Friday, July 25, 2008

What I'll Miss

It’s not a fear of change that’s kept me in the same neighborhood for 11 years, while my friends have moved to outer-boroughs, or outer space. I commute against the tide every day, uptown to the Bronx. I shop in Flushing, Belmont, Park Slope. In fact, just the other day, I bought a sausage from Arthur Avenue and barbecued it in Prospect Park.

I leave my orbit plenty.

But I’ve always liked coming home. Here’s why:
  • The high life, for free.
Every summer I enjoy a picnic and a free concert on the Great Lawn, courtesy of the Philharmonic or the Met Opera. Or I wake up at a perfectly humane hour to wait in line for comp tickets to see actors from Law & Order perform Shakespeare at the Public Theater. Or I swing-dance, offstage, at Damrosch Park.
  • The high life, for cheap.
Okay, so the summer is special. But sign up for a few of your favorite Upper West Side cultural institutions’ e-mail newsletters and you will be on your way to year-round, medium-cost, high-brow entertainment.
  • Smoked salmon.
Lox is not free or cheap. At Zabar’s, it’s $30/pound. Zabar’s, by the way, hands out coupons for Symphony Space, where I like to join the geriatric crowd for dramatic readings of short stories in wintertime.
  • Zabar’s Cafe.
Okay, so now I’ve mentioned Zabar’s three times in my post. Getting the point? But it’s not just the groceries here that I love. Good grocery stores are a staple of the neighborhood, and I was deliberately trying to avoid singing Fairway’s praises for fear that one more person will stand between me and the cheese.

But I digress. The café is where I once had a conversation with two old hippies about the war. “Today’s young people don’t understand the meaning of revolution. They don’t make time to protest….Have you tried this chicken salad?”
  • Golden-doodles.
Where else but the Upper West Side would a poodle and a golden retriever find each other irresistible and mate? Visit Riverside Park’s 72nd Street dog run to see their offspring, who I deem the neighborhood's mascot. Then make like a doodle and romp.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Stuffed a jack-o’-lantern, filed it away.

Aha! My evening activity has inspired a six-word memoir, something I have struggled to write for years.

Tonight I filed old recipe clippings in a three-ring binder meant to hold next semester’s schoolwork. For 90 minutes, I sat with a stack of stained newspaper pages, punching holes.

Over the phone last night, the “Organizing Wiz,” AKA Ilene Drexler, advised me to weed. Drexler belongs to the National Association of Professional Organizers and runs a practice specializing in cluttered Manhattan homes. I had just confessed my paper problem, and we were discussing magazine racks.

“You need to have a purpose for the things that you want to save,” said Drexler, on clipping periodicals. “It has to be something that you want to refer to in the future.”

My magazine rack currently holds the last three to six months of The New Yorker, a single Saveur dated January 2007, and various travel-related issues of T Magazine going back two years. I never reread old New Yorkers, but I like to use T’s exotic photo spreads for wrapping paper. Every once in a while, I pull out the Saveur to sigh over my dream kitchen, pictured in a photo-essay. Not lately though. It’s buried too deep.

Drexler reads home decorating magazines like Real Simple. “I pull what I want and toss it,” she said.

She also reads Mother Jones. In an e-newsletter she sent to clients last summer, she quoted two of its findings from July 2007:
  • “Magazines and newspapers are the 2nd most commonly hoarded items.
  • In 2003, a Bronx man spent 2 days trapped under his magazines before firefighters rescued him.”
So tonight, intrigued by the prospect of entrapment under the New Yorkers, I turned to the recipes. I never kept a diary, but apparently I have always kept menu plans.

I kept the menu from my sister’s bachelorette party three summers ago, a class with the Sensual Cooking Diva. That night we had mussels with saffron, chocolate fondue, and so much red wine I puked in front of my mother. I kept Luke’s favorite cookie recipe, oatmeal cherry. I kept one of the three pages of instructions I found on trimming artichokes. I kept the recipe for stuffed jack o’lanterns, which I made for a dinner party four Octobers ago. The shell was mealy and bland, so the following year I tried it with butternut squash. That was a hit. In the future, maybe next Halloween, I will pull out the binder, and remember them both.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Three Closets, Two People

Goodbye, Navid O’Nadia beige pointy stilettos. Goodbye floral flip-flops, rooster sneakers, retro Keds. Goodbye Cynthia Geist gold summer flats; I wore you well.

I cleaned out my closets today. I bagged 14 pairs of shoes, four knee-length wool skirts, three jackets, two boxy blouses, and one pair of iridescent purple pants that came out for every special occasion on the calendar my senior year of college.

