

And the Stone Mill by the Bronx River, being rehabilitated, hopefully ready to open next fall.

Although it was still open, the rose garden's blooms are past peak, with most roses fully open and many starting to shrivel.

Since walking through the front gate, I'd come across many families and couples exploring the gardens with me, but once again, I was alone. As I departed the Rose Garden, a security guard asked me if he could give me directions. I showed him my map and muttered something about the oramental conifers - not that I cared at all about them, but at least it would be something to see, and on the way out.

"Have you seen the waterfall yet?" he asked.

"Yeah, I was down over there and crossed the river over the bridge," I offered, unenthused.

"But you didn't see the waterfall," the security guard prodded.

When I explained that I'd seen it from above, he started to tell me about the paths that go right down to the river.

"Yeah, but I didn't want to go down there by myself..." I interrupted.

He looked at me, smiling, eyes bulging. "Now, it's not that kind of environment in here. In here, you're safe. With me around, you'll be OK down there."

I returned his glare doubtfully. The corner of my mouth turned down as I told him, "I've had a bad summer..."

I thanked him and turned away, towards the conifers, before he could see my eyes tear up. I pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head and squinted into a tiny sob, squeezing out just a tear or two as I plodded along.

I'm sure the security guard believed he was right, but he was the only one of his kind that I'd seen in the entire park, and certainly nowhere near the Bronx River Greenway that loomed dark and dingy below.

I'm glad I got to see it, but my visit to the New York Botanic Garden on Saturday felt perfunctory. I didn't really want to be there. It was simply on the list of places I'd never been.

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September 18, 2009

Losing My Light

A couple of years ago, The High Line launched a portrait project. They took my picture in front of a backdrop of the overgrown elevated railway, pre-construction, and asked me what my dream was. I told them, "To fall in love," and while I suppose that's true, there was one greater dream that I wasn't brave enough to tell them: to be on Guiding Light.

As a part-time actor, I'd made some small attempts at getting on the show - sending my headshot to the casting director, taking an acting seminar from its director - but I had no sense of urgency. I'd had that dream since I first started watching the show (probably as a newborn, but my first memories date back to the Roger/Holly story of the late 70s), and since it had already been on the air 70+ years, I always thought that I had time, that it would be there for me when I was ready for it.

Earlier this year, Guiding Light was cancelled. They taped their last episode in early August. Its final airing is today.

My dream is gone.

In truth, I didn't want to just have a walk-on role, or even just say a line or two. I wanted to be a regular on the show - no, a resident of Springfield. I wanted to shed my sad little life a la Nurse Betty and give myself over to a life of drama, intrigue, blackouts, and lighthouses.

I grew up watching Guiding Light every day after school, walking into the living room with it already in progress, my mother silent, the house smelling of the cleaning products that were advertised during the show. Even after my first year of college, though I missed out on the storylines while I was at Colgate, I came back home to my parents' house that summer and settled back into the childhood routine, watching my mother cry whenever someone died or had to say goodbye. At the end of that summer, during which my mother unleashed her fury on me as she never before had, my father told me, "I think it would be better if you found somewhere else to sleep." I'd already arranged a room at Nicki's parents' house in case I needed to get away from my terrorizing mother, so when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the next summer came, I no longer stayed with my parents. Guiding Light fell out of my life for a while.

When I moved to New York in 1997, my roommate and I lived without cable for a while, so if I stayed home sick from work, whimpering alone as I always did as a child, I'd check in on good ol' Springfield. Sure, new people had moved to town. Some of its residents had discovered how to time-travel through a painting. But I caught up quickly, and soon got sucked right back in. By the time I was laid off in 2001, Guiding Light had become part of my daily routine more than ever before, airing at 10 a.m. in NYC and giving me a reason to wake up in the morning when I had no job to go to.

Since then, I've taped it every day on my VCR, just like the 1980s era housewives that Proctor & Gamble wanted to sell their soaps to. When I spent a month in Joshua Tree with no television, I still watched it online. The people of Springfield gave me plenty of reason to get up every day, and when I did sleep, I dreamed about them.

Living in New York and working in the entertainment business, I've encountered some of the actors a couple of times. And although I've chatted with them - even slipped Tom Pelphrey my business card when I sat next to him at Flatiron Lounge - I haven't really wanted to interact with them the way that most soap fans do, on cruises, at high-ticket mixers and dinners, when they're bowling or guest-bartending for charity... Even when I had the chance to chat the cast up and get my photo taken with them at a recent event at the Paley Center, I stood in the corner drinking too much wine and just watching. I haven't wanted to do anything that would make me face my own disbelief, to make me know that these characters aren't real, and that they don't really live in Springfield.

