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My family and the other hurricane that hit New York City

For perhaps the first time in my life, I made it through a weekend that had more excitement in store for me than I wanted or needed. 

Where do I start this story?

I’m back where I belong

We’ve been collectively put through the ringer with our nation’s moving target COVID and foreign policy situations in recent weeks. My entire family is fully vaccinated, but it would seem that not every person can say the same, as we witness the surge of the Delta variant. A hurricane that sounds like it was named after Cirque du Soleil started chugging up the East Coast, which is not irrelevant to this story, and on a more personal note, I’m starting my junior year of college. 

My cousin Olivia is starting at LIM in the next few weeks (congratulations, btw), so she and her father, my Uncle Rick, decided to drive down from Boston to New York City for the weekend in order to get their bearings. They also were doing me a major solid by bringing me a love seat and several boxes I’d packed to put in my dorm room. Meanwhile my brother and his girlfriend Mikaela were visiting the city as well, only this time as two people contemplating moving there next year after graduation. My Uncle Eddie, on my dad’s side, managed to come from Singapore to surprise his mother for her 70th birthday on Staten Island. All of this coincided with my college move in as an RA, which my parents would be overseeing.

So here we have, for the first time in my family’s history, a scenario in which several members of my family would all be in New York City for completely unrelated reasons. We’d be remiss if we didn’t all meet up in the city to take advantage of this level of serendipity. 

Do you guys think that they’re Yankees fans?

It was in that spirit that my brother booked us all a dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant that our Auntie Regal swears by. Apparently she took me there as a child, but damned if I remember. This time, I will have no trouble remembering “Da Nico’s” in Little Italy. I’m not sure if it was the spot-on Sinatra impersonator belting it in the doorway or the perfect roundtable we all sat at, but it was a nice break from the stress of our dizzying lives. 

We stepped out to be seated outside, only to have the host look up at the sky and say, “hmmm, it looks like it’s about to rain.” That bit of rain he was referring to was the start of Hurricane Henri’s reign on New York City that would later wreak havoc on our entire weekend. We spent our dinner inside, as the first hour of the storm raged on outside the window.

Our dinner at “Da Nico’s” and our brief trek through Chinatown was spent with us catching up with one another. I’ve lived in New York for the past two years and haven’t bumped into any famous people, but my cousin and uncle were in town for about an hour when they bumped into Naomi Osaka, fresh off her Olympic victory and on her way to the U.S. Open. Bobby told us about him and Mikaela playing chess in Union Square Park, so that he might relive a childhood memory, in which he played against a highly-skilled Cambodian chess player. 

During the actual dinner, we were gushing over our food, pushing our forks into each other’s faces, so that we could all try a bit of everything and figure out who out ordered the rest of the table. We underwent a similar ritual with the drinks as well. When we left the restaurant it was pouring rain, in a way I hadn’t seen in New York City before. People were huddling under awnings and sprinting through the puddled sidewalks to get to shelter. The rain was pelting us and we were sopping wet in no time, but I hadn’t quite pictured New York City in heavy rainfall before and seeing raindrops dripping off traffic lights was surprisingly pretty.

After dinner, we crammed ourselves into Ubers and cabs, and narrowly avoided hydroplaning all the way to the somewhat splashy Hyatt that we stay at in Bronxville whenever I go back to college. In the city, Bobby and Mikaela were staying in questionable hotel accommodations (no one in my family will ever use priceline again), but they’d be with us in our hotel a few hours later.

After a particularly loud and unpleasant incident that they’d overheard in the other room, my brother and his girlfriend came to stay with us instead, even though we’d thought we’d said our goodbye the night before. 

The plot thickens, I guess. 

Then their flight out of the city was cancelled due to the weather. 

The plot thickens some more.

And my college postponed my move-in by two days as well, also due to the weather.

Now the plot really thickens, I guess. 

The hotel I had to stay at for an extra day

I had a disassembled sofa and several boxes with no place to put them, surrounded by family members whose flights had been grounded by the storm. It seemed strange to all of us that my school would postpone a flight due to a hurricane, but then again I lived on the Florida line, where people will drive through flooded roads with tree limbs sticking out of the sunroofs of their cars on their way to work during a category five shit storm. 

The couch in question

I still remember attending a weekend drama club rehearsal and then eventually school, while everyone’s houses were without power and running on generators. As it turns out, this is the first hurricane that has hit New York in about thirty years. There was a shelter in place implemented, but none of us considered following it, since it was practically drizzling by the time we were all at our hotel. 

I met up with my friend Tyler since we were staying an extra day and then we met with my Uncle Eddie. Per our recommendation, we all ate at “Dumpling and Noodle,” a Sarah Lawrence favorite. The rain didn’t stop once so I spent my time in a perpetual state of wetness. 

After saying goodbye to Bobby and Mikaela, for real this time, I went to hang out with Tyler, who’d informed me that his uncle had a small role as someone who died in “Silence of the Lambs.” I forced him to watch the movie with me, so that he might point out his uncle as we watched, only to discover that his uncle hadn’t been in it and he’d mixed it up with a different cannibalistic movie. At least he liked the movie. 

The next day, my parents lovingly bought me some new pots and pans and groceries to make sure I had everything I could possibly need for my semester back at school, before going back home themselves.Now everyone has left New York but me, the day before I move into my school. The school had me holed up in the Hyatt, where I was supposed to finish writing my articles for my summer job and interview for classes. 

