Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cocktailing

In the depths of the especially hot and sticky summer we've been having for the last few weeks, one of my favorite respites is found in a glass. Don't worry, Maw Manhattan: I'm not an alcoholic. I just think a cocktail is a wonderful way to cool down every once in a while, and I have been learning to enjoy the artistry that can go into making a drink. This is in part due to SE, who is an amateur mixologist in his spare time, his home bar stacked with all manner of quality bitters, liqueurs, bottles printed with the phrase "Creme de" [insert flower, fruit, or herb here].

Every once in a while, SE will leave his home in pursuit of a truly wonderful cocktail. I have had the pleasure of being in his company for such endeavors, and one recent excursion took us to the Upper East Side for a visit to the very luxurious Mark Hotel. Consistently rated as a five-star home-away-from-home for people who exemplify "the other half" in the phrase "how the other half lives," The Mark is home to its own personal Frederic Fekkai salon, a trolley service that takes its clientele to and from Bergdorf Goodman (and offers them 24/7 access to the department store), and room service by celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, among many other amenities. It is also known for its hotel bar, The Mark Bar.

After a not-especially-special trip to another bar that evening, one whose quality of cocktail did not match the requested expense, I wanted to get SE a truly special cocktail at a place where I knew, I knew we would be able to get them. I had read in New York Magazine's very cool "Absolute Best" series, in which they list their favorite bars and restaurants that achieve a variety of accolades ("Best Birthday Cake" and "Best Lobster Roll" are two that come to mind), that one on their list of "The Absolute Best Uptown-Hotel Bars in New York" was The Mark. So in a bout of adventurousness and spontaneity (which, we would learn later, would be a theme for the evening), I made the suggestion and we spirited ourselves uptown.

Walking to The Mark from the subway, we passed both the ornate cement and modern brick facades of elegant townhomes dotting the walk between Lexington Avenue and Madison Avenue on 77th Street, as well as stores empty of people yet still beckoning their wares with brightly lit windows. A doorman welcomed us into the hotel, its artistically modern furniture and bright white walls covered in contemporary canvases. The air was cool but not chilly, and everything was the polar opposite of the subway ride we had just taken to get there.

We made a sharp left and entered the bar, its couches printed in a brown and white cow pattern, walls decorated in shimmering copper tiles, each centered with a circular, dotted light fixture. The space was covered in a hot pink light of sorts, and we made our way to the silver bar with its matching stools to have a look at their cocktail menu. I chose a fruity champagne cocktail, and SE selected The Mark Bar's take on the classic Aviation--typically gin, creme de violette, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur, the bar tops it off with a generous splash of Prosecco. As I expected, the drinks were heavenly. Bubbly and sweet, but not too sweet, they were what the drinks we had earlier in the evening should have been.

As we sat and sipped and discussed, the bar became more empty, and soon a gentleman was sitting next to us. A sort of Brazilian Richard Branson in appearance, his pregnant wife (his third) and his child were sleeping, he explained, and he was going to treat himself to a dirty martini. He was in real estate in Miami, it would turn out, and a car enthusiast, much to SE's delight. The two of them slowly but surely eased into a jocular chat that left them both laughing and smiling. I left to use the restroom at one point and when I returned I discovered we were all about to do tequila shots, courtesy of our new friend. Shoot the tequila I did--rather, to the best of my ability, since it was a rather generous shot, though of the deliciously smooth Don Julio. More time passed, more laughs, more discussion, and it was just we three in the bar, closing it down. The gentleman had so enjoyed our company, he said, and then in an act of kindness and generosity we very much appreciated, treated us to our cocktails. He and SE traded business cards, and we shook hands, gave hugs and said thank you, separating into our respective evenings. If you had told me our evening would have gone this way when we started, I would have been delighted but I wouldn't have believed you. But, as ever, evenings like this are why I moved to New York.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Word.


"I don't know where I'm going!"

A girl is standing on Bedford Avenue next to a gentleman of some nature, her phone in front of her face. Her finger swipes down repeatedly on the screen as if trying to find herself on a map.

It was an interesting phrase to hear as I walked past them toward the L station from Greenpoint, as it perfectly summed up my day.

