Sunday, December 21, 2008

It Ain't Rockefeller Plaza

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I was getting a bit stir crazy, so today (when the sun finally came out after several dreary days), I took the Metro into D.C. The Yellow train dropped me off at Chinatown, and I walked south and west toward the National Portrait Museum. Unfortunately, it was closed, so I continued on my path toward the National Christmas Tree.

I came across a street fair, which was neat - reminded me of being in NY. So far, nothing else about this city reminds me of NY. The sidewalks are too clean and uncrowded, the buildings are too short, and the subway too timely.

One good thing about the subways here is there is a sign telling you when the next three trains are coming. I like that. In NYC, you never know. You could wait two minutes for a train, or ten times as long if there's a problem along the tracks somewhere. They don't exactly run on any schedule there. And, here they are much easier to navigate. You can learn the D.C. subway system in one day.

Anyway, being unemployed I was unable to buy anything at the street fair. I enjoyed browsing the arts and crafts, though. And listening to the live band, which actually played on tin cans and washboards and such. Then I watched as a tiny dog on a leash barked at the big live snowman on the sidewalk. That was pretty funny.

I continued on to the White House Visitor's Center, which is nothing but a series of photos and text about the White House. They threw in a few pieces of glass-enclosed furniture for effect, I guess. Not too impressive. When I asked the guard where the National Christmas tree is, he nonchalantly replied, "Across the street." Hmmm, "which street?" I'm thinking.

I'd find it on my own, thank you very little.

So I walked outside and turned left up Pennsylvania Avenue, under the assumption that the tree had to be near the White House. I walked a couple blocks until I saw a crowd of people in a circle around a relatively short, plain, barely decorated and unlit tree. It didn't seem very big.

I asked a couple women coming toward me, "Is that the National Christmas tree?" Affirmative, they told me. "Geez, it ain't no Rockefeller Plaza," I said, and they both laughed.

As I got closer I could see there were some train sets on the ground near the tree, and a large Menora several yards beyond. The grounds were sloppy - like this was a carnival. "Boooooring," was all I could think. I was underwhelmed at the lack of thought and creativity that went into the National Christmas Tree display.

I know I sound like a prude but this was the least attractive Christmas tree I'd ever seen. I took a few shots and turned to head home, missing New York terribly. I kept envisioning myself enjoying the ice-skaters at Wollman rink in Central Park or gazing in the brightly decorated holiday store windows on Fifth Avenue. Then I came home and watched an episode of CSI: NY. Only when I heard the opening lyrics to "Teenage Wasteland" did I feel better.

If I can just find a contract job and get through a couple years of school here, I can survive without slitting my wrists. With my graduate degree, I can get back to my favorite city - or at least go visit it anytime I want.

I can't wait for classes to start January 12. This computer forensics program gives me some purpose - some reason for coming all the way back to an area of the country that I escaped from a little over a year ago.

This weekend made an honest effort to get out and enjoy the city. Yesterday I took a pleasant walk through Old Town (despite it being a cold and gray day). I will keep trying to enjoy life outside of New York City (is there such a thing?). . . . I will certainly feel better when classes start (oh, and when I have some money coming in). A job would certainly help things.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Miss Madison's 15 Minutes of Fame

A few months ago in New York I got a letter of congratulations in the mail from Cat Fancy. In the large envelope were two copies of the Cat Fancy 2009 Desk Calendar.

About a year and a half ago I had submitted a photo of my Maine Coon cat, Little Miss Madison, to the magazine. Sure enough, she was selected for the 2009 calendar!

So if you go out and buy a Cat Fancy calendar for next year, be sure to turn to the page for April 7th (which happens to be my nephew Connor's birthday). There she is! My little clown.

I checked in with her new owner, Shannon, in Annapolis shortly afterward, and she was tickled to death to see our little girl's photo in print.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

I Am Green

When I told my older brother Dave that I was planning on living in Virginia without a car he said, "That's very green of you." Come to think of it, he's right!

Today I used a Zip Car for the first time. I went online, made a reservation, walked several blocks over to the King Street Metro station, waved my Zip Car membership card over the windshield, and watched the doors magically unlock themselves. When I got in, the key was hanging from the steering wheel, and the tank was full. All for just $10.50 an hour and a nominal membership fee. Gas is free!

I reserved the car for three hours and drove up to my townhouse in Maryland, which was recently abandoned by the current tenants. Funny, they forgot to tell anyone about that. They moved out in October but, fortunately, have continued to pay rent. It needs cleaning, and my landscaping needs some work (the Butterfly Bush has taken over the back yard!) - but, other than that, it looks ok. I hated going back to the old neighborhood with its creepy residents. Fortunately, I didn't see any of my freaky neighbors.

There was just one thing missing from my Zip Car - a GPS navigation system. I didn't have a map either. (I forgot to print one out before leaving for the walk over to pick up the car.) Needless to say, I was in a panic when I got lost on my way back on I-295 South. There's one spot where the sign says you can stay right to go one way on route 50 or stay left to go the other way. I didn't want to go either way - I just wanted to continue south on 295. But the stupid signs only indicate east and west. Naturally, I was in the wrong lane. Things just got worse from there when I doubled back and missed another hidden sign (until it was too late) to get back onto 295. So I took the long way around D.C. on the beltway. I managed to return the car at 3:29PM. One minute later and I might have been subjected to a $50 late fee! When you're unemployed, you'll do anything to avoid spending money uselessly.

It's not easy going car-less in an area like Alexandria, which is a cross between urban and suburban. Hence I chose a home closest to a Metro station. (You pay a premium for that here.) But I'm learning to get around. The thing is, I don't have a choice but to find alternate means of transportation. I think everyone should try going without a car for a few weeks. Well, not everyone - you certainly have to be near a bus line or subway for it to work. But going car-less does force one to be creative about public transportation. It's a lot cheaper than owning a car, too.

Besides, I hate driving. I can't get over how fast people drive around here. It's bad enough being on the road with these a$&holes, but it's not safe for pedestrians either. At least in New York if you get hit by a car it can't be going more than a few miles per hour because of the constant congestion. But here - man! You'd be dead if one of the frequent speeders ran you over.

I'm all done settling in. It took me less than two weeks. My bruises are starting to fade, my back muscles are less sore, and my fingernails should hopefully start growing back soon. It's the usual collateral damage that is the result of a move. I'm still applying for jobs and can't wait to start classes next month.

Happy Holidays, all! (And drive safely.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Settling In

Moving into a new home is always a challenge - but in addition there are the changes that you have to get used to. Like not having an icemaker. And all of the electrical outlets being installed upside-down. And the ikky water that tastes like aspirin, dries your skin, and makes you turn all pruney in no time. There's also the screaming kid across the hallway that you can hear all day long because of the 1.25-inch gap under your front door that was hung improperly. The noisy family and I may as well be living in the same apartment.

Oh, and then there's the fun of learning the new cable box and menuing system and what the channels are on TV. You have to reprogram all your A/V equipment. I didn't even live in my last apartment long enough to know which channels go to which networks.

The cool thing is the full-size washer and dryer in the bathroom. The bathroom is huge - mostly just wasted space though. In NY, most bathrooms are only big enough for the sink, toilet, and tub. The one I have here is big enough to put down a 5'x7' rug that I had left over - and it doesn't even touch the walls.

Baby has been enjoying exploring the new apartment. She's taken a liking to the bathtub. In our last apartment we had a glass-enclosed stand-up shower. That was no fun. Now we have the shower curtain and liner. I guess it's fun to hide between them. A veritable kitty playground.

Last night Baby was between the curtains and then jumped into the bathtub while it was still wet from my shower. I grabbed her out, dried her feet (against her protests), set her down, and scooted her out of the bathroom. I told her to stay away while it's wet. She immediately turned around, ran to the tub, and jumped back in as fast as she could - like it was a game. I pulled back the curtain and told her to get out. So she jumps out and goes running out of the room. I gave up on trying to keep her little feet dry. Silly kitty.

I think the biggest challenge is learning the public transportation system around here. It's way too complicated compared to NY's MTA. In New York, you use one card and pay one fare for everything -buses and trains. It's simple: swipe and go. Here, they have these paper cards that you buy from a machine. You don't just swipe it as you get on the train, you have to insert it in a machine, retrieve it, and repeat the process when you get off, too - (it's the only way to exist the turnstiles). That's because the fares vary.

