Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Ask anyone who lives in Seattle. It has been 55˚F and overcast or raining there since September of 2009. Last summer, the summer of 2010, there was no hot weather, not even the usual week or two of it.  I left Seattle July 1st wearing a winter coat.
We arrived in New York City July 6th, and it has been hot every day since. I realized today that it’s so hot now that I don’t mind when two or three drips from a high, far-away AC unit drip on me. The garbage piles smelled so bad the other night we were forced to change the route of the late-night poop walk.  The late-night poop walk is the last dog walk before bedtime. Some nights one dog or the other will not poop, which is alarming to me, but for all my alarm we have yet to have any accidents inside. (Knock on wood.) Cherry has also had a couple of pee-strikes, where she refuses to pee for the whole walk, but so far this has been her own problem.  Neither dog objects to peeing or pooping on the pavement, peeing or pooping in the middle of the pavement, or peeing or pooping in a crowd of fast moving pedestrians.
I was worried that we do not understand dog pee and poop etiquette in New York City, so I tried to do some research about it.   Other than learning that it is illegal to leave dog poop on the sidewalk, which is obvious, I have not discovered much about what you should do when your dog decides that the best place to pee is on the potted plant in front of the spotless Japanese hotel on the corner, or the side of a building that houses a podiatrist’s office, or a small mountain of bagged garbage lying on the sidewalk. I am, of course, waiting for the famously pointed New York comment, delivered with a shout.  It has not come.
Sometimes when we head out for a walk, we don’t hear anyone speaking English.  It is crowded enough on the sidewalk in this neighborhood to have to weave in and out of human traffic.  Captain loves to steal a sniff or a taste of a passing hand, so when anyone makes eye-contact with him or reaches for him, he returns their admiration with a dab of his saliva.  If you are wondering if this really happens, I can tell you it happened three times when I walked him about an hour and a half ago.
Both dogs sit nicely and wait for crossing streets now, and I will not be surprised when they start doing it without being asked.  We have now been here one week.  In that time I have heard two different women walk past me and my dogs say loudly to their companions, “Oh! Ugh! I HATE dogs.”  Many, many more people stop to admire them, or ask if they’re Vizslas.  I somehow don’t mind the dog-haters letting me know they hate my dogs. I’ve usually got a fresh warm bag of shit in my hand.

Monday, July 11, 2011


It has been such a long time since we last moved addresses, I had an oh-gee-cool moment when I discovered that changing one’s address with the U.S. Postal Service can now be done through a secure online form.  But after three days in New York with not a single scrap of mail arriving, I gave the management company of our temporary housing a call. I was assured that my mail would be delivered to my apartment.  I also asked if there was something special I needed to be doing to get my newspaper subscription working.  Again I was told that it wasn’t them, it was the New York Times. 
I had called the New York Times around the 29th of June, when I had them transfer my Seattle delivery to New York delivery. Not only do New Yorkers get a different edition of the Times, but it’s cheaper, so my freshly renewed six months’ worth of daily newspaper there translates to something like sixty-seven years’ worth of paper here.  Better yet, the woman on the phone said, “Welcome back to New York!”
“Oh,” I said. “I’ve never lived in New York before.”
“Well then,” she said. “Let me officially be the first to welcome you to New York.”
Of course, all the cheerful conversation seemed to have resulted in the paper starting in New York on the 10th of July, instead of the 2nd as planned.  I straightened this out on Friday.
My other Friday discovery was mail.  While it clearly says in our agreement that mail will be delivered to our apartment, new mail is sometimes sitting in a pile in an in-box on a small table in the lobby.  Two more small stacks of mail are held together with rubber bands and sitting on a shelf in the utility closet in the laundry room (the same utility closet with the special blue lock-boxes).  At one point we were all headed out together and someone was slower than the rest of us and I rifled through the stack on the table in the lobby.  There I found some bank statements, and a credit card bill—bank statements and a credit card bill with my name on them—just the sort of mail you do not want to have lying around in the lobby of a building in a strange city, or even in the lobby of a building in a familiar city.  Emboldened by my discovery, I went in the laundry room and pulled off the rubber bands. Yes, I found more of our mail.
