Monday, November 30, 2009

when night becomes day and day becomes night and in between there is confusion

I take one daughter to the airport just as the sun throws color onto the emerging day.


During the ride, we talk about her week ahead. It’s loaded. New York this, DC that, and then, for work reasons, she comes back to the Midwest. See you in a couple of days, daughter, you with the quick pace and quick mind!

Later, I retrace these steps with my younger daughter. We are airport bound too, though with her, I review the week behind us. I listen to this once child, now wise woman. I hold her just a little bit longer. Three weeks will pass before I see her again.

At home, I have my stack of papers. Large stack. And the brief for Ed’s court case needs a final review. But really, I just want to sleep. I’m under the quilt now, drifting, maybe sleeping, maybe dozing, maybe something inbetween.

But not for long. Daytime, noontime, I’m working now, full steam ahead, onwards and upwards, tally forth! (What other words of encouragement might I use to push me forward?)

And now I am at the Law School, teaching, and now I am not. Homeward bound, where my thought’s escaping... No, you know what’s escaping? Daylight. I walk to the bus as the sun disappears and for a minute, not more, just a minute, there is profound color on campus.


Most people are returning home from work tonight, and I am too, except that I am also going to work, at the little shop where I moonlight. It's confusing and not altogether rational. I know that. I hurry. It's cold outside.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

food, part two

During the semester, I often cannot write here, on Ocean until close to midnight. I will have just finished dinner (yes, it comes that late on the four or five days that I spend moonlighting at the shop), put away dishes, told Ed to switch from sleeping on the couch to sleeping in a bed, turned on music, placed my laptop where it belongs – on my lap and begun the transcription of vague ideas – ones that I would have tossed around in my head while working with customers or even on a coffee break earlier at school – onto the blog.

At that hour, I drift in and out of full wakefulness. I am alert, I am not, I type a little, I wish I would think faster, more clearly, without half hour pauses of no thought at all.

Of course I am looking forward to a time when this kind of pattern is put to rest. To a time when I write, like now, with light streaming in from the south facing windows. To a time when I am sure that what I am thinking is well synchronized with what I am writing.

In the meantime, the whirligig continues. One more week of midnight posts with incomplete thoughts weighed down by heavy layers of tiredness.

Though I confess that today was a remarkable exception. How many people past the age of thirty sleep in until nearly noon? And think they could continue if guilt weren’t pushing them out of bed? Without being sick, without having partied at all the night before? For me, it’s a first.

It’s the last day of the daughter visit and each of us has a stack of work, but we take the time to go to Marigold for brunch. Because food can jumpstart a workday as much as it can calm you at its tail end.

the essentials


There is a burst of energy that comes when the skies are at their bluest, the air has the bite of early winter, daughters are visiting, the semester is in its last week, Ed’s little piece of litigation is nearing an endpoint, the shop where I moonlight becomes preholiday busy.

Though today was slated to be consumed by work, when all was said and done, I could tell that there would at least be a warm meal at the end of the day.


At the Old Fashioned, on the Square.

Friday, November 27, 2009

so yesterday

The turkey meal, the list of accompanying plates – talking about it today is like playing Auld Lang Syne on January 1st. We’re on Friday now. The day after. Shopping time. We don’t review the success of the side dishes from the turkey dinner the night before.

So here are the side dishes form the turkey dinner the night before. And the pumpkin dessert.



Oh, such a story in its own right! Thanksgiving dinner... I remember when, during the day, one daughter asked – shouldn’t we be putting the turkey in the oven? I answered – I’ve cooked this dinner enough times to know that it will all eventually come together. Without worry. Even though, in the midst of preparations, it may have appeared stressful.


Today felt very much like the day after the big blow out. We went for brunch down to Marigold. Closed. We went for dinner at the Old Fashioned. Closed. Wow... our town has a holiday hangover.

But not at the little shop on the corner. This was Black Friday – the day when every retailer is expected to break sound barriers in terms of sales.

And we did.

The day after was a fine day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


To my American readers – my you have a delightful holiday, a truly happy Thanksgiving. To my other side of the ocean ones – let me explain to you about this day: it’s a time when you go to a lot of effort to make a colorful meal out of foods that tend to orbit around shades of brown and mustard yellow. There is a reason why every cook worth her while will put on the table cranberry sauce.

I shopped with Ed yesterday. He wont be joining us for the meal itself (I don’t do Thanksgiving or everyday is a birthday are common answers from him should you inquire why), but he promised to come around for leftovers the next day.

The store was pleasantly crowded and welcoming (samples everywhere).


