The Best Time I Went To E.R. Without Insurance While Attending A Conference Inspired By A Facebook Group I Started
I am in the lobby of UCLA’s Carnesale’s Commons building, having snuck out of the main conference room for the sixth time that hour to pee, only to be distracted by a very nice spread of sandwiches. At that moment my biggest concern is wondering how many sandwiches would it be polite to steal before anyone else gets to the table.
There is movement out of the corner of my eye. Francesca Lia Block, author of the cult young adult fantasy novel Weetzie Bat has just entered the room, looking exactly like she did in her author photo twenty-five years ago. I strut up to her with the false confidence of somebody who is on prescription painkillers and has been made to feel like she owns the place.
“Hey youuuu,” I say to her, extending my hand to shake hers. I am woozy, but in my defence, she looks woozier. “I am a children’s book critic and,” here I lean in to whisper, conspiratorially, “I started this.” She smiles politely and asks if I would like to be on her mailing list.
It was last summer, mid-June, and a friend of mine was going on tour to promote her new novel. Would I like to stay at her place in Brooklyn and feed her cats while she was away? I would like that very much. I brought my fellow Canadian down with me, a little lady you might know by the name of…HALEY MLOTEK. Haley and I both had day jobs at that point—I was working full-time in a children’s bookstore in Toronto, she was the virtual assistant for an American writer, but we were ambitious and very excited about having a free place to stay in New York for a week.
Our first night there we went to a party with a group of women writers of varying experience levels. The vibes, as they say, were good. We took a cab home together, discussing how lucky we were to be part of a supportive creative community.
The next morning, we were working side-by-side on our computers while Blue Crush played on the background on TV.
“What if I made something for writers to connect with each other?” I asked Haley. “Something where we can ask questions and learn from each other. We’ll invite our friends, and let them invite their friends. It might be helpful for people who don’t like, live in New York or Toronto or whatever, to network.”
“Yeah, that sounds nice,” she said.
I clicked “Create group” on Facebook, then paused. “Is ‘Binders Full of Women Writers’ a funny name?”
“Eh,” Haley said. “You can always change it later.”
The end of March is still a dead zone for produce here in the Northeast, but in Mexico and further south to Peru, one of the world’s most diverse and most popular fruits, the mango, is beginning to enter one of its two seasons (the other is in early fall). Even though our neighbor to the south is one of the world’s biggest producers of mangoes—and Florida grows a pretty respectable number and hosts what looks like a delightful festival focused on the fruit—the mango is underappreciated and underused in the United States. This should be a crime! We should all be arrested!
If you live in a place without a substantial Indian or Mexican population, there’s a pretty fair chance the only mango you’ve ever seen is the Tommy Atkins: a large, red-green mango with a giant pit and a fibrous interior that gets stuck in your teeth. The Tommy Atkins is one of those accursed fruit varieties, like the Red Delicious apple, that is an insult to its brothers and should be banished from the planet. The Tommy Atkins is the worst possible example of the wonders of the mango: weak in flavor, egregious in texture, and popular exclusively because it is large, easy to grow, and tough enough to withstand transit.
The Tommy Atkins mango was created by Thomas Atkins in Broward County, Florida from a tree planted in 1922. Atkins was very pleased with his shit mango; he thought it would sell well because it is large and pretty and does not bruise easily. He was right, although it took awhile for the variety to catch on. Throughout the early nineteen fifties, Atkins kept trying to get the Florida Mango Forum to approve it; they did not, citing its subpar flavor and texture, but eventually the growers, rather than the tasters, won out. The Tommy Atkins today is by far the most common variety in the U.S., which is embarrassing as heck.
