Sunday, November 30, 2008

That Old Black Magic

Here in the good old United States of America, they follow grand traditions set forth by their fore fathers.  Eating turkey in November because the pilgrims did it (even though I think the Canadians have it right in October - I mean doesn't the last week of November run too close to Christmas?  Spread the turkey love people!), watching a parade of giant balloons because a very old department store wants you to go shopping, and finally, the crazy sales associated with Black Friday.

Fact:  Black Friday is called Black Friday because it is when the stores go from being in the red to being in the black

Fact:  People wake up and go to sales starting at  - are you ready for this? - FOUR IN THE MORNING!  FOUR!!!!!!!!!!  That was JC Penny.  Macy's and Target were five, much more humane.

Fact:  People who get up early and wait for the sales at already cheap stores like Wal Mart should gain some perspective.  Especially when you break a glass window and storm into the store, stampeding over an employee and killing them.  This actually happened in Long Island.  It's horrific and tragic.  My thoughts are with the family and definitely taught me the lesson to stay away from people at Wal Mart - they are clearly crazy.

I wasn't really wanting to be a part of these crowds on Friday, as last year's accidental experience with the Engineer at an outlet mall north of Seattle taught me to fear people and sales, but I was sort of curious what the crowds in New York would be like.  And seeing as a friend was in town, I just couldn't resist.  This is my story of Black Friday.

Century 21:

Century 21 is an upscale department store that is like liquidation world for Prada.  The crowds at this store are crazy on a normal day, Black Friday was clearly catastrophic.  But I needed a wallet so I pushed my way through, picked the cheapest one I could find (a whopping $8.97!  Woohoo!) and pushed my way to the cashier.  Here is when trouble started.

#1.  The price tag was actually not attached to the wallet, but inside the wallet.  The girl rudely told me that she 'don't know if thats true girl' and said to get another one.  My friend graciously offered to push his way to find a replacement.  In the meantime she yelled at me to STEP ASIDE STEP ASIDE

#2.  On having the attached proof of the price of the wallet (take that bitch) she scanned it in, and I handed over my credit card.  Chewing her gum she informed me that my card was not working and I was 'gotta pay with somethin else'.  

#3.  About to take out the cash I had, the cashier next to her told her to type in my numbers.  This is the following conversation:

My cashier:  I don't wanna punch in the numbers.  She can pay with somin else.

The other cashier:  You just bein lazy girl, punch in the numbers

My cashier:  Then i have to get authorization. I don wanna.  She can pay wit somin else

Me:  Actually, I want to pay by credit card.  I'm not from here and it costs me a lot to take out cash (lie)

The other cashier:  yeah girl, it's the holidays you can't be lazy now

My cashier:  (huffs and punches in my numbers)

The other cashier:  Girl, it's just the beginning of the holidays.  You gotta change your attitude.

My cashier:  Don't be talking to me about attitude.  I'm tired and if I don wanna do somin I ain't goin to (roughly throws my card back, I sign the computer thing)
Sign there now

Me:  I did already

My cashier:  GLARE

Me:  Oh I don't need a bag

My cashier:  GLARE

Other cashier:  It's store policy, you have to leave with a bag

Me:  That's bad for the environment

My cashier:  (shoves bag at me)

Other cashier:  Have a nice day

Me: (smile at other cashier) to my cashier You have a fabulous day now, you have been so wonderful to meet!

End Scene


As we walk randomly through the store, suddenly we are yelled at by a store clerk that we are walking the wrong way.  Confused, we look around:  aren't we in a store?  How can you walk the wrong way?  The clerk yells again and asks what part of wrong way don't we understand?  Apparently Macy's during the holidays is like driving a car in Manhattan.  There are one way aisles, stop signs and turning signals if you want to change lanes.  Also, the spots next to things to buy are coveted, sort of like rock star parking.

FAO Schwarz:

I don't know how the service was.  Why?  Because there was a line-up to get it, stretching down from the door to the street, around 59th Avenue ALL the way to Madison where it curled again towards Central Park.  I kid you not.

The Fried Chicken restaurant:

The customer ahead of me ordered a bucket of chicken, a box of mashed potatoes, fries, gravy, four cokes and some biscuits.  When the girl asked her if it was to stay, she replied 'I hardly think I am going to sit down and eat a bucket of chicken by myself' to which the surly worker said 'I don't know your life bitch'

I thought this was the country of customer service?  I mean didn't The Gap invent the greeter and the overly friendly manner?  Isn't TGI Fridays famous for its nauseating happiness and cheer?  Can't the service meet me halfway here?  When I go into a store looking for a specific item, the employee should not shrug and keep folding clothes - shouldn't she go look for it herself?  GAH!