It must be said that Ed was rather taken aback by what I put in the cart – both the amount and type of food were over and beyond what he is normally exposed to when we shop.
You eat bacon?
On Thanksgiving morning, yes. Can you find a can of pumpkin puree please?

Like I said, all shades of brown and mustard yellow.

Late at night, with daughters home, I roll out the dough.


And in the morning, I don’t even bother looking outside. I turn on the oven and begin.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The pre-holiday chatter. And what are you doing for the holiday?

You’re allowed to ask. Were it a regular day, it would seem awkward. Huh? Why do you want to know? But you can do it before Thanksgiving.

From a colleague: We’re having friends over.
That’s nice!

Well, we were late to invite and so people were all booked up. So it’s just one couple and us. Seems kind of puny to me.

From a student – my mom injured her ankle, so my sister will be cooking. It’s going to be bad.
Can you help?
I’m going to be holed up in my room working on outlines. Except it’s no longer my room. Ever since I left to go to school, my mom turned it into a “guestroom.” She tells me I can’t sleep on the new bed there. So she puts in an air mattress for me on the floor.

From another – we’re meeting my sister’s fiancée. It’s going to be awkward. I’ll be doing outlines upstairs too.

Yes, for students, this is a time of intense preparation. Around town, café life is, more than ever, concentrated around tall glasses of caffeinated beverages and stacks of papers.


From my daughters – we’re all packed! We’re coming home! [But from my younger one, who is now in her last year of school: is it okay if I spend time working on my paper?]

From a shop coworker – my whatever he is [nc: may I suggest occasional traveling companion?] will be in town. With his dad visiting. I’ll be at my parents.
That’s good, no? Can your whatever he is come over too?
Not really. Not with his dad. That would be awkward. Especially since he’s from Canada and they don’t do Thanksgiving there.

And who is doing the cooking?

From a student – my mother!
Is she good at this?
She's okay... [nc: is that what all children think? are they merely kind when they show pleasure at your efforts?]

From another student – my mother!

From another student – yeah, my mother!

And another – my parents joined this gourmet cooking club decades ago. So, as usual, they’ll be doing a gourmet meal for us.

And another – I’m doing the turkey.
Any interesting variation?
Upside down, to keep the breast meat moist.
I like to stuff herbs between the meat and skin.
How do you do that?
Gently, with your fingers prying the skin loose...

And one more – I’ll be baking lots of pumpkin bread.

Tuesday night. I close the shop where I moonlight and stumble home. I am very tired. I pass a mall where music is piped to the sidewalk all night long. Santa music. That holiday! I hum along.

It's here. The season of pre-holiday chatter, post holiday regrets, that holiday music, family travels, food.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Did you know there is such a thing as a New York subway schedule? And that, according to it, the No.6 leaves the Bleecker Station, heading uptown at 4:36 a.m.?

By 4:30, we are at the station. Ed is making sure I get to my proper subway/bus connections at this horribly early, or horribly late hour (depending on your habits). As I slip in the money for a subway ticket, we hear the train stop and then pull away. Six minutes early. And now it’s a mystery as to when the next one will come.

The unreliability of these early hour trains and buses causes me to give up on total frugality. I wave to Ed (who’ll be traveling later that night) and catch a cab for Grand Central, where I wait for the first airport bus. Forget about the whole subway to M60 bit. This time I am like one of the anxious in a hurry New Yorkers who can’t be late no matter what.

Even as in New York, it can be tough to be in a hurry.

The streets are almost empty still. Down in the Village, I would come across the occasional dispirited person walking away from someone’s apartment, or the restless night person who sleeps on a different schedule. Here, in these downtown blocks where no one lives, I only see the occasional person who waits, like me, for the working day to begin. Or who is starting to work. Or who waits for work.


But New York is never really quiet or dark. As the bus approaches and I get ready to board, I take one last look.


For a long long time, this was pretty much the America that I knew. Like for so many here, there was only New York, and then some nameless other regions beyond it, they say with purple mountain majesties with oceans on either side. I’d driven through them, I even occasionally stopped for a week-end or a week. Quaint places where I could see more trees or ripples of ocean water, but then I would return to the city that was, for me, the familiar America.

One last look. As the plane taxis in the hour just before sunrise, in the black and white world of a cloudy hazy morning.


I take out my papers and focus on the day ahead.

Monday, November 23, 2009

welcome to Ameryka

In a quote from an immigrant from the economically depressed Europe of the early twentieth century, I read: “we didn’t know of it as the United States, or even North America. We knew it as America (“Ameryka” in Polish) where anyone could make a new life.

