Monthly Archives: January 2012

Golden Age of Friendship

It’s funny how people can gild the edges of a period of their life with such diffused golden light that it takes on an elevated, near perfect status. The times about which people say, “Those were the best years of my life.” High school, maybe, or college.

For me, it was the seven months I lived in Los Angeles with my best friend (I shall call him Billy. He should know why) after graduating from Notre Dame.

I’m one of “those” girls. I moved across the country for a boy. Of course, this boy was gay. Billy was the Will to my Grace, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him from my daily life after college.

I didn’t ask him if he wanted a roommate. Near the end of senior year I just started repeating the question: “Where are we going? New York or LA?” He wanted to pursue acting, and these were his (our) options. I wonder if I merely steamrolled him into living together. He was the gay best friend of every girl in our tiny theatre department, and I was determined to have him to myself. I didn’t give him a choice, and god bless him, he let me tag along on his dream, though I had no direction or plans myself.

We shared a one bedroom apartment in North Hollywood, two twin beds separated by a night stand in full Lucy/Desi glory. Billy cooked (chicken in a can was our staple) and cleaned. I made him drive everywhere we went together. When there was a cockroach living in our microwave digital clock, we both set about screaming like little girls, but I made him get it out.

I don’t know what I contributed. Ideally, I was supportive company as he adjusted to life far from his Midwest upbringing, still pretty newly out, pursuing acting in a Notre Dame Type-A way while slowly realizing there is no control to be had in show business. Realistically, I was moody and I don’t know why he put up with me.

Those were my golden months, but really, we didn’t do anything. We were obsessed with movies. We ate out once a week. We watched TV.  Billy created interpretive dances for whatever crappy songs were popular. We cooked our first Thanksgiving away from home.

We never had a fight. We laughed. God, did we laugh.

Those months are a collection of intricately woven inside jokes and silliness that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone except us. But I remember every single minute of it.  It was a moment that belonged to us and us alone.

What’s funny is, that was the time before my life really started. I had no career direction out there. At 22, I had barely kissed a boy, let alone dated one. My professional and personal life did not begin until I left California.

The decision to leave Los Angeles was easy. I hated the perpetually perfect weather, the interminable traffic, the unshrinking distance between myself and my family.

But the decision to leave Billy was hard.

There is the paradox. I know I was unhappy out there. I ran away after barely more than half a year. And yet still, I look back to those months as “THE TIME.” The “those were the days.” There is a shine to that time.

I know it is the reflected gleam of the love I had for the boy I shared it with.

One of those movies we saw while we lived together was The Hours (Billy, being well and properly gay, adores Meryl Streep). At the time I was not a fan, but I later read the book by Michael Cunningham, and it resonated much more deeply with me. I’m struck by this passage:

It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book…There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”

No matter if I was unhappy and it was the right decision to leave Los Angeles, no matter if I’ve met so many amazing people and done so many things to be proud of in the years since I retreated to the East Coast, no matter that much of my adult life BEGAN after that idyllic sunshiny interlude, I still think of those months, maybe not as “THE” moment, but as “A” moment, a beautiful, important one. In its own silly, imperfect way, it was most definitely happiness.

Billy and I actually don’t talk much these days. But I just saw him for the first time in four years and it felt like we’ve never been apart. Our mutual memories and struggles keep our connection joyfully close to the surface.

So thank you, friend, for a gift I didn’t appreciate at the time, the gift of creating an “us” that time can never destroy. Thank you for still making me laugh so hard I can’t breathe, a full decade later. Thank you for taking care of me when I was young and stupid, and for still taking care of me when I’m older but not too much wiser.

I hope each of you has a friend like this, a time like this. There is nothing for which I am more grateful.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 2 Comments

New York City Adventures (#2): Embracing Your Inner Suburban Teenage Girl

I had planned a little Flatiron adventure this week. But one of the best (or worst, depending on your personality) things about New York is that you’ll randomly end up in the last place you expected, doing something you had never imagined yourself doing.

And sometimes there’s a lot of irony involved in that.

