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Chapter XVII

because you never know someone from the very beginning

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Giving Thanks

When I enter a house, I have a habit of finding the spot where my dad would sit if he were still alive. He always went for a chair’s position rather than a chair’s comfort. He was all about the view, be it over a room where he could see everything going on or near a window to take in the trees or the ocean. On this Thanksgiving I was reminded of his habit as I took in the ocean view I’m so lucky to have today. Focus more on enjoying your surroundings than sinking into a seat. Enjoy looking outward while being anchored on firm ground. Take a moment or several to just notice and breath in your surroundings. Presence in the moment matters. Thanks for all of that, Dad. 

  

NYC Nostalgia

I am not that into jazz.  I don’t like opera either.  I hate musicals.  Musicals are BY FAR the worst.  Give me a Jazz Opera any day over a musical.  Jazz is good for dinner parties.  Opera is good for snoozing. Musicals should be banned. Thank god they are relegated to Times Square.

We went to hear some jazz the other night.  It was a rare night out in Manhattan and we felt too old for dancing (nevermind that it was 8PM) and a movie felt like a cop out so we went and pretended to like jazz (I think my husband likes it – or he’s better at pretending to like it).  There were Memphis-style ribs there so I was alright.

But here is what  I found.  While other people were toe tapping and head bobbing, I was transported back to nostalgic NYC moments.  It was MAGICAL!  It was so Woody Allen!  The memories came flooding back – old days living in Manhattan and what that was like. Here are a few examples:

  • I will never forget my first Fancy Pants dinner.  It was a work dinner in 1995 at Lespinasse at the St. Regis hotel.  I was raised well but honestly, I had never seen so many forks.  There were utensils everywhere.  I don’t remember what I ate but I do remember the wine.  It was from Château Latour and everyone oo’d and aaa’d when it arrived tableside. Nancy, we’re not drinking Boons anymore.
  • Starting the 1996 NYC Marathon was a great moment.  Good chance that will never be repeated so it’s worth noting and it was so New York. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was playing.  It was cold.  And it was the first time I’d set foot in boroughs other than Manhattan.  I was so provincial.
  • In 1994 I had this amazing new group of friends (not surprisingly, our favorite show was Friends).  We were all new to NYC and working 80 hours a week.  What joy that was.  On a rare night off we treated ourselves to a grown up dinner.  We went to Gotham Bar and Grill.  It cost each of us $80 a head when all was said and done.  Forget the 5,000 calories I ate that night – the bill almost killed me.  It was about 10% of my rent at the time. The standouts – everything we ate was presented vertically (honestly, so precious) and it was the first time I had Frangelico.  Silly me, I thought that meant I had Arrived.
  • I took myself alone to a trapeze class once.  Why that memory came back while listening to jazz is beyond me.
  • My husband and I snuck out onto the roof of The Metropolitan Club one night (we were at a wedding) and shared champagne while overlooking my favorite view of the City – the Plaza, the Park…it was all magnificent.
  • At this point in the jazz all sorts of snippets appeared fast and furious – rooftop parties, awful blind dates that ended with fake calls from rescuing girlfriends, dinner gatherings where a slew of Brazilian dancers showed up shaking their THANGS, concerts at the Garden, a million mani/pedi mornings with friends, waiting for Brunch Eggs, frantic apartment shopping writing deposit checks against a too low bank account, riding home on the subway with my fishbowl on my lap after getting laid off in 2001, getting engaged and eating Crif Dogs to celebrate…where has the time gone!
  • And then probably the most serene memory showed up…one time when it snowed after my then boyfriend now husband and I were coming back from a dinner at Luger’s (overrated but fun). I am not sure why we were up by Central Park but we were and it was 1AM and snowing so we went walking in the Park.  Do this if you ever have the opportunity – forget danger.  Nobody is mugging anyone in a beautiful snowstorm.  Never before have I been in the Park when – far as the eye could see – we were the only ones there in complete, snowbound peace.

New York City is different for me now.  It’s expanded to Brooklyn but also contracted – kids have a way of making that happen.  But turn on some jazz and there she is.  Larger than life, yet right here and as only New York can be, in your face.