And with the buses, there's the DASH, the REX (Metro express), the Fairfax Connector, and the Metro bus. And the fares are different depending on whether you just got off a train or not, whether you are paying cash or not (cash costs more), and other factors (like age). It's too complex for me. What I need to do is buy one of the "SmartTrip" cards and figure out how to use that for getting around. Who knows which systems it'll work on.

I also joined Zip Car. It's a good deal. For an annual $50 fee (plus another $75 for complete comprehensive/collision coverage with $0 deductible), I can reserve and pick up a car any time and just about any place I want. There are plenty of Zip Cars parked nearby. I use my Zip Car card to gain access to the vehicle that I've reserved. The keys are inside. There is a gas card inside. I pay by the hour (around $10 on weekdays and $5 on weekends) or by the day.

So let's see how well this all works out. Yesterday I walked over 5 miles doing my errands. That was too much. The D.C. Metro doesn't have the coverage that the NY MTA has. I'm used to getting around with ease. This will just take some time to figure out. . . .

Friday, December 05, 2008

Record Breaking Unpacking Job

It's Friday night and I can't believe that in less than 4.5 days I've unpacked every single box - of about 85 boxes total. I had to get through it. The sooner I finish, the sooner the move is over. Seeing as moving takes up such a large chunk of my life, and I'm tired of it, I like to get it over quickly.

Although everything is unpacked, it isn't quite all in place yet. A lot of the remaining items are part of the decor. But the bulk of the organizing is done - which is most of the work. I had to hang a shelf in my closet yesterday (after a trip via bus to Home Depot). Otherwise, the closet design left no place to hang slacks, skirts, and dresses - only shirts.

Baby has adapted rather nicely. She loves the carpeted floors here. She's used to wood floors. Here, she thinks the whole apartment is one big cat bed. She plops down just about anywhere and sprawls out like she's the Queen or something.

This building reminds me of living in the Gershwin on W. 50th St. in midtown Manhattan a few years ago. The water tastes like aspirin, the shower pressure is greatly lacking, and the water leaves your skin all pruny and dried out. It must be something added to the water in high rise apartment buildings. I hope I can get used to it again. Thank god for Brita pitchers.

Hopefully by Monday I'll be done with all the major moving work (which started about six weeks ago). See what I mean about this taking up so much of my life? It's no small job to move - and no small expense. I've spent roughly $8,500 on moves in the past year. In my whole adult life I've probably spent a year's salary on moving!

What I need to do is get outdoors. I've been in this apartment non-stop since Monday morning, with the exception of returning the rental car, going to Home Depot yesterday, and buying a sandwich at a cafe across the street tonight. Maybe tomorrow I'll get out again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Murphy's Laws of Moving

I won't even go into how the superintendent at my building in Brooklyn tried to tell me on Saturday the 29th that there are "no Sunday moves" in our building and that I'd have to reschedule my move that was planned for the next day - a move that I'd scheduled with him two weeks previously.

What a jerk. I sent him a scathing email response, educating him in the facts of coordinating an inter-state move. I told him that he should have given me the information about the no-Sunday rule two weeks earlier - but because he hadn't bothered to respond to his boss's own request to schedule my move, he'd have to make an exception. Not only that, but I'd sent two follow-up emails confirming my move, neither of which he bothered to respond to.

So it didn't matter what he said. My movers were showing up at 9:00AM the next morning, and he wasn't stopping me.

Although I'll miss New York (terribly), and I'll miss my gorgeous apartment and living in Brooklyn Heights, one thing I will not miss is the lousy maintenance staff at 110 Livingston. The apartment was great, but I averaged 1.5 maintenance issues for every month that I lived there. And getting those guys to respond was like pulling teeth. Ask any resident there - it is frustrating for all. I actually went an entire month without hot water in my kitchen. It took weeks to get my oven working after moving in. My A/C went out on a 98-degree day in July.

You get the picture.

Anyway, I awoke to pouring rain and gale force winds on Sunday. My movers arrived early, which is a rarity in New York City. There were five of them. Good. I'd completed all the packing of 80+ boxes prior to their arrival, so all they had to do was wrap my furniture and load the truck. It took them a little over four hours. Afterward, I had to walk to my storage unit (about 7/10 of a mile away) and meet them there.

But when I stepped outside into the cold, windy rain and off the sidewalk into the first big puddle, I realized that it wasn't going to be a fun walk. As my socks got wetter and my feet colder, I realized that I'd packed all my shoes except this one pair of sneakers I was wearing. Oops. At least I could change socks later.

We unloaded my small storage unit pretty quickly - it was about the size of a large walk-in closet (a suburban walk-in, not a New York walk-in). As soon as they were done, I needed to head to Manhattan to pick up my rental car. I wanted to get the car as fast as possible so that I could do most my driving in daylight hours. My eyes are bad enough (post-LASIK disaster), but driving at night produces horrible glares, and the rain would only compound my vision issues.

I debated hailing a cab, but being unemployed, I chose the subway. I finally made it to Cadman Plaza where I scanned my Metro card and trekked all the way to the 4/5 train. I got to the platform, and the MTA had hung yellow tape up indicating that the 4/5 train wasn't running at this station. Argh. Why they can't post signs before you've swiped your card and paid your fare, I'll never understand.

So I got on the 2/3, thinking I'll just have to hoof it from Times Square to the Budget place near Grand Central Terminal. My subway nightmare began when I tried to transfer to the 4/5 at Fulton Street. Guess what - the train wasn't running from there either. After running around trying to find an alternate route, I approached a surly MTA employee who told me to "get on the downtown J train" then transfer to the 4/5 at Chambers.

If I'd been thinking, I'd have realized there is no 4/5 at Chambers. Nonetheless, I ran around for a good 20 minutes (in circles), trying to find the nonexistent J train. I tried twice to get a woman in an MTA booth to help me, but she was more sullen than the first. Several other people were running around with me trying to get on the right train. It was painful.

I finally said "Screw it," and got back on the 2/3. Thirty minutes wasted. I should have been at the Budget place no later than 2:00, but after all the rotten subway problems, it was 3:00 when I finally showed up.

But despite all of that, and an equally ugly MTA employee on the 2/3 train, I enjoyed the rest of my subway trip after a young fellow carrying a full-sized Christmas tree got on the train with me. He had everyone's attention. He was a cute young guy (early 20's) who not only had this huge, heavy tree, but was also carrying a big plastic garbage bag containing the tree stand and some garland!

I said, "Now that's a first - I've never seen a Christmas tree on a train before," and the rest of the passengers at our end of the car agreed. The subway was crowded, and this guy was somehow holding up this heavy tree horizontally for the entire train ride. A couple of us commented that his girlfriend had better appreciate it! Apparently she didn't think he could do it. He was bound and determined to get that tree home.

Turns out he needed to get to Grand Central, too. He planned to take the shuttle from Times Square. Hmmm. All the time I've lived in NY I never used that shuttle. Good idea! So I told him I'd go with him and help him. I carried the bag while he hauled the tree through the crowded underground passages of the 42nd Street station. Every once in a while he had to stop and rest. I kept offering to help carry the tree, but he was bent set on doing it himself!

Funny, an older couple came by and told me I wasn't holding up my end of the work load! I said, "I tried but he wouldn't listen." They obviously thought we must be a couple - so I explained, "I don't even know this guy - we just met on the train!" It was a hoot. So anyway, I took his picture with my phone and he had me take his picture with his Blackberry.

Anyway, I walked with him all the way to the 6 train at Grand Central and we parted ways there with happy holiday wishes. That was fun! I'm going to miss New York for that very reason - all the wonderful strangers that I get to meet every day there.

From there I walked in the rain and puddles to pick up my rental car, then drove home to Brooklyn in my nice silver Ford Escape to load up the car, pick up Baby, and head south. If I could get out of the city around 4pm, I'd be in Virginia by 9:00 that night.

Ha. Apparently I didn't learn my lesson in July 2006 about traveling on I-95 during a holiday weekend. You just don't do it. Ever. I didn't even realize until well into my trip that it was Thanksgiving weekend, hence the bumper-to-bumper traffic. It took me 2.5 hours to go the first 75 miles. I kept thinking it would clear up, but it was like that all the way to Baltimore, with traffic getting worse at each of many toll booths along the way. It was stop and go for at least 10 miles before each booth, thanks to the thousands of people who think that paying cash at a toll booth is a good idea.

