Category Archives: Summer

I bet I get hit by a car.

It happens every so often. A moment, however fleeting, when everything feels as it should. A brand spanking new job. An adorable exposed brick apartment. A prospect of summer romance. And a seemingly unlimited supply of iced coffee.

It is in that moment that I harken back  to a much un-acclaimed film Girls Just Want To Have Fun, a 1985 Alan Metter masterpiece that put Sarah Jessica Parker on the map year before she would host the president for a fundraising party. SJP plays a rebellious Catholic school girl vying for a spot on DANCE TV!, an 80s version of the Ed Sullivan Show. Only one problem: Papa Bear does not approve, and so she does what any 80s cinematic teenager would do, she sneaks out through her bedroom window and practices in secret.

At one point, after she has nailed a particularly complex dance move and an absurdly handsome boy has kissed her, she pauses and goes, “I bet I get hit my a car.” She soon explains that things can’t possibly be as undramatic and serene as they appear. (Indeed she is correct. Fast forward to the climactic finale and encounter with Papa Bear.)

And her sentiment holds true for me, particularly now when my old health insurance has expired and my new one has yet to take effect. As Murphy once decreed, if there was ever a time I would encounter a speeding yellow taxi, the weeks in which I am without medical coverage and enjoying the next year of my 20something life would be it.

Mama B seems to share this same concern, as she has signed off of several calls with the words, “Do me a favor and don’t get hit by a car.” She, like me, is not an inner optimist. We fight our innate pessimism, often arguing we are simply realists… for whom the situation never seems to require a positive outlook. But, in truth, we are more of the neurotic Woody Allen Jew than the California Ray of Sunshine. And so, when things are as they should be, we get nervous.

My therapist, at this point in my entry, would ask, “And why do you think you get nervous? Why can’t you be happy being happy?” And so, to preempt this question, I have a prepared response: because this isn’t Hollywood; because in the world in which I reside I won’t ride into the sunset with the man of my dreams and an unlimited supply of trust fund money; because, G-d dammit, this is real life and shit happens.

But I am also the daughter of a seven-percenter, who has been given many an opportunity to shine and to enjoy the sunshine. And so, on this sunny Sunday afternoon, I am going to try to set aside my inner neurosis and love of ridiculous  80s cinema, and enjoy being a 22 year old on the verge of her 23rd birthday… one youtube mashup at a time.

The Almighty and His[Her] Peaches

True to my word, I present you with this weekend’s guest blogger. Nestor, a two time contributor to the Green Straw, delves into the intricacies of peach-picking and Jesus-loving in one entry centered on his home ‘hood: Harlem.

I was awoken this morning by a call. A call for peaches. The Harlem Farmers’ Market was in town, as it is every Saturday, and my family wanted peaches badly enough to call me at 10:30, an ungodly hour, so that I might go fetch them. They want peaches? Fine. Let them eat Clingstone!

Although I only had a few dollars, I figured it would be sufficient. After all, thems just peaches from Virginia, and that’s only the next state over, right? Kinda near Philly?

Not really. West Virginia might as well be in the EU for the price I had to pay for those goddamned fruit. Though the farmerguy who sold them was nice enough, a lanky tattooed white guy who sounded like a meth freak when he talked. I guess that’s what they do during the off season down there.

The only thing better than peaches: Peaches and sugar, or peach crumble.

Near the market there was a little revival going on, typical Saturday in Harlem kinda thing with singing and praising and free food and what not. On my way over I had accepted several “pieces of literature to read in my leisure time” from the old ladies who line the many churches in my community. These usually read “Love: Jesus has it,” and “Alone? Good Christians aren’t.” I take them without protests when offered because I want to seem like a nice polite white boy, and its hard to say no to an old lady. But by the time I was nearly home my pockets were stuffed. On my block there is a big, powerful church (the one Denzel gets arrested outside of in ‘American Gangster‘) that is literally a fixture of the neighborhood; take it away and the surrounding buildings would crumble.

