Saturday, May 2, 2020

Bodega

The more I traveled the U.S., the more I noticed there was a particular facet of existence in New York I found more special each time I came home and even more special now: the bodega. This corner shop, catch-all of anything you could need at any odd hour of the day, has been to me and countless other New Yorkers the bearer of everything from dishwashing liquid to bananas to ramen noodles to roast beef sandwiches. It is my haven of Swiss and apple grilled cheese on whole wheat bread after an evening of too many (read: one) martinis, when I totter in after 12am, sidle up to the counter, and before I can even say hello the man behind the register says, “You want a grilled cheese, right?” He’s there often, but only asks me that after midnight when I’m wearing a little more makeup and there’s a little more spring in my step than usual.

At first, I only realized how much I had taken bodegas for granted visiting places like San Francisco, where from my friend’s apartment in Inner Sunset it’s at least a 15 minute walk to the nearest grocery store. It was something I had not counted on when preparing to go out one evening as I made the mistake of thinking to myself, “Oh, I’ll just run and get a sandwich at the corner,” without realizing said corner was not only said distance away, but they didn’t even make sandwiches after a certain hour. I found myself trotting along street after street, wondering “Who do I have to fuck to get a quick sandwich in this town?” (knowing full well the massive yet delicious sandwich from Yellow Submarine on Irving Street was much too big for my needs at the moment) and wishing for home sweet Heavenly Market on my actual corner, where I could be in and out in 10 minutes after having walked a matter of feet to get there in the first place.

Similarly, a bodega is not a thing in South Florida, whose suburbs for the most part shut up tighter than a drum after 10pm. You also cannot get a sandwich or an orange juice at any hour on just any corner in L.A., something I became privy to after accidentally eating far too much weed chocolate and being high for 18 hours. But in New York? Take your pick. Reese’s cups? You got it. Seltzer? Right this way. Deodorant? Behind the counter. The bodega becomes a partner in your life in a way, always open, always there in a pinch, and more consistent than the subway. The people behind the counter know orders by faces, recognize dogs, say to me hello sweetie how are you doing even on days when I haven’t spoken to another living soul--which, working from home on my own, is something that happens not infrequently. The bodega also becomes this wacky lens into human life. I remember the woman who came in drunk in camouflage leggings with a tiny fluffy white dog at her feet and asked for two slices of cheese in wax paper, paid for them, then left. I remember the elderly woman who racked up $100 worth of groceries, piling them on the counter bit by bit. Doormen who come through in uniforms and loosen their ties as they get $1.50 cups of coffee. Tweens getting smoothies after school.

I realized how much I had taken my bodega for granted recently, too, but in a different way. It’s normally 24 hours, which has spoiled me in countless ways, mostly as I crave the snacks that are usually not present in my home. The back of my refrigerator is almost always visible, save for two rogue containers of sprinkles I’ve never used and a split of champagne I’m always delighted to see despite not quite knowing how it arrived there. Early on in these pandemic crises, the bodega began closing at 6pm, and when I was still married to my microwave in the first few weeks of this mess and jonesing for a grilled cheese at 10pm, I had nowhere to turn. It was, weirdly, when the bodega, this bastion of consistency, was no longer there, that I began to feel most lonely, when it became most apparent to me the threads of my own life in New York had begun to fray.

Amidst chaos--i.e., the regular state of existence in New York--there is comfort in the known, in the recognizable. It’s the reason we develop favorite haunts in a city that seems to be constantly teeming with newness in the form of stores or restaurants or bars or what have you. The absence of a sanctuary can leave us feeling unmoored. Bodegas are, in their own way, sanctuaries. In the midst of perpetual growth and change, they give us roots. I am grateful to the people who own and run and work in these establishments and have kept them open even though their work right now has great risks of its own. They're an essential part of life in New York, one whose absence is all too easily felt for reasons that go far beyond toilet paper, ice cream, and Tic Tacs.

