Li’l vacation

I often feel that vacationing is a form of conspicuous consumption,* a feeling which doubtless is not shared by the many people I know who flaunt their lovely vacation photos at every opportunity. Still, I’m sure I take things too far in the other direction since I hardly ever go anywhere. Which means I hardly ever take any time off (which is not great, I’m working on it), since why would I use hard-earned vacation days to sit around at home?

Sometimes, however, I do manage to plan a nice sort of day (a staycation, if you will, but I won’t, it makes me grimace for some reason), as I did today, as a combo recovery-from-being-sick-for-like-a-month and getting-ready-for-a-busy-work-season respite. I doubt anywhere I went fell more than a mile from anywhere else, and it was all quite reachable from home. Or should have been, minus the emergency repairs on my train line today.

After waking up at an ungodly late hour and working around the train by waiting for a bus for a very long time (I should have probably taken a different bus, or walked to the express train stop, but such is life), I headed out on what was largely a food-based day, as will no doubt shock you. So below please enjoy my own conspicuous consumption:

First stop, Babydudes, where I got a nice, fruity iced coffee and the world’s most lovingly made sourdough waffle, and read The Reign of the Kingfisher, which I think I like but don’t quite love yet (it’s a sort of mystery novel wrapped up in superhero trappings). Perhaps I should have taken notes on the waffle; maybe one day I’ll try making one myself. [I dunno why the picture is so blurry, oops, but I didn’t want Babydudes to be left out of the ensuing photographic parade.]

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Next, the lovely Hunky Dory, which I’ve already told you I quite like. I had 2 of the world’s tiniest pancakes, along with tea eggs and a smoothly drinkable Bad Penny, made of sweet-potato bourbon, sweet vermouth, and orange-y wine (HD’s descriptor; it was delicious).

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Then I hung out in the botanic garden for a couple hours, and chatted with my best buddy in Miami on the phone, a dying art, and she had to go exactly when I arrived at my final destination, MeMe’s Diner, where the cake is so good I preemptively ordered a slice to go and the hospitality is a part of the mission (my server complimented me on reserving the cake, saying a lot of orders were coming in and it could disappear at any moment). While I admired the light in the sky, I ate a leisurely dinner of the world’s most instagrammable (and delicious) salad, bright pops of purple cauliflower and yellow raisins, underpinned by tahini and spice. And then home again not so many hours later than I started out, a little fortified for the busy coming days.

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*At least, the kind of vacation that involves flying to far-flung locations. Man, flying is really bad for the environment. Please don’t hate me for my crankiness.

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Quizzical

You may have noticed I have a lot of opinions about food and drink. Though I usually become a regular at places I find especially delicious, I’ve allowed myself one exception. Despite my indifference to its beer selection, I lived a decent chunk of the last 7 or 8 years inside Pacific Standard’s doors, and I do not regret it.

I don’t even remember why I first rolled into Pacific Standard with some friends. I think we were just looking for somewhere to hang out. I fell in love with its living room atmosphere, which soon became for me that ultimate cliche, a home away from home. I wrote my grad school application on one of its couches. I learned to care about football while watching the Giants play the 49ers (an ill-advised choice as a new Giants fan at a California-themed bar) and go on to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. I trash talked my way through many a cooperative card game.  But most important of all was the ritual of pub quiz.

I’d always thought it’d be nice to have a pub quiz team, even though I am not especially great at trivia. It seemed like the sort of thing cool grown-ups would do to hang out (or, well, like having Friends-type friends, but for nerds). It took a while for my team to cohere but it did, with four core members, along with many guests putting in appearances through the years, including a couple of notable ringers who’d join us at finals time. (We return the favor up in Williamsburg.)

My boyfriend is the quiz expert (one legendary tiebreaker round he wrote down about 30 New York counties in a minute), but I had my moments (food, subways, identifying pictures of dog breeds). Our two regular teammates also have their areas of expertise, particularly movies–a category my household is comically ill-equipped to contemplate–and a devotion to current events and the world around us (the quizmaster had an especial fondness for asking about meteor showers). Almost every Sunday, as easy as breathing, working, sleeping, we’d show up, get a table, spend a couple hours answering questions, play some board games, gird ourselves for the work week with some friendly faces. (I called one team our fremeses, since one of them used to work at one of my publishers and we developed a jovially insulting friendship of sorts; it turned out one of my current coworkers was also a quiz devotee.) Attending quiz was so much our default mode that lots of weeks we might not even bother to ask if anyone was showing up, since we knew they were unless we heard otherwise.