That was eight years ago.
The stilettos I last wore at my friend Rachel’s wedding in 2004—also the first time I wore them. They squeezed my toes together so hard my feet looked triangular at the end of the party. Why did I keep them?

I often describe my current place as having more closets than square footage. There are four of them—big, though not walk-ins. So if you count the closet space as square footage, you could say that I have never set foot in most of the apartment’s area. I actually use one as a linen closet, something that feels old-fashioned and luxurious. It’s located in the bathroom. When I moved in, my sister suggested I use it as a “library” for all my books. I considered it briefly, but worried about humidity.

The 1-bedroom has three closets. Two in the bedroom, one in the hallway. That gives me 1.5 closets of my own, or less than half of what I currently use.

“Don’t worry about throwing stuff out, it’ll all fit!” said my generous boyfriend of our big new space. I could be lazy and listen. I could buy wardrobes or build shelves. But I know me. In three years, when we move again, I’d still have those stilettos and purple pants. And by then, what I wear now will also be outdated or holey and piled on my half of our shared closet's floor.

I stuffed the load into my granny cart and wheeled it up to Goodwill. Tonight, the studio feels spacious.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Search, Abbreviated

On Friday evening, we saw our first apartment. On Monday afternoon, we called the landlord. Today we signed the lease.

With exactly one business day between first sighting and first signing, you may wonder whether Luke and I haven’t mentally succumbed to the dog days of summer. In fact, we remain the same fastidious pair who have discussed whose shower curtain and toaster belongs in the new apartment, which stereo will go in the kitchen and which in the living room.

And that is one big living room to fill.

The apartment bowled us over from the moment we stepped inside. We marveled over its three airy rooms separated by connecting hallways, its windowed kitchen and bathroom, its thick walls with crown mouldings and herringbone wood floors.

“Those are double walnut feature strips,” the apartment’s current tenant, Katie Wallace told us. Wallace, who is in the flooring business, also showed off her “high school quality” toilet (“you can flush anything down,” she said), and three good-sized closets.

Full disclosure: We know Katie. Our coworker’s friend, she has lived in the apartment on 29th St. for two years and seemed happy to see it pass into familiar hands when I e-mailed her this afternoon with the update.

The building’s landlord, Joe Mattina, also approved of our connection. “I prefer to have new tenants referred,” he said, after we’d introduced ourselves at this morning’s meeting.

The conversation lasted four minutes. I was not reminded of the March day two years ago when I sat in my current landlord’s Midtown office discussing my father’s occupation, missing hours of work.
In fact, my blessedly truncated Astoria 1-BR search bore no resemblance to previous hunts for "Fab deals w/good lite" on Manhattan’s West Side, trailing brokers from one matchbox to the next, filling out application after application, getting calls days later that the no-fee-2 rm studio I’d hoped for had been filled by someone with a bigger salary.

Of course, there was one exception: the cashier’s check. I ate eggs for dinner tonight, as tradition has it for one who has just plundered her checking account for a security deposit.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eastward ho!

After 11 years of living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, I am heading east. Not east with a capital “E,” or east as in the Upper East Side, that foreign land of Irish pubs and Australian Ugg boots. On August 15, I will leave the shores of the Hudson and head over the East River and through the woods of Randall’s Island to Astoria, Queens.

Astoria, Queens: The land of $1200 spacious 1-bedroom apartments, ample street-side parking, and landladies that tend tomatoes and figs outside your door. How exotic! Only recently have I come to realize that my 350-square-foot, $1600 studio may not be a steal. Can I now abandon my prayers to the parking fairy, begin snacking on the foliage?

Georgia Ewen-Campen, another Manhattan transplant with a new lease in Astoria, sums up the transition as moving to a new city within one that’s familiar. “I’m kind of excited to explore a new place that I don’t know [within] New York,” she said.

The 28-year-old trans-borough New Yorker—Ewen-Campen also lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn for two years—laughs now when she thinks about her initial fear of crossing city lines. “It’s funny to think of how unsure we were moving to Brooklyn,” she said of her first move out of Manhattan five years ago. (She returned for grad school in 2005.) Now, many of her friends make the daily commute into Manhattan from across the East River.

So I suppose my journey across the Queensborough will follow a well-charted roadmap. I’ll also have a seasoned guide.

“You’re going to love the pace here,” my boyfriend Luke, a four-year resident of Astoria, has maintained. As we’ve plotted our cohabitation over this past half-year, Luke has introduced me to the pleasures of lazy Sunday lunches at the Il Bambino panini joint, home-cooked octopus dinners from the Greek fish markets, and jogging under the night lights at Astoria Park. To him, the place has a laidback “European charm…not counting the fake Greek columns and plaster of Paris.” It’s still Greek to me.