You are browsing the archive for 2009 May.


May 31, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, spazarific

So there are certain things one does when one is preparing to move abroad.

I’ve been told by quite a few people in the past 2 years that they wish they could do what I’ve done – “simply run off” to a foreign country. Well, while I’m flattered by the admiration, moving abroad is far more involved than just “running off.” Sure, the fact that I had no romantic partner, kids, or family responsibilities made the whole thing easier, but all told, my move to Japan unfolded over a year’s time. First, I “snapped” at work. Then came deciding what I planned to do, which took a good couple of months. Next came researching the idea of teaching ESL, making sure it wasn’t just a whim, getting certified, searching for jobs, interviewing for jobs, quitting my despised job, and getting rid of all of my worldly effects. Oh, and, of course, getting legal to live and work in a new country. Not to mention scrimping and saving for that entire 12-month period. That involved working overtime and taking on extra clients so that I’d have a decent-sized nest egg by the time I got to Japan. Throw in some Japanese study, loads of emotional preparation and you’ve got yourself a few weeks shy of a full calendar year. Hardly “running off,” regardless of how dramatic moving to a foreign country might seem.

The move to Ireland will be far easier than my move to Japan. For one thing, I’ve done this all before and they speak English there … more or less. Also, quite importantly, I have dual citizenship with the US and Italy which means I’m already legal to live, study and work anywhere in the EU. Everything I own has already been consolidated into three suitcase-sized lumps, courtesy of having moved from Japan to New York just a month ago. Even though I’ve no job yet, I do have my focus for the next year so I won’t be puttering around a new country with nothing to do. Furthermore, I’ve already been emotionally and logistically planning this move for the past 6 months. The hard part was getting into graduate school. The harder part will probably be finding a job, although since I feel at peace having my career-oriented focus in place, any job will do me. The hardest part will be balancing work with school. And the ultra hardest part of all will be remembering to spell things incoUrrectly. My instinct is to put sarcastic parantheses around each intrusive “u” or extra “consonant+ e” pairing. Program(me). Favo(u)rite. Colo(u)r? Shop(pe)? Don’t get me started about transposing “e” and “r” at the end of words.  I have a feeling it’d be easier learning to print in uncial.

In the meantime comes the emotional preparation. My friends and family, who have just gotten me back after 2 years, are perhaps equal parts thrilled for me and saddened for themselves. I’m feeling a bit of the same. But before I focus on the idea of leaving yet again – or entertaining daymares that my acceptance to Christminster was a mistake – there have been a few tentative bursts of celebration.

Presents from me to me: gradual self tanning lotion, a mini strawberry buttercream cupcake, metallic mulberry-hued nail polish, and a pair of dark brown flat sandals on sale.

Out and about: Dinner at a German restaurant. An evening at my beloved Marie’s Crisis, spent caterwauling showtunes into my numerous vodka tonics. Dinner at Great Jones Cafe with Momo and Erma, followed by drinks at the dark paneled Swift Lounge on 4th street. It was only fitting.

“Slàinte,” I told my friends when it came time to toast our pints of Guinness. When we sipped, I thought of Sean. Sean, a good Cork boy, drinks Murphy stout over “that Dub drink” any day.  I’ve had both. When I want to annoy him, I tell him that there’s no difference between the two.

He never likes that very much.

The Next Big Thing

May 30, 2009 in spazarific

Time to update the ol’ Facebook Education Info:

Bumblefork High School, 1998

New York University, 2002. B.A. in English; B.A. in Physical Anthropology

Trinity College 2010. Master’s of Philosophy in Creative Writing*

*a.k.a, The Next Big Thing

Come this August, I Eat My Pigeon: 私のハトを食べる New York Edition will flap its wings across the Atlantic and become I Eat My Pigeon:私のハトを食べる New York Edition Ithim mo cholúr.

That’s Irish, by the way – impenetrable a tongue as it is an accent. Trinity is in Dublin.

For months, my graduate school plot has taken up my life. I threw myself into coordinating recommendation letters, transcripts, and notarized birth certificates between Japan, New York and Ireland so that I wouldn’t panic about the potentially ego-crushing gamble I was taking. There were countless sessions at the smoke-raunchy internet cafes to print out pages of my portfolio and CVs, only to have to reprint whole pages when I realized I’d spelled “program” and “center” American style. There were a maze of interviews with my students to learn the Japanese word for notary, and then even more to find out where on earth the Japanese hide their notaries in the first place. Then, having my Fantastic Japanese Day euphoria utterly squelched by the 50,000 yen notary bill.