I spent my time clicking through my course catalogue, heating up the greasy leftovers I took off my family’s hands in the lobby microwave, and idly channel surfing on a TV that doesn’t have half the channels they say they have. At some point while I was doing this, the rain stopped outside. The hurricane had come and passed. 

It would seem that while my family was making its way up to New York, Hurricane Henri was doing the same. Now I’m off to work on my school work and oversee the schooling of the Sarah Lawrence residents that I will be in charge of. 

They’ve got a big storm coming too.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Beach Bum

After spending the past three weeks working three jobs and getting wisdom teeth removal surgery, I finished up my summer at Amelia Island beach with my family. It was the perfect vacation after my first few weeks of actually working a job and the perfect end to summer before I went up to college to start my RA training. The air is fresh, the ocean water is bath-tub warm, and the whole town is summer personified. Being cozy and calm, it is the epitome of the phrase “happy place,” all while being wrapped up in the romance of being a seaside town in subtropic heat. 

I’ve determined that I love the beach the same way that I love autumn weather and hot tea and if the beach is my favorite place then Amelia Island is my favorite beach. It is, of course, a playground for the rich along the waterfront with its Easter egg-colored oceanfront houses, that will have you driving the scenic A1A route every time. 

God, aren’t they cute?

I spent the days laying out on the beach, drinking hard seltzer corona (the only good kind of corona) and watching my skin get pink. In town we went to the local bookstore called “The Book Loft,” which has two stories of perfect-condition books on old bookshelves that you can just drool over all day long. I bought a book, as well, in the form of “My Policeman” by Bethan Roberts, as recommended by Harry Styles.

The first night there we got “Moon River Pizza” in town for obnoxiously large as-big-as-your-face slices of pizza. Did I need to get pizza at a trendy pizza joint with snarky bumper stickers and graffiti where everyone has a sleeve of tattoos and they only play rock music? Yes, I did. And it will be a tradition that I do so every year. 

Bobby and Mikaela arrived a few days later, after my parents and I were already tanned, burnt, and well-rested. To celebrate their arrival we ate at a Spanish restaurant, appropriately named “España.”

Ordering around the bane-of-my-existence, Achilles heel seafood allergy and mouth issue, I had steak with blue cheese, while the rest of them ordered tapas and meals that I was allergic to. The adults had sangria. The waiter took one look at me, and I spent the evening putting sugar packets into a glass of unsweetened tea. For dessert I had some tiramisu, as well as a few well-proportioned bites of everybody else’s dessert.

Walking along the bike trail the next morning, beneath a canopy of oak trees, we made our way to the Marche, a local restaurant that I keep forgetting I don’t like. I ordered a ham, egg, and cheese croissant and got a croissant that arrived looking like a giant pile of sandwich ham and waxy melted swiss cheese atop a load of scrambled eggs. Not the delicate, savory croissant I was envisioning. 

There also were potato slices that I did not want that were equally as flavorless as the eggs and my chai tea latte was just a tea bag in hot water that tasted like nothing. A singular onion would have solved most of the problems. We made up for it by spending the afternoon splayed out on the beach like McDonald’s French Fries under a heat lamp.

Oh and we also went to a bakery

Since my brother is adamant that we watch a film on every beach trip, we watched Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and The Sixth Sense after convincing Mikaela that it wasn’t scary. If she couldn’t sleep that night, it would have been Bobby dealing with her and not me. In the end, she enjoyed the film and I received double the entertainment by watching her watch the ending of The Sixth Sense for the first time. 

On our last day at the beach, we decided to spend it not on the beach at all, but perusing the shops downtown. We started by going into the antique, consignment, trash-to-treasure- shops where I found a crab plate to hold my jewelry, since I am a cancer, and then went to the equally enjoyable “Trailer Park Treasure.” It had an impressive collection of classic antiques, but also a dog, which is how you know that they were legit. 

In the afternoon we made our way to the art gallery, “Art on Centre,” and stared at the abstract lobby art. Abstracts are not my favorite; I like art that looks like things that I can recognize, that are of people, animals, and landscapes, not colorful blobs that are meant to decorate walls. But these paintings were fluid and exuberant, even if they were not representational. The colors were resplendent and vibrant and all around warm, while the sculptures were cool and ornate, but equally as satisfying. There were photorealist seascapes that are enhanced by dimming the lights, obligatory paintings of crashing waves, and at least one painting that invokes a chaotic, mixed-media judgement day fresco.  

Lunch was a quick trip to “Tasty’s” before going to “Pelindaba Lavender” and “The Spice and Tea Exchange,” because nothing makes a relaxing vacation more literal than lavender and tea. In an extremely purple room that sold all things lavender, I bought some nice lavender scented linen spray to appease my future roommates.

The luxury tea and spices came from “The Spice and Tea Exchange,” a shop I’d been eyeing all week. The whole room smelled like the rose petals and lemon shavings that made up their custom made teas. I stocked up on green tea for cramps and chamomile tea for sleep in full anticipation of any personal health problems that might befall me at college. 

It was a nice wrap up to my summer. Now, I am fully stocked up and relaxed for my impending college arrival. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

Punching My Clock

I have not been writing very much for good reason: I had three different jobs. I edited the current issue of my school system’s magazine, I worked as an intern for another local magazine, and throughout the work week, I worked as a receptionist at a law firm. 

