Wednesday, December 19, 2012

two at a time

The checks finally come. You both sign, and fumble, and stand, and fumble, and put your jackets on. You exit the restaurant in silence. When you're outside, you say, "It's getting so.... cold," putting a weird accent on "cold" in an attempt to mask the blandness of the remark. "I know," he says, "... so, which subway...?" "Oh, I think I'm going to take the Q... Union Square...." You sway your head back and forth slightly. Very chill! "Great, I'm... walking in that direction, too," he says, in the vague manner one only uses in circumstances like these. A long pause, and then you both start talking at the same time. You smile (he doesn't) and you ask -- shouting, basically -- "So what're you doing for New Year's?"

Thee blocks later, you're at Union Square. "This was... great," he says. "Yeah, it was great!" A brief hug. If someone across the street were to catch only a few seconds, it could be mistaken for two strangers brushing past one another in front of a Walgreens. The escalator down to the subway's working properly, but you still descend two at a time.

Friday, November 30, 2012


I'm currently taking a six-week course, and I had to write an academic paper (the first I've had to write since college) for this week's class. It was astounding how all of the old, terrible habits came right back: waiting until the last possible moment to write it, waiting until I was finished writing to double-space (with that corresponding intake of breath as you wait to see if you've in fact surpassed the page limit), the reliance on my old crutches (the word "pervasive," a flagrant excess of semicolons, etc.). Even hooking up my laptop to my printer, which I've used only a dozen or so times since I moved to New York, brought back bleak memories of print cartridge smudges and error messages.

Of course, not everything's the same. I started to write a "concluding paragraph," but then stopped and deleted it, and turned in the paper without one. Some four years out of college, the idea of tying an overly broad, adjective-laden bow on a paper -- even an innocuous three-pager for a six-week class -- seemed completely ludicrous, so much so that it made me wonder how I churned those silly little conclusions out week after week for so many years without degenerating into some kind of automaton and then into dust.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


An odd moment: when your friend signs into gmail on your laptop, and everything from the color of the labels to the ratio of read-to-unread e-mails to the quantity of e-newsletters seems completely foreign. You're reminded that the way you experience the internet is wholly specific, that the tabs you keep open aren't the tabs everyone keeps open; you knew this, of course, but somehow it's easy to forget and assume universality.

Related: when you scroll through your friend's News Feed (or the roster of people he follows on Instagram or Twitter), and you consider briefly that he views "the world" through a filter that is so vastly different from your own.

Monday, October 1, 2012

strange behaviors

1) When I'm waiting for someone outside of a restaurant and I notice them approaching across the street (they haven't seen me yet), instead of shouting the friend's name or waving, I'll instead instinctively look down at my phone or fixate on a tree or something. When they tap me on the shoulder and say "Hey!," I'll exclaim, "Oh, hi! Didn't see you coming! Weird!"

2) I'll be working on my laptop in a cafe and I'll come across a mention of Wyoming in something I'm reading and get really distracted by the fact that "there is a state named Wyoming": I'll just stare at the word "Wyoming" for like 90 seconds and wonder how it's possible that ANYTHING -- let alone a STATE -- could be named that. It just seems so implausible! I'll Google "Wyoming" just to confirm that it really is a place that exists. Then, finally, I'll type "Wyoming" in the Post-It Note I keep open on my desktop, for no reason other than to give the appearance that this four minute detour resulted in something tangible.

3) This is a brother-specific one, but I'll do this thing where I'll accidentally refer to a place by the wrong name in an e-mail or text to my brother (I'll call the "Meatball Shop" the "Meatball Hut," for example), and he'll make a point of correcting me. From then on, for the rest of time (foreverrrrrr!!!), whenever the "Meatball Shop" comes up in our conversations (this example is getting weird, but hopefully you're following), I'll always intentionally call it the "Meatball Hut" (to his great irritation).

4) I'll be eating a sandwich at a deli and note that it tastes especially bland. I can barely even distinguish between the different elements of the sandwich! But instead of assessing that perhaps this deli just makes awful sandwiches, I will instead worry that something might be "wrong" with my taste buds. I will leap out of my chair, buy a bag of Doritos, tear it open and immediately eat like ten, solely to make sure I can still "taste properly."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

ways to spice up your life

1) Make a seemingly mundane event (i.e. your doorbell ringing) exciting by pretending that it's the cliffhanger season finale ending in a reality show about your life. It will result in thousands of tweets (likely to be divided pretty evenly between #TeamUPSGuy and #TeamSeamlessDelivery) and countless blog posts (nay, entire blogs!) devoted to the "who's at the door???" mystery. There will be GIFs of your head quickly whipping around at the sound of the buzzer all over the internet.

2) The superintendent in my building calls me "Jay" instead of "Josh." I have no idea if he knows that my name is "Josh" and just calls me "Jay" as, I dunno, a shortened version... or if he just misheard me the first time I told him my name. Anyway, I pass him in the lobby quite often, and he always says "Hey Jay," and it's this little jolt of excitement (?) in my day to be called by this alternate moniker. "Oh, right," I always think, "I'm Jay to him." (So yeah, I guess my "tip" here is: introduce yourself with a slightly modified name to a periphery character in your life!)