I learned I’d been accepted to Trinity’s Creative Writing Master’s program two days ago; weeks after learning I’d been accepted into the other schools I’d applied to. Trinity is the one I was waiting for. I’ve begun and deleted this post several times in the past two days; I can’t commit to the delight or the honor. Instead I’ll focus on finding an apartment/work in Dublin, as well as on the fact that in just a few months I’ll be eating pigeons in a foreign land yet again.

True Fairy Tales of New York

May 26, 2009 in True Fairy Tales of New York

I’ve thought (and written) a lot about how I’ve changed since living in Japan. As if you could stand any more examples, I’ll offer another: I finally feel like writing about New York.

I had blogs and journals while I lived here, to be sure. The former vascillated between far too personal and far too impersonal (read: dull). Though my first year here was filled with new and exciting things, I developed a paralyzing writer’s block starting in my college days until I left for Japan. That’s 8 years. Eight years of living in a fantastic city, dying to be a writer, and yet having nothing to say.

Things are different now, so I would like to introduce a new, upcoming feature on this here New York edition of “I Eat My Pigeon.” It’s called “True Fairy Tales of New York.” These are the tales I didn’t know how to tell back in the day, and hopefully some new legends that will emerge this summer.

They are brief. They usually have no satisfying conclusions. They don’t involve debauchery or glamour. But they are the tales that make me happy. As I walk through the city, I remember times, places, and faces. These are the tales that color my life in the city I call home. And that city is a strange and magical place, my friends. A strange and magical place.

Girls Girls Girls

May 26, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, Looking, New York, spazarific

I’ll tell you something else that I missed when I lived in Japan; something huge, bigger than cupcakes or couscous or Letterman or Marie’s Crisis.

Women. I missed women. Or, more accurately, female friends – we had plenty of women prancing around Osaka, just none I was able to emotionally connect with until last few months. Women. The feminine mystique. Girly squeals, bonding over shoes. If you hadn’t noticed, my blog in Japan was very dude-heavy. There was Sean. There was Bob. There was Bob and Sean. Bob and Sean and Sir Steve. Bob and Sean and Carnitas. Sean. Sean. Sean. Look at my new shoes, Bob – what do you think? Sean, what do you think of vamp nail polish for fall? Sean? Bob? Carnitas? Crickets? Anybody?!?!

I can’t explain it. The instant I shuffled into Kansai International Airport, I simply couldn’t connect with members of my own sex. Despite the fact that my best friends here at home are women. Despite the fact that I met plenty of interesting female coworkers and book club members who I longed to become friendlier with. Something always stopped me. I can’t tell you why. For some reason, spending time with Sean, Bob, Sir Steve or Carnitas just felt more natural – even if, technically, it wasn’t. In Japan, I was one of the boys – often more calm and rational than the men I spent time with. Ten times out of ten, Bob and Sean were the ones complaining about the atmosphere, the time, the price, the weather. I learned to sit back and let them argue. It was sport for them and I enjoyed the battle of wits. I also enjoyed my sake, nodding while they slashed each others’ arguments to bits. I enjoyed being the only girl in my group of friends, even if I longed to break it down and talk about something real once in a while. Even if I longed for someone to compliment me on my new white top with black swiss dots.

I’m home with my girls now. It’s a whirlwind of wine, gossip and estrogen. Today was Memorial Day and Gia invited me to a rooftop barbecue at her new penthouse apartment in Brooklyn. Rooftop barbecues are perhaps one of the most exciting elements of summertime in New York, and Memorial Day is considered the unofficial beginning of the season. Let the watermelons roll.

The floors of Gia’s apartment are wooden and the entrance of her home is flanked by the pair of mint green ceramic elephants that have graced every apartment she’s had in the 7 years I’ve known her.  The weather is perfect; sunny enough to take to the roof, but not so hot that we burn to a crisp. The brick buildings and trees that grow in Brooklyn loom below us while Manhattan winks across the river – hazily violet-toned in the distance.