I know this makes me sound crazy. But with the cancellation of Guiding Light, and knowing that it won't be there for me Monday morning, I feel like an entire town of people - an entire group of friends and family - is just dropping off the planet.

The producers of Guiding Light knew they were in danger of cancellation, so over the last few years they instituted a number of cost-cutting measures including using cheaper, hand-held cameras and relocating most of the shooting schedule to a real town in New Jersey. Although at first the change was visually startling, the more they shot outside, in cars, and in real buildings instead of sets, it all started to seem even more real. It was the closest I ever got to really being there, a fly on the wall to weddings, murders, confessions, and picnic blanket sex.

Part of me is kicking myself for not having tried harder to get cast on the show, but now that it's over, I've come to realize that my real dream is one that can never be achieved. I want to live in a place that doesn't exist, with people who lead lives outside of the existence I know. What does that say about my own life?

Now that I won't be watching a daytime drama on a daily basis, some might say that I'll finally get in touch with reality. But watching a show like that taught me about family and romance on a deeper level than my own life ever did. My family rejected me pretty much from the moment I was born. I have never known romantic love. But, thanks to Guiding Light, I know that those things are out there, somewhere - they must be - and that maybe one day I can find them for myself. Maybe I will finally be able to experience the life I want, the life I have been watching others live since I was a little girl.

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September 16, 2009

Photo Essay: A Sliver of Summer in Prospect Park

One of the things Maria and I thought we might do during her visit was hit Prospect Park, a nice venture into the outer boroughs for Maria that offers a wealth of things to do, from horseback riding to pedaling boats on Lullwater, the park's manmade lake.

That was before the rain.

I'd visited Prospect Park pretty soon after returning from California this summer, hiking two of its trails and taking an electric boat ride on the lake. Since then, I've had a couple thwarted plans to return, not only during Maria's visit, but also for night tours also washed out by the rain.

Now that autumn has fallen quickly upon us, I'm not sure I'll make it back there anytime soon. But my one visit there this year was warm, sunny, and surprising - a sliver of summer in a stormy season. On a day like that, Prospect Park is truly an urban oasis, as it was built to be.



turtles tons of Lullwater turtles

closed bridge Terrace Bridge along Lullwater Trail

closed sign
apparently the Terrace Bridge is unstable. I walked under it and across it anyway, ignoring signs like this

Audubon Center Audubon Center

one of the many hidden, tiny waterfalls along the Waterfall Trail

As usual in New York, I had to be armed with plenty of maps to lead the way, especially when I hit construction or some other closure: in my case, setting up for an evening concert and fireworks. Typically, I got lost plenty of times. But I look forward to going back and exploring the Midwood and Peninsula trails. I hope they're open when I do.

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September 15, 2009

Open House

Maria came down to New York from Syracuse to see Jeff in The Lion King with us, and stayed with me a couple nights in my tiny studio apartment. It was really the first time I'd let somebody in here with me in months, save for a quick stopover with Edith to grab a bottle of wine. I used to cram tons of people in here, for birthday parties, Halloween parties, Christmas tree decorating, pre-Mexico Lindo cocktail hours, wine and cheese tastings... But since skipping the Halloween party last year, and since Phil stopped ringing my bell at 3 in the morning over a year ago, I haven't really shared my space with anybody.

Of course, I knew that Maria would probably rather hang out here in my apartment with me - candles lit, red wine breathing - than venture out into the hectic city. Last weekend's rain and howling winds kept us in here quite a bit, though we did manage to venture out to introduce her to my local pizza, my local local, and the photo booth at Horseshoe Bar. We wrestled with the rain, tossed broken umbrellas in the trash, and stomped through puddles as we trudged around Manhattan's east side under a dark cover of clouds. We'll probably remember that better than any museum we would have visited.

Now I'm back here alone, with my birthday coming in two weeks and Halloween in six. Do I try to open my home back up? Or do I sink back into it, giving myself one small place in which to hide from all that ails me?

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September 14, 2009

RIP Johnny Castle

In 1987, when I was nearly 12 years old, Patrick Swayze quickly replaced John Travolta as my favorite actor. Johnny Castle supplanted Danny Zuko as the man of my dreams, swapping out goofiness and narcissism for a quiet brooding, a graceful physicality, and a world-weary philosophy.

