The Way of the Tracks

Is the above photo your idea of hell? Mine, too. As someone who is not a fan of large crowds, living in New York and dealing with this scenario regularly is a daily battle of wills. (Some might even say pills.) New York’s subway system was actually designed very well. It really is the most efficient way of getting around town, unless you’re flying down Park Avenue in a cab on a Sunday night at 4am. The trains run fairly on time and smoothly, depending on the number of trains available to each line. I can take the RVG line (the G line is a ghost train – I think I’ve seen it twice – not that anyone particularly wants to ride that one) or the NW. Apparently there’s a joke out there about the NW and that they go No Where? Real funny. Must be Manhattan snobs who came up with that one. There is nothing wrong with Astoria and everything right with it. Lately, some lovely new trains have begun popping up and gracing the tracks – most recently, the N, W and even Q got the glossy, silver train cars with the robot woman announcing the stops. Why the E and F trains have not been replaced yet is a travesty. The E sounds like one of the graboid creatures from the movie Tremors when it brakes. It’s absolutely deafening and your eardrum wants to implode on itself.

Nevertheless, once you learn the system it’s really not too confusing. You eventually memorize which lines take you where and you know where to transfer, etc. The problem is that New York, as you may well know, is an extremely popular city in which to live. With 9 million residents, the subway system must accommodate many of these millions each weekday morning and evening. And you know what? The weekends aren’t any better. MTA’s logic is that it’s the weekend so things are going to be low-key. Not so. Just as many people cram onto the trains, but only because there are fewer trains coming and going. So when one does come along, half your block is trying to get on the same train (see above) because it might be another 20-40 minutes before another comes trundling along. You would think that the crowding would be the worst thing about the subway system. But dear readers, until you ride it yourself and know how to safeguard yourself, having someone’s armpit or ass (or crotch, sometimes….) be right in your face is the least of your worries.

Shall we go through the list?

Unless you haven’t been paying attention for the past dozen decades, germs spread easily and rapidly in confined spaces. As proud germophobes, Americans have to be even more paranoid on the New York City subway than pretty much anywhere else, shy of a truckstop restroom. I specifically say New York City because the Washington, DC subway line is quite lovely. Granted, you’ll be castrated if you have the balls to take a sip or bite of something in the metro system, but it’s a very clean, civilized line. I have not been on the T in Boston but I have been on the Tube and the Metro in Paris and it’s safe to say that New York’s is the filthiest. And for good reason.

Despite any maneuvers on your part to find a “clean” part of the pole to hang onto, your palms are sharing hand grime with millions of other passengers who were doing the same thing. I know. Not all germs remain on hard surfaces but I think we humans test these poles beyond their capacity for letting germs die when there’s someone grabbing every inch of one a solid 12 to 14 hours of the day. God knows where these people’s hands have been. And yet, there are plenty who like to demonstrate for you just how gross it can really get. Let’s start with the sneezers. While your brain can’t help it and you will sneeze wherever your neurological system deems necessary, it is the worst to sneeze on the subway. I witnessed a portly man sneeze violently and wetly into his hand and use that same hand one millisecond later to re-grab the subway pole. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and die. But a little fun fact about me is that I find strangers’ sneezes revolting. Family and friends, I’m usually A-OK. Not so with Allergy Alan or Snotnosed Stanley. If I hear you loudly sneeze (especially many times in a row) and it clearly sounds like you’re exhuming lung flesh and spewing it out into open air, my stomach curdles and I have to suppress my hurl reflex. God, I get queasy thinking about it. Not only must you deal with the aural assault, you then have to deal with the question of what airborne atrocities are invading your air space. If you’re on a crowded Lexington Avenue line heading downtown, you’re screwed. You have no room to wiggle and you must inhale whatever it is that’s floating along.

Today on the V train, a woman got up to exit and left her seat open. I really wanted to sit down. I cautiously placed my (fortunately, covered with pants) butt and legs on the seat, after discovering that she had left a large humidity/sweat stain from sitting there. Is it me or is that gross? Am I just a more severe germophobe? So I sat, hoping that nothing was seeping into my pants – God forbid getting through the cloth barrier to my actual skin. So far we have sneezing and sweat. Sweating also produces B.O. which is outstanding in the summertime, when you can barely keep cool on the trains, even with the air conditioning blasting down on you. Which is worse, breathing in someone’s bad breath or breathing in his/her B.O.? I leave it up to you but they’re both pretty sick.

Let’s talk about the dancers, musicians and beggars. You’re either forced to listen to someone preach evangelical horrors at the top of their lungs, watch a dance troupe (that invariably includes some poor 5 to 10 year-old child) swing from the poles and clap their hands and sing, or listen to mariachi music (hats included!) as someone walks up and down the “aisle” with a cap or a cup out, hoping you’ll donate some money. I make it a rule to never ever pull out my wallet on the subway but people definitely give up food and money depending on how convincing the person is or if the show is decent. I won’t even get into the disabled people, because it’s just really sad. Since I don’t pull out my wallet I just make it a point to be really interested in my iPod as the person with no limbs rolls his way down the car, citing a list of all his ailments, besides the glaringly obvious.

