"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl

December 30, 2005

Chanukah at Heath's and Monica's



Eight nights, four parties, two families, ten babies, countless latkies. Priceless.

December 12, 2005

On the Wall: My First Show




I'm no photographer, but the good people at Canaltown Coffee Roasters (Main St., Pittsford) were kind enough to lend me their walls for an exhibit of my pics from around the world. Heath, the sweetheart that he is, rounded up our family and friends this past Sunday morning to grab some coffee, shmooze, and see what I was up to while galavanting around last year.
Here are some photos that grace the walls of Canaltown until the end of the month. Enjoy.







December 07, 2005

Rochester, Trimmed for the Holidays


In a matter of weeks, the city will be sloshing in dirty snow. But this is the time of year that Rochester twinkles. This is a view of the Liberty Pole (downtown) at the intersection of historic East Avenue and Main Street.

November 20, 2005

24 'Awrs in 'Da 'Burgh



Seeing that three of our Pittsburgh gals had gone and gotten themselves propertied (i.e., bought themselves each a 'haus'), Heath and I headed on West to celebrate Katie, Tina, and Allison, and their brand new mortgages. We were thrilled to arrive at Katie's housewarming party in time on that Friday night: for when we walked in, we not only saw Katie's unrivaled decor put to good use, but were welcomed with shrieks of surprise by friends who hadn't seen me in ages (and who'd never met Heath). Congratulatory hugs and kisses abounded--for homes, for our engagement, for an upcoming retirement, for reunions.

When the evening came to its close, Tina graciously allowed us to sleep in her new abode: a wonderful home on the southern side of the city, and we had just enough time to give Heath a tour of the Strip District before heading back East.

The Strip District is home to every imagined, food-related bargain one could hope for: bulk spices, exotic (but cheap) cheeses, home-made pastries, Asian specialties, Italian delicacies, Polish sausages, you-name-it-what-have-yous.


Once we'd exhausted ourselves on delicious smells, crowds of 'Stiller' fans, and funky curio shops, it was time to head home--with plenty of squeezes to tide us over 'til our next trip to 'da Burgh.

November 02, 2005

Birds On My Hat


Birds On My Hat
Originally uploaded by animox72.
Yeah, so? Whatcha gonna do?
I like my birdie hat.

-Logan (3 weeks old)
[translated by Auntie M.]

October 28, 2005

Rainy Day People #12 & #35

With four days notice, we were off, again, to Manhattan; this time, to celebrate Heath's college buddies (one who'd gotten engaged, and one bound for Colorado to begin life anew). Until we'd left for the airport, I hadn't considered that I'd actually be staying in the city--unusual for a gal who loves crashing her friends' Brooklyn apartments.

So after a fun Friday night engagement soiree at Jon's swank, Financial District flat, we woke to a rainy window in SoHo. 100_0087
Unable to galavant around Central Park (Heath neglected to bring his coat), we decided to visit the Met's VanGogh exhibit on 5th Ave., and make our way afterwards to window-shop (weather somewhat permitted). purple atlas Past Atlas, past the studios, we stumbled on Rockefeller Center's ice rink (surprisingly full of skaters already), Trump's Plaza (Heath wanted to sample the infamous "Apprentice" ice cream), and all of the eye-popping places we associate with haute couture.

But the highlight of the trip, for me, was our getting to see Sejal, my friend of too-many-years-to-speak-of, who'd gathered a bunch of her peeps together for a belated birthday outing. While we downed some succulent sushi, sashimi, and saki, the rain clouds gathered and prepared to douse us on our way to the whisky bar. stephanie, amy, sejal#92299

Too little time (about 24 hours) in my favorite city. But then: we know we'll be back again--and this time, we're bringing our rain ponchos.

October 16, 2005

Fifteen Miles on the Erie Canal




If you grow up in Western New York or Pennsylvania, somewhere along the way a teacher, girl scout leader, or local historian will have successfully drilled the refrain from an 19th-century tune that is the title of this blog. "I got an old horse and her name is Sal. . ." the song begins, and goes on to paint a picture of the intensive, manual labor associated with the creation and use of this feat of engineering.

While we girl scouts never quite got to navigate it firsthand, the canal that goes through Rochester boasts a popular path alongside it for dog-walkers, runners, and bikers. Since I can remember, I've walked the canal at sunsets with my parents, now and then, in the summers, when the path is most crowded and "on your left!" a much-heralded cry from bikers zooming past. Yet I'd never seen the canal from the water itself.

For Uncle Sid's 70th birthday celebration, we boarded the Sam Patch (the name of the man who braved Niagra Falls in a wooden barrel) and rode--you guessed it--fifteen or so miles up and down the Erie Canal.

This was the view of the very lock that had given me nightmares as a child. Every time "Bridge Over Troubled Water" came on my nighttime radio program in the late 1970's, I'd imagine myself careening into this lock, feet first, with no ladders to help me make my way up the slippery cement walls.

Upon seeing the enormous doors of the lock opening, I remembered this nightmare immediately; and it was right then that our little cousin Aidan (age three) starting screaming in terror. The pang subsided when our host sailors explained the physics of water tables, and though Aidan continued to shriek, I settled in with a nice glass of Riesling and enjoyed our "rise to the top."

It was a gorgeous, crisp, fall day on the Erie Canal; and I can safely listen to the old Simon and Garfunkel tunes with absolutely no fear of falling.


October 09, 2005

Daytrip to Corning

Most folks know Corning as the home of their mother's oven-safe bakeware, but the small city is also home to the world's largest Museum of Glass. 665363658205_0_ALB For a birthday daytrip, Heath and I ventured over to the CMOG to see what that was all about--and learned and saw lots and lots of cool things. Glass artifacts of ancient civilizations abound, as do pieces from Europe's grandiose eras; then there's all sorts of funky stuff to gawk at (this is a fun place if you're a crow-person, easily amused by bright, shiny things). We watched a glass-making demonstration (at which we learned a bit of Mandarin Chinese), 485863658205_0_ALB walked through the "innovations" interactive exhibit, saw a huge exhibit of Czech glass (not as boring as it sounds) and then walked very, very carefully through the gift shop. We came home with a gorgeous vase, two port glasses, and some funky ice-cream dishes you'll love to use when you visit us.

October 07, 2005

Happy New Year's, Baby



Logan slept through most of the Rosh Hashana feast, but Auntie Mo had plenty of sweet things around. . .

October 06, 2005

You Don't Really Knead to Knead That Much

makin' challah


In an effort to hone my down-home, promised-land baking skills, I attended a challah-making workshop at a friend's home last week. Good fun, good women, good teacher (thanks Mr. Z.!)--and there's definitely something to be said for the theraputic qualities of kneading. And kneading. And kneading. Here, Leslie and I prepare to make a "bird design" out of dough. (It was delicious.)

September 25, 2005

Logan, Baby!

This is Logan, Baby!

Meet my niece, Logan Ariella. She weighed in at 9 pounds (zoicks!)on Sept. 23rd, and stretches to a whopping 20.5 inches. She has a beautiful little rosebud mouth and isn't afraid to use it--some nice pipes! Ten lovely fingers, ten lovely toes, a squeezable tush and a lovely pair of roaming eyes to boot.

Momma, Staci, is doing great, and Papa, Aaron, is pleased as peaches. A sleepy contentment fills the recovery room at Highland Hospital, and the grandparents (and great-bubbe, my grandmother) are scrambling to set up the nursery for the big homecoming. Auntie Monica is planning baby's first concert ("unplugged from the crib"), baby's first trip to the bathtub/sink in our apartment, baby's first trip to Central Park. . .well, okay, the latter can wait a bit.

September 18, 2005

At the 24-hr. Greek Diner, Sometime around Midnight




Heath's falafel sandwich wasn't the best, but mmmm, mmmm, mmmm, my grilled cheese & tomato sandwich with a side of avegolemeno (egg lemon soup) was darn tasty. Our friend Dave took this picture with his very swank Blackberry-Phone, which apparently, in addition to taking photos, can take video, call your friends, organize your lunch meetings, walk your dogs, and do your laundry.

Wedding plans are going and going. I found a nice dress for the occassion, and have talked to "my florist," who is so lovely that she hugged me in the apple aisle at Wegmans and said, "I'm really happy for you!" What a florist!

School is also going smoothly: so far, it's been hot as Hades in there, but with the recent rain, things may cool off a bit, and my little cherubs may perk up a bit in their hard desk-seats. I love my school, but am sorely missing my old friends in Watertown and beyond.

Here's to the start of a beautiful fall.

August 15, 2005

wedding central.: click *here* for updates




clicking the title of this blog will help you find info. about wedding stuff. . . as we come to find out ourselves. please sign our guestbook!
we're going a'registerin' today with heath's gargantuan list of "must-have" kitchen essentials. this apparently includes a milkshake maker.

August 14, 2005

The Story of Us: Just the Beginning




After a beautiful afternoon winery-hopping along Seneca Lake, with a delicious (surprise) picnic lunch on a quieter part of one vineyard, Heath surprised me again with dinner plans. He'd rented out the rooftop deck of Artisan Works for a quiet dinner for two overlooking Rochester's city skyline. Surrounded by funky sculptures, the heat of the day finally subsiding, and the sounds of the train going by (and some well-chosen music), we supped a delightful meal prepared and served by two of Heath's co-workers (one, a bona-fide chef who knows his Riesling).

By meal's end, our eyes were wide and stomachs full; I could only stare at dessert when Heath got up, stood in front of me, and read me a most compelling poem.

And, folding his poem back into his pocket, kneeled on his bad knee and proposed.

