Day 18: differences

Day 18, and I’m noticing the differences between life in Berkeley and life in NYC. Differences other than the snow/weather, of course…

Recyclables:
If NYC could get on the recycling bandwagon, wow–what an impact on the world. Our NYC apartment building has recycling bins, but recycling isn’t enforced like it is in San Francisco, both by law and social order. (If you go to a party in SF/Berkeley, EVERYONE will come up to you with their empty bottles and ask, “You recycle, right? Where’s your recycling bin?”) Nevermind the fact that you can get FINED if you put your compostables in your regular trash bin!

I have a compost bin in Berkeley–all compostables (vegetable and fruit peels, egg shells, coffee grinds) go in my compost bin. I cook a lot–and over the course of a week, I’m tossing several big bowls of compost into that bin. It makes me feel virtuous to know I’m relieving burden on the environment, turning organic material back into soil…

But in New York? There’s no compost bin in an apartment in a sea of apartments. And there’s no green compost bin in the refuse room, either. Those compostables? They go in the trash. That makes me sad.

Which leads me to…The Refuse Room:
I hate taking out the trash. Hate.It. The only time I could bear taking the trash out was when I lived in a high rise Berkeley dorm, where there was…a trash chute. All I had to do was walk out in the hallway, and throw away my trash and shuuuuup! it would go shooting down the chute down to whatever depths below.

(Actually, I know the depths–one time, I threw away my rice cooker pot insert, and had to rifle through the building’s trash myself).

In Berkeley, there are trash cans that I have to (ick) touch and then roll out to the curb each week. In NYC? The aforementioned Trash Chute phenomenon. There’s a picture above–trash chute to the left, and recycling bins. I love the trash chute. It’s as close to the Jetsons as my life has gotten.

Hospital designs are all about hiding the corpses. I think NYC apartment buildings are all about hiding the trash.

Service:
Service in NYC is…da sheeit. Repairmen not only arrive early, but they CALL you to tell you if they can arrive early. And if you tell them to arrive 15 minutes later, they say sure! And then 15 minutes later call you and say, “Is now okay?” Heaven.

You go to the store–whether a big chain or a local place…and 90% of the time, you can have that stuff delivered to your house, so that you don’t have to carry a zillion bags on the way home. (I have developed some serious shoulder muscles in the few weeks I’ve been here). You can pick the timeframe for delivery. It’s amazing.

Walking walking walking:
Biggest difference: you don’t need a car. Walking suffices. You walk all day. You can walk most anywhere. I can’t be sure (I have to go get a tape measure, because this new weight scale I got is maddeningly inaccurate)…but I think I’ve lost a few pounds since being here.

As a consequence of walking, I notice the details of the City (e.g., all the remnants of dog shit, for starters). I rub shoulders with other people. I don’t just drive around in a “bubble” (aka the car), driving past the sections I want to rush through, only to focus on my destination. It’s an entirely different process.

I love the walking.

Berkeley Bowl (otherwise known as, “Where are the good grocery stores?”):
I miss Berkeley Bowl. I miss it. A. Lot. I knew that when I left Berkeley, I’d miss that store–but never did I think I would miss it this much! Berkeley Bowl is a one stop shop–it has international groceries, mainstream groceries, organic groceries, frou frou gourmet groceries…all top notch PLUS a bakery PLUS a deli PLUS a great butcher + fishmonger PLUS amaaazing and diverse produce.

We’ve driven to Jersey, we’ve tried no fewer than 12 grocery stores in Manhattan…and so far, the only thing that comes close is Whole Foods and Fairway Market. For the record, Whole Foods doesn’t hold a candle up to Berkeley Bowl.

I haven’t yet checked out the greenmarkets, so maybe it’ll get better. But for now–I miss you, Berkeley Bowl.

Smush Face Dogs:
New York loves its smush face dogs: pugs, French bulldogs, and English bulldogs.

Writers Room:
At The Writers Grotto in SF, each writer gets a private, dedicated office in which to write. There’s an enormous wait list, and everyone is eager to get on the “sublet list,” which gives a writer access to the occasional sublet opportunities.

Here, in NYC, there are a number of writing rooms, like Paragraph and The Writers Room. Whichever you choose–you’re unlikely to get an office, let alone a dedicated desk (although the The Writer Gym at the Asian American Writers Workshop offers dedicated desks). I kind of prefer the NYC option–to be in a sea of writers, so that you hear the collective work going on (it’s silent, but not without the occasional gulp of water, rustling of polyester jackets, and the sound of typing). If you don’t have a dedicated desk, you’re all the more motivated to get to the space early.

And lastly…:
And lastly–I love that there is NO RAMPANT HIGH TECH TALK here in NYC. It’s nice to go through a meal at a restaurant without hearing “Java /Javascript /JVM /Python /Ruby /Ruby on Rails /VCS /SAN,” etcetera, either at your own table or at the table one over, or the table on the other side of the restaurant. It’s a nice break. And I love that writers abound.

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Day 10 in the NYC life: Evolution of Snow

Evolution of NYC snow:
Yesterday evening, it began to snow in NYC…the night sky turned milky white with falling snow.  This morning, I woke up to pillows of the ivory stuff everywhere; by news accounts, 9 inches of snow fell in Central Park. By noon, there was a snowman in our apartment’s courtyard. By mid-afternoon, strong winds and snow blowing off rooftops. By late-afternoon, the white stuff turned to gray slush on the sidewalks and crosswalks.

Another reason I love NYC:
Did not write. Got my hair cut. I got to indulge my diva self; I received a personalized hair consultation, and experienced a transformation of my mane. My new hairstylist kindly tore the Vogue magazine from my hands and told me I had to watch my haircut this first time. I have a decades-long habit of reading magazines while getting my haircut, sometimes to my hair’s great detriment. I totally admired her for separating me from my magazine.

At one point, she asked me, “Do you like it so far?”

I said yes.

She asked, “What part do you like?”

Daaaamn. I fell in love with her at this point. She wasn’t letting me get away with platitudes. Man, I love this city. It calls me on my own bullshit, because I’m from this city. I pointed to the layers on the sides of my hair.

“I like that part, too.” And she continued to cut. Until she gave me the best haircut I’ve received in 10 years.

Yet another reason I love NYC:
Afterwards, I walked north, past men hired to shovel the streets of Tribeca. Where did they come from? Did the City hire them for the day? And why was I not seeing them anywhere else? Did the cobblestone streets of Tribeca require manual shoveling to clear snow?

I met a good friend for chocolate treats at Jacques Torres. I was wearing a Star Wars tshirt. Why is it that my husband gets mad props for the tshirt, but I get zero comments? (I’m now wearing it, because it shrunk in the dryer and it no longer fits my husband).

I love Jacques Torres. I use his chocolate chip cookie recipe. I love my friend. Best chocolate in the world + amazing friend = awesome time.

We walked towards the Village afterwards. Picked up Raffeto’s for dinner. Where I saw Vodka tomato cream sauce. Again. NYC is obsessed with:
1) Hamburgers (and does them extremely well)
2) Cupcakes (the overly sweet kind)
3) Vodka tomato sauce

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Day 9 in the nyc life: where I sit down to write

Today was my 9th full day in NYC.

I found this blog called A Year In New York, where writer David Ferris documented a year in NYC as a writer (like me, he’s also from San Francisco). I’m addicted to his blog. I’m one who loves insight to the future, even if totally improbable; hence, my obsession with weather forecasts and fortunetellers…and blogs about a year in NYC.

And reading his blog reminded me: I need to update this blog more often.

I’ve been writing in my moleskine–but haven’t felt compelled to post online, partly because I haven’t blogged here for awhile, partly because I’m still absorbing this exhilarating whirlwind of change.

I signed up for Photojojo.com awhile back on my irl-name flickr stream. Photojojo.com sends you a few photos on a monthly basis, of photos taken a year previous. I quickly discovered that:
1) I DO the SAME STUFF EVERY SINGLE YEAR (going to see the golden aspens in Tahoe! making pumpkin bread! vegetable gardening!)
2) THE SAME STUFF HAPPENS EVERY YEAR
3) AT THE SAME TIME

Ohboy. Time for a change, I thought. And then an opportunity to live in NYC came along. We pondered the opportunity–we decided to go for it, and told ourselves that if we hit a roadblock in planning, we’d reconsider. No roadblocks whatsoever occurred; we found a place to live in an act of ultimate kizmet, and the timing was such that I could take a semester off from teaching. Additionally, other logistics fell into place. Like magic.

All of the above happened inside of a month. I didn’t even know what to pack. I ended up throwing everything in a box and sending it off to NYC (where we met the box, disheveled and falling apart, after driving to NYC in the car).

So we’re here in NYC–we braved Arizona blizzards (does that state have ANY snow plows?! We saw 5 spinouts and flipped cars inside of 30 minutes at one point) in our tiny MINI, and then outran the storms as best we could across New Mexico and Texas, until we reached New Orleans, where we spent NYE (amidst tornado watches). We love New Orleans. We pondered just staying put and refusing to move on to NYC. We ate at Jacques-Imo’s for NYE dinner, and vowed to return.

