Something About London

Today I am taking a break from writing about Paris to write a tiny little bit about another city – London, which I have visited exactly one time, when I was twelve. Even at that age, I was an Anglophile. On the plane ride over, when I wasn’t watching Stuart Little or slapping away my mom, who sunk her nails into my arm every time we hit turbulence, I was happily reading Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII and literally freaking out inside my little brain because I was finally, finally going to London.

text from my dad: "view from restaurant where we are having lunch - looking down on leadenhall market"

text from my dad: “view from restaurant where we are having lunch – looking down on leadenhall market”

My parents lived in London for about a year after they got married and moved back to New York about two months before I was born. My dad still traveled to London a good deal when I was a kid. I don’t want to say a lot because I don’t want to make it sound like my dad wasn’t around when I was growing up, but in my memory it feels like he was there a lot, probably because his trips sometimes lasted for weeks. I remember when I was very young, about four or five, my dad brought me back a Siberian tiger stuffed animal from London. I loved it so much, because I loved stuffed animals and my dad gave it to me and I got to say that it was from London, which was very exciting. I bring this up because that was also probably one of the last times that I wasn’t absolutely terrified every time my dad flew to London for business. Before I flew overseas myself, I cried every time I knew my dad was leaving because I was convinced his plane would crash. My dad would console me by telling me that flying was safer than driving, which was also terrifying because then I would think about how I got in a car every day. Anyway.  By the time I was twelve, I had gotten over this fear of flying – but only sort of because I totally sat with rosary beads on my lap for the entire flight to London – and I was super excited to be seeing a city that had loomed so large in my imagination for my whole life.

The week was a dream come true. My parents and I stayed in a fancy hotel. My mom and I saw the sights during the day and I was in awe of every landmark. Every afternoon, we rested and had tea and scones in our hotel room. Then, at night, we would go out to dinner with my dad and friends. We took a ride on the brand new London Eye. We saw Mamma Mia before it came to Broadway. I remember a lot of middle aged women dancing in the aisles. I caught this renewed ABBA fever pretty hard. My parents bought me the soundtrack and I listened to it on my Walkman before I went to bed. We also saw The King and I with Elaine Paige, who was probably too old to be playing Anna, but she was still really, really awesome. My dad’s wallet got stolen on our last day, though the thief curiously took the cash and dumped it in a garbage can in a tube station and he got it back. By the end of the trip, I was sad to go home. Now, I am sad that I haven’t been back.

text from my dad: "they call this new building in the background "the shard", as in "shard of glass".

text from my dad: “they call this new building in the background “the shard”, as in “shard of glass”.

I was thinking about all of this for two reasons. First, I read Sarah Lyall’s piece in the New York Times last week, “Lessons From Living in London”. The city is much different from the London I visited in 2000 and worlds away from the London my parents experienced in the 1980s. I had always wanted to live there myself, though as an American with zero marketable skills, that will probably remain a difficult, if not impossible, thing to cross off my list.

Secondly, my dad just returned from a business trip to London. He doesn’t go as often any more. As a kid, his trips were mysterious to me. I didn’t know any more about what he did there than what he told me over the phone. But these days, thanks to technology, my siblings and I get updates via group text, my dad narrating his cab rides and lunches, sending photos of things he thinks are cool or has noticed have changed since the last time he visited. I know it’s kind of lame to be like “WHOA, technology!” but…this wasn’t a thing that could have happened a few years ago. (I mean, it could have, I guess, but my dad didn’t have an iPhone until this year and we all know how terrible Blackberrys were for this kind of thing.)

text from my dad: "say hello to the queen! that's buckingham palace in back of the queen victoria monument. wonder if anyone every called her tori? taken out window of cab on way to airport. be home soon!"

text from my dad: “say hello to the queen! that’s buckingham palace in back of the queen victoria monument. wonder if anyone every called her tori? taken out window of cab on way to airport. be home soon!”