We feast on barbecue sauce-smothered chicken legs and spice-marinated steaks as we sip goblet after goblet of wine. Gia’s friends are sophisticated, successful people who swap travel tales rather than gripes, and her lithe Siamese cat slinks in between our legs. It is a perfect day and a perfect party. And the whole time we’re sipping and yapping, I’m simply dazzled to hear relationship tales and I just can’t stop with the staring. Bessie’s day-glo toe nail polish. Gia’s shoulder-skimming filagree earrings. Anya’s breezy sun dress, paired with a cardigan and flats. Everyone looks wonderful. And I realize that I haven’t just missed female energy, I’ve missed dressing like a girl. As one of the guys in Japan – and disgusted by Japanese fashion – I stopped taking pleasure in picking out my outfits. If you’re surrounded by male friends, you’ll be lucky if they’ll notice the color of your sweater. Dressing for women? That’s the challenge. That’s where the victory comes in. There is no victory in dressing for men. Short and tight. It’s a no-brainer.

I’m tipsy after 5 glasses of wine; the good kind of slightly uncoordinated, giggly tipsy one glass away from sloppiness. Naturally, I begin washing dishes, scrubbing in time with Lady GaGa’s “po”s in “Poker Face.” When I look up again, I realize that all of the guests are gone. Only Gia remains, in her kelly green top and obsession-worthy flat leather sandals.

It’s late. I gather my things and walk into the wall. I walk down the block and head to the C train, where I doze drunkenly from Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Nihonjin, I presume?

May 22, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, spazarific

There’s a Japanese grocery store just a few blocks away from my brother’s apartment. I’ve been eyeing it since before Sean left. Every time I pass it, though, it happens to be closed. It doesn’t help, of course, that I rarely leave the apartment before 8 these days. I’m inside, avoiding the siren call of cupcakessunhatsmakeup, sending resumes, soliciting my successful writer/editor friends for advice, pecking at essays and travel articles I want to pitch. For cash, I’m back to transcribing interviews for said successful writer/editor friends. Despite my rah rah rah zeal to get back to the New York City journalism scene, I’m starting to feel nervous yet again; like the me who wasted 8 years in one of the most exciting cities on Earth due to insecurity. Office hours are 9-5. 5-8 tends to be when I cook dinner. Or webchat with Sean. 8 tends to be when I head out for a walk. And then, yet again, Momotaro will be closed.

Each morning I vow: this will be the day I get to Momotaro. Each evening, I pass by and see the shut gate. I’ve started to focus on getting out of the house early enough to make it there and am sure that my intentions involve more than scoring konbu dashi for the tempura sauce I keep saying I want to make. No. My intentions are more duplicitous; I want to practice Japanese.


I know.

All the times I complained about being solicited by random Japanese people. All the times I bristled when my arrival at a restaurant spurred interest. I just wanted to fade in to the background, as much as was possible. I didn’t want to be pounced upon with a “Herro!” … I just wanted to buy my shampoo.

And now all I can think about is how my Japanese will surely fade if I don’t speak it. After two years, I’m finally at the point where merely listening can boost my skills and I can’t help but feel it’s a crucial moment for my Japanese development. On the streets, my ears perk like a Yorkshire Terrier’s when I hear random yelps of Japanese. I peer at any Japanese writing I see. I’m considering joining Netflix again just to have access to Japanese movies. I’m thirsting. I’m hurting. I’ve become what I hate.

I made it to Momotaro today. There was no howls of いらっしゃいませ! as I entered, but to my delight, I did hear Japanese spoken behind me. To my right was a fresh vegetable display I might have seen at Supa Tamade; daikon, mint leaves, shitake, and kappa. To the left, two young Japanese kids enjoying mochi at a booth. Directly ahead of me, a cash register run by a Japanese girl speaking English with exactly the same inflections as my ex students. I was surprised to feel my heart swell.

I always knew there would be certain things I would miss about Japan when I finally left. No tipping. Coco Ichibanya curry. Drinking in public. I didn’t expect to miss the smell of dashi, or coolers stocked with Calpis and Oi Ocha. For years now, I’ve missed Pillsbury. Couscous. Wedges of cheese larger than a thumb. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve trolled the D’Agostino’s next door to Diego’s apartment simply to stare at boxes of Stove Top stuffing or rolls of snowy soft Charmin. But I’m confused. I’m caught in the early days of repatriation and I don’t know what I’m supposed to miss anymore.

Behind me, I heard a flurry of English-accented Japanese. I turned to find a middle aged man, no doubt a former expat like myself, chattering away to the teens who had previously been enjoying their mochi.

“おいしい???” he beamed. I wanted to shrink at the inanity of his question; the utter obviousness of his ploy to practice. I felt as if I’d been mentally spanked by my own psyche for my selfish desire to hear some Japanese. Stealthily, I retreated into the safety of the dry goods aisles to focus on my search for dashi. My mood immediately brightened as I noticed the same exact brands I’d seen in Japan. Kewpie salad dressings. Itoen green tea. Kogame vegetable juice. I immediately snatched up a 3-pack of udon and a bottle of the goma dressing I’d poured on everything from soba to salad, but the dashi was a little harder to find.

