Thursday, March 31, 2011

Day 304ish

I woke up, went to work (subway), came home from work (subway), stopped by Filene's and bought some Vince jeans on sale for $39.99, happened upon a dance troupe of 10 people dancing in unison and not-so-in-unison in the square outside of the St. Mark's church which is now a cultural center, decided to stop and watch the troupe, decided then to sit (under my umbrella because it was raining! they were dancing in the rain), then a man also standing in the square who had been whistling at a bird who was chirping back tried to get my attention about how he was talking to a bird and I looked away and continued watching the dancers, then the man kept staring at me so I rolled my eyes and left the bench, I walked two more blocks home and peeled my wet clothes off, got into dry ones and thought it was a pretty nice end of March 31, 2011, my 304th(ish) day back in the city.

Friday, March 25, 2011

My Favorite NYC Restaurants as of March 2011

Hello lovers! That's right, I'm so back in action now I can OFFICIALLY share with you my updated list of favorite restaurants. I crafted this list back in my SC days for when friends over there were planning visits here and asking me for my recommendations. Since then, plenty has changed. But some solid favorites have stayed on the list. And so now I think it's only fitting that I celebrate coming to the close of my 10th month back in the city with this groovy wee list.

Enjoy!

FAVE FARM-TO-TABLES
Northern Spy
Back Forty
The Redhead

GREAT BIG-NAME RESTAURANTS
Locanda Verde (Ricotta prepared differently for breakfast than for dinner = love)
Blue Hill
Hearth
WD-50
Craftbar

GREAT RAMEN
Ippudo

GREAT TAPAS/SMALL PLATES
Alta
Boqueria on 19 Street or Spring Street
Bar Jamon on East 17th

FAVORITE GREEK
Pylos

GREAT MEXI
La Palapa (Still the best margarita in all of Manhattan, IMHO.)
Hecho en Dumbo

GREAT BRUNCH
Ciao for Now
Hundred Acres
Prune
Public
Five Points

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Monkey Centeno


I have a vivid memory of the day in 2001 that the World Trade Center was destroyed because it reeks of guilt for me. I slept late because I had a service person coming to my apartment to work on...what – a window, the radiator, the buzzer – something that was so instantly trivial, my mind squelches that detail of the memory. He was running late for a visit scheduled for 9:30 am. I commented on his tardiness and told him I had to get to my work at an office (figuring that was something he could never really understand) though the reality was I had only woken up about 20 minutes earlier. "I don't think you’re going to get to work today, lady," his flippant tone annoyed me, as if he knew my secret wake-up time.

"Oh I walk to work, so if it's a matter of the subways being off, that isn't an issue for me." This poor now-faceless guy was going to get it, whether he deserved it or not.

"Uh, have you opened your windows today?" he replied. "The twin towers are down. They've been hit. No one's going to work or anywhere else for a long time."

I grabbed the string that pulled my window blinds up and gaped at the far-off scene unfolding. Only one tower? Smoke everywhere? What does this mean? Would my new friend/comrade be the last person I would see on earth?

The seconds quickly evolved into hours as I turned on the television, learned about the attacks and began my personal story of where I was on September 11, 2001.

In order to mentally calculate my dog's age whenever people asked me, my mind would shoot back to September 11, because Monkey Centeno, the fawn-with-black-mask colored French bulldog who was my dearest fur ball and sweetest companion to-date, was born on October 11, 2001, exactly one month after that historic date. Whenever I struggled to think of how old she was – whenever strangers asked me her age because she was so youthful, so playful – my baseline was that tragic day for New York and the world. It was a historic day with a date I'd never forget, so it worked as the subtle reminder for a proper calculation. What's more, in a matter of one month I went from someone who was considerably selfish, to someone who could be enthralled by another living creature other than myself.

When I first got Monkey, my boyfriend at the time was a seasoned dog-owner and lover. He had enjoyed two Pitbull Terriers before his "overbearing" mother got rid of them behind his back when he left for college. I now realize she didn't want to take care of dogs that were simply not hers, but at the time I made sure to show support for the injustice of it all. We talked of revolution in the form of dog ownership, and six months later – after I completed numerous dog and human personality tests – we decided on a Frenchie.

