Monday, January 31, 2005

A Fool and His Pennies

I have often looked foolish. I'm used to it. I can laugh about it. See? Hee hee. Several of those fool-looking instances occurred today: my Timberland boots are disintegrating by the minute, the soles peeling off in layers (yes, they are ten years old, and haven't weathered the salt well, and yes, I need to buy new shoes.); my bags got trapped in a closing door while getting off the train; my scarf has developed a tendency to leap up and attach itself to the velcro strip at the back of my baseball cap.

But, as usual, I'm thinking of something that happened a long time ago.

During my junior and (first) senior year of college, I shared a small house with my best friends Richard and Jill (I've given up on creating clever pseudonyms for people. If I think of any, I'll start using them.) Richard and I each had a bedroom, while Jill inhabited a converted utility room in the back of the house. It was nice place to live - 734 W. Drachman, if I remember correctly - a very cute little house, or hoose, as our Canadian property manager called it.

There was a mystery. The mystery of the Pennies in the Shower.

Every so often, we'd find a few pennies in the shower. No one really knew where they came from. Whoever found them would stack them neatly in one of the corners of the tub; occasionally we'd gather them up and dump them in the change jar.

They didn't show up every day; they turned up in twos and threes - most often pennies, but sometimes a dime would appear as well.

We wondered if our shower were the other end of a wormhole connected to the underside of someone's couch cushions. What was happening? It was a mystery.

One day, I shuffled to the shower in my usual semi-conscious state. And then the mystery was revealed.

But first, some explanation. I have always needed a lot of sleep; left to my own devices, I will sleep eight and a half to nine hours a night. Throughout college, I lived in a constant state of sleep deprivation. I would come home late from rehearsal, and then have to be up early for class. (My music history class was at eight a.m., and it was all I could do to pass it. I took it four years in a row - I had the first three weeks memorized - but always dropped it. The last time I took it, I managed to drag myself to class most of the time. The professor passed me largely out of pity.)

My alarm would go off, and then in a zombie-like stupor I would stumble to the shower, where I would attain full consciousness under the hot water. This particular day, I heard a "plink," and looked down. A penny had fallen ... off of me.

Suddenly, it all became clear. When I got home from rehearsals, often I would fall into my futon bed fully dressed. I fell asleep; change fell from my pockets into the bedsheets. In the middle of the night I would get undressed in my sleep, and snuggle back into the coin-infested covers. Some pennies would naturally ... adhere ... until they fell off in the shower.

(I'm editing this to say the pennies were not adhering to someplace disgusting. As in, not anywhere in my Swimsuit Area. Just to my legs, usually. So it wasn't like anything "ew" was going on.)

The sad part is, I had no idea this was happening. I was as baffled as my roommates about the mysteriously appearing pennies. When I figured out what had been happening, I called to my roommate Jill. When she heard, we laughed until we cried.

I felt like one of those people in a horror movie who is committing crimes in a hypnotic trance, with no idea that THEY ARE THE KILLER! BWA HA HA HA!

That was only one of my fool-moments; there were many, especially while living in that house. But I think of it often, especially since coins seem to be eternally erupting from my pockets.

Some things never change. No pun intended.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Mr. Crumb's Wild Ride

Are you sure you want me to drive? I mean, I will. If you want me to. It's just ... if you want to get there in less than an hour ... with no unexpected detours ... then maybe you should drive.

I used to drive all the time. I grew up in Tucson. You had to drive there. Walking? No. Everything was too far away, plus it was usually a thousand degrees out. So, no walking. In fact, the first day I had my license I stayed out until four in the morning ... but that's another story.

Once I moved out East, I got very used to the no-driving thing. I love trains, I love subways, I love walking. I love that you can get around all over New York with no car. I bought a book called something like, Daytrips You Can Take Around New York With No Car. You can go quite far...

So, I would drive when I went back to Arizona, but in New York, no driving. (My driver's license is still an Arizona one ... I am currently a "phantom resident" at the address of a good friend from high school ... although I have to change that soon, as I have already been summoned for jury duty there, and I'm sure that's probably illegal in some way.) I would also drive when I visited friends in L.A., but as I got to be more of a New Yorker, I did less and less well on the California freeways. (Sample quote from me, when called on my cautious-grandma approach to speed: "I can drive fast. I just ... don't want to.") Northern California was a little better; somehow I managed to maneuver my father's old 1977 Thunderbird through the streets of San Francisco - like driving an iron boat up and down concrete waves - but that, also, is another story.

Now that I'm living primarily in Baltimore, it is time to get back in the habit of driving. Luckily we live within walking distance of many things - I hardly ever have to drive, if I don't really want to. There's a video store, a grocery store, the art-movie theater, the train station, a cafe ... all the necessities of life. But ... to go to the good grocery store, one has to drive. So I know where that is. There are also various malls, in which reside cooking-implement stores. So I can get there too, more or less. But the rest... I haven't really figured out.

So today, D. went up to New York. This afternoon, his kindly aunt called. She had been called to jury duty, and could I give her a ride home? Why, of course I could. The courthouse wasn't far. I had passed her house many times on the way to and from the second-best grocery store. I would be delighted to drive her home. How hard could that be?

Well, next time she'll think twice about asking me for a ride.

Mapquest was very helpful. This was a straight shot downtown, take a left, take another left (so as to end up on the correct one-way street), and there's the courthouse; from the courthouse, one or two more turns to get on the road she lived on. This would be easy.

Winter. Road closures. Lanes merging into other lanes. I had it down, no problem. Driving in downtown Baltimore really isn't that crazy - it's a grid, more or less, and the streets are mostly one-way, like New York, so I can figure it out.


The first problem was, she didn't seem to be where she said she'd meet me ... "by the subway." At first I thought this meant by an entrance to Baltimore's Mystery Subway (which I have yet to actually see or ride on) but no, it meant a Subway sandwich shop. I was supposed to call her cell to tell her I was close to arriving, but my cell battery was dead. The curb by the store was a no-stopping zone. I stopped anyway, leapt out, and dashed into the shop. No aunt-in-law. She was probably somewhere, wondering why her cell wasn't ringing. I dashed back out - and there she was. Ahh, good.

So, we got in the car and headed for her house. She told me about her day - she'd actually been chosen for the jury. She couldn't talk about the specifics of the crime, but the judge had said it would most likely take just a day. It sounded interesting - I've been called for jury duty many times (at my actual residence in New York) but have never been chosen.

We were headed up the road that she lives on, with a few miles to go. I had decided to avoid the freeway at this time of day since rush hour was underway. All was well - this was just a straight shot.


The road did one of those things where, in order to stay on that road, you actually have to turn right; if you go forward, you're magically on a different road. Rattled by someone blaring their horn as I tried to slow down to read the microscopic street sign, I made the wrong choice (curse you, Mapquest, and your vagueness!)

Aunt-in-law looked around, and, though we were practically in her neighborhood, wondered mildly, "Where are we?"

