Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts That Keep on Giving

There are moments in life where you realize that you are purely and truly loved, and they usually catch you off guard.

Tonight I was walking to the Subway at 8th Street after a wonderful dinner with a wonderful friend, and I decided to switch up what I was listening to on the iPod and put on The Trip Tapes.

The Trip Tapes had originally been mix tapes that my father had made out of radio recordings and vinyl records - doo wop, 70s rock, the Beach Boys opus, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance." The "rama lama ding dong" song was a special favorite on our long, oh so very long drives from South Jersey to Vermont every winter to go skiing. (With the overnight pit stop at Schnectady followed by morning pancackes and hopefully an afternoon lift ticket if we could make it to Pico in time.)

I was carrying some Christmas presents in a shopping bag, a few of which were secretly for myself, and standing on the platform...

"Foolish little girl...
Fickle little girl...
You didn't want him when he wanted yo-o-o-u."

And I just started dancing and smiling like a fool. Trying not to be too obviously delighted. I boarded the R train. "The man who shot (bang!) Liberty Valence... He shot (bang!) Liberty Valance... He was the bravest of them all...." And I was so overwhelmed with happiness I couldn't stop beaming, remembering those long nights driving in the van that always mysetriously had french fries in the seat cracks. (Even immediately after cleaning it, new fries would appear.) It has a very uncanny power, this van.

And we, a rag tag bunch of girls with matching noses and matching smiles, sang our little girl hearts out to our favorites. Apparently we were all usually sleeping by the time the Beach Boys tape rolled around. But there were so many songs -- Wham, The Doors, the late, great Sam Cook, the fast version of A Sunday Kind of Love, "New York's a lonely town, when you're the only surfer boy... around..."

Those tapes saw many, many miles.

The first and only Christmas I ever missed at home, I spent in India, and when my parents were helping me get ready on that last day before my flight to New Dehli, my father handed me a CD wallet.

Inside, 6 disks - Trip 1, Trip 2... He had found a machine that would let him record the tapes on CD - digitizing tapes that were probably pushing 15 years old and had seen their fair share of wear and tear.

I was going on a trip. Who can do that without The Trip Tapes?

I listened to them on the rickety train from Delhi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on Christmas Day. I was listening to them as we drove through the tea fields of Kerala and on the plane as I flew on weeks later to Vietnam. On my wildest adventure, I was able to take The Trip Tapes, so that no matter what, with the push of a button, I was home. I was loved.

Listening to them brings back other memories -- and as some of my friends become fathers, I want them too to reach back and remember if they can -- two little events that to this day bring tears to my eyes because they made me feel like the most precious person in the world, so very, very loved.

I can't have been more than four or five, and we were at my grandmother's. This puts my father right around as old as I am now, I would bet. And I remember him coming in the door, and he had brought me a small plastic and metal child's ring - gold with a green stone - and I thought - and still think even to this day - that it was the best ring in the whole world.

I don't know where it came from, or what ever happened to it. Those kinds of things disappear when you're not old enough to make your own Frosted Flakes. But I never, ever forgot my father handing it to me, and how wonderful I felt realizing that he had picked it out just for me - the color of my birthstone - and gave it to me for no reason. It wasn't a special day. It wasn't my birthday. It wasn't special at all. Except for that ring.

Such a small thing, but 25 years later, it still makes me feel like I just got a bear hug. In my family there are no small hugs.

The second gift I have here in my jewelry box, and will hopefully be buried with. I want it to be the only thing in my hair at my wedding -- somewhere over the years its partner has gone missing. If the remaining one is lost, I will be devastated.

I have a single lacquered barrette. It's gold with an ivory background and dark lavender flowers with green leaves.

My father gave it to me when I was in fifth grade, after the first few years of surgeries to reconstruct my head had finally left me with enough hair to ditch the wigs, a few years after the addicent. I could brush it and style it so that I only needed my own hair, forever.

And so when I awoke from surgery, with the searing pain of being cut up, prodded and pulled back together in a new way, sick as a dog... He gave me these two beautiful barrettes in a box, like precious jewels.

It is the most precious, sacred thing I have ever received. I don't even know if he picked them out, but that will never matter. But he was a doctor, and had spared me so much. After the hours of sitting at the coffee table in the living room injecting my head with saline to fill the plastic balloon underneath that would stretch my hair to cover the rest of my bare, wounded head, so that I wouldn't have to go somewhere and have some stranger do it... To love me enough to choose to do it himself, and then to have him hand me something so delicate, beautiful and girly, overwhelmed me, and still does. It marked the end of one long road, and the beginning of another. It made me feel loved, cared for and seen. He knew how hard it was, and wanted me to feel like any little girl.

What father wouldn't?

"Tell me you love me for a million years... Then if it don't work out... If it don't work out... Then you can tell me goodbye."

Sometimes its the little things - the seemingly trivial gifts born of attention, love and time - that hold us together and can make us realize that even on the darkest night of the year, we light up the lives of everyone we touch, and smallest gestures can create a lifetime of spontaneous dancing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wonton Soup is my Mashed Potatoes

The past two months have been filled with a whirlwind of upheaval, and I find myself smack-dab in the middle of someone else's life.

I wake up at a different time, in different pajamas. I put on different clothes and better shoes. I blow-dry my hair. I take a different train to a different building, get out of the elevator on a different floor and sit at a different desk.

And by the end of the day, I just can't think about one more thing. I know that I have to get up early tomorrow, and I go to bed before Stephen Colbert even takes the stage. I would not recognize myself if I saw me on the street.

Sometimes writing helps you sort things out, but sometimes you have to sort things out before you can start writing, and that is where I have been.

At the beginning of August I got a call from Fox News saying that finally, three months after my first interview, they had a job for me. They liked me, they had said. And so I waited through a long, slow summer during which the other thing I wanted that much slipped from my grasp. By August, I was beginning to lose hope.

But August drew to a close, I had been offered an official job and I accepted. I went from having one foot on the slide to having both... waiting to shove off.

I would be a News Editor at Whatever that meant. I had talked about the job, the pace, the world, when I had interviewed, but enough time had passed that I really didn't know entirely what I was getting myself into.

My first week went by in a blur of new software, AP Style, trying to learn everyone's names and figuring out where to sit each day - I didn't have a desk yet. I was squatting wherever there was space. I learned where the kitchen was (day 3) and by Friday had figured out that there was an exit from the subway directly into our building. Go figure.

That week I subsisted on coffee, sandwiches from Pret-a-Manger (which I heard someone pronounce like the manger where you might find the baby Jesus and it took all my strength not to correct her... she had earlier been talking about her masters degree. This makes me suspicious) and Chinese food dinners. I even went in at 7:30 on Saturday morning to fill in for someone.

I learned that Wonton Soup is my comfort food. Especially when you crush up those little Chinese noodle crackers and add them to the broth. Just thinking about it makes me want some.

But week 2 was a bit better. I moved back to eating salads for lunch so my digestive system calmed down and I no longer spent the last half of the day with a nasty pit of lava where my stomach had once been. I even cooked dinner twice! I still had more than my share of the world's Chinese food, and tried to branch out, but all I really wanted was the Wonton Soup.

At some point, I started writing. And reporting. Anything they could think of. Today, I gave Americans the U.S. Citizenship test that immigrants have to take to become naturalized. They did way better than we thought they would. What was unexpected - how absolutely impossible it was to find Americans in Times Square on a Tuesday at noon. Reliable bets? Smokers who were loitering in one place and senior citizens. Jackpot.

A far cry from the world of workgroup color printers and uninterrupted power supplies. (Yes, I have written about both.)

And here's the thing. I'm ridiculously happy.

I have bouts of fear - I don't recognize myself in the proverbial mirror - when I get a bit melodramatic about things I can't control. But for the most part, I find myself springing out of bed at 7:05 at the latest. I wear smart black boots. I like when I catch my reflection in the mirror and I'm wearing eyeliner and a cute shirt. I've lost more weight. I make time for the gym.

I even read on the Subway today, something I'd been too listless to do for months; I'm not sure why.

I've been jump started like an old car. My brain is in over-drive. It's fantastic.

So I've started moving things in, like you do with a new boyfriend's apartment.

Last Friday I finally got my own desk. It's not in the middle of the action, but it's mine. If someone else sits there, I can tell them to move. On Friday, I left my water bottle on the desk. It was still there on Monday, so on Monday, I put some napkins in the drawer after lunch.

Today, I left a sweater draped over the chair, one more small step towards making this foreigner's life my own.

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Quest for Self-Improvement

First of all, thank you all for your love and support. It means a lot to me and yes, I'm doing well.

So well, in fact, that I've joined the Crunch gym near my apartment. As many of you know, I've been losing weight slowly and returning to normal Jen-size this year after a nasty bout of weight gain from a medication I took, and so far I'm down about 43 pounds from my weight when I moved to New York, got a new doctor, and got off that medication.

That means, most of the people I've met here in NYC have no idea what in-shape-Jen looks like. I was never skinny, but I was the captain of my tennis team and always an athlete. Softball. Field Hockey. Tennis. Skiing. More tennis.

