Saturday, September 8, 2018

#Chasing-the-Dollar

I had kind of a shitty day today.  Maybe it's just the September back-to-school seasonal dread... it persists well into adulthood where you are forced to acknowledge that mixed in with the old fall apprehension was a sprinkling of anticipation-- new people, new challenges, new teachers, new tasks.  Hope, I think it was called...  a little excitement-- an opportunity to use your new pens and notebooks-- a clean slate-- resolutions... and somehow always some new boy in your class you'd never noticed who gives you extra motivation to wear your new fall wardrobe.

At this point in my life, I've given up Halloween.  The natural indignities of aging are a sufficiently terrifying disguise; if I don't have a gig I quietly avoid my apartment-- leave the candy bowl by the door.  While I do enjoy seeing children in costumes wandering the streets,  I don't really need to supply my rich neighbors' kids with goods they're forced to discard or donate.  Let the homeless eat cake and sweets: God's Love We Trick-or-Treat.

I divide my girlfriends into two groups these days: the go-getters who travel and eat out and socialize and jump around at the gym... and the ones who isolate and sit home passively waiting for old age to seep in like slow-rising floodwater.  The former group-- they go to meet-ups and class reunions because they have never been thinner, or richer, or more (or less) single; they wear make-up to the grocery store and subscribe to dating sites.  The latter have stopped trying to look seductive; many of them were formerly beautiful and have nothing to prove.  They had some richness in their life (or not) and no longer want to advertise.  Both groups have used or use drugs-- recreational or prescription-- Group 2 with limited benefits.

One thing they have in common with my male friends seems to be Facebook.  Group 1 posts meals and travel-logs and happy group-shots of family and friends celebrating.  They use emojis and abuse exclamation points. The latter group members comment and 'like' passively;  they look forward all week to Throwback Thursdays,  spend way too much time on the Manhattan-Before-1990's page, and observe all new deaths with personal mourning posts.  For the Goth sympathizers, the Plath-ites and Genet-lovers, grief is a comfort zone.  We are in our shadow-years... and yet all of us are shocked by deaths among our peers.  There is an epidemic of disease-chronicles, treatment logs and Go-Fund-Mes because baby boomers often failed to heed the ubiquitous and ancient warning that youth is not forever.  Many abused their bodies and failed to squirrel away money for a rainy sick day.  So they post... they confess... they cry publicly... and we look and sympathize and occasionally help.

Both groups are political pundits and animal aficionados, chronic chronologists and nostalgia nurds.  Within categories they find sympathizers and like-minds; they join pages and compare breeds, refer and recommend books, art and music. And they lie.  The first group maybe more than the second-- they lie to themselves and they lie to us.  They photoshop and post old pictures as new; they 'like' things they don't like, out of reciprocal courtesy.  Some of them post happy pictures of themselves with children who have not spoken to them in years.  They pass away-- some from sudden accidents or medical anomalies, some from chronic disease they did not disclose, some from the illness described in great detail in posts-- and some-- just suddenly-- suicide, hours after a non-loaded comment or observation, a wonderful meal-- an event.  Their friends are horrified-- that is, their Facebook friends.  Their real friends-- well, where were they?  Watching their page as though it was life, failing to read between lines (i.e., posts)...  and how much time is left, after our social media binges... to listen to friends, to reach out?

Part of what disturbed me today is the fact that despite all the public presence we have, there is a huge lack of truth-telling and genuine, soul-to-soul communication.  I was horrified by a friend's failure to disclose things which are very pertinent and shocking, in a way.  And I was provoked into providing an opinion by a couple who visited me-- throwing out queries and remarks, and expecting facebook-style comments rather than a conclusive, solid discussion.  I let them have it, my dose of reality... and I suspect I will not see them again soon.  Do I feel badly?  I do.

One trend that bothers me is the exchange of money on facebook-- the Go-Fund-Mes, the campaigns and gifts-- the charity birthday apps which are admirable... but how many of us pledge before a cyber audience, to emoji  accolades, and fail to 'see' our unfortunate neighbors and homeless who lack the organization to even ask... or who ask and ask and are chained to the poverty treadmill of hopelessness?

