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.

The Weeklies: April 28 - May 5

You get up on Sunday, April 29 and you put on your clothes. You start walking west to the subway. You take an A train to Canal and then a series of Soho back streets to your destination. You pay $13 for a piece of french toast and a matcha-and-chocolate iced drink because sometimes you just want to know what the hype is about even if you spend most of your time pretending to be above it. 

Your friend arrives and gives you a hug and two kisses -- the French style, as she is a Parisian on an extended visit to the US. You've never met before (this part of the story is a bit complicated) because you're meeting at the request of a mutual friend. You dive into the normal New York questions, you ask her where she's staying. You know that New York real estate is a puzzle filled with bad turns and you feel bad for her that she's had to move so often because of this or that. She's now in Harlem. 

"But," she says. "I am so sick of the Harlem attitude." 

You know that maybe there's a cultural barrier or sorts, and you ask her to explain what she means. She tells you a story from a week or two back when she was riding the train and saw an African American mother being mean to her child. She told the woman to stop, and that the boy "just needs love." A bunch of people came to the woman's defense and everyone applauded him for his response to her. She told them that they needed to "be educated" and when she got off at her stop the man said "I see you're getting off in Harlem." She shakes her head at the end of the story. "How racist!" she says. 

You immediately turn red with anger. Not your whole face, but at least your ears do. Your own personal belief on the matter is that if you respond in anger you'll lose the moment to teach someone about something. But inside you are battling, you are filled with emotion. You want to start at the beginning and tell her all about the black experience in America. You want to say, "Well, let's start at the 18th century..." and then go to present day. 

But you realize that maybe that's not the best way? So you clear your throat, you stir your drink. 

You essentially skip all of that and tell her that how a white person telling a black person to get an education was always going to be insulting. "Some of us haven't been able to, and mostly because of the way we've been treated by white people. So to hear it from you, it's like a double insult." 

"But can't the government pay for them to go to college?" she asks. 

"Well, it's a lot harder than that," you say. 

And for the rest of the day you exist in deep anger at yourself for not being able to explain. You consider loaning her a book but you don't know which book. You sigh your way home on the A train feeling as if you've failed at something. If only you could make her feel what you've felt all her lives and relate it to her in a way that she could understand. Even now, you still feel this pit in your stomach. 

#

On Monday, at the end of a workday, you get on a train and sit your favorite spot. The email you have been waiting on arrives in your inbox: Ancestry.com DNA results. The week before your father had told you what two tribes his family was from, and this small information alone made you feel more complete and whole inside. 

You spent most of your life assuming that you'd never know, and that you'd have to rely on rumor. You never imagined that technology would advanced enough to really tell you your background, and the idea thrills you. On your mothers side, the rumor is that she is part Scottish, but beyond that, you know nothing. 

You gasp on the train and open the email: 31% Cameroon/Congo, 13% Mali, 13% Benin/Togo, 11% Ivory Coast/Ghana, 8% Ireland/Scotland/Wales. 

"But that doesn't equal 100%," your father says to you that night on the phone, while the family chats excitedly in the background, reading and re-reading the results. 

You send them the other "low percentages" that make up the rest of you: less than 4% of Scandinavia, 4% Iberian Peninsula and 4% African Southeastern Bantu. The rest were all less than 3% and 2%: Europe South, Nigeria, Great Britain, Europe West, Senegal, and Europe East. 

"That's...a lot..." your father says. 

All that certainty you got from learning those tribes has deflated. Now you feel like a nothing, even if you rationally remind yourself that the concept of nationality is a construct, it still leaves you feeling like the answer is no answer at all. That night you flip through the list of "third and fourth cousins" on Ancestry, a list generated from people who share the same DNA match. It's a bunch of smiling profile pics with usernames. You search a few on Facebook and in a weird, voyeuristic way, you enjoy looking at their posts: memes, births, celebrations. You wonder if you have anything in common.

A lot of the girls look like much prettier versions of you. 