If Ed is my occasional traveling companion, would it be correct to say that I come from a family of occasional immigrants?

My grandfather was the first in my family to travel from Poland to America. He came in what was the busiest year for Ellis Island (where immigrants where processed) – 1907. But he didn’t stay. He went back, then came again, only to return for good to Poland in 1951.

My grandmother crossed the ocean to join him here, then she returned to Poland, then came back and stayed until that return trip to Poland in 1951. Except that twenty years later she came back to the States. She died in California not so very long ago.

My mother is another back and forther. She landed on Ellis Island first in 1929, then again in ‘31 (with Poland in between). Some fifteen years later, she is back in Poland and then, in a surprise move, she winds up in California. I doubt that she’ll ever need a passport again.

I’ve always thought that this unsettled nature of my family’s travels was a tad out of sync with the prevailing trends. I thought people who came to America stayed in America. But today, I read this:


For all my ocean crossings, I am actually more stable than these previous generations of family. I considered myself thoroughly Polish until the 1970s, and since then, I have regarded myself very much as an American immigrant.

And yet I am the only one in my America-bound family who did not come through Ellis Island. The place closed down as an immigrant center in 1954 – a year after I was born. But in the 60 years leading up to that year, so many immigrants passed through Ellis Island! (The majority from Eastern Europe and Italy.)

Today, Ed and I took the ferry to Ellis Island.

It couldn’t have been a brighter day (though I would have welcomed a warmer wind).

We left Bleecker Street at an hour where New York streets are empty but for the serious visitors who are anxious to fit it all in. Oh, and the newspaper buyers (there are still those). And dog walkers. And fans of buttermilk scones for a Sunday breakfast.




We are lucky with the ferry. Just as we hike up to the pier, one is setting out toward the open waters. If you’ve done this trip, you’ll know that the boat first pulls up to Liberty Island.


You want to get off?
I don’t know... We don’t have tickets to go inside Ms Liberty...


But we do get off. How can we not? Liberty Island, Statute of Liberty – aren’t these as much a part of the immigrant experience as docking at Ellis Island? Or passing through the Verrazzano Narrows? (I passed through the Narrows on my first voyage to the States, even though I was not then an immigrant.)


We walk along the perimeter of Liberty Island and look up at the green robes of the statue. It’s a dazzling monument from close up. Especially when I am so intensely focused on immigration to this country via New York (as experienced by my ancestors).


We board the ferry again and head for Ellis Island. Twelve million went through the immigration screening here. I keep thinking that: twelve million. Including my grandfather, grandmother, mother.

The wind is even more forceful now. I think about huddled masses. And boat passengers braving the weather. And having, finally, a full view of Manhattan.



Once on Ellis, Ed allows me to take the lead, to take the museum at my own pace.

We join a small group that wants to tour the hospital wing. But I’m restless. I want to cut loose. I can’t feel the place through the words of the young guide. He’s too sing-song, too bland. These are not bland stories! Talk by example! Tell me an anecdote or fact about a Stefania or Wojciech (my grandparents’ names), or anyone else – the doctors who worked here, the people who stayed, those who were turned back.


In the end, Ed and I make our way through the great halls of the arrival building alone. The places of great waiting. Waiting to cross, waiting to land, waiting to move on.



The best, for me, are the photos. Faces, families, so often from Poland. How is it that they came from Poland at a time when there was no Poland? I don’t understand. Could they state country of origin based on a past remembrence? Or a future hope?


And faces of orphaned children, coming here to find a new life. These move me no end. And the woman from Poland who took work scrubbing floors. That could be my grandmother. She cleaned apartments during the day and baked during the night.


Immigrant stories. There aren’t enough of them, I don’t think. I want more details – I can’t have the details about my own grandparents, but I’ll settle for those of others. What were their days here like?

We take several hours to walk through the few rooms with exhibits. This is where they were inspected for health problems. This is where they were checked for legal permission to enter. This is where they were given the literacy test. Or the psychological test. This is where they stayed if they failed.

My mother recalled being scared that the officials would find lice. Would she be sent back? Would her mother be sent back then as well? Do others have similar recollections?

By midafternoon I am intensely tired. There is a chill in the building and I am wishing I had an extra sweater underneath my coat. I tell Ed – let’s head back to Manhattan.

We leave Ellis, swing around Liberty and head home.



And now we walk agaom toward Bleecker. The long way. Past the court house where Ed spent so many days during the trial. Past Chinatown too, and a playground full of families from Southeast Asia...


...and on to Orchard Street where Ed has found the best pickle shop in the borough. (Guss' Pickles; but they're moving to Brooklyn after the new year.)


... and little Italy, where we stop for an espresso and biscotti.



... and finally home. If you can call floor space home. I can. For this week-end at least.

Late in the evening we go round the corner to a local Italian place. The waiters are kind and the food is comfortably good and as we ease into the evening, I’m thinking that this city has been especially gentle with me this time around.

It continues to treat me well. One daughter is calling – the one who lives in Boston. I’m in town, just a few blocks away! The restaurant is closing, but the proprietors are delighted that a daughter should show up. They pull up a chair for her and now she is there, eating a plate full of pasta even as we have already polished off our own dinner and dessert.

And then the other daughter calls: I’m done with my meetings! Can I join you? Sure! The proprietors smile and pull up a fourth chair and now I have my daughters around me and the night air is warm and the wine is mellow and who, under the circumstances, could be anything but enthralled?

Last moments in New York. In a few hours I’ll have to make my way back to La Guardia for a predawn flight to Madison. I have classes to teach and moonlighting work to round off my Monday. It will be a long day. But I’m okay with that. I’ve had my two days.

Two days of thoughts about other places, other generations, another era, another family. That’s all it takes to get myself ready to face the last two weeks of the semester.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

cross town

If I think my day was a little undone by the continuance of Ed’s deposition (which we thought would be completed by the week-end), I feel even more sorry for his attorney, who has been robbed of a life since Ed’s case came to trial. (Actually, this is the beginning of case number two which, ironically, pertains to events prior to those recounted in case number one; this is what happens when you place the tools of litigation into the hands of someone - not Ed! - who likes nothing more than to play with them, constantly and repeatedly, in the same way that you and I may like watching the same good movie over and over again.)

Ah well. It cannot be helped. From our Bleecker Street fourth floor empty room, I watch the sky turn a morning pink as the sanitation workers picked up the litter of a week-end night in the West Village.



We set out early, choosing to walk to the swank lawyer offices near Rockefeller Plaza. It's a familiar and not unpleasant walk and the weather is New York's best.






After a few minutes of case talk, I leave them to their work. For the better part of the day, I am on my own.

I can’t remember when I last had hours to kill within a handful of blocks of Bloomingdale’s. I’m not much of a shopper, but the holiday displays are out...

Bloomingdale's window display features "the world's two perfect couples"

...and the streets are crowded and lively and I'm thinking this might do me good – to just flow with the wave of humanity that is out and about, looking for sales, imagining that this year was no different than any other (my own moonlighting stints and work demands notwithstanding).

I spend a long time admiring the stunning clothes I so rarely see in my home town. I’d forgotten what it was like to care about style. New York sucks you in in this way, even as you vow to never like the place again. It has a way of beguiling you with its haughtiness and rudeness. You feel proud to have once lived here, even as you're always glad to be done with it at the end of a trip back.

Ed calls during breaks, reporting on the slow pace of the deposition (one could speculate if the attorneys on the other side wanted to bring in good billables before the fiscal year ended). Let me walk back to Bleecker and wait for you there, I suggest to him.

I turn south. We came up sixth, and now I head down fifth. Past pretzels and chestnuts and hot dogs...



...past the Union Square market...


...and just as I approach the Village, Ed calls. Done!

And now we rush to fit in promised pieces of a day. We pick up the pace (which means Ed merely takes big strides and I run to keep up) and turn toward the lower East side. This is where Ed would come with his dad. To the deli, on Sundays. For the roast beef on rye and the pickles.


Katz, the oldest deli in New York, the only one where they still carve everything by hand, is crowded and I see someone tucking away a Zagat Guide and I think that by now, every place in Manhattan must have its spot on a google map and in Zagat guides. I listen to customers confer in French and then ask awkwardly for corned beef and coleslaw. A a table nearby, an old couple, surely local, slouches over their plates of food. Outsiders, insiders, mixing at Katz's. In a crowded sort of way.


We take our sandwiches to go and turn back slightly north, past what surely once must have been the Polish neighborhood...



... to the home of Ed’s aunt. We stay there well into the evening. I listen to the two of them review family sagas (including the present one that is playing itself out in court) and I think how important it is to sometimes sit back and hear that narrative through the conversation of someone else.

It’s late, but we’re not done with the day yet. We have another meeting with another family person – a daughter of mine who happens to be in the city for the next few days.

the three of us sit at a bar and Ed eats oysters and sips orange juice and I think that this companion of mine (occasional, traveling) has more of the New York grit and edginess here than back home. Maybe we all do.

My daughter has further plans for her evening. We wave her on as we head up to the empty fourth floor space on Bleecker Street.