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Monday, December 27, 2010

Snow Day!

Snow in Manhattan is a funny thing. In case you haven't heard, we've been getting a lot of it. Like several feet. I actually love, love, love walking through the city in the snow. Especially when the streets aren't plowed and I can stroll right down the middle of Broadway at a leisurely pace. Everything is muffled, almost no one is out, and I can point and laugh at Southerners and tourists who don't know how to walk without slipping on icy patches.

Coming from upstate New York, I am extremely used to snow. In fact, a bit too used to it. It's a badge of honor to say things like, "In the Ice Storm of '91, I didn't have power for two weeks!" or "The snowdrifts in the Blizzard of '77 were taller than I am!" Snow is an extremely regular occurrence upstate, and in fact, schools are rarely closed unless we're buried under at least two feet. Or the temperature drops so violently that it's unsafe for children to walk to class. Seriously. In addition to praying for a Snow Day, upstate kids can also pray for a Cold Day.

As a general rule, urban dwellers are complete wimps when it comes to snow. They hear there might be three inches and panic ensues. Everyone rushes to Food Emporium or D'Agostino's or their local bodegas and load up on water and canned goods. It's like Y2K. But somehow, no store owner ever thinks to pre-salt his sidewalk. Get a grip, people! I had to shovel at least three inches from the driveway before school every single morning between November and April. Or, to be honest, my father did. He warmed up the car and started shoveling while I was inside shoveling Cinnamon Toast Crunch into my mouth and carefully moussing up my permed hair. I only sprinted to the semi-warm car after he yelled my name for the third time.

Speaking of hair and winter, I must take a moment to mention the idiocy of my high school building. It was brand-new when I was a freshman, but for some reason, it was designed with an short-ish outdoor breezeway, which was unfortunately right next to my locker. Meaning that I often had to walk on an outdoor sidewalk for about 40 feet in order to get to my next class. (The rumor was that our school building was a duplicate of one that was built in Florida. It also had a giant sickly palm tree in the center atrium.) This outdoor stroll was, of course, a major annoyance on freezing cold upstate days. But it became a catastrophic annoyance when I had gym class first period. Especially when we were in our month-long swimming unit. Ladies, there were ZERO excuses to get out of swimming. If you missed a class for any reason, you had to come after school to make it up. And while we're on the topic of swimming, I must mention that the public middle school also had a pool with mandatory swimming. Now, I don't know this info first-hand because I attended Catholic school, but I've heard tell that you were forced to wear bathing suits provided and laundered by the school. That was disgusting in and of itself, but the really awful part was that they were color-coded according to size. So if you wore a Large, your size would be broadcast to every catty girl, and through them to every crush-worthy boy in school. But I digress. The whole point of this aside was to mention that when I had swimming first period, I would have to walk through the great outdoors with dripping wet hair on the way to my next class. Luckily, I had Spanish second period and our lovable but slightly scatterbrained Senor never really noticed when I took a 15-minute break from class to blow dry my hair in the girls' bathroom.

I was actually dripping wet when I got home from work last night, but it was due to snow, not swimming. Though I did feel like I had to swim through the snow. I trudged through the streets filled with knee-high drifts in my warm puffy coat only to realize that the entire front half of my hair (which was hidden in a deep hood) was wet, and my cell phone (which was hidden deep in my pocket) had snow on it. After blow drying my hair and my phone in my bedroom, I noticed that there was also snow INSIDE my windowsill. So I blow dried (blew dried?) that as well.





In a nutshell, it's been a bad storm. Planes, trains, and most automobiles are not running and many businesses are closed, which almost never happens around here. At the moment, I'm watching a taxi spin its wheels on 45th Street and a cold-looking fellow shovel out his front tire at an intersection on Ninth Avenue. So I'll give those urban wimps full permission to have a major snow freak out. Panic away, friends! Enjoy this holiday period of winter amnesty while it lasts because I will be back to making fun of you next time you leave work early due to a one-inch snowfall.

Like the snow showers, my thoughts in this blog post are both frequent and scattered. Since I have heat, hot water, food, and nowhere to be until 4pm, I'm completely enjoying the entire situation. And that's the lovely, lovely thing about snow that those from warm climates never get to experience. There is nothing cozier than a snow day. It's kind of like fake calling out sick, but you feel fine, have tons of new-found free time, and no one can fault you for falling behind on your work. So as long as I don't have to shovel, drive, or look cute, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Things I Carried

I have this problem. My eyes are bigger than my muscles. Whenever I pack a bag, I pack more than I can possibly carry. This may seem like an insignificant problem, but when you realize five blocks into your 60-block day that your bag is ridiculously heavier than you thought it was, it becomes an extremely significant problem. I’m not sure if the problem is a result of ignorance, optimism, or stupidity. In my most impressive feat, I carried a full-size put-it-together-yourself desk from Rite Aid to my apartment unassisted. Why did I do this, you may ask? Because it was on sale for 90% off and the male Indian cashier said, “Do you have a boyfriend here with you? You're a little girl. You can’t possibly get it home by yourself.” I think his nametag read, “Hello, my name is Chauvinist. How may I help you?”

I was reminded of this carrying dilemma when I decided to make Christmas cookies last week for a cookie exchange. Sounds like a nice suburban activity, right? Well, if I lived in the ‘burbs, I would probably have recipe books and baking goods at my disposal. And if not, I could easily stop at Wegmans on my way home, buy all the supplies, and be back in my car in ten minutes. Of course, it wasn’t nearly that easy in Manhattan.

After begging my mother to send her recipe for my favorite of the professional-looking Christmas cookies she makes every year—cherry bon bons—I stopped at the Food Emporium on the way home from work. I easily found the flour, powdered sugar, and milk. I couldn’t find maraschino cherries anywhere in the baking aisle, so I consulted an employee, who first brought me to the chili aisle. After I told him that I was not looking for chili but was in fact searching for: “Cherries. CHER-RIES. You know, those little red things with a stem???” I was not feeling very patient that day. He next referred me to the ice cream sundae fixings. Not there. Then he walked me all over the produce section, and finally he consulted another employee, who found the cherries with the alcoholic drink mixes. It was a production, I tell you. And I was still short some sprinkles.

Regardless, I paid for these baking purchases and headed to my apartment, which was three and a half blocks, one avenue, and 97 stairs away. I felt pretty good about my purchases when I was in the store, but as soon as I walked a block, I realized that the 5-pound bag of flour, 1-pound packet of powdered sugar, half gallon of milk, and glass jar of maraschino cherries were much heavier than I anticipated. Especially in combination with my backpack, which contained my 5-pound laptop, power cord, sneakers, makeup, and change of clothes. I could feel all that weight compressing my spine with every step. By the time I got home and dropped all the bags in my doorway, I found red marks on my shoulders from the backpack, I had angry red stripes on my palms from the plastic bags, and I wished that I had never heard of cookies, exchanges, or Christmas.

Luckily, baking went well, almost making me forget the blood, sweat, and tears that it took to locate all appropriate ingredients. (Incidentally, I also had to trek to Whole Foods to find sprinkles. To make the trip worthwhile, I over-purchased there, filling my backpack and canvas tote with things like canned tomato puree and frozen pizza dough. I almost cried on the 15-block walk home.) Considering the fact that I can count on one hand the number of times I had previously made cookies, I was quite proud of myself for the final product. I put the bon bons in Tupperware for our journey to the Upper East Side.

