The Vile Guide to Preserving Our Planet

Happy December, Readers! It’s sixty-goddamn-two degrees in New York right now. That ain’t right. Oh sure, plenty of people are rejoicing in the glory of all this warmth. Men, women, and children, walking the streets in their bathing suits opening up fire hydrants to play in.

I feel differently. This is alarming and terrifying.

I feel passionate about the environment and do my best to consciously live Green. I want to share a few notes on little things I’ve seen lately and my feelings on the topic:

Littering makes me want to commit murder. Clean and tidy bloodless murder. This isn’t 1956, how are there still people incapable of finding a wastebasket?


Support the troops? That’s awesome. Take a military shower. Two minutes? Less? Whatever it is, shorten your shower time. You’re probably not that dirty.

Or are you the asshole who “needs” two showers a day? More? Do you work in a coal mine? Are you a prostitute? I don’t think so, asshole. This isn’t China, you germaphobe. There aren’t guys outside with a vacuum cleaner making bricks of smog.

Brush your teeth with the water running? You should be punched point blank in the molars for your egregious indifference.

Or do you run your dishwasher and washing machine with just a few items inside? What the fuck is wrong with you? Where do you think all that water comes from?

Worse, do you use a bath towel once and throw it in the hamper because it’s now “dirty”? Yes, dirty with your ignorance. Are you unaware of the purpose of showers?

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Gotta have that cute $7 top from H&M? Fuck that. Disposable clothing and it’s weight upon the environment, not to mention textile industries in developing nations is monstrous. Save your money to buy quality clothes that will last years.

People who expect plastic bags for every single purchase. The expectation has become so engrained in cashiers that they will bag a toothpick. Or my favorite, double bagging. Are you purchasing loose razor blades? No!

Buy one of these right now: or buy a bunch and give them to your careless friends. These reusable bags weigh nothing, yet carry up to 44lbs, and consume zero space in your purse or your big stupid car.

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Here’s a blurb from their site about the impact of plastic bags upon our environment:

 “One-use plastic bags & bottles take years to photo-degrade, they clog drains, cause flooding, pollute rivers, streams and oceans, kill animals and destroy plant life. There exists a ‘plastic island’ approximately 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast made up of 9 billion pounds of plastic garbage and it’s reported to be growing.”

Did you catch that? Let me reiterate: a “Plastic Island” the size of my home state RHODE ISLAND.

Poland Spring? Dasani? Aquafina? Whatever your wasteful landfill-clogging brand is, get a goddamn glass and reuse it. Over and over and over again.

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Use bottled water because you’re grossed out by tap water? How ironic. Pick up a Brita Pitcher and know that ONE filter makes your tap water taste like liquid magic and for every filter you’re keeping 300 plastic bottles out of the landfill.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 11.53.52 AMNeed the air conditioner flipped on in November because you feel hot? Maybe you feel hot because you “need” the fucking air conditioning on in November! Take your pants off!

Need the heat on in May because you’re a delicate flower? Put some pants on!


That seemingly insignificant cardboard toilet paper roll? Put that in the paper recycling, stupid.

Are you in your own home yet eat off disposable plates? You’re an animal. An animal who likes to play make-believe “picnic”. Never buy that shit again. Buy a set of dishes, you wasteful bastard.

Own an SUV? Sucks that your commute requires off-roading. Oh, wait, it doesn’t? Compensate someplace else and trade in that oversized extension of your would-have-been-adult-sized penis.


As President Obama says, “climate change is real and it’s all our fucking fault.”

I’m paraphrasing.  He writes:

“Just about every scientist outside the White House believes climate change is real, is serious, and is accelerated by the continued release of carbon dioxide. If the prospect of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, changing weather patterns, more frequent hurricanes, more violent tornadoes, endless dust storms, decaying forests, dying coral reefs, and increases in respiratory illness and insect-born diseases – if all that doesn’t constitute a serious threat, I don’t know what does.”


Recycling, conserving water, fuel, and energy aren’t difficult. Ignorance is one thing, but I’m certain everyone is aware of what they need to do to preserve our lush green Earth.

And if you just don’t care, then come with me down this darkened alleyway. I have a surprise for you.


Chau, LisaThe Wasteful Culture of Forever 21, H&M, and ‘Fast Fashion’., September 21, 2012
Rosenthal, Elizabeth‘Fast Clothes’ vs. ‘Green Clothes’. NY Times Article. January 24, 2007.
Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts of Reclaiming The American Dream. Crown Publishers, 2006.
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A Shiksa’s Guide
to Yom Kippur

So, you’re feeling a little in the dark about what your Jewish friends are up to today. You’re wondering what exactly is Yom Kippur. My marriage to a nice Jewish boy has taught me a thing or two about the traditions. This Tuesday, October 11th at sunset Yom Kippur begins. Allow me explain what I’ve learned from my Jewish in-laws about the highest of High Holidays.