A big, if not arguably the biggest, part of my job is to pitch articles and photographs to various publications. Once they're accepted, I then get to write or photograph (or both) whatever topic I've submitted. The weeks where I have to do this, though, are often quite taxing. Not because coming up with ideas and sending emails is difficult, of course, but  because it can feel as if my ability to pay my rent and all of my bills rests within a single email to an editor or even a subject at a given time. It's stressful, spending sometimes literally hours on a website to understand their content only to have the ideas you've spent all this time on, sometimes days at a time, get unanimously rejected or not even acknowledged. This is the nature of the beast, of course, a thing that every writer deals with all the time. It's a life I chose and ultimately I'm happy to be living it and making a living doing it. But that doesn't mean that some days I don't want to kneel in front of my computer and pray to Moses or Jesus or RuPaul or whoever runs the universe for this pitch or that pitch to be accepted. Because often, if not most of the time, that is what I want to do and the sole fact that I am in a coffee shop surrounded by people with interesting tattoos and sneakers is often the primary reason I do not end up doing so. Please just let this go through, I think to myself instead. Please.

Today was one such day, in one such week. I spent hours agonizing over a food website to make sure my pitches were tuned in to what they might want, and ultimately I think I made some good decisions. I submitted them around 5pm, so I imagine/hope I'll see sometime later this week. I left the coffee shop once I finished this task to head to Word Bookstore in Greenpoint. The event tonight was "Ask Polly Live" where "Ask Polly" advice columnist Heather Havrilesky of New York Magazine's The Cut would be discussing her new book, a collection of her column entitled "How to Be a Person." Heather's column has developed a cult following, and soon the bookstore will be flooded with 20-something women all seeking their own interaction with Polly. Joining her would be two more very well-respected writers, Meghan Daum and Kate Bolick. I had even studied Meghan Daum's work in college, when a professor assigned her delightful essay "Music is My Bag" for a class. I was excited to be in a room with so many inspirational writers at once.

As is my MO, I arrived early, mostly to peek around at the bookstore--I lust after books in a way that most certainly lacks sanity; the Louisa May Alcott quote "She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain" always blares in the back of my mind whenever I enter a bookstore of any kind, and I am often left wondering to myself how to pick just one to take home. Shortly after perusing the stacks, I felt the back of my throat close up the way it does when it is trying to suppress water from spilling out of my eyes, my tongue springing to the roof of my mouth to hold my jaw closed. I was surrounded by ravishing cultural critiques, essays, and histories by celebrated authors, memoirs in hardcover by people perhaps a decade younger than me, anthologies I would have longed to contribute to bearing the names of writers I know on their covers. It was no different than any other trip to a bookstore, really, but today I internally prayed for an article about breakfast food to be accepted to a magazine. How was I supposed to go downstairs now and listen to these giants talk about writing? I felt an inch tall. I wanted to run out of the store, find a stoop to sit on, unhinge my tongue from the roof of my mouth and release saltwater down my face in fits and starts until I couldn't breathe. Breakfast food.

"I don't know where I'm going!" indeed.

But I knew I was just feeling sorry for myself, and I certainly wasn't going to turn around and go home after I had gone all the way to Greenpoint. "Suck it up," I thought to myself. "You will learn something and it is important for you to be here to listen to strong, smart women who once were where you are talk about writing."

And listen I did. To Heather Havrilesky's deliciously sharp, confident tongue that mirrors her worldly, tell-it-like-it-is "Ask Polly" column; to Meghan Daum's advice to celebrate one's comfort zone--but to go deep into it and not stay on the surface--because "the things that work are the things that feel authentic to you" and the trouble starts when you force it; to Kate Bolick's celebratory "courage of her eccentricities" and "This is the cake I bake!" a personal manifesto for self-acceptance encouraging those who don't like your cake to visit another bakery. They made me think about the writing I want to do and why I don't do more of it, about emotional truth in writing, about the steps I need to take to get where I want to go. They can seem like daunting steps, of course, but they are required if this is what I want.

