A Day of Me

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You know how some people love celebrating their birthdays by doing all the things they like planned by, well, themselves?

What a horrible concept.

Not because of the whole narcissistic aspect of it. Nope, that part’s great. After all, it’s one of the few times in your life you can totally get away with getting your way (other than maybe graduation and your wedding day—if you’re the bride, that is) while everyone else has to bite their tongues about your narcissism.

What makes it horrible is that you’re the one doing all the planning and the researching and the inviting and the logistic-ing, which, if you’re like me, is a whole lot of time spent doing all the things you really hate versus doing all the things you really love. Like, napping.

Which is why I outsource all of that stuff to Franco.

Every year we plan each other’s birthdays based on a broad spectrum of things we enjoy (Him: I like steak!), while the other goes through all the trouble of making it happen (Me: Dear Google, steak NYC where yum yum?).

This year, Franco’s query for me involved:

Maybe West Village
Maybe books
Probably outside
Drinks of some kind
Coffee question mark
With food

Go, Franco, go!

And that, my friends, yielded some awesome results.

Without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things, in no particular order, except chronological:

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No. 1
The pupper in a bag. (Oh yeah, we got a pup. I’ll tell you all about him later.)

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We dropped the pupper off at my brother’s place in Manhattan (Oh yeah, my bro moved to NYC. Man, you’ve missed a lot.) to ease the separation anxiety—ours.

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No. 2
Franco letting his majestic hair down, if only for a few seconds.

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Like so.

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No. 3
Eating somewhere chill and delicious and cute. Franco chose The Spaniard because I love Spain despite the whole them colonizing my homeland thing. It is a part of us. And I’m an ignorant stupid American now. Also, there were bacon slabs, guys. BACON. SLABS.

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No. 4
A bookstore. This one’s one of my faves. Though I rarely set foot in it, it’s a piece of OG NYC and I like knowing it’s there. It’s the kind of spot where the neighborhood people stop by and talk shop, er, books, and the people who work there recommend books sans pretension. One recently arrived New Yorker asked for books about New York because he “wanted to fall in love with New York by book… I guess,” and ended up with a pile at least five books high, as each staffer had their own very special rec.

 

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Here’s a book on the dumpster outside the bookstore.

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Here’s Franco by a barbershop because I thought it would be funny if Franco sent this pic to his mom. Y/N?

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I also thought this was artsy.

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No. 5
Ice cream. This thing was actually faux ice cream and basically flavored ice shavings. I’m probably sounding really old right now but what even is this thing? I ate it anyway. It was good.

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No. 6
A visit to the Tenement Museum. Yes, I really did throw this museum out as a suggestion, faux half-joking, and Franco wisely concluded I was very serious about it and signed us up for the Hard Times tour. In case you’ve never been to this museum, it’s a look at how people in NYC lived in teeny tiny apartments amid bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiment. It’s also called The Totally Present Day museum.

***

Lady on the PA: It’s time to line up for the 4 p.m. Meet Victoria tour and the 4 p.m. Hard Times tour.

ME: I sure hope Franco booked the Hard Times tour.

Franco: Here’s our ticket for the Hard Times tour, milady.

ME: YEEESSSSSSSS.

He’s a keeper, ladies and gents.

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No. 7
Butts.

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Whenever I see stuff like this, I think it’s cool then wonder if it’s some kind of guerrilla marketing. Maybe for a guac shop? A smoothie joint? A pop-up investment bank?

 

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No. 8
Coffee. It was hot AF and we needed to kill time before dinner. I’d also like to add that Franco is very photogenic, so most of my pics are of him. He tried taking pics of me but the camera burst into flames.

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Now THIS is definitely marketing of some kind. Check out dat hashtag. Is it for a shoe? A university? The moon?

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Nearby was this anti-AirBnB ad. This neighborhood is clearly going through some shit.

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No. 9
RAMEN. Who eats really hot ramen on a really hot day? Me! Me! I do! Franco and I stumbled upon this place one drunk night, and I hadn’t been back since.

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Til now. Check out dat black ramen.

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He gets white ramen. We are an inclusive couple.

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No. 10
Dirty martinis. I enjoy going to ridiculously fancy places like The Grill while severely underdressed because it confuses the staff.

Them: Who are these 12-year-olds and why are they at the bar? Is this a trick?
Me, raising my martini glass to my lips, pinkie extended: MUWAHAHAHAA.

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Then we picked up the pupper and went home.

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A Queens Kind of Party

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A friend asked what Franco and I do these days.

I said, “Nothing really. Just read and drink coffee. Sometimes we see other humans, but mostly we just read and drink coffee.”

Gone are the days of drinking until 4 a.m. (though we’ve had nights like that). Or lying around recovering from nights like that (I guess one can’t exist without the other). Or riding planes, trains and buses en route to and from each other (because, hey, we live together now. WOO.).

Which means we have more time to do the things we do by ourselves, together.

I know what you’re thinking.

You’re in New York! Aren’t you supposed to have lofts and go to parties in lofts and know people who know people who have parties in lofts?

Sorry, my friend. It’s not that kind of story. This is a Queens kind of story. An I’m-livin’-in-the-same-apartment-as-my-invisible-Greek-landlord-who-lives-next-to-some-gruff-but-nice-older-Greek-Italian-gentlemen-who-hang-out-on-the-stoop-all-day-talking-all-kinds-of-politics-and-societal-situations-but-still-remember-to-say-hi kind of story.

And in my story, we party, all right. We just do them alone. Or with one other person. Preferably somewhere quiet. Definitely air-conditioned.

At our parties, instead of drugs, we got sandwiches. Instead of kegs, we got coffee.

And for entertainment, we got them all. Fiction! Nonfiction! Sometimes with pictures.

So, hang onto your trousers. I’m about to show you a weekend in the life of us.

It doesn’t get any more exciting than this.

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After two years of writing, I’m in a period of consumption.

Often, it involves super important current events. Like, did you know Rachel Bilson and Hayden Christensen are dating? And Andy and April got married? And Miguel exists?

What a hoot.

When it comes to writing non-work-related stuff, though, I’ve totally hit a wall.

Hence, the DSLR.

It makes me feel like I’m making stuff.

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On this day, we’re about to watch Guardians of the Galaxy.

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After growing up reading 800-page books about dragons and saving his lunch money for comic books, Franco’s 11-year-old self is finally vindicated.

Take that, super cool classmates with your super cool social lives! When you’re 30, you too will enjoy these delightful works without all the angst.

Hm. Well.

Moving on.

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After buying tickets, we sat across Kaufman Studios.

We sipped coffee. We people-watched.

Then we lined up 30 minutes early.

At 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, I thought it was excessive.

gotgI was wrong.

In a distant theater, my brother was also watching the movie.

The following conversation took place some days before, but it gives you an idea of just how big a deal this was.

(He’s in grey.)

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The movie, by the way, was awesome.

I loved it. So did Franco.

We wanted to discuss.

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IMG_0247We Yelped.

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But ended up stumbling upon a quiet bar on a quiet street, and decided to go inside.

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With a name like Snowdonia, how could we not?

IMG_0271We had a table by the window I didn’t want to leave.

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So we stayed until the sun went down.

IMG_0274The next morning, we walked by the swankiest laundromat on the block.

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The lady at the counter told us she’d be there at 1. Maybe.

It was 12:50.

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Eventually, she did roll in. The maker of delicious sandwiches.

“You look 18!” she told me.

“You must get carded all the time!”

If she weren’t so damn delightful, I’d still eat her banh mi.

But I wouldn’t be happy about it.

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OK, I’d still be happy.

Because look at that banh mi.

Just look at it.

Happy Tuesday, friends.

We Went To Oregon

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“Are you saying the greatest creations are manmade?”

“Of course,” said I, making sweeping motions with my arms. “Cities are amazing.”

Lucas was dubious. At least I think his name was Lucas. A Swede, he probably spelled his name with a K. And Lukas with a K was the unwavering sort.

Logical and devoid of passion, he made it hard to tell just how much he believed in the things he said. He made jokes using the same delivery someone might use when saying, “My dog got hit by a car today.”

“Nature,” Lukas went on, “is the greatest creation.”

We were obviously not going to agree. But this was normal. This was what we did for fun.

Well into a semester at the University of Barcelona, Lukas and a couple of others and I gravitated toward each other because of our inability to fit in anywhere else. My particular study abroad group was made of a bunch of fellow Americans who spoke mainly to each other and traveled to a country a weekend.

I was broke. And I wanted to learn Spanish. My idea of fun consisted of eating dinner with my homestay parents (Lola and Eduardo) and drinking café con leche with other café con leche enthusiasts who were also broke and didn’t fit in elsewhere.

There was the Armenian from California who could make friends with a plant (and the plant would love her). The Swedish Ecuadorian with an affinity for the ladies. The 40-year-old Taiwanese man who’d left home to learn Spanish for a few months. The amazingly sweet French girl from Bordeaux. The thirtysomething-year-old American who married a Spaniard and had just moved to Barcelona. And Lukas, the sometimes-friendly Swede.

Because only some of us knew English, or didn’t trust our English, we felt best speaking in clunky Spanish.

It was the one language we all equally didn’t know.

On this particular day, Lukas and I were disagreeing about what made countries interesting.

‘Tis the cities! I said, pointing my index finger to the heavens. Cities are culture, art, people, learning, innovation and architecture.

NAY! said Lukas, punching the air. ‘Tis nature! Lakes! Mountains! Purple majesties!

For years I thought he was wrong.

And then I went to Oregon.

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Fort Klamath en route to Crater Lake.

Our campground mom at Joe’s, after our third or fourth water bottle: Where are you guys from?

Franco: San Francisco.

Campground mom: I knew it.

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On our way up the Pacific Northwest coast, we stopped by Florence, land of many, many sea lions and endless seas.

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Five hours across, the trees and lakes disappeared. We saw desert, nothingness and abandoned shacks. Every couple of hours, we saw another human. We waved.

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Lake Trillium (Note: same place as first picture), the best part of Mount Hood. Which we never would have gone to had our cab driver, a proud Oregonian, not told us about it in Portland the night before.

And dassalligot. For now.

Much more to tell and just as many pictures. Some of them in FLAS.

Graduation beckons.

I’m a Lyrical Gangsta

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I love karaoke.

But that’s not much of a surprise. A Filipino saying she loves karaoke is like a white dude saying he loves, uh, never mind. Let’s just say it’s pretty common.

It’s so common the fam and I would gather ‘round for karaoke during the holidays while I still had most of my baby teeth.

We sang so much that when we immigrated to the US to join our mom in the Bronx (It’s a long story, but long story short, my mom was an overseas worker), she introduced us to her friends through song.

Seriously. At parties, my sister and I wore our Swan Lake tutus and pranced around while my mom sang “From A Distance.” We sang something Smokey Mountain. My brother did a rendition of this. It was so very von Trapp, but with coconuts.

Yes, there are videos. No, you can’t see them.

Soon enough, puberty hit. And soon enough, we got too big for our tutus and too cool to hang with mom and her friends. We preferred the Fugees. Sitting on stoops. Abusing our unlimited internet time on AOL.

In short, we became assholes. Baggy pants-, oversized flannel-shirt wearing assholes.

The family time stopped, and so did the singing. At least in public.

Inside, oh how the fire burned.

To my tape recorder, I sang Jewel. The shower was my concert. For years my illustrious music career languished. I was a writer, I decided. A serious writer with no time for such frivolous pursuits.

And then came the jingle.

In grad school, though the term grad school is dubious for the kind of stuff we actually do, we had to write a jingle. And not just write it, we had to perform it. We could use no accompaniments, no instruments. No clapping was allowed.

I hadn’t sung alone in front of a crowd, at least the kind of singing that didn’t come with alcohol and a numerical score at the end, since I was, like, 12.

I was terrified.

I refused to volunteer. I watched my classmates go one by one execution style until it was my turn.

I walked to the front, barely looked up, and sang.

I like coffee, lots of coffee.

I like coffee on the train and in a cup.

In a cup

In a cup

I like coffee on the train and in a cup

It was bad. My voice was shaky. I messed up a crucial part.

I should have blacked out.

But you know what? I lived to tell you about it.

I decided if I could badly sing my jingle to a roomful of my peers, I could badly sing anything to anybody. But not just sing — oh no, Karen is never satisfied with the sensical. Once summer started, I vowed to sing while playing a musical instrument.

Not that I knew how, but I figured I’d learn.

And why not? If my stellar Rock Band and Guitar Hero career of consistently racking up 100% on the guitar on medium was any indication, surely the ukulele couldn’t be too different.

That turned out to be false, but a certain level of naivete is sometimes necessary.

Since getting the uke for my birthday, I’ve learned one song a week. I have callouses, and I like it. I like it a lot.

Unlike writing, it doesn’t have to be perfect. The joy is in learning a new song. The Asian tiger mom in me often makes me play things over and over again, but the later, more polished ones tend to be more joyless than the flawed early versions.

Which is why I chose to show you this one.

This was about the fifth time I ever played it. I messed up the lyrics. I messed up some notes. I made up some strums.

But I had fun.

I’m going on tour.