Friday, December 31, 2010

on being a new yorker

“I started getting bored.  California is nice, but when you’re a New Yorker, New York is nicer."

-NYC Sanitation Commissioner Doherty on why he came back from retirement in 2002

Saturday, December 18, 2010

fragments on christmas and not being religious

My dad was a bad Jew.

He harbored a fantasy of roasting a suckling pig in our back yard up in Lake Mohegan.  In a pit, of course.  On a spit.  With an apple tucked jauntily in its mouth.  Skin crackling and dripping fat.  Smell wafting mouthwateringly over the neighboring yards and down the street towards the lake and over towards the tiny neighborhood shul and across the water to the larger synagogue.

He loved barbecue too much to ever contemplate a life of keeping kosher. (The stories he would tell from his two weeks of criscrossing the south with one of his best friends in search of all the best barbecue pits left us all with mouths watering.)

Though Jewish by blood (being born to a non-practicing Jewish mother), he was Methodist by background and atheist by choice.  My brother and I, though not Jewish by blood (our Jewish heritage being paternal rather than maternal), were in some ways more Jewish by tradition than our father.

He used to joke that his children, by dint of growing up in Westchester County, knew more about Judaism than his mother, part of whose family had fled to Israel after another part had died in the Holocaust. Or so I understand the family history.

I absorbed fragments of Judaism while being a Shabbos goy of sorts for friends down the block and partaking in their Shabbos rituals.  I sometimes envied them these religious rituals in the face of having none of my own.

My brother, one Christmas morning sometime in the early '80s, turned to the rest of us and lisped in a voice clotted with the sticky goodness of chocolate-covered marshmallow Santas, "Isn't this supposed to be somebody's birthday?"

My father pulled out the Bible and read us the Nativity story right then and there, all of us gathered in the gray winter light and the warming glow of the Christmas tree.  He was always of the opinion that it is good to know the stories of one's enemies, or, less provocatively, the stories behind the rituals in which we sometimes so blindly partake.

He explained that the Christians had borrowed older, deeply ingrained traditions surrounding the winter solstice in order to convert the pagans, and that this was why Christmas is when it is, and that though not necessarily true, it was a good story and worth knowing.

One of my most vivid memories of Christmas is the time our cat, Star, toppled our eight-foot-tall Christmas tree, clinging to the branches and howling as the whole thing came crashing down.  After that the trees were firmly anchored to the living room walls with fishing line and bolts.

Also the yearly Christmas tree expedition with the Crows, two cars forming a caravan stuffed to the gills with thermoses of hot chocolate and tins of our mothers' cookies and overly sugared children and hacksaws and huge freshly-felled trees overhanging the edges of our station wagons.

My dad was a bad Jew who loved Christmas and taught his children to love good stories and imagined roasting suckling pigs to antagonize the neighbors because he loved good barbecue more than most anything and hated the notion of tref.  And the notion of judging things or people as being unclean. And was prone sometimes to overly self-righteous prickliness and/or contrariness, much like his daughter.

My dad was a bad Jew who ate (though never roasted) suckling pig and I am a woman who is sometimes quick to judge people by the verses they quote in public ("You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination") instead of the way they may speak to the people they hold dear ("You are loved, by me, in all the myriad ways that you are...").

Friday, December 17, 2010

food, or, a moment in the life of a library supervisor

Me: I'm sorry, food isn't permitted in the library.
Her: It's fruit salad.
Me: Food isn't permitted in the library.  You can leave it here at the desk and pick it up on your way out.
Her (big innocent eyes widening in consternation, unmistakable hint of a whine permeating her voice): But it's fruit saaalad!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


We were coming home one evening a few days back and caught each other looking at the same person part way down the train car.  It was Nathan, I swear, except that of course it wasn't.  Same eyebrows, same cheek bones, same five o'clock shadow, similar knit cap pulled down over his ears, same reddish blondish curls peaking out from underneath. He even shared Nate's habit of chewing at his thumb nail.

We spent the better part of the ride inventing a whole little alternaworld:  a bit more hipsterish than Nate, we decided, but ironically drives a hummer instead of a bike; eats at fast food places daily but every so often gets all excited about something organic.

The problem, of course, was that after awhile we couldn't stop staring, and giggling, and poor alter-Nate seemed not the least bit amused.  So I spent the last few minutes of the trip with head tucked down and pressed tight against Evan's shoulder, biting my tongue, struggling not to get caught peeking.

Unfortunately we all got off at the same stop, but fortunately Evan realized this quickly and led us in a mad dash out the door and up the stairs to the elevator, laughing and gasping all the way.  Ne'er again did our paths cross.

Monday, December 13, 2010


The hallway still reeked of smoke this morning, caught in the floor tiles and the elevator shafts, hanging invisibly in that muted internal light.  I felt like I was swimming, or drowning, pushing my way forward just to get to the air outside.

I didn't dream of fire last night though I went to sleep thinking about Prometheus, and how it all began with a theft and the punishment that followed, and how it was something we were never supposed to have.

Evan first smelled smoke sometime around noon, something subtle, a trashcan fire somewhere out in the streets. A little while later, while I was taking pictures in the bedroom, he called something out from the living room.  There was a hint of concern in his voice; enough to get me out to the living room too, peering out the window, confused by the plumes of smoke wafting by towards the river.

We took the stairs to the lobby with a cell phone and $20 and coats but no socks, other people hollering in the stairwell behind us.  The firetrucks began to pull up as we got to the front door so we went hopping over the fire hose, just trying to stay well out of their way.

We joined the crowd out in the little triangle plaza and watched in amazement as the ladders shot upwards and water started gushing along with the smoke still streaming out of the corner apartment on the top floor.