My team and its train portmanteau names (The Love Song of Jay Street–MetroTech our flagship) were pretty darn successful, generally coming in the top 3 each season once our lineup cohered. We rolled on through all sorts of stresses and joys, through endless summer walks and begrudging winter Lyft rides, fancy dinners and bar quesadillas, other friendships made and lost. Even when I wasn’t in a very good mood, I was grateful for the opportunity to keep in regular touch with my teammates, and to not give in to ennui and self-pity on otherwise dead-end Sunday nights. Most everyone I care about passed through Pacific Standard at some point or other, whether to play trivia for a night or a year or four, or just to help us drink away our winners’ bar tab or, one glorious time, our chosen keg of Berliner weisse.

I can’t believe it’s over. I keep reflexively trying to plan my weekends around it. I’m sure I’m forgetting a hundred things about it that I want to tell you. If you have any leads for the endless future of Sunday nights, let me know.

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Note: I was inspired to write this since one of our competitors wrote a lovely article for Grub Street encapsulating what made the bar, and especially the trivia, so great; I encourage you to read it.

Y tho

Many things about the present me would puzzle my past self, but perhaps the most surprising is that I go to the gym. I have in fact been so diligent in my gym-going habits that I have made other people feel bad in comparison. Gotta admit, this is really not a part of my self-concept. But it seems to be true.

By gym, I mean I go to the flagship McBurney Y on 14th St, ideally 3x a week, to walk and swim in the water. (I also do a quazillion stretches every day but won’t get into that.) Before I psyched myself up to first breach the Y’s doors in October of 2017, I probably hadn’t been swimming for 10 years. Happily, it’s like the proverbial bicycle and I’m back at it. It’s nice to move around without my knees complaining quite as loud. And to see such a wide range of other people move through the pool and the rest of the building, living their lives. (Sure beats a Tribeca Equinox.) And while I don’t quite feel the need to make friends at the Y, I do appreciate the familiar faces I encounter: the woman who used to try to get me to go to aqua aerobics class; the man I see many mornings who, when I once asked how are you, said something along the lines of, I’m good, and it takes a lot of effort!

Ah yes, another shocking fact. Sometimes (more than half the time, these days) I even go to the gym before work. *Youth self pulls the covers over her head, goes back to bed, while current self extols the virtues of early-morning exercise like a goddamn Y testimonial.*

Just as gratifying, though different, are the days when I hit the pool in the evening (it’s open ’til 11, after all). Like maybe it’s Friday and I am a grown-up now so I can go sit at a hotel speakeasy with a fancy spritz then hop the train down to the Y (“the train is not your friend!” I overheard; I disagree) and revel in the relative emptiness. Not totally empty though; late Y nights are not a secret. Someone must be reading all the testimonials.

 

 

When everything’s not quite

When you are sick and exhausted and have a massive to-do list (see: burnout), sometimes you just want to escape for an hour or two. And sometimes a brand-new restaurant is just the place.

I first encountered Hunky Dory on a sort of extra vacation day I had right at the start of the year, when it obligingly opened up for coffee and pastries right as I was looking for a destination. I ate a beautiful decadent bowl of oatmeal with poached pear, along with a hot cup of coffee, as I watched the owners work toward putting the finishing touches on the space. (Perfect fuel for a January day in the Botanic Garden, where you might encounter my old friend the torii, also working on some personal growth and r&r.)

Hunky Dory’s location on Franklin Avenue around Park Place makes it easy for me to drop by–it’s loosely on my way to the garden, home from work, to other fine establishments in the neighborhood that I frequent. So last weekend I found myself impulse buying a tastier banana chocolate chip muffin than I had any right to expect.

And tonight I nabbed a seat at the bar; some delightful cod tots; a ham, beans, rice, and egg confection; and a warm chocolate chip sesame cookie: a perfect three-course meal in bites. Perhaps even more enticing than the food were the drinks (chosen from a shortened, second-day-of-opening menu): a cocktail with oolong tea, whey, and meyer lemon, with whispers of new components weaving through each sip, and a nonalcoholic concoction mostly hibiscusy with an edge of toasted rice. Sitting and reading a pretty Brooklyn essay collection and coughing merrily to myself, I got to luxuriate in a brief escape from everything awful. Everything besides the restaurant wasn’t quite hunky dory, but, maybe, like SEPTA, getting there?