#

On Wednesday evening you go to Alistair's apartment to roast him a chicken. He's been away on business, and you're storing up all the news from the past five days to tell him. You've roasted a chicken so many times you know exactly what to do without the recipe and only consult it for the cooking temperature. You flop on his sofa to watch a season of "Father Brown." You hear his gate latch fall and rush to the window where he's coming up the stoop stairs smiling. You love seeing that face.

Over dinner you relay to him the pitfalls of the week -- among them, the creeps that the warm weather has brought out now that men can see butts and legs instead of puffy black coats coming towards them in the subway station. 

"A nearly seventy year old man told me to 'send him a photo on his phone,'" you laugh together. 

#

By Friday you feel a little like you're barely making it. You play rap music through your earbuds on the walk from the train to the office and realize that you outsource all your self-esteem through hip hop. You can't get a swagger without it. 

That evening you reunite with Alistair for drinks with his friends. "Your cranky, I can tell," he says, "please tell me what is wrong?" 

You feel ugly and poor. You're having those "naked in public" type of dreams every night. And maybe you just don't know? You take his hand and squeeze it and say, "nothing." 

The Weeklies: April 21 - 28

 My favorite photo of Philippa and I at the at the MET Museum. (We're the two sitting on the left.)

My favorite photo of Philippa and I at the at the MET Museum. (We're the two sitting on the left.)

As I look back on last week, I realize that all the high drama took place within me. Every movement of the plot was in minor revelations instead of action and concrete things. That makes writing about last week a bit of a struggle. I spent most of it lost in my own thoughts. But, below is everything else aside from my fog, frustrations and inner turmoil...

Monday night was my usual bi-weekly writing group. Tuesday, I went to the gym for the first time in a year. I ran on the treadmill next to a man who spit on his machine during breaks, and two rows away from a man running in a business suit and dress shoes. There was no heat in the bathroom and none of the toilets had tissue. I was sore by Wednesday.

Alistair's sister was in town and on Wednesday we went and had drinks with her at the Crosby Street Hotel (one of my favorite Soho places) and then dinner at Estela. The dishes were so interesting I was making mental notes of each one because food descriptions are my favorites to read and write. Spiced almonds were first, then burrata in potato flower sauce, crab with butter, squid ink fried rice, ricotta dumplings with shiitake mushrooms that were sliced like little discs, endive with cheese and breadcrumbs, lamb ribs and chocolate pie and sweet potato. I had a wonderful time, and woke up Thursday with a hangover. Despite this, Thursday was beautiful. By the end of the day the weather reached 60 degrees, and I decided that my passeggiata season had come. (On Thursdays in the summer I usually take a long walk after work.) I went for a juice and Alistair joined me for a bit. We walked together to the subway and I continued west just for the sake of exploring. 

Friday night was bittersweet -- I hate using that word in my writing but it is the only appropriate word. Alistair and I attended Philippa's art and performance show downtown. The party would be to see her newest collaboration, but also to say goodbye. Philippa is moving from New York this week, and I'm too saddened to even write about it. "Who else will be comedic relief on my blog?!" I asked her. Thinking back, almost every firecracker quote has come from her and her spot on humor. And all my summer plans! My summer plans were usually based of Philippa's very well-researched summer to-do list. Earlier in the week she emailed me my first message to her via Craigslist when I wanted to join her writing group. Who knew we'd be traveling together and being such close friends for many years later? 

We couldn't stay long at the event and I had to say goodbye to Philippa earlier than I hoped. I pouted a bit and hugged. "You won't be far though," I noted but I wanted to cry.  

Mo

Of all the foot messengers who visited the busy media company I used to work for, Mo was my favorite. Usually in late afternoon, when reception was quiet and the sun filled the room, he would step of the elevator, and smile at me. I always stood up from my desk chair for him, so that we could talk on equal height. 

Mo was in his late 50s. He had long gray hair that came down past his waist. He wore it in a pony tail but he was balding a bit on the top. He always wore sandals and a pair of jeans with a plain white T-shirt, sometimes with a veterans slogan on the front. I liken his demeanor to a Care Bear. He had a cartoon character voice -- not high pitched, but extremely enthusiastic. Everything he said was an exclamation but also full of reverence and respect. 

One Halloween, he came off the elevator and I stood up excitedly.

