Rejected Boys’ Underwear Copy to Keep This Copywriter Sane:

(Inspiration: Odor-eliminating material and “stain release” fabric. Ew.)

-“Let’s face it, your child is disgusting.”

-“Don’t want your child to smell like a fart threw a party with a family of dirty diapers and then invited his crappy stinkbug friends? We have the solution.”

-“What’s that smell? Your kid. He’s gross.”

-“These have superheroes on them. I think he’s into superheroes this year? Screw it, good enough.”

“They told me to use the word ‘pouch’ to describe these boxer briefs. Sweet Jesus. ‘Your kid will feel as bouncy as a kangaroo with a pouch in these totally kid-friendly, nothing funny going on here boxer briefs!'”

-“Bathing every day is always a plus. But when your kid throws a fight and you’re on your last bottle of wine and seriously if he doesn’t go to bed now you’re going to miss this episode of Game of Thrones and goddammit Timmy it’s already 10pm so shut your mouth and go to bed now or I will take your Playstation 4 straight to Goodwill so help me God, our new odor-wicking undies do the trick. You’re welcome, Mom. Now go pour yourself another glass of Merlot and rest easy knowing that Timmy’s not the smelliest kid at school. Yet.”

And last but not least…

“These are already brown.”

Advertisements

On Eating Alone

I write this as one person in a cozy two-person booth as I munch on a salad for lunch on a sunny Tuesday in April. Alone.

I have never been comfortable with eating at restaurants by myself – in fact, I never even tried it until I was 28 and on medication that dulled my anxiety enough to give it a shot. The pills aren’t exactly what this post is about, though I’ll admit it’s true, eating alone was much easier when I had 20mgs of Lexapro and 300mgs of Wellbutrin and 60 mgs of Buspar all coursing through my veins like one big cocktail party hosted by my psyche. But again, I digress.

As I walked into this restaurant, I texted my husband to point out that I haven’t left the house since Saturday and now I was making myself go out to lunch even though the idea makes me dizzy. He suggested that I just pick up lunch and take it home instead. But no, much as it irked me, I refused to, for you see, this chicken and hummus and cabbage down on which I now chow isn’t just nourishment for my physical body. That’s not what this is about. Rather, it’s about the nice young gentleman who took my order today.

At this point my friends and family and – especially my husband – may stop reading and ask, “What the hell, Amy? What’s with the guy?” But hold on, kids, it isn’t like that. It isn’t like that at all. This young man, while admittedly somewhat cute with his dimples and cornrows and pierced eyebrow, was at least ten years my junior and decidedly not my husband, so I definitely did not come here to flirt, despite what he or anybody else here may think. So, with a flash of my wedding ring I tell my new lunch friend that my husband doesn’t like olives either, and that if I find one on my plate I’m leaving because they are of the devil. “But do you like olive oil?” he offers, to which I reply, “Yes, of course.” He smiles and asks, “Let me guess…you love ketchup and hate tomatoes?” “Of course not,” I say as I reach for my wallet, “I love tomatoes.” “…And ketchup?” “Disgusting,” I say, sticking out my tongue like a kid. He laughs, accepts my $13.48, and then moves on to the next customer as I quietly accept the fact that this will be the last real, in-the-flesh conversation that I have for the next four or five hours – or whenever my husband gets home from work.

This is the part where you may be thinking, “Aw, how sad.” And sure, there was a point in time where I may have agreed with you. 27-year-old Amy would have never dreamed of spending her days with only computer screens and books and daydreams to keep her company.  I will admit that it can be lonely, but I refuse to feel sad or sorry about a life I’ve chosen for myself. A life that while always quiet and often solitary still continues to surprise me. So, I depend on my laptop and and books and what’s left of my pills to make it ever so easier to walk through the door, order my food, and keep my butt in this seat. You see, I have begun to reduce the Lexapro, the Wellbutrin, the Buspar – 5mgs, 150mgs, and 20mgs respectively – in an effort to rid them from my system so that I can one day be a mother, create something new and living and lasting, and never be alone again.

