22 November 2006

What Seven Pounds of Root Vegetables Looks Like

I went a little overboard at the greenmarket today. Sister-in-law #1 always makes the pies for Thanksgiving, apple and pumpkin. Sister-in-law #2 hasn't been in the family long enough to claim something as her own, but last year she brought string beans, so that's what she's bringing this. Desserts and green things being out, because God forbid we put ourselves in a position to make a direct comparison between my cooking and theirs, I am bringing roasted root vegetables. Considering that there are only going to be seven adults at dinner tomorrow, at least two of whom will take no-thank-you portions at best, I probably should have restrained myself. But they're so pretty.

For the record, those are: purple turnips, yellow and red carrots, sweet potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, rutabaga, garlic, red onion, parsnip, celeriac and shallots.

20 November 2006

Monday, off to a roaring start

If I'm not entirely awake and coordinated before I've had a cup of coffee in the morning, is it any wonder that I dropped a cup of it on the deli floor this morning? Not just dropped; exploded. Amazingly, none of it splashed on my coat, or on the woman in front of my on line. No, it's no wonder; the wonder is that it doesn't happen more often.

17 November 2006

That time of year, again

On Tuesday, a box of handmade chocolates arrived at the office, a holiday gift from a would-be employee. Last night, I spent a few minutes in Talbots (I need new socks; you would figure Talbots, while not a place the under-50 should normally shop, would be good for these, but in the end, I didn't feel like paying $9/pair), and there was Christmas music playing. The Rockefeller Center tree has been delivered and this morning, on my way through Penn Station, I heard the clanging of a Salvation Army bell. There are 37 days until Christmas, which I think is too many for there to be gold-and-red garland strung in the Long Island Rail Road waiting area already.

I love the holidays. Thanksgiving is next week, and I am looking forward to cooking, eating, and hanging out with my entire family. I am not a Black Friday crack-of-dawn shopper, though, and have always wished that the Christmas season could hold off until at least December 1st. In fact, what I would really like is for the music and the parties and the shiny clothing on mannequins in store windows not to start until, say, December 12th. Then we can all rush around like crazy people to get our shopping done and cards written, which, let's face it, we're going to end up doing anyway, and when the 24th arrives, it will still be a little exciting, and not the exhausted end of a race.

I've always thought it was sad, and not a little weird, to see trees put out on the curb, bits of silver still clinging to the branches, two days after Christmas. In my family, we'd never put up the tree until Christmas Eve, and it stayed up until Epiphany, or as we called it as children, Little Christmas, on January 6th. We'd get one last, small present -- a book, usually -- before the tree came down, and in some ways, it was better than Christmas itself, for being extra.

Of course, it's hard not to think of the traditions of your childhood as being the right ones, and everything else is just wrong, and furthermore bad, but I do think we should try having the holiday season coincide with the actual holidays, and not be one long consumerist frenzy from the weeks before Halloween through the January sales. Chanukah doesn't begin until December 15th this year; this could be the time to try it.

14 November 2006

64 dollars

There was an unusual – unprecedented, in my experience, though the use of the word unprecedented makes the incident sound more portentous than I mean it to – occurrence on Amtrak train 155 Saturday morning. While still boarding at Penn Station (I was headed down to DC), a middle-aged woman with red hair came on and tearfully asked for help, something terrible had happened to her, she needed $64 to get to her family.

You need to show a ticket to get down to the Amtrak tracks – how did she get there? Maybe because she was white, or because she was crying and seemed legitimately desperate, people gave her money – much more than she would have gotten with the same plea on the subway. No one would ask for $64 on the subway. Maybe that was it; the amount, being large, seemed plausible. By the time she got to my row – the eighth in – she had $8. I gave her another two. If she managed to elude the train conductors for another few cars, she might have gotten the whole 64. But then, five minutes later she was back, saying she needed $27 more, and had no other way of getting it, so please if anyone could, etc. It was true that she was unlikely to be able to get on another Amtrak train, and she could spend a whole day on the subway without begging that amount.

I heard her get another $5 before she was out of earshot. I don't know why I didn't give her any more. I had more to spare. I wonder if she got it; I wonder if she's home by now.

10 November 2006

I Only Look at Pretty People

When I got on the overcrowded M16 this morning, a woman in the seat closest to the door was loudly complaining that “only ugly people bother her.”

“Isn’t that funny,” she asked, “pretty people never bother me. Only ugly people.” It took me a few seconds to figure out that she wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, but the bus at large.

“Starting with the bus driver. He’s the first ugly person who bothered me today. I wonder how many I’ll get today. I’ll start a list. I bet I get 20.”

The woman next to her stood up, preparing to get off.

“When are you going to Spain,” she asked. She either knew the woman or had made the mistake of engaging her earlier in the trip. It’s hard not to engage the crazy.

