Tag Archives: Manhattan

Happy Newish Year! Happy Annishversary!

Oh, dear. I’ve done it again. I know, my absence has been inexcusable. I mean, we’ve been over this—you’re now all well aware of my shortcomings, my tendencies towards listlessness and USA Network original programming marathons. Let’s not dwell, okay? My therapist has that covered, which is annoying enough. When I hit upon the deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing from which my laziness doubtless stems, I promise to keep you all in the loop. How about I make a newish year’s resolution to write more often? Like once a month, at minimum. Hold me to it, because I really need the push. So, you understand that now it’s on you and nothing is my fault if you don’t remind me sotoolatenobacksies.

Anyhoo, next Wednesday marks the one monthiversary of our FIRST ANNIVERSARY, which is when I should have written this in the first place. Pretty big deal! We’ve been married for a whole year + a month, which is nothing to sneeze at. Side note: I cannot stand it when people use “anniversary” to describe monthly and weekly landmarks. It’s not an anniversary, because it isn’t annual. It’s probably something else deriving from Latin, don’t ask me. I don’t know everything. You’re the one who insists on celebrating monthly achievements, you look it up. Okay I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be mean. Let’s make up. I drank too much wine this week, cut me some slack. The Steelers lost on Sunday, did you hear? This affects me in the sense that it affects Matt profoundly, so I kept myself preemptively sauced to deal with the storm cloud of black feelings and the sadness to end all days which settled into the apartment last Sunday night.

He was one sad monkey.

Anyhoooo, our actual anniversary date fell on the Sunday night of a three-day weekend, so being the nauseatingly romantic couple we are, we made it a regular Mardi Gras.

Friday night: we took ourselves out to Daniel using a gift certificate we’d been saving since the wedding. Highlights included too much wine followed by a mild coma, and a free dessert presented aside a life-sized, solid chocolate bust of a woman. Sorry, no photo, because I am the classy type of person who doesn’t take pictures of her food in super fancy restaurants. It’s also possible I brought my camera and was scolded by a mortified Matt when I took it out of my bag.

Saturday night: We went to a lovely wine and cheese class which was given to me as a birthday gift and conveniently fell on our anniversary weekend! Oh wait, no, we canceled last minute and stayed home and watched football.

Sunday morning: We prepared a lovely breakfast for two of mimosas, coffee, and the top layer of our wedding cake. It was delightful.

See? No joke here. Sometimes we're actually nice.

Sunday night: We stayed in and had a cozy, romantic evening. No, wait, we went out to our favorite restaurant and had a cozy, romantic evening. Oh no, I totally remember now. Matt went out for an annual guys’ dinner and I went out for the counterpart girls’ dinner, then we all met up and stayed out until 2AM. Highlights included a bouquet of anniversary flowers from one of the girls, and the revolutionary offer of simultaneous half-portions of TWO pastas when I simply couldn’t make a decision. Best waiter ever.

Honestly, my world will never be the same.

I know what you’re going to say: “Aaaw, you guys are sickeningly sweet. Gross me out.” Right? I know, we’re totally THAT couple.

Really, though, while I was happy and excited to be celebrating our first whole year of marriage, I’m a lot more annoyed that our actual nine year tally has been erased. Sure we’ve had our ups and downs this year, and in many ways we felt them more strongly given the underlying knowledge that we’re legally stuck together forever. But we’ve weathered many more difficult times by far, and that was before we had the security of a contract that can ideally only be broken by invoking the death clause. I feel a little silly putting so much importance on year one of a lifetime. And that’s another thing. Part of me feels like if we make too big a deal out of one year of marriage, what do we do with the next 50 some-odd? I’d like to imagine that the accomplishment of staying married year after year gets more impressive as time goes on. This one was kind of a gimme.