I got the most hope, though, from a story Kate Bolick told about Heather Havrilesky, when she discussed one of the first columns Heather did something like 20 years ago. One of the first. 20 years ago. "Oh!" I thought to myself. "I have time!" It seems like a 'duh' point to say so, but of course nobody who has been at anything for 6 years has mastered it. In another 14 years if I don't have my shit together then we can worry. Maybe in 14 years, if I just keep doing what I'm doing but also make the changes I need to make, breakfast food and all, I will have a career like one of these women. The event ends and they are milling about, but I don't have the guts to say hello and I love your work and you inspire me like I normally would. I am unfortunately still hearing breakfast food in the back of my head, simultaneously feeling dwarfed by their accomplishments and knowing how far I still have to go, while trying to think, based on their advice, how to grow next.

I go to leave the bookstore and by the door is Heather, who is signing books for a long line of young women. They say things to her like "You changed my life," and "You saved me," and she smiles a true, genuine smile to each of them and says thank you. I press the door open and her eyes meet mine. I have noticeably not been in the line of the tiny bookstore to come face to face with her before now. "Thank you for coming!" she says. I can only manage a nod and a half-smile before exiting, but I think, thank you.

I walk past McCarren Park, chasing twilight as the sky quickly turns from lavender to heliotrope to navy back to the train, when I walk past the girl whose face is in her phone. "I don't know where I'm going!"

Me either, I think. But I think that's okay.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Celeste

When Maw and Paw Manhattan tell me they are coming to visit, two things usually happen: 1) I am delighted, which is then followed quickly by 2) a stab of fear in my heart. I don't worry for their safety, I don't worry for their ability to get around, I worry what restaurant I am going to take them to.

This sounds incredibly insane, and it definitely is, but at least let me explain. I love my parents so much, as we all do, and I want nothing more than when they visit to give them a positive experience. There are so many restaurants in New York, and so many quality ones to choose from. They deserve the best in my opinion, so if a restaurant doesn't meet their standards--which, admittedly, are not very high: does a place have good food and a comfortable atmosphere? That's it, that's all they care about-- it almost feels like I haven't done right by them. Like after all these years, after all they've given me, I still couldn't get my shit together and find something worthwhile. Insane, right? And much too deep, they tell me every time the come visit. "Uh, can't we just go get a burger, Lyss?"

When my parents go out to eat in Florida, where they live, they have a circulating stable of places they pick from, and every so often they'll branch out. They like good Italian food, good French food, good Chinese food, sandwiches, occasionally Greek, occasionally Mexican, and they've recently gotten into Korean and Thai food. They're not especially adventurous eaters, but they also know tasty, thoughtfully-prepared food when they have it. They don't have to be impressed with kale or unpronounceable vegetables or farm-raised this or organic that or locally sourced whatever. If it's delish and it's not too complicated, they can get on board. And when they come to New York, they're on vacation, so they don't need to get fancy every night (one night, sure; every night, no). 

All that being said, the one thing my father asks for whenever he comes to New York is a choice Italian place. (That, and a trip to Nancy's Pig Heaven for some incredible spare ribs). I have not yet, though, been able to deliver on this request. I don't regularly eat Italian food, so finding a spot that's worthy when I haven't been there is a challenge. I have tried bring M & P to some spots but none ever cut the mustard, as it were. Paw likes a down-home kind of restaurant, where the tablecloths aren't white linen, where there are paper napkins, where you don't have to make a reservation and if you tried to they'd look at you funny. He also likes bolognese. I've seen him order it with every kind of pasta from gnocchi to spaghetti and in true connoisseur fashion, tries it whenever it's available in whatever restaurant we go to.

