Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Upholstery and Speed Dating

My aunt had a bench, it was spray painted sometime in the early 1990s a dusty gold color and upholstered with cream, green and blue floral. I believe it was a hand me down bench from one of her neighbors who passed away years ago. That’s what happens to things in Penn South, they get passed around from apartment to apartment as people move on, literally and figuratively. This bench isn’t special by any means but I’ve always loved it and felt my aunt under-used it. It was usually a resting place for stacks of crossword puzzle books and building-wide newsletters. Needless to say, I’m keeping the bench.

But I don’t want this old raggedy looking bench in my new apartment so I decided to use some of my free time constructively and take on a redecorating project. I would re-paint and reupholster the bench. How hard could it be? Well, actually the reupholstering parting wasn’t that hard, nothing a flathead screwdriver and a staple gun couldn’t handle. What was hard was selecting the fabric.

With the support of a dear friend and her little dog, I went to a Project Runway approved fabric store with 3 floors of cotton, and linen, and tweed, and organza and… more fabrics that one could imagine exist. There really wasn’t any time restriction, other than their business hours, but you feel the pressure as you walk the aisles piled to the ceiling of fabric in every hue. Obviously, I was looking for something in blue. But how do you choose?  The light one with shapes? The darker one with block print? The brocade? The soft and fuzzy one, the blue one? It took me awhile to decide, I even took swatches home and let the colors simmer in my mind.

I tell you this story, because it did not escape me that there was a metaphor somewhere here. As it so happened, I had just gone speed dating for the first time the night before. Suddenly, all those men where fabric swatches I had to choose from, if you choose the wrong one – lets say at $40/yard – you have to love it, you have to upholster your bench with it and live with it, at least for a little while…

Or maybe you can just reupholster it again.

Last Friday I woke and felt a mad need to find a mate. The holidays are coming! I’m not a desperate woman but I do live life with a sense of urgency about almost everything. It’s just the kind of person I am, right or wrong, I like to work towards having the things that I want, when I want them, like right now! I haven’t had much luck on the dating front recently as I, um, haven’t actually been dating…

I received a coupon for $5 off a Speed dating event, I thought, “oooh! A date and a deal!” who doesn’t like a discount? Somehow I wrangled the courage, put on a dress (blue) and showed up at a bar on the east side I would never in a million years walk into on my own. There were 15 chairs and I was directed to one. The way this works is every 5 minutes they ring a bell and the men rotate clockwise until everyone has met. Before the first bell, the biggest black guy from the Bronx comes and sits across from me. It’s a pheromone I must give off that always attracts guys from the Bronx the size of basketball players (I wonder if that would work for the NBA…). This guy began speaking to me, starting with “you look beautiful tonight” and continuing with “you are the only woman here who doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable considering this is speed dating…” I thought he seemed nice. We chatted for 15 minutes before they rang the first bell.

“Hello! My name is… , I live in Brooklyn, I like pizza, I work in the movie biz, how about you?”
“My name is…, I live in Queens, I like whatever you like, I do something blah blah and I want to know –“ BELL!

That was how it went for the next hour and change. Pretty much the furthest one could get into a conversation was “What do you do?” A few of the fast talkers made it to, “where are you from originally? Or how do you feel about this speed dati- BELL!!”

At the end of the evening, everyone is given a list of the people they have met. Each person is supposed to circle the names of the people they found interesting, then you hand in your paper, the company takes a tally.  The next day, they email you your results – that is if someone circled you on their list and you circled them on yours, you have a match! I figured, how can you really know if you want to know someone after only 5 minutes! I circled 5 people I would like to meet again. Surprisingly enough, 4 of them circled me (of course not the hot one though… I’m sure he went for the blond.)

Since the guy from the Bronx was sweet and funny, I figured I go out with him first – he actually was the first of my matches to ask me so points for that. He also broke the ice with a joke:

Why did everyone want to invite the mushroom to the party?
Because he was a Fun-guy!

