10 Minute Moments: Adjusting

Woke up with a stuffy nose, and I know it’s because my room is a mess and because I keep forgetting to take my allergy medicine. The sun isn’t even up and I’m not sure how I’m still awake. Or rather, how I woke up at all. It’s the end of February, and the only thing that makes me realize is that time simply refuses to sit still.

I think i’m going to try to do a little free write like this whenever I can. Too often, I jot down ideas of what I want to write about, I open drafts that I never publish, I write but I stop myself because it’s not perfect. Except that writing is never perfect. Art in every form is constantly changing, morphing from one thing to the next. Or maybe that’s just the kind of thing you think when you’ve slept maybe 10 hours tops in 3 days. Who knows.

I started a new job on Monday. I’d been waiting to hear back from them for about a month now. So far, it’s going alright save for the whole waking up before dawn part. Living out in the suburbs certainly doesn’t help the situation.

Other random thoughts as of late?

– Sandwiches are fantastic. I got hooked on Po’ Boys this month after celebrating Mardi Gras the only way I knew how (with food, although we had some Abita too. Did a little Boozin Betties write up on it here.).

– I don’t mind driving far distances as long as the traffic isn’t so bad. And yet, I live in Miami, where traffic is king.

– I’m still stuck between trying to figure out if I should try to TEFL abroad next year, or just move to New York, or apply to grad schools and see where they take me, or pack up all my stuff and move to California, land of milk and honey and lax laws about some favored personal items. Or maybe become a rubbertramp, pack my stuff in my car, and travel around. Except my car is unreliable. You see where I’m going with this…

And on that note, time for work. My 10 minutes are up.

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From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories – Take 8)

(…Continued from Part 7)

Disclaimer: This part of the travelogue doesn’t have much about the travel aspect. It’s about a moment during the trip that needs documenting. There’ll be more travel-related destination banter in the next one. So there you go.

The next day, I woke up in the Bronx with a pounding headache, lying next to a near comatose Italian* chef from Detroit. This man was NOT the DJ; this man was not who I was supposed to end up going home with. So what the hell happened?

I wish that I’d taken pictures that night, because my memory is not quite as sharp as I wish it were…

When Lisa and I got to the DJ’s gig, the first thing the DJ did was take us inside and make sure his bartender friend Neela took care of us. We sat at the bar and got comfortable with the plethora of shots that began making their way to the bar, into our hands, and down our throats. The DJ was in good form. He was always in good form. He’s one of those people who always maintain the perfect amount of positive energy. You know when people say “your smile could light up a room”? He’s one of those people you’d say that about. And boy did he like to keep those dark rooms bright.

Throughout the night, we saw the crowds come and go, mixed bags of yuppies and out-of-towners and aging hipsters and people just looking for a night cap. The DJ played on, and took cigarette breaks as often as possible, and then began taking dance breaks as often as possible; his tall, lanky self pulling Lisa and Neela and I out on to the dance floor, smiles aplenty. And the drinks, and the drinks, and the dancing and the drinks until my head was swimming and I wanted to grab him and kiss him and tell him that he still meant something to me, that he always had. The streets of Manhattan were quiet outside while the noise in my head was only muffled slightly by the alcohol.

The hours went on and the party did too. I would sneak over to the DJ while he worked sometimes, and I held his hand, and he squeezed his fingers in mine, and I would get sad because I knew that it might be years before I got to see him again, and how long would this go on? More drinks, more smokes. And then another man walked in, and this one knew the DJ well, so much so that he and the DJ began to dance. Then the DJ introduced us, flinging me into the strangers arms as he made his way back to the DJ booth. This is how I met Parker.

Parker hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s not the right way to say that. He didn’t hit me. But something about him hit me. He had another one of those smiles, though nowhere near as endearing as the DJ’s. But still, he had a good one, and I’ve always been a sucker for a nice smile. Parker was working overtime that night. The way he’d look at me. The way he’d do anything to force me to stare back into his eyes. And my god, did he lay it on thick. “Beautiful.” “Baby.” “Gorgeous.” I would tell him he really didn’t have to, but then he’d spew another “I’m not a player or anything, I’m being serious,” and i’d laugh it off because there really wasn’t anything else to say or do. Lisa began sitting out more dances, buying us more drinks. Parker kept on, and on and on. Until he’d invaded every inch of my personal space, and with his finger tips lifting my chin up, he kissed me. It hit me. Like a ton of confused, awkward bricks that have landed everywhere after an explosion. It was fantastic and awful and i’m pretty sure the only thing I said or thought for a good while afterward was, “Oh, fuck.”

The DJ saw everything. The DJ kept playing music. The DJ kept drinking and smoking. The DJ, the DJ. Hang the DJ, hang the DJ, hang the DJ…

I ran to him like some scared little girl, unsure of what to do next. The DJ was still my friend. I felt terrible about Parker, and worse about what I knew would happen next. I grabbed the DJ and asked him what he knew about Parker, what he thought.

“He’s a good guy.. I like him. You should go for it.”

 

…Alright, It’s been over 6 months since this incident. It’s taken 6 months for me to say all of these things and be (almost) okay with them. But I’ll tell you this: at that moment, it was one of the worst things I’d ever heard anyone say to me. Ever. It’s tough to admit when we’re wrong about something, and even tougher still to admit when things just don’t go your way. Because I know deep down I would’ve wanted there to be some kind of jealousy, or at least a sign to say “hey, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” Nothing. Go for it. So let’s just say this: It fucking hurt.

Why didn’t he care? This plagued me to no end. He didn’t seem thrilled about the situation, but I couldn’t tell if he cared at all. At that point in our lives, we hadn’t been talking very much. For all I know, he was seeing someone. Maybe having an affair with Neela the married bartender. Maybe he had a girlfriend that he didn’t like to talk about. Maybe he’d just finally stopped feeling that chemistry that had existed between us for so long. I couldn’t be sure. When you’re plastered at 3am in the city that never sleeps, it’s hard to be sure about anything.

