There were things I forgot.

It’s hard to know what to say after being gone so long. Harder still with each day’s passing.

So I didn’t. And each day it became easier and easier to remain silent, until I thought that maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t come back.

Instead, I traveled. I opened myself up to new things and new people or, at the very least, I tried. I made elaborate plans and followed through. I continued to cook, scouring the local market until the root vegetables gave way to the first ramps of the season, made into a fragrant pesto and stowed away for cooler days. I didn’t tell you about any of it.

A few days ago, looking for something to read, I stumbled upon a old favorite. The well worn pages had darkened around the edges, curing up at the corners. The book smelled like only old books can, as if, in a long stagnant room, someone has finally opened a window. I remembered taking the book from Long Island to London, Boston to Barcelona, but I couldn’t remember basic plot points. All I could recall was this quote—What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?—it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. (Jack Kerouac, On the Road)—and the feeling of first reading it at sixteen, thinking it a worthy philosophy. At sixteen, when you’re focused on the thrill of the open road, it is. Sixteen years after that you realize that it’s not a philosophy at all, so much as an articulation fear.

Put more bluntly: there I was, leaning forward to avoid looking back.

And, then suddenly, I found myself on streets once so familiar in my small college town. Except that found isn’t quite the right word since it was of my own volition. There had been plans made and tickets bought. Sometimes, I think, we return to places we no longer belong to remind ourselves of reasons why we once did.

As I walked around my campus, I thought about leaving ten years earlier for the last time. Of my father’s offer to drive me around for one last look, as it might be the last time that I would be there, at least in a way that felt like it was home. I can’t remember now if I took him up on it, although I’m inclined to think that I said no. I can imagine myself, twenty-two and headstrong, determined to lean forward into the next thing, although I didn’t yet know what it was. Yet I remember the offer, all of these years later. Ultimately it’s the small kindnesses that add up, including the more recent few that have, at least indirectly lead me back here. Consider it a homecoming of sorts.

There was this quote, too, from another volume nestled next to On the Road: perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition. (James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room)

It will hardly come as a surprise that I’ve long forgotten the plot of that book as well. But, the binding is cracked to open to that very page—page 121 of the Laurel edition, printed in 1956, in case you were wondering. It’s in danger of falling out, getting closer still with each reading.

I’ll be here. Maybe haltingly, at first. You’ll have to be a little patient with me. I have a lot of reading to catch up on.



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And, then there’s this…

I stumbled upon this from a long ago corner of the internet where I had once, briefly, taken up residence. And, well:

“The writer finds himself in this more and more comical condition—of having nothing to write, of having no means of writing it, and of being forced by extreme necessity to keep writing it.”
—Maurice Blanchot

I’m not sure that it requires any elaboration except to say: watch this space.

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Ghost Signs

They’re called ghost signs.

The hand-lettered relics of a bygone era, when people still hand-painted things, dotting the upper reaches of the old buildings of Manhattan and beyond.

ghost sign

I’ve written about change here before. Every day, a new crane goes up. I’m waking up to the sound of pneumatic drills again. Progress abounds.

Hypothetically speaking, I don’t mind.

Except, well, this corner of Manhattan feels a bit like a construction site on the weekend. Maybe it’s all this talk of hurricanes and heart transplants of late. It’s hard to know what to say next.

I had hoped to tell you of many things—of Edinburgh and waking up in a castle. Of London. Walking down streets once so familiar so timidly at first, getting my bearings. Then, thinking Yes. I lived here once. Thinking, Yes, this still feels like home.

And, then after the latest in a series of befores and afters it hardly seemed to matter. After I got stranded, it seemed so long ago. After there was just a nagging sense of how difficult it would be to reintegrate myself into my life. I had been gone too long. There was the odd sensation of coming back home for the holidays, except not being able to go home. After finally making it back to the house being assaulted by the smell of mildew, burrowing into every surface. The strange exercise of going through so much from my childhood and seeing what was salvageable.

More than I originally thought, in fact.

There was this: a memory from the early fall, from before, of walking the streets of TriBeCa on a tour about these very artifacts. Of seeing people peering out their windows as curious about what was going on just beneath their windows as I was about what going on just beyond them. Wondering then how many lives have been lived in the shadow of these signs, as they slowly fade into oblivion, whispers of what they once were.

As usual, I was inappropriately dressed for the weather. The rain was pouring, my socks so wet they had colored my feet blue. My teeth were chattering, and I was unwilling go inside. I wanted to see more.

Then, this, too: after when I was finally back in New York, I was walking through the streets of Chelsea. Streets so familiar, I hardly needed to look at where I was headed, or to look up at all. Except that, in finally doing so, I spotted a ghost of the Griffon sign, where my grandfather had once been the comptroller.

Some interesting facts: the most vibrant colors—the blues and the purples—are the quickest to fade, but owing to the lead in the paints, they’re absorbed differently. With enough rain, the paler colors stand out against the rain-soaked bricks in sharp relief.

There are conclusions to be made here, I’m sure.

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It’s time.

This is my annual post.