My bodega has extended its hours to 10pm on the weekend, and a wave of joy coursed through me tonight as I bounded out of my apartment at 9pm into the crisp May air to procure a small jug of milk for a baking recipe. A group of pimply teenage boys in Kappa sweats shook long fuzzy manes at each other as they gestured wildly on the iron bench outside. The bodega door was open to let in the cool breeze and welcomed me inside. Through her mask, the lady behind the counter asked me how are you sweetie and I asked her the same through mine. I thanked her twice for being open, and not because I needed milk.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

How Are You?

The other day I was going through an old stack of New York Magazines. I came across their annual ‘Reasons to Love New York’ issue and for a few seconds some tears dripped from the corners of my eyes. People had been listing their favorite restaurants in the city, their beloved spots for late-night food or sandwiches or what have you. Many of them I had never been to, but there were also several I knew better than well, places I haven’t seen in several weeks, and maybe won’t see for several more. I mourned for the New York I loved. I was having, I am having, trouble recognizing the one I’m in now. I’m sure many of us are.

I know it won’t be this way forever, but in the same way it’s harder waiting for the subway when you don’t know how long it will be, the waiting is difficult because none of us know when this metaphorical train will please leave and we can just get on with our lives, thank you very much. I miss the dirty subway tile teeming with dirt, how the arriving trains fill the station with the shrieking of their brakes and then the rumble of bodies.

The last time I took the subway was March 10, before everything exploded, before it became irresponsible to gather in public, before we arrived where we are now. While I’ve never had a problem walking around my neighborhood, and in fact I quite like the walk down the river and seeing the fluffy pups in the small dog park, it’s nothing in comparison to the days I loved best, the days spent rushing around the city from coffee shop to meeting to lecture to gallery opening to dinner--with SC at Peacefood, with HS at Beron Beron, with NE at Corner Bistro, with HanOre somewhere in Brooklyn off the Bedford stop because I hardly know anywhere to eat there--or “dinner,” hobbling into the bodega exhausted, my office in a bag on my shoulder, asking politely for a spinach salad, please.

The weeks seem to galumph along--oh, Wednesday, we’re almost done. Thank God it’s Friday. How is it Sunday night already?--in ways I never thought they did before. One of my worst habits as a New Yorker (as a human?) is making plans for every night of the week. I’m home often for work, which has not been a difficult transition, but the emptiness of my evenings has been one I’ve, well, also filled with work. After finishing my freelance work for the day or doing interviews, I go for a walk along the river (wearing a scarf around my face, keeping my distance), then work until about 10 or 11pm, and try to unwind by watching some television before bed. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’m getting a ton of research done, scheduling more and more interviews, organizing my thoughts. Sometimes they are difficult to organize, a symptom of our current state more than not, I’m sure.

Texting with HanOre this week, we came up with an idea to describe how we’re feeling--homesick for New York as it was. As it gets warmer out, killing time by sitting on the steps at Union Square watching skateboarders. Hosting my Miss Manhattan reading (in person! We’ll be digital tomorrow night on IGTV @MissManhattanNY if you’d like to check us out). Listening to Chet Baker and Prince and Wheatus at Everyman Espresso. Working at the Performing Arts Library and seeing the expanse of Lincoln Center from their window on the second floor. Wandering into The Strand for no reason. Walking the cobblestone streets in the West Village. The lunch counter at B&H for thick slices of challah swathed in butter to dunk into hot borscht. Tequila and sodas at Rise and dancing until late at Hardware to Kim Petras. Poking around Bloomingdale’s for no reason.

I remember in middle school and high school I was so desperate to leave the suburbs behind, to go someplace where I knew I would have the freedom to become the person I always wanted to be. Rather, not someplace, New York. My days and nights would be filled and I would never be stuck home alone on a Friday night again (that is, if I didn’t want to be). And yet, here we are. The “we” there is important, of course--that this is by no means a situation that’s unique to me, and the idea of such a thing is in its own way heartening even if it is sad. But there’s a low-lying ache that runs through me just the same, the one that’s homesick for the life we used to have here, the one I escaped the suburbs for. It’ll be back, of course, though it will take time. I want the city to bustle again. I want it to be safe for the city to bustle again.

