Sunday, October 18, 2009

I Want the Angel

A gap here.

Complaining about the economy has become lucrative for some. Personally I couldn’t accept money for whining. Maybe that’s what happened to Jim Carroll at the end…when all he had were bitter words inside, his advance had run out, and he was ashamed to admit he was too worn and fuddled by the clouds hovering by his desk, by ghosts of himself, by phantom pain of an amputated past that he could no longer translate onto paper.

Some of us wake with what we think is poetry on our tongues and no ink. I heard a not-yet-failed poet last week swearing by longhand. Personally I can scarcely read my own handwriting, especially when it comes with that other voice— the one that frightens me. I have a computer and am glad for any help I get, especially the silent kind. I am glad to use my fingers to ask questions and for that matter, any opportunity not to humiliate myself with a telephone call.

Other things I am thankful for these days:
The absence of excruciating pain, food for the week, sparse but consistent gigs, my bass fingers, books.
Ditto the safe distance of tropical storms, massive brushfires and earthquakes from Manhattan, the depleted coffer of my building preventing crippling renovations; coats draped over rails, the living monotony of day after day.

Things that terrify me:
The ever-hovering possibility of excruciating pain, my postponed terminal diagnosis, the inevitability of losing my words, the shrinking muscle of my former brain, the possibility that a tall man with a slaughterhouse mind will thwack a meat cleaver into my head from behind and I will recall the unbearable brutality of murder. We all fear death-- I mean the killing.

Last week on the C train a man with 2 voices was singing. He couldn’t quite get them to harmonize, but there were two distinct singers inside of him, dragging him through the cars, compelling him to humiliate himself by holding a Mets hat out to riders. I wanted to engage one of them, to see which one had his eyes, but he was not going to look. We gave our dollar, each of us, to the man with two voices. More would have been too much.

For the Morgan Stanley guy, though… with the $1.5 million salary and the $2.3 million bonus— that wasn’t enough. He was hungry. Lewis is getting $98 million and that’s just a bonus. Maybe he is rationalizing to himself, saying ‘the man with two voices still gets a dollar even though the people on the subway have no job.’

I don’t know about all of you, but I was rooting for the balloon boy. When I was young there was Pascal and The Red Balloon. It was terrifying and it was real— in the movies— not a cartoon. I had the book of still photographs and it was proof to me of my inherent stubborn belief in the humanity of objects. Things spoke and felt, things rescued you from the pathetic box of childhood. Things had wings.

That father and his squirmy children, the camera-readiness of their portrait arrangement on the sofa. It was sickening. And yet the police fell for it… they ran and flew for what? The reward money? The fame? Rescuing a child? People flock to the spectacle of child-saving. The metaphoric weight is immense— the personal resonance. What about the typhoon boys and girls in Southeast Asia, the African cleaved and raped? This boy— Falcon— was canonized. As though they’d planned this when they named him. Sickening.

Maybe it's easier to project our own worries onto the ones we invest in our children. Like a mother, I still can’t get the image of Jim Carroll out of my head-- sick and alone with the humiliation of having slightly outlived his own restlessness. The idea that the black balloon comes for us when we are not at our best, and the youtube voyeurs and glommers will stand outside with their cellphone cameras and then watch over and over this sort of killing. For all you control freaks and ultra-theatrics out there… those few Wall Street guys who were firm enough to jump— suicide is maybe the only safe option.

Either way, as JC said...Gravity— just sick for revenge.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cataracts

Tonight I went to see an eye doctor I haven’t seen in 12 years. He doesn’t take my pathetic overpriced insurance, but I remembered he was a thorough and reasonable professional and it turns out his fee for a consult is exactly the same as my overpriced insurance co-pay. Never in my 25-year health-insurance past have I spent more quality time in a doctor’s office. He prescribed 1 (that’s right) contact lens, so I don’t waste money on the other which I don’t need… and told me not to bother changing my eyeglasses because my eyes are in flux and I’d be throwing money away. Then he told me he’d mail a paper bill--- he doesn’t take plastic. I thought I was in a time-warp.

The bad news, on the other hand, is that I’m developing a cataract. Apparently I have what amounts to a yellow filter over my eyes, which affects my perception of color. Not only am I becoming the oldest rock musician in New York City, but all those years of spots and blue lights have taken a toll. When he used the word, I thought about Niagara Falls— that kind of cataract. The only meaning when I was young and invincible. Before spellcheck. I thought of the cataract-tears that fell this morning for Ted Kennedy, the ones I cried for the lost and missing children in my life, the tragic suicides of all the pained artistic souls I worshipped over the years. They couldn’t take the harsh light, couldn’t afford the prescription shades. Blink, Lou Reed.

