Monday, August 30, 2010


Evan's been teasing me this last week or so, and I entirely deserve it.  See, I've been crushing on this Canadian singer, this little blond girl (I guess I have a thing, sometimes, for cute blond girls -- but then again, who doesn't?) with the voice of an angel and the cutest little snub nose you ever did see.  Armed with an autoharp, a grumpy-looking violist friend, and an adorably curly-headed little brother, she's totally won me over.

(Basia Bulat, Gold Rush)

Also solo gorgeous Gold Rush, Walk You Down, Run, Heart of My Own, Heart of My Own (again, and in Paris!).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

fuschia bike (remnants), firmly locked, 123rd street

I've been walking past this bicycle almost daily for the past week or so on my way to the train after work.  First a wheel went missing. Then the handlebars.  Eventually (I imagine) nothing will remain but the lock, impenetrable, lingering like the smile of the Cheshire Cat.

lone pumpkin, 187th Street

This adorable little pumpkin has been quietly growing away just outside the front door of my apartment building. No one seems to know who planted it, but I think a certain communal affection has grown up around it a bit. I've seen parents pointing it out to their kids, and the kids crouching down to peer at it and touch it, and I've even caught Joe, our beloved little old doorman, watering it on occasion.

csa goodness, 8.26.10

Thursday, August 26, 2010

coffee (again), or, the small not knowings

As some of you may have gathered by now, I drink a bit of coffee and harbor a certain fondness for the men from whom I purchase said coffee.  And I've been feeling a little bit sad recently at the lack of lunch cart on the corner of 116th & Amsterdam, not far from my office.  Not because I don't have other options for my mid-day coffee, of course, but because the guy there and me, well, let's just say I've been buying coffee from him for a very long time.  Over a decade now, in point of fact.

He's been known to go on vacation every once in awhile, and there have been scattered days when his little cart hasn't graced us with its presence.  But this time feels different.  It's been a couple weeks now since he's been around, and a couple days ago there was (gasp) a pretzel stand in his spot.  Which seems somehow like he's given up that corner, and the city is offering it up to other street vendors.  And this made me realize that while I put a lot of weight in my daily routines I have little idea what goes on behind them, or on other side of them.  Has he left the country and gone back to his childhood home far away?  (And where exactly is that far away, anyway?) Has he fallen ill (or possibly worse)?  Will he ever again gruffly waive off my attempts at digging that last quarter out of the lint-strewn bottomless pit that is sometimes my bag?

It's funny to miss someone one barely knows, and yet there it is.  This tiny, consistently bright thread woven through the fabric of my beloved city, through the daily fabric of my life, has disappeared into the unknown and unknowable and this, this breaks my heart a little bit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

bells. also the walking dead.

We were down on the Bowery the other day looking for strange kitchen gadgets on the cheap, and one of the restaurant supply stores we found ourselves exploring had $5 bells. You know, the kind that sit on counters in motel lobbies the world over, at least in the movies and old novels.  Cute little silver dome-shaped bells with a little button on top just begging to be depressed.  By which of course I mean rung.  Sometimes irresistibly, just to hear that pleasingly harmonious jangly chime ring out again and again and again.  (At least this is how I feel about them sometimes.)

At any rate, we have such a bell at our reserves desk in the library and we are all well-trained, Pavlovian style, to jump at the ringing of said bell.  But sadly, our sweet little overworked bell has been rung beyond endurance and for awhile now has emitted only a sad little clunk instead of that pleasingly jangly chime.  We jump anyway, our ears well attuned to said clunk, but our dear patrons don't necessarily know this and sometimes stand there at the desk banging away at that bell, oblivious to our (almost always) internal cringes and grimaces and twitches.

 So you can imagine my excitement upon seeing that row of little boxes all neatly aligned, each containing a single shining bell, hidden deep in the bowels of one of those cavernous Bowery restaurant supply stores.  And finally this morning I remembered to bring it to work, chiming softly with my every step from within the confines of my beloved messenger bag.

It is early in the day still, and our doors have not yet opened to the public, yet here I sit in anticipation of that sound, that jangly harmonious chiming noise, ringing out through our cavernously dark basement library and brightening up yet another gray and rainy late-August day.

Also, The Walking Dead is coming soon to the little screen.  How excited am I? Pretty damned excited. Well, I would be more excited if I got AMC, but my technologically savvy boyfriend assures me that there are ways and then there are ways of getting around such minor impediments as that.

