Tuesday, August 27, 2013

And also with you.

Step 1: Take a sheet of paper and pen, and move away from your fiancĂ©- far enough that he or she can't see what you write.

Step 2: Write down your answers to the following questions. Answer honestly without trying to predict what your 
fiancĂ© may want you to write.


Question 1: In 10 years, where will you live?


Question 2: In 10 years, how much money will your spouse be making?


Question 3: In 10 years, what will your family look like?


Step 3: Share your answers. 


Jon and I smirked at each other as we completed the homework assignment suggested by the priest overseeing our Pre-Cana class, the marriage prep course Catholics are required to complete before getting married in the Catholic Church. We opted for an "intensive" 2-day retreat instead of six weeks of Sunday classes. About 12 other Brooklyn-based couples attended. The group was relatively young and seemingly normal, except for one Nigerian dude who kept raising his hand to ask about abortion.

The retreat started with a Friday evening prayer service led by a jovial monsignor with a sitcom Brooklyn accent. He began his sermon by calling the group out on collectively screwing up the response to "Peace be with you" during mass. The response was officially changed two years ago, but most of us chimed in with the old, inaccurate, "and also with you." Clearly this isn't the most devout group, the priest joked.

Good or bad Catholic, Pre-Cana is a time to ask any tough questions and clearly communicate our expectations of marriage, he explained. The three-question exercise (listed at the start of this post) was offered as a way to make sure you and your future spouse are "on the same page." Jon and I agreed to do it when we got home. 

We were both a little nervous before reading our answers out loud. Of course we had talked about our future (usually with stained lips and flushed faces after polishing off a bottle of wine). We've discussed where we may want to live. We've agreed that we want lots of kids. We've even concluded that we both like the girl's name Olivia. But that three-question quiz, it doesn't mess around.

We said our answers at the same time.

Question 1: In 10 years, where will you live?

That's a tough one to answer when you're both from someplace else and you meet in New York. As far as I can tell, it's a city you move to, and it's a city you one day leave. Maybe you fall in love, with a guy or a job or a rent-stabilized apartment, so you stay a while. But it's rarely because you planned it that way.

In many ways New York is easy to leave. For starters, it's absurd. Someone is honking, pushing, yelling, jackhammering and/or peeing near you at all times (usually all 5). And the the contents of our rented 1-bedroom lives could get packed into the back of a U-haul by by a Craig's List man-with- a-van in under 2 hours.

But in many more ways New York is impossible to leave. As far as I'm concerned, the delicious squeezy bottle sauce at the areapa restaurant in my hood is a compelling enough reason to raise a family here. How do you leave the best city in the world? How do we know if it's worth it or not to stay?

Alright already, "In 10 years, where will you live?"

We both wrote Florida. But I think we both sorta hope it's Brooklyn.

Question 2: In 10 years how much money will your spouse be making? 

I remember the first time I showed Jon my bank statement. He was doing my taxes. Or maybe he was teaching me how to check my credit score. Either way, I showed him mine and he showed me his. The exchange was uneventful. No big secrets revealed. But sharing our balances, savings and salaries felt surprisingly intimate and bonding.

My finances are really the only thing I've ever kept private. The rest is on my Facebook wall. It felt good and natural to let him into that bit of my world. But it was definitely strange to predict our future 40-year-old salaries out loud. As a woman, I was especially nervous to blurt out a number.

As much as we wanted to poke fun at Pre-Cana (after a 45 minute presentation on "natural family planning"), that simple exchange of answers sparked an important conversation about our future, for richer or poorer.

Question 3: In 10 years, what will your family look like? 

I can't remember Jon's answer. I think I hoped for three kids and a dog.

Either way, we all know the real answer: as many little big noses as we can afford.

***

The last 6 months since we got engaged have been awesome. The planning and parties have me excited for the wedding. But Pre-Cana got me excited for marriage. We're really doing this.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

plant, fish, dog, baby


Plant, fish, dog, baby.

Apparently that's the official order of family additions. At least that's what my doorman Eddie declared as I walked into our apartment building last week with a French Bulldog. A baby is next, he joked as the dog flopped over to let him scratch her belly.

Upstairs, I scanned our apartment. Two plants sunning on the windowsill. One goldfish swimming in a tank on the kitchen counter. One hyperactive French Bulldog rolling around on our living room rug. I hallucinated a crib in the bedroom. Then I hallucinated our goldfish jumping out of his tank to smack me out of it.

Eddie's plant-fish-dog-baby theory may be correct, but we're just dogsitting. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.We're still on step fish. Bruce Springsteen the goldfish to be precise.

Jon and I proudly welcomed the Boss into our lives on July 10th. While walking home from dinner we detoured through an Italian street festival hosted by our neighborhood's Catholic Church. The humid summer air was dense with the scent of fried zeppoles and smothered sausage. Vendors with thick Brooklyn accents advertised crusty stuffed animals at dunk tanks, beanbag tosses and squirt gun races. Jon and I set our sights on the goldfish game where you attempt to throw ping pong balls into rows of empty fish bowls. It took $12 and about 30 tries before I got one in. We celebrated dramatically. The kid behind the counter shoved a plastic bag of fish in my face, and just like that Jon and I become primary caregivers.

