Directions to The Olive Garden

    So, I finish the shift at the Studio, don my sneakers, and commence running home, because I always like to stretch my legs after a 6-hour spell at the dungeon unless it’s too cold outside to be comfortable…

    …..annnnd, in Midtown, a couple stops me on the street.

      They ask me for directions.

       TO THE OLIVE GARDEN.

       This is what I want to know: who the hell comes to New York City, one of the culinary capitals of North America, and wants to dine at the Olive Garden?  Why does the Olive Garden even exist in NYC?  I don’t get it!  

        Don’t get me wrong–I’m not besmirching the Olive Garden.  For a chain restaurant, the atmosphere and quality of the food is just fine.  The unlimited salad is always very crisp and tasty and they always give warm garlic breadsticks, nom nom NOM.  I loved the place when I was a teenager and didn’t know what good food was.  Again, that is not a backhanded compliment to the Olive Garden.

       But who the hell wants to eat at the Olive Garden in NYC?

       And why…?

       That goes for Domino’s Pizza, too!  You can get the best pizza in the world outside of Italy in NYC!  A thousand pizza joints, ranging from gourmet to $2 hole-in-the-wall “eat while drunk at 3 AM” restaurants (especially if you believe in women’s lib!)…and people want to eat Domino’s?   

       Why?

       Another thing that I do not understand about New Yorkers is eating fish on a bagel.  

        Bagels are delicious.  I never knew what a good bagel was until I moved to New York.  Where I come from, you buy bagels in a plastic bag at the grocery store, and they are shit.  New York bagels are fuckin fantastic.  

        But they put fish on the bagel.  They call it “lox” (or smoked salmon.  Not sure if lox is salmon.  It could be.).  

        Fish.  On a bagel.

        FISH ON A BAGEL.

         The first time I saw that, I almost barfed on the floor.  I mean, what are you people thinking?  Fish on a bagel?  It’s 8 AM, dude!

        And fish…?  Who eats fish, anyway?  Maybe in the summertime, fry up a fingerling trout…but really?  Fish?

        “May I have honey on my bagel, Sir?” I asked the counterman at the deli.

         “What?”

         “Honey!  I want honey on my bagel, please.”

         “That is not something that goes on a bagel.  We don’t have any honey.”

        This blog post is kinda stupid, but I felt like writing this morning.

Much Wealthier

       I got the job!

       The interview was almost shockingly unprofessional.  We met at a restaurant because the campus was closed.  I got there early and stood out in the cold, trying to cool down because I was nervous.  I was wearing my best suit.  I must have looked intense, because the passing crackheads didn’t panhandle from me.  

      I found the members of the hiring committee quickly enough.  Incredibly, they were eating

       “Where did you say you were from, again?” one of them asked me.

       I told him.

       Then, the inevitable: he got a puzzled look on his face and asked me, “What do you do out there?”

      When I get this, I always want to say sarcastically: “Why, we ride horses to school and have spitoons in all the classrooms!  I got my degree in Barn Raising!”

       New Yorkers can be aggressively parochial.  They think that the rest of the USA is, like, Los Angeles and Chicago.  Beyond that, they’re stumped.  And no matter how well-read I am, no matter how cultured I become, in their minds I will always be, fundamentally, a barbarian (and possibly a closet white supremacist).  I used to be so annoyed with it that I wore cowboy boots and posted my certificate of completion for firearms training on the fridge, just to fuck with people.  

     We talked shop. 

     Success! 
       *                          *                       *                             * 
        

     The Mathematician came over to celebrate.  I gave him his Christmas gifts.  We turned on the lights of the Christmas Tree..  

      (By the way–yesterday morning he sent me a text message suggesting that I leave early in order to make it to the airport in the bad weather.  He is very responsible.  I like that he’s a good father.  On some level, I think that I want him to be my dad.  Do you think that’s bad?)

      I asked him how he got the star on top of his hugeass Christmas tree.

      “I have an orchard ladder!”

      “What is that?”

      An orchard ladder has a third leg for support, so that a person can climb up in it and pick fruit!  What a cool, practical invention!  See, that’s the sort of thing I could never come up with.  I have no common sense.  

        We made love.  It wasn’t violent, but I had a lot of fun.  He’s really a handsome man, in an understated, conventional way.  Athletic.  It’s weird, because he’s not the type of man that I’d usually be focused on if I saw him on the street…but knowing myself as I do, that’s probably a good thing (the Surgeon’s look always stopped me in my tracks).  

