Congratulations, it's a Corolla!

The business manager at the dealership can't stop screaming "Congratulations!" and shaking my hand. He must have said it three times during our seven minute meeting yesterday and today as we walk into the showroom, he attacks us again.

"Congratulations! This is fantastic!"

"Thanks! Oh thank you so much!" I try to match his level of enthusiasm, though mine is tinged with "ohhh I'm so much pooooorer" and his rings out with the sound of "cha-CHING!"

Now we are on opposite sides of his desk and he's whisking away paper after paper after I scrawl my signature across the pink Xs he's drawn in. Moments away from being allowed to take it home, the employees are preparing for the car's departure. They are making it look its best, giving it a big send-off.

Yesterday I'd asked about the car's old family; all I was told was that it had been brought in less than two weeks ago and that it had been well-taken care of. I start feeling like Brangelina, swooping in to save a perfectly good car and give it a good home.

The dealer hands me the keys and goes through the many details of how things work. "You see, here are the wipers. Pull it down for faster intervals- No, no, not that far down- yes, that's it." As if I've never driven a car before. As if I'm a new mother unsure how to change a diaper. But I appreciate his fatherly attention to detail (and know that if he hadn't shown me, I'd have been caught in a hurricane on the way home and been frantically clawing around near the blinkers for wiping relief).

The only thing foreign to me is the CD player; it has been installed separately. What kind of person buys these stereo things? I don't have much to go on, but I'm dying to know about this car's past life. Not because I want to make judgements about how often they got oil changes, but because I want to know who was literally sitting in my seat for the past eight years.

Then I spot the pre-programmed radio buttons. Jackpot.

Number one is NPR. Previous owner was educated, I assume.

Number two is contemporary music but a slightly offbeat channel for the area. Number three is the traffic station. Hip, but responsible, I think. Maybe slightly boring.

Number four is a station ENTIRELY IN SPANISH???

The only thing better than giving a new home to an old car is giving a home to one with linguistic capabilities. A Hispanic Toyota. Now THAT'S international.


Tappen Zee Traffic Foils Guster Fan's Evening

Right now I should be at the Guster concert with my brother in Philly but because some schmucks decided to wreak traffic havoc on the Tappen Zee Bridge this afternoon, I wasn't able to get there. It took me four hours to go about 20 miles and in the end I was forced to turn back, spitting curses in French, English and Angry New Yorker. Steve keeps calling every so often, holding his phone up towards the stage, and though the quality makes it sound as if the concert is being held underwater and the members of Guster are recent stroke victims, I can just about make out "the Captain" or "the Airport". If he calls back and they're playing "Either Way," I may shoot myself out of self-pity.

Guster was one of the first bands I interviewed in college for our fine publication, The Muhlenberg Advocate. Here's the interview we did with Brian (the CRAZY drummer) in case anyone's interested. The Guster concert at Muhlenberg is also the place where I met the lovely Leigh; we both waited in the front row all the way up against the stage barrier for hours beforehand, just so we could be near the flying beads of Guster sweat. Our friendship grew from their perspiration; now that there's some roots.


The 181 things you should have known yesterday...

Today at work we decided to go out and buy salads because no one brought anything and I was tired of eating leftover funeral food. When we got back to the lunchroom, we found a couple of magazines lying around and, upon spotting the Newsweek headline "The 181 things you need to know NOW", we decided to take the 17-question quiz to see if we're really as smart as we think we are.

Turns out, we aren't.

This is another version of the quiz and I urge you to try some of these questions out and then tell me how stupid you feel in the comments section because we scored 5/17. AS A TEAM.

After you struggle through questions about how many Asians are going to rule the planet in 20 years and Russian gas lines, then cruise over to CNN to read a ridiculous story about a cat that predicts death. Just another good comparison of the kinds of interesting stories you read in Newsweek and the sludge (yet factually fun!) you get on CNN.


The most unproductive yet irresistible words in human history:

"Up next, another episode in tonight's America's Top Model marathon."


The Summer of Instability

I haven't been myself in a while.

On Friday, I was "great-granddaughter," who attended her father's Nana's funeral. Thursday night I was "dutiful daughter who raced with her mother to her dying Nana's bedside and missed her by 45 minutes." And so this morning I was "granddaughter," who attended her Nana's funeral. Sometimes this morning I was "Susie's daughter sobbing" and other times I was "Steve's sister holding him while he sobbed." And twice this weekend I was "daughter watching with her heart in her throat while her parents gave heartfelt eulogies."

We are a tired family. And I have not escaped the fatigue.

