3.30.2014

Driving Miss Janey

As you might have surmised from the name of this blog, I am a bit of a diva. I like what I like. And make no bones about it. Usually with grace and dignity. Always dignity. Opinionated dignity. Or dignified opinion. Take your pick. #owningit

One of those things that this diva likes is riding in cabs, especially in the big city. Don't get me wrong --the subway is not without its charm. And atmosphere. But as one who is not completely familiar with the myriad subway lines 'round here, I often find the process a bit daunting. Heaven forbid I look like a tourist, staring at my map while bored students consume themselves with music, commuters peruse newspapers and the guy across the train from me reads porn. (True story. About the porn. Not about me with the map. Please. That's much worse than the porn in my book.)

So I like a good cab ride when distance and weather conditions necessitate it. I've got the hailing technique down. Know where to stand. When shift change is. How to give proper directions to the cabbie. The whole bit. And most rides are uneventful. Cabbie is either silent or listening to the radio or carrying on complicated phone conversations. That usually only happens to/from the airport for some reason. I jump in at point A. A few stop lights, a little speeding, some perilous lane changes and ta da -- here we are at point B. Pay the man (not being sexist -- just have never had a female cabbie. so there.), jump out, head on my way.

As with everything, though, there are exceptions.

I was headed to the hotel from the airport on my first solo city trip a couple of years ago. Saturday afternoon. Hotel was on the east side of Midtown, away from the cacophony of Times Square and the Theatre District. There was a big protest of some sort (the reason escapes me now... let me think about it) in Times Square and apparently my cabbie was very interested in it. We looped around twice so he could roll down the passenger side window and listen to the speakers. OK. Fine. I was in no rush. It was the kind of interesting I could appreciate. Once he was sufficiently finished there, we sped to 3rd Avenue, headed for my hotel. Moving so quickly that a hard stop was necessary at a red light. The car behind us found it necessary to make a hard stop as well. Right into the back of the cab. 

Let's just say that if this had been an early '70s sitcom, I would have found myself a neck brace and taken the cabbie and the dude in the car behind us to court, where John Astin would have been my attorney and Norman Fell would have been the judge and ruled in my favor for whiplash and damages incurred despite Gomez Addams' lawyering antics.

Despite the fact that I'd gotten a BAM hard enough to give me a neck-and-headache, no one got out of their cars. No words exchanged. Nothing. My response was a very loud profane word and a "DUDE!" which got no response from the cabbie. His tip = greatly reduced. His penance = unloading my very heavy luggage with no help. Hrumph.

And then there was the time I was going back to the hotel, laden with purchases from establishments (read: Macy's sale) in the Herald Square area. The cabbie was chatty, asking me where I was from and so on. Fascinated with me being from Florida. Wanted to know if I liked going to the beach. Did I get a good tan in my bikini. What was I planning to do while I was in town. How was the view from my hotel room and what floor was I on. Were there any "adult" beaches in Florida and had I been to any of them. I then placed a pretend phone call and ignored him the rest of the trip. His tip = greatly reduced. No woman with as many packages as I had has ever gotten out of a cab so quickly as I did. Paging the Guinness Book of Records people. I set a record. *shudder*

Yesterday. Ah, yesterday. Pouring rain. Took me 15 minutes easily to hail a cab. Jaywalked across 8th Avenue, Gator scarf over my head like a babushka because I'd forgotten my umbrella in the hotel room and I was not going to lose valuable time going back up to get it. Grabbed a cab out from under some douchey guy's nose. Gave the cabbie the details of my destination and settled in for the ride downtown, glad to be out of the rain and excited to be heading to an unfamiliar new spot in the city to meet friends to watch the Gator basketball game.

While I was busy text-chatting with my galpal, who was already at the bar, a long sharp horn blast startled me. We were on a side street, caught in a bit of a traffic jam at the entrance to a parking garage. The cabbie was laying on the horn and, growing impatient, decide to try and squeeze the car through an opening between vehicles. And then I heard it. That familiar, sickening sound of metal moving onto metal. Screeeeeeeech. Grossly misjudging the cab's ability to compact and squeeze through anything. the cabbie had careened sideways, fender-bendering into another car. A lovely little Fiat. Whose owner was pissed. Natch.