"Mo!" I said. 

"Hi Ariel, how are you?" he asked. He passed me the package and asked if I had been busy. I said that I was. I commented that the package he brought had only been requested thirty minutes ago -- he was the fastest delivery guy of the group.

I opened my desk drawer where I'd bought Halloween candy to pass out to the messengers. They were hired by a third party company and most of them were living in shelters or not-quite-homeless. Sometimes they'd spout off monologues to me about "the man." They carried walkie talkies, and their dispatcher was always yelling at them addresses and codes. God, I couldn't imagine their job, riding the subways all day. Sure, Halloween candy isn't a free meal or a place to stay but they enjoyed it. None of them refused my offer. Most asked for second helpings. 

I offered Mo candy and he laughed. "Ariel you are so kind hearted!" but he declined. He looked at his watch and noted that he had another delivery and left. 

A few weeks later I was exiting a train at Spring Street and as the wave of crowds reached the turnstiles, I saw someone running at an impressive speed, then jumping over the turnstiles without fanfare and bolting up the stairs two by two. It was Mo. No wonder the packages were delivered so fast! I went up the stairs and at street level I looked around but he was gone. 

For months I reflected on that scene. Why would anyone be so intense? On all my pensive walks to the office up foggy Crosby Street I thought about Mo and I thought about work. At the time, I was a brat. It was 2009, back when every one on TV was upper-middle class (think "The OC" "Gossip Girl" etc,) and I thought status was everything. My inner monologue at the office was "I'm too good for this" while I put mail in mailboxes and delivered packages and brought coffees to guests on the couch. Mo took pride in being a messenger. But why? I remember thinking in my immature brain. Then one day, as if struck by the idea, the answer came to me: you work with pride because there are people who can't work, there are people without jobs, because my physical body is able, because I am grateful. Forever after, I delivered packages with gigantic smiles and bounced through the office with a spring in my step. I took extra assignments that kept me at work late. It was a small, imperceptible shift in attitude.

I saw Mo once a month at least. He was always on time and wearing his broad smile. Summer came. I got a card in the mail. No one was ever sending cards to me. I opened it, it was a white card with an American flag on the front. The inside read: "Happy Fourth of July from Mo." There was $15 inside. The office manager stepped out of his office and into the reception area. He saw me holding my card. 

"I got one too! With ten bucks!" We were both aghast. 

A while later I was promoted to a new job and never saw Mo around the office to thank him. There was not a return address on the card. Seven years later I had a different job altogether. During my annual reviews I always got the comments that I was "really positive" and that I had a "calming presence" in the office, both qualities I learned from him. Two years ago, while walking through Times Square I saw a blur running from the shuttle train. It was Mo dashing up a staircase, a pack of commuters struggling to catch up. I guessed that if I'd seen his face, he would have been smiling. 

The Weeklies: April 14 - 21

One fall day, at sunset, I put on a new double breasted sweater I'd bought for a date. I walked from my UES apartment down to the MET Museum, my date a tall Harvard alum with floppy black hair, smiled at me. "Our steps!" he said, referring to our exchange earlier in the day. He thought the steps were romantic and I disagreed, they were too public to be intimate. 

We bought our tickets and took an escalator to the Turner exhibit, and I was quickly corrected. God, the MET was the perfect place for a date. You could part from your partner and still hear the floor creaking as they left you. You could get lost in the wrong era or continent and find your way back, together. It's all in the atmosphere.

Afterwards we walked to dinner where, on either side of us in the intimate restaurant, other couples were on dates. I was 24-years-old, on only my third date in my entire life and it felt to so cosmopolitan. I felt like every one of my college math class day dreams. In them, New York is a series of parties at very progressive restaurants or very old cocktail bars followed by Lincoln Center or a museum or the park. 

I mention all of this because this week felt like a mash up of what I thought New York was like before I moved here. I started the week of with an empty calendar an ended it having attended a series of parties, even another romantic evening at the MET museum with Alistair.

