Friday, April 28, 2006

Scorpions Rule

I did not have the energy this year to plan any sort of birthday shindig. So, I made dinner reservations with Phil & Emily, and was set to leave it at that. But then I got phone calls from Wendy and Lynn, who took me out on my actual anniversary of the day of birth. And an e-mail from Anh, suggesting a totally casual brunch at her house. I worried a little - Anhabelle has Benjy to look after and while I know her as one of the best hostesses since Marth Stewart (except cuter, with a better wardrobe and actually nice), I didn't want her to stress about having a bunch of the old law school peeps at the house.

But she offered, so I took her up on it. This past Saturday, I rolled out of bed, showered and put on a blah pair of jeans, a blah shirt and a pair of sneakers. That was my one big mistake. When I arrived at Chez Benjamino, the ladies all looked adorable! Dammit. I hate looking like the schlub.

But I digress, momentarily. As mentioned before, most of my friends in law school were guys. It was the first time in my life that the majority of my friends were guys, and thanks to them, I have developed a thicker skin to teasing, a deep and abiding love of poker and horseracing, and an appreciation for really disgusting jokes. Also, it was the first time in my life that I hung out with people who liked beef, roast pork, and bacon as much as I do. Through the guys, I became friends with their wives (though in some cases, they were girlfriends at the time). And rounding out the group so that I would not feel so solitary in my female status was Anhabelle (though she protests to the day that she was never a Scorpion).

So, I arrived, greeted by Josh & Cheryl, P & E (and my girl Rebecca), Mike & Gena, Anhabelle & Dave. And as usual, Anh outdid herself - homemade granola, french toast, orange yogurt, fresh fruit, an egg dish with cheese, mushrooms and potatoes, mimosas, and bacon. And don't think Josh didn't eye everyone else at the table warily, as though they were going to take too much bacon. For the record: Josh had 11 slices, I had 7.

"Aren't you excited to open your gift?" I was asked by both Cheryl and E at separate points. There was a large box by the fireplace. "Ummm. Sure." So open the gift I did, only to find a beautiful kate spade purse (see picture above). I was a little dumbstruck. Seriously - too much. I love handbags, but with the exception of a cute Coach bag that Kate got me for Christmas a few years ago, everything comes from Marshall's or Century 21. I've just never been able to afford something so... nice.

Life is really different since law school ended, especially when it comes to the Scorps. There is the kind of support you get from seeing someone every day of your stressful law school life, and a different sort of comfort you receive when you do not see those people, but know that they have your back. I have asked a lot of all my friends in the last couple of months and it seems almost shameful that when I have needed so much, they have all continued to give and give and give, all the way up to an awesome birthday gift. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Well, you are VIP.

Friday night's plans consisted of meeting up with Phil, his lady-friend Emily, and Jason, who was Rajeev's partner in One Louder crime until Jeeves became a law student and ceased to exist. I had dutifully made reservations for 9:30 at Zerza, a Moroccan restaurant in the East Village. Long-time readers may recall that I went to Zerza last year, but that was just for drinks and a hookah.

On that occasion, the food had looked excellent and it seemed like the sort of low-key place I would like to celebrate my birthday. So that was the plan.

Zerza takes up two floors and is quite small. The downstairs consists of a small bar (with a very pregnant bartender) and a few tables. There are lots of traditional Moroccan lanterns about (I really can't get enough of dim lighting. It's my favorite). Upstairs is a small dining room which, on our evening, accomodated two tables of 10, two tables of 4 and one table of 2.

When we entered, the downstairs bar was full, as were the tables. Clearly, the place is well-subscribed. I told the "host" about our reservation and he stared blankly at me and ran to find the owner. The owner seemed to look less surprised, and then disappeared to "check on our table." He came back about 5 minutes later - there was a party still at our table, but they had paid their bill and would surely be gone momentarily.

Momentarily turned into 10, then 15 minutes. And I was getting very cranky. Several years ago, something similar happened to me at Makeda's in New Brunswick. We sat at the bar for 40 minutes, were treated rudely by the hostesses, until I finally had a very polite, but firm hissy fit. Apparently the magic words at Makeda's are "We're leaving and going to North Star Cafe." I've never seen an owner swoop in so fast with free wine and a table.

