The day I turn 32, I take a self-portrait then weave my arms through my t-shirt of David Bowie’s mugshot and into a jacket that looks like I skinned Elmo. It is a Tuesday, Election Day, and I have resolved to spend the day as I wish, which thus far includes bundling myself up tight and heading downtown on the ferry. On the top deck, I tie my hair up so it doesn’t become one giant knot and the wind courses over my ears. I should probably have a hat, but I don’t. Exiting at Stuyvesant Cove, I trot in my black leather boots over to B&H for a grilled cheese and tomato soup and coffee. I know I’m one year older; it's nice it's not something that makes this day any different for any strangers walking past me.
I sit and read Charlie LeDuff’s Work and Other Sins, his collection of writing from The New York Times, in Washington Square Park. Youths skateboard and an old man sits on the bench next to me reading the newspaper. My hands and my nose protest that it’s slightly too cold for this, but I persist as I read a story about a pimp trying to make it in New York City after great success in Boston. When my hands and nose give up, I amble over to Mercer Street Books to buy myself a birthday present. Despite over 10 years in the city at this point, I hadn’t been there before Steven Jude took me there on a warm day this past summer. I had already bought too many books that day, and in trying to decide between Anais Nin and Sherrill Tippins and Frank O’Hara, I ultimately decided to leave them all on the shelf. But today, peering amongst the stacks while fielding birthday messages, my birthday present takes the shape of David Rakoff’s essay collection Half Empty, and I look forward to consuming his intellectual snark after I finish...yet another book I probably didn’t need to buy.
As the clock ticks ever nearer to 4pm, I make my way to Cafe Reggio to meet Meena, a new friend I met at an art gallery a few weeks ago. It is nice to know that even after a decade, there are still more good, interesting humans to include in my life, that I haven’t a threshold of friendships, even though it’s something DJ Khaled might prefer. Meena wants to take me for birthday “tea and cakes,” she says because she is British. We sit in the nearly 100-year-old cafe on MacDougal Street that’s normally crawling with tourists but today is merely a venue for working or meeting New Yorkers. There is an eclair and a croissant and blackberry tea and talk of politics, music, food before we cross over to Thompson Street.
“Do you want to play chess?” Meena says, and what a question! I don’t think it’s something someone’s asked me since middle school and, delighted by the novelty, I say yes. We go to Ches Forum. I have not played in years and my minimal skill is evident. As I remember the game minimal confidence erringly grows to hubris that correctly shrinks down again in fits of laughter. The music in the background is classical and “very chess-y,” Meena says, sort of intellectually crowded and complex in ways that make us laugh at both it and ourselves.
Walking down Bleecker Street later, bars with outdoor seating have propped up flat screen TVs so people can sit and watch the election results come in. It’s still early, a bit past 8pm, but my home county of Broward in South Florida, so far appears blue, which is a welcome change from years past. But of course I have already voted and it is my birthday, so I prefer to think about that instead.
I take myself to dinner at my new favorite spot, Kimika, on Kenmare Street. My plan is to indulge as much as I did for my birthday in Hawaii last year, to take care of myself and not worry about anyone else, a luxury I don't normally I afford myself. I remember the freedom in that, in just making myself happy, and that translates to dinner this evening. I don’t have to share, I don’t have to order anything I don’t want to order, I can eat as much of every dish as I want, and I don’t have to make clever conversation. All I have to do is enjoy the food, and I do indeed: their spicy shishito pepper margarita, olives in chili oil, figs with shiso and prosciutto, their signature rice cake lasagna with kimchi, various broccolis cooked in beef fat (!!!), apple crostata with melt-in-my-mouth pastry, and those miraculous, sinful, fabulously unholy mochi bomboloncini with warm nutella centers. Chef Christine Lau comes out and we do a birthday shot of tequila together because hers was the week before.
I leave with a feeling of having taken care of myself. This was a day I asked myself what I wanted to and my goodness did I answer with aplomb.