Category Archives: summer

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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Two Days In Woodstock, NY

Even as much as we love it, and as hard as it is for some of us to admit, sometimes the city can just get to us—the endless pavement, our daily subterranean commute, the crowds, the smells…

We all know, a change of pace, even if only a temporary one, is good for us every now and then. And here in New York, we’re lucky. We need not venture far from our urban habitat to escape to someplace different, where—beach or country—we  feel as if we’re worlds away.

It’s mid-summer and I got the itch. So last weekend I made a trip. It was not aboard the Jitney, to the beach like seemingly every other New Yorker, but instead north, just over a hundred miles from Manhattan, to Ulster county’s mid-Hudson Valley, to the cozy town of Woodstock. Yes Woodstock. I know what you’re thinking. Woodstock, where the music festival was. Contrary to popular belief, that festival back in 1969 didn’t actually take place in the town of Woodstock, but rather, in a town called Bethel, 43 miles away. Even so, Woodstock—a thriving artists’ colony since the early 1900s—remains adorned with tokens of the era: peace signs, painted guitars, tie-dye…

…and graffitied cars.

Despite Woodstock’s small-town charm, I don’t know that two days is enough to see and do everything, but it’s certainly enough for that change of pace I mentioned. At least it worked for me. So if you’re planning to head up in that direction, or if you’re still weighing your options, here’s a recap of my two days in Woodstock—perhaps a little guide…or if the latter, maybe something to help guide your decision.

My mom and dad were up visiting from Florida, and as they already know the city well enough, suggested we take a little adventure. So they were my sidekicks for the weekend. We started late in the day on Friday, and as anyone who’s ever tried leaving Manhattan past three o’clock on the eve of a weekend knows, moving in that traffic is (not that I’ve ever tried, but…) probably very much like trying to run a marathon in shackles. That is, getting anywhere fast is pretty much impossible. So, by the time we arrived in Woodstock it was dark. And by dark, I mean pitch-black, because in Woodstock there are barely any street lights. So I’m behind the wheel, driving along in this town I don’t know, on narrow and winding roads, I can hardly see, and the three of us are starving. So with our rooms at the  B&B secured, we decided to go straight to dinner. We called the first of three places I jotted down as options prior to getting in the car, and as luck would have it, because it was already after nine (and we were in the boonies), the first place we called said they’d wait for us. Great. So we took a turn off of 375 and after passing it at least three times, finally arrived at our destination—a rustic lodge, tucked in the woods, decorated in colored twinkle lights:  Café at Havana Club and Grille at the Woodstock Lodge. Like old friends, they waved us in and told us we could “sit anywhere”… (which is always what you want to hear, right?) Well it turns out, much to our delight, despite there being only four patrons besides us, and a dark, “lodge-y”, no-frills feel, dinner was anything but—and instead, a sophisticated menu of Cuban-Italian fare that was, simply delicious. Back in the woods, yes…back-woods, not so much.

Then, it was on to our B&B—The Woodstock Inn on the Millstream. Unfortunately for us, it was a place, again, tucked in the back roads, in the middle of the woods, and not the easiest place to find in the dead of night, even with GPS “Tommy” Tom Tom leading the way. We did eventually make it and by morning were well aware of where we’d landed.  As one local I spoke with put it, it’s the nicest of the B&B’s in town.

Located along the millstream, on three acres of lush green (or red and orange I’m supposing, come fall), the property includes three buildings with smaller rooms or larger rooms, each with a charming country feel, minus the cabbage rose comforters and dusty, cat-themed knick-knacks. Just beyond the welcome sign, in the lobby-sunroom, a hearty-yet-healthy breakfast awaited us, and outside, the lawn was set with Adirondack chairs and hammocks for an afternoon under the trees, along the millstream. The innkeeper is fittingly down-to-earth, which made the stay an even more pleasant one. We gave it an A+ all around. Definitely a nice place to call home for a weekend.

