Sunday, June 5, 2022

Brenda Vaccaro

I’m pretty sure it’s her. There’s a short woman with a big smile and a newly fluffed red ‘do walking out of a salon on Broadway. She waves to the car waiting for her and for a split second my chest tightens. I want to ask, “Are you Brenda Vaccaro?” but if there’s anything I’ve learned about bumping into celebrities on the street it’s that they don’t want to speak to anyone they don’t already know, or haven’t known for at least five years. She’s grinning ear to hear, running her manicured hands through her newly blown-out waves, and she’s radiant. She reminds me of my mother. Not because they look anything alike, but because the first time I was made aware of her she was playing Gloria Tribbiani,

Joey’s mother on Friends, when my mother saw her and recognized her immediately–she had an endless catalog of actor faces and names she drew on throughout her life, and now when I can’t place someone’s name I hear her voice in the back of my head knowing exactly who it is. While the divine Miss B is certainly more than that, she of the sixty-some-odd year career in showbusiness with an Emmy and a Golden Globe to her name, it is mom’s sighting in this particular form that ties me to her. It’s the spirit of my mother that’s there, and on this particular day I need it.

I am looking for a new apartment. I have just come from a brownstone on the Upper West Side being rented by a man who lives in and owns the building, and when I ask him for the criterion he is looking for in a renter he cannot give me an answer. I am holding it together on the outside but I notice my hands gripping the back of a chair in front of me as I wonder what hoop I will have to jump through this time, what apparently unnameable, unknowable factor will determine my worthiness of a place to live.

Trying to find an apartment lives in my collected vision of what hell must look like, one that also includes people only wearing athleisure, nail polish that won’t dry, being ghosted, waiting for a delayed train in the dead of July heat, and tuna melts. And if it weren’t difficult enough for people with regular jobs, as it is by now of course well-documented, I am a freelancer. I do not have an employment contract or pay stubs or a boss, but I have excellent credit and for 12 years I have been consistently paying my rent on time in New York City, and have been vouched for as an excellent tenant by my landlord of eight years. I am proud of the life I have built for myself and I am not interested in changing it to suit someone else’s idea of what a good tenant looks like. The proof is there that I am capable of paying the rent, even though it comes in a different package than someone might be used to. But who ever moved to New York because they wanted to be like everyone else?

I am not the only person like this. And as the gig economy grows and New York continues to attract the creative entrepreneurs it always has, something eventually will have to give. However, while I am waiting for New York City real estate to catch up to me, I am watching people in athleisure eat tuna melts in the dead of July while I wait for a train at Union Square with wet nail polish after being ghosted. I am, in short, in hell. And some of the apartments I have seen thus far belong there as well.

Astronomical rents for only a mini-fridge, no stove but only two burners, grime-covered and sticky carpets, garbage dangling from entryways, dark apartments that won’t hold more than a couch, if that. And even with what I have seen, I’m sure I’ve not seen it all; I’m sure there is much worse that exists and what’s more, I’m sure there’s someone out there willing to shell out for it.

So after I am leaving this brownstone on the Upper West Side with this landlord who cannot even communicate what he is looking for in a tenant, my eyes are swelling with tears. I am wondering if and how I will maintain the energy to do this. I have a matter of weeks to find a place to live. There’s a reason why I haven’t done this in eight years. I remember last time I was so stressed out by looking for a place and walking across Manhattan in the heat that I lost 15 pounds. But I still can’t remember if it was this hard, this insulting, last time. While there is certainly solace to be found in the fact that finding an apartment is hard for everyone in New York, that freelancers who make four times the money I do have the exact same problem, at this particular moment when I am walking down West End Avenue, I am only feeling defeated. And when I am feeling defeated and I am on the Upper West Side, there is only one place I go. And that place is Zabar’s.

My brain is barely functioning but my legs are carrying me toward 80th and Broadway for an iced coffee. And it is on that walk that I see the divine Miss Brenda Vaccaro walking out of a salon, smiling and fluffing her red hair. Or at least I think it’s her. I want tell her about the first time I saw her on television with my mother, but my eyes are filling more fully with tears now and even if I did try to open my mouth I would just start crying. And while I’m sure Brenda Vaccaro is a lovely woman, I don’t imagine she wanted to spend part of her Friday afternoon listening to some woman on the street pouring her heart about apartments and landlords and moms and work she did 25 years ago. So I just look at her as I walk past. She has that sunny fluff and sparkle my mom had, and I want so badly to call my mom up and tell her about it. And while I know I can’t do that any more, there has to be something special about this moment, that as I am in the depths of this draining, agonizing search, traversing the last vestiges of any nerves I have left, that my mother is there sending a message in the form of an Emmy and Golden Globe winner that she is here, that everything will be okay.

