Saturday, September 22, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Drunken Potluck

As a young Manhattanite trapped in a South Floridian's body, some of my first exposure to New York was from Friends, only one of the greatest television shows of all time. I watch reruns of it like it's my job now, but that's beside the point. One of the episodes I remembered strongly this week was "The One Where Underdog Gets Away," where all of the Friends for whatever reason miss out on their family's annual Thanksgivings for the first time and wind up eating together.

While I haven't missed spending "the big holidays" with my family, sometimes the little ones slip by. For me personally, these are a lot of the Jewish holidays that, really, I didn't celebrate all that much growing up anyway. After I left home, these became the kinds of holidays I only celebrated if someone else was putting together a dinner or something for them. Luckily, though, since I have known JE and L, they have been kind enough to invite me to their annual Rosh Hashanah Drunken Potluck, which was this past Monday.

I don't mind the hour-or-so trek to their apartment because it's always filled with their warmth and kindness, cool people, and deliiiiiiicious food. Creatively decorated with old French posters, vinyl records, a stolen ottoman, and books books books, I envy the way JE and L have decorated their home so it truly looks like a home (sometimes I wonder if my own space is too spare-looking). A gold, hookah-style ashtray sits on their coffee table and people smoke cigarettes or not cigarettes. Blondie is playing on the turntable, and JE walks over to change the record. "Anyone mind some Sam Cooke?" she says, gesturing with a cigarette in her hands. She changes the record and bobs about the apartment, dancing and shaking her tailfeathers. I am sure, many moons down the road, if you ask me what my favorite memory of JE is, this is what I will say.

In the kitchen, people congregate around the square table, currently outfitted with a variety of challah breads, desserts, and dining paraphernalia. JE and L have two roast chickens in the oven--I marvel at their ingenuity because, well, I think being able to roast a chicken is quite ingenious (a friend of mine once noted that all of the things I make have three ingredients or less...we are what we are). Not to mention the spinach kugel and stuffing they've made and the sweet kugel another guest has made. It occurs to me that I am far from ever being a proper Jewish wife, given that I didn't even know the food associated with the holiday until I got there ("Is this the one where I bring chocolate covered matzoh?" I asked my mother when deciding what to bring. "Oy. No, idiot, that's Passover," she said).

While the chickens are chickening, people who normally might not know each other make conversation, and not begrudgingly because everyone is interesting. People work in publishing, people work in visual design in department stores, people are writers and artists in this little evening's little slice of bohemia. It's often easy to make friends with your friends' friends because they obviously have good taste!

When the buzzer goes off, JE and L assemble all of the foodage and we line up to dine, buffet-style. We have paper plates and plastic forks and mugs for drinks and I like it so much better than having to sit up straight at a dinner table and answer questions about who I'm seeing and whether or not they're Jewish. The chicken is juicy and tangy, the kugels are thick and filling, and the stuffing is lip-smacking. We drink Manischewitz, that oh-so-sugary and medicinal kosher wine (Grape flavored), from mugs and then listen to the Grease soundtrack, everyone singing along.

This may not be an experience that's necessarily unique to New York, but it is unique to my New York. As I've said many times, everyone's experience of the city is different--there is no one way to show people this city. There are often moments like these, though, that I just want to bottle and hold on to forever. Maybe one day, years from now when we're all living in apartments we've actually bought with our publishing royalties, we will look back and say, "Hey, remember the Rosh Hashanah Drunken Potlucks at JE and L's old apartment?" as we stare out onto the city from their penthouse, nothing above us but sky.