Like Shari said on The View:  what's the point and going out and supporting the economy by spending money,  helping to save jobs in the stores if the sales assistants whose jobs we are spending money to save treat us like crap.  

Black Friday has left a black taste in my mouth.  And the sales weren't even that good.  

Friday, November 14, 2008


I am the first to admit that this Big Apple has not always been the most sweet to me.  My first visit, I 'liked' the city - after all how could one not the first week of December when Christmas is most charming?  I was the perfect tourist:  carriage ride in Central Park, food from Zabars, eating Magnolia cupcakes in the west village (by the way - Crumbs cupcakes are far superior to Magnolia. I should know,  I have done much market research).  I left thinking that New York was as exciting as they say, but not in a huge rush to come back.

Then there was the spring of this year (you can read about it in the May section) in which stomping the concrete in wedge heels with my best friends proved to be fun but I still did not feel that 'zing' people talk about.  I still could not compare New York to my love for London or Paris; it was still just a big, dirty city.

My first few days (okay, even perhaps weeks) of being here with the Engineer, I thought that the Big Apple was still dirty, was still a bit smelly, and was still too fast for my prairie girl feet.  I tried to convince the Engineer that we should try to settle in Revelstoke because it is so pretty and tranquil.  I missed the fresh Rainy City air, the ocean, the mountains.  I couldn't believe that there was no where in New York to simply escape to nature and recoup (because I do that all the time in Rainy City).

But then I stayed for a few more days . . . 

They say one of the best things about Rainy City is that in one day you can be skiing on a mountain and by the evening walking on the beach.  That is true and wonderful about Vancouver.  But it suddenly dawned on me:  In one day in New York you can be looking at Starry Starry Night by Van Gogh, see Kristen Scott Thomas or Katie Holmes on Broadway, and then run into a member of SNL on the subway home. In one day you can meet your favorite chef, act in a film via movieoke, and watch the sunset from the Empire State Building.  I am pretty sure this city has it all.  In one day you can eat knishes on the Lower East side, cheesecake in Midtown, and tapas in Soho.  Why did it take me so long to see that?

Don't get me wrong, I still love the quiet fresh air of the west coast or the peaceful small town in Alberta I grew up in, but I finally, finally became enchanted with New York.

It crept up on me.  With each new day that I did something out of the ordinary, I got closer and closer to not noticing the odd sewer smell because I was looking up at the Chrysler Building enshrouded in fog. Or I found peace in the middle of Broadway and 34th where I sat eating my fresh salad from Pax, looking at the Macy's Christmas lights.  I no longer heard the honking of horns, just the quiet you can actually find in a city.

I realized it as I was rushing down blocks of busy bodies and looked up.  I noticed I was in New York and I was  . . . happy.  I mean where else are there places devoted entirely to macaroni and cheese?  Macarons?  Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches?  Gluten-free risotto restaurants?  Sugar free bakeries for people on cleanses like me?  Wine stores filled with crazy free wine-tastings (how to pair Chinese food with wine)?  Okay, clearly one can see that I may be influenced by all my food choices.  I should be fat by now.

So I guess I am falling in love with the Big Apple.  Taking a big bite out of it, some would say.

  Big cities are big, noisy, smelly, loud but with time, patience and pure enchantment one will eventually find a piece of them to call home.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dance Dance Revolution

Part of my new New York life, is my new New York gym. I know it is just an American chain but it has been on Sex and the City and is the funnest place ever to work out. They have the best classes in the world – trampoline aerobics (can’t do it though), ‘wings’ yoga, which involves circus like tricks on a hanging swing (some would say I shouldn’t do this one), and my new discovery: African Dance.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was a bit nervous about this one. After all, I live in Brooklyn between two projects and nearly everyone I see is African-American. I was totally expecting the class to be full of AA women with actual booties and really good rhythm. To my surprise I found I was a blonde among many, save for three AA ladies. Great, I am totally going to rock this class.

Wrong. As soon as our instructor started moving with the beats of the drums, ALL the other blonde girls did as well. And even though they had no hips or butts, they still found the beautiful rhythm and movement of the African beat.

I looked like an Orangutan on crystal meth.

I tried my best to wiggle my hips and stomp my feet all the while gracefully moving my arms in the opposite direction. The effect, like I said before, was a crystal meth laced Orangutan who had eaten too much sugar.

I was so bad that when we went in lines, no one would go behind me. She also made us split in to two teams – my team was only 8 big and full of the bad dancers. It was torture.

But the most fun torture I have yet to endure. As much as I was terrible, I had such a great time and sweated like, well I suppose, an Orangutan.

I was having so much fun until the end of the class when we all had to stand in a circle and the dance one by one in the centre. This completely freaked me out so I pretended that my knee had popped out and hid in the corner.