Recently, though, I was able to find one restaurant I think will be a good fit. Though he had had a long day at work and neither of us said we were going to be eating too many carbs any longer, SE let me drag him to Celeste on the Upper West Side. We were easily able to grab a table when we rolled into the unmarked, brick-walled restaurant at around 9pm, flanked on either side by a couple finishing up their tiramisu (which looked incredible) and a woman enjoying a nice dinner to herself (what turned out to be spaghetti alla vongole, or spaghetti with clams). We ordered one of their signature wood-fired pizzas, (Margherita) made in a brick oven, and a dish of their homemade pasta (Paccheri Vesuviana, medium-length tubes of pasta topped with ricotta and tomato sauce). And everything was unbelievable. The mozzarella cheese seeped into the tomato sauce which seeped into the bread and all melted into my mouth at once. I had one of those moments when you finish a slice of pizza and suddenly you're so happy there's one more there waiting for you. The pasta was perfectly al dente, the ricotta and tomato sauce spilling from the tubes and happily onto my fork when I cut into them. When we ate all the pasta, we dipped the bread into the sauce to sop more of it up, unwilling to let it go. We didn't get to try the bolognese, but there's always next time. The waitstaff was kind, the manager was friendly, and we didn't feel rushed during our meal. It was one of these moments of simple pleasures, delicious food in a quiet little brick restaurant, no need for splash or glitter, something perfect after a long week. The next time M & P come to visit, I hope they will feel the same. 

Celeste
502 Amsterdam Avenue at W. 84th St.
212-874-4559

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Mermaids IV

One of my favorite parts of the Mermaid Parade happens before I even get there, on the subway. Once you get on a train that takes you to Coney Island, for me this time it happened to be the Q, you'll start seeing people in either full mermaid regalia or assembling it on the actual train. On my subway car, three girls were pasting themselves with gold leaf temporary tattoos and contouring their makeup. Though it's fair to say this might happen on any train in New York at any time (man, I do love this city), on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice on a train out to the beach in Brooklyn, it's definitely for the Mermaid Parade. Then, once you get off the train at Coney Island, it's a veritable mini-parade of bodies cloaked in a variety of crowns and glitter and paint and costumes all making their way out of the station in a mass exodus toward the parade route.

It's the world's largest art parade, and accordingly people's creativity never fails to amaze me. This year there was a Frida Kahlo mermaid, Andy Warhol mermaids, a Mondrian mermaid, Prince mermaids, David Bowie mermaids, and countless others sporting wigs and papier mache and nets and all manner of aquatic accoutrements. I also had the pleasure this year of discovering the parade's annual ceremony, which officially welcomes summer to New York. A giant procession follows Dick Zigun, the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, to the beach as he beats the giant drum strapped to his chest. Then the king and queen mermaid (the parade's grand marshals), this year the latter was Sports Illustrated model Hailey Clauson, cut the ribbons of each season on the beach and then run into the water. A man carries a basket of fruit into the ocean while people dressed in all white dance in a circle and bless those around them by spitting peach schapps on them (yes...). If you're lucky, you catch people still in costume just hanging out on the beach watching it all happen. "The parade is fun," my friend DL says. "But this is ritual, it's tradition! This is the best part."

As ever, take a look at some sights and scenes from this year's Mermaid Parade, below. Click to enlarge!

























Saturday, June 18, 2016

Miss Manhattan's Day Off

We had planned the day probably two months in advance

"I'm dragging you with me to the new punk exhibition at the Queens Museum," I said to my friend AR. I had no particular timeline in mind, just that I wanted to go see "Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: Ramones and the Birth of Punk," which had opened on April 10.

"Fine," he said. "We're gonna go to a baseball game afterward." He asked me to pick a day from three consecutive ones in the middle of June--the day his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, were playing the Mets at citiField, a short walk from the museum--and then we would go. But the days were all in the middle of the week. We would miss work? He wasn't concerned.

"It is a beautiful day in Chicago. Temperatures in the upper 70's."

It wasn't exactly a beautiful day like the one bestowed on Ferris Bueller when he took his day off, but I was happy nonetheless to be playing hooky from work. Rain clouds loomed ominously above, but I wasn't worried--if it rained, it would rain. There was no canceling our day off! I simply shoved my umbrella in my bag and made my way to meet AR for lunch.

We started our day at 1:30 with Bloody Marys and Mexican-ish food and Depeche Mode playing in the background. Drinking in the middle of the day on a Thursday? I thought to myself. Who was I? Because normally with work I tend to be rather Cameron-like--if you try to mess with my work, I get "so tight that if you stuck a lump of coal up [her] ass, in two weeks you'd have a diamond."

But today I was happy to not feel stressed from leaving work: I had managed my time to a tee this week, waking up early and going to bed later to make sure I would get all of the work done I needed to, really earning that day off on Thursday. I would not be the Cameron to AR's Ferris today; perhaps I would be some version of Ferris on my own.