I have, of course, accepted!

I'm planning to blog the adventures of planning a wedding as they arise. Stay posted. Meanwhile, I am missing you, wherever you are, and hoping to celebrate with you in person!

July 23, 2005

Dashen Through the South Wedge

Our latest culinary adventure was last night, practically in our own backyard: the "South Wedge" of the city isn't particularly popular for its run-down (once immaculate) neighborhoods. Still, among the dusty streets, some of the original homes, built circa 1888, stand proudly well-painted and loved. And here, on the corner of South and Alexander, you'll find one of the only Ethiopian restaurants in the area, Dashen.



If you've never experienced eating with your hands--rather, one hand--before, Ethiopian food is a great introduction. Atop your injera, or spongy, circular bread, are heaped your lentil, lamb, and potato combinations, and normally, the diner receives a gratis basket of injera to begin scooping with.

Dashen's interior wears the Ethiopian colors, red, yellow, and green, proudly, and boasts Ethiopia's beauty with a number of travel posters, local crafts, and flags on its walls.

When Heath asked for the Ethiopian wine he'd read about in a review, our shy waitress gave us a funny look, confirmed that we were interested in the "honey wine," and told us she'd be right back--and returned to say that it "wasn't ready yet," with a telling smirk that suggested the stuff is made on the premises, and probably isn't up to any regulation standards. Too bad for us.

While the regulars at the bar roared at ongoing Seinfeld episodes, soothing African music wafted through the restaurant. Patrons trickled in as the sun fell, and the t.v. at the bar soon got quiet. Dashen was rockin'.

July 19, 2005

Times Square Kiss, Updated



We took this while the Square was cleared out for a film. The stranger who took the photo for us reassured Heath that it really was "a cool idea" (he wasn't hip to it at first). See blog "I Love NY in June" (left archive column) for more about our springtime trip.

July 16, 2005

Life Lessons from the Frog Pond

Charlie's Frog Pond, a quirky, tiny bistro, is two blocks from Heath's apartment; our Sunday morning/afternoon ritual is walking hastily(usually we're starving at that point) to the Frog Pond, eating too much of Betsey's breakfast burrito (or her amazing cinnamon swirl pancakes, or the Greek frittata), rubbing our bellies in gastronomic delight, and looking casually at (the late, local artist) Ramon Santiago's painting called "Love," the focal point of which is a bright yellow star and about which we ponder how the print would look in Heath's place.

pic


A few weeks ago, while contemplating "Love," an older, gentle-looking fellow sitting next to us, who we came to know as Frank struck up a conversation. Turns out that Frank, too, is an artist-- he pointed out his pencil rendering of the back of the bistro he sketched one winter day called "Hell's Kitchen." (He assured us that it was the only non-Santiago piece in the joint.)

Frank is not only an artist: he and his son started the behemoth art studio known as Artisan Works, in which he lived for a while, and which his son now owns. Frank began as a Merchandising Manager (and window dresser) at McCurdy's department store downtown, and his creative bug prompted him, post-retirement, to let others have a space in which to create.

We talked for a long while about work: Frank had a lot to say. When it came our time to go, Frank signaled that we wait a second. "Do you know what the secret of life is?" he asked, with an enormous grin on his face. Heath and I looked at each other. "It's taking the time to enjoy your life. Make everything count." (I'm sure Heath would have more to add to this, because I was busy soaking this part in.)
Frank assured us we'd see him again, and that next time, he'd tell us more.

We left that morning with our bellies full of good food, our minds full of good advice, and Frank's knowing smirk pressed firmly into our imaginations. We walked a little more slowly on the way home.

July 11, 2005

Mo Got Class

I got a job! I got a job! A real, full-time gig with lovely bennies and super-smart, super-welcoming coworkers! Where, you ask, will I be gracing the youth of Rochester with the juicy, cerebral, soulful delights of Shakespeare, Cisneros, and Angelou?

3MHS%20New%20Lockers%2Ejpg

Pittsford Central School District has granted me one 9th grade English course at Mendon High School, and four 9th grade and two half-year 12th grade courses (Contemp. Lit. & Humanities) at Sutherland High School.

Mendon is #39 on Newsweek's Top 1000 High Schools in America list. Sutherland is a doozey at #78. (Shucks.)

In the past two weeks, I've already completed a (mandatory) course for Pittsford instructors on effective instruction, met with fellow humanities teachers, and conferenced with my soon-to-be co-teacher. I haven't taught 9th grade in seven years (which means that my old freshman are now in their junior years of college--eek), so I'll have to make a stop in Boston to gather all my old, yellowing notes.

Excited to start a brand new year in a brand new school! Hooray!

June 15, 2005

An Evening at Jazz Fest

This week, Rochester's seeing its share of hep cats. Some were blowin' tunes through a sax on a stage. Some were strummin' the bass line of a funk standard on a East Ave. sidewalk. Some were singin' their hearts out, and some were there to watch it all go down.


main_2005_rollins


This is Jazz Fest, baby.

So last Saturday, some of us jam-session-philes decided to head on downtown to catch the Cookers concert, what was to be a five-song set of one of the hottest performances of the festival. (Ms. Moxxie wore her red halter dress: she was ready to get down. She was cookin', too.)

After the concert, our group of six headed around the corner for some yummy Greek food, and then back to the festival for a gratuitous (and gratis) set by the seasoned Rochester Jazz Ensemble.

It appeared in our local paper (the Democrat and Chronicle) that Rochester's Jazz Fest is one of the best in the country, and this prestige after only four years' running. So: check your calendars for next June, folks.

Rochester's cooler than NOLA--and far less crowded.

June 09, 2005

The Cost of Riding Free in New Jersey

When you go to--or anywhere within--New Jersey, take a car.

Your own, that is.

Because if you do not bring your own car, you will find yourself at the mercy of alternative modes of transportation, ranging from buses to "taxis" (see below), and timetables whose patterns bear no logical nor memorable patterns.

Heath and I, having spent a great day in Manhattan, had been fortunate enough that night to find that the $6 Red and Tan Line Bus, which runs between Port Authority on 42nd and Montvale, NJ--where we were to enjoy Josh's and Anna's wedding, the next day-- was still running beyond 9 pm on a Saturday. Why take a bus that makes a 28-mile trip take over an hour to complete? Because the only alternative, apart from renting a car (way too expensive), was the only "taxi" service in the Woodcliff, NJ area--which was really a car service, and whose price to shuttle us between Manhattan and our hotel in NJ earlier had been $60 (although we'd been quoted $90).

A cheap ride, in New Jersey, therefore means that it will take one twice as long to get anywhere.

With this in mind, we had to find a way to get from our hotel in Montvale to the temple in Woodcliff Lake. A five-minute ride shouldn't have to take longer than 20 minutes. Nor should it cost the $20 we'd been quoted the night previous, from the driver who charged us exactly that for the ride between our bus stop and hotel (and yes, it was a five-minute ride).

Luckily, Sunday morning, we ran into Anna, the bride-to-be: poised, alert, and having just having had her hair exquisitely fashioned into a gorgeous up-do of ringlets. When she asked us if we had a ride to the temple, both Heath and I breathed a sigh of relief: Anna called over a couple we figured out were relatives (for their thick Russian accents and very Eastern European countenances). Immediately upon meeting them, however, we'd forgotten their names--we were just happy to have a free, appropriately short ride, and agreed to meet in the hotel lobby at 2:40--to arrive on time for the 3:00 wedding.

At 2:40, Heath and I were sitting on a lobby couch, watching wedding guests depart for their vehicles with their orange directions sheet firmly in hand. Some asked if we needed a ride, and we graciously declined each one.

Then it was 2:50.

At 2:55, the couple we came to call Boris and Natasha (there was no resemblance, only the very sexy, thick accents) walked casually into the lobby with another Russian couple. They'd apologized for running late, and were waiting for their friends to check out so the cars could go tandem to the temple--in case, of course, one car were to get lost.

Natasha must have seen the anxiety in my face, because she asked her husband to get the car and bring it around the front while we (all) waited for the check-out-ers.

I was getting ancey. I was to read a blessing during the ceremony, and all I could picture was a rabbi calling my name like that history teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Somewhere around 3:00, Boris rolled up: in a convertible. Nevermind that Heath was going to be crispy red from the strong afternoon sun, but I had just spent a good deal more time than normal fixing--and refixing--my hair. When the little red car pulled up, with Boris, decked out in black tuxedo shirt, black pants, maroon bowtie, and sunglasses, we knew we were in for adventure.

We squeezed ourselves, along with Boris's and Natasha's adolescent son (of a slightly healthy-boy build) into the back, and Boris mouthed the directions in Russian from the orange sheet, while Natasha explained that their air conditioning didn't work, and thus, the top had to stay down. Heath braced himself on the middle hump, hanging on to the seats in front of him.

I held on to my hair.

It didn't do much good. Locks broke loose, hairspray be damned, from all directions, and I was somewhere between annoyed, amused, and hysterical.

Then Boris and Natasha lit their cigarettes like two Riveiera elites.

Smoke, ashes, wind, sun, and the occassional tree matter: I dodged all of these while hanging on to my head. I looked like that Munch painting, but going 30 miles per hour in a red convertible. And in a dress. And in New Jersey.

When it occurred to all of us that we were horribly lost,it was 3:15, The other car had gone in a direction we thought was totally wrong, so we didn't bother to follow.

I'd let my hair tell our story, I figured. I decided to take my hands away from my head.