What I did know was that Parker seemed to have taken a liking to me. He wasn’t the DJ. The DJ was lost to me now. Parker was real, and his arms would wrap around me, and his lips would kiss me deep, and my head would spin. So I said fuck it.

“Parker wants me to go home with him,” I said to the DJ on our final cigarette break alone.

Parker was back inside, maybe talking to Lisa or Neela, maybe drinking more, I can’t be sure. I couldn’t care less at the time. He was a man I didn’t know and the man I did know was doing everything possible to crush all the feelings I’d harbored for him for the better part of a decade. He smiled and hugged me tight. I wished with every fiber of my being that I could read his thoughts, that he would tell me something that would reassure me that I wasn’t insane. That whatever that thing was that existed between us still did indeed exist. That this would not be the last night. That he cared in some way but didn’t know how to say it, just like every other time had been, when he’d act like everything was fine only to tell me months down the line how much I’d actually been wanted and missed. For fuck’s sake, anything.

“He’s a good guy. Like I said, you should go for it.”

I’m surprised, given how drunk I was, that I didn’t cry or yell or even get angry. Maybe I knew it was coming. I could hear tires driving over the slick streets blocks away. It had rained again, just like it’d rained every day that I was in NYC. I met his gaze and gave him the saddest false smile I’ve probably ever given anyone, and I let him go.

Parker was eager to get out of Manhattan. Lisa thought I was crazy to go home with a near-stranger, but I trusted the DJ. He wouldn’t send me off with a total nut job. At least, that’s what I figured. Parker bummed a final cigg from the DJ and I said goodbye to Lisa, Neela, and the infamous Mr. DJ. Parker and I walked/stumbled down the street, searching for a cab to hail. I could see his Squee tattoo on the back of his calve and figured he couldn’t be so bad if he was a Squee fan. I grabbed his hand and decided to go with it.

In case you're not familiar with Jhonen Vasquez's Squee...

A cab ride to the Bronx. My first time in that most avoided of boroughs (aside from Staten Island, although I’m not sure which one is avoided more – any native New Yorkers wanna take a stab at it?) And then we were inside the apartment, which was by far one of the most spacious NYC apartments i’ve ever been in.

“Just one of the perks of living in the Bronx,” said Parker, who actually absolutely hated New York City, and who had plans to move back to Detroit to open up a fine dining establishment someday.

Sigh. From there, you can guess what happened next. The sex was alright, but not terribly memorable, probably for numerous reasons (we were both too drunk, I was still hurt about the DJ, we’d only just met a few hours before, etc). I spent the next morning hydrating and smoking (his very low grade) grass while he snored away, sleeping off the hangover. I felt terribly awkward about not coming back to Tyler’s for the night. Not that I owed him explanations, but all my things were there and he’d been nice enough to let me stay with him for the duration of the trip. I tried to come up with different excuses as to why I hadn’t made it back to Manhattan. I tried to forget all about the DJ.

Parker had to get to work that afternoon, so we took the train back to Manhattan that afternoon. He got off two stops before I did.

“It was nice to meet you,” we both said, with the knowledge that we’d likely never speak again. I thought about how ridiculous life could be sometimes. So many years feeling one way about someone, regardless of time and distance, and now it was over. 6 months later, I still don’t know how I feel about all of it. Except maybe a little grateful.

The DJ and I discussed the matter about 2 months or so later. I told him how awkward the whole thing was, how strangely I felt about it. He was candid, telling me he just wanted me to be happy and have a good time. That he didn’t feel like he had any claim over me, and that he genuinely felt that Parker was a good guy, that he also wanted him to be happy and have a good time.

“I may be perpetually unavailable, but I’m not a bastard; you’re still a good friend, and I do care.”

…And that’s it, really. That’s the anti-climactic conclusion to the longest non-relationship i’ve ever had, all wrapped up in one New York City night. It feels strange to write about it now, but I couldn’t have written it any sooner. So much has happened since then that I’m able to be somewhat disconnected about the situation. The DJ and I have spoken very briefly online since, but for the most part he’s rarely around and it’s for the best.

By the end of the next day, I wanted nothing to do with anyone. Sometimes people need a night away from the world, to walk silently with ones’ thoughts and memories in a city of eight million people. Lonesome as can be. And that’s just what I did.

But I’ll write about that later, because that night did take me to some unexpected places, including making my first friend from Amsterdam. For now though, it’s 5am and definitely quitting time. Quitting on the past, and quitting on tonight.

Here’s a song to keep you company that’s been helping me out while writing all this.

 

Part 9 in this series will be up soon!

 

*He was Italian and a chef, not a chef of strictly Italian cuisine. There’s a difference.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories – Take 7)

(Continued from Part 6)

Monday rolled around and I wasn’t sure what to do except that I had to do something before the relentless awkward silences between Tyler and I. Luckily, he had some prospective work meetings to hit up so I decided to venture out finally check out the ol’ Statue of Liberty.

The Statue was the only major NYC landmark I still hadn’t seen. My first trip to NY brought me to the Empire State Building (which, though touristy, I highly recommend for anyone’s first trip to the City. The sights are phenomenal in the open air), and I’ve already been to the other landmarks like Times Square and Central Park and some of the major museums. So it made sense to finally put my curiosity to rest and see what that big green dame was about.

When I finally got around to the ferries, I quickly realized that the final one bound for the statue had already left without me. However, the Staten Island ferry would be traveling for a few more hours and was free to ride, so I opted for that. Since I haven’t been to Ellis Isle, I don’t know what it is exactly that I’m missing, but if you’re traveling on the cheap as I’ve been, riding the Staten Isle isn’t too bad at all. You still get a fairly good view of the Statue, plus it’s nice to catch the breeze on there when trying to beat the wicked summer heat. I had some (other) tourists take pictures of me and I took pictures of them, and when it was time to get off on the island, I realized I didn’t have a clue as to where to go.  I wandered around for a few blocks and wound up popping in to the first bar I found to unwind with a beer. Somewhat dive-y, full of locals, but nothing to write home about. One down the hatch, and it was time to return to the city.

