Monday, June 25, 2007

Sleepless in Manhattan

It's 3 Am. My son starts his summer job tomorrow and went to bed several hours ago, intending to be rested and calm on his first day. I pass the door and give that little automatic maternal listen...and I can hear him, through gritted teeth on his phone, sparring with that hellcat he doth protest to refuse to refer to as a girlfriend.

At 17 he swaggers around with this casual macho attitude he has constructed out of hip-hop, basketball, gangsta and a little bit of preppy/jock Polo mannequin thrown in. He has told me, on many occasions, that the way to control women is to treat them like shit, and they eat out of your hand. Or wherever it is they feed on these days, these quasi-anorexic over-styled girls with the $2,000 accessories, the perfect streaked hair, the make-up, the shoes, earbuds, sunglasses, cigarettes, vodka-tonics.They have taken old fashioned women's liberation to new levels and not only brag about their slutty behaviour but shamelessly use these teenage boys as platforms.

Even though he rarely communicates anything close to reality, in his tormented mental and hormonal limbo he occasionally forgets to close the chat-screen and I can see this little minx dropping remarks about who she's hooked up with and when. Her verbal tags are like a sharply manicured finger beckoning and my poor son is like a puppy with a remote chip in his brain from her cellphone. Every time she turns it on or texts, he turns over in his bed. His use of the air-conditioner is causing my electric bill to spike and I'd like to send it to the unknowing parents of this vampiress who think she is just an adorable girl. She turns off her light at night and gets A's while my poor demented boy is hanging on for life. His notebooks are filled with notes for emails written her, lists of clothing items to prick her fancy, plans. Things he will do that will impress her, cause her to fall into his exclusive arms forever. And why? So he can dump her. Because the other side of his tortured coin is that once this girl stops this act, he'll be bored. The sad, sad truth of it. Oh, we adults will protest and talk about relationships and mutual respect and values and our soulmates. But there is a reason the frigging Village Voice back pages--the ones which used to be endless club listings-- are now the printed legal red light district. Because we are all in mourning, somewhere, for the one that got away, for our lost obsessive quest for whatever it was that eluded us. The longing thing. We can look now-- we can look all over the place. Girls used to be arrested for wearing what is now standard fare. We can say penis and vagina on TV, we can look at soft and hard porn on our TVs, computers...whatever... but is the thrill gone? This stuff does it for some, but for most of us it was knowing how bad the guy was for us, the one that kept us from concentrating, from sleeping, from eating. From growing up.

Lap it up, I want to say to him. There will come a day when you will wonder where the passion went-- where some gorgeous thing will enter the room and you no longer have to console yourself with the thought that 'someone, somewhere is sick of his or her shit', because you are sick of the whole thing, and you go back to your mate or your cool empty bed and you think about the bills and whether or not you put the chain on the door. Or whether you should have given that guy in the bar your actual phone number. Just think, you could be lying in bed thinking about him. Longing.

There's always tomorrow.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Last night I was leaving work and there was this singer/songwriter I remembered from the R train, years ago, doing a hack-job of Led Zeppelin covers. Now his ponytail is gray and greasy, and he’s got that hard-set thing in his face no botox ever would get out, not that he’s buying. And he gives me that look, the look the subway guys give working musicians, that says Fuck you, you sold out and I’m still free, here, with my dream and my music.

They tell me, these musicians, they make a great living there, underground..breathing metal-flecked putrid air, sucking it up, sweating it out in the summer sludge, with the little puffs of cool every time the car doors open. Not as tough as it was back in the pre-air-conditioned day, when it took a good month of frost before the impacted summer air became breathable. When playing the subways was like boot-camp and only the strong survived.

So the guy asks me how my gig was, whether I’m still playing with the same guitarist, and I try to be cool and distant and respectful and feel no bitterness in my pocket with the c-bill and then he breaks into Landslide, a tearjerker for sure, but not many shillers on this platform…a tough crowd, the 3 AM Times Square uptown 2 riders wrung dry from their shift. And I hear myself silently humming the harmony, all sweet and nice, even though I hate that Stevie Nicks and her hippy dresses.

