“Every Thursday should end exactly like this.”

9781423121909-blackout12_zoomMy mind today meanders as it does every year not just to the obvious — to The Day — but to Aug. 14, 2003. The day the lights went out and New York City found itself in what should have been an entirely unfamiliar position: powerless. The northeast blackout.

And what always stays with me each year on Sept. 11, is the memory of something I read in the days following the blackout. I don’t remember where I read it or the name of the guy who said it. But he was describing the mood of the city that afternoon and evening. The initial prickly tension that came when, a little after 4 p.m., the power of the city hummed down to silence. It was two years and too soon after The Day. Again? Please not again.

But then, despite the gridlock, despite the heat, despite the abandoned subways and too-clogged taxis and tired feet — despite the general weirdness of it all — when evening fell and folks trudged home, there came a cheerful resignation. There were picnics and impromptu rooftop cocktail parties and neighbors sitting on the stoop to talk and escape the heat inside.

There was, this guy said in the line that has always stayed with me, a sense of almost-giddy relief when the realization came that, on this day, nobody was trying to kill us.

blackout_07A few years ago, an artist named John Rocco released a beautiful children’s book about that night called, simply, Blackout. As happens now, they made a book trailer to promote it. These trailers are a little goofy fact of book promotion life these days, but I actually like this one. Because it captures the eventual delight of that day. The sense of community. The knowledge that there was still a type of misfortune that could be chuckled at.

A woman in it smiles at the memory of that day. “Every Thursday should end exactly like this.”

It certainly should.

Because You Can’t Eat Mailer or Updike, That’s Why

A fair number of folks on Facebook these days are sharing the 10 books that have stayed with them throughout their lives. I don’t mind and I don’t judge anyone’s entirely genuine and not-at-all-engineered lists, but as an English major there is no way to create that list without coming off like an insufferable talking tweed jacket. I mean Ulysses would be on my list. Seriously. The book haunts my waking life and it’s largely because I hate most of it but keep rereading the damn thing to try to figure it out. My bookshelves are clogged with annotated guides, and deconstructions and reconstructions and I’ve touched the door at No. 7 Eccles Street in Dublin like Ouisa Kittredge high-fiving God on the Sistine Chapel. So at this point it’s fair to say that it’s a book that has “stayed with me” even as I’ve hurled it across a room. Come at me, haters.

But in an effort to avoid literary induced violence, I thought I’d try my hand at creating a totally new type of list: The 10 meals that have stayed with me. Not literally of course; that would be gross. What surprised me while considering this list is that only a few of them are on here because they were at a specific, ballyhooed restaurant. The majority were about the mood, not the meal. In no particular order, they are as follows.

* Tasting menu at Le Bernardin, New York City, 2014. By myself, with a book. Eric Ripert’s culinary temple was on my bucket list and I suddenly found myself alone in the city with spare time one night while already dressed up from an event. “Why not,” I thought? It ended up being a spectacular decision, albeit one that cost approximately $3 per minute. Got free dessert later that night though when I joined two older gentlemen who’d struck up a conversation with me from the neighboring table. “Nobody who pre-orders souffle from La Grenouille could be a murderer,” I thought before taking the serendipitous leap and joining them. Fun night, nobody got murdered and I probably only vaguely came off like a culinary call girl. It was the most uncharacteristic thing I’ve ever done and the universe was chill about that on that night.

* Homemade taco dinner at my place in Adams Morgan, 2006. A perfect, warm, breezy summer night getting to know a new friend at the time, Johanna. We sat on the balcony that was more like a beefed-up fire escape, with the brick walls of the neighboring buildings rising up around us like Rear Window’s establishing shot. We listened to Amy Winehouse’s recently released Back to Black on constant repeat, our dogs at our feet, dishing for hours and the whole time it was “yayyy, new friend!”

* New family dinner, hospital room, 2009. It’s a tradition at the hospital where I gave birth to our daughter to do a special meal for the new parents. Above-average hospital dinner and sparkling cider plus a pledge that the approximately 148 residents, interns and admins normally coming through the room like Grand Central Station wouldn’t bother you for 30 minutes. I don’t remember what we ate – other than an amuse-bouche of painkillers for me — but I do remember that it was awfully interesting to have a new dining companion. I didn’t even mind that she was sleeping and drooling, which I normally consider rude from my dinner guests.

