Sunday, October 30, 2005

Dinner at Ellen's Stardust Diner

I have two words to describe this place to you: pure fun! And it's just one block from home for me. Ellen's Stardust Diner is a must for any fun-loving Times Square visitor. Whenever I walked past Ellen's, I always thought I heard live singing coming from inside. This has intrigued me for months. My curiosity about the 1955 retro diner grew over the past year until finally the perfect opportunity arose to dine there - a friend came to town this week.

My buddy Anne is on my team at work but works remotely from her monstrous new RV in the Carolinas. (I’m pretty sure the RV is bigger than my apartment – even the 37” TV is bigger than mine.)

Anyway, Anne and I have known each other for a year without ever meeting in person. She’s a down-to-earth, beer-drinking, fun-loving southern gal with a Kentucky accent and a great sense of humor. We hit it off the first time we emailed each other.

One of the neat things about where I live is that I can step outside, walk in any direction, and easily find a dozen places to eat within a couple blocks. Anne and I did just that and found ourselves at the Stardust. I’ll never forget that evening as long as I live.

The energetic wait staff, as it happens, is composed of wannabe singers. Not just ordinary singers – good singers. And I mean good. This ain’t Karaoke, folks. This is pure entertainment, Broadway style! Not only can these waiters and waitresses sing while they work, but they clearly enjoy it. They wear 1950’s greasy-spoon server outfits, and the girls have pony tails. Every staff member sings. One guy or gal would sing a well-known tune (while bouncing around and passing out menus to new arrivals) and then pass the remote mike to the next server to do the next song.

These kids (and their manager) sang every style of song imaginable, from Dean Martin to Melissa Manchester. They even sang a country song about a redneck woman – and Anne was all but on the table clapping her hands and singing along. I had fun just watching her having fun! We even made friends with the guy sitting next to us - a regular who works across the street at Lehman Brothers.

Not only that, but the food was good, although we weren’t paying much attention to it. The Boo-bop-alu burger I had was the best-tasting hamburger I’ve had in NYC. And it didn’t cost $38 like in some midtown restaurants. I was surprised by the reasonable prices.

We stayed long enough to contribute sizable tips to the wait staff’s bucket – a tin pail they call Phillip – before going home. I haven’t had that much fun in a while. Man I love New York. Here are a few pictures. . . .

Monday, October 17, 2005

Dusk at the Empire State Building

I was a bit discouraged today after another painful post-op weekend. But I have a wonderful physical therapy team now. After a good two-hour PT session, I felt a lot better. I decided to check off another item on my NYC to-do list after the requisite post-PT rest period at home. It was a beautiful, crisp fall day.

I took a jaunt to the Empire State Building, something I've been anxious to do since I arrived in NY eleven months ago. At 1,250 feet, this Art Deco masterpiece is still one of the world's tallest buildings. Prior to 9/11 (and post-Chrysler Building construction in 1930), it remained the tallest building in NY until the Twin Towers were built downtown in the mid-70's.

I bought my tickets online before I headed out. I highly recommend you get your tickets prior to visiting this NY attraction at the core of the City; otherwise, the typical wait is 90 minutes. And that's on a weekday. Weekends are worse. I've seen the line wrap around the block -- and 34th Street has what we call long blocks, like most of the east-west roads in the City.

I bought and printed a ticket to the 86th-floor observatory as well as a ticket to NY Skyride, which is a simulated aerial tour of the City narrated by Kevin Bacon. It takes place in an IMAX-type theatre on the second floor of the ESB. The moving seats come complete with locking safety bar. (Mom, this roller-coaster ride isn't for you! I was glad I hadn’t eaten anything before getting "on board" this thing.)

The line to the observatory elevators wasn’t too bad, thanks to having a ticket in hand. We rode rapidly to the 80th floor. At that point, you can have your photo taken in front of a fake ESB backdrop for purchase after your visit. I skipped the photo. Then you can either take the stairs up to the 86th floor, or wait another 20 minutes for the elevator.
At the observatory, it was wall-to-wall people, both indoors and out. Most folks were either speaking a foreign language or had foreign accents. Outside, it was a clear day but extremely windy and therefore much colder than the 59 degrees it was supposed to be (down below). I checked my watch – it was 30 minutes before sunset. Perfect. I wanted to stick around for that.
I went around the platform, visiting all four sides, snapping photos, and dodging folks hurriedly trying to take pictures of a significant other before a stranger walked blindly into the frame.