So, let's suffice to say that having gotten a little bounce back in my step, I decided to take the self-improvement project one step further (and one step closer to self-love, if we are Oprah fans) and join the aforementioned gym. Yesterday.

Today I decided to start balls-out and go to a spinning class.

I was eager to get there and get the bike set up. So eager that I had forgotten to bring my little gym membership card and was there 15 minutes early, sitting in the spinning room by myself. Well, with one dude wearing headphones and stretching, so literally not by myself. But mostly. But if I had burst into flames, or some other such random catastrophe, at least there was the possibility someone would react.

Eventually the instructor arrived and helped me fix the bike so that it was high enough for me, adjusting the handlebars and the saddle. Ouch. That thing hurts the ass-bones.

At this point, she returns to her seat and says to me "Oh yeah, do you like loud music?"

"Uh, yes?" I say.

"Good. We got ourselves a virgin here." And Ludacris slams out of the speakers and into my ears and I start riding. More resistance. Stand. Sit. Kanye. Stand Sit. Stand and bounce. Sit and sprint. Stand and sprint. My legs are burning, my lungs are burning and I just pedal and try to banish any thoughts except "just keep going..." Rhianna. Prince. Nice.

There are times when I have to sit because I am having trouble keeping up. Either I need more air or my legs start to feel unsteady. So, I take a few minutes and ride slower sitting down, take a sip of water, and I get back in it when I feel it.

About 45 minutes into the class, which had been posted as a 45-minute class... She turns to me and goes "This being your first time, I should have told you. This class is an hour."

I wanted to die.

At this point, though, I resolved that I was going to push through and finish the class. Damnit. But I did take it much easier in the last 15 minutes. My brain had been prepared for 45 minutes of AAAAAHHHH! Not 60. Nope. But I never stopped pedaling and I never got off the bike. This, the instructor told me, was most excellent and she said even people that come the class all the time stop pedaling and take breaks. I kept going, even if I was sitting.

That made me feel rather proud of myself, I must say. For not having done any real strenuous exercise in months, or maybe longer, I was able to pull a 60-minute spinning class off and still have the strength to walk the 3 blocks home... I have since been either on the couch or in the shower. I have to make dinner, but I also do not want to move.

If I can move my legs, I think I'll go back Wednesday. If not, there's one Thursday, but there's also a yoga class Thursday - Virgin Yoga - a class on the basics since I haven't done yoga in ages either.... Or there's pole dancing. Anyone done pole dancing? That might be too much.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Making Connections

We were having dinner at Elio's on Second Avenue in Manhattan. Me, my parents and my sister and my brother-in-law. When out of the blue, Julie turned to my father, not exactly known for his soliloquies, and asked him what he thought made a marriage work.

It was an interesting question, coming from a young woman just three years into her marriage and looking to start a family soon. What was he going to say? What was the big secret?

His answer? Chemistry.

It comes from feeling a connection to your partner and having the desire to make things work to be with them, to struggle through the bad times together, because whatever it is that causes that spark, those butterflies, as they say in Sex in the City, you are all-in. Feelings. Emotions. The Intangible and Uncontrolable.

Its like when my old therapist answered my question on how therapy worked.

"It's magic."

And in a lot of ways, it really is.

There's no good reason why someone you think is perfect on paper or who looks good in a photograph turns out to be just blah when you're actually sitting across a table from them pretending to enjoy dinner. Just as there's no good reason why catching someone else's eye turns your knees to jell-o and makes you do things that Sane-You would consider crazier than bat shit.

We really have little control over how our eyes and hearts wind up figuring things out for themselves. The plainest person could be beautiful to you, or the most attractive simply a bore. I have wonderful, spectacular friends who I think are just perfect, but who I have never wanted to kiss. My mother always thought I'd wind up with someone who I'm obviously not with, and I told her I just never wanted to kiss him, and she said, "Oh. Well that wouldn't work then..." Of course not.

I have been thinking a lot about what connects people and what makes us choose whom we're with and how we make our decisions about friends, lovers and spouses as I've made new friends, forged new relationships and made a few mistakes along the way.

How do we choose the people we keep in our lives? What draws us together? What is it that makes you feel those butterflies when someone smiles at you? Why is that the feeling we're all willing to live and die for?

And then... What keeps us together? When does someone cross that line from stranger to acquaintance to intimate? And when things go wrong, what are we willing to forgive? Why are they worth it to us? And what makes us decide its time to walk away?

I think about these things as my friends and I make transitions - some marry, some are having children, some I have had to leave, and others struggle. Some have ended relationships. Some have begun new ones. We learn when to stand our ground and when to compromise or surrender for each other. We learn who loves us and who we can trust. We learn who we are and we are constantly marveled at how we manage to persevere every time we are challenged, injured or wronged. We have each other's backs. And we are not kidding.

For a long time after my friend Phatiwe's death, I kind of shut myself into a closet and kept close what I knew and refused to engage in anything that could hurt me. I made new friends, but I wasn't open to putting my heart on the line.

Participating in a slow, painful death is a soul-crushing experience, and it takes many years to learn again to be really open to people who weren't part of your life before. My first year in New York, I started a book club to make friends and I tried to date men I met online, but I abandoned the dating when I found it too trying and it took a long time to really connect with new friends.

However, time passes and hearts heal. And its our instinct to make connections again. Its what keeps us alive and what, in the end, makes this crazy game of survival such a glorious, ecstatic, clusterfuck. We're all doomed but God Damn, it's sublime.

This year, I missed the third anniversary of Phatiwe's death. May 12 passed, and I didn't even notice. And I was proud of myself.

I was in the throws of planning and plotting and dating and kissing and laughing and cooking and smiling and watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and remembering how awesome those things are... And I forgot to be sad for what I had lost. And I'm pretty sure she forgives me 1000 percent.

Because my sadness was something she tried so hard to shield me from, even though we both knew it was impossible. It was hard to have someone love me that much. And it was hard to love her that much. My dear sweet girl, an only child who learned what it was to have sisters. As it will be hard to love my other friends, my future children, my eventual husband and my wonderful family that much when things inevitably end.

I don't mean this to be dark. But sparks and lust, and shared smiles and that instinct that makes you think someone is on your team, lead to love and commitment, and those things are not always sunshine and roses. But something makes us stay. And keep loving. And keep kissing. And keep sending birthday cards. And forgive weak moments and hurtful barrages and silly mistakes. And love as fierce as a supernova. And as soft and steady as your breath when you're sleeping.

And hold someone's hand, and tell them that you didn't keep secrets from them, so given your last words, you have nothing to say except, "I love you."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Trouble in Paradise... or why women need protection.

This is a long story, but it is a story that needs telling. For me, mostly. Maybe I will feel better.

I haven't been sleeping well since I got back from Spain last week, and I think its because of what happened in Pamplona. Some of my friends know, but seeing as I don't consider such things to be shameful (because being a victim of violence is neither shameful nor a crime), I was attacked in Pamplona by a strange man who pretended he was helping me find the bus back to my hostel.

I had somehow gotten separated from Vanessa in the heat of a long night of bar-hopping and talking to strangers in a melange of English, French and Spanish, and wound up on my own on the street sometime around 2 a.m. We had been leaving the bar together but got separated in a crowd, and I couldn't find her.

I don't know how long I wandered the labyrinthine cobbled streets of the old city, but I know at one point I slipped and cut my arm, and I grew more afraid as time passed because I was alone in a city I didn't know and...

I found an intersection that had several bus stops, and began searching for the No. 11 bus, the only one that stopped at our hostel (a university dorm on the edge of downtown), and a man approached me. He asked if I needed help as I was asking each bus driver if the 11 stopped nearby and if the bus they drove stopped anywhere near the university... By then I was no longer drunk, just tired and on edge.

He offered to show me - a few blocks down - where the 11 stopped, and because the entire town was a festival, and everyone I'd met so far was good natured and celebrating, I went with him. We walked past the buses, past where the street was well lit... And then he grabbed my arm, strong and hard, and pulled me with him across the street to the other side, where there was a park.

He held onto my arm and dragged me with him into the park, grabbing my right arm with his right, and taking his left and pinning it around my waist so that I couldn't move.

I walked with him for I don't know how long, in a dead panic, terrified. And finally I started writing and fighting. There was a bench. I pushed him off and sat down. I refused to go further and told him to leave me alone. He sat, pinned my arms, and started kissing me, even though I did everything I could to move my face.

At this point, I don't know how I did it, but I know I got out of his grip and I hit him, and I started running. Running away from the bench. I know he stood up and started calling something after me, but I just kept going. Through trees, over pine needles, down a steep, steep dirt hill... deeper into the park because I didn't know where I was.

I found a parking lot, and in that lot were teenage boys in a maroon Renault minivan, and I got in their car and locked all the doors. One joked that the one trying to sleep in the middle should try to get laid... I just smiled and tried to ask them to use their cell phones to call the police for me. One poked my stomach instead and said something vulgar, and the two girls with them looked at me... One was ashamed, the other taunting. The ashamed one wanted to help me but didn't want to lose face with her friends... I had put my sweater on inside out in my frenzy, over my t-shirt. My hair was a mess and I was dirty from tripping and falling on the hill.