In front of this fortress of the lord were more old ladies. One approached me with an outstretched hand and  asked, “have you talked to Jesus today?” and for the first time in my life I said, “no thanks, I’m a Quaker.”

That’s not really true though. I went to a Quaker school for some 13 years and do adhere to some of their ideals (embracing silence and being reasonable) but I am not religious in any real sense. So what am I, spiritually or religiously? Having spontaneously declared my religion I didn’t know I had to a stranger, I was confronted by some deep questions– given I hadn’t had any coffee yet. What are my beliefs? Where do I stand on the status of the soul and god and stuff? Philosophically I know my answers, but spiritually I am bereft of belief. I go through the Christmas and Easter motions with the rest of my family but don’t actually observe anything. Can I have a crisis in faith when I don’t have a faith?

Apparently not; the distress left my mind with lunch. However, us young heathens do have a secular equivalent, the mid-life (or quarter-life, if you’re optimistic) crisis. The absence of an overriding reason to life forces a search to create one, and when that’s found in something temporary like work or money, well, its disappointing when found to be just that.

I guess I’m a little jealous of the strongly religious. It must be nice to not have to make certain big decisions or ask some hard questions for oneself, to have the way and answers provided externally. But crises in faith seem so horrible (from what I’ve read and heard) that, to be honest, our secular version seems quaint and preferable. To have one’s world-view shaken, and not just about personal values and individual goals, but about the entire universe, is frightening to say the least. So I guess I’m not that jealous of the religious, when that danger is present. The weight of centuries and of the absolute rests upon them, and the strength to deal with it when it comes crashing down is quite admirable. While I will not be taking their literature any more, those old ladies will always earn my respect, almost to a point of fear.

To close, Nestor would once again like me to take the opportunity to promote his twitter, which I define as a “20-something’s commentary on contemporary New York living.”

Serenades in the Spanish ghetto and other tales of spontaneous end-of-the-summer activity

Ok, well maybe the trip to the barrio was not so spur of the moment. In fact, it was quite carefully planned and less interactive than the title might indicate.

Cooper– the aforementioned Stern rockstar– and I decided to celebrate the end of my internship by taking a trip to Broadway and playing the role of obnoxiously overly enthusiastic tourists experiencing the theater for the first time. We even took the requisite photo in front of the stage:

When New Yorkers play out-of-towners.

We opted for In the Heights, a tale of three store fronts in the ever popular Latino quarter of Manhattan– Washington Heights, which as some of you may remember, was also my humble abode this summer. Complete with the requisite corner store bodega and rusty red fire escapes, as well as continuous song and salsa, the show– and the neighborhood in which it was set–lived up to my every expectation.

It also reminded me that I could easily settle amidst the Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, and not feel ethnically awkward. I admire their soul, their passion, and their natural ability to move their hips in an oh so rhythmic fashion. The Heights is the one part of New York, where despite my pastiness and high school level Spanish, I feel so completely at home and at ease.

Of particular importance: It’s a neighborhood in Manhattan where money is not the object or end goal. Instead family is a priority and coffee is a necessity. Even though I spent only a few short weeks in the Heights, I felt a significant loss when departing. The people, the familiar faces that rode the A train with me each morning soon became a distant memory, and I could do little except plot my inevitable return post-grad– with the Beloved Roommate, of course.

Now despite the fact that I currently find myself amidst dorm room furniture and assorted first-year t-shirts (remind me why our class color is yellow, and not my preferred black), I take comfort in knowing I have found a place. Perhaps not a permanent residency, but an area of the magical City I call home, where I can see my life unfolding, as I plunge further in the 20-somethings.

The lady with the crucifix, or, the long-awaited third guest blog post.

Nestor Bailly, a previous Green Straw blogger, has recently embarked on a new financial venture. Rather than elaborate much further, I will preface his second guest post by simply saying it involves New York, a video game centered on deer hunting, and a Russian with a questionable career choice. (This entry is rated PG-13, thanks to the Russian.)

