Saturday, January 14, 2017

Thursday

9:46 am
What was the name of the place again? Dream Dry salon. And it’s on, wait let me check the book…21st between 5th and 6th. Okay. I can probably take the Q to 34th Street then transfer to the R or W to 23rd. I love having a seat on this train. 

10:14am
Where the hell is the local train? I’ve been standing here for like 10 minutes. I could have just taken the express and walked 5 blocks and two avenues by now. Well, maybe not exactly. But still. I’m waiting longer than the trip will even take me. Oh, here it comes. Hallelujah. 

10:25am
At least I’m closer to the salon than if I got off at the top of Union Square by 16th Street. Still, it is pretty cool to have my hair blown out for free. Thanks, beauty PR! 

10:30am
I must be in the right place because there’s a flock of girls wearing black with perfect makeup and hair holding clipboards. First name Elyssa, last name Goodman, like Good. Man. Yep, that’s me. Yes, tell me about your product. Good Lord, you have so much energy. How long have you been awake, darling? I just want to give you a hug and pat you on the back and then give you a place to take a nap. Instead, all I can do is listen to you talk about your hair vitamins. I’m so happy you’re excited about them. What kind of vitamins are in the hair vitamins? You don’t know? Nobody coming in the entire morning has asked that? It’s interesting what people will just put in their bodies willy-nilly in the name of beauty. You’ll refer me to someone else? My, this woman is quite loud. Why are you shouting? Your hair looks so beautiful, though. Everyone here is so beautiful and voluptuous and has great hair. Good god, my hair looks so…straight. Does it always look like this? I should really put in some more effort. Oh, this new woman doesn’t know what’s in the hair vitamins, either? She’s referring me to someone else. This is like a merry-go-round. They don’t know the basic science behind their product, but they’re really enthusiastic about it! Now we’ll talk to the owner’s daughter. Oh, okay, Vitamin D, Amino Acids, and…the last one you don’t know? Okay. They started last year with one product and now they have 13? That’s awesome. Good for you! Yes, I’d like to see my stylist now. I can’t handle talking to any of you anymore. You all have so much energy and I haven’t had any caffeine yet so I can’t keep up. 

Hi Simone, it’s nice to meet you. You’re so pretty and I love your hair and your leather pants! I have been jonesing for leather pants for the longest time. I don’t know what to do with my hair. It always looks like this. I can’t believe it always looks so boring. Waves, you say? Yes, let’s do it. Okay, PR team, fine, I’ll remember to hashtag and social everything, I swear. I do love that I get to try out the products for real at this event. ther are so many times when they’ll just bring you in and give you coffee and say ‘here look at our product’ and then you’re just like, uh, fine, thanks for the coffee. And they give you a gift bag with all of the stuff in there and you never use it and it just sits there or your give it to your roommate or your one friend who actually does her hair. But yeah, this is cool. We’re going to wash my hair! Awesome. Oh, this product smells amazing. Like…vanilla and a little bit of citrus and creamy frosting. YUM. Now you’re wrapping my hair in one of those perfect towel knots! I’ve always wanted to know how to do that. 

Wow, my hair looks shinier and it’s not even totally blown dry yet! This is wild. Good on you, hair product company! It’s nice to know something actually works. Oh, here come the hair waves. They look so pretty, but they bring out my neck fat. I need to loosen the waves a little after I leave. But first, tons of selfies!!!!! When my hair flattens out in 15 minutes I’ll want to remember what it looked like. Shit, I still haven’t eaten. I am gonna grab one of those yogurt-and-granola cups to go, thank you very much. A gift bag, too? For me? That’s very sweet. Jesus, that bag is a bright pink color. Oh man, it weighs a fucking ton. Now I have to carry this around all day, too. Alright. I’ll have to eat this yogurt while I walk. Mmm are there cherries in here? Yes please. Mmm. 

11:40am
Caffeine! Good god, I love Everyman Espresso. And that cross-stitched sign that says their wi-fi password. Time to find some glittery desserts for this article. Oh my god, there’s such a thing as edible glitter? My life will never be the same. How do all these dessert bloggers have the time to bake such beautiful cakes and photograph the processes and stay so thin? Aaaaand now I’ve touched my hair too much and the waves are gone. That’s why I don’t get blowouts, I remember now. 

Is it time to leave already?

12:40pm
Okay, I need to look remotely presentable for The Plaza. Hair? Fine. Lipstick? Nice! I like this dark purplish color. Ready to go. I can take any local train on the yellow line, yes? 59th Street and 5th Avenue! I have arrived…20 minutes early. Jeez Louise. Okay, I’ll just use the bathroom…except where is the damned thing? Wow, the Plaza is really beautiful. I bet it was even more beautiful before it became a tourist trap. Alright, it looks like the restroom’s downstairs in the Food Hall. Lord, these people are paying an awful lot of money on a sandwich to sit in the dark, aren’t they? There are no windows down here. And I’ll bet this red carpet running through the halls here has seen some shit. Excuse me, ma’am, why is your child rolling on the floor here? Good god, millennials really are the worst parents. Are people really taking selfies in The Plaza bathroom? I just want to wash my hands, please. 