Saturday was hot and felt like a perfect day for a farmers’ market. Before I was even finished with my breakfast, I was dreaming of fresh fruits and veggies and cheese and bread, and all that good stuff. So, since Woodstock’s farmers’ market wasn’t open, we got in the car and headed to neighboring Kingston, (Ulster’s county seat), 11 miles southeast, to their market on Wall Street. Local vendors and craftspeople set up shop under tents to sell their goods, from produce, home-baked breads, artisanal cheese and local wines to handcrafted jewelry and pottery and homemade soaps. So we bought…and we went home and indulged.

After lunch, it was time to unwind in the lawn. While my dad napped, my mom and I relaxed in a couple of chairs by the millstream, picking our heads up from our books on occasion, to watch the brave few that decided to take a dip. Looked like fun yes, but it appeared that the water might have been a little too chilly for my blood!

For dinner, it was back into town to Violette Restaurant Wine Bar, housed in a cozy farmhouse just along Route 212. Inside, sunflower yellow walls set a cheerful backdrop to a beautiful dinner. Again, it was the perfect combination of lovely food, that was as tasteful as it was simple, friendly staff and a warm, welcoming surrounding.

We were finished with dinner by nine, which turned out to be just in time for us to head to the other side of town to Upstate Films, the one-screen indie movie house on Tinker Street, to see “To Rome With Love.” The evening was great. Fun movie, great place—every seat in the house full; and best, that quaint, small-town theatre feel you don’t get much of these days.

On Sunday morning, on the advice of our waitress friend at Friday night’s Woodstock Lodge, we headed to 11 o’clock mass at St. John’s Church, just up the road on Holly Hills Drive. Church is church is church, one may think, right? Well, after mass at St. John’s, I would beg to differ. Some are just a little extra special…and this is one of them. After an a cappella “God Bless America,” in honor of the 4th of July, the pastor, Father George said mass. And it was exactly what to me, church is supposed to be… an hour of peace, a little bit of prayer, a message to walk away with and maybe even some new friends in the end.

After mass, it was a walk around town; a stroll down Tinker Street to check out some of the shops.

At Mirabai, we found ‘calm’… with spiritual books and gifts…

…at Candlestock, it was…yup…candles galore…

kitchen and home goods at Gilded Carriage

…bread and pastries at Bread Alone;

Organic fruits and flowers at Sunfrost Farms

and a little bit of everything at the flea market.

And there was plenty of art along the way—as much out of doors as in.

On my list for next time, are the galleries, the playhouseyoga and maybe a hike or two; all the things I didn’t get to do this time around. I’ve pinned this list to my fridge, because there definitely will be a next time…

…and hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.

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A Hundred Horses and a Motorcycle

Anytime I sit down to catch up with a friend these days, it seems that the hottest topic of conversation inevitably is: my dating life. I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that I’m one of the few singletons left among us, or if it’s because I am one of the few that still has faith in the matchmaking abilities of a cyber cupid. Either way, my friends love to hear of my latest attempts at finding romance and tell me time and time again that this is what I should be blogging about.

As I would about going on television in search of love (never!), I shrink at the idea of such exposure. But this one, this last date, is too entertaining not to share. 

It was this past Saturday, mid-Fourth of July weekend and I was here in the city without any plans for escape, without any real plans whatsoever. So my friend calls me and proposes setting me up on a blind date for that evening. Despite the churning in my stomach that is a natural side effect of my mind processing such a notion, I hear myself respond almost without hesitation, “Ok sure.”

So an hour later I am on the phone with the guy. (We’ll call him Sam). He tells me about this show we are going to see, a sort of Cirque du Soleil-style performance that includes live horses. Random, I know, but I have been on such a date before (sans horses but close enough) and loved every minute of it. Perhaps that’s because of who I was with…but, we won’t go there. So, I’m game to the idea. Sam and I are chatting away, figuring out the logistics, and to my surprise, I find out the event is taking place in New Jersey. Fine, but this puts a new spin on things. How, I wonder, are we going to get to Jersey. Sam continues, and tosses two options my way: a) we can take a bus or b) we can take his motorcycle.