In the meantime, I’ve bought ingredients to cook things with instead of feeling mournful in front of the microwave yet again. I take my walks every day to maintain some semblance of health. It feels like I know the view of the East River better every day. I eat probably more frozen vegetables than I should, but hey, it’s better than nothing. I pop into the bodega on occasion for a small coffee with milk and two Splendas, please, to my bagel place for a bacon, egg, and cheese on a whole wheat flat bagel and can you toast it please? I spent last night cooking Jacques Pepin’s mustard chicken recipe in The New York Times and, while watching Cary Grant movies, painted my nails that luscious purple color SD bought for me many years ago when we went to go see Eugene O’Neill’s stage directions done entirely as plays at Theatre for the New City on 1st Avenue. I spent Friday night talking with AS about raccoon Instagram accounts. Some days it’s hard to get out of bed, some days it’s easier. Some days I sit at my desk, some days on the couch. Last weekend I did laundry for six hours, put everything away, and cleaned the house. I’ve gotten used to the quiet and it’s manageable, but at the same time, I hope it doesn’t last.

I once said to someone that the New York you make for yourself is the best one. I know what mine is now, after nearly a decade. I’m just waiting for her to come back. We all are.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Book Deal

The first time I said anything about it was to AR as we walked to see the Dyker Heights Christmas lights in December 2017. We had Chinese food and got cannolis to eat, and they clunked inside their white cardboard box tied with string. I remember how cold my hands and face were. I had had the idea for a few weeks, maybe a month or two, and AR was the first person I told out loud. I knew if I said it out loud I would acknowledge how scared it made me, but it was the kind of fear I’ve never wanted to shake, the kind of fear I run to wholeheartedly because it’s the right kind of fear: one rooted in excitement, the premise of a new challenge, rather than a need to flee from danger. I knew if I said it out loud I would be challenging myself to do it. We peeled off gloves in the middle of a chilly Brooklyn evening to press the cream-filled cookie shells into our faces and I watched the words leave my mouth, the cold turning them to visible swirls in the air. “I think I want to write a book about drag history in New York.” AR approved. It was a good idea, he said.

I thought about it for a few more months, how it would take shape, if it was really something I could do. Then I sat down with FT in Ground Support and said it out loud again. Yes, he said, you are the person to write that book. I felt so encouraged I started that night, making lists, what would the book include, who would I want to talk to. Magically, around the same time, I began doing a drag history column at Conde Nast's them.

My goal was to have the proposal finished by the end of the year, and with guidance from some amazing women, I made it work. They read my proposal, they helped me find agents to reach out to. I had someone bite the same day I sent out the proposal and then...nothing, despite having beat myself into the ground writing a sample chapter, starting to get sick in the moments I hit send. A few months later, another bite, two requests for revisions, a heap of helpful edits from TS, and then...nothing. I didn’t reach out to as many people as I should have last year, but in the new year I resolved to change that.

There were multiple very kind rejections, and then a referral, and then one more. And then a serendipitous flip of a switch in my favor on a Monday, a phone call while I sat myself outside the Metropolitan Opera after working in the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, but still nothing guaranteed. Pacing around the plaza for 30 minutes, actively trying not to fall in the reflecting pool, voice tempered, measured while sharing the details with my mother, cold enough to need a jacket but forgetting the temperature on my hands. I made myself eat lunch. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. Could this really happen?

Filthy martinis with NE at Cafe Cluny. I told her the news. I feel it, she said. This time it’s really going to happen. I have witchy senses, she said. I am mostly useless the rest of the week. Another email of good news. I take that Friday mostly off. My brain is blank but my body is flipping out. Could this really happen?

Another phone call the following Monday. Preparation. A conference call on Tuesday. Excitement and praise I don’t expect on the other end. I am useless again. I go to the gym, come home, about to relax and watch 30 Rock. Another phone call.

An offer. A book deal.

I weep, but it’s short lived. I call HanOre. There’s a bottle of Perrier-Jouet champagne in my fridge given to me as a thank you for photographing a wedding four years ago, and I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to open it. Tonight is the night. I treat myself to a giant plate of enchiladas and later HanOre joins me to drink the champagne. We laugh and tell stories until it’s too late on a school night. She sends me roses the next day. A book deal doesn’t usually happen like this, the man who is now my agent tells me, but every so often, in a flicker of hope and serendipity, it does.