Well, I don't know. We were on some winding lane that didn't show any signs of leading to an intersection that might take me back to the road we were supposed to be on. "It's an adventure," I kept saying. Yes, that's what she wanted. An impromptu road trip with an insane person.

There were some roads that I tried turning onto to get us back to the right road. Nope - this street is one way - going the other way! Back up, back up, back up. This one looks good - ah yes, here's the right road. The neighborhood is recognizable. We're almost there. One problem: now I had to make a left turn onto the road we wanted, which was impossible since we weren't at a light, the road was busy and narrow, and cars were parked right up to the corner limiting my field of vision. I'm not thrilled about making left turns to begin with, as anyone who's ever driven with me can tell you. So, I began making a series of right-turn-boxes to go left. But -- roads that didn't connect as they should, combined with traffic lights made invisible by a glaring late-afternoon winter sun, made this the most hair-raising part of the trip.

I finally got headed in the right direction; aunt-in-law wondered plaintively, "When is D. coming home?" clearly thinking that if she needed a ride on Monday, she would be a fool to chance it with me again. I pulled up at the bus stop across from her house. She scrambled out. Who knew jury duty would be so hazardous?

I had just enough time to get home, change clothes, and head out to the movies with a group of friends (a group of seven including D.'s ex and his current partner, and a musical-theater actor named Juan from Miami who had joined the Army to sing in the Army band.) I had to find my way to a mall in the suburbs, which involved three separate freeways. I made it there with no problem; coming back was tricky, but after a few "this is definitely not the right way" detours, I found my way home.

Finally, that trail of crumbs is good for something.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Overheard on the 6 train, traveling uptown, approaching the 68th Street-Hunter College stop:

"I had a friend who used to work at the next stop."

"Your friend worked at Hunter College?"

"No, I said she used to work at the next stop."


"You got problems."

And a little later:

"Yesterday, when I was on the train ...


"... was it yesterday that I was on the train?


"What was yesterday?"


"Well, I was on the train."

It sounded like poetry, or a grammar exercise in a foreign language.

Today, standing in line for a concert of new musical theater work, next to a group of enthusiastic drama students discussing their day.

"Today? In my voice lesson? I hit a high B."

"In my voice lesson, I hit an A for the first time. Usually I can't even do a F, but it was an A. He said, that? Was an A."

And later, dissecting their acting teacher's insistence that they have an activity to do during their classroom scenes:

"If I'm like, mad at somebody, I'm not going to be knitting a sweater."

When I rode the train to New York yesterday, night was falling. Snow was everywhere; tracks were iced over, and many doors on the train were frozen shut. The train was about two hours late, but only half full. The snowbanks were lit by blue-white electrical flashes from the tracks that captured the landscape in overexposed eerie light. It was like the best train rides, comforting and a little melancholy - a contrast between the familiar rumble of the cars on the tracks, and the icy empty silence outside.

Overheard on that train - one end of a cellphone conversation:

"Well, have you been indicted by a grand jury?"

"There are all kinds of assault charges."

"I don't know how different it is in New York, but maybe you'll be charged in New Jersey."

I'm riding home again now. Trains have been delayed due to the snowstorms over the weekend. I waited until the mad scramble had abated, for the most part, and took the train I ordinarily take home to Baltimore, the 8:35 p.m. from New York. It was a little late, but half full as usual.

I might have stayed the night in New York and come home during the day, when the snow situation might have been more under control, but G.-the-dog is ailing and I want to get home to her and D.

It was a stressful weekend - last Friday, on a fluke visit to the vet (when they insisted that they wouldn't renew G.-the-Dog's heartworm meds without laying eyes on her) they discovered skin cancer. She had surgery yesterday to remove the tumor. It's not uncommon in her breed, but it's still something that rattles you.

At the vet, G.-the-Dog turns from her adorable puppylike self to a snarling wolverine. They had to capture her in a towel and inject a sedative into her hind leg. I held her as she fell asleep. Both D. and I were praising her, telling her she was good and brave. I turned into the absolute cliche of a small-dog owner, and cried. The whole scenario reminded me too much of the time when a good friend had to have her dog euthanized; the story of how she held her small dog that had been with her for 16 years as it fell into its final sleep was always too heartwrenching for me to handle. While I was holding G.-the-Dog as she gave in to the sedative, my mind raced with the horrible worst-case scenarios. I knew that if anything should happen, god forbid, she would have gone to sleep comforted by us.

I'm a big old freak. I'm getting choked up about it now. That dog has wormed her way firmly into my heart and soul. Her vulnerability, innocence and intelligence make the thought of anything bad happening to her too frightening to allow.

Overheard two rows behind me, as the power blinked out briefly (as it does sometimes on Amtrak), taking out the lights and the hum of the ventilation system, making private conversations suddenly ring loudly.

"... I'm telling you, like a schoolgirl. Every man's got that fantasy..."

Mercifully, the power came back, the heaters went back on, and that slightly-disturbing conversation faded into the general noise of the car again.

Forty-five minutes until home. Back to D., and back to G.-the-Dog, and her new Frankendog stitches, and her sweet eyes, that are always happy to see me.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Hello, toast

Snow. Lots of it. Stayed indoors this weekend. Stayed on the couch, read books and newspapers and surfed. Had toast made under the broiler, coffee, the remains of the bitter chocolate delirium. A great day.

I think it was Fran Leibowitz who wrote that when a shop called "Bonjour Croissant" opened in her neighborhood, it made her want to open a place in France called "Hello, Toast!"

Toast. Mmm.

I actually never had space in my apartment for a toaster - I literally did not have a counter. When friends would move to NYC, I would break the news to them that you just can't have a bunch of little appliances hanging around. Space is at a premium. Kitchens are tiny or non-existent. Toast lives at the diner on the corner. You can go visit it anytime. I used to say to Julie, let's go visit toast.

Cinnamon toast. Sourdough toast dripping with butter. Dense homemade bread toasted in an extra-wide toaster. Toast with apple butter. Toast with peanut butter (which is only one small step away from a grilled peanut butter sandwich, a godlike thing.)

There was a while there where I was eating all my meals at diners, even though I love to cook. My apartment on West 84th Street with no kitchen to speak of made it a little difficult to whip together breakfast on a whim, so I did what everyone else does, and went out. I alternated between Cafe 82, and City Diner (slightly more expensive, but incredible salads.) I would have two eggs scrambled, bacon, and of course, toast. I got into a habit where I would read the Daily News while I had my meal. It always had to be read in the same order - the television section while I was waiting for the food to arrive, then the gossip pages if the kitchen was taking a while - then, while I was eating, the four pages of comics (the central reason I read the Daily News.)

Now, here we come to the title for this blog. I have never been the world's best eater. I think I have passable table manners, but somehow food rebels against me. Hello white shirt, meet tomato sauce. Oily salad, drop in on Mr. Khaki Pants. Crumbs, crumbs, crumbs everywhere. I will always be able to retrace my steps, as long as I have crackers to munch on.

