Tag Archives: newlywed

I’m not a girl, not yet a hopelessly lame woman

Last weekend, we and some friends wound up at a pub on the Upper West Side. Those of you who are NYC locals, you know the type. You know that place that always smells like vomit from the curb after 11pm? Well, it’s a notch more respectable than that, so let’s just say we were probably the only people in the place who weren’t affected by some form of the dread Bieber f(i)ever.

Children, look away. This is one of the first documented cases of full-blown BiebFev. Photo reprinted with permission from the CDC.

Two of my girlfriends, let’s call them J. and N., decided they wanted to partake in the beer pong tournament that was going on in the back of the pub (I told you it was a young crowd). So, in order to convincingly relate to the youth, they gave themselves aliases. J. and N. were now Rutgers coeds Sally and Tish (this name choice should signal to all exactly how in touch they are with Generation TXT), in the Big Apple for the summer with internships in publishing (a glamorous selection indeed). At first, this was hilarious. But it didn’t take long for a few key facts to reveal themselves:

1. Their opposing team was 19 years old (bouncer, for shame).

2. Said 19-year-olds were very, very drunk. Do you remember how you acted when you were drunk and 19? It’s self-preservation that you do not.

3. Sally and Tish are a little rusty at beer pong, which placed them pretty evenly against the sloppy teenagers at the other end of the table.

Not surprisingly, the game stalled out after each team managed to hit about half their cups. One of the kids on the other team was much more concerned with a girl in a nearby group of friends, and when his teammate reminded him that they were still playing a game, he whipped around and publicly berated him for cock-blocking (except he used a cool Millennial term which I’ve never even heard, let alone remembered. Anyone?)

Maybe to amuse herself, maybe to make the game end, Sally decided to go for the big reveal and drop the “gotcha.”

“We’re really 28!” she crowed, beaming mischievously.

Long pause. Sneers of confusion and, ultimately, mild disgust.

“You’re old.”

No one is amused.

Tish, a little injured, a tad horrified, but hopeful to salvage their collective pride, piped in, “Well, we’re accomplished!”

The boys, unimpressed, point out that they have no knowledge of any alleged accomplishments, nor do they care to learn. They’re pissed they wasted twenty minutes on a couple of old women who, now that they look a little closer, are both wearing engagement rings. Newfangled-term-for-cock-blocked indeed.

Now that's an old-fashioned cock-block. Get it? Cause he's a rooster? Get--forget it. Kids today. Tsk tsk, I say I say.

So, I’m not pretending that 28 is elderly, and no, I’m not about to say that getting married = aging out, but let’s call a spade a spade. Marital status aside, we old. I’m not sure when and how this happened, but there it is. We don’t even know how to pretend to be 19 anymore, not that I really want to be 19 again.

Much.

I’m not down for the count yet, though. No, I didn’t want to play beer pong with college sophomores. And yes, I find the occasional gray hair (oh, god) and have to work a little harder at the gym to keep it all together. But I can still throw down and remain among the last old ladies standing. And I totally still resort to peer pressure to get my friends to keep drinking with me. That makes me young and cool, right? Are peer pressure and drinking still cool?

Unfortunately, all of this pales in comparison to the joy I felt the following day, when Matt and I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond and got storage containers for our extra linens. We came home and were able to clear away the piles that had been gathering with no home, and I danced around the apartment, ecstatically placing sachets in closets and boxes. I happily unpackaged my new digital food scale, obsessively weighing every food item in our kitchen.

“Matt! Matt! This cup of melon weighs 4.2 ounces!”

“That’s…good?”

“Yep,” I said, moving on to the smoked turkey, dizzy with glee.

Matt looked at me for a little while. “Does this, uh, will this serve some other purpose for you?”

I gave him a withering look while I considered the question. Ultimately, I’m not sure why I need to know that I put 2 ounces of deli meat in my salad, or that my cookie weighs 1.6 ounces. But I do. I know that much. “Yes,” I said cheerfully, and began to position a tomato on the scale. I forget now what it weighed, but I’ll tell you that I was thrilled to find out then. Thrilled.