Observations

Nobody laughs on the subway.  It’s not that it’s not allowed it’s just not done.  You can read, listen to music, drink coffee, or if you got on early, applying a full face of makeup is permitted.  If you can hang from the ceiling by your feet and catch a baseball hat on your shoe, you are allowed to breakdance (b-boy) in the subway car but that is only after you tell everyone “Showtime! Showtime Everyone!”  Personally, I like to rest my coffee in my bag so I can hold the rail with one hand and my iPhone with another to get in some reading time. This is not exactly “allowed” and some have pointed out this is a “high risk coffee move” but so far no spills, so I get a pass.  I saw a woman reading a book on the subway the other day and this struck me as very odd (hard cover, no less – no library markings).  Who reads books anymore? Since the iPhone and Kindle arrived nobody knows that every man woman and child is reading Fifty Shades of Grey while sitting right next to you (and thank G-d for that).  It’s a little sad really, since the Sunday Book Review and the Subway were how all of us used to knows which books were worth reading.  Now we’re stuck with www.goodreads.com.

Speaking of funny things (that was how this started), I always chuckle when someone orders a Tall Jamaican at Starbucks.  I happen to love Jamaica but even more so I love Eddie Murphy Raw and this otherwise innocent order immediately reminds me of a raunchy line (really, it’s all raunchy) from Raw about a guy named Dexter.  Please rent it immediately. Also worth renting, for all you parents out there, is Bill Cosby Himself.  As my husband likes to say, all of the trials and tribulations we face as parents are “universal” and Bill reminds us of that.  Alex and I talked for twenty minutes the other night about how we should have handled Aiden who refused to chew the prune he was sucking on before bed and what parenting tactics would have been most appropriate.  We could use a little more Bill Cosby humor in our lives.

Raise your hand if you remember automated Directory Assistance!  Wasn’t that cool – call 411 and then press 1 to be put through.  My dad was never a first adopter of technology but he was an expert at lazy efficiency.  Press 1 used to drive my mother crazy since it cost, what, $0.25 a call? He was good.  He really knew how to get her goat.  He was hyper-diligent so after going great lengths to write down the number on an index card, rather than hanging up and dialing again, he would Press 1.

I am not sold on the “tights under shorts” trend by the way.  Unless you are 25 or French it’s an all too often ill-fated wardrobe choice.  Of course there is a woman in my neighborhood who wears tights under shorts (not black for the record – so SUPER risky) and since she is both 25 and French it really works on her. To make matters worse, she has two kids and is nice.  It’s not easy to get husbands to take on the task of arranging play dates but for some reason her family is in high demand with the daddy crowd. Go figure.

And lastly, since we are talking about wardrobes, I was walking down the street the other day with Avery when we were passed by a transvestite (6’3” with heels).  Avery stopped to watch and observe and after taking it all in she declared “Mommy, I LOVE his dress!”

So many reasons to laugh and be proud.

Time Capsule

I love the idea of time capsules. If I could, I would pay a lot of money to be a fly on the wall in 1977 in our house just to peek into the cupboard, fridge and closets and listen in on what happened in our house. Since that’s not possible, I often scratch around for seemingly mundane details about our family history. Ask your parents what they used to like for lunch and you’re likely to get a cornucopia of interesting details. When I asked my mom about lunch I didn’t get “tuna on rye” I got something more like this “well there was a time when all I ate were avocados with dressing. it used to drive mother crazy. this was perhaps the result of spending summers in Honolulu with Mammy…”

As you can see, she was off and running.

So I thought I would note a few mundane details of our lives today (and yesterday) as clues for our kids and grandkids to scratch around with later. Here goes:

Most mornings I read The New York Times on the subway on my iphone. 25 minute ride. On my way home I read a book – also iphone. Or The New Yorker. I very rarely “catch up on email” on my way to and from the office. I love the commute. If I am feeling the need for a little peace, I listen to a Tara Brach podcast. Crunchy Zen Wonderfulness.

Your dad and I often ride in on the subway together and we both read the paper. So we don’t talk much but it’s nice to be together.

There is a lot of iced coffee in our lives. And Simply Grapefruit juice. We let you kids drink juice and might be in the minority among folks we know.

Life is filled with Spotify playlists. Some new, lots of old, some dad, some bold (ha!).

We do a lot of online shopping. Diapers, groceries, clothes. Offline shopping has fallen by the wayside with kids. There is no time and I don’t miss it. There is one notable offline exception – Fairway. You kids think going to Fairway for food shopping is akin to a trip to the aquarium with a little sightseeing thrown in (meaning, a lobster tank practically with a view of the Statue of Liberty).

I keep my book lists on Goodreads. I used to keep a journal of books read, and then I posted a list on this blog, and then a good system came around (goodreads). I have started an account for Avery.

I am amazed at the amount of milk we go through in our house. About a half gallon every day and a half.

