Posted: February 24, 2013 in Slice- 10

So I’m almost over the flu, having soaked through my sheets when my 103-degree fever broke — talk about rapid, temporary weight loss! — but I’m still a bit shaky, cough like a smoker and look like a zombie from “The Walking Dead.” I haven’t washed my face yet and have some sulfur zit cream on red spots on my chin. My hair is pulled back, showing those lovely gray roots. I’m wearing my version of a house dress – a huge 1999 WHC T-shirt down to my knees. Ya get the glamorous picture?

The doorbell rings.

I’m pretty sure it’s the workman from the roof over my head, who promised yesterday he would tell me when they were done tarring. I also really need him to take a look at my smashed window so I have an eyewitness to how bad it is when I call the landlord again. (The workmen may or may not have dropped something that smashed it months ago. I don’t know and I’m not about to accuse them.)

I yell for whoever it is to wait a minute, pull on the closest jeans (which are so tight I can hardly breathe), but I don’t want to waste time looking through my closet and have whoever it is leave.

It’s the workman, who is indeed done and about to take his supplies down the stairs and leave. I tell him about the window, he agrees to check it and I apologize for the mess, explaining it’s eBay items for sale, blah blah.

Yes, he agrees the window needs fixing and points out many other problems: cracked walls, crumbling plaster, holes, blah, blah. Yes, I know. I’m a bit busy to deal with apt repairs right now. I’m the last renter in the building, landlord hates me, blah blah.

He looks around some more and asks where my children are. (The horror/sci-fi toys, dolls, etc have caught his attention. Or maybe it’s the holiday star with flashing lights left over from Xmas over the fake ram’s head skull with demonic horns.) I have no children, no I’m not married, yes I’m single and …

Wait, what?

He asks if I have a man. (Oh, I see. He thinks “my man” should repair all this!) No I’m not dating anyone who is handy with repairs. None of my boyfriends have ever been handy like that. Yes, I do date men. (He’s wondering if I am a lesbian?!) I look to make sure the front door is still wide open and that I can still hear my neighbor’s TV on the floor below.

He would be happy to find me a man.

Wait, what?

I ask if he is running a dating service on the side when not repairing. Ha, ha, ha! We laugh heartily and he claps me on the back. Yup, front door still wide open. I move toward it, stick out my hand, say thanks so much, buddy. and ask his name so I can tell the landlord who saw my window. He reminds me he was here before doing repairs. (Yeah? So were a gazillion other repair guys in the multiple decades I’ve been here. I do remember my last window repair years ago when the guy cut his hand so badly I wanted to call 911 but he wouldn’t let me. I wonder if it was he, but I don’t ask. I want a nap at this point!) I politely lie that I think he looks familiar.

He turns as he is leaving and asks where my family is from. Mainly, Houston and NY. No, the countries. (Gee, I wouldn’t ask him that – swarthy skinned male, post-Sept. 11 NYC, too many opportunities. for unintentional insults. But at least it wasn’t a sleazy “does the carpet match the drapes” quip to the ill redhead.) So I tell him Germany, Italy, Ireland and Wales. We laugh about the melting pot. Ha, ha, ha!

He shakes my hand again and asks if I will drink during the holidays. (Yeah, starting right now, buddy!) Occasional drinker these days, good for the heart, nice to socialize, blah, blah. (Is this a live dating profile interview?) I’m sure the next words out of his mouth will be about his wonderful lonely friend, cousin, father, uncle, blah blah.

He informs me he drinks only socially as well, says he may be the one to fix my window if asked by management, shakes my hand again, and says over his shoulder as he exits that perhaps we will go out for drinks soon. We?

Wait, what?

I am completely horrified when I go back in the bathroom to finally wash my face – dried sulfur zit cream kind of looks like I have food left on my face! Colorful, deep purple circles under my eyes — Mother Nature is a vindictive bitch! But I think about the low level of light in my main room from all the shades being down. (There is also a construction site on the roofs across the street, going on for months 6 days a dang week. Since I’m feeling like a zoo animal, I keep them down as I go about my home office activities.) So maybe Malik the repair guy didn’t notice the horror-movie face. (Did I mention the unplucked stray chin hairs? I really am not making this crap up!)

So did a repairman – a very handsome repairman – hit on me? Or is he auditioning me for his lonely friend, cousin, father, uncle, blah blah. Is this creepy, flattering, a little of both? Or maybe he treats all single, never married, non-lesbian, middle-aged, childless, technically unemployed, not-stick-thin-women like that?

Wait, what?

Their wings were too small to see — mere buds, barely a blip on the skin. But they finally sprouted.

Some were cloud white, others a chocolate brown, or black with a blue sheen, cream, beige. Earth tones. But they are not of this earth anymore.

