28 October 2005

Do you smell what I smell?

Last night around 10, I smelled maple syrup. Had I knocked a bottle over in the fridge? No. Maybe my neighbor was cooking with it. I didn't investigate further, but when I went to bed at midnight, the smell was still there.

This morning, I logged onto Echo, the online community I'm a member of, and the first post I saw was my friend Jonathan's: "So, what was with the smell of maple syrup in the air yesterday?" Jonathan lives downtown; I live up.

Immediately, other people chimed in, "I smelled it in Brooklyn Heights," "I thought it was just in Chelsea." No one knew what it was, but no one thought it was actually just maple syrup intended to make us have sweet dreams last night. Even the New York Times this morning is baffled.

I have a theory, having recently seen Joss Whedon's "Serenity". The world of Serenity is divided into three groups: the Alliance, who rule everything, claim to be benevolent, but are secretly sinister; the Rebellion, quashed years ago in the war by the Alliance, but still extant in little pockets; and the Reavers, a mutant army of cannibals who live at the edges of space, terrorizing unprotected settlements. (Yes, I am a geek.)

If you haven't seen "Serenity" and would like to, stop reading now, because I'm going to spoil the ending. The band of rebels who are the heroes of the movie discover something in the end: a forgotten civilization whose inhabitants were the unwitting test subjects of the Alliance's experimental calming drug, Pax, distributed through the air. It worked so well that not only did people stop fighting with each other, they gave up living all together. They just lay down one day, and died.

Except for a small percentage of the population, on whom Pax had the opposite effect. It made them super-aggressive. You see where we're going here, right? The Alliance inadvertantly created the rapacious Reavers.

So, our own maplely-good Pax last night. Which of us are going to roll over, which going to start eating our friends? Anyone with connections at the Health Department?

24 October 2005

Etiquette lessons

Walking in the park today, I passed a quartet of Latino teenagers, shouting at each other about nothing. They were probably skipping school, but I was doing the same from work, so who am I to judge? All teenagers shout, have you noticed? Add to their numbers, and the sound multiplies. It bothers some people, but I like it. Everything is still so important; they have to be heard.

After I passed, one of the girls shouted, "you're supposed to say 'excuse me'!"

I made, in the space of one second, one of those complicated calculations involving race, class, age, and whether I wanted to ignore the girl for being rude, confront her for same, or use this as an opportunity to bridge the divide.

I turned around, and said, somewhat sweetly, "I'm sorry; excuse me."

"I didn't mean you," she said. A running man had just passed the group on the other side. Maybe he'd crowded them.

Later, after supper, walking to the bank, I stopped at 73rd street to let a purple Pet Bowl truck turn right, though I had the right of way. It was dark and raining, and I'd rather not get hit and/or wet if I can help it.

After the truck turned, I crossed, and a man passed me, saying as he did, "you had the right of way!" I couldn't tell if he was angry at me, or just trying to be helpful.

(By the way, I had to stay home from work today. I spent several hours in the very fine company of Stunt Mother and her family -- collectively known as The Disease Vectors -- and I needed to stop this cold that's coming before it arrived. For the good of everyone in my office, see...)

22 October 2005

The Numptys come home

It's pouring rain today, but I went out to the post office anyway, to retrieve the two paintings that I bought from Gretel last weekend. Isn't it amazing that mail can get from the UK to here in three or four days, but the mail carrier can't walk a short flight of stairs to leave that package for me at the laudromat?

Never mind. The Numptys are already settling in, out of reach of Luca and Oz, who are always suspicious of newcomers. The Moon on a Stick came framed, so is all ready to give to Kendall for Christmas. The girl reminds me of her, and the cat of the late, great Jake -- my parents' 25-pound chunk of love whom Kendall was devoted to.

The Numptys aren't framed, though. Let's take bets about how long it will take for me to get that accomplished.

19 October 2005

No more walking?

I'm in pain. I've been in pain for a while now, so long that it's hard to say when it started. A month ago? Two? Six?