There was frequently a wait to get to the viewing wall at the edge of the platform, with people two to three deep in some spots. But it was worth the wait. It is just beautiful up there. Breath-taking. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Well, if you think about it, I sort of was on top of the world. After all, Times Square is the crossroads of the world, and I was looking down on it. The more time I spend in NYC, the less I want to leave.

I’m glad I finally got to do this. It was reminiscent of the Seattle Space Needle, except much more spectacular. I was so utterly exhausted afterward that I didn’t think I’d make it to the subway. I look forward to the day that my body regains its usual stamina. I had to head home and rest with an ice pack on my back, and that’s where I’ve been since. Since my surgery seven weeks ago, I can’t seem to last more than two or three hours doing anything at all. I really don’t know how I can possibly make it back to work at my 60-hour-a-week, 24x7 availability, high-stress job just two weeks from now. Well, we’ll see what my doctor has to say about that tomorrow.

In the meantime, below you'll find some ESB photos I took with the Sony digital. Click on any photo to enlarge it.

Part of the expansive all-marble lobby in Empire State Building Posted by Picasa

North - Hudson River Posted by Picasa

Northeast - Chrysler Building Posted by Picasa

Statue of Liberty Posted by Picasa

Southeast - Brooklyn Bridge Posted by Picasa

South - Verrazano-Narrows Bridge Posted by Picasa

Top (200+-foot tower above 86th floor observatory) Posted by Picasa

East - 34th Street: Macy's, Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, etc. Posted by Picasa

Sunset over New Jersey Posted by Picasa

South Posted by Picasa

Downtown - World Financial Center at far right Posted by Picasa

Southeast - Manhattan and Brooklyn Posted by Picasa

Northwest - area of Manhattan where I live Posted by Picasa

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Soho’s Pearl River Mart

Today the sun was out for the first time in nine long days, and I wanted out. It was time to venture out and check off another item on my New York to-do list. When I stepped outside into the windy fall-like day, I noticed that 8th Avenue was shut down for a street fair. (I love that about New York!) It was tempting - but I was bound and determined to get some Christmas shopping done, so I headed for the R train to Prince Street.

Yes, I said “Christmas shopping.” I’m no procrastinator. Usually I shop for gifts throughout the year and store them in my gift closet. (But here in my NY apartment my gift closet is more like a gift shelf.)

This year I am shopping for three siblings, their three significant others, three nephews, three nieces, my parents, an aunt and uncle, a couple of cousins, a handful of friends, and a couple family pets. That’s a lot of gifts.

But shopping is just part of the process. Then there’s wrapping, packaging, and shipping the gifts too, since I live so far from family. So when people ask why I shop in October instead of waiting until the last minute like the rest of the world, I ask them if they’ve ever been to the post office between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The lines during the holiday season are worse than lines at the DMV.

Today’s destination: the Pearl River Mart at 477 Broadway, in Soho. I have Sarah Jessica Parker to thank for that idea. She raved about it on Oprah a couple weeks ago, and that’s when I added it to my to-do list. After all, SJP is only the richest woman in New York – she must know where the bargains are.

The Pearl River Mart is a wonderful, huge, two-story store near Broome Street run by a Chinese family. It must be the most colorful store in Manhattan. They sell everything from flip-flops to tea pots. It was the perfect place to find a gift for sister-in-law Judy. I must go back there later, when I’m physically able to stay out longer and carry more.

There must have been an extra couple million tourists in New York this weekend. And they were all going to the same places I was. Sidewalks on Broadway were crammed with people and vendors, almost to the point of frustration. I dodged people right and left in Soho. When I got back from downtown there was still time to hit the street fair going on downstairs from my apartment.

