Category Archives: nyc

My Marathon – Part 2

Sunday, November 2… Race day.

It’s just about a quarter of 11 in the morning, the sky is a pale blue and dense with puffy, white clouds. I’ve been sitting in a heated tent for three hours, waiting for my wave to start and now out of it, I’m cold. I’m bundled in mismatched pieces of clothing that have been picked from the Goodwill bag under my bed and I look a bit like a ragamuffin. But I’ll be tearing this extra layer off soon anyway, so it really doesn’t matter. This is assuming I make it to the starting line.

I’m sprinting through a field in the start village at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, in a state of panic that after five months of training and three thousand dollars of fundraising, I may have messed this up. “I need to find orange,” I say to three volunteers standing in a huddle, shivering, but still smiling. “I’m supposed to be with orange and I’ve been waiting in green.” I think they must be wondering how it is that I’ve been standing in line for ten minutes with the wrong color group. On marathon day, this is no small detail. “That way,” one points. “You’re fine,” another one says, as if she can hear my heart beating out of my chest. In another minute I’m in a mass of runners on the left side of the upper deck of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, waiting for the cannon.

I take a relieved breath and laugh to myself that it’s a small wonder I’ve made it here. Aside from the color mishap, what was to have been a restful pre-marathon week was hardly that. With my childhood best friend Diana, in town from LA, family flying in from Florida, race day logistics to map out with them and whatever friends would be coming to cheer, miscellaneous details I’d had worked out but were somehow still hanging over me, and worst of all, the sore calf that had me worried I might not be able to even make it through half the race, I was running on far less sleep than I should have been. But not enough sleep is a norm for me, so yes, of course I’ve made it. I have just enough time to ask a woman to get a pre-race shot of me, and then I hear the announcer over the loud speaker. “Runners are you ready?” I am ready for sure. A moment later, we hear the cannon. And we’re off.

My only memories of ever being on this bridge are from childhood, when we would go to visit family on Staten Island, and of course, they are from within a car. To be underneath this great piece of architecture, on foot, so small, is surreal. And as I settle into these first few minutes, in silence, wide-open sky surrounding me, I say to myself, “This is it. You’re running the New York City marathon.” And I can’t help but smile. And considering what it is that I am doing, and the nerves that had rattled me only days before, I’m completely calm. I’m here and I know what I need to do.

We reach the downhill of the bridge and people are passing me on both sides. Swarms of them. I want to race ahead, but I can hear my coaches’ advice and remember that this early in, I still have hours to pass them, and I will. I’m feeling warm and think it’s a good time to strip my extra hoodie, and as I do, I notice my ponytail is loose, and that my hair is slipping. I try looping the rubber band around again to no avail, and realize the one I happened to grab while getting ready, is overstretched and pretty much useless. Having no spare, and knowing I cannot make it the rest of the race with my hair falling from the bundle atop my head, I start weighing my options, and before long, I begin to notice, amidst the light scattering of litter along the road, every few minutes, there is a hair tie. I’m hardly thrilled at the idea of stopping to pick one up, but after passing half a dozen of them, I think this might just be the answer to my conundrum. Just before mile six, I do so; problem solved.

I’m now running behind a guy who is wearing a shirt with a dedication on the back that says: In Memory of Baby Daniel. I get choked up, thinking of this little one; and of how lucky I am to be here, healthy and strong. But with this swell of emotions, my breathing becomes labored. So I veer away from him and turn my focus to the street numbers, knowing that I will see my first cheerleaders very soon.

I spot the C-Town grocery store up ahead on the left. My family is to be two blocks up from it, and I’ve been told, I will probably see them before they see me. When I notice that, on our pre-determined corner, there’s a water station (as we had discussed there might be) I know instead, they will be waiting two more blocks beyond that, as per our [very detailed] plan. When I see them—my mother, my sisters Gabriela and Kristina, my Aunt Dorothy and my cousin Katherine—it is exactly how I dreamed it would be, and I bolt to them with open arms, to hug and kiss each of them. And as I run off, they cheer for Tough Cookie which I’ve emblazoned on the back of my race singlet as a thanks to my mother who taught me to be one. On this day, I hope I am making her proud.

As I continue up through Brooklyn, along 4th Avenue, I stop three more times to meet people there to cheer me on; first my friend Emily from work whose head happens to be down just as I am passing, as she is about to sip her coffee. I surprise her. Then it’s Allie and Jamie and their new little bundle Sam who looks like a sleeping cherub, who I blow a kiss to, this the first I’m seeing him since his birth. And then it’s Lisa with Christina and Leroy. With these three, I jump around in a group hug, screaming and cheering. As I continue on, I see a woman with a sign on her back that says this is her 20th marathon. I think wow, and congratulate her as I run by. Then it’s a woman with a prosthetic blade from one knee down. Talk about believing in yourself! I speed up to meet her and I tell her she is awesome. And then I find my place on the left again where hands are out for high fives and people can see my name and shout for me. Their energy is the fuel that keeps me going.

Soon after entering Williamsburg, I spot a sign with big bold letters that reads GO DRE, and I think it must be for me, this my neighborhood. Sure enough, it’s another pair of friends, Aoife and Jeremy. They ask how I am, and I reply that my legs are a bit tired but that I’m having fun. To think I was feeling tired at mile 11. Ha! If only I’d known what was to come. I continue on, along this stretch that’s been a practice route throughout my training. I’ve just made my way through Greenpoint and here it is, the halfway mark.

I’ve been waiting to get here, to take from my shoelaces the twisted piece of plastic in which I’ve stashed two Tylenol. The pain in my calf has worsened, and my ankles are aching to the point that yes, physically, it would feel better to quit. But of course, I will not. I keep telling myself that I will rest when this is done, but that for now, I’ve still got some work to do. There’s a string of people waiting at the Port-o-Let but I need to pee, so I hop off the course and get into line. And once out of the stall, I grab a cup of water, swig the capsules back and return on my way. This pause, even the short three minutes that it was, is beyond painful to recover from, and I tell myself that from here on, I cannot stop again, except to slow for water, or of course, to say hello, should I see any more friends along the route.

The Pulaski Bridge is just ahead. And though I typically run on the pedestrian sidewalk rather than across its six traffic lanes, I know it well. It’s quick and easy, and will bring us from Brooklyn into Queens. As I round the bend onto 47th Road, my friend Greg is there and again, I stop for a hug. Every time I see a face I know, I’m uplifted. The reminder that so many people are behind me in this goal, is overwhelming. So on this momentary high, I trot along through Long Island City, and next thing I know, I see that we’re approaching the 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge.

On the advice of a coach, I did a practice run over the bridge a month before. And, in all honesty, I really enjoyed it. The incline here is long but subtle, and the view of downtown Manhattan is stunning. So I wasn’t the least bit worried about running it on race day… Until earlier that morning, when I realized that it isn’t the bridge itself which people find so challenging, but that it comes at 15 miles into the race at which point many runners have been pounding the pavement  for two hours already. I wonder for a minute how I’ll fare, then shrug off my worry, sure I’ll be ok. I’ve maintained an easy pace since the start and the Tylenol from a couple miles before has begun to kick in.

Looking back, the 59th Street Bridge was one of my favorites parts of the race. There is no doubt that for a runner on marathon Sunday, the crowds are invaluable. They are there, along the lonely stretches, in between our family and friends, propelling us to go on. But for a mile, as we traverse the East River from Queens to Manhattan by way of this grand structure, they are absent, and the only sounds are those of our breath and our footsteps, and the footsteps of those around us. And it is peace, and a time to reflect on this goal, which we are about to accomplish.