It wasn't until the man hanging out of an 8th floor window (whom we had been mocking for his stupidity for not leaving) gestured that he couldn't get out that I felt a twinge of panic.  And then the firemen blew the windows out and shards of glass came cascading down over the street and I don't think I've ever before felt a gut instinct to flee but in that moment it was there.

This is when I was on the phone with Erica, who said she could smell the smoke from 184th Street, where she had just gotten on the bus to head down to Columbia.  We got disconnected then but a few minutes later she came running, having heard the undertone of panic in my voice, to make sure we were safe. She left us her keys in case we couldn't get back inside for awhile, and I pictured in that moment being left with only what we had taken with us (my cell phone with its half dead battery, $20, jackets and shoes but no socks).

We were never in any danger, and our apartment was far enough away that even the flooded lobby and stairwells and eastern end of the hallways didn't affect us.  But the smell of smoke, acrid and burning, seeped even through our thick and solid door, and all the open windows and all the scented candles couldn't make it dissipate fast enough.

No one was injured (as far as I know), and the apartment on the 8th floor was boarded up this morning, windows made blank with plywood, hiding from sight the blackened ceilings we could see yesterday afternoon.  Most of the glass (rooms and rooms worth of glass) seems to have been swept up overnight, and it almost might never have happened except for that lingering smell I imagine will be there for days.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

golden honey shawl

Available on Etsy for the next 24 hours and then to be sent off to Watermark Book Company (unless sold), which now carries some of my work.

Pictures completely fail to do this piece justice:  an incredibly soft merino/nylon blend in such a warm golden yellow, brightened by the subtle sheen of copper beads around the yoke and the border (with a few scattered beaded leaves throughout the main body of the shawl).  Like late afternoon sunlight slanting across a field of wheat, or the warmth of candlelight, or deep golden honey on a table by the window.

Honestly it's painful to give this one up, but what with four shawls in my closet already I can't quite justify keeping yet another just because I love it so much.

Friday, December 03, 2010

the joys of public transportation

I was doing my usual thing this morning during my commute to work: namely, I got on the bus, found a seat, and pulled out my book.  This is a particularly large book and best held across the lap, and so my usual thing this past week or so has involved staring intently downward and being even less aware of my surroundings than usual.

Today, about ten minutes in, I felt a tug on the shoulder of my coat and looked up into the grinning face of one Erica M. Sklar, dear friend and neighbor and former office-mate extraordinaire.

We haven't seen each other in a few weeks so I immediately scooted on across the aisle to the seat next to her and spent the next half hour or so in animated conversation (perhaps to the dismay of the people around us).

It wasn't until I got off the bus at Columbia that we remembered we have brunch plans for tomorrow and had just shared all of our most pressing stories.  This made us laugh, but also left me with a sense of anticipation about the possibilities for our conversation tomorrow.  We have already done our basic catching up and can move immediately on to more involved or more abstract things.

We also laughed at the New Yorkiness of our encounter, and the very real possibility that we could have spent the entire ride engrossed in our own little worlds, missing each other entirely.  This, I imagine, is how most of America does it -- in their little cars, isolated from the world around them and the unexpected pleasure of such chance encounters.

It made the beginning of my day about a million times better than it might otherwise have been, and for that I am actually grateful to the MTA.  (You hear that, Nate? Your former employer doesn't always suck!)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It started late last Monday night with an abrupt and horrible sore throat followed by several days of mad vitamin consumption (including but not limited to vitamin C, zinc, echinacea, and my mother's old standby, Airborne*).

I made it through Thanksgiving:  an exhaustingly long day full of cooking and talking and imbibing and eating and entertaining late into the night.  It was fun for sure, but by the end dear friend Patrick was ridiculing the gravelly ancient smoker's quality of my words.  Just ask him about carcass.  Or not.

Friday morning it was whispers only, or painfully forced squawks, and text messages where most mortals place calls. (Also much self-pity and endless cups of tea and hours-long naps.)

It's mostly back now, this voice of mine, though still hoarse and, on the odd syllable, prone to giving out completely or emitting strange guttural sounds not unlike almost pubescent boys.

Nick met me outside the post office at noon today and we walked to our lunch spot together, talking animatedly the whole way.  When we got to the restaurant he paused and looked sideways at me and finally said, "So it's really you."

I gave him a quizzical look (as I often do with him, it seems), so he explained.  That it was strange to hear my voice the way it is.  That it was particularly disconcerting to be walking and talking and listening to this disembodied voice next to him; this voice that was not the voice he knows, the voice that is me, someone he loves.

I've been thinking about this on and off ever since.  The way that the voices we hear (our own, our friends' and relatives' and lovers') are so intrinsically connected to the people we know (our selves, our friends and relatives and lovers).

I've been thinking about how we never sound in a recording the way we imagine we sound in real life, but how to others our recorded voices sound like us.  When my partner leaves me a message I know who it is without him saying so.  But when I hear a message I've left for him I inevitably want to ask him, "Is that me?"**

This distance, this disconnection, between the voices that we are and the voices that we hear, has always been intriguing.  Perhaps to be further discussed at next Tuesday's rendezvous.

*Yes, I know about the class action lawsuit against the makers of Airborne. But my mother never travels without it and each time she comes to visit she inevitably leaves some behind.  I've finally been using it.  There's something strangely pleasing about its citrusy effervescent self in the face of an impending cold.

**Am I the only person for whom this is true?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

mom's marbled cranberry mousse

This is one of those recipes that regularly put in an appearance on Thanksgiving, and one that we kids (us McNeil kids and the Crow girls) looked forward to every year.  Thanksgiving just wouldn't have been right without it.  Now it seems like such an odd, old-fashioned recipe.  Jellied cranberry sauce from a can? Jell-o?? Seriously?  And yet it is SO good.  Trust me.

