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Monthly Archives: February 2015

My Fate Is Sealed

I’d already been thinking that this weekend was going to be devoted to a thorough examination of my wardrobe, especially since my roommate is going to be out at rehearsal all day Saturday and Sunday.  And then, last night, he gave me an Old Navy gift card as a birthday gift.

It’s on.

Natal Day

So, today is my birthday, and I’m pretty much not doing anything.

I hadn’t really planned much for the day anyway – Wednesday is a pretty weird day to celebrate as it is.  I did try getting together friends for something on the weekend instead, but one friend has a new romantic entanglement they’ve been swept up in, and everyone else is going out of town; money’s a bit tight right now, so I planned a nice hike for myself this weekend instead.  And as for today, I was just going to go to work like normal, and maybe stop off somewhere for a drink on the way home, but that’s it.

However – every so often I get hit with insomnia out of nowhere.  And – last night was no exception.  I lay there as midnight rolled over into my birthday, and then watched as 1 am and 2 and then 3 rolled by.  Trying everything I could in the interim – getting up and watching something inane on television, reading, having a big drink of water, cat videos on YouTube.  No dice.  It was 3:15 when I finally dropped off – only to wake up at 6:30 when my alarm went off.

Fortunately it was an easy day at work, and I could “maintain” through the day.  I’d hinted subtly to a couple people that today was my birthday, so I had half an eye out for some kind of surprise cake – but nothing.  Instead, there were a couple of ridiculous problems to sort out with a faulty printer and packing for an office move, and that took enough out of me that when I was done I just retreated to my corner to monitor email and stave off the fatigue; by the end of the day, the idea of doing anything but going straight home made me itch.

So. Home I went, feeling ancient.  All I wanted to do was reheat some leftovers, get into cozy jammies and watch inane TV until I passed out.  Still, I came through my door feeling like I was somehow letting myself down – it was my birthday, after all.  I should be doing something to Mark The Occasion.

But then I thought of something.

Forty-five years ago – on my actual birthday – I was probably not in much mood to socialize that evening either.  I’d probably not got much sleep – I was born at night, so my mother was probably well into labor in the wee hours of the morning, which no doubt was keeping me awake.  I was being kicked out of the only existence I’d ever known, which probably felt chaotic and ridiculous, and I was even having to relocate.  And probably on top of all that, when I finally got into my new digs I was probably spanked a couple times, then stuck with a couple needles, had ink smeared on my foot and a weird plastic thing put on my wrist – not to mention also clothes, for the first time ever – and thrust into the middle of a room full of total strangers.  If I’d been verbal by that point, I probably would have wanted to flee to a quiet corner, telling everyone to “leave me the everloving hell alone”.

So this is perfect – I’m not having a lackluster birthday, I am observing it in the way I did for the very first time.


The Sartorial Question

I’ve not really ever had good clothes-fu. Or good makeup-fu or hair-fu for that matter – I’ve got a really low bar for myself when it comes to overall appearance; generally, if I’m not inappropriately naked and I won’t frighten children, I’m good.  My poor mother was baffled by this when I was a teenager – she was always trying to pull me back into the house every school day, pleading, “just a little color on your cheeks, maybe?” and she recently confessed that she’d daydreamed about having mother/teen-daughter bonding over clothes shopping trips, and been a little disappointed when I wasn’t into that.  (She’s gotten over it by now.)

In fact, one of the things I loved about my current day job is that it was actually okay to wear jeans to work.  Prior to this, I’d been suffering with a half-assed “business casual” in a finance job – but business casual in finance is a little different from business casual anywhere in the world.  I actually once got taken aside and told that a cotton dress I’d worn to the office a couple times was “too casual” to keep wearing.  It was an inch too short, I guess – or, more likely, it was obviously inexpensive.  So I had to abandon my thrift-store shopping and try to save up for the rare one or two pieces of things that I could afford, and work them to death.  I wore the same few pairs of pants and shirts and tried to accessorize as much as I could, but it still felt oppressive.

