Variety is the Spice

Two Girls' Quest to Taste the World

Amazing how different things were a year ago…

by Penelope Smallbone

Last year on New Year’s I was in a crowded bar with a friend of mine who’d just moved to the city. We were WASTED and ended up making out with the bartenders, about six gentlemen around us, and eventually each other for a bit. The night ended early, with me puking in a trash can. The next day, the hot bartender came over and we made out a little more. A *great* way to kick off the new year.

I couldn’t think of a worse way to start 2009.

Fortunately, this year I had actual fabulous plans for New year’s Eve. I have a small tradition with the above friend to spend NYE together. This was our fourth year, and past years included getting stuck in an elevator and seeing a pile of bricks fall on someone’s car. Last year was definitely the most boring in our history… But this year we went to a swanky party in Times Square and at midnight went outside and watched the ball drop from a private (aka, not in the herd of folks freezing outside) viewing area. I want to tell you that the Times Square thing is just over-hyped, but in reality it was nothing short of incredible. As I stood watching the tons of vivid confetti fall from the arms of people camped out in 40th floor offices overlooking Times Square, I got a tear in my eye. They had just played John Lennon’s Imagine, and the whole scene was ridiculously cheesy and moving all at the same time.

I’m trying to picture 2008 as a single snapshot in my mind, but it keeps appearing more like a panoramic picture where that one obnoxious kid moves to the other side as the camera is moving across and so he’s in it twice.

Prior to last year, I had never really been hurt by a man, and I think I hit a new record. Despite the disproportionate number of assholes in my life last year (granted, a lot of that was my fault for being foolish), I still managed to have one of the best years of my life. It was completely vivid and alive compared to every other year of my life. As much as it is a crutch, I do owe much of that sensation to my living in New York. I have accomplished so much here already and all of my experiences speak to that.

Moving forward, I am in a completely new and wonderful and unknown place. On New year’s Day my roommate and I were sitting around watching TV when my phone rang. I looked at the ID: “Mr. Kickboxer.” My heart stopped. I hadn’t talked to him in almost a year and a half, and here he was calling me on the first day of a new year. He was the one that got away. The one that I felt so passionate about and with whom I just couldn’t manage to make it work. He was the one who was with me on the last night in my apartment in St. Louis. He took care of me and stood by me when I was so sick that night and couldn’t manage on my own. He was there. And now he was there again.

I picked up and we talked for about a half hour. Got caught up on everything that’s been going on during our hiatus. Good for him, he is fighting professionally and applying to the police academy in St. Louis. As I told him about all the things going on in my life, I felt like I was telling some fantastic story that happens in a movie or on a sitcom, yet I wasn’t exaggerating at all. (If anything I left some parts out!) While it was great to talk to him again, it was also a great reminder of my own strength. I can do anything I decide to do, and I am not going to let anyone or anything hold me back.

Moneypenny, no real resolutions for me. I did enough in 2008 to tide me over for a few years. : ) I do plan on keeping the apartment a little cleaner, and trying better to keep up with what’s going on in my friends’ lives.


Can We Change?

by Penelope Smallbone

Williamsburg after snow fall

In the spirit of end-of-year compilations, I have been thinking about where I’ve been over the past year and what I have learned.

This was my first full year in NYC, and the first time in my life where I really felt like it was my life, as a result of only my own decisions. I spent all afternoon running around the neighborhood with friends, purchasing foodstuffs for my upcoming holiday feast, and picking up some last minute gifts for myself and for others. I came home, made dinner and settled in for the night to do some work. It wasn’t until my father called with a question that I even remembered that far away in STL, MO the rest of my extended family was gathering for their holiday celebration. Ordinarily I would feel left out of the action, but this time I simply paused for a moment, then mentally commented about how strange and wonderful it is that I have created a life for myself here.

Over the past year I have been running at full speed into life as a young adult. There have been about a thousand ups and downs this year; I am ready to stop riding the emotional roller coaster. And yet, every little thing that’s happened has taught me something about myself, or about the world, or about the human experience. It’s been a fantastic year of experiences, both good and bad, and bad.

