The Weeklies: June 9 - 16

Last week was a week of rushing. Alistair was in Boston, I was planning to join him at the end of the week. I would be having a houseguest at my place while I was away. I cleaned, I had groceries delivered, I shopped, I dropped of keys with a friend-of-a-friend. I packed an overnight bag. 

I was exhausted by Friday morning when I threw my bag on my shoulder and took the 1 train downtown and to the M60 bus across town to LaGuardia Airport. I got a window seat, put my bag in my lap. I lamented everything I saw out the window. At the stops on 125th Street I thought about my early New York memories with my aunt who lived about 20 blocks north. We would go to the street sellers for coco butter and incense and "Harlem" shirts. Now I can't even afford the neighborhood, the Whole Foods on Lenox seems threatening. What the fuck are we doing?  I ask myself as I see the glass and concrete modern floor-to-ceiling window luxury towers sprout up, mostly empty. I want to tell them what its like to be like me, to hold your ailments in while you wait for enough paychecks to go to the doctor and finally get that test. But then I say, maybe they did all that. But please don't let them forget. 

I think about everyone around me. Most of my friends have more. I remember one of them a few years back, drunkenly suggesting a movie to me because I reminded her of the lead character. "You'd love it, it's about girls failing." Then I realized that among them all, yes, I was the least successful. They had an ivy sheen you could smell from far off and the confidence that comes with it. That knowing what you know whereas I exude, I'm faking it god damnit give me a chance.

We're now in Queens. Faster than my last M60 ride, we're at the airport terminal. I remind myself that I'm the only person I know that thinks LaGuardia is an OK airport despite ending up in a dead looking terminal with only stale sandwich shop and a grim crowd. I find a seat. 

I always ask myself the same question when I'm brooding alone: what kind of life are we meant to live? I always, quickly, in a half a second later, remember that there is no such thing as the "right kind of life." I decide I'm going to draw up a list of things I hate and never do them again for the sake of personal happiness. Then I got on a plane and went to Boston. 

The Weeklies: June 2 - 9

It was July 2001. My Aunt B. was showing my family around New York City. One morning after breakfast, she proposed we go to Chinatown. We took the bus from Harlem and had lunch in a Burger King on Canal Street. Then she she walked us down an alley into a purse store. 

"What kind of bag do you want?" the woman behind the counter asked. Louis Vuitton's and Chanel quilted shoulder bags hung from the ceiling in bunches like fruit. This concept of "knock-off bags" was completely foreign to us. We didn't even know buying them was illegal. 

"Kate Spade," we said. We knew exactly the model, slim, multicolored shoulder bag that could fit our wallet, keys and Lip Smackers. The woman sold my sister and I nearly identical types. We came back to Mobile, Alabama and showed them off to all our friends. 

"But where's the tag?" one of them asked. These knock-offs were so bad there wasn't even the signature white and black "Kate Spade" tag. 

"You can get them with tags?" I asked, embarrassed that I'd missed the key part of the sale. 

"Yeah," said our New York savvy friend. "you just ask for one and they glue it on with a hot glue gun." 

Despite it's blatant tackiness, I carried that purse everywhere. Eight years later I'd move to New York City and have a house full of Kate Spade stationary, dishtowels and jewelry. My favorite piece was a wide, red gold bangle that read, "London Calling" bought in honor of my last-minute trip there in 2011. Walking into her stores was like being understood. The hemlines were modest, the styles a little 1950s with the right amount of color and quirk. I saw an interior design article with photographs of her home. I pinned them as inspiration. 

#

Unfortunately I can't write about death with the same fluidity that I write about my life. My words feel really insignificant and staring at a cursor makes me feel debilitated. I could never write enough. I could write for 20 years and it would never be enough.

When I started writing this Weekly post, I realized how everything that happened was clouded by the shock I felt about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain's passing.

In brief: Saturday and Sunday went by in a blur. I cooked Alistair a homemade bolognese and we watched a film. Sunday I took him to the Cloisters and on a walk through Fort Tyron Park. Monday I had my bi-weekly writers group, preceded by an al fresco snack at Chanson (I had a Paris Brest eclair. Alistair, who is half French, scoffed at this, but it was delicious.) 

Friday morning I got messages from everyone asking me if I'd heard the news. I looked at my Twitter for confirmation because it was the only app that would load fast enough. The first Tweet I saw was from Samantha Brown, a travel show host that had a feud with him for laughs. She had written "Dear God no." That was all the confirmation I needed. 

