Three weeks ago...

Shoving four dollar bills through the slot to the woman behind the
bulletproof glass, I say "Two tokens please."

"Tokens?" The attitude hits me, and then I remember.

I am handed a Metrocard instead. Ah, yes. No longer does the New York City
Subway run on tokens anymore. I have been away for so long now, I forget
that things have changed. They always do.

"The only constant is change." - BT

Summer in New York. Return to my roots.

The first thing that always hits me when I walk off the plane is the smell. And the humidity. L.A. this ain't. Then, it's the same: I maneuver my way through foot traffic to reach the curbside area so I can jump into my father's moving Nissan as my parents inch their way pass taxis and driverless limos. Hugs and kisses will have to wait once we reach the Thruway Diner for a late-night nosh and park the car.

And things have indeed changed...

Trump is building more skyscrapers in my "little" New Rochelle. Condos have
gone up by Five Islands Park. The Food Emporium has transformed into an Equinox. The white picket fence leading to the entrance of my parents' apartment has been ripped out of the ground; a water fountain now stands in a patch of gravel. And that blue house over on Davis? Red.

My five-day visit to the Right Coast started with a subway ride into
Manhattan on Friday. Walked Broadway in the torrential rain. Ate some
doesn't-taste-like-this-anywhere-else pizza. Met friends. Hopped from bar to
bar. Three beers and three cocktails later, I found myself scarfing down chocolate chip pancakes at a diner on the outskirts of Hell's Kitchen at two in the morning. I woke up a little after nine on the Upper West Side hangoverless and craving an old-fashioned bagel with fat-full cream cheese. Nothing tastes like that carby goodness smeared with Temp Tee as you're riding a bus to catch your subway ride back to the Bronx.

Saturday saw me flashing back to my high school days (ah, those 90s) as I watched my valedictorian cousin Lauren (the one who was diapers last week?) deliver her speech and bring the family (well, more like her dad) to tears. She blew the rest of her class out of the academic waters - full-tuition scholarships, a summer program at Oxford, and other credits that couldn't fit on the graduation program. Diploma in hand, she posed for pics under an umbrella outside Blessed Sacrament Church, where I had received my first penance, communion, and confirmation years ago at the elementary school just around the corner. I remember the school masses, the readings up at the dais, the giggling behind hymnals as my classmates and I listened to a bum
fart and snore his way through the rehearsal for our first communion ceremony. If that church could talk...

Sunday was the party at Villa Nova Restaurant in Pelham, the same catering hall where my cousin's baptism party was held eighteen years ago. More memories there. A sweet sixteen party in the fall of '96. A graduation bash on the second floor for the Class of '98. Wedding showers. Birthday parties. One thing they had in common: the awesome baked ziti and white wine. Yum and yum.

More family. More fuss. More food. It was an exhausting day.

My Tuesday fllight back to Los Angeles took off from JFK on time, and as I sat back in my seat, cradling Anderson Cooper's memoir under my arm and listening to the neighboring Australian couple excitedly whisper about Brendan Fraser sitting in the cabin ahead of us, I wished I had had an extra day or two to spend in New York.

All of that melancholic reminiscence flew out the pressure-sealed window once I landed in L.A. I had work to look forward to, acquaintances to call, friends to lunch with, resumes to pimp, RSVPs to make. Like a salmon being thrown back into a rushing stream, I jumped back into my network and caught up with all the buzz.

Now, back to my regularly scheduled programming...

This past Sunday I accepted a day job working on the breakdown crew for a vintage auto show on Rodeo Drive. Kathleen hooked with me up with gig and together we arrived on the scene. Lunch for the crew was supplied by the Luxe Hotel. We ate wraps and sipped some iced tea on the penthouse balcony which overlooked the boutiques and trendy trattorias of the Beverly Hills block.

What followed was one of the most fabulous evenings of my life...

We were the last two to stick around and make sure Rodeo Drive was returned to its
normal chicness. After a little shopping in Guess? I met Kathleen back at the Luxe, where the hotel manager, the ultra-suave Jersey-born Jonathan, had bought us a round of drinks for "working so hard out there." I gladly accepted my French Martini and joined Kathleen, who had already befriended a pair of cocktail-swilling Austrailian women on the sidewalk patio.

Lindy and Rhonda were children's fashion designers from Melbourne who were in Los Angeles via New York for business. Both were elegantly dressed and appeared to have had a penchant for pinot noir. Realizing our Thai dinner plans in Hollywood would fall through, Kathleen and I ordered some appetizers and chatted up a storm with the friendly Aussies. Rhonda gushed over her wonderful children, all in their 20s, and Lindy bragged about her precious 9-year-old son. Rhonda soon insisted on buying us another round, and who were we to turn down more free booze? We raised our glasses, smiles all around. "Here's to meeting fabulous new friends," Rhonda toasted.

Conversation ranged from exotic cities we've visited to criticisms on the current administration in the U.S. I had the pleasure of introducing the ladies to the creamy decadence of mac 'n cheese; Lindy couldn't get enough of the food orgasms. Jonathan brought out more bottles of wine for all to enjoy, "on the house" nonetheless. I ran to the restroom to do a quick costume change and show off the new tee I had purchased earlier. Everyone loved the fabric and design. Dessert was a caramelized pear tart a la mode, compliments of the chef, and I was sure my stomach would stretch out the shirt to a new size.

We made sure our waitress, Martine, was in on the fun as well. She sat down for a minute to share her excitement of moving to New York City to pursue a career on Broadway. We all wished her luck and continued to revel in the magical feast that was laid out before us. More chatter followed. I entertained the table with my 40-year-old-woman-who-goes-to-Heaven joke. Rhonda and I talked music. Lindy told Kathleen about the joys of motherhood. Pictures were taken. Business cards were exchanged.

By the time I finished my second martini, Kathleen was finishing her third and the ladies were on their second bottle. It was nearing midnight, and the bill arrived. Rhonda took it before anyone could argue and charged it to her room. I was utterly grateful and hugged Rhonda farewell as she and Lindy left to return to their rooms and prep for their morning flight to the East Coast. Kathleen, Jonathan, and I remained, taking in the night, the quiet of Rodeo Drive, the amazing generosity of two fiftysomething fashionistas from Melbourne. Who knew the day would end like this? Would we keep in touch? Or was this just a once-in-a-lifetime experience to cherish and jot down in a diary? I will hold onto their contact info in hopes of communicating with them someday. Perhaps a future trip Down Under? Maybe a rendezvous in Manhattan over more martinis?

God, what a night. What could top it?

Certainly not tonight, which was the release party for "The Devil Wears Prada" at iCandy. The open bar was the only incentive to go. After two Smirnoffs, Karim, Pearl, and I quickly became bored of the scene (what, no Anne Hathaway cameo?), bailed, and met Swaga and Kerry for frozen yogurt down the street. My buzz soon wore off after tasting some Carbolite raspberry truffle and oohing over the cute puppies that walked by us on Santa Monica Boulevard. It seemed as if everyone was out for a walk on this
longest day of the year.

Tomorrow I hope to trek out to The Viper Room on Sunset to see an awesome new band perform. Under the Influence of Giants is straight out of Thousands Oaks, California, and I can't get their first single, "Mama's Room," out of my head. Picture a new millennium Bee Gees with an indie rock flavor. Pretty catchy. They are the latest addition to my personalized summer mix album (track listing to be found on Myspace). I highly suggest Limewiring or iTuning them sometime.

And whatever you do on there, avoid the new Paris Hilton single, "Stars Are Blind." I cringe even as I write this. Winner of the Most Overly-Produced Piece of Ear-Bleeding Noise Pollution of 2006. Someone, get it off the radio - please.

And in an attempt to squeeze more infotainment into this chapter, I gladly share with you these final tidbits: The Snow Patrol music video/trailer for Zach Braff's September drama, "The Last Kiss" is available to watch on his website. Looks like the perfect companion film to "Garden State." I am officially psyched...."Footballers' Wives" started its fourth season on BBC America with spousal abuse, a rape, and a baby smothered to death by a Pug (brilliant)..."The Lake House" was a disappointment (Sandra, come on!)...Nelly Furtado is the Beyonce of Summer '06...Madonna's Confessions World Tour was the best concert I've ever experienced...and I've gotten a
new haircut...well, more like a buzz...

School's out, kids. Wear sunscreen.


"Sometimes I get the feeling that I'm stranded in the wrong time, where Love
is just a lyric in a children's rhyme, a soundbite." - KEANE


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