A couple years later, Patrick Swayze not only made my father cry during the movie Ghost, but made my father feel secure enough to admit that he had cried during the movie Ghost. We didn't see it, but he told us it happened, to our shock.

Those two movies, along with The Outsiders (which featured Patrick Swayze in a supporting, and largely forgotten, role), comprise three of my favorite movies of all time. I've tolerated some of his other movies just to catch glimpses of him - Black Dog, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, even Roadhouse which I don't love - but everything has pretty much always come back to Johnny Castle for me.

Dirty Dancing vs. Holiday
Dirty Dancing vs. its Bollywood remake

Labor Day weekend, I went to Monkey Town to see the Bollywood remake of Dirty Dancing, called Holiday, screened simultaneously with the original. Even though the original was shown with a muted soundtrack, my eyes kept floating from the remake to Patrick Swayze's face, to his grace, to his lithe body and boyish face, curling finger and pointing toes. I've always known that Patrick Swayze isn't Johnny Castle, and that Patrick Swayze and I would never be together, but I've always held out some hope that one day, I would find my own Johnny Castle.

With Patrick Swayze gone, I now hold out very little hope for anything. One by one, my dreams are not only deferred, but extinguished completely.

If Johnny Castle is out there somewhere, it is most certain that he will never find me, never pull me from the corner, never lift me in the lake or cry to me.

I knew that this day was coming. Life is loss. But I don't know what to do, now that it has arrived.

CNN: Patrick Swayze Dies of Cancer at 57

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Behind the Mask

Living in NYC, it's easy to fill your schedule with the most eclectic and unusual activities - like cheese-eating contests, pillow fights, and underground tunnel tours - rather than taking advantage of the most obvious entertainment that the city has to offer: not only monuments, museums, and observation decks, but also, Broadway.

I was a big theater fan as a high school student, and managed to extract myself from my parents' house just long enough to see a couple local and touring productions of shows like Little Shop of Horrors, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and Anything Goes. From the start of my freshman year in high school, I fell in love with musical theater as a performer, too, getting cast in the ensemble of Oklahoma! with only one line to say: "No, Aunt Eller, you're the best!", and then in the exceedingly inappropriate "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago in our school's musical revue. I continued performing throughout high school, joining chorus and even choking out a squeaky solo my senior year in Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Present. You could barely hear my tiny singing voice over the too-loud pit band.

In college, I sang as a sanitarium patient in Marat-Sade and wore hot pants and a push-up bra in another production of Chicago. Since then, my inner musical theater star has been sequestered to my bedroom and, occasionally, a rental car.

In a way, seeing musical theater in New York is too painful, reminding me of the optimism of my teenage years, of dreams deferred, of costumes loved and lost. But I had no excuse not to go see The Lion King on Broadway when I found out that our friend Jeff would be exiting his role as Zazu the bird for several months while he joined the cast of Mary Poppins on Broadway. We've known Jeff for years now but had never seen him sing and dance, not to mention wear blue face paint and puppeteer. It was time.


As a New Yorker, you're kind of programmed to hate Broadway. It's for tourists, who you're supposed to hate too. It's cleaned 42nd Street up too much, contributing to the Disneyfication of the entire Times Square area, which was supposedly better in the pre-Guiliani, pre-Lion King days of a red, triple-X neon glow everywhere you turned. Fake IDs, imitation electronics, peep shows, glory holes, and dirty movies are reminisced about as the "good old days."

So people are surprised to hear that I really enjoyed The Lion King on Broadway. (To be honest, I even really enjoyed the movie when it came out in 1994, and I wasn't even in high school anymore.) It's bright, colorful, imaginative, dazzling, dizzying, and delightful. The use of puppets to transform the actors into animals is inventive and suspends your disbelief long after the final curtain drops. Everything swirls on stage, way up into the rafters, and all down the aisles. I couldn't help smiling at its silliness, at its energy, and at the escape I was getting from the honking, yelling, mugging, stealing city outside that everybody else seems to love. Call me boring, but I like my city clean, safe, and full of flashing lights of every color of the rainbow. Broadway's theaters, and the shows inside of them, cordon off a nice little fantasy land within the city's harsh reality.

After the show, we waited outside the stage door like giggling teenagers, and were waved in by a freshly-showered Jeff in his street clothes. You'd never know that this was the guy who literally stole the show, especially in the first act. It wasn't until he picked up his Zazu puppet on the empty stage, under the dim glow of the work lights, and started showing us how to blink his eyes and flap his wings that we were really able to make the connection between our friend and what we saw on stage.

