I Got a Tattoo

My tattoo (I wish the crystals were still there too)

My tattoo (I wish the crystals were still there too)

The new thing: I got a henna tattoo and discovered my inner extrovert.

Here’s what happened: I recently went to a friend’s Indian-themed party, where a henna artist was inking designs on guests’ body parts. At first I though nah, but when I saw the sparkling crystal beads she was decorating the tattoos with, I became a giggly 13-year-old girl at a bat mitzvah—my turn next!
I went old school with a traditional flower pattern, which the artist, Neha, drew on my hand and bedazzled with blue crystals. I felt exotic. I was ready to ride an elephant!
The next day, my tattoo got darker, and everywhere I went, people noticed it. In an elevator, a young woman pointed at me and said, “I like that.” Same thing happened at the grocery store, on the train, even while I was passing through a security line. Strangers would stare, point and offer a compliment. It was as though I were balancing an adorable puppy on my hand.
I wasn’t used to the attention but I discovered I liked it. I soon found I was letting my hand linger a few seconds too long while handing over my credit card at the pharmacy or bookstore. “Oh this?” I’d say in mock surprise when the clerk (finally) noticed my bejeweled skin.
A week later, the cute “puppy” started fading, its lines getting ragged. The crystals had long fallen off. I’d subtly stick my hand out at a stranger and get… ignored. Ignored! My fancy tattoo looked like a brown rash. The final death knell: I absentmindedly slathered moisturizer all over my hand. The puppy had fled.
I wonder if getting a permanent tattoo would hurt…

Party Like You’re an Intern!

The new thing: I went to my first networking party.

Here’s what happened: To gather intelligence on which editors were leaving which magazines before the jobs were posted anywhere, I crashed an after-work party for young editors and interns. Believe it or not, it was my first networking party ever. I was psyched!

The gabfest was held in the tiny party room of a New York bar. The first important piece of information I uncovered was this: When 50 women with still-developing voices gather in a space with as much room as a Smart Car, the sound will bounce from wall to wall and eventually land on my head. Or at least that’s how it will feel.

That’s me with a tableful of Glamour magazine interns

I chatted the girls up, asking lots of questions about their workplace and offering career advice. If they were giving me insider info, I’ll never know because I couldn’t really hear them. Once, an intern pointed to her friend and said, “She’s from Haiti.” What I heard was, “She’s in the navy.”

I moved to what I hoped was a quieter part of the room and interrupted a conversation between two young misses. We exchanged “where do you work?” banter. One pointed to the other and said, “She’s got a book coming out next summer.” That, I could hear perfectly. Go figure.

Disgusted at this youngster’s success, I headed to the bar for a drink. On my way, I encountered the Haiti/Navy interns swigging pretty pink cocktails. “Ooh, that looks good. What is it?” I asked. “Shirley Temples,” they said in unison.  I laughed. “No, really, what is it?” Same answer. Then the light bulb over my head stopped flickering and I understood: They weren’t old enough to drink booze.

Clearly, I was in the wrong place.

I went home, opened up the usual job listing web sites, and settled down with a Scotch.

Networking 101: All Choked Up

The new thing: I learned how to ask for help.

Here’s how it happened: After I got laid off from my job recently, I sent out loads of resumes in response to job listings. Though they were customized, keyword-happy things of beauty that detailed what a talented, totally fabulous writer and editor I am, the resumes generated limited interest. The way to land a job, everyone and their career coach told me, was to network.

So I sent out breezy emails announcing my employment eligibility to friends, friends of friends, college buddies, and former coworkers, some of whom I hadn’t been in touch with since Mark Zuckerberg was in preschool. But e-missives didn’t get me too far either. Apparently, emailing is considered the coward’s way of networking. To do it effectively, you have to use a live voice.

That’s when I found out that losing a job is hard, but networking, for me, is harder.

When you lose a job, it’s a quick process: A few (genuine or fake) sorrowful words from your employer, an awkward handshake, and a walk out the door. By contrast, networking is a daily saga of collecting names and contact information, getting your nerve up to call someone and, when it’s a total stranger, feeling your throat get tense as you spit out a few prepared opening lines (“This is Nancy Mattia, and our mutual friend Maria Von Trapp suggested I call you.”). Then you hold your breath and hope the person on the other end doesn’t slam the phone down.

