Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Touchy Feely

On a flight back to New York from Chicago last weekend, I woke up from a nap to find my face less than a couple inches from the passenger next to me. We had dozed off facing each other, heads fallen to the edges of our seats unknowingly about half-a-nudge away from Eskimo kissing. We both opened our eyes at the fasten seat belt ding, noticed the awkward lack of distance between us and simultaneously jolted our heads back. He was a twenty or maybe early thirty something with a mop of black curly hair and matching patchy beard. He tapped his feet and fingers to whatever was on his iPod. He ordered a Jack Daniels neat and called me a "troublemaker" when I asked to slip out to use the restroom. I laughed to myself after whipping my head back to face my tray table. For total strangers, we had just shared a pretty intimate 10 or 20 minutes- swapping breathes as we virtually shared a pillow. As far as I could asses, I was more responsible for the almost snuggling than the hipster in the tomato red cardigan sweater. I had fallen slightly farther left in my seat than he had fallen right. I laughed because I'm not surprised my subconscious curled me up to a total stranger. I'm a notorious personal space invader.

A male friend recently told me that the average person needs about 8 touches per day to maintain a healthy sense of connection to his or her surroundings.

"Vanessa, you need like 80," he joked after sharing the statistic.

He's right. I'm a big fan of touching, hugging, holding hands, rubbing, snuggling and generally grabbing on to the people I talk to or walk next to. No romantic interest necessary (see snuggling strange man on airplane), I simply like to be close. I suppose that's why New York and I get along so well.

It's a touchy city. From crowded 6-train at rush hour (aka spring break Cancun as one bump in the rail can press you up against/booty dance you with whoever is crammed behind you) to being seated no more than a fork's distance from any other diner at a popular restaurant, it's a place where personal space doesn't entirely exist.

Of all my city complaints- mice, monthly rent check that violates my bank account, frozen puddle of hobo pee I slipped on last winter- the whole lack of personal space thing is most tolerable.

At risk of sounding both creepy and cheesy (creesy?), I'll admit I find it sort of exhilarating to have so many opportunities everyday to connect with random people. I hug and hold on to people when I talk to them because I like interacting and, on my better days, I really appreciate the way New York City forces interaction.

It's not just me driving to work and back. It's me and the senile old Cuban lady (once professional ballerina) who paces my building's lobby in a lace trimmed moomoo waiting to open the door for people. It's me and that very good looking man in fancy suits who lives a block down and, as if it's choreographed, always steps off his stoop while I'm walking past it. It's me and whatever mixed bag is sharing my subway cart- people I smile at or stare at or roll my eyes with when a crazy/drunk man jumps on as the doors are shutting to scream out to us "why God hates women and women love abortions." (true story)

Sure, the interactions aren't always magical. Some days the slow old Cuban lady holds me up when I'm in a rush, fancy suit man doesn't float down his stoop in freshly polished shoes and I can't drown out whatever noise I don't want to hear on the subway with my iPod. But you get used to it. In fact, after more than two years here, I'm fairly certain I'd miss all this hubbub if I had to do day to day without it.

Back on the airplane, several minutes after invading the bearded hipster's personal space, I offered him a stick of gum. He took it but said nothing. We chewed side by side in silence. I wanted small talk. I wanted to know what he does for a living, what trendy Brooklyn neighborhood he resides in, why he was throwing back Jack Daniels before 2:00pm. We napped together for goodness sake, I wanted to know his name. But I got nothing.

The plane landed. We stood up to file out of the aisle. Without my asking, he pointed at my luggage, waited for my nod then plucked it out of the overhead compartment. "Thanks!" I exclaimed a bit too enthusiastically. He shrugged and walked off the plane. Still I'm convinced we had a moment- and that he thinks I'm crazy.

Not crazy sir, just creesy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fatty Love

So I found the perfect food.

No big deal or anything; it's just the planet's most scrumptious combination of flavor and texture in one dish- my food soulmate.

It's a "salad" but not at all the humdrum pile of diet greens that word might conjure. Naturally, there's nothing diet about my food soulmate. It consists of two main ingredients (drum roll please...): fresh chunks of watermelon and crispy melt-in-your-mouth pork belly.

Yup, you read me right. The restaurant Fatty Crab (conveniently and dangerously located a stone's throw from my apartment) serves up this succulent combination of sweet and savory/hot and cold/crispy and soft that is undeniably one of the tastiest things I've ever consumed. For reals.

I'll admit, I hesitated a little before ordering it for the first time. I like watermelon. I like (/would swim in a sea of) pork belly. But together? It's this strange, counter-intuitive combination that makes this salad memorable. Like everything else at Fatty Crab- a Malaysian restaurant where you eat chili-lime-coconut short ribs and soy-fennel-cumin glazed chicken wings with your hands- every bite of the salad is layered with calculated flavors and textures. It's splashed with a rice wine vinegar based dressing that incorporates lime juice, ginger, cilantro, Vietnamese coriander, Thai basil and sesame seeds. In other words, it's fan-freaking-tastic in a way most of us could never hope to recreate at home.

So thank you Fatty Crab and Chef Zak Pelaccio. And, while I'm at it, a long overdue, thank you pork belly.

Monday, November 8, 2010


I had a smile full of braces in my senior high school picture- those awful "clear" brackets my orthodontist enthusiastically promised would be "almost invisible." Liar. It looked like my teeth were half an inch too thick- awkward little off-white squares that turned whatever color I was eating or drinking.