I walk past and breathe, my platforms clicking along the sidewalk as I peer over my shoulder at Brenda Vaccaro. She waves down her car, a dark black SUV, and drives away.

Monday, April 4, 2022


Over the course of 31 days in March I managed to both maim myself and contract a virus (not COVID) that led to me being house-bound for more days than I care to remember. While I passed most of the time with movie musicals from the 1950s which I loved, I would have much preferred to be gallivanting around my beloved five boroughs with a beautiful cup of shitty bodega coffee, feasting my eyes on my city.

After falling down some stairs in my apartment building, I had managed to recover and make my way out on the town for Ben’s birthday. It was my first evening out like this in what felt like millennia. While a spicy strawberry margarita in the back room at Juke Bar certainly helped, I didn’t need the tequila to feel that certain aliveness from dancing with your boys in a bar to Lady Gaga, the Spice Girls, and Britney Spears. My boots clicked on the wooden floor in twists and spins, hands framing the face extending into Charlie’s Angels-style finger guns. Oh, this is what it felt like two and a half years ago. Wearing statement eyeshadow and tight black pants. Not caring about the rain while waiting for friends to get Artichoke Pizza. Braving the crowds at Beauty Bar on a Saturday night.

I have to remind myself of this time frame often, these two years, when I wonder to myself where I’ve been. How I used to go to festivals and parades and cultural conferences or events every weekend. Then I remember that there hasn’t been any place to go for a while. As we slowly trickle out of the woods, I am back up to my old tricks again.

But then a severely hobbling case of RSV, Respiratory syncytial virus, mashed me into my bedsheets for several days, sinuses ballooning and face contorted in swells. GagaVirus, my friend Dusty calls it. I laugh even though it makes my face throb. I resent the sunlight pouring into my window, adding the insult of good weather to the injury of being too pained to leave my apartment. But then, slowly but surely, with the addition of Sudafed and a whole lot of Vicks VapoRub, the sinuses calm. The nose stops running. The medication ceases. And I take up my city explorations once more.

I remember when I started this blog nearly 12 years ago how much I loved exploring the neighborhoods that were so new to me at the time, a sense of wonder I’m happy to say I never really lost. Revisiting these places I once found so bewitching revives those senses dulled by the pandemic. When I am out exploring this past weekend, I am seeing with not just new eyes, but new senses.

At Coney Island on Saturday, it’s the Congress of Curious Peoples, an annual celebration of all things sideshow and misfit at the Coney Island USA headquarters on Surf Avenue. Getting off the Q train, it feels like coming home. A Nathan’s sign flashing even on a clear blue day. An oddities art market of vendors sharing everything from spike rings shaped like donuts to taxidermy foxes to steeplechase earrings to books of Vampira ephemera. I buy a sticker of a leopard printed mermaid smoking a pipe of bubbles. Shortly after, I treat myself to a snappy hotdog with sauerkraut and the world’s largest medium Diet Coke. At the Freak Bar, a jukebox offers Naughty by Nature’s O.P.P., The Ronettes’ Be My Baby, and the Ramones’ Sheena is a Punk Rocker. On the wall are skulls and stars and ferris wheels, collages of pulp cover girls, two headed dolls, spines and neon signs. Upstairs at the Coney Island Museum, a roomful of the beach’s historical ephemera and a panel on women in sideshow performance, from bearded ladies to contortionists to pain-proof rubber girls and professional daredevils. There has always been in this place a beautiful marriage of history and misfitry, an embrace of existences so simultaneously rooted in joy and self-awarely strange that they have a glamour all their own. A place I have always felt like I belonged. Later, I munch on saltwater taffy and gummy worms as I walk up to the boardwalk, murals and technicolor metals of amusement park rides dotting my path. I contemplate buying a Nathan’s t-shirt and wearing it with neon green platform shoes and a healthy sense of irony. The air is crisp and the colors vibrant, a visual buffet from which I never reach my limit.

