A New York day like no other

Where were you when you heard the results of the election?

I’m sitting outside at Irving Farm, a coffee shop on Third Avenue in the Upper East Side. Hanging out at coffee shops is one of my favorite pastimes but this is my first time back since the pandemic started in March. I watch people go in and out of the store, grabbing their cold brews and americanos, while well-groomed dogs slop up the crumbs of croissants on the sidewalk.

Scattered honks and shouts punctuate the usual noise the city. I wonder what they’re celebrating. Somewhere on a high rise overlooking the avenue, I hear a single voice yell out, “Joe Biden wins!”

People start cheering and I cry as joy and relief wash over me. I feel like I can finally breathe; I feel like I can’t catch my breath. I look up and see a young woman directly across from me sobbing, her head in her hands. After a few minutes I put on my mask and stand up, catching her eye. She smiles, puts on her mask, and says to me, “This might be weird, but can I give you a hug?” A guy nearby snaps a photo of us. It feels like history.

Cab after cab drives by, a cacophony of honks. Construction workers slam the sides of their trucks, city bus drivers holler uncontrollably, and a blonde woman in a Bentley pumps her fist. I make my way to my favorite spot in the city, The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, where people of all ages and races are gathered with signs and flags. A man around my age with a weeks-old newborn holds him to the sky, like Simba, as the afternoon light combs through the baby’s wispy hair.

“This is for our kids! This is for our kids!” someone shouts. As the initial shock wears off, people are remembering Kamala. What it means for our kids’ futures to have the first Black, South Asian, female vice president in office. A 20-something near me dances in the middle of the street with a Biden-Harris sign. For once, the oncoming traffic isn’t angered by the disruption.  

I meet up with my brother for mimosas and brunch as the sun shines strongly overhead, wanting badly to be a part of all this. I’ve never seen so many New Yorkers smile. As we sit outside I overhear a little boy ask his mom, “Will Joe Biden’s family be really happy?” “Yes,” she says. “Yes, I think they will.”

Night falls on New York and the shouts become more sparse. We’re overjoyed and we’re exhausted. We’ve hoped and we’ve endured. We will not stop fighting for health and equality. But for the moment, we celebrate, and let the champagne flow over the streets.

Poem: When You Came Here

Poem: When You Came Here

New York is strange that way

shedding shops and

birthing new buildings,

all while you’re

waiting to cross a street or

watching a parade roll by.

 

In the years since you’ve been here

violent waves of gentrification

have washed over the land

you once knew.

It seems to some like

a shot to the concrete heart

but is a death much slower

change strangling livelihoods

so you’re left to mourn

your favorite places

McLoughlin’s and Boyle’s Bar,

Benny’s Burritos,

the deli around the corner

with the nice man from Pakistan,

as the paint dries

and the sun winks

knowingly

at the streets.

 

New Yorkers are strange that way

missing the ways things were

forgetting the ways

they’ve changed shape

to find a place

in this endless puzzle

of nine million people.

 

But under the layers of soot and grime

in the rare moments of quiet

between sirens and shouts

in the early hours of morning

when the buses sleep in Jersey

and the Hudson flows in silence

you can find exactly who you were

when you came here.

 

Dedicated to Papa, my favorite New Yorker

Letter to my freshman self

Letter to my freshman self

This piece was originally published in the anthology, A Letter to my Freshman Self: Domers Reflect on their Undergraduate Experience. 

Dear Sara,

When you arrive at Notre Dame that hot afternoon in August you’re not going to feel at home right away.

This becomes especially apparent during your first-year seminar when your professor asks the class to write reflections on the meaning of “home”.

One by one, your classmates will talk about Notre Dame as a second home, a place that felt “right” the very first moment they stepped on campus. You do not read your reflection out loud. You are embarrassed, ashamed. Why does Notre Dame still feel unfamiliar to you, but is already home to others?

The first thing I’ll tell you is there is nothing to be ashamed of. The second thing I’ll tell you is you’re not alone.