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(PS: This post was apparently brought to you by hyperlinks! Who can say why or where they’ll go.)

Bread and butter

When a friend gave me a sourdough starter a year or so ago, I didn’t know it would alter my life in a small but lasting way. I’ve always enjoyed homemade bread (on one ill-advised occasion, after a three-course dinner, I ate most of a loaf at another friend’s house) but somehow it never occurred to me that I could make it myself, not having much experience in that realm. (Other than one surreal attempt at making the New York Times‘s no-knead bread for a college seminar. I mostly remember yet a third breadly friend telling me to turn the bread, toss it, take it out in the moonlight and sing to it, or some such similarly mysterious tiny adjustments over many hours; I also remember, upon seeing the result, declaring with astonishment, This looks like bread! What did you expect, my friend asked. I don’t know, surely not that, though.) And even if I could manage to make bread once or twice, could I manage not to kill the starter, which needs to be fed, every week, like an undemanding yet persistent pet?

Happily, the bread is a success. I make a loaf on average every couple of weeks. It’s a process–typically I start feeding the starter on Thursday or Friday night, prep the dough the next day (this takes a couple of hours though not a lot of active work on my part), and tear into a loaf with fancy butter and/or cheese the following afternoon. The bread is certainly best when it’s freshest; luckily, it doesn’t really last long enough to get stale. In fact, in my humble opinion, freshness is really the determining factor for how good bread is. I’d just as soon eat my own bread hot out of the oven than trust the professionals. (Though I love you, L’Imprimerie!)

Man, isn’t it great to have a fun, unique activity? Except that here, too, as with so many other things, I am a millennial cliche. Bread is so hot right now that the New Yorker is talking about it. There are think pieces about how we are turning to anxiety baking in these stressful times. And, of course, tech bros are trying to optimize bread.

While I don’t think my bread is optimized (I haven’t tried too many variations, and am mostly just pleased that the dough is pretty forgiving of the vagaries of kitchen scale and timing) I do recognize myself in these pieces. It’s satisfying to be able to make my own food (my significant other does so much more of the cooking, generally). l appreciate having a routine in the midst of political and personal stress–the bread is a nice backdrop to board gaming, knee stretching, internetting, and other cool things one does around the house on a Friday night, plus I like going to the library and the food co-op on Saturday morning to pick up reading material and bread fixins. (As for politics, my starter has good vibes; he came to life when Doug Jones was elected.) And it’s nice to share my creations with friends, assuming they last that long: bread is a good centerpiece for a gaming afternoon, and, maybe even better, giving starter to friends so they can make their own bread or pancakes is its own reward.

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Walk it back

As you probably know if you’re reading this, I virtually never see movies. It’s basically a personality trait of mine at this point. And yet, 2 of my 3 most recent posts are now movie reviews. Go figure.

Not too long ago, I was tempted away from my anti-movie baseline to see The World Before Your Feet, a documentary about Matt Green, who’s walking every block of New York City. Other people have done this before, but Green’s doing it a bit more intensely—he’s including destinations like parks and cemeteries. In fact, it turns out the whole project ultimately takes on a Zeno’s paradox aspect; it’s not clear that Green’s gotten any closer to finishing his travels by the movie’s end.

I especially enjoyed this movie because I went on a couple of walks with Green once upon a time, when he used to lead groups on all sorts of adventures. Once we admired window decorations in Bay Ridge then trekked all the way down to Coney Island, including some waterfront adventures; the other time, we walked on the beach along Sheepshead Bay, saw some model planes and semi-abandoned hangars at Floyd Bennett Field, and crossed the Marine Parkway Bridge to the Rockaways. (Green intended to keep going onward to Breezy Point and back; my companion and I begged off, having already walked miles in the double digits.)

Watching the movie was a bittersweet experience. I loved seeing how Green had kept up with his mission all these years, and the movie has lots of great moments of humor and even drama. It acknowledges the quixotic nature of Green’s quest, but doesn’t make (too much) light of it. Parts of the movie touch upon the privileges Green has that facilitate his project (he crashes with friends and doesn’t have to spend much money; as a white man, he has not found himself in the sorts of threating situations that, say, Garnette Cadogan experiences walking while black. And there are times when Green’s interpersonal relationships strain under the pressure of his desire to walk; for example, a former girlfriend discusses how he never wanted to do things she was interested in, like going to the movies, preferring to walk instead. I can relate. As a counterpoint to these more serious issues, though Green doesn’t consider himself a people person, or his walk to be a social activity, there are some great moments of connection between him and the people he encounters on his way. Plus he does some great research as he goes; perhaps this is the project more than the walking itself.

