Well Hello, Dottie

A new graceful presence in the household: Dottie arrived 3 weeks ago on the first snow. She is a big fan of food, toys, couch, and blanky.

Saro was pretty mad at first but has come to accept her fate.

Chiaroscuro in the household!


Chestnuts Roasting on My Ass

I am not a fan of food-inspired spa treatments.

No chocolate fudge pedicures, please.

No honey on my face.

And please, DO NOT wrap me in pumpkin pulp.



Feng Shui Me

I had some ideas for rearranging the furniture, maybe adding a small new piece or 2. But I was petrified of buying something that was wrong and being stuck with it, or picking out a wall color or wallpaper that was going to make my home look plum silly. Or moving the piano . . . and then having to move the piano back.

Obsessed with the magazine that everyone at work is obsessed with, I saw an interesting article on one-shot design consultants. For a very small fee they will advise you on the best way to arrange your home, using what you have and making suggestions for manageable additions and subtractions.

I found a nice woman with a background in interior design and, as a bonus, extensive experience in feng shui. Jennifer came by today to have a gander at my apartment.

"Nice and spacious," she said. "But we have to do something about the energy when you come in. It's one long corridor, and then your energy falls out the window."

Couldn'ta said it better myself.

She meditated on my space for a long time and asked me a lot of questions as we sipped peppermint tea. When did I move in? Why this neighborhood? Why all white? After awhile she got up from the couch and rotated one corner twenty-five degrees. She paused. I worried for a moment that was going to be it.

I stepped back a few paces and surveyed the pivot. I don't usually like furniture on an angle, but this was working. Energy crisis averted!

She took out this crazy-ass compass on a big square board with colors all around it. She said it's very hard to find this compass in English. Saro started slinking around us, interested. Jennifer said she didn't mind Saro eating all her other stuff so long as Saro didn't touch the compass. As soon as we relaxed in conversation, Saro lurched toward the compass. No, Saro!

I said I was thinking of color for the foyer. Jennifer also had a giant wad of Benjamin Moore paint chips on a binder ring. How did I feel about red? Very interesting.

I really liked this meeting. She's going to e-mail me all of her notes and suggestions tomorrow. Her recommendations for new pieces were well within my budget -- Pearl River, Home Depot. And I feel confident I'm making the right move *before* dumping out all my bookcases.

When this is all done -- party at my place.


Birthday Letter

Dear Ben,

I can't call you on your birthday so I have to write. Wherever you are now, I'm sure you're surfing the Web if at all possible.

I think about you all the time. I try to picture your face. Often we would be driving somewhere and I would turn and study the side of your face. You would wear that heavy grey polar fleece pullover and orange TiVo cap. You had a cute long nose and those rectangular glasses. I liked when your hair was longer and curling a little. You were getting a few silver hairs at your temples. I tried to picture what you would look like as you got more grey.

I try to remember our conversations. You would bring me up to speed on your friends and family -- their comings and goings -- and show me your old home movies. I already felt as if I knew everyone. Or at least, I knew their bar mitzvahs. You made that movie of your cat while you were home on break from college because you were pretty certain that was the last time you were going to see him. That was one long movie. You followed him around the yard when he wasn't doing very much, just loafing and poking around. And that turned out to be the last time you saw him.

Many people have noted with regret that we have so few photos and movies of you. You took reams of photos and hours of video, but you always were behind the camera. I don't even have a picture of the two of us. Everything that happened between us, with a few exceptions, was just us -- and now I'm carrying it alone. I have to talk/write/rant about you just to help bear it, even though I know you would be terribly embarrassed. But you knew what you were getting into with me. You read the whole blog before we even met.

You could dish pretty well yourself, though. When we first met you boasted about your colorful stories, and I remember a lot of them now. Generally your full-blown stories about people would fall into two categories -- People who Made Good Decisions and People who Made Bad Decisions. People who made good decisions, such as being the first to move to a particular up-and-coming town, often had been recipients of your advice. People who made bad decisions often had ignored advice from you -- buying a substandard appliance, for example -- and were punished with some kind of trouble, such as a defective unit, as a result.

Either way, you gave a lot of advice. When I was mad at you I theorized you saw everyone as projects that needed your improvements, and that you mostly related to people by criticizing them. In calmer moments I realized that you didn't criticize to be mean. You were just ridiculously informed about an insane number of things and were trying to help people out, freely dispensing your opinion whether it was welcome or not. And whatever it was, usually you were right.

I don't think I ever saw you mean. You could be smug; frosty; imperious; gracious; tender; passionate. But not mean.

I still haven't renovated my kitchen, but I'm holding on to the sketch you made. You sent it to me the first week we were dating. In my book, that's a no-money-back-you're-getting-laid guarantee.