Mom's Marbled Cranberry Mousse:

1 3/4 cups cranberry juice cocktail
1 package (3 oz.) raspberry jello
1 can (16 oz) jellied cranberry sauce
1 cup whipping cream

In medium saucepan, bring juice to a boil.  Remove from heat and stir in jello.

In large bowl, beat cranberry sauce on high for 1 minute or until smooth.  Stir in gelatin mixture.  Chill about 2 hours until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon.

Whip the whipping cream.

Spoon half of cranberry mixture into bowl, then half of whipped cream.  Add remaining cranberry mixture, then add rest of whipped cream in dollops.  Run long knife blade zigzag through mixture to create marbleized effect.  Cover.  Chill for 4 hours until set, or overnight.

Eat with great gusto alongside all the other Thanksgiving necessities.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

bon appetit & shrimp, or, wishing bygone eras adieu

It's pretty ridiculous sometimes, the things that can make you sad, the things that cause a certain fleeting pain somewhere at the core of your self.  I got my December issue of Bon Appetit in the mail yesterday.

I have been getting Bon Appetit since Christmas of 2002, the first Christmas I spent with ex-boyfriend Chris's family.  They exchange wish lists in his family, and gifts are purchased accordingly.  There is a certain logic in this.  As an outsider whose family doesn't partake in such logic but rather enjoys (usually) the unexpectedness of the unrequested gift, I both appreciated this tradition and felt intimidated by it.  And as an outsider, I never knew quite what to ask for:  something inexpensive, something easy, nothing to make waves or cause anyone any trouble.  Later I settled on Amazon-available book titles, but that first year I asked for a Bon Appetit subscription.

Chris's parents kept renewing my subscription, year after year, even after we broke up four Christmases later.  But this year they didn't renew it, and yesterday's issue, this year's Christmas issue, marks the termination of this rather strange ongoing relationship.  Chris is married now and I am quite happily partnered with a new man, and yet pulling this magazine out of my mailbox last night brought a momentary collapse, a momentary indrawn breath and yearning for Christmases past.

The holidays are hard in general, sometimes, and of course not just for me.  So idealized by our culture, and yet so much a reminder of people and places and times we've lost.  I get indescribably excited by the holidays, and want so much to live them in the perfect way I imagine them, but of course the real world inevitably intrudes on that imaginary perfection.

Evan and I are hosting Thanksgiving this year and I asked Susie Crow recently for her mother's shrimp recipe.  The one she made every year as a pre-dinner snack at our families' combined Thanksgiving celebration.

I am not going to make them for Thanksgiving but Mom & Nate, equally excited by the shrimp re-emergence, have requested them for Christmas.  I am pleased by this idea, this re-appropriation of a beloved old recipe in a different and new context.  Those shrimp won't bring back Thanksgivings or Christmases past, of course, but they will be delicious, and really what more can you ask of shrimp anyway?

And what the hell, maybe I'll subscribe to Bon Appetit myself.  It is, after all, only about $15/year.

Monday, November 22, 2010

tentatively talking turkey

Evan and I are hosting a Thanksgiving dinner this Thursday for a motley crew of neighbors, relatives, dear city friends looking for a welcoming place to go, a pair of upstaters, and a pitbull pup thrown in to the mix for good measure (much to the Llama-monster's dismay -- she does NOT like dogs, to put it mildly).

Theoretical menu:

cranberry polenta cakes (#27)
cheese plate courtesy of the Chelsea & Inwood Farmers Markets
Zabars olives courtesy of Nate & Shanna
Evan's full-sour pickles (currently fermenting next to the fridge)
roasted rosemary cashews
Update: Also Andrew's famous deviled eggs!

Main course:
Alton Brown's roast turkey
cornbread stuffing
flax rolls
Thomas Jefferson's sweet potato biscuits (thanks to Andrew!)
raw sweet potato salad, though probably with butternut squash instead (#66/67)
garlicky chard with olives, pine nuts, & brown rice (Food Matters)
roasted sweet potatoes with garlic & rosemary & buckwheat honey (my own dreaded concoction)
mashed potatoes (thanks to Andrew!)
fresh cranberry sauce (thanks to Jessica!)
Mom's famous cranberry mousse

Pumpkin & apple pies (thanks to Andrew!)
chocolate chip meringue cookies

Home-fermented apple cider (currently fermenting on top of the fridge, because really, what's more American than that?)
Various wines
After-dinner port

Saturday, November 20, 2010

city noises (Fort Tryon Park)

to the farmers market & back

Saturday, in a nutshell:

Got out favorite orange pumpkin hat to brave the chill.  

Gorgeous walk up to the farmers' market and back through both 
Inwood & Fort Tryon Parks, bags full of butternut squash 
& sweet potatoes & kale.  

Discovered glass pie dishes really can explode quite 
spectacularly if left on a hot burner, particularly when 
full of melted (then burned) butter.  

Hair now a pleasingly firey bright red.  
And not even 4 o'clock.


bridge, 11.20.10

Friday, November 19, 2010

in which i begin to come to terms with the fact i am a crank

Last night it was poor Evan flailing in reaction to my action (barbed words, hands flung upward, dinner nowhere in sight), eventually settling on chocolate milk ("You are such a kid!" he said as it became apparent that it was this, and only this, that would appease: a green glass, fresh milk, a heaping spoon of Nestle Quick) to steer us through.

Today it was coworker Karen ensnared to my harangue:  half-empty yogurt containers left at the circulation desk, staplers mysteriously disappearing, the misuse of library work spaces (not as dirty as that might imply), the inherent unreliability of relying on a student workforce.

There is no escaping it: I am just not as jolly as one, as some, as I might like.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'she said how long have i been sleeping...'