Since I had learned on previous occasions that I am incapable of carrying Tupperware in a plastic bag without tipping it over, I put my cookies in a big Macy’s paper shopping bag with a flat bottom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that said shopping bag may rip in half if you hurriedly dig through your purse for your Metrocard in order to hop on a train that appears just as you reach the turnstile. Sigh. I had to carry the Tupperware in my hands for the ensuing subway ride, raising odd looks from fellow passengers who had apparently never participated in an urban cookie exchange. Having one less layer between food and subway germs made my skin crawl.

In the end, everything worked out. Even though things didn’t go smoothly, I got the supplies to my apartment, I made the cookies, and I carried them to the exchange. And because everything worked out, I will continue to make the same mistake in the future. I will, without fail, put way more items in my backpack/large purse/canvas shopping bag than I can possibly carry comfortably, giving myself sore muscles, juvenile arthritis, and scoliosis in the process. It’s just a fact. I’m certainly not going to make two easy trips to the store to get the items I know I could carry in one uncomfortable trip. And I’m guessing that all the non-independently wealthy people from the Seaport to Washington Heights feel my pain. Manhattan isn’t just The Big Apple. It’s The Big 50-Pound Apple you have to double bag and carry up and down several flights of subway stairs by yourself because you would obviously never ask a random stranger-slash-potential thief to help you.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tree, Glorious Tree!

I just bought my first Christmas tree, and I'm ridiculously excited about it. Just thinking about it makes me feel like Skittles are shooting out of my fingertips. Most people over 30 probably don't have this reaction. They've probably purchased Christmas trees before. Probably a number of trees. And they probably put them in the living rooms of the houses they own. As for me, I am just excited to have my very own tree in the living room/dining room/common area of the apartment I rent with three other people.

Growing up, we always had a tall, full, gorgeous tree in the front window of our Victorian house. The whole family would load into one of our two matching Taurus station wagons, and we would head out to several garden shops, the Boy Scouts' annual Christmas tree sale at our church, and, of course, Chase-Pitkin, which was Wegmans' version of Home Depot that has now gone out of business. We would go to all of these places, you see, because we had to find the biggest, best Christmas tree at the most affordable price. I come from a long line of bargain shoppers (one of my father’s aliases is Findasale, for Pete's sake), and we cannot make a decision until examining every single available option. At each location, we would look the trees in our price range, pull them out to see their shape, shake them a bit to see if the needles fell off, then move on. If you're a kid, that process can really drag on. Ultimately, we would choose a tree that was not necessarily the biggest, best, or most affordable. We picked the tree that was reasonably full and affordable at the time we all started getting irritable and hungry. 


I had never purchased a tree for my apartment because it seemed like a waste of money. Why bother? I would just go upstate and admire my parents' tree later on, especially in the mornings. Ever since I was young, my father has turned on the tree lights before I wake up so they will greet me when I walk downstairs. It used to make waking up at 6am for high school a tad more tolerable. And now it's just fun. But since I can't go home to admire their tree this year, the time has come for me to turn on my own tree lights.

Manhattan obviously doesn't have tree farms, like the one my friend's family visits to chop down
their own tree every year. I've never seen Boy Scouts here, and there aren't that many garden shops big enough to hold trees. Instead, trees are sold in alcoves, street corners, and anywhere there’s a free square foot of space. I particularly love the tree stand on 56th Street and 9th Avenue because trees line both sides of the sidewalk. When I walk through, I feel as though I've entered a Christmas wonderland. Until I come to the end of that 40 feet of piney goodness and find myself on the very spot that I was once pooped on by a pigeon. In any event, I decided to make that stand the first (and hopefully only) stop on my tree trek. I didn't need a giant tree to find Christmas joy—I just wanted a little (meaning, cheap) one. So I asked the grimy middle-aged hippie with multiple piercings who was running the tree stand the cost of the small, 20" tabletop trees.
 

 He told me that they cost THIRTY DOLLARS EACH.
Now, I've always heard that Manhattan prices are outrageous for everything except manicures and hookers, but that blew me away. The Boy Scouts would have given me a whole seven-foot tree for that price, so there was no way I could justify spending $30 on five twigs barely holding on to a skinny trunk.

I came up with a brilliant plan. Plan B. I figured that the further from Times Square I went, the cheaper the trees would be. The less the demand, the lower the price, right? So I got up early and dragged my roommate-slash-tree carrier over to the Chelsea Garden Center on 11th Avenue. The street is pretty desolate, so I was pretty confident about getting a good deal. Well, apparently the Chelsea Garden Center only caters to the rich and famous because we couldn't find a tree under $79. What?! There goes my Plan B. I needed a Plan C.

Many NYC Christmas trees are sold at delis. Delicatessens. That's right—you can buy your coffee, bagel, newspaper, and Christmas tree all in the same place. The trees aren't in the store, of course. They are on the street corner, next to the $8/dozen roses. We went to the 52nd Street deli, where a tiny, squat foreign man encouraged me to forget the tabletop trees and move on to the almost-regular size ones.

"I like this one," I told him. "How much is it?"

"Fi-bee," he said.

"Fifteen?" I said.

"Fi-bee," he said.

"Okay, so fifteen?" I was a bit distracted because I was mentally decorating the tree as I spoke.

"NO," He said. "Fi-bee. FI. OH." And he held up five fingers on one hand and made a fist with the other.

Ohhhh...$50. Argh! My stomach dropped. This tree excursion was getting pricier than I thought. But I had cash. And a willing tree carrier, who was probably still drunk and definitely still wearing the clothes from the day before. So I needed to make something happen. Fast. "Do you have anything for around $25?" I asked.

Luckily, my little Hispanic Christmas elf did! He pointed to a five-footer that was already bound for travel. It ended up being $30. The stand, of course, was an additional $10. But he agreed to cut the trunk and put it in the stand for me. I was so thrilled that he was solving my tree crisis with a minimum of cost and effort on my part that I yelled, "SOLD!" and handed him my cash, much to the later chagrin of my parents, who, when I told them the story, were visibly appalled that I would make a purchase without surveying the merchandise first. (I mean, I only told them about it via phone, but I could totally tell they were visibly appalled.) In all honesty, I was on a schedule. I was wearing my pajamas, and I only had 30 minutes before I had to leave for work and/or my half-drunk roommate got bored and went to Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich. I didn’t have many options at that point.
(There's my elf in blue!!)

So we walked the six blocks to my apartment, my roommate carrying the tree and pretending to almost poke pedestrians in the fanny with it (violating a number of my rules of sidewalk etiquette). Once he carried the tree up those 97 stairs to the apartment and we cut the bindings off, we could see that it was a shockingly gorgeous tannenbaum. My Hispanic Christmas elf didn't lead me astray! We had a tree skirt and energy-saving tree lights (not nearly as satisfying as the energy-wasting kind) in the apartment—the former had adorned our two-foot tall fiber optic tree the previous year. Another roommate added candy canes, and I purchased 40 feet of metallic red garland and box of ornaments at the sketchy dollar store on 46th and 5th. (There is a dearth of dollar store chains in Manhattan. There are only sad, sad random 99-cent stores with peeling linoleum and loose ceiling tiles.) I didn't have a star and didn't feel like purchasing one, so I made a star out of tin foil and cardboard from a leftover Domino's pizza box. 




