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!


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. 

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. 


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. 


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.


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. 


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.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Miss Manhattan in Dreamland

"You know The Waldorf Astoria is closing in March 2017 for three years?" I said to SE. He had recently purchased Frank Caiafa's latest edition of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book and made it his personal bible. There were tabs in a variety of different neon colors spattered along the book's edges, wear in its binding where he had found and repeatedly remade cocktails he liked in particular. I of course wanted him to be able to experience their famed Peacock Alley bar before it closed…but I also wanted to see the legendary hotel for myself.

Neither of us had ever been, but had seen it in the movie Serendipity and of course had known for years that it's one of New York's most luxurious, iconic hotels.

A product of the affluent Astor family, the first iteration of the hotel was established in the late 1890s, with its second and current location opening in 1931 on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. At the time, U.S. President Herbert Hoover said from a White House radio broadcast that "The opening of the new Waldorf Astoria is an event in the advancement of hotels, even in New York City. It carries great tradition in national hospitality...marks the measure of nation's growth in power, in comfort and in artistry...an exhibition of courage and confidence to the whole nation…” Once the tallest and largest hotel in the world, the hotel is known for its classic Art Deco details, stone and marble columns, and gold and silver leaf accents.

It's strange, sometimes living in New York you either forget to or just don't visit some of the city's most famous or even most beautiful historical spots. In over six years here, I have never been to the Statue of Liberty, the Cloisters, the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum, and a host of other spaces. When a space has a deadline and you have a desire to get there, though, it's easier to make it happen.

"Why don't we go for your birthday?" SE asked.
"YES! PERFECT!" I said, delighted but amused I had not thought of it myself.

And even though I had known of the hotel's luxury for years, I still didn't know what to expect when we arrived on my birthday.

Hand in hand, we stepped through the building's silver and glass doors into its Park Avenue lobby. White floors accented with columns and a staircase led up to a mosaic tiled floor flanked by more staircases and two ballrooms and gilded lights shone white overhead. I don't remember either of us saying anything except a whisper of "Wow. It's so beautiful." And it was beautiful, elegant and palatial but not at all gaudy. It's the kind of place where you walk in and suddenly feel a little more elegant yourself, like there aren't scuffs on your leather heels and your bag isn't from Urban Outfitters. We seem to glide. I notice my gestures get smoother and more balletic, my voice softer. In my mind I am a version of myself I love, my laugh musical and not too loud, my steps authoritative and not clunky, with delicate manners, acerbic wit, and a cigarette holder dangling from my fingers. Dorothy Parker. Carole Lombard. Katharine Hepburn.

We find our way to Peacock Alley, through the Main Lobby's carpeted interior dotted with gold-leafed, black marble columns. There is also an Art Deco clock I will learn later is from the 1893 World's Fair, a two-ton, nine-foot tall salute to America and its presidents, the theatre, and Neoclassicism. Sidling up to the wood-paneled bar, we are greeted by bartenders in suits and ties, cocktail menus placed in front of each of us. SE orders a Robert Burns. The caramel-colored beverage, which comes in a martini glass, is made with "sheep dip blended scotch whisky, cinzano rosso sweet vermouth, benedictine liqueur, and emile pernot ‘vieux pontarlier’ absinthe." I choose The Peacock, which also arrives in a martini glass, but with its blend of "house-made cranberry infused vodka, marie brizzard apricot brandy, and fresh sour" is pink in hue. (Fun fact: though neither of our drinks were made with it, there are beehives on top of the hotel from which honey is procured. It's called "Top of the Waldorf" honey.) They're perfect, smooth and tangy, respectively. This moment of sitting in the bar in this hotel on my birthday is really all I wanted this year.

As usual, we chat with the people next to us and we find that one of them is Peacock Alley's chef, and the desserts are of her design. We order one, the lemon meringue pie, and it's a whipped, creamy dream. My spoon glides into it, past the fluffy meringue, into the creamy lemon filling, down to the soft crust, and into my mouth. Overhearing it's my birthday, the bartenders give us complimentary champagne (which, they say, they normally only do if you're guests at the hotel, but they like us). Bubbles ripple over my tongue. Is this a dream? Am I really sitting here in one of the finest hotels in New York next to a wonderful man sipping champagne on my birthday? We intake more luxuriant bubbles, more luscious spoonfuls of pie. I am near tears several times as I overhear myself thinking, "I don't have to wake up. I'm not sleeping."