At the same time, sitting in the movie theater with my sore back and knees was so frustrating. I envy Green’s ability to just take off and go wherever he wants; this feeling is a constant low-level ache behind everything I do these days, which the movie only exacerbated. (I appreciate that Green doesn’t take it for granted: he survived a serious crash as a cyclist and his family has had some other health scares; the movie suggests that his project arose in response.) Get out there and walk while you can, friends. I myself am going to leave you to take a spin around the block now.

Slow burn

So there are various reasons why I quit blogging and various reasons why I might start again, but let’s simplify and say: burnout.

I used to be the world’s most proactive person. I finished everything way ahead of schedule, sometimes to the annoyance of teachers and bosses. But after years of working and going to school at night and some constant low-level health woes, a funny thing happened. I learned to procrastinate. Need to send documentation of physical therapy to an insurance company? Maybe tomorrow. Teeny-tiny task that could be done no sooner than I could snap my fingers (if I could snap my fingers)? Eh, I’ll get to it eventually. Blog post that I could write but no one might read? Yeah, guess how that turned out.

It’s hard not to view this state of affairs as a personal failing, even though I can see how it arose out of years being busy and miserable and diligent. So it was fortuitous that I read Anne Helen Petersen’s article about millennial burnout, and I would encourage you to do the same. (Seriously; it’s way better and more comprehensive than anything I say here. I’ll wait.)

Did the article resonate with me? I can’t even count the ways. First of all, over the course of an evening I kept trying to read it and things intervened (chatting friends, knee stretches, a really urgent crossword puzzle). This inability to complete a simple task in itself is indicative of burnout. Petersen talks about the wave of articles criticizing millennials for putting off basic life tasks like mailing letters, registering to vote, doing the laundry—all while often managing larger endeavors like holding a job or going to school. Why are millennials so damn lazy?

Well, maybe that’s not the right word. Maybe our sense that we are constantly on call both professionally (got any outstanding work emails?) and personally (have you uploaded a glamorous shot to Instagram today or made a clever tweet?) is burning us out.

What is burnout exactly? Petersen discusses the common millennial belief that if we follow the right path—get good grades, work hard, get a good job—we will succeed. For a lot of structural reasons which she gets into and I will gloss over here, but which I’m sure you can imagine (student loans and financial crises are a couple), that isn’t really the case. We get caught up in a cycle of working ever harder and, rather than this increased productivity leading to more leisure time, we’re never able to take a break for fear of falling behind.

This cycle results in burnout, a psychological diagnosis Petersen explains was originally applied by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger to cases of “physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.” Burnout isn’t just a brief state of exhaustion; it’s the culmination of pushing and pushing for ages, while never feeling you’ve completed anything sufficiently to take a break. Know the feeling?

I know I do. I can recognize it in what I’ve always glibly described as “learning to procrastinate.” I recognize it when I feel overwhelmed by the list of tickets and reservations in my inbox, even though they’re for fun things; when I spend weekend mornings “catching up on” the internet, as if that is an achievable goal; when I sign up to help out with a political group because I want to be involved, only to feel paralyzed by not being able to finish even a simple task while I wait for other volunteers to get back to me.

As Petersen puts it: “That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance. Maybe my inability to get the knives sharpened is less about being lazy and more about being too good, for too long, at being a millennial.”

I suspect that I, like Petersen, have been too good at being a millennial. Like her, I do not know how to solve burnout, or think that it’s solvable, really. But I appreciate knowing I’m not alone, and having a new way to think about the dread I feel when faced with my backlog of Times crosswords. I hope you will as well.

PS: I spent about a week trying to come up with a good inaugural topic. Once I realized I’d told about six people to read the burnout article, I decided I might have more to say about it. And I like the trick of attempting to counteract my creative burnout by writing about it. I hope something sparks.

Women Who Kill is killin’ it

And now for something else rather different: a movie review! As you may know, I see approximately 2 movies per year. I used to maintain, perhaps overly smugly, that I go for quality over quantity. Sadly, in the last couple of years my taste in movies seems to have deteriorated. Most disappointingly, I was recently excited to learn of the movie Wild Canaries, about a Brooklyn couple investigating a murder. Perfect for me, I thought: Brooklyn, comedy, and film noir in one compact package. Sadly, I found the characters unlikeable and the plot simplistic. Little did I know a remedy was on the way: one of my favorite directors had made a movie with a similar premise, and this time the movie was everything I wanted and more. So this Friday evening I found myself at the premiere of Ingrid Jungermann’s excellent Women Who Kill, which incorporates just about everything I like in a movie.

