Friendsgiving: A Recipe for Success

For my American readers, this time of year is the magical time where excessive food and alcohol consumption is encouraged and we all pretend the calories don’t count. I’m not referring to Thanksgiving quite yet, however – this past weekend for many of us was the new-ish magical time known as Friendsgiving. For those who aren’t familiar, here’s a recipe to make your get-together as successful as ours was this past weekend.

Friendsgiving Recipe (Serves as many people as you invite)
YOU WILL NEED:

One (1) Nickname Posse (or whatever variation you have)
One (1) group email
One (1) group text
Eleven (11) bottles of wine
One (1) pitcher of homemade pear/rosemary cocktails
Two (2) pies of your making
Three (3) cheeses
One (1) trip to Whole Foods

TO MAKE YOUR FRIENDSGIVING PERFECT(ish):

  1. Start a group email chain about a month out with your Nickname Posse. Make sure that very little actual information is included, and use it more as a sounding board to annoy each other and plan other weekend activities.
  2. Decide against a potluck dinner because it’s complicated and the group is lazy, and instead order a fully-cooked meal from Whole Foods. Congratulate each other on fantastic planning.
  3. Two days prior, realize no one has confirmed important things like time of arrival and semi-formal dress code so send a group text with details.
  4. Allow group text to delineate into discussions of who’s showing up naked and who’s bringing assless chaps.
  5. Attempt to make pies the night before. Forget crucial ingredients, say “screw it” and drink wine with lovely friend and her boyfriend instead. Plan on making pies in the morning.
  6. Burn pie crust in the morning. Curse poor planning.
  7. Start drinking at 11 a.m. Someone has to test the cocktails, natch.
  8. Everyone shows up on time. Turn on football and hope the turkey will fit in the oven.
  9. Make adorable labels for all the food and somehow get everything in and out of the oven with a level of grace and decorum. Serve food to happy crowds.
  10. Realize by 4 p.m. everyone is pretty drunk and REAL full. Decide to take a walk around the Heights with the dogs. Neglect to tell a certain fashionista that it will be a legitimate “walk” so she’s forced to wander in stilettos. Find yourself impressed when she doesn’t complain.
  11. Eat pies upon return from walk. Eat too much. Like, way too much.
  12. Everyone falls asleep on the couch by 7 p.m.
  13. Everyone leaves full, happy and very tired by 7:30 p.m.
  14. Everyone promises to do this again next year by 7:45 p.m.
  15. Fall asleep by 9 p.m. following a very satisfying weekend.

I’ll list out things I’m thankful for later this week, but for now, let me just say a quick “toast”: To old friends, new friends, and to the family we choose. To my Nickname Posse, I love you all so dearly. And to Friendsgiving in 2015, where one hopes we’ll have learned self-restraint in the face of too many desserts.

Blood and Water

For the first eighteen months I lived in Washington Heights, the best part of my early mornings was the 7:42 a.m. A-train subway conductor. Most people, myself formerly included, don’t pay attention to the subway conductor, either woefully stuck with the same disembodied robot voice announcing that “The next stop is 42nd Street,” or a muffled and disgruntled voice ordering everyone to “Stand clear of the closing doors (please).” But in my first few months in the Heights, I noticed that if I left my apartment by about 7:35, I would get on the same train, where the conductor always sounded like he was in a good mood, and strayed far from the typical conductor script. On Mondays, he’d tell us “Welcome back from the weekend! This is a downtown bound A express train,” and every day at every stop, he’d announce “This is [station stop] – hope everyone has a [beautiful/wonderful/stellar/fabulous] morning.” Every Friday he told us “Happy Friday! Have a warm and cozy weekend.” It was so minor, these little quips, but so endearing that I would race every morning to make that train, just so I could tell myself “Well, looks like I’m going to have an exciting day today!” or “It is a beautiful morning.” In June, all of a sudden he was gone, likely reassigned to another train time or track, and my commutes went back to silent staring at nothing with headphones turned all the way up.

Sometimes people have an impact on your life that is, at a glance, insignificant, but powerful in its own way. From the outside, my morning conductor is just a blip on the radar, but the cheery greetings, without fail each morning, put a little more of a bounce in my step, and every morning I still hope his voice will surprise me as I head down to the Village for another day at the office. I mean, I don’t even know what he looks like. I never introduced myself or saw him walking through the cars, or maybe I did one day but wouldn’t ever know it was him. But there are people in our lives sometimes who are important because we want them to be, and not just because they’re supposed to be. This holds true for things as minor as a usual conductor, and for things as major as the traditional definition of family. I don’t mean that garbage about “traditional family ONLY MEANS a mom and dad,” but the idea that your “family” is limited to the people that share your genes, “blood is thicker than water” and all those great cliches.