When I was a wee freshman at Barnard the housing gods saw fit to pair me with an Andover-educated bleached-blonde soccer player by the name of Nicole with a heart over the 'i.' (And they say the gods have no sense of humor.)

Nicole moved out over winter break and I spent a fair amount of time that spring semester trying to not get a new roommate.  Mostly this involved smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking a lot of Jack Daniels and leaving the remnants of said binges scattered around the room.

One of the images that has stayed with me all these years from that embarrassingly blurry time, one of those magical indelible moments, is Deepa (gorgeous sultry self-assured Deepa) dancing on my windowsill to Sarah McLachlan's Mary, Charlie-grubbed strawberry clove cigarette in hand, long dark hair outlined by the glow of Broadway streetlights.

Deepa tracked me down recently (not hard to do, really, given that I've had the same email address since, oh, October of 1994), and we've spent a bit of time together.  Crisp autumn hours spent drinking coffee and munching lunches and sharing stories of the last few years.  She's all grown up now, married and newly mothered to a beautiful curly-headed baby boy, and as grounded as she ever was, even back in those days of windowsill dancing to sad, sad songs.

Friday, November 12, 2010

more adrienne

"how we are burning up our lives
              the subway
              hurtling to Brooklyn
              her head on her knees
              asleep or drugged

la via del tren subterraneo 
es peligrosa

             many sleep
             the whole way
             others sit
             staring holes of fire into the air
             others plan rebellion:

             night after night
             awake in prison, my mind
             licked at the mattress like a flame
             till the cellblock went up roaring

      Thoreau setting fire to the woods

Every act of becoming conscious
(it says here in this book)
is an unnatural act."

(Adrienne Rich, from The Phenomenology of Anger, 1972)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

ta-nehisi coates is giving adrienne rich another chance

Ta-Nehisi Coates is giving Adrienne Rich another chance. Funny to me, and foreign, this notion of having to give Adrienne Rich another chance. (Writes the suburban white chick). Adrienne Rich shaped words into language, turned language into power, opened the space-time continuum and shoved this adolescent girl right on through. On the far side of adolescence now by a decade and then some, re-reading snippets from The Fact of a Doorframe still sends shivers up my spine.

'I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.
(from The Burning of Paper Instead of Children, 1968)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

'poor professor pynchon had only good intentions...'

(Andrew Bird, Imitosis; also this kick-ass remix)

This song reminds me, for some strange sad reason, of my favorite high school teacher, my dear and adored Mr. Nauman.  From what I heard through the grapevine in the years since I left that town, he went a little bit off the deep end in the end.  This got me to thinking of him, wondering what ever actually became of him, and hoping with all my heart he's not as bitter as I've been imagining.

"He's keeping busy, yeah, he's bleeding stones
With his machinations and his palindromes
It was anything but hear the voice
Anything but hear the voice
It was anything but hear the voice that says that we're all basically alone

Poor Professor Pynchon had only good intentions when he
Put his Bunsen burners all away
And turning to a playground in a Petri dish
Where single cells would swing their fists at anything that looks like easy prey

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

And despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify?
He just wants to know the reaso
The reason why

Why do they congregate in groups of four,
Scatter like a billion spores and let the wind just carry them away?
How can kids be so mean?
Our famous doctor tried to glean as he went home at the end of the day

In this nature show that rages every day
It was then he heard his intuition say
We were all basically alone

Despite what all his studies had shown
That what's mistaken for closeness is just a case of mitosis
Sure fatal doses of malcontent through osmosis
And why do some show no mercy while others are painfully shy?
Tell me doctor, can you quantify
The reason why?"

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

'nobody ever called it an eternal city...'

I spent much of my childhood thinking about the end times.  End times of all kinds:  gods-induced apocalypses, man-made armageddons, natural disasters, Judgment Day.  What to do when the bombs fell, or plagues swept the earth, or the aliens came to suck the marrow from our bones, or the seas rose up to swallow us, or machines of our own invention rose up to enslave us all.

Lately I've been rereading some of the books that got me going down this path.  Victoria Strauss' The Lady of Rhuddesmere (almost untraceable these days: Columbia's Interlibrary Loan Office took over three months to track it down) and its religious conjecture that mankind must completely and wholly succumb to evil before rising up again into the light.  Orson Scott Card's The Folk of the Fringe and its tale of survival on the outskirts of what was once modern America.*  O. T. Nelson's The Girl Who Owned a City and its story of feisty little Lisa who organizes the child survivors of a disease that wiped out everyone who reached puberty.

But most of all it was Warday that scared the hell out of me.  Whitley Strieber and James Kunetka's Warday, written in the first person as if it were real, as if it were true, and dedicated to October 27th, 1988, "the last full day of the old world."

I was eleven years old when I read this book, a year or so before October 27th, 1988, the day before the book begins: the day before the USSR finally and seemingly inevitably went nuclear on our collective ass.

I was eleven years old and probably should have been able to understand, and yet I was confused about the chronology of things; about how something so real could not have happened yet, and how it might not ever happen, and yet again how it might. (It was another two years before the Wall came down and the world as we knew it began to crumble, began to become a little more human again.)

Moments from this book have stayed with me all these years.  I requested it, too, through the Columbia Interlibrary Loan Office recently, and it's been a strange experience re-reading it more than two decades later (and, perhaps more importantly, more than two decades after the the initial events of the book).

I read the opening pages a couple weeks ago while Evan and I were taking the A-train downtown, and I was hit with a wave of near overwhelming anxiety: the same anticipatory doom that I felt as a child magnified by the fact that I live now in the place described.  My stomach twisted and my teeth clenched and my jaw ached as I read Strieber's visceral description of being on the M5 bus heading down 5th Avenue here in Manhattan (here in my beloved Manhattan) as the bombs exploded over Brooklyn and Queens (the Soviets' aim was off, or the trigger mechanisms failed by mere milliseconds, and as a result only a million New Yorkers died in that instant when the bombs hit).