We went down one road. We turned around. We went down another. Boris and Natasha argued in fervent Russian while ashes from Boris's cigarette drooped in a beautiful arch onto his tux pants (he took no notice). I looked at Heath. He looked at me. We had to take the matter into our own hands.

Heath figured out some of the mistake in Boris's navigation, and we continued until we found other drivers who were willing to slow down and give us directions to the temple.

Finally on the right road, we knew we were to look on the left for the entrance to the temple; and just when Boris turned around to us to say something funny, he missed the damn turn.

"Stop talking and turn around!" I barked. I couldn't believe how rude I'd just been. I was certain I'd missed the wedding, that my friends who'd trusted me to read in the most important ceremony of their lives would no longer talk to me, and that the whole trip to NJ would have been in vain. As the car lumbered up the drive to the impressive shul, I asked if the couple wouldn't mind dropping us off before parking. They agreed it was best; my expression revealed more frustration than I'd wanted it to, but nevertheless, we were ready to get out of that car.

"Your hair looks okay," Heath reassured me. I was beyond caring, trying to find the words to apologize to Josh and Anna. But when we walked into the foyer, we noticed the multitude of hotel lodgers who'd passed us in the lobby earlier were sipping white wine, laughing, chatting, hugging and kissing, while a lively klezmer band played olde-world songs.

I found my friend Chuck and tapped him from behind. "Is it over?" I huffed, exasperated and sweaty. He didn't hear me. "Hey, Monica! You made it! We were just wondering if we should save you a seat inside."

So we were late: for cocktails. I could've used a strong glass of chablis, but reasoned it'd be best not to get tipsy right before going under the chuppah. I affized my hair in the ladies' room with some extra of the hairpins laid out for men's kippot.

(N.B., The ceremony was absolutely lovely; the reception, fabulous. And we danced the evening away to the sounds of a balalaika, to a variety of horas. While Heath and I supped at the wedding feast, we watched in awe as Boris and Natasha pranced, swayed, and seductively spun around each other to a variety of tangos. How relaxed, how elegant they look, I thought. And then it dawned on me: they had their own car.)

June 07, 2005

Taxicab, Horse & Carriage, Magic Carpet: or, I Love New York in June

central park

Manhattan women are famed for their sleek, concrete-like calves: they walk everywhere, and darling, they do it in heels.

This past weekend, though, the temperature and weather in Manhattan whisked us all into a delightful summer day, and somewhere around late afternoon, having strolled through Times Square and down the better part of Fifth Avenue, and having rested for a casual glass of Pinot Grigio at a sidestreet bistro, Heath and I were ready to put our very tired, hot feet up. (Heath hadn't worn socks. I was--darling-- wearing heels.) We weren't quite ready for dinner and the sun was glorious. Heath suggested--to my disbelief--a ride through Central Park. (Is there any doubting why I love this man?)

Central Park by buggy is pretty luxurious: you can't help feeling like a tourist, but oddly, there's no shame in lazing into the velvety cushion, leaning back, and watching the runners and rollerbladers, families and friends as you clip-clop past at a Victorian pace. The sun glimmered behind the skyline and through the trees, making patterns on our laps, and for a moment, New York seemed totally new again.

Horse ride over, it was time to hoof it over to W. 71st St., for dinner at Pasha, a Turkish restaurant Heath had looked into earlier. We'd arrived hungry, ready to sample exotic, Turkish delights--and sample we did. Two gratuitous appetizers (Mucver, Manti), two glasses of Turkish wine, an Etli Yaprak Sarmasi and a Hunkar Begendi later, we reclined again, in that happily-uncomfortable, satiated way, still reeling from the flavors that had enchanted our palates. The atmosphere: crimson walls, dimly lit tables, and Persian accents, made the already romantic dinner a carpet ride into another place. (Not ready to leave, I ordered a digestive Turkish coffee, and sipped into oblivion.)

Ah, for the love of the places you can go in twenty blocks: by foot, by hoof, by carpet! When the doors of our taxicab shut, we were on our way to Port Authority, to catch the bus to our hotel room in New Jersey (see next blog). We had no idea what sort of travel adventure was awaiting us. . .

June 01, 2005

Home is Where You Hang Your Sox Cap


bostonskyline
Originally uploaded by animox72.
For Memorial Day weekend, Heath and I decided--and maybe I nudged him a little towards this--to enjoy a getaway/visit to Boston.

I was thrilled to be his tourguide. I knew exactly where I wanted to take him: my favorite, secret, thinking spot in Boston Gardens; along Hanover Street to smell and taste little Italy; the majestic marble lions of the public library; to the harbor; to my old bohemian hangouts. And we did all of it.

But something happened while we walked down a very crowded Newbury Street on that sunny, warm, Saturday afternoon. We were laughing about something--we were both thirsty, and we'd passed some sidewalk art depicting Fenway Park that I'd admired and Heath had despised. I decided to buy it.

Heath emitted a growl and his eyes burned with disgust; the proprietor of the piece looked quizzically at me, as though I were buying it solely to torture him. "He's a Yankees fan," I admitted. The art seller looked at me, horrified. "And you're with him?" he asked me.

And then the words came out of my mouth:

"I'm from New York. We're from New York."

In this city I loved, left, and missed, I'd finally --finally--come to terms with my permanent home: Home. I'm a Western New Yorker. Someday, I'm sure, I'll discover the seduction of that phrase, but right now, it eludes me. (Of course, I'll always root for my BoSox.)

As we drove back west on I90, I turned to Heath: "I don't miss it anymore," I said. "It doesn't feel like home."

"Good," he said, and squeezed my hand. Both of us, I'm sure, were thinking about how my new Fenway piece would look next to his painting of Yankee Stadium.

May 31, 2005

Park Avenue, When Spring Breaks

frombelow

This is not Greenwich Village. It ain't Soho, and it doesn't want to be, as far as I can see. But my friend Ben, apparently miffed because I haven't stayed in Boston, calls my hometown "Crotchfester." I tried not to take offense to his obvious Boston-centrism (doesn't everyone in their respective big city think it's the best one?), so I write this in homage of my favorite part of this new, old hometown of mine.

It's late May; the International Lilac Festival has just ended, and people are finally walking with their arms bare, throwing caution right back in the faces of our fickle weather gods. If Dorothy's spinning house were to land here on Park Avenue in Rochester, she'd step trepidly out of her unshingled door to find a bunch of folks who like nothing better than to eat, drink coffee, and hang out on wide sidewalks lined with restaurants, cafes, wine shops, spas, and--oh yes--galleries.

But you won't find pretense amongst the popular haunts here. Even the swanky CiBon cafe, surely Rochester's most successful answer to a European bistro, has the look and smell of something not-quite-Rochester: until you peer into their magazine rack to find the past six and the latest issues of the local, used car guide. Their martinis are pretty fabulous, as are their chai teas and array of fine wines: and you may be fancying yourself well beyond city limits until your waitress does something not typically seen in our sororal equivalents: she actually lingers by your table to ask how you're doing.

Park Avenue revels in its quirkiness, I think: among the joggers and the NYTimes browsers and the ice-cream-licking, baby-stroller-pushing young parents is the element: the Hog drivers, the belly-tats, the college kids, starving for random fun by running, slalom between the cafe tables, on stilts. There are a bunch of folks, like me, who like to take it all in; we walk here for the sake of seeing what's going on, who's out, to soak in a little bit of our version of Parisian soul. I'll tell myself that someone's birthday is coming up just so as to have an excuse to walk from my boyfriend's house on the corner of Park and a sidestreet to the ever-intriguing, catch-all boutique, the Parkleigh. Thus, invariably, there'll be a handful of us walking sans leashed dog, sans carriage, sans purse, sans another person, taking in the funky Victorians on one side of the street, and the beautiful loiterers on the other.

Some like to think that this is the see-and-be-seen area; they're right. The other night, while enjoying sushi and soba (noodles) at Kobay (next to CiBon), outside, with Heath and our friends Dave and Rachel, our conversation was punctuated with an assortment of Dave's and Rachel's friends stopping to say hello. I was surprised to have known a couple who'd stopped into the same restaurant for their dinner (because I still don't know many people here at all. Then again, this is a small, small city.) Every time our friends waved at passersby, the neighborhood became, more and more, it's own microcosm of twenty- and thirty-something Park Avenue-ites.

Even sitting in the the wi-fi-friendly Spin Cafe, I see from the great front window some people petting each others' dogs, greeting one another with handshakes and pats on the back; spontaneous meetings between friends happen here, because
here is the place to be.

This town isn't so crotchety. See for yourself, Ben. Visit.

May 06, 2005

Moxxie's Ice-Cold Word of the Day



Okay, so it's really Merriam-Webster's WOTD, but hang on to yer hats. . .

60dea



The Word of the Day for May 6 is:

moxie \MAHK-see\ noun
1 : energy, pep
*2 : courage, determination
3 : know-how, expertise

Example sentence:
It took a lot of moxie for Moxxie to stroke Kenneth Branagh's voluptuous, suede jacket while he graciously signed her "Hamlet" programme. (This example is not from the M-W website, but it is from personal experience.)

Did you know?
"Hot roasted peanuts! Fresh popcorn! Ice-cold Moxie!" You might
have heard such a vendor's cry at a baseball game -- if you attended one
in 1924. That was the heyday of the soft drink called "Moxie," which
some claim outsold Coca-Cola at the height of its popularity. The
beverage was a favorite of American writer E.B. White, who wrote, "Moxie
contains gentian root, which is the path to the good life. This was known in
the second century before Christ and is a boon to me today." By 1930,
"moxie" had become a slang term for nerve and verve, perhaps because
some people thought the drink was a tonic that could cure virtually any
ill and bring vim back to even the most lethargic individual.

* Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

April 25, 2005

Two Gentlemen Meet in Verona

I met Heath, my "fella," as my grandmother calls him, in the middle of a gratuitous, Indian-summer-like week in late September. All these months later, after some pretty serious talks about our future together, it seemed time to introduce my main man to. . . well, another main man.

silo_09[1]

It wasn't my father. (My dad, consequently, upon meeting Heath, had to brace himself from bear-hugging the sweet breath out of the boy. But that was back in November.)

Heath actually suggested the Bob Dylan Show, featuring an up-and-coming Amos Lee and, of all people, Merle Haggard; we'd have to drive an hour and a half to get to the venue--Turning Stone Casino--in Verona, New York. I was amazed. Did my fair stallion understand the profundity of his suggestion? The very words "I'll look into some tickets" made my palms sweat and my heart flitter-flutter. I couldn't contain myself.

When I regained my composure, reality hit. Every Bob naysayer this side of Minnesota wafted faintly by my ears. "He'll never understand him!" one ghost cajoled. "Haaana annnna annahaaa haaannnnnnn!" another stupidly mimicked. (By the way, that's a totally outdated parody, people. If you want to mock the man, at least try to growl a little.) "Hush!" I quieted the voices. "He's got potential. He likes jazz. And he gets Green Day. And Leonard Cohen. . .and old-school Hip Hop. He's open-minded! Give the guy a chance!" I pleaded. And with that, the demons returned to the dark shadows behind Heath's fridge, unconvinced, shrugging, and shaking their heads.

[Side note: The Turning Stone Casino is a smoky, crazy lair that's sort of a cross between the haunted bar and the wicked maze which both appear in The Shining. If you can help it, don't go there, because you will get lost and lose your mind.]

Somehow, after a series of mishaps that don't bear repeating, we made it to the Concert Hall, and freely changed our seats in Section Beyond-the-Pale for some nice ones in the balcony, closer to the stage. We found ourselves surrounded, for a little while, by no one at all. Before we knew it, we were whooping and hollering for the bright young Lee, whose set sadly ended too soon. Merle played some lovely country ballads for us, and actually surprised us with his aged but soft, deep, buttery voice and fiddle-playin'.

Then the house lights came up for the last time. I knew I had to prepare Heath as best I could.

"If you smell something funny," I warned, "it's not pot--it's Bob's incense."
"Um, okay."
"And watch the roadies--they're faster than a pit crew. Watch where they put the set lists."
"Okay."
"And you see that curtain? That's going to be a blanket of stars soon." Oh, crap. Now I was ruining it. Shut up, Hiller! But I couldn't help myself--the ghosts had begun to fill all the empty seats around us, taking their bets off the craps tables downstairs and placing them right in front of my face.

"Two to one he thinks she's crazy for digging this guy," one apparition bleated.
"She's been to sixteen of these shows, Bub. He's gotta give her a little credit, huh?" his transparent friend elbowed.
"I say he leaves her in the parking lot."
"How'd you guys get here?" I demanded.
"We were in the back seat!" the dirty ghost snorted, and then turned to his portly friend. "He's gonna think she's a loon. A damn loon!"

"Look," I turned to Heath. "If you don't like the show we can always go home ear--" And then the house lights faded to dim.
Heath turned to me and smiled. And then, he did the unexpected. He hollered for Bob, along with a thousand or so other folks who were doing the same thing. Like Daisy Buchanan, I was p-paralyzed somewhere between really flustered and happiness.

As the stage lights rose to a heralding crimson, my apprehension spun about-face: would Bob be happy with the man on my arm? Dylan and his new band charged the stage with an infectious energy and launched immediately into The Wicked Messenger, violin bows a flyin', the sound charging towards us like an uncompromising wave. I could tell that Heath was as elated as I was by the richness of the band; his eyes were enormous. He looked like a little kid.

But had Bob seen us? "Bob," I channeled towards the stage. "We're up here."
Bob wrapped up the song, soaking in our applause. And then--I swear--he squinted up at us as he began She Belongs to Me:

She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She's got everything she needs,
She's an artist, she don't look back.
She can take the dark out of the nighttime
And paint the daytime black.


"What's he singing?" Heath asked.
"Uh, I don't know." I didn't want to say. Bob was being possessive in his own way, a protective quasi-father-figure who pretends to know me.
"You don't know what you're saying, Bob," I channeled to him. But he kept singing right at Heath, who was enjoying himself nonetheless.

She wears an Egyptian ring
That sparkles before she speaks.
She's a hypnotist collector,
You are a walking antique.


"Aw, Bob," I demanded. "Leave him out of this. I'm a changed fan! You need to deal with that. Remember that guitar I inherited the summer I first saw you? Well, I sold it. Priorities change, Bobby. I can't scream for you anymore, but I can sing with you. Dig?"

Bob wasn't having it. In response, he began belting out It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding). The sarcastic s.o.b.

But somewhere in the middle of the tune, Bob looked up at us again. I don't know if we were holding each other or what, but his gaze softened. He'd had his own dance with reality, I suppose: the young, naive fan who was once bold enough to bare a shocking amount of skin, toss notes of appreciation on stage, and dance with strangers at his shows was now a mature, seasoned fan who carried breath-fresheners and humbly asked strangers to share their binoculars. I was silently pleading with Bob to accept the new man in my life.

And in an instant of reconciliation, the first few bars of Just Like a Woman found their way over the crowd and into our balcony seats. The ghosts shifted on their hindquarters, uncomfortable, reluctantly forking over chips to one another.

Nobody feels any pain
Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev'rybody knows
That Baby's got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls.
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl.


The rest of the concert was a delight. Bob indulged me by playing my new favorite, the achy power-chord, bad-ass Cold Irons Bound, and some old favorites (Desolation Row, Stuck Inside of Mobile). I think if Bobby could have, he would have leaned over and tossled my hair. "Good fella you got yourself," he'd say, and walk away his proud, cowboy strut, witness to the slowing down of another rolling stone.

April 07, 2005

A Poem for School

Dear Faithful Readers,
Many of you are teachers, and may appreciate this poem that I wrote last year sometime between the end of classes and the beginning of final exams; my seniors were itching to get out, and I was on the cusp of what was supposed to be only a one-year exploratory sabbatical (which has turned into a permanent leave, as I'm now residing happily in Rochester). I resurrect it now because the weather is beginning it's most catalystic/cataclysmic effects on our students once again.


TLF: a love song for watertown high school

behold these faces in the halls: the pre-pubescent,
the adolescent, their prisms of emotions worn
within them. they move together,

shoulder to shoulder, avoiding other passing
crowds, small schools of deftly moving fish.

laughter reverberates in this place,
off of the unnoticing, unnoticed white walls;
echoes of newfound masculinity,
of birthday surprises.
a tribunal of boys eye the staircase
from its highest rail, in a mockery of
balcony romeos anticipating their juliets
ascending towards them in short, pink skirts.
consolation happens in corners,
where girls are turning into women.

1. fall

in september, i am already spellbound by names
which i cannot pronounce yet, in an unbending,
new gradebook,
transfixed by a girl who confides in me
a secret she protects, like a small bird.

i dust off my imaginary soapbox and
remember what it is to stand upon it,
for hours, in heels.
the lethargy of summer is still heavy
in our suntans, in the heat of the room.

one floor down, across the school,
the home ec. class is making bread.
from the classroom, we watch the leaves turn
their familiar orange-red, ablaze with an early sunset.

homecoming rouses old rivalries;
teachers reminisce together,
around a photocopier, like veterans
telling stories
around a campfire.


2. winter

an audition: a rosy-cheeked boy sings,
open-jawed, with his eyes shut tight, clenching his fists
together, as if holding a holy rosary to the stage gods.

another boy puts his fist through a wired glass pane,
something we cannot understand,
someone has made a painting
so poignant it, too, eludes us-- there surfaces a white-noise
ocean of misunderstandings, of frustrations, of
the angst that comes with an age.

at the bake sale, the almond-eyed armenian girls sell seven-layered
heaven cakes. they quibble over napkins and correct change,
and teach me new words, with patience. here, they
become their mothers, the comforting language of food
bridges our generations, our cultures.

we watch the first snowfall through the classroom window,
we gasp at its beauty, the newness of it, anticipating
the whiteness of the season, when we begin to see
the paths of our futures, revealing themselves
delicately, like sparrow tracks in the snow.

3. springtime

it is a delicious disaster, a late-season flurry
of papers, of ‘visions and revisions’, of connections,
and corrections, furtive glances from wiser eyes,
important dances, and exhausted laughter.

limbs, buzzing from new growth, cannot help but move,
no one can sit still; the air is finally fresh:
the romeos don their stances
for their coltish, coquette-juliets, who pretend to be studying.

in room 347, i am saying goodbye to the transcendentalists,
thanking them, packing them away until another lesson.
the leaves grow thick again outside the window,
disruptive lawnmowers roar, vying with my voice for attention.

students are contemplating themselves,
their imminent flight from one stage to another.
i am saying goodbye to the whiteboard, now
full with old notes,
goodbye to the leftover handouts, the urgent, reused nurse’s passes,
the leaky pens and dried-out markers,
goodbye to the youthful music of these crowded hallways
goodbye to weary late-night reading
and morning-pleading with weary eyes.

here’s to the joy of paths begun in flight!
and here’s to time, that great white slate upon which we’ll
write our histories together, and say, someday,
we knew each other in another age.