I can't say that this kind of thrown together mish-mosh of a tree is the tree I'd always dreamed of, but I can't help but feel an earth-shattering, all-consuming love for it. Like I gave birth to it or something.  That tree is there because of me. And my distracted tree carrier. And my Hispanic Christmas elf. It’s truly a thing of energy-saving, thrown-together, collaborative, Stone Soup beauty. Sometimes I walk in the common room just to stare at it. I may not have a house or a driveway or even a real kitchen table…but doggone it, I have a tree!






Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bills Make Me Wanna Shout! (but not always in a good way)

 
Q. What do the Buffalo Bills and a possum have in common?
A. Both play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Q. How do you keep a Buffalo Bill out of your yard?
A. Put up a goal post.

Q. Where do you go in Buffalo in case of a tornado?
A. To Rich Stadium--they never touchdown there!


(Thanks for the jokes, Patriots fans.)


The people of Buffalo and the surrounding areas have become supremely adept at losing. First, Walt Disney decided to build a theme park in Orlando instead of Niagara Falls, then virtually every industry fled town, and now the Buffalo Bills lose football games on pretty much any given Sunday.

Okay, so I have never professed to be a football superfan, but I have watched quite a few games in my day. My comprehension rate is approximately 85%. If you live in Niagara Falls/Buffalo/Rochester/Syracuse, you basically become a Buffalo Bills fan by default. There’s not much else to do on snowy Sunday afternoons. It's a tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. In fact, if you live in Buffalo and you're not a Bills fan, you'd better hide your face on game day.

The thing about the Bills is that they’re not a completely hopeless football team. Sometimes they play almost efficiently. But they always find a way to hand over the game to their opponent. Often gift-wrapped with a pretty bow on top. As you can imagine, this makes being a Bills fan a completely exhausting experience. In fact, one of my cousins recently said to another cousin, "I know you're just getting into football. Can I recommend not rooting for the Bills? Pick another team; it's just heartbreaking." Of course, she can't pick another team. Being a Bills fan has already been programmed into her genetic code.

But like the Goonies, Bills fans never say die. They will show up to tailgate at Rich Stadium at 8am in their red, white, and blue station wagons, minivans, and school buses (yes, full-size school buses) with coolers full of fattening food and trunks full of six-packs. And if you haven’t heard, there’s even one ridiculously dedicated fan that passes out bowling ball shots. You heard me—that’s Polish cherry liqueur served in the thumbhole of a real live bowling ball. He also has a red 1980 Pinto on which he grills meat, a pizza oven made out of a filing cabinet, and a chicken wing-cooking mailbox. He’s the MacGyver of Bills fans.

Sadly, there aren’t any bowling ball shots in Manhattan, but there are a surprising number of Bills fans. Organized by a group called the Buffalo Bills Backers, fans gather in a couple of designated bars around the city to watch the games (which are rarely shown on local stations), and reminisce about the good ol’ days of Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas, and Buffalo’s own personal hero and almost-savior, the great Jim Kelly. When you step into a BBB bar, two of which are in “Little Buffalo” on 42nd and 2nd, you’re stepping about five hours upstate, since 99% of the attendees are from Lewiston, Henrietta, Gates, and other western New York towns. It truly feels like home. It’s inevitable that you’ll meet people who went to your college, or grew up next door to your aunt, or went to the same church as your sister-in-law's cousin's mother. In fact, if you ever encounter a person at a BBB event who hasn’t lived upstate for a significant chunk of time, the only appropriate response is: “Then what on earth are you doing here?”
Because “here” is where Bills fans get all-you-can-eat wings and all-you-can-drink beer for $20. “Here” is where everyone agrees that Bison French Onion Dip is the best dip in the world. “Here” is where you discuss the expansion of the Wegmans empire and dream of the day that a Wegmans will finally appear near a subway line. “Here” is where you sing the Bills’ version of “Shout!” with every score and shake your head with every critical fumble/turnover/missed field goal attempt that ultimately loses the game.

Here is what "here" looks like every Sunday:
Because the Bills’ terrible record essentially wards off any would-be fans, it virtually guarantees that there are no Bills fans who are not from upstate New York. There are no bandwagon fans because there hasn't been any wagon to speak of, band or otherwise. In fact, even though the Bills are a New York team, you can't purchase Bills merch in the city. But you can find gear for the Eagles and the Patriots, which seems incredibly insulting. 

It’s kind of genius when you think about it. The Bills inability to win has created a tight-knit group of deluded optimists. You really have to hand it to Bills fansthere is no real incentive, no wins, no payoff. You pour your heart and soul into a team that doesn't delivereverand yet there's no other team you'd rather root for. You remember the promise of those four Super Bowl games and hold on to that tiny seed of hope. Whenever I see fans in Little Buffalo sporting Zubaz pants or tourists wearing Bills hats, I know the exact heartache they’ve suffered. The way they died a little death when Scotty Norwood went wide right at Super Bowl XXV in ’91 (see below). And I know they believe with all their hearts that, like the South, the Bills will rise again. 

A scarily accurate commercial...


Poor, poor Scott Norwood...




Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Celebrity Epidemic

 I'm a bit of a celebrity whore. Okay, okay...I'm a huge celebrity whore. Except not the literal kind. I just like finding celebrities to see what they're wearing, who they're with, where they are, what they're eating. You know—just totally normal, non-stalkerish stuff like that.

As you can imagine, Manhattan is an excellent location for random celebrity sightings. My parents are convinced that Central Park is just crawling with 'em. Every time I call home while walking through the park, they say (simultaneously while on speakerphone): "Do you see Barbara Walters walking her dog? Is Kelly Ripa there with her kids? They're always in Central Park. Are you sure you don't see them?" I hate to break it to you, Mom and Dad, but I've never seen a single celeb in Sheep's Meadow or near the Reservoir or skating at Wollman Rink. But once I did follow Ethan Hawke as he pushed his kids in a stroller around Union Square Park. At a discreet distance, of course.

My first significant celebrity encounter occurred at Baldoria, the fancy Italian restaurant I used to work at to pay for the voice lessons my meager editorial assistant’s salary couldn’t cover. Jerry Orbach used to frequent the restaurant, and while I should have been more bowled over to be seating Lumiere, he somehow seemed like more of a customer than a star. When he and his lovely wife sat down at a table for four one day, I joked to the bus boy (which was no small feat, considering the language barrier) that they were probably waiting for Benjamin Bratt and his wife. So when I got a phone call at the hostess station from someone claiming to be Benjamin Bratt, I assumed it was a joke. It wasn't. When he and his tall gorgeous wife arrived five minutes later, I almost passed out, which is extremely strange seeing as I had never watched a single episode of Law & Order and only thought he was mildly cute in Miss Congeniality. But he suuuuure made my heart go pitter-pat in person.