So, when you eat too many meals alone in diners, the way most of New York seems to do, you can get ... idiosyncratic. Salad ... it's a finger food, yes? Forks just get in the way and make it difficult to actually deliver the greens from bowl to mouth. Besides, there are comic strips like Mutts and Get Fuzzy to absorb while eating. A fork is just another distraction.

Basically, I was a guy in a baseball cap grunting and chuckling at his newspaper while shoveling salad into his face with his fingers. Oh yes, table for one.

These days, even though I now have a kitchen in which to cook and a counter on which to keep appliances (although still no toaster,) I can't escape my essential nature. After we finish eating, G. the Dog is allowed to come downstairs and rejoin us (she knows that during mealtime she has to amuse herself elsewhere.) Once she comes downstairs, the first thing she does is check the kitchen floor for anything delicious that might have been left behind. She then comes out to the living room (yes, we're bad, we eat in front of TiVo) and circles like a shark around the coffee table to pick up a morsel or two. And then, she leaps into my lap and snuffles her way across my shirtfront, vacuuming up the crumbs.

She is rarely disappointed in her quest.

She never bothers giving D. the once-over. He leaves no traces. I don't know how he does it. I wasn't raised in a barn. What's my problem?

Not enough cinnamon toast.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Chocolate delirium: no substitutions

Here's a recipe, and here's what I've learned about it.

Chocolate delirium

What you need:

A 12 ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate morsels
6 eggs
2 sticks of butter

Melt the butter and chocolate together, either over hot water in a double boiler, or else in the microwave. If you use the microwave, watch it carefully so the chocolate doesn't burn. Let it cool a bit.

Beat the eggs well, then combine them with the chocolate mixture. You should temper it by adding some of the chocolate mixture to the eggs, beating it in gradually so as not to cook or curdle the eggs. If you've let the butter-chocolate mixture cool enough, you shouldn't have to worry, but hey, can't hurt to be careful.

Pour it into a 9-inch cake pan that has been lined with foil; put the cake pan into a 13x9 baking dish. Pour hot water into the baking dish until it comes halfway up the side of the cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. The mixture will still be liquid and wobbly; take it out and let it cool to room temperature. Then refrigerate or freeze it overnight.

Remove from pan. Eat. Amazing.

Now, what I've learned: don't mess with the Golden Recipe. When a friend came to town, I hosted a small dinner. For a similar dinner the last time this friend visited, I made the same dessert. This time around, I wanted to try making it sweetened with stevia.

So, I did some math. If I used unsweetened baking chocolate in place of the semi-sweet chocolate, how much stevia would I need? It appeared that I would need a cup of sugar to accomplish the same sweetness, which equals one teaspoon of powdered stevia (it's powerful stuff.)

As I was halfway into the preparation, I realized I only had 8 ounces of baking chocolate, not 12. More math: could I substitute cocoa powder for baking chocolate? Sources said yes, if I also increased the butter. So I did.

Somewhere in the various substitutions, this recipe lost its charm. The recipients ate it politely, but it turned out somewhat bitter and chalky. I think this was really the cocoa's fault; things might have been different if I had just reduced everything along with the chocolate - using four eggs, and 1 2/3 sticks of butter. But I didn't.

If you make it the right way, it turns out as an extremely intense, not-too-sweet flourless chocolate slab. I have recently decided, after that crazy liver-cleansing diet, that I would like to eat less sugar. But I'll make an exception for this. Yum.

Friday, January 21, 2005

They're Jawas

I have an obsessive need to help.

I don't know when it began. I'm just somehow genetically wired to be a helper. On the streets of New York, whenever I see someone at a street corner with a befuddled expression staring at a map, it's all I can do to stop myself from snatching it out of their hands, demanding to know where they want to go, and directing them there.

I'm a helper.

When I was in undergraduate school, before touch-tone registration systems were being used, you had to go to the big gymnasium and race around to tables staffed by each department, where you would collect a computer punch card that corresponded to the class you wanted to take. This involved standing in multiple long lines, and was exhausting. Some friends of mine and I took a break, and sat down in some folding chairs that had been abandoned by one side of the cavernous gym. Somebody wandering by wondered where the Psych Department table was. I pointed them in the right direction. I hadn't gone there to get a class card, I was just observant. Somebody else needed to know if they had to go to Financial Aid before they got their class cards, or after. I knew the answer. I mean, come on, everybody knew that. Someone else wondered what time registration was over. Look, it says right here. No problem, happy to help. Finally, one of my friends said, Jeez, is there a sign that says "Information" over your head?

We looked up. Why, yes. Yes, there was.

Apparently all the Information Givers had fled the building in search of Big Gulps, and we had taken their chairs.

Here's one of the earliest examples of my Helper-slash-Buttinsky nature. Picture it: 1977. Star Wars is about to open. I, being eleven years old, am dyyyyyying to see Star Wars. Of course, I can't wait until it opens, I have to see it at the very first opportunity. There was a fundraiser being held, with a special early showing of the movie. Tickets were $25 (this was Arizona in the 70s, so that was a fair chunk of change, considering my normal movie ticket was something like $1.75 then.) I don't know how I managed to get my mitts on the money (thanks, Mom!) but somehow, I did, and off I went to the premiere.

I had bought the novelization at the Circle K (a 7-11 clone, if you've never seen one) but I been stern with myself, refraining from reading more than half of it before I got to see the movie. But of course, I had soaked it all up into my trivia-absorbent brain.

So, there I was, eleven years old, being dropped off at the El Dorado theater, which was at that time Tucson, Arizona's swankiest cinema (before the days of multiplexes, so it was just one big screen.) People were in suits, gowns, and even a tux here and there. I was in a shirt from Sears and shorts from JC Penney.

I was in a transcendent state of bliss as the movie began and the Imperial Star Destroyer made its long, long advance through the frame, guns firing. I can still get choked up watching that opening sequence.

Everyone else was as drawn into the film as I was, except for a woman in an evening gown behind me who kept asking her companion questions. When R2-D2 was beset by little creatures in brown robes with glowing red eyes, she whispered, "What are those?"

My Helper-slash-Shuusher instincts responded instantly. I was prepared. I had read the novelization. (I also hate movietalkers.) I whipped around in my seat.

"They're Jawas!"

Like anyone wouldn't know that, doy. It's soooo obvious.

That shut her up, hoo yeah. Nothing like being hissed at by an irate eleven year old.

I'm sorry, have you been helped?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The calla lilies are in bloom, Mr. Kim

Last night, I had the good fortune to see Tea at Five, in which Kate Mulgrew portrays Katharine Hepburn. The show was in town for just a week in Baltimore, and D. had gotten tickets to the opening night and the gala premiere afterward as Christmas presents for himself, me and his friend V.

I've always loved Kate Mulgrew: I remembered her as "Mrs. Columbo." I saw her in Titus Andronicus in Central Park, and she was great. I thought she was an excellent selection to play Captain Janeway on Voyager - my favorite of the Trek series. I always called it "Katharine Hepburn in space" because Kate Mulgrew has that same kind of strong quality and interesting, deep-but-reedy voice. And now, here she was, one Kate playing another.