But, such calm can only be for a short time, of course. Once off the bridge, we’re on First Avenue, and on marathon day, First Avenue is where the wild things are—people spilling out from the bars with pints in hand, cheering, hooting, howling. All along the route, strangers are calling my name, “Come on Dre,” “Keep it up Doctor Dre,” holding their hands out for more high fives. At 111th Street, I find another threesome of familiar faces cheering for me—Rachel and Craig, and Kim who’s crafted a sign that in our group hysteria I don’t even get to read. (Thanks anyway girl.) This time was the seventh that I’d stopped to meet friends, and still I’m not tired of it.

As I run off, waving goodbye to them, I realize that I’m now at a stretch where I might not see anyone else until the end of the race when I reach the bleachers where my family now waits. And this unfortunately, is probably where I need people the most. First Avenue is coming to an end and just ahead, there’s a small bridge that will bring us into the Bronx. It’s the Willis Avenue Bridge, and even though I’d known it was coming, I was not happy finally seeing it. It’s a fraction of the Queensboro, but the incline is immediate, and sharp, and my legs are screaming. But then out from the sidelines, just before I reach the start of it, one of my coaches catches a glimpse of my neon yellow singlet and runs up to me. “Hey sister,” he says, placing an arm around me. “You know where we are?” I nod my head. “Almost done?” He’s running with me and tells me, “After this bridge you’re at mile 20.” Ah yes, I think. Mile 20, where people ‘hit the wall.’ I have told myself that I will not, but of course, no one’s mind ever wants to quit, but sometimes, the body just can’t continue. With his arm still around me, he says to me: “This is what I want you to do. You’ve got six miles to go. For each one, I want you to think of someone and dedicate that mile to them.” I said ok, and that’s what I did.

The bridge was as awful as I imagined it would be upon seeing it; but when at the end, I heard a voice calling my name and saw another friend Laura waving from 138th Street, whatever pain I’d been feeling had—at least for a few moments—vanished. But soon enough I’m onto Fifth Avenue battling another long, slow uphill. At about mile 23, from the crowd along the sidelines, another coach spots me. “Go Team For Kids,” she yells. And then she runs up to me, and jogging at my side, she says, “I want you to Keep that pace!; Keep that pace!” And as I continue, I know if I am going to finish strong, I need to do just that. So as I move on to my next dedication, I say to myself, “Keep that pace. Keep that pace.” It’s mile 24 now. I think as far as I’ve come, what’s two more miles? So I’m racing along, and again from the sidelines, I hear my name. Surely, out of 50,000 I’m not the only Andrea… Probably not even the only [On-DRAY-uh], but somehow—maybe because I wanted it to be—I knew the call was for me. And there amongst the crowd, is Diana in town from LA with her sister, who by some crazy stroke of luck, just so happens to be passing though New York this weekend. I stop, this time for a hug and a picture, and then I continue on my way.

We’ve cut into the park from Fifth Avenue, and I can see Central Park South up ahead, and I know that just beyond, I’ll be approaching the finish. But I’m feeling weak, in need of one last push. Knowing that for sure, no one else I know will be waiting along the route, I move to the left and put my hand out. It’s high fives the whole way. I need them. “Go Dre,” one girl says. “You’re kicking this race’s ass!” …As if we’d been friends for years. Finally, I am rounding the corner, back into Central Park, and I remember that it is now time to go fishing. ‘Go fishing’ as my coach says—pick out a runner that’s fifty feet ahead and catch them. I’d spotted her minutes before— jet-black bob, hot-pink tank top. My eyes are on her but she won’t let up. On top of this, I’ve got nothing left. I’m well into the bleachers now, and having not seen my family, I’m assuming I’ve missed them. Then I hear my name, and when I turn, I see my sister in a ruby red pea coat, the rest of them jumping around her. I flash a smile and raise my arms out to wave. Well, I guess that was the boost that I needed, because when I turn my head back to the finish line, I’m passing the woman with the jet-black bob in hot pink. And then there I am, my arms raised high above my head, and I am crossing the finish.

Again, it felt like a dream. Except, that now, after 26.2 miles, from my hips to my feet, it feels as if my body is broken, and I am reminded that it’s real—that I have done it. I shuffle along with the rest of the crowd, more uncomfortable walking than I had been running. A few times I think I might keel over. “Move along,” they tell us, as runners behind us continued to pour across the finish. A volunteer drapes a medal around my neck, its weight pleasantly substantial. I stop for a few photos and continue on to where another volunteer wraps me in a HeatSheet. A few steps beyond her, another tapes this metallic cape that is supposed to keep me warm shut. I can exit the park here and find my family, but I want to visit my charity tent, even though it’s tucked a little further into the park and will take a bit of extra walking to get there. How I wish, at this moment, that I could fly.

I’m hobbling, (no joke, pulling one leg up by my pant), and a text rolls in from my cousin. 4:22:58. Awesome! Yes awesome, but I am puzzled, recalling that I had seen 4:46 on the clock. So, 4:46 was a minute past my goal time, but hey, I was still standing. I’d take it.  But 4:22:58… I’ll really take that… if I can!

Finally arriving at the tent, bundled now in a heavyweight cape and warm, I get to catch up with a couple of friends from my team. They explain to me how there were four clocks; one for each of the four waves. (Duh!) I was likely looking at the wrong one. So it was 4:23, which means I finished seven minutes earlier than I’d hoped, even with nine stops for hugs. I feel a current of pride run through me.

We sit together for a while, basking in the splendor of our collective achievement, recounting the highs and lows—the camaraderie on the course, the fans’ support, the aches, the pains, the wind! Then one of them asks: “So will you do it again? Without a minute’s pause I look up from my swollen feet and tell her no. “It was really hard,” I reply. “I did it. I can cross it off my list. And I’m so happy. But I think once is enough.” And she looks at me with a knowing grin and says, “Wait until tomorrow.”

Sure enough, when ‘tomorrow’ came, I knew immediately I wanted to do it again. I told my sister I imagine (having never been through it myself) that it’s like giving birth—utterly painful, but so worth it.

I went in to the race knowing that people have said running the New York City marathon was the best day of their life. Naturally, I wondered if I would think the same. It’s a big statement to say that a day—one particular day—is the best of your life. I think I was almost afraid to give this designation away. But for now, I think I have to agree. It was a day filled with so much joy; one that I look back on with such a happy heart. I am so thankful for every part of it—for my body that carried me, my mind that wouldn’t let me quit, for my family, and my friends, that came to be there with me, and for those that couldn’t be there, but still supported me; for my teammates and coaches that ran beside me; for this great city that was the greatest host, and for our beautiful earth, its blue sky and sun, and even for the wind.

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My Marathon – Part 1

Every autumn in New York, as October’s end draws near, as the air begins to cool, and leaves in vermilion and goldenrod begin to fall from the trees, before shop windows are decked with their bows of holly, there’s a rumble that begins. In the subway stations and on bus shelters, bills are posted; along certain streets, banners are hung, and amongst the city’s 8 million, thousands wait in quiet anticipation for what some consider the best day of their life.

Marathon Day.

I’ve been an athlete for as long as I can remember. At seven, I was mistaken for a boy, with my pixie haircut on the soccer field, and I played sports all through grade school and high school. But I never considered myself a runner. Sure, I ran track for two years and gave cross-country a go, but I used to fake injury to get out of practice. In my defense, it was Florida, and after-school temperatures usually measured somewhere in high 90s, but still… I think what it really boiled down to, was that I just didn’t like running.