I led the couple to the Orbachs' table and offered to take Ben's delicious-smelling soft leather coat for him. (Of course I smelled it—wouldn't you?!) After he handed it to me, he said casually, "Oh, I forgot to take my cell phone out of the pocket." He leaned over me, his face mere inches from mine, as he checked every pocket in the coat that I was still holding. When I peeked at him through my eyelashes, he was staring at me with an I-know-that-I'm-totally-making-you-nervous-right-now look in his eye. And he was. I have the unfortunate distinction of being an easy blusher, and within seconds my skin turned completely red and splotchy from the center of my chest to my forehead. I kept his $10 tip taped to my bedroom wall for three years.


My big mistake was acknowledging Ben's celebrity status. By doing so, I put him on a higher level, making myself lowly in comparison. If I had been completely aloof, we would have remained equal. For example, if I were to see Katie Couric, I should slyly observe her from a distance without identifying her as someone special. What I definitely shouldn't do is put her in an overly enthusiastic headlock while taking a picture with her, as my sister once did.

But I get it. My sister was just excited because that type of thing doesn't happen in upstate New York. A celebrity sighting in Rochester consists of seeing the dapper Don Alhart, co-anchor of the 11pm news on WHAM-TV Channel 13, buying an Auntie Anne's pretzel at Eastview Mall. Don't get me wrong—I love me some Don Alhart. But he's no Benjamin Bratt.

In New York, you never know what may happen. You may be having a drink at your favorite local watering hole and see the Real Housewives of New Jersey
file in after their performance of My Big Gay Italian Wedding off-Broadway. You may meet Shelley Duncan, a hot new Yankee (now an ex-Yankee), who gives you free tickets to games, lets you polish off the contents of the mini-bar at his suite at the W, orders pizza for you and your friends, then ends the night by throwing apples off the giant private patio with you at 4am. You may know a girl who went to college with NBA players Richard Jefferson and Luke Walton, join them at the VIP area of Suede, then head to Richard's gigantic Tribeca loft for the Spam-filled after-party (with Wilmer Valderama, JC Chasez, Joey Fatone, Robert Iler, and Taye Diggs), and eat your way through his Costco-looking pantry at 7am. You may even find yourself being cornered by Richard Jefferson's brother, who (ten minutes after you meet him) offers to drive six hours to your parents' house the next day for Thanksgiving dinner and when you politely decline asks if it's "a race thing."

Like that non-boiling watched pot, a celebrity sighting never happens if you try to force it. It mostly happens when you walk down the street, see someone and think, "Oh. There's Richard Kline, the guy who played Larry, Jack Tripper's best friend in the pivotal sitcom Three's Company
. Weird..." and go about your day. In short, celebrities aren't just in Central Park. They’re everywhere. Like bedbugs. You just have to keep your eyes open and ignore them.



***I'll 'fess up. I've taken a few celebrity pictures in my day. Here I am with John Patrick Shanley, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Doubt, who complimented me on my coat at his movie premiere.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

New York at Christmas: A Guide to Sidewalk Etiquette

Dear Tourists,

It's that time of year again—city sidewalks have become busy sidewalks, and tourists are pouring into Manhattan faster than you can say Bloomberg. Unfortunately, that speed doesn’t extend to the typical tourist's walking pace. The thing is, tourists, that we New Yorkers love when you come to our city, spend money, employ us, and increase Manhattan’s desirability...but please, please, walk a little faster.

I am quite certain that the notion of New Yorkers as overly harsh, jaded busybodies stems from tourists' ignorance of unspoken sidewalk rules. We're perfectly pleasant as long as you keep pedestrian traffic moving at a steady clip. If you stroll—ugh, even the word gives me shivers—you might hear a few well-chosen curses fly your way. In an effort to decrease the tourist/local divide, I am humbly offering you a little gift this holiday season. No, it’s not a figgy pudding. It is a guide to Manhattan sidewalk survival. Feel free to share with absolutely everyone you know. In fact, I insist on it.

1. Manhattan has tall buildings, historic landmarks, and homeless people. You're welcome to gawk at any or all of these things. But if you do, move to the right-hand side of the walkway.

2. Never walk at anything slower than a semi-rapid pace. My Great Aunt Mary once got a ticket for driving too slow in a construction zone. Don’t be Great Aunt Mary.

3. Don't litter. Just don't. I wouldn't toss a dirty street meat wrapper on your Home Depot-ed lawn, so please don't drop one on my pee-soaked, rat-infested sidewalk. It's rude.

4. Do not take up the entire sidewalk by walking in a long row with 18 of your closest friends. Walk in pairs so that I can pass by when you inevitably slow down to laugh at a lame inside joke. Never fear—you can catch up with your friends when you wait two hours for a table at Carmine's.

5. Never expect cyclists, bike messengers, or pedicabs to adhere to the rules of the road. Or common sense.

6. You can still cross the street even if the electronic hand is flashing red. I promise.

7. You have a 3.6 second opportunity to take a posed photo. I will pause and wait for you for exactly that long. If it takes longer than that, you might discover that an image of a blurry stranger has obscured your shot of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Side note: Figure out how to use your camera before you leave home.

8. If you have to look at a map, make a phone call, reprimand your child, or pick your nose, move to the side. Don't make your problems my problems. 

9. Don't stop pedestrian traffic with a mid-sidewalk "Where should we eat?" group conversation. I am a 5'2", 105-lb mild-mannered Catholic girl, but if you’re in my way, I will start throwin’ some ‘bows. If I were foolishly holding you up from getting to your audition/yoga class/office, I would fully expect you to do the same unto me.

10. As for umbrella etiquette...don’t get me started. Don’t
even get me started.

11.
Think twice before walking at a snail's pace with one of those giant SUV strollers, simultaneously slowing me down and blocking me from passing you.
Your baby doesn't have anywhere to be.

I do.

12.
Jaywalking. Get into it.

13. Channel the spirit of Johnny Cash, a man who wore almost as much black as the average New Yorker, and walk the line. A straight line. Don't drunkenly weave back and forth, making it impossible for anyone to pass you. I know a number of trannies named Sue who would gladly accept a Folsom Prison sentence for the pleasure of clocking a sidewalk rover.

14. Manhattan drivers are erratic, but standing two feet back from the curb when waiting to cross the street is an overly excessive safety cushion, and it blocks the sidewalk for people trying to cross your path. Stand a little closer to the curb. Or maybe even in the street. You won't get hit. Usually.

15. If you have shopping bags from Century 21, Chinatown, and American Girl Place, keep them tightly by your side. I really don't feel like being bruised by bags containing discount designer merchandise, fake Prada purses, and/or creepy dolls dressed exactly like your children.

And the simplest but most important (drum roll, please!)...

Walk on the
right side of the sidewalk! The right! Exactly the same way you drive and skate around a roller rink! The right!!!

***********************************************************************************

Again, tourists, please don't be mad. I'm trying to help you. I love you. I need you. Your hard-earned cash pays for tickets to the show that employs me. I understand your cluelessness, and I want to clue you in. Plus, I am one of you...or I was. Just like Eva Peron and her descamisados. In closing, tourists, my message is this: When in Rome, do as the New Yorkers do. Treat the sidewalk as you would a highway—maintain a steady pace with the traffic, keep to the right, and stay in your own lane. 

...And if your to-go bag of leftover soup, salad, and breadsticks from the Olive Garden smacks me in the shin one more time, you and I may find ourselves in a road rage-induced fender bender.