EZ-Pass is the way to go - you just drive through. But 90% of the traffic was going through the cash booths. With today's advances in technology, there's no excuse for lines at toll booths.

I was on I-295 in D.C. with just 16 miles to go when the rain came down so hard that I couldn't even see the road. Just as I'd been given the opportunity to drive the speed limit, I was forced to slow down to a crawl. Finally, the traffic had lightened up. I should have flown the rest of the way to my motel - but no-o-o-o-o-o. It's my usual Murphy's Law luck.

We finally got to Alexandria a full 7.5 hours after leaving New York for the 240-mile drive. It was late, I was exhausted, and my stupid card key wouldn't open up my motel door. Aaagh! I just wanted to get some sleep, and Baby just wanted out of her carrier.

Here I'd said to her, "Now if Martin can go a full nine hours in this bag flying across country, you can do four or five hours." But that was when I'd thought we'd do the trip in normal time. Geez, I lied to my own cat!

She was not happy in that bag. She's no Martin, that's for sure. Moving freaks her out until she sees our familiar furniture again. Martin was so laid back, he didn't care.

Naturally I couldn't sleep in the motel. I can never sleep with so much going on - especially during a move. I had to get up after just a few hours' sleep to meet with my new landlord to do a walk-through of my apartment. After that, I unloaded the car and waited for the movers, who were over an hour late. We had to rush finishing the job. The four of us managed to do the whole unloading in just three hours.

I drove to Reagan airport to return the car. When I was waiting for the Metro train on the platform, I called my dad to let him know I'd completely my move safely. I said, "Hi Daddy, I'm in Alexandria." His response, "What are you doing there?" is just another indicator that I move so often that my own parents can't keep up with me!

Sleep. . . . I need sleep. Bye.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mad Men

We are coming upon my favorite time of year in the Big Apple - the winter holiday season! It's hard to believe it's already that time of the year.

Maybe tonight I'll try to make it to the lighting of the Christmas tree at Lincoln Center - since I'll unfortunately miss the tree lighting at Rockefeller Plaza on Dec. 3rd this year. Drat. I'll have moved away by then.

It's been a sad week for me, knowing that I'm leaving my favorite city. It almost hurts to go outside, knowing it'll be the last time I wander down the familiar sidewalks of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

I did find a temporary diversion from my pain. I took up watching Season 1 of Mad Men on Netflix DVD. I was hooked in no time. With each episode, as Matt Weiner's name scrolled by during the opening credits, I'd get all excited, recalling how I met the Executive Producer last month at a Madison Avenue book store. Such a great guy.

And an incredible show! My friend Tom was right, and I'm glad he recommended Mad Men to me. If you haven't seen it yet, you must. Season 2 just recently ended, and I'm waiting anxiously for it to come out on DVD next month.

I am in love with the dashing Don Draper, the lead ad services exec on the show who has a sort of Cary Grant/Humphrey Bogart air about him. He's classy. I hate him too - the lying cheat that he is. But he's the kind of "bad" guy whose manliness and fortitude endears him to the viewer. He can crush the immature little schmuck, Peter Campbell, like a roach just by looking at him with those piercing eyes. I'm sure I'm not the only one cheering in my living room when the spoiled brat gets exactly what he's got coming to him.

Don's wife Betty is so perfect that I keep thinking "Stepford Wife" every time I see her in the kitchen with her 24-inch waist, pleated skirt, neat pumps, nylons, motionless hair and apron.

What is amazing about that era is that everyone is smoking cigarettes everywhere, all the time. They smoke in the office, at home, in the car, on the train, in the elevator - heck, even the gynecologist smokes right there in the exam room before Peggy Olson even has a chance to get her feet out of the stirrups. It's hysterical.

To top that off, these ad men drink constantly too - morning, noon, and night. Before work, during work, and after work. And they are all having affairs - many with long-term mistresses.

But the most shocking part is the perpertual sexual harassment that women are subjected to - and not just in the office. I can't believe what some of the guys get away with! Was it really like that back then? Secretaries act more like nurse's aids to their bosses than assistants. If only people back then could see ahead to the 1990's, when laws were made to prevent that very behavior. My how things have changed in the past 50 years.

Oh my God - that is a shock in and of itself. 1960 was almost 50 years ago. Geez. When did that happen?

Yikes, now I'm really depressed!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Move Number 46 Coming Up

Here we go again.

The last three moves I did were each one move too many. Each time I vowed, "I can't do this again. I'll lose my mind if I have to move again."

And here I am, just nine months after the last move, losing my mind.

Unbelievable. My move to Northern Virginia is scheduled for December 2nd & 3rd.

I used to move by choice; now I mainly move to go where the work is. This economy has affected us all.

I'm going to miss NYC. At first the thought of leaving my favorite city had me in tears. But I'm adjusting to the fact now, knowing that after I get my Masters degree in Virginia, I might be able to come back later (when NYC will be even less affordable!). It seems that each time I return after being gone less than two years, rents have increased another 40%.

So I'm seeing as much of the city as I can before I leave. On Tuesday I went for a walk in Central Park. I'd gone to see the Coco Chanel exhibit, but when I arrived upon it, they were tearing it down. Oops.

I didn't realize the show had closed just two days beforehand. No matter. I was in Central Park in autumn - one of the most beautiful times of the year in the park. So I ended up wandering through The Ramble. It was absolutely beautiful.

Here are a few shots.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Voting in NYC

This past week was pretty exciting. Not just here in New York, but all around the globe. With the election of Barack Obama, it's a new and different world. The sense of "change" being in the air is welcome. Obama needs to be successful if we want things to turn around in this country, so I hope that every American supports him in his new role, regardless of party affiliations.

Last Tuesday afternoon it was a cloudy 62-degree day. I went to vote at the Supreme Court building around 2:00PM, a three-minute walk from my apartment. When I saw the line wrapped around the building, I decided to come back later and instead took the bus to Red Hook to get groceries and kitty litter.

When I came back, it was almost 4:00 when I left home to vote. I told my concierge, "See you in about an hour," thinking about how long the line was earlier. But George, one of the maintenance guys, warned me that they only have two booths open at the polls. For our entire district. Wow.

So I went back to the Supreme Court and got in line outside on the Cadman Plaza side of the building. The line wasn't really that long, so I imagined being done in an hour. Meanwhile, two nice young women joined the line behind me. I overheard one of them telling her friend that when she awoke that morning it felt like Christmas. That's how thrilling the 2008 election became for many people. I admit, I got caught up in the excitement, too.

A guy who'd just voted told us it was an hour and 40 minute wait from about where we were in line. Wow! Somehow we still couldn't believe it would take that long.

Turns out that the two girls were both law students at Brooklyn Law, a school on the block across from my apartment. We started talking, and later a school teacher joined in the conversation. The four of us got along great and had a lot of fun waiting in line. The teacher had quite the stories to relate about the challenges of modern day teaching. (Like how it's the teacher who gets in trouble for verbally reprimanding a student who throws a book in her face.)

Later, the guy in front of us, also a law student, joined in too. It made the process go by faster. there was a sign up that said "No electioneering," which we found interesting. When the guy mentioned who the best candidate was for a congressional seat, we all pointed at him and accused him of electioneering, which he took in good fun. Oh, and there were TV cameras from NY1 there too. People brought their small children. Everyone was having a good time, despite the wait.

It was after 5:30 and dark (and much cooler out) by the time we got indoors to vote. Sure enough, there were only two booths. Talk about poor planning. You'd think that a city of over eight million people would know better. Good thing it's a city full of great people to meet!

It was 6:00PM before I was done voting, making the total wait two hours. That is the longest it has ever taken me to vote!

But I honestly didn't mind. There's no way I wasn't casting my ballot in an election as important as this one. Walking home afterward I was proud to be an American. I'm sure that millions of other people felt the same way on November 4th.

The next morning I was at Penn Station, getting ready to get on board the Amtrak to Alexandria, Virginia. I wanted to buy a NY Times, but they were sold out at Hudson News. The paper sell-out didn't even click with me until I was watching the local D.C. news that night--the Washington Post was in such high demand post-election day that the newspaper decided to do another run at the presses! People whose papers were stolen from their front yards were interviewed and actually laughing about it.