Back on the mainland, I sent a text out to The DJ. He’d mentioned that he had a weekly gig at a bar in SoHo and that I should come hang out, but knowing him, I wasn’t sure if this was a solid plan or not. There was never a real way of knowing where he’d be. I called Lisa to see if she wanted to hang out in the mean time, and possibly be my date to see the DJ.

“Sure! How about dumplings first?” she suggested. We met up in Chinatown and she took me to Vanessa’s Dumplings where I had quite possibly the cheapest and yet most filling meal of my entire trip thus far. The place was small and simple, with a few picnic tables on the right side and a huge line of poor, hungry college kids on the left, eagerly awaiting the most cost-effective Chinese fare around. I opted for a veggie dumpling, a veggie sesame pancake, and a coke for good measure, all of which set me back about $3. The problem with this place is once you’ve eaten there, you question why food anywhere else will cost at least double that to get you as full as this stuff does. The dumpling was alright, but the sesame pancake was phenomenal. The craziest part is I couldn’t even finish both items – that’s how big the portions are! While eating, Lisa ran in to an old roommate whose name she’d forgotten.

“I’m Pris, and you are?” I ran interference for her.

“Oh, I’m Ned. I used to live with Lisa,” he replied, and went back to his conversation with her. Lisa later told me that Max wasn’t exactly a regular apartment building tenant, but rather that he squatted in the basement of the building along with a few other rotating faces. His girlfriend, whom he didn’t bother to introduce, looked annoyed. We went back to our dishes.

The DJ finally responded to my text, sent me the address for his gig, and told me to meet him there. A knot formed in my stomach. I’d seen him once in the past year when he decided to finally grace Florida with a visit. When we were together, it was like the old times we’ve never actually had.

I guess I should briefly explain the deal with the DJ. We met once via mutual friends when I was 18 after chatting over the phone and internet for some time. One date was all it took, and really, it was all there ever was. One good date to look back on fondly, to keep us together as though we’d someday really have a chance at something we both knew would never work. With all his faults and all his bullshit, I’ve never been able to shake that witty motherfucker out of my subconscious, although I think I may be getting closer with every passing year. We kept in touch more or less via the wonders of Livejournal and AOL Instant Messenger for years after he moved to New York City, leaving me to envy him while I remained stagnant in Miami.

I had a relationship and plenty of pot and he had his adventures and struggles in the city between then and the next time we’d meet, 3 years later. I went to New York shortly after I turned 21 and our moment came again. I wrote a story about it once, about our night in the city and our nights in his apartment, about the Yellow Tail we drank and the American Spirits we smoked and all the vinyl and the pipes above his bed and the girl he was dating that I made him forget because I knew it was our only chance and how it all made so much sense that it couldn’t possibly last. About our sad farewell at the Fung Wah Chinatown bus stop that last night, about not getting over it on the bus ride back to Boston, or on the flight back to Miami, or the subsequent months thereafter. But I was 21 and then life kept happening and I met this wonderful person who I wound up jumping head first in to a relationship with and that was good enough for me. And that girl he’d been casually seeing when I saw him last? He wound up dating her again, for a good 4 years.

I remember feeling jealous that she was able to keep his interest for so long, the one who refused to settle or settle down. But not to my surprise, his relationship tales were never very endearing, and I wasn’t entirely surprised when it finally all came crashing down. And then the danger started because we began to talk, and talk and talk, and suddenly the nostalgia for times never had began to grow again. But nothing would ever come of it because nothing ever will.

Lisa took me on a brief tour of the Village before we heading to the DJ’s gig. She showed me markets and the place where Sally faked orgasms in When Harry Met Sally (Katz’s Deli) and Little Italy and all these other neighborhoods, each distinct in their own way, and we stopped at bars in each so that the knot in my stomach was beginning to feel smaller and smaller. We turned a corner and I could see him standing outside, having a cigarette, the same smile on his face I’d been picturing for years.

“Well, hello!” I said as I walked right up beside him.

“Pris!” he hugged me warmly hello, like a nice, familiar, broken record. I braced myself for the skips.

( To be continued in Part 8… )

From Morgan Avenue with Love (Take 6)

(Continued from Part 5)

A good New York City day has to involve one or all of the following: a good (preferably free) activity, good food, good drinks, and most of all, good company. And if you’ve ever been to New York, you know that is entirely possible on any given day. July 31st was such a day. Danny wanted to hang out at least one more time before he left for med school in Albany, so I asked him to accompany me to the free Raveonettes show happening that afternoon. He was game. After dropping off some laundry, I met up with him just blocks from Tyler’s place.

“So what’s first on the agenda?” he asked.

“I need shorts and underwear,” I replied.

Like I said, I was doing laundry and it was another scorching hot day in the City. He took me around and we wound up at an Aeropostale where I was able to surprisingly get both items fairly cheaply. He confessed it was his first time shopping for underwear with a girl. I was happy to bring him that experience. We got back on the train and made our way toward the South Street Seaport. There were no awkward silences, only sarcastic remarks punctuated by light jokes and the occasional laugh. The kind you give when you know you could really like someone if you only let yourself.

After a quick stop at Midtown Comics (just one of the countless comic shops that dot the maps of NYC), I could see a barrage of khaki shorts and SLR cameras and knew we must be close to the South Street Seaport. Now, the Seaport is definitely for the tourists, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There are tons of picture taking opportunities: giant ships with giants masts, a spectacular view of the East River and Brooklyn Bridge, a giant Chess set, and for the extra cheap drinkers (as we were), you can buy these gigantic plastic cups (closer to buckets than cups) of beer for about $5 in the food court. Danny and I, being a couple of cheapasses, split 2 of those and were good to go. We wandered around the inside of the shopping plaza, which was filled with your usual array of tourist shops (a Hello Kitty gift store, a candy shop, a place to get sweaters that say South Street Seaport, etc), and proceeded to feed Danny via free honey chicken samples in the food court. A note to vegetarian/vegan friends: There are very few options available to us in the food court. Basically, pizza and maybe a few sides here and there. You’re better off leaving the port for nourishment or eating beforehand! The same rules apply if you’re looking for a good meal in general. After walking the perimeter of the food court for a half hour, and with me reaching the point of rabid hunger, Danny and I hit left the port for a bit and found a nice Japanese sushi place*, where I had some of the best veggie rolls of my life (faux crispy chik’n, anyone?) Danny was not a fan of my crispy chik’n.

