Thursday, March 27, 2008

Kindergarten Registration in New Ro

Today I registered my child for kindergarten in our local school, Trinity Elementary. It was an interesting experience. For one, Kindergarten demands some serious proofs of residence. The following, for example, do not qualify:

Mortgage statement
Credit card bill
Wireless bill
Tax receipts

Only the big three--Cablevision, Con Ed, and Water--will suffice. These are the ones I did not have; they had been overzealously recycled. (After an hour of phone calls and online searching, I will be producing all three tomorrow morning.) None of the others are valid because, as they said, this could be my "vacation home." Yeah, and I would not get water service or gas for a "vacation home"? And the truly pertinent question: I would choose a vacation home near downtown New Rochelle, New York?

They told me that scammers from the Bronx, Mount Vernon, and Yonkers are constantly trying to slither into our school district without paying the city taxes. Of course, it's sad to realize that the schools in those places are so dreadful that people would go out of their way to forge a variety of bills and drive an hour out of their zone.

But the real question at hand was succinctly stated by my friend: "No offense, but why would they head to that school?" It's true—much better school choices for the deceitful are plentiful: Larchmont, Scarsdale, Mamaroneck, or even other areas of New Rochelle. Another friend, when I was moving here, said "That district? Oofh. That's in the hood." Everyone in my own neighborhood sends their kids to the parochial school--Holy Name of Jesus. I go there only to use the voting machines.

Intrepid of spirit, I have decided to register my child at our local Kindergarten anyway. And he will go there, provided we do not sell our home before the fall arrives. It's going to be a little strange. During the hour I spent at the school today, I saw exactly one other Caucasian child. (As I've said before, my kid and Casper are of a similar shade.) In reality, despite my quick tally of today, I think the percentage of non-black and Hispanic kids at the school is about 20 percent. Is this going to be weird for him? Probably. Is it going to be "worse" than the affluent PreK he now attends, where the situation is reversed? (In his school, there is exactly one black child. And he wears Ralph Lauren sweater vests and bow-ties.) I think not, somehow.

He got tested today for a full-day gifted language immersion program and scored very highly, plus the school has a strong music program, and the walls were adorned with beautiful artwork. I like the idea of him learning to speak fluent Spanish in that sort of environment. I can't speak Spanish, and I went to private school all my life! At registration, I looked around to see a number of young and idealistic-looking teachers/coordinators, who all seem involved and intelligent.

I met with a nurse who wanted to know if my son has any "easy bruising" or "sensitive" skin conditions she should know about now, since she's required to report any suspicion of child abuse. I met with a social worker who asked me questions such as "Is there anyone who is absolutely not allowed to pick up your child?" and "Any serious issues at home we should know about?" and "Was he a low-birthweight baby?" I imagine that in this community these questions are occasionally answered with a strong affirmative. I also got the feeling that I was an anomaly, a pleasant surprise ("Margaret! We got a white woman on the premises!")

"I had fun," my son said, when we left. "I liked it there."

Hey, he'll be easy to spot in a crowd whenever I go by the school. ("There! The translucent one.") Unless he's at the bottom of a pile of kids, being pummeled.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

That's Why the Lady Is a Horse's Ass

Overheard today at a child's birthday party (as my faithful readers know, I generally loathe these little affairs--especially when they are populated with nouveau riche nasties with lifelike movements and real eyes that open and close when they move):

Small Lumpen Mother with some frightful skin problems: I really need to lose seven pounds before this wedding.
Soccer Whore 1: What diets are you trying?
Small Lumpen Mother: I've tried the [unintelligible]*.
Soccer Whore 2: I've tried that. It's really effective. I feel faint and headachy all the time, though. Oh my gosh.
Soccer Whore 1: But you've lost weight!
Madame Tussaud's Escapee, made of lifelike wax: So much. You look fantastic. I mean, where else could she lose weight, girls? Her eyebrows? Her little finger? [Witchy laughter.]
Small Lumpen Mother: But I have got to lose these seven pounds. The wedding is at the end of May!
Madame Tussaud's Escapee: You have to try the [unintelligible] diet.
Small Lumpen Mother: Oh, how does it work?
Madame Tussaud's Escapee: My advice? Do not start dieting now. Wait until 9 days before the wedding to start the diet. You will lose the 7 pounds in exactly 9 days. Surefire.
Small Lumpen Mother: But...won't I just gain it back right away after the wedding?
Madame Tussaud's Escapee: Well, yes. You will. But it works!
Me [very silently inside my own mind]: Hey dingleshit! Did you mention that you will only lose the poundage from your brain? [Slappings with shitty, tasteless pizza ensue.]

