Thursday, August 28, 2008

Project Subway Platform

So I was at 34th Street on the subway platform waiting for the 1 train a few weeks ago. And I saw this dark-haired guy standing there waiting for the train. And I thought to myself, hey I know that guy! Where do I know him from? Did we do a show together? He was small and bearded and kinda theater-y looking. So I smiled a big, dumb, goofy smile. And he looked right past me.

Which made me feel kind of lousy for a second. And then I realized. He's that guy from Project Runway. Kevin, from Season 4. Not the one who cried all the time. That was Ricky. The other guy. Kevin. I liked him. That's probably why when I saw him, I assumed he was my friend.

What a strange thing it is to be a reality TV star. Because when it ends, unless you "win", you're back to riding the subway. The money's not that good, I don't think. If you don't win. I mean, it's better than waiting tables. But you know, you're not gonna retire on it. So unless you "hit" somehow... either win the whole thing or become the breakout story, you're back on the 1 train, pounding the pavement, scrambling for work.

Kinda like what it is to be just a person living in New York.

And note, I still ride the subway every day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Agents and Shipwreck

A quote by a renowned and accomplished theater actress as relayed to me by Rebecca Harris:

"Changing agents is like switching seats on the Titanic."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Conversation Late Last Night

Doc Hubby: Look at this. (Points to self and frowns.)

Yeah, I'll see your Christmas boxers, and I'll raise you a pair of maternity underwear.

Somebody needs to do some laundry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Taking the A Train With My Baby

My baby loves people. I mean LOVES them. We are actually able to go out to eat all the time because she is so happy to flirt with everyone around her. Busboys to hostesses, patrons to chefs. My baby loves them all. More than once I have seen people grimace when they catch sight of the high chair on the opposite side of the restaurant. Then Baby Girl smiles at them. Then they smile back, delightedly. And then they are unable to finish their lunches because my baby demands their attention for the next 45 minutes while I eat my omelet in peace.

I live in post 9-11 New York City. I have been here for fifteen years. I am well aware of the need to be cautious. But I am staunchly opposed to the culture of fear.

Lots of people have responded with outrage to Lenore Sekazy, the woman who allowed her nine-year-old to ride home on the subway alone. She wrote a column about it, appeared on the Today Show, and people came out of the woodwork. Many of the people who oozed through the cracks have never set foot in Manhattan, let alone on the D Train. I live here. I ride it every day. Since my baby was born, I bring her on the subway too. Which is a challenge for me, as a bona fide germaphobe. I took her on a 1 Train this morning that was far too crowded for 10:15 (what the heck is the problem with the trains these days...they are getting insane) and whipped out my hand sanitizer five times between here and 14th Street. I suppose there are some who would criticize my decision to take my baby on a crowded subway in the first place. Think of all the risk factors--terrorists to muggers, germs to track fires.

However, you want to know what my experience riding the train with my baby has been like? Kinda amazing. People offer me seats a lot. More than when I was pregnant. Though frankly I think people are too afraid to risk offending someone who might not be actually pregnant by offering her a seat. (And honestly, I'd rather stand on a crowded subway than sit--more distance between baby's face and coughing passengers. I told you I was a germaphobe.) Several months ago a rowdy car full of teenage boys noisily and colorfully told each other to shut up because a baby was sleeping. And then, I kid you not, sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to her. She goes looking for friends, there's no doubt about it. But not a ride goes by that she doesn't succeed. And that makes the time pass more easily. And it makes her giggle.

She is a trusting soul.

I want her to be like that. I want her to believe in people. I want her to have a little dose of Anne Frank's optimism about the essential goodness of others. I love it that busboys will line up to spin dishrags on their fingers so she will laugh.

Maybe the guys at the Toyota Place are jacking the service fees up and doing unnecessary repairs on your car...but maybe they're not. Maybe your breaks actually need to be replaced. Perhaps that crazily bearded guy in the plaid shirt who is always lurking in the parking lot of the grocery store is a dangerous wacko. And maybe he's just a little lost and a little bit sad and lonely. Maybe the Middle Eastern guy sitting next to you on the plane is a terrorist. And maybe he used to be an engineer in Pakistan and now has to drive a cab to support his wife and kids in Queens. I choose to believe the latter until proved wrong.

I asked my friend Sarah who grew up in the city how old she was when she started riding the subway alone. She said she was in fifth grade. And this was in the early 80's -- pre-Giuliani, pre-Disneyfication of Times Square, pre-metrocard. We used to sell Girl Scout cookies to apartment complexes full of college kids when I was that age. Our parents dropped us off, and we went door to door. No one thought we would get molested. No one did get molested. And we sold a hell of a lot of thin mints.

So at what age will I let baby girl ride the subway alone? Hard to say. I'm inclined to say that nine is a bit early for us. But who knows? At some point I know I will need to talk to her about stranger danger. About trusting her instincts. About listening to the voice in her head that's telling her a situation might not be right and it's time to leave.

But until then, my baby is growing up in a world where people go underground and sit next to other people of every size, shape and color. She can smile at them, even if her Mama doesn't speak the same language they do. And they will smile back. And that's nothing to be afraid of.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Deception of Olympic Proportion

So the footprints were fake. The huge firework footprints that TV viewers saw traipse across the sky to the Birdsnest at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. I was absolutely astonished by them. They were so cool. And apparently, they were computer generated. Right down to the smoggy sky and the suggestion that the camera was shaking from the force of the booms.

And Lin Miaoke, the little girl who sang "Ode to the Motherland" as the Chinese flag progressed around the stadium? Cute as a button. Definitely camera-ready. Yeah she didn't sing a word. The song was actually sung by Yang Peiyi who was deemed "not cute enough" to appear on camera.