But in these hard emotional times, "Polite but firm hissy fit" Megan has gone on vacation, and has been replaced by "Lame-o pushover who eventually stomps her feet and whines like a five year old" Megan. Philly mentioned an Indian restaurant down the street, but I really was looking forward to some tea and a hookah after dinner. Luckily I did not have to resort to stomping my feet - the owner came over and explained that the party at our table just would not leave, but another party would be leaving shortly and would we please have a drink on the house? Yes, we would. Drink in hand (and as Emily pointed out, everything seems a little better once they give you a drink), we now had time to critically assess the group at the bar - about six attractive women, all foreign, and three ugly, older and poorly dressed men. My guess? Mail-order brides.

We finally got our table, about 50 minutes after our 9:30 reservation, and we got a nice bottle of Moroccan wine on the house for our trouble. Everything else went off without a hitch - the service was great, with a sweet, earthy waitress, and the bellydancer came up around 10:45. (Apparently the douchebags who had our table and wouldn't leave had been waiting for the belly dancer.... they were still up there when we were seated, but left before the bellydancer).

We started off with the Meze Plate (hummus, zaaluk and spinach bakoula) and saganaki, which is a marinated and fried feta cheese. The saganaki was unbelievable. Up there with the Yakitori Totto chicken livers. I had the tagine marougia - short ribs - as my entree and they were really fantastic - soft and tender, and marinated in a sauce made slightly sweet by stewed prunes. Philly had the kefta tagine, which are spiced meatballs. They were nice, but I definitely preferred my short ribs.

We finished off the meal with a large pot of mint tea. Mom and I went to Marakech (also to Essouira and through the Atlas Mountains) right after I graduated college. In the evenings, we would sit outside after dinner and have amazing mint tea. You just can't get mint tea like that here, but this was pretty close. Our dinner made me think of that trip, of how much fun Mom and I had, and it was a nice, pleasant memory that didn't cause me any pangs of grief or loss.

Phil asked the waitress if we could get a hookah upstairs (no one else had had one, and it seemed like it might be the sort of thing one can only have in the bar area). Our waitress: "Well, you are VIP, so let me see what I can do." Yeah, we got our hookah - apple flavored to be precise.

And we shut the place down. Being VIPs, we weren't hustled out, so we left of our own volition around 2am. A year older, none the wiser, with a good meal and some very good friends - I would say it was a successful night.

A Few of my Favorite Things

I had skipped The Pour for a few days, so you can imagine my delight when I checked in this morning and was treated to a post on lambic beers (or beers in general, but especially lambics). Philly first introduced me to the lambics last year at the Gaslight, where they had Lindeman's Peche on tap. Yummy. and as if that weren't enough, solidifying my love for Eric Asimov is this cute post about his crappy day and how he wanted an Orval.

Later on in the day, Kate sent me a link to this New York magazine article about This American Life - Ira and the gang are moving to New York! How exciting, and it explains why there have been so few new installments this year. Plus, TAL has signed a deal with Showtime. Anhabelle, now that there is actually the potential for us to run into Ira, the gloves are off.

Finishing all this off? My local McDonald's has finally gotten some ice cream and I got to have my first Oreo McFlurry of the season. Heaven.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Six Lawyers and a Linguist

I am officially obsessed with my terrible fantasy baseball team. I joined a league that Phil set up, comprised mainly of poker people, and yes, we are six lawyers and a linguist. That's even our league name.

I am in last place. The one comfort being that I cannot drop lower. But I find myself mulling over things that I never would have troubled myself with before. Before, it was hard to give a shit about any baseball player who wasn't a Yankee. Not I find myself losing sleep over such topics as "why is Ichiro sucking so badly? What could be wrong with him? Should I take Phil up on his trade offer? No, he'll come around." Or, "What the hell is up with the Florida Marlins bullpen? How could they blow that win for Dontrelle Willis? I needed that win!" I am not proud of the fact that I knew who won the Orioles game today because I wanted to know if Melvin Mora had gotten any hits.