I wonder if Ted Kennedy with all his health issues had cataracts because it seemed that he saw things with a bit too much clarity over the years. It bothers me, in some way, that his presidential timing was never quite right, and I wonder why the Powers-That-Be decided it was prudent to let the right Democrat in this time round. I watched archival footage of Ted giving that speech, way back in the Carter era, acknowledging that the average American family would have been bankrupted in a few months if faced with the Kennedy family medical bills. I watched him pledging to uphold the Democratic platform which guaranteed every American decent health care. Because when it comes down to it, what good are Constitutional rights if you’re too ill to exercise them?

That speech was filmed in an era when words were spoken live—- then televised. Not twittered, emailed, texted. Grammar mattered. Rhetoric, delivery. He suffered plenty of press and political crucifixions—- maybe more than his brothers, because he lived so much longer— and perhaps wore his tragic flaws more honestly.

Not that I have abandoned Obama. But I cannot fathom his doing business with the Bernankes and Geithners and Goldman crooks any more than I could stomach a presidential golf game with Ahmadinejad. No spellcheck there.

What annoys me tonight… people on TV who say ‘this is a whole nother level’… who are maybe the same people who say ‘how good of a pitch was that?’ What’s with the ‘of’? The careless misspellings posted in bold typeface on our Breaking-News TV caption-headlines. For a brief minute, Senator Kennedy was daed. Walter Cronkite would not have made such a typo.

But back to the Democratic ‘platform’ promise from 30 years ago. What has happened to blur the vision of Americans? Among other things, what happened was Reagan et. al. Then Bush et. al. The fact that the Dow moved up some 10,000 points and clouded our judgment. The fact that biotech and health insurance stocks were putting such enormous profits in the pockets of the Loudmouths that healthcare and every thing else for the increasing rich was affordable and deductible and the poor…well, let them eat cake anyway because their teeth will fall out before they reach Medicare eligibility.

Ted might have had a brain tumor, but he had a memory, also. His parting policy statement was a reminder about universal health care. Will this shine through his death? Or will the message be lost in the media?

Do you think he was too ill to know that Annie Liebovitz who photographed his family is now bankrupt? That her catalogue, like that of the living Michael Jackson, is in jeopardy and Goldman Sachs is now offering to bail her out of her uncompromising financial obligation? They will buy this ‘toxic’ loan like an anteater lickety splits his pray. And they will turn this around, make a huge profit, humiliate her. The whole situation sucks, but did she not see that the words ‘Art’ and ‘Capital’ do not belong together except in a world where ‘US Treasury’ and ‘Goldman Sachs’ cannot go for more than a page of text without being linked?

Cataracts. Annie wears designer glasses. I’ll bet her doctors will exchange a photo or even a Polaroid for a life-saving surgery. But don’t give in, Annie. They have your negatives but they don’t have you. I always thought you were a sell-out and I actually had your huge old coffee-table book on a pile of library-donations. I just might keep it now. In a few months I might only see in black and white anyway. My insurance won’t pay for the surgery, and no vision correction will let us see, when we pull the voting booth lever, which candidate is running on the G-S ticket.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

America Has Talent?

Tonight I was walking across East 60th street, weaving my way through the usual evening crowd of well-dressed young teens and tourists flocking every available stoop and railing, waiting impatiently for their chance to sample the Serendipity version of dessert heaven. There is a party atmosphere— it is summer holiday; the night air is clear and breezy-- many hold balloons and brightly colored bags of sweets from Dylan’s.

On the south side of 60th Street it is trash pickup night; debris and unwanted furnishings from summer renovations and tenant changes line the curb in irregular clumps like a tiny shantytown. A pair of homeless men have parked their carts and assess the merchandise; tonight the sidewalk displays an especially rich inventory. One of them is seated on a small sofa and trying on pair after pair of athletic footwear someone has discarded. He walks, tests the fit. Sits down again, and suddenly one of the shoes is hurling and spiraling through the air, down 60th street, clear across to the East side of Second Avenue where cars are entering the 59th Street bridge. Wow, I think. What an arm. What an NFL quarterback super-bowl-worthy pass. Incredible. The power, the perfect arc, the speed. The talent.

Okay, you do the math, follow the dots back to his past, his ‘hood. The wealth of athletic talent in the average underprivileged New York City neighborhood. The courts of Coney Island…the Rucker tournament players who make many college basketball stars look like amateurs, but who end up on unemployment lines, using anything to dull the ache of unfulfilled promise.

Then there’s the music. Some of these people hum with more grit and soul than the average MTV star or American Idol winner. How about that girl on ‘Prep’ who has her own $6 million apartment on Park Ave. and a vocal coach who is paid by the hour more than a weekly minimum wage salary so this brat can imitate other pop stars and appear to have talent? Okay, we the disgruntled and educated tell ourselves… it’s all marketing anyway. The toxic world of New York which used to nurture ideas and individuality. We have the cult of competitive narcissism and celebrity… like one enormous cultural hot-dog eating contest… while the rest of the world is starving and suffering.

