03.28.20

it's pissing rain, as the missus would say, but i hollered from the balcony tonight for #ClapBecauseWeCare (and felt like a real fool for getting rid of the vuvuzela i brought home from my sister's wedding years ago). traffic whooshing down the drive along the river made it difficult to hear folks who were more than a building or two away, but it felt good. last night someone cranked "new york, new york" out the window as i was walking home from the store and i cried into my n95 mask.

if i had the mask thing to do over again (we found a three-pack in the bug-out bag my stepfather gifted us for christmas a few years ago; "i want you to live!"), i'd have sent ours to a local hospital. we've known for about a week that coronavirus is in our building, but i worry more for our elderly and immunocompromised neighbors than i do for us; as far as i know, we're youngish, healthyish. we cracked into them, though, and have been wearing them on grocery and pharmacy runs, along with some gloves i bought ages ago when our hands still felt things and we were dicing a lot of habanero peppers. C, a retired teacher two floors down from us who gave me a key to her apartment and occasionally asks me to collect her mail when she travels, asked for farmer cheese, wheat bread that's 70 calories a slice (remember when bread was a thing you could buy?), and three cans of pineapple chunks in juice; i am dying to know if she's making sandwiches down there, but i couldn't bring myself to ask. a friend of mine in ohio says her husband used to pick up food for seniors and once shopped for wonder bread, jalapenos, and head cheese.

i gave my name to a social worker who's arranging deliveries for isolated households and got hooked up with F, whose husband answered the door in a three-piece suit when i came by to pick up their credit card the other day. they are extremely interested in chocolate-covered macaroons from trader joe's,* and the day after my first delivery, F texted to ask if i could pick up the four packs (she wanted 10, but the manager could only promise four) set aside for her. when i brought them up to the door, her husband insisted i take one for myself, and i didn't think quickly enough to say that, oh, i was allergic to coconut or something. "but i know how much you love them," i said, "and the manager said he could only give you four." this was clearly not a detail F had shared with him, and i watched him panic and then double down on his offer. i thanked him profusely and darted back to the door to take one as F began to billow like a storm cloud behind him. i really hope i didn't just end a 48-year marriage by accepting cookies.

G, one building over, asked for lots of singles: one potato, one sweet potato, one piece of salmon "for cooking." what does a good piece of salmon look like? i was reminded of working the sandwich counter at the stanford coffeehouse and trying to figure out which deli meats were which. coworkers were of no help; all of us were vegetarians. i don't know if G lives by herself; there were two names on her door's nameplate, but no one ever updates those, and most of my neighbors are very, very old (my social-worker contact reps our local NORC, or "naturally-occurring retirement community"). i didn't want to give her a potentially-pestilent note from our apartment, so i just wrote "for G from lauren" and drew a bunch of hearts on her shopping bag.

*F mentioned on the phone that she was disappointed that she wouldn't be seeing her children and grandchildren for passover, and i can only conclude that she and her husband have some kind of cool hand luke macaroon plan for weathering the pandemic.

03.27.20

the dirty dozen-ish {excerpts from yelp reviews of times square}

01 Smell the smells - like nothing else I can describe - a mish mash of hot dogs, fries, donuts, smoke, coffee, nuts, traffic smog. I said to my husband 'wow the smell is so, so, so" and he interrupted me and replied "that is the New York smell!"

02 We arrived 6am to be in the front row next to the MTV building. We shook hands with everyone from Carson Daly to Rudy Giuliani, from Jessica Simpson to N'Sync. Across the street at a Planet Hollywood event some months later, we met P Diddy, N'Sync (again), Sly Stallone, Sandra Bullock, and others. My enduring memory is that I was taller than Stallone and he had a river-full of cologne on. Good times.

03 Spiderman will cook you dinner on the right street corner if you find him. It's true! There is a guy in a spider man costume that has a sheesh cart! It's pretty awesome to watch.

04 And who regulates how many Elmo's are permitted to be circulating ? And how can those Nepalese woolen hat places afford their rent on such a huge space ?

05 But watch out for the ones dressed up as characters; ie elmos, Batman's, hulks, and especially the Minnie mouses, THEY ARE RELENTLESS and they will straight bombard you in a mob like demeanor . Karate chop for Minnie Bro.

