This morning, I got a call from my grandma, who lives in Madras, Oregon. She wanted to make sure that I had registered the fact that a hurricane is on its way to Brooklyn. Also, that the subways would begin shutting down at noon.
This is the power of mass media: We can all experience each others’ natural disasters first hand.
I’m not freaking out about Irene, but I have made a few sensible precautions: water, cat food, beer… I guess that’s it. Oh, I brought all of my plants in off the fire escape. No need for my Thai peppers to become dangerous projectiles.
Spicy, delicious non-projectiles
I’m not letting Irene consume my brain, but I do think it’s a fitting farewell, a nice bookend to mark the last few months in New York. Because while we’ve experienced numerous nor’easters, tropical storms and blizzards, as well as a transit strike, a plane crash out my office window and, most recently, an earthquake, we have yet to face an honest hurricane.
I really hope the electricity doesn’t go out.
As of about half an hour ago, this is what the radar looked like:
I am in the red dot.
The middle of Irene is still hundreds of miles away, but it’s already raining pretty hard, intermittently. I want to get lots of regular things done today, but it’s kind of hard when you’re waiting to see how insane the weather gets in the next 28 hours.
We’re waiting till the last minute to take the air conditioner out of our window. It’s very humid.
Waiting for a hurricane brings strange things to mind. For example:
While not about an actual hurricane, this song does take place here in the NYC metro area (Paterson, NJ): “…Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down…”
All kinds of things are going on at Saucy Salad HQ. We got moving preparations, an earthquake, a giant editing project and all kinds of blog posts in the can. If I believed in astrology or some other faith-based system (I do not), I would be indulging in all kinds of “theories.” Instead, I try to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
In order to cope with all this zaniness, a lady needs to keep up her energy. And what better way than breakfast? This one is not for the faint of heart (or so I’ve been told), but it’s something that’s stayed with me since I first concocted it one summer morning in 2000.
Most importantly, it keeps me from thinking about lunch until 1 p.m.
This is the first in a series of posts about the things that I will, and will not, miss about the big city.
There is a legend that Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the 13th richest person in the country, rides the subway to work at City Hall everyday. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but the fact that people could take it seriously speaks to the greatness of the New York City subway.
Visitors think it’s intimidating and scary, dirty and stinky. There’s probably some merit to the last two, and it can be intimidating if you’ve never used a metro anywhere else. But scary? No way. In fact, the MTA might be the most functional democratic institution that exists in the United States: Every day, people from every income bracket, political preference, religion, sexual and gender identity, education level, and from most countries on earth, get on the subway to go to work or school or to do some tourist-related activity.
In half an hour, I can ride a 6 train from Central Park and some of the wealthiest zip codes in the world to the South Bronx and the poorest congressional district in America. In thirty-five minutes, the L train will take me from Brownsville, the city’s most dangerous and depressing neighborhood, to Williamsburg, bastion of privileged white protracted adolescence.
And people who live in all of these neighborhoods, and all of the ones in between (like the one where I live) ride the train together. Why? Because it’s cheap, efficient and goes just about everywhere. Recently, I had to take a cab home from Newark Airport in the middle of the night. It only took half an hour, but the tolls alone cost $20, one way. The entire ride cost $80! If I had been an hour earlier, before New Jersey Transit shut down for the night, I could have made it home for about $6. The NYC subway never shuts down for the night — no drinking and driving, no finding a place to park, no worrying about other drivers.
Have I had miserable subway experiences? You bet. I’ve been masturbated upon, harassed by proselytizers, stuck in tunnels without air conditioning and, on two different occasions, I have cradled people as they collapsed against me and proceeded to have seizures on crowded, rush-hour trains. But these have been few and far between, and can mostly be chalked up to bragging rights (except for the masturbator, may he rot).
The train connects people literally, but it also connects us in other ways. You know that really good mariachi band on the L train? The break-dancing kids who never crash into anything? Those skinny twin brothers who, pretending to be only one person, ask for money in their high-pitched monotones? I may not know you, but if you ride the train with any frequency, both of us know these people. In such a huge, fractured city, that’s pretty amazing.
Portland was the first city I was ever in and I was old enough at the time that I can still remember it. I was in first grade. My grandparents took my brother and I and our cousin to see the Ice Capades at the Memorial Colosseum, where the Trailblazers played until 1995. I am pretty sure that it was Snow White.
