Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stretching a Buck at the Soup Man

January 27, 2008

Recently a post on Hoboken Now announced to the world that Hoboken's The Soup Man restaurant was expensive. I had gotten some soup there -- The Place that Made Jerry Seinfeld Famous -- once and liked it, so I went back to see how the writer managed to spend $14 for a bowl of soup.

I was prepared to splurge. I had money in my pocket. I chose something called sausage gumbo, coming from gumbo country, and got the full meal, which included a choice of fruit (I chose an apple), iced tea (I chose Heavenly Peach), and a salad. I elected to buy a slice of what looked like perfect NYC cheesecake to top off the meal, which the intrepid Hoboken Now reporter had not. Yes, my bill was close to $20, but this did not stop me.

For one thing, I was taking the food home and knew it would be eaten for two meals. I ate only half of everything, and the next day I had the other half. As I thought about what to do to make that sausage gumbo go farther, I had an inspiration which only the brave might try, but I'll tell you how.

The gumbo was indeed a little like the gumbo I know so well from Lower Alabama (called L.A. in those parts). It was thick and spicy. I've had many gumbos, from seafood to smoked duck, but never one that had only sausage. The sausage made it something of a brunch dish from the get-go. My second day inspiration was to heat it and top it with a poached egg. This lightened the flavor somewhat and gave the dish a late-breakfast deliciousness. If only I had had a swig of champagne with which to wash it down!

I'm going to tell you how to poach an egg, although this instruction is more appropriate to my food blog than here. I suspect most of my Hoboken readers would be hard pressed to poach an egg.

It's not as easy as it sounds. It starts off easy, but it is not foolproof. You may have to try several times before you get the hang of it.

First, put about a quart of water into a saucepan, add a teaspoon or so of white vinegar (I am not convinced this step is necessary, but I always do it), and bring to a low simmer. Break an egg into a plate for easy egg management. Slide the egg into the hot water and then stir the water ever so gently, keeping the egg circulating in the pot to prevent its sinking and sticking to the bottom. Proceed with extreme delicateness and caution for about three minutes until the egg is firmish, white and yolk. Carefully remove the finished egg to double paper towels to drain the water off of it, and then it will be ready to go into any dish you like, even on top of gumbo.

I once had a friend who was the youngest of ten in a Portuguese family. He said his mother wouldn't think of serving a plate of beans and rice without a poached egg on top. There are infinite uses for a poached egg, so it would behoove an serious eater to know how to produce one. (Good luck.)

One more comment about The Soup Man lunch. That cheesecake was sweet and creamy, but it didn't taste like cheesecake to me. I could detect no cream-cheese! I am in the land of excellent cheesecake, blindfold-identifyable, and I wouldn't put this in that category. If you're in The Soup Man and yearning for dessert, try something else. You can always find a good piece of cheescake. If not, maybe I'll give you a recipe.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Happy Birthday, Paul Newman

January 25, 2008

I received this as one of those email round robin notes some friends are so fond of:

Only women of a certain era will fully appreciate this true story.
(if you don't understand this, tell your mother, she'll get it)

A Michigan woman and her family were vacationing in a small New England town where Paul Newman and his family often visited. One Sunday morning, the woman got up early to take a long walk. After a brisk five-mile hike, she decided to treat herself to a double-dip chocolate ice cream cone.

She hopped in the car, drove to the center of the village and went straight to the combination bakery/ice cream parlor. There was only one other patron in the store. Paul Newman, sitting at the counter having a doughnut and coffee.

The woman's heart skipped a beat as her eyes made contact with those famous baby-blue eyes.

The actor nodded graciously and the star struck woman smiled demurely.

Pull yourself together! She chides herself. You're a happily married woman with three children, you're forty-five years old, not a teenager! The clerk filled her order and she took the double-dip chocolate ice cream cone in one hand and her change in the other. Then she went out the door, avoiding even a glance in Paul Newman's direction.

When she reached her car, she realized that she had a handful of change but her other hand was empty. "Where's my ice cream cone? Did I leave it in the store?" Back into the shop she went, expecting to see the cone still in the clerk's hand or in a holder on the counter or something. No ice cream cone was in sight.

With that, she happened to look over at Paul Newman. His face broke into his familiar warm friendly grin and he said to the woman,
"You put it in your purse."

I guess you do have to be a certain age to grasp fully the effect Paul Newman had on us. The little story, probably apocryphal, was accompanied by this photo, which is clearly 20 years old, but captures his intelligent, witty-sexy appeal. It got me to thinking, how long has this little joke been in circulation?

