i think i’ll take brooklyn

When I waited tables in Manhattan, the following exchange was common:

Customer (waving): Hi, hi, yeah, we’re ready to order.

Me: Okay, great. What can I get for you?

Customer: Mmmm, I think I want….

Me: …

Customer: What do I want?

Me: …

Customer: Wait, Bob. Bob? What did you get that time with the tomato and the arugula?

Me: Why don’t I give you another minute?

Customer: No, no, no, don’t go. We’re ready. Noooowww, what do I want?

While working at restaurants in Manhattan, I frequently heard things like:

Can you describe the eggs benedict?

I don’t know what I want to drink. Something strong?

What’s the burger like?

Can you turn down the music?

I’m a regular here.

Now that I’ve been working in Brooklyn for six months, I don’t hear stuff like that so much. To be fair, I’m working in a bar and restaurant that cater to a younger, much more local crowd. I don’t deal much with tourists or gallery owners, I wait on people my age heading to band practice, I pour beer for guys who tip too much and laugh at my jokes and have been wearing the same t-shirt for six months (I’m not being hyperbolic– I think one of my favorite regulars will get married and be buried in the same crusty ass Iron Maiden shirt).

It’s a relief. Sometimes when I worked, I felt like I was dealing with customers who were trying to have every lifelong need met during a single dining experience. Hand me this, I need more of that, where’s my, oh wait this isn’t, can you please, we need the, but you said this cost, doesn’t this come with spinach? I was a short stroll from the ding farm dealing with customers and their needs and wants and demands.

Now I don’t huff and puff as much as I work. There are the occasional rogues– some princes and princesses who sneak in and try to tell me they can only have grass-fed this or that, and I smile, offer them a Miller High Life, and keep walking. I don’t mind doing a job, I don’t mind supplying info or being accommodating, but life has been a little tricky for a while and when I approach a table and someone launches into a litany of no this and do you have that, I just want to say shut the fuck up and eat your burger like everyone else and if you have some desires that need tending to, put your energy into finding a therapist or do what I do and go home, listen to the Counting Crows Pandora station and cry into your pillow. Now do you want mayo with that or not?

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elsewhere

00808_fCqvcSBh5XI_600x450This house is renting for $1800 a month. It has four bedrooms and three bathrooms and lots of woods and trees and a whirlpool bath solarium. That’s $650 more than I was paying for a jelly jar-sized studio in Brooklyn with a leaky ceiling. And I know this place isn’t in the city, it’s in Connecticut, which, well, maybe everyone doesn’t want to live there. But it is a little seaside town with vineyards and I bet there are parades along Main Street for July 4 and a cute little library. But it might also be one of those insulated little places that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders, especially ones that look like me, and I might get the side eye a lot as I buy groceries and magazines and beer. And I would wave and smile at my neighbors and try to become a regular at the local watering hole, but I might just get a chilly head nod back, which isn’t totally atypical for Connecticut, or New England in general, but I would be uncomfortable and start to hate leaving the house. And I would hole up that large colonial, albeit one with four bedrooms, but all that room wouldn’t be a comfort, it would give me more space to be paranoid and imagine that the sheriff and a gaggle of townsfolk will march to my door and throw a brick through the solarium window and shatter my dreams and hopes of a life with space outside of the city, far from the subway. Okay, maybe teeny, tiny, dumpy Brooklyn studios aren’t so bad. Not a ton of physical space, but maybe there’s more room for other stuff.

crazy annie

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Last week I went up to visit my friend Emily on her family farm. Ryder Farm is a 126-acre spread in Brewster, New York, and I think the whole place has been bathed in that perfect golden light that doesn’t usually show up until sunset. It’s a beautiful farm near a lake. There are wild turkeys and stacks of hay. The main farmhouse made me think of all the Little House on the Prairie Books I read as a child, and I found myself yearning for a bonnet and wondering if Papa had smoked the hog yet.

Emily’s farm reminded me of camp. I spent ten summers at a sleepaway camp in Sussex County, New Jersey, and I can’t go to any woodsy area without thinking of Fairview Lake YMCA. It’s the way gravel sounds underfoot, how a dock bobs on the lake, how morning smells when you’re out of the city. Emily gave me a tour of the grounds and we passed a shed with “Keep Out” etched into its door. It made me think of horror movies and ghost stories. I asked Emily if Ryder Farm had a scary monster who lurched around at night, ready to eat babies and children. Sadly there are no tales of death and mayhem at Ryder Farm, but that warning to keep out made me think of Crazy Annie, and I’m 33 and pretty far from both my youth and my camp, but don’t you know my skin started to tingle and my chest got a little tight and I smiled at Emily but it was a forced, pressed kind of grimace, and I hope my hand wasn’t shaking as I suggested we keep moving and see the rest of the site.