Now, though, I’m working in a non-profit, and people are regularly turning up in jeans and funky scarves and cozy sweaters and cute hats and wild necklaces and I love it.  I ditched the boring shirts, threw away whatever threadbare or itchy pants I’d tried to make do with, and dug out my jeans and indulged the inner hippie that I’d always had; wearing basically what I wear anyway on weekends when I’m going out for the day, but all the time.

Recently, though, the office underwent some remodeling, and the Presidents’ Office suite got moved to brand new digs.  And as a result, my boss and I had to move with them, just yesterday.  I turned up in my by-now-standard jeans, cardigan, and a plaid shirt I picked up this fall when I was in a bit of a Phase.  And I looked around as I was unpacking – and saw that the new office has all the administrative staff in a more open pool in the middle of the floor, and everyone else was wearing either skirts or nice pants.  And everyone else coming in would see that I was in jeans.

I’m going to have to up my sartorial game again, I fear.

It’s still a damn sight better than finance – I don’t have to be in as much of a cookie-cutter lockstep (the Chief of Staff was rocking a miniskirt a few days ago, and I’ve seen another admin show up in a poncho over a denim dress), but Jeans All The Time just isn’t going to cut it any more.  Today I tried to hack something with a sweater, khakis and an artfully-draped scarf, but…I still feel like it’s obvious this is exactly what it was, which was something pulled together at the very last minute.

Fortunately my birthday card from Mom and Dad included a bit of a windfall, so I can splurge a bit and buy a couple of things on the weekend.  But that still means figuring out what to buy, that walks that weird fine line between work appropriate and…bohemian.  Yet comfortable.  But inexpensive.

Now you see why I don’t like mucking about with clothes usually.

Edited to Add, One Hour Later –

Holy crap, guys, I just remembered something that is going to simplify things for me tremendously.

Okay.  See, the biggest problem I have is remembering what I have when it comes to clothes. I have tried playing around with my clothes before, trying on different shirt-pants-scarf combos and seeing how they all work, and discovering things I’d never thought of before.  However, I then end up forgetting about 65% of what I’ve just tried on and fall back on my standbys.


About a year and a half ago, I did a silly “explore the neighborhood” scavenger hunt thing sponsored via Atlas Obscura – it’s what prompted me to apply to work there, in fact – and I ended up winning the thing.  And little did I know, the grand prize was actually a camera.

A Polaroid digital camera that can instantly print out pictures. So I could do something like, say, try on a bunch of things and take pictures of the best ones, and print them out and stick them to my closet door or something – so I’ll remember what I have.

Yes, I realize this means that I need visual aids to dress myself, but you haven’t met me before I’ve had caffiene.


I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

…for a moment inspired by the Oscars last night.

My roommate is a singer and voice teacher working towards his Ph.D. in vocal performance. He came back from a rehearsal midway through the Oscar broadcast last night, and hurriedly shed his coat and settled in to watch.

And then at about 11 pm, this conversation happened:

SCARLETT JOHANSSON: And now, to remind us of a few of “our Favorite Things” from The Sound Of Music, here is – Lady Gaga.

MY ROOMMATE:  (eyes boggling) WHAT???

I really wish I’d had a camera on hand to catch some of the looks that were crossing his face as he watched.  Although he did say midway that “…she is good, though….” But then when she stumbled on the very last note of “Edelweiss”, he did wince.  At some point he noticed I was live-blogging his reaction to some friends and he grumbled, “hey, don’t tease me, I teach this shit, remember?”


I’ve spoken before about one way that food grounds me.  But I’ve always been something of a foodie (is it any surprise that I live in Brooklyn, now that I think of it?); when I was young, and there was little to do, my friend Lisa and I would sometimes bake things.  Usually we were at Lisa’s house – she was just across the street, and more often than not our brothers had already laid claim to my house.  Lisa’s mother was also really indulgent about mess and patient with us making mistakes; if we cooked at my house, my Mom was usually hovering in the doorway watching us nervously, but Lisa’s mother usually just checked the recipe really quick, then asked us if we remembered how to use the oven, if we knew how to work the fire extinguisher, and then would retreat to another room entirely or sometimes even leave the house, warning us to call if we needed anything.  And except for one very ill-fated attempt to make her parents breakfast in bed (I completely misunderstood how to work a coffee maker and created a messy, but wonderful-smelling, flood) we usually did okay.  There were a couple of occasions where we overcooked whatever cookies we’d thought up and things started smoking on the cookie sheet, which sent Lisa and I charging around the house waving towels to dispell the smoke “so no one would know”; her mother must have noticed something, but kindly held her tongue.