To this day, my grandparents still talk about how, when I caught my first glimpse of the skyline, I said, “Where’s Ramblin’ Rod?” If you grew up on Oregon in the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, you know who this is and he requires no further explanation. If you’re curious, here’s his Wikipedia page. I remember the Ice Capades, and also how, when we were at an upscale restaurant, my great-grandmother (now deceased) walked out of the bathroom with her skirt tucked into her pantyhose. Being three sheets to the wind, she laughed her ass off about it.
Portland blew my mind with its big buildings, its Ice Capades, strawberry lemonades and, more than anything, its enormity. It must have had at least a few hundred thousand people then.
For the rest of my childhood, I got taken there twice a year or so by my grandmother. I am the only granddaughter, you see, so I got to go to musicals at the Civic Auditorium and stay overnight at The Benson. My school clothes were purchased at Nordstrom, which I hated, but I would be able to pretend for a weekend that I was a spoiled-rotten only child. It was the best. The boys got taken hunting.
I stopped being in love with Portland in high school. I was pretty much convinced that my hometown was the best place on earth. I also went to Portland more often then, for school trips, and I noticed the water tasted like ass. Also, I hated feeling damp during cross-country races. It was in an outer suburb that I had to relinquish the guide dog puppy I raised to a blind man from St. Paul.
In college, I went there often for concerts, which was fun, but rush-hour traffic on I-5 seemed like the worst and parking downtown is a nightmare. Don’t even get me started on the Powell’s parking garage. Still, I remember (hazily) having some pretty good times in parked cars once my friends and I had finally found a spot.
Even now, the smell of the Crystal Ballroom makes the first concert I saw there come crashing back. It was so nerdy that I won’t even try to get into it here. It was also at the Crystal Ballroom where I hung out for the first time with a nice man whom I would later marry. That was at a Ween show; they played “Band on the Run” for an encore. I also saw a show there (Quasi) right before breaking a boy’s heart; and to even things out, I saw one a few years later (Jack Johnson, oy) right before getting my heart broken. The last show I saw at the Crystal was in May and it was M. Ward, who I always love to see, especially when this lady is on drums.
That’s 13 years of shows at the Crystal, with a bunch more at the other downtown venues thrown in the mix. A few times, we ventured across the river, but the east side was different then. By the end of college, I had been to lots of cities that I thought I liked more: San Francisco, San Diego, London, Barcelona, even Dublin. It’s that thing about familiarity and contempt, I think.
When we moved to New York, in 2004, and told people we were from Oregon, they always said, “Oh, Portland?” Sometimes I would say yes, just to avoid explaining where and what Bend is. If I was talking to a certain type of man, I would say, “We just moved from Eugene” for the sole purpose of hearing him say, “Oh, you’re a Duck.” Even when my heart was wracked with homesickness for Oregon, I still didn’t love Portland. Not for several years.
I fell in love with it for good over Labor Day Weekend 2008, when we went there for my father-in-law’s wedding. That’s when I realized that it is my hometown. It has been ever since, even though I’ve spent collectively no more than four months of my life there. It doesn’t hurt that I have a lot of memories tied to it, memories that stretch back almost to the beginning of memory. Memories that are (mostly) delightful. Could I feel so at home in a place that I didn’t grow up with?
What pulls me there are people I like, whom I feel connected to, even though I’ve never even lived in the same city as some of them. Walking at Mount Tabor and Forest Park, every day if I feel like it, is a big draw. $4 pints (or less!) of my favorite beer in the world sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. Riding bikes, working on amazing projects, having a group of friends (instead of a few friends), hiking whenever I want.
It may be the city where young people go to retire, nobody ever tailgates and the politeness of its citizens has become a punchline. But for me, it’s the Next Big Thing, the latest and greatest adventure in my life.
New York, you’ve been good to me and I’ll always come back, but it’s time for me to go home.
We’re kind of getting ready for the big move out west. In eight weeks time, if all goes according to plan, we will be in Portland. I have never been filled with such love for two places. On one hand, I’m so excited to be back in Oregon. I can’t overstate this. I feel like a five-year-old who has just been told that soon, very soon, Santa Claus will be taking her to Disneyland for her birthday party. And there will be kittens and strawberry shortcake.
On the other hand, I will miss Brooklyn so much. It’s been my home for most of my adult life. But New York City is a harsh mistress. She is wondrous in so many ways, but you can never hope to keep up with her. And she doesn’t give a shit whether you’re here or not. The most you can hope for is to lay claim to one block, one section of subway platform, a favorite bar or diner, your gym locker. That is all. It’s heartbreaking, really.