     I could feel him caressing and holding my body in various positions and knew what he was doing: comparing my size and the proportions of my body to that of his most recent lover (“You’re really tall!” he announced, out of nowhere, when we were in the shower).  It didn’t bother me at all; it’s only natural to do this when we’re with someone new.  I was doing it myself.  He has a big skull.  His hair is shorter and softer.   The Mathematician is tall and strong.  He has big hands and feet.

      Then we lay in bed talking and cuddling.  He is very affectionate.  The Surgeon seldom touches me unless he’s being violent or giving me sex, and he doesn’t like to be touched (by anyone) unless he’s excited, which I always thought was sort of weird for a physician.  Shit–it’s sort of weird for anyone.  Even John, my psycho ex I had to get the restraining order for, liked to snuggle.  

      It was then that I broached The Issue.

      “There’s something that I need to talk to you about,” I said.  “I wasn’t sure when to bring it up–right now or on New Year’s, or in bed or out of it–because I didn’t want to be perceived as manipulative.  But I guess we might as well talk about it now.”

      He immediately looked concerned, and got up on one elbow.  “Uh, okay.”

      “Don’t be scared.  It’s nothing bad.  I just….”  I drifted off, trying to remember exactly how I’d rehearsed the lines.  I totally blanked.  I stammered something and he looked more and more frightened.  Eventually, I just blurted:  “Look, we can keep things just the same if you really want to, but I’d feel a lot better if I stopped taking your money.  It’s important to me that I maintain this boundary and I also don’t want you to think that I’m having sex with you or hanging out with you just because you’re paying me.”

      “I don’t think that.  I never thought that.”

       Okay, good.

       “But I’ve been where you are, when you’re trying to survive and you haven’t gotten started in your career yet, really, and I like knowing that I’m helping you out.  I like knowing that I contribute.  I want you to be happy and successful in life.  Is there anything that I can do?  Do you need money for books or a computer or new clothes for this new job?  It’s no strings attached.”

       He paused.  Then: “I really admire how independent and resourceful you are.  But you seem all alone on your own, without much help.  That’s a hard way to be.”

        I didn’t tell him that I feel like I’ve been an adult since I was about fourteen years old.  TMI.

      I thought about it for a minute.

      “Tell you what.  I’ll accept the things from you that I’d accept from a boyfriend who makes more money than I do.  You can always take me to eat or help with groceries, or books, or travel.  Clothes and sex toys if and when you feel like it.  If we go to the movies you can get the tickets.”

      “Okay.  Let me know if I can help with anything else.”

      And that was that.t.

      I’m out $200.

     But I feel much, much wealthier.   

Awful Weather + Marcus Aurelius

     The weather right now is so violent that the warm, heavy rain is literally falling sideways.  The raindrops are falling sideways

      I have been fascinated, intimidated, and disgusted with the weather here since I visited on a family vacation years ago.  The Tri-State area is a top-5 contender for Worst Weather in the United States.  New Yorkers don’t realize how shitty and  bizarre their weather is.  Many of them don’t know that freezing Slurpee/margarita-consistency rain/snow when it’s 20* outside is a unique NYC weather phenomenon.  Or the deep freezes, when it’s approx. -*8 (yes, negative 8 degrees) at the warmest point of the day for three weeks on end.  How did Indians  and early colonists survive the winters without parkas and puffy coats and ski tights? Well, the Indians got by, but the Europeans…notsomuch).The roasting heat and humidity of the summer–the humidity makes you sweat even if it’s 60* outside.  The air is saturated with dense, warm mist–it makes your skin wet.  Everyone sweats through their clothes in the subway.  The men do, even if they wear an undershirt.  If you’re a woman, forget about applying your makeup before you make your commute.  Even with the train AC blasting, you will sweat it off your face before you arrive at your destination.  It will also ruin your hairdo.  ANY hairdo.   It will ruin a ponytail. 

      Damn.  I began this blog post with the intention of discussing passages in the Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.  I’ve re-read his work in the last few days, and my brain is full of it. I am not a philosophy scholar, but there’s much in the text which I find provocative and useful.  

      You should check it out.  It’s free online if you don’t have a book!  