I honestly can’t imagine a Twilight doll or a lava lamp or whatever the tweens are into these days being a better toy.

Oh! And we have new towels. They are soft and fuzzy, but not too fuzzy, and I didn’t even realize it at the time we bought them, but they match our shower curtain perfectly! Isn’t life good? I may be old, but people who can’t appreciate a new towel and a food scale and well-stored linens and a seafresh-something-or-other sachet are just plain missing out.

And yet, as I write this, it is 12:30 AM on a Tuesday and my husband is still out drinking. I am up for absolutely no reason at all, but I am taking this time to update my blog, a decidedly trendipoo hobby. Plus, I have yet to use wrinkle cream with any regularity or conviction (though I’ve been gravely warned against this cavalier attitude). So, I guess we’re not quite at our height of fogue*, either.                                                                                                                                           *That’s the noun for fogey. I made it up because I am forward-thinking and FTD.**                                                                                                                                          **That means “Fresh to Death.” Did you know that? I did, and I used it in a sentence.

Where does that leave us? And for how long? Do we have to pick a side? Because as much as I still love binge-drinking, eating pizza at 4:00 AM and frittering my money away on shortsighted crap (NOT referring to my food scale), I’m ultimately going to have to pick the team with fresh laundry, a clean bathroom, and an apartment where it’s safe to take off one’s shoes.

I hope — and I’m pretty convinced — that I can straddle these two worlds for at least a few years longer, or until my organs begin systematic shutdown. At 30, perhaps I’ll need to reassess. But for now, I’m comfortably in limbo, and I plan to chill here for a while. So I think I’ll just grab one of my very lovely new Riedel glasses, pour myself some $8 wine, and settle in for a few episodes of South Park before bed.

Welcome to my darling and well-stocked kitchen! Pour yourself a stemless glass from the jug and kick off your loafers so that you may enjoy my pristine floors. Dinner will be ready in just a jiff. I hope you like cheeseproduct!

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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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Shame on me.

Oh, dear. Dear, dear me. I haven’t posted in two months! This is terrible and shameful. I started something, I pulled you in, I got you involved, and then I just abandoned it. Or, well, paused it. Left you in the lurch. Left you on the corner in the rain. Left you with a roast in the oven and a bottle of cab decanting on the table. Oh wait, no, I’m quite sure I took the wine. Sorry, but I wouldn’t have left the wine (ref: fig. 1).

Fig. 1

But listen, it’s not like I MEANT to abandon anybody. You were always on my mind. I kept meaning to write, honest. It’s just that things get so busy! Soooooo beeeesy! There was the…hm. And that…well. Yes. Huh.

Awkward.

It just doesn't get any more awkward.

Okay? I can’t believe I posted that. Now you know how sorry I am, how shameful I feel. There you go. You’re welcome. Thanks a lot, Mom, for going along with the whole bangs decision. Could nobody have let me in on the fact that there are people whose entire lives are dedicated to eyebrow-depilation? Can we please put this behind us and move on?

Oh, great. Seriously, this is so great. I love you, too.

See? Marriage is all about patience and understanding. I’m so goddamn good at this shit! I’ve realized something, though, and this may somewhat explain my past two months of silence. The fact is that being married can be a bit…slow placid. Wedding: done. Honeymoon: done. Gifts: received, thank you’s: sent. Apartment: found, moved, furnished. I know I’ve touched on this, but what I’m talking about is not the same as post-nuptial depression. It’s not depression at all. Quite the contrary: it’s lovely. I’ve never felt so secure, so stable, so sure of myself and my future. But the thing is, it’s forever. Until death, in fact. So, basically, there’s no hurry. Nothing needs to happen right now. We have successfully progressed together, and now it’s life on the plateau for a little while. Which, in all honestly, I love. Unfortunately for all of us, I have a lazy, complacent, obese monster living inside of me. She is extremely fond of salami and cheese sandwiches and this one time? They had to cut the couch in half because it had fused to her thighs, which were covered in a thick layer of orange snack food product dust. It’s not a pretty image, I know, believe me. I rarely lose control of her. In fact, only one known picture exists:

She's losing and growing hair in ALL the wrong places

Being married has fed her while I wasn’t looking, and things got a little out of hand. The more settled I felt, the stronger she became. The stronger she became, the more episodes of Law & Order she discovered on cable. I won’t lie — it got ugly. But I’ve awoken to the situation and I won’t let it happen any longer. I’m back, and I vow to be both married AND productive.