Without much of a fight, the rebel voice in my head speaks up and responds that we will go with the latter. So I, knowing of the gear that comes with this hobby, and being a bit of a worrier by nature, ask what kind of attire I should wear for the adventure. Sam advises me that jeans are best and as far as shoes go, I should wear a pair that cover my feet completely. Now this of course is doable, and at another time and place could be stylish, but considering my current (note: temporary) living situation and the fact that we are in the middle of a 100-degree scorcher of a summer, I foresee pulling off any sort of good look as being a bit of a problem. Of course Sam doesn’t know— and I’m not about to tell him— but of my jeans collection, I have about one-fifth with me. And my boots—those are in storage. Oh and the leather jacket I wanted to buy last fall—I never did. Now will I call off the date because of a wardrobe hitch? Some girls would, but I’m not the type. I figure I will do the best I can, try to be my charming self and hope that Sam can cut me some slack.

Well— to put it bluntly, no amount of charm or slack would’ve done any bit of good for me. I reach the block where we are to meet, and at the end see a row of motorcycles. Standing next to it, there’s a guy in jeans, boots and a motorcycle jacket. Sam. I continue towards him and say hello. Despite his cordial greeting and friendly smile, that I believe are just parts of him by nature, as he is a jovial Irishman with pleasant looks and a healthy amount of confidence, I can tell instantly that I have failed on the first impression. The softly faded blue jeans that I have rolled with loose cuffs, the summer sneakers that I happen to think are cute, the casual but pretty black top, don’t seem to be racking up any fashion points. What can I say? I haven’t nailed down biker-chick sexy. As if this isn’t bad enough, Sam, out of concern for safety, hands me a spare jacket and pair of gloves that he said he would bring, that I have no choice but to put on. Now he happens to be a tall guy, around six-two I’m guessing. I’m five-three. Don’t get me wrong—I love tall guys. Usually however, I don’t have to worry about wearing their clothes. I put the jacket on and it’s down to my knees with the sleeves falling about four inches beyond the ends of my hands. The gloves look on me, like leather bear paws. And let us not forget the cherry on top—the helmet. Seriously, could this get any worse.

Well yes.

I’m on this motorcycle, still a little on edge about the whole first time bit, trying to have a conversation via a built-in helmet headset, and have at this point, thanks my half-ass outfit (that by the way I would ordinarily never wear on a first date and which has been made even more ridiculous with the help of Sam’s oversized jacket and gloves) about a thimble’s worth of self confidence. Here I’m supposed to be on a date and I feel like I’m ten on a joyride on the back of my uncle’s bike. I had no brain, no radar to detect what, in retrospect, surely must have been sarcasm on his part, and worst, no words to fire back. Let’s not even talk about my hair being a rat’s nest once the helmet was off, and how my hands were black when the bear paws came off. I was completely not myself. And to make matters even worse, at this moment in time, I happen yes, to be unemployed and I happen to be living not in chic Soho but in Brooklyn (which by the way I actually quite like). Anyway, I know that these wonderful facts, along with the sneakers and and my so-far-from-sophisticated aura painted quite a picture. It was me yes, but not a very accurate picture of me.

I haven’t lost any sleep over this guy and I won’t. I’ll chalk it up as another ‘oh well’.  But from this, shall we say romantic misadventure, I will remember to never judge a book by its cover– because it sucks to have it happen to you. Having said that, I am also a firm believer in the fact that you really never do get a second chance to make a first impression.

And for all of you who have never dared to ride on the back of a motorcycle, if you are ever given the chance, let the rebel voice inside you say yes. It is awesome. And I live to tell!

This Is My City!

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If you’re like me, a lover of summer who much prefers the days of lightweight clothing and open-toed shoes to frigid temperatures and the necessary earmuffs and travel pack of Kleenex, you’re probably wincing too. How is it that summer has once again come and gone? The pools are closed and the screaming children are back at their desks. The foreign tourists have departed to their motherlands and the boxes of winter clothes we bade farewell only months ago have emerged from the depths of our closets. Goodbye to sipping melted lemon ices, hello to crunching fallen leaves beneath our feet, and in a few more months, shivering bodies and noses being burned by frostbite.

It would be unfair for me to continue, as if for summer’s stretch I was cooped up within cubicle walls under buzzing fluorescent lights and artificially cooled air that inevitably would be too cold for my thin skin. My last three months were, essentially a New York City stay-cation, where my days consisted of adventuring throughout the five boroughs in search of fun, with a work portion at my desk at home, which more often than not, took place in my pajamas.