When I think about Anthony Bourdain I remember how much I wanted to be him. Before every trip I take I watch his show (either "No Reservations" or "The Layover") for inspiration. Before heading to Las Vegas I watched his "Fear and Loathing" episode and was introduced to my muse: Hunter S. Thompson. (Most people don't know this, but I cure writers block by reading "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." Its the only thing that can open me up and get me out of my box.) In that way, Bourdain and Thompson occupied the same space in my mind. I saw them as aspirational characters, on another level of self-awareness and irreverence and honesty. By some odd coincidence, they ended their lives in the same way. 

Friday evening I cried a little. 

Saturday morning I woke up at 8:30. The super and his assistant arrived at 10, and began work on the dead electrical outlet and the damage from the leak. The super pointed at a photo from my sisters deb ball (my dad in costume de rigueur, everyone else in ball gowns). 

"Family?" he asked.

"Yeah," I said sheepishly. 

"You have a beautiful apartment," he said. It was all Alistair's doing, he'd come by a few times and revamped the place. "You have baby?" 

"Oh no," I said. Then touched my stomach, maybe I was bloated. I asked if he had a kid and he took out his phone to show me a picture of his daughter in a white dress, presumably as a flower girl, smiling. 

They couldn't finish that day, because all supers take a lifetime to make a small repair. I took a nap, then dressed and hopped the train downtown. My sister was doing standup comedy and this was her biggest gig to date. I sat alone at a back table with a family of strangers. My sister was hilarious, the crowd really loved her. She made a joke about Kanye that almost brought them to their feet. I heard a table of bros in the back say, "this girl is good." 

I left and walked south on Eighth Avenue just a block west of Times Square. The area is part of the usual tourist footpath, lined with chain restaurants, slow walkers, corporate hotels. I thought to myself, New York is best in the summer

Pumpkin Seeds

 

1.
It started with the banana.

2.
In my mid-twenties, I wait for a flight at the gate. Five guys at the gate are laughing and joking, and have been trying to get my attention from afar. 

"There go your girl," one of them said to the other. I ignore them and pull out my breakfast: a banana. The laughter erupted even more loudly than before and then, I turned it upside down and began to peel it. With each peel the men scoffed louder and louder. I ate the whole banana, tossed the peel in a garbage can and boarded my flight. It wasn't until I was sat down on the plane that I realized the joke. 

"Oh! Is it because a banana looks like a... ah I see." I never realized my naivety before. 

3.
On my second day of high school, two blonde upperclassmen boys walked past me on campus.  

“There’s the Freshman girl who doesn’t shave her legs,” one says. They are pointing at me. They snicker and laugh as they pass in the crowd. This became my marker, my curse. I was known only for that fact. 

4.
By the time I started high school, all the uniform rules had been heavily enforced and reformed. It had to "touch the ground when kneeling" which we did a lot of, in front of the heavenly host and in confessionals and weekly mass. 

5.
Imagine then, my skirt. I wore it so long to avoid the hassle of skirt checks. My socks past my ankles, two peanut-butter-colored hairy legs sticking out. Ankle socks were really "in" back then. As was rolling the cuffs of your shirt. 

6.
During lunch, myself and a friend fill our trays. Fries and chicken nuggets for me. A hamburger, fries, a hot dog, and a side salad for her. One of the lunch ladies ringing us up said to my friend, "You been eating a pumpkin seed?” We have a discussion about this at lunch, we can’t figure out what she meant. (She later has contractions in the second floor girls bathroom, and that afternoon the principal and the disciplinarian are seen dramatically running to their cars and going straight to the hospital. It was a girl.)

7.
Southerners have a euphemism for everything. It's a restrained world made wholesome and cute. I realize that if no ones going to really tell you, and Google doesn't yet exist, then you live in a world of inferences and assumptions. 

8.
One of the nice, blonde, popular classmates pulls me aside after math but just before history. 

"Ariel, are you on your period?" she asks. 

"No... I don't," I look down, there's a blotch of red. 

"Maybe you can take your skirt and twist it," she says. 

9.
A week before the first day of high school, a friend came over to hang out. We'd run out of things to do, so I walked her to my bedroom closet. 