We almost always have ice cream sandwiches and Kozy Shack pudding in the house.

I like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. I wonder if any of these will be relevant when you kids are reading this.

Email fills much of our days. I try hard to control and manage this mostly through a series of ignoring tactics. This is effective if you can deal with the anxiety of the unknown. I also wonder how you kids will communicate at work since when I started work there was no email. There was no file server. There was definitely no Wifi.

Thanks to your dad we have a lot of wine and beer in the house. Really, thanks to ClubW and Bierkraft (and Lagunitas) that is.

We read a lot of Goodnight Moon and make up the story around Goodnight Gorilla. There are card games that Avery is learning (as frustrating as that is) but Uno really can be fun. We’re halfway through Charlotte’s Web and I’m excited to learn how she saves Wilbur – though Avery informed me she knows since she saw the movie and that was just as fun. Harumph.

You two share a room and I wonder how long we can make that last. It seems pretty nice so far. Avery’s side is painted a special color and the room is small but bright and cheerful and filled with books…and shoes. You two seem to have a lot of shoes always.

Avery always loves an office visit SO…in my office I have a phone, a bowl of mini candy bars, sanitizer, a small buddha statue, a lamp, speakers, too many files, a jelly belly machine, a voodoo Goddess Of The Office doll, family pictures, very dated deal tombstones, two windows that open, Avery’s art on the walls, business books I have never and will never read, really beautiful shoes that would probably kill me if I wore them now, a bottle of wine with a yellow taxi on the label, and a box of twelve Tiffany crystal champagne flutes that were a wedding gift which I know we will get home someday.

We have a garden that your father tends. There are flowers and herbs. There are tomatoes but they keep getting eaten.

And for the truly mundane but interesting to me – there are always Nutri-Grain Bars, Ritz Crackers, cranraisin something or others, Annie’s Mac & Cheese and pasta dishes, you both seem to love liverwurst yet avoid sandwiches. Fried eggs over pasta with parmesan is a house quick favorite dish. Greek yogurt. Tide. Johnson’s Baby Wash Original for every day and California Baby for when we are feeling extravagant.

I like Red Flower, myself. And even now if I smell 4711 or VitaBath I am right back in Sodus or Hyattsville. Not exactly time travel but pretty darn close.

A Life List – really just a start…

Do you maintain a life list? I never really have and don’t know that I will get all Formal and Posty and Updatey on this…but it’s fun to sit with a blank screen and jot down a few Want-Tos every once in a while. You can see how these can get very long, ambitious and unwieldy pretty quickly. So I kept mine “First Things That Come To Mind in a Short Period Of Time” in nature. No “read War and Peace” on this list…

  1. Be more empathetic generally.
  2. Stop interrupting.
  3. Visit Finland
  4. Get truly comfortable with pie dough
  5. Take the kids to Disney World. While this shouldn’t be a stretch time flies and there are only so many years this is a possibility.
  6. Learn to play chess
  7. Ski down a green without fear. Heck, make it a blue.
  8. Speak proficient [INSERT a language other than English]
  9. Have a home outside of New York
  10. Clean and fillet a fish. I know I can cook it. But clean and gut it and have it look pretty? Let’s see…
  11. Go to a movie alone. I know, this should be easy.
  12. Start my own company. Even if it’s a very small company.
  13. Take a turn at bat. I have always had a major fear of flying objects (softballs, baseballs) and my lack of ability to hit one. And of looking like an idiot in the process.
  14. Attend a food festival a year.
  15. Meditate every day for a month and see what happens.
  16. Do a real pull up. I wanted to say “five real pull ups” but I can’t even do one. Baby steps.
  17. Host a wedding-like weekend again with all the close people in our lives that made that weekend in June so special seven years ago. Exclude white dress. Include dancing and pies.
  18. Get a dog
  19. Take the kids to Asia in time to attend Loy Krathong, the sky lantern festival in Thailand
  20. Go a day without speaking
  21. More – go a weekend without my phone.
  22. Create annual photo books. Actual books not just digital.
  23. Take a very cheesy and very fun family portrait
  24. Read the entire Sunday New York Times cover to cover, every article. Who knows how many things I will learn that I didn’t even know I wanted to learn.
  25. Learn how to drive a boat. By myself. And dock it and tie it up.
  26. Come up with a really cool craft project that the whole family works on together which ultimately becomes a permanent fixture in our living space. Maybe a painting.

Life is more fun if you share. So share yours.