I noticed the stock boy hovering near me. It’s happened before, since leaving Japan, that I’ve lapsed into Japanese without thinking; when someone bumps into me, out comes the すみません. The stock boy nodded at me, and surrounded by soba, Cook Do packets, and goma oil, before I knew what was happening, it slipped out. Pardon me, I’m looking for the dashi. ます form. “ですが” instead of “ですけど,” since Sean has told me it’s more polite.

“I’m sorry,” said the stock boy. “I’m not Japanese.”

If the middle aged man’s “おいしい???” was a spank to my psyche, this was a pistol whip. Especially since I can usually spot a Japanese person from Japan the way I could spot another Westerner in Japan. They glow to me now. The attitude, the expression, the clothes, the features. There can be no mistake. I thought there could be no mistake.

“I’m sorry!” I cried, my hands growing clammy around my udon and my goma dressing.

“Don’t worry,” said the stock boy. “Everyone thinks I’m Japanese.”

“But … but …” I sputtered, wilting in my shame.

“Have you been to Japan?” he asked.

“I … I lived there for 2 years.  I just got back 3 weeks ago.” Shame, shame, shame.

“That’s why your Japanese is so good,” he said.

“Look!” I said. “I’m really sorry. I used to hate it in Japan when people just assumed I’m American because I’m ….”

“It’s okay. Really.” said the stock boy. “Everyone thinks so. And I work here.”

As I left the Japanese grocery store, I was surprised to find that I was near tears. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was humiliated, crushed by the irony, Japan-sick, or, after getting a load of all those Tohato potato chips, just plain hungry.

For Better, For Worse: Ways I’ve Improved Thanks to My Time in Japan

May 15, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Japanese Mix, spazarific, The Odd Siblings, Things I Will Miss About Japan

Great success – Diego has, in fact, noticed that I am the New and Improved Liv with Increased Sudsing Action! Not only did he high-five me several times on Cleaning Sunday, but I even overheard him telling his girlfriend on the phone that I am “earning [my] keep.” This pleases me greatly; I did so hope that he would notice. It was important to me that he would. After all, I didn’t go away for 27 months to a country thousands of miles away just to have everyone exclaim, “You haven’t changed a bit!”

It’s a metamorphosis fantasy – time away will somehow transform us. We will leave as rough and ugly caterpillars and return as brilliant butterflies. While we are growing up, summer vacation is our best chance to reinvent ourselves. “Calm, cool, and collected” was my summer mantra between my Sophomore and Junior years; it was wildly unsuccessful. In adulthood, we return from vacations itching for our coworkers to notice our tan or our newfound inner peace. We meet with exes after years apart hoping they notice that we’ve lost the baby fat. How will we be different after returning from this wild experiment that is life abroad? Will we be more cultured? Will we be more interesting? Or will we be the obnoxious former expat who begins every sentence with, “When I lived in Prague ….”?

I moved to Japan because my life in New York wasn’t working. My career was nowhere. My love life was nowhere. My literary dreams were dead. I was 26 years old and while I had great friends, a wonderful family and was living in a fabulous city, I couldn’t seem to make things work. I knew I had to change.

You know the rest; 27 months of molestation at the hands of Japanese children and I’ve been scared straight. I return loaded with creative inspiration, an exciting new career track and my love life is light years away from where it used to be. But living in Japan didn’t just help whip those two important areas of my life in shape. I feel I’ve improved in other ways as well.

Thanks to my time in Japan, I am a better person today in the realms of:

  • Tardiness
  • Thoughtfulness
  • Cleanliness
  • Knowledge
  • Confidence
  • Self-Reliance
  • Gratitude

I’ve already examined my improved approach to Cleanliness. Tardiness is perhaps the second most obvious area in which I’ve improved. I, the chronically late one. Fast forward 27 months and my friends are now surprised to find me waiting for them when they arrive for our dates. All Japan; Japanese punctuality is no urban myth. The few times I was late for work, I was required to fill out a form stating the reasons. How late was I? No more than two minutes. It goes even further: at my company, teachers who were habitually late to school were given poorer yearly evaluations – leading to no raise – and were sometimes coerced to quit. The silver lining, of course, is that things happen when they’re supposed to happen. And trains? Ah, trains – they almost always come when they’re supposed to come. Should a sarariman have the gall to jump in front of the Rapid Express and make you tardy, the station attendant will personally hand you a ticket stating what time your train arrived – all so you don’t have to fill out an apology form for your boss and get docked pay.