So I looked him up on the Internet, and discovered that Paul Newman will turn 83 tomorrow. The Wikipedia article said that he has decided not to act any more, as learning lines is getting to be as difficult for him as finding the right roles. My heart sank a little as I thought of Newman as Ben Quick, the so-called barn burner in The Long Hot Summer; as Cool Hand Luke, who thought nothin' was sometimes a pretty cool hand; as Fast Eddie in The Hustler; Hud; the principled young lawyer with the shrewish wife in From the Terrace; Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; Butch in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and on and on. So many of these parts relied on his manly-manliness, so many showcased the blueness of his eyes while Newman himself always gave his soul to the part. He was a natural Method actor with a comfort in the subtle changes that acting required of him. He inhabited the little universe of every movie. He was a pleasure to watch, for lots of reasons.

I can recall his former involvement with politics, braving the snows of New Hampshire with Gene McCarthy and with Paul McCloskey. How courageous he was, and how bright. Out of the movies he kept a low profile, a Connecticut family man who donated the profits from his salad dressing business to charity. What an interesting, unusual man.

Now I occasionally recognize his voice on a television commercial. It always brings that look of his to mind, that familiar, once-yearned-for appearance, not unlike a former lover who has moved on. Paul Newman has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember. Now he is an elder, not a recluse, but seldom seen. I hope his life is happy, and that he has some idea how much he means to people -- not only women -- of a certain age. I hope he has a happy birthday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hoboken Music Scene

January 23, 2007

My daughter will be here in a few minutes. She had an errand to run regarding her real estate in Brooklyn and will hook up with her new guy-friend the rock and roll singer from Mississippi who is taking her our to Maxwell's for music tonight.

There's quite a music scene in Hoboken, but it's not my music. I think the band they're going to hear is called Super Furry Animals. I'm sure they're wonderful, but I don't know it I'm quite ready for them. I've Googled "Hoboken music scene" and there's a lot more here than the Frank Sinatra imitators I've grown so fond of. The town is crawling with bars, and maybe half of them have music.

Alison is 45 years old, tall, sleek, pretty and very smart. She can handle everything from the stock market to getting her artwork in gallery shows and her articles published in local newspapers in upstate New York, plus she is raising two sons age 13 and 10. I enjoy her company as much as anybody I know, and can't wait to show her around Hoboken and get her opinion of how this apartment looks with furniture she has seen in many other locales. The rocker will join us about 5 with his 15-year-old son and we'll go find a place to eat. I'd join them for the Super Furries, but the show is sold out and it will be way past my bedtime.

I don't say I couldn't be coaxed to stay up -- but I haven't heard any coaxing. We'll do that some other time when there is something more to my taste. But I have a feeling I'm missing out on something.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Lost in Manhattan, Found in Hoboken

January 22, 2007

Last week I took the opportunity of a break in the weather -- Friday was the last day of temps in the 40's, with predictions of a drop to the teens over the weekend -- to plan an excursion to Manhattan. I know how to get there, so I thought I'd spend a few hours exploring before confining myself to house arrest out of the cold.

I knew the first stop out of Hoboken is Christopher Street in the West Village. This is my old stomping ground. I lived on West 11th in the 1980's.

I was on Christopher Street 25 minutes after leaving my door. Where, exactly I wasn't sure. Even when I came out of the; subway tunnel, it took me a while to orient myself by walking up Greenwich and looking for old hangouts. Somebody told me that Chumley's was closed; I wanted to see for myself, but couldn't remember exactly how to get there from where I was. I walked on West 4th, up to Abingdon Square, browsed in store windows, and realized it was getting near lunchtime as I smelled the Italian food being sold all around me.

But I hadn't come to Manhattan for Italian food. There's far too much Italian food I haven't tried in Hoboken. The more I wandered aimlessly the more I realized I really wanted to go home -- to Hoboken. I promised myself a slice of extra-crispy from Benny Tudino's when I got back.

Finding the train that would take me there was another story. At last I went down the subway tunnel across from the one that brought me, even though it didn't have the magic New Jersey code "PATH" but instead said, "Downtown trains." I let about three trains whiz past before I looked on the tracks for something that said Hoboken or PATH trains. Then I decided, since I realized I'd have to go out of the station to find a PATH station, to take the train downtown to the World Trade Center where I could transfer to the PATH line.

Lotsa luck. I missed the station that would transfer me to the line that goes to the WTC because I couldn't understand the blurry announcements that were transmitted at every stop. I found myself at Rector St., which I knew to be the next to last stop in Manhattan. When I came out of the station at Rector St. there was a sign directing me to Ground Zero. (Actually, it was an old sign. It said "World Trade Center.") I followed its arrow.

There is something infinitely moving about walking around down near Ground Zero. I felt myself choking up as I looked at the sky where the towers used to be and thought of those insane men led by that monster who has done so much damage to the hearts and souls of me and my countrymen. Still, I was looking for a PATH station. I forged onward.