The waiting room of the law firm

The perfect skin that I had when I left high school is now gone in exchange for stress-induced neck zits and under eye bags, because nothing says you’re no longer a teenager quite like a breakout of acne and a chaotic sleep schedule. I also had my wisdom teeth removed, because dental problems, I am told, always come at the best possible times for your work schedule. I can’t believe I am saying this, but I was actually looking forward to being at college, where less will be expected of me, as an RA, Junior, and potential intern.

The start of my time sheet

With my Kate Spade laptop bag and the two pairs of professional pants I kept on rewearing, I was armed and ready for anything corporate America could throw at me. I woke up at 7 so that I could work from 8 to 5:30 (8 to 12 on Fridays). Then I went home, counting my earnings for the day like they were strapped in my garter and I was walking away from my street corner. After work, twice a week, I went to karate, which is appropriate because when you work three jobs, you sometimes need to grunt and kick the air. If it weren’t for my three jobs, karate, and my biological need to sleep, I would have simply gone home and watched Working Girl. In fact, I spent a lot of my time thinking about the films that I could and would be watching if I was sitting on my couch and not being a productive member of society. 

Me, eating a cookie that my mom packed for me, while on the job

I’ve learned much about life through these job experiences. For instance, I learned that the expression is “punching my card” and not “punching my clock,” which more aptly describes the act of punching your time card into the time clock everyday. Also, through my various lines of work, I encounter people whose names, despite the difference in spelling, can only be pronounced “Fuck.” Sometimes, I get put on hold and I understand how I make others feel, often holding the phone to my ear for so long that I’m convinced I will get cauliflower ear. The phone won’t ring for several minutes on end and then suddenly, three different people will call at once needing everything. 

And they needed it by yesterday.

Me on a lunch break on my last day on the job

Because I worked with five other people (who I didn’t interact with much being the receptionist) and then worked alone as a journalist, there wasn’t much workplace drama to dish out. I did, however, often spend my lunch hour at my mom’s office where I learned about all of the hot gossip. So if you’re ever in need of an expert on the goings-on in the Valdosta legal scene, I’m your girl.

For the last half of summer, I was constantly working, but I didn’t mind it. Having a lot of work to do is like getting old; it’s the worst thing in the world except for the alternative. I think now I finally understand the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction people get when they have a job that they go to everyday. There’s a sense of pride in having a job. I knew that I accomplished something day in and day out regardless of how tired I was when I got home. 

My brief stint at the law firm came to an end when it came time for my mouth surgery. I’d been working nonstop leading up to it, that I hadn’t given much thought to the reality of getting surgery. I hadn’t, for example, given any thought to the IV they stuck into my arm that knocked me out in a matter of seconds. I’m sure I was their absolute favorite patient, having exclaimed things like “is that thing going into my arm? Where’s the novocaine? My arm is getting heavy. My arm hurts. Is my arm supposed to hurt? I’m getting sleepy.” This was met with responses like “my arm feels heavy too,” and “I’m sleepy too,” which is not always what you want to hear from a surgeon as you’re going under. I woke up twenty minutes later, convinced I’d been through a rugid, three hour long surgery and feeling like I’d been drop kicked. 

Mouth surgery has a way of feeling like a punch in the face that’ll leave you with sore gums, a tight jaw, and a liquid diet. High as a kite, my mother then dragged me to the car where I supposedly cursed a blue streak and demanded everything. The only part of this that I remembered was when I dove head first into my pillow with my mouth stuffed with gauze and my face wrapped in an ice pack. Being lowered into my bed, I told my mom, “I sleep on my face.”

“Not today you don’t,” was her response.

A swollen mouth

After that I took it easy and made it through this surgical rite of passage. Like all of my friends, I am forevermore without my wisdom teeth. So much of what I’ve been doing recently has felt like steps into adulthood. Working a couple of jobs, answering phones, and getting my first real dental problem has always felt like the type of things that were decidedly in the realm of adulthood, which is no longer nebulously far in the future for me. Here I go, trying to navigate it with as much grace as I can muster. 

So far, I have yet to disappoint myself. We’ll see if I can keep that up.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

I Think it was the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July is a holiday in which we celebrate some guys signing a piece of paper to get exempted from their taxes and we celebrate it by getting liquored up and setting off explosives in the sky. I kid, but only because I had a really fun time. 

This year, we were invited to a family friend’s lake house about four miles from Florida to watch some fireworks and grill out. That’s nice considering that my family never has big plans for the fourth. The holiday always comes and we just group up with someone else who is throwing a party. As long as we’re looking up at the sky as fireworks go off, we consider it a success.

The very American spread of food

It was a BYOB Fourth of July celebration, in which we brought an entire pitcher of white sangria, and since I also got tapped to bring a dessert, I spent the morning making a strawberry shortcake trifle with my mother. There’s something about making a strawberry shortcake trifle for a Fourth of July party, while sixties music played in the background, that made me feel like a sixties housewife. In the weird hypothetical I made up in my head, I was making the strawberry shortcake trifle using a recipe that I found in a lady’s home journal with a frilly apron over my Leave it to Beaver dress.

The strawberry shortcake trifle

At the lake there was day-drinking, grilling, music, boating, fireworks and old friends who we hadn’t seen since the start of the pandemic. At first we were playing some AC/DC, because nothing says celebrating America quite like listening to a band from Australia. Then, we got on a boat and drove through the lakes while fireworks went off, directly over our heads. We enjoyed other people’s fireworks, while navigating the dark water that was packed with other boats.

I took a million blurry pictures of my mother and her friends while trying to get the fireworks in the background. Then, we drove back to finally watch our own fireworks. Everybody valued their fingers and launched them off the docks at a safe distance, while we watched. 

It was a perfect and fun way to celebrate our country’s independence. There’s no better way to enjoy our country than to light off fireworks that, like most goods in America, originated in China. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

It’s always been my plan to one day throw a birthday party that is Midsummer-Night’s-Dream-themed, for I am a midsummer night’s dream myself, being born in the evening at the end of June. That plan is many years away and for now, I’ll just have to have a bit more of a traditional birthday party, where I break bread with my family and have a homemade meal. That’s what I did a week ago on my 20th birthday. 

It was a strange birthday, since it felt surreal to already be turning twenty. Two decades around the sun is something that I have yet to process. I couldn’t decide how I wanted to celebrate my birthday. Last year, during the global pandemic, I had Indian food and watched a movie. This year, for my first birthday in the new house, I knew that I wanted to at least swim in my own pool. 

The wrapping paper on the gifts I received ended up being gifts for my cats

The night before my birthday, I listened to “Teenagers” by My Chemical Romance, as a last minute farewell to adolescence. On the actual day of my birthday, I had lunch with my parents at the Passage to India lunch buffet.

I dressed up for the day

I continued with my karate that afternoon, because though I be but little, I be fierce, and then, finally, I had dinner with my parents, my great aunt Mac, and my grandmother. For my birthday dinner, my mother made me fried zucchini fettuccine, Stanley Tucci-style, and bleu cheese steak tips, Chrissy Teigen-style, plus some chocolate cake. 

Because I’ve acted like a princess my whole life, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on my seventh or eighth birthday, I convinced my mom to make me chocolate crepes in bed. Surprisingly, she actually did it, and even more of a surprise it became a birthday tradition every year ever since. It means, among other things, that I have a very sweet mother and that I need to marry a very understanding man. This birthday, however, my mother couldn’t make the crepes because she had work. She made them a few days later, over the weekend. 

Calypso joined me for breakfast in bed, but didn’t seem to believe that the crepe was food

In a way, the crepes were symbolic because they caused me to develop a birthday philosophy. A birthday is an excuse to be happy and to take it easy. I sleep in, eat my morning pastry, don’t touch a single dirty dish, and just overall don’t lift a finger if I don’t feel so inclined. 

I also pull the “it’s my birthday card,” like it’s a reverse uno card. 

Is this selfish? Maybe.

Is this how all of us would like to behave on our birthdays? Absolutely.

If you think I’m bad, just know that my mother doesn’t even go to work on her birthday.

All of my gifts were perfect with handmade, chocolate covered strawberries and a bouquet of flowers from my best friend Padgett, a birthday haiku and one whole dollar from my friend Tyler, and a sunset lamp from my friend Anahat, that I can’t wait to use in my dorm room.

Thank you Padgett!
Thank you Tyler!
Thank you Anahat!
Thank you guys!

Not to mention, there was a stack of books to add to my stack of books and some movies. I spent the day receiving birthday wishes from family and friends all across the country, because they know how to really make a girl feel special and loved on her birthday. 

That night, when I was met by moonlight while swimming in the pool, it truly felt like a midsummer night’s dream. While most people had an adolescence filled with flirting with guys, holding onto old friends, and skipping curfew, mine was filled with reading good books, exhibiting some anti-social tendencies, and doing whatever I could to out myself on the path to becoming the next great American novelist. But the course of true love never did run smooth and that’s what this is: true love, true love with myself all throughout my teen years and now it will continue into my roaring twenties.

A saga

And since I am an honest Puck and I have unearned luck, I’m wishing myself a very happy birthday and a very happy next decade. Your twenties are when things happen, I am told, so I can’t wait.  

What visions will I see!

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

A Day Trip to Jacksonville

Not much has happened to me since we last chatted.

I got a stomach bug that lasted several days, so I drank green tea (which tasted like dirt) to fix it, and then successfully passed it on to my mother. I got a new job, after extensive worrying about getting a job. I went out to a fancy restaurant in a fancy outfit to celebrate. I ate lots of chocolate, cream, and strawberries for dessert in what is known as pot de creme, which translates literally to “cream pot” (ya gotta love the French).

There, you’re all up to speed.

I never go to Jacksonville, unless I’m boarding a flight to Laguardia, but years ago, my family would take the occasional trip since that’s where the nearest Apple store is. We went to the Apple store this past Sunday to get new laptops for my mother and myself. I spilled orange juice on mine over a year ago and she lost hers. We make a great team. 

We hung around the town square in the withering Florida heat, passing by Nordstrom, Louis Voitton, Lululemon, and other stores for people far posher than I.

The wizards at the Apple store worked their magic and dealt with our new computers. Then we shoved some Mexican food into our faces before peeling out on two wheels to get back home in time to watch “In the Heights,” in theatres.  

Three days later, my mother and I went back to pick up my new laptop after its data transfer. While there, we got Panera, so I could continue my love of green tea. 

It was a really simple Sunday, but it also was proof that we’re getting back to normal. When locked up during quarantine, I was looking forward to the day I could spend an afternoon watching literally any movie in a movie theatre. A few years ago I might have considered this a boring Sunday afternoon, but now, after the year we’ve had, this is a better afternoon than most.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

A Baby in a Bar

This story takes place in Boston, known to its citizens as Bawstun.

My family and I spent the weekend visiting Boston, the so-called cradle of liberty, to celebrate my cousin Olivia’s high school graduation (congratulations Olivia) and to find out why it’s called that. With this being a family function and a graduation, I had to be a little bit more demure. I don’t think that anyone can accuse me of being buttoned up in my day to day life, but now it was time to bust out the professional pants.

The view from their apartment

After arriving at my aunt and uncle’s new apartment on the Mystic River, we all got dressed for her dinner party, which was held in the private room of an Italian restaurant, called Lucia Ristorante in the historic North End. It was time to whip out my blue jumpsuit.

It was the type of party where they place several meals on the table throughout the night and you help yourself, so I gorged on pasta and cosmopolitans the entire night, while fantastic music played. This meant two things: that I did not have to order my meal in Italian, like my brother wanted me to, because there was no ordering, and that regardless of situation and degree of inebriation, it’s impossible not to listen to Stevie Wonder and feel happy.

We went back to their place where I watched a sports game on TV, which I promptly misidentified as lacrosse and not hockey, with complete confidence. Next up was Olivia’s graduation. It was time black and white floor length sundress time. It also meant that my aunt was stretching herself thin and needing oxygen pumped into her as she saved seats for all of us on the bleachers. The event consisted of food for thought grad speeches and hundreds of names being called, all well recognizing the difficulties that the class of 2021 had to endure.

Saturday we took in the sights of downtown Boston. My aunt, my uncle, my brother and his girlfriend, my other aunt, my father, my mother, my uncle’s sister, mother, and stepfather, and his sister’s baby all went into the city.

We started at The Black Rose, a classic Irish bar, where we were served by a bartender from Dublin.

Some sport game I’d literally never heard of before played in the background, with throngs of people in the stadium- a replay from 2019, when such things were allowed. The important thing is that it wasn’t lacrosse or hockey. Jerome, “Rome” to his peers, who is the first pandemic baby I’ve ever met, accompanied us into the bar. We received no dirty looks and he ate a bunch of french fries. 

Walking down the street, I made a spiritual visit to their local Kate Spade store and proceeded to get one of their laptop bags. God bless.

Me at the Kate Spade store, buying a purse. This is not the purse I bought. This is a purse I bought a few weeks ago, because I might have a problem

Further down the street was lunch at the all-American restaurant “Union Oyster House,” which happens to be the oldest restaurant in the entire country.

We walked through the Holocaust Memorial, because not every part of a trip should be fun. Some parts should be somber and reflective. Then we crossed the street to the oldest working bar in the United States, Bell in Hand Tavern, where every visitor is encouraged to drink their Bell in Hand specialty beer, invented by the Samuel Adams Beer Company.

Following that, we closed out our adventure by laying out on the grass like it was Haight-Ashbury, in the green space in the middle of the city. Nearby kids, including Rome, played in the fountains to beat the heat of the current North Eastern heat wave.

We then had to work outside in the heat after day-drinking to set up for Olivia’s outdoor graduation party, which went about as well as it sounds. In case you’re wondering what it’s like when sisters get together to set up for a party, just know that my mom at one point threatened to cut off my aunt’s bun with her scissors. 

Then the party ensued, catered by a local Greek restaurant. An outdoor tent party meant a pair of cigarette pants with a striped navy t-shirt and sun earrings, making it just the right combination of Audrey Hepburn and J Crew. A tent in their backyard has been their MO for grad parties, having done the same two years prior for my other cousin. It was quite the shindig, even when it rained.

I can’t recall how much baklava I ate, but close to half the tray would be a conservative amount. My weekend had tiramisu, cannoli, lemon mascarpone, baklava, pesto tortellini, penne alla vodka, chicken parm, risotto, spicy feta, and tzatziki and while it’ll take me weeks to walk all that off, I loved every minute of it. 

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

In the throes of summer

The beginning of summer is always the best part in my opinion. It’s when everything is fresh and new, you feel the instant release of shirking off your school work, and the heat has yet to become unbearable. I’ll be spending all day in the pool and thinking nothing of it at the beginning of summer, but by the end of the summer the novelty and thrill of the nothingness will have worn off. 

Guess who

Most of the time when people speak fondly about summertime it’s usually because they invariably spent it in some chic place like Malibu or the Hamptons, two places that do seem nice from the pictures, but are nonetheless miles away from where I spend my summers.

I’m back in Valdosta for the summer where I’ll be spending the foreseeable future in my parents’ house. Although I will miss New York, and all of the friends that make it special, there are several things that I’m looking forward to.

I’m looking forward to my mom’s cooking, my pool, my favorite local restaurants, getting a job, doing some painting, and doing a bit of shopping. My immediate plan was to have a classic American summer by swimming in my pool, eating ice cream, soaking up sun, and giving into every hedonistic whim. I wasted no time doing just that. 

I’ve been riding around town in my Jeep with my windows down, blaring the radio. “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz came on and in that moment, one truly feels like the quintessence of an American woman. 

On my first full day, I leapt into the pool and after a refreshing dip, I leapt straight into a steaming hot bath. Having been on campus, I hadn’t seen a bathtub in several months, but, rest assured, I didn’t go too overboard with it. I just used some lavender, rose pedals, bath elixir, bath salts, two bath bombs, some other bath salt, and hot water up to my chin. Then, I sat in it for over an hour. I left the tub, smelling zesty, and watched “Crazy Rich Asians,” for maybe the fourth time. 

Later that night, we had fried zucchini mixed into our parmesan and pasta, as taught to my mother by Stanley Tucci. An old friend of my father’s, who also happens to be a film mentor of my brother’s, made the trip with his wife to see us and we ate the whole thing outside in our backyard.

The next night, after burgers and tater tots for dinner, I had Rocky Road ice cream and actually watched the gorgeous Stanley Tucci CNN documentary: Searching for Italy, and after two years of Italian, I’m pissed that Stanley Tucci found Italy before I did.

Since I’ll be getting a job this summer, I wanted to spend the first few weeks doing all of the carefree things one does before they have to seek out employment. I’ve been waking up at noon, swimming, reading poolside, taking long baths, and dancing around my pool in my swimsuit. I listened to early 2000s pop music, made by sassy women, such as Britney Spears, Nelly Furtado, Gwen Stefani, Fergie, and Destiny’s Child, just to name a few. 

One of the first orders of business of being home was getting my mom a Mother’s Day gift. Being up in New York on Mother’s Day, I couldn’t join her for the actual day, but I intended to make up for that by getting her something she would love once I was down here. I surprised her with an all-black Kate Spade purse, a la Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson from the TV show “The Closer.” (She wanted me to be sure to add that). A powerful purse for a powerful woman. There also was a vase of carnations. 

It’s a small reward for being pretty great.

Then there was the small business of getting my second dose of Moderna. Just like before, the shot was a small prick, followed by the mild inconvenience of fever, chills, an overly-sore arm, nausea, and fatigue that passed within a day. When asked how I was feeling, I told a friend that I wasn’t ready to run a marathon, which meant that I was back to normal.

My family celebrated my full-vaccination by going downtown to Giulio’s and naturally, I dressed for the occasion. I was wearing a black baby doll dress and a new pair of black heart earrings that I’d just bought in Athens. I hadn’t worn this dress in a while, having only just been reunited with it in my closet, which was why I was blithely unaware of the fact that the thin black material was completely see-through. So, I waddled around with a jacket wrapped around my waist, hoping that no one was staring directly at my underwear.

Two days later, for lunch Bobby and Mikaela and I went to Ming’s, a place we’d never been to before but came highly recommended from my best friend over the years. We get there, only to realize that they’re takeout and cash only. Expecting to use our cards, we were forced to scrape together enough cash to pay for our shared to-go order.

Here’s how it broke down:

I had a dollar

Mikaela had a dollar

Bobby had 17 dollars

Guess who paid for most of it.

We sat there waiting for our food and complaining amongst ourselves, after which we spent some time downtown. I don’t think that this is the place that Petula Clark was singing about, but I love a good downtown area. A chai latte from Gud coffee, some hummus and shawarma from Mo’s Mediterranean, and stuffed grape leaves from Giulio’s are the types of things that I go downtown for. 

A chai latte from Gud with some Nutella toast

I went to the theatre with my mom, like much of the world, to watch “Cruella,” since it is a devilishly funny, fast-paced, and resplendent female anti-hero film with high-fashion and a phenomenal soundtrack. 

So, I know that I said I’d be spending the foreseeable future in Valdosta, but now that the beginning of summer is behind me, I’m actually going up to Boston for a family thing.

Peace out Valdosta! I have a graduation to go to.

See you when I get back.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

When in Athens…

After a headache-inducing college move out, executed by myself, I arrived in Athens, Georgia, where I made a brief pit stop to see my brother Bobby and his girlfriend Mikaela, en route to my parents’ house in Valdosta. I was promised a weekend of fun, with them dragging me around to all of their favorite restaurants and Athens spots, all the while hanging out with their ragtag group of friends, and I was not disappointed. 

I stayed in their apartment with them and their overly-skittish cat, Itty Bitty, who isn’t so itty bitty anymore. She’s the very definition of a scardy cat, so she had to warm up to me all throughout the week. At first I’d catch her peeking her head around the corner to get a look at me and then I’d occasionally wake up to her staring at me and audibly licking herself. Nothing says, “I’m staying with relatives” quite like being non verbally sexually harassed by your sibling’s anxiety-ridden and emotionally-stunted cat.

After a lovely wake up call from Itty Bitty, I started my day. Even though I left New York, I still could walk down the street and get a bacon, egg, and cheese on a fresh onion bagel. This was the case at least on my first day in Athens when Bobby took me to Ideal Bagel for breakfast, a place that more than lived up to its name.

Later that night there was a graduation ceremony that we attended for two of his friends, followed by a graduation party, followed by us trolling downtown in search of somewhere to go. Unfortunately, throughout the entire weekend, every bar and restaurant closed at 11:30 due to COVID, so when we arrived around midnight, the streets were filled with morons looking around for a place that was still open and we were some of those morons. 

