Monday, April 26, 2010

Cup of Joe

New Yorkers take food seriously.

We have the best pizza, best bagels, best cheesecake, best cupcakes, best everything. Challenge these claims and we'll get violent (or maybe just give you wrong directions to the Empire State Building. Suckas!)

Honestly, the adjective "best" is probably thrown around too generously in this city, but it is to safe to say that a lot of what's cooked up here is unique and delicious.

This past weekend, a friend told about the city's "best" coffee. So, on a damp, brisk Sunday afternoon we weaved through the West Village under an umbrella until we arrived at Joe The Art of Coffee on Waverly Place. Joe's is specifically famous for lattes so we ordered accordingly: 1 small soy latte for me (because I like the nuttiness) and 1 large regular latte for him. To stay.

We took two seats by the window. A man next to me was editing what looked like a screenplay. A folky indie band I'm not hip enough to hear about for at least another couple months was playing quietly in the background. Our drinks came quick in wide round mugs. The tops were decorated with a delicate frothy layer of artwork that explains the shop's slightly pretentious name.

But it wasn't all looks. The mug-full delivered. It was warm, rich and creamy to the last velvety sip.

It was good, really good. An easy New York best, and that's a fact. Well, my fact.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Make Me Wanna Shoop

Lucky for Google-obsessed New Yorkers like me, just about every location worth patronizing in this city offers published online reviews. Be it a restaurant, bar, clothing store, dry cleaner or random deli that serves delicious paninis after midnight, if you Google there is usually a detailed, relatively trustworthy collection of reviews to guide your decisions.

Before my dentist appointment Saturday afternoon (which I booked after finding an online coupon through I decided to do some research. Truth is, I've always despised going to the dentist so I was half hoping to find a scary please-don't-go review to justify a last minute cancellation. Instead it was all positive. The brief online search prepared me for a trendy Tribeca "dental spa" decorated in flat screen TVs and funky white scoop chairs. It mentioned their "environmentally-friendly paperless check-in." (You're handed a laptop and asked to click through the paperwork online. Pretty impressive.) The review even described a perky, helpful receptionist. All true.

What it failed to mention is that my dental hygienist would be an undeniably attractive, tall, built, oh-so-smooth black man. He had an easy white smile and velvety deep voice that made "you're not flossing as often as you should," sound like a come on. (It wasn't.)

I usually go for skinny, white (and what's the opposite of smooth), but I have had three notable crushes on black men: Chris Leak (delicious Gator football quarterback pictured below), Lenny Kravtiz (when he drops that towel in that video) and Pharrell (Who doesn't?).

Add dimple-faced dental hygienist who's name I don't remember.

I laughed too hard at his jokes. The spit sucker almost fell out.

I tried unsuccessfully not to drool. My old orthodontist used to call my mouth a swimming pool.

No cavities. He wasn't impressed.

After a minty orange cleaning (a rancid flavor combination I've never understood) and a request to swish that disgusting post-exam bitter mouthwash for two full minutes, I hated him anyway.

At this point, after two attractive doctor encounters in the city (see the March post "Laundry Day"), I think it's safe to assume that every physician in New York is a looker.

Or maybe I just have a thing for doctors.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Our Stoop

I have a terrible habit of always being early.

Blame it on my obsessive mother who, even now in her empty nest, jolts out of bed before the sun as if there are still four lunch boxes to pack and school traffic to beat. Growing up, she made me painfully early to, flights, boy-girl dance parties at Marlene Russo's house. I was never fashionably late. I got there when the lights were still on and parents were still snapping photos.

It's a habit I can't shake. Now, I often get to work when the office lights are still off. I get to my gate before a flight with enough time to finish the book I brought for the trip. I'm even the first by about 15 minutes to my 6:45am spinning class.

Naturally, I was 45 minutes early to my writing class on Tuesday. Walking from the subway stop, I decided to weave aimlessly around the streets near the YMCA on the Bowery where we borrow a classroom. After some exploring I found an attractive wide set of steps outside a boarded up building. I took a seat, pulled out my Blackberry and beep bopped some texts and emails. I called a close friend who's getting married in a couple weeks. We gabbed about her seating chart and centerpieces. I was perfectly content on that step, enjoying the sunny spring weather, people watching, shooting the shit for thirty solid minutes. When it was finally time for class, I left the steps.