The source of my pain is in my hip, I think. It's hard to tell, because the pain is also in my knee, thigh, even shoulder. Something is not working right on my right side. When I was a child, after years of complaining to my parents about being too tired to walk, and begging them to "carry me, carry me," an orthopedist diagnosed a misalignment in my hip that has a knock-on effect on the rest of my leg. If I'd been a baby when it was diagnosed, they probably would have put me in a half body cast to straighten out my still-maleable bones, but that would have engendered a whole different set of childhood traumas, so maybe it's just as well they didn't.

I called my mother for advice. Which doctor to go to? Podiatrist (it could be my relatively new orthotics)? Orthopedist (the problem could be structural)? Internist (maybe it's arthritis)?

Mom says internist, definitely, particularly since I said I was worried that it wasn't, in fact, a structural problem at all, but ovarian cancer, which has in its list of symptoms some of the same pain I've been experiencing.

My mother has never encouraged hypochondriasis in her children. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being "maybe I should get this gaping wound in my skull looked at next week," and 10 being "I lost an eyelash! I have eyelash cancer!", my mother is a 2. I, on the other hand, am a 6. Maybe 7.

So when mom didn't immediately say, "don't be ridiculous, you don't have ovarian cancer," but instead, "that's why you should go to your internist first, and tell her all your concerns," I was ready to book my room at Sloan Kettering.

She did, however, go on to say, "ovarian cancer is unheard of in our family, whereas the problem in your hip is well established," so I don't feel the end is necessarily near.

But it's clear that no matter what's wrong, I have to cut back on the 5-6 miles I walk every day, for now at least, and wear only sneakers. No more sexy high heels, which I'd been more willing lately to wear despite the pain. But then, I don't want to end up like Prince. The tiny 47-year-old purple dynamo recently announced that, after years of high heels and dancing, not to mention those crazy splits he does on stage, he needs a hip replacement.

18 October 2005

Art supplies, stat

Last spring, my choir's year-end party was held at a soprano's house (the soprano with the perpetually pinched face, who is a different one from the Rosh Hashanah-rehearsal soprano; many of them seem to have large, accommodating apartments), that had an enormous open roof, overlooking both the Guggenheim and the Central Park reservoir. Nice.

Due to the general disorganization of my choir -- which I'm mostly fine with -- the food to booze ratio at this party was something like one madeleine (baked by Pedestrian Rage) to one bottle of wine. Our concert had been a success, the weather was fine; spirits were high.

I tell you this by way of explanation. When the alto with control issues asked me whether I'd be willing to take over as concert coordinator for the fall, in that setting, in that mood, in that state of intoxication... what could I do but say yes?

Which is why tonight I'm drawing little baroque doodads to include as graphical design elements on our tickets and programs. This is not part of the job I signed up for -- that has more to do with trying to get a dozen or so technologically challenged people to respond to my email messages -- but I've become a lot more confident in my artistic abilities in the last few years, and I thought maybe I could come up with a signature look, or a logo, for the choir, before sending the instructions to the printer tomorrow. You know, in an evening.

So far, no good. I gave up on pencil and ink drawings, and turned to watercolors. The ornamental style I have in mind requires a certain amount of precision. Mine is a more abstract style, as it turns out. And I've run out of dark green paint. How can you create anything with a wintery theme without dark green paint, I ask you?

15 October 2005

Gray skies have cleared up

For the first day in the last ten, we've had no rain. Hooray! I woke up early and oddly refreshed; I decided to walk the Central Park loop for the first time in ages. (Full disclosure, I knew I was going to cut off the topmost bit, which tends to be sparsely travelled).

I cruised through a gang of dogs near the Sheep Meadow hoping to find Marianne, Schlomo and Lulu (one of those is a person), but they weren't out. Travelling northward, I was passed by pairs and groups of runners. Everyone had the same idea I did: get out early, in case the weather turns on us. Howard Stern and his tall blonde girlfriend ran by.

A racewalker sped past me. He had special racewalking shoes on, kind of like booties that hiked up to his calves. A little while later, he was coming towards me, elbows flapping. He shouted, "Go Amherst!" to me, on account of my gray and purple A sweatshirt, I assume. I recognized him. He was that guy a class or two ahead of me who was the racewalker. I wish I could remember his name. I'd love to learn how to walk faster, do a marathon.