And a day later, the Craigslist ads for sublets druing inauguration week were piling up.

What an exciting week!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Boeing, Boeing!

God I love New York. Every time I walk down a NY City sidewalk, I feel ever so lucky to be fortunate enough to live in this great city - even more so when I'm on my way to or from a Broadway show.

Tonight I had a half-price ticket to see an hysterical comedy called "Boeing, Boeing!"at the Longacre Theater on W. 48th Street in midtown. It was my friend Lin Sue who told me I had to see it. The play originally opened in Paris in 1960 and is listed in Guinness as the longest running French play in history.

For those of you "Ally McBeal" fans, the leading male character in this play is actor Greg Germann. He was great; but it was his counterpart, actor Mark Rylance, who stole the show as Robert Lambert, the meek Wisconsinite who is astounded by his friend's "international harem" in Paris.

The play is about Bernard, a guy living in Paris who has three fiancees--one German, an Italian, and a New Yorker--all of whom are air hostesses and don't know the others exist. His French maid, the sarcastic Bertha (Christine Baranski), helps him keep their schedules organized. Of course, havoc ensues when the timetables change and all hostesses end up in the fancy Paris apartment at the same time. I laughed so hard at Mark's blatantly out-of-character antics that I cried. And the intense, passionate German gal (Missi Pyle) who falls in love with her antithesis, the mild-mannered Robert, was unbearably funny with her extreme melodramatic acts.

Oh, and the woman sitting to my left asked me before the show if I'd ever seen "Mad Men" on AMC. "Oh my God!" I told her, "I just met the creator of that show in a book shop!" She was all ears when I mentioned that tidbit! I didn't realize that Matt Weiner was recently featured in the New York Times until she told me about the article. And I shook hands with the guy just two days ago!

I've seen some really good shows this year. My favorites were "The 39 Steps," a Hitchcock mystery-turned-comedy, "Young Frankenstein," and tonight's "Boeing, Boeing!" All very funny. The Hitchcock play was fantastic, as the entire play was done by just four actors, each of whom could switch hats in a heartbeat to play a different role on the fly. With incredible talent, they carried their own props on and off stage as part of the act. Turning "The 39 Steps" into a true comedy is not only original--it's pure genius. For that show and tonight's as well, I had the best seat in the house - mezzanine front row center, where one can see the entire stage!

My brother Dave was in town in August for "Young Frankenstein." The lead male was played by Roger Bart, former pharmacist George from "Desperate Housewives." However, it was Igor (Christopher Fitzgerald) who stole that show.

Also this year, I got to see "Curtains," with David Hyde Pierce, a play about a play where one of the crew is murdered. It was fun, but it didn't hold a candle to Mr. Pierce's performance in "Spamalot" in late 2005.

How lucky I am to have all of this wonderful entertainment just a few subway stops from home. As I was coming home tonight on the 3 train, I nearly cried when I thought about moving away from NY a second time.

I'm telling you, once you've lived here, no place else is good enough. I have never in my life lived in another place where just walking down the street made me feel so alive and happy to be. And I love my wonderful apartment with its huge arch window and great landlord. How often does that happen? To me, never.

Maybe I can get my Masters degree in computer forensics and come back. But if I come back to NYC for a third time, it'll take a stampede of wild horses to drag me away again. I swear it: I am not done with New York yet, and I don't think I'll ever be finished with it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Than Just a Celebrity Sighting Today

Today I went into the City to get my Manhattan fix. From 14th St & 7th Ave, I walked to do some shopping at 6th & 18th, then up to 23rd, and over to Madison Square Park. It was a beautiful blue-sky day, about 60 degrees. I'd forgotten that there was an art exhibit in the park - but was reminded quickly when I saw several tree houses perched above me. (Actually, I didn't know it was an "art" exhibit until I Googled it just now - turns out that tree houses, not unlike scaffolding waterfalls, can be art too.)

I was done with my shopping but not done with the City, so I walked up Madison Ave and decided to stop in at one of my favorite places - the Astro Gem shop at 34th St. I did a little Christmas shopping there and then wandered up the block to the antique book store that I've been dying to go into for months. Every time I've been past it in the past it was closed.

I walked in and a charismatic, good-looking guy immediately caught my attention - he was telling the nice, curly-haired Croatian book store attendant a story. How easily I got pulled in. The customer doing the talking was like a magnet - the kind of guy that everyone gravitates to at a party. He was telling a story about a buddy of his who used his own hole puncher to get free coffee at Starbucks with those wallet-sized 'club' cards that you get punched every time you purchase a coffee.

It seems his buddy had punched a card himself and presented it to the barista gal at a Starbucks as payment for his coffee. Apparently he'd gotten away with his scheme in the past. But the young gal wasn't buying it. She took one look at the card and said, "You punched all of these today." How could she tell? Customer Guy explained it - there were bits of paper still attached to each hole on the back of the card. "You know, like hanging chads," he said, and I had to laugh as I recalled that fiasco from the last election.

But the girl absolutely refused to give his buddy a free coffee because she suspected he'd cheated on his card. My two new friends in the book store both felt that she should've given him the free coffee because Starbucks is a multi-million dollar corporation. To me, it was more like stealing. But, after reflecting, it occurred to me that they did have a point. What's the big deal over one lousy cup of coffee? Customer Guy's point of the story was that this coffee shop girl was on a power trip.

"That's just like my experience at the post office yesterday," I told the guys. I explained that I was mailing a box of books in a used box that still had some 'Bath and Body Works' printing on the box. But I'd taken a magic marker and marked through the writing because the post office has some new rule about marking out everything pre-printed on a box. My marker was low on ink, but I managed to mark through everything before I left home for my walk to the P.O.

Nonetheless, the woman at counter wouldn't take my box. I said, "But I marked through the writing." She looked at the box and started reading aloud, " Bath and Body Works, 1-800- . . . ." I was like, "Ok, ok. But, come on, I marked through it." She said nope.

I tried again, "But I walked all the way here from home, can't you please take it this time so I don't have to go all the way home and come back? See, I marked through everything!" (like a good little customer).

Not only did she refuse to mail my package but she claimed there were no magic markers at the post office. (Right, and chickens don't lay eggs.) There was absolutely no reason for her to refuse my package. I'd clearly done my due dilligence and marked through all the printing on the box. I just hadn't done it well enough for this disgruntled postal worker who is obviously a control freak.

As I told the guys in the book store, I waited five minutes at the other end of the post office, then I simply walked over to another window and gave the box to a different postal employee to mail. The girl didn't look twice at it, much less make any remarks about my poor marking job.

Mr. Customer sided with me, saying, "It's all about power and control," and proceeded to tell us another story about a time he was a student living in Spain.

We talked for a little while longer. Eventually we were done telling our 'power trip' stories. I was anxious to browse the wonderful old books. I was looking at these cool antique maps when I overheard Mr. Customer say something to Book Store Guy about his "show." I kept browsing. A bit later, I turned around and asked him "What show do you do?" He told me, "Mad Men on AMC." I'd never heard of it, I told him. I said there are only a few shows on TV that I really like to watch, like Law & Order. He told me that his show is about a 1960's ad agency in NY. And, as I recall, he mentioned something about it winning a couple of Emmys.

Then he asked me, "You ever watch The Sopranos?"

"Oh, of course!" I told him, "I love The Sopranos." He said that he'd done several of those episodes too. I told him I thought that was cool (of course).

I assumed he was a writer. Nice guy. Extremely engaging. Great talker and story teller. He introduced himself as Matt, we shook hands, and he left the store with a smile and a wave to both me and Book Store Guy. After Matt walked out, I turned around and told Book Store Guy, "See - that's what I love about New York! You meet so many interesting people," and he agreed.

He and I chatted later. Turns out he has a PhD and teaches Philosophy at Fordham. But he only makes $20,000 a year! Man, those are poverty wages for NY. That's why he lives in a s----y studio apartment and has to do the book store job on the side, he told me. Meanwhile, high school teachers start at $50K, and his ex-girlfriend, who is a jewelry buyer for some NY company, makes $160K a year. To buy jewelry. How unfair is that? She's in her 20's making $160,000 for a job that Book Store Guy said, ". . . would be like me going into Versace to pick out suits."

I had a great day. But here's the cool part. This evening I decided to Google Mad Men to find out if this guy Matt's name is listed as a writer.