Finally, we made our way down in to the Beekman Beergarden (another worthwhile stop if you’re in the South Sea Port and can afford to drop a few bucks) and found the Raveonettes were already playing. I’ll be honest- I hadn’t heard too much of their stuff before going to watch them perform, at least, up until a couple days beforehand. I can safely say, though, that they’ve quickly become one of my favorites. A harmonic mix of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Cults, their songs have quickly become some of my most frequently played travel anthems. More than the music, it was nice to have someone to share the experience with and Danny was a good guy to share the moment with.

 

 

We wandered the neighborhood after that, popping into random shops, stealing frozen yogurt (alright, “fro-yo”) samples and trying to figure out what to do next. We wound up in the East Village, over at St. Mark’s Place, a hip and somewhat college-y side of town that has some interesting claims to fame (i.e. the former home of Klaus Nomi, buildings that were photographed for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, and a basement where Anita and Abbie Hoffman once lived), with lots of bars, smoke shops, cafes, record stores, and well, more bars. A few places boasted having nightly karaoke. It seemed like a good area to land in for the night.

Now, a few weeks before I left Miami, I became “online friends” with the co-producer of what is a pretty popular animated TV show**. And by online friends, I mean he messaged me after I tweeted about his show and then added me on Facebook. It seems really bizarre I realize, and if his accounts hadn’t been confirmed, I wouldn’t believe it either. Anyway, I told him about my travel plans and since I mentioned I would be in NYC, he immediately recommended Crif Dogs. Crif Dogs is awesome for several reasons:

  1. They have very tasty hot dogs for a mostly reasonable price.
  2. They also offer very tasty veggie dogs.
  3. You can add just about anything to these dogs (three cheers for condiments!)
  4. They have a speakeasy bar you can only access through an unassuming phone booth within the place itself (but you didn’t hear it from me!)

We grabbed our dogs and munched away and when we were done, Danny suggested going in to the bar. We stood awkwardly in the phone booth for a bit and lo and behold were let in to the opposite side where we were greeted by well-crafted cocktails, sharply dressed bartenders, and stuffed animal heads on the walls. We shared life stories, with mine being slightly longer than his. I got a Flor de Cana cocktail called Shark Week and he drank microbrews and the flirtations that began before the concert were beginning to become more apparent. There was something about this boy that just felt good to be around. Sometimes people just have a way about them. He wore these leather sandals without socks that kinda made me cringe, but he just had a rare confidence about him that nothing else seemed to matter. Part of me wished a lot of different things, like that I were younger, or that we lived in the same town, or that I didn’t care about things like that. But it wasn’t about that. We were just having one of those magical New York City days and nights, the kind that keep me coming back to the city, and there was no need to dig deeper into it than that.

Feeling warm and happy, we walked hand in hand down St. Marks to the Continental. My friend Ezra had mentioned this place to me before; the infamous 5 shots for $10. But Danny and I weren’t feeling quite so adventurous (read: foolish), so we stuck to beers. I had a conversation about Miami with the bartender, who said she’d lived down there for a little bit, and we debated which men did the majority of cat-calling: ones from Miami or ones in NYC. Danny and I did our best to enjoy eachother’s company for as long as the night allowed. And when we kissed it wasn’t anything other than being fully in a moment, something that’s almost always hard to come by.

“Can I walk you home?” he asked, but I refused. There was no need for complications, there was no need for anything. He wanted to see me again, but I knew it wouldn’t happen, that I wouldn’t let it. We hopped the train and went our separate ways.

(Part 7 soon!)

 

* = I have been trying so hard to remember and/or find the name of the place but unfortunately my Google searches have not yielded a favorable result. However, according to Google, there are several other Japanese places nearby and basically all of them have vegetarian/vegan options.

** = I probably shouldn’t say any more than that it airs on the Cartoon Network.

To Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories Take 5)

(Continued from Part 4)

I met CJ’s boyfriend on the very last morning I stayed in his basement. I actually had no idea CJ even had a boyfriend, but I figured it out once I saw him walking out of the room in his underwear. He was a lanky fellow, handsome and friendly. I could see what CJ saw in him. We spoke briefly and CJ told me they were heading to the park and would I like to go with them? I originally had plans to head to the Brooklyn Museum* (a plan that sadly never came to fruition), so I declined and left for the L, but not before hitting the corner Mexican place for some breakfast. A quesadilla later, I headed for the train, but after realizing that all the construction currently hamstringing MTA would result in my arriving at the museum at most an hour ahead of closing time, I decided to head for Prospect Park.

I remembered Mark always singing Prospect’s praises but had never been there myself, so I figured it was a good a day as any to check it out. Now, personally I have to say that Central Park continues to reign high as my favorite NYC park. However, Prospect is definitely a great place to visit, especially with groups. It’s wide-spread and full of fields excellent for BBQs and playing sports/games and picnics galore, which is exactly what I encountered. They had a nice nature center, a carousel, a few gazebos and bridges, and even Asian brides being photographer for their weddings! Alright, so maybe that last thing was just a fluke… The other thing I encountered was a severe lack of food carts! For all of the park’s beauty, I was famished by the time I got out, driven to a point of near madness by the scent of burgers on the grill (I admit, this vegetarian does guiltily enjoy the smell of meat barbecuing). It basically caused me to rush quickly out of the park in order to nourish myself before fainting.