Two days later, margaritas with my agent, a phrase I’m still not used to saying. “My agent.” How do you feel? Are you still floating? He says. “I...don’t quite know what to do,” I say. I still don’t.

We talk about drag, New York bars nightclubs of our youth, too many nights at Therapy, Bartini, Greenhouse that made it difficult to get up the next day. I remember a drag queen I danced with once named Anna Phalaxis who was a nurse by day. Seeing Peppermint with AS for the first time at Therapy during her new queens show Cattle Call, the lipsync she did that was entirely scat-singing. Being 23 and photographing Yuhua before she performed at The Web, underground right next to Tao on 58th Street, where there were signs in the locker room warning go-go boys not to seek payment for sex acts.

I saw To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, for the first time at seven or eight, I don’t remember which. I saw my first drag show at 13--Cashetta, may she rest in peace, who I watched disappear a feet-long balloon down her throat to much fanfare during her drag magic show at the Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale. When I was old enough, 21, going to Lips on Oakland Park Boulevard with my parents, my mother whispering to me how gorgeous the host, Diva was. Another time, I sat at the bar there and photographed drag for the first time while sipping a frozen Cosmopolitan.

I think in some ways I’ve been working on this book for 25 years. The manuscript for Glitter and Concrete, my book that will be a cultural history of drag in New York, is still years from publication, but it’s on its way.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Tops: 2019

In celebration of the end of 2019, a list of a few work things I did this year that made me especially proud. Enjoy!

Photograph Magazine:

Elle Per├ęz and the Power of Representation
An introduction to the work of photographer for the magazine's September/October 2019 issue.
- The magazine reached out and asked me to write an introduction to the work of photographer for the magazine's September/October 2019 issue. Perez’s work is so moving I think I stood in front of it at The Whitney for a solid hour.

Playboy:
Journey into the Berkshires' BDSM Haven
La Domaine Esemar is battling stigma surrounding kink in an environment that’s equal parts erotic and luxurious.
- In February 2019, I journeyed to upstate New York for a truly wild 24 hours. You truly haven’t lived until you’ve seen a 70-year-old man get caned in the balls. This one took almost 10 months to get published, but I’m so happy it’s finally here. I did the words and the pictures.

InsideHook:
How Roxy Music's Soft-Core Pin-Up Girls Saved the Album Cover
Bryan Ferry's band brought a breath of fresh air to a self-serious genre, and their choices in vinyl art were no different.
- This was my first piece for the site, and it was a celebrity-wrangling experience and a half, but I’m proud of the final outcome.

Conde Nast’s them:
What is Camp?
Kicking off a month of camp-related coverage, this piece details the ins and outs of the famously elusive concept.
- I read academic texts about camp for weeks to work on this. The Chief External Relations Officer for The Costume Institute later reached out to say “Brava!” and invite me to the press preview for the exhibition. There, I got stuck against a column in a crowd and I heard a tiny voice behind me say “Excuse me.” I moved. It was Anna Wintour. She’s much tinier in person than I expected.

Meet the Artist Radically Queering the Field of Costume Design
Over the past few decades, Machine Dazzle has been fighting traditional costume design and aesthetics with a fistful of sequins.
- I’ve loved Machine Dazzle’s work since I first saw Taylor Mac’s 24-Hour workshops at Joe’s Pub and this was truly a dream come true. Machine is a delight and talking to him was an education in artistic practice.

Hyperallergic:
Beloved Drag Artist Subverts Art School Dogma
Brooklyn drag artist Untitled Queen performance on February 17 extracted the earnest out of art.
- Forever an admirer of Brooklyn’s Untitled Queen, I was elated to be able to cover her first full-length art/drag show at The Rosemont bar in Brooklyn.


I also:
Spoke at the International Center for Photography.

Interviewed John Waters and Bob Mackie.

Traveled for work, doing cool stories in Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Fort Lauderdale, and photographing many meats at Smith & Wollensky, a New York steakhouse institution.

Did a Queer Women’s History Month Capsule Column for them, including history pieces about Toto Koopman, bell hooks, Vaginal Davis, and Sylvia Rivera.

