Thursday, April 27, 2017

Our Trip to Havana - Jenna Style

Just got back from dodging babies on the streets of Havana. It's not a sight I'm accustomed to, toddlers striding purposefully down the sidewalk that close to midnight. Some are off to the ice cream shop. You have to hold the door because these shorties can't reach the handle. It's easy though. You just pull open the door and they saunter right under your arm. 

Don't get me wrong, it's not like munchkin city. But once you say "excuse me" to a member of the under-5 set like you'd say "excuse me" to any fellow pedestrian you almost tripped over, your worldview scrambles just a little bit.

We were very busy in Cuba, and I mean even beyond Mission Mojito, which I think we won.

Upon arrival at our Air BnB, I spotted a packet of papers tucked between some magazines on an end table. It was a print-out of a Powerpoint presentation, clearly left by someone who stayed in our room before us. Upon review of said print-out, it struck me as odd that the packet had no business-class report cover or binding-- only one sad staple, upper left. 

Check out this cover art:


The Cover of the Cuba Deck left in our Air BnB

Realization: This must be the back-up copy. No way the serial obsessive who pulled together this caliber of Cuba Deck would forget something this pivotal. She'd have picked up the oversight in her ten-point departure checklist.

Hot Tip: If you show up in Cuba with no real plan, and no one in your party has much of plan either, be sure that Jenna has stayed in your room just prior to you and left behind the back-up copy of her 20-page itinerary, complete with maps, phone numbers and instructions for what to do in case of emergency.

It was nice to recall what our Air BnB looked like before
Tom hung his running underpants up to dry.



These maps were an excellent add, Thanks Jenna!

Another geo-location angle. Air BnB is spelled wrong though.
Two points to Tom for noticing and HA HA HA gotcha on that detail, Jenna.

We were not on this flight.

Generally, persons exhibiting this kind of thoroughness cause me to pass out from lack of oxygen, but I grew to love this person, we'll call her Jenna because that's actually her name. When stalking someone's itinerary with the diligence that we applied to the effort, there's a great chance you'll run across a name. Or you can pump Claudia, the walking tour guide, for the info.






Jenna had planned a busy first day with a walking tour, salsa lessons and dinner at a fancy restaurant. I could only get the restaurant reservations a few days later and the walking tour guide could only fit us in the next day.
We decided against the salsa lessons in favor of more mojitos.

If only we'd gotten our hands on Jenna's itinerary before we left stateside, we could have saved ourselves $3 a minute making arrangements. We also might have learned ahead of time that you can't bargain with the taxi driver after you're already in the taxi.


Each day's itinerary was followed by several pages of handy maps.
I love a handy map.

We were unable to get a reservation at El Coccinero. What a pisser.
We did not take the *potential car ride* because we were unclear as to the purpose or destination.
Luckily, there were mojitos.

Google driving directions are a nice touch.

Close up of the destination, the intriguing Factory of Art.
If I understood Spanish, I would have had a fighting chance of understanding
the performance with the men in leprechaun masks. But I kind of doubt it.


We did a few things on our own because we're not total stalkers who can't be left to our devices for one afternoon. We went to Hotel Nacional and attempted to get onto the roof deck, for example. We took the elevator the whole way to the top floor and wandered down a corridor of guest rooms asking the maids how to get on the roof.

Turns out, there is no roof deck at the Hotel Nacional.

I sort of blame Jenna for not going there and printing out a map of the available amenities. I mean, everybody knows the place is a fucking landmark.



I felt more secure knowing where the embassy was located.

We were not on this flight.

We debated possibly heading over to Dave's place in Miami.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Say what? (English Language Conversation Hour, Part 2)

Last week at English Language Conversation Hour, a lovely twenty-something from Puerto Rico was in my group. She said she was having trouble with a word. I said hit me with it.

“Bitch,” she said, enunciating very clearly.
“Mmm, I think you got it,” I replied.
“No, no,” she said kind of frantically. “I don’t mean bitch. I mean like ‘It’s really hot today so I was thinking of grabbing my bathing suit and my sand bucket and heading to the bitch.’”

We spent about ten minutes of me saying “BEEEEEETCH” and her replying “BIIIIIITCH.”


Finally, I suggested she might want to skip 'the bitch' and just go with 'the shore.’ Discretion is the better part of valor and there are worse things than sounding like you’re from jersey. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Tale of Three Rats in the City


So what's new with you, Rat?

At Uncle Bob’s birthday dinner, someone asked what was new with me, and I said I’d just seen a remarkably huge rat galloping down 51st street. The rat swerved out of a garage, covered some quick ground and vanished through a hole under the door to someone’s office. It was the size of a herd animal, this rat. It was big enough to harness up and plow a field, which could have major implications for sustainable micro-farming. 

