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Four Ingredients — Pun Intended — Cookstr Needs To Be a Truly Viable Recipe Site

I recently interviewed for a position at the recipe site Cookstr.

And…I made this joke on Facebook at the time, so, friends, bear with me: Like the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s and the Chicago Cubs in the 2003 NLCS, I have a history of choking when it counts…so I spent a fair amount of time reviewing the site beforehand so I’d be as prepared as possible at the moment of truth.

And…I gotta say: I like what I found. I think it’s a really good concept — and I’m not just saying that.

Here’s why:

In this NY Tech Meetup video from CenterNetworks, Founder and CEO Will Schwalbe shares his love of cookbooks and explains that the major online recipe databases, Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com, are focused on Conde Nast and Food Network content, respectively, but chefs and cookbook authors don’t really have a place on the Web where they can share their recipes and drum up interest in their books.

And thus, as Schwalbe tells it in the video, Cookstr was born.

It sort of reminds me of Birchbox, actually. I talked to one of the start-up’s founders for a ClickZ story in January. Basically, for $10 a month, Birchbox members receive high-end samples of hair, makeup and/or skincare products from partners like Benefit, Nars, Cargo and Laura Mercier. Birchbox, in turn, talks up all of the samples it includes in each monthly box…and gives members the opportunity to go back to its Web site to order full-size products. So…the partners give away samples, but, in turn, reach a wider audience and gain yet another online space where they can hawk their wares.

That’s essentially what’s happening with Cookstr, except there’s no monthly fee. Cookstr has partnered with a slew of chefs and cookbook authors, who are featured on the site. These recipe-producers allow a sample of their content to appear on the site…and each recipe is displayed alongside an image of the cookbook it originated from…and, if you click on it, you are given multiple options for purchasing the book from retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

It’s pretty smart for all parties involved, as I’m sure Cookstr has revenue-sharing agreements with each vendor. And the cookbook authors and publishers don’t have much to lose — just a few recipes.

I think Cookstr has really great search options — I especially love the cost feature — and, frankly, I like a lot of the chefs.

But Cookstr is not perfect.

According to Compete.com, Cookstr had slightly more than 57,000 unique visitors in January. That’s versus 1.8 million for Epicurious and 11.3 million for FoodNetwork.com

Granted, Cookstr is still quite young and can’t be expected to compete on a level playing field with two major media companies. (According to Wikipedia [after a very cursory Google search], Food Network had revenue of $1.5 billion in 2008…which is when Cookstr was just a baby.) But I honestly think Cookstr *could* give Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com a run for their money…if it only implemented a few small changes.

I always spend hours prepping for interviews and thinking up answers to potential questions and most of this stuff never sees the light of day…so here is my response to, “How could Cookstr improve and/or better compete with Epicurious and FoodNetwork.com?” if for no other reason than proving how passionate I am about food/words/online content and what a great fit I’d be for this site:

1. More feedback.

One of the things I love about Epicurious (my go-to recipe site) is that I can search for a basic recipe like, “apple pie,” and even though I end up with multiple results, I can quickly scan the ratings — 1 to 4 forks, from worst to best — to see how users grade each recipe, as well as what percentage of users would make the recipe again and what — if any — comments they have. The comments often include valuable information about tinkering with the recipe and/or tips for next time and help me narrow down my options.

If, for example, I was deciding between Rum Raisin Apple Pie and Lattice Apple Pie with Mexican Brown Sugar, I’d see that 95% of users would make the Rum Raisin pie again and that they’ve given it an average rating of 4 forks and that user mandica from Windham, Conn. decided to soak the raisins longer to make them plumper.

I know that the content on Cookstr is supposed to be trusted already…but I also think it’s fair to say that every recipe site — Epicurious included — is bound to have a stinker somewhere. Plus, Rick Bayless may assure me that his Smoky Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos is as simple to make as it is delicious, but what about those of us who haven’t spent decades studying Mexican cuisine? How easy is it for us to produce? That’s where I think user feedback is so valuable. If I’m going to the trouble of actually cooking or baking something, I’d like a reasonable expectation that it will turn out okay. And seeing multiple users say, “Yummy!” Or, “Perfect! Just cut down the salt…” puts my mind at ease.