With my final post of 92 Days of Summer just last week, I am now twisting my torso in hopes to relieve the knots in my back that keep me up at night. From stress, perhaps? I know, “What stress?” you ask, smirking at the fact that I would even dare say such a thing when for twelve weeks I have had no real responsibility other than swiping the life out of my MetroCard and jotting down some thoughts on my travels. Though it sounds like I’ve been taking a joy ride, with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, it has been work, and a commitment I made to myself that I would not default on. One activity every day, and a post, that even if I didn’t feel like writing, I had to do. Now that it’s over, I must say that this might have been the best summer I’ve ever had. When I decided to embark on this 92-day journey, some friends thought I might be biting off more than I could chew. “One activity a week is enough,” someone suggested, and “Well if you don’t post everyday, it’s fine,” another said. No way, I thought. And now knowing of Julie Powell’s 365-day endeavor, I breathe relief that I accomplished a measly 92.

As much as it feels like summer just began, it seems like forever ago that there I was hiking over to Park Avenue at 105th Street to the Central Park Conservatory Gardens on Day 1. Day 92 finished with a night visit to the Empire State Building, which I hadn’t done since my freshman year of school here in 1995. (Cough couch). In between, I finally walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, ate a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s Deli, and ventured to Long Island City to the Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum. I was serenaded by a cute twenty-three-year-old on a gondola ride in Central Park, humored by the sights on a day at Coney Island and thrown for a loop watching my friend win five-hundred bucks at the track. I wined and dined at NY Restaurant Week, tried my hand at kayaking in the Hudson River and spent three days waiting for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park. I walked through neighborhoods I’ve only heard of, got my money’s worth out of the aforementioned MetroCard more so than I ever did commuting to work, and found things to do and places to see I’d never before had the time to look for. I struggled to find friends whose schedules allow them as much free time as mine does and ended up making most of my trips solo outings. I stood in the middle of busy sidewalks with my camera like I’d never seen such sights, and as a result bothered businessmen rushing to get by as I would block pedestrian traffic trying to capture the perfect shot. I carried my map around like any foreigner does and even succumbed to asking directions when I feared getting lost.

In a matter of ninety-two days I got to know this city better than I have in the thirteen years I’ve called it home. I found treasures I never knew about and as a result fell in love again. I may have looked like a tourist, minus the I Love NY tee and the Midwestern drawl, but felt with every step like I was home. As often as the idea of leaving comes up in conversation, it’s really difficult to imagine not being here. I probably will take off someday, when the right force pulls me elsewhere. But for now, this is my city. And I’m singin’ it!

Ladies Who Lunch

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I’ve never been able to imagine one day reaching a point in life where I’d fit into the category of ‘ladies who lunch’. Lunch to me has more often than not, been centered on the task of finding sustenance for a weary body, hours after a low-cal yogurt breakfast, when in need of a re-fueling, to plow through the rest of my workday. Lunch was always something like PB&J or turkey and Swiss on pita, rounded out with apple slices, and sweetened by a miniature peppermint patty. It was packed daily in a humble brown paper bag and consumed at my desk in front of the computer. I would eat it quietly in approximately ten minutes flat, because as many of us that have ever spent any amount of time as part of the workforce know, the lunch hour has died. In my world, lunch was ordinarily not a dressed-up affair; never a mid-day delighting in culinary pleasures with my gals; rarely a treat, no matter how well deserved a regular one might have been.

When my childhood friend and former fellow Manhattan gal Katie called me last week to let me know she was coming into town for work, my head began buzzing. We would go here and there and everywhere, painting the town together, like we did in the old days. But as usual when she’s here, though her paying job demands only a small fraction of her time, she is like a piece of taffy, pulled in ten directions trying to see all half-dozen of us she keeps in touch with. So, being the free agent I am these days, I laid out my open calendar and offered that she choose whatever window she like for us to do something—brunch, drinks, whatever. It made no difference to me. I did however sneak in a mention that New York City Restaurant Week was going on and maybe we go to dinner at one of the participating restaurants that ordinarily would not fit within our personal budgetary constraints. Her voice took on a fervent ring, being not so much a foodie, but one that’s always up for a touch of glamour, be it ruby-red lipstick, fine wine, trips to Paris, dinner at fancy restaurants…you get the idea. But it was only 11am so dinner was at least six hours away, and we were already so famished we might’ve taken to eating our hands. Instead, we decided on making it a lunch. And along with Katie, would come Nathalie, her equally glamorous co-worker, who in their trips over the years, I’ve come to know and love.

