Whitney at 19, two years before her debut album. I love how coy she is in the beginning, then the warmth that beams through, the confidence, the total conviction. Her taste and control are peerless. For all of the big pipes who have followed, no one could match her sensibility, her feel.
I remember even before this, she was a model in Seventeen magazine. Here she is, the cousin of Dionne Warwick, goddaughter to Aretha, daughter to Cissy Houston. With all of those impossibly large shoes to fill, she managed to surpass them all. And Cissy always seemed so supportive, so happy that the daughter rose past the mother.
I especially love the videos with Cissy. Here they are at the Freedom Fest at Wembley Stadium in 1988 honoring Nelson Mandela’s birthday two years before Mandela was released from prison. In Cissy, we see what Whitney could have been, hear the voice that could have been hers. I feel terrible for her. If you had a child like Whitney, would you protect her from fame if it meant fewer people could hear her gift?
I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a voice like that and then to lose it later in life. I’m an ordinary singer, but my voice is my constant companion. It needs no rosin, no tuning, no sheet music, no carrying case. I mourn the loss of my higher range and the articulation I’m losing. But what I have to lose is nothing like what Whitney had, what Mariah Carey had. I am also sad for them, sad for their loss.
My babysitter, Leah, bought her debut LP on vinyl. We listened to it a lot, pulling the record out of that gorgeous peach sleeve, Whitney looking like a tropical queen on the cover with that one-shouldered top and sleek hair. She was 22. I was 8, an Asian-American kid in a predominantly Mexican and Filipino neighborhood. She was a young black woman and I wanted to be like her, just like every other girl I knew. I wish the fairy tale had turned out better for the royal princess. I thank her family for sharing her.
I’m not the kind of lady who obsesses over her hair, but I have to give props to my hairdresser, Machiko at Kiyora Salon. You girls with straight Asian hair know what I’m talking about – in the wrong hands, your normally easy-to-manage ‘do can look like a jagged mess hacked by a nearsighted preschooler with safety scissors. Machiko really understands symmetry and drape, which is really what you’re talking about with hair like mine.
She takes her time making things even and swingy, and she lets me fall asleep in the chair. (I’m not the kind of person who seeks social interaction of any kind while I’m in the salon chair.)
Also, afterwards, you can do what I did today and go down 13th St. to Joe for a cuppa and a doughnut (or two). Ideal rainy day productivity.
(I like this picture because I was trying to capture Machiko’s handiwork but it looks like I’m staring down Doug’s feet. You’re either in Suthivarakom’s Korner or you’re with the toes!)
Did I tell you that I sing sometimes? My band, The Solitary Cyclist, is comprised of me, my buddy John Lindaman (True Love Always) on guitar and vocals, Julia Rydholm (Ladybug Transistor) on bass and Chris Deaner (+/-) on drums . Together, we are like Voltron — there is no pink ranger in our formation. When we rehearse, we bring delicious snacks, discuss car-free bike routes in Brooklyn and complain about how the other guys in the space never pick up their empty cans of Bud. Yeah, that’s how we roll!
And — get this — we are opening for the amazing Versus and +/-! How cool are we? Very cool, I would say.
It’s sort of being billed as a Teenbeat night because JL is part of the Teenbeat catalog and Cotton Candy, Mark Robinson (Unrest, Air Miami) and Evelyn Hurley’s band, is also opening. Plus, there’s a band called Ciudad coming from the Phillippines.
The Solitary Cyclist plays bossa nova-tinged duets. We’re good, clean fun. We aren’t going to rock your socks off, but we may tickle your feet. As our Facebook page says, we are all love songs, no ambition.
Also, I may be guest squawking with +/-.
Versus, +/-, Ciudad, Cotton Candy and The Solitary Cyclist Friday, November 13 8pm $12 The Knitting Factory 361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
Tel: (347) 529-6696
I got a bicycle! I’d been searching on blocket.se for about 7 weeks (yes, before I got here!), looking in bicycle shops, putting all kinds of bicycle websites through Google translate.
But yesterday, I finally was like, fuck it, I’m going to the used bicycle shop. If I leave work at 5, I can get there by 5:15 and have 45 minutes to shop before it closes. Because it’s not open on the weekends. Or before 9 am. Or after 6pm. (For those of you who wish you were here, don’t forget that New York is a glorious, glorious place where you can get things done both after work AND on the weekends.)
Anyway, I got to the shop and asked for a light bike. Swedish city bikes tend to be quite heavy, with tons of accessories (rack, basket, lock, skirt guard, fenders, big ass lights) and big frames. I wanted something a little lighter, at least as light as my hybrid. At first we talked mountain bikes, but I tried one and realized it probably wasn’t ideal with my nice work dresses.