Among our group, Maria, Michelle and I bonded over our love of theater, wistful at the shows we'd been in together, trying to remember the last time we'd stood on an empty stage after a performance. We felt thrill, whelm, jealousy, gratitude, even regret. But we were also so glad to be back in that dark auditorium of the Minskoff Theatre, red plush house seats dark, downstage lit by a single bulb.

All the props, sets and costumes were put away by the time Jeff gave us our tour, but he took us into their respective hiding places for quick demonstrations of hyena masks, robes, gazelles, and even the baby Simba. We oohed and ahhed more than just politely. At least between Maria, Michelle and myself, we were truly impressed.

But there's something about loving theater that makes you not want to go backstage, to see the actors without their makeup, to see the puppets without their masters. Even as (former) actors ourselves, we somehow want to keep thinking the hyenas are real. We know they aren't. But we don't necessarily want to remind ourselves of it.

That being said, after having spent some time with the real Jeff over these last few years, I'm glad to have met the Fantasy Jeff, the song-and-dance man who makes everyone in the theater laugh. I'm looking forward to seeing the next version in Mary Poppins. I'd better not wait too long, though: Jeff's stint is only scheduled to last five months!

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September 09, 2009

Out of Hiding

The forks have been scrubbed with SOS pads. The scrubbing bubbles have worked their magic on the shower grime. The water has been emptied from under the dish drainer. The couch has been vacuumed, though sitting here now with my feet up eating cheese puffs, I think I'll have to redo that one.

Maria is coming.

My best friend from high school and my separated-at-birth sister and soulmate, Maria hasn't visited me in New York in three years, so I want to be ready. Sheets changed. Refrigerator stocked. Dirty laundry folded as though clean. Tiny toothpaste dots wiped off the bathroom mirror. Trash emptied. Recycleables recycled. Everything else Swiffered or Dustbusted.

Things have changed a lot in three years. True, she'll find me in the same tiny enclosure as last time, but now it is both my captor and my protector.

I can, I hope, make Maria comfortable in here, but how do I make her comfortable in the city I suddenly don't recognize? How do I show her the New York I love (which I do), and protect her from it at the same time? Lock her in my apartment, as I have locked myself?

I haven't created a full itinerary for her visit. I'm sure we'll find something to eat, someone to talk to, something to take photos of, and something to laugh about together. I just hope New York behaves itself, just for a couple of days...

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September 08, 2009

Hiding Out

I've been hiding the past couple of days. After all that talk of refusing to hide in my apartment upon my return to New York, here I am hiding nearly all weekend.

I find myself simultaneously understimulated and overstimulated in New York. When I do leave my apartment, I feel that it needs to be for a big adventure or, at least, a big all-night-long party - that simply going to the gym and the grocery store and Madison Square Park just isn't enough. I spend days speaking to no one, neither in person nor on the phone, and then when I do find someone to talk to or someone who insists on talking to me, it's all just too much.

After a late night with Michelle on Friday night, I spent most of Saturday hiding in my apartment until I could drag myself to the Meatpacking District to catch a lazy sunset on The High Line. Once extracted from my apartment, I didn't want to go back, so I wandered into Rodeo Bar for a snack and a quick happy hour drink. One seat available at the bar, mine. I noticed a man to my left with wild gray hair, refusing a fork and pulling out a set of chopsticks, which he drummed on the bar erratically, perhaps drunkenly, but still, professionally. I imagined him an aging East Village rocker who'd wandered too far uptown and stopped in to get his bearings. I watched him out of the corner of my left eye.

His order arrived - a small plate of extra-crispy onion rings - and the bartender asked if he wanted hot sauce. "You got Grey Poupon?" he asked and, surprisingly, they did.

At first, he used his chopsticks to pick up the onion rings, both large and small, which seemed terribly genteel for a place that encourages you to throw your peanut shells on the floor. Then the chopsticks were dipped in a highball glass, swirled feverishly, jettisoning ice cubes out and all over the bar. Chopsticks down, hands start working. Fingers tear apart onion rings, peel the battered coating off, dip in mustard, throw in air, pick back up. When plate is empty, forefinger and middle finger scoop up the remaining mustard, to be licked off between mutterances.

My eyes wide, spying and hoping to remain unnoticed, I tapped out a text message and sent it to Twitter. In the back of my mind, I was thinking it could serve as evidence if something terrible were to happen. I was terrified he'd been watching me too.