There is an almost lyrical terror in this man.  It is an emotional state, perhaps, beyond guilt.  I do not think it has a name.**

When I was eleven I sometimes wished we lived in the city instead of fifty miles north so that when the end of the world came we would be amongst the first to die.  This felt safer somehow. Less fraught, less filled with despair.  When I was eleven I also knew that a local nursery had chickens and I harbored plans to steal them as soon as the bombs hit so that my family wouldn't be amongst those to starve.  (Logic and, you know, reality, were not necessarily my strong points.)

Spring Rain Instructions:  If it rains get inside right away.  And if you get wet you have to go to the office for geiger, then showers and get rid of your clothes.  If you don't have any more you have to be in your underpants.  You have to be careful, but spring rain is also nice. (Essay on spring, Miss Wilson's 3rd grade , Shawnee Elementary School)

It's strange to be reading this novel from the perspective of having outlived the Cold War.  We no longer think in terms of MAD.  We no longer keep in the backs of our minds the location of the nearest fallout shelter (though I was relived, upon first arriving on campus as a wee freshman, to learn that Barnard Hall has those ubiquitous signs prominently posted). Nuclear annihilation makes for pretty and nostalgic song lyrics*** but has little bearing on our day to day.

I know all of this in my head, have known this for many years. And yet.  There is a part of my heart that still cringes, still sobs, still fights that eleven-year-old too-big-to-do-such-things urge to crawl into my mother's bed, to demand to hear that everything is alright.

Nineveh, Babylon, and Rome each bustled a time in the sun. So also, New York.  Nobody ever called it an eternal city, it was too immediate for that.  But we all thought it was one.

*Somehow the Mormon redemption aspect escaped me then, I suppose because at the time I hadn't thought much about Mormonism  -- it has only been in the years since, after witnessing Mitt Romney's idiocy and reading Under the Banner of Heaven and watching the train wreck that was Proposition 8 that I have come to resent the Mormon Church, however unfair that might be.  It's not a comfortable feeling, having the fact of one's own increasing narrow-mindedness thrown in one's face in such abrupt fashion.

**Italicized bits from Streiber, Whitley; Warday and the Journey Onward; New York; Warner Books, 1984.

***"If we wait for the time till all souls get it right / Then at least I know there'll be no nuclear annihilation / In my lifetime I'm still not right..."  (Indigo Girls, Galileo)

Thursday, November 04, 2010

'all i want...'

"Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there’ll be nothing left with which to venture forth.

Why should I share you? Why don’t you get rid of someone else for a change?

I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love."

(Frank O'Hara, from Meditations in an Emergency)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

in the mailbox tonight

(or, yet another reason to laugh and cry at the state of New York politics)

oh nanci how i love you

Funny how you can know a song practically your whole life and then be listening to it one morning on your iPod on your way to work and a particular line you never noticed before will leap out at you, leaving you momentarily aching and breathless.

I had one of those moments this morning while listening to a song so comfortable, so worn and loved and old and known, that I didn't think it had anything new to offer.  And yet caught up in the cliches and silliness and catchiness is this line, sung by this feisty fragile woman with her big old guitar, and something in that moment left me reeling.

"These broken wings are gonna leave me here to stand my ground..."

(Nanci Griffith, Outbound Plane)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

from the comments, or, when dangers call

I was gratified to get feedback on a recent post about a knife (and secretly relieved to learn I'm not the only person who sometimes feels these things), and wanted to share this gorgeous quote:

"Kinves, on the other hand, are about cutting the Gordian knot. They offer immediate gratification, the opportunity to make decisions first and live with the consequences later. The sharper the knife, the quicker that choice is made - almost quicker than thought itself... Each cook finds the tools that pull their temperament and their kitchen work into some sort of synchrony. I have always been an anxious and impatient person, and this was especially so when I was young. That sharp carbon-steel knife allowed me to grasp anxiety by the handle and point it away from me. I tended to agonize over decisions; here was something that made them for me, lickety-split. To pick up a carrot and cut it into bite-sized chunks was to confront a series of choices, however inconsequential, and resolve them immediately, chop, chop, chop. Of course, being young, I didn't realize that grabbing anxiety by its handle is like getting a tiger by the tail - the sense of relief is only momentary."
(Jim Thorne, Pot on Fire)

Thanks, Katrin, for sharing this (something about it resonated deeply), and thanks, ladies, for sharing your compulsions (and your decisions to not follow them).  I loved reading your comments and look forward to more of them - I can't tell you what a pleasure it is know that some of the things about which I find myself thinking sometimes resonate with people I know and respect and care about.

Monday, October 25, 2010

lunching with the professors

I had what I perhaps egotistically imagine was a somewhat unusual college experience, in that I went to the school where my father had been a professor (and eventually chairman of the history department -- I remember family friend Bill and my father joking once that though he loathed being Chair, at least it would get him an obituary in the New York Times) until his death a year and a half before I arrived on campus, a ridiculously angsty and constantly clothed in black teenager.

Barnard College is a small school and is, as one professor said at the memorial service the school had for my father (in the long-gone Lower Level McIntosh, for those of you who remember that ill-planned student center), in many ways one gigantic, convoluted, complicated family. This may have been a little more true for me than for most students.

Some of the professors who had been particular friends of my father's kinda sorta took me under their wing a little bit during my years on campus.  There were three in particular with whom my family had been close, though a whole plethora with whom I still exchange smiles as we pass each other on Broadway or Amsterdam Avenue or College Walk.

