Lessons from the hellcats

They clump together in small groups near the angel statue in the park. They scream "You fucking bitch!" and "You're such a whore!" and "Your mother is such an asshole" at each other. They lean and slouch in skinny jeans and boots and short jackets lined with fake fur.

These are the girls of Greenpoint, the teenage Polish hellcats.

The other day three of them were in my subway car in the morning. The thinnest one, so slight she was almost breakable, cursed and sang loudly. She swung on the pole and giggled to herself. Older Polish women clicked their tongues and shook their heads. Was she drunk? High? I think she was just young.

I was never this kind of young, this rebellion-filled, abrasive young. I never felt the need to call my friends bitches and insult their clothes. I wasn't angry in these same ways and although I had my own struggles, they happened internally. Then again, I didn't grow up in a city where homeless men defecate on the subway and green spaces are fenced in to keep out drug dealers. I didn't develop defenses like these girls; there was no need for them back then.


Last night at Kmart, a family of five waited behind me on line. The father kept pushing himself against me in a weird and socially-awkward way.

"Do you have a dog and a cat?" he asked as the cashier scanned cat toys and a dog bone (a gift for the hosts of a party I'm going to this weekend).

"Um, no, just a cat," I said. The cashier and I locked eyes.

"What's his name?" he asked.

"Uh... Felix," I said, as if Oscar needed protecting.

"Ours is Church."

"Your cat's name is Church?"

"Yeah, what do you think about that?"

I think that's effing crazy, I think to myself, but avoid replying as I sign the receipt and shove the goods for my menagerie in the bag. I thank the cashier and start heading towards the door; he calls out "I hope you and Felix have a safe weekend."

For a few moments, I am sufficiently creeped out. Did he see my name when I signed? What would I do if he followed me? As I wait for the 6 train, I wonder if he would have spoken to one of the Greenpoint girls like this and I imagine what her response would have been.

None of your whore mother's fucking business comes to mind. I silently vow to act like a Polish teenage girl if I'm ever attacked, to scream and curse and bring unexpected wrath upon whoever who wants to hurt me.

We all grow defenses, even if some of us are later than others.


SOMEONE likes it when I work from home.

And by likes it, I mean crawls in between me and the keyboard and insists on farting in my face.


Full night of sleep: check.

My body is conditioned. Every morning, 5:35am, I'm awake. If I don't think about it for too long (or if Oscar doesn't notice my stirring), I can fall back for another hour until the alarm. But oftentimes a thought loges itself in the doorway back towards sleep and I end up lying there for a while trying to forget the emails I have to send the next day or the shopping lists I need to make. Oscar takes advantage of this and tries to persuade me that it's breakfast time. This morning he sat on my chest for a while and purred.

Usually I hold strong and refuse to feed him until I'm in the shower, my thinking being that I want him to be able to go the whole day without food while I'm gone. But some mornings (like this morning), I wearily concede and drag myself to the kitchen to fill his bowl with Supreme Supper or Mariner's Catch. It works; I fell back asleep and he left me alone for another 5 hours before the burning sunlight from the living room windows finally did me in.

And now I can do the dishes and clean the apartment while podcasts play on in the background. It is my favorite part of the week, these lazy Saturday mornings when I negate the hurricane effects of the past five workdays.

Happy Valentine's Day, guys. I know, I know, it's commercial and crappy, but it reminds me of filling out tiny cartoon cards for my entire class and choosing the best ones for the cutest boys. It also reminds me of pouring over a brown lunch bag for the next few days, analyzing handwriting and counting who added self-drawn hearts after my name. Oh, the ridiculous ways we monitor love around us!

Enjoy the love today and may your homemade dinners not burn and be embarrassing flops in front of the one you like to kiss. (Note to self! Ha!)



I visited my parents yesterday, something I haven't had time to do in over a month. When I got home, we ate lunch together and chatted for a few hours about everything that had happened in our lives over the past four weeks. At one point, my Dad said "yeah, what's with the blog? We don't know what's going on with you... except for new pictures of SNOW."

It is my most frequent critique made by friends and family: I'm not fantastic about keeping in touch. And by not fantastic, I mean that long-distance friendship (or family-ship, as the case may be) is very much subject to the whims of my personality. It is not unheard of for me to go six months without so much as texting someone who lives 10 minutes from me, and then dump a 5-page email to them. I'm just not good at communicating for the sake of checking in; I do best when I genuinely feel compelled to write.