It wouldn’t be a Zoe post if I didn’t have a side note: The guy who sits outside my subway stop for work every morning is very small – short legs or whatever his thing is. I haven’t paid much attention to his disability since it’s not overly obvious (or maybe I’ve been too scared to look). But he sits there listening to headphones and texting on his cell phone with a cup sitting out in front of him. That makes me even less inclined to give money. What am I paying for? You look all right to me, sir. I’m just saying. I donated money ONE time in the subway on the platform on the Upper East Side, because this lovely, elderly gentleman was playing his accordian to some beautiful songs. It reminded me of my time in Paris and I got nostalgic and donated a buck.

Back to the main issue. Then there are the homeless people that sleep on the benches. I have gotten excited to see an empty car come down the tracks, only to stop right in front of me. I think, “This is my lucky day! I can sit and enjoy the ride!” Then I walked in and found that nobody was in the car because John Q. Homeless was sleeping on the bench with his cart of collected items sitting in front of him. The smell of old urine and body odor knocked me on my ass. Everybody who walks in, especially the latecomers who just make it into the car before the doors close, groan loudly and sometimes people even curse quite colorfully before moving to another car. If the homeless person is not asleep, sometimes s/he’s awake to entertain you with stories, accuse you of something, stare blankly at you without blinking or in this one case I heard about, rub one out.

Yes, you read that correctly. An old roommate’s boyfriend told me a story about how he was on the subway once, and a homeless man reached into his pants and proceeded to masturbate (at least he didn’t expose himself, but still….). When he finished, he exited at the next stop (I couldn’t really say “got off” now, could I?) and as he did, he patted a girl on the shoulder and said, “Thanks.”

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Folks, I can’t make this stuff up. Another friend of mine was on an extremely crowded train heading home and she happened to be standing next to a man who was seated. He had a newspaper over his lap but she was at such an angle that she witnessed him stroking himself (junk outside the pants) underneath the paper. She got a bit queasy and was able to move to the other side of the car. I wish I were done.

Littering, vomiting, graffiti, people making out like they’re in a hotel room, raging drunken behavior….it all exists on New York’s fine transportation system. You have officially been initiated when some random stranger curses you out. S/he could be homeless or not, but most of the time, s/he’s just crazy. I had one guy stare at me from the corner of my eye, just waiting for me to do something. When I looked up at the subway ad across from me, he pounced on me verbally, raining things down upon me about how no I can’t suck him off and then on and on about the white race (he was an African-American guy) and something about terrorism. There was a lot going on. I even saw him AGAIN a month or two later but I made sure to keep my eyes averted and I thanked sweet baby Jesus we didn’t get off at the same stop.

Everyone has a seat!

Everyone has a seat!

So if you have not visited this fair city, you’re in for a real treat. Most tourists have the fortune to be oblivious, and they need to be. We can spot them a mile away. They talk way too loudly, are always looking at a map and/or wearing white walking sneakers no matter how dressy or preppy their outfit is. Sometimes a visor is part of the ensemble, or perhaps a tourist guide. But I chuckle with glee inside when I am in the same car as a gaggle of tourists and one of the aforementioned disasters boards the train. They are then reminded that while it has much improved, it’s still New York and it’s gonna bitchslap you in the face to rudely welcome you. The rules of the tracks have not changed. Any Tom, Dick and Harry can find two dollars to buy a Metro card and assail you in a variety of ways. You will be touched, perhaps quite literally, and irrevocably altered.

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An Egregious Sin

So….it’s come to my attention that if you live in New York City and you order AND enjoy Domino’s Pizza, that there’s something wrong with you. Perhaps I have some gene that needs to be removed because I actually enjoy…nay, PREFER Domino’s Pizza over some of NYC’s finest. Don’t get me wrong. I love New York style pizza. I like the big floppiness of the pieces, the consistency, the vast array of toppings that they come up with – some of the combinations are out of this world and crazy delicious. You can buy just one or two slices and be on your way.

But sometimes I don’t want just one or two slices. Sometimes I want to custom the order and do it in my pajamas. And God bless it, my tastebuds enjoy how this place throws together a pizza pie. I grew up in St. Louis, everyone. Missouri. Very Midwestern place. We didn’t have the local pizza joints on the corner where Giuseppe makes you a homemade pie from Sicily. Domino’s WAS the local pizza joint. The only thing that was really ours was Imo’s, which is St. Louis style pizza. It’s extra large, thin crust pizza with a distinct blend of cheeses…Man, I miss Imo’s. Okay I’m getting off track now. But you get my point.

So the other night on just such an occasion, I ordered a delicious, medium pizza with pepperoni and green peppers. It had a regular crust and it came with two 20oz bottles of Coke Zero. The deal was like $10 for this whole thing. It doesn’t get any better than that when you live in NYC. Oh wait, it does – I ordered it online. And they have their handy dandy pizza tracker thing. I didn’t have to leave the house, I didn’t have to worry about some inept person over the phone misunderstanding my order. It was beautiful. It showed up. It was piping hot, fantastically tasty and I had plenty to eat for the evening plus some leftover for lunch the next day. I’m not a leftovers fan but Domino’s Pizza (and their ranch dressing!) makes the cut. And Pizza Hut. Don’t even get me started on the fact that NYC is bereft of Pizza Hut.

