The Hiding Place

It was a desperate moment and I’m not proud of how I handled myself. But sometimes circumstance forces you to behave out of character. You’ve been there too. Emerging into the world, hair tussled, knees of my jeans riddled with carpet fibers, and cheeks awash with a blush, I found myself caught with no explanation other than the truth:

desk fridayYes. I was hiding under my desk. Yes, Coworker. From you.

Hiding under my desk. It’s something I frequently wanted to do, but never really considered as a viable option.

I work in a space in my office called “The Nook” — a shared cubicle-like area outside our CEO’s corner office. Behind me, sits her assistant who I adore. We are the Nook Crooks, a duo with a mutual appreciation for dark chocolate and need for invisibility cloaks. The Nook is at the front of the office, about 20 feet from the main entrance and 10 feet from the receptionist. A low wall sheilds us from being directly visible to visitors, but once you know where we live, you know how to find us. And people who frequent the arts council, aren’t afraid to walk by our receptionist to say “hello.”

If only they were sneaking into the nook to say hello!

Since I’ve been working at this station, my fellow Nook Crook and I have been plotting ways to install some kind of alarm/security system. But we acknowledged even bells and sirens doesn’t solve our plight — we’re in a corner.  If there’s someone coming we want to avoid, our only exit strategy is jumping out the window.

I heard Cudjoe’s voice before he even stepped off the elevator. Cudjoe has a small gallery specializing in African art in my building. He’s a friend and we’ve successfully worked together on more than a few projects. But since the summer, I’ve been avoiding him. He wants to rent my gallery for his daughter’s wedding reception — an event I usually veto. I considered making an exception for him, but I had completely forgotten to take to our building people. His voice got closer. He was here to see our auction coordinator and drop off his donation for our annual gala.  I knew if I stood up and headed for the bathroom, he’d see me. I looked around, searching for an escape route. And then it hit me — I could hide under my desk.

I took my phone and made a dive, nose first. I pulled my desk chair in close enough to obscure my wine-coloured pants. Then I began to rummage items together — if the off-chance someone saw me, I could at least pretend I was fixing or looking for something.

Then I heard Ed’s voice. Ed is my organization’s counterpart in performance. He’d been trying to track me down for weeks to settle on a schedule for concerts that would happen in the gallery at the same time as the most important exhibition of my career, to date. I didn’t want to tell him how I felt about that without some back-up. So I decided I’d hang out under my desk a little longer.

So that’s where all my umbrella’s went! Oh, and here’s that photo an artist gifted me…

I amassed a neat pile of objects I could pull out to cover my tracks.

About 5 minutes passed and finally, all was quiet. I made my move.

“Trying to keep a low profile?” Ed’s question made me jump. He had seen me and decided to wait for me to emerge.

Caught, and with no where left to hide, I made an appointment to meet him later.

I confessed my desperate act to one of my superiors. She laughed and pulled up a recent This American Life segment called “The Leap,” which recounted the story of her uncle Bill — an NYC school bus driver who one day skipped his route and drove his school bus to Florida. He became something of a hero. She was trying to tell me she sympathized.

“When Ed came up to meet you he made sure to pull out your chair and look under your desk,” Anna, my boss’s assistant told me.

And with that, so ends my hiding place.

Out or In? Acknowledging What We Really Want

As he placed the bowl of strawberries and a plate of fresh mozzarella in front of me, I thought: we’re a total cliche.

The plan had been to meet at his place for a rooftop drink, then grab dinner and the new Woody Allen flick. 45 minutes to get all dressed up, and we didn’t even make it to the club… Instead of dinner and a movie, we were sitting in his kitchen snacking on bits of things he’d picked up earlier that day at the family-owned Italian market around the corner from his one bedroom flat on the top floor of a Brooklyn brownstone. I was in a gray undershirt he’d pulled from a pile of recently washed leisure cloths. He sported a pair of boxer briefs. It was the summer after all, and central air is a luxury not found in pre-war residences.