I first learned about Ms. Jungermann through her deadpan and hilarious web series F to 7th. Her characterizations of life in Brooklyn were spot-on, and so I was excited to see what she’d do with a full-length film. And I was intrigued by the premise of Women Who Kill: two exes, Morgan and Jean, collaborate on a female serial killer podcast, and one of them begins to suspect the other is dating a serial killer.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, since it includes some surprising twists, but I will say that the film’s balance of comedy and menace is just right, as is its loving skewering of Brooklyn mores. (Morgan gets in trouble at the food coop, and someone tells her to go back to Key Food; someone weeping and painting a bicycle white is our first tipoff that a monstrous killer may be on the loose.) Though the plot is certainly entertaining, it becomes unexpectedly moving as it progresses, and you realize that your first impressions of the characters need some adjustment.

As the credits rolled, I found myself wanting to watch again, armed with the details of the movie’s ending, which put a different spin on events. I even found myself thinking maybe I should get to the movies more often. If I keep up this pace, I’ll make it all the way to 3 this year.

This year in historii

And now for something completely different.

For the last year, I have taken a picture of the torii at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden approximately every week. It turns out that my project more or less coincides with the centennial of BBG’s Japanese garden.

Please check out my newly created Flickr account if you’d like to see how the year turned out.

Below are a quartet of highlights, including the couple of times a bird graced me with its presence.

Busted

So my #1 transit advocacy goal basically boils down to convincing hipsters to ride the bus. (This goal only seems more timely with the recent debate about Mayor De Blasio’s proposed streetcar.) City buses are underrated, and until that changes, we’ll never have the bus service we need and deserve. I say “hipsters” as a shorthand for urban-minded young people, especially transplants; even many of the self-professed transit enthusiasts I know take a weird sort of pride in not knowing where most bus routes go, or in never taking the bus at all.

Now that I’ve been recovering from knee issues for a couple of months, I feel the need for reliable bus service even more viscerally. Sometimes the bus is the deciding factor in whether I can get to work or not, unless I want to spend ~$35 to travel a couple miles via Uber during surge pricing. On the bus I’ve been taking, the M103–which comes only about every 20 minutes during rush hour even though it allegedly has 10-minute headways–most of my ride companions are the elderly and schoolchildren. This is also true of the buses I ride more frequently in times of better knee health; hop on the B49 down to Manhattan Beach and it’s full of older people chatting to one another; catch the B103 at Beverley in the morning and get a seat only because of the vast number of students exiting at that stop.

It’s exactly these travelers, who may not be able to take the subway, or drive, or pay for a taxi or car service, who rely on the bus the most.* And it may be difficult for them to stand and wait for it for half an hour, or to dig their way over to the curb through snowbanks, as Gothamist‘s Nathan Tempey has recently detailed so devastatingly. Of more mundane but no less damaging consequence, at least in my mind, are the taxi and other drivers who stand or park in the bus stop, making it difficult for bus drivers to see the people waiting. I recently told my father I’d prefer if these drivers hung out in front of fire hydrants; there, their risk of inconveniencing and harming people is, in my mind, comparatively slight.

Of course, buses are not without issues. Even those who do ride them often like to hate on them, with frequent causes for frustration like bus bunching. Still, much like I implore you to blame the governor, not the MTA, for fare hikes and poor subway service, I would implore you to level your accusations that way, and at the legislature and others who can improve traffic conditions, not at the buses themselves. And, while you’re at it, check out a bus map and see if one of our city’s routes can take you where you need to go.

 

*In fact, the ability to pay is key here: in my current state, I’m focusing on the lack of adequate bus service as a mobility issue, but of course it also signals a class (and race) divide in how easily we can get around our city. Check out Enrique Peñalosa’s TED talk, where he nails this point far more eloquently than I can, arguing that “an advanced city is not one where even the poor use cars, but rather one where even the rich use public transport.” Amen.

 

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An unfortunately-not-too-rare sighting of what Magnus Mills calls the “Three Bears syndrome” in The Maintenance of Headway, his entertaining take on the life of a bus driver.