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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Blah Blah Blah Work...Blah Blah Blah

Times Square
Photo by myself, in Times Square.

Though New York is known for the glitter of Times Square, most New Yorkers avoid the area because of all the traffic.


I'm off again to Aspen for a few days next week. Woohoo.

Work is running at high gear, and from there, I'll be off to LA for a long family weekend. I'll have my laptop with me to do some work, so I'll post while I'm gone.

I'm looking forward to being reunited with the deep bathtub in the hotel room, the mountain air and snow.

Being away from New York makes me all the more attached to it. The pushy people on the subway, the noisy hustle bustle, the search for restaurants based on lunch specials, the way your shoes hurt a little hitting the pavement - the most bittersweet details become dear.

I've never traveled so often for work. What I'm doing is nothing, of course. One of my coworkers alternates between D.C. and Virginia every other week. Another practically lives in Palm Beach.

Finally, my big boss travels constantly. Every week he's on the road, and no one knows how he does it. Flying between ongoing projects and personal travels to Asia and Europe, he never seems to tire. One veteran coworker has never seen Big Boss take a sick day. He's never even had the sniffles.

I guess at this point I could go on about how most New Yorkers are workaholics. But I'm too tired from the work day. Maybe some other time.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On How the Streets are Numbered in This City

W Hotel, Times Square
Photo by myself, at lobby of the W Hotel in Times Square.


Getting around in New York is not for the small-brained or dyslexic.

Example: You have to get to a meeting at 1:00 pm at 350 Fifth Avenue, on the Northwest corner of Fifth and 35th Street, Suite 220.

Hello, you have to hold all these numbers in your head: one o'clock, Fifth and 35th, Suite 220. You could easily switch everything around and wind up at 220 Fifth Ave, Suite 350. It's not so simple as '15 Birch Drive'. A simple address can make Mission Impossible seem straightforward.

This happened to me tonight - I was late for a meeting and scurried to 48 West 34th Street, between 5th and Broadway on the 8th floor. I ran out of the subway out of breath and looked high and low.

'48...48...' I saw 50, I saw 30. Meanwhile, seconds ticked by.

It turns out I'd misread my own handwriting and I really belonged on 37th Street. So off I scurried through the darkness, dodging taxis and passersby.

Today I had a couple appointments. The one in midtown, at 37th Street and another at the W Hotel in Times Square. I met my appointment in the Lobby, a guy who dealt with mirrors and hardware.

'So did you find this place all right?' he asked.

'Sure. It wasn't too terrible.'

'Y'know,' he said, 'I think this is the only hotel lobby I've been in that's on the seventh floor. They're always on the ground floor.'

We looked at each other, laughed and said in unison, 'Only in New York!'


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Code Yellow

Photo by myself, at the Union Square subway station.


I don't have much to post today, except some commentary on the photo above. The police presence at Union Square tonight was full blast, and I'm not sure why. Policemen stood around for no evident reason.

We're at Code Yellow right now, which is one less than Code Orange, which is one less than Code Red, (Code Red is really bad).

Most New Yorkers don't feel anxious about the state of things. The trains stop all the time in the middle of tunnels, shady people continue to tote big backpacks.

So far, so good.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Single Woman with Cats

Making Mandoo
Photo by myself, in Koreatown.

There's always mandoo (Korean dumplings) being made at the Mandoo Bar on 32nd and Fifth Avenue.


I don't remember things often. My brain is a sieve. If anyone asks me to tell a joke or recite a poem on the spot, I'm speechless.

I do, however, recall one of the best cartoons ever. It was in The New Yorker, by Leo Cullum.

A man stands in front of his cat, shaking his finger and scowling. He says to the cat, 'Never, ever, think outside the box.'

For a while now, my cat Dida has been doing just that. She's ruined the wood of the laundry room floor. Mark and I have gotten fed up (Mark especially) and now Dida has been relocated to the bathroom, along with her litter, a bowl of water and a bowl of food.

When I adopted Dida, I also adopted two of her kittens. She'd had a beautiful litter, and the whole family spent their days in the window of a pet store on Ninth Avenue. Only Dida and two kittens remained when I finally went into the store. I wanted the two kittens, but I walked out with three cats. Yes, I'm a softie, and I didn't want anyone to be left out.

After adopting the cats, I was sensitive to that cliche, 'single woman with cats'. I was single, I lived in a walk-up in New York, I had cats. The cats kept me company. I took care of them and in their own way, they cared for me. I coined my screen name 'Kittylittered', because I was 'littered with cats'.

The single woman with multiple cats is an urban cliche. It mixes a couple of beliefs together - that women, especially single ones, have a preference for cats over dogs, and that it's easy for women to wind up alone in the city.

I have to wonder why 'single woman with cats' is also supposed to be funny. Because not everyone is a cat lover? Because to shack up with cats means to isolate oneself, when you really need to let your hair down and go out?

The two kittens grew up to be cats, and two years ago they died suddenly within six months of each other. I won't go into how they died, but it was sudden and sad. Now, Dida doesn't remember that she was a mom (I don't believe. We haven't talked this out, but she doesn't act like a mom, and she doesn't act like she misses any cats, which I guess is a good thing).

Like any self-respecting cat, Dida's been yowling from her little prison. Hopefully, she'll only have to stay there a couple weeks before she's cured of her 'little problem'.

Until then, I'll be an attached woman with a wailing cat in the background.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

At the Threshold of the Blogosphere

The Shake Shack
Photo by myself of the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park.

On workdays you have to wait on line at least 20 minutes for a Chicago style dog.


For the last week, the Daily City Photo Blog logo has been proudly displayed in the sidebar here.

This site will be a part of a larger ring of sites offering daily photos from cities around the world. Photo blogs post daily from Auckland New Zealand, Bogor Indonesia, Portland Maine and everywhere in between. But there's a glitch in the matrix - since my feed isn't compatible with their site, it doesn't show up on the blog roll. Drat.

Last summer after visiting Paris, I discovered Paris Daily Photo. Little did I know, PDP began the daily photo blog genre. Its creator, Eric Tenin, started posting a photo a day from his glamorous home city. Three years later, there are nearly 500 cities participating in the same cause.