Wound up hunting down some tasty middle eastern food and before I knew it, it was time to head back to CJ’s to switch couches (CJ’s family was going to be crashing with him, so it was time for me to start staying at Tyler’s in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, which can only be described as “yuppie light”). After an unpleasant time of packing and lugging my bags all over NYC, I made it to Grand Central Station and then after that, Tyler’s apartment over the loud Irish pub down below.

Staying with Tyler was a good idea at the time, but for whatever reason, turned out to be stranger than originally anticipated. We’d been talking online for the good part of a year now, but sometimes online conversations just don’t translate clearly once in person. I can’t be sure if it was just him, just me, or a combination of both of us. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being around him, but something was off. Something I still can’t put my finger on. And that’s the trouble with staying at someone’s house when you’re in a different town. Sometimes it works out perfectly. Other times you’re wondering why on earth you’re in the place you’re at to begin with. This isn’t only with friends, but with strangers as well. I’ve slept on over 10 different surfaces (beds, couches, etc) since I left home and I am finally beginning to understand and accept that you can’t win em all. In face, i’ll be writing an article soon about my CouchSurfing experiences for a travel site i’ve recently begin contributing to, so more on that soon!

That night, we grabbed some food at the hummus place down the road (good hummus, good cocktails, unimpressive falafel), watched a few minutes of Entrapment, and because there’s no one quite like Catherine Zeta-Jones to get you in the mood, and had a ahem, moment, on the living room love seat right before his roommate came in. So maybe there wasn’t much need for words between us, after all…

(Part 6 coming up real soon! I’m in New Orleans and I have MAJOR writing catch-up to do in the next few days…)

* = If you are ever more successful than I am at visiting the Brooklyn Museum, make sure to check out the super rad Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, which is what I was dying to see!)

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories – Take 4)

I haven’t known many who could refute the fact that New York City is in fact a drinking town. And that if you only casually drink back home, you will certainly be drinking a-plenty once you’re in the City. So it’s not a surprise when I say that the next day also began much the same as the last, and that from now on, I’ll spare you the details of hangovers long past, unless there’s something especially exciting about them (I had a hangover and then Tom Hanks showed up at my door after he read my Tweets telling him that I wanted to meet him and he brought me an autographed replica of Wilson! Okay, not really.)

After a quick exchange of words with CJ and his roommate, I opted to head in to Manhattan to kill some time. Rumor had it that They Might Be Giants would be playing a free show that eve over at the Williamsburg Waterfront, so I figured I should head back to one of my favorite parks and do a little people watching in the meantime. No, not Central Park (although if you’ve never been, you really should. It’s a fantastic park and it will take you several visits to see all of it – I am particularly fond of the Alice in Wonderland statues and Strawberry Fields is quite iconic as well). Come to think of it, this is the first trip where I didn’t end up in Central Park at all, an error that should be rectified if I make it back up there before the year ends. But I digress…

After a short hop on the L, I wound up smack dab in the middle of Union Square. Now, the first time I came to Union Square, I was 21 and it was my first time meeting up with The DJ since our first interaction (the infamous date where I had to have him pick me up from my friend’s father’s car dealership and we ate sushi and drank wine and danced to the Squirrel Nut Zippers in his North Beach apartment) back when I was 18. I was with my friends Sara and Eli at the time and the DJ called me to tell me to meet him at the McDonalds at one of the far corners of the park, so being 21, I dragged my friends along with me. That turned out to be one of the most memorable nights of my brief liaisons with New York… But that wasn’t this trip. This time, I walked around, drenched in sweat among the few trees in the park and sweat some more until I found an opening on a bench, where I proceeded to sweat more. Have I mentioned that NYC is really fucking hot in the summer? Because it sure as hell is.

People watching in NYC is definitely one of my favorite (free) activities. No matter where you are, because there are over 8 million other walking, talking, breathing individuals to choose from, you’re guaranteed to see something or someone interesting and your chances of it being terribly entertaining are automatically increased than if you were in, say, Boise, ID*. Point is, park benches (and apartment stoops) are prime real estate when you’re in dire need of some real street theater, or at the very least some interesting sights. At one point, while walking around the park again and checking out the Farmer’s Market, I got to see a group of Hasids, a group of Krishnas, a group of Greenpeace canvassers, and a group of skateboarding teenagers in the same 15 foot area and I felt there had to be a joke in the making there somehow.

After I got my fill of amateur ethnographic research, I hopped back on the train and made my way to Williamsburg (a.k.a. Hipster Mecca. Or at least it was a few years ago, I’m probably behind on the times on that). Walked around and got lost a bit in a slew of pretty brownstones, record shops, thrift stores, and organically grown coffee shops (the coffee was organically grown, not sure about the shops themselves… hrm…). Stopped in one and grabbed an iced coffee so I wouldn’t wither away under the sun and made my way to the Waterfront.

The show was supposed to begin at around 8pm, so I figured if I got there around 5, I should be fine. But it didn’t hit me that NYC has 1. a hell of a lot more people than back home and 2. a hell of a lot more TMBG fans (or at least people who know of TMBG). So I walked a block, and then two, and then another, and then two more, until I finally made it to the end of the line. Ahead of me was a family; a blond girl of maybe 15 with her mom and dad. I stood there sipping my coffee when this snowflake of a boy came and stuff behind me.  I turned and asked him if he thought we’d make it in. He figured there was a good chance, and we began chatting about TMBG and he then informed me that the show wasn’t just them, but a slew of comedians including Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman, and Jim Gaffigan. Pretty damn sweet.