Three hours later I retraced the same path back to the subway station. It was dark now and colder without the sun. The spring air was brisk. I pulled my coat shut and tucked my face into the collar. When I approached the same stoop I had occupied before class, I noticed a homeless man laying there sprawled under a tattered wind breaker. His eyes were open, starring blankly ahead, tugging the small jacket around his shoulder each time the wind picked up. I starred at him longer than I should have.

A few hours ago, that was my comfortable stoop, a delightful spot to waste time and have a conversation about nothing. Now, it's his hard, cold bed.

After two years in New York, I'm accustomed to passing bums on the street. The sight rarely inspires a second look. They're built into the landscape here like the skyscrapers and Ray's pizza places. But something about sharing the step with him that night tied my stomach in knots.

I was hesitant to write this post. That moment and any mess of sympathy and introspection it inspired feels self-indulgent. Maybe he enjoyed that step as much as I did.

The streets of this city are teeming with reminders that my little world and what happens or matters to me are just blips in this universe. I like the reminder.

Monday, April 19, 2010


It’s after 5:00am in Manhattan and my 25th birthday celebration is finally winding down. I pour out of a cab with three other friends. We’re on our way home from karaoke, still slurring the chorus to “Sweet Caroline.” A few steps away from the front door of my West Village apartment, I almost bump into a transvestite hooker.

He’s trotting down the sidewalk in front of my stoop in stilettos, a purple mini-dress and Diana Ross wig. He could be a linebacker for the Jets. I offer a nervous smile. He ignores me and tosses his hair as he walks toward his shorter colleague, a Barney Rubble in heels, who’s leaned up against a bike rack.

I live a few streets south of the city’s meat-packing district, an area that now buzzes with trendy bars and restaurants but once served as a hub for drug dealing and prostitution in the Eighties. In the day light, the sidewalks are stuffed with nannies pushing strollers and other generally clean-cut residents who can afford rent in the Village. Much later, if the weather is warm enough, these cross-dressing “sex workers” return to their stomping grounds.

Diana Ross and Barney Rubble may seem out of place on my stoop, but they’re not.

This is New York City and two things are certain: Nobody belongs and nobody is out of place.

Before bumping into the prostitute and belting out three hours of karaoke that evening, I had joined 14 of my friends for a birthday dinner. Hours before the meal, I was anxious. It was my first attempt to meld several different groups of friends I had made since moving to New York City two years ago. Very few of the invitees knew each other. I worried about the group dynamic.

Seated around one large table at a local pizza joint, I began making introductions. Coworker meet roommate, meet new friend etc. A half dozen bottles of wine later, we were one big happy heterogeneous family. A few pitchers of beer later, we were linked arm in arm singing “Tiny Dancer.”

In fairness, this group was destined to mesh well. They all had me, age range and, as my friends, an above average level of “coolness” in common.

Still, I wonder if any other city could bring different backgrounds and personalities together quite like the Big Apple.

Sitting on a park bench the morning after my birthday party, nursing a karaoke hangover, the city reminded me yet again of its seamless diversity. Inspecting the crowds of people passing through I had trouble finding two groups that looked similar. In fact the four benches across from me were stuffed with at least six different ethnicities. I overheard three different languages.

Regardless of our differences, in that instance we’re all the same: New Yorkers enjoying a Sunday afternoon in the park.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Two Men and a Me

When I arrived in New York City two summers ago, I moved in with my first two male roommates.

We shared a pretty fantastic three bedroom/one bathroom in the East Village. It featured a spacious sitcom-esque living room with a foozball table, man-approved big screen television and full Rock Band. My bedroom actually had a closet and a lot of the walls were exposed brick (a hot commodity in this city that I don't totally understand but now prefer). Best of all, it included the company of two strapping young lads who were as entertaining as they were informative. In the short six months that I lived there, I learned quite a few interesting things about the other gender.

Some realizations were predictable. They whole-heartedly belived that sinks full of little hairs after shaving are self-cleaning. They found it very apropriate to keep a towering pile of magazines on the floor near the toilet. And they never ever put the seat back down.

I know I was a pain in the butt too with my eight different shampoo bottles balancing on the edge of the tub and extra long hot showers.

Truth is, all of these standard gender misunderstandings never really got to me because, when I wasn't almost falling into my toilet or stepping on wet Maxim Magazines, it was a pretty delightful living situation.

The boys often let me, virtually friend-less at the time, tag along and even pointed out the best places to eat a falafell at 1:00am or get my eyebrows done (long disturbing story). I accepted their TEVO choices: Ultimate Fighter, Modern Marvels the Sci-Fi Channel, and they made fun of mine: Project Runway, The City, The Bachelorette.

