Instaweek

Since the written word continues to fail me (and because the wise and talented Mama Kat told me to), I have selected a series of (unremarkable) Instagram photos that represent highlights of the past week. What is remarkable is the fact that it took me five pathetic years to figure out how to add multiple images in a given post.

Special thanks to the lovely C. Migs; the high-larious real live author Choi Division; my super-sharp Duane Reade umbrella; Keith; Jan and Lew; the kindly waitstaff at the Waverly Inn; the bartender at Arthur’s; my SIL Christine; Delman shoes; and Citizens of Humanity.

Please see below and don’t hesitate to get in touch should you have any questions about Sr. Cojones. I know I sure as hell do.

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Instaweek

The Canned Kind

In response to Mama Kat’s Thanksgiving-themed Weekly Writing Prompt – and to remind myself – I’m going to tell you what I’m thankful for this year.  Of course this will prove extremely helpful to you the next time someone stops you in the Kroger’s or Piggly Wiggly produce aisle and asks, “Say, do you happen to know what the fabulously talented proprietress of The Letter T is thankful for?”

One of the things I’m thankful for is that my immediate family and close friends survived Hurricane Sandy largely unscathed, albeit in the dark and without cable for cruel stretches of time. But a virtual moment of silence for everyone who was not as lucky. For the lives and livelihoods that were blown away in this freak superstorm.  And for the fallen icons of the Jersey Shore. The boardwalks of Seaside Heights (or as we called it, “Sleazeside”) and Point Pleasant were repulsively seedy and endlessly comforting at the same time. I never understood how that was possible, but somehow the tackiness and the grit were part of the appeal – along with the smells of greasy food and Hawaiian Tropic. Slightly creepy carousel music. Saltwater taffy.  Old school signs. Wife-beater tanks and giant gold crosses. Tattoos. Skee ball. Our roots. I am thankful I am from New Jersey.

Photo by Nicole Argento (fellow Jersey Girl) of Warrior Heart (www.warriorheartstudio.com) and Nomad-Chic (www.nomad-chic.com)

Things I am also thankful for:

  • Keith, Jan and Lew, Jamie, my cousins, and my family-in-law
  • Being able to spend Thanksgiving with the aforementioned peeps
  • Old friends and new friends, in MA, CT, NY, NJ, MD, TX and Germany (sniff sniff)
  • Ollie, Howie and Lulu
  • Our stuffed kids
  • Surviving that freak eye infection, only having to have corneal scrapings once, wearing contacts again and freedom from amoeba
  • Being able to live in New York
  • The fact that in New York, anyone can get married
  • Not having to live in Michigan
  • Little blue pills and little white pills
  • That Cavaricci’s are no longer in style
  • The flat-iron
  • Pinkberry
  • Peanut butter
  • The interweb and social media
  • Not having the interweb and social media in high school
  • My job, my co-workers and being allowed to wear jeans every day
  • The lack of Ebola on the North American continent … so far …
  • Snoopy, Charlie Brown and co.
  • Cookie Monster and Grover
  • Hydroquinine pads (sayonara, melasma!)
  • The expression “but other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”
  • The coffee cart man on 23rd between 5th and 6th (except when he runs out of half-and-half)
  • TV
  • Wine
  • My “Dr. Laura”
  • The kind of liquid eyeliner that comes in an easy-to-apply magic marker-type pen
  • The chance to meet John Taylor and realize a childhood dream
  • Trader Joe’s
  • Piperlime
  • Books
  • Hershey’s
  • Wite-Out pens and the NYT crossword puzzle
  • Slimy cranberry sauce that maintains the shape of the can it came in
  • The blogosphere

BIG FAT HAPPY THANKSGIVING, THREE PEOPLE WHO READ THIS BLOG!

Aside

What’s in a Name?

Over the course of my wedding-bearing years, I’ve had friends who fall everywhere on the name change spectrum. I’ve known girls who were so excited about making sure everyone knew they were married getting married that they adopted their future husbands’ last names before the royal blue bridesmaid dresses could even ship from China. I’ve known girls who were militant about keeping their maiden names.  My cousin Cathy and her husband both use both last names, with a hyphen. There are many ways this could go, and as is the case with all life changes, I remained ambivalent about the matter.