Monday, August 23, 2010

comics & tweets

Evan and I headed to midtown yesterday afternoon in search of the perfect bowl of ramen, and came pretty close to finding it at Menchanko-tei.  But just as we were getting ready to head back out into the light of day, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour set in.  Luckily for Evan, Midtown Comics just happened to be literally next door to where we had been slurping up our noodles and Japanese picles.  Not so luckily for me, though:  at first because I was bored, and then eventually because I found such wonderful things and what I need just about as much as a kick in the head is something else to start spending my hard-earned money on.  Like the Walking Dead (only $38 for over 1000 of yummy zombie badness? How can a girl say no to that?).  And Buffy.  And more Sandman.  And this stunning little number.  And the lushly gorgeous comic-book rendering of the Dark Tower series, which I have been reading this summer in its original novel form.  Oh the temptation...

In other news, friend Zak posted this fascinating (and infuriating) Salon article yesterday explaining how the so-called "ground zero mosque" has been trumped up into a false scandal to win over votes in an election year.  All the controversy aside, I can't help but find it disturbing to think that we live in an era in which our politicians 'tweet' at us.  As in, "Sarah Palin had tweeted her famous 'peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate' tweet."

Headline I would like to see?  Sarah Tweets Her Last: former half-term Alaskan governor and failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's twitter feed canceled permanently by order of defenders of the English language everywhere.

Friday, August 20, 2010

'when people speak of a haunted house...'

   "I think if you live in one place long enough—"
   "When people speak of a haunted house, they mean ghosts flitting about in it, but that’s not it at all. When a house is haunted—what I’m trying to explain—it is the feeling you get that it looks like you, that your soul has become architecture, and the house in all its materials has taken you over with a power akin to haunting. As if you, in fact, are the ghost. And as I look at you, a kind, lovely young woman, part of me says not that I don’t belong here, which is the truth, but that you don’t belong here. I’m sorry, that’s quite a terrible thing to say. It merely means—"
   "It means life is heartbreaking."

(E.L. Doctorow, Edgemont Drive)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

weddings, death, violins, bagels, school

It's funny how seemingly disparate threads of our lives, having unraveled years ago, can sometimes re-converge, bringing back crystalline moments we had perhaps forgotten. Such was the morning of returning to school, beginning that strange transition back into the normal world of a 16-year-old girl, a few days after my father's death.

I've had weddings on the brain lately, what with  Jessica & Andrew's May wedding and the honor of reading a poem there, the ex-boyfriend's wedding a couple days ago, Mom & Paul's 8th anniversary a week ago, what would have been Mom & Dad's 42nd anniversary in June, Nate & Shanna's first anniversary in September, the upcoming black-tie affair, and of course Katrin & Jon's  lovely lake wedding earlier this month.

Oh Katrin's wedding.  It was beautiful and joyous and sweet and in a way, for me, heartbreakingly sad. It was a reminder that that place, that beloved lake of mine, is a place I can visit, can even return to again and again, but can never force into still being home. It was also in many ways the wedding I might have wanted had my family stayed in Lake Mohegan, had my father been around to walk me down the 'aisle.'  I envied Katrin those moments with Nico, even as I smiled to see them together, looking stunningly beautiful beneath the overarching trees and spattering of raindrops as Nico walked Katrin down to the water, to us, to her Jon.  I envied Katrin that perfect moment when the sun came out, bathing them both in a radiant golden light as they spoke their vows to each other, though I was grinning even as I cried (yes, I cry sometimes at weddings).

At the same time I am grateful for having a chance to somehow re-experience this beloved growing-up place at such a lovely occasion, on such a lovely day.  The other time there was such a large lake event was for my father's memorial service, back in 1993.  We, clothed in sadness and clustered down by the water on a stunningly beautiful April morning, perched on benches and the beached swimming raft and ad hoc rows of folding chairs, listened to Katrin and her sister, Yona, play their little violins in between people speaking -- some tragically sad piece that they had learned the day before just for the occasion (prodigies the both of them, I swear).

It was a special moment to watch Yona, all grown up now and absolutely stunning herself, pull out her violin and swing away at those strings in honor of her sister's marriage.  And it was a strangely transforming afternoon, this gathering for such a different kind of celebration -- the unadulterated joy of watching two people setting off on a life together instead of the bittersweet joy of celebrating a life's ending, even if a life well-lived.

And then just yesterday, out of the blue, I got a message from Stephen, a boy I knew a little bit in high school, to whom I had written a letter awhile back (always with the letters, this girl).  Seems he finally saw said letter and to reassure me that it was really him replying, even though he doesn't really remember me (embarrassing? yeah a little bit -- such is the legacy of the shy and timid teenager), he mentioned the bagel table.