Victor, our resident gym rat ('cause Lord knows I wasn't), would give me a hard time about eating a slice of pizza or anything fattening, while I called him out on his peanut butter-tuna fish-flaxseed sandwiches. Yes, peanut butter with tuna fish, because he obviously wasn't getting enough protein from the 2-ton jugs of protien powder above our fridge.

Amir and I were happiest eating sandwiches on the couch while watching HIMYM and poking fun at Vic.

Both boys kept tabs on my love life and made honest suggestions.

"You should slut up your Halloween costume a bit." or "Feel free to wear you underwear around the house. We do."

Despite my current fabulous living situation, I often miss my first six months in the East Village. Sharing a bathroom with two guys, not so much.

The boys and me plus random blonde chick.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hanging with Mr. Conner

I'll make no pretenses about it. I'm writing this post to blatantly brag about my star-studded Wednesday night. I attended the premiere screening of HBO's newest film "You Don't Know Jack", a chilling story of the country's most famous and infamous physician, Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The film, which screened at the Ziegfeld Theater to an invite-only crowd of about 400, stars Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon and John Goodman, to name drop a few.

They were all there, feet away from me: a tiny, aging, bushy-haired but unmistakably cool Al Pacino with a hot 20-something draped on his arm, Susan Sarandon on crutches with a cast around her ankle and John Goodman sweating through the back of his button down and grabbing a soda at the concession stand muttering (to my guest) "I gotta get out of this mess."

The movie was good- intense and surprising, sad and thoughtful. I didn't realize Kevorkian had helped more than 150 people kill themselves. Some of them were as young as 30 years old. The movie features actual footage of his diseased, disabled, mentally and terminally ill patients begging for death.

Still, he's not portrayed as a villain, which is all I really remember him as. It focuses on his adamant belief that assisted suicide was an act of mercy and a way to honor a dying person's last wishes with dignity. During the movie, I kept changing my mind about him. Sometimes I agreed. Other times it all frustrated me.

The Kevorkian drama went down in the mid to late nighties, although I don't remember the hype at all like I do OJ's (which my fourth grade teacher watched obsessively on a television hidden under her desk instead of actually teaching class for weeks).

Kevorkian was even in the audience, sitting a few rows ahead of Pacino. It was pretty eerie when he stood up to a hearty applause. He's in his eighties now after spending seven years in jail.

Just another only in New York night I can't help but brag about.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cute and nice and smart....

I'm now single and apparently fair game for yentas.

Well, not yentas in the adorable Jewish matchmaking grandma sense you might think. Instead, my yentas are my friends and family that live in New York. None of them are grandmas and the vast majority are Catholic. But still, I coordinate enough Jewish weddings at work to borrow the term for blogging purposes.

For the most part, I'm thankful for my yentas. After being in the same relationship for the last five years (including a short-lived "break"), I don't have a ton of experience playing the field and virtually no experience pursuing a man. I don't mind the idea of somebody else arranging an introduction, assuming they "get" me well enough to pick a winner.

Last week, one of these yentas made a move. She invited my potential match to a concert we had planned to attend. First, she talked him up. He's supposedly (this was second-hand information) really cute and smart and nice. Second, we looked him up on Facebook.

It's moments like this when I would like to rewind six years to our Facebook-free lives when online profiles didn't serve up so many opportunities for vicious pre-judgement. I'm all for judging a person after meeting them but perusing pictures, interests and notable quotes before you even speak leaves too much room for misinterpretation. If I'm ready to dismiss a guy because there's one picture of him fist pumping on a dance floor who knows what information on my profile is equally disqualifying? He just might be parodying MTV's Jersey Shore (which I'm hoping also explains the way too unbuttoned shirt). He just might be hilarious, but I have pre-judged and there's no turning back.

This yenta's potential match (not the fist pumper) seemed cute enough, so I agreed to meet him, just meet him, no other promises.

Turns out he was nice enough too. We only chatted for about ten minutes after the concert, but nothing about him made me run for the door.

Later, I Facebooked him and, mad props for me, I was bold enough to invite him to an upcoming event at my restaurant via Facebook message.

He declined. Some schedule conflict.

Either way, I'm proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone.

Yentas, keep 'em coming.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Dancing with Myself

I have a pretty ridiculous after-work habit that I probably shouldn't share with all seven people who read this blog.