I worry too much. Because instead of slams, I always get compassion, concern, optimism, advice, other networking leads. And, in some cases, job interviews and freelance assignments.

This talking thing actually works!

I’m getting better at it. A good deep breath and I’m on my way to the next long-lost friend/stranger/my gynecologist’s partner’s wife (it happened!).

If you get a call soon, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to offer me your wisdom.

Maria Von Trapp and I sincerely appreciate it.

5 Things I Learned From Philip Seymour Hoffman

Here’s how it happened: I attended the Theater World Awards, which are presented to a dozen performers each season for their outstanding Broadway or off-Broadway debuts. In 2000, Philip Seymour Hoffman won for “True West”; this year, he was a presenter. Here’s what he taught me:

1 Ignore the dress code. The awards took place at two o’clock in the afternoon at the majestic Belasco Theater in Times Square. Even though the show had a casual feel, all the women wore dresses and all the men wore suits. Except for Phil. He had on a wrinkled pair of Dockers and a windbreaker. That’s the way to stand out in a crowd!

2 Curse your costar. Phil gave an award to Finn Wittrock, the young actor who’d played Happy to his Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.” He talked about how he despised Finn’s outsize talent. He dropped the f-bomb a couple of times. When Finn walked out to the podium and the two guys bear-hugged, Phil had completely charmed the crowd.

3 Don’t make it seem like you rehearsed. Phil talked about Finn without notes, which made him sound natural, as if he’d just walked in off the street, was thrown on stage, and started yakking.

4. Skip the after-party. I kept scanning the crowd at Bowlmor Lanes, the party site, but Phil was a no-show.  The fact that he wasn’t fighting for the coconut shrimp with the rest of us made him seem way cooler.

5. Ellis from “Smash” is actually a nice guy. Okay, I only learned this from Phil indirectly. While looking for him at the party, I happened to see Jaime Cepero, the actor who plays Ellis, the notorious troublemaker on “Smash.” We chatted, and he was totally sweet and patient, even when it took forever for my husband to snap a photo of Jaime and me with my phone.

Phil probably would’ve cursed me. If only.

Crystal Light

(I know I promised to keep my posts to 300 words or less, but since I didn’t write one last week, I feel justified in making this one 600 words. Hope you agree! If you think that’s cheating, stop reading when you get to “priorities”—that’s the 300th word.)

The new thing: I was rejected by a psychic.

Here’s how it happened: I was perusing my town’s small business directory when I saw this listing: “Psychic Readings by Tiffany.”  There was a psychic in my little town? Named “Tiffany”? I was intrigued!

Her website was simple, with an illustration of a woman holding a giant crystal ball surrounded by a halo of blinking stars. In describing herself, Tiffany came across as a confident soothsayer who blithely ignores conventional rules of grammar: “hi thanks for choosing my site, I am a spiritualist who works in all walks of life from all walks of life i specialize in all kinds of problems such as love. marriage. business. career etc”

She promised to “balance and religion the chakra, reunite lovers, and help with panic attack anxiety.” Whoa, Tiff—that’s quite a combo platter! (And who knew “religion” could be used as a verb?)

I didn’t have any particular problem I wanted her to help me with, so I decided “crystal reading,” which was listed on her menu of services, would be fun.

I couldn’t wait to meet her. I pictured the stereotype: heavyset woman, long, dark hair, exotic accent. Real name: Magda.

My first disappointment was when I got her voice mail, and she sounded like a bored New Jersey housewife. Still, I left a message.

She ignored it.

A few days later, I emailed her:
I’d like to set up an appointment for a crystal reading with you tomorrow if you’re available.

The next day, she wrote:
Hi I am not sure what day I’ll be able to see you I’ll be out this week due to a passing in the family we can make something for next week
Sent from my iPhone

While I understood that she had other priorities, I didn’t like that my psychic had an iPhone. Wasn’t a crystal ball enough?

I sent a reply:
I am very sorry for your loss. Next week would be fine. Please email me when you know which days you’re available.

She ignored it.

A week later, I tried again:
I hope you are well. Would you be able to meet tomorrow?