After scanning menus online and measuring our options with each of our tastes, we landed on Bar Boulud. It seemed the perfect place—French cuisine (as we all loved), outdoor seating (that who in the summertime in NYC doesn’t love?), and best, only steps from Katie and Nat’s hotel. We arrived shortly after one o’clock, sat at our table in the shade, ordered three crisp glasses of wine and studied our menus trying all the while not to be distracted by the sensory overload that enveloped the air around us—sips and sighs, clanking glasses and gorgeous plates of artfully prepared food being set down at adjacent tables. It was all so much more beautiful than our typical daytime fare, and so out of the norm for us.

We managed to try all nine of the items on the Restaurant Week lunch menu, each of us choosing a different appetizer, entrée and dessert, and subsequently sharing bites, collectively savoring not only the exquisite flavors of our meal, but the act of lunching itself. There we sat, dolled up in summer sundresses, with dark sunglasses, French twist hairdos, and Pashmina scarves that an hour before were pulled out of our closets— or for Katie and Nat, their suitcases—and thrown on to make us each look the part. No one there knew that this wasn’t an everyday indulgence for us. No one knew that under the table I was texting my bank to confirm my week’s unemployment pay had gone through. I know, I know—is a fifty-dollar lunch really a responsible move for a woman without a job? Not typically, but in the name of research, yes!

So thanks to my lovely friends being in town, for a day, I got to sit amongst the ‘ladies who lunch’. Even better, I got to be one myself. Now I know the pleasure it is, and yes, I’d happily be a lady who lunches any day of the week!

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[Waiting for tickets to] Shakespeare in the Park

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Nearly halfway into my 92 Days of Summer blog, for which I’ve challenged myself to find one thing of note to do, see, or taste for every day of this New York City summer, last week I finally decided that it was time for Shakespeare in the Park. Before I go any further, let me clarify… By ‘challenged’, I do not mean that there is a shortage of things to do here in this marvelous metropolis; rather, I mean that not just anything can find a spot on my list. I care only to share and yes, I guess boast a little, about the things that I find extraordinary! In my imagination this event would fit the bill—Twelfth Night, in Central Park, starring the lovely…Anne Hathaway.

Word around town is that the line for tickets can be rather long, as they are free, and if you really want them, you have to show up early. Yeah, ok, I thought. I’m currently unemployed—it’s not like I don’t have the time. So before going to bed the night before I was set to go, I got online in search of tips so that I would be most prepared. On one page of a generally trustworthy source, I read that the best chance of getting tickets is by joining the line, in Central Park, between 8 and 10 a.m. Easy enough. But, being one who cannot boast punctuality as a strong suit, I decided I would aim for seven.

In the end, I spent a total of twenty-one hours over three mornings sleeping in the park (as if I didn’t have a regular roof over my head) before landing two of the more or less golden tickets.

Day 1 – Monday:

At 7:50am I arrived at the 81st street C train stop and headed into the park. Slung over my shoulder was a medium sized tote packed with an assortment of items I believed would adequately carry me through the day with regard to hunger, boredom and fatigue should I encounter any of them while laying in wait. The contents of my bag included: book to read, Muji tablet with pen and pencil for taking notes, bottle of water, Lara Bar, peach, turkey and cheddar roll-ups, cucumber slices, towel, phone, money, metro card.

