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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Nesting And Leaving It

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Cleaning has always been one of the things that keeps me calm.  Especially the sorting-and-decluttering kind, where you finally grab that big jumbled heap of whatever that’s been growing in the corner and you sort through the whole thing and decide that This Thing Shall Go Here and That One Will Go There, and then when you’re done everything is all magazine-cover neat and orderly.

I was even this way in the theater – part of every stage manager’s job is establishing the “prop tables,” which are tables or storage spaces off in the wings where the random hand-held props and do-jiggies are kept during the show.  But it’s not enough to simply have a table for stuff – you need to mark out the exact spot on the table for each object, mapping out little paddocks for each thing with masking tape and labeling what is meant to be placed in each spot.  And woe betide the actor who used my prop tables for non-prop things – there’s a few actors who’ve had to sheepishly come and ask me to give them their book or wallet or what have you back after I’d spotted it on my prop table and confiscated it.  (“Dude, that spot is for the feather duster, not your coffee.”)

People would tease me about my diligence, but they’d also tease me about seeming a lot more calm overall once I’d set up the prop table.  And they were right – this kind of order does make me calm, and always has.  At home as well.  There’s something grounding about it, especially when other parts of your life seem given over to general entropy; your love life or your job status  may be beyond your control, but dammit, at least your spice rack is totally organized.

But lately my organization efforts have been a little different.  I still sort and categorize and such, but I’ve been doing a lot more discarding.  A lot more.  I’ve packed two big boxes full of random crap that I’ve accumulated over the years, and have just accepted I will never use – gardening tools for houseplants, crafting tools, all of the “I’ll use that for something someday” stuff.  A couple months ago I did the same with a whole shelf of cookbooks, a few weeks after that I did that with my clothes, and I’m getting the urge to do that with my pantry and some other bookshelves.  Some stuff I’ve finally just gotten around to using – like the big backlog of fancy soap and bubble bath (what the hell was I not using it for, I wonder?) – and I’m leaving that space empty rather than buying more.

I’ve been wondering at that over the past couple months, wondering if it was a sign I was embarking on some Zen minimalist phase or something.  But then I started thinking about the travel I wanted to do – that’s a big goal this year, is to start getting out on the road more.  I’ve always used a lack of money as an excuse, but recently I’ve identified that as an excuse – there is nothing stopping me from making travel a priority for the money that I do have coming in, even if it’s nothing more than a day trip upstate.

A few days ago, though, I noticed the word choice I’ve been using when I think about traveling – “I want to make room in my life for this.”

A-ha.

I’m even more motivated to shed some of the stuff now – on some level I suppose it’s been what’s been holding me down from flying.

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Yawn

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Nothing can make you feel older than having to sleep in until 2 pm on the afternoon after a ribald adventure the night before.

And that is all I am going to say about that.

Spoiler: I Didn’t Redecorate The House

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I got a bit of a tiny shock Friday night – nothing serious, no children died.  But enough to give myself permission to stay in all day Saturday bouncing back.  Years ago, I saw a Bloom County strip where Binkley opined that “when life kicks you in the tush, best just to stop and soak it.”

And strangely, I did have a plan to do just that – a bubble bath sometime Saturday after my roommate, who’s got an early morning church singing gig, had turned in.  And there was a time when I would have indeed just spent the whole day watching TV or reading or surfing the web, a little too cowardly or stung to do much else.

But after a couple hours, I got really bored and figured what the hell, let me tackle the disorganized mess that was my knitting corner; I corralled random skeins into more of an order, gave up on a couple projects and exiled the yarn back into storage, and dug out a couple more projects I’d put on hold.  And hey, while I was at it, let me clean my room – particularly by cleaning a pile off a chair I’ve started to use as a dumping ground.  Tuck a few books away that were cluttering things up.

And then I peeked into the hall closet.  Unlike most New Yorkers, I’m amply blessed with closet space – two hall closets, including one walk-in closet that a friend declared was big enough for me to rent out as a third bedroom.  It’s not got any windows, though, and no one in their right mind would take it for that – but it certainly could be more than the disorganized “I don’t know what else to do with it” staging area it’d become.  I pulled everything out, sorted it into piles, sized up the available shelving and got critical of my hoard (some of the twenty spare shipping boxes went out the door, but I held onto the spare Swiffer mop that I didn’t even know I’d had) before neatly tucking it all back away.

I even managed to find an entire actual shelf, a slab of white particleboard just sitting there that was the right size for the short bookcase I was using as a bar cabinet.  Complete with brackets.  Out to the bar I went, where I weeded things out as well (if I couldn’t identify the contents of a bottle, out it went) before slotting the shelf into place, and moving a tea set onto it as well so I didn’t look completely like a MAD MEN extra.