     I intend to write a longer blog post about this in the next few days, but I’ve been ruminating at length about this one:  

A branch cut off from the adjacent branch must of necessity be cut off from the whole tree also. So too a man when he is separated from another man has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from him, and he does not know that he has at the same time cut himself off from the whole social system. Yet he has this privilege certainly from Zeus who framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to that which is near to us, and be to come a part which helps to make up the whole. However, if it often happens, this kind of separation, it makes it difficult for that which detaches itself to be brought to unity and to be restored to its former condition.Finally, the branch, which from the first grew together with the tree, and has continued to have one life with it, is not like that which after being cut off is then ingrafted, for this is something like what the gardeners mean when they say that it grows with the rest of the tree, but that it has not the same mind with it. 

       The proverb says: You can’t go home again. 

        How do the alienated, or the addicted, integrate themselves back into meaningful social life…?  

      More on this later.  I have been thinking about it very much.  Now, however, I’m tired.  


Operation Barbarossa on Rodents Menacing Margo Manor

Update Sunday 8:30 AM:      

      I caught TWO  of the mice last night with these spin traps.  The reviewers on Amazon.com write that the traps do not kill instantly as claimed, and that they heard the mice struggle and squeak as they slowly perished.  I, however, heard nothing but the sweet, sweet sound of victory.  

                                    *                                      *                                    *
I can’t write much right now–if you read this communique, gentle reader, then it has been successfully smuggled from the front lines of the miserable conflict your humble correspondent is fighting.

     In an unprecedented and utterly baseless act of blatant aggression, vermin have infiltrated Miss Margo Manor.  The small gray mice have demonstrated nothing but naked contempt for diplomacy and the law of war. They never communicated their intent to invade this apartment, nor have they provided any justification for their presence.   They are arrogant, insensitive, and vile in the extreme.  

      Without clear proof of the vermins’ intentions upon this apartment and its denizens, Miss Margo is left to speculate that the mice are here simply to harass the shit out of her, make her uneasy, suck up her free time, and threaten her peace of mind.  

      Hence, we have launched Operation Barbarossa against the Menacing Rodents.

      (…actually, now that I think of it, Operation Barbarossa was a spectacular failure.  Hopefully my campaign against the disgusting mice will be more like Napoleon’s Destruction of the Third Coalition.  Only time shall tell.  And yeah, I’m a war nerd.  I’m worse than a guy.) 

        One of them got into my Parrot cage, man.  That’s what really made me go psycho.  Till then, I was all, “There’s only two of three of them!  I’ll get humane Havaheart catch-and-release traps!”  I even ordered them from Amazon.com.  I’m not scared of mice the way I am of roaches–we had a few rats for a while in my last crummy apartment, and they never freaked me out.  They’re mammals, you know?  But after I saw the little mouse bastard running around in Parrot’s newspaper under her birdbath, I flipped.  I donned my rubber rain boots and long cleaning gloves and got my flashlight and a bottle of spray bleach.  I put on sunglasses just in case. I intended to smash it with the flashlight or blind it with chemicals.  Screw you if you are laughing at me right now.  The mouse tried to hide from me in newspaper shreddings, but then it leaped through the bars of Parrot’s cage.  I pursued, but somehow it escaped.  Asshole.  WHERE DID IT GO?  I CAN’T FIND THE HOLE!

     I spent four hours last night vacuuming, scrubbing, and BLEACHING everything in the kitchen and bird cages.  I have bruises all over my knees that have nothing to do with sadomasochism.  I ruined my fresh manicure and had to take a cold shower at 1 AM because I was sweaty and filthy.  

     Starting last night, I launched my defensive military operation.  Although I have only managed to bleach half the apartment thus far, I have laid out many, many traps.  Fuck those Havahart things.  You shoulda seen this mouse running around on Parrot’s floor!  And how could it jump out of the cage and run away, uninjured?  It would be like me jumping off the Chrysler building and jogging away! 

     The animals are on lockdown and all their food and water has been moved high off the cage floors. I put down poison traps, concealed snap traps (already caught one little bastard), and even the gruesome glue traps.   After they got into Parrot’s cage, I have no mercy left for them.  Parrot is probably big enough to kill one if it attacked her, but the little birds aren’t, and I can’t stand the idea of a rodent climbing in their house and scaring them at night.  NOT ALLOWED.  
       