Monday was forgettable. Tuesday, Alistair and I had dinner with his friend at Tomoe Sushi. Its a bright, tiny place with a consistent queue on the sidewalk. Our friend had just returned from a trip with his wife to a "warm place." New Yorkers right now are desperate for consistent warm weather. I clung to his every description of his vacation and the pool. We walked south after dinner and had cocktails at Peculiar Pub (Bullet on the rocks).

Wednesday I had a long telephone call with my father who revealed to me information of high importance: we'd found out what African tribes his family is from, the Bubi's and the Kru's. I almost cried learning this. It left such a good feeling with me through the week. 

Thursday night Alistair hosted a dinner party and I told him I'd buy the wine. I slid a bottle of Otto's Constant Dream across the counter of Alistair's usual wine store, and looked at the shop keeper. She reminded me of the owner of the store, who has a cute pug that wears a diaper and often sits by the cash register. 

"Is the owner your mom?" I asked her. 

"No, gosh no. My mom is much older," the woman said. My face turned bright red and I resolved never to go in that wine shop again.

The dinner party, however, was a hit. At this point, Alistair and I are so efficient at setting the table and move about the kitchen a balletic cohesion. As the Coq a Riesling simmered on the stove we slow danced in our aprons. The guests left at midnight. 

Friday, Alistair and I planned on attending an event at the museum. One of people I chatted with at a work event happened to be a well-regarded artist. We had a good talk, and I'd given her my card. She then emailed me an invitation to see her prints on view at the MET Museum. I was honored to. I invited Alistair and we would make a night of it. On the four train headed uptown after work, I sighed dreamily. "I love going to the Met at night," I said. 

"You're so excited," Alistair laughed. 

We checked our things and got lost in ancient Greece. About three museum guides kept telling us which hallways to take and we kept missing them all. A discrete elevator in the museum store finally took us to a crowded, bustling room. 

Again, this was exactly how I imagined New York before I moved here. 

We moved through the crowd admiring the prints for sale and got ourselves a glass of wine. The artist was being chatted up and recognized me immediately. She walked me through her work, including some she had done with a few famous poets. A Getty photographer was there getting shots, and a few lucky people were actually buying stuff. Alistair and I met many new faces that were all very kind. I talked of Alabama, New York real estate, restaurants, Europe. 

We said goodbye and went back through the maze of exhibits, this time getting lost in Rome on our way. We wanted to rush through the Versailles exhibit but a staff member told us the museum was closing. 

I took the train home. Round 10 pm I slid a piece of cod into the oven with some asparagus and felt very grown up. (Yet, not grown up enough read my mail marked "Action Required for 401K") I texted Philippa and Suni to tell them about what a good week I was having. My "rut" was disappearing. 

The Weeklies: April 7 - 14

On Wednesday afternoon I went to the dentist. I'd spent the whole day with a piece of my tooth in my purse, nervously checking over and over to make sure it was still there. I watched as the dentist pulled out his tools, the worst part of a dentist visit. I looked over and noticed a syringe. 

"Could you tell me about the process?" I asked nervously. 

"Well, first we take an impression of your tooth. Then we'll numb the area and drill it down and put it a temporary crown." 

"Last time I had a crown I wasn't numbed," I said. 

He then gave me the option of drilling without the numbing, and if I felt uncomfortable -- 

"We'll get that in there and keep going," he said jovially. 

The first two impressions were too much for me. All that putty in my mouth! I felt like I couldn't breathe and nervously tapped my fingers on my legs as drool fell all over my leather shirt. 

Then the drilling began and it was painless. I closed my eyes and tried to zone out.

"We're going to go deeper," he said, selecting a larger drill bit.

It was then, that I felt it. It's like an electricity radiating from my gums to my feet. Embarrassingly, I had him administer the numbing agent. My mouth gushed with blood. 

"I'm sorry I'm such a baby," I said. The dentist gives me a high five. 

"You went 95% of the way without it."

That night the numbness wore off and a roaring pain began in my jaws. I took a pain medicine and went to bed early feeling less like a champ and more like an idiot who was too cavalier. 