When I get home, after I toss my keys, purse and shoes, I immediately switch on the iPod connected to speakers in my living room. Some days the music is simply background to whatever I'm doing- washing dishes, getting dressed to go out, blogging- but on other days (and this is the embarrassing part) I'll dance. In front of the giant full-length mirror leaned against our living room wall, I'll blast something peppy and dance literally like nobody's watching...because if they were I'd likely have to skip town out of embarrassment.

Despite my South American blood, I'm not exactly the smoothest mover. I can hold my own at wedding receptions, a cocktail or three deep into the evening, but otherwise it's just a lot of sudden wiggles and spinning. In the privacy of my tiny New York living room to Beyonce's "Single Ladies", hours before my roommate gets home from work, I occasionally let it all hang out.

Yesterday after getting home, I let the iPod go to shuffle and on my way to the kitchen heard the first few beats of Arcade Fire's "No Cars Go". I had no choice. I ran back into the living room, cranked the volume to maximum and started bouncing around, singing at the top of my lungs.

A couple minutes into it, I caught my reflection in the mirror and literally fell to the couch laughing at myself and the move I was attempting in total seriousness: a combo of crouching my legs and waving my arms around my ears.

Nobody was there to make fun of me so a blog post seemed absolutely vital.

You're welcome.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Vada Sultenfuss

I've never been more excited to buy myself a mustard colored single-subject notebook.

After work Tuesday, I skipped to the closest drug store to purchase all of the supplies I would need for the very first session of the 8-week writing course I recently enrolled in. I found the class through, a Web site best known for publishing media job listings and offering continued education courses. The class, called "Personal Essay Writing", focuses on grooming first-person pieces for magazines and Web sites that accept freelancers. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I signed up and shelled out the not-so-modest $350 fee after my experience with this blog inspired my return to writing in a formal, publishable format. After all, my blog entries are mini personal essays. Why not try to sell them?

Even better, it gave me the perfect excuse for a crisp new wide-ruled notebook.

To be honest, as I always am on "Orange to Apple", a part of me was just as excited about buying fresh "school supplies" as I was about experiencing my first class in (brace for unsettling realization that I'm getting older) nearly three years.

As long as I can remember, I have been oddly enamored with school/office supplies. I love (and love is absolutely the right word) fresh sheets of loose leaf, packs of markers, piles of folders, pencil cases stuffed with rulers and pens and erasers shaped like hamburgers. I even love the smell of every Staples I frolic into.

So, yes, I was excited to buy a new notebook for the notes and handouts in my near future.

Now, after having sat through my first three hours of "Personal Essay Writing", I'm happy to report that the class is even more exciting than the new notebook.

During the meet and greet that started the class, I was amazed by each person's introduction. My seven other classmates have serious journalism chops. There's an editor at TIME, an ex-editor at Nickelodeon Magazine, an NBC News veteran and a handful of other equally impressive and interesting writers. Honestly, most of the people taking the course could easily teach it.

I'm officially Vada Sultenfuss.

The instructor, a magazine editor/college instructor/PhD in medieval literature, was friendly and engaging while still coming off as legit authority in writing, editing and reading. I can tell he won't hold his red pen if my work sucks which thrills me as much as it scares me.

This class and the mustard colored notebook are exactly what I need right now. It reminds me of why I moved to New York City. It reminds me of how much I love the process of writing and how much I still have to learn about it. I reminds me that I'm still a writer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Adventures in Public Transportation

I'm writing this post from a bus destined for Washington DC. Since moving to New York a couple years ago, I've made this 5-hour trek to our nation's capitol at least ten times. Lucky for me and my habit of getting of homesick, a handful of my closest friends from college now live there. I book a bus ticket whenever I'm jonesing for a few familiar faces. It's cheap (at least a quarter of what you pay for the train), and, with an iPod or book, how bad can a few lazy hours on a bus really be?

When you have my bus luck, pretty terrible. I specify "bus luck" because in the outside-of-bus world, I'm actually a very lucky person. I've won bicycles and all-expense paid trips in raffles. I constantly run into celebrities. And, somehow, I managed to find a good job in New York City in just two weeks. I'm lucky. Just not so much in chartered motor vehicles.

As I write this from the bus, minutes before departure, I have already deployed my please-don't-sit-next-to-me strategy. My goal is to make the other seat in my row as undesirable as possible so the last passengers boarding don't plop down beside me for the ride.

