Notes from a Jersey Girl

by Lisa G Westheimer


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It’s a Month Until the Election and My Stomach is in a Knot

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I’ve been thinking alot about a friend of mine lately, trying to take a page from her book.  She is one of those rare souls who is consistently serene and cheerful.  We had a conversation one day where she told me that when she can’t sleep she tunes into late-night call-in radio stations and listens to people she would never meet, who don’t share her same ideals and values.  Think truckers calling in on the topic of UFO’s or people focused on conspiracy theories and radical politics.  Personally, I would think that listening to a program that expounds values radically opposed to my own would give me insomnia or at least cause me to grind my teeth.  She, on the other hand, thinks of it more as a way to understand people different than her, which she finds interesting and calming.  Ok.

I’m sure most Americans my age will agree with me that this election cycle is one of the most tense and provocative in our lifetimes.  No matter which party we support and which candidate we have chosen to vote for, this is a process hard to watch, hard to wade through and hard to stomach.  Both sides feel they are making history by supporting their candidate and are vehemently opposed to the other as a person and as a politician.  Discourse has deteriorated into insult hurling matches; debates have devolved into manure slinging events.  There is very little informed policy substance being discussed.  Instead we listen to what awfulness can be dredged up from the past and accusations based on fuzzy facts.  Nothing seems to be discussed, it’s more disgust than discuss.

Which brings me back to my very serene and cheerful friend.  I want to be like her.  I want to be able to accept that people have opposite views than me and still be friends with them.  I want to have discussions with people who have opinions contrary to mine in a civilized manner.  I’m through screaming and turning purple when I hear someone repeat a “fact” about my candidate that they heard on the radio or read on Face Book that is not true.

I work with someone one day a week, I will refer to this person as “they.”  They will be voting in their very first election this November.  They are extremely passionate about the candidate running against mine.  They go to rallies and come back energized.  They pepper conversation with sound bites from this candidate.  At first I found this extremely provocative.  I felt like I had to counter every single thing they said in support of my candidate.  I must say I was not polite or serene about it either.  At one point I heard someone screaming and realized it was me.

Then I looked.  I looked at them and realized my words were hurting them.  I realized that this election, their first, was more than just any election, it was a huge turning point in life for them.  They said that by voting for this candidate they thought they were going to make history.  I told them that by voting for my candidate I thought I was making history too.  The light bulb went off.  We had something in common.  We just were coming about it from opposite ends of the spectrum.

What started as horrible weekly arguments now have turned into talks about how much we love our country and want the best for it.  That is our common ground.  This I suppose too, is my collective common ground with all Americans who are completely passionate about this election.  We are all Americans.  We all love our country.  We all want what’s best for it. We just have opposite ideas of what is best for it.  We all want to make history.  We just have different definitions of what history we are trying to make.  Things are now much better between us, and we can really talk about the candidates.  We ask each other questions and actually listen to what each other is saying.  There’s a large age difference between us and I think both of us are getting a better understanding of our perspectives and why we like the candidate we do.  As a result, they now show me pictures of the rallies they go to, and we enjoy watching Jimmy Fallon and SNL election skits together.

Maybe, maybe oh I hope and pray, we as American citizens, left to our own devices, will begin to feel united, will again try to work with each other, to listen, to accept.  Maybe someday all this anger will go away or at least get channeled into working together to find solutions, with or without politicians, that blend our values so that there are no winners or losers, there are just people compromising to make something that may even be better than they had hoped to begin with.

You can call me a fool or a dreamer, but I don’t care.  I’m just an American who loves her country.  On September 11, 2001, I jumped on the last train headed towards the disaster instead of the train that would have taken me home.  I realized at that moment, that I was like my father and my uncles, my grandfather and great-uncles, and my great-grandfathers.  I was an American patriot and my country needed me and I was going to do whatever I could to help because I love it so much.  Now it seems I need to have the same bravery I mustered on that day.  I will vote and I will be civilized about it, and I will be brave, for in this case being brave means reaching out to those who don’t agree with me to find common ground.