I’d like to visit London very soon as good friends of mine just moved there for a definite, but substantial, amount of time. I’m trying to save up some money for this since, well, airfare and London, in general, are expensive. However, I think it will be worth it. I’m looking forward to reminiscing some more about my first trip, of course. But I’m also excited to have an altogether different experience, as an adult, seeing this city that has changed so much in the last thirteen years from another perspective.

My Thing About Birthdays

There are some people who will tell you that they don’t like celebrating their birthday. Maybe they don’t. Or maybe they do but are trying to…be cool about it, or something.  I’m not sure I get these people. You will never hear me say that I don’t like celebrating my birthday. Ever. (I mean, probably. I don’t know what the future holds.) Why? First, because I think that having lived for another year is cause enough for celebration. Which I’m sure doesn’t surprise those of you who have picked up on my preoccupation with mortality. And secondly, because it’s the only day of the year that is MINE.*

Growing up in a large-for-our-times family, there wasn’t a lot of stuff that was just about me. I think my peers who grew up in “normal” or “standard” sized families in the same or similar socioeconomic circumstances experienced many things that were all about them because as an only child or one of two or three children, the focus had to be very much on them either all or a large portion of the time.

But in my family, everything was about us. The collective. I’m not saying that my parents never paid attention to me or that I had an unhappy childhood. That wouldn’t be true. I never felt that I got less attention than any of my other siblings. And I did have a happy childhood. (I mean, aside from my experience in Catholic grammar school which I now realize wasn’t so much unhappy as it was all sorts of weird, but that’s a story for another day and has nothing to do with whatever stereotypes you’re thinking about right now.) I actually liked the independence that being a part of a big family afforded me. Having the freedom to go sit in my room and read Anne of Green Gables when I wanted to without someone nagging me to do extra credit projects or practice the piano for another hour was the fucking best. Also, when I felt like being social, I could walk downstairs and wrangle some of my siblings to play school or WWF. It depended on whether I felt being domestic or violent that day.

But my parents had five younger children and, at least when I was a kid, I think that they made decisions for all of us based on what would be best for the greater good rather than an individual’s desires. Our activities, our schedules, our meals, our everything was planned out with the needs of everyone in mind. Anyway, I’m not using this space to complain. I can do that another time. I’m just saying that my familial circumstances are probably a big part of why I’ve always been super into celebrating my birthday. It’s my day! How could I not be excited about a day when everyone wishes me well, tells me nice things about myself, gives me presents and drinks a few too many drinks in my honor.

So, how did I celebrate myself this year? I’m sure you were wondering.

1) I took the day before my birthday off. My birthday was on a Saturday this year, so I cashed in a precious vacation day so that I could relax a little before I partied the next night. I spent the better part of my day hanging by a pool. And that night, I had dinner with my family. My mom made chicken and some other stuff and a really adorable and delicious cake.

 

My birthday cake. Thanks, Mom!

My birthday cake. Thanks, Mom!

 

Aerial shot of my birthday cake. My parents called me Doodles when I was little.

Aerial shot of my birthday cake. My parents called me Doodles when I was little.

 

2) On my actual birthday, I woke up at my parents’ house and my mom took me to Trader Joe’s and then drove me back to Greenpoint. This is, quite literally, what I asked for as a birthday present.

3) I got some nail art! Liza and I went to get our nails done at Primp & Polish. She surprised me with this little cupcake! We were really happy with how our nails turned out.

 

The Cutest Cupcake

The Cutest Cupcake

 

Mine are the pink ones. Liza's nails are way more dope.

Mine are the pink ones. Liza’s nails are way more dope.

 

4) I received awesome presents from my friends. Some of them included: a first edition of Lucky Jim with original Edward Gorey artwork on the dust jacket (seriously, this gift was almost unfair in its perfection), Adventure Time paraphernalia, tickets for Neutral Milk Hotel and a really lovely dinner with some of my best pals. Yay! Thank you, all!

5) A PARTY! Vincent and I had a joint birthday party at t.b.d in Greenpoint. We had a fantastic time with so many of our friends. And we ended the night with karaoke, which is how all of the best nights/days/everythings end.

