Nine Years

Daddy

I.

I had a dream a few days ago, where I was walking with a group of people I didn’t recognize, on a street that looked similar to the windy, cobbled street along the northern side of the Arno in Florence, when through the crowd I saw my dad approaching, only he looked different –shorter, with wider eyes and different glasses. He was wearing a navy blue peacoat with some sort of crest on the lapel. I pushed through the group and ran towards him yelling, “Daddy! Daddy!

In the morning I felt, briefly –before the sadness came rushing in– that I had gotten to see him, and it felt so good after so long without him. This happens every so often, and always in the dream I think, “Oh, there you are! I’d wondered where you’d gone!”

II.

My dad died nine years ago today, and it seems as impossible to have been this long as it did last year, and the year before, and every year before it, up to the day it happened. How can a literal half of your entire world disappear? I still don’t understand it, and while some days I’m fine and happy and functioning, and the realization that I lost him is in the background like a dull headache, there are more days than not where it feels like the grief is going to strangle the life out of me, that I’m just going through the motions because it would break his heart if I don’t.

He would tell me to stop being so dramatic, smooth out his mustache and place the palm of his hand at the top of my head. And then he’d probably offer to buy me a lip gloss to cheer me up.

III.

I don’t know when Paris became synonymous with my dad for me, but I can’t untangle the two now. At some point, being in Paris, thinking about Paris, reading about Paris, writing about Paris, became a way of feeling close to him. The more obsessed I grew (grow) with that city, I somehow feel like I’m holding on more strongly to his memory. I don’t have any of the heartbreaking associations of him in Paris that I do here in Philadelphia; I can’t look up at his old apartment window when I walk back from Trader Joe’s without crying, and almost every corner in the city holds a “My dad and I…” connection. The museum, Fairmount Park, his many office buildings, seeing his old car, randomly meeting an old friend of his in French class last year. In Paris, I can picture him how he might have been if we’d gone together, how he’d looked when he went, sitting with his legs crossed at an outdoor café table, nursing an espresso with a sketchbook and a small paint set on the table next to him. There aren’t streets in Paris I avoid because it’s where a certain hospital is. The ease and rightness I feel there has a lot to do with how detached it is from the specific reality of my dad not being here anymore.

So I booked a flight to Paris this morning. I’ve been eyeing flights for weeks, watching the prices dip and attempting to justify the spoiled sense of entitlement at taking two trips to Paris in the same year. This morning I woke up, burst into tears, and sent a quick text to Jamal (who’s traveling on his second trip in three days) that read: “Can you live without me for a week?” And then I came upstairs, made myself a mug of Mariage Frères Paris Breakfast tea, put on my dad’s favorite classical music station, and booked it. I leave the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Did I use today (my dad, my sadness) as an excuse? Probably, but I don’t think my dad would’ve cared. I think he would just be happy I’m going back to Paris.

IV.

I miss you, daddy. More than I’ll ever be able to articulate. I miss you like a phantom limb. I can’t wait to tell you all about Paris in the winter.

Voluntary Orthodontia as An Adult (Alternate Title: I’m 28 with Braces)

Let’s talk about teeth! (Because I can’t only talk about Paris all the time, right?)

Invisalign

I had braces –the old, horrible metal kind– as a kid for about a year and a half. When they came off, my bottom teeth weren’t entirely straight. My orthodontist retired immediately after removing my braces (I think he was already halfway out the door as I was fumbling over the surprising sliminess of my naked teeth), and in the years since, I’ve been nursing the suspicion that he took them off specifically so he could retire, not because my teeth were ready. My bottom teeth have been crowding little by little over the last 16 years, so slowly it hadn’t bothered me, until about four years ago when one tooth went totally rogue, bidding “GIRL BYE” to its neighbors, and jumped the line. I found it quirky and kind of adorable, personally. My dentist disagreed, and kept urging me to get it fixed, but let’s be real: voluntary orthodontia as an adult was just not on my list of priorities, or my list of planned expenses. Do you know how many flights to Paris I could buy for the same price?

But at my last cleaning in February, the dentist said either I get my teeth straightened or he’d have no choice but to eventually extract that one, sassy tooth, and because of the crowding there wouldn’t be enough room to insert a bridge. Faced with the choice of shelling out several thousand dollars or having a gaping hole dead center at the bottom of my mouth, even the grumbling skinflint inside of me couldn’t argue. Merde.

