Sunday, July 30, 2006


Yesterday, we vetured out of the city, to the house of a friend of spiceboy's fabulous cousin, where approximately 15 people were gathering to celebrate the presence of a person named Catherine, who never showed up to the party after all, because as it turns out, she had a flight to Thailand that she couldn't get out of.

The house is owned by Carol, a woman spiceboy's cousin knows from living in Burma. Carol is tall, elegant, older. She goes about her business with the grace and ease of a woman who has seen many things, and who once hurried through them, but who has learned that it's so much more enjoyable to take her time.

I am still waiting to learn this.

Carol's house is nice enough, all tucked away in what looks to me like a run of the mill suburban neighborhood. But unlike the other houses, which tend to sit close to the road, unshaded and unadorned, this one sits back at the end of a rather long drive, nestled into a small hillside (I would have used "knoll" here, but it just doesn't seem like my word) and surrounded by all manner of trees, bushes, and shrubbery, thus secluding it from its neighbors, which are fairly close by.

The seasoned New Yorkers of the group call this the country.

The newbie New Yorker (me, in case you didn't know already), thinks that's a bit of an overstatement, but is pleased nonetheless to lift her face to the leafy sky, to feel the soft crunch of grass under her bare feet, to watch two butterflies playing just above the surface of the blue, blue pool.

The pool now: It is every little kid's fantasy--long and blue and deliciously rippled, and the little girl in me is dying to put on her suit and jump into the water, to scream, to yell, to splash and do somersaults and to push off of the cool, smooth tile sides with wrinkled water feet.

But it is clear from the others that adults do not do these things. And as I am just over a month away from turning 30, I suppose this qualifies me as an adult. And so I change into my suit then take a seat at the glass-topped table, nibbling on an almond and making polite conversation, taking care to trim such ungainly words as "like" and "you know" from my sentences, pacing my speech, slowing it down in an attempt to sound more mature and centered and thoughtful than I do in my normal everyday life. I am at least 12 years younger than everyone else at the table.

After awhile, I excuse myself, stand, and walk to the edge of the pool. I dip my toes in, and think long and hard about plunging straight in. Not a drive--just a big, messy, splashy, clumsy jump. But the ladies are moving about the pool deck, clad in various wraps and coverups and straw hats, discussing their recent trips to Burma, Singapore, and Ethiopia. I measure myself and my actions against theirs.

I think of my most recent trip: To Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

I want to be like these women; relaxed, graceful, comfortable, cultured. I want the lines in my face to tell a story someday. But it seems a most impossible task to me, for some reason. I also want to be 10 years old again, and playing in the tiny above ground pool in my parents' backyard back in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, surrounded by barking dogs and buzzing bees and the smell of hot dogs on the grill. I want all of these things at once--the past, the future, and the present, and I am so overwhelmed by choice and chance and possibility that for a moment, I wonder if I might burst into tears right here on the pool deck.

I climb down the ladder into the pool and paddle through its dappled sunny waters. I grab a raft and then discard it. I swim from the shallow end to the deep end one, two, three times. I make polite chit chat with the other pool occupants.

I bob up and down.

I tread water.

I do not do somersaults. Or a handstand. I do not even get the top of my head wet. I am acutely aware of this as I climb back out of the pool sometime later, towel off, take a seat. I am acutely aware of this for the rest of the evening as I hover on the outskirts of conversation, keeping my eyes on the pool. It is 20 x 40 in size--800 sq feet, someone calculated.

That's double the size of the apartment I share with my husband and my puppy.

When wine is served, I sip it. And when dinner is served, I eat it. I smile and nod and laugh occasionally, but I'm still watching the pool more than anything else. It is a day out of the city, a day I looked forward to all week long as I suffered under the florescent lights of my office. But I can't help feeling a little sad and maybe even a little resentful, like a little girl who has been grounded to the sidelines by a supervising adult.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Five "P-Words" On My Mind This Morning

1. Puppy (wish she would sleep later in the mornings)

2. Pooping (having a dry spell)

3. Paperwork (too much of it, and boring)

4. Presentation (must give in a few short hours)

5. Pajamas (wish I was still wearing)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

One Couple. 350 Square Feet. 365 Days. We Made It!

One year ago today, our apartment looked like this:

On July 23, 2005, spiceboy and I hauled all of our earthly possessions from Boston to New York. It was a brutally hot day, and I remember parking my car on Second Avenue and looking around at the shops, restaurants, and people everywhere. This is home now, I thought, testing the word "home" on myself to see if it fit. I was giddy with the prospect of all of New York spread out at my feet.