Our Game of Thrones-themed birthday cake, made by my super cool roommates.

Our Game of Thrones-themed birthday cake, made by my super cool roommates.

 

I really did have a great birthday and am so grateful to everyone who helped me celebrate. (And also, thanks for indulging me in my lengthy explanation about why I love my birthday so much.)

*My birthday is also a yearly reminder that my brother Aidan was NOT born on my birthday. Seriously, the months preceding my 12th birthday terrified that I would have to share my big day from then on. Luckily, Aidan was born two days later, on August 5th. (Happy birthday, Aidan!)

Moving On Up

me + aidan at middle school graduation

me + aidan at middle school graduation

Last night, my brother Aidan graduated from middle school. As we all know, middle school graduations are bullshit. They are ceremonies that mark the end of one harrowing phase of existence and the beginning of another, hopefully less difficult but probably just-as-good-at-draining-any-self-esteem-you-possessed, phase. Therefore, I was prepared to be bored and annoyed and awash with feelings of second-hand embarrassment for Aidan and his peers last night. But instead, I found myself surprisingly entertained and feeling very proud of my brother.

I arrived at the school 30 minutes before the ceremony and sat in the seats my family had saved. I quietly read a book as hundreds of parents and friends of the graduates buzzed all around me, as if they were attending a coronation. (Props to my mom for that comparison. It was spot on.) At one point, a parent sitting near us asked me my name. She knew I was a Flannery, but didn’t know which one. This is a common observation, often made to my face. As soon as I told her my name, another mother, seated behind us, jumped in. “Oh, you must know my kids,” she said. She gave me their first names, which were fairly ordinary and therefore not totally recognizable to me.

“Uh,” I said, my face likely contorted in confusion. She repeated their names. Still, nothing. She gave me their last name. I had never heard of them. I told her that I graduated from high school in 2005 and that I’m almost 26, hoping that would help her.

“Oh, you look so young! I thought you were in 11th grade.” Everyone around her agreed. I told her that I would take that as a compliment, which I do, because there are plenty of people my age who are starting to look not-so-young these days. It turned out that her kids were like 14 and 16 and one of them was graduating with Aidan. So yeah, I definitely don’t know them.

Once my mom reappeared from flitting around the crowd, saying hello to everyone in attendance that she has ever met, I asked her when the ceremony was going to start. Apparently, she told me, the principal had told the boys at their practice session that there was no dress code, so some of them showed up without jackets and ties, while others did because that was the dress code printed on the invitation. Of course, some of the mothers would die rather than see little Winston or  Thatcher graduate from the eighth grade in just a dress shirt, so they took them home to get a jacket and tie and held up the beginning of the ceremony for a few minutes longer than I would have liked.

Finally, it began and we watched Aidan, dressed in a dapper new bow tie and Nantucket reds, process in with the rest of his classmates. The ceremony started off with the Pledge of Allegiance, which for a moment I was afraid I had forgotten, and an opening speech by Aidan’s principal. I have to say, I tuned out for most of this speech. Earlier that week, I’d learned that the principal had “changed” – and by that I mean, censored – a short speech that Aidan was to give later in the ceremony. He took out any specific mentions that Aidan made of classmates and teachers and events, nearly ridding the speech of its context and originality and transforming it into a collection of empty statements about the meaning of middle school. All of this was apparently so that no one’s feelings would get hurt. I think, though, if someone’s feelings are hurt by a mention or non-mention at a speech given during middle school graduation, the memory of that will fade quickly enough. And if it doesn’t…Well, kid, you’ve got a rough life ahead of you. Anyway, I did not clap at the end of the principal’s speech.

When the six or seven kids chosen to share their remarks spoke, they were perfectly poised and lovely, delivering ruminations and a few extended metaphors about friendship and growing up to the crowd. If I may say so, I found Aidan’s speech to be the best. (This statement was not made with the intention of hurting anyone’s feelings. It was truly good. Also, he’s my brother.) He was witty and thoughtful and he even called out a teacher by name, because it was important to his point about learning about integrity during his eighth grade year. I was so proud of him for not letting anyone get him down. It’s one of his greatest qualities.