There are thousands of varieties of mangoes, ranging from giant grapefruit-sized mangoes to tiny plum-sized mangoes, dark purple mangoes to delicate golden mangoes, and flat oblong mangoes to nearly spherical mangoes. The textures range from so creamy you need to use a spoon to so crunchy you need to use a fork (or chopsticks), the flavors from crisp and vegetal to heavy and sweet. Most mango varieties do not travel well, unfortunately, and there’s not much of a market in shipping some of the weirder ones all the way from, say, the south of India, where mangoes are as beloved as apples in New York. That said, if you live in a city, or in a place with a healthy representation of certain immigrant groups, there’s a pretty good chance you can find a mango that’ll totally change the way you think about them.
I don’t believe in “rules,” because like, what am I, your mom? We’re all Grown Woman™! We can do whatever we want! I have a particular distaste for fashion rules (don’t mix patterns, don’t wear white after Labor Day, don’t don’t don’t), because they only exist to force people into these totally arbitrary categories of completely meaningless concepts like “taste” and “class” and “beauty,” all of which are based in subjective and constantly shifting priorities that have more to do with enforcing a status quo than actually encouraging people to look and dress in a way that feels best for them. Oof. I just tried reading that sentence out loud and ran out of breath. But you know what I mean.
HOWEVER. On Saturday I spent a good six hours by myself, wandering around Toronto and completing various errands I had been putting off; I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sit in front of my computer all day because I could feel a very real burnout coming on, but I also couldn’t do nothing, like oh my god perish the thought, so I went to Toronto’s fanciest department store to pick up some skincare stuff I “needed” to replace, and while I was there I was like, fuck it, I’m going to the floor with all the Agent Provocateur bras and buying something ridiculous. Pictured, left: one of the bad decisions I made while I was there. It’s called the Alina Bra and I will probably never take it off. I also bought this bra because I was in a MOOD for making BAD DECISIONS.
Afterwards I kept waiting for the guilt or regret to creep in because, like, I don’t know if you clicked on those links, but those bras cost money. Money I’ve been saving (hoarding, really), for important life things. But you know what? The guilt didn’t happen. It STILL hasn’t happened. And that’s because of one of the only fashion rules I do follow, one that has many practical applications and iterations but I’m choosing to simplify it, is: “cheap sunglasses, expensive lingerie.”
I once bought a pair of really beautiful, very expensive Karen Walker sunglasses; this was back when I worked as a legal secretary and was just rolling in disposable income for the very first time in my adult life. I still have them! They’re great! But I almost never wear them. They feel a little too…heavy, maybe? Too much. Which is strange, because I almost always wear sunglasses when I’m outside, my eyes are extremely sensitive to light and even indirect sunlight makes me tear up almost immediately, plus they just make me look cool. I prefer the sunglasses I get from this cute store around the corner from my apartment. They have a whole wall of sunglasses for $10 each and I’ll buy one or two, wear them to death (you should’ve seen what happened to the sunglasses I brought with me to Cuba, R.I.P. those beautiful reflective aviators, they were too pure for this world), and then replace them as necessary.
Sunglasses bounce around in your pockets and bump up against your keys and get jammed into your purses. More than that, they’re right in front of your face all the time!! Everyone sees them! They’re not special. That’s my point. They’re common. Like, who cares about sunglasses.
Lingerie, on the other hand. I expected to feel guilty because, like, how could I spend so much money on something that I was going to show to so few people? I mean, I’m not some kind of lingerie purist who is like “this is for my husband’s eyes only” because like lol as if. You better believe I sent about a million texts and Instagram DMs of my tits in those bras when I was in the Agent Provocateur change room, I looked amazing and I knew it and I wanted all my friends and loved ones to simultaneously know it and share in my narcissism. But if you’re someone who wears bras and enjoys wearing bras, you know how it feels to find a really, truly great one. I once had a friend who described the way her tits looked when she held them in her hands guided into exactly the right height and shape and said her life’s mission was to find a bra that did exactly that, a comparison I loved because I knew what she was talking about but also because a really good bra should feel like someone is lovingly propping your breasts up to the height and shape you feel your best in. Sunglasses can’t do anything even remotely comparable to that kind of emotional and physically flattering support. I mean, apparently they make your face look more symmetrical? Who cares.
