The One That Got Away

New York doesn’t have a heart. She will forget you the minute you leave her. Turns out you loved her more than she ever loved you. She immediately traded you in for a younger model, one without a family. Or a model who has made it financially in a way you never will. Or a model who is just more fucking tenacious than you are, a model who won’t give up and leave just because living with her is hard.

I have had two great loves in my life. Z and New York. For years I was married to both of them, but Z grew to despise the third wheel in our marriage. Hell, he and I grew to despise each other as well. My love for the city was the only constant in our lives. It would have made sense to give up on our marriage. It was a shambles. But somehow we decided to choose each other. Which meant there was no longer room for the city. I passionately loved her, but she wasn’t good for me anymore.

We moved away 8 years ago. My husband has a heart. He loves me back. He doesn’t seem interested in trading me in for a younger model. I made the right choice.

That doesn’t mean I don’t mourn my other love. Or wonder what might have been.

I was in New York for a few days to attend a conference at the UN. Thursday night I splurged on a cab to Brooklyn. The drive down Atlantic Avenue felt like a slap in the face. For every veterinary clinic sign that greeted me like an old friend there was a new clothing store, or real estate office, or yoga place that I didn’t recognize. Hank’s Saloon was still there, placating me a little. But then the behemoth that is the Barclays Center loomed over the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic, completely disorienting me.  This was no longer my city. I am not a New Yorker anymore.

If we had stayed the changes would have felt organic, unnoticeable. On the way back to Brooklyn yesterday afternoon I stopped at Nha Trang, a Vietnamese hole in the wall in Chinatown. Z took me there for the first time in the summer of 1998. You want cheap, fast, delicious food? It’s your place. The wait staff was mainly the same as it was 16 summers ago, and 12 summers ago, and 8 summers ago.  I felt a goofy grin take over my face when the elder statesman of the waiters came to take my order. But the grin faltered when I realized one side of his face was a little slack. He must have had a stroke. He didn’t remember me, but he was delighted that I knew how to eat the spring rolls properly, wrapped in half of a lettuce leaf with a cucumber slice and a mint leaf tucked inside. He might have been the one that showed me and Z how do to it back in the 90s. I wanted to hug him when I left. Of course I ignored that impulse and swallowed back tears as I hustled to the subway.

Me heart was pulled in new directions. As I road the 5 train downtown I didn’t try to catch or avoid the eye of the cute guy in the same car. Anyone who has lived in the city knows exactly what I’m talking about. I swear the subway system runs on hormones and the flirtations of strangers. But the cute guy didn’t hold my attention. The three year old boy seated next to me did. He absentmindedly leaned into me and hooked his little leg around my own. His small but solid bulk comforted me. When the train pulled into Union Square I didn’t want to get off. I could have sat next to him for hours.

I missed my boys. The piercing pain of being away from them took my breath away. Don’t I always beg for a break? Isn’t getting away for a few days good for me and them? Of course, but Z and I were away for 5 days in January. I guess I need time off less frequently than I assumed.

I missed my boys, all three of them. But something magical happens to me in the city. My anxiety might have been in the stratosphere leading up to the trip, but once I stepped into the city I relaxed. There is nowhere in the world where I feel more at ease. Since the first time I visited the city as a high-schooler it felt like the center of the world and exactly where I wanted to be. If we moved back she would be mine again in a matter of months. And part of me is hers, part of me will always be hers.

nha trang

The place setting hasn’t changed at Nha Trang since I’ve been going there.

gwb

Amtraking it home. Riding under the GWB.

Hudson

An icy Hudson River.

A big thank you to my dear friends A and M for opening their home to me. Do you know what was even better than being in New York? Having a night to laugh with A. I miss the hell out of her. But she is the kind of friend that is simply too good to let slip away. I’ll be calling her for advice decades from now. M ain’t so bad himself.

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When I Grow Up….

A million years ago Z and I were regulars at the most perfect bar in the history of the universe. It was located on a quiet Brooklyn street next to the church that Al Capone had been married in. According to city laws the proximity to the church meant that the bar couldn’t serve liquor-just beer and wine. For a number of years it thrived. The beer and cider selection was unreal. There was a killer jukebox, pool table, dart boards, and a Ms. Pac Man machine. Sparky’s was named for an owner’s dog, I believe, and it was dog friendly. The bartenders would bring their pooches, patrons were welcome to do the same. And then as time passed it just…starting falling apart. There were money problems. The crowds dwindled, the long line of taps were frequently connected to nothing.