We made our way to the Queens Museum, getting stuck in a little rain on the way. Eventually it subsided but I'd learn later we'd need them again, next time for reasons a little different. 

"Um, she's sick. My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Miss Manhattan pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious." 

Walking to the museum
The Queens Museum is located in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in, of course, Queens. Flushing Meadows was home to both the 1939 and 1964 World's Fairs, so it is sprinkled with a wealth of sculptures, beautiful, tree-lined walkways, and occasionally some decay porn from once-used pavilions that have since been abandoned. It's also home to the Unisphere, the giant silver globe sculpture surrounded by a circle of fountain jets spraying water zillions of feet in the air, that you'd probably recognize from more than a few films taking place in New York. Over 897 acres, it's also home to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the New York Hall of Science, citiField where the Mets play, the Queens Theatre, and more.

Getting off the 7 train at Mets-Willets Point Station, we crossed over a quite unexpected
The Unisphere
boardwalk--what is this, Brighton Beach?-- and into the park. One of my favorite things about this was that we never used our phones, just following park maps and the visual of the Queens Museum to get ourselves there. It's not an incredibly difficult park to navigate as there are lots of clear pathways, but it felt nice not to have my face jammed in my phone when I didn't need to. Shortly, after a long tree-lined path, we came upon the Unisphere and its necessary accompanying photo session. We had to skitter into the museum quickly after that because we'd have just an hour until the gallery closes.

"The place is like a museum. It's very beautiful and very cold, and you're not allowed to touch anything."  

You might wonder what a Ramones exhibition is doing in the Queens Museum, but it really makes quite a lot of sense once you learn the Ramones were from the Forest Hills neighborhood in the borough. They (like my mother!) went to Forest Hills High School, they saw shows at Shea Stadium, and their parents owned businesses in the area. In the exhibition, their ticket stubs from local venues are on display, as are their gym shirts from high school, all of their album covers, some of their leather jackets and amps, infinite posters and photographs from CBGB, their world tours, and so much more. Sometimes you forget these were just "kids from the neighborhood" who my mother maybe even crossed paths with as she moved around Jewel Avenue as a teenager.

At the museum, we also had the pleasure of seeing my friend Magali Duzant's work on display as a part of the 2016 Queens International exhibition, which is a biannual exhibition of artists working in Queens. Magali's work is Golden Hours: Live Streaming Sunset, for which she set up webcams around the world to stream sunsets in real time. When we arrive, we are viewing Iceland, is blue waters turning white under the rays of the setting sun.

We dawdle in the gift shop until the museum closes and are ushered out the back way. This brings us closer to the decay porn I mentioned earlier, remnants from the 1964 World's Fair that just didn't have any use after it ended. I had the pleasure of being here before, while I was photographing for Nora Lum's Awkwafina's NYC, and still, somehow, it was just as entrancing. Who walked here before us, and what did they see? Probably not several 'Danger: High Voltage' signs that prompted me to sing Electric Six as we tried to find an entrance to the pavilion. There were several people inside, and we figured they must have gotten in somehow. But, it turns out, they were part of a tour and their guide wouldn't let us in with them. He was friendly, though, and mentioned the space would be open for viewing later in the year.

The view from inside the Unisphere
We find our way back to the Unisphere, where there's a Mister Softee truck waiting for us. A soft-serve vanilla cone rolled in rainbow sprinkles is another perfect antidote for a grey, humid day like today, not to mention practically a necessity if one is going to play hooky correctly. AR decides he would like to eat his cone inside the Unisphere fountain and promptly opens his umbrella and walks inside of it, doing some fancy footwork to avoid its massive puddles that could swallow one's feet whole, a quite unpleasant feeling to experience when there's so much walking left to do in the day. I know it's unpleasant because I did not master the footwork so well, and got my feet soaked coming and going. However, it was an awesome feeling to sit inside the fountain, dry except for my feet and a splash across my back from a rogue spray of water, and eat this ice cream cone while staring out at the splashing water. What I also loved about this moment, and the day overall, is that I was never a teenager who skipped class or did anything that might get me in trouble really, so to be actively doing things that teenage me should have done to better take advantage of life was incredibly rewarding.