Then I stepped out of my car and plunged my foot into a sinkhole filled with warm, inky black water.

Yeah, New York is like that sometimes.

After making countless trips up the four flights of steps, after cramming all of the wordly possessions that had once filled our 650 sq ft Boston apartment into the scant 350 sq ft that was to become our home, and after the movers finally left, spiceboy and I stood in the middle of the chaos, staring at one another, then at the towers of boxes and piles of junk surrounding us.

The general feeling in the air, as I recall, was now what?

Then Dear Friend ABS showed up with a couple of six packs of beer, and we drank them together, perched on various boxes and pieces of furniture, and chatting. And the apartment was a mess and the air was hot and sticky and the whole apartment smelled vaguely of cat pee, but for better or worse, we were here. In New York. Finally.

Fast foward 365 days:

It's a cool evening. spiceboy is in the kitchen, fussing over dinner, and the house smells of garlic and roasted vegetables. I'm in the bedroom, tapping away at the computer. The TV is on, the window is open, and my white ballet slippers--the ones I wore to my wedding and that I now wear everyday--are sitting by the door, where I last kicked them off a few hours ago. The puppy is wandering the small space between spiceboy and myself and checking us out, as if to make sure she approves of what we're doing.

So we've made it 365 days in this small space, and most of them were damn good days. I know we won't live here forever, and that someday, we'll look back on this tiny little room with fond memories and say to each other how did we ever live in a space that small?

But for better or worse, we are here. In our 350 sq ft apartment on the unfashionable end of the fashionable Upper East Side. We are home.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Eight Years Ago Today...

I met spiceboy.

And even though I didn't love him until much later, it's still a day that changed the course of both of our lives.

For those of you who haven't read the original post I did about it, click here.

Happy Wednesday.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Roach Book

I've lived in Manhattan for nearly a year now, and I've yet to see a live roach in my apartment. Oh, sure, I've had the occasional run-in with a waterbug in the shower. But roaches? Nope.

Until Friday.

It was late evening. spiceboy was out of town, and I had cooked myself a lovely dinner--risotto with lemon and cream and some very nice roasted veggies. I was just sitting down to enjoy my feast when I spotted it--the evil roach. It ambled up the surface of the exposed brick wall of my living room/kitchen/tv room. I froze, forkful of risotto halfway to my mouth. I stared at it for a long second.

I thought that is a roach.

I thought there is a roach climbing my wall.

But these thoughts seemed far away, so I willed the whole thing to be not true, and willed the roach to disappear into a crack so I could forget about it.

No such luck. Instead, the roach reversed direction and ambled back down the wall and toward the floor. And still I did nothing, just sat and stared.

I thought oh, god, I'm going to have to kill the roach.

I mean, I'll do lots of things. I'll argue with the phone company about the bill. I'll scrub the toilet. I'll pick up my dog's poop several times a day. But killing bugs? It's just not my thing, and I'd rather avoid it if possible.

Unfortunately, the situation was impossible to avoid, because the evil roach hit the floor and began making its way toward my bedroom. Then Betty spotted it and lunged after it in her curious puppy way, sending it scurrying back in my general direction. So I did what came naturally--I shrieked like a little girl and jumped up on the couch.

I looked around for a weapon. Something that would allow me to kill the roach but not get too close to it. I grabbed a fat paperback novel--one I hadn't liked enough to finish--from the bookcase. Despite it's lackluster storyline, it had a nice handfeel, as we say in publishing. Whatever. It would do.

The roach reversed directions, heading away from me and toward the bedroom once again. I took a deep breath to clear my head, then I leapt from the futon, dashed across the living room (this took about 1 1/2 steps), locked in on my target, and dropped the novel, which landed with a loud thwack on the hardwood floor. I didn't see the roach scurry away, so I assumed I'd hit it.

And then I thought what if it's under the book but it's not dead yet?

So I stood on the book, pushing all of my weight into my feet, and wishing with all of my heart for a dead roach. I had the squirmy bug feeling all over my body--you know, the kind where you're sure there are bugs crawling on you.

Icky, right?

But even after standing on top of the book for a good three minutes while Betty stared at me and made a few curious swipes at the book with her paw, I couldn't help but wonder, what if I didn't actually kill the roach? What if it got away, and it's still loose in the house?

That thought was just too much to bear.

Several minutes later, I stepped down from the book. I thought: a mature woman would grab a wad of paper towels, lift the books, check for the roach carcass, and clean up its guts. A mature woman would spray the floor with cleaning spray. She would transfer the paper towels to the trash, then she would tie up the trash bag and take it outside. Then she would come back and clean the house from top to bottom.

