Sunday, July 1, 2018

All Apologies?

I suppose every working man or woman has a certain anticipatory excitement on the way to a job… maybe not every day, but on special days.  For us musicians, it never gets old; if it does, you've chosen  the wrong profession.  Usually I'm struggling on and off a combination of subway platforms and crosstown buses because my compensation has pretty much excluded the economic possibility of a taxi or car service.   Except this one gig, where my 'boss' happens to be my neighbor and we ride downtown together frequently.

On the drive tonight looking east, a pumpkin moon was rising, orange-ghosty and huge over the Roosevelt Island skyline.  It wasn't quite full-- I'd missed that, but still was glad for the panoramic view across the river and the sense of being on the way somewhere-- to stand up in front of some people (hopefully) and give them some kind of memory or joy.  It had been a long complicated day without air conditioning in the first summer heatwave-- and a little over two years since my Dad passed.  Night trips in his car were always upriver-- on the way home from Brooklyn or Long Island or wherever… me always glad whatever celebration or visit was over, that there was less to dread-- burdensome meals, hours in strange homes trying to be normal and sociable… feeling the judgmental glare of parents and waiting for the inevitable adult argument when they got home.  I'd learned the pattern, and was just glad the faithful moon always remembered the way back to my bedroom window.

The death of my father, I've said many times,  brought me a kind of relief.  It was final… there was no more slim possibility of reconciliation or the tense notion of it.  There had been a moment-- maybe seven years ago-- I'd printed out and shown my Dad a pile of articles I'd written-- blogs, essays… well-censored… and he'd given me a sort of near-embrace and said 'Let this be the start of a new regime between us.'  It felt pivotal and grown-up, like some kind of breakthrough.  But the next time I saw him, he'd reverted to that barely tolerant hostility he'd shown me since my college graduation where he seemed publicly pleased at my awards and achievements.  And what have you done for me lately, I could almost hear him sigh under his labored breath?

I suspect my sister had something to do with maintaining my enemy status; it was imperative that I be deleted from the final recipe of his will.  God only knows what false vendettas were added to the maybe legitimate ones to which he seemed to cling:  I'd built a wall out of it.   But one day past what would have been his 99th birthday, my cousin sent me a listing of his truly heroic wartime feats and medals.  It came on like a surge today-- the pride, the humility, the legacy.  Me… with my smalltime club gigs and shows-- how could I possibly fathom the aftermath of this kind of performance?  The theatre of war, it is often referenced… here I am, the progeny of one of the great honorees… failing to understand the impossible wake of such a life-- caught up in the petty deeds of offspring who seemed more a requirement than an elective in his family reality.  Here is a man who faced down death and massive terrifying wounding violence daily--   clearly marked but never whining about his trauma-- with an estranged daughter who was raised in safety and maybe suffered from occasional stage fright.

So I spent the afternoon and evening in some kind of penitent state-- with a bit of shame and remorse thrown in, a bit of delayed grief.  Meanwhile a beloved musician had passed away this week; he often joined us onstage to sing one of his band's anthemic songs, and his sweet lack of narcissism was extraordinary.  We were planning a small tribute-- unrehearsed, of course-- from the very stage where we'd all been together just six weeks ago.   On the way downtown, watching that moonrise, I was a little excited to be trying a couple of his original compositions-- embracing the challenge and the music.  As we started the first song, I saw a familiar profile in the audience-- was about to wave and beckon-- and then realized with a tremor that he'd gone-- what was I thinking?  Was this a ghost? A mirage?  Or just some generic tall rock and roller with a hat and dark glasses?  And here was the first song, the dedication… I was totally thrown, and flubbed my way through like a blindfolded man in a cave.

So I failed them both-- my musical friend, who would have forgiven me-- and my Dad, who wouldn't have.   Or maybe I got it wrong… maybe this was the lesson of the night:  shame, a little unintended disrespect, to have messed up the great music…. but maybe I didn't fail my Dad.   Even the chorus lyrics were questioning and ironic: 'She may call you up tonight/Then what could I say that would sound right?' Maybe it was just impossible to succeed, to follow an act of historic heroism that had no sequel.  I felt a little faint onstage, but fought my way through the rest of the set.