He took me to Grimaldis (since I opened my 5-minute pitch with “I like pizza”). We were both on time-ish but he didn’t wait for me at the restaurant which I thought was strange. He texted me just before I arrived saying he would wait in the Duane Reade across the street. I sat down alone and ended up waiting on him. He was super nervous and very well dressed. I had put no effort into my appearance other than eye-liner and a tinted chap stick – that might have been a subconscious choice regarding how I actually felt (feel) about dating in my current state.

We ordered pizza and root beers as if we were 15 and going to A&W at the mall. (He didn’t know what A&W was…) Then we talked about our weekends, about movies (He’s never seen The Goonies!!) and his hopes to attend law school but in all of 10 minutes we have run out of things to talk and then he tells me he’s saving up for a new video game. Oy vey. I ask him, politely, how old he is…. He says “23” (!!!!!!) but he “likes older more mature women” (The speed dating was supposed to be a 25-35 age group but they don’t tell you ages upfront, that’s rude). Um, do I look old!? I get carded all the time! And he looked a lot older than 23… but ewwwww. Not that there is anything wrong with a 23 year old finding me attractive but I can’t date someone the same age as my little brother – I mean, I changed his diapers! (I am laughing about this now).

The rest of our dinner conversation involved me gently putting the guy down – stroking his young ego and telling him how sweet he is and how flattered I am. How he has all the time in the world to find someone and I’m not it. I let him walk me to the train in the rain and watch him pout off into the darkness.

Then I think, what the hell am I trying to rush for too? Sure, my biological clock is ticking (and loudly) but I have time just like that kid does. I know there is at least one man left, in his 30s!, waiting for me too.

Just because I ended up with the first swatch of fabric I fell in love with at the store, doesn’t mean it has anything at all to do with dating. Upholstery is not a metaphor for love, though love can change and be changed over time too…

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Giving, Away (and nothing to do with Dating...)

This is the time of year when we reflect and are thankful for the things we have been given in the year that is almost past. Often, we show our thankfulness by giving back to others, our communities, our friends and families, or to strangers. I imagine, we are rarely thankful for this opportunity to give and more thankful for what is given back to us.  What is it that makes giving so difficult? Are we afraid to give away something we think we need, or want, or was given to us and we don’t want to insult the giver by re-giving? Maybe we’re all just too material, maybe we want tokens to hold onto to show the kind of giving or receiving person we are? Maybe we just don’t want to give things away because it feels like goodbye.

For me, it’s not about saying goodbye that makes giving these things away hard. It’s that they aren’t my things to give to begin with, not to mention, the person to whom they belong isn’t even dead yet. It’s ironic to me that I have taken on the task to dispose of my Aunt’s property during this time of year. I didn’t necessarily choose this moment, as things in my life have a tendency to do, moments collided all at once and now I am living (squatting) amongst her things, sorting through and trying to give them away.

There are people who would do this for me, people you can pay to take all your loved ones things away, sell them, trash them… but I’m too stubborn to let someone help me. I’m too connected to who my Aunt once was and to what her apartment means to me.

My aunt was always an incredibly charitable person so it seems only right that I give her stuff to people who need it rather than try and sell it. Sure, I’ve tried to sell a few items to make up the cost of eventually moving all the stuff I can’t let go into my own new place, but I thought it would be easier to give the stuff away for free. People like free.

People will come and take things for free and even be grateful for it. First there was the hospital bed. A woman came with her husband to see it and take it away.  Her father had a stroke like my Aunt but his insurance wouldn’t cover a hospital bed for them to care for her father at home even though it would cover a portion of a nursing home, they couldn’t afford the remaining balance. And although the free hospital bed would not cure her father or relieve their grief as he deteriorates, it lifts a financial burden just before the holidays. The woman cried as she told me her story but I was just grateful they were taking something away that could be used again.

Then a man from the Bronx came and took the aide’s twin bed for his son who sleeps on a futon in their living room. He too was thankful. What luck I had to have things others need and to want to be rid of them!

And then came Goodwill. They took everything else I didn’t want to keep – the couch I slept on that first summer I spent in New York working on my first movie.  I would come home at 4am and my aunt would call from her room “Gilana, is that you? Did you have a good day at work? Get some sleep now.” She would wake at 6am and eat Cheerios in the kitchen with her coffee, she’d read the paper – I could hear every time she folded a page. Then the sun would fill the living room and sleep would be impossible.