Later in the day, sunnier now, I decided to go back to the park, this time to take photographs of the angel atop Bethesda Fountain. I have dozens of pictures of her, but none of them are perfect, and I had a few more pictures on the roll of film in my camera. I have been hoarding at least a half dozen undeveloped rolls for months now. This is the weekend I would take them to be developed!

Except that I couldn't find them. They had rested for months in a glass vase I keep on my kitchen counter. Now they are gone. Thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I haven't seen them in a while. I never throw out a film canister, even an empty one, without opening it first. Where did I move them to? Could my cleaning woman done something with them?

Ack. I was upset. Almost too upset to leave the apartment as planned. Suddenly, these rolls of film, from my brother Dan's wedding (he just celebrated his first anniversary) and who knows what else, were the focal point of my existence. I could not go on.

But I perservered, and I'm glad I did, because if I hadn't have gone back to the park I would have missed seeing Bono, buying ice cream for his kids. Very sweet.

13 October 2005

The Grocery

I met my family out in Carroll Gardens last night for dinner at The Grocery (named last year by Zagat's readership as the best restaurant in NYC). The transformation of Smith Street in the last five or so years is amazing to me. When I first moved back to New York from London ten years ago (oh, tempis, he fugits), I lived in Carroll Gardens, on the second floor of a huge brownstone, between Smith and Hoyt. Smith Street was then a wasteland of abandoned storefronts, bodegas, and grungy laundromats. When I walked to Brooklyn Heights, it was always down Court Street.

Today, it is chockablock with trendy boutiques (I love the bags at Refinery), great restaurants, and beautiful young couples pushing their beautiful children in strollers.

My point is not to tell you how cool I am for having lived in this neighborhood before it was discovered by the masses (though clearly that's the subtext), it's this: why didn't I beg, borrow or steal the money it would have taken to buy property on Smith Street? The brownstones on President and Carroll, even the dilapidated ones, were probably well beyond reach ten years ago, but certainly a burnt out building on Smith Street would have been attainable.


Enough complaining. How was The Grocery, you ask? Just lovely. It's one small room -- some might say crowded, I prefer to call it cozy -- with pale green and exposed brick walls. Ten tables, tightly packed. Pewter sconces and ceiling fans. I felt a little bit as if I were in Litchfield, Connecticut. The abundant wait staff were all very friendly, and the two owner/chefs each came out between courses to offer us an amuse of soup; first was potato leek, next, squash and parsnip. Fall is truly here.

Among us we had roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, chanterelles and grilled salsify; grilled lamb with tomato risotto and eggplant; and, for my vegetarian sister in law, a plate of grains and vegetables, followed by a beet salad with goat cheese ravioli. All of it was quite good, though my mother was disappointed with her salad of "teenaged greens".

I was disappointed that they didn't have the warm peach cobbler advertised on the dessert menu -- now that it's Fall, they've changed it to apple, which is just not the same thing -- but consoled myself with three scoops of ice cream (chocolate, caramel cognac and mint chocolate chip), which was accompanied by a pitcher of hot chocolate sauce. Each of us who got ice cream got our own pitcher, in fact, because, as the distaff owner said, "no one should have to share chocolate sauce."


Driving down Clinton Street towards the Brooklyn Bridge, I was struck, as I always am, by the gracious beauty of the brownstones in this part of Brooklyn. I know that many of them have been chopped up into multiple apartments, but from the outside you can imagine them as single family homes; a bedroom for all the children, a study for Dad, a sewing room for Mom, a den, bats and balls littering the back lawn, (apparently, in my fantasy, we're back in the 50s).

Pedestrian Rage and I have a plan to win the lottery and have a baby. Maybe when we do, we can buy one of these homes. That sounds realistic, doesn't it?

12 October 2005

Free Ashley Judd!