*I tried to get closer to hear them better and find out about the mysterious diet, but the cloying scent of their perfume and the flinging about of jewel-encrusted fingers seemed dangerous, and drove me back into the crowd of greasy-fingered children. Whereupon I hid, watching them with narrow eyes, and ate a piece of cake.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Astroplankton (and other favorites)

In an effort to cleanse our house to prepare for it selling like the proverbial hotcake, I took the momentous step of tossing an entire box of music cassettes.

It was not an easy thing to do. There were some in there--Billy Joel's "Glass Houses" comes to mind--that are easily replaceable, should I truly desire to listen to "Sometimes a Fantasy" in the coming months and years. I suspect that desire will be scarce. I was shamed to discover a Spin Doctors "Homebelly Groove" in the bottom of the box. Hootie and the Blowfish? Don't need that. How about The Hooters? Farewell to thee.

The harder ones to abandon were the ubiquitous "mixed tapes," so lovingly memorialized in the film High Fidelity. Shoddily recorded on Maxell or Memorex 60s, 90s, and 120s, I titled them depending on the mood and memories they were meant to capture. Some had been made over time, with the song titles scratched in various ink colors. Many seemed made to appeal, as if through a magical osmosis through dorm walls and/or across state borders, to a particular unrequited love. Others seemed to have been recorded to celebrate a melancholic tendency to steep in one's own sorrow, and then just pull out of it with a empowering crescendo. The wistfulness of "Heart of Gold" breaks into the bittersweet, hopeful "Summer, Highland Falls."

Some of the song transitions are just pathetic and jarring. Carly Simon as a prelude to Peter Gabriel? The English Beat followed by Loggins and Messina? (How did I acquire Loggins and Messina in order to transfer it to the tape?)

Frankly, not much of what's on these tapes is cool in the slightest. But I was feeling kind of sappy as I pawed through it, remembering stuff like that night in the back of my parents' station wagon, or the time I busted the hot tub and found a dead frog floating in it in the morning, or just sitting around weeping pointlessly.

Actually, I didn't toss them in the garbage. I couldn't do that. A nice woman from Craigslist came and took them away, along with a host of other unwanted items, to some mysterious destination in Harrison. I have to wonder who has claimed them. I like to think a group of musically-bereft oldsters at the Harrison Home for Elderly Wanderers are rocking out to "Astroplankton," "Weekapaug Summer of 87," "Jenocide," and "Happy Music for Happy Campers." More likely, the old birds are weeping into their chamomile teas, remembering some finer time when love seemed almost within reach.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Piddling Tick: A Musical Adventure

It has been revealed to me that I look like a tick. Apparently, when one is extremely pregnant and wears a very snug hat of a fetching blue color, along with a largish men's raincoat that does not button around the middle, a ticklike quality emerges.

It has also been revealed that when one is referred to as a "tick" when walking to the train, it is extremely likely that one will be in imminent danger of piddling oneself. (Ghastly, but true: Pregnant people have been known to piddle themselves, especially when egged on by cruel friends.) The more one attempts to refrain from piddling, the more the sharp-eyed character who noted the ticklike quality will repeat the observation. Soon a lively song incorporating the phrase "the piddling tick" will be employed.

Romance! Laughter! And all this before 8:29 a.m.

It has also been revealed to me that pregnant people become extremely stupid, especially in the third trimester. Here are three poignant examples.

1. Until yesterday, my children were not aware that the Easter Bunny was supposed to deliver treats on Easter morning. But boy, did they ever perk up when I artlessly revealed it during a car ride. ("Ooh, I did not know about DAT!") Next stop: CVS, to buy a buncha junk I don't need.

2. One of those items was a pack of pastel-colored Play-DOH, which (if my husband the anti-Playdite even allows it to be delivered by Msr. Bunny) will be ground into the carpet on the very day our home goes up for sale.

3. This morning, my four-year-old asked me about the birds 'n' bees and I completely missed it. I honestly thought that "Where did I come from?" was more of a spiritual question, along the lines of "Are our souls made of cosmic stardust?" So I answered cryptically: "No one truly knows. It is a mystery." This will make for a healthy sexual understanding in about ten years.