Even so, every year that I’ve gone out to watch the marathon, I’ve heard this little voice from somewhere in the back of my head, saying to me, “One day. That will be you.”

It all started fifteen years ago, at my first job out of college. A woman I worked with, whom I trusted and looked up to, told me once, to make a list of my life goals, to keep it near, and look at it every now and then to check on my progress. So I did, and though the physical piece of paper disappeared soon after, I can still see the list—every line I scribbled—very clearly in my mind, now with a couple of things crossed off, a few notes in the margin, explaining why my first attempt at one or another might have been unsuccessful, or that I will try for it again, and others still far from being accomplished. One of the things I wrote was that I wanted to run a marathon. I’m not sure I knew at the time, but as I cheered on the sidelines last year, in the city that’s been home to me for almost two decades, I knew that it wouldn’t be just any marathon, but the New York City Marathon. So when I got home that night, I went online to see what I had to do to sign up.

Well, it is New York. So of course, it wasn’t just a click. In NYC, there are three ways to get in to this race of all races. One, (and this is for people who don’t decide on marathon day [like me] that they want to run the next year, but do so much further in advance) you can run nine races with New York Road Runners and volunteer once, and you’ve got guaranteed entry. Next, you can enter your name in the lottery (with thousands of others from New York and across the world) and cross your fingers and pray to high heaven that your name gets drawn. And then, you can run for a charity—raise money for them, you’re in the race. So, knowing option one was out, I entered the lottery. And of course, I didn’t get chosen. I could have used the year to run enough races for guaranteed entry in 2015, but suddenly, there was this little fire inside me and I didn’t want to wait. So I went, what I initially thought was the least favorable route and signed up with a charity. I say this because I loathe asking people for money; and being horrible at sales, it’s not like I could naturally make people just want to give. The charity I chose was Team For Kids, which raises money to provide health and fitness programs to children who have little or no access to regular physical activity. Being one who, growing up, always had a team to play on or a class to be part of, and open space to run and play never too far out of my reach (and surely taking all of it for granted), I thought it a good cause.

But yes, I was a bit daunted by the fact that I had to raise $2600, and for a second, I asked myself if committing to do so, just to run this race, was worth it. But knowing I’d have a lot of people behind me, and wanting to help kids learn to love being healthy and active, I told myself that it would be ok. And so, my journey to the marathon had begun.

From the start, I knew I needed to train. But exactly what that meant, I wasn’t so sure. So I started researching it. After waiting for 15 years to do this, there was no way I was going in unprepared. I wanted, not only to start the race, but to finish it too. Little did I know, some people don’t. So I mapped out a timeline, moving backwards from race day, and made a plan to up my workouts from 3-4 times per week to 5-6, and switch from my typical mix of running, spin class, yoga and Physique 57 DVDs (ok and yes, the occasional Buns of Steel video circa 1980-something), to solely running. By mid-June, I was logging 35+ miles a week. I had never run so much in my entire life. And though I still wasn’t sure I loved it, I was driven to continue, by the challenge. When six miles became a breeze and eight miles not so tough, I only wanted to get to the double digits. Even if it meant spending three hours early on a Saturday, pounding pavement until my legs felt like jelly, I began to feel excited about 11 or 13 or 15 miles.

The funny thing, when I look back, is that all of this time when I was training alone, I could have been doing it with a team. I’d signed up with this charity after all. Hundreds of people are part of it. It makes sense though, really. Whether it’s due to having lived in this city so long, or because I’m single, or because I’m really an introvert at heart, outside of work, most of what I do is by myself. I never work out with friends; I can’t stand shopping with friends; I go to the movies alone, I sit at coffee shops alone, I stay home to work on my writing or painting, and I do it alone. I’ve come to be very comfortable doing things on my own, so why would this be any different?

Well then I blinked, and it was September—the big day only a month-and-a-half away, and the 18-mile marathon tune-up staring me in the face. Three loops around Central Park. The nerves set in. And I suppose maybe as a result, I started to think it might be nice to have some support. So having recalled seeing a charity team email about a pre-race group stretch on a particular hill, the morning of, I headed out to join them. And I realized then, that all this time, I’d been missing out on something really great—a team, made up of people whose goal was the same as mine, who could challenge me; and coaches, most of them seasoned marathoners, who would teach me.

So from that day forward I trained with them whenever I could. And I saw a whole new side to running for a charity. Sure, I was still begging for money, posting pleas to friends on Facebook, asking for donations for as little as four dollars, losing sleep over the worry that I wouldn’t meet my fundraising goal. But there was a whole positive side to it too. With the team, instead of routes I’d run a half-dozen times alone and grown bored with, I ran ones I would have never mapped out myself, in neighborhoods I didn’t know or wouldn’t dream of running through alone. One day, it was back and forth from Brooklyn to Manhattan four times across three bridges. And another it was a day trip to Pennsylvania to run along the Delaware River. Soon 10 miles was a breeze; then 15 was ok; then 20 didn’t frighten me. I even started to like it. And though I never thought I would do this, I started to run without music, and instead with only my thoughts and the sound of my own breath.

Before I knew it, the race was weeks away. I’d finished my two 20-mile training runs in pouring rain, and was ready for whatever Mother Nature had in store for me. I’d raised all of my money, even surpassing my goal, and my family was on their way to cheer me on. Race day was clear in sight. And as much as my thoughts centered around what was to come, I naturally reflected on the months leading up to it. I thought about how doubts along the way had turned to belief. I thought about goals on my list still not completed—that cannot be until that special person comes along—but how this goal, I could achieve without him. I thought about the power of the human spirit that says ‘I will’ and the wonder of the human body that says ‘I can’. And I thought about how, as I was about to conquer 26.2 miles, the skinny legs I’ve wanted all my life were suddenly so much less appealing to me than the strong ones I was born with, that will carry me.

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Moving Forward

September 11, 2014

Even as sensitive a person as I am, I’m always a little surprised that I still cry when this morning comes around; that for not having lost any loved ones and having merely been a witness, on this day every year, the memories still sit at the forefront of my mind. I suppose though, when the wound is so severe, the scars never really do go away. Thankfully, despite never forgetting, we do go on, tending to our busy lives—our current projects, and the tasks of the present.

One of my ‘current projects’ is training for this year’s New York City marathon. And one of my to-do’s for the day, was a long run. I’ve been lucky, with this summer’s unusually pleasant temperatures, to have logged most of my miles outside, but of course, I’ve had to rely on the treadmill here and there too. The treadmill has it’s plusses—the soft surface, no wind to battle—but for nine miles, it’s just boring. So it was my plan, leaving home this morning, assuming there would be no rain, that my long run would actually be a run home from work. Well, unlike the perfect blue sky we awoke to 13 years ago, the one this September 11th morning was overcast and gloomy. And all afternoon, the threat of a storm seemed to linger above us. But at 6:30, to my surprise and delight, the mighty sun had made its way out from behind the dense canopy of clouds. So I would get my fresh air.

But I couldn’t just bolt like that. See, these long runs, I’ve learned, require preparation. And the preparation requires focus, because if even only one thing is forgotten, I could be in for misery at some point along the way– say, for example, last month’s matching half-dollar size blisters, or the other day when I locked my keys inside my apartment and had to wait, sweaty and exhausted after a two-hour run, for my super to come and save me. So first, it’s a lengthy bandaging and wrapping of both of my feet; then, it’s securing my hair back with a strategic placement of bobby pins so to avoid annoying mid-run fly-aways. And then I have to gather my little pack of essentials—my headphones (must have music), ID (in case of emergency), handkerchief (because I always have the sniffles), energy chews (fuel for the journey), and of course keys. So, I went through the routine, did a double-check that I’d covered everything, and then I was off.

