Song, with clementines and (lots of) coffee.
Illustration: Maanvi Kapur
The author Jade Song’s time as a competitive swimmer looms large in their first novel, Chlorine, which is a genre-bending adolescent-mermaid horror story that deals with the pressure placed on young female athletes. Though it’s been years since Song last swam, that history also continues to inform the way they eat: “I still think I retain a lot of that love for food as a constant source of nourishment,” they say. Song, who also works as an art director, spent the week celebrating the tail of their book’s publication, while also dreaming of sponge cakes and guava pop tarts.
Thursday, April 27
Upon waking, my brain never dwells on the previous night’s dreams or the day ahead’s plans but roars for the closest caffeine. I grind beans, place the moka pot on the stove, and rinse a handful of green grapes I took as leftovers from R and K’s engagement party last weekend. Pour the coffee and pop the grapes while I get sucked into my laptop screen.
Hunger pulls me from the haze of emails and Photoshop edits. Lunch! I pet the cat, make more moka-pot coffee, and rummage through S’s freezer for frozen fish balls from Chinatown’s Shu Jiao Fu Zhou. S is at his office, so I’m making lunch for one. The balls cook while I prep a dipping sauce of oyster sauce, soy sauce, and chili oil. Sprinkle katsuobushi on top, the wood-chip-like flakes dancing like fairies. I’m read Annie Ernaux’s The Years while I eat, and I’m so engrossed that I drop a fish ball onto my pants and leave a brown-sauce stain. Return to work, snacking on matcha Pocky sticks S brought back from his recent trip to Japan. The emails! They never end!
I leave S’s and walk downtown to spend the afternoon at A and T’s, ostensibly to co-work but in reality to hang out. T shows up with Zooba. Oh, I just ate, I insist, which is true, but, also, a spicy taameya sandwich stuffed with cauliflower, baladi salad, tahina, and harissa-raisin sauce with a side of dukka fries sounds goddamn delicious, so I need little convincing for a second lunch. Maybe it’s first dinner? Whatever a 4 p.m. meal too big to be a snack can be called.
I’m feeling antsy, like always, when I stare at my laptop for too long. I sign off, hug A and T good-bye, and walk to Chinatown, stopping at 59 Bayard Market for a bag of Chinese eggplant, the Canal Street fruit vendors for an abundance of clementines, and Kam Hing for two original-flavored sponge cakes. I immediately begin fantasizing about dessert.
Walk back to S’s proudly lugging my groceries on an aching shoulder. I blob on the couch attempting to revise a page of my burgeoning new novel manuscript while he steams a fish in coconut milk so fragrant that my stomach miraculously shoves aside the taameya sandwich and fries so I can sample buttery cod and silky tomatoes atop white rice. My second dinner! Afterward, I manage to eke out another page while manifesting my earlier vision: a Kam Hing sponge cake for dessert.
I hop on the train and arrive at mine, where I peel a clementine and finish some work — it’s midnight and I’m typing Chlorine interview answers and finishing day-job tasks, but at least I hugged my loved ones and savored tasty food: My two metrics for a good day.
Friday, April 28
I drop my last sachet of Old Town Nanyang Kopi Putih O Kosong into hot water, mourning the end of the huge bag I brought back from my trip to Malaysia a few months ago. I chug it, then go for a five-mile run through the park. Come back and make more coffee, this time grounds from Java Joe’s with a French press. Add oat milk. Sip it along with two clementines while I attempt to participate in day-job video-call meetings. (Do I drink too much coffee?)
J comes over to co-work and eat lunch. They bear two presents: their copy of Emily Lee Luan’s poetry collection 回 / Return and a large black coffee from Hungry Ghost. I drink half (yes, I drink too much coffee!) and pour the rest into a jar to save for later (but I am learning moderation!). J jumps into a meeting; I giggle overhearing their professional persona, so at odds with how I know them as a friend. I make tortang talong, grilling the eggplant I bought yesterday over the gas stove. We ooh and aah over the delectable sizzling of egg batter in oil. I spoon each half into bowls with a side of white rice and chili oil. We feast, then return to our respective laptop screens.
J leaves. I finish up work, then head uptown to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the marvelous Cecily Brown exhibit titled “Death and the Maid.” I like to take myself out alone around the city, especially to see art. During the walk from the subway to the museum, I stop at By the Way Bakery for a brick of a brownie, because I am a bottomless void and former swimmer who is always hungry. If you think of the Michael Phelps diet, that stays with you. We would eat constantly all the time.
Happy from abstract memento mori paintings and fudge-y treats, I head downtown. On the way, I call my overworked friend Alex to check in, then open Find My Friends. I see that P is close by at Fish Cheeks, so I swing by to say hello. I adore the pakboong fai dang and am deeply tempted to order it to go, but I exercise a modicum of self-control for once and leave without spending money. I arrive at S’s; too lazy to cook an actual meal, I proceed to finish the green grapes and snack on two White Rabbit candies while reading the rest of The Years.