Where is this restaurant now? Up this escalator, I think. No…that leads outside. It must be that entrance downstairs? Hm, that’s cordoned off…somewhere else then? Oh, here it is! Look at all the people drinking wine. Hello, people! I am going to shake hands and chitchat with you. Oh, I made a food friend, how nice! And we’re drinking Amarone. Mmmmm it’s delicious. Todd English is here! He says that Amarone used to be a wine only grandpas drank. But for a wine that apparently only grandpas drink it’s really lovely. He made all the dishes to match the wine and good Lord, they’re a perfect fit. I mean, what was I expecting for a professional chef, but still. This bolognese is top notch. Pasta is al dente. Yes yes yes. Oh, and this fig and proscuitto pizza will be the death of me. Sweet and salty, my fave. Egglant canapés with roasted red pepper? I’m dying. Shortrib sliders with fontina cheese? Cauliflower coulis with coconut milk? This is everything. I am having the best time. This is the kind of stuff I moved to New York to do. Everyone is chitchatting about food and taking pictures and there are so many good vibes! I want to eat forever. I want to stay. But shit! I have to go stop by that doctor's office.

2:25pm
All clear at the doc's! NICE. Okay, there’s a 2:38pm M train leaving from 53rd and 5th, so if I hurry I can make it. Oh my god, I forgot about all the foot traffic on 5th Avenue. Jesus, Donald Trump, why did you have to put your stupid office right in the middle of fucking midtown? Don’t you know people are trying to get around? WHY IS EVERYTHING GOLD I HATE YOU. I also hate these fucking tourists. AGH AGH AGH AGH AGH. My feet are really starting to hurt…this was maybe not the best day to break in my new leather boots. But I thought the entrance to the train was on this side of the street? Shit shit shit shit. Okay, running across the hallway here, running down the stairs. Fuck, I hear the train coming! If I don’t get on this train I’ll be late. Running running running. More running. And I’m on the train!!! Praise Jesus. And RuPaul. Now if I get off at West 4th by 2:50, I’ll make it on time. Fingers crossed. Good god, I’m sweating a lot. When did it get so warm? It’s like 60 degrees today. Well, at least it’s better than 20 degrees. We’re at West 4th! It’s 2:48! YES, I’LL BE ON TIME!

3:00pm
And I’m early! This cafe is cute! I’m so warm. Need to shed some layers. I hope I don’t look like a total sweat ball. Fun nice laughter and art talk and good times with a fellow aesthetic! Hire Will Baker for all of your web design needs, he’s a rad dude. 

5:00pm
It’s that weird amount of time where I have a bunch of stuff to do but probably won’t get anything of worth done before I need to go to Ridgewood. I don’t really want more caffeine, but where can I go do to work? I don’t want to go to an independent coffee place and not buy anything, like a dick. I know, I’ll go to a corporate one and use their internet instead! Stick it to the man. 

Good god, this mother sitting next to me is a total basket case and she just spilled orange juice that she mixed with water all over herself and sprinklings of it got on my computer. I don’t need 1000 napkins, just like 2 will do, but thanks, I appreciate the fact that you want to show you’re concerned without actually doing any constructive thinking. Your child is going to grow up so neurotic I’m pained for her in advance. Please stay away from me. Okay, time to go to Ridgewood, thank god. I’m happy to be sitting for a half hour because man, my feet are really aching. The tendons in my feet are ever so slightly beginning to weep. It’s okay, we’ll be there soon. 

7:05pm
I have almost no idea where I am—I think they call this area Quooklyn, but I like Queeklyn or Bushweens better. But this place Julia’s is coming up soon, it looks like. Oh, here it is! I like the red walls. The menu looks so good. It’s been such a long day. I may even have a beer. Oooh, raspberry cider! Nevermind. Sorry, AR, I promise I will have a beer later. 

8:50pm

Where is the next bar we’re going to? Somewhere near the L, maybe? Oh my god, my feet. There must be blisters on the sides of them that are exploding out of my shoes. Is this bar far? Oh, I can’t go on like this. Would it be totally gross if I took off my shoes and walked around in my socks? I don’t care. Oh for fuck’s sake, this feels so good. FREEDOM. What a day to choose to break in my shoes. I think it’s time for that beer. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Free and Easy

There are many perks of living in New York, which doubtlessly you know if you live here. However, there are some perks that even if you live here you might not be aware of, so I’m happy to tell you about one of them in particular. 

IDNYC is a free card you can get that will give you either a free one-year membership or admission (or both!!!) to an amazing amount of cultural institutions, sporting events, and entertainment venues all over the city. In my travels, I've found that people have sort of vaguely heard about it but never pursued it, have not heard about it at all, or have one and love it. I fell into the first category, having heard about it before, but had never taken advantage of it until I heard some of my favorite cultural venues were involved this year--they do change every year, but some do stick around, so it's worth renewing each time it seems.