The bar was on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. We found it when Z started working in Red Hook. No trains go down to that neighborhood and it is cut off by Robert Moses’s folly, the BQE. Stopping at the bar was a reward for the 20 minute hike back to civilization for the crew in the drafting room at Showman Fabricators at the end of a long day. This was back before Ikea and Fairway moved in to Red Hook, before the ferries to Manhattan–Z began working there in the heartbreaking fever dream that was the fall of 2001.

One night I was playing darts with a group of friends in the back room. We were quickly crawling through the perfect window of opportunity of buzzed dart playing in which you were suddenly a rock star who could hit the triples and bulls without much fuss and on our way to the free fall of terrible drunken dart playing. We were also smoking up a storm. Damn, it was just one of many fantastic nights at Sparky’s. It was perfection. Drunk, irresponsible, young perfection. Man, I miss that place.

A woman about our age, a woman who was certainly not a regular, hustled over to us and got very nasty. She yelled at us for feeding her dog. The pup had wandered back to us several times unattended. But we didn’t actually have food. It was a liquids only event for us. This was reasonably pointed out to her and it had the desired effect of taking the wind out of her sails. She did have the decency to blush and stammered, “Well….this is a dog bar you know!” before flouncing away, probably to find the group with the takeout so she could yell at them.

“Huh,” someone much cleverer than I mused. “I thought it was a people bar.”

She was a caricature of a certain type of entitled New Yorker (Ok, to be honest we were as well, just a different flavor of entitled) I mean, if you don’t want your dog to eat takeout tidbits at a bar shouldn’t you be watching said dog? In fact, if you have a dog in a strange place shouldn’t you be watching it no matter what? Do you really expect others to intuit how to treat your animal?

Though this was years before Z and I became parents I remember thinking if she was such a shitty dog owner it would be awful if she had kids. Obviously I have no idea of who she was as a human, but in the last decade plus I’ve thought of her often. She has become a larger than life cautionary tale to me. She is the person I don’t want to be when I grow up. She is the person I fear I am deep down inside.

The last post about T and his classmate really wasn’t about those four year old kids. I told the story wrong. It was about parents, it was about me.

So far we haven’t had an interaction with a parent like the one with that girl in the bar all those years ago. We are lucky enough to have the boys at an extraordinary preschool. A couple of years ago I remember finding out that T had hit another child on the playground. I approached the child’s Mom the next day and apologized. She could not have been more gracious about it.

That ridiculous gal in the bar in Brooklyn has become a bit of a talisman (Can a memory be a talisman? Does it need to be an object?) to me. She reminds me to check my behavior. She reminds me of the kind of grown up I want to be. I will not attack others in an effort to mindlessly protect the ones I love. I will not teach my child that if he comes crying to me I will defend him to the death, but that his own actions will be unexamined. What a terrible disservice that would be to him.

And if the day comes in which we do need to approach parents about an interaction between our children I hope Z and I will do so with care and compassion knowing we might not have the full picture of events rather than with hot headed accusations.

Funny, I’m grateful to that girl in Brooklyn. She might not understand it, but even though I was off my ass drunk she got through to me. She taught me a huge lesson that night.

Jesus, Sparky’s really did rock. Wish it was still around.

sparkys

The night that Sparky’s closed.

k and z last night at sparkys

Good lord, we were a messy. Closing night. Think it was after the smoking ban happened, but that night nobody gave a shit.

snowmen

Alien snowman and robot snowman made by Z and T.

cold c

Cold C at the Atlanta Zoo with Grandma and Grandpa last week.

long haired t

I’m not going to lie. I miss the long hair.

Overwrought Metaphor

Yesterday morning I managed to do this:

photo (30)

Cobalt Blue Fiestaware, I still love you after all this time.

We’ve had the sugar bowl for thirteen years. It was on our wedding gift registry back in the olden days. The first bunch of years of our marriage we got coffee from whatever corner deli that was down the block from our apartment. We didn’t even keep coffee in the house. We got a cup to sip on the train on the way to work each day. On the weekends we would stumble down to the corner and stand mutely in line until the nice guy behind the counter would pass us our drinks. We loved being regulars, loved the feeling of belonging, loved not having to talk to anyone, even to order, until the first sip of coffee removed some of the cobwebs from our brains. Ugh, I’m getting homesick for Brooklyn.

After we relocated to Providence in 2006 the sugar bowl did become a regular part of our lives, I mean beyond sitting on the counter and looking pretty. For 13 years I’ve looked at it almost everyday. For seven years I’ve used it almost everyday. It would be fair to say I’ve taken it for granted. Thought it would always be there, serving its function forever.

Z is going to glue it back together this weekend. We’ll still keep using it. In the scheme of things it isn’t a big deal.

So why have I felt sick to my stomach since it happened?