I left them and walked along the cars towards a building in the random parking lot I'd found, but the building was closed and the pay phone didn't work. I saw a road leading into the lot, up the hill I'd run down, and I started towards it.

Walking down the hill was a couple, probably mid-30s... maybe a little older... and I approached them and said in English that I needed the police, I needed help... I can't remember what was said after, except that the woman held me to her as we walked up the hill and back into town and kept assuring me that I was going to be okay.

This makes me cry a little to write, but I find myself telling this story at inappropriate times because I think I'm more damaged by it than I realize yet. I'm still only a week home, and it was less than two weeks ago... and this is just the beginning of this story.

I don't know the name of this woman. Nor her husband. But they both are in my mind incredibly generous, wonderful people who really did shepherd me to safety. They took me to an ambulance - the town had them stationed everywhere as the 200,000 person city became a 800,000 person festival town - where an EMT who spoke good English was able to listen to me and tell the others what had happened, and they just all hugged me as I cried.

From the way that man had looked as he pulled me into the park, the way he persisted after I fought... I knew I had just managed to fight my way out of something that was really fucking awful. The next day when the SVU police showed me the map of where I'd been, my attacker had been leading me in the exact opposite direction of both the town and my hostel. He was taking me down to the river. And he was taking me there to do something bad.

That much I knew as I sat with the EMT in the ambulance, thanking her and thanking the couple who brought me there between bouts of hysteria. I didn't learn her name either, but I will always remember her face and her kindness. At no point in my story did anyone in Pamplona ever for a moment question what I told them happened, nor did they ignore or try to quiet my sadness, fear or feelings.

From there the ambulance, with the English-speaking EMT and another woman who didn't speak English in the back seat with me, took me to the police station. There I was given to some officers wearing the traditional San Fermin festival outfit of white pants and white shirt with red scarf... One had a red sweatshirt since it was probably near 4:30 in the morning and while the days were hot in Northern Spain, the nights dipped into the low 50s. There was one whose name I forget who took charge of me, who brought me where I needed to be, who drove the car so that I would feel safe, who spoke in Spanish to me once he knew I understood "more than a little but not a lot"...

For my own part, while this was all going on I held my own and was able to communicate both what had happened and who I was in Spanish to the police... I kind of feel good about that.

In the traumatic haze and the fog of moving around at 4:30 at 5 at 6 a.m. between cops and offices, doing your best to speak a language you once knew much, much better than you do now... I survived. And then, in the car, with the sweatshirted officer behind the wheel, we turned back to the station. He had been driving me home, and he got a call saying they'd found the man who matched my description near where I had said I had been... I had to go identify him.

Law and Order Style.

I had to go into the building, walk into the room with the 1-way glass, and say that yes, that man with the square/checked pink and blue on white shirt was the one who held me and dragged me and kissed me and had probably intended to rape me in that park. Yup. That was what I thought. That's what they thought. I was sobbing as they asked me if it was him. In the typical American Girl way, I said "I think so...." and that of course is not good enought at 6 a.m. with a team of officers who have just apprehended the man who hurt you mere hours before. "Yes," I said. "Yes, that is him. Please take me home. Please."

I remember arriving at the hostel and the officer talking with the manager. I remember her alarm and her concern and her compassion. I said yes, I would call the police when I woke up. I needed to sleep. I went to Vanessa's room, pounded on her door.

She opened. I remember only falling to the ground while telling her what had happened, and I remember laying in her twin bed with her and her saying things that soothed me to sleep. She has been afraid, but I HAD been injured. It was not okay.

We woke when the phone rang at 1-something. The SVU police needed my statement. I went in the clothes I had been wearing the whole time. (Ironically, I'm wearing that shirt again for the first time as I write this....)

Vanessa acted as my official translator, and I told the story. Less lucidly but with the same details as I do here. The morning after is still laced with an adrenaline haze that will give you the gist, but memory settles in once the fear fades. Once you are no longer vulnerable to the things you endured. It took coming home to remember to be afraid. (Although I did tell a man who professed his adoration of me in Bilbao that I was flattered but not going anywhere. I would not have left Vanessa's side with a Bishop.)

I told them my story and Sergio, my attorney, provided by the lovely nation of Spain, arrived to represent me in the hearing. The next morning. He had a scruffy beard and a kind face, and I liked him from the start. He took Vanessa and I to lunch near our hostel afterwards to tell me how things could and would probably go...

I was not physically injured. I had no serious bruises, no cuts, and I had not been raped. But he had used force and had kissed me after incapacitating me. The case could be a misdemeanor assault case or a felony attempted sexual assault case. Since I didn't have any injuries as evidence, and I had no witnesses - the teens and the couple remained nameless, unfortunately... - the judge went misdemeanor. And when Sergio sent us home at 5 to sleep and then maybe enjoy our night before my 11 a.m. hearing the next day, we walked away, but walked exhausted. (Vanessa, if you can't infer, is the best friend ever, by the way.)

Sergio called as soon as we arrived back at the hostel. The judge wanted us there at 7 p.m. That night. We would not wait until morning.

So, instead of rest, which I craved more than anything - a stop to the surreal string of events that had suddenly become my reality - there was no nap. There was a quick shower, a quick selection of clean clothes that seemed "appropriate for appearing in court" from my vacation wardrobe of cotton things from Old Navy. A black tank top and black skirt made up my court outfit. Everyone else in the city, remember, was wearing white. I felt visible. And fragile.

At the courthouse, we were told we had to wait at least an hour. Go. Have a drink. I had a coffee while Vanessa and Sergio had beers. I was afraid to drink. Afraid having had a drink would make me less credible. We talked.

Sergio got a call and we went back to the courthouse. Vanessa was not allowed to translate for me. I needed an official translator so an Irish man named Collum served. I don't know his last name, but he was entirely professional, compassionate and on my team. I appreciated him entirely.

What was most f-ed up though: we met in the judge's chambers, and I had to sit in the same room with the man who that morning had tried to... (I am eternally grateful for my instincts.)

For the record, even the judge and his transcriptionist wore white pants, a white shirt and red scarves. San Fermin transcends all.

I was shaking and I had to tell my story, translated by Collum.

Hamid Rashid, 37, Moroccan immigrant, stood and said I had been looking for the bus, and he found me and decided to help me into a cab. He had found me a cab and I just "ran away". Away from a taxi that would have taken me home, from this innocent man. WHO DIDN'T BOTHER TO LIE ABOUT HAVING MET ME.

The judge found him guilty of assault - a misdemeanor, rather than attempted sexual assault - but doubled the fine. He was fined 200 Euros. Convicted of assault, and now has a criminal record in Spain.

My lawyer and the translator said that for what we had, we did very well. Women aren't passive toys to be abused. And they were happy that I had come forward and took a stand against this man. Even though I was on vacation, I did the right thing.

What's funny is that it never occurred to me to not go through with it. When the cops wanted to talk to me, I went. When it was time to Cowboy Up and say what had happened and defend myself, I didn't flinch. It never occurred to me to back down.

After the hearing, after the sentencing, Sergio drove Vanessa and me back to the San Fermin festival grounds. We had Spanish sausage sandwiches, Spanish beers, we watched fireworks. Then we took the long walk back to the hostel, across a kind of desolate part of the university campus that made me very, very fearful, but we made it. And in the morning Sergio took us to his office's balcony to watch the running of the bulls. He wanted me to have good memories of Pamplona.

And so I do.

Because of his infinite kindness, his generosity, and his commitment to making sure women are safe and well taken care of in his community, I want to make sure the U.S. knows how wonderful he was to me.

If you read to the end, I am okay. I write this as kind of therapy. Otherwise, apparently, I might drop it on you at a very inappropriate time. Trauma works that way. In my experience, its easier to justify if you're bleeding, or were bleeding.

But one of the things that has always been important to me has been protecting women against violence and sexual violence. And the most I can do at this point, being so fresh and so still intimidating to me (because being afraid is also not shameful), is tell you what happened.

This is why when Dartmouth gave me 3 months to do whatever I wanted (thank you Dartmouth), I applied for a community service fellowship to fund me working at the Greater New Haven Rape Crisis Center for free. Because Dartmouth wanted me to be able to stand up for what I believed in and try to make a difference. And because I had that strong foundation of self-security and feeling that I had rights that could not be infringed upon, and had worked to defend them, when it came to defending my own, even in a foreign country, I kicked ass.

I entirely take credit for making it through the story you've just read. It was one of the hardest things I've dealt with. I thought, at one point, I might be killed. But I wasn't. And I won. Before the legal system of Spain.

Never underestimate yourself. Trust me.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Beauty of Deviled Eggs

Those who have eaten with me before know that I'm kind of... well. Picky. I don't like fish, mushrooms, green bell peppers, things that are too spicy, pickles, mayonnaise, to name a few.