The one bright spot - just like in the real world, fantasy baseball is a loooong season. I can be at the bottom now, just like the Yanks are "only" at .500. Of course, I fuss over the Yankees pitching staff and it's only April. It's going to be a long season - and that's a good thing and a bad thing.

The Kindness of Strangers

Today is my birthday. I had to go to work, and I slogged through it. I naturally worried about how I would feel today - my first birthday without my mom. I missed her, of course, but it was all entirely tolerable.

One of the things that made it perfectly pleasant (besides the lovely weather) was the kindness of my co-workers. When I started this job, I had one hope - that my co-workers would be affable enough for me to eat lunch with. And, with the exception of Matlock, who has proven himself a stellar friend and is at the top of my favorite people list, that's just what I got. My co-workers are all nice people, fun to eat lunch with and complain about work, and perhaps have the occasional drink across the street. But that's about it.

When my mom passed, I talked a good deal with Matlock, but not at all with the others. Grieving is terribly personal, and ergo embarassing to share with people who only know a small sliver of your life. Still, I was strangely touched to look over at my mom's memorial service and see my co-workers there. And I was grateful that back at work, there didn't seem to be any expectation for me to be any particular way - happy or sad. For the record, my role, aside from Matlock's setup man for tasteless jokes, is to walk around making fun of everyone else, followed by a damning self-deprecating remark. And that's what I went back to, with no strange looks.

Today I went out to lunch with some co-workers, and then K presented me with a beautiful chocolate cheesecake with chocolate covered strawberries on top - she made it herself. After work, we all went out for a beer before my dinner reservation.

I was touched. Perhaps that is silly, but when you spend a large chunk of your day with the same group of people, the normalcy of seeing them becomes a comfort. Birthdays are ignored, or considered irrelevent by so many. I have always personally enjoyed them, and felt the significance of making it through another year, and perhaps pondering changes for the coming year, ought to be acknowledged. And while my co-workers may not be the people I spend my Saturday nights with, and while I'm certain they have no idea that I am deeply appreciative of the kindness, I am just that - much obliged.

That was a Monday and I had conjunctivitis.

I got a call from Lynn this morning while I was driving to work. "Did you listen to NPR this morning?" she asked. "You're calling about the woman with the crazy memory." "Yes!"

On Morning Edition, there was a piece on a woman who is the subject of a study in the Journal of Neuroscience. And man, is she fascinating. My dad spent over thirty years working in a state psychiatric hospital and he used to tell me about one of his patients who, if you gave him the date of your birth, he could tell you what day of the week that was and what the weather was like that day. This woman can do that and she can tell you bizarre details about the day. April 4, 1994? She baked cookies. November 10, 1998? Her house smelled strangely like ham. It's not just those little details - she can tell you everything that happened in that day in her life because, in her mind, it's re-running like a home movie.

Interestingly, this strange gift does not translate to other areas - she was never good in history class and couldn't memorize much of anything in school. Anyway, hearing is believing - check out the story.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Schmuckiest Guy in the Room

We're in week 12 of the Enron trial of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, and NPR has been doing a great job of covering it (here, here and here). This marks the second week that Jeff Skilling, former CEO of the company, is on the witness stand. He's currently getting grilled by the assistant US attorney on the case, Sean Berkowitz.

While the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room left me shocked and appalled at the complete lack of morals, the narcissism, and the greed in these men (and it's really too bad that Andy Fastow was able to plead out), I cannot help but be disgusted by the continuing hubris of Skilling. On the stand, Berkowitz hounded Skilling about why he, his wife and his girlfriend (he's a real class act) all sold their stocks before the complete tank. Skilling claimed it was coincidence. During the break, Skilling cracked to the judge that his brothers approached him and asked how come they never got a call about the impending crash (Skilling's brothers lost money on Enron stock). About half the court room laughed (Berkowitz did not look amused, apparently). Dude. You are on trial for all manner of accounting fraud, insider trading and for costing thousands of employees their life savings. Perhaps now is not the time to crack a joke.

I hope Skilling and Lay get what they so richly deserve.

Now quiet, they're about to announce the lottery numbers!

I wrote this entry yesterday, but Kate called and kept me on the phone for two and a half hours. So it's a day late (and clearly a dollar short).

