We will always know it as the September 10th diet, but we stuck to it despite—or because of—how life changed the next day.
Our Diet Guide
By September 2001, I was fatter than I had ever been (no numbers, please!). I wore G’s discarded jeans every day because they were the only pants that fit. I had attempted to lose weight a few times, but I always caved at the slightest temptation.
But by September 2001, G. was ready to join me in losing weight. He found this book, 32 Days to a 32 Inch Waist, and said this was the diet to try. I said I didn’t want a 32-inch waist, but since I needed some shared willpower, I went along.
We gave ourselves one more weekend to indulge in pizza, bagels and cocktails. We would start the program on Monday.
This book must have been written in the 70s because it allowed “ice milk,” frozen, white stuff sold as diet ice cream back then. There’s a reason ice milk disappeared from the grocer’s freezer. It was nasty.
On Monday, September 10, I fixed my breakfast while G. still slept. Breakfast is 100 calories of cereal. The book suggests Frosted Mini-Wheats. One hundred calories of Frosted Mini-Wheats is THREE mini cereal biscuits. THREE.
I laughed hysterically at the sad little cereal biscuits in the tiny dish. I woke G. up to show him breakfast. He laughed too and we got through the first day.
Tuesday, September 11
On the second day, a sunny, dry Tuesday morning, two planes hit the World Trade Centers. I saw the two flaming towers when I emerged from the subway at West 4th. I walked the rest of the way to work stunned.
At the office, no one knew what to do. I sat at my desk, then I listened to the radio in the conference room and then went back to my desk again. Eventually, I walked across the Manhattan Bridge home to Brooklyn with thousands of others.
One of the first things I said to G. when I got home was “are we still on the diet?” He said he was wondering the same thing. In those two sentences, we acknowledged that the world had changed and nothing would be the same. But without ever articulating why, we decided to stay on the diet.
We spent three days watching the news ceaselessly, eating our allowance of Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast and the graham cracker-and-peanut-butter snack. We lost weight and kept it off mostly, but I never got that fat or complacent again.
A great, inexpensive Mexican restaurant with locations in the East Village, Chelsea and TriBeCa.
Mary Ann’s, an NYC Institution
Almost every Friday night back in the day, my friends and I ate at Mary Ann’s because it was cheap, the margaritas were good, and it was across the street from another favorite location.
When my husband G. came into my life a few years later, I brought him to Mary Ann’s for the first time. Far be it from me to test a new boyfriend, but he and I had a date planned. Then my crazy friends called and suggested we all meet at Mary Ann’s. I knew that bringing G. along would be a test of compatibility, to see how he interacted with my closest friends in my new city.
Passed with flying colors, he did.
The little cantina sat just down the street from my Second Avenue apartment. G. and I ate at Mary Ann’s twice a week most weeks thereafter—sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I can chart the increase in visits to Mary Ann’s with a similar increase in my weight over the next couple years—the love pounds.
Like a Rock Star at Mary Ann’s
Light, Colorful Chips
We received rock-star treatment at Mary Ann’s. In New York, it’s not easy to become a “regular” at a bar or restaurant. Becoming a regular is more than just frequenting a place regularly; it is your frequency being acknowledged by the restaurant staff. Tip well, or being a regular will work against you.
Mary Ann’s on Second Avenue was always busy, but we got the nod from the host and were always seated quickly at one of the booths or at the round window table if we were more than four. I comment on our status as regulars, because without money in New York, you dine anonymously.
That took some getting used to after being in the restaurant biz for years in Milwaukee.
The Food and the Flan
As in most Mexican restaurants, chips and salsa land on your table instantly, buying the wait staff a few minutes (like giving Saltines to a waiting baby in a high chair). Mary Ann’s chips are light and colorful, mixed with a few orange and blue chips, good eye-appeal. The red, chunky salsa is just right.
My Favorite Margarita
In some restaurants, margaritas are made with too much Triple Sec and taste more sweet than tart. Some people like this—we don’t. Mary Ann’s margaritas, whether frozen or on the rocks, tasted perfect. We often would order a shot of Grand Marnier to share and top off each margarita. (Thank you, George, for that habit.)
Mary Ann’s served a vegetable flan side on Saturdays only. What was it about that flan? Perhaps its secret was the corny creaminess. Every time we ate at Mary Ann’s, we would ask the server if they had vegetable flan in the back. We always got the same answer: only Saturdays.