So, for most of my life, I avoided deviled eggs as they were, in my mind, a mayonnaise-based food and therefore inherently disgusting. Even the smell of mayonnaise makes me a little bit queasy. Imagining putting it in my mouth makes me hurl a tiny bit.

However, a trip to visit M & E in North Carolina in May changed my mind forever about the deviled egg. E made some using a recipe from Paula Deen that involved not only mayonnaise, but relish, a pickle-derived food and therefore, inedible in my world. I agreed, reluctantly, to try one and god damn! Deviled eggs are delicious!

In the ensuing weeks, I found myself craving deviled eggs at random times. Like at 8 p.m. on a Tuesday while watching American Idol, I decided that it was time for deviled eggs. This set off a trend of finishing with deviled egg preparation sometime around 11 p.m., which is okay, but not ideal.

I made them for myself. I made them for book club. (I would eat them in a house. I would eat them with a mouse...) And on Saturday, I made them for me and some friends before we head to a sticky hot summer barbecue. This is an actual picture of my actual deviled eggs. (I also got a new camera recently, so you'll be inundated with photos in the coming weeks...)

I also took a picture of my CSA basil plant, growing quite well where my former basil plant met its untimely demise. Caprese salad here I come!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Join a CSA of your own!

Here's a link for all you New Yorkers out there who are contemplating finding a CSA program to join either this year or in the future.

Just Food is a non-profit that works to help promote and create a sustainable food system in the New York City area. They're pretty awesome.

Here's there CSA listing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Bounty of Spring

Today I made my first pick-up from the Park Slope CSA, and lordy had I forgotten how many veggies that a full share entails. I took one canvas tote bag, and a big one at that, and it was bursting at the seams when I finished taking my portion. But how beautiful it was!

I purchased an every-other-week share, which means every other Thursday, I go to the site and pick up my veggies, fruit and fresh flowers and have a glorious week of eating fresh, organic produce that our lovely farm grew.

I've had a bit of a crazy month or so, and I've fallen behind on cooking and general healthy eating, but now that I have a fridge full of fresh produce, it looks like I'm going to have to change my decadent, restaurant-going ways.

The flowers this week are beautiful snap dragons, and I now have about a gallon of strawberries that are so ripe and so fresh that you can smell them when you walk into the kitchen. Tonight for dinner I'm having a salad of fresh lettuce and ripe strawberries with a dijon vinegarette and a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, whose tart, crisp green apple taste perfectly compliments the delicate sweetness of the berries and the tang of the mustard dressing.

I'm not even having meat, which is like, blasphemy almost. To myself.

But even though its not sweltering like it had been for the past week, the air still has the slightly sticky warmth of East Coast summer to it, so it feels like the right decision.

The veggies this week are going to challenge my ingenuity, so any suggestions via e-mail or comment are welcome.

I have:
5 big turnips with greens
1 lb. russian kale
3/4 lb. mixed lettuce
1 head of beautiful lettuce - I think it's bibb lettuce
5 garlic scapes
1 bunch of bok choi
1 lovely basil plant, in soil, which I have used to replace my former basil plant. Whose plant carcass had been sitting in my kitchen.

1 quart fresh strawberries

1 bunch snapdragons


Here's how fresh the strawberries are. I took a handful from the basket and put them in a bowl. I then went to rinse them and what came off? REAL DIRT. THESE BERRIES ARE FROM A REAL FARM WITH REAL DIRT. They were picked today.

When you live in the city, the idea of being handed a bowl of succulent tiny fresh berries is probably along the lines of what seeing land was to Columbus. Some weird miracle that seems too good to be true. Ignoring, of course, economies of scale. I'm not actually crazy enough to equate death by scurvy at sea with factory-farmed berries.

If I had a functional digital camera, I could post you pictures of my beautiful produce, but I do not. So sometime in the next two weeks, before I shove off for Spain, I will be digital camera shopping. I think I'll invest in the Canon SLR... But may go high-end point and shoot.

Stay tuned because now that summer is here, we're going to have lots of "how to cook with fresh organic produce" talk. Which I personally find super awesome.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Harold = <3

This is so Harold. Sorry I've been delinquent lately - I've been into the other blog about craziness. It's been very entertaining to write... But this will make you smile.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Present to you the Nudibranch...

Living Color

Toxic nudibranchs—soft, seagoing slugs—produce a brilliant defense

By Jennifer S. Holland
National Geographic Staff
Photograph by David Doubilet

Nudibranchs crawl through life as slick and naked as a newborn. Snail kin whose ancestors shrugged off the shell millions of years ago, they are just skin, muscle, and organs sliding on trails of slime across ocean floors and coral heads the world over.

Found from sandy shallows and reefs to the murky seabed nearly a mile down, nudibranchs thrive in waters both warm and cold and even around billowing deep-sea vents. Members of the gastropod class, and more broadly the mollusks, the mostly finger-size morsels live fully exposed, their gills forming tufts on their backs. (Nudibranch means "naked gill," a feature that separates them from other sea slugs.) Although they can release their muscular foothold to tumble in a current—a few can even swim freely—they are rarely in a hurry.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To (dinner in) New Haven...

Yesterday, my dear sweet friend Thomas Joseph Aloisius Conners (nee Piernikowski) was rewarded for nine years of (mostly) hard work on behalf of the world of linguistics when Yale University finally acquiesced and granted him his Ph.D. Hooray Tom!

I had the honor of driving up to New Haven in the front seat of my friend's Audi as he drove at ludicrous speed on the Merritt Parkway so that we could... well, so that we could miss actual graduation and arrive just in time for lunch. We were right on time.

We had a lovely lunch with Tom's family and then wandered New Haven for a bit, taking in the sights and stopping by the President's house, which was guarded by a SWAT team and a fierce looking lady guard in a nice suit. We think Tony Blair, who gave the commencement speech the day before, must have been inside.

After the walk we stopped by a friend's house for some champagne and cake and... well. That's when all hell broke lose. The party in and of itself was a lovely, civilized affair full of bubbly wine, peach cobbler and light and airy conversation. One man had been a drummer for Lisa Loeb. Another had an absolutely fantastic Mark Twain mustache. There was even a French Nuclear Physicist doing magic tricks. This is the kind of stuff you just can't make up.

As the party wound down and the last non-Tom-affiliated guest left, I was walking by the door and heard what can only be described as the sound of impending disaster. A combination clanking and flailing and thump thump thump, followed by a low, soft wailing. Yes, ladies and gents. A very nice Sociology graduate student had fallen down the stairs.

I opened the door and ran down - "Are you ok? What hurts? Your head? Your butt? Your foot? Your ankle?" - It was her ankle, and from the looks of it, it wasn't pretty, even from the get-go. I went back upstairs to fetch Tom's mother - a nurse - and some ice. Snap. There is no ice. There is no bag of frozen peas (always have one on hand for this exact purpose). Thankfully, the French Nuclear Physicist, who happened to live downstairs, had a 1/4 of a bag of frozen broccoli that we managed to turn into an ice pack. He said he'd almost eaten it the day before, but had take-out instead, suddenly proud of his decision to eschew vegetables in favor of Pad Thai.

For some reason, no one would let me call an ambulance. Someone was going to drive. It was almost drunk lady, until I pointed out that sending the person with the broken ankle off in the car with a probably drunk driver was not the best idea we'd had all day. We took two cars.

Oy. Fast forward through a misguided trip to the University Health Services building, where they do not have an X-ray machine and where I'm pretty sure they don't want to have anything to do with you on graduation day.

So we wove our way around campus to the Yale-New Haven Hospital Emergency Room. Where we learn that *someone* had gone and canceled our dinner reservation because she decided she wasn't coming. Even though the other 12 people who had been planning on eating at the restaurant were in fact already gathered there waiting for Team Hospital Visit to show up. Right? You're like "Who cancels someone else's dinner reservation without asking them? Or even telling them for that matter!" I swore somehow I'd managed to change my regular pair of pants for a pair of Crazy Pants. When had we gone through the looking glass? To top it off, there was a dude who was stabbed and the lady who had stabbed him sitting in the ER. Hoards of children were running around seemingly unsupervised, and as time went on it got later... and later... and later... and I knew my "I'm not getting home before midnight if I do this," premonition was in fact coming true.

If this weren't a family blog, I'd unleash a stream of profanity right here that would make a sailor blush. (Oh yes! AND in addition to BIRTHDAY WEEK, it's FLEET WEEK. Sometimes God shows love.)

A few hours later after an impromptu Malaysian meal that was mostly starch and salt, I was back on the road to New York City, this time sitting in the back seat of the Audi and encouraging my friend to take 95S instead of the Merritt Parkway because I was too tired to be afraid of death at every turn.

So, for the record Tom. Your friends do love you. We just want to be in charge of dinner next time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Better Than American Idol

If you're alive and on Earth right now, chances are you have been inundated today with chatter and news about the American Idol battle of the Davids in which David Cook stole the crown from would-be front-runner and all-around-adorable kid David Archuleta.