Sara, there will be weekend nights when you’ll lie in your dorm room, listening to the sophomore girls next door giggle and blast music before going out. You’ll scroll through Facebook photos of high school friends partying at other schools, worrying you’ll be replaced by Thanksgiving. This notion is ridiculous. College won’t change what you’ve built over many years.

But you’ll make new friends for life, too, and these friendships will start budding early on. You don’t realize that some of the people you wandered campus aimlessly with those first few weeks will become friends you cry with at graduation.

So give it three months and everything will be okay. I can tell you all major life changes will take about this amount of time to adjust to. The only way to overcome homesickness is to endure it – but I know that’s not what you want to hear.

Sara, you were a perfectionist even before coming to Notre Dame, but college will exponentially pronounce that aspect of your personality. While it will help you succeed academically, I want you to be aware of its pitfalls.

Papers can only be perfected to a point. As an English major you’ll write so many of them but there’s no use getting frantic every time one’s due, skipping lunch with friends to rework a single sentence. Try to finish papers earlier so your days feel less crazed. I know that’s easier said than done.

Of course, perfectionism also extends to body image, especially at a school like Notre Dame of people where 75% of students were varsity athletes. You are so terrified of gaining the freshman fifteen that you become hyper-conscious of everything you eat. It doesn’t help that many other girls hold the same fear, silently comparing plates at the dining hall and working out five times a week. You are healthy, active and young. Care less.

And try new things. That’s what college is for.

Sara, I’m proud of you for walking into The Observer office in the basement of South Dining Hall the third week of your freshman year. It won’t be easy stepping into an office full of strangers, but this small act will have the greatest impact on your college career. The Observer will help you dive into the larger Notre Dame and South Bend communities, and you’ll go on to become one of the leading editors as a senior.

Breaking out of your comfort zone is the best way to meet new people. Freshman year, do this as much as possible. Go to the dorm party even when your only acquaintance is the girl from Welsh Fam who sits next to you in Genetics class. Join a sports team even though you’re not very good at the sport. There are so many opportunities to get involved at Notre Dame and you never know the experiences you might have.

I promise, the loneliness you feel at first will fade fast. Milestones will fly by – you’ll cheer at your first football game as a student, watch snow fall gently on the Main Building, dress up for your first SYR. You’re not sure exactly when it arrives, but the “feeling” you’ve envied in so many others makes its way to you, and you’ll know you’re home.

I know the beginning is rough, but there are so many exciting things ahead of you. From studying abroad in London to living with friends off-campus senior year, some of the best four years of your life are yet to come.

So relax and enjoy them.

Love,

Sara

A poem for my grandfather

IMG_2496.jpg

The painting you painted for me, and for my siblings, is unlike any other work you’ve ever done.

Different from your other pieces, which are so precise, relentlessly realistic, this painting is full of broad brush strokes, composed of love and light. The painting captures essence and exact truths fall away. Because when I look at this painting a C+ is an A+, a failure is a learning moment, and no matter what I say or do, I can do no wrong.

That’s a very special work of art to have.

This painting you painted for me reflects your humor, and just the sight of it makes me smile. And if this painting depicted you, it would capture your laugh, the endearing way your eyes creased when you told a joke, and the way you beamed when surrounded by family.

This painting began when I was born and grew into something magnificent, a mural expanding over the 28 years I’ve been alive. And no matter where I was or what I went through, when I looked up, this painting was there.

This painting you painted for me. In your humbleness you’d say it’s worth nothing but it’s the lens through which I see the world. And because of this painting, everything I see is colored by your kindness and your light.

This painting, Grandpa, is forever hanging in my heart.

Seen in Astoria…

A couple sits
In the corner of a dive bar
She’s smiling
Absentmindedly pushing around
Scrabble pieces
Rearranging the letters
Admiring her work.

He hardly notices what she’s doing
Because his eyes never leave hers
And in her presence
Everything else is a blur

Suddenly he checks his watch
They jump off their stools
And run out of the bar

Left behind are words unseen:

YOU
CHANGED
EVERYTHING

Poem: Decisions

Poem: Decisions

Some are light and airy

As a feather

Inconsequential as

Blowing on a cottony dandelion

And watching the pieces

Float onto the grass.

 

But others

Others take all your energy

To even lift

To contemplation

And just when you know what to do

They change form

Slipping through your fingers

Like water

 

But the hardest part

If you’re anything like me

Isn’t the decision,

But the aftermath of one

 

When regret and anxiety

Swirl manically inside of you

Like a fan you can’t switch off

A fan that’s spinning so fast

You fear

It might become unhinged

 

The days flutter by

While this decision somehow

Shades every aspect of your life

Crawls into parts of your body

You didn’t know

Doubt could reach

 

Until one morning you wake

Look around

And feel a strange sense of

Serenity

Because finally

You and your decision

Are one.

Poem: A Smile

Poem: A Smile

Every day I saw you

Straight-faced

Tight-lipped

I’d smile, say hello

Nothing

So I decided

Why should I bother?

 

I didn’t notice

When you were gone

Then they told me

You were sick for months

Finally succumbing

To a disease

That caused so much pain

 

And I thought to myself

You never really know

What someone’s going through

 

I thought to myself

What could it have hurt

To smile once a day

Knowing I wouldn’t get

A smile in return.

Poem: After Stella

Seen along the East River pathway near Carl Schurz Park, after Winter Storm Stella.

walking the winding

east river path 

just after snowfall

a few people

scattered here and there

weak, distant lights

straining to be seen

 

right where the path turns

i see a ballerina

dancing alone,

seizing solitude,

her arms fighting

the pull of the wind

 

though she has no audience

empty benches 

line up to watch her

and the river reflects 

her every move

 

as i approach her stage

she catches my eye 

stopping, for a moment 

than completing her pirouette 

 

twirl, bend, twirl, bend, twirl

moving gracefully into the night 

 

no music

just the silence of the city

and the crunch of the snow

beneath her feet 

How the iPhone has changed the way we communicate

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in the New York Women in Communications Aloud blog.

iphone

Since Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone back on Jan. 9, 2007, one billion devices have been sold worldwide, revolutionizing the entire mobile phone industry. It’s not a stretch to say that the iPhone — which Jobs defined at its introduction as three devices in one, “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device” with its many iterations over the years — has changed the world and fundamentally altered the way we communicate.

The iPhone has made employees more connected than ever. Email and calendars are easily accessed on-the-go, and push notifications ensure we never miss a message or an appointment. We’re hyper connected 24/7, responding faster than we ever have. Many people I know use their personal iPhone for business rather than have a separate work phone: The iPhone has blurred the line between work and personal life.

And then there’s texting. I’ve been texting since my preteen years but not texting in paragraph-long spurts the way I do now. Remember those QWERTY keyboards? And word limits? They made texting more of a novelty than a primary form of communication. In the fall of 2008, just one year after the iPhone hit the markets, Nielsen reported that texting increased by 450% from the same period in 2006. With the iPhone’s touchscreen and easy-to-use interface, texting has now become as natural as speaking.

The iPhone changed how we browse the Internet: We’re connected 24/7, either through WiFi or a cellular network. This means we are constantly consuming information and value being connected to the virtual world around us — but not necessarily the people around us. We’re scrolling through our phones at bars, at dinner, while walking or while riding the bus. Moments of down time are filled by looking at our phones, allowing for fewer personal interactions on the go.

The iPhone also fueled the rise of social media. Snapchat, of course, is mobile-only, Instagram is mobile-first and more than 90% of Facebook’s daily active users access the platform via mobile. We broadcast vacations and nights out by taking photos on our phones and instantly sharing them through an app. We check and post news in real time through Twitter. We share live video and funny moments we eventually want to disappear. The iPhone is an active participant in our lives and the catalyst behind most of our social interactions, real and digital.

I was a latecomer to the iPhone revolution. I bought my first iPhone in 2012, five years after its release, when I realized my Samsung “smart” phone was completely obsolete. But now I can’t imagine life without it. My iPhone is my calendar, my alarm clock, my camera, my calculator, my travel companion and my GPS system. It’s how I communicate with friends and family, find out the weather, jot down notes for stories, post to social media and pay for my coffee. My iPhone is where I get my news, my bus tickets, my restaurant recommendations and my music.