The wait lasted about an hour or so and during that time we continued to make small talk. He had this very subtle accent that was punctuated with sarcasm; I would later find it was Russian. I learned the boy’s name (but have since forgotten) and that he came to the US just a few years ago to attend college and was now making loads of money working for some Wall Street folks, or at least, that’s what he said). After a while, his friend (an awkwardly tall guy with slightly buggy eyes and a shaggy haircut, who enjoyed doing improv in his spare time) and another girl (a short, curly haired nurse with a good, strong smile) came to join us. They mostly discussed the girl’s work and talked shit about the friends they had in common. When we finally made it in, we grabbed some Bánh mì‘s from the only food vendor around and proceeded to get closer to the stage. The conversation kept dwindling and I could feel myself itching for an overpriced festival beer, so I wandered back over to the beer garden and grabbed a Brooklyn Lager. I was going to meet the group back with my beer, but the security wouldn’t let me leave the garden, so I opted to get a nice bit of standing real estate while I caught a buzz. Eugene Mirman was on first, followed by Jim Gaffigan, whose serial killer-like voice only adds to the comedy in my mind. The skies had been getting progressively cloudier over the afternoon but I was hoping for the best. Unfortunately, half way through his set (and 3/4 of the way in to my beer), the clouds burst open and it was like a horizontal dam had been broken. The red headed boy ahead of me looked back and smiled as I bitched about the rain to myself. A bespectacled blonde to my left made similar remarks, and then the three of us began our “Bonding Under The Circumstances” moment.

Between commenting on Patton Oswalt’s set and discussing how ridiculous the weather was, I came to find that the blonde girl’s name was Lori and that she had been an illustration major and was now working as a public school teacher living while in Astoria. She was friendly. She came prepared (she let us put our electronic devices in her plastic bag to keep them from getting ruined). She had cats. The boy was Danny, and he was about to start medical school in Albany, wore leather sandals, and made me laugh more than the comedians on stage whom I could no longer hear.

Rain on, rain off, and then finally, TMBG came on stage and rocked it. We danced and when we got tired of dancing, we watched the hardcore fans, the ones that all looked like your old high school Math teachers, bust a move like i’ve never seen done. It was pretty fantastic.

At the end of it all, Danny left with his friend and I left with Lori and got a few $1 beers at a bar down the way, and it didn’t rain the rest of the night.

(Part 5 soon!)

PS. On the completely non-existent chance that he’s reading this… Tom Hanks, let’s be friends?

* = To be fair, I’ve never been to Boise, so I can’t be 100% sure of that. It’s just an educated guess though.

From Morgan Avenue with Love (New York City Stories, Take 3)

(Continued from Part 2…)

It was goddamn hot when I woke up and the hangover just wasn’t helping.

“What happened last night?”

I knew I must have taken a detour before getting back to Brooklyn. I scrolled through the pictures in my camera. Abstract images of Times Square. Blurry cabs and swirls of neon and nearly getting hit by cabs and busses. Times Square is one of those amazing places you have to see at least once, but never really have to return to after. The enormity of the buildings and the chaotic rabble of tourists and Manhattanite yuppies can be a bit of a culture shock for those who’ve never experienced it. I know I couldn’t stop looking up when my 18 year old eyes first walked out of the Times Square subway stop. I had a similar reaction the first time I saw mountains (being from Florida, land of flat lands and more flat lands, I’m very easily impressed by even the slightest bump in the road, so you can imagine!)

But on my… what is this.. 6th? 7th time to New York? I’ve somehow always wound up in Times Square for at least a little while and while I appreciate the buildings and the warmth of those neon lights on a cold night (if you’re ever without a coat in NYC in Winter, I suggest standing underneath the lights of the McDonalds on 42nd Street as i’ve done in previous visits. Guaranteed heater!), I’m no longer awe-struck when I get in the thick of it. Add to that the barrage of street vendors trying to hock everything from knock off purses and NYC “artwork” to used bottles of perfume and “Tickets to Tonight’s Comedy Show (It’s Gonna Be A Great One!)” and you quickly begin to realize why the majority of New Yorkers steer clear of this area unless they have a reason. Overwhelming and unnecessary, especially when NY has so much more to offer in just about every other corner!

Another good reason to stop in Times Square, however, is if you’re already intoxicated and don’t want to go home juuuust yet. And so, a detour. A detour, alright. I’d spent a few hours in the company of one, Tyler Edwards. Tyler was a boy I’d met my last night in Philadelphia the previous year, a night that would prove to practically cause me to get kicked out of the house I was staying in, and it would’ve totally been my fault (but that’s a story for another day). He was tall and handsome and doing fairly well for himself – a young professional with a gym membership and a heavy interest in social media, though he himself doesn’t use it all that much (something I have yet to understand). I would be staying with him soon enough though, but you know, sometimes it’s late and you’ve had a few and you just can’t really wait.

Back in my stuffy Bushwick basement, I reached around the floor for my metal water bottle, unscrewed the top and drank the last bit of room temperature water. Where the fuck is the ibuprofen? I could hear CJ’s roommate upstairs, clacking away at her computer, on a work-related phone call, but still blasting some sort of indie Brooklynite music (possibly this?).

And then there it was again. Another wave of unrelenting heat. That suffocating heat. The only word I can think of that properly describes it is a Spanish word: desesperante. WordReference.com describes it as exasperating or distressing, but I feel like it’s not quite either of those.

I grabbed my iPod, scrolled through, found some Ramones, and remembered seeing the sign for Rockaway Beach on the MTA map. The mission for the day was clear: To get the hell out of the heat and on to the Ramones’ very own Rockaway beach!

For those who are unaware, Rockaway Beach is quite a hike from Bushwick:


See? The L to the A to the S.. and then, a walk either North or South to the beach (alright, so the quality of the image sucks. I never said I was a graphic designer). After over an hour of train time, I grabbed a quick grilled cheese from the Last Stop Shop and headed towards the boardwalk. It dawned on me then that I hadn’t actually brought a towel, so I tried haggling the asian man selling beach towels on the street. Obviously my haggling skills aren’t so great because he wouldn’t budge. I wound up settling on this tiny, pink hand towel for $1.25 which I suspect may have already been used. But it was fine. I could smell the ocean. Rock-rock-rockaway time!