Note to self: Do not become housewife.

Sidenote: do you know what comes up when you google image search "housewife?" People are sick.

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!!!"

Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady…Now What?

I have to say, I had a bit of a rough landing from Argentina into the Terminal of Reality (it’s actually part of JFK, across the Tarmac of Tough Luck  — you have to take a shuttle bus to get there, it’s a total bitch).

It was brilliant to leave almost zero time between the wedding and the honeymoon. It allowed us to float around in a carefree, blissfully happy bubble for a full two weeks, which felt like a lifetime. So much so that when we got home, I could not remember how to go about my ACTUAL life. I mean, I knew I did stuff. I definitely did some stuff. But when I was prompted to resume those activities — work, gym, food shopping, laundry — I really struggled to remember why, and in some cases, how. It was like I was an amnesia patient, or I’d just dropped into my own sideways reality, Lost-style.

Am I being dramatic? Maybe. Am I a whiny, spoiled brat? Hey, shut up.

The bottom line is, I clearly realized that having a wedding and going on a honeymoon weren’t going to become my permanent lifestyle. But I did allow that major event to take over my thoughts and trump all other priorities for a period of roughly 15 months. And the other part of it is, apparently that was okay with everybody else. I had a total bye during the year-plus that I was engaged. Everyone seemed to want to hear about my plans, fawned over my exciting bride-to-be-ness, and generally corroborated my harbored suspicions that I was, indeed, very special. And when we got back, well, I was just married. And what’s cool about that? Our grandparents are married.

So I’d forgotten about the mundaneness of life , I’d been demoted from “Super Special Princess Bride” to “Married,” and what’s worse, now I had no wedding left to plan! I happened to love planning our wedding. I thrived on it. As soon as we got engaged, I was transformed from a disorganized, chronically lazy person into a whirling dervish of thorough research, spreadsheets, and productivity. The honeymoon provided a welcome break from all that, but when we got back to New York and started clearing away the wedding-related detritus littering our apartment, I felt massive post-nuptial depression. I was left with nothing to do but unpack, look at wedding photos, and try to remember why I have my own office at work. (If anyone from work is reading this, I am completely back in touch with this, don’t worry). Luckily, I am a bridesmaid in 47 weddings between now and next January, so I have fully devoted myself to the practice of giving lengthy and unsolicited bridal advice. And, oh yeah, I started this blog. I’m like one of those kids who peaked in high school who spends the rest of her life attempting to recapture her glory days, only I so did not peak in high school.

Except, I can’t seem to stay focused on all that, much as I enjoy the art of complaining. The fact is, I actually love being married. Look, we’ve been together for eight years, we know each other as well as two people can know each other at our age, and our relationship was very strong before we got engaged. And yet, there is an invisible and extremely perceivable difference in the way we function as a couple now. I thought we were as solid as two people can be before the wedding. In fact, I assumed nothing would change aside from our names and bank accounts (still waiting on that one, come to think of it). But somehow, without any conscious effort on either side, we’ve synced up more, closed the gap between us a little tighter. We’re a team, we’re unified. We’re a family.

So fine, being married isn’t as fun as getting married. And working full-time and doing dishes isn’t as exciting as choosing centerpieces or traveling through South America. But it’s been a happy surprise to find out that it’s actually way more fun than being not married to each other. Which is something. Or everything.

Incidentally, to my engaged friends, I’ve photocopied my wedding binder and personalized copies for each of you according to your plans thus far. We can connect this week to set up individual meetings.

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.