Love, 
Me

P.S. When I visited NYC for the first time in March of 1999, a friend took this completely embarrassing picture of me high kicking in front of Radio City. At the time, I thought it was the coolest. Now that I’ve lived in Manhattan for nine years and actually work at Radio City, I am slightly appalled that I ever blocked the sidewalk and halted pedestrian traffic by doing such a thing. You see, we all make mistakes.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Button Up Your Overcoat


I decided to take advantage of last week's lovely Indian summer (Can you still say that?!) to try on winter coats at Macy's. My hatred of the 34th Street Macy's is too great to comment on here; however, since I went to the store at 10:30am on a weekday, it was fairly manageable. In the 'burbs, end-of-season sales are an excellent way to go when making a substantial purchase, but in the city, when you wait that long, there's no inventory left. Thus, I went shopping while it was still 70-degrees outside.

I had a winter coat that I absolutely loved, but it had one overwhelming flaw: the zipper got stuck on a regular basis. It was a lovely brown quilted knee-length winter coat from Abercrombie, a store I almost never enter unless I want to assault my ears with music and my nose with overly perfumed air. I—shock of all shocks—actually paid full price for this seemingly perfect coat. It was feather light and toasty warm. The first time the zipper got stuck, I was at home, so I stepped out of the coat as if it were a dress and used a safety pin to unstick it. I foolishly assumed that I had purchased a randomly defective coat and exchanged it at the store for a new one.

Unfortunately, the new coat's zipper continued to get stuck again and again. Sometimes it would only catch a bit of the coat's lining, which I could pretty easily get free. Sometimes it would get stuck on nothing at all and a little bit of firm pulling and a quick prayer would help. But one time at the doctor's office waiting room, on a very cold day when I had zippered the coat all the way up to my nose, the zipper got stuck right at the base of my throat. At first, I wiggled the zipper pull, assuming it would give way. It didn't. I couldn't physically look at the problem, but I felt around the catch and realized that a chunk of my coat was stuck in the zipper, and I couldn't pull it out. And I couldn't pull the coat off over my head because it was still zipped so tight that it wouldn't have cleared my chin. Panic set in. I tried to pull my arms into the coat to maneuver the zipper from the inside, but the coat was too tight to get at it. My heart rate began racing, making me overheated, claustrophobic, and cranky.

It suddenly dawned on me that I was in a very public place, in a very small room, with several very bewildered people waiting to be seen by various physicians. I smiled at each of them as if to say, "Isn't this funny? I'm stuck in my coat! I must look ridiculous! Have you ever seen anything so hilarious?" They wouldn't make eye contact with me. Either they had no sense of humor or they thought I had some sort of dire disease that resulted in a mental imbalance. With red cheeks, disheveled hair, and spastic body movements, I probably did look certifiably insane.

After several more minutes of struggle, the nurse called my name. My coat was still zipped up to my neck. I sheepishly followed her into the doctor's office and told her, "My coat. It's stuck. I'm stuck in my coat." She replied in a mild island accent (don’t ask me which island), "Oh, no worries! My nine-year-old daughter does that all the time!" And she got to work, tugging and pulling and nudging and pleading with my stuck zipper. It took a good 20 minutes, but she was finally able to unzip my coat enough for me to step out of it. After that, I never used the zipper again. I used the snaps instead.

Now I’m on the hunt for a winter coat that is as warm and stylish as that damaged one. You’d think it would be more important to have a warm coat in Buffalo than in Manhattan, but I beg to differ. In Buffalo, you generally wear your coat to travel from your house to your car and from your car to your office. You may be out in the cold for less than a minute a day. In Manhattan, I walk at least 30 blocks on a slow day. New York City may have a fraction of the snowfall there is in Buffalo, but the wind whipping down the avenue is no joke. You know what else is no joke? Me. I fully marched back into Abercrombie with the coat to tell them about the whole embarrassing zipper incident. There might have been some stern voices and asking for the manager involved. And maybe a strongly worded letter to customer service. But in the end, Abercrombie took the coat gave me a portion of my money back. Of course, it doesn’t compensate for the pain and humiliation I suffered as a result of the defective coat. But it sure helps.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time Out

I must take a time out to tell you about a couple of things.

First of all, I am getting blog savvy! Hooray! If you want to keep up with me more easily, you can subscribe to my blog via email or RSS (which I don't completely understand) to the right.

Secondly, I never dreamed I would have international readers (I'm talking to YOU, Poland!), and I want to give a shout out to Canada, South Korea, Denmark, Slovenia, Germany, China, the United Kingdom, Ecuador...and Poland, my international champion.

Lastly, just when I was ready to buy a one-way ticket to the land of Wegmans, malls, and snow shoveling, a friend posted this incredible article on Facebook. I'll list the highlights below:

50 Reasons to Be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live in New York City

44. The epic feeling you get running to catch a train and succeeding...just before the doors close.

41. We get the inside jokes. Because, actually, we made them up in the first place.

40. That horrified look on our parents' friends' faces when we tell them we live in "Hell's Kitchen."

39. Sure, we work out next to Alec Baldwin, Padma Lakshmi, and Bridget Moynahan, and walk the streets with Willem Dafoe, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Tina Fey, but, really, we're kinda too busy with our own lives to notice.

38. Drinking is like breathing. Or slightly more acceptable.

26. Smart people are the norm, not the exception. (Which doesn't mean they're sane, but at least no one's boring.)

25. Except in select 'hoods like Park Slope and perhaps the Upper West Side, children are viewed as mysterious beings, rarely sighted and only occasionally understood, like pixies or magical small butlers. Until they scream, in which case, they are banished from the palace.

11. Complain about the MTA, but you can get anywhere in the city for just $2.25. Or $2.50 single ride, come 2011. Still pretty damn cheap.

7. Subway "prewalking," in which you walk to the exact right spot on the platform to board the train car that will save you the most time upon exit, exists and has a name. Gotta respect.

5. We are, as a group, anti-fanny-pack as much as we are pro-gay-marriage. Hetero marriage, on the other hand, we can pretty much take or leave.

4. 35 is the new 26. Or is it 45? Whatever, age ain't nuthin' but a number, and as long as you're younger than your IQ score, no harm, no foul.

1. If you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere. But why would you bother to go anywhere else?


*****


Ahhh...I really needed that! I plan to commit this list to memory and use it as my mantra during that magical time of year when city sidewalks are dressed in holiday style, tourists run rampant, and I am forced to elbow small children out of my way in order to cross the street. I love you, New York!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday Bloody Sunday


I made it down 92 of the 97 steps in my apartment building this morning when I saw it: a severed limb wrapped in newspaper floating in a pool of blood. My left foot stopped, dangling mid-air above the 93rd step. My heart skipped a beat. I grabbed the filthy banister. It looked like the scene when Rick Moranis chops up Steve Martin (DDS) to feed Audrey II, a hungry man-eating plant, in Little Shop of Horrors. I took a deep breath to calm myself and noticed that the air smelled different. A tad sweet, somehow. I planted my foot gingerly on the 93rd step, and leaned forward. Upon closer inspection, it looked less like a Law & Order crime scene and more like someone spilled a Pomegranate Berry Blast smoothie from Juice Generation, didn't have time to clean it up, threw newspapers on it, and fled the joint.

