Monday, March 31, 2014

on the train

1.  Friday evening, heading home from work, I got on the A-train, grabbed an overhead pole and immediately lost myself in the book I'm reading these days.  At the next stop a seat opened up in front of me and a young woman pushed her way through to it, lost in whatever she had playing on her headphones and not making eye contact with anyone around her.  When she got herself comfortably settled, though, she glanced up at me, suddenly grinned and said, "Oh! I love that book!"

I myself am having a love/hate relationship with this book (to be honest, mostly hate), but for that moment I was so glad to be reading it -- and in paper form. And I've been thinking ever since about how communal the act of reading has traditionally been -- a place of shared opinions, shared experience, with people we love, people we know, and people who up until a sudden moment of recognition have been complete strangers.  The electronic revolution is a wonderful thing, of course, but not without its sacrifices.

2.  Yesterday I met some friends for a Sunday matinee down near Lincoln Center, then meandered my way north and eventually hopped on the train at 109th Street. A couple stops before mine, a couple boarded the train, guitars in hand, and stood in the middle of the car and sang the most beautiful song, filled with gorgeously lush harmonies. I, apparently a sucker for gorgeously lush harmonies closed my book and craned forward, peering down the train at this singing couple, completely enthralled.  As we pulled into my station I hopped up and dug a dollar out of my bag and ran down the length of the car to give it to them. I'd never heard this sort of music on the train before, and clearly I wasn't the only one impressed -- two or three others were making that dash with me.

In the elevator up to the street I again opened my book and tried, as I often do, to tune out my fellow elevator riders.  But this time I couldn't help smiling -- two different pairs of my fellow subway riders were discussing how beautiful the music had been.  And I was thinking how lovely it was that this guitar-playing angelically-voiced duo had managed to break through our usual interpersonal barriers. When you've managed to get a bunch of New Yorkers talking about you in hushed, reverent voices after a long subway ride, you know you're doing something right.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

urban ocean

Every once in awhile, when the traffic is just right along the West Side Highway and the air is heavy with rain, it sounds a little bit like the sea.

This afternoon as I sat meditating there was a lull in the usual neighborhood noise -- no childish shouting, no garbage trucks, no sirens or dogs barking or skater kids showing off out on the square.  .  In moments like that, when the neighborhood is quiet and my head is quiet and the traffic, as I said, is just right -- swelling and receding in intermittent waves on a lazy rainy Sunday afternoon -- I can almost smell it: the briny, comforting salty edges of an ocean shore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

at the bus stop, or, getting my stroll on

I've taken to walking some mornings to a bus stop a little further away from my apartment than my normal one just around the corner. It's a pretty walk up towards the park and the very beginning of the bus route, with the Hudson and the trees lining the Hudson and all that great big sky opening up on my left, schools and apartment buildings and playgrounds to my right. It seems a nice thing to do in the morning -- this extra bit of outdoor time, these extra moments of sky -- before getting on the bus and heading (relatively) downtown and into my basement office for the day.

One of my regular bus drivers noticed this change in routine last week and demanded, all serious-like, "What are you doing at this stop, young lady, going undercover or something?" I laughed and said I was just taking a little walk before work, and he laughed and said, "Well, that sounds just nice."

This morning I walked up there again, enjoying the wind blowing off the river and up the hill and through my hair. There are always a couple buses parked around the circle in front of the entrance to the park waiting to start their trips south, winding their slow and ponderous way through Manhattan.  As soon as I got to the bus stop today, the second in line rumbled to life and pulled up to the stop too. I climbed aboard, windblown and smiling contentedly and the bus driver, my bus driver, grinned at me and said, quite happily it seemed, "Getting our morning stroll on, were we?"

I, fingers slightly numbed by the cold (or perhaps flustered by being noticed and remembered quite this much), managed to put my metrocard in upside down and backwards. He just chuckled and waved me back to my usual seat, where I spent the next twenty minutes or so ostensibly ensconced in a book but really kind of glowing from the brisk morning air and the simple joy of being known in the big city.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

this strange and lovely thing called family

I can't begin to tell you how much I love this picture.
It came the other day in a rare and unexpected email from a relative, my father's big brother, my formidable Uncle Earle. I say rare and unexpected because he and I are not often in touch directly, though I hear about his goings-on from my mother and I imagine he hears about mine.

But clearly I don't hear nearly enough about his goings-on because the message* that came with this wonderful picture took me completely by surprise. It also managed to make me feel both very, very happy and indescribably sad, all mixed up and at the same time.

When I was a little girl I always loved visiting my aunt and uncle and their magical house of mysteries. But then adolescence kicked in, and then college, and then jobs and bills and all that fun adult stuff, and somehow years go by now in between visits. 

My uncle of the constantly wry expression (due largely but I would guess not entirely to a long-ago medical issue about which I am fuzzy on the specifics), the brilliantly dry wit, and the deep, gruff voice, I confess, intimidated me a little when I was growing up. He seemed not to share my father's innate goofiness and playful laughter, and somehow the fact that he so loved gardening (and the fact that my father so loved him) didn't quite soften the edges I'd built up around him in my head. I began to suspect my childish impressions weren't entirely accurate quite a few years ago, though, and this most recent email is just further proof that clearly I've been missing out on something beautiful.

