Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's Happening Now

I'm in Brooklyn, sitting on the couch with Kip's cats, who are doing that typical cat thing: putting all their energy into ignoring you. Kip is still in the bed, snoring a bit, sometimes sounding like he's drowning--not a lovely sound, but I'm used to it, and that's comforting, in some way. I'm eating a bowl of cereal and trying to decide if I should watch the new episode of Project Runway, or the Real Housewives of Atlanta--this TiVo is a gay fantasia.

The weather is turning. Or I should say, the seasons are. Fall is my favorite time in New York, and I always look forward to the evenings spent walking around the city, feeling a bit chilly, the air filling your chest. And Fall has the best clothes--yay for looking cute again!

Do you know My friend Peter turned me on to it. It's designer labels for practically pennies, and I am addicted to it. I don't really buy much--I have bought one shirt and one pair of shoes--but every day at noon, some new crop of clothes goes up and people rush to see how they can spend their money. This week, there was an Alexander McQueen western-style shirt with this really interesting piping and a yoke that looked a bit like the squiggly bracket. It was $300 on Gilt, retailing for $1000. I didn't buy it. Sometimes its a good thing that I'm poor.

Today we're meeting some friends for brunch--I officially hate brunch, refusing to pay $20 to eat an egg or two and lukewarm side dishes that I could prepare better myself at home--but I'm learning how to order better, and I like to see my friends. This evening, there's a benefit party/concert for Circus Amok, starring a cavalcade of singing and honking wonders. I look forward to seeing everyone.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A New Kind of Movement

I started biking to and from work on Monday--from Astoria to South Williamsburg. Already the novelty has worn off....okay, not really. But biking quickly becomes just work when you are commuting--one can't read a book and bike, not in this town. However, I'm noticing how different the movement is from anything I've experienced in the city in the last 12 years. This is perhaps something that other people would have considered before riding their bike inter-borough, but not me. It didn't occur to me until it was happening.

The scale is different. I like to walk everywhere, if possible, and I'm used to driving the huge syrup van around town for Greenmarket and other random syrup deliveries. Walking, of course, is slow. It becomes about the pavement, about the storefronts and the other people on the street, weaving in and out. Driving is this other beast, about the other cars on the road, about braking, about using force of will to make lights and other drivers do what you want them to. Biking is some kind of hybrid of the two. You're moving much faster than walking, but your scale is generally the same. So the disconnect is new for me. A new speed, at a new scale.

Where you look is different. I find myself looking--aside from the road and the cars and the people--in this middle distance, just about the second and third floors of buildings. That, and the open space above smaller buildings. Somehow, for me, biking gives New York City a new kind of spaciousness. Or, perhaps by traveling through it in a new way, it gives you a new response. The city is alive like that.

Plus, you arrive at work stoned on endorphins. I sit at my desk sort of mesmerized by all the things around me--stapler, pencils, paper clips, scissors--looking at the objects as if they are alien, as if I could never figure out their intended use. Scarfing down breakfast, gulping water and Gatorade, staring out the window at the subway train rumbling over the Williamsburg Bridge--so small, tiny people reading and checking their voice mail.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 10 of 10

Day Eight: Departure

We take the bus to the airport—only three Euros, compared to what would have been a fifty Euro taxi ride. There are empty rows here and there on the plane, and everyone spreads out. The flight passes pleasantly: more Woody Allen, more delicious wine “from the Olympic Airlines cellars,” whatever that means.

A few days later, I’m talking to someone who asks where I’ve been. “I was in Greece,” I tell her. “With my boyfriend.”

“That’s amazing,” she says, “What role did you play?”

For a moment, I am wondering why this person, who I don’t know that well, wants to know the specifics of my sexual proclivities. “Oh, no,” I realize, “Greece, the country. Not Grease, the musical.”

“Sorry,” she says, turning red. “But wouldn’t that have been something?”

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 9 of 10

Day Seven: Santorini/Athens
The morning is insanity. The airport in Santorini is small and crowded, as you would expect, with lines of passengers spilling out onto the sidewalk. Inside there are a dozen Chinese women buying refrigerated sandwiches from the small kiosk, and on the roof are tables where everyone is smoking. Although we all have assigned seats on the flight back to Athens, people crowd against the doors to the tarmac, then cram onto a lumbering bus, which rides us out to the plane itself. People rush, again, to board.

After about thirty minutes, we’ve landed in Athens, dumped into a choked mess of traffic and angry drivers—it takes almost two hours to get to our hotel. Kip and I are rattled by the speed of Athens, after having been downgraded to the lull of Santorini. We throw down our bags and walk quickly to the Archaeological Museum, only a few blocks away, and after discovering that they are open later than we previously thought, we step into a coffee bar across the street to eat bad sandwiches next to two loud smokers.