April 01, 2005

The Mysteries of Rochester: some solved, all very unabridged

Is there a link between vitamin D (aka sunshine) and blog neglect? I think Harvard needs to take this on as their latest labor of research unless one of you can explain to me what it is--precisely--about spring that makes me want to take up all creative enterprises except for the beloved blog. As some of us know, Rochester ranks right up there with Seattle as being one of America's rainiest cities, so that probably has something to do with it; but 'Roc City' has nowhere near Seattle's committment to the fine art of taking coffee. In fact, the busiest hubs of socialization (outside our city proper) is Starbucks' Coffee (flagship shop in. . .you guessed it: Seattle). That's my explanation for this unnerving hankering for playing SPUD and kick-the-can surging through my veins (sans caffeine, mind you) today--it's about 50 degrees and the sun is streaming through these 8th-grade classroom windows. Maybe we'll have to leave it to science.

Another mystery I'm in the process of unveiling about Rochester concerns the less than six degrees of separation that seems to connect about 78% of the white population in this city. Here's my case-in-point: I know a man, let's call him R., who I sought to act in the final class of my playwriting seminar; it just so happens that R.--who works in the district for which I'm subbing-- was, coincedentally, later recommended to me by H., a man I've known for many years, who has acted with R. before, and whom I bumped into a few weeks prior at a production for a play at a local college. When our final class (and therefore our staged readings) commenced, R. entered the room to find A. and E., both of whom he'd worked with before; it just so happens that A. and E. know B. and N., two of my playwrights (neither B. nor N. had spoken prior to the actors'--that is A. and E.--being chosen to read as well). Enter a man whose name escapes me, who has directed R., A., and E. in past shows, and who also knows H. "Oh, pshaw," I hear you say. "That's the theater community for you--totally inbred." Alright, then. Want another example?

I walk into a school district's human resource office to drop off a resume. "Oh, you must be Nancy's kid," the secretary says. Keep in mind that 1.) I have never been seen with my mother in this office, and 2.) I've never been this office at all before. I ask the secretary how she could possibly know this information. She tells me that I look just like her, and that she worked with my mom years ago in another school. (Oh.) "That's Nancy's daughter?!" another staff member asks. "Oh, wow! Are you Monica?" This is freaky.
(Alright, so the school systems are also a quagmire of inbreeding--people invariably shift from one school/office to another. But so far, I'm the missing link between teachers and actors--or maybe that's R.'s role here.)

At--of all places, a shiva sitting--I enter the begrieving's living room to find a woman who had observed me subbing/teaching earlier that morning. "Monica!" she cries. "How weird!" Indeed! After we'd played the miniature version of "Rochester Six-Degrees," aka "Jewish-Rochester Six-Degrees," she remarked that it was imperative that I meet So-And-So, my being new to the area and all. But it just so happened that I'd met So-And-So at a recent holiday gathering.

I suppose this is how it is here: if you're in education, and just happen to be Jewish, you're bound to bump into the same people repeatedly. Makes me think of that Hungry Hippos game we had when I was a kid. Same hippos, same metallic mechanism-track-things, different day.

The most pressing mystery of my city of origin concerns our drivers: why do they slow down-- from a smooth 70 to a dizzying 35-- when there is no weather-related, traffic-related, accident-related, roadkill, or car-consuming pothole to cause the sudden change? Take 390, 490, or 590 any day of the week, at any time of day, and some yahoo is bound to slam on his brakes for no apparent reason whatsoever. From my driver's seat, it seems someone has just remembered that s/he left the iron/stove on and this revelation causes leadfoot on the wrong freakin' pedal. Unbelievable. I have no explanation for this one. Please call me to discuss it.

Thanks for reading through this entire, unintentional rant. If you've survived it, please know that the next blog will be far more cheerful and pleasant, as most of my blogs are. After all, readers: what are Rochesterians if not full of mystery?

March 10, 2005

Hot Box Seats

{The following is the rough, first draft of a poetry-writing exercise I did with students while subbing; it's subject to change, but I hope you enjoy it!}

Hot Box Seats

In the old, minor league stadium
that doesn't exist anymore,
where we'd sat for hours
upon hours of our young lives,
in hard, metallic, folding seats,
together,
through innings upon innings of delicate rain,
hotdogs and popcorn,
strike-outs and stolen bases,
a single, Hammond B-3 organ
moving us to clap, sing,
and stomp together,

we watched the new Irish band
(that is now the old one)
march in
to a booming bass drum cadence,
outfield lights exploding
into our eyes, blinding us
with temporary teenage frenzy.

We screamed louder for the bald, buff, bassist
than for any of our boys;
our shirts bore new logos, new colors,
our loyalties caught between old-
fashioned fun and progressive rock,
like our hometown heroes,
running towards second base
while looking at first.

The organ-shaking powerchords
lobbed towards right field
are lost now,
in a reverb echoed by wind
that sweeps over home plate.

March 01, 2005

Finding Eden at the Summit

Remember that old tale about the man who expires and finds himself on the "other side"? He sees an infinitely long, elegantly-set table with an unbelievable feast laid upon it, and two equally, infinitely long rows of starving people on either side of the table, looking longingly at their food. An angel whispers to the man that their arms are locked, and so they cannot feed themselves. The man finds it despicable, a poor excuse for heaven, when the angel then leads him away. "That was hell," the angel explains. "In heaven, everyone feeds each other."

My day was sort of like that.

The Summit is a model for how we ought to be treating the elderly in this country, if only they all could afford to live in such a place. Art--amazing art--adorns the walls of the place, and there's a beauty salon, a lap pool (with a young, handsome lifeguard on duty most of the time), a sunny cafe, "visit rooms" with fireplaces, and conference rooms (complete with computers); a cozy library that operates on the dewy-decimal; lectures are given throughout the week on anything from the latest pop-culture lit. to liturgy; residents can get stamps, photocopies, and room service simply by notifying a person they call the "concierge." One of The Summit's residents is Mr. Eden, who is legally blind, and for whom I am a voluntary reader once each week.

Today was our first meeting. After giving me a tour of the building--which he admitted he mostly did by sense of direction--we went up to his apartment so that I could begin my services. I'd been so excited: what would be reading? Malamud? Isaac B. Singer? Shakespeare? Oh, my hopes were high. Did Mr. Eden know how lucky he was to get an English teacher--and amateur actress--to read to him?

"Take a seat," Mr. Eden said in his thick, Czech accent. "Now. Here's today's mail. Open up and read."
"You want me to read your mail?" I asked, deflated.
"You have time for this, yes?"
"Of course," I demured. "But don't you want me to read you something...interesting?"
"Ha! You want interesting? Open up my bank statement. I'll give you interesting. Read!"

So I read. I read the newsletter from his Men In Transition meeting (his wife passed away four years ago), the majority of the publication dedicated to who was bringing bagels for which meeting, and something about new phone technology. We went through a statement from TD Waterhouse Investments. Bills. A coupon from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. A flyer for an Italian restaurant downtown.

Just as the end of my hour was approaching, Mr. Eden pulled towards me a rather thick, stapled packet: The Summit Newsletter. "Ach, don't worry. I'm not a chazzer (pig). I won't take up all your time for myself. But just a little more, please? Find something you want to read. Something interesting." So I flipped. And then there it was: "The Shylock Problem: the 'Merchant of Venice' Onscreen." Hoorah! I asked Mr. Eden if he was interested.

"So, nu already? Read!"

This two-page piece made my heart flutter. Originally printed in the Jewish Week, the article went in-depth about the director's decision to portray Shylock sympathetically, and Pacino's preparations to play the part. It discussed the film's timely debut (considering the shocking amount of anti-semitism prevalent in Europe at the moment), as well as a bit about Shylock's character to boot.

Mr. Eden indulged my elaborating on the article with a nuanced, but under-dramatized, few lines of Shylock's famous monologue, as well as some historical tidbits about Shakespeare and his contemporary playwright, Marlowe (who was thought to be anti-semitic). Smitten with my reading, he felt he had to indulge me back.

"Such a beautiful reader!" he announced to himself. He patted my hand. "So now I'm taking you for lunch. Downstairs." I resisted--I was nervous about being ready for my first class tonight, and with the weather so bad, was certain my preparations would take twice as long.

"So what do we do?" he asked. "Can I pay you?"
I laughed. "I should be paying you! You're fun to read to."
"She doesn't want lunch," he talked to himself again. "So what are you doing Friday night? Will you have some dinner with me?"
How could I resist a dinner invitation for 4:45? I accepted.

And so I have a Shabbat date for dinner at the Summit this Friday. While we sit across the table from each other, I imagine we'll be feeding each other plenty.

With Mr. Eden, I am, literally, in heaven.

February 11, 2005

A Valentine for the Perpetually Perplexed & Cynical


green leafy hearts



I've loathed Valentine's Day since elementary school, when my classmates used to tally how many Kermit/Ms. Piggy and Star Trek little, paper valentines they each received from one another, like trading cards. My tally was usually low. Sure, I could count on getting the oh-so-cliche "Have a Great Day, Friend!" valentine from the kids whose moms made them sign their testament to enduring friendship to *every* kid in the class, but my heart-red flag always went up when they were signed "From," instead of "Love."

Later, in the dog-eat-dog worlds of middle and high school, among the candygram and secret carnation recipients, V-Day became a slightly more desperate occassion. Popular girls, beguiling as ever with heart-shaped stickers on their nails and cheeks, boasted of their secret admirers through the hallways, advertising their chocoloate/flowers/cards against their chests like demure Victorians. Ah, and then the ultimate turn-key of fate: should I or shouldn't I send Bradley Jacobs, only the cutest guy in school, a secret Valentine? Will he, at once, catch my furtive I-sent-you-that-carnation glance in the hallway, only to discover that we were meant to be TLF and bear lots of beautiful children together? (That is, when he's not busy staring into my eyes and burping up his orange juice?)