I would continue but I have lost my train of thought.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Two Naked Frat Boys

Spurred on by the imminent spring, the fraternity party rages on at our homestead. This weekend, both boys imbibed a vast quantity of diluted juice and got out into the yard. Although the festivities began sedately, they soon devolved as the "juice" kicked in. First, they drove each other about in a plastic van, smashing into walls with ever-increasing force. The van eventually dumped over and they clambered in and out of the windows and doors. Their laughter became rather maniacal.

This excitement was not enough. Next, they had both pulled down their pants and were running around and around the garage, pausing only to stuff leaves down into their underwear and diaper, respectively. The little one, like clockwork, fell flat on his face each time he rounded the far corner. With each turn around the garage their pants fell lower. Then shoes went flying, knocking one boy in the eye and tumbling him backward. Adios, pantalones! It was quick work for them to remove the rest of their clothes and to run in circles around the yard screaming things like "Ya! Ya! Ya!"

Nude, they scrambled up and down the slide, occasionally piddling into the flowerbeds. Some of the discarded clothes were transformed into hats and even a skirt.

My husband emerged on to the porch, with a baleful eye. "My god," he cried. "It's like Beyond Thunderdome out here."

"Arrrggh!" shrieked the older boy, naked except for a leaf between his teeth. The younger one slipped backwards down the slide and tumbled, dimpled little butt over teakettle, onto the grass.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Two Drunken Frat Boys

Evidently my lovely and talented sister is just so filled with feminine pulchritude that she turns small boys into gibbering fools a la 1987 in the basement of Alpha Delta Phi. We called her tonight, thinking that she would appreciate hearing from her sweet nephews.

They were calm as the phone was ringing, but as soon as they heard her voice they seemed to snap. The elder began to shriek like a wounded hyena, and ran straight into the other one. "Doodybutt! Poopyhead!" they both began to yell. Then they ricocheted off each other and off the walls and furniture, all the time screaming and bellowing like dervishes mad for the kill.

As their auntie tried to speak to the boys, one of them seized the phone from me, tore a piece off it with what I think may have been his teeth, and hurled it across the room. He then fell to the floor and writhed around while making a "googa-booga" sound. I tried to lunge for the phone but they leaped on me with their terrible claws, head-butting and howling.

I finally reached the phone where it lay and managed to gasp a goodbye and hang up. I turned around to see that my eldest child had pulled his pants down to his ankles and was spinning around in a circle shouting "Winkie! Winkie!"

The little one's eyes lit up. He also yanked down his pants and diaper, ran a few paces, and fell flat on his face. He recovered quickly, sprang up, and--with a beatific smile--urinated right on our nicest carpet.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

That Little Kicky Thing

That baby hasn't gotten out yet, but he has a fine time trying. Thump, thump. Little heartbeat with limbs. Sometimes you feel a little shimmy-pop or a shark-fin slide against the outer dome of his prison. He's somewhere in there blinking in the darkness. He hasn't got a name.

This is an impossibly strange situation. Three-pound homunculus, tapping at the walls. You can see him rise and fall like an undulation in the earth, or someone shifting restlessly under bedclothes. Sometimes he gets feisty, and strikes outward with a sharp jab. At some point it will hurt.

Sometimes it feels like a bellyful of discontented pickerels.

With the first one you thought: I will never be closer to this child than I am now. But you understand now that this is not true. He's a fond and effortlessly close physical shifting, a comfortable (or not-so-comfortable) presence, but he's fierce already to be on his own. He'll get out. He will eventually turn to you and tell you solemnly that his cozy needs zipping or his water cup has spilled, or that his stuffed snake "has a long tongue that gives him bad licks and causes him to be mean to all other animals" (a la Eldest Son). The tongue of said snake, you'll notice, bears a small Band-Aid pilfered from the medicine cabinet.

You will in all outcomes like him better then than you do today. You shall be friends.

But today, he struggles and thrums down deep. It's not long now until this is gone, and gone forever. On to better things. Just as you cannot fully remember the pain of a broken limb or labor itself, you will never again remember this sensation—not in the bone and gut. No chance odor will bring it back, unexpected, waiting in line at the store. Not the certain flavor of spring onrushing, nor the wind.

Maybe this music will bring a small reminder, though, one day. Sitting here waiting for his eyes to open nine, ten, eleven weeks down the line, and feeling him stir and turn.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Debbil Juice

I am in possession of some scientific evidence, which I think may soon point to the conclusion that someone I know well is related to, if not the actual, The Devil.