Mulgrew's physical transformation was really striking: the first act is set in 1938, and the second in 1983. In the first, Hepburn is recovering from a string of flops, and hoping to be cast in Gone With The Wind. When the second act begins, people literally gasped when Ms. Mulgrew turned around - she looked just like the Kate Hepburn of On Golden Pond. Eerie.

But beyond my great respect for Kate Mulgrew and Katharine Hepburn - I am fascinated by movies or plays in which actors play other actors - especially when both are celebrities. Tea at Five is one of the few examples of this genre which are actually good. Most are terrible - deliciously, deliciously terrible. I was sad to miss the recent TV movie about the making of Dynasty. in which Alice Krige, perhaps best known as the Borg Queen, played another Borg Queen: Joan Collins.

V. and I had a discussion about whether Alice Krige was creepy in every role she's ever played: we both remembered her in Ghost Story (creepy) and of course her Borg Queen star turn (creepy, creepy, creepy.) I can't imagine Alice Krige in a warm, sunny role. Perhaps Krige means Kreepy in another language.

Of course, V. had a tape of the Dynasty movie, so I'll get to see it after all.

At the gala reception afterward (held in a gargantuan, lofty hall made to feel more intimate by a row of potted palms standing sentry) I got to meet the playwright briefly, who was very charming and well-spoken. Then Ms. Mulgrew entered, and I got to lob my nerdy accolades ("I saw you in Titus Andronicus!") I had joked around with D. that I would actually give in to nerdiness of GalaxyQuest proportions ("When you and Chakotay were marooned on that planet ... did you do it?") but of course I never would. To my horror, I saw that she had some fans who apparently follow this show around just for that very purpose. Ms. Mulgrew was very sweet and attentive to the people who had come to the reception. She does a tremendous job in the play, which I'm sure takes a huge toll on her voice. I hope to see her on stage again.

Now onto some of my favorite actors-as-celebrities-genre examples:

-- the "Three's Company" TV movie that was on not too long ago, with the Glad Bag girl as Janet.
-- the similar movie about Charlie's Angels. If I'm not mistaken, poor Wallace Langham appeared in both, as agent Jay Bernstein.

But the best-slash-worst I think was the Annette Funicello movie, in which Eva LaRue (perhaps better known as brilliant neurosurgeon/amnesia victim Doctor Maria Santos Grey on All My Children) played Annette Funicello, with other friends of Annette's such as Frankie Avalon, Dick Clark and Shelley Fabares appearing as themselves. It was a real mindbender.

I'm hoping for "Behind the Scenes: The Unauthorized Story of The Facts of Life" starring Lindsay Lohan as Lisa "Blair" Whelchel and Tina Majorino or Alison Pill as Mindy "Natalie" Cohn. Perhaps "That's So" Raven Symone could play Kim "Tootie" Fields ... and throw in Kathy Kinney (Mimi from The Drew Carey Show) as Charlotte "Mrs. Garrett" Rae.

You can taste the deliciousness.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Mouse Underfridge, Esq.

Okay, so now I am a killer.

Opening the pantry yesterday, there was a rustling among the onions on the bottom shelf. Then, there it was. A MOUSE.

I don't have any particular aversion to mice, but still, I jumped. I felt the need to loudly notify both D. and G. The Dog (who has, to our dismay, killed mice in the past.) They came down, curious to see this alleged "mouse." I poked around the onions again, and it came zooming out of the pantry and dove under the refrigerator.

D. and G. The Dog were apparently looking some other direction (distracted by a bumblebee?) and did not see it. G. The Dog's sensitive homing apparatus, which will sense a squirrel in the next block, did not twitch at the presence of a mouse one foot away.

Now, what to do? My only experience with a mouse previously was when one died in the wall of my first New York apartment (here we go again with "when I first moved to New York...") The smell was ... well, just gross. Mousy and decayed and awful. It took weeks to fade away.

For our current uninvited guest, Mouse Underfridge, Esq., I did a little research. I found this site which detailed various people's adventures ridding their flats of mice (they were mostly in the U.K. so I don't feel pretentious saying 'flats.' Or 'digestive biscuits.')

I knew I didn't want a glue trap. I am not opposed to killing mice (although if it were possible to just ask nicely and get them to move on, of course I would do that.) Still, glue traps are more horrible than they need to be. If only we could just whip this kind of contraption together.

We went out to the store and got some D-Con traps which promise "no need to see or touch the mouse." I also had read that they had a greater success rate, since the mouse had to enter and couldn't employ a devious way to get the bait and not trigger the trap.

Mouse Underfridge was a chocolate lover, since I discovered a bar of Ghirardelli's semi-sweet baking chocolate with a silver-dollar sized section gnawed away. I took everything out of the pantry of course and checked for evidence. The flour did not seem to have been touched, but I tossed it all anyway (all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, pastry flour ... what can I say, I had been on a baking binge.) M.U. had concentrated on the chocolate and on a bag of tortellini. Our guest had taste.

My guess is that M.U. had first been attracted by crumbs -- yes, crumbs -- from a bag of breadcrusts that I had used to make stuffing and had left unsecured. I'm sure you're thinking, well of course there were crumbs. You're "Lord of the Crumbs," aren't you? If you're not thinking that, why not? I'll explain the blog title one of these days, but for now, back to our mouse hunt.

I did find evidence -- teeny tiny little brown evidence -- that the mouse had been up and down throughout the pantry - even apparently crawling among the many bottles of vitamins and herbs in the door shelves. This was when I knew I had to kill. I carefully cleaned it up, sprayed it down with disinfectant, and went out to buy the traps and some food storage bins to use in the future.

Late last night, I mixed up some cocoa powder and peanut butter to bait the trap, and went to bed. This morning: a tail protruding from the trap. I was sorry to have done it, but it couldn't be helped. These houses are old, and once a mouse colony takes up residence, it's hard to get rid of them. We'd already been pushing our luck by putting out a squirrel feeder so that G. The Dog would have some entertainment outside the back windows.

So, what have we learned from this? No matter who you are, if you come over uninvited, eat my chocolate and poop in my cabinets - you will pay. Yes, you will pay.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The umbrellas of Tucson

I don't believe in umbrellas.

I grew up (for the most part) in Tucson, Arizona, where it hardly ever rains. You don't really need an umbrella, because if it's one of those rare days when it actually is raining, it certainly won't last long. Just wait it out. It'll be over in a minute, and then the lovely, harsh, glaring, bone-bleaching sun will be back to business as usual.

So, having an umbrella in Tucson is like having a heavy scarf. Really unnecessary, and a little bit of an affectation.

When I moved to New York, my stubborn resistance of the notion of rain and rain-related equipment meant that I would go striding out the door in all weather with no umbrella.