Boy was I wrong. He's not a writer on the show, he's the creator of the show!

So, the attractive and outgoing Customer Guy with the great personality is actually a big TV producer by the name of Matthew Weiner! Here he is on the AMC web site, with that same genuine, engaging smile. There are more photos of him on IMDB. Wow! I shook hands with a television show producer today and didn't even know it at the time. That's another first for me. (If you live in New York, you get lots of those. How lucky I am.)

It's like the couple who looked at my apartment yesterday (which is up for rent now). She's an attorney, and her husband Chris works at Gracious Home, an awesome home decorating store chain here in NYC. Apparently, he has celebrity sightings all the time at work, his most recent being Goldie Hawn (which he failed to tell his wife for two whole weeks afterward, as if it was nothing. She, of course, had a cow when she found out. "Why didn't you tell me?!").

How cool is that. I love New York. :)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Law & Order in New York

Do these Law & Order episodes sound familiar to you? I'm sure I've seen them all myself:

- An SUV drives into a storefront, injuring several people

- A dead body is found in suitcase in a park in Yonkers

- A man is shot by live ammunition in civil war re-enactment

- A 21-year veteran police officer commits suicide after causing the death of a mentally ill man in Brooklyn who fell to his death after being tasered by police

You've seen these episodes, right?

Well, these aren't television episodes - these are actual events that were reported on the local news earlier this month in New York City. Maybe I've just been watching too much news on TV since I joined one of the 159,000 newly unemployed Americans last month. Or, maybe every night on the news is like another episode of NYPD Blue or Law & Order, and I just haven't been paying attention the past year. But it's all real.

And yesterday I saw an episode play out on a street corner in the heart of Brooklyn. It was mid-day and I was walking to the mall at Flatbush and Atlantic Avenue to buy groceries at the Pathmark. Waiting for the walk signal, I saw a black man chasing another, taller, better dressed black man on the sidewalk across the road from me. The smaller guy in the baseball cap grabbed the back of the other guy's sweater and tried to push him down. People were staring, and the big guy was yelling for the other to leave him alone. The little guy had a hard time taking down the larger man.

As I crossed the street, a hefty black woman headed toward the two who were scuffling. I couldn't tell who she was defending as she threw herself into the mix, yelling about "spraying" one of them. The guy on the ground was yelling to leave him alone, he didn't do nothin'. I wondered outloud, "Where are the cops?" To me, it looked like this guy was about to get beat up by the others. It appeared that maybe this guy had stolen something from the woman, and the little guy was helping her take him down.

When I got to the other side of the street, the smaller guy finally had the big guy on the ground and was emptying the victim's pockets. The woman was on him too, and she repeatedly threatened, "I'm goin' spray you. You know what dat is?" I felt sorry for the guy on the ground. I'm thinking that the pepper spray is about to come out and wondering if I need to call 911. Dozens of by-standers like myself stared on.

The big guy, arms pinned behind him, kept yelling for help, saying he'd done nothing. At this point, no one knew who the good guy was in this incident because no one had identified his or herself yet. I wasn't leaving until I knew - I kept waiting for the hand-cuffs to come out.

Momentarily, the loud-mouthed black woman with the bad grammar finally pulled out a pair of hand-cuffs. That's when I realized who the cops were in the scene, and I turned and walked away.

Five minutes later, while grocery shopping in the Pathmark, I saw an overweight guy shop-lift a Snapple off the shelf, saying to his friend, "You want sumthin' to drink?" He casually sauntered down the aisle with his drink. After a few sips, he put the lid back on, put the bottle on a different shelf, and they both walked nonchalantly out of the store.

I shook my head and kept on shopping.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Quick Thank-you to our Troops

It only takes a second to click this link and send a card to a soldier in Iraq!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Must-see Movie

Earlier today I was lamenting over losing tens of thousands of dollars in my retirement funds and other investments due to the Wall Street melt-down. It was a brief pity party, though, because my outlook changed after I popped in a Netflix movie called "God Grew Tired of Us." Trust me, once you've seen this movie, if you are an American with a roof over your head and a full belly when you go to bed at night, you'll begin to realize just how much more you have than many other people in this world.

The movie is nothing less than moving. The story is fantastic - it is about how the "Lost Boys" of the Sudan survived the long trek by foot across Africa to Ethiopia and later to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to escape the civil war in 1992 - essentially to prevent getting shot for being Christian. Many watched their parents and siblings get shot. Many also watched half of their fellow refugees die of disease, starvation, and wild animal attacks during their journey.

These are young men who never knew electricity or running water. When someone in their clan got ill, it would take 20 men to carry that person the 75 miles to the nearest medical clinic. Their lives are community oriented, and they entertain themselves by singing, dancing, and laughing. It's touching how much they missed their families when the Lost Boys came to the states, and how their primary goal was to work hard to send money back home to help their community.

One of the interesting parts of the movie is when John Bul Dau, the lead Lost Boy in the movie, genuinely questions the purpose of the Christmas tree. Sure, it's a beautiful thing, he says, but he just doesn't understand the purpose behind it. In Africa, he explains, Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Whoa.

Very powerful stuff. With the economy in the shape it is right now, and all of us being stressed out, tense, and depressed over our finances, I can't think of a better time to watch this movie.

There is also a memoir, God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir, written by John Bul Dau, who has made amazing strides to help the people in his homeland since coming to America in 2001. He now regularly appears at speaking engagements across the country. To find out more, visit

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Celebrity Sighting at Union Square!

October 4, 2008

Today was a gorgeous, sunny fall day. Sweatshirt weather! I love it. I went online this morning to see if there were any street fairs going on. Sure enough, there was one on Park Ave South from 17th to 23rd Streets. I took the train (several trains, due to construction) to Union Square.

I love street fairs. I went up one side and down the other, looking for Christmas presents. I ended up with two pairs of reading glasses (just $7.50 each) and a $5 fanny pack for walking/jogging, plus a little something for my nephew Connor who likes to direct and star in his own movies.

Afterward, I was walking around the south end of Union Square, through the farmer's market, thinking "Man, it's really crowded." Passing between the vegetable stands, I saw a tall, good-looking, unshaven man heading toward me with his petite, unremarkable blonde wife and young child (I assumed) in a stroller. He was on his cell phone. I took a double-take because I thought I knew him. I wondered if we'd worked together or not. I memorized the face and kept walking.

Across the street in Filene's I couldn't stop thinking about that guy. Where do I know him from? Finally it dawned on me that he must be an actor. At Whole Foods I picked up the 40th anniversary edition of New York magazine and tucked it in my Filene's shopping bag. I thought and thought about it all the way home, but still I couldn't place the name of this actor.

At home I popped open my laptop, bound and determined to find this guy. I kept thinking, "Was he on CSI?" I could sort of picture him in a lab coat or uniform of some sort - in a serious role. I could even replay his facial expressions in my mind. (No doubt he appeared in Law & Order at some point, like every other NY actor.) I don't think I've watched a full episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, so I really couldn't say.

I went to IMDB and looked through the dozens of photos of actors who'd been on CSI, but that got old quickly. The list was too long and the photo thumbnails too small.

My next Google search on "new york actors" took me right to - would you believe - an article called "The New York Actor" in the 40th anniversary edition of New York magazine! The magazine still sat on the end table next to the chair I was in.

I flipped through the slide show of photos, hoping to find my mystery man. The photos are interesting because they show many of these famous actors and actresses as they look in real life - without the makeup. Meryl Streep, S. Epatha Merkerson, Patti Lupone, Ellen Barkin (ugh!), James Earl Jones. . . and then, there on slide nine was the celebrity I saw today!

It was Liev Schreiber.

And to think I was within 10 feet of him at the farmer's market today! Had I known about the magazine article, I could have figured it out on the R train on my way home.

A little research on IMDB led me to believe that the woman he was with at Union Square today, who walked directly to my right with her stroller, was none other than Naomi Watts, who last year had a baby with Liev. Now, the woman I saw with the stroller was not the least bit attractive. But after Googling "naomi watts no makeup," I can confirm it was in fact her. Right there at the farmer's market in Union Square - an event I've attended at least a dozen Saturdays in the past year.

It's about time I had another celebrity sighting! Not counting the Susan G. Komen race for the cure three weeks ago, it had been ages since I saw a celebrity on a NY city sidewalk. I live in NYC, for crying out loud! I should be bumping into Sarah Jessica Parker at the Pearl River Mart or Cynthia Nixon at Filene's on the upper west side. I should be rubbing elbows with more famous people! Hmph.