This picture of Earle -- smiling shyly amidst armfuls of gorgeous daffodils with his beautiful garden spreading out behind him -- momentarily took my breath away. It made me miss my father and his quirky grin with a particular sweet ache I haven't felt in a long time. It made me miss the idea of him growing older, graying, balding, surrounded by daffodils on a first day of spring. It made me crave watching him settle into retirement, into his golden years, with as much gentleness and grace as my perhaps not-so-formidable-after-all Uncle Earle.

I have this fantasy - this idea - of moving west and falling into the warm embrace of these people, this amazing family that sometimes I fear I barely know.

  *"Hi M - this is one of my "art" projects. Delivering 550 daffodils around town to businesses and people I care about. Wish i could smile better.  Hope all is well with you. Love Uncle Earle"

Friday, March 14, 2014

a confident stumble

Somehow I've gotten in to my oh-so-embarrassingly couch-potato-y head a notion to take up jogging this spring. I was talking about this to friend Nick not to long ago and he said, "That'd be great! I always like running. We'll run together."

To which I replied, "Well, running might be a strong word. It will probably be more of a leisurely jog."

To which he replied, "Oh, okay. We can stumble along together at a slightly faster rate than usual then."

This morning I emailed two of my neighborhood friends exhorting them to join me in this perhaps ludicrous effort. I told them not to worry, though, and relayed Nick's quip.

To which one of them just replied, "I was going to say: I can do a confident stumble!"

So, there you go. Our modus operandi, our rallying cry, our raison d'etre: to achieve the confident stumble.

Monday, March 10, 2014

class wars. also family histories.

One of the nice things about spending so much time with family friend Bill these past weeks has been hearing little stories -- beautiful little fragments -- about my father.

As you may have gathered by now, family friend Bill was one of my father's best friends. The two Bills, if  you will! (Though thinking about it now, as an adult, I am sort of amazed that they became such close friends. They are very, very different in so many ways -- my father the westerner, rugged, a little ragged, a country mouse in the big city.  Bill comparatively sophisticated, in touch with his feelings, urban and urbane, well-versed in cosmopolitan living.)

Somehow last week, during our weekly get-together, we ended up talking about money. Specifically, we were talking about how some people just seem to have too damned much of it.*  Suddenly Bill said, "Now, your father, his politics were good of course. But he wasn't by any means a radical when you guys first got to New York."

He went on to tell me how, not too long after we moved here from the west coast, Dad had taken Mom out on the town.  Part of their wanderings that day involved a leisurely stroll down 5th Avenue, and this leisurely afternoon stroll led to some surprising results.

"After that walk," Bill said, "he came to the conclusion that it was time for a revolution."
*When there are hotel rooms that go for tens of thousands a night, and hamburgers in the hundreds, well, clearly some people just have too much money! But on a more serious note, this is of course a real and growing problem here in America. Check it out.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

split pea coconut curry soup

I have a confession. I only made this soup because I fell in love with the color of the yellow split peas in the bulk section of the Columbus Avenue Whole Foods a few weeks ago. They were such a warm buttery orange-y color that I found them absolutely irresistible. They've been hiding in one of my cupboards until this morning.

Split pea coconut curry soup:
1.6 pounds of yellow split peas
1 can coconut milk
a whole lotta ginger, finely chopped
a whole lotta garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 tablespoons curry powder
a tablespoon or two of tomato paste
some butter
pinch of saffron
broth/water/bullion cubes
cilantro and lime wedges for garnish
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the split peas, then cover with water or broth, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes or so, until they come apart and the liquid thickens. (I used water but added a couple bullion cubes.)

While the lentils are cooking, toast the curry powder in a dry pan until it just begins to smoke but not burn (a few minutes over medium heat). Transfer powder to a bowl and then melt some butter in the pan and add the ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until soft, stir in the tomato paste, curry powder, and saffron. Add this mess to your soup pot, stir, and let simmer for a few more minutes.

Shake your can of coconut milk and stir that into the soup.

Serve over quinoa or rice or just on its own, with lime and cilantro. Scallions would be delicious too. And you could add things like diced sweet potatoes, bell peppers, whatever.

Will definitely be making this again. Yum.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

not-sad things

I was talking to Evan the other day about how nice it's felt to be writing a bit more lately, though I feel sort of silly writing mostly about sad things. He kind of chuckled and said, "Write about whatever you want. If it means you write more, sad is okay."

If I keep it up long enough, he said, I might just run out of sad things to write about.

So today I've been remembering another conversation he and I had a couple weeks ago instead of obsessing over sad or not-sad things.

It must've been right after one of the lovely little photo-shoots I've done with one of my dearest friends recently. I was telling him, all gleeful, about my idea of getting this friend and my other awesome willing-to-model friend together this spring for a combined photo-shoot. I was rambling on excitedly about getting them all dolled up in white and pretending to be a couple coming to me for their bridal-shawl needs.

This particular chat, mind you, was of the typing-online-type, and after my rambling he said, "Wow, that'd be so cool. And this made me chuckle out loud -- you three adults getting together and playing make-believe -- which is so fucking awesome."

See? Not-sad things.