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


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.