I loved Eric's photos and the glimmer of a thought was planted waaay in the back of my head to be a part of their blogroll. It would be cool to represent New York in a more official sense. Someday.

I have it easy - you can always find something to photograph on any given day, on any given block in New York. My only current difficulties are the weather, which is often gray and dreary, and my schedule, which limits my time outside.

Today I treated myself to a walk from Madison Square Garden to Union Square. I stopped along the way to get delicious Chicago style hotdog from the Shack Shack in Madison Square Park (all-beef dog on a poppy seed bun, topped with mustard, relish, onion, cucumber, pickle, tomato, sport pepper and celery salt).

I hadn't been in the neighborhood in eons. It was great to be in the park again, the dog run half full with pugs, terriers and mutts. I was hoping to photograph the Flatiron Building at 23rd and Fifth Avenue, one of my favorite city landmarks, but the lighting wasn't right.

I promised to return. I'll have to come back for the stately details of the New York Life Building, the motley assortment of furniture stores on Broadway and the spacious restaurants lining Park Avenue South.

I'm not done with that neighborhood. Not even close.

Click here for an earlier post about Paris Daily Photo.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Long Road Home

72nd Street and Broadway
Photo by myself at 72nd and Broadway, on the Upper West Side.

The intersection of Broadway, Amsterdam and West 72nd Street has a grand European vibe.


The other day I did the unthinkable. Let me rephrase: I was not thinking.

I was late to work, so I ran onto the subway without checking the colored circle and letter naming its destination. I found myself on the F instead of the N, which isn't such a tragedy except that it was rather inconvenient.

My solution was to get out at the next stop, climb up the stairs and walk a couple blocks only to climb down the stairs to spend another two bucks for another train. Of course, once I got where I wanted to go, I had to climb up the $@#! stairs again.

There are certain things you wind up doing repeatedly, and sometimes the body keeps doing them without consulting the brain. I wonder if such things happen to those who drive to work? I hope not.

Autopilot is not new to me. I've managed to get on the wrong train several times, winding up in the wrong neighborhood because my body has forgotten that I no longer live on the Upper West Side.

I've wound up going to my old gym, without meaning to. I've trudged through the labyrinthian passages of the Times Square subway station, only to realize minutes later that I missed my train an escalator and two stairways ago. Duh.

I'm reminded of my childhood beliefs - that the radio was piped in from underground, and that cars, driven repeatedly on the same roads, came to know where they were going.

I thought the old white Ford I grew up with knew the twisty turny roads leading home, if only because the turns and dips felt so natural. The car also seemed to pick up speed when we were close to home. I thought if my parents just lifted their hands from the wheel, we'd just keep barreling forward.

Perhaps I was an unwashed white Ford in a past life, or a Mini Cooper in British racing green. In any case, something inanimate without a thought bubble.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Four-Legged Friends

Don't Walk
Photo by myself at Broadway and Prince Street in Soho.

In this town, dogs are people, too.


Pets are children-substitutes in a city short on space. We dress them, pamper them, talk to them and give them people names.

Pets, dogs especially, since they're so visible, are status symbols. They're badges to the outside world on what you can afford - an apartment that can house more than one living thing, the occasional dog walker, stays at the kennel and the dreaded vet bill.

Usually the bigger the dog, the bigger the statement. The same goes for multiple little dogs. You may as well have dollar bill symbols at the end of the leash. At least, that how I see it.

My theory is that bigger dogs need less exercise than smaller dogs, because they're less excitable. So a guy walking down the street with two Great Danes may just live in a studio apartment rather than a three-bedroom. Don't be fooled!

A couple years ago, one of Mark's friends came to visit his ex-girlfriend with his Great Dane, George. Meanwhile, the ex-girlfriend owned a small, very sparsely furnished apartment and an immense Bouvier named Gracie.

We spent the night chatting over drinks, while George kept getting up to nudge Gracie to play. The small group of two-legged animals kept getting pushed around by the four-legged ones. It was beyond claustrophobic, it was downright silly.

After twenty minutes, we just had to leave.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Apartment Living Together

Sushi Bar
Photo by myself, near Union Square.

Lemongrass Grill on 13th Street and University Place serves both Thai and Japanese cuisine.


Recently, Mark and I have been talking about living together.

It's a good thing. No more calling each other and changing plans at the last minute about when to meet at the subway station. No more shlepping clothes and other belongings back and forth. And even though Greenpoint, Brooklyn, where Mark lives, is an interesting neighborhood, it's sorely lacking in the decent restaurant category.

'I couldn't decide what to eat last night, so I had Cocoa Puffs,' Mark told me tonight.

'Hm. So you couldn't decide between Italian or Thai?'

Anyway, Mark will finally be able to fulfill his dream of getting a dog. His apartment isn't terribly big, and having two people around to care for a dog is better than one.

Cats are the apartment animal of choice. Like plants, they don't need much. Give them a litterbox, some food, water and a comfy spot, and they're fine. You don't have to board them when you're away. You don't have to rush home so they can pee.

(Note: I read somewhere that between cats and dogs, if the owner dies, the cat will eat the owner out of hunger. The dog won't. Yet another vote for Team Dog).

My cat Dida was rescued from the railroad tracks near Hell's Kitchen. Lounging in a climate-controlled environment with catnip toys and unlimited food must be heaven. Little does she know that her heaven time is waning.

Mark always planned on getting a French Bulldog. He finds their bulgy eyes, eagerness and chubby trot irresistible.

Since we've started the research, though, things have changed. Frenchies are high energy and require a lot of exercise every day. On the other hand, Boston terriers, which also have bulgy eyes and an eager trot, don't need so much exercise. Bostons sound like cats - they like some exercise, but prefer to curl up on the couch and watch tv.

Space is limited for us apartment dwellers. There ain't no yard or doggie door to rely on. Someone needs to rush home from work to walk the dog, or else. Despite all these hardships, many New Yorkers have dogs. (As you can imagine, the jokes comparing dogs to children are endless).