* Backyard bbq, Labor Day 2003, West Palm Beach, Fla., at the home of friends Mary Ellen and David. I didn’t know anyone well yet, having arrived only a few months earlier to work at the paper, so I cheerfully accepted the invite from my reporter colleague Mary Ellen and her husband. Their beautiful Spanish-style, very West Palm Beach-y home was the heart and homebase for many Palm Beach Post folks, the site of frequent parties with a bohemian flare and a menu to match. Turns out on this particular night, when they pulled together about five or six friends for a casual dinner, there was plotting afoot. Because they very specifically and deliberately invited one of the newspaper’s crime reporters, too…

* 19th birthday dinner, Kinkead’s in D.C., 1996.  Oddly enough I don’t remember much about what I ate — pepper crusted fish of some sort was involved — but I remember vividly the navy and green plaid skirt and navy blue v-neck sweater I was wearing to visit the now-shuttered institution with my parents for my 19th birthday. Making conversation that night with my parents and enjoying the dinner, I remember feeling very, very mature and very, very #ThisTown before I even knew what that was. I was neither, for the record. Ultimately, I’m pretty sure that meal gave me food poisoning because I spent the next day throwing up uncontrollably, but it’s still on this list because it was really hard to get a reservation there in those days.

* Oysters and champagne, New York City, summer of 1997. Yes, if you do the math or remember the date from the item above, I would have been underage. Let’s move on. So there I am in New York City for the summer with a Harper’s Bazaar magazine internship and an editor who was a nice, chic fairy godmother. She’d rescued me from what was then the viperous bitchpit of the fashion features department, staffed by terrifying mean girls who in retrospect were likely all of 22 or 23 and living five to a one-bedroom apartment. Anyhoo, this editor took me under her elegant, Calvin Klein-sheathed minimalist wing and into her one-woman design features department. She would tote me along to gallery openings in the evening, and on this one particular night, the toting was to a gallery where we met the Beastie Boys, because one of them had taken an interest in obscure vintage pottery. (I have no idea either. Don’t ask.) Then we decamped to the Village and I had my first oysters and drank champagne and we made our tipsy way back up to midtown on the backs of bicycles peddled by God knows who. That was pretty much Peak Cool for me.

* Cornbread with honey and fried alligator at Southern Culture, Charlottesville, Va., 1994. I’m pretty sure this restaurant is long gone but it was an upscale Southern cooking, must-do hotspot when I visited UVA as a high school junior on my tour of potential colleges. After years traveling the South as a kid, this was my first time exploring it as a soon-to-be-adult and I was considering whether I wanted to live there or head north. I still remember the way the late afternoon light came into that place and refracted across the table when it hit the honey, stored in a plastic bear for irony’s sake. That dinner and that night helped confirm my belief that the whole laid-back, southern eclectic thing was what I wanted to be a part of in the coming years. Also, biscuits. I wanted sun-drenched, butter-and-irony honey-covered biscuits.

* Goat cheese mousse on homemade cracker perched atop citrus salad, Fiola, 2014. We were celebrating my recent promotion. Snow was falling outside. I still fantasize about this dish. To quote Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

* Tea at The Plaza, Lattes in Orlando, 1990-1994. When you’re lucky enough to have two siblings way older than you, they serve as your sherpas to a cooler life and as an added bonus, they foot the bill. So it was that in the space of these years, when I was a teenager, that I first headed up to visit my sister in New York and she took me for a sumptuous high tea at The Plaza. And while I thought I was quite fancy, I wasn’t talented enough to fake being fancy through an entire pot of bitter tea, so I insisted on a silver pot of hot chocolate instead. There were scones with clotted cream and little cakes and by the end, I was likely in a sugar coma but I felt like tween Eloise. And then a few years later, I visited my brother and sister-in-law in Orlando and they took me to a decidedly hip coffee house and I ordered my first latte that came in a mug the size of my head. I poured a half cup of sugar into it and nodded knowingly as we listened to whatever early grunge or poetry slam thing was unfolding in front of us. Reality Bites had just come out, Singles was a couple years out, and it was like we were in these movies, people.

* Lobster bisque in little porcelain teacups, the Hay-Adams’ Lafayette Room, Oct. 25, 2008. It was all grey, gloomy rain outside and glowing and soft inside. My brother came over to my table and pointed out that we were playing Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” at that particular moment and that he loved that. Scott and I were particularly dressed up on this occasion for some reason. Utter glee. The bisque was delicious.