This blog is no different. As my job becomes more and more of a social nature, I find myself coming home and wanting to be quiet for an hour or two before collapsing into bed. I compose blog posts or emails in my head while I'm in the subway, but of course I am far from a keyboard and the effort gets lost by the time I make it to one. I suppose I should invest in an iPhone or something so that I can constantly be writing the emails I have in my head, but I also feel protective of my private time and, so far, I prefer a life that includes moments when I'm not connected to the world.

Tonight, post-bath, I sat on my kitchen floor with Oscar and listened to the first part of the Valentine's Day '08 podcast from This American Life. I originally heard this particular show a few weeks after V-Day last year and I was moved to tears by Richard Bausch's reading of "Letter to the Lady of the House." I had it on my iPod for a few months and listened to that reading almost every morning on the train ride to work. His voice is so soothing and I am always 100% absorbed in the content of the letter. In it, a 70-year old man writes a breathtaking letter to his wife one evening after she's gone to sleep angry.

What I like best about this letter is the way that he drops all manners of passive-aggressive bullshit, the junk food of relationships, and really tells her what he's thinking. Some of it is difficult to hear, but the overall effect is one of strength and respect. One of my fatal flaws in relationships up until this point has been characterized by an expectation that another person can and should know exactly what I need all the time. It takes the romance out of it when you have to say things like "YOU PISSED ME OFF BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T HELP ME CLEAN THE BATHROOM." It is far easier to sulk, to wait for the other person to apologize, even if it takes a week.

But of course, you can't deem junk a main food group forever. At some point, you start eating healthy, not only because you know it's the right thing to do, but because you feel really good about it yourself.

Where am I going with this? In my own very awkward way, I suppose that I am sharing with you that I have a Valentine this year. I'm not sure how much I'm going to talk about him in this space, but it's been an important development in my life over the past few weeks. In a number of ways, this new relationship is an opportunity for me to work on being honest and direct and, for a number of reasons, this feels like the right person to do that with at this moment.

Being a good communicator is hard, isn't it? Trusting that someone is going to want to hear what you have to say, that someone is receptive to how you're feeling, is the most intimidating thing to imagine... until suddenly someday with someone it isn't. Suddenly it's perfectly reasonable.

That's pretty exciting.


Greenpoint Snow

It snowed on Tuesday; I watched it fall continuously all day from my desk at work and then walked home from the Subway with muted steps. It's been written about thousands of times before, but fresh snow is one of the most poetic things I can think of. There's this strange silence that envelopes the entire neighborhood. I remember, swaddled in a snowsuit as a kid, parking myself in a snow bank and listening to the aches and breaths of the trees as the flakes piled up. So peaceful and strange.


12 noon, downtown 6 train.

A gorgeous blond woman is holding the hand of a tiny brunette who is decked out from head to toe in various shades of pink.

“I can read that! Don’t lean on door,” the tiny one pronounces. The subway car melts around her and we’re all grinning at each other.

“Oh, you’re a good reader!” the woman says. She has a slight accent, but I can’t place it. I wonder what the relationship is- an aunt? Former nanny? Mother who is 90% out of the picture?

“Let’s see what else you can read,” she says, her eyes scanning the ads. “How’s your Spanish?”
Obviously I think she’s kidding, making a joke towards the rest of us. But then she asks the girl something in broken Spanish, something that I miss.

Our Kindergarten hero stops, pauses; you can see her thinking. Then: “Hola!”

“Olvidas,” the woman says, “olvidas.” Now I recognize it: you forgot.

“I can pick you up!” the girl moves on. “I can pick up my friend in Kindergarten, all the way… tall to my head!” She mimics lifting someone up, bending backwards.

Tall to my head, I think. Good god, this is such a great age, as if I am qualified to use a word like this in such a context, as if I can separate this age from that age. But this age, Kindergarten or so, seems like it will be one of my favorites one day.

The little girl looks upwards, puckers her lips and makes kissing sounds. The woman complies, leaning down and kissing her on the forehead. Then she wraps herself around the woman’s leg, still looking up, and squeezes her eyes open and shut a few times in a row.

“You were flirding,” the woman says, mixing her ds and ts. I wonder what her maternal language is, one in which ds and ts get swapped around.

“What’s flirding?” the little girl asks, and the woman explains.

“It’s when you are blinking at someone like you just were doing to me.”

I think to myself that a 5-year old might be a bit young for this concept, that even I still have issues with knowing who’s flirting with me and when.

I follow them up the subway stairs out onto the street; the little girl loses her shoe halfway up the stairs and we’re stuck for a moment, paused for a pink ballet slipper. But we don’t mind. We're all still grinning, outwardly and inwardly. Despite their reputations, New Yorkers are just as prone to the charms of 5-year olds as anyone else.