When the bartender refilled his drink, my eyes grew even wider and more worried. His first drink a sangria, there were still wine-soaked pieces of fruit in an otherwise empty glass when a new red wine arrived. He mixed them together in one glass and then transferred to another, sloshing the mixed drink back and forth, angrily. He was still muttering, but I couldn't quite make out the words: a few f-bombs, all accusatory, an attack.

The bartender came back over and asked if she could get him anything else, and his demeanor switched. His hands stopped shaking. His gestures were ginger and once again genteel. He did not growl when he said, "No thank you, miss, just the check."

My God, what was I sitting next to?

I kept my eyes focused on my own drink, on my own phone, purse, person, waiting for him to find a reason to turn on me. I thought I was safe when the bartender ran his credit card and gave him the slip to sign, but he didn't sign it right away. He examined the yellow carbon copy carefully, closely, holding a votive candle up to it. He threw that receipt down and picked up the black and white one. The bartender was ringing someone else's order up when the man to my left, with his gray hair and his bony hands, hoisted the Bic pen like the chopstick before it, and smacked it into the votive as though crashing into a cymbal, sending the candle across the bar and wax flying into the air and onto the bartender.

I didn't think my eyes could get any wider.

The bartender turned around, her tattooed sleeves bulging, and she picked up the candle. She started to ask what had happened, and then she saw my face. She looked at my neighbor at the bar and said, "Did you just throw this at me?"

"Why no, miss, I would never do that. Why would you think that?"

She looked at me. "He just threw this at me, didn't he?"

I blinked my eyes in affirmation.

"You threw this at me!"

He was protesting desperately now, pleading his innocence. "I didn't do it! Why would you believe her? She's obviously got something against me!"

I sank into my seat like a victim on the witness stand, scared of what might happen if I told the truth, scared of what might happen if I didn't. I offered no explanation, only the slightest nod when the bartender would ask me again if he threw it.

Of course, whether he was drunk or high or crazy or lonely or deranged, this guy went totally ballistic. He started saying that he was a Christian monk and offering the bartender and her manager religious literature. His flailing arms were getting closer and closer to me as I inched towards the couple on my right. He told the bartender that she had gotten sucked into my "game," and that he didn't understand why she had gone along with my "program."

After a lengthy debate as to whether or not he would sign the bill and what he would or would not pay for, he finally retreated. As he walked away, I spotted his gray, flannel, belted tunic - a bit more peasant than monk. I wondered if religion had driven him crazy or just kept him that way. I wondered when the crazies in New York stopped being entertaining and started being really terrifying, in a city where anything can and does happen, where your problems are no worse than others' and nobody hears you scream over the sirens, traffic, and bar chatter.

He left and did not return, and I tried to console myself with another drink. I was worried to go home alone, even to walk the two blocks around the corner, past the waiters at Mexico Lindo who always wave at my comings and goings. The fear that has been keeping me inside my apartment was now keeping me out of it.

After a minor scuffle with another drunken patron, I eventually did leave, saying goodbye to the bouncer who'd come to my rescue, and walking home alone. I spent all day locked in my apartment Sunday until embarking on another late night, and then hiding again yesterday and today.

Will I be able to leave and go do something tomorrow? Will I talk to anyone? If I do, will I be able to handle it?

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September 05, 2009

Photo Essay: The Highline, The Magic Hour

I've been following The High Line for several years, since I first took a pre-construction tour of it during Open House New York. The first completed section has been open to the public for a couple months now, but I hadn't seen it in daylight yet, only at night. I decided to brave the crowds today and go check it out in the late afternoon, when the sun's angle casts long shadows and an orange glow on everything - a time of day I call "The Magic Hour."

The Standard Hotel

Related post:
Photo Essay: The High Line at Night

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September 04, 2009

Photo Essay: Abandoned Warehouse, Tivoli Bay

We came across an abandoned warehouse - which looked like a barn from the road - on our way to kayak in Tivoli Bay recently.

front entrance

The rotting roof looked unstable, but I wagered it wasn't going to come down if I simply tiptoed across the large room, sunlight beaming in



The walls were completely covered with a graffiti mural, colors both primary and neon

After walking to the back of the warehouse, I realized we were actually on the second floor, and that there was a floor downstairs and a whole other wing of the building behind us. Though tagged with graffiti as well (albeit less), there was no getting in there or down there safely or without the complaints of my companions who explore less and worry more


I was surprised to see and hear no birds in the rafters, especially considering our proximity to the water. There were only a few signs of life there, besides the graffiti: a cigarette butt, a plastic chair, some broken glass, and the overgrown trees that have thrived from a rainy summer, and are taking over the land they once claimed as their own.

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