Monthly Archives: May 2009

An Open Letter to Broadway

Dear Broadway,

Thank you for consistently showing me, that no matter what age I am, my image will always be reflected back at me. 

-Downtown

Thirteen: The Musical

Thirteen: The Musical

reasons to be pretty

Reasons to be Pretty

Nine to Five: The Musical

Nine to Five: The Musical

God of Carnage

God of Carnage

Grey Gardens

Grey Gardens

33 Variations

33 Variations

Blithe Spirit

Blithe Spirit

Things That Make Me Think Twice

I was shopping for a baby gift for a friend who recently found out she’s having a girl. She’s over the moon about her pregnancy, and, her excitement being as infectious as it is, lead me into a cute baby boutique a few blocks from my apartment to browse and perhaps buy a gift for said unborn child. But, quite unexpectedly, I found it. The dress that I had get for the friend’s baby. The dress that I had to get for every girl baby in the world. The dress I had to get for my baby. Wait. What? The baby I don’t have and, until that moment, wasn’t sure if I would ever want to have. But life is funny. My future flashed before me bathed in a pale pink cotton/silk blend with a round neck, tank sleeves, and a bell shape. I suddenly wanted a child more than anything else in the world. Someone who may or may not share my DNA, but a little person with thoughts, opinions and feelings that have a voice all their own, but stink of my influence.

A male friend of mine recently told me his feelings on becoming a dad for the second time:  “I never thought I would be the parenting type, but for some reason, it really suits me. I like the idea of being able to control some small piece of the world, but do it from an egoless and selfless place. That’s nice.” In that moment, standing there holding a tiny dress meant for a six month old girl, I got what he was saying. 

Picture 1 16-42-07

I bought the dress and took it home to wrap, but couldn’t bring myself to fold it up and put it in a box. I laid it out on my white chair, stretching the limits of the skirt to its fullest potential. I imagined a child wearing that dress. Not my friend’s baby per se, but a baby. Maybe even my baby. I wondered how long I would sit there with her on my lap inhaling her sweet baby smell as she fell asleep in my arms. How painful it would be if she woke up screaming in the night when cutting her first teeth. What her first word might be; her first sentence. And, as she grew older, the perfume she might wear, the books she would read and if she would be anything like me or anyone in my family. Would I see my sister in her, my mother, my father or grandfather? Would hazel eyes gaze back at me in rebellion or the blue or brown pools of my father’s/sister’s/mother’s eyes flash before me? Will she succeed in doing the things I did not?

But, then I thought of the world. Of things like cell phones and Facebook, text messaging and ‘tweens in skimpy bikinis. Of growing up too fast and not playing with dolls long enough or spending hours reading a book under a crab apple tree. And, even if a childhood lasts a little longer and is a little more innocent than my mind thinks, it still goes by in the blink of an eye. 

I kept the dress out on the chair for a few days. I got used to it being there, of walking by it every time I entered the living room. But then, I realized, it’s not mine. It’s a gift that will leave my hands and travel across the country to live a life and be worn, with love. I folded the dress carefully, wrapped it in tissue paper and placed it in a box. I wrapped the box in a bright pink and white floral paper, tying it with a pale blue bow to soften the loudness of the pink. I wrote out the card to my friend, telling her: “your greatest story is about to be written.” Her story is coming soon. Mine is still being outlined.

–Downtown

Per Se by Day, Tacos by Night

Picture 1

Bushwick, translated to mean "heavy woods," "town of the woods" or "town in woods."

Bushwick is the new(er) hipster capitol of Brooklyn. Populated by 20-something writers, artists, musicians filmmakers, muses, free spirits, and, until recently, a hipster grifter or two. As yet ungentrified, this neighborhood provides the perfect juxtaposition of irony and a laid back blase attitude common among the suburban-raised, middle-upper middle class Net Generation. They might wear thrift store skinny jeans and old Chuck Taylors, but they accessorize with the latest iPhone and the perfect pair of Ray-Bans or Moscot glasses.

Bushwick and its close brother, Williamsburg, are places I’ve been finding my un-ironic, un-hipster self in more frequently due to my job locale and my group of friends. This is where I also found myself dining one night at the apartment of a friend of a friend. I was told it was a “taco night,” but that the invite was a much coveted one, given the chef and the crowd. The chef is Cameron Wallace, a fellow 20-something who also happens to be the bread baker at the gastronomic heaven, Per Se.