You tried to give me music advice once. What a disaster. I had been having difficult gigs and you were videotaping them all. The night you tried to play a show back to me and make running commentary -- like "why don't you smile more at the audience?" -- I almost knocked your block off. It was the only time I told you to go fuck yourself and really meant it. But you seemed to like it when I got sassy.

You continued to try to be helpful. We even tried an album cover shoot in Central Park, scouting around to find the spot where Nina Simone sat for the cover of her first record. We climbed giant, icy "keep off" rocks and froze our asses sitting on them to get a good shot of me with the pond and bridge behind. Days later, you produced another pearl: "I think your record cover should be . . . the outline of your naked body." Good grief, Ben.

Last year on your birthday we met up at Columbus Circle. Your instructions from me were to wear a suit that fit. I spotted you from across the plaza -- you looked so tall and handsome in your suit and trenchcoat. You were taller than everybody. It was not too cold; holiday lights were up; the Salvation Army lady was there with her bell and kettle. When we kissed hello I felt so nervous.

Between our fancy dinner and jazz at Lincoln Center, we strolled through Borders in the Time Warner Center -- you pointed out Weird N.J. magazine. Why do I keep remembering that now? We spent the rest of the weekend watching Lord of the Rings and debauching. Afterward, you didn't call me for days. God I was furious -- but that did result in our setting up a schedule. And that worked.

I remember your signature touches. You would bring tea and cookies to me on the couch and plop your legs in my lap. Self-righteously, like a huge cat. As we rode the bus in the morning, you would plant your hand on my knee and squeeze. You would TiVo stuff for us to watch together. Weeknights were nice and slow with you. It shocks me now to realize how much of a steady presence you were.

Sometimes I get hysterical wondering where the hell you've disappeared to. I force myself to remember the night on the pier, as you were losing strength, and then later as your soul left your body. I tell myself this was the end of the story. Of course, that's impossible. Your story is carried on by everyone who cared about you. Ed wrote a beautiful remembrance of you.

It's really cold tonight so I'm pulling out your down comforter. Saro threw up on the green blanky and I need something warm.

I miss you, Ben. You are never far from my thoughts. Now go fuck yourself.

Love, Erica


All my boxes finally were packed and sealed for the office move. We had been packing for two days. My coworkers were quietly sifting through their own papers, drifting around socializing, or drifting out of the office. Russian moving men were hauling stuff away on handtrucks.

I beat it outta there. It was 11:41 am.

I went as far away from Soho as the train could reasonably carry me in thirty minutes. Midtown! MOMA!

MOMA! Where I'd never been before.

MOMA! Steel and glass and hardwood floors.

MOMA! Where the Pollock's as high as an elephant's eye.

I spent a lot of time on those Pollocks, esp. full Fathom Five, in which you can see the form of a cigarette and a paint tube cap sloshed in with the rest of the caked-on color. I like that. The artist and his crap.

Museums are so dizzying -- not to mention the art therein, in this case -- I had to take pee breaks often, just to unwind. The arch of my right foot is aching something fierce too these days, and the wood floors are killer.

There seem to be a lot of German tourists afoot for some reason.

If this were a romantic comedy, a dashing man would have approached me as I gazed at the Walker Evans subway candids. He would have commented on how vivid the unwitting subjects look. I would have explained how, upon seeing the larger Evans retrospective at the Met a few years ago, I saw a candid of a man I swore was my grandfather. It made sense: New York in the thirties and forties-- a very familar-looking Anglo-aristocratic guy in a fedora and topcoat -- square jaw -- light eyes -- baby on his lap. I couldn't positively I.D. either the man or the baby, though. The man's head is turned.

The portrait burned in my brain. I found it in the Evans book that accompanied the show. I called up my dad and asked him to scout for the book and find the photo. He and my mom did so over a latté at their local Barnes and Noble on Long Island.

"I'm sorry to report, I don't think it's him," my dad said. "That wasn't grandpa's nose."

And that would have been the end of the story I would have told to the dashing man who did not exist and did not approach me.

As if MOMA weren't exhausting enough -- with or without these imaginary dramas -- I headed next to Bendel's for some serious froufrou.

Bendel's! With a whole wing devoted to candles.

Bendel's! Pashmina my heart.

Bendel's! With lace thongs wrapped up tight like little bullets and stored in a jar.

I wanted some makeup but wasn't sure what. Finally I supplicated myself to the girl at the Benefit counter. She was so young and skinny her bra stood up of its own will.

"We'll do the smoky eye on you," she said gravely.

I left with smoky eyes and shiny candy apple lips. Bought 2 products. One is a yellow stick that knocks out an excess of rosiness in your complexion -- effective for when you paint your lips red and want to tone down your face in contrast. Fooling around with it today, I discovered it makes a very good under-eye concealer as well.