The formative years thankfully behind me, I can proudly announce that until this year, I bravely endured a near-decade of dateless Valentine's nights (gal pals excluded, of course--and may I add, you & our strong cosmopolitans made for fine company on those chilly February nights). I was less disgusted by the lack of single, attractive, and viable dates than the commercialization of the holiday. Down with Hallmark! Down with florists, everywhere! How dare "they" (I'm not sure who exactly I was trying to identify here) market to a target audience of significant others and people who make their kids feel guilty if they don't get a big red card in the mail! V-D Day, a friend called it, connoting a disease you could really only get if you were lucky enough to *have* an admirer.

This year, I am forced to reconsider my long-ingrained negativity towards Valentine's Day. Please note, friends, that I am not writing this with my head in the clouds--though I am definitely in love. I am writing soberly here, and seriously, post-coffee, with the intent of helping those, who like I once did, dislike Valentine's Day.

First, I'd like you to picture Annie Leibovitz's snapshot of John Lennon & Yoko Ono. Stop whining and do it. Recall how John's naked, wiry and fetal-shaped body cozies up to Yoko, who lays there on their bed, hair amiss, in bliss. Got it? Keep it in mind.
John once said that he had no idea who Yoko was when he went to her art exhibit prior to their meeting. Yoko had an installment with a ladder; John climbed the ladder to discover that on the ceiling above him, Yoko had placed the word "Yes." It was her affirmation of. . .well, as I see it, everything. Taking risks, being proactive, accepting the unexpected, yada yada. Now stay with me.

Now I'd like you to note that it is on Valentine's Day when your coworkers bring in all sorts of treats, as they do on the days prior to Christmas. No, they're not trying to make you fat. They're affirming that you're sweet, so you ought to have sweets. It's a very simple tradition purported everywhere with millions of heart-shaped, chocolate-filled boxes. Get over it. Eat a damn hershey's kiss. And say thank-you.

Consider that in the commercial world of Hershey's Kisses and Hallmark cards that we often overlook the popular definition of "love" as total acceptance--it's the biggest "Yes," the unconditional affirming of something. Thus, what we want--and lack--in our romantic lives gets 'shotgun' seat in our automobile of need, and all the other relationships take a backseat. You can love your backyard, you can love Entenman's Coffeecake, you can love it when your nextdoor neighbor's kid jumps up and down when she waves at you. You can love all the things they don't make cards for (and for which you couldn't send any, anyway). Start making your list. Stop whining. Do it. What do you love?

A good friend of mine is recuperating after a devastating break-up that could leave her permanently cynical. I wouldn't blame her. Her cynicism has permeated her recent emails, and some of our phone conversations. Luckily--and maybe you have to be born this way--she's found a way, despite her sadness, to live with abandon. Noting her vacation time, she's gone and signed herself up for a trek through the Pacific Northwest that will undoubtedly reacquaint her with the magnificence of our country's landscape--and she'll meet a few new folks while doing it. I can't help but dedicate this blog to her, because in her signing up for a western adventure, she's renewing her love for travel, people, nature, and learning. You can't send a Hallmark Card to the San Juan Islands, but you sure can love the opportunity to see them.

Cynics, I speak directly to you when I ask that you renounce your association of V-Day with overcommercialized nonsense. Instead, make it yet another holiday to take stock of the things you love, of the people who love you, of your luck in getting to experience a myriad of emotions. And in my homage to cheesy Valentine's everywhere, I leave you with this: Just Say "Yes."

February 01, 2005

Lorraine Asks, I Tell

Dear Readers,

Lorraine from Atlanta, GA asks,

"How are you? Checked your blog--and nothing new!"

Good questions! I know--I've been shirking my blogging duties. First and foremost, I am still subbing, and so when duty doesn't (sadly) call at 5:30 a.m., leaving me alone in the house with little else to do than look for a REAL JOB, that is precisely what I do. I am nose-to-the-grindstone, foot-to-the-pavement looking for exciting, life-affirming, world-changing, full-time work. With benefits.

At present, I am only a part-time worker bee. So far my favorite of these gigs--well, since it's the only one that's really started--is my playwriting workshop (go on, click the link, you know you want to). I have an 82-year-old student!! And she rocks! The two-hour, Thursday night class goes way too fast, and we laugh our butts off. If you do visit my workshop website, I double dog dare you to try the weekly challenges--and send me your writing! (C'mon, you don't have to pay me to read them!)

Lined up on the part-time teaching horizon will be workshops for the Rochester Association for the Performing Arts (RAPA), a Jewish day school, and the local community college. Sure, I'll have to carry around one of those wheely-suitcases to keep all my stuff straight, but at least I'll be organized.

As far as artistic challenges go, I'm nudging myself into creating a photography portfolio (from my collective travels abroad--see my Mexican mangoes pic below), writing sestinas, learning how to knit (ala "mom's way"), getting immersed in community volunteer projects around the Rochester Jewish Film Festival and ArtWalk (a really cool Rochester public art organization). mangoes & tangerines, Tlacolula market
Can you see this photo hanging on the wall of your favorite local coffee shop?

If you haven't heard that I'm dating an amazing young man yet, you live in a cave, and I can't believe you have internet service in there.

So thanks, Lorraine F. from down Georgia way, for initiating this update. Hope you're thawing out from your nasty bout with snow (poor dears, you're not used to the arctic!), and y'all write soon now, y'hear?



January 11, 2005

Bobby Speaks: Chronicles, Volume One

Bobby D in NYC

If your 2005 must-read booklist includes only one title from the New York Times 2004 Bestsellers, Bob Dylan's long-awaited Chronicles (Simon & Schuster) would be a soul-charging, edifying choice. From the man who calls mainstream culture "as lame as hell and a big trick" comes a colloquial, introspective, and retrospective memoir that identifies the making of a legend through his own cultural influences.

But I can't even understand his songs, Monica! I hear you whine. Why would I want to occupy my time with the blatherings of a bleater? So you've never been to a Dylan show, you (sadly) don't even own Blood on the Tracks, and you have no interest in hearing what one of the last remaining pioneers of music has to say?

I offer you this: if you take music seriously at all--blues, jazz, even the new, young acoustic rock scene (ala Jack Johnson and John Mayer), you'll pick up this book. In less than 300 pages, Dylan generously spills to us all of his musical and literary influences in a quasi-chronology that adds up to how he conceives, writes, changes--and yes, even sings--his stuff. It is a looking-glass into the soul of a true poet. And he does it with the same lyrical and sardonic grace you hear in every line of his oeuvre, whether or not you care for it.

Take, for example, what Bobby says about hearing Roy Orbison for the first time:

"With Roy, you didn't know if you were listening to mariachi or opera. . . .With him, it was all about fat and blood. He sounded like he was singing from an Olympian mountaintop and he meant business. . .[he sang] in three or four octaves that made you want to drive your car over a cliff. He sang like a professional criminal. . .His voice could jar a corpse, always leave you muttering to yourself something like, 'Man, I don't believe it.' His songs had songs within songs."

Or Johnny Cash:

"Johnny didn't have a piercing yell, but ten thousand years of culture fell from him. He could have been a cave dweller. He sounds like he's at the edge of the fire, or in the deep snow, or in a ghostly forest, the coolness of conscious obvious strength, full tilt and vibrant with danger."

Or his blues-playing predecessor, John Jacob Niles:

"Niles was nontraditional, but he played traditional songs. A Mephistophelean character out of Carolina, he hammered away at some harplike instrument and sang in a bone chilling soprano voice. Niles was eerie and illogical, terrifically intense and gave you goosebumps. Definitely a switched-on character, almost like a sorcerer. Niles was otherworldly and his voice raged with strange incantations. I listened to 'Maid Freed from the Gallows' and 'Go Away from my Window' plenty of times."

Promotion of Chronicles prompted an uncharacteristic embracing of our modern-day Bard: there was the much-anticipated, televised interview on 60 minutes; a rare interview with Dylan in Newsweek, and buzz surrounding Dylan's nomination for the Nobel Prize (which, unfortunately in the case of the Poetry prize, cannot be awarded a musician--if the rules were to be broken, Dylan would be the first songster in the Nobel's history to be granted such laurels). Simultaneously, Dylan and his band happened to be touring the United States, playing only at midsize college gyms (such as R.I.T.'s) and stages as their venues, drawing a young but musically-mature crowd. (It's worth noting here that Dylan actually cracked a cheesy joke on stage at the R.I.T. show in November--a move I interpret as an attempt at bonding, which has never before happened during the 13+ concerts I've seen.)

Could it be that Dylan himself--the man who has openly ridiculed pop-culture for its falsities, its reflexive, staged hype--wants to leave his legacy to the next generation of music-philes? (This is the man, after all, who normally shuns publicity, preferring to remain an obscure figure in a world of sell-outs.) Perhaps it is this reflexivity with which Dylan has made his peace: with the recent interviews and this publication, he is confronting and catering to the curiosity of his admirers who have revered --and misunderstood--him for decades. It his literary investment to not fade away.

