Radio Silence

I used to listen to the radio. A lot. Once upon a time I thought I’d be a radio DJ. It seemed like it could be quite a nice gig.

When I moved to NYC in 2005, I stopped listening to the radio by default, as I could never get a signal on my stereo in any of the multitude of apartments I inhabited.

Zoe Radio

A shirt I could only get away with in my twenties. But I did love listening to my tunes, as evidenced by my hip CDs on display.

As someone who likes to keep on the up and up with the newest hit songs, it was depressing to go into a void. I never learned what the radio stations in New York were. In fact, I still only remember the ones from St. Louis, where I grew up. Fortunately, around that time, music was more and more shifting to streaming and/or being available on things like Napster and iTunes.

I could check the iTunes Store to see what I liked and order a CD or download an album, as I became wont to do. The shift from CD to downloaded music was a subtle one but I haven’t purchased a hard disc of music in quite a few years now.

One of my favorite things in life is getting that instant gratification from sampling and downloading songs I love, new or old. Instead of hitting Record on the tape deck, I can type in any artist, song title, or album, and either take a trip through the Forest of Nostalgia or see what the kids are listening to these days and figure out if anything is worthwhile. (Unfortunately, as I get older, I am more and more baffled by the “hits” topping the charts, and I recognize fewer and fewer artist names.)

Living in New York, everything I ever needed was on my iPod, which is an absolute necessity if you are going to live in any major metropolis and commute on public transportation. My commute is pretty short and sweet these days, so if I do listen to anything on the way to work, it’s on a CD or my iPod. Add in to the fact that listening to radio commercials sets my teeth on edge and I have no patience for them anymore (thanks to the advent of the DVR), the radio has slipped into nonexistence, as far as I’m concerned.

It only occurred to me the other day that, essentially, I have not listened to the radio in eight years. What used to be a crucial item in my existence has simply faded away. The only “radio” I listen to now is Pandora on occasion, a totally evolved version of the medium. I still get to hear new music, insofar as it’s new to me, and anything I really like, I can go to my computer and get. C’est magnifique!

Anyone else out there still a hardcore radio aficionado? Or has your music lifestyle changed, as mine has?

***

Side notes: I have never subscribed to Sirius Radio or anything like that, which is the “cable” of radio. My total ignorance on this topic is why I have left it out entirely. Additionally, my dude does listen to talk radio, so it’s still a big part of his life. Plus, when we go on road trips, we play a game where we hit Scan on the radio and see who can guess the name and artist of a song before it scans to the next station. It’s a nice way to pass the time, actually, and the only time the radio retains any lingering significance for me.

Moveaholic

When I lived in New York City, I moved at least once a year–if not twice a year–the entire time I was there (2005-2010). It sounds rather appalling for most people, since I believe it’s a universal opinion that moving sucks the worst of the worst.

It’s definitely a special challenge doing it in a crammed urban city of more than eight million people. Navigating a 14-foot moving truck all through the boroughs, including on the FDR, isn’t something I would readily wish on anyone.

The upside of all that self moving is that I got to experience a bunch of different neighborhoods. I lived in three different boroughs in five years. Out of the ones I lived in, the Upper East Side and Astoria (Queens) were my favorites. In another life where I remained a transplant New Yorker and had lots of expendable cash, I would totally live in the West Village or Greenwich Village.

Moving-SnoopyThe downside is that I and several of my friends were moving my things on an annual basis.

I suppose I should look at this objectively and think how awesome it is that I have friends who moved me more than once. My best friend moved me in and out of the apartment I shared with an ex for one year. It practically became a tradition that every Presidents’ Day, she’d trundle up to New York from DC, roll up her sleeves, and move my shit from Point A to Point B. I also had another set of friends that helped me move twice–what a gift!

I became expert at sending out moving announcements. (And let’s face it, I adored “getting” to do that, since I’m a card and stationery addict.) I also learned that there is a huge difference between movers who know how to pack your items safely and those who do not. I definitely lost a few things due to poorly stacked boxes in a truck.

Fast forward to present day. Some of you have read about our trials and tribulations in the former house we resided in when we moved from New York to Illinois. To save you time, let’s just say the house served its purpose and quickly lost any luster it held at one point.

We moved to an apartment complex where we have a townhome last July. We really agonized over that decision, because we loved having a backyard for our sweet dog and didn’t have to share any walls of any kind.

For the most part, our move was a smart idea. Where we live is in a quiet area, it’s safe, on a bus line, and we don’t have to worry about mowing the lawn or fixing things that break in the apartment.

Unfortunately, some kind of bad karma on my or Kevin’s part reared its ugly head and we have suffered with the worst neighbors me or Kevin has ever had in our lives. If it wasn’t their loud beagle, who had separation anxiety, barking and whining for hours on end when his owners were gone, the neighbors have thoroughly enjoyed testing the boundaries of human decency by blasting music, accompanied by whooping, hollering, and screaming epithets at us, all taking place throughout the work week and weekends, no matter what we, management, or the police say about the noise. (It should be noted that alcohol and cigarettes are the basis of their existence.)