On our way home we bumped into the church's priest. We said hello and introduced him to our first pet, hoping for a drive-by baptism. He laughed at the un-named goldfish.

"Just don't name him. It will make it tougher to flush him,"  he advised.

Peace be with you too, Father.

Of course we would name him. A good name would help the poor little guy survive.

"Who's the coolest person we know?" I asked, searching for a proper namesake. I don't remember who suggested Bruce Springsteen, but the name won out instantly. Can you think of a better goldfish name, lyricist, performer or champion of blue-collar America? Didn't think so.

At home we emptied our cabinets searching for a proper bowl. Nothing was good enough. It was 10:30 p.m. and Bruce Springsteen was still in his bag. In a panic, we ran back to the street fair. Of course the goldfish game was selling fish tanks. We splurged on the biggest one with rainbow-colored pebbles. Back home we asked our doorman Eddie to be our goldfish godfather and begged Bruce to at least survive the first night.

A few weeks later, Bruce is alive and better than ever. We added plants to his tank and Eddie (doorman/godfather/life coach) found an awesome new-looking filtered tank in our building's trash room.

It feels good to take care of something that needs me. And watching Jon worry about how clean the water is or how long Bruce's poop strings are makes me excited for the other things we may take care of some day. Like my brother's smushed-face runt of the litter French Bulldog, Alaia.

My stint in dogsitting quickly taught me that living with a dog in New York City is nothing like the doggy days of my childhood in Florida.

New Yorkers don't have back yards or grassy lawns so city dogs aim for sidewalk gutters and sewer grates. Alaia likes to stand her two front paws against a wall before she squats to poop. It's exactly as hilarious as it sounds.

Walking a dog in New York is intensely social. Whether you're ready for them or not, at least one pedestrian per city block will ask to pet your dog. When you nod yes they won't hesitate to rub, scratch and baby talk your dog until it's uncomfortable for you. The creepiest dog petters will totally ignore you as they rub the dog behind her ears and grunt things like, "yeah you like that, don't you."

It's strange, but I allow it because the dog loves it and, honestly, when I'm not being a judgmental dogsitter, I'm totally that girl-- the suppressed can-I-please-pet-your-dog New Yorker who wishes she could have a full-time pup but simply can't. Our apartments are too small. We work too late. It just wouldn't be fair. A 30-second pet on the street or 10-day dog sit is the closest most of us get to to the doggy dream.

To recap, we're at plant, fish, occasional dog sit.

Don't worry Bruce, that's at least 15 dog years from step baby.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The lies my siblings told me.

A painting of us by my talented sis, Trici Garcia
I made out like five or six times at my 7th birthday party.

At least that's what I proudly announced to my preteen sisters and their side-pony tailed friends sitting beneath the weeping willow tree in our old backyard. I had overheard them talking about making out with boys. When I asked what that meant, they promptly lied and told me making out meant "making friends."

Face scrunched like the top of my tube socks, I insisted that I was telling the truth. I made out with at least four girls and one boy at my party, I pleaded. When they kept laughing, I went inside to cry and tattle.

As the youngest of four siblings, I got really good at the 'ol cry and tattle. I fit every baby of the family stereotype. I was gullible, hyper-sensitive, nosy and desperate to be included. Not a ton has changed.

Like any self-respecting youngest sibling, I was obsessed with ageism. Why do I always have to sit in the middle seat? Why can't I stay up to watch "Tales from the Crypt."? I remember tip-toeing out of bed to watch that gruesome HBO show through the crack of my brother's bedroom door. I would secretly watch from the hallway until the Crypt Keepers cackle would paralyze me with fear. Once I'd work up the courage to sprint back to bed, I'd hide under the covers and force happy thoughts. (I generally defaulted to dream sequences of walking through the mall with Taylor Hanson. We would hold hands while sitting on adjacent massage chairs at Sharper Image, or something like that.)

Growing up, my older siblings liked to tell me lies. Not big ugly lies, just silly little untruths. I was terribly gullible. I still am. So it was probably pretty good entertainment. Some fibs were motivational: "If you don't wipe after you use the bathroom your private parts will turn black." Some didn't make sense: "If you see more than two Star Trek characters on screen you'll have bad luck." Others were tried and true: "You're adopted."
Me, Trici & Celeste 

In their defense, I was often annoying, especially during my stint with kleptomania. When my sisters were at roller skate parties or Debbie Gibson concerts I was "too little" to attend, I would crack into their Caboodles to permanently borrow dangly earrings or (if we're really coming clean here) I would steal the most sophisticated teenager-approved underwear from their drawers so I could impress my friends at school while changing for P.E.

In my defense, my sister Trici regularly flipped over the computer chair I was sitting in if I dialed into America Online three minutes longer than she deemed fair. And my older brother Diego tortured me with "stop hitting yourself" slaps and hand caught farts in the face until he went to college.

Despite the teasing and the torment, I wouldn't change being the baby for anything. Siblings make life fun.

They introduced me to good music. They're the reason I had to see my school counselor the day Kurt Cobain died.

