Sunday, October 19, 2008

You start with a cookie, you end with a cookie.

It was 53 degrees outside today, the sky was clear and blue, the air was fresh, and a neighbor down the block — a girl of roughly six years old — set up a cookies-and-lemonade stand with signs that said Thirsty for Change? All Proceeds Go to the Obama Campaign. Not only did the whole civic-minded-youngster thing make me feel all warm inside, but it was just an idyllic scene topping off an already excellent last few months. (And yes, I'm voting for Obama, but even if it had been a lemonade stand for McCain, I would still have been impressed with this enterprising elementary-schooler. She was shy as hell, but was on a mission.) I really have to say, I had a helluva summer and fall is looking pretty stupendous.

You want proof?

I think it's been mentioned once or twice, here or there, half-assedly and undercover, that this was the last season for Yankee Stadium as we know it. I think it may also have been printed with just as little fanfare that the All-Star Game was held in New York to commemorate the stadium's last hurrah. Josh and I took advantage of the All-Star weekend events and got tickets for the Futures game, which highlights star players in the AAAs who might possibly have good chances of landing in the majors. Following the Futures game, there was a celebrity game, and I have to say, if this day was any indication of what kind of batter I am, I could kick Chris Rock's ass. He really couldn't hit anything a foot in front of him.

Yankee Stadium is Josh's temple, so he was particularly emotional that day. He went to his first Yankee game when he was four, and has gone back every year since.

(Incidentally, I think Josh has worn that Lou Gehrig jersey to every game since he was four, too. The New York Yankees managed to retire Lou Gehrig's number, but Josh refuses to retire that jersey. Cool as it is, and as much as I love Lou Gehrig in every way — Pride of the Yankees is one of my all-time favorite movies — Josh's decrepit jersey needs to be put down. It's old and experienced enough where it could tell you this itself.)

That tall pole behind Josh (dirty!) is a giant bat that became the easiest meeting-up point at the stadium. "Are they moving it to the new stadium?" I asked Josh. "People won't know where to meet up with their buddies. It'll be mayhem!"

The new stadium is being built directly across the street from the old one.

Bobby Murcer died the day before the game.

They had a moment of silence for him, and the sadness was thick. Bobby Murcer was so deeply respected not only as a player but also as a broadcaster, and by all accounts — all of which were positively glowing — he was an exceptional human being. I never saw him play beyond the old-timers' games, but I heard his voice on radio and television, and he was kind in everything he did. It was a huge loss.

I decided that any fan scuffles that have ever taken place in the right-field seats had nothing to do with the game being played but had everything to do with

where the hell seat number 6 went. And if the person with a ticket for seat number 5 had any right to take up twice as much space with their hot dogs and crap.

I've always liked going to baseball games, but I also grew up in Hockeytown, so baseball never captured my heart the way the mulleted, toothless Czechadian Red Wings did. So when I moved to New York and met Josh — and was, by default, but also by choice — parked at Yankee Stadium every season (and I just could never get behind the Rangers; I do miss hockey), Josh immediately set forth and taught me how to keep score. It made baseball games immeasurably more interesting. I won't go to a game now without keeping my own scorecard.

Cracker Jacks in bags.

Don't get me started. Just ... ugh ... gah.

I'm gonna be 16 for a minute, but look at this guy's arms.

I freakin' love New York.

Back home, this was going on:

For about a year, we had a sporadic but persistent leak coming through our bathroom light fixture. We'd had it checked out but it always stopped and the plumbers could never find the source. In July, it finally became less sporadic and more persistent, and the plumbers had to go into the ceiling to see what the problem was. Turns out, the seal around our upstairs neighbors' toilet wasn't sound, and let's just say that the water coming through the light wasn't ... all water.

"Our house is peeing on us," I said.
"Our house is not peeing on us," Josh said.
"I think it's had enough. This is its way of telling us it wants to be painted."
"There isn't any poo up there, is there?
"No, just pee. I think our house wants to be painted, but it isn't so angry that it would shit on us."