And one of the waitresses from my gig comes up behind me—a new one, from Brixton, my old haunt in London—just as some hunched-over beggar-woman is coming up with that tilted-head thing, and the hand held out—she grabs me, says these people make fuck-all more than I do in a shift—and brings me back to reality.

The other night on PBS they showed that Central Park rally from 1982—the anti-nuke thing with all the hippies and people who had marched from everywhere to converge at this massive Woodstocky event with a political agenda, and I have to say it turned my stomach. I mean, I am all for world peace, and I might have even been there in my home-grown cotton slip, smoking dope with my schoolmates-- but what I can’t stand is people who walk up hills and then have to talk about it. People that walk 800 miles and want you to give them money. We all walk 800 miles maybe every fucking week, and we’re not barking in your face to give me some money because of course we don’t want to get blown up or because our friend has some disease and we want you to believe we’re a fucking martyr for walking of our own free will and not actually doing our frigging job. I wonder if these walkers use some of the raised money to buy themselves a Gatorade, or to stop at Whole Foods for an overpriced tofu salad. Fuck them all.

When I got home I was looking at this book of jazz photos and there’s this great shot of some famous horn player—a white guy this time… walking up this hill in LA that makes you swear it’s San Francisco. And the caption says the photographer knew he needed a fix, but he did the shoot anyway, walking up that hill, with his jacket over his arm, his shirtsleeves rolled up, ready…and if you look close it’s not the sun squint in his eyes it’s the whole sick cycle of fifths, with every other major 7th the needle.You can feel his song, the horn line underneath his breath, in black and white a song that says something like woke up this morning in someone else’s life….A real musician, like they don’t make them anymore. Walking up the goddam hill for the photographer.


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Monday, June 11, 2007

Let Her Eat Cake

So… how long ago was it that we had the cartoon of Paris Hilton in her little sexy devil costume entering Hell, with Satan himself licking his chops like the Red Riding Hood wolf, the flames all around, and the caption, of course: ‘It’s hot!’

Well, I guess prison, or the version poor Paris experienced, was not air-conditioned. Paris got a heat-rash…or maybe it was a yeast infection, or prickly heat or jock-itch or something unattractive. And she was afraid to pee, or worse. Like the entire world audience hasn't seen everything and more. A potty shot, compared to that video, would be fairly demure. Can you imagine what the press is offering those prison guards for such contraband? Better than a winning lotto ticket and certainly worth losing one's job over. Heck, even if you'd have to do time-- I'm sure prison-guards get special inmate-status. It would be like getting a huge gratuity from Paris. A pay-back. Because there's no actual tipping in jail. But can you imagine the paycheck for that one little Kodak second? And then the book deal...

Did you ever notice how pathetic your child looked in time-out posture, with that sad, tilted face, all baby-cute and sorry…and the second you give the signal, he is back again pulling dog tails, smashing his little sister over the head and whacking balls around the living room? I wonder occasionally how many times the Hiltons actually punished their children. They are so apparently lenient and doting through all the unattractive public displays from which their lovely daughter has not only emerged unscathed, but profited. She and Britney Spears have written the new book on shame because any behavioral deviation is now processed not as embarrassing or incriminating, but with a shrug and a new interpretation of the word pride. Complete lack of shame is a punk-rock thing. Edgy and bold. Not too long ago Fergie, who peed in her pants onstage, shrugged her shoulders, and actually was admired for what might have sent an older-generation celebrity to a sanatorium. The new breed of publicists taught these girls: don’t be embarrassed, flaunt your errors. Own them and smile. The rest of the world will be wanting one, too. Your popped boob will be looked at millions of times worldwide on Youtube, your celebrity stock value will skyrocket. Shame is in the eye of the beholder.