Diego & Me 
They made Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny very real for me. One Christmas Eve, my brother climbed on the balcony near my bedroom and stomped like reindeer hoofs. It convinced me for years.

They taught me how to look like a lady.  My sisters showed me how to tweeze, shave, pop pimples, blow dry bangs and apply a smokey eye. They styled me for every school dance, first date and job interview I can remember. Even today, they're just a photo text away from telling me that necklace really doesn't go with that dress.

They are absolutely the reason I held onto my virginity for so long. Catholic schooling, strict parents and an extended awkward phase were all contributing factors, but two chaste older sisters definitely kept my legs closed in college.

I love them and I'm grateful for them. I forgive all the lies.

Now, can I pretty please sit in the front seat.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Secrets of a New York City Event Planner

Thou shalt not serve asparagus at your wedding. 

Yes, those crisp green and white spears make refreshingly delicious salads. And I sure that shade of chilled soup would coordinate fabulously with your hydrangea centerpieces. But, trust me, asparagus is the wrong thing to serve to hundreds of people who will sharing the same facilities.  To put it as subtly as possible, by the time you cut the cake the restrooms will reek. Gross but true. 

I learned that little gem of event planning wisdom on the job. After five years managing about 1000 of New York's most dazzling events, I've acquired a few lesser known tricks of the trade. When I started planning my own wedding a few months ago I learned a few more. Orange to Apple proudly presents:

3 wedding planning tips you probably haven't heard before... 

1. Get married to him, not a specific flower. 

All brides prefers peonies. These lush, pouty blossoms are about as romantic as it gets. Unfortunately peonies aren't always so pretty on the budget. Their season is short, peaking at the end of May through mid-June so if you're getting married during the winter or fall your florist will likely charge double to import them. The same applies to several other lusted after flowers like like orchids and hydrangeas. 

When you chat with your florist, instead of fixating on specific stems, explain the characteristics, colors and overall "feel" you're hoping to achieve with your centerpieces or bouquets. Do you want  tight, structured, modern arrangements or loose "fresh from the garden" bunches? Do you want large wide blooms or long, sleek and minimal? Shades of green? Shades of pink? A good florist can use that direction to recommend seasonal and budget-friendly options.

Instead of peonies, try cabbage roses. If you love hydrangeas, consider dahlias. If you're obsessed with anemones (like me), take a look at lisianthus.  Your party guests will never count the number of peonies in their table's centerpiece or even realize your bridesmaids are clutching $10-a-pop callalily stems. Design is important but don't get caught up in "brand name" blooms.

2. When it's planned, stop planning. 

Wedding dress shopping is like falling in love. When you know, you just know. 

At least that's the tale old (and young) wives told me before my first dress shopping appointment at Kleinfeld's in Manhattan. As much as I was looking forward to mocking that marital mumbo jumbo after the fact, I gotta admit, it did sorta work out that way. 

Not that it was all white doves and heart-shaped confetti. In fact, I was pretty terrified when my mom and sisters left me alone in the fitting room, fidgeting in my too-short silk robe as I waited for the consultant to return with options. It felt like a lot was on the line. Not just because I had sifted and searched through dresses for months, but because finally selecting what I would wear on my wedding day made this whole getting married thing real.

Still, despite the nerves, I found my "when you know, you just know" moment.

It was the first dress I tried on. I loved it right away but I didn't know it was the dress until I put the next one on. Nothing compared. I missed it as soon as I was out of it. Standing on a pedestal in the center of the store like a circus seal, pinned and potato chip clipped into my dress, trying not to trip over borrowed heels, I just knew.

So what's my tip? (Besides strongly encouraging you to wear a good strapless bra unless you want to go to second base with the lady who works at the store.)

Once you have that magical moment when the stars and sweetheart necklines align, you must force yourself to stop searching! Throw away the tabbed bridal magazines. Ban "Say Yes to the Dress" marathons. Avert your eyes as you walk past that flawless Monique Lhullier window at Saks. 


The same applies to all your other big day decisions. When planning a wedding options are endless, so don't drive yourself nuts laboring over decisions that have already been made. If you keep browsing, chances are  you'll find another dress, tablecloth, party favor or lace-wrapped votive candle that you like better. Be decisive. Commit and get excited. Isn't that what  marriage is all about.

3. Consider the dance floor. 

The napkins are folded. The champagne is chilled. The roses are bedazzled. 

Every single detail has been obsessed over, except for one-- a really big one. A  20' x 24' detail sitting in the smack dab center of your reception. The dance floor often gets stared at more than any other piece of real estate in the room. It's where you dance your first dance. It's where the bride's dad gives his speech. It sneaks into most of the photos. The dance floor is a big opportunity for decor.

These days, the sky's the limit when it comes to floors. There's the monogram, the mosaic and the neon squares that light up like Dance Dance Revolution. I've seen plexy glass over pools and floors so sleek and shiny they look like a pool. I've seen floors up-lit with starry lights that rival the planetarium at the Natural History Museum.

