The Smell of Success

Taking the A train last week, dozing a bit, I am suddenly aware of the smell of….curry? Not yummy-like-you’re-in-a-restaurant curry, but that leftover, microwave overheated smell. Two women across from me are eating some stinky spicy wrap thing, lettuce shreds spilling out onto the floor. Frankly, after touching the turnstile and the grab pole, the last thing I want to put in my mouth is something my hand just touched. But New Yorkers are pressed for time. We have to rush here and there, so eating on the run is acceptable. Generally, though, on the train you want to avoid stuff that smells. Fritoes, for example.

I was heading to a job interview in the village on MacDougal street. A voice teacher and professor whose office is in his home, a third floor walk-up. Jose, the maintenance man let me into the building. I got to the third floor apartment and pushed the little gold doorbell. An arty looking older man with a shiny head welcomed me in. The apartment was bright, with a wall of windows. I thought it probably hadn’t changed since the ‘50s. Small, charming, with yellow walls. Not post-it note yellow, but a deep, warm color. Lots of antique rugs lay across the floors, which had developed a dark patina over the years. A cat scratcher was on the floor next to a baby grand piano, that was covered with an old violet-colored drape. It sat, too big for the space, in front of the white painted paned windows. I admired the iconic rooftop view of the back of apartment buildings with their retro, rusty fire escapes (these are called backyards in New York.)

The atmosphere was cozy, arty. I was in The Village in an apartment, I imagined, not unlike one where Willem deKooning or Mark Rothko might have hosted parties and readings, exchanging ideas and opinions, drinking wine and smoking cigarettes. I was lost in 1959…. My host offered me tea and we sat in comfy old chairs. One of his cats walked in, skinny and probably dying, he said. They don’t know why, but then, he is 15 years old so…..his voice trailed off. He showed me the small, cramped office and all the files and phone books and remnants of an earlier era. He needed help. Filing, among other things. We talked about the position available and he said he had two other people to interview. That’s usually the nail in my coffin. For some reason, I come off well in the interview but then some other candidate after me is perfect and I lose the job. I’m still waiting for a response from a job I interview I had in October (I know…but she hasn’t gotten back to me so I still see an ember on the ashes.) I have learned not to get my hopes up. I would rather think the worst and have a positive outcome than get all charged up and be disappointed. We said good bye, I thanked him and he thanked me.

Across the street a charming little coffee shop was calling to me. It was a chilly morning and I decided to reward myself with an Americano and a scone. I got a Rosemary currant scone, the last one, and a small coffee, and thought I’d hang around, but all the tables were taken. So I headed back home and ate my scone on the train – untouched by human hands, of course – my mouth buried deep in the little white bag I held with my gloved hands, possibly looking emotionally disturbed. But at least scones don’t stink. And I got the job.

fire escape


Take My Seat…Please!

I came to New York later than most young hopefuls who arrive here to fulfill their dreams. I’ve wanted to live here since I was 20 but, as the saying goes, life got in the way. So here I am, 40 years too late. I made it. I’ve got it all but now I’m not really part of it all. I have some of the same hopes and dreams I had at 20 when I should have come here, but new expectations, lower ones.

My body and my energy deny it, but I am in the sleep aid and reverse mortgage ad demographics. Being an old fossil means if people acknowledge me at all, it’s usually to give up their seat on the train. The sign in the train asks riders to please give up your seat to an elderly, disabled, or pregnant person. I acknowledge their courtesy but I prefer to stand. Nobody’s gonna tell me I’m old. Heading to my weekly lunch date in South Seaport, I saw a cute guy on the train. He stood with his back against the doors. Black jeans, leather jacket. Ear buds. Attractive. He was only 20-something, so my admiration was pure. But he made me pensive; why didn’t I have one of those when I was young? So afraid to talk to boys, I never gave myself a chance to know one so I didn’t date. Men only want one thing, I was told. What is that? I didn’t really know, only that it was bad. Well I got over that fear, luckily because New York is a city for meeting strangers and making friends. Be completely alone if you crave it, but the opportunity for meeting people is tremendous.