Apparently, I am not a mature woman.

I left the book right there, in the middle of the bedroom floor, then I curled into a ball on the couch and tried to forget about the whole thing. The thought of cleaning up roach guts was too much to bear. The thought of lifting the book and finding that I had missed my target and that the roach was, in fact, still gallivanting around my apartment, was grounds for a nervous breakdown.

I have to get a grip. I understand this.

The roach book, as I came to think of it, remained in the middle of my bedroom floor for the remainder of Friday night, and for the duration of the day yesterday. At one point last night, I pondered just leaving the roach book there in the middle of the bedroom floor.

Around noon today, as I stepped over the roach book for probably the one hundredth time, I thought you can't live like this. So I summoned all of my courage, and I looked under the roach book.

The roach was there. It was blissfully, wonderfully, totally dead. I cleaned up its guts, and I cleaned the floor with cleaning spray. I transferred the paper towels and the roach-encrusted novel to the trash, tied up the trash bag, and took it outside. Then I came back inside and cleaned the house from top to bottom.

So maybe I'm on the road to maturity, after all. I'm just using baby steps to get there.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Life On A Sunday. That is All.

In a small apartment on the East Side of Manhattan, a girl (woman?) sits at a desk, writing thank you notes for her wedding, which took place just over a month ago.

She doesn't feel any different afterwards than before, but she doesn't feel exactly the same, either.

Or maybe that means she feels different, after all?

She writes out the notes herself. Her husband is out of town.

She thinks:

I have a husband. He is out of town.

She thinks:

I am a woman (girl?). Living in Manhattan. I have a husband who is out of town.

Her puppy sleeps in a patch of sunlight on the floor, occasionally flexing a little paw or whining, as if in a little puppy dream.

Some people have suggested the puppy is practice for a baby. the girl (woman?) does not know about this. She gently strokes the puppy's velvety ears and murmurs sweet things like "Hi, Sleepy," and "Hi, Sweet Pea."

She realizes that these phrases sound almost the same.

The woman (girl?) does not mind writing the thank you notes by herself. It is cathartic. It allows her to think, and to dream. It allows her to put the wedding day behind her and focus on all of the things that lay ahead.

She is not sure why, but she feels strongly she needs to do this.

She thinks of the future. She sees a room--a warm room, a table set for dinner. She thinks of love and laughter and food and ideas shared and ideas lost.

She sees the firsts and the lasts. She sees a door closed and a door opened.

She sees all of these things coming, and she wants to reach out and grab it right now. There are days when she does not want to be patient.

She notices, in the notebook in which she writes, that her writing is much bigger at the end than at the beginning. She hopes that the same is true of her own life--she hopes that things are bigger at the end than at the beginning. She thinks of the writer who extolled the virtues of living big.

Her hands are cramping from writing the thank you's, but not from writing.

She decides it is time for lunch. She slices heirloom tomatoes she bought yesterday at the market--all vivid purples and yellows and reds.

She pauses to consider the differing colors, the differing shapes and sizes.

They are beautiful.

She dresses the salad with a little olive oil, a little sea salt, a little fresh black pepper.

She takes the first bite and wonders why she often searches for more, when the simple things make a much stronger statement.

As she pours herself a glass of chardonnay, she wonders if she can apply this philosophy to her life as well: A little olive oil, a little sea salt, a little pepper.

The chardonnay is disappointing, though. Sauvingon blanc, she thinks. Like minerals and clean water and maybe a little bit of freshly cut grass. Next time.

She takes another sip, nonetheless. She is happy to be not in the first person today. She can't think of the last time she wasn't.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Go Ahead, Make Fun of Me

As you may know, several weeks ago, spiceboy and I purchased a puppy. We named her Betty (Betty Spice to some loyal blog readers).

She looks like this:

With the exception of a couple of unfortunate pooping accidents (Betty's, not mine) and some late-night howling (Betty's, not spiceboy's--though both are terrible insomniacs), the three of us get along rather well. We play fetch. We play tug of war. And let's not forget the most favorite puppy game of all time: Chase the foot. Betty has proven an enthusiastic participant in all of these events. In fact, as far as puppies go, she's pretty great. She's lively and alert without being noisy. She follows through with most fetching attempts, even at her young age. And she even kinda comes when we call her.

So of course the logical thing to do with such an adorable and agreeable pup is to take her out and about in Manhattan so she can spread a little bit of her Betty joy everywhere she goes, right?