Emerging from the subway, sunglasses already equipped, I confronted Union Square on a sunny summer afternoon. Tourists, hipsters, and normal people mill about, browsing art vendors’ wares and farm food brought in from the provinces. Various street urchins, of both the skateboard and ghettofab variety, weave in and out of the crowd, coalescing on the southern steps to see and be seen. A drunk Afghan vet accosts passerbys with tales of horror and savage brotherhood. Just another day on the town.

I was among among this seething mass of downtown humanity waiting to meet a special someone. Someone who I would never, ever have any contact with outside of this rather precise and absurd context. I was going to see a Russian Stripper. Not just any Russian Stripper; no, this one was referred to me by a family member. Highly recommended, and with a good rate.

I had a few minutes to burn so I walked across the park to the Starbucks, where I stood out front and stole wifi. As I checked my email, my imagination ran wild with the best possible (and very sexy) results of this meeting (“Oh Nestor, I don’t have money today, I’m sorry!”; “Well, maybe we can work something out.”), while reeling at the consequences if she was here on mob connections. The latter definitely being more likely, I decided not to act a fool. At least not yet.

After all, I haven’t had a great track record with Russian girls: One broke my heart, another was fun in the tent but got married two weeks later, the latest infuriated me beyond all measure. Why was I involving myself again? Every experienced man I’ve spoken to always says the same thing, “Watch out for those Slavic women; they get their claws into you and use you like a puppet! But damn, they’re hot.” Call it the male condition, but there’s something about that exotic eastern charm.

The actual reason, I convinced myself, was that I needed money. Beer is not cheap and Big Buck Hunter is expensive, as are hot dogs these days. I was not about to stoop to doing retail or going on dates just to have someone else pay for my booze. I also needed the experience, since a significant portion of my short-term future hinges on meetings like this. It had to go well enough that she would want to see me again, adding to the pressure.

A New York City Dive Bar Staple, Apparently.

Again and again I imagined the planned stages of our encounter. Introduction, to build trust and learn about each other. The lead-in, to interest and engage her. The pre-activity play exercises, to get her ready and excited. The rest I was going to improvise, based on my impression of her and what she wanted. I pride myself on being able to give what they want while achieving my goals at the same time. That’s the kind of ability you’re born with; I didn’t learn it during my training.

As her lateness dragged into the 10th minute, I began to get nervous. What if I’ve misjudged her experience? She is a stripper, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much beyond that, right? How long has she been in this country? Why is she even here? Is she blonde? These questions raced through my mind as I tried to find her in the crowd; “No, she’s too lanky. That one? Nah, too uncoordinated and too pretty. What about her? Well, it is dark in those clubs… Her? God, I hope so.”

Wishful thinking for the most part. Her tardiness approached unprofessional levels and as I prepared to text her and leave I felt a slight touch on the arm. I turned around and was confronted by something…totally understandable. Totally predictable, the very Platonic image of Russian Stripper. I was a fool to imagine anything else, and now cannot do so.

Jet black hair, straight and flat as pleather jeggings. Total babyface complete with the meaningless, on-command smile. Enough eye contact to effectively feign attention.  Thankfully, a well-toned body tastefully adorned with the obligatory small crucifix necklace and a ‘Liquid Space Team’ Armani tank top, balancing atop what looked like two jean-wrapped pipes where her legs should be. Aww yea.

“Nestor? Hi, I am here for English grammar lesson?” Yes you are, yes you certainly are. Just don’t forget to pay me.

To close, Nestor would like me to take the opportunity to promote his twitter, which I define as a “20-something’s commentary on contemporary New York living.”

Tales of one rhythmically challenged 20-something.

When I was ten, my mother enrolled me in Sharon Miller’s Performing Arts Camp. She prayed that somehow, magically, I would suddenly develop a dancing groove, and perhaps become the next Ginger Rogers. Only with brown hair and in long skirts. Or, at the very least, I would remain physically active seven hours a day, five days a week– and given my attraction to cheese danishes, this was a necessary component to maintaining optimal physical health.