They took the dresser from the balcony, the one filled with menus from neighborhood restaurants that closed in the 80s. They moved into the bedroom and took the hutch shelf that matched her desk, well they took the desk too, but it had these great sliding compartments that hid the costume jewelry she never wore and a few jars of buttons to sweaters I threw in trash bags for their donation bin. They forgot to take the dishes, which was probably my fault for not packing them up ahead of time and then getting distracted. They took the end tables, the broken brocade chair, the small buffet with built in wine rack that stored adult diapers… Then they left.

And I was alone, blowing up an air mattress for the floor and going through a box of photos. Photos you can’t just get rid of, can you? You can’t give those away. They are part of someone’s life but someone else’s life who can’t remember who they are and in the end there will be someone, like me, who has to go through them and throw them away. This huge box of photos of other peoples’ kids – not my cousins, not my siblings, but the babies of my aunt’s friends and neighbors, their kids and grandkids. Halfway through filling the second trash bag I find a photo of a baby I know. Me. On my Aunt’s lap in 1984, we both have the same matter of fact satisfied half-smile. My Aunt’s not dead yet but it hits me that she will never hold my baby on her lap. My kids won’t get to nap on her couch in the middle of the day – it’s gone. They won’t learn solitaire on her card table – it’s gone. They won’t eat cheerios with her, sitting on a stool scooted up to the kitchen table because there wasn’t any room for a chair. All that stuff, it’s been given away.  

I lay on the floor; the living room rug is filthy. I look over and think I cleaned her puke off of that spot over there just two years ago when she had her stroke. If I hadn’t cleaned it, I wonder if it would still be there. The spot is gone.

I get up and stand at her kitchen hutch, I take the key in and out of the doors – I’m keeping this I say out loud to no one. I turn around and open every door of the buffet. It’s empty, I already cleaned it out a week ago and gave its contents to Goodwill or the recycling bin downstairs. I’m keeping this too. I start searching for more things I must keep. I’ve already taken every book pre-1960 from her shelf and boxed them to keep. As if I will every read the entire collection of George Bernard Shaw or need an Atlas pre-1958.... I wipe the dust off the bookshelves, I want to keep these too. I want to keep all these things because these are the things that are left. After a person dies, it’s the things we get to keep. Let’s be honest, the memories don’t last. My Aunt only knows who I am 50% of the time though she won’t admit it; does she even remember this bookshelf?  When my grandmother died, I was heartbroken. But now the only things I remember is how much she smoked, watching “Murder, She Wrote” from her sunken in gray couch, and how tiny her hands were when they reached for mine.

My Aunt filled that grandmother void, she doted on me with bagels and lox every Sunday for years, always told me I worked too hard and was happy for me when I was happy even if she didn’t understand why. 

Last weekend when I saw her, I said I had good news! She immediately asked if I was pregnant – would it be a boy or a girl? I laughed. Far from it, I told I had a new job, she was lucid and excited for me. She said that was good, it would be good for me, and then her mind wandered away… maybe she’d get to leave if they would just fix the damn overflow problem. I had no idea what she was talking about. What overflow?

Oh, the overflow upstairs.  Like into Heaven?

Or all this stuff we need to give away, all these things holding us back, holding us down, keeping us from moving on. The overflow. So I’m giving all these things away, to stop the overflow because you can’t take anything with you when you go. They will never fill the void of someone who is gone, they will only take up space and collect dust and you won’t remember them anyway… And in the end, someone else will have to go through and give them away.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

10 Wishes

A little over a year ago, I took a yoga class with a good friend of mine. It was one of those long meditative yoga classes where you hold positions until you’re in pain and listen to the instructor tell you to breath and find your inner peace. Come to think of it, it was probably one of the last yoga classes I ever took. I gave up the sport.

But in this particular class, the instructor asked each of us, deep in downward facing dog, to make a wish. It could be one or many, but to wish for something for the sake of wishing, to breathe it in deep and let it go. We were supposed to take control of the wishes, master them and make them a part of the space we were taking up.  In that moment making the wishes wasn’t about having them come true, but knowing they were out there for us to bring in and out like a breath and only we could make them true.