I'm not all wrong, you know. I mean, I panicked at the idea of having to replace an entire ceiling, and now we have to have a contractor tear down the pee-ceiling and put in a new one, but that also means the bathroom has to be painted, which means we should just go ahead and do the whole apartment because it desperately needs it, and now I'm glad our apartment peed on us. See? It all happens for a reason.

Something else that happened for a reason, though I'm not sure what the reason is, is this:

Josh bought the apartment from a couple who had a five-year-old son. He remembers they had alphabet magnets all over the place, on every surface they'd stick to. Josh bought the apartment eight years ago. Somehow, this summer, the cats managed to locate these two letters and leave them on the kitchen floor. I think they're trying to tell us something. They saw a mouse? They want us to paint our house? They smell something foul? They think that, as parents, we are astounding? They haven't unearthed any more letters, so until then, I just have to believe what I choose, which means I've decided that I think I'm awesome as a pet-owner.

Our five-year anniversary:

In September, Josh's brother, Adam, got married to his longtime love, Rachel. The wedding was a couple hours north of New York City in a town called Claremont, right along the Hudson River in the shadow of the mountains (the Catskills?).

The night before the wedding, it was pouring rain. Everyone was nervous, as the wedding was to be located right on the banks of the river, all outdoors. The ceremony and reception would take place under tents, but come on, nobody wants it to rain on their wedding day. (Although they say it's good luck, but "they" probably never had to deal with mud on "their" wedding day. Josh and I lucked out at ours — not a drop of rain in the sky, despite a history in Michigan of Labor Day Weekend being soaking wet. An hour after everyone left our reception? The skies opened up. We took it as a good sign.) So Josh and I, Adam, and a bunch of Adam's friends piled into our cars and headed out for Adam's bachelor party of a delicious dinner and letting out steam during some excellent small-town bowling.

I have to say, I kicked ass in my first game, seeing as how the last time I went bowling, I bowled a 33.

Socks in a vending machine

We decided to play Skee-Ball — the greatest game ever, perhaps — in the bowling alley's arcade and bestow some gifts upon Adam as a farewell gesture to his bachelorhood. Herewith, the spoils of 200 tickets:

The next morning was Adam's actual farewell gesture to his bachelorhood. Miraculously, not only did it stop raining, but the sun came out, the ground dried up, and Adam and Rachel's wedding day was just gorgeous.

This is where the wedding was, on the grounds of a historical mansion that is now a state park. Friends and family converged, the hora was danced, there were delicious sweet-onion empanadas served with salad. A beautiful wedding.

As Rachel and I were saying goodnight, I realized: I have a sister-in-law! Holy moly, with all my sisters, men have been joining my family en masse. But with Rachel joining Josh's side, a new sister. Pretty cool.

The week after Adam and Rachel's wedding, I went to San Francisco to visit Stacy and meet her son, Sebastiaan. Bass was born in July, so Stacy was in the groove of parenting, and Bass had just started to smile. It was amazing.

Stacy lives in Marin County, just north of the city, in this fabulous crunchy town where hippies who fled to San Francisco during the '60s and then traveled north still live. I saw a rather hairy fella sitting on some stairs with what I believed was a pile of animal pelts next to him. It's a beautiful place: sunny all the time, hilly and green, excellent mom-and-pop shops. There is a town ordinance that bars any chain stores from setting up shop there, and Stacy's husband, Mark, told me that there are more farmers' markets there per capita than any other town in the country. Everything there is locally grown, sustainable, organic, and homemade, and for the first time in ages, all of my systems worked and I didn't feel bloated or digestively heinous. Everybody is incredibly friendly, interested in who you are and what you're up to, and people introduce themselves with ease. Stacy's only lived there for about a year, but it seems that it wouldn't be too difficult to make friends there because everybody's so laid-back. She's met some really lovely people.