The sugar bowl is tied to our wedding in my mind. Of course breaking it makes me wonder if I could break our marriage as well. An obvious, armchair psychology, eye roll worthy thought. Also pretty damn morbid, and it isn’t like our relationship is on thin ice or anything. But the idea that it could break scares the living shit out of me. Thinking about the precariousness of, oh, everything in this life keeps me honest, reminds me that I do take Z for granted. That I shouldn’t. That he deserves better from me.

Breaking the lid makes me feel uneasy. It reminds me how much I have and how little attention I give it. As Z pointed out the sugar bowl can be fixed. Broken things don’t have to be thrown away. And why am I so scared of breaking our marriage? It was broken once. Shattered, really. And we managed to pick up all the tiny shards and glue them back together again. It wasn’t the same marriage as before, but we weren’t the same people. I don’t want the same marriage I had when I was 23 or 24 or 25. I sure as hell don’t want to be the person I was back then.

All the breaks and patches and scars our Frankenstein of a marriage has weathered have made it more interesting, more beautiful, and somehow stronger. Yes, it could break for good. But as long as we pay attention to it and each other I hope that we will keep on trucking along.

Not sure why my knickers are in a twist over this. It’s not like we aren’t on our 4th butter dish of the marriage. All broken by me. I really am the klutziest resident of the Northeast. If I’m at your house, for the love of god don’t trust me with your favorite coffee mug.

c and z sleep

C and T snoozing last week.

T and K goofing off

T and me watching some Harry Potter post anxiety attack (for me) last weekend.

Twig and Berries

Writing about the Brooklyn Jugs and adventures at various bars in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn has made a bunch of ancient memories come bubbling up to the service.

Did I ever tell you about the time I saw a guy’s dick on the subway?

This one takes place during the same general era as the Lillie’s story. Z and I were living in Prospect Lefferts Garden (Southeast corner of Prospect Park). Z worked at NYU and I worked for a tiny wholesale bakery that over the years hopped around to various professional kitchen sites throughout the city. We started in a cavernous and filthy basement in SoHo, moved to a tiny but tidy storefront in the Meatpacking District across from what would soon be the Spice Market, detoured to a labyrinth catering kitchen in a warehouse in Long Island City for about a year, and returned to the Meatpacking District storefront for a second try.

Commuting from Brooklyn to Queens was pretty straightforward even if I did have to go to Manhattan to get there. I’d hop on the Q at Parkside Ave in Brooklyn and somewhere in Manhattan I’d switch over to the R which I’d take to 36th Street in Queens. Queens. That borough always confused me. With its 36th Street and 36th Avenue and the fact that they intersected. It just didn’t feel right. But the kitchen space was large and clean and the catering company that ran it invited us to eat family meal with them every day. I remember the chef reaming out a cook for not removing the bones from the fish in a dish he prepared for family meal. Chef was not fucking around. He was feeding his people (and us) right. Anything that was put out for consumption was expected to be as excellent as the food they sent to the US Open. I still have a couple of travel coffee mugs they were passing out late summer of ’05 after the Open was done.

So back to the train. If you are a daily commuter in New York you have your system. You wait for the train in the same spot every day. You enter the train through the same set of doors. You have a favorite seat. You have your routine, be it napping or reading or listening to music. You are in a bubble and feel alone even in a crowded car. I think it is how one stays sane in an overwhelming situation. You make order out of chaos. Your world gets manageably small. You recognize the regulars in your car, nod or smile at them but never strike up a conversation. When one of the regulars goes missing you feel a bizarre sense of loss for a stranger you never knew.

One morning in the silence of the subway car I happened to glance up from the book I was reading to see a well dressed man walking down the aisle. For a moment I could not process what I was seeing. He had carefully arranged his junk so that both his flaccid penis and rather hairy balls were free from the repressive underwear and pants the rest of us were wearing. His pants were buttoned, the fly was simply gaping open, a passageway for his genetalia that clearly yearned to be free.

I tensed up. You never really know what shit is going to go down on the train, best to be on guard. Not one other person in the half full car said a word, it seemed that everyone was so involved in their routine that they didn’t notice. I quickly looked back to my book and pretended to read until I heard him exit out of the door and into the next car.

A guy with his dick on display walked the length of our train car. After he left I glanced up at my fellow commuters. Not a single person met my eye. Not a twitch of a smile on any of their faces. I was having trouble not laughing hysterically. Did it that just happen? Was I really the only one to notice? Did I suffer some extended hallucination?

The next morning I was reading my book on the train as we chugged along still in Brooklyn. Suddenly I heard a woman talking to her friend. About Mr. Dick-Outside-His-Pants. My head whipped around, “You saw him, too?” I asked. “I didn’t think anyone else noticed!” She laughed. She didn’t think anyone else had noticed either.