I asked a man who looked like he'd know. He pulled the earbuds out of his ears and asked me where I wanted to go.


He gave me directions, right across from the Century 21 retail emporium, so I walked over there and decided to give a quick glance at the inside of the store. It was crowded and hard to navigate so I promised myself to return soon. In the meantime, I wanted to get home.

I went into the subway and spent the ride thinking of Benny Tudino's. Also, I would walk past Carlo's Bake Shop and buy myself a cannoli for all my troubles. Also, after I'd cooled my heels at home for a while, I'd set out on an excursion to find Fiore's, the deli said to have the best homemade mozzarella in Hoboken, if not the world.

I hadn't been inside Carlo's before, but I will again. So many goodies I couldn't decide, but I stuck with my resolve to but one cannoli. ("Cannolo?") The cannoli cones lay empty in the case, dozens of them, some covered in chocolate. I always start with the basics, so I chose one plain one. The young lady behind the counter reached into the refrigerated drawer and pulled out a pastry bag and filled it before my eyes. I vowed to wait until I had gotten home, after the pizza slice, to eat it. A paragon of self-control.

At Benny Tudino's I sprang for pepperoni on my slice, but ordered it extra crispy as I had been instructed to do by Jeff Faria, a Hoboken expert. Excellent!

Then I went home, checked emails and phone messages, and ate my cannoli. It was as good a cannoli as I've ever had. I must confess I haven't had many. But I'm now experienced enough to recommend the Italian treat, especially fresh. Even more especially fresh from Carlo's in Hoboken.

Then, later, the final project: To try mozzarella from Fiore's. I walked across town on 4th Street, passing the office of a dentist whom I'll go make an appointment with today, and the hospital where I'll go to get names of physicians to sign on with. Then I turned uptown to Fiore's, halfway in the block, and said to the Asian man behind the counter, "I hear you've got good homemade mozzarella here." He pointed out a huge chunk, tied up with a topknot, and I said I'd take half of it. Then I saw some capers on a shelf, and knew I was in need of capers, so I asked how much.

"Fiore!" he called, and a man came from the back.

"How much for these?"

Fiore went to a list and read from it, Petite Capers...$3.25.

I took my mozzarella -- they call it mutz here -- and my capers home, feeling very "in" and very comfortable that I was now in the club for sure.

I have this to report about the remarkable mutz. Fiore's mozzarella is lightly coated with something I always have to add myself -- salt. Its texture is perfectly raggy, with a nice chew, its taste milky. I think it's that coating of crunchy salt that sets it apart and above the usual.

With my day of being lost in Manhattan and finding myself in Hoboken, I was ready for a weekend of barely leaving my apartment. Today it's nice and warm again; it's predicted to go as high at 38° and I'm going to find that dentist.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Women for President

January 20, 2008

Most of this post ran originally last July on my blog Finding Fair Hope. I still stand by my original thoughts. At this point I strongly hope Barack Obama will win the Democratic party's nomination for President even though there is little evidence that will happen.

I think it’s time for a real woman to be President of the United States. I say this somewhat defensively because it is assumed that since I cannot support Hillary Clinton, I am one of the ones who is somehow just not ready. On the other hand, I've supported female candidates several times in the past, but never just because they were women.

I have a certain amount of respect for Senator Clinton. I don’t deny that she has great intelligence and drive. I like to see the pictures of her laughing, and I don’t doubt that she enjoys a good joke every once in a while. She has presence and self-confidence. I was genuinely touched when she said, "Well, that hurts my feelings..."in the debate the other night. However, to me her choking up looked like her emotions actually got the best of her when she realized she might not win the nomination. She is gutsy, no doubt. She is tough. But try as I might, I cannot find one thing authentic about her.

She speaks in platitudes (or, as they say, soundbites). This means she seems to be talking but nothing definitive is said or clarified. It’s designed to be clipped out and run on the evening news.

She never makes it clear where she stands on issues – any issues. She’s just being a politician, her supporters say. The Right paints her as a flaming Liberal, the Left as a middle-of-the-roader; in reality it seems she will say whatever it takes to seem reasonable. But she doesn’t convince me. I can’t say I know anything about where she stands on matters vital to the leadership of this troubled land.

Take the war. She says she voted for it because she was lied to, as all of us were. Why is it so hard to say that vote was a mistake? Is she afraid to be called a flip-flopper? What kind of nonsense is that? “Flip-flopper” is a Madison Avenue term that means no more than a person who has changed his or her mind. It’s no disgrace to change one’s mind; in fact, that is an admirable trait as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. The war seems to have receded in the minds of voters as the economy is clearly tanking, so no one in the race is saying much of anything about it these days.