Our favorite entrées were Pollo Yucatan, a creamy chicken dish, and the Rustic Quesedilla, a whole wheat tortilla with vegetables and goat cheese. Often, we ordered one of the rotating chalkboard specials. Whatever the Special was, it was always smothered in cheese and sauce.
Over the Years
Mary Ann’s hasn’t changed much over the years. Our rock-star maître d’ left, and I learned that a frozen margarita has 900 calories.
G and I have lived near TriBeCa for seven years now and we have been a short walk from that location. But we always have somewhere else to go. Mary Ann’s represents a bygone era for us and we never consider going to our old haunt. As we prepare to leave New York, and we know every stop is a final stop, we decide a visit to Mary Ann’s is overdue.
The TriBeCa location seems spiffier than before. But the Mary Ann’s vibe remains. Our waitress suggested we do shots together. Where else would that happen?
Minerva overlooks Herald Square Park
I sit in the tiny triangle called Herald Square Park, a park surrounded by one of the busiest intersections in the world, where Broadway meets Sixth Avenue. Luckily, I nabbed the last empty chair, so I choose to ignore the faint smell of pee behind me. I just skooch my chair forward as far as I can, which is just a few inches.
Workers on lunch hour and tourists in a daze wander inside the park clutching their McDonald’s bags and oversized sodas. They scan the park for a seat, but the seats are all taken and the tables are all spoken for.
The memorial, figures of the roman goddess of wisdom Minerva and the two bell ringers, stands majestically at the wide segment of the isosceles. Created by artist Antonin Jean Carles, the bronze statues and clock overhead once resided atop the New York Herald building from 1895 to 1921, back when New York had several many competitive daily newspapers.
This tiny park is the only lunchtime getaway in the vicinity of my workplace. I don’t come here often because of the drawbacks: hordes of people, few seats, and the smell of pee among the blaring car horns and the screech of fire engines that invariably get caught in that busiest of intersections.
I wish I had a quiet place to go—to read, to write, to just think—during the single hour I get to myself. In my next life, I will have a lunchtime respite. The price for that peace is the absence of giant Minerva looking down at me with her aura of journalistic history. The pee smell, I won’t miss.
75-Pound Gateway Dog, Shadow
Gateway (formerly Gateway Plaza) quietly attached a Pet Rider to apartment lease renewals—a single page that looks like more legalese attached to a packet of legalese. But once word of the rider spread among the tenants, the reaction was anything but quiet.
Imposing Draconian rules, the Pet Rider states that each apartment may only house one pet; that pet must weigh under 40 pounds. Residents won’t be able to walk their dogs through the lobby, even though the only other building entrance is through the dumpster area. Pets must keep a mugshot on file and wear specially issued tags at all times. No other dogs can visit the building. Cats must be neutered and de-clawed and tenants must supply veterinary proof.
Pet owners must pay an annual $250 fee per pet. With a cat and a dog, that adds $40 a month to the rent. The rider also contains some common sense clauses about cleaning up after your dog and banning aggressive dogs. A list of a dozen breeds will be banned, including hunting dogs. Really? Beagles? You’re banning Snoopy, for chrissake!
Since the Pet Rider is attached to lease renewals, the implication is clear: the rules apply to existing tenants. Dog owners would be faced with moving out or giving up their pet. The president of the tenants association described the measures as “heavy-handed, arbitrary and inappropriate.”
Here’s the rub: Gateway tenants in residence since June 2009 or before are under a rent-stabilization agreement in effect until 2020. Some of these long-time tenants returned to Gateway Plaza after 9/11 displaced many of them for months. Now, many of these folks who chose to return to a decimated neighborhood are paying a bit less than market value on their apartments.
Now the Pet Rider Starts to Make Sense
Gateway markets itself lately as “luxury apartments.” The management is renovating apartments as they turn over, then jacking up the rent. That’s their prerogative. But if the Pet Rider goes into effect as stated, many of the rent-stabilized tenants will have to leave. Or maybe they finally will want to leave.
If the management wants the pets and the rent-stabilized tenants to leave, I suggest they adhere to their Republican principles and offer a buy-out instead of kicking them to curb.
Gateway, a community of six buildings, 1712 apartments in Battery Park City, was always pet-friendly and kid-friendly. Some might say Gateway is overrun with pets and kids. There is the dog contingent and the kid contingent and some who overlap. G. and I are firmly in the dog camp.
After the story broke on the local ABC news, management distributed a memo backpedaling on their initial intent, stating that “no pets currently in residence, regardless of size or breed are being asked to leave the property.” They’ve also reconsidered the rule on neutering and de-clawing cats.