Entrance of Per Se

Entrance to Per Se

 

The day of Taco Night, I was sent a text message with an address. I arrived promptly at 7p, my requested $10 in hand to “tip the chef,” and pushed through the apartment building’s blue door (also the same color as the doors at Per Se) spray painted with the number 855 (a decidedly un-Per Se detail). Our chef de cuisine was en-route, so we sat around drinking PBR or Corona (it was BYOB, can you guess which one I brought?) Chef Cameron arrived shortly after, armed with bags from Whole Foods and a box shipped all the way from San Diego (where Cameron was raised) containing flour tortillas and fire-roasted peppers in olive oil. “I’m taking a short cut today,” Cameron confessed to me, “I’m using store bought flour tortillas. Normally, I make my own, but there wasn’t time.” He continued to explain as he unpacked tins and Tupperware full of half-fried fish and marinated pork, a head of cabbage, and various & sundry spicy sauces and homemade crema. “But, these tortillas are fresh from California, my mom shipped them to me just yesterday.”  

In no more than a 35 sq. foot kitchen, Cameron got to work, frying the fish up again in pots. “I half-fry them in advance,” he explained. “I don’t want them soggy and they need to be eaten hot. But I like to do my prep work.” Cabbage was shredded by our hostess, Mariah, who is a caterer, while Mariah’s sister, Ariana, took out plates and utensils for the twenty guests that packed into the apartment. Everyone taking up the small square footage in the kitchen served a purpose. Mariah as sous chef, Ariana calling in the orders, Cameron cooking and plating, and I, serving. Watching Cameron cook and prep masterfully in such a small space brought to mind the word that hangs over the door in Per Se’s kitchen, “Finesse.” Chef Cameron illustrated every aspect of finesse, with his “refinement and delicacy of performance,” execution and artisanship. Each taco was hand-crafted and made in small batches. The pork had been marinating since early morning. No detail was left untended. 

fist_taco

Almost looks like Cameron's fish taco

After serving a few tacos, I finally got to taste my own. First, the fish taco. Perfectly fried, but not greasy, you could still taste the fish and how deftly it blended with the cardamom flavor of the lightly drizzled sauce. The cabbage added an extra crunch while the squirt of lime gave the fish a little zing and some chopped cilantro cleansed the palate. It was more than a taco, it was an experience. As I savored the first (and then second) fish taco, I asked Cameron what brought him from bread baking to taco making. “Actually, it’s because I couldn’t find a decent taco in New York. Believe me, I tried. I’ve gone everywhere, but nothing like the ones I grew up with in California.”

Even still, other San Diego and California natives at Taco Night felt Cameron’s tacos take it to a whole new level. After some coaxing, I got the full story out of Cameron. “After I quit my job at different restaurant in New York, I went back to California for six months and studied the tacos I liked,” he told me. “I traveled up and down the coast and as far down as parts of Mexico, just to see how they did it there and where our tacos evolved from, what worked and what was unique to each area.” Just like the discipline at Per Se, there is discipline to Cameron’s tacos. “I combined the best of what I liked,” he said. “What was essentially pleasing to the palate, what textures worked, ingredients, preparation in advance, last minute. Sometimes I have to take out what I love if it doesn’t work within the combination. But I still continue to experiment. That’s why we have taco night.”

There is another method to the Taco Night madness, as I soon learned, between bites of the juicy, spicy pork taco with crema and bits of diced, raw onion. Cameron, as modest as he is about admitting it, also desires to have his own taco stand. “He wants a little place in the East Village, somewhere downtown or in Brooklyn,” Ariana (Cameron’s biggest supporter/Taco Night waitress) told me. “By opening up Taco Night and spreading the word, we’re hoping it will lead to investors for Cameron. It boils down to word of mouth in the end.”  Abra la boca. Spread the word.
–Downtown

johnny_automatic_open_mouth

Flu Fighters

Earlier this month, the 11-year old and I encountered a duo of 20-something males distributing boxes, free for the taking, of six, individually packages of “Sani*Hands,” Individual Hand Sanitizing Wipes.

Dressed in light blue t-shirts with “flu-fighters” printed neatly across their backs, they cheerfully greeted people on their way to work, school or the subway as they passed the northwest corner of West 73rd Street and Broadway.