Over the next several weeks, I'm sure we'll have more conversations about whether getting a dog is the right thing for us. Til then, the cat has her heaven, undisturbed.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Art for the Masses

Leave it to the graffiti artists on the street to combine high art with low. Recently, someone wittily referenced one of the most well-known urban sculptures around, Robert Indiana's Love sculpture. The sculptures are scattered around the world, and one exists in the flesh on the corner of 6th Avenue and 55th Street.

When I was looking for an apartment a couple years ago, I failed to edit my photos. I sent my parents a street view showing a sliver of old graffiti.

Of course, I heard about it. My dad called me from California, asking how run down the neighborhood was. I knew what he was referring to.

'It's just graffiti,' I'd said. 'There's graffiti everywhere. Even in Soho.'

Our difference in opinion shows the difference between East Coast and West Coast mentalities. In LA, manicured and tidy is good. Everything that can sport a new coat of paint does. In New York, manicured is tidy is good, too. But graffiti and the signs of age are not terrible.

Well, that's just the beginning. There are more differences between New York and LA. I'll have to write about them another time.

Top photo by myself of graffiti in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Lower photo of an Indiana 'Love' Sculpture.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Sublime and the Ridiculous, Or Why I See Few Celebrities in New York

The Strand
Photo by myself on Broadway and 12th Street, of one of my favorite places.

You can buy books by the yard and browse for hours at the Strand.


Yesterday for a brief moment, we met up with Stu, one of Mark's buddies. We drove around the block with me, scrunched in the back seat of Clive, Mark's Mini Cooper.

'There's David Blaine'. Stu pointed out a guy in a black and gray sweatsuit, strolling across 14th Street by himself like anyone else.

We crossed the light, and when I turned I saw Blaine's silhouette.

I'm not sure what the deal is, but I rarely have celebrity sightings. I once saw Tony Randall or his look alike years ago in Times Square. And then I thought I saw and practically chased after Ed Norton on the Upper West Side.

Then I've definitely seen Dave Chapelle and Ethan Hawke and the surreal glow emitted by Uma Thurman. (Uma's glow preceded her and was other worldly and startling). I once stood behind the petite Jane Pauley while on line at Citerella. Besides the above and the Isaac Mizrahi sighting a couple weeks ago, that's my celebrity sighting list. It seems like I've always just missed someone.

Last summer, I met Mark for lunch. 'I just saw Keanu Reeves,' he said.


'Yeah, he's a block down, over there.' Good grief.

I know where Liv Tyler lives and where George Clooney is rumored to live. I know where Susan Sarandon may or may not be living. But I never see these people. If I were really psycho, I would camp out near any of these places and see if what I've heard is true.

Actually, I think the real reason I don't see these celebs is that I'm busy looking at everything else. The traffic, the colors, the people, the pets, the beautiful details of the buildings, and the sheer amount of stuff everywhere is just too distracting.

My first few years living in the city, I was just astounded by the simple act of walking down the street. I told myself that I could walk out the door and encounter a sidewalk littered with trash, but it would look beautiful to me.

Of course, the feeling of wonder fluctuates. Some days I walk out of my apartment and when I see the trash, I see TRASH, and there's nothing romantic about it. But most of the time, I delight in what I'm lucky enough to catch sight of.

It doesn't have to be famous.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Cuppa Joe To Go

Second Avenue
Photos by myself on Second Avenue in the East Village.

There's a gritty authenticity to this part of the city, making it one of my favorite neighborhoods.


It was cold today and brightly sunny. I was excited to spend the day with Mark and drive into the city. I imagined myself walking around and snapping loads of great photos.

But with the cold, walking around was not an option. We had just enough motivation to lunch at our favorite Afghani restaurant on St. Mark's Place and buy a pound of coffee.

If you're ever around Second Ave and St. Mark's, drop by Porto Rico Importing Company, a little hole in the wall that's stoked with beans from around the world. The service is a little heavy on attitude, but the goods are excellent.

I have to wonder whether I read about this place in the Times Real Estate section eons ago. Someone had written a letter to the paper about living above a coffee store and having physical reactions to the caffeine wafting from below. The Times basically responded 'Too bad.'

I empathize. Standing in line is enough stimulus for me. Strangely, the barristas are not nervous wrecks. They move like fashionably pierced three-toed sloths.

While on line today, I couldn't resist snapping a photo of one of the various strains of bean. The average price at Porto Rico for blended, flavored or organic coffees is 8 bucks a pound. Here was one very special strain from Jamaica, priced at a whopping 49 bucks a pound.

Hello??! Are you kidding??

If I had an extra wad of cash just lying around, I'd try me a cup. But alas, no such luck.

You can even order bird-friendly beans from the Porto Rico's online store.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Quiet on the Set!

NYC Subway
Photo by myself on the subway platform in Union Square.


Yesterday Mark went on a shoot around Brooklyn for his job. He's freelancing right now, directing and producing three commercials for Comcast, the cable provider. He climbed out of bed early to be on set at 730.

'We'll be shooting a block away between 9 and 10', he said. I had fantasies of taking pictures behind the scenes to show you all, but it was just too cold out and too cozy under the covers. I wasn't even close to making it.

Mark wound up shooting footage of 18 actors at 12 locations around Williamsburg and Greenpoint. They broke for lunch at the pizza place around the corner from the apartment. Mark had been worried that it'd be too cold or dark outside to shoot, but in the end, the results were good.

The only time I've been involved with film production was years ago. I'd helped Laura, a friend at the time, with her film class at NYU. For some reason, one of the actors in her three-minute, silent black and white film couldn't make it, so I stood in.

We wound up working a 12-hour day, filming in Battery Park City and Riverside Park. I remember wearing a business suit and rushing down the stairs in the Winter Garden in one scene. In another, I threw an orange into the Hudson River (ah, let's just way it was a surreal piece). During lunch, Laura sat under a raincoat and wound the film through the camera manually.

We only shot a few scenes that day, but for some reason, it was exhausting. I wound up sleeping fourteen hours straight afterwards!

I still can't believe some people do that stuff for a living.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Three Pete's

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Photo by myself outside the Bedford Avenue subway station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


This weekend, Mark and I will probably take it very easy. Mark is working today, so I'm taking Monday off, which is an optional holiday for us.

