Thursday, July 28, 2011


Exes are pretty funny things.

I look at a picture of this one and I find that I'm still in love with him.

I see that one and want to smack him across the face.

I speak with this one and I feel that we speak instead through our eyes.

I hang out with that one and forget that we ever dated.

I avoid this one at all possible costs.

Exes are pretty funny things. You put them all in a lineup and discover that they bring out a totally different something in you. With this one, I was a goofball. With that one, I was a sex bomb. With this one, I was a best friend. With that one, I was a philosopher. With this one, I was a few forgettable first kisses. Hey, we're all bad at kissing when we're fourteen. If you're good at kissing when you're fourteen, you'd better take a step back and read The Giver instead. Think about something else.

Exes are great things because you can be glad the bad ones are exes. But exes can be great because you can think back on wonderful times in which you were leading a pretty wonderful life. I'm glad to know those times will likely come again. Until then, I hope all of my exes are doing swell. Except, you know, for that one. Just kidding.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My back to the Seine, and my front to the Samaritaine

From ages one to five, my best friend was a twelve-inch doll with waxy blonde hair, blue eyes, and a pink jumper, on which was embroidered the name Corolle. Actually, it was a brand name (Corolle Dolls remain popular toys for French girls), but I interpreted it as the name "Carol" in French form, and called my baby doll just so. In time, her hair fell out in fistfuls chemotherapy-style. Her clothing tore off. But her plastic skin smelled like something delicious, and I kept her with me always.

My father bought dear Corolle for me in Paris. When I was a squabbling, chubby little toddler with black eyes and hair to match, my dad accepted a job at a laboratory there. My mother took me at one point to visit him, and his tiny apartment was the site of the most embarrassing photograph of me ever taken. It's me as a toddler, naked, in the arms of my also naked father. Both of us are in the shower. Thankfully, only the upper half of his body is seen. In the picture I'm crying, because I know that in fifteen years I'll be subject to my friends' ceaseless taunts in regards to this slimy nude shot. Other less incriminating photographs from that visit include my waddling with the ducks and chomping on baguettes, but understandably, the Shower Photo is the most memorable.

This month, I returned to Paris for my first cognizant visit. My dad was there too, twenty-two years later. My fourteen-year-old sister was also in tow, shuffling her feet and shuffling her iPod. Together, we trampled the cobblestone walks and strolled along the Seine, chowing down on crepes at every possible opportunity. We took in the Louvre and the Musee d'Orsay, Notre Dame and Versailles. We stared up at the Eiffel Tower from the bottom, but didn't go up. Looking up into it, I felt like I was staring at the nose of an oncoming ship. "Can you take a picture of me?" English-speaking tourists would ask me in excruciatingly enunciated speech, pointing like clowns at their cameras. "Yes," I'd respond. "I speak English." Calm yourself.

On Bastille Day, my dad, my sister and I passed a dark building on the Seine with windows so gothic, it could nearly pass for a cathedral. "That's a department store," said my dad. "That's where I got your doll that you liked so much."

"Corolle!" I exclaimed. Instantly, I remembered her smell. She smelled like a dessert: fragrant, sweet, delectable.

"Samaritaine," announced my father. He likes to say French words. "That's the name of the store."

It was closed, so I remembered it and went back on a day when I was walking around by myself. I planned on tromping to the toy section to find today's version of Corolle, but to my disappointment the store remained dark. It was closed for good. With my back to the Seine and my front to Samaritaine, I imagined by stick-figure father in 1988, blindly putting one foot in front of the other amongst walls of boxed dolls, trying to find the perfect one for his young daughter.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Taking candy from strangers

Bar 83.

French dip in hand, I found a man with a giant Barnes and Noble bag, his eyes glued to the Wimbledon tournament.

"Sir?" I offered as I slid the plate in front of him. He tore his eyes away from Novak Djokovic and they lit up in manly hunger.

"Thanks!" he responded. I smiled at him and turned away, when he stopped me. "Hey. You a chocolate person?"

"What?" I asked. "Um, yeah."

He reached into the Barnes and Noble bag and pulled out three Godiva chocolate bars. Fanning them out in front of me, he said, "Pick one."

Pick one! Was this some sort of joke? This was literally taking candy from a stranger, the number one no-no. "Really?"

"Yeah. I had like a $75 gift card to Barnes and Noble," he nodded toward the bulging bag. "Pick one."

I carefully selected the dark chocolate, raspberry filled bar. Wow, this double just got a lot better. "Thank you! I can't wait to share this with the rest of the staff."