Today on the way to my afternoon job, a dollar bill literally floated by my head in a small wind, like a cartoon. I ran after it; like a playful child or a bird, it would land and then take-off again, flapping and cartwheeling in the cool air current.  I persisted, to the entertainment of pedestrians until I captured it under my shoe.  I waved it in the air... no takers... well, I guess I'd earned it.  Not my dollar, I wanted to announce... Not my president-- 'Not the planet I signed up for', my bandmate says at least five times daily.  But I pocketed it anyway, knowing-- not unlike the moments and events on our timeline, it would be spent and re-spent... given away or received... valued and appreciated or misused and wasted... but would not remain for long.    



Friday, August 31, 2018

All the rest have 31.....

The cusp of August is the cruelest of all... after all those days of long, lingering heat and humidity-- of pink sunsets and procrastinations... September is staring me in the face like a damned balance sheet.  It's been a year now that my Mom is gone;  I stood over her grave last week-- listened for her shadow... praying that old family feuds would allow my stonecutter's dream to mark her peace... I sang her little song ... If ever I would leave you...it wouldn't be in summer... but it was.

The year I was born saw the hottest streak of the century.  We toughed it out in those pre-air-conditioned days at the beach at Belle Harbor, or the city river boardwalks... I swear I remember the heat of my stuffed crib-reindeer, his wilted felt lashes fluttering in the fan-wind, the buzz of flies and mosquitoes outside the apartment screens whining to come in and sample the sweet room-babies... Perry Como on the radio...  It set a bar for high temperatures; I've never really minded the heat since then-- well, maybe one year, with a cast on my leg, I struggled through, sitting under the apple tree, distracted by my new discovery of language and books; my mother made frozen lemonade and taught me to sing Que sera, sera...

In 1969 I spent the month in Mexico where it seemed a daily rainstorm relieved baking afternoons, and neighborhood boys brought guitars and played 'Yo sin ti'  over and over.  We hitchhiked to the city where I locked myself in a record-store booth with 'Tommy' and realized how homesick I was for rock and roll.  See Me... Feel Me... it was like a shiver.

Another summer I danced at a festival-- eight grueling hours of practice and technique in hot studios and gymnasiums..  I'd lean on the sill of my tiny Connecticut room at 2 AM and hear the same loon moaning.  Weekends I rode bone-tired on the back of a vintage BMW motorcycle between New London and the city, clinging to the hot leather back of a budding rock-God, hearing the young Van Morrison in my head and watching the road for a Dairy Queen.

A few years later, I had the first taste of The Dark Side of the Moon sitting outside a hunting lodge in the hills of Northern Italy with a bunch of British hippies and piles of drugs... thinking through a fog of smoke and Valpolicella how the word august meant celebrated and auspicious from the Latin... we were high and dry and often naked and the world spread beneath us like a vineyard... the days baked on, Money was a song... it seemed the summer never ended until one day we woke up happily back in our dormitory.

Lately the summer funerals have draped the dog days with mourning.  On 103rd Street there is a new shrine to another young neighborhood casualty.  Papi, the messages spell out in tears.. rows and rows of candle-glasses and stuffed animals for Di-Quai who was just 19.  This, too, shall pass.  Already in the 104th-Street playground there is a barbecue with yellow balloons.  Someone has brought a light... the boombox blasts No Tears Left to Cry and then Diamonds by the Boatload... they are done with Aretha-- that was last week's old-school.   And Saturday's perfect cupcake-top moon... the iced vanilla round,  pearl of my heart...   is now a lemon slice in the sky to these sun-baked eyes tonight.

