Proof that I am losing my New Yorker edge

There’s a long line at the Walgreen’s pharmacy. I am balancing a full bag of groceries in one arm and my heavy gym bag on my shoulder. I am somewhat irritated with myself for choosing to enter a Walgreen’s during rush hour.

The lady behind me is sighing loudly to let everyone know she is in a hurry and is more important than everyone else; I pretend I can’t hear it. Someone else cuts in front of me to be with her family but checks out separately anyway; I say nothing.

Finally get to the counter. The technician, after first going through a rigamarole to update my address (which has been listed incorrectly for 6 years without causing any issues), insists on a pharmacist consultation.

More waiting.

When the pharmacist arrives, she reads the instructions out loud: “Looks like you’re supposed to apply cream to the affected area once daily.” She shrugs. SHE ACTUALLY SHRUGGED.

Old New Yorker Laura would’ve wanted to punch her in the face. Old New Yorker Laura would’ve said something sarcastic instead. On the way out, Old New Yorker Laura would’ve exchanged glances with Sighing Lady and said, “You know why it’s taking so long? Because they think we can’t read.”

But New Portlander Laura doesn’t do any of these things. Instead, she takes the bag of medicine and says:

“Thank you.”


New York is changing, too. This is the parking garage on my street, which closed last fall because the building is slated for demolition. It might already be a new set of condos by now.

In honor of Opening Day…

It’s Derek Jeter’s last season. This depresses me on many levels. Makes me feel old, yada yada yada, but mostly, it brings me back to his rookie season in 1996 (ninth grade) and the many nights I stayed up late into the night with my clock radio pressed to my ear so I could hear the end of the Yankees’ extra-inning games. So, in honor of his last season, I’m posting an old essay I wrote about love and baseball. It’s called “Me and My Mattingly.”

I found this picture on the internet, but I do actually own this card, naturally.

I found this picture on the Internet, but I do actually own this card, naturally.

The first time I fell in love, I was seven years old. The Yankees were not a great team back then, despite the impressive talent on their roster: Dave Winfield. Rickey Henderson. Don Mattingly.

It was Mattingly who first caught my eye. Tall and pinstriped with a stately sheriff’s moustache, Don was a real looker. His dimpled chin, deeply set eyes and near-constant stubble—this was a rugged, adorable hunk.

Most importantly, like me—and like so many great first basemen—he was left-handed. Left-handed! We had so much in common: I ate with my left hand. So did Don! I threw a ball with my left hand. So did Don! At night, I curled my teddy bear into the crook of my left arm. And so did Don! He and I were obviously a match made in heaven. The only real problem was that we’d never actually met.

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The end of an era

I read some sad news today: H&H Bagels is closing its Upper West Side location. Tomorrow.

In case you are not a New Yorker, let me help you understand the magnitude of that statement: What if, overnight, the Grand Canyon zipped back together? Chicago deep-dish so-called pizza ceased to exist? The sun decided not to rise? This, dear readers, would be like H&H Bagels shuttering its doors. Something that always was suddenly no longer is.

The reason for the closure, according to Grub Street New York, is a “rent issue.” This, I can only imagine, is a euphemism for what has happened to so many other businesses in the neighborhood: skyrocketing rents have made it impossible to keep the doors open unless you are a) a major bank b) Starbucks c) Ray’s Pizza d) a fine-dining establishment e) a cell phone store or, best of all for financial security reasons, f) an upscale chain retailer.

Aside from the proliferation of Ray’s Pizza, this is not the Upper West Side I grew up with.

I remember a neighborhood that required the use of the word “character” to describe it, in a city where rent control kept things somewhat reasonable and relatively affordable. One where “coffee shop” meant a diner with the best chocolate milkshakes ever. Where you could walk into a bookshop that sold only mysteries, and where your pharmacist knew more about your family health history than you did. Where you could sink into an Eeyore-shaped bean bag in the children’s bookstore while you and your brother searched for Waldo. Where the homeless man who lived on your corner knew your name—and your dog’s. Where your favorite Chinese takeout place asked, “You sure?” if you changed your regular order. Where you could cool down with a shaved ice on a hot summer day, buy an egg-and-cheese on a kaiser roll at the corner deli, watch a fellow dog owner stand on a park bench and rant about leash laws to a sizable crowd of nodding heads, and strike up a conversation with the guy who made a career out of repairing and reselling discarded air conditioners (easy to spot—always wearing a black trench coat in June, pushing a dolly loaded up with broken window units).