Because the family is generally okay with inappropriate dinner conversation, Sue remarked with some remorse that she didn’t recall any personal incidents involving a rat. Not to worry, I have plenty. My all-time favorite was the one in the 2nd Avenue F-train stop. 

We looked down the subway tunnel and saw a newspaper billowing in the air, coming toward us. Odd, because there was no wind. At all. It was one of those sultry nights where the still air becomes a Petri dish and the smells of the lower east side blossom into their full glory.

Anyway, this flapping and billowing newspaper got closer and closer. Finally, we saw the rat. A rat had a corner of the newspaper clamped between its tiny jaws. It was hauling ass down the tracks like some kind of zealot charging into battle in the name of the NY Post. 

How interesting, nodded everyone around the dinner table. Mark buttered himself another piece of soda bread.


But wait, there’s one more really good one. Last fall, Tom and I were walking up 7th Avenue. Sprawled in the middle of the sidewalk was a rat. The rat was dead. And someone had, with great care, placed a blue baseball cap upon the rat’s head. It was one of those things you stumble upon (literally) and like five blocks later it occurs to you how peculiar it was. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

We make good on Xmas Gifts-- Taking the Niece and Nephews to the Lion King

Ella wasn’t hungry and Jack said he would only eat a hotdog. Only a hotdog. Mark was hungry and so was Tom but Seth and Mary were not hungry. So we canceled our lunch reservation at the place across the street and walked to the closest hotdog joint - Chelsea Papaya. 

In a wild coincidence, Chelsea Papaya occupies the exact former location of my grandfather’s furrier manufacturer business. So we felt right at home, even though the furrier manufacturers lost their lease sometime prior to 1950. We ordered a vat of deep fried nitrates. Turned out, Jack didn’t want a hotdog at Chelsea Papaya. He wanted a dirty dog from a midtown food truck. 

At the bar table by the window, Uncle Tom played a fun game called “talking about the tourists on the sidewalk but not pointing at them.” It’s harder than you’d think. With no need to waste valuate time eating anything, Jack practiced holstering his finger for the duration of our stay. Unfortunately, he takes after Grandma Tan in the finger department, so he needed the extra time.

Holster that finger!
At Chelsea Papaya.

Back out on the sidewalk, it took us something like two hours to walk 20 blocks to the Lion King. We stopped eight or fourteen times for bathroom breaks, water, tea, coffee, a bag of nuts, M&Ms, a small amount of fruit from a fruit bar and a greeting card. I only bought the greeting card because we were waiting for Jack to pee in Whole Foods and I knew we were looking at logistical and distance delays. Finally, Jack got his dirty dog on the corner of 40th and 7th Avenue. I’m sure it was delicious.

The Lion King is a big show. Big. The kids didn’t know what to do with their eyeballs. Red damask wall paper, red carpet, chandeliers, high ceilings, windows overlooking Time Square, a huge huge curtain across a massive stage. An orchestra with a conductor. Drums in alcove in the wall. 

Row H at the Lion King. Great Seats!


Row G at the Lion King. Great Seats!

Despite Jack’s tiny hieny, he took full advantage of his entire seat. Cheeks to the left, to the right, up, down, two bounces. Repeat. 

Ella stuck her face between the seats in front of us. Luckily a little kid was up there so she didn’t breath on anyone’s neck.

Meanwhile, I was at full medical alert. If the lights flashed, I needed to slam my palm across Jack’s face. I hope the people sitting next to us knew Jack had a concussion. Otherwise they probably wondered why every now and then my nephew found himself in a headlock. There were a number of unnecessary pre-emptive strikes. This may or may not have caused my occasional attacks to appear random and very odd.

As we were walking out, I asked Jack what he thought of the show. He was mostly fixated on the standing ovation. Uncle Tom asked Ella what part she would play, if she could play any part in the performance. She said she’d like to be a plant. Mark kept his thoughts to himself. He’s almost a pre-teen.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Deep thoughts about why i want a sauna. Or not.


I covet a sauna.

I like a sauna all right. I like the rocks and the earthy smell of your hair smoldering. But then, a couple days ago, I read about the fantastic health benefits of sauna-ing. I began to covet a sauna. 

Our friend Guy has a sauna in his basement. His very own sauna. It is electric powered, but an all-wood and glass real-deal. It kind of looks like a small woodland-style enclosed porch. When Guy's daughter was little, she had a playhouse (aka the box their new washing machine came in) positioned right next to the sauna. It was like father-daughter tiny neighborhood. Seriously, I wanted in.

But the YMCA has a sauna. Any day of the week, I can go over to the YMCA and sit in the sauna. 

So I did. 


I was sitting in the sauna, not staring at my phone. Phones fry in saunas. As do Apple Watches. I stared at the wall thinking deep thoughts.