Saturday, April 29
I’ve been feeling fidgety due to book-launch anxiety, and S is eyeing a used Design Within Reach lamp in Hudson, so we’ve decided to go upstate for the day. We wake early and head to Penn Station in the pouring rain, stopping at Dunkin’: hot black for me and a cold brew for S. We wait for NJ Transit to Newark Airport for the rental car; S is starving. He stomps away and returns with an apple turnover and almond croissant from Zaro’s. I steal a few (okay, most) bites. Hop on the train, pick up the car at Hertz, and marvel at the electric-vehicle opulence; neither of us has driven in one before.
Opulent, but the regenerative braking makes me incredibly nauseous. I spend most of the drive crumpled in the passenger seat trying not to vomit. We land in Hudson and meet F, a very kind textile designer who weaves a tale of his past Brooklyn life and gives us a tour of his remodeling before passing off his red Twiggy Floor Lamp, which we pack haphazardly into the car. S triumphs over his good deal, then we walk a few minutes to the queer-owned gourmet grocery store F recommended: Talbott & Arding, a crunchy-granola lesbian’s dream. We sample sour cherry and pistachio granola atop strawberry jam and coconut yogurt.
I scroll through a list of Hudson recommendations Anna sent and settle on Cafe Mutton for lunch. It’s a cute place — I point out its Humpty Dumpty decor. S, FOB (endearing), has never heard of the English rhyme, so I chant it while we wait for our food. I order a crab-and-Boursin omelet with Ritz crumbs, toast, and Tabasco. It is transcendent.
The car needs charging, so we find a station but are shocked by how long it needs to fill the battery. Anna recommended a massive antiques market that’s a five-minute walk away, so we leave the car to charge and get lost within the warehouse, giggle-cringing at some of the more questionable (racist) imports. An hour later, we return to the car only to discover it did not charge properly. In a panic, we drive to a grocery store’s fast-charging station. I head inside to buy some lemon-flavored seltzer, hoping the bubbly will soothe my carsick stomach.
The car is charged, so we make it back to NYC before too late. Luckily, my stomach has settled enough for avid conversation during the two-hour drive. Back in the city, for dinner, I eat three clementines and two Los Tacos No. 1 grilled cactus tacos with onion, cilantro, guacamole, and salsa.
Sunday, April 30
Alarm blares at 4:15 a.m. because I am deranged. I chug Friday’s leftover half of Hungry Ghost coffee and throw on my favorite black and metal-rivet dress, its goth edginess undermined by my ASICS running sneakers. After five years of techno raving in leather platform boots, I’ve learned my lesson to be a good podiatry-minded girl.
I meet Henry at the corner. We hug, then walk to the venue, which changes often for the party; this time, from what I can tell in the dark, it’s a concrete warehouse-like site under construction. I recognize a cutie at coat-check and kiss them because love is abundant. Locate Sicheng, who looks so hot in a leather corset I almost weep. We dance. My two favorite hot-mommy DJs come on for a b2b. Time warps from gritty beats. Sicheng leaves the dance floor and comes back with a can of Coke. I glug half before someone thrusts a lit stick of incense into it. One of the hot mommy DJs offers me a stick of mint gum, which I gratefully accept because it’s a god-given gift of ambrosia. An hour or a minute passes—party’s over. Stumble out blinking in the 9 a.m. sunlight. We are exultant and feral. Better than therapy, Sicheng says.
We trudge to Reunion for breakfast; halfway there, I spy Terms of Endearment and dart in for a treat to go. At Reunion, I guzzle water and black coffee, then devour crispy potatoes doused in hot sauce and a pita stuffed with scrambled eggs, labneh, and chili oil. Henry and I split the Terms of Endearment guava pop tart.
I hop in the shower, then walk to my neighborhood fishmonger for salmon and tuna. Go to P, M, and D’s apartment, which I consider my second NYC home. P, our resident chef, has prepared a sexy buffet of ingredients for temaki: masago, chopped green onion, avocado slices, sprouts, cucumber strips, imitation crab, and sushi rice. She slices my raw fish and plates it beautifully; we sit around their dining table and converse while folding our seaweed cones. Share Pejoy Cookies & Cream biscuit sticks and Nori Maki Arare Crackers for dessert. I nibble at one of D’s peach ring gummy edibles.
Return home, where I read a few poems from Victoria Chang’s Obit before descending into blank .docx hell. I type enough sentences to achieve a respectful word count for a looming deadline. I flop onto the couch, somehow nauseous again. Lingering carsickness? Having written? Edible hitting wrong? Copious amounts of caffeine? Exhaustion from ten miles’ worth of steps of dancing before 9 a.m.? The unbearable burden of sentience? A drenching of friend love and queer love and love of every kind? I settle on the latter because I am incapable of accepting happiness and love without wanting to throw up.
I call my mother, then watch Sandi Tan’s beautiful documentary Shirkers while snacking on frozen mango. S comes over to say hello and propagate leaves from my fiddle-leaf fig, which has blossomed so well that it severely tilts, unable to hold its own growth. I am jealous. I would like to experience a similar weight of prosperity.