Friday, June 19, 2015

Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used To Be

If you are old enough, or if you have grandparents of a certain age, you learned the word nostalgia early on, and Joe Franklin (the self-proclaimed King of Nostalgia) curated it in the form of magazine articles, newspaper columns, radio and television shows, and even a small museum.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, as Yogi Berra is often attributed as saying (he didn’t, but that’s another story).

Social media and Internet culture have brought a completely new dimension to nostalgia and these days one of its bigger proponents are: TBT and a series of websites to share memories and reminisces.

TBT or Throwback Thursday gives everyone the opportunity to share usually images from years before – which document childhood, earlier relationships, school days…

But nostalgia is a larger trending movement with more than a handful of websites that allow demographic groups to share their thoughts, memories, stories about usually artifacts from their past. The concept is that generally it involves things that are not seen as often (or at all) in these modern times…

On these websites, you’ll find galleries of toys, fashions, tools, and even music. There is even an app that prompts you to share memories – perfect for the romantics or the liars trying to pass as romantics, as the case may be.

Memories date you, and with these websites, you find like-minds or at least souls who’ve been where you’ve been.

We’ve all seen the images on social media and, I rarely participate but do read the comments for interesting stories.

Today, a friend posted this photo:

My mind was immediately transported and I became this girl:

My grandmother and I were with my godmother and her husband. We’d stopped at a small store in Santurce (the metropolitan area in Puerto Rico). On the floor, leaning into a display, was a sole corn popper. It was the perfect size, just my size. It was shiny and pretty and I touched it. Its wheels accelerated its movement, the “kernels” popped and jumped in the dome, and it made popping noises!

I was shocked and exhilarated and I stepped back for a second. The adults had walked ahead. I touched it again, tested it in place, and took off to hear it pop. I may have squealed.

My grandmother turned, saw me pawing the toy and warned me to put it down. Ordinarily, I did as she said. But this thing was awesome. Did she not understand that when the kernels popped, you felt the vibration up your arm, and it echoed in your head, and if you pushed it, you could build speed!!!

She came after me to take the toy away and I did the only reasonable thing a toddler could do. I ran for it! I giggled and squealed and ran in and out of aisles, my little legs trying to catch up to the accelerating dome ahead of me. I thought we were playing. Until she caught up with me and threatened my tiny life.

She wanted me to apologize to the shop owner, who took me in his arms, looked into my amber eyes and took pity on me.

He turned to my grandmother, flirted a little with her (assuring his shock that she could not possibly be old enough to have a grandchild), and said, “Ay, señora, let her keep it. That toy is the display one, it’s all scratched up. I was never going to sell it. And nobody is ever going to enjoy it more than she will.”

He begged, I gave her puppy eyes, until she acquiesced.

That Fisher-Price Corn Popper was one of my favorite toys ever. Yes. I remember it. I remember it well.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Living a Virtual Life is Hugless

We used to entertain a lot. Then somehow, it slowed down, and eventually, it stopped altogether. I think we needed a break (between work and other considerations). It was never a conscious effort not to be social.

We were very much socially active. Simply put, just not at our place. Then once we hit a financial rough patch, we put entertaining on hold and never got back to it.

We still cooked and had dinner parties and picnics, but we’d found other places to base the parties, and this suited us just fine. Less clean up!

After we started the beautification at the house earlier this year, I though perhaps we needed to start entertaining again. Then as I began to think of possible menus and planning in my head, it occurred to me that my people have steadily gone down in number.

Some folks have died and we can never have them back. They don’t figure here except that I realized we never really replaced the folks we lost. Not sentimentally, mind you.

Generally speaking people who were our friends a decade--two and even three--back, are mostly still in our lives. We did part with a handful of folks. They are less likely to come back than the dead are.

While I did make new friends in the intervening time, most have been online. I do realize there are horror stories about the Internet, but my friends have been awesome. In fact, I have met some of them in real life, and I even consider some family. Virtual family can be as valuable as blood relations. They are a source of love and respect, moral support and true friendship, but they are spread out across the globe.

