Monday, June 30, 2008

Midsummer Pentimento

Teenage hell has me back at the Psych office which requires an early morning start, no sleep. Another UWS apartment-- museum posters on the wall, leather chairs, the kind-faced woman who listens while I weep like it’s Pavlovian….the therapist encouraging me to come, come…she is willing to accept my pittance for the magical challenge of unraveling why a talented person like myself is touring on a luxury unlimited monthly metro-card and traveling across town to celebrate dysfunctional high-school graduation alone in the rain with a $1.25 pretzel which are getting harder to find but worth the trip. This kind of thinking is keeping me in a sort of cage, she explains.

In the elevator down, a kind older woman comments on the Linden trees, obviously noticing my red eyes. They are in bloom— but her words-- from some old poem…resonate, provide comfort in a way the therapy will not. We walk a few blocks. She faces forward so I don’t feel self-conscious…remarks all over the city she sees weeping women every day. My favorite Picasso personification ever—in the Guernica, and out… the Weeping Woman…the one he may have glorified in his painting—as a symbol—but the one men hate in reality.

I acknowledge this woman, agree there are women crying everywhere, with the perfect faces. Reluctantly I leave her-- do not embrace her as I am inclined—do not ask her if she will take my $20 weekly and walk with me-- pretend to be my therapist, my angel, my mother. I need her.

On 79th and Broadway there is a guy with a cart—maybe Hispanic—clean, clean. $1.25 for hotdogs and pretzels. Beneath his khakis on this humid summer afternoon, the guy is lean and hard. His skin looks buffed, his smooth tattoos are approaching middle-aged blur. Facing his cart always with the line, because people in uniforms—the laboring kind—are willing to wait to save a few quarters…will tip the guy the way they never tip the 2-buck vendors. Plus he takes his time. He focuses. He has this routine— 8 shakes exactly of the dogs as he pulls them from the liquid—the perfect slice open, mustard back to front, ketchup same…five shakes of the sauerkraut. Then he asks if you’d like it wrapped…calls you honey—the fresh-mouthed black highschool girls, the John Does, the nurses and Filene’s employees. Doesn’t look you in the eye. His cart is immaculate. I get a pretzel, bagged with the same technique, the same care. I trust this guy. The food feels ritualized-- blessed.

On the bus home savoring my pretzel not just because it’s cheap, but it’s good… I remember last night on the 4 AM crosstown…3 women, like a Chekhovian mini-play—one showing me a yellow jacket she bought for $3, admiring my shoes, $10. The third woman removes one of hers, we name our favorite thriftshops, we laugh and tear up a little—we embrace. Brief sisters, the way my real ones never are these days. Open hearts, no malice. I’d have given my shoes to either of them. So this is my daily therapy— the weeping women of New York— the ones who don’t botox out their life, their sorrow, their joy. Random women on a bus who help me forget, for a moment, the ripping ache of teenage single-motherhood, the missing ex-husbands and estranged lovers, the unpublished manuscripts and unsung songs. Or maybe they help me remember.

Poised we are, midway through the midpoint of the year. Pivotal days that pass, tip the balance of the past into the future. If I got a tattoo it would be the weeping woman, crying tears that spell the name of my cruel son...a tattoo of the hot-dog guy, with the tattooed arms. But I won’t. I’ll spend the required $20 on another useless prescribed therapy session and hope to see the Linden tree lady in the elevator next week.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Smells like Mermaid Spirit

I am going to miss the Mermaid Parade tomorrow. In fact I’ll pass on every single parade this summer. The beach? Maybe I’ll do a few gigs out in Coney Island and smell the water, hear the surf as I arrive after dark. The midway is more my style…the sound of wooden balls knocking, air-rifles exploding, cheap carousel music, badly stuffed souvenirs of something that used to resonate of seediness. 42nd Street is a mall; Coney Island will soon be Trump Walk or something like Atlantic City. Small-time criminals will have to go back to muggings or move on. The nostalgia of boardwalk fear. Now we all know evil comes from the skies or the water supply, our bankers and politicians. We have to watch 70’s dvd re-releases to remember the innocence of neighborhood organized crime. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. He is busy texting Satan while bare-breasted girls are barely getting a look. Compared to his laptop this is nothing.

