I promised myself when I started working on my book that I wouldn’t work weekends. I know how I can get, and if I didn’t set a boundary for myself, I’d just keep going and burn myself out (like I’ve done many times before). So my presence here has been, to say the least, more intermittent. It’s hard to sit down in front of the computer when I don’t have to and when I’m not supposed to be working, but I hope to try to be better.
The winter in New York always presents unusual challenges, this year by no means an exception. But in the strange haze cast over these most uncertain times, I feel grateful to have experienced some moments of light.
Like when Meena cooks at her Chateau Ludlow on the Lower East Side. During Chanukah she made latkes and we danced to Jewish rockstars in her petite kitchen. Two weeks ago, trout with cilantro and roasted parsnips, last week bolognese with leafy greens, and sauteed peppers and onions with luscious grapes dipped in whole milk yogurt for dessert. She sits on her golden velvet couch in a variety of gorgeous ensembles looking like a photograph from Architectural Digest and there are disco balls in her bathroom. We delight each other with tales about boys who make jokes and ride BMX. We are probably too old to be saying “boys” but it’s more fun than saying “men.”
On a day after I have yet another negative COVID test, I walk all the way home from 40th and Park, Lexington Avenue as my guide. It’s a walk of several miles, perhaps more ambitious than necessary, but I don’t mind. The walk is an easy one, no throngs of people to sidestep, because who in their right mind would be coasting through midtown at 10am on a Saturday? All the places that typically serve lunch to the many 9-to-5 New Yorkers normally in the area are closed, maybe just right now, or maybe forever, I can’t tell. There’s a puppy store, a college, an eyeglass store where I get new frames. It’s not too cold to be uncomfortable, even after a few miles. I treat myself to brunch at Cafe D’Alsace, a cafe au lait served in a small tureen of sorts decorated with lions that prefaces runny poached eggs and smoked salmon on an English muffin, hollandaise sauce on the side. I pull my jacket a little tighter around me. I feel my nose getting cold.
Hannah and I brave the cold to see Gloria Swansong and Maxie Factor’s christmas drag show at Don’t Tell Mama in Hell’s Kitchen. These vintage-inspired queens perform only one song made after 1970, their makeup and hair a salute to the Golden Age of Hollywood. After one dirty martini and Gloria’s performance of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” some tears escape my eyes. A few more escape later when Gloria and Maxie perform “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as sung by Judy Garland. Despite my best efforts, I know this is burnout, but I lean into it. Hannah and I clasp hands and watch, grateful for the people who create magic like this, that even in darkness it can still exist.
Steven Jude and I are late for our reservation at Claudette on Fifth Avenue. The host is salty because there’s a time limit on tables, but I promise him we will leave on time. The service is brisk and understandably so, but we manage to eat all the truffle hummus anyway. Steven’s beard has grown out, peppered at his chin with grey, and he looks dashing, ever the pashmina around his neck. After an omelette and sweet potato falafel and an early departure, we wander uptown to Eataly, which is mysteriously exploding with people for a Saturday afternoon. We marvel at unusual pestos and olive oils and cast scorn upon screaming children. We sniff luxury Italian soaps and marvel at neon green glassware. I am tempted by a bottle of truffle oil but I do not buy it.
I cannot drink like I used to. Or at least I thought I couldn’t, because when Andrew comes over and we order pho, somehow two bottles disappear and I am not hungover the next day. I have not seen my friend in months and in between slurps of noodles we tell each other the story of the last few weeks. It’s an evening of several hours and by the time he leaves I’m thinking of my last favorite time we did this, this past summer when we went to a drive-in in Greenpoint and sat drinking cocktails on top of his car as the sun set in front of us, a movie in itself. Tonight our movie is different, pho and beansprouts and limes and chopsticks and broth, but the friendship is the same.
Hannah and I sit on a bench outside of Punjabi Deli on Houston Street. She went out with someone recently who wrote a shitty article about how cultural Judaism isn’t real, so we sit in our furs sharing a Katz’s pastrami sandwich and drinking Dr. Brown’s sodas and prove him wrong. I give Hannah my pickle because I don’t want it and she puts it in her purse for later, which also proves him wrong. She asks me if I believe in God and I think I used to know the answer but I don’t anymore. If God does exist, I hope she looks like Grace Jones.