Both Mark and I are low energy. He's caught a lesser strain of my cold. Plus, his knee will have to be operated on soon. It's supposed to be a short procedure, less than an hour, to repair a torn ligament. Hopefully then, he'll be as good as new.

Meanwhile, I'll be taking hot baths, lounging with the cat and cleaning my apartment. It'll be nice to hibernate and patter around.

I've been thinking about how minor my speaking issues are. I could be a slacker, a compulsive liar or a substance abuser. There are more difficult things to overcome.

A couple such people passed through our office since I've been there. I have to wonder whether it's just New York, or whether these people exist everywhere.

One guy, whom I'll call Pete, was a compulsive liar. Pete made up all sorts of excuses for days he took off, and some were quite insane - beyond the usual cold, flu, stomach ache, food poisoning and locking oneself out of the apartment, Pete had to take a day off to prep for the Gay Pride parade, he had impromptu jury duty, and he threw up on himself at Starbucks and had to run home and change his shirt.

We were desperate for help at the time and kept Pete on, until my coworker who worked with Pete was granted access to his office email. Then we found that Pete emailed many of the office drawings to a personal email account. That was the last straw. Pete was canned, and the office warned that it would pursue litigation. Our lawyers were notified but for whatever reason, nothing came of it. The rest of us fumed over Pete's daring.

In my years in New York, I've worked alongside three Pete's. Another guy sat next to me and during our first conversation, told me he worked at a particular well-known office.

'Oh really?' I asked. 'I worked there, too. When were you there?'

'Um, I didn't actually work there. I worked at (another smaller, unknown office nearby).' He had basically lied.

I told one of my coworkers who chalked it up to insecurity. It turned out to be a red flag. Pete II turned out to be a slacker who completely messed up a project and lied about the hours he worked. He was later canned, but we heard through the grapevine that he'd landed a titled position at another very well-known firm. Incredible.

Pete III happened years ago, when I worked at a smaller company. He decided not to come in one day. He missed meetings, and days of work. He returned a few phone calls, but nothing happened. Eventually, weeks later, he was canned. Reportedly he said to the boss that he was just waiting to be let go. Incredible.

I wonder how these Pete's sleep at night. Why is it that I think they sleep much more soundly than I do?


Thursday, January 17, 2008

I am People

Photo by myself. It was a rainy night tonight in Union Square.


My few days away seemed like a week.

A good deal of time was spent on four planes, three meetings, three site visits, one group dinner and two nights of room service. Phew.

We stayed three nights and I managed to take five baths. I admit it. I fell in love with the bathtub in my hotel room, which was two feet deep, with a ready supply of piping hot water.

I have to wonder how frequent fliers do it, how they perceive life. Do they feel like they've lived a really, really long time as a result? Is it sort of like traveling in space, where you age more rapidly than the earthbound folks?

Even though we got so much 'done', I have mixed feelings about this trip. A few of my very stupid mistakes were caught and brought up at a meeting. And at one of the site visits, I had to confront either minor misjudgements or massive room for improvement. Granted, the project was done with very little time and tons of pressure, but still. It easily could have been so much better.

Finally, I choked at an important meeting. I needed to present some things and I only addressed some of them. The rather critical mood of the morning put me off. One of the bigwigs was there, and the feeling was tense. Much bigger and tedious issues were being discussed, and I just couldn't muster up the energy to stick my neck out there. My neck remained safely and happily ensconced in its little shell.

The thing is, my team stayed late the Friday before, scrambling together two presentation booklets and material samples that we shipped out by Fed Ex. I feel like I let the team down. Effort was made, but it wasn't seen because of my fears. And what was I really afraid of? Mr. Bigwig dismissing my fluffy thoughts? (Uh, yes).

Mark says that people make mistakes. I guess.

I happen to be the super-sensitive, critical type, so my mistakes haunt me. I'm a Virgo! My errors keep me up at night and wake me early the next morning. It's tough being a perfectionist in a very imperfect world, working on projects under imperfect conditions.

I'm learning from this experience, slowly and painfully. It goes something like this: that it's hard sometimes to be a leader, that I have a tough time speaking to a critical audience, that people make mistakes, and that I am said people.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Open Country

Photo by myself in Aspen, Colorado.


I missed posting here these last few days. I didn't realize what a habit I had with writing and posting my photos.

It was absolutely beautiful in Aspen. Wow. I've been there several times, but these last few days were spectacular - stunningly bright, the mountains and trees tipped with snow. There were skiers and snowboarders everywhere, just soaking up the natural beauty.

I traveled with a colleague, Sarah. Our days were busy. There was a site visit and meetings and discussions with a new client. There was a lunch we had at the base of the mountain, where you could get tomato soup for a whopping nine bucks. There were a couple of really nice dinners I had while sitting in bed, watching Discovery channel on the big flatscreen tv.

I wish I had interesting tales to tell, but alas, I'm still recovering from the trip and my lingering bad cold. For now, the few photos I'm showing here will have to do.

I wanted to take pictures of everything - how cute the town looked with its Christmas lights at night, some of the immense houses we drove by, the wind swept skiers, the mountains littered with gonolas.

There wasn't any time to snap many photos. These will have to do.


Photos by myself in Aspen, Colorado.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Duty Calls

I'm going to miss posting for a few days. I'm off today and I'll be back Wednesday after a series of meetings, site visits and a presentation.

I won't burden everyone here with my worries about the trip. On top of the stress, I have a serious cold. Yesterday I sneezed 100 times in rapid succession and went through a box of tissues. Mark and I made a special trip for black and white cookies and I sneezed four times at the counter. Everyone, including the cashier, backed away.

Mark happens to be now having knee trouble. He was an active gymnast, wrestler and all else growing up, and now it's starting to show. He's been limping and moaning and leaning on me, and I've been sneezing and moaning and holding him up. We look like survivors escaping a zombie outbreak.

If I have time to post, I certainly will. My trusty camera is coming with me. The temperatures in Aspen are in the 20's. A hot bath and a glass of wine are on the top of my list when we arrive.

Photo by myself in Brooklyn.