A few sad Christmasses ago, I dumped my boyfriend. Yeah, I could have waited. But if you do it on a holiday, it’s 50% more miserable. It was 10 degrees and I had to find Absolute Despair by New Year’s.

So a friend loaned me her house in a place called Point Lookout. Not the Hamptons, but not Asbury Park either …somewhere sort of middle class. Deserted. I made it out there on the last train to Long Beach, waited until dawn for a bus, arrived at an old wooden Victorian house—the only 3-story structure in town-- wearing my son’s discarded Gap flannels, an old football hoodie someone left in our laundry bag… with my guitar, ready to write my bleak anti-Yule anthem.

Unfortunately it was so cold in the house my fingers were useless. I piled up all the blankets I could, made a bed in the kitchen, turned on the stove and propped myself against the refrigerator. I could hear the surf not pounding but moving, always moving. So desperate I felt, I couldn’t bear to look out. I alternated between vodka and hot instant coffee. Nothing came. Day 2…no sleep except a few brief nods before the stab of emptiness jolted and the Sears compressor turning on and off. I was starving. I wrapped myself in blankets, still in the stale hoodie and flannels, scuffed up to the main drag in unmatched fleece mules. Never have I seen a more deserted town in daylight. Boxing Day. One lone delicatessen, open 11-3. I made it in time for a coffee and a tuna sandwich to go. The old unshaven manager asking me wordlessly what the fuck I was doing there. I looked like a homeless woman. I felt like one. So I’m chowing down on the sandwich, black coffee 3 sugars, letting the cheap mayonnaise drip down my face, my hair ratted and uncombed…and in walks a guy called Killer Joe. Used to do security for rockstars…a guy with biceps like small sedans and the required Long Island ponytail with the receding hairline. Shit, I think. But I’m invisible. I keep on stuffing my face, getting into the dysfunctional beach hobo head, and he actually spins my soda-fountain stool around… sticks his huge well-cologned wind-burned face in mine, and says…’Heyyyyy….aren’t you…?’
‘No’, I snapped, like an overstretched rubber band…’She’s about 10 years younger. And she’s happy’.
He bought a pack of Marlboros and a black coffee/3 sugars and split.

I’ve seen him a few times since…at gigs, doing security—whatever…and he gives me the roofed left eyebrow thing.

Anyway, I went back to my shed. 'Into the Wild' wasn’t released then, or I would have had an image to commune with. For 3 days I contemplated my cold grave at the shore. I even found a jigsaw puzzle and started it on an old bridge table, but somehow I knew in this well-used summer place, there’d be as many pieces missing as days in the skewed sequence of my life. Needed the cliche, there. I thought about memorizing each one. I thought about the tides. I listened. To the water, the wind, the occasional car, the cold gulls, the dial tone. I explored suicide. Day 4 I looked. I went up on the roofdeck and looked out…looked toward Coney Island, toward downtown Manhattan where the towers once were. Things are never as cool as when they’re gone. I tried not to turn my failed romance into a 9/11 tower. I refused to dramatize. I was unable to write.

When I couldn’t stand my own smell I waited for the bus back. I’d lost track of days but felt the New Year closing in. People avoided my seat on the train. It was cool. I was an outcast. At Penn Station the city rushed in on me like the sea hadn’t. I stood for what seemed like hours in my own shower. I erased messages, accepted a last-minute gig for New Year’s. Heard my voice like a stranger.

When I think about the beach now, I remember Point Lookout. I remember I am terrified of water, especially at night. I feel like I could suffocate with loneliness. Drown. My chest tightens up and my nose twitches.