I don’t believe in any capital G kind of God as described by any religion. But I know. I *know* with the certainly that comes from knowing matter can never be destroyed, merely transformed. Water turns to steam, rising in a mist before your very eyes.

So, too, housed deep within their earthly bodies, I know that soft down pushed forth and gently blossomed. And slowly, with the pull of an otherworldly force they unfurled.

They grew.

They expanded right and left, simultaneously, till the span was far greater than the height of their small bodies.

The weight of the massive feathers, rising upward as the young innocents fell to the ground, lovingly drew out their souls. Their shining centers may have risen or floated or glided for a time, but, eventually, dispersed.

And for the older one, teachers, counselors, and protectors, their majestic wings were made of light, laughter, gentle words, helpful knowlege and warm hugs, and long since freed of flesh. And when they, too, fell to the cold floor, covered not with feathers, but with too much red, their flight was slower than the children. They were and are the guardians in life and after. And their jobs were not done till all were gentely gathered and could leave as one shimmering veil of lost live that moved — away — somewhere.

And though I believe not in god or heaven, I do believe in strength of will, determination and love and support of true friends, community and family:be it a biological blood bond, or the connection gorunded souls make when meeting someone new and the feeling is that of a lifelong freindship already established,

I never met any of you 26 felled in Newton, just 60 miles from me in NYC. I never witnessed your terror firsthand. And, I’m sorry, I won’t visit your many, many graves –because it hurts too much from afar and I would drown in sorrow that close to you. But my heart, mind, and currently grounded soul reach out to you in the ether. And I *know* you are free. Free of fear, pain and earthly bodies.

I feel you; I weep for you; I weep for the ones you leave behind — who didn’t see you glide away.

But I take a cleansing breath and know there is still hope. There is still joy — not today — but it will come again. People will come together and cement change, They must.

And then, one day soon, a gentle rain will fall, a mist of pure love.

You may ask, where the hell have you been?

OK, fair question. My best answer is down the rabbit hole.

My life has sucked.

My hovel of an apartment has sucked (and that ain’t changing anytime soon).

My chronic pain has sucked.

My job has sucked.

Hurricane Sandy sucked.

Oh, STD!

No, no, gutter minds. That’s what I say to myself when wallowing in a pity party.

STD: Stop Talking deMonterice. Or, in NY parlance, stop kvetching

I may stop talking, but I *had* to write. I mean, popping outta bed at 3AM gotta write.


Because Santa brought the good ol’ USA a sack full of slaughtered children and teachers.

WARNING: Do not read the following if you have the blues. ‘Cuz I cried before, during and after writing it.

Click here to read “26.”

I never cared for Mickey Mouse. I don’t find him cute.

Hmmm. Do you suppose “Mouse” is his actual last name? Who knows? And I don’t really care. I just know he irks me with his high-pitched voice, his freakishly oversized shoes (and you know I love shoes!) and his syrupy positive attitude.

As for the real thing: we had a mother’s helper when I was a kid who brought her pet mice with her. I thought they were cute enough in their cage. And I even thought the one resting on my palm was cute – first and only time I ever touched a mouse – until it simultaneously peed in my hand and bit my finger, drawing blood. The little creep was lucky I didn’t feed it to our cat! My babysitter from hell put him in my hand to show me “how cutesy- wootsy he is” – not!

So, I don’t like cartoon or real mice.

I’m not a morning person, no matter what time my morning actually starts. (Yes, this relates, hang in with me a moment.) I tend to stumble around, as if I’m not familiar with my own apartment, until the caffeine kicks in.

My eyesight is laughably poor. (Yes, this relates, too. You should know by now I like my tangents.) I wear my glasses first thing because who wants to shove little pieces of plastic in your eyes when they are still gummy from sleep? That means things viewed peripherally (where the lens of my glasses don’t extend) are blurry I-don’t-know whats. So, shadows startle me, fallen leaves from my houseplants turn into scurrying bugs and the irregular wood grain of the floor holds assorted creepy crawlies from my myopic caffeine-jonesing morning perspective.

When I saw a shadow move across the floor one morning, my first thought was, Man, my eyesight sucks.

My second thought was, Wait, did that “shadow” make noise?

But then my thoughts returned to a desire for more caffeine.

As I came back from the kitchen with more coffee, the blurry something brazenly ran right next to me, making actual scurrying noises. I’ve never heard a mouse running across the floor, but I knew it when it happened (once the coffee woke up my ears).

And the cliché of shrieking and jumping on a chair when seeing a mouse – completely true! Well, except for the jumping on a chair part – too much of a physical demand first thing in the AM. But I kind of twitched violently, spilling my precious wake-up fluid.

Oh, this mouse was going down!

Besides, I don’t want a roommate, especially one that wasn’t paying rent.