But that gave me a sense of ease in a kitchen, which has been an absolute blessing. If there’s some food I’m curious about trying, and I don’t have the means to buy it elsewhere, I just shrug and look for a recipe.  Even if it’s supposed to be something complicated and fiddly – the recipe tells you what to do, right?  So what’s the problem?  And even if you make a mistake, unless you completely ruin it, the food will still be edible, so just eat it like you were going to – you’ll be fed, and you’ll have learned what not to do.

This kind of shrug and well-why-not attitude has let me teach myself how to cook a lot of kinds of cuisine – Cajun, Italian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, French, Irish, Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern.  I can make my own ice cream, make cocoa from scratch, bake fancy cakes for tea or big gloppy desserts, I DIY my own lattes, and friends say that my take on jambalaya is better than some they’ve had in a couple of the city’s restaurants. I’m prone to roasting an entire chicken just for the sake of having the carcass left over so I can make stock.

This translates really well into entertaining, fortunately. For a while I would have monthly buffet-style dinner parties at my apartment – really casual things where people could just show up whenever and there would be something to nibble.  Everyone always turned up at the same time anyway so they could get their hands on all the food. Even so they were still sometimes impressed by how much there was of it – one day I had a whole assortment of tapas, and my friend Patrick just sort of looked at it all, then turned to me and said, “so you just….sort of whipped all of this up?”  I nodded.  Patrick had been promising me a home-cooked meal of his own at that point, and after another look at my tapas table he turned back to me and announced he was rescinding that offer.  The spread got even bigger when I co-hosted with my friend Richard – we used to have viewing parties for The X-Files season premieres, and I would unofficially move in with him for the weekend and we would have a two-day orgy of planning, shopping, chopping, baking, stirring, blanching, poaching, stewing, and whatever we needed to get everything ready.  Once we did an entire ten-course Thai meal from scratch; there were so many platters on the table that we had to serve people picnic-style on the floor.  One of our friends gaped when he walked in and saw it all, then turned to us and said, “guys, you do know that most people just do beer and pizza, right?”

Cooking for myself is almost more difficult, because my instinct is so much more suited to Going Big – huge pots of soup, huge batches of casserole, entire chickens, six-pound pork butts.  Which you can still do as a single eater, but then you’re stuck eating the same thing for a week and a half and you end up wanting to scream uncontrollably by day six.  On the other hand, it does lend well to brown-bagging lunch to work.  In fact, sometimes I’ll spend a whole weekend cooking a huge assortment of dishes I can keep in the fridge ready to be dipped into for packing in the morning.  Especially in summer – one of the Moosewood cookbooks I have is nothing but an assortment of hearty salads and soups, perfect for keeping chilled in tubs in the fridge and ready to be doled into containers to go to work; I wake up, pick a couple, pack and go.  And in the summer, being able to open the fridge and eat without heating up the kitchen is a boon.

My roommates are usually indulgent when I get like this – for a day or so the coffee table is piled with cookbooks while I Plan My Attack, and then I spend a day and a half in the kitchen and they instinctively keep clear; and then the fridge is jammed full of tubs and bowls and boxes of Things, and space is at a premium.  Fortunately my current roommate, Paul, has a singing gig in one of the city’s church choirs and is usually out of the house for the whole day every Sunday. Which clears the way for me to do a whole pan-Asian spread – a soy-poached whole chicken, stir-fried bok choy, salads of shredded carrot with either seaweed or tuna (or maybe both), matcha cupcakes, and I may even make my own onigiri and keep them in the freezer ready to go.

…Yeah, I know. Some people just do beer and pizza.

I Need to Apologize To The Academy

A few weeks back I told you that I was going to try to see all eight of the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars.  But that ain’t gonna happen.