It was three years ago. Actually four from diagnosis through listing through transplant, but really so many more when my father slipped into a yet unnamed heart failure.

I haven’t talked about it all that much. I’ve mentioned it, and talked around it, asked you to sign up to be an organ donor. But I’ve never talked about it.  Not in any meaningful way. I think it’s time.

In the end, it’s a series of details strung together: of how my sister just happened to be driving right by my apartment at the time, so we could head up to the hospital together. The surreal feeling of leaving my friend a message telling her I can’t make it to dinner, my father got a heart. Having someone there, unexpectedly, keeping vigil with me. And, when it was all over, how I sobbed in the waiting room, unable to catch my breath after a year of holding it.

When you hear about transplants, there are all sorts of facts and figures: the wait time depending on blood type, how long an organ is viable outside the donor’s body. For a heart, it’s four to six hours. You think it will be a manic process, going in, and, yet as with everything before, there’s an element of hurry up and wait. The heart is the last organ harvested—yes, harvested. An odd word choice, but at this point in the process, my vocabulary had expanded in so many unexpected directions I hardly took notice.

The heart remains, pumping, keeping the rest of the viable organs alive until they can be harvested for their intended recipients. We heard that night that a woman in another room, in some other hall, would be receiving the lungs. I thought then about how so many lives would be saved by the unexpected loss of one.

And, so we waited, in the hospital waiting rooms that, by now, had grown as familiar to me as a relative’s apartment. And, the staff let us sleep on the couches, though we could not. And, then, there was a different kind of waiting, while the surgery went on.

The next day, when my father was placed in the step-down unit, we were able to go in once we had suited up, covering almost every surface of our skin to keep out any toxins that were on it. It was an odd family portrait—my father hooked up to IVs and my mother, sister, and I wearing shower caps, gloves and masks, but we were intact and it felt like the hardest part just might be behind us.

I would have to go back to work, and my day-to-day life soon, but not then. That day, close friends of my parents brought us bags of food to eat in the waiting room. And, my best friend, an ophthalmologist, came by to keep us company and give my mother a much needed eye exam—the stress of everything had caused some blood vessels in her eye to burst. As for me, I stared at my book, turning the same phrases over and over in my head, searching for meaning, not in a metaphorical sense. Quite literally, I couldn’t focus on anything. This went on for days.

I’ve heard that a crisis brings out the best in people. I’m not sure I agree. Rather, I think that you become more of who you already are. There’s a challenge, as it were, and you rise to it.

There’s no denying it, from start to finish, I changed. In the immediate aftermath, it wasn’t necessarily in the best of ways—after so much time waiting by the phone and thinking that time was so limited, I forgot what it was like to be spontaneous, to not have to account for every hour. I was skittish, just plain tired all of the time, and at times angry at everything. I’d like to think that those days are past me. I’d like to think, too, that they’ve made me more empathetic towards others.

I’ve been humbled by the past few years. Yes, that’s a good phrase. I’ve been humbled. I’ve realized that I can’t do things alone, and there’s no shame in asking for help—or asking something of someone.

And, so, I’m asking.

Hopefully not for me, not for my family, but maybe for one of yours. Sign up to be an organ donor.

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Anatomy of a storm.

What happens is this: First, there’s the sense of panic. It’s physical, and you find yourself short of breath although you’ve been in one place. You’re gasping for air, bit by bit in shallow swallows. You need to get home immediately. Except that home is more than three thousand miles away, and you’ve had several flights cancelled already.

Instead, it’s a grey day in London and getting colder and by the time that you get back to your friend’s house, it’s only a few short hours before the storm is predicted to make landfall. So, you do the only thing that you can from afar: check in with your family to make sure that they’re prepared.

It happens just as your father is reassuring you and telling you that everyone will be okay. It is a sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Like thunder and every dish you’ve ever owned breaking and walls coming down and splitting apart. It is a tree falling through the side of the house where your parents live.

After that, things happen quickly, and off screen. You can hear the wind and the fireman who has arrived at the house, but as you stare through your FaceTime app, all you can see is darkness. Next, they’re evacuating and you’ll have to wait as they drive to your grandmother’s house in winds that were strong enough to fell a tree that’s been on the property more than sixty years.

So, you wait, hoping to hear that they’ve made it safely. Time moves interminably slow. In the meantime, trying to deal with the mess of your lost luggage if only to distract yourself from the fact that the storm is getting closer and closer to land and they’re still out on the road. It doesn’t work.

When you receive word that they’re arrived in one piece, you attempt to sleep, only managing a few short fitful hours, haunted by the sound of all of the breaking. When you wake up, the storm is still raging on another coast, and you begin scouring the internet obsessively again, trying to find out whatever you can. It doesn’t look good: A transformer has exploded, leaving large swaths of Manhattan, including where you live, in the dark, and Manhattan is completely cut off from the rest of the city. Elsewhere, large stretches of the Jersey shore have washed away and an entire neighborhood in Queens has gone up in smoke.