On Sunday it’s raining, and the F train ride to Dumbo feels interminable. Arriving, I remember the first time I visited, when the Galapagos Art Space still existed and there weren’t quite so many luxury condos. Coffee in hand, I visit the new location of Brooklyn Flea–at an earlier iteration in Fort Greene, I bought a giant shortening tin I still use as a side table in my living room, a purchase I then carried on the train all the way back from Brooklyn to Manhattan because Lyft was not yet a thing. It’s dark here in this new location under the archway, but I’m grateful for the structure on this day that keeps intermittently spitting rain and wind. There’s a vintage Ramones shirt waiting for me upon my arrival, followed by two green glass 7-Up goblets that make me laugh. Everything is wrapped up in my bag as I trot around Dumbo, remembering the earlier location of PowerHouse Books, my first ride on Jane’s Carousel, and that day in some early spring when Andrew and I sat on the rocks taking pictures of quinceaneras. I love the brick buildings converted into apartments from factories and decide that if I were ever a rich asshole I would certainly consider living there. But today I am not a rich asshole, at least not as far as I know, and the wind is sweeping through my jacket, so I get back on the train. The train ride back is also interminable, but what wouldn’t I do for a little adventure?

Monday, March 7, 2022

Small Magic

There’s this glimmer of hope again, where with the imminent arrival of spring it feels like we are all collectively, slowly but surely, literally and metaphorically, removing ourselves from our caves and returning to the sunlight. It’s a wild 60-something degrees today and I am wearing shorts for the first time in months. I’m eager to push my jeans to the back of my closet, though I know the moment won’t quite arrive for several more weeks. But a girl can dream.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of moments attempting to chase away winter and ease back into life as we knew it in the Before Time, even though the return to such is still far away. But there are glimmers of the New York I fell in love with, and still love, too meaningful not to share.

On a Tuesday in February, somehow it is Fashion Week again. I remember what my Fashion Weeks used to look like, a hustle of camera and models and lights and backstages, and I am in the audience this time. A brand is debuting at a hotel downtown, and I am an invited guest. As if somehow the tide had turned, the usual 30-minute wait by which one could set one’s watch has disappeared, and the presentation opens almost exactly on time. Down a long corridor, models in gender nonconforming clothing sit on ornate couches and talk, gesticulate, laugh, eat hors d’oeurves. Their hair is shellacked, their cheekbones angular, their shoes shiny. I feel like I have seen this so many times before. I amble as best I can past the countless people taking photos and videos of themselves in the space and occasionally actually the models. I try to take a few pictures of the ensembles myself but the models keep moving. The best part is a beautiful jazz trio with an older woman’s experienced voice filling the space with music so nostalgic I must have heard on a record at least once before. The bar is exploding with people all vying for free drinks. I am not among them, and soon I leave. I always preferred being behind the scenes, watching hair get sprayed or teased, skin moisturized, lashes glued. There was more magic there to me somehow, in the stirring of the batter more than the eating of the cake itself.

But having been at this show maybe 20 minutes at most, I’m not about to go home: it took me longer to get there, dolling up not included. I wonder what else New York will have to offer me this evening, and I remember a film series at the Museum of Modern Art I’m interested in–Dames, Janes, Dolls, and Canaries: Women Stars of the Pre-Code Era. Pre-code cinema romantic comedies are delightful for their cheekiness and innuendo, this time before film topics were censored by what became the Motion Picture Association. There’s a film starting at 7pm–Ernst Lubitsch and George Cukor’s One Hour With You from 1932, starring a young Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald–and if I boogie uptown on the 6 train I can just make it. Plus, films at MoMA are only $12. On the way, I chat with a man who identifies himself as a film director but doesn’t know what Pre-Code Cinema is. I wonder if continuing to chat with him is worth it.

Arriving at the museum, I’m not aware of batting my eyelashes, but maybe they bat for themselves because the ticket attendant lets me in for free. I realize I’ve never been to see a movie there before, ticket paid for or not. An escalator takes me downstairs to a large grey screening room. A gaggle of men in fine sweaters to my right, a few rows back a young couple in camel coats and loafers, some others sprinkled throughout the theatre, and me. Collectively we laugh at pre-code naughtiness, the wackiness of speech spoken in rhyme alongside songs sung operatically, the way some 1932 statements sound in a 2022 context, awkward but still somehow hilarious. I have this distinct feeling that people who make their way out of their apartments in the midst of a New York winter, in the midst of a pandemic, to see a pre-code romantic comedy are absolutely my people. There’s a sort of warmth to this experience I wonder if I have felt in a while. It keeps me warm enough that when I walk back to the 6 train later. Stores on Fifth Avenue have all closed for the evening, but their light continues to fill up the street. All I can do is continue to marvel at New York, still New York-ing away in spite of everything.