To get the card, all you have to do is make an appointment to go get one online, then show up at your designated time, fill out an application and have your picture taken, then it’s mailed to you within two weeks. I went and signed up for mine yesterday morning (Friday) at the Mid-Manhattan Library right near Bryant Park. There are places you can go all over the five boroughs to make an appointment, though, and those places show up online when you go to select your time. 

I had to wait a while—about 45 minutes because they were busy and understaffed, unfortunately; and there was someone in front of me who had been there even longer, so make sure to bring a book or something—but as soon as it was my turn I was in and out. I’ll be excited when the card finally arrives because here are just SOME of the benefits:

Free membership at any institution where you have not been a member since January 1, 2013, which includes but IS NOT limited to places like :
The American Museum of Natural History
BAM
Carnegie Hall
Film Forum
Lincoln Center
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Metropolitan Opera
Museum of Modern Art
New York City Ballet
The Public Theatre
The Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo

The IDNYC benefits of membership for each institution vary, but you can check out what they entail on the IDNYC website here :http://www1.nyc.gov/site/idnyc/benefits/museums-and-cultural-institutions.page. For the most part, with each membership there’s lots of free admissions, special invitations, discounts (and, in some places, discounts on discounts because having a membership to Carnegie Hall, for example, entitles you to discounts at neighborhood restaurants as well as the venue itself—it’s like DISCOUNT-CEPTION), priority ticketing for events, and so much more. Mind, you aren’t immediately a member—of course, you do have to sign up for membership individually with each institution, but when you do the membership will, of course, be free. Normally membership at places like these, to get benefits like those offered to you, are upwards of 60, 70, 80 dollars (or more) so being a member at more than one place per year can get expensive. But not when you sign up! Frankly I’m kicking myself for not having gotten a card sooner.

Not to mention, you can also get discounted movie tickets (as low as $8), Broadway tickets and Cirque du Soleil tickets, 25% off some sporting events at Barclays Center, a 10% discount at Modell’s Sporting Goods, and so, so much more. 


When you’re a culture vulture like me in a city like New York, you want to see and do everything since it’s all at your fingertips…but that can get expensive. So, if you want to increase your ability to see awesome performances and shows and exhibitions, in my opinion this has to be one great way to do it. I'll report back if anything changes, but in the meantime I'm excited for the prospect of taking in even more culture than I did before. 

*swoons and floats away like the Sugar Plum Fairy I might finally be able to afford to see*

What are your experiences with IDNYC? Tell me below!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Great Moments I Didn't Write About But Should Have: 2016 Edition

As ever, a list of some of the great moments from the past year that I didn't get a chance to write about as they happened. To compile the list I usually go through all of my social media platforms from the entire year and I pick out the moments, later finding images and doing research (into my own life, which is strange and revelatory each time) about each to make sure they're accurate. The process usually takes longer than a) I think it will and b) than most of my blogs do, but it's the only year-end, or rather year-beginning, list I do so I might as well go big, no? That being said, here they are. Enjoy!

January

9- I had written about porn performer Jiz Lee’s “Coming Out Like A Pornstar” anthology—in which porn performers detailed the times they told their families and friends about their careers— for VICE, and they held a reading for the event at Bluestockings, the radical feminist bookstore on the Lower East Side. The event was packed to the gills, and my friends and I were happy to have found places to lean in the back by some magazines. The readers were incredible, warm and kind, especially Lorelei Lee—her essay about her experiences in porn made me cry and also made me realize I had never wept openly at a reading before. I met her after the reading to tell her how much I loved her piece, and I began to cry again. She cried too, and we hugged. I can’t wait to read more of her work. 

23- In light of the massive blizzard headed to New York, a travel ban was instituted all across the city, from busses to subways to cars to hovercrafts…you name it. But A & T were visiting that weekend and we had all made plans to get together. While my friends across Manhattan weren’t able to make the trek, I pulled on my rubber boots and trudged my way over there. I say trudge more because that’s the motion I was making as I pulled myself through the snow and not because I wasn’t enjoying myself—I was! It was so wild to be able to walk in the middle of a Manhattan street, three feet of snow be damned! Along the way, there were people in the street with toboggans and sleds, children and adults alike frolicking in the snow. I arrived at their apartment with my mascara all over my face because of the snow and wind, but I felt invigorated. We sat and drank wine and ate leftovers, chitchatting until the snow stopped. By that time the snowplows at come through and I was able to walk on asphalt, still in the middle of the street, back home. 

video

31- HanOre and I visited Patricia Field’s, the legendary bastion of downtown outrageousness on the Bowery, before it closed forever in February. The store was a haven for glitter, spandex, rhinestones, sequins, leopard print, faux fur, vinyl, platform shoes, wigs, and the people who wore them best. I had always wanted to shop in the store, but with everything 50% off I could finally swing it. We tried on all manner of spangled concoctions in a teeny tiny dressing room, and I left with a very important purchase (below), which I think is a perfect way to remember the store. 