Meet Ups offer events every night of the week to get together with people who share your interests. Mindfulness, Walking Tours, Bizarre & Wonderful NY Food gatherings. There is a Greyhound Playgroup. I love greyhounds. I’d like to go but would it be weird to show up without a dog? I could meet a guy with a dog…but then, he’d be 30 years old. I just got an alert for a new meetup, Laughter Yoga – a Good Time to Have a Good Time. I have never once laughed while doing yoga. I went to one called The Secrets of Grand Central, very enlightening. After the tour, the group headed to an Irish bar to watch football. Since I don’t have a tv and I love football, I was up for it, knowing everyone there would be under 40. I like to hang out with young people, tho this group all seemed to know each other. I sat at a table with a couple of nice young guys who were kind enough to talk to me. It was really loud and I couldn’t see the game anyway because two young women with really big hair, were standing in front of the tv, talking and gesturing and not even watching the game. And the bartender was busy with the youngsters at the end of the bar. I’m going to stick to the Over 60s playgroups.

I’ve been here nine months now and making it my own place, like millions of (young) hopefuls before me who came and never left. I figure I’m in a whole different class of new arrivals: Applying for Medicare instead of grad school. No longer waiting for that ‘big break,’ I am still feeling lucky every day, overwhelmed – that’s a good thing – by all the possibilities that exist here, even for someone old enough to remember when movies cost $1.00.

Surviving Snowmageddon 2016

I’m from Minneapolis. “Wow, it’s cold there!” people chuckle with a wide-eyed expression and clearly no idea where that is. They’ve heard it’s cold. Its close to Canada – it’s not in Indiana.

Minneapolis gets cold, and it gets snow. Sometimes lots of it. If you grew up in the ‘50s and ’60s, you remember walking to school amid 4’ snow drifts. We call those the ‘good old days’ because we didn’t know any better. Maybe because we didn’t know we were cold. We were kids. That kind of snow doesn’t happen often anymore, and I am grateful for that.

New York weather is much nicer, as far as I can tell in my short time here. But this past Saturday, Snowmageddon 2016, was a Minnesota day. It started snowing in Brooklyn Friday night and all thorough the night and the next day, finally tapered off around 9 pm Saturday. We were snug and cozy in our lair, watching movies with nachos and beer, looking at the blowing, swirling snow out the window. We were grateful we had someplace comfortable and warm for the night.

Since this snowfall was predicted, and The Weather Channel suggested it would end on Sunday morning sometime, it didn’t occur to me to ‘stock up,’ though apparently that was the order of the day on Friday. Friends from Minnesota called to make sure I had enough food, had I made it to the store for ‘supplies?’ Like firewood? Bottled water? A shotgun? I asked.

We all understand the need for toilet paper and beer. But on Friday, the line outside Trader Joe’s looked like the apocalypse was at hand, snaking down the block, all preparing for one entire day holed up inside with no connection to the outside world. Would they survive? No one, apparently, was taking any chances.

Photos surfaced on Friday, the day before the big one, of stores in D.C., all with totally empty shelves in the dairy aisle. They had all run out…of cheese. Every brick, every bag of taco shreds…gone! It’s good to know that, up and down the east coast all were cozy and safe, and all had enough cheese. Nothing takes the gloom out of the apocalypse like a plate of nachos.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 22.13.18

The Gallery Opening

A night in Chelsea with hundreds of art lovers
(and those who came for the free wine)

The Chelsea neighborhood in New York boasts many art galleries. The openings can be big events and are a fun way to see several in one evening, with wine, snacks and plenty of socializing. Many of the buildings are large spaces with a few galleries on different floors and from my short time here, I’ve noticed many of them seem to have slow, teeny, tiny elevators. And since there are several openings on the same night there’s be a big line just to get up to the second floor, since using the stairs is not allowed after 6 pm. Last week on a balmy January eve, I picked a block between 10th and 11th to see three gallery openings. After a long wait and a short ride to the second floor galleries, the elevator doors opened to an already large crowd, dressed mostly in black. Right there, standing behind a table of snacks a nice young man in a white shirt eagerly asked, “red or white?” Red was my choice tonight. Cheese cubes with toothpicks, and a few Triscuits in hand, I was off to enjoy myself. I wandered through the crush, feeling right at home dressed in my usual black.