We stroll around Flushing Meadows a bit more, mostly because we are in search of coffee. Instead, we find playground animal sculptures perfect for climbing and taking pictures on, as well as the New York Hall of Science and its corresponding Rocket Park Mini-Golf (which is, sadly, closed by the time we arrive). Then we walk through Corona and ultimately end up at citiField for the Mets game (read: Pittsburgh Pirates game).

You realize if we played by the rules right now we'd be in gym?
citiField
I remember when we find our seats that I haven't been to a baseball game in about 10 years, at the old Joe Robbie Stadium in South Florida for a Marlins game. The stadium was this old, circular cement structure that was basically one giant ramp going higher and higher. Citifield, however, is gorgeous: so clean and new, with everything from Nathan's Hot Dogs to Pat LaFrieda filet mignon sandwiches in the offering, vittle-wise. We found our seats and AR proceeded to explain baseball to me, giving me an old Pittsburgh Pirates hat to wear. Even though we were surrounded by Mets fans in royal blue, orange, and white, nobody gave us any agita which, AR tells me, is pretty typical of baseball fans especially when the teams playing aren't rivals. Good baseball is good baseball, after all, and even though I was supposed to be cheering for the Pirates I was happy to see really wonderful catches by the Mets when they were in the outfield. We chowed down on sausages and ultimately watched the Pirates lose, but it was great to be spending a summer evening in this sort of nostalgic fit of Americana and we walked away happy.

"But still, why should she get to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants? Why should everything work out for her? What makes her so goddamn special?"

The 7 train was running not just express but 'super express' back into Manhattan, and the journey took almost no time at all. AR and I parted ways at Court Square and high-fived, our Day Off a grand success. The only thing that could have made it better was a visit to SE for a delicious Old-Fashioned cocktail, so of course I found my way there. Sipping on sweet bourbon with bitters, an orange peel and a brandied cherry, it was also the figurative cherry to what is perhaps the ultimate Day Off.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Scenes from a Summer II

On Tuesday night I am leaving Phoenix, a gay bar in the East Village, because of course I am. SJT has just given one of his 'How to Opera' sessions, in which he highlighted some of the operatic points of interest happening around New York this summer. He sipped a greyhound or two or three and rolled up his cranberry-colored shorts to cool off his legs in the back room of the brick-laden bar. Pushing his long sleeves past his elbows in hopes of a similar result on his arms, he nonetheless said "I hate short sleeves," though the fact that it is now very much summer in New York does not seem to phase him. He asks me for feedback on the session though I have trouble issuing it because I could listen to him talk about quantum physics or the many uses of canned tuna and I would still be enthralled, words always elegantly and eloquently floating off his tongue whether they are about opera or about Bob's Burgers. I hope he will teach the class again.

Outside, the air is cool and though it is past 8pm the sun has not yet set and the sky is a blissful lavender hue. I can almost see the sunset down 13th Street, the sun a creamsicle-colored orb slowly descending into the horizon. I contemplate taking the bus uptown, but decide I want to be outside a bit longer and walk to the train. Back near my home, I stop to get a salad and decide I will sit outside and eat it on a stoop. Ultimately I decide my own stoop will be serve just fine, so I continue the journey home. I set myself down on the brick stairs in front of my building and crack into my salad, the soft night air brushing against my face. My roommate comes up the walk not too long after I sit down, smiling and raising an eyebrow at me. "Why are you eating out here?" she asks. "I thought to myself, well, we can't really do this in our apartment and I wanted to eat outside so I just said, 'fuck it,'" I laugh. She smiles back and laughs too, heading inside. Sometimes I forget what weird can look like to other people because I live in New York.