At one point, my very nice new roommate came in and sat down to watch some TV. He finally looked over at me and the pizza and goes, “What’s with the Domino’s? Is this some holdover from the Midwest or Rochester or something?” I burst out laughing and conceded that he was not the first person to ask me about my love for this total commercialized chain pizza. Back when I worked in television production, there was a producer who mocked me pretty enthusiastically for lowering myself to order it, enjoy it and tell people about it. I guess I need to hide my preference like a politician who frequents the dirty brothel on the other side of the tracks. But seriously, if I wanted pizza (and I really did), what am I supposed to do? The nearest pizzeria to me in Astoria is Boston Pizza. I think it’s a safe bet to say that as a New Yorker, I’m not supposed to order pizza from a place called Boston Pizza. But also my roommate confirmed it tasted like ass. So there you have it.

How does anybody not think this looks yummy?

How does anybody not think this looks yummy?

At least while the conundrum of where to order pizza in our ‘hood hadn’t been solved, I had an out for why I had it in the house. Now when I see my pizza box in the recycling bin I feel like I’m supposed to be ashamed. But I’m not! I fucking like it! I did a little background search on the chain and I thought this part of the Wikipedia entry was pretty funny. Remember the character the Noid from the 80s? Avoid the Noid? Well here’s the scoop behind that:

In the 1980s, Domino’s Pizza was well known for its advertisements featuring The Noid. That concept was created by Group 243 Inc. who then hired Will Vinton Studios to produce the television commercials that they created. Customers were implored to order from Domino’s in order to “avoid the Noid.”

In 1989, a man, Kenneth Lamar Noid, who thought the ads were a personal attack on him, held two employees of an Atlanta, Georgia, Domino’s restaurant hostage for over five hours. After forcing them to make him a pizza, Noid surrendered to police. Noid was charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, extortion, and possession of a firearm during a crime, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. [11] Contrary to popular belief, this incident did not cause Domino’s to pull the “Noid” campaign off the air; in reality, Noid creator and owner Will Vinton Studios asked for a larger amount of money for continued use of the Noid character, and Domino’s chose not to renew its contract.

I don’t remember that incident since I was 9 years-old, but I think that’s kinda funny. Poor guy. You have to wonder if he enjoyed the taste and if he boycotted the place after the Noid was created or what. But back to the point. Yes, I live in New York where we have 5,000 pizza joints that probably make better pizza than Domino’s. Is it cliche? Certainly. Am I supporting one of the most recognized worldwide brands on the planet, thereby making me somehow inferior because I’m denying Vinny the chance of heating me up a slice? Yes. But it’s not just that it’s delicious and cost-effective. It’s convenient, dammit. But to me, it’s worth it to pay the price of getting heckled so that I can answer the door in my “Everyone loves an Italian girl” t-shirt and snowman pajama pants and stuff my face with pizza that no one but me in all of New York City openly likes.

Domino’s popular slogan is, “Get the door. It’s Domino’s.” I will get the door, thank you – running and tripping and slipping with my money clutched tightly in my hand. Because my cheapass, “fake,” sweatshop pizza is here.

Warmhearted gushy stuff

The Peeps Bunnies collection...on my bookshelf

The Peeps Bunnies collection…on my bookshelf

Before I get to the real meat of this post, I want to go on a little tangent. Today I visited two of my favorite people, one of whom helps me out immensely with this techy blog stuff. I’m getting better at it but there is no way I would be able to do or understand some of this stuff without his help. So thank you mucho, Sarmad! Amidst munching on our deliciously flavorful, spicy, authentic pork burritos, we explored the cavernous pages of WordPress. This is another side note but there really is a big difference between managing your own blog through WordPress.org and utilizing the free version with WordPress.com. If you’re a newbie like I am, use WordPress.com and play with it. Otherwise, you’ll have much more artistic freedom using dot org. But nevertheless, Sarmad aided me in my quest to stream an MP3 file so I could get the full effect of my post, which discusses stuffed animals, in particular the Velveteen Rabbit. Ready for inner child stuff? Here we go.

If you have never read or heard of the story The Velveteen Rabbit, I highly recommend you click on that link to take yourself to Wikipedia, which will outline the entire story for you. The Velveteen Rabbit is only one speck from my world as a kid. I was into Barbies, My Little Pony, Carebears, Rainbow Brite, the Beatrix Potter characters, Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, Voltron, Big Wheels, Legos, Nintendo games, absolutely everything. I was a voracious reader and devoured books – especially ones that had any kind of deeper message, at least to kids. This story is about children’s imaginations and loving something so much that you really believe it loves you back, despite it being inanimate and not really alive. Whatever the reason, this one story helped me commence my deep love for stuffed animals – particularly bunny rabbits.