As we're walking out onto Park Avenue, we're already trying to think of when we can return again before the building closes in March. It will be a one billion dollar renovation, I've read, where about 1000 of the hotel's rooms will be turned into condominiums (still, that leaves about 500 rooms leftover). I can only hope that the company that has purchased the hotel will preserve its gorgeous, historical Art Deco style so infinite others like me can come into the legendary space and be reminded that no, they are in fact not dreaming, that even a small slice of life can be and feel just this beautiful.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Beyond Frank

When EH visits, I like to construct an evening out for her of some kind. As I've mentioned before, she works hard at the hospital and barely gets a day off, so I'm always happy to help her blow off some steam when she comes into the city from New Jersey. One time she came in I was working weekend mornings, and had fallen asleep by midnight. I felt so bad that I couldn't give her her evening out that the next time she came in I promised we would go hard, and I delivered: we stayed out until 5:30am. I pissed off my roommate at the time, a light sleeper, when we came giggling in around 6am, the sun just beginning to peek through the windows.

The last time she came in, though, she wasn't in the mood for a "go hard" kind of evening, and frankly I don't know that I was either. But I would have rallied for her without a doubt! She wanted to "go medium," and we ended up going on a petite walking tour of the East Village, starting with a gallery opening. I asked her what she wanted to eat for dinner, and she decided Italian, so I took her to Frank. I went to Frank for the first time a year or two ago, but for whatever reason hadn't been back since. It's an unpretentious little Italian joint on 2nd Avenue, with tables outside, a bar, and a small dining room that wraps around the other side of a doorway. In true 'EH is Visiting' fashion, we end up being able to waltz right into Frank and sit at the bar on a Friday night around 8pm, prime New York eating hours in which it's often difficult to get a table anywhere, let alone someplace especially tasty. We order what ends up being the perfect amount of food while perched at the bar, first sharing a pear and gorgonzola salad. The sharp cheese is softened by the crisp, juicy fruit, and there's enough cheese left over for us to spread it across the warm bread previously served to us with olive oil. Next up is black linguini with calamari. It's in a tomato sauce that's just a little bit spicy, perfectly tangy, and it presses up gently against the inky pasta and the subtle chew of the calamari ringlets.

We head to Mayahuel a few short blocks away next in hopes of mezcal cocktails, but have to leave our name at the door with a man named Josh. Josh will call me when our table is ready, about 20 minutes. In the meantime, though, EH has the genius idea to get some dessert somewhere, and we trot over to Big Gay Ice Cream on 7th Street between 1st Street and Avenue A. It's a bit chilly out, so magically we don't have to wait in line for more than 2-5 minutes, an impossibility when the summer heat swallows the city. I hadn't been there all summer, waiting on line forever for their delectable soft-serve, and it feels like I beat the system.

We decide to share one of their massive cones, a special that day called the Violet Beauregard. Named for the Willy Wonka character whose greedy noshing inflates her into a blueberry balloon, the cone is dressed accordingly with blueberry sauce, pie crumble, and whipped cream atop vanilla ice cream. No sooner to we begin digging into the cone then Josh calls from Mayahuel--interestingly, his area code seems to be from Utah and I wonder what on Earth a Utahan thinks about New York when they first arrive here. We say we are on our way from Avenue A, when in reality we stand outside Big Gay and finish the cone, perhaps the walking equivalent of saying "I'm in a cab" when you've only just gotten out of the shower. Shortly, though, we click-clack over to Mayahuel and are escorted upstairs to a blue-and-white tiled table. We sip our mescal and the drinks are nice enough--but at $15 a pop, we decide our next venue will be a little different. Inside, there's a little old man with a cane, conservatively dressed, waiting for a sundae. EH and I smile--something like this (read: both an ice cream store called Big Gay Ice Cream and a little old man happily going to it for a cone) probably wouldn't have happened 20 years ago.

Our last stop of the evening is a place I pass the evening before, Huertas. This is the first place we go this evening that I actually haven't been to before, and I'm reminded to add some more new venues to my roster. Huertas is actually a Basque-inspired tapas restaurant, but they also make pitchers of cocktails they call refrescos. This actually means 'sodas' in Spanish, but the pitchers they say are more like Spanish wine coolers. We sit at the bar--magically, yet again, there are two seats waiting for us--and head for a pitcher of Agua de Valencia, made with prosecco and orange soda (but not Sunkist, more European in style--think Aranciata, a bubbly, orange-infused, only slightly-sweet construction). The bartender swirls out a neat twist of orange for each of our drinks and each time we pour a new drink (three times possible each with this particular pitcher…and at a cost of $30 total, practically a steal) a whisk of orange oil enters our noses. Soon, though, the bubbles invade our senses and we teeter ourselves into a cab. It was a night, we'll say, where we went hard enough. Are we getting old, I wonder? Or sometimes are a few good bubbles enough?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Get Your Shimmy's Worth

I can't help but love glittery things...