Another friend gave me a ride uptown… He intends to live to be 140, and so has not even turned the corner into the second half of his story.   As for me, I am looking ahead and behind tonight-- trying to forgive myself for my terrible performance (so many musicians and old soldiers use alcohol in place of forgiveness)-- not less for my failure to understand my father and accept his lack of forgiveness-- after all, maybe I failed him less than he failed himself.  It seemed apt, on the childhood drive upriver, realizing with irony that I was on the Left Bank(e)-- our tribute-- and my moon had receded into normalcy in the hot night sky that promised a brutal morning in the urban world of no-air-conditioning.  Me the post-midnight pumpkin now-- on the B-side, the roundtrip return-- still a daughter, in spite of it all.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Who's Your Daddy

On Father's Day I walked down to the East River.  Like most things I count on in life, it was testing boundaries, flexing its liquid muscle, changing its face from calm rippling smiles to smirks to choppy grimaces and swirls and whorls of angry warning.  The sun had set and there was little moonlight.  The humid air was a prelude to the long New York summer which no longer spreads but looms like a warm dare.  There will be fireworks... there will be sleepless nights in damp sheets with dogs howling  through open windows and passing sirens belting out their urban lullaby with even more urgent frequency.  On the concrete boardwalk, the roar of the current duetted with the city hum, like some symphonic grey wind-- the thick planetary breath which seems to crescendo in these mid-year months.  My son used to complain that he couldn't hear the stars sing.

Who's your Daddy, I wanted to ask the river on that night?  But we know that.  From whence it comes, to where it goes-- the oneness and duality, the calm and the storm.  Men deftly steer their way from one side to the other... on barges, on tugboats... while uptown the Hellsgate Bridge like a kind of red heaven threatens to take any challenger to the deep cold bottom from which few have returned.

My own son grew up without a father.  Or he grew up with me straddling the two endpoints of parenting with limited skill.  I was unprepared by my own dad whom now that he is gone I can witness as a complex mess of post-war PTSD and garden-variety guilt that sabotaged what could have been a happy and productive life.  I feared and hated him most of the time; the feeling was mutual.  Like my son, I adopted a series of role models from ballet-teachers and coaches to movie stars and literary heroes.  One day it was Atticus Finch; the next it was the gardener.  Even the Good Humor man seemed to look at me with something closer to love than any holiday or ordinary greeting from my father.  I'm not sure if it was more painful for him, but I took that on, too.   I never got to have payback, or closure, or any unravelling or confession.  It stayed the way it began-- an awkward pantomime of familial choreography at best, and at worst just the outright poison-gas cloud of anger.  Meanwhile, I was glad to get out of there-- to go off on my own to college... to experience relationships and daily life without the straitjacket of familial angst.  I was happy and in love with the world... maybe a little too generous with emotions, and a little naive.

Tonight I went by the Art Students League to see the work of a young painter and I suddenly flashed back forty-something years to my fresh young urban-independent days.  As much as I obsessed over music-- the boiling pot of fantastic ingredients that produced the bands of the downtown scene-- I was in love with the city arts-- especially the painters, whose spattered clothing and long days of physical dedication to craft were like the wizards and shamans of my imagination.  There was a community of them then-- some in the relative wasteland that was Soho in those days--- occupying huge unheated raw lofts with their yards of canvas and piles of stretchers and stacks of paint cans.  They were tormented.  They were sensualists and passion-seekers.  They looked and listened and agonized.  At night they'd congregate at any one of the bars where a beer and a burger could be negotiated for about $2 for regulars... Fanelli's, the Cedar Tavern, etc...  

They loved the young art students and were too willing to 'father' us into the New York scene.  I slept with them... loved to awake in a strange mattress on a hardwood floor to the thick smell of paint and coffee brewing on an old gas stove.   There were no televisions in these places-- no air-conditioning-- just the hot soundtrack of Coltrane or Miles' Jack Johnson or occasionally Exile on Main Street or even Beethoven for some.  An array of books--- Picasso or Velasquez or Giotto-- poets, Henry Miller, Anais Nin... Beckett.... I inhaled.

The subways were hot and gritty and covered with graffiti-tags... the colorful trains of the early 80's were still a dream... but as a nod to the New York artists, the mayor funded a program called City Walls and a few of these painters got to design and cover a huge conspicuous building-side with one of their compositions.  I remember riding downtown in an old beat-up volkswagon with the back seat removed, my eyes closed for the big reveal... there at the end of Broadway, on Houston, was a huge layering of colored mountains and horizontal strata, like a great desert cake... done by my driver named Mel Pekarsky.  Shitty Walls, he called the commission, but his creation was amazing and I'll never forget how proud I felt to know him.