Often during gallery hops, I have an inner discourse with myself, an ongoing discussion in my head. Your art is better than this, myself hisses to myself. Why isn’t your art hanging here? Talk to people! Hand out your card, you slug, you have the talent to be in a gallery. I had to ignore my left/right brain bickering for the moment. I had to move on.

I saw a series of 3 works that had large bleeding blobs of black ink on newsprint paper. I got closer. Perhaps there was something meaningful, deep, and not just something that looks like a big accident. I’m an artist – I love abstract, non-representational stuff, so I have a true appreciation for the mystery and wit of a good blob – but more like a Jackson Pollock blob. These pieces reminded me of the rejects I toss out when I paint. I should hold on to that stuff from now on. A price list wasn’t around, but I’m sure they weren’t cheap. The framing was top notch though, boosting the value of these mediocre pieces, and giving them an undeserved dignity.

Friends gathered around the artists, an appreciative coterie, taking pictures, proud of their artist comrade who somehow, for reasons completely beyond my comprehension, got into a group show. In a gallery in Chelsea!! Do I seem bitter? Maybe a smidge. It’s my own fault, of course. I think my work should be there. And yet I don’t do much to promote myself. These artists must have had an ‘in’, but more importantly, they networked and maybe hired an agent to promote them. I need to do more schmoozing. I need to be a self-promoter. I need to have what it takes. When I figure out how to do that, I’ll be here posing for pictures with my enthusiastic devotees.

It was too beautiful outside to go home just yet. The street was wonderfully alive with enthusiastic gallery hoppers. I headed over to the next gallery down the block to appraise more art. Maybe I’ll have white this time.


A Halal Christmas


Christmas in New York. My first one, and I would be alone, family would be in other parts of the country. But it’s New York – no one is ever alone. In preparation for the big day, I checked out places guaranteed to host a swarm of tourists and fellow New Yorkers where I would pretend to be surrounded by lots of friends. I even prepared myself for a real New York Christmas: Chinese dinner and a movie.

Then I got the call from Minneapolis. My friend, Bill. So nice to hear from him. We hadn’t talked in months. So what are you doing on Christmas? I asked him, knowing he’d be with his family, or a girlfriend. Well, Midge…he paused, I was thinking of coming to New York and spending it with you, if that’s alright. Alright?! Woo-hoo, of course it’s alright, I assured him. What a gift! My Christmas ‘present’ arrived on a Sun Country flight the next day (delayed by fog and diverted to Connecticut.)

I had planned for an alone day, with lots of pointless activities to keep me busy the whole day and into evening, assuring myself that I’d be having tons of fun with hundreds of anonymous strangers. But now I could plan a very special weekend and see for myself what makes Christmas in New York so exceptional.

It was a warm but slightly drizzly evening as we hopped the F train. We went temporarily insane and got off on 50th at Rockefeller Center to ‘see’ the Christmas tree (gridlock on a massive scale but with the added pleasure of umbrellas in your face). I admit I did get my New York Attitude on, advising the out-of-towners on ‘Umbrella Etiquette!’ Fifth Avenue store windows were on the list of All That Is Christmas In New York and they didn’t disappoint. Saks Winter Palace was cold and icy and beautifully designed. Henri Bendel, Harry Winston, all were spectacularly appointed.

We headed up Fifth Avenue to the Plaza Hotel; the Palm Court for Manhattans in Manhattan, of course. Low key and yet slightly magical, the Plaza was decked out in its Christmas finest. Palm trees and Christmas lights. We lingered there for quite awhile and realized we best find someplace for dinner. And since it ’s New York everything would be open. But I was amazed to find many restaurants closed. We headed to a place on Third Avenue that was supposed to be totally overdone and decked out for Christmas. The website said, “Open Today” and in red letters, ‘Christmas May Affect These Hours.’ So does that mean they’re open? you ask? No, it means they’re closed. Trust me on this and remember it for next year when you Google map, “Restaurants Open on Christmas Day.”

Oh well, it was a beautiful evening for walking anyway, and we found a cool Irish bar with sawdust on the floor (I didn’t know they still did that) but the kitchen was closed at 10:00. So we meandered, finding ourselves down by the Flatiron. A vendor on the corner was still selling his fare and the delicious, spicy smells of chicken and lamb drifted our way. We looked at each other, smiling with the same thought. This might be it, he laughed..let’s have a New York Halal Christmas!