And so began the process of finding an orthodontist and electing to inflict pain and embarrassment upon myself. (I’d made up my mind that I’d be going with Invisalign, clear, plastic, laser-cut molded trays you swap out every two weeks, because if I have to be 28 and in braces, they had better be goddamn invisible.)

Invisalign

The whole experience was very “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” The first orthodontist was all but mute, and sat in his chair staring at me (literally) without offering any information. The price was $5950. If you were going to flinch at that number, save it, because the second orthodontist I saw –which had plush white carpeting, Diptyque candles, complimentary champagne and truffles, Downton Abbey playing in the lobby– quoted me $8800. Where the first doctor was uselessly withholding of information, the second office was so communicative. They took photos of my teeth and blew them up on a flat screen in the exam room (which, while helpful, was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone, because omfg gross), and the orthodontist explained every single detail of his treatment plan. Both doctors had said it would be about a 12-15 month experience. The second office might have said more, but I can’t be sure because I blacked out from shock at the sticker price. Nine grand!! Again: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY FLIGHTS TO PARIS I COULD BUY FOR THAT PRICE??

And then there was the third orthodontist. When I went in for my consultation, they were playing New Kids on the Block (you guys know how I feel about NKOTB). I would have signed on the dotted line just based on their musical tastes alone, but it only got better. The staff is incredible, kind and down-to-earth (free bottled water and chapstick instead of champagne), the orthodontist is young and nice and volunteers at an organization that offers orthodontic work to low-income kids, and it truly was a “just right” feeling from the moment I walked in. They took x-rays and the orthodontist encouraged me to ask questions. The best part? It is the most affordable option by far, which I realize is all relative; the office manager started writing down the price, and when I saw it started with the number ‘4’ I all but threw my credit card at her. The BESTEST part? It will only take five or six months, not 15.

I had my digital impressions taken in late February –happily, new technology means I didn’t have to suffer those awful plaster molds– and received my first set of Invisalign trays mid-March. They took some getting used to, and while the dental assistants assured me I would be able to pop the trays in an out with ease soon enough, the first few days found me near tears with both hands in my mouth, trying to will the things off my teeth, saliva pooling everywhere. Attractive, I know. They were right, and it only takes me a few seconds now.

Invisalign

I’m on set 3 of 10, and now that I’m five weeks in I thought I’d share how things are going.

The Good:
• Mostly invisible! Almost all Invisalign treatments require tooth-colored enamel attachments on your actual teeth, matched to corresponding divots in the trays, to help move the teeth more effectively. The attachments don’t bother me even when the trays are out, though I did lose two or three off within a week of getting them, oy.
• I can take them out while eating!
• I haven’t had much pain! There’s some definite tooth sensitivity, which is actually comforting because it means it’s all working as it should, but I’ve only taken Motrin once or twice, usually the day after I switch trays and things are a bit tighter.
• I brush my teeth more frequently!
• I’ve stopped biting my nails!
• I can’t snack throughout the day! This has made me so much more aware of all the mindless face-stuffing I was doing, purely out of boredom, not hunger.
• My teeth will be straight!
• I love my orthodontist!

The Not-So-Good:
• Optimal wear” is 22 hours per day. When you factor in that you have to wait 30 minutes after each to brush your teeth (and you have to brush your teeth before putting them back in to prevent cavities), I pretty much only get three 10-minute meals per day. I’m nervous about our upcoming Italy trip, and I know I will be limited in the amount of gelato I’ll be able to inhale.
• You can only drink water while wearing the trays. I don’t drink coffee or soda, so this wasn’t a huge adjustment for me, but man do I miss tea.
• I’ll need a retainer at night for the rest of my life. Unless, that is, I want my teeth to shift back in another 16 years and to have to do this all over again. (Spoiler: I do not.)
• Brushing your teeth three times a day means I have to carry around a travel toothbrush and toothpaste. Upside: I found a cute pouch for them!