The second product is more controversial. It's luminescence. The dewey look. Huey, dewey, gooey. I still can't tell whether I glow, or I look clammy and schvitzy as if from food poisoning.

As soon as I hit the street I blotted out my lips. It was warm out, which felt comforting.

It wasn't even five o' clock yet. I'd ordinarily be at work for another hour or two!

Crossing in front of the Plaza, I looked up at Central Park East. The boughs of the trees were touched with yellow. Yellow cabs were passing by. The sun was low and gold in the sky.


The New Black

It has been said that this season, black is the new black. I can dig it. Sometimes it's just so right.

I put on light grey pants this morning and they just didn't flow for me. They made me feel vaguely like a wuss. I switched them out for pedal-to-the-metal noir. Black wool pinstripe trousers, black tee, black wrap sweater. Black leather jacket.

However, even in such a petulant mood, one could benefit from a little spark. My boss, who has an amazing intuition for garment design and color theory, calles it the "kicker color." Or rather, she's Australian so it's "kick-ah cuhl-ah."

I apply it thus: when you're feeling noir, viva le blood-red handbag.

These are the little amusements that keep me going. I fear I am becoming an automaton: sleeping, working, knitting in front of the television. One must fight the good fight -- William Packard taught me that. Right now I'm using that advice as leverage to help whup out a few more songs. But it's slow going.

What is the emotional equivalent of a kicker color?

I have noticed one phenomenon. I was sifting through a drawer of huge plastic crochet hooks recently and started blushing. Studying piles of cable-knit swatches today, my eyes followed the pretzel, braid, and diamond patterns in their ever-increasing intricacy -- twisting and pulling and splitting apart and linking up again -- until I grew positively dizzy.

Ah, Eros. You scamp.


Jill was suspicious when I said I was fine with returning to Fire Island.

"Just go ahead and book it," I chirped.

"Ummmmmmm." Jill sat back and stared way to the left, bugging her eyes and grimacing. I giggled.

"Look! I can't stop going there. It's my favorite place on Earth. If I started avoided places with memories of Ben, then I couldn't go to Union Square, where we met. The entire Upper West Side would be out of bounds. I'd never be able to leave my house."

"Okaay" -- she leaned in -- but we're not going to have Miss Morticia. NO MISS MORTICIA on this trip."

I took this to mean: Limit snuffling jags to 1 minute or under; no calling names into the air (i.e. That Dead Bastard!) and shaking fist; no openly reminiscing about sexual encounters.

Jill had had infinite patience thus far. She was being honest in telling me it's time to cut back. But that didn't mean leaving Fire Island behind forever.

I am trying to look at life like an athlete. Sometimes a bone must be rebroken and reset in order to heal properly, and so it is with the heart.

Our first night we went to Maguire's, a bar on the bay, for a drink. It was twilight and they were playing Jimmy Buffett-style music. The place was almost empty except for 2 older women across from us. Jill ordered a beer and I ordered red wine. A waiter sailed past us to the next table and set down a beautifully irridescent green martini offset by 2 bright red cherries. Jill started to discreetly photograph it.

She wanted to get closer. She approached the women and asked if she could take a close-up.

"Certainly," one said, "but could you take our picture, too?"

They turned to the camera and smiled -- one with coquettish precision, one with a hint of shyness.

"What is that drink?" Jill asked.

"A red-and-green martini. Can you believe this waiter had never heard of a red-and-green martini!"

They started asking questions. Who were we? What were we doing here? If only I knew the answer to that.

Jill and the ladies chatted away in the twilight. I moseyed over to the table and stood there, swirling my wine in the glass.

The ladies -- Joann and Evonda -- invited us to join them. "Can you believe," Joann said of Evonda, "this woman is almost 80? And she rode her bike up and down the island today." Evonda flashed a chipmunk smile. She lived in Berkeley.

"What do you do in Berkeley?" Jill asked.

"As litttle as possible!"

Joann had spent almost thirty summers on Fire Island. "I was an activist here," she said.

"What was your cause?" I asked.

"Oh, you name it, I was against it," she said.

The stars came out. Evonda referred to her husbands as number 1, number 2, number 3. Joann had lost both her husband and her son. She had not been able to return to Fire Island since her son died ten years ago. She sold her house. This was her first weekend back to visit.

"Oh God, I'm so sorry." I was sloshy on wine.

"Thank you, dear."

Jill was coming back from the bathroom as I was telling them about Ben. Oops. Morticia strikes.

"Oh! Darling. I'm sorry," Joann said.

"'Sssokay, you know? And I wasn't sure about coming back here."

"But you came back."

Joann spontaneously shared with us her man-finding strategies from when she was thirty. She went places where men went that, at the time, women didn't go: golfing, skiing, to the races. She ended up marrying someone she worked with. Jill and I still are not sure what to make of this advice.