In my lifetime I have seen the birth of a new phenomenon – politicians being led around by the nose by their ad agencies. It is these ad agencies who created the phenomenon of focus groups to take the temperature of the public on every product in the marketplace, including, God help us, people who happen to be running for office.

I have been ready for a woman President long before most people can remember. For years there have been a few strong women pretty highly placed in political office. One even ran for President.
I’d have supported Shirley Chisholm if had lived long enough to run today even though she wrote, when she ran for the office in 1972: "I am a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. I make that statement proudly, in the full knowledge that, as a black person and as a female person, I do not have a chance of actually gaining that office in this election year. I make that statement seriously, knowing that my candidacy itself can change the face and future of American politics — that it will be important to the needs and hopes of every one of you — even though, in the conventional sense, I will not win."

Ms. Chisholm was wise, charismatic, brilliant and brave. She did not evade when asked where she stood on the issues. She was the right person, but at the wrong place in the wrong time. She was unique and the country was not ready for her. I’m sorry to say that, since I had voted for Dick Gregory in the 1968 election and was persuaded by my colleagues that my vote had put Richard Nixon in the White House, I chose McGovern over Chisholm in order to get Nixon out. Seeing how successful that kind of thinking was, I have voted my conscience ever since, almost never going for a candidate from either major party.

I’d love to see someone like Bella Abzug back in politics. The country’s first Jewish Congresswoman, she didn’t worry about how she looked or what group might be offended if she opened her mouth. She was a true Feminist who didn’t worry about appearing feminine. She shot from the hip, and got more flack about her hats than about her policies. She once said, “The inside operation of Congress -- the deals, the compromises, the selling out, the co-opting, the unprincipled manipulating, the self-serving career-building -- is a story of such monumental decadence that I believe if people find out about it they will demand an end to it.” If she had had focus groups her candidacy for anything would have been dead on arrival – or she might not even have arrived.

A few years later I supported Arizona State Member of the U.S. House of Representatives Pat Schroeder in her short-lived bid for the Democratic nomination for President. Schroeder couldn’t raise sufficient funds, and apparently didn’t have the fire in the belly necessary to stick it out. She was bright, inspiring, and witty, coining the phrase “The Teflon President” about Ronald Reagan. She also said, “America is man enough to elect a woman President.”

I agree with that. But let’s wait until a woman who is willing to talk about issues instead of her "experience" (which seems to mean her ability to persevere) runs again. There is a great deal more to the job than that.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Old Movies

January 18, 2008

I have been promising myself that in Hoboken I won't get into the rut I was in in Fairhope -- I won't spend most of my days and virtually all of my evenings sitting at home watching television.

I've managed to find WQXR on my radio dial, and 770 FM for Imus in the Morning on my little Memorex, so I find it possible to avoid the daytime cooks tempting me on The Food Network and the glamorous houses making me feel shabby on HGTV. Most of the time.

But there is this thing called Turner Classic Movies. I always have to check it out in case I might miss something. I love the time capsule that is old movies -- women really wearing their hair that way, and some of the clothes! -- replete with jazzy, old-fashioned dialogue that makes me think of my father.

The other night I got hooked into the old chestnut entitled San Francisco. This starred a pre-Gone-With-the-Wind Clark Gable, almost as if he were auditioning for Rhett Butler. (Margaret Mitchell said that she had him in mind for the character as she wrote the book.) I was fascinated, and let's face it, turned on, seeing this actor in his absolute prime. I'm one of those who has accepted George Clooney as Gable's successor, but I kept thinking, "Could Clooney have really done this role as well?" Why speculate -- the original still exists, and it's a glorious little gem of a black and white movie.

Gable plays Blackie, owner of a club on the infamous Barbary Coast, when a delicate songbird enters looking for a job. The singer is Mary Blake, a preacher's daughter from Denver, played by the exquisite Jeannette MacDonald. I confess I missed the rage for Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald in the late 1930's/early 1940's. I wasn't born for most of it. I have caught the act on TCM, however, and feel they deserved every big of the acclaim they got.

But this movie predates that pairing. Gable and MacDonald were a gorgeous couple in every sense of the word. Spencer Tracy plays the feisty priest who intervenes to help them avoid disaster if he can. It's a wonderful movie, okay, maybe a chick flick that men too would like. The phone rang (See? I do have a life!) before the end, meaning I missed some of the crucial moments, meaning I can see it again.

Another San Francisco movie that ran the next night was Frisco Kid starring James Cagney. Made in the mid-1930's, it was Cagney as the owner of, you guessed it, a club on the infamous Barbary Coast. It takes him from humble beginnings as a sailor who is almost shanghaied into permanent servitude to a life of wealth and the privilege of falling in love (not unlike Gable's Blackie) with a woman out of his class. This one I left off in the middle partly because I am less taken with Margaret Lindsay than I am with Jeannette MacDonald.