Then we looked at some women’s frames. The first one I tried was a really speedy little Danish number. It was white, a little beat up, with two top tubes in a V shape and really responsive steering. The shop owner told me the handlebars were Danish-style. They weren’t T-shaped handlebars, not bullhorns, but something kind of in-between; a slightly narrow grip on an angle with an upright seating position. If my legs were just two inches longer, I would have gotten it. (I am jealous of all the long legs here.)
The second bike I tried was an old green Crescent, which is a very common brand here. It was pretty light, a very steady ride with a step-through frame, but there were no gears — not ideal in this hilly city.
And the last one I basically rode for 30 seconds. It was 5:46 at this point and I was like, fuck it, this is it. Am I going to find something better for a better price? Probably not. And I don’t want to be running around town for the next three weeks as the weather gets better and prices go up in all the shops. This feels pretty good, I think; it’s comfy and it’s a good price. SOLD!
So here’s what it looks like:
It’s a Puch Elit, made in Austria. I can’t find much info on it. Does anyone know from Puch bikes?
When I got home, I tried to get it in the elevator, but the damn sit-up-and-beg handlebars wouldn’t clear the elevator gate.
The Lodge’s restaurant is ill-equipped to handle the 30-person brunch my cousin and his wife have arranged for the morning after, but it’s fun to be seated at a long table with our big Thai family and Alanna’s big Irish family.
After brunch, Sirion and Alex drive me back to Julie’s. We pass the dregs of the Bay to Breakers run, which is basically a cross between a frat kegger, the gay pride parade, a group acid trip, a middle-aged amateur porno without the sex, and a 12K run. Up by the Marina, we drive by a hot twink rocking an ensemble of short white tennis shorts (through which his American Apparel tighty-fluorescent-greenies are visible), a popped-collar white polo, mirrored aviators, striped headband and tennis racket. We’re not sure if he’s for real or if he’s in costume. I hope he’s for real.
Back at Julie’s, we grill up a feast — marinated chicken, carne asada (none for me), big gamy steaks of goat, Italian sausages and more.
My contribution: a grated carrot salad with plum tomatoes, garlic, sesame oil, and Meyer lemon juice. (I put those Meyer lemons in EVERYTHING.) I go overboard on just about everything, but it’s the radioactive Cool Whip cake that puts a fork in me. I ask for a cup of tea while everyone around me gets trashed. An old friend shows up while tripping on mushrooms. By himself. Ladies are making out on the coat pile in the bedroom, nook nook is happening in the laundry room downstairs, flirtations turn into out and out propositions, bi-, gay, and straight sexual intrigue abounds. But not for me. I’m hiding out at the top of the stairs, nursing my mug of green jasmine tea and thinking, “Doesn’t anybody have to work tomorrow? It’s a Sunday night!” I am such a grandma.
We end the night closing out The Mint, where Grandma pulls it together enough to kick out a little 2 am “Welcome to the Jungle” before going back chez Julie and passing out on the couch.
Julie and I have a most glorious hangover day of yoga and food shopping. We invite my friends Justin and Jim for dinner, where I cook a bunch of my standards. We gab at the kitchen table over way too much food. I keep thinking giddily that this is how I should be living my life every day. The best part of the meal is dessert — two ice creams from the Bi-Rite Creamery, salted caramel and orange cardamom. Very adult flavors. Be jealous, that shit is CRAZY delicious. The ice cream is a little airier than gelato or frozen custard. The orange cardamom is totally for me — spicy and sunny, yet cold and creamy. It will have to be another obligatory stop the next time I’m in town.
5/20, Tuesday We hit a 9 am yoga class being taught by Jehfree Spirit. His drag name is Freetah B. I didn’t even need to make that up.
For lunch, we head to the Ferry Plaza market. Stone fruit and berries have already come in for California, and I’m reveling in the blush-fleshed peaches, fleshy brook cherries, and fragrant blueberries.
The dried fruit selection is unbelievable — pluots, tangy apricots or sweet apricots, moist golden raisins the size of june bugs, Asian pear rings, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
The Ferry Plaza market is like foodie yuppie heaven. Seriously, if someone locked me up in there overnight, my liver would be foie gras by morning. Acme Bread, Stonehouse Olive Oil, pastries, meats and more — it’s like Dean and Deluca on steroids. I love foods that taste like expensive perfume because they make me feel like a lady; these Miette rose geranium macarons are like the culinary incarnation of Nancy Mitford in two crisp-cloudy bites.