There's part of me that hates the fact that he was a part of Monkey's life. But I really can't hate someone who took such good care of Monkey in her puppy years. Being a dog owner has its territorial qualities not unlike the personality of dogs in general – is this a learned behavior born from spending so much time with them? You teach your dog, and she teaches you.

After hearing about a stellar breeder in Ohio from a couple I met, I got the nerve up to give her a call and see if there were any dogs available. Her website indicated that she had a litter on its way, but maybe each pup was already claimed?

I had wanted a brindle-colored French bulldog. They're the ones with the tiger-stripe-like coloring. But when I spoke to the breeder, she informed me that there was possibly one pup left (she’d have to check with the woman who originally expressed an interest) and she was fawn black mask. I’d never heard of such a color, and Googled it right after I hung up the phone. Huh, it looked a lot like a Pug. Would everyone confuse her for a pug (answer: yes)? Would I be disappointed if people confused her for a Pug (answer: yes; defensive too, but for different reasons than I had initially thought)? I decided to be glad there was maybe a waiting list for this Pug-colored French bulldog.

The next day the breeder called me back and informed me that the woman who had been in line for the last puppy in the litter had bailed. Based on all I had been thinking just one day before, I completely surprised myself when I blurted out, "I'll take her!" I guess I was ready no matter what color, shade or tone this dog was born with.

While we waited for her to be born, and then to be old enough to come to our home, my boyfriend and I played house like the stork was delivering us a pickle in just a matter of days. I was happy to be sharing this experience with someone I loved, but he was younger than I and I knew deep down that he truly would not last as the lifetime owner of this dog. She was mine and I could feel it before I even met her.

Monkey was born into a litter of three pups with a brother who was being adopted by a family in New Jersey. This family owned a private plane, and since Monkey's breeder was based in New-Something-or-other, Ohio, the family and I negotiated a deal whereby I'd help pay for plane gas and they'd bring Monkey back to Jersey with their new pup. My boyfriend and I joked that Monkey was going to think she’d be living on Park Avenue, and not Avenue D.

After we drove the soup bowl-sized lump of fur back to our apartment, we delicately carried her up the stairs and gingerly placed her on one of what would be at least 15 different dog beds. We stared at her wondering what she'd do next. She stared back at us, her head all eyes, and peed on her first bed. I knew I would have my work cut out for me with this little fur-covered cannon ball.

When I walked Monkey down the street, or in the park, or carried her around in a dog carrier to take her to Florida for the holidays, the conversation with strangers was always the same:

"Your dog is so good, what's his name?"

"Her name is Monkey."

"Oh, that's what I call my husband/wife/son/daughter/dog too. How'd you choose the name? Because she looks like a Monkey?"

"I gave her the name before I even met her. I knew one day I'd have a dog, and her name would be Monkey."

Monkey grew to precede me in every circumstance. When I'd walk her to Tompkins Square Park dog run, neighbors on the streets where she and I ended up living – first 6th Street, then 10th, then 12th and again on 10th – would call out, "hey Monkey!" or "there she is, in a rush to get to the park." She was the official mascot of each office of the four different companies where I worked over the course of her lifetime. When she and I lived in South Carolina with my husband, she was the muse for two works of art: a song with the line, "running through the grass, you can tell she's having a blast, it's Mon-key" and a drawing done by a young woman in art school of Monkey sleeping in a pile of clothing strewn on the floor. For I don't know how many years of my life, at least the past five, when talking to or emailing with friends I hadn't seen in a while, the first two questions they would ask, in the following order, were always: "how are you?" and "how's Monkey?"

Having a seemingly ever-present lump of love around all the time was life changing. There was a time that I was selfish. There was a time that I had too much free time. Then there was Monkey. Her importance in my life took me so much by surprise, I suppose her sudden death makes sense in that it equally took me by surprise. Just as quickly as she took a hold of me and rocked my trivial world by becoming the dearest family member, so too did she rock my life by leaving so abruptly. At the beginning of the week she was having seizures, by the end of the week she was gone.

Monkey, aka, my sweetie girl, Mageelee Mo, Mugs not Drugs, Monkers Speelunkers, Mugs Geelilyloo, Mary Mo (and a host of other nicknames), I miss you dearly...and thank you.