Tuesday, March 31, 2015

These Streets Are Yours, You Can Keep Them


I was in Philly for a wedding earlier this month, & I decided to turn it into a more of a vacation than just a quick weekend away. I couldn't find flights under $350, so I planned to make the six-hour drive to the City of Brotherly Love, but I knew that, exhausted & possibly hungover, I wouldn't be keen to make the drive back to Ohio the morning after the wedding.

And so I went to New Jersey for two days.

Specifically I went to Red Bank, where I lived for a year & a half - &, yes, where my ex-boyfriend still lives. I know what you're wondering: No, I didn't go for him. No, I didn't see him while I was there or even talk to him ahead of time. We were on good terms for awhile, & while I guess we still are, we don't talk anymore - which is, I suppose, the way breakups are supposed to work. I worried the whole time that I would run into him around a corner & that I'd seem like a huge creep for being there, until I remembered that people who live in the same cities break up all the time & do probably run into each other, so once wouldn't kill me. Anyway, it didn't happen.

And anyway, I didn't go for him. I went for me.

When I left Red Bank in November 2013 to live alone in Washington, D.C., we decided to try the long-distance thing. I went back to New Jersey for a two-week visit over Christmas, & when I went back to Washington, D.C., I never expected that I wouldn't return - but we broke up on January 4th, & that was that.

There are a lot of things I miss about living in Red Bank, even though I know that leaving was the right decision for me at the time. It's just such a nice place - quirky & cool, with a distinct little downtown full of cupcake bakeries & consignment shops & an indie movie theater & a board game store & the best taco place ever & Kevin Smith's comic book shop &... I didn't love living there, but that's not because it's not a great place. It is. And lately, I'd found myself missing it, like I'd never gotten to say goodbye - because I hadn't, I guess.

So I went back. I stayed in a teeny-tiny hotel room in an historic inn just steps away from my old apartment, on the base of the beautiful Navesink River. I had no plans except to do whatever the hell I felt like doing in the moment, which translated into: sleeping in, shopping, drinking a lot of lattes, eating multiple tacos & macarons, visiting an old lighthouse, wandering around parks in very cold weather, & driving by the beach because it was too cold to get out of my car. And then, when I didn't feel like doing anything anymore? I went back to my hotel room & slept, or caught up on my favorite TV shows, or wrote, or read magazines, or... did whatever the hell I felt like doing in the moment, like I said. And it was glorious.

For some reason, I'd been newly having a bit of a hard time with the breakup, despite the fact that it happened 15 months ago; I guess I've been having a hard time in general, with life. I worried that heading to the town formerly home to my now-decimated relationship would be depressing, particularly after a weekend of joyful celebrations of someone else's love. I feared I was setting myself up for sadness & wallowing & dredging up old memories that are better left buried. But you know what? It was some of that, I guess, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. Mostly, it was just cathartic & quiet & perfect.

I listed to Bastille's "These Streets" a lot throughout my visit, setting it to play on repeat as I walked up & down the streets of a town I used once knew so well. A lot of those old memories did come flooding back, but instead of pushing them down, I spent some time with each of them, turning them over in my mind, savoring them, & saying goodbye to them. It was bizarre, really, to know that my ex-boyfriend (& our cat) was just a few miles up the road, & to realize that not only do I not know this town anymore, but I don't know him anymore, either. I cried more than once, remembering the people we were & the life we had & the future we tried for; they all seem so, so far away, like someone else's story.

It was hard sometimes, yes, but it was peaceful, too. Mostly, it was closure, the kind that sticks. And as I hummed along to the album that got me through that breakup, I knew this was the last song of my personal soundtrack - that I wouldn't need to come back to Red Bank again. I might want to, maybe, but I didn't need to anymore. This did it.

Goodbye, New Jersey. You're a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Monday, March 16, 2015

27 Dresses, But All for the Same Wedding


I'm in a wedding this weekend for one of my very best friends. As one of three bridesmaids (plus a bridesman), I was asked to find a navy blue, cocktail-length dress so that the wedding party gives off a Destiny's Child vibe - coordinated but not quite matching (my analogy, not the bride's).

I was so excited to choose my own dress. Something that fits! Something that's flattering! Something I'll wear again! I set to work searching for my perfect bridesmaid dress.

Bridesmaid dresses can cost, like, $300, & I didn't want to go that route if I didn't have to. Instead, I started at all the standard mid-level places prone to decent dresses: Kohl's, LOFT, GAP, J. Crew, Dress Barn (stop laughing). I tried the standard Internet places: Modcloth, Shabby Apple, eShakti, ASOS. And I stepped it up a notch to department stores: Macy's, Nordstrom, Dillard's.

Alas, it seems navy blue is not one of 2015's hot colors. In fact, based on most of this year's dress inventory, you'd never know that the color navy blue exists at all. Of what I could find, certainly nothing screamed "This is perfect for a wedding!"

So I searched & searched, & I bought some backup dresses in case I got desperate. At a GAP outlet in Brooklyn, I scored an A-line dress with subtle stripes in shades of navy, probably too casual for a wedding. At the Kohl's in my hometown, I spent $20 on a chiffon-imitation polyester dress, probably a bit too short for a grown woman. At a J. Crew in Chattanooga, TN, I bought a scalloped shift in some ungodly heavy fabric, probably not matchy enough with the other bridesmaids. And from Modcloth, I found my best option: the Windy City dress, which was slightly too big but otherwise practically perfect in every way.

Exactly one week & $85+tax later, the tailored dress... does not fit. Or, rather, it fits, but it looks terrible. The tailor seems not to have taken into consideration my, uh, ample bust, thus altering the dress in such a way that the delicate pleats stretch nearly flat across my chest - but not flat enough to look, you know, good. The dress sags & bags in strange spots, giving the general feel of a plus-size woman who has no idea how to dress for her body - not exactly the image I want to project as I fly solo at my best friend's wedding.

I told the tailor, but I didn't do a very good job of it. When she rang me up, she said, "Everything is fine?" & I said, "The dress is too small," & suddenly she looked at me like she didn't speak English, & I got flustered &... paid her $85+tax & took my ill-fitting dress home.

So now, I've purchased three more. I cried on the phone to a J. Crew bridal specialist named Shekinah, who was equal parts stylist & therapist (the dress didn't fit, so I sent it back). I spent $10 on a LOFT dress from Poshmark that fits well but has the overall vibe of a blue barlap sack. And over the weekend, I bought a dress from a Macy's that fits like a dream (& makes me look skinny!) but that might not look right with the other bridesmaids.

All this to say that at this point, I have purchased 10 navy blue dresses, six of which I still own (& five of which I cannot return). All of them are fine, but none of them is quite right. I plan to take all of them with my to Philadelphia & make a last-minute decision based on which option makes me want to cry the least. When all is said & done, I had better A) end up looking damn good at this wedding, & B) thank my lucky stars that I look pretty decent in navy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

My New Favorite Place: Grandpa's Cheesebarn


There's not much to see on the highway drive from Akron to Columbus. Both of those places are real places, I swear, but there's nottt a whole lot in between them. It's exactly as you imagine Ohio to be (though I spend much of my life convincing myself exactly the opposite about the rest of the state). It's cornfields, mostly, & farmhouses, & a big outlet mall, &... that's kind of it.

Except for Grandpa's Cheesebarn.

There are signs for Grandpa's Cheesebarn starting miles & miles before you get anywhere near Grandpa's Cheesebarn. It's sort of legendary, even amongst people who have never been there - perhaps especially amongst people who have never been there. If you mention Grandpa's Cheesebarn to anyone from the northern half of Ohio, the conversation is the same: "Oh my gosh,  I've always want to go there! I always see the signs, but I've never been."

On a recent drive back from my mom's hometown, Lima - yes, the one from Glee - we decided the time had come. When we reached Ashland, OH, we turned off the highway & down the winding road that leads to Grandpa's Cheesebarn, my excitement building in a display of fairly bizarre & totally uncharacteristic enthusiasm. And then we were there:


Don't worry, there was nobody inside that mouse. I think.

Anyway, I don't know how to begin to describe to you the glory that is Grandpa's Cheesebarn. I guess I expected it to be sort of lame, a podunk letdown after all those miles of signage. I figured it would be small & weird & disappointing.

I was so wrong.

OK, actually, at first, I was a little let down. The downstairs is surprisingly void of cheese, save for this fantastic & massive cooler full of more than a dozen varieties of vacuum-sealed cheesecurds:


But I thought to myself, "This place has 'cheesebarn' in the name. Do you mean to tell me that this is all they've got?!"

And then I realized: There are two floors.

I planned to take photos of the upstairs of Grandpa's Cheesebarn, but I got distracted by eating, well, everything. They offer samples of nearly every kind of cheese they sell, which means you can take baby steps around the entire store, pausing every half a foot to inhale cheddar & havarti & muenster & colby & Limburger & cheddar - &, like, 12 varieties of each. Any cheese you've ever imagined, Grandpa's Cheesebarn probably sells. I checked their website to try to figure out exactly how many, but it doesn't say; my guess would be well over 100.

And if cheese isn't your jam, I don't want to know you they have tons of others stuff, too: jellies & jams, homemade jerky, dried fruit, pickled vegetables, flavored popcorn, loose-leaf teas... The list goes on & on, just like my excitement. You can try those things, too. In fact, you could eat a a whole meal at Grandpa's Cheesebarn, made entirely of tiny samples. I think I did, actually.

What I'm trying to say here is that Grandpa's Cheesebarn is basically the best place in the world. It's a palace. A palace of cheese. We arrived an hour before they closed, & it was not enough time for me to take in its full glory, so I'm already planning a trip back - not a trip where I pass it on the side of the highway & think of it as an add-on destination, but a trip where it is the entire destination.

Soooo who wants to visit me in Ohio? Surely I've convinced you by now that I don't live in the sticks, right?

...right?

Shit.

Whatever, I don't need friends. I've got cheese.

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