Got to tell you one more scene from an old movie I saw this week. I think the title was Another Man's Woman, something like that. This was one of those real antiques with Mary Astor and Regis Toomey as a happily married couple until his best friend moves in and falls in love with Mary Astor. Yeah, sort of like You, Me and DuPree. It gets really unfunny, however, on purpose, and the plot gets all tangled up with Joan Blondell and Jimmy Cagney thrown in for good measure. The scene that made me laugh out loud was when Cagney, a really minor player, is taking his girl dancing and says to her, "Baby, you look like 700 bucks!"

Cagney is one of my favorite movie dancers, by the way, right up there with Fred Astaire. Just a few steps and he has me in his pocket. He is graceful, proficient, and always a pleasure to watch. If you don't believe me, watch Footlight Parade, The West Point Story, or find this peculiar little soap opera and wait for him to come in and do a couple of steps. (I know he was in something called Yankee Doodle Dandy, and I know he was good in that, but he was doing George M. Cohan's style in that one. No small feat.) Believe me, the kid was good!

Old movies are one of my major diversions. I will accept just about anything Ted Turner does because of his old-movie channel.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Night Stranger and the Silent Lurkers

January 17, 2008

Before I moved to Hoboken I used to frequent blogs -- linked below -- dealing with life in this little city. I took on the handle "Night Stranger" as a reference to the Sinatra song of the 1970's, allying myself with Hobokenites who admire the Chairman of the Board while at the same time lurking on the fringes of his universe. I would comment at the blogs and sometimes email the authors in hopes of paving my way into my own new phase of life.

When I decided to start my own Hoboken blog I changed my screen name, not knowing that this would appear on my other blogs, where it isn't relevant and I might say doesn't make any sense. I can't figure out how to have one screen name and profile on one blog and others on my others. Maybe someday I shall learn.

Last Christmas I was visiting my daughter and grandsons and the 13-year-old heard me humming "Strangers in the Night."

"What's that song about?" he asked. "A serial killer?"

"No," said I. "That would be 'Stranglers in the Night.'"

From then on I sang it as "Stranglers in the Night." Andy, the ten-year-old, said, "What's that weird song?" as I absently tossed out the phrase to an unmelodious almost-tune.

"Oh. It's really supposed to be "Strangers in the Night," said I, singing a bit more of it.

"I like it the other way better," Andy said.

This blog has more than a few regular visitors, strangers themselves, usually not commenting. They are known as lofters in cyberspeak, or "lurkers" in my own lexicon. They used to frequent Finding Fair Hope and one by one they are finding their way here. I wonder what makes some people read blogs -- I have found that I may have a reader from a certain locale come to my blog(s) for months at at time and then just give up the ghost. (I do get boring after a while.)

If you'd like to see evidence of the lurking readership, a very nice comment was posted on yesterday's Finding Myself. I hope that reader will come back and find him- or herself and become a regular reader and frequent commenter. But you never can tell. I may have picked up a night stranger myself.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Home to Hoboken

January 16, 2008

The trip was a sad one, back to Alabama to settle some accounts after my mother's memorial and to hug old friends and family...and talk. It was good for me to do this, in spite of its difficulty, in my transition from the place that once was home to the place that is.

I moved back to Fairhope in 1988, because my husband, recently retired, needed something to snap him out of the depression that was beginning to smother him. The little town was on the verge of becoming a major retirement area and looked to be a logical place to spend the rest of my life. Also, my mother was entering her 80's and she was alone there. Of her three children, I was the first to move near to her again; my brother and sister would follow.

In the 19 years that I lived there I watched the character of the town change. When I moved back, it seemed the new residents were interested in the charm of the place and its history, but that faded as their numbers overwhelmed the local populace and they formed their own clubs and began making their own history and remaking Fairhope's. Everybody seemed so nice, and so happy, but my own life was shrinking after I discontinued my theater and my husband died, and my mother had a few small strokes and was admitted to a nursing home. I found myself not wanting to grow old and die in the place. I looked for a way out.

Hoboken was my choice, and I have only been here for six weeks, but am already beginning to think of it as home. When I got on the plane to come back, I felt I was leaving Fairhope once and for all and coming home.

The flight to the Newark airport is a breeze. One change of planes and the next one coming to a nearby gate and less than an hour away. I was picked up by Cristina, who was running errands and seemed not inconvenienced to do so. She even took me with her to the shopping center where she was looking for something and I bought a lamp shade to replace the one that was shredded in my move in November.

One topic that came up constantly in Alabama was how I was adjusting to the cold. The temperature in Hoboken was something like 40° and with the humidity under 60 per cent, it didn't feel as cold as Alabama had the previous day.