“What, you’re trying to get rid of me?”

“Not at all. It just seems like you need a vacation.”

“Two weeks. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to be around pretty people again. New York has gotten so ugly. Have you noticed that? Everyone is ugly.”

Fortunately at this point, I was able to move back in the bus, so there was no risk of my looking directly at her. I sensed that would bother her, and I would end up on her list of ugly people. She herself was, by the way, reasonably attractive.

I could still hear her chattering away about ugly and pretty people, but I was far enough away to tune her out, until, a few blocks on, there was an eruption. She must have picked on someone other than the driver, because the whole front of the bus yelled at her at once. A woman standing next to me took her on.

“Shut up about ugly people. People are not ugly based on what they look like. They’re ugly on the inside, and you’re ugly. You are the ugliest person on this bus.” She went on like this for a few paragraphs, comparing the woman to her son, to her 1-year-old niece, without explanation; the pretty woman’s taunts escalated.

“How old are you? I’m 37, you see how good I look. You look like you’re 51,” which prompted the woman next to me to respond, “Your Mama, your Mama, your Mama, your Mama, your Mama should never have given birth to you. Look at me in my face and call me ugly. You can’t do it.”

“I only look at pretty people.”

Et cet.

The pretty woman got off the bus at Macy’s; passengers cheered.

09 November 2006

Dreaming on Amsterdam Ave.

It's freakishly warm today in New York: 58 degrees before 10am. Perfect for walking, and I managed to get on the road early enough to walk a mile and a half of the way to work, stopping at Levain for a whole-wheat-raisin-walnut roll for good measure. Such a nice way to begin a Thursday.

While waiting to cross 96th Street at Amsterdam, I was still close enough to sleep to feel like I was dreaming all the cars whooshing by and that stepping several feet off the curb wasn’t going to result in my being hit. This is not a new thought, but it’s a persistent one these days: why is a vehicle that takes up at least 25 times the space I do, a vehicle carrying only one person to boot, given so much room? Still dreaming, at the corner of 96th & Amsterdam, I squinted down the avenue and almost saw the cars replaced by bicycles. And wider walkways. Maybe a light railway down the center, whisking people quickly to work.*

This morning on WNYC, Brian Lehrer interviewed the third Senate candidate in Virginia, Gail “for Rail” Parker, who ran on the Independent Green ticket. Despite being a former Air Force officer and businesswoman, which you’d think would appeal to a fairly conservative electorate, Parker won only 26,000 votes. Those are votes that might well have gone to Webb or Allen, had Parker dropped out of the race, as she hinted she might do last week, if one of the candidates would endorse her plan for a light-rail system for Northern Virginia. If Webb had, it might not have taken 36 hours for Allen to concede.

But neither the Republican nor the Democrat were interested. It could well be that Gail for Rail is a loon, and her endorsement was seen as a liability. She certainly hasn’t mastered the balance between staying on message and letting your interviewer get a word in edgewise, if the Brian Lehrer appearance was representative of her style. But the idea that Northern Virginia, which sends thousands of workers into Washington DC every day, on crowded and crumbling highways, and too few Metro trains, doesn’t need a true transportation solution, one that would incidentally improve the local air quality and serve as an example for how other suburban areas around the country could “reduce their dependence on foreign oil” (in quotes because it’s the phrase everyone with microphone and political aspirations is saying these days), it’s puzzling why one of candidates didn’t pick it up to get her off the ballot.

*I love to drive, by the way. I don’t own a car, but before I moved back to New York I did, and I loved it. They just don’t make sense in Manhattan.

The pic comes from Vision42, a group who envisions light rail taking over the length of 42nd Street. Please please please Mayor Bloomberg.

02 November 2006

Win Friends, Influence People

I have got to stop getting into conversations (or confrontations, depending on your view of what decibel level constitutes an appropriate indoor voice) at lunchtime about anything remotely touching any of the following: free market capitalism, trans-fats, the energy crisis, guns, cigarettes, the price of a six pack in Manhattan vs. New Jersey... you get the idea. Occasionally I'll say something that is new to someone and I'll feel like speaking up was worth the accompanying rise in my blood pressure, but in general, people know what they think, or at least think they know what they think, about everything already.

I know we are all individuals, and our viewpoints are not merely formed by where we grew up, but I seem to get the loudest when talking to my Southern co-workers, followed closely by the Westerners. The Midwesterners rarely say anything unless it's well considered and for that I love them. And the Northeasterners, well, they are my people.

After lunch, I emptied my mailbox for the first time in two weeks, and in it was a flyer advertising this workshop: How to Communicate with Tact and Professionalism. It promises, among other things, to teach its attendees how to "win arguments without losing friends" and "stop entering into arguments that go nowhere." Sign me up.