I kept thinking about a forensics show I’d seen about the Hantavirus, caused by mouse poop. A mousey virus that killed people.

This was a potentially lethal mouse!

Yeah, yeah. You think I’m overreacting. But then you probably like Mickey Mouse. Or you’ve seen cute little field mice scampering outside of your equally cute house in some rural area and say, “Aww.”

Folks, this is a New York City mouse! A big (O.K., not so big) tough rogue mouse that had scaled multiple stories to invade my space! A mouse with attitude and chutzpah (non-New Yorkers, look it up). Whether or not it had disease, it scared me. Yeah, big (O.K., also not so big) tough me was freaked. It was a mighty mouse (no capitals here as I don’t mean the heroic cartoon mouse I actually liked from childhood.)

So, now what? I may slaughter all manner of things in my horror short stories. But I didn’t really want to kill this little (yes, I reluctantly admit it was quite small) critter.

First, I covered my bare feet with shoes. Now my feet were safe. A good first step, ha ha. Next, I tried to figure out where the mouse had actually disappeared to. I knew it had to involve a hole of some sort.


Have I mentioned how screwed up and decrepit my Manhattan apartment is? There’s poorly cut holes where pipes emerge under my kitchen sink and behind my gas stove – plenty of room for a mouse.

But the biggest holes weren’t even holes, they were looming abysses.

I have heaters that are recessed underneath my windows and hidden behind a removable metal panel. Take off the panel, and you see the floor just stops, but the apartment doesn’t. The lazy hack who’d designed (and that is so not the right word) my studio, just hadn’t bothered to extend the flooring all the way to the wall. So, herein lay the afore-mentioned abysses that led to the space between my place and the apartment below, at least  ten to 12 inches wide in places and who knew how deep.

Can you say, “Hello, mousey”?

The panels had little doors that flipped up so you could stick your arm in and adjust the heat without removing the whole thing. And the door on the left never did close correctly. I was betting it was literally a mouse door.

Well, problem solved. I’d just duct tape the door and prevent him from scaring me awake in the future.

Done and duct taped. While I was at it, I taped up every crack and crevice around the heaters. And in the kitchen, too. I didn’t really know what kind of behind-the-wall access it had – was it like a big mousey city, with numerous intersecting “streets” back there? I wasn’t taking chances.

After using up most of the duct tape, I was feeling very smug.

Until I saw it again.

It ran exactly in the direction I had predicted it had come from: the panel door that hung partly open.

Which I had just taped closed.

I think it may have banged its nose on the closed door (no, I didn’t feel sorry for it and you can’t make me, not in my apartment!). So, it did a rapid turn, took off in the opposite direction and dashed behind my desk.


Shades of “Tom and Jerry”! I swear, sometimes my life is a cartoon. (Though I’m much cuter than Mickey, but I’ll admit Jerry is probably as cute as I am, another mouse I do actually like, being as clever and conniving as he is.) Actually, at that moment, I felt very much like the clever but luckless Wile E. Coyote in one of his many failed attempts to trap the roadrunner.

Fine! I untaped the stupid door. Come on in, mousey!

How exactly was I supposed to communicate with the mouse that he could now leave the way he came?

Rodent speak failed me.

I simply waited, perched on my bed, where I had a good view of the room.

I got impatient. I threw various non-lethal objects close at hand toward the desk to get the whiskered squeaker to move: tissue box, books, shoes.

Finally, it got the hint and ran back through his doorway.

I ran almost as fast to retape the door. 

About ten minutes later, I heard a shriek from the woman below me.  I knew that kind of screech. I pictured her cowering on a chair.

I had to smile. I like the woman downstairs with her 4 AM parties about as much as I like Mickey. Hearing her scream had almost made it worth dealing with my temporary rodent roomie.


A lot of people I’ve met from other states think life is really like “Sex in the City.” Yeah. Right. I’m a writer (like Carrie Bradshaw) and an editor and I have noooo problem affording Manolo Blahniks by the truck full with my salary. Yeah. Right.

And, of course, I’m more than happy to strut down NY sidewalks and streets in said expensive heels. (I’m not saying “Yeah. Right,” again here because I’m tired of it now. But you can infer I’m sneering and rolling my eyes.)

Have you ever looked closely at a NY street or sidewalk? I mean, really looked. If you’ve only seen them via TV, probably not. Let me assure you, they are full of potholes, cracks, crevices, grating and sticky wads of gum and other things I’d rather not look at closely and wouldn’t ask you to either.

So, when Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie was tripping along her way in stilettos, I guarantee you she would, in reality, off camera, be tripping a long way. It’s fine if you only walk from your limo to the entrance of some event, usually padded with red carpeting. But for the real women of NY …

Here’s the real deal: I’m meeting a guy for a first date at a restaurant a few blocks from my apartment. I’m wearing a fab little black dress, clingy, but not slutty, and my killer red high heels with a black stripe down the sides (O.K., so maybe the heels are just a smidge on the slutty side, but, you know, in a classy way).