The MTA makes me crazy these days – and not because of the fare hikes. I’ve grown accustomed to being able to count on my subways, to time my trips uptown to the minute. I loved the flashing electronic announcements that the train was about to respectfully approach. I loved the train attendants waving people through with their white-gloved hands. I don’t love sticking my neck out into a dark subway tunnel to see if the stupid 6 train has seen fit to come on down just yet. But while I would once blame my tardiness on the train, I now leave 20 minutes early. Tardiness is a frame of mind, folks. And when it all comes down to it, it’s about respect for others.

Thoughtfulness: The Japanese like to think of society’s needs before their own. The downside of this concept is that it tends to lead to conformity. The upside is that people pull together to make things easier for each other. A common stereotype complaint about foreigners in Japan is that we simply don’t do this. We (supposedly) sprawl our (obviously) fat selves all over the empty train seats. We (supposedly) wear too much perfume. We (supposedly) speak too loudly. We (do) have the nerve to answer our phones in a crowd. We (also) eat in public, spraying crumbs and grease everywhere. There were many, many times while I lived in Japan that I grew angry with these edicts. Why couldn’t I eat in public? I wasn’t allowed to eat at work either and I was starving! And what, really, was the problem with answering my phone on the train? I had to tell my friend I was going to be 2 minutes late!

It’s nice to be home where I can have a knish on the train without fear of giving an obachan a heart attack. But it was also nice to know that my train rides would be quiet and relatively free of trash. Thoughtfulness towards others. I’m more careful now to make sure I’m not blocking anyone’s seat with my bags; it’s a crowded train. I’ll wait until I’m off the bus to return a call; no one wants to hear me complain about the MTA. I try to keep my voice low in public and have also stopped mugging little old ladies. Some New Yorkers might say that I’ve lost my charm. But I feel better about myself for it.

Confidence: I suppose my increased confidence in certain things might be due in part to the inevitable maturation process, but my new confidence about my writing and acceptance of my small size are definitely a product of my time in Japan. At 4’11″, I’m below average height in America but things were especially rough when I was a child – before puberty helped lessen the disparity between myself and my peers. When I was 8 years old, our pediatrician told my parents to take me to a specialist to figure out why I wasn’t growing as fast as regular kids my age. Too young to understand what these trips to Shands Hospital meant, I assumed I was abnormal. In the 7th grade, some of the “normal-sized” girls in my class told me I was a freak and that boys would never like me because boys only wanted “real women.” I believed them for years. Even when I became an adult and had more than enough proof that “real men” were attracted to me, the doubt lingered. “Fat Days” never applied to me; instead, I had “Short Days.” I loathed the word “petite” – it sounded like a condescending euphemism for something unbearably ugly. I must admit that part of the attraction to moving to Japan was that I might blend in a little better. That naive hope makes me laugh a little now but I will say this; unlike a lot of foreigners living in Japan, I never cared that my face stood out in a sea of Japanese people. I only cared that for the first time in my life, I was “average height.”And that finally helped me get over it, even when I came home and was below average once again.

I’ve stopped glancing at myself in store mirrors to see how I measure up to my “normal-size” friends. The truth is, many of them are very close to my height; they only seemed so much taller because of my insecurity. I wear flats a lot these days and my formerly high heel-tortured feet love it.

Gratitude: While I was living in Japan, I experienced many wonderful new things. New friendships, new sights, new sounds, new foods, loads of inspiration for the first time in years. But being so far away from what’s familiar can make you a lot more grateful for what you had. I never knew how great it was to understand everything that was said to me, nor did I realize how much I cherished the small moments with my friends; learning what they had for lunch, admiring their new shoes, hearing how annoyed they were with their bosses. A lot of people complain about Facebook because they’re uninterested in “useless information” like what coffee their sister likes. Not me. When you don’t see your loved ones for months or even years at a stretch, these are the things you miss. These are the things that make you feel like you’re actively part of someone’s life. Back home in my beloved city, I’m far more eager to take advantage of the things I used to take for granted. Walks through Central Park. Free summertime events. East Village yoga classes. Happy hours. Farmer’s Market. My friends’ rants about how Gossip Girl glorifies a reprehensibly warped view of youth; the gorgeousness of your teens combined with the confidence of your 30′s. I’ve really, really missed it all so. It’s going to be a wonderful summer.