My bestest friend Helen can attest to the fact that I have a love for bunnies. I even owned one when I was 19. He was a soft, white and grey little thing with lovely chocolate brown eyes. I named him Oscar. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about training a bunny rabbit that I had found at a pet store. He chewed on everything, pooped everywhere he hopped and wasn’t always keen to being held. But boy did I love him. If I find a photo of him in my vast photo collection, I’ll put it up at a later date. Sadly, I felt it was my duty as a loving owner to give him up when I realized that I was unable to care for him the way he should be cared for. I didn’t want to see him cooped up in a cage in my apartment but neither did I know how to handle getting him trained so he wouldn’t chew on/poop on everything in sight. I took him to the Humane Society and I prayed that he was picked up by a loving family. He was so handsome and sweet. My mom was not taken in by his cuteness when she realized he had chewed through the cord of her $200 lamp, however. She had to get it rewired and I never heard the end of it.

In any case, a couple of things added to my already capricious imagination. One was my paternal grandmother reading me the Beatrix Potter series of children’s books, beginning with The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Isn’t he darling?

Modern book cover

One of Peter’s sister’s names is Flopsy, and one year for Easter, my brother and I were given these soft, white stuffed bunny rabbits. Without a second’s hesitation, I named mine Flopsy. She was my play companion and the “head bunny” in my collection for several years. I must have been anywhere from 8 to 10 years old at that time. My collection of stuffed animals and bunnies grew over time but she always remained the one I relied on to keep any nighttime goblins away, not to mention someone to talk to if I needed it. Around the same time, if not a couple of years prior, my brother and I were treated to a listening of the story of The Velveteen Rabbit on cassette. It was narrated by Meryl Streep and the piano music was all done by George Winston – a brilliant pianist. I have many of his albums in my current music collection. My brother Zack and I fell in love with listening to it and were given our own copy. To be quite honest, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve actually listened to the story, since over the course of twenty years, I have probably heard it at least a thousand times.

One of the most poignant and tender moments of the story (indeed, the climax) is when the little velveteen rabbit hears the Boy tell his nanny that he is not a toy to him – that he’s Real. It’s a really uplifting moment that tugs at the heartstrings, especially if you’re having a particularly, uh, hormonal day/week. It has definitely brought tears to my eyes as an adult (yes, I admit it!) but as a child, I would always clutch one or more of my stuffed animals that I slept with (and folks, I slept with a pack), and think about how I knew that I loved my stuffed animals enough that they were also Real. So it is my pleasure to be able to give the gift of listening in on the clip from the story. There is not one singular element that makes it so achingly sweet to me – it is an absolute combination of the narration accompanied by George Winston’s brilliant piano music.

(I used to have a link here that would allow you to hear the clip in question but I have since had to remove it for various tech reasons. If you get a chance to hear the track “Spring” on the story CD, you can hear what I’m talking about.)

I don’t expect everyone to get it. I even had my doubts about sharing this aspect of myself, but since it’s on my mind and it’s the most predominant thing I want to write about, here it is. Some people bury their inner children under many layers of stress and cynicism. Mine is alive and well and reminds me she’s in there when I have these kinds of things on my mind more than a fleeting moment.

Somewhere, in one of many boxes of photos, I even have old photos from almost twenty years ago that I took of my old stuffed animals. I played with them outside, took them around with me – they were my pals. And it wasn’t because I didn’t have real live friends. But my imagination was just so strong that they were my outlet. One year, my mother got my brother and I our very own stuffed “velveteen rabbits.” You should have seen the look on my face at Christmas when I got mine – because like in the story, he came in his own little stocking. (AHHHHH! IT’S TOO CUTE!) I have no idea where that little guy went, but I loved him fiercely. As a way of differentiating the stuffed animals I played with, I even put dabs of my mother’s different perfumes on their noses. I believe my little velveteen rabbit (named Satin, for his pink ears) had Obsession on his nose. haha! I can’t believe I remember that. I forget what Flopsy had. I think I mixed perfumes and so she just kind of smelled weird. I remember my mom putting her in the washing machine because of it. Flopsy came out a little pilled and matted. She was never the same. The smell didn’t really go away, either.

There is one last, rare book of which I’m in awe of its existence. I don’t know how old this author was when he put it together but it is pretty brilliant, at least coming from someone like me who had (and still has) an overactive imagination and a love for animals, stuffed or otherwise. The book is entitled The Care and Feeding of Stuffed Animals. I even found it on Amazon!

While most people would find this extremely bizarre, it’s great for kids who want to take it seriously (it’s a complete glossy, color photograph book with pictures of all sorts of situations that “stuffies” can get themselves into) and hilarious for adults who want to see the satire in it. I forget where I got my own copy from, but the only reason I found out about it was when I was in my dentist’s office as a kid and they had a copy in their waiting room. I read it with fascination. I couldn’t believe there was some adult out there who felt like I did and actually wrote a book about how these creatures should be treated, trained, fed, watched over, etc.