"We can play shoe store," I say. I could be the seller, she could be the buyer. I didn't realize that high school meant that we weren't allowed to "play" these games anymore. If there was a memo, I never got any of them. 

10.
A sibling in the hospital talks to me from the bed. It's 4 am, and neither of us can sleep. 

"I saw 'Ladybird' but I didn't get it. Everyone was crying but me," I say to her. 

"Of course you didn't get it. We never get 'coming of age' movies because we didn't have a normal 'coming of age,'" she says. 

11.
I take a summer geology class where we're shown a film about molten lava. I get up from my seat and feel, again, the wetness of blood. 

I wait in the bathroom for the building to empty. I pass through a thick forest of pine between the building door and the parking lot. I feel protected in the trees above me. I sit on my green pillow in the drivers seat and soil it with my own blood. The blood reaches through my pants, the jacket around my waist, the pillow and eventually, the car seat.

12.
I don't know anyone who wears tampons because their parents wouldn't let them. 

13.
The movies make it seem like everything happens overnight. 

14.
I once dated a clever start-up owner in New York. Your friend runs into him at a party. 

"Ariel was too angelic," he says while drunk. 

15.
I saw nudity in film for the first time during an English class viewing of "Romeo and Juliet." One of the students hadn't finished reading the play, and after Romeo's suicide shouted at the TV.

"She ain't dead! She just playing possum." 

16.
In middle school we do a question and answer with a priest. It's my favorite time of the year, we get to write anonymous questions on a slip of paper. Someone asks, "Why can't women become priests?" and our parish priest, a hilarious Irish man who always makes me laugh, answers. The teacher then stands up and holds up both her hands to pause the conversation. 

"And, you know, I just like to remind everyone that while men get to be priests, women get to experience the pleasure of childbirth and motherhood that men don't get to experience. So...just remember that right?"

My top lip has curled up distastefully. My eyes narrow. 

17.
My mom's friend picks you up from school one day and drives you through the city. I see teenagers on the corners with their friends. A girl sitting in a boys lap. 

"Trashy," your mother’s friend says. "pretty soon she'll be droppin' her drawers." 

Another southern euphemism for "having sex."

18.
At a middle school party some of the girls go into an alley to smoke. 

“We’re all staying over tonight,” they say and invite me. My parents tell me I can’t go, which leads to a firery journal entry and a bunch of tears. 

“Those girls are ‘fast,’” my dad keeps saying. He’s talking about one in particular who has free-range parents, boobs, and a boyfriend before anyone else. 

19.
About seven years later they spot her, the girl with the free-range parents, at a McDonalds Drive-In with a pregnant stomach, working the last of two windows, the one where they hand you the food. 

20.
This is their: “I told ya so” moment. 

21.
Parent's don't admit it, but they love that "I told ya so" moment.

22.
I make a mistake in a term paper, and accidentally use "loose" when I mean to use "lose." My professor walks into class and writes both words on the chalkboard. 

"Loose girls lose their virginity. OK? That's how you remember it." 

23.
My only advice to my high school self would be to care less. 

24.
Of course that's not what happened. I cared so much I eventually shaved my legs. I've felt like that person ever since, the stalwart who makes a show of it and eventually crumbles. 

The Weeklies: May 26 - June 2

Last Saturday after dinner, Alistair poured himself a glass of sake and for me a glass of wine (his house red, Moulin de Gassac). We on to his stoop. The sun had just set and there were lots of things to see: people in groups walking to the nearest C train, cars parking and then, upon consideration of the street signs, leaving. A rat found shelter under a car. Everyone was walking English Bulldogs. 

"You know, they rule Brooklyn as the most owned dog?" I said to Alistair casually. "Yorkie's rule Manhattan."

One of the dogs, smelling the rat underneath the car, focused on it while his owner, tired, yanked him down the street.

"There's so much to see here," Alistair said. Every person that passed had some purpose. It was much like the forest, I said. A lot of animals doing a lot of different tasks. I reflected on my first camping trip last year. I observed the movement of the ants and the birds and how industrious they looked. The forest, I surmised, was where many things happen and no one even knows.

Spending holiday weekends in the city always feels like a missed opportunity to travel somewhere. Even on Saturday night, having decided to stay in the city all weekend, we were looking up last minute trips somewhere else -- Philadelphia, Beacon, Cold Springs. Nothing promising turned up. We waited too late, everything was booked. 

On Sunday we went for a walk in the rain and got barbecue nearby. Alistair had some errands to run at a hardware store in Gownus. That was most of the afternoon. We watched a film and cooked a meal, the usual. Monday, the holiday, I slept most of the day. Feeling nostalgic, I put on one of my favorite young adult films: "The Lizzie McGuire Movie" about a young character from a Disney TV show (that I also watched religiously as a teen) who goes to Rome with her classmates for an adventure. It was so warm and restorative to watch, it made me feel like a kid again. 

Tuesday was one of those days where every face looked like the face of an enemy. Do you ever have those? I went and got a pedicure after work but every woman in the room seemed to look at me unfavorably. On the train, a woman sitting next to me, in a very comfortable space full of lots of seats, got up and sat in a much more crowded area. Do I smell? I wondered. 

Thursday Alistair hosted another dinner party, rising to his first challenge: a vegan guest. We had roasted kabocha squash, eggplant stew and Iranian rice. For dessert, he made Mark Bittman's vegan spicy chocolate mousse. But on Friday, my stomach didn't like the kabocha squash or the wine I'd drank the night before. I went to bed at 9 pm, still feeling nauseated and gross. A few flights below, in the backyard of a church, a wedding band played cover songs till midnight. I slept through it. 

The Weeklies: May 19 - 26

The last time I cried for more than five hours was winter of 2003, when I conceded defeat to my parents and decided to attend college in my hometown (my sister knocked on my bedroom door and heard me sobbing, still, and told my father "she's still crying" so he came in and patted my shoulder gingerly). The next time after that was the spring of 2007, here in New York, and more recently, last Saturday morning (the 19th). The mouse droppings I found in the kitchen sink and on the floor were what broke me. So I picked a spot between the two cushions in my three-seater couch and remained there for hours with a roll of toilet tissue. The super didn't appear as asked, but I didn't want him to.  

Then around three o'clock, I pulled myself, and the spilling emotions in the air around me together and took a shower. I had a party to attend. 

I rode the A for 45 minutes downtown to my destination, and tried to chart the next few weeks.

"No plans after tomorrow," I vowed, hoping that if I cancelled everything I'd feel better. But I wasn't even sure if my sadness was from being too busy or not busy enough. This or that. That or this.  

At a party in a very beautiful apartment Alistair and I had champagne and talked to delightful people. I was so happy to hear his voice, to touch his arm and have conversations that we would later dissect when we were alone.

Sunday (the 20th) morning I woke up early and the rain was tapering off, the sun coming out. I met with Kennedy and Philippa (on a short visit to NY after having moved to D.C.) at Waverly Restaurant for brunch. I told them about the first time I'd eaten there, back in 2009 when it was the hot place in town and the phone number was unlisted -- I think it still is? 

"We made reservations in person and they gave us the earliest table," I laughed, remembering. This was back when I crashed galas and wanted to be cool. "We looked around for celebrities but we didn't see any." 

Back then they sat us in the garden and I’d had chicken but no wine, to keep the bill down. I didn’t realize how beautiful the garden actually was until we dined there in the sunlight with Kennedy and Philippa. I hadn’t seen Philippa in weeks, and as usual, I felt like I needed years to catch up on everything in her life, but was only given an hour. 

I raced to Alistair's home in the afternoon to prep for a dinner party. He outdid himself: a rack of lamb, roast chicken, Yorkshire pudding and a homemade bourbon chocolate sauce drizzled over ice cream.  

The rest of the week was normal. I was looking forward to a long Memorial Day weekend of nothing besides treating Alistair to a day out. Saturday I took him to a picnic and a movie at the Hayden Planetarium. It was scorching hot in the city, just the way I like it.

I found myself beginning summer the way I always do, by making a phone call to my favorite rooftop space: "Is the roof terrace open yet?" I asked. "Not yet," the woman said. 

"That's OK," I said, "I'll wait." 

A Holiday Break

I’m taking a two-day writing break and will post a Weekly on Tuesday evening. Have a good, long holiday weekend. 

The Weeklies: May 13 - 19

We've had seven days of rain. I've drafted this Weekly three times over, and I keep circling back to this sentence, to this idea of a consistent something -- I feel like I've been on a train somewhere with a tired pace. Inside me there is a driving heaviness that has persisted for months. It would be a secret if I didn't write about it here. I laugh because things are funny, I smile for my "how are you's." Only Alistair can see how far away I am. 