3) I used to play this "game" with my friend Andrew. Basically, I'd scroll through the contacts list on my phone and then Andrew would yell (yell!) "stop" after a few seconds. I would then have to text whomever I had landed on, no matter if it was my friend's dad, my high school tennis coach, etc. Of course, like 97% of the time we wouldn't actually go through with sending the text (also, we only played this rollicking game like once) but it's still fun to consider what you would text the person (would you come up with something viable to text them or you would play it off as a "mistake"??). (Hmm, maybe the takeaway of this third item is that you probably don't want to rely on me to organize your next Game Night.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

the jennifer westfeldt story

I posted this iPhone screenshot on Twitter a few weeks ago, which I now realize was basically analogous to entering an attention-seeking "feeling so excited about my amazing news!!!" or whatever Facebook status. But I hope you'll excuse me for that lapse in judgment when you understand the state I was in when I tweeted it. 

So... the date was August 9. (I think that, primarily because this story is now known as "The Jennifer Westfeldt Story" among my group of friends, I always feel like I'm telling a ghost story or something when recounting it.) We had just finished a three-hour tech rehearsal for my play, which had been preceded by a three-hour regular rehearsal. It was raining hard, and I was traipsing around the East Village carrying a giant box of postcards advertising the play (I know I can often exaggerate, but this box really was giant... I was buckling under its weight and, like, stumbling as I tried to wield it). I was meant to drop off some postcards at various theaters on E. 4th Street: I'd dramatically drop the box on the sidewalk in front of a theater, grab some postcards from the box, hold them underneath my t-shirt (so they wouldn't get wet)... and then run inside and ask the attendant if I could leave them in the lobby. I resembled an overheated hitchhiker who had just jumped in a pool with his clothes on, and I was regarded with skepticism and pity by all theater employees I encountered.
After about 30 minutes of executing these drop-offs -- exhausted and drenched in sweat and rain -- I decided to head home. I hailed a cab (no easy feat while carrying 20 pounds in postcards!) and waited while a very striking, well-dressed blonde woman exited the taxi. We made eye contact and she said, "Hi," as I slid ("slid" makes it sound a thousand times more graceful than it was) past her to get in the cab. "What a pleasant woman," I thought to myself as I slammed the door, "And so pretty!" As the cab lurched forward, I watched her enter a wine bar and, immediately, it struck me that she was Jennifer Westfeldt (a.k.a Jon Hamm's girlfriend). 

I've had weird "run-ins" with celebrities before, but this felt strangely... fated? I had just seen "Friends With Kids" a few weeks earlier and -- craving more Westfeldt -- watched "Kissing Jessica Stein" the next night. And I was carrying a box full of postcards advertising my first play, which is, in part, about the strangeness of celebrity. "If only I had recognized her, I could have given her one and invited her to the play!" I thought regretfully. And as I worked out in my head what I might have said to her, I shouted -- foolish and impulsive and dripping sweat -- "STOP THE CAB." 
The cab driver pulled over and I handed him four dollars and I started shuffling/skipping (my version of "fast") toward the wine bar. I had no idea what I was going to say to her, but I felt oddly serene and assured. I arrived at the wine bar and plopped the box down on a bench. I peered in and, just as I had imagined it, Jennifer (who was sitting by herself with a glass of wine) looked toward me, and we made eye contact. But, in this moment, a few things struck me at once: 
1) From her perspective, a sopping wet man with unruly hair and a giant box whom she had JUST SEEN GET IN A CAB was now staring at her like a serial killer from outside the wine bar she was in.
2) I was suddenly only like 85 percent sure it was even her.

3) There was no way I was going to be able to enter this wine bar and talk to her.
Her eyes sort of widened and she frowned, as if seeing a ghost (TWIST: this IS a ghost story, after all! I'm the ghost!). I just stood dumbly outside the entrance as she gulped the last drops of her wine, collected her things and marched out of the wine bar, right past me (avoiding eye contact, obviously) and down the street. I watched as she practically sprinted down 2nd Avenue while furiously typing on her iPhone ("Jon, change in plans!! i'm finding a new bar!," no doubt). 

I texted my brother, and then picked up my box.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Scarlett Fever!

Hello TxtMsgBtl Readers!

Some exciting news! About two years ago, when I was blogging for at night and had my days free, I started writing a play. I finished it in December of 2010 and staged a "reading" in my apartment: my friends Marissa and Liz and my brother Sam read the six parts between the three of them, while I twitched nervously and tore through a bag of Sour Patch Kids. After a revision, I brought it to my director/producer friend Ashley, who came on board as director. Two more readings (with real actors this time) and nearly a year and a half later, the play is finally debuting! In the New York Fringe Festival! I am so so soooo excited, and - if you're in/near the NYC area - would be thrilled if you'd come see it!

It's called Scarlett Fever. It's about a girl named Gracie who has just graduated from college and moved to New York. She also happens to be a Scarlett Johansson superfan. Meanwhile, her best friend Joey, who works for a fashion magazine, is consumed with his crush on the barista at their local coffee shop. Gracie meets a mysterious, charming guy at a party, and events unfold from there. Still, two years later, I'm not the greatest at describing it, but, yeah, it's a very fast-paced, pop culture-y comedy, basically.