(Photo courtesy of New York magazine.)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Calling all Women!

It's national breast cancer awareness month, and if you are reading this, you can help in this battle.

Last night there was a blurb on the news about an "Army of Women" that is seeking 1,000,000 volunteers to help researchers in the battle against breast cancer. I went to the web site at and was registered by the time the news show ended. It's easy to sign up, and you have nothing to fear.

The movement was started by Dr. Susan Love in partnership with the Avon Foundation, and its mission is to find the cause for breast cancer:

We can be the generation that eliminates breast cancer by identifying what causes this disease and stopping it before it starts. This is your chance to be part of the research that will end breast cancer. Sign up for your sister, mother, daughter, granddaughter, best friend, and the woman you met last week.

Ladies, get involved now! Then invite 20 of your friends. Last night, the number of women who had registered totaled 30,000. Today, just 24 hours later, that number is over 107,000! We're 10% of the way there. Let's be the generation that puts a stop to breast cancer.

Oh yeah, and you can purchase a cool pendant for just $5.00 too. :) Or, make a tax-deductible donation in support of the cause.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ah... New York!

September 30, 2008

Every time I step outside it's a new experience. That's just one of the things I love about NYC - so many people, so many different lives, so much activity always happening.

This afternoon I decided to go for a walk. The weather was finally gorgeous here (read: no humidity). Sunny, dry, upper 60's/low 70's. My favorite weather.

I was walking across the familiar stone surface of Cadman Plaza, approaching a pod of pigeons near the statue at the north end of the park, when suddenly a large brown rat darted across the ground directly ahead of me, headed straight for the city trash can just off to my right. Usually they only come out at night on the plaza.

A young woman headed toward me had that wide-eyed look on her face when she saw the rat. I laughed and said to her, "That's one bold rat - in broad daylight, no less!" She winced in agreement, exclaiming, "I thought it was a cat!" as she rushed passed me. I laughed so hard - the rats are big here in Brooklyn, but not that big! Too funny.

I turned to see the rat's rear end poking out of the bottom of the slatted trash can container as I continued on my walk. It occurred to me later that I definitely belong in New York if the sight of a rat sharing the walkway with pedestrians doesn't even faze me.

A funny thing happened in Central Park yesterday, where I went to do my first full jog around the Jackie O. reservoir. (Woo-hoo - I did it! 1.58 miles.) Wearing an oversized Mariners t-shirt and short, baby blue cotton "biker pants," I was walking briskly up the east path from 60th Street toward the reservoir when I passed a nice couple walking in the same direction. The dad had his young toddler son perched atop his shoulders. About 20 feet past them I thought I heard the kid say something about someone "wearing her underwear outside." I looked down at my thigh-length leggings and suddenly realized the kid must be talking about me.

Then I heard it again, "She's wearing her underwear outside!" Then I knew the kid meant me. I turned around to see the mom's face had turned beet red as the mortified father tried to shield his son's face with some colorful object in an effort to shush him. I was laughing and told them, "I've never been accused of that before!"

Not long before that, on the same path, and older lady wearing a long rain coat and hat (and other winter attire) was walking ahead of me, ranting and raving very loudly about something. I noticed that she was following a tall, white-haired gentleman who was walking hand-in-hand with a young child. The man was smoking a cigarette.

As I got closer I heard what the rant was about. The woman was carrying on antagonistically about "filthy, f---ing cigarettes" and how they cause "f---ing tuberculosis" and other maladies and pollution. She was just going on non-stop like a lunatic. (She was obviously a tad touched.) Granted, I agree with her that it's a filthy habit and I wish people didn't smoke in public--(yes, I'm an ex-smoker, forgive me for the times I did that) . . . but I still felt sorry for the old guy who was just minding his own business, taking a Sunday stroll through the park with his grandson.

He ignored her and kept walking at the same casual pace, despite her rants becoming louder and more animated. I walked right past her, wanting to tell her to watch her language around all these kids, but I knew it would be a fruitless effort.

And that's what New Yorkers do. We've seen and heard it all. And so we just keep on walking. . . .

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bodies: The Exhibition

September 27, 2008

Today I braved the rain and severe humidity to go over to Fulton Street Market in the City to see "Bodies: The Exhibition." It is absolutely amazing.

If you haven't seen this show and it comes to your town, I highly recommend it. Currently, in the U.S., it's showing in Vegas, NYC, Indianapolis, and Honolulu. This exhibit contains displays of real human cadavers, dissected in numerous ways to show the inner workings of the human body.

The bodies come from a medical university in China. It is truly facinating how people managed to remove, for example, all of the tissue surrounding the entire circulatory system and preserve that incredibly complex mesh of veins and arteries in its original form. How on earth did they do that? In another part of the show, the entire central nervous system is laid out on a table.

Very impressive. When I inquired the amount of time it would take to do such work, I found out that the show was 10 years in the making.

There were several organ samples showing various diseases (cancer, Parkinson's, etc.), and some cross-sections of the brain of a stroke victim. I couldn't believe how black the smoker's lungs were. Nearby was a huge, enclosed clear acrylic container full of partially used cigarette packs. There was a slot cut out in the top for patrons to toss their cigarettes after seeing the condition of those lungs.

I saw an aneurism, a peptic ulcer, hardened arteries, gallstones, cancer of the larynx, skin melanoma, advanced breast cancer, lung cancer, diverticulosis, intestinal polyps, an ovarian cyst, cirrhosis of the liver, a real pair of conjoined twin fetuses, an ectopic pregnancy, and much more. Nothing short of fascinating. I held a real human liver in my hand, along with a brain, a muscle, and a shin bone. Oh, and the the multiple vertical cross sections of an overweight woman was enough to make me (briefly) consider never eating again.

There's a video about the processes behind Bodies on YouTube at, which actually takes you to one of the Chinese "body factories" and describes the preservation process, called plastination. In this video you will see medical students dissecting cadavers and placing them in "playful" positions for the exhibit.

Apparently this is a big business in China. Another video takes you inside the actual exhibit, narrated by a forensic pathologist:

That's it. Time for dinner!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Still Loving New York

September 26, 2008

It's finally fall. There are only three things I don't like about NYC - the humidity, the subway platforms in the summer, and spit on the sidewalk. The rest is great. I'll be glad when the humidity subsides completely.

This evening I went for a walk in Brooklyn. I had planned on doing my usual walking around the Heights and returning home. But I walked toward DUMBO instead.

As I headed down the cobblestone streets of DUMBO (the artsy area of Brooklyn that lies down under the Manhattan bridge overpass), I came across a huge book/art show in a large warehouse-type building lined with windows on Water Street. It was all lit up, with music blaring, and full of people looking at the exhibits and tables piled with wonderful books - many about New York. As I wandered from table to table, I kept wondering if I somehow had snuck in without paying admission. How could this be free?

I didn't know what the event was until I stepped back outside and saw some "Art Under the Bridge Festival" signs. Turns out the whole event is free. After gazing at the beautiful lit-up Manhattan bridge above the cobblestone streets for a few minutes, feeling grateful for my life in New York, I walked across the street. Soon I found myself inside another show at the festival. I stepped into a big, old, dark loft space with mortar walls set up with three huge video screens, a bar, and lots of large round benches facing the screens.

It too was packed with people, some eating and drinking, the screens showing video interviews of New Yorkers on the street. One question posed was "Do you make enough money to live in New York?" I smiled as most responders answered in the negative, except for a doctor and a handful of others. It was interesting. A server was handing out those paper 3-D glasses, but I didn't stay to see what was next (it was too hot in there for me).

When I checked the Web at home, I found out I'd come upon video_dumbo.

When I left there, it had started to drizzle. I walked to the Brooklyn Bridge. The famous Brooklyn Bridge Ice Cream Factory, for once, had no line out the door. I'd never seen it like that in all the dozens of times I'd passed by it. Since it was on my list of things to do, I finally stopped in tonight and bought a chocolate chocolate chunk cone.

Walking home in the rain from there, I stopped to pet a dog tied up outside a grocery store on Henry Street while its owners shopped inside. And all I could think about is how much I love NY and wouldn't want to leave. Unfortunately, due to a recent unexpected change in my job status on Wall Street, I might be forced to go elsewhere to find work.