Over the summer I briefly dated someone who was a friend of a friend. We never got serious, and after about 2 months we decided we just weren’t compatible and broke things off. By way of our mutual friends, I ran into him a few times in the fall and wasn’t exactly kind. A couple months ago I heard that his father died suddenly and without warning. At first I didn’t know how I should react. It’s not that we were so serious that I had even thought about meeting his family. He barely even talked about them with me. Still, I felt connected somehow to his life and decided to send an email reaching out to let him know that I’m around if he needed to talk to someone. I never heard back.

I saw him last night. We were both at a birthday party for a friend. At first I chatted with him for just a few minutes, and he kept coming back to talk more. The bar was pretty cleared out by 3am, and the two of us were still talking away while my friends were chatting it up with some other dudes they had met. It was such a strange feeling, I can hardly describe it. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life lately. I’ve been working pretty intensely on some personal projects, and as a result have cut back on my social calendar. I haven’t been drinking very much, and going out even less. I haven’t dated since the summer, and have taken a conscientious hiatus from sex. I’m in an amazing mental state, and as I stood there talking to Mr. Dick in a Box I could feel myself acting differently. The night ended with him asking me to come home with him (no, he was not drunk) and me telling him no. “I really appreciate the offer, but No thanks.” I let him know how much I enjoyed our conversation, but made it clear that I had no intention of engaging in romantic pursuits with him again. I walked away feeling secure, empowered, and really happy. I felt like I did the right thing.

So this brings me to my question. Can we change? My generally cynical viewpoint says no. People will always revert to what they know, and although a person might change her location, job, boyfriends, friend, or fashion, she will always be the same person. But the optimist in me is getting excited and wants to fight the cynical side. I can feel the change in myself. It’s palpable. And it’s really really good! I am hopeful that after this year of rough tumbles and ups and downs and lefts, rights, curves, and all, that I might actually come out a better person as a result.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the topic. Can we change?

Back From the Dead

by Penelope Smallbone

How am I feeling today? Not great. The only song that seems to suit me right now is Dear Prudence, and its slow tones and melancholy prose seem to be spilling out of my own chest. Disappointed again.

Okay, this all seems a little heavy. And it is. Truthfully, it’s a lot more heaviness than I’m interested in at the moment. That should be the overarching lesson of this experience. See drama. Walk away.

I just returned from dinner tonight with someone who I thought I might have feelings for. (You can call him Mr. Heartbreak.) At this dinner he told me his ex-girlfriend had approached him wanting to get back together. He’s thinking about it but is undecided, for many valid reasons. Not exactly the words I expected to hear at this meal, but now that I’ve thought it through a little I am very thankful that he is going through this kind of soul-searching expose without me. As he said, he really is “a mess” and seems to have a lot to figure out before he can be expected to give anything to a relationship. On my end, I am too young, too smart, and too good to knowingly enter into such an emotionally vacant relationship. It would be wrong, and I know it. Even in my craziest of crazy moves (that usually involves me ignoring my gut in favor of fun), I wouldn’t knowingly step into that mine shaft.

The silver lining? We will continue to be friends and take it from there. I am comfortable with and thankful for that relationship between us, and I will be happy to offer support as a friend for him.

Despite my apparently extreme sadness, I can see that I will be better off in the long run. I will avoid a lot of trauma by taking the high road and realizing sooner rather than later that sometimes it’s best to just stay out of things. Everything will work itself out in the end. It’s just hard to see sometimes from the inside.

I am alive.

by Penelope Smallbone

My vacation to Greece meant something very different to me than it did for Moneypenny. I didn’t realize how badly I needed a vacation from Everything until I was there, sitting in a street cafe enjoying wonderful Greek cuisine. After I returned from my trip I didn’t go back to many of the things I had been doing before. I didn’t read a single thing on the internet (non-job-related) for about 3 weeks. It’s summer in the city right now; one of my favorite times of the year. There is so much going on, and I have absolutely no desire to sit on the computer when I get back from an 8 hour day of designing for the internets. It’s been a fabulous and refreshing change to be out, about, and outside all the time. I’ve even been running and am up to 2.5 miles at a pretty decent pace. I’ve lost all the extra weight I put on this winter (as evidenced by my looser belt) and am tanned, toned and feeling very pretty and great. I’ve been on a few dates with a guy whose brain has me hooked already but I’m trying to keep things slow.