“You should come back next weekend,” he said. “During the daytime. We’ll shop the corridor of old family businesses my grandmother used to frequent, and then we’ll cook dinner.”

Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together...

Nothing says happy couple like a date-night in, cooking together…

A week later, we did just that. Standing in his small kitchen, chopping tomatoes and swapping family sauce secrets, and pausing from the chore of cooking every so often to dance to the silence between tracks on the playlist, we were completely apart from the world. We were neatly  and romantically tucked away into a bubble of domestic bliss. As he cracked open a mediocre bottle of wine (a gift from his landlord) and as we shared the most tasteless bowl of rigatoni I’d ever concocted, I thought: we may not cook well together, but this feels good. This is what I want.

It turned out it was what he wanted too. As we put away the dishes, he told me he couldn’t see an ending for us. Perhaps, we’d found the one?

(Spoiler alert: we broke up 6 months later.)

These are the kind of tender moments from relationships past that I bury in the recesses of my memory as I move further away from them, both chronologically and emotionally.

Two years later, and a few hours after diner at a friend’s flat, these vignettes, and ones like them, resurfaced. Over a home-cooked meal of a different nature we had talked about what constituted a “grown-up” relationship, and what he wanted/was ready for now — he painted a rather domestic scene of shared nights in, conversation exchanged over a bottle of wine, etc.

This didn’t surprise me. In my experience, most of the men I dated moved from going out to staying in as soon as I gave his apartment a passing mark. For me, this turn inward was often a point of contention.

cold weather coupleI am almost stubbornly independent. Personal space and alone time are precious, not commodities, but necessities for me. In a similar vein, while I fully embody the home-maker sign of the zodiac, my romantic search has been motivated by finding an activity partner. I’m an adventurer, and when asked when I’m looking for, I usually choose “someone to go out with” rather than “someone to come home to.” Spending our nights together on the couch didn’t seem domestic, it seemed lazy. Expecting I would spend my weekends at his place, on his couch, didn’t seem domestic, it seemed invasive and possessive.

Opening up my mind’s vault to those scenes was revealing. That my most treasured memories from broken romances revolved around a pseudo home life was at first disturbing. I was forced to admit to myself that my favorite stage in a relationship is the part when we’re okay with looking inward, when we’re okay being more home-centric than out and about. I haven’t decided if I have any profound take away from this realization yet — perhaps I have a more focused idea of what I want for myself? Maybe. I know I want to strike a balance between being a nesting pair and a social duo. And what I also know is that I haven’t made finding Mr. Right any easier through this confession — it’s far easier to find someone you can run with than to find someone you want to sit still beside.

 

Have Love Will Travel

I brought back a ton of jars like this, filled with honey... one was for My Honey

I brought back a ton of jars like this, filled with honey… one was for My Honey

“Ma’am,” the airport security officer said, with a thick eastern European accent. “Honey must go in checked baggage.”

I groaned. As a well-seasoned traveler I knew better, but in order to avoid over-weight baggage fees, I convinced myself the small earthenware pots would act as camouflage. Those pots were loaded with honey, one of the things Bulgaria is most known for producing. Damn these new x-ray machines — I couldn’t hide the fact that each of the half dozen clay jars actually contained twice the legal limit of fluid for carry-on bags.

I returned to the ticketing counter. Checked my carry-on. Paid 75 Euros and nearly punched Mr. TSA when, once through security, I realized I was allowed to buy and carry-on a life-time supply of honey from the terminal gift shop, if I so chose.

#SecurityFail

One of those folk craft jars of honey was being carried home for “My Honey” — the tall, blue-eyed, Ivy League Senior Project Manager who sneaked into my life a few months earlier. As per his requests, I had also secured a magnet from Paris for his collection and also from France, a “very little something lacy ” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.)

image

Frank Hampshire (a nickname he earned at my friend’s birthday party) and I had only become “official” a few days before my departure for a two-week sojourn in France and Bulgaria. I didn’t expect there’d be much in the way of communication for the next 14 days — is there internet near the Black Sea? But when I finally touched down on European soil, I found an email  waiting for me. He wanted to make sure I’d had a good flight and wanted to offer some google-inspired dining suggestions for when I finally made my connection to Sofia, Bulgaria.