My young painter at the Art Students league tonight had done a huge landscape divided into grid-squares by lengths of string-- like a fresco design... and I thought about Mel's old wall which had long been covered over but which signaled in a way a sort of go-ahead for legal and illegal appropriations of urban surface for artistic messages.  The age of Haring and Basquiat, of the spectacular trains of Dondi and Lady Pink-- was just dawning.  I looked on the internet and was happy to see Mel is still alive and creating-- teaching-- a regular job to soften his senior years and hopefully pay his studio rent.  The art world will never be the same. The Art Students League gallery tonight was a little empty and without festivity... a little clinical and derivative... no angst, no insanity, no joy.  I remember how Mel wrote me postcards back in those years-- he'd paint and draw and address the verso.  Some of them were x-rated and confiscated by the post office.  Somewhere in the boxes of things stored in my father's old house, these treasures have been turned into trash, I learned recently.  One more tragic loss in this world where Soho is a pricey mall, galleries are stores, artists have become brands and the graffiti of the 1970's is being auctioned to rich men with clean apartments and housekeepers.

Looking ahead at the long summer weeks, I can't know what is in store.  My beloved BB King's is no longer; more of my favorite local musicians have packed up and gone to Nashville or Woodstock... I can't afford much more than a good long walk to the river or an occasional subway ride.  I still have no air-conditioning, live among stacks of paintings and piles of books-- these are and were my fathers, my mentors... my instruments are still my children, waiting for me to come home and wake them up.  Tonight I will close my eyes and remember that ride down Broadway into the enormous colored mirage of that painted desert dream.  Who's your Daddy, the painter blurted out, laughing, when he heard me gasp in awe in that hot Volkswagen with the stacks of canvases where the back seat used to be.   So forty-something years later,  four days past Father's Day, I just got it.  

Friday, June 15, 2018

23 Skidoo

One of my cousins voicemailed me recently, apparently thrilled with news that he'd had his DNA analyzed in one of those kit-lab mail-ins and discovered that we are related to a scandal-besieged low-grade criminal art dealer.  Apologetically, I failed to be either shocked or impressed... in fact, in this facebook and instagram world of over-exposure and data breaches, why would anyone want to participate in a cellular-level scientific confess-all to God-knows-what information-bank or repository? I have already shared the maiden name of my second-grade school teacher, my first dog breed, where I met my husband (which one?  The Palladium or the Camden market one?) and my favorite author in so-called security locks on various online forms.  Not to mention my unlisted number and private email... just so they can be extra sure I am not an imposter.

We've all been warned that a large percentage of Pap smears and other tests and biomarkers have come back with false positives or negatives... so how can we trust a chromosome-mill which has no biological or genetic responsibility?  The number of people I know who are now claiming Navaho heritage from these kit-results is suspicious.  I don't think the Native Americans were that quantitatively promiscuous.  One of my friends has taken to wearing moccasins and beads.  Her daughter claimed dual ethnicity on her college application to play the diversity card.  And wasn't it a local president of some NAACP chapter that turned out to be faking her Afro-American-ness?  Not only is she a biological Caucasian but a confirmed fraudster who extracted many thousands in public assistance for which she did not qualify.  A perm and a dye-job did wonders for her-- maybe weekly time in a tanning bed.  Did anyone see Kim Kardashian on the news last night standing beside the newly-freed Diane Johnson and looking many shades darker than her previous press appearances?

So do we really need these identity kits to prove or discover who we really are?  Okay, I had to have amnio-centesis to rule out genetic disorders in my unborn fetus.  And disease-wise--  transplant candidates, biomarkers-- for these purposes tests can be useful and life-saving.  But as a teenager I'd already had a white-haired man approach me and swear he was my real grandfather.   Since my own had long since been ousted, it was enough for me.  Fake or real, he sent me great books and gifts and listened to my little demo-tapes with some kind of pride and love I never had from my own family.

My older sister as a teenager used to claim she'd been adopted.   I'm not sure my son could pick his real father out of a lineup.  What is the point?  Besides the forms we fill out and the college applications and census data, we are all mutts in this culture that seems to rather value pedigree and blue-bloodedness only where horses and dogs are concerned.  The new royal Princess or whatever her title is a mixture of things.   Even her name sounds oddly popster or like a plastic doll: Princess Meaghan.  Not historic nomenclature.  But there she is, holding hands with the Queen of England, slated to carry truly royal blood in her bi-racial American womb.

We are all one, was the great mantra of the 60's... embracing human brotherhood and diversity.  But the data-machines and marketing hoovers need to know what makes us all uniquely susceptible to bait-and-hook consumerism: how to use our genetic and acquired predilections to manipulate and influence our buying habits;  how we, as individuals, can be corralled and herded into transferring our money into huge corporate pockets.    So for all those angry facebookers who took the little personality tests and the aptitude quizzes, voted for grey or purple, circle or square, salt or pepper, Beatles or Stones.... do not be fooled by these advertisements promising they will reveal your 'ancestry', your ethnicity and heritage-- your profession suitability and athletic potential.  They are collecting more information from a speck of your spit than Cambridge Analytica amassed over years of sifting through a million posts.