Finally we scooted off -- Joann and Evonda to get a a lobster dinner, Jill and I to crawl under our blankies and watch TV. The women called for us the next day at our b&b, but we missed them. I ran into them on the main drag -- Evonda on her bike, Joann riding in a golf cart due to her mending broken hip.

"Your hair looks nice up," Joann said. "You should always wear it like that."

I miss them already.


Eulogy II


by Erica Smith


I opened the door and found Roxy and Saro right on the other side, sticking their snoots in the widening door crack. I had to step carefully over them and try not to drop the mail or let the door slam.

Saro turned around, ran ahead of me, turned to face me, and screamed.

"Eeeow! EEEEEOW!"

Rox hustled to the food bowl, talking care to give a wide berth to Saro.

The food bowl was always seriously overflowing but Rox would pause, waiting for a refresher. I shook a few kibble on top of the pile. Rox crunched a little. She looked up at me, purring and crunching.


I was sitting on the couch reading. Rox approached me. She often studied a situation for a long time in order to figure out how to insert herself into it. Sometimes she waited too long and I'd be ready to get up and do something else before she could make her move. This time she acted fast. She alighted quickly onto the arm of the sofa, and then jumped to the back.

She stretched out along the back of the sofa, right behind my head, and started purring.

Time passed. Out of nowhere I felt a foot pressing against my shoulder blade.

"Roxy!" I giggled.

The foot pressed harder.


There are 2 kinds of cats: the cats who wake you up and the cats who wait.

Often I wake up with a paw squeezing the tip of my nose. That would be Saro.

Sometimes I woke up to complete stillness. Usually it would be after a long, heavy sleep. Whoever had already tried to wake me up had long abandoned the project. In this complete tranquility, Rox jumped onto the bed, quiet and cool as a breeze.

Rox walked a few steps toward me, purring. I lifted my head and she smudged my forehead with a kiss. Then, as mysteriously as she arrived, she left.

I got up and followed her to the food bowl. Just a few kibble to top her off.


Cat Hospital

A sign on the wood cubby:





Fire! Fire! part 2

I stumbled into my living room, bewildered. The apartment smelled of fish.

I ran to the oven and turned it off.

I picked up the phone and called 911 to issue a retraction.

"I'll cancel the police," the operator said -- the police were coming too?? -- "but the firemen have to come anyway, just to check."

Oh dear. Oh dear.

I started preparing for visitors, cleaning up 2 piles of cat vomit. I poured a glass of Fresca. I checked on the fish.

"Helloo . . . " the door opened.

Six large men filed into my living room. They were in full fireman regalia: big black suits, conelike hats, crowbars, giant silver fire extinguishers. They all were over six feet tall. Head Fireman had ice blue eyes.

"So, you got in okay."

"Yeah! Yeah. My neighbor's key worked. Scary, right? Ha, ha!"

Yikes -- I am so braless.

"Here, kitty." Head Fireman strode toward the kitchen and Saro ran like hell.

He opened the oven door. "Looks good."

"Yeah, it's an old oven, but it's nice."

"No, the fish."

"Oh! Yeah."

"So you're all okay here."

"Yup, we're all . . . here."

"Enjoy your dinner!" Exeunt firemen.

Head Fireman opened the door again and pointed toward a little plastic bag of trash outside the door. "You're going to take care of this?"


Fire! Fire!

I'm going to have to make this quick.

Last night I was so tired. Beyond exhausted. Too much debauching in the early part of the week. Went straight home.

I picked up a few groceries on the way. I had an idea to try to cook fish. I am trying to make friends with fish. Apparently, eating them is good for you. Circumventing the gory Chinatown markets, I went to Fine Fare and picked up a suitably clean-looking Saran-wrapped salmon filet and some low-fat Creamsicles.

I looked through all my cookbooks and ran across the Barefoot Contessa's version of salmon and lentils. Cool.

The lentils were no problem, but I was so tired I kept dropping them all around the kitchen. I poured water into a glass and splashed all over the table. Tired. Tired.

The salmon was a bit of a problem when the Contessa instructed me to cut the skin off of the bottom of the fish. This was very upsetting. I got so freaked out I stopped cutting the skin about three-quarters through, and threw the rest of the fish away. I wasn't going to eat that much anyway.

Nonetheless, the salmon that remained seared perfectly. The oven was nice and hot. I transferred the fish from the stove to the oven to cook it for five to seven minutes.

I decided to throw out the garbage that contained raw fish. You don't want to have that stuff hanging around the house. I grabbed the bag, put on my flip-flops and went out to the foyer, when . . . slam!

As soon as the door slammed my blood ran cold. I remembered the door was on auto-lock. I tried the knob. Locked.

"Fuck. fuck. Fuuuuuuuuuck!"

