Nancy suggested that I write about the Stone.
The Stone sat two feet to my left for about two weeks. He was a freelancer hired to help us through a stressful period. During his first week, he didn’t say a word. He worked steadily, head down, tap-tapping away.
His first utterances were nervous, stammering, awkward comments. He hardly smiled. He was preppy and pale. He knew a lot of random trivia. He scared me a little, because he seemed from another planet and he was so unapologetically himself.
Meanwhile, the gay men in the office swarmed about, trying to get a good whiff, but the Stone’s scent was never strong enough in any direction. My coworker Jim, had drinks with the Stone and reported a live-in Japanese girlfriend. All at once, he became much more interesting.
The most flamboyant gay man in my office was smitten. ‘He’s so quiet. He’s unassuming. He’s like Clark Kent with something smoldering inside.’
I squinted, trying to understand how we were talking about the same person. ‘Uh, you mean, he’s Superman?’
‘I bet you two hundred bucks that he is gay as gay can be.’
‘He freaks me out. He’s like a dead person.’
Flamboyant One looked me in the eye. ‘That’s why I like him.’
After just two weeks, the Stone decided not to come into work one morning. We received word that he’d resigned. No notice, just like that. It was the worst possible time; we had deadlines on multiple projects and an overworked skeleton crew.
I suppose the Stone had enough of the desk job, and had to get back to saving the world.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Monday, April 23, 2007
Lately, life has been stressful. For the last two months, I've been working late nights and the occasional weekend, with only the small luxuries of free dinners (under twenty bucks) and cab rides home. The days are tense and long, and I don't remember any of them.
Overwork is common in these parts, and my schedule is cushier than most. My brother, Will, used to work at a prestigious New York law firm and lived a few blocks away from his office, so he didn’t have to take the subway. It was a calculated decision, and it must have been hard to live on Water Street, which doesn't have much of a neighborhood. He worked there for three years and we only saw each other when relatives were in town.
One year, we both wound up riding the same bus to Boston, a freakish yet understandable coincidence. What siblings would each choose to travel home by bus on Thanksgiving Day? Only the most overworked and frugal ones, like Will and I, who saw the trip as an extra 4 1/2 hours to sleep.
Recently, I was on one fast-paced project (a big house in upstate New York) and then I was shifted to another project (a big house in Aspen). And then there’s the ongoing house for a man who made his billion from three widget factories. There is no shortage of wealthy people who need their palatial houses designed and built, pronto. It keeps people like me very, very busy. My job sounds glamorous but isn't glamorous, while my brother, the lawyer, (now living in LA), works a job that sounds boring and tedious and is boring and tedious. I guess architects have a better public relations department.
The stakes are much higher in Will’s world. Fine print is much weightier than the height of bathroom vanities and kitchen cabinets, and our paychecks reflect this. Will also works twice the hours I do, and because of that, isn't in a serious relationship.
On the rare occasions that I see him when visiting our parents in California, I hear the same monologue – people don't work in LA as hard as they do in New York, the job is stressful, the hours are long, and, well, people don't work in LA as hard as they do in New York. But what I really hear is, 'I work hard. I work really hard. Why in the hell am I working so hard?'
I listen. I understand. Once in a while, I offer a suggestion. The monologue isn't easy to hear. It's like standing next to a deep well. I hear the sound of a familiar voice calling out from the depths. I want to reach inside and pull him out.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Today I was walking down Broadway in the twenties, and I was reminded of the first time I was in New York on my own.
That first time, I must have also visited on a Sunday, because I was walking down the street and nothing was open. I was walking alone down Broadway for what seemed like miles, intent on finding ‘The Village’.
I didn’t know where ‘The Village’ was or what it looked like, but I knew it meant something. From what little I knew, those who lived in ‘The Village’ lived fuller lives than the rest of the world and were one step closer to ‘the truth’. Surely I’d recognize The Village; a cozy, historic neighborhood, with friendly, all-knowing villagers walking about. But all I could find that day were enormous, limestone buildings filled with empty furniture stores.