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The Bridal Shower: From the Side of the Bride

Boy do I have a treat for you, my pretties- a post from a guest contributor!!!  Welcome luxury travel journalist Andrea Berkholtz of Luxitality.com.  You may recall that last May we fell down the rabbit hole together at her Alice in Wonderland themed bridal shower.  I thought it would be great fun to get the event from her perspective.  Take it away, Andrea!

Bridal showers…like many of us, these frilly, sometimes frivolous-seeming events are not something I have much experience with. Having only been to two, I was the kind of girl to be mildly excited but to also ask myself ‘does this mean I have to wear a sundress, drink tea and eat finger sandwiches and shit?’ I always met these shower invitations with a smile but sneaking suspicions I’d be bored to death.  That is, until I was thrown my own.

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First I should probably introduce myself to you, the fine readers. My name is Andrea and I’m coming to you live on Notes From A Jersey Girl as the guest poster this week! You might remember this hilarious post from Lisa about a trip to Colorado and a certain bridal shower she attended. Well, yep, you guessed it, that was mine and I’m here today to tell you what it was like from the side of the bride.

So I guess I should start this by saying I’m not really very girlie. No seriously, even my voice is about three octaves lower than it should be but it matches my typical shorts, tank and sandals look so just roll with it, cool? Being that I’m not super girlie, I was apprehensive about what my bridal shower would turn out to be as I had pretty much just told my best friend, ‘whatever you want, just make it rad.’ I had visions (or nightmares, more like) of horrific pink tutus and girlie squealing and the very thought of being the center of attention had my armpits moist with trepidation. Luckily, there didn’t end up being much to worry about cause my maid of honor was a badass.

The only input I did offer was deciding on the theme. Being a weirdo, I had toyed with the idea of a Harry Potter theme or perhaps Game of Thrones but then I realized this was about me marrying the love of my life, not casting spells or cutting off heads. Yea, ok, maybe a little girlie was good? We decided on Alice In Wonderland, which I figured gave my friends enough creative leeway to make it unique and quirky, which they of course delivered.

When I got the invitation, much like Lisa, I was initially wondering if maybe I had accidentally dropped some acid because this thing was all over the place! (Ok…maybe my maid of honor had too much wine in the design process or something  cause the damn thing was impossible to read/understand). I didn’t expect following up with people to see if they knew the correct date/time of the shower as part of the process but hey, I love my girls and appreciate the design effort, so I was happy to help.

 

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My eyes, oh gosh my eyes!!!

 

Shopping isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse either so picking out a white dress for this party drove me to such insanity that I eventually said ‘screw it’, flipped that tradition on its head, and went for black instead…which let’s be honest, most of us look better in black anyways. I also knew that everyone would be making, buying or bringing fun hats to go with the Alice in Wonderland theme but that part was left up to my amazonian bridesmaid, Bixby, so aside from the dress all I had to do was show up and party.

The day of the shower arrived and I was so nervous my palms were sweating (again, what is it with me and sweating?). My husband-to-be was kind enough to drop me off and smart enough not to linger for the avalanche of girly noises that were about to descend on the house. Right when I walked in the door I was floored by all the amazing decorations. Playing card streamers, masks, cute signage, paper flowers, amazing food…my friends had NAILED THIS SHIT. It was girlie without being too girlie. It was cute without being too cutesy….and mother of god, there was booze. YES!

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My mom’s a pro with a glue gun, like Lisa said!

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When I arrived, I was presented with my special hat, which still sits on display in my closet today because the darn thing is just so amazing. There are hidden charms behind the massive plumages of feathers and the two little doors on the front even open to reveal a picture of me and the hubs getting engaged (SQUEEEEEE, HOW CUTE!!!!). I cried of course, as I am wont to do…even though I consider myself less-feminine than most, a good gesture will bring a tear to my eye at the drop of a hat….in this case, literally the drop of a hat into my hands.