06 I'm not fond of cats, but the show is great! 

07 There was also a big police presence in every corner around Times Square with automatic weapons out and ready to use. So I felt very safe around Times Square.

08 Times Square and its table were also home to my worst NYC experience, where an angry woman flat out stole my friend's chair for no other reason than to spite us. 

09 I came once when I was 17/18 and got burped on (I say "on" because the lady was really close to me and I felt her burp vibration on my skin) by a beggar.

10 Stay away from the Disney store unless you plan to go in it. 

11 Does anyone even know the words to Auld Lang Syne? My Grandma and Grandpa sure did. 

12 I take away one star because of the FACT that there were con artists on the sidewalk.

13 Don't even get me started on the subliminal messages.

14 Pricey, but what else do you make money for, right?

15 [O]n any given Saturday night you will see hordes of shit faced drunks stumbling around the area looking for either sex or a subway.

03.20.20

i found some songbird shit on our stump/table on the balcony this afternoon! this is a huge deal: we're up on the eighteenth floor, and we're lucky to see an occasional gull wheeling by on its way across the river, like, once a fortnight. pigeons like to roost and even nest on our neighbors' air conditioning units just a floor or two down, but not ours, never ours.* why they will not let us love them is beyond me. but: a pea-sized clump of healthy songbird shit (nice hue and consistency, buddy)! some little fella made it all the way to our place and took some time for reflection! it was, in all seriousness, thrilling—even when i spaced out and plunked my glass down on top of it, then carried it inside and to our coffee table. passerine traveler, i salute you.

i haven't been up to the bird hospital for—checking my volunteer login calendar—two months, and only twice this year. i was traveling in january and february and scrambling to file articles before and after each of those trips; i then got a tattoo at the end of february and felt i should take a week or two to myself before splashing it with bleach and, you know, songbird shit. i'd get messages from the volunteer coordinator (for the first time since i started working there!) saying that they had so very many interns that, for a couple of weeks, they didn't need any more hands on deck. then the city started taking coronavirus seriously.

as of last week, the word was that two volunteers could share the basement space with staffers at a time, and the hospital was eager for those volunteers (and the interns were long gone). i am not worried about what would/will happen to me, but i am very concerned about my many elderly neighbors, so i was trying to game out a way to commute a hundred blocks uptown without taking public transportation. a citibike halfway, then a couple of miles each way on foot? all of it on foot? i could do that, joe and i have walked the length of the island several times, but i'd have been tired-ish by the time i got to the upper west side, and it's both intensely physical and very delicate work. you can't do injections or tube-feed babies when you're wobbly. then we got a note from our building saying that several of our neighbors have tested positive, and that we should spend as little time as possible in the hallways and elevators. i'm already buying groceries for one of our friends downstairs, and i decided that i couldn't justify being a potential vector. i don't know how new city policies are going to apply to the hospital now that most of new york is shut down. i realize that worrying about baby birds at a time like this probably makes me a monster. it has been so long since i've been able to take care of them.

we are about as comfortable as two people can be in a pandemic: two adults who've been together for donkey's years, two dependents we outweigh quite handily that are satisfied with meat-paste and Warm Objects That Hold Still, one job with benefits that can't disappear and another that is flexible enough to carry on plausibly for now. three of our parents seem to be behaving sensibly, and the other seems at least sort of susceptible to peer pressure from me, my sisters, and my stepsister. i am keenly aware of the privilege dripping from every bit of that.

i still think, every now and again, about the website reviewer who called me trite and insular back in 2001(-2?) when my posts about 9/11 didn't acknowledge world events to her satisfaction. nothing about what i do here has ever been a particularly snappy rejoinder to that; all four of you know that this is something else.

our friend TJ is/was the house DJ for the red sox, the pats, and the bruins, jobs he began to cobble together after years of writing the sox to say "here i am!" in what i imagine was a very frank black voice. in this new world of ours, he's started streaming uncertain times, a radio show he started last week and is now helming from 10-noon(ish) ET so far on weekdays. he has always been very gracious about my distant exhortations to play bowie at fenway, and he played "peace, love and understanding" after we talked about it online a few days ago, and i cried. have we talked about competence porn here? TJ's show is competence porn.

here's a song for les and / here's a song for les and ray.