I think celebrating in our strangely disjointed and haphazard way, a portion of which was spent apart, was sort of perfect for us. Marriage isn’t hard yet, nor should it be. We’re still young and relatively unfettered by weighty responsibilities like property and child ownership. Our worries and arguments are rarely earth-shattering, and neither of us has secretly begun to wonder if the other would ever consider some minor cosmetic surgery, you know, just around the eyes. Why shouldn’t we honor that by feeling relaxed enough to have separate dinners and meet up later in a drunken group? This year already felt special just by virtue of being the first! Let’s not shoot our wad so early that we can’t make the future decades feel exceptional, too. Hooray for us! Hurrah for the Schwajaks! We are a modern couple with new ideals! We are confident and capable of a self-awareness and perspective on our lives which suggests a maturity far beyond our years! We are sometimes only okay at planning! And that’s okay!

Oh, also, we’re going to Paris in March when the weather is a little warmer. Perhaps I ought to have mentioned that.

Huzzah!

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What’s in a name? Oy veys mir, don’t get me started.

*Disclaimer: No offense, Dad.

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve given up my given name. I dove right into the name-change process, and I am now legally, officially, irrevocably (kinda) Nina Anne Pajak.

I like it. I’m getting used to it. It’s got a much more powerful punch than my old name. It’s got a P, which is snappy, and it ends in a K, which is strong. And in South America, the J is pronounced as an H, which is both adorable and fun to say. Paaaah-hak. In other countries, it’s pronounced as a Y, so you know, we’ve got a lot of options.

I’ve always envied those with consonant-driven names. Nina Schwartz always sounded sort of shapeless in my mouth — I used to have to take a drink of water and do facial muscle-warming exercises before enunciating it over the phone, and even then I often found myself slurring through it, mainly induced by the stress of worrying that I was about to slur through my own name.

Perhaps I’ve just opened your window into my neuroses a smidgen too wide…

And not to join the legion of self-hating Jews out there, but let’s be real. As much as so many of my sisters have eagerly paid (through the nose? Ha ha.) to lop off their well-endowed nasal birthrights, we Jewish girls also seldom shed tears at the thought of losing our old lady, easily ethnically identifiable last names. I don’t mean to sound overly critical, but just think about it in this context for a moment: before I was born, someone who shall remain anonymous suggested that I be named Frieda. Now picture Frieda Schwartz. It’s a pretty straightforward image, isn’t it?

This isn't actually Frieda Schwartz. To be honest, when I google image searched the name, all I got were photos of headstones and groups gathered in the Yahrzeit. Too dark for this blog.

But fine, I’ll admit it — my name was never so bad. It’s not like I was ever teased about it or anything (of course, there was much more obvious material to be mined by my peers, as evidenced in my previous post).

I never had any unflattering nicknames, and it didn’t rhyme with anything anatomical, sexual, or scatological. The worst anyone ever came up with was “FAO Schwartz” (different spelling, and, um, that would be awesome) or “Bermuda Schwartz,” which was really more stupid than annoying. And as a matter of fact, I voluntarily used it in my byline once, as I was writing about actual Bermuda shorts. I mean, how often does that happen? Now that I think about it, I kind of love the idea of Bermuda Schwartz as an alter ego. I’m a laid-back, tough-talking, jaded island cop who busts drug dealers and kidnappers each week and has been known to put ice cubes in her white wine. I’m totally unapologetic and I just won’t play by the rules, but my sidekick, Seersucker Jones, keeps me in line. Plus, I totally love smoked fish on a bagel (which is pretty impossible to find in the Caribbean) and he totally doesn’t get it, but it’s okay because it’s a cultural thing and you kind of have to grow up with it to appreciate it. Don’t even get him started on gefilte fish.

 

I keep telling him with a name like his, he can lose the getup. Then again, he looks pretty spiff. That's his chicken, Parmigiana.

Really though, this whole name change thing is very trippy, and I’m having a little trouble getting used to it. It’s like a bureaucratic out-of-body experience.  And since I’d always just assumed I’d ditch Schwartz one day, I didn’t really give it quite as much thought as it merits. That was my name for 27 years, and now it just isn’t. I meet people every week who will never even know that Nina Schwartz existed.