Yom means “day,” kippur means “atone”. Day of atonement. With me so far?

Save yourself the trouble of sounding like an uncultured fool; Yom Kippur is pronounced yum kip-POUR not yaahm kippER. If you grew up in New England like me, you dropped the ‘r’ altogether. Or if you grew up in, say, South Dakota you didn’t pronounce it at all since there are literally no Jews living there.*

Not unlike how Ash Wednesday precedes Easter, Rosh Hashanah is the pre-requisite to Yom Kippur, which falls after The 10 Days of Repentance. However judging by my reform in-laws: repent, don’t repent, who’s keeping track?

This is the holiest day of the year. The Sabbath of all Sabbaths. And speaking of the Sabbath, it begins each Friday at sundown until the following sundown on Saturday evening. In fact, Jewish traditions are really into dusk. If you lost your invitation, chances are the party starts when the streetlights turn on.

Jewish tradition states that beginning on Rosh Hashanah, God determines the person’s fate for the coming year in The Book of Life, and “seals” the deal on Yom Kippur, vis-à-vis you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why.

Folks, Yom Kippur is not for the faint of heart. Or stomach for that matter. At sundown (catching on?), practicing Jews begin fasting for 25 hours. That’s right, no food, no snacks, no Cheetos, no vodka sodas, no nothing. It’s like Lent, but crammed into one day. While Christians skip red meat and abstain from chocolate or booze for six weeks, Yom Kippur is the fast-track (see what I did there?) to atoning and making amends. During that time you’re meant to reflect upon the year; really put some thought into those times you were an unpleasant inconsiderate asshole to others and, of course, to God. Impatient with your mother, unbearable to your employees, screwed your next-door neighbor; whatever your sins, stew in it for a full day, think of how to improve, and hope to be forgiven. It’s also a day of a hefty amount of prayer, five prayer services for those serious about their high holiday.

If you’re going to skip meals for a full rotation of the Earth there must be a silver lining. As I mentioned in my Guide to Rosh Hashanah, Jewish holidays are all about the food and the cuisine for Yom Kippur is stellar. Who likes bagels? Because you break your fast with breakfast for dinner!

Be kind to the fasters in your life on this Yom Kippur. Atoning on an empty stomach is hard. Pro tip: Shiksa Ladies, if you’re engaged to a Jewish guy, mazel tov, but don’t get married in early-October. Sure, the autumn leaves are beautiful and the weather is just right so you don’t sweat in your wedding dress. But trust me, every few years, Yom Kippur will land on your anniversary and you’ll question why you ever married this low blood-sugared hangry monster. Same goes for the fellas.

Thus concludes your primer to Yom Kippur. Now, excuse me while I toast my poppy seed bagel.

*According to the Jewish Virtual Library, as of 2012 South Dakota is home to only 345 Jewish people.

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A Shika’s Guide to
Rosh Hashanah

I married a nice Jewish boy and over the years have been fascinated to learn the Jewish traditions and partaking in holidays I previously mispronounced: Yom Kippur (pronounced yom kih’POUR), for example, spoken with a Rhode Island accent sounds like, “yaahm kippah”. If you’re new to Jewish holidays or have simply wondered what they’re all about, let me guide you through what I’ve learned about Rosh Hashanah with my husband’s family. They’re mostly reform or what he refers to as Judaism-lite, so I’ve delved further into TRADITION!

Rosh Hashanah translated from the Hebrew literally means, “the head of the year”. It is the Jewish New Year celebrating the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. It is meant to emphasize the relationship between God and humanity. Trade in your English Happy New Year for the Hebrew L’shana tovah meaning “for a good year”.

Members of the Tribe don’t use B.C. or A.D. as they operate off a lunar calendar, not unlike the Babylonians or Ancient Greeks. As the moon orbits around the Earth, so do the dates of the lunar calendar. This year, the first night of Rosh Hashanah falls on October 2nd. The Hebrew year will be 5777. Once you’ve picked up your lotto ticket with a year number like that, we may begin.

The party starts promptly at sundown, making for the common joke among revelers scrambling to leave their nine-to-five call it “Rush-a Home-a” [insert laugh track here]. It begins with the local synagogue sounding off the shofar, a hollowed ram’s horn. Customs vary, but typically most communities sound the shofar 100 times in the course of the holiday. The shofar symbolizes the trumpet blast to celebrate the ceremony of crowning a king and also “awaken” you to your sins and bad habits. Sound familiar?