There are five performances at the SoHo Playhouse on August 14, 17, 23, 24 and 25. You can buy tickets now at Also, I've been blogging about the show for a few weeks now on

Would be grrrreat to see you there! If you do make it, be sure to come up and say hi after! I'll be the guy wearing all black twitching nervously and covertly popping Sour Patch Kids in the back.

Monday, July 30, 2012

goodnight from Phoenix

I had been on the phone with Tim R. for over an hour and a half. I was sitting on my couch, an empty wine glass on the table in front of me, my laptop resting on my, uh, lap.

"Now select everything on the left and drag it into the box on the right."

"Onto the white space or anywhere in the box?"

"Anywhere in the box is great."

We had been going back-and-forth like this, Tim R. walking me through a somewhat complicated series of maneuvers to rectify a "domain-related problem" I was having with one of my websites.

I dragged the files into the box on the right and a notification came up on my screen informing me that the transfer would take about ten minutes.

"It's... uh... going," I said. Though we had been on the phone for some 90 minutes at this point, the "conversation" had been comprised exclusively of troubleshooting and instructions and hold music. I wondered what would happen now. Would he say something like "so, uh, I'm just gonna put you on hold for 10 minutes while we wait..."? Would we both just remain silent on the line? Would we confess dark, deep secrets to one another in this odd, "no consequences" long-distance circumstance?

But Tim R. just started rambling. He asked me if I had heard about a new project Google was working on to create a cell phone battery that could survive for months without needing to be charged. He mentioned a password-keeping app he uses to store all of his passwords (his Facebook password has 64 digits, he told me). He told me about some super high-speed internet connection they're testing in Kansas City (I didn't really follow this last one, but strategically employed some "aah"s and "coool"s).

"You really have a lot of technology factoids," I said. "I guess it probably helps you keep up with, uh, your work."

"Yeah," he said. "It also provides me with things to talk about when I'm on the phone with customers!"

I surprised myself by laughing loudly, authentically, at this.

When we arrived at our next 10 minute wait a bit later, the nature of his soliloquies changed. He told me that he'd recently taught himself how to make websites, and had created about 35. ("Wow, I'm impressed.") He asked me if I'd ever played Counter-Strike. ("Uhhhh, I don't think so," I said. And then I lied, "Maybe once.")

"Pull up Google on your browser," he said, in the way you might nag your best friend in the office. "... Now Google the word 'tilt.'"

"Wow, that's so great," I said, even though I had seen this "trick" a few months ago. "Are there more?"

"Yeah. This one's kind of nerdy though. Google 'recursion.'"

After two hours and 36 minutes, it was time for the call to come to an end.

"What time is it there?" he said. "I can't believe I didn't ask where you were calling from this whole time."

I realized I had offered very little about myself during our marathon phone call. The most "revealing" I had been was probably my assessment that I "love a good acronym," or maybe when I inexplicably offered that the Google Doodles are "very neat."

"It's 1:13 am," I said. "I'm in New York."

"Well, goodnight from Phoenix," he said.

The next day, I had to call the Help Line again. The issue Tim R. had been helping me with had not been resolved.

"Hello, this is Kasey...," a cheery voice announced. "I have to let you know that this call might be recorded for training purposes."

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

black jackets

Last Wednesday I found myself at a Chanel "pop-up" installation, essentially a large warehouse-y room on Wooster Street which had been converted into a gallery. The exhibit was comprised of a bunch of photos of famous people taken by Karl Lagerfeld; in each photo, the same Chanel "little black jacket" was worn by the subject.

My mom was in town from Boston, and my brother had suggested we stop by the installation before dinner. When I arrived, the two of them were already inside, examining a large-scale photograph of the back of Anna Wintour's head. The lights were dim. A mix of tourists and SoHo-y types milled about. There were three employees dressed in all black handing out posters of the Elle Fanning, Sarah Jessica Parker and Vanessa Paradis prints.

"Well, this is weird," I said.

We walked around the exhibit and lingered in front of the portraits of the more famous celebrities (Kanye, Uma, Dunst). "Interesting." "Wow." "I like this one." Perhaps it was that the same jacket was featured in every photograph, but it didn't take long for all of them to start to blend together.

About 15 minutes later, the three of us independently shifted toward the exit. My mom was only in town for two nights. I had met her at her hotel earlier that day for lunch. The previous night we had gone to an event for which I'd had to wear a suit. Now, we were off to dinner in Tribeca. In, a few nice meals, out.

We walked out of the exhibit and my brother noted that it would be closing at the end of the week.

"So it was just open for a few weeks? What was the point?"

Sam said something about how it was just a fun, short-term attraction and that it was good for the Chanel brand, but I was busy imagining a line-up of my friends all wearing the same black jacket, wondering why I always feel more distant from loved ones when they're visiting me in New York than when we're in different states, and wishing we were heading to eat in our upstairs TV room in Boston rather than a New York restaurant with an unpronounceable name.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

a bowl of macaroons

I returned to my building on a Saturday night during Passover a few months ago to find a bowl of macaroons on a stand in the lobby. A man and woman, probably in their late twenties, were staggering toward the elevators in front of me. I watched as the man clumsily peeled off to the bowl of macaroons while the woman traipsed toward the elevator.

The man and I reached the elevator at about the same time. The woman was inside, holding the door open. He popped a macaroon in his mouth.