Over the course of today I've managed to forgive Fox for purposefully having the show run over its alloted time slot so that my recording on my DVR cut off right here... "The winner of American Idol is... David...." END. Yes, folks. That really happened. I have had to move on, and let it go.

I confess that I love watching American Idol, especially when the singers are bad because being a normal person, I'm wicked into Shadenfreude.

However, tonight, the real Best Reality Show Ever starts up on Fox...


So You Think You Can Dance is simply awesome. 20 highly trained dancers doing choreographed, costumed routines in so many dance styles your head will spin. Everything from waltzes to hip hop to krumping to the Argentine Tango. It's that awesome.

I highly advocate watching this show.

And as a bit of a teaser, I've included this snippet from one of the best performances last season.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cross your fingers.

That's all I'm sayin.

But what I really wanted to share with you is this:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Tomorrow morning before heading in to work, I will finally surrender my Massachusetts drivers license to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

(OMG, how precious is David Archuleta? That boy is what America is all about. But that's a different story. He fills me with love for all mankind.)

So, tomorrow I will finally take the plunge and become a resident of New York.

I have lived in New York City since August 2005. Technically the state says you have to turn your license over 30 days after you become a resident. They don't, however, get too technical about what it means to be a resident. If they're being all simple and literal, I'm almost 3 years overdue and New York can officially do bad things to me for squatting.

But I have a feeling they have more pressing matters on their hands than punishing me for dragging my feet on giving up a part of my past.

This is apparently nostalgia month on Metropolis Unbound.

You see, I've kept my Massachusetts drivers license with its picture of me with beautiful curling brown hair and a nice mid-summer tan even though I've moved on. (Hell, I've bought real estate in New York City. You'd think that was commitment enough. In fact, Citibank just sent me a check for $48.03 to clear out the escrow account on my old mortgage. That's hard core grown up New Yorker.)

But no. Its the last thing. The last piece of me tied to my six years living in Boston, moving between my Beacon Hill studio to live with the ladies of 1426 Commonwealth Ave. to my years in Cambridge. It has my final Boston address and a crease from sitting on an airplane seatbelt the first week I had it. It has a picture of me in younger times, happy and optimistic.

I don't meant to say I'm not optimistic. Quite the opposite. I'll be 31 this month and part of me is grateful every day that I'm still happy and healthy and able to appreciate all of the wonderful things I have while still continuing to strive for more and learn more.

But if I face it, I have a mortgage.

So I have mixed feelings about turning this driver's license into one that shows the face I have now. The older look in my eyes. The slightly sharper lines of my cheeks. But it will make it official in a way I've resisted.

I told an ex-boyfriend once that I had always put off moving down to New York because when I did, it would be done. I'd be home. And if I can hold out financially, I will stay. Brooklyn is now home to me. It's like I'm back with my people. Maybe if I moved back to Manayunk in Philadelphia I'd feel even more so, living back in the neighborhood where my dad's mother and my mom's grandmother were girls together. But for now, I guess I feel more like a New Yorker than anything else, even though I confess again to being raised in New Jersey.

Maybe I'll get priced out like so many people do. Or maybe I'll evolve into a new home. A new state. Or heck, maybe even wind up back on the beach in Ocean City.

The first time I saw my apartment in a photograph on the Internet, I knew that's where I was going to live. Something about it just hit the spot. I called my sister immediately. I almost passed up going to the first open house because it was raining, but I got up and went, thinking that to not go would be a mistake. I was probably right, because when I went back the next day with my sister, brother in law, two roommates and one friend (open house overkill), I made an offer.

So, maybe its exciting. Registering officially that this is where I think I belong right now. But it does mean giving up a little something that I've held on to all this time. A tiny document that I could glance down at and see where I'd come from.

Maybe its about Phatiwe. Maybe turning over this leaf means really saying goodbye to all that and it has been too hard to face. Maybe the license and the gold paper fan hanging on my bedroom wall are my talismans.

It's just a laminated plastic card that lets me drive a car and convinces the Department of Homeland Security that I am me, but what I'm afraid of losing is the smile of the beautiful woman in that picture. I got to look down at it every time I opened my wallet. But now I have to let go.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The more things change...

I'm back in Washington DC for a work event, but managed to sneak away this evening to have dinner with a wonderful old friend in one of our old haunts. Cleveland Park, up Connecticut Avenue from the Boston University building where I lived in the fall of 2002 when I was in graduate school and an intern for the

He picked me up and drove through the District, up 18th Street through Adams Morgan, and it was as if the five and a half years in between had never happened, only back then he drove a White Volkeswagen Golf. The same bars. The same restaurants. Madam's Organ, Tom Tom, the jumbo slices of pizza... The same crowds of 25-year old girls. The same Ethiopian place that always seemed on the verge of closing, still going strong... in that "on the verge of closing" way.

We drove back to Connecticut Ave. over Rock Creek Park and up through Woodly Park, my old neighborhood. Same restaurants. Chipotle. The two Indian places... Maybe one or two had turned over in all that time, and I was amazed.

Even when we got up to Cleveland Park, most of it was still the same. In fact, what stood out was what was different. The Pizzaria Uno was some low-budget burger joint. The expensive Italian restaurant we picked at random because it had outside seating (and ridiculously bad service) was new, I think. But Atomic Billiards, where we'd spent many a night drinking cheap beers and battling it out in the pool hall? Still there.


This is something you don't really get in New York in the same way. Sometimes, if I go a few weeks between visiting my sister on the Upper East Side, the entire neighborhood is turned over. Penang is a diner. The diner is now called Vynl, and some souvenir shop is a new Pinkberry (yum! addiction! not as bad as "House" though...) There's a transience almost in the way things come and go in New York City. Even things that we considered staples sometimes disappear overnight, never to be seen again, or sometimes to re-open three doors down with the same tables but slightly different.

Being back in the District was like falling into a time warp, back to a time when I could drink til three and still go to work in the morning at the Capitol building and be fine.
When I thought I was in love with someone who turned out to be well... wasted space.
And when I got to photograph George W. Bush sign the order from Congress authorizing him to go to war with Iraq.
When the DC Sniper had us all terrified that we would be randomly shot walking anywhere we went.
When while photographing the 30th anniversary of the Vietnam Memorial in the rain, my camera bag spontaneously combusted. (Yes. I caught fire in a rain storm. Batteries are not toys.)

I felt young and old at the same time, and just found myself smiling and watching the lights as we drove back to my hotel, wondering where all that time had gone.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May = Birthday Month!

Since just about the time I was born, I've been kind of obnoxious about my birthday. Many people I know don't even let you know when their birthdays are come and gone, but I'm not really very good at that. Sue me.

You have 30 days to prepare. Maybe now I can fixate on my birthday instead of on Hugh Laurie, although this is probably unlikely.

My father's birthday is the day before mine, you see. (May 29 and 30th. I'll leave you to figure which is which.) And I happened to be born on a national holiday, so my birthday often falls during a 3-day weekend.

This means that my father and I have been kind of obnoxious about Birthday Weekend for approximately 31 years. Before that, I'm pretty sure he was obnoxious about birthday weekend but didn't have an ally. However, once we team up, my mother wishes she could be sent into space in a pod so that she wouldn't have to deal with us.

But its very important to celebrate being born! If you've ever watched it happen, it's a major accomplishment. And then not getting hit by a bus, year after year? Definitely worth celebrating. You see, to me, birthdays aren't a time to sit and be sad about being older. Older is awesome! Older is the opposite of dead. So you're doing fine. Birthdays celebrate the fact that you're still alive, and anything is possible.

The best way to spend one's birthday is on my parents dock in South Jersey, drinking white wine and eating crab cakes. Perhaps going to the beach. Getting in a boat ride around the bay, maybe heading out and cruising by Atlantic City.

This year, however, is one of those rare years when my birthday is actually several days past Memorial Day weekend - its on the following Friday. So it's like I get 2 three-day weekends in a row! Not like. It's actually true. How awesome is that?

And I'll have friends in town. AND the Sex in the City movie opens that day. The universe is conspiring to make me happy. Now if I could only find a way to actually *meet* Hugh Laurie... but then my life would be perfect and I believe at that point, you spontaneously combust.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Is there a doctor onboard?

I need rehab. I need therapy. I need something to stop the endless churning of images of Hugh Laurie in "House" from their 24-hour loop in my brain.

This is why they invented drugs. To stop people from obsessing about the show "House" before it takes over their lives.

It is a recent and overwhelming affliction, my "House"-obsessing. But it has taken total control of my brain, and much like Alcoholics Anonymous makes you first admit you have a problem (I think that's true for any 12-step program...) I'm making a helpless plea to the Gods (that's you, readers) that I find a cure before it overtakes my life and I wind up homeless in a box under the Manhattan Bridge.

I tend towards fatalism at times.

See, here's the thing. Until this season of the show, I never even actually watched it. I had caught a few snippets here and there, but then I decided to record new episodes on my DVR. Which turned into recording new and old episodes on my DVR. It now records any showing on any channel. I have seven saved. See? "House" hoarding? Unhealthy behavior.