I decided when I got to the apartment to pamper myself with a light supper at Court Street, the restaurant-bar around the corner on Sixth Street. It is a lovely place, with dark paneled wood walls, a bright and very good bartender, and a clientele of people who always seem very intelligent to me. Sometimes I talk to my neighbors at the bar, and last night there was a young couple (younger than I, anyway)I couldn't resist striking up a conversation with. They were impressed that I had started a new life and had chosen Hoboken as the place to do so. We talked for quite a while -- I didn't tell them I had just returned from the bereavement visit that I had -- and they bought me a glass of wine while I ate an absolutely delicious plate of spinach ravioli.

I slept as well as ever on my still-incomplete bed in the little "hall" room, surrounded by my furniture and with the new shade in place on the lamp. Have banking and grocery shopping to do today, and people that I promised to call and haven't yet, lunch dates to confirm, and a feeling a joy down deep somewhere as I deal with this new reality I have created for myself.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Taking a Break

January 10, 2008

I won't be posting on this blog (or any of my others) for a few days. At some point next week, possibly Wednesday, I'll be back in Hoboken sorting out the laundry of my new life, and doing so in the public of the blog.

At 6 A.M. tomorrow if all goes as planned, I'll be boarding a plane at the Newark airport, going to the place where I grew up to say goodbye one last time. My mother, who had been in a nursing home for over two years, died a week ago and the family will be gathering to deal with facing the reality that she is not here for us any more.

My mother was an unusual person in spite of herself, a charming sweetie-pie with a steely stubbornness that few people ever saw. We thought she was dying in November of 2006 and I wrote this post on my first blog. Read it if you're interested, and while over there, browse around through some of my stuff on other topics.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Four Corners of the Mile Square

January 9, 2008

I have a new friend, and she has a car.

I met Cristina yesterday after receiving an email from her; she, too, is relatively new to Hoboken, and found my blog. She suggested we meet for lunch at the Karma Café, an Indian place on Washington Street I'd been planning to try. She knows the place well, and it was a perfect choice -- exotic enough (Indian food, incense, soothing decor) -- as it was right down my alley. Of course it made me think of my friend Gail Goodwin, my vegetarian Church of Religious Science minister friend from Alabama who loves this sort of thing, but that too was fitting. I felt as if Gail were introducing me to someone who would be part of my new life.

During the course of the lunch, a light, tasty Indian buffet including what is known as rice pudding but is actually rice cooked in a milky sauce spiced with cinnamon and cardamom, Cristina told me that she had brought her car and would drive me to the corners of Hoboken I had not yet found on foot. This was an exciting prospect, and made the meal and the conversation more interesting. I have only just begun to find my way around, as readers of this blog (obviously including Cristina) well know.

She lives in a new building on Observer Highway, not a neighborhood I can easily access. Next door is an old factory building now used by artists as studio spaces. She can walk to the Target in Jersey City from her home. Now I realize I could too in pleasant weather when I'm in the mood for a long walk.

On our drive I got to see the Waste Management building, or maybe it was the Water Management building; anyway, it was an errand she had to run to the north end of town, and driving to it we passed the spacious Shop-Rite Supermarket I had not been able to locate. Again, I can walk to it when I feel like walking...really walking. And when I have my shopping cart along.

We drove through a little of Jersey City, in the neighborhood of the beautiful Newport Mall I've written about before. I know how to get there by subway and Light Rail train, and now I see how very accessible it is by car. And that for a determined walker, it could be reached on foot.

I know the east side of town pretty well, because I live there, and from the downtown side I catch the many buses and trains to other parts.

Now I know a little about the rest of Hoboken, and I have someone to explore with.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

House Hunting in Hoboken

January 7, 2008

You know I can't really be seriously house hunting at this point. I just signed a one-year lease and I have a house on the market, which may take years to sell and from which I would get the proceeds to buy another abode.

But it seems that one of the favorite pastimes in Hoboken on Sundays is visiting the Open Houses held by realtors all over town. The realtors seem to know few if any of the visitors are thinking about buying; they are all just thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice?" The atmosphere is comfortable and relaxed, and looky-loo's have a great time imagining themselves in upscale apartments they might never be able to afford.

Yesterday I joined the looky-loo's. Inspired by an interesting place on Willow Street that I saw advertised on craigslistnj, I planned to go out at about 1 P.M. and luckily the weather cooperated. It was about 50°, cloudy, and downright pleasant outside. Inside, unfortunately, my heat was working, and my apartment was at least 90. It felt like August in Alabama, except that there was a humidity index of about 2, where in Fairhope it would have been at least 80 per cent.

