Wednesday, February 29, 2012

This is New York: Show Your Teeth

"You know… I want to quit.  But I wanna use more than I wanna quit."
 He stared at me with hands outstretched. Then Richard looked towards the ground and folded his arms over his chest, contemplating the next sentence with a persistent tapping of the foot.  

“He’s given me enough rope to hang myself, but I haven’t yet. So He must want me for something.”

I grinned.  We’d been talking for about 15 minutes. “Want some soup?”
“Nah… no soup. Still have any hot chocolate though?”
“Yep. Follow me.”

We left the florescent belly of Penn Station and broke free into the night air. Homeless men and women lined the entrance of the building, some speaking, some silent. A church from Virginia was passing out food. I joined them for the evening to help with their goal and to catch up with friends from home.

But there was one thing I noticed.

These people? They were all… smiley. I mean sure, I smile. But not really when I’m walking anywhere within 100 yards of Penn Station. Our visitors to the city though… they didn’t mind smiling one bit. They weren’t tired or apathetic and that jaded sort of mind-set wasn’t leaching away at their thoughts.

It made them vulnerable.

These people? They stood out. And not in the “I-like-her-outfit” kind of way. And not in the “He-knows-the-best-spots” kind of way. They stood out in the “They-must-not-be-from-here” kind of way. 

And then, I hated to think that something as simple as smiling is so foreign to city life that it becomes odd, or worse forgotten. I’m sure beneath the headphones, and layers of clothes, and bags of necessities, and bags of nonsense I’m still quite capable of a perfectly good smile to a perfectly great stranger.

Now of course, there are reasons we don’t smile and reasons why the city changes us (because it certainly does – no argument there). But then again, sometimes we must regress to go forward. Sometimes we must remember something from the “before” to ever advance to what’s next. After all, didn’t it once work for us?

Richard stood next to me. “I think I’ll go to that shelter in the Village tonight.” He sipped his hot chocolate and smiled.
So did I.
And I even showed my teeth.

(Editor’s Note: Richard’s history was a long and complicated one of drug abuse, clean streaks, and darkness. But he was a delight to talk with, and I’m very grateful he shared bits of his story. I don’t know what happened to him after that night, but he certainly reminded me of the beauty within the idea of perspective.)

I'd smile at that. 


Monday, February 27, 2012

Poor in New York: The Intern

This is the NY intern. Notice the expression of concentration on his face as he labels eight orders of Starbucks coffee.

Judging by his tie, I think it’s safe to say our Intern Boy is not in the publishing business. In fact he’s probably busting his butt through the left-brained world of finance or accounting.

Thus, in the future he will be making triple my salary.
Thus, I will offer minimal sympathy for his perplexity over the coffee order.

But we’ve all been there; we’ve all done that. It’s a humbling part of the rat race that everyone should experience. Then one day, when we're wealthy or successful, we’ll be dining out at Cipriani and smoothly say to our neighbor, “Remember that time when….” And they'd laugh, and we'd laugh and then we'd both sigh in nostalgic disbelief at our past circumstances. 

…Or we’ll be working at Starbucks.
I mean, either way.
At least we’d be working? 

We’d probably be happier "freelancing" at Starbucks anyway. 


Friday, February 24, 2012

Aren't We Lucky?

Broken shower, roommate shuffle, doctor’s appointments, grad school classes, and overtime work hours. Despite being a crazy past two weeks, here are some random reasons why I’m loving this city right now:

1) The fruit cart man remembers me. Yes, I’m excited. Yes, I will ask to work there again.Yes, that might be one of my favorite city moments. 
2) My paycheck finally arrived. Screw you, ramen noodles! Oh how fickle we may be when money is involved in the grocery list.
3) The subway stays open all night. Sure, this is something I’ve always known. But after visiting DC (which the rest of, by the way, was fabulous) and realizing other cities do not have the same system… Just call me grateful. You can also call me a fool because I had to cab it back to Maryland.
4) It was 55 degrees today and it’s February. So why not take lunch in Central Park? And maybe a coffee break as well?
5) I wore a pink wig around Harlem with a friend simply because I could.
And that was certainly a memorable experience.