The festivities for Rosh Hashanah last for two full days, beginning and ending at sundown, making your standard Gregorian New Years seem like child’s play. However, this is not so much a drunken 48-hour bender or a wake-up-soaked-in-vodka-next-to-a-stranger type of holiday. Instead, it’s a gathering with family and the start of a week-and-a-half long stint called The Ten Days of Repentance. This time is meant for examining one’s behavior, partaking in self-reflection, and overall remembering to not be a dick. Ironic, of course, since December 31 draws the most hideous behavior out of the woodwork. I don’t know about your city, but the additional one million over-served amateur drinkers meandering around Manhattan, vomiting on our subways and pissing on our streets presents a less than godly disposition.

I’m only keen on the High Holy Days; the biggies, like your Easter or Christmas, or for me personally, Halloween; but in actuality you can’t swing a dead cat at a calendar without hitting a Jewish holiday. Here’s a handy site if you don’t believe me: Rosh Hashanah ties to two other Jewish events. You now know the Jewish New Year is followed by the Ten Days of Repentance. Following that, the holiest of all Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur.

Most Jewish holidays are all about food and Rosh Hashanah is no different. My husband explains how the practices of the holidays can be summed with this charming common phrase: They tried to kill us. We got away. Let’s eat!

On this holiday, families gather for a dinner at home with a menu offering sweets like apples dipped in honey to symbolize a “sweet new year”. My in-laws serve baked chicken with apricots and prunes, an absolutely delicious dish — email me for the recipe. Pomegranate is also consumed, its seeds symbolizing the number of good deeds one will do in the coming year.

Jewish holidays include wine, a fair bit of it. The traditional Rosh Hashanah dinner begins by sanctifying the day, declaring it holy with a cup of wine and a prayer called the Kiddush. If wine isn’t your bag, grape juice is a common substitute.

There’s challah bread, a carb-cocaine, if you will. Challah is a braided egg bread baked with a touch of honey giving it a subtle sweetness complementing the theme of a sweet new year. Whether you’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah or not, I highly recommend seeking out a loaf of challah at your local bakery. Be sure to keep up appearances on your Jewish foods knowledge: it’s pronounced “holla” like Hollaback Girl and makes for amazing French toast once the holiday is over.

And finally, an in-depth discussion about football and how the Jets are going to choke again this season [unsure if that last one is part of the ancient traditions — will research!].

There are many customs and traditions associated with Rosh Hashanah depending on what different families follow. This was just a sweet taste of the New Year. Now, go forth and be merry and try not to a dick this year. Happy 5777 and l’shana tovah!!!

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Lost & Found

Fun fact: a switchblade against your throat is a really fast way to sober up.

I live uptown in a peaceful little nook of Washington Heights. We are not the tourist destination of New York City, we’re not even on the double decker tour bus map. Seriously, those maps curve off at 135th St, there’s some water, and then boom, Yankee Stadium. We are that geographically irrelevant. So the people in my neighborhood actually live there. I know my neighbors. I know the shop owners in the area and they know me. It’s crazy, but people do things in my neighborhood like say, “good morning.” I love my safe quiet corner of this island.

A few years back, my husband went out town and I’d have the place to myself for a week. That first night he was away I made plans to do whatever the hell I wanted. I met up with friends for a few of liters of vodka.

At the end of the night, I poured myself out of a cab and teetered to the front door of my building. I noticed a man walking behind me and since there’s not a damn thing to do in my neighborhood, he was likely a neighbor I hadn’t met yet.

I did the polite neighborly thing and held the door for him. He smiled warmly and thanked me and I wandered over to the mailboxes. While crouched down, doing the one-eye drunk thing trying to get the damn key into the hole, I suddenly felt the weight of someone on my back and cold metal against my neck. It was my neighbor, or as it turned out, some stranger I willingly invited into my building.  As he pressed me against the wall and tugged at my purse, I thought you’re barkin up the wrong tree, I never carry cash. My wallet had a smattering of gift cards from the previous Christmas and whopping eleven dollars.

I had lived in the city for fifteen years at that point and expected eventually I’d get mugged. It can happen to anyone, but physically I’m not a small human being so I envisioned being like those women you see on elevator footage who flip their attacker over onto the ground. Makes perfect sense because I have absolutely zero training in martial arts. Instead, I was completely submissive and handed over everything.

I spent the night at the local precinct where a small army of cops questioned me. I could tell they knew I had been drinking, so I felt like this was my fault. Eventually around 6am they said I was free to go and drove me home.

