Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My version of eating my feelings

For the second year in a row, the feast-or-famine nature of my holiday custody arrangement - having the kids for a week over Thanksgiving but then not seeing them for 8 days from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day - has hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know why I didn't remember how hard it was to spend over a week without the kids, without close family at hand, at a time when everyone I know is well ensconced in their own holiday traditions, whether here or out of town.

I don't have difficulty being alone, but under these circumstances, it feels lonely.

I do my best to fill the time.

I took a ski lesson on Christmas day that was really transformative. In the seven years since Josie was born, I've skied with enough regularity and determination that I have gotten relatively decent, but felt like I had hit a wall when it came to being comfortable and proficient on more difficult terrain. With a few pointers from my instructor - and lots of falling down as I tried to retrain my body and brain and shed years of muscle memory - I made a breakthrough that was exhilarating and empowering. By the end of the day, I was skiing terrain that previously would have left me frustrated and in tears.

The rest of the time, I did laundry and cleaned and binge-watched shows that were buzzy. I lit the Hannukah candles. I read a book. I cooked.

I tend to be lazy about cooking and eating. I can cook like a champ when I want to, but when I'm just cooking for myself, it's hard to get worked up about doing anything interesting. But I found myself watching TV and movies that centered on cooking and food - Top Chef, The Hundred Foot Journey, Waitress, and one of my favorites, Jon Favreau's Chef - and felt inspired.

This is not unusual for me. After watching Big Night years ago, I got a wild hair and, along with my friend Karen, hosted a dinner party that featured dishes from the movie - we spent 10 hours cooking, including making tri-colored risotto in the colors of the Italian flag, and this amazing dish called timpano, which is a giant pastry filled with layers and layers of pasta and eggs and meatballs and sausage.

My efforts this past weekend were more modest. I was tired and hungry after a day of hard skiing in the cold and wind, and I wanted some comfort food. So I made pasta aglio e olio (pasta with garlic and olive oil) inspired by this scene from Chef.


It was delicious and comforting. But I wasn't eating it while being seduced by anyone, or while seducing anyone myself. I wasn't cooking for friends or family.

I was by myself. And it's just not the same.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

If you can't have perfect recall, this is a good substitute

A few weeks ago, I went out on a date with a guy who has a form of Superior Autobiographical Memory. He has the ability to remember everything that has ever happened to him in vivid visual detail, to the point that he was the subject of psychological studies when he was younger. The way he described it, he can't get the recall from simply naming a date, but if he is talking about an event he can see it in perfect detail, as if he were reliving it.

I found it interesting, but it also made him almost impossible to have a normal conversation with. I spent an hour and a half talking to him and never got the answer to the simple question, "so what brought you to Denver from Tennessee" because the answer started with, "well, it started 26 years ago when I was cut by the Dallas Cowboys"  - wait, what?? - and meandered and meandered until I finally got so confused that I just gave up.

Anyway, I wasn't interested in going out with him again, but I was fascinated by his description of how his memory works. He said, "even if I never see you again, I will always be able to remember, in perfect detail, the expression on your face, the earrings you are wearing, the shape of your eyes, the color of your jacket, the music that is playing right now."  Everything that happens to him, he carries with him, intact and presumably, forever.

That kind of recall may be a double-edged sword - for this guy, it makes it impossible for him to have any kind of normal conversation that proceeds in anything resembling a linear fashion, because everything he says triggers another memory that he gets caught up in. But it could also be really useful and rewarding.

I hate forgetting things. It's like a small death, losing a part of yourself.

I bring this up because I was talking to my New York reunion friends about singing in the cabaret bar (specifically, I was recounting that Zeke watched the video and his first question was, "were you drunk?"), and they remarked that they were surprised that in writing about it, I had only posted a screen shot of me singing by the piano, rather than the video itself.

My thinking was that I use this blog to write about things that happen to me, but I don't tend to use it as just a diary. I want the writing to be good, and when I write about something, I want it to resonate beyond, "oh, this happened." So I explained that when I wrote the last post, I didn't post the video because it felt self-indulgent -- I didn't want the post to be all about me, but rather about all of us and that feeling of reconnecting with people who have known you forever and with whom you feel like you're home.

Y'all know how much I like reunions.

Anyway, they were all, yeah yeah that's so thoughtful whatever who cares, just post all the rest of the shit that happened, including the video, because it was awesome and because if we record it for posterity, we hold on to it more easily. As Marney put it, "I am hoping [you] will document all of the silliness that I wish to remember."

So in the absence of actually possessing Superior Autobiographical Memory, I will use this blog as a substitute. And I will also adopt Laura's suggestion, when I said that I needed to figure out a way to write it well, to recount our adventures as "New York by the Numbers..."  

So here goes:
  • At least 80% - Chance, by Marney's estimation, that the AirBnb was bullshit and we would have no place to stay 
The weekend took shape very quickly. We made the decision back in September to plan an NYC girls' trip, and within two days we had picked a weekend, I had made a reservation for a place on AirBnb, and I had bought my plane ticket.  