Of course, there is no scarcity of talent. They are everywhere.. the invisible readers of obscure books, the writers of unpublished decent poetry, the sketchers on the subway who occasionally visit free Chelsea galleries and go home and tear their hair out. I even concede there is much talent among the hugely successful. I am an admirer of the acting ability of Meryl Streep. The popularity of her current box-office feat baffles me. I grew up watching Julia Child on channel 13 when I was home with measles or chicken pox in those innocent pre-innoculation days and was too sick to change channels. Even then I thought she was in drag. The person. She was weird and awkward and discombobulated and not quite credible, to me. She didn’t make me want to cook the way Graham Kerr did. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Comics used to imitate her. And there are plenty of taped shows available. We didn’t need the movie. I don’t get it. Now I do. She was kind of the first 'indie' chef. Is the film some reminder that celebrity chefs, who now have $2000 haircuts and celebrity spouses, used to be unattractive? We have several versions of Top Chef, we have 24-hour food channels. Chefs are the new rockstars. Nora Ephron has plenty of money. She could feed everyone in the Congo with a year’s worth of Sleepless in Seattle and Harry and Sally reruns. She has celebrity friends. Can’t she come up with something new?

Okay. I didn’t see it. I don’t want to see Meryl Streep like a human muppet doing an expensive imitation. Julia Child was already a kind of dysfunctional muppet. She might be a symbol that America had some talent among the understyled and unfashionable. She was smart and was a real person… she wasn’t auditioned and created by media spinners and picked for photogenic charisma. She was the essence of what used to be channel 13… the Mr. Wizard of cookery.

These days on PBS we get some babe begging for money while Wayne Dyer and other useless cultish quacks prattle and prance across the screen giving us advice about how to cure ADHD and sexless marriages. These people are stupid, narcissistic and misleading. They are also very rich. They are marketing experts. Is PBS that desperate? Do the Ziffs and the Bronfmans blindly give money? Don’t they have a programming opinion? Bring back the Mostly Mozart, Upstairs-Downstairs, the real Julia Child cooking… Marie Antoinette… Mary Queen of Scots… okay. The POVs, the films… even an occasional Charlie Rose… most of it is okay… but these telethons? Please. And leave out the Hollywood versions… actors playing Jackie Kennedy and Andy Warhol and Julia Child who are well-documented on film. What are they trying to do to the small piece of reality we all carry with us? We are confused enough. Somewhere America Has Talent but it is not on TV. Maybe on youtube but the cult of narcissism and compulsive media documenting has made the ‘needle in a haystack’ metaphor a gross understatement. Ditto the plea ‘someone take out the trash’.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

I have the Swine flu. I like saying that. It’s not Pig or Boar or Porcine but Swine. Sounds biblical, judgmental. Trust me, it is hellish. Tylenol keeps the fever down to a manageable 101 degrees but I am too congested to sleep and the cough is excruciating. My doctor advised me to be admitted to the hospital, but fear of uncovered charges exceeds fear of death. Then again, there is a folding table on my corner with signs and leaflets warning DEATH TO OBAMA(‘s healthplan). And NOBAMA. As a victim of healthcare, I no longer know what to think. I fail to see the evils of the Canadian system. And I grew up believing that Tampax should be government-supplied. Plenty of free condoms in the schools. I support that. In fact I support anything free.

Debt used to be free. The right to owe money. Borrowing....loans, yes, there is an agreed-upon price, but the condition of debt used to be free. Anyone could get there. Now it can cost you your home. Why? Because a huge percentage of our fictitious GNP was predicated on marketing this debt. Enormous profits were reaped marketing this. And someone had to take the rap...why not punish the poor schmucks? What more brilliant, more Satanic scheme could there be? Like selling ‘death’ to Americans. Has anyone read the most recent Saramago novel? Where immortality actually threatens a country and black-market industries arise to smuggle living people across a border so they can die? Maybe Bernie Madoff is reading this in his jailcell. Certainly he will have access to a kindle and other luxuries. I’ll bet the room is larger than many New York City apartments.

Private equity companies are preparing to reap huge profits on the toxic loans they are buying up like penny candy. They will market debt. Why not have a daily average, a figure… like pork futures, metals--- debt. The new commodity. Of course poor schmucks like me are putting their 4-figure life-savings accounts into fractional-percentage point safety accounts. We must sit on the sidelines watching the high-rollers play. We get to serve the Red Bull for coin tips. Or not.