I especially love the bombolonis we get from the Italian shop. They make me want to bomboloni someone, or bomboloni all over their bomboloni. They’re round fried doughnuts the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fist, dusted with granulated sugar and piped til they’re ready to burst with nutella, chocolate, seedless raspberry jam, or our favorite, bombolonidacious golden pastry cream. You can’t see, but a single tear just rolled down my cheek. If that isn’t enough, the bomboloni are being sold by an unbelievably adorable gaysian Gumby with a five inch pompadour and clear braces.
We’ve missed breakfast at Boulette’s Larder, but we sit down for one of the most fortifying, nourishing, lively lunches I’ve had in a long time — verdant Japanese turnip soup sprinkled with fried giblet bits, a rich sardine salad with endive, dill and feta, and a poached chicken salad with barberries, pistachios, za’atar spices, tahini, and the most tender bloomsday spinach ever, the arrowhead leaves impossibly sweet. Most of the ingredients are local; low prices keep it from being precious. Why aren’t sardines on the menu more often? I will order them whenever I see them. You can’t see, but I am totally pumping my fist and engaging my mulabanda while taking these pictures.
After an easy, digestive walk up Market St., we get back to Julie’s house and noodle around on the guitar and piano, singing Carpenters tunes, nipping at wine, cheese, and our fruit booty from the market. For dinner, we make a Mexican feast, mostly using leftovers from the previous two nights. I can’t remember the last time I ate so well — a boatload of homemade guac, cumin-scented black beans, fresh, thick tortillas from the Mexicatessen, grilled chicken stir-fried with broccoli raab and leftover red peppers, store-bought salsa fresca spruced up with fresh habanero, and an incredible tart slaw Brent made by mixing my fresh meyer lemon relish with slivered green cabbage — perfect in a taco with the leftover pan-fried salmon. Mostly leftovers, but still, one of my favorite meals of the whole trip. It’s kind of a revelation. This is how I want to be eating, every day — surrounded by friends, at home, using good, honest ingredients and letting nothing go to waste. As a California ex-pat, I used to dream about Bay Area burritos all the time, but sometimes I forget that I’m perfectly capable of making Cali-style Mexican food exactly suited to my taste.
My cousin Sirion and her boyfriend Alex pick me up in a sunburnt orange compact car. (Is that the teal of the aughts?) We snake down Divisadero to Lombard St., which takes us straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. The wispy fog looks like it’s been piped in for a movie set. It’s picturesque and romantic without obstructing drivers’ sightlines.
ALEX: It looks like they’ve got a fog machine going, doesn’t it?
Tiburon is one of those tiny Marin county towns on the other side of the Golden Gate. Spiny sailboats are moored along every dock. Multi-million dollar homes cling to the verdant cliffs against a backdrop of blue, blue ocean. It makes me think of the Hamptons — the few clothing boutiques mainly sell Amalfi-ready sandals and gauzy cover-ups in pastels and whites, and oysters on the half-shell are easier to pick up than a can of hairspray.
My whole family is staying at the Lodge at Tiburon. I find that I have become the kind of guest that must find something to complain about. I get a room for my parents and a room for myself — can I switch the room on the second floor for one with two queens instead of one king? Can I switch the room on the ground floor for security reasons and because it smells strongly of chlorine from the pool it’s situated by? Can I get a room with a bathtub instead of just a shower? Why don’t the windows have screens? I don’t really give a shit about amenities, I just don’t like thinking that somebody else might have been given something better.
But it’s great to be with my family, whom I adore. I love the way my very private cousin Sakorn endures being the center of attention, and the way his wife’s eyes tear up as he reads his vows, which are far more tender than we might have expected. I love Sirion’s speech, which reveals her intimate knowledge of her brother, but also how much his wife Alanna will be able to teach us about Sakorn’s character. I love the way my cousin’s baby Sadie lights up when she sees my Mae, her bonus grandma, and the way she stretches her soft little arms up to be held.
The festivities are over in a flash, but in a moment, our family has grown by one. Alanna has tied her fate to his, thus mooring her life to ours. The details of the day have already faded a bit, but I’m left with the muscle memory that my heart is full.
A potluck masterpiece — torn angel food cake topped with Jello instant vanilla pudding, drained crushed pineapple, Cool Whip, canned mandarin orange slices and slivered strawberries. Bad for you, but totally delicious and seductive. Also expands like a loofah in your stomach. Like recreational drugs, or sleeping with someone knowing you’ll regret it the second your crusty eyes crack open in the morning. Not that I would know about that stuff.