Soon, the ceremony was over and we joined the reception on the school lawn. It was amusing to reflect on all of the times I stood on that same lawn, all dressed up like an adult like Aidan and his classmates were, with my own friends and classmates. I’ve watched many of Aidan’s peers grow up over the last thirteen years, either because they’re friends of his or because I babysat them long, long ago. I sincerely hope that they continue to enjoy one another’s company – or at least, aren’t too horrible to one another – during the next four years they have together.

We ended the night without Aidan, who attended a party with his entire class at our country club. We happened to eat dinner downstairs from the party on the terrace, looking out on the pool where I spent most of my days during the summers of my childhood. If I’d let myself reminisce anymore than I did last night, I probably would have gotten sentimental. But I didn’t, really. I was too busy laughing along with my family and all of our weird memories of days past and stories we’ve recounted a thousand times. No one mentioned that we’ll never have another middle school graduate. I think this was for the best. We’re all ready to move on to the next chapter.

bonus photo: me & aidan back when i was 13. oof.

bonus photo: me & aidan back when i was 13. oof.

Weekend Accomplished

Recently, I’ve been feeling unmotivated on the weekends. I think a lot of it has to do with my terrible habit of going out on Friday nights. I know, it doesn’t sound like it’s that bad of a habit. Everyone needs to blow off a little steam after a long week at work or whatever. However, I tend to blow off a little too much steam. Which usually puts me behind schedule on Saturdays. Which usually makes me feel, I guess, disappointed in myself for not getting everything done that I said I would do, like write and shop for a dress to wear to this wedding I have coming up and drop off my dry cleaning and grocery shop and all of the other things I put off until the weekend. Anyway, this past Friday, I did not go out. I went to the gym instead.

The thing about going to the gym on a Friday night is that it gives me this weird mixture of feelings like, “I’m so awesome because I’m so dedicated to working out that I’m here on a Friday night” but also “I’m so depressed because I’m not socializing”. I’m actually not at all dedicated to working out and I did go to happy hour with a co-worker before hitting the gym, so one might say that I had no right to have either of those feelings, but I had them nonetheless. After about ninety minutes of performing some variety of movement on several machines while reading The New Yorker and watching the combination of chubby teens, Polish dads in inappropriate gym clothes and intimidatingly sinewy tattooed women cycle through the cardio room, I hobbled out of the YMCA – again, I am not a very dedicated gym-goer – and to Grapepoint Wines, which is very convenient to where I live. I figured I would grab a bottle of wine and partake in some while reading some more and relaxing in my living room. Instead, I ordered a large-ish amount of sushi, watched Side Effects on demand with my roommate, drank more wine than I’d intended to and stayed up until 2 am.

I felt…just OK the next day. Not as great as I wanted to feel. But I got up at a decent time because I had things to do and went to Cafe Grumpy where I thought I’d do some reading. However, I couldn’t find a seat that I liked, so I took my coffee to go and went to Baker’s Dozen on Manhattan Ave. to grab a bagel. I sat there for a little bit, reading a little of Lucky Jim but I mostly was just annoyed that they hadn’t toasted my bagel as much as I would have liked. After that, I walked to the Bedford L stop and hopped on the train to Manhattan to go shopping.

I’ve known that I needed to buy a dress for a wedding I’m attending on June 29th for over a year at this point. Obviously, I just got around to it on Saturday. I went to the Anthropologie on 5th Ave. (and 16th St.) because I’d stopped there last week and saw a few things that were (surprisingly) reasonably priced and wedding-appropriate. There was one dress in particular that I saw and loved, but after walking through the store about five times, I couldn’t find it and assumed that it had sold out. Eventually, I grabbed a bunch of other dresses and hit the dressing rooms. While I was in line, I noticed a rack of dresses that were all priced at $89.95 for a limited time. And my dress was there! In my size! It was the first thing I tried on and it fit like a glove so, I bought it.