Because the last place I ever expect to wind up in New York City  – on purpose – is Times Square.  Shudder.

I met my friend N for dinner at Pho, a Vietnamese place on St. Mark’s. I find myself at Pho a lot. Every time I have friends in town, I take them here. Not intentionally. It’s just convenient, I guess. It’s perfectly reasonable food. And bonus: bubble tea, my favorite silly addiction. But it is a chain, and not necessarily the most authentic Asian restaurant in the world. I suppose this inadvertently set the tone for the evening.

N and I are a funny mix of similarities and perfect opposites. I guess you could optimistically say we have “complementary” qualities. I’m a planner, and she couldn’t even commit to having dinner with me on this particular evening until the last minute. She’s been working hard lately, and I felt lucky to catch an hour with her to eat and had no thoughts beyond it.

But one of my favorite things about N is her ability to extend an evening, to decide she wants to do something else, then something else, until inevitably we’ve managed to spend twenty-four hours together. She’s the spontaneous yin to my let’s-set-a-date-and-plan-it-and-have-it-to-look-forward-to yang, and this evening turned into no exception.

What was exceptional is what she suggested.

During dinner N mentioned seeing a movie, and I looked up time tables on my phone (oh how I love instant gratification.) I jokingly mentioned that we had just missed the beginning of Twilight: Breaking Dawn at a nearby theatre.  We’d spent dinner talking about our mutual boy troubles and were feeling  cranky. Hot vampire sex and sexy werewolves seemed like the perfect silly cure, and she was suddenly determined to see it. The only place it was playing was 42nd Street.

Ew.

New Yorkers never voluntarily go to Times Square. It’s a vast wasteland of flashing lights with no substance.  It’s expensive. It’s a tourist trap, and I can’t fathom why they fall into it. I had to walk through TS to get to work for over a year, and I regularly had to restrain myself from doing bodily harm to tourists lollygagging and congesting the sidewalks when all I wanted to do was WALK.

N is a true New Yorker. She’s got the inside track on dive bars and good food in out of the way pockets of the city. For her to suggest Times Square…but, why not?

The movie was mleh. Sometimes a movie is so bad you can guffaw and gleefully mock it (oh, please, please, see The Room. It will change your life with its absurd terriblosity.) But this one was boring. The vampire sex was chaste. If I came out of a night of passion with the amount of bruising Bella had, I’d consider it a good night. The moments were drawn out in generic soap opera style.  I still just want to hit Bella in the mouth.

Still we giggled and felt superior and enjoyed ourselves on some sarcastic level.

We came out into the incessant lights of 42nd Street, bright as day at 10pm, and N announced she wanted steak. All that vampire blood sucking made her crave red meat. She looked across the street and decided we should fully embrace the irony of the night: we would go to Applebees.

I know, right?

But we did. We got giant glasses of sangria that had a thimbleful of alcohol. We split an entrée (surf and turf) and a dessert (triple chocolate cake of death or something. I don’t know. It was yummy. Shut up.) Our tab was $70. Because a Times Square Applebees is twice as expensive as any other Applebees in America.

Twilight. Applebees. We did it all with an ironic smile, embracing the absurdity of the night. But who has the last laugh, when those brands still get our hard-earned money?

I think we do. We laughed hard. Like we always do. And we always have the most unexpected, lovely nights.

So the Flatiron District will wait, because I blew my weekly entertainment budget in Times Square.  The beauty of New York is that even in an ultra-urban environment, you can embrace your inner suburban teenage girl. You can act like a tourist, even though it’s home.  And as long as you’re with a good friend who makes you laugh, anything can become an adventure.

Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | Leave a comment

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I am afraid of everything.

Heights. Flying. Enclosed spaces. Spiders, snakes, cockroaches. Dogs. Rapists. People I don’t know. Giving birth. Scary movies. Answering an unknown number on my phone. Drugs. Driving an automatic. People touching my neck. Tunnels. Camping. Calling customer service numbers. Doctors. Drowning. Sharks. The dark. Walking alone late at night. My own death. The death of anyone I love.