This whole sitting-in-the-sauna-at-the-YMCA experience was pretty much exactly the same experience I would be having had I purchased a sauna all for myself. I mean, really, how much better could sauna time possibly be just because I owned the damn sauna? 

I had to admit, the sauna experience is the same regardless of sauna ownership. Especially because there's never anyone else in the sauna at the YMCA. Therefore, I should rejoice in the YMCA sauna as much I would rejoice in any at-home sauna solution. 

True, maybe it would be more convenient if I had a sauna directly underfoot. But the gym is like 10 minutes away. If I can’t manage to roust myself for a 10-minute journey, how much do I really want a sauna? 

Furthermore, if I need to undertake the ritual of getting myself to the sauna location, maybe it’s a more luminous experience worthy of even greater existential appreciation. 

I am no weak-kneed consumer desperate to acquire unnecessary worldly goods that wind up as non-biodegradable rubble polluting the ocean!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks = A Decent New York City Night Out

Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks

Last Friday night, it was Dinner -> Dinner -> Dinner. Mainly because Tom, in a failed attempt to take his cholesterol medicine, popped a sleeping pill by accident at 2:30 PM. He began walking into walls about 3. He drank 2 pots of coffee and a large Dunkin' Donuts Columbia Blend and managed to remain upright. Of course, adult beverages were not an option for him. For safety reasons. Also because if he drank any more fluids he might have exploded his bladder.

But we were starving, so we had an early dinner. And then we went to a cabaret show that had a two item minimum. And Tom could’t drink, so he had another dinner. Then we met up with some friends who hadn’t eaten. So we had another dinner. Each successive dinner got smaller, however. I don’t want you to think we’re complete pigs.

Mostly, we do Something -> Dinner -> Dessert -> Drinks. I’m talking about your average Fridays and Saturdays and occasionally Thursdays. Evenings when I’m not in the helpin’ business anymore. I’m in the sit down and have people bring me things business.

It’s vital that each segment of the night out transpires at a separate and well-qualified establishment. What is the point of ordering gelato, for example, at a restaurant that just panfried your paella? If you want gelato, you go to a place that pours their heart and soul into their gelato. Unless you are overcome with laziness, which I would never disparage. 

It's best when the evening kicks off with "Something." "Something" meaning a dive jazz club or an off-broadway show or maybe stand-up or some museum open late. Then we walk to Dinner. Pay the check and head out to source Dessert. Followed by Drinks, preferably in a place with lounge chairs in a back room and a fireplace. Hot toddies with Tullamore Dew are a nice option.

Ok let me be more upfront. “Something” might be a code word for “Happy Hour.” And “Dessert" could certainly swap out for “That first bar where we were brutalized by B&T's shrieking words like 'Chanel' and wearing sunglasses so we left.”


If I had to select a short list of what I love about New York City, it would be that evenings such as these are possible. And if I had to select a short list of what I love about life in general, it’s that we have friends with whom to share such evenings. 

Last Saturday, we went out with Dave and Linda and in a freakishly all-star twist of fate, ran into Darcey and Kent at Bell Book and Candle, so we finished up the evening as a team.  The next morning, I went somewhere and listened to some people drone on and on about themselves for literally three hours non-stop. It gave me plenty of time to endlessly appreciate our friends, and the soul-freshening times and conversations we've shared.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Marching in the Women's March in Washington, DC: What was it like to be there?

It wasn't so much of a march... more like a mosey, I'd say. Actually it was more like standing around for a hella long time, punctuated by short busts of mosey. And when I say, "standing around," I mean standing as still and straight as a bottle of beer nestled firmly into a 550,000 pack. It was an amazing experience I wouldn't trade for even the most luxuriously non-claustrophobic conditions.

Here's inside the metro subway car on the way into the city:

Inside the metro train.
Picture a medium sized room. Picture 250 people in that room.

I had carpooled to DC with four friends, some of them brand new friends, staying with Casey's cousin and her husband-- two more brand new friends. Casey's cousin had bought a metro card for each of us earlier in the week. Luckily. Because the lines to the ticket machines were an hour long. And that didn't count the line down to the platform and the massive rabble in the station after we arrived downtown:

Metro Platform.
Still on the Metro platform, on the way to the escalator.

Picture of the Metro platform from the escalator.

All in, a 45-minute Metro ride took over two hours. It was uncomfortable to breathe on someone's neck with someone else's arm in your face for a stretch that long. 

The conductor on the train was my favorite train conductor ever. He had that microphone humming with travel-time updates and words of encouragement. Meanwhile, everyone on the train got busy chatting each other up. I have never been squashed together with so many amazing, tolerant, agreeable people. Above ground, all afternoon, exactly the same scene.








What was it like to be there? It was heartwarming and heartening, inspiring, encouraging. It felt like a dragon stirring, with a tail as long as city streets and a heart as big as the mall. I will do my part to keep that dragon lumbering forward.