My neighbor was holding court with the little dog-clan he parades around at night.  The new mutt, he was explaining, is part samoyed, part sharpei, part retriever, part spaniel.  I wondered how he was so sure about all of this.  Canine DNA testing?  I had a mongrel dog for years I'd found in Harlem-- abandoned, in bad shape.  He continued, over the years, to show marked preference for black people.  It was uncanny.  As for me?  His adoptive keeper? He tolerated me.  My black husband?  He went to the door 5 minutes before the guy came home; ditto his friends.  Love and devotion.  It was like they were brothers.  Do Not Ask.  Do Not Analyze.

A friend of mine years back had a strange phonecall from a woman he'd apparently slept with in a drunken amnesiac stupor after a party in Washington DC.  She claimed she was quite pregnant with his baby... he balked for a while, but began sending money-- child support.. even visited the baby periodically, paid for her college education.  She looked not at all like him-- went into the military (he was a 60's love-child/ardent pacifist) and married young.  Did he ask for a paternity test?  Not even.  That's the kind of genetics I'd be proud to have in my heritage.  A father.  Accountability.

We are what we eat, my nutritionist friend maintains.  She believes our blood-type determines the optimal individual dietary choices.  I can see the logic in this... but for a narcissistic culture with the flood of information available to us-- the choices and surgical options-- the supplements, treatments, neuro-biological neutralizers and enhancements-- if you don't know who you are at this point, well, I doubt an ancient family crest is going to change you much.   Get your face out of your phone and have a conversation with the person next to you.  You'd be surprised at how much you will uncover.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Signs of Where

I had a strange phonecall this evening... a woman's name ID'd on the screen... a writer I remember meeting some years back when we were both editing on our laptops in an air-conditioned Starbucks during a sweltering August heatwave.  She'd smiled at me, we had several non-smoking cigarette breaks on the sidewalk outside where we'd briefly thaw out in afternoon heat.  We exchanged numbers... she was working on a difficult historic novel which had required years of research and period reading.. a sort of Name of the Rose mystery.  Unlike me, she had some family money-- sold a pricey Carnegie Hill coop and downscaled to the upper west side with plenty of cash support.  She was beautiful in a pale, fragile book-worthy way.  Well spoken and intelligent-- but soft and womanly.  We were both brimming with our projects and ripe with future.  Ensconced in a literary neighborhood, we'd trade rumors about at least one of our elder urban mentors as he shuffled by with rolled newspapers or muttering to himself beneath a wide-brimmed disguise.

I remembered all of this, as one does, in a flash-- this is how our brains work-- we get a cue, and we unravel the relevant 'bank' with all its stored observations and details: a profile, like our own personal Facebook page we create for each of our friends-- facts, details, family names, images of moments we have shared or imagined from conversations and communications.  I used to pride myself on something of a 'phonographic' memory; I recall sounds-- associated music, accents and voices...  and images... the setting, geographic details-- how I stared at a painting on the wall while someone unburdened themselves of a sad story... the way the old window sashes crossed while my mother read aloud the March Hare or the Lilliputians.

It felt especially pertinent-- this associative process-- because less than a minute into today's phone call, I realized this woman had dialed a number she found on a random scrap of paper... had no idea who I was, confessed to having a terrible memory... commended me on mine... did not recognize my name, insisted after a bit that she'd met me at a meeting and we'd gone to a bar (not a chance), etc.  I asked her where she lived... she mentioned the number 104 and couldn't seem to move on from there. You're on the west side, yes, I suggested...? and she replied, Not very far west, I think.  By the end of the brief interrogation-- she began repeating questions... her focus was disintegrating.  I began to inquire, hoping to steer her into some familiar space, as I used to corral my mother in her dementia into some small fenced-in area in which she could function.  Her book-- she'd tried to write and failed...  I eventually hit a wall-- had to somehow disengage; she took my number (!) and asked if we could get together... having me carefully spell my last name.  I will be very surprised to hear from her, or perhaps she will call again tomorrow, looking somehow for some mental foothold.

On the street I felt a little distraught; after all, we are about the same age and I'd recently watched my own mother take the slow fade from bright and bitchy to a milky soup of confused and unrelated word-strings.  So I took time to listen to one of the chattier housekeepers who was often out walking her pair of lazy retrievers. She'd raised 3 children whose mother had just died of a terrible cancer;  the kids were acting out and the father was already dating.  The dogs were not healthy...  one was worse than the other; the housekeeper's accent was slightly Caribbean.  Where were they going for the summer?  I memorized her braids, her part-- the way her left eye was brighter than the right-- her lovely teeth...  Stories... I needed stories.  I stopped to listen along my 10-block way.  I spoke,  I watched... I heard sirens... followed firetrucks and ambulances until they disappeared... noticed baristas and customers inside shops.  They nourish me.  I need them.