I miss this time of year the rest of the year. Maybe because I stayed inside far too often as a child, or because the nature of living in this city is that you are just exposed to its elements all the time and eventually you are bound to pick your favorites. I love the soft dew of humidity on my face, the kiss of the sun on my shoulders and face, the flutter of sundresses around my knees when I walk on the streets. I love the hum of the fan in my room when I fall asleep, wrapping myself in just one thin sheet as opposed to my usual piles of blankets. I love the coconut smell of the sunscreen I bought and the way sand sticks to my suntan lotion's orange grease gel when I go to the beach. I love the promise of rooftop parties and ocean visits and open windows that allow breezes to float in. At certain times, the city is emptier in the summer and I feel my thoughts flow a little slower, that I have more time to listen to them.

*
Friday night BK and I meet for dinner in Crown Heights. We go to Glady's on Franklin Avenue, a Caribbean restaurant. The restaurant, done up with glass shutter windows that remind me of homes in South Florida, is across the street from an organic grocery, and I had to walk past a Starbucks and a Citibank to get to it. I remember five years ago when the street was all bodegas blasting dancehall music, plastic lawn chairs for sale in their storefronts, with only the bar Franklin Park plopped at the end on St. John's Place.

Nevertheless, Glady's is delicious. BK and I sit and eat and discuss writing, relationships, the length of his new beard, and when we are going dancing next. We have the jerk chicken and bok choy and plantains and a bowl of curried goat. Never in my life did I think I would have the opportunity to say 'More Goat, Please,' but now I have proven myself wrong. They cap off the meal with complimentary servings of of deliciously cool non-dairy coconut ice cream in tiny metal cups and it's perfect.

I am dismayed to learn later that it is run by hipsters who are from absolutely no form of Caribbean descent and I have mixed thoughts about going back. But I'll be damned if I did not inhale that curried goat, practically licking my fingers until it was gone.

After dinner I head to a rooftop in the Crown Heights historic district. AR throws me down the keys and I let myself in and up the stairs. People sit on lawn chairs and look up at the now-dark sky, the only lights a string of Christmas bulbs they've brought up the line the wall. We migrate back and forth between the roof and our host's apartment, listening to records with his friend D: Grace Jones, Tracy Chapman, Savages, as the three of us sit and bullshit together, talking about how terrible Vangelis is though AR bought one of his albums that day. We slowly become covered in cat hair from the host's hilariously overweight pet, a fluffy white cat named Beans.

Back upstairs we sit and dig into dirt pudding, accented with deliciously mushy Oreos and rubbery gummy worms, treats I do not allow myself to eat too regularly these days. The pudding floats fluffy in my mouth and I take another serving though I definitely don't need it and am almost sure I don't want it, but I am doing my best to hold on to the food memory for posterity. I will doubtlessly need it since I have been subsisting off oatmeal and Lean Cuisines for the last few weeks and in this dirt pudding-ensconced moment I am in food bliss. At 1:30 in the morning, AR, D and I take the train back through Brooklyn. Once they depart at their stop I read Patti Smith's M Train until I get back into Manhattan, the air cool enough that I wrap my arms with the cardigan I've been keeping in my bag for such an occasion.

*

Saturday I have brunch with DL, a happy treat since I have barely spent any real time with him in many months. At Bar Corvo near the Brooklyn Museum, we dive into a fish sandwich (me) and a foccacia bread pudding (he…though I helped, probably more than I should have…). We walk all over the neighborhood, making our way around and then through Prospect Park and down into Park Slope and then by Barclays Center, chatting about the weirdness and wonderfulness in our current lives. He is older and wiser than I and I value his insights, doing my best to remember them for when I move forward. The sun is hot on our limbs but we press on, listening and overlapping speech naturally and never disrespectfully. Our stories bend and twist and our conversation sparks new topics at every turn, as it always has. By the time we reach Atlantic Terminal, we have walked several miles but, a mark of true friendship, I have barely noticed. Hugs and goodbyes are exchanged and I feel that same tug at my heartstrings when I leave all of my friends, that leftover ache of being an only child and going home to my empty room filled with stuffed animals that won't talk back to me. But as always, I know I will see them again, and with that I descend into the Q train to make my way back to Manhattan.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Graham Home for Old Ladies

Every so often when I'm in Brooklyn, I'll get ambitious when I have time to spare and walk to disparate parts of the borough. One such time was yesterday, when I traveled from the Lorimer Street stop on the L train to the Annex Cafe in Fort Greene, a 2.8 mile walk. While I usually doubt the pacing of the Google Maps walking figure because I have short legs and don't like to rush anywhere, the 58-minute trip time was very accurate given the aforementioned details and the fact that I was also schlepping maybe five pounds of camera equipment on my shoulder.