Being from Miami, my visiting friends constantly remark about how beautiful our beaches are. This is something I know I take for granted. Walking on to the sand of Rockaway Beach, I really knew it. Bits of styrofoam cup here and bottle cap there and itty bitty bits of plastic and decomposing paper, a mine field of debris in need of much recycling (which does happen on occasion back home, but certainly not to this extent). Still, the beach was alive with dozens of locals sprawled out on bellies and backs; girlfriends in pale sundresses reapplying sunblock; portly guys with farmers tans looking self conscious without their shirts on; squealing 4-year olds running after each other without any particular reason; guys with gel in their hair, tossing a football around; a pair of older ladies sitting in their beach chairs looking on. I sat by a group of Muslim girls drying off but still fully dressed from head to toe. Even from the sand, you could see it was chock full of seaweed. Except you couldn’t really see in to the water, since it was kind of a dark grey color with dark green hues. Yup. Definitely not Miami. But then, wasn’t the point to get the hell out of there for a while anyway? I dove in.


Let me just say, there are few things that are better for a hangover than jumping into a large body of cold water. It basically shocks you back into sobriety whether you like it or not (although this feeling doesn’t necessarily last once you walk out of the ocean. For that, I recommend Gatorade, preferably the orange flavor). When the afternoon began coming to a close, I did my best to dry off and change clothes and walked to the opposite end of the main road to a small 9-11 memorial park. It never occurred to me how many memorials there would be around the city, not just in Manhattan. Some boys were throwing rocks in the water. I watched the sun set (did I mention this would be a recurring theme in my trip? Probably.) and took the train back in to the main land.

Getting closer to Brooklyn, I called up my friend Ezra to meet me for a drink. He’d moved to the city just a few months ago and was still exploring, so we wandered around for a bit and wound up at Greenlight Bookstore and sat in (well, stood) on an open mic. Good poetry, great crowd, and this was the first of many moments on this trip that I would realize just how badly I need to get over my public speaking phobias (this should go under my next Things I’ve Learned On This Trip post).

Moving on… After a series of failed attempts at finding a bar that would take plastic, we settled on Canal Bar. It was $1 Cream Ale night, so I don’t have to go into specifics about what happened next. Our bartender, Jeremy (?) was the hipster with a heart of gold (skinny jeans and a flannel, easy on the eyes, but also genuinely friendly, warm smile and all – or maybe it was the beer keeping me warm… Damn.) We joined some of the regulars for a bit on the back patio, but the conversation got a little uncomfortable when this bald lummox of a man started getting a little too personal questioning Ezra about his Jewish heritage and debating the rights and wrongs of the state of affairs in the Middle East (or I might have just been drunk and heard wrong… I should add the “Drunk Disclaimer” to a good portion of my stories I think. Either way, he was dropping borderline racist sounding jokes here and there and I couldn’t be sure how much truth was behind them.) Suffice to say, we left a little after that – besides, we’d already had at least a $15 tab between the two of us with those $1 beers, and the occasional shot of Whiskey. Speaking of which, I had my first taste of Bushmill’s Black Bush while at this bad and I approve! Let’s hear it for discovering yet another bottle you don’t mind drinking from!

Oh! It’s also (very) worth mentioning (more worth mentioning than the bald lummox and possibly more worth mentioning than the Bushmill’s) that I had some of the BEST Mexican food I’ve had on my trip so far while at this bar. No, it wasn’t bar food and this was actually before i’d imbibed more than one can of Genesee Cream Ale, so I think it’s a pretty legitimate claim. The great thing about Canal Bar is that they have an absurd amount of local restaurant menus to get food delivered from. We opted for Oaxaca where Ezra got a few tacos and I happily devoured some enchiladas*. The other great thing about Canal Bar is they’ve got free popcorn, which we happily noshed on once our Mexi-goodness was all gone. All in all, a lovely night! I’m pretty sure I got rained on again on the way home, but the buzz of the beer and of the day were good enough to keep me toasty.

New York is like that. Some days and nights go without a hitch, but more often than not, they’re either remarkable or devastating. I’ve had my fair share of amazing NYC moments, which is what’s always kept me coming back to her, what’s always made me want to move there. This trip to NY was different though, rougher than before, for sure.  It’s not that she was a total bitch, although there were moments. But something was just different. I keep wondering if maybe it’s just me, growing up, being an adult in the city rather than a starry eyed girl of 18 or 21, with notions of excitement and romance keeping me heavily intoxicated. Either way, more on the “remarkable” and “devastating” nights coming up. Much sooner than you realize!

 

Note: It’s become apparent to me that there was something I completely forgot to mention about my 2nd day in NY – my visit to Ground Zero. I don’t know if that’s a very telling statement about how much 9-11 directly affected me. I don’t want to pretend that it completely changed my life, nor that it had no effect on me. Either way, I’ll considering saving that for a separate post.

* = It’s probably also worth mentioning that because I am a vegetarian, I can only ever comment on how good the vegetarian options are at any given restaurant.

A Miamian’s Perspective on Coffee and Coffee Shops

Because it is nearly noon and I am still having trouble getting up and am dying for a (good) cup of coffee, I thought I would make a brief post about something that’s been nagging at me since I started my trip over a month ago.

Living in Miami, my main source of caffeine has always been the cortadito. For those who have never had a cortadito, please find yourself a decent locale for Cuban coffee stat. Cortaditos are basically composed of a healthy sized shot of Cuban espresso that is thoroughly mixed with a fair amount of sugar with some milk mixed in. It is basically the same thing as a cafe con leche, but a bit smaller for those who don’t want as much caffeine, and really, I feel that the cortadito has just the right amount of everything. See, Cubans make fantastic coffee. Coladas, which are basically large cups of espresso that are handed out with tiny plastic shot glasses (you do NOT drink a colada on your own unless you have trained for it!) for sharing with your fellow wiped out co-workers or hungover friends.