Back home after a long evening, I retrieve my 'eye-photos'... I recall things, thoughts I've had... plots I've woven around simple facts and remarks.... nothing remarkable today-- a few confessions and bad date-stories, a friend's itinerary... some phone calls... music... my Latin Hip-Hop class where thankfully I am able to reproduce the chain of steps that constitute a routine... I know whose voice the singer reminds me of, what melody has been stolen... I've written lyrics in my head, forgotten most of them... but still I am able to retrieve, to unpack a few folders.  Of course, at my age my mental knives could use sharpening--- but they function... for today, anyway.  It is like unpacking a small basket of groceries you have gathered for a modest meal.  It is there-- your substitutions, your little economies--  your process that will become something you will make.

It has been a dark year for me and for many of my beloved friends.  I have had hardships and losses-- disappointments, cancellations, betrayals.  I have been hungry and tottered on the edge of envy.  But to speak to someone-- a complex map of neurons and synapses-- of brain power and creativity-- a talented, delicate writer-- and find her stumbling in a pool of her own confusion-- was more than upsetting.  Maybe the worst nightmare of all is the one in which you can't find your way home because you can't find you.  To lose all my orts and scraps of ideas--- to see them as indecipherable, as odd word-bits, not pieces of a puzzle only you can assemble... well, for me that is terrifying.  Not poverty, not failing at love--- even the sorrow of death-- but the concept of living death, of wandering without consolation or direction.

Months ago I asked some auction house about an old drawing which touched me-- its condition... 'Light signs of wear' was their email assessment -- but they'd typo'd and exchanged the g and n.  Light sings of wear, I read.. and my heart opened-- the charred, fragile, disintegrating version I've been carrying-- with its slow uneven beating and its careful mourning hesitations...  well, I felt its light and its tiny soul shaping into some lyrical epiphany for me.  Like an Amen... one of those tight banks of imagery unfurled into something like a miniature parade, a tiny joy.  I will carry this forward for now,
in the name of the writer, Abigail, who has quite lost her place in line.  I will continue.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wildfire of the Vanities

The passing of Tom Wolfe is yet one more fallen leaf from the tree of my New York City.  Like Quentin Crisp, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol-- he walked among the ubiquitous social landmarks of the version of our eccentric and rich urban culture I inherited in the 1970's.  He'd occasionally show up at the gallery where I worked; you could find him daily lunching at his favorite table in the Isle of Capri on Third Avenue and 61st Street-- right in the windowed perimeter area as though he was willingly on display, in his signature white suit, impeccably groomed and accessorized.  His hair was perfect.  Like so many writers of the 20th century who lambasted and loved the city, there will be no one to fill the vacuum he leaves.

A year or so ago, I saw him on the street, looking frail and aged maybe beyond his years, and it occurred to me that his generational tide was receding in a sad way; my own peers have grown old, whether they fight this or not.  We prepare ourselves for these clockwork ravages of time-- the natural purges of decades... but unlike the seasonal rhythms of nature-- the human race is not deciduous.  We die off, and the replacements are quite unlike their parent foliage.  If our annual cherry trees lost their color we would notice; not as much with the changing of the cultural guard.

The Bonfire of the Vanities seems innocent now, compared with the widened gap in our economic architecture; the millionaires have ballooned into billionaires, crime is criming, institutional corruption is rampant and pungent-- Wall Street, politics-- the music business-- just about everything is tainted with the stench of greed and the manipulations of power brokers.  Our daily news brings us one falling man after another-- the ones who grab, who touch, who lie, cheat, hoard and dissemble.  We are a diseased culture all dressed up like queens and princesses-- like strippers and whores-- we are enhanced, coiffed, made-up, pumped up like nothing else.

Coming uptown last Monday I was re-routed by the massive security barricades surrounding the Met Gala.  The police presence rivaled the Pope's visit.  Pedestrians and traffic were forced to bypass a wide radius around the temporary palatial-scale tenting surrounding the museum like a Christo installation-- for what?  So that the rain or elements did not alter the finery of the attendees who are not the New York social stars, but the usual nouveau celebrities-- the Kardashians, Beyonce, Rihanna--- on and on...  my museum-- selling itself to Hollywood for money-- so that the crowd-drawers-- the Costume Institute-- the rock and roll culture-- can continue to put on show-stoppers that bring audience but dwarf the art for which the museum was built to house?