First, Barnes & Noble opened. Eeyore’s, the lovely children’s bookstore, closed. So did the famous bookseller Shakespeare and Co. Then the coffee shops left, replaced by four Starbucks in a ten-block radius. The mystery bookstore moved a bit further uptown, and then closed for good. The two Duane Reades and one CVS within five blocks shut down both local pharmacies. The fish store closed, and soon thereafter, the fish restaurant next door. Delis became shoe stores. Hardware stores turned into fancy hair salons. Multiple businesses got kicked out to make room for the giant Victoria’s Secret, and across the street, a Coach store (because who needs a place to get a spare key made or a prescription filled by someone who knows you when you can purchase an overpriced leather wallet?).

But the one place that you’d never thought would give up—the place that sells nothing but the quintessential New York staple—was H&H. It was a gritty store—sawdust on the floors, lines out the door, bagels stored in subdivided, scratched-up plexiglass tubs. Labels were rudimentary: SALT. PUMPERNICKEL. PLAIN. This was no pristine chain store operation. What it had instead was character—a whole lot of a character and the best damn bagels in the world.

What I’m realizing as I write this, with more than one tear dripping down my cheek, is the reality that I’ve seen unfold in my hometown since I left more than 10 years ago: the New York City that I remember as a kid is gone.

Planes, trains and automobiles, Vol II

1. Am back in Portland, but not after spending nearly two days in and/or in very close proximity to airports. On Monday my flight home was delayed for two hours, then we boarded and sat AT THE GATE for nearly four hours, only to have the flight cancelled. I then waited on line at the Delta counter for an hour and a half to rebook, and didn’t make it back to my mother’s house until 3 am. In all: ten hours of travelling and I went absolutely nowhere.

2. JFK, 2 am, early Tuesday morning. By this point I’m slap-happy and have befriended nearly everyone on the line around me—conversation is the best way to kill time, as far as I’m concerned. But not everyone has it as good as I do, what with my mother living in New York and an empty bed awaiting me. Not everyone can call this place home. From my spot on line, I notice a woman sitting in a chair by the wall, leaning her head back and trying to get some sleep. She, like most of my fellow passengers, will be spending the night at the airport. Maybe sixty, sixty-five years old, she is exhausted—her cheeks are streaked with tears and bags are hanging from her eyes. I am more than 100 feet away and even I can see that this is going to be one of the longest nights of her life.

3. JFK, 2:15 am, early Tuesday morning. At long last, I have a seat on another flight, leaving Tuesday evening. I gather my things and head toward the taxi stand. I pass the resting woman, who looks noticeably upset and uncomfortable. I reach into my bag and pull out the U-shaped travel pillow my mother gave to me after my pillowless red-eye the week before. I hand it to her. She looks up, her eyes filling with tears. “You don’t need it?” she asks. “I’ve got another one,” I tell her. “Thank you so much. God bless you,” she says. A tear drops from her eye. I put my hand on her shoulder. “You’ll be home soon. Don’t worry.”

4. JFK, 2:20 am, early Tuesday morning. “Anyone going to the Upper West Side?” I call out to the people waiting behind me. Yes. And yes. Three of us agree to share a cab home. Turns out that my fellow passengers are on a business trip and are expensing everything, including our ride. I try to offer 20 bucks for my share and they shoo my money away. “Forget about it. My company’s paying.”

5. The airline saga continues, but it’s more of the same thing: rebooking, delays, delays, delays. A guy next to me on the LIRR Tuesday afternoon told me that he used to work for JFK. “Don’t tell anyone, but the secret is to fly into Newark. You see, LaGuardia and JFK are too close and their runways face each other. Planes can’t take off at the same time from both—they alternate. So you’ve got delays at one airport, then you’ve got delays at both. Newark is the answer.” We sat on the JFK tarmac for an hour and a half, at least, before finally taking off. After all these years of making Jersey jokes, the joke is finally on me—Newark is the answer.

Return of the Bulbous Mass

For those of you waiting with bated breath over whether or not my mother reads my blog: it came up over dinner last night. As expected, she only reads it when a coworker forwards it to her, which happens if the blog is actually about her. (So you might still be in luck, Dan.)