May 

5-I was assigned to photograph the band Low Cut Connie, who I love, for Impose Magazine. It was a late show, starting at 10 or 11pm…or so I thought. The band had two openers, and didn’t even end up going on until 2am. I was, to say the least, not amused. But I did my job, of course, and when the band came on they were absolutely electrifying…even though most of the audience had gone home by that point. They performed full-out, as high-energy as they would have been if the place were packed, and they were intoxicating to watch, banging on pianos and bass and guitars in all of their sassy dive bar rock and roll glory. I left the venue at about 3:30am swimming in happiness, and when I finally fell into my bed around 4am, the happiness had seethed into my joints and bones. THAT is what a concert is supposed to be. 



June

10-I don’t remember how it happened or whose idea it was, but HanOre and I ended up hosting The Great Martini March of 2016 throughout downtown Manhattan with a few girlfriends. Though that is perhaps an understatement. As we wrote in the invitation:

We'll start at Art Bar at 8pm then work our way over to Cafe Cluny, across the street to Corner Bistro, and a few blocks south to Little Branch. By that time, we'll be close to Macdougal Street where we will unhinge our jaws and shove however many Belgian-style frites into them as humanly possible. Or just have a nosh, you know, whatevs. 


And we did it. All of it (almost…I think we decided to finish our martini madness at Cafe Cluny where, incidentally, they have a fantastic drink called a Filthy Martini made with garlic vodka and tomato water. What is tomato water, you ask? I HAVE NO IDEA! But it’s very delicious and makes a great drink even better). We finished it up with a visit to the newly-reopened Pommes Frites in the West Village…which, if we’re honest, was the whole reason for the event to begin with.

August

27- One Saturday, AR and I met up in the far reaches of Red Hook for a day of exploration. We started with lunch of brisket and pulled pork at Hometown Bar-B-Que, a vast space with high ceilings that might normally only be in possible in…well, not New York. We then traveled our way through pretty much the entirety of the neighborhood, snacking on soft, warm cookies at Baked (despite the August heat) then traipsing over to the Valentino Pier for sunshine and water and sitting on rocks, stumbling across gentrification porn—really fabulous, modern, intricately designed homes in former industrial spaces that are making rents go up in the area—as well as the Golden Anvil Sculpture garden, the dive bar Red Hook Bait & Tackle with all of its taxidermies and/or mismatched decor from the 1970s, Red Hook Lobster Pound for some of the best lobster rolls I’ve ever had, all followed by a walk through Carroll Gardens to Boerum Hill for drinks at the lushly-couched yet inexpensive Fawkner’s for beverages, and back to Barclays Center to catch the train home. I think we walked over 8 miles all over the Red Hook and then through Brooklyn from the early afternoon to just before midnight. I was having so much fun that I only really got tired toward the end. 



September

9-My lovely friend J was a production assistant on Project Runway this season, and she invited me to come see the show’s finale during Fashion Week. While I hadn’t watched the show in several years, I loved it as a teenager and I thought it would be a fun experience to give it a shot. I was not just invited to the 9am show during Fashion Week, though—I was invited to the early friends and family showing of the top 4 designers at around 6 am, for which I had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. It was fun to be a part of the process of having it all come together, to be holding a secret and to be legally obligated to keep it! Heidi, Tim, Nina, and Zac all came out at the end and sat in their front row seats and my teenage eyes were sparkling some 15 years in the past. I was sitting in the second row, with one contestant’s family in front of me and one behind me, so when the show aired on December 22 you actually get a couple really strong glimpses at me and my red lipstick when the families are on camera. My mother and my aunts kept pausing the show OnDemand to squeal and shriek whenever they saw me. 



20- The incredible Taylor Mac, who I have written about before, did his opus “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music” at experimental theatre space St. Ann’s Warehouse, a former tobacco warehouse in Dumbo. The premise of the show is that every hour of it is filled with music from one decade, and Mac sings the entire time in an explosion of wild costumes—decorated with hot dogs or porn-covered potato chip bags or chess boards or chicken wire or all of the above, and more—with an orchestra that loses one member every hour. You could also see the History in shorter, three-hour spurts, and I went with DL, the person who introduced me to the fabulous performer in the first place, for “Act III: Puppets, Whitman, and Civil War” in which “Two men fall in love while escaping slavery; Walt Whitman and Stephen Foster go head to head for title of “Father of the American Song” culminating in the queerest Civil War Reenactment in history.” It was incredible, sitting on the floor on pillows looking up at this theatre genius gorgeously challenge our understandings of history while wearing full drag. 