But again, I digress…

I’m not sad as I sit here. Rather, I’m reflective as I question the why of it. I could still be sitting in an office surrounded by co-workers and fluorescents, but instead I chose this. I chose to give this writing thing a try. I chose the computer and the books and the daydreams and yes – the eating alone. And yes, it’s true that many if not most writers have day jobs – real ones where they leave the house and wear pants – but it wasn’t for me. I tried the 9-5, the desk job, the slacks and jackets and even heels (don’t get me started on the heels). I found that they pulled me out of my head, a digression that, while healthy and necessary, led me to forget how colorful the storms inside my brain can be. So I chose to make this pipe dream my full-time job, if only temporarily, just to see if I could do it. And now I ask myself, “How, exactly, am I doing anyway?” I have to admit that I could be doing better. I write only sporadically, forever telling myself that it’s not about writing well, it’s about writing often, or at least that’s what they taught us in MFA. But I’m not sure I do or ever did buy that. Am I not writing all the time – be it on a walk, at the gym, while doing dishes, or – yes – eating alone? I don’t need a computer or a pen or a paper to write. But I do need the daydreams.

So, as I sit here at nearly 2pm on a Tuesday, watching the restaurant slowly clear of its patrons, I study each detail, each face, each employee who clears a table or sweeps a floor or takes my $13.48. I note how the man who sits across the room, though I can’t hear his voice, must be European – English maybe – as signaled by the way he holds his fork, piling lettuce and tomatoes and chickpeas on its back like a heap of colorful acrobats. His other hand rests flat on the table, a testament to stillness and quiet though he laughs heartily from his slender belly. Perhaps he’s the reason I came here; perhaps he’s what this thing is about.

Today, as the pills leave my body and I begin to sacrifice clarity and calmness for courage and chaos, I seek to embrace the flood of thoughts and images and stories that keep me company each day; this world, my office, these patrons my co-workers. Every thing, every day, every person is a beautiful story that I tell myself. I’m just trying to learn how to share that with others.

 

“Be in love with your life, every minute of it.” – Jack Kerouac

IMG_4199

One Home

Recently my husband, stepson, and I moved into a new, larger home closer to the heart of Charlotte. As a newly wed still growing accustomed to the word “husband,” the thought of actually owning property, a home, felt and still feels utterly baffling. Our previous home in a quiet neighborhood on the NC/SC border, was owned by my husband, John. John who is five and half years my senior and has owned not just a home but several in the past. John who has not only payed mortgages before but understands how they work. John who had already established a line of credit when I was still in middle school. My intensely intelligent, fiercely independent, wickedly stubborn husband, John. But John had a brand-new, full-time job and I had a nearly-completed Masters degree, a manuscript desperately in need of polishing, a smattering of freelance clients, and no official “job.” Therefore the task of buying and selling homes fell in my court, prepared or not. And so began my crash course in all things homeowner. On a scale from one to the oldest man in the world, this was Bernie Sanders-level adulting.

First off, we’d need a good realtor. Lucky for us, John’s best friend, Sara, just happens to be a great realtor, so that was one thing off the list. She quickly introduced us to a mortgage broker, a title that I am now convinced means “I have the most complicated job in the history of the universe and you get to help.” Each week brought a new series of requests from our broker as we did our damnedest to prove that yes, we could afford a new home, and no, we were not criminals. Providing my driver’s license and social security number was easy, selling my left kidney to afford the home was a slightly more irksome. Between the mortgage approval process and the packing, my life quickly became an endless tirade of paperwork and boxes. Not to mention, we had yet to find a new home or list our own but I had already packed the damn can opener – life was chaotic at best but I was happy. Box by box I was building a future for my new family.