Outside, my mind quickly began to wander, assessing my latest aches and pains, mapping my route and water stops and where I’d be when darkness would fall. And in all of my thinking, ironically, I’d sort of forgotten the day, or that it wasn’t just any day, but 9/11. But then at around Gansevoort Street, the running path on the Hudson River Promenade juts a little further westward and the view of downtown Manhattan opens up. So out of nowhere, suddenly right in front of me, I see the Freedom Tower. And the sky, instead of its earlier, sad grey, was now the most beautiful backdrop, in swirls of pink and white and blue, like cotton candy. Almost instinctively, my arm went up in a fist, like a “woop woop” cheer. And then, worried someone might have seen it and misinterpreted it, I brought it down as quickly as it had shot up. Of course, I wasn’t cheering for the day, but that we’re still here, rebuilt, standing strong.

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I continued on my way as the sun set. And as I curved around the southern-most tip of the island to begin heading northward, I was stopped again, this time to see the tower aglow against the night sky, and to its right, the illuminations of the former towers, reaching upward. I know it sounds sappy, but it took my breath away.

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And then from the bridge, looing back at Manhattan…

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As I write this, again I think it’s strange, that after my morning in tears, as the day went on, I’d almost forgotten it was September 11th. I will never associate the word happy with this date, but on my run, I was glad to have been reminded of it again, seeing the Freedom Tower before me, and glad that instead of feeling sad, I felt propelled to move forward, with my head lifted, proud and strong.

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Afternoon in the Park

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Whenever I whine to my sister about distractions that seem to constantly be getting in the way of my writing, she says that if I want to really finish my manuscript—which I’ve been talking about and toiling over, for way too long now—I need to work like I’m on a deadline. I have to act as if I’m turning it in for a grade. And sometimes, I need to say no, even if I really want to say yes. Like this past weekend, Memorial Day weekend, the first weekend of beach season…where everyone in New York City gets out of town.

I got on the pale-skin bandwagon at least a decade ago, after years in Florida, striving to achieve a permanent honey brown. These days, I accept my naturally fluorescent-white complexion (that has only become more blinding by living in the north), and have gotten used to the ritual of tanning by way of a bottle. Still, a little Vitamin D will always do a body good, and who doesn’t love a day at the beach? So when my friend invited me to head out with her on Monday, I jumped. But then the scene of me standing on the rooftop, shouting that I have FINALLY FINISHED MY BOOK flashed in my head. And though I really wanted to say yes, I had suck it up and politely decline. Because as much peace as the beach is to me, the hot sun on my skin, the powdery sand the most comfortable bed, it’s a place to shut off and not feel guilty about doing so.

So I’d turned down Robert Moses, but I still needed a plan. Finally seeing sunshine after the long, grey, winter, almost overnight, the trees alive again with lacy leaves, the sky a comforting, chalky blue, I felt like I’d be sinning, staying cooped up inside my apartment, or anywhere inside for that matter. But ‘outside’ in New York City pretty much means a day at the park, and a day at the park—be it Central Park or Prospect Park, Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park, or even Washington Square Park (though the bravery quotient in the squirrels there has me a little on edge)—means a day of napping in the grass. But then it came to me—Bryant Park. I’ve been there countless times for summer movies, and I tell myself I should visit more during the weekday lunch hour so to maybe find my husband, but I don’t think I’ve really ever given it enough credit. It really is a masterpiece, with the feel more of a classic garden than your typical city park. Aside from its central lawn, that is the only part of it I’ve really ever paid attention to, there’s a bubbling fountain, two grand tree allées, ping pong tables and Pétanque, a carousel, a reading room, and best… for a writer… café tables and chairs lined all along its promenade. So as my friend headed to the beach, I packed my bag…and headed for midtown.

When I arrived at the Bryant Park subway station, it being one I rarely travel through, I was clueless as to which staircase would lead me where, above ground. So I chose the nearest one, and lucky me, I landed in a quiet corner where an empty table was calling my name. I sat down and positioned my chair inward, so that just beyond the sprawling blanket of wild—or at least wild-looking—ivy in front of me, there was the lawn with families picnicking, children skipping, an intermediate yogi repeatedly practicing his headstand and tumbling; and bordering that, the park’s perimeter trees, behind which stands a wall of city buildings. The trees planted in Bryant Park are London plane trees, the same species in one of my favorite places in Paris, the Jardin des Tuileries. They can grow to be 120 feet tall. I sat under one so high I couldn’t see the top of it, I thought it must’ve been at least that. Tiny sparrows played in the shrubs, pigeons pecked at crumbs near my feet, and high above, a covey of others sang songs to one another from tree to tree, and zoomed in flight from lamppost to lamppost, making me jealous, wishing I too could fly. The sun peaked through the canopy of leafy branches, warming the shady ground where a father and son played chess, and two wrinkly, white-haired ladies gossiped with iced teas, and an odd couple walked hand-in-hand. I wrote, alone in my green corner, and in between words, would pick my head up to just watch, in awe of the beauty surrounding me, even despite the city bustling fifty feet away. It was perfect…

Almost perfect…

About an hour in, at one of my pauses, I noticed a man approaching my table. He was in his early 60s I would guess, dressed nicely, appearing clean. There was nothing about him that alarmed me. I figured he had a question; needed directions, or the time. After all, I am the one people pick out amongst a crowd at the post office to ask if I think their package has enough postage on it. I’m used to strangers. “I noticed you’re writing,” he said. “And I just couldn’t help but admire the magical quality you have, here on this beautiful day, working so peacefully. I used to write poetry and I know, sometimes you can be searching for the perfect word for hours, and it helps to just look into the distance.” Ok. Not what I expected, but he kind of nailed it! It was, in fact, a beautiful day, and the scene to me, did feel magical. “Yeah,” I said. “It’s really perfect.” And then I remembered his mint green pants and his fedora. I’d seen him earlier, walking around with a younger man at his side. Thieves? I reached, nonchalantly, down to my bag that I’d nestled in between my ankles, making sure it was still there; that his chit-chat wasn’t really a way of distracting me while his pick-pocket sidekick got to work. After years in New York, as sad a truth it is, you learn to watch out for this. But my bag was there. All good. “So are you writing poetry?” he asked. “A novel,” I replied. “Wow,” he said back with a bow of his head. “Great that you have a novel in you at your age. You’re not writing the sequel to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ are you?” Seriously? Never mind the fact that I’m pretty sure there’s already a sequel, and maybe even a third volume—Eewww!! Where was he hoping this would go? “No. I’m working on something of my own,” I replied with a disapproving shake of my head. After another two minutes of trying to engage me, he got the hint, offered his best wishes and finally parted.

A while later, a homeless lady came up to me asking for change, and then a toothless man asking to borrow my pen. Ok, fine. Minor distractions. Back to work. Then some time later, a pasty kid with a choppy Mohawk and an array of haphazardly placed tattoos and a pierced septum came up and introduced himself as an image consultant and tried to convince me to take his card. Yeah, thanks but no thanks. I think I’ll stick to the path I’m on…image wise. Soon enough, he noticed my disinterest and walked away and again, I got back to work. Then the man two tables down from me, who had been quiet and keeping to himself the whole afternoon, started rummaging through belongings he had stuffed into a collection of tattered, plastic grocery bags. And then he broke out in a fit of maniacal laughter. And that sent me packing.