Thank you, Bill. I won’t forget it. Let’s have many more.


No Gifts, Please

I know I’ve said it before but dang, New Yorkers wait in lots of lines. If you move to New York with an attitude that your time is precious, you can give that up. Because it takes an hour just to get where you’re going where you will wait in a line for 20 minutes. But I’ve gotten used to it.  Yes, I embrace it.  Was shopping on 6th Avenue trying to find a gift for a friend who has everything. He’s lived a lot of years and he has a lot of money so what can you get someone like that? I looked online and there was a website suggesting a “Fighter Pilot for a Day certificate” for only $999.  Or a submarine camcorder that lets him check out the underside of a boat. That’s $6,300. I like the guy but that’s above my budget. Frankly, I don’t think I even made that much this year.

Luckily the family is having a no-gift Christmas. Which means you buy gifts anyway because, of course, people got them for you. I don’t know why families have a ‘no gifts!’ decree when nobody actually sticks to the rules.

Going to spend Christmas eve doing something different. Usually I’m with the family back home, but everyone is off to other cities this year and I’ve moved to New York, so I may venture into the City to see all the holiday decorations. Then maybe I’ll go with a friend to a bar in Brooklyn for a Christmas eve music celebration with all the other people who don’t have anyplace to go. I’m actually looking forward to it. This city doesn’t close down like some cities on Christmas eve. And there’s always the traditional ‘Jewish Christmas’ celebration: Chinese food and a movie.

No Job…But Still Love NY

I haven’t written anything on here in two months. Embarrassed, ashamed, how can I call myself a writer?  Anyway, I’m drinking a tequila as I’m writing this because I heard it’s very healthy. That, and it’s really tasty.  Agave and stuff, supposed to kill bad bacteria. Unparalleled health benefits AND a slight buzz? Of course.

Last September, I made an unceremonious exit from the job I’ve had for 15 years. No one was in the office. I left just in the same way I’d spent most of my days there–alone.  Said good bye to a couple friends and walked away. It felt good at the time.

So after months, I finally got a small part time job in retail since no one will hire me for a real job. I keep tweaking my resume, taking out the years worked so I don’t appear to be quite so old and decrepit. Some of the dates on my resume predate the birthdays of the people reading it; they are reading the resume of their grandmother. Maybe this final tweak will do it, eliminating all those 1980 years – hey, I could be 35 years old. I did have one great hour-long interview but then she never called me back. It’s been over a month. Maybe she can’t decide how much to pay me and wants to make sure she doesn’t insult me with a lowball offer.

Last week I left my apartment with no key, no phone, no metro card, and no money. I bummed $5 from the coffee shop across the street, and a random stranger gave me a metro card  – expired, but it was very thoughtful of her. I took the train a couple stops to my daughter’s office and picked up a key to get into our apartment building. I was really hungry. I hadn’t eaten and I’m pretty sure I was starting to halucinate (low blood sugar.) Checking out candy wrappers lying on the ground…perhaps a little something left inside? Walking through the tunnel to the train, I felt a real, albeit extremely superficial, kinship with the homeless guy living outside the station on a cardboard box.  I had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. No id, no phone, no money. But I could call someone. What does Homeless Guy do when he’s hungry?  Can he contact someone? Does he have a phone? Homeless people are all over, most I think are mentally ill, sleeping on cardboard boxes, surrounded by their treasures. I walk by but I don’t respond. They ask, ‘can ya help me out so I can get some food?’  What would a measly dollar do, I think. But yet, a dollar would have gotten me a snack.  I’m guilty of ignoring them. I wish I could give them $20 when I pass by, but I don’t have a job.  I’m not homeless. I’m lucky.  And I don’t compare my 2 hour adventure to the culture of the street people who go it alone every night. It overwhelms me sometimes, tho I still love this city every day. I know the feeling isn’t mutual. I don’t care, I’m gonna stay for awhile.

scared subway riderB&W
On the F Train

Tragedy and comedy in The City

Once you have lived in New York and made it your home, no place else is good enough. – John Steinbeck

I made it across Central Park yesterday* (cheering, fist pumps.)  It usually swallows me up and I stumble down some dark path into middle earth. From the west side to the east, all those crazy but beautiful, winding paths – they all look alike. And I emerge a few short blocks from where I went in, somehow not making it from one side to the other. Some people like to get lost. Not me. It makes me anxious. But yesterday, on this quiet summer morning, I made it! Fifteen minutes, drifting mindlessly but with direction, enjoying the quiet beauty, from the west side all the way to 5th Avenue!