The first thing we did was hit up a farmers' market for dinner, where they not only sold the standard flowers and produce, but they had all different kinds of ethnic cuisine. I ate Himalayan food.

This peach was the size of Bass's head.

When Stacy and I went on a bus trip out west with our summer camp in 1989, we learned how to play euchre. It's really the most fabulous card game ever, except that as far as I can tell, the only people who know how to play are from Michigan. And you need four people to play. This is a problem, since Stacy has not lived in Michigan since 1996, I left in 1998, and we've managed to pull together three people at a time who can play but we rarely found a fourth. We miss euchre. So as luck would have it, Stacy took prenatal yoga with a very cool woman named Marissa who is from Michigan. She brought her twins over and Stacy, Marissa, Mark and I played a rousing game of euchre. It's addictive.

I particularly like how Bass, wearing his Johnny Cash Folsom Prison onesie, is eyeing Stacy's hand as if to say, "Hey, you know, Mom, some guys in my cellblock say to never call trump on a queen. That's all you have. I say, Pass."

The next day, we drove to Muir Woods. When I made plans to visit her, Stacy asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to do. I hadn't given it much thought, because my main — and only — goal was to spend time with her and help her with the baby. But I did tell her that I had always, always wanted to see the redwoods. Lucky then that Stacy and Mark live just miles from several national redwood parks.

As a side note, the whole feeling of newness about this whole trip really sort of washed over me not long after I landed in California. I've been lucky to have visited some places in the last couple years where I've never been, but those getaways are always quickquickquick and what I've seen usually doesn't truly sink in until I'm already home. Last summer I was thrilled to finally see Seattle and Portland, but I saw them for about 24 hours each. This trip, I was able to really take it all in. (I'd been to San Francisco once before. For three hours. Ate on the wharf and then headed to Fresno for my cousin's bar mitzvah.) The newness — of the place, of the people, of the food, of seeing my oldest and dearest friend be a mom — felt fresh and energizing. I'd sort of forgotten what that was like.

On the way to Muir Woods, we stopped off at this cart:

The guy who ran it was a character. Ornery, but he gave me a free peach because it was too delicious to just sit there. I bought fresh almonds (I'd never really liked raw almonds until that moment, but these were unbelievable), and Stacy told me to buy fresh figs.

"I don't like figs," I said. "I like dates. Wait — dates? Yeah, dates. I confuse them. I don't like figs."

"You will," she said.

It turns out that if you've ever had a fig outside of California but in the United States, you've had a dried fig. And dried figs taste like bark-flavored ass. Figs outside of California are dried because fresh figs don't travel. Who knew?

This is called burl:

It grows on the redwood tree, obviously, and in some cases falls off, takes root and grows into its own redwood tree. I thought this particular cluster looked a little bit like Diana Ross. At Muir Woods, you can buy a piece of burl, put it in a bowl of water in your house, and watch greenery shoot off of it. Mark bought me one, I put it in a bowl, and then I forgot about it. I think I've already killed it. I think I killed a redwood tree. Who the hell can kill a redwood tree? They're thousands of years old. I killed a redwood tree.

Redwoods attract ladybugs. They were everywhere.

I can't begin to describe the smell of that place. Tree, tree, tree. It reminded me of two other vacations — one to Denmark and Norway, and one to New Zealand — when I found myself standing in the middle of the street and drawing in huge, deep breaths, trying to store the fresh air in my lungs so I could take it back to New York. I am a moron.

These are sprouts from burl:

This deer was standing on a completely vertical incline:

Afterward, we drove along the very beautiful, very winding, and very chunks-inducing Pacific Coast Highway. I was fine as long as I, strangely enough, didn't look at the road and kept my eyes on the cliffs and ocean. It was gorgeous. And winding.

Remember that peach that was the size of Bass's head?


Remember the figs?