After my dress success, I headed over to Chelsea to have lunch with a friend at the new-ish Meatball Shop on Ninth Ave. I was still kind of full from my bagel but…I managed to eat veggie balls over a salad and was content with that. (That meal sounds lame but it was actually really good.) We hung out for a bit outdoors after lunch and then I walked to The Strand, mostly because I hadn’t been in a while but also because I wanted to find something for my dad for Father’s Day. While there, I was very tempted by a whole table of NYRB Classics, but I ended up buying the first volume of A Dance to the Music of Time for myself and a book of Greil Marcus’s writing on Bob Dylan for my Dad.

dream book table @ the strand

dream book table @ the strand

I took the L back to Brooklyn and walked home, stopping at the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream store on Manhattan Ave, which has unfortunately become a regular thing for me now that the weather is nice. Once at my apartment, I had a few hours to kill so I watched some of Orphan Black, a show that aired on BBC America this spring. I just heard about it a few weeks ago and am about halfway through the ten episodes, which I guess means that I’ve been digging it so far.

Later in the evening, I met my friend Mandy at Europa, a night club on Meserole Ave that I literally did not know existed until recently. We were there to see Chance the Rapper. (Download his mixtape, Acid Rap, here.) I would say that, at 25 years old, we were in the upper quartile in terms of age in the crowd. But we had a pretty good time anyway. After the show, which ended quite early, we headed to a nearby cocktail bar, where Mandy and I had a long overdue catch up session and also where, before leaving, I very casually (not casually at all) left my number for one of the bartenders on a napkin, because that’s something I do now. It hasn’t worked yet, so um, let’s see how long I can keep this up.

chance the rapper

chance the rapper

The next morning, I got myself ready and headed up to Bronxville to celebrate Father’s Day with my family. My grandmother and aunt and cousin were coming for dinner but I got there early to help my mom make dessert. We had decided earlier that week to make Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbookwhich I just got my mom for her birthday. By the time I got home, my mom had already mixed up the batter for the crepes and had gotten started on the hazelnut pastry cream, but I took over from there.

didn't even mess up a single crepe

didn’t even mess up a single crepe

The crepes were a lot easier to make than I had assumed. (It was my first time making crepes!) Once the pastry cream had sufficiently cooled, I assembled the cake on a cake stand, layering the crepes and pastry cream. After I had finished that, I made the chocolate topping from some semi-sweet chocolate chips, heavy cream and Frangelico. The final product promised to be delicious.

assembling the cake

assembling the cake

almost assembled

the finished product

the finished product

It was…okay. And that was because we didn’t refrigerate the cake, which we totally should have, but there wasn’t really any room in the fridge. The cake tasted really good, it just didn’t set up very well. But…now we know for the next time. My mom also made Lemon Bars from the same cookbook and they turned out really well!

mom's lemon squares

mom’s lemon squares

The whole day was really nice. After our guests left, I read outside while it was still light out and then I put on some pajamas and read in my favorite place to read, in the living room in the biggest, comfiest chair. And then I watched Mad Men. And then I went to bed.

So, I woke up yesterday feeling tired but quite accomplished. I did a bunch of things and I had fun doing them and that’s good, I suppose. Of course, I still feel like I should have gotten some writing done or purchased shoes or accessories to wear to this wedding or like, a million other things, but…I still have time. Which will be true for a while, you know, until I don’t have anymore time. Yet I will keep telling myself that I still have time. Because if I don’t, I’ll spiral into an existential crisis, which is usually really bad for my mood and most of all, my motivation.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

mom

 

 

Happy, happy birthday to my beautiful mother, who still looks freakishly the same as she does in the above photo, which was taken almost but not quite two decades ago. Thank you for…well, pretty much everything! But especially my life and good looks, etc.

Also, I’d like to publicly apologize on behalf of our entire family for not getting you any gifts a few years ago. We’re all still really sorry.