The week before we were going, we saw an article in the New York Times about how it was illegal in New York City to do short-term apartment rentals via AirBnb. So I emailed the owner, a "person" named "Cam," to make sure we were still on. "She" didn't respond to my questions about whether the entire endeavor was illegal, but assured me that all was well and gave me the instructions for getting into the apartment: go to the deli around the corner, ask for "Maria," who has the key to the front door, and then once inside, use the combination on the keypad to get into the apartment.

Marney, who had a strong feeling that we were the victims of a big scam, arrived in the city first, so she was in charge of getting the key and getting into the apartment. But when she went to the deli and asked for "Maria," she was told that there was no "Maria" and nobody had a key or could help us. 


Ever resourceful, she went back to the building, followed in someone who either had a key or who had buzzed in, and went up to the apartment. The cleaning people were there, and they gave her a key. So in the end, it worked out.

But still, super shady. She could have been anyone - the cleaning people didn't ask for ID or anything like that; they just handed over the key. And there were signs all over the apartment to the effect of, "if you run into any neighbors, just act like you're friends with the owner and are visiting them or borrowing the apartment." By the end of the weekend, we were convinced that "Cam" and "Maria" didn't exist, and that Cam's name and picture on the website were just a front for a group of mobsters who owned a bunch of New York apartments and illegally rented them out.

  • 130 - The number of U.S. dollars each of us paid to stay for a weekend in the New York City Shangri-La
I chose the apartment because it seemed clean, was in a fun location, had enough bed space of all of us, and was inexpensive. (In my defense, I was trying to not spend a fortune on a place I knew we weren't going to spend much time in except for sleeping, but I wasn't trying to be that cheap - when I made the reservation, I thought there would only be 3 or 4 of us instead of 6.) 

While I was flying in and still in the air, I discovered that while I was connected to United's inflight wifi service, iMessage worked on my phone so I was able to send and receive text messages.  Which kind of weirded me out, but it was fun to communicate with everyone from 35,000 feet.
"How's the place?"
"Not the ritz"
"Slightly reminiscent of a place we might've rented in Myrtle [Beach]..."
In other words, the Shangri La. Where, undoubtedly, 10 people were crammed into a motel room that probably slept 4 comfortably, during the week between finals and graduation.

It was basically a windowless box that felt dark and kind of depressing, but it was clean and had room for all of us if we bunked up together like we were at camp. The big downer was that there was no blender, so we drank our margs on the rocks rather than blended.

The primitive accommodations made it all the more awesome. Yes, we're in our 40s and can certainly afford something slightly more upscale, but it was clean and functional and the Shangri-La-ness added to the overall color of the weekend. And shit, you couldn't beat the price.

  • 6 - number of grown-ass women who stuck their hands inside the toilet tank at the Shangri-La to flush it, because the flusher/handle was broken when they arrived.  But shit, you couldn't beat the price.

  • 24 - number of hours it took "Cam" to send someone to fix the fucking toilet flusher. But shit, you couldn't beat the price.
The guy who showed up was carrying a huge delivery box (the type you might hold food in to keep it warm) that said "CAVIAR" on the side. He didn't give us any caviar, but he did fix the handle on the toilet. So that was good.
  • 2 - number of people who, after getting their freak on, tried to fight with Marney 
We went out for dinner at an Italian place on Friday night before heading to the cabaret bar. Marney got up to go use the restroom, but was waiting and waiting and waiting for the person using it to come out. Finally she used her key or some other implement to pick the lock to open the door and walked in on a couple who had obviously just finished having sex. They were more than a little startled and annoyed by her entrance and reacted accordingly.

She felt a bit threatened, but nothing happened. And it made for an entertaining - and conveniently timed - story that distracted a couple of us from a heated political discussion. *cough Klein Laura cough*

  • 1 - number of us whose hair caught a little bit on fire at the Mexican restaurant.
Word to the wise: if you're setting up a restaurant, don't place little votive candles on the shoulder-blade-high back of the bench seat. Your patrons with long hair, such as Susan, will thank you for it.

  •  5 - the number of drinks I had had - 2 shots of tequila at the Shangri-La, 2 glasses of wine at the Italian place, and 1 beer at the Duplex - before I got up and sang a song
By popular request, here's the proof. I forgot some of the lyrics in the middle and was a little pitchy before the final verse, but it's not terrible. 

  • 6 - Number of women who left New York tired but rejuvenated after a great weekend with great friends

Here is our time capsule, ladies. I hope I wrote it well.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Have fun, will travel

Even though Jane left Charlottesville before I left Colorado, we ended up meeting at Penn Station at the same time. Her train kept getting delayed because - and I am not making this up - it was "a little bit on fire."  We found each other across from the Duane Reade at 6 p.m. on Friday afternoon and rather than deal with cabs or Uber (one dude tried to convince us to do an off the books Uber ride to the apartment for $45, which was more than twice what an actual Uber would have been, so we told him to stuff it), we hopped on the subway and were at the AirBnb in no time.
We were the last to arrive - the others were already drinking and engaging in shenanigans, per the text thread.