On the Saturday before I started my final writer’s residency for my MFA program, John, Sara, and I packed into her car to begin house hunting. I had been searching online for about a month and had my favorites, but given John’s penchant for being picky about everything from wedding invitation lettering to bathroom sinks, I tried not to be too optimistic as we weaved down Park Road, stopping at one neighborhood then the next. Sara, who was about eight weeks pregnant at the time and in the height of morning sickness, pointed out each neighborhood and home’s pros and cons while regaling us with stories of her already ridiculous pregnancy dreams. We were all cackling about a dream involving Jennifer Lawrence and a parrot in a compromising scenario as we pulled up to the second home – one that I’d been eyeing online for the past month. John, always the loud mouth in any group, fell silent and I crossed my fingers. The home, built in 1992, was in the middle of Park Crossing, an older Charlotte neighborhood full of gorgeous brick homes, crepe myrtle trees, and growing families. We climbed out of the car and stood gawking at the house, half again the size of our own and drop dead beautiful. “Yes,” said John, “F*ck yes.” “Um, yeah,” I mumbled. “She’s a pretty one,” said Sara, rubbing her baby belly that had yet to show, though she swore she “felt bigger.”

As we stepped into the entry hall and stared up at the tall ceiling and Juliet-worthy balcony, I couldn’t help but think, This is our house. The three of us roamed about like kids shouting, “Check this out,” and “Have you seen THIS?” as we explored the home’s kitchen, dining room, great room, two offices, four bedrooms, and a luxurious master bath straight out of MTV’s Cribs. It was a beast but such a beauty. The backyard is what I think sold it for John. Symmetrical, rectangular, and immaculately kept, it was “perfect for a football game.” Mere minutes later, we decided this was the home for us and that John could deal with the lack-luster guest room sink because, admittedly, he just needed to find *something* wrong with the home. “Yes, this so it,” he’d said definitively, “I’m not moving again until they put my ass in the home.”

We made an offer the next morning and entered into a battle of offers and counteroffers, myself participating via text as I hugged friends and faculty at my school residency’s opening reception. If I thought earning my Masters kept me busy, and it did, I was about to enter a whole new level. I stayed with Sara, her husband, Ash, and their son for the week as their place was closer to school and 12-hour residency days made even a 45-minute commute seem like a haul. In between classes I’d rush back to her house to sign stacks of papers as tall as manuscripts, work on my graduating craft presentation, bring Sara a ginger ale, or talk cash with my mortgage broker, my stock broker, my husband, or one of several attorneys. Now a Master of creative writing, I was still very much a student of home ownership. Complicated finances and a “bitch on wheels” of a seller made things slightly less than smooth, but we settled on a close date – February 19th, one month off – and we booked the movers for the following week, deciding that we’d sell the old home after we moved. And one month and 150 boxes later, I moved the stuff of my life for what would hopefully be the last time.

It felt strange, moving into a home that held someone else’s history. From when I was a toddler until the time my parents sold my childhood home in New Jersey when I was 23, my family had owned just one home. One home that my parents had build when I was an infant and that held all our memories. One home that I still dream about on a weekly basis.

After college, “home” for me had became a series of impermanences – apartments where I would maybe stay a year or two at most, always ready to pack up and move wherever the wind took me next. After awhile, I started keeping some things in boxes, knowing that some day soon I’d be on the run once more. These weren’t the kinds of apartments I knew as a kid – New York City high rises where “grandfathering” wasn’t uncommon and residences could stay for 15 or 20 years or more with nobody questioning their sanity. These were the apartments of the youthful or those who were starting over, and I, when I met John, was both. They were temporary storage centers for Ikea furniture and self-questioning. Like their leasers, these apartments held chaotic pasts and blurry futures, their walls thickly coated in layer upon layer of cheap paint. They didn’t house rich histories: they were gallery shows for the “who the hell am I” collages of young adults and born-again kids.

In contrast, when I moved in with John, I was faced with a blank canvas. John had purchased our “old” home as a new construction the fall before we met, so, much like our relationship, that house was still in its infancy. I was the first, and only, woman he’d brought home there so ours was the only love that home ever knew. My stepson had grown and matured in that home – having lived there from age four to age eight – and the pantry door’s trim bore the height marks to prove it. When he was five and just learning his letters, he’d written on the mantle, “Dad,” in black Sharpie. We hadn’t dared to paint over it. This was the first place John and I had said, “I love you” and the place we’d our first fight, though instances of the former far outweighed the latter.