High school was tricky for me. It's not that I wasn't popular. I had attended the same school all my life so I knew everyone and, as far as I can remember, was pretty well-liked. I attended the Friday night football games and dinners at TGI-Friday's that followed. I was invited to the parties. I got drunk off half a Mike's Hard Lemonade like the best of them. Thanks to three older siblings I was socially normal and, despite those clear braces and a questionable center hair part, I wasn't terribly offensive looking. Still, it was a tricky time for my self-esteem mainly because I got zero attention from boys.

My friends had boyfriends and prom dates that tried to go to second base with them. All my dates to dances were platonic. In fact, when I did get the courage to ask a boy I liked to Christmas Formal (when girls are supposed to ask guys), he didn't hesitate to say no- a plain no without explanation. For whatever reason, I just didn't have what most post-pubescent lads wanted.

I liked who I was back then- a goofball, a good student, a good friend. Still (like most teenage girls) I wasn't too comfortable in my own skin. I rarely felt pretty enough or cool enough around boys.

By the time I got to college I had been kissed just twice. The first weekend of my first semester at UF a tall good looking junior walked up to me at a party and told me I was "hot." I almost dropped the red Solo cup I had been pretending to drink from for hours. I made out with him that night. He asked me if I wanted to go back to his apartment to "check out a coffee table my roommates made from beer bottle caps" (seriously). I ran back to my dorm as terrified as I was giddy.

This should be the point in the post when I announce that after that fateful night the floodgates opened and men lined up around the block to date me- the flower that had finally blossomed. Eh, not so much. I dated a little. I kissed around. I mainly spent my time developing crushes on undeserving frat boys. Unrequited love was my speciality. By sophomore year I surprised myself with a serious boyfriend and well, that was it for dating. We stayed together until I was 24.

I'm single now and obviously very different from the 18-year-old single version of me. Somewhere along the way, I started feeling pretty enough and cool enough. But, I gotta admit, that braceface still exists. She's why I still crush so hard so fast. She's why I give men fourth and fifth chances they usually don't deserve. She's this tiny part of me that wants to be liked so bad it doesn't matter how.

A couple weeks ago, I went for drinks at the usual bar my coworkers and I head to after work. I was sitting at a counter that faces the bar, letting my feet dangle as I sipped a cocktail, when a group of three took seats across from us at the bar. I was warned that "my type" had arrived. He was. I starred at him shamelessly between conversations. He made eye contact with me too. My coworker, aware of the spectacle, demanded that I go talk to him. I dismissed her insanity. I couldn't approach him. What would I say?

So then write your number on a napkin and hand it to him on your way out, she suggested- as if that was normal behavior. I rolled my eyes. I would never. Braceface was appalled.

Fifteen seconds later she put a pen in my hand and 10 minutes later, in one of my more shocking single moments, I waltzed over to him at the bar, leaned in, scooted the napkin toward him and muttered whatever I could as my heart palpitated "I promise I never do this."

He looked at the napkin, smiled and introduced himself. I don't really remember anything that flopped out of my mouth after that. Something along the lines of we should meet up tonight as I scurried out the door where my coworkers were waiting/giggling.

About an hour later, he called.

Yes, braceface is still a part of me and she always will be. But I'm kinda starting to like this other side too- fearless New York maneater. Ha, a braceface can dream.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"rut ro"

Last week my roommate announced that she's ready to move out of our apartment. She's lived in our third floor walk-up for six years (four years before I got there). The slanted floorboards and peeled white moldings I find charming drive her crazy. She sees herself in a studio in Brooklyn. She's sure the change in scenery will drop her back in love with the city.

A few days later, over strong happy hour drinks, a close friend explained that she's considering a complete career overhaul. She's worried the industry she's in wont satisfy her in the long term- and her boss is a jerk.

As much as I wagged my head in support as both listed the pros of switching things up, I'll admit- I don't entirely get it. Yes, our apartment is small, closet-less and inexplicably dusty even after you dust, but it's cozy and cheap for the neighborhood. And yes, my friend's boss sucks, but honestly speaking, sane New York bosses are about as ubiquitous as female cab drivers (once and she had a moustache).

Why fix what ain't really broke?

When I relayed these updates to another friend (who just switched cities and job) she reminded me, "Well, Vanessa, you're not exactly big on change."

I got a little defensive. I'm big on change, or at least I'm sure I'm not small on it. I'm certainly not one of those boring people who just gets comfortable and settles- at least, I don't think I am. I guess it's just been a while since I felt the urgency to make any significant adjustments.

Nervous, I quickly scanned my apartment for evidence of complacency. I moved in two years ago and I still have plastic drawers instead of a real dresser. My head spun into a mini-tizzy. Do I need a change in scenery? Do I need a new job? Wait a hot second, did I fall into a rut when nobody was looking?

So, I overreacted. But I could use the break for evaluation.

When I moved to the city a couple years ago I was the queen of change and risk. New city, job, apartment, roommates, friends, singledom, bangs- I was scared to let anything stay the same.

A couple thousand subway rides later, I may have gotten a little comfortable. As good as that feels I'm a firm believer that your twenties (or at least my twenties) is hardly the time to settle into anything. I don't need a new apartment, but it could use a face lift- and furniture that didn't come from Kmart's dorm collection on clearance. I don't need a new job tomorrow, but I shouldn't avoid the sometimes scary question, "Where am I headed?"

Lucky for me, I live in a city that won't let you suffer in (or enjoy) any rut for too long. I'm surrounded by the antsiest folks on the planet- commitment-phobes and workaholics who consider "settle" a very bad word.

Right now, that's perfect for me- not that I'll never settle down. I look forward to the security and satisfaction that comes from picking the right place, person and job. But not now or yet- a least a hundred more mini-crises (and blog posts) to go before I figure that out.