It's Halloween—the most terrifying day of the year in Manhattan, a city with sidewalks that are not infrequently stained with blood. Real blood. I’ve seen it. Most good movie heists feature thieves and thugs in masks, so it stands to reason that a certain percentage of people in costume are up to no good. Maybe the troublesome part is that the majority of people wearing costumes in Manhattan seem to be adults. I saw roughly 11 costumed children this Halloween and at least 250 costumed adults. Those numbers would be completely reversed in the 'burbs. People here are scary in their everyday wear. So once they start donning
Scream masks, all bets are off.

My first October 31st in Manhattan was just after September 11th, a time when I was ridiculously suspicious of every single person I passed on the street. Trying to be a true New Yorker, I went to the Greenwich Village Halloween parade...and immediately left. I've never been back since. I saw a terrorist lurking in every Spongebob Squarepants and Toy Story costume. I just couldn't handle the stress.

I guess a big part of the day
is stress—Halloween masquerades as a low-preparation holiday, but it takes work to dream up a costume and imagine it into existence. At least for me. My mother completely spoiled me with her fanciful homemade costume-making ways. Growing up, she made me elaborate costumes like Rainbow Brite, Dottie the Dog from The Get-Along Gang, and Cheer Bear the Care Bear. The last costume, made from cardboard, pink fur, and paper maché, won me second place in my town's costume contest. I lost the contest to a family friend who out-crafted my mother by turning her son into a one-man haunted house. However, cute Care Bears are apparently more photogenic than scary haunted houses because I was the one who got my picture in the local paper.

As a direct result of my mother's ingenuity, I cannot wear just any Halloween costume. I especially cannot wear a store bought costume. And I most especially cannot wear a slutty costume. (A friend of mine kept a tally of all the slutty costumes we saw last Halloween. Shockingly, we discovered that it is possible to make any costume slutty—even Strawberry Shortcake, Minnie Mouse, and my beloved Rainbow Brite.) So every Halloween, I have to prepare a hugely creative, non-slutty, original, homemade costume. Or I won't dress up at all.

Passing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Clark Kent/Supermans, and assorted vampires on the street today, I started remembering how sinister this holiday is. But since I have never actually been harmed, accosted, or badgered on Halloween, I suppose I should be a little less guarded. After all, plenty of people in the city are waiting to steal my purse—any day of the year, with or without a mask. I have to remind myself that like the pool of smoothie blood in my building this morning, things are not what they may seem. I have to stop and smell the pomegranate before jumping to conclusions. In any event, I'm thankful to have a whole year to steel myself for the next onslaught of masked men and slutty Cookie Monsters.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ms. Gladys Jackson


The most difficult part about being car-less is feeling stuck. I first learned this when I went to college at SUNY Geneseo. Even though it was a mere 50 minute trip from my parents' house, it seemed like I was in Guam because I had no way to get out unless I hitchhiked. Apparently my hometown is too small to have a Greyhound stop, but there is a stop in the next town over. Somehow, though, the route there from Geneseo takes 14 hours and 35 minutes and includes an overnight stop in Rochester. Odd.

As I've mentioned in previous blogs, non-car ownership allows me to avoid the hassles of car insurance and drunk driving. But I failed to mention that car ownership would allow me to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I wouldn’t be at the mercy of the MTA subway schedule. If I had a car right now, I could decide to drive to Montreal (or, as my friend says Celine Dion pronounces it, "Montrall") this very evening if I wanted to. I’m not much of a spontaneous road tripper and would probably never do that, but the point is that if I had a car, the option would always be open.

While attending grad school at Boston College, I got my first car after discovering two things: my walk to school was a solid mile up a steep hill (true story) and Amtrak-ing it home would add four hours to the normal six-hour travel time by car. She was an adorable white '97 Plymouth Neon. I named her Gladys and gave her a fuzzy aqua blue steering wheel cover. We went through a lot together:
*Driving on the Thruway for the first time—the six-hour trip to Boston, which was 5 hours and 30 minutes longer than I had ever driven before.
*Driving through a Syracuse blizzard without a cell phone—stopping at every rest stop to call home crying that I wasn't going to make it and begging my parents to start a rescue trip to find my icy cold body in case I slid into an embankment.
*Driving home from Boston in a Nor'easter—my mother shouting via phone, "Don't take a shower! You don't have time to take a shower! Just grab your laundry and get out!"
*Driving to Virginia on a road trip with my high school friend Jon—the poor man had to suffer through 8 hours of the putrid smell of mold and Febreze, the combination of which were the result of my attempt to save Gladys from a parking lot that had been drowned in a flash flood. Note: opening your car door in two feet of water is not the best of ideas. Further Note: Febreze does not mask all smells. In fact, it makes some smells worse.

Gladys was my pal. Luckily, I was able to leave her in good hands when I moved to NYC. My sister bought her from me, inexplicably removed the blue fuzzy steering wheel cover, added a dashboard hula girl, and renamed her Ms. Jackson. As in OutKast's "I'm sorry Ms. Jackson. Oooo! I am for reeeeal. Never meant to make your daughter cry. I apologize a trillion times." She used to say that it ran like a go-cart because it putt-putted around town. My sister left Ms. Gladys Jackson in North Carolina when she moved back up north. I would like to say that she left her in good hands, but she actually left her with some schmuck that paid her more for the car than she paid me. I’m sorry, Gladys. I apologize a trillion times.

Gladys was a good car. (Cue: cheesy sitcom montage of special moments with Gladys, such as, but not limited to, going through the McDonald’s drive-thru for a cheeseburger without the burger, fumbling for change to pay tolls in our pre-E-ZPass days, talking to each other about our problems, singing along to the Rent cast recording, sloshing through the car wash. Wait—that last one never actually happened.) Farewell, sweet Gladys. In the words of Sarah McLachlan (pre-annoying animal abuse commercials), I will remember you.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Laundry Days are Here Again


I am one of those psychotic individuals who love doing laundry. Taking something that’s soiled and fabric softening it within an inch of its life makes my germaphobic little heart skip a beat. I love grabbing a clean, giant, warm ball of laundry from the dryer, especially when Tide Pure Essentials White Lilac scent wafts my way (it's no coincidence that Rochester, NY has an annual Lilac Festival). I love separating clean laundry into piles and stacking each one neatly. Except for fitted sheets, which I will never be able to manage. I love putting the laundry in its rightful place in my closet. When my laundry is finished, all is right with the world.

That being said, I do not love doing laundry in Manhattan. There used to be a laundromat right underneath my apartment building, which was almost as exciting as having laundry in the building. But then someone turned it into the 21st Thai restaurant in a 10-block radius. So now I have to walk an extra block while clutching the overflowing raspberry-and-white striped laundry bag I have used since my freshman year of college.

I live in a fifth floor walkup building, so every time I leave the premises, I have 97 stairs to contend with. I don't hate the stairs themselves, but navigating them and crossing the street while carrying my laundry bag isn't the best time I've ever had. If I don't wait for my clothes to finish each cycle at the laundromat, I have to take extra laps on the stairs—down to drop off my laundry, up to my apartment, down to put it in the dryer, up to my apartment, down to take it out of the dryer, up to my apartment. That makes 582 stairs. It reminds me of the old “I forgot to add the fabric softener!” commercial with the little cartoon woman furiously running the stairs from her top floor apartment to the basement. Even she had laundry in the building.