Sunday morning we headed out for the first dog walk of the day, a daily affair prepared for in extreme haste in the perpetual hope of no accidents. We had even overslept. Just as we exited the building, there on the steps down to the key-pad and locked door was a Sunday edition of the New York Times, secured with a tan rubber band.  Affixed to the outermost section was a label with our name on it.  It felt sadly comforting to be able to read the paper again after a week away from it. I found out that South Sudan is a new nation, and everyone is unhappy about the verdict in the Casey Anthony case, and that Derek Jeter is a big fat Yankee.  I am happy for the people of South Sudan.
Later on Sunday I noticed a new small stack of mail in the laundry room, and found another piece of my mail, probably delivered Saturday.  I am trying not to be neurotic about the mail, just as I am trying not to be neurotic about finding a school for my rising 8th grader, a place to live, new friends, and a life.  But of course I am being neurotic about the mail, and all the rest of it.  
Monday, Ramon came and changed sheets and towels. He was hesitant to come into the apartment because of the dogs, but I assured him they were fine. The truth, of course, is that they might not have been fine, because for all nine years of her life, Cherry has had to be confined to a crate when the housekeepers came.  There, she has barked in a frightened and angry voice, unsilenced by cajoling or threats. Captain loves everyone, including the housekeepers, and greeted them with a celebratory trot-around, his own square dance.  I sent the dogs to lie down, and they both headed to the quilt-covered chair, where they lay down in a tangle of dog parts and fell asleep.  I am pleased with Cherry for being willing to try something new. Perhaps today I need to be more like my dog.
On the other hand, the cat is displeased with the presence of a stranger, and is in his new favorite hiding place: behind the fridge.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Friday morning, Ramon knocked on the door of our apartment.  After an exchange of words, it somehow became clear to me that he had come to collect towels that wanted washing, exchanging them for new, clean ones that he fetched from downstairs.  Ramon is a person of some responsibility within this building, but I cannot understand most of what he says to me, and he does not seem to understand most of what I say to him.
Ramon said a lot of words to me on Thursday related to the important purpose of the special blue lock-boxes in the laundry room and how we are not supposed to have some specific thing which was contained within our lock-box in the recent past. It is unclear to me what that thing is. It is clear to me that whatever it is we are meant to put it back immediately, because it is so very important. After some thought, I did the only thing that made sense to me which was a) to show him my key and, b) to say that my husband had the other key.  This display did not have the desired effect on Ramon, who again reminded me of how important it was.
My first encounter with Ramon was when he emphatically said words to me that seemed connected to something about washing sheets and towels and the days of the week. If you offered me an appealing amount of cash, say $400, and told me it was mine if I could write down what Ramon told me about washing sheets and towels and the days of the week, I would only be able to shake my head sadly and slowly, because I did not understand what he said about washing sheets and towels and days of the week. What I can now say, though, is that yesterday we got clean towels, and that was Friday.
On Thursday, I washed a lot of clothes, including my pair of jeans with cat diarrhea on them.  In between loads I took the dogs to the "nearby" dog park, Robbie’s park, at the Robert Moses Playground, which turned out to be the exact square footage of the apartment.  Getting to the "nearby" dog park involves an approach requiring the crossing of several enormous and dangerous boulevards. Once we arrived, we were greeted by a group of four people and four friendly dogs who all left immediately. My dogs smelled thing for a while, squeezed out the required canine pavement deposits, and were ready to go. By the time we were back, it was like delivering two freshly steamed, 47 1/2 pound dumplings to the apartment: hot and panting and radiating heat.  The children ignored them while I fussed in the laundry room; they were given perhaps a single teaspoon of New York City tap water, which evaporated from their hot breath before they could even consume it.  I had to provide additional hydration, and they quietly slept off the experience.  Three hours later they appeared to have returned to normal internal temperatures.