I’d actually been wanting to give this set pride of place – a good friend’s mother passed away about a year ago, and he’s still going through her things, giving them to people he knows would value them.  And thus I got a striking set of tiny black teacups and saucers; I’d splurged on a black teapot bedecked with poppies, that sort of matched.  But I’d thus far only unwrapped one cup and saucer.  That shelf finally spurred me to unpack the whole set, discovering my friend had also included a creamer and sugar dish, and even some loose tea in a tin painted to look like a little English pub; all of which are now neatly and proudly out on display.

And then I celebrated by making a few pots de creme, spiking them with the tiny slosh of brandy I’d found left in one bottle (so I could ditch it), and then brewing some “English pub” tea in a black cup before settling down to finally finish piecing together an afghan I’ve been working on since last May.  And by the time my roommate finally turned in and I was going to take that bath….I felt too good to bother.

For The Record: My Roommate Is Indulgent

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So the onset of this year’s Allergen Storm, combined with the fact that it’s gonna rain all Saturday, made me resolve to give a few spots in the apartment a really good clean.  I mean, I doubt that’s the cause – the very nature of the dust has most likely not changed in the past 36 hours – but it can’t hurt, right?

But then I also thought that “while I’m at it, lemme finally get those corkboard tiles so I can unfold that New York map and use it as a ‘places I want to visit’ thing”.  And then “Ooh, I should also get a map of the world and do the same thing with that.” And then “hey, while I’m vacuuming behind furniture, lemme switch around those weird short bookshelves and see if I can use them better.”  And then “hey, I bet I can come up with a better way to organize my travel souvenirs and even display them in some way.”  And then “You know, I should take down that weird wall-shelf thing that’s right by the front door that we keep bumping into.” And then “oh, hey, I bet I could put a letter and key rack there.”  And then –

And what I’m trying to say is that “I think I need to vacuum the living room more thoroughly” has turned into “I am redecorating the entire house.”

Snarl

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The weather’s been sufficiently warm this week that whatever I’m allergic to has finally kicked in, and I had a massive sneezing fit and had to break out the air purifier.

At 3 am this morning.

And then on my way into work, the temperature dipped again, and it started snowing.

This winter can go screw itself right in the ear.

Shunning Plastic Paddys

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My very first trip to Ireland was when I was 19; it was during St. Patrick’s week, and my friend and I were both just barely into college.  She is the oldest of five, and was still living with her parents; she still had some classes to attend the week I was there, and the rest of her family, parents and brothers and sisters all, had discreet but intense custody squabbles (in Irish, so I wouldn’t know) over who was going to get to play with me while she was in class.

One day it was her father and her younger brother Donal.  They brought me to Blarney Castle, where her father kept persuading me into a series of staged photos – kissing the Blarney Stone, “looking for fairies” on the grounds, and the like.  Meanwhile, Donal was a very witty and snarky boy of fifteen, so he would periodically throw in wise-ass comebacks to some of my questions.

But I did see Donal get serious once that day.

After visiting the castle, the three of us went to browse in the gift shop, where they had a big collection of the kind of tat you can probably find at any “Irish import store” in the states – shawls, sweaters, linen hankies, and a whole wall of china emblazoned with shamrocks in different configurations.  We’d split up once we hit the store, and I kept wandering, hoping to find some kind of unusual something.

After about five minutes I noticed the music they were piping in – a series of chirpy perky choral Muzak arrangements of songs like “How Are Things In Glocca Morra” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling.”  Exactly the kind of music that made me roll my eyes back home.  I tried to keep it under wraps, though – hey, for all I knew that was okay here.  But every so often the music would switch to something even more corny and I kept glancing up at the speakers in dismay.

Donal must have noticed, because after about fifteen minutes he came up to me with a grave look.  “I just want ye to know,” he told me earnestly, “this is the sort of music that embarrasses us.”

Neighborhoods New York: Sunset Park, Brooklyn

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Sunset Park is a neighborhood of people who are really just trying to go about their lives.  It’s not necessarily got any “landmarks” as such, save for people trying to hit up some of the cheap restaurants – taco places on 5th Avenue or banh mi on 8th – or the park that gives the neighborhood its name.  But for the most part it’s just people trying to be there.

The neighborhood’s cheap rent has been drawing Asian and Latino residents for years, and the neighborhood now has two different “main drags” – 5th Avenue is home base for the Mexican and Dominican residents, with signs all in Spanish and lots of signs in windows hawking calling cards.  Every other block has a tiny café selling tacos, and a few storefront churches and even fewer botanicas are tucked amid the shops alongside the cellphone stores.  A few blocks east, 8th Avenue is where you’ll find Brooklyn’s answer to Chinatown, with banh mi or dumpling houses replacing the taco stands.