The fantastic news is that they will be moving sometime in June or July, so this is short-lived (if you call twelve months short-lived).

Unfortunately, the anxiety of living next door to such gems has given rise to the moveaholic in me. I have gotten a serious itch to ditch and just get the hell out of here. It’s totally impractical and illogical, especially since these folks ARE moving. The chances of the next neighbors being this bad are about as great as my winning the next $500M Powerball lottery. I try to reassure myself with that.

But fighting my inner Cher-in-Mermaids is not an easy battle to endure.

mermaids film 2(Does anyone remember that movie, Mermaids? Seriously one of my all-time faves. Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci are a small family unit who move at the whim of the mother, Cher, anytime anything makes her uncomfortable and she just bolts. Dreamy Michael Schoeffling plays the love interest, in case you need any further impetus to watch this movie.)

Naturally, in the wake of recent events with our special next door friends, I have already looked at homes for rent in our area, if for no other purpose than to soothe the runner in me who wants to flee this place and never look back.

Winning out this time are factors like knowing that this is short-term, this too shall pass, it completely doesn’t make financial sense to move right now, and quite honestly, there isn’t much of a selection of better options. The only way this situation would improve is if a bag of money fell from the sky and we could move into a home that we bought ourselves.

Barring that miracle, I am working in each moment to remind myself of the following:

Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment. – Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

To that end, I hope to be an even more evolved person for having endured and triumphed through one of the more negative experiences we’ve had in the last three years, including winning out over my instinct to run when things get rough and uncomfortable.

I’ll tame this moveaholic yet.

Bagels: A Remembrance

Topped with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onion and garlic & salt

Photo courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker on Flickr

This morning, as I munched on my toasted “everything bagel” with butter, I was inexorably drawn back to my years in New York City, one of the bagel capitals of the world.

Prior to moving there, I had certainly had my share of these round wonders. Panera makes a fine bagel, if I do say so myself. However, there really is something to be said for the culture of bagels in New York, something I have experienced nowhere else.

In fact, by the time I had graduated from college, I declared myself to be a person who really didn’t like bagels. And if you just thought to yourself that I must be crazy for holding that opinion, get in line. My friends thought it was incredibly bizarre. I think I just had a natural aversion to them for years. I have never liked using bagels for sandwiches, either. Too thick and chewy for a sandwich, at least from my perspective. The idea of a plain bagel with cream cheese sounded incredibly unappetizing to me (in fact, it still does).

Google "NYC bagels" and this is what you get.

However, something shifted for me when I lived in New York. Not only are bagels everywhere – bodegas, delis, bakeries, cafes – but people line up for them like they’re going out of style. A distinct Sunday Morning Bagel Ritual takes place in hundreds of shops each week in that grand city, where thousands of people slowly gravitate towards their favorite local place to “get on line” and call out their regular order. And no two are the same!

I was in New York for five years but I probably didn’t appreciate the bagels there until the last two. At the last place I worked, they had Bagel/Donut Fridays. Usually there was no stopping me from partaking in a donut or two, but one day, I started noticing a particular bagel staring back at me. I later learned that it was called an “everything” bagel. On top of these round creations are poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, dried onion, and salt.

Craving something salty to go with my sweet donut, I tried one. I loved it.

Everything bagels renewed my palate for this local delicacy. They’re insanely messy to eat and you will spill no less than three thousand pieces of bagel debris on yourself while you eat it, but the mixture of flavors can’t be beat. I became a total convert.

And! I even started frequenting Brooklyn Bagels in my neighborhood (though I lived in Astoria, Queens). There was one on Broadway around the corner from me and they had a great array of things to eat, including French Toast Bagels, which I don’t even have to say were amaaaaaziiiiing. One had to get to this place before 10am on Sundays or there would be at least a fifteen to twenty minute wait. It was worth it, though.

Like the rug in The Big Lebowski that tied the room together, frequenting my local bagel shop for my “usual” really solidified the love I had for my neighborhood, and even living in that enormous metropolis. (Astoria rocks and if I were to move back to New York City, I’d totally live there again.) I have extremely fond memories of getting breakfast at Brooklyn Bagels with Kevin when we were first seeing one another. Can you beat an everything (or French Toast) bagel with a cappuccino? I propose that you can not.

While I now have to settle for buying my everything bagels by the half dozen in a bag from the supermarket, toasting them myself and buttering them, they still bring forth these treasured memories which I hold dear to me.

Bagels are more than just “something to eat” in New York City. They are an experience. They are New York.

A satisfying breakfast to say the least.

4 Reasons Apartment Hunting Sucks | Cracked.com

4 Reasons Apartment Hunting Sucks | Cracked.com.

I love that I beat Cracked to this post with my very own about the pitfalls of Craigslist; it’s what started this blog. Except I went into far more detail. Yes, Cracked got the gist and many of the things they say is true. But let me tell you something: when you live in NYC and you don’t have a lot of money (so like, 97% of people there), you use Craigslist exclusively. You just have to. And you learn the ins and outs. I was not only the seeker but I was the seekee on a couple of occasions. And for the record, I DID take awesome apartment photos because I knew exactly what people would need to see to give me a call. I put up real photos.

This is a photo of one of my actual former living rooms.

Since I’ve already written about this, I won’t go into much more detail. But now I’m thinking I need to apply to be a writer for Cracked.

Hmm…

Arbitrary Musings on a Hot Summer Day

Melted

It is hot as crap outside. Summer is officially here.

Actually, today is only 88 but the 90s have come and gone and are only a day or two away from happening again. I’m finding that there are those people in New York City who love how hot it gets here in the summertime. I am baffled by them. The streets hold in the heat, feeling like you have an invisible electric blanket shrouding you everywhere you go, even in (and sometimes especially) on the subway platform. (How did people live here before air-conditioned subway cars?)

In the past two weeks, I have only been able to wear my hair down once. And not because it was cool enough to do so. The high was only going to be 86 yesterday and I determinedly blow dried my hair and put a touch of anti-frizz silk stuff on the crown of my head to keep my hair from making me look like an unkempt 7 year-old the second I stepped foot outside of my un-airconditioned bedroom. Usually I can’t stand the thought of having long hair cover my nape while I am trying to keep cool to and from work so I think screw it, and I put my hair up wet in a makeshift bun. (I have yet to learn how to give myself a French braid but am hoping to get a lesson very soon.) Having my hair up everyday is not the most stylish thing to do but when it comes to being sticky and uncomfortable, I always end up choosing comfort over style. The picture you see here is how I look pretty much everyday in the summer at work. Hell, it’s how I look right now, minus the mascara and earrings.

If you haven’t already been able to tell, I am very fair-skinned and I do not have a high tolerance for heat…or direct sunlight, for that matter. My boyfriend despises the heat more than I do, and if I had any doubts as to his tolerance for temperatures above 78 degrees, I had only to look to the dog that he came with. I present to you below Lucas, an Alaskan Malamute/Husky mix.

This is a dog who eats ice like popcorn and bathes in snow.

The three of us go into either the living room or the bedroom, switch on an air conditioner and proceed to stay cool doing all the stuff we normally do at home – watch TV, get on the interwebs, sleep, etc. And so here we are, on a gorgeously hot Saturday afternoon, hanging out in the cool bedroom while I sit at my desk and the boyfriend does whatever it is he’s doing on his laptop. On Monday morning, I’ll be regaled of stories of what other folks did over the weekend besides sit next to an air conditioning unit. This is just how we roll.

And now, as if that introduction wasn’t long enough, I’ll detail the few wisps of thoughts I have had over the last week or two to share with you all. Because, you know, I should have something to say after a six month hiatus from the blog.

Enjoy these random observations from yours truly and stay cool (or hot, if that’s your preference).

1. Have you ever thought about the fact that when your phone isn’t ringing, it means that not one person on the face of the planet wants to call you? Considering the number of people, telephones and phone numbers that exist, you’d think the odds of your phone ringing at any given time would be higher.  Maybe I just don’t get that many phone calls. Hm.

2. I tried the new snack size Reese’s McFlurry from McDonald’s the other day. It melted into candy soup in about five minutes flat. However, for the 180 seconds it was semi-solid, it was absolutely delicious. There was a run on ice cream snacks when I ordered it. People were running in and shouting out ice cream orders like the streets were frying them alive. Maybe they were. Anyway, a guy ran in and ordered three or four sundaes and asked if the ice cream was soft. The server replied wryly, “Well yes, it’s soft. It’s soft serve.” The man replied, “Too soft?” The server answered, “I guess.” I suppose it’s possible that there is someone who has never gotten ice cream from McDonald’s and that every second, someone new tries it, but I’m just perplexed at anybody who doesn’t understand the consistency of fast food ice cream. It’s not even real ice cream. What do you expect for $.99?

3. Working in the summertime reminds me that working in the summertime sucks. Hard. I always think about when I had summers off as a kid up through the time I was 16, and I never really appreciated it. Actually, I was unable to find work between years in college and I enjoyed lazy days then. I could do with a solid month off, even if it was just sitting in front of my air conditioner and pondering how I have nothing to do.

4. In order of use and preference of social networking sites, it goes Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare. For those of you who don’t have Foursquare yet, I absolutely recommend trying it. You earn Mayorships and Badges the more times you check into venues. It’s become so popular that you can actually earn discounts from participating companies the more you check in to places. The novelty of earning the badges/mayorships keeps me remembering to do it. It’s kind of like a real life video game, where you earn meaningless rewards for just walking around. (I think that was the creator’s intent, actually.)

5. I hate when people ask you if the elevator is going down, when the wall indicator not only alerts you audibly, but lights up a big red down arrow – twice! The other day, I’m in the elevator in my work building going down to the lobby and it stops on the second floor (the SECOND floor), where a man on his cell phone looks up distractedly and asks, “Is this going down?” The other guy in the elevator and I stared at him incredulously before replying yes. Seriously, dude, you’re going to hold us up even further by clarifying whether the elevator is going down before you get on it? To be clear, there is a stairwell for the folks on 2. They ought to wear a blazing red A for Asshole when they need to take the elevator DOWN. Or at least have the decency to apologize when you get in. Yeah that’s right, you should be sorry. I’m not a skinny gal but even I would be taking the stairs everyday if I worked on the second floor.

6. Robyn’s new song, Dancing On My Own, (click on that link to see her video!) has taken over my life. I have listened to it obsessively and I ended up buying her album, Body Talk Pt. 1, on iTunes, because I loved it so much.  The song invokes images of Flashdance and J. Lo impersonating Jennifer Flowers in Flashdance, because if you’re like me, you’ll just want to dance and dance to the crazy awesome beats. Get you some Robyn!

A Midwesterner’s Take on Grocery Shopping in NYC

If you’re reading this and you don’t happen to reside in New York (or any other metropolitan area where it doesn’t make sense to own a car), consider yourself lucky if for no other reason than you most likely own a car and can run errands with it. Specifically, you can transport yourself to the grocery store/supermarket/”food store,” be it a Super Target, Super Wal-Mart, CostCo, Sam’s Club and the like.

I try to keep whining to a minimum but when it comes to grocery shopping without a car, it gets pretty bad. It goes something like this: I run out of food little by little. Pretty soon, I’m getting creative with the few staples I have left in the house: “I know! I’ll make rice with butter for dinner!” or “Cereal with half ‘n half is fine.” Finally, it comes down to making something with eggs, eating peanut butter out of the jar and resorting to actually eating the oatmeal I bought months ago. Then I’m really out of everything.

Enter the whining. I have no food, I’m starving and I have needed to go to the store for weeks. My inner adult self wars with the three year-old in there having a tantrum, pounding her fists on the floor: “But I don’t wanna go to the store! I hate it! I hate it! Don’t make me! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.” I told you it wasn’t pretty. (I recently performed such antics when I was forced to cook the chicken I had needed to make all week. I told my boyfriend to MAKE me prepare the chicken but it was no easy feat on his part, bless his heart. Oh and I literally stamped my foot on the floor about not wanting to do it, too. See what he has to put up with?)

Interestingly enough, I never minded going to the store when I lived in St. Louis and when I was in college. But I had a car. (Sniffle – God, I miss having a car.) It never even crossed my mind to despise doing it. The car was right there. You just get in and go. When those of us with on-campus jobs got paid, we trundled off to Wegman’s to stock up on stuff we’d need that wasn’t overpriced from the campus Corner Store or made from dehydrated food packets in the cafeteria. (Don’t EVEN get me started on Aramark.)

I’ll go so far as to say that I enjoyed grocery shopping when I went with a friend or my then boyfriend. Helen loved going to the store with me, just to gab while I was throwing stuff in the cart. The boyfriend in question hated grocery shopping with me, but that is because we would argue over the quality of paper towels and toilet paper we were buying (ladies, you feel me – it’s all about the high quality stuff). I never thought that a regular outing such as that would become one of the biggest major thorns in my side down the line.

And so. Living in New York, there are tons of shops from which to buy all manner of things, from the extravagently gourmet to the ridiculously cheap. (And  I am a huge proponent of  the adage “You get what you pay for.” Hmmm, possible post down the line formulating…) It sounds fun in your head if you don’t live here.

Maybe you picture a gorgeous, sunny day going from store to store and selecting your specialty meats from your butcher who knows you by face or name;  stocking up at the fromagerie for a tart piece of Chèvre, gruyere or smoked gouda; grabbing all your canned and jarred goods (green olives? hello) at the regular corner store or bodega even; moving on to the local produce stand or farmer’s market for produce and daily specials; getting to the checkout counter where the man or woman is only too thrilled to send you on your way with your purchases. Then you happily carry it all home like you’re Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman after you get to go on a shopping spree in Beverly Hills with Richard Gere’s credit card.

Groceries

WRONG. This is a fallacy of the grandest design. It is a pain in the freaking ass to go to more than one place and if you are unfortunate enough to only live close by to a poorly stocked grocery store where even finding something as simple as powdered sugar just ain’t happening, your options are extremely limited.

You can make the attempt to go to all the local places and find out that it’s exorbitantly overpriced, and/or that the employees don’t understand exactly what you’re looking for, and/or that these places don’t carry “quality” items (read: a filthy cat is walking around the deli behind the counter – I have seen it with my own eyes!) and/or that it’s raining and/or that this shit gets heavy after awhile and/or that you don’t own your own cart with which to schlep all this stuff home (much less up your third, fourth or fifth floor walk-up apartment building), and/or that the fantastic store you are fortunate enough to live by draws every other New Yorker to it and you are competing with a mob of other people in narrow, cramped aisles for all the same stuff like a meteor is going to hit and you all are stocking up to go hide in your bomb shelters.

Am I painting enough of a picture here? Do I come off as slightly cynical and fatigued? It’s because I am. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait my entire four years of living here to benefit from the genius of one particular company who has saved me from overspending on living à la carte. If you know what lunch costs on a daily basis working in Midtown, you know that you can easily spend anywhere from $50-$100 per week on lunch alone. For Chrissakes, Goodburger charges $16 for a “value meal” of a hamburger, fries and a milkshake.  I don’t mean to shamelessly namedrop but that place makes great burgers, fries and shakes. (I’ll write a post after I finally try Shake Shack.) But I don’t want to not make rent by eating there on a regular basis.

The online company Fresh Direct came along to save me from my grocery woes. Both a supermarket and a catering company, it has everything a person could ever want to buy right from the comfort of your own home or office (or on vacation – wherever!). They carry organic fare and their ready-to-eat and bakery items are out of this world. Here’s the best part. Your groceries are delivered (on the day and within a time slot of your choosing) in a referigerated truck where burly men come in carrying the boxes full of goodies and if you happen to live in a fifth floor walk-up or have a cat and you’ve just ordered two 14-lb boxes of cat litter, they do all the lifting and huffing and puffing. Voilà! It couldn’t be any simpler.

When one is deprived of the magic of having a car with a TRUNK, four wheels and an engine to get you to and from the grocery store, this place is a lifesaver. I know I personally breathe a sigh of relief whenever I’ve hit the Checkout button.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

An actual image from Fresh Direct with a cuke in the cart.

Besides the convenience factor, I have been able to order some really great food items and meals because I don’t have to ask myself the question, “Can I get this home? Am I going to be found laying on the side of the road, groceries strewn everywhere around me, because everything has broken out of their respective bags? Is this too ambitious?” I mean, seriously. Furthermore, there is no getting stuck behind the elderly couple who is paying for their groceries either by check or by 92,837,492,038,743 nickels, dimes and pennies. Nor do you have to get behind the coupon lady (it is NOT pronounced “kewpon”!)who needs to save twenty-five cents on six cans of tomato soup. No muss, no fuss. Just “set it and forget it!”

I know it seems kind of surreal to think about groceries being delivered right to one’s home but it is such an incredible tradeoff when one has to compromise one’s standards of living; because let’s face it, the majority of people who move here compromise their standards of living. I am stating officially for the record that the living experience here resembles nothing whatsoever like that of Sex and the City.

All of this having been said, do I still bitch about grocery shopping? Yes, yes I do. It’s such a chore. Granted, it’s not as bad as laundry or washing a huge sink full of dishes. But certain individuals who shall remain nameless have had to browbeat me into completing this bi-weekly duty, lest I go broke and/or I am found wasting away eating corn starch out of the box because the pantry is empty.

Still, I know that one day I will return to my suburban roots (Schnucks/Dierberg’s/Wegman’s for the win!) and I, too, also, along with the majority of the U.S. population, will once again have the sheer joy and privilege flowing through my veins of getting into an automobile, blasting music, parking the grocery-carrier in a parking spot (with its bigass trunk!) and loading up my Sam’s Club elephant-sized cart with items like a drum of pickles and a 40-pack of toilet paper and think, “Welcome home, Zoe.”

My one-time experience at the Bloomingdale’s makeup floor

shoppers

Post Christmas shopping. New York City. January of the New Year – in this case, 2009.

I had a couple of appointments today in “the city,” as I refer to Manhattan since I live in Queens. Going in on a weekend day is always a gamble with how long it will take. Catching a train within two minutes of getting to the subway platform on a Saturday or Sunday can really set the tone for the day. However, if the train line is under construction and/or rerouted, God only knows how long it will take to get to a destination, be it one or five miles away. I got lucky today and wasn’t rerouted upon boarding.

I met my friend Cornelia on the UES and after a little bit of shopping, we drifted down Lexington to Bloomingdale’s, since I received a $50 gift card for Christmas. I was actually pretty excited, since in three years I’ve never had a reason to actually go in the store. I take that back: I met another friend there once on the makeup floor, but since I wasn’t there to actually buy anything and we left within minutes of meeting up, I didn’t count it as an actual trip to Bloomingdale’s, ie Bloomies. Since I’m not a regular shopper, I don’t think I can get away with calling it that.

What can a person buy for $50 at Bloomingdale’s? I’ll be honest – not a whole helluva lot. Let me put it this way: I’m reading a fabulous book Helen sent to me, entitled The Best of Everything, which is a novel delving into the lives of young secretaries working in a publishing firm in the 1950s in New York City. The starting salary is $50 a week, which apparently was really good money back then for being in a typing pool. Flash forward fifty-three years later, and my $50 gift card can buy me either a discount on something more expensive, a singular expensive item that shouldn’t be expensive (like a tie, a pair of panties or a travel size bottle of perfume), or two small expensive items. So one week’s salary from the 1950s is buying me something small and hopefully classy.

That having been said, most women know that the best bet is to go to the makeup counter (unless that woman is not a girly girl). There are lots of things $50 and under. Seeing as I was still using the same, tired tube of L’Extreme Mascara I wrote about back in November, I knew exactly where I was headed: my beloved Lancome counter.

I really tried to find an excuse to buy a gift set of perfume or something unexpected, but everything was more expensive than I wanted it to be, and damn it, my eyelashes have been crying out for fresh mascara. They simply won’t lengthen anymore with the practically-dried-up tube I have at home.

So here’s the downfall about being on the makeup floor at Bloomingdale’s, one of the most famous stores in the world: it’s a fucking snake pit! Nordstrom, something we don’t have here (pity), is known for its customer service. I would really love to do some compare and contrast shopping because God’s honest truth (and I had a certified New Yorker, Miss Cornelia, with me), the place is loaded with a higher ratio of sales people to customers, practially, all scrambling for a commission on whatever you end up purchasing. They don’t care if you have the money or not, nor how much of your precious time they’re taking up; and they certainly don’t care if they come off as bottom-feeding jerks. It’s all about the sale.

First things first: it’s a good thing I knew exactly what I wanted to buy at Lancome, because while they have the samples of mascara sitting out, everything is hidden and not organized well. I’m sure there’s some marketing scheme on why nothing flows together, like a candy aisle at the grocery store, but it just added to the confusion, if you ask this consumer. The woman who “helped” me didn’t describe anything about any of the other mascaras or eye makeup, didn’t mention any specials, sales or what goes really well with L’Extreme; she simply got out the box I asked for and handed it to me.

My lady was probably in her 50s or 60s, short, and sported a poof of coiffed, blonde (dyed) hair and lots and lots of green eye makeup. I own a subtle shade of green eyeliner of which I don’t like to dab on too much, but this woman had the super bright set all over her: upper and lower lids, corner of the eyes, with green eye shadow to match. I think she even had something glittery. I don’t know about 60 year-olds with glittery eyeliner. I’m just saying.

Maybe when you’re a salesperson you have to make yourself stand out as much as possible, because then I could always find her, saying, “It’s the one with tons of green eye makeup at the Lancome counter.”

“Ah! That’s Zsa Zsa. Right this way,” the helpful Information person might say.

“Zsa Zsa’s” lame attempt at upselling was encouraging me to buy a gift set of Juicy Tubes, which are “only” in stock now and then they’ll be gone forever. Yeah yeah, lady. I held onto my mascara box and continued looking. When I strayed too far at the Lancome border, almost into MAC country, she told me she could just hold onto it for me until I decided. Clearly she was worried I would pocket the mascara in my purse. Fine, I leave it with her. So I turn the corner to go find Cornelia, unsure yet of what else I would be purchasing (because nothing’s worse than having $20 on a gift card at an expensive store – I just wanted to use it up!), and suddenly, an overly groomed, waaaay too much gel in his hair sales guy, accosts me and proceeds to give me the hardest sell I’ve ever had in my life to sign up to have a makeover done by a professional makeup artist at the end of the month.

Thankfully, Cornelia found me in the middle of his spiel (even though I was clearly giving off the not interested vibe), and she managed to keep him at bay. The catch was we had to purchase a $50 gift card to Bloomingdale’s that day and if we missed the appointment, we could just use it towards Bloomingdale’s some other time. They don’t give a rat’s ass whether you come and get the glamorous “makeover,” they just want you to purchase a $50 gift card that day. They’d love it if it never got spent, or better yet, put it towards an even more expensive purchase if you come back for the makeover and Francois or whoever is doing the makeover, recommends $250 worth of products. Uh huh. I’ve got your number, Slick.

When I said I couldn’t afford the $50 today, he literally said, “But it’s like money in the bank!” Who says that? It’s not money in the bank; it’s out of my bank account and going towards something I haven’t even bought yet. Furthermore, I’m signing myself up to come back to this place…on purpose….again in three weeks? No thanks. Somehow I managed to get out of his clutches. I returned to the Lancome counter and bought a new Le Stylo waterproof eyeliner in black (add it to the Bottom Line, These Are Awesome list!). Again, thankfully I knew the name but did Zsa Zsa even try to care about the sale? No. When I picked up the bottle of Oui perfume, which smelled delicious, I asked her how much the small bottle was.

Here is the perfect opportunity to try to upsell me on something I already have an interest in! Instead, Zsa Zsa says to me in her thick Slavic accent, “Ummm…I don’t know, I’ll have to look it up.” I checked out, my items coming to $51.50 (so close!), and she did not bother looking up the price of Oui. No matter. I can probably buy it on Fragrancenet.com or somewhere else for at least 10% less. But seriously? That’s the best they can do? Could she have given less of a shit?

And don’t even try to walk through the areas where a lighted sign says Information. It’s more Bloomingdale’s sales people who hold onto random colognes, perfumes and/or clipboards, waiting for lost and befuddled prey. I couldn’t believe how popular it was to be in there! You would think they were giving the stuff away – and I assure you – they were not.

Lastly, Cornelia and I stopped by a sunglass counter, where she tried on some pairs of aviator sunglasses. The woman raved about a particular pair, that while looked very nice on Cornelia, she and I both agreed that the fake rhinestones around the edges (just a few, strategically placed), took away from some of the refinement of them. The woman said she was going to try to find something else for her, after telling her that they were “nothing,” that there weren’t really any sparkles on the glasses. She turned to me and promised me an associate would help me find something for myself. I said, “Oh okay,” but I hadn’t taken any interest except to ask Cornelia if she thought tortoiseshell frames would look okay on me. Thanks for making that leap, but I’m aight.

Cornelia’s saleswoman turned away from her to help another demanding customer in the middle of assisting her, so we left in disgust. I was happy to have my two pieces of new makeup tucked away in my first “little brown bag” I’d ever had from actually purchasing something, but all in all, the experience rates a C-. Sorry, Bloomies. Insert “wah wah wah” sound effect.

bloomies-brown-bag

I have yet to attempt to go clothes shopping there (and let’s face it, I’d need at least a $1,000 gift card to try that) but if I’m going to go the designer route, I’ll have to try somewhere else – Saks, perhaps?

I have no idea what Bloomingdale’s was like fifty years ago, but I would hedge a guess it didn’t feel like you walked in with a bullseye on your forehead with a sign on your back that read, “Total sucker.”

Nice try but no dice. In the meantime, I will be walking around with my fabulous matching black eyeliner and eyelashes, thanks to my own personal research, and no thanks to Zsa Zsa’s piss poor sales skills.

Kringley, Jingley, Cookies and Trees, Gluttony, Family Gatherings and Obligatory Gifts: sounds like Christmas!

suicidal-snowman13Howdy and Happy Holidays, everyone!

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, I’m well aware. Thanksgiving brought with it the last four weeks of getting ready for Christmas; and let’s just say I’ve been figuring out how to make Christmas work this year (read: sleeping, worrying, stress eating, sleeping, watching mindless TV, total avoidance, etc). 2008 has brought many a fiscal disaster and while my finances are far from disastrous, it’s still a small feat to crunch the numbers to find out what I can afford in cash and what’s going on ye olde credit card.

Firstly, I’d like to give a huge shoutout to the Internet (or the “World Wide Web,” as a beloved professor once called it), simply for the miracle of online shopping. I would not have been able to keep calm about everything I had to buy without this fabulous tool. If I’d actually had to go out to multiple stores to find everything I need to buy, I would have given up on the holidays long ago. The only con to online shopping when one lives in New York City is figuring out where to send the boxes. I don’t have a doorman or an apartment that delivery folks have total access to at all times. So I am forced to send things to my office and bring large bags with me to work so I can haul everything home on the subway. Fun, huh?

But still, thanks to virtual shopping, I haven’t had to stand in a huge line to get photos printed, thanks to Shutterfly. That’s my digital print shop of choice. Amazon currently sells 99% of everything under the sun (anybody try that Kindle thing yet?). Short of buying pets on Amazon.com, I’m pretty sure one can find just about anything on there. I made my giant order and was able to carry on with my daily life whilst waiting for the gifts to arrive.

Usually I get stressed out about sending out holiday cards. I’ve actually managed to do the bulk of them but I still have pending cards to write. They’ll probably sit there until December 23. Nothing says Merry Christmas like getting a holiday card on January 3. There’s always one person’s address I don’t have and then the card ultimately doesn’t get sent out. But doing the whole post office thing in NYC is….somewhat traumatic. At no time during the year is the post office ever slow. The post office is kind of like the U.S. Senate – the locations do not go by population. There are a certain amount and that’s it. So take New York – we have 9 million people here. We have a post office for the respective zip codes like everywhere else. So every single post office I’ve ever visited, without exception, is packed, the lines extensive and people impatient. There is always one New York asshole who must stand in line to mutter and curse about the long wait. It’s S.O.P. In fact, let’s just say that if I go to a drugstore or post office without hearing muttering or cursing (and I’ve been known to do it), I wonder where I am. My world doesn’t look like this (if only!): christmas-poster1

You’d think I’m not a fan of Christmas, but I really really am. I adore Christmas and Christmastime. I love Christmas songs, I love all the baking people do, the lights and decorations, the smell of pine trees, stationery and Hallmark stores, “that Christmas feeling,” new holiday coffee flavors, and particular to New York, all the street vendors and the roasted nuts guy – all of it.  

Christmas is just best when you’re a kid, though. You have absolutely none of the worries and ALL of the expectation that when you wake up on Christmas morning, you can run down to the tree and rip open presents for three hours. It’s a divine experience that we take for granted when we’re kids. Now I know all the work it takes to get those presents under the tree on time, the Christmas ham or goose or whatever to come out perfectly, and how much MONEY it takes to really have that Hallmark holiday.

Why does wrapping presents give people diarrhea? If you don’t learn how to do it properly, you give gifts that look like a car ran over them or a 4 year-old taped together. Both of my parents are excellent gift wrappers. I learned from the best. My father is extremely thorough. He’s not just wrapping, he’s making a gift presentation with lots of curly ribbon and bows. He has a wrapping timetable so he can get it all done in time. I’m pretty sure my parents spent many a Christmas Eve wrapping presents until almost dawn – and then knock knock, it’s 6am and the kids are ready to rip! But seriously, I can attest to the fatigue that wrapping brings. I finished the first half of wrapping last night (not including packing things to ship – uuuuugh) and I just wanted to curl up right there in the wrapping paper remnants and go to sleep.

As a token to one of my favorite things, I’m going to attempt to present a link attached to this photo of the Screaming Banshee, an e-card on Hallmark. Let’s try it: banshee1

Click on that shit and enjoy the hell outta it. If that’s not an accurate depiction of prepping for the holidays, I don’t know what is. (Have your sound on!)

But through it all, corny as it is, the real gift is in the giving. I love the anticipation of waiting to see what goodies I managed to find. I’m gonna toot my own horn here because I am a very good gift giver. I could be a personal shopper, I think. Except then I’d have to deal with obnoxious clients. But I use my feminine, Zoe Intuition to really hone in on something thoughtful for the people I love. I hate having to resort to a gift certificate. It happens to the best of us, though. I love when people manage to find something really Zoe-esque that I treasure for years. Otherwise, I have been the recipient of MANY cheap and expensive bath products, because that’s the Fallback Gift that all women receive when someone doesn’t know what to get her. There probably isn’t a man in a relationship that hasn’t braved Bath & Body Works at the holidays, trying to figure out “Would she like this?” and getting an entire gift basket of “Pine cone cinnamon amethyst” or “Honeyglazed lily moonstones” products – you get the point.

Besides trying to get everything done before Christmas Eve hits (and let’s face it, December is the fastest month of the entire year), if you work in an office, you are surrounded by constant offerings of food and special treats. I know I am. Thus far this month we have had popcorn tins on each floor of the office, a holiday breakfast, lavish holiday party (coming up tomorrow night – right when NYC is supposed to be slammed with snow – woo!) and one of my bosses has received a multitude of treats, including chocolate peppermint bark, a huge basket of chocolate covered pretzels, Oreos (!!!!) and graham crackers, and a bunch of us had a holiday potluck of sorts, where we all brought something festive and exchanged recipes. (I brought seasoned pecans – a big hit, not gonna lie.) The other day, in the span of 12 hours, I was offered cookies from no less than three different people. Including myself, people’s away messages are all about “No more cookies – seriously.” It’s gluttony central.

So it’s the last full business week before the holidays. Christmas is ONE WEEK FROM TODAY. I have oodles left to do but thankfully putting up and decorating the tree isn’t one of them. I have no pets or children, so I can relax without wondering if I’m going to come home to a fallen tree in my apartment. By the time January 2nd is here, I’ll be ready to swear off cookies and treats….for a little while. But even I, with my famed sweet tooth, get sweeted out at this time of year. I offered someone a “chocolate covered something or other” and he emphatically said, “NO” and gave me a shoving hand gesture.

In a TOTAL act of randomness, I read in O Magazine about the popularity of the salty/sweet combination. A reader wrote in and said she made a batch of chocolate covered bacon. I’ve had chocolate covered potato chips (which were sinfully delicious) but never thought about chocolate covered bacon. What do you think? Would you try it? I can’t say I wouldn’t try it – my voracious love for salty/sweet is too strong.

I should take the time to ask if anybody likes Christmas but hates Christmas music. My roommate and I have had music playing and had a whole Christmas movie marathon of sorts when we did our tree. We watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone and Bad Santa. Three classics. But definitely on the list to watch are A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated OR live-action). I have a bunch of others but there’s only so much time to watch this stuff. I’m definitely in the cult fan club of A Christmas Story. I don’t get people who don’t get it. David, am I right?

In an attempt to put an end to this huge tangent about Christmas, I hope all of you have a fantastic holiday season, peaceful and bright, with at least one fun drunken moment (but without blacking out or puking) and a celebratory New Year. Just avoid getting in front of the camera at those holiday parties. I can attest that not all drunk photos come out great.

Merry merry!

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