I kept walking for a bit, but gave up before reaching Union Square. My adventure seemed miles long but I must have gone in circles for a few blocks, before stumbling to a subway and returning home to New Jersey.
It was all the same to me at that time - the tall buildings, the littered sidewalks, the stores shut up with roll-down gates. One neighborhood bled into the next. The quest to find ‘The Village’ and the omniscient villagers ended, that very day.
Both the city and I have changed since then. I know better. The secret is that the younger folk drink too much on Saturday and the older ones stay in or leave for the weekend. Everyone exercises the small luxury of sleeping in, as if they could control the arrival of Monday morning. The city is left empty to those who don’t live there, who arrive early to wander the streets in search of something to hold onto and take home.
Friday, April 6, 2007
I told Mark that it’d take a lot to pry me loose from my old neighborhood, the Upper West Side. I was in love with my supermarket.
I first encountered Fairway when I moved there, over ten years ago. There was hay on the floors, and a generous assortment fresh produce and specialty foods.
Since then, Fairway has taken over the space next door and the space above. There’s much, much, much more of everything, and the hay is gone. They’re now open 24-7 and there are sections for organic foods, vitamins and a café.
There’s also a cheese area, a coffee area, a pre-made meal area, a pickled foods area. There is a laughably slow elevator. At first glance, Fairway is like many high end specialty New York grocery stores (Citarella, Whole Foods, Garden of Eden, Dean and Deluca), where the feeling is decidedly New York: ‘you can get absolutely everything here’ or, ‘perhaps your eclectic palate cannot decide what it wants to eat tonight’.
Still, Fairway manages to retain its own personality. Perhaps it’s the signs that hang from ceiling in their stylized lettering and conversational tone. The prices are still reasonable. There is the whiff of invisible straw, as if the produce has been just sent from the farm. It is the feeling of authenticity.
Tonight I happened to be in the neighborhood and swung by for a few things. Since it’s Easter weekend, there was more than the usual mayhem. People were milling about on the sidewalk, choosing between strawberries and watermelon, pussy willows and lilies.
Inside, traffic was halted by little old ladies, gawking tourists and shopping carts. I picked up a container of mesclun and rounded the corner display of specialty olive oils. I was collecting ingredients for salad and my Bolognese sauce: tomatoes, onions, parsley, ground beef, celery, carrots, red wine.
Turning a corner, I encountered the meat display case, which showed fresh fish, pork chops, and the full carcass of a baby lamb lying on its side. Its legs of the lamb were stretched out, and all its skin had been peeled away. It was about the size of a large dog. The eyeballs were intact, greyed over and bulging. It wore a startled look.
I walked over for the ground beef and had to walk past the lamb again to get to the cashiers. I could not help but give the lamb another look. It seemed to ignore me. I was thinking, did Fairway actually call someone up to ask, ’Hi, we’d like the full body of a baby lamb, with the skin peeled off but the eyeballs left in.’ They could have simply posted a sign that read ‘Happy Easter. Fresh meat here.’ But no, they needed the baby lamb to convey the message.
I can understand (though not condone) the primal urge for sacrifice, in light of the holidays, however this was not a religious, symbolic sacrifice. This baby lamb was being wasted (and I am only assuming it will be wasted) as an advertisement. It was a Fairway billboard.
When I got home, I thought about it some more. Maybe the lamb is just another show of Fairway authenticity. Here is the animal that you are eating. This is its sacrifice every day, not just on holidays. Why am I so appalled, when I was intending to eat a creature anyway, whose minced flesh was wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam, categorized according to fat content?
Fairway will always be a part of me. I will revisit it in its many locations from now on. It’s provided me with so many things, at any time of day - vitamins, earthly delights, and now, learning lessons. I am a meat eater. I participate in the grand scheme of the planet. And I need to cut back on my red meat.