I tracked it down years later and have a copy as an adult. I haven’t read it in years and years but it’s fun to have around. On page 33, there is a caption of a photo of a stuffie who has gotten himself into the blender and another one looks on in amusement and horror. It’s pretty comical. Since there are used copies selling for as little as $.30 on Amazon, I’m sure you could get one for yourself if you were so inclined. I’d love it if someone left a comment if s/he has heard of it, much less read it or owned it.

So that is it, friends. As of late I have been thinking back to my childhood a lot and my experience with my bunnies and stuffed animal collection. It all just came rushing back to me as I sat here writing this. I think my childhood is also in the forefront of my thoughts since I have the audio CD of The Velveteen Rabbit in iTunes and sometimes the clips come up randomly while I’m listening to music. The album I have has both the narrated and un-narrated clips but since I’ve heard the story so many times (and trust me, my parents were exhausted of the thing after a time!) I know exactly which part of the story it reflects, even without narration. I totally understand why it earned a Grammy nod or won the Grammy itself. Meryl Streep, you go girl, in all your fake British accent glory.

Thanks for sharing in a deeper part of my inner workings. More up-to-date and adult-related posts to come! I don’t have any stuffed animals around in my room currently but if I did, I’d probably go run and hug one.

My Stereotypically Midwestern Yet All-American, Comprehensive and Inappropriate Relationship with Ranch Dressing

When I told my best friend that I was doing a post on ranch, she laughed and then credited me with introducing her to the concept of ranch dressing. I like to think of it as a lifestyle choice. She’s just as Midwestern as I am, as we both hail from St. Louis, but she doesn’t have an affinity for it the way I do. She said it’s a pretty big seller at the pub she works at in DC, since they sell bar food like wings, fries, “salad,” and other fried shit you can dip in it. I’ve loved ranch as long as I can remember – way back in the 80s, when it wasn’t even cool to like ranch.

“I’ll never forget when we went to The Cheesecake Factory at St. Louis Galleria and you ordered the buffalo chicken strips with ranch dressing and you were horrified,” my best friend reminisced. The fact that she remembers this so distinctly 8-12 years later tells you how indelible the trauma was.

And I was traumatized. On the totem pole of ranch, Cheesecake Factory is the subterranean post holding the rest of the totem pole up, as it has the worst tasting slop called ranch I’ve ever had. I couldn’t even finish the meal, because both the strips and the dressing were the most horrid, bizarre interpretations of these foods I’ve ever had. So ranch lovers beware: Cheesecake Factory will not provide you with satisfying the crave for chicken fingers ‘n ranch. Stick with dessert. Now Denny’s? You’re good to go. Seriously. I don’t joke about my ranch rating system.

Ranch dressing is a classic, All-American flavorful sauce that makes tons of foods taste delicious. Its origin is literally from a ranch in California. If you love the taste of mayonnaise, buttermilk and various herbs/spices, you can’t not love it. Creamy and tangy, it turns anything boring or unpalatable into a richer, more delicious fare. Now for whatever reason, despite its popularity (number one dressing since 1992!), people who do not care for it (let’s call them “Outsiders”) will give you certain looks if you declare it your favorite dressing. Maybe this is like the whole White Castle issue where it becomes taboo or hoosier to enjoy it. But I distinctly remember telling someone that my favorite dressing was ranch, and I got the most baleful stare, as if I had just said I put mud on my salad. Apparently it’s much trendier to name something that has the word “vinaigrette” or “Dijon” in it.

Well, I am not that girl who prefers vinaigrette over ranch. Don’t get me wrong, I love olive oil and vinegar for a salad. I grew up with my mom’s awesome homemade oil and vinegar dressings for her Italian salads but the love of ranch has superseded over time, but only because it’s so delicious on more types of food than just salad. Just writing this makes me want to go out and get something that has a side of ranch. Fast food restaurants have clued in to the popularity and purposely make containers of ranch for dipping. You no longer get the fat pouch of ranch that’s meant for salads.

I used to have a video here of a girl eating an entire container of ranch (gross). I can’t say I’ve never licked the remnants of ranch dressing from a plastic ranch container. Because I have. But that’s because Jack in the Box’s Buttermilk Ranch Dressing makes Number One on Zoe’s Ranch Favorites. It’s a tough call to say why I frequented the Jack in the Box on Page Boulevard so often back in my late teens – for the jalapeno poppers or the ranch that came with it. I would get profoundly pissed off when I would get the poppers and the person at the drive-thru had forgotten the icy cold Buttermilk Ranch Dressing packets. It almost made the damn things not worth eating. I have not graduated to putting ranch on tacos or pizza (I just can’t get there), but I have put it on almost everything else. A few other places that top the list are: Sonic, Zebb’s in Rochester, NY and Chili’s. These places know the meaning behind creating a perfect blend of the buttermilk, mayo and spices and how consistency is everything. Steak ‘n Shake, McDonald’s, Ruby Tuesday and even Dairy Queen all have decent ranch. So it’s safe to go there. However, what I don’t understand is why there are places that exist who don’t even offer ranch as a dressing. Today for lunch, I went with my friend and colleague to Brooklyn Diner in Times Square, where we paid about 2.5 times the appropriate amount of money for what we ordered. When we ordered our $6 plate of fries to split, I politely asked for a side dish of ranch for dipping.