No matter how rough it gets, we gonna go 31 this month.  It seems unfair that they are unequal, that September 'hath' 30,  and February we all pay for an extra two days of cable we don't get.  But August... it held out its hot breath until Aretha, John McCain, Di Quai and a host of others realized they would not see the changing of the leaves.  Where do they go, I wonder... sitting by my mother's burial site with my ear to the ground, feeling the afternoon warmth in the grass, trying to fight the terrible urge to dig through the soft earth and see what is left of her-- just once more... like an Edgar Allen Poe poem.  Forgive me, Mom.  For not cremating you, for failing, for your missing epitaph.

On the way back down Madison tonight, I passed that big black hospital; outside, a few men in wheelchairs were taking in the night air, smoking forbidden cigarettes and comparing bandaged legs in various phases of amputation, whistling at the young nurses.  Where are their mothers, wives, children?  I wonder if they miss the old summer songs the way I do.  They don't seem nearly as miserable as some of my neighbors here in the building-- with their renovations and their botox and their summer hair treatments.  My Van Morrison is old and heavy,  Elvis is long gone.... my lovely Mom who mourned Perry Como and Frank Sinatra with true grief barely had a voice when she lay down for the last time.  I wonder who she dreamed of, who she took with her that last trip... I hope Di Quai had time to make a wish.  Happy Birthday, Papi... whenever it will be... 31 candles I've blown out now... I don't know what song you'd like to hear, but I'm sure someone does... For now I'll just whistle like an old train and greet the September morning with courage.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome...

When I was a girl, and my Mom moved us to the suburbs so we could grow up like the wholesome girls she'd always wanted to be-- sisters-- with pink and blue sailor dresses and ribbons and a maypole in our backyard, I still swore I could see the city skyline on a clear day.  It was the already-printed backdrop of everything I thought and did-- the buildings-- like a crooked lego profile behind the clouds and the blue sky.  Through my classroom windows--- the massive glass panes of 19th-century schoolhouse walls, above the clanky radiators and below the suspended fluorescent ceiling fixtures like circus equipment threatening to smash us, I daydreamed and listened for the traffic buzz and the sirens, the rumbling of trains and the bus horns.  And it emerged-- like a distant mirage--- my Emerald City where I'd left a tiny heart and a future.

There's a famous photo of Marilyn Monroe at a lunch counter somewhere in Harlem-- maybe by the Meer where I go so often these days.  It dates from around the same time I was sitting in my first grade class looking left toward the outside.  She's eating a hotdog-- nothing more innocent, she is nearly saying, but knowing somehow this too will be sensationalized, sexualized by her male audience.  You can almost put yourself in the scene-- it's so candid and palpable... and so nostalgic... it feels like you-- or me...

One of my early New York City friends in my 20's was a model.  She was more beautiful than even she knew... and she struggled with this, the way models do... because everyone wants them-- to possess them, to date them... but most of the men who claim them are fickle and shallow, or ambitious conquerors; they chew them up and spit them out for the next course.  Anyway, she was marrying a musician-- typical story-- he was tall and narcissistic and she was mad for him.  He was one of those romantic troubadour types who carry a torch for some old love-- or they convince themselves of some such myth, because it suits their tormented-songwriter image.  The night before the wedding, he was drunk and begging me to sleep with him.  Not my thing.. but it didn't feel right or funny or bachelor-party cool.  So cut to the next day-- they were married... and she eventually had babies... and they lived pretty unhappily and mismatched until there was a divorce...  and he drank and cried in his beer at bars to leggy models and dancers, none of whom came anywhere close to his wife who had a brilliant sense of irony and fun... but there it was-- the overlooked bird in the hand.

Anyway, sometime before the unraveling, she had to have her appendix out--  in that huge black hospital overlooking Central Park... and she somehow, against my recommendation, charmed the surgeon into giving her a boob job, which was not nearly as common as it is now.  Yes, models were not super well endowed, and we went up to see her-- the troubadour and I, after a night of surely drying his crocodile tears in someone else's sheets... and there she was, my beautiful friend, with her surgically altered silhouette-- gauze bandages around her chest in that pathetic polka-dot hospital gown, standing by her IV apparatus like a microphone, singing in a whisper 'Happy Birthday Mr. President....'