You don't have to go that custom. Just make sure you pay attention to it. Which color compliments your decor or theme? If your venue provides a dance floor, will they polish off the scuffs? Are you allowed to remove it or cover it? Should you add a wash of light?

I included a few inspiring ideas below. But, before you fall in love, you should know these floors are expensive ($4,000+). So is outfitting each guest with a pair of monogramed flip flops or renting a fleet of Rolls Royce. If there's any room for splurge at your wedding, I think a memorable dance floor pays off.

Classic Black and White is always cool. Photo from Southern Weddings
Project roses, falling snow or graphics to add whimsy and pull a theme together. Photo from weddingomania.
Mirror floors are oh so elegant! Photo from platinumpro.

Go graphic. Photo from David Tutera's Itsabrideslife.com.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

les poissons, les poissons

I have distinct childhood memories of eating escargot.

Feet dangling from my restaurant chair, white cloth napkin tucked into my Limited Too overalls,  I would blow over the steaming puddles of oil until it was safe to fork out the garlicky little suckers and sop it all up with crusty bread. 

As a kid, I would eat just about anything: fruits, veggies, snails, stinky cheese. Since then, I've been proud of my inclusive and adventurous eating habits. I'll eagerly taste anything and end up liking most of it (with the hard to admit exception of black olives, eel and cocktail bitters, but that's it.) 

Blood sausage, monkfish liver, barbecue-flavored larvets-- bring 'em on. There's next to nothing I'd outright refuse.

To be honest, finicky eaters annoy me. Just eat that delicious oyster. It's chewy in the very right way. And I know that branzino's eyes are looking up at you from the plate but it tastes like Santorini on a breezy afternoon, and that's a very good thing. Oh and come on, can you really be allergic to gluten? (Just kidding. Kinda.)

As a proud (and sorta judgmental) foodie, I had no choice but denial when I recently began developing random unpleasant and sometimes severe reactions to the delicious foods I had enjoyed my whole life. I would pop Benadryl, quietly dismiss myself from restaurants and ignore the bowling ball bloat. No matter how bad these reactions got, I found stubborn and stupid reasons not to visit an allergist.

In fact, it took almost three years of hive outbreaks, countless nights cradled around a toilet and one face-distorting anaphylaxis while traveling abroad to finally make an appointment a couple weeks ago.

I fidgeted over my white papered seat as the doctor asked me to describe every itchy detail of my symptoms. After about 15 minutes of nodding his head and scribbling illegible notes around the edges of my chart, the doctor swiveled his giant Mac screen around and broke the cardinal rule of Google Image searching.

Everybody knows you should never, ever voluntarily search images of anything even remotely medical. Certainly don't search "hives" and force me to look. He scrolled through the gruesome lineup and asked me to identify my hives. I found them on a stranger's splotchy love handles and prayed for him to hit minimize.

Turns out, the hives I pointed to are extremely common among women in their "peak reproductive age". The news was comforting (besides the whole biological clock ticking thing). There was a chance my reactions weren't even related to food. Maybe I wouldn't have to give any of it up.

Then he proceeded to poke my bare back with 112 needles until I looked like a SAT Scantron sheet. Each prick contained a very small amount of common food allergens. If I developed hives or irritation where he pricked, I was allergic. I sat with my hospital gown open to the back for five impossibly long minutes before the doc gulped a quick breath and dragged out the words "so, umm, yes there seem to be a few reactions."

Really? My back felt warm and itchy. He snapped a photo with my iPhone that I've been meaning to delete from my Camera Roll/brain. My entire back was an angry shade of pink with 112 plump pencil-eraser hives. All of the pricks reacted. My back belonged next to the reptile-humans on Google Image.

According to the doctor, I have "highly allergic" skin, the type of skin that doesn't tolerate irritation. The common allergy prick test didn't really work for me because it was too hard to tell what was a true reaction and what was just my skin being cranky. He decided to do a bunch of blood tests.

When he called me back with the results, I braced myself. He cut to the chase.

I'm extremely allergic to shrimp and crab. And I should also avoid squid. He wants me to carry an EpiPen.

He kept talking, but all I could hear was his sad list of shellfish that I could never eat again. (My face probably looked like Sebastian's to the left.) Bittersweet memories of snapping snow crabs and waving over cater waiters with trays of shrimp skewers flooded my thoughts. I had enjoyed my last crab cake and my last shrimp dumpling.

"Lobster and mussels look OK" the doctor offered, sensing my disappointment.

I was relieved.

You can take my liberty, but you can't take my lobster roll.




Monday, June 17, 2013

Ode to my Dishwasher

I moved to Brooklyn in January. After five epic years in the East then West Villages of Manhattan, I followed the masses across the East River to the coolest borough of all.

Newly engaged and at the end of our leases, Jon and I decided to move in together. We set our sights on Greenpoint, a formerly industrial and traditionally Polish "up and coming"  neighborhood just across the park from the hipster* mecca of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

We rolled our eyes at Williamsburg's sparkling new monster developments with their magenta uplights and 24-hour fitness centers. In emails to brokers we called ourselves "Greenpoint kinda people": visionaries with the patience for a three-train commute and apartment hallways that perpetually smell like pierogi.