It's been a crappy year for Wall Street. I'll never forget the words of one of my two British bosses several months ago, "You couldn't have picked a worse year to join financial services." (Real motivating, eh?)

Yet it's true and is the story of my life. It's just like me trying to do something simple like have LASIK surgery - these life changes just never seem to go right for me. The only right thing about taking the job on Wall Street was that it put me back in my favorite city and allowed me to meet some wonderful people (bossholes excluded).

When I gazed at the two bridges I so love earlier tonight, it almost brought tears to my eyes. It's a sight I always enjoy and will miss dearly if I'm forced to leave. If I do go, I'm going to have to move to another major metropolitan city and visit New York frequently.

Maybe I'll go back to my second favorite city in the U.S. - Seattle. We shall see.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I Did It!

Today was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Central Park. I completed the 5K run/walk in about 41 minutes. I know what you're thinking - "She's really slow!" Actually, for me that was excellent time, as I am not a runner.

I managed to run from the starting gate past the first mile marker. I kept pushing myself and almost made it to the second mile before slowing down to a walk. Just that 1.75+ miles was an amazing feat for me, being the non-runner that I am. And I was really pushing myself! Thank goodness for the volunteers along the sideline cheering us on.

This was a neat event. There were over 30,000 people there, but I started right near the front of the pack and ran right past the little stage where Judge Judy and Stephen Colbert sat. It was also pretty neat to see Cynthia Nixon in person (many people know her as Miranda from Sex & the City - I couldn't get over how long her hair is today). She was there with her mom and kids, and even she ran in the race. Both she and her mom are breast cancer survivors.

I was walking down 14th Street on my way home today, switching from the 1 train to the R (because the trains were messed up as usual on the weekend), when a woman walking toward me turned as she passed me and said with a smile, "Great job at the race today!" I guess I didn't realize until then just what a huge event this is.

I want to do it again next year! Thank you, everyone, for all of your donations. The support I received from friends, co-workers, and family exceeded my expectations by hundreds of dollars.

Thanks again!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

A Good Cause

September 6, 2008

Next Sunday (September 14) is the Komen New York City Race for the Cure®. It's a 5K run/walk that takes place in Central Park. I've signed up and am ecstatic about the amount of money my friends and co-workers have pledged. Thank you, everyone, for your outpouring of support! I've had to raise my goal several times. I ended up targeting $1,500 and, thanks to the generosity of many people, I have managed to surpass that goal! I can continue to collect donations through October 31. Who knows - maybe I'll surpass $2,000.

The cool thing about the Susan G. Komen foundation is that 85% of every dollar donated goes to the worthy cause of finding a cure for breast cancer. Since its inception over a quarter century ago, the foundation has invested over $1 billion in breast cancer research, and is the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.

This year alone, Komen will invest $100 million in research grants, representing the largest single-year investment in research in the organization’s 26-year history. The 2008 grants move Komen closer to accomplishing its goal of investing another $2 billion in breast cancer research and community health programs by 2017.

Remember, one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer. Early detection is saving more and more lives every year. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006, when she was 72 years old. She underwent a lumpectomy the following January, followed by several months of chemo and radiation treatments.

Today she is a healthy, happy woman enjoying her golden years with my dad in northern Georgia. She frequently visits with her young granddaughters from Atlanta, swims several times a week, and still cooks the world's most fabulous meals for her family.

My mom's 80-year-old older sister Geraldine was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and underwent a mastectomy. She too is a survivor. Help continue the fight! Thanks to Nancy Brinker and organizations like the Komen foundation that Nancy kicked off in honor of her sister Susan G. Komen, we can beat this thing. To see where your money goes, go to the Susan G. Komen Foundation web site.

For anyone interested in helping me run breast cancer out of town, please donate here.

Thank you so much for your support, and please pray for Nadine, the wife of one of my employees, who underwent a double mastectomy on Monday.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can Your Lawyer do This?

August 12, 2008

Not only did I have my day in court this week, but I also found out I have the world's most talented lawyer.

My court date in Howard County District Court, Ellicott City, Maryland, was yesterday.

It was the day previous to that when I actually met my lawyer in person for the first time. (I'll just call him "Mike.") Prior to that, we'd handled my entire case via phone, fax, and email.

I was the plaintiff in a landlord-tenant dispute. Essentially, when I took the job in NYC last October, I'd signed a lease with a tenant who was due to move into my Ellicott City townhouse on November 3rd. I didn't want to rent my immaculate townhouse out to a stranger, but the sales market had tanked, and the place wasn't selling. It was either rent it or try to sustain the hefty mortgage simultaneously with an exorbitant Manhattan rent in hopes the place would sell for a loss I could live with. I was over a barrell - I opted for Door Number One and signed the lease just six days before I moved to Manhattan.

Well, by November 3rd my tenant still hadn't come up with the rent. I didn't let her move in until she came up with the cash she owed me (which also consisted of the remainder of the security deposit). Oddly enough, this pissed her off and so, on November 7, she decided that because this appeared to be the start of a "long and unpleasant business relationship" she had "changed her mind" about our lease.

She was in breach of contract; I sued.

Of course, this all became very expensive and time-consuming. I compiled documents, wrote letters, took multiple trips to the post office to get letters certified, sent emails, researched MD code of law, called the attorney general, tried to re-rent the place, had to move items out (from afar) that my tenant had agreed to buy, consulted various attorneys and property management firms, created spreadsheets, etc.

Not to mention, I paid my attorney, I paid court filing fees, I paid utilities while the place was empty, I paid a management company a stiff fee to find a new tenant, etc. All in all, this cost me a bundle in time and money.

I did everything possible to mitigate her damages. (Yes, this was all while I was unpacking and starting my new, stressful Wall Street job, and enduring the death of my beloved cat, etc. Aaaargh.) The tenant, however, was unresponsive to my pleadings.

To make a long story short, we tried to settle out of court and even came to an agreement that she'd pay me less than one-third of damages she'd incurred. She was supposed to send some of that money by July 15 but (once again) didn't pay. So Mike and I said "screw this" and proceeded to the trial date of 8/11.

Hence, on Sunday I needed to meet with my attorney in order to prepare for Monday's court date. I took the train from NY Penn Station to BWI at Baltimore and rented a car. I went straight to Mike's office. I'd never met him face-to-face before, but I felt as if I'd known him for years. I walked right into his office. He didn't look anything like what I expected. Because his voice sounded so much like that of my old attorney in Washington state, I guess in the back of my mind I had always pictured someone like my previous attorney.

Mike was a hoot. After we got through our case preparation he pulled out this huge bag of balloons, and suddenly I saw the other side of my attorney - the side that went with that friendly and humorous voice I had come to know so well. Come to find out, he's quite the artist. He proceeded to create the balloon animal of my choice. I, of course, picked a black cat. Then he showed me how to make a swan. (OK, so my swan sucks, but these things take practice!) When I showed up at my friend Rashmi's doorstep later that evening holding out two balloon animals, the look on her face was priceless - she just laughed with a look that said, "What in the heck are you doing now, Susie?"

So how many people can say that their attorney makes balloon animals? Not only that - he juggles too! And if you go down to the Baltimore Inner Harbor on a nice weekend day, you just might see him engaged in these activities, entertaining the crowd.

Now that is a multi-talented attorney. What a great guy. Usually a law suit is a pretty stressful event. And I've had enough stressful events lately that this one very well could have put me away for life. But Mike managed to make it fun (you know, as 'fun' as a law suit can be). And that makes his services worth every penny I paid.

To top that off, he won my case. I was ecstatic and smiled all the way home on the train yesterday! We got not only the full judgment against the defendant, but another $49.46 that neither of us can figure out. Not sure where the judge came up with the number, but I'm not complaining.

Don't get me wrong. The real work for me isn't over. I've won the judgment; now it's up to me to collect. You've heard the phrase, "Can't get blood from a turnip . . . " Well, I'm about to set out to do just that - after the 10-day post-trial waiting period.

Monday, July 21, 2008

No More Greedy Edy's for Me

Several years ago in Seattle I discovered a wonderful thing called Edy's ice cream. Their "light" ice creams, to me, are just as good as the real thing, and it's the only brand of ice cream I've put in my freezer for about a decade.