Luna de Miel interstitial: Champagne bus rides and caviar dreams

I have this theory about bus stations. Actually, it’s not so much theory as it is an astute and practiced observation. Pick a city or town anywhere in the world. Regardless of this locale’s sophistication, technological advances, cleanliness, environmental efforts, architecture or age, it will will no doubt be home to some troubled people. You’ve got your scallywags, layabouts, hobos, rapscallions, rogues, scoundrels, knaves, cretins—even the occasional blackguard. And if you pay a visit to the local bus station, I can almost promise that you will find each and every one of them, assembled in short order, for all your leering, pickpocketing, mumbling, grain-liquor-in-a-brown-bag needs. For it is the bus station that is the universal meeting spot for the dregs of any given society, no matter how sparkling that society may be. Loogies will dot the soda-slicked floors, empties can be found strewn under benches and in corners. Toilets will be clogged and paperless, with unlock-able doors but for one stall which seems to be permanently occupied by someone making far too little noise.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. It’s just that, get away from me. Especially when I’m dying of thirst, dragging a heavy suitcase, duffel bag and purse, it’s 97 degrees outside, and the system for figuring out when and from which of the 45 docks your bus leaves is incomprehensible even to those who speak the native language. This is exactly where we found ourselves trying to exit the city of Mendoza, where we had a one-night stop (and day-long wine tour) before heading to our final destination: The Algodon Wine Estates in San Rafael, 250 kilometers due South.

I'm pretty sure I saw him at the Port Authority

I’m the first to admit that patience is not necessarily my virtue. So by the time we battled the throngs of sticky, aggressive people (I think I may actually have growled at someone), located the right bus, and boarded the double-decker, I was in truly rare form. We collapsed into our assigned seats directly up front on the top level, took a deep, cleansing breath, and that is when I realized that there was no air conditioning and we were sitting behind a giant, untinted windshield, and heat rises. And that, dear readers, is when I threw a full-on, unabashed, pride-be-damned temper tantrum. I kicked our belongings around on the floor, cried, raged and seethed, banged on the vents to see if I could coax some air out of them, frantically fanned myself with our wilted bus tickets. Matt, ever the adult, calmly collected our things and moved us a few rows back, where we could crack open a window, get out of the sun, and even feel a teeny bit of air trickling out above our heads. Immediately, the bus steward came up and scolded us for switching seats and promptly closed our window. He gave us what sounded like a very disdainful lecture in Spanish, shaking his head and woefully moving blankets around. I looked at him desperately, weakly reached out my arm and in a cracked, hoarse whisper said simply: “agua…por favor…” He sighed, nodded, and thirty minutes later I was presented with a Dixie cup of warm Sprite. Things were looking up. A few minutes after that, he came back upstairs and turned on a little TV hanging from the ceiling in the center aisle, and for the next hour and a half we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of 30-second clips from every music video made in America between 1978 and 1999. Baffling? Yes. Totally rad? You betcha. Meanwhile, our steward came back and asked if we wanted dinner. Dinner? On a bus? Well, no. “Mas agua!” I croaked. “Solemente agua!” He began to speak at length in Spanish, most likely on the virtues of eating three square meals a day, the quality of their dining selections, and the foolhardy, dinner-less path we were about to choose. So we acquiesced and were soon presented with a tray of what was essentially the food equivalent of our in-bus entertainment: a tiny green salad, a slice of vegetable quiche, a sort of yellow-cake-ham-and-cheese roulade, a roll, saltines, soft cheese, and a steaming hot package containing a quarter chicken and plain white rice. We received it with what I’m sure was visible shock, which only increased when he then offered us red or white wine and champagne. Well, yes! But also, mas agua?

As we drove through vineyard-striped countryside in the pitch black of night, I took a slow sip from my Styrofoam cup of battery aci…champagne. I looked over at Matt for a moment, watching him wrestle with a chicken wing, then closed my eyes and let the rhythm of the bumpy road beneath us blend with thumping beats of Snap!’s “I Got the Power.”

Robin Leach, eat your heart out.

Next came another golden oldie, "Rhythm Is a Dancer"