Friday, September 22, 2006


Tuesday, September 19, 2006


We never thought this day would come, but Vas is actually getting hitched. We got the warning email today that he has, appropriately, decided to get married on 7/7/07. This is appropriate because 7 is of course one of the numbers that you would like to see in a casino, notably at the Craps table. And if you know Roland and his Texas Hold'm addiction, you would instantly understand ;o) . The best part about Vas getting married is that I will get to experience my fourth international wedding, this one being in Slovakia (Mexico now counts because S&D are getting married by a Mayan shaman, or so they hope). As is typical, I began mentally planning my trip next summer about a minute after getting the email, and it's going to be a tough one. Crap, I have to use how many miles to fly for free?

Crap, I can't figure out my neighbors. They are stumping me. There is an older guy (who calls me Jason or "J", incidently) and a girl (who is also old, though she doesn't seem to think so judging by her choice of clothing) who live there. I frequently see fresh-from-the-ghetto guys leaving her apartment in the morning, I frequently see bikes parked in the hallway in front of the door, I frequently (exaggeration) hear her yelling at the guy from the hallway because he won't let her in. I just assumed she was a prostitute or a raging crack whore. Then I started seeing shady characters standing in the staircase hallway outside of her (and MY) door, calling her from their cellphones and making very defensive comments to me about how they're waiting for someone when I didn't even ask or look at them when walking down the stairs. And then her "friend" who doesn't have a key and who I see looking spaced out while she wanders around the hallway has apparently moved in. So maybe she's a drug dealer. Or, it dawned on me today, maybe she's just a crack head who's picking up from her dealers in my hallway. Or maybe she's completely normal.

J. Riley, only in New York City could/would I have a drug pushing, needle dipping prostitute living next door paying the insane prices we're charged for living 91 blocks from the nexus of the universe.

The Date is Set

November 1st will be the day that I will be re-shaped to allow me to eat a slice of pizza, a sandwich, corn on the cob, etc. Well, after I heal of course!

J. Riley, looking forward to that experience

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Cost of Budgeting

After doing some back-of-the-envelope calculations on my impending surgery, I knew that I'd need to do some serious cost-cutting on luxury items like eating out and gourmet yogurt at the natural food store. As I expected, this second surgery is gonna be like 20 times (slight exaggeration) more expensive and with my insurance up in the air right now (though it has more or less come in for a landing with the arrival of my insurance card), these are times for me being really, really frugal (cheap).

Well, except for going to watch Spamalot on Broadway last Tuesday. That was booked before said back-of-the-envelope calculations were computed. And we got a fantastic deal on the tickets! It's a great show that was precursed not with a $30 theater-district meal, but rather a $10 (combined) plate of pierogis and borscht with uber-frugal Melissa at my favorite Polish restaurant in Brooklyn, a few stops from where I work.

And then Wednesday arrived and I was caught between a rock and a hard place when Paul called me at work and tempted me with an opportunity for immense pleasure watching Jimmy Buffett at Madison Square Gardens the next night. Hello? No brainer! Of course I'm going to see that. But, yowser, that was an expensive treat. I had to hit myself to restart my pulse after he told me the price. I was doubting, doubting, doubting, sold. I spent many years of my life holding my wallet down and missed out on a lot because of it, so there's no reason to skimp on opportunities when they come knocking on the door when I still have positive cash flow. Plus I got to spend an evening with Paul and D before Paul goes back to school this week. As always, Jimmy put on a great 3-hour show with thousands of parrot-heads in the crowd. I really should go experience the Key West lifestyle while I'm out in this side of the country...

Saturday was a big milestone for me and my volunteer troupe. After two-consecutive trips that were total bombs due to one thing or another (and I'd like to think outside of my control), this was going to be a key month. School is back in session, so I was hoping that things would again be predictive and back to normal. I kept the number of volunteers limited this month to make sure that we'd get enough kids to sign up before people committed themselves, and sure enough we had 12 kids coming and only six volunteers early in the week. We were going to a rock-climbing gym, so maybe it was popular with the kids and the volunteers, because as soon as I opened up a few more slots for volunteers, they were snapped up quickly. Until someone cancelled on Friday evening and then someone called in sick Saturday morning. I was stressing out about having too many kids this time, but in the end everything was just fine and we had a great trip doing something that, while not cheap, was something that I hadn't done before. And apparently my body had never experienced such contorsions of my meager frame, either. I've been walking around wincing and with bruised ribs ever since! I picked an easy wall to try first and then, in front of the full crowd, chose a more difficult one that the little kids had little problem with. Apparently they're stronger and more athletic than me. Or should I say "strong" and "athletic", since I am none of the above. I huffed and I puffed and I cheated by pulling on the rope to hoist myself a few inches higher so I could get my foot on the next rock. But, hey, I made it and got down to the ground in a sweaty heap with my upper body twitching and shaking like it was 10 degrees outside and I was in my boxers.