Happy Friday people. Please enjoy those weekends.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Driving Through the Night

There’s a clicking noise to my left.
Someone’s phone is unabashedly interrupting the non-silence.
They talk.
It’s a different language, with perhaps a handful of English words jumbled into the overall prattle.
And all the while, a line of red lights is stretched before me, dotting the darkness like a landing strip for arriving planes.

Despite being surrounded by strangers, there is a familiarity to this. The crooked positioning of my neck, the gentle to sudden force of an unknown foot tapping overworked breaks – even the lighting. Shades of yellow and green leave playful sepia tones on the quiet faces of the resting and restless.

I feel both very old and very young when traveling on the road at night.

Forgotten moments of childhood creep into my mind with the passing miles. There are memories of cassette tapes and CD players, or bumpy highways that made your nose itch while napping on the seat of a bus. The oncoming wave of white headlights brings an oncoming wave of longings you’d hoped for as 14-year-old sitting in the backseat of your parent's SUV. “Where are you going to go?”

Some of these dreams have undeniably already been dashed, while other ideas are only just blossoming into full-fledged possibilities, as countless as the white lights on the opposite stretch of highway.

And maybe I only feel old because I so acutely remember being young. Late night drives and summer evenings with the windows down take me back to something previously enjoyed – though in fact, this phenomenon is still quite relevant! I can still smile at the darkness with breezy curls wrapped mercilessly around my head, laughing at God only knows what. I can still obtain that feeling of being infinite, stretching myself over the open road, eager as a shadow at dusk.

We drive through the night for a reason.
We travel through obscurity for a cause.
We are determined.

To get somewhere, to do something, to be near someone – whatever your reason, we are determined to accomplish a task. Whether that goal is to beat boredom or to complete a far nobler mission, there is a purpose non-the-less.

I like having a purpose, or at least an objective. I like chasing taillights and watching for the oncoming headlights of something great. I even enjoy spotting resurfaced ideas once lost on the road long ago. 

And most importantly... I like driving through the night to touch both the present and past in one accelerated motion towards what’s to come and what might be.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Poor in New York: Five under $5

Last August I blogged about several bars, shops, and restaurants that offer deals at $5 or less. It seems about time for another roundup so without further ado, here is your I’m-cheap-in-the-city menu to live by:

Breakfast: While the Brooklyn Bagel will always reign supreme in my mind, I’ve found a few bakeries outside of Astoria that will curb your carb appetite. Ess-a-Bagel (with locations at 51st and 3rd or on 21st and 1st) has been serving NY since 1976. The line is always long, but for $3-5 you can have a meal that will hold you over for hours. 

Lunch: If you’ve truly had enough slices of $1 pizza, not to worry. Head over to Gray’s Papaya on the Upper West or in the Village. You can buy two hotdogs and a 16 oz. drink for $3.99. Or – for the big spenders – chicken strips, fries, and a 16 oz. drink are all available for $4.95. 
(PS – I never said this was going to be a healthy post… At least you’re walking a lot.)

Snack: For the mid-afternoon munchies, try the CafĂ© Habana takeout on Prince and Elizabeth. Their specialty is “Grilled Corn Mexican Style” and cost only $2 per ear.

Dinner: Souths is a restaurant that was passed down to my current friend group via the old rulers of this city. Every now and then we would venture into this Tribeca bar back in 2009, ordering one thing and one thing only: nachos. Yes, they’re $10. But you HAVE to split them, making the bill about $5 each. And I have no doubt that between piles of cheese and guac, you’ll also try to mumble, “these are the best nachos ever.” (Editor’s Note: The Why Blog does not take responsibly for any of the possible after effects of this dish.)

Dessert: If you happen to be near Chelsea Market, Ronneybrook Milk Bar has a glass of milk + 2 cookie deal for $5. Or while strolling through Soho, hit up the new Georgetown Cupcakes shop for treats at $2.75 a piece. And if you really want to dig around for an authentic NY dessert, I’m sure you could find a cannoli or two for less the $5 in Little Italy.