Peace and Quiet

When we moved to Brooklyn from Manhattan nearly six years ago, my husband was adamant that we push for Brooklyn Benefits. Fireplace. One-off coffee houses. Neighbors we (would get to) know. And the Pièce de résistance – outdoor space.

We got lucky and got all of the above. Tonight as I sit on our deck I’m wanting to capture the moment.

There’s the whirl of an air conditioner. A dog barking – yippee dog. Water dripping from our neighbor’s hydroponic garden (cliché sure but meditative just the same). Laughter and clinking from a house a few doors down ending their own dinner party. A helicopter continues to circle. A siren passes maybe two streets over? Doors slide open and closed. Someone is gathering dishes.

I love the private yet proximate. The sounds of the block when your houses touch and yet there’s clear peace and quiet.

A Few Lessons From Mom

It was Mother’s Day this past weekend – uhoh you forgot! Well, it’s always a good time to thank your mother. And in doing so, take a little time to jot down what you’ve learned from your mother. Here is my list (really, the tip of the iceberg).

  • Always start with a sensible haircut.
  • You can (almost) always get away with black shoes.
  • As you age, you are even more capable of trying new things.
  • When in doubt, balance your checkbook.
  • When frantic, clean and organize a drawer.
  • When hungry and tired, roast a chicken.
  • Take detailed notes when dealing with any doctors or nurses. You can hold them accountable and YOU need to know the details.
  • If you have the luxury to plan a funeral in advance of needing the plans, do it. It’s far better to have a plan you can just say “Go!” to than to have to formulate plans when dealing with the shock of death.
  • You are never too old to attend a wedding in Vegas.
  • Always assume today may be your last day but that you should care for your body and soul assuming you might live forever.
  • Sometimes friends are mean. And you need to be able to move away from them.
  • Build your own resources and capabilities. Never rely solely on someone else for credit, practical knowledge or all of your money.
  • Pick your time to leave and then leave five minutes earlier. Being on time and avoiding inevitable delays causes more stress than it’s worth.
  • Expect your kids to do well. Expect them to act right and make good choices. Use this as a guiding light when raising them.
  • Don’t be fussy.
  • Less is more.
  • Good humor is of the utmost importance – in general, AND in the form of ice cream bars in your freezer.

You’ve gotta love a mom who prioritizes ice cream as a great elixir.

What a great mom I have 🙂

Being Present…With Memories

I try to live in the moment. I work hard to be present. But sometimes living in the moment means accepting that THAT moment happens to be filled with memories of the past…and all of the emotions that come with it.

Things like heading to your hometown on a train and spotting the very place on the Amtrak platform where you stood 19 years ago with two suitcases and said teary goodbyes to your parents as you left for good and moved to Manhattan. And then getting to DC and walking the very same walk you walked for a year from your job up to your school. And to make matters more nostalgic, on that walk to pass your father’s favorite French restaurant where you happily recall a family dinner watching your now gone grandmother eat her three course meal enjoying every bite (and the next night to meet your mother there for a quick drink and smell the same smells and see the same fabric that’s been there since you ate there as a whole alive multi-generational family!). And then walking past the house you lived in with seven other girls your senior year. The house where there were laughs, tears, parties, career victories, and lifelong friendships solidified. Then you get to campus and you walk across remembering how mixed your feelings were about a school with such privilege and less diversity and your own crushing feelings of inferiority and jealousy and yet, a deep desire to make it work. And then to sit in a room dedicated to an on campus group you were so happy to get in to and to see your name on the dedication wall and to meet extraordinary current students, now members of the same group. And to leave and miss your train and spend an hour in Union Station remembering watching your grandparents dance there at your senior ball on graduation weekend, and the Sunday afternoon lunches your family used to have there when we decided after church to “take a drive” into the city.

There is no neat bow here to wrap this up and package it away. There is though gratitude, happiness and excitement to be getting home soon knowing these moments too will rush back in later years and overwhelm any of us that remember the baths, the dinners, the special places, the walks and all of those things that make up every current moment – being present and taking it all in.

Mindful Subway Smiles

There I am on the subway, unwinding from the day listening to my favorite Buddhist podcaster, Tara Brach. And all of a sudden I notice that while listening to a talk on mindfulness I’m also texting my husband about dinner for the kids and glancing at the NYTimes. Will I ever learn? The task switching defeats the purpose but is the very reason I keep listening.

And then I noticed the sunset over the East River. And the Wall Street area building where I used to work.

And then an older lady who got on the train with her older husband. And two of us stood to offer our seats. They smiled. We smiled.

A hectic day ended with mindful kindness.

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