Fuck! What am I going to do.

Fuck! Think.

I was locked out of my apartment holding a bag of raw fish.

And the salmon is in the oven on broil.

I looked all around at the closed doors. I picked a door of the neighbor I had seen eariler, coming up in the elevator, and knocked. No response.

"Shit!" I jumped up and down.

I knocked on the next door. Nice Israeli people live there.

Jackpot: Burly father and son, nice mom, all watching TV.

"I'm locked out," I said. "And the fish is burning. May I use your phone?"

Shit, shit. This is so stupid.

Mom handed me the phone.

Ok, who do I call? Locksmith? Dan, who has spare keys? It would take awhile for anyone to arrive. I started having visions of fish in flames, and innocent cats choking on smoke.

"You may want to call the Fire Department," Son said.

Oh lord.

I called 911 and got to the fire department.

"What's the problem."

"I'm locked out, and the oven is on."

"Is there a fire?"

"Not yet, but the fish is . . . . "

Oh gosh . . . duh . . .

". . . broiling, and will burn any minute."

"We'll send someone over." She took my address. We hung up.

I apologized profusely to the Mom and thanked her.

Down the hallway Dad and Son were hunched over my doorknob, wiggling their Blockbuster card in the crack of the door. Nothing was happening.

"Try your key," Dad said to Son.

Son put his key in the lock and turned.

The door opened.



Today I had a slice of lemon pound cake, which reminds me of Mrs. Schoenig.

Mrs. Schoenig was a friend of my grandparents who lived in Massapequa. When my grandparents were living with my dad and me, I often would come home after school and find Grandma, Grandpa, and Mrs. Schoenig sitting at the kitchen table in our yellow kitchen.

Mrs. Schoenig had a thick accent. She had short, curly blonde hair and a wide Cheshire smile.

"Ellllleeka," she would say. "How vare you, sveetheart."

My standard answer, then and now: "fine."

That was the extent of our conversation. I would immediately start looking for her lemon pound cake.

She made the cake in bundt formation -- a high arched O with scalloped sides. The outside of the cake was a perfect honey brown adorned with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. The cake was slightly crispy when you cut into it, but as the knife went deeper it would sink in lushly. My grandmother would hand me a nice thick wedge on a paper plate. The inside of the cake was pale yellow and lightly spongey.

Coming closer, I could smell a hint of lemon. I would get a little powdered sugar on my nose. I would take a big, big bite.


Fishhead zeitgeist! part 2

As it turns out, I wasn't the only one plagued by fish heads: Pam was stared down by one during a dinner this very same week.

The next day I walked to work cautiously. The fish heads were gone. All was well till I hit Little Italy, where a guy walked right past me in a white coat, carrying a huge dead pig on his back.


Fishhead zeitgeist! part 1 (warning: contains unsavory photos)

As I was walking to work, I saw something that grossed me out so much, I decided to take a picture and share it with you.








I really dislike the markets anyway -- the smell, the sidewalk wet with fishwater and crushed ice -- but usually the carcasses are contained. These dead squid at least have the decency to align themselves.

This started too seem too ghoulish so I decided to take snaps through the rest of my walk. Ah, a bounty of summer fruit and vegetables.

Soon, I came across the most annoying corner of New York City: Fish market, newsstand, electronics table, tiny grandmothers pushing large carts, and people flowing in and out of the subway entrance. However, this corner is also a wonderful source for Chinese porn, as well as your morning lo mein.

I waited at a corner flanked by a baby and a dog. I made routine note of a very dangerous spot of sidewalk and resisted numerous enticements to drink bubble tea. And finally, crossing the line into Little Italy, I noticed a stray loaf of Italian bread poking out of the trash and reaching toward the sun.


Crazy-Ass Shit

I'm freelancing at home but can't concentrate.

Lately more than a few of my friends have started pleading with me to quit my job. Apparently, it's torturing me. I suppose I have trouble discerning it from all the other things that are torturing me.

As you might have discerned from these increasingly sporadic posts, it's been busy at the office. I'm the editorial coordinator for 24 or so books a year. There are 2 other staff members in the book department –– both designers. So basically, I have a fuckload of work. Everying from contracts, to schedules and budgets, to witing flap copy and proofreading –– even if it's freelanced –- it goes through me.

2 months into the job, I suffered Ye Olde Tragedie. That didn't help, neither. But really, despite being distraught, I just took cry breaks and kept working. I decided not to stay late or come in on weekends -- that's it.

But I need to discern some problems from others. One is the nuts and bolts of too much work and too little time. Now that I *have* started staying late and coming in on the weekends, it's apparent that the river is rising and we need more sandbaggers. Not having resources to do your job is very bad, but you can work on it. I'm freelancing out a lot of stuff. I'm lobbying for an assistant. I'm ensnaring my more flexible-scheduled friends to come in and help with office stuff.

