Jessica Gross

Archive for the ‘musings’ Category

The Ugli

In musings on April 25, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Last weekend, a friend and I decided we’d get economical and cook ourselves dinner. We wandered around the Food Emporium near her apartment, throwing vegetables into our basket to stir-fry: peppers, onions, mushrooms, bok choy, eggplant…

It was on our hunt for a dessert mango that we spotted it: the ugli fruit. Pronunciation: “ugly.” Yes, actually. And it is hideous.

I was enthralled. I took the thing — which resembles a rotten, green orange the size of a baby’s face — in my hands. I held it to my chest. I deemed it my boyfriend. We eschewed the mango in favor of this rare, gleaming find. As we cooked, as we ate the stir fry, I burst into laughter over and over as I remembered the ugli in our possession.

But then we ate my boyfriend, and let me tell you: it was not good. If it looked like an orange’s neglected sibling, it tasted worse — in fact, it had no taste.

Nonetheless, I continued my fondness for the ugli, which was now a pile of (probably genetically-engineered) citrus in my belly. Poking around online, I discovered, to my delight, that the ugli has its own website! Apparently, “Ugli” is a trademark for the fruit, which is not an orange, but a Jamaican-grown tangelo. Best line on the website:

When buying the UGLI® brand of tangelos do not be misled by their appearance, you will love their sweet and tangy flavour.

“The Affliction is only Skin Deep so the Beauty is in the Eating“™

Amazing. But, according to Wikipedia, the thing is called “ugli” precisely because it looks so deformed: “Its name derives from the unsightly appearance of its rough, wrinkled, greenish-yellow skin, wrapped loosely around the orange pulpy citrus inside.” Now if loosely-wrapped skin isn’t appetizing, I don’t know what is.


On Boston

In musings on March 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm

I visited Boston last weekend. And I have to say: I don’t get it.

Why on earth do people like Boston?

The friends I was visiting liked that it was a city, but not too big, or too dirty, or too mean, like that crummy New York. Well, I understand the desire for cleanliness and a small-town, friendly feel. But then why bother living in a city? The whole point of a city is that it’s exciting! There’s always something to do! There are a billion people you don’t know! The air is polluted! Why not just live in a small town if you want sterility and best friends forever living next door?

I will give Boston the Charles. That is quite a river. But then again, the city is cold. River negated.

Can someone defend Boston for me? I honestly would like to be enlightened.


In musings, people watching on March 17, 2009 at 5:59 pm

A couple of Trader Joe’s trips ago, I spied a man with a backpack. That’s cool; I, too, carry my groceries in a backback. (I also try to wear boots and sweatpants so I can feel outdoorsy and hardcore.)

But his was no normal backpack: it was a Brucepack. That is, the word “Bruce” — presumably his name — was etched onto his bag.

Parents are warned not to give their children accessories that announce their identities, which would make them good prey for strangers. But shouldn’t the same go for adults? In fact, I bet adults would be especially susceptible to a kidnapping, because they’d never expect it! Even the word “kidnapping” assumes you’re a baby-faced Oshkosh-wearer.

Stranger: Hey, Bruce!

Bruce: Oh…uh, hey?

Stranger: What’s doing, my man? Great to see you and the wife at that cocktail party last month!

Bruce: Uh, yeah! The cocktail party! Great to see you too.

Stranger: Hey, you know, I’m heading home — want a lift with that huge bag of groceries? Sure must suck to take the bus with that thing. Give us some time to catch up, too…

Didn’t happen. But it could’ve.

Stop Requested

In musings, people watching on March 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm

If you’ve never ridden a New York City bus, let me induct you into our elite circle with some info about protocol. Unlike our underground friend, the subway, the bus does not pull over at every stop along its route. No siree! If there are people at the bus stop, yeah, it’ll let them on. But if no one is waiting, something special has to happen.

Are you on the edge of your seat? I present you with the magic formula: to ensure that the bus will let you off, you’ve got to press the tape.

Huh? What’s the tape? Oh, silly you. Along the walls of the bus, at two-seat intervals, are sensor-filled strips, colored yellow or black. When you push on these pieces of “tape,” the bus driver is alerted that you’d like to get off at the next stop. That way, if no one’s waiting and no one needs to get off, the bus can sail right by the stop without wasting time.

It’s a brilliant system. As I mused about it today on the M79, something odd struck me: people usually don’t wait until the last minute to press the tape, hoping that someone will do it before them. With regularity, passengers request each stop way before the bus has reached it.

Why did this surprise me? For one, I’m not one of the responsible passengers: I often do wait for someone else to push the tape. And, whenever I wait, someone else takes action.
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“You Must Have Been Hungry!”

In musings, people watching on February 23, 2009 at 4:08 pm

My friend from pre-school (oldest friendship!) and I went to dinner at the Bar at Etats-Unis on Saturday. (Side note: delightful, but pricey. I loved my duck salad.) The bartender took a liking to us and gave us a complimentary molten chocolate cake and dessert wine at the end of the meal.

Free chocolate cake? This couldn’t be real. We looked at the cake; we looked at each other. Cake; each other. Cake. We dug in.

This cake oozed molten chocolate. I wanted to jump inside and take a swim. We finished it, scraping the plate.

The bartender came to clear our dishes and gaped at us, the gluttonous mutants, shaking his head. “Remind me not to go up against you,” he said, in mock horror.

I get comments like this at least a third of the times that I go out to eat. (My favorite, at a restaurant in DC last month: “You did such a GOOD job!” It was a sandwich.) My friend is one of the skinnier people I know, and I’m a small girl. Are waiters just baffled that a little person can actually consume food? Or is it that, in looks-conscious cities like New York and DC, it’s unusual to find any female finishing her dish?

Awkward Communications

In musings, people watching on February 2, 2009 at 6:24 pm

Saturday night, I went to a great bar (King’s Head Tavern, near Union Square — it has shelves full of books and a working fireplace!). It was a birthday party where I knew a small percentage of people, so I was in intro mode.

“Hi, have we met before?” I extended my hand toward a woman who’d just joined my circle.

My friends gaped at me. “That’s the waitress,” one whispered.

The rest of the night, everyone mocked me: “Jess introduced herself to the waitress!” they chortled. But really, what’s so weird about that?

Admittedly, I didn’t realize she was the waitress. But still, doesn’t this say something about social boundaries? If the same woman had attended the party, no one would have commented on my introduction. But because she was serving us, the conversation had to account for some distance between us. It’s a muted, modern-day version of a caste system — only the castes are often more fluid, based on the roles we’re playing in the moment.

Giving Up Your Seat

In musings, people watching on January 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

On the subway, the woman sitting next to me was kinder than I. A lady with wispy, light blonde hair and a lined face came on board and stood in front of us.

“Do you want to sit down?” my seatmate asked, as I spread my newspaper over my lap.

The standing lady laughed. “That’s okay — I’m not as old as I look!”

There isn’t a better place to observe American social norms than subway-seat offerings. A girl offering a guy a seat is akin to slapping him in the face. A guy can offer a girl his age a seat, but a girl offering another girl her age a seat would get funny looks.

The real judgment call comes with the almost-elderly. Is it an insult to offer someone on the cusp a seat? — Is it like asking a round woman when the baby is due? Or should the seat-offering be a default question for anyone in the vicinity of old?

Welcome Back

In musings, people watching on January 21, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I just returned to New York from a five-day trip to D.C., where I was one of the two million crazies who stood in the cold to watch President Barack H. Obama take the oath of office (it was so freezing, and so worth it). I took the bus home, and I’d only walked an avenue when a man stopped me.

“Excuse me, Miss?” he asked, with a faint accent I couldn’t place.

Directions! Of course I could help — back, as I was, in my home city. I stopped and paused.

“Have you ever heard of the Mother of God in the Bible?”

New York. Oh, New York. I guess this was my official “welcome back.”


In musings on January 12, 2009 at 1:07 am

I need to be the first person at the bus stop to spot our chariot in the distance, so I stand way out from the curb and peer down the street. The other day, as I waited for the M15 up First Avenue, I saw the top of some vehicle with a line of tiny orange lights. The bus!

But it wasn’t the bus — it was a truck. As it passed, I thought about how close I’d come to spotting the M15, my savior from the cold.

I used to do this, too, when I waited for my mom to pick me up from school. I’d see her shiny gray Volvo coming down the street…approaching the school…and then — damn. A saggy old man sat in the driver’s seat.

In fact, this makes no sense. A truck that looks like a bus, or my mom’s car driven by a grandpa, are no closer to being what I’m waiting for than an elephant hula hooping down the road.

Engulfed in the Crowd

In musings on January 6, 2009 at 1:58 pm

I met a friend for dinner in Koreatown last night. He moved from Manhattan to Texas a few months ago and, in reminiscing about his city days, said that what most drew him to New York is what pushes so many people away — in fact, the people themselves. It’s a city full of residents who pay exorbitant amounts, he pointed out, just to be around really interesting people.

I’m not sure about that last part — I think people choose to live here as much for the prestige of affording a Manhattan apartment, and for the entertainment and feeding options, as for the interesting people. But there is a thrill to being surrounded by thousands of other humans who have no idea who you are. It’s even more anonymous than being truly alone because being part of a crowd emphasizes that you’re a stranger.
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