Once I started thinking about this I realized I have so many other similar rules that I’d been secretly holding on to, guiding all my purchases and beauty priorities. This has been a very longwinded preamble to sharing those with you. They are, more or less in order, the following:
Small-batch pickles, Greek yogurt, and quinoa are all high-stakes trendy foods with loads of moral and aesthetic baggage. We ingest them to prove to ourselves that we are ethical by way of being health-conscious, multicultural, hard workers. Of course, the labor required to produce and consume a pickle won’t have any measurable effect on the health of your body, the quality of your soul, or the degree of your authenticity. This constellation of foods, which might be crudely labeled “hipster food,” are the means by which our sense of goodness is outsourced through our gut.
The antithetical culinary trend of hipster food, snackwave, seizes on its puritanism and refutes it through slovenliness, shopping mall imagery, and pro-capitalist branding. It is the first prong in the anti-hipster food backlash. As Hazel Cills and Gabrielle Noone write in The Hairpin, snackwave “trickled up from Tumblr dashboards” to counter “Pinterest-worthy twee cupcake recipes.” It is chiefly defined by excessive consumption of junk food and is often couched in the doctrine that women, especially, can do whatever they want to their bodies. An important element of snackwave is its individualism: the meal is communal, the snack is individual.
Normcore food will be the second prong in the anti-hipster food backlash. Normcore and snackwave, though opposites, are both cultural formations that will teach us how to finally stop eating kale. There have been a couple anemic attempts to define normcore food, and they are usually wrong. For example, people who believe normcore food is just junk food done up in a chef hat—your David Chang-type cuisine—are confusing it with typical hipster fare. Bon Appetitmade a better go of it with their April Fool’s Day slideshow, which included items like yogurt and chicken fajitas, and at least one food blogger got it right when she identified the BRAT diet plus plain chicken and bok choy as normcore. In the realm of fine cuisine, The New York Times has unknowingly alluded to at least one normcoreish food movement in a trend piece on “refined slob” nineties food writer Laurie Colwin. Besides normcore being a running joke, it is also very attractive, as increasingly elaborate (or else humblebrag-y) food exhausts itself and gives way to a minimalism that is not regressive or folksy.
If normcore fashion is not just hipsterism made over in worse nineties clothes—which is a common critique—normcore food should also have its own menu. Specifically, it must exclude any variety of trend-forward food: kitsch Americana, artisanal products like pickles and jams, and snackwave-like excess. As with its fashion equivalent, the goods must be ugly and plainly dressed.
Tomato soup is the chicken noodle soup of non-meat-based soups: an overlooked and underappreciated as a cornerstone of American comfort food. Though its frequent partner, the grilled cheese sandwich, has received its due in the cyclonic world of food trends, tomato soup has yet to be really embraced by food bloggers and Good Morning America hosts. This is fine with me! Get away from my soup, you awful swooping buzzards.
Spring is the worst season. Its only positive attribute is that it isn’t winter, and even winter, in its early months, is festive and pretty and you can go skiing and there’s a long vacation for Christmas and New Year’s. When we “look forward to spring,” we are actually looking forward to summer. Anyway, there’s basically nothing to eat in March, but I’ve been making tomato soup like a couple times a week lately and it’s done a pretty decent job of blunting my seasonal depression. It’s a perfect dish for this season: It’s warm and soothing and soulful to get us through the cold dampness, but it isn’t actually all that heavy of a dish; it’s a transitional food, reminding us that times will get better.
