Friday, January 28, 2011

Snowy Appreciation

It is easy to take others' hard work for granted.

As we walked easily yesterday down our sidewalk with sleds, snow piled high on top of parked cars, I said out loud, "Wow, aren't we fancy?" Here we hadn't lifted a finger and, yet, voila! Despite a foot or so of snow, there was a clear clean path out our door and leading, it seemed, straight to our destination.

It then occurred to me: our being "fancy" was someone else's really fucking hard work!

As we came around the corner, the dry cleaner was there with his shovel, the sweet man who knows us by name (not that I know his, I'm terrible.)

"Great job, thank you very much for shoveling on our behalf!" I said, handing him a gold star. I wanted to take his picture but he waved me off.

"Very shy..." he said.

I understood and didn't pull a paparazzi move. I gave him his space. I think that's why I never ask him his name. Strangely, I get shy around shy people. I feel guilty being my very verbose self around them. It feels like I am actually inflicting torture.

We had a great time sledding. I say we, but it was mostly the kids, with mommy chatting up all and sundry (even the shy ones.)

Snow days in Park Slope, if the sledding is good, offer a rare opportunity for an outdoor party on the high hill behind the Picnic House in Prospect Park. All the fun parents are there, the more fearless, the ones who can stomach watching their progeny fly fast over the ridges created by many sledders, often straight into other sledders. Collective groans could be heard all around at the amazing headlong crashes.

Picking up provisions for lunch afterward, just some quick fixins at the deli, an older woman I've seen around, always looking to chat, came in to ask the Yemeni deli guy if he wanted anything for lunch.

"I'm goin' to Smiley's," she said, invoking the name of the local pizza parlor, "ya want anythin'?"

She looked at me then. "I do everything for everyone around here," she said, adding, only slightly in jest, "No one does anythin' for me."

I love these moments, when I can reach into my bag and do something for someone who feels needy, quickly and easily.

"Here," I said, handing her a star, "now you've been recognized for your good deeds..."

Tears came to her eyes. "Really," she said, "I have a heart too..."

Taking people for granted is so easy, especially those who like doing for others, who do it with relish, like this nice lady. My gold stars help remind me to reach out to these people, that they need it even if they're too shy to ask. What reminds you?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Visit from Kamel

Kamel Boudjemil came to stay on my couch as a gift from my young French friend Felix, who joyfully lodged in our third bedroom for six months as he worked at Human Rights Watch last fall, before he high-tailed it to Beirut to put his Arabic lessons to the test. I had asked for some of the crepes Felix is making at a creperie, back in Paris after a tour in Yemen and before he heads to Syria. Or, I'd said, "you can send someone to make me crepes..."

Kamel did not make crepes and I felt too guilty to take him up on his offer to make Quiche Lorraine though he brought us a delicious bottle of French wine and a book of Babar in French for the kids. Next visit he'll make us the quiche.

It was a joy to host Kamel, who was relegated to the couch since Lisa, a poet from New Jersey, currently resides in the extra room. A political science major at Sciences Po in Paris, he offered up great wisdom on the Middle East regions he understands well and offered up, for me, as Felix had, some great hope that the next generation will figure all this out, that we will somehow come to some peace simply because our future politicians, like Kamel and Felix, will not think to do otherwise.

I gave Kamel a big gold star, which he placed in the middle of the red felt square he had attached to his hat, the remnants of a friend's slightly Marxist club. Who knows what -isms, if any, will work. He left New York with a lot of memories and a bag full of great American books including George Orwell's Animal Farm, Charles Bukowski's Women  and some Woody Allen. We talked, hopefully, of doing an international book club over Skype. I would love it.

These cultural exchanges are crucial for understanding others, for finding a way to appreciate one anothers' practices instead of hating them, to, ideally, finding peace. My fingers are crossed that my young brilliant friends will work fast, saving regions like Beirut from falling, again, into ruin.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Maybe Somebody

"No offense," a nice gentleman told me recently, "you're impressive, but you're nobody."

I laughed. I tried to look on the bright side. Impressive was a nice compliment, no matter that it was followed by the huge insult, the huge insult that is both true and untrue.

Of course, I'm somebody. The way The Doors were somebodies before their band took off, before photographer Henry Diltz took the photo above and the one of the group in the window of The Morrison Hotel, a famous photo for which the cool Soho gallery he co-founded is named. I visited there today to find inspiration, and gave the friendly staff gold stars.

We are all somebodies. Only in hindsight can there be a line between when "somebody" still somewhat inconspicuous becomes a "Somebody" people have heard of and even speak of in common parlance. John Dos Passos captures this idea well in his U.S.A. trilogy, which follows a variety of people's stories at the turn of the century, regular people like a boy who liked to build whose name was Frank Lloyd Wright.

Photographers are gamblers of a sort, gambling that their subjects might rise to fame and fortune and, with them, the value of the photograph taken of them, the quick flash of a moment back in time.

"Are you going to be famous?" Isak Tiner, the photographer I met in a cafe and hired to take my photo for this blog asked before he trained his camera on me.

I laughed then, just like I did at the man who said I was nobody. "Maybe," I said, "one never knows."

Monday, January 17, 2011

He smiled big at me as I sat down on the subway across from him.

I laughed. "It's my hair, isn't it?" I said. "You're smiling at me because of my hair..."

James Tapuano, I would come to know in our fast 15-minute friendship, does not shy away from the truth.

"Yes, it's fun, very charming," he said of my Princess Leia look ("an OLD Princess Leia," according to my own young truth-teller, Eli).

I have noted recently that the two silly buns sticking out from either side of my head give off the impression that I am a slightly-touched person, someone free and childlike and non-judgmental. Who would I be to judge? The style makes people, like James, smile and feel friendly. It's a good thing, like a gold star in a hairstyle.

James, it turns out, is a construction worker/sage. When I told him I was a writer, I wrote sometimes about parenting, he told me he was a father of two, and a grandfather of two.

"I started young," he said apologetically.

"Maybe that's a good thing," I said.

He perked up, like maybe he hadn't done the wrong thing. "I was a kid along with was hard to separate and be the parent," he said.

"That's great, you have to be a kid with them I think, then they trust you. I always wonder, otherwise, what the dividing line is, when you're the disciplarian parent and then, all of sudden, you want to have a friendly relationship with them."

"That's true, that's true," he said. "But I didn't know anything..."

I laughed. "Does anybody, at any age? Please. At least you didn't feel like you should know probably let yourself off the hook. I think that's the problem with parenting, we don't know exactly what we want to achieve, we have no objective."

James sat up and leaned forward eagerly. "Exactly! How do you get to a place when you don't know where it is?"

I asked the difficult question. "Do you have a good relationship with your kids?"

He paused, long paused, and I started to retract but then he spoke.

"As far as love and communication, yes. Was I the best father? No." He laughed. "It was more like, 'this is my life as a cowboy, watch me. I'll be the sacrificial lamb so you can learn what not to do.'"

I gave James a gold star and my card and told him to keep in touch. I hope he does. I could use some cowboy advice, some real truths about what it takes sometimes to make things work. Construction workers know best what it really takes to build things.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Forging the Best Path: Trisha Mulligan

Sometimes it's just easier to do the easy thing, even when you know it's not the answer.

Trisha Mulligan knows this well. She is an  herbalist and a gardener (Terra Flora Botanicals) who watches the pharmaceutical industry thrive because it is too hard for people to make changes they know are necessary, changes that require their own discipline and hard work.

Of course, like all of us, Trisha, a mother of two under 5, sometimes takes short cuts that derail her for a time, easy ways out. For example, she is considering, after a long marriage, finally exchanging her Irish surname (the last in her family's line of Mulligans) for her musician husband Tony Garnier's more famous one.

"Uch," she says over coffee and quiche at Parco. "I volunteer so much at my kids' schools, and it's just so challenging to have a different name than they do!"

Smart people know that sometimes you have to be flexible. What works for a time may not always work. We have to pay attention and, sometimes, make a change. A gardener knows that as well as anybody. Change is a constant among the plant world.

Trisha is great, dynamic and strong, which is why I wasn't at all surprised when she slapped her gold star right smack dab in the middle of her forehead. She is forging ahead with a new garden at the public school where she volunteers for her oldest, and making plenty of adjustments in her own life--temporary or permanent--in an effort to find the best path. Not the easiest path always, mind you, not the primrose path, but the real, honest, down-and-dirty route that might work best for her and her family.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Street Find: Women's Strength

 I don't know Susan, but she gets a big gold star for leaving her fabulous plush robe and her book on Marie Curie's discovery of Radioactive Substances out on the snowy sidewalk in a Manolo Blahnik bag for me to pick up.

I've been wanting a white plush bathrobe ever since I got back from Miami. Hotel robes are used, I reason. They're  just washed, like I will (likely) wash Susan's before I put it on and channel the lady whose name is embroidered on the side.

I love the idea of being someone other than I am, putting myself in someone else's shoes, (or robe as the case may be.) I do it anyway in front of the mirror, imagine, if I am able, someone not so grey and wrinkled, so what will be different?

For a while at least, for as long as I continue to like the robe, I will be Susan. She is a bit bigger, if the robe size is any indication, (let's call it, kindly, more voluptuous, Rubenesque even) and has the daring to wear stilettos that she pays way too much for, a small price, really, for feeling sexy. Cool. I like her.

As for the book on Marie Curie, I was curious. I know nothing about Physics, dropped it my senior year in high school in favor of editing the school newspaper and practicing my Erma Bombeck monologues for Speech & Debate tournaments. My real interest is really in Ms. Curie herself, a woman who gained admission to the Sorbonne against all odds in 1891, became the school's first female faculty member, and then went on to receive the Nobel prize for isolating Radium, a deadly substance that, in the end, killed her.