Fresh figs are sweet, but light. OK, so they look rather vaginal on the inside, but — wait, you know what? I'll stop here.


Stacy and Mark have lemon and pear trees in their backyard, not to mention countless spice bushes. There's Mark in the background, picking I think it was rosemary for dinner. It's kind of ridiculous.

Bass has a tire swing. Also ridiculous. Also in a good way.

This is the part when I told Bass that, as Auntie Marla, I will buy his condoms for him if he's too embarrassed to do it himself.

But I did add that if he's too embarrassed to buy his own condoms, he's probably not mature enough to have sex, and maybe he should wait a while.

The trip was extraordinary. Stacy has slid right into being a mom. It's really something: I've known her since we were six, and I have no recollection of her ever holding a baby. And there I was, sitting on her couch, feeding her son while she and Mark bustled around the house doing parent things and feeding me delicious food, and it felt like that's the way it had always been, the way it was supposed to be. It felt completely natural. It's cheesy, I know, but I thought it would feel shocking, one of us becoming a mom — especially since we both had such mixed feelings at one time or another about the concept — and seeing it happen, it wasn't that way at all. I cried when I left, and I can't wait to go back. The other day she was telling me how she takes Bass everywhere with her, and she said, "And then we went out and had lunch. I had a really nice salad, and Bass had formula."

And then Stephanie went into, like, a 1,000-hour labor or something, and out came Alex.

October 6 is now Stephanie's birthbirthday. "There are 365 days in a year," she said, "and my son had to pick my birthday to be born. Great."

"Don't worry," my mom said, "by the time you hit a certain age, your birthday no longer matters anyway."

With my dad:

Aunt soup:

Last Monday, Alex had his bris. This is, in my opinion, the most — how do you say? — fucked-up tradition in the Jewish religion. Now, Jews have some odd customs. Some of us go over our pantry shelves with feathers during Passover to make sure there are no bread crumbs in the house. We smash glasses to a zillion shards with our feet at the end of wedding ceremonies. Others shake noisemakers during the reading of the story of Purim whenever the villain's name is said. (Haman! grgrgrgrgrgrgrgr ...) And when a baby boy is born, eight days later there is a bris, during which family and friends gather round as a mohel performs the circumcision, and then everyone has brunch and cake.

Remove the foreskin, have corned beef and coleslaw on rye. Oy!

Now, I'm all for circumcision. I'm all for opting against circumcision. Do what you do. But to have a party? Yeah, no. Needless to say, I did not react well, hiding in the corner of the kitchen. From what I understand, it's a grueling experience for the mother: Not only is she present during the procedure (though not all watch, and some do leave the room; nobody would blame a new mom for not wanting anything to do with the actual procedure), but she's also throwing a party. Eight days after she has a baby. While she's recovering from childbirth. And sometimes c-section surgery. And adjusting to parenthood. I just don't get it. I just kind of think this is the kind of thing a doctor does in a hospital where it's, you know, sterile.

But Jews have been doing it for generations, and I've only been to one. Stephanie, being a pediatric nurse, was a champ during the whole thing. All business. She and her husband, Josh, were tired, of course, but they handled the entire afternoon with a great deal of grace — grace I don't know that I'd have if I were in Steph's position, so I'm incredibly impressed by her. And Alex, well, he cried for about a second and then slept the rest of the day. It didn't faze him. He's such a good baby. I think the trauma was all mine. Auntie Boo sucks. I did find that, once it was over, it really wasn't that bad. And the cake was good. And the company was great. So how bad can it really be?

So, to reiterate, here's what I learned during my October in Boston:



And then, to top everything off, Josh and I went to Costco this weekend, which is a chore we hate with the fire of a thousand suns, and discovered Costco is now carrying Mallomars, the perfect cookie. Three boxes of Mallomars for $9. We're rationing them: We only force ourselves to go to Costco once a year, so these have to last.

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