Athens needs a better museum. The artifacts here are some of the oldest, most extraordinary objects in the history of known history, they are the tiny beginnings of what we know about culture and art and democracy—at least in the West. But the building is old and badly ventilated, and at the most basic, very unpretty to look at. I think they should build a room for the Elgin Marbles, which were stolen off the Parthenon and now reside in the British Museum in London. (Here, they are called the “Parthenon Marbles,” naturally.) The Greeks should make themselves ready for their return, I think, and maybe in the new Acropolis Museum, they have.
Kip implores that we choose a contemporary restaurant for dinner, enough of these “taverna” type traditional places with all the same food over and over. I agree. We look to our guidebook for a new restaurant, something younger. Dare we hope for something gay?

Cook Coo Food is buried in a neighborhood that feels like the East Village—with rock show posters for bands called “Gods of Blood,” “Drunk Motherfuckers,” and “DeathWram”—I realize now that the neighborhood we stayed in before was more Upper East Side. The walls of the restaurant are decorated in blown-up photos of sign language letters, a hundred hands and fingers all along the walls. From the ceiling hang chandeliers that look like silver crowns spotted with fake roses—very gay. We order the tomato fritters, which the witty menu has listed as “Santorini’s favorite!!!” They are fantastic, the freshness of the tomato covered up, briefly, by the hot crunch, and then the cool touch of mint. Kip orders a roasted pork thing with feta and potatoes, and I have a vegetable coconut curry. On the walk home, we find a pastry shop with a freezer full of tiny ice cream pops—pale green, as big as your thumb, for only pennies.

That night, I have a dream about someone I went to high school with—Pearl Hwang, of all people. She and I are driving my car around some nameless town, and in the back are all these electrical cords that I know connect to some matching set of vacuum cleaners, somewhere. Then—the way things happen in dreams—they are stolen. Then the police come. And, turns out, Pearl is undercover, and she takes down some details about where I’ve been, even though she was with me in the car the whole time. In the morning, I tell Kip about the dream as he brushes his teeth.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Things I Keep Meaning to Say

--Sean, I promise I'm getting to the whole "childhood corkboard" stuff. As you well know, I've been inundated with "real work" in the last two months, so I have been lazy about taking photos and, like, putting them into the computer. Are there cameras that just beam the photos into the computer now? Without a cord? I'll have one of those, please.

--Who wants a 3D drawing pad, complete with a pair of glasses? You draw your drawings just like regular on the pad, then look at it through the glasses and shazam! Anyone?

--I'm not normally one of those people who goes on about "OMG, can you believe it's the middle of August already?" But did you realize that, OMG, it's the middle of August already?

--Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking. Watching Kathy Griffins show where she has meetings with Random House has been really interesting. They don't seem to enjoy Kathy's dick/vagina/hymen jokes. Did they forget who they gave a book contract to? I realize that Kathy is most likely turning the volume up for her own show, and thus maybe the Random House people are feeling a bit like their time is wasted...but did they really not laugh at Kathy's desire to put a picture of her flipping to major birds on the cover? And did the designer really say "It might not play well in Wal-Mart in Kansas." Who do they think her audience is? Why are they always so serious?

--Publishing things makes writers happy. There, I said it.

--Some books are just not for me.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 8 of 10

Day Six: Santorini

“We have one,” the woman says, when we inquire as to whether the rental car agency has a vehicle with automatic transmission, “and we will bring it to the hotel.” We pack bottles of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, reading materials, and bananas—which have never looked more out of place than they do in the Greek Islands. Minutes later, we’re off, headed down to the southern end of the island, to see the ruins at Akrotiri. They are closed for the year, some kind of archeological work that is too sensitive for roving tourists. So, we sit under an umbrella and stare out at the ocean. I commit a grave sin, and strike up a brief, lively friendship with one of the street dogs—everyone stares. The local bus arrives, and people pour out of it, carrying beach towels, bags, chairs. We watch them walk over the rocks, along the shore, and over the hill in the distance, to the beach.

Red Beach is so-called because of the volcanic mud that makes up the high cliffs. The beach is short, and not crowded, all tourists from around Europe. We stretch out on our towels. I plug my headphones into my ears, and crank up a Kaki King bootleg. A while later, it’s hot, and I get up go dip myself into the salty sea. The water is cold, but soon I’m comfortable, waving back to Kip on the beach. There is some kind of feathery, papery stuff in the water, maybe some kind of seaweed, and later I find my pockets filled with it. We lay there a while longer, baking, sweating, feeling good.

A pack of Australians, fifteen or so, perhaps two or three families, come walking down the beach, headed back to the parking area. Among them, is a shirtless young man, maybe twenty or twenty-one years old, barefoot, the hair on his arms and head bleached by the long hours in the sun. He finds something interesting in the cliffs above me, and standing only about six feet away, pulls his camera out of his pocket to take a picture. He lifts his arms up, stretching the full length of his body upward, the slope of his hipbone slips out of the top of his wet shorts, the patch of hair in his armpits darker, a tuft of fur dipping down from his navel, disappearing into his waistband. For a moment I’m dizzy, lost in the body of this gorgeous, splendid creature.