Best of luck my foodie friends.

Souths New York Nachos. I mean... that's pretty incredible. 


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Holiday Treats to Try: Nutella Bread Pudding

Today's post is in honor of... nope! Not Valentine's Day. Well it could be if you'd like it to be... That's fine too. But I'm truly dedicating this one to Alice Ricks. Happy Birthday my dear! You get a whole holiday to yourself. 

The following recipe was passed around the office via email a few months ago, and I totally wanted to test it. Simple enough, and involving Nutella, this bread pudding is easy to make and versatile. I’ll give you the basic recipe – and then you fly with it.

3 large croissants (best if 1-2 days old)
1 cup Nutella
1/3-cup pecan halves or pieces
2 eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4-teaspoon salt
1/2-cup powdered sugar
Serving size: 4 – 6 depending on pan. Recipe also doubles easily. 

Step 1: Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.

Step 2: Slice the 3 croissants lengthwise, like shown below. Cover one half with the Nutella spread. Then place the halves together to make a sandwich.

Step 3: Cut the croissant sandwiches into 2-inch pieces. Remember this is not a science. Don’t fret – some pieces will be bigger than others.

Step 4: Place the pieces into a pan, and then add the pecans to the top. I used a 9.5in x 9.5in pan, but the originally recipe called for a 10in x 5in loaf pan. See what you have that will fit all the croissant pieces, and take the size into account when baking. But we’ll discuss this in a few minutes.  

Step 5: Add the eggs, cream, salt, sugar, and vanilla extract into a separate medium-sized bowl. Whisk together until the liquid is fully mixed. This will be your custard.

Step 6: Pour the custard evenly over the bread pieces. Then use a fork or your finger to gently push down the bread into the liquid so that it absorbs the custard.

Step 7: Cover with aluminum foil. Let the dish bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Next, remove the foil, and place the dish back into the oven for another 10 minutes. Here is where you should use your own judgment. Possibly because I used different pan sizes, my bread pudding cooked at least another 5 minutes in the oven uncovered. 

Step 8: Let your Nutella Bread Pudding cool, and then sprinkle a little leftover powdered sugar on top.

There are a ton of things you could add to this recipe. I put cinnamon and brown sugar on top of one of my bread puddings, which then made me wish I’d stuck some chopped green apples into the croissant!

On that note, I’m digging in.
Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Birthday Alice! 


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Poor in New York: Retirement Plan

When I was working at Bloomingdales, I was considered a full-fledged employee. This meant I was entitled to certain benefits, as well as an “investment plan.” Eventually I left the retail world and moved on to the next job sometime last summer.

I forgot about my “retirement plan.”

Apparently, my money has been sitting in an account somewhere, waiting to be claimed. Since I’ve never really thought about an extended vacation, much less retirement, you can imagine my surprise when a check was sent to me from Macy’s financial services.

Yes, my retirement money has arrived.
My 401(K) is waiting to be spent.
My financial planning has really paid off. 
Or maybe I should save the money? You know, make a little interest.
But then again, what's the fun in that.

So guys, it looks like I might be able to buy lunch one day this week. Dollar-a-slice pizza on this money-making gal.  

I think it's safe to say I have a few more years of work left in me.  


Monday, February 6, 2012

Poor in New York: Super Bowl Style

Alright. So my team lost.

I know, I know… I live in New York, I’m supposed to support the Giants, the Rangers, the Yankees, the Jets, the Knicks… and even the Mets.

Well maybe not the Mets.

And I would have supported those Giants, had it been any other Super Bowl. But you see, the Patriots and I go way back. In fact we go back to 8th grade when my mother made me pick an NFL team so that “I’d like football.”

And I picked them because I saw them help an opposing player off the field in 2002 (I know... a very factually-based decision on my part).
And then I got really lucky.
In fact, I was so lucky I think my mother was secretly furious I’d picked a continuously Super Bowl-worthy team while the poor Redskins were blown to smithereens.
(It’s okay Mom. One day they will rise again).