C'mon. That's not really rain. It's barely sprinkling. How long could it last? How wet could I get, really?

Really, really wet. So I bought a three-dollar umbrella like everyone else.

I loved the rainstorms in Tucson. During the August monsoons, clouds pile up over the Catalina Mountains to the north, glowering ominously. There's the smell of rain on the wind, which picks up briskly, bringing cold downdrafts - a delicious reprieve from the August hundred-plus temperatures. Then around four o'clock, a spectacular downpour - a mad rush of water, sheets of it, columns of it, whipping curtains of it, blown about by tremendous winds. Lighting flashes in serpentine cracks. Thunder explodes. Streets flood. Dry washes flow with water.

Then, half an hour later, it's done. Show's over, nothing to see here.

When rainstorms came, if at all possible I would run out into the rain. (Okay, I might have been occasionally thinking of Charmian Carr as Liesl in The Sound of Music going "Wheee!" at the end of "Sixteen Going on Seventeen." But only occasionally.) It was exciting to be in the midst of a swirling storm that came and left so quickly. Those were storms.

When I moved to New York, the rain came often (this was autumn). It was dull, unimpressive rain. It wasn't theatrical. It wasn't exciting. It was dull gray-blanket rain that fell all day, just making your shoes uncomfortably moist, interfering with your commute and giving everyone in the office something dull to talk about. There was rarely lightning or thunder. When there was lightning, people on the street just. freaked. out. Hadn't they ever seen it before? In a city full of enormous skyscrapers, it didn't seem likely that anyone on the street would get struck, so what was the big deal?

After I had lived in New York about six months -

-- okay, I'm interrupting myself here. It must be tiring to hear me start every other anecdote with "When I moved to New York ..." but since I'm basically clearing out the memory banks here, it's going to be a constant refrain (as it is for everyone who ever lives here.) I have a good friend who had moved to the city from Minneapolis. At a party, she began telling someone, "Well, when I first moved to New York..." I had to interject.

"Julie. You moved here two weeks ago."

It became our catch phrase after that, for any time either of us fell into slightly self-important ridiculousness.

Okay. Now. After I had lived in New York about six months, during a cold and icy February, I started having intense, vivid dreams about the Arizona monsoons. I had thought I would never miss Arizona - I didn't like the sun since I'm fair and burn easily, and I was ready to get the hell out of there and move to the city. But here I was, having dreams about the smell and feel of the wind, the sound of the rain and the warmth of the sun baking into my bones. Maybe I didn't miss New York, but my body certainly did.

So. Tonight, I took the train back to Baltimore. We came out of the station, and it was raining. But, come on - that? Is not really rain. It's barely sprinkling. How long could it last? How wet could I get, really?

I don't believe in umbrellas. Which is good, since I don't know where I put my last one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Klea Milah

Back to tales from my time at International BrandCorp (not their real name of course), the corporate identity/brand identity firm I worked at not long after I arrived in New York.

One of the things I liked about the company was that in our office of thirty or so, we had people from all over the world. The creative director with the Teutonic surname was from Venezuela; the naming director was Cuban; the staff photographer was an austere German; the receptionist and the office manager were Brits; there were staff designers from a number of places in Asia -- Japan, Hong Kong, Korea.

One of the production designers (the designers who manifested the designs initiated by the creative designers - this was a class distinction it took me a while to learn) was from the exotic place known as Queens. My first desk was near his, so I heard him talking on the phone all day and could only understand about every fourth word.

Although I wasn't working directly for him, I occasionally helped out with things just because I was in his general vicinity. One day, he gave me something to have messengered to a client.

"Tell them they need Klea Milah."

I thought this was a person - maybe the brand manager? I didn't know.

"Klea ... I'm sorry, who?"

"No, no. Klea Milah."

"Klea ... what?"

"Ah you stoopid? Klea Milah! KLEA MILAHHH!"

A small lightbulb went off over my head. Oh. Clear mylar.

I had an easier time understanding the Koreans.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The next stop is...

Today, riding the subway home, there was a young man (boy?) standing by the door of the car, holding a New York map that was notated in an Asian language (my guess is Chinese, but I'm not positive.)

The subway cars on the East Side (and some of the #2 trains on the West Side) now have automated Disneyland-like voices which announce the stops. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please," a man intones with a hearty cadence.

The map-holding man didn't seem to be a native speaker of English, but he had this phrase down. He would say it along with the voice, matching the rise and fall of the words, getting the slightly self-satisfied cheeriness of the tone.

"Stand clear of the closing doors, please."

"The next stop is ... Sixty-Eighth Street!"

"The next stop is ... Seventy-Seventh Street!"

"The next stop is ... Eighty-Sixth Street!"

There, he folded up his map carefully, and joined the throng of people leaving the Six train, heading out into the wintry night.

Monday, January 10, 2005

How many "i"s in "Rainier"?

I've been revisiting different places that I remembered from my early days in New York on the Upper East Side. This sounds as though I'm a hundred years old and have just returned from distant shores, when actually I'm thirty(cough) years old and have just returned from the Upper West Side. Via Baltimore.

As I was combing the East Side for housewares, I thought I'd take a stroll by the old location of one of my first full-time jobs, on 61st Street between Park and Madison.

When I came to New York, I worked as a temp, as hundreds of thousands of people do. I bought a slightly-too-large suit for ten dollars from a thrift store, and wore it to every crazy job that came along. The very first job I got (not the 61st Street job) was at a large law firm, where I was manning the reception desk. This was in the days before voicemail and before phone systems were computerized to the degree they are now; they plugged in the phone at 9:00 a.m. on the dot, and all the lines immediately lit up. They didn't stop ringing until the phone was unplugged at 5:00 p.m. sharp.

The trick was, each of the four lines that insistently lit up had to be answered in a different way. One was, "Dretzin, Kauff, McClain & McGuire!" making sure to pronounce Kauff as Cowf and not Cough. Another was "Brillstein, Bernstein!" There were two others, but I've forgotten them. It's been fifteen years, after all.

Above all, my task was to get someone else to pick up the phone. Send the call back to an extension, and if it bounced back, keep sending it to different extensions but do not take a message. See, this is where voicemail would have been handy.

Sometimes, if the secretaries and para-legals did not coordinate their lunches properly, a call would bounce back to me no matter how desperately I tried to foist it off on someone else. Once, not knowing what else to do, I took a message.

"Just tell him Mrs. Sinatra called," the voice said. A little unsure of the spelling, I almost said, "Oh, like in 'Frank'?" but just took a shot and spelled it that way. Later, when I passed on the message (and was chastised for having taken a message at all), I learned that, yes, it was THAT Sinatra family. The firm also represented the royal family of Monaco, so don't ask about the spelling of Rainier or Grimaldi.

After that job, and few others that were sometimes hellish (Jaeger Sportswear) and sometimes delightful (Jim Henson Associates) and sometimes a combination of both (the New York Philharmonic), I came to a job where I would stay (well, on and off) for the next five years.