And therein lays the problem. As I planned these fantastic dinner parties with extraordinary combinations of friends I’d sit on my dining room table, I realized that most of my friends have left New York.

The last few years have been brutal because everybody has been hit with a variety of things that keep people away from each other – death, divorce, unemployment, hurricanes, terrorism, marriage, bankruptcy, new jobs, studies, health, children, parents… While we have more ways to remain in touch, it also makes it easier to lose physical touch.

We just found out that next year we are about to lose another one. We don’t mind this, we are happy for her and we look forward to visiting her in her new digs. And then I took inventory and realized, if I were to hold the perfect dinner party (and there are at least six combinations of friends I’d love to engage), it’d cost thousands of dollars to have them travel to New York or we’ll have to do a virtual dinner involving a Google Plus hangout (or Skype or Facetime, whatever is the app of choice this week!).

The Virtual Dinner party *is* a thing! Remember this?

In a world with social media, I love how much easier it is to keep in touch with my jet-setting friends and to maintain long-distance relationships. Now if someone would hurry and invent transporter technology so I can have my dream dinner party (and hug my guests).

Beam me up awesome dinner guests!

(I don’t discount making new friends, of course. But that takes time. We’ve gotten more and more exacting in the things we accept or not of the folks we invite into our lives. Plus, I only cook for people I love. I don’t just give it away!)

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Sacred Holiday of Fleet Week

It’s Fleet Week again and a girl’s brain turns to sailors, Navy officers, and Marines everywhere you go. They’ll be in Manhattan and Brooklyn, in the parks, in the streets, in the subways and on buses!

Whether you love men (or women) in uniform, or just love the huge ships, Fleet Week is always a fun time to be in New York. 

Go to for beautiful photos from the Parade of Ships from May 2015

When we first moved to Bay Ridge / Sunset Park, I remember walking as far as the foot of the Verrazano Bridge, marveling at the parkway, and finding Owl’s Head Park quite by accident.

During my outings in the new neighborhood, a local told me in conversation that we could watch the parade of ships from the lawn or the parkway.

That was our first Fourth of July. We did a picnic on the park, watched the ships come up into the bay. We met neighbors and played with kids, hung out most of the afternoon, and had a lovely time. Later that evening, we moved up to the pier to watch the fireworks.
Best quote ever from Eleanor Roosevelt:
The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seenThank God for the United States Marine Corps!
The better parade of ships, bar none, is the one that takes place at the beginning of Fleet Week. You get an unobstructed view of the ships. It’s spectacular. Fleet Week is awesome experienced in Manhattan, but the parade of ships must be watched from Brooklyn.

If you are lucky, you’ll also get good weather (May is no guarantee it won’t be below 60-degrees).

Sadly, after we started developing allergies, we had to rethink it because between the grass and the trees, it is a perfect killer.

Still, whether we partake in the celebrations in the flesh or not, Fleet Week remains our second favorite holiday after Halloween! So if you run into a Marine, a sailor, or a Coastie: give 'em a hug. Say thank you. Buy them a drink!

For details, dates and schedules, ships to tour: go to

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Secret Language of Fans

Because our winter was brutal, I fully expect a summer with record setting, hellish temperatures. There’s no scientific evidence that one follows the other just because I said so, but that is what I expect nonetheless. In my mind, it's going to feel as if the entire Northeast is having hot flashes.

In the last few weeks, we have experienced psychotic weather patterns.

But this isn’t about scary things, this is about hand fans (I expect in the heat of the season many will see the light of day). This is about the secret language of hand fans. I always loved hand fans; they fascinated me as a child. The older ladies all had every day and fancy fans.

Then my great uncle Frank moved to Spain and every year – whether he came or sent a package – I’d get a beautiful mantilla and an abanico (always a hand-made, lacy Spanish hand fan).

I loved flamenco and even got my own castañuelas (my grandmother was not as thrilled by this). 

I also loved the Puerto Rican danza – a musical genre created in the island in the 19th century, a ballroom dance similar to a waltz.