Observation 1: The person heretofore known as "The Devil" has hung a large portrait of a devil right smack dab in the middle of our living room. The devil in the painting is red, with horns, and seems to be gazing with melancholy ire at our neighbor's house. Like it might want to smite them. Its cloven hooves are not visible but are no doubt implied.

The Devil claims that this portrait was purchased because it is an original done by his favorite musician (also an artist). The fact remains that the portrait is, without question, Mephistopheles, aka Beezlebub, aka Satan. This, coupled with the fact that we are too lazy to hang Christmas lights during the winter season, has led the neighbors to refer to us sotto voce as “those Satan worshippers.” This has not raised our standing in the area.

Observation 2: When The Devil has had more than two martinis, he often says things like “I’m a devil! I’m a devil!” or occasionally “debbil, debbil, debbil,” and runs about the house.

Observation 3: The Devil does not enter churches, unless they are hosting some tag sales with Really Great Bargains.

Observation 4: As if to throw us off the scent, The Devil’s proclaimed favorite band is named The Church. Such a ploy is pitifully obvious. Who else do you know whose favorite, A #1, all-time band is actually The Church? Didn’t think so. As a side note, one of the band members of The Church is the painter of the devil painting (see Observation 1).

Observation 5: The Devil likes whiskey, fast cars, Victoria’s Secret commercials, and other clichéd “devilish” accoutrements.

Observation 6: The Devil gives off a strange, black effluvium that modern science has been unable to identify. One morning we discovered black marks on The Devil’s pillow, which could not be removed through diligent laundering. Was it black Devil Liquid oozing from his ears or pores? No one knows, but occasionally fresh black marks show up and cannot be removed. Is he wearing mascara and frequenting “those” kind of clubs without my knowledge? Or—the more likely explanation—is he The Devil? You draw the obvious conclusion.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Are you cool enough for my neighborhood?

Now that we are going to try to sell our house, I officially take back everything mean and ill-considered that I have said about my neighborhood. You see, all along I have actually been trying to DRIVE people away from our neighborhood because it is my precious, secret gem, and seeing it filled with yupsters and Beamers and the like would just be too grotesque. What would we do, indeed, if the Jif-E-Lube on the corner were to be replaced with a trendy boutique selling handbags? Handbags don't "lube" up one's car, do they?

I actually have never wanted you here. But now that you might like to buy our home, come on in!

I shall now extol the virtues of my neighborhood and shed the light of truth on the whole matter. When my neighbors come to me with acerbic commentary (yeah, thanks for the gentrification, beeatch!), I'll just send them down the street to drown their sorrows in what used to be a down-home working man's pub called "The Tilted Kilt" but is now called "Zero," "ö," "Antarktika," or some other über-trendy name, and has a bocce court in the back and pomegranate martinis.

Here are 10 of my favorite things--for real!
1. We can walk to the New Rochelle train station in 10 minutes. Count them: 10. I make it in closer to 15 now that I am fat.
2. There is a 24-hour CVS within walking distance.
3. All the homes have olde worlde charme buried somewhere beneath their exteriors. Our own home is 103 years old!
4. We have a front porch. We can sit there and shout expletives at speeding cars.
5. Steam Eat: Within walking distance.
6. New NYSC complete with TWO swimming pools: Within walking distance.
7. Five Islands Park: A 15-minute walk. Lovely water views, and birds.
8. Did you hear there may be a new Whole Foods? Yes, that will also be a 5-minute walk from MY house.
9. Big, fat, gorgeous chestnut trees that drop hundreds of chestnuts on the heads of our friendly neighbors every autumn.
10. The coolness that comes with knowing you are a pioneer.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Steam Eat

My family and I used to enjoy going to diners on the weekend, but boredom with the bland food had taken the sparkle off the experience. The same "eggies with toast" for the boys, with undercooked homefries. The same crusty-looking, flat omelette that lacks any semblance of fluff, accompanied by fat and tasteless fries. Diner food is usually reliable and filling, but there's not much that's creative about it. The coffee is generally dreadful. We would go to them mainly because they forgave the fries under the table and the smeary handprints atop it.