Now as I settle in, this new home, though older, feels more mine than anything has since I said, “I do.” This home feels happy and loved. This home holds an energy that is warm and cozy and comfortable but still exciting and opportunistic. And here I am, just seven years its senior, but still so new. A new wife, a new stepmom, a freshly-minted writer, perhaps my new home and I can learn from each other. I’ve already learned how to mow a lawn and how to work our crazy, modern bathroom sinks; my stepson is learning to ride a bike in our football-field lawn; and John is learning how to begin again. But, like this house, we still have much more to live and see. Like this house, we can only hope to mature, to love, and to be loved one box, one brick at a time.

 

What’s in the Kitchen Soup

I learned to cook without a cookbook. It wasn’t that I didn’t own any – I did – I just knew there wasn’t much to learn from constantly following the rules. It didn’t hurt that I grew up in a household with a mother who was a gourmet cook and a dad who made better spaghetti and meatballs than most other dads I knew.

When I’d graduated from college and moved into a real apartment, my culinary experiments started off simple: Pasta dishes, seasoned chicken breasts, tacos – beginner food that seemed harder to mess up. But as I got more experimental, there were occasional mess-ups: Improvised lo mien that tasted like a big pot of oil, brown scrambled eggs that were cooked too hot and too fast, and let’s not forget the purple veal. Red wine reductions took awhile to master.

Eventually, things started to taste good. People would ask me for my recipes and I’d flounder, not being able to remember exactly what I’d put in what. I didn’t have any one secret, I just used my intuition. I’d think, I like this, and I like that. Why not put them together and see what happens? Key lime chicken, yes. Raspberry goat cheese pasta, not as much.

Just this evening the dismal Charlotte weather inspired a “what’s in the kitchen” soup – partly from sheer boredom and partly because I failed to make it to the store before the freezing rain started. Digging through the freezer I came across the chicken and pineapple meatballs that I’d so often glanced past when preparing other meals for myself, my fiancé, and my stepson-to-be. I pulled them out then began to brainstorm. Chicken and pineapple… Hawaiian? No. Kabobs? Not in this weather. Asian? Sure. Remembering the package of soba noodles that I’d pilfered from my mom’s pantry this past fall, I began to mentally prep for an Asian noodle soup that would be savory and sour with a hint of sweetness and heat. I could already taste it.

I began to pull my spices – chicken bouillon, garlic, onion powder, ginger, cinnamon, Chinese five spice, savory, white pepper… I remembered the salty tangy flavor of a favorite soup I’d eaten before – soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, and honey. Simmer in a big pot of water…needs more tang. Lime juice and champagne vinegar and a touch more worcestershire. Perfect. Plop in the meatballs. Simmer simmer. A pack of frozen stir fry veggies, a few fist fulls of noodles and it was done. And it tasted great and exactly as I’d imagined.

Cooking is not something I learned overnight. Rather, it came from careful observation, mindful taste-testing, and knowing exactly what I like and precisely what I do not. I never looked at a cookbook until I’d mastered the art of “me-cooking.” Cooking for myself, my tastes, and my enjoyment. If I loved an ingredient, I’d add more of it. If I didn’t, I’d use less – or leave it out entirely. When I used recipes, I’d follow them loosely. Substituting here, omitting there, and sometimes completely improvising.

I used to cook all the time. Lately life – work, school, family, wedding-planning, writing – has kept me as busy as I can handle and so I often opt for easy recipes or pre-made, store-bought foods. I miss it, though. I miss creating and I miss eating custom-tailored meals. But I also miss the notion that I can, when I set my mind to it, make a collage from parts and pieces that have yet to meet. Sometimes I choose ahead of time, the end goal in mind, the ingredients carefully selected. And sometimes, on cold and icy nights, I just use what I’ve got and make the most of it.