I admit, I was quietly pleased with myself for landing such a good guy who seemed to like me so much. That started a daily email exchange, our rapport acting as a kind of diary of my travels as he recounted all the things he wished he could tell me in person. It was like we were traveling together. Of course, until he asked why was it that on his one good hair day in 30+ years, I was 3,000 miles away?

It’s easy to travel the world when you know someone is missing you at home.

I was bemused — the two weeks and 3,000 miles apart had codified our relationship. A year earlier, two weeks abroad brought about the end of a relationship, and I couldn’t help reflecting on how a break from life as usual had produced such different outcomes.

It was taking in views like this from Durnstein, Austria, that made me realized I needed someone different.

It was taking in views like this from Durnstein, Austria, that made me realized I needed someone different.

I flashed back to a cold windy October night and a street corner in Manhattan’s theater district. A passionate kiss and a promise we’d work things out before we headed separate ways. I had suffered delayed trains and Times Square crowds to break up with The Admiral (my Ex with a capital E), but when he took my hand at dinner and told me he didn’t want to lose me, I chickened out. We agreed my vacation would be a geographically-imposed break from our relationship, and we’d talk things over when I got back. We agreed that if we decided not to stay together, we’d stay friends… we’d leave the door open. We just needed time to think and lighten up. I left the States convinced we’d stay a couple — we loved each other, after all, and we owed it to ourselves to try to make it work.

As I wandered through Austria’s wine region, meandering along the Danube, pausing in hillside medieval towns to lunch on farm-fresh goats cheese and Apricot brandy, it all became clear. I imagined retracing the same romantic trip in the future with a different travel companion. He had a face and a name, and neither belonged to The Admiral.

I touched down in New York the morning Hurricane Sandy swept through the region. It would be another week before the Admiral and I finally spoke, in the cocktail lounge where we went on our first date, and agreed to shelf the romance.

And now, here I am two years later, a few days away from another two weeks in Europe. Frank Hampshire faded away into the history books, and the Admiral and I are “just friends.” I’m in the early stages of a new relationship and I’m not sure how 14 days off-line will affect the course of things. One way or another, my time abroad will help us decide our next step, if there’s to be one. Maybe, we’ll miss each other and hurry to make things more serious. Or, and this is more likely, one of us will move on. But, of course, this is what vacations are for — taking the requisite break from reality to help us decide what’s really real… in life and in love.

lovers locks paris 2013

 

 

 

I’m Sorry, but He’s Not What You Expected

Warning. He might be a rock fall….

When I told my friends I was dating a European gymnast with a PhD, no one was particularly surprised. Foreign, athletic, and smart has been my type since my jungle gym days. He never lasted long enough to meet the friends, so I never felt the need to warn them that the only things he could talk about was “How I Met Your Mother” and Absolute Zero. But then again, I wasn’t dating him for the conversation. #boytoy

“Look, he’s not what you’re expecting.” This, on the other hand, is how I prefaced meeting Euro-Flips-Phd’s predecessor, who had survived long enough to meet my parents and most of my close friends. After that introductory phrase, came a list of reasons why you’d be surprised at me or put-off by him. On paper, “Big Red” was my best match to-date, but in person, there were about half a dozen reasons why he wasn’t what I, or the peanut gallery, had in mind for my Prince Charming. Our divergent lifestyles were visible in his appearance and demeanor.

Later, after he’d won everyone over with the quick sense of humor and general intelligence that I fell so quickly for, I felt bad.  Why did I feel the need to put him down before anyone had the chance to judge for themselves? Was I afraid of how he might reflect back on me? Or did my warning really reflect the concerns I had about us as a match?