The laundromat was beautiful when it opened three years ago—brand new machines, pleasant foreign employees, and an amusing sign that reads, "Custormer have to Responsible for Damage Machine.” But it has slowly taken a downward turn. I’m pretty sure it’s as dirty as a subway pole, and the folding area seems to be the home for sinister-looking neighborhood meetings attended by ne'er-do-wells. And as much as I loathe admitting being a Bad Samaritan, I was more than slightly disturbed when I had to put my clean laundry into a dryer that had just been vacated by a homeless man's blanket. I wouldn't have been quite as upset had I known that the blanket came from a detergent-filled washer, but I'm pretty sure it came directly from the sidewalk on a rainy day.

For several glorious months when I lived in a railroad apartment with a lovely 50-year-old menopausal woman (whose bedroom I had to walk through to get to mine), I had a washer and dryer
in the apartment! Now that was living! Hearing stories about unseasonably warm spring temperatures increasing the chafing of her thighs when she walked was a small price to pay for having clean socks whenever I wanted them. The dryer, topped with butcher block, lived in the kitchen, and the washer—which had to be attached by hose to the kitchen sink—lived in the closet. When it was laundry time, I had to drag the washer out of the closet and into the kitchen and plug it into a socket in the bathroom, which made the bathroom unusable. The dryer took at least two hours to dry half a load of clothes, which was all I could cram in there. Regardless, the four months I spent in that apartment were my April freshest months to date.

My days of doing laundry conveniently are but a good smelling dream. Until the time I win the lottery, choose a more lucrative career path, or shack up with a rich appliance-owner, I must resign myself to the fact that owning a washer and/or a dryer may not be in the cards for me. Let this be a cautionary tale for all you suburbanites who have a washer and a dryer for your personal use in the basement of your very own home: Consider yourselves lucky. And clean.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Weirdness


My sister is very weirded out by the fact that I wore a pair of pants underneath my skirt at her college graduation. I thought it was a completely normal thing to do. It was a sunny but very windy May morning in Boston, and after sitting on metal bleachers at the football stadium for three hours, I couldn’t stop shivering. During a break in the ceremony, I ran back to her dorm room and slipped stretchy black pants on underneath my skirt. I was quite pleased with myself for being a fashion forward problem solver. But upon my return to the ceremony, my family stared at me as if I had showed up in a burkha. Considering the fact that we were six hours from home and only met two of my sister’s friends, I’m not sure what all the embarrassed fuss was about. Yet, there was a lot of pushing and shoving to avoid being the unlucky person who had to sit next to me.

Now, I have worn much weirder outfits than that. Believe me. I sometimes have three or more auditions in a day, which are often in separate locations requiring completely different outfits. On any given day, I may need to cart around the following: audition dress, dance clothes, makeup and hairspray, hot rollers and/or flat iron, heels, dancing heels (which are different than regular heels), ballet shoes, tap shoes, jazz sneakers (which are different than regular sneakers), and a fat binder of Xeroxed sheet music encased in glare-free sheet protectors. Not to mention snacks and reading material. It's a lot. To avoid risking lopsidedness by carrying all of this an over-the-shoulder bag, I sometimes carry a backpack. I admit it. I am in my 30s and I am a backpack wearer. I am confident in saying this because I unwittingly followed a backpack-wearing Scott Speedman through Times Square once, so I am apparently in good company. In order to minimize the weight of my backpack, I often wear as much of my audition gear as I can. This sometimes means pairing a dress with a hoodie, tights, jeans, and a winter coat. I see this look so often on myself and other aspiring actresses that I never think twice about it. And I'm not even one of the weirdest looking people in New York City.

The following is a list of oddities I have seen in Manhattan:
--A woman who plays a musical saw.
--A man who walks the streets with a cat on his head.
--People on the subway dressed in all gold or all silver or all white who are apparently on the way to work, which consists of finding a public street corner and standing very, very still. 
--People dressed as very sad-looking and often physically dirty superheroes and cartoon characters who guilt parents into giving them a dollar if a child wants a picture with them.
--The Naked Cowgirl, who happens to be 50 years older than the Naked Cowboy. But just as naked.

The best part about all of these oddities is that they actually blend in. A true New Yorker is so used to this sort of thing that he wouldn't even bat an eye. When my totally rad 80s dance company films dance videos all over the city, we barely elicit a second glance from non-tourists. In fact, my favorite parts of any given video are when New Yorkers walk right between us and the camera, seemingly ignorant of our teased hair, neon outfits, blue eyeshadow, and manic Solid Gold dance moves.

But just when I started to think about how lovely and normal and un-odd upstate New York is, I suddenly remembered the pygmy goat farm I used to pass on the way home from college. And the restaurant that for some reason had two half-dead lions caged on the property for you to stare at as you ate. And the woman who takes her iguana/snake/lizard for a walk downtown in a pink stroller. 

Apparently, weirdness knows no area code. It’s all around us. Speaking of which, I just passed a Trekkie in full attire on the corner of 34th and 9th. On a Sunday night at 6pm. Pointy ears and all. It kind of puts my skirt/pants situation into perspective.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Every Day You Get Our Best


You’ve never heard of Wegmans, you say?

All those unfortunates who have never visited this mecca of all that is good and generic should be aware that Wegmans is the best grocery store that ever was. It is a Disneyland for adults. But it's open 24 hours. Wegmans is known for having phenomenal generic brands and organic food, and catering to people with food allergies. Real food allergies, not like when I tell people I'm allergic to onions just because they're vile and I wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole. The first Wegmans store opened in Rochester, New York, and stores are now scattered throughout New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. It’s often listed close to the tippy top of of Fortune magazine's "Top 100 Companies to Work For."

Since Wegmans has an amazing employee college scholarship program, my father coached me from a very young age to say, "When I get older, I'm going to work at Wegmans." That was about the same time he and my mother tried to get my brother and I to sing "So Long, Farewell" for guests before we went to bed. Wegmans had always been a fun place to go with Mom, since the Wegmans Cookie Club guaranteed us kids a free giant cookie with every visit, but it became less fun when a visit to the store meant that my teenage hands would be covered in money germs and fish juice.

I was excited to be a cashier at first—after all, I was making $4.35 an hour! That was a whole dime above minimum wage! And I could make excellent use of my work hours. I purposely took early weekend shifts so I had time to write my lines for our high school production of Fiddler on the Roof—for which the one Jewish family in school had to teach us about the Sabbath—over and over on the register tape until I memorized them. I liked putting on my costume and going to the store at first...but learning that cranberry juice cocktail was not WIC-approved and waiting while customers wrote personal checks—yes, checks—turned out to be less interesting than rereading Gone With the Wind for the 14th time. Which is what I would have been doing otherwise.

As a picky eater, I couldn't tell a nectarine from a zucchini, let alone memorize the three-digit code that accompanied each fruit and vegetable in the entire store. I would have to stop the line, ashamedly ask the customer the name of the mystery fruit or vegetable, and look up the name on a giant chart printed in teeny tiny type. This greatly slowed down my line and caused irate customers to want to hit me with whatever fruit or vegetable was causing the problem. Clothed in my mom's old polyester dress pants, a tuxedo shirt, a clip-on bow tie, and a maroon apron, I was fairly irate myself. Mostly about the meat blood and chicken juice that always seemed to leak on me. And the prepared food/raw fish/recycled air smell that filled the store and clung to my clothes and hair. Plus, the fact that I got in two car accidents on two successive days on the way to work—I rear-ended someone at an intersection and then got rear-ended by the dog of a family I babysat for—didn't make me want to jump into one of our family's matching Taurus station wagons and drive the two miles to the wonderful land of Wegmans.