Back in Action

Hello? Is this thing still here?

A lot has happened since I last updated this blog. In a nutshell:

– I met the love of my life (John) and his beautiful son (Chase).

– I moved – twice.

– I adopted the world’s sweetest rescue dog and named him after Willie Nelson.

– I left my old job.

– I started my MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing.

– I started a new job as a copywriter for a custom AV manufacturer and distributor.

– I got engaged to said love of my life (Yay!).

– I got promoted – sort of – at said new job.

– I published my first creative piece (Check out “Miss Eleanor on www.composejournal.com).

– I turned 30. Oy.

– I began wedding planning…oh so much wedding planning.

– I completed my first year of my MFA and began writing my thesis.

Yep. That’s a lot for less than two years. I’ve been busy. But is that an excuse for ignoring this thing? Well…maybe. But then again, maybe not.

1559536_671911287378_2100518038_o(1)

Just last week I completed my third of five residencies for my MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. Residency is always both an invigorating and exhausting experience. I always come out of it feeling like if I could just squeeze in a quick 18-hour nap, then I could arise to conquer the literary masses.

You see, in the past almost two years I didn’t only meet the man of my dreams – I met my calling. Writing has become more than a hobby. It’s become more than what I want to do with my life. It’s become what I need to do. Writing about my life has changed my life for the better – and I’m endlessly grateful to the folks who helped push me in the right direction.

Fred Lebron, director of the MFA program at Queens, gave a commencement speech at graduation last weekend that really stuck with me. He talked about why we stop writing. Now, mind you, I haven’t stopped writing. I’ve written hundreds of pages since I last updated this blog – and some of them were actually decent. But it resonated with me because I know that I should be writing more. During a conversation last Saturday with Emily White, my professor for this semester, I mentioned that I had abandoned my poor blog and that – for shame – unlike many writers in my program, I don’t write every day. Or every other day. I’m a sporadic writer. I write when I’m “in the mood” or when I “feel like it” or “when I have a deadline for school so I need to word vomit something right now, dang it.” Predictably she told me that this is a writing “no-no.”

And sure, it wasn’t news to me. Any MFA professor will tell me that I should write every day. After all, if it’s what I’ve chosen to do with my life, then I need to actually be doing it, right? So Emily and I made a deal that I would try to write at least every other day. And that included updating this blog.

All of this brings me to a simple question – inspired by Fred’s speech – why did I stop blogging in the first place?

1. I’m busy.

Clearly I’ve had a lot going on. My job and my boys keep me very busy and during any free time I try to exercise, plan for my wedding (September 26th! Yay!), clean the house, cook, or – and yes it always comes last – relax. But I realize that I’ve mislabeled my writing – my passion – as “work” or “homework.” Yes, writing is work. It’s incredibly difficult and more so when I “don’t feel like it.” But it’s more than that. It’s an outlet. And yeah, sure, sometimes it can even be relaxing. Being “busy” is not an excuse.

2. I won’t have enough to write about. Or I’m saving that topic for a “real” piece.

Sorry, blog. Pursuing my MFA, as much as it kicks my butt on a regular basis, has given me a big head. It’s easy for me to fall into the mindset of “this is real writing” and “that’s just blogging.” But then I remind myself that many popular authors got their start as bloggers (Shout out to Jenny Lawson!) That a lot more people are likely to read my blog than a piece published in some niche-specific online literary journal. That a blog is a fluid medium and – if something exciting ever comes of one of my posts – I can remove it, expand it, and add it to the elusive thesis/book/grand pooba of literary wonder that I like to pretend I’m striving for. And lastly, I remind myself that writing is like any other exercise: I’ve got to stretch and train before the marathon. So it’s about time that I start thinking of these posts as practice for the big time. (Or maybe they will become “big time” or at least a path to get me there.)