Unsure of exactly where I was headed, I hopped on the trail of a woman carrying a tote bag with blanket, whom I assumed was on the same mission. Indeed she was! Upon reaching the line’s end, which to our delight was in a partial sunny/partial shady patch of grass, we unfolded our blankets and in unison, sighed at the sight of the line ahead of us. (Later in the day en route back from the bathroom, I counted 278 people.) Minutes later another woman arrived behind me and while she proceeded to put together a folding camp chair, we began to chat. For the next six hours we shared stories about life in New York City, about her kids, my blogs, her art and of course our thoughts on the chance of actually walking away with tickets. Our little group that started out a random sampling of strangers, by the end of the day, was rather like a comfortable circle of friends.

I know, the idea of hanging out in a patch of grass with people you don’t know for half a day doesn’t immediately sound like the dream. Really it wasn’t so bad. It was like any other picnic in the park, where people set themselves up with reclining chairs, card tables, laptops, gourmet food spreads. Theater security guards that looked more like summer camp counselors—young, cute, enthusiastic—would come around answering questions and maintaining the peace. They’d let us know our chances based on where we were in line be it ‘The Rock of Hope’, ‘The Tree of Chance’, or where I was, in ‘The Grass of Uncertainty.’ Guys from the local deli would ride by on bicycles calling out names of people who placed phone orders. Yes, a deli delivering to people on line for tickets—only in New York! Seeing it all, I realized that this was, not just any line for tickets, it was…a thing.

At 1:28, as we rounded the last curve of the path from the front of the line, all hope was lost. Tickets were gone. As I walked away, with tired eyes, an aching back and good ole’ fashioned disappointment, I wondered: would I be up for doing this again?

Of course I would.

Day 2 – Wednesday:

Knowing after my first unsuccessful attempt at getting tickets, that the recommended 8am arrival time yielded nothing more than a fat chance, I devised for myself a better, hopefully more profitable plan for Day Two: stay the night at friend’s Upper West Side apartment (two blocks from the park), wake up at five and be out the door by 5:33 (when the forecast says the sunrise takes place), find a better spot in line, get a few hours rest, read a little, write a little, chat with new friends should I make any, and by ten after one, have tickets in hand. Not so much. Staying at friend’s meant two glasses of wine and an accompanying late night of gossip. My 5am wakeup turned out to be 5:14 and by the time I arrived down to street level, it looked as if the sun had been hanging out in the sky for days. When I landed at my spot in line I was pleased to find that I was well in front the Rock of Hope and it’s neighboring tree and grass. This time I was in the mulch (literally) and thanks to smart packing had, in addition to my towel, a large fleece blanket as well. Since I had assumed it would be a sunny day, like the first one, I had on shorts and a short-sleeved tee. But…no, no…I was in the shade. This time rather than a picnic, it felt like camp in the middle of October as there I was curled up in a ball trying to keep warm on the cold, wet earth beneath me.

Oddly enough, as I was walking into the park that second day, I was disappointed not to have my friends from Day 1 there by my side. And then I remembered, that they had started off as strangers. So I continued on to the end of the line with that thought in mind and opened myself up to the possibility that I might meet someone of equal or greater awesomeness. Again, not so much. To my right was a pair of girls my age, but brainier and though fun to eavesdrop on, nowhere near as chummy as my previous visit’s pals. To my left was a man who suffered from a combination of severe social awkwardness, an addiction to Marlboro Reds, and uncomfortably loud gastro-intestinal issues. Fun for me. The day wore on, in many ways the same as the first and in many ways differently. For one, I felt a bit more like a pro at the game. And as a pro, I felt that this time, surely I would get tickets.

At 12:45, we stood up and shuffled along toward the ticket guy. Again, I felt the nervousness rumbling in my tum. And to my utter shock, this time, mere feet away from ticket handoff, again I felt the heartbreak. “Sorry folks,” he said. “We are out of tickets. If you’d like to wait in the standby line…” Ugh! The thought of the standby line made my stomach churn so, I walked away. And again I asked myself, “can you give it one more shot?” Of course I could! Only the next time, I would have an even better plan.