I grabbed $30 cash and headed down to the fair. Before now, I’ve never lived in a place where I could step outside my home and be in the middle of a mile-long street fair. I spent all thirty dollars, bringing home a cashmere scarf, a leather bag, and a bag of kettle korn. Yum! What a bargain.

Even the ceilings have items on display! Posted by Picasa

Shopping galore! in Pearl River Mart Posted by Picasa

Wall fountain between floors at the mart Posted by Picasa

Rain, Rain Go Away!

It has rained for eight straight days. Not just rained. Poured. What is this – Grey’s Anatomy?? Long Island has reported 12 inches of rain this month, which is at least quadruple the normal precipitation for October. Parts of New Jersey have suffered so much flooding that a state of emergency has been declared.

I’m done with it. I need to see the sun. It’s getting depressing! This is reminiscent of one bad Seattle winter four or five years ago when we had 93 straight days without sun. I kid you not.

I’m sure everyone has heard about the big subway terror threat (slash “hoax”) last weekend in New York. Most people here didn’t let it stop them from carrying on with their normal routines. Let’s face it – you’re no safer anywhere else, unless you live in Greenland. I’ll stick with riding the subway for two bucks. Cabs are just too expensive – either that, or I’m just too cheap.

Although I must say I’m impressed with the NYPD presence. On Sunday I was coming out of K-Mart at Penn Station, crossing 7th Avenue, when an endless stream of patrol cars came flying through the 34th Street intersection, sirens blaring. I’d never seen anything like it. The line of cop cars was as long as a funeral procession. (I had heard on the news earlier that a drill was taking place in Times Square that day.) A lot of passersby stopped on the pavement and stared, some fearfully. After that I asked a cop outside a parked patrol car, “This is just a drill, right?” He said, “I hope so,” as he scrambled back into his car, and I jay-walked over to Macy’s.

On Tuesday I was going up the stairs outside the lower level of the Paramount building after a physical therapy session. When I reached ground level, I found myself face-to-face with an automatic assault rifle. The cop holding it was dressed out in full combat gear (like you see on TV when SWAT arrives on the scene). I looked around and there were two or three cop cars parked on Broadway, along with an NYPD van marked “ESU.” It was easy to identify the plain-clothes cops alongside other uniformed ESUs on the sidewalk. But people came and went like any other weekday in midtown.

One observation never escapes me when I see New York’s finest patrolling the sidewalks or subway stations – it’s that the male uniformed police officers here don’t look a day older than 22. They’re all clean-cut and handsome. I admit I love a man in uniform – but feeling old enough to be his mother takes all the fun out of it.

Seriously, I appreciate the service these guys provide to our city. Their presence alone lends a lot to my sense of security. And I can’t help but admire any man or woman brave enough to be a cop in a tough city like NY.

Well, my beloved kitty just plopped his rear end down, covering the left-most keys on my keyboard. That’s a hint that it’s time to sign off the computer.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Surgery – Part III – Five-Star Hospital

From the time I got back to my room post-op on Saturday, August 27, the nurses woke me up every 20 to 60 minutes. I hadn’t slept in days, and I’d just had major surgery. My body was screaming for sleep. The first 24 hours after surgery I probably would have paid a thousand dollars for just six or seven straight hours of sleep. Every time I had just drifted off, someone was back in my room waking me up.

Even more frustrating was the incessant beeping. I was hooked up to so many machines. Every time my morphine bottle or an IV bag started to run out of juice, a machine started beeping. I’d have to reach for my call button and call the nurse to come check it. I swear this happened a dozen times a day for the four days I was in the hospital. It drove me nuts.

However, I must say that Swedish Medical Center is the Cadillac of hospitals. On my first day, a young woman dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie - like a server in a nice restaurant - showed up with a menu, announcing herself as “room service.” Was I at the Swedish Hilton? I got the biggest kick out of that. The menu was great, too. It’s too bad I didn’t have an appetite for a full two weeks post-op. Believe it or not, I frequently ordered Jell-o or yogurt from room service. I just couldn't eat.

My fifth floor room faced the east Cascade mountain range. I had a spectacular view, and the weather was just beautiful. Later, when I was able to walk, I learned that I also had a view of Mt. Rainier from one end of my window.

