Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Jenna Lawrence

My friendship with Jenna Lawrence is older than most people. In Summer 2018 I will have known her for 25 years, from our days wearing Tweety Bird t-shirts to Abercrombie (yes, even me), to our respective vintage button-downs (me) and Phish-themed tank tops (she). I never had a sister, but I have Jenna, so it’s close enough. 

I meet up with her at a YMCA of South Palm Beach County, where she is the Director of Youth Development. She is responsible for their afterschool program, their holiday camps and summer camps, as well as their dance, swimming, gymnastics, and karate programs. The walls of her office are covered in drawings addressed to “Ms. Jenna,” all manner of rainbows and stick figures and hearts from the children she interacts with all year, as well as holiday cards from their parents. Since becoming Director, her afterschool program was named the best in the county by South Florida Parenting magazine, and there are now more kids enrolled in her Y’s programs than there have ever been before. Jenna also started a children’s yoga program at her Y, which she teaches. 

Children regularly come in to visit with Ms. Jenna. An art activity for the day was to make a turkey from a plastic glove (unlined and unpowdered, don’t worry) by filling it with snacks, so they ask can you please cut this open for me, can I please throw this away? “So you only filled your glove with M&Ms and marshmallows?” Jenna says to one little girl. “Nothing of substance, no popcorn or pretzels?” The little girl laughs. “Well, no, I like M&Ms! And you gotta have marshmallows!” Jenna laughs and sends them on their way. 

Soon children pack up for the day, and Jenna sits behind a desk at the entrance for dismissal. Slowly but surely kids leave, picked up by parents Jenna warmly greets with the same sing-song “Hell-lao-ooow” I’ve known for years. Then it’s our turn to leave. We go to pick up Jenna’s dog, Piper, from a friend’s house that Piper has been visiting while Jenna’s been away. We open the door and Piper runs downstairs, standing on her hind legs, pawing Jenna’s arms and chest with her front legs as if to hug her. Jenna often says that though Piper is a rescue, the dog actually saved her life. Riding back to Jenna’s place, Piper sits on Aunt Elyssa’s lap so Piper doesn’t accidentally shift the car into neutral. 

Jenna has a new apartment. It’s her first time living alone and she really likes it. There’s a corner set up with posters from music festivals and a Grateful Dead wall-hanging that will soon have space for her to do yoga. She changes and we head to the chic Mizner Park plaza for dinner. There’s beautiful light from the pristine lampposts and I try to take some pictures of Jenna in front of them but we keep giggling. “This is so weird,” she laughs. “Can we go eat now?”

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

A Good Man Sunday

If I learned nothing from 30 Rock, it’s that a trip to Ikea can make nails scratch against the chalkboard of a relationship. 

It turns out it’s actually true: apparently the stress of buying large items or even confronting the possibility of what a future might look like can drive some couples to tear at each other’s throats (literally or figuratively, I’m not sure). So when SE told me he wanted to go to Ikea, I said sure, thinking ‘What a fun thing to do on a Saturday!’ all the while keeping Liz Lemon and Criss in the back of my mind. SE hadn't watched too much 30 Rock, so he didn't know. 

But we didn’t fight, surprisingly. While SE would be happier in a room that looks more like Don Draper’s apartment and I would be pleased as punch to be in a place that looks like the Madonna Inn in California, we began to find things we liked that overlapped and made each other happy. And all SE really wanted to get there was a knife. I did find that being in there made me extremely tired—I noticed that the setup is not unlike a casino in Vegas, where there are no windows or clocks so you cannot quickly comprehend the passage of time and force yourself to leave quicker. By the time we had lunch after finishing the top floor (meatballs and ligonberries, of course), I was half in the bag, but continued to make my way through the marketplace, even procuring some cute, colorful plates and bowls and plastic Tupperware-esque containers along the way. I passed out for a hot minute in the ‘As-Is’ section after grumbling about the probably poorly behaved children who left their footprints all over some furniture that was perfectly good aside from the occasional scratch. 

We then decided to explore Red Hook a bit, walking down Beard Street to some of the piers. Growing up in Brooklyn, Red Hook was not ever a place you went for anything on purpose, SE told me. Nevertheless, it was this gorgeous, crisp, bright blue, cloudless day and for a while we just stood on the pier. This was not before going to a place called Nobletree Coffee, however. I wanted some coffee, and Google Maps said it was close by, so I decided to go. Now, having been there, I can say that Nobletree is undoubtedly one of these places that people who hate gentrification also despise—a place with a wooden bar and cold brew coffee on draft, its baristas with mustaches and suspenders not so much for irony but for quirky enjoyment, flavor profiles listed for each coffee they sell. These people love coffee, take coffee super seriously and, I hoped, would not snarl at you if you wanted to add some fake sugar to your latte like I did. You walk up to the bar and order from a barista in no particular order, perhaps the same way you might at a bar that did not serve coffee. You just catch the barista’s eye and order, much to the confusion of people who tried waiting in a line and were then thrown off when people just kept walking up to the bar past them. I ordered a latte, was asked if I wanted to open a tab (????), declined, and paid for my beverahhhhge. I am not a regular coffee drinker, so I don’t normally have an opinion about the flavor of the stuff, much less know anything about what a good cup of coffee tastes like. There was a place near Grand Army Plaza I used to love because their coffee tasted like fudge, but they closed and since I hadn’t actually been able to drink coffee for a long time. But I had been feeling better these days, so I decided to go for it. And let me tell you—it’s one of the best made cups of coffee I think I’ve ever had. It was the kind of cup of coffee that makes you understand what coffee is supposed to taste like, simultaneously nutty and fruity and creamy with no bitter aftertaste. What sorcery was this? Even SE, who can drink coffee but hates it, tried it and said “I still don’t like coffee, but that’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had.” What higher praise can someone ask for? I felt like a gentrifying gentrifier, but damn that’s some good coffee. 

We walked along the waterfront a little bit, then hopped on the Water Taxi back to Manhattan (fun fact: the ferry to and from Ikea is free on the weekends, and also picks you up from Van Brunt street in Red Hook), the sky beginning to glow orange as the first inklings of sunset twinkled across the sky. Arriving back in Manhattan, we walk from Pier 11 at Wall Street back to the train, passing the building that doubles as The Continental, the assassins’ hotel in one of SE’s favorite movies, John Wick. I take pictures of him in front of it so he can send to a friend who’s equally obsessed with the film. We head back uptown and for no good reason eat Chocolate Chip Cookies at Insomnia Cookies, the warm, gooey chocolate a perfect counter for the chilly night. SE likes the outside of the cookies and I like the inside, so he peels off the edges for himself and gives the wobbly, chocolatey centers to me. It’s a perfect appetizer before we head downtown to the barbecue spot Blue Smoke, where every Sunday they have 50 cent wings. The wings are grilled then tossed in what they call their Alabama white sauce, creamy and savory and tangy and oh my goodness. Every bite is juicy and flavorful, a wing worth writing home about. 

SE planned us a gorgeous day (my only addition was the coffee), and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Give me some furniture, some cookies, some wings, and my good man on a Sunday and I’ll be just fine. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Miss Manhattan Hangs Out...with Nadia Pinder

Nadia Pinder realized she had a thing for tie-dye about a year and a half ago, when her roommates brought home dyeing supplies and…she just never stopped using them. Now she has StuyDYED, a her own tie-dye brand for which she makes all manner of dyed sweatshirts, bandannas, crop tops, wall hangings, and so much more. For a long time dyeing was something she did for fun, she tells me as we sip tea, but after realizing there was a demand for hand-dyed pieces, she started to think about its possibilities as a real business venture.

In her room is a treasure trove of creations, a shelving unit filled with clothes swirled with lilac, powder blue, magenta, lemon, and sage tones. On the walls are also paintings she’s made, an expanse of eucalyptus, and drawings she’s done for her summertime comedy series called “Comedians in a Blanket,” for which she invites comedians to perform in a picnic-like setting under a tree in Prospect Park.

After we finish our teas, she soaks some white clothing in a mixture of water and soda ash for a later activity: ice dyeing and tie-dyeing. But while the garments soak, it’s time to vote! Nadia is from Washington, D.C. originally, and she voted in New York for the first time last November. She found the voting process encouraging, being hugged by local ladies volunteering after walking into her public library to cast her ballot. The same thing happens today, when a woman with long braids gives her a big hug and kiss on the cheek and a “Welcome, baby!” as if she were home for the holidays. Nadia beams as she checks in and then makes her selections. Upon leaving, she’s given another big hug and an official “I Voted” sticker. Her smile somehow gets even bigger, the voting process now infused with a sweetness and warmth that carries her back home.

Garments thoroughly soaked, it’s time to dye. Nadia sits a grated plastic basket inside a plastic washbin and places a shirt inside. She either twists or folds or scrunches it into some shape that will uniquely absorb the dye, then covers the shirt in ice. She then gently taps a series of dye powders over the ice—antique gold, brilliant orange, cobalt blue—so as the ice melts the dye will find its way into the fabric in an unusual way. I get to do my own as well, with hot pink, raspberry, and violet. Her hands are constantly stained with dye, she laughs. I’ve joined the club, too.

While the ice dye runs its course, Nadia and I climb the slim ladder up to her roof to do some tie-dye. She gets almost all the way set up when it starts to rain, so we decide to have lunch instead at Saraghina, a gourmet pizza place not far away. In between delicious, chewy bites of squash, ricotta, caramelized shallot, and sage pizza, we talk about our favorite meals, our hands still stained with dye.

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