What happened next was like a scene out of a movie. No joke. Total cliché. Car doors opened. Irate drivers jumped out, already yelling and slamming doors. I couldn't hear what was being said after that, mostly because I was trying to disappear into the floorboard. Hiding my face, like I was working through a crowd of media outside a courtroom. But I assume there was a lot of swearing. Next thing I know, the Fiat driver was snapping pictures of the back of the cab as the cabbie hurled himself back into the car, locked the doors and threw the damn thing into drive. Let's just say it was pretty much a hit-and-run with a little drama added for flair. 

The minute I spotted my destination, I told the driver. The words "no charge" floated out his mouth and with a "no kidding" I was out the door, moving through the rain without a look back. Pass the beer.

Given all that, you'd think that the Fiat fender bender would be the most memorable cab ride I've had. But no. There's one more...

I was leaving the theatre one night, headed back to my hotel on the east side. Walked over to 8th Avenue to take advantage of a busier street and more opportunities for vacant cabs. I waved down one with a lit sign that was stopped at a red light. As the car approached the corner, an older woman with a sour expression and a big pointy umbrella tried to step in front of me and grab the cab. Unashamedly, I cut her off at the pass, opened the door and jumped in, pulling away as she told me I was number one with a hand gesture. Sometimes, it's run or be run over in this town. Literally and figuratively.

The cabbie, an older gent, noticed the Playbill in my hand and asked me what I'd seen. We chatted a bit about the show and then he asked if I'd ever seen "Jersey Boys." I replied that no, I had not yet seen it and with that, he was off, telling me about the show and about having seen Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons in their prime when he was in his prime. My driver, a native New Yorkers, had grown up in the Bronx and was part of a street corner singing group back in the day. He told me tales of dancing on Alan Freed's tv show and being there the night that Frankie Lymon danced with a "white girl," which "made people in the South upset because Frankie was colored and you know what the South was like back then." I nodded and just kept listening. He talked. I was a rapt and attentive audience. I asked him to drive around a little, if he didn't mind, so I could hear more stories. Which we did for a bit. Tales of meeting Frank (Sinatra. Please. As if there was any other.) and seeing this act and that act before they became "big," as he put it.  

When he finally pulled up to my hotel, I had tears in my eyes. What a treasured moment. What an experience. As I handed him my fare and tip, he shook my hand and told me thank you -- "thank you for listening to an old man's stories." I said no -- thank you for sharing with me. I stepped out of the cab and into the night with some stars in my eyes and a smile on my face that could not, would not move. The hotel front desk employees noticed my face and asked what had happened. 

I told them I'd just had a quintessential New York moment. Something that I -- and only I -- would experience. 

And sometimes, because of moments like that, it truly pays to be a diva.




3.28.2014

The discord of city music

The din. It rumbles. Screeches. Blares. Barber shop harmonic cacophony. Mostly machines. With Homosapiens thrown in for good measure. There is some ebb. Some flow. But never completely stopping. Never silence.

I have thrown open the windows (well, opened as far as they will go) of my Manhattan hotel room to let in the glorious sound of urban verve. 

Some call it noise. That sound moving up from the street. Which it is, under the purest definition of that word. 

I think of it as life.  Moving forward. Starts and stops. The antithesis of stagnant. 

It is music to my ears. 

My windows overlook a very busy thoroughfare. Across the street, I watch people meandering into watering holes. Popping into a tobacco shop. Purposefully heading into a yoga studio, avoiding the lurking customers of a "video" store. My favorite diner, though, has closed. Plywood covers the front window and door. The neon "Diner" sign is dark.  No one knows, at least at the front desk of the hotel, what happened to it. 

It simply is no more. 

They made a damn good cheeseburger in that diner. And even though the online menu indicated that ordering bread pudding was an option, it really never was. They would always substitute rice pudding. Which is rather meh when your mouth is set for bread pudding.

So I look at the plywood, wondering why the diner went away. And what will fill the void. Listening to the street sounds below my window. Moving. Always moving. Even when the action on the sidelines has stopped.

