Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wicked Faire 2014

When I think about it, Wicked Faire is practically the only thing on the calendar that’s been consistent for me in the last four years. Even my birthday in 2011 was a non-affair, although it had meaning to me. Holiday celebrations have been all over the map, literally. But every year since 2011, I've looked forward to going to Somerset, NJ, listening to emerging artists, engaging in a little kinky fun and seeing all the passionate freaks and geeks at the Winter Wicked Faire.

This is the first year that Puck didn't go with me. Puck is focusing on finishing up school and kind of burned out on cons in general. When we talked about it at Christmas, Katie expressed an interest in going, so we made plans to go ourselves. I tried to get some other people interested, but everybody seemed to have other plans – even my EMT friends like Aaron and Jaz who normally work Jeff Mach events were at other events this year. But that turned out to be OK because I started getting sick on Friday so my energy was a little low, and since this was Katie’s first con ever, it was nice to just see it through her eyes and not have to worry so much about scheduling for multiple people and wrangling a group for food.

Katie took the train out to Princeton on Friday where I picked her up and we had a brief tour of Nearing headquarters where I work. We picked up some food and drinks from the leftovers in the cafe to supplement the groceries I'd bought earlier in the day and headed up to Somerset. We arrived around 9 pm and had some time to check-in at the Doubletree and wander the vendor booths before Ego Likeness performed at 11 pm. Afterward, I said hello to Donna, the lead singer, who remembered our chat from last year when I got all their CDs autographed.

The biggest disappointment this year was that This Way To The Egress did not perform. I love their performances with the White Elephant Burlesque Society. And in fact, Katie and I ran into Viktor Devonne, one of the principals, in the stairwell right before seeing them perform onstage. We saw a lot of burlesque performances over the weekend, and many of them were really fun!

Katie and I discussed sleeping arrangements beforehand, something I do with Puck before every Wicked Faire. I originally couldn't get a room at the Doubletree, so I joined the waiting list and got a reservation at the Bridgewater-Somerset as a backup plan. Then a few weeks ago, one of my FetLife friends from New Haven (yet another Katie) posted that she wasn't able to attend WF so her Doubletree room was available. I got in touch and we managed to transfer the reservation to my name and I canceled my other room at the other hotel. Then a week before the event, the Doubletree contacted me and said some rooms had come available, so I switched our room from a double to a king bed, since it was going to be just the two of us.

On Saturday morning we planned to go to a Bondage 101 class, but found out it had been canceled because the room had been closed by the fire marshal. The evening classes were moved to a different room, so we saw a rope demo by Goddess Thain later in the afternoon.

We attended a couple of lectures by Brian Thomas and Ray Witte about the famous Edison vs. Tesla feud (they are big in the steampunk fiction world) and another session called Han Shot First: Creating Anti-Hero Characters. We also took the shuttle over to the other hotel that was hosting Voltaire's Necro-ComicCon, a sister event to look at their vendors and listened to a lecture on demonology. I was kind of losing steam at this point so we came back to the room to take a nap in the early afternoon before some more events, including perennial performer, the Wandering Cellist.

The Wandering Cellist photo DSC06285_zpsb5240d0d.jpg

We tried to find Ichiban, the Japanese restaurant I go to every year, for dinner but I couldn't find it after driving around a bit, so we ended up at the Somerset Diner instead. While we were looking at the menu, Josh texted me from Atlantic City a photo of Liz eating a burger, so I texted back a picture of Katie eating her massive Brooklyn Burger (that looked bigger around than her head).

We came back to the event to see Voltaire perform, and that was a lot of fun. I actually enjoyed his choir singing “When You’re Evil” better than I have in years past, maybe because a lot of them were actually dressed up as evil and nefarious creatures and he did a better job of leading them. His performance was actually pretty poignant and thoughtful at times, something I'm not used to seeing from him.

Sunday morning we woke up as late as we could possibly rise and still check out on time. There was a Tea Dueling competition that was fun to watch, and Katie bought a few things for her mom and Lillian before we made another attempt to find Ichiban for lunch and this time we succeeded. The trick is that it's closer than I always think it is.

Tea Dueling photo DSC06289_zps497a62ef.jpg

We came back and spent some time chatting with our friends at the Agreeable Agony booth and trying out their toys. I know Kiernan from past WFs and the parties we used to go to in Massachusetts when I first got into the scene, and Mel says we've met before but I don't remember them. Kiernan and other tops gave us some advice as well. It was a very instructive semi-private lesson.

We drove back to Katie's home in Brooklyn and took advantage of the mild weather and remaining sunshine to take a walk to the frozen lake at Prospect Park and zigzag back through the neighborhood. I stopped at a pile of old records that someone had left out for disposal and picked up a few, including Frank Sinatra’s Columbia reissue of “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and the original movie soundtrack to “My Fair Lady.” We ordered delivery of some burritos and flan for dinner and talked a bit more until it was time for me to head home, bringing our 48-hour adventure to a close.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Galentine's Day Party

Since Puck and I never celebrated Valentine's Day on general principle in the four years we were dating, it's been a long time since I've had any use for Valentine's Day. Last week I contributed some thoughts on how poly people feel about the day in this article on, "How Polyamorists Celebrate Valentine's Day."

However, I was looking forward to it this year because Liz invited me to a fancy ladies night party that she called a "Galentine's Day Dinner" (from the TV show Parks and Recreation: "Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst.") So it was a nice excuse to be dressy and posh without buying into the whole V-Day thing.

Partly to get ready for that and partly because I just needed to spoil myself, Friday night after work I went to Hand & Stone in Princeton and got a massage and my first facial in a long time - both were long overdue. I have one of those memberships that adds an hour-long session each month, and I had three hours banked, so I still have another hour to use this month.

Saturday I met Becker to look at an apartment - a penthouse duplex at 54th and 7th Avenue. It was a good layout, with two bedrooms upstairs, each with their own private bath, and a half-bath downstairs for guests, a large common area and a semi-private roof terrace on a 12-story building. It was a beautiful view of the heavy snowfall that day. However, the bedrooms were a little small so it would have been tight to have desks and other furniture in private areas. Later in the evening we decided to call off the apartment search, at least for this year, so we can just settle into our respective situations - mine being another year at Times Square Movie Club (TSMC, my present space).

So in a way, it's a relief to have certainty on what's going to happen in the near future. On the other hand, I'm disappointed we couldn't make it work, especially since we got close with the co-op (that turned out to not allow cats). So I have another year to think about what I want to do with my long-term living situation and the experience of looking at apartments in NYC has been valuable for the future.

After Becker and I parted ways on Saturday afternoon I went to get my hair and nails done for the party and trudged down in the blowing snow to Beauty & Essex on the Lower East Side. I actually walked right by it without stopping because it's like a speakeasy with an outer room that looks like a pawn shop. Liz called me and sent me walking back down Essex Street and from across the street I could see the brightly lit sign. Luckily there were channels cut into the snow drifts or else I'd have had to walk around the block again.

After checking my coat and umbrella, we went downstairs to the ladies room, where they were serving free champagne and hung out in the lounge for a bit before going back up the bar to wait for our table to be ready. They seated us at a round table in the middle of the room between the bar and the rest of the restaurant under a skylight that looked up into the upper level of the restaurant.

Here's a picture of our table and what the rest of the room looks like:

 And here's what we looked like last night sitting at that round table in the foreground (from left, it's me, Lytle, Liz, Chryssi, Andrea and Katy):

Our meal consisted of several shared appetizers, starting with an amuse bouche of Eggplant Caponata on a rice cracker, then the Prime Beef Carpaccio and the Grilled Cheese, Smoked Bacon and Tomato Soup Dumplings:

Next up was Lobster Tacos, Creamy Barley Risotto and Salt and Vinegar Fries:

Our last savory course was Citrus Kissed Salmon Ceviche and New York Pretzel (shaved NY Strip, mustard aoli and crispy shallots on a slice of pretzel):

One of the servers recognized Chryssi and sent us a couple things for dessert, in addition to the box of donuts (really mini-beignets) we had: a plate of Petite Cupcakes (red velvet with cream cheese frosting and Guinness cake with Bailey's frosting), a Molten Chocolate Bread Pudding with hazelnut ice cream and a Black Bottomed Butterscotch Pot de Creme with coconut chantilly and spoons made of crepe batter:

The food was all delicious and the company was engaging and Liz is a wonderful hostess. I'm very lucky to count her as one of my closest friends. Since I was seated next to Katy, I talked with her the most during the course of the evening, in addition to joining the table conversation. The one knock on the place is that the music was rather loud, which made it hard to converse across the table without raised voices. But I guess that's what hip places in New York do to let everyone know how cool they are.

Today is a rest and recovery day. Puck is going to stop by on their way through the city back to Long Island, and I'll probably go out to see The Lego Movie with friends, since everyone's telling me to go see it (Becker gushed about it yesterday, and he doesn't usually gush about anything). But since the next two weekends will be full of stuff (Wicked Faire, followed by the Oscar marathon and viewing party), I aim to get as much rest in today as I can!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It's a small world

Blogging from the train – let’s see if this will be the one day this week where we don’t have any delays, as we’ve had the last two days from signals, disabled trains and ice patrols.

After about a month of craziness, yesterday was the first day at work in 2014 where I didn’t feel like my hair was on fire for deadlines and a ton of work. We’ve been pushing hard on a big event we’re having in California this week and now everyone’s out there getting ready. I still had an asap deadline yesterday, but it was for something that was fun to do for our charitable giving group, sketching out an infographic on the white board to show how we’re going to improve lives at a school in Haiti. I took a picture of my crude sketch and sent it to our graphic designer in Houston. It felt good to engage that visual part of my brain instead of working exclusively with words as I usually do.

I had an appointment to view a potential apartment last night. It wasn't suitable, but we'll look at another one on Thursday.

On the way back home I hopped on the subway for a single stop and I ran into Bellatrix, someone I used to play with back in the kink scene years ago. She was my first play partner; I’ve really only had three. We had a 30-second catch-up as the train pulled into my stop and I got off, but we exchanged texts later since she hasn’t changed her number. It’s amazing how small this city can feel at times. And I guess it’s also an indication of how long I’ve been here and the number of people who have crossed my path.

Natalia came over shortly after I got home and we had a good catch-up. We baked chocolate chip brownies and watched three episodes of Downton Abbey. The Bates-Anna climax caused a lot of tears – that show is so manipulative! I guess that’s why we love it.

Monday night was a special anti-Valentine’s Day version of Shotz called Shotz! Through the Heart (which starts that Bon Jovi song going in my head). Each play featured a breakup, the line “Are we really going to do this?” and a slap. Katie B met me at home and we went down together, running into Kacey and Becker at the corner a block away from the theater. It was a surprisingly empty theater, probably because it was moved from its usual first Monday to the second Monday.

All the performances were wonderful – the opening play was a couple breaking up in a restaurant with a mysteriously informed waitress who isn’t what she appears to be. I liked one where five performers took turns saying lines from breakups in a fugue (one of them slapped himself) and a really funny one involving a metaphorical angel and devil shouting in the ears of a couple going through a difficult time. There was lots of physical comedy (including going topless) in the last skit about a trio of musicians breaking up the band. Breakups aren’t easy when you’re going through them, but they do make good fodder for art – they are, after all, the flip side of falling in love.

After Shotz, Kacey and Becker had to go home so we didn’t go out as we usually do. I walked Katie back to the subway and was two stops going home when I realized that Monday night was the 7th anniversary party for Poly Cocktails. I jumped off the train and turned around to get to the Delancey, the bar where we’re doing PC these days.

The place was packed and jumping – I usually go to PC early and leave early, so it’s been a while since I’ve been in such a crowd. I saw so many of my women’s group friends and their spouses and partners, and that was a comfort. I literally couldn’t take five steps in any direction without seeing someone I knew. I had a good catch-up with Jeremy, who is changing careers in IT and moving to Boston for a few weeks for training. I introduced Kat to O Man since she has a lead on a new venue for Poly Cocktails and they’re now Facebook friends. I talked to Diana about a media interview I’m working on for OLNY. I saw Stella, Roo and Andy (who is, of course, a host at PC). A couple people who saw me preside over last month’s OLNY meeting came up and said hello.

Frankly, it kind of felt like I was attending my own wedding. It got to be a little overwhelming so I stopped moving and just hung out with my women’s group for a while, talking at length with Sabrina about the growth of our group and how we might manage it in the future. She wants to host the next unscheduled meeting in April, so hopefully I won’t get lost again this time going out to Forest Hills.

Miracle of miracles, we are actually arriving to Princeton Junction on time, so it’s time to wrap this up. Last thing I’ll say is that I’m making a new mix of music for Katie, something I’ll show her next time we’re in the apartment. It’s a story of the connections between the 80s pop duo Tears for Fears; their songwriting collaborator, solo folk artist Nicky Holland; their frequent vocal collaborator, Oleta Adams; with a little of the Ella and Louis album sprinkled in. Eventually I’ll put together a CD of all the songs I’ve played for her – a soundtrack for the story of how we spend time together.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Changing directions

So, update time.

Unfortunately, the co-op rejected our application because they wouldn't accept Kacey and Becker's three cats. So that put an abrupt end to all our hopes of an easy transition, and at this point, it looks very unlikely the move will happen for us. It's probably as sure a sign there is that this was not meant to be.

So, in other news, Katie M and I finished our Richard Linklater trilogy with Before Midnight last Wednesday. It was actually kind of difficult to watch because of all the fighting and antagonism between the previously in love main characters, Jesse and Celine. It's like watching two friends have a really bad fight and not able to do anything about it. I wonder if they will keep making these or if they are done.

On Thursday Piper took me to the Oscar-nominated animated short film showcase at the IFC Center - the first time I've been to this theater. We had dinner at Schnippers and she gave me a holiday present she's been trying to give me for a while - a poster of dozens of movie quotes, each with an accompanying infographic. It's so perfect for me - she knows me well! I wish I had an office to hang it in, but first I need to get it framed, then it will probably go up in my entry hall with my other movie paraphernalia.

On Friday, Katie B and I planned to meet up with Kacey and Becker to see the play “Bitten” that our friend Joan is directing. I was very happy to have Katie stay over on a night where we wouldn't have to get up early and rush out for work. There was also going to be a surprise birthday party for one of the actresses who went to Edinburgh with Kacey, so I thought it would be a lot of fun to be a part of that too.

Then, Friday morning Piper texted me and let me know she had free tickets to see The Book of Mormon, which I've been trying to win lottery tickets to for more than a year. She wanted to know if I could change my plans, and I was really torn, but I couldn't cancel on Katie so I regretfully declined. Then she texted back that there were, in fact, three tickets and Katie could go with us, so that changed the game. I let K&B know and we arranged to get dinner all together beforehand. We went to Obao, the fancy but reasonably priced Thai place on 9th Ave that Piper and I had gone to once and liked, and we sat in the upper floor where it was quiet and the ceiling sparkled with hundreds of spangles.

We left the restaurant and went to see our respective shows. BOM was good, but not as great as I imagined it would be. I compared it to how I felt about Kinky Boots. It was very irreverent, which I expected, but it also had some crude humor I didn't much like. Piper and Katie both seemed to enjoy it a little more than I did. We said goodbye to Piper at the subway and came back home, changed into pajamas and watched an episode of Elementary. I played for her Cara Dillon's version of the song, "Black Is The Colour" that Nina Simone is well-known for singing - I recently acquired her Town Hall concert on vinyl.

Today I went out to hear Lori's vocal recital. She was the last performer after an entire program of child performers on the piano, violin and voice. It was all rather amusing. It actually made me want to pick up the violin again. I came back to get my coat buttons repaired and do some grocery shopping. 

I also stopped by the Book-Off store on 45th Street and made a couple of lucky finds - Nicky Holland's 1992 debut CD and the Verve reissue CD of 1952's Ella and Louis, the first album Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong did together. Both of these are hard to find and have been on my wish list for a while. Nicky Holland was a co-writer and collaborator with the 80's group Tears for Fears and co-wrote songs like "Advice for the Young at Heart" and "Badman's Song," which featured vocals by Oleta Adams. I also found Adams' CD, "Circle of One," which features my favorite rendition of the classic song, "Get Here." So I spent most of the evening listening to these wonderful recordings while doing a little extra work for a press release that is going out in the morning.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Mischa's peanut sesame noodles

On Saturday, I went to Miriam and Rijard's housewarming party in Brooklyn. I actually thought it started at 6 pm, so I showed up at 7 pm (New York time, dontcha know) and of course, I was way early since the party actually started at 8. But that was probably a good thing because I got to chat more at length with the hosts, including their flatmate Anna.

As a housewarming gift, I gave them Sarah, one of my violins, and a new set of strings because Storm helped me cannibalize the G string for Midori last year. I'm trying to pare down some of my possessions in the event of an upcoming move; plus, I thought Rijard and Miriam would appreciate it the most, and I was right. Rijard used to play violin, so he was super-excited to have the opportunity to do so again.

As the night progressed, I ran into many of the old Papacookie crowd, including someone named Jill who has wanted my recipe for my peanut noodles for a long time, so for her, I'm posting it here. It's based on a recipe my father (who was the best cook in the house) used to make. He never actually showed me how it was made so I came up with this version through trial and error to make it as close as possible to how I remember it.

Mischa's Peanut Sesame Noodles

8 oz jar of peanut satay sauce
1/3 cup of creamy peanut butter
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup black rice vinegar (or Chinkiang vinegar)
2 tablespoons sambal oelek (southeast Asian chili sauce)
2 bunches of green onions, sliced diagonally
1 large red bell pepper, julienned
1 tablespoon minced garlic

12 oz can of sliced water chestnuts, chopped (optional)
1 jar of chili bamboo shoots
1 package of round white Chinese noodles (I use Kikkokan's U-Dong noodles)

Sesame oil to finish

Start boiling water for the noodles. Put the peanut butter, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic and sambal in a metal mixing bowl. Using a pot holder, hold it in simmering water to heat the bowl and melt the peanut butter and mix it into a thick dressing.

Pour half the dressing over the raw vegetables (all except the bamboo shoots) and toss in a large bowl while noodles cook to a firm texture (5 minutes). 

Drain noodles and mix with sauces and vegetables while still hot (to soften the vegetables), adding the remainder of the dressing and the bamboo shoots on top. The bamboo shoots already have oil, but you can add additional sesame oil at the end to taste. Serve room temperature or also tastes good as stir fried leftovers.

I also ran into Emily again and showed her the blog post of our first meeting on my Blackberry since she hadn't seen it ("Wedding preparations" - Jan. 18, 2014), plus met Chelsea's friend Lizzie for the first time (she lives in DC). I had a check-in with Kacey and Becker about the apartment hunting progress and we ended up leaving the party together relatively early since Puck was waiting for me at home and they've been on the go for the last couple days before the weekend.

Puck and I got bagels for breakfast on Sunday, and then in the evening K&B joined us to watch episodes from the new season of BBC Sherlock. Since we went rather late, I was pleasantly surprised that my office closed on Monday because of the snow, so I got to sleep in and work from home while watching the snow fall. It's a nice thought that future snow days might someday be spent in a place where I'm not alone. I haven't had a snow day at home with people I care about since 2010.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Letters of friendship

It's been a while since I've updated, but of course, nothing too spectacular has happened to compare with Kacey and Becker's wedding. But it's worth talking about how our apartment hunt is going.

We're currently looking at trying to sublet a co-op in midtown that would be perfect for our respective work commutes. It's a beautiful space and has lots of amenities, including a fabulous rooftop terrace. I don't want to get too excited about it because we still have a lot of hurdles to overcome, but if we got it, I would be very happy to live there with two of my best friends and their cats.

The application process for a co-op, even if you're a subletter, is an onerous slog through details and obstacles far beyond what's normally required of a typical apartment. The application requires copies of your last two tax returns, assets and liabilities statement with supporting documents, employer letter confirming title, salary and length of employment; landlord letter of reference, and three personal letters of reference (not including family members). They also require you to pay for a credit and background check.

So while we're diligently gathering this information, I wanted to say a big thank-you to Puck, Piper and my co-worker Lori (the wedding speech editor) for providing sterling letters of reference as to my character and being a respectable and upstanding person in general. In reading the wonderful things they wrote, it made me reflect on the choices I've made to bring me to this point in my life. And if I thought the decision was based solely on what these three wrote about me, I think it would be a slam-dunk to get the sublet.

The last time I had someone write a personal recommendation for me was in high school. One of my band directors wrote a letter for me that contributed to getting a full scholarship to the University of Houston, where I eventually earned my BA and MBA degrees.

When I think about my old life and the person I used to be, I am certain that, had I asked for letters of reference from anybody from my previous adult life, I wouldn't have gotten the enthusiastic responses I got last week. Yes, I could have found people who would say I was a good worker, reliable, accountable, trustworthy. But they probably would not have said that my friendship was very important to them. They probably wouldn't have universally described me as a caring and compassionate person.

What does that tell me? That those are the qualities that I've worked hard to nurture in my current incarnation. Being a good friend, being compassionate to others, showing people how much I care about them. I remember how in my old life I lacked empathy and the ability to open up to people emotionally. I still struggle with that from time to time, but trust me, I'm a lot better than the person I used to be.

Seeing these letters provides tangible proof - to me - that I made the right decision and put myself on the path to being a better person, for my friends and for myself. That's a powerful affirmation to have after all that I've been through.