Saturday night, was the massive Triple-E event: Eastern Euro Extravaganza! With many of my friends in grumbling compliance with my birthday wish to leave the island, we headed off on a trip to Astoria, Queens for one of the last Old-World beer gardens in New York. Unfortunately, D was a victum of a certain snarfing-incident and had caught the nasty bug that I'd had the previous week and Paul got the short end of stick when he came down with a stomach infection as a result of a baby pearl lodged in his kidney. There were many people hinting that going to the Polish nightclub (with "dress to impress" standards) at midnight in Brooklyn wasn't exactly on their agenda, but I was still up to the task. But, therein lied a question:

What does one wear to "impress" at a Polish nightclub in Brooklyn? Imagine a ven diagram with four circles (pretend like this isn't a web architecture ven diagram for a minute):

In my ven diagram, my four circles would be as follows:
  1. Brooklyn Style: Known as being uber-hip, where you can wear torn jeans, tight vintage shirts, big belt buckles, and any other kind of clothing one could find at a second-hand store.
  2. Greenpoint (1): An area of Brooklyn that is home to mostly Polish immigrants (and I mean fresh off the boat).
  3. Greenpoint (2): According to my Polish sources, Greenpoints style is approximately a decade behind modern-day Warsaw.
  4. Manhattan Club Style: In Manhattan, "dress to impress" for a club could mean a full on suit.
Add to this the fact that a beer garden in Astoria isn't exactly a place you dress up to go to, and we've got quite a small area of convergence on what is appropriate for Club Exit. I went back and forth on what to wear and decided that vintage yellow and red pumas probably wouldn't "impress", but tight Euro jeans might be acceptable. In the end, everyone at the club was wearing jeans, nice Adidas, and other standard Euro-fare clothing.

In any case, the beer garden was amazing. Next time anyone visits me and it's warm at night (think: September), I am going to take you there. It was totally legit and totally authentic, complete with old men playing cards and drinking imported Czech beer to little kids running around at ten o'clock at night while mom and dad sat with their friends at a bench table enjoying a cold one or four. I know you've heard me say that NYC is very European, but this was the first time I've experienced such an atmosphere without taking an eight-hour flight home.

Being that it was my birthday party, we all enjoyed quite a few pitchers of fresh, tasty Pilsners and Bavarian Dunkel-donker (I made that one up; How else do you describe dark Spaten? ;o). Foolishly, Alan brought up the subject of purchasing me a birthday shot and, clearly under the influence of the dunkel-donker, I asked everyone if they'd ever had a shot of Wild Turkey and lime. I guess I was the only one who had enjoyed such a disgusting sounding, but heavenly tasting, specimen and to my surprise, someone actually brought me a shot of Wild Turkey with a slice of lime. "lime" I meant lime juice! And the next day, I realized that by "Wild Turkey", I actually meant "Southern Comfort". To this hour, I have no idea where I came up with Wile Turkey and Lime. No idea. I don't even like whiskey! SoCo and lime excluded....

With the masses coming up with lame excuses like "I have a baby shower to go to in the morning", "I have other, more important parties to attend", "I have a Liverpool vs. Chelsea soccer match to watch in the morning" (oh wait, that was me), or "my husband is at home with a kidney stone" (ok, that one is excusable), there was an exodus of friends when I announced that we had to depart for the club at once in order to get in at a discounted price. Melissa was a trooper, however, and was up for checking out Club Exit. We got there nice and early (and cheaply) at 11:45 and chilled out on the couches while the Polish rolled in. We discussed the dress-code quandry that I'd faced earlier that night and sat back and analyzed Polish fashion trends from days gone by. Once the dance floor was packed and the Euro-techno was pumping, we danced for a few hours before we got bored and headed back to the homeland in the city.