On Friday, we walked down Madison to Madison Square Park, a charming urban gem of a park, thought to be the birthplace of baseball.  Contained within its boundaries is an off-leash dog run, which was full of dogs and even another Vizsla. Captain has two annoying dog-park habits: kicking gravel around, and barking loudly, frequently and at nothing in particular. He is starting to acclimate to apartment and urban life in general, and so is much more comfortable being annoying.  He did enjoy himself in Jemmy’s Park without annoying me or other people too much.  After a while a fourth Vizsla arrived, making it an Official Vizsla Party. There were Cavalier King Charles Spaniels in number, as well as a tribe of fawn-colored French Bulldogs, but it was the Vizslas that brought the outside spectators to the fence to ask what they were.
On Saturday, the entire human population of this apartment was mustered and marched to a third off-leash dog run, in Peter Detmold Park, accessed from an iron gate at the end of East 49th Street just before the FDR.  Some of us were engaged in a heated discussion about sleep and the nature of learning, while others were already hot and walking with our tongues hanging out of our mouths.  The dogs played some and drank from the bowls of water which I suspect are a terrific source of communicable canine disease. 
We have several more dog parks to find within walking distance of this apartment, and once we adjust to the time zone we will dash up to Central Park one morning to enjoy a free off-leash run before 9 a.m. 
After a week away, I miss Seattle terribly, for its superior climate and coffee, for the people I left behind, for its liberal politics and abundant recycling opportunities. But for all the livability that Seattle is supposed to embody, dogs are not ever allowed off-leash in all of its best parks, and the closest off-leash area is situated under I-5, further from our Seattle house than the three I've visited in Manhattan, and involves walking down either 282 or 293 stairs, depending on the route.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Packing Redux

How do you pack for three months of temporary housing? 
I know how to pack a single change of clothes for an overnight trip.  I know what to take for a weekend horse show. I did a pretty good job of packing for four weeks in Italy, even though I needed hiking clothes and things appropriate for touring Italian businesses. 
Bring too much to a temporary apartment means you might not have room for it, and you will certainly get to move it again.  Bring too little and you'll be dependent on doing laundry.  
If you are going to suggest that I could just go shopping, you have mistakenly started reading this blog and should stop now and go read some other blog about a different person, who likes shopping. 
I think I am allergic to shopping. I understand that a certain amount of shopping is necessary for feeding oneself, and not going around naked.  When I go shopping, it's because I am missing something, and it's a specific something and I can tell you exactly what I am looking to buy. The kind of shopping where I go to a store (or even several stores) to look at what they have and see if anything is interesting to me feels like going to a bunch of medical specialists so they can describe the painful procedures they might be able to do to improve me.  My mother loved shopping, and while I love her very much, I have never shared her zeal for "finds," or for bargains.  
I often catch myself settling for things that are not what I really wanted, like a floral sundress when I wanted black capris, and rushing out of the store with a purchase like it represented a triumph when it really represented a failure. My very specific ideas about exactly what I want are always subverted by my inability to anticipate wardrobe needs, my being oblivious to current fashion trends, and my impatience with not finding exactly what I want in the very first place I looked for it. Even when a shopping trip "goes well," and my efforts to find "something to wear out to dinner with my husband's new boss and his wife" yield an appropriate floral sundress (for which I even have a perfectly matching pair of ironic high-heeled shoes and a fancy-buttoned cardigan), I feel like I have betrayed my true nature (and a record of perfect failure). Something must be wrong with the whole outfit. Maybe shoes are no longer ironic when they match. I fret over the expense of a single garment, amortizing the cost over the expected life or anticipated number of uses. If I could arrange to be haunted by my mother, I could put her in charge of my shopping.  I might need to tell her to only buy me black clothes because the other clothes hang unworn (or once-worn) in my closets until such time as I bag them up and give them away.   