After the surgery, I was up all night watching CNN, tracking the category four hurricane. It was around 4:30 a.m. when Katrina was upgraded to Cat 5. I was concerned for my friend Vonceil, who lives in Long Beach, Mississippi. I worried, too, about all my cousins and my uncle who live in New Orleans. I really wanted to call Vonceil and warn her to get out. But it was early, and I debated waking her up. Finally, at 5:00am I called her on my cell phone, starting with, “I know you’re asleep….”

Vonceil wasn’t too concerned. After all, it was the third hurricane of the year; she was going to wait till the afternoon to decide whether to evacuate. I was like, “But it’s a Cat Five,” to which she said the media always makes it sound a lot worse than it is. When you live on the coast and survive one hurricane after another, it’s easy to become complacent.

But I was worried about Vonceil. Finally that afternoon when I called back to beg her to leave, she was outside boarding up and getting ready to head out. Whew! I could stop worrying about her…and start worrying about some of my relatives.

I learned that my uncle had decided to “ride it out” at his wife’s home in Covington, LA. Ugh! My cousins had all evacuated. I must’ve called my mom three times a day asking if she’d heard from Uncle Ronnie. It wasn’t until the third day after Katrina hit that my family learned my uncle had survived. He and his family were lucky. Nearly every tree on their 12-acre property had come down. It took them two days – without electricity or water – to cut their way out. So you can imagine where my mind was the first few days after my surgery. I hadn’t watched that much CNN since 9/11.

I had relatively few visitors in the hospital. My friends Paul and Janet came by the day after my surgery. I was so drugged up that I don’t remember too much about their visit. I do remember noticing that my left hand and arm had swelled up like a football. The IV had infiltrated. That was kind of gross. (Same thing happened the next day in my other IV.)

My other visitor was an old friend and former boyfriend, Tom. I think he came by on Monday on his way to a Mariners game. I really enjoyed his visit - we had a lot of catching up to do.

I was shocked at how soon after surgery they had me up walking. My surgery was on a Saturday, and it was Sunday afternoon when they made me sit up and stand. Because the incision was anterior, sitting up (bending at the waist) was almost unbearable. My incision started at my belly button and extended about four inches downward. I stood and slowly walked down the hallway with the help of a walker and a therapist who carted along all my tubes and bags and machines.

For some reason, the next day they made me sit up I almost couldn’t do it. Tears just streamed involuntarily down my face as the therapist helped me climb out of bed. Yowza! But once I got going I was able to do at least two laps around the nurses’ station. After that day, walking was easy and I was so proud of how far I could get. On the third day I was out on my own, and as I passed a nurses’ station I overheard one of my nurses – Charles - telling the next duty nurse that I was “doing fantastic."

I was so pleased with how successful the surgery was. It could almost be described as a religious experience. My own elation surprised me. I hadn’t felt this happy in ten years. For the next couple of weeks I just couldn’t stop smiling. After 17 years of chronic pain, I had high hopes for a pain-free future.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Golden Rule

My religion is very simple: treat others the way you would like them to treat you. I try to live by that rule, but sometimes I get tripped up by mean people and am not sure what to do. Revenge is so much more fun, so sometimes doing right becomes a toss-up.

In January 2004 I had sold my Bellevue townhouse – a place I’d enjoyed for five years – to a nice couple. It was a neat place with marble flooring throughout, and I’d done extensive upgrades. It sold for full price, as all properties in Puget Sound do (at the very least). The people I sold it to were great.

The three of us became fast friends. We hit it off so that we all planned to go out to dinner after closing. The boyfriend worked as a contractor at the same software company where I worked, so we handled most of the deal via email. It was the smoothest real estate sale I’d ever done. (It was my fifth FSBO.)

I scrubbed the townhome clean before moving out. I bought my buyers a nice bottle of champagne and left it in the fridge with a card when I moved out. I left them plenty of paint, some nice garage shelving, brand new vertical blinds, some beautiful plants, and more. I agreed to raise the sales price by $5K (and pay the extra excise taxes on that amount myself) so they could get $5k cash back at close.