Hosted panels at the Brooklyn Book Festival and the Miami Book Fair.

Celebrated five years of the Miss Manhattan Non-Fiction Reading.

Took my first vacation in 4.5 years to Hawaii. 


Completed my year-long photo project, Project 30, and started another! (More on this soon.)

Here's to many more in 2020! And there are a few of my favorite horizontal and vertical images on Instagram. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Burnout // Hawaii

Toward the end of September, I needed a nap. But not just one nap, it seemed, multiple naps per day. I couldn’t sit in front of my computer and work for more than an hour and a half at a time for several days in a row. My sleep was erratic, I definitely wasn’t eating properly, and there were days where I couldn’t will myself to get out of bed at all. I developed fevers periodically that would eventually wane, headaches that wouldn’t go away even with Advil for days on end, and when out attending events I could barely stay awake. Beginning sometime this summer, the smallest occurrences would cause my eyes to well with tears: when I was interviewing the curator of the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, her description of artist Tracey Emin’s “I Can Feel Your Smile,” made for a friend of the artist who, after her husband passed, was feeling guilty for her own moments of happiness; driving up the FDR past the skyline of Long Island City; episodes of Brooklyn Nine Nine. Though it perhaps goes without saying, this was not my usual state. Which, frankly, stressed me out even more. I went to the doctor, hoping something would be revealed in my heart rate, blood tests, my balance, even? I cried in his office, so concerned there was something wrong with me. He tried not to look at me, but commented on my Velvet Underground t-shirt; Lou Reed was one of his favorite artists. The tests all came back clear, and my heart rate was normal. It’s possible you might have a stress disorder, he said. When was your last vacation?

In the moment I had to think, and eventually after some consideration and some math, the answer revealed itself to me: four and a half years. It was the last time AS had been free from work, when I went to visit her and later GD in California. Now AS and I were planning a vacation together for June 2020. How could my body possibly hold out until then given its current state? I would probably collapse, lose my mind, or both. Every trip home, every visit to friends, I brought my computer and I worked almost the whole time. A workaholic from a young age, it had finally begun to affect my health.

One night shortly after, I went to sleep. Or rather, I tried, as was the norm these days. In the midst of my tossing and turning, I had an idea: what if I went to Hawaii in time for my birthday? I had always wanted to go, I had nothing particular lined up for that week yet, and it was a safe place to travel to alone. How much would it cost? A quick Google search in the dark on my phone as I lay in bed revealed a much more affordable price than I had expected. Could this really be possible? Could I do this? “Yes,” my mother said when I got her on the phone the next day. “But you have to promise not to bring your computer.” And I started crying immediately, so relieved to have some sort of reprieve on the horizon. I don’t think I had ever taken a real vacation like that before, let alone by myself. I booked my tickets and my hotel not too long after. It was done: I was going to Hawaii. Something inside of me lightened, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Just a few more weeks.


*

The lightness of my own carry-on bag as I boarded the plane was not just literal, but metaphorical. I had left a great weight at home. I smiled as the Hawaiian Airlines flight video played, a woman hula dancing on a beach to indicate the exit rows, a woman and child in front of a shave ice truck to show when to put on safety masks. I quickly learned that “mahalo” meant thank you, I read books, I watched movies, neither of which I ever usually let myself do on planes because I felt I should have been working. But this time, there was nothing to work on except myself.

That night, I took myself out to dinner at Zigu, a restaurant not far from my hotel but miraculously not crawling with tourists. I ate soft spicy tofu and amberjack in a crushed peanut sauce I practically licked from the plate. Next to me, a woman from San Diego by way of Honolulu asked me what brought me to town. My birthday, I told her, and not only did she buy me a sake to celebrate, but the waitress later brought over a dish of ice cream with a candle in it. I had forgotten to blow out a candle on my actual birthday two days prior, so it was especially lovely. Two of the guys behind the sushi bar where I was sitting had lived in New York, they said between sizzling pans and grills. They didn’t miss it.