Back in high school we string players were constantly trying to raise money for the orchestra.  One of those ways was selling bagels a couple mornings a week in the school lobby before classes started.  It fell to the kids with cars (or in my case to the kid with the really nice mom) to get up at ungodly hours and pick up the bagels.  We roped in the rest for slicing and buttering and money-taking duty, and they were pretty good about showing up by 7am on their scheduled days (which now that I think about it is pretty impressive for teenagers).  Even so, as orchestra president (whatever that meant), I kind of felt like a nag:  constantly reminding or reprimanding or annoying people about coming in for their shifts.

My father died on a Sunday and I stayed home from school for most of that week, but I was on the bagel schedule for that Friday and made one of the friends or relatives who'd flown in for the memorial service drive me to the school.  I walked in to find Mr. Schwartz, high school orchestra conductor extraordinaire, and Stephen setting up in the lobby.  They looked up at me, glanced at each other, and then Mr. Schwartz just smiled this sad warm smile and said, "I guess we should have known you'd come in today."

And that's how I went back to school, and it's strange that until yesterday I'd forgotten that moment so completely it may as well never have happened.

scenes from a wedding

article of the day

And so hilarious I'm stealing it outright, courtesy of the UK's The DailyMash:


Plans to build a state-of-the-art library next to Republican catastrophe Sarah Palin are causing outrage across mainstream America.

Campaigners have described the project as insensitive and a deliberate act of provocation by people with brains.

The issue is forming a dividing line in advance of November's mid-term congressional elections with candidates being forced to declare whether they have ever been to a library or spoken to someone who has books in their home.

Meanwhile President Obama has caused unease within his own Democratic party by endorsing the library and claiming that not everyone who reads books is responsible for calling Mrs Palin a fuckwit nutjob nightmare of a human being.

But Bill McKay, a leading member of the right-wing Teapot movement, said: "Sarah Palin is a hallowed place for Americans who can't read.

"How is she going to feel knowing that every day there are people going inside a building to find things out for themselves and have thoughts, right in the very shadow of her amazing nipples."

He added: "Our founding fathers intended for every building in this country to be a church containing one book, written by Jesus, that would be read out in a strange voice by an orange man in a shiny suit who would also tell you who you were allowed to kill.

"Building a library next to Mrs Palin is like Pearl Harbour. Or 9/11."

And Wayne Hayes, a pig masseur from Coontree, Virginia, said: "I is so angry right now.

"It's like something is on fire right in the middle of my head. Like I've eaten a real hot chilli, but it's gone up my nose tubes rather than down my ass tubes."

He added: "Would these library lovers allow me to set up a stall next to the Smithsonian Museum and start selling DVDs of bible cartoons as long as it was in accordance with local regulations?

"Oh they would? I see. So is that why they're better than me?"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the stairs

These are the stairs I mentioned a few weeks back, where Star the Cat and I would commune of an evening, that god-awful summer after freshman year of college.  Those shared stair moments were among the few highlights of those particular summer months, and it was with both trepidation and glee that I ventured out to the back of the Pereiras' garage during my Mohegan weekend earlier this month.  They are overgrown now, and looking splintery and rickety nearly to the point of collapse, yet there they are still standing tall, and there I was still loving them.

'i never learned to count my blessings...'

(Ray LaMontagne, Empty)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday, August 15, 2010

looking forward, or, come the cold weather

We brunched at Bleu today with neighborhood friends Jessica & Andrew, and Jessica mentioned that she hasn't done much beading in awhile because it's always felt like more of an autumn activity to her than anything else.  I decided that we four should get together for a craft evening sometime once the weather turns, and rather unkindly teased Evan about his lack of a crafty hobby type thing -- to which he logically replied that cooking is his craft and hobby.  (Which, to me, is pretty much ideal.)

So I am already looking forward to the turning of this season into the next, and the leaves first reddening before falling, and an evening of beading and knitting and whittling and cooking, all brought together in my cozy little apartment perched near the northern tip of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson and the sheer cliffs and the rocky woods bordering New Jersey.

And maybe, if I'm lucky and play my cards just so, I'll get another gorgeous little necklace to accompany my first and another adorable little carved owl to be company to my first.  Not to mention an Evan-original delicious and beautiful dinner.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

sketches in flowers

I have a love/hate relationship with flowers connected in odd ways to anger, sadness, and loss along with the more normal expressions of love, beauty, devotion.