And sometimes — but rarely — my iPhone is just my phone.

What happened to dreaming small?

What happened to dreaming small?

Ireland is just over there my grandfather said to me as we stood on the shores of the Atlantic, when I was about six years old. I strained my eyes but hard as I tried I could not see Ireland, just an expanse of water and thin blue line where ocean met sky.

As a child, the “end of summer” always seemed just as far away. If June was the shore, September was land on the other side – and an ocean of time and space lay between now and then.

To fill this mass of time I took on what I call “small challenges”.

One of my favorites, and in retrospect most ridiculous, was the Pogo Stick Challenge of 1999. I’d gotten one for Christmas and enlisted my good friend and neighbor Annabeth to join me in the challenge of reaching 1500 consecutive hops. In the heat of August, using a toy that had rusted over the winter months, this took some perseverance. But all summer long we worked on our goal, stopping only to refuel on cookies and lemonade.

Bounce. Creak. Bounce. Creak. At the end of August I finally hit the magic number – 1500 HOPS! We shrieked and clapped and moved on to a much quieter hobby – making jewelry. I’m sure the neighbors were thankful.

Two summers later, when I was 11, my challenge was writing a book of poems. Looking back, I’m amazed at my productivity before self-criticism got in the way. I’d wake up in the morning and write a poem in my notebook, then type it up on the old Dell after lunch. At the end of the summer I printed out all my poems, brought them to school to be bound and considered myself “published”.

I always dreaded running in gym class, so the summer I turned 13 my challenge was to build endurance. It started as two laps around the block that became three, four and five. I liked the way running toned my body and decided to pair exercise with a diet. At our Labor Day barbecue I refused to eat dessert, and my “small challenge” turned into an obsession that grew cancerously through fall and winter and spring.

That summer I realized it’s possible to take challenges too seriously, self-improvement too far.

Wonderful as they were – summer has always been my favorite season – they’d never again be vast as an ocean. Future summers were filled with reading lists, sports practices and college applications. Read 10 books! Learn to code! Write five short stories! Small challenges got bigger and I started feeling guilt for everything I hadn’t accomplished, rather than pride in what I had.

Now, as a young professional in New York City, summer months aren’t technically different from any other part of the year. I am working five days a week and time is limited. But I still associate the period from June to August with self-reflection and goal-setting. The thing is, because there’s so little time, every challenge feels like it should have some greater purpose. If your friend is going back to school for a Masters degree, you don’t want to be working towards the mid-20s equivalent of pogo sticking. In this city, there are no isolated goals, only goals that help you become a more successful version of yourself.

What happened to small challenges, of taking on random endeavors simply for one’s own enjoyment? Is it possible to do something entirely for you and not for your Instagram?

I’ll always be ambitious. But in a city that constantly shouts think big! dream big! I want to go back to dreaming small, just for one summer.


Image of Atlantic Ocean by jfleischmann

The Uber Positive Uber Driver

The Uber Positive Uber Driver

It was about 5pm one of the first sunny Saturdays of spring. I stood outside Brooklyn Bridge Park waiting for an Uber over to a party in Williamsburg after a long, mimosa-filled picnic brunch.

“Miss Sara! Hello! How are you? It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it?” Shamraiz, my driver, exclaimed as I slid into the back seat. “Days like this, everyone’s mood changes, everyone walks with their heads held high!”

In just a few minutes I learned Shamraiz has five kids, one named Sara like me but she spells it with an “h”.  He loves his wife more than anything – she’s the reason he left Pakistan for America. I learned he’d driven a yellow cab for 14 years and switched over to Uber last year. He likes the newfound flexibility.

“If you work hard, and stay positive, good things will come to you,” Shamraiz said as we snaked our way through Brooklyn. “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed. “You should really write a book with all these sayings.”

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” he promptly spouted, proud of himself for recalling such a relevant quote. “That one’s Benjamin Franklin.”