Unfortunately, this still leaves many tenants in the doghouse.
The Aura of Success
Being successful in New York is measured differently than in other places. If you can make it there—stop the music! What do you mean “make it”?
Have I “made it” if I earn enough to pay my bills? How about if I buy an apartment and stay above water? But I need to take vacations too! Have I made it if I love my job? Am I successful if I feel happy more than I feel sad?
Success is easy to define if you are talking about getting pregnant or baking a soufflé. Successful New Yorkers are easy to identify when you are talking about Michael Bloomberg or Woody Allen. Many people are successful in New York and many people are in New York because they are successful—or just rich.
But success is not limited to those wildly rich and famous people that Malcolm Gladwell defines as Outliers. In our society, doctors and lawyers are still automatically considered successful. But scratch just below the surface; you’ll find doctors being sued and lawyers being disbarred. In New York these days, you may need to be a financier, an heiress or a celebrity to be successful.
Where are the Average Joes?
Show me the cut-off where Success turns into Failure. Maybe a successful life is not black and white; maybe there’s a swath of Average Joes that separate the Successes from the Failures. In which borough do these not-quite-successful, average people live?
When an era of life comes to an end, I reflect on whether the time was a success or failure. High school—definitely a success. College—well, I graduated. But New York? New York . . .hmm . . . I drum my fingers on the table. Salary—good. Salary in relation to rent—not good.
In New York, the gulf between the rich and the struggling is wider than in any other city. Brooklyn was once a haven of more affordable prices. Now some Brooklyn neighborhoods are more expensive than Manhattan. New York is for the very young or the very rich, some have said. I used think that was cynical, but now I know it’s true.
Success in New York must mean being able to take advantage of what is here—the shows, the restaurants, the parties. For a time I could do that, but now, not so often. New York is changing. Crime is up and the city feels grittier. So many people are leaving it seems; many asking the same question: was I a success?
Purging clothes from your overstuffed closet is difficult.
My Closet: Ready for the Purge
You throw out more than just clothes—you discard memories. The questions below will help guide your decisions as you go through the painful process.
Have I Worn It in the Last Year?
Despite the ubiquity of the “have-I-worn-it-in-the-last-year” criterion for keeping or tossing clothes, this yardstick should be a guideline, not an iron-clad rule. Discarding clothes is not a black-or-white decision, especially when considering a piece that is black, or white, or black-and-white. Remember, neutrals remain stylish longer than any other color.
Just because you haven’t worn it in the last year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep it. Maybe a two-year guideline is more viable for special-occasion outfits. The black dress you bought for last year’s New Year’s Eve party may still be viable.
But when you hold up a pair of flared jeans to the light and you try to decide, consider the last time you wore them and felt good about it. But don’t let that answer back you into a corner.
Does It Fit?
Something that doesn’t fit should be easy to toss out, but in reality, it isn’t. But “does-it-fit” should carry more weight than “have-I-worn-it-in-the-last-year” in the painful exorcism of your wardrobe.
If your weight fluctuates, you understand why this isn’t easy. You don’t want to get rid of the Skinny Clothes you plan to get back into. You don’t want to get rid of Fat Clothes either because—if history repeats itself—you will need them on a not-too-distant day.
Be rational. If the Skinny Clothes are more than one size too small, throw them out. Do the same for the Fat Clothes. If you’ve reduced your body mass by two sizes or more, you deserve congratulations. When—I mean, if—you regain the weight, your current wardrobe will be out of style anyway. This logic works better for the removal of Skinny Clothes. Fat Clothes are more likely to be basic and black.
Can It Live in Limbo?
The Purgatory Pile method of purging is the most comforting method.
To create a Purgatory Pile, put the clothes you think you should discard in a trash bag. Let the bag sit in the garage for a few months. It’ll take you a few months to get to the Salvation Army anyway.
When Salvation Army day is imminent, go through the pile again and allow yourself to rescue one or two items. I’ve made some wise rescues.
The Purgatory Pile method allows you to excise the clothes without feeling there is no turning back. Yet the clothes are out of your closet, in a trash bag, and one step closer to the door. You will be able to make the final decision with more detachment.
Can I Afford to Buy Something New?
Of course you can. Buying new clothes, when you are supposed to be reducing the contents of your clothes closet, sounds contradictory. But a new blouse or new shoes improves your wardrobe just as purging the dingy blouses and beat-up shoes does.