My father had to go to Germany for several weeks just a month or so after we first moved to Mohegan Lake, leaving my poor mother behind in this big new house in a strange new neighborhood with two little kids to look after.  Most tragical to me, of course, was that he missed my seventh birthday, but he did have a bouquet of flowers delivered to me that 21st of June -- a bunch of white carnations in the form of a cupcake.  I don't know why I remember this, but I do know that I've never liked carnations.

My father also always brought a bouquet of flowers to my orchestra concerts in junior high and high school, and this always made me feel pleasingly adult-like even though I wasn't even a particularly grown-up teenager.

One of my favorite things to do when I was a kid was to spend entire afternoons poring over my mother's bulb catalogs and picking out a couple different kinds of bulbs for the fall plantings in anticipation of spring. The Angelique tulips, which came up year after year near the fireplace behind the house, were always among my favorites, along with the sweep of bright yellow daffodils that Dad so treasured, scattered across the rise in front of the tennis court in the front yard.

One year my mother let me order some bulbs to plant down at the lake:  mixed daffodils for their longevity and tendency to multiply, grape hyacinths for their early color and general cuteness, Grecian windflowers just because I loved them.  Friend Cindy and I spent an entire afternoon that October sipping milky tea out of thermoses and digging happily away in the dirt. The windflower bulbs were unearthed by hungry rodents later that winter and the hyacinth bulbs rotted in the ground during the spring thaw but the daffodils... Apparently a handful of daffodils still come up every spring, and even though my family left that neighborhood fifteen years ago some of the neighbors still think fondly of us come April.

I love purple, yellow-tongued irises, as mentioned here before.  I think they are probably my favorite flower of all, going back to 1989 and the farmers' market near our little Paris apartment:  the wonderful Maubert-Mutualite market and the armfuls of purple irises I carried home from there most Tuesdays and Saturdays.  They looked so cheerful, caught up in bunches in glass bottles on our wooden table, sun streaming in the huge living-room windows and glowing around them and falling across the tiled floor.

I once managed to make an old boyfriend so angry, so enraged, just moments after he walked in the door with an armful of purple irises, that he screamed and hollered and jumped up and down in wordless fury and ripped them to shreds and flung them all over the apartment.  I guess I knew how to push his buttons, and for weeks afterward we would find remnants, scattered little shards, of this sweet gesture gone so terribly awry.  I didn't get flowers again until last November, when I walked in from work one day to find the cutest little orange & yellow daisy bouquet awaiting my arrival on the kitchen island -- a sweet farewell from another boyfriend on the eve of a month-long sojourn in Spain.  (That's not entirely true -- I've gotten lovely little birthday bouquets and hostess bouquets from friend Susan over the years, a woman of enduring etiquette and impeccable grace.)

Two days ago, just this past Monday, former office-mate and dear friend Erica arrived for dinner, arms full of jauntily-wrapped book and paper-wrapped flowers.  I knew from the look on her face as I moved in to hug her that they could only be purple irises (one thing about having an office-mate become such a dear friend is that she's had to endure the worst of my stories again and again, and came in to the office day after day during the winter of that particularly nasty break-up to find me in tears over this, over that, over nothing at all, and somehow absorbed it all without giving up in frustration, hands flung up in the air).

She explained that these were a late birthday present, and that she'd been calling the florist on the corner of 181st almost daily waiting for them to get in some purple irises, and that they finally had come in that morning, and so here they were.  And there they sit while I am here at work, those stately purple irises caught up in baby's breath and the warm afternoon glow of my living room, just waiting for me to walk in on them cheerily absorbing the early evening light.

Friday, August 06, 2010

down the rabbit hole

It's funny how you can think you know someone, even minimally, and then be surprised to the core when you discover that there are fundamental differences you just can't seem to get your head around.

I have a policy of not being "Facebook friends" with my student employees.  It doesn't come up often, but inevitably a couple times a semester I get such a friend request.  There ensues a slightly awkward conversation in which I explain that if they still want to be "friends" once they've graduated, that would be lovely, but in the meantime we'll stick with our working relationship.

This happened with one of the best student employees I've had in the eleven years (yes, eleven years!) I've been working here at Columbia, and I was and am tickled pink that we remain in touch even through the nebulous connection that is Facebook.

Yesterday we got into a discussion about Judge Walker's ruling that Proposition 8 is in fact unconstitutional (see Rachel Maddow's bit on putting minority rights up for a vote) and I was taken aback at the outpouring of anti-gay rhetoric.  As a New York City girl, as a Barnard graduate and a Columbia University employee, as a child of an incredibly liberal and progressive family, I forget sometimes that there are real people -- people I know and respect -- who talk in the vein of Maggie Gallagher and other faithful NOMers who come up with brilliant little logical nuggets like this.