("Lost" hording and "Battlestar Galactica" hording, however, are signs of mental health and good taste. Matthew Fox is hot. As is like, every human being that survives the Cylon attack. Why do only really attractive people survive disasters?)

Hugh Laurie is way, way too old for me. I'm closer in age to his children. But I have a very active, highly embarrassing imagination.

I've even (Jen feels the shame washing over her, hoping it gets it out of her system...) I've even come across smutty "House" fan fiction on the Internet, thanks to the awesome yet sometimes misguided power of the Google Search, AND I READ IT.

There now, I feel better.

But really. Can you blame me?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Signed, Sealed... Not yet delivered.

I just licked and sealed the envelope with my signed contract for the Park Slope CSA, along with a check to pay for what promises to be a bounty of organic, fresh, locally-grown goodness. I got an ever-other-week share, as I live alone in a small apartment and don't tend to make my own lunch. And often not my own dinner... But I'm going to try this year!

A CSA - Community Supported Agriculture program - is
"a partnership between a community and a farm. The farmer gets a guaranteed income and market for his produce. The community gets great local, organic food in return", according to the Park Slope group's web site. "Basically, you buy a "share" in a farm. The farmer uses your money to... farm! Then each Thursday he delivers a truckload of produce to the Garden at Union. Members stop by in the afternoon and evening to pickup their share of food."

The shares I chose include in-season vegetables from the Windflower Farm.

From the web site:

Windflower Farm is a small, organic farm in upstate New York, nestled on 38 acres in the Taconic Hill country between Saratoga Springs and the Vermont border. It's an area made beautiful by the mix of small farms, open fields and wooded landscapes.

Doesn't that sound lovely?

I'm also signing on for the fruit share, which will bring me sun-ripened, gorgeous peaches, plums, pears, apples and berries. The flower share is something I've never tried before and am looking forward to receiving fresh flowers every other week for the bulk of the summer. I also made a donation towards subsidizing a share through the program's Share-a-Share fund. (They also accept food stamps, which is awesome.)

The woman organizing the contract mailing said that new members could begin sending in their contracts starting April 16. Which is Wednesday. And mine is already waiting to hit the mailbox! I guess I'll be un-greedy and wait til then to put it in the mail, but I'm a) terribly excited about the whole idea and b) overly paranoid that they're not going to have a share for me!

But I realize this is irrational, and its a volunteer organization and returning members have priority til April 15. But that envelope is going in the box on April 16!

In the meantime, today I had a low-carb wrap and got a bottle of water for lunch from the deli across the street. I usually just refill my Nalgene bottle, but I had to put it through the dishwasher as it got a little smelly (thanks Julie!). The sandwich came in a plastic box that isn't recyclable, but the water bottle is.

After watching last night's Human Footprint on National Geographic, which I highly recommend even if the script is at times corny and the sheer volume of everything starts to be wearying, I was physically unable to let go of the bottle above the trash can, as was my normal slightly-guilty habit. It's now empty and in my handbag so that I can take it home for recycling.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Democracy in Action

A few weeks ago my company decided to make its four divisions more independent of one another and spun us off into subsidiaries (or something like that).

In the aftermath of the conversion, our parent company - United Business Media, a London-based company that trades on the London Stock Exchange - sent the CEO, David Levin, to talk about how these decisions were made and what they mean for the company.

The most uplifting and interesting thing that Levin said, however, was not about our company, but rather, our country. As a European, he said, America was upping it's democracy street cred (my words) by showing that it's efforts around the world to promote free and fair elections and government of and by the people wasn't actually a convoluted power grab or a scam. The Democratic primary, in which our field of many has been narrowed to a neck-and-neck battle between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, is being viewed by the globe as America practicing what it preaches.

They're interested in watching what happens. As much as we are. And the beauty of the system is that we watch and wait, and we take whatever result we get. (The 2000 election being a particularly sticky situation...) And they watch as we move from state to state to state.

I don't remember ever hearing about the Pennsylvania or Texas or Michigan or Florida primaries growing up. By Iowa it was locked up, wasn't it? But now, even citizens in far-flung Asian countries are talking Superdelegates, according to Richard Cohen in today's NY Times.

Click through on the title link to read the full article. He talks about other stuff, but in the beginning, he echos Levin's sentiment. Which almost gives me hope.

Asia’s Republican Leanings

Published: April 10, 2008


Europe votes Democrat, but Asia tends Republican.

That’s the headline from the fastest-growing part of the world where, as throughout a shrinking globe, the U.S. election is arousing passionate interest. Many a Shanghai dumpling gets slurped to the accompaniment of chat about superdelegates.

Eric John, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand, told me the campaign was “the best public diplomacy tool I’ve had in a long time.”

Democracy at work is riveting. In Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain, America has produced three remarkable candidates. It’s not surprising that a recent BBC World Service global survey showed positive views of the United States increasing for the first time in years. The rise was to 35 percent from 31 percent a year earlier. Negative views fell to 47 percent from 52 percent.

Friday, March 28, 2008

My Life in Fish

When I was seven years old, I made my First Holy Communion, a rite of passage for young Catholics that involved wearing a frilly white dress and having a Priest put a cracker in your mouth. This cracker symbolized the body of Jesus, who died for my sins, I was told, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the morning I was to take my first bite of God, I woke up to find that while I slept someone had come into my bedroom and set up a fish tank on my dresser. It glowed with its intense fluorescent blue-tinged light, complete with rocks, water, a bubbling filter and a handful of fresh water fish. When I was a child, I could sleep through anything.

The fish tank, like the cracker, were a symbol of transformation. I was no longer just another schmuck in a house full of pets. In coming closer to Jesus, I was coming closer to being regarded as someone capable of handling responsibility. I was a pet owner. These fish were mine.

The problem with pet fish is that they aren’t the most interactive of species. Rosie, the parrot that lives in the corner of my parents house next to the pool table, often wakes the household lazybones in the late morning with a rousing chorus of shrill, intensely loud screams. Max, the 130 pound Great Pyranese dog, still thinks he’s a puppy and will saunter up to you while you sit on the sofa, and plop his giant ass down on your lap as he envelops you in a cloud of stray white hairs. My cat Harold will drag the covers off my body if he thinks I’m neglecting him in the morning, which I often am. “I’m sleeping, damn it. Go bother someone else.” This tactic is often ineffective.

I kept the fish in the bedroom tank for many years, fish coming and going. Once a beta fish, added because I thought he looked lonely in his softball-sized solo bowl, managed to eat an entire forest of guppies. A swarm of hundreds was reduced to six in a matter of days. I was horrified, but by then, there was nothing to be done except flush the beta and re-stock on guppies.

Pet fish taught people resiliency.

They also gave me my first taste of insanity, that is. Of suicide.

It was a brown, hideous “sucker fish,” universally known as such even though I’m sure they have an actual name, who was the first creature to try to end its life in front of me. One morning, groggy with sleep, I dragged myself out of bed to take a shower and get ready to go to school. I shuffled across the blue nylon carpet and my foot stopped itself. Something cold and squishy was about to be crushed, and I screamed.

My father rushed in, convinced I was either being kidnapped, mauled or otherwise done wrong, to find me staring at a four-inch, still-breathing sucker fish, splayed on the carpet.

“I have no idea how the fish got out of the tank,” I said.

Laughing in that way dads do when they find out their children aren’t actually being stolen by the gypsies, he picked it up and, opening the tank’s lid, tossed it back in the water.

We started at it for a second and then. Splash!

In the three-inch gap at the back of the lid, open to let air in, the fish had found his escape route and had jumped back out of the tank. We put it back, only to have it leap out again. This fish was determined to cease being.

So, we flushed him, still alive, hoping that in the bowels of our septic system, he’d get what he wanted.

Meanwhile, the fish downstairs lived in a 70-gallon salt-water tank that my father lovingly maintained, in a place of honor in the house: right beneath the television.

Trying to be a semi-popular, fully-relevant member of elementary school society in the 80s meant logging several hours of after-school cartoon time on a daily basis. The roster of He-Man and She Ra, the Thunder Cats and G.I. Joe. Transformers. Saturday morning Smurfs viewing. If you couldn’t name all the characters in Rainbow Brite, you were basically a heathen (or in the case of one unfortunate girl named Trisha, a Jehovah’s Witness and not allowed to sing in the Christmas pageant, Trick-or-Treat or dye Easter eggs. She was an automatic outcast even though as a white blond girl, she should have had automatic status.)

In our house, the prized spot was directly in front of the television, laying on a giant pillow on a blanket spread out like a beach towel, with your feet propped against the fish tank. It was the drivers’ seat of the television. You had staked your claim to watching “Little House on the Prairie,” and no one could do a damned thing about it until you either got hungry or could no longer hold it in, and you got up to pee.

We’d watch entire miniseries, legs crossed and writhing in pain, to not get up and lose our seats. There were four of us. Occupying a prime space involved intense calculation of tactics, careful negotiation. “If I run and get the pillows, and you slide onto the floor, we can meet back up and lay in front of the TV together, and then Jessica and Jackie will have to sit on the sofas…” we would plot. Siblings teach strategic thinking.