We ate at Waffle House (my first time! AMAZINGLY delicious) somewhere in Alabama, at Cracker Barrel (blech worse than dorm food) in Virginia, and I watched my husband eat a 24 ounce steak in Amarillo, Texas. The wiener dogs settled into the backseat of our car and snuggled for thousands of miles, happy as clams through aforementioned blizzards.

We got to NYC–and found a parking spot right in front of our apartment building. One of my friends called it a total Doris Day moment–too bad I was wearing the same pants and tshirt I’d been wearing for 5 days…if I’d known there would be a Doris Day moment, I’d have changed into a Dris Day shift dress and wool peacoat and put on some foundation and mascara.

It was magical. Surreal, even, to drive through the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan, and then walk through the doors of our apartment building. And stare out the windows at Manhattan, the Empire State Building lit up like a Bomb Pop popsicle in green and red.

We…were…here. I had realized a dream.

It’s now Day 9. We’ve settled into a routine after checking out no fewer than 7 food stores (Fairway, HMart, Sunrise Mart, Food Emporium, Whole Foods, Citarella, Ottamanelli’s Meats, just to name a few). I’ve seen 2 rats (one living, one dead), a falcon in the sky, a kazillion cupcake carts/trucks/stores, hundreds of naked post-Christmas Christmas trees awaiting garbage pickup, mountains of garbage (the city was behind on garbage pickup, post-blizzard), and had 8 bloody noses from the dry air.

And yesterday, I signed a contract at The Writers Room. It was hard to decide, but in the end I chose the Writers Room over Paragraph in an emotional decision; I woke up everyday imagining myself writing at the Writers Room–no matter how I tried, I could only imagine myself writing at the Writers Room and nowhere else.

Today, I sat down to write at the Writers Room–I could hear every gulp of water from the other writers, and I could hear that one writer was on a roll, typing with mad abandon. Every once in awhile, the radiators would hiss and rattle.

It was good. It was really really good.

(Also: I love NYC, but I miss my Bay Area friends. I miss you!)

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somewhere…

On my laptop in the car, on a 3G card + car power inverter…somewhere in the middle of foggy Arizona. Sometime before the fog, we saw red cliffs and lots of tumbleweeds.

Before Arizona, we were in Vegas, staying with family, catching our breath before continuing our journey. And sweating. Because my dad likes to keep the house thermostat at 85F. And then commences to don his slanket. Only my wiener dogs like it that hot.

Before Vegas, we were in Baker at our favorite road food stop, The Mad Greek, where we ate gyros and banana shakes, the only splash of color that wasn’t blue and white. Oh wait. There was something else that wasn’t blue or white; a red suitcase labeled with an Asian woman’s name, ala “Cindy Chang”…guarded by 2 boisterous and nervous Israelis. What was that all about? There’s something about being out and about late at night (this was midnight)–where so few comingle that all our oddities become stark in solitary.

Now…our wiener dogs are in the car, choosing to dogpile together in the crate like long-time mates (oh wait–they are longtime mates). We are headed east.

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I is for I

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The last time I blogged, it was July, and I was surrounded by heat. I thought that perhaps just for balance, I might blog I for Ice, since after all, it is now wintertime, and when I open my front door, it’s like opening a refrigerator door. Except there aren’t goodies to eat on my porch.

But after some thought, I decided that I is for…I.
(And yes, like Sunny said, I is for I…need to update this site more often).

I is for first person, singular. I is for being the narrator of my own story.

I is for a brand new year ahead, wherein I will prioritize my novel (which btw, is NOT written in the first person). I will prioritize my writing. I have been given the gift of time; the last time I had time to write my novel was in 2009, when I was laid off from my job. In shock, licking my wounds and doing budget calculations in my head with numb precision, I remember limping to my novel-in-progress, determined to make lemonade.

And I did. I finished a complete draft of my novel by year’s end.

I’ve been given the gift of time again. After 2010’s intense work schedule, wherein I vacillated between being grateful for work in the midst of the Great Recession, and being forlorn about having no space to write and wishing wishing wishing for a residency or some sort of fantasy scenario in which I could write every single day…

My dream has come true. I’m moving to NYC. To write. (Well, it’s more complicated than that–but the end result is that I will be in NYC, and have more time to write).

I is for I. I will write. I will have a fantastic 2011. I will take care of my health. I will get back into shape. I will revise my novel until I am proud.

And to my NYC friends: I will see you soon.


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H is for Heat

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I thought for awhile what to write for H. I’ve felt the pressure to write SOMETHING, because I haven’t written here in quite some time, and this blog, at least in my head, is not defunct. It is still very much alive, even though I’m blogging elsewhere on a more regular basis. I don’t want it to die. And yet, H does not inspire me. And if I’m not inspired, I do not write well.

But here we go. Sometimes, we have to write the crap to get to the good stuff: H is for Heat.