I gladly accepted two boxes, one for the boy and one for me. The scene and its implications struck me as kind of funny yet a little bit eerie at the same time. Free things and flu fright.

But here’s the thing, despite the inundation of flu warnings that passed through my electronic in-box, signs posted to walls in libraries and across school campuses, I’m not really afraid of contracting the disease. As a mom, I sense a bit of unease vis a vis my kids, especially when the 11-year old had a hacking cough and stuffed nose given the cherry trees popped in full. He’s fine yet whenever he coughs in a public place, I feel pangs of guilt and the desire to tell everyone fortunately, he doesn’t have the flu. Just allergies.

If I must succumb to Lady Macbeth-like constant washing of the hands in an effort to stave off flu cooties, not blood, I prefer an alternative brand;

Hand Refresher

Hand Refresher

one that uses essential oils, smells good, doesn’t dry the skin and has a good back story.

I’ve never been one to sani/wipe my hands on the go. Mostly because I don’t like the heavy alcohol, skin drying effects of “cheaper” versions of wipes or liquids. However, last week, every one of the 29 emails about the swine flu stressed the importance of importance of clean hands. The missives range from how best to follow the CDC updates on twitter to checklists indicating what to look out for symptomatically or how to “prevent” contracting swine flu. But as of today, according to the BBC more than 1,500 cases of the flu have now been reported across 22 countries. I’ve received at least one email each health offices at three city schools and several from the physicain/scientist/husband who likes to keep me in the loop. (Don’t take that as a warning, he’s not overly at all concerned. My personal favorite included a link to the Institute of Medicine website and a report issued two years after the 1976 swine flu scare. You can take a gander at the Swine Flu Affair Report here.

Despite the outpouring of details, whether electronic or in print, the two flu fighter guys on the street hit home since, in my opinion, there’s a sense of uncertain uneasiness that underlies every cough, sneeze or germy interaction, flu season or not. And marketers, doing their job well, saw this as an opportunity to sell their brand.

But I’m sticking with my brand, despite the freebies. Sweet smell and all.

Truth be told, “alcohol is the best sanitizer,” says, Gale Mayron, who with her father, an Israeli-born chemist who moved to work for big pharma in Philadelphia in 1951, founded a groovy company: http://jaoltd.com/about.html. Mayron said sales aren’t great and it’s hard to know if sales are picking up given the fear of flu. “You don’t want a world pandemic to increase your sales.”

Unlike other sanitizers, Jao uses essential oils that actually smell pleasant, that don’t dry your skin and there’s something sweet about a daughter/father team combining their skills (hers marketing, advertising, mothering with his chemistry) to make a go of something for the greater good. The contents of the cobalt blue bottles are manufactured in PA but Mayron, 45, lives with her family in Brooklyn. Gotta love that borough.

I compared the ingredients of the two sanitizers:

Jao:
Active Ingredient: Ethyl Alcohol 65%
Other Ingredients: Water, Aloe, Glycerine (spelled with an e), Glyceryl Polyacrylate, Panthenol, Methyl Glucose Ether, Chamomile and Calendula Extracts, and Oils of Lavender, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Clary Sage.

Sani*Hands:
Active Ingredient: Alcohol 65.0%
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin(not spelled with an e), Carbomer, Aminomethyl Propanol, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Tocopheryl Acelate

Surely, more than you’ll ever want to know. xoxo

Let the Dominos Fall Where They May

New York is always full of surprises. Sometimes it feels as if the city conspires to create encounters that outwardly look like chance, but are truly fated. I was supposed to do a million other things this Saturday morning: go to my out-of-town dentist to get “crowned;” leave the city early to surprise my mom for Mother’s Day; sleep. All plans were put on hold when I read this piece in the Times. As a seriously devoted (from issue 1) Domino magazine reader, I was game for an early wake up call and a morning of standing in line. My design-savvy Brooklyn friend and her theatrical set designer-friend were also up for a Saturday morning tag sale. As the Downtown resident, I was enlisted to report to the location on w. 9th street at 8:30a the next morning.