So, how do you pack for three months when you do not know what you will be doing every day? Should I assume I'll do more than walk the dogs on any given day? Will I want to be hip and charming wherever I go so no one knows I'm not really a New Yorker?  
For the dogs and cat I packed their medical records and most of their possessions: toys, t-shirts, jackets, collars, leashes, beds. For the maintenance of household affairs, I brought a batch of the recent bills, school records, immunization records. I brought a few books I thought I might want to read soon.  I packed a suitcase of my riding clothes and stuck them in the tack room of the horse trailer. I brought the unexpired contents of my medicine cabinet.  (My husband carefully collected and brought the expired contents of the medicine cabinet.) 
You don't have to be a meteorologist to know that New York in July would be hotter than Seattle in July.  August may be hotter still. But there is a trick to this, because hot-summer places like New York have something that milder-summer places like Seattle don't have: ubiquitous, ice-cold air-conditioning. So, as it turns out, you do need some of the Seattle-summer wardrobe (sweaters and jeans) to carry over your arm to the frozen subterranean 
depths of New York restaurants, where the diners are chilled alongside the shrimp cocktails. And you don't have to worry about forgetting your sweater or leaving it behind, because you sweat so much from the humidity that the sweater will self-adhere to the forearm upon which it has been draped.
Coming from many years in Seattle and hating shopping as much as I do, my summer clothes (pre-move clean-out apocalypse) could be sorted into three categories: 1) tee-shirts and other slob-wear of an unknown age; 2) unflattering and unfashionable clothes that no longer fit; 3) clothes I bought 14 years ago to wear in Hawaii.  
For people who live in a climate that has summer weather, the advent of warm weather would necessitate shopping for new summer clothes. For people like me who live in Seattle and are bad at shopping, this means wearing the slob-wear of an unknown age.
So while a thoughtful and careful person packed for the pets and the household, that same person transformed into the impatient, impulsive I-hate-to-shop person. And then, she packed eight suitcases. 
Eight suitcases were made available to her, and she filled them. One contained shoes. Another contained toiletries.  Two were filled exclusively with clothes on hangers, like skirts and dresses and shirts with buttons. One was fancifully packed with jeans, slob-wear t-shirts, socks and underwear in anticipation of a driving journey of exactly five days.  As it was, we took six days, and I only needed one clean pair of jeans, after the first day, when I got cat diarrhea on my pants.  Better than the full, mid-sized wheelie bag would have been a single empty plastic bag and another with a couple of clean shirts and too many socks and underwear.
When we arrived at the temporary housing, a two-bedroom apartment within walking distance of my husband's new job, I discovered that he and I had two closets to share, and he had already filled both halfway.  His reasonable assumption was that we would share them both. Unfortunately, an unreasonable person had packed eight suitcases, and half of two closets would not suffice. I audibly derided his choice until he moved out of one closet, which I 
promptly stuffed with clothes from front to back. 
Now I have no room to buy anything new for New York, which is great, because that means I should not go shopping. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Road Trip

We left Seattle last Friday afternoon, before the movers were done.  My husband and youngest son stayed behind to supervise and fly out in the morning.  We made it to Spokane in time for a late dinner. The next night we were in Billings, Montana, and the night after that Mitchell, South Dakota.  We stopped for the night in Joliet, Illinois and last of all, Jamestown, New York.
We followed a few rules:
1. Don't drive more than five hours per driver per day if you're going for more than a couple of days. Otherwise you will get too tired.  Sleep 8 hours or more at night, without setting alarms or having early wake-up pressures.
2. Get a really engaging audio book, a long one. Unabridged. The good ones are read by the author or someone super talented. We listened to Catch-22, read by Jay O. Sanders. There was a problem with the packaging, so there was glue on many of the disks, which caused skipping, but it almost didn't matter.  We listened to both of the last two Harry Potter books on long car trips when the kids were younger, and they always made the miles fly by.