3. I just don’t feel good. Or – as is the case on and off again – I feel too depressed to write.

This is a tough one. Depression sucks. I know because I’ve dealt with it on and off for most of my life (and all of my adult life). But haven’t many great pieces of art come from places of hurt and calamity? When I say that I need to write, I’ve got to remember that it isn’t just an urge or an impulse. It’s a comfort blanket. When I can’t say the words aloud, I can at least write them down, right? Then they’re off my chest and out of my mind. My pen – or in this case laptop – becomes a weapon to fight off demons. Or sometimes it’s just a friend who’s there to listen.

4. I’m not good enough.

Youch. Another tough-y. I say this not to fish for compliments or – on the contrary – to belittle my own work. I know that I am a decent writer; I’ve done a lot of it and I’ve made a career of it so I’d certainly hope that I know a few things. But I believe that every writer, or maybe every person, at one point another feels that sting of inadequacy and doubt that prefaces the hiatus or stall that can all too easily lead to “not today” or even “I give up.” And sure, I write regularly for school. I write pieces that my classmates and professors dig into and critique and criticize. And sometimes they have good things to say. But it’s a controlled environment. My friends and family don’t have to read that junk unless I want them to. But this? This is an open forum. The internet is a big, messy place, where people bend and break words, leave hateful comments, and show up to be informed or entertained. What if my words don’t do either?

…And then I remind myself that the internet is – well – a big, messy place. And that one hobby of mine is digging for typos on well-renowned news sites where sloppy writing and non-existent proofreading are the norm. Sure, there’s some great stuff online, but sometimes it’s hard to find.

Phew. Maybe I’m not so bad after all.

* * *

It’s funny how when I set my mind to it, I can think of only four excuses as to why I stopped updating this blog. And when I really dig into it, not one of those excuses seems to matter. Yes, I’m busy. And yes, updating my blog is a commitment. But if I’ve learned one thing in this past almost two years, it’s that commitment is all or nothing. I’ve made a commitment to John. I’ve made a commitment to Chase. I’ve made a commitment to Willie Dog. I’ve made a commitment to my co-workers and my classmates and professors.

So this is one more commitment. I’m committing to (cue the cheesy music) myself. Writing is what I want and need to do. And if I’m ever to get anywhere with it, I need to stretch those muscles. I need to push myself.

So that’s it. Tall and Awkward is officially back in action. No excuses.

Flying Bridges

From time to time, life hands you just what you need. The cousin who’s just around the corner. The good friend who offers you a place to stay. The sweet friend who stays with you. The old friend who’s there just when you need her. The new friend who needs a friend, too. The best friend who says it all without a word. The stranger who knows just what to say.

* * * *

I’m in my fifth line of the evening as I wait to board the 7:14 to JFK. This week has been hell. I am sleep deprived, stressed out, my feet hurt, my neck is killing me, and my shoulders bear the weight of nine and a half years worth of heartbreak. I am not who I was a week ago, but I am more myself than I’ve been in a long time.

That’s when I smell…him.

Glancing over my shoulder, I note the bearded dude who moments earlier insisted that I step in front of him in line because, “We’re all going to the same place” and he didn’t have any bags to stow, anyway.

The smell. Motor oil and musk tinged with beer and B.O. I flip my judgement switch and toss my hair like I do when I’m on guard.

I sit. I watch. I cringe as Jeff Bridges sits down next to me.

Because it’s not Jeff Bridges. It’s the bearded dude who I soon rename hairy dude – as his sweaty, bristly arm brushes against mine. Who needs armrests, anyway.

He’s about 6’4″, big, and drunk. Armpit hair protrudes from his cut off t-shirt and a number of indecipherable tattoos cover his leathery arms.

“Glad I let you go in front of me!” he chuckles as I scoot closer to the window.

“Yup.”

“Gah…so you from New York?”

“Uh. Jersey, actually. But I live in Charlotte.”

“Ah. Gotcha. I’m from Upstate.”

“Ah.”

“Live in Gastonia, though.”

“Hmm.”

“Real shithole.”

Ok, that’s funny. I giggle. “Whattt?? It’s not so bad.”

“Nah. It’s not that bad,” he laughs.