The deaths in our family are only part of this. Another part of this is that I have decided to leave Paris, my place in this world, and I am moving back to New York. I have accepted a job here, one that allows me to use my French and my writing. I am thrilled about the job and about moving to the city. Sometimes I daydream about all of the places I want to explore here, the cinemas I want to get to know, the bookstores I want to peruse. Driving to work lately has given me ample time to imagine my life again as a New Yorker, but this time even more real than ever because I will live IN the magic. Maybe neighborhoody Brooklyn or maybe sleek Manhattan; either way it feels like an achievement to even be allowed to live within its limits.

But leaving Paris is like looking a soulmate in the eyes and walking away. I have a hard time with these kinds of things. I do not like closing doors on options and I definitely don't like closing doors on places or people that make me feel like the best version of myself. But career-wise, France is not the kind of place I want it to be.

Coming to this decision has felt like moving to the next step in my life, a step when I actually have a Career and I can foresee a path towards brighter and wonderful challenges. But my soul has taken a bit of a beating in the process and sometimes when I'm in the weight room at the gym I get teary-eyed about not being able to walk around St. Michel at night and watch the fire-throwers. Just thinking about not having the option of walking over a bridge whenever I'd like makes my throat tighten up. Not to mention leaving an entire continent of friends. These are the types of decisions that make you grow up fast, that prove that you are in control of the life you choose to lead, that present you with two very possible paths. The heaviness comes in making the choice.

I stayed with my Mom this weekend to help her start cleaning out Nana's house. With every photo and every object, the truth stared me in the face: here lies a life. Here lies evidence of a person's choices, a person's accomplishments and failures. Here is what remains. It was beautiful and overwhelming and I guess I'm still trying to work my way towards some comprehension of all of this, the options we choose and the directions towards which we end up headed.

It's an amazing thing.


Black and White and Brooklyn

How to lose a girl in 10 words and other NY dating adventures

We went out to a fancy bar for Sarah Mclo's birthday on Saturday, the kind of place where Cosmos cost $14 and groups tend to stay in cliques. Never one to shy away from a challenging social atmosphere (and armed with Bec's pen and old CVS receipts), it was decided that I would approach random guys and ask them to write down a favorite quote. THIS was a brilliant idea because it convinced us that well-read men exist in 2007. And then immediately afterwards, it proved that illiterate men walk among us everyday in extraordinary numbers.

Without further ado, here are the quotes that were collected at the Cabana Bar in the Maritime Hotel on Saturday night:

"Adversity is no excuse, it's merely an obstacle we must overcome in order to achieve our goal." -T.S. Elliot

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Gandhi

"We do not weave the web of life, we're merely a strand in it. What we do to the web we do to ourselves." -Chief Seattle

"Love your neighbor like yourself." -Jesus Christ (we all agreed that it wasn't JC, but Moses who said this. But because the boy that wrote this one spoke with a British accent, we decided to let it slide.)

"No such thing as too aggressive." (And then, as if to prove a point, he wrote his phone number.)

"Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." -Vince Lombardi (At first I couldn't read his handwriting and thought he wrote "Writing" and thought I found my soulmate. And then someone told me Vince Lombardi is a sports figure and I rethought the soulmate idea.)

"I get money." ('Nuf said.)

"Word." "Quit it." "Buzzy like a fridge." (And these were from a couple of doctors from Columbia Presbyterian too.)

"You are pretty good looking. -someone to me" (Just when you thought egos couldn't get bigger...)

And finally, drum roll please, for the biggest idiot in the room:

"Peaples changes."

I wish I was kidding about the spelling. Or the verb conjugation.


Moral support at the Yorktown Panera

"Dude, I hope I never see my ex-girlfriend again."
"Yeah, me too."
"I really hated her."
"So did everybody."


How much do you all wish you had one of these in your office?

So as many of you know, I'm spending the summer working back at my old job and it wasn't until this morning when the glory that is MATTHEW finally came back from vacation. Some of you may remember Matthew from the dapper picture I posted a few months ago on this very blog. Here is another one:

My favorite part of this one is that it looks like he's keeping his head propped up with a bottle of red. That's pretty on-par for Matthew anyway, so nothing strange here.

So when I come in the office this morning, he jumps up and attacks me with a gigantic hug, in the midst of which we both exclaim "OH, YOU SMELL SO GOOD!"

The source of mine? Burberry Summer. His? Laundry Detergent.


Cheatin' like a Moulin Rouge floozy...

So I'm walking uptown to Grand Central from Union Square on Sunday afternoon and I pass through a couple of parks. In these parks are grassy areas and on these grassy areas are blankets and on these blankets are people. People reading and people having ice cream and people taking naps. "Hey!" I thought. "What are all you Parisians doing here??"

But of course, those people are not Parisians, they are New Yorkers. This proves the point that maybe Paris doesn't have the only well-read, ice-cream-loving, sleepy people in the world.
A few blocks later, I come across this (see above photo) and have the same feeling that I get when I spot the Eiffel Tower from across town, and I immediately feel like some kind of city-loving-and-leaving prostitute. I haven't even been out of Paris two weeks and I'm already cheating! Already falling for another city! Doesn't commitment mean anything to me?

Apparently not because here are some other images from this weekend when I fell hard for New York:


Looking forward and back, and so present

I throw the corn cob high into the canopy of Columbo; the memory of our name for this part of our yard always makes me smile. Three American kids growing up surrounded by woods on three sides of our house; we tagged the left hand side Columbo to celebrate the adventure of discovering tiny streams and places for secret forts when it snowed. We no longer play in these woods, but our former pets are buried there and we use a part of it for compost. That's where I am now, shucking the corn Dad bought for dinner. This has always been part of the kids' chores; we would walk back to the house, balancing the pot of corn on our heads, like the images of African women we saw in books or on the TV. Now Katie lives in a village with those women.

My Nana is dying. She's stopped eating, her temperature has dropped. Everything I do, every action I take stands out in stark opposition to her. I am hot, lying on the floor to keep out of the 95 degree heat wave. She is getting colder. I toss a few peanuts into my mouth on my way through the kitchen; she hasn't eaten in six days. I am living, shucking corn, remembering; she is dying, fighting with nurses, not remembering anything or anyone.

Last week I borrowed a documentary, Our Century, from the library. It goes through the decades from 1900 to 2000, exposing the America that existed in the past. Nana lived through most of that, I think, while watching it. The world today is nothing like it was in 1915. I am almost glad for her inability to comprehend the world around her, a result of her Alzheimer's. The America she knew is not the America that lives and grows today.

I debate going down to see her one last time. To say goodbye to someone who has already been gone for years. To add another Nana memory to the reel, a final one. To stand next to someone so close to the unknown, to be hit with the reality that she is going somewhere I can't know. It's a trip I'm not sure I want to take.



For anyone interested in love and life and the way music brings people together, you need to check out Once, an Irish film starring the lead singer of The Frames. It's a modern-day musical (but I even hesitate to call it that, for fear you'll imagine singing and dancing awkwardly thrown in). It's a story about two people who should give love a shot and the moments that you spend with someone when accidental hand-brushing is intentional on all sides.

Also, listening to the soundtrack post-film is even more powerful than the film itself. The songs were written by both lead actors and if you've ever heard a Frames song in your life, you'll identify Glen Hansard's voice in a second. He is wistful and poetic in his lyrics; the melodies are simple and speak for the characters' feelings when they (for various reasons) cannot.

So head out and see this, fall in love with a red-bearded Irish guitar-player and long to be a Czech immigrant in a love-less marriage. Seriously. It's good stuff.


In the zone with tic tacs and strawberries

So I joined the gym. I figured that, while I'm not inputting email addresses in a database (warning: summer job!), I should get back in shape so that I can ruin it all again with bagettes and cheese starting in September. It's like an annual diet; spend two months eating fruit and doing pilates, followed by 10 eating lard and cholesterol.

I went to my favorite class tonight, "Pilates with a ball!" in which you do all kinds of crazy stretches and ab workouts involving one of those big rubber balls that turn 45-year old suburban moms into kids. Small pleasures, people, we're in suburbia. The best thing about our teacher is that she doesn't just tell you "keep your legs together!" or "hold your stomach in!" She seems to specialize in AMAZING metaphors that really make you go the extra pilates mile.


At one point, we had to keep our legs glued together while we were working our abs and she told us to pretend we were holding tic tacs between our thighs and we couldn't drop them.

I KNOW. How motivating is that image? Ok, here's another one:

We're on our stomachs and she wants us to pull our bellybutton up towards our spine, which is the classic pilates ab move, and she tells us to imagine that there's a strawberry under our bellies and we can't crush it or bruise it.

PURE GENIUS! It is fan-freaking-tastic that the pilates instructor has not only managed to do the moves while wearing a microphone, plus teach the moves to 12 people at once, plus find good music that is just zen-enough but doesn't cross over into African plains medleys, and yet still has the drive to think up these metaphors. I mean, really. This woman is the American dream.


I hope we're not doing THAT again

My Mom and I decided to clean out the cabinet below the bathroom sink a few nights ago. It had become a graveyard for bath products. Among the old, crusty bottles were hotel shampoos from the '80s, innumerable bath and shower gels that we'd received for Xmas from the families we babysat for, and Steve's collection of mega-hold L.A. Looks hair gel from 6th grade. There was quite a bit of the old gel left, despite what you might think when you see pictures of him from that year. You could have used him as a portable cork board, so pin-like were his spikes.

In any event, as I was washing out the bottles this morning, I had a nice trip down memory lane. I remembered a family vacation as I rinsed the dregs out of a Block Island authentic shampoo bottle. The numerous bottles from Garden Botanica, a bath store that left the JV Mall in about 1997, reminded me of the self-perfume station where you could mix your own scent. Katie and I would wander around that store, clutching our babysitting money, wondering which scent we would splurge on next. Thinking back on it, I suppose we were victims of marketing and the ploys of the ad campaigns in suburban malls, but I remember associating the purchase of mango gel with a rite of passage, a step towards woman-hood, and rarely did the prospect of cleanliness from such mango gel cross my mind.

We became women in baby steps, first through shower gel and crimping irons, and then through mascara and eyelash-curling weapons. Katie was always braver about trying something new; I remember her using Nair for the first time while sitting on the edge of the tub in the bathroom the three of us shared. "What's it like?" I asked. "BURNS," she squealed.

As I was rinsing the final evidence of our transition from adolescent kids to normal, functioning members of society (albeit on good days), my Dad paused by the sink to fill up a water bottle for his bike ride. "Look at all this stuff," he said. "I hope we're not doing THAT again." Because when he sees a bunch of bottles of bubble bath so old that the lilacs on the label have turned yellow, he bemoans the idiocy that was the women in his family for spending so much money.

Maybe it takes a female to know one, maybe it takes a couple of fallopian tubes to understand the significance of the history of one's below-the-sink cabinet. I agree with him; I hope we're not doing THAT again either, but not because it was a waste of money the first time around. I hope we're not doing THAT again because we already did it once, we grew up, we became women, and I think we all can all agree that going through that once was enough.


Paris Newsletter: Month Ten

Dear Paris,

Surprise! I'm in New York! Apologies for not posting a final send-off, but I came home just in time to surprise Katherine at her engagement party on Saturday. I was too busy guzzling caffeine to take many pictures, but here is one of me and Goldrick, in which we both look naked. This must have been taken post-streaking and pre-hot tub, vital parts of the engagement festivities.

June was a guest-filled month and the old apartment certainly earned its rent during its last four weeks. I was able to host all four members of Goldfest and the Sunshine Band '07, and rather comfortably at that. Other than Mclo, who spent a couple nights in a sleeping bag on the floor and commented that she slept well, but felt a little like her lungs had been crushed. To which we responded that a couple of crushed lungs was surely a small price to pay for free lodging 10 minutes from the Arc de Triomphe.

I saw more of Paris as a tourist during June than I had all year and I spent some incredible moments with the girls in the gardens of the Rodin museum and on boat rides on the Seine. We also hit up the Fete de la Musique, which I can't write about without feeling a huge sense of disappointment because on the one night where free music is everywhere in Paris, we didn't see any. Not one guy with a guitar. Not even an accordion in the metro. I took some advice from some real Frenchies, who suggested avoiding the touristy areas and looking back, I think that was a bad move, that those areas were precisely where we should have gone. Note for those in Paris on June 21, 2008: HEAD FOR ST. MICHEL. OR BASTILLE.

Anne came over from her new job in London, where the exchange rate makes sandwiches cost $15 and you could buy a small island in St. Barths for the amount you spend on rent. It was so good to have an inter-continental trip with them that I am thinking of suggesting an annual pilgrimage to anywhere that allows you to drink wine on bridges and cheese consumption surpasses all other food groups by a factor of 5. Speaking of cheese, I will now refer to Goldrick as "Le Goldrick", as she has shown her allegiance to the country by becoming its most valuable tourist... in fact, stats show that 86% of 2006-07 tourism was generated by le Goldrick and her love of Raclette. It's true, I swear! Here she is proving it:

So now I'm back in the Y-town, trying to get used to American accents and Oreos. It is nice to be home among Mom's flowers on the deck and a little brother who vacillates between acting like he's 15 and 35. This is someone who operates a complicated computer program researching something caterpillars and walnut trees one minute, and has a personal photo-shoot the next. He's an ego and a half.

This morning I went to the eye doctor to have my eyeballs classified in the new category of "SORT OF CAN'T SEE MUCH ANYMORE, BE IT NEAR OR FAR." First they took some blinding pictures of my eyes and then did a glaucoma test, a procedure in which someone blasts air at you after a loud click and for half a second you sort of believe that someone just shot you through the eye and you wonder why you are paying for this eye-trauma. Diagnosis: too much reading and computer work creates eye-strain (ahem... Proust, anyone??) and so now I've been outfitted with these:

It is strange to be back in America; as usual, things seem bigger and portions are out of control. But everything is so cheap that I can't handle it, even the price of chai tea lattes make me tear up with joy and when I bought a pair of wedges this morning at Gap priced at $8.97, I almost got an American flag tattooed on my forehead.
I was feeling a little grumpy landing on Friday night because I didn't want to think about the pace and the attitudes that awaited me in New York. But as we touched down, the NY skyline was backlit by a pink sunset; I could see the Empire State Building standing taller than the rest and a feeling swept over me, the never-imitated, un-duplicated feeling of being home.