My front door had a nice brass door knocker engraved with my last name, which had been a gift. I knew that if I removed the knocker before closing, it would leave two holes in the nice wood door. So I left it in and got a replacement brass door knocker (worth about $40) for the buyers.

Sounds like the perfect closing, right? Actually, it was. However, at the same time I was screwed over by another couple I was purchasing a different, larger townhome from. The deal fell through. Long story, but the husband who robbed me blind in the deal was a software program manager at the same company where I worked.

In a nutshell, my sale went through but my purchase failed. I was homeless. My buyers wanted to move in, so I moved out - at a hefty cost. I moved half my stuff into storage and crammed the rest into a tiny, old, crappy apartment a couple blocks away. It was a nightmare.

Until then I didn’t know what it was like to have obnoxious, rambunctious children living - I mean, running - overhead on the other side of a cardboard-thin ceiling. I hadn’t experienced waking up to a clogged toilet in a 1-bathroom apartment and having to drive to Safeway to use the bathroom on my way to work. I hadn’t used an exterior coin-operated laundry since college. The place sucked. But it was temporary, and I survived without eating at all that month because my stomach was torn up over the law suit I was now involved in.

Despite all of that, I still went over to my old place to give the new owners their shiny new brass door knocker. The boyfriend was apparently in a bad mood and snapped at me to remove my shoes before entering their home (and walking on the floors that I’d scrubbed on my hands and knees for them). The boyfriend was really pissy and didn’t feel like taking five minutes to remove my door knocker to give back to me; I assumed it was just the moving blues. I said, “Oh no problem. Here’s your door knocker. You can just remove mine at your convenience and send it back to me through inter-office mail at work.” That was our deal.

About four weeks later I found and purchased a much nicer townhome - complete with lake view - than the one that fell through. But I was dealing with lawyers and such unfairness that it gave me ulcers. I shrunk to a size 10 during the ordeal.

Anyway, I emailed my buyer friends to find out if they wanted to go to dinner the next week. Their strange response was that they were “busy” and weren’t available that week. I replied back and asked about the week after. In that note, I also mentioned the door knocker, asking if they’d had time to take mine down yet.

This was when I found out that these “friends” were not what they seemed. The response I got back from the girlfriend addressed her boyfriend, not me. She said something to him like, “Gee, Niv, do you remember anything about a door knocker?” I was taken aback. I thought she was kidding around.

But then the boyfriend replied and said something to the effect, “Gee Michelle, I think I remember something about a door knocker. I’m pretty sure I threw it away.”

I was stunned at this sudden turn-around in my new friends' cold attitude toward me. What was going on? At the end of his short message, the boyfriend Niven sarcastically said that I could probably pick up a new door knocker for myself "for $3 at Home Depot."

Wow. I don’t know what their game was, but that was down-right spiteful of them to throw away (i.e., steal) my engraved door knocker, taking the one I gave them in its place. So that was the end of that friendship. I was really hurt by their hateful behavior – mostly because I never got an explanation. For a while I wondered where I went wrong.

But later I found out from neighbors that the new buyers didn’t hit it off with the rest of my little condo community there and had already pissed off one board member. To this day, my buyers haven’t shown up to a single association meeting or introduced themselves to my other former neighbors.

Alas, this story has a good ending.

So here it is a year and nine months later. The gods smiled upon me today when I opened up my work email to check my calendar. There in my Inbox was a note with a subject line that read “keyless entry code for Bellevue home.” I had no idea which Bellevue home this was regarding until I opened the message, which was time-stamped 8:50PM last night.

The message read:

Hi Susie,

Do you recall the keyless entry garage door codes? Even one would be helpful. Just got home from a trip and can’t get in. Would be very useful.


It took a few seconds, but when it dawned on me that the mean people were asking for my help, I started laughing out loud. I laughed so gleefully at their predicament of being locked out and having the gall to ask me for help that I was almost surprised by my own total lack of compassion. Even my cat was ashamed.

Nonetheless, this had made my day.

Now, normally I would take the high road and not even respond. My friend Vonceil suggested that I do just that – not even reply - rather than lower myself to the mean people’s level.