Anyway, tonight I’m here to talk about the Big Bulbous Hair Lady. Very longtime readers with extremely good memories might remember a previous post about her; the rest of you can read about her here. Or, if you’re too lazy to click through, here’s an excerpt:

If you’ve lived in my neighborhood long enough, you’ve probably seen the Big Bulbous Hair Lady. Her hair is the color of a Golden Retriever’s coat and has the consistency of the matted fur in its armpits—it is sort of like a giant uni-dred, but looks more like a big burlap sack than it does hair. It measures a good foot and a half in width, it hangs down five inches lower on the right side than it does on the left, and towers several inches above the top of the woman’s forehead, though she herself has a rather small, feeble frame.

The funny thing about the BBHL is that nearly every time I mention her to a New Yorker, specifically an Upper West Sider, the usual reaction is something like this:

“OH MY GOD, I know exactly who you’re talking about! That old lady with the other-worldly creature that passes as hair!”

Yesterday evening, I was walking with my mother and cocoframosi in Herald Square. There, among the slow walkers, the bootleg DVD peddlers, the chit-chatters and the tourists, taking a break and sitting on a standpipe, was the BBHL in all over her hairnet-restrained bulbous glory. Her back was to us, giving us the best view of alla full frontal (backal?) of the amorphous mass. It’s the kind of thing that makes you do a triple-take:

1) What the…?
2) Is that a wig or a dead dog?
3) How on Earth is that possible???

After we passed by her, my cocoframosi turned to us and said, “Did you SEE that?”

“Oh my god! That was the Big Bulbous Hair Lady!” I said.

“I’ve SEEN her before! Where have I seen her before? I know I’ve seen that somewhere,” my mother repeated in disbelief.

“I think she lives on the Upper West Side,” I said. “I’ve seen her there a bunch.”

My cocoframosi was still in shock. “It— she stopped. “It was like a beehive!”

And she didn’t mean the hair style.

So tonight I met up with a college friend and her coworkers, who had extra free tickets to Broadway show. I was barely three words into my story about seeing BBHL when one of them exclaimed:

“I know EXACTLY who you’re talking about! That lady with that—that—that inexplicable, bizarre wad of—that hairdo!”

I’m telling you, she’s famous.

Goddamn Jersey drivers and New York, New York, NEW YORK, how I miss thee

He was pretty heavy-handed with the horn, even for a New York City taxi driver. Although not without justification: a few cars ahead of us, a someone was holding up the traffic with an amateur attempt at a parallel parking job. Anyone could see that the spot wasn’t big enough.

But hope springs eternal when you’re trying to park your car in Manhattan—SUVs become sedans, hatchbacks become shoeboxes. Parking is 90% mental and you can fit anywhere if you try hard enough.

Reality finally set in as the honking cars piled up behind the golden sedan with the pale yellow license plate. Accelerating quickly—you can give up, but not without your pride—the car drove off in hopes of finding something more realistic.

The driver of my taxi wasn’t going to let him off that easily, and serenaded the sedan with a goodbye “fuck you” with his horn. “Goddamn Jersey drivers,” he scoffed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The parking garage on my mother’s street was one of Chelsea’s main dog treat stops in her day—we couldn’t go past the place without her getting at least one. Because of this—and, well, because I once dated one of the employees— everyone who works there knows me by name. I never come home without stopping in to say hello.

“So you like Portland?” asked Charlie, the night manager, pronouncing the name of my adopted city as “POTE-lan.”

“I do. It’s so much less uptight, more down-to-earth. Oregon is beautiful.”

Charlie was incredulous. “You don’t miss New York?”

“What’s there to miss about New York?” I shot back, although as soon as I heard myself say it, I knew I was lying.

“HA! What isn’t there to miss about New York? All you have to do is say the name and you miss it! New York. See?”


Thank you to all for your thoughts and sympathy. I arrived today in New York City and the funeral is tomorrow. I will update more when I have more to say.

My mother is dusting every corner of the apartment at the moment. In fact, just twenty minutes ago, we were heading to the kitchen when she stopped in her tracks and yelled, “Ugh! I see more dust!” Naturally, since I ignore dust, I had no idea what she was talking about, but of course she whipped out a rag and a bottle of Fantastik and has been cruising around the place looking for the pervasive stuff ever since.

She’s paranoid because we’re having people over tomorrow after the service. I highly doubt they’ll notice the dust behind her bureau, but that hasn’t stopped her from wiping it off.

Must go. My mother just offered me some watermelon and I must take her up on the offer.