One of these three would sometimes take me out for coffee (my idea) and orange juice (his idea) and affectionately lecture me on going out in the winter with wet hair (I was usually coughing and sneezing and sniffling back in those days) and finally bought me a fancy new hair dryer (which I sometimes remembered to use until the summer I shaved all my hair off for the first time, but which I kept for many years after that) to keep the colds away.

One of these three asked me to babysit his kids up in the suburbs once or twice and always made (and continues to make) a point of asking after my mother, my brother, my self.

One of these three, our beloved Santa Clause Gone Bad (or at least ironic), canceled at least one recitation on the eve of Thanksgiving when he knew my mother was in town,  and found me not too long ago on Facebook where he now helps keep me honest and grounded rather than all caught up in things like the strangeness that is the roll-call of video-contributors for Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project.*

My mother, even sixteen years after leaving New York for the wild wild west of her birth, continues to make an annual pilgrimage back east.  We don't always manage to see the Professors (I have a half-formed suspicion that she, like me, worries just the littlest bit that we will bore them or somehow not fit into their intellectual worlds without the mediation of my father, her husband), but thanks largely to my-former-professor-turned-FB-buddy, plans were made for last Thursday and Mom and I were treated to a delicious lunch in the brand new faculty dining room in the Diana Center.

It's an odd and endearing tradition, this lunching with the Professors, and one that I hold very close to my heart.  Sometimes a bit awkward, sometimes a bit sad, often enough funny and and always interesting, but more than all these things. These were my father's friends and colleagues and it means a lot to have them still a part of our lives rather than disappearing into the ether, as it would have been so easy for them to do. For that continuity, and for their years of kindness, I am grateful.

*Contributors now include everyone from the usual celebrity suspects to heartfelt common-folk to President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Speaker Pelosi.  It makes you wonder where the Republican voices are in all of this, and why they don't want to publicly encourage LGBT kids to not kill themselves in response to bullying

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I have always believed that it goes without saying that we should know the infrastructures of our jobs.  I expect my staff to be comfortably familiar with the ins and outs of our library and any questions pertaining to it:  its policies, its hours, its floorplan.  I expect that I and my colleagues know these basics and more:  the ins and outs of Columbia's 20+ libraries, the ways in which we interact with other library systems (NYU, New York Public, the other Ivies, etc), the Library of Congress cataloging system.   I know that DS557s are books about Vietnam and that DS557.7s are about the Vietnam War and that the HV6400s have exploded since 9/11 (no pun intended) because this is the category for books on terrorism. I know that GNs are anthropology and HQs (rather humorously) encompass queer and gender studies and PSs are fiction and BSs are bibles and dictionaries tend to be in reference collections but you can almost always find older editions that circulate.

I do not know how Congresspeople get picked for all the various committees that (theoretically) help to run our country.  I have not memorized the Constitution and all of its amendments in chronological or any other order. And I definitely do not understand how it has come to pass that the Pentagon has leap-frogged ahead of the White House in regards to Don't Ask Don't Tell and is now instructing its recruiters to recruit openly homosexual men and women.

But I do expect our politicians, the people we elect to represent us and to govern this vast and sprawling country, to know and understand these things with the same familiarity that I have developed within my own job of choice.

I do not expect my fellow Americans to send to Congress people like this.  And I do not understand how this woman can even hope to be on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when she does not have a clue about the intricacies of our own government, let alone anyone else's.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

boys & their bridges

You never really forget it -- that moment in which you first learn that someone you love is gone; the way the earth shifts, falling silently away from you.

Inevitably at some point every October I find myself thinking about Matt and that moment at the movie theater in Yorktown Heights, the evening of October 11th, 1997, a Saturday.  Ben and Alan and I had gone to see Kiss the Girls (to this day the thought of that movie makes me cringe, though I couldn't tell you a thing about it) and we ran into Jordan Faris and her boyfriend, and we chatted a bit, catching up on family gossip and neighborhood gossip, until she abruptly said, "Did you hear about Matt Narad?"

I thought she must mean he'd won a scholarship or an important debate tournament or gotten early admission to some great school, but no.  He had jumped off the Bear Mountain Bridge earlier that week, had washed up a few miles south a couple days later.

Matt was one of my brother's best friends, and the one to whom I felt most like an older sister.

One particular summer, one of the summers I was lifeguarding at the lake, he had learned to sail a little Sunfish and he and a friend would sometimes come visit me in the afternoons, bringing soda and peanut butter sandwiches.

That same summer we flew to Idaho together where he spent a couple weeks on Harlow Point Road with the extended McNeil clan, swimming and fishing and sailing and eating (though you wouldn't have known it to look at him, grinning and tousle-headed and scrawny as ever).

I hadn't seen Matt for almost two years before he committed suicide and one of the most difficult parts, for me, was trying to integrate these sun-drenched memories with the horror of a boy standing alone on a bridge, so angry or sad or frustrated or scared that it begs understanding.

I've been thinking about him more this particular October than in recent years, or even, God forgive me, this last decade.  There was another boy, wholly unknown to me but almost the same age as Matt, who recently jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge, mere blocks from my home.

I've been thinking about these boys, these teenagers, these lost souls, and how we failed them, and how their impetuousness stole from them any hope of outliving their adolescent woes, their insomnia-laced three o'clock in the mornings.

I couldn't tell you why Matt did it, even though the thought crossed my own mind once or twice over the years.  I'm grateful that, for me, it never became more than mere thought, and that I never found myself on a bridge looking down at that same river rushing up against cement pillars, frothing and cresting its way south to the sea.

(Basia Bulat, I'm Forgetting Everyone)

Monday, October 11, 2010

a friend's leaving

It's funny how quietly integral a person can become to one's world: sometimes seemingly overnight, sometimes more along the lines of a glacier, incrementally becoming a part of the ground upon which one walks.