"What are you eating?" she asked him as the door closed.

"A macaroon."

"... And you didn't get me one?"

"No. Sorry."

I felt like I was observing a real-life version of what I'd imagine an episode of "Whitney" is like.

"So you thought you'd get yourself some snacks while I've just been standing here waiting in the elevator? You didn't think to yourself, you know, 'Maybe she'd want one...'?"

We were now at my floor. I got off the elevator... and, to my surprise, so did the man.

"What are you doing?" the woman asked.

"I'm going to go back down to get you a macaroon."

As the door closed she wailed, "I don't even want one now!" I gave the man a parting look, and he shrugged in my direction, as if I was implicitly on his side. I looked down and then turned and walked to my apartment.

A bowl of macaroons likely instigated a tense few minutes of silent co-existing, a fumbling apology, a somewhat stilted brunch the next morning. Of course, if the macaroons hadn't been there, it would have been something else: a vague text message read aloud, a misplaced mug, an inadvertent laugh.

Yesterday I got on the elevator with the same woman; I hadn't seen her since the macaroons night. She was texting on her phone, but she looked up when I pressed the button for my floor. We locked eyes. She looked almost frightened, as though she recognized me from a recurring bad dream that she never wakes up from soon enough.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

cherish that antipasto

If I'm blithely sliding my fingers atop my iPhone screen in public, 70 percent of the time I'm just scrolling through old text message conversations. Either it's because I'm on the subway and forgot to bring a book with me or, more commonly, because I'm just trying to avoid making eye contact with humans.

Almost always, I end up scrolling to this text message I received from an unknown northern New Jersey phone number in November. It never ceases to fascinate me. Cherish that antipasto...

I have come up with a whole backstory here. It was sent a few days before Thanksgiving, so I'm thinking that this girl -- her name is Natalie, I feel -- hosts an annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner for her best friends from high school, who live in different parts of the country now (they all just graduated from college) but reunite in NJ for the holidays. She'd always had a thing for this guy Vince. They were never really great friends, but Vince comes to Natalie's yearly dinner because one of his friends dates Natalie's best friend. For the November 2010 dinner, Natalie labored over an elaborate antipasto platter, which everyone -- especially Vince -- made a point of complimenting.

She'd been waiting a whole year to see Vince and make that antipasto all over again. Vince wrote on her Facebook wall on her birthday in March: "hbd lady! can't wait til november. been dreaming about that antipasto," and Natalie immediately both "liked" the post and commented "lol you will not be disappointed!!" (she immediately questioned if unveiled enthusiasm was the right move there).

November 2011 finally rolls around. Natalie spends hours getting ready for the dinner. Her best friend has just gotten engaged to Vince's friend, which only makes her more anxious about seeing Vince ("we could, like, go on double dates," her best friend screeches, making Natalie's stomach turn). At the dinner, though, Vince is... distant. He sits on the opposite side of the table from Natalie. She thinks she overhears him mention a girl named Madison? When he leaves, he gives Natalie a pat on the shoulder instead of a hug. "Wait," she says. "Let me put the leftover antipasto in a Tupperware for you." She doesn't know what else to do.

She spends the entire next day debating whether or not to text him. "just make it abt the antipasto, that's safe," her friend Vicki gchats her. "also, i think he got a new phone so u'll need to get the # from fb..." Natalie goes to his Facebook profile, instinctively clicking through the pictures she's clicked through so many times before. Finally, she decides to go for it and text him. 
She has nothing to lose. 

Of course, she entered his number incorrectly into her phone -- I got the text instead of "Vince." She spent a few days holding her breath every time she got a text message, hoping it might be him. Maybe he'll suggest stopping by my place again while he's still home for Thanksgiving? But she never heard back. I'm hoping Natalie decides not to have her pre-Thanksgiving dinner this fall; a hopeful antipasto platter and a hopeless one are so often one in the same.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

julia's party

On Saturday I was waiting in line to pay for a bagel sandwich behind a mother and her two young daughters. The older daughter, probably about 10 years old, fiddled with her Sidekick phone. The younger one twirled around her mother, singing softly and pulling on her mother's t-shirt for balance. The mother took out her iPhone; her wallpaper picture was a professional shot taken of her daughters. She opened an e-mail invite to "Julia's 8th Birthday Party" (the font was large and pink). She turned to her younger daughter. 

"Kaylee, you just got invited to Julia's party." Kaylee paused briefly and then resumed twirling. "It's on Thursday at Battery Park so you're going to have to miss gymnastics." The older daughter looked up from her Sidekick, suddenly interested. Kaylee frowned.

The mom typed a response to the e-mail: "Kaylee will be there! She already has a present picked out for Julia!"

These same conversations happened 15 years ago, and they'll still be happening 15 years from now. The details may differ -- a tattered Roald Dahl book becomes a shiny Sidekick, a Power Rangers paper invite is now a mass e-mail -- but the tired smiles, the preoccupation with scheduling and planning, the pulling on t-shirts -- none of that changes.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


About a month after I moved in to my apartment last year, I noticed this doodle drawn in my hallway about six inches to the left of my door.