But as much as I already miss Brooklyn, I know this is the right decision on so many levels. The reasons are many, and I will describe them in some upcoming posts. But in the meantime, I wondered if the decision looks good on paper, freed from the deceptive constraints of feelings and anecdotes.
I don’t know which came first, my love for Wikipedia or my love for statistics. It doesn’t matter, because at this point, the love has become a tautology. I thought I’d do a side-by-side comparison of factors that are boring, but important to me. They do, but it’s not one sided.
On New York’s side are sunshine hours, diversity and public transportation. On Portland’s side lies pretty much everything else.
My only regret is that I don’t have the graphic design skills to make precisely scaled Venn diagrams or pie charts. In Helvetica.
The population of New York City is more than twice that of the entire state of Oregon.
This Saturday is my brother’s ten-year high school class reunion.
He wasn’t invited.
Now, it’s possible that Matthew’s invitation was lost in the mail. Or maybe they didn’t even send out invitations and assumed that word-of-mouth and the Internet would provide the details for the people who are interested. A third possibility is that it was a conscious decision.
We spent all of last week with my brother — and the rest of my family — on a cruise ship in honor of my grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. We all had a great time, in our various ways, but my favorite part was spending so much time with Matthew. I got to see more of him than I have since before we moved to New York more than seven years ago. He made RZ and I go swimming every single day, as well as putting us through a grueling cardio-and-weight workout in the boat’s gym.
I may be the only person in the history of the world who has ever lost weight on a cruise. Thanks Matthew.
Every so often, he would bring it up: “My class reunion is on August 6,” he’d say uncertainly. By the fourth or fifth mention, I could tell he really wanted to go.
By using 100 percent of my emotion-moderating skills, I was able to swallow the iron fist of rage gripping my esophagus long enough to say, “Dude, you don’t want to go to a class reunion. Those things are for complete douches. People get wasted and barf all over the place and cry in the bathroom. I didn’t go to mine because I am awesome.”
This was not insincere. I didn’t go to my ten-year reunion — not because I think I’m awesome, exactly, but because I find contrived social situations with long-lost bullies embarrassing.
But he doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, he’s super social. All week long, people in the boat’s hallways, dining rooms and elevators would say, “Hey Matt! What’s up buddy?”
“Matthew, who is that?” we’d whisper.
“A guy from the pool,” he’d say.
One evening, we were sitting in deck chairs after dinner when Matthew turned and tapped the middle-aged man sitting next to him on the shoulder.
“I’m Matt,” he said.
“Hi, my name’s Jim.”
“Do you have a wife?” I wondered where this was going.
“Yeah, I have a wife,” Jim answered.
“I had a girlfriend,” Matt said. “Sometimes people get dumped.”
“Yep,” Jim agreed. “Just about everybody gets dumped at least once.”
And just about everybody doesn’t get invited to the party at least once. This happened to me for the first time in a long time last year. And man, it didn’t suck a whole lot less than it did in high school, even though I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway.
It’s the thought that counts.
If my brother’s lack of an invitation was intentional, I’m assuming that the anti-inviters assumed that he wouldn’t find out. Ah, the layers of assumption — it never leads to anything good. Because, of course, he did.
It was through a co-worker at the uber-hip place where he works (a place that, just saying, invites him to parties). The co-worker graduated from high school with my brother and assumed that he was in the know about the festivities. So my brother asked my mom about it.
Neither my brother nor I have lived with our parents for a long time. Our parents do, however, live in the same house they have lived in for 36 years. It was the address that my ten-year invitation arrived at three years ago — the one that’s publicly listed in phone books and on the Internet. This is what led our mom to conclude that, not for the first time, Matthew had been excluded.
She’s probably right. And I think that he can’t be the only one.
When my mom told me about it the first night on the boat, I didn’t say much, but I went back to our stateroom and stared at the ceiling as a fiery anger filled my soul. I fantasized about tracking down the people responsible and, after a requisite kicking in of their teeth, forcing them to invite my hilarious, interesting, witty brother to their bullshit party. Possibly as tears of remorse, and also pain, streamed down their face(s).
But I won’t. Not because of my stated policy of non-violence, which doesn’t apply to people who screw with my family, but because I only ever want people to accept Matthew for himself.