The only major bummer about Betty at this point in time is that she's not allowed on the streets of New York. Not for a walk. Not for a pee. Not for a quick jaunt to the dog park. No, no, and no. As a matter of fact, until she's fully immunized in August, she's basically housebound. Which is a total bummer.


I have to be honest: I never thought, in my whole entire life, that I would do something like this. I grew up in the country, okay? In BEAVER COUNTY, Pennsylvania, for crying out loud. I had chickens and ducks and roosters and rabbits and a big ol' collie dog named Lassie. I spent my days organizing mud fights with the neighborhood kids and building leaky dams in the creek (or, as we say in BEAVER COUNTY, "up the crick.").

Back in BEAVER COUNTY, people don't even put their dogs on leashes, okay? Because back in BEAVER COUNTY, no one ever worries that their precious dog will contract a heinous disesase and die if they take it outside and put it on the ground.

I mean, dogs are supposed to be outside! And if this is the only way I can expose my precious puppy to the great outdoors for the next month and half, then so be it.

That said, I'm not sure I can ever show my face in Beaver County again.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go walk my dog.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Chinese Lesson #1: I’m Not a Prodigy

So I’ve recently decided that it’s in my best interest to learn Chinese, not only because I think it’s important to learn my husband’s other language, but also because I want my children (should I ever decide I’d like to start popping some out) to grow up speaking both Chinese (Cantonese, specifically) and English.

Oh, and I also want to learn Chinese so I can eavesdrop more effectively on my mother-in-law.


Even though I’ve heard spiceboy speaking Chinese for more than 5 years now, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve learned only minimal Chinese words and phrases, all of which I’ve become quite good at speaking over the years, and all of which were imparted to me by various members of the Spice Family and/or employees of Spice World, and all of which are dirty and not suitable for civilized Chinese conversation:

fart = fung pee

boobs = nai nai

are you horny = ni how ma (this also means “how are you” but it depends on the pronunciation)

fucking crazy = chi gau si

Note: I’ve totally mangled the spelling of the pronunciations here—they are in no way correct, and I apologize profusely for this. But you get the point.

So last night, after a glass (or four) of wine, I decided it was the perfect time for spiceboy to teach me some useful Chinese. I mean, who doesn’t want to learn a new language on the day of our nation's birth after having consumed a huge order of baby back ribs, drinking (at least) four glasses of vino, and watching several back to back episodes of Most Outrageous TV Moments, right?


So spiceboy started with numbers, which seemed easy enough. He slowly and painfully taught me to count to ten in Cantonese, correcting and encouraging me every time I mangled the rather triangular-sounding Chinese pronunciation with my oh-so-round American pronunciation. spiceboy is a good and patient teacher, and I caught onto one through ten pretty quickly. So next, he taught me to count to one hundred. I even made him write down the pronunciations so I could look at them and say them out loud.

Which I did. For over an hour.

You see, when I latch on to something, I don’t want to let it go. Which is why I read the same book a bazillion times and rent the same movie over and over and put my favorite song on repeat.

And so it went with my Chinese numbers. I practiced writing and saying the words for such a long time (pausing frequently to glug more wine) that after awhile, the words ceased sounding like words and became instead a bevy of foreign noises chasing themselves around in my mouth and in my head. I said them aloud as I put dishes in the sink. I said them aloud under my breath as we watched tv. I even said them aloud while I was peeing. And in an attempt to trip myself up, I said them faster and faster and faster, just to see if I could do it.

Soon, I was spitting out one two three four five six seven eight nine ten...and so on and so forth up to one hundred in rapid-fire Cantonese. It was a magical experience--as though my lips were moving independently of the rest of my body. And as I reached yet again for my wine glass, I felt a glimmer of hope that I was more than just a red-headed white girl speaking Chinese—perhaps I was a total Chinese language prodigy!

I turned to spiceboy, sure that he was gazing at me with much adoration and amazement, and that he would sleep well knowing that his new bride is not only dedicated to embracing his heritage, but also that she has beautiful red hair that looks completely natural in color even though it’s from a box, AND that she is an incredibly smart, talented person with an amazing gift for the Chinese language.

But that’s not how it happened. spiceboy was gazing at me, all right. But he seemed more befuddled than amazed. In fact, he was looking at me like I was crazy.

Chi gau si, if you will.

That’s when I started to wonder: Was I really a Cantonese-speaking prodigy? Or was I merely an expert at drinking wine and speaking gibberish?

spiceboy looked at me for a long moment, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Okay there, Nell, I think that’s about enough for one night.”

Damn! Wine and gibberish.

Tonight, I think I’ll go back to basics:

fung pee
nai nai
ni how ma

Happy Wednesday.