The second problem is always the kicker: the tone of your interactions with others. This is where it gets spooky, and simple situations suddenly turn into nightmares.

For example, the president of the company walked by my cubicle the other day and his foot hit a box. It was left there as a delivery. (I have a lot of boxes stacked outside my cubicle wall because there is no room for them inside the cubicle. I had an intern consolidate them. But when an editorial coordinator doesn't have a bookcase, and has to keep page proofs in a box under her desk, things tend to pile up quickly.)

I got up and pushed the box inside my cube.

"How is it going, Erica." The president has a way of making even simple questions sound mocking. Is he mocking me? He's chewing gum.

"It's okay. There's . . . a lot going on this season, but we're on top of it so far." I am profoundly uncomfortable.

"Yeah? Like what."

"A lot of stuff coming in, and going out." Oh duh. "Manuscripts are coming in, and I'm sending them out to be copyedited." That is about one one-thousandth of what I'm doing, but so be it.

"So, you're busy."

"Yes . . . I'm very busy." I raise my eyebrows and glare. Oops -- knock off 2 points for sarcasm.

"Well, then, don't let me keep you." he emphasizes the word keep. He walks off.


I instantly guess he saw me reading the Times online one too many times. But that strikes me as strange and superficial. Or did he hear me on the phone with my parents? As a rule, parents get unlimited phone access (all others cut to five minutes -- ten if it's a crisis.)

This exchange, after weeks of clocking extra hours and giving myself stomach cramps, made me want to flush my head down the toilet.

What remains strange to me is that, if there is a problem, it is not made explicit. If I'm doing something not kosher, a simple "please don't do that" would rectify it in a flash. So it must be something more.

I'm choosing to see it as a study in power. A person maintains feelings of power by keeping others off their footing, constantly guessing and being taken by surprise. I was the victim of the day.

But is this the reward I get for frying myself to get these miserable books out the door?

I am wading through some serious crazy-ass shit.



A while ago I had an idea of having a party for my thirty-three-and-a-third birthday. Anyone old enough to get the reference would be automatically invited.

The agenda to the party was not only to celebrate my ever-slowing RPM, but secretly to seal a deal with myself. By making it to 33.33 I will have outlived my mom. For a long time I had been convinced that, in her footsteps, I would be stricken with a failing body at an early age. Her death remains as much a mystery to me now as it was when I was 7.

Last winter I mentioned the party idea to Ben as we were watching "The Wire." "Go ahead, have a party," he said, "but don't tell people that last part."

33.33 hits on Saturday. In a painful coincidence, it's also the six-month anniversary of Ben's death.

I can't think of anything more to say. Except to that asshole who nearly ran me over on his bike this morning, careening down lower Broadway at top speed and sailing through a red light:



I've Got Time

The heat and stickiness feel strange. I may be overtired. Please excuse my indulgence.

A few years ago I felt so completely driven: to crack my own head case, get over the timid aspects of my nature, learn to make crude music. Basically, to grow.

These projects have all been underway for long enough that I take them completely for granted.

In addition:

My friends are unbelievable.

I've reconciled with my family and our relationship is deepening.

My wardrobe is sufficient, with a few items verging on fabulous.

I've suffered several catastrophes of varying degrees of hideousness and remain essentially resilient and cheerful.

Have beautiful cats.

Can afford good hairdresser.

So basically I don't know what to do with myself.

At first I considered getting cable television, to find out more about the things that everyone fusses over, like HGTV. I do miss watching TV with Ben. He had TiVo. We watched "The Concert for George" one night -- for something like 3 hours -- and we ate big salads for dinner and had tea and frozen Entemann's cookies for dessert, all in front of the TV. I cried during the opening "I Want to Tell You" and tried to hide it by burying my face in a Kleenex. The poignancy of the refrain was really getting to me.


Sample Sale Redux!

Hi. Anyone still out there? I'm still here. Must have slipped into the matter-eating vortex . . .

I had a reconnaissance with the sample sale that caused much disgruntlement last year. It was much cooler out this time around, and that was a good omen. I found a dress that I had seen for $450 in Bendel's for 80% less. And it fit. And I got 2 other dresses and a jacket.

Plus, changing in a room with 23 other women gave me good kick in the pants re: the aesthetics of matching your panties to your bra.


Lately I have been routinely slipping into an alternate dimension or matter-eating vortex. I send two contracts and, when only one comes back, the recipient of such contracts insists that only one was sent. So I send another. Then I hand the 2 completed contracts to someone else for review and only get one back.

It makes one wonder if the universe is, in fact, fucking with one's head.


For all you cat fans out there, I offer you some cat home movies. Saro was knitted a new toy and I wanted to capture the presentation. Rox makes a guest appearance but, ever the cool one, hangs back.


