The New York Diet: How to Look Great and Feel Like Sh*t.

1. Move to New York City in the middle of the worst snow storm ever recorded, without the proper footwear.

2. Bring really heavy suitcase, an over stuffed back pack and a 25 pound typewriter.

3. Don’t bring a map, simply scribble addresses down on ripped slips of paper and “go with your gut.”

4. Be really, really broke… all the time.

5. Always order the cheapest thing on the menu (usually results in aforementioned house “salad”).

6. Do laundry once a week (requires heaving a 50 pound bag of dirty clothes down and around the block, then back again.)

7. Always choose cocktails instead of dinner – also known as the liquid diet (Tip: dirty martinis come with free olives).

8. Homemade popcorn: cheap, salty, lots of fiber.

9. Go the whole day eating popcorn and peanuts then get happy-hour drunk and shovel piping hot $2 pizza slices down your throat and walk home because you spent your subway money.

10. Coupons + $10 @ discount grocery store = dinner for a week (buy lots of canned items: your “pantry” a.k.a. shelf will look like an earthquake kit (see next week’s post))

11. Live on the 6th floor of a walk up building.

12. Frequent the by-donation Hot Yoga classes @ Yoga to the People in NYC… you know… to clear your mind and your appetite.

13. CHEAP ETHNIC FOOD (guaranteed to buy you at least 40 hours of not drinking, and not eating).

14. Ride really crowded subway trains so you have to stand all the time.

15. Laugh, a lot, at everything, to yourself. You’ll have a washboard by June.

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This is not a salad.

It’s placed before you in a mockery of modern gastronomy. A wet handful of almost-translucent iceberg with two wrinkly cherry tomatoes, a  half a teaspoon of canned black olives,  and a sad flick of carrot shavings. Thank God you asked for dressing on-the-side; it jiggles suspiciously in a  mayonnaise-esq fashion. You stare up at the waitress: an oval-shaped brunette with curls piled high like chocolate whipped cream. She asks you if she can get you anything else Hun. You shake your head. It’s not her fault.

Here in the center of the universe, you’d think they could find some spinach or at least some decent looking onions. Hell, you’d settle for a chickpea.

New York can murder (in a good way) a hot cheesey slice, or a falafel, or a deli sandwich, and a hot street dog like no other place on earth, but don’t order a salad.  You will get a watery mess that looks like it came out of a cookbook from 1972.

You’re used to mountains of  farm-fresh fluffy California sprouts and mixed greens dusted in Parmesan and garlic toasted pine-nuts…not to even MENTION the avocado. All of it barely drizzled in a sweet-sour vinaigrette  and topped with fresh cracked black pepper. Most likely served in one of those thin wooden bowls that can double as a hanging macrame planter.

Everyone else at the table spreads the dressing and digs in, like they are NOT looking at the funkiest joke of a salad you have ever seen. If Nora were here you could at least exchange bemused eyebrow-raises. When she comes by again with the water your ask what the soup of the day is, and order a cup of the Italian Wedding. So much for getting your veggie on, another bloated night lies ahead.

Okay, so there is ONE place in the New York City metro area where you were pleasantly surprised by the deliciousness, selection, and value of a salad. Park Slope Ale House is a mere 15 minute walk through the lamp-lit brown-stone streets, and nestled on the corner of 6th ave and 5th streets on the first floor of an old house, it has probably been there forever. There is a long dim wooden bar, some booths and a surrounding out-door patio. Wooden benches and tables crowd underneath a sagging overhang lit by christmas lights. They serve their salads in wooden bowls, and they are not half bad, and they come with grilled chicken for a dollar extra. If you get there before 5 on a weekday you can catch the 50 cent wing special, or just stick to the 3 dollar Yuengling beer (which is NOT an asian beer, it’s actually from Philadelphia, contrary to its exotic name).

What you sacrifice for geography seems to cut a piece out of you, and it not just the salads. You gave up a lot just to be in a place with a famous name and a terrible reputation for struggle. You gave away a lot of things material, and otherwise.  Maybe just to prove to yourself, or to prove to everyone else that you are independent and nothing can hold you back. It seems like a funny thing to want to prove to anyone though. Maybe it stems from that famous image of Ben Franklin walking down the streets of Boston with a loaf of bread and a “shilling” or whatever. For some reason they drilled that principle into us in American history class. The highly western and specifically American idea of doing everything yourself, and struggling by yourself with no help from anyone seems to be the only acceptable way to come about success. This why young rich kids OD on heroin at the age of 17. They have no way of ever proving to themselves or society that they are worth it. Instead, they being a cycle of highly destructive behavior to prove to the world that they don’t value their life, that they know they aren’t worth shit. Then, when they die in a speed-soaked car crash or on a couch in their parent’s house surrounded by stoned friends we say that it’s a “shame, they had so much life to live.”

We put such high value on the struggle of “making it,” while most of us sit around and hate ourselves for not muscling through some socio-economic barrier to become a secretary or a senator or a guest on Oprah.