My trek began down Marcy Avenue in Williamsburg, populated by its banks and sandwich shops and unusual interior design stores, which later turned into Williamsburg Street West. My jaunt down this street became a tour of the Hasidic part of Brooklyn. Even in what was nearly 90-degree heat yesterday, the men still wore shtreimels, large black circular hats surrounded by fur, with their long black jackets, longsleeved white shirts, and black pants. Women had their arms and legs covered, their heads topped with wigs. I trotted past them in my linen pants and tank top, my hair in a bun at the top of my head, chattering to my mother on my phone, every so often receiving a look from them as if I were a mohawked punk with my hair a shade of something like neon pink and spears hanging from my septum. What on earth are you doing here?, they seemed to say as I walked past their school buses and apartment buildings and flyers pasted to streetcorners all printed with Hebrew phrases. Gentile, goyim, I must have seemed in comparison, though they wouldn't have known my own Jewish mother was on the other end of the phone.

Williamsburg Street West turned into Park Avenue and then a left onto Washington Avenue where the real fun began. I had never walked through Clinton Hill before, and was unaware of its proliferation of 19th century townhouses and mansions, many of which today have been converted into multi-family homes. Some, however, are just straight houses smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn, with curling wooden porches and staircases, some even with the original glass the buildings were constructed with when they were first built. The street was part of the Clinton Hill Historic District, which features many homes of similar structure up and down its streets. While the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries was an escape from urban life for wealthy professionals, by the end of the 20th century it became quite the opposite. Patti Smith wrote of an apartment she and artist Robert Mapplethorpe shared in the area in the 1960s, writing "its aggressively seedy condition was out of my range of experience. The walls were smeared with blood and psychotic scribbling, the oven crammed with discarded syringes, and the refrigerator overrun with mold." Today, though, it has experienced a resurgence, with many parts of the historic district clean and tree-lined, young people and families milling about.

My favorite spot on Washington Avenue, however, was a building that read "The Graham Home for Old Ladies" and was built in 1851. The plaque stopped me in my tracks: were our forebears so blunt as to call a female retirement home such a thing? No, as it turns out. According to The New York Times, the building was originally built as the "Brooklyn Society for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females," by a wealthy lawyer named John B. Graham. Ladies had to have a certain level of manner and propriety to be admitted to the venue in the era, though once the area and the building went into decline in the 1980s, far less was required when it became a brothel. It became empty in the 1990s, however, and was redeveloped in 2000 to be condominiums. Its plaque is simply a modern nickname for a building full of apartments that sell for over one million dollars.

Shortly I turned down Lafayette Street, which was more familiar to me as the home of Brooklyn Flea, and found myself in the familiar territory of Fulton Street after turning down South Portland Avenue. I holed myself up in Annex, a coffee shop populated with a mix of modern tables and chairs that were still somehow friendly in light tones of wood. One of the edges of the space featured a raised area populated by spiky green plants and luscious, sloping leather chairs that looked lovingly broken after the shop's opening just five years ago. I was supposed to meet friends next door in about 45 minutes, so I sat in one sipping an iced coffee and reading Joan Didion's The White Album while I let my body relax. It's funny, I had walked past Annex so many times on jaunts through the neighborhood and I never actually had the occasion to go in, but I would go back in a heartbeat.

Time flew quickly and soon it was time to pop next door, to Habana Outpost to meet AR and his friend C. We would grab sandwiches and head to Fort Greene Park, where the Alamo Drafthouse was showing a free screening of Best in Show. Cuban sandwiches in tow, we made our way to the park and found a perfect spot on a hill so nobody of the hundreds of others in attendance would block our view. Night fell and the air cooled and we watched Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge and their standard poodle Rhapsody in White compete against other dogs in Christopher Guest's 2000 film. , We ended up making friends with an Italian Greyhound behind us who would give us all kisses and cuddles throughout the movie, though we suspect he was really just after the pork from our sandwiches.