I first met Dan while visiting my brother in San Diego back in February of 2003.  Eventually he found his way back to New York and at some point offered (via Nathan, who had also found his way back to New York) to stay at my apartment and cat-sit during one of my trips west.

Somehow over the course of a few years this became routine.  I would buy plane tickets and then frantically email Dan in the hopes he'd be available to look after Novita-love or more recently the Llama-monster, which he magically inevitably was.  Then I would try to treat him to dinner and he would try to say no and we would have a rather awkward exchange and then eventually he would accept.

It took years before we began to think of each other as friends in our own right, and even then for a long time it was always mediated through Nathan.  But then somehow Dan joined one of my weekly dinners with Nick, and then somehow he started joining us regularly, and then somehow we had developed a little trio.  And then our weekly dinners expanded to include Evan and then sometimes Sarah, and there you have it. (I know I've written about this many times before and yet it still takes me by surprise, this act of being a part of such a circle, of creating a routine that almost needs no planning, no intention, that just is.)

He's been talking about leaving New York City for so long that even now, on the eve of the eve of his departure, there is a part of me that can't quite grasp the concept.  He has become like the air, intrinsically important and yet so constant as to go almost unnoticed; at first peripheral and now at the core of things, of some of the people most important to me.

He's been talking about leaving but a part of me assumed it wouldn't happen, and now I find myself feeling bereft in ways I had not anticipated.  I will miss the most reliable and wonderful cat-sitter ever, of course yes, but also his interest in seemingly everything, his vast book collection, wry smile, choppy hair, and the fact that he always laughs at my stories (and remembers them).

We're having one last weekly dinner tomorrow evening, one last hurrah.  Nick and Dan and I will meet at five and head on down to 1020 for a couple drinks while we wait for Evan to make it up from Chelsea.  (Dan, despite his tea-totaling ways, has always been patient and, I like to think, perhaps amused with the rest of us liking to put a few away.)  Then we will walk down to Awash for gluttonous gorging on a huge platter of vegan Ethiopian food (and may they, fingers crossed, actually have the much coveted carrot & green bean dish that is so elusive and so delicious).  Then we will walk over to Central Park West and catch our respective trains:  Nick heading south and off home to Brooklyn; Evan and myself heading north to our nook in the Heights;  and Dan, well, usually he just goes walking for a bit.

He's been staying with us on and off since the first of the month and has been generous beyond reason with his cast-me-offs (books and CDs and kitchen supplies and a bookshelf and an only slightly worse-for-wear Aeron chair).  I keep hoping that he will come back to the northeast some day, and have promised that these cast-offs are merely on loan, however short-term or long-term that may be.

Dan has had a set of my keys for years now, the better to come and go around my departure and arrival dates during his weeks of cat-sitting.  This has also been useful these last weeks as he moved stuff out of his place and into mine, and then during his days of staying here.  A part of me wants to ask for them back (he will no longer need them, and what with my mother arriving in three days time, I'd like to have a set to offer her), but a part of me wants to ensure he's never without them.  Where I am, I want him to know, will always be home to him.

This, in the end, is one of the reasons I am so reluctant to leave New York, one of my deeply-rooted reasons for staying:  people so often seem to come back.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


A friend gave us this innocent-looking little ceramic paring knife yesterday.  It's already proven perfect for peeling and slicing up last week's delicious CSA apples, and I'm sure will prove perfect for many other kitchen happenings.  The problem is that every time I look at it, just sitting there all innocent-like, I have this strange and irresistible urge to run my fingers down the blade, if only to prove to myself that it's not just a glorified plastic picnic knife.

Resisting this compulsion all day has led to strange rambling thoughts (just ask Evan) about The Subtle Knife. Not the whole book, though I adored the whole book, but rather thoughts of the knife itself.  Its (in my imagination at least) smallness, its discreteness, its ability to cut through the fabric of worlds; the wraiths that are brought into existence with each slice and dice of the subtle knife, each rending of that world-separating fabric, and the souls those wraiths feed on, leaving empty husks in place of men.

It's gotten ridiculous, to the point where I don't even want it out drying in the dish rack but don't quite know what to do with it. It of course won't stick to the magnetic knife rack where I can keep an eye on it, but I don't want it in the cutlery drawer, just begging to be grabbed unawares.  I am hoping that I will wake up in the morning with all thoughts of it magically disappeared in the night, and that I won't have to run my thumb smoothly down its blade to determine once and for all its true or imagined danger.


sklar's new roommate

Thursday, October 07, 2010

for booklovers, new york lovers, map lovers

Thanks to Bookstore Patti*, bookseller extraordinaire, this is where I've been wasting a fair amount of time recently:

A Literary Map of Manhattan

*Like her on Facebook here

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

oh how i adore independent bookstores

(Or, as Norman once said, "Celebrate your independents.")

head troubles

For the most part, I don't often think about my lack of depth perception.  (Though to this day one of my all-time favorite movie moments is that scene in Wayne's World where our intrepid hero is in bed with his girlfriend and they show him looking at her first through one eye and then through the other, with him saying, "Camera One, Camera Two."*  This is how I see all the time, except I do it with both eyes open and end up seeing double sometimes and get lots of headaches.)

For the most part, as I said, I don't think about it much.  The body learns to compensate for any number of deficiencies, and given that I've had this particular deficiency since the tender age of six months, my body has learned to compensate pretty well.

But then there are these odd moments every now and again when it comes crashing back in.

Like being made physically ill by Avatar, just for example.

Or the time a few months back when I reached for a door handle and, well, you know how when you know you're going to be pulling on something heavy your body preemptively starts to lean back?  Let's just say I've learned not to be quite so preemptive, as I completely missed the door handle and barely caught myself from crashing backwards onto the sidewalk.  In front of many people.