I’ve never loved or hated my maiden name. It is innocuous. Its ethnicity is not obvious, it doesn’t rhyme with any part of the digestive or reproductive system, it doesn’t belong to any serial killer (that we know of). At times, I’ve been mistaken for someone of Irish descent (really? REALLY?) and/or the heiress to a soup fortune, but I can think of worse problems. Perhaps if I’d been born with a name like Dickwat or Ashweip, or into the Rockefeller family, I would have felt more strongly one way or the other. But my maiden name was in fact the name I’d had all my life – it was just who I was: Traci Melissa K_____.

I knew Keith wanted me to use his last name, but he never pressured me about it. He asks so little and puts up with so much, I felt it was the least I could do for him. And in many ways, I looked forward to having his last name. I viewed it as a new beginning, a fresh start. It made Keith and me an official family, and it linked me to my new extended family – something I’d never had but always wanted. I liked that idea.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but veiw shedding my maiden name as shedding my parents, sister and roots. I hated that idea. I didn’t want to be the only one of them with a different last name. It didn’t help that my sister and I are the end of our last name’s line. I also felt, despite my best efforts not to, that taking your husband’s name was a smidge old-fashioned. I’m hardly a feminist, but it just didn’t seem necessary. Furthermore, while I haven’t accomplished anything much, the things I have done – survive journalism school, work at a real live TV network, create this blog – I’ve done with my original name — as me. Was I losing my past if I lost part of my name? Was I still going to be a short neurotic Jewish girl from New Jersey if my last name was suddenly Italian? Did I want to be a short neurotic Jewish girl? Was this really such a big identity crisis or was I, as usual, making a mountain out of a molehill? Who cared if I was Traci  Melissa K_____ or Traci Melissa D______?

Frick on a name-changed stick.

A good solution seemed to be this: I’d legally change my name to include Traci, Melissa, my maiden name, and Keith’s last name. It would appear as a mouthful on paper, but I’d use my maiden name at work and Keith’s in general. In the eyes of the law and in my head, I wasn’t getting rid of anything. I was merely adding something.

I had designated last week’s Summer Friday for the name change task, which involved stops at the Social Security office and DMV. I awoke with a mix of excitement and melancholy (which was due in large part to the fact that my current driver’s license photo is relatively smokin’, and I really didn’t want to fork that up with a new picture). As I rode the subway and made my way through Times Square en route to the Social Security office, the morning felt very momentous. In a few hours, I would have one more name. I would be someone else. Kind of.

My turn at the counter came quickly. I presented the clerk with a certified copy of the marriage license, my tattered blue Social Security card and the form I’d filled out ahead of time.

She looked at the form and then asked, “So you’re adding a middle name, ‘Melissa,’ and then your husband’s last name?”

Um …wha?!

Evidently, as far as the Social Security Administration and U.S. government were concerned, my middle name had never been Melissa — just the initial M.  She handed the card back to me as proof – I’d never noticed it before, but she was right.  I was Traci M (sans period, no less!) K_____.

For a few seconds I was upset by this revelation. It made me sad that Social Security believed my cute little parents had  only chosen a random letter for my middle name and not even bothered to punctuate it. My parents would never do that! They’re nice people!  They care! They love me! Then I was stunned  – my name was a sham! My life was a sham! Who knew what other parts of my identity were nothing more than an initial? Did I even exist, or did I just e?  I’d obsessed for months about changing a name I never actually had.

But then I caught on to the valuable lesson the Social Security deities were obviously trying to impart. I had gone about my business and lived a good (albeit angst-ridden) life believing I was Traci Melissa, regardless of what name the government had on file. Would I have turned out any different if the Social Security card had said “Melissa” instead of just M? Highly unlikely. Would I suddenly transform into a calm, care-free person who shuns chocolate and falls right asleep at night now that “Melissa” was really part of my name? Even more unlikely.  Surely, the same held true for my last name(s). 

Apparently, the answer to the question “What’s in a name?” is, “Not that much.” It doesn’t matter what you go by — it matters who you are. So now, I am a four-named neurotic Jewish girl from New Jersey with parents who DO care enough to have given me a proper middle name and a very patient husband who doesn’t mind being married to a pizza bagel.

What’s in a Name?