After years of front end torture, Wegmans moved me to its one-hour photo lab, which meant I got to spy on birthday parties and baby showers. But never bar mitzvahs (see the above
Fiddler on the Roof note). Suddenly, my job became marginally interesting. But not interesting enough. Since it was the pre-email era, I spent my downtime writing letters to friends on the back of the cherry red photo lab notices that were printed with the following statement: "Wegmans is a family company; therefore, we cannot develop your dirty pictures, moron. Next time, use a Polaroid." I might be paraphrasing.

I was thrilled—thrilled, I tell you!—when I got a job as a day camp counselor at a city park. I traded fish juice and recycled air for water dodgeball* and sunshine! It took a few years for me to go into the store without shuddering. But since moving to Manhattan, I've realized that I took the amazingness of Wegmans for granted. On my first Saturday in the city, I got up early and steeled myself for the crowds I would be sure to encounter at the local Food Emporium. As I crossed the street to go into the store, I didn't see a soul. There were no moving vehicles. A tumbleweed or two blew across the street. The store was empty, there were few generic brands on the shelves, and a box of Funfetti cake mix cost $3.19. In short, Manhattan grocery shopping is the absolute worst.

I still haven't recovered from a Wegmans-less existence. Every time I order Fresh Direct online or go to a so-called supermarket, I know what I'm missing. I'm missing WPop (first made famous by its product launch commercial with happy pop-drinkers shouting, "Woooo!"). I'm missing the most mouth-watering, freshly-prepared garlic and herb cheese spread that ever was. I'm missing a giant bulk candy section with a toy train running above it. I'm missing the feeling of walking into a supermarket and wanting to twirl and twirl and twirl, just like Fraulein Maria on the hillside. The Food Emporium is not, I'm sad to say, alive with the sound of music. In fact, the Food Emporium is alive with…well, I don’t even want to tell you what it’s alive with.

I never did get that Wegmans college scholarship. You had to put in way more hours than I was willing to, and you had to return from college every so often to work at the store. That did not, however, stop me from telling my sorority that I did, in fact, have a Wegmans scholarship and needed to be excused from pledging activities for an entire weekend so that I could go home to "work." So in the end, Wegmans gave me a gift after all--I slept for 48 hours and ate home-cooked food without being at the beck and call of 50 irate upperclassmen. Sometimes, I guess getting a little meat blood on your hands isn't such a bad thing.





*If you’re curious, water dodgeball is regular dodgeball with one of two modifications: You can either soak the Nerf ball in a bucket of water before throwing it or wring a wet rag over the head of a child as punishment for being hit by a regular ball. 
Note: Getting hit by a soaking wet dodgeball can really hurt.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Home of the...Braves!

I went to high school in the 1900s. True story. I love how Laura Ingalls Wilder-ish that sounds. As if I will follow it up with something like, “And I walked five miles to school. Uphill. Both ways.” My walk was obviously not uphill both ways. But I did carry my cello to school once a week for one terrible year. And that was back when my giant permed hair and shellacked mall bangs weighed more than my bony little 4’ 10” body. The cello barely cleared the sidewalk by two inches, which did not bode well for winter days with significant snowfall.

When I realized that I would be home for my high school's homecoming parade, I knew I had to go. It had been 15 years since I left high school, which is the same amount of years current sophomores have been alive. Creepy. When I walked the two blocks from my parents' house to the parade and I passed well-maintained turn-of-the-century houses with well-manicured lawns covered in fall leaves and well-dressed little families wearing Braves merchandise in cherry and grey (my school's colors are cherry and grey, not red and grey), I felt as though I had stumbled onto a movie set. It honestly looked too precious to be real. I felt off-kilter, as if I couldn't tell if that moment was fiction or reality. I imagine that Marty McFly felt much the same way when he gazed at Hilldale after taking a ride in the DeLorian prior to going back to the future. Or maybe it was more like the last scene of “The Hills” in which Kristin says goodbye to Brodie and the camera pulls back to show (shock of shocks!) lights and other cameras, leaving you wondering how many of LC's mascara tears were legit.  In any event, the stroll down memory lane (which is actually called Park Street) made me remember all the things I love about my hometown.

Interestingly, the parade wasn't...quite...how I remembered it. First of all, it was short. If I had sneezed, I would have missed it. Also, the floats didn't seem to involve much tissue paper or chicken wire, which confused me. Isn't that the very definition of a homecoming float? There weren't that many students actually on the floats, which was strange. Perhaps they were taking a stand as conscientious objectors of the new “no grinding” policy at school dances. Also, our awesome logo of a Native American brave in profile had been replaced by the logo of a PC (read: bo
ring) Native American blanket. I imagine that would put a damper on our signature shouting of “BRAVES!” following the Star Spangled Banner’s “And the home of the…” We certainly wouldn’t be shouting “BLANKET!” at that point, right?

On the other hand, there were several pleasant surprises—some of my former teachers were in the parade and remembered me, everyone seemed to be in a fantastic mood (most likely due to the lack of subway trouble—and subways—on their way into town), and admission to the homecoming football game was an absolute steal at $2.00 a head! I could've bought an admission ticket, two hot dogs, a soda (which is called "pop"), and two Ring Pops (meaning lollipops stuck on plastic rings, not sodas) for the cost of one beer in Manhattan. Incidentally, I learned that beer is not sold at high school football games. Curious. That doesn’t stop certain homeowners and their friends from drinking in their backyards while watching the game through their chain link fences, however. If I ever move home, becoming friends with said homeowners would be a top priority.

Everyone is just so trusting here. I had a hard time holding myself back when I saw a pile of backpacks belonging to marching band members just sitting on the grass under the bleachers. Was no one worried about theft?! As high schoolers, they probably only had extra sweatshirts and Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers in those bags, but still.  Those sweatshirts and Lip Smackers were probably their only possessions in the world. Wouldn’t they want to guard them with their lives? After living in Manhattan for so long, I get nervous when my purse isn't in direct contact with my body at all times.

Do New York City schools have homecomings? They certainly don't have homecoming parades, as far as I can tell. The parade market seems to have been cornered by the Puerto Ricans. Manhattan schools might still have school spirit activities and a dance with a homecoming court, I suppose. If so, kids would probably start competing to be homecoming king and queen at the same insanely early, post-natal/pre-potty training time that their school admission forms are due. Without a homecoming king and queen flaunting their superiority from the backseat of a convertible, how do students identify the prettiest people in school? Could city kids actually be missing this very important rite of passage?

I am eternally thankful I went to a high school with a full-scale homecoming. It's one experience Manhattan can't quite replicate. That one autumn week packed with float building, dress-up days, activity nights, school dances, football watching, and parade walking is magical. Exhausting, but magical. I still get a chill at the beginning of every Yankees game when the Star Spangled Banner plays. The crowd is courteously quiet through the last note, but I always hear all the people from every one of my high school football games shouting: “BRAVES!!!”