This firm was in the business of "brand identity" and "corporate identity." This was something like a combination of advertising and design, combined with consumer research. I found the subject very interesting, and the people at the company were intriguing and energetic.

The company had offices all over the world, but the New York office was on the medium-to-small side - around 30 people or so. It was located in a townhouse on 61st Street; the owner of the townhouse still lived on the top floor, and swept in with her Pomeranians and her mink to disappear in the small wire-cage elevator to her apartment. The spaces were small and a bit overcrowded, but had a real sense of style. The conference room had been the dining room, with a huge gilt plaster ceiling. It gave me, a newcomer from Arizona, an idea of what a truly grand New York townhouse might have been like.

I had been hired because I knew Macintosh - I'd had one since the very first days of the 512K Mac (MacPaint! MacDraw! MacWrite!). At the time, very, very few businesses used them, and they were different enough from PCs (which were mostly MS-DOS then) to make cross-training difficult. This company was on the forward edge of using computers in graphic design, so they used Macs throughout. To give you an idea of what technology was like not so long ago, fax machines were just coming in, and people still had teletype machines (although I can't say I ever saw one used.) These were the days when faxes were unreliable and came out on that shiny thermal paper; after you sent a fax, you always had to call and confirm. And by "you," I mean me, the one who was actually doing the faxing and calling.

Just before I started working there, the company had been bought by a large advertising firm. This meant that they would be moving to a new space within a year or two; this was distressing, because even though the space was crowded and was only going to get more so, the uniqueness of the workspace contributed to the character and culture of the place. I loved it almost immediately. After a month or so, I got hired full-time as the assistant to the creative director, and was soon assisting four design directors as well. (Of course, I was Wonder!Boy!Assistant! If only I could run my own life as neatly as I ran all of theirs.) Many years later, this same creative director would bring me to a different firm (in the same industry) which would be my Last Corporate Job Ever. But that's another story.

So, without getting sidetracked by all the stories I could tell about my years at BrandCorp Inc. (not the real name, obviously), let's go back to me, skipping along 61st Street, looking to see what shape the old townhouse was in.

Well, it was gone of course. It wasn't a weed-grown vacant lot - although that would be a great end to the story ("... and it turned out that it was all a dream! And the creative director ... WAS A GHOST!") No, the townhouse had been rebuilt and refurbished. They kept the most striking architectural details - a big arched window over the entrance and loft-like windows on the upper floors - but it was now some other firm with an Italian name - perhaps related to fashion or high-end furniture, it wasn't clear. I knew that it wouldn't be the same - I was with the company when they were moved to a new space by their corporate owners - a depressingly average office space complete with soulkilling gray cubicles. I hadn't expected it to be so completely transformed. But then, I've transformed since then (at least I think I have) so - why not?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

One way aisles

Bath mat.

Scrub brush.

Hand soap.

(Things you find in the bathroom! Things with two syllables! Clean things!)

Sorry, no. The category was, "Things I walked all over Manhattan looking for this weekend." (If you don't know "$20,000 Pyramid," trust me, I'll be writing all about it one of these days.)

Manhattan is interesting: you can find just about anything you want - but only if you know exactly where to look.

Consider this, "The Case of the 64 Ounce Rubbermaid Jugs." (I realize that sounds a little like a porn title, but bear with me.)

On the Crazy, Crazy Diet that I'm still on, you are required to drink 8 glasses (64 oz.) of "cran-water" per day. One part cranberry, seven parts water. This involves putting eight ounces of pure cranberry juice (not sugary cranberry cocktail) into a jug and diluting it with water to total 64 ounces. It's oh-so-easy with the Rubbermaid jug that has the ounces helpfully marked on the side. The 64 oz. size is two quarts - you could find it in just about any large supermarket or Target-type store, anywhere.

Anywhere, that is, except Manhattan.

The big problem, of course, is that stores are so starved for space that they can't carry everything. Grocery stores carry groceries, a few assorted housewares, and not much else (as opposed to the mega-markets everywhere else.) Drug stores carry drugs, a few assorted housewares, and not much else. Likewise with hardware stores: hardware, a few assorted housewares, and not much else.

I began trying every store that might fit the category "Places which sell Rubbermaid." The nice hardware store on the corner had a surprisingly wide selection - but they had only the one-quart size. I didn't want the one-quart size. That would mean refilling at somepoint during the day, or else buying double (four total, two for me and two for D.) which seemed ridiculous. I imagined a visitor opening the refrigerator to find four jugs of cran-water. It would be ... weird. ("I went over there, and their fridge is filled with jugs and jugs of this bizarre watered down cranberry juice. Don't invite them to the movie.")

Hardware store: some Rubbermaid, but not the right size. Drug stores in the neighborhood: no Rubbermaid. Grocery stores: some with Rubbermaid, but not the right size. Apparently in New York we only want one quart of a beverage. Two quarts is too much commitment. In the average New York refrigerator, which contains leftover takeout food, bottled water and a container of yogurt, two quarts of anything would be ridiculous.

(And I wasn't being picky, looking for Rubbermaid. Any jug with the ounces marked on it would have been fine. )

I worked my way down the East Side, getting some other shopping done as well. I stopped into Gracious Home, which is a sort of everything-for-the-home store - furniture, cookware, linens, cabinet hardware, bath accessories, you name it. I had been to the West Side store, but on the East Side they have THREE stores all on one block. I couldn't figure out exactly how the categories were divided among the three locations, but I'm sure there's some logic to it.

Gracious Home isn't a discount store by any means. It doesn't have as clearly defined a style as, say, Pottery Barn or Crate&Barrel, but the prices are similar and sometimes higher. I was looking at small metal wastebaskets for the bathroom - I had the "Jesus Christ!" reaction more than once reading the price tags. There was a nice brushed-metal wastebasket going for almost four hundred dollars. I imagined it must have magical properties as well that weren't immediately apparent. Like, you throw away a Q-Tip and summon a genie, or something like that. You know.

In one of the Gracious Home locations, I found the Rubbermaid cache. The aisles are incredibly narrow, and stocked literally nine feet high. If you haven't been to New York, you cannot imagine how narrow and tight the stores are here (if you aren't in one of the big showroom type places like Pottery Barn and so on.) I have a little bit of a bull-in-a-china-shop problem to begin with (being a Taurus, I suppose) where I am afraid I'm going to knock everything over. With the incredible mosaic of products jammed in the aisle, I could very well have been staring right at what I wanted and not have seen it.

There was a woman standing in the aisle I wanted, her back to the Rubbermaid, checking out some whisk-type-gadgets on the opposite wall of the aisle. I needed her to move. She was taking her time. You can't take your time in a store like this - you must move it along. Make your decisions while moving. People literally cannot get by you. (There was a grocery store near one of my first jobs in New York in which the aisles were actually marked "one-way" because they were so narrow. You had to begin at one end, go through the maze of aisles, and exit at the other. If you weren't paying attention and forgot to get the can of green beans you needed, there was no reversing course. You had to go through and come back again. I learned that the hard way.)