Silence. I breathe – through my mouth to avoid the smell – finally an escape from the stress of the past week. I watch as my worries turn to specks outside our window.

“I love Jet Blue. Lots of legroom,” I say.

But the dude doesn’t respond immediately. His jaw is clenched; his paws dig into the armrests.

“Mhmmmm…yeah. I usually ride my bike up when I go home but it’s uh it’s a 10 1/2 hour ride and I’m only going for the weekend and uh…I have to transfer in JFK. Transfer in JFK and then to Buffalo. My buddy’s gonna pick me up and we’ve got like an hour drive and then we’re hitting the bar, man. My favorite place in town and…” he pauses as the plane takes a slight dip.

“You ok?”

“Mm…yeah. I don’t fly often,” he smiles. “You’re right, though. Lots of legroom.”

Pause.

“You’re a tall girl.”

“Yeah. Five foot ten.”

“Nice!” he says in a tone that’s more congratulatory than creepy. “So, you meeting friends in New York?”

“My brother and his fiancé. I’m going to look at wedding dresses with her tomorrow. Should be really fun.”

“Nice! Your brother picking you up, then?”

“Nah. Gonna take the subway.”

“Nicccceee… You are braver than me, sister. You know, I lived in New York for most of my life and I have never been to the city. By choice – country life for me.”

“Ah.”

“I mean…I live in freakin’ Gastonia.”

“Haha, yeah.” I smile. I feel better than I have in a week. He belches.

“Sorry,” he says in a tone that says, What did you expect.

The plain dips and he grasps my arm, just for a second.

“Sorry,” he says. And he means it.

“So, the subway?” he continues. “Damn…you are brave, girl.”

“Nah, I’ll be fine. Just gotta take the E train to the 6 train and then I think it’s just a quick walk to my brother’s place,” I puzzle. “Plus I’m a black belt. Anybody messes with me, I can take ’em.”

I stare out the window for a moment and then turn back to hairy dude, who’s shaking his head.

“Five foot ten AND a black belt? That’s scary. I mean – that is scary, sister.”

A few minutes go by and I grab my headphones. “I think it’s time for some TV.”

The dude abides.

I flip. I flip. I stop at that stupid movie – the one with McLovin’ or whatever his name was – and watch for just a moment. I notice that my new friend is watching Tosh.0 and flip again until I find that channel.

The next hour passes and “Jeff” and I laugh and laugh until we both have tears in our eyes. Sometimes there’s something calmingly familiar in that which seems so strange.

The second episode finishes and hairy dude turns to me. “Man. Love me some Tosh.”

“I know, right? I really needed a laugh this week.”

“Yeah, me too, man.” We smile. “Hey, nice talking to you, sister. You have a good time in the city. Enjoy the wedding stuff. Try on some pretty dresses while you’re at it.”

“Maybe I will,” I smile. “Nice talking to you, too. Enjoy your next flight.”

We land. I walk I walk I walk until the city envelops me.

The streets that know me by name. The stale air where, strangely, I can breathe. The crowds that see me and don’t see me. The streets and avenues and boulevards and alleys where I can vanish and where my problems and troubles ooze into the ambiance. The subways and byways and ways and days that pause my tears. New York, you are a beautiful kind of ugly. A familiar kind of strange.

The friend who knows me without knowing me. The countless blessings in the midst of heartbreak.

Is It Noon Yet?

Today I committed a sin.

It all started with a desire to slow cook something delicious and hearty that my boyfriend would enjoy and that wouldn’t put too much extra padding on my thighs. Beer! I exclaimed, as I turned the page in my favorite slow cooker cookbook. A delicious turkey thigh recipe that called for dark ale, thyme, brown sugar (that can be substituted, I pondered) and loads and loads of caramelized onions. Sounds like a feast, I thought, as I jotted down my list.

Fast forward 30 minutes and I’m at the local Harris Teeter gathering essentials. The store is undergoing renovations and I cringe as I pluck through dust-covered produce. Turkey thighs aren’t to be had as renovations mean fewer customers mean fewer options for us few who are bold enough to brave the grime.