*neighbors two floors down have gone so far as to hang a plastic owl from their kitchen window to try to keep the pigeons away. i don't know if it's working, but it's an utterly delightful silhouette to see when i look out and down from our kitchen window.

02.27.20

so i was watching an *exquisitely* bad supernatural romance last night, and the hero—a very good actor, and the sort of person you'd really dig in to believe if the lines he was delivering were plausible at all—announced in a super-flat voice that he was madly in love, after, oh, three weeks and for the first time in like 1,500 years with the heroine. "same," she more or less said as one would announce that they'd been tagged in an instagram photo of someone's cocktail. this has probably obvious to everyone but me for a very long time, but i feel like i just understood that fictional characters make super-explicit romantic declarations because writers and directors are either not talented enough or too lazy to show them acting on affection for one another the way actual humans do. so people feel less-than when their own lovers don't show up with TO ME YOU ARE PERFECT signs when actually-actually a move like that is just a big failure of art to imitate life. just me? okay. i'm going to keep watching the show, though.

01.05.20

it occurred to me as i angry-treadmilled to the tv news this afternoon that while i haven't formally attempted a 101 in 1001 ("complete 101 preset tasks in a period of 1001 days") list for nearly five years, i've probably managed to take down a bunch of items from my last one anyway—and i totally did! way to go, haphazard me!

original start date: 10 june 2012
original end date: 08 march 2015

items completed: 023
items remaining: 078

...and since then,

additional items completed: 14

[004]: visit pittsburgh [see 09.28.15]
boy howdy do we love the 'burgh: since that first fall trip in 2015, the missus and i have driven back out three more times. while item 014 ("visit mari in atlanta") is now impossible, she and her family are now PA-based, and we've taken down the great race (my all-time favorite 10K, a crowded but delightfully citywide thing) with them three times. ask for "pittsburgh, you're my kind of town" in my best springsteen growl if we see each other in person; it's even better than the songs i invent for the cats.

[026]: go to the opera [completed october 2015]
baby's first opera was tannhäuser at the met, and while an old-school, nearly-four-hour (plus three intermissions, as i recall) take on early wagner might not seem like the most intuitive call, the friend* who facilitated our extremely good seats (he used to represent performers and is tight with the folks who film and simulcast the met's performances in HD) also talked us through the teutonic shenanigans. we went on to see an utterly stunning magic flute at the teatro dell'opera di roma (i cried like a baby and got a moth tattoo a few days later, which was technically coincidental but still), and we've been back to the met with the same opera-ringer pal for pelléas et mélisande (debussy's only opera). i have worn the same thrifted balenciaga tent dress to all three, and, weirdly, have yet to wear the black velvet opera coat i found at a vintage store on our first trip to pittsburgh? guess we have to hit some more operas.

[031]: get my name printed in the new york times [completed 09.01.19]
my first and twitter names turned up as part of patricia lockwood's "live nude dads read the sunday paper" project, but that assembled poem was online-only, and c'mon, it's much more satisfying to have debuted thus. that was a journey: i convinced myself a dozen different times over the course of several months that the piece wouldn't run, despite universally supportive communication from my editor and joe's exhortations to, like, breathe into a paper bag and go to bed already. i have now accepted that it can't be taken away and am working on new pitches! the travel section would seem like the most natural fit, but i can't write for it, as i've taken press trips (which are strictly forbidden for its contributors). i considered a modern love writeup about the series of late-night DMs i got last summer from a guy who turned me down when i asked him to senior prom and wanted me to know a couple of decades later that he was wrong to have done so, but that seemed...fraught. inspired by "my so-karen life,"** i was thinking about rites of passage...which now seems to be on hiatus. that said, i am unfazed (and am also going to get off my ass and aim at the new yorker this year).