Tonight my neighbors are packing their SUVs with surfboards and sandtoys. I am dressed in black on the warm sidewalk safely at sundown, having a coffee. Not waving. I can see Killer Joe at the Mermaid Parade, smoke curling out of the side of his thin lip, a girl with Pamela Anderson boobs hanging on his sweaty tattooed arm. The soundtrack is John Lee Hooker. The Veejay Hooker. Smells of women and fried fish. I miss him with my Point Lookout Heart. It’s as close to the beach as I dare. Someone else will write the song, realize in some cheap world, mermaid rhymes with parade.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Human Cocktail

Sex in the City. This year’s Pretty Woman? But that was Cinderella… So what have we got? A glass slipper parallel, at the end, I'll concede...…but not even hunky fantasy/cheap romance sex and cheating like Unfaithful. Murder. What do we get with the girls’ film of the decade… a margarita and an umbrella? Cute little dildo and vibrator references? A little diarrhea. But here’s the thing.. .the fairy-tale stuff is all stirred around— like mud…too many myths, too many designers… too much food, too much crap… too many boring characters…if there were 5 girls and 6 weddings I’d be snoring. No bad girls. How about the real deal? Any film that takes its inspiration from television is not going to cut it, no matter how many 40-episode dvd box sets sell. It’s boring, it’s filtered, it’s fake, it’s a wilted bouquet and stale dollhouse cake.

And what is real? Eating disorders, credit card debt…girls who slice themselves, nailbiting? Bulimia? I wrote a novel about eating disorders and my agent said she felt like throwing up before the end of the first chapter. Come on… you can’t have a love story without puking. We’re all so over it. Maybe the agent would have preferred 300 pages of those pathetic SITC one-liners that made me look stealthily left and right to reassure myself someone else was rolling their eyes or snorting. The ones that made me want to disguise myself on the way out because even the popcorn was sickening and my date thought I had an attitude. I wanted to hear some antidote Sex Pistols. I couldn’t wait to get back to my messy flat with the guitars people actually play and the drilled-out bathroom.

The whole thing was like a cinematic Quaalude. I’m sick of saying botox. I’m sick of listening to my friends need a Xanax or a latte or some other antidepressant or syndrome. Lyme Disease. Chronic fatigue. Zoloft… Paxil. A little Dexedrine. Lovelier thoughts, Michael…isn’t that what Mary Martin said in the film of that decade, 50 years back? The one with flying and fairydust and Pirates and transsexuals? Not to mention songs.

I had to talk to my son’s Psych this morning.. yes he has one, just like a rich person, because he cuts school and doesn’t do homework. A Medicaid Psych who’s put him on ‘meds’, as they abbreviate it, like the ‘babe’ version of drugs. He talked to me for like 3 minutes and commented that I was 'all over the place'. Yes, I own that I’m an unfocused wreck compared to those Sex in the City Girls. I don’t wax and no straight man I've ever known was more interested in the presentation than the meal. Okay, I speak too fast and too much and I quickfire. But the guy actually suggests, after 3 minutes of phone dialogue….has anyone ever told you that you’re the genetic origin of your son’s ADHD? Have you considered Dexedrine? It would make you a more effective mother. I’m sure, I replied, I’d be anorexic and a quicker ironer. Actually, I don’t iron because I like creases and why should my shirt be less wrinkled than my face. What the hell, I mean, there should be some kind of allowable ratio there.. --Definitely ADHD, he remarks. Hostile, too.

So… to my various neuroses and failures and frustrations and the daily abuse I swallow from my son along with Fish oil and calcium so I won’t lose my mind and my skeleton simultaneously, let’s sprinkle in a little Dexedrine to my own Human Cocktail…shake, stir…whatever… just pour it on… and if I get a little shaky and decide to throw in a few Xanax or good old fashioned Valium, I might be able to sit through a screening of Sex in the City without squirming like an ADHD middle-aged woman with a non-medicated brain.

Tell me… does the massive popularity of SITC signify simply fashion-obsession or a new standard for women? Will transsexuals have to abandon their Cher and Judy Garland personae for Sarah Jessica Parker or Kim Catrell? Is there anything iconic or unique? But isn’t that the point? From the sublime to the well-dressed generic? A film, like that Ya Ya one, to celebrate sisterhood, but the New York City everywoman kind? An actual movie theatre experience which mimics..yes, television. Only one step removed.
And... if each of the characters were a cocktail… don’t get me started on this mindgame.

So, Dr. ADHD, here's my recipe: hold the Dexedrine and the vermouth and pass me a mouth-opener. Straight up. Chill and then drink until you puke, like on those other brilliant reality shows that are sure to become a full-length feature at some point in our dim Hollywood future.