We drive through the winding roads of the island, never quite getting lost as much as re-thinking the route—you can basically see every in every direction at any time, so the map quickly becomes unnecessary. At Kamari, we eat lunch, peeking into more souvenir shops, watching couples cuddling each other on the beach. Then we drive the full length of the island, along a stretch of slightly treacherous-feeling road, to the northern tip, to the town of Oia. There, we park, take pictures, stroll down the walkways. I decide that my parents should take a vacation here, and pick out the hotel I think I’ll make them choose.

A few weeks prior, my friend Josh told me that we had to eat and stay at the Windmills in Oia. “It was one of the most romantic places I’ve ever been,” he said. He implored me, begged me to go, with a kind of serious desperation, holding onto me when he said it. I felt charged with whatever had happened to him there, whatever deep and meaningful things he encountered, as if my ability to re-create those same encounters was crucial to confirming that Josh’s experience had been real.

We didn’t find them, and I haven’t told him.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

How to Be a Good Customer: Lessons from a Syrup Slinger, Vol. 3

"How to Be a Good Customer: Lessons Learned from a Syrup Slinger" is a blog series that emerged from my years of experience selling maple syrup at the Union Square Greenmarket. The mission of this sporadic, multi-part series is to teach the citizens of New York how to be polite, intelligent, interested consumers, without acting like imbeciles.

Lesson #3: What, Do You Think We're Dragging our Minks through Monaco?

A woman came to the stand yesterday and opened with "I don't want to pay that much." Seriously, that was her answer to my initial "Hello." She seemed to think that she was the one who decided the price, with this carefree whoop-dee-do about it.
She wanted a gallon of syrup. "I'll take one of these for forty-five," she said, just like that, case closed. "I'm sorry, I can't do that," I said. Then she said the thing that people say when they want to be assholes: "Well then, I'm going to talk to the manager."

People who say this are often disappointed to discover that 1) We are not like the grocery store, where one dude is in charge of all the aisles. Hello, each stand is its own entity. 2) I am the manager, and you're not getting your gallon of syrup for $13 less. 3) The Greenmarket managers could give a shit.

Let me just say this. If you think that prices at the farmer's market are inflated then you're an idiot. And if you think that the farmers and their workers are living it up, renting penthouses in Vegas, downing bags of blow and laughing their asses off because you were foolish enough to pay--$8 !!--for that eight ounces of syrup, then you need to get over your sad-sack miserable-me of a self.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Letter from Greece, Part 7 of 10

Day Five: Santorini
After filling ourselves with the hotel’s breakfast, we walk up to the old capital city of Thira, through all the tiny alleyways and staircases. We look through every store, selling every kind of plastic, ceramic and glass crap they were selling back in Athens, plus millions of Euros in very nice jewelry—Gold Street is the main drag. Something about seeing the same trinkets over and over makes you want to buy them; you start to think you’re missing out. For hours we walk, sipping fizzy drinks with labels we can’t read, eating sticky bricks of baklava, and, as Kip says, “other shapes of baklava.”

We amble down the long, donkey shit-covered walkway to the base of the caldera, and the ocean’s edge. Donkeys are a popular, if sort of novel, way to get to the city from the base of the island, which is a very steep climb of about 220 meters—and their dry, stinky droppings are everywhere along the stairway. A Carnival Cruise boat is anchored in the distance, and there is a skirted table where two men are handing out hot towels and tiny cups of water to the fat ladies waiting to get back on the boat. This strikes me as such a fake way of traveling.

The cable car whizzes us back up to Thira, and we continue walking. The view is exactly what we imagined when we had planned this vacation weeks prior. We stop at a small café and order glasses of local wine, which is served, according to the menu, with “an assortment of Greek delicacies.” The delicacies are: two cherry tomatoes cut in half to make four pieces, four olives, and four slices of Persian cucumber—a feast! The wine is fabulous, and we order more, becoming rather drunk, and making confessions about our past—freed by distance, perhaps. The waiter has a question mark tattooed behind his ear, using a small brown mole as the dot.

Finally, we walk back to the hotel to bathe and change clothes. Then we end up somewhere in Thira at the Volcano Restaurant, where the waiter demands that we eat their signature dish “Lamb Volcano,” which is pungent with garlic, onions, and dill, served with some kind of shredded cheese in a clay pot—delicious. Then we eat more tomatoes stuffed with rice, raisins and pine nuts. Then I eat a huge plate of squid. Later, we walk back through town sucking down scoops of chocolate gelato.