Steam Eat, a few-months-old restaurant right on Main Street in New Rochelle, offers all the advantages of a diner--but the food is much, much better. I am convinced that it's also cheaper. If you haven't noticed the place, that's because you're probably passing by in a fast clip in your car. It's easy enough to miss--nestled in the base of the condo development called Huguenot Hill, a couple of doors down from Super Suppers, Steam Eat advertises its presence with tasteful grey and white signs. Shaped like a miniature Flatiron, the space is cavernous enough to accommodate a slew of patrons and strollers--even the double and triple variety liberally studded with toddlers. A giant art print of a steaming cup of coffee adorns the wall, and the menus are displayed like a monument high above the counter.

If you have kids with you (and we always do), you get a selection of children's books to peruse along with your menus. (A nice alternative to the cheap, waxy crayons offered by diners.) Adults can scan the magazine rack for papers and newspapers. Our boys flipped through hardcover kids' pages while I read about abandoned babies in that shameful rag known as The New York Post.

For breakfast, we usually all order the Special Egg Sandwich--at $4.75, it's a Kaiser roll loaded with bacon cooked to crispy perfection, eggs, and cheese. Try it with eggs over medium and the cheddar instead of the Monterey Jack, and get their well-cooked homefries on the side--no bland, mealy potatoes here. Steam Eat serves Peet's Coffee, which is hearty and delicious. (Even a cup of Peet's tea kicked the pants of a Tazo tea of the same variety.) Sometimes I've strayed and sampled the Bagel Breakfast ($7.50, with a mound of fresh lox that reaches to your eyebrows), but the Special Egg is too tried-and-true to resist. Sometimes, now, I even wake up with that phrase on my lips: "Special Egg Sandwich."

Last weekend, the boys tried the oatmeal for breakfast, which comes with small pots of various mixers--raisins, caramelized apples, authentic maple syrup, cinnamon. They had fun mixing their items in and then spooning the oatmeal right down their shirtfronts. The waitress was not alarmed to see the smeary mess on the red banquettes, which alleviated our guilt.

For lunch, we've tried the Salmon BLT ($8.50, and delicious) and the Grilled Cheese ($3.25--a bargain!), both of which come with paprika-dusted tortilla chips instead of the traditional french fries. I was able to eat the latter while wildly ill with morning sickness, so it was a lifesaver. Also tasty was the House Roasted Turkey sandwich, complete with cranberry chutney ($7.75).

We often have the place almost to ourselves, which just doesn't seem right. Why isn't it packed yet? I have a couple of theories. For one, it opened in the back yard of a neighborhood where the residents--old, working-class families who have been installed here for 50-odd years--may regard it with a vague suspicion of gentrification. Goat cheese and wild mushrooms in an omelet? Humph! Newfangled yuppies! These people prefer their greasy diner food, thank you, and didn't you know that McDonalds serves up a fine cup of coffee?

Steam Eat has the flair and flavor that up-and-coming Brooklyn did when Smith Street started to get hot and prices on apartments shot up. It's cool enough to make it in SoHo. Its minimalist decor and high ceilings suggest an onrushing hipness that New Ro seems ever-ready to embrace...but not quite yet. I live in this neighborhood. It's not riddled with Bugaboo strollers and Volvos. Here, you are more likely to drive by a front porch featuring a fat Grandma sunk into an overstuffed couch, and two sallow youths playing Foosball. Steam Eat kind of sticks out ... just like that one, lone guy in a suit who walks out of our neighborhood toward the train station every morning. (Curtains peel back and suspicious eyes stare out.)

But at $7.75 a pop, any one of Steam Eat's so-called "fancy" omelets comes in at a lower price than the last scraggly, sorry spinach and feta omelet I ate at the Thruway Diner (soon to be demolished for a Walgreen's, which is pathetic and sad--but I won't miss the food.) The bottom line is that Steam Eat's food is excellent and the waitstaff helpful and pleasant. And I'll bet they'll even make you a plain old cheese 'n' egg omelet. Take that, y'old farts!

The second reason is that people--if they actually notice the place--may be scared off by the fact that there seems to be nowhere to park at first glance. Not the case. We usually park right on the street next to the front door, or barring that, in the free parking garage right inside the building. It's truly easy. If you're lucky enough to live in the Shangri-La that is our neighborhood, you can even walk! Once discovered, it's hard to pass up this hidden gem--and I'm afraid the Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Thruway (RIP), and Nautilus Diners have all lost our business for the duration.

Steam Eat is at 179 Main Street in New Rochelle, just across from Salesian High School and just North of the UPS store.