My first day was unnerving. I woke up at 5:30, jetlagged out of my mind, in time to see a magnificent sunrise, a rainbow of pastels, pinks and purples and tangerine hues blended together like cotton candy. I turned to look at my phone for a few minutes and it was gone. When I woke up to sunrises after that, I kept the phone far away from me. Around 7, I went down to the beach and ate breakfast, not quite sure what to do with myself. I read, I laid down, I watched surfers, but around 9 I felt antsy. What should I do now? I went back upstairs to put away my camera and my brain whizzed, confused, anxious. WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO BE DOING? I talked myself down from a ledge. The answer to this question is that you are supposed to be doing whatever you want. What do you want to do right now? I asked myself. At that moment the answer was ‘take a nap.’ So I did. I had no problem figuring out what to do or making decisions after that.

I took myself to lunch in the Kaimuki neighborhood, to the Koko Head Cafe, where I treated myself to a bowl of miso pork belly I can still taste, both sweet and salty, and a bacon-cheddar-kimchi scone to go. I stopped by Da Shop, an independent bookstore, and got a book by a Hawaiian author, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, recommended to me the day before by my Lyft driver from the airport. I visited the University of Hawaii at Manoa after that, where I was greeted by a real live rainbow while Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” played on the radio. A true nerd at my core, I bought a sweatshirt at the campus store before heading over to Waiola Shave Ice. There, my lychee and coconut shave ice with mochi both melts on my tongue and suppresses the heat of the day. I watch the sunset and treat myself to a dinner of spam musubi. At the hotel bar, I order a sweet, dessert-y cocktail and start talking with a Naval officer. He’s covered in tattoos--a wolf on his hand, a galaxy sleeve on his arm, and more that I can’t even count. He’s getting a pig and a chicken tattooed on each foot tomorrow, he tells me: when the Navy brings the animals on board, they keep the pigs and chickens in wooden cages so if anything happens to the boat, they’ll float. He asks what brings me to Hawaii and I tell him. Am I here alone? I am. That’s ballsy, he says. Is it? I say. Maybe I mean, it’s boss, he says. Later he tells me he was one of the sailors charged with retrieving bodies from the USS John McCain incident in Singapore. Surely something like that is ballsy, no? And I wonder, is a woman traveling alone as dangerous as carrying corpses to the shore?

The next day, Hawaiian food for breakfast at Highway Inn--sticky poi, juicy lomi salmon, salty pulled kalua pig--followed by record shopping at Hungry Ear Records, where of course I walk away with a Don Ho album, because how could you be in Honolulu and not do that? Perusal of downtown, still gentrifying with new cocktail bars dark during the day alongside a wave of homeless bodies asleep on the streets. At Tin Can Mailman, Hawaiiana from the 20th century; I get a vintage poster for my mother, a page from a 1947 Esquire pinup calendar for myself. Owning my tourist fantasy, I take myself out to the Royal Hawaiian hotel, a pink cake of a hotel dating back to 1920, for a Mai Tai, as that’s where the drink was invented. Soon, I make the acquaintance of a man who treats me to the drink, as well as a slice of fluffy pink coconut birthday cake and pizza, as well as a lovely couple from Oregon celebrating a new phase of their marriage. We follow each other on Instagram, and I fall into bed slightly toasted, but happy.

In the morning, I hike Diamond Head, a crater with high lookout points once used to protect Hawaii from invaders. The lookout point I will climb that day is 761 feet high. I’m by no means alone when I do it, as the hike receives something like 3,000 visitors per day. But I’ve walked an hour from my hotel, and I’m quite tired and hot when I arrive--’twas not the finest decision I’ve ever made. But I fill up my water bottle, a lovely German woman kindly shares some extra sunscreen with me, and I’m off to climb the crater. After a long swirling but gradual climb and something near 100 stairs, I’m at the top. This magnificent view of Waikiki, turquoise water, boats, a lighthouse, palm trees, coastline, houses, greenery for miles. And I did it myself. It’s a sentiment I’ll turn back to many times throughout my trip.