Cocktails, cookies, and a cacophony of laughs later, we played a game where there were underwear attached to a clothesline and I had to guess who brought what panties to the party. Mind you, some of them were horrific, and I say that in the best possible way. While there were a few pairs that I have indeed kept, I got the biggest hoot out of the ugly ones, specifically the pair Lisa brought that I decided I just HAD to try on over my dress. Thanks for that, vodka!

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After the panty game, it was present time. And I hope to God nobody else who was at the shower ever gets a gander at this because for the most part I only remember a few of the gifts. (Soooorrry!) There was the usually bridal lingerie but I had seen, NAY, zeroed in on a large blue box the second I arrived at the party. My heart jumped and I think we can all agree that we know exactly what a robin’s egg blue box means. Tiffanys! I saved that box for last for a reason. I’ve never gotten anything from Tiffanys. Like, ever. When I opened it I felt my face grow hot with heat because I knew what would happen next. Cue the tears. It was a beautiful pitcher set with glasses, I WAS A REAL WOMAN NOW! I instantly pictured myself, the upper crust of society, pouring out champagne punch to all my well-heeled friends. Once the shock faded, I kept my wits about me and ran in for a big hug from Lisa ( I promise I’m not fawning over her gift because it’s her blog, it really was the standout present!).

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After gifts, the cocktails kept flowing and then the goodbyes began. The shower overall was the picture-perfect day to spend with my friends and to relax and enjoy the moment. And c’mon, you know that after saying audios to the older folks, my band of Amazonian beauties and I took on Downtown in our Mad Hatter garb and TORE.IT.UP.

When it was all over, I thought to myself “The shower went perfect, it was everything I wanted and I thought that was going to be impossible.” In the words of the Mad Hatter…‘Only if you believe it is.’

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Worshipping at the Altar of the Big Wong

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The aftermath of another fabulous meal at my favorite restaurant in Chinatown

As an unabashed chow hound, I collect memorable meals the way some people collect baseball cards.  I may not be able to tell you what day it is today, but I can tell you of every meal I ate on my first day in New Orleans in 1984 (breakfast:  beignets, orange juice and cafe au lait at Cafe du Monde in the French Market; Lunch:  oyster loaf, boiled crawfish and oysters on the half shell at the Acme, dinner:  blackened redfish and dirty rice washed down with a dirty martini at K Paul’s Kitchen followed by a Mississippi mud candy from Laura’s around the corner)

There are restaurants that serve meals and there are restaurants that evoke religious transcendence and The Big Wong is one of them.  Located on Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown it can be mistaken for a greasy spoon not worthy of a glance.  To those in the know, it is a greasy spoon never ever to be missed, even after consuming a 10 course meal.

I was first introduced to The Big Wong in the early 1980’s when I was working as an expediter and spent every day at The NYC Department of Buildings at 1 Centre Street.  This was in the days before computers, cell phones, central air conditioning and cubicles.  Think the set of the sitcom Barney Miller.  In the free wheeling days when David Koch was Mayor, long before Rudy Giuliani turned NYC into a police state, everyone on campus at the Building Department at lunch time went out to eat together- employees and public, bosses and secretaries, clerks and line standers.  And anyone with a brain in their head went out to lunch with the inspector who’s beat was Chinatown- a cheerful, chubby fellow who absolutely lived to eat.

Chinatown was a great lunch spot.  It was nearby.  Service was fast.  Food was cheap and plentiful and best of all tasted great.  Cheerful chubby inspector would round us all up and we’d follow him like lemmings to some of the best meals I’ve ever had.  His favorite spot was The Big Wong.  We would fill up the joint and order plate after plate:  twin lobsters in garlic ginger sauce, Peking pork chops, shrimp fried rice, congee, slices of cold bbq pork, silky skinless chicken and a fried duck egg draped over a bowl of rice.  I’m drooling as I type this.

The Big Wong is not for the feint of heart and not for someone who eats to live.  Don’t bother taking them there, they don’t deserve it.  The floor is slippery with the same oil that it was coated with back in the 1980’s.  The bathrooms rival those at CBGB’s in the 1970’s.  One washes their hands then pulls their sleeves down to cover them so as not to let them touch anything on their way back to the table.