But, sadly, there doesn’t seem to be much commenting on Cookstr recipes. Of the 25 recipes I added to My Cookstr, only four had comments. And just one apiece. I suppose the number of “favorites” each recipe has helps…but not as much as forks or percentages.

I think Cookstr needs to implement some sort of promotion or go on some sort of social media spree — or both — to encourage users to comment on recipes. Maybe they can reward comments with points and a certain number of points yields a discount on a cookbook…or, since the site already has partnerships with publishers (I think), why not give away some cookbooks to the most prolific commenters? Or, at the very least, tempt those commenters with a feature on the Facebook page?

Simply put: If Cookstr wants to be a trusted recipe site, it needs more user-generated feedback.

2. A dinner newsletter.

The Cookstr 10, a list of ten recipes that is sent out each week, seems pretty focused on holidays or major events. And while that is helpful, to a degree, I feel like eventually you’re going to come to a time of year when there aren’t any holidays or events nearby and you’ve already done warm weather or cold weather recipes…so…what then? I guess focusing on one particular cooking technique isn’t a bad alternative…and I’m not arguing that the Cookstr 10 should be done away with completely. I just think Cookstr users could be better served by a newsletter that helps solve the problem of what to make for dinner. (This is actually what the Cookstr 10 focused on last week…I don’t see why they can’t do it every week.)

It’s not an original concept. Everyday Food and Good Housekeeping do it. And there’s good reason. When I look at magazines or cooking websites, I’m often looking for inspiration. I need to go to the grocery store, but I have no idea what to buy. And I don’t think I’m alone.

That dinner void is exactly where Everyday Food and Good Housekeeping step in, and I see no reason why Cookstr can’t do the same. All they need is seven dinner recipes once a week — it could even be a compilation of all the Recipes of the Day that week.

If the majority of people do their grocery shopping on weekends, Cookstr could send out this new newsletter, on, say, Friday. It could still focus on the time of year and what’s in season and what holidays are coming up…but it would be a much more practical way of saying, “Hey — here are our suggestions for this week. Now you don’t have to think about it,” which, I think, in turn, conjures up a sense of trust — but only if the recipes are good — and the consumer begins to rely on it more and more (if the recipes are good). Another win-win.

3. Play to the crowd.

There are certain dishes that only come up once a year…but they are reliable bets annually.

Last week, for example, a friend on Facebook posted a request for king cake recipes.

However, if I search for “king cake” on Cookstr — which I did — I get Kathleen’s Wheat-Free Fudge Brownies, Flaky Scones and Rosemary Foccacia Sheet. None of these recipes are even remotely close to king cake.

Epicurious, on the other hand, has three viable king cake recipes; FoodNetwork.com has nearly ten.

With Easter coming up, I imagine folks will also be looking for hot cross buns. But, sadly, when I look for “hot cross buns” on Cookstr, I get Jamie Oliver‘s Bun and Butter Pudding.

I realize these are two heavily Christian examples and that the world is made up of lots of different faiths and that Cookstr can’t possibly accommodate every single holiday. But…I think they need to do some research to make sure they have their bases covered for the most popular ones.

Sure, king cake and hot cross buns may not come up super-often…but the absence of recipes in cases like this will alienate those who *are* looking for them and send them right into Epicurious and/or FoodNetwork.com’s arms. I, for one, get quickly discouraged if a site offers no options for what I’m looking for…and I move on.

In short, I think that if Cookstr wants to gain and/or retain the trust of consumers who are searching for recipes, it needs to better anticipate what they are searching for — and accommodate them.

4. More tweets.

As of Sunday afternoon, Cookstr‘s last tweet was on March 4. That’s nine days ago. They simply can’t go that long without any updates.

For one, the site features a Chef or Author of the Day every single day. At the very least, that’s prime tweeting material.

The site also features a Recipe of the Day. Why are these recipes not tweeted daily, too?

What’s more, tons of folks are talking about Cookstr recipes on Twitter. Check out these search results. There’s no reason for @Cookstr not to reply to — and follow — these users.