Usually, because some of the best-looking heels hurt after a while, I wear flats and carry heels in a tote, I then change into the fab shoes right outside whatever restaurant, bar, event etc. I’m going to. (My male friends roll their eyes and make fun of me. My girlfriends completely understand.) But since it was such a short distance from my apartment, I figured my feet could handle it.

Little did I know my shoes wouldn’t fare so well.

I’m half a block from the restaurant when one of my heels gets stuck in a sidewalk crack. Really stuck. I tug upward repeatedly and finally free my shoe – but not my heel. It’s still stuck in the crack while the rest of the shoe is on my foot. Lovely! Not lookin’ so classy now. I bend down, not in the least bit gracefully give my unbalanced feet, and yank the hell free and just stare at the stupid thing. Cheap not Manolo Blahnik shoe (more like Payless)!

I have two choices. I can hobble into the restaurant, which is a lot closer than going back to my apartment, and embarrass myself on my first date. Or I can hobble back home (just as embarrassing), change my shoes and be late, which will probably piss off my cute date.


I limp into the bistro and greet my date. He’s not looking at my feet. I explain the situation and he bursts into laughter. Yeah, I tend not to pick sensitive guys.

I tell him I just want to sit down, enjoy a meal and then deal with the gimp back to my apartment to change. (Not that I really want him to come back to my place afterward as that is not something I do on a first date. Having been stalked a couple times, I prefer not to even let a guy know exactly where I live until later in our relationship. But cheap fashion has kind of forced my hand, er, foot.)

I have had many other instances, just wearing heels for a short bit on my lunch hour or something, when a heel gets caught in a grate or other trap and, though I free it without it breaking off, it strips the leather (assuming I splurged and am actually wearing leather shoes) off the heel. All you can do is glue it back down. But it leaves a sad remnant of the lovely heel it once was.

With one of my cheap pair of shoes with many scuffs marring the plastic, the shoe repair guy told me I could do a better job with a magic marker than anything he could do. I own just about every color of maker out there.


O.K. So, I’ve learned my lesson about cheap shoes. On the other hand, the most expensive pair I own costs a whopping $72 plus tax, and were much less comfortable than dirt cheap pairs I own. In fact, these gorgeous “expensive” shoes of mine I dubbed my taxi shoes. People think it’s because they are half yellow and half black. But actually, they hurt so darn much when I’m not walking on carpet (and said carpet is not usually of the red variety in my social circle) that all I want to do is call a taxi!

So, the moral of this story is, ya gotta be filthy rich enough to strut your tootsies in expensive shoes on the streets and sidewalks of NY that you can afford another pair when they snap off.

And even if you can afford a new pair at whatever price range, when you have a fab pair of shoes that meet an untimely death, it breaks your fashionable little heart! I mean it’s a shoe! Right ladies! (Or at least you gals who can’t get enough like me.)

I feel I should say something like, sole sisters unite. But that would be silly.

One of the things I really love about New York City is there are restaurants serving almost every kind of food from all over the world – except, in my experience, really good Texas barbecue beef and pork. I know from the good stuff, having gone to college in Houston. I used to buy barbecued meat at the Houston airport (yes, believe it, airport food doesn’t always suck) from a vendor who knew how to wrap for air travel, and bring it to my dad, who couldn’t get enough of the rich smoky goodness. (O.K., now I’ve made myself really hungry and I don’t have time and money to fly to Houston for dinner!) And if you readers out there do actually know of good Texas BBQ in New York City, please, please, please let me know.

Anyway, lots and lots of yummy interesting food can be had in the city. And it’s always fun discovering new places. So, one day, I was shopping in the East Village with a friend and we decided it was time to chow down. But where? So, many choices and a whole lotta “been there, done that” – we wanted to try someplace new.

So, we’re walking along, perusing menus in the windows of restaurants that displayed them, and peering into the interior of others to decide if we deemed them worth a try. Nothing really struck us as very compelling and different.

As we were approaching the end of one block, we saw a guy wearing a waiter’s uniform come tearing around the corner. He held something furry at arm’s length, that swung from his clenched fist.

What the hell? My friend and I stood transfixed, watching.

The critter was about half the length of his arm and the tail, which he was holding it by, was fluffy with fur. But it was not the right shape to be a cat. And furry meant not a huge rat. It was a grayish color. No stripes on the tail, so not a raccoon.

The waiter continued running till he came to a tree in a sidewalk planter that was full of weeds. He threw the creature into the planter and vigorously scrubbed his palms against his apron. He looked down at the animal and shuddered with fear or disgust, and then rapidly disappeared around the corner he’d come from.