I grew up at the cultural knees of this place.  I wandered its vast rooms and explored everything from Greek amphora to Chinese porcelain.  I prayed to the virgins, wept over the Dead Christ images, held my breath at the exquisite painted life of these dedicated artists of the past-- dreamed their dreams,  absorbed their images of history and mythology like my own bloodline.  A library card was all it took to gain access to these halls...  even as a young girl I let my princess fantasies loose when I ascended the Grand staircases.  I often did my homework in the Temple of Dendur and walked my dog at night outside the windows so I could imagine myself alone by the great silent pool.  

I've been experiencing for years the pop-wash of the museums-- the DJ's and soundtracks in the auction houses, the clublike atmosphere they create to pull in the younger crowd-- to make art 'relevant'... but somehow the paparazzi and celebrity-pomp seemed misplaced at the Metropolitan Museum.

Of course, that is the point now.  The celebrity culture owns everything; even the British House of Windsor, come this Saturday.  I used to get my fashion sense through art-- studying the great costumes and creations of the past via these paintings.  Now art is fashion, fashion is art...  the museums take their inspiration from the culture rather than lifting us to some artistic epiphany.  My first Graduate School 'talk' at the museum was the Giovanni Bellini Madonna-- most of these artists worked on Church commissions-- religious subjects and altarpieces; the spiritual informed their work and they innovated as they observed life:  humanized saints and Christ himself-- fleshy angels and suffering martyrs.  So the themed Gala-- with Catholicism nothing more than a fashion statement-- seemed like true trashy irony.

Not that I'm a religious prude-- but for Christ's sake, the pretentious uber-spending on religious grounds was Vatican-esque.  And Katy Perry literally stopping traffic in her angel wings which seemed more Victoria's Secret than Catholic... Rihanna with her Papal helmet and Sara Jessica Parker-- from the side of a bus to a Nativity on her head--- it was a little ridiculous. And yes, offensive, especially in light of the events of the world, the religious suffering, the poverty and devastation elsewhere, where religion maybe has a different meaning.

Downtown the Rockefeller sale reminded that wealth used to go hand in hand with some reverence for culture.  The collection was staggering and amazing.  That 1905 Picasso was haunting and deep.  Who among the Gala attendees will leave behind anything of this stature-- something museum-worthy in the old sense?  I don't know.  Tom Wolfe was in the hospital with an infection.  I wonder if he'd even had an invitation; whatever, I'm sure the display of vanities on 82nd and Fifth Avenue did not escape him.

Among the objects in the upstairs rooms of Christie's were small furnishings and things which seemed personal and precious.  A huge sort of greenhouse was constructed, with birdsong piped via speakers, and real hedgerow foliage around the display, like real gardens.  Scads of young employees waltzed around with their catalogues, eagerly waiting to show and open things-- unable to answer 99% pf the questions because they haven't a clue about the subject matter-- the meaning.  A young Hispanic woman circled the large greenhouse perimeter sweeping stray leaves into one of those old-fashioned movie-theatre dustpans...  this was her job.  Sweep, sweep... around and around.  She wore a black maid's uniform with an apron, and her eyes were red as though she'd been crying.  I imagined this was her second job and she was glad to have it-- and then perhaps regretted having to lap around while all these gapers got a glimpse of the formerly treasured objects maybe lovingly selected by an American royal family.  She was looking down-- engrossed in her task.  Around her neck was a simple cross, which touched me-- so like a young saint she was-- pious and simple, bowed and lost in the crush of the pursuit of something like money, less like art...

RIP Tom Wolfe-- whatever you represented, you will be missed.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Liars and In-no-cents

The US attack on Syrian chemical weapons facilities last Saturday garnered little viewership from the American public.  Certainly the Stormy Daniels interview had better ratings; television in general has lost its centrality in our lives.  I couldn't help thinking back to the Desert Storm airstrikes we watched from our sofas with a bit of nervousness and yet the detachment you feel watching someone else's video game.

It was a small maybe calculated distraction from the smeary smutty onslaught of the latest Trumpery-- an executive wielding of power from our clown-at-the-helm who spent the earlier part of the day bashing James Comey in characteristic unpresidential  excrement-slinging-- his usual weapon-of-choice.  Comey... with a quasi-presidential-scale faux-pas on his permanent conscience, or whatever the political version of poor judgement might be called... will have the last laugh in massive book-sales; there will surely be a seven-figure job for him out there...