There’s so much that I am thankful for in my life right now and I am in a really good place with work and my own self awareness. Despite the daily trials I am experiencing with my “friends” who I am slowly discovering have matured and grown in a very different direction from me, I am taking things one day at a time and loving it all. I don’t have anything figured out, but I also don’t feel the need to figure it out anytime soon either. Last night I ended up ditching a dud birthday party at a bar (where the only activity was drinking and being hit on) in favor of hitting a local burger joint with a friend. At 10am I am definitely regretting the giant chickpea burger and onion rings that I had at 2am, but at the time it seemed like a fantastic idea. The bartender set us up with a lot of free beer in exchange for our company eating at the bar and we made a new friend who just got a job working at the local Cuban beat bar, an alliance that will surely come in handy.

A year and a half ago I was in a terrible job in St Louis. I hated it (and life) with a passion. But it taught me so many important lessons about life and about people, and the trauma I endured there was worth that alone. One of the lessons I always think about is that you shouldn’t complain to the wrong people. It just makes you even madder because you’re getting fired up about it, but it doesn’t do any good in the end because the wrong person can’t actually make a change. This is something I’ve applied to my work life and it has paid off. In my personal life I realized that I was complaining A LOT to the wrong people (hello, web readers 🙂 ) and it was making me very unhappy as a result. I would love to say that I’ve started speaking up to the offenders in my personal life instead, but I am not that brave yet. However, I’ve found that not bitching about so much has made me a lot happier. As far as speaking up and getting what I want? I’m getting there. Small steps…

The girls are going to Greece!!

by Penelope Smallbone

Paris & Paris
Moneypenny and I have been running around like crazy all week getting ready for our big trip. I’m going to be out for a week and a half soaking up sun and Mediterranean culture in Greece. I’ll be back in New York after the big send-off and Moneypenny continues to Italy.

Rather than include a breathtaking photo of Greek scenery, I’ve included a pic of Paris and Paris. Because clearly we will be hanging out with Paris Latsis while we are there… Yeah, him and all the other sexy Greek men! (ahh, the stories to come…)

Wish us luck!


by Penelope Smallbone

My “best” friend is getting married. Ever since she started dating this guy, she’s been very distant in our friendship and even more critical/judgmental of me than she ever was. Then they got engaged and I was ecstatic. I am maid of honor! I flew to St. Louis on a whim to help her dress shop. I planned (and paid for) part of a bachelorette party/shower. I bought a $200 dress. I bought my flight to come to the wedding in July. I’ve handled a few stressed-out-bride phone calls to date.

A week ago I received my wedding invitation in the mail and was startled to find there was no “+1” included in my reply card. I thought for sure this was a mistake, since I had already spoken with her about bringing one of my best guy friends as my date. I emailed her to find out, saying “so, I can’t bring a date…?” Her response was:

Nope. If you had a significant significant other you totally could, but you don’t because you don’t want one… 🙂

My jaw dropped, and stayed there for a good two minutes. I was wildly appalled, hurt, and felt completely discriminated against. It’s bad enough that I will be standing in front of her church as the “non-Christian friend” who they all know from her stories in bible group, and now I’m not even allowed to bring a companion to this very church-y wedding. I may choose to be single, but that doesn’t mean I have to be alone at a couples event. I felt like she was slapping me on the wrist for my decision not to be committed to a romantic relationship at this point in my life.

I ended up speaking with my mother to seek her advice. She said it’s probably not worth it to put up a fight. This is my friend’s day, and it’s clear we are moving in separate directions. We probably won’t speak much after the wedding. I should go with the flow and bite the bullet, knowing that in the end I will have taken the higher road. But I said, “Mom. I want to do that, but it is so frustrating from my end. I’m so hurt by her choice of words and I’m having trouble seeing the take-away lesson here.”

