The top 12 differences between London and New York:
*note: these are the observations of one observer over the course of several days over which time said observer (said observer assumes) experienced less than 1% of the unique and enchanting sights, sounds, smells, etc. that the merry city of London has to offer its guests from across the pond; but anyway, as said observer noted, these are some of the more intriguing observations made by said observer.*
1) When they say, “Mind the gap,” they really mean it – I’ve stumbled off trains and onto platforms up to two feet lower!
2) Americans are generally and distinctly better looking – but maybe it’s just me.
3) The subway (aka “the tube”) has cushioned seats, is practically odorless, and has trains that run seemingly ten times more often than NYC subways.
4) When Americans don’t like you (particularly NYers) they either ignore you or get right up in yo face; beware, the English instead may snootily passive-aggressive you to death.
5) Chinatown is Chinatown.
6) Without tourists the population would probably be about 17 people per square metric whatever unit.
7) Bathroom stalls have lockable doors, but you’re lucky if you get a troth for a urinal (also, you must pass through no fewer than two doors to enter a bathroom, and I’ve found myself panicking my way through as many as six).
8) You swipe your subway card when you leave the subway station.
9) There are telephone booths that I think might actually work – they have telephones inside them at least.
10) The only street food seems to be those delicious, warm-smelling street nuts; but no pretzels, hot dogs, or gyros – the angst!
11) London Bridge is a paltry thing next to the Brooklyn Bridge, although the Tower Bridge is certainly a proper river crossing.
12) Oh yeah, and they drive on the wrong side of the road (although the streetlights also turn yellow when changing from red to green so perhaps they know what they’re doing after all…).
There’s been much a-grumbling in recent days about what seems to finally be arriving: the freaking cold (wasn’t it just, like, August?). Yes, winter is nigh, and so are all of the complaints that come with cold knuckles, chapped lips, and swinging snow shovels like giant lopsided axes in a fruitless attempt to smash your way through driveway ice. But, as with most trials in life, sometimes it helps to look on the bright side of things, especially when it’s already dark outside before you get out of work.
So in the spirit of our now long forgotten summer, or the holidays, or just in a pitiful attempt to hold off the crushing winter blues until at least the new year, here is my list of the top ten things to look forward to this winter:
10. You can leave beer outside:
This might seem like a useless winter time benefit for non-beer drinkers. Alas, father Joemas can’t make everyone happy, but for those among us who do indulge in the occasional tipsying beverage of choice, this can be a mighty fine season. Aside from the ability to store booze out on your porch rather than packing out your fridge, there’s many-a seasonal craft brews that will be gone come the spring thaw. Drink up now! *WARNING: make sure to bring beer indoors if temperatures drop at night below freezing as not doing so could result in broken beers and a sad you. #:'( #frozentears
9. You can leave food in the car!:
Okay, this might seem like another one of my crazy Joe-bo schemes, but think about the logistics for a moment (and by logistics I mean laziness). In the spring or summer when I forget to bring my restaurant leftovers inside I sometimes end up driving a couple of days later and wondering, “Hmm, I really hope that vinegary smell isn’t coming from my engine…” In the winter, I can delightfully stumble across a frozen bean burrito in my backseat ready for thawing!
8. My beard suddenly becomes a much more reasonable adaptation:
As a perennial beard-bearer, I’m often asked, “Aren’t you hot under that thing?” The truth is that I barely notice my beard having borne it so many years now; however, once the winds of winter start whipping across my face, I’m suddenly reminded of why I’ve been cultivating my glorious facial turf all year: #facescarfwin
7. Cozy pajamas:
Anymore needeth saying?
6. Holiday meals:
Fall and winter are perhaps the peak seasons for holiday feasting. If American holidays in general are really actually about anything, then the answer is food, and the winners are perhaps Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, there are plenty of other great foodie days throughout the year, though the wintertime offers all types of deliciousness not found elsewhere: cinnamon, nutmeg, anything roasted and warmmmmm….