Then there was the Zuckerberg testimony... the wide-eyed, studious false sincerity of a billionaire who sold out our privacy, claiming his innocence with every sycophantic reply, sugared over with
an overdose of courtesy and those huge, bloodshot deer-eyes dripping with candor, watery from his contact lenses.  It rivaled the Steve Cohen testimony... he didn't remember, he didn't know... who was actually less culpable than these Facebook thieves.  Nothing in this world can be undone.  The sins of the billionaires have shifted the axis of our political and social morality.  Nothing is free; everything is bait... and we like fish have hook-holes in our palates.  Nothing will ever be the same.  The end of the innocence, what little there was in the well-trod sites and pages of New York before the 70's, the 90's my friends visit frequently... anything but this.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the vast majority of medical and drug trials are not reproducible... that data is manipulated, cooked... so we are given medications and treatments to benefit manufacturers, and do little for our health which is nothing but a vague platform for massive financial gain.  We are the poor guinea pigs, obediently swallowing things, following instructions like schoolchildren... led down useless paths in our quest to cope with pain and the sicknesses that are byproducts of our culture.  There will be a small slap on the wrist.. and then we will go on... Zuckerberg's net worth will dip and then re-surge, as he promises vigilance, having thrown us all under the bus irrevocably.

An eight-year-old this week brought a knife to school and slashed his fellow students.  Sort of a flip-side to the story of the pre-school teacher who threatened a toddler with a slashing.  As I read the online version of the eight-year-old article, a huge pop-up ad accompanied the text-- some new state-of-the-art men's underwear in my face, eclipsing the news... like some kind of obscene big-brother shout-out-- the incongruities of this life-- the disconnects and random juxtapositions, the senseless acts of violence which seem to stem from some underlying emotional seismic rumbling-- the discontent, the warped and confusing version of democracy that is America.  How does anyone process, prioritize these disproportionate images, the flash-like brainwashing of Instagram-style imagery... pop Goddesses and queens with very little content but huge coverage-- Beyonce and her untouchable Coachella moment... the new Statue of Liberty? And it is as though she believes her own legend.  The Midas ass.

Where is compassion, where is humanity when the great God of money seems to have cast a golden shadow over us all, like the looming sky-touching penthouses which shadow and obscure our values and connections?  What is truth when lies dominate.. and win?  No longer does the tortoise come out on top.... they are choking on bad meds... while the hares are full-speed ahead with Ritalin and fat purses.  I see fewer and fewer real faces--- features altered and tweaked, bodies re-shaped-- even our most beautiful actors and actresses are compelled to make themselves more beautiful...  Television ads baffle me-- everyone is being urged to change their emotional state, their skin, their hair... Some days I feel as though I'm conducting a social experiment... trying to maintain a truthful commitment to my values, my modest goal to leave something behind in this world-- not a giant monument or a building facade, but a few songs or lines or poetry that might somehow find their way into a heart and sit there, like a tired passenger-- like company.  I am left behind... no seat for me on this bullet train of the culture which lies to me, which poses and manipulates and convinces... we must all be beautiful, we must all be young.. we must all watch this and that and have this and that... and those that cannot are angry and bitter and desperate.  All of us unhealthy... and there is contagion.

Yesterday on Lenox Avenue I collected 41 pennies between 110th and 126th... lying there on sidewalks like a trail left by some lost angel, like tiny sentries of some lost currency-- little copper discs that somehow made sense although very little cents... in 2018 terms... no one else wanted them... and I collected them.. from the damp street.. like tiny rescues... I tried to make some meaning of the small weight they became, of the cumulative purchase power... of the fact that they were free, they were gifts.. outside the Dollar store where people were hoarding bargains they mostly don't need-- piling packages of cookies and chips and frozen dinners into huge sacks... I wanted to stop them... to tell them something... but no one is going to listen to an aging woman who seems poor and powerless and maybe a bit mad.  I am mad.... I am angry-- not slasher-angry but beating-heart upset.  A penny for my thoughts here? No, actually, not even that.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

You Can Leave Your Socks On

Late-Mondays Times Square underground platforms are a kind of reality stage for a cross-section of New York City not everyone gets to sample.  Recently there is a sprinkling of track workers because
there is always post-midnight repair activity and endless delays... so you have more time to settle into the drama. By 2 AM there is little musical entertainment, but plenty of hustlers and salesmen of a variety of wares-- stolen cheap watches, re-wrapped candy, articles of clothing and discarded earbuds...  talkers, lonely displaced people with nowhere else to spend the night... shuffling old women often close to your own age...dragging their shopping bags, hunched over and unwashed... the squishy stenchy hardcore car-sleepers... rats taking their time doing a sluggish diagonal dance on the tracks because train traffic is sparse; there is a kind of rare silence.

Last week a nice-looking guy with sideburns sat down on one of the wooden seats and took off his boot.... he had clean white sport-socks on, and he started in scratching.  Minutes later he'd scratched so hard the ground was littered with dancing clumps of white fuzz from the cotton... and still he went at it; I tried not to look.  After a time, a sick yellow-green ooze started to penetrate his socks; my stomach turned over...  he stopped-- as though the liquid seepage was the antidote to the itch.  He shook out his boot, stuck his foot in and walked to the north staircase of the uptown 1/2.  Just like that.