Chronicles makes you feel as though you're sitting face-to-face in an empty, dimly-lit, roadside interstate saloon, listening to a deluge of truth. At times, Dylan gets personal, even referencing himself as a Tom Sawyer a few times, and whether that's conscious or not, the allusion connotes that he, too, has been on an improbable journey to seek out that truth. He also, surprisingly, mentions his "wife" (though he doesn't say which, you can do the homework), and some of their dialogue. With this book, he erases his own musical myth and reworks himself to us as common a man as those of whom he sings. He tells us what makes folk an unexpendable genre, what music can tell us about the state of the States, and the agony and the ecstasy of songwriting. When you're finished, you'll wish you'd taken notes. You'll want to take a class in music history. You will have laughed a little. You'll start looking for musicians you hadn't before heard of in odd record kiosks. You might even surprise yourself and dust off your guitar. But surely, you will want to give this book to a youngster, a Brittany-listener, a budding songwriter you know: you will want Dylan to continue to permeate popular consciousness the way he has for decades--growling, skeptical, poetic, and honest.

January 10, 2005

A Letter from Ukraine

Well, for lack of global wanderings of my own, I thought I'd pass along this latest update from my friends Orly and Jamie, who are Peace Corps-niks for the next several months. How many people do you know who've heard Yuschenko speak in person? Okay, then. Jamie also details their Christmas/New Years experiences, as well as a teacher's observation scenario (far, far different from anything we teachers have been through here). Settle in (it's a tome), read, and enjoy!

My friends,
 
No matter how long I manage to write, this note will be far less complete than I would hope, and far less personal than it should be, as these long winter nights and grey days make me feel farther from home and at the same time oddly settled. I hope this finds everyone well after the holidays.
 
Here, they’re just beginning. New Years’ is a week-long affair, and Christmas in the Orthodox church is coming up on Friday. From what I’ve heard, very little will be done across the country, this week. Ah, well.
 
I could go only two weeks back and have enough to fill a novel, but suffice to say that they have a thing here called “Open Lessons”, wherein teachers are evaluated on their performance once or twice a year by a commission of several high-ranking folks from throughout the city. Unlike at home, where there’s meetings with the principal beforehand about what the lesson will be on and a certain amount of preparation on the teacher’s part to make sure things go smoothly, the Ukrainian version is, like one of their favorite Russian words, a spectacle.
 
So, Orly’s teacher had been preparing for this for over two months now. Only the brightest students are chosen from a class, and they rehearse their lines for weeks on end, with Luba screaming at them if they make the slightest mistake. The whole things is so ridiculously scripted, that one would think any educator would see through it, laugh, etc. Nope. They love it. It’s exactly what they wanted. Appearances, appearances, and so sadly little in the ay of substance. The school went all out for this last one – the day before, there was an army of kids hanging curtains, paintings and potted plants in the hallway that had never been there before, and a vodka-n-cognac feast was laid out for the visiting commission (plebes like the actual teachers strictly forbidden to attend).
 
So this whole situation went down without a hitch, by their own standards, despite the mass hysteria it created for those involved. The commission made not a single comment after the lesson, but instead hurried off to their feast and then, as makes perfect sense….
 
For a tour of the meat processing plant.
 
The director was, at first, very distraught that we didn’t’ want to go along, but we managed to politely refuse.
 
There was no real teaching done for a month before or after this, and our library of videos, so generously donated and painstakingly cataloged, has become one huge babysitter for Luba and a thorn in our sides as to how to approach the issue. We’re still on vacation now, and hoping things will clear themselves up.
 
That ate up the first part of December and a good deal of what my dad would call “people renting space in our heads.”
 
The next day was St. Nicholas Day, when Ukrainian kids usually wake up to find small gifts under their pillows. It’s a holiday largely kept only in the West, but a group of Western school kids has been trying to bring it to the east – sending gifts and notes to Donetsk and other pro-Yanukovich areas as a way of helping bring the country back together.
 
For us, too, it brought a nice, needed ray of hope when we found out that Sergei, Orly’s old host dad, had come to the school early in the morning and donated 100 gryven to each of the five orphans in the school, including our friend Lilia, so they could but something nice for themselves. His only stipulation was that no one mention where the money had come from. Even when we’ve been in really negative spaces about the culture here, we keep having these moments where, as Henry Miller said, “Given the slightest chance, human beings will express the best that is within them.” Or something like that.
 
I also found out that one of my students, who thinks she is a pure fashion-plate, wears a wig. From day to day, her hair will vary in color and about a foot worth of length. And, depending on the day, she brings a notebook that is designed to coordinate – she has two, each with a girl that has that day’s respective hairstyle.
 
In the true spirit of Cleo Syph and Oak Hill, I taught a group of kids how to play poker just before Christmas, using Wasabi peas from Orly’s dad to teach them how to bet. The littlest, Misha, kept eating all his “money”, even though it was too spicy for him, and didn’t win many hands, that day.
 
Two days before Christmas, Inna, Orly’s tutor, came by the house to look at our Christmas tree (a nice, big live one, decorated with ornaments from home and dreidels. We tried to be as inclusive as we could) along with a guy we’d never met before. He introduced himself briefly, commented at how pretty our tree was, and then turned to me and said, in Russian, “So how do I get a green card?”
            I told him that we didn’t have any with us, but that we’d try to find out. I also said he would probably be better off asking Orly, since my Russian isn’t very good. He pressed the issue for a while; talking about how he’d do anything, scrub toilets, etc. Just to have a chance to get himself and his family out of Ukraine. Despite the fact that all his responses came from Orly, he continued to address him self only to me, in the traditional Ukrainian tradition of men only talking to men, even when, in this case, the woman is clearly smarter.
 
Politics before the election continued to heat up, with Ukraine’s first ever Presidential debate. In the prior one, they’d only read from prepared statements, but here the candidates actually asked one another questions. Perhaps the best part was the Blue candidate’s seeming misunderstanding of how exactly an election works, in that there’s only one winner, and the loser doesn’t get to play anymore. He kept saying things like: “Are you ready, together with me, right after new years, to implement political reform and form a good government? … And together, me and you, we will work to form a good government of national accord, and strive to unite our country…”
 
Can’t you just picture it with Bush and Kerry’s debates just ending with a big hug and the swelling chords of “why can’t we be friends?” the aforementioned candidate is currently appealing to the supreme court, but no one’s really paying attention.
 
On Christmas Eve, Orly’s class watched “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” She’d adapted it for the students to do in their literature class the month prior, and my mom’s friend Susan donated her personal copy of the tape to us. There’s really nothing more wonderful when you’re far from home on the holidays than a swelling of heavily accented voices gleefully fumbling over the rest of the words to “You’re a mean one” but then all howling in unison: “Meeesteerr Greeeenuch!!!”
 
After a quiet little night at home and a few phone calls from the states, Orly and I got on a train at 12:40 Christmas morning, and headed to Kiev to pick up her friend Sapna from the airport.
 
When we got to our train car, there were already 3 people in our 4-berth car, and they were very eager to let us put our things under the bottom bed, where they’d be “safe”, even though Orly and I had the top two berths. We declined their generous offer, with slight influence being put on the decision by the six beer bottles on the floor (When we told this to my tutor, she was appalled. “They were drinking on the train?? That’s illegal.” But when we explained further, she said, “Oh, they were drinking BEER. I thought you meant alcohol…” c’est la vie.) We slept with everything of value up next to us, including Orly’s little shoulder bag clipped to my belt. When we got up in the morning, they were gone, and everything seemed fine.
 
But, no.
 
They stole me hat.
 
And the big, beautiful warm scarf that Orly’s aunt Ila had knitted for me. I guess it was the only thing they could get their hands on. So, yes, I got robbed for Christmas. Happy, happy.
 
We made it to the airport, picked up Sapna and got back into the main part of Kiev with minimal stink-eye from the locals and an unwelcomely affectionate couple in the front seat of the bus back to keep us company.
 
That night, we got our first good look at the Tent City on Maidan, which is what you’ve all been seeing on the news. It was possibly the most amazing, inspiring thing I have ever seen in my life. There were rows upon rows of makeshift tents and plywood lean-tos, all draped with the Orange flag of the opposition candidate (now president, inauguration will be only Jan. 13) There were small first cooking dinner and people warming their hands. In the center of the street, for several blocks, people were lined up, facing each other in silence across the road, holding candles and hands, as if in the midst of a vigil, all holding their breaths to see what would be next for their country in the following day’s election.
 
Everywhere we looked in Kiev, there were people wearing orange – scarves, hats, little children done up in entire snowsuits, businesswomen with tiny ribbons tied to their purses. And there was just a wonderful sense of community and friendliness that I’ve never experienced in that city before. Despite what the guidebooks say, Ukrainians aren’t actually known for their warmth, especially not in large cities any more than Americans are, but it was as if anyone we saw in orange was from a different world. They were friendly, they waved at each other – even the Santa Clauses we saw posing for photos in the street were wearing Orange scarves.
 
The sense of immediate community that comes out of something as simple as a scarf makes you wonder if, on a superficial level, the lack of any real difference between our donkeys and elephants is reflected in their perennial scramble to see who can claim red, white, and blue as their campaign colors.
 
We had Indian food that night, a huge treat since the only thing available here has been cabbage and potatoes and seems likely to stay that way, and then caught a children’s theater production of “The Nutcracker” in the beautiful Kiev Opera House. It was my first ballet, and though it was only kids, the tickets worked out to be about 65 cents each, and it was a really great way to spend the night.
 