44 to Go

Rob, Dave and traditional pre-wedding peanut butter sandwiches

I have never been a wedding crier.

Maybe I’m too distracted by the prospect of mini hot dogs, looming on a butlered tray just a few feet away, to access the emotion.  Maybe I ration my supply of tears, saving it for sad people eating sad little homemade sandwiches out of sad little tin foil squares on sad little park benches.  Maybe I understand that conjuring tears during the matrimonial ceremony does not actually prove that you are the bride’s bestie. Or maybe I’m just frigid. I don’t know. But in the 18+ years since the first wedding I attended (shout out to my cousin Randi), there have been only two ceremonies at which I’ve cried. My own, and the one we went to on Friday: Dave and Rob’s.

Because Texas is one of the 44 remaining states yet to legalize same-sex marriage,  Dave and Rob tied the knot in our nation’s capital last week.  And as they have traveled a total of 5,016 miles to attend not one but TWO of my weddings, there was no way in hell I was missing theirs.

Somewhere out there is a picture of them successfully lifting ME at my wedding

As you would expect of a wedding planned by two gay men, everything about it was perfect.  Prior to the ceremony, I presented Rob and Dave with the peanut butter sandwiches I’d packed at home.  We had partaken of this tasty and nutritious pre-marital snack before my own nuptials, and so too would we partake of them on this momentous occasion. Side note: are peanut butter sandwiches still safe to eat after 18 unrefrigerated hours? Let’s just go with “yes” and put the cholera concerns behind us, shall we?

Rob’s cousin Liz, an ordained minister, performed the very tasteful ceremony on the roof of a friend’s apartment building. From there, you could see Rock Creek Park,  the National Cathedral, the Capitol, and a strange white orb no one could identify. Side note: I am thankful that the large-footed Universal Life Minister who married Keith and me does not read this blog, as much of Dave and Rob’s ceremony, I am honored to say, was taken directly from inspired by the one he performed for us.

Additionally, Rob carefully chose a reading for all the attendees.  This is the one Keith and I read:

May the door of your home be wide enough to receive all who hunger for love and all who are lonely for friendship. [Specifically, short Jewish girls from New Jersey.] May it welcome all who have cares to unburden, thanks to express and hopes to nurture. May the door of your house be narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity. May its threshold be no stumbling block to you or old feet, and may it be too high to admit complacency, selfishness or harshness. May your home be, for all who enter, the doorway to richness and a more meaningful life.

I don’t think I had ever seen either of them cry before, although I suspect they did on several occasions in Philly, when all the Yeungling was gone.  But at some point that day I saw a tear run down Dave’s cheek. You know how you suddenly feel like barfing when you see someone else barf? Same idea.  The no-cry policy had been broken.

Watching this wedding was just, in a word, awesome. It’s always nice to see your friends happy, of course. It’s always nice to attend a wedding at which you can clearly see the love between the two parties. (Trust me, this is not necessarily the case.) But at this wedding, you could see first-hand something else: progress.  This wedding could not have happened even a short time ago, much less 30 or 40 years ago when Dave and Rob were little kids, in the middle of nowhere, alone with the knowledge that they were “different.”  I think we all know what “different” feels like in one way or another.  Still, no matter how much of a freak I’ve felt like throughout my life, I can’t begin to imagine how hard their “different” must have been for them — and still must be, at times.

I am hardly the most politically correct person on earth. I know that many people are uncomfortable with who Dave and Rob are, and what they did last week. But I also know that they are two of the most remarkable people I have ever met. They are hot, hilarious and full of wisdom, and their goodness is extraordinary. A minute after meeting them, you feel you have known them all your life.  They are the best hello and the hardest goodbye.  Because of them, I know that I will always have a home, no matter what happens or where I am. Because of them, I know that family is not merely defined by blood. Because of them, I know that the people who are the least like you may be the people you have the most in common with. So while I understand this is a sensitive topic, I do not understand how you can look at Dave and Rob and say they deserve less than what we all have.

Dave and Rob, I love you and wish you a lifetime of happiness. You have made my life better in countless ways — and saved it more than once.

44 to Go

This Side of Paradise

I am married! Yes, mawwied! [insert voice of Long Duk Dong] [Side note: Sixteen Candles is on Lifetime tonight. Check your local listings.]