Well..  I laughed and cried and it was like a box of mean tricks had been opened, and I caught a glimpse of the sad, sad future-- with the city skyline across the park-- no mirage-- and the place where poor dead Marilyn had finished off that hot-dog just yards away in her summer dress with her hair blowing around her... and then another photo came to me-- one of Marilyn and Arthur Miller standing by while she ate her dog on the street somewhere-- everyone staring except he looks away as he often did-- stern and judgmental.  You could read the future in his face-- the turning away,  the sweet desperation of her smile despite the shadow of the death-of-love, which is the prime murder suspect in all suicides.  The Anthony Bourdains, Kate Spades, L'Wren Scotts,  Sylvia Plaths, Marilyns... on and on they go... sad, fragile victims of the turning of the fickle tide.

What is the moral of this little anecdote?  I am recording a Birthday Song--  it is dark and fractured, and I thought of my old friend whom I see little of these days when I look out my window and see what I see; the walls and the present and the future are blocky, but the past-- like those old nostalgic photos-- is now the mirage of skyline, and the dreams of love-- well, they are filmy and blurring like old polaroids we cannot restore.  The surgery--well, it is stock and standard, and love-- well, love... is what it is... sad and distant or urgent and lethal... but it will not be tamed, or explained, and it is mortally dependent-- even if we can't have it, we can see it, or miss it, or watch it drive away down an old road, and wonder late at night whether what we hear is the rumble of trains or thunder, and the rain will come anyway... long after all Birthdays are gone...


Monday, July 30, 2018

Up in Smoke

I'm writing this to the accompaniment of the Spectrum hold-music from the earpiece of my heavy old landline phone-- the only one I own-- waiting once again to try and negotiate a reprieve from excessive charges for inconsistent service and the potential privilege of watching mediocre television on 4000 irrelevant channels I will never explore.  I am reminded of ordering multiple Happy Meals just to get the nineteen-cent toy for the kids which seemed to be exclusive in those innocent pre-internet days; and how can we be horrified by the habits of these TLC-channel reality-show hoarders when our lives are chocked with exponentially massive digital tonnage?  Mall-scaled stacks of unopened TV dinners defrosting in the global-warmed polluted air?  Does this give anyone even a fractional glimpse into the hourly generation of froth-data and marketing congestion? All you binge-texters and iPhone junkies-- no, you are not 800-pound obese and homebound but somehow morbidly bloated with nutritionally unsound brain-feeds.  Is anyone out there?  Back to my yellow lined pad and cheap ballpoint pen.  Does anyone remember Koko the Clown?  Back to the inkwell....?

Friday night I had a midnight show.  We arrived at the bar and I was corralled by an attractive  youngish woman who in blunt verbal and body-cues let me know she wanted to hook up.  Yes, she was drunk... and if she'd been a man, I would have freely given her the fuck-off response... so I began to wonder, with the #MeToo history we older women have navigated, why I would give my own sex a free pass.  I do not find the aggressive come-on appealing-- even when it's a rockstar or celebrity; it's just not flattering to be flash-craved like a cupcake by a food addict.

Similarly, I met a man recently who seemed intelligent and interesting enough; we bonded over the book I was reading.   He is literate and musical; we had a coffee-- benign.   On the phone, later, he made a few lewd outside comments and references to his sexual superiority.  Jesus.. I am a senior citizen now?  Certainly he is.  Dealbreaker.  Are there people out there who respond to this?  Who like it? Apparently.

Of course, we rock and rollers are used to an entirely different behavioral code at the workplace.  Audience (and band members) scream, curse, strip down, fight-- throw bottles and themselves onto the stage, bleed-- we've seen it all.  Some bands instigate extreme behavior-- it's part of the experience.  Alcohol and drugs stir the pot to a quicker boil... and the music itself is both exciting and inciting.  We love it.  But I gave up going to hardcore and punk shows.  When ambulances park outside of a club waiting for customers-- well, I'm done with it now.  Does that make me a prissy-assed prude?