I think most summer camps have a ghost story. If these camps are anything like Fairview, there will be an end of summer campfire around which the tale is spun. An older counselor or perhaps the camp director will relay, in bowel-loosening detail, the story of an old ghoul who haunts the grounds and kills the kids. For us, the resident psycho wildling was Crazy Annie– a jilted lover, a scorned kitchen cook who catches her sister kissing the man she loves, and while in a rage, while she’s reaching for a butcher knife to gut the treacherous pair, she bumps into a meat grinder, grinds up one of her hands (I think it’s the right one, but my lingering fear has made many specifics hazy), and runs off screaming into the woods, sans one hand, leaving a trail of blood and heartache behind her. And so the story goes: Annie’s sister and former lover are ripped up by a howling Annie, who now has a hook instead of a hand. And then dismembered campers start turning up in the bug juice, and counselors go missing, and limbs are hacked off, and if you hear a scratching on your cabin window screen at night, that’s probably Annie out there letting you know your ticket’s about to be called, and if you find bloody daisies on your pillow, that’s definitely it for you, the jig is up, start your goodbyes now.

The story is beautiful and ludicrous at the same time, and you could drive a Toyota Corolla through some of its holes (“How,” I would counter, “could Annie run into the woods and put a hook on her hand and not bleed to death or get an infection?”). But any attempt to graft meaning or logic onto the story was, in my mind, purely a defense mechanism; a way for my terrified, young imagination to protect me against the thought that someone out there would chop me up, would slit my belly and laugh as I held my intestines in my hands, somebody would do me harm for no reason other than my sheer existence, my vitality made me a target, and that scared me to death. I heard the Crazy Annie story my first summer, as a camper at ten years old. By the time I reached my last summer at camp, as a counselor at twenty years old, I still couldn’t walk around Fairview at night by myself. If a branch creaked, if a rock tumbled, I knew it was that crazy, murdering bitch coming for me, and I just didn’t have the stamina to face her on my own. Even now, even now– thirteen years since I’ve been at Fairview Lake, twenty-three years since I first heard the story– if I’m in the woods at night and some unexplained noise creeps out from the trees, my insides start roiling and my throat is in a knot. And it’s not because I think it’s a bear or an actual psychopath who might want to do me harm. It’s because I know that it’s my biggest fear from my youngest days coming to finish a job she tried to start long ago.

gulp

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Oh drats. I read this Wait But Why article reposted on Huffington Post and the checklist began.

  • Do I belong to Gen Y yuppie culture? Check!
  • Do I feel unhappy and constantly plagued by a vague feeling of sorrow and loss? Check!
  • Do I believe that I’m special and unique and the only reason for aforementioned unhappiness is that the rest of the world has yet to catch on? Check!
  • Do I have expectations that don’t correlate with reality, ones that make me feel chronically dissatisfied? Check!
  • Do I look at other people’s lives (on Facebook, Instagram, in the check out line at Trader Joe’s) and think they’re better off and prettier and smarter  and richer and having better sex and are all around better people than I am? Check!
  • Will coming face to face with said arrogance, entitlement, “special” thinking make me feel lousy and even more understood and cause me to find solace in True Blood reruns, further perpetuating my feelings of being cheated out of what’s owed me? Check!

how to have fun

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  • Quit the job you hate. You’ll be worried about money, but quit anyway. You’ll spend so much money and time on your misery that even though quitting makes you panicked, it might make more fiscal sense in the long run.
  • Say yes to cat sitting for your friends in their lovely new Park Slope apartment, wait, no, it’s really more like a house. It has a back patio, ceiling fans in every room, a washer and dryer, an ice machine in the fridge, and a lower level that has that wonderful smell of “house” as opposed to “apartment.”
  • Meet your friends for a drink at a new bar in Gowanus and get relieved when they tell you that they are planning to stay in New York. They aren’t like so many other folks (you included) who fear that the hamster wheel of big city living will make it too hard to raise kids and not go bonzo coco loco.
  • Take advantage of your free phone upgrade. Stop using your 4 year old phone that takes fuzzy pictures and get that new one with emoticons and a better lens. Get excited for the texts full of little drumsticks and smiley faces that you will send. Don’t transfer over any contacts or pictures, because then it will feel like your old phone. Add a few of the important numbers and then play a little guessing game with yourself and friends when you see numbers you don’t recognize on the screen.
  • Crack open a blood orange Mike’s Hard Lemonade right before bed. Drink while finishing your book and leave the empty bottle on the kitchen counter to remind you how good life can get in those in between moments.
  • Listen to the “Girl from the Ipanema” Pandora station. Enjoy how its easy listening vibe makes you feel like you’re sitting in an airport lounge.
  • Don’t feel like a mooch when your friends and family offer to treat you to things. Generosity is the name of this game, and everyone in your life has opened up their hearts, homes, and wallets to you since being back. Say yes and don’t ever forget the trip to Montauk, brunch at Northeast Kingdom, lunch at Cafe Henri, Sleep No More, frozen cosmos and Schiavone at the U.S.Open, late lunch at the Olive Garden, mojitos at Native, and lobsters in New Jersey.
  • Take an impromptu trip to the beach with your cousin and aunts. Snap pictures like the one above. Eat fried clams and look at Instagram all day and laugh at your belly pooching over your bikini bottom. Have chowder for dinner and then spend the night at your cousin’s. Laze on the sofa, get cozy in her air conditioned bed, rub your feet together under the sheets. As you fall asleep, try to remember your favorite parts of the day, the week, the month, this year, this lucky life you have, these people you love and need, these little pockets of home and fun you’ve created. Get ready to do it all again in the morning.

wahoo!

Up until last Sunday, I’d been feeling a little bumsky. I was hating my job, sleeping a lot, and eating nothing but candy and egg and cheese sandwiches. Then I quit my job, and my aunt and cousins treated me to a weekend in Montauk, and Leah and Amber took me to the U.S. Open, and I went wedding dress shopping with my sisters and my mom, and I spent a lovely day at Island Beach, and I met up with Carly and Erik and we laughed like loons about baby names, and I went to see a free play, and I stopped dreading evenings because I don’t have to go to work, and yes, I’m about nineteen steps away from the welfare office, but I’m smiling and happy and saying yes to everything and having lots of fun. Bumsky no mas.

my snooze button is my best friend

Last Saturday I caught myself doing something I don’t usually do: I woke up without a plan and let the day roll along without making one. Ordinarily I’m one of those people who’s manic about scheduling something for each hour of every day (and I get so defensive when people tell me my life is overplanned– I’m like “I know, damn it! But I gave myself sixteen nanoseconds on Wednesday to do nothing, so there’s that! Dick!”), which probably began when I was a lot more busy with work and taking classes and still trying to have a social life. But now I just find myself wanting to plan things all the time because there’s this gnarly, woolly, black cloud of anxiety that starts creeping across my sky when I have nothing but days and time ahead of me.

When did that happen? When did free time become so daunting? I swear I can remember moments when stretches of nothing to do felt fun and full of possibility (wasn’t college good for that? You’d start the day promising to yourself and good God in heaven that you would study for that biology exam and you even cracked open the books and unwrapped the index cards, but before you knew it, you were napping on your friend’s brown couch and then you were sharing meatball subs down by the lake and the day ended at an impromptu party of someone from your freshman dorm and you’d been wearing the same sweats all day, and you gave your number to that hottie hot body from your Hemingway class and you’d started laughing and you didn’t stop until you get home and saw the open textbook on your desk, but you didn’t really give a shit and you’d fallen asleep on the futon but before passing out you felt a piece of mozzarella stuck to your tooth and you prayed that it wasn’t prominently displayed when you gave that guy your number– and none of that, none at all, would’ve happened if you’d tried to plan it), but now I just get scared that free time means me time which means thinking about my life time which means shit, what haven’t I accomplished time which means nap time drowsy time I have to sleep time because it’s too hard to ponder time.

And man oh man, holy mama mia, have I been sleeping a lot. I don’t think I can blame it on my rigorous work schedule (seven-eight hour shifts, four days a week), and I think I’ve been home too long to chalk it up to jet lag. Since getting back to New York, I’ve been turning any free moment into an opportunity for delicious snoozing. I sleep at least nine hours at night, I get on the subway and sleep through my commute, and then after eating something heavy and carby, I have a beer, eat a cookie, smack my lips and say “Nap time!”  Usually I never have to set alarms– I’m ordinarily a morning person and can wake myself up pretty early– but jeezum, don’t you know last week I overslept and woke up thirteen minutes before I was supposed to be at an audition in midtown?

So somewhere in all of this, I’ve turned downtime into anxioustime into sleepytime, which stops feeling good and restorative after the third nap of the day. I’m not really letting myself have free time. I miss relaxing. I miss having fun. I miss not paying attention to my minutes the way old people pay attention to their vegetable intake or stool outtake. I recently stopped taking an acting class, and when I talked to the teacher about it, he told me that I have an “anxiety of wants.” I’m not sure what I really want or I won’t let myself own it, so I get spinny and start bouncing from one thing to another and can’t really connect with what gives me pleasure. And that tendency feels most glaring when I start thinking about how I’d like to spend my time.

I caught up with an old friend. She lives in a beach town even though she teaches in Brooklyn. She made that move just because she wants to be near the ocean. Spending time with her is a whirl of beach chair sitting, sunscreen lathering, Budweiser in koozie-covered cans drinking, fried clam eating, and Malibu rum sipping. When I’m with her, we let one thing lead to the next lead to the next lead to the next. And it’s always kind of been that way. The fun is amplified by the summerness of it all, but even when we were living in Vermont, far from bikinis, we let open days mean good days.

So my one goal right now is let what I want dictate how I spend my time. Instead of thinking I need to figure it all out beforehand, and even if I’m in the middle of work or stuck next to someone’s camel toe on the subway, how can I do that thing where you’re like “Hmmm, what to do next? I wonder, I wonder?”