My first instinct, naturally, was to worry that someone had "marked" my apartment as part of some nefarious scheme. I imagined some dude in a beanie crouching in the stairwell of my apartment building communicating with his partner (stationed in the van, obviously) via walkie talkie: "The target has been located, and the symbol has been drawn." 

Since I haven't been robbed or otherwise targeted in the intervening months, though, I guess I was wrong. (Unless it's some sort of simmering, long-term plot, of course!! Never say never!)

So I've come up with a few other theories:

-- Some really disgruntled delivery man was waiting for me at the door (while I was dashing around my apartment searching for jeans and a baseball cap in order to make myself "presentable") and he reached a breaking point. "Who does this guy think he is making me wait like this!?! I'm gonna draw some weird, vaguely cult-y-looking design next to his door! Curses onto him!"

-- Perhaps it had been there long before I moved into the apartment and I just didn't notice for the first few weeks. If so, might the drawing be a tag sketched by the previous tenant wanting to leave a lasting mark?? An "I may be moving on, but a part of me will always remain here in the form of this bizarre icon" effort?

-- Maybe - and, improbably, this theory is really starting to grow on me - I drew it in some sort of mind-addled stupor! Strangely I can actually see myself returning home drunk late one night and thinking it'd be funny to draw something next to my door (seems about right that my version of a "welcome home" doormat would be an alienating scribble). Also it just kind of looks like something I'd draw. "It's a stick man throwing a javelin. His name is Roger."

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

invariably, the following

I'll be telling a friend about a heated back-and-forth I had with someone at a meeting, getting increasingly animated as I recount what each of us said (likely giving the other guy some kind of grating, weird voice). When I've reached the denouement, I'll say something like: "And then I was like... you are being so absurd right now." 

At this point, there's typically a brief pause (it dawns on me that there's probably only a 60% chance she was paying attention the whole time). Then, invariably, the following: the friend will ask "Wait, did you actually say that to him?" And I'll say, "No" ("of course not" implied by my facial expression). "I just sort of mumbled something into my coffee and took out my phone." 

Maybe the friend will then offer some sort of generic response ("next time he does that, you should say..." or "that sounds super stressful") and I'll nod and repeat "yeah, that makes sense" a few times. Or maybe she'll tease me ("what are you gonna do, blog about it?") and I'll give her a mock-offended glare and she'll launch into a story about something that happened to her. In either case, as I fiddle with my iPhone case, I'll wonder why I even bothered telling the story in the first place. Keep something to yourself for once.

Monday, April 16, 2012

a little paint

When I was in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago, my friend Sarah was painting her nails, and I - possessed by some Kardashian spirit, evidently - asked if she would pass me her dark gray polish. Without really thinking about it (I'd had somewhere between 1 and 7 glasses of wine at this point, by the way), I sloppily applied the paint to four of my fingers. Yes, just four. (I suppose this was my way of dipping my toes - or, in this case, fingertips, LOLOL - in the water without jumping off the ledge.)

When I presented my painted nails to Sarah and our friend Sonia, they both sort of shrugged, perplexed, the way you might react to an incomplete sketch. "Uhhh, let me redo them," Sarah said, handing me the nail polish remover. After Sarah painted them over, I gawked, dumbstruck, at my hands. "These look, like, professionally done," I remarked. We poured ourselves more wine.

When I got back to New York, I was excited to show off my "new look" to my friends. I'd always harbored fantasies - all well documented on this here blog - of dying my hair blond or getting a small tattoo, and this felt like a smaller-scale version of those moves, a way of effecting psychological change through a physical one. I was somewhat discouraged, however, to arrive at dinner on my first night back and have my friend ask, "Ummm, did your fingers get slammed by a door or something?" I hadn't realized until that moment just how much the dark polish on the four fingers visually resembled bruises. "No," I said, "It's nail polish." "And why just four?" she asked. "No reason, really," I said, somewhat annoyed and self-conscious. On the subway later, I looked up from my magazine and for this really weird and disconcerting split second, I didn't recognize the fingers holding the pole as my own.

(Related observation: You become so aware of your fingers when they're painted... especially when you're typing, when you're gesticulating, when you're eating, when you're washing your hands, etc. It's kind of like the "your own hands" equivalent, I guess, of when you notice an actor's weird facial tic and you can't concentrate on his acting anymore because you're so focused on the bizarre blinking thing he does when he speaks or whatever. In a way that I found kind of thrilling (?), it makes you so much more conscious of your physicality.)

It took about three weeks before the chipping began and I swiftly removed the polish (I didn't want to be riding around town in a car with dents and a missing bumper). Now, reflecting on the "experience," I feel kind of... proud of myself? I would never have dared traipse around New York - do things like hand over money at Duane Reade, sit in a business meeting, etc. - with painted nails before, I dunno, six months ago maybe. Most of my friends didn't notice or thought the nails looked ridiculous, but ultimately I found myself not caring about that, either - a realization which also pleased me. Really, I just liked how they looked; and I liked how I would forget they were painted and then notice them and remember again. When it comes to shaking things up, a little paint goes a surprisingly long way.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

the understudy

I don't go to Broadway shows very often, so, on the occasion that I do, I'll usually make it into something of an event. I'll dress up; I'll splurge on a fancy dinner beforehand; I'll turn off my phone before the show starts (even though I know I could just leave it on vibrate) to somehow differentiate the experience from seeing a common movie.