I may be willing to look like a crazed monkey in a group but no way am I going that while people are actually watching.

Doesn't Anyone Work in this Town?

After three weeks of being in New York, I have finally settled into my writing life. I may have been hiding for the first few weeks in my bed, the seasonal change affects me like that. But the other day I emerged, excited and ready to write.

The problem is: where? I love to work at home but I really love to explore the city and find cozy coffee shops that inspire me. Unfortunately, finding a café in New York City is like finding deodorant on a hippie.

Obviously the city is full of coffee shops and cafes, Friends made that statement with Central Perk. The problem is this city is also full of people. People who don’t go to an office and work. People who go to cafes and sit for hours and hog seats so that real writers like me can’t get a seat.


Three days in a row, I have had to walk block after block with my backpack (a laptop is better on your back this way), in the cold, looking for a place to sit. I try my best to avoid Starbucks because I have this at home. And I don’t like their coffee. But on day three I had to relent.

Starbucks it was. And things happened at this Starbucks that I have never seen before.

On my left, there was an actual catfight over a table. Okay, maybe not a catfight per say but a definite rising of voices and odd gesturing. An upper-west side woman who looked constipated and held her lips as if she had a lemon in her mouth shouted at three Japanese ladies trying to sit together. Not only was there a language barrier, but a manner-barrier as well. New Yorkers have none, Japanese have too many. The ladies lost.

On my right, three girls, as in maybe ten years old, sat with their grande non-fat hot chocolates, super expensive Starbucks sandwiches and school bags talking about boys and braces. They were actually well behaved and soft-spoken little girls. It just took me aback to see them sitting there like little grown-ups, caffeine-addicts in training, pouring mounds of sugar in their hot chocolate.

And in the corner, a little old lady cleaning her teeth in her coffee cup.

I swear this city has it all. And more. Maybe too much more . . . .

Jamie Oliver and the Case of the Accidental Shoplifter

The great thing about New York is that, well, that it’s New York. Everything happens here. Everyone comes here. There is always something to see or do. So when I read that Jamie Oliver was making an appearance at the Union Square Barnes & Noble I couldn’t help but wish he were something to see and do.

But he is married. As am I, nearly. So I had to settle for simply seeing him.

I love Jamie Oliver. I just could squish him I love him so much. I love his accent, I love his messy cooking, I love his passion, I love how he says things like ‘bake until it looks delicious’ (this has unfortunately led me to eating half-baked strawberry meringues), I just love love love him.

My friend and I trudged early to the bookstore and settled ourselves neatly in the second row (well, technically third but the front row barely showed up, so we had a very clear view. Actually I did. My friend had the blue monster in front of her so her view was a bit obstructed – too much of Jamie’s cooking perhaps?) two hours ahead of time. I rifled through his new cookbook making odd noises as the recipes made my tummy growl, and perhaps drooling a bit on page 189 (a Pimm’s and Strawberry concoction). I debated actually buying the book, as online it was $23 and in the store it was $38 – hello highway robbery? I wondered if Jamie’s signature was really worth $15 in these tough times.

The closer to 7 it got, the more nervous and excited I got. I had planned on asking a question and this made me want to throw up. Gee whiz, I have met celebrities before (okay, maybe only one), why was this one making me a nutbar?

When they ushered Jamie in, there was an audible gasp (me), someone yelling ‘he’s so cute’ (me) and a general giggling among the women and gay men (me and many many others). He is soooooooo cute in real life! He wore jeans, his little converse slip-on trainer things, and a windbreaker-ish jacket (he is so cute!) just like he does on his shows. And then he talked. I could listen to that southern-Brit accent forever. He talked about how his new cookbook was inspired by growing his own veg and fruit, and working with local farmers to get meat and grain. Keep this in mind.

Question 1: Does he find inspiration in American cooking? Yes, he is learning and is doing a new 8-part show about cooking in America. He started in Louisiana and is going to Arizona, New York (to our house for Thanksgiving hopefully), Chicago, and other places that I forgot.

Question 2: Does he support community growing in America? Ummm, he didn’t know what she meant. Local farmers basically. HELLO? He clearly supports that you MORON; didn’t he just talk about that for his inspiration??

Question 3: Do you like Korean food? Once again, a wasted question from a nervous girl who took ten minutes to ask her freaking question. The man eats ANYTHING and likes pretty much everything, clearly he will like Korean. Grrrrrr

At this the question period ended because there were so many of us getting our books signed. Boo! I didn’t ask my question!

So I decide to go up with my non-purchased book, just so I can meet him and have him call me ‘darling’. Then I would dump the book on a shelf and buy it online.