Has there been any other frontpage news since poor little Paris went to grown-up jail? And I thought she had all that practice slumming it with her friend Nicole in those reality shows where they actually had to cook and shovel things and vacuum. I guess when you’re earning millions it’s fun to take out the garbage on camera. So was it the lack of entertainment in prison? The lack of audience? What caused our girl to break down during her little time out? I’m sure no one touched her. I’m sure she didn’t have to use the community showers or feel threatened. In fact I’m sure her little cell is nicer than your average low-income motel-room. Better than some college dorms. But whatever—it provoked a full-blown anxiety attack or tantrum which required some unspecified psychotropic drugs to subdue.

And our Paris was so contrite—had learned sooo much from her 2 or 3 days in the cheery quarters which are cleaner and larger than the average New York City apartment. Until they decided to send her back for just a little bit more time. Obviously 'No' is a word not often heard in the Hilton household. What does one do for a celebrity tantrum? We all feel so sorry for her. NOT. How in Hilton Hell did that LA sheriff make such an insane decision? It took a Bob Dylan epic song and years of pleas and political demonstrations to get Hurricane justice. But the Hilton brat? Well, it seems her grandfather partly funded this particular sheriff’s re-election campaign and called in the favor. Rich people are smart. Why, in this day and age, Marie Antoinette would have an ankle bracelet and plenty of cake.

And did anyone else notice the tiny item in the Post on Friday relating how the younger Hilton had been mugged near Penn Station. I’m sure he was innocent, too… maybe copping some drugs, flashing his wallet around, whatever. Maybe he was jealous of the attention his sister was getting. Maybe he wanted to join her, keep her company---a Hiltonian sacrifice for his family.

So now what? Jail didn’t hurt Martha Stewart any, but she didn’t have a public melt-down, either. She wore her poncho for the photographers and went home. Personally I can’t afford any more summer holiday than a daytrip to the Rockaways on the A train. That jail cell looks to me like an all-expenses paid holiday from my whining teenagers. No such luck for the mildly and uncelebrated wicked. I won’t get a book deal or a prison sentence and if I did it wouldn’t be worth a mention in the papers. Crime doesn’t pay, for poor people. Not like for Paris and Martha and their fortunate jurors and guards.

My kids have their Free Paris wristbands which someone has already made a small fortune out of. They wish their parents had named them after a European hotel, also. Then they wouldn’t need a stage-name in the future. The Hiltons had it all figured, I guess. All under control. And if little Paris has to spend two weeks without alcohol and drugs in her little cell, at least now she’ll be prescription medicated and it won’t be so bad. Like nitrous oxide for the rich at the dentist’s office. And she’ll lose a few pounds, be able to swap clothes with the anorexic Nicole, write the 23-day Celebrity Prison Diet book. I spent worse summers at Girl Scout camp. With poison ivy.

Here’s a little game: Remove the word ‘prison’ from Paris Hilton…what’s left? All you anagram fans can go to town on that one. Maybe she’ll get to play solitaire scrabble in her cell and figure it out. I wonder what she is reading: Dostoevsky? Kafka? Arthur Koestler? Tough to concentrate when you have cell-phone withdrawal. My son just lost his and he is having a Hiltonian tantrum. Maybe he can borrow one of Paris’ while she’s not using it. Just think of all the rollover minutes she’s socking away.

And a little sisterly caution to Paris: Don't forget to flush.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007


The way you can tell you’re getting pathetic and old is if you actually begin talking to people at your gym. I mean, young people occasionally meet each other this way, although since literally everyone under 50 has earbuds in, 24/7, this is currently more difficult. But there are these middle-aged women whose kids are now old enough to have their own life, and they meet there-- some earnestly trying to hold onto their youth with the botox and facelifts, but mostly the average middle-class ones in Manhattan have given up and are half-heartedly cycling their legs and exercising primarily their tongue.