Wendy you missed the boob contest these people are having. You would have won.

                     She can still join when she arrives!!

           Alcohol flowing heavily. One bottle of wine down.

Boob contest? Amateur hour until I get there.

M and I are competing on a different level. #ittybitty

People were grabbing my bra padding. this place is out of control.

We got to the place, put our bags down, and put on clothes to go out in. I did two tequila shots.

The benefit of us being in our mid-40s is that we can afford really good tequila.

We were so excited to be together that we were talking too loud and laughing too loud and being ridiculous. Boobs were compared and felt up, like the way you would test out a cantaloupe (or a little mango) to see if it's ripe. If I had been an outsider looking in on the scene it would have prompted major eye rolls, but as a participant it was hilarious.

The plan for the weekend was hatched in June at Reunions. Every five years isn't anywhere near enough. That time with old friends is too rejuvenating. It's too important to break up the regular patterns of life with a shot of nostalgia and craziness fueled by both alcohol and coffee.  The timing meant that I spent the last month flying back and forth across the country - to Ann Arbor for football, to Virginia for Thanksgiving, to New York for a girls' weekend with close college friends.  Fuck it, I'll sleep when I'm dead.

How is it possible that we have known each other for almost 30 years?  I don't feel old enough. None of us feels old enough. I don't think any of us looks old enough, either. As my brother Sam remarked when he met us out for a drink the next night, we're a "well preserved" group. 

The first night we went out for Italian food and then headed to a gay cabaret bar. My friends nominated me when the piano player asked who wanted to come up and sing.  The woman who was up before me was kind of awful, bless her heart. 

A youngish English woman named Emma was skeptical as I headed up to the piano.

"Can your mate sing?" she asked Christi.

"I sure hope so," Christi answered.

I did Etta James's At Last, and didn't humiliate myself.


Emma became my number one fan.  All night long she would come up to our group, 


It always comes back to the boobs. And Emma can only speak in all caps.


So I did Aretha's Natural Woman. 

We drank lots of beer and couldn't stop laughing and smiling and we made friends with everyone at the bar. We finally made it back to the apartment, gabbed until 2 a.m., and went to bed. 

I didn't sleep enough but woke up happy. We had a little bit to eat and then decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a gorgeous day and meandering through the city in the crisp air was a great way to wake up. We walked through the Lower East Side and through Chinatown and past City Hall and across the bridge, along with every other tourist in town. I bought some souvenir magnets but resisted the siren song of the selfie stick.

We walked and walked and had some lunch. Then we wandered around Union Square and walked back to the apartment to rest and chill out and shower before going out for the night. 

We dozed and had a snack and checked our phones and shared pictures of our kids. We talked about people we had gone to school with - who had done what, which catty bitches who had been mean girls had been left by their husbands, which former hotties were no longer so hot, which people had shown up at Reunions looking surprisingly dashing.  We enjoyed the fact that all we had done all day was hang out, and looked back wistfully at all the time we had had in college to just hang out. We had so much time. It's hard now to find time to just hang out with friends anymore. 

We wondered about our ability to rally.  

In the end, we did fine. We rallied.

The evening's fuel was margaritas and chips with really good guac and little mini tacos. Then we went to a bar than played 80s music and served $4 PBRs and $3 Coors Light drafts. I drank copious amounts of both, but it's basically beer-flavored water. We spent a lot of time waiting for the DJ to understand that just because a song was released in the 80s (and he actually fudged a bit on that point) it doesn't make it a decent dance song. There were bursts of dance greatness followed by frustrating song choices that didn't inspire us. But even complaining about that was fun. It became a running joke. 

It was another night of walking back to the apartment to hang out some more. We stopped at a bodega for popcorn and chips and a chocolate covered coconut Luna bar. We washed it down with the last of the tequila and margarita mix. 

Jane and I climbed into the bed we were sharing and talked as we fell asleep. We've been close friends for so long, and were roommates for a while in Atlanta, after I graduated from law school. We can talk to each other, and we did, about life and relationships and frustrations and joys and getting older. I felt happy and relaxed and loved.

And also tired and like I needed the balls of my feet replaced. But content overall.

I'm not sure where the energy came from, but before heading to the train the next day, Laura and Jane and I found the will to head over to the West Village and wander around some more. We walked down the High Line and down to Jane Street - a pilgrimage of sorts - and had some coffee and then walked back across the island to pick up our bags. Our final bit of weekend sustenance came in the form of an egg nog soft-serve cone, courtesy of the Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. If you need big gay instructions on how to do the Heimlich maneuver, here you go:

You're welcome.
Today is another post-reunion Monday. I'm tired and my feet still hurt. But I've got that familiar love hangover and my emotional batteries are full, and we're already planning the next one.