Both these musical traditions use abanicos as part of the dance. It is only interesting to me that both my Latino as well as my Asian ancestry include fan dances (as the Chinese have beautiful and highly intricate routines).

Of course, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to create fluid and elegant movements with my fans – or at least the ones my grandmother allowed me to keep.

My grandmother and great grandmother would tell me these great stories (abuelita’s stories about the early part of the 20th century and my grandmother of the 1920s and ‘30s).

Their stories were replete with the secret language of hand fans.

A closed fan hanging from the left hand meant the lady was available, on the right hand indicated she was otherwise engaged.

An open fan, slowly fanning her chest meant the lady was free and willing to be wooed. A rapid movement over her chest, though, meant men ought to steer clear because she was already spoken for.

If the lady covered her mouth with an open fan and looked at a man suggestively (I suspect with batting eyelashes and all), it meant she was sending a gentleman a kiss, and sending that specific message to what would be an appreciative suitor.

It was positively Victorian and adorable, and because I was a little nerd, the idea that this was codified was fascinating to me. Sure, it wasn’t Enigma-class code, but perhaps it serves to explain how I treat stories about codices as romantic and damn any Gothic interpretation.

It probably started with hand fans and moved on to Semaphore (before the Village People bastardized the idea) … but that’s another story!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Dreaming of Mattenklopper

The problem with keeping strange hours (or irregular hours for the non-Bohemian), is that dreaming seems like a fleeting thing. It isn’t, of course. Most of us dream every night and at different stages of sleep. 

For those who remember Psych 101, the most vivid and memorable dreams happen during the REM cycle.

We spend at least 2 hours dreaming each night, but in the last couple of weeks, I haven’t slept a full 8 hours end-to-end, as it were. If you catnap your way through sleep, dreams may happen in snippets, if at all.

Last night, my sleep was interrupted – and I awoke to edit and rewrite a story for an upcoming project – but I managed to get back to sleep and had a dream episode: vivid and colorful, and so deliciously strange.

I was riding the E train – thought I do not think I’ve taken that line more than … nope, never!

The E train was the JFK Express, not sure if it still goes that route...

I walked from the last, empty car to the penultimate car where there were more people. I was standing, as the car was soon almost all full. Across the train car, a man stood but had propped an open bag with about half dozen shovels. Protruding from the horde of shovels was a metal rug beater.

The rest of the dream was a Benny Hill-like chase – minus Yakety Sax – of me trying to contact this homeless man and travel across New York City chasing after him to purchase the rug beater for Mom’s collection.

By dream standards, it may not be up there with my more production-heavy sci-fi dreams, but remembering more than an errant image from a dream amuses me and it brings me a certain level of happiness.

Not only does dreaming mean that I achieved REM Cycle, a good and healthy thing, but the imagery infects your day in different ways (creatively). I am not sure how I will end up using any of that in story-form, but it goes in the archive. Colors, sounds, bits of dialog, all of it. 

For the record, Mom does own a few carpet beaters (a couple wire but most wicker). As I told her about my dream she had only two questions: 1. “Where could you possibly be going on the E train?”, and 2. “Was the beater nicer than any of mine?”

What does it mean? Well, travel and shopping... I guess it all points to prosperity!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

My Friends Are Awesomeness

Friendship has been on my mind a lot lately. In fact, I wrote this last week:
One of the great blessings in life will always be having good girlfriends! They listen. They become virtual family and sisters in your journey. They give you perspective. And their love and friendship keeps you grounded. I am very blessed.
There is no value in cataloguing friendship or trying to define it or label it. There is no taxonomy of friendship. Friends, simply, are. Obviously, there are some things you can share with girlfriends that your male friends may not get, but generally a friend is a friend is a friend.

Granted, some friends are closer than others. There’s the best friend circle that encompasses from childhood friends to those who know where the bodies are buried, figuratively. There are friends that wander in and out of your life but whose emotional bond is so strong, every time they wander back in is as if they’d only be gone minutes.