It's not easy.

Not to toot my own horn, but the seat next to mine in a bus is pretty much prime real estate. I'm a girl. I'm not broad-shouldered or over-sized, smelly-looking or holding a screaming a baby.

So, to throw off this pleasant impression, I have developed very specific tactics. First, I sit and spread the contents of my bag across the empty window seat beside me. Who would want to sit in that hot mess? Then, I get on my phone or (in this case) start typing away to avoid eye contact with passengers shuffling through the aisle looking for a seat. I don't dare run the risk of seeming welcoming. And lastly, the pièce de résistance: I unwrap a tuna sandwich and leave it open on my lap.

I should pause to explain why I'm so eager to sit solo.

During at least half of the many rides that I've braved to DC, I have been forced to rub elbows with pretty miserable company. Some of the standouts being frosted-tips Micah whose prickly shaved biceps kept sticking to me as he pounded cans of Miller Light and recounted the top 25 moments from his college frat days. Then there was the Asian lady who's name I didn't happen to catch while she was passed out, drooling inches away from my shoulder and snort snoring for three hours until she decided to wake up to eat the most God-awful smelling Tupperware of unidentifiable food. And, who can forget the short guy who shouted into his Blackberry so much that another more confrontational passenger asked him to shut the **** up?

As foolproof as my strategy may seem, the seat beside me absolutely always fills up. It doesn't matter if the bus is empty. With my luck, there's always a creepy/smelly/noisy person who asks to squeeze in.

Just a minute ago, I got the familiar nod and "Excuse me, can I?" from another passenger. He's already tearing into a peanut butter sandwich and wiping sticky fingers in the gap between our seats.

Four and a half more hours to go.

Good thing those familiar faces in DC are worth it.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

My name's Vanessa, and I'm additcted to nostalgia.

I'm a sucker for some good reminiscing.

Really, don't get me started because I'll run laps around memory lane until you can't stomach another wistful account of the first time I ever (insert milestone).

I've always been this way. In elementary school I filled "top secret" black and white composition books with weekly accounts of what I was doing and why it was so very epic. In high school, I collected photo albums. In college, my girlfriends and I had Sunday "powwows" to dissect the details of our weekends out. Now, I blog.

Lucky for me, New York keeps giving me reasons to revel in nostalgia. In a city this alive where my senses are constantly engaged every smell, sight and sound is a potential trigger. My daydream-prone imagination is frequently plucked from the present and plopped into a vivid moment from my past. And I can't get enough of it.

Two spontaneous trips down memory lane...


On a recent Saturday morning here in Manhattan I woke up to the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. Like the honking cabs and blaring ambulances that sing to the city all day and night, a helicopter's buzz isn't all that unusual. But for me, in that moment, it was a ticket back to Gainesville, Florida, home of my proud Alma mater, the University of Florida. It was a ticket to one of my favorite memories: Saturday morning before gameday.

For four years I lived in an apartment conveniently located behind the stretch of bars and restaurants opposite our campus and the legendary Swamp (our stadium for those of you lesser folks who didn't attend). Saturday mornings during the football season always sounded perfectly the same. I'd wake up to the sweet sweet yells of tailgaters either newly drunk as of 10:00am or still drunk from the night before. Behind these rowdy crowds of coeds and alumni who wished they still were was the pretty consistent drone of news helicopters above. Even nosier when ESPN's College Gameday was filming live.

So that morning, like Pavlov's dog, I hopped out of my bed at the sound of the helicopter. I knew I was in New York City, and I knew when I looked out my window I would just find a rusted firescape. Still, I was overcome with the best kind of nostalgia. It's an obscure association, but I hope I hold on to it forever. God, I loved gamedays. God, I loved Gainesville.


Nine times out of ten, the aromas emanating from the New York City streets are not exactly pleasant. But, every once in a while, I'll turn a corner or climb up from a subway platform to find a vendor selling roasted chestnuts from a cart, and that scent is downright delightful. Walking past the other day, a sweet candied whiff took me back to the New York I knew long before I lived here, the New York I used to visit with my family during Christmas vacations.

Back then, all I knew of New York was twinkling Times Square and of course FAO Schwartz. They had an entire Barbie floor where I believe I reached little girl nirvana. I remember clenching my mom's hand as we navigated the stuffed city streets, cranking my neck to make out the top of the Empire State Building, sucking the salt off a soft pretzel. That New York City, if only in memory, always smelled like street cart chestnuts.