Knowledge: This goes without saying, but living in a foreign culture gives you inside access to a totally different world. Different issues. Different celebrities. In America, women don’t want to date a junkie. In Japan, women don’t want to date a first-born son. Paris Hilton = The Kana Sisters, G.W. Bush = Taro Aso, Doris Day = Takeshita Keiko. When you live in Japan, you might pop over to Beijing for an international weekend getaway. You don’t discuss politics. You congratulate each other on a job well done instead of wishing each other a nice day. If you’re not married, you probably live at home. The Ainu are your Native Americans. You might feel guilty about what your ancestors did to the Koreans. Springtime means drinking beer under the cherry blossom trees, summer means barley tea and nagashi soumen, fall means sanma and maple leaves, winter means bowls of hot, steaming nabe and dozing under the kotatsu. You don’t conjugate the noun to create a plural, but you conjugate the number itself. Your vowel sounds go: a i u e o. You point at your nose to signify yourself. You cross your forearms to signify, “No!”  These are all things I never knew before I moved to Japan. I’m so very glad that I learned them now.

And finally, Self-Reliance: It’s challenging to move to a country where you don’t speak or read the language. I had no idea how complicated Japanese can be to learn for native English speakers. Many foreigners move to Japan and only make the merest efforts to learn the language; a couple of stock phrases here, a lot of helpful Japanese friends there. I couldn’t do that; I needed to do things myself. The first year was rough but passing Level 4 of the JLPT gave me confidence. By the time I left Japan, I had passed Level 3. I was discussing my phone plan with my phone company. I was complaining to the post office that my mail wasn’t arriving. I was chatting with my students’ mothers. I was making bank transfers. By myself. I never knew I had it in me, but I’m guessing my bank clerk is relieved that I did.

I still talk far too much, and have probably irritated a few friends by now with my “In Japan ….” stories. I still get tense far too easily. I’m still a nervous wreck in social situations. I still burst capillaries if I sense the slightest whiff of disrespect. I’m now even more terrified of having children. My newfound grip on cleanliness is tenuous; I fear it may snap. But life is a process; if I were perfect, I’d have nothing left to learn. And I never want to stop learning. I never want to stop changing. I never want to stop improving. I may not be a butterfly quite yet, but I like to think the lovely spots on my baby-weak wings are forming nicely.

How did you improve from your time abroad?

Brown is Brown, I Want My Towel Back

May 14, 2009 in The Odd Siblings

Diego: Which towel did you use for your shower this morning?

Liv: I used the brown one, the one you said I could use.

Diego: Right, but did you use the dark brown one or the light brown one? I have towels in two shades of brown.

Liv: I used … the light brown one?

Diego: That’s mine. That one’s mine.

Liv: I’m sorry. You said I could use the brown one and it’s brown ….

Diego: Okay, well, in the future, I mean the dark brown one.

Liv: Oh.

Diego: But now since you’ve used the light brown one, I guess they’re both yours.


Your 321-Word New York City Mini Culture Lesson

May 14, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, Looking, New York

I’ve never understood why people claim that New York City can be a lonely place; I’ve always found it extremely simple to foster new relationships here. Note: acquaintances, not friendships. But who needs more bothersome full-fledged friendships when you can make a new, red-hot acquaintance that feels like a life-long friendship every few blocks?

In New York City, you wait. You wait for the train, for the ATM, for the deli counter to be free, for the bus to make its lumbering path through Central Park. You also watch -  dogs frolicking in the dog runs, college kids playing tambourine in the train stations, a raving man tear his way out of his wedding dress. You’re almost always alone at these insufferably boring or “believe-it-or-not” moments; no friends around to raise eyebrows at. You’re late to work and the train won’t come. You were just hugged by a red-haired woman screaming “I love New York!*” Desperately needing to discuss the situation at hand with someone, you catch the eye of a similarly bored/molested stranger.

“Get a load of this wait/traffic/screaming red-headed lady!” you say.

“Right?” They agree. It’s a match! Because these are the shared New York City experiences that bind, you’re best friends for the next 5 minutes. And what a heady, magnificent 5 minutes those are!! Never before on Avenue A have you been so in sync with a fellow line-waiter. You don’t know their name, but they’re laughing at your jokes, they’re just as angry/amused as you are, and most importantly, they don’t seem to be crazy. You could totally see yourself waiting on line with them again in the future – if not for the fact that once you get your sandwich, you’ll never see them again.