There are many famous tomato-based soups—minestrone, gazpacho, cioppino—but these differ fundamentally from what I think of as the classic American tomato soup. For one thing, in minestrone and cioppino, the tomato is a broth to support the real focus of the soup—either vegetables and beans and pasta or seafood. And gazpacho is, of course, cold and also very rustic: big chunks of tomato and cucumber and who knows what else. American tomato soup instead draws its inspiration from—I think—the Polish zupa pomidorowa, a strained or pureed tomato soup often served with rice. But it really came into its own with Campbell’s ridiculously successful canned tomato soup, which is basically just tomato paste to which you add water. I love Campbell’s tomato soup; most canned soups suffer from the process of either removing water to create a concentrate or overcooking ingredients to become shelf-stable, but tomatoes take to concentration just fine. That said, we can very easily make a tomato soup that hits the Campbell’s notes but packs more, or different, flavors.
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and editor Elon Green tells us more about the depths of his love for flip-flops.
I feel like I'm finally home. pic.twitter.com/rIwVSiiQgN
— Elon Green (@elongreen) March 16, 2015
Elon! So what happened here?
So: I love flip-flops. I’m not ashamed. To the detriment of my feet, probably, I wear them as often as I can, well into the winter months. I know they can kill me, but in life you pick your battles. They’re like walking on a cloud, and any chill I might suffer is more than offset by the phalangeal freedom.
I’m not promiscuous. I won’t wear just any brand—only Rainbows. (I credit my college roommate Matt, who turned me on to them years ago. He said, correctly, they were the greatest footwear on earth.) They’re not for everyone. Even if you’re used to them, your feet will probably bleed a bit during the first week as you break ’em in. But after that, you’re home free and it’s glorious.
In Los Angeles, downtown is empty as a matter of course. The city has no center to speak of, its sprawl seemingly endless. Helicopters circle above like buzzards. At one point, we counted six in formation. We didn’t know where they were going.
“That’s weird,” said a friend who lives here.
Weirder is when it started to rain.
I am thirty-four years old and I saw snow for the first time in my life, on the peaks of the San Gabriels, far in the distance from where I was driving on the freeway under a hot sun. At night, I went to parties in the hills at houses perched atop the canyons where everyone is from somewhere else and the city stretches out below us for miles.
On another day, I walked from where I’m staying on Hope and 5th to the Million Dollar Hotel. The Hotel Rosslyn’s famous sign is updated now: The New Million Dollar Hotel. Fire proof rooms, it read. They’re for rent. Perhaps I could stay, I thought, looking at fairy lights hanging from the windows.
343 West 29th Street • $11,900/month • Three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms • 2,200 square feet • Nearest subway: A/C/E at Penn Station
“So this is English House,” Citihabitats’ Donna Kreeger said as we walked up the steps to the townhouse at 343 West 29th Street. “The owner named it that. She’s English.” Light streamed through the massive townhouse windows as Kreeger heaved the shades open. “The blinds weigh about fifty pounds each,” she joked. Then, more seriously, she added, “even when it’s gloomy out, there’s something very comforting about this old home.”
Walking into the house, you enter on the second floor, where there is a half bathroom, a set of stairs down to the ground floor, and three wide, open rooms from the front of the building to the back. The ceilings soar, and the molding, trim, and door casings are all either original or restored to the original style. Built in the late eighteen forties, the house, a landmarked brownstone, is now part of what is called the Lamartine Historic District. “They built things really well,” Kreeger said. “There were no shortcuts back then.”
Indeed, there is a lot of history here: a famous Abolitionist family, the Gibbons, lived at 339 West 29th Street. Their home was apparently a stop on the Underground Railroad, and several houses on the block were targeted during the Draft Riots of 1863. According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s designation report, the owner at the time—it wasn’t English House, then—was beaten when he came outside and tried to persuade the rioters from rioting.
“I come in here and I imagine dinner parties, ball gowns, and dancing,” Kreeger said. “It’s fine if you prefer contemporary architecture, but people respond to history and craftsmanship and elegance.” Downstairs, in the master bedroom, a monitor displayed video feeds from four security cameras. “So much detail, so lovingly restored,” Kreeger said as we walked into the kitchen. Living here, she said, you get a sense of what it was like to live in New York almost two centuries ago. “Plus, modern amenities.”