Thank you for all the WordPress love and support along the way.  Our week in St. Thomas was the happiest of my life (although admittedly, there wasn’t a lot of competition) and went off with only a few glitches.

Most really weren’t that bad:

  • Alarming speed and grace with which I downed a complimentary pee cup’s worth of Cruzan coconut rum at Cyril E. King airport
  • Ill-timed hair appointment that foiled Jan’s workout the day of the wedding
  • Delayed serving of ice cream at reception, prompting Alex the Flower Girl to tell my sister, “Traci said I was getting ice cream,” prompting my sister to tell me, “Um, Alex was under the impression that she was getting ice cream … can you confirm or deny?”
  • Complete omission of one fruit plate per table at reception
  • Receipt of bill at end of week

One really stank on ice:

  • At the last minute, Keith’s mom had to cancel her trip due to a nasty inner-ear problem that made flying a really bad idea.  Needless to say, this devastated Keith. Luckily, we were able to call Judy on speaker phone during the ceremony and she heard the whole thing.  

There were also countless highlights, but I’ll start with one of the biggest:

  • The beachside, candlelit betrothal of my lil sis /Maid of Honor Jamie to her gentleman friend on our last night in St. Thomas! HUGE congrats to her and my future BIL, and to Jan and Lew, who got both their daughters off their hands in the span of a few days.  Note to Jan and Lew – can I borrow a $100?

Others, for your reading pleasure:

  • The freakish deliciousness of the frosty adult beverage called “Lime in the Coconut” [insert funny 70s song lyrics]
  • The resort’s general manager, whom I’ll refer to as “Jacques,” walking the grounds and chit-chatting with guests in an allegedly French accent. The morning of the wedding, he stopped by our al fresco breakfast table and I expressed some concern that the weather would not hold up. “Do not wair-ee,” he reassured me. “You must undair-stand zee diffair-onss buh-tween REN and LEE-KWEED ZUN-EH-ZHINE.” There is little doubt in my mind he is originally from Queens.
  • Being able to ask, repeatedly, “What do you think this is, the RITZ?!”
  • The remarkable straightness of my hair
  • Experiencing a family vacation as a (quasi)grown-up
  • Beautifying with Jan, Jamie, Joanna, my new SIL Christine, Loren and the littles
  • Walking in the tropical rain at midnight to greet Dave and Rob with a welcome bottle of the aforementioned coconut rum
  • The sight of Alex and my new niece Bella carrying their petal baskets and walking the wrong way on the beach in their matching purple sundresses
  • The remarkable straightness of my hair
  • Walking down the “aisle” with Jan and Lew
  • The toasts given by Jamie, and my BILs Jeff and Craig, and the rhyming poetry of my besties Loren and Deena
  • Standing up for a few seconds on the paddle board
  • Happy, prego Kelly
  • Not puking on the Lady Lynsey cruise to St.  John (shout out to Jeff and Christine for treating us!, and to both my SILs and that random girl from Westchester for being so nice to me during my near-barf crisis)
  • Knowing that the people who matter to me the most  – my blood family, my new family, my may-as-well-be-family, my Philly family – traveled thousands of miles to be there for me

And, above all …

So I married the homecoming king ...

Hearing the barefoot, huge-toed Universal Life Minister – whose ceremony could not have been more beautiful – say, “From this day forward you will never walk alone” and knowing that it was true because of Keith.

This Side of Paradise

Page 3

On Friday night, like many other nights, it took me forever to fall asleep. I meant to wake up at a respectable hour the next morning, but shockingly, that plan went awry. Keith, of course, had no trouble falling asleep on Friday night and thus, was ready to face the day before 7 am. Which is just wrong. But I digress. By the time I finally awoke, with a delightful case of morning breath, hair that was matted on one side, two feet wide on the other, bouffant-style on top (secured by falling-out barrette) and knotted in the back, it was roughly 10. Fine. It was 10:15. FINE. It was pushing 10:30.  Alright?! Jeez Louise.

I felt bad that Keith had been up for so long and assumed he was ravenous, so I told him I’d throw on clothes and we could partake of the late morning meal at the diner of his choice.  He told me he’d had some Lucky Charms, wasn’t that hungry and had a few more articles to read in the paper, so why didn’t I just relax and join him on the couch? That seemed reasonable, so I made the bed, called Jan, poured some coffee, and finally picked up the front section of the New York Times about 15 minutes later.