She said, “Tolerance. That’s the lesson. You’ll remember how you are feeling now and someday when it’s your turn you won’t treat your friends the same way. You’ll be more aware of other people and their beliefs, and you’ll be more tolerant and understanding of their differences. That’s the lesson. …Besides, if she makes such a fuss about you being non-Christian, maybe you don’t want someone in your life who is so critical of you in the first place.”

So I’m taking the high road, after shelling out a total of $900 to attend and be a part of a short daytime wedding that doesn’t even include a sit-down meal. And I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m not gaining my best friend’s husband. I’m just losing a best friend.

A New Low

by Penelope Smallbone

Thousands of miles away from Moneypenny’s packing, I’m laying here in bed trying to remember the feelings I felt at 5am this morning when I went to sleep. I wanted to write then, but it was obvious that my comprehension was not together.

Last night started with me and my roommate getting dressed up and going to see the Sex and the City movie. In case you’re interested to know, it was FABULOUS. That’s really the only word to describe it! After the movie we hopped in a cab and headed downtown to a friend of a friend’s birthday party. There were a lot of people there who I haven’t seen in awhile and it was great to catch up. I ended up chatting with a guy who I only knew as “Dick in a Box” from his fantastic Halloween costume last fall. He continued to chat me up the whole night, which I had mixed feelings about. I tried to keep talking to other people so that I wasn’t guilty of ditching my friends for a guy (again) but once the crowd died down I gave in and started to get to know him.

At the other end of the bar my roommate had met up with a friend of hers from work. It’s a guy she’s told me about many many times because she thinks he is so hot. I eventually went over to introduce myself and indeed, he was HOT. I gave her the look like, “oh man… you didn’t tell me he was THAT hot!?!!” to which she replied, “He’s mine!” I told her fine, I don’t really “want” anyone anyway so it’s not really an issue.

Around 2am most of the friends of friends were gone and the four of us headed up to the rooftop. We sat chatting for a little while, and I found that I had a lot in common with both men. My roommate’s coworker, Mr. KK, and I have very similar interests in music and culture, backgrounds of moving to the city from elsewhere, and more. But he wasn’t for me to take. I could feel him casually flirting with me, and we even had a comical run-in in the bathroom (at the sink of a shared washroom). I definitely felt a connection with him, but he was not mine. And my roommate kept reminding me of this fact, as she continued to look at me and say, “He’s MINE.” It was such a weird look and a weird feeling, almost like she was worried that I might actually steal him.

On the other side of me, I had Mr. Dick in a Box, who was trying his best to compete with Mr. KK. He did a pretty good job actually! Although he is not normally a guy who I would be interested in—he’s not tall enough, kind of small, and from Manhattan, born and raised—he was an excellent conversationalist, and everything else seemed to fit. He’s a cyclist and a vegetarian and works in finance… all things that interest me. He kept wanting me to leave with him (which I would normally get skeezed about, but my friend assured me that he’s a fantastic individual and all around one of the nicest, most interesting and caring people she knows.) I am proud of myself for telling him no, that I was going to stay there with my friends who I came with. I told him that if he wants to take me home ever he’s going to have to take me to dinner first. (go me!) He said OK and took my phone number to call me after I get back from Greece. I let him have a quick kiss goodnight, and it felt great.

After he left, my roommate and I headed back to our house with Mr. KK. She told me that she planned to hook up with him. This was after she gushed all week about the boy she is seeing upstate. It’s a long distance thing and is not serious, but it’s to the point where they are involved and attached enough that seeing other people would be wrong. While we were waiting for Mr. KK to come back, I pointed this out to her and she said she didn’t care. I asked her how she would feel if she found out the upstate lover was making out with someone else and she said she would punch him in the face. But for some reason she felt okay about hooking up with Mr. KK.

When we got home, my roommate was trying her best to entertain Mr. KK into staying over and hooking up with her. Again, I got the weird flirty feeling from him. I was ready to let my roommate have him, so I bit the bullet and got ready for bed. When he realized that I was leaving them alone, he shot me a quick look of hope that maybe I wasn’t going to sleep just yet. I said goodnight and closed the door, hoping that maybe he would be a better person than most of the men she brings home and would simply hang out and then leave. This morning I woke up to get some water and there it was. His phone. Left on the coffee table. Presumably left behind in his journey to my roommate’s bed.