The waiter solemnly informed me, “Oh we don’t carry ranch.” I stared at him, trying to control my jaw from falling too hard onto the table. A DINER doesn’t carry RANCH? What kind of Communist establishment was this?

I gained my composure and asked, “Okay…do you have something similar? What’s the next best thing you could recommend?” He had the sheer audacity to offer me bleu cheese dressing! People: ranch is not in the same league as bleu cheese dressing and should never be confused as such! Sure, they’re both creamy and white. That’s where the similarities end! And people who are into bleu cheese dressing will tell you the exact same thing. Bleu fanatics, while possibly considering themselves in an upper echelon of taste preference in dressing, should know that despite the degree of taste difference, ranch and bleu are cousins since they both have mayo and other spices in them, but one has buttermilk and the other uses moldy cheese for the sharp flavor. I don’t know about you, but I don’t get hungry looking at white sauce with chunks in it. Reminds me too much of curdled milk. There, I said it.

Friends and family laugh at my being an opinionated ranch dressing connoisseur of sorts. I’m sure someone would love to say to my face, “Yeah don’t be too proud of that.” My friend David has a “take or leave it” kind of attitude towards ranch. He was more of a ranch chip fan than anything else. “Ranch lost its general appeal for me around the early 1990s when the Dorrito corporation changed the name of their popular chip flavor ‘Cool Ranch’ to ‘Cooler Ranch.’ What does that even mean? Unfortunately, the whole ranch industry suffered a blow,” he told me. So needless to say, he won’t be the first to dip his fry in the bowl of ranch that I order when we’re out having burgers and fries. Obviously I place the ranch well within reach of me and I watch it closely. Unless we’re at Brooklyn Diner or some slophouse that can’t even make a decent ranch. How can you screw it up?

Actually, David’s real reaction when I told him that I was going to write about ranch was, “Are you going to talk about how you stop just shy of carrying it around in your purse?” I shockingly laughed but had to admit he wasn’t the first to pose this question or to joke about it with me. One of my college friends and I were watching a reality show in which a girl carried a bottle of Hidden Valley around in her purse (full size!) and whipped it out while she and her boyfriend were eating fast food. She was mocked mercilessly. I have not resorted to doing this, although having the portable Jack in the Box containers on my person wouldn’t be entirely objectionable, should I find myself at those rare establishments that don’t deign to serve the superb stuff. (Seriously, Brooklyn Diner? Really?)

Obviously if I ever get over my love for this blend of flavors and textures I’ll be the first one to write about it and retract any statements I have made which put it on a pedestal above all others. But in the meantime, I embrace my passion for it and proudly wear my love on my sleeve. Nevertheless, I don’t think I would stoop to having one of these. But don’t quote me on it.

The Psychology of Tuesday

Tuesday is Monday’s younger, bratty brother. It’s not quite as jarring since you know it’s coming. But it’s definitely just as tiring and a bit more defeating, since you can’t look forward to anything except it ALMOST being the middle of the week – but not quite.

When I wake up on a Tuesday morning, the hope that I’ll get cognizant and remember something good about the day to come, such as “It’s not gonna be too busy” or “Oh yeah we get free breakfast today” dies quickly and painfully. The realization that I have to get up and go through a whole entire day with nothing but three more days to greet me is staggering. Why does it get me each week? Just when I make it through Monday and feel the slight relief when Monday is finally put behind me, I recall that it won’t be any different the next day. Here’s the super bratty part, the real kick in the teeth. And I have yet to prove myself wrong about this, so clearly we can take what I’m about to say at face value:

Everyone and everything runs late on Tuesdays. Everything. You can go ahead and count on being at least five minutes behind because nothing will run on time and you will not be punctual, no matter how early you set your alarm, no matter how much you WANT to get somewhere on time (much less early – ha!).

Once upon a time when I lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and I had to take the God-awful 6 line, squeezing my way into spaces not fit for humans in order to ride downtown, this bit of knowledge or aha! moment hit me one Tuesday morning and I began noticing this hidden Matrix pattern. I started trying to find ways to get around it, but to no avail.

First and foremost, no matter how much I wanted to get in extra sleep on Monday night so I could feel slightly refreshed the next morning (is that even possible? I know NO ONE who feels refreshed on a Tuesday), I would fail miserably. Something inevitably comes up and I either end up staying up late and therefore oversleeping on Tuesday morning, OR I get up and am out the door on time feeling good about myself when I am slammed in the face with other people’s lateness making ME late. Case in point: if you want to arrive early to work for that 8am meeting you have and you usually would leave the house thirty minutes before to get there on time, give yourself a solid ten extra minutes to get there. Trust me on this. It doesn’t matter if you live in New York City, as I do, or if you face a typical suburban commute on the streets or highways. You will face thousands of others who are running late to work at that very moment and the extra traffic, the extra lateness, will affect you and you will just get swept up in the non-punctualness of the day.

The MTA worker who conducts the train either gets up late or runs into traffic himself to get to work, and the subway line that normally runs like clockwork suddenly becomes the train that is running a few minutes behind, thereby becoming that much fuller when everyone who is running late needs to crowd on that one train. Perhaps a girl who is on the go grabs breakfast and crams it down her throat on the subway platform. She gets on her train, gets queasy and throws up (I’ve seen it happen, people). Suddenly there is a medical issue on a train line and all the lines are backed up. Somehow, some way, you will be at least a solid five minutes late on any given Tuesday. If you do manage to survive your commute or are just an annoyingly perky person who arrives just on time, some event will take place that day that will cause you to stay late or be late or your delivery will be late or you will run into the one thing you need to be on time or run properly. And it. just. won’t.

My advice is to just give in and go with the flow. If you set your expectations to Very Low on Tuesday mornings as you get ready for the day, you will be pleasantly surprised at anything that goes your way. Oh, and one last thing: the psychology of Tuesday can also work to the effect of having something run perfectly on time even while you run late. I have actually run late, hoping against hope that the MTA worker overslept and that the train will be running late with me, only to get to the platform breathless and realize that I missed the damn thing by ten seconds. Being ten seconds off will now cost me seven extra minutes on the platform (hopefully only seven) and I will get to work at least five minutes late, as per uge.

Try to evade the dastardly cunning of Tuesday, I dare you. I think you will find it futile, as I have. You can only pray that Wednesday will be without vicissitudes.

 

VERBOTEN! Set Free on Day 3

I’m doin the coffee dance! You have no idea how happy I am that I finally got the divine release I was craving for 72 hours. After visiting my dentist this morning, I was given the A-OK to drink coffee even right after I got my teeth cleaned. Needless to say, as soon as I put my things down in my cube and booted up my computer, I grabbed my hefty Starbucks mug and headed to the kitchen to fill up all 20 ounces with my aromatic melange of French Roast coffee. As a special props to my office, we have the best-tasting, free office coffee I’ve ever had. That could probably be a post of its own – office coffee – but suffice it to say the coffee here serves all my flavor and caffeine needs. We even have an espresso machine, in case you want to brew strong shots to put in your coffee. (Or you can do like my boss does and drink black espresso. He’s not fuckin’ around.)

Anyway. Apparently I was using way too much of the bleaching gel, which is why I was doing unknown damage to my gums. When I told her that I was using an entire syringe full of the gel in each tray, she got a horrified look on her face and told me that that was WAY too much and that I could even use half a syringe for BOTH trays. She says, “You only filled them up halfway, right?” I told her I had followed the instructions by using a “unit” of the gel but since they don’t say what a unit is, I assumed it was one syringe for each tray.

“Oh no wonder!” she replied. In her extreme Long Island accent, it was more like “Ow now WUN-derr!” (Remember when I mentioned in a previous post that my dentist is chatty? Yeah. It took twenty minutes to even get me lowered in the chair so she could look at my teeth. Then she would start, ask me a question, pull the instrument out and wait for me to talk. The cleaning itself would probably take a half hour but with all the talking, I was there an hour. It’s pretty unreal.)

I haven’t decided if I’m going to subject my mouth to another torturous interlude of bleaching gel but maybe if I drastically reduce the amount of the gel and only do it for a couple of hours, I can withstand it. My dentist was highly encouraging of me to continue for a couple more sessions to get my teeth a bit whiter. But she approved of the level of whiteness thus far. So at least the pain was worth a professional nod towards the results.

What have I learned from the past 72 hours? I now know that I depend on coffee to keep me productive and that it plays a vital role in my morning routine at work. Not only that, but it keeps me full between meals when I’m on a strict budget and have small meals like a Hot Pocket and a small bag of chips for lunch (after a breakfast of yogurt and what else, coffee). Never again will I take it for granted. It was all I could do not to grin at my mug while I was stirring it this morning, at the same time thinking, “Mine! All mine!” Tasting the familiar bittersweet concoction on my tongue was pure bliss. I exaggerate not. I could literally feel the joy my veins were experiencing as the coffee flowed through them.

So relieved am I that I can have brown drinks again, that I might go full throttle and have some Coke Zero tonight. That’ll help me get through the ordeal of going to the laundromat. It’s gonna be a wild night.

VERBOTEN! Day 2

     I’m not gonna lie. I’m hurtin’. It’s 11:44am and I haven’t had a drop of the good stuff since Sunday morning. Right now I would give anything to be brewing a pot of my cheap, Folger’s French Roast coffee. Only until now did I understand the truth behind, “The best part of waking up…” If you don’t know the end of that phrase, you’re either younger than 12 or lived in a cave in the 80s and 90s.

     I am not a happy camper and I really want coffee. Last night, I went to do the teeth bleaching again before bed and within three minutes of the gel hitting my gums, I had to run to the bathroom and scour my mouth out with water and my toothbrush. It was SO incredibly painful! I like how the brochure says, “A small percentage of patients will experience some sensitivity with their gums and should consult their dentist, who may recommend that you only use it every other night.” Uh huh. This was no slight sensitivity. This was like having hydrocholoric acid eat away at my gumline with a dollop of urethane on my tooth enamel. So I slept blissfully bleach free for the night and am experiencing only mild discomfort today in terms of tooth sensitivity. I will also not be doing anything tonight since I’m having my teeth cleaned tomorrow morning and I’d have to be under anesthesia to even attempt having dental instruments pick at my gums after a “gentle bleaching.”

     So this is the price of vanity. I remain resolute in not attempting these things frequently (if at all). I have no idea how people do painful chemical peels, Botox, lipo, face lifts, nose jobs, any kind of “plasty,” and all the rest of it. I guess I’d never make it in Hollywood or any other entertainment-based industry where your looks get you everywhere. I’ll just stay wholesome, a.k.a., Midwestern.

     This isn’t the end of the story, since I still have to wait for my teeth pores to close before having coffee. I’m dragging my ass behind me in a wheelbarrow, I can tell you that. I now realize how much I have come to depend on coffee allowing me to only get 6.5-7 hours of sleep each night; because who has time to get 8 and over? I certainly don’t.

     To sign off for now, I leave you with a delightful homemade video to Rockapella’s Folger’s commercial from the 90s:

VERBOTEN!

    

     The things we do for vanity are pretty funny (and lots of the time, painful).  By nature I am not a very vain person. Sure, I wash my face and brush my teeth and get my nails done. I buy lots of makeup and perfume and I like to think I don’t wear too many unflattering clothes…most of the time.

     The one thing I have avoided doing for quite some time is teeth whitening. Maybe it’s because I never thought I’d need it or I didn’t want to be so vain as to become one of those people obsessed with how white her teeth are. Americans are known for their straight, bright and white smiles.  When you Google “American smile,” this is the first thing that comes up (complete with a woman with a lovely 80s hairdo). But after years of coffee drinking and chocolate eating, my teeth have done what comes naturally to them and have slightly yellowed. When I visited my new dentist in February of this year, one of the first things she did was to see if my insurance would cover the ZOOM! teeth whitening system she promotes.

     She made sure to tell me how much better my teeth would look when they were whitened; to the point where it made me wonder if I had been frightening people with my au naturel look. I also have a real chatterbox, female dentist from Long Island, complete with stereotypical exaggerated Long Island accent. I enjoy how gregarious she is but sometimes my appointments run long because she’s gabbing at me and not concentrating on the actual dental work part. She means well, though. I know that if I were around that accent 24/7, I would definitely pick it up and start saying “Oh my GAWD.” Perhaps that’s what she said internally when she saw my teeth. Who’s to say?

     My insurance covered the whitening system and soon I was fitted with trays and sent off with my little syringes of teeth bleach. I had several warnings to heed before I could embark on the journey to achieving my American smile, however. Even more than the side effect of raging sensitivity to hot and cold that comes with using this system (and I can attest that if teeth could scream, mine would sound like they were on a torture rack) are the words that have stuck with me for six months: “You can’t have dark things while you’re bleaching your teeth since the pores are opened up. So no coffee, chocolate, ketchup – you know, things like that.” Of course, I immediately latched onto the fact that I can’t have coffee and chocolate. In the olden days, before I had a real dependency on coffee (B.C., I guess), I would not have had a problem with this. But with my very early, corporate schedule, I have come to depend on the rich, onyx liquid to keep me sane and provide a delicious distraction in the mornings.

     Six months later, I still hadn’t done anything with the teeth whitening system. I have an appointment on Wednesday to get my teeth cleaned and I can only imagine what she’d say if I go in and they’re not whitened yet. Between that and a wedding I’m going to at the end of the month, I decided on Sunday night to just get it over with and try it out. Part of it’s vanity (I do have some pride in my appearance), but mostly it’s to avoid having to explain to my dentist why I never did it. Six months is a long time to avoid doing something. But the fear of having my teeth be extremely sensitive to hot and cold the rest of my life coupled with not being able to imbibe on the Black Magic and okay, throw in some laziness (I mean, three extra minutes in the bathroom dealing with this in the morning? God…) and it was enough to keep me from doing it. And you know what, I just don’t need to hear how yellow my teeth are come Wednesday morning. So I’m gritting my teeth (excuse the poor pun) and bearing it.

     It is now Monday at 3:30pm. Without my morning brew of one cup decaf mixed with one cup regular French Roast in my giant Starbucks mug (complete with half ‘n half and Splenda), I was starving by lunchtime, since my little bowl of granola cereal only lasted so long without the accompanying fullness of the coffee. I’m longingly staring at people brewing their cup o’ joe and trying to avoid the kitchen. I don’t need the wake-up aspect of coffee as much as I want the flavor. I can already tell I’ll be worser off as the week goes on. Luckily I’m doing my teeth bleaching in two stages: two nights in a row, then teeth cleaning at the dentist come Wednesday and assess from there. Let’s hope I get the Long Island Dentist’s approval so I can stop this self-induced torture and get back to having bean juice flow through my veins.

     I hope I make it to Friday.  More to come.

  <~~me at my desk without coffee