*(Full and shameful disclosure: I had a knowledgeable partner, a generous guy, who walked with me but I have no doubt I could have done it by myself.)

I stopped off at a tv shoot on the east side of the park. My friend was one of the many staffers and he invited me to the set.  There were TV stars and delicious looking catering carts, but most of the crew wasn’t actually working all that hard. I guess there’s a lot of hanging around, standing, sitting, mostly waiting. The scenes are a few minutes long, then more standing and waiting, additional make up, lighting changes.  New Yorkers, used to averting movie sets, are largely unimpressed by the hubbub. As a fledgling New Yorker I was a bit excited.  Sitting on a stool two feet away from me, looking at a monitor and taking notes, was the creator of the show. She was wearing black converse all stars and cut-off jeans and a cap, looking like an ordinary person you’d see at Fairway.

Sometimes things happen and lives converge and you can’t believe you were in that place at that time. I headed east to Madison and down to 68th for an iced coffee. I sat on a shiny black bench outside and saw a Facebook post from a friend. It was about suicide and her life in the past year, her sadness and joy, ups and downs and the people who were there for her, including her little boy who misses his daddy. Tears rolled down my cheek and onto my white tank top. Big, huge tears like those giant raindrops in October that are actually more like snow. An attractive man my age asked if it was ok to sit down. He probably thought it best to ask, since I was sobbing. Sure, I nodded. He sat down with his raisin scones. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I was reading something very sad.” He nodded. His eyes were sympathetic. Then he said, “I’ll show you sad!” And he took out his phone and showed me a photo. A sidewalk strewn with clothes, and a body covered with a sheet. He pointed at the phone. “This person jumped from the 44th floor of my building this morning.  I tried to walk in the park, but…I can’t..”

We talked. He was born elsewhere, now an American citizen and a very successful real estate broker. For an hour we sat and talked about death and taxes and Donald Trump and real estate and art. And what would cause a person to jump out a window.

His neighbors from the building came by, going to the cafe. The wife was still feeling distress: she saw the person jump from the window.  She saw him crash onto the roof of an adjoining building and fall to the ground.  The husband shook his head. “So sad,” he agreed. Our talk was somber, trying to make sense of this drama. Their friend, an old guy with curly white hair and a gold necklace, was on the phone making a big real estate deal.

I’d been on a nature walk through the park, to a tv shoot to witness the production of a television comedy, to sharing a bench with strangers on 68th and Madison, discussing the tragedy of a suicide they’d just witnessed. And it was only noon.

Thinking and trying to comprehend the eventful morning, yet feeling the need to get on with my day, I walked to the train. A thin young man in bike shorts was in the street, wheeling his bike by the curb and loudly shouting into his cell. “NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!! DON’T CALL ME ANYMORE!  LEAVE! ME! ALONE!!”

“Just hang up!” someone suggested. Everyone hurrying in different directions, yet all sharing a chuckle.

Just another day in The City.