Cuban coffee is great, and the foods that come along with it are also pretty wonderful. Everyone should have a pastelito de queso y guayaba and a cortadito at least once in their lives. But the praise of cuban coffee isn’t what this post is supposed to be about. Instead, I want to talk about Miami’s severe lack of good coffee on the whole. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cortadito as much as the next guy, but the culture of drinking Cuban coffee is much, much different than that of drinking a nice latte at a coffee shop conducive to creative pursuits, or work, or creative work. Drinking a cortadito means standing at the corner cafeteria with all the old Cuban men who are either talking about their jobs or about Cuban politics, quite possibly smoking cigars, and nary a chair in sight (and if there IS a chair, it’s usually a small plastic one they brought themselves to rest on while they hang out on the corner all day). This, as you can imagine, does not make for a good writing or reading spot.

Another qualm about Cuban coffee is the amount of trash it produces. Served in styrofoam cups with plastic lids, it is certainly anything but environmentally friendly. In the past month, i’ve become so conscious about how much I waste back home. All the small coffee shops i’ve been to always ask if you’ll be staying or going. If you’re staying, your coffee is served in a real mug and you use regular spoons to stir things in which you then place in the dirty dish bins. If you’ve ever been to Miami, you know that’s unheard of (and I can already hear the voice of everyone’s mother complaining about how you have no idea if those spoons were cleaned properly, etc).

While attending college for what was basically forever in Miami, my main sources of coffee were the on campus Starbucks, the on campus convenience store, the occasional trip to Dunkin Donuts, or the off campus Starbucks. I, personally, have nothing against Starbucks. I don’t feel like they need a brick through their window like some people I have encountered. I don’t personally know enough about their company’s ethics to take on a real stance. I only know that a) no matter what city I am in, they almost always let me use their bathroom without needing to purchase anything and b) they give their employees benefits, which is more than I can say for most jobs these days (something you tend to notice a lot more once you lose your insurance security blanket).

But this post isn’t about Starbucks either (although to be fair, it could be a factor in what I’m about to say next). My qualm is basically this: Why is it that practically every other major city besides Miami can have fantastic coffee houses (along with fantastic coffee)? Ever since I began my tour of the US, I have been inundated with delicious cups of coffee in quaint little shops that have allowed me to steal internet and get my work done. Just last night, I wrote my last post while having a delicious cafe au lait at Ipsento here in Chicago. It was basically all that you would need from a coffee shop. Attentive, friendly service. A good selection of beverages and sandwiches. A decent price. A calm atmosphere with plenty of seating. Warm, inviting decor. And just a few days ago, my friend Steve took me to Intelligentsia, which made a damn good latte, although I feel they were lacking in atmosphere (much too bright and streamline for my taste). But apparently this is where the career baristas go to make it (word is the training is long and it can be months before you’re actually allowed to serve coffee to customers). Impressive.

Now, I can’t remember all the coffee shops I went to in NYC, but I would refer you to this list as a probable decent starting point (although I do recall hitting Mud on a NY visit back in my early 20s and enjoying it). Pittsburgh is also hip with it and has places like Big Dog to cater to the coffee shop crowd. And because I just spent 2 whole weeks working in Athens, Ohio, I feel I got a really excellent feel for their coffee shops and can recommend several quite nicely.

Village Bakery is the first place I went to. They had a pretty great selection of sandwiches, soups, and pastries, and the coffee was pretty spot on. My only qualm was that they were a bit on the high end side cost-wise and were closed on Mondays. But no biggie, because plenty of other good places were open as well.

There was Fluff Bakery, which was definitely more bakery than anything else (although they also have some sandwiches), but also had a decent coffee selection. The atmosphere was nice and welcoming and they had day old pastries for $1 a pop which is what I wound up mostly getting (they were still absolutely delicious!)

Whit’s was another good spot. They’re more frozen custard than anything else (also quite delish) but the coffee is good and you can grab a muffin or a bagel for a decent price. They’ve got some couches and the atmosphere’s alright, although a bit hectic at times since it’s not a very big shop.

My very, very favorite though, was Donkey Coffee. This is the kind of place all coffee houses should aspire to be. Their selection was amazing. The service was ideal (asking my about my roasting preference, my milk preference, informing me about their frequent visitor card, reminding me what items I was able to get free refills on, etc). The place itself is exactly what you would picture a coffee house should be. Couches in the front, 2 rooms in the back (one part of the back room elevated which I assume also served as a stage for their events), and apparently even more room upstairs to which I never even got because there was never a need (there was always that much room)! They had board games available and they put on open mic nights and other types of events. Basically everything i’ve ever wanted Miami to have but have yet to find. (I really, really miss this place).

I can’t say all of Miami is devoid of such things. I know of a place over in the North Miami area, the Luna Star Cafe, that’s pretty great. I can’t vouch for their coffee selection, but they had a pretty good beer list and they do have open mic nights and other events pretty regularly. Unfortunately, I’m in one of the furthest suburbs away from that spot, and to get there would probably be a good hour long drive, and not factoring in the cost of gas, let’s just say it would get really expensive really fast.

During my last few months in Miami, I finally discovered Cafe Demetrio, a cute little joint in the Gables with decent coffee. Definitely not in the ranks of the coffee i’ve had in the north, but it wasn’t bad and the atmosphere was alright (a little too snooty for my taste). They also lacked severely in the vegetarian-friendly options and they weren’t cheap, so that was a con in my books.

I know Panther Coffee is still kind of up and coming in Wynwood, but I haven’t actually had any coffee there yet, so I can’t make a fair assessment.

There may or may not be decent coffee shops on the beaches, but seeing as I’m a Miami suburbs girl, I won’t even pretend to tackle that issue. In my hood, you stick to the chains because anything that does open up that’s even half way decent (R.I.P. Pithaya Cafe and that little coffee joint off Sunset and 117th that used to have all the shows back when I was in high school) ends up going out of business within a year.

The point is that a. Miami needs to step up their game (when your city’s “Best Coffee Shops” list includes major chains and places that already closed down, you know you’re in trouble), b. I am now fairly addicted to good coffee and coffee shop atmosphere, and c. I MISS YOU, DONKEY COFFEE!!

 

[If you happen to know of other good coffee places in Chicago, Miami and/or other cities I have yet to travel to but might enjoy, please feel free to list them in the comments!]