In the coming weeks, I replaced my purse and my wallet. My phone, my driver’s license, insurance card, credit card, debit card, bought new stamps, lipstick, chapstick, travel toothbrush, sunglasses, started fresh with the punch card from my favorite coffee place, new Metrocard, new work ID. The whole thing cost me much more than the $11 that guy got away with. It changed my relationship, my husband now wanted to know where I was and if I was safe. I felt like he was treating me like a child, but he was just so scared it would happen again. I now looked over my shoulder, never fully at ease. It cost me my sense of trust in my neighborhood, in my home.

A year passed, I got home one night and found an envelope shoved under my front door. Inside was a rotted weather-beaten driver’s license. I could barely make it out, the address was completely worn away, but the face on that license was mine. And the note inside said, Sarah Sweeney if you still live here, call us at this number.

I freaked out, pacing my living room trying to think of why someone would contact me like this. If there’s a Mugger Playbook this was the ultimate long game! He got his initial $11 and Old Navy gift card and now he’s checking my address to get $11 more dollars and perchance a gift card to… Banana?

But, I called the number because I mean, c’mon.

A middle aged sounding guy picked-up.
Hi, um, you left my driver’s license?

He handed the phone to someone else in the room and this confident tiny voice got on, “Hello?! Are you Sarah Sweeney? I’m Danielle! Me and my sister found your purse in the woods!! It was gross we left it there, but we have your wallet! Are you OK? Is it really you?!”

I could tell she was jumping up and down as she spoke.

She and her younger sister made a proper excavation project of my wallet, carefully unfolding wet receipts and bits of paper that endured the elements for the last year, drying them, and piecing together the clues to find me and return my wallet and everything inside. I was completely awestruck. They were giving me a sense of relief. They were giving me closure.

I asked her, “how can I repay you?”
“Hang on!” She pulled the phone away and conferenced with her sister; I then pulled the phone away from my ear because all I heard was the piercing sound of “ICE CREAM!!!!!”

Twenty minutes later, I was at their door. I handed over a bag of ice cream, half a dozen flavors. And these two little girls handed over my wallet and a renewed sense of humanity.

The contents of my wallet including, yes, my Barbie License to Have Fun. Shut up.
The contents of my wallet including, yes, my Barbie License to Have Fun card. Shut up.

[I told this story on 8/25/16 at The Moth in Harlem’s National Black Theater.]

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The Great Earthquake of 2011

Five years ago today, a devastating earthquake overtook the northeast. Tens of lives were briefly effected. At the time of the event, I was up on a ladder painting my living room from a pale blue to a pale green. Both colors, I would learn in the coming weeks, were a mistake. I had a late lunch in my pj’s and bits of Benjamin Moore’s Apple Blossom smeared on my knees. I flipped on the local news channel, NY1 and was aghast to learn I had unknowingly survived the natural disaster.


Let’s take a look back on the updates I posted back then:

Six out of seven NY1 viewers own a chandelier; four out of five believe in ghosts.

Another shaken victim was ironing when the quake occurred. She unplugged the iron and turned on the tv. She thanks god for her survival.

While playing Halo on his xbox, one young man had to press pause because he experienced dizziness. #earthquake

Watching the news and hearing the harrowing tales of victims across the city. One woman was applying her make-up when it happened!

Based on NY1 viewer response of those whom experienced the earthquake from their bed, I can deduce the unemployment rate of NYC is at 93%.

This Just In: 87-year-old Ed Koch is OK. I repeat, Ed Koch is OK.*
*Ed Koch was NYC’s mayor from 1978-1989. He passed away in 2013. His death was not directly related to the earthquake of 2011.

Marie of Staten Island assumed there was an opossum under her bed. Thankfully it was only a raccoon. #WTFStatenIsland?

NY1 reports that Delia of New Dorp was awoken from her nap. Truly, only time will heal a tragedy this great.



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The Law Offices of Paranoia & Sons*


One of my first jobs was at a certain daytime talk show famous for their paternity tests. Working there was depressing; it sucked the soul from me. But thankfully, it forced me pursue what I really wanted: voiceover acting. Consider this, I could look like any morbidly obese pajama-wearing tranny with a dozen baby daddy possibilities and still make a paycheck in the “Industry” so as long as my voice sounded nice. Perfect. So I began looking through the most reputable place where I could certainly find an honest job. I’m sure you’re all thinking the same thing my 22-year-old self was, Craigslist!