Monday, February 7, 2022

For Mom and Bloomingdale's

Well, it’s been a while. Some things have happened. But I’ll try to be back with a little more regularity.

On any given Sunday when I have nothing to do, I go to Bloomingdale’s. It’s a rare occasion that I actually need something, and I’m far more inclined to window shop my way through all of the department store’s floors wondering what it might be like to own silk nightgowns or studded stilettos or hot pink leather gloves. I try on evening gowns and luxurious coats for no reason, I wrap myself in cashmere ponchos, I sniff my way through all of their candle offerings. While a department store could easily be written off as a pastime of the frivolously wealthy, for me it always gave me a sense of communing with my mother. The store was a place where we could just look around and feel fabulous, even if we didn’t buy anything–and many times we didn’t. In fact, I’d often get dressed up to go. Bloomingdale’s was our holy ground, our seasonal pilgrimage, our site of endless hours of bonding. My aunt once said to me that the store in some ways was in my blood, that before I emerged into the world “you were inside your mother and we were in Bloomingdale’s.”

Sometimes I go when they’re having a sale, but often I just go to be with her. Usually upon entering the store I say hello to her, just sort of quietly out loud, into the ether. I know that she hears me from wherever in Spain she is vacationing, as I like to say. My mother used to joke that she’d be happy to move anywhere as long as it was within driving distance of a Bloomingdale’s. I don’t know exactly why she loved it so much–she never carried the same love in her heart for a Macy’s or a Nordstrom or a Saks Fifth Avenue, though bless her heart she had credit cards for all of them. But I wonder if she loved it for the same reason I continue to: that in its walls, no matter where you are, there’s some kind of attainable glamour. If you wait long enough or cross your fingers, a sale will emerge and deposit cashmere into your hot little hands for less than $100; or a dress that retails for three digits will find its way into your Big Brown Bag for a mere $13; or a designer sweater covered in lips, perhaps too kooky and warm for anyone else in South Florida, will keep you toasty back in New York. These things don’t happen all the time, certainly, but when they do it’s like having a beautiful little moment of luxury. But you could also leave Bloomingdale’s with just some makeup in a Little Brown Bag and feel like a zillion dollars.

When I walk around the store now, I see my mother in my face when I try on sunglasses or hold up earrings or try out a new eyeliner. She is on my wrist lecturing me about how perfume should smell, she is on the racks urging me to buy that sweater dress, she is in my ear telling me not to skip the swimsuits, she is at the makeup counter asking me if I really need another red lipstick. I remember when she’d go in to refresh her stock of Coco perfume, her way-too-many Lancome mascaras, her Chanel lipgloss, her Clinique blush–it was at the latter that she’d always get just enough cosmetics to receive their free gift with purchase. A sales associate at the Clinique counter in Boca Raton became a friend, and we bring our purchases–from all across the store–to her still.

Maybe it’s strange that a department store like this is such a defining facet of my existence, that I love it the way some people love a particular beach or a museum or a park. I don’t know that it makes much sense myself, but as a person in constant adoration of glamour and nostalgia, maybe it does. Walking around the store is an education in fashion, style, design, and economics. I often leave at least enlightened. Going was always something special, and I always feel at least a little special when I go now. This feeling is often something I want other people to feel, to understand, and when I take them to Bloomingdale’s it feels like I am sharing part of myself, my aspirations, my visual memory and aesthetics with them. I want them to know they deserve something special, too.

More than one friend once described me taking them to the store as a rite of passage, an invitation into an inner life I famously don’t share with a lot of people. I am an unofficial tour guide: I know what’s on each floor and where to look for the best-priced sale items, I can make suggestions about my favorite ways to order their frozen yogurt at Forty Carrots (plain with honey, usually, and it’s better to share), which entrance I prefer (in midtown New York, on 60th and 3rd).