The next day, after shaking off a Wild Turkey headache and sitting in despair while reading recaps of Liverpool's loss (again) against Chelsea, I got some small things around the house accomplished before starting to plan for the next event of the week - Paul's Going Back to School party at a karaoke place downtown. Sunday nights are super cheap and we had a room for 15 rented out all for ourselves. It's been a while since I've sang out of tune in front of a crowd of people I know, but we had a blast. We were there for about four hours and sang what seemed like a few hundred crowd-favorite songs, plus a few songs that I wanted to sing but nobody wanted to listen to. You mean "Riders on the Storm", with lyrics like "If you give this man a ride sweet Caroline will die, killer on the run" isn't a popular sing-along? And, one thing I've gotta say: I now have tremendous respect for Ringo Starr. I always thought his songs were very monotone, but I actually found "Act Naturally" more difficult to sing than Sweet Child of Mine. We're gonna have to do that again sometime!

J. Riley, for some reason, sleeping sounds really good right now.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Impending Seefood Diet?

My life as an an insured, pensioned employee is slowly coming to fruition after about a month of dealing with my employer's sloth-like Human Resources department. (Un)fortunately, this happened to occur at the same time as I began to plan for the second of my beloved maxillofacial surgeries, which is causing all sorts of problems because I cannot get approval for the surgery without knowing who's insuring me. Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be good to go and ready to get this thing, and the weeklong recovery, marked on my calendar. That's what I have to look forward to! I'm shooting for sometime right at the end of October/beginning of November, hopefully on a Friday so that I can maximize my recovery time and minimize the number of sick days that I have to use. Lord knows I want to avoid having to use vacation time!

Because of the timing of this, I am planning a lovely Thanksgiving dinner of something like puree'd pasta or Jamba Juice at my apartment because I will not be making the haul out to Cali for Turkey Day for the second year in a row. Because of the fact that I'll be on a liquid diet for probably two or three weeks at least, I briefly considered going on a seefood diet - meaning I eat anything I see - from now until the date of the surgery in a desperate attempt to add five (or more) pounds to my meager 155 pound frame. But after debating the positives and negatives of such a diet (and after watching Super Size Me), I've decided against it. I mean, I just bought new, slim-fit jeans and wool pants for work. I want to be able to wear them for the next two months! Nonetheless, we did walk by a Krispy Kreme donut joint that was giving away their daily leftover donuts and I went ahead and ate two of them. But I would've done that regardless!

Some friends of a bygone era were in town recently. I used to babysit for their family back when I was in high school and the kids were in middle/elementary school. We haven't been in great contact over the years, but I try to see them once a year when they are in town for the US Open and this year was no exception. The oldest daughter recently graduated from college and is going to work down in LA, which is amazing to me. She's a full-on adult! She spent some time in Senegal last year for school and wanted to see if we could find some Senegalese food in New York. Are you kidding? We have a Little Senegal up in Harlem! I had no idea, but sure enough there was a whole neighborhood of West African shops and restaurants that we checked out last week. I gotta say that the food is pretty rich tasting and, given the Anytown USA portions, I don't think I'd have too much of a problem gaining weight if I ate like that on a consistent basis. Then again, my Euro-sized stomach doesn't exactly fit much in it, hence the three-weeks of leftover Senegalese food that's in my fridge!

Speaking of Euro-size, this coming up weekend should be quite interesting. After a day of wall climbing with kids on Saturday, I'll be hosting my annual birthday extravaganza. Typically I like to go out somewhere new for dinner with some friends (yea, as opposed to any other weekend evening), but this year I'm really turning up the notch by requiring my friends to accompany me off the island on a trip through Eastern Europe - in Queens! That's right baby, we're going to Astoria for a legit Czech beer garden to consume some tasty imported beverages and then, against my friends' wills, I want to go down to northern Brooklyn to Greenpoint's Club Exit, which is in the middle of Little Poland and is as Euro of a club as it gets in New York, or so I hope. I can't imagine why my friends wouldn't want to go there, even if it is a triple-subway connection just to get there.

Then, on Sunday night, Paul is having his Back To School party at a karaoke joint somewhere downtown near the nexus of the universe. If I understand correctly, there will be appetizers and an open bar, just what I need on a worknight :- . Then again, it might take some of that liquid courage for me to get up and belt out some Beatles and/or Def Leopard songs!

J. Riley, my wish list hasn't changed much.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Airplane Pilots

Have you ever noticed how plane pilots (sans the Trojanowkis and Knappsteins) always have very WASP-y names? Like John Cameron or Mike Johnson? I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that those were the pilots on my 1.75 hour delayed flight (for no apparent reason) to LA this weekend.