Friday, January 11, 2008

I Deserve a Break Today

Valentines Already
What a *@&! long day. I got in around 8 and stayed past 9. We barely got everything together and there's still some to do before we leave Sunday. I wish we'd started sooner. I wish we'd done more. It's always the same feeling.

Today the office treated us to lunch, which was great since it was raining heavily. We had burgers with toppings, and giant tins of onion rings and french fries. Oh dear. When faced with free food I have zero self-control, and regrettably had two cheeseburgers.

What an embarrassing coincidence since last night, Mark and I had three mini burgers each, for dinner. So in the space of two days, I've had five burgers of various sizes.

I went through a similar binge several years ago when I went on the Atkins Diet for kicks. Incidentally, I tried the Atkins together with dear Liz, whom I wrote about recently. We sat back to back in the office and would swivel around to joke and check on each other's progress.

As most people know, it's tough finding non-carbohydrate foods to eat, particularly for breakfast. I often had cottage cheese or eggs. In the first week, I had pork chops five times. (I had pork chops all over the place, and highly recommend the ones from Republic in Union Square. They are delectable).

I didn't weigh myself, but I know the diet worked. At the end of two weeks, my cheeks were sunken in. Sadly, around this time I bought a nice dress made of stretch denim. After the diet, I couldn't fit into it, even with the stretch.

I know my eating habits are a result of stress. Working like this combines the worst of everything - having a lot to do along with the potential for failure at a meeting. Since I'm putting in effort, I feel like I deserve something nice, which translates into comfort food. So I feel stressed, then I feed my face, then I feel awful for feeding my face.

Well, we'll see. The hotel where we're staying next week has a gym, and I'll be bringing my big white pair of sneakers. There's some hope for me, still.

Photo by myself, in Greenpoint. Already, retailers are looking toward the next holiday.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Feets, Don't Fail Me Now

I'm used to doing a bucketload of work at the last minute, but I can't do it while wearing tight shoes. Forget it. I had to leave the office early-ish tonight, promising myself to return early-ish tomorrow.

I've been trying to break in a pair of shoes over the last couple months, and it's killing me. I hobbled out for lunch today and couldn't muster up taking photos, even though it was brightly sunny outside. The feet, they hurt.

I splurged and bought some Shoe Stretch, which helped a little. Four bucks, just like that. The shoe guy probably got it for two bucks, just for keeping it on the shelf. The manufacturer probably made it for ten cents.

I never thought I'd become a New Yorker, but now I wear uncomfortable, moderately fashionable shoes, and I spend four bucks for a tiny helping of liquid. Never in my life did I think I'd become a slave to fashion or (relatively) free with money.

Four bucks ain't much, but I was brought up in New England, folks! My family clipped coupons and thought twice before turning on the heat. The scrimping wasn't about so much about a lack of money as it was a matter of principle - why use an umbrella? It's only water. Why turn on the heat? Just layer on sweaters, a couple pairs of pants and socks.

My mother grew almost all the vegetables we ate, including corn, tomatoes, spinach, green beans and okra. We drove our dented white Ford until it practically collapsed, and never, ever took it to the car wash.

Tomorrow my boss will be away and I'll go in wearing my sneakers. I need to get a lot done and I need to be comfy doing it. My sneakers are black with white piping, not the big hideous white gym boats some women wear en route to the office. Of course, I wouldn't be caught dead in those.

Photo by myself in Park Slope, Brooklyn. During renovations, a bar discovered an old painted sign for pain relief.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Talking about the Weather

Chess in Union Square
Today it was startlingly warm outside. People were walking around in packs, lunching on park benches, playing tournament-style chess and window shopping.

The thought that you could lunch outside in New York in January is unbelievable. I'm reminded of something I planned on writing last winter, when it was insanely warm through December. One morning, I left my building and I walked into a hazy flurry.

'Mosquitoes!' I shuddered, or rather, those blurry bugs that aren't quite mosquitoes but may as well be, that hang out in swarms.

But it wasn't mosquitoes, it was snow. How can it be that mosquitoes and snow can occupy the same space in my head? It's just another example of how, as Mark would say, 'We're completely fucked.'

Tomorrow is supposed to be a little cooler and later this week, cooler still. There are lcd screens showing the news in the elevators at work, and on the short trip people invariably talk about the weather. What it's going to be, how warm it is, what on earth to wear.

When I was growing up, I never thought something as boring as the weather would be such big news, or that we'd talk about it all the time. But here we are.

Winters in Massachusetts involved praying for snow days, trudging down the icy street to wait for the yellow bus in semi-darkness, and scampering from the pool before your hair froze. It was New England, and such suffering was accepted. It's what New Englanders do.

Now things are so utterly different. For my trip to Aspen next week, I'll have to check the forecast. Will I bring my puffy coat, or short-sleeved shirts?

Photo by myself in Union Square.


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

On Life's Gifts

Thanks friends, for all the kind words in response to yesterday's post. The news about my ex-coworker's illness was a shock to me.

While riding the subway home last night, I was in a pensive mood. I kept imagining what it must have been like - learning the news, while plans for her wedding ceremony were already underway. Liz is a very sweet and bubbly person, kind and at times hilariously funny. It's strange to know that when I saw her last summer at her wedding, she knew she was ill.

Liz and her husband Jerry were engaged forever. No exaggeration. They'd dated more than 10 years. When I met her, she was already at the 5-year mark. People would make playful jokes about when she'd get married, assuming it was her top priority.

After the 5-year mark, the jokes stopped. I think people were afraid it was a sore spot, and they'd be tapping into some inner angst. Liz assured me they were never in a rush to get married. They knew they would, they were just too lazy to get around to it.

Meanwhile, Liz and Jerry lived together. Jerry was a high-pressure hedge fund trader, and before I'd met them, he'd undergone a quadruple bypass in his late 20's. I never got the full story. Even though I loved talking to Liz, and she's very approachable, I never felt right asking.

A year after we'd met her, Liz left the office where we worked together. We kept in touch, and every few months there'd be a group get-together over Korean barbeque. Liz is one of those tiny Korean women who can eat truckloads of food. She has beautiful white skin and a ready laugh. She can be a bitch on wheels when she needs to be. Her nickname was 'The Terminator' because she'd be the one to fire the interns who weren't working out.