So there you go. I’m 28 with braces. That’s what’s been going on around these parts! My super expert advice is to listen to your dentist and also WEAR YOUR RETAINER. A big thank you to my darling friend Sabina for sharing her Invisalign experience with me and for answering all my (many, crazy) questions before I took the plunge. And a big thank you to everyone else who read 1000 words about my teeth.

A Little Pick-Me-Up

Roses Costes

What do you do when you’re feeling low? I’m asking for a friend, we’ll call her Merin. Merin has been feeling particularly down recently, really worn out and stifled creatively, ground down from the tedium of her day job, directionless and all around in a funk. Merin has tried all sorts of remedies which previously worked so well: visiting museums, buying fresh flowers, burying herself in books as a distraction, wandering Paris in Google Earth, chopping off all her hair, eating a 9×13 sheet pan of cake by herself, making lists of the most simple tasks so she can feel, just for a second, a satisfying sense of accomplishment. She would normally sit down and write it out, as writing has been Merin’s chief form of therapy since she was a kid, but thanks in large part to the brain-atrophying futility of her daily work, she can’t summon the creative power needed to do something that once came so easily, so joyfully to her. Words don’t come, everything she’s written to this point seems banal, awful, embarrassing, she should just delete all 185 pages. Merin is worried, truly concerned, because she can feel herself turning bitter, hears herself making snappy remarks to her doting, kind husband (we’ll call him Kamal), for things completely unrelated to him, things that are not his fault, nor really within his power to fix. Kamal only wants Merin to be happy, after all. Kamal is kind of a saint and also a major babe and Merin is really, really sorry she has been hounding him about the goddamn dripping kitchen sink, because who cares about the kitchen sink, it’s a sink, it drips, it isn’t Kamal’s fault and it isn’t even about the sink, honestly, it’s about Merin being the grumpiest of grumpy cats and she’s really, truly sorry, Kamal. She’s trying.

So my Merin’s question to you, kiddos, is this: what do you do when you need a not-so-little pick-me-up? What works for you? Short of jetting off to Paris to ameliorate this situation (which is happening in oh, 40 days anyway), do you have any advice?

Dream Job

Tea & Writing

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?

I don’t mean something like, “doctor” or “lawyer,” actual professions you can go to school for and obtain a specified degree. I mean something zany, and overly precise, and likely non-existant, like “Museum Hanger-Outer.” You know, that dream job where you’d be paid a salary to sit in museums all day and look at paintings and think.

After watching that hours-long annual spectacle on TV yesterday, I realized there are people in this world who get to do their dream job for a living. Children with a profound enthusiasm for one particular thing can grow up and be paid to do that thing in a professional setting, paycheck and all. I’m speaking, of course, about the wondrous event that is Puppy Bowl; the producers of that show as well as the ref, I like to think, grew up believing, “One day I will get to play with adorable puppies and be paid for it.” We should all be such dreamers.

So, let’s.

What career title would you choose for yourself if the world were such a place? Ideally, I’d love to have a job where I can be paid to read books all day, maybe in a small art gallery. Gallery Bibliophile, I believe it’s called. When I was younger I would have loved to be a Space Ballerina, a job that would have combined ballet and my brief flirtation with becoming an astronaut (a track that was swiftly made unavailable to me due to my, shall we say, lack of mathematical prowess). Don’t ask me how a grande arabesque would have worked in zero gravity, but I’m sure it would have been beautiful.

Your turn.

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Happy Birthday, Fitz!

Somebody had a birthday yesterday! Fitz, you’re four! He was totally unfazed by all the high-pitched squealing I was doing in celebration, though he rightly interpreted it as a sign to be extra demanding of belly rubs. It even snowed yesterday, and as snow is one of his favorite things (to eat, to play in, to pee on) I kept telling him it snowed just for his birthday. I can’t believe he’s four! When did this happen? I’d like to say that his age now ensures he’s outgrown all of his, um, insanity, but I’d be lying. Fitz will always be a crazy (wonderful! loveable!) puppy, no matter how old he is. (In fact, I refilled his Prozac prescription yesterday.)

Happy birthday, Fitzy! May you never outgrow your silliness, your darling sense of curiosity at any and all fridge-related sounds, or your willingness to give big sloppy kisses. Though may you please, please stop screaming at everything outside. I love you so much.

2015: What Will Your Verse Be?