With a couple films I was just too late – Boyhood and The Theory of Everything look like they’re already fading from theaters near me.  Just as well for Boyhood – I’ve heard good things about it, and the filming technique is impressive, but it kind of feels like some strange form of fanfiction version of the 7-Up  documentary films.  And as for Whiplash – I was pleasantly surprised to see it got nominated, and I like J.K. Simmons a lot.  But – I went to an arts program in college, and while none of my teachers were anywhere near as cruel as his character is, when I was a much more sensitive miss of nineteen, it felt like they were, so I suspect that Whiplash would probably send me under the theater seats in a fetal position within the first 20 minutes.

…And then there is American Sniper.

I really, really didn’t want to see this one.  I’ve been really conflicted about seeing any of the films that deal with the Iraq/Afghanistan/War On Terror conflict – even Zero Dark Thirty, which had a pretty finely-tuned focus and was pretty unflinching about the bad side of the CIA’s behavior, had me uneasy.  But the past thirteen years (God, has it really been that many?) have made me really averse to any kind of jingoism and compulsory patriotism – and that’s exactly what I’m afraid I’d feel here.  I want to go to the movie to see a movie, not propaganda.

And I know that that’s not the point of the film.  Clint Eastwood has said that the film is really about “what war does to the people left behind”, and Bradley Cooper has said that the film was more about the government’s neglect of returning veterans and has said that people who have a problem should “redirect their attention to the leaders who put them there in the first place.”  But that’s precisely it – I have been speaking to the leaders who put these soldiers there, and have been doing so since October of 2001.  It’s just that back then, the leaders ignored me, and everyone else standing around me told me I was “un-American” or that I “wasn’t supporting the troops”.  These men were going to war for me, didn’t I know that?  My city had been attacked, and these men were rushing in to defend me.  I should feel grateful.

But I never asked them to.  Only three days after the attacks, I told a friend that the profusion of people waving flags had me uneasy “because it’s usually only a matter of time before people waving flags start waving flags at someone”.  And sure enough, within only a few months we were sending people over to Afghanistan, with only the vaguest idea of what to do, and a couple years after that we sent people to Iraq on completely trumped-up pretense.  And those of us who tried to object – those of us who tried to persuade the leaders sending them there that no, we didn’t want this – were shouted down and told to be quiet and accused of being unsupportive, and the rest of the country turned up the war movies and the country songs and waved the flags and yellow ribbon car magnets at us, and people like Chris Kyle ended up getting their lives destroyed as a result – and over and over people were telling me that he was acting in my name and I kept saying but no, I never wanted you to do this in the first place, and nobody listened.

So no, despite what Clint Eastwood claims, American Sniper doesn’t feel like an anti-war movie to me – it feels like yet another lecture about how I should be grateful that I received something I never asked for in the first place and have been trying to give back for over a decade now.

…then again, maybe I should break into a theater showing it this weekend and figure out if there’s a way I can splice some Tom Waits in between reels.  Maybe that’d finally get me heard.

The Big Birthday

If you have a birthday in late February, like I do, sometimes it falls near either Chinese New Year or Mardi Gras.  My 39th birthday was so close to Mardi Gras, in fact – it was the day after –  that I decided that was as good an excuse as any and flew myself down to New Orleans.  And hell, I’d observe my birthday on The Day itself.  Who knows, Mom probably went into labor then; it should count.

I actually started reaping the city’s largesse a few days earlier, when I first arrived – after two days, I’d already accumulated five pounds of parade throws, including a cuddly stuffed doll I sent to my best friend’s daughter (who shares a birthday with me).  Some of that swag came from a pair of Japanese girls who’d stood in front of me in one crowd, screaming and cheering and catching as many beads as they could – I was hanging back, as I’d already caught plenty at that point, but they saw me beadless behind them, and spontaneously both draped fistfuls of their beads around my neck before turning back to the parade for more.  A gloriously drunk young man tried to offer me some of a cocktail he’d mixed up in a flask (I can’t remember how I dissuaded him).  I got a jar of spice mix as a lagniappe from a spectacular bookstore run by the friend of a friend.  And after striking up a conversation with a cop (I was asking him for a lunch recommendation), he gave me a set of official New Orleans P.D. beads – they’re blue and have a little model squad car dangling from them – and he even gave me a ride back to my hotel later.