There were quite a few fascinating articles, and I read them all, including the Op-Eds and columns on the last page. Some, in fact, were so fascinating that I felt compelled to enhance my understanding of them by doing related Google searches. These searches took me to Wikipedia pages, which led me to yet more Wikipedia pages, which led me to ask Keith a number of probing philosophical questions. As I read, I noticed him looking over at me from time to time.

Awww.  He thinks it’s cute that I’m taking an interest in current affairs!

“Anything interesting in the news?” Keith asked me.

As a matter of fact, yes! I was just reading about ‘recess coaches’ and how childhood has evolved and all this over-scheduling has greatly hindered the creativity and social skill developm …”

“Intriguing,” Keith replied. “But what about that article on Page 3?”

“OH! That piece about the conditions in the homeless shelter. Awful. There are just so many problems in society today. I don’t know where to begin. I mean, Jane Addams and Hull Ho…”

Keith seemed slightly on edge when he cut me off.

Fine. Be that way.

He grabbed the paper, turned to the third page and pointed to something.

“What about … THIS article?”

The “article” in question was actually a handwritten note that seemed to have been glued onto the page by someone other than the Times’ editorial staff.  WTF? Was this a ransom note? Had someone kidnapped Milty, the stuffed moose?! Upon closer inspection, it appeared to be  a wedding announcement of some sort. What the hell was it doing outside of the “Sunday Styles?”

Um … OMFG.  It  actually seemed to be OUR theoretical wedding announcement.

[Insert Stewie Griffin voice] What the DEUCE?!

I looked up in a moment of total retardation, and then … wait for it … wait for it … KEITH WAS ON ONE KNEE, ASKING ME TO MARRY HIM (and holding a RIDONCULOUSLY GORGEOUS RING)!!!!!

After about an hour of unintelligible screaming, the story of how Keith had been able to pull this off so flawlessly and a nice conversation with Keith’s mom, I began calling everyone I knew. Lew was at a conference, so I didn’t bother him. Jan was at the museum, and even though I tried about 100 times, I could not get her to pick up. Jamie, however, and miraculously, answered her phone and was incredibly happy and supportive.

Loren was very excited to hear the news as well and told her three-year-old daughter Alex, “Keith and Traci are getting married!”

I could tell Alex was ecstatic, because she said, “Mommy put more water in my gwass.”

Karen, as she does almost every time we speak, immediately asked me if I was engaged yet.  I’m not sure she knew I was serious when I told her, “Yes I am!”

After a haircut for Keith and lunch at the diner, I met Kiki for a manicure. I had purposely waited to tell her, knowing I’d see her in a few hours. She was super nice and very cutely suggested I not go with “You Don’t Know Jacques,” a trendy taupe polish, because “People are going to be looking at your hands. You need more of a statement.”

Newly painted with the OPI classic “Lincoln Park After Dark,” Keith and I met Jamie and her gentleman friend (GF) for drinks at the Empire Hotel, where we’d gone on our first date – exactly 18 years and two months after we graduated from Spiffy High (scotch for Keith, Lillet for me, tequila for GF and wine for Jamie). Whilst Jamie was trying on my ring, I asked her to be my maid of honor (hereby referred to as MOH). This will be a VERY important job, given that when the big day arrives, she will have to help me navigate a ginormous crowd of about 16 people and adjust the invisible train on what I hope will be a lovely white cotton Ella Moss or Splendid sundress valued at approximately $100.

Keith and I then dined at Picholine, where we literally had one of the best meals in the history of meals, including foie gras shabu-shabu, wild mushroom risotto, monk fish, daube of beef, French cheese, and an amuse bouche. I enjoy anything that involves an amuse bouche.

 We sat next to two funny couples from New Orleans. One couple still lived there and one now lived in New York. The male half of the New Orleans-based couple had come to the Big Apple to interview for a fellowship on a liver transplant team and reminded me of Kenneth on “30 Rock.” They were quite nice and when I got up to use the restroom, offered Keith some of their hard-to-find and delicious wine.