The last three shows I've been to, though, have each been preceded by the announcement (via leaflet inserted in Playbill) that one of the lead roles would be played by an understudy. All three times! (Of course, I now believe I have some kind of weird star-sabotaging Broadway curse... I imagine a disconsolate understudy eating kale in her bed when she gets an e-mail from a stage manager that's like "Duboff is coming to the show tomorrow night!!! U know what that means! Start warming up!")

Given these circumstances, I have been spending an unusual amount of time lately thinking about understudies. The initial feeling, of course, is one of intense disappointment: you shelled out all this money for the ticket and you know you're not going to see the show again (meaning you'll never get a chance to see the "real" actress do her thing). It feels like you're parched in the middle of the desert and all you have to drink is a warm can of off-brand soda. "I'm just so annoyed," you'll whisper gravely to your friend, as if your laptop's been stolen or something. "Can you believe this luck?"

The show begins, and the wide-eyed understudy comes out and starts doing her thing, and you can't help but wonder whenever she's singing what the real lead's voice sounds like. But, as the show goes on, you start to pick up on the understudy's hustle, the way she over-enunciates a little and lurches into each song. You imagine her texting her friends that morning something like "I can't believe I *finally* get my chance today!!!" You picture her drinking all this tea and reviewing her notes over and over and grinning dumbly as she puts on the costume that's been wrapped in plastic in her closet for weeks. She's been watching the lead every day in rehearsal and has this whole entire performance - a symphony of reactions and gestures and high notes - stored away inside, ready to be revealed at a moment's notice.

Before you know what's happening, you're full-on rooting for the underdog. Sure, there's some cognitive dissonance going on - it's nice to think you haven't been completely short-changed - but there is something that really ends up inspiring you about this understudy, playing the part with gusto and enthusiasm despite knowing that everyone in the audience is disappointed to be seeing her on stage.

The show ends and you turn to your friend and you both do a wide-eyed nod. "She was actually, like, really good, right?" "Yeah, I mean, great, I think?" You make a mental note to Google her when you get home, but, invariably, you end up forgetting.

Monday, March 26, 2012

situations in which people are almost always disingenuous

1. After lunch with a friend on a Saturday, the friend will sometimes ask what you have planned for the rest of the day. Partly because it sounds lame somehow to reveal your actual plans (get in bed with laptop, search Manhattan for the shampoo you really like that your "place" stopped selling, etc.) and partly because you're not sure if the friend wants to keep hanging out so you want make it clear you're "busy," you offer this vague but firm response, something like, "Ahhh, got a bunch of different things to take care of. Thank god it's nice out!"

2. Whenever someone prefaces a story with some kind of serious, whispered "please don't tell this to anyone" request, the other friend will - basically without fail - respond in this completely overdramatic, theatrical way: rolled eyes, hands in the air... "Of course not! Who would I even tell??" she'll say, as if she just arrived in New York and lives alone in a sewer and knows no people.

3. Anytime a friend shows you a picture for the first time of someone they've just started dating. ("He looks so nice!")

4. When you mention a party you were invited to and your friend realizes she wasn't invited, she'll often say something like "Ohh, I'm so offended... I guess Zach just doesn't think I'm cool enough!" in this exaggerated, "sarcastic" way. "Yeah," you'll say, "I mean, it's not like it's some great honor to be invited to his party or anything, you know?" Your friend will respond, "Yeah, I honestly don't care," as she blithely scrolls on her phone. (Actually, in this situation, both parties are being disingenuous!)

5. Whenever a friend is recounting in unusual detail a ~~crazy~~ night out or a work trip or anything they've done, really, and you rotate through like seven two-syllable remarks ("So fun." "Oh, wow." "Really??" "Crazy.") during the 8-minute narrative. (Hah, I love how this last one basically just boils down to, like, "Whenever anyone is talking to you.")

Friday, March 16, 2012

"about your cousin"

I'll be en route to meet up with my friend Kyle and I'll be feeling super anxious about some aspect of seeing him. Maybe we're going to be getting drinks, and I'm worried he's going to ask if I want to order food and I'll have to say "no" because I have dinner plans after... and there will be this uncomfortable moment when he contemplates his "slotted in before dinner" status. Or maybe I'll be panicking that he's going to bring up the e-mail he sent me a few weeks ago that I ignored in which he asked if I would help his cousin get a job interview.

Then, without fail - and I wish I understood precisely what it is about my character that causes me to act in this way - I'll get to the bar and find Kyle and sit down and literally the first thing I'll say is: "So, it's cool that we're just getting drinks and not food... ?" And he'll look at me kind of quizzically and say, "Yeah, why, are you hungry?" and just like that, I've made it into a weird thing! Or there will be a pause in the conversation, and I'll start rambling, "Hey, by the way, sorry about that e-mail... about your cousin... I was gonna respond... but just... so busy... you know." He was probably never going to bring it up himself!