Trying new things. Being wrong. The unknown.

When I was little, I was afraid something – a very nebulous, ill-defined something – was gonna “get me” in the night. There was some sort of monster that could pop out of my closet or from under the bed and attack me. This didn’t make sense because there wasn’t even an “under the bed” to emerge from – my bed rested on a frame made of drawers. There was literally no empty space beneath my mattress. I combated this fear rationally: as long as at least one foot was under the covers, I was untouchable. No matter how hot it was in mid-July, I had to keep some part of my body under blankets or I was sure to die.

I have never been afraid of ghosts, however.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve never felt an otherworldly presence. Theatres always come with a resident phantom, and I’ve worked in a lot of them.  I’ve never come face to face with a pale specter of death.

I’ve gotten goosebumps, I’ve heard strange noises, but I’ve never thought there was anything other than a logical, scientific explanation for what I was experiencing.

Lately though I’ve been talking to people – well-educated people I respect – who’ve been telling me about their encounters with beings from beyond.  I made a friend recently who claims to have spent the past few years co-habitating in a rural farm house with Casper’s cousins. He says skeptics have visited him and asked when he got the white cat they saw streaking down the hall. He doesn’t have a cat. He’s woken up to a man crying in the corner of his bedroom.

This sounds terrifying to me. But I wonder if I went there, if I’d see anything. Do you have to believe to experience these things? Do you have to “be open” to letting these things happen to you? And if you have to believe it to see it, well…that logic makes my head hurt.

Another friend who has witnessed shadowy post-life visitors told me it scared her that I DON’T believe. I thought this was silly. If I’m not scared, if I don’t believe in it, it can’t hurt me. Right?

But I wonder if she’s kind of right. Maybe I should be scared for myself that I don’t believe in ghosts. Not because I’m in for a harsh reality check when some ethereal being inevitably haunts me out of my cynicism. But maybe my lack of belief in ghosts is directly linked to my lack of belief in God. Or romance. Or a fulfilling give-and-take unconditional love. If I don’t think these things exist, can I actually experience them? If they truly existed, wouldn’t I get slapped in the face by them no matter my convictions? Can magic purposely avoid people who don’t believe: ghosts only condescend to appear to ghost-hunters? God only helps those who pray? (God certainly does NOT help a lot of his faithful.)

Am I doomed to a banal, overly rational life without any magic because thus far I have found no just reason to believe in magic?

That’s a pretty sad way to live.

I’m not overly rational. My behavior more than proves that. But I don’t think I’ve ever come face-to-face with any of those mystical, miraculous things I’ve mentioned. I’ve never had to try extrahard to explain away something that blatantly existed outside of science. And at this point I’m not sure I know how to MAKE myself believe in ghosts.  Like little Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, do I just repeat over and over, “I believe, I believe, it’s silly but I believe” until I find myself tormented by a grim grinning ghost?

And then what? I run screaming in panic? Is that a good thing? Do I really need to give myself MORE things to fear? Because that’s a pretty terror-inducing list: Ghosts. God. Romance. Unconditional love.

What do you think? Do you believe in ghosts? Do you think opening yourself to spirits ultimately could unlock your life for all magical experiences? Is it all connected?

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 2 Comments

New York Adventures (#1): Roaming the Upper East Side

Being a tourist for six months gave me a whole new appreciation for New York City. Digesting bite-sized portions of Rome, Florence, Naples, and Barcelona once a week made me realize how much of the city (it is THE city, people, let’s not kid around) I have not explored. New Yorkers have no patience for the throngs of tourists jostling toward the Empire State Building and Times Square. The only thing New Yorkers want to do in their hometown is eat and drink. Food and drink are valid lifestyle choices. My world pretty much revolves around them. But I’m branching out and trying to experience new people, places, and things.

NYC and I are more than casual acquaintances, but not quite friends. Like a drunk girl with a crush, I’m knocking on New York’s door late at night, coyly asking “How do I get to know you better?” New York’s obvious disinterest in me can’t shake my infatuation.