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Aw, screw it, here’s my 10 books anyway: Ulysses (We’ve gone over this. Stuff it.), Little House in the Big Woods, The End of the Affair, Sunset Gun, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, Easy Riders Raging Bulls, All the Presidents Men, Cash: The Autobiography.

The Rules

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In response to the mass shooting in Isla Vista, which appears to have been motivated in part by the shooter’s deeply ingrained misogyny, much digital ink is being spilled across social media to refute the experience of women. The #YesAllWomen hashtag has alternately been empowering women to speak up, been hijacked by trolls, and been whined about by aggrieved men concerned that women may not care enough about what they think about what it means to be a woman in 2014. As such, I feel compelled to share my rules. These are not for debate. They are mine. I have not asked you to soften them, annotate them, or amend them. If you choose to proceed, sit down, fasten your seat belts, listen and follow.

1. You do not have default access to my body — not with your eyes, not with your words, not with your fists, not with your genitals, not with your politics.

2. If you do not have an advanced medical degree, a speculum, and an appointment I’ve booked through your receptionist, I’m not interested in what you think I should do with my reproductive organs.

3. Unless I ask, your opinion about my looks is irelevent. I don’t care if you like my hair straight or curly, or worn up or down. I don’t care if you like my outfit. I don’t care if you think my stilettos are very tall or look uncomfortable. I didn’t get dressed to earn your approval this morning; I got dressed so I wouldn’t be naked.

4. I don’t care if you’ve noticed I’ve been losing weight or working out.

5. I do not owe you a smile on the street. I can look serious whenever and wherever I want to.

6. You are not due any acknowledgment when you comment on my body or my outfit on the street. I am not a bitch if I flatly ignore you or tell you to stop talking to me.

7. An adult woman can have sex with whomever she wants, whenever she wants. She can have sex with a different man or woman every night of the week and your opinion of that is completely irrelevant.

8. If you’re not one of the men or women she chooses to have sex with, it doesn’t make her uptight, frigid, or — and this appears to be the preferred ironic insult — a slut.

9. In a professional setting, I will demand high standards and I will advocate for my position. I will not modulate for fear of being “pushy,” nor will I engage in some sort of mental calculus about whether I’ve spoken up too many times in a meeting. I will not cringe and apologize when asking you to do something or soften the blow when delivering warranted criticism for fear of being labeled a bitch.

10. If your out-of-the-gate response to women engaging in discussions of men doing horrible or inappropriate things is “Not all men…” you are undermining what they’re saying about the misogyny, sexism and chauvinism they experience. There’s a severe problem in this country right now. Your being a great guy isn’t the issue at hand.

11. There’s nothing wrong with most porn, but if you get your jollies by watching porn in which men simulate raping women, you need to take a moment and think about why that excites you.

12. My daughter will not be rude to you on my watch. But she does not need to hug you or kiss you or pose for a photo with you. If I don’t know you, she does not need to speak to you. If you do not get the response you seek from her and you say “She must be shy,” you will hear from me.

13. If I choose to walk or jog at night, I am not an idiot. Men who choose to attack women at night are criminals. Direct your disbelief and disgust at them.

14. I can have no children, one child, two children or six children and none of those scenarios warrant your opinion about how I’m doing being a modern woman right or wrong.

15. In discussions of sports, science fiction, action movies, gun deaths, finance, politics, history, and home repair, you are incorrect if your default assumption is that you’re going to need to educate me when you disagree with me. Using Google doesn’t make you the expert, professor.

16. In discussions of pregnancy, childbirth, female sexual assault, misogyny, feminism, chauvinism, workplace inequality, oral contraceptives, or abortion, your attempt to rebut my opinion with any derivation of “What you don’t understand is…” makes you look like a buffoon.

17. If you point to women sometimes asking men to open a jar or kill a bug as your refutation of feminism, you’re doing logical equivalence wrong.

18. Women sometimes lie about rape. This does not mean your default when a woman reports being raped should be to assume she is lying. A woman who says she was raped by an athlete from your favorite team doesn’t need to meet some higher burden of victimhood.

19. Nothing that you will ever hear about an alleged rape case from a newspaper, cable news show, on talk radio or a blog will qualify you to determine that the woman was not raped.

20. If you put your hands on a woman in anger, she has nothing to apologize for about that assault.

21. If you think the word feminist connotes a negative, and wrinkle your nose when I tell you I am one, you are part of the problem.

22. If you think my having been in a sorority undermines my feminism, and wrinkle your nose when I tell you I was, you are part of the problem.