I laughed. I realized in New York, I don’t blink an eye at extreme negativity. But extreme positivity is intriguing, makes me question whether the person has a motive or simply looks at the world in a different way. With Shamraiz, it was clearly the latter. But why in New York is positivity suspicious, while negativity’s the norm?

“Well, here you are,” Shamraiz said when we reached my destination. I thanked him and got out, but moments later he rolled down the window.

“Learn from the past, live for today, dream for tomorrow!” he shouted over the bar music, before speeding away.

Growing up with the Daily Treat

Growing up with the Daily Treat

I don’t remember the first time I stepped foot in the Daily Treat.

I was young enough, actually, that my parents probably carried me into the restaurant, young enough that I didn’t eat but slept quietly at their side. I’m guessing I was about two weeks old.

My parents have loved the Daily Treat since before I was born.

Back in 1987, over sandwiches and salads with the real estate broker, they discussed their future in this quaint commuter town right outside of Manhattan. I think the charm of the restaurant drew my mom to Ridgewood, a place where she knew no one and would be alone most nights while my dad worked long hours at a nearby hospital. She was 24.

photo2
Photo: dailytreatrestaurant.com

Looking through the Daily Treat’s large windows facing Ridgewood Avenue, my mom watched young mothers with strollers walking by. Even though the rest of her family lived on Long Island, where she grew up, she began to picture a new life in New Jersey. In a way, my history with the restaurant began right then.

The Daily Treat has been around for more than 50 years and is a constant in a village that’s constantly changing. As newer, hipper restaurants and shops have moved to town, the Daily Treat has stayed put. For me, it’s a place of comfort. I always order the same thing: eggs and toast or chicken fingers with thick-cut fries. I know when I walk in I’ll see one of the Greek owners, Gus or John, standing behind the checkout desk, greeting customers at the door.

It’s funny how places, just like people, can be there for every milestone of your life.

The Daily Treat was where we’d go with both sets of grandparents after concerts, dance recitals and graduations. It’s where my brother and I complained about ordering off the kids menu and then insisted on ordering off the kids menu, as soon as we were too old.

DailyTreatRestaurant.jpg
Photo: Foursquare

In the sixth grade, the Daily Treat was the first place my friend Jolene and I went “alone”. We dressed up in our best Abercrombie & Fitch outfits, packed our faux leather purses and smeared on lip gloss before walking the half mile to town. I remember the sense of independence we felt going to a restaurant without parents. To us, this was the first step to being grown up.

In high school, the Daily Treat was a respite from the stress of exams and too many extracurriculars. I’d go with large groups, either during an extended lunch or straight after school. I remember seeing groups of middle schoolers and thinking about how young they looked. Do these kids even know how to split a bill? How are they here alone? At some point it occurred to me that we used to be just like them, a giggling gang of sixth grade girls sharing a couple orders of fries. Looking back, I’m surprised the owners tolerated us.

I spent my college years in Indiana and a summer out in Toledo, Ohio, where I was a reporter for a local paper. My job took me across cornfields and through downtrodden Midwest towns where the sense of decay was palpable. I was lonely – most of my friends were interning in New York City that summer – but while on assignment I found comfort at diners that reminded me of Daily Treat, diners that reminded me of home.

Coffee2
Photo: Dave D., Yelp.com

I still go back to the restaurant a few times a year – it’s where my childhood friend Laura and I catch up when we’re both in town. The place hasn’t changed much, though they now have al fresco dining and fancier-sounding menu items like Grilled Portobello Salad and Prosciutto Caprese Wrap. Over refill after refill of coffee we talk about our jobs, relationships and families. Sometimes we stay for three hours but no one ever rushes us, interrupting only to pour more coffee into the small white mugs.

It’s strange to think I’m already a year older than my mom was when she and Dad settled down in Ridgewood, yet I’m nowhere near as settled. Sometimes, when I’m at the Daily Treat I can almost see my parents sitting at the booth by the window, leaning into their drinks and one another other, exhilarated by the thought of starting their life together in this pretty village outside of New York City. Wondering how long it takes to thread yourself into the fabric of a community, how long it takes to call a place home.


Read more about the Daily Treat and its history here.