Day 3- Thursday:

As I had proposed that, should I get tickets, she’d get to be my lucky date, I arranged to stay at friend’s apartment a second night. This time it would be one glass of wine, no chit-chat and the alarm set for 4am. (Ya think I’m nuts yet?!) Despite the pitch-black that enveloped me, I woke up as scheduled. After throwing myself together in a matter of no more than ten minutes, I grabbed my bag, this time with yoga mat and pillow and flew out the door to be on the street by 4:15. Streets lights lit my path enough for me to safely arrive at the line of doorman buildings opposite the museum. I kept a run-walk pace and finally reached the park. Just ahead, along the park’s perimeter wall—mind you it was quarter past four IN THE MORNING!!!— there was a line of two hundred people. “Shakespeare in the Park?” the woman at the front asked. “Uh, yeah,” I replied. And following her command I proceeded to the end. Die-hards.

Forty minutes later, as the sun began it’s ascent, the line of us, intact and single file, proceeded to the path, inside the park, where we resettled to begin our wait for the day. The yoga mat was a good idea seeing as how, though I had a better place in line, I landed at a spot on the concrete pathway where I would wait for the next eight hours. There was no way I was leaving this time unless I had a pair of tickets.

 As if the early wakeup, run-walking in the dark and finding a line of two-hundred ahead of me wasn’t bad enough, minutes before getting settled on my bed, I practically got tossed from the line after being accused by a frantic and subsequently mistaken woman that I had cut. I don’t think so lady! Did she know me at all? Thankfully, the friendly, young thespian duo beside me came to my defense.

Fast forward to three hours later when after a semi-comfortable sleep, I woke to camp counselor rattling off what had to be nonsense; I hoped I’d heard him wrong. Limited ticket distribution? Regardless of our ordinarily good spot in line today he couldn’t promise anything? I had to be dreaming. No wonder that woman tried to kick me out of line. Chances that any of us past the first hundred people would get tickets were slim. It was dog eat dog. But I’d made it this far and had only four more hours to go. I tried to hang onto hope. I didn’t think I would have it in me to do another day. When people would walk by with a blanket under arm, eager to find their own place in line, though feeling bad about how clueless they were, I would laugh under my breath. Right…no way you’re getting a ticket at this hour. My neighbors in line joked we should have a poster reading simply: 4:30am. Uh huh.

When one o’clock finally rolled around, my nerves were a mess, the whole limited distribution thing looming over our heads. We inched closer…and closer…and a little bit closer. And then the line stopped. I could see camp counselor back and forth with the ticket man. What were they saying? I wanted to scream. And then line started moving again…closer….and closer….and closer, until finally, there I was. “One person, two tickets,” I exclaimed. And off I went, skipping away, tickets in hand.

 Three days crack of dawn, twenty-one hours total. At that point, none of it really mattered…cause I was finally, finally, going to Shakespeare in the Park!

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Life in the Slow Lane

blossoms

Summer Fun. All of a sudden that familiar phrase has a totally new meaning to me.

This past Friday, I was laid off. It didn’t really come as such a shock, because well—who hasn’t been thinking it might happen to them? So now here I sit, jobless. Initially, however it was a bit of a blow and for that first thirty minutes following the announcement: “We have to let you go,” I sat on a stoop wiping away tears. (How New York, I know!) And then I looked at my watch and noticed the still early hour and said to myself, “Get up lady. You have things to do.”

It was strange yes, doing laundry—my so very un-glam must-do for the day—in the middle of the afternoon, when ordinarily I’d be at my desk scarfing down lunch so to not surpass the unwritten twenty-minute time limit that seemed to exist for the break. Standing at the dryer I picked through the jumble of freshly-bleached socks to find each lone one’s mate with no care in the world for how much time the tedious chore took to finish.

For the time being anyway, I’m a free agent. And I’ve got no one to report to but myself. Since D-Day it’s been extra-long, early-morning, sunshine-y workouts in the park, which are as glorious they are grueling, mid-day spin class, three-thirty happy hour, and in between, meandering down unknown side streets, making sun tea on my fire escape, and drinking mojitos on the roof. A sudden life of leisure, really.

There are the downsides too though. Lonely mornings that pass by silently and the tinge of sadness that comes when I think of my work family that I will no longer see every day. And it’s a life with no paycheck. Although I’ve figured out a way to survive for a brief moment, I too have already felt the sting of that reality. The other day while strolling past a string of street vendors downtown I caught a glimpse of a pretty bracelet that for a split second I felt I had to have. A small gift to myself wouldn’t put me under, so I asked the seller, “How much is that?”