People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it will be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it'll just be a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that's the sort of thing I'm always saying. But the truth is... I'm heartbroken...
~ Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail

2.10.2014

Trail of tears

One tear.

One single tear pooled in the corner of Will's eye. 

He was wrapped tight like a burrito, head cradled in a mash of foam and plastic, feet the only large body part he could move. 

Except for his mouth, which quivered and his eyes. Which showed exhaustion and fear. 

And one single tear.

It was the third MRI attempt of the day. Somehow that was appropriate given the circumstances that had brought us to the emergency room of our children's hospital. An upset stomach out of the blue brought me to the elementary school to see what was what. Instinct told me to take him to be checked out at the hospital. After tests and tests and more tests and multiple IV insertion attempts, the X-ray film showed that the tube that drains the built-up fluid from Will's noggin had a break.  One of the signs that something is amiss with a shunt is vomiting -- and as it has been six years since there'd been an issue, I've been very cognizant of the fact that we were on borrowed time with the shunt function.

Bingo.

My sweet boy is no stranger to this drill. I err on the side of caution when it comes to health issues than might indicate a larger neurological problem. So we've been through this exercise before. But it never gets any easier for him, even though he's maturing in so many amazing ways.

That one single tear. He was trying to be brave. But he was scared. Understandably so.

And as that lone tear rolled down his cheek, now covered with adolescent acne and the peach fuzz of grown-up sideburns of a young man, all I could see was my baby. 

My baby is having brain surgery tomorrow. That sounds daunting. It is daunting. 

I can't fix this. Can't be in the operating room. I have to cede control to Will's doctors and the Great Physician. Faith is the name of the game. As it always is when one is Will's mommy.

Doesn't make it easy. But it is necessary. 

Not going to lie -- I've shed a lot more than one tear today. Mostly because my baby is hurting. Breaks a mama's heart. But this is what we do in our family. This is our normal. 

And so we go on. Tears sometimes in our eyes. But always simply one foot in front of the other.


1.26.2014

One Night with Elvis

It started, like all such things do, with an idea concocted during cocktail hour.

Over sherry in heirloom glasses and mixed nuts still in their tin, with the glint of the setting sun hitting the crisp water of Lake Lanier, my cousin, whom my mother and I were visiting, pronounced that we needed "something fun" to do as a highlight for our spur-of-the-moment trip. I was between jobs, my gig as a mayoral campaign office manager having ended not long after election day (we won!) At the strong suggestion of my father, Mama decided we needed a girls-getaway while the weather was still temperate and my employment situation still in flux. With the tumult that often transpires between a mother and a burgeoning grown-up daughter seemingly behind us, it seemed the right time for each of us to grow up, put on our big-girl panties and establish an adult relationship. On the road.

So off we went. With a pitstop first in Atlanta for some shopping. Always shopping in Atlanta. For as long as I can remember, the family would take time during summer vacation time to stop and do back-to-school shopping at the major malls. Apparently, it was more sophisticated buying clothes there than it was at our local stores. I think it was mostly the allure of having an outfit that no one at home did, as it was bought in the big city. I do know that the year I came home with a Fair Isle sweater the exact same kelly green shade as my pair of Pappagallo rubber "duck" shoes, I thought I was totally "all-that." A walking promotion for The Preppy Handbook. It was the early '80s, after all.

For the record, on that girls-only shopping trip, I got a cherry red swing dress with big pearl buttons down the front which I wore to my high school reunion later that summer. I loved that dress. Not so much that reunion -- but that is another story for another day. Back to the matter at hand.

It was just a short ride from Atlanta to my cousin's house on the shore of Lake Lanier. Our final destination. Filled with antiques and stories, the lake house was comfortable and a lovely respite set on a slope where trees ran thick. Aside from doing the usual family-visiting-family things – sitting around drinking and telling old tales; going out to eat; telling more stories; reading; napping; drinking – my cousin always liked to throw something fun into the mix for his guests. A very genteel Southern gent, he would have been a city slicker out of water in his country environment had it not been for his natural and unassuming charm. One summer visit when I was a kiddo, that “something fun” involved catching several hundred dollars worth of fish at a trout farm. My younger cousins and I just kept catching the bloody things and before our host realized it, we had acquired fish for days. So much trout. The real fun, though, happened later that evening when Mama and my other cousin’s wife, after consuming several “Silver Bullets" aka martinis, tried to package the filleted trout into little freezer bags. Imagine if Lucy and Ethel had been nipping at the schnapps before they went to work at the candy factory. Now I know why white wine goes better with fish. It just makes things easier. Probably even trying to tag, bag and freeze them.