I was feeling a little down and I had a wonderful chat with a friend. Not only was it lovely and fun, loving and enchanting, it provided a clarity that had been muddled because I wasn’t exactly myself.

It happens when you isolate yourself a bit. Despite your sense of self-sufficiency, it is your friends (and the virtual family you build beyond your blood relatives to be an integral part of your life) that help guide you when you are a little lost. They are the breathing, living part of your conscience, but only if you have shared of yourself freely with them, and it has been reciprocated.

I have been exceedingly lucky in that the friends that have wandered into my life are all extraordinary in different ways. Some people have been in my life since childhood and some are more recent, but they all bring value to my life and I hope that our relationships are as rewarding to them.

If someone had told a 16 year old me that I’d have friends for well over a decade whom I’d never meet but for interaction through computers and other electronic devices… (Well, I was into sci-fi, so I probably would have believed it!)

I’ve had friends from every inhabited continent. Some of my friends have become surrogate family and I love them with everything I’ve got.

Together, my friends and I, form a unique community, a virtual village of sages and jesters, and queens and princes. And on the rare occasion when I cannot find that silver lining or the beauty of the path I am on, one of these remarkable people holds my hand and brings me back.

A good friend sees your sadness, shares some of it, and then laughs at it, and laughter is contagious. My friends do this and more.

My friends are the best collection of awesomeness ever assembled, and I am humbled to be in their ranks. I am a very lucky woman and recognize it.

Whatever vicissitude life throws at me to test my mettle and sanity, I always know that my friends are the best support on the planet.

It feels inadequate to simplify my gratitude to just one word, but it is absolutely true: Thanks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Die, Winter, Die!

This time of year used to mean Spring Break. That meant an escape from the cold, the snow, the ice and heavy layers of clothing.

During my college years, I spent spring break in Aruba, Barbados, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Venezuela. The allure was always sun and beaches, and little umbrellas on my drinks.

I never did Cancún or Ft. Lauderdale. The idea never was to be packed like sardines with lusty college students. The idea was a pretty, perhaps secluded beach, for relaxed days being lulled by the surf.

I studied for midterms at the beach. We shopped, visited historical sites, ate exotic foods, met international hordes of fun folks.

One of my favorite memories is of feeling the cool breeze wash over me, the sun, children frolicking in the background. I was on the sand, going over notes for my art history midterm, listening to music… The tide came up. It was shocking but still more fun than trekking through four feet of snow!

In my post-collegiate years, especially the lean ones, spring break instead means college basketball.

Neither of my alma maters have good enough teams to make the dance, but I love the game sufficiently not to care who has been invited. I just want to enjoy the beauty and excitement of the game. The athleticism, the sportsmanship, the utter joy!

In lieu of eating exotic foods at exotic locales, I prepare fun tailgate menus.

The bracket? It’s a challenge rather than a gamble, it reminds me of people who have passed through my life over the years and tournaments past -- from spectacular last second shots that won games, from post-game discussions with friends, to my former boss' anniversary and the story about his wedding. 

(I remember the first time he told me, I looked at him and said, "Who the hell plans a wedding during March Madness?!" Of course, being the groom, his only job was to show up. The image that will always stay with me is of one of the groomsmen listening to a radio transmission and gesturing to the men when Duke scored.)

In the awakening that is spring, it also awakens a creativity that has been dormant for part of winter because I am not a winter person. The promise of more sunlight and a warmer climate fills me with energy and sheer happiness.

Meanwhile, opportunities present themselves and spring becomes about hope as well.

Any period that culminates in a sugar coma by way of chocolate has to be celebrated. This is especially true in a year where winter has been so brutal and punishing--it has taken far more than it had the right to! 

Though I am not sure I can explain what it does to your already fragile state of mind when the weatherman says things like, "On Friday, spring officially begins. We also expect some snow that evening..."

Seriously, enough already!

I'll be in a corner, waving my rainstick and rhythmically chanting for summer, rooting for teams with feline mascots, and eating copious amounts of chocolate. In protest, I'm not coming out until the temperature reaches at least my mother's age!