If they were around to tell us, my parents would demand we remove our feet from the fish tank, but it only happened for as long as it took them to leave the room again. If they watched something with you, you slowly inched them back up until they were resting on top of the tank, at which point they’d make you take them down. And the cycle continued.

The entertainment center was custom-built to hold the fish tank, but the design forgot to take into account tank maintenance and the fact that, since it wasn’t the ocean, food would have to be introduced to the tank in order to keep the fish alive.

We had a problem of access. The opening in which the tank sat was only a few inches taller than the tank, and my father was the MacGyver of fish tank masters. When fish died and fell to the bottom of the tank, he would break out his spear – a wooden dowel with a nail attached to one end with electrical tape. We would then watch him try to maneuver to stab the carcass with the nail and pull it out slowly so that he didn’t drop it. “God damnit!” He dropped them a lot.

To change the water, he’d invented a hose and pump system that would empty a few gallons of water out of the tank so that he could mix a clean batch and then pump it back in. We used magnetic pads, one on the inside, one holding onto it from the outside, to clean the algae off of the glass. When those unfailingly fell, a combination of the spear and persistence were the only ways to get the magnet back to the glass, where you’d get it to re-adhere to the other one, only to drop it again. The opening was so narrow at the top that not even Jessica, with her miniature 6-year-old arms, could reach in.

When I was in college and we moved, the tank stayed behind, and I don’t think anyone was sorry to see it go. You can only take so many years of spearing clown fish with a nail before you start to wonder why people bother keeping pet fish. If you wanted to see them that badly you could go to any Chinese restaurant, and with that you’d get the added benefit of beef with broccoli and fortune cookies.

My last fish tank was a 120-gallon impulse buy. My friend was slowly dying of cancer, and rather than deal with it, I was engaging in retail therapy of the highest order. The day before, I’d bought an oversized armchair at a Jennifer Convertibles warehouse store, and they did not deliver.

I had to rent a U-Haul van to pick up the chair, which I had arranged to do during my lunch break. I had also spent part of the morning browsing Craigslist, and came across the fish tank. 120 gallons, complete with a 6-foot long, 3-foot high wooden base with cabinets for supplies. It was $100. I was sold.

In addition to retail therapy, I’d also taken to trying to take care of things, like vagrant computer programmers and tomato plants, during that year. Remembering the intricate work involved in maintaining the salt water tank of my childhood, I thought I’d found the perfect hobby, but it wasn’t meant to be.

My friend died the next day, and I sat looking at my fish tank. “Shit,” I thought.” What the hell am I going to do with a giant fish tank?”

In the end, I sold it to a woman who came to pick it up alone with a station wagon, in spite of several emails and Craigslist ads advertising that the unit was six feet high, six feet wide, and weighed several hundred pounds. When she finally came back for it with a truck and a friend, I’d already moved out, so I don’t know what she was hoping the behemoth fish tank would do for her.

But by that point, I’d moved to New York and into an apartment that would finally let me have cats, and found Harold at the 92nd St. ASPCA. While he sometimes watches TV if I’ve got one of those nature shows on, I can’t imagine Harold would be that fond of a big wet bubbling tank of food that he couldn’t get at, so we make due without fish, and its probably for the best. I don’t actually like them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


In my "new computer" haze last night, I apparently made a few mistakes and this post has been updated to reflect what actually happened. (Thanks dutchess!)

So, I went to the store intending to buy the $1499 (already not cheap) Macbook. The black, 200 GB hard drive-having, Intel-based one with the shiny display.

One comment from a salesman about how the shiny display distored color if I wanted to use the laptop for photography... And la voila. My one nerve had been touched. The one thing I do that requires a specific "look"... i.e. the color you see is the color it is... is just casually mentioned and I kick into "Yes sir may I have another!" gear. I would have bought anything he suggested from there on out. Too bad he didn't pitch a laptop carrying case or some software that cost less than $649 (bad Photoshop!)...

So, instead of the black MacBook, I got the 250 GB-hard-drive-having shiny silver MacBook Pro, ladies and gentlemen. And I intend to use it.

At the very, very, hopefully very least, this blog post was super-lovely to type. So soft. So springy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Viva Espana!

No, I cannot figure out how to make a tilde over the "n" in Blogger. Sue me.

But, ladies and gents, I've taken the first small step on this year's vacation adventure and purchased two guide books on Spain! Hooray! I chose Frommer's and Lonely Planet, because I like to mix up the high- and low-brow travel.

After several months of hostels and most likely lots of dirt acquired on her round-the-world backpacking adventure, my traveling companion will be treated to a night or two in a decent hotel. I'm not sure I want to throw myself into hostels from the get-go in the middle of the hot Barcelona summer.

Unlike the last time I tried to go to Barcelona, this time, I will make reservations. Last time, my college buddy and I were backpacking post-graduation, as one does sometimes, and decided to go to Barcelona in July. There were less rooms at the inn that we'd hoped. Even Jesus had better quarters with that manger thing. The one room in all of Barcelona we could find was in a building identified with the word "Hostal" on a buzzer. Nothing more. And when we opened the door, the first floor was a decrepit lobby full of newspapers and rats.

We abruptly left the building, and after finding an internet cafe and making plans to meet someone in Italy, we found the only place to sleep that night in all of Barcelona: the overnight train to Madrid. But I digress.

Because I've been to Madrid twice, I'd like to see some other parts of Spain, starting with Barcelona and perhaps winding up in Andalucia. It will be July, it will be hot as b*lls, and I think I will probably love it.

Gambas al ajillo por favor? :) See! I can do it!

I also looked around for some good Spanish literature to get me in the mood, but all I can find is Don Quixote. Spain apparently really did have a Golden Age and then give up.

The books should arrive next week and I can begin plotting the trip. What to see. Where to stay. I'm leaving nothing to chance, having seen the wily ways of the backpacker set, and don't want to wind up sleeping on the overnight boat to Morocco by default. Although that could actually be kind of cool, in my imagination it would involve some kind of robbery and maybe some muffled pleas through some kind of gag that I could get what they wanted by calling the embassy...

(I've been contemplating writing some fiction lately.)

It may turn out the whole trip is 10 days in Barcelona and its environs, but that wouldn't involve frantic European train travel, which is in my opinion, second only to sampling actual European food. In my memory, dinner was always better in Lyon. Unless I was in Paris. Then dinner was better in Paris.

I'm sure I'll go on about this at length for the next several months as I buy what will likely be an excruciatingly expensive plane ticket, pick hotels, map out a schedule and then decide what to pack. Feel free to toss ideas or experiences my way!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Facebook is Making Me Insecure

I have Facebook Network Envy.

I put this in capital letters because at some point in the future, I'm going to petition the CDC to make it an actual disease. Not quite as volatile and hard to control as SARS, but it makes the chicken pox pale in comparison. It's like being David Sedaris all the time, and that's rough.

Anyone who uses Facebook probably already knows what I'm about to say, because even the most jet-setting and seemingly cultured among us sees friends of friends who are in Facebook networks that cause pangs of jealousy and its nasty cousin, envy. "Why does SHE get to be in the Egypt network. Why can't I be part of the Yale Club. I want to be Bear Sterns!"

Just kidding about the Bear Sterns part.

But honestly, I am secretly jealous of the Indonesia, the Paris and the Abu Dhabi amongst the (1) NETWORK HERE segment of my friends. Mostly because their lives seem more exotic and exciting than my own with its grande coffees from Starbucks, subway commutes and fixation on American Idol. I feel so pedestrian in their wake.

Yes, these pants are from the gap. Yours were made by a villager in Tibet from the wool of wild mountain yaks? That's nice.

One thing I learned very slowly as I got older was that middle school playground life IS life. Cliques, cool kids and pack-mentality last until, well, death. Adults aren't miraculously moral and ethical when they hit 21. I sure as heck wasn't.

And it strikes me that Facebook really is like that middle school playground. Using our networks we segment ourselves into groups and sub-groups, automatically creating in-crowds and out-crowds among the people we know and people we wish we knew. (We'll leave aside the people we wish we didn't know.) Who hasn't felt a little surge of happiness upon noting," I have 103 friends!" Even if it's 3 friends, it's better than no friends. Even if they are all cooler than you.

(P.S. - This post was also written on the contraband MacBook Air.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

One more thing...

Just because I wanted to write TWO posts on the MacBook Air currently in my possession and about to be taken away.

In the Lost Madness poll, the final four will most likely be: Desmond, Sayid, Ben and Charlie. How to choose?!?!?!?!

The drama is killing me.

I Am Writing This on a MacBook Air

And yes, you should be very, very jealous. It is sitting on my lap right now. Or is it? It's so light I can't feel it. Oh yeah, there it is.

Our Test Center at my magazine recently reviewed this very piece of luscious computer hardware, finding it wanting in many areas. I, however, find that the only wanting going on is my own. The screen is so bright I might need to pull out my sunglasses. The full-size keyboard is smooth and springy under my fingers. I can toss the thing around like its a file folder.

