John D. Spooner is an investment adviser, author and novelist. His most recent book is No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Lessons for Young Adults. Here, he responds to queries from advice seekers of all ages. Send your conundrums to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know how people feel about their pets. I own stock in a company that produces animal vaccines, in part because I know that some people spend more money on their pets than they do on their children. Personally, I’d rather own the stock than a pet, although I know it’s one of my many flaws.
As for Buster, the simple solution would be to say, “Can you believe it? I was tested recently and I’m allergic to long-haired canines! I’m so sorry: Buster is an incredible dog, but I am getting hives, and if we socialize with each other you’ve got to leave him at home. I feel terrible about it.”
Or, you can say, “Look, I love you. But I cannot stomach Buster. You’ve got to choose.” But sometimes honesty is not the best policy.
Family gatherings can be bad enough, and then during the holidays you mix in what I call “The Outlaws,” meaning any relatives of families you married into. For many years, my wife and I always hosted holiday dinners, so I knew all the characters—all the grandparents, parents and children, the very good, the bad and the ugly. I had two solutions that made the holiday rambles fun, interesting and (almost) without tears or tantrums. The first was to invite a few “strays,” friends who cannot travel to family or do not have family to visit. They serve as buffers, keeping people on good behavior, and always add so much cheer to these events.
My second gambit came from my romantic days, when I was trying to imitate some of the high-life habits of James Bond. The spy invented a drink called the Vesper. It consisted of three parts gin, one part vodka and a smidgen of Lillet, “shaken not stirred.” Shortly before the guests arrived, I’d mix this concoction in a silver cocktail shaker until the surface of the metal was sweating with cold. Then I’d pour and start sipping. Halfway down the glass, I didn’t care who was coming to dinner. Ho, ho, ho.
Like escargots or raw oysters, New York can be an acquired taste for visitors. But with some behavior modification, it can be made almost magical.
In visiting New York, try being an actor or actress, which means pretending to have some old Brooklyn in you. (New Brooklyn is the hottest real estate spot in America, loaded with entitled hipsters and nothing like old Brooklyn.) Throw off your inhibitions and walk faster than you ever have in a city before. Don’t stare up at the tall buildings; people will know you’re not a native. Don’t say “Excuse me” when someone else is at fault jostling you. Don’t look too happy in the streets.
One person we should all have in our lives is a street-smart New York woman, someone who knows where the bargains are, who knows “a guy who knows a guy,” who can plug you into out-of-the-way stores and restaurants and off-Broadway shows. Search your classmates and friends to find that smart New Yorker. If you don’t have this person in your network, tap those friends who visit the Big Apple frequently to get recommendations on neighborhood restaurants, antique shops, smaller museums and offbeat neighborhoods. (I might suggest the bistro Chez Napoléon in the Theater District, the romantic Match 65 Brasserie on East 65th Street or the wonderfully fun Red Rooster in Harlem, perhaps after a visit to the American Museum of Natural History’s unforgettable live butterfly exhibit.) Relying on personal tips instead of guidebooks can help bring a big, impersonal city down to size.
And don’t buy “bargains” from street vendors, whether it’s handbags or bridges.