So…off I go, armed with Time Out New York and friend recommendations to see and do. And eat and drink. Always eat and drink.

My first jaunt was on a crisp January Wednesday, shrouded in the scent of decaying Christmas trees forlornly lining the curbs: an appropriately bittersweet aroma for my life’s work. I delved into the Upper East Side.

You know how you go on the Interwebs to look something up, then you click a link and you end up deep in the bottomless rabbit hole of tangential information overload? Well, that’s how I discovered the Midtown Concert Series at Immanuel Lutheran Church on 88th Street and Lexington. Every Wednesday at 1:15pm, world class musicians perform pieces of classical music. For free! Free!

This week the Mozartean Players performed two Haydn Trios. They are serious musicians offering a little lunch-break respite. Despite the fact that I know nothing about classical music and I was the youngest person in the church by fifteen years, I loved the atmosphere of hushed joyfulness defying the mad rushing cacophony of the city. It was a perfect environment to ponder and reflect on a cold winter day. Bonus:  learning about classical music is one of my life goals.

I took a brisk twenty-one block walk to the Frick Collection on 70th Street and 5th Avenue. It was just cold enough to sting my nose, but the sun was shining and I savor a never-traversed walking route. Being an art freak, I don’t know how I’ve never been to the Frick.  I realized in Europe that small collections beat major art museums in quality of experience. The Uffizi, the Vatican Museums, the Metropolitan…they are overwhelming and emotionally draining. I much prefer the Villa Borghese in Rome, the Miro Foundation in Barcelona, and the Frick: they’re smaller, less crowded with obnoxious tourists taking pictures, and provide a sense of accomplishment. These collections take about three hours to fully explore, and no matter how much I geek out on art, that’s my threshold before I’m exhausted, hungry, and cross-eyed.

The Frick focuses mainly on “the Old Masters,” with some truly lovely Vermeers, Rembrandts, and El Grecos.   My personal highlight: an old lady sitting on a couch under a giant Turner painting of Cologne, who took off her shoe and knee-high stocking to show something to her cronies. They were well-dressed, and looked like Upper East Side residents. These were not tourists from Jersey. Surrounded by mind-blowing, priceless paintings, she just had to show off her bunions or something.

I heart New York.

Geek Bonus: museum gift shops are my kryptonite. I impulse bought a set of magnets that display the signatures of 34 famous artists. Jealous?

I'm a gleeful giddy geek!

Finally I met my beautiful, long-lost cousin for dinner at Uskudar Turkish Restaurant on Second Avenue between 73rd and 74th. I am not overly familiar with Turkish cuisine, so I was excited to try something new. I ordered hunkar begendi: lamb served over pureed eggplant. It was seriously good. Thank goodness the boat made me more carnivorous. There as a time in my life when I never would have ordered lamb anything. Good food, good company.

New York City adventure #1: accomplished. I have big things planned for the next few months, but I’m hoping some unanticipated places and foods find me too. Still working on this half-researching, half-going-with-the-flow-serendipity thing.

I’m so grateful to live somewhere stimulating and inspiring. Why don’t you live here?

 

Categories: New York City, Travel Musings | Leave a comment

I’m Going Carrie Bradshaw on Your Ass…

….although I’m not much like the Sarah Jessica Parker character. While I have always considered myself a “Carrie,” I must acknowledge the chasm between us: I don’t care about shoes, high-end fashion, purses, $20 cocktails. It all gives me anxiety. This means I don’t quite fit in New York. I don’t keep up with trends or have ANY sense of personal style. I stick out by being unexceptional.

But today I want to talk about shoes. Shoes as a metaphor. Though not a pair of shoes Carrie Bradshaw would ever be caught dead in.

I bought them in Payless.

I got them a few years ago. I had broken my basic black sandals and needed a replacement  goes-with-everything pair of summery shoes.  They were less than $10. I probably bought them to take advantage of a buy-one, get-one-half-off discount. They’re flat (flat flat) scaled-up flip-flops, with a muted brown-on-brown animal print pattern on the thong. Sort of a cloth-vinyl hybrid.