I am not a regular lottery player. But every now and again, when the jackpot gets big enough, I like to buy a ticket, as much for the imagination as anything else. Years ago when I waitressed at a country club, I bought a Mega Millions ticket. Mega Millions, fyi, is the multi-state lottery system between New York, New Jersey, Minnesota, Maryland and some other states I don't recall. It has currently "rolled" 12 times without a winner, thus tonight's jackpot is for $265 million.

Anyway, I digress. I bought a ticket back when I was a waitress and when I would feel particularly annoyed with the haughty clientele, the manager who was incompetent, but sleeping with the boss, or the 95 degree temperatures in the kitchen, I would imagine quitting my job after winning the lottery. Sweet, so very sweet.

I obviously did not win.

At the time, I would imagine quitting much like Dave Chappelle in the Oprah sketch. "Ding ding ding ding ding! Attention everyone! I quit!" as I kick over a garbage can. Or perhaps more along the lines of Half Baked: "Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you're cool, and fuck you. I'm out."

A part of me still imagines quitting in that way. But what I really enjoy is thinking about how I would spend allll that money. Kate and I used to have an agreement whereby we would buy the non-winner a car and send our ex-boyfriends t-shirts that read: "My ex-girlfriend won the lottery and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

So, what would you do? I would definitely take some serious time off from working, though I think I would always wants to have at least a part-time job. I would go on my world tour, but I think I'd extend it to six months - Japan, Thailand, India, Australia, Botswana, South Africa, and I'd toss in a large chunk of Europe.

Also, I promised Phil over IM today that I would send him and Emily on a really cool vacation. And I'm pretty sure there would have to be a big trip to Las Vegas for some poker and black jack.

Alas, no win, so to work with me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ira, you've got some 'splainin to do!

I am so fed up with This American Life. What's with all the repeats? There have only been six new installments since the start of the year! Terrible! And to welcome us back from this shitty hiatus filled with repeats was a completely disappointing installment this past weekend called "A Better Mousetrap." Frankly, it was crappy.

Ira, you had better get your act together!

Wow! It's amazing what a nice pair of wings will do.

I had off from work on Friday, and so I opted to join P & E, and their baby girl, Rebecca, on a trip to the Bronx Zoo. This was particularly exciting as it was Rebecca's very first trip to the zoo. She's certainly too young to remember this trip, but regardless, I now get to say "I was there when...."

Rebecca has just mastered the fine art of walking solo for short spurts, and she can say things that sound like "Mama" and "Dada" though I am not entirely sure she knows that Mama and Dada means only one thing each. When Connor was learning to speak, he thought many things were "ball" and "fishy." Anyway, most importantly, Rebecca says "Wow!" when she sees something she likes. It's pretty damn cute. She said "wow" a lot at the zoo.

Giraffes and cheetahs were a big hit (the cheetahs were actually running around and playing). The lions were napping, and the peacocks were quite loud. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the elephants - for some inexplicable reason, the monorail was not running and that is the only way to see the elephants. We also had to skip the bears and the tigers because it started to rain pretty hard.

The highlight for me was the new Butterfly Garden - an indoor greenhouse with thousands of butterflies just flapping around. There's also a rock pond with waterfall and Japanese koi. Anyhoo, we saw a Zebra Swallowtail, many Zebra Longwings, quite a few Julias and some Monarchs. As I remarked, I typically hate bugs, but it's amazing what a large and beautiful pair of wings will do to turn my opinion around.

It hadn't occured to me, but I really relate the zoo with my childhood trips there. My mom used to love zoos (especially tigers and elephants, they were her faves) and when I was a munchkin, she used to take me to the Bronx Zoo. I have a wonderful and vivid memory of my mom getting me to ride the camel (they still do that near the Asia Pavillion) and how scared I was to do it, but how much fun (and smelly) it was while I was up there.