I learned about Liz's condition through our mutual friend, James, who was my date to Liz's wedding last year. He and I plan to see Liz soon. As far as James knows, she's okay for now. She's undergone surgery and is not undergoing radiation.

My point is not to be depressing. Writing about Liz is my way of processing the news. Most of all, I find it wonderful that they went through with the wedding. I mentioned this to James on the phone yesterday.

'She'd had a couple seizures,' he'd said. 'You know, before the ceremony.'

'Would you have done it? I mean, would you have gone through with the ceremony?' I asked. I felt like I was twelve years old, in bed hugging a teddy bear. I was asking why the sky was blue.

'No, of course you would have done it. Of course, how silly of me. Duh.'

So now all I can think is that when we'd seen Liz that day, her unstoppable smile was exceedingly meaningful. And Jerry's little speech was exceedingly meaningful.

I don't remember what he'd said, but I'm sure it was all true, probably about how caring and amazing Liz was, and how lucky he was.

All I remember is how they'd held each other's hands. They looked like two children, excited and on the verge of giggles. It was Christmas morning and they were about to jump into a heap of colorful gifts, and tear the wrapping paper off.

Photo by myself, of Grace Church on lower Broadway.


Monday, January 7, 2008

Time Flies

Thankfully, my business trip was moved to next week. Whew.

It's usually the other way around - people always seem to schedule a meeting before the meeting in order to preview or decide things. The logic baffles me, cramming both pre-meeting and meeting in the space meant for one meeting, but it happens all the time. We may as well work blindfolded with one arm tied behind our backs.

Today the weather in New York was warmer than most spring days. People were eating lunch outside at sidewalk cafes. I abandoned my winter puffy coat for a much more flattering one.

The world is coming to an end, but for the most superficial reasons, it's a nice reprieve. Everyone expands an extra 20% in their puffy coats. The subways have been more packed than usual.

I've been tempted to whip out my camera while packed among my fellow passengers, to show how ridiculous it can be. I'll have to figure out how to grab the center pole with one hand and snap photos of faces 6 inches away with the other, while minding my purse. If I can master upright subway picture-taking without being pummeled, I will run away and join Cirque du Soleil.

The last few days I've been seeing people I know in the streets - an old co-worker, a friend of a friend, and the clothing designer Isaac Mizrahi. (I know Isaac, but sadly he doesn't know me, though for several months a million years ago, I worked for one of his good friends).

I've also been hearing about people - how an ex-coworker is divorcing after only a couple years, after marrying the guy who seemed the love of her life. They'd had an intense, up-and-down relationship that rivaled Carrie and Mr. Big.

And then another coworker gave birth to a boy, when I didn't even know she was pregnant or that she even wanted a family. And finally, another old coworker and friend is dealing with a brain tumor after just getting married last summer. I'd gone to her wedding, and it boggles my mind that she'd known about her condition at the time.

I have to wonder sometimes, what planet some people are on. They must revolve around the sun at a much faster rate than I do. Perhaps at night they walk by the light of two moons.

Photo by myself on an earlier rainy day, on lower Broadway.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Really Living Real Life

Yesterday Mark and I drove into Lawn Guyland to see his Mom before her trip to Chile. We caught an early showing of 'There Will Be Blood', the new Daniel Day Lewis film directed by P.T. Anderson. Having seen this movie and 'No Country for Old Men', I am completely worn out. Both were incredibly intense.

I won't post any spoilers, but I will say that the acting was tremendous all around (Day Lewis, of course, and Paul Dano, who was perfectly cast as the priest). The music and visuals were excellent.

Mark doesn't like going to the movies, what with the high ticket prices, the crowds and sometimes obnoxious theatergoers who talk to each other, use their phones and kick your chair. So for the last couple years, I haven't seen many movies on the big screen. Now it's an utter shock when I go.

When movies are on tv, they're at a comfortable distance. The lights are on. The cat is nearby and I can always switch the thing off. Even so, I've gotten soft in my old age. Violence shocks me. The mangled bodies that routinely appear on 'CSI' or 'Law and Order' induce a mild anxiety. Magnify the scene a kajillion times and I am there in the darkened room or wide open plain. Add the spooky music, and I am cowering behind my hands.

Mark doesn't understand. 'They're just actors! It's a set!'

Yeah, sure.

It's absurd for me to be such a chicken. New York is remarkably safe these days. Though the police still randomly check bags at subway stations, I'm not living in a war zone with bombs flying or suicide bombers. Help is a dial away on the cell phone. We have rights. We have it good.

In the video games Mark and I've been playing, we race desert dune buggies down swoopy ramps that send us hurtling into space. Mark and I yell out loud when the car flips over and bursts into flames. My feet sweat with nerves. I've become used to placing myself in the big screen.

I have to wonder: Have we really gotten to the point where it's more exciting to sit at home, risking our virtual lives racing cars instead of experiencing real life?

As a follow-up question, what does it mean to really live? Is 'really living' travelling to Chile or trekking in Machu Picchu? Is it starting a business from scratch? Is 'really living' raising three kids on your own or throwing lavish parties without thinking of the bill?

It used to be that I thought living on the edge in New York was 'really living'. The romantic idea of the artist's life in a grungy Williamsburg loft appealed to me (this was before the hipster invasion). I had the fantasy of collecting furniture pieces left out for collection and creating retrofitted pieces from them. (What they'd really look like, I don't know, but they'd be cool and functional).

I never got quite that far. I lived on the Upper West Side (much, much cushier) in a tiny two-room studio. I trucked up and down the four flights to my apartment with bags of laundry or groceries. I had a laughable kitchen.

Now I live in Brooklyn, on the second floor. There's an elevator. The laundromat is right around the corner. Mark has a car. We have escape mechanisms like Playstation. We order out. Part of me feels guilty about living such a relatively cushy life. But is this really living as opposed to my former Manhattan struggle?

I don't have an answer. But there's a part of me that loves to tear through the desert without a thought to anything like personal safety or the cops. I don't have to deal with crowds, smoke or damaged limbs.