That morning, when your friend who is unexpectedly hosting you for an undefined period of time asks about your family, you break down in tears. As far as you know, the house is gone, and you are completely stranded. You’re dripping wet, having just showered and idea of simply getting dressed, let alone going to another friend’s house, is too much to bear. She takes the morning off of work and sits with you, so you won’t be alone and tells you to stay where you are. You’re overwhelmed, with the loss and the unknowing, yes, but also with the act of kindness. You don’t know what to say. So you sit and stare off into the distance, feeling further from home than you’ve ever been.

You start to see reports that the worst is over, and again, you’re waiting, this time until it’s a more reasonable time to call your family in New York to make sure that they’re okay. You last until 7 am EST, when you wake up your sister who is one of the luckier ones—trapped in Manhattan. She calls your parents with you on the phone, since you can’t call the states on your phone. As she holds the corded phone up to her iPad so that you can hear your father speak, you think, this would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. You start to hear responses from the roll call you sent out to your friends. They’ve made it through.

You attempt to sleep, unsuccessfully. Throughout the day and the week that follows, you’ll speak to your sister every few hours. After the initial shock has subsided, you’ll start to catalog things in the house, that are likely lost—your birth announcement, her research, all of your mother’s work and projects for her classroom and your father’s stamp collection. Ultimately, it’s just a list of stuff, but this is also the house you grew up in, and the one your parents live in still. It’s filled with memories, including one of your family huddling together in the house twenty five years earlier as Hurricane Gloria raged on.

When it’s late in the day, you think that maybe, just maybe you’ll be able to sleep that night. No day will be as bad as this one, and although it will be days before you can go home, it’s true. Elsewhere, there are people who have lost their lives, whose homes have washed away or burned to the ground. For now, your family and friends are all accounted for.

You finally make it out on Friday, six days after your flight was originally scheduled to depart. The flight that ultimately sticks is the fifth one that you’ve been placed on.

As your plane circles New York, preparing to land, you’re shaking again. You’re almost back and it feels as if you’ve been gone far too long. You’ll have to wait to go back to your home, as your neighborhood is still without power. And, instead of the usual twenty minutes to get from the airport to Manhattan, it takes many hours. On the way, you see people waiting in lines that span city blocks simply to get on a bus. And, when your bus stops on East 39th Street, you see that the north side of the street is completely illuminated while the south side and beyond has been plunged into darkness.

Still, you’re in New York. And, a day later, the tree has been removed from your parents’ house and it has been pronounced salvageable. It may take months or a year, but it’s there. As are all of you. And, ultimately you feel lucky, because you have so much, when others have so little.

To help with the relief efforts, there are many charities accepting donations, including The Mayor’s Fund and The Red Cross.

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My Friends are Talented

My food photos are, well, lacking.

However, I have friends who are talented.

Although the Third Annual Indian Summer Picnic is a distant memory and the recaps are [finally] done, there are still photos to remember it by.

Feast your eyes on them…

.then give me some ideas of what I should add to the menu next year.

To access all of the recipes, click here.

All photos courtesy of Michael Landry

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Apple Flavored Everything

As it turns out, a half bushel of apples is quite heavy. As in, 26 pounds heavy.

This one was delicious.

There were four of us apple picking, which meant that I got six and a half pounds worth. six and a half pounds! For those of you keeping track, that’s quite a lot of fruit.

And, while normally I would have been thrilled with this quantity, I was leaving the country two days later. So, while I should have been packing, I was making a variation of this, flavored this time with roasted garlic because I had four heads of garlic in my refrigerator that I had to find something to do with before I left so that they wouldn’t go to waste. There was apple butter, too and cookies, lots and lots of cookies.

There are no sweeping themes that follow. There’s all of the last minute packing still to be done and a need on my part to make sure that every last food item in my apartment has been cooked and stored before I depart (what? you don’t do that?). There are recipes. They’re worth making even if you’re not trying to use all of the perishable items in your house before you go away for almost two weeks(!).

Apple Butter
8-10 apples, peeled and cored (I used a mix)
1 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups water

Place all of the ingredients into a dutch oven and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until the apples have softened. Take off the heat and blend with an immersion blender, until the apple sauce is completely smooth. Return to a low heat and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half of its volume and has turned a caramel color. Taste, adding sugar to achieve your desired sweetness.

Apple Spice Cookies
Recipe courtesy of Gale Gand

If you’re making the apple sauce yourself, be sure to cool it before adding it to the creamed butter and sugar so that the mixture doesn’t melt.

Your resulting cookies will be light and cake like and would be delicious as the base of whoopie pies, if you’re into that sort of thing.

2 cups flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup applesauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream the butter and brown sugar. Then add the eggs and applesauce mixing well. Gradually add the dry ingredients and raisins to make dough.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheets, then bake until light golden brown, about ten minutes.

Allow to cool before serving.

Makes 60-75 cookies


This recipe makes more apple sauce then you need for the cookies—if you want less, simply halve the proportions
6 apples, peeled and cored
1 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cinnamon

Place the apples in a saucepan with the water, sugar, and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Then, turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the apple pieces start to break down. Add in the cinnamon and then blend the sauce with an immersion blender until it is smooth.

Makes approximately two cups

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