Not even a minute later, a drunk young couple sat down where he'd been working his foot... I tried to warn them, but they were too busy groping each other.  I'm no germaphobe but I felt a little tense in my seat on the train;  I started to reconsider trying on shoes in thrift stores.  In every car, the late-shift was working the crowd--- asking for handouts-- food, old gloves, a smile...  the same girl I've seen nearly every week gets on looking for enough money to buy a room for the night.   Her eyes are glazed, her feet are filthy and bare, her skin is pocked with needle-marks and infected sites.  It's more than sad.  You squirm and don't give her money to get high... but you feel ashamed of the C-note in your pocket even though you can barely come up with your month's expenses, even with the care packages from the kitchen at your gig.  A man gets on and sits across from you-- bloodshot eyes, a wedding ring-- he looks guilty and somehow sated.

All the stories in New York City-- the lit and unlit windows, the drawn shades, the silhouettes.  My friend's boyfriend has been seeing another woman; I know this and don't say anything.  It's not my role to hurt her, to bust him... I'm caught.  Another woman just ended her marriage when she found her husband hopelessly addicted to porn and heroin.  She must have been the last to know, or the last to want to know until it was in and on her face.

My best friend in the world is an ex-- one of those men who comes in and out of your life between disastrous relationships and marriages. You figure one day you'll marry him, but you're not quite ready to surrender to yesterday's clothes that have lost their style and no longer really fit.  Still, he's there.... or is he?  You walk by his place one random night; he always comes to yours-- his is essentially a mattress on the floor, some piles of books, dingy walls and permanently shut blinds.  You buzz up... and a woman answers... it seems he no longer lives there... has he forgotten to mention to you that he's moved?  Who are you, you text.  You get home late-late and he's been calling..  and the tales begin to unravel like a committee of scriptwriters batting around a scene.  On the third night your lawyer friend looks up his court records and it seems he's secretly married.  He's living with some Asian waitress--- sublet his place and moved to Queens.  You are stunned... not exactly hurt, because it's not like that-- but stunned.  Like your security blanket has been ripped away... like a betrayal.  He cries... how could he have lied to you?  Every day-- every FaceTime, every call, every joke-- because he sees you nearly every day-- tells you everything... except this.  Day 4, he claims he's miserable, he hates his life-- he hates the lies, he's always loved you-- well, sort of, because it never really worked out between you...  but he has been your health-care proxy, your emergency contact.  Who is this man?  The Asian woman is a bitch and is showing her age-- not a nice comment, because she is like twenty years younger than you are.  I guess this happens once the green card is inked.  The double life thing...

When I was a teenager I saw my best friend's father making out with a young woman in a restaurant.  It wasn't him, my Mom assured me... but it was.  Or it wasn't 'him' but it was my friend's father.  Itch.  The oozy, itchy leaking feet underneath those clean white socks.  Like a metaphor.  Who are these people?  I remember when we were young kids--- underneath our clothes we were beautiful and innocent... still honest enough in our free-love practice not to really hurt anyone... clean, even when we were bad.... but life goes on-- our scars and wounds and complications besiege us with small disappointments and failures... and we escape-- some of us have music and art-- fantasy... but others confuse their life opportunities with an emotional vacation... they create these webs of deceit and they knot themselves up so there is no way out without ripping off an arm or leg.

I don't love the guy.  No, but I expected loyalty-- honesty?  Some version of this... after all, what did he have to lose?  Me?  If you watch someone scratch long enough you start to itch.  I don't want to see what's underneath most people anymore.... we use our imagination.  This is why people love their pets-- their babies...  with humans it's complicated.  Needs... secrets-- stuff we hide that festers into addictions and lethal diseases... syndromes and mental illness.  So what now?  Amputate the guy?  You would never have known-- what were you missing?  Not  much?  You didn't need so much from him-- just trust, faith-- the phone calls and facetimes-- the seat next to you at your Mom's funeral.... It's a quandary.  The truth is more complicated than it should be.  It's a dirty fork in your road, here.

At the end of the 2 train ride, you get out.. you've got a couple of bucks to buy vegetables at the fruit stand; the same panhandler always there to greet you at 3 AM.  Hey, Baby, he says, like a question.  You wind up with 17 cents.  You tell him... 17 cents.  That's it.  That's not it, he says-- that's a fucking blessing.  He thumbs-up you as you drop the coins into his cup and he looks happy.  Clean.  Simple.  The truth.  He's a damned angel, this guy.  Somehow you feel better.