23. My rules are not necessarily the same as another woman’s. We are not a monolith. This is not proof of any exasperating, confounding reality about womankind other than that womankind is made up of different women.

24. If you bristle at a woman saying she has rules, you need to think about why a woman in 2014 feels the need to sit down and spell any out.

My Morning, or, Why Drinking at Noon Should Be Socially Acceptable

urlI’ve never read this book. But unless the answer is vodka, unapologetic BRAVO TV watching for escape and eating your feelings, it’s total baloney.

5:45 a.m.-Wake up to go to Bikram class. Daughter wakes up too and demands snuggles. There goes Bikram.
6-Cancel class reservation and go to gym instead.
7:15-Come home, relaxed, invigorated, ready to take on the world, pour bowl of cereal.
7:16-Realize with panic that it’s parent-teacher conference day at daughter’s school, and our appointment is in 90 minutes.
7:17-Realize with additional panic that I’m supposed to supply the fruit salad for the related teacher appreciation lunch today, grab car keys and race to CVS praying there’s some sort of edible fruit in the refrigerator case. No time for cereal!
7:25-Stare at CVS fruit options and determine that the good people at CVS Corporate don’t have a great deal of respect for our town’s college students who are inclined to eat healthfully. Grab the best of the bunch.
7:45-8:10 Return home and frantically whip up Pinterest-worthy platter of peanut butter dip with apple slices and grapes. “Oh you think these are just regular old grapes? Well what if I put five of them in a mini pink polka dotted paper cup and put a number of those adorable cups on a Tiffany-blue tray? BAM! PINTEREST, MOTHERF—–S!”
8:15-8:30 I’ve now got a whole 15 minutes to shower, get dressed and make myself look presentable. This is why I will get to work and realize I do not have on actual shoes.
8:45-Parent-teacher conference. Beam and grin for 15+ minutes while the teacher says things about daughter that I want to have tattooed in their entirety across my clavicle because seriously she’s my little angel dumpling rainbow unicorn sprinkle of joy and how could you not love this kid? One highlight of their 15-page report: In the “Dramatic Play” area of the classroom one day she and another buddy decided to play mama and papa having a date night. They dropped their baby off with “Aunt” and then went to a restaurant — complete with place settings that they set up — took pictures (date night selfies!), and talked about their jobs.
9:15-Enough beaming. Race to work.
9:25-Gas tank on empty. Stop for gas.
9:35-Child’s stomach on empty. Stop for bagels (Yes, of course it was really a donut.)
10:15-Arrive 10 minutes late. Head directly into in-progress meeting.
10:16-Look down. Realize the shoe thing.

SPOILER ALERT: You’re watching TV wrong in 2014

20140224-155117.jpgOK, we need to clear something up. Here are the rules to help you navigate the era of Twitter and Facebook and Netflix and DVR and subscription premium cable.

1. You have exactly SEVEN days to watch an episode of television after its original air date, and upon the expiration of that time period you may not complain about spoilers. When a new episode airs a week later, full and candid discussion of the previous week’s episode is fully sanctioned. Your failure to keep your DVR neatly groomed does not require our self-censorship.

2. If a show is released exclusively online in bingewatching full-season quantity, you have one month from the date of release, at the conclusion of such time you may not complain about spoilers. (For example, you have until March 14 to complete House of Cards.)

3. Under no circumstances may you squawk at people about spoilers for discussion of a show’s previous season when the new season is under way. Guess what? Lady Sybil dies in childbirth! Ned Stark gets beheaded! Henry Blake’s plane was shot down over the Sea of Japan! Not a spoiler a year or more after it happened.

4. You may not wade into a robust comments chain obviously dissecting a previous episode or season covered by the above rules and then complain about spoilers. Don’t look under a large rock if you don’t want to see dirt and bugs.

5. Finally, if you do not subscribe to HBO, you may not cry spoiler on the off chance you’re going to buy the DVDs or download in a year. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

These are the rules. Learn them, embrace them.

“If you are uncomfortable…”

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Not pictured: a bunch of nekkid ladies.

The title of this post is an excerpt from a sign hanging above me at a famed Korean day spa and sauna outside of Chicago. The uncomfortability referenced by the sign relates to the feeling that may arise if I spot someone who has entered the hot tub area without showering “with soap.” How would I possibly be able to see this? Because I can see everything. Literally. The uncomfortability is apparently not noteworthy if it arises from the fact that I’m stark naked surrounded by strangers and it’s America in 2014 and we’re all still completely hung up about doing things like this.