You say he only said 5 sentences to you all night? Why are you surprised? I told you he was shy.

Yes, he wore a braided belt with a suit. I told you he was fashionably-challenged. 

My preemptive warnings headed off your criticisms at the pass. I’ve pointed out his most obvious shortfalls, so you’re going to have to work hard to tell me something I don’t know. Oh? You think the’s wonderful? You don’t understand what I was worried about? His beer belly is totally unnoticeable? And you think he’s funny? Awesome.

I was simultaneously setting him up for failure  and apologizing for him in case he crashed and burned on his own. But more significantly, I was revealing my doubts and granting my friends and family permission to disapprove of him… for a finite set of reasons.

In many cases, these warnings I gave my friends and family were some how at the core of why my fella and I didn’t make it to a happily ever after. Most of the time, they weren’t.

“I like him. A lot,” my mother said after she met Big Red. “But I’m going to pretend I don’t like him, so you keep your options open.”

I guess that when I warned her about this thing or that, I was doing the same thing — letting her know I was keeping my options open. I’m reasonably certain that, even though I know it’s not entirely fair to him, I will always preempt first meetings between a boyfriend and my loved ones with some kind of warning. Most likely because I don’t want to jinx anything.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Ride

“It’s just like riding a bike!” It’s a colloquialism meant to suggest that whatever “it” is, it’s so easy, any old fool can do it. It’s a colloquialism I hate, because it implies I’m the most foolish and inept of old fools in any given set of old fools. Because, why? Well, here’s a secret:

I can’t ride a bike.

this is not a Duchamp knock-off... a bike refurbishing moment

this is not a Duchamp knock-off… a bike refurbishing moment

Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In theory, perhaps more than practice, I CAN ride a bike, though it’s been 10 years since I’ve been on one that isn’t stable, stationary and in a spin class.

I was late to bike riding. My parents gave me a neat, new purple 2-wheeler with trainers one Christmas, probably when I was about 4, with presumably high hopes that one day, I’d ride my bike to swim practice. I was excessively excited about the white basket on the front and the handle bar’s streamers. I rode it once. Maybe twice. It was eventually sent up to Canada for one of my younger cousins, who couldn’t believe it wasn’t brand new.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I legitimately learned to ride a bike… but I could only ride straight, and I had to start by sorta scooting on one foot until I built up some momentum to get both feet on the pedals. Then I’d half fall off and half to start again. It was awkward and nonathletic. I couldn’t turn around, so when I came to the end of the street, I had to step off my bike and waddle it the 180 degrees it needed to turn so I could go back to where I came from. And going down hill sent me into a slight panic.

But those (many) handicaps didn’t stop me from riding the (paved, straight) bike path 20 miles every weekend.

The last time I rode a bike was summer 2004. That was the year I had a crush on an upper classman named Jake. He was a competitive cyclist from the West Coast who liked to study with me for our French exams. Our Professor compared us to Peanut Butter and Chocolate. I’m not sure Jake was as amused by that as I was, and one might assume the 10 years of neglect my bike has seen is a fairly good indication of how that little “romance” fared. My lapse in riding had nothing to do with Jake, but rather a Provincial Holiday bike ride through Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It was traumatizing.

Then this summer, after declining several invitations to ride borough to borough seeking art, I booked tickets to Amsterdam. How could I go to the bike-riding capital of Europe, where pedaling along the canal houses is on the “Must-Do” list of any traveler, and NOT partake?

I had 3 months to get ready. I went a hunt for the bike that had seen better days. The tires were flat. I needed new tubes. The dust was so thick I had forgotten the frame was really a forest green, not gray. The padding in my helmet had rotted out. The initial investment to refurbish was more than I had expected.

But upgraded and with 10 years of spin classes under my belt I was ready to beat my teenage shortcoming.

The good news is I haven’t fallen off yet. I’ve learned to turn around in a circle. I can start without the awkward scoot-fall-scoot. I only start a mild panic when the gradient points down. I don’t know I’ll feel confident enough to ride in a city where bikers ride like motorists in cars, aggressively, but at least now I can say “It’s just like riding a bike,” and mean it.