I have had a longstanding hatred for heat, having grown up in Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley (not The Valley–the OTHER Valley) with its mountains trapping the trough with heat and and smog giving the summer sky a milky look. Temperatures were regularly above 90F and often topped 100F.

Exacerbating the situation was a guideline my dad set down, such that I would watch the thermometer like a hawk; if you are already hot, I think the worst thing you can do is WATCH the thermometer, but that is exactly what I did all summer long. My dad would not turn on the AC until the indoor temperature reached 85F. (This means the outdoor temperatures had to hover near 100F).

All summer long, my thighs would stick to the leather couch, my hair would stick to my face, flushed red from…heat.

Because of the “minimum 85F temperature” rule, I felt no incentive to keep the house cool; in fact, I did all I could to make the indoor temperature hit 85F.

Thus started a lifelong hatred with heat. With the Valley. I fantasized about becoming independently wealthy and traveling the world such that I would avoid summer and heat throughout the year. I would live in the Southern hemisphere from May to October! And then move to the Northern hemisphere! I would vacation in Alaska!

To this day, I will stand outside in a pair of pajamas, no parka, watching the snow come down up in Tahoe. My neighbors there think I’m crazy; I enjoy standing out there when the temperature is 12F waiting until my bones are chilled.

I love the fog in SF/Berkeley. The fog covers up any hint of summer. It quenches the heat. Right now, the East is having some terrible heat–I’m hearing about it from friends on twitter–temps near 100F! And with about 100% humidity to accompany the heat. They too, are fantasizing about trips to Alaska.

Me? I quail thinking about what they’re going through. And I’m getting ready for a trip to Alaska. Literally.

*Seriously: any yummy food recommendations along the ALCAN/Alaska Highway? Or should we stock our cooler really well in Vancouver and keep strictly to our cooler all the way up to Alaska?


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G is for Gatsby

G can only be for Gatsby–as in Jay Gatsby, as in my favorite novel of all time since I first read the book in high school, as in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

F. Scott Fitzgerald cannot be a more different writer than me, and cannot have lived a more different life, but it is not the things that are similar to me that I love most in life. I love my quiet, big picture, intrepid, irreverent, even tempered, tall, mathematics-inclined, scientist, engineer husband. I love my boisterous, rule breaking, front-of-the-crowd, flirtatious, not-afraid-of-change, best friend. I love Berkeley because it challenges me to be different, and because it comforts me for being different (in my little pocket of Berkeley, it’s even okay to be Republican; not that I am one).

Gatsby is the American Dream–its seductive nature, its possibility and its rotting underside. He is a character who lived with infinite hope and who is the ultimate Romantic, who collected his fortune for a love that was not so much real as it was imagined in his mind. He is the man who sits at the end of the dock, his arms outstretched towards the green light.

Gatsby is the Jazz Age of the 1920s, a time period with which I have been obsessed for two decades. It has wrought my aesthetics–for I love Art Deco. It is a time period that partied hard without disregard for the possibility of a fall that did come a decade later.

Gatsby is not so much different from my own perspective. In so many ways, I understand Nick Carraway, the observing narrator of the book; I grew up in the 1980s, another “decade of excess,” albeit one clothed in padded shoulders and acid washed jeans instead of flapper dresses and marcelled hair. I have been a bystander to great wealth, mystified and amused and intimidated and scornful and seduced by things that are “full of money,” whether a voice like Daisy Buchanan or the lustre of fabric on a haute couture dress or the burnish of tarnishing silver. I have watched this wealth disappear; I have watched people grow from the terror of money torn from them, and I have watched people wither and die with a shriek after money has gone away.

It is not much different from my mother’s family–she was once wealthy, and then the War came, and the money was gone. She and my father raised me to never covet money, because they had seen the addiction.

Gatsby is careless people.

Gatsby is a beautiful world with danger underneath–women like moths fluttering to the light in their party dresses, as “in his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.

Gatsby is tragedy. Gatsby is a car. Gatsby is that car luring the love of your life into its passenger seat and then its driver’s seat. Gatsby is a vehicle for destruction and death. Gatsby is materialism but materialism gone too far.

Gatsby is consumerism, as described, “Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York—every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves.”

Gatsby is a relatively short novel, one that on a craft level, I look upon with awe. F. Scott Fitzgerald told eons in only a few lines; when Gatsby, showing off, throws dozens of fine and beautiful shirts on a bed to which Daisy cries at their beauty…well, that speaks worlds about the two characters. I have watched people do the same–show off their closets. I am conscious to never cry.

Gatsby is beautiful language. Gatsby is that last beautiful and mystical line, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Gatsby is my favorite novel of all time. I wish I could write a book like that.


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