Social workers talk about something called the dignity of risk. It means that full independence and inclusion in society means that sometimes you will be excluded and treated unkindly. Sometimes you will fail and feel embarrassed, just like everyone else. And it means that sheltering a person from these terribly uncomfortable and ordinary situations is demeaning.
My brother doesn’t deserve to be excluded from his class reunion, but he especially doesn’t deserve to have a well-meaning family member force people to invite him.
On the last day of the cruise, our boat was surrounded by dozens and dozens of killer whales. We stood on an upper deck and watched them spout, flip their fins and wave their tails in the air. It was amazing.
Matthew turned to me, “It’s like a John Lennon song.”
“What? How is this like a John Lennon song? What song did he ever sing about whales?”
“I’m just sitting here watching the whales go round and round, I really love to watch them roll,” he sang, and then chuckled at his own cleverness.
I’m giving the people in charge of the Mountain View High School Class of ’01 Reunion the benefit of the doubt. I know that if they knew my brother personally — the guy who knows what it feels like to be dumped by a girlfriend and who loves John Lennon, lifting weights and swimming — they would have invited him. I know that if he really was specifically not invited, it was based on a superficial judgment that has little to do with his personality.
But I will also say this: If you are in charge of sending out class reunion invitations, don’t be a dick and exclude the people who were in the special ed class (you know, that shed out back).
And, to be honest, I’m feeling burdened by the weight of so many things and so many expectations. But in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s summer for real now, so that’s something.
I woke up this morning with the first song on this playlist stuck in my head. The band is Canadian, so it struck me as especially appropriate because not only is it July, it’s also Canada Day. Happy birthday, Canada!
I had no idea how many songs, ones that I know, reference July.
Despite everything that happened, I made sure to wear sunblock.
Over the weekend, Shelley and I rode our bikes to the beach. As in, an actual ocean beach. One not surrounded by Ferris wheels and fairways. This is not something I will be able to do in Oregon. This was our route.
It’s hard for me to admit that, aside from the first summer and last summer (2010), summers in New York have been fairly unexceptional. Like, I really can’t remember anything of substance about the summers of 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. It’s my own fault of course. But because this is my last summer in New York City, I have resolved to make sure that it is memorable fantastic.
This business of being open to new experiences doesn’t come without risk. Even the most
It all started with a minor bike crash.
wonderful days at the beach can be riddled with dark postmodern undertones. Not unlike my favorite television shows.
Fort Tilden is on one of the islands comprising The Rockaways in Queens. It’s a decommissioned U.S. Army base and the takeoff point of the first transatlantic flight. We actually saw a biplane in the air. That’s some good technology.
On Sunday, it was the site of a surprising number of gorgeously tattooed Billysburgers and also dead things.
The first dead thing was this shark:
So that’s interesting. Plus: No being able to pretend that these waters are sharkless. But the most dangerous thing about The Rockaways is far more scary than the vast majority of sharks (certainly than this one). Rip currents.
A father, a son, a shark
I have never lived in a landlocked state and I can’t imagine doing so. Still, I grew up a really long car ride from the Pacific Ocean. We didn’t get to go very often, I think because my dad dislikes it so much. We usually headed for the desert. This caused the ocean to take on a serious mystique for my young self. It was so tantalizing. I always wanted to go there. But, being Oregon, when we did go, it was usually cold, windy, rainy. I was too small to fight the waves, I sucked at sandcastles. Pretty much the only thing for a little kid to do on the Oregon coast is to dig for clams, poke things with sticks and fly kites.
Beaches in Oregon are very clean. Like, I’ve never found anything there that could be a dead human body part. Now that I think about it, that might be a good gauge of beach wholesomeness: On a scale of 1-10, how likely is it that a casual visitor would stumble upon a corpse?
If you are on the south shore of Long Island, the odds for the casual visitor aren’t great.
That perfect 90-degree angle was formed by a casual visitor taking a picture of what may or may not be a part of a (deceased) person.
The Pacific Northwest is known for its long and storied history of serial killers. For example, the most prolific American serial killer is from Seattle, and Ted Bundy spent a lot of time there too. But Long Island has its own (current, uncaptured) serial killer, a sick fuck who preys on young sex workers. And, you know, the Mafia. (Dad? Please don’t let Mom read this post, k?)
So when we saw the bag and smelled The Smell, well, we kept our distance. Which was more than could be said of the flies and a glorious monarch butterfly that landed gracefully on the crumpled plastic and stayed there for a good ten minutes.