So here are a few sights from the 14th Annual New York Burlesque Festival, where performers shimmied and shook their sparkles for all they're worth. This event in particular is of their annual Premiere Party at Brooklyn Bowl. Enjoy!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

"Ladiez" Who Breakfast

Breakfast, I find, is underrated. Breakfast food is not, with its cult following for dinner and Ron Swanson's penchant for the stuff alongside pretty, dark-haired women. But getting up to go meet someone for breakfast, on a weekday, before 11am is hardly a social thing people do--at least in New York, where sleeping in often feels second only in luxury to cocktails at The Carlyle. This is mostly because people have these "job" things I keep hearing about where they have to go into "offices" at a "certain hour," whatever that means. But as full-time freelancers SJT and I do not have those, so Thursday morning we met for a meal that was solidly, decidedly breakfast: 9am at Buvette in the West Village (they do open at 7am Mondays through Fridays, now but my initial thought upon hearing that was, "Well, let's not get crazy.") Once we confirm our plans SJT texts me, "Ladiez who breakfast!" It does feel quite glamorous, doesn't it? Like we have membership in some exclusive club only a rich husband can buy.

I've written about Buvette briefly before, the petite small-plates French restaurant in the West Village, but neither of us had ever been for breakfast. The place is a madhouse for brunch on weekends with a mob of people waiting out front, and neither of us wanted to chance that. So we chose an early hour, early enough where we could have a leisurely breakfast and still have plenty of time for a work day afterward. I was happy to wake up at 7-ish to get there in time, too; excited even. It was a far cry from my forcible mattress detachment that happens when I'm in the midst of Fashion Week. Or, interestingly, what would also happen when I first moved to New York and had a 9-5 job; it was often punctuated with the whine "I DON'T WANT TO GO TO WORK!!!!" ripping itself almost involuntarily from my lips every morning. I want to hover above that girl groaning her way out of bed like the blue fairy in Pinocchio, wings a-twinkling, eyelashes a-batting: "Shhhh, my child. There is another way life can be lived! You can actually love what you do for a living!" And, magically, here we are now (I love shooting Fashion Week, it just makes me batty and tired, as it does everyone).

The morning commute, though I've done it of course since becoming a freelancer, still boggles me and my thought process is regularly How do people do this every day? May RuPaul bless and keep your hearts and souls on this train that is practically exploding with people.

I walk across Washington Square Park to Grove Street, and find SJT waiting in front for me. Even at 9am, the place is packed and we have to wait a few minutes for a table. It's enough to acknowledge that fall is finally upon us, a brisk chill of wind running through my clothes as if to say, "Nah girl, it's not summer anymore. Try a leather jacket over that asymmetrical cardigan tomorrow." It's invigorating nonetheless, and shortly we have our seats at a little marble-top bistro table in the corner. The lights are bright, the counter is bustling, and our little paper menus are stamped with today's date. I decide on a poached egg with lentils and kale. Fun fact: I am a slut for a poached egg. I find them to be the most glamorous of eggs, the way they sit neatly in a little cloud before you slice into their soft white flesh and shiny, runny yolk falls everywhere. I will order them whenever they are available, and sometimes when they're not. SJT chooses the Frits a la Americane, sunnyside eggs with bacon and sage.

Our selections arrive in the teeny manner I have come to adore from Buvette--a petite plate for he and bowl for me, but both brimming with food. My poached egg, in all its glamour, rests atop a stew of kale and lentils, all sprinkled with a light dusting of grated cheese, accompanied with two thin slices of grilled French bread gently glossed with olive oil. I slice into my egg with the corner of the spoon I have been given, scooping up yolk and kale and lentils and cheese all in one bite, and it is divine. A pop of salt from the cheese, a chewiness of kale, a softness of egg, and I am in love. I alternate between spoonfuls into my mouth and onto the magically crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside slices of French bread. There is salt and crunch and smoothness and I wish I had the words of a proper food writer to describe it all.

We linger over breakfast, taking our time and making our way through our small plates, chit-chatting about travel and work and travel again. It makes me realize that I don't know the last time I truly went to a place and ate capital-B Breakfast like this. I often can't force myself out of the house before noon on the weekends and a weekday breakfast is usually me huddled in front of a bowl of cottage cheese or oatmeal with my computer open, still in my pajamas, glasses perched on my face--it is a sight  significantly less glamorous than a poached egg, specifically the poached egg I had at Buvette. This one was an inspiring enough meal to make me want to do breakfast again, not just there but anywhere, this simple luxury for which it is without a doubt worth getting out of bed.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Backstage Beauty: New York Fashion Week, Spring/Summer 2017

Some of my favorite shots from behind the scenes at this past NYFW.

And this picture, which I really only love as
documentation of how fabulous this person is. Amen.