I don't know anyone else, at least not personally, who puts marriage in quotes when talking about same-sex couples.  I don't know anyone else who talks in terms of same-sex newlyweds infringing on parental rights across the land, or speaks of elementary school teachers "degrading themselves" by reading aloud to their students books like King and King or And Tango Makes Three or Heather Has Two Mommies or uses this mother* as an example of the horrors parents will endure should a first-grade teacher (God forbid) mention her fiancee in class.

Ultimately this friend did say that he has no problem with the legality of same-sex marriage (though I don't entirely buy that), but the language, the context, out of which that statement finally came was a context of judgment and disapproval -- an inherent belief that same-sex couples, though they must be tolerated because they are not criminal, should still be tucked safely away out of the light of day (and away from the eyes of innocent children).

I like discussion and argument, as anyone who knows me knows all too well, and I can (usually) see the value in other people's opinions even when I disagree with them.  But I'm honestly having trouble with this one and don't know where to go from here.  Nowhere, probably.  I don't want to isolate myself from such alien ideas, but it's strange to be friends with someone whose understanding of equality is so fundamentally different from my own.  When he speaks of indoctrination and protecting the children, he is speaking of an attitude he harbors towards people I hold dear, towards myself and feelings I've had for several beautiful and amazing women over the years, towards a sense of fairness and justice on which I do not wish to compromise.

All of that said, what better way to keep an eye on the enemy (and I use that term with a certain wry smile rather than a serious hard stance) than to keep an eye on his status updates and throw in my two cents now and again.

*I spent a little while perusing the comments on that article about the traumatized mother and came across two that jumped out at me.  First, commenter ACG remembered her own teacher's announcement that she was getting married, and imagined one possible scenario for the current situation which struck me as right on.  Second, and this may be my favorite put-down of all time, was commenter ACG's response to this drivel from TownCryer:

TownCryer:  This country has allowed ‘Civil Union’ for gay people … they can marry and put their partner on their insurance or pension etc. …. they have an option …

ACG:  This is… not true. It’s just incorrect, in the sense that your facts are wrong. If you look at facts that are correct, and then look at your facts, you’ll see that they’re different.

ACG, of Practically Harmless, may just be my new favorite blogger.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

'safe at last, seeing my thoughts are in order...'

I spent yesterday in my basement library plowing through reserves processing in anticipation of the all too quickly approaching fall semester.  I actually love summer Saturdays in the library -- so dark and cool and quiet.  One or the other of my student employees will inevitably go on a coffee run at some point, and we chat for a bit, and then they do their thing and I do mine.  On the hottest of days it's almost a pleasure to be in the office, partaking in air conditioning on someone else's dime, listening to Radio Paradise as I work my way through the day.

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, they played this song, the Cocteau Twins' Summerhead, and I found myself abruptly thrown back to the summer of '95.

I spent that summer, the summer after my freshman year at Barnard, lifeguarding at the lake and living in a funny little apartment above neighbors Mike & Kathy's garage. Star, my childhood cat who stayed with our Mohegan house when the rest of us went our separate ways, came to visit most evenings. He refused to come inside, but would perch on the back steps and caterwaul until I went out and sat with him for awhile.  I would perch next to him there on the steps, scratching his ears and smoking a clove and listening to the Cocteau Twins wafting through the screen door from the boom box back in the bedroom.

This was one of those songs that I listened to a lot that particular summer.  This and Bjork's Hyper-ballad, which to this day has the power to move me to tears. Oh those lyrics, and oh those final thirty seconds.

It was fun and disarming and sweet to revisit that July of fifteen years ago so unexpectedly yesterday afternoon, but I am happy to never have to be nineteen again.

we live on a mountain, right at the top
there's a beautiful view from the top of the mountain
every morning i walk towards the edge
and throw little things off, like car parts, bottles and cutlery
or whatever i find lying around

it's become a habit, a way to start the day

i go through this before you wake up
so i can feel happier to be safe up here with you

it's real early morning, no one is awake
i'm back at my cliff still throwing things off
i listen to the sounds they make on their way down
i follow with my eyes 'til they crash
imagine what my body would sound like
slamming against those rocks

and when it lands will my eyes be closed or open?

i'll go through all this before you wake up
so i can feel happier to be safe up here with you... 
(Bjork.  Also there is this awesome Andy Clockwise cover)