But the food is absolutely divine.

Last year, 2 miracles occurred:  my best friend from high school, Leslie asked me if I wanted to go to The Big Wong for dinner and my riding buddy Val, swooned when she heard I was going, all in the same week.  I thought The Big Wong was just my own culinary fantasy, long gone from Chinatown.  Well.  Not only is it still there, and now there’s an excuse to go, but now I have company, so I can eat from 10 different dishes instead of just 2.

Let me tell you about my friend Leslie.  She and I go way back in our collective history of eating adventures and extravaganzas.  We literally cut our teeth in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, Portuguese restaurants in the Ironbound and Italian dives in the North Ward of Newark.  Leslie’s father, Larry was our fearless leader.  Larry loved to eat, loved good food and loved to share good food in the company of his friends and family.  He would scour restaurant reviews, plot a course, make lists then tumble us all in a convoy of cars and vans and off we’d go.  One in his company did not order for themselves.  Larry had an agenda and he ordered family style.  I had the best cold noodles in sesame sauce in my life at one of his picks in the late 1970’s, somewhere near the arcade where the Tic-Tac-Toe and Dancing Chicken were.  None of this sticky peanut butter glop on wet mop strings you get now.  Handmade noodles blessed with a light coating of sesame with slivered fresh scallions and chopped peeled fresh cucumbers.  Sigh.

But I digress.

When Leslie calls and offers a chance to go to The Big Wong I pick up the phone.  We went last week.  She rounds up the people and orders for us all.  She is her father’s daughter.  Last week we went, accompanied by her husband JF, their sons Kip and Cole, Cole’s girlfriend and JF’s brother visiting from France.  The 8 of us sat down.  The waiter looked us over and decided we were a bunch of tourist rubes.  Little did he know.  Leslie ticked off  “the first round:”  Peking pork chops, 2 shrimp fried rice, twin lobsters (they were out last time we went, I was in tears.) Peking duck with all the trimmings, 1 whole soy sauce chicken, bbq pork, chicken and duck egg over rice bowl, 3 plates (not one) of garlic ginger sauce, broccoli in oyster sauce as the token green and 5 beers.  The waiter kept looking at the list and repeating, “You sure?  You know how much food this is?”  We all replied earnestly, “if it’s not enough we’ll get more.”

When I know I’m going to The Big Wong I go into fast mode.  I don’t eat all day and exercise like a fiend.  Like a prize fighter I want to be at fighting weight, and I have to mitigate the weight gain as  best I can.  Something about The Big Wong turns me into an eating machine.  I am a great white shark.  Do not get in between me and one of the dishes if I have a fork or chop stick in my hand, you’ll get hurt.  (I once chipped a tooth in an eating frenzy at the Peking Duck House but that’s another story.)

The first thing they give you when you arrive are tumblers of hot tea, a metal container full of forks, a pile of napkins and a large wrapped moist towelette, which is for the end of the meal, not the beginning, as we are literally covered in sauces and flecks of rice at the end of the adventure.  Food came out in huge platters.  Soon the table had not an inch to spare.  It was better to stand up and do a boarding house reach across the table than pass anything.  I ate almost the entire platter of Peking pork chops simply because it was in front of me and no one else could get to it.

All conversation ceased except frantic cries to pass the garlic ginger sauce.  I think JF’s brother was alittle scared, but he kept up, he is JF’s brother after all.  Cole’s girlfriend was enthusiastic and if we shocked her she was too polite to say.  In about 15 minutes all food except for 1/3 of the broccoli was gone.  We sat back and looked around wondering if that was enough.  The waiter stared goggle eyed.  Suddenly we were his best friends.  Deciding we were satisfied we paid and left.  No sense hanging around once the food was gone, it’s not that kind of place.

We figured it took us each an hour to get there, and there’d be another hour to get home.  We were at The Wong for less than an hour, but any more would have been too much.  We’re not gluttons you know.

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I love this guy.  He loves The Big Wong too.  😀

 

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Leslie, JF and company round out the table, Chinatown’s finest in the Eating Buddies department.