“But where’s the fun in that?!” I asked her. Besides, by the time she said that (in a separate email thread today), I’d already written and re-written my response to the mean people four times. In it, I reminded them of how nice I was to them and told them I'd never understand their ugly, hateful behavior as long as I live.

I’d won, and I knew it. I couldn’t have been happier at that moment if I’d won the lottery. Justice was served, as it so rarely is these days. I was one with the universe. What went around came around. And finally, they got theirs. (Etc.)

That was enough for me, but I sent my self-satisfying reply to the mean people anyway. And that felt even better. Vonceil called it “wicked" of me. But that only made me giggle more. This wasn't wicked - this was cause for celebration. I promptly went on a shopping spree at Century 21 downtown. Hee-hee!

I should never shop when I’m on top of the world. I always end up buying myself something I don’t need. Today it was a nice French perfume called, “Oui!” to add to a shelf full of perfume I already own.


Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Surgery – Part II: The Day Of

After a few brief hours’ dozing the Friday night before surgery, I got up around 4:45am and showered for my surgery – an ice cold shower. I must say, a cold shower is no way to start the day when you’re going in for major surgery. So much for the Providence Inn. I packed my bags.

At 5:35 my cab arrived and took me up the hill to Swedish Medical Center – First Hill. It was still dark outside when I limped through the front door at 5:40, hauling my luggage. My back was still out from the discogram. I wasn’t sure where to go. There wasn't a soul in sight.

I wandered around the huge lobby until saw a woman behind a window in a little room. I ventured over, and sure enough, she was the right person to check me in. She was fascinated that I live in NYC, so we chatted about that a lot. When I asked what she thought I was paying in rent, her first guess was like$1200 or $1500. She about fell out of her chair when she found out I was paying twice that.

She and another nice lady took me in a wheelchair up to my room in the new wing on the 5th floor. I was amazed at the beautiful surroundings. The artwork in this place was museum-quality. This was one nice hospital.

Things moved very quickly after that. I was told to put a gown on. One person after another came in my room for various activities. Someone took my vitals. Another took my medical history. Someone weighed me. Another inserted an IV in my right arm. This went on for a while, with everyone moving at a fast clip like little worker bees. Thank god I had the presence of mind to unpack and get a few of my things set up within reach of the bed, because I would not have had time later.

I was rolled into a huge pre-op room in my bed where a lively anesthesiologist came over to talk with me, saying my anesthesiologist had not come in yet. Nice guy. Dr. Schwaegler eventually showed up to chat with me, and later my anesthesiologist showed up and inserted the epidural IV in my lower back. More fun with lidocaine, needles, and such. (Have I mentioned I hate needles?) It was the last painful procedure I was to have done for a while, so I was relieved when the epidural was in. It was there to stay for the next few days.

Finally, around 8:00am, I was rolled into a small green operating room and parked. There was lots of equipment all around - not as orderly as you see on medical TV shows. But there was barely enough time for me to even look around and check the place out. Few words were spoken. I expected someone to say something like, “Now count back from 10. . . ,” but not a word was said. I didn't even see my doctor before someone put a mask over my face within a minute of my arrival. That’s the last thing I remember until sometime after 1:00pm when I found myself awake in a huge, open space known as the recovery room. I think I was there for 30 minutes. I don't remember.

My next memory is being back in my private room. A new, larger IV had been inserted behind my left thumb and was slightly painful. The old IV in the right arm remained, for emergencies. Apparently it wasn't big enough, so they had to put the larger needle in.

I was hooked up to a morphine drip – via the epidural – and given a button that I could push (at most) once every eight minutes for another dose. The IV in the back of my hand was hooked up to a bag of clear liquid. I had a catheter tube in my bladder, and one of those annoying plastic oxygen hoses up my nostrils. That thing drove me nuts. I couldn’t wait to take it out.

Other than the fat needle in the back of my left hand, I had zero pain. I was exhausted and sleep-deprived. All I wanted to do was go to sleep. I mean, I desperately needed sleep. But that wasn’t going to happen.

You'd think that they'd want you to sleep. You know, to heal. But no-o-o-o-o-o-o. . . .