I visited on a winter Sunday, and both streets were packed – mothers shepherding kids into and out of stores, young couples on dates, a few people heading up the hill towards Sunset Park with sleds in hand.  Small knots of crowds stood outside both of the big churches on 4th Avenue, and outside the big dim sum palaces on 8th Avenue – I was tempted to venture in, but suspected I’d be waiting an hour for a table and kept walking.  I did brave the crowds at Fei Long – a huge Asian supermarket I’ve been shopping at for a couple years now, stopping in every couple months to stock up on the harder-to-find ingredients for when I want to cook Japanese or Southeast Asian dishes.  Lots of New York supermarkets have their little shelf of Asian ingredients – Fei Long has an entire aisle just devoted to noodles.

At some point the crowds on 8th had me so claustrophobic I ducked over to 9th Avenue for a few blocks just to escape.  The side streets and smaller avenues are almost empty, but it’s also where you see the most “ordinary” stuff – lawn ornaments flanking stoops, decorative decals in windows, conversations between neighbors.  A couple of the buildings I passed still had red-and-gold banners framing the doors, holdovers from the Chinese New Year.  On another block I passed a building whose owner had an obvious love of cows – there were cow figurines in the windows, cow lawn sculptures in the little front garden, and two mailboxes festooned with cow heads and black spots.  On another block, a car pulled out of its parking spot as I passed, and a young couple suddenly burst out of the neighboring building, the man sprinting further down the street and the woman dashing to hold the vacated spot until her husband could move their car closer.

The crowds actually kept me away from Sunset Park itself.  I did walk past at one point, smiling at the crowds of people on sleds and inner tubes coasting down the park’s huge hill – the park boasts one of the highest points in Brooklyn, and crowds of people were heading there after a late winter snow, ready to hit the slopes.  A few too many people for my taste, though.  But I’d heard instead about another new park along the waterfront; I ventured there instead.

At first that felt like a huge mistake.  I had to cross underneath  the BQE overpass to get there, racing to beat a couple of streetlights both ways.  The last couple blocks before the water were nothing but warehouses, nondescript big blocky buildings sporting signs with names like “Global InterNation Imports” or “Fong & Sanchez Wood Ltd.”  There were no windows, no doors, and no people.  And no upkeep on the sidewalks, unfortunately –  every few feet there was either a huge patch of icy unmelted snow, and a few feet beyond that were big sloppy puddles of slush and water, ankle-deep.  Sometimes you’d find a spare board thrown over one puddle for people who wanted to pick their way across.  The walking was still bad enough that I head into the street in a couple spots, glad of the abandoned roads.

The park was tucked within the old Bush Terminal complex – an abandoned industrial park with warehouses and factories and shipping terminals nestled on the waterfront.  The park is part of a major renovation and overhaul, with the city working to make over the factories and warehouses into arts spaces and lofts, with a few small businesses already having moved in.   I passed by an old cafeteria building on my way through the complex, one sign listing the hours of operation and a sign right beside it declaring it closed.  An awning over the door bore a single word in Greek.  Next to that was the old terminal headquarters, now home to the park’s office – the headquarters still bore a statue of the terminal’s founder, one Irving Bush; as I passed, a husband and wife were taking pictures of the sculpture as their son occasionally pelted them with snowballs.

And just past that was the park proper – and near-total silence.  A jogging and bike path ran along one side of the park, a straight in-and-out loop; but a far more interesting path skirted the water’s edge, leading out along a pier stretching into the harbor and then up a hill perched on another spit of land.  Flocks of seagulls and terns huddled in the bay between the two, picking at whatever cracks they could find between the huge ice floes finally breaking up after the winter’s cold.  I walked to the very end of the pier first – the wind off the harbor was cold and strong enough that it felt like my own breath was involuntarily sucked out of me.  But at the very end of the pier was a bracingly clear view of southern Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and I lingered as long as I could stand the wind before heading back in to scale the hill, hoping to get an even better view.

And it would have been a fine one if I’d been able to get to the very edge of the landspit.  But the very tip was given over to a nature preserve, a big chain-link fence protecting a plot of land dotted with trees and brush, and the occasional bird rustling in the undergrowth.  I kept following the path anyway, heading back down the hill towards another path along another tidal pool where a flock of seagulls were all fishing in the thawed surf; in the bushes just to my left a sandpiper followed alongside me, stopping every so often to watch me.

And at some point I realized that the wind was the only thing I could hear.  There was no car noise – the streets were nearly abandoned – and I couldn’t even hear the sound of the nearby trains.  The freighters in the harbor were also strangely silent.  Aside from the occasional faint shouts from a group of boys playing in the ballfield across the park, it was nothing but me, the gulls, and the wind.