Unfortunately this time, we lost.
C’est la vie.
Let the streets of New York riot.
I just simply cannot join in.

But here’s the thing…
Who is the real winner in this situation?
The Giants, I suppose.
But also…


 Congrats New York. Third time's the charm. PS - Don't you love these Microsoft Word photo editing skills? Yeah. 'Bout that. 


Friday, February 3, 2012

My Lunchtime Side Job

“Can you please watch my cart? Five…  may-be 10 minutes?”

I’m standing on the corner of 53rd Street and Madison, taking in the glorious mid-day sun from a freak heat wave that has engulfed our city. Quickly flipping through the emails on my phone, I don’t at first realize this plead is directed at me.

“Miss? Please? Can you watch my fruit cart?”

“Oh… uh. Sure,” I say with a shrug. It didn’t really occur to me until after I’d accepted this request that it was, in fact, an odd one.

New York is full of street vendors, food carts, and traveling salesmen (usually of the illegal variety). But never have I been asked to participate in this culture from the selling perspective. Laughing at the situation, I plopped down onto the leather stool and began to twirl back and forth, catching my high heel on the subway grate underneath me.

Well this was fun.

I must have looked a little odd. The typical outfit for a desk job is not quite what most fruit salesmen would wear. I don a dress… they go more for the tee. These street sellers also are not usually women. Nor do they often wear heels. (Please note: While the last two irregularities would often be considered redundant, that is not the case in New York City.)

“Can I buy an apple?” a man asked.
“Oh! Uh… sure. What do they usually go for?”
“I donno. Aren’t you selling the fruit?” he says with a bit of a laugh.
“Well, kind of. You see this isn’t really my fruit cart.” I stop twirling on the leather stool and stand up. Business transactions should be conducted eye-to-eye.

“You mean, someone just left you in charge of the fruit?”
“Eh… more or less.”
“I’ll give ya a quarter.”
“That’s fine with me. I’m not really trying to turn a profit here.”

As the man walked away, I began to truly grasp the humor in my circumstance. Was I actually selling fruit on a street corner during lunch? How did this even happen? What if an old boss saw me? Now that would have been just too enjoyable... 

“Uh yes, I’d like to buy some bananas,” says a voice to my right. I look over to see where the British accent is coming from as a middle-aged man stares at me quizzically. 

“Are you always out here?” he said in royal-like enunciation.
“No… actually the man who sells this stuff had to step away for a few minutes.”
“So he just asked you to watch his fruit??”
“Yes, pretty much,” I respond.
“Oh my God. Alright, well I’ll take 3 bananas.”
“Okay, but I’m not sure what he sells them for…”
We look for a sign. “Ah, 3 for a dollar! That will be one dollar, please.”

The guy straight up laughed at me  (I was laughing at me too) as I handed him a plastic bag. Next I took his money, just like you would at any old grocery store.

But as he turned to leave, disaster struck my fruit cart!

Somehow his coat became entangled in a small container of blueberries. The plastic box bounced to the ground and exploded onto the cement.

“Dammit to hell!” the Brit said. “I’m so sorry!” He bent down and began to place the berries back into the container (which looking back, was rather odd considering I couldn’t sell them anymore anyways - have to be honest with my costumers!).

I peered around for a moment, looking for the original owner of the cart.  He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Phew.

“Oh it's okay. It’s not really my fruit.” I say with a small smile, rolling the blueberries with my foot into the subway grate.  The fruit plummeted to its death, never to be seen again.

I mean, what would you have done?

The British man stands up and chuckles. “Good point.” We then began to roll all the blueberries into the subway grate, looking a bit foolish, but satisfied with the cover-up of our fruit murder.

Overall, I sold about $4 in food. The salesman came back and let me keep 50 cents plus a banana for my efforts. I told him maybe we’d do it again sometime soon. He laughed. He didn’t understand me… but he laughed.

And that was the time I sold fruit in New York City.