Something new makes you more willing to let go of the something old.
Once you’re done, look around at all the room you’ve made. Just in time to curl up with the 652-page Sept issue of In Style.
Decadence! A Flight On Vodka Airlines
The Russian Tea Room should be on everyone’s New York Bucket List
When we first walked in, we were stunned by the dramatic ruby studded lights and the eclectic artwork all over the walls. This is old, romantic Europe.
L. treated Gene and me to a birthday dinner worthy of a czar and czarina. We started with (what else?) vodka. From their cocktail list, I chose a Cosmonaut, a bilberry twist on the cliche Cosmopolitan; Gene had a Cavatini which included a generous dab of caviar on the side. L. chose from their extensive vodka list and was pleased to find a good vodka from Sweden, Purity. Purity, indeed!
2008 Cabernet with Elegant Label
Jane, the warm and friendly Sommelier, helped us choose wine and entertained us with stories of her gastronomic adventures from Australia to Florida to New York. Gene asked her if knew Columbo. She said, “Jean-Luc Columbo?” referring to the French wine producer. Gene said, “No, the crime-solving Columbo.”
Jane, as anyone might expect, said “I love Peter Falk!” Gene gave her a synopsis of one his favorite episodes, Any Port in a Storm, in which the criminal is revealed by his wine palate. Jane generously sold us her last bottle of a fine Cabernet from the Napa Valley, 2008 Cask, Rubicon Estates, Rutherford. I had a half bottle of 2010 Marie Antoinette, J.J. Vincent, Pouilly-Fuissé. Jane decanted the red to await our entrees.
Russian Tea Room Caviar, More than a Tasting
L. and Gene indulged in a caviar tasting comparison of Russian and Siberian Osetra. Our waiter, Erkan, gave us a short treatise on caviar and then returned to the table with the caviar on ice in two silver bowls with a mother-of-pearl spoon in each. (Never allow metal to touch the pearly beads, he warned.)
Dollhouse Pancakes: Blini, Warm & Fresh
The dramatic presentation began with a plate of miniature blinis, so round and cute, arranged in an artistic swirl and waved under our noses. The other accoutrements were sour cream, melted butter, chopped onion, chopped egg and parsley. (Erkan advised against using the parsley due to its strong flavor.) Erkan laid each tiny blini gently laid on our plates with tiny silver tongs, then baptized each with a single drop of melted butter, a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of egg and onion, and finally, the blessed black eggs.
We watched Erkan reenact this ritual sixteen times, glorious torture as we waited to be allowed to sample the finished product. Each one was perfection!
I ordered the Russian Tea Room’s signature dish, the Chicken Kiev, stuffed with herb butter, on top of jasmine rice and cherry sauce on the side. Erkan made the first cut for me so the herb butter would not squirt indelicately out.
Gene opted for the Kobe Beef and Grass-Fed Beef duo and L went for the traditional Beef Strogonoff. Both were beefy heaven.
We read the dessert menu and the will was there but capacity was not. However, Erkan brought a small plate of dark chocolate truffles. We had no problem eating these, a perfect finish. We had to leave a little wine in the decanter, because it was definitely time to go home and return to the real world.
Visit Bar 89 in SoHo for gourmet comfort food, martinis filled to the brim and restrooms that test your trust in technology.
No one just stumbles upon the subtle facade of this chic-but-not-too-chic bar. Bar 89 (89 Mercer St.) is one of those special bars that seem like a local secret whether it really is or not. Bar 89 is one of the best, if not THE best, place to bring friends or family from out of town. That’s right, this gem is fun enough for friends, but safe enough for family.
The bar’s clean, modern decor has changed in a startling way. I walked in early Friday night and had to take a step back. The pink graffiti splash of wall art made it seem like the usually monochromatic gray bar got, well, hit by graffiti. The explosion of color is the opposite of Bar 89′s look.
After my eyes adjusted, I decided it was cool.
Art installations at Bar 89 are just that—temporary installations. “Bar 89″ makes a fast costume change and becomes “Gallery 89.” The bartender Ryan said customers are reacting so well to this show that the management plans to keep it up for awhile.
For more details on the art installation, check out the Gallery 89 page.
Bar 89′s Humble Origins
I order a watermelon martini because it matched the room.
The menu is simple: burgers, salads and desserts. The appetizers are standard fare (nachos and wings and such). The burgers are as big as frisbees. Keep your napkin close by because the butter from the bun will be dribbling down your chin.