I guess this behavior is a sort of corollary of the "when you concentrate on not thinking about something, it becomes all you can think about" phenomenon, except instead of remaining an in-your-own-head annoyance, this kind results in your groan-sighing when you get a text the next morning that says: "drinks was really fun! and thanks so much for agreeing to help out my cousin, i'm just gonna give him your e-mail and he'll be in touch!!!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

a brief clause

I assume there is no breathing adult who has not watched all of "Downton Abbey" by now (I was watching "Downton" in March 2011, by the way, not that it's a competition or anything). Anyway, I think we can all agree that after the sugary gumdrop waterfall (?) that was Season 1, Season 2 was something of a letdown. The plots got unwieldier and, frankly, duller. New characters were introduced in such a way that you knew they weren't going to be sticking around for long, which made their ample screen time (at the expense of the Coras and Thomases we had grown to love!) even more irritating. And, while Maggie Smith is undoubtedly phenomenal, hearing her 55th zinger is less exciting than hearing her 5th. Of course, I still loved it all and watched that last five minutes of the Christmas special 17 times, etc.

Now that I've had a few months to ruminate (oh, I guess I should have written "spoiler alert" or whatever at the beginning of this post), I think my favorite thing about the second season is that Mary's Great Scandal (i.e. that a dude died in her bed while attempting to take her virginity) -- which is basically the driving plot point of the entire series -- is, by the end of Season 2, NBD... to everyone, but most notably to Mary herself. Mary goes practically insane keeping this secret for years, feeling so guilty about it, agonizing over it, etc.; but then, in the end, she gets to a point where she just can't feel anything about it anymore... and it's fine! Sure, people like Matthew and her dad are surprised at first when she tells them, but they get over it quickly. And it's safe to assume the Pamuk of it all will be essentially forgotten by the time Season 3 rolls around.

I don't know, I just find this a really important message (lol)... and also applicable to our modern day lives? While none of us likely have secrets/scandals/anxieties as glamorous/intense as Mary's, we all have certain things, I'm sure, that we feel intense shame about and that we keep to ourselves. You'll be sitting with friends at brunch and something will strike a chord and you'll think "phew, thank god no one at this table will ever know I secretly write love letters to my old college professor!" (or whatever your particular "Pamuk" is). Not too far down the road, any such "scandal" you might be involved in now will almost definitely seem inconsequential -- such a trifle! -- and you'll be reminded of it one day and tell the Matthew in your life about it and he'll laugh and that will be it. It's nice and comforting -- when everything feels so heavy and uncertain -- to envision that future in which your present biggest concern will seem silly, a distant memory, at the very most just a brief clause in an early paragraph in the Wikipedia entry of your life.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

you and marvin

You're hanging out with your good friend Nate and his friend, whom you've met a few times maybe, at Nate's apartment. You're on cordial, perfectly fine terms with this friend of Nate's (let's call him Marvin), but there is no way you'd ever hang out with him without Nate; whenever you and Marvin see each other, you overdo the niceties (while thinking to yourself something like: "There's no way Nate could be closer with this chump than he is with me... right?").

You come back from the bathroom and a song you can't stand is playing from the plugged-in iPod and you shout theatrically, "Really, Nate? This song?! You would play this garbage! Chaaaaange it!"

Marvin leaps to attention. "Oh, this is actually my iPod," he says. "I just put this on..." And you immediately start gushing nonsense: "Ohhhh, I didn't, ummmm... realize! I was just... this song's totally fine. I like it, actually! You know, me and Nate, we... you know?"

"I mean, I can change it... no problem," Marvin says.

"No, it's great, really," you say, sitting down and taking out your phone.

There are a few moments of silent shifting before Nate clears his throat and asks if anyone wants more wine.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


I'll often send rambling e-mails to my parents - sometimes I'll put my brothers on them, too - in which I'll report some news ("Dad, your beloved 'Person of Interest' is filming on my street today...") or, more commonly, ask for advice about something ridiculous ("Should I be worried that I've had a 'water in my ear' feeling for 36 hours now?"). Almost without fail, my mom will reply within the hour. Either she'll send something brief from her phone ("sounds fun," "be careful," "im not really sure, honey"), or she'll write a longer message (perhaps with a relevant link or two obtained from a hasty Google search). Occasionally one of my brothers will contribute a sarcastic remark to the thread.

My dad, however, will rarely respond. If I've specifically asked for his opinion, or if my mom has written back with a "I defer to your father on this one," then he'll crank out a response -- but, otherwise, infrequently. Sometimes though, a few days later, the chain long since defunct, he'll respond to my initial e-mail (reply sender) with something completely unrelated. Like, he'll reply to the "weird thing on my electric bill" chain from a week ago (which he never weighed in on at the time) with the message: "Interesting article about writers on page 7 of wall street journal today." This specific habit of his strikes me as just about the most "Dad" behavior I could conceive of.

Friday, January 27, 2012

honey, honey

I was in San Francisco last week, and, on one afternoon, my friend Andrew took me and our friend Sarah to this store in his neighborhood called Her Majesty's Secret Beekeeper, which calls itself "the only urban beekeeping store in America." Andrew had been talking this store up for hours beforehand, and, per usual, I was responding with skepticism. I asked if there were going to be any bee hives in the store; Andrew rolled his eyes and said, "Yes, so many."

Well, let me tell you now before I even launch into the tale: if you ever find yourself in San Francisco, you've got to hit up this place.

We walked in and were immediately greeted by four chickens who were scampering around the wooden floor. There was a fifty-something man - not to be all "New York" about it, but he looked like the kind of dude who'd be playing a ukulele in a top hat on the A train - carving something at a woodworking station set up in the middle of the store. He barely looked up at us.