I've been trying very hard to write about Thursday and Friday. My thoughts and feelings, as they have been these past few months, were hard to grasp. The weather both days in New York was idyllic. Sunny, 70-something-degrees but my stomach was in knots. I was invited to a work event Friday afternoon, and I was nervous. It went OK. After the event my boss told me I didn't have to return to the office, so I went on a walk and sat for a moment in Union Square enjoying the sun. Everyone was out in shorts and planning trips to beer gardens. 

On Saturday it was another beautiful day. I had a birthday party during to attend that afternoon. Alistair and I took a long walk and cooked an easy dinner together before settling down to watch a movie. I told Alistair: "I've been good about caring less about what people think of me these days." But then I wonder: how should one behave in the world when you stop caring? I'm growing weary of something, perhaps myself? Or perhaps of fixing things, or having things to fix even after climbing past hurdles.

But if you told me you were "weary of fixing things" that, I'd tell you that you were weary of life in general. 

The Weeklies: March 31 - April 7

Twice this year I’ve been on cold beaches in knee-heigh boots. Both times digging into the sand with Alistair by my side, trying to take selfies with our faces to the sun. Every time they turn out with our head and shoulders dark; the beach the star of the show. 

It was Easter Sunday. To refresh your memory from last week, Alistair's two friends invited us to stay with them at their waterfront home in Orient, N.Y. for the weekend. They have the most gorgeous beach house I've ever been in, which they've designed in a modern, minimalist style. To borrow the phrase from a friend, it was pure "lifestyle porn" -- the Smeg fridge and oven range! Vertical slats! The matte black rain shower and subway tile! It was like being inserted into AD magazine. I was so jealous my ears burned red hot to the touch.

Saturday we did a hike to Orient Point and on Sunday Alistair’s friends took us to an Easter Egg hunt with their kids. Then we decided to pick up garbage at the beach. 

“The kids hunted for eggs and the adults hunted for trash,” I said jokingly. My dad’s company organized beach cleanups for PR to purposes when I was a kid. We once had our photos in the paper holding up bags of trash. No one knew we went to a catered lunch at a private club and swam afterwards—the real reason anyone went in the first place. I was long overdue for a "real" beach cleanup.

This beach was rocky compared to the long Gulf Coast stretches I cleaned as a child. To cross it completely you needed to climb up boulders covered in garbage: single sneakers, busted sails and Bud Light cans. The water was more green and clear than at my favorite beach (Ditch Plains). The tide was low with no sand in sight just smooth pebbles in green, black and pink. “This is the ocean floor,” I said. 

At one point we all climbed up the highest rock and sat to look at the horizon. This is what indie films are made of: New friends and old friends being silent and contemplative on moody beaches in the winter. 

Alistair and I got into our rental car and I looked briefly at my phone. A random Instagram user sent me a video singing a song about me and my blog (this blog!). 

“Oh my god, oh my god,” I kept saying as we got closer to the house. I showed everyone and we laughed at the Internet and how random it was. 

In the late afternoon Alistair and I agreed to drive to Greenport to get supplies and wine for dinner. My heart fluttered at the thought of going to IGA, the same spot where I buy my booze and snacks in Montauk, because everything that reminds me of Montauk makes me smile. The store was closed, but Alistair wanted to park anyway and see main street. 

Down by the water we paused to watch a ferry depart for Shelter Island. A bee landed on my neck and I told Alistair the story of being stung by a bee in Shelter Island years ago. 

Back at the house we opened the wine, played a game of Clue and Alistair repurposed a little sauce from Citarella and ground beef into a bolognese with zucchini and carrots borrowed from the neighbors. The sun set. From their windows you could see it sink behind the trees, bouncing off the water. "The Instagram moment," we laughed.

Over dinner, we talked at length about the weather. New York was in the middle of a long winter. Snow was due the next day. We went to bed at 10 pm, and when we woke up, everything was covered. Six inches in total.

After having breakfast and when the snow stopped, we thanked our gracious hosts and headed back to New York. We had an early dinner at an Afghani restaurant. 

The rest of the week was slow. Alistair's birthday was Wednesday and I bought him a vase from the MOMA store, and we had dinner at his favorite place, Hanjan. The slow week continued to today, where I write to you from my bedroom. The ceiling work persists in the living room. Already I can see, everything is covered in dust.