But you’re okay with that. After all, your relationship was what it was. And in the grand scheme of things, you’ll both be better off for the time you spent together.

*true story, from 2003

Tango at Home

May 9, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, New York

While I lived in Japan, my trips home tended to be exhausting marathons of breakfast, lunch and dinner dates. Rush, rush, rush, don’t leave anyone out. Pack every available time slot because the chance won’t come again for another year. Though these visits were always soul-nourishing, I invariably came away feeling somewhat disappointed. The disappointment came from not having had the time to simply soak in the atmosphere of the city I’d desperately yearned to be part of since my childhood.

I seem to be tackling one neighborhood per day in my slow, ambling quest to get reacquainted with my beloved New York City. SoHo and Tribeca with Momo one day, Little Italy with Diego another. Lunch in Chelsea with Koko turns into a langurous walk through the skewed streets of the West Village. Certain subway stops make me nostalgic. The old Georgian architecture makes me swoon. As before, I am back and forth, up and down, but the difference is that with four whole months ahead of me, any pressure is completely gone. I am free to indulge in the little things that, for me, have always made the most impact. I can shop for Mother’s Day cards with Momo and end up with a cunning yellow headband from GirlProps. I can pop over to visit Erma in Sunnyside and look over the sketches for her wedding cake topper. I can run into an old friend in Chelsea and we can make an open plan to “see each other soon.” If I’m not ready for a Gray’s Dog or a Marie’s Crisis night just yet, there’s next week.

The sun sets around 8 p.m these days. There are moments of rain but these give way to bursts of perfect weather. Momo agrees that the foliage in New York City right now is unusually lush. She chalks it up to all of the said rain. I feel surrounded by leaves, as though I am heading into a jungle vortex each time I cross avenues. The effect is dazzling and I remember my first real spring ten years ago. In Florida there are two seasons; Summer and Gray-Slightly-Colder Summer. All of that nonsense about Spring and Fall had never made sense to me until I moved to New York City. It was here that I saw sakura for the first time. My arrival this spring hit just after most of the sakura have fallen and everywhere I see their petals scattered on the sidewalk. It was the same in Japan when I left, and sometimes I half forget where I am.

I scribble, pitch articles, send out resumes, make dates with friends, and take lots of walks. I end up weighing plastic bags of fruit or hair products in each hand, like a horoscope Libra come to life. The savory aromas from the kebab carts beckon towards me in cartoon waves as I pass until I yield for a hot, peppery knish. I peel back the foil and eat it shamelessly on the train. Nobody glares at me. When I leave drugstores, people hold doors for me and I’m not stunned. They tell me to have a nice day instead of congratulating me for working hard. I know where to pay and where to put my money when paying at the store. I know who to tip and how much. I know where to find the magazine I want. I know what will happen if I make eye contact with the raving homeless person on the train. I know that if I chew on my hangnail I won’t horrify onlookers. I know which side of the escalator to stand on. I know what I should say when I receive that lovely wish to have a nice day.

Living abroad is a night at the hip hop club – you flail your junk on the dance floor and hope no one notices that you don’t know any steps, or that your clothes aren’t quite right. Being home is like falling in step with a line dance; like being clasped in the embrace of a trusted tango partner. You know when to pull. You know when to dip. You know when to slide. Somehow, you can trust that it will all turn out fine. Even if you don’t know your partner. Even if you don’t like to dance.

The Odd Siblings

May 8, 2009 in Ex-Patriate Games, New York, spazarific, The Odd Siblings

I’m staying with my brother these days in New York City. He lives in a high rise doorman building in Manhattan. When he invited me to live with him for the summer, I could barely contain my excitement. Not only would moving in with him eliminate the hassle of digging up a sublet and liquidating my budget for The Next Big Thing, but it would also afford Diego and I our first real quality time together since I moved away from Bumblefork, Florida. When I headed to New York City I didn’t look back; my trips to Florida were always as brief as possible. And by the time Diego moved up to New York City a few years ago, circumstances like my insane night job made it difficult for us to connect. And then I moved to Japan. Before I knew it, 11 years had passed and we were both adults. High time for the Ibarguren siblings to reconnect.

As I planned my move from Japan, my far flung travels and The Next Big Thing, I became giddy to think of what this summer would be like. I saw us watching movies – old favorites like “UHF” and “Wayne’s World.” I saw us catching up over daily breakfast the way you just can’t catch up on a 9-day vacation crammed with friend dates. I saw myself attending his soccer games in Brooklyn. Diego says he and his girlfriend never cook; I imagined myself whipping together impressive Japanese dinners and serving them to the pair as they came home from a long day of work at CBS.