Rue du Pré aux Clercs

On New Years Day 2013 I woke up and decided, “I’m moving to Paris next year.” It would take a while for all the details to fall into place, of course, but, unsurprisingly, I now place a high value on even the most random and fleeting thoughts that manifest on January 1. What will 2015 look like for me? A stream of consciousness from the first day of the new year:

I’m going to finish my novel this year. I’m absolutely going to finish it. I just need some undisturbed time to devote to writing. I might get my real estate license, wouldn’t that be cool? I love real estate, it takes up a lot of my time as it is, just looking at houses and studying the market. I could sell houses, right? I could sell houses and then write part-time! I could work for Sotheby’s Real Estate. But then wasn’t there a real estate agent who was killed while showing a listing to someone? I mean, if you think about it, the logistics of sending single females to empty houses with random strangers has, like, all of the elements necessary for a Law and Order: SVU episode. I’m Erin, I’m Real Estate Agent. Or, yes yes yes, I could get an MFA in Creative Writing. Oh, I’m going to do that. Where does Paul La Farge teach? Bard! I could go to Bard. We could move to upstate New York for two years. We wouldn’t have to worry about Fitz because we could drive up with him. We’d need a car. I looked at Bard with my dad back in high school. What was my objection to it ultimately? It’s not in a city. But still! Paul La Farge could be my teacher. Wait, it’s $60k? For a creative writing masters degree? That is not a sound investment. I could apply to Hunter College! I was going to apply there for my undergrad degree all those years ago! They have a really good program! Hmm, this looks financially more feasible. $24k? I could swing that. All the classes start after 5:30pm, so I could work and still commute. It’s just two hours each way on the bus. Jamal says I will get burned out on that quickly. I need two letters of recommendation. I need to apply by February 1st. I want some cake. Cake! Why can’t I just eat cake for a living? I need a nap. I’m definitely going to finish my novel this year.

Joyeux Noël!

Joyeux Noel

A very merry Fitz-mas to you all! May Santa bring you everything you wanted, may you spend lots of time with your families (with only minimal yelling and emotional scarring), and may you fill up on caloric baked goods to the point where your Christmas jammies don’t fit. I’m signing off for the week to enjoy the holiday and gorge myself on cookies.

Joyeux Noël, mes amis!

28 Candles

Quai de Bourbon

There was a time in my blogging history here when I was posting five times a week, a feat that seems crazy and impossible to me now. I thought I’d reached a comfortable balance by posting MWF there for a while, but recently I can barely knock out two posts a week without feeling like I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for content. Is anyone else feeling that way? I’ve noticed an overall slowing down in the blog circles I move in, and I wonder if it’s just a holiday thing (this time of year is notorious for taking a breather) or a symptom of a greater shift in blogging. Regardless, I am not as on my game as I once was, and I’ve been neglecting this space.

But I went to my eye doctor this week, and she confirmed what I’ve been feeling recently: my eyes are overworked. The feeling I have at the end of a nine hour day staring at two computer screens at work (a mix of eye strain and computer burn-out) has kept me away from my laptop when I get home. Ergo, less blogging. My eye doctor suggested I keep it up, and limit my screen time wherever possible. So I could just as easily blame my negligence on “Doctor’s orders!” but also, there has been so much going on offline that I have had less and less time for online. Holiday parties, Newsroom marathons, Monday Night Dinner Clubs, and, oh yeah, turning 28!

Tomorrow is my birthday! In recent years, or rather, every year up until age 25, I treated my birthday like a national holiday, deserving of all the fanfare and fireworks and attention as, say, Christmas, that holiday just five days after the glorious day of my birth that is always stealing my thunder and overshadowing my day and guaranteeing I end up with birthday presents wrapped in Santa-covered wrapping paper. Weirdly, everyone in my life agreed to my demands for years and years, and you can’t imagine how that shaped my perception of birthdays. Not just mine, but everyone’s. Birthdays are my favorite, and I’ll loudly follow someone around saying, “IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY TODAY?? HAPPY BIRTHDAY! GUYS, WE HAVE A BIRTHDAY BOY.” (See: my friend Herbie, on his birthday last month).