I will think of Marie Curie's bravery and boldness while in my robe, while Susan, as I try to remind myself to be strong. We women have to stop and appreciate one another's strength, after all, not just try jealously to sap it as so often happens. Gold stars to women trying to be great, whatever that might mean.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Divorcee

She sat down toward our end of the long bar and ordered a glass of white wine. It was mid-morning on the Upper East Side, a weekday just before the holidays.

Her head was down or tilted slightly to watch one of the seven televisions surrounding us, until she overheard our conversation, about divorce.

She looked up then, alert and engaged. "Oh, I could tell you about divorce..." she said, and proceeded to.

"I was put out to pasture," she began. "One day, he just asked me to meet him at a hotel bar and he gave me a key to a storage space where he had put my stuff. He'd already had all the locks changed."

I somehow felt she wanted to say more.

"Why?" I asked.

She shook her head, like maybe she wasn't sure, but then answered, straight out. "He found my diaries..."

I ventured further cautiously. "So...then... did he kick you out because of something you did or something that you thought?"

She didn't skip a beat. "Something that I thought."

She had merely fantasized in writing what it might have been like if she'd gone down a different road, with a different man. That was it for him, he was done, ego blown to smithereens, unable to believe again in the pretty blonde he'd made his wife years earlier. They had no kids, just stuff, stuff and money they'd been dickering over with the assistance of pricey divorce lawyers ever since that day, ever since the reading of the diaries.

She ordered another glass of white wine and seemed to get lost in it, lost in memory and regret. I got up and gave her a gold star, which she promptly put on and smiled.

"Thank you," she said.

"I know it's hard," I said, "but keep trying."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Glow of Amber

Amber is a brave soul. She embarks on everything she does with a sense of wonder, her big eyes mirrored in the amber-colored beads around her neck.

"Someone accused me of being meta," she said, fingering the plastic baubble version of her beautiful name.

I smiled. "You are meta..."

Amber is meta-cool, meta-real, meta-hard-working. Maybe I am a bit biased. She interviewed me a while back on her great show, "Hey Brooklyn," a podcast from which she is currently taking a hiatus to focus on her new photography biz. You can find her now at

I am awe-struck by Amber's maturity and forthrightness. I hope I was as fearless and bold at 28, though I look back and don't believe I was. I did more the prescribed things, the things I thought I should or needed to rather than following my gut and just going for it, as Amber does.

It is not easy, making up one's own rules. There is no No-Rules book, unfortunately. You must write your own every day anew, as Amber is doing, try new things all the time, not because you are NOT afraid, but because you are and need to best those silly fears.

"I want to go rock-climbing," she said to me as we lunched together yesterday at S'Nice, leaning forward in her characteristic enthusiastic way, all aglow with excitement.

I gave Amber Marlow Blatt a big gold star for all her efforts, professional and personal. She held it up proudly, as well she should. She deserves a big reward.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Taking It Slow in 2011

I rang in the New Year in this idyllic unnamed location. It is dreamlike, magical, this place our good friends are kind enough to share with a group of us every year.

I slept late on the first day of the New Year, longer on the second. Ugh. The pressure of a new year, the possibilities never ending, like in the world I imagine might exist across the glassy slightly frozen lake.

But here it is, day 3, and I awoke early again as is my usual, slightly stressed for the re-emergence into the post-holiday world but ready.  It is time to try again. Today, I give gold stars to all who are getting up the gumption to get it together, to fix the things they saw as problems last year, to continue to do what worked and hope it still does, to figure a wholly new plan. It definitely doesn't happen magically with the turning of the clock from 11:59 to midnight. It takes effort, thought, faith.

I walked into a cafe in Ft. Greene today that I visited one day on a fluke, and ran into an old favorite barista from my neighborhood who had written on the chalkboard, "A New Year, a New You." I laughed out loud. The new me will have to come from my own efforts, I realize, there is no magic bullet. George Michael's "Faith" came on and I almost got up to dance. Never truer words were spoken to such an awesome beat..."Ya gotta have faith." Say what you will about the man, whatever he does in bathrooms with whomever is his business. It's a great song.

I do have faith, I believe in the great possibilities for the coming year, for the auspicious 2011. As my fearless fabulous yoga instructor, Judy, coached us this morning, "you have to remember to consciously breathe." Such a thing as that, even something so seemingly easy as breathing, like yoga or any other endeavor, takes "practice, practice, practice," she said.

Mostly what is required is something I vow to do even more of this year, to PAY ATTENTION. It is one bit of advice that has lasted the test of time, since French philosopher Montaigne opined about it in the 1500s. One must be wholly conscious to figure their own needs, the needs of others and the needs of the universe. Gold star for trying. It is the Year of the Rabbit, I'm told, a time to take it slow. Phew. That's just what we need.