It makes no use to try and write about it because I don't know what I'm writing about. I'm tired. I'm tired when there's nothing to be tired from. I'm searching for a balance between two unknowns. A spinning arrow without a goal, therefore always missing it's mark. 

We've had seven days of rain. 

Last Sunday Alistair and I put on our jackets and took an umbrella to go to Times Square. My sister, the funniest person I know, was doing stand up for a charity fundraiser. I grew up in a "funny house". My parents were always dishing out digs. We had decade-long prank wars and for this reason, I still love a long con. It was good to laugh and see my sister in top form. (I would see live comedy on Wednesday as well, which means I've seen more live comedy this week than I have in my whole life.)

After Alistair and I had dinner at his apartment and lamented the upcoming week. It was all arbitrary to-dos, little gatherings I hoped I could fake myself through and then go home and have a good cry. It wasn't as easy as that, I'm afraid. I could get to the my apartment but the emotions weren't meeting me at the door. 

The Weeklies: May 6 - 12

 On Saturday night I opened the door to my apartment and looked up. A leak formed underneath the paint, creating a bubble of water where the ceiling meets the wall. I immediately started crying. After a few hours cutting down the power to every room and then, eventually, cutting off the electricity to that wall, I called Alistair in a panic.

There is still the crown to be put on my tooth (and paid for), the fresh drywall on the bathroom wall that was left unpainted because the building didn't have the right paint, the boxes of other peoples things to ship, the clothes to purge, the bills left unpaid from medical-this-or-medical-that, the mortgage broker to email again, the 401k account to roll over, the thank-you cards to post, the gathering cereal boxes on top of the fridge (along with a mold-gathering bottle of milk on the fridge door), the wrinkled rug pad making a mess of its rug, the hay fever, the unpredictable trains, the bookmarked books that aren't finished, that last episode of "Counterpart," that thing I wanted to write (but after that other thing I wanted to write), that memoir I trashed, the artwork without frames, the dry cleaning, the gym membership to cancel, and then some.

I decided to do what I do when everything is bad: I napped.

When I woke up, everyone on social media was posting Childish Gambino's music video "This is America." [Ed note: I'll skip describing it because I'll assume you've already seen it, and if you hadn't, get thee to a Google search query]. In short: the video depicts distraction from the issues, six kids dance in the foreground while people die in the background from racially motivated gun violence. I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been pointed out, but so many memories came to me at first watch. It reminds me of the conversations I overheard growing up.

“Every time I turn on TV all I see is a bunch of black folks dancin,'" my grandmother used to say angrily after she flipped past BET. I always assumed she misunderstood pop culture, but in adulthood I realized her anger was about the lack of information and misplaced priorities. This was before the internet was in every home, TV was the main source of information. Our only TV station was being used to show us soap operas and music videos, not documentaries or political discourse— “or the issues!” my dad would say. Sure, there's a space for both but the presence of one and not the other tells us where our attention should be.

"Yeah, the white people love to see us dancing around but that's it," my father would say as white poeple cheered on black musicians on TV. "They don't want us in their boardrooms or their offices or their government."

Lastly, I remembered the expectations placed on us as middle class black kids. My relatives used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up and before I could answer they would say, "be a doctor." That was the only choice for us — everything else was risky. Being in medicine seemed like a sure shot to what every black family hopes for: an end to the poverty cycle. But we wanted to be artists, like the only real life black people we saw on TV, we never saw them doing anything else. Try telling a high school kid what to do and they'll push back. I ended up studying English. I pushed back hard.

I only express the above drivel because it consumed my thoughts through the week. As I rushed through the day’s work and spent evenings writing and watching TV, I was always thinking of it.

But the week continued: Wednesday Alistair and I met a friend for dinner in East Village (Chinese noodles). Then we went to Angel’s Share for cocktails, sitting in the windowed back room on velvet stools. I love that place.

Friday evening Alistair and I walked from Soho to Union Square relishing the spring weather. We joined new friends for dinner near Union Square, then just down the street, Alistair and I had a negroni in a bar with the windows and doors wide open.

The next morning the super arrived to my apartment—the apartment he spent the past 10 weeks in making repairs—to begin work on the leak. He looked up woefully. I wanted to tell him I felt the same way.