Last Christmas

I spent Christmas Day with Annie.  She is moving to Chicago on Thursday, so she won’t even be around for New Year’s.  I didn’t know it then, but I know now that I won’t ever see her again.  I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

Annie texted me the news of her moving last week.  I asked her when she decided on this, and she replied back, “two weeks ago.  I think if we were closer friends I would have been more emotional about it, but I only see her a couple times a year, and sometimes several years go by when I don’t see her at all.  Annie wasn’t that emotional about it either when she told me.  It wasn’t even like she told it in a snooty vengeful kind of way either, like the way some of my friends do when they tell me they’re moving away.  Those use it as a way of saying, I’m done with this town and I’m moving on.

Annie’s always been expressionless and uninterested about everything except when it comes to dating and relationships.  That’s when she starts to giggle and loosen up.  I just play along when she starts to talk about boys.  It’s the only  way our conversations become fun.  When I try talking about other topics with her such as music, movies, or politics I run into a dead end.  I see her eyes glaze over, so I figure it’s easier to pretend to be interested in things she’s interested in.

We went to Chinatown for lunch after we braved the crowds at Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree and to watch the ice skaters skate on the tiny ice skating rink in front of the enormous tree.  We had to dodge all the tourists taking selfies with their selfie sticks.  I don’t do selfies.  Neither does Annie, thank God.  Ok, that’s another thing we have in common.

Annie was in the mood for Peking duck noodle soup.  I’ve never even heard of this dish before, and the reason I’ve never heard of this dish before is because it doesn’t exist.  We kept checking the menus that were taped to the windows of each restaurant and we couldn’t find it.  After the fourth restaurant, I suggested to Annie to just go in and ask- maybe it was an off-the-menu specialty item?

“No, try the one down the street,” they said.  Which one down the street?  There were tons of restaurants down the street!  We settled for the only “A” Department of Health rating one on the street.  They didn’t serve Annie’s particular craving-of-the-moment either, so she had to settle for a Sichuan pork dish.  The poor thing looked so dejected.

To help cheer her up, I took her to the ice cream shop next door.  Even though it wasn’t even forty degrees outside, we sat in the park where the  traditional Chinese street singers were singing loudly into their mics as we ate our ice cream with our chattering teeth.

“Do you think you’ll like Chicago?” I asked over the really loud singing.

Annie shrugged.

I was wondering why the sudden move to Chicago.  “Did you find someone there?”

“Not yet,” Annie deadpanned.

“You know, Chicago isn’t like New York, right?”

“Well, I really needed a new job, and it was the only one I could find, so I took it.”

At that moment, I envied her, I wish I had that sense of spontaneity that she had, to just get up and leave, and that is the great thing about being unattached.  Annie doesn’t know anyone in Chicago, but she is not close enough to anyone here to make her stay.  Being single is a double-edged sword.  You have all the freedom you want but at the cost of not having anyone important to share your life with.  Still, I’m not brave enough to just pick up and move to a different city, as unattached as I am.

“You could always come back, you know.”

Annie doesn’t reply back.  I’m thinking maybe Annie doesn’t want to come back, or maybe she doesn’t know enough what’s ahead of her to think that she can come back.

“Hey, what do you think of this guy?” Annie hands me her phone to take a look.

“Scott. He’s cute,” I say for encouragement.

“He’s from Chicago.”

“But it says he lives in New Jersey.”

Annie doesn’t respond.

“You know that you’re moving away from here, right?”

“Yeah, but why can’t he move to Chicago?  Why don’t they ever offer anything for me?”

I let out a heavy sigh.  The toil of online dating has clearly gotten to Annie.

“You could always send him a picture of me and tell him that I’m going to be your substitute?”  It was my feeble attempt at making her laugh.

Only there was no laughter at all.  Annie looks at me without saying a word.  She looks at her phone for a minute and shuts it off.  She then turns away and starts walking towards the subway.

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Heather

Heather was upset.  It’s been seventeen years since she started working at the firm, and she deserved better than this.  She was fed up with how Ruth and the others were treating her and how they always sucked up to Fred, who was terrible at his job, but because Fred had this banal way of talking to people, they would just give in to doing things his way instead of wasting another minute listening to him talk.  Heather was ok at the beginning covering up for Fred, but after the Burton incident, she knew that Fred would throw her under the bus if he had to, so ever since then, she made it a point, with an exclamation point! to provide due diligence to all her clients.  Fred eventually caught on to what Heather was up to and, in order to save face, he started spreading rumors about her.  They were little ones at first, like how she has having a bad hair day or how she didn’t know what ganache was.  Giggles and odd looks from the secretaries didn’t bother Heather at first, but when she found out that she was being left out of important meetings and that clients were diverted from her to Fred, her temples burned and her heart sank.

I am way smarter than this, she thought, on her way to meet Mia in TriBeCa, I know way more than the other associates.  Sure it was okay at first to not get the recognition she deserved.  Heather’s midwestern sensibilities kept her modest and stopped her from gloating.  But it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and she was stupid enough to think that she can just sit around and expect the praises for all her good work for the firm come rolling in.  Instead, she laid there like a lost sheep just waiting to get eaten alive by the all to eager wolves in her office.