All I need is a video game, a big tv and a bucketload of time.

Photos by myself at the Farmer's Market in Union Square, where you can get eggs, veggies and honey fresh from local farms.


Friday, January 4, 2008

On Dopplegangers and Memory

The other day, I heard a loud honking outside. I went out and there were Mark and his car, Clive. Like a mother penguin recognizing her penguin babe's squawk in a sea of penguins, I'd recognized Clive's plaintive toot.

The fact that people can have such distinctly differing features, even though our range of features are limited, (eyes, nose, mouth, hair, skin color) baffles me. Only on rare occasion will I spot Mark's doppleganger. You'd think in large cities we'd run into each other's dopplegangers all the time.

Oliver Sacks wrote an excellent article in The New Yorker about a man with a severe case of amnesia. I'm surprised to find it online because the article was so intriguing and well-written.

Sacks' subject was 'Memento' personified. Every few minutes, his memory would reset, and he'd have no memory of what had just happened. You could come into the room, be introduced, and a moment later, he'd ask you who you were. He'd look at you as if he just woke up from a dream. (Interestingly, the amnesia patient was also named Clive. No relation).

Human Clive's diary entries were the most incredible things. Here's an excerpt from Sacks' article:

'His journal entries consisted, essentially, of the statements “I am awake” or “I am conscious,” entered again and again every few minutes. He would write: “2:10 P.M: This time properly awake. . . . 2:14 P.M: this time finally awake. . . . 2:35 P.M: this time completely awake,” along with negations of these statements: “At 9:40 P.M. I awoke for the first time, despite my previous claims.” This in turn was crossed out, followed by “I was fully conscious at 10:35 P.M., and awake for the first time in many, many weeks.” This in turn was cancelled out by the next entry.'

Even though Clive forgot pretty much everything - the present moments, and gradually, his long term memory, he retained a deep emotional memory. He remained married to his wife of twenty years, although they eventually lived apart. She'd walk into the room and he'd light up. When she was away, he felt blue.

In was inexplicable why Clive would light up around his wife, even though he'd forget things like repeated trips they took to Europe, their years together and whatever she'd tell him five minutes before. Sacks determined there was a deeper emotional memory that transcended facts, figures, even faces.

I thought about all this after racing out of the subway tonight and seeing Mini Cooper Clive parked across the street. I crossed at the light, opened the door and without a thought, plopped into the passenger's seat.

Clive could have easily been his doppleganger, another green Mini Cooper with certain rims and a certain antenna and certain side view mirrors. There aren't that many distinguishing features to choose from. I could easily have opened the door and plopped into the seat beside a completely different person than Mark. And then what?

It would've been an awkward moment. Unless Mark's doppleganger were driving Clive's doppleganger.

Photo by myself in Union Square.


Thursday, January 3, 2008

Calling All Keepers

It is cold outside. Windy. Yikes. Time to break out the sexy long johns.

After days of being cold, gray and miserable, today was cold, windy and sunny. See? There is variety here, as opposed to the relentlessly sunny and predictable days in LA.

I have very little to post tonight. Last night, I stayed up much too late. Because I stayed up late, I didn't get much sleep, which made me cranky since first thing this morning.

At work, there was tons to do as there always is, so I wound up staying late at work. Which makes me feel like I haven't had time to myself, which makes me stay up late tonight...and so on.

What I need beyond a sherpa and sugardaddy is a keeper, who decides when I wake, when I sleep, and most of all, how much (or little) I eat. This keeper would have to use a cattle prod or bullwhip to keep me in line. Mere threats won't do it. Bribery, perhaps, but not threats!

Any takers out there? The job don't pay well, but it's good fun!

I was going to post about New York versus LA. I was going to post about what lengths some people will go to for a parking space. But of course, nothing seems interesting when you're tired and slightly crabby.

We'll try again after some shuteye.

Photo by myself, at the hibatchi at Planet Thai, Williamsburg.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Glamourous Life

Getting back to work today was tough.

Thinking about work during my last day off was tougher. Once I got in and chatted with some people, it wasn't so bad. I fell right back into things. Unfortunately, there are bucketloads of work to do. I have to travel next week for a some meetings in Aspen, and there's a lot to prepare.

I wanted to post another work story. Sure, I said my job wasn't so glamorous yesterday, but it has its moments.

I posted a month ago about the billionaire client in Montreal, M. M made his fortune from his widget factories and has been a longtime client at my office. We renovated his homes in the city and country, and have built a couple houses from the ground up.

A couple years ago I went on a site visit to Montreal with my boss and a couple of coworkers. Jim, Claire and I worked late the night before, preparing materials and drawings for one of M's country homes located an hour north of Montreal.

The home was relatively small, and shared a large property with some of M's other homes. There was an Entry Hall, Living Room, Dining Room, Sun Room, Recreation Room, Master Bedroom suite and three Guest Bedrooms. There was a carport that kept the entrance covered during the winter, a large outdoor terrace and several smaller terraces along a landscaped hillside. A man-made pond, located at the rear, was framed by tall pines.

The flight from New York to Montreal is only an hour long. There is just enough time to board, settle in, have a beverage and land. You can make the round trip in one day, but it's tiring.

We usually fly up for our meeting, stay the night and return the next day. We take the earliest flight from La Guardia, which leaves at 6 am. This means getting out my door at 4:30 in the morning. There have been nights when we've worked until ten or even later the night before, printing drawings and making sure we had everything prepared. So yeah, it's tiring.

On this particular trip, my boss directed us to a cab instead of our usual short walk to the rental car agency. We were driven to a private airport nearby, where M met us in the lobby. This was new. We were going to the country house via helicopter, and M was piloting.

M loves to fly. He also owns a jet, a Cessna something-or-other, as well as a Carrera GT and an antique Aston Martin. Mark whistled when he saw the photos I'd taken of the cars (I'd be risking awesomely bad karma if posted photos of M's cars or houses. I feel a bit nervous just writing about them).