The “something fun” for this visit involved a trip to a place called the Lantern Inn. An inauspicious rural Southern joint down a dark road from civilization where the menu was fried, the buffet was plentiful and the beer was cold. The place had entertainment – not usual for this sort of establishment in those days. A brother/sister duo.

She was a Patsy Cline impersonator.

And as for the bro -- he took on the icon. The King. The One and Only.

Elvis.

Let's rock, everybody, let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.


The best part of this whole thing was that the siblings were multi-talented and multi-taskers. Patsy was a waitress. And Elvis – well, Elvis was the fry cook.

We opted not to eat dinner at the Lantern Inn the night we went -- if I recall correctly, we’d hit a catfish fry earlier in the evening at the VFW. So-so catfish but amazing hush puppies. So after supper, Mama, my cousin-in-law Nancy and I headed off for an evening of beer and entertainment.

We had plenty of both.

Patsy Cline was just OK – not a bad voice, but really – no one can come close to the original voice of silk and heartache.

And then there was Elvis. Wearing the While Jumpsuit. With the moves and the vocal affectations. Who knew if he could actually sing, because with all that going on, it really didn't matter.

Awesome.

By the time he hit the stage, our little crew was well into the long neck Buds, making ourselves comfortable at a picnic table back by the kitchen. By the time he segued into “All Shook Up” we were dancing on the floor.
And when he rolled into “Burning Love” we were on top of that picnic table shaking our groove things and singing along. Loudly. Even Mama. If you had told me during my teenage years, when my mother/daughter relationship was the family version of the Cold War, that one day, I'd be dancing on tables with my mother with nary a critical word or set of rolled eyes in sight, I would never have believed it. But there we were in our '90s-fashionable Keds, carrying on, cheap nylon scarves autographed with "Mike Jones as Elvis" around our necks, handheld longneck Buds keeping time to the music. Our big-girl panties had been donned and somehow, our relationship had matured. Even if, at that moment, we hadn't.

Little sister, don't you
Little sister, don't you
Little sister, don't you kiss me once or twice
Then say it's very nice
And then you run

Little sister, don't you
Do what your big sister done



After his set, our Elvis didn’t retreat to a dressing room to recover and recoup. Nope. There was chicken to cook and some fish filets to tend to. Plus a costume change. A black jumpsuit. Always fashionable. My mother, fueled with beer and Southern belle charm, wandered into the kitchen to share her Never-Met-A-Stranger attitude and extend her appreciation. She chatted him up, all the while he was still clad in the White Jumpsuit, TCB, baby. Taking Care of Business and Frenching up those fries. She brought him out of the kitchen to meet us and naturally, we had our picture made with him. Which meant that one of us had to have brought a camera, as these were the days before cell phones and even disposable cameras. Weird, now that I think about it. If this picture was scratch-and-sniff, it would smell like cheap beer, Obsession by Calvin Klein (my all-time favorite perfume) and fry oil. Isn't it lovely?

A little modern-day research shows that the Lantern Inn closed nearly 10 years ago, after over 40 years in business. Elvis was still the featured attraction, but he'd added some costume changes (gold lamé !) and some stale jokes to the mix. This news makes me a little wistful, but even the greatest icons have to lay down their microphones and call it a day at some point. Voices and knees (Thank you. Thank you very much.) don't always last forever. I'll always have my memories of my One Night with Elvis.

Uh huh ohh, ohh, yeah, yeah!


I'm all shook up!

1.17.2014

Medieval Times: A New #*&@%@(&% Partner

Psssst… have you heard? I have a significant birthday this year.

I turn 50.  FIFTY.

Whooo boy, that’s a lot of candles on a cake. I decided that rather than fret about this over vodka martinis and more vodka martinis with the girls, I would hit the milestone head on. Be the best me I could be when the calendar turns. Go into the throes of middle age like a warrior.