Back at the ranch, E fed Rebecca some yogurt and apple sauce concoction, a large part of which wound up on her face. While I was holding the Beckster and trying to make her laugh, she put her little arms around my neck and hugged me, head smooshed into my shoulder, and thusly melting my cold, cold heart. It's the first hug she's ever given me. "Oh.... she got yogurt all over your sweatshirt," Emma said. It was worth it. Thanks for the hug, Beckers.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Happy birthday tooooooo meeeeeee

Today is the one year anniversary of my blog. Go blog! You've grown up so fast! Sniff sniff. Hopefully we'll keep on doing this for many years to come. And by we, I mean me. Or, me and the Queen of England. She loves to blog.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Nice hat

Saturday was Kate's bridal shower, and if I had a photo of the paper plate hat I made her, I would post it. Sadly, the only photo of the hat that actually came out has me in it and I am strictly opposed to all me pictures. So you will have to envision the paper plate hat. It looked good.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon, Kate and I took advantage of the beautiful day and went into the city. After driving around the East Village for about ten minutes, Eagle Eye Kate spotted a place to park that I hadn't even noticed. Next stop? Hasaki! Hooray! We split the age tofu, which was disappointing, and honestly, I'm starting to wonder why I order it out when I know that no place can beat the age togu at Tawara. Anyway, Kate had the chirashi and a piece of uni, while I had a yellow tail roll, California roll and eel roll. All excellent. I'm not normally a fan of California rolls, by Hasaki uses real crab meat, so it's yummy.

We walked about, down to Astor Place, where we had some green tea lattes at Starbucks. I looked at all the students and remembered that sometimes, like on a fair spring Sunday, it's nice not to be in school anymore. Next stop, street fair, where Kate had some kettle corn and I eyed, but resisted, the mozarella arepas. Last stop: the East Village branch of Bar Veloce, where we both sampled the mango grappa. You may remember from our Babbo trip last year that Kate and I went to the Chelsea BV and had clementine grappa. That was what we really wanted, but apparently the infused grappa menu is constantly changing. Sigh. Anyway, our bartender was sufficiently impressed that we were drinking grappa that early in the evening (it was 6pm).

I had really wanted to take Kate to Angel's Share, which is right next to Hasaki - I had just been a week ago and was eager for Kate to try the Rye Manhattan. Sadly, they don't open till 7pm, so we'll have to save it for another trip.

Anyway, after our grappa, it was time for Kate to catch her train back to the District. As I am missing my mom something fierce these days, and with my dad in Canada, visiting his brother, I was especially sad to see her go. But as the Buddha said, nothing exists entirely alone, everything is in relation to everything else. So I went home to my cat.

The bravest are surely those

Liana Banana is in the hospital. It's nothing unexpected, just that her MS has flared up and her new doctor won't let her take the IV steroids at home like the old doc did. So for a few days, she's stuck with on the old folks ward of the hospital. Luckily, she downloaded Sonic the Hedghog to her cell phone. She writes about going into the hospital on her own blog. Specifically, she talks about her fear of staying in the hospital, and what it represents in terms of her disease.

She mentions in passing that she is not brave and this got me thinking in general about what bravery really is. I don't think bravery is the absence of hissy fits, the absence of crying, or freaking out. No, to me bravery is doing all of those things, and then doing the scary thing anyway. My mom was always scared of flying. She would start having a slow build panic meltdown a few days before we would fly, and it would culminate at take off, where she would sit in her seat, eyes tightly shut, forcing herself not to streak off the plane. The alternative would have been to never go to Morocco or Turkey or Russia or Ireland - she could have done that. Lord knows she loved Canada enough that she never had to get on a plane to take a trip. But she sucked it up and did it because she wanted to see those places.

Liana, unlike my mother, doesn't have a fun trip to look forward to when she gets through the scary part of being in the hospital. She has to deal with all the crap that goes along with being in IV 'roids. And on top of all that, she has the memory of what life was like before all this. And even though it would be understandable if she went to bed and pulled the covers over her head, with a smidge of cajoling from her family and her boyfriend, she came out and did what had to be done.

Thucydides said, "The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it." Liana, I am very proud of you, not only for having the clearest vision of what lies ahead, but for going out to meet it as best and with as much grace and dignity as you can. That is bravery.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Great Costco Race

This Saturday is Kate's bridal shower, which I am technically hosting, though really her mom is the host since it's at her house. Anyway, one of my many tasks for this week was to head over to Costco and purchase some food/cake for the event.

