9: grip the flip

When I was little, my dad’s friend Efren (“Don Don” to his close friends and family — being Filipino, he has to have a silly nickname) would get nice and drunk at mahjongg games and family parties. He used to sing “New York, New York”, but would sing “Start spreading your legs” instead of the correct lyrics.

So it was with this in mind that I headed to New York last week for a much-needed vacation. I hadn’t been back home to see family since Christmas of 1998. That visit was 6 days long, and I was itching to go after the first three. Something about my parents’ house makes me restless — I can’t get comfortable there. This time, I stayed with friends in the city instead of bunking with la famille, and there was much uproar from this. But that’s for later. Let’s start from the beginning.

Maria and Jolanta were kind enough to drive me to the airport the morning after Labor Day. Because we had spent the previous evening eating yummy Polish food and Krispy Kreme doughnuts (note to M & J: I think you have my pfeffernusse — unless you ate it, which is fine, but I was so looking forward to that pfeffernusse, food of my childhood), I was in a bit of a daze. Granted, that wasn’t the only reason. The prospect of going home was a bit daunting. I comforted myself with the fact that I was the most stylishly dressed person at the airport. Which is not hard to accomplish at Midway Airport.

All the fancy people of the world seem to fly through O’Hare, leaving the rest of us mortals and hangers-on to hobnob at Midway. Maybe “hobnob” is the wrong word, as “hobnob” is typically used in connection with fancy places. Example: “Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston were seen hobnobbing with the Hollywood hoi palloi at the Playboy mansion.” Compare to “Anna Nicole Smith, pictured here after having a corn dog surgically removed from her cleavage, hobnobbed with her fellow B-list celebrities at the premiere of the straight-to-video film, ‘Hairspace’.” Which begs the question: are there premieres for straight-to-video movies? If feature movies are premiered, appropriately enough, at movie theatres, then are the videos premiered in, like, somebody’s rec room in Tarzana? Or in the tv department of a department store? A dorm room at UC-Irvine?

But I digress.

Oh right — people at Midway airport. Naturally, because it was the day after a holiday weekend, the place was overrun with couples and their young children, college students returning to school, the usual business travellers, etc. I don’t travel much, so I was surprised to see that the Southwest check-in line snaked from one side of the terminal to the other. I got in line and started checking out everybody’s luggage. Ugly floral tapestry prints, the occasional grown woman wielding cracked vinyl tote bags, aspiring hippies carrying frame backpacks decorated with Phish patches. Guys wearing t-shirts which said “Certified Muff Diver”. Which is kinda funny the first 50 times you see it. I almost bought a “Billy Bass” from the airport gift shop to put me in the spirit of things.

The flight on Air Hee Haw was uneventful, except for the occasional attendant walking into my right arm. I hate sitting on the aisle, though it made getting to the loo convenient. The airline magazine was, quite possibly, the most useless thing I’ve ever had to flip through. The SkyMall catalogue was somewhat entertaining, with it’s electric nosehair clippers and therapeutic table-top tea tree oil-burning fountains. The morning “snack” was a packet of “shortbread”. Because I’m not at all discriminating when it comes to packaged foods, I ate it then immediately regretted doing so.

We arrived at MacArthur airport, located in beautiful Islip. I took the LIRR from Ronkonkoma into Penn Station — not a terribly scenic trip, but there was a tragic mother-and-son pair on my train, so I watched them while wolfing down a huge bagel slathered with cream chease and Nova. It was so yummy, and it prepared me for my visit to Zabar’s salmon counter later in the week.

Nick and Nadine live in Morningside Heights, a few blocks north of Columbia University. This should come as no surprise, considering that Nadine is a graduate student there. I don’t recall what we did my first night in New York, but I think we had a good time. Nadine had class or work during the day, so I was forced to cancel the “Jasmine Davila Adolescent Angst Tour and Chicken Fry”. I didn’t make it back to Brearley, forgoing the possibility of yummy rolls and blue gaberdine uniform skirts. New York is a great city for walking, so I did plenty of that.

I took my first meal out at La Caridad, my favorite Cuban-Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side. I learned from my placemat that Cuba comes from the Indian word for “center place”. Also, all distances are measured from a 24 carat diamond which sits in the floor of the capitol building in Havana. My placemat also taught me that Cuba produces the most sugar cane in the world. However, it had nothing to say about mojitos.

I had forgotten that a lot of New Yorkers are attractive or well-groomed. All the pretty young things on Fifth Avenue were walking around in cute high-heeled sandals, and everybody had these wonderful Christian Dior saddle bags. It was too hot to start wearing the new fall fashions (camel coats, red leather, pleated skirts), and nobody had bobbed their hair yet. But everybody looked great. My favorite t-shirt of the trip was a beige t-shirt which read “medium brown girl”, just like the Bloomingdale’s shopping bags. Of course, the shirt was worn by a gorgeous Latina girl. It made me think that the line needs to be expanded — mine would read “large yellow girl”. Or something like that.

So, yeah. I saw LL Cool J! I saw LL Cool J on Fifth Avenue! He was riding in a stretch limo, presumably on his way to the MTV Video Music Awards. Of course, the UN Millennium Summit was also going on, so maybe he was going there to represent Queens? If so, then I am glad that it would be him. Better him than Fran Drescher.