I plow into lunch at Rainbow Drive-In, so hungry after my hike I forget to taste my food. I promise myself I’ll come back and try it again. I head home and put on my bathing suit, but fall into bed instead. I wake up and actually head down to the beach this time. I see people boarding a catamaran for a sunset cruise and I notice myself thinking, “I wish I could do that.” So instead of wishing, I make myself a reservation for the next day. That night, though, after I watch the sunset, I treat myself to dinner at a place called Town, also in Kaimuki. A magnificent salad of butter lettuce and green goddess dressing and oranges and millet, cloud-like gnocchi in brown butter with roasted sunchokes, a slice of chocolate tart drizzled with olive oil, and their famous lemonade accented with parsley (which at first I wince at the thought of, but the taste was clean and refreshing). I would go back in a heartbeat, but this time I would try not to fall asleep at the table...I head home afterward and fall into bed, instead.

Saturday, a visit to the farmer’s market. I buy a dragonfruit, which is bright fuschia on the inside, that I eat with a spoon sitting on a curb while people mill around me. Later, an iced tea, some grilled shrimp on a stick--the man behind the counter gives me an extra order in exchange for a smile; this is how you know boys in Hawaii think you’re cute, I chuckle to myself. I decimate them, leaving a pile of their shells in my wake. While taking pictures of the nearby cactus garden, my sandal breaks and I head back to the hotel. After a costume change, I seek out another pair of sandals and while my visit to Inter Island Surf Shop, open since 1959 (I vow to only patronize local businesses at all times if I can help it, but especially here because Waikiki is littered with American consumerist nonsense and I did *not* come all the way to Honolulu to go to a Cheesecake Factory or a Forever 21, thank you very much). While my search fails, I make the acquaintance of Barry behind the counter, who has lived in Honolulu since 1963 and has been surfing since he was 13 years old. He talks to me about surfing in the area, how to find the best waves, how to keep my stuff safe on the beach, as well as some history of the store and surfing in Hawaii. It’s still one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I chow down at Rainbow Drive-In again, this time actually tasting the fall-off-the-bone sweet and tangy shoyu chicken with creamy mac salad and white rice; yet again, I can’t eat the whole thing, served on a paper plate inside a white cardboard box, but I desperately want to. I visit a store of some 15,000 vintage Hawaiian shirts, but even after an hour or so, I leave empty handed, and thank goodness; it was so overwhelming after a while, I just wanted to leave. I walked back home the way I came, via the Ala Wai canal, where much of the water from the mountains drains. I head to the beach, and then to my catamaran ride. I stand on the boat in my bathing suit and cotton dress shirt, my hair in a bun, and I let the wind whip past me. I watch this tangerine orb descend into the clouds and I realize how important it is that I did this thing for myself; not just the catamaran ride, but this trip, and by myself. One of the sailors asks me how I ended up here and I tell him. My eyes begin to get weepy again. I can’t believe I went without something like this for so long, where the only objective was to do whatever I wanted, to relax, to see the world around me with fresh eyes and to enjoy myself. People drink Mai Tais and play Prince on the radio and sing along. The sunset fades to black and the moon glistens across the water. The lights of Waikiki first twinkle in the distance and slowly return to view.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Mist

When I moved to New York, I put my wide-leg jeans in the back of my closet, marrying my legs to the skinnies that were de rigeur almost 10 years ago. The wide-legs have gone in and out this last decade, and they’re back again, with everyone’s body pretending it’s 1978 all over again. I’ve periodically felt like someone’s out of date grandmother when I’ve worn them, but not today. They hung over my cowboy boots in this misty weather, paired with the grey cashmere turtleneck sweater I stole from my mother that I’ve now worn two days in a row. When I wore it out with LM she said I “looked like a goddamn cup of cocoa.” I hear that in my head every time I wear it now and I love it.

The rain hung just enough in the air to not warrant an umbrella, though many people walking in front of me today would have argued with me about that as they held their open nylon protectors upward toward the sky. I sweater-jeans-and-cowboy-bootsed my way to the main branch of the New York Public Library today, held captive in the house earlier by a phone interview. I want to go somewhere quiet where I can write, I said to myself, and moved myself past Patience and Fortitude, the library lions, up the marble staircases to the Rose Reading Room. It was silent save for the periodic shuffle of tourists’ arms moving against their puffy vests as they held their phones upward to take pictures of the really quite epic chandeliers and ceiling. I only wish they allowed coffee, or that I was crafty enough and not clumsy enough to figure out a way to bring some without spilling.