     New York City living, man.  I never laid eyes on a wild (non-pet) rat until I moved to this area.  In my home town, a person had to live in squalor–absolute filth and squalor–to have roaches or mice in the home.  I had no idea rodents still infested cities in First World countries.  It struck me as archaic, like something out of Charles Dickens.  


      I intended to write something funny, but I guess I am preoccupied with expelling the vermin.  Sorry.

      I’m gonna go check the traps again.

FakeMTA’s Tournament of Champions

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So, so true. My pet peevs: 1) riders who don’t take off their backpacks and place them at their feet in crowded trains; 2) riders who eat real meals (not snacks, but real food which requires eating utensils); and 3) panhandlers who make their pitch by saying that they have decided to beg rather than steal and rob, which I can only interpret as a menacing, semi-veiled threat.  Yes, it is so noble of you, Sir, to ask me for money instead of just punching me in the face and taking my purse.  I am proud of you.  Here, have a dollar.

Some station agents are real assholes, too.  You should see the looks I get when I ask them to combine the leftover credits on my old Metrocards.  Look, I wouldn’t want to work in a grimy subway station all day, either, but at least you have a union and health insurance.  I’m not asking you to bring back the Golden Fleece, for chrissakes.  Just combine my credits, okay?

In contrast, the engineers/conductors are usually pretty cool, even though they, too, have to answer the same damn questions and see the same damn things allllllll day long.

Found on FakeMTA’s twitter.

Signed, Sealed & Delivered

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   I met with my landlord and signed the lease.  





    It’s funny how having a little money changes your perspective.  The last time I saw him, I was so frightened that my hands were shaking.  I haven’t been that scared of someone in years.


    This time, I didn’t even stand up when he entered the room.


     The Surgeon coached me on the telephone about what to say to him.


      “He wants to raise the rent $100,” I told the Surgeon earlier in the day. 


      “Fuck him!  He’s not going to get it!  He’s negotiating; he doesn’t want you to leave.  You’ve got him over a barrel.  Draw this out as long as possible.  Don’t sign anything!  Don’t respond to him until the very end!  Then he’ll be helpless and scared, because he won’t know if you’re moving and he won’t have a new tenant and then he won’t make a profit for the year!”  He sounded thrilled, as if he was engaged in some life-or-death cage fight with his mortal enemy.  


     “You really want me to haggle and bargain with the landlord?  Like we were at a garage sale?”


      “Welcome to New York, Kid!”  His voice was ecstatic–the voice of a man cheering for his team in the Olympics.  “You’ve gotta get with the program!  Get your elbows out! You are way too Whitey McWhitebread!  How can you do all the crazy dangerous stuff you do and then be intimidated by a prick like this?  He’s not GOD!” 


      I groaned.  “How do you have the energy for this?  Don’t you ever get tired of fighting with people?”


      “No!” he shouted happily.  I pictured him bobbing his head like a deranged cockatoo. “This is what I do!  I’m really good at it!”


       He is.  He is indeed.  


       “Call me back when you’re done with him!  Ask him what he’s willing to do for you if you pay him in cash instead of with a personal check!  Because then he won’t have to declare it to the government!  NO TAXES!  He wants that!”  Dr. Crazy Greedhead Cockatoo.  


       “But I am going to pay it to him anyway.  Cash or check.” 


       “No!  Listen to me: that money is worth a lot more to him in cash.   Just don’t tell him that you have the cash on you.  Don’t tell him that you’re willing to give it to him right away.  Dangle it!  It’s a carrot, you hick!  I’m telling you–play this right and you can get your rent reduced!  Tell him you could probably go to the bank and get the money out if he does something for you!  If it’s not good enough, tell him that you need to call your lawyer and go to your room and give me a call and I’LL talk to him.  Yeah!” 


       Oh my God, I thought.  What I said was: “Okay, sure thing.”


       I will never tell the Surgeon this, but I will tell you, Gentle Reader: I simply did not have it in me to bargain hard with my landlord over, like, a few hundred bucks.  Forget it.  Not worth it!  SORRY!  Maybe this is one reason why rich people are rich: they will fight each other tooth and claw over two months’ car insurance money.  Who knows?  Not me!  I’ve had enough stress and humiliation this month, thanks!  


        I made the landlord one offer.  He accepted.  I signed the paperwork and he left.  


       It still hasn’t hit me yet.  


       The Surgeon called me back.  He couldn’t wait twenty minutes. “Well?  What did he say?” 