Simply put, the site needs better engagement with this audience. @Epicurious and @FoodNetwork don’t miss a day — neither should @Cookstr.

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Filed under blogs, books, cake, dishes, entrees, Food Network, Uncategorized

Goodbye, My Sweet Cardigan/Hat…

Spring is certainly here…(although, to be fair, I started this yesterday when it was more overtly here…). And while I am happy it has sprung, I’m a little sad to say goodbye to my winter clothes. Winter is a season far better-suited to hiding. I mean, if I wear a cardigan every day of my life in winter, no one asks questions. But that same cardigan in the spring/summer is not only mildly to intensely uncomfortable, but also turns me into Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give. (I remember she wrote a play about everything that happened with Jack in the end, but I don’t recall whether her clothes changed, too. But, if I was the gambling kind, I’d guess Nancy Meyers 86’ed the turtlenecks as some sort of homage to Diane’s transformation…)

And, I mean, I had this grand winter plan to reinvent myself and emerge in spring all svelte and wonderful. And yet I have this phobia of gyms (I don’t like people seeing me like that! Even though it’s supposed to be a good place to pick up, you know, babes, isn’t it?) and I am pretty sure I blogged about my epic failure in the Richard Simmons Experiment (although I did very much enjoy his introductory sequence at a Brooklyn nightclub…)…and so I thought I could compromise with this bike thing — which I could ride hidden away in my apartment and only my cat would be the wiser…but then my mother warned me not to buy anything until I had seen it in person, so I totally checked it out at Walmart in Tucson…but by the time I was ready to pull the proverbial trigger, it was sold out and I went back to square one. Plus, I am lazy and I like food. And now the year is practically halfway over and I haven’t done anything transformative at all (although, to be fair, I guess there’s no time like the present…)…but I still don’t think this will be the year I wear swimwear in public…unless it’s the old lady suit…and is that really progress? (Insert muumuu joke here.)

The other problem with it not being winter anymore (I say that instead of “spring,” because I don’t want to imply that I don’t like spring…I’m really happy to see the sun and everything! I will just miss the cardigan…) is that I’ve been all about hats this winter. (One of the fake gamblers said, “When does the hat come off?” The answer? “Spring.”) But…I don’t think I can get away with hat in spring/summer, can I? Which means I’m stuck with my stupid hair…and…the Cosmic Cosmetologist was totally right and I like it better longer…but…THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT…and it gets so bouffant…and I don’t know how to rein it in…which is why the hat was so great all winter. Otherwise, I just end up pulling it back…which sort of makes growing it out moot, doesn’t it? And it was completely wonderful after that Moroccan straightening treatment…but only for about two weeks. And it was WAY TOO EXPENSIVE for just two weeks of hair happiness.

I wish I could pull it back halfway with something like a Snooki poof — just not quite as tall. But my version was not even remotely attractive…and I actually just tried out this headband thing — that’s right, folks, I am reverting back to elementary school — but I’m not sure that’s really something appropriate for everyday use either. And so I am more or less stuck until next winter?

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My Fancy-Shuffling, Fake-OTBing, Hair-Scam-Avoiding, 33-Cent-Cheese-Meltdown-Witnessing, Old-Lady-Cursing Wednesday

Remember those commercials during the Olympics with the snowboarder that snowboarded right off into space while Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” played? Well…I wouldn’t call today a perfect day per se…but it was sort of strangely nice and/or memorable for a lot of little reasons:

1. I fake-gamble part-time to support myself now (…I had lunch with a friend from Martha last weekend and she said I should start a blog to debunk the myths of the New York freelance writer’s lifestyle — which sounds so glamorous! — but actually involves a lot of slapstick antics to make ends meet…) and I’ve felt that I can’t emerge from this experience without the ability to shuffle cards in a fancy way. I’ve always wanted to learn some card tricks…and I spend 18 hours a week with 416 cards now, so mastering the Fancy Shuffle (…which I Googled! And learned is called the Bridge Shuffle! And, I gotta hand it to SuperCardKid — he explains it really well…) seemed like a totally reasonable goal. And…it’s a very high-tech table that we play on and sometimes it dies and we have downtime…which is what happened today. So…I decided today was the day I was going to crack the Fancy Shuffle…and I did! I mean, I’m a long way from impressing anyone…but I at least figured out how to shift my hands to make the cards fall back in on one another after I’ve shuffled them. (Before long, people will totally be coming to my apartment for Poker Night…)