At first I am distracted by the fact that Peter Hermann, who plays Charles on TV Land’s Younger and is Mariska Hargitay’s husband, is sitting directly across from me. But, in true New York fashion, I shortly forget about him because I am too focused on myself. Later, there is a young couple--late teens, maybe-- sitting across from me--she is taking stickers out of a millennial pink book that teaches you how to identify various cacti and he is sketching her without looking at her.

The writing happens, but barely. A month ago I realized I had not had a proper vacation in four and a half years, and while I am rectifying that situation next week, I am in the unusual, regular situation of having to pluck the words from my brain rather than having them flow freely through my fingers.

There’s another group of tourists when I leave after two hours. I wonder if they’re looking at me the way I used to look at people when I visited the library: Wow, a real live New Yorker! I wish I could be her someday! But I am her now. Some days I am too lucky; other days I try to use the bathroom at the library but don't because I notice a toilet has overflowed, covering everyone’s shoes in water.

I sometimes forget what a daily commute looks like for most people--I’m often one of a few on the downward escalator when everyone else is heading upward. But I’m in midtown now, and everyone goes every direction at once. Getting off at 23rd, I’m desperate for a snack, and find my way to Foragers, an upscale grocery store, and wind up with things that don’t need to be purchased at an upscale grocery store: a banana and a cup of coffee. I spill some coffee on my shoes on the way out because of course I do.

I see Joel Meyerowitz speak at Aperture. A legendary photographer, he tells stories about making portraits in Provincetown, getting into arguments with Richard Avedon and photographing Norman Mailer. His voice is soothing, one you’d believe without question if it told you you could do anything. His hands are long and spindly. I can see bones and veins when he moves them while he speaks, these hands that have printed thousands of photos, held countless cameras, moving seamlessly over their shutters, focusing their lenses, loading their film. People line up to see him, to have him sign their books. He lives in Italy now and I didn’t even think to bring mine. I don’t know what I would say to him anyway, aside from the fact that his parents bought my first baby carriage (they were clients of my dad’s some 30--at least 31, as of this coming Sunday--years ago). A man asks me if I am a photographer and I say yes. He doesn’t feel comfortable calling himself one yet, he says.

On the way home, a man is sitting with his legs up on the subway reading a newspaper and I audibly whisper “asshole” as I walk in the other direction. Transferring to another train, there’s a woman in a grey pashmina and matching beanie with a shiny square diamond on her ring finger. She wears pearl earrings and cropped black pants and tortoiseshell glasses. Her ring looks like one I tried on a few weeks ago. Doyle was having a viewing for a jewelry auction and, always excited to ogle jewels up close, I walked in. Peering in the ring case, I saw this classic small square with a platinum band. “Would you like to try anything on?” a woman with glasses and fluffy, graying brown hair asked me. People don’t normally ask me that question when I’m perusing fine jewelry, instead ignoring me for someone who looks like they have more money (after we part ways, her colleagues do not disappoint). I was so taken aback someone asked that I said yes, I would, and tried the ring on, just to see what it felt like. I’m annoyed by the part of me that wonders this, that makes me a single woman cliche. But it almost fit aside from two small bumpers inside the band--apparently my ring finger is just a bit larger than a size 5. It was from 1920, the woman said, showing me the auction catalog, and estimated between four and six thousand dollars. A steal, I chuckle. When I show my mother a picture later, she says I should have something bigger. I disagree, I don’t want something bigger, but instead of arguing I say “we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it,” offering up the bastardized expression we have come to love.

At home, I’m too tired to use a knife and fork so I rip a chicken breast apart with my fingers. I went grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s yesterday and I love it there but I hate that there’s one on Delancey Street now next to a Target. I wonder what New York will look like in another nine years.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Glittergasm

The annual glittergasm festivities of Bushwig and the New York Burlesque Festival graced the city last month. I had the joy of being present for both with my camera.

Bushwig











New York Burlesque Festival