[039]: spend the night on a boat [see 08.25.17].
i've now hit the atlantic for CRESLI's three-day great south channel trip three years in a row and am addicted to both cetaceanspotting and turning in with the thrum of an engine under my belly and stars and spray on my back. that trio of trips was pretty bare-bones: i brought a sleeping bag, a plush peep, and a pillowcase, and i dragged my lumpy vinyl cot mattress up to the top deck of our temporarily-mostly-repurposed fishing boat as often as i could (every night but one so far, i think?). i love whale watching, but i also love the formal restrictions of spending extended time on a small vessel in unpredictable conditions; i love pelagic birds, a deck heaving under my flip-flops, brushing my teeth and spitting over the stern. joe has yet to join me on any of those trips, but he flew out as my plus-one for a working trip on a small ocean liner in northern europe last fall: we flew to berlin and spent a few days revisiting falafel and oktoberfest, then took a coach to rostock and swooped out for a week of danish and norwegian port-hopping. the jump from a craft with 60 passengers to one with 900*** is not insignificant, despite the prevalence of NPR enthusiasts on both in these cases: the latter was unquestionably a luxury cruise (with on-board history and astronomy pros, balconies and cashmere blankets for all, shitting-you-not edvard munch originals [on loan from museums] on the walls...you get the idea). i had never been on A Cruise, and i am not sorry i tried one; the peoplewatching was top-hole, and i appreciated the opportunity to snack on destinations we might like to revisit. the sleep quality, ironically, ended up being comparable to what i've experienced on my CRESLI trips, albeit for reasons at the other end of the spectrum: at one point i acquired a wool blanket that pleased me so well that i was too excited to nap.**** we are unlikely to take another cruise, but i would consider recommending one on that particular line to, say, my parents, if they were intent on that particular sort of trip. tl;dr: more (hopefully small and/or eco-friendly) boats in the '20s.

[043]: spend a night in the hudson valley [completed 09.18]
when did we first go to the hudson valley? have we met? what is time? joe reminds me that we drove out to hudson for the afternoon when we spent a long weekend in narrowsburg in the fall of 2015, and that we didn't actually spend the night there until september 2018, when we shared an airbnb with friends for basilica soundscape (a weekend music festival) and were accosted by an extremely friendly tuxedo cat whose tag announced him to be BLACK BAT. we headed back again on a road trip last may and stayed at tiger house, a former hunting lodge that was a b&b at the time (i think it's now closed?). i am exceedingly fond of spotty dog (a bookstore/bar) and BLACK BAT, obviously. we did not solve a murder mystery at tiger house and should probably buy it so we can fix that.

[046]: swim with the coney island polar bear club [see 01.02.16].
it felt a bit like cheating to join the new year's day plunge in 2016, as coney island was positively balmy that morning compared to early januaries past and since, but look: i was pretty goddamn cold anyway (it wasn't the ocean itself, it was the interminable waiting to run into the ocean that killed me; i felt much better afterward, what with the adrenaline and the beer. one member of our foursome, previously unknown to me, is now a semi-regular Political Yelling at Bars Companion of mine; another was already an ice-bath devotee and has since gone to poland and iceland to celebrate wim "the iceman" hof's cold-therapy method. pro tips: bring someone who doesn't want to strip down and jump in the water with you but is willing to watch your clothes and towel and give you someplace to run when you're staggering back like an idiot, and wear thick socks.

[054]: go camping [completed 09.16]
i have yet to attempt a trip that doesn't involve running an all-night trail relay race at the same time, but the running shouldn't invalidate the camping, should it? on that first soggy weekend in new jersey for ragnar trail wawayanda lake, the terrain was so muddy that i'd crash in my diminutive leopard-print tent (you're a goddamn wonder, apartment tent) with my feet through the flap, exposed to the rain. with four ragnars now under my belt, i think i'm ready at last for regular camping, but i'm bringing The Grim Runner (my little angel of death with a custom pink sweatband) anyway.

[058]: visit the new york botanical garden [see 08.09.16]
guessing it won't surprise you that i found my trip to see the corpse flower in 2016 significantly more exciting than a trip to see the holiday train show. what can i say? i like fake corpses and real trains, thanks.

[078]: run a (public) 10K [completed 12.15?]
i've lost count of 10Ks, but i know that at least five have been on flat, scenic, PR-friendly roosevelt island (which should be an easy ride on the F train, but in 2020 even i can admit that there are no more easy rides on the F train; now i usually get there via the tramway and traumatize fellow passengers with my Run Funk, unavoidable in such a small space). i remind my septuagenarian friend and fellow bookstore volunteer A, a former UN official and longtime island resident, that i am both protecting and stalking him via these 10Ks, and he seems pleased.