2. Some of my comrades at the fake-gambling place like to really gamble…and, like I said, we were twiddling our thumbs this PM…and one of them had one of those OTB horse guides? And we were looking at the horse names and I saw one called “Im a Mosaic Rockstar” and said, “That’s it. That’s the horse I would bet on…” and — guess what — the horse I picked totally WON. So…the real gambler then asked what horses I liked in the next race…and three names popped out at me, but I only remember two: Downtown Hottie and Lady Gracenote. And I believe my fellow fake-gambler actually *put* $6 on these choices. And part of me would really be thrilled if it turned out that I have a hidden talent for picking good horse names…but he didn’t say anything like, “Oh, man, Lisa! You hit the trifecta!” (or whatever…) so I’m assuming Im a Mosaic Rockstar was my one-time hit. (Still a little thrilling though…)

3. People stop me for directions a lot. And…today, while I was on my lunchtime constitutional, a woman stopped me and said, “Excuse me?” and I stopped because I assumed she needed help figuring out where to go…but then she said, “Where do you get your hair done?” and *that* is totally a scam, isn’t it? I’ve had people stop me before and ask that very same question and it turns out that they want money or personal information or something…(although maybe I’m wrong? I Googled various street-salon-scam term combinations and came up empty-handed…which maybe means she was legitimately wondering where I get my hair done…but…I doubt it. I had my luxurious brown locks pulled back in a ponytail today…and it may have been a nice ponytail…but it wasn’t anything that was going to stop traffic). And…as soon as I discovered that she was not a poor lost soul but rather thought she could sucker me into some hair scam, I was sorry I stopped…but instead of having a normal reaction, like, “I’m sorry — I have to go…” I pulled a Lisa and ended up blurting out, “I have to go!” with wild eyes and, long story short, if she *did* just want the name of a hairdresser, I’ll bet she thought I was a real weirdo.

4. I’ll just come right out and admit I ended up at a McDonald’s — and I know you’re all judging me now, but I had a good reason…and yet if I was to pull *another* Lisa and explain *how* I ended up at this McDonald’s, it would be very much like my old coworker Paulie said the other night — that my stories are like a John Bonham riff in a Led Zeppelin song — and/or imply that there is something WRONG with going to McDonald’s…and there isn’t. So…we’ll leave it at that. I was there. The End. (Almost…)

I ended up next to this dude who ordered two Filet-o-Fish sandwiches…and then appended his order with, “But I want them to be FRESH. And they need to be HOT.” And the guy behind the counter sort of said, “Sure…okay…” and I thought, “Wow. Yes. Right. I’m sure they’re going to go out of their way to give your Filet-o-Fishes some tender loving care…” And, I mean, I guess I shouldn’t judge either, but…it was a little high-maintenance, no? (And this is coming from ME…which really says something…) There’s a time and place, right? My mom used to (and perhaps still does…I just haven’t seen her order seafood in awhile…) ask if the salmon on the menu was farmed or not (or something)…and I understand that if you’re, you know, coughing up some change at an actual sit-down place, you can make requests like that. But…this was McDonald’s. You sorta get what you get, right? (I confess I actually really think the latest commercial is catchy…) But THEN the guy says, “And I don’t want half a slice of cheese. I want a whole slice of cheese on both of them.” And the guy said, “I’ll have to charge you extra…” and he completely lost his mind — “What are you talking about?? The cheeseburgers have whole slices of cheese! Why can’t I get a whole slice of cheese on my Filet-o-Fishes??” and he asked how much he would be charged and the guy said, “33 cents,” and he had another meltdown — “33 cents?? I have to pay SIXTY-SIX CENTS for WHOLE SLICES OF CHEESE on my Filet-o-Fishes? This is ridiculous! Ridiculous!” and on and on and on and ON. They had to get the manager. I left before I learned the outcome…but, man, oh, man…I did not envy the two guys behind the counter who had to deal with him. Yowza.