Yes, I like Piña Coladas

It's been a week now and I'm still a touch tan. J.J. and I made a point of having aformentioned coconut-infused drink each day. They were so weak even I didn't feel it. Sitting on the edge of the Caribbean, what good would it do to be drunk anyway?

I was sitting on the sand when the tide shifted slightly. Waves started coming in at a 35 degree angle. The rope and bobble started whacking against my leg. I started to get up when I noticed something in the water. You notice when things wash up in the Caribbean, because it's otherwise so clear and pure. I was a tiny fish, not even a centimeter long. When the tide pulled out it remained on the sand, whirring. It was bright green and irridescent. Its eye took up half its body. It whirred to an amazing height -- several times its own size.

Several more waves came in, but didn't go up far enough to reclaim the fish. I considered trying to pick it up and throw it back. Surely my touch would kill it. I blew on it and tried to shoo it toward the water. The fish stopped moving. Finally the water carried it away.

I went back to the pool and put on my hat and coverup. I ordered a piña colada. It was late afternoon. The pool was finally calm after 2 days of domination by soccer players with buzzed hair and black tattoos. I had seen them loading onto a bus that morning. One woman about my age remained in the pool with her boyfriend. A speaker blared The Eagles Greatest Hits.

"Woooooo!" she said. "WOOOOOOOOOO!"


Preparing for a beach vacation brings the inevitable trip to the groomer's.

I liked the menu choices:

Bikini (regular)
Bikini Brazilian
Bikini semi (landing strip)

Buds and peepers

It was still light out when I got home.

Soon the buds will be budding and the peepers peeping.

Love is in the air, which makes it hard to pin down.

I throw myself at your mercy.


Discerning folk question the logic of a store containing items that one purchases solely for the purpose of containing other items. Yet I contend this is a good thing.

Witness my coat closet, from which a moth emerged, fluttering.

Witness my trooping off to aforementioned store, buying multitudes of plastic garment bags, and hermetically sealing said coats.

And, lo: emergence of Moth 2, and a pool of wool dust at the bottom of the neglected basket of hats and scarves.

Something about moths triggers rage in me. "Die, moth-er-f***er!" Whap, whap, WHAP.

Tonight: I obtain plastic boxes of various shapes and sizes.

Stitch, bitch.

I upgraded my Netflix and commenced to rent your suggestions en masse. Last night it was The Women. Although it made me question whether I want to ever date again, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

I also taught myself how to knit ribbing during it. Yay.

That fashion sequence was just outrageous.


Need Recommendations

I rented Annie Hall and hated it. The acting was bad and I guess I take all the psychoanalytic gab for granted.

I rented Four Weddings and a Funeral and hated it. I don't see why we're supposed to think that 2 people casually torturing each other is cute.

I need to watch movies that are smart, silly, romantic, and classy. Old or new movies -- I don't care. (Preferably old: the actors dress better.)

Suggestions please.

ps. I saw Bridget Jones and I liked it a lot -- just so you don't think I'm a total sourpuss.


Coffee with Ghosts

Only one table open at Reggio's; and I sat across from an empty chair where, on our second date, I sat across from him, talking about his plans to buy a house.

I'm sipping coffee at Magnolia Bakery when the Velvets come on with Sunday Morning: the song that flowed through the car time and time again as we drove to and from the ferry to Fire Island.

I can't bear it.

Thank you to the nice girl at Magnolia for the glass of water and free cookie.


When the going gets tough, the tough go a little blonder. And go shopping.

I now have fluffy moppet-head, a few new American Apparel shirts, and a much-needed desk chair.

Something in me must be indestructible or else it surely would have been destroyed by now.




By Erica Smith


On our third date Ben Stern took me out on the pier. It was a hot night but clear. The George Washington Bridge was sparkling to the north. Jersey was dark in places, lit up in others. The cliffs across the river looked very dark and very tall.

He pointed to different places across the river. That spot had been utterly contaminated, bought for a song, and redeveloped, and is now worth millions. Up there is where the Ramapo Mountain People live. Had I heard of them? I hadn’t, but now I understand: you don’t necessarily notice them, but once you recognize them, they’re everywhere.

He told me his office friends were intrigued by our romance. But they teased him, “yes, but does she know what’s wrong with you?” My eyebrows went up.

Quickly making a guess in my own head, I ventured that maybe Ben knew too much. Every building façade, cobblestone path, and traffic circle has a story, and he seemed to know them all. How could I possibly keep up?

I decided I liked how he could see things come alive that I took for granted: a piece of skyline, a car engine, a railroad tie.

Well, I thought. I could use a good challenge.


When Ben Stern started coming over to my apartment, he would inevitably gravitate toward the television and start tinkering. It was a small TV and I didn’t have cable, just bunny ears. I never turned the thing on anyway.