It's old news, really. But what do I tell my daughter? About what's real and what's not. About the need to be perfect, even if it can only be accomplished digitally or through deception.

I'm all for magic. I think there are not enough fairy houses and elves running around these days. But I'm not sure I like watching magic on TV when those sending out the signals didn't let me in on the secret.

Which is funny, really. For the Olympics. Right now, we are watching an event in which real people, actual live human beings, do the impossible right and left. A Chinese gymnast did something on the rings last night that Tim Daggett said was flat out impossible. If, even only a few years ago, you had told someone you were going to do that particular move, Bart said, people would have laughed at you and said it was impossible. Yet this young gymnast did it. Seemingly effortlessly. Indeed it is the gymnasts that most appear to defy the laws of reality. People can't fly, right? Oh wait. They can. And apparently they can swim like mermaids and twirl off diving boards, in perfect synchronization with another human being...all in real life. And lift cars over their heads. And shoot through the eye of a needle.

The Olympics is an opportunity for us to witness the incredible abilities we human beings have. With a little bit of talent and lots of training, we can do things that it would seem could only be created on a computer screen. But have we become so used to deception in the movies and on TV that we now take it for granted? Hollywood can bring dinosaurs back to life, raze New York City, and air brush pounds from celebrity Mommy's waists. Hollywood can do anything. Of course they can.

But to be truly amazed, we don't need them! Just look at these unbelievable people from all around the world doing unbelievable things right before our eyes. Complete with sweat, blood, vomit and tears. We need to remind ourselves and our kids while we are watching these athletes that what they are doing is actually REAL! No green screens. No acting. Well, maybe some acting. But still, what their Adonis-like bodies are undergoing is true. Michael Phelps can swim so fast that he leaves a wake.

So yeah they faked the fireworks and the little girl. So far as I know that undulating box thing they did was real, but who's to say? I guess in this world where absolutely anything is possible one can never be quite sure. Any image can be created on screen and brought to life, whether it's through the magic of computers or just a plain old bait and switch.

But here's the thing--I don't want my little girl to lose sight of the truly incredible. I want her to know real magic when she sees it. And I never want her, or me for that matter, to lose the capacity to be amazed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Left-Wing Butterflies

I made butterfly cookies today for my baby girl's first birthday party using an antique cookie press. My mom has had one for years, and then she gave me one. Search "Vintage Mirro Cooky Pastry Press" on Ebay, and you'll find about thirty. For seven bucks plus shipping you can own one of your own. The contraption is basically an aluminum canister with a screw top twisty thing that pushes dough out through a stencil and onto the cookie sheet. We always made them for Christmas when I was little. Some of the templates are Christmas trees and some are stars. There is even a camel.

Making these cookies takes patience and some practice. In case you decide to give it a whirl let me pass on a little advice: be sure you chill the dough before you begin pressing the cookies, chill the dough again in between each tray, and do not by any means attempt to press cookies in a boiling hot kitchen with no ventilation like the tiny kitchen in the tiny studio apartment we rented at a crazy low price for the first five years we were married. The cookies will staunchly refuse to break from the press and you'll end up with columns of Christmas trees snaking out across your one square foot of counter space like play dough.

This past Christmas I took at look at some of the other templates just for fun. Very 1950s. Very Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Which the device proudly sports. Many of these cookie designs would be just right for a "bridge night" or "ladies guild luncheon." But I was particularly taken by the butterfly. And I decided that evening in December that my wee gal's first birthday party would be a butterfly theme. Call me Martha. But I like themes.

So how do I feel about my baby, my teeny tiny baby, turning one? Frankly, it seems completely impossible. There is no way she can be one. I was just pregnant, like, five minutes ago. As my friend Katie said when we were strolling our strollers in the park today, "I still think I'm pregnant. When I pass pregnant women, I smile at them knowingly and I'm completely astonished when they don't smile back. Especially when I'm with him." She nodded to her sweet-faced 8-month-old. I have done the exact same thing. With the exact same puzzling results. Ok, sure I don't have the heartburn, but I'm still part of the club, right?

I try to remember what I thought when I passed women pushing strollers while I was pregnant. In early August. In the stinky stinky city. I suppose I was so totally wrapped up in my own experience (ie. trying to make it to the subway without peeing in my pants, throwing up, doubling over from Braxton Hicks contractions, or allowing stomach acid to completely erode what remained of my esophagus) that I didn't even notice them. This was my pregnancy. Sure other women had been pregnant before...but not like me. I do remember smiling at other pregnant women like we were members of a not-so-secret sorority. But actual Moms...they had crossed some kind of Rubicon that I, up until the minute that pitocin was racing through me, and honestly, even for a few hours after that...kinda didn't think I'd ever cross. Sure I was pregnant, but I wasn't ever going to be one of those women pushing a Maclaren in the park.

And now I have a one-year-old. And a Maclaren. How did this happen?

Much as I'd like to take the butterfly analogy and run with it...sorry, it ain't happening. I don't think I'm spreading my beautiful wings and flying off over the Gulf of Mexico. If anything, I'm going back inside. Wrapping myself and my wee gal up in some kind of cocoon of homeness and safety and warmth and organic food and expensive car seats and BPA-free sippy cups. Weaving a giant silky net around her while I still can. Making cookies with the same antique cookie press and the same recipe that my Mom uses.

Despite my hard-earned expertise, many of the cookies came out lopsided. I pondered eating all of the mess-ups. Raw. (There's a benefit of being kicked out of the preggo club--bring on the cookie dough and soft cheese.) Or smooshing them back in the press to try again.

And then I realized: they are "Left Wing" butterflies. Which made me giggle, alone in my kitchen.

And then I looked forward to the day that I could tell my baby girl that joke, and hear her giggle too. And then fly away.