And who is this Nina Pajak, anyway? Who is this Semitic-looking girl with a Polish last name (which, evidently, also sounds Indian)? My background is not exactly a closely-guarded secret, regardless of my name, but I find it a little weird that other Jewish people can’t necessarily immediately identify me as one of the tribe. There’s something extremely nerdy in me that misses that obvious association, that understood (if ultimately tenuous) alliance. So, faced with a sort of cultural whitewashing, I think I’m finding myself playing up my Jewishness to strangers. Not in any religious sense, god no. But the New York Jew in me is cutting a pretty high profile lately. My Westchester accent comes out in full force (how tall is the wall in the mall? Is it very, very tall?), I make an excessive number of Jewish jokes, I’m way more anxious, paranoid and pessimistic than ever, I try and break out the few Yiddish words I know as often as possible, and I’ve been known to wax endlessly nostalgic about things like brisket and chopped liver. A dish I would never have dreamed of going near until very recently, because, I agree, ick. But also, omigod delish (that’s pronounced: duh-LISH).

If we’re going to get deep about it (and we are, because obviously I’ve found myself a standard-issue Jewish shrink with an office on the Upper West Side and a closet full of peasant skirts), it’s as though I’m completely exaggerating the identity which I so heedlessly abandoned in some sort of last-ditch effort to rescue her from deletion. So basically, this whole thing completely backfired. Instead of being cooler-than-before Nina Pajak, I am now the dorkiest version of Nina Schwartz who has ever existed. I’ve created a monster, and she genuinely worries that you could put your eye out playing baseball. Because you COULD.

I guess it’s no surprise, in retrospect, that I’d adapt by subconsciously exerting my heritage onto the Pajak name and my new wifey self. Especially knowing that one day we’ll have little Pajak children, and they’ll never know what it’s like to be automatically teamed up with every Jewish kid from the Northeast whether they like it or not. Plus, they’ve got a 50/50 shot at turning out to be athletic, in which case they may never truly understand the adversity from whence they came. Then again, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even gotten to the point where Matt will agree to get a dawg. Ahem, I’m sorry, I mean dog. Must run, I left the kishkes in the oven!

 

Evidently, this is a kishke. Now I'm not entirely sure they even go in the oven, but there you have it. I guess I'm not as far gone as I feared.

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Welcome to my closet, I live here now.

Hello, friends, readers, and friendly readers!

Isn’t it a beautiful day? Doesn’t the sky look unusually blue, the sun particularly…shiny? Don’t you just love life? Don’t you just love New York? Somehow, lately, everything seems brighter, better, happi–

What was that? Do you hear something? It sounds like…singing. Wait, I think it’s coming from my new bedroom. Yes, it’s getting louder as I near my brand new, very own, personal, nobody-can-share-it-with-me closet. It sounds like…perhaps…a choir of heavenly voices? But it’s sort of muffled. Let me just dramatically fling open this door which is mine and only mine alone…

Click here for the full effect

I wish that you could be here, too, to share and bask in this warm, golden light which emanates from within my very own closet. To be specific, by that I mean I don’t actually wish you here in person to bask with me. I was going for more of a theoretical sharing. Only I may bask. Nina’s basking only. Get your own magical closet/gateway to Heaven.

Please don’t judge me or think me selfish and rude. It’s nothing personal. But you must understand that for the last five years, Matt and I have been sharing closet space in some of the least accommodating apartments on the Northeastern seaboard.

The closet in our last place. That's the previous tenant.

I know it seems trivial and materialistic, but I can’t quite describe to you how happy it makes me to have all my clothes hanging neatly side-by-side, not smushed together or falling on the floor (or, for that matter, heaped in a mountainous piles around the bedroom). And sure, some might argue that it has never had anything to do with the space I was given and I am just a lazy, messy person prone to throwing socks on the floor while watching television. To them I would say, okay, fine, you have a point. On the other hand, get out of my house. You are forever banished from my closet and its surrounding areas. Don’t ruin this for me.