I arrived at the sale at 9 (come on, it’s the WEEKEND!), the line wasn’t too bad and, as domino-magazine[1]it edged closer to 10a, I kept checking the growing queue of people behind me looking for my Brooklyn friends. It was then that I recognized a face in the crowd. Someone I’d exchanged emails with in hopes of collaborating on a book project. We’d never met, but a few days prior, I had had a conversation about them with my mom, bemoaning the fact that, no matter how great email is, there’s nothing like meeting someone in person to talk business, especially if they don’t know you. There’s simply a connection you need to have face-to-face that email cannot offer. My mom is of the school of  “persistence = results.” She thought I wasn’t being persistent enough, which, I tend to agree with, but there’s a fine line between persistence and stalkerdom. I ended the conversation by telling my mom I thought I would just somehow run into them. “Ok, so your plan is to just run into them on the island of Manhattan, an island populated by over a million people?” she asked. Yup, that was the general idea. My mom sighed and hung up the phone, but not before repeating her most favorite mantra to me, “Stop standing on ceremony.” 

With my mom’s phrase in mind, and seeing my email buddy a mere 20 feet away, (ha! Told you so, Mom!) I had some ladies hold my place in line while I walked back to my email friend and introduced myself. I was met with a warm embrace and a total “holy shit, what are you doing here/how cool is this?” response. We made our way up to my place in the line and talked for a half an hour before my friends showed up. Then, we all spent the next hour talking, laughing, sharing theater reviews, movie stories and design ideas while we waited.  

Once inside, the items were mostly picked over (though I was able to find a really cool, adjustable curtain rod that will look fabulous with the new curtains I bought for my living room) There were also tons of great textiles, but it was hard to judge just how much fabric was on the bolt. A lot of the good stuff had already been purchased, but it was fun to look through what remained and recognize things from the magazine’s photo spreads.

My Brooklyn friends were in and out of the sale in record time, acquiring some impressive loot before heading back to their borough. My email buddy and I stood outside, still marveling over our chance encounter and commenting on how our meeting and subsequent conversation was even better than the sale. We made a promise to get together and talk about said project in the coming weeks. As I walked back to my apartment, curtain rod in tow, I realized how fate intervenes just when you need it to and sometimes, standing on ceremony isn’t a bad thing, especially if you’re standing in a line with a million other New Yorkers.

–Downtown

A sneak peek at my day job

UNMP
Click picture or text to view video.
–Downtown

Mad Ave on a Saturday Afternoon

The 15-year old and I set out to work this afternoon at The New York Society Library society ladies that we are not on East 79th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. outside_sign

A little fortification was in order prior to our labor so we stopped at Nectar Cafe on the southwest corner of Mad Ave at 79th Street. It was easy peasy to get a table for two at the noon hour and although rents may be high, could it be because the tab for two wraps ( hers: chicken cobb salad with mealy tomatoes and mine: turkey, albeit fresh, lettuce and a smidge of mustard, ) with one small coke came to $28.20? I rounded it out with a whopping five dollar tip for the harmless waitress dressed in a crisp white shirt with black pants.

Gone are the days when I’d hop from gallery to gallery along the Avenue looking at significant works of art on behalf of my art-collecting former employers. I know there are people still looking, supposedly buying and certainly lunching for far more than $33 for two. But more noticeable today, at least to me, were the participants in the Revlon Walk for a Cure dressed in gym clothes and their entry numbers. Only saw a few folk dressed in their gucci loafers and burberry or prada trench coats, but of course, it was only 1p by the time we set out across the street. Gallery going tends to begin after lunch.

We made our way across the street and into the hallowed halls of the New York Society Library, founded in 1754 by the New York Society, “a civic-minded group formed in the belief that the availability of books would help the city to prosper.”

And prosper, we do. At least the 15-year old and I prosper on the fifth floor of this quirky upper east side haven.stairs 255 years since its inception, the subscription library has a facebook page.

(note to old people: the teenager got her first glimpse today at an old fashioned card catalogue!

New York Society Library Card Catalogue

New York Society Library Card Catalogue

She’d never seen the oak drawers with little iron pulls that hold the secrets to the stacks and how to find what you might be looking for. The card catalogue hasn’t been updated since 1990, “since before she was born,” said she. “No wonder I’ve never seen such a thing!” said the teen.

But surely she must remember the elevators at the Los Angeles Public Library, papered with obsolete card catalogue cards? Um. Appears not.

Card Catalogue Drawer, Harvard Law School

Card Catalogue Drawer, Harvard Law School