I share a Costco membership with Wendy. When we signed up, we tried to convince them to give us two cards (we told them we were domestic partners) but they wouldn't since we couldn't prove we lived at the same address (serves us right, I guess, for trying to take advantage of Costco's DP policy). Anyhoo, since Wend is the one with the Amex, the membership is in her name and every few months we make the expedition together.

Well, this happens to be a busy work travel month for Wendy, and today was the day we set aside for the trip so I could get the precious, precious Costco cake. I got to Wendy's around 7:30 and we ate dinner, figuring that Costco closed around 9 or 9:30. In a moment of fear, I called Costco to find out what time they closed. The verdict? 8:30. It was currently 8:10.

I have jaw pain, probably because I have been unintentionally clenching my jaw when stressed, annoyed, etc. A pain shot through my jaw at the moment of realization that I would not be getting Kate her Costco cake. Costco cake was the one freakin' thing she had requested and I had fucked it up. And because Costco employees always check the photo on the membership card, and other than the fact that we are both pasty pale, Wendy and I look nothing alike, I could not just take the card and go tomorrow.

Wendy dragged me out the door - "We'll make it! We'll get the cake!" "Nooo, they won't even let us in the door." After being stuck behind the slowest SUV ever, Wendy in her little Geo Prism, honking her horn(!), and speeding to Costco, we did make it through the door. We ran to the back of the store, grabbed the cake, and then Wendy overheard an employee say that while they close the front door at 8:30, they allow people inside to continue shopping for awhile. Woohoo!

It certainly wasn't the relaxed shopping expedition we had planned, but I got a bunch of stuff for the shower, and Wendy got her 36 pack of Mountain Dew (23 cents a can!). We checked out and rolled our giant car through the door. "If you don't mind, I'd like to drive a little slower on the way home," she remarked. "Yes, please."

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bittersweet, Opening Day

It's opening day for baseball and I am so very happy. I won't harp about how much I love baseball or the Yankees right now, or how baseball signifies spring and summer and for me, represents everything good and pure about our country. I will say, though, that the Yanks had a 7-run second inning against Oakland. Hopefully they can keep it up.

It does feel a little bittersweet, only because as I danced around my living room clapping and cheering for A-Rod's grand slam, I thought about how my mom would have stayed up late to watch the game, would have been doing the same thing, and would probably have called to cheer with me.

So I can think of no better tribute to her than an excellent Yankees season. Go Yanks!

Screw You, Jet Blue

Victory is mine! Got a letter today from Bank of America regarding the malfunctioning ATM - "the credit is permanent and we consider this dispute resolved." Because I was right and they were wrong! This does not cue evil laughter - after all the crap, I'm just relieved that it's a resolved.

But this reminds me of a story. This past weekend I went with my dad to have brunch with friends of his and my mom from college. Jeanie and Dave live on Riverside Drive and they are both scientists. Jeanie is very involved in tenants's rights in the neighborhood, and so everyone knows her and calls out to her when we walk down the street. It's fun, and a little old-fashioned, to see such a stereotypical neighborhood reaction in Manhattan. There isn't enough of that today.

Anyway, Jeanie and Dave's son, Tim, was over and the two of us set to work trying to convince Marj, one of my mom and dad's other friends, that she should fight a traffic ticket that she got. Tim told a story about how he fought Jet Blue and won.

Back during the blizzard in February, Tim got stranded in Austin, Texas. He spent an hour and a half on the phone (on hold, naturally) with Jet Blue, finally got put through to a person, and was promptly disconnected. When he finally got to talk to a person, they told him that the earliest they could fly him out would be two days thence. This would not do - Tim had work and needed to get back to NY. Jet Blue said they couldn't help him, so he bought (for an arm and a leg) a one way trip on Southwest. When he returned to NY, he called Jet Blue and asked them to pay for his ticket. They refused. "All right then," Tim said, "then you should know that I am going to start a blog. And every day on that blog I am going to trash Jet Blue. I'll collect stories about you."

What did this get him? His ticket promptly paid. The power of the blog, people.