I found a listing right away; a startup company wanting to record on-hold messages, the “thank you for holding, your call is important to us…” I thought great! I can do that. I replied to the ad and got a response immediately! It was a guy named Charles who wrote, “I like what I hear, my friend’s apartment has a sound studio. Would you like to come by next week to record?” In retrospect, I was likely the only thing he heard but I didn’t care! I was on top of the world! I felt great… until I told another human being.

My office friend Dave was a reasonable grown-up to me, his thirty to my twenty-two gave him all sorts of life experience. So when he repeated back, “OK, you met a guy on Craigslist who wants to take you to his friend’s apartment that has a sound-proof room? Wait, don’t tell me, I know the name of this movie.” Fine. I hadn’t considered any of the repercussions, namely the high potential of cold-blooded murder.

In the days leading up to the “recording session,” it became a joke around the office. “It’ll be a meat locker with a bunch of frozen voiceover actresses, Sarah!” Naturally, all of this wove into my brain and I began to realize this probably was an elaborate ruse to lure idiot Craigslisters into their kill room. Nevertheless, my 22-year-old-self was willing to risk death because this is what New Yorkers do, right? They take risks! … Right?

I decided if this turned out to be the worst decision I ever made, I didn’t want to become a cold case murder opened for decades. I wanted to ensure my mother had closure. So I concocted a brilliant plan: if I was mangled and dismembered, the police would have a hard time identifying me UNLESS I left them a clue. Naturally, I wrote my social security number in very small print hidden on my thigh. You’re welcome NYPD! Now you’ll piece together the puzzle that is my chopped up body. Brilliant! [I majored in communications, cut me some slack.]

Recording session day finally arrived and I met Charles at his friend’s apartment building. Charles turned out to be a middle-aged little Irish guy. Not just short, but little. If this went down badly, I thought, maybe I could take ’em. We shook hands and he turned to the glass door behind him at street level and invited me into his friend’s “apartment,” which was by no means an apartment. Instead, it was a vacant storefront. I felt the panic start to rise in my chest but followed him inside anyway.

Charles locked the door behind him and said in his Irish lilt, “won’t you head down to the basement? That’s where the studio is.” And of course it’s in the goddamn basement. My pulse began to quicken. Leave, leave, leave! I told myself. Ohh but I was a trusting young thing and kept going.

As I walked down the dark narrow staircase I could hear the sound Dave’s voice, “they won’t even have a microphone, Sarah.” I reached the bottom step and at that moment began having trouble breathing. As I got my bearings I saw the sound studio at the far end of the basement. Not unlike this so-called “apartment” this was not a sound studio at all. It was a storage space. A storage space with concrete walls and a door 10” thick. Charles followed behind me and ushered me into and the little room. As I looked around, to my horror I quickly realized… no microphone, no equipment, no nothing. Just a damp barren room with a mishmash of tools hanging on the wall. Charles spoke in his singsong accent, “my sound guy is running late. Have a seat then and we can practice for a while.” Thanks for humoring me, Charlie. I really appreciate that.

I sat alone with Charles under the single light bulb hanging from the ceiling of the kill room for what seemed like eternity when an older man peeked in through the door. I thought, I get it now, you’re the killer and Charles is the Craigslist mastermind. He introduced himself as Dave Berkowitz and confidently held up his recording equipment. It was a 1990’s cassette player with a red record button on top. This was either the lowest-budget production or their murder microphone was already rented out. Two against one, my odds were nil. I decided I’d have a fighting chance if I didn’t lead on that I knew their game. Despite my inevitable untimely death, I politely recorded their “You’ve reached the Law offices of Fucking Terrified and Sons…” What better time to mind your manners than when you know you have minutes to live.

I worked up the courage to take a shot at freedom checking my watch, “oh, gosh! My lunch hour is over, I need to get back.” The two of them slowly raised their eyes from their scripts and exchanged a long silent look. The older man simply gave Charles a nod. Oh god, I thought, this is it. It’s over and I’ve walked right into this. What have I done with my life? Charles then spoke, “Off you go, then. We can pick up next week” and before I knew it I was outside on the street again unharmed, unscathed, and intact. I practically sprinted back to work, my heart leaping out of my chest finally catching my breath again.

I’m grateful basement-recording jobs for law firms torn out of the phone book didn’t become my norm. And I wish I could tell you my twenty-two year old self didn’t make more potentially dangerous decisions, but in this case, I’m happy I lived to tell the tale.