I closed my notebook, happy with what I’d accomplished for the day, feeling ok to call it quits. It was six o’clock and I was hungry. I took a look around once more before leaving, and felt thankful—for the beauty surrounding me…and even for some of the crazy. I mean, after all, that’s New York.

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Blackout!

Never will a New York City summer go by that I don’t think back to those two days ten years ago, when against the black sky, the city lights were dark, and instead we could see the stars; when outside we sat on our stoops drinking beer, and in our apartments, where the air was hot and still, cold-water showers were our only relief: The Blackout of 2003.

At the time, I was working at a small design studio that occupied the garage of an old brick building in the West Village. Our space was simple and spare with concrete floors, white walls, and industrial divided-light windows high overhead. It was typical, throughout the day, when clouds would shift in the sky, that the sunshine, which often spilled down on us, would disappear intermittently.

It was a little after four in the afternoon, while I was away from my desk, that the dimness rolled in that day. Initially, I thought it was just another dense fleet of clouds, but then realized that the lights had actually gone off. And my co-worker, who typically sat quietly clicking away in AutoCAD was suddenly banging his mouse in a fit of frustration, shouting obscenities at his monitor.

During the blackout of ‘77, the two of us were crawling around in diapers, so at the lights going out —even at seeing our neighbors standing in their doorways—I don’t think either of us imagined a power outage spread across New York and a good chunk of the Northeast. Aside from that, memories of September 11th still echoed pretty clearly and I know that I for one, was still on edge. So like a dirty drug in the bloodstream, within seconds, panic was coursing through my veins, and my mind naturally went to thinking that they were at it again, and that this was only the beginning of something much larger and much darker.

I felt a tingling in my palms and then that familiar clamminess that haunts me when my fight-or-flight defenses kick in. I reached for the phone to call home, but the line was quiet and cell service was out. Then I remembered: My sister Kristina who had been up for a quick trip with her, at the time, on-again-off-again boyfriend Paul, was still in the city, scheduled to fly home that evening. My heart was on the floor. Thoughts of terrorists and planes ran rampant in my head. And then my co-worker relayed news that it appeared to be nothing more than a good old-fashioned blackout, and I could breathe again.

Still, I worried about my sister. But then, as if it was being confirmed that we did indeed possess the telepathic abilities we so very much believed in as children, Kristina walked in. A chill ran the length of my body. Only moments before, the thought had crossed my mind that I might never see her again. “How did you know to come here?” She looked at me, shaking her head, her sapphire eyes beginning to water. “There’s no way I was leaving you here and never seeing you again.” She burst into tears. And as I did too, I grabbed her in my arms, knowing the root of her worry was the same as mine had been. “It’s not terrorists Kris,” I said, gasping through sobs. “It’s just a blackout.”

We cried until we came to our senses, finally realizing, we didn’t have time to waste. We had work to do. Our first mission? To pick up Kristina and Paul’s luggage that was in storage for them, at their hotel…in Times Square.

Everyone who’s visited New York knows it’s a pedestrian city (note: this was pre-Citi Bike), and everyone who lives here is accustomed to walking every day. But when the buses are overcrowded and the subways are at a halt, traffic lights are down and walking is the only option, it’s a whole other story—more like a citywide march that everyone participates in. So they we were, under the still scorching sun, on a 30-block hike uptown, amongst the hot…sweaty…complaining masses.

After another hour, as we headed back, down to Soho where I was living, reality had really set in. First, there was the question of dinner, our collective hunger growing steadily with each stride, and the fact that any food I had at home could not be cooked. Then there was the heat and the more unfortunate fact that no power meant no AC in my studio apartment where we would sleep like sardines. I would need to locate candles. And then it dawned on us, more importantly, we needed to locate Taryn, another friend in town, scheduled to fly out that night, who at that point, was most certainly stranded as well.

As we turned down Thompson Street, I looked to the bench outside my building, and to my relief, saw that familiar head of brown curls, the lanky pair of legs and the converse high tops. She was there. We rushed to meet her, and for a second, I felt like a mother bear, with all my cubs, safely in my care.

After a quick regroup, we pooled what cash we had in our wallets and split up. Kristina and Paul made a beer run to the deli and Taryn and I headed to Ben’s Pizza, that thanks to a wood-burning oven and a guy named Tito who had lived in my building for 25 years and was manning the door for the sake of crowd control, was one of the few places open for business. T and I lucked out standing next to a skinny, model couple that wasn’t as concerned about eating as we had been. When they overheard our frustration at the 2-slice per person limit they said that we could have their extra two. Great! Because in our minds, yes, there was the worry that it might be some time before we would eat again. So we split six slices between the four of us. [Never mind the fact that this cost us $30 because the man behind the counter took payment from each of us and when we tried to dispute, threatened, “You no pay, you no get pizza.”] 

Back at my building, we drank beers on the front stoop and were content with plain old conversation as entertainment. Above us, the sky was one black dome of stars, which for anyone who knows this city, is a rare spectacle and one of amazing beauty. At one point, someone said they were worried there might be looting, like there had been back in ’77. I shook my head, knowing that after what we had been through two summers before, there was a solidarity in the city that no one, no matter how down-and-out they were, would dare disrespect.

After a second trip to the deli later in the night, not for beer again, but to lean, for a few seconds, against the still cool refrigerator doors, Kristina and I stopped at a payphone at the end of the block to call our parents. In front of us, there was a man, that by the sound of it, was also reaching out to a loved one. At his mention of being able to see the stars, I recognized his unmistakable voice as belonging to none other than Wallace Shawn. Well of course—because what’s a night in New York without at least one celebrity run-in, right?

In the stairwell of my building, a kind neighbor lit the way with votive candles that we were beyond thankful for, climbing four flights in pitch-black darkness. Inside my apartment, I lit whatever candles I could find, and we took turns taking cold showers. It’s the only time in my life that I’ve welcomed water at an Arctic temperature raining down on me. When it came time to go to sleep, Paul, for some odd reason, was awarded my twin bed, while Kristina, Taryn and I slept on layers of blankets and pillows spread out across the tiled kitchen floor. As with any slumber party, we stayed up talking until our eyes finally fell shut.

I look back on that summer ten years ago and think how lucky I was that the day a blackout hit, I had three friends there with me. When I would have been all alone, probably scared to death in the dark, I wasn’t. Would I have ever imagined, with the heat, the hunger, no money, no subway, that this saga would turn out one I’d someday laugh reminiscing about? Had you told me this was how it would unfold, I probably would have waved a hand, tossed my head and said something along the lines of such an idea being far-fetched, or ‘never in a million years’. Or maybe I’d just look back at you straight and say that I thought it was absolutely, totally and in all other ways, ‘inconceivable’.

*For a great visual trip down memory lane, see Gothamist’s look back here.

 

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Home Sweet City

home sweet city

On a recent weekend out of the city, a young cousin of mine asked me a question every New Yorker has asked their self at least once—a question I have asked myself more times than I care to think about: Will I live in New York City forever? I looked out the car window, past his puerile face to the bucolic scene in blues and greens—the perfect azure sky, the rolling hills dotted with lush, leafy trees. I shrugged my shoulders, flashed a face of doubt and said simply, “I don’t know.”