Nobody even respects rappers that come from middle class families, because we think that you have nothing to say or brag about unless you grew up on the bottom floor of a brothel in Harlem.  You are not a success unless you sacrifice everything, alienated yourself, and struggled from the very bottom to get to the penthouse at the W. What ends up happening is people start lying and you get the James Frey’s of the world. The audience is obsessed with memoirs and testimonials (i.e. Jared from Subway). Creative Non-Fiction has become a section at the bookstore because of this obsession.

America is way too proud of the Declaration of Independence. We all take it to heart somehow, when really a bunch of angry slave-owning white dudes in wigs were just being arrogant and angsty emancipated minors. Strutting around blowing shit up and ignoring Cuba just to prove we can. Just to prove that “We don’t need you mom and dad, look at us, see France thinks we are cool!” (cut to the civil war).

Last night you actually dreamed about the smell of the Pacific Ocean. You were sitting at the top of the tan cliffs at Point Dume and crying because you could smell the ocean. You could actually smell it. And when you woke up you could hear someone in the kitchen frying noodles or something.  But you carried it with you all morning, that sharp cold salt smell that makes your hair stiff and curly, and  your skin get that sticky feeling.

You like to be really hard on yourself, and sacrifice things you love because somehow you feel it will validate your easy existence. Somehow if you can prove you are just as deserving of life as a Sudanese orphan who is a classical piano prodigy then you can enjoy things, and sleep easy and not berate yourself.  You hate being told you are beautiful, and you hate being told you are talented, and you are not really sure why. Life is a series of choices starting with “soup, salad, or fries.” If you are ever in New York, get the fries.

Stay up all night watching a thunderstorm

You feel as if you are inside a shoe. The heat sits on top of you, it grabs at every inch of your skin like hundreds of hot wet hands. Unlike the biting cold, there is nothing you can wear to escape it. you stand at the window, which points west. You forget and then remember that the ocean is East, so unnatural.

Every few minutes bitter lavender veins of light reach across the belly of clouds, followed by a low crackling burp of thunder. You will barely sleep tonight, and tomorrow you will sit fit-fully tired at your desk and stare at your computer screen. You would rather sell cupcakes in eternal August tourist traffic than say the word  “strategy” again.

You need a soundtrack. The self titled album by Dire Straits, (sent to you as a gift from the thoughtful and tasteful M),   also known as the album that God was listening to when he invented dark hot thunderstorms. The rain slaps fluffy wet pillows on the window screen, like a homemade water spritzer. You crave a covered porch, and a mint julep. You close your eyes and let your hips swing to ‘Six Blade Knife’. The violet lightening reaches again across the dimpled cloud ceiling in what must be hundreds of twitchy veins. It’s right on top of you now, and because of your imagination you half expect a Delorian to come out of the sky or a superhero to be caught crouching on some silhouetted roof. You pop open your last sweating can of beer and feel it get warm in a record of seconds.

Sirens bleed out somewhere down Flatbush Avenue. You light a candle, the candle, and wonder what your neighbors are watching at this hour, you can see the blue flash of their screen. You decide that ‘Water of Love’ is the best song in the whole world, and that this whole album is the opposite of New York City. You wonder how you can love two things equally that are the complete opposite of each other. This leads to pondering your own personal duality. You live like a split screen montage, always second guessing your choices, wondering how it could have gone, otherwise. You are a sandwich: layers of complimenting, textures and flavors pinned between two fluffy walls.

But really, how can you need solitude as much as you need crowded dance floors? How can you love desolate woods just as much as the city? How can you want to stay in bed and go outside at the same time? How do you love hot beaches and snowy cabins the same? Are you lying to yourself? Do you really love them both equally , or are you just saying that to make things more complicated so you can delay decision-making?

There are moments when you are positive that you will live and die on the 4th floor of a charming brownstone buying groceries at the ‘Haifa Market’ and eating out at ‘Cafe Cubana’. Then there are other moments when you swear you will live and die surrounded by thickly wooded miles and broken rocking chairs. This primal display of nature’s middle finger seems to jolt into you some electric desire to step backwards, wipe the slate clean, and drive through the desert in a Firebird…convertable.

You try to listen to the inside of yourself, what would 10-year-old Molly think about this whole thing? She would probably shrug and go back to her Goosebumps Volume 17.

It’s so hot that the water can’t cool the pavement, and the rain just lifts back up into the air in pockets of steam. Its like pouring a garden hose on the 6th ring of Hell.  Nature likes to keep us scared, it likes to watch us skitter back and forth rebuilding houses on cliffs and under the water level. It likes to shriek at us and cackle and roll around like some hallucinating tom cat. For as fantastically clever as we are, we can’t hold back a snowstorm or escape the berating heat. Nature is the ultimate ‘Sultan of Swing,’ sometimes all you can do is sweat it out, drink a beer and watch the show.