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!)