This is not to say I don’t have I have the most amazing, ridiculous, and large (quantity, not physique..) extended family. I was so blessed to be born into this clan, the crowd that still tops 30 people for the “small get-togethers” on all the major holidays; I don’t envy T having to sort through how many save-the-dates she needs to send for my dad’s side alone. Growing up, it was hard enough trying to remember which cousin was on whose side, and what aunt lived where in all these family gatherings, so imagine my surprise when at about age 9, I found out one of these families, my aunt, uncle and two cousins, were not actually related to us. CUE KIDDIE LB GASP. The one family I knew by heart, the one who spent summers by our pool, kids splashing each other and adults leaving us be (/drinking heavily, I’ve since learned), weren’t the same as my other aunts and uncles that we saw on Christmas?! “So they’re not our family?,” I remember asking Mama B after I found out, trying to sort through this weird new information about my favorite aunt and uncle. She laughed a little and let me rest my head against her side. “Of course they’re family,” she told me, stroking my hair. “They don’t have to be our blood to be our family.”

This week we said goodbye to a woman that inspired me with every breath she took, a damn good fighter until the very end. We watched her health move like a roller coaster for nearly a decade, the miracles that gave us years we never thought we’d have and the final valley where she chose, on her terms, to stay, surrounded by love and understanding. She spent her entire life surrounded by love; she was so loved by her doctors, her coworkers, her friends, the family she was so fortunate to have and the ones she chose. She was soft-spoken and poignant, poised and caring; she is and was and always will be family, she will always and forever be remembered and be loved and be missed.

Through a sea of black and tears last night, I found my cousin, someone with whom I’ve been so fortunate to share amazing memories since really reconnecting about four years ago: spontaneous happy hours, meeting his “new girlfriend,” going to their wedding, and everything in between. His sister, my other cousin, and I had hugged, and cried, and shared our favorite memories, while his dad, my uncle, kept a brave face for everyone, but my cousin and I just kind of stopped and held each other for a brief moment, and I told him “I’m so sorry” and he just hugged a little tighter. I grabbed his wife’s hand after that, the most recent, wonderful addition to our better-than-family, and told them both I promised to stop flaking (per ushe) and I would make sure we all did another city dinner soon. As I left them, we all looked each other in the eye, and with tears attached to good and sad memories, just said “Love you much.”

It’s a terrible lesson to learn, but knowing my aunt is at peace gives us hope and happiness for her. My heart breaks for my family, and what they’re going through, and it’s making me hold my siblings and my parents a little closer, these sad, cold nights. We’re all so fortunate to have and have had them in our lives for this long, and I will cherish the memories we’ve made and the ones to come forever. It’s a terrible lesson to learn indeed, losing someone you love, but it’s a reminder, and a big one, that family, and the ties that bond us, run so much deeper than blood.

Snow White in the Heights

“Heeey, white girl.”

Tuesday morning while walking to the subway for work, I was fumbling with my phone trying to find a good song on Spotify, when a man walked past and said that to me. I knew immediately that this was one of two things: one, he wanted to let me know I dropped something and/or my dress was tucked in my underwear (… which has NEVER happened before); or two: he was trying to hit on me. I checked my dress (totally fine), kept my eyes ahead and continued walking, and when he didn’t catch up to give me something I’d dropped, I knew it was a catcall.

Truth time: sometimes I don’t mind the catcall. Saying that out loud makes me sound anti-feminist and old-fashioned, I know, but there are instances where catcalls don’t bother me. It’s like men hitting on you in a bar. It’s not always welcome, and it’s not always well-done, but sometimes it’s enough to make you crack a smile and politely walk away, no harm, no foul. The best example is my relationship with the boys that hang out on my block. My ‘hood boys have been fascinated by me since day one, the only white girl on the entire block, and despite knowing my name, they frequently insist on calling me Snow White, like a nickname initiation to their circle.  My boys look out for me, always making sure that I’m okay and I’m safe, and they always, always hit on me. Always. Literally, every time they see me. “Yo Snow White, you wearin’ that dress I like today!” “Hey girl, you get prettier every time I see you.” “Ay rubia, como estas mami.”