“Thirty dollars,” he said back.

Thirty dollars. Hmmm. I mulled it over. Was it worth it? Did I like it that much? I mean, thirty dollars is thirty dollars. I could think it over and come back the next day if I really wanted it. So I asked him, “Are you gonna be here tomorrow?”

And shaking his head as if I’d asked him to sacrifice his first born, he replied, “Oh, don’t do this to me.”

What? Was this guy kidding me? The nerve, I thought. And surely he didn’t expect my fiery reply. “Yes or no mister?” I said back. “You can tell me if you want, but I’m not gonna take that from you. I just lost my job.” And with that I stormed off, leaving him in the dust. Pretty priceless if you ask me!

Hopefully soon enough I’ll be back in business and able to buy a thirty-dollar bracelet without worrying about cutting into my grocery budget for the week. And in the meantime, hopefully this blog will see more action. As much as I might have thought my newfound unemployment would land me at least of few weeks of life in the slow lane, I’m quite certain that won’t be the case. So much to do. So much to see. And of course, so much to write!

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New York City Summer

 

Having spent the first eighteen years of my life in a sunny place called Cocoa Beach, I consider myself a warm-weather gal. As much as I’ve grown accustomed to the northeastern four seasons and developed a love for the falling leaves in autumn and the first flower blossoms in spring, I still prefer New York City summers the best. I might have something different to say once November rolls around but for now it’s all about my love of sunny days and warm temperatures, and all the goodies that come with.

 

Months ago I recall an afternoon in the office when to a co-worker’s mention of his excitement about the upcoming summer season I scoffed at him replying, “summer’s almost over.”

 

“The first day of summer isn’t until tomorrow,” he said back.

 

“Well it might as well be over,” I continued. “You know it’s gonna fly by.”

 

So here we are, less than a week from the official last day of summer and first day of autumn. Three months gone in a flash as I’d anticipated. I suppose we can continue along acting as if it’s still ‘summer’ as long as the warmer weather remains. We can wear cutoff jeans and sandals, we can picnic in the park on the weekends and we can dine at outdoor cafes and drink sangria. But that little voice will still be there whispering, “Get over it darling. Summer is over.”

 

It’s true. It’s been pretty much over for weeks now. I knew it the Tuesday after Labor Day when I walked past the neighborhood park and saw the community pool an empty concrete box, no blue, overly chlorinated water, no children screaming and stubbing their little toes. This morning my thoughts were centered on the leaves that were actually falling in colors other than green, and the children in uniform, marching to school with their backpacks. As I stand in my closet these days, I shake my head at the idea of wearing white jeans and think what a shame that I only wore that new sundress twice and won’t again until next year (if I even dare). I look at all the summer recipes I never made and remind myself of the approaching shift to stews and soups—the comfort foods of cold weather nights. I cross my fingers that the Italian ice stand will be open at least a few more weekends so that I can get another before it’s time for hot cocoa, and I think of the promenade of beautiful plantings along the West Side Highway and remind myself that I should get out for another few runs before the trees are leafless. I feel disappointment over the movies at Bryant Park that I missed and the concerts on the pier I didn’t get to.

 

But I think also about all the things I did get around to this year, like Fourth of July at the Jersey Shore (a.k.a. the new Riviera), a day of beach yoga and surfing, a pool party with friends, a few barbeques and plenty of summer evenings outside and good enough number of weekends in the park. I can even check the peach pie off my list as I finally got around to making one last week for a friend I’d been promising one to since last summer. Had it not been for the ever-faithful fruit stand in Chelsea I might’ve had to offer up my best, “Sorry—I promise I’ll make you one next summer,” as, though it seems hard to believe in New York City with grocery stores and gourmet markets on every other corner, I had to go on a wild goose chase to find a pie’s worth of ripe peaches. In Whole Foods I was actually told, “Well miss, you know, we’re starting to phase the peaches out.” Phase the peaches out—words a lover of summer never wants to hear and a sure sign the season is coming to a close.

 

There’s nothing quite like fresh peaches. There’s nothing quite like summer in the city.

 

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