As I waited in line, I was so nervous/excited my knees were shaking. With each step closer I got more and more like a teenager. I felt the same way I did when I was 14 and met Kurt Browning at Eaton’s after school.

I was the next in line standing near to the security guard and I couldn’t help but tug at his arm and whisper ‘isn’t he cute?’ The security guard didn’t even acknowledge me. At least back home that would get a smile. Here they just think I am crazy. Oh wait . . .

Anyhoo, by the time I got to Jamie I was a nervous wreck. At first all I could blurt was ‘HI’! He looked at me and waited for more. I told him about my travel show and asked him where I should eat in London. He gave me a list but when I went to write it down I discovered I forgot how to hold a pen! GAH! He actually was giving me quite the list so this assistant lady told me to leave. Then I asked him about the rumor that he is opening up a restaurant in Rainy City. He told me no. This made me sad.

In my excitement and elation, I rushed off the stage (without saying thank-you) and promptly left the bookstore with my friend, clutching my newly signed Jamie at Home.

It wasn’t until I was three long blocks away that I realized I had not paid for the signed cookbook. For one split second I was totally, completely intending on marching back to B & N to pay for it. Then I thought about the $15 difference and decided that I would give money to Jamie’s charity instead. B & N didn’t really need my money. So I got on the subway and went home to call my mum.

I am a Buddhist. I know this is going to bite me on the ass one day.

Bad Boys Bad Boys

The Engineer was off to a hockey game the other night, and I was quite happy to cozy in for the evening with the dogs, a steaming mug of tea and my latest pick from Netflix. I was just beginning to truly enjoy season four, disc three of The Office when I hear a strange noise outside: gunshots. At first I thought (or hoped) that it was a car backfiring, but when I heard the car backfire eight more times I was pretty convinced it was a gun.

Not one to panic, I merely continued to laugh at Steve Carell’s antics thinking that the gunshots had happened far away. I also suspected that my overactive imagination had merely made up the gunshots because I am in Brooklyn and that is what happens here.

Then I heard one round of sirens.

Text the Engineer.

Second round of sirens.

Call best friend.

Third round of sirens.

Call my parents.

At this point I am still pretty calm, thinking that the shooting was at least ten blocks over. So I start washing my dishes while talking to my best friend on the phone. We are sort of laughing about the ‘shooting’ when I hear the fourth round of sirens accompanied by the sound of a helicopter. I shut the tap off, stand up a bit straighter and tell my friend I will call her back. The boys are afraid of the helicopter and are running around the apartment jumping and barking, making me even more nervous.

I open the window in front of my desk and crawl out onto the fire escape to find that the helicopter is directly above my street, shining its’ light brightly on my block. The street is crawling with New York’s finest, both in uniform and in suits. My next-door neighbor is being questioned by one of the boys in blue. I call the Engineer and tell him that the eight to ten ‘backfires’ I heard, were, in fact, gunshots.

I decide this is the safest time to walk the boys, as my street is full of NYPD. Okay, that may not be the complete truth. I was nosey.

Outside we went, where to one end of my street there were cop cars and that yellow homicide tape that you see in cop shows and to the other, life as normal. My neighbor (in her leopard print flannel PJ’s) filled me in on the situation by holding up her hand in a gun gesture and shooting her index finger. I told her I thought it had been gunfire but really far away. Nope, she said, at the end of the street.
So we walked to that end of the street. All the while me telling the boys to poop so it looked like I was out for a real reason. I ran into a cop who was flashing his light under cars. He smiled and said everything was all right but had I heard anything? I told him I had and that the gunshots seemed to be in two different sections – as if the shooter and stopped and ran a bit further. He then asked what caliber of gun I thought it was, how high pitched each shot was and some other gun gibberish. Confused and slightly taken aback, I told him that they sounded like gunshots. He gave me a bemused smiled and asked me if I had ever heard gunshots before. I shook my head. He seemed to think this was sweet.

Another neighbor of mine came walking down the street and asked the cop what had happened. He told her and then informed her that the body ‘fell’ right at the end of my street. She too was in shock, and whispered ‘did he D-I-E?’ The cop shook his head and said that he only had a couple of bullet wounds (only a couple! Well, I suppose I heard 8-10 shots, clearly the shooter was lousy) but that they had ‘spent a lot of money on him’. To which, again confused, I asked ‘Why? Are bullets expensive?”

The cop and my neighbor slowly turned their attention to me and informed me (as if I was an idiot) that this phrase means there were drugs involved. Oh.

Here are some things that New York has taught me. One: I live near a gang. Two: They live in a thing called ‘The Projects’ (Wow, so Jenny from the block really does exist). And Three: There is such a thing as a ‘gunshot virgin’ to which I am no more.