The feelings I felt at 5am were intense. They were not feelings I have ever felt before, maybe that’s the reason I’ve had such a hard time writing this post. I am usually the girl who wins. I am usually the one who brings the guy home. Last night was the first time that it wasn’t me. I was the one watching the stupid drunk girl go intentionally cheat on her boyfriend, and I felt that no matter what I said to her she was going to do it anyway. I felt like I had no control and could only sit and watch. I felt almost as if she was stealing MY boyfriend, despite the fact that it was loud and clear that he was hers. At the end of the day, my general thought is “oh well. just another dude,” but I’m not there yet. Am I feeling compassion? Sympathy? Abandonment? What is the word I am looking for…?

The Mother and Other

by Penelope Smallbone

I will be MIA for the holiday weekend (as I have been all week as well!) because my Mom is here visiting me! It’s the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to host her and show her around my great city without my dad. Last night we kicked everything off with a fabulous sushi dinner with my gal pals (with wine!) and then we walked over to the beer hall and shared a round with some of my d-ball friends who were in the area. I successfully got my mom tipsy, and she is still in bed as I’m getting ready for work today. Wee! It’s going to be a great weekend.

I have a few other random comments, which you should feel free to respond to.

On the walk to dinner last night (with my mother of all people) we passed SexyD on the street. Holy shit! I have been *dreaming* of this moment for months. Even though it’s been almost a year since we hooked up, I still keep an eye out for him on the street. It’s just a weird subconscious thing, like I know he could come around the corner at any moment and make me feel 2 feet tall again. Aside from being completely startled last night, I was actually mid-laugh when I saw him. It was exactly like a scene in the movie where the girl is actually laughing and then sees her long-lost something-or-other and stops mid-sentence. Well, I made sure to let him see that I am doing just fine. I gave him a very direct, eye-contact filled look, to which he replied a very direct, smug look. And after we passed I quietly leaned over to my friend who has only heard of but never met him, “So… that was SexyD…” She flipped. And I moved on.

The friend who I met up with at the beer hall is one of the great guys on my d-ball team. He’s really gentle and sweet and has an awesome Ukrainian girlfriend. He totally came to my bday party and I will probably love him forever for that! He got laid off from his banking job this week and seemed really happy about it! He was out drinking last night in celebration of finally having free time on a weeknight. Hooray! His roommate is Mr. Mexico City, who you may remember as the steamy voluntarily bald and highly uninterested fellow from my team. Well, last night I asked if Mr. Mexico City is “eligible.” The official word from his roommate is: “Single, yes. Eligible…. no. Mr. Mexico City hooks up with girls left and right, but if you want to actually date him I wouldn’t recommend it. He likes to sleep with people and not call them. Really, he enjoys the hunt. If a girl is totally in to him she should play hard to get. Otherwise, he’ll lose interest and move on.” There you have it. The official word.


by Penelope Smallbone

For the past few months I haven’t been as up-beat as usual. I’ve been in a slump creatively, emotionally, and a little bit physically (though I’ve corrected that with more frequent exercise!). I feel like I’ve had more down days than up days, something that is completely uncharacteristic of my happy-go-lucky optimistic personality. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about WHY this is happening.

1. Growing Up.
Apparently part of this whole “maturation” concept means having more awareness of the world around you, and understanding your role in the grand scheme of things. I feel like I’ve been hit with a ton of bricks. Bricks of awareness, that is. You know what I’ve learned about life over this process of growing up? Parts of life really SUCK. It’s been a little harder to maintain my optimism when I’ve suddenly realized how crappy things can be sometimes.

2. Drama.
We are all familiar with this term. Its original use was to describe a play, or a tv show or movie that has a lot of intense plot development and complex relationships between characters. It is now common vernacular in our lives to describe the ridiculousness that occurs between people (read: females). In my friend’s words, I am the girl who runs from drama. I don’t put up with it. I hate it. I will generally do whatever is in my power to avoid drama. And yet lately my life has been all about drama. I’m not entirely sure why, but it seems like everything is a big deal lately, when it full well shouldn’t be. We don’t need to endlessly discuss the implied meaning of something which is clearly meaningless, or what someone did to someone else somewhere. There are more important things to worry about, and honestly, I don’t know why we can’t all just get along!