I arrive at the check out line and immediately get waved over by a cashier who has just opened her aisle. She is in no mood, I gather, by the way she flings my avocados, bananas, chicken leg quarters (those’ll sub for turkey thighs, I hope), to the end of the belt like so many airport employees with baggage at Newark Liberty International.

Home – New Jersey – has been on my mind this week. I miss my family, I miss good Italian food and I even miss…sigh…that Godawful airport. There’s something refreshing about the no-BS attitude of my fellow “Yankees,” as we’re called here in Charlotte.

“Ma’am,” the cashier drawls, “You’ve got 6 more minutes ’til you can buy alcohol. I’m sorry, it’s the law.” Crap. It’s Sunday…Blue Laws.

For those of you unfamiliar with Blue Laws, they are a set of state-regulated, religious-based laws stating when you can and can’t buy alcohol and other similar sin-objects. In North Carolina, Blue Laws mean that it is downright illegal to purchase alcohol before noon on a Sunday. Not sure why they call them Blue Laws. It could be because not having access to good ol’ alcy-hol in the AM makes us sinners pretty blue. Or it could be in reference to the twinkle in Jesus’ big blue eyes as we have to wait just a few more minutes to get our drink on. Or if you want to get technical: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_laws In any case, Blue Laws are silly, antiquated, and in my case, just plain inconvenient.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, it’s the state law,” the cashier continues as she smacks her gum and glances at me in a, “You’re going to hell in a handbasket,” kinda way. “Oh! I…it’s for my recipe! I really…um…I guess you can leave it out?” I say…feeling 20 kinds of awkward.

Toilet paper – chuck. Milk – chuck. Limes – chuck.

“I tell you what, ma’am. You wanna wait right over there, I’ll wave you on over when it’s noon and you can buy your Guinness,” mutters the cashier, conspiratorially. “Oh…I…ok,” I mumble.

I pay for my items – all but the lone Guinness – and go stand in the corner. I try not to look up at the folks in their church clothes, the man with the cart full of hotdog buns, that gum-smacking cashier. I send a text: “I am such a sinner. Got caught buying booze before noon.”

“Ma’am…you can come on through now.” I hesitate. There is now a long line at the register. “It’s alright, come on…you were here first,” says the cashier as she peels off the Blue Law sticker she’d slapped on the bottle a mere 7 minutes earlier. I wiggle through a line of mascara-ed eyes and teased locks.

“Is it noon yet?!” exclaims a woman whom I presume to be a manager when she spots my bottle. “You know it’s Blue Laws!”

“Yeah, it’s noon. She’s good,” shouts the cashier, still fiddling with the sticker.

“I…I’m not a morning drinker or anything,” I mumble.

“Mmm?”

“It’s really…it’s for a recipe. I’m cooking with it. The beer. Chicken carbonnade!”

“Hey, Tommy!” barks the cashier, who hasn’t heard me, “Get me another Guinness will you? I can’t get this sticker off and it won’t scan.”

“What kind??”

“A Guinness! A regular ol’ Guinness for this young lady here,” she orders, with a sideways glance toward me. That line is really getting long, I think.

Finally, the second beer arrives. It scans, I swipe, she bags.

“Have a nice day!” I smile.

“Mmmmmhmmmm. You too, ma’am” says the cashier with an inflection that says, “Burn, heathen.”

I head home and go about my Sunday routine. I set my chicken dish in the slow cooker. I clean the house. I even cook a second meal to have for lunches. A good, productive day.

Later I sip chardonnay, happy for the momentary respite and the purring cat balled up next to me. The timer beeps. I open the slow cooker lid and – instantly – my apartment smells like heaven.

Dinner is served. The chicken leg quarters do sub perfectly and are, though slightly sweeter than planned, divine. The spaetzle is perfect and buttery. The beer-sauce, sinful. I smile. I’m so happy to feel happy. So thankful to feel at home.