Sarah went to pick up the chickens (both males were named "Edward," we were told; both females, "Henrietta") while Andrew and I approached the counter, where there were jars of three different kinds of honey sticks: blueberry, sage and a third kind I can't remember.

I asked the man which of the three flavors was his favorite, and he grimaced. "I don't have a favorite." He looked at us with apparent disdain. "By the way, 'blueberry' doesn't mean they taste like blueberries. It means that's what those bees ate..." Andrew bought three blueberry sticks for the three of us.

Because I was in that kind of mood and it was that kind of store, I asked the man if he had ever seen "Bee Movie." He smiled, I think; it was hard to tell because of his white beard.

"No, I don't see movies like that," he said. "So many factual errors. I wouldn't be able to stand it."

"Do you like bee puns?" I asked.

You would have thought I'd asked him if he was OK with murder. "No."

"There's so many though..." I said, almost tauntingly (I'm not really sure what I was going for). "'Honey, I shrunk the kids...,' 'Bee-utiful'..."

He looked up at me from his carving apparatus.

"Once someone lost a wallet here so two police officers showed up," he said. "They spent a good five minutes making bee puns before getting down to business..." He looked off into space.

We took some pictures with our iPhones of Sarah holding the chickens. (When I asked him why there were chickens in a honey store, he said, "they keep me company.")

We bought three more honey sticks -- this time, sage.

"These aren't as sweet," Andrew said, slurping the honey out of the plastic casing.

"Sage is really bringing me down," I said.

"Isn't that a Joni Mitchell song?" the storekeeper quipped. And this time I was certain he was smiling.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"who should go first?"

Few things make me feel closer to a good friend - reaffirmed in our bond - than meeting a new person together at a party. I'll be standing with Kelly by the drinks table and someone will approach and make a rum & coke and then turn and ask us "how we know the birthday girl." Kelly and I will give each other this brief, smirk-y look - "who should go first?" - before answering in turn. Revealing our jobs and neighborhoods, we'll both talk in this exuberant, uncharacteristically friendly manner, like we're giving a tour at an art museum. As Kelly tells the stranger where she's from, I'll gaze at her proudly, maybe nod my head a few times. I'll chime in with a personal detail about her - "she's the only New Yorker who still has a flip phone!" - that adds an exclamation point to our evident closeness without overdoing it.

Friday, January 6, 2012

the new year

This week has been rough. I'd imagine the first week of a new year is pretty crummy for everyone. We see it as this opportunity to set some lofty goals, "restart" our lives, "live strong" and all that. I'm going to exercise all the time and be sooooOOooooOOoo productive and work on being this really present/supportive friend and stop looking at Facebook profiles that make me feel sad and weird. But, inevitably, it's January 5th and you're slumped on your couch watching a "Kourtney and Kim Take New York" marathon and your iPhone screen starts inexplicably freezing so you throw it on your bed and you haven't been to the gym all week and, sure, this is like any number of 2011 evenings, but it stings more on January 5th. Everything was going to be different this year.

This was my mindset as I got on the subway Thursday night.

On New Year's Eve, last Saturday, my friend Marissa and I had taken the 3 train uptown to head to a party on the Upper West Side. We were sitting across from a group of four friends who looked like they were right out of ABC Family central casting. The one female was perky and pretty and wearing skinny jeans and several layers and a jaunty hat that would have looked ridiculous on any woman who did not have the face of a Neutrogena spokesmodel. The men were rugged and handsome and looked Australian (they weren't). The most striking of the three had unkempt shoulder-length hair and Jake Gyllenhaal facial scruff. He didn't say much to his three friends (he was standing even though there was an open seat next to his sitting companions); he seemed almost ill at ease, as if he were one of their cousins who was visiting for the weekend, tagging along for New Year's Eve revelry before heading back to Chicago on Monday. We got off the train right as they all broke out into laughter over some joke one of them made about either a streaker or a stickler, I couldn't quite hear (the former seems more likely). I told Marissa, "If the CW ever remakes 'Tarzan' in 'modern day NYC' where Tarzan is like undercover as a NYU undergrad when he's not swinging on vines, that guy's their guy."

Five nights later, Thursday night, after a distressingly lethargic day, I put on two different coats over a sweatshirt and left for my brother's apartment in the East Village to retrieve an air mattress. I got off the subway and power-walked through the cold to his place. I picked up the air mattress (which my brother had stuffed in a gift bag adorned with the logos of various NHL teams) and immediately turned around and walked back to the subway. I zoned out by the track as the 4 train approached, thinking about the e-mails I had to remember to write when I got home. The doors opened and... out walked Tarzan. The same guy. I did a double take as I moved into the car, hitting the woman behind me with the air mattress bag. And then the doors closed and the train lurched forward and everything felt different. What is this world in which you run into the same stranger twice in one week? In New York City, no less! I felt like I was on a J.J. Abrams TV show or in a prologue to a psychological thriller novel. The coincidence meant absolutely nothing and also everything. How can you feel self-pity and glumness when there is just so much strangeness out there - so much amusing, weird, bizarre happenstance all the time all around you? You don't need resolutions or expectations or rebirths; you just need to go outside.