In Greenpoint, we would bike across the Pulaski bridge, prefer Paulie Gee's to Roberta's and get drunk at  bars that used to be warehouses-- all while paying less rent than those wannabes in Williamsburg. It was decided.

Then we started searching. Thing is, when New York Magazine slaps the "up and coming" label on a neighborhood it comes up faster than Oprah's favorite loofa/cookbook/colonic. Vacancy in the desirable parts of Greenpoint was scarce. Our reasonably-priced, newly-renovated 1.5 bedroom with lots of windows simply did not exist. Not in Greenpoint. Not for a January move in. Not even close.

One night after an especially discouraging day of hunting, when Jon wasn't looking, I expanded my Internet search to include Williamsburg. The first six results were apartments in the same 100 unit, seven floor building. The bullet point amenities took aim. Dishwasher! Doorman! Elevator! Oh my!

I couldn't click away. The rent was a bit more than we wanted to spend but the one-bedroom looked pristine, spacious, sunny and sweet baby Jesus there's an outdoor pool. 

Awe struck, I imagined myself floating in that pool, sipping lemonade from a cup my dishwasher washed. My Spanish soap opera star doorman would wait poolside with a package he signed for and a fresh towel washed in my very own washing machine. (In my fantasy doormen can be cabana boys too.)

Maybe Williamsburg isn't so bad. Jon agreed quicker than you can say roof deck. 

I was working late most nights so Jon agreed to see the available unit without me. Before he was even out of the  lobby  he called insisting that we submit an application. (In Jon's dream bubble, I'm fairly certain the doorman is a bartender pouring small batch bourbon.)

Long blog post short, we rented the crap out of that unit. Five months later, we're happy as cohabiting clams. Clams who let their dishwasher deal with their cereal bowls. Clams who can walk barefoot to their floor's tidy little garbage shoot. Clams who don't have to trek out to some unfindable UPS store in Queens for a package of shoes after three delivery notices get blown off their front door. (For those of you non-New York City dwellers currently unimpressed by that short list of amenities they are the suburban equivalent of  upgrading to a waterfront mansion with a live-in maid and butler.)

The neighborhood is as hipster as we suspected. During my few minute walk home, I'll spot no less than five sleeves of tattoos, six ironic mustaches and at least one girl wearing a Blossom hat.  There are more vinyl record stores than there are banks, and the tiny bodega near the train sells at least half a dozen different flavors of organic kale chips.

And my fellow building tenants? They're even hipper than we imagined. But not at all like the tattered T-shirt, anti-everything vegans chain smoking on Bedford Avenue. These hipsters don't even smell. They wear Wayfarers in our elevator, smoke expensive pot on our roof top and blast indie bands I'm not cool enough to recognize during
their Kentucky Derby/Master's Golf themed parties.

So if our neighborhood is hip and our building is hip, what does that make Jon and me?

Happy. Really, really happy.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

10 years later...


Facebook ruined my ten year high school reunion. (And I'm only mildly exaggerating for effect.)

Last Friday, as old classmates trickled into a bar a few blocks north of our all-girls Catholic alma mater, I quickly realized social media had spoiled any potential Romy & Michele reveal.

The "cocktail party" at a sushi and billiards themed "lounge" in Tampa brought '03 graduates from my school and the all-boys school together to slap on all-you-can-drink wristbands and reunite over plastic tumblers of vodka soda. Only about a dozen from each school showed up. I hadn't been in the same room with many of them in a decade, but I'd certainly "seen" them since we graduated. 

Their weddings, baby showers, beach vacations, inspirational quotes and most photogenic meals have blown up Facebook since it debuted our freshman year in college and turned us all into recreational stalkers. 

I already knew who got married, divorced, pregnant or out of the closet. I knew who got really into taking selfies or selling Mary Kay or dressing their cat up in costumes. I had already "liked" their honeymoon pics and adorable babies wearing Santa hats. 

There were next to no surprises. In fact, everyone who attended looked pretty fantastic and acted perfectly normal. Sure, some of the small talk was painful and there was a solid seven minutes when I couldn't recognize a guy who warmly said hello and asked about my siblings by name. But, beyond a few awkward conversations, the whole thing was simply uneventful. Hardly even blogable.

I'm not sure what I was expecting. I suppose the movies made me hope for dramatic redemption. Like the nerdy girl would now be a supermodel CEO or the jerk who rejected my invitation to Christmas Formal would show up with adult acne. (He didn't come and according to Facebook he got better looking, dammit).

The night didn't exactly deliver, but I'm glad I went. After being away from Tampa for so long it felt good to be surrounded by my past. I reminisced with girls I'll always love about the moments we'll never forget- like when we were forced to hear an abstinence is best speech that compared our virginity to a new shoe or the time we filled the school's 200-year-old fountain with bubbles.

10 or 50 years later, no matter how boring the reunions, I'll be a proud Academy girl for life.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Still got it.


A February blizzard had dumped enough snow over Bryant Park to completely cover the Grinch green tables and chairs that line the lawn. It was way too early and way too cold on a Saturday morning to be walking into work. Manhattan was quiet. Just the squish of snow beneath my boots and scrape of the snow shovels hauling mounds off the sidewalks that lead up to the New York Public Library where I work.