It’s not that I can’t bring myself to imagine ever living elsewhere. I daydream about faraway places all the time—about living in a quaint Parisian apartment on a narrow cobblestone street in Montmartre, or a charming, light-filled flat in London, or even packing up and heading somewhere closer to home like Chicago or Seattle, just to see what it’s like. But what James was asking was not so much could I leave New York, but could I ever leave the city. I knew this because of the way he asked—the sweet innocence in his voice, as if he wondered how anyone could prefer urban chaos over rural quietude. I turned to him and asked, “Do you like New York?” He said back gently, but assuredly, “No. I like it here.”

As a child, when I would sit down with my paper and pencil to draw, it was rolling hills and barns that came to life on my page– this despite having grown up on the beach where palm trees stood instead of pines. Was there was a longing within me? Maybe. But then along came Seventeen magazine and its editorials that pictured young city gals in Bohemian dresses carrying brown paper bags of vegetables down Soho streets. Those images made my heart skip a beat. As soon as I could go, I headed for Manhattan. And as many times as the question of staying forever has crossed my mind, here I still am.

I tried explaining to James what it is about the city that gets me…what it is that, as backwards as it sounds, actually puts me at ease. I’m not sure he grasped it—perhaps for no reason other than at twelve, knowing home only to be the quiet country suburbs, he simply can’t relate. I know I’m not alone however, in my love for city life. Just last week I came across this letter in an old issue of AD Russia, a printout of the English translation literally falling from the magazine while I sat thumbing through it in search of an article for my boss. Eugenia Mikulina, who at the time was editor, gets it exactly…

 

The City

 

Well put Ms. Mikulina.

As for my future, well– I don’t know where life is going to take me, or if I’ll ever feel a pull to any place quite like the one I felt that brought me here. But I like to go with the flow, take whatever comes my way. So if an opportunity for a new place to call home ever does come around– even if it is the country– I’ll consider. Until then, I’ll be content here, in the city…with its uneven pavement (on which I get to walk each and every day) and crowded subways (where I get to see faces and overhear stories I would otherwise never know)… the tiny, expensive apartments (where I have learned to find happiness living with less)…the bumper to bumper traffic (where I sit back and enjoy the ride) the noises, the smells… the glitz and glam and grit and grime that makes the city what it is… the place for now at least, that I call home.

Ah Yes…This Is Why I’m Here.

At the end of a long day, when stepping across the threshold of my cozy apartment is my heart’s absolute greatest desire, the walk home, short as it is, can sometimes feel like a painfully eternal trek. The freezing cold air bites at my face and my fingertips feel as if they are only moments from lifelessness. I pace briskly, but can’t seem to get there fast enough. At times I even wonder, exhausted from New York City life—commuting and all the rest of it: Shouldn’t I be done with this nonsense? In another town I’d have a car.” I think that after seventeen years, yes (and I think even Frank Sinatra would agree), I could make it anywhere. I wonder isn’t it time I trade the rat race in for a quieter, more peaceful existence. I even go as far as asking myself: “Why am I still here?”

On Mondays, it’s a residual high from my 7 o’clock spin class that keeps me from counting the number of steps I still have before reaching my block or questioning my life in New York. Despite the fatigue that inhabits me, my mind is off in some euphoric place after the 45-minute all-out blood and guts ride. It’s this class that gets me out of bed on Monday mornings as I dread the start of the workweek; this class, that I turn down all other Monday evening invitations for. Little can sooth my soul quite like it. But when a certain email caught my eye last week, while sifting through my inbox, without hesitation, I deemed that missing it every once in a blue moon certainly wouldn’t kill me.

The email was from a group I once took a class with called Sackett Street Writers Workshop. It was an invitation for a reading that they were hosting at an indie bookstore called BookCourt in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Just like I was first drawn to Sackett Street for the cozy appeal of its classes, many of which take place in the teachers’ brownstone apartments, I was drawn to BookCourt, perhaps because of the neighborhood it’s located in, or its story as a little community bookseller that could.

So last week, when Monday rolled around, I nixed the spin class and instead, after work, took a detour to Cobble Hill for the event. Well, as I had imagined it would be, BookCourt turned out to be a dreamland—where every title in the wide yet carefully curated collection called my name; the kind of place (if you are a book lover) that you want to visit everyday, or move into, if bookstore owners allowed such a thing. I found my way to the back of the store, to the events space known as The Greenhouse. A group of about 40 people were seated in folding chairs, as Julia from Sackett Street, a woman I’d never met, but through emails, introduced the evening and brought up the first author.

There were four in total, including Julia herself, each reading an excerpt from a recently published or soon-to-be published piece of work. As it is any time when you have a bunch of writers in a room, each was different from the next, and with every one, I connected differently. What I saw as the common thread was that each one of these authors was such a seemingly regular person. And though yes, there was a obvious disparity that existed between myself and each of them—that they have published books and I don’t—I like to think that they started at the same place I did, with that goal in mind, that ache, that need.

At the end of the night, before leaving, after introducing myself to Julia, I went up to the counter in search of the last author’s book. As a treat to myself, and because I am a lover of paper books and because I desperately want to save the disappearing brick and mortar stores that sell them, I decided I would buy a copy. The book was ‘Dare Me‘, about high school cheerleaders—what a NY Times book review called “Heathers meets Fight Club good”. The author? Megan Abbott, a petite redhead with a big smile and contagious enthusiasm. I’d heard Julia mention Megan was the author of six novels, but her name was not familiar to me. But then at the counter, I saw another book next to Dare Me, with the same name, Megan Abbott stretched across the bottom of its watery blue cover. This one was called ‘The End of Everything’, and it was one I realized then and there, that I’d seen on numerous reading lists in the past few months. So of course, I had to buy it too. And I would have Megan, the author sign the both of them.

An hour later, when I climbed up the stairs from the subway to begin my long, short walk home, I recognized, though it wasn’t my typical Monday night post-spin class high, that I had a feeling of lightness inside me. It was a pleasant mix of happiness and inspiration. What a perfect creative evening it had been. I paced the broken sidewalk, the winter air fresh on my skin, recalling Julia and my conversation, when she talked about New York and its wealth of resources for writers. I shook my head in agreement again, smiled and said to myself, “Ah yes—this is why I’m still here.”

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Sandy Relief: A Lesson in Volunteering

At the end of last week, when it was time to head back to work after two days at home post-Sandy, with the L train still down and traffic at a standstill, it turned out that a 90-minute walk was my best option. New York is a pedestrian city and I’ve lived here for over fifteen years; I’m fine getting where I need to go by foot. But when instead of a leisurely stroll, the walk is a brisk-paced race against the clock through streets without power (and without traffic lights), you can imagine, it’s no picnic. I made the most of it for a couple of days, figuring with the gym closed for lack of electricity, it would be my workout. Ha! I should be so motivated. By day three, I’d had enough. But as the week went on and I saw the flurry of news stories about neighborhoods ravaged by the storm, and grown men and women weeping like children at their lost homes, I knew my upset at having to trudge to work by foot was nothing but selfish.

So when Friday night rolled around, I got to work researching how I was going to help my fellow New Yorkers who were really suffering. I saw listings for countless organizations that were taking donations and accepting volunteers, some places even sending people out to visit the sites to canvas and bring supplies. Help was in high demand. Considering the train situation, I needed to go somewhere that I could get to, and beyond that, I wanted be sure I was helping deliver aid to some of the hardest hit areas. After hours of going back and forth, [as if one’s charity’s work is better than the next] I decided on Occupy Sandy.