The boys know me well enough now to know that I’m never going to accept a date, and I know them well enough to know they’ll never stop asking. Yet I also know that they respect me, they respect my distance, and they have and will do anything to help me if I need it. They’ve stayed with me in the rain outside while I wait for the super to show up and fix my still-broken door, and they’ve helped me get in the building when it’s 3 a.m. and I can’t find my keys. So when one of them calls out “Girl I’d watch you run in them leggings all day,” as I leave for a run, or “Let me carry that for you, angel,” while I juggle groceries and my laptop bag in heels, I generally give them a smile and keep on my way, amused but not offended.

It felt strange that the comment earlier this week irked me in a way most of the Heights calls don’t. I get that I’m the minority in my neighborhood, surrounded by a well-entrenched Dominican community that doesn’t necessarily invite the gentrification rapidly making its way around the Heights. I get that I’m not terrible to look at, and that, to an extent, harmless catcalls are a part of Latin culture. I mean, in just the past week, I’ve been called blanca, snowflake, rubia, sweetie, sexi, mami, and of course, Snow White. Somehow, though, the white girl comment got under my skin: it wasn’t the slightly-stunned reaction of boys who aren’t used to seeing a white girl walking down the street like she lives here (because she does). It wasn’t the mostly-harmless comment of someone who sees me all the time and knows they can joke around with me like that. It was a possessive catcall, the kind you read about in all the articles trying to explain why it’s not a compliment for strangers to shout “que cuerpa, linda!” while you clutch your purse to your side and keep your head down, walking just a little faster home.

I’ve been catcalled every which way, across multiple countries and in every New York neighborhood, and I have no allusions to it ever stopping. That’s not bragging about my appearance, or the way I carry myself, but just a fact because I’m a woman. It happens to all of us, despite your skin color, hair color, what you’re wearing or where you live. It can seem like a sucky and a sexist part of life, and many times it is. It colors the rest of your day, the way you view a neighborhood or a particular location; it’s scary when men follow you and wolf-whistle repeatedly until they have your attention. I acknowledge that, and I’ve experienced that. So though I may get backlash for this next thought, here it is anyway: As scary as it can be, and as much as it shouldn’t happen, in my personal experience, it’s not always intended to be that way, and knowing when to laugh it off versus when to heighten awareness of your surroundings is just another lucky lesson that I’ve had to learn in my adult life.

I walked home Tuesday night, guard up a little higher after the strange morning encounter, and passed my boys outside the building. “Snow White!,” one called out. “You look tired girl! Bad day?”

“Just a long day, glad to be home!” I called back, fishing my keys out of my purse.

They all chimed in, “We’re glad to have you home too, beautiful.” I found my keys, made it to the door and said I’d see them later, feeling secure that if a creep came around they’d look out for me. Despite one of the boys shouting as the door closed behind me “Wanna come home with me later?,” I felt safe in their presence. The words may be scary to some, but sometimes in my neighborhood, the scary words are the ones that let you know you belong, if even just a little.

Knock Knock

In the past, I’ve discussed my very broad criteria for an apartment in NYC: four walls, manageable vermin, working stove, hot water. This has screwed me in a few ways, namely that in the winter my shower rains dirt from the ceiling and my lives-in-the-building super refuses to work outside of 9-5, M-F and definitely no holidays. I love my apartment in Washington Heights, sized perfectly for one person and 6.5 pounds of evil in feline form, a kitchen with more cabinets and counter space than I know how to fill, and a gaggle of neighbors who will never stop asking me out but will also never stop looking out for me, the only white girl on the block. But it seems I can’t escape the always-comical-eventually series of events that befall me when I get too comfortable with the apartment maintenance status quo.

The most basic amenity I should have added to my list was a functional door/doorknob. You may think “but LB, that’s easy! The building is responsible for your doorknob and lock! It’s impossible to get locked inside your apartment!” And were we discussing this six months ago, I would have wholeheartedly agreed. But, as is the way of the Heights,  nothing is ever easy. Knock knock – who’s there? The door from fucking hell.

Here is why you shouldn’t neglect to add “working door” to your must-have list:

  • After a particularly long day followed by a very painful still-hungover-from-Sunday Funday run in January, my doorknob jammed and refused to move, effectively locking me out of my unlocked apartment. I called my super, whose phone was off (because of course), but eventually tracked him down so he could come up and inspect. He took one look, shook his head and said “Esta rota” (It’s broken) before turning to leave. PAUSE, PLEASE. After arguing that he did, in fact, need to do his job and find a way to let me into my apartment, he decides to mention he “only had a screwdriver” and didn’t have an extra doorknob/lock for me to use at that time. Awesome. He fiddled with a few screws, took out a piece that may or may not have been necessary, and then helpfully suggested that I only lock the bolt for the time being and he would fix the door eventually. Ugh. Fine.
  • Around 9:30am on a Tuesday in mid-February, I received a totally calm and collected call from my super asking if I was aware that my door was open. UH. NOPE. No I did not casually leave my door open before exiting for work that morning. I really didn’t care about my stuff (frankly I could use a new couch, if anyone wants to steal mine) (I mean what? Who said that?), but little miss is endlessly curious about the outside world, and for the entire panicked cab ride uptown, I was convinced she had escaped. To be perfectly honest I’m still not really sure how the door opened in the first place, but apparently it had something to do with the hack-job the super had done a month prior. Naturally, after confirming little miss was still in the apartment (she slept through her escape opportunity), my super turned and left, and promptly stopped answering my calls to fix the door. UGH. FINE. I managed to get the bolt closed, tested the lock a few times and all seemed fine, so I pushed the problem out of my mind, not needing the extra stress of a broken lock.
  • The final straw came about a month ago, on a rainy Friday night around 8:30. At this point, I was five months into only locking the bolt on the door, and had largely forgotten that I’d needed to call my super for exactly as long to fix the lock. While heading out to pick up food for a Chipotle/Netflix night with AZ, I noticed the door struggled to close a little bit. I had a premonition that it was going to jam again, but I was running late to meet him and I hadn’t been having problems with it in a few weeks, so I figured it would be okay. Lol. Nope. We got back to my place after trekking through the pouring rain to a door that was completely jammed. After repeated attempts to contact the super (whose phone was off, because of course), I was hangry, wet, tired and annoyed, so I caved and called a locksmith. 90 minutes and $300 later, the most he could do to help was remove the doorknob/lock completely and tell me to have a nice day.

There’s always going to be something frustrating, whether it’s the dirt that rains into the shower or living with a hole in your door for 10 days before the super finally decides to mozy on up and do his job. I’ve been locked both in and out of that apartment another three times since that last incident, at this point giving in to the absurdity by laughing loudly and taking photos to commemorate the latest fight against the door from hell.

They say everyone has a “terrible NYC apartment” story to tell, horror stories of vermin or mold or roommates whose least offensive crime is bringing home someone they met through World of Warcraft (Aside: that’s happened to me twice. End aside). I think I’m racking up enough information for a full novel in this place, the dirt-raining, door-breaking, neglectful-super world of Washington Heights. But then again, it’s a novel of the most amazing time in my life, the first time living alone and the crazy hijinks I’m in.

And hey, who knows. Maybe this will encourage me to finally perfect my movie heroine kicking-down-doors form.

An Anniversary

Eight people, one dog. 5 bottles of wine, 24 beers, two cheeses and an apple. A picnic in the park, Ralph Lauren tapestry, perfect spring afternoon, surrounded by budding flowers, bare trees and the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson, a quiet reminder that we were still in the city, despite the eerie calm and open space around us, the only ones on that lawn, soaking in the sun after such a long winter.

basically heaven

basically heaven

I decided to put aside the standard cry for PLDmaking activities this weekend and take the weekend to relax in my neighborhood, wandering between my apartment and 11 blocks down with my lovely friend M, our weekend routine of gym, then cleaning, then rewatching the most recent How I Met Your Mother. We did take a few hours on Saturday to round up the troops and put together a celebratory picnic in the park, an impromptu feast pulled from M’s fridge. Though never ones in need of an excuse to picnic and drink, we wanted a few minutes to enjoy our surroundings, toasting our plastic glasses of screw-top vino in celebration of my first year living alone in the Heights.

Anniversaries come and go, but the one I celebrated this weekend was especially noteworthy, seeing as I was never supposed to be in Washington Heights for more than a year. I could sit and list the wonderful characteristics about my neighborhood, like the music that swells from 11 a.m. on Saturday till 11 p.m. on Sunday, a constantly cheery soundtrack to a sunny, almost-spring weekend. Or Fort Tryon, the hidden gem uptown, all the beauty of Central Park with none of the crowds, a view of the GWB and the Cloisters instead of skyscrapers. Or even the wonderful pocket of restaurants on 181st, everything from pasta to paella, all made with love. I could list these and keep going: the people, the places, the culture, the crazy.

No, I think instead I’ll keep some of the memories from this weekend to myself, a personal reflection on the impact of choices and changes in just 365 days. And who knows if I’ll be celebrating again next year, or what I’ll be celebrating at this time next year. If it’s half as wonderful as a picnic in the park with the people (and dog) I love, that have held my hand, head and heart up any time I’ve asked and even when I haven’t, enveloped in the fuzzy warmth of Rioja in plastic cups, I’ll be completely satisfied.