A few weeks ago I was shopping at my local Key Foods over on Altantic Avenue in Brooklyn. As I passed the ice cream case I thought about getting a container of Edy's light French Silk. But as I looked through the frosty glass I was taken aback. Some of the cylindrical containers were shorter than the others. They were all Edy's brand - same markings, same flavors - everything was the same except the size. Even the price was the same - $5.99. The smaller containers looked like little mutant ice creams, they were so out of place.

I thought, "No way." I opened the door. Sure enough, some of the containers were 1.75 quarts, and the rest were 1.5 quarts. I double-checked the price: $5.99. No!!! This can't be! Say it isn't so! I knew I was going to be pissed.

Sure enough, I was pissed. First of all, I didn't realize that, all this time, they've been ripping us off with their fancy schmancy cylindrical containers. Ice cream is supposed to come in half gallons. Growing up, I remember ice cream being packed in those rectangular half-gallon containers. Remember those? I didn't realize that the maker of Edy's, (Dreyer's Grand Ice Cream), had tricked us years ago by packing their ice cream into round containers that were 12.5% smaller than the traditional ice cream container - for the same price, actually more. It just never occurred to me to look at the size. Why would it not be a half gallon? Who would do that?

When I moved to NYC in 2005, it took me a long time to adjust to the idea of paying six dollars for (what I thought was) a half gallon of ice cream. Then, all in one blow I find out that I've been paying that much for just 1.75 quarts of ice cream the past few years, and now Dreyer's expects me to pay the same ludicrous amount for another 15% less ice cream?! Are they nuts? Do they think that consumers are that stupid? Like we won't notice?

Oh, oops. I guess we were that stupid with the advent of the cylindrical carton (or at least, I was).

Well, you're not fooling me this time, Dreyer's. I have been a loyal customer for years. I'm done with you and your stupid tricky carton and your new mutant sized ice cream container for the same price. This type of scam is downright wrong. I'm so tired of being ripped off. My god, if it's not the LASIK "surgeon" (I use the term surgeon loosely) or the local so-called emergency veterinarian or the lousy fence contractor who can't tell fpur inches from six, does it have to be the ice cream man? What is this country coming to?

Besides 1.5 quarts is like two bowlfuls for those of us who are serious about our ice cream. What good is that? You want me to pay three bucks a bowl now? Forget it.

Sure, I'd be mad if they'd raised the price of ice cream by 90 cents (that's 15%) and kept the carton the same size. But I would have continued to buy it when it went on sale, as I've done in the past. This is different. This is underhanded. This is a ploy. It's a scam. It's a scheme. It's consumer cruelty. I'll bet that a bunch of overpaid marketing muckety-mucks spent weeks on end in conference room meetings with their Starbucks lattes, pecking away at their Blackberries and making stupid customer jokes while dreaming this one up. I have news for those idiots: Bad idea.

I'm done with Edy's. I hereby officially boycott Edy's ice cream. Forever. Or until the 1.75-quart (or 1/2-gallon) container is reinstated. Even then, I might never go back. I'm just too mad.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beach Observations

July 19, 2008

Today I explored quite a bit of the local Long Island coastline on foot, and I'd like to provide this brief report of the three main Brooklyn beach areas that I visited:

  • Sheepshead Bay - for those who can afford to gas up their Hummers
  • Manhattan Beach - for those who buy their bikinis from the "gigantic" rack
  • Brighton Beach - where the thin, young, beautiful people are
  • Coney Island - where you'll see some downright un-pretty folk wearing 80's hair and way too much clothing for 97-degree weather

I must say, it's blistering hot here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Weekend Explorations in the City

July 13, 2008

Yesterday I took the 2 train to the Upper West Side. It was a beautiful, hot, breezy day. Not too humid, for a change.

The express train dropped me off at W. 96th Street, where I was going to jump on the 1 train and ride up to 110th St. I was trying to save on footsteps because I knew I had a long walk planned for later in the day. But, unbeknownst to me, the 1 train was out of service at that stop.

So I walked to my first destination at 110th and Amsterdam, where I toured the massive Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Together with its outlying buildings, gardens, camp ground, and school, the cathedral encompasses an entire city block.

The massive church itself is 146 feet wide and the length of two football fields. The interior space is overwhelming. The first cornerstone was laid in 1892, but the church, now in its 200th year of construction, is still only two-thirds completed. Once completed, it supposedly will be the largest cathedral in the world.

They say that the world's largest cathedrals can take 500 years to complete - I guess St. John's is living proof.

Inside, it is more than just a church. Beyond the main pulpit is another series of smaller chapels, each designed in its own unique style, and a baptisry.

My favorite things about the church were outside the church. The huge Peace Fountain scultpure was surrounded by lots of smaller, hand-size nature sculptures created by children - dolphins, penguins, birds, and more - plus an intricate Noah's ark sculpture.

Back behind the church I came upon a beautiful Biblical Garden. In the center of the carefully designed, colorful landscape was a three-tiered fountain that was alive with small birds bathing and playing about in the water. It was so serene. This must be the most peaceful place in the city.

From there I walked over to the edge of Morningside Park, which has a panoramic easterly view of Harlem. The architecture of Morningside Heights really caught my eye. I passed by St. Luke's Hospital, Columbia Law School, and walked through Columbia University - a beautiful campus.

Near the library I sat down briefly on a bench to eat a raisin bran muffin and was quickly joined by three sparrows. I threw a few crumbs, and suddenly there were 10 more sparrows and a pigeon. Within moments the number of birds at my feet had doubled, then tripled.

After that I walked west, past more beautiful architecture, to Riverside Park. I thought, "This must be where the upper half lives."

I'd never been that far north in the park before. And I headed south. I trekked south along the Hudson from W. 116th St. all the way to W. 13th St. (yes that's over 100 blocks!).

I'd been on this route many times before, but never this much of it at one time. One thing I noticed (in the west 60's) was that Donald Trump has added yet another apartment building to Trump Place. Each time I walk by that area it seems Trump Place has grown.

In the west 50's (near where I used to live), I passed a huge Norwegian cruise ship docked. I think it is the largest ship I've ever seen that close up. Later, further south around 18th Street, I stopped momentarily to gawk at this funky contemporary all-glass building labeled "IAC" over near the Chelsea Piers that I'd never seen before. It's really something. Wouldn't that be a cool place to work?

From W. 13th I turned into the city and headed toward Greenwich Village. My feet were about to fall off by the time I got to Sheridan Square. Of course, the train schedules were still all messed up, meaning the 2/3 wasn't running to Brooklyn, so I took the 1 to South Ferry and walked over to Bowling Green where I took the 4 home.

After my shower, I left the house twice to run errands (to the pet store for 30 pounds of cat litter, then out to grab some dinner). By the end of the day I determined I'd walked over 130 blocks yesterday - at least 7.4 miles. When I fell into the bed last night, I thought I'd never get up again.

So today - (another beautiful day!) - I limited my walk to Prospect Park and back - about six miles. :) God I love New York! It's such a great walking city.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The New York City Waterfalls

July 5, 2008

They are calling it "Nature and the City," this waterfall art exhibit that lasts through mid-October.

Several weeks ago, on one of my walks around Brooklyn, I noticed a lone scaffolding rising from one of the piers beneath the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Mystified, I wondered what purpose a scaffolding could serve there in the middle of nowhere. I see scaffolding going up around buildings every week (never see that being used, either), but this seemed really bizarre.

Later, I saw scaffolding going up under the Brooklyn pier of the Brooklyn bridge and thought that they must be doing some work under the bridge.

Then, week before last, someone at work asked me if I'd seen the waterfalls yet. He told me to go look out the window. Sure enough, there on Governor's Island was a waterfall. I then put 2 and 2 together and finally realized what the mysterious scaffolding was for. We could see that waterfall, too, from our southeast window on the 9th floor at One New York Plaza.

My employee remarked, "Fifteen million dollars it cost the city." Yikes!

So, one evening this week I took a walk to see some of the falls close up. I think the waterfalls are nice, but not 15 million dollars' worth of nice. For that kind of money, I'd like to see some fans installed in the subway platforms. (I'll never understand how the city can possibly think that it's OK to not have ventilation down there where it's well over 100 degrees this time of year. Five minutes' wait will leave you soaked with sweat on your way to work.)

Anyway, here are some photos, and a link to the official web site for the falls, where you can meet the artist: