The Small Pleasures of Suburbia

1 Sep newyorkcity

Because I am old, I was recently listening to Gerry Rafferty on Spotify. Because I’m not that old, I only know two songs of his: the one from Reservoir Dogs, when the one guy cuts off the other guy’s ear, and what turned out to be “Baker Street.”

I was pretty excited when I found out it was called that, because the mister and I are pretty much obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, in all his incarnations: Sherlock Holmes as a modern-day Londoner, Sherlock Holmes as Angelina Jolie’s ex-husband, Sherlock Holmes as Sherlock Holmes. We’ll take whatever Sherlock Holmes you can give us. And, I suppose I should mention, Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street — although if you don’t know that, I don’t know why you’re reading this, as I’ve only got about five readers left and they’re all friends and family. My point is, Mom, why don’t you know where Sherlock Holmes lives? That’s my point.

I discovered the song’s name by Googling snippets of lyrics on the Metro North, on my way into the city. The only part I could remember was, “Give up the booze and the one night stands.” Pretty typical, as you know, if you’ve ever been at karaoke with a bunch of people who think they know all the words to any song from the ’70s or ’80s. It’s a lot of, “Blah, blah, BLAH BOOZE AND ONE NIGHT STANDS.” That’s a pretty A-plus line, anyway, but some of the others really struck me:

This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul
And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything

You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re tryin’, you’re tryin’ now
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy
But you’re cryin’, you’re cryin’ now

Well, holy shit. I wish I’d done some pre-Spotify Googling earlier. This could have been my theme song during our last year in the city.

When we left Brooklyn, we got distinctly mixed reactions, depending on the location of the person with whom we were speaking. City dwellers tended to act like we’d announced that we were joining Scientology, while suburbanites were most often relieved, like we’d shaken off a debilitating fever. Both had a point.

Personally, I don’t feel like we switched teams or something. We lived in the city for a long time, and enjoyed it for a while, but then the city changed and we changed and it was time to go. Last weekend, I went into Manhattan to have drinks with friends, and the subways were screwed up. That in itself was no big deal — it almost made me nostalgic. What was a big deal was that I walked 16 blocks from Union Square to Nolita, and didn’t see one single bodega the whole time.

This isn’t yet another post declaring New York over. As long as you or I or anyone we know can remember, New York has been expensive, dirty, scary, tough, and just plain not for everyone. But more to the point, it’s not for everyone forever.

In the new place, we have a few things I forgot about during my time in New York:

  • Appliances. So many appliances! Appliances to wash dishes. Appliances to wash clothes. A working refrigerator that was built during this century, and a microwave that lives in the wall above the stove.
  • Central air. TBH, I never had this before in my life, but it is magical. Yesterday, a friend IMed to ask me if it was hot out, and I wrote back, “I DON’T KNOW! ISN’T THAT GREAT?” I’m basically a rich person now, let’s be real.
  • Quiet. I used to have insomnia. Not since the move. I sleep like I’ve fallen into a well filled with hypoallergenic down-substitute quilts.
  • Friendly people. Everyone says hi here in our new town. It only took me two months to believe that they weren’t trying to recruit me to a cult.
  • Grocery stores. Hubley family lore goes that years ago, Great Aunt Tinka arrived from Slovakia and wandered into a grocery store … and nearly refused to go home. Whenever someone asked what she wanted to do today, she’d ask to go to the grocery store, where I assume she fondled the produce until she was asked to leave. Fuck Disney World, Tinka wanted to go to the A&P. I am now Tinka.

It’s pretty nice here, is what I’m saying. It’s been four months, and I have no regrets at all. I’m not saying you should move. I’m just saying, if you do decide to move to suburbia, there’s some pretty nice stuff here.

Obligatory Escape From New York Post

1 Aug
New outdoor office.

New outdoor office.

It was hard to move to New York, and hard to leave. Both took six months, thousands of dollars, and enough tears to fill a Slurpee container (one of the big ones, the kind that are making Americans fat). Ten years after the first big move, and three months after the second, I can say both were the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Moving to New York gave me my career, my husband, at least half of my closest friends. It shaped my character: I’m trusting and enthusiastic by nature, and living in New York allowed me to build some much-needed defenses. I’m not a soft touch, like I used to be, although my face still tells people I’m interested in what they have to say. It’s the best of both worlds: people rarely hit me up for money, but always tell me about their painful divorce when we’re standing in the checkout line.

Moving away from New York gave me back my time, allowed me to relax, and appears to be improving my health. I do yoga here, and ride my exercise bike 50 miles a week. (Go ahead and laugh, actual athletes. That’s pretty good for me.) I go for walks. I go outside every day, no matter what the weather. This afternoon, I worked outside on my laptop, but didn’t fall into the screen like I usually do. I spent long minutes watching the clouds go by. It would be interesting to see what my cortisol levels are.

I’m glad I moved to New York, and glad I left, and even gladder that I live close enough to go back whenever I want. Maybe the best kind of escape is like when I used to run away under the dining room table when I was a kid: enough distance from the noise to encourage peace, without a major life upheaval.

10 Things I Learned From 3 Years of Being Sort of Poor

31 Dec
Image: JD Hancock/Flickr

Image: JD Hancock/Flickr

Over 45 million Americans lived in poverty as of 2013, according to the Census Bureau, and I have never been one of them. There’s a big difference between poverty and what I’ll call, for want of a better term, sort of poor, which is essentially temporary financial embarrassment. The former means that you live with food insecurity, exploitation, chronic fear and danger; the latter means short-term anxiety and, hopefully, long-term empathy. I’m trying my hardest never to forget what it was like to not be absolutely sure that the rent money would be there when I needed it. In the meantime, I’m writing down a few things a learned while I was less well off than I am now.

First, a little background. For three years, my husband and I were sort of poor. How did that happen? Well, I got laid off, like many of us did over the past few years, and then I decided to go freelance. It took a while to build things up to the point where I made as much money as I did working full-time for an employer. Just prior to that, Adam went back to school. I’ll always be grateful that he didn’t look at me like I was nuts when, a few short months after he embarked on the education phase of a new career, I told him I wanted to start my own business.

Without getting into numbers, being sort of poor meant that we were living, in New York, on what amounted to one salary — and that salary was a normal salary, not a normal-for-the-city salary. (I make that distinction, because The New York Times often runs pieces featuring “middle class” folks who moan about not being able to pay private school tuition on a quarter of a million dollars a year. Those were not our circumstances. We survived on what would have been a nice middle-class salary for, say, Pittsburgh, not Brooklyn.)

In practical terms, it meant that we could pay the rent and the grocery bill and our health insurance and our other expenses, as long as nothing ever went wrong. We couldn’t go on vacations or out to dinner or buy a lot of stuff, which didn’t bother us much — neither of us is what you’d call spendy under the best of financial circumstances. The problem, of course, was that something always went wrong.

Which is the first lesson I learned, while we were sort of poor:

1. Something always goes wrong.

For example, about two years ago, my back went out. After several specialists and X-rays, it was determined that physical therapy was the best course of treatment. Fortunately, I was still on COBRA at the time, so I had physical therapy appointments included in my coverage. Unfortunately, I need two of those per week, to the tune of $30 in copays each time, and my PT office was an hour away and took an hour to complete. That meant that each session cost me around $150-$200, between the copay and the lost wages. Good times.

2. Being poor is expensive.

I did not bounce a check during our temporary poorness, a fact of which I’m inordinately proud, but I did go into cash reserve a few times, and I had to charge some things, like the aforementioned PT and occasionally, groceries. I could add up what all that cost me, but it’s too depressing and I don’t wanna. Let’s just say this: I spent a lot more than a rich person would have on the same services, and not through lack of planning or the inability to save. There was just no way to avoid it, at times. We’re lucky that we lived in a place where we didn’t have to have a car, or we might have found ourselves in an even worse situation.

3. No one wants to hear about it.

Listening to people complain about money is like listening to them talk about their weight or the dream they had last night. It’s just not very interesting to anyone but the person who’s speaking. Not to mention, in the last couple of years, everyone’s had their own problems. Still, it’s hard not to talk about it. When you don’t have money, it’s hard to think about anything else. Every thought, every brain cell, is focused on how to scrounge up what you need to survive and avoid running up bills you can’t pay.

4. Being poor is bad for your health.

During the past three years, I’ve had insomnia, weight fluctuations, heart palpitations, panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. I also wore the enamel off my teeth by grinding them while I was sleeping, and at various times, I probably drank too much. I put away massive pots of coffee, trying to stay awake after nights of not sleeping. I quit my gym membership, and tried exercising at home, with limited success. Not to mention, when you’re on a budget, you’re not eating the finest organic produce and sprouted grain bread. And, of course, being poor is stressful; stress is bad for your health.

5. It’s hard to get by without luxuries … or vices.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I don’t want to give that homeless guy money. He’ll just drink it away.”? After three years of fake poverty, I can tell you that I will never say that again. I would prefer that the homeless have access to services that will enable them and every person on earth to have a warm, clean home, a healthy lifestyle, and whatever therapy they might need so as to avoid behaviors that harm them. In the meantime, if that guy wants to drink up my dollar, he can go ahead. Look that one up under “Business, Nunya.”

By the same token, people love to pick on anyone who says they’re broke, but is wearing lipstick or clothing without huge cartoon hobo patches. I went a long time without buying anything when we were skint, and then every so often I’d have a sort of consumerist breakdown and drop $50 at Sephora and feel like the worst person on earth. I’m sure there are folks who are perpetually responsible in our position, but I don’t think they’d be much fun at parties.

6. Appreciate your friends and family.

One of the things that separates the temporarily financially embarrassed from the truly poor is a personal social safety net. Adam and I were lucky, in that we had family members who would send us larger-than-normal birthday checks or float us loans when we needed them, and we were also fortunate enough to have friends who did things like give us furniture and recommend us for apartments when we found out that we were getting kicked out of our place. (Not for anything we did, I hasten to add. See earlier re: something always goes wrong.)

Without our people, I don’t know how we could have made things work. Certainly, the whole experience was humbling and awe-inspiring in equal measure. Adam and I are not people who enjoy asking for help, and we were continually amazed at how many folks came forward to offer help before we could even ask.

7. Ask for help.

This was perhaps the best personal lesson. It was hard for us. It’s hard for almost everyone. But there are no people on the earth who can do everything by themselves 100 percent of the time.

8. Remember that everyone needs help.

Along the lines of the empathy I mentioned earlier, I’ll never look down on anyone who needs assistance, financial or otherwise, whether it comes from family or the government. Whenever a politician starts talking about the takers and the givers, remember that most of us are both at one point or another in our lives — if we’re lucky.

9. Dream big, but don’t get bummed out if you can’t do your dream job right now.

The whole Do What You Love dealie is problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it’s pretty much geared solely toward privileged middle-class people with access to education and leisure time. If you’re not Doing What You Love right now, don’t let it drag you down. It took 10 years of work for me to get to a point where I could freelance, which is what I always wanted to do, and then maybe two years of that to figure out what I was good at and what I wanted to spend the bulk of my time working on. And then I had to figure out how to earn enough money at it. DWYL is a fine goal, but it ignores not only whole groups of less-privileged people, but also a fundamental fact about work: namely, that sometimes, it’s going to suck, even if you love nearly everything about your job. There will always be paperwork to do and meetings to endure, no matter how successful you become.

10. It’s important to care.

There were days when I was adding up numbers and trying to make my finances come out right and everywhere I turned, there was another article about how the U.S. is now an oligarchy and pensions are being cut and there’s no hope of having what our parents had at our age. The instinct was often to give up, lie down, roll over, and take a nap.

Instead, we have to keep fighting and voting and writing and working and trying. And while we do that, we have to remember that we’re all on this bus together, and that it’s a terminal route. Empathy, compassion, refusal to judge one another — those are the best weapons against a world that tries to make us believe that the people who have things, deserve them, and the people who don’t, don’t. I’ll try to remember. Will you?

A Whole Bunch of Reasons Why We’re Pretty Much OK, Even Though We Have Bedbugs

8 Apr

On Sunday, the exterminators came, and with them, spring and hope and sunshine and the vigor of youth and the wisdom of extreme old age.

I’ve been very proud of myself during this whole ordeal for not crying once. (Now that I’ve said that, expect buckets of tears.) Various friends have pointed out that I seem almost cheerful, which is odd, given our situation right now. I have a few theories as to why I’m relatively OK:

1. I’ve been getting a lot of exercise. Yesterday, I looked at my desk-bike thingie and thought, Oh, the plague is here. I don’t have to exercise. Then I remembered that I actually like exercise and that it helps my mood and makes me feel better about things that are beyond my control, like bedbugs and the existence of the Koch Bros. (Family corporate motto: “Koch Bros.: We actually do own your soul. No, really; look it up. We bought it on Tuesday, and it was cheeeeap.”)

2. Chocolate chip cookies still exist. We don’t have any right now, because of all the laundry-doing, but I did buy fixins, and I’m going to make a gigantic batch this week, at some point. This is in keeping with my theory that I can eat whatever I want, as long as I make it from a lot of ingredients using many bowls and spoons and measuring cups.

3. It could be way, way, way worse.

If you’ll forgive another list in an article that’s basically already a list, here’s a bunch of things that could be worse:

1. We could be really sick. I’m part Eastern European and part Ulster Scot, so I’m forbidden from mentioning possible disorders, lest we catch them by displeasing the fairy folk or the gods or what-have-you, but bedbugs are not the most horrible thing that can happen to a person’s body. Let’s just leave it at that.

2. Cockroaches are way worse, from a public health perspective. They don’t bite you, but they carry disease and lovingly lave it all over your food and underpants with their horrid little tongues and sticky feet. (I don’t know about the tongues, but the exterminator told me all about roaches’ feet. They are sticky. Sticky. Isn’t that awful? Sticky feet. Ugh.)

3. There could suddenly be no such thing as music, for some reason.
I don’t know why. Maybe unhappy fairy folk, from above? Anyway, I’ve listened to “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, about 100 times since all this began. AND I AM NOT SORRY.

4. We could be homeless. There was a bad moment during our last search when I realized that it is totally possible for a nice person from a nice family and a nice background to wind up living under a bridge in our society. Which of course made me think about how odd it is that “nice” (read: middle class, not necessarily through any actions or inherent good qualities of our own) would matter in that calculation, even for a minute, even in my own head. Some people have nothing, is the bottom line. We’re not among them, and for that I’m everlastingly grateful. We have friends and family and see evidence of human kindness every day. We are among the luckiest people in the world, and I try to remember that.

5. We love each other. The exterminator told us that he’s seen couples get divorced over bedbugs. People scream at each other, in front of the strangers who’ve come to help. I would literally eat my own head from the inside-out, like one of those flip cartoons on a loop, before I would embarrass Adam in front of another person, if I could prevent it at all, and I know he feels the same.

It would look a lot like this.

It would look a lot like this.

So while Chris Rock was right — “If you’ve never contemplated murder, you ain’t been in love” — it’s also true that if you can’t be respectful to your person in public and private, you’re not ready to have a functional relationship. I don’t take any credit for this, by the way. Again, it’s luck: we met each other once we’d been through enough stuff to know the value of our connection, and to band together in times of stress instead of tearing each other down.

Anyway. That’s a lot to be to be grateful for. Eventually, we’ll be done washing things and freaking out every time we see a piece of lint, and that will be an embarrassment of riches, to be sure.

Also, I haven't woken up to see a plague doctor looming over me. So that's good news.

Also, I haven’t woken up to see a plague doctor looming over me. So that’s good news.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

How Quickly Can You Invent a Reason for Horrible Bites All Over Your Body?

7 Apr

I ask because I came up with about 20 explanations in an hour or so, when I woke up early Saturday morning to the sensation of a million tiny teeth nibbling on my arms. Among them:

1. Heroin withdrawal. Slight problem: I have never used heroin.

2. Allergy to medication. That’s a good one! I thought to myself. I’m on millions of meds for my disorders, both real and imagined. I spent additional time self-implanting memories of swollen lips that appeared after taking my thyroid meds.

3. A new STD. I would be very forgiving of Adam, I decided, or of myself, if it turned out that I’d developing sleepwalking, sleep-picking-up-randos, and sleep-sex as a side effect to the medication allergy I was definitely experiencing.

4. Shingles.

5. Hysteria.

It turned out to be bedbugs, of course. It’s always bedbugs.

Here’s a picture of a puppy in an Easter basket, because bedbug pictures are too horrible to behold:


Image: Jeremy Duff/Flickr

So, We’re Moving

18 Dec

Less than two weeks ago, our landlords told us they were selling the building, and to kindly GTFO ASAP, and many other acronyms as well.

We’re waiting to hear about an apartment, and hopefully it will work out, because Adam and I have very different ideas about what constitutes a dream home.

Adam’s dream home:


Basically, Mr. Burns’ house from “The Simpsons.” Bonus points if it comes with dogs and/or a vengeful spirit. He likes this place because:

1. It’s big enough so that we can be alone whenever we want, even if there are people over.

2. Lots of space for video games and/or vintage apparel.

3. Additional bonus points if the neighborhood resembles a demilitarized zone.

My dream home:


Basically, the Plaza, circa Eloise. I like this because:

1. Doormen and other attendants mean that I never have to either do anything for myself, or ever forget how special I am.

2. Gym in the building means that there’s a 32 percent chance that I might actually work out.

3. Often a bar nearby.

You see the problem. Please, everyone, send your good energy into this place that we’re waiting on right now. Otherwise, we’re going to have to move into the Addam’s Family House. It’s the only place that boasts genuine opportunity for terror and doormen.

10 Things That Changed in the First 10 Years of Jennie Smash

4 Nov

So, last month was my 10-year anniversary of having this here blog, and in my now-typical fashion, I failed to commemorate it, because I was busy writing things for money and/or sleeping.

In the past year or two, I’ve sometimes thought about rolling up the old blog for good, or refocusing it on something more, er, focused. For the past 10 years, I’ve kept this blog largely in the manner of Victorian daybooks, or a 12-year-old’s diary: in other words, for fun, and without any real unifying theme.

That makes it kind of fun to go over my old posts, and remember how I was at the time. My first post, for example, was about how pissed off I was. About what, we do not know — it is lost to sands of time and the internet, or something.

In short, even though some of the old writing is embarrassing, I like having the time capsule. So I’ll probably keep on blogging sporadically, until I go on a diet, and then I’ll blog every day for month.

Here’s where I’d put a transition, if I were writing this for money. And now, in no particular order, here’s what’s changed in my life over the past ten years! (Trumpets blare.)

1. I write stuff for money. OK, technically, my job ten years ago involved some writing, but bylines were few and far between, and I mostly moved content from one place to another and summarized it.

2. I’m married. In 2003, my longest post-college relationship was about three weeks long. My friend and traveling companion Adam has put up with my ever-migrating pile of shoes and sweaters and tendency to talk to myself for five years.

3. I live in New York. In 2005, I ran away from home at the age of 29. I think everyone is pretty surprised I survived here. I still wish we could get the high-speed rail dealie going so that I could visit my folks in Massachusetts without losing half a day and all my marbles getting there, but I still love New York 10 months out of the year. (The bad months, as any New Yorker will tell you, are August and February.)

4. I’m an old.
There’s a whole new generation of workers now, and they have every bit as bad a reputation as we hoary old Gen Xers did when we first arrived. Seriously, young folks, do not despair: when I was your age, we were all going to ruin the world with our high ideals and poor work ethic. You’ll change the world, and the world will change you. Ten years from now, you’ll be rolling your eyes at the whippersnappers in the intern pool, and everyone will have forgotten how you almost ruined everything with your Twitters and crowdfunding and sexting.

5. Parts of my body just stopping working.
This is probably part and parcel of No. 3, but did you know that your body can just, like, crap out on you? My thyroid went first. Thank God we live in the future and they can give you medicine for that, or I’d look like a cartoon witch, brittle hair and misshapen body included. (My hairpins still fly out all the time, even when my thyroid medication is optimized, so we won’t count that.)

6. I’m an aunt. My sister has two kids now, Oz and Luci. It’s sort of hard to remember what life was like without them.

7. My folks retired and moved to the Cape. This means that I have a summer house, which is very convenient, as my income stream is variable and unpersuasive to mortgage brokers.

8. I’ve been a redhead so long now that I really don’t know what color my natural hair is anymore.
I seem to remember that it was vaguely gingery-browny-ash-blond — a.k.a. boring grownup white person color.

9. I no longer wear heels unless someone is getting married or has died. Even then, I carry flats in my purse.

10. I’m addicted to my Kindle, even though I never thought I’d get on board with book-replacement technology. In fact, I spend so much time looking at screens every day, I’m pretty sure I’m going to have cataracts by the time I’m 40.

I’m still, as you might have guessed, a hypochondriac.



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