And then I had to go and get old and suddenly the joy was just sucked out of the entire affair. Give me cake, give me presents, give me anti-wrinkle cream, but just don’t ask me how old I am. (I’m being hyperbolic, I know, considering I’m still in my 20s and people are going to give me flak for complaining.) My birthday doesn’t feel like quite the same BIG DEAL at 28 as it did at 18 (oh sweet Jesus that was 10 years ago), but I’m still going to celebrate. We’re going to Parc tomorrow and getting together with family. But it’s happening offline, and maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with my advanced age, but I’m realizing that offline is important. My fear of, “If I don’t blog about it, how will people know it happened??” has evaporated right along with my youth.

Let’s live offline, too. My eye doctor might have been on to something.

Cookie Day!

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cookieday-5

It would be an understatement to say I look forward to Cookie Day every year the way some people do the Super Bowl. My Mommom, my aunt, and I spend a day together, baking hundreds of cookies in various Christmas-y shapes. From my post two years ago: “This is my favorite family tradition, and I look forward to her green cookies every year. My mom-mom is probably my favorite person on earth. She’s so sassy.” Nothing about that statement has changed!

Growing up, these cookies appeared at Christmas for me to devour, without an understanding of how much work goes into making them. And then a few years ago, I started helping. My Mommom makes the dough a day or two in advance of Cookie Day, and then the three of us spend a day baking them. Tradition dictates that we first have a big diner breakfast, to fortify ourselves for the long day of standing at an assembly line like little elves: someone stamps the cookies onto the baking sheets (using a cookie press), someone decorates, and someone monitors the oven, rotating sheets and putting the cookies on a cooling rack. We listen to Christmas music while we stamp out little green Christmas trees and little red wreaths.

Oh, did I mention we’re Jewish?

We love Christmas, but more specifically, we love cookies. Even more specifically, I love these green cookies. Sure, nothing about them is remotely healthy (I like to picture my insides turning green when I eat them, which is a likely consequence considering your tongue actually does if you eat enough in one sitting) but since when are the holidays about moderation?

Christmas Butter Cookies (or Mommom’s Green Trees)

1/2 lb. softened butter
3oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. sifted flour
Food coloring

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Beat butter until whipped. Add cream cheese and beat until smooth. Mix while adding sugar. Blend egg and vanilla.
3. Add food coloring if desired (pretty much mandatory).
4. Slowly add flour, with mixer on lower speed.
5. Use cookie press and decorate.
6. Bake 10 min, until bottoms are light brown.

Enjoy, kiddos!

A Birthday

Pont du Carrousel, nuit

I.

I bought a men’s sweater at Uniqlo over the weekend, an unfussy, slightly shapeless black wool button down number. I’ve been searching for one for a while now, for a go-to, grandpa sweater I could wear daily and actually keep warm in, as opposed to the sparkly, open-weave, ‘fashion sweaters’ women’s stores seem to be pushing these days. My favorite sweater is one of my dad’s, a dark green pull-over that somehow still retains the warm, musky smell of him. I try not to wear it too often, because I don’t want the smell to disappear, to wear off. It’s a comforting olfactory thing.

Today would have been his 76th birthday.

There are things you lose after eight years –the specific hum of his voice, the way he’d mindlessly stroke his mustache with his thumb and middle finger– and things you give up voluntarily; I can’t listen to more than the opening chords of Charlie Haden’s “American Dreams” without dissolving into tears, like some instantaneous chemical reaction. But there are things I’m fighting to keep, too, like the smell of his sweater, his love of Paris, and the solace of knowing that I am half of him.

II.

The year I was eight, he was 56, and that number popped up everywhere for us. On street signs, on register receipts, and, once, as the name of a production company on the opening credits of a Riverdance VHS tape I had specifically asked for at Christmas (let’s not talk about that). We were laying on the sofa together, the VCR remote in his hand, and “A 56th Street Production” appeared on the screen, on top of a swirl of coral and blue tones.

“Oh look,” he said. “There’s my number again.”

That was 20 years ago, and it feels as vivid as if it were just two.

III.

I’m wearing a black turtleneck, my new black sweater, and my dad’s watch, today, and having lunch with my brother. And I’m debating booking an impromptu trip to Paris in February, because I know my dad would have encouraged it.

Happy, happy birthday, daddy.