Now, though I was young and rather naive in regards to my own talents, I knew that I never going to be  Gene Kelly‘s leading lady in a remake of some 1950s musical.  Simply stated, I was a klutz, with a capital K. While my fellow female campers glided across stage, like future prima ballerinas, I tried desperately to count beats in my head, and paradoxically then missed my cues to leap, turn, and tap.

Cyd Charisse: the dancer I will never be.

After three weeks of rhythmic failure, I approached Sharon Miller herself and told her I was not cut out for “this thing.” She looked perplexed– “What thing are you referring to, my dear?” I proceeded to tell her the story of my birth, which while seemingly irrelevant, had one important point– I was born with child-bearing hips. In other words, I was a chubby premature baby. I was doomed from the start; incapable of ever making a living off my body.

Miller: “So what you’re saying is you don’t want to be a professional dancer, and hence this entire experience is worthless? Yaffa, you’re ten, and you’re worried about your career plans?”

I responded that I was not worried. I knew exactly what I wanted to be– a senator, resembling Barbara Mikulski, the endearing pudgy senator from Maryland. She was female, a Democrat, and had a little extra junk in her trunk– three traits I fully identified with.

Well, after Ms. Miller stared blankly at me for a few moments, she regained a level of composure and said, “I think I know just the right type of dance for this budding politician.”

The next thing I knew, I was enrolled in a Latin dance class, salsaing, bachataing, and merenguing like my life depended on it. And shockingly, I wasn’t an embarrassment to watch. Latin dance is designed for women with curves, and I soon realized I had found my rhythmic niche.

Fast forward eleven years, and I am a Zumba aficionado, participating in a Zumba competition to raise money for diabetes research. The basic premise: Zumba till your caffeine levels reach alarmingly low levels. Every minute spent on the dance floor is another dollar towards making diabetes a thing of the past.

Of course I like it: Gay male dancers, as evidenced by Mr. Yellow Shirt.

For those unfamiliar with Zumba, or who have never attended one of my infamous Wellelsey “Jewmba” classes (designed specifically for a group of women genetically predetermined to fail at dancing), let me explain. Zumba is Latin-style aerobics, performed alongside contemporary hip hop and pop music. Imagining doing cumbia or the cha-cha-cha to Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie,” and you have a particularly good sense of the sort of activity involved in this cardio routine.

Hence, when I was presented with the opportunity to put my hips to good use, I gladly volunteered them– participating in the largest Zumba class even to be held at my local women’s only gym. We raised hundreds of dollars to help a fellow Zumba instructor, whose brother had recently passed from juvenile diabetes. And, as with the completion of most good deeds, all of us participants left with a feeling that we had done our part to make a difference in a war against a deadly disease.

It also inspired me. As a team leader in the Boston Leukemia and Lymphoma Society ‘s Light Up the Night Walk in October, I had been searching for fundraising ideas that did not cost too much to initiate. I now think a Jewmba dance off may be in the works, with 100% of the proceeds going towards the walk. For those of you who are male, or female– and for some strange reason have opted out of single sex education, you can still be of service to me, donating to my team here. And while I don’t make a habit out of citing Hasidic charity boxes, I will close with this, “Every little bit makes a difference.” So please consider giving to this very worthwhile and necessary cause.

Relationship Advice from the Girl Without A Relationship: the New York Edition

It’s a Saturday night. You are surrounded by five gay men. There are six bottles of assorted alcohol on the table. Stories of Fire Island flings-gone-wrong abound. In all honesty, you are exactly where you want to be; surrounded by intoxicated men, who you have no doubt will definitely not molest you.

And yet, you find yourself facebook stalking a potential new someone in your life. Your lack of attention to the Chelsea Boys before you does not go unnoticed. One such Boy–we’ll call him Jay– whispers, “Yaffa, who you creepin’ on?”

“Um, no one… yet.” See, I was on a very particular mission: to discover the mystery man’s birthday, and subsequently to determine if we were astrologically compatible.

While most of my Oxford cohorts this year considered my obsession with star signs to be immature and frankly, absurd, I was steadfast and held strong to the belief that there was some minute degree of truth to be gleaned from whether one was a Taurus or a Gemini (the former of which I am compatible with; the latter of which I most certainly am not).