In the midst of teenage hell, a school psychologist told me I had not given my son clear boundaries.  Yes, at his worst gangsta-phase, he referred to me (and his teachers, apparently) as 'Niggah'.  We had worse battles and issues... but even he, who has emerged from the delinquency and acting-out a remarkable and beloved 'mensch',  told me I had failed to maintain disciplinary lines.  I am not the military type.  What does one do.. beat them?  I was a single Mom ex-hippy playing seedy rock-clubs in bands with less-than-stellar role models.  Admittedly, I failed the teenage parenting non-exam.

At this life-juncture, where way more is behind me than before me, I have much more clarity than I once did.  Musically-- it's a yay or nay.  I avoid things I once tolerated.  Personally-- it's fairly black and white; there is little time for people who annoy me.  We live in an over-populated city where there is limited width for individuality and attention, let alone a seat on public transportation.  I have grown more selfish about my personal latitude; I spend much more solitary time -- sometimes in crowds, but as an observer, not a companion or subscriber.  I have drawn those lines more graphically around me-- whether it is the nightmarish approaching white-chalk of my own imagined fatality, a sort of protective prison, or an adult time-out.  I have finally acquired a sense of boundaries.

Our clown president (back to the inkwell for him, if only...) is obsessed with the US/Mexican border... but has absolutely no awareness of his utter failure as a human to perceive or respect the concept of personal boundaries, and has crossed and violated every imaginable line of justice, decency, courtesy, ethics, acceptability, humanity-- we can go on forever.  He offends women daily, is bigoted, ignorant, intolerant--  embodies the antithesis of everything I believed as a child was 'presidential'.   How can I expect drunk women in bars to respect my personal space?

Last week I went up to Dyckman Park to watch my son's spectacular basketball team play a league game.  I was frisked by the police-women on the way in, and handed one of those blow-up plastic thunder sticks to taunt the opposite team.  The stands were filled with mostly twenty to thrity-ish spectators and fans, some kids.  There is loud music blasted through the speakers-- a DJ-styled announcer runs around the court during play.  It seemed everyone was lighting up cigar-sized spliffs.  They were passing them around-- even to me, by the guy in front of me who asked me if I noticed I was the only white person there... and was I nervous?  No, I am not... but the smoke was so thick... it was like eating a heavy meal; I honestly don't see how the players maintained their skills.

On the train downtown, afterward-- I kept smelling marijuana.  At the grocery store the cashier looked at me like I had facepaint on.  At last I ran into a friend who did a double-take and said.. woman-- what have you been smoking?  I went home and took a shower.  Next morning-- even my sneakers in the hallway smelled like a fresh-lit joint.  There I had been, watching a great game... minding my business-- an observer-- and the smoke permeated... I breathed it,  I wore it... even though my days of getting high are many decades away.

There is little we can do about some boundaries.  Smoke-- the dark-- the weather-- people in ridiculous states of dress in our visual field-- sirens-- overheard conversations.  Men and women in my gym... at all ages-- choose to display their naked flesh in varying states of youthful beauty or decay... we cannot change their choices.  Maybe the fashion police are out there, or the actual dress-code enforcers.  Our own friends will say things or do things that bother us... I care about people, but I care less and less what strangers think of me.

When I was ten years old, I smoked cigarettes but I didn't always inhale.  It made me feel like a teenager and I liked the way it looked in my fingers, the way the smoke curled up around me.  They became prohibitively expensive, and really bad for you; smoking is banned in public places in most countries because it's too hard to draw a non-permeable line.  Other seriously offensive, unhealthy things are duked out on sidewalks, argued in court,  debated in international forums, protested in human marches and on picket-lines.  These things are important... and time is too precious to get our feet stepped on and watch others helplessly violated by schoolroom or presidential bullies.  As far as intimate personal boundaries, I can still imagine the cigarette, sympathize with the smoker, refuse to inhale and walk away.

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.