I never really liked them.

But I find myself wearing them a lot.  A LOT. I went to Thailand for three weeks last year, and I wore them on multiple-hour walking tours of Bangkok, and all around the beaches of Koh Phi Phi (even though I had flip flops).  When packing for the ship, I had to narrow down my shoe selection (I own almost as many shoes as a normal, shoe-obsessed girly girl. I just don’t wear any of them.)I brought six pair (for six months!) but once again, these particular sandals were my go-to, save for the gym and working. Every time I stepped off the ship I wore them.

They’re ugly. Not noticeably ugly, but they’re so nondescript, they don’t register with people. I’ve never gotten a single compliment on them.

But.

I’ve worn them across three continents, for some heavy-duty walking, and they’ve never given me blisters. They don’t look like they offer much support, but they’re sturdy. They do, in fact, go with everything: black or brown, dressy or casual. They have gotten drenched in torrential rains, and caked with beachy sands, but they are indestructible.

I’m beginning to look at these shoes as a metaphor for love.

They’re comfortable, they’re reliable. They aren’t exciting. Sometimes I hate them because they make me feel so out-of-step with the world of fashion, but…they’re unyielding. They take my constant city-walking abuse without complaint.

I have sexy strappy sandals, hot high-heeled boots.  These shoes make me feel beautiful, they put an extra swish in my step. For about twenty minutes.  Until I want to take them off because they hurt my toes, my soles, my back. Sure, I get a little fluttery when I look at them, when I imagine the attention they’ll get me. But then they cause me nothing but pain.

Kind of like men. (Oh yes, I am all-in on this Carrie Bradshaw crap. Bear with me.)

I don’t want you to think I’m cynical. It’s about re-evaluating goals. If I hated my sandals, I wouldn’t wear them everywhere.  Lackluster or not, I must kind of love them. Or appreciate them. Or something. And maybe my fantasies about love are the same. I want my life to be all romantic high heels, sexy walks, butterflies in the stomach. But there are always pinched toes, blistered heels, and broken hearts. Maybe I need to accept that love isn’t about romance. It’s about the one who is comfortable, dependable, and always there. Maybe a little bland. Maybe no butterflies. But also no pain.

My fantasies as a little girl were glorious, melodramatic operas of true love. But I have had no candlelight dinners, no unexpected bouquets of roses, no sunset walks on the beach. Sure, those are unoriginal clichés, and yet…when you’ve never had the cliché, it’s easy to fetishize it, the same way many women fetishize shoes.  A boy once held my hand in a cab, and I thought it was the beginning of something wonderful. But then he told me he “didn’t feel poetry” with me. After three days! That hit a nerve. I think I’ve always secretly wanted to BE poetry. But maybe I’m not. I’m not Manolo Blahnik. Maybe I’m just Payless.

I feel the hope, the butterflies, whenever I put on my cutest girly shoes for a night out, when I fall in love with someone I think is amazing. But that feeling ends far too quickly, and the pain sets in for much longer. Maybe I have to re-evaluate what I’m looking for.

So what do you think: comfort or romance, reliability or heart-pounding sexiness? Oh, I’m sure you’ll tell me you can have both. Maybe the key is to stop buying cheap, shitty shoes at Payless. But where do you find a partner who will make you feel beautiful and causes no pain?

 

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense | 5 Comments

How Twilight Took Me Places I Never Thought I’d Go…

For C. She knows.

In case I never mentioned it (ha!), the first few months on that great big skiff were a tad…difficult.  I felt isolated and lost. I didn’t feel like I fit in, even with the people I worked with. I was unsure why I was forcing myself to play out an experience that was making me miserable.  I wanted to cut my losses and go home to work on that forward momentum I so longed for.

And just to prove that maybe the universe actually knows what it’s doing, that’s about the time I started hanging out with a girl I’ll call Alice (because I can’t call her Bella.)