I stopped to snap a picture of the snow. (I'm a Florida girl. I'll never get over it.) As I pointed my iPhone it struck me that it was my first time seeing the usually bustling park totally empty. It was peaceful under a frothy layer of undistrubed powder. The realization gave me a feeling I've come to know well after five years in New York. It's this satisfying wave of goose-bumpy awe that makes me grin like an idiot for a few seconds. It's the moment I recognize that I'm witnessing something only New York could ever show me.
My photo of Bryant Park

I've had that feeling since I moved here from Florida at age 23, jobless and starry-eyed. Even when I was scared or utterly uncomfortable (which was most of the time), I loved New York. Lost on the wrong subway, kept up all night by the bar beneath my East Village bedroom,  handing over every penny I earned to my landlord; even the bad felt kinda great because I was in New York. 

I'm happy to report that I've been feeling those goosebumps a lot lately. I give most of the credit to my new job managing events at the Library. The long hours have revealed a new side of the city.

When I'm at the Library really early I like to climb up to the third floor and walk through the center aisle of the Rose Main Reading Room. Every tap of my footsteps ricochets through the 2-block long cathedral of a room. I'm tiny under the mural of clouds billowing across the towering ceilings. When the Library opens the tables will crowd with visitors, but in those early morning hours the room is perfectly mine. 
My photo of the Rose Main Reading Room

When I leave the Library really late, I always ask my cab driver to take the Midtown Tunnel.  Some night's we're the only car I can see and if he speeds enough we're just a flash through the neon white tile walls. As soon as we leave the tunnel and veer onto the expressway to Brooklyn I can turn to see a twinkling panorama of the Manhattan skyline. Even when I'm exhausted, I turn my head to take it in.

And just last week while watching TV at home I realized I can see the glowing peak of the Empire State Building while laying on my couch. Like an epic night light it peers over the buildings into my living room. I now check in with it before I go to bed.

I realize other cities offer the same wonder, but I'm convinced New York does it without even trying. It is simply an amazing place to live. 

Sure, my relatinship with the city isn't always lovey dovey.  I'll find myself screaming at the cashier at a bodega for charging $10 for six tampons (true). Or I'll see a hobo pooping on a wall (also true). And I'll wonder what the hell I'm doing here. But for me, those moments pass quickly.

As I get older more friends have started talking about their exit from New York. I recognize that I may leave one day too. But I'm absolutely sure it's the best city in the world.

I guess this orange prefers apples.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not so precious.

Editor's Note: A draft of this post sat unfinished in my Blogger outbox for almost a year. It's old, but I figured if I still like telling my girlfriends the story, it's probably still worth a post. Please ignore the references to time as most of them are no longer accurate. Thanks for reading. -V


A guy I used to date asked me to meet him for a drink recently.

The invitation came via gchat the morning after I randomly bumped into him on sidewalk in Brooklyn. I hadn't seen him in years. I thought he lived in Chicago or maybe Spain. It was tough to keep track after he de-friended me on Facebook.

I wont go deep into the convoluted details of our short-lived, mellow-dramatic past (as the always aggressive Facebook de-friend says most of it.) But, it's probably prudent to note that our one month pseudo-relationship included his two sleeves of tattoos, my phone number on a cocktail napkin, a kiss that made me drop my purse, a secret girlfriend, a flight to Chicago and the first time a man seriously said "f**k you" to me. 

I actually wrote the blog post, "Braceface"  back in November of 2010 after the night we met. (For story-telling purposes I'll refer to him as Steve.)

Steve wanted to meet up to say things in person. Jon and I were very happily together. I labored over my email reply.

The thing is, Steve and I were never friends. We met at a bar while he was visiting New York for the weekend. I liked him fast. Even after he admitted that he had a girlfriend. It was romantic the way thunderstorms are.

I ended things with Steve just a few days after I met Jon (my now husband-to-be). Back then, I didn't know if Jon was the one, but meeting him immediately confirmed that Steve wasn't. Steve lived in Chicago. Steve was mean to me on the phone. Steve was unpredictable in the wrong way. I ended it a bit abruptly with an awkward phone call and ill-explained reasons: "It's just that I don't want to do long distance, and we've been arguing, and I met someone else, and I shouldn't be doing this with you  if I can see something with someone else." It wasn't the most eloquent bow out.  

Steve was angry and hurt. He accused me of misleading him, of manipulating him, of needing to grow up. He promised I would regret my decision. Eventually, he de-friended me on Facebook which burned a lot (more than it should). I had some experience with romantic rejection but friendship rejection made me wildly uncomfortable. I feebly tried to make it better with an email. He stuck to his guns. He didn't want anything to do with me.

A "catch up" after a couple lost years felt unnatural. The proposed meet up couldn't and wouldn't be casual. He apparently had things to say. The whole thing made my heart thud fast.

I needed Jon's opinion and approval. Yes, his permission. Steve certainly wasn't worth a secret. Jon, being Jon, didn't care. Meet the guy if you want, he advised. Maybe Steve needs closure.