5. I had to wait for the A and the F trains this afternoon for a super-long time…and noticed a nice old lady get on the train with me at my A train stop…and, since we had to wait so long, the train was totally crowded…and as we were all sort of finding a spot, this nice little old lady says, “Give me some fucking room!” and THEN we got to Jay Street and a B train showed up on the F track…and she shouts, “This is fucking ridiculous!” and THEN she got on the train, but stood in the doorway as we all tried to hear what was going on with this mystery B train and they tried to close the doors with her still in the doorway and she says, “I can’t fucking believe it!” So. In three fell swoops, Grouchypants sort of debunked some commonly held old lady myths.

And then I came home and everything basically went back to normal. The End. (For real.)

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Filed under birthdays, blogs, Brooklyn, cheese, fish, Martha

Sad(der) Lisa and the Case of the Missing Books

I’ll preface this by saying I know everyone is sick to death of hearing about the Bartender. And I know I need to figure out a way to finally, officially let go and move on with my life. And — other than the fact that his bar is right around the corner from where I live and I have to walk by it/him virtually every day — I don’t know why it’s over two months later and I’m still struggling. I guess part of it is that it was the first time I really thought I was on to something good in a long, long time…and he’s somebody I care about. A lot. It’s hard for me to just turn that off and pretend it never happened.

But…I bring him up again — for what I will (try to) promise will be the last time — for two reasons: (1) It always makes me feel better to write things out; and (2) I have found no one really gives a hoot when I blog about food anyway.

My oldest childhood friend will be here tomorrow…and we have several days to pal around in New York before Costa Rica on Thursday…and I am hopeful I will return from this adventure with a new lease on life. Maybe we can perform some sort of ritualistic exorcism that will make me forget he exists. And/or maybe the guy who cut my hair was right and in another week, my life will change forever — even on the man-front.

Until then, I will write, I guess.

There were MANY things the Bartender and I did not have in common. Politics was one of them. He claimed to be a Republican…but I think he was much more moderate than he let on. Let’s face it — I have pretty strong opinions about woman-y things and I really couldn’t stand to be around somebody who told me I should be seen and not heard and the like. Granted, he had a McCain/Palin poster in his apartment, but I think part of his conservative fervor was also that he wanted to set himself up as a counterpoint to the young, urban, liberal hipster archetype.

The Bartender was also very opinionated and liked to talk a lot. In fact, once he told me on my little red couch that he liked our conversations because we didn’t argue — we had friendly debates that made him think about things in new ways. (But I will have to watch myself when it comes to making comments like that or I’m going to get nostalgic.)

And…one of my J-school professors is really into social justice-y topics and wrote a book called, “Denison, Iowa,” on — you guessed it — a year in the life of this Midwestern town. I’m not Amazon, so this may not be an entirely accurate recollection, but, basically…my memory of it is that Denison‘s claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of Donna Reed and so for many, many years it was this wholesome, traditional Midwestern town with wholesome, traditional Midwestern people and wholesome, traditional Midwestern values…and then a bunch of meatpacking plants popped up and immigrants started moving there for jobs and the social dynamics of the town changed considerably. So…my professor spent a year living there during this period of flux and sort of sat back and watched all these changes and the related drama. He illustrated it all with a number of characters in town like the young Latino guy who wanted to start his own business — and so there was all this intrigue about whether he would qualify for the loan in the end…and there was, like, a retired schoolteacher who had lived in Denison her entire life and who started teaching English classes at night…and there was also, like, the crooked cop who hated everyone who wasn’t white. That’s basically the gist.

And so — because the Bartender and I were allegedly on opposite sides of the political spectrum, I was curious what he’d think about this book. So…I let him borrow it. But…when I gave it to him, I said, “My professor wrote this, so I’d really like it back…” and then, half-jokingly, I added, “So, you know, if anything happens while you’re reading this and you decide you hate me and never want to see me again, will you please just, like, leave it in my mailbox or something? I really want it back.” And, of course, he looked at me with a big frowny face and said, “Nooo! That’s not going to happen! You worry too much!”

