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


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.