He grinned at me and picked up the French dip, ready to dive in. "Enjoy."

"You too," I said, and returned to the main floor, sliding the Godiva in the pocket of my apron. And I didn't share it with anyone. I kept it all to myself, savoring it piece by piece in the locker room over the course of the dinner shift. Eh, sorry.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kitchen singing

There is a tall black man who works in the kitchen at my restaurant. He's got crinkly eyes, a wide smile and one of the most fantastic singing voices I've ever heard.

I made this discovery about a month ago when I worked one night that he was working. I was dumping some dirty dishes off by the dishwasher when I heard a stunningly on-point, a cappella rendition of Usher's "U Remind Me." I turned my head and saw this skyscrape-like figure bopping his head back and forth, his arms elbow-deep in uncooked ribs, serenading them as if it were 2001. He was Usher and the ribs were Chilli from TLC. (Remember, they dated?)

I shoved the dishes in the dishwasher and crept up beside him. He smiled at me and began singing to me, and I responded by harmonizing with him on the chorus. "You remind me of a girl that I once knew," we jammed together. "See her face whenever I, I look at you..." I don't think anyone had every acknowledged his singing before. He seemed so grateful to have someone to sing with.

In the nights that I've worked with him since, he greets me with a high five and a "Hello, angel!" I always ask him, "What are we singing tonight?" Sometimes it's Michael Jackson, other nights it's Rihanna or Beyonce. It's always R&B to get our spirits up in the stress---or tedium---of the dinner shift.

Tonight, as I stood in the back polishing silverware, I asked him, "Where are you from?"

He whipped out that huge smile of his and answered, "Jamaica."

It made so much sense. He's so carefree and easygoing. Of course, he's from the beach. "Oh, wow. I've never been."

"Man, oh man," he said, leaning up against the dishwasher. "It's paradise. The beach." He exploded his fingers, "and the sun."

I imagined him dancing on the beach with long-haired women in hula skirts. "How long have you been in New York?"

"Seven years," he answered. I wondered what his big dreams were. How he came to work in the kitchen. "I'll take you to Jamaica sometime."

"Oh, really!" I laughed. That's how all the kitchen guys are. They flirt with you, tell you they're going to take you home, meet their parents, take you out, give you a good time. "I look forward to that."

Later in the night, when I was about to leave, I bumped into him and he extended his arm for a hug. It was one of those hugs in which the two huggers don't actually touch bodies, they just place their heads in the negative space next to the partner's head, and wrap their one arm around the other, making as little contact as possible, as if they were a ghost. "Goodnight, angel," he said.

"Goodnight," I said to him. As I high-fived him and turned around to turn in my money, he said, "I'd like to take you to church sometime."

"Church!" was all I could say. "Church!"

"I'd like to hear you sing a Christmas song," he confessed. "Joy to the World. I think you have the voice of an angel."

Blushing, I responded, "No way. You're the star here. You have one of the best voices I've ever heard."

He smiled, and I saw him on the beach. "Thanks. Goodnight, angel. I'll see you tomorrow."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Birkenstocks, a bruise and a bona-fide Frenchman

I was blasting Fleet Foxes in my headphones on the 6 train tonight when the man seated beside me leaned over and inspected something: me.

Immediately, self-consciouness washed over me. Last week, I took a mighty fall and now there's a murky bruise on my thigh, brooding fiercely under the skin. It's the size of my hand and pretty scary-looking. Over the last few days, I've had a couple horrified people demand, "What happened to your leg?!" My hand raced to the bruise in an effort to shield it from sight when I realized the man hadn't noticed my bruise. He was looking at my feet.

He caught my eye and mouthed something. He mouthed it again. I took my headphones off. "Nice Birkenstocks," he said.

"Oh," I looked at my feet. They were dirty and calloused with hairy toes. Embarrassing. "Thank you."

"I have a pair myself," he went on. I detected a French accent. "They're like..." He held up his hand and made a crossing motion with his fingers. I knew exactly the kind he was talking about.

"Oh, right! Yeah, those look too manly on me," I replied. He had gorgeous gray eyes. His hair was dark brown, with specks of white around the ears. He wasn't clean-shaven, but his pink-and-white striped shirt was neatly pressed and tucked into a pair of gray jeans. On his feet, he wore black socks with brown loafers. I loved his style; he wore the kind of clothing I think I'd wear, if I were a man.