25- I had dragged SE to a photography event that ended up being a vicious bore and a waste of time, but he ended up saving the day with some really awesome ideas of what to do afterward. Since we were around Brooklyn Bridge Park, he suggested, instead of waiting hours in what was becoming rather chilly weather for a table at Juliana’s, one of the most famous pizza places in Brooklyn, that we order a pizza to go then sit on the pier and eat it there instead. The to-go order took only one hour versus several, and we walked around the pier and the park exploring and taking pictures while we killed time. Then as it grew dark, we sat on this pier overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and the lights of Manhattan and balanced this oh-so-thin Margherita pizza from Juliana’s on a bench, sliding it out of its slim wax paper wrapping and diving into its fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, and olive oil. I’m not too much of a pizza person, but it was absolutely divine…and maybe made me into a pizza person after all. Afterward, SE suggested the Brooklyn Ice Cream Company, in front of which I had seen people waiting all day to get in. But by the time we got there, we simply waltzed in and ordered raspberry rugalach ice cream, chewing on chunks of the pastry embedded in each bite of the dessert. We traipsed back to the F train in the best of food comas. 



Last but not least, there were also some cool work things that happened this year:

I did my first pieces for Elle and T: The New York Times Style Magazine. I also had a photo I took on the cover of the book The Naked Result: How Exotic Dance Became Big Business by Jessica Berson, published by Oxford University Press. I was a freelance editor at Delish.com; was hired by Sephora to take pictures backstage for them during Fashion Week; did several photoshoots for music website Bandcamp, one for which I spent a day photographing rapper Denmark Vessey in Red Hook eating key lime pies; and got to interview two of my idols, Legs McNeil and Patricia Field. If you’d like to read some of my favorite pieces I wrote this year—including the pieces about Legs and Patricia— here is a link to writer Kyle Chayka’s Year in Review thread on Medium, where he was kind enough to include me.


Have a happy new year, and see you in 2017!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Window Shopping V

I stopped a long time ago even bothering to see other stores' holiday displays because the ones at Bergdorf Goodman leave me satiated for an entire year. It's never quite "the holiday season" until I see them, my hands burning with cold as I try to take just the right picture of each window, the lights of Fifth Avenue glittering in their glass, and even the most butch of men walking past saying how beautiful they are.

This year, the theme of Bergdorf's windows is "Destination Extraordinary," and each window features a unique, fantastical location. From a perch of two flying pegasuses to a giant rabbit in a desert peppered with saguaro cactuses, mannequins are glamorously posed in what might quite possibly be the finest garments known to man: intricate embroideries, seas of pailettes, lush furs, laces, jewels. The sight is something out of a fashion dreamland, an acid trip gone terribly chic.

The windows, which took at least six months to produce, were inspired by the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History and the paintings of Henri Rousseau. All of the backdrops are hand painted, dotted with details like gorillas made of leaves, a tiger painted to be a steamer case, and a two-foot-deep resin pond "swimming" with faux fish.

Below you can watch Bergdorf's video of their unveiling, and scroll below for some detail shots I took. Enjoy, and happy holidays!














Saturday, December 3, 2016

Rain and Gourmet Painkillers

New York in the rain feels impossible, but only if you're wearing the wrong pair of shoes, as I often am. For whatever reason, whenever it's wet out I tend to eschew my rain boots with a firm hand, thinking to myself, "Nah, it'll be fine, I'm sure."

It's never fine. Not once has it been fine, and I'm usually often left sitting wherever I am with my wet-socked feet resting outside of my drenched shoes, trying to warm them up. As I have doubtlessly written before, I am regularly unprepared for the weather at hand, whether I'm short a layer, missing gloves, forgetting an umbrella, or what have you. In New York, being unprepared in these ways can feel a little hopeless once you're out for the day, and you resign yourself to a day of wet feet, hands cracking from the cold, buying an umbrella that you later leave in a cab or, if you're me, all three. But at the end of the day, you come home, flop onto your couch, take off your wet shoes, rub lotion on your hands, and you know you survived. You always survive. Which is why maybe I find myself in the constant position of thinking "Nah, it'll be fine."

Survive I did this past week, as two days of rain pillaged the city. After all, I think to myself, it's weather. What are you going to do, let a little rain get to you? And with my incorrect footwear I headed out into the deluge, feet soaked by the time I walked the 15 minutes to the subway. Oh Lyss, I said, you've done it again! Yet I soldiered on to one of my favorite cafes in the city and ordered a Peppermint tea to soothe my insides, which tickled me awake in the morning rife with acid, and settled onto one of the cafe's indoor picnic tables to work. The track lights shone bright overhead, since the skylight which usually plunged sunlight into the space was at a loss on such a grey day. It felt dark for hours, as dark as when I went in in the afternoon to when I left around 6:30 in the evening.