I wonder how many of us on the train did notice. Either way I never saw the man again. Man, I miss the fuck out of New York. Not a lot of dull moments.

can we fix it

Of course we get all sorts of great moments in Syracuse as well. WCNY, our local PBS station moved into a fancy new location and had a big party to celebrate yesterday. Even Bob the Builder came.

bob the builder and c

Brave C just strutted right up to Bob for a high five.

too shy for bob

Shy T needed to watch from a distance and cuddle with Daddy.

kombucha

Guess what? I’m brewing Kombucha! Thanks again for the scoby, L! Should be ready to bottle in the next few days.

Be Nice

That local art and design market we went to a few weekends ago? The hat people weren’t there. So I’m still wearing the ratty old hat for the time being. When we left the show I wasn’t even thinking about hats because I was so excited to have found this:

work hard

Eventually Z will have a spare moment to make a frame and it will hang in my kitchen, the room I spend the most time in. In five little words it expresses exactly what I want to teach my sons about life. The beauty of local events like Salt Market is finding that perfect something you didn’t even know was missing from your life and supporting a local maker at the same time. Who cares that I didn’t find a hat when I did find a print that makes me ridiculously happy.

The print has had me thinking about being nice. I try to be nice in my life, but I could do better. A lot better. Last night Z and I went out for dinner after our therapy session. Yes, our big date night once every couple of weeks involves couples therapy. Whatever works, right? We finished our sushi more than half an hour before the babysitter expected us home so we popped over to the bar next door for a quick drink.

beer

Dude. They had Narragansett on tap. Are you not familiar with the great state of Rhode Island? First of all, you are missing out. Get familiar, people. RI might be the smallest state, but it is mighty where it counts-it has tons of heart. A fact made more complicated and strangely more delightful by the wicked chip most Rhodies have on their shoulders. It is a magical place with beer that is “Made on Honor, Sold on Merit”.

Z and I were shooting the shit and an old friend and bandmate of Z’s came up. Talk about a nice guy and one who can play the living crap out of a harmonica. Z made him a banjo last year and E accidently left it on a subway platform a while back. Z told me that E offered to come up for a weekend if Z would make him another and I was all for it. I got the warm fuzzies thinking about E, like I always do. For some reason I decided to tell Z what I always think of when I hear E’s name.

Z and E were in a band called the Brooklyn Jugs in the early to mid oughts. They had built up a little following and often played in the garden of a sprawling bar in Red Hook called Lillie’s. The place is long closed, but it was cool back then. Cooler than Williamsburg cool. The kind of place that Norah Jones would play some Saturday night with her side project all girl punk band. The kind of place where the NYC smoking ban didn’t mean much. The kind of beat up dive that managed to transcend the hipster holier-than-thou malaise to just be a shitload of fun.

I remember getting trashed with Lillie herself and some other dude I called my nemesis for reasons that are no longer clear to me one night at Moonshine in Red Hook. Is Moonshine still there over on Columbia Street? That was one hell of a bar. No idea how I got home that night or where Z was.

Sorry, getting lost in old Brooklyn nostalgia. We did managed to have a lot of fun in those messy years.

So this one Sunday afternoon back in either the summer of ’04 or ’05 the Jugs were rocking in the garden of Lillie’s while barbeque was being served out of the kitchen they didn’t have a permit to use. I was late getting there. It was a rough time for me. I was slowly emerging from my rather extravagant mental breakdown. Z and I basically hated each other and he desperately wanted out of the marriage. I put on 60 pounds because of my meds. I was disgusted with myself and hated being in public. I wanted the earth to swallow me. I wanted to be ignored. Because if people noticed me I was sure they would be filled with pity and revulsion.

I walked through the door from the hazy bar into the light of the afternoon. Sunday barbeque was a big deal at Lillie’s and the garden was packed. As I stood in the doorway for a moment, trying to figure out where I could hide myself, I looked at the stage and caught E’s eye. He was in the middle of a song, but he stopped singing and called out, “Hey look! Karen’s here!” Everyone turned at once to look at me.

The guy singing, the coolest guy in the room, took a moment to make me feel like I belonged. E didn’t know the extend of my mental illness. He might not have known that Z and I were struggling in our marriage. He didn’t know that kind of attention would usually embarrass the hell out of me. He was just being himself. In that moment close to a decade ago he was nice. He was working hard (if you heard him play the harmonica you’d know what I was talking about) and he was being nice. 

I wish I was more like him.

piano C

Maybe this guy will be in a band someday. He sure likes to play the piano with his feet.

photo (21)

This stained and stretched out hat might just make it through one more winter.