I made ten wishes. I held my breath, closed my eyes and wished my way out of downward dog.

Maybe that’s not what I was supposed to take away from that class, but I made ten wishes and wrote them down. I believe in them. I said to myself “I am wishing that I can make these wishes come true for myself.”

1.     POC. I had just completed my first production-coordinating gig. It was short but I carried the credit with pride. I would NOT go back to being an assistant anything. I was making the leap and I wished to stay there. I wished to knock POC out of the park and never look back. (A year later all I can wish for is to be a Supervisor. The world is not enough.)

2.     RB. Rhet Butler. Love is like Gone with the Wind. One minute it’s beautiful Tara and then next it’s a freaking Civil War. It’s confusing, impractical, and can’t decide what it wants. Neither can Rhet Butler and Scarlett, they hate each other, love each other, can’t stand to be together and yet they can be with no other. This was a wish for everything to be as lovely as Tara before the war but to have Rhet come back to me instead of Ashley.

3.    Irma. Somehow my Great Aunt Irma and I are connected. To the point I cannot sleep. About the time of this yoga class, it had been a year since her stroke and really the moment when my true Aunt Irma died, she has never been the same. Also around the time of this yoga class, she jumped out of her wheelchair and ended right back in the nursing home she was a year before. I wished for her peace. She still hasn’t found it but every week I visit her she tells me the day is near, as I clean out the apartment she’ll never come back to, I know she’s right. I wonder if I will be surprised when my wish finally does come true, though I will be no less sad for knowing.

4.     CC 1, 2, 3. If this yoga class hadn’t be free via my friend’s gym membership, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go.  I wished for friend from my own credit card debt – all three of them.  Wishing that financial debt to go away is like wishing to win the lottery to pay it off, you can’t win unless you buy a ticket. I don’t gamble so I just starting paying my credit cards every week.  I’m actually 1 payment away on the 3rd and final card from freedom.

5.     Savings. I wished for a savings bank account. Like the one my parents opened for me when I was 8 and wanted to put away my allowance that was always spent before I event earned it. I mean, I was going to be 30 and didn’t have a savings account with any money in it. Opening the account itself was an easy wish to come true, Chase bank was more than happy to charge me to open it. Putting money in it, another story. Though, now I’m 30 and I have both the account and a few piggy banks worth of change in it.

6.     Travel. I really want to go everywhere. I want to see everything. But the older we get, the more responsibilities we have and the harder it is to escape. I’m overly fortunate that I have family abroad and almost every year I get to visit Paris to see them. I love Paris. Paris is boring. I want travel adventures. I want to see others worlds lost within our own. I went to Iceland. Sure, I spent the savings to do it but I wished for that too and it came true.

7.     NSP. (NouveauStar Pictures). Back in 2007 I started a film company. I thought I was going to produce a feature in the first year. I’m so glad I didn’t or I’d have even more debt. I wasn’t as smart back then as I think I am now. But I still wish for this company to do great things, I know I am and it will but I’d like them to happen together, and soon.

8.     Family. I don’t know why I didn’t just wish for easy things, like a car or a chocolate candy bar with a golden ticket. Instead, I wished for things like bringing my family closer together. My family is crazy and I love them and they are my strength and the best thing in the world to me and I just wish for them to always be safe and together and I know at the end of the world when it’s us against them, we are totally winning.

9.     Home. I wished for a home. Not a house but a home, more than what I carry with me from place to place. Sure, I was in a yoga class with my best friend and roommate, and after class we stopped for frozen yogurt (maybe I made that up) and went back to our Williamsburg apartment “home”. It was a safe place, ours, we could walk around in our underwear and eat ice cream at 4AM, but it wasn’t really each of our own homes, it was a place we piled our stuff, and emotions, anxieties, baggage… I think wished for my own home more specifically and that wish is coming true.  Of course once I’m alone in it for a week I’m sure I’ll start thinking of filling it with a stay-at-home husband who does dishes and a few screaming children who will knock over all my keepsakes.

10.  Book. At the time, I was working on a cookbook. I wish I’d finished it. I wish I would already. With all the other wishes I wished into being, I think this wish can wait. Who knows, maybe I’ll write ten books!