*This story was performed before a live audience on May 7, 2012 at the Magnet Theater hosted by Adam Wade. It won the Moth StorySLAM on May12, 2016 when told at the Housing Works Bookstore in NYC hosted by Dan Kennedy.
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Tell It To The Moth

Last night I took a shot at the Moth. Are you guys familiar with The Moth? It’s a global storytelling collective with shows, competitions, and a podcast. Last night’s show, held at the Housing Works Bookstore on Crosby St. in Manhattan, featured none other than yours truly.

The theme of the evening was Escape and if you’re an avid reader of this blog, then you’re well aware of the bizarre circumstances I have found myself in over the years. The Moth StorySLAM show was recently featured on HBO’s Girls so the line was wrapped around the block when I arrived. My friend Richard came along as moral support. He also promised that if I absolutely bombed, he wouldn’t tell a soul. I worked up the courage and threw my name in the Moth hat. And by “hat” I mean canvas totebag, but who’s counting?


Ten people are selected to share their story on stage and at the end of the show, through some statistical miracle, I heard the host say, “next up, Sarah Sweeney.” I got up on stage and told my tale of Escape. That glorious voiceover job I booked off Craigslist when I was twenty-two. You know, the one that recorded in the basement of the vacant storefront in midtown? Yeah. I’m smarter now, promise.

A fabulously tall woman named Angela snapped this photo and posted it on Instagram which I found later that night as I searched my name in hopes of the AP breaking a news story about the best creepiest Moth story ever told.


It went really well. So well, in fact, that when the judges tallied up the scores and announced the winner; it was me. I called my mom on my walk home from the subway to tell her the good news. I don’t think she’s ever been prouder. To be fair, it’s been a while since she got to play her Beaming Mom Card.

As a “Moth StorySLAM Champion,” it’s a thrill to now be listed among the annals of storytellers like Adam Wade, Ophira Eisenberg, and Carrie Brownstein. Now cross your fingers it lands on their podcast. I’d love for you to hear it.



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Acknowledge the Bears

You only have to spend a little bit of time on the subway to know mental health should be a major priority in this country. Some days, a person playing a game on their phone with the sound cranked up to eleven is enough to make me want to murder them and their entire family. And technically, I’m sane.

Heading out for the day I considered getting off the subway one stop early to avoid the sexually verbal wrath of a guy racing up and down the train car. He shouted, among other things, for everyone to individually suck his dick. If you are planning a trip to New York, don’t fret, subway fare has indeed increased recently, but not blowjob-expensive. He was bonkers enough that, in an extremely rare moment, I did not feel safe despite the dozens of other riders. I rationalized staying onboard until my actual destination because surely if anything happened, a good person would step in and help right away, right?

Cut to my return home several hours later during rush hour. A massively large man entered the train car; his head skimming the ceiling as he ducked in and cozied up next to me. He wedged himself in the middle seat and perched in such a way that I had enough room: an infrequent courtesy from someone of his size to be aware of the proportionately tiny person next to him. His knees and feet naturally protruded halfway across the width of the car. In general, unusually tall people fascinate me. I have an Australian friend who is a lanky 6’4”; an absolute delight if you’re ever looking for him in a crowd or need him to reach something for you upstairs. On the subway, in contrast, no thanks. You people rub against me and take up all the room. All of it!

Once the giant settled, I returned to my book while he peacefully read his tiny-by-comparison newspaper. Until we hit 59th Street. For those of you outside of New York, the uptown A runs express from 59th Street to 125th Street, which takes about eight minutes. Passengers boarded, the doors closed, the quiet murmur of two hundred commuters shoved into the steel canister resumed. And suddenly:

“Get your hands out my face! Get your hands out my face!” belligerent screaming began. Two women on the crowded train skirmishing over the lack of allotted space. Someone’s foot was stepped on or the like. Initially, no one batted an eyelash until it just didn’t stop.

The desperately aggressive screaming escalated. The women moved from shouting to threats and soon onto shoving. And no one did any damn thing. Young men, mostly, gathered around them like it was a high school cafeteria. They took video and instigated, “Fight! Fight! Fight!” And allowed this violence to unfold without intervening. 

For a heroic nanosecond I thought, I’ll get up and help calm these ladies down, but then I remembered I can’t even deal with a paper cut, so this felt out of my realm of comfort. And really, rationalizing with people in such a state is futile, at least with my level of negotiation experience.

Once on a trip to Washington State, my husband and I went hiking on Tiger Mountain. His sister, who we were in town visiting, dropped us off at the base by the trail. “Just follow the path and you’ll be fine,” and if we got lost, “there’d be plenty of other hikers to lead us back on track.” As we progressed higher and farther the path felt more like the road not taken. We made a wrong turn somewhere and who could tell when? Our cell phones no longer had service, we had packed one granola bar each, and at that point we started thinking about bears. Do bears, like me, enjoy eating granola bars more than people? Where were the other hikers to lead us down the right path? It was late-morning on a Wednesday; there were no other hikers. The other hikers were at their cool Seattle tech jobs.

We walked in silence, in part to avoid drawing attention to ourselves from said unseen bears; and also to contain our morbid fear of getting mauled by a bear or bears.

We reached a waterfall and rapids where the bridge had been dismantled. Our conversation returned as our plight became more dire and ridiculous. My husband Jon, a city boy through and through, joked that he didn’t know the wilderness. “I can reason with a crack addict with a knife. But a bear? No, ma’am!” And this subway catfight situation seemed similar to reasoning with a couple of crazy bears.

Ten years ago it would have felt like a basic posturing. Two disenfranchised angry young women who need to shout and shove one another in a show of dominance or whatever physical fighting does to satisfy people. Now, however, with the countless incidents of gun violence, people felt uncomfortable. Including me.

It’s about eight minutes from station to station, which led to eight minutes of collectively thinking please may no one have a gun, please may no one have a gun.

My heart pounded as the women’s threats and the Fight! Fight! chanting grew louder. I gave up my seat to file towards the back of the car away from the shitshow with the other reasonable people. The young guys snagged the empty seats to stand on for a better view.  From afar, I watched my giant pretend to ignore the hubbub behind his newspaper until he let his head drop with a tired sigh as though his impressive size burdens him into playing bouncer more often than he’d like. He closed his tiny newspaper and ambled down the car easily parting the sea of bloodthirsty passengers.  

I couldn’t see the women over the masses of people, some hanging on the poles and perched up high on the seats, but when he reached the women everything fell silent. He leaned over and quietly spoke to them just as the train pulled into 125th St. The two exited the car together looking far more civil than I’d ever expect. And my giant? He vanished with the crowd exiting at the stop.

Politeness goes a long way; a simple “excuse me” might have saved this from happening. But above all kindness. Doesn’t kindness towards one another feel completely lost amid our not-so-human nature lately? If we spent more time noticing those around us; noticing so many people who probably just need to be heard and understood and acknowledged, how many arguments could we prevent? How many bears can we reason with just by noticing one another and acknowledging that we’re all wandering aimlessly through the woods together?

[Does this all seem kind of desperate? It is. This presidential election upsets me. Are there that many people who still feel African Americans should be slaves? That Muslims should be forced out of the country based on their religion? Who believe a woman doesn’t have a right to make choices about her own body? I have my choice candidate who I firmly believe to be the best for all of us. All of us who don’t own private jets, that is.]

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When you’re older than twenty-eight and maybe married, there ain’t nothing like a younger man chatting you up at a party. No, wait. There’s nothing like two younger men chatting you up at a party… while your husband obliviously sips scotch ten feet away. Only on rare occasions will the sparkly metal on my left hand and the 6’ tall bearded guy attached to my hip go unnoticed.

At a barbecue in San Diego, my brother-in-law Ben threw a party and invited us while we were in town on vacation. Ben also invited every person he’d ever met including some of the neighborhood kids who had grown up into young college guys.

My husband and I parted ways to mingle amongst the crowd and in short, I felt awkward. At this party, filled with California beach people, I could not have the typical New Yorker conversations. I couldn’t ask what kind of rent they pay on a five-bedroom triplex with a pool overlooking the ocean, much less their dorm room. That seemed rude. I know the California equivalent for complaining about the subway is whining about the highway (or expressways? See, I don’t know). I’d get spotted immediately as my attempts at blending would be like wearing Groucho Marx glasses and asking, “How about that four-hundred-and-five boulevard, hmm?”

As a means to busy myself, I offered to help clear away some empty bottles. My sister-in-law suggested I bring a few dishes over to the kitchen for Jason & Luke* to take care of. Behold, 20-year-old college guys. And they took a shine to me right away. Don’t get me wrong, I had no more intentions than acting coy and politely laughing at Dylan & Brandon’s* dated references to Borat. But I felt pretty cute, so color me fucking flattered, Reader.

*I never actually got their probably-adorable names.

Thanks to a couple beers, I was starting to feel comfortable in my skin again, save for one minor discomfort: the tiny piece of steak wedged between my teeth. I have this nook in my lower right jaw where food bits lodge themselves. And in a public setting, how often is floss on hand? It’s become a joke between the aforementioned 6’ tall bearded guy and me. After minutes of trying to subtly dislodge it with my tongue while keeping up light chitchat with Ian & Austin, I gave up and turned to my husband across the room.

Floss, please,” I requested cutely.