Hanging on the Upper West Side

It’s been a month since I’ve put pen to paper (so to speak). I have a really good excuse for not writing lately: I’ve been spending a lot of time on the Upper West Side.
It’s clean. People don’t pee on the streets. Cavalier Spaniels do. I noticed it a few mornings ago, downtown in one of my favorite neighborhoods between the east village and the west village, around Lafayette Street, I smelled that New York smell: urine, grease, cheese, rotten food, perspiration, coffee.  The traffic whizzed by, horns honked. It was steamy and hot. I loved it, made me feel alive!
Of course I feel quite alive up on the UWS. But I don’t get that smacked in the face New York feeling. It’s very homey, restful, expansive, pleasant to walk around, especially at night, just not as stimulating as walking down Grand Street in the lower east side but it has its own excitement. Lots of celebrities live on the Upper West Side, more than any other neighborhood in New York City. When it was on the air, there was an 80% chance of coming home to a Law & Order episode being filmed on your block. I’m pretty sure I saw Joel Grey the other day. He walked out of a store right in front of me. He’s very small.
You are probably wondering why this is an excuse…so here goes…it’s too nice up here.
My senses are not assaulted every minute.  Possibly I have run out of things to talk about, sitting at a clean, upscale coffee shop on 84th and Columbus. I need to get back to Union Square and find some material.
I’m not saying it’s dull, just a different kind of feel. The proximity to both parks (and the river) is a real plus. Nice streets like West End, Riverside Drive..even Broadway up here is a beautiful, wide street. The train stations are pretty clean, the sidewalks are pretty clean. There are a few tourists, not like Midtown, but busloads will come to Zabar’s every once in awhile. Lincoln Center is close, and walking to the NY Philharmonic is really a thrill. It feels like I’m on vacation up here.  There are not as many odd characters, no hari krishnas, and no one shouting at you to save yourself before it’s too late.  One thing I have noticed that seems out of place, is a lot of homeless people. On church steps, on the street. Some are on the same corner every morning. I imagine since there is more money up here, it’s a pretty decent place for handouts.
I just read that there are lots of rats that hang out in toney Riverside Park, especially at night. It’s a nice park, right on the Hudson River. I’ve enjoyed walking around there at night, but after reading that article, I may think again about doing that.
Meanwhile, I’m going to head to the train and down to Washington Square Park to my favorite coffeehouse. And perhaps some fodder for my next blog entry.

The NY subway: your evening’s entertainment

Early evening on the F train last week, a very cute and happy looking 20-something black man in a Hawaiian shirt was sitting alone taking selfies. Smile. Flash. Smirk smile with head tilt. Flash. Smile with teeth. Flash. He was leaning his head on the window, thus his phone was pointing at the darkened window and each time the flash would bounce off. But he seemed very pleased with his results. He’d look at each one he took, nodding and smiling.  No one was really paying any attention. I’m learning that the city gives you permission to do that kind of weird stuff. People seem to respect your right to do it, generally with no outward judgment.
Last week I was coming home.  Midnight. 2nd Ave subway station. A young woman dressed in black, leaning against the white tiled wall, black hair, very white skin and a black tattoo on her shoulder, was playing an accordion. French songs, from the movie Amelie. It was haunting and evocative, the sound floated in the almost empty station. (I did some googling and found out her name is Melissa Elledge.) I stood and watched her, smiling. I felt so strangely happy. It was ‘a moment!’ I was having a moment. I didn’t want to leave, I wanted to miss the train and stay all night.
The lower east side is one of my favorite places. It feels so authentically New York – the term gritty comes to mind. The East Broadway stop is described variously: garbage strewn, excessive rat population, poor lighting and lacking ventilation. It is the bastard child of the system and seems to be passed over for upgrades and rehabilitation. I met a fun and knowledgeable guy there for a tour of several square blocks of the area. A born and bred lower east sider, he was eager to share it all with me. Describing what used to be where, pointing out the painted-over facades that hid the building’s history; the apartment where he grew up and made many life-long friends; The Lots (a strip of grass and dirt under the Manhattan Bridge where many ballgames were played); nondescript buildings that housed secret clubs where mobsters still congregate.  The capital of Jewish America at the turn of the century, there used to be several synagogues there, but now only a few remain as synagogues, as the population changed from mostly Jewish and Italian, to Latino and Chinese. After stopping at a Chinese grocery, where you can get plump, fresh frogs, we headed to a beautiful, old restored synagogue for a presentation on the History of the Knish. Yes, a hundred or so people actually attended this. (I got two knishes –my first ones ever.)
Two people vomited yesterday on two different platforms. I was waiting for the third sighting, since, y’know, things happen in threes. It no doubt occurred somewhere within this vast network. Fortunately I didn’t have to see it.
Frustrating and fascinating, it is an amazing system, always getting me where I want to go, sometimes too stuffy and crowded, always interesting and entertaining. The subway is the great equalizer. Well-dressed business people, tourists, the rich and not so rich. We’re all standing together in the stinking, stuffy, urine soaked underground, watching the rats.
tired subway riders