The very next day, after waking up at noon, lunch was served at Cali n Titos, a beloved Cuban restaurant that they wanted to take me to. Not only was the food delicious but the setting was gorgeous, making for a friendly atmosphere that only further enabled my love of sweet plantains.

Filled with food, the rest of the group went to a brewery, while I seized the opportunity to mull around downtown Athens, a place that I learned the night before had an amazing selection of boutiques. After the semester I’d had, I was looking forward to strutting down the street and going into any dress shop that interested me. I had to talk myself out of buying a black silk evening gown that was too big for me and a matching $90 pair of shoes. I mostly just bought jewelry: chunky rings and some heart shaped earrings.

The real event of my outing was when I went to Margo, a spiritual shop that sold all essential occult paraphernalia. I bought myself a ring that is supposed to ward off the negative forces in my life, although I’m not sure what it does when you’re the negative force in your life. 

I seized on the tarot card readings. Having successfully had my palm read in Italy several years ago, I was hip to the whole vibe. Like most people, I question the validity of tarot cards as a means of divining the truth, but like any true X-Files fan, “I want to believe.” She took me upstairs to do the reading in a room that looks nicer than most of the therapy offices I’ve been in, which is fitting since in some ways it felt like therapy. She informed me first and foremost that tarot cards were not a way of glimpsing the future, but more accurately that they tell you about yourself and where you’re currently at in life. She displayed the cards in an attractive array and told me to pick the three that I felt most drawn to. I felt compelled to choose the four swords, the queen of wands, and the queen of cups.  

Because I pulled the four swords, she said that I needed to relax; not surprising after the semester I’ve had. I was especially convinced that she was correct when I read the words “Hermant’s repose,” as a way of describing the four swords, which is how my mother describes me. Then there was the queen of wands, which told me that in order to be successful in life and to attract a partner, I’d need to be my passionate and vivacious self and not shy away from my true and inner boldness. Finally, there’s the queen of cups, which means that my intuition will see me through my current situation, so I must listen to it. 

In the end, I was told that I needed to rest and relax, be my boldest self, and trust in my intuition, all of which is a good sign that I’m on the right track. She was surprised that I had two queens in one hand, but that’s what happens when you’re a Tragic Queen

I met up with the group again at Creature Comfort Brewery, a place so relaxing that it seemed like the type of place that would actually be enjoyable if I was allowed to drink in it. There was cool music playing, outdoor seating, and all around pleasant vibes. Staying there until the sun went down was easy.

After about an hour, we left for Blue Sky, another place that had some equally pleasant vibes and outdoor seating. There were young people everywhere, straddling the terrace benches, definitely celebrating graduation and taking in the evening. 

Bobby’s friend Julian
My best friend’s sister spotted in Athens

The very next day can only be described as a lazy Sunday. I woke up late in the day and read. There was some dancing around my room, mostly to the Cure, and then I started a new book by Sally Rooney. For lunch, a.k.a. our first meal of the day, we got Kelly’s, an amazing Jamacain restaurant that I fell in love with. There was sweet tea, cornbread, rice, mac and cheese, and jerk wings, none of which I had available to me in New York.

Following that I went to Condor’s Chocolate, where I promptly spent over thirty dollars on truffles. This also should serve as a friendly reminder that money spent on chocolate is never wasted. Unless, of course, you’re diabetic, in which case it’s ill-advised. 

I chose truffles in various different flavors: mocha, dark, raspberry, lemon, caramel, and others. On our way out of town, we stopped by Dondero’s Cafe, a cozy little cafe in a centuries old house.

The weekend consisted of things that I not only love but am obsessed with: great restaurants, window shopping, chocolate, reading, and down time. I got to hangout with my brother’s friends: Raj, Sol, Marquis, Mikaela, and Julian (seen in various photos above). They know how to make a weekend special.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel

The Sophomore Slump

Other schools have finals week. Sarah Lawrence College, being a school for the arts, has conference week. Instead of studying hard and answering multiple choice questions on a scantron, SLC kids get to submit novels and short films and just all around put on a show. Basically, conference week is where you spend the entire semester working on an art project for each class, and then rushing to actually complete it during the last week of the semester, when it’s due. 

It’s in times like this that you don’t finish the semester; the semester finishes you.

The semester finishing me

My conference work went as follows: 

Finishing up where I’m at in the novel that I’m writing

Submitting said novel

Translating said novel into Italian

Presenting said novel in Italian

Presenting a skit with a group in Italian

Writing an essay from the perspective of an ancient Greek figure to a modern day figure

Churning out a worksheet listing everything I read, or was supposed to have read, for Ancient Greek literature

Here’s how that went:

I submitted my Ancient Greek literature worksheet and essay early, which is a first for that class. I got everything squared away with the novel, except for the translation, and then it came time to perform the skit in Italian class. In the skit I played an Italian speaking tiger who tries to pull off a bank heist, so I decided to paint my entire face into a tiger. I woke up early, made myself into a tiger, then showed up to class. Do you ever have those moments where you have an out of body look at what you’re doing with your day and you think, “how is this my life?” Well, after playing a tiger in our group project, I had to present my individual conference project, which was just me reading my novel in Italian. So there I am, reading out my novel in Italian, while painted like a tiger. 

Una tigre

Oddly, it wasn’t the first time that I’d done something like this. Earlier in the year, I showed up to Italian class dressed as Morticia Addams for Halloween. 

It’s not easy being the Lady Gaga of your class.

I was informed that presenting a class project in tiger face paint was “bad ass.” I also gained much approval from a campus security guard, the people who work in the cafeteria, and the professor in my next class. I viewed the whole thing as a weird metaphor for what it takes to do well academically at the end of the school year. 

Sophomore year sucks so much that they give it a name: the sophomore slump. Interestingly enough, your sophomore year is even more of a slump when you spend it all online. Since we all know what all work and no play did for Jack, I took my mom’s advice which is to do things that I enjoy before, after, and during my school work. In previous summers, I’d saved up my money so that I could use it in the big city, but since that was not to be this year, I decided to spend my money in Bronxville.

I stumbled upon a live jazz and blues concert at the amphitheatre and danced until the sun went down, even though there are few as uncoordinated as I.

I watched the concert with Tyler

I’ve been getting into the habit of walking to Slave to the Grind every weekend for a chai tea latte, which was what I was doing when I was ambushed by a goldendoodle puppy that might just be the embodiment of pure happiness. 

I couldn’t get a photo that wasn’t blurry because this was an energetic boy.

One weekend, Theo and I went to Dumpling and Noodle, a classic standby and Sarah Lawrence favorite, where we had- get this– dumplings, noodles, but also sake.

The next night, feeling a little bit more extroverted than usual, I went with Anahat to Wild Ginger, a Japanese restaurant we’d never been to, where we ordered green tea and vegan sushi.

Next door to Wild Ginger is Cookies N’ Cream, which- get this– serves nothing but cookies and ice cream. Assuming that the “salted caramel” ice cream flavor was, at the very least, chocolate with salted caramel, I ordered that in a red velvet cone, only to be disappointed when it was basically vanilla. I rectified the mistake a few weeks later by getting rocky road. 

It was a while before I went out on the town again. My friend Theo and I went to the Bronxville diner, the kind of place where they give you a patty melt with a pickle on the side and a chocolate shake with an overflow, and we discussed movies, because it reminds me of “When Harry Met Sally.”

Since my friend Tyler chauffeured me around the day before school ended, so that I could buy my moving boxes, I decided to repay him with dinner out. We went back to Wild Ginger, since he considers himself to be a “wild ginger.” Naturally, there was ice cream afterwards. The very next day, I brought all of my friends together on the last day of school, to Urban Hamlet, a restaurant that none of us had been to in Bronxville. 

The wild ginger at Wild Ginger

I’m not sure where the Hamlet part fits in, but the urban part definitely fits. It was one of those restaurants with dim lighting and eccentric, well-presented food, but also a bar and a baseball game on television. Naturally, there was ice cream afterwards. 

It was a great final send off for my friends Tyler, Theo, Anahat, and Valentina, before we left for summer break the next day. I woke up the next morning at 10 am and moved out of Hill House by noon, making me perhaps the only person in Hill House who left by closing time. Every single floor was filled with college students and their horrified parents, trying to shuffle every scrap out of their child’s room and then waiting for an elevator that wouldn’t stop at their floor. I jammed my way into the elevator with two parents who were having one of those nostalgic, “back in my day” chats. “Back in my day, if it didn’t fit in the trunk, it wasn’t coming with you to college.” I then proceeded to carry both my suitcases all the way across campus, lugging about one hundred pounds behind me as I reassured myself that I had the eye of the tiger and could therefore do it. 

Some last minute shots of the beauty of Bronxville

There was no food left on campus and I couldn’t partake in the food trucks because I wasn’t a senior, so I decided to get to the airport early and eat there. I then proceeded to sit around the airport for about two hours, waiting for the independent airline my mom booked a flight on to show up at the ticket counter. Frontier airline, some unheard of airline that probably has a shoddy safety record, is what I signed up for. It was at the end of the terminal with all of the other not-reputable airlines. I sat in front of that baggage check on top of my suitcase for two hours. Nearby Spirit airlines baggage check went through and checked in countless people. It was the first time that a person thought “wow, Spirit airline is looking pretty good right now.” After two hours of wallowing in my own hunger and thirst, someone showed up, I checked my bags, went through security and made it to the restaurant section. Half of them were closed, but I eventually scarfed down a slice of pizza that was about the size of my head, eating my first meal of the day at like 3pm, and feeling like a human being again.

The book I was reading while waiting for frontier had this to say about baggage claim and how awful airports are. How apropos.
The Laguardia employee making me a slice of pizza and saving my life
The end result

Once on the plane, the pilot informed us before take off, “We had some maintenance issues earlier, but we fixed them.” 

“They really didn’t need to tell us that,” the woman beside me said. 

Also, You fixed them? You fixed the whole damn plane in a few minutes? The only thing that could have given me less confidence in this airline’s competence is if I’d seen an employee putting duct tape on the wing of the plane.

In the end, the plane ride was painless and my semester was too. I didn’t die, which can also be said for both my semester and the plane ride. Now, I’m back en route to Valdosta, where I’ll spend my summer working and probably getting sunburnt. 

My arrival in Atlanta

I’ll keep you posted.

The Tragic Queen,

Raquel