“That’s too big and hairy to be a rat,” I said to my friend. 

He agreed.

“I can’t stand it; I gotta know,” I said.

We both grinned and walked toward the mysterious critter.

Nervously, we approached the planter and peered into the weeds. Was it still alive? I wondered. If so, it was likely to be pissed at its rough treatment and might take it out on us. If it was dead, it might smell really bad, which is not my idea of an appetizing pre-dinner experience.

But we had to know.

Unfortunately, this was in my pre-smart phone days and I didn’t have a camera handy. So, no emailing a photo to a friend to ask, “what the heck is this?” Or Googling guesses as to the animal’s identity.

But from what I remember from the last time I went to the Bronx zoo, we were looking at a very stiff and very dead possum.

Yes, a possum.

Now we have lots of squirrels, mice, pigeons, a hawk or two and, unfortunately, rats in NYC. But possums are not native to the area. You don’t see them just hanging around in Central Park or ambling along your window sills. On the other hand, we have our share of nutty characters who like their exotic pets, illegal thought they may be to keep in an apartment. (Goggle “NYC tiger in apartment” for some examples of really stupid “pet” owners.)

I don’t know much about possums – whether they are dirty, disease-ridden creatures, or cuddle worthy (the later is unlikely given the sharp-looking claws the dead one was sporting). But I and my friend were pretty sure we didn’t want to go to a restaurant that had them hanging out in the kitchen, or wherever that waiter had found it.

“I think we should skip that block entirely,” I said to my friend, pointing in the direction from which the waiter had come.

“Ya, think?” my friend agreed. “Eighth Street’s got some good eats,” he suggested.

So, onward we headed, eventually finding a nice cheap Middle Eastern restaurant that seemed completely free of possums.

(And props to me for never once making puns about the impossumbilty of it all!)

Now, I love a good beer pub crawl, with the best of  ’em. In fact, when I first met the members of my writer’s group, they said they had an important question to ask me. OMG, I thought (OK, this was in the pre-texting era, and I actually thought, oh, my gosh), are they going to ask how many stories I’ve published? Or did I win any awards? Does an honorable mention count? I wondered.

“Do you,” the group leader asked, “like beer?”

Yeah, baby! These were my kind of people!

But there is another side to me. (Well, actually I have so many sides I should be a hectogon.)

I also love champagne and sparkling wine. And so do most of my writer buddies.

So, when I saw a discounted offer for a champagne and sparkling wine event, I had to go. Time to upgrade to a champagne crawl. No, that doesn’t sound right. Champagne connotes class, sophistication. How about champagne sashay? Yeah, that’s better.

One of my best gal pals and I attended the event. First, though, we had to get past the check-in desk. I gave my name to the cheerful woman reading through the list of attendees, who said, “Well, there you are at the very beginning of the list. We do it by first names.”

Then I gave my friend’s name and, simultaneously, another woman checking people in said they couldn’t find her on the list and the one who’d found me, announced she made a mistake. Excuse me? My name is not Ann Smith. I guarantee you there is only one Alexa deMonterice in NYC, and probably the world (not many of my family members left.) Clearly, this gal needed some reading glasses.

They asked us what discount service we had used. There were various check-in lists grouped by discounter. Who remembers? I use all of them; I love a bargain. They were starting to treat us as if we were trying to scam our way in. Puh-lease! If that were the case, we’re creative people; we would’ve thought up a better approach.

Finally, we remembered we had smart phones and could show our confirmation emails for the event. And they let us in as if they were doing us a favor. Now I really wanted a drink!

We were each handed a real wine class embossed by the NY Gourmet Society, which I then belatedly remembered was where I’d bought our tickets from online. Real glasses, not plastic cups – yup, definitely a step up from beer.

And then the fun really began as we were handed brochures with table numbers and a description of the wines offered at each. Picture it: a ballroom-sized room with 27 tables, each offering from one to four different wines, 65 in total. Fill ‘er up!

I immediately recognized one of my faves: Marquis de la Tour, less than nine bucks a pop. I grabbed my friend’s arm and told her she had to try it. The pourers filled our glasses half way. She and I looked at each other. We weren’t going to last very long at that rate. Oh, well. When in Rome …

Then we wised up and realized we should start with the most expensive wines. We may enjoy drinking, but we knew we weren’t going to be able to sample all 65 wines.

Yeah, I know what some of you wine connoisseurs are thinking: sip and spit. Well, I’m more a fan than a connoisseur. I think it was about an hour before we realized there were buckets at each table where you could dump out (I was so not going to spit out) the rest of the wine after a taste. But the more expensive selections poured much less than half a glass. Sometimes forcing (all right, no force involved, encouraging is perhaps a better word) us to have a taste of what else was offered at their table.

We sashayed from France (of course!) to Spain to the US to Italy, fortifying ourselves with free slices of bread in between countries.

I felt obligated by my Italian heritage to linger at the Italian table, where we discovered a sparkling red. Who knew? The only sparkling red I’d ever had, from my I’ll-drink-anything-cheap college days, was Andre Cold Duck, which isn’t quite as sweet as Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, but pretty dang close. (Have I come a long way, or what?)

The Lini Lambrusco Rosso, was a little strange, almost a jarring combination, with a robust red mingling with bubbles. But not jarring enough for us to dump out our glasses. With red meat or a hearty lasagna, it might work, my friend proclaimed.

As the giddy glass refills continued, we came upon what would be our favorite (for that moment), Moet & Chandon Rose Imperial, and at $45, one of the more expensive. (Sadly, there was no Cristal at the event.) It was so good we were determined to buy a case at the one-time event discount price and split it.

But we’re fickle drinkers, and as we were ready to leave, we decided to try just one more. We ventured to a corner of the room we hadn’t yet explored. And stumbled, rather literally at that point, upon Lanson Black Label Brut, the official champagne of the royal family of England, we were told. Whatever. It rocked. In fact, we decided it was as good as the Moet or very nearly so, and a mere $29.99. My friend pointed out the price difference didn’t match the taste difference. The woman had a point. We had a new winner! We scratched the Moet off our order list.

As we donned our coats, we realized the wine glasses were ours to keep, so we licked them clean and shoved them in our bags. We gave a wistful glance to the ballroom as we left; new attendees were arriving and the party was set to go on for another hour without us. But we, hiccup, knew when it was time to go.

We happily waved goodnight to the check-in woman with the lousy eyesight, hugged our bags with their precious wine glass cargo and headed for our respective subways, visions of cases of champagne sashaying in our head all the way home. A fab, fab evening indeed!

Hello, my name is Alexa, and I’m a web-aholic. I can’t live without the Internet. Well, at least not happily. And I’m kinda shocked to admit it. I mean, I live in NYC. It’s a fab city; a happening city, full of fun and quirky stores and even more quirky characters.

I know I’m dating myself (which is probably illegal in many states) by saying this, but I remember typewriters, paper, pens and pencils. Yes, people, the rudimentary way of writing something that then had to be handed in person to someone or snail mailed. (I also remember not having to use “snail” to specify what type of mailing I meant.) But why deal with other human beings when you’ve got the web, right?

I was really sick and stuck home for weeks, which in a noncyber world would’ve sucked big time. Being in between bad relationships, how’s a NYC gal supposed to get medicine, food, pay bills? (My electric company wouldn’t care I was too sick to walk a few blocks to the post office.) But yay web and access to supermarkets, drugstores, restaurants and online bill pay! And, of course, girlie things like makeup and fancy undies to cheer me up, computer games to quell the boredom, patterns and fabric for sewing, books (the physical kind, still haven’t done the reader thing yet, that’ll be another column). Packages arrived on a daily basis – almost as good as Christmas.

Writing was not happening as I couldn’t concentrate well enough to string together coherent words. And I really missed blogging and my fiction writing. But at least I had emails with friends to keep me company.

When I finally ventured out into the real world again. I realized how much I had missed the most basic human contact (beyond delivery people), even just chatting with someone in line at a store. I decided not to order anything online for the next few weeks and do all my shopping in person: strolling supermarket isles, trolling bookstores, fingering fabric in person, trying on makeup samples, scouring hardware store shelves for just the right screw or hook. Plus, my computer had to go into the shop for days on end, so I really didn’t have a choice.

People, people and more people. Clerks and managers and fellow shoppers.

Cranky people, indifferent managers, rude staff, pushy-shovy customers.

Salespeople in small stores often pounced on me, while large stores often left me adrift without any help – huge, sprawling stores with sooooooo many choices it was dizzying. I needed a search function to narrow down my choices!

Yeah, it was nice to be out and about interacting with other humans, briefly. But, mainly, it was incredibly time-consuming and exhausting! And often fruitless – no, I don’t mean I had trouble finding fruit – I often couldn’t find what I was looking for or flat-out gave up in exasperation. And the prices were often way, way higher than online.

So, I learned an interesting lesson: Yes, it can be nice to interact with random strangers who have something in common with you by virtue of shopping at the same place. But the time I spent NOT finding what I was looking for, and the money I spent on subway fare was so not worth it. If I’m going to spend money and time to get somewhere, I want to end up meeting friends; going to a flea market; or some fab, funky store; seeing a band – not trolling through mega-stores and tiny boutiques with salivating salespeople.

So, don’t get between me and my computer or my brand-spanking new smart phone!

So, I’m heading home on the subway at crush, er, rush hour. The only thing that is less fun … is a root canal. But it’s fast, and I’m lazy and my only other alternatives are an expensive cab ride, which will crawl through traffic at 5:15 PM (kind of like a snail on downers) or an equally packed bus (faster than a snail, but not much). Oh, all right, I coulda walked. Yeah, right. I just worked nine hours at a crappy job and I am soooooo dying to walk 30 blocks to get home – not! Plus, I’m on an express train, so I’m looking at maybe 15 minutes of this mass mush.

So, as I mentioned, I’m on a packed subway. I’ve managed to wrap a few fingers of my right hand around a pole, but the other hand, my entire arm in fact, is smooshed against my side, gripping my purse in this crush of humanity. Why do I like living here again? Oh, yeah, something about the diversity of people – most of which seem to be crammed into the same subway car as me.

I notice a guy near the door staring intently. At me. Do I have dirt on my face? Is my lipstick smeared? (I now wear stay-put lipstick, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog in itself.) I’m a subway savvy New Yorker – I know you don’t stare back. You just don’t. So, I turn my head as best I can in this situation, and gaze at the frayed split ends of the brunette woman next to me, and the ketchup stain on the tie of a guy in an ugly brown suit. And, inevitably, my eyes cut back to Mr. Stare Happy.

He has a fold-up table under his arm and a huge opaque black trash bag at his feet. Oh. He’s a street vender, heading home, just like me. Except he probably spent all day outside on his feet next to his table of wares on some street corner in midtown.

Whereas, crappy job aside, I had a comfy chair to stick my butt in all day. OK, so maybe he isn’t a nut job or a would-be stalker. Though dealing with the public all day is enough to drive anyone over the edge. (Yet, another blog for a later date.) Whatever … I wish he’d stop starting at me so intently.

I watch the stations whiz by and realize my stop is just moments away. Mr. Stare Happy, still drilling me with his gaze, stands next to the doors. The exit doors. The doors that I will have to walk through, past this creepy guy, to get off this dang train.

I’m thinking of “like a deer caught in headlights” and the way rabbits freeze when they know prey is near, hoping they won’t be noticed. Well, I’m not Bambi or a fluffy bunny. I don’t scare easily. I will not be intimidated!

But my heart is really starting to pound as I see the train is approaching my station. I won’t use the cliché of my heart “leaping out of my throat,” but have you see the movie “Alien”? Well, my heart feels like one of those critters about to claw its way outta my chest. OK – dammit – I’m scared. Me. The loudmouth tough broad, frightened by some squirrelly weirdo who may want to do … something to me.

I could stay on the train for several more stops till the train is less full and I can get further away from him. I’m calculating the next stop and how far away that is from where I really need to be.

Screw that! Crappy job equals cranky gal, and I want a soothing glass of wine within the next few minutes, not a half hour from now. Ya know, assuming this guy isn’t knife happy in addition to stare happy.

I tell myself I’m overreacting.

The car slows, the bells dings, and the subway doors open. A whole bunch of people ahead of me will have to leave or move for me to get out. And, just my luck, Mr. Stare Happy isn’t one of them. I take a deep breath, putting what I hope is a determined, you-better-not-even-think-of-messing-with-me look on my face, and shoulder my way to the exit.

I can barely breath – I’m just trying to keep the alien critter behind my rib cage from bursting through my chest wall and staining my really pretty blouse. And, of course, I’m trying to scoot as far away as possible from Mr. Stare Happy as I exit.

He moves toward me.

I turn my head away from him. I won’t acknowledge the freak. Just let me get safely off this train.

I pass him and manage to get one foot safely on the station platform.

He lunges at me!

He grabs my hand and shoves something into it. I twist away from him and stumble onto the platform.

I turn around, staring back at him, shocked. The doors close. He presses his face against the glass, still staring intently, but with a slight curve of a smile to his lips.

No, no, no, no, no! What the hell did he just shove into my hand? I don’t want to look.

I have to look.

My fingers are curled reflexively around something soft; dark green material peeks through my clenched fist.

Did he just shove his snotty handkerchief into my hand? Do men even use handkerchiefs anymore?

I really, really don’t want to look, but, of course, I have to. I slowly uncurl my fingers to reveal a folded square of green material, silky and beautiful. It looks pristine. New.

I unfold it slowly.

It is indeed pristine. And new. And not a trace of snot. And the most beautiful shade of emerald green. And it feels silky because it is silk – the tag says so.

Holy crap. It’s a lovely scarf. It’s … a gift.

What the hell?

Mr. Stare Happy must sell scarves.

Maybe he doesn’t speak English. Maybe he’s shy around women. Maybe he is just a weirdo – yeah, probably is. But for whatever reason, he stared at me and decided I had to have something beautiful that only he could give me at that moment. Maybe he recognized the look of another human who worked a crappy job and needed some cheering up.

No one’s ever given me a silk scarf before. I love it! Of course, the guy could have found a slightly less terrifying way to bestow it upon me.

I tie the soft material around my neck and remove a hand mirror from my purse. It looks fantastic with my coloring. I pat the scarf in place, a relieved and happy smile on my face, and I wonder if the scarf vender does this on a regular basis.

I’ll probably never know.

I head home, still wanting that glass of wine, but now in a slightly better mood.

New Yorkers are used to seeing homeless people on the streets and sidewalks – almost every street and sidewalk – sometimes more than one begging on a single block. You get jaded. You can’t help it. I mean, what am I, a social worker? Am I supposed to give to these people who may be junkies, alcoholics, meth heads, or wackos? I’ve been attacked, pushed, shoved and spit on by these, these … people.

Hmmm. They are actually people. They are actually my fellow human beings. I don’t know for sure what led them to beg, plead and sometimes literally cry, tears running down their dirty faces, for a dollar, a quarter, a mere penny. Some may have gotten themselves into this fix due to their lifestyle; some may be crazy; or they might have been sane when they first were forced to live on the streets and the became crazy.

As a science fiction fan (stay with me, folks, I swear this is related), I think about the apocalyptic movies and TV shows I’m seen where a lone human, shell-shocked and desperate to find another survivor, searches through rubble and walks down eerily empty city streets hoping to see another human. The lone human, usually the hero, is often grubby, streaked with dirt and debris and, presumably, if he or she has been searching for a while, doesn’t smell very appealing.

See where am I going with this?

If said hero comes upon another human, the hero is elated, relieved that another of his kind survived. They might even embrace, forgiving of any body odor or ragged clothing. These fellow humans wouldn’t care if one had been a banker, lawyer or a street person in their past lives.

So, with those kinds of thought and images deep in my brain, but still a jaded New Yorker, I sighed when I saw a man begging outside the supermarket on a bitterly cold winter afternoon. Great, I thought. Now I have to avoid this guy twice, both going into and exiting the supermarket. Rather clever positioning on the guy’s part, actually.

I don’t often go to that particular market, but they have a few items the health food stores don’t carry. I couldn’t find the frozen veggie dinner I was looking for, but I did find a gorgeous plant, a new flavor of Belgian beer, and a yummy-sounding raspberry chocolate bar. I bought ’em all.

The exit is a double-door situation, giving me time to put my gloves back on. The homeless man was still smack-dab in the middle of the entrance and exit of the supermarket. And as I set my bag down to button back up my warm new winter coat I got for Christmas, I heard the beer bottles clink and saw the plant tip. I grabbed the bag to protect my groceries: the beer, the chocolate bar and the beautiful plant. Not a single nutritious necessary-for-sustaining-life item among ’em.

Alexa, I chided myself, are you really going to give the poor guy outside the cold shoulder a second time? I mean, my shoulders are toasty and warm. His jacket has holes in it and looks more appropriate for summer than 19 degrees with a bitter wind chill, and his bare hands are almost as red as my stylish leather gloves.

I took off my gloves, still standing inside the double-door exit area. I looked for small bills. Maybe a couple of singles ,,, screw it! I removed a bill, put back on my gloves, picked up my “groceries” and exited the store.

I walked up to the man – gosh, he was old enough to be my grandfather. This homeless man should be enjoying a warm Florida afternoon in a rocking chair on his porch.

I handed him a five dollar bill and said, “Take care.” Lame! Shouldn’t I say something more profound?

He looked me in the eyes – many homeless won’t even raise their heads to look at who gives them money – and his face crinkled into a huge grin, revealing many missing teeth. “Thank you, ma’am. Bless you, bless you. I wish you a joyous year,” he said. He looked at the $5 for a long moment.

“Bless you, too. I hope things get better for you.” Also, kind of lame, but I didn’t know what else to say. A tear rolled down my face. I smiled back at him. And hurried away from my fellow human, embarrassed by overwhelming emotion. (I hate to cry in front of anyone. Makes me seem less the tough New Yorker.)

No one – NO ONE! Should be that grateful for a $5 bill.

The tears were really flowing now, and I didn’t want them to freeze on my face. I stopped to wipe them away, and take a deep breath to calm myself. I wasn’t crying just out of pity, but at the thought that I had helped one human being have a slightly better day. I felt grateful and more than a bit guilty that I could afford to buy frivolous thing like those in my grocery bag.

No, I’m not a social worker. And I can’t give $5 or even $1 to every homeless person I pass. But I could help one old man have a meal tonight, and if he spent part of my gift on a bottle of booze as well, that was his business. He was entitled to a little drink of joy, too. After all, I lifted his spirits and he lifted mine.