Have you seen those ubiquitous Aldos Fights AIDS posters on bus shelters and phone booths around town? You must have; they're ubiquitous. Very, very serious looking actors and musicians, shot in black and white, pose with their hands over their ears, or their mouths duct taped shut. Hear no evil? Speak no evil? they ask. What about See no evil? What happened to him? If an celebrity were to appear blindfolded, would we know it's a celebrity?

LL Cool J, holding a fist full of the chains that Aldos wants you to buy to save lives, looks like he might hit you. Poor Elijah Wood looks worried. Are the Nazgul after him again? Josh Lucas... who is Josh Lucas? He looks like Matthew McConnauugheyhey.

My favorite poster features Ashley Judd, holding herself tautly erect, despite the fact that, off camera, her hands are probably tied behind her back. She's being tortured. She can't speak because of the duct tape, but her grim nobility, conveyed so effectively by her arched left eyebrow, says it all. She is a political prisoner, suffering for the sake of all people with AIDS; for all of us, really. Nelson Mandela has nothing on her.

In real life, people never look this serious. Mandela himself, when he was released from prison, went on a world tour, and was everywhere joyful. In New York, he danced in his parade up Broadway. No living person has greater moral authority, in my opinion, than former prisoner 46664, but he doesn't have to adopt a stern schoolmaster mien to put it across.

In our limited attention span world, you have to keep trying new things to keep AIDS awareness high. I was 16 in 1984, the year that scientists isolated the virus that causes AIDS. We were told to use condoms for everything; even kissing might transmit HIV! Between that, Nancy Reagan's Just Say No to Drugs campaign, and the Catholic upbringing that ensured I was susceptible to anything designed to appeal to my guilt or fear, my early adulthood was anxious. Fortunately, I've had therapy.

A few years ago, when the "cocktail" drug regime came out, the only advertisements you saw that referenced AIDS featured muscular, smiling gay men, happy and healthy thanks to Hoffman-LaRoche. Then, when it turned out that a younger generation of gay men, who hadn't had half their friends die from AIDS, stopped using condoms, the ads featured muscular, slightly more somber gay men, urging each other not to bareback.

Today, now that we realize the cocktail doesn't work forever, and people are finally waking up to the fact that it's completely out of reach anyway for the millions of people in Africa living with AIDS, we have Ashley Judd glaring at us from every street corner. Please, people. Figure out what she's trying to say, and then listen to her. I'm afraid of what might happen to her if you don't.

07 October 2005

What was she talking about?

Overheard, near Lincoln Center, a woman on her cell phone: "I just don't want to hire anyone who's going to do something psychologically damaging to my trees."

Her trees???

06 October 2005

I wish I'd had a camera... and a tape recorder

I had to look at an apartment in midtown at noon -- not for myself; my company needs to rent an apartment for our increasing number of out-of-town employees. Those $200+/night hotel rooms are adding up too quickly.

I wasn't expected back at work right away, so after looking at the slightly grungy (but not too bad for a couple of 20-something guys) apartment, I took a walk up Fifth Avenue. At 51st Street, I noticed that Saks had changed its awnings and windows to advertise its Fall! Cashmere! Event! which mostly meant goat mannekins in sweaters. Exciting stuff.

While waiting for the light, I turned my head and saw four real live goats, in the back of a Chevy pick-up, placidly chomping at bales of hay. Whether they were there to promote or protest Saks' wool gathering, I couldn't say.

I turned west on 51st, and passed a woman standing in a doorway, talking on her cell phone.

"Did you test me for any other STDs? Or is that the only one?"

Now, I know this is a difficult call to make. If you don't have an office with a door, you can't call your doctor at work, and by the time you get home at night, the doctor's office is closed. The street is your only option. But in my one experience with having to make this phone call -- an ex-bf called me up in late December, while I out was Christmas shopping, and after a long, sunny conversation about what we'd both been up to over the last few weeks, he told me that he'd tested positive for chlamydia, and I needed to be tested too, which just confirmed what I had already suspected, that he'd been having sex with other women while we were still together, and further confirmed that he wasn't calling because he wanted to get back together, and which necessitated a gynecology appointment TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS -- I lingered outside of the office for a few minutes after 9am to call the doctor, making sure before I dialed that there was no one in earshot on the street, and even still I spoke in a low voice. My test came back negative. I don't know about the woman on 51st street.