But sometimes the worrier is right and — sure enough — something happened and he decided that he hates me and never wants to see me again. But not before I let him borrow yet another book…which I’ve been saying is one of my favorites, but I’m not positive that’s entirely true. I just like it a lot and would like it back, too. And you’d better believe that even in the middle of our hours-long, tear-filled, “I don’t understand why you ‘can’t'”-goodbye, I let him know that I wanted those books back. He promised he’d get them to me. That was August 20.

I sent a reminder or two. Nothing.

Then…there was the whole end-of-birthday debacle in September.

So. I decided I would give him a good month-long cushion of no Lisa and then I would make one final plea for those books.

And — this is how crazy I am — both our final fight and my birthday are even-numbered days, so I thought, “Maybe if I wait until an odd day, I’ll have better luck!” Plus, November 5 is Javier Lopez‘s birthday and I figured I could, like, channel Javy for strength.

But before I actually had a chance to send him anything that day, lo and behold, I was on my way to meet the Greeting Card Emergency guy and I saw a man walking towards me with a Yankees hat and a cigarette and I thought, “Ohmygod, is that the Bartender?” and then he adjusted his backpack and I realized that, yes, it *was* him and so I got out my phone, but I had no new messages and then we passed by each other and had an eight-word conversation — “How are you?” “Fine. You?” “Fine.” “Books?” “Okay.” — and I turned the corner and my legs turned to jelly and I hyperventilated a little.

I got a new phone post-Bartender and his number is not in it. I had all these messages from him on the old one that I couldn’t bear to delete, but…my memory was full and so every time I’d get a new message it would say, “Memory Low! Delete messages now!” and I would say, “I don’t want to delete any messages!” and so my solution was to just get a new phone. No messages from him in there. No reminders of him.

But I still have that old phone. So…I figured there was no harm in retrieving his number and using the “use once” feature to send a message to that 347-number that I cannot save again. It was perfectly friendly — just to acknowledge that we’d seen each other and it was fine and — I know this is beating a dead horse, but — I’d really appreciate getting those books back.

So, later that very same day, I wrote him something along the lines of…”Hey — I hate to be a pain, but my professor wrote one of those books and the other is one of my favorites and it would mean a lot if I could get them back.” And that’s probably all a normal person would write, but I went on to say that besides making me really happy, I would imagine getting rid of the books would be cathartic and then he’d be free of it all and wouldn’t have any reminders of anything unhappy…and I said that I hoped all was well and that I seriously meant it because I never wanted anything but the best for him…and to prove that very point, I told him how happy I was that Pettitte pitched such a good game and that Matsui hit so well and the Yankees won, in part because I knew how happy it must have made him.

No response. No books.

So…I waited for another odd-numbered day (I hope I do not get, like, institutionalized for admitting that) and sent another message: “Please, T, please? Those books? I’m leaving the country on Thursday. Can I have them back before then?” (If I have to go pick them up at his bar, it would be great to have my oldest childhood friend there with me to figuratively hold my hand…)

But, again, nothing. Radio silence.

And, okay, I guess I have a reputation for being a clingy girl and understand that maybe he’s worried that responding will only fuel the fire and it’s easier to just press “delete” and pretend it never happened. But…it seems to me that the nice thing to do would be to say, “Okay,” or “Sure,” or SOMETHING — even leaving the books in my mailbox in the dark of night. After all, he gets off work at 4:00 AM on the weekends…

And I know I threw a lot of crazy his way, but I was also really good to him — I dropped off pie on National Pie Day because he had to work and couldn’t come to my celebration and I made him cheesecake and planned an elaborate dinner (with meat!) when he was hurt and out of work and poor and sick of eating rice and beans…and I sent him postcards from all of my travels this summer and I spent a small fortune on Yankees tickets for his birthday because he turned 30 and I wanted to do something big and because he hadn’t been to the new stadium and I wanted him to see it. And, you know, I did those things because I care about him and wanted to make him happy, not for future leverage in case I didn’t get my books back…and I was really happy to have somebody to care about and to be able to do those things for, you know? But I don’t understand how it could have devolved into this. My worst nightmare is someone saying, “I can’t love you,” and walking out the door and disappearing forever…and that’s exactly what happened.