Headed toward Willow, I had to cross Washington Street, Hoboken's expansive main thoroughfare, a boulevard described in some detail on several of my posts on my blog Finding Fair Hope. Here I was distracted by an "Open House" sign, angled and pointing me several blocks uptown. I followed my nose and found an adorable little two-bedroom with a chatty realtor who grew up in Hoboken and gave me some insights about what to expect. This place had the ubiquitous exposed-brick wall and granite countertops in the kitchen, to my mind, clichés in Hoboken, but they did not detract from the general attractiveness of the apartment. It was one flight above ground level, but an attractive hall -- unlike the place where I now live -- and a well-kept building. Unfortunately it was at least $100,000 more than I expect to have to spend when I have any money to spend. I had a nice talk with the friendly realtor, took his card, and set off for Willow Street.

The Willow Street apartment was in less good shape. It had built-in storage that needed attention, and less space, and was basically less attractive overall. Not one I would buy if I were buying. So I looped back and was distracted by a newly remodeled place on Park Street. A small building, all its units were open but one, which had an offer on it. Each of the units had a slightly different price, but they were all higher than I was expecting, and the renovation gave them a motel-ish look I couldn't see myself in. However, there was an unexpected feature in my favorite of its apartments -- a slam-bang beautiful view of the Empire State Building! This was on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator, 956 square feet, with high ceilings, skylights, and exposed duct work. (I don't think you pay extra for the exposed duct work, but it's amusing and does make the space unique.) Very interesting, but because of the walk-up, the motel makeover, and the price of $579,900, not for me.

At the last house I picked up a flyer for a few more of the offerings from this realtor. I also noted the name of someone I met in a bar in Hoboken when I was here in October and hoped our paths might cross on this day of house hunting. (It didn't happen.)

I set off for a final choice from the realtor's list, the most prestigious and most expensive place I would see, at 1000 Hudson Street. This building was like the kind of place one used to find on West End Avenue in New York, built before WWII, maybe before WWI, with marble floors in the lobby and a marble staircase. It was a two-bedroom with a separate dining room, and remodeled kitchen, and a feeling of permanance and elegance throughout. I could definitely see myself there. The realtor was one I had met on my previous trip to Hoboken and she remembered me. I talked with her friends, ladies of a certain age who had grown up in Hoboken, and they told me of the place of this particular building in Hoboken history. Writers and artistic types had lived there (I assume after they had achieved some success), and it was always the building in Hoboken. If only they had bought condos there when they first went on sale for under $50,000! They are now going for $666,000 and up. The realtor told me the building does have one-bedroom units, but none available at the moment. In fact, they seldom come up at all.

However, I'm not really looking now. Maybe in six months or a year, when my house sells, she'll contact me. I have no doubt that when the time comes, there will be something just right for me -- somewhere in Hoboken. I'm looking, I told the first realtor, for the last place before I go into assisted living. I now know that the trap people fall into is not keeping their homes up to date, and expecting to sell them for the same price people are getting for places that have the amenities buyers demand. At the moment in Hoboken, this means granite countertops and exposed brick walls, but who knows what it will be in 20 years?

I have plenty of time to think about it.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Adversity Revisited: Winter in the Northeast

January 4, 2008

In fall of 1988 I decided to move back home from New York City to the little town of Fairhope on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I didn't move because I wanted to, but because my husband had retired and my mother, in her 80's, lived in the pleasant village of Montrose nearby, and I felt certain that she would be needing family near to her in the coming years.

I brought my own stress with me. I started an Equity theatre company with my own money, and when my first grandson was born seven years later and money had run out for the theatre project, I shifted gears by stopping the theatre and becoming involved in volunteer activities at the Marietta Johnson Museum and the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, two institutions I strongly wanted to support. Along the way I moved to six different homes, redecorating and even building one on my own.

But I was living in a tropical paradise kind of town, the very location so many people choose to retire, where the winters seldom see temperatures below freezing and tension levels are low. Productivity is low as well, and there is a laid-back -- one might say lazy -- ambiance that appeals to retirees and people looking for vacation homes.

After 19 years I did kind of a reverse retirement of my own. In November of this year I packed up and moved back to the New York City area, looking for a new life in an atmosphere I had always found stimulating. I'm almost 20 years older than when I left, but I've still got some good years ahead and look forward to using the best of myself for projects I want to do. In the south I had come to a point, with my husband gone and my mother in a nursing home, that my life seemed very circumscribed and uninteresting. I was doing the same things over and over, and getting the same results, and my life had come to feel like a permanent case of deja vu.

What I've learned so far in my Hoboken experience is that one of the things in I was missing in serene south Alabama was the sense of continual adversity. Nothing comes to you here without something of a fight.