*****

The Day Before at the Airport (as told in texts)

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By the end of the day, I would come to realize how stupid both of those fears were.

*****

The Next Day at the All-Nude Korean Day Spa Outside of Chicago

tumblr_n0r85drLoe1r3xxruo2_500As I peel off my last piece of clothing for what will turn out to be a good portion of the day, I understand the cold sweat grip of terror and panic that Sandra Bullock must have experienced as she became untethered from her spacewoman rocketship in Gravity. As an American woman, if you’re playing by a certain rulebook (even generally speaking and whether you particularly want to or not) few people are going to be lucky enough to see you in a full state of undress. I was about to up my quotient considerably.

*****

Who Does This?

I have a very short list of friends cleared for such an excursion. There are two prerequisites to get on my short list:

1. Are you older than 35?
2. Have you had a baby(ies) and as such have a thorough understanding of what the miracle of life does to a once-respectable midsection?
Bonus: Have we at some point debated the relative merits of Dr. Oz supplements and tapeworm ingestion as weight loss techniques?

Luckily, the friend accompanying me for this outing met this criteria and earned the bonus. So off the clothes went and into the ladies spa complex we went.

*****

Sunshine on My Shoulder… Makes Me Want to Cry

I decide to get the “Princess Scrub” and massage, which sounds suitably regal and relaxing. It is neither.

On the hour, the women who work at the spa make their rounds looking for their clients, as identified by the numbered bracelets we wear. As for what they’re wearing, it’s black mesh bathing suit/undies things. I have no idea. Don’t ask.

The woman who walks up to me and gestures that she’ll be princess scrubbing me is named Sunny. This turns out to be a stunning bit of irony.

Bullpoop.

Shenanigans, Ariel. Shenanigans.

Because Sunny is a torture artist. The next 80 minutes involve a mix of scrubbing with what felt like sandpaper, and utter indignity — they work on everyone in a row, a fleshy naked xylophone of humanity behind a low “modesty” wall. I highly doubt Kate Middleton ever endured this sort of treatment, so frankly the name is kind of starting to seem like bullshit. I’m used to genteel massages at spas where the most skin revealed is the eight inches of leg and ankle visible between the bottom hem of a plush robe and the floor (the Victorian full monty).

Sunny mutters instructions for me to flip this way and that, foreshadowing that these instructions are coming with a whack of her fist on the nearest part of my body and a loud “Hey!” Sunny smiles only once through the entire process, when she crawls on top of my back and drives her entire weight into my spine with the pointed angle of her elbow. As I let out a yelp, she laughs.

Later, as the day unfolded, I would see women stumbling away in an (admittedly glowing) daze from Sunny’s table, trying to process what had just transpired before finally giving up and going to get a mango smoothie.

Finally, mercifully, we appear to be nearing the end. Sunny begins slathering my face with a gloopy mixture of light green substance flecked with dark green bits of something. I’d seen it covering the faces of other women as I came in for my treatment but couldn’t place what the substance was. I sniff and decide that the base note of the goop on my face is cucumber. Must be the light green stuff. But it’s punctuated by something smellier, more bitter — the dark green stuff.

Oh God. There is kale on my face.

*****

But it turns out, it takes only about an hour to overcome a lifetime of Puritan-infused American nudity norms. (Results may vary, depending on whether parents were hippies or you embrace kale.) That’s it.

After one hour, my last vestige of modesty was obliterated in a hail of exposed hindquarters. Along with it, a good deal of my body image issues, at least for the day. Seem too convenient? Too pat? Too bad. It’s true. Had I only come here when I was 14, I probably could have avoided a lot of undue heartache.

Because the women of America — as represented by those gathered on this freezing afternoon at a Korean day spa outside of Chicago — look entirely different and nobody needs to care. We’re in shape or we’re not. We’re keeping it tight or we’re letting it go. We’re smooth or we’re lumpy. We’re young or we’re old.

In this space, we’re bound together by one, common thread: We’re all terrified of Sunny.

Who Is the Yellow King?

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Today’s New York magazine piece has some really interesting theories about who the Yellow King is on True Detective. And on i09, Michael Hughes let us know “The One Literary Reference” we needed to know to determine it.Image

But, um, you guys… I’ve got a perfectly cromulent explanation.

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Detective Hart was right. Our “true failure was inattention.”

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