The next day—yay!—she replied:
Hello sorry that is not good maybe Thursday I’m not in the office till then 

Holy smokes—did she say “office”? Liz Lemon has an office, so do Don Draper and Barack Obama, but not my psychic! She has a…well, I’m not sure what she has, except little interest in seeing me.

I wrote back:
Yes. Anytime before 11:30 that day is fine.

She responded:
“Hello I can see you sat afternoon if that’s good plz let me know.”

Wait, what happened to Thursday? Never mind, Saturday could work. She finally sounded interested! I started convincing myself that a beaded curtain was in my near future.

I was working on Saturday at a local event in “the Village,” my town’s downtown, where Tiffany had her, um, office.

I wrote:
I will be volunteering at the Art Walk that day but I can get away to come see you if you’ll be in the Village. What time?

She wrote back:
Sorry I don’t have an office in the Village anymore only on Springfield Avenue.

And with that curt reply, I was done.

I had found the most passive, disinterested psychic in all of New Jersey! How could I trust her to religion my chakra?

I never wrote back, and neither did she.

I could have predicted that.

Beet It

The new thing: I ate a dish of beets, a vegetable I’ve always detested.

Here’s how it happened: I hadn’t eaten beets since childhood, when my mother would serve them on white porous dishes that left ugly purple stains on the surface. To me, they tasted like a cross between potatoes and Jell-O. But since beet salad is so popular these days, I decided to give it another try.

I was at my local osteria—the kind of place with hydroponic lettuce and a liberal use of the word “artisan” on the menu. What better place to take the plunge?  Besides, the salad also had goat cheese, which I love. I figured I could just chow down on that if the beets were a fail. When I asked the waitress, “What do you think about the beets?” her face lit up. “It’s my favorite salad here,” she said. “They’re fire-roasted.” I had to assume that was a good thing.

When the dish arrived, I took one look at it and felt like a contestant on “”Survivor” who was forced to eat a bowl of yak innards. There was a mound of beet cubes, three lettuce leaves, and goat cheese that was more sprinkle than slab. My lunch companion tried shaming me into eating it. “It’s just beets. What’s the big deal?” Thirteen year olds can be so, like, clueless. With a sweaty hand, I picked up a fork and stabbed a cube. Chewed, swallowed, waited. And wished I’d stabbed myself.  Nothing had changed. I still hated beets. Fire roasting hadn’t enhanced the flavor or texture. Perky Waitress came by and asked how everything was. “Great,” I lied, then let my lunch date polish off the rest.

Next stop: the frozen yogurt shop down the street, to wash away the bad taste and the memories.

The Top 10 Things That Annoy Me

The new thing: I am ranting online instead of just in my head about what annoys me.

Here’s how it happened: At the gym this morning, a woman got on a treadmill, planted her towel on it, and walked away. She didn’t come back for 15 minutes! So rude, since that was the last free treadmill. I decided I needed the world (or the seven people reading my blog) to know about it, plus a couple of other things that grate on my nerves.

  1. People who “reserve” gym equipment.
  2. That three-second delay before a telemarketer starts speaking.
  3. When I read a trashy story online like “Celebrities With Cellulite!” and it shows up on my Facebook timeline.
  4. Those twisted wires that hold new toys in place inside the packaging, plus the heavy-duty plastic that you need a machete to cut through.
  5. The follow-the-crowd mentality at Penn Station. If the right side of a door is open, 100 people will all try squeezing through it; no one attempts to open the left side as well. Somebody (okay, me) eventually yells from the back of the crowd, “Open the other side!” That always prompts the people around me to talk trash about the knuckleheads in front. Satisfying!
  6. Pouring full glasses of juice for my son’s friends when they were young and everyone taking just two sips. (I’ve been holding this one in for 10 years.)
  7. When I clam up in a room full of loud, chatty people. I shouldn’t be so quiet—I’m from Brooklyn!
  8. America’s obsession with Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kris—it’s krazy!
  9. Bars that pour skimpy glasses of wine then charge $12.
  10. Sneezes. They’re painful, messy and, like potato chips, you can never have just one.Now tell me what annoys you!

The Car Washed Over Me

The new thing: washing my car by hand.

Here’s how it happened: My Honda Accord got covered with a sappy substance while parked near a landscaping truck on a windy day. I didn’t feel like driving to the car wash 20 minutes away, the weather was warm, and I was game to try washing it myself.

I bought some special soap, found some old cotton tee-shirts and a kitchen sponge, and got to work.

And then a funny thing happened.

As I was soaping up the car—which we bought 15 years ago and I call the Clampett Car for the many nicks and dents we’ve never gotten fixed—the last decade and a half of my life flashed before my eyes. I sponged the sunroof and remembered how my son, as a toddler, loved to look up through the open roof as we drove on bridges, his little face captivated by the massive steel structures overhead. I washed the front headlight that’s held in place by duct tape (classy!) and thought of how touched I was when my husband, not the world’s biggest animal lover, got upset after a deer ran into the road and into our moving car; he was so worried about the deer that he called the cops. (The deer survived.) I soaped up the dent (unknown origin) on the right side, which has been like a beacon over the years, its distinctive look signaling to me in crowded parking lots when I have only a vague idea of where I parked. And the trunk! It’s held our luggage and treasures for trips to the Berkshires, Tennessee, New England, and countless other places.

I may never go to a drive-through car wash again.

The Ice Cream Queen

The new thing: Instead of buying an ice cream cake from Carvel, I made one.

Here’s how it happened: Every year as I’m forking over $27 at my local Carvel for my son’s birthday cake, I vow that the next year I will make one myself. How hard could it be? It’s not like I would have to make the actual ice cream! My cake would be just as good and cheaper than Carvel’s.

This year, I had the time and motivation (hello, blog!). and I finally kept my vow.

I bought two gallons of Blue Bunny on sale– chocolate-chip mint and cookie dough, my son’s favorite flavors–a package of Oreos, and a tub of Cool-Whip. The bill came to $11.

I found a “conversational” recipe online where the writer sounded like she was standing in my kitchen giving me directions. (“The easiest crust is to crush the cookies you plan to use.”) Basically, all I did was spread some crushed Oreos at the bottom of a springform pan, added a gallon of softened ice cream, sprinkled on some more Oreos, and froze it for 30 minutes. Then I added another gallon of softened ice cream, topped the whole thing with more Oreos, and put it back in the freezer until my boy’s birthday party the next day.

You know that Carvel whipped-cream frosting that tastes so good? There’s nothing “whipped” or “cream” about it. A former store employee divulged a company secret: The frosting is actually made from a powder. So the Cool Whip I frosted the cake with, right before serving, wasn’t too far off the mark! Plenty of chemicals to go around, just in a different form.

My son and his friends gobbled up the cake.

Fudgie the whale, watch out.

I ate at a “$2” restaurant

 The new thing: I ate at a restaurant because I had a coupon.

Here’s how it happened: I got an email from restaurant.com about a special deal: Buy a $2 coupon and get $25 off a meal. Scrolling through the list of participating restaurants, I laughed when I saw a local Italian place that I diss every time I drive by it. It’s housed in a nondescript brick building with an entrance that’s below street level. “Who would ever eat there?” I’d say to my husband. “The restaurant’s in the basement!”

Its website featured a few glossy close-ups of old-school dishes with captions like  “giant homemade stuffed meatball” and “chicken with broccoli rabe—I like it with hot cherry peppers too.” (Wait, who’s saying that??)  There was also a panoramic shot of the glittering Manhattan skyline at night—an odd graphic since the restaurant is in Union, New Jersey!

The place’s tagline, “Where friends become family and family become friends,” made me think Tony and Carmela Soprano would enjoy eating there.

Ultimately, my love of a good discount superseded my irrational dislike of a restaurant I’d never eaten at, so I bought a coupon and took my family there Friday night.

It turned out the Sopranos were right.

The food was delicious and comforting, nicely cooked and flavorful. While there was nothing particularly innovative about the menu—they stuck to Italian standards—they did them well. My husband (chicken with Portobello mushrooms),  son (linguini with mussels), and I (salmon Florentine) were well-fed and happy. The staff was welcoming. They poured generous glasses of the house wine. There was live entertainment! And the place was packed.

It was the best $2 I ever spent.