I’d been to New Orleans once before, so I’d already hit a lot of the big sites – I was going more for the party and the food.  I’m not a huge drinker, and – as I joked to friends – turning 39 meant that I was old enough to know you can buy yourself some damn plastic beads, so there would be no flashing parade floats, thank you very much.  But what I didn’t know, until I got there, is that there’s another separate birthday custom – you declare your status to everyone by pinning a dollar bill to your shirt.  And in New Orleans, a dollar bill on your shirt means three things happen:

  1. Everyone knows it’s your birthday, so strangers are wishing you “happy birthday” all day.
  2. The bars in the French Quarter all comp you your first drink.
  3. Periodically, strangers will also add money to what you’ve pinned on to your shirt.

…Let me remind you, I was observing my birthday on Mardi Gras.

I hit the famous Zulu parade first thing that morning, and even managed to get one of their coconuts by pleading “it’s my birthday, see?”  Then after a picnic lunch with friends – during which I even got some birthday cake – I head into the French Quarter for the real mayhem, with a new friend I’d met in the hotel as my “date”.  I’d been picking up the occasional dollar bill here and there, but just before the Quarter we stopped into a bar and I got my first free drink – and a gushing birthday wish from a woman who looked like she’d been there since ten that morning.  “It’s your birrthday! Yay!” she slurred.  Then she raised her pint glass, and toasted me – with the kind of grave dignity that you only find in the very, very drunk: “Any day you wake up alive is your birthday.”

My date and I spent the whole night in the Quarter, but managed to hit up only about three or four bars – pushing our way through the crowd was just that complicated, and four bars was plenty.  I got the occasional extra cash from passersby, free cocktails whereever we stopped, birthday wishes from all who saw me and even picked up a feather boa from a bathroom, draping it grandly around myself before joining my date.  I also got a few strings of beads tossed to me from strangers on balconies.  But I was having a good enough time just watching the huge swell of people around us, listening to the music spilling out of every bar mixing with the music coming from a few musicians on the street just playing for the fun of it, flirting wildly with my date.  At some point we split up a bit – I stayed put in one bar while he ventured into the crowd for a bit longer, and I ended up literally dancing on a bar top, doing The Time Warp with three girls from Minnesota.  “I can’t believe you know how this dance goes!” they kept saying, and I was too full of drunken good will at that point to say that “uh, it tells you how to do it right in the song…”  My date joined me back in the bar just before midnight, and together we watched the storms of mounted police officers sweeping through a moment later, driving the crowd ahead of them and urging them to disperse.  At the end of the day I’d made ten dollars, hadn’t had to pay for a drink all day, and my date and I celebrated a bit in our own fashion back at our hotel.

Best birthday ever.


I swore to myself a long time ago that I was never going to do that thing where you’re at a restaurant and you take a picture of your food and then put it on the Internet.


This, right here, is what I got for breakfast today at a cafe around the corner from where I’m staying in Philadelphia.


That, my friends, is a plate of pancakes with slices of whole strawberry and with brownie batter swirled in. And what you can’t tell from the picture is that, since the brownie batter needed a slightly longer rate of cooking time than the pancake batter, the brownie part was still slightly gooey.


Conversation Between Kim and A Cabbie, Philadelphia, February 13, about 8:30 pm

(I have run off to Philadelphia for the long weekend, and am en route to my home stay.)

Cabbie: (in thick Slavic accent) excuse me – do you know when is this Valentine’s Day?

Kim: tomorrow.

Cabbie: Ah. So tomorrow everywhere is chocolate and flowers and love and sweethearts.

Kim: Yup.


Cabbie: And what should other people do?

Kim: …We can still go out and have fun for no reason at all.

(The cabbie laughs uproariously at that for the remaining five blocks of my ride .)

Traveling Down That Solo Road

I think I’m aging out of my stoic travel habits.