New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let's get riding.

New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let’s get riding.

 

 

Simple Sundays…

Do you know what I love about Sundays? On Sundays, I can have 2 cups of tea before I start my day. That’s right, I’m really a very simple girl…

All it takes is 2 cups of tea to make me happy…

2 cups of tea sipped from my white porcelain Bernardaud Louvre mug.

If it’s good enough for HRH, it’s good enough for e.

White porcelain doesn’t taint the taste of the tea, which is important because when you’re drinking HRH’s favorite blend, Taylor of Harrogate’s Yorkshire Gold, you want it to taste just so.

2 cups of tea steeped for exactly 5.5 minutes in freshly filtered water boiled to precisely 100 degrees Fahrenheit in my new Kitchen Aid kettle.

2 cups of tea finished with a dash of Organic Valley whole milk.

No sugar.

Just teatime, extra special, Sunday edition.

My Sunday Mug.

 

Talking Burpee Before It was Fashionable

There’s a chance you read the recent NYTimes Sunday Styles piece called “CrossFit Flirting: Talk Burpee to Me.” I read it too and rather than inspire me to use my morning work-out site as a potential pick-up spot, I was reminded of the story of the rugby players and the tea cups, or how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff…

Real men play rugby... and drink herbal tea.

Real men play rugby… and drink herbal tea.

When I was in college, my father volunteered to help coach my school’s men’s rugby club. He had “professionally” and briefly coached a rival college team when I was in high school — I think he thought helping the fledgling club at my college would be a good way for us to “bond.” (I hoped this would lead to a hunky piece of arm candy,  while he hoped it would mean I would have a team of bouncers keeping other college men off me when I went out on a Friday night… much to my chagrin, my dad’s plan won.)

While my father was up in Riverdale teaching former football players how to tackle like real men, I was in the Varsity Weight Room in Morningside Heights with my female team mates… and the football team.

“Yesterday, I worked in an extra set of push-ups with the 25lb plate,” the girls and I were swapping training stories one afternoon when my father offered to play the part of father and give us a ride back to campus after we came north to watch a rugby match.

“I really like the new plyometeric work-out with the resistance bands the trainer gave us. Think it would be too much to do that with the other lower body work out we’re already doing?”

“Did you see the plan for next week? 150 abs warm-up. I can’t wait!”

etc.

My father, who couldn’t help eavesdropping burst out into almost uncontrollable laughter.

“What!? What’s so funny? Get a hold of yourself, you’re going to drive into a lamppost,” I shouted.

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Getting good at picking things up and putting them down was how I earned the nickname Tanya Knockyourballsoff

“Well, it’s just, 15 minutes ago I was standing in a huddle with my rugby players,” he started. “There was this big 6’4 Greek, a 6’2 body-builder, and your buddy ‘Bruiser,’ and they were swapping tea advice — you know, green tea versus oolong versus herbal, cups versus mugs, ceramic versus cast iron pots. And now, here I am, in a car with my daughter and her girlfriends and they’re talking about kettlebells and how much they can bench press…”

“Dad, might I remind you we’re not just any girls. We’re athletes.”

The following week my father sent me a note to say one of his players was in a bluegrass band and that I should go to his concert.

“He likes tea and plays the guitar. He’s sensitive… but he’s also one of our best guys on the frontline, so he can pick things up and put them down. You can talk to him about how many burpees you can do, Tanya Knockyouballsoff.”

Tanya Knockyourballsoff was, according to Dad, a Russian female shot-putter. My affinity for kettlebells, apparently, inspired this new nickname…

Meanwhile, I put his note about the burpee pick-up line in the “shoulda listened to my father” column, along with his suggestion we open a father-daughter business together — a gourmet hotdog shop called Kat’s Dawgs… maybe next year #FathersKnowBest