Attention (the new app that could change my life), reunions and borscht

Sign I taped to my elevator of my friendly building. Thanks to Mariko, a new friend who told me about Veselka’s borscht for Ukraine campaign. I mean who doesn’t love borscht and charitable giving?

I am one of those annoying people who has a new app idea every day but never follows through. More than eight years ago, I was obsessed with making an app that connected parents with like minded parents using a survey of interests, GPS etc. I was tired of hanging out with parents who barraged me with either complaints/boasts of their chlidren or complaints about their partners. I missed funny, off-color, sometimes worldly conversations that I shared with people before parenthood. I pined for friends like those of my youth who enthusiastically crawled on hands and knees through artist Christopher Buchel’s Chinatown installation that used an entire city building to create a world of bunkers, miniature classrooms and other scenes.

For if I had to endure the playground on days when i wanted to explore the city/go on new adventures, was it so selfish to want to sit with parents who were entertaining? To this end, I drew out the app idea and spoke to several developers who estimated it would cost me at least $15,000 to make and market this app. Even today, news of the Peanut app’s existence and other similar ones unreasonably still irk me as I never actually followed through. As my friend DB wisely asked me years ago, do you really want to dedicate your life to this app in lieu of all your other interests? (Thank you for that reality check, friend).

When my childhood friend Wendy told me about her new app, Attention, I eagerly checked it out. I had high expectations. Wendy is a witty, warm writer whose autobiography Microthrills made the L.A. times bestseller list years ago and whose lauded one-woman show in NYC detailed her unique upbringing as the daughter of a sex therapist. I knew her app would be original. It did not disappoint.

Even for tech-dolts like me, it’s a user-friendly app; you invite your contacts to join and if they accept, you can send each other what Wendy calls “Attentions”– text or emailed messages that can include voice messages, words and/or images you select. What makes it particularly useful is that you can schedule recurring Attentions; for example, if you know your friend visits her difficult mother every Sunday and it stresses her out, schedule it so that every Sunday morning, she gets an Attention with a photo of Joan Crawford or Medea and a voice message/text that will surely give her a boost/ a little smile. (There’s no way, I’d remember to text a friend every Sunday morning).

Another wonderful potential use of this app: delivering daily reminders/nags to your teenagers to do the basics, e.g., shower, practice their instrument etc. The clear advantage is teens love their phones and don’t so much like parental nagging, especially with the oft- paired exasperated tone. A cheesy example: send them a daily Attention with an image of Mo Willems’ dirty pigeon and your calm voice saying “take the plunge.”

You can even send Attentions to yourself–certainly more fun than Google calendar reminders. Try scheduling a reminder every few months to get your hair colored: “It’s time!” with a photo of Maxine Hong Kingston (the esteemed Chinese-American author with very gray braids whose look you shallowly do not want to mimic just yet. I apologize for gray-shaming).

I may have to send myself an encouraging Attention this August before heading to Carleton College in Northfield, MN for my 25th reunion as I am a reluctant reunion attendee, despite mostly appreciating my college years. My 10th reunion was a wholesale disaster—marked by throwing up behind a bush during an organized group morning run in the Arboretum and a subsequent trip to the Northfield, MN emergency room at three in the morning due to sharp tooth pain that signaled a need for an emergency root canal. Even at my granola, mid-western college, I couldn’t help notice the curious sedimentation of cliques and some huddles of alums spread out on lawns-seemingly impervious to outsiders. Other minor annoyances: noticing that a football player whom I’d previously classified as cro magnum after he once ate my entire box of Nutter Butters without apology or offers of replenishment, stood staring at me intensely multiple times at different times without approaching. (No doubt, he was recalling the year I roomed with his girlfriend and gave him continual stink eye for the Nutter Butter incident. My stink eye is no joke!).

I like to believe that humans evolve over time but reunions rarely have me thinking “we are living, breathing organisms that are capable of self reflection and change.” Perhaps that’s unfair as I’ve grown to be a slightly more gregarious, confident version of my college self but the change is like the baby hairs on my upper lip–barely detectable. But no matter, the glutton for punishment that I am will be steering my kids into a sweltering Minnesota August; as a friend realistically reminded me, this is most probably the last reunion we’ll go to before death. A Last Chance reunion.

I can’t overstate my need for Wendy’s app. Someone ought to send me some Attentions to provide much needed motivation to pack for a pending move (just a few blocks away from my current place) for we all know moving is a grind that forces you to judge your possessions and abandon the familiar. I’ve been skillfully practicing the art of delay and am distracting myself at night with sad efforts at painting (a skill not necessarily automatic for those who can draw). Though i am trying to streamline my worldly possessions, every notebook/book/Sculpie figurine we’ve made as a family is a cherished friend. Send me a daily Attention with a photo of the Unabomber’s no doubt hoard-ish abode and I will shed, shed, shed.

A recent conversation with my new-ish friend Mariko, a Japanese journalist living here for two years, inspired my upcoming little borscht fundraiser for Ukrainian families. This Sunday, I am displaying stuff in the hallway of my building and inviting friends and neighbors to add to the pile and/or donate any cash in exchange for junk. Get ready for a really odd mix of items e.g., see this pair of unworn cheap sunglasses that was marketed to me as necessary during COVID at the beach. Any takers? (If I make $20 for the day, I might be lucky).

monkey wearing my questionable “COVID prevention sunglasses.”

Any money we collect will go to buy borscht at Veselka’s restaurant in the East Village, a place that holds happy late-night memories for me and so many New Yorkers it seems. The restaurant is donating all borscht proceeds to Ukrainian families in need. It has been pointed out to me that it probably makes little sense to buy bulk borscht instead of just donating the money to Veselka’s to distribute but then the themed fundraiser is for naught. Plus who doesn’t love borscht?

If you are wondering where I am next week, I may be seated at my dining room table with those in my family who aren’t beet averse; we’ll be imbibing multiple bowls–our faces permanently stained purplish/red. You are welcome to join us for a bowl or better yet, asap suggest a food pantry I should contact.

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