The next day, the pop music was blaring from the school signaling yet another election day. We went to the market with Sapna and I got a new hat to replace the one that was stolen. It’s got almost an exact replica of the little Celtic knot tattooed on my shoulder. Not what I ever expected to find here. We hung around most of the day, and Orly and Sapna put the finishing touches on this ridiculously gorgeous mosaic that orly’s been working on. She took an old piece of furniture, sort of like a dresser called a toombuchka that was old and ugly before and made a whole Grecian sea-scape on the front doors, complete with Argonauts-style boat and a sun. The top in a brown and green ivy pattern and the drawers are flames. I supervised and listened to Green Day’s American Idiot, which Sapna had brought with her. First new music in English I’ve heard in a long time, and something everyone out there should listen to. Blows my mind that the aptest voice out there today is from the guys who brought us dookie….
 
The next day, we gave sapna a tour of Voznesensk, including the Roerick museum out in one of the residential neighborhoods. It was supposed to be closed for cleaning that day, but the woman at the desk opened up for us and gave us a little guided tour, and even switched on the harpsichord music in the background for us. We bought a new painting for the house and left feeling really happy.
 
That night, at Inna’s house, we took a bunch of pictures, and then Inna, who is in charge of the youngest group of kids at the school asked, out of the blue, “Jamie, what are you doing tomorrow? Nothing? Good. How about you come and be Dyed Marose (Santa Claus) for my kids at the cafe?”
 
So the next day, there I was, the skinniest Santa Claus in the world, in a tattered Blue robe and a socking full of candy, with a red had and a musty, ancient beard sticking its stinky stray hairs up my nose, giving out candy to the kids and yelling “Koodah Ya Pahpal!” (where have I found myself) in Russian and telling the kids they had to either dance, sing or tell me a poem in order to get candy. It was probably more embarrassing for them than it was for me. Only problem is that it was the same little cafe that orly and I usually eat out at. No one has said anything yet since I’ve been back, but I am always paranoid they’re laughing at me behind my back: “Mommy, what can’t Dyed Mahrose speak Russian?”
 
We had a big dinner at Sergei and Ludmilla’s with Sapna, and then took the train back to Kiev, where we were staying for New Years.
 
As always, there were plenty of ups-and-downs. Orly had her wallet stolen from her bag early in the trip, but luckily I had all the passports and documents with me and nothing was irreplaceable. We saw a lot of the city I had never really seen before, ate a lot of falafel at the new place that just opened (we figure diverse food needs all the encouragement it can get here) and saw what was supposed to be a reggae band at this little hip hole-in-the wall place called Art Club 44, but they actually turned out to be a bizarre, slightly upbeat, sometimes-in-Russian Tom Waits cover band.
 
Nothing surprises me, anymore.
 
For New Years’ Eve, I had my mind thoroughly blown. Orly, Sapna, Joyce and I went out to maidan around 10 PM to hear Yushenko speak. (I mean, no we didn’t… Peace Corps has no political affiliations…) there were bands on the stage playing some of the best music I have heard in the country and yelling things like “Let’s party, because we won!” Young guys were dancing with babushkas. Fireworks were going off overhead… people seemed near tears with the joy of it all.
 
The president of Georgia came up to introduce Yushenko, and talked about how he hoped the spirit of the Rose and Orange revolutions would spread across Europe. He read from a prepared speech in Ukrainian, and the crowd bellowed back “Welcome” to him in Georgian. For him to be away from his own country on what is the biggest holiday of the year around here was really touching.
 
Yushenko himself was immediately preceded by his tiny son, bundled up all in orange reading a poem to the crowd, his tiny face serious and strong as it was broadcast on the two huge monitors.
 
The man himself and his closest ally, Yulia Tymeshenko (Ukraine’s princess Leia) gave brief speeches to wish folks a happy new year, and the crowd went crazy. Fireworks everywhere, dancing…. I can’t properly put into words how it felt to be in there with those masses. It was a strong, strong reminder of how much people really value their freedom when it’s new and hard-earned, and the sense of pride that comes from standing up to a crooked government and saying “no, we don’t want this, we won’t take it, and we want our country back.” We cried, we laughed, we barely avoided getting our toes blown off by fireworks, and some guy in a monkey mask scared the heck out of orly in the subway. A great night.
 
It was an ordeal to get home, with transport frustrations because apparently “New Years” means all of January and none of the trains or buses we’d expected were running. We were run out of the waiting lounge by a gleeful cashier because we didn’t have tickets and didn’t want to pay, had really good schwarma really cheap and saw all the usual, lovely freaks and weirdos up close and personal. We finally got home, seriously exhausted, and have been resting ever since, while Orly adapts The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for her class, and I try to make sense of all this and journal it.
 
I also got my haircut by a crazy midget yesterday while a televangelist told us all about the “proper” relationship between men and women.
 
Yeah….
 
So what did YOU do for new years? I miss you, guys. Make with the stories!!!!
 
Happy new Year, Second Christmas (tomorrow) belated Hanukkah and early Old New Year (they have two here, one from the old Russian calendar pre-Lenin and celebrate them both.)
 
Peace, Love and Orange Scarves,
 
   j

January 03, 2005

Messin' with Texas Hold-'Em

8b20833t

Apparently, I've been contenting myself in a cave for a while. In my cave, there are no playing cards that haven't been used for any games outside of "war" and "go fish." In my cave, the letters E-S-P-N conjure more the Psychic Network (well, what's the ESP stand for, anyhow?) than its well-known sports coverage. And in my cave, any acting abilities I have are put to revealing emotion rather than reserving it.

I had the great fortune of spending New Year's with a lovely couple in Fairfax, VA. Two brilliant, engaging, gracious, and most cultured folks, Maya and her husband, Howard, opened to us their home, cooked for us scrumptious meals, and took us into D.C. for a dizzyingly divine culinary experience at Cafe Atlantico. We had reservations for 8 on January 1st. What could be more fun than plans to kick off 2005 with promises of mojitos and latin-fusion food in the heart of the nation's capital?

At 4:30 that day, someone suggested we start learning the game. Jason, who'd come with his wife Kathy from Pennsylvania for the New Year's fete, had brought with him a bonafide poker case. If you haven't seen one, it resembles any stainless steel, mobster-type briefcase--the kind that would hold a ransom--and if you own one, you're not messing around. Jason carefully laid his case on the floor, and opened it slowly to reveal a full set of chips, two decks of cards, an extra deck called "Texas Hold 'Em for Dummies," some red dice, and all the poker accoutrements a serious player could dream for. Save for the "Dummies" deck (which, admittedly, I used for three rounds), the glistening, silvery briefcase was like a Vegas oyster shell with all its poker pearls in tow.

I'd never partaken in a poker game before, so the group waited patiently while Jason explained the hierarchy of winning sets of cards. I took notes. (And I tried hard not to crack up--who can forget when Booger tries to explain to Toshiro the rules of poker in "Revenge of the Nerds"?) But this group was serious, and notes taken, it was time to get down to the brass tacks of Texas Hold 'Em.

It must be added here that Jason's true calling is not as a home-based computer consultant, but professionalTexas Hold 'Em play-by-play commentator. Half for my benefit (to learn what was going on during the rounds) and half for his own amusement, Jason subtlely announced each play we made, including his own--in the third person. His friends ripped on him for this. Ah, but for the life of an underappreciated Texas Hold 'Em expert, poor guy. His wife casually rolled her eyes whenever Jason quietly inferred each time a prudent, conservative, or shamelessly outrageous bet was placed on the table. The rest of us chortled. Jason? He held his poker face, eyes to the table.

Don't ask me what makes this game totally different from any other version of poker. All I can tell you is that the betting is different, because that is what Jason said. Jason also explained the ins and outs of strategizing, but I was working too hard on keeping my cards (and eyes) down to ingest it all.

The second most valuable lesson of Texas Hold 'Em is how to subdue your attitude. Think of Stanley Kowalski's pals in "Streetcar Named Desire." (If you don't have the white, ribbed, old-school tank-top, stogie, and fifth of gin at your ready, don't fret--neither do the guys on ESPN.) Feelin' smoked by a bad hand? Throw your cards in with shrug: "Ah, I fold." Win a hand? All you have to do is smirk. Wanna up the ante? Toss a couple of big chips in, and lean back while your opponents sweat. It's about self-control. Maintain your poker face and no one will surmise whether you're bluffing, because they simply won't be able to guess.

The first most valuable lesson of the game, by the way, recalls Kenny Rodger's "Gambler": if you don't know when to fold 'em, you're sunk. (An aside: Thank you, Kenny, for your brilliant gambling-as-metaphor-for-life. There will indeed be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done, and I'll try to remember that when a handsome candy-striper is helping me into the bathroom at my future nursing home.)

By 7:30, we--myself, Howard's and Maya's guests, and Howard included--were immersed in a legit game. I noted silently that I had to get ready for our big night on the town, for Maya wanted to leave for the Metro at 8; and if I wasn't going to appear as hung-over as I felt, that I needed to embark on a makeover project. Two rounds--and a half an hour later--I was happy to just change my pants, put on a necklace and some lipstick, and call it a legit attempt at primping. Headache and baggy eyes be damned.

Somehow, Maya effectively got us all to the train, and we made our dinner reservations on time. A fabulous dinner behind us, we were ready to head back to Fairfax, ready to get in our p.j.'s, and ready to take up the game again, glasses of port and doritos at hand.

I went to bed, having lost all my chips, sometime around 2 a.m. The other losers and I awoke the next morning to discover that Maya, who is, apparently, an outlandishly risky better, was the table champion at 3:30, having beaten her husband by convincing him to throw in his entire pot. Grrrl tactics at their best. Bravo, Maya.

I've been invited out tomorrow night for an evening of Indian cuisine and Swedish film, and have affirmed my presence. But all the while, I know this roamin' girl's heart will be in Texas, waiting for the Hold 'Em championships to be re-aired on ESPN.