I didn’t spend a lot of time in Queens except to see my parents and visit with my friend Kim, her boyfriend Dave, and their excellent dog, Rudy. They’re ensconced at her grandfather’s summer house until they can move into their Brooklyn apartment, so Friday night found me in Belle Harbor, sleeping in Kim’s Uncle Tommy’s childhood room and reading old Brearley yearbooks.

I spent Sunday afternoon with my parents, which isn’t a lot of time, I know, but it just feels weird being in their house. My parents wanted me to say hello to my grandparents, but considering that I haven’t spoken to them in two years, I ruled that out immediately. I looked at some photos, patiently listened to my parents hassle me about my weight and general lack of concern for my own health, then ran back to Manhattan. This 3-hour visit incurred the wrath of my older sister, who took it upon herself to e-mail me some abusive messages. I won’t go into the gory details, but let’s say that my sister lives in a strange world. She wasn’t even at home when I came by, but there you go. I’m evil and she’s not, blah blah blah.

My parents were older and smaller than I remembered. Maybe I’m just a lot bigger? We sat down, chatted for a bit, then they turned their attention to the U.S. Open. If you’ve ever wondered why I’m perfectly happy doing little more than watching television and eating takeout, just ask my parents. They gave me a ton of pictures, so I have plenty of things to scan for jasminedavila.com .

Overall, the weekend was a blur — the transit museum (which was great, by the way, and so cheap!), getting lost in Brooklyn (cobble stone streets, yuppies) and walking over the bridge Friday afternoon (beautiful, lots of French tourists), supping with the Kahns Friday night (Italian place in Hell’s kitchen), then spending Saturday afternoon lolling about the apartment and buying fresh pasta in SoHo from a girl with a fierce moustache. All the fashionistas were out in force on Saturday, clutching their Prada bowling bags for dear life. Everybody was walking small dogs on long leashes.

I had lunch with my friend Troy on Monday, and we dished about old friends and acquaintances over some very tasty filet mignon (mine was au poivre) and merlot. Let’s hear it for expense accounts! Troy told me all about his dog and his magical rent-controlled apartment in Fort Greene. We bemoaned the invasion of Harlem by red double-decker tour buses bearing scared tourists who never leave the bus to actually walk up and down 125th with the people who actually live in the neighborhood.

I actually saw one of these buses Saturday, and had to repress the urge to throw rocks. I don’t like the development of New York into an amusement park shadow of its former self. From what I hear, Las Vegas has a very nice New York-themed resort, so why can’t the tourists just go there? It would be so easy — do the New York resort, then pay $90 to see Siegfried and Roy. Simple as that.

Monday night, continued — I headed to the East Village after lunch, as I needed to find something yummy for dinner with Ellen, Kevin’s mom. After finding red Puma Clydes at the 8th Street Salvation Army for $4.99 (no tax!), I found the perfect dessert — vanilla cupcakes at Balducci’s. Please take a moment to drool at the mere thought of these cupcakes.

There, now. Feel better? Good.

After the steak and the shoes and the cupcakes, I dashed up to Penn Station to meet Nadine. While I was waiting, I noticed all sorts of unsavory men checking me out. One of them asked me for my phone number. Instead of pretending not to speak English and giggling, I politely asked him to leave me alone. Which he did. It made me nostalgic for the guys who used to pass out small pieces of paper on the street, each slip reading “Hi, I want you to be my girlfriend. I like sex and my phone number is” etc. and so forth. A direct approach, certainly, but subtle.

Ellen fed me and Nadine turkey, brussel sprouts, baked potatoes, squash, huge-ass rolls, and sorbet until we were unable to speak coherently. Ellen looked wonderful, having just lost 50 pounds — forget wonderful, the woman practically glowed. I was in fine spirits, as it was great to get out of Manhattan for the calm of Bayside. There’s grass and trees, all that yummy turkey — it was just so lovely.

Later that evening, I met Olivia for a drink in the Village in a hip bar with gasp! no cover. She had just gotten back from vacationing on the West Coast, driving from Vancouver to L.A. Her travels got me thinking about my next trip to the West Coast. So, Celi and Amanda, prepare to have your worlds rocked some time this winter. After a beer and some much needed giggling, I had to run back to Nadine’s for some sleep. I climbed into a cab at 14th and Second, allowing myself the luxury of a long ride back to Nadine’s. The night was clear, there was a cool breeze, and even New Jersey looked good, lights twinkling at me from across the Hudson River.

Being in New York made me realize how truly happy I am in Chicago. New York isn’t my speed — it’s too fast in some parts, too slow in others. For the time being, I can’t see my immediate future in a place which is all about my immediate past. I know it sounds melodramatic, even a little sappy, but I don’t care. I am happier being a New Yorker in Chicago than being a Chicagoan in New York. I am so glad to be home.

Cheers,

Jasmine

And when I walk it’s a riot

You should see the commotion

A hundred people drowning in oceans inside me

(Liz Phair)

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~ by Jasmine on September 13, 2000.

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