I think more than anything I just always wanted to feel absolutely fabulous, and for a few hours that’s always something I can have at Bloomingdale’s before I exit out onto Third Avenue and go about the rest of my life: groceries, work, phone calls, etcetera. But like my mother, there’s always a piece of Bloomingdale’s with me, too.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Some Queens

On a Saturday evening, I am standing on Wall Street, of all places, talking to my mother. My skin is warm from the beach, still glossed with sunscreen despite a ferry ride, and there’s sand in my neon green platform shoes.

At this place no one goes unless they are a tourist or going to work, its cobbles under my feet, I am clutching my forehead as my mother gasps for air and tells me for the fifth or sixth time that she loves me. She is on a strong painkiller these days, and she’s only awake for a few hours at a time. But I knew I needed to get her on the phone to make her promise to me that she’d do her physical therapy.

“It hurts,” she says.

“It’s supposed to,” I say. “I want you to promise me you’ll try. I want you to come to New York and walk around at my book party in 2023.”

“2023,” she says once, and then a few more times.

She can only manage a few words at a time. I am talking to her like she’s five, this woman from whom I am more accustomed to hearing long-winded stories about her trips to Spain in the 1970s, getting whistled at by soldiers; decades of summers in the Catskill Mountains; visits to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade; my grandmother’s many husbands (four? five? I always forget).

My mother’s name is Rani, R-A-N-I, like maharani, like queen. She is a native New Yorker, from Forest Hills, a queen from Queens. Her grandfather used to buy her Little Golden Books like The Shy Little Kitten from the luncheonette near the subway station on Queens Boulevard. She went to Forest Hills High School and graduated at 16. She went to SUNY Cortland but dropped out because, while studying to be a teacher, she realized she didn’t want to be taught how to teach. At 17, she went to Mexico to visit our family there and my grandmother told her not to come home. She stayed and became their ninera and took art classes at a local university and taught conversational English. She lived in Kansas, moved back to New York, then to Florida.

Somewhere in there, when she was 22, a man named Bill wanted to marry her, but she wanted to live a little longer, a little more, before becoming someone’s wife. There’s a picture of her standing in the snow in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, a Spanish Lamb coat on her back, a golden retriever at her side, a flat-brimmed hat shielding her face from the snow. She went there to meet someone else, she told me once. She knew there had to be something else out there for her. I still have the coat, and even though it’s not mine, that memory. Despite all the wear and tear I have unleashed upon the coat in the last few years it remains among the warmest things I own. I have worn it on wintry dates and wondered if it was (capital T, capital M) Too Much but as my mother always said, “Well, Elyssa, if you’re Too Much then you’re Too Much, and that’s who you are.” It was something to own, not something to change.

I get my stubbornness from my mother, a trait for which I have recently apologized in advance. My mother is so stubborn that for nearly 33 years she has refused to tell me the origin story of the Playboy bunny key she wears around her neck, despite numerous requests to do so. My mother is so stubborn she refuses to stop buying cookbooks. My mother is so stubborn that for 28 years she has refused to let me forgo highlighting my hair. My mother is so stubborn she never gave up on her marriage of 35 years. My mother is so stubborn she is refusing to do her physical therapy. But even so, I want to believe my mother is so stubborn she refuses to give up on herself.

If this is true, my mother will be here for my book party in 2023. She will want to go to Bloomingdale’s and Balthazar while she’s here, and have a dirty martini or a Cosmopolitan at Bar Pleiades on East 75th Street. She will fluff her silver hair and smoke Winston cigarettes outside of her hotel, long nails painted some glossy taupe or peach color, gold jewelry jingling on her wrist, gold rings sparkling on her fingers, gold hoops in her ears. She will wear Supergas with gauze, or loafers with linen. She will shadow her eyes, add two or three layers of mascara, and a flash of blush. She will probably be late but she will try not to be because even though she’ll know she has a reserved seat she knows it drives me crazy. And she will sit in the front row, where I’ve reserved said seat, even though she hates sitting in the front row for anything, and she will just be there, like she said she would, like she always has been.

Monday, August 2, 2021


I have a ritual now.

When I finish a chapter, or need a mental health day, I take myself to the beach during the week. While it seems like a run of the mill exercise, for a person like me who has to will herself to stop working and take a break for her own sanity, it requires planning, effort, and a willingness to take time off. I have to feel like I’ve earned it, which I’m sure has its own issues that I don’t need to discuss here. Any weekday spent rapturously separated from the throes of my computer’s grasp feels like an act of rebellion against the 9 to 5 workday, whatever aspects of sanity exist that people have to exchange for paid time off (I do not know because I have never had PTO myself), modern work culture and, well, myself. For as much as I can discipline myself to sit in front of the computer and work, I am still learning how to discipline myself to step away from work. But going to the beach helps.

The ritual is this:

At the first sound of my neighbors’ heinous children running across the floor and screaming loud enough to wake the dead, a morning phenomenon that has haunted me since February, I plug my ears and continue sleeping. Then, I wake up whenever the hell I want. I prepare a beach bag, shoving next to the usual suspects of towel and sunscreen whatever book I am currently devouring (at this moment it is Lulu in Hollywood by Louise Brooks) and whatever unread copies of New York Magazine that have piled up in the last few weeks. Taking a sandwich or a bagel for the train, I make the journey to the Q and get off at Brighton Beach.

With my “My Other Bag is Your Mom” tote bag on my shoulder, I traipse past the cafes and supermarkets advertising in Cyrillic. Then I’ll encounter the elderly Russian grandmas and grandpas on the boardwalk who generally do not give a fuck. Their bellies in their swimsuits are swollen and wrinkled and proudly receiving the sunlight, their gray hair swaying in the salty breeze. I wish I had their confidence at all times, the fearlessness of exposing my skin to the sun in full view of others. But even when I am by myself I gingerly and with no small amount of hesitation remove the cutoffs and white tank top I am inevitably wearing as if there is a committee of judges with their eyebrows raised observing my every movement, curve, or fold. My heart catches a little before I sit down and swath myself in sunscreen. Of course nobody cares except me. Amongst the grandmas, I slowly become freer, a “fuck it” of my own passing across the headline news of my brain.

And then? Nothing. The sun. The ocean. The issues of New York Magazine and the book in my bag. I’ll cover my body in sprays of sunscreen and wonder what it might be like to have someone there to spray my back one time. Then I will quickly remember that if the only reason I want someone around is to spray my back then I’m not just fine but happy on my own. Perhaps what I should wish for instead is the ability to twist my arm upside down and backwards well enough to ensure I don’t end up with a collage of red spots in places I am currently unable to reach. But for now at least, I am happy to endure the spots in exchange for the joy of my own company, the coordination that does not have to happen before or after I leave the house, the ability to wake up at an hour of my choosing, and the delight I take in knowing that I can enjoy the silence and the only person I have to satisfy today is myself.

Part of that satisfaction also comes from reading and reading until I don’t want to anymore. There is something about reading at the beach that zooms me through books the way a parent drags a child across the mall during the holiday season, speedily and without interruption. Pages turn to the sound of the ocean, the radiance of the sun on my shoulders, my nose, my back.

If I want to go in the water, I’ll put my valuables in a ziploc bag and bury them in the sand under my towel the way Alissa taught me to, doing my best to make sure I can still find them afterward. I walk toward the water, surf rising toward my ankles, then knees, shivering as it touches my stomach and then quickly splashing my head under the water. I always hope I look like Phoebe Cates getting out of the pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High but I know I eat too many hamburgers for that, so I will smile and continue to teach myself that being myself is more than enough and anyone who disagrees can, frankly, suck it. It is an ongoing process.

After what is at least two rounds of the surf-dry off-sand combo, I will walk the 20 minutes to Sheepshead Bay, skin warm with sun, traces of sand sticking to occasional patches of sunscreen. I amble past the vicious swans and boats of the eponymous body of water and the Brooklyn teens anxiously gazing into their phones on streetcorners waiting for their friends to show up and do the same. My destination is Randazzo’s Clam Bar on Emmons Avenue, its bright blue and yellow awning punctuated with a bright red lobster. I love this place because it’s been in the same family for some 80 years, at its current location for over 60. It feels like someone’s grandmother is in the kitchen every morning making their famous red sauce (I prefer the hot version). I chuckle to myself every time the waitress sets the menu down in front of me, amused by the fact that I think I might actually order something other than their calamari--excuse me, “gal-a-mad”--appetizer but knowing full well I won’t. Because why mess with perfection? The plate of crispy battered squid arrives in front of me. I eat it with a fork and knife even though I’m not sure how the locals might feel about that, but I imagine it’s significantly better than eating a piece of pizza that way.

Satiated, I’ll walk toward the Sheepshead Bay Q and begin the journey home, sun spilling into my eyes from the west, one last kiss of sun before I enter the train. And then tomorrow? Back to work, not as if it never happened, but because it did. 

Monday, June 7, 2021


A magical thing happened last week: my schedule started to fill up with meetings and events, real life, in-person spaces in my days and evenings I will be dedicating to being with other people outside of my house. If you had told me a year and a half ago I would be so joyful for such a thing--well, I don't know if I wouldn’t have believed you because that is always what I moved to New York for.

I don’t have to jabber anymore about how I was out all the time because...I will just be out all the time. It was during the pandemic--which of course, still continues but seems to have loosened its grip at the very least--that I found myself living the life I had always dreaded: working during the day, watching television and reading at night before going to bed. There are times when I worry now if I will be able to resume full speed or if I’ll get stuck, or if I’ll be more careful about how I spend my time or if it’ll just be a gradual process of reentering the world.

True to form, I have been grasping at any available opportunities to return to normalcy. There were miraculous days where I finished work before 5pm and, elated, paused and asked myself what exactly I wanted to do in that moment. One day the answer was take myself down to the West Village for a massive caprese sandwich and sit by the Hudson River watching the sun set. Another day, the answer was sitting in Prospect Park reading all my back issues of New York magazine that had piled up, with a bahn mi and bubble tea from Hanco’s (sandwiches seem to be involved quite often?).

And one more was dressing up in my new slip dress, taking myself to Maria Elena Valdes’s Muxelandia exhibition at the Tumbao Gallery in Williamsburg, chronicling the lives of the people embodying what’s known as Mexico’s third gender. Afterward I twirled my wrap around my shoulders and trotted over to the newly opened Black Spring Books, nestled next to the writer Henry James’s former home, and perused the shelves of used paperbacks. I searched desperately for a sandwich, only to end up at Oasis, a relic of my youth I knew in its days a few blocks south of its current location. It was a staple of drunk nights in the neighborhood before the yuppies moved in, when we’d shove our faces into falafel sandwiches at 1am before hopping on the L back to Manhattan because there was no Lyft and no chance in hell of getting a cab in that neighborhood and even if you did it’d cost a million dollars (and, frankly, it still does now). I have vague recollections of going there with my friend Rachel after a CHERYL party, covered in sweat as well as the fake blood and fake cocaine performers threw at us from the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Reflecting on being able to move through the world again makes me remember the other times I felt most alive. 

I take myself later to Live From Outer Space, a comedy show at The Cobra Club in Bushwick. The time disappears into fabulous sets from people who spent all pandemic cooped up, not being able to perform live, but who still deliver the goods. And while I realize it’s weird to go to a comedy show alone, or maybe not just weird but, uh, deeply unusual, I’ve resolved that after a year with far fewer escapades than usual, to say the very least, I’ve resolved it’s just better to go wherever I want and have an experience than to stay home. When I want to go out these days, even if it’s at the last minute, I am just listening to that voice. A burger at P.J. Clarke’s. Ramps with egg noodles and garlic at Golden Diner followed by kuih talam and lychee rose tea at Kopitiam. Curling up in the park with an iced coffee and a good book. 

Which is not to say I don’t seek out company, either. Bri and I do not stop laughing and spilling T from the moment we sit down for drinks at Automatic Slim’s, only to be driven out by yuppies in white sneakers with bad manners but after a heap of cocktails it was probably time anyway. How delightful to laugh so uproariously with a friend in a place that’s not my home, that has shelter from the rain. Which, incidentally, I don’t mind traversing to get there and back--it’s almost like nothing can stop me from having a good time anymore. But I don’t know if something within my control could ever do that.

Steven Jude and I share springy small plates at Baker and Co in the West Village, where we wait a few short minutes behind Scott Adsit, who played Pete Hornberger on 30 Rock. Morgan and I eat bagels and play chess in Washington Square Park. I lose every game and it’s hilarious and I would play again in a heartbeat.

Everything is slowly ticking back to life. There is something magical about being able to witness it, especially after having been on the other side for so long. The light! It is at the end of the tunnel! And so, gleefully, are we.