So at eight o’clock on Saturday morning, I crawled out of bed, and with one of those giant blue IKEA totes, I headed out to the store to collect supplies: diapers, baby wipes, gloves, masks, garbage bags, bleach, batteries. My plan was to head to a church called St. Jacobi in another part of Brooklyn, that for the past week, has been serving as a hub for donations and volunteers. If you don’t know Brooklyn, it is a massive borough. So because I had to get to a neighborhood on the opposite end from where I live, I was going to hitch a ride with some other volunteers that were somewhat nearby me– a 20-minute walk from my apartment. So I headed there, the IKEA bag packed full and getting heavier with every block, and causing me to slow my pace. But I was sure I had enough time. When I finally arrived, at four minutes past the noted departure time, I found that the ride had already left. So it was on to plan B. I’d call a car service. Well, on a normal day, this wouldn’t have been so difficult, but with cell service down for whatever reason at that exact moment, anyone I tried to dial came up a fast busy signal. And trying to find an available car on the street that morning, was like the joke of the century. Sandy had turned what is already challenging NYC traffic into a whole new kind of beast.

So with the tote, at that point, cutting into my shoulder, I walked to the car service storefront a few blocks from where I had started fifteen minutes earlier. I was more or less starting from square one. And I was getting frustrated, because here I was only trying to do good, but everything seemed to be working against me. But I wasn’t turning back now. I would not give up. These people needed me. At 11 o’clock, I finally arrived at the church, where on the sidewalk, people and donations were spewing. I didn’t know where to go or what to do, but asked a friendly looking guy with a bearded face and an air of authority who then directed me to an orientation taking place in the chapel. There, we got a quick rundown of ongoing tasks that were available to help out with, and heard a few of the basics about how the Occupy movement works—how everyone is welcome; how there’s no discrimination, and how it’s a horizontal structure, meaning that anyone can take on a leadership role if they would like to.

Minutes later I was downstairs in the parish hall where goods were being dropped off and sorted, bags were being packed to be sent out to victims, and food was being prepped and cooked. A man in an apron was calling out to the room of volunteers, “Does anyone have raisins? Does anyone have raisins?” I couldn’t imagine why raisins would be so important, but looking around, I had to trust him. It was obvious that despite the scene before me looking like absolute mayhem, there was some sort of order. There were so many different things happening at once, so many people moving in different directions, but work actually getting accomplished. I was impressed.

My first job was at a table stacked with canned goods—so many you could stock an entire bodega. I, and a few others, had to move them across the room to the main canned food area. Easy enough. Done. Time to move on. I circled the room, looking for some direction as to what to do next, and finally decided that it was up to me to find my own job. So I put my bold face on, walked up to a vegetable table full of strangers and asked if they needed help. “Sure,” one girl said. “We just don’t have any peelers.” So I went on a hunt for the kitchen, found a drawer with tools inside and headed back to the table where for the next two hours, I peeled and chopped potatoes and carrots. At one point, a couple left and there were two empty spaces at the table. One of the leaders who was organizing the food prep efforts called out that we needed replacements for them. And as if he had been waiting in the wings to land one of the coveted spots, a twelve-year-old boy jumped in with a raised hand shouting with fervor, “I’ll do it!” Every one of us at the table looked up with wide eyes, hoping someone would say what all of us were thinking. And there the kitchen organizer did indeed. “How ‘bout you just stick with peeling,” he said.  “It’s ok. I’ve used a knife before,” the boy replied confidently. “I’m sure you have,” the coordinator said back. “I’d just feel better that you stick with peeling, since it’s so crowded in here. I wouldn’t want you to cut yourself.” Obviously disappointed, but willing to take whatever he could get, the boy agreed and joined us, yelling to his father at the next station over, “Dad, I’m doing food prep! I’m doing food prep.” You would have thought we’d given him the role of head chef.

My next stop was the peanut butter and jelly table, which oddly enough, I had been eyeing for some time. Aside from being a longtime fan of the PB&J, I suppose I imagined that assembling the soft, sweet sandwiches in mass quantities would be more pleasant than peeling and chopping endless bags of carrots and potatoes. It wasn’t long before I realized that this was not the case at all. Making a single peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch at home is one thing; making hundreds by way of assembly line, at a folding table in a church hall, in an emergency relief effort, using plastic utensils—that’s another entirely. Peanut butter is thick and jelly is sticky, and the two together make for a messy pair. Beyond that, plastic knives like to snap in half when used to spread the stuff. Then there’s the overflowing bread-basket, filled with everything from packaged white to packaged wheat to artisanal seven grain with nuts and seeds. With such a mélange, there is no guarantee both slices of a sandwich are going to be a match. But I suppose in the end, looks don’t really matter when you’re hungry.

From peanut butter and jelly, it was on to pulled pork, and after pulled pork it was home. On the bus, I looked down and found a shred of carrot skin dried on my jacket, and on the underside of my sleeve, a sticky smear of jelly. It looked like I had taken a bath inside a dirty dishwasher and I smelled like a pulled pork sandwich. I was hoping no one around me would notice. But then I thought about why I looked the way I did and smelled the way I did. And I was thankful that at least I had a warm home to go to with a fridge full of food, a hot shower and my own bed to sleep in. I remembered that I was one of the lucky ones.

Day 2

By the end of Saturday, even before the shower and having something to eat, I was feeling on top of the world. I was, really—like my heart was overflowing with love. Cheesy, I know, but they do say that volunteering stimulates the release of endorphins, so…   Anyway, whatever it was, I was feeling great and there was no way I wasn’t going to go back for more. And of course, having gone through the drill once already—getting there, orientation, finding my way around and finding something to do– I felt prepared going back. I was ready for another productive day that I was sure would be even better than the one before.

I should have figured, by the way the morning started out though, that there was a chance things would not end up exactly as I had imagined. I should have seen the bus being 30 minutes late as a sign. But I’m an optimist through and through, so the fact that I waited on a stoop in the chilly air for half an hour didn’t really phase me. I arrived at the church a little later than I had wanted to, but I had all day and there was lots of work to be done.

At first glance, nothing was different from the day before, but very soon I noticed that there seemed more people…more stuff…and, more chaos. But as I had planned it, I wouldn’t be staying anyway. For Day 2, I wanted to be out in the field—to see the people I was helping face to face, to deliver hot meals and knock on doors to find out what they needed most. But, I wasn’t alone in this and I didn’t have a car. So for those who hoped to hitch a ride with another driver, there were two lines to wait in on the sidewalk outside the church—one for people with boots, the other for people without. I hadn’t thought of this and I had chosen to wear sneakers. So as the ones in work boots and golashes were whisked away to the Rockaways and Staten Island, I was running food and supplies upstairs, downstairs, from the donation room to cars and back. In all honesty, I felt less like I was doing any good and more like a hamster running circles in a toy wheel. And by the end of the day I was wishing I had just stuck to chopping carrots.

It wasn’t until I was home that night, watching the news again, that I started to see everything in perspective. First, that volunteering isn’t about how you, the volunteer feels—the endorphins and all of that—but instead, about the work you do and the people you’re helping. So I like to get my hands dirty, and when I didn’t get to that day, I was disappointed. I’m only human. But just because I didn’t feel like I was doing anything so important, it didn’t mean my simple tasks weren’t. Every job in an effort such as this one, is as important as the next, whether it’s sweeping the floor, sorting toiletries or lugging water to cars. So I didn’t get to go to visit the sites and I didn’t feel so fulfilled. I wasn’t sitting on a cloud like I had been the night before, but it was ok.