And maybe that wouldn't have been so bad, except after my peppermint tea, the acid didn't go away and I found myself drinking the now-stale tea in hopes it would end. Hyperacidity, or acid reflux, runs in my family--I experienced it for the first time at around 14 years old. Normally I only get it if I go too long without eating. The way I usually describe it is that it's normal for everyone to get hunger pains; in those cases, for people who don't have acid reflux, it feels like drops from a leaky faucet. For someone who does have acid reflux, however, it feels like a fountain. Today was not just a fountain because I was hungry, as I had just eaten. Today was a fountain all day, a fountain not even the Zantac I had taken earlier in the day could fix. Flares like these happen for me maybe once or twice a year, far apart enough that when one occurs I don't remember the last time it happened. It lasts several days, usually fading out by day four or five. I eat low-acid foods during the time--bread, leafy greens, apples, rice cakes, and lots and lots of coconut water--and eventually it just goes away. But now I was in this coffee shop, I had a ton of work to do, I wasn't hungry, I had just taken medication so I couldn't take more, so all I could do was sit there and suck it up.

It's strange to be in pain in New York when you're outside of your home. Home is never close by, not a place you can just jump in your car and get to, when you just want to curl up in a ball and make your guts stop eating you from the inside out. I was sure there would be nothing left of my stomach lining by the time the day was over. But I kept working. What else could I do?

And then, around 3pm, more of my innards decided to mutiny. Cramps invaded my lower stomach with a vengeance, a cavalry of spiked soldiers swinging maces and shooting arrows and exploding cannons through my insides. I crouched over my computer, resting my forehead against its silver keyboard as I felt cannon fire and acid flame at once. But I couldn't let them win. So I kept working. To my credit, I was pretty productive until the cramps got so bad I asked one of the girls behind the counter if they had any Advil. I wanted to tell her about the rebellion inside of me, but I decided not to. Maybe she saw me clutching my gut or hunching over my computer or curling my back as I walked in agony and she knew already. Or maybe she was just a nice person. I took the pills she gave me with a swig of my now-cold tea and prayed for them to act soon.

But after an hour, they didn't. My brain was tripping over itself and, unable to focus, I decided to leave, which was a bummer since there was a reading in the area I wanted to attend that night. As I was walking down Spring Street, however, I found myself in front of gourmet chocolatier Vosges. I remembered from an earlier, desperate search of things to eat to cure my cramps that dark chocolate--at least 70% dark chocolate, the article said--could help. Normally I find the idea of paying $8 for a chocolate bar utterly absurd and bourgeois, but at this point my back was practically in a c-shape from hunching over in pain and I was hoping the stuff would work in a quick fix.

I walked into the store and found myself speaking in a deep, throaty voice to the clerks inside--the acid in my stomach, still raging, had risen up to my throat and I was finding it difficult to talk and not sound like an 80-year-old woman who smoked 5 packs a day. "Hello," I said, surprised I didn't start coughing smoke in their faces. "What dark chocolate do you have that's over 70%?" The very friendly staff, wearing all black and impossibly hip glasses, pointed me toward a rather large selection of bars. "You can sample any of them you like, as well," a female clerk said, smiling. I raised an eyebrow and smiled back. Gourmet painkillers, who knew! I sampled two, though I remember wondering why I would choose to delay a potential pain reprieve in favor of trying a fucking chocolate sample for fuck's sake. Ultimately I settled on the Smoked Salt bar, and when making my way to the register I noticed there was something on their menu called Super Dark Elixirs. You mean there was a concoction I could possibly drink to relieve the monstrosities barreling their way through my innards, too? How interesting. Tell me more.

The Super Dark Elixirs were made with just the dark, dark cocoa and water, and came in two flavors: Coconut Ash and Banana and Guajillo & Chipotle Chili. Wanting to spare myself any more possible pain for the evening, I went for the Coconut Ash and Banana. I thanked the kind people at the store for helping me make selections, and left with my beverage and chocolate bar in tow.

After I left, I went back to the cafe and one of two things happened: either the Advil, after another hour, had finally started working or the hot drink soothed not just soothed my stomach acid but somehow made its way through my system to cease the cramp battle entirely. Or both. I want to believe in the magic of gourmet chocolate, but common sense leaves me skeptical to say the least. The point is, the pain was gone, at least for a little while.

Yes, my shoes were still soaked from all the trekking in the rain, of course, but two out of three ain't bad, you know?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Paw Manhattan and the Pad Thai

"Your father likes Pad Thai now!" my mother told me over the phone. I grinned. Neither of my parents are especially adventurous eaters--to the point where using the word "adventurous" to describe Pad Thai is an option--so when they try something new, I'm really happy about it. They were on a Korean food kick for a while, where they developed a fondness for bulgogi and scallion pancakes in particular, but I had never been able to convince them to eat Thai food with me. So to hear that my dad has not only tried a new dish but enjoyed it, is a delight.