In fact, I have never agreed to date a man/boy/individual still “finding” himself whose birthday I did not know beforehand. I ask only three questions before approving or disapproving of an individual.

1. What is your name?

2. Do you like coffee?

3. When is your birthday?

I find that if Mr Potential cannot accept me for the absurdity of my three question inquisition, he probably isn’t the future Mr Fredrick (and yes, I am one of those feminists who does not plan on taking her husband’s last name as her own.) If, however, he is not afraid to answer all three, preferably in order, as I am slightly OCD about organization and presentation of responses, he already stands a fighting chance.

There are, of course, a set of correct answers. I refuse to date any individual who could have been a guest star on the Andy Griffith Show or Leave It To Beaver. That means if your name is Wally, Herman, or Manfred, you should look elsewhere for love and affection.

I also could not possibly date someone who loathed coffee, or more specifically Starbucks lattes. For starters, my number one dating spot would no longer be an option. But, perhaps, more importantly, he would be unable to tolerate my caffeinated state of being: overcharged on the super charge, 24/6.

And lastly, we return to the astrology-focused question. I have dated three individuals thus far. Putting aside the fact that two of the three are now dating each other, both were astrologically compatible with me. The time we spent together was enjoyable and enriching, and the fact that we remain friends until this day is a testament to that.

However, boy number three was an Aries, the worst possible astrological match imaginable for myself, a Cancer. And the fact that after several verbal, written, and face-to-face rendezvouses, our relationship came to an abrupt halt is no surprise. I knew better than to date a fire sign. If my mother has taught me anything, it is to never ever date an Aries (or a Libra for that matter).

And so avid Green Straw readers, I leave you with this one piece of advice: Do not fear initiating conversations with the words, “When were your born– specifically the month and day?” It will save you the heartache and uncomfortable dinner date conversation, in which you discuss the weather, as if you’re in England and it’s actually worthy of discussion.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the new boy on the horizons did not post his birthday online. Damn, privacy-loving bastard.

All I want for Christmas is a bagel and schmear.

I know I am rather delayed in my posting on David Black, the latest intern to depart from the World Policy Journal. However, I have been distracted by a rather exciting event said to occur this weekend: the Gay Boys Barbecue. For one evening only, my mother has decided to host an event for the lovely men of Manhattan, a.k.a. the Chelsea Boys. These Boys are the ones who taught me my very first life lesson: never pursue acting, and more importantly, never date an actor.

While I have no doubt they will provide future blog fodder,  I must return to the intern of the day. David, a prepster attending a hippie school (Bard), filled a particular niche in the office this summer– the I-actually-understand-bar-graphs-and-what-they-mean-for-humanity niche, to be precise. Yes, the resident economist, he wrote, and with quite a bit of passion and understanding, about all things China. He got down and dirty with communist dictators, and even was the recipient of some lovely “hate messages” for his stance on future global economic development.

Mind-numbing numbers aside, David was an interesting character for another reason: He was a non-Jew living on the Upper West Side, code for “I’m a Modern Orthodox Jew, and I graduated from [insert ivy league here]”. Yes, all those doctors, lawyers, and Columbia academics– the ones who take off nearly all of September for four weeks of consecutive High Holidays– reside between 59th and 109th, and west of Central Park. And yet, somehow, David, a rugby player possessing multiple pairs of loafers, calls this 50 block span of the city his own.

He is a testament to the diversity of New York. His family, a pack of globe trotting journalists, have chosen mini Jerusalem as their new home. They even paid to send him and his sister to Trinity, the leading prep school in the United States, which coincidentally is 50% Jewish. From this I must conclude that David and his family have a secret addiction to bagels and schmears (as in cream cheese and lox, people). And frankly, who can blame them?

But just in case this entry is peppered with too many references to my people, I leave you with one of my favorite Catholic photographs– drawn from the folder on my laptop entitled,  “Nuns having way more fun than I am.”

Here's to state fairs in the summertime!