I am in love. God I want this computer. I want this computer so much I'm contemplating pulling a Newsweek on it and "accidentally" throwing it away with the copy of today's Wall Street Journal that's in my handbag. I am pretty sure that not only would it fit, it would be so slender and wee that I might not have even noticed I'd put it in my bag til I got home later tonight and "Oops! How did that get in there? Pesky MacBook Air. Always trying to get recycled."

(Test Center just came and asked for its Air back.)

But seriously. I almost feel clumsy typing on this thing. Somehow un-chic, like the time in high school someone made fun of me for wearing brown shoes with a black outfit. It's way cooler than me. Even when I'm a poser and have fashionable days.

It's making my ability to resist the iPhone even weaker... Although I'm totally waiting til the new software and hopefully the 3G version come out this summer. (It will have faster connectivity, for the luddites out there.)

Tomorrow I'll tell you what I think about Apple and Starbucks teaming up to put digital displays with song information on what its playing in its New York stores.

Those were not there last week. I know. I have a caffeine addiction.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Viva la Redbones!

As you probably already know, I spent a good six years of my life living in the fine city of Boston. I fled in August 2005 under less than ideal circumstances, but wound up in beautiful Brooklyn where the brownstone-lined streets and Gorilla Coffee keep me quite the happy camper. (I mean really, New York is awesome.) But this morning I've been hit with a pang of nostalgia so sharp it induced blogging.

I miss Redbones.

For the uninitiated, Redbones is a BBQ place in Somerville, Mass., right off the main drag in Davis Square, and they have the most amazing ribs outside of Texas. I'd write poetry about them if I thought my poetry skills were anywhere near good enough to wax on about Redbones Texas ribs, hush puppies, corn fritters, Lynchburg Lemonades... You get the picture. It's some serious down-home cooking in the chilly North East. And it is amazing.

I was hoping to head back to Boston this week for a conference, but now I'm heading to Los Angeles for a different conference, and my weeks of nostalgia and scheming on how to get in a trip to an Anna's Taqueria for a carnitas super burrito, how to find a few lazy hours to hang out in Harvard Square and then maybe hit up O'Sullivan's for a burger and still have time to have a few cocktails and a gouda skillet at the B-Side Lounge for old times sake.

Yes, much of my Boston memory revolves around food, but I think that could be true of most peoples' memories about most places. (Good memories that is.)

I used to drive to work every morning from Kendall Square in Cambridge across the city to Needham, a suburb, and listen to the Emerson College radio station, WERS. I was even having pangs of old radio show nostalgia this morning. Some quality indie rock was played on that station, introducing me to things like The Decemberists, Martha Wainwright, Meg Hutchinson and Antje Duvekot.

For a few years I thought going home to Boston would be too sad, but lately the sadness has moved aside and I'm filled with this overwhelming urge to re-connect with the little day-to-day realities of a life I'd most willingly left behind.

I think perhaps its time for a visit.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Saving the Earth, One Coffee Sleeve at a Time

I recently came across something that I find delightful enough to share with my audience and know that I plan on ordering one (probably the one named Jennifer) because I think it's a great idea.

The re-usable coffee sleeve!

These fabric sleeves slide onto your take-out coffee cup, a la Starbucks, and keep you from burning your tender fingers while refraining from taking that extra cardboard sleeve and single-handedly ruining the Amazon rain forest.

But seriously, I've found myself becoming increasingly concerned with things like my own "carbon footprint" and actually consider "off-setting my emissions" when I fly to Los Angeles for work next week. I partly blame the incessant media chatter about how global warming is screwing up weather patterns all over the world, which it is, and then watching things like National Geographic's recent special "Six Degrees Could Change the World," which chronicles the global carnage that will result with each degree the earth's average temperature increases. If we bump that sh*t up five degree's we're all doomed. I'm not kidding. Global warming is already killing old French people by the thousand. If we hit six degrees, it's like the seven plagues of Egypt or something.

Please people. Recycle.

Even though recycling is among the stuff white people like that make them feel good about themselves, like the Toyota Prius and ethnic diversity.

Back to saving the earth. I've also been noticing that regular non-Whole Foods grocery stores are starting to catch on with greener practices. The Key Foods grocery store near my house is now selling eco-friendly tote bags next to the check out lanes. Yesterday a wine shop gave me a canvas tote to take my wine home. Fancy! So, I wind up advertising the wine shop for free by carrying their bag, but they didn't give me one of those opaque black plastic bags that wine shops tend to use which I'm pretty sure will outlast human existence.

But before I get too bleak:

Humorous Pictures
Enter the ICHC online Poker Cats Contest!

Friday, February 15, 2008

My new obsessions:

Granny Square Afghans.

Foley + Corinna Tote Bags

Elijah Craig Kentucky Bourbon

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Donimo Magazine Knows its Audience

I receive Domino Magazine because a lovely friend got it for me as a housewarming gift when I moved, and I think its delightful. I love its modernist yet timeless sense of style and the beautiful things that exist to decorate your home.

Just when you thought they'd found every possible way to separate people from their money with registries and wish lists, Domino takes it to a whole new level.

They've launched Domino Home Register, a "wish list" on their web site that allows you to make lists of things you want "Whether you're decorating, turning the big 3 - 0 or searching for gifts..."

Ack. It's always weird to realize you're someone's target market.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

To Facebook or not to Facebook...

That is the question.

Something that's recently come up in my 21st Century Web 2.0 media universe is the etiquette of Facebook Friending, the process by which one discovers known persons (or unknown persons!) on Facebook and decides to make them a Facebook Friend, giving them access to all of the things you do that frankly, aren't your job, while the hamster wheels in your mind are busy processing exactly how you tell a story about... Stuff.

For example, this morning someone I've never even heard of requested to be my friend on Facebook. This person works in PR and I'm a journalist. A handful of my co-workers were his friends already. I didn't know him from Adam.

Am I supposed to say yes?

Then there's the "Facebook Friends I Work With" issue and whether, upon discovering your boss is on Facebook, you friend him or wait for him to friend you? A brief survey of my compatriots revealed that most people think that the boss should be the one to initiate friending. However, we couldn't come up with any repercussions against being the friend-instigator with higher ups. But it seemed a better idea to wait. And then not to jump on and accept their friend request right away, lest they think you're spending your day on Facebook and not, say, engrossed in the workings of Apple.

A friend, a graduate student with a Facebook profile whose students are all on Facebook has made his profile unsearchable to them and others to keep his adult life separate from his teaching life, which is a good idea and has so far worked out well.

Facebook is, in my opinion, a delightful networking site that allows me to keep up with far-flung friends and family and to share some down time with my colleagues. I don't see it as a business tool or even a business-building or networking tool. There's too much crap out there and there really are things one wants to keep separate from one's work life, like the whole Church and State issue. Oh yeah, and the fact that everyone under the age of 30 has at least 1 - at least! - picture of themselves somewhere on Facebook in which they are drunk or drinking.

And if you don't yet, you will soon. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Extreme Home Makeover Trumps Super Bowl

Okay, I began this evening watching the Super Bowl at my sister's place on the Upper East Side. I came home on the subway (after being entirely unable to find a cab) and was disappointed to find that House had been recording according to the TV Guide, not according to when House was actually on post-Super Bowl. But I digress.

I watched it in spotty chunks via DVR, and then watched tonight's Extreme Home Makeover.

Now, I have friends who see this show as a tremendous waste of resources, but it's all marketing donations and publicity stuff to essentially transform the life of a family. Lately they're taking one family from each state that's suffering more spectacularly than usual. One family had four children who all had the same weird disease - apparently not inherited but obviously genetic - that caused them to treat food like a parasite, children with super-rare immune diseases.... tonight's family however, featured an 8-year old with pediatric cancer, and she had just found out she had a reoccurance when they decided to build her family a new, safer, less polluted by mold house.

So, they send the family and this stunningly beautiful 8-year old to Hilton Head while they build them a beautiful chalet in Oregon, and they come home to a Domino Magazine perfect house and the girl and her 2 teenage brothers freak out. This family is so overwhelmed by the beauty of what they've been given, as most Extreme Home Makeover families are, that they can't actually communicate effectively about how they feel. They have been given a tiny slice of paradise, and they know it.

Now, I have no idea how much they spend or what bargains these families make to get these houses. I like to believe that ABC is willing to dole out this cash and these beautiful homes with new appliances because 1) the appliances, etc. are donated by marketing departments and 2) the show produces way more in ad revenue than it actually costs to build a suffering family a beautiful, safe home (which is a tragedy of a whole different level). I like to believe that it's actually generous.

Yet, tonight they showed an 8 year old girl, for whom they built a beautiful house. But she had pediatric cancer. For the second time.

She didn't have a prayer. How can you fight something so persistent and stealthy?

I lost my best friend to cancer almost three years ago. I watched this show with tears in my eyes. And streaming down my cheeks.

And the show, produced whenever it was actually produced, had a post script... The girl passed away in December 2007. But before she died she saw the tremendous love and generosity her existence and her life inspired, so in one respect, if just that one, she was lucky.