My author profile over on Atlas Obscura boasts that “I stay in hostels by choice”; and I have indeed stayed in a lot of hostels, usually due to budget. But honestly, the mixing-and-mingling that happens in hostels is worth it; you’re all thrown together in the common room and you see someone with a cool souvenir and you ask about it, or you’re in the common kitchen and they ask you where you found shredded cheese, and you end up talking just because you’re from two completely different places and it’s cool.  I had a fabulous conversation about theater with a London cabbie while we were both in Philadelphia, I bonded with a Norwegian geographer and a Belfast mathematician over the dinner at a Yosemite-area cabin; a woman from Australia tipped me off to a gelato-making class in Florence, Italy; and a chance question in the lobby of a New Orleans hostel landed me a date during Mardi Gras.  Sometimes the conversations happen right in your room – one morning in London, all four of us in my dorm room woke up at the same time, and during our introductions we learned that among the four of us, we represented four completely different continents.

But that “dorm room” part has lately started to get on my nerves.  I’ve been to London twice, and stayed in the same hostel both times – the second time I was in a much larger dorm room, with a revolving cast of characters taking up the twelve available bunk beds in the room.  For a few days we were bunking with four girls from Madrid, who all had enormous suitcases which were too big to fit in the rooms’ lockers – so they simply left them bang in the middle of the floors.  And every time they had to fetch something out of a suitcase they unpacked everything, spreading it out on the floor, and lingering over finding whatever t-shirt or socks or whatever, so the rest of us had to do a sidesteppy tap-dance around it all to get to our beds.  I admit to whistling a sea shanty when they finally left (“Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies….”)

I ran into a similar problem in the first stop on my next big trip, to Rome – that time, it was four men, who invariably did everything as a group – they would wake up as a group, all four loudly unzipping suitcases and digging out towels and shampoo and soap and trooping back and forth to the dorm showers, then all four loudly coming back as one mass, zipping away their bags and heading off to breakfast together.  And then by the time I’d finally blinked fully awake myself and was just about to dress in peace, they’d all loudly come back as one mass, unzip all their suitcases again, unpack and repack things in search of whatever guidebook or bag they needed, then zip everything away and take off again.  Followed by another mass group upheaval in the room after lunch and another after dinner before heading out, and then another late at night when they came back to bed down again.  One night I’d come back to the room early for some spare down time, and a woman who’d just arrived accidentally dropped something as she was unpacking and apologized profusely – I told her not to worry about it and swore she wasn’t disturbing me.  She kept asking if she was bothering me as she unpacked and settled down for the night herself, not trusting when I said that she was fine.  Then a half hour after she settled down herself, the Spanish Armada came back in for their usual round of unzipping and rezipping.  I watched her watching them; and then, seeing her disbelief, I wrote a quick note and brought it over to her – “Now you know why I said you weren’t bothering me!”  She read it and laughed; and then we just sighed, and retreated to our own beds.

That’s just sort of par for the course in the hostel dorm rooms, though.  and I thought of it as part of the hostel experience.

Until Florence.

I’d splurged for a private room in that hostel – it had a few more private rooms than average, and it was just a little bit more than a dorm room. Why not, I thought?


I still had the socializing going on in the common rooms, but – in the room itself, I could turn the reading light on whenever I wanted, even in the middle of the night.  There was a computer right there in the room, so I didn’t have to fight for one of the community ones in the common room.  Instead of trying to carve out a spot for myself on the windowsill, I could put any of my things anywhere I wanted – water bottle, books, slippers, robe, anything.  I could shut the blinds in the morning, or open them to a brilliant full Italian moon.  I could even, believe it or not, go naked in the room and no one would know.

And now that I’ve traveled like that I can’t go back. I’m making a return trip to Philadelphia soon – home to one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in – they have free bikes, friendly staff, and are in such a remote part of Fairmont Park that it’s as if you’re in the middle of the woods – I shared my breakfast with a rabbit in the yard one morning, and one night some guests reported sitting on the porch and watching three deer wander out of the woods nearby and walk right up to the porch.

But those charms are just not measuring up to the possibility of having my own bed in a room all to myself, my own bathtub just for me, my own key, my own kitchen, my own space.  It tripled my budget, but this time I went with an AirBnB stay rather than a hostel.

I’ll still use hostels in bigger cities where I’ve never been before, I’m sure.  Or smaller places where the odds are good that the rooms will be smaller.  But I think I’m getting old enough that I simply will not skimp on certain kinds of creature comforts.