3. Too much _____.
I’ve been way too freakin busy again. I was super busy last fall until I came down with a case of pneumonia. That put a serious halt in my over-booking, over-planning habits. After having pneumonia I tried really hard to limit my plans and made sure to keep a few nights a week for myself. Things have spun out of control again, with my calendar booked every night of the week. This concept of “too much” also applies to the boys in my life (in case you haven’t noticed, there have been too many). I need to stand out in a field like an air traffic controller and wave the orange cones to signify “STOP!!”

Simplify. I just finished John Maeda’s latest book, The Laws of Simplicity. Although I didn’t find any *new* or groundbreaking information there, I think he did a nice job of presenting design concepts in a way that relates to ordinary things in every person’s life. When thinking about the resolution to the conflicts written above, all I can think of to fix them is “simplify.” Take away half my plans every week. Take away half the talking about meaningless crap that turns into gossip that turns into drama. Stop worrying about half of the complexities that make life seem overwhelming.

Bottom Line: I need to re-focus on what is necessary at this moment in my life, which is me, and the people in my life who make it great.

Chalkboard Lessons

by Penelope Smallbone

I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself. (repeat)
I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself. (repeat)
I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself. (repeat)
I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself. (repeat)
I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself….

I need to write about something that happened to me last night. I’m not exactly proud of all the details in the story, but it happened. And my philosophy is that if you don’t feel good about sharing what you’ve done, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. So here I go, ripping this bandaid.

A couple weeks ago I met a guy while I was out. He walked me home after the bar, and in my/his drunkenness, he came inside and we started messing around. One thing led to another and soon enough he was pressuring me to have sex with him. I kept telling him no, no no. And finally he pulls out the line “Look, if it makes you feel any better I get tested every 6 months and I’m clean.” (like that will convince me)

I was recently diagnosed with a minor issue that apparently is very common, but one that can be transmitted even when things are practiced safely. I’m still dealing with what the consequences of that diagnosis means for me, both physically and emotionally. It’s been a very difficult thing for me to understand.

And I snapped back at him, “Yeah, well, I get tested too, and I’m not okay right now.” He instantly backed off (like a gag reflex “instant”) and laid next to me. He asked a lot of questions and genuinely felt bad for me. Eventually he left because he was wide awake and I was ready for sleep. Unfortunately he left his keys on the floor of my room, which I did not discover until the next morning.

The next night I called him to come get his crap. I didn’t really want to see him again after what had happened, but he suggested meeting up for a glass of wine. We did. It was fine. Good conversation and he walked me home afterwards and told me he would like to be friends. That was fine with me, because I wasn’t really that into him anyway.

We’ve been calling/texting back and forth all week to get together again as friends. Last night he came to dinner with my roommate and I, and then we stopped by our neighborhood bar on the way home, which was having a completely insane open bar event. It was insane… but he was a little flirty and touchy, and he suggested we go home to escape the insanity.

I left two of my friends at the bar.

We got home and again started messing around. This time he made no attempts to do anything to me, fully knowing that he would be rejected. After about a half hour and some laying there, he got up and said, “I can’t do this.”

“I can’t sleep next to someone that I can’t have sex with. This is why I just wanted to be friends.”
I replied, “Okay… Then if we’re just friends you have got to stop trying to kiss me when we’re out.”

And then he left. And I cried. He didn’t want me, and didn’t even want to lay next to me. I felt completely empty for the first time ever. And not only did I feel bad about myself because he didn’t want me, I felt bad that I had left my friends. And the real kicker is that there was absolutely no reason for me to believe that he would be a nice guy. I don’t know who I was trying to fool. All signs read “ASSHOLE.”

I started this post with the statement, “I will not allow a boy to make me feel bad about myself.” I woke up this morning and it doesn’t matter what happened last night. I’m not going to let some jerk ruin my day.