The House from Hell

For nine years I lived in a freak house. I'm not talking about my family, necessarily, but about the house itself. I lived in one of the most upscale suburbs and school districts in the country--but our house was a falling-down rental at the end of a long, rutted driveway. It wasn't exactly The Glass Castle, more like Grey Gardens without the money.
My brother in our creepy driveway
Today that driveway is a smoothly paved road through a development of multimillion-dollar houses in Westchester County. But in my memory it lives on as a hellish byway of broken asphalt, ancient patch jobs and loose gravel that scared away parents and children, and ruined Halloween (and many an undercarriage).

Holidays in Hell

This site examines holidays as defined in American English: Thanksgiving, Independence Day, etc. But in British English, the word "holiday" means vacation. So, a hellish holiday can mean a really awful vacation - as described in this somewhat horrifying article.

Seriously? Who would choose any of these places over the South of France?

The Phantom Anniversary

This week was and wasn't my thirtieth wedding anniversary. It was, because I got married in 1988. And it wasn't, because we split up 11 years ago. 

I think of this date as my phantom anniversary. Most years it passes with minimal notice - and it's noticed mostly because it's the week of July 4th, so forever wedded in my mind to that holiday. But I took more substantial notice at the 20 mark (we actually had a mediation appointment that day), at 25 and again, this week, at 30. 

I loved my wedding. Heck, I loved my husband. I loved celebrating anniversaries, except toward the end, which should have given me a hint that it was toward the end. Love is something to celebrate, especially when it results in a child I love more than anything.

But a big phantom anniversary is bound to induce some retrospective thoughts. What used to be, what might have been, what went wrong, but also what went right. 

A phantom anniversary is an opportunity to remember what will always be a special moment in time. Not in a get-out-the-photo-album way, but in a minds-eye kind of way. I remember when three of my grandparents and both of my parents were still alive. (Today, it's just my mother.) When I worked at a job I loved, with people who were then and remain today my dear friends. When I was new to Los Angeles and energized by regaining three things I'd given up in Manhattan: a tree, a car and a dog. And when I was in love with a man who made me laugh every day. 

I will always love my memories of that day, and that time of my life. I will always look at my phantom anniversary as a chance to appreciate what I had. No regrets, no recriminations, just love and (hopefully) lessons learned. 

New York, Mon Amour Perdu

My New York was studded with cramped record and bookstores, unique boutiques, grungy abandoned buildings, out-of-the-way clubs. Today, abandoned and out-of-the-way have been taken over and jam packed by chain purveyors of brows, Brazilians and boba. Cupping, computers and craft beers. Smoothies, cycles and cell phones.

None of these retail categories existed when I left New York 30 years ago. Over the decades, my dozens of return visits have presented an ever-growing litany of change. I wasn't surprised when Anthony Dapolito died and his family's Vesuvio Bakery closed, or that CBGBs finally bit the dust. Those and others held out longer than most could have expected.

Less predictable were the hideous sliver buildings that cast creepy shadows and prick the skyline like a ravenous addict's syringes. The Twin Towers - much-derided almost-slivers themselves, have been elevated to a metaphor for a dangerous world where America no longer holds moral or actual authority. Time-Warner Center's replacement of Columbus Circle's admittedly funky convention center. The Trump desecration of the Upper West Side.

Moms and pops have been sent packing. The wonderful old Barnes & Noble on a formerly post-apocalyptic stretch of lower Fifth Avenue birthed a sister store across the street, then an international chain, then faded. Shopping in a bookstore now - even B&N - feels like a charitable act. That's true everywhere, not just NYC.

And the tourists. Oh, those selfie-taking hordes! They've turned every neighborhood into its own version of a Sex and the City fan's bus stop. The West Village. Soho. Tribeca. LES. Hell's Kitchen. All overrun with app-toting searchers. Where's that building where that commercial was shot? I think I just saw one of the Housewives!

There have been positive changes, of course. The Second Avenue subway, promised "shortly" in my '70s Manhattan, finally opened. The High Line and the new Whitney are beautiful. Things are cleaner and safer, albeit exponentially more expensive, too. The Statue of Liberty still stands, although her message of welcome has been sullied. The 9/11 Memorial is hauntingly beautiful, but could never qualify as a positive change.

I know change is inevitable. And isn't clean better than grungy? Well, yes. Except when it's the grunge of your youthful memories. Then you pine for the days of "Headless Man in Topless Bar."