If you’ve ever smelled a dead mammal, you know The Smell. From experience, I know that mice, rats and kittens all have the same odor after a few days of decomposition. So do humans. (I know this because I live near a number of funeral homes whose ventilation systems aren’t always up to the challenge of a New York summer.) Only the day before, I had been talking about this with my childhood friend Colin and his friend Grace who were visiting from Connecticut and Ireland, respectively. Grace had never smelled The Smell before and Colin and I told her that once you do, you can never purge it from your smell memory.
Anyway, that was the smell coming from the bag. Many people on the beach took pictures of it and talked about it. We all knew that there was something horrible in there, but none of us wanted to look. Not one person opened that bag. A woman said that she was certain that she had seen part of a finger, but…it also could have been a snout or a paw. Sad, absolutely, but we are talking about drastically different levels of disturbing.
And somehow, the anticipated sight of seeing anything dead was worse than the possibility that it could be something human. This is amazing to me. Our collective sense of psychological self-preservation was greater than curiosity, civic responsibility, even empathy.
Is this generational? Everyone on that beach was of the same age group and ethnicity as me — which only made it more surreal.
Eventually, some rangers came by and we flagged them down. The man ranger wanted nothing to do with it: “I just hope it’s not a fuckin’ dog,” he said. He made his stoic colleague with latex gloves do the dirty work, but not even she opened the bag. They thanked us, we thanked them; they drove away, the black plastic bundle bouncing on the back of their ATV.
Yesterday, we walked to Red Hook for some Central American food and photographs.
This is what I look like when I'm stuffing a huarache into my mouth.
To me, Red Hook is the most interesting of any neighborhood in Brooklyn. This is partly due to a quirk of geographic proximity/difficulty: I can see it out my window; if I could walk on water, I could be there in seven minutes. In the realm of physical possibility, if there weren’t electric fences between me and the water, I could swim there in 15, tops. Or a bridge would work fine.
So it’s tantalizing.
The 50-minute walk keeps me from going there as often as I would otherwise, but it’s not prohibitive. On weekends in the summer, food carts are set up on the edge of the Red Hook Ballfields, where people play soccer and baseball. The
RZ got tacos.
food is great and the games are fun to watch. Recently, I read something in which this person was knocking people who knock places for their lack of diversity. (I remember: It’s the annoying first comment on this interesting essay by Nick Jaina.) Places like Norway and Japan and Portland, Oregon. The writer’s point was that lack of diversity is a-okay.
It is, I guess; it’s just way less awesome. I like eating a Salvadoran pupusa while watching a Hasidic baseball team play a Puerto Rican one. I like that I can spend a Sunday afternoon with hundreds of families from Central America and not feel like I’m out of place. I like that this isn’t even weird. It’s not because it makes me feel hip or liberal or whatever; it makes me feel like I live in a place where there are lots of different ways to be. Endless possibilities (to eat food).
I watched these kids make friends. They didn't speak the same language.
That is what I will miss in Portland. We are moving there on September 24. We decided this in Red Hook.
A pier, with New York Harbor in the background. The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is in the upper left.
Something that exists in both Portland and Red Hook is IKEA. I have never been in one, but man, those suckers are enormous. In Red Hook, they constructed a nice park along the piers. This was the least they could do, after demolishing dozens of Civil War-era buildings and unleashing vast amounts of asbestos upon the neighborhood. A free water taxi brings Manhattanites over for their shopping convenience. Nothing in Red Hook is new except IKEA. And some of the razor wire. The rest of it is very, very old. The warehouses are beautiful. There is a lot of rust. And many non-adjacent acres of school buses.
Also, key lime pie.
From Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie
The pie is amazing, but all of those signs on the door? Those are rules. It's that kind of place.
As usual, the latest edition of New York arrived with something custom designed to piss me off. This time, it was the blatant lie stapled to the cover. Oh, really? My subscription is ending soon? I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that one. (Actually about three times per year.) I look forward to that day, NYMag, I really do.
I just don’t believe it will ever come.
If you’re just catching up, this irritating lifestyle magazine for rich people has been coming for free and unbidden to my home for a couple of years now. I have friends with the same set-up, so it’s apparently a marketing technique. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually makes a lot of sense: Subscriptions don’t keep magazines afloat, ad revenue does. And the more people who receive the magazine (even without paying), the more the periodical can charge for advertising. However, it would obviously be ideal if people did pay for their subscriptions. Thus, several times a year, they play the odds and warn me that my subscription is about to end. But it never does.