5. Hot chocolate!:
Hot chocolate gets my vote 365, but if there’s one season where it truly shines that season is winter. If you’re feeling daring, I suggest trying an olde 60/40 – a trademark concoction formulated by who else than me? Basically make a cup that’s 60% hot chocolate and 40% black coffee (you should add more hot chocolate and less coffee based on the desired strength, but I myself am pretty bold so I stick closer to the 60/40 balance, but hey, drinkers choosers).
Step one: build them. Step two: tackle/sword fight them with sticks.
3. Sledding/warm fires/other activities:
If it looks like Hoth outside, you might as well make the most of it. Skiing and snowboarding are always a fine idea if you have a chance to escape to a mountain somewhere, but for us common folk: some sleds, a hill, and a handle of Jameson should suffice to pass the time in style.
2. Something to complain about:
Let’s face it: humans like to complain, even if there’s nothing really worth complaining about. Winter is a fine time to fill our otherwise empty lives with some icy grievances. Just think about the rest of the year when you’ll be able to say, “At least it’s not snowing.”
1. Dreaming of sunnier days, and hey, it could always be worse:
Since global warming or changing or weirding or whatever you want to call it is going to boil us all away anyway, we might as well enjoy the winter while it lasts. Of course, there’s always the polar vortex, in which case we’ll freeze to death instead. Either way, everything changes; nothing lasts forever. It’s all perspective. The colder the winter, the warmer the summer seems. Until then, hot chocolate and dreaming of the beach sounds like a plan to me.
As an awareness made flesh
you should probably know the thoughts
of a rock
and a star
and a whole bunch of other
of this collective clock,
this hopeful thought interred,
this thought that what matters to us
matters to all.
That when we make back to this Earth
that none is forgotten –
or so we say energy goes.
You should probably know
that a rock’s not a rock
when no two are alike,
nor that book that you love,
nor that soul that you keep.
To live and to be,
as an awareness made flesh,
you should probably understand
that a clock’s not a clock.
That the only puzzle within
is the fact that you are not you
except in what you do.
Except as a thought made flesh.
*Normally I wouldn’t post something so “non-poetic” on this blog, though it occurs to me that many of my family who were in attendance at the Florida eulogy for my grandmother could not also be there for the NY version (which I subsequently edited). Here it is in its original version:
Calverton National Cemetery, NY, August 20th 2014
The great American author Kurt Vonnegut, once asked, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” I think he was referring to the fact that while we don’t always get to choose the exact circumstances of our lives, we do have the power to make the most of it with those around us.
So I’ll say it now, and then I’ll ask again later, to all of us gathered here today, sharing our memories and thoughts – remembering so that we’ll never forget of our time with one very special woman: how she inspired us before, and continues to this day – to all of us gathered here now to remember:
“If this isn’t nice, what is?”
One of my earliest memories is of a holiday party at the little blue house where I grew in the quaint neighborhood of Lakeside Key, in the modest town of Pembroke Pines. I don’t remember much about that party other than that it was a typically muggy Florida evening, our home packed with old relatives and young cousins. I don’t even remember what we were celebrating or why. But what I do remember is standing out on the front lawn, amongst our very large Italian family, and staring up into the clear evening sky at a star – the brightest star I’d ever seen.
“Do you see that star there?” Nanna Millie noticed my gaze and asked. “The really bright one?”
“Yeah,” I answered. “The big one.”
She smiled. “That’s because it’s not a star,” she explained. “It’s a planet, called Jupiter.”
And just like that, my imagination was off and soaring…
Nana Millie’s special like that. An inspiration. She’s more than just your typical grandmother. A daughter, wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend; Nana Millie lives many names, but to me she always was and always will be just that: Nana Millie.
I can only talk as one of those whom she has one of these very special relationships with. Each of us has our own unique connection. But as different as our experiences with her are, the essence of these bonds is exactly what we also share.
Our memories will shift and sway, but some memories seem as potent now as they were way back then – and they always will be. Let me explain: Aroma… Need I say more? Okay, Sunday aromas. Salivating yet? Meatballs, lasagna, homemade gravy, Easter pies… Eggplant parm. I’ll say it again. Eggplant parm. Now that’s what I thought. Now that’s aroma. That’s memory.