The arctic blast that hit Hoboken yesterday also eased into the South. Down there, I'm told, the thermometer hit the 20's at night, even as they went up to the mid-40's during the day. Here, the lows were in the teens and the highs didn't reach 20 degrees. To prepare for this, I laid in supplies two days ago and vowed not to venture outside the warmth of my apartment until today, when it is predicted to go up into the high 30's again.

I hadn't counted on the heat going out in the building. This happened two nights ago. I missed the usual banging and hissing of the radiators all over the apartment, but didn't notice until Wednesday night that there was absolutely no heat coming up. This was the night there was a low of 11°! I have lots of blankets, and kept wrapped up pretty well that night. In the morning yesterday I called the manager of the building and told him there was no heat. He assured me he had gotten in touch with the utility company and that they would be on the site before the end of the day.

I had to run an errand in spite of my plans, but by the time I went I realized even though I had to walk about five cold blocks, I would be able to warm up at my destination. This worked out pretty well. The office I went to and the grocery where I bought a jug of water both were a lot warmer than my apartment; therefore I was warmer thanks to that errand than I would have been staying home.

When I got home I spent a lot of time in my kitchen with the oven and all the gas jets on.

The bad news is that when the utility company arrived, at 6:30 P.M., they were not able to fix the problem, which apparently is a lack of oil in the building's boiler. They deal in gas but not in oil. The building manager is still out of town. I went online to get names of oil suppliers in this area and made a few phone calls. All of them told me they could not bring oil to the building without an order from the landlord. I do not know the owner of the building, or even how to reach her -- and the manager was out of phone range. My downstairs neighbor, a nice man from India, commiserated with me that we are both from a warm climate and not geared for this. But we agreed that we can do nothing but bundle up tonight and expect our needs to be met the next day. He reminded me that it would not be so cold last night -- it would go all the way up to 18° and it should be 37° today.

Right. It's still too early to expect relief, but I did the only thing I could do get through the arctic temps last night -- I dragged my mattress into the kitchen and spent the night on the floor with the oven and all the gas jets blazing. It was warm enough to sleep.

Within the hour I'll talk to the building manager to get some relief from this ridiculous situation. It will be all right by nighttime. Then tomorrow it warms up to the 40's and by Monday and Tuesday will be in the 50's.

The question may be, for my readers who are living in the tropics, why on earth would anybody knowingly exchange comfort, peace and quiet, for problems such as this? Not that I don't have doubts myself, but the only answer I can come up with at this point is that I made the choice knowing full well what I would be getting into. Not that I knew the boiler would break down, but I remember similar situations when things didn't work, and they are soon fixed. Such things happen in the South too. It's not enough to discourage me -- for now it's like I'm paying my dues again -- and I feel in my heart that the rewards will soon outweigh the difficulties I'm going through at this point.

I'm really going to appreciate it when the heat comes back on.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Life

January 1, 2008

I didn't expect it to be much of a New Year's Eve. I have grown accustomed to watching an hour or so of the New York festivities on television and then crawling in bed for the night, but I'm in Hoboken now and things don't go the same way.

For one thing, everything is an hour later here. Having changed time zones I learn that my TV schedule is different too; in fact, many of the shows I used to love come on an hour past my bedtime. The New Year's Eve show started at 10 P.M. in Fairhope's time zone. Here it begins at 11. I gave up the ghost at about 10:30 and crawled into bed. But I kept hearing voices below my apartment, revelers headed for somewhere I wasn't going. Curious, I got up and looked out the window at them down below on the sidewalk. They were heading downtown, probably just a few blocks away, to their respective favorite watering holes, wearing hats and waving noisemakers.

I flipped on the television and saw a little of Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin amid the crowds and looking somewhat uneasy with each other. Other channels, including the Travel Channel, had reports of the goings-on all over the globe. I channel surfed a bit, anchored at CNN, hoping that Anderson and Kathy would find some groove they could share, but it didn't happen. All of a sudden the ball was dropping in Times Square and they were counting down until the year 2008 could be said to have begun. As soon as it happened, I caught something out of the corner of my eye -- fireworks in Jersey City!

My apartment runs east to west. That is, the east end of the apartment, my living room, in the front, faces a row of houses on the east. At the other end is the kitchen, with three big windows giving a view of the west, which is rooftops of Hoboken and the cliff with Jersey City on top. The citizens of Jersey City provide quite a pleasant fireworks display on New Year's morning. I wasn't prepared for this, but I spent some pleasant minutes taking it all in and wondering if I would be in a place where I could see this next year.

Because my furniture is here I'm showing before and after pictures of my living room, showing how well it all fits and how much comfort it gives to transport my old life to this new place. Some of you may recognize certain pieces. Maybe in 2008 you'll come to see me and see how well we're doing here.