officially over the lower east side

i went to new york city this past weekend to visit jared. his sojourn in the adirondacks has finally come to a close & he is now ensconced, along with his research cohort, in international house, up on riverside drive. he told me that some of the group were expressing some rather out-moded anxieties about staying in harlem, forcing jared to remark, “you do know that harlem has changed a bit since they filmed ‘shaft,’ right?”

i caught the new century travel chinatown bus up to new york on saturday afternoon. it’s $20 round trip, & you can come back anytime you want–just whenever you happen to stroll up allen st. again & decide it’s time to go back to philly. some people acoffed & said i should take megabus or something instead–still cheap, & with amenities like free wi-fi. but it’s a two-hour trip. if i can’t sit on a bus for two hours without checking facebook, i think i have some problems in life. plus, chinatown is walkable from amanda’s house, & 30th st. station (where the megabus rendezvous point is located) is not.

i met up with jared in harlem & he suggested we go down to the lower east side for dinner–specifically, mama’s kitchen. huge portions of homestyle cooking. i got the roast chicken with mashed potatoes & gravy, & jared got fried chicken with whole scallions & carrots. we both fell upon our plates like ravenous wildebeests. it wasn’t until i finished eating that i happened to glance up at the portrait staring down at our little nook in the corner. i swear to god it was an old daguerreotype of my great-great-great grandmother that my parents used to have hanging in our living room when i was like eight years old. it was the same (oval-shaped cut-out, heavily etched wooden) frame & everything. i suppose it’s possible that those frames were just the style back in 1876, & that all middle-aged ladies look the same when they are sitting three hours, waiting for an early photographic print to develop–stern, bored, & kind of pissed off. but i’m sure my mom has sold those photos & there is some slim chance that one of them may have made their way to my favorite new york city restaurant, right? very weird.

we went to bluestockings after, & for the first time, i wasn’t really too psyched on their zine/book selection. they had two books i’ve had my eye on, but they’re not especially obscure titles–i’m sure i’ll be able to request them from the local library when we get back to kansas. i felt no excitement about any of the available zines, & i didn’t buy any. usually i spend at least $10 on zines there. i did consign some zines of my own, & i took the leap & bought a t-shirt that says, “i had an abortion.” i’ve known about those shirts for years & have always felt a little conflicted about them. on the one hand, i am all about breaking the silence, making people think twice about their assumptions about who has had an abortion. on the other hand, it seems like an open invitation to have people ask all kinds of asshole questions & make all kinds of fucked up remarks. i don’t think i would have bothered with the shirt if i still lived in massachusetts (where abortion isn’t a terribly taboo thing, by & large), but i live in kansas now. i may have moments of regret, but maybe the shirt will make people think twice when they see me in the grocery store or something. unfortunately, the largest size they had available was a women’s medium, which would maybe fit the embryo that i aborted, but certainly does not fit me. so i’ll have to wait until i can get my hands on some scrap jersey & then alter it to make it bigger.

bart came up to hang out with us on sunday, & we went back to the lower east side. again. my third time on the lower east side in two days. it’s a nice place to visit & all, but there are other neighborhoods on the island of manhattan. we proceeded to walk & walk & walk a little bit more, until i was on the verge of death. it was unbearably hot, i was wearing a fully-lined summer dress, my glasses were sliding off the end of my nose, & i’d accidentally abandoned my water bottle on the chinatown bus when i got off the day before. all jared & bart wanted to do was walk & walk & then walk a little bit more, & all i wanted to do was lay down & die. we finally stopped for pastries, espresso, & ice water, & i made the mistake of ordering tiramisu, thinking they’d bring me out a nice little square that i could snarf in no more than six bites. instead, they brought me a platter festooned with something approximately half the size of a six-layer wedding cake. in no world did i require this level of mascarpone, brandy-soaked ladyfingers, & sugar. i ate what i could & bart devoured the rest of it with indecent enjoyment.

back at international house later, several of jared’s colleagues convened in the pub to debrief on their weekend adventures. jared & i joined them. one pair of fellows told everyone about how they’d gone down to canal st. & then walked all the way back to harlem over the course of about ten hours, stopping regularly to refresh themselves with beers. one of them said, “if anyone wants an interactive map of where all we stopped for beers, drop me a line & i’ll e-mail you the interactive link.” the other guy complained about how there are no private allies & very few public restrooms in new york city. “that’s why all the streets smell like pee,” said one girl. “well, i added to that,” said the dude, ‘somewhere on boardway, you can blame me.” jared turned to the guy who’d made the joke about maps. “can you delineate the watersheds?” he asked. everyone roared with laughter. “i can’t delineate the motherfucking watersheds!” yelled the map dude, who apparently has been struggling to delineate the watersheds of new england for three weeks now, whatever the fuck that means. that was the moment when i knew true nerddom. it’s a sobering moment when you realize you are in love with a nerd.