"Where did he try it?" I ask.
"At Whole Foods!" she says, effusively. My mother didn't really like going to Whole Foods all that much--she said it's too expensive and she's right--but she loves the new one that opened up in a town not far from us in South Florida. "You'll love it!" she told me before I went with her for the first time. "They have a place where you can squeeze your own orange juice! And they have amazing rugalah. And organic candy in bulk!" I didn't know how good a corporate grocery store could be, but if my mother, who often preferred the local fruit market and fish peddler to bigger stores, was crowing about it, then it had to have some merit at least. "I only wish it had a barbecue bar like the one in Boca," she said. "Their brisket is so good."

I liked its wide open shopping spaces, being greeted by its colorful wall of bottled juices, and was amused by its Himalayan Pink Salt candles--making what was once dismissed as hippie-dippy bullshit into a desirable wellness and/or decorating commodity for the suburban upper/middle class is truly an art--but what I think I enjoyed more than anything was my mom's enthusiasm for it. "I want a sandwich, let's go to the panini bar," she said, expertly pointing her cart toward the counter bearing prosciutto and mozzarella-stuffed breads as if she had placed it there herself. "The refrigerators are near there too, if you're thirsty. Go get some weird drink that you like," she said, remembering my penchant for things like cherry-flavored green tea soda. I did as I was bidden.

While the new Whole Foods had won over my mother, I thought my father would be a tougher prospect. He had barely been grocery shopping until the last few years, when my mother was ill and he would go to Publix himself, my mother's infamously long shopping lists in his hands. I remember as a child she would say "We'll be in and out, don't worry" only to be clawing my way into the car three hours later. Bless this man's soul, did he know what he was about to embark upon? But he mastered it with aplomb, and began shopping with my mother once she was able, Whole Foods included.

I don't know exactly how it happened, but I imagine he was hungry and my mother was pointing out some of the culinary points of interest from which he might choose to eat that day, and they found themselves in front of the sushi bar. The sushi bar that also prepares Pad Thai, ramen, and bibimbap. My father saw the bowl of Pad Thai projected on the video screens above the bar and, liking what he saw, was inspired to order it. He ate it--with a fork and knife, assuredly, as my father has no interest in using chopsticks--and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cut to yesterday, when I am home visiting for Thanksgiving and my father and I decided to brave the wilds of Black Friday and go to Barnes and Noble. He was, as we say in our house "out of book," and needed a new one to read. While I have a bookcase and now a bedroom teeming with books I have not read, I only wrote down some titles to add to my list while my father purchased some light reading on the educational philosophy of how we learn ideas. Hungry post- book search and knowing his newfound love of Pad Thai, I suggested we go to Whole Foods.

Before heading to the lunch counter, though, my father wanted a drink. "Come here, I want to show you something," he says. "I love their fresh squeezed orange juice. You've never had anything like it." When my dad, man of few words that he is, says he loves something I listen, and I listen hard. We amble over to the juice machine and my father picks up an empty bottle from the dispensary, twists off its top, places the bottle under the spout, and does as is requested by the "Press" button. But only a few trickles of juice come out. He is disappointed and his face falls. "I wanted to show you something really cool," he says. To the point where this man who almost never asks salespeople for help seeks out a produce clerk not once but twice, first to ask the gentleman to please fill the machine up with more oranges, second to tell him the machine still isn't working. I am nearly in shock, as I have never seen my father call someone over twice in the span of two minutes for anything in my life. But the second time the clerk presses a series of buttons and suddenly the machine starts making noise. "Okay," my father says. He smiles, and places the bottle under the spout. "Now watch this."

Suddenly oranges start moving from the basket on top, down a curving metal slide and into a machine that splits the orange in half, juices it, then throws the peel away, all to the exposed eye. My father's juice bottle fills up, then he takes a sip. "Try that, it's incredible." I do. It is. My father smiles. "Wasn't that cool?" It was cool but, like my mother before him, what I love most about it is how much he loves it.

Next is Pad Thai. "It's this way," my father says, confidently pushing the cart toward the noodles. "How about steak, do you like steak?" he says. I confirm, and he orders at the counter, asking the gentleman to please cut it into small pieces. Shortly the Pad Thai is ready. "Will you grab me a fork and knife, Lyss?" my dad asks. I comply, grabbing chopsticks for myself. We sit down and share.

"Had you ever eaten Thai food before, Dad?" I ask. He shakes his head, no, as he dips his fork into his bowl. "I like that it's sweet," he says, biting into a bit of steak, then broccoli which he almost never willingly eats. I tell him about other Thai dishes he might like, like Pad See Ew. He nods, interested. "That sounds good," he says. "I'd like to try that."

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover


A Saturday morning is the perfect time to finish Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover, the new novel by Mila Jaroniec, because you have the whole day to be upset that it's over.

I found myself turning a page this morning, hoping to gorge myself on more of Jaroniec's painterly, poetic prose, often inspired by ecstatic prose writers like Michelle Tea and Jack Kerouac, only to find that I had finished the book. I would be lying if I did not say a beat of despair pulsed through my chest, then dissipated.