As the rain (and snow) and wind begin again, the effort to help these people is certainly not going to just end; the need is not going to go away. I will go back to help.

And when I do, I’ll just be sure to wear my boots.

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Twitter Love/For Everyone Not on Twitter

The other day, in rushing, as I usually am, to get out of my apartment on time, I left my phone at home. I realized this, rifling through my bag looking for it, while waiting in line to get onto the bus. I could almost see in my head that it was still sitting on the kitchen table. Immediately, I felt feelings of panic and frustration, as if I could hear a voice telling me: “Turn around. You must go back for it. So what if you end up being late for work?” I suppose it was my rational thinking that kicked in a few seconds later and pushed me along, up the stairs and into a seat, and reminded me that I would be fine without it for a day. And I was. I survived, checking email from work and waiting until getting home to check my text messages. What I really missed though, was Twitter, because as mine is not the kind of office where it’s just ok to be tweeting all day long, I kept my distance; didn’t log on once. That night, when I finally did, I actually tweeted a note to Twitter, about how I had missed it. The sentiment was heartfelt. I laugh thinking about this because only three months earlier, I could not have cared less about this little blue bird.

It was one evening in early spring while I was at the hair salon getting highlights, when it all changed. I had picked up a copy of Vogue so to pass the time while the chemical color penetrated my roots, and leafing through it, came across an article on ‘The Women of Twitter.’ I knew of the website of course, but in all honesty, I was more interested in reading about these two executive gals waving from the top of the ladder, than anything else (because I’m a proponent of the thought that girls can do anything boys can do and I love seeing this being a reality). By the time I was finished reading the article, though cheering for the gals of course, all I could think about was the fact that as soon as I got home that night, I would need to start tweeting.

So I did. I signed in (with my user name – @galinthecitynyc – that I’d created months before but never put to use) and got to work, finding people to follow, searching for topics of interest, and of course, tweeting. Now, months later, though I’m still sort of getting me feet wet, I finally at least get the whole Twitter thing. For those of you who don’t, hear this—as author Jennifer Weiner said: “Twitter’s like being at the biggest, best cocktail party in the world.”

Exactly. And my advice to everyone is this: If you’re not at the party, get yourself there now. (Everyone is invited!) In our crazy, fast-paced world where we are bombarded daily by so much information coming at us from so many different sources, I am always wondering how I’m supposed to keep up. The short answer? Twitter. Twitter is a constantly evolving collection of snippets of information from people all across the world, talking about absolutely anything and everything, every minute of the day in real time. It’s a collectively created synopsis of what’s happening, in the world, or in someone’s own little world. It’s news, design, thought, food, music, fashion, culture, etc., etc., etc…it’s the best of what this guy found or the best of what that girl saw, that each of them wanted to pass along for someone else to discover, and then in turn, pass along again for still others to discover. It’s that cocktail party, with all sorts of people present, some you know, thousands as many that you don’t, each in a conversation about something. You hear this, you want to listen. You hear that, you need to hear more. You hear something else, you’re not interested… and so you move on to the next. It’s a platform, for anyone who wants, to say what they want. It’s a room where you speak up, whenever you like, and it’s pretty much guaranteed someone will hear you. Someone might even like what you’re saying and continue the chat. It’s that—interacting with people you otherwise would never even know about and who would never know about you.

Chris Bennett from 97th Floor explained it really well in his blog post here about Twitter bring the most important website since Google. He said: “Anything I need to know about something that is happening right now or has happened in the last 12 hours I use Twitter search for.” And he talked about the power of tweeting. “If you are a stay at home mom, CNN, Ashton Kutcher, Jimmy Fallon, small business owner, or the President of the United States you can use Twitter to better your objectives no matter what they may be.” That was three years ago. I wonder what he’d say about it today.

It’s funny how fast something can become an addiction. I can’t say that Twitter has suddenly become my life, because I simply don’t have time for that. But, like my morning coffee, I feel like a day without it, somehow just isn’t right. It was three months ago, that I really got it. Before that, I just didn’t really care to be part of it. Or, more accurately, I didn’t really know. I didn’t know that this little bird really had the power to change my life; particularly, and most importantly right now, my life as a writer. Thank God for my dishwater-blonde hair that needed highlights that day, and that article in Vogue. How long would I be sitting here not tweeting if I hadn’t read it? I don’t even want to think about it. Instead I want to think of this little blue bird and all that it represents and where it might take me some day. Only time will tell. In the meantime…

…tweet tweet.

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The Coffee Cart

Last week the Times ran a story about the eye-popping cost of single serve coffee— you know, those little K-cups we’ve all become so accustomed to…at work and at home, thanks to the now infamous Keurig machine and its rivals that are following close behind. The story was particularly “timely”, as one of my co-workers put it, because coincidentally, the very day before, I was responsible for switching out our current near-death Keurig for a new machine of a different brand that we would be giving a trial run.

You wouldn’t believe the drama that came with this changeover if I had a video clip of my co-workers’ reactions to show you. The complaints I heard—“It’s slow.” “It’s loud.” “It looks like a cyborg.” 

Meanwhile, I couldn’t care less. I don’t use the machine (save for the once-in-a-blue-moon mid-afternoon breakdown where I’m dying for a caffeine jolt and I just can’t muster up the strength to walk down the block to a coffee shop). I typically only drink coffee in the morning, and that coffee, I get from the best place in town–the coffee cart. My coffee cart.

I know, because I’ve read it a million times: a simple money-saver is to bring your own coffee to work. Buying a cup everyday adds up sure, and if I brought my own in a thermos, think of all the money I would save in a year. I could take a weekend vacation, buy that bag I’ve been drooling over, make an extra credit card payment. I get it. But… I’m not indulging in daily five-dollar concoctions from Starbucks or the slightly less but still pricey pour-over cup from the indie place a few streets down that brews Stumptown. Yes, Stumptown, my fave– indeed a delight for the senses, but for me, something I save for a treat. For the everyday, it’s a medium coffee, half and half, a dollar-twenty five. Deal.

And the best part? I don’t even have to speak my order. My coffee guy knows me. Ray, standing high up in his platform cart, with his round face and button nose, smiling through his Russian accent. Every morning, once I’m up from the subway and across the avenue, I go to his cart which he has parked there from 3am til noon every day of the work week. Some days there’s no line, others it might be ten people long. (I notice often that the cart on the other side of the block is never busy. It makes me wonder.)

“Sorry for wait,” Ray says in semi-broken English. I laugh, assuring him it’s no problem, and still quicker than the deli or Dunkin Donuts. Everyone in lines agrees. Ray asks me how I am. “It’s Monday,” I say back in a less than enthusiastic tone. “Back to work,” he replies with a sympathetic nod. And then we wish eachother a good day, I go on my merry way and Ray tends to the next guy. A daily routine.

In NYC street carts are a culture. They’re everywhere. I really can’t imagine that one is so much better than any other. These guys are all trying to make a living. But of course like cabbies, maybe the one on this corner is friendlier or faster than the one on that corner. In any case, I feel like by some stroke of luck I found the best one. He knows my face, he knows my order. Take this morning…when I arrived at Ray’s cart, before I could even utter my hello, there was my coffee waiting before my eyes. “It’s ready?” I asked, elated by the surprise. “I saw you across street, so I make for you.” (When has that ever happened at Starbucks?)

“Thank you so much,” I gushed back. “Enjoy your Friday.”

“Ah Friday,” he replied. “Thanks God. Thanks God.” 

 

Yes. Thanks God for Friday. And thanks God for my coffee cart.

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