3. Eat the best food you can find. Be flexible. Our best meal was at The Pub in Jamestown, New York. It was full of locals watching the Yankees demolish the Indians on TV. We felt conspicuous walking in, but sat down anyway. Our waitress suggested the chicken salad, which was home-made and better than any chicken salad I've ever had. Really. 
4. Call ahead to hotels and be honest about how many pets you have and be clear about how big your trailer is. They will help you figure out parking, and they will charge you the minimum pet charge. Staff will also admire your knuckle-headed dogs even when they spazz out in the lobby, and you will sleep better knowing that your knuckle-headed dog who is barking in his sleep is at least not giving you away. 
5. Whenever possible, pets should ride in crates. Schwartz pooped in his within Seattle city limits, before we even made it to the freeway. We cleaned it out and he still screamed for a better part of the first day, but after a dip in the hotel room sink and a night of exploring the hotel room while everyone else slept, he was ready to go the next day. He now goes in his kennel without any trouble at all and only meows en route if we meow at him first. His appetite was off for a few days, but we made sure he had access to plenty of food and water at night and he arrived in the best shape of any of us. 
6. One of my biggest fears was that the dogs would wake up in the night and poop in the hotel room. We had limited ability to walk the dogs at all, and their potty breaks were brief and often alongside a busy street. After a day or two, they were both making one large poop morning and night after only the briefest of walks.  We tried not to leave the dogs in hotel rooms while we ate dinner, in many cases because it was forbidden.  They barked at people in restaurant parking lots, which was never good, but in five nights of hotels, we had no accidents.


It has been too long since my last post. 
The movers came last Wednesday morning to start packing, a process which was scheduled to take two days, culminating in the loading of the moving van on Friday. My suitcases were essentially packed before they started, requiring only the final zip, but turned out to be poorly organized for the trip and too numerous for the temporary housing. 
"Crating specialists" were assigned to the task of packing the marble table-tops and one large piece of art. The pair of them showed up hours later than promised, leaving only minutes before we were expected at a good-bye party.  While I did not see it, one was observed injuring himself with a nail gun, and somehow they left without actually nailing together one side of the crate you see pictured.  These little errors add up to a lot of nagging anxiety for me, not because I was worried about the guy or even care about any one specific tired arm-chair showing up in just-as-it-was condition when we see the furniture again, but more because I really do not want to deal with a bunch of broken things and insurance claims.   
We did manage to get rid of an impressive amount of the old and no-longer-needed. The kids happily parted with  dress-up trunks and Lego and blocks and puppets. We donated another ten crates of books to the Friends of the Seattle Public Library, which brings us to a total around 25. They have big book sales up at Magnuson Park, and raise money for the library.   
Living for 17 years in a giant house with a full basement did nothing to instill any sense of discipline in terms of keeping things. So it has meant a number of dump runs and stops at Goodwill, multiple trips to Treehouse to donate beloved old toys, a trip with bunk beds to an organization that transitions homeless families back inside, and a visit to an agency that serves homeless teens (they got a pile of old, lightly used sleeping bags). It was certainly more work to find the right places for things, and in every single case we were glad we did it.
Of course, all this do-gooderism was only possible because we had a truck, and because we had accumulated too much stuff.  Here in New York in our temporary apartment, I do not have room for the clothes I brought, and pitched a temper tantrum about it when I tried to unpack.  I have a chance to make a new start here, and I am trying to formulate a new rule that something new comes in only if something old goes out.  But here, we cannot even separate our recycling from the trash--so I wonder how such a plan could be enacted. 
The bulk of our possessions is now in a storage facility in Connecticut, where it will remain until we have a new place of our own. I know for sure that there are boxes filled with books I do not need or clothes I will never wear.  I am going to have the chance to go through the same culling process here. 
Long ago, when we were still in college, my then-boyfriend and I took a big trash bag full of old clothes to the Goodwill or Salvation Army in Burlington, Vermont.  As we drove away, a belligerent and weather-worn woman near the donation station shouted pointedly at us, "We don't need your fucking shit!" 
I think about her still.