And that’s exactly what happened.  It’s been happening slowly, steadily, right in front of her very eyes.  The CEO wouldn’t reply back to her emails directly, she didn’t even get invited to the office Christmas party.  Not that I care, she thought, but it would have been nice.

When she saw Mia at their favorite cafe, Heather felt the pain in her heart leave.  The furrow between her brows disappeared and her face was back to its old cheerful self.

“How’ve you been, girl?” asked Heather as she greeted Mia with a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, can’t complain, you know same old stuff goin’ on.  How’s everything with you?”

“I just can’t stand it anymore!” Heather blurted out.  She just exploded right in front of Mia.  She couldn’t share anything at all how she felt at work because there was no one to confide in.  Heather felt better now that it was all out, but her atrocious work situation remained the same.

“Girl, you’re going to have to find another job.”

“I can’t.  There is no way any of those monsters will give me a good reference.  They’ve even turned my clients against me.”

“Can’t you just change careers?”

“Doing what?!?” Heather asked in complete exasperation.

When Rent Control Is Controlling You

Nora was so ecstatic when she got the apartment on Spring Street that she was in tears when she got the news.  It was December of 1967, and she just broke up with her fiance Rod.  She was going to have dinner with her girlfriend last week, but Dottie cancelled, so she decided to surprise Rod by stopping by his place to grab some pizza at their favorite joint down the street.  She never imagined that she’d  find him splayed out with Gwen, the downstairs neighbor, in his bedroom.

“Oh, and just before the holidays, too!” was all she could muster up to say before she ran out of Rod’s apartment and his life forever.

She couldn’t afford to stay at her current place on the Upper West Side, even though she had put some money set aside for her wedding dress.  She picked up the classifieds and landed a place Downtown.  The landlord was only asking for $49.16 a month.  The one bedroom was dingy and smelled of cigar smoke, but Nora felt that it just needed some new curtains and a fresh coat of paint to make it habitable.  Soon, however, the white lace curtains she picked up from Gimbels browned from the smokers that hung out on the stoop right below her kitchen window.  The garbage trucks and police sirens that passed by her building at all hours of the night never let her get a good night’s sleep.  She could hear the super while he was hacking up the morning of phlegm with his breakfast of unfiltered Camels as she headed off to work.

Her new living arrangements made it even harder to get over Rod, but she was never able to trust any one after that.  She went on dates and to cocktail parties here and there, but there was no one that measured up to her Roddie.  She let the rest of her twenties go by without being attached, and she then grew to like her rent-controlled apartment.  She caulked up her windows to block out the smoke and the noise, and always had fresh flowers on her nightstand to brighten herself up first thing in the morning.  Then, it happened.

His name was Bob, and he was charming and would take Nora out to dinner and to the theater.  He was eight years her senior and had flecks of gray in his distinguished sideburns that reminded Nora of Peter Lawford, her favorite actor.  He worked for an accounting firm on Madison Avenue and lived on the Upper East Side.  He was recently divorced and had three kids in boarding school.  Bob would take Nora up to his cottage in Maine for entire weekends together.  Nora was in love, deeply in love.

When Bob proposed, it came as a complete shock, even to Nora, when she turned him down.  She just couldn’t give up her apartment.  Her rent had stayed the same while everyone else’s had tripled.  How can she ever give up such a fantastic setup?  She was offered a promotion to head the Chicago office, but it still wasn’t enough to make her leave her treasured home.

After breaking up with Bob, she avoided relationships altogether- of any kind. She didn’t want to risk getting her heart broken again, and she got rid of all her friends after they grew envious of how cheap her rent had become. She was content to be a mid-level editor at the publishing company she worked, and to deal with the increasing crime in her neighborhood, she got an extra deadbolt for her door and never went out after dark. Nora wanted to get new appliances for her kitchen, but that would have meant a rent increase, so she told her landlord that she would live with just the one functioning burner on her stovetop.

New construction began on her street, and Nora became nervous.  Word spread that her new landlord was trying to kick out all the rent-controlled tenants.  Nora never answered her door or left her apartment for too long since she was afraid that someone would come and change the locks on her.  She became a recluse and a hoarder, but nothing meant more to Nora than to keep her dwelling for $49.16 a month.

Dogs And The City

I love animals, I really do, so that’s why I feel so badly for these poor creatures who are forced to live in such tiny cramped boxes, also known as New York City apartments.  I wouldn’t call myself a card-carrying member of PETA or anything, but it seems inhumane to have them live in a place that goes against their natural instincts.

Dogs should always be jumping around and running free, rolling around in the grass with their tails wagging and their tongues hanging out.  Dogs in New York, however, waddle along obediently on a leash and only have sidewalks and trash bags to sniff on.  Their tails limp, their fur matted, their eyes clouded and crusty, they always look like they’re about to keel over.

It seems that dog owners get more out of the relationship than their pets do.  In fact, according to a recently published article in the New York Times titled “New York Burial Plots Will Now Allow Four-Legged Companions,” domesticated animals are now allowed to be buried with their owners. They can now be united and decompose together forever in a cemetery plot.  I’m sure that’s what the dog wanted all along.