I am losing interest in the ever-decreasing efficacy of exercise as a motivator, and I detest even the word earbuds, so I have reluctantly begun to engage in conversation. Some of these women past prime-time at night are actually politicians and writers and are interesting. Others want to talk about vitamins and teenagers and apartment renovations. I have noticed lately that I rarely sweat in the gym. TV is boring me, especially since they have deleted Bravo from the menu. I don’t quite need reading glasses and placing books on the machine is far enough away to blur the print. So, besides the chatter, I look around and practice being an old person. Occasionally I seethe.

Seriously, there should be a manual on gym etiquette. We are paying for this time which is a premium in Manhattan. Driving is free, but there are traffic laws, penalties for violations. Not so at the gym; no consequences.

Besides the smelly old men who lust after young girls, and I don’t mean young women, I mean girls my kids’ age who wear their two-piece with the low-slung shorts which conceal little. To their credit, they sweat, these girls. Ditto the old lusty men. Who smell bad. I mean, as you get older your senses are supposed to dull; my eyes are bugging me, but my nose, unlike these people, is still fairly accurate. If you are going to pant and wheeze contiguously to other humans, have the courtesy a. to refrain from binging on garlic until after the workout b. to use deodorant or wash regularly and c. to wear clean gym clothes because the smell of sweaty old-man enhanced by stale locker-fermented T-shirt and shorts is more than I can bear. And everyone has their own personal scent: more information than one wants. And at the opposite end of the spectrum, some women over-perfume, and the occasional freshly-manicured girl with the toxic polish smell can make you dizzy enough to fall off the machine.

Okay…let’s move on to the audio-offenses. Because they have their ipods turned to the max or are listening to TV, some people are not aware that they are literally screaming to their neighbor….or talking on their cellphone to their maid about what to cook for dinner and which kids have which homework due. I’d like to punch them. There is one guy at my gym who has the nerve to tell giggling kids to keep quiet, but when there is a cute girl 3 machines away, he’ll engage in a shouting exchange to chat her up. And of course the ones that abuse their machine time-privileges mercilessly are the most vocal when they are waiting for your 30 seconds on the Ab-machine to be up so they can press on for another 6 interminable smelly minutes. Then there are the elephants—the usually young men who press the treadmill to the limit and are maybe having a military marching fantasy because every stride is an explosion. They can keep this up for 60 minutes, at a pace of 8-9 mph. Can’t they actually run in the park, on a road? Do they require a captive audience?

Okay—the visual. I realize I am a gym eyesore but this insures that they will never-ever photograph me for their brochures which they are constantly revamping. I wear my sons’ old clothes and hide beneath huge stained old T-shirts and old-fashioned headphones. But strutting around are middle-aged men who obviously don’t have mirrors, because they are wearing Lance Armstrong’s bicycle pants with no butt and their old-man package somehow stashed in. And the bare legs with the veins and the wrinkled skin. Again, more information. Older women who let their arm flab hang and some even baring extremely unappetizing midriffs. This helps the rest of us curb our calorie intake because it is positively nauseating.

Touch. Okay, there are never enough cleaners in these places which are like a bacterial paradise. But the sweatiest guys seem to think towels are accessories for their neck… or they have a maid at home constantly following them around with windex and a cloth (not!) and they sit on these cybex machines, leave their imprint in perspiration and don’t even look back. There ought to be a major fine for this. It is disgusting.

So here I am covered neck-to-toe with clothing that conceals everything but my face like a Muslim woman, my eyes and ears and nose regretfully open and I find myself occasionally using my mouth to engage with others, which distracts me from seething and being annoyed by the etiquette violations. I forget that fully half of these people find my demeanor and habits, opinions and outsider fashion downright intolerable. At this point in life I, too, avoid mirrors. And God forbid they should notice my choice of music or literature. So I gratefully pay my fees and try my best to shut the hell up.