on monday morning, jared had to get back to work, enjoying an orientation on international house & hitting the libraries to pursue his research on the history of hydrology & water usange in new england. i packed up & left to head back to philly, but not before making a pilgrimage to american girl place, on 5th ave. i have been there once before, shortly before xmas, in 2004. i hoped this time, a monday morning in mid-june, things would be less crazy. & they were. but the place was still packed with little girls clutching dolls, making beelines to the museum-quality displays of available merchandise. each historical doll (the line that interests me, though there are plenty of other options for little girls who don’t give an eff about history) is displayed in a glass cube, dressed in each available outfit, posed with each historically accurate accessory set, sitting at her school desk or sprawled on her bed. beneath the display are wooden cabinets stocked with the items shown above. the newest historical doll is rebecca, a jewish girl living in the lower east side with her family circa 1914. she was displayed in her fuzzy black winter coat, wearing her best dress & lighting the sabbath candles, holding her lunchbox & wearing her school uniform. i’m not sure i have a favorite historical character. i love rebecca, but i also have significant soft spots for addy (a former slave living with her mother in philadelphia, circa 1864) & kit (an aspiring journalist & baseball fan toughing out the depression in cincinnati, 1934). i really wanted to look around a whole lot more–dolls, collectibles, nerdy historical teaching moments, book/doll accessory tie-ins, the feminization of consumption–american girl place is everything i am secretly obsessed with), but i felt conspicuous about not having a child dragging me from display to display, & my weekend bag was unbearably heavy. so i just purchased a couple of things & split.

now i’m back in philly & there’s a heat advisory in effect. i have a fresh book of logic puzzles & some more “big love” DVDs to watch. my birthday is in less than three weeks.

oh, one more little story that has nothing to do with new york or traveling or anything. my sister got in touch to ask my brother & i to send along photos of ourselves that “will look okay even blown up to 8″x10″” to our aunt becky (my dad’s youngest sister) for some big project she is doing for our grandma dorothy (her mother). i declined the invite on the grounds that i haven’t talked to any of these people in about eight years–not since my dad died. my dad died very unexpectedly one summer afternoon, & when grandma dorothy got the news, she decided to wait a couple of days until her new ceiling fan was installed before coming up to mourn with everyone else. she raised an almighty stink because the autopsy happened before she had a chance to see the body–even though she’s the one who chose to drag her heels for four days before flying up to ohio. in my dad’s will, he said he wanted to be cremated the same day he died. an autopsy was required because he was only 48 when he died, & the state of ohio requires autopsies on deaths of people under a certain age. we held off on the autopsy for as long as we could, but we couldn’t just wait indefinitely for dorothy’s ceiling fan installation.

then, of course, everyone was gathering at my parents’ house for all the mourning & reminiscing & whatnot, & aunt becky suggested we move the festivities to her house–an enormous mcmansion in a planned community just outside toledo. to which his children (one of whom had just given birth two weeks previously) & all of his friends would have to travel if they wanted to be in the thick of the “don is dead” excitement (for lack of a better word). we declined her invitation, & she said she felt that, “family would be more comfortable at my house.” subext: the house where my dad lived & died was too small & trashy for his family. to which i said, “you’re obviously uncomfortable here, so you can leave.” she tried to protest. i told her to get out. she hadn’t talked to him in god knows how long before he died, & neither had any of the rest of his immediate family (siblings & mother). they don’t need to be calling the shots or judging the way he lived his life.

anyway, needless to say, i refused to be a party to any kind of fake family happiness bullshit my aunt is doing for my grandma. none of those people need to know what i look like or what i get up to in my life. my brother also chose not to participate & cracked my shit up by writing, “if dorothy was a part of my life, i think i would have noticed by now.” i know there are some people who believe in family at all costs. obviously i am not one of those people. if any of those folks (meaning aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents–i don’t have any issue with my siblings) had ever done a single thing for me in my entire life without expecting something in return, maybe i’d feel more charitable, but at this point, they’re an accident of genetics & nothing more.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: