London, Part V (A Sunny Sunday)

I woke up hungover. I showered, got dressed, took some Advil I had brought with me in a plastic sandwich bag, and went down to the kitchen, where Katie was getting breakfast started. Instantly, I felt terrible. I should have been cooking them breakfast! But then, I thought, how could I possibly do that when I don’t know where anything is or how anything works? And I love doing stuff like this when I have guests. Just stop it, I told myself, and enjoy the damn breakfast.

And so I enjoyed the damn breakfast. It was very good.

***

We decided to walk along the Regent’s Canal on our way to the Columbia Road Flower Market. When compared to the day before, the day was spectacular, sunny and almost warm. I think it was the only day I wore shoes without socks. I spent our walk both partly delighted at the sight of narrowboats in the water and small cafes tucked along the path, and partly afraid that I would be knocked into the canal by one of the bikers zooming by us at top speed.

We exited once we’d tired of the traffic and single-file walking. I think it was then that we passed by the The Geffrye Museum of the Home, which Katie and I decided we had to go to on our way back. We proceeded to walk around in what felt like a lot of little loops through identical residential blocks until we got to Columbia Road.

Once there, we stopped in Vintage Heaven, which had a cute little cafe in the back called Cake Hole. Chris got a coffee and Katie bought a delightful needlepoint pillow that matched their couch at home and I wished that I could buy something but I didn’t have room in my suitcase and everything that caught my eye looked fragile. Also, every time I tried to look at something I got knocked into by another shopper, which didn’t exactly put me in a purchasing mood.

literally the only photo i took at the columbia road flower market

literally the only photo i took at the columbia road flower market

Outside, we headed toward the Flower Market, which was so crowded that I could barely look at any flowers. I had it in my head that I would take my time looking at beautiful flowers and take a lot of pictures that I would examine later in the day in order to choose a few to post on Instagram that would get like, a million likes. Instead, I was pulled quickly through the throngs of people almost against my will, while forced to endure the shrill sounds of flower sellers trying shouting bargain prices from their stalls. I was, of course, reminded of “Who Will Buy?” from Oliver!, in which Oliver Twist finds himself in the middle of a busy market after recovering from a fever and ends up getting stolen by Nancy and Bill Sikes. When we found ourselves at the end of street, I was relieved, but also felt I should go back and really fight my way through the crowd. I’d only taken one shitty photo.

***

my favorite model london living room, from the 1930s

my favorite model london living room, from the 1930s

The Geffrye Museum of the Home is housed in former Hoxton almshouses. Inside, you can walk through recreations of typical London living rooms from the 17th century to (nearly) the present day. If this sounds boring to you, you should stop reading right now. I was kind of obsessed with how weird this museum was, like walking through a train in which each car existed in a different period of time. Each living room from before the 1900s was accompanied by tons of information on household duties and activities, as well as the types of furniture and tools that Londoners would have used at the time. There was plenty for me to nerd out on, though by the time we got to the 20th century, I was exhausted. I spent our last 15 minutes watching a father try to hold the attention of his three young daughters, all of whom must have been under the age of six and were more concerned with playing with their museum-issued headsets than looking at the actual exhibits.

***

After the museum, we ate at a tapas place in Hackney. I can’t remember the name of it. I don’t even remember what we ate, really, except that there was a lot of food and it was all Spanish and maybe there were croquettes involved and some kind of goat cheese thing. I think I was suffering from extreme fatigue. (Actually, I know I was. Looking back on this day now, it all seems foggy and like someone else was doing everything I’ve described.)

As we were leaving, I saw a man wearing a crisp pink Oxford shirt and a matching pink cableknit sweater thrown over his shoulders sitting at a table on the sidewalk with his little white dog. While we waited for our Uber, I watched a toddler try to play with the dog, who was very calm and poised, just like his owner.

***

We were too tired to do anything that night, so we stayed in and watched He Got Game and about half of the MTV Europe Music Awards hosted by Nicki Minaj and ate Halloween candy out of a plastic pumpkin.

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Old Man Pizza

Tonight, I went to the pizza place on the way home. I asked the proprietor, who is almost always there, for a sausage and onion slice. I’d never had a sausage and onion slice until this past weekend. Because it was no longer foreign, and also because it is more substantial than a plain slice, I thought it was an appropriate order for tonight, when I’d had a few drinks on an empty stomach.

The proprietor, who I call “Old Man Pizza” – which I like to sing to the tune of “Old Man River” – because he looks very old and owns a pizza place, went over to the case where all of the pizza is kept to get my slice. I looked at my phone to see if someone had texted me, which is something I do approximately every five minutes, if not more often, even though sometimes I can go entire day without receiving a text. When I looked up, Old Man Pizza was sliding a chicken roll into the oven. I looked around. No one else was on line. The only other people in the pizza place were three guys sitting at a table behind me, talking about how many White Castle burgers they can eat in one sitting.

I didn’t ask Old Man Pizza for what I’d actually ordered. He was hunched over a sheet pan, his gnarled fingers hard at work pressing dough into the corners, his white head bobbing with each movement. He looked like he was in pain. It had probably been a long day, though I assume every day is long for him. He’s always up and reading the newspaper, drinking his coffee, readying the shop, every morning when I walk by on my way to the subway. Tonight, he shuffled back and forth between the counter and the oven every so often while I stood propped against a refrigerator full of cans of soda, looking at my phone, willing something interesting to appear.

When he took my chicken roll out of the oven, I thanked him, even though it wasn’t what I had ordered.

“Five dollars,” he said. I took my wallet out of my purse and counted out five ones. I’d left this same wallet at this very counter this past Fourth of July, when I was drunk and far too chatty with all of the men behind the counter to notice what I was doing. Old Man Pizza wrapped my chicken roll up in tin foil and put it in a paper bag.

“See you soon,” I said, grinning the same way I did as a child, when I wanted adults to like me. He smiled back at me, his lips pressed together, and turned around to face his dough in the sheet pan.

I walked the four blocks home with my chicken roll tucked under my arm like a tiny football.

London, Part IV (Actually, A Shit Day in Oxford)

Katie and I woke up and met Chris at Paddington Station, where we were catching a train to go to Oxford. I’d wanted to do at least one day trip while I was in London and decided on Oxford because it’s featured prominently in some of my favorite fictional series: the His Dark Materials trilogy and the television shows Inspector Morse and Inspector Lewis. I made absolutely zero decisions about what I wanted to do there before we got on the train, which I’m sure was annoying to my travel companions. I just had in my head that we’d get there and walk around and look at the colleges and eat lunch in a pub and have a lovely day.

The shit started when we got on the train, which was four cars and far too small to accommodate all of the boarding passengers. Luckily, we all got seats, though Katie and Chris ended up sitting on the other end of the car from me. I squeezed into a seat next to a woman, or possibly a man. I don’t remember anything about my seat partner except that they were sitting in the seat next to me. I tried reading Speedboat, but was distracted by the family standing in the aisle next to me. There was a middle aged mom and dad and a son in his late teens, accompanied by his girlfriend. The son was extremely attractive. (Extremely.) His girlfriend looked like an anime version of Baby Spice. There was nothing particularly interesting about them, but I kept imagining different reasons for their trip. By the time they got off the train in Reading, I decided they were visiting a charming but curmudgeonly grandfather for lunch.

It started drizzling outside just before we pulled into Oxford. When we stepped onto the train platform, it was pouring. Inside the station, I bought a map of the city in a tourist information kiosk. I never looked at it again.

at the ashmolean

at the ashmolean

We decided to go to the Ashmolean Museum because it wasn’t that far of a walk and it also was an indoor activity. I was pretty miserable by the time we got there, worried that my friends were annoyed that I had dragged them to be bored at a museum on a rainy day. This feeling intensified as we spent a long while walking around the collections of ancient artifacts, which everyone knows are the most boring collections in any museum. Eventually, I ended up by myself. I found some things I liked: the Anglo-Saxon stuff, the musical instruments, most of the paintings, the tapestries, the ceramics. When I was finished, I met Chris and Katie outside, where it had stopped raining.

We found a pub called The White Horse for lunch. It was cozy and dark and wooden and everything was a little slanted. Our waiter, the jolliest waiter I ever did meet, gave us a sheet with the pub’s history on it. (It dated back to the 16th century! Queen Elizabeth I might have visited it one time!) I ended up using it as my place mat and got malt vinegar all over it. Our waiter looked more than a little disappointed when he noticed this later, as he was pointing out that we should keep it for a souvenir.

After lunch, full of sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble, we walked through not terribly heavy rain to Magdalen College, which is supposed to be the most beautiful Oxford college. Since it was already late in the day, the guard at the college let us in to walk around the grounds for free. The building we were allowed to walk around was beautiful in a very medieval way. It also did not seem like a place for college students, but what do I know? My alma mater was founded in 1851.

magdalen college

magdalen college

We walked around the grounds for a little bit, just as the sun was setting and the rain was letting up a bit. I attempted to walk by the canal, but it was muddy and I was wearing brand new shoes, so I decided that was a terrible idea and stopped.

When we left the college grounds, it started pouring. Katie and Chris had been walking around without umbrellas all day. I had one, but it didn’t even help at this point because it was raining so hard. It was getting dark. We decided to call it a day and head back to the station, where we just made the train.

I finished Speedboat on the train ride back to London, which was very hot and uncomfortable, at least until I was able to get a seat.

We had dinner in Islington, at a place that I thought was literally called “The Pizza Pub” until Katie and Christ explained that that was just what they called their neighborhood pub – actual name: The Hanbury Arms – because, for some reason, it had an extensive menu of basically just pizza. This would be my third pizza-centric meal in London.

street fox

street fox

The pub was fairly empty. I confused the young bartender wearing an oversized tiedye t-shirt when I tried to pay for my order with an American credit card. I explained to him that he had to swipe my card on the side of his credit card machine, but he tried to feed it into the part that reads chips like six times before he asked one of his coworkers for help. After eating our pizza and a game of cards, Chris went home, leaving me and Katie to have “Girls’ Night.” We drank as many glasses of wine as we could before we got kicked out of the bar at 11 PM. We hadn’t noticed that we were the only ones still there and that my bartender friend was closing up for the night.

On our way home, we saw a fox in the street. This was very exciting for me because I think foxes are super cute and also I had never seen one in the wild before, let alone just trotting around an urban area.

Before going to sleep, we had a nightcap: an entire bottle of prosecco.

 

Every Book I Read in 2014

Before we get too far into 2015, I thought I’d do a quick roundup of everything I read in 2014. It was a slow reading year for me; there were months in which I failed to finish a single book. But I did read a lot of things that I liked. (And one or two things that I really hated!)

I wrote about many of these books during the past year on this blog. (Here are reviews from January-March, April-June, and July-September.) If you’ve also read any of the below, hit me up. I’m far too lazy (i.e. nervous to share my honest opinions) to actually review all of the books I read, but I will always make time to talk about them.

Top Five Novels
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Hild by Nicola Griffith
A Tale For the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Novels I Liked A Whole Lot
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Speedboat by Renata Adler
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
Faithful Place by Tana French
Friendship by Emily Gould
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Novels I Love That I Reread
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Novels That I Didn’t Like As Much As I Hoped I Would
We Think the World of You by J.R. Ackerley
HHhH by Laurent Binet
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Novels I Awarded Fewer Than Three Stars On Goodreads
Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson
Chronicle of A Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Memoirs I Loved (Only One of Which Is Not A Graphic Memoir)
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart

Actual Graphic Novels
Black Hole by Charles Burns
Berlin, Vol. 2: City of Smoke by Jason Lutes

Three Non-Fiction Books (One I Loved, One I Really Liked, One I Liked)
Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama From the Golden Age of American Cinema by Anne Helen Petersen
Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild Obsessive Hunt For the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records by Amanda Petrusich 
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

 

Crushed

The last three years have started with a crush.

2012 and 2014 were the same guy. Things with him started the same way – we talked for hours at a party, in a bar – and ended the same way – he never texted me back when I asked him to hang out – both times. The disappointment was worse the first time. We’re friends now, I think.

2013 was different. I had a crush on a friend of a friend for months. I’ll call him the Comedian. When I confessed my crush to our mutual friend, he told me that the Comedian really liked me and that I should go for it. I was terrified. I could think of exactly one time I’d gone for anyone and hadn’t been rejected. I sent him a Facebook message. We ended up planning a date for that weekend. I remember being at my friend Katherine’s engagement party, drunk on red wine, telling my high school friends about him, feeling nervous but like nothing could really go wrong. He liked me.

That Sunday night, fifteen minutes before I was supposed to meet him at a bar in our neighborhood, I broke one of my bottom teeth while eating a slice of pizza. I told him this later, even though I worried about whether it was a funny-enough first date anecdote.

We had cocktails and then dinner and I thought it all went well but I really had no idea. I hadn’t been on a date in a year and a half. He walked me home and said we should go out again when he returned from a two-week trip. That night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I was thinking about the future. Was our age difference too much? What if his friends didn’t like me? What if my mom hated his tattoos?

The next weekend, I asked our mutual friend these same questions while sitting by the fireplace at my favorite bar. My anxiety was high. The Comedian had only texted me once, two days after our date. And then, nothing. My friend told me that everything would be fine. That night, I stayed out until 4 am dancing and walked two blocks in the wrong direction before getting myself on the right path home.

I didn’t see him again until a week or two after he’d returned from his trip, when I went to a comedy show that he hosted. I was nervous. Our conversations felt awkward. We took a cab back to Greenpoint together. When we got out, I invited him to a small reading I was having at my apartment in two days. He said he might be able to come, but he’d have to check his schedule. “You don’t know what you’re doing two days from now?” I asked. He told me he didn’t know if he’d already said yes to something else for that night. I think I told him I didn’t like ambivalence, but tried to kiss him goodbye anyway.

A few weeks later, after at least one more rebuffed invitation, he texted me to say that he was seeing someone else. I was walking down McGuinness Avenue with my roommate, on our way to meet friends, when I received it. I still remember feeling surprised when I started crying.

*****

“You need to protect yourself.”

My therapist tells me this constantly.

She said it in March when I started dating my friend’s co-worker, a teacher who I met one Friday at a happy hour in Cobble Hill. It felt fated. I never would have been at that happy hour if I hadn’t been dismissed early from jury duty at the Brooklyn Supreme Court, which was within walking distance of the bar. I ignored the fact that he spoke often of his disdain for his ex-girlfriend. I ignored the fact that we had little in common. For a few weeks, he would text me to set up dates on the weekend. Once, we went to see a movie. We got a drink beforehand at the bar where the Comedian worked sometimes. He happened to be working that night. I acted like a total weirdo and never introduced him to the Teacher. When the Teacher asked me jokingly how I knew him and if I was a regular there, I said he was an old friend. I think he knew I was lying.

When the Teacher stopped contacting me altogether, I became anxious and unsure of how to proceed. I wrote about that earlier this year on this blog, about how I decided to let him disappear and didn’t ask why. I said then that I didn’t want to know. That remains true. He texted me eventually, only to acknowledge his disappearance. I never responded.

Weeks later, I found myself saying goodbye to the Comedian at his going away party. His parting words to me: “Tell your new boyfriend he’s a terrible tipper.” I didn’t tell him that he was gone, that he was never really my boyfriend. Afterward, I complained about what he’d said. It was embarrassing, I said, to have been taken out by a bad tipper. I didn’t want the Comedian to think that I was a bad tipper. I went on and on until I admitted that I was more than a little satisfied that he’d cared enough to say anything about it at all.

*****

This summer, at the hotel bar after my cousin’s wedding reception, another cousin mentioned the post I’d written about the Teacher. “I just really felt for you,” he told me. At once, I felt touched that he’d connected with what I’d written and ashamed that my wounds were so apparent. He pulled my mother into our conversation, repeating that his heart had gone out to me when he’d read my post. I saw my mother look around nervously. I knew that post had made her uncomfortable in some way. It was one of the very, very few things I’d written that year that she hadn’t shared with her Facebook friends.

*****

In July, I began dating someone more seriously. It began as a crush. He was the manager of the coffee shop I went to every morning. He asked me out one Saturday morning while I was reading. We went on our first date that afternoon. That night, I told a few people what had happened, how excited I was, how nothing like this had ever happened to me before, how I’d practically willed it into being. A man I’d just met that night looked at me, his eyes wonky from beer and edibles, from one end of the picnic table in my friend’s backyard. “C’mon, Haley,” he said. “You had a crush on this guy for months and he just asked you out? Don’t waste your next six months on him.”

It was only two months before it ended. He told me that he didn’t feel like things would work out between us and that we should just call it off now before anyone got really hurt. I was surprised. I thought we were having fun. I thought I was happy; I knew others, including my mother, were happy for me. He kept asking me how I felt about what he’d said and I answered truthfully: I told him that I didn’t feel like it was the end, that if he hadn’t told me that he didn’t think things would work out, I would still want to keep dating. We talked in circles for what felt like three hours but was probably closer to thirty minutes.

When he left, after I ended our conversation by telling him how disappointed I was, how I could see that it would be irresponsible for us to continue dating, he told me I had something in my teeth. He was only telling me, he said, because I’d told him he’d had something in his teeth on our last date.

I tweeted about that later, him telling me I had something in my teeth. And then I tweeted two other things, one of them a bit more malicious than the others. He saw those tweets, which no one really would have known were about him except for him, and he emailed me days later, after we’d seen each other at the coffee shop a few times. To him, what I’d written had been hurtful. To me, what I’d written had been cathartic. I was upset that he couldn’t see this, that I needed to make jokes in order to make sense of what happened, though I never tried to explain it to him. I didn’t respond to his email. I stopped going to the coffee shop.

Weeks later, I had a panic attack in the middle of a concert in Williamsburg. I left before the band I was there to see went on. I got in a cab outside the venue, hoping I wouldn’t throw up. Later, lying in bed at home, exhausted from crying, I thought about the pressure that I’d put on myself to stop feeling anger and pain, to be the good guy in the story, the person who always did the right thing. I’m still doing this. I see it in the details I’ve chosen to include and those I’ve left out of the stories I’ve told in this essay. I see it in my inability or unwillingness to go beyond acknowledging my disappointment, to describe the painfulness.

*****

“You’re not good at protecting yourself.”

My therapist said this to me recently. It hurt.

I don’t like being told I’m not good at something. I wanted her to be more generous with me, to tell me that I’d gotten better at it, at least. I don’t know if I’ll ever be good. It seems impossible to me, to exist in a state where only the good things are let in and the bad things are repelled by some invisible suit of armor.

I feel like I’m always talking about being afraid of the future. I annoy myself, talking about the same thing all the time, but I think talking about fear is important. I’m afraid that if I don’t talk about my fears, they’ll never get close to being resolved. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid of new wounds. I’m afraid of confronting the past that still lives in my present. I’m afraid that if I don’t confront that lingering past, I’ll never repair its damage.

After my last breakup, my friend Edmund came over. I felt insane, babbling about what had happened, bringing up random details from the breakup conversation between sips of beer. He was patient. He told me he thought I was brave to keep opening myself up. Brave or stupid, I thought then. Now, examining the patterns of the past, I think, brave and necessary.