The helicopter sat two in front, in bucket seats. The three of us worker-bees were strapped in back. Each of us wore a headset with a mike, so we could communicate. My coworkers and I kept looking at each other in disbelief, like 'are we really going up in this thing?' and 'holy crap.'

I should have taken more note of the helicopter, but I don't remember what type it was. It was big. It was shiny new on the outside and had a conservatively taupe interior. And before I was fully mentally prepared, we were off, bound for the country.

Normally, a drive from the airport to the country house takes over an hour. The helicopter must have cut the ride down to less than half the time. We made a detour to one of M's factories, circling above, while M talked about the production process. I was too busy taking in the experience to listen.

Riding in a helicopter isn't as unnerving as I'd thought. But...there is a very subtle turbulence, as if you were in a big tin can, dangling from a string. It's cool experience for people who like roller coasters, but not so cool to me, barely functioning on little sleep and an empty stomach. I get seasick from just viewing video games (Motor Storm is not so bad, but Mark's newest love, Call of Duty just about makes me gag).

Well, you can see where I'm headed. I was fine and then suddenly I wasn't so fine. I kept telling myself 'there is no *#%! way I'm going to puke in this helicopter. There is no *#%! way...'

Jim noticed me first. 'Hey, you look kind of green. Are you all right?'

I must have been greenish-gray by then. I was grabbing my left wrist with my right hand, where there are supposedly pressure points for nausea. I was taking deep breaths. I was looking toward the wobbly horizon. Anything.

'Uh...I'm not feeling too well...' I must have sounded like I was twelve years old.

Thankfully, we were a couple minutes from the house. M's voice was calm on the mike, 'I'm landing the copter, now. Hold on.'

And all I could do was tell myself that we were almost there.

Top photo by myself in the West Village.
Lower photo from the helicopter above Canada.


Wednesday Portraits - My Open Wallet

Y'all have put up with my rants about how tough it is to live in New York.

Well, it is.

It's tough everywhere, of course, but the cost of living is pretty damned high in this city. More apartment buildings are being turned into condos, the era of rent control is over, yadda yadda.

Last night I found a site that proved me sort of wrong and sort of right. My Open Wallet is written by a financially prudent New Yorker who offers advice on how to get by without having to sacrifice everything. So yes, you can still live in New York without having to be Daddy Warbucks, but also yes, it takes some maneuvering.

Madame X, as she calls herself, talks frankly about how much she makes, how much she spends and how much she plans on saving (this last part is a good idea - having a defined savings plan). She provides a list of smart, money-saving tips that can be used anywhere, and posts about the financial situations of other New Yorkers.

Once you become used to talking about money so honestly, it's pretty damned interesting. You can read what choices other people have made and how they're working with what they have. Would you take a more stressful corporate job or a more fulfilling job with a company that pays less?

While lunching last week with my family, my brother and I had one of our recurring talks about work. His girlfriend had remarked that architecture sounded glamorous. (Did I make it sound glamorous? I usually take great care to downplay how it is because it ain't so glamorous, folks).

At one point I said, 'The trouble with architecture is that you really don't make a terrific living. It's not like, you know, law.' And that's when my brother went on about how everyone wants to be an architect (ah, everyone who?), so by the rule of supply and demand, we're paid less. Hm.

I don't think so. Historically, architecture has been known as 'a gentleman's profession'. Meaning it's assumed that you already had money to pursue the field and you didn't need any more of it. Personally I think the term has to do with how particular the appreciation for one's surroundings is. Architecture is different from mere buildings, and the distinction is subtle.

My brother's route was laborious - long nights studying, three years of law school, a year of business school, and long, long nights at work. Now he routinely handles the intricate contracts between banks and bigwigs. He probably earns several times what I do, (I have no idea what he makes, and I'm frankly afraid to ask).

But, he's worked extremely hard, long hours at something I could never do. I'd be bored out of my skull and I'd be bad at it. On the other hand, I went to college plus two years of grad school. I spent many nights in the architecture studio and then long, long nights with noted firms that didn't pay a lot. That's the difference. Societies value lawyers, and rightfully so, because lawyers help secure money and corporate interests.

At least I chose architecture. I was talked out of more poverty-stricken routes by my parents (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

Wednesday Portraits is an ongoing, semi-regular installment featuring other New York blogs.

Photo by myself near East 42nd Street.


Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Those Pesky Resolutions

One of my early blogging buddies, Columbia, at A Home in the City, posted a great video on his site apropos to the New Year.

Have a list of plans for 2008 but your worst enemy is procrastination? Does self-doubt prevent you from attempting your dreams? This guy can relate:

Our worst enemy is often best attribute, our brains. Other enemies include sheer laziness and the couch in front of the tv. It's easier to surf channels or the internet than to go to the gym, write next great American novel, clean the house or floss, (haha).

I've been wanting to sew, write and draw but I never get to these things because I'm busy browsing online. There are so many sites out there showing artists, writers, sewing patterns and fabrics. It's too easy and enjoyable to look at all these things I could be doing.

A big part of me doesn't want to go through making all the mistakes that come along with doing something I'm not familiar with. So it's easier to sit on the sidelines.

Thankfully, I don't have problems with taking pictures or blogging. The wonderful and warm feedback I get here and the enjoyment I get through writing has me hooked. The only difference between blogging and sewing for me are my skill level. If I didn't know how to write or if my English weren't so good, my desire to post wouldn't be so high. And if it took months to complete a post rather than a couple hours, I'd probably wouldn't blog either.

Blogging = instant gratification and easy
Sewing = many days, hard work and possible humiliation

For Christmas, Mark bought the best thing ever, a Playstation 3. The graphics and effects are amazing, and you can play online against other people. Mark has been duking it out with 12-year olds online on Motor Storm, which comes with the system. I'd post a video showing the game, but the ones I found don't capture the overall effects, which are brilliantly cinematic.

Like browsing online, Playstation will be another temptation to resist. I'll have to stop myself from driving big rigs through the mud and slamming into trucks driven by teenagers. So every time I have the urge to play, I'll have to envision myself already doing what I want to do and doing it well. For now, I won't worry about the inevitable growing pains that come with trying new things.

Anyway, that's the plan for 2008.

Photo by myself, in Union Square.