[087]: visit the new york city tenement museum [completed...i have no idea, i pass it like every day and i think i'm trying to forget the visit to protect myself]
what's nastier than a doll-sized tram over the east river when you've just finished a 10K? the new york city tenement museum between march and october. i love my neighborhood and i love that earnest grad students introduce it to tourists, but i'm tired of sharing the sidewalk with all of them. get out of here, butter.

[090]: beat my new york times sunday crossword time (18 min)
i'm down to 11:35, which is not too shabby! that said, i hadn't read a thing about the american crossword puzzle tournament before registering and booking a hotel room for it and—get this—genuinely thought i could roll up and win. tell my family i loved them.

[096]: go to the hamptons
i think we've aged out of the sharing-a-group-house-for-the-weekend stage of engaging with the hamptons, and that's for the best, as the lunch, shopping, and gas-stationing stops i've made en route to montauk and back have been less than inspirational. montauk i like very much, though i'm conscious of being the sort of summer person who's helped make it too expensive for families to vacation there in recent years, and i'm not prepared to pay several hundred dollars a night for a long weekend in a fashionably-upcycled motel. i have made my peace with this.

[098]: figure out a wall treatment for the kitchen
i bought a bunch of black oil paint pens a few years ago and have been late-night doodling from the floor up ever since. it is immensely satisfying.

[099]: visit three new-to-me states
kinda hazy on this one, but i know kentucky, louisiana, mississippi, missouri, and north carolina are all in there. it's like we have a car now or something!


*kevin has the best ideas: he also organized our Black Tie Bar Crawl a few years ago, when we all dressed up within an inch of our lives and hit la grenouille and the four seasons (RIP). we would have kept crawling, but when we got to the four seasons's bar and asked for glasses of champagne, they just...kept coming, and we hadn't had dinner, so we fled to sakagura for ballast. fun fact: joe and i had dinner at the four seasons (dressed less formally, as it happens) after getting legally hitched (prior to our proper oxford wedding) in 2006.

**i enjoyed "my so-karen life" so much that i went to follow the writer, sarah miller, on twitter—and discovered that she's been following me for some time, which made me feel like a million bucks. a solid reminder that i should be following liberally.

***a 900-person cruise ship is considered a small cruise ship: the largest liners in the world accommodate more than 6,000 passengers.

****full disclosure: i bought that blanket for the cats (who appreciate it as much as i do and are much better at napping).

01.02.20

when i was a kid, fellow southern californians were obsessed with The Big One—it was not only inevitable, it was immediately imminent—and i remember kicking some nerf product across our semi-bricked patio in the late eighties, thinking well, this is how the world ends, and picturing the chasm. it came again when bush the first declared war on iraq and i expected my fellow kids to walk out of school in protest (no one walked out of school). i return rather a lot to the morning my college roommate's mother called to alert her and me to what had happened in new york city, two weeks after i started writing here, almost two decades ago. san francisco was convinced it was the next target (after the world trade center and the pentagon, one strikes the golden gate bridge, of course). roommate and i drove from russian hill down to market and passed a cafe because it was the only storefront that had opened its grate: "WE STILL HAVE EGGS," a maitre'd called to no one as a newscast blared behind him, "EGGS!"

[msnbc is running ads for erection pills and annuities]

my dad and i walked around the central park reservoir a couple of times this afternoon; we talked about cognitive dissonance, how we don't think we've become more centrist over the years, and how a lot of the people i encounter on social media are probably too young to have vivid memories of bush v. gore. he offered that he thinks my stepsister, once focused on a single issue, is now woke. ("woke" is new in our conversations; he refers to "the twitters." in return, i introduced shit the bed.)

maudlin and anxious, i insisted on a few extra awkward hugs before joe went to sleep tonight. i then settled back into our expansive couch.

01.01.20

2020: THE YEAR IN REVIEW

i zapped some of the vegetable dumplings i had the foresight to bring home on new year's eve.
i thought about running six miles and ran four miles.
i ran, emptied, and loaded the dishwasher a couple of times.
i entered a crossword puzzle tournament and booked a hotel for the weekend (hotel gal: "you kick butt in that tournament!").
i ate some of the blood orange bread pudding we made and flambéd last night.
i trimmed our little cat's claws.