If the menu feels midwestern, that’s because it is. The seed which grew into Bar 89 came from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the offspring of Elsa’s 0n the Park, (833 E Jefferson). Elsa’s was ahead of its time in the early 1980s and remains hot today. The martinis, the burgers and the rotating art installation concepts all came out of Milwaukee.
To add to Bar 89′s humble roots, you need to know that Elsa’s itself was born from even humbler roots. Karl Kopp, who owns Kopps’ Frozen Custard in Milwaukee opened Elsa’s, named after his mother.
The wholly New York twist are the restrooms. When you bring your guests, make sure EVERYONE USES THE BATHROOM. I won’t say why, you’ll just know.
The Door Shuts on Mary Astor
New York is a city of stairs and elevators.
Stairs to the subway, a second set of stairs to get to the F train at West 4th Street. Stairs to the West Side Highway overpass, five flights of stairs (no elevator) to get to our old sixth floor walk-up in the East Village. The city is my Stairmaster.
I don’t mind stairs–most days. But elevators. Oh, the elevators.
In older buildings, elevators can have less floorspace than a phone booth. Some still have grates that close outside the doors. Elevator grates were never used to better effect than in the last scene of The Maltese Falcon.
There are 350 apartments and 35 floors in my Battery Park City building. Every resident of those 350 apartments use the four elevators. At 2.1 persons per apartment, that’s 735 people, 100 Cadillac-sized strollers and 200 dogs who refuse to stand upright in the elevator.
Nothing underscores the unpleasantness of the elevator ride than our task tonight. The vet who makes house calls requires a poop sample from our dog. There is no other way to collect that sample than to bag it up and carry it up the elevator. Check your dignity at the door.
A Lucky Break
Lucky for me, my husband is walking the dog tonight and he will carry out the assignment –as long as Shadow cooperates.
If not, I will be tasked with this in the morning. My husband suggested that even if he bags a sample tonight, I should get a “fresher” one tomorrow. Really?!
I’ve seen a lot of things in the elevator, but so far I’ve never ridden up with someone carrying a poop bag. Will it be a point of conversation? Or will my fellow riders notice the stench and wrinkles their noses? If there’s a kid on the elevator, then there’s sure to be a commotion.
One day, I will live closer to ground.
Go ahead, blame ebooks for the impending doom of public libraries.
Readers pick a camp these days, Camp Digital or Camp Paper, but few pick Camp Library. Quality paper, elegant typefaces and the act of turning pages evoke sentiment in the traditional reader. Book covers can be an art form.
But readers can mark and store notes in their ebooks. They can reference significant passages in a way unequaled by yellow highlighters and Post-it® Notes. Plus, a reader can see what passages other people marked.
I am an ambidextrous reader; I choose the easiest or least expensive way to get the book I want to read. Sometimes speed is my priority and I buy the Kindle edition. Other times, I have a Barnes & Noble gift card and I am happy to spend it on beautiful hardbacks.
Back to the Public Library
When ebooks catapulted to popularity, I wondered if libraries would survive. But with my home bookshelves crammed full and my wallet a little light, I started using the New York Public Library’s website and book reservation system. Apparently, a lot of other readers are too.
According to the American Library Association:
“Public libraries in many major U.S. cities continue to see circulation rise, with Seattle leading the way with a whopping 50% increase in the past six years.”
“The rapid growth of ebooks has stimulated increased demand for them in libraries. Nationwide, more than two-thirds of public libraries offer ebooks, and availability and use are up. But libraries only have limited access to ebooks because of restrictions placed on their use by the nation’s largest publishers.”
So while the publishers are duking out their price war, I have returned to the library.
The Patience and Fortitude of the NYPL
The New York Public Library is the largest library in the United States not counting the Library of Congress. The two lions guarding the front entrance of the main branch are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.”
Which is what it takes to find anything.
The lending library is across the street on Fifth Avenue and like most libraries, despite their Dewey Decimal system, I can never find anything I want. Even in my Battery Park City library, where everything is brand-spanking-new, the shelves seem impenetrable.
If the books were laid out the way Barnes & Noble is–fanned out on easy-to-browse tables, perhaps it would be different.
The NYPL reservation system changed everything. I add books to my Hold list from my laptop or smartphone. When the titles are available, the library delivers them to Battery Park City. I get an email telling me which of my books is ready. I walk in, head right to the Reserve Shelf, pluck out my book and I am back on the street in about two minutes.
NYPL Hold List sample