I’m not holding out hope he’s going to knock on my freakishly small door and say, “I made a huge mistake!” But it seems pretty rotten to me to just ignore me. I could understand if I was texting him with, “I miss you! Please take me back!” or “Screw you, you manwhore! And give me back my goddamn books!”

But I’m not. I’m trying to be civil…and since I was the one who was so horribly hurt in this escapade, I thought being friendly and nice now would be kind of olive-branch-y, you know? Like, saying, “Yes, I know I was a huge mess the last time you saw me, but I’m basically okay now!”

So…last night, I was debating what to do…and then I got a call from an old coworker saying, “Hey! I just had dinner in your neighborhood — are you around?” So…I met him around the corner from my apartment and he said, “Where should we go?” and I said, “Anywhere but here!” and nodded toward the Bartender’s place. So…we walked up the street to another place…and we talked and caught up and drank…and he really likes my stories, so he always laughs and tells me how funny I am (last time he praised my comic timing — how about that??)…and I hadn’t seen him in awhile, so it was really nice. And…I don’t know how many beers later, I was telling him about trying to get my books back and we had already been out for a good, long time, so we were getting ready to leave…and as I was pointing him to the Subway, the neon lights at the Bartender’s bar shone brightly in the distance and I got all nostalgic and my old coworker said, “We should go in and have one last drink there!” and I said, “Oh, I don’t know…bad things happen when I go into that place…” and he said, “Come on — it’ll be good for you. And I’ll talk to him! I’ll help you get your books back!” And whenever I’m willing to go there, I should always remember that it means I am in no shape to be making decisions like that. But I agreed to go.

It wasn’t particularly crowded…so we were able to get two seats at the bar. The Bartender was behind the bar, but he wouldn’t have anything to do with me. He’s a pretty jealous guy…and, in hindsight, I realized I’ve always gone in there with girlfriends…and so I guess it could have looked like I was on a date or something and that I was rubbing it in his face.

He was wearing a Yankees World Series sweatshirt…so — see? I was right. He *was* really excited. And his stupid boss came out at one point and saw me there and was LOVING the fact that I was there with some guy and that the Bartender wouldn’t acknowledge me.

And, really, I’ve made a complete fool of myself at that place SO MANY times because of him. So they’ve  probably come to expect it of me. And, really, comparatively speaking, this time wasn’t that bad. I didn’t talk to the Bartender. But my old coworker did. And he came back to me and said, “You’ll get your books on Monday. But we should probably go now.”

And then I wanted to know what my old coworker had said and what the Bartender had said…and my old coworker was saying that, you know, he’s no good and I need to move on…blah, blah…and somehow I ended up crying on the sidewalk outside again and blathering on about how I don’t understand how you can just throw somebody away…and that he was always so good with my cat and that even when the little monster bit him, he’d be so patient and kind and call them “love bites,” and I feel like I’m depriving my cat of a father figure now…(see how much sense I was making?)

I’m very stubborn. I need to just accept that I’m never going to understand this and that I’ve already wasted too much energy trying to figure it out. And, I mean, some good came out of the Bartender situation — I was finally able to look at my life and what I actually have control over and realized how important it is to me to finish my book…and I’m so close! I’m almost there! And I know my poor little heart can’t go through something like this again…so next time I have to be really, really careful and — like my friend says — protect it.

I just feel a little more sad than usual today about the whole situation. And it won’t be the end of the world if I don’t get these books back. But I don’t understand why things are the way that they are…and how caring about him became this horrible, unforgivable thing…for which I have now been banned from his life.

So…even after that makeover, I’m not sure if I really am New Lisa after all. I am hoping that Costa Rica and my oldest childhood friend will change that. (And, if nothing else, I will try to find solace in knowing that my hair looked damn good last night.)

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