So I agreed to meet Steve for one drink. Of course he picked the bar where we met. Before walking in, I paced outside the door, smudging off lipstick, fumbling with the top buttons on my cardigan. I strategized how I would greet him.

To be honest, I presumed he invited me there to woo me or win me back. I planned to offer the most platonic vibe possible. Handshake. Limited eye contact.

I passed by where he was sitting at the bar at least twice before I spotted him. He had watched me scan the rows, silently sipping an old fashioned or some other vintage drink to match his Mad Men side part. When I made eye contact he just smirked a smug smirk. He was quiet as I took the stool beside him. He was really good at that whole brooding, pensive, furrowed brow BS.

I broke the silence with an over eager out pour of my pre-approved platonic talking points. How do you like New York? How's work? Stuff like that. After just about every normal thing Steve said he inserted a dramatic pause when he would stare at me or his drink for enough seconds to make me uncomfortable. Finally, he cut to the chase. I wish I could remember his tirade word for word but my memory probably left it out of my brain for a reason.

The overall gist was that I'm a terrible, self-absorbed, naive and unaware person. Oh and he has a new girlfriend now that's much better. He punctuated it all with words I didn't forget.

"You're not so precious, Vanessa."

The whole thing hurt. I wish I could say that it didn't. It shocked me that a man would invite me to a bar, years later, to hurl out some insults and make sure he got the final word. I dismissed myself from the bar stool, wished him well and exited.

When I got home, I felt sick. I had to accept that this person basically hated me, and I hated that feeling. I want to be liked and loved. I want my ex's to be my friends. I want to remember things and experiences fondly. I don't want to be hated. But this time it didn't really matter what I wanted. I couldn't fix this one.

The whole thing taught me a pretty important life lesson: Not everybody is going to like me. I'm not entitled to that.

Relationships can get ugly. Most of us end up hurting people, and even when we apologize, we're not entitled to their forgiveness.

Sure a lot of Steve's insults were unwarranted. I realize that I'm not a mean or self-absorbed person. But I was a little careless with Steve. While we were dating, I prioritized myself and my feelings, not his. As soon as I met Jon, I pulled the plug on him. That must have sucked for Steve and if he wants to de-friend me on Facebook and hate me, I can't really blame him.

I wanted to tie a bow around it and make it "all better" for myself, to assuage my own ego. But relationships aren't always "so precious". Sometimes when you break things, no matter how unsettling it feels, you should just leave them broken. It's better that way, for everybody.

My other big take away from the Steve situation: Mom was right. Boys covered in tattoos are trouble.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

OH MY DIAMOND


Returning to this blog after more than a year of silence is tough. So, I'll do it the cheapest way I know how: with a flagrant summation of one of my latest celebrity run-ins.

It was my last week of work at the fancy pants restaurant where I managed events for about 4 years. I had coordinated a lady lunch fundraiser for a charity promoting heart health. There were a few events starting at the same time that afternoon so my boss asked me to stand as greeter outside the dining room. For a few hours I stood directing the parade of Christian Louboutins toward their table or nearest restroom. It wasn't the most glamorous post, but the occasional Katie Couric/Hoda sighting kept things interesting.

Per usual, an army of young black-dress-clad PR girls had been assigned to event check-in. The girl in charge was an insufferable thin British broad who simply couldn't stop complaining.

The raspberries in the champagne flutes aren't sinking.
The fire exit signs are ugly. Can we cover them?
The toilet seat in the handicap restroom seems too tall.

I spent the morning trying to avoid her breathy accented commands until finally she approached me with a request I could tolerate.

She asked if, on her signal, I could escort a guest to the nearest land line telephone (downstairs in my boss' office). A "very important" guest needed to take a quiet call. I obliged and waited. A few minutes later she frantically flailed her gaunt arms at me from across the room (the not-so-subtle signal). The crowd parted and Barbara Streisand came power walking toward me.

Barbara was arguing with another woman as they rushed over. I sprinted ahead and led them down a hall toward the elevator that leads to my boss' office. They didn't pause to acknowledge me until the elevator doors closed. "Thank you dear," Barbara Streisand said to me (to me!). I squeaked a your welcome and pressed the same button 6 more times. When we entered the office, Barbara immediately poured into my boss' swivel chair and let out an exaggerated sigh (exactly the way I hoped she would). She grabbed an unopened bottle of Perrier on his desk and pointed it at me. "May I?"

Of course! I dove across the office to grab her a napkin. The other woman (who turned out to be her agent) dialed someone from QVC on speaker phone. Barbara proceeded to do a 10 minute interview about her latest album. I waited outside as she chatted.

When she was done, she left the half full Perrier (which I kept like a weirdo) and asked me to guide her back upstairs. My coworker followed us back up. We were out of the elevator and almost back to the doors of the restaurant when (my new BFF) Barb let out a shriek!

"OH MY DIAMOND," Barbara Streisand screamed as she lurched forward to try to catch the giant pendant that had just fallen from her necklace.