Or those moments of crushing vertigo when descending or ascending stairs, especially stairs with no backs or stairs made of glass, like at Apple stores or Soho's Uniqlo.  (And that scene towards the end of season one of Dollhouse, when Alpha is still playing Kepler and terrified of the stairs?**  Love, love, love that scene.)

And then there was the other day, in the bathroom at work, when I reached over to get some paper towels and thwacked my head into the paper towel dispenser.  As Nick pointed out, that one was special even for me -- a motion, a physical action, performed almost daily still getting the best of me (and with the lump, if small, to prove it).

Yes, it's been one of those weeks.  Sore of head and bruised of ego, though luckily, at least, no one was around to hear the crash or the ensuing curses.

* Take a look at this nifty little  online depth perception test.  I can't do the first part at all but I can do the second part with both eyes open.  What about you?

**Stephen Kepler: The stairs lack risers!
Paul Ballard: What?
Stephen Kepler: The vertical part that makes the back of each stair is called a riser.
Paul Ballard: I know what they are!
Stephen Kepler: No, no, wait! Please. Sometimes when I go on stairs that don’t have risers I get this feeling, this awful sensation, that’s somethings going reach out and grab my ankle, like a claw or a tentacle!
Paul Ballard: This is life or death!
Stephen Kepler: It could be a hand! An ordinary hand!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

girl troubles

I don't know how women do it, these daily acts of being a woman:  the grooming, the shaving, the eye-brow plucking, the hair-styling, the wearing so stylishly of skirts and dresses.

I bought this adorable corduroy skirt recently, soft and velvety and fawn-colored, just shy of the knees and with the sweetest little bell-shape.

I love it, I really do.  And I put it on this morning, and pulled on some charcoal-y stockingish things and my black high-heeled clunky boots and my lace-trimmed black camisole and my burgundy-ish eyelet long-sleeved hoodie, and walked out the door feeling tall and sexy and cute.

Only to have my adorable little skirt riding half way up my thighs and no end in sight before I even crossed the street to the bus stop.  So I spent the bus-ride to work berating myself for not bringing along a pair of pants to change into (just in case...), and wondering how the hell I'll get through the day with the constant not so subtle tugging down of the skirt as I clomp my way around the library, and back across campus again to meet my boys for dinner.

I love my skirt, I really do.  But apparently women sometimes also need slips.  Or something.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

five years

Today is the Fort Tryon Medieval Festival, which, as I was just saying to my new office-mate, I try to go to every year and every year, after about fifteen minutes, I start wondering why I bothered going.

Sometimes I get caught up in the rituals, in the traditions, of my life, and this is one of those traditions.  (As evidenced, in fact, by my very first blog post here on the Darker Mind, five years ago today.)

Today, you see, is the Fort Tryon Medieval Festival and I am at work in my basement library instead of wandering amongst the knights and their ladies and the leather crowd and kids with face paint and over-priced pickle vendors and the never-ending lines at the too-few food carts and the kitsch and not-nearly-funny-enough jesters and incongruous belly dancers and sellers of cheap swords.

I know the Festival is ridiculous but it's also a rite of passage, a rite of seasons: something that unfailingly drives home the fact that another year is beginning to approach its end.

Evan and Nathan and I have been hashing out Christmas and New Year's Eve plans, or at least beginning to contemplate the hashing out of such plans, but only today does the encroaching cold seem real, marked out by the inevitableness of the Festival even if I can't be there.

It is a perfect day today, crisp and hard-edged and blue-skied, clouds so high and bright there can be no threat of rain.  I don't remember a rainy Festival day -- it is always as it is today, which seems particularly strange after last week's torrential rains and tornado winds.

It's been a strange five years, heartbreaking and beautiful and full to the brim with love and for this, despite the oncoming winter, I am grateful.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Yours truly, as you may have noticed, attended a wedding last weekend.  A beautiful and decadent and emotionally moving wedding at which a grand old time was had by all.  And at which the infamous ex-boyfriend and his lovely new bride were also in attendance.  (On a sidenote, boys, just for future reference: suspenders make you look old.  If you're not yet actually old and you're forced to wear a tux, go with the vest or cummerbund.  See my boys in the link above.  I'm just saying.*)

At any rate, the infamous ex and I managed to smile amicably enough at each other and it was a relief to see him without the immediate compulsion to either (or, I suppose, simultaneously) burst into tears or kick him in the 'nads.  I was slightly taken aback, however, at the one verbal exchange we had, which consisted entirely of him explaining how awkward and stressful were the three minutes of his and the aforementioned bride's first dance following their wedding ceremony.  Seriously, dearest ex?  Pick your audience.

And, I swear, that's all I have to say about that.  Also, I looked damn good** if I do say so myself, even if still in my usual funny-looking librarianish way.

*This, of course, coming from a woman who thinks wool shawls equal black-tie and regularly curls up under granny square afghans.

**Thanks, Shanna, for that weird but kinda great photo -- there aren't many of me that I like much!

comics like you've never seen

Also Friend Josh gets a shout-out.

strange light, gray shawl

at the rubin

Friend Dave, behind the scenes at the Rubin Museum.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"U" Like Garden

at the mall

Had a lovely post-wedding brunch at the White Plains Crown Plaza Hotel this morning, which just happens to be across the street from The Westchester, as in one of the most ridiculous and expensive malls I've ever been in. Not that I've been to many malls other than the much more down at the heel Jefferson Valley Mall, where I spent an embarrassing amount of time as a suburban teenager.  We, or at least I, was excited at the prospect of walking around a mall.  I bought a black cardigan on sale at the Gap.  Marcos found some stripey socks that caught his fancy at Nordstrom's.  Then we went home.