I met Alice at the beginning of my contract in June, but I don’t remember the specifics of our introduction.  As soon as I met her I knew we would be friends. Every now and then my intuition kicks in.

But you can’t force these things. I know. I try way too often.  Our friendship had to develop in its own time, and it took until August for us to really talk. I accept it, universe. I understand that I am socially awkward. I accept that my life is lived in the last minute, so only getting to know Alice three weeks before her contract ended is par for the course.  This was my one constant on the ship:  I befriended most of the people I loved the most right before they left. No point in fighting your fate. Slow burns gotta burn slow.

Alice invited me on a road trip she had organized to Montepulciano. I’d never heard of it, but was up for anything, group outing being preferable to magnetic cave-room.

Her reason for the excursion: they filmed the Volterra scenes in the second Twilight film in Montepulciano.

Let’s not get into my Twilight analysis, lest this blog drown in the splatter of my feminist rage.  I didn’t recognize Montepulciano’s main square (sigh. Yes, I HAVE seen those movies) but wow! was it a beautiful place. Built dramatically on a hill, colored in beiges, muted yellows, and corally oranges, it made me giddy with its Tuscan quaintness. We had very little time there, as it was a monster drive from the ship, but I was so glad I had tagged along. It was off the beaten path.  It was gorgeous and old and if only I’d known at the time that they are known for wine, the day would have been perfect…

I admired Alice’s perseverance:  she had researched all public transit options to Montepulciano, rejected them as impossible, rented a car, secured herself a European driver, and gotten directions. She made that trip happen through sheer force of will. And all for TWILIGHT. Really?

And then! she wanted to go to the real Volterra!  After much careful research, Alice had attempted the trip to Volterra, but was thwarted by a bus strike. But she just could not let go of her goal (She had put it on a list. She had to cross it off. Of course we were going to be friends). She invited me along for attempt two.

Everything went badly that morning – the ship docked late, the gangway was jammed, and we missed our train. Bleary-eyed in the pre-9am light (not a morning person, kids), I was fully prepared to go back to my cave-bed. But there was something in Alice’s jaw, an unyielding stubbornness, and I knew I wasn’t going to abandon her. Besides, it was two smelly buses back to the ship…

So between waiting and trains and buses, it took four hours upward to arrive in Volterra. There’s no suspense here: it was worth it. Volterra is even older and stonier and quainter than Montepulciano.  I fell instantly in love with it. Unfortunately we again didn’t have much time to explore before the epic (!!!) journey back to port, but it was a beautiful summer day walking around narrow cobbly medieval lanes: how can you not feel good about life in those circumstances?

Maybe I should be turned off by Alice’s fascination with books I consider bad for women everywhere. But…I like obsessions. I like people who pursue with intention, no matter how silly. Alice is mildly apologetic of her Twilight fixation.  But her ruefulness didn’t stop her from checking something off her list. Guilty pleasure or not, she (and I) saw some amazing Italian towns. I once made my parents take me to Prince Edward Island to see every Anne of Green Gables-related sight imaginable. I may not respect Twilight, but I love goal-driven mania. And at least she doesn’t have a half-sleeve tattoo of Robert Pattinson.

Alice got me out of my funk in ways she can’t possibly know. Even though she left just when we had finally found each other, and once again I was alone, she reminded me of my own goals for my six months at sea, my obsessions. I spent September checking things off my “To Do” list. By myself. I geeked out at art museums, finally seeing the Berninis and Caravaggios I discovered in college. I embraced my nerdiness after Alice left, and I took courage from her. She would have gone to Volterra without me.  She reminded me to use my obsessions as a springboard to live my life rather than wasting away in the cave.

Honestly, if nothing else good had happened to me on that ship (oh, and I’m so grateful that many other amazing things came my way) I believe meeting Alice was the reason I went out there. She lives in New York and loves to travel. I think I may have finally found the travel buddy I’ve been longing for. We’re gonna take a road trip to Cleveland soon. To see the house they used in A Christmas Story. Kindred. Spirits.

Categories: Travel Musings | 2 Comments

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