My coworker and I fell to the floor like we were on fire. Something shiny and more expensive than our apartments had just skated across the room. When we found it (thank you baby Jesus) Barbara nervously begged my coworker to put it back on her. Once it was back around her neck, Barbara turned to me and her agent and asked if she looked alright. I nodded an immediate yes as her agent fussed with her bangs for a moment before sending her back into the party.

I like to tell people that Barb winked at me before leaving, but I'm fairly certain that's a lie. Either way, we saved her diamond and her half drunk bottle of water.








Friday, May 31, 2013

oops.


He surprised me with a tough to get reservation at ABC Kitchen, the Jean-Georges restaurant I had been craving since we met. Our table was candlelit and decorated with flowers. He made a toast to us. I sobbed the entire cab ride home.

This isn't a post about the night Jon proposed. It's about the night he didn't. 

Allow me to rewind about four months.

Jon spent Thanksgiving with my family in Tampa this year. During our two year relationship he had hung out with the Garcia's at least half a dozen times but having him home for a holiday felt extra special. He drank scotch with my dad. He put my parents' gadgets up on the Cloud. He eagerly accepted multiple servings of my mom's empanadas. Jon fit in effortlessly. It was a really good Thanksgiving. Possibly too good.

As Jon gained approval, the when's-the-wedding bug spread. My mom made her case for a winter wedding in Florida. My friends took turns guessing the proposal date. And my dear sister, well, she waited six minutes after picking us up from the airport to cut the radio and deploy the third degree. Something like, "You know you gotta get married before you move in together. Seriously, the family won't approve. Seriously."

Of course I had thought about marrying Jon. Who are we kidding-- I've spent countless hours (days, months) daydreaming about a wedding and marriage with him. I've practiced signing his last name. I've Pinned my favorite bridal bouquets, cakes and sweetheart necklines. I've even thought about what our babies would look like (all nose). I'll admit I've been shamelessly using my job as event planner as an excuse to dream up my wedding for half a decade. 

But thinking or even Pinning about a wedding or proposal is very different from actually planning a real live one. As a relatively rational woman for 28 years (breezing past the early teens),  I know just how dangerous premature planning can be. Still, with a little too much encouragement from the peanut gallery in Tampa, I caught that pesky wedding bug too. I let myself wonder, really wonder, when Jon might pop the question. Wondering boiled into obsessing until, while sitting in a pedicure chair next to my best friend, I convinced myself that he would do it right after we got back to New York. All (two) of the signs were there. 

Sign #1: He asked me to save the 2nd anniversary of our first kiss for a surprise plan (Well, he didn't reference the anniversary. He just said don't make plans on Wednesday which happened to be the anniversary of our first kiss. Ya know, that anniversary that every man commits to memory.) 

Sign #2: He had plenty of one-on-one time with Dad while he was in Tampa.

It was decided! I squealed, selected a pale pink nail polish suitable for an engaged hand and boarded a plane to New York.

At work on wedding-proposal Wednesday, I simply couldn't help myself. I told my colleagues and anyone within ear shot that I thought it was happening that night. Jon didn't help. He refused to reveal our plan for the evening. Just wait for a text, he explained, unknowingly perpetuating the rom-com engagement that was reeling through my imagination. At around 3:00 p.m my phone buzzed "Meet me at the corner of Broadway and 17th St. at 5:20 p.m." 

We met. He grinned as he lead me into ABC Kitchen, our candlelit table, our perfect bottle of wine. He grinned through our tuna sashimi and chicken liver toast appetizers. He told me about his day. He ordered us meticulously muddled cocktails. He insisted on dessert. He was having a lovely dinner. Meanwhile, across the table, I was freaking out. When is he gonna do this? Is there a ring on that strawberry?  What if I swallow it? Maybe it's happening after we eat? Do the waiters know? I should put on lipstick. 

After dinner, as Jon hailed a cab and complained that he was too full to walk to my apartment, my brain finally began to compute that it wasn't happening. I wasn't getting engaged. It was simply a lovely, thoughtful surprise reservation. No proposal. Not happening. Get a grip.

Thing is, I couldn't. In the back seat of the cab I did the only thing I didn't want to do. I cried. Hard. Jon turned to me startled. I struggled to catch my breath as he asked what was wrong. I wasn't angry. I wasn't even sad. I was embarrassed and overwhelmed and frankly I was exhausted. I had spent the last week of my life out of my mind. 

After unsuccessfully searching for a lie to explain my outburst, I smeared my mascara, snorted up some tears and admitted why I was crying. Jon laughed. Hard. He wrapped his arms around me and assured me that I was crazy, that he wasn't going to propose in a restaurant and that he certainly wasn't going to propose when I expected it. 


As  embarrassing as that night (and the subsequent morning at work) was, I'm glad it happened. After that excruciating cab ride home, I truly let go. I let go of predicting and planning. I kept the Pinterest board (duh) but I shoved the engagement out of my brain. When Mom asked about it, I shushed her and changed the subject. I was grateful for my relationship where it was.

About a month later, in the middle of our move to our new apartment, barefoot and in between dusty boxes, Jon got down on one knee and gave me the greatest shock of my life.

Our first photo after the proposal...taken by our doorman :)