I am Woman. Of a Certain Age. Hear me roar. And please turn on that fan because I am hot and need some moving air.

These are my personal Medieval Times. I am Training for Fifty. *cue inspirational John Williams soundtrack music*

I’m working on tuning up a couple of areas in my life, but a big part of this whole Training for Fifty thingy focuses on fitness. Shocking.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about heath and fitness for middle-aged women. And the phrase “food journal” keeps popping up. I turned to Google to get a definitive definition of what a food journal really is.  This is what the first entry I looked at said…

Food Journal:
A detailed record of what you have eaten and drunk over a period of time. You also record any diet-related symptoms or wind when they occur.

Gee. Thanks, Google.

Doesn’t that sound just delightful?

Well, it’s not. What it is is enlightening and disciplined and necessary.

And PS: That last sentence. No. Just no.  God bless America.

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After some research and query, I have gone into an arranged marriage with an online fitness “pal.” An app for my phone, this little thing-a-ma-bob had me record my vital statistics (that only God and I know and the only reason He knows is because He’s omnipotent because this sort of thing is pretty much akin to a State Department secret and for once, my lips are sealed) after which it determined my calorie allotment for the day.

My job, once all that analysis was complete, is to simply record every thing I put in my mouth for the day, along with water intake and exercise. Simple, right. HA! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

After years of free-range eating, stopping to take the time to virtually write down every little thing one consumes... well, it's a little annoying, more-than-slightly sobering and extremely thought-provoking. 

But it's been good. Really good. Making me think. And holding me accountable. Dammit.

Last weekend I went out with a couple of my best galpals for an evening of Mexican food and karaoke (more about THAT later.) After I got home, I recorded the night's gastronomical delights. Right down to the chips and salsa and the Grey Goose/tonics I drank as liquid courage to take the karaoke stage.

Whoa. It wasn't pretty. But it was a good -- and necessary -- exercise. Those sorts of evenings must now be the exception, not the rule. For a cook and gastronome like myself, that's not easy. 

Training for Fifty, y'all.

And by the way, after getting into the right mindset, I think this food journaling thing is working. 

Shhhhhhh...

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While watching the telly, I've been seeing a huge number of ads for that Joaquin Phoenix/Spike Jonze movie – the one in which Scarlett Johansson is basically Siri and Joaquin falls in love with her. At least that’s what I’m gleaming from the trailer commercials.

Wouldn't be a nightmare if your food tracker acted like that?

“Did you really need to eat those cheesy poofs, fat ass?”
“IT’S JUST FOOD! IT’S NOT LOVE!”
“Kale may be good for you, but wow. That taste. Am I right? Huh?”
“Well, SOMEONE apparently had a good time last night.”

Can't decide if the Siri-esque voice for this should be Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz or Gilbert Godfried. All annoying. Am I right? Huh?

There should also be a feature to make allowances for emotional eating moments. Because, you know, it happens. No matter what that Jillian Michaels says. NOW WHERE'S MY CHOCOLATE?!? CHOCOLATE IS SO TOO LOVE!

And activity/exercise stuff should be expanded to include more everyday, realistic things. 

Such as...

... going to the grocery store without a list. Aisle wandering. Repeatedly. That’s got to count for something.

... cleaning your kid’s room. Hunting down the loose Lego pieces that have fallen behind various pieces of furniture. You know that’s a serious calorie burn. As is doing the dance of pain after stepping on a Lego piece. Barefoot. In the middle of the night.

... putting on Spanx. C’mon. You’ve been there. It should be a sport in the Olympics. Or trying to get a bra on and settled when you’re still damp from the shower.  Holy crap. It's like wrestling with yourself. I had a conversation the other day with a woman in the locker room at the gym about this very issue. While she was trying to master said very issue.  She was behind a curtain in a dressing room stall, mind you and I was outside sitting on a bench. We agreed that sometimes dressing post-workout while still damp is a workout all on its own. Bonus activity points!

Because while adapting a food/fitness tracker into my lifestyle is the main point, there's no reason why it can't adapt a little to my lifestyle in the process. All part of a good partnership.

Training for Fifty. Boom.