My mistake, of course, was in trying to shop on the weekends, when every store is packed. Everyone has had brunch, and is now doing their home shopping, usually in couples. Of course, in Gracious Home, there isn't room for couples to drift down the aisles holding hands - it's more a case of charging through the cramped rat-maze, making sure you don't lose each other.

I finally got a clear shot at the Rubbermaid. Again, there were one-quart jugs but no two-quart. By that time, though, claustrophobia was kicking in, so I had to get out of the store.

I had been scoping out stores all weekend - not just for these jugs, but to get a sense of which stores were the "good" ones. ("That's the good Rite Aid. That's the bad one. That's the good grocery store. Don't go over there, that's the bad one.") But good and bad, no store had what I needed. This was a shock when I first moved to the city - that a store might have some of a product, but never the full line. Looking for Jell-O? A store will have the three most popular flavors, and maybe one other, but no store had the space for every last variety. If you're a fan of the watermelon Jell-O or some other rare flavor, you were going to have to do a lot of walking to find the right store.

Finally, walking back up the East Side, I passed a Food Emporium. I had a gut feeling, so I followed it (I can usually find things this way ... just going on autopilot.) This store was mostly below ground, so it had more space. It also had ... the 64 ounce Rubbermaid jugs! And not only that, it had Glad kitchen-size blue recycling bags (you'd think everyone would have these, but they are also hard to find.)

I scooped them all up. This was now the "really good" Food Emporium. It had earned my loyalty. I would go twenty blocks out of my way to come here, if need be.

I'll be going back to Gracious Home during the week, though. There's still a bath mat to be found. Perhaps one with magical properties: as you dry off after your shower, the bath mat flies you to work. You know. That kind of thing.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Mothman: I sleep, I breathe, I bleed you just like.

Last night, I had the TV on as I tried to get to sleep. TNT was playing The Mothman Prophecies, a movie that thoroughly creeped me out the first time I saw it. It's based on actual events that took place in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia, from November 1966 through the following year.

And thus we come to the other focus of this journal (besides the minutiae of my life shuttling between two cities): various unexplained phenomena that I'm fascinated with. Among my favorites are the Jersey Devil, Mokele-Mbembe (the dinosaur in the Congo), and assorted lake-dwelling "monsters." But we might as well begin with Mothman...

Mothman (so named by the press, after a villain in the original "Batman" series) was described by witnesses as seven feet tall, looking like either a gray-skinned muscular humanoid or else a bird, with glowing red eyes and leathery wings. The creature could fly, rising up like a helicopter, seeming to glide rather than flapping its wings, able to keep up with a car traveling 100 mph. Those who saw it said they felt hypnotized, unable to move, paralyzed with fear. Some heard it cry out - a sound like a woman screaming.

More than one hundred credible witnesses saw Mothman in the area. Other paranormal events were reported at the time, including the appearance of Men in Black ("You didn't see anything. Understand?") who seemed to be connected with Mothman.

The culmination of the events was the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio river on December 15, 1967, during an afternoon traffic jam. Over 60 cars plunged into the river and 46 people died in the collapse, which happened almost immediately when one bridge support snapped and the suspension system failed.

Other appearances of Mothman have been reported around the world, in connection with events such as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the Mexico City earthquake in 1985. Point Pleasant, WV, is having its third annual Mothman festival in September of 2005. I am so there.

Some people thought the terrifying creature was evil, while others thought it might be an angel. Authorities searching for a "rational" explanation, insisted it was a sandhill crane, which can have red feathers around its eyes. Or maybe an owl. Yes, that it.

The movie combines many of the Mothman events in Point Pleasant and is set in the present day. One of the creepiest sequences in the film involves Richard Gere getting a phone call from an entity calling itself Indrid Cold. The film implies that it's the Mothman on the line, when in fact Indrid Cold is an entirely separate being (or alien presence, or space brother, or what have you.) John Keel, the paranormal researcher who wrote about Mothman (and whom the Gere character is loosely based on) never actually spoke on the phone with Indrid Cold; he thought it might have been a hoax perpetrated by contactee Woodrow Derenberger. See here for a page translated from the French about Mothman and Indrid Cold.

A taste: He approaches Derenberger and the witness feels with stupor of the comprehensible words to infiltrate in his head. "My name is Cold, Indrid Cold. I sleep, I breathe, I bleed you just like "

I'll leave Indrid Cold for a later entry.

If you read about the Mothman sightings, you notice similarities with accounts of Thunderbirds, the Jersey Devil and even supposed pterosaur sightings. All of them are bird-like yet reptilitian, inspiring feelings of dread and helplessness, and sometimes uttering an unearthly cry. Much like some of my exes. You know who you are.

Friday, January 07, 2005

I'm observing you

Yesterday, the express going downtown. In the car: me, a woman chatting animatedly with her two friends sitting across from her, and a man reading a newspaper, sitting at the other end of the row of seats.

After discussing endlessly whether she could transfer correctly to get to Schermerhorn by staying on this train or if she should have gotten off at Grand Central, the chatting woman turned to the man with the newspaper.

“Are you observing my conversation?”

“I’m observing you.”

“Is that the Daily News? Let’s trade papers. I’ve got the Post.”

They trade. I sit with my eyes closed, not wanting to observe anyone.

“Oooh, now I got the News!”

One of the friends says to the man, “She wants you to sit to her.”

“Yeah, sit next to me. Let’s conversate.”

We got to Union Square, where I got off. He moved over and took my place next to her. The train moved on, singing.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The children's section

When I first moved to New York, I discovered that my new neighborhood, Yorkville, was the part of town where Harriet the Spy, one of my favorite books, was set.

One day when I had nothing else to do (since I wasn't working yet,) I went to the local branch library to see if they had a copy. They did, so I plopped right down in the children's section to re-read it. As I sat there absorbed in the book, in my sweatpants, windbreaker and baseball cap, wedged into one of the small-scale chairs, I heard something. It was a mother, stage-whispering to her child, who was looking at me. "Don't stare," she hissed. "He's special."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

That damn desk

The area of town I'm living in is sometimes referred to as the Upper East Side, but if you want to get specific, it's actually Yorkville. I'm living about a block and a half from the apartment I first lived in when I moved here from Arizona. When I came to the city and went looking for an apartment, the broker took one look at me and pulled the oldest trick in the book: he first showed me what was essentially a room full of garbage ("You can have this for only $600 a month!") knowing that I would take whatever he showed me next. The apartment seemed fine at the time, but in retrospect, it was the kind of crappy apartment that brokers foist off on people who just fell off the turnip truck and don't know any better.

My roommate J. and I turned the living room into a dorm-type sleeping area, with her bed and my futon separated by industrial metal shelves. The bedroom became the living room. (The bathroom and kitchen thankfully did not switch roles.) We had an enormous pseudo-Arts & Crafts style desk/table, acquired from the girls moving in below us who found it residing in their apartment and were happy to give it to anyone who could figure out how to get it the hell out of their place. (They had never thought that the legs might be removable ... which they were ... so it was ours!) All the rest of our furniture was literally acquired off the street.