He spoke easily, and we continued to talk about shoes. I told him I'd recently gotten these Birkenstocks repaired. Oh, he asked, did you send them in? You can do that, you know. No, I didn't. I took them to a cobbler in Manhattan. Oh, he replied. They look very nice. These loafers are from a thrift store. You should wear socks always, I said. I do, he replied. It feels a little like someone else has worn them. That makes sense, I replied. Because you got them at a thrift store.

I wondered if he was visiting the United States, or if he lived here. I wondered what would happen if he asked me for my number. Would I give it to him? Should I give him my email address instead? I've never given my phone number to a stranger before. I was rapidly thinking of options when my Frenchman turned to his right and began conversing in French with his travel partner. I didn't even know he was with someone. He seemed so engrossed in me.

He and his friend continued to chat in French as the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I thought, Well, he's not going to ask me for my number now. He looked up at me and smiled. "Have a nice evening," I said to him, and out the doors I went.


The Chinatown bus chugs along the expressway in the middle of the night. "I feel like I never meet anyone."

"Well, that's why so many of our friends are on OK Cupid," says Alex. He and I are slumped in our seats, eyes half-closed. I hope there aren't bedbugs on this bus.

I wrinkle my nose at the thought of finding love via questionnaires and games, searching for a man like I'm searching on Google. "I don't know. Maybe I'm a dreamer, but I like happenstance. Meeting someone on the street. Or wherever. Out of the blue."

"Yeah," he said. "Me too." And our single selves sat in silence, imagining lucky encounters.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

"No sleep until Philly" and La Luz De Un Cigarillo

These next two days are gonna be crazeballs. Tomorrow, I'm getting up at my version of the crack of dawn, 7:30am, to be at a run-through of Alfridge, which I'm teching and opening next week in Philadelphia with some of my best friends and frequent collaborators. "No sleep until Philly," says my director, Andrew. This week, we're going to tech the show, rehearse the shit out of it, write the ending, and, oh, open the show. "Actually," he corrects himself, "No sleep until we're back in Brooklyn."

After the 9am run tomorrow, I'm jetting to my work, then jetting from my work to Political Subversities at the PIT, where we're kicking off our summer run with a brand-new show. Gadzooks! Then, of course, I have to stick around to watch some of my improvising friends, Gentlemen Party, who go up right after us at 11pm. Boy, am I going to sleep well tomorrow night.

Then Sunday, I head to work, then jet to Chinatown and take the bus to Philadelphia, where I'll be for a week. I cannot wait to be stationary in Philadelphia all next week with my buddies. For the past month, I feel like I've been running from place to place, having no time at all to take a breath. Last weekend, as I tore off my work clothes in the locker room, hastily shoved my sweaty feet in my Keds and wiped the lipstick off my mouth, I nearly burst into tears bolting out the door. Am I doing too much? I've asked myself this ten times a day over the past month. But when someone from Alfridge or Political Subversities brings in a brilliant piece of writing or tries a character voice that is the most ridiculous I've ever heard, I have to forget the tears and burst into laughter instead. Yeah, it's all worth it.

I had a moment tonight when all of the busy-ness slowed and I could sit, put away my phone, and enjoy a play. My dear friend and fellow Political Subversities cast member, Ismael Cruz-Cordova, is starring off-Broadway in La Luz De Un Cigarillo at Teatro LATEA. I attended his performance tonight, solo and totally nervous. I knew it would be completely in Spanish with English supertitles. Would I be able to keep up? I forgot that I have been reading since age four; so, actually, I can read supertitles pretty quickly.

The play was really beautiful. It's about a Dominican mother whose son returns home for a couple days for his father's funeral. They can't really connect with each other; she wants him to open up to her, but he can't because he rejects her conservative outlook on the world. They love one another but cannot respect each other. In the second act, the mother goes wild and slaps her son, calling him ungrateful, detailing for him the sacrifices she has made for him to be a happy child and successful adult. Something in the scene reminded me of my own mother, the most hardworking woman I know. In that moment, I saw my own mom, who has made an infinite number of sacrifices for me---working seven days a week, paying for nearly everything I desired, never remarrying to focus on her work---and myself as the son, who fears that his mother will be alone for the rest of her life. As these things clicked into place, I began crying in my seat. I missed my mom. I missed my childhood. I resented every hurtful thing I ever said to my mom. I resented the nonstop work in which she immerses herself. After the show, I called her before I even left the theater. She's the best. I didn't realize that as a kid. Boy, do I realize it now.