I was sitting on a crowded subway the other night, when I noticed that the tan canvas tote bag that was right in front of my face had a furry nose sticking out of it.  It belonged to a lady that had it slung over her shoulder, as if it were an ordinary purse.  The nose belonged to a dachshund, and it was sitting in the bag very still, with its nose pulsating as if desperately trying to breathe.  The owner may be considered an animal lover to some, but I felt so badly for this poor dog who was forced to sit in this lady’s bag, suspended in mid-air, constrained to be perfectly still on a crowded subway car.  It was like a type of urban animal torture.  I imagined slashing the straps of the tote bag to release it from its misery and screaming “You’re free, doggie!  You’re free!”

Recently, my church held a service called “The Blessing of the Animals” as part of the celebration of the Feast of St. Francis.  It was where everybody could bring their pets in to church to have them blessed by the rector.  On a typical Sunday, it’s quiet and barely half full.  On this particular Sunday, the service was completely packed.  It was standing room only, and I had to stand at the back by the entrance next to a lady and her rabbit.  I’ve never even seen these people before.  It’s as if they sprouted out of nowhere.  They were more concerned about the salvation of their pets than they were of themselves.  Or maybe they were just taking advantage of the fact that they were allowed to bring their fury critters inside a building without being scolded for it.

You think New Yorkers are tough?  Just observe them with their pooches, and their tough New York exterior just melts away.  I’ve never seen so much PDA in church before- the hugging, the kissing, the abundant ardent phrases they whispered into their receivers’ floppy ears.  They slung their poodles over their shoulders and patted their backs soothingly like a baby.  They dressed up their terriers in pink satin with matching booties and pearls.  They snapped selfies with their pets to post on Instagram.  They could go deep into conversation with their pets than they can to another human being.

I wonder if these dogs ever have a chance to realize how different their lives would be if they had a different owner.  How their fates were determined by whether a guy from Scranton picked them up from the litter box instead of the lady from the Upper West Side. Scranton:  Spacious backyard with trees and your own little door to go in and out of the house as you please.  Upper West Side:  Where you have to hold it until your owner comes back to let you out, or if you’re really lucky, the dog walker to come pick you up, so you can go pee on a slab of concrete.

I’ve noticed that the dogs in New York always perk up their ears and wiggle their tail whenever a stranger passes them by on the street.  It makes them look so optimistic and hopeful for something.  They’re probably wishing that the stranger is from Scranton and will take them away from this godforsaken place.

Abby and Manny

Abby wasn’t really attracted to Manny, but she always somehow convinced herself to fall in love with just about anyone who came along.  She realized that it was from the need to be loved, and she figured that if she put out love, she would receive love back.  This hasn’t quite worked out yet.

She met him on Craigslist.  She put out an ad for a tennis partner, because, she was in earnest, looking to get better at her tennis.  Manny replied very politely and pleaded with her that if she gave him a chance, he would work really hard at being the best tennis partner possible.  She replied back in an instant.

But it soon became clear at their first meeting that he was really low energy, a depressive.  Playing with Manny was bringing Abby down, and it was affecting her tennis.  It was obvious that he was going through something in his life, and there was nothing attractive about his personality.  Despite all of this, she found a way to be attracted to him.  They continued to play with each other throughout the summer.

Summer came to an end and with that, so did tennis season.  Manny wanted to start playing again the following summer, but Abby waved him off.

Three years went by, and she got an email from him during the first of the year when all those match.com and eHarmony commercials come on TV.  He asked her if he wanted to go to dinner with him some time.  Abby’s fleeting attraction to him wore off a long time ago, but she didn’t see the harm in it.  They went to a Spanish tapas place a few blocks up from Abby’s apartment.  Abby didn’t even bother to put her contacts on and wore a T-shirt and jeans.  It was obvious that she wasn’t taking this date seriously.  They had a nice conversation, but Manny was his usual self to Abby; not expressive, not inspiring, just mellow and quiet.  What she did notice during the date was Manny looking around at other girls in the restaurant.  Abby sighed to herself, “He’s just like the rest of them.  Always looking for something better to come along.”

She returned home alone.  Manny reminded Abby of a gopher:  Someone that spends his time buried in the ground, but as soon as he pokes his head out and sees her looking at him he buries his head into the ground again.  So she refrained from showing any sort of interest in him because at least from where things stood, he was still poking his head up from the ground.

As soon as Abby typed out the forbidden word “friends” in their last email exchange she didn’t hear from him again.  It reminded Abby how touchy this town can be.  We never say so-and-so is our friend.  It’s always, “We know each other through tennis, or yoga, or from a wine-tasting class, or from a poetry reading at Strand’s.”  It seems that we are all walking around this city as magnets with the same charge, repelling each other from getting too close.

You And I

You and I were never friends
We just shared the same friends
But we weren’t the same
In fact, we were complete opposites
And we offended each other to the core
You would say ignorant and offensive things
Regurgitations from your mother
I would say enlightened things that threatened your whole world view
I left
Knowing that it was better to let our whole network of friendships go up in flames
Than to constantly get burned by a cinder