For oh, it is so much more than a sacred little room for my possessions and no one else’s. This closet represents my graduation to the part of my adulthood in which I live in a space that is both comfortable and attractive. It represents my entry into a lifestyle which easily allows me to put my skirt away at night and keep my shoes lined up and out of sight, not strewn about the apartment in the manner of a lunatic hoarder. I can invite people over without having to spend three hours cleaning and trying to stash our things in heavily abused bureau drawers, already groaning under the weight of the crap that won’t fit anywhere else. It exists in a home which I am proud to show to those I consider grown-ups, where I can be in the kitchen yet not ALSO in the bathroom. Where I can turn out the lights in one room and still read in another. Where I can say something to Matt, and he won’t necessarily be able to hear me (because he actually can’t hear me, not because he has adapted to instinctively deafen to my frequency). Where I can select a measuring cup from the cabinet without triggering an avalanche of utensils upon my head. It represents a wonderful new kind of freedom, that while I’ve committed to share the rest of my life with someone, I no longer have to share EVERYTHING else with him, too. No more waiting for him to choose a tie before I grab the jaws of life to extract a dress from its sardine-like spot on my side of the closet. No more deciding who is later for work than whom, and who gets in there first. We can dress at the same time, together, but not on top of each other! Truly, we are now separate and equal. And isn’t that what every married couple should aspire to be?

You like where I took that? Yeah. Did I mention I commandeered the entire double dresser, too?

It's mine...ALL MINE!!!!!

 

Schwajak Cagematch

So, we’re moving, and things have gotten ugly in the Schwajak household.

It is T minus two days until our big relo. Tensions are running high. The other night I found myself flinging cardboard boxes and stomping around the apartment without purpose as Matt angrily demonstrated how he had been wrapping up our mugs and how I should continue to do so (stupidly, I might add). Then we both declared our packing materials insufficient, and I decided we should instead focus on that OTHER looming task, our thank you notes. So we sat down and spent the rest of the evening irritably passing the stamps back and forth and quietly fuming at each other as we wrote. (Friends, our gratitude is no less heartfelt, I promise.)

Yesterday, we got into a fight outside our building over whether we should put the junk we’re ditching out of sight for fear of being bad neighbors (Matt), or out on the curb for the trash-pickers who might REALLY want a third-hand menorah or several extremely used curtain rods (me, obviously).

Last night I nearly lost it when I saw Matt’s old shoes sitting in a shopping bag with two brand new pairs of my pants which need tailoring. When I rescued it from the trash pile and tossed the shoes out onto the floor, we devolved into an argument over whose possessions should “find a new home.” I won based on loudness and the valid logic that my pants lived in the bag first. And also, get outta here.

Tonight, somebody will die.

Also, I will grudgingly throw away some extremely old jars of spices.

Stay tuned.

"I'm...keeping...the...HUNGARIAN PAPRIKAAAAA!!!"

El finale: Home is where you hang your head and sigh

Okay. I have been told — and I fully realize — that I may be lingering far too long in the land of steak, wine, and dulce de leche. It’s a little self-indulgent, perhaps, and I get it! I totally do. While this armchair travel experience has been both hilariously entertaining and culturally educational for my readers, you are eager to get back to our dear homeland, where the grass is asphalt and the steak is hot dogs. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Still amn’t. But I need to face facts and admit that we’ve actually been back in New York for the past month and a half, and no matter how hard I shut my eyes and hope against hope, the Fine Living Network isn’t calling to ask me to do an extended, intensive investigation of Argentina’s Ten Most Flamboyant and Revoltingly Luxurious Hotels.

As my grandmother used to say, here we are, so that’s where we’ll be. But before we got here, we were there: among the only hotel guests of a sprawling vineyard and resort in San Rafael, in the Mendoza (read: wine) region of Argentina. Our last three days of honeymoon bliss read like one of those ridiculous Celebrity Cruise lines commercials: we indulged in an outdoor cooking class with the hotel’s chef, I received an olive oil massage out on a patio overlooking the pool, we were given a complementary, 3-hour private wine-tasting class, and oh yeah, we had our own golf cart with which to freely explore the sprawling farm and untamed brush.

Pretty darn pretty

It was pretty perfect, in all, though the experience wasn’t without some valuable life lessons. For instance, while it may seem like too good an opportunity to pass up, one oughtn’t eat two consecutive meals featuring provoleta, chorizo, and half a bottle of wine (among other things). For if one does, one will wind up with a wretched case of “food poisoning” the day one is forced to wait 3 hours in a tiny airport and then make the 12-hour journey back to New York. And by food poisoning, I mean self-inflicted overdose, much like what would happen to a dog if you left the entire bag of kibble within reach. On the bright side, sun poisoning + food poisoning = honeymoon bingo! I win!

These plates represent the number of chorizo-topped grilled cheese blobs I consumed in a 12-hour period.

I also learned that after a 3-hour wine tasting, if one chooses to then consume half a bottle of rose poolside, one probably ought to wait a little while before jumping in and “swimming.” Didn’t my mother and camp counselors warn me about this when I was little? As it turns out, wine + pool = something of a mess, and I think I wound up consuming an equal amount of chlorinated water as I did alcohol. It was super fun, mostly because I didn’t actually drown to death!

You can't tell, but in all likelihood this book is actually upside-down.

Those sterling nuggets (ew) of wisdom aside, there was one exercise we just couldn’t master. We’d heard about how late people eat dinner in Argentina. And we tried to assimilate, tried to adjust our internal clocks and do as they did. But no matter how much effort we put into making late reservations, no matter how many times we were sure we’d gotten it right, we just kept winding up alone in restaurants. Fancy restaurants, trendy restaurants, wildly popular restaurants. We were always, always completely alone. We just could not figure it out. We’d show up at 10pm and leave at 11:30, never seeing another diner. We’d show up at 10:45pm and leave after midnight, and maybe catch a glimpse of an honest-to-god Argentinean couple sauntering in with a bright-eyed toddler in tow. At first, it was kind of nice. Two newlyweds, oblivious to others around us, absorbed in each other and our food and wine. No obnoxious table-neighbors drowning out our conversation, no competition for the water guy. But after the first couple of evenings like that, we both realized how awkward and uncomfortable it felt to be sitting in a big, empty establishment, with one guy waiting on us and the rest of the waiters milling around. Or worse, all of them serving us at once — sometimes we’d have a bread guy, a wine pourer, a water-glass-filler AND a crumber, all in addition to our server. Occasionally, there would be another family or couple seated, and we would perk up. Perhaps we’d cracked the code and been tacitly welcomed into the Forbidden City! But inevitably, within minutes their loud, American voices would reverberate across the room, serving as a sharp and shameful reminder of our lame tourist status, broadcasting our loserdom in our own heads. We are those travelers who really like to think we’re cooler and smarter and more sophisticated than your average Ugly American. I mean, we’re worldly, we’re from New York, we dig the restaurant scene, we’ve even been known to hang out at a hip bar or two. But throughout the entire country of Argentina, we may as well have been clipping coupons out of The Pennysaver for the early bird special. As silly as it sounds, it was humbling, but more than that it was just sort of frustrating. It was like all the Argentinians had conspired together to stay hidden until we were safely on the way back to our hotel. If only I’d looked in that urn by the bathroom.

Here’s the thing of it: Matt and I loved being on vacation together. We hardly fought, we typically wanted to do all the same things, got hungry around the same time, even our sleep cycles managed to sync up. But even traveling as a team, as closely knit as they come, being in a foreign country can feel very lonely. And when it seems like everyone is somewhere you will never find, it only heightens your sense of being an outsider. I’m aware that many people would pay for the privilege of emptying out a beautiful restaurant. But if I’m out in the world, I want the other residents to show their faces and be there with me.

So that brings us, inexorably, to the island of Manhattan. I’m back to spending my days elbow to elbow with far too many people. They cram onto the subway platforms, angling for a straight shot at the doors with no intention of letting people out of the car first; they dodge and weave aggressively around one another on the sidewalks; they groan and sigh loudly when a tourist takes too long making a decision at Cosi; they’re rude to customer service professionals and fiercely territorial at restaurants and bars. They’re loud, mean, impatient, entitled, and competitive, and they’re everywhere, all the time.

I guess it’s sort of nice to be home, jerks.

Fine Living Network, I work cheap.