If that isn’t nice and delicious, what is?
Some of my earliest memories are at Nanny and Poppy’s house – of refrigerator candy: stiff twizzlers and cold chocolate, playdough, and catching tadpoles in the lake out back… Great memories. Golden memories. Childhood memories. Nanna Millie memories…
These are family memories, though her family doesn’t end with just you and me. Nanna Millie was always as giving as she was grateful. Nothing made her happier than making others happy – treating others as family. Long before I was born, and back when many of you here now were children or had much more hair, Nanna Millie used to bake cakes for the nuns at her church. How greatful were they? Luckily, I happen to have a thank you note from one of the nuns from way back when, which I’ll share with you now:
“Dear Mrs. Labriola,
Last night all the sisters agreed to make you the president of the cake club. The cake we all enjoyed was the one you so generously made for us. God bless you very very much for your kindness to us. Your time you gave, and all those delicious flavors that go into cake making is deeply appreciated by us all. I hope you know that our prayers of thanks are ever offered up for you and your dear ones. God bless you always.”
Now if that isn’t nice, sweet and caring, and wonderful, then what is?
Though she loved to make others happy, Nanna Millie liked to have her own fun too. You know, I never knew that while she was teaching me to play Gin Rummy as a child, she was also going off to hit the Vegas slots with her gambling co-conspirators. “Don’t tell your father,” she’d say if she won. “Don’t tell your father,” she’d say if she lost.
Win or lose, they’d take mid afternoon breaks to watch the soap opera ‘Days of Our Lives’ back in their room. Watching ‘Days’ on the bed, eating ice cream. Then hitting the slots. Now that sounds nice.
No wonder I could never beat her at cards. No wonder none of my friends now can beat me at cards. If that isn’t awesome, what is?
Whenever I get down, as do we all, I think of those in my life who have picked themselves up in the face of far greater odds. Nanna Millie lived for many years with Parkinson’s. She’d say that Parkinson’s is just a word and doesn’t define you as a person. So instead, she lived those words. She exercised regularly. She walked. She took yoga classes and energy healing. Whenever I get down, I go to yoga class now. I think of the ways I can pick myself up. While our challenges are very different, our refusal to admit defeat is very much the same. If that’s not inspiring, what is?
I could go on for ages, and in another use of that phrase, I will. We all will, in large part, because of the inspiration and teachings shared with us by one very special woman. A daughter, and a wife, and a mother and sister, aunt, and friend. Nana Millie fills all these roles as we now all fill for others. An inspiration.
So for that, I would just like to thank you, Nana.
I love a good gamble, so thanks Nana.
I love yoga. Thanks Nana.
I love refusing to give up, no matter the odds seemingly stacked against me.
I love cooking. And of course, I love eating. Thanks Nana.
And I love staring up at the stars, and wondering, and remembering those who’ve helped open my eyes. So thank you, Nana Millie.
And so I’ll ask you all again now: if all of these memories and experiences, and lessons, and inspirations aren’t nice, what is?
And I’ll ask you just one more thing too. You don’t have to right now, but at some point today or tomorrow or even a year from now, I think it would be nice if we all shared one of our memories or experiences, or lessons, or inspirations we enjoyed with Nana Millie. I think it would be nice if we all shared that with someone. Whether with someone here or someone who never knew her, share how she helped you become who you are – even if you didn’t realize it at the time. Share that inspiration in you now.
Above all, Nanna Millie loved to see those who she loved be happy. Surely now, with all of us gathered here together, she’s smiling, and very rightly feeling: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
It does not matter
when on a path through the lush
forged from eons long shed,
It does not matter
when you come to a root-knotted fork,
and leaning this way then that,
see but narrow-cleared paths
and wonder, “Cleared by who?”
It does not matter
with your nose in the mud,
and the worms at your heels,
where the right or the left might bear
the imaginations of a keener being.
It does not matter
but to press,
even while ground sinks away.
What’s left is to push
through this ancestral lush
along whatever path
that you might forge,
to wherever you sprout.