When I got to Ninth Avenue, I got on the bus. At 42nd Street, there was the usual gridlock, made worse by the visibly impaired -- mentally, and probably chemically -- old man dressed in camoflague. He had one eye, and was walking directly in the middle of the intersection. The bus driver stopped short to avoid hitting him; he stood in front of it for what seemed like several minutes, middle finger raised. Then he started punching the windshield. The driver took his foot off the break briefly. The man inched back. Foot off; inch back. Foot off; inch back. More punching. Finally, a police car drove by and blooped its siren and the man stepped aside enough for the bus to pass. The police car just drove off, though, despite the fact that the man didn't suddenly turn into a rational and safe individual.

Just an ordinary half an hour in New York, in other words.

Real estate

I might be buying an apartment. Not now; possibly next year, depending on the market and the size of my January raise. But I've started looking closely at real estate listings, and have gone to some open houses, to get a sense of how far my meager dollars will go in Manhattan. I've climbed to the top of a five-floor walk-up many times, only to discover a "400 square foot loft-like studio," smaller than the one I rent on only the third floor. I don't know where realtors get the cheek to count the closets and bathtub in their square footage calculations.

Tonight, though, I went to see a place advertised as a junior one-bedroom -- a door! that closes! -- 550 sq ft, on Sullivan Street in Soho, off Spring.

I don't know if you know Sullivan Street off Spring, but it is charming. Small buildings, not as busy with shoppers as streets east, full of great places to eat. Blue Ribbon Sushi, anyone? Not to mention Sullivan Street Bakery. The price was almost right, $315,000, because apparently this apartment would need a total overhaul. That's alright, though; my father has his toolbox at the ready.

I met Gal, a man of non-specific western European origin, and two other potential buyers on the corner, a woman in tight jeans and high heels, and a man with a long ponytail. We were all excited as we walked to the building. Which one would it be? Would it be far enough up the block that the windows wouldn't look out over the Mobil station?

It was right next door to the bakery, and that, unfortunately, was the last good thing about it. The outer doorway was nearly too narrow for me to fit through, let alone any of my furniture. No elevator. We walked up one, two, three... yes, you guessed it, to the fifth floor. The model wannabe was pissed. "I specifically said elevator building," she muttered.

Gal opened the door to the apartment and we all tried to walk in.

The thing you have to understand about Manhattan is that an apartment, no matter how small, or how high up, is very valuable currency. So when the first thing I saw was an open jar of peanut butter with a knife sticking out of it, I thought, well, maybe the owner didn't have time to clean up; it could be okay.

It soon became clear, however, that there was no owner and it was not okay. All the stuff that makes up a person's life -- dishes, clothing, food, bedsheets -- was out, on the floor, dirty, unused since the former owner (I'm guessing here) was taken away on a gurney by an EMT. Or a morgue tech. There were prescription drug bottles in the open medicine cabinet, which was in the kitchen, next to the bathtub. I didn't want to leave the doorway to get close enough to see what mental illness the previous occupant had suffered from. The floorboards looked unstable.

"How do you measure square feet," the model demanded, "because there's no way this is 550."

Gal pointed out that the kitchen and main room together were 20 feet, by about 10.

"So where are the other 350?"

Only the ponytail man moved beyond the kitchen. Even Gal seemed unsettled. "This is the first time I've seen it," he protested. The model was about to walk out, but I was blocking the door. I moved out of her way, trying not to touch anything, and when I swung the door a bit, I revealed a small room on the other side of the kitchen.

"There are the other 350," Gal said with relief. No matter that the room was about 10 by 10; you could legitimately call this place a one bedroom.

"I don't think this is my place," I said, pushing the door open with my hip, to avoid touching the handle. "Me neither," said the model, stomping out after me, high heels clicking.