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Intervention, anyone?

My friend called me this morning—the one with the Biotech stock. Well, now that the stock seems to be at the end of its ride, the greedy investors who bought in at the crest are initiating a lawsuit, because that is the American way. Pass the buck, blame someone else. If these same righteous stockbusters had made their 80 percent and cashed out, they’d be sitting in the Hamptons with their sweating martini glasses, giving a little tilted head to the less fortunate.

But the new American way is…put your money down; if you’re unlucky and the wheel passes you by, there’s always the post-mortem lawsuit. It is the adult wealth-version of a tantrum. When things don’t go your manipulative way, kick and scream and stamp your feet, but don’t let anyone see this—you are too sophisticated. Hire a corporate lawyer. He will get rich and will even maybe give you a small kickback or open an account at your firm and you will get an annual 2% of their fat earnings. 2% of the monopoly money, that is, because remember this company has no profit, no viable product. Nevermind; its maybe 80 million shares have changed hands so many times now their trading statistics begin to rival the NYC rat-to-human ratio.

So what fuels this frenzy? Not the good-old American quest for profit, the healthy motor that drove our economy for years. It’s the massive Epidemic of Greed. The whole American culture is now a culture of addiction; we’ve admitted this. Overeating, overspending, overcollecting. The new American obese…and now you can get your stomach stapled off and develop another addiction. The addiction is secondary; the disease is primary. And it progresses from Greed to full-blown Addiction to Greed. These Wall Street guys are no longer content to reap reasonable growth statistics. Profits must be not even double-digit, but triple digit. Yes…why not? 200 percent return. Don’t just invest; pour your money into this machine and like alchemy it multiplies. Ahh, yes…double-percentage growth in a single day; this is what they like to see. Like crack addicts… heading ever-upward into the infinite realm of ‘more’. Supersize me, they say. Supersize my portfolio or I’ll sue.

I checked out the Richard Serras last night. Okay, he is a mainstream contemporary artist. I quite liked his work in the 60’s; those leather belts are awesome, the plinths, the thrown lead pieces— the lead and neon contrast, delicate steel planes leaning precariously like a house of cards. This took courage, a concept. It was real art. An acknowledged nod to Michael Heizer who really tipped the scales by using earth as his medium—the scale, the concept…awesome. And walking through the Serra curved walls was cool—the rough oxidized surfaces, like an industrial post-minimal 21st century scrap-metal version of a garden maze. Even though they were begging for a New York 21st century dose of graffiti to make them real. In fact, I put my money on someone daring to do that, although the crowds will be massive and the opportunity for a little unobserved subversive spraying will be rare. Because this show has been marketed-to-the-max as an event. Everyone who is anyone, and especially everyone who is no one will be there. The media has insured that. Even though just 3 short fiscal years ago you couldn’t give away a Richard Serra. Lot after lot passed at auction. Even though half the benefactors last night couldn’t tell the art from the bar.

But I couldn’t help thinking, as I navigated the rusty metal paths, feeling human and dwarfed… that somewhere among these corporate sponsors was one who is wrapping his head around the idea of taking this home. Like having a real tiger in your backyard, a trophy wife who won’t behave, the hugest of the football-field-sized houses in the Hamptons. Measuring. Supersizing. Owning.

Going up the escalator I am badly dressed and invisible. I looked down on these poor wealthy people, pitying that they will be forced to pay not 8 but maybe 9 figures of Monopoly money for these hunks of pitted steel which were maybe forged from scrap…while David Rockefeller only paid 5 figures for true timeless masterpieces, and had the wisdom to sell some off now, to take advantage of the supersized greed while he helps the poor and sick or the future generation of artists. Maybe.

Hanging in one of the stairwells was a great Baselitz…a man who understands painting. A great one… monumental but not massive. Like most of his work, pricey but in this context underappreciated..and with his edgy and smart sense of the art-viewing audience, upside-down.

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