And without a word he approached pulling out his wallet to hand me his New York City subway Metrocard. When bent just so, it slips past the canine tooth harboring the assailing strand of rib eye.

That’s the nice thing about being married to a guy who’s on the same acceptance level of germs.

I will not, for example, sit on a subway seat with even a drop of unknown moisture, but I will eat a Cadbury Mini Egg that has touched the sidewalk for longer than five seconds.

I use handkerchiefs, so on a cold day I’m walking around with a pocketful of dried snot on a bit of linen. But, lip balm in the little tin is horrific to me. Where have your fingers been all day? And then you dip your paw into goo and smear it all over your mouth? That’s the anatomic loading dock for bacteria.

OK, but believe me: I am aware this Metrocard floss tactic may seem moderately icky to a citizen of a first world nation. But calm down, it’s the non-swipe side!

The whole process took a nanosecond. And I returned my husband’s Metrocard in a flash. But alas, despite turning away to perform this makeshift flossing technique sparing the twinkling youthful eyes of Nat and Brian, they knew exactly how I completed my steakectomy. They were utterly disgusted and immediately lost all interest in my sans-steak existence. Feminine mystique now vanished, I was back to making small talk about the #5 freeway with strangers who jog for a living.

[Author’s note: I initially drafted this story five years ago and promise I have reeled in my absolutely disgusting habits when in public places. Please clap?]

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The Antique Percolator

Some months ago my coffeemaker died. I had had it for seven whole years, so I thought that was pretty good and I haven’t found an ideal replacement yet. Since, I’ve been buying a cup from the gourmet market around the corner, ironically the cheapest coffee in the neighborhood: any size at $1.08 before 11am, their dyslexic version of happy hour. Overtime $1.08 adds up, so I planned to make a shopping trip specifically to hunt for a new one when I remembered I had held onto, mostly for sentimental reasons, my grandmother’s General Electric 12-cup percolator.

I’m not sure anyone would consider a coffee maker something to feel sentimental towards, but I have so many memories of waking up after sleepovers at my grandparents’ house and hearing that percolator do its thing. Vivid, in fact, is the memory of throwing my legs over the side of the deep blue sofa bed in their den, careful to avoid the metal mechanism for fear of losing a finger, and running through the living room into their sunny kitchen. The percolator would trill away while my grandfather at the stove made soon-to-be-burned abstract Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes with my grandmother cleaning up behind him (At lunch, she’d make soon-to-be-burned grilled cheeses and him going over their stocks with a fine tooth comb at their hickory kitchen table.)

After breakfast, they’d clean up together; her washing and him meticulously drying and putting away the dishes and the pan where the pancakes were crisped not fifteen minutes ago. They’d finish the washing up, pour another round into their cups with saucers and adjourn to the living room by the great sliding glass door that looked onto the 4th hole of their condominium’s golf course. He would read the newspaper and she would get a decent portion of the crossword puzzle completed before one of them would exchange their coffee cup with the binoculars and proceed to spy on neighbors playing golf.

“Maida is out there again, Bill.”

That golf-hungry Maida.

“Ooh, Bill, she’s with Sophie,” my Peeping Tom grandmother would note.

And the mornings would proceed quietly like this with only the telling of newspaper headlines, golf gossip, and the clinking of their coffee cups.

This morning, I reached the top shelf to take her old percolator out for a spin. It had that film of stickiness that things in the kitchen get when they haven’t been used in years. I disregarded it and began making sense of its internal parts. It doesn’t have any buttons; no automatic shut-off, no programmable timer, no self-cleaner, and none of that single-use throwaway wasteful K-cup crap. Just plain and simple on and off. Having used a drip-coffee maker all of my adult life, the long metal stem and set-up seemed foreign to me. I crossed my fingers when pouring water into the carafe and grounds into the metal filter basket that perched atop the stem, wondering how the water would reach the coffee. It felt good not having a paper filter to throw away at the end of it all. I attached the adaptor, and without hesitation, the little orange light brightened and that old coffee pot got to work making the perfect cup of hot coffee.

It astounds me to think I was impressed by my coffeemaker functioning for seven whole years. Yet, if my math is right, that makes this silver percolator three decades old. If only things were still made that way, built to last.

Meanwhile, my grandmother turned ninety last summer and the women at her assisted living home call her The Dictionary; she’s the only one who can still remember anything. Built to last, indeed.

Dear Reader,
You probably noticed this post is accompanied by the voice of yours truly. In the comments section below, please let me know if you love this idea or find it completely self-indulgent.
Thanks as always for tuning in.

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Observations of the Oblivious

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