At the end of the evening, we returned to our apartment and attempted to watch this week’s episode of “Modern Family,” but Keith had now been up for almost 24 hours, and couldn’t keep his eyes open. So I watched a little bit of the “SNL” rerun featuring a handsome but not-that-funny Jon Hamm (he is best served with Don Draper) and then went to sleep.

I am a nostalgic but not sappy person. I am also completely and utterly uncomfortable and unsure of what to do with joy, calmness, peace of mind, and the absence of emotional turmoil.  Those were always just completely foreign feelings to me, and it is incredibly difficult for me to acknowledge – even for a nanosecond – that I am not in crisis. I am used to relationships marked by conflict and eggshell-walking. I’m also a skilled magical thinker, and I will almost never utter a positive statement for fear of jinxing. But I must say that Saturday was simply the happiest day of my life.

Keith is the kindest, most wonderful person I have ever met.  He has inspired me to strive to be a better person, let go of very, very long-held and destructive thought patterns, and saved me in many ways. I’m not sure I’m worthy, frankly, and I continue to think he will wake up one day and realize this.  It never, in almost 38 years, occurred to me that a relationship could be this good, and that I could be this [insert positive adjective … I can’t do it!]

As a great perk, I am also getting Keith’s parents, Keith’s mother’s Le Mutt, twin brother, older brother, two sister-in-laws, sister-in-law’s sister, two nieces, two nephews, aunt and uncle. I am blessed and I remember that every day.

For almost two decades now – ever since leaving the comfort of my mauve bedroom in New Jersey – I have dreamed of feeling at home again. With Keith, I am home.

Page 3

Shell-Shocked

After

My parents — b.k.a. Jan and Lew — are not the most adventurous eaters. It’s not that their palates aren’t sophisticated. Jan is an excellent, flavorful chef and inspired my own love of cooking. They enjoy fine dining, would never be caught dead at some of the trailer trash venues I love, and in fact eat many items that I personally can’t tolerate. It’s just that they do have a culinary comfort zone, occupied largely by Italian food. 

So I was surprised last Friday when I made plans to partake of the evening meal with them and Jan suggested we patronize Totoya, the sushi restaurant up the block from their abode. I couldn’t imagine what Jan would eat at such an establishment, since I’m well aware of her strict policy against the ingestion of raw fish, but she assured me that Totoya’s chicken teriyaki and assorted dumplings were quite tasty. Lew, I am proud to report, has recently developed an appreciation for things like toro and yellowtail thanks to a sushi-eating colleague.

Fabulous! I really wasn’t in the mood for chicken piccata or garlic breath that lasted three days.

After a solid 10 minutes of debate about how many appetizers to order, a decision was reached. Jan and Lew selected some shumai and gyoza, and I requested edamame (pictured above). Seeing as how they were being so generous with their dumplings, I offered them some of my delicious green soybeans.

Jan brutally rejected me. Lew said that he didn’t really like edamame, citing its chewy texture and lack of taste, but that he might try some anyway.

That’s odd, I thought. I like edamame because it’s NOT chewy. Oh well. I guess one man’s chewy is another man’s … not chewy.

A few minutes went by. I was pleased to see Jan enjoying her shrimp shumai and Lew reaching for an edamame. How cute were they?!

A few more minutes went by and I noticed that Lew was still chewing the original edamame.

Wait a minute. Why was it taking him so long to chew that edamame? Why wasn’t he spitting out the shell? Where’s the pod? SHOW ME THE POD!

It dawned on me that whomever tutored Lew about sushi had failed to teach him an important lesson.  

Lew! Oh no! Lew! You know you have to spit the shell out, right?”

In a nanosecond, and a most sit-com like manner, Lew reached for a napkin. I surmised from this gesture that he had not, in fact, known.

“What happens if you eat the shell?” asked Lew in a mildly concerned tone.

At last, I could return the favor for the man who spends 65 percent of his day reassuring me that I won’t barf and telling me that I probably don’t have a 24-hour case of typhoid.

“Nothing happens Lew! Don’t worry! It just doesn’t taste good.”

I also felt it was important to note that perhaps he would actually like edamame if he’d eaten it properly. Edamame in the shell = chewy and tasteless. Edamame outside of the shell = dee-LICIOUS!  

Shell-Shocked