One evening Ben showed up at my door with a large loop of cable under his arm.

He took the cable and crawled under my desk. He screwed the cable into the box for my cable modem. Then he unraveled the thing across my living room and screwed it into the television. Presto: we got basic channels. We watched Saturday Night Live, giggled, and had snacks.

This process was intriguing to me, but very messy, with a thick wire snaking across my living room floor, and nests of cable here and there. It settled into a pattern: As soon as Ben would go home I would unscrew everything and scoot the wire under my TV stand. And when he would return, we’d plug everything back in again, and we would both solemnly vow to drill holes in the wall and run that cable properly.

Friday night he must have had enough of this process, for he showed up with a deck of cards.

“Do you know Rummy 500?”

“I’ve forgotten it.”

“It’s fun.” He cut the cards, shuffled, and cut again. He had already printed out instructions and read them to me.

As we played, he told me how his grandparents had been crazy for canasta.

“Are you sure you want to lay that card down?” he said after I laid a card down. He pointed to his cards. I saw a strategy I had missed.

“Uh-oh,” I said.

“You can take it back.”


“It’s not too late.”

“Look, I blew it, let me blow it.”

“It’s really not too late.”

“Fine.” I took the card back.

It happened again 20 minutes later.

“You sure you want to do that?”


He nodded toward a card.

“I made the bad move, let me make it.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Let me blow it.”

“Come on.”

Finally, he let me make the bad move. Then he showed me what to do so it wouldn’t ever have to happen again.


We were both so excited that the blizzard was coming. As people who were not especially religious, we had found our mutual day of celebration.

It was past midnight. We had watched “Sex and the City” (my choice) and “Victory By Design,” tonight on the subject of Porsche. ( . . . His choice.)

Saturday Night Live was winding down. I was getting ready to cozy up with a blanky.

Ben turned to me, smiling. “So? You ready to go out?”

“Um . . .”

“Come on!”

We bundled up with sweaters and hats and coats and hoods and socks and boots and gloves and made our way downstairs into the snowy cold street.

It was cold but the wind was not so bad. It was snowing, but not hard, not stinging. We crossed the street toward the river. The snow was well traveled but I liked stepping in the big footprints he made.

When we started going down the ramp to the pier, he would turn around every few paces and check on me or take my hand. If we had to go down a step, he would go first and then extend his hand back to me.

When we got down to the pier, the wind was blowing over the snow so it looked untouched. Chunks of ice floated in the Hudson. The sky looked dark pink and reflected dark pink in the water. I saw what looked like a group of supports in the water. Remnants of a pier? They were markers for the shallow water, he said.

I looked across to Jersey, where it was dark with an occasional sparkle. The bridge was lit. It was completely quiet except for the wind.

It occurred to me that this might be one of the most beautiful moments of my life.


Barefoot On My Ass

Someone left a bunch of unopened VHS tapes in the basement as freebies/trash. I abducted a few of them and started watching last night. I started with this one, hoping for a little lighthearted mental foxtrot. But I found it depressing and wanted to beat both characters with a stick. Insight, anyone?



Thanks to the lovely and talented Allison Ramen, we have documented my encounter with the alien octopus. Isn't it a Federal offense to degrade post office boxes?


Feedback can be described as the delivery of criticism tempered with praise, most often couched in good manners. Another kind of feedback can be described as the amplified signal from speakers or monitors being picked up again by microphones and then being re-amplified, causing unpleasant squealing, screeching, or ringing. Although these 2 kinds of feedback are quite different in nature, their effects are most often the same.

It has come to my attention as of late that there are times when I'm not hitting the mark musically. Of course, one is always one's own worst critic. But there is safety in keeping that shame a secret, and hoping that no one else notices -- or at the very least, hoping that the compassion of others will help bridge the gap between one's aspirations and reality. But when the voice inside one's head is heard on the outside, too, it takes on a new, horrible visage.

It's shocking to me how certain tasks have the ability to translate the crux of your inner life so accurately and broadcast them out to the world. Boxing is such. Are you distracted? Hiding behind your defenses? Overly aggressive? Do you think too much? Pow, pow, pow. Same with knitting: if you're too wound up inside, you end up making a row full of knots. And so it is with music.

However, unlike boxing or knitting -- tasks that were effectively thrust upon me aganst my will, yet have taken on a certain charm over time -- music is my natural path. It's my joy and pain and the metaphor for everything. Despite such lofty declarations, though, it's also just another kind of work, and work requires work. You can't have a dog and expect that because you love it so much, it will know how to behave. It has to be trained.

So off I go to puppy school.



I'm crushed. I just heard from a reliable source that my ten-year crush is now married with a child! It's just as well: If I ever had the opportunity to hug him, I would likely crush him.