I don't yet know what the protocol of apartment viewing is. Was I supposed to slow down my descent so that the model could keep up? I was wearing my trusty MBTs, and raced ahead, anxious to breathe fresh air. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I shouted to her, "good luck with your search," but she didn't respond.

I struggled all the way home not to touch my face with my hands. I wanted to get home and purify myself, burn my clothing.

Let's compare this experience to the night before, when my choir rehearsed in a soprano's apartment (the school was closed for Rosh Hashanah). Also on the fifth floor, but there was an elevator. We were mostly in the living room -- about 30 of us -- which could easily have held my entire apartment, with square footage left over. A gracious balcony. A kitchen with a little sitting area off it, for guests to mingle near by while you prepare dinner. Every cookbook ever published within arm's reach. I also glimpsed a sitting room, and three bedrooms. The soprano and her husband looked very happy together, and who can blame them?

05 October 2005

The horrible, left-turning taxi driver

There are two schools of thought in New York about the best way to avoid getting hit by a turning car. Some people think that you have to entirely ignore the car and its driver; only by showing no fear will the driver respect you enough to slow down.

I take the opposite approach, though. I think you have to look the driver in the eyes, prove to him that you are not just a speed bump to careen over, but a living, breathing creature, who will do whatever it takes to put him in jail for a long time if he harms one hair on your head.

It's harder to do that, though, when the driver is behind you, turning left into you, as opposed to ahead of you, turning right. Pedestrian Rage and I were walking our friend Lael to the crosstown bus at 81st street last night when a taxi driver nearly swiped us from behind. I'm happy to report that we all shouted appropriately non-sensical things at him at the same time.

04 October 2005

What is it with these nuns?

On the way to work, I saw a nun in the same blue-and-white habit as the roller blader, only this one was on a beat up, sky blue 10-speed bike. Her rosary beads were looped around her right hand, gripping the handle bar, which shows an impressive dedication to both physical fitness and piety.

03 October 2005

I saw the greatest thing yesterday

I was walking in Riverside Park, which is always a crowded scene on Sundays. Bike riders, walkers and runners compete for room on the path, while sun bathers, readers and couples crowd the benches and grass. Often a group of children is playing softball or soccer. Yesterday, a kayaking group was offering free turns on the Hudson on brightly colored kayaks. It's free and they'll only be doing it for a few more weeks, while the weather is warm. You should go.

And then, someone whizzed by me on roller blades. It was a nun, in full blue-and-white habit, rosary around her waist, wimple fluttering behind her in the breeze. She looked so happy. Cheered me right up.

02 October 2005

Van Cortlandt park

I've overlooked the Bronx for too long. Apart from the Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo, both of which are worth the high price of admission, it's got Van Cortlandt park, the third largest park in New York City (after Central and Prospect). Van Cortlandt is known for a few things -- it contains the country's first public golf course, which is very heavily played, hosts large cross-country track meets drawing school-aged runners from around the region, and its hilly terrain was formed by melting glacier of the last ice age (that's the Pleistocene Era to you, bub).

Getting to the park proved to be a little more work than I'd anticipated, though I should have known to expect it. The 1 train was running only to 168th street, at which point I had to change to the A to 207th, then a shuttle bus to 242nd. Oh how I love weekends on New York City Transit.

Several groups of young men played team sports in the park: soccer, football, even cricket. There were a couple of cyclists on the main path, but not too many walkers. As I got closer to the forest, I wondered if going in on my own was such a good idea. An urban forest practically begs the headline, "unidentified woman found semi-clothed in the woods; film at eleven."

But when I got to the actual path I planned to take, I saw that it was wide and well-tended. The first part of it ran next to the golf course. If I had to, I could probably shout to someone in silly pants riding by in their cart.

It only took about five minutes to get far enough in to lose all the sounds of nearby Broadway. I passed -- or, more accurately, was passed by -- the occasional runner, but otherwise had only the birds and chipmunks for company. I got a little nervous when the path veered away from the golf course, but by then I was concentrating more on getting myself up the many steep hills on the path. That glacier did a great job of creating a varied terrain; I haven't been that winded in a while.