For those of you thinking, "Oh, gross," I can tell you haven't lived in New York. As I mentioned in the previous post, things come and go off the street very quickly. You obviously have to be more careful with anything that has upholstery (you see people sniffing couch cushions to detect cat pee) but shelves, chairs, rugs - you can find it all. Yorkville was a treasure trove on trash day - much more so than the Upper West Side ever was when I moved over there. Yorkville is a neighborhood known for high turnover - full of people fresh out of college, double- and triple-bunking in their first apartments before they can afford to live somewhere decent. (This also means that the area bars are packed full on the weekends and you can always find frat boys and sorority girls vomiting onto Second Avenue ... but I digress.)

One day, on our way home from our sad little temp jobs, J. and I spotted a couch. It was a small 2-piece sectional, no less, which we could easily hoist up the stairs to our walkup. A woman with a Germanic accent of some kind helpfully volunteered, "They just put it out. I know them, Very CLEAN people." I have a very weak sense of smell, so I was no judge. J.'s sensitive proboscis detected nothing too untoward, so the couch came home with us (where, of course, we scrubbed it with all sorts of improvised upholstery cleaner.)

A few days later, on the same block we saw someone perusing a rug that had been left out. He clearly was waffling about whether or not he wanted it.

"Don't look too interested!" I hissed to J. as we walked by. If we appeared curious about the rug, no doubt he would decide that he wanted it after all and make off with it. After we passed him, he gave up and left the rug there. Immediately, we dashed back, unrolled it to check for anything that might be lurking in the rolled-up rug, and gleefully hauled it back to our tiny apartment.

It was years before I ever actually bought a piece of furniture. I still have the giant desk-table (which held my very first New York Thanksgiving dinner: a roasted turkey breast and five pounds of mashed potatoes.) It is of such large proportions that it's difficult to find a room to put it in. Now in Baltimore, it overwhelmed the room I'm using as an office, and was banished to the lower level, just outside the utility room.

Sometimes I wonder where it came from, and who originally left it in that Yorkville apartment below mine. It's come a long way; we both have. I have often been on the verge of getting rid of it, but somehow I can't. It was the first thing I was ever given in New York. I think we're in this for the long haul.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Why you put the garbage there?

Today, I scoped out the neighborhood. It's been about ten years since I lived on this side of town, which was really before the Starbucks-ization and Barnes-N-Noble-izing had taken place. I was on the lookout for a good hardware store - which I found, after already having made my purchases in a not-so-good hardware store. Next on the list was finding an organic grocery store like Whole Foods since I'm on this bizarre liver-cleansing diet. It requires a lot of herbal supplements like dandelion and borage oil, which I found at the local GNC. The manager was extremely solicitous; surprisingly, instead of being annoying, he was actually helpful. The store was so spotless that I asked if they had just opened; apparently this guy just runs a tight ship, because the store had been there for 20 years or so. As for an organic grocery store, no luck. I did find a small organic-ish deli, which had the undiluted cranberry juice I was after. (Part of the diet involves drinking 64 oz of "cranwater" a day. I thought this would be a lot, but apparently I drank that much water or more every day just on my own.) So now I'm set: flaxseed oil, cranwater, AND NO DELICIOUS CARBOHYDRATES.

It doesn't help that there's a Popeyes (my faaaaavorite fried chicken place) staring evilly at me from its perch right there at the end of my block.

The other part of today involved meeting the super, and tipping him quite extravagantly. I don't know what the protocol is exactly, but I figured it couldn't hurt. He was very happy about it.

The movers came and brought the stuff that had been in storage; this was mostly boxes of dishes, boxes of books, and the bed. They were done in about an hour. We also had a giant set of beautiful but unwieldy shelves, which I asked them to leave on the street. This set of shelves and drawers was comprised of six fairly heavy pieces. Within an hour, all the pieces but one (which had somehow been damaged) had been spirited away. That's one thing I love about New York: instant recycling. That old set of shelves/pair of shoes/hideous end table that you've fallen out of love with and is now cluttering up your life? Put it on the street, and it instantly becomes the answer to someone else's prayers. They were walking along hoping to find a set of shelves/pair of shoes/hideous end table, and then fate steps in.

After the shelves, the microwave and a set of plastic drawers were also adopted off the street.

Finally, I had most of the boxes unpacked, flattened and taken to the street. All the dishes were unwrapped and washed, and the bed was assembled. Now all that remained was to take five bags of packing paper to the street for recycling. In front of our building were just garbage bags, while down the street in front of a large high-rise, there was a giant mountain of recycling bags. Thinking perhaps that the whole block consolidated the recycling pickup in one place, I trotted the bags the quarter-block down.

Of course, I was instantly punished.

"Why you put the garbage there? You can't do that," slurred a woman, staring at me in indignation (and a red cardigan.)

"It's not garbage. It's recycling," I said, fairly chipper.

"They have recycling at YOUR building. Where YOU live."

I claimed ignorance, playing the "hayseed who has just arrived," claiming (truthfully) that this was really my first day here. Never mind that where I'd moved from was really just the West Side, where I knew where the recycling goes.

So I cheerfully picked the five bags up, and moved them in front of our building, gathering stares from people who thought I was someone from the high-rise dumping the recycling in front of the brownstone. Maybe the buildings get charged for the amount of recycling, I don't know.

And in the distance, Popeye's beckoned to me. Come and eat of my crunchy fried deliciousness, it said.

So I went upstairs and had my cranwater. Mmm. Yummy.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Is this thing on?

Sunday, 5:23 pm. The train is hurtling its way from Baltimore to Wilmington, and from there to Philly, a handful of stops in New Jersey, and then to New York Penn Station. After I leap off with my stuffed-full bags, it will continue on to Boston, while I will spend my first night in my new (tiny!) apartment in New York.

Today is the first day that I'll be truly bi-urban.

Bi-whatsis? No, not that. We'll get to that later. No, after living in New York for the last fifteen years, I'm now making my home base in Baltimore and commuting up to New York for my teaching (and also my writing career, such as it is.) Why would someone do such a thing?

Love, of course. (We'll get that that later also.)

When you get on the train, the first thing you have to do is sign your ticket (if you've bought it online as I always do.) I pulled the cap off the disposable fountain-type pen I keep in the briefcase and instantly covered my hands in dripping ink. Luckily, I didn't get my pants or my shirt ... but nowhere was there a napkin or piece of paper that I could wipe my hands. I had my sweatjacket on the seat so I furtively wiped my hands on the lining ... should come out, and if it doesn't, well, you can barely tell its there. I'm hoping that this sudden explosion of ink was an omen - not a bad omen presaging more chaos and mess in my life, but instead a good omen signalling a rush of creativity, an outpouring of words and music, a flood of humorous and pithy thoughts going into this blog ...

Let's pull for option two.