Described by essayist Chloe Caldwell as "deceptively slim," Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover's mere 127 pages are bursting with a revelatory, soul-plunging, image-rich, non-linear narrative and it's almost mind-boggling how Jaroniec has been able to pack so much into a small space.

Throughout PVBS, we travel with Jaroniec's nameless narrator as she navigates New York as a young queer woman, her days and nights out with too-open-hearted-for-her-own-good best friend Mischa alongside lovers detached, invested or both, and chemicals of all varieties pouring through their bloodstreams. Told in a series of portraits that either anticipate the future, flash back to the past, or get lost in the present, they describe not just single moments, but the depth with which the narrator experiences them. Much like the book Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar which appears and is referenced periodically in its pages, Jaroniec's book too can be read in and out of order, the strength of each portrait making it stand alone and as a part of a whole.

The narrator's namelessness is an act of liberation, a way to explore and tell tales of lovers in the winter chill of East Village apartments, fights outside of bars or drugs inside of bathrooms, tying neither praise nor judgment to such a meaningless construction (Jaroniec will say in a book talk later) as a name. It happened. There becomes universality to the character because of this, relatability whether you've ever ordered a vodka gimlet at a lesbian bar in the West Village or not. The narrator's loneliness and desires for hope thereby run deeper, feel closer. Her fiercely bubbling, post-cocaine veins are my veins, her spins on the way up the stairs after a night of one too many shots are my spins, her indecision over perfume in an airport duty-free kiosk becomes my indecision. You say 'I have felt that, I have seen that, I have wanted that' even if your haves, seens, and wants are not exactly the same as the narrator's. For example, after a one-night-stand she writes:

"My body looked blue in the melancholy daylight, equal parts ethereal and run-through, Cimabue's Madonna. The cool-eyed blue of a holy streetwalker taking of her wig after a long night, russet, blonde, whatever color the john preferred, not the half-trusting Pretty Woman with the apple pie smile but a beat woman, a Beat Madonna, howling Courtney on her knees dripping manifestos and mascara, underworld saint-girl and her web of synthetics between he world and those threads of blue veins. All the holy women were blue." Her feelings are palpable and poetic.

Jaroniec also has the keen ability to make what would normally be a mundane experience and explode it with comedy, meaning, or both one might never have felt otherwise…or said aloud that one was feeling. For example, she encounters a woman eating in an airport restaurant:

"The woman beside me is crunching her way though a box of chicken nuggets….these resonate with such a deliberate, infernal crack that it makes me wonder if even she is thinking about it, if at this moment she is taking it as a warning that her food is making such an unnatural sound. I picture the lipid molecules, microscopic grease balls floating around in her viscera, and think about the word, lipid, how the object recalls the sound, banana-shaped fat deposits emergency yellow on either side of a dissected frog."

The book is filled with kind of prose one can appreciate not just as a reader but as a writer, its assemblages of words inspiring and writer's-block-loosening, relieving one of that miserable mental sloshing-through of molasses or cement to produce a phrase or passage that moves oneself forward. There are lines in it I imagined reading aloud to others as poetry. Sitting, reading on the train, I wanted to speak them to everyone. Instead, I heard them in my own head and they were still magic, an incantation imbuing the world with more beauty than it had before I started reading.

*

This past Tuesday I went to the Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover launch party at powerHouse Books in Dumbo. I have been acquainted with Mila Jaroniec for several years by this point, always entranced by her thoughtful, powerful prose, while never knowing her all that well. The first time I met her her eyes were painted an electric blue, the color of the beings in that Avatar movie I've never seen, in what I've now learned was an Urban Decay eyeshadow called Radium. The second time her lids bore a coating of Astroturf-like green. I was intimidated not just by her devastatingly good skill with eye makeup, but by the MFA she was working toward in fiction at The New School. She sat regally on a couch, blonde hair underlaid with a bold gash of turquoise, philosophy and literature spilling from her mouth. A black sweater, dress and tights covered her many tattoos. She had seen much more of the world than I had, lighting cigarettes that filled her friend's apartment with a tobacco scent and world-weary intellectualism. But she wasn't unwilling to share her experiences, exhaling smoke with tales of writing workshops and former lovers. What a rad gal, I thought to myself. I would see her periodically and always enjoyed conversations with her, thinking of her when writing opportunities arose and having her read twice at Miss Manhattan.

Tonight Mila's eyes are a lavender-y chrome color and her hair is blonde underlaid with bright purple. Visiting Brooklyn for a few days, she lives in Ohio now and has a four-month old baby named Silas. Copies of her book are on display in the store, and she offers as party favors minibar-size bottles of vodka emblazoned with her book cover and name instead of their original logo. She reads from sections of the book I had not gotten to yet and the words jump off of the page and into my imagination with such speed that I feel like I have done the cocaine she is reading about. I know this woman only a little, but I am so proud of her. Mila, it is my promise to you that I will always share your work whenever I can. The world needs as much beauty as it can get.

Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover, $16, is available from Split-Lip Press here.