        “He only raised the rent $5 and I gave him the cash.”


         “NOOOOO!  You could have gotten more!   You are going to learn how to deal with these things, Margo.   You’re not in the sticks anymore! Want me to call him right now?   By the way, I hope you are not running around in flip flops.  There was an article in the Times about all the bacteria on the street.  I don’t want bacteria on my feet.  I mean, your feet.”  


       We now return to our regularly scheduled programming. 

Things I Don’t Understand about New Yorkers (1): Dining Outside

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   I love New York.  Hopefully, I will never live anywhere else for any length of time.


   I also like New Yorkers.  On the whole, I think they’re terrific.  Sharp, energetic, interesting, and infinitely more generous and polite than I could have imagined. The worst personality trait I can ascribe to them–if one can ascribe a personality trait to an entire community, especially one as huge and heterogeneous as New York–is an astonishing sort of aggressive parochialism (I cannot fault them entirely for this: New York is not the center of the universe, but it is certainly the center of a lot of things).


    I cannot pass as a native New Yorker and I do not aspire to.  People can tell that I’m not from around here. When I travel and people ask me where I’m from, I invariably say that I’m from the place where I was born and now I live in New York.  When New Yorkers learn where I’m from, their reaction is typically good-natured fascination and curiosity, as if I said that I was from Mars.  They think that I am a country person (according to their foggy notions of what constitutes rural American culture).  This amuses me, because I grew up in a big town.  It’s okay.  If I am a hick, then I am a very well-educated hick.  


      Anyway, even though I’ve lived here for a few years now, on occassion I still feel like a cultural anthropologist doing field work. Sometimes I think: these people do the damndest things..!  Why oh why are you doing that, my New York countrymen?  


     Take, for instance, the proclivity of New Yorkers to dine outside whenever the weather is not freezing cold or raining.  

Truck! weird pedestrian! patio furniture! livestock-containing gate!  Ah, dining al fresco in New York.  Photo source: 

http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/10/01/would-you-like-soot-with-that-burger/



     New Yorkers love to eat outside.  They love it.  If a restaurant has outdoor seating or a private patio for diners, this fact is featured prominently on its website.  People go to places with crappy food, like the Boat Basin, just because it offers outdoor seating.  In the spring and summertime, the sidewalks are packed with diners.  Even in the winter, some places put out heat lamps and plastic tarps, and people sit outside.   This shitty Italian place down the block from my apartment offers just such accommodations.  At night, it’s packed.  People prefer to sit on lawn furniture in a plastic tent in wintertime than to be inside. 


      Dining outdoors in NYC is incomprehensible to me because the streets and conditions here are…not conducive to a relaxing, enjoyable dining experience.  They’re not.  I defy anyone to tell me otherwise.  You may like to eat outside on the grimy, gum-encrusted sidewalk, but please don’t tell me it’s pleasant or helps you enjoy the food better.  Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining. 


     The streets and sidewalks are filthy and congested.  This is true whether you’re in the Upper East Side or the East Village.  (I’m not complaining about Sanitation Services here; I think that they do a good job–I don’t think that the city, or at least the parts of it I am familiar with, could be much cleaner without the active participation of the populace.  This would require a shift in cultural values…beyond the scope, alas, of Sanitation’s influence.)  The streets are gross.  They are strewn with litter.  Even the clean ones.  At night, there are piles of garbage bags chest-high on the curbs, three feet away from where you’re sitting.  In warm weather, they reek to high heaven.  There is standing water in the gutters and vermin running to and fro.  Don’t delude yourself.  Garbage, all around, and this city stinks.  I love it, but it smells.  It does.  


     Add to that: crowded sidewalks.  Pedestrians constantly moving past your table.  Dogs, strollers, children.  Cars parking on the curb beside you.  Traffic waiting at lights.  The roar of sirens, trucks beeping as they back up, the engines of city buses.  


    In the summertime, it’s hot and sticky.  You’re sweating, your makeup is running off.    


      Why pick all that over air-conditioned comfort?  


     Dining al fresco: definitely something I don’t understand about New Yorkers.  


     The next post in this series will probably be weird New York foods, such as the baffling and gorge-inducing habit of putting fish onto a bagel.  First time I saw that, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Folks back home don’t believe me when I say that New Yorkers eat fish on bagels.  I had to take photos to prove it.  And why don’t they like soda from soda fountains?  It tastes so much better.