“Oh, these time-tested authentic Japanese recipes?” I would say. “They’re just some silly old things I picked up while living abroad. Here, have some more nabe. Please enjoy the deliciousness of the tako su. More tempura? Sean said I didn’t have the recipe quite right last spring but as you can see, I’ve perfected the batter.”

Now, at long last, summer is here and I am finally home. And now that I’m here, in my brother’s perfectly ordered apartment, I find my earlier giddiness giving way to, of all things, a chilling fear. My brother, you see, is a Neatness Nazi. Upon entering his apartment, a rush of bamboo-scented candle beckons. All of his clothes are on hangers, facing the same way, and all shoes are hidden inside closets. Every inch of his apartment is immaculate – all the objects tucked into tidy spaces and the surfaces wicked clean of dust. I’ve seen him stifle screams in company when I casually lay my moistened cup on a wooden tabletop. Even Sean, who is a neatnik himself, tiptoed in my brother’s apartment. I, as some of you may know, would describe my attitude towards cleaning as “relaxed.” Diego would likely describe it as “disgraceful.” Cue the iconic music and enter the Summer of the Odd Siblings.

He wasn’t always this way, you know. As a toddler, he reveled in a mess. The orange juice went into the spaghetti and the spaghetti went onto his head – each slimy spaghetto was slid from his sauce-drenched hair by his fingers and popped into his waiting mouth. As a child he was more interested in soccer and poop than he was in keeping his things neat. Then, without warning, by the time we were in our teens, he had begun taking advantage the few times I left my door unlocked and wandering into my lair. Invariably, I was at my typewriter working on a “novel” with Broadway musical soundtracks blaring from my cassette player. My brother would stand, his arms crossed and snug against his body like a smug, judgmental Mr. Clean.

“Just look at this mess,” he would announce. I would look at the sheafs of papers scattered across my desk and the discarded outfits strewn across my bed, then down at my hands – grimy with cracker dust. It would all seem of no consequence to me; I was a writer/future Broadway actress, after all. I, of all people, was allowed to wallow in my creative filth – the grime of genius.

“Think about it,” he would say. I would think about it – and I would always ultimately conclude that there was nothing wrong with my way of living.

In the intervening years, I’ve learned to take a less “relaxed” approach to my standard of living, although for most of my 20s the situation was admittedly grim. I lived alone and I didn’t care – I was the queen of my pig sty, even if I did dream of coming home each day to a fastidiously-clean-yet-cozy apartment smelling of freshly-baked plum cake. Living with Sean helped me get my act together and in time, I began to enjoy knowing that I could invite people over to my apartment at any time without warning. Thanks to Sean continually cracking the whip, I now pick up after myself several times a day and wash dishes as soon as I use them. If you ask me, I’m the New and Improved Liv with Increased Sudsing Action and I’m proud of that.

These are the criticisms Diego has had for me this week:

I tracked dirt on the floor. Okay, he’s got me there. I’ve been rather aggressive about wearing shoes indoors since I no longer have to take them off according to social more. New York City is rainy and muddy these days and I have no doubt that the dirt was my bad. I’m sorry.

I must squeegee the shower each time I use it. I must also spread the shower curtain closed rather than leave it open to prevent mold from growing on it (it hadn’t occured to me to do either of these things).

I must wash at least the utensils in the dishwasher.

“But Diego,” I protested. “Washing dishes by hand saves water and energy!”

As I spoke, I caught the beginnings of a scream curl around the edges of his mouth.

“Trust me,” he said. “I’m too anal. Just wash at least the utensils in the machine, okay?”

Well, certainly. I am not only the New and Improved Liv with Increased Sudsing Action, but I am grateful, too. His house, his castle. And to be sure, these three criticisms are nothing compared to what I feared. Perhaps Diego has noticed the Increased Sudsing Action! Perhaps Diego is finally proud of me, even if I “shed more than a dog in heat.” Perhaps I will learn even more in the ways of Cleanliness this summer. By the time Sean and I are roommates again, maybe I, too, can boast an apartment as spotless as this one.

Until then, I tiptoe through the two rooms, stooping to pick up the loose hairs and fold my T-shirts into neat squares. I hold my breath when I notice a smudge on the white kitchen tiles. Was that me? Did I do that? Ah, no; it’s just a stain on the old tiles. I can remain in one piece. It wasn’t me.

At least not that I know of.