Poor law-abiding citizens still fear debt. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. I am a giver. But I am also stupid. My neighbor caused the downfall of a great Wall Street institution. He committed heinous financial crimes. Employees lost their lifetime pensions. But he and his family still smell like roses, even if it is artificial rose stench. Their windows are clean and sparkling and their housekeepers are better groomed than I will ever be. They are spending weeks on the French Riviera. Their cavernous apartment with no books is vacant. My windows are filthy. My non-airconditioned shelves and piles of books are dull and over-handled. I have seen the Hudson and East Rivers several times in passing this summer, and my house doesn’t sparkle. Cleanliness has become an urban economic marker. Rich people have enormous, dust-free, freshly-painted spaces, and poor people have musty and dusty things everywhere-- things they might need, clothes they might wear. We are afraid to discard that which may be unaffordable in the future, or that which may have marketable value on ebay. Oh poor schmucks, throw out your trash. Or take it to a thrift store. Odds are nothing you own is going to be worthy of airtime on Antique Roadshow. And it may be harboring Swine flu germs.

Maybe it was that penny I picked up in the street. Or the cherry the fruit vendor offered me to taste. Or the $1 pretzel on 8th Avenue. The girl who swiped her runny nose before clamping the takeout lid on my morning coffee. My rich neighbor sees me coming from the library. ‘Aren’t you afraid of germs?’ she asks me, totally deadpan. I am afraid of fear, I tell her. What I don’t say is I am afraid of hospital bills and uncovered blood tests. I am afraid of my own health insurance company’s unchecked right to raise rates so the CEO's kids can have their king-sized bathrooms custom-sterilized daily by women in crisply laundered uniforms. So they don't contract Swine flu. I am beginning to fear my own anger because my skin feels hot enough to crackle.

When I was a sophomore in college, my adorable boyfriend gave me a baby pig for Valentine’s Day. It was cute and smart and pinkish. And then it began to grow. To eat, and snort and cavort around with enough force to destroy furniture. So we drove it up to Vermont where it ballooned into a 900-pound fatty and ended up in installments in the oven of this hippy farmer family who could no longer afford the slops. Roasts and bacon and tripe kept them warm through the winter. They never got Swine flu.

I am more inclined to believe this influenza comes from the real Swine… the Wall Street pigs and the biotech companies who are going to rake a huge profit from the vaccine. Ditto Roche, who makes Tamiflu, though I recall reading in the New York Times back in January that Tamiflu is completely ineffective against this particular strain of influenza. In Canada, this is common knowledge. It seems to me they were still handing out Tamiflu to those Queens high school students like candy all through the spring. Or am I hallucinating? Does anyone recall that Rumsfeld was a huge shareholder and profited enormously from the Avian flu scare just a few short years ago?

I’ll probably live. Although had I gone to the hospital, who knows? As they say, if it’s not another thing, it’s one. Oink.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer Grace

Amidst the summer thunderstorms and aural chaos of New York City, I am missing Grace Hartigan today who was still with us last summer. I am glad to have a copy of the poem Frank O’Hara wrote for her because even though she left behind all those paintings which landmarked the various episodes of a life that was larger than art, it is always comforting to have someone else acknowledge this. Just one year ago I took for granted the fact that I could go down to Baltimore and find her, still outspoken and truthful, still following her tough Anne Sextonesque heart even though her star had shone brighter when she was young and feisty and haunting the streets and bars of downtown New York with her entourage.

Last night I spent the highest quality time available in my small bigcity world with a 90 year old artist whom I will not take for granted this summer. To sit and hear her recount tales of her past, her blunt assessments of the world as it is, of me, of herself, to leaf through her new work…was worth the price of admission anywhere. She had an audience of 1, while the guy who put his United Airlines Smashed My Guitar song on youtube has now logged 4 million hits.

On the crosstown bus last night I met a young Mom and her 13-year old who had come to New York for a revolutionary back surgery. His spine was deformed and as he stood up I saw he looked like he was a shirt stretched on some cruel skeletal coat-hanger. He was handsome and funny and they were coming from the movies… and it pained me that I’m sure this woman gets welfare and Medicaid and all that and still she had the wisdom I lacked --to Discover-Card some entertainment for her son that would stay in his brain and heart for the estimated 90 days of recovery they say he will need to spend in the hospital. For a young teenage boy with a wild heart, this is a life sentence. My son could not wait 90 seconds for a pancake. I forgot to ask his name. But at 7 this morning, scheduled surgery time, as I went to bed in my twisted world, this boy was in my Grace Hartigan room.

I keep getting these emails about the Obama health plan. Nothing is changing in my life except the bills rise, my doctors fail not just me but all of us. They have some stories I wrote on their website where no one will read them. Tim Geithner gets great health care. Give, they instruct me... Give. President Sarkozy collapses and it is world news. There is a 92-year-old Jewish man in my neighborhood who made women’s hats for many years… enough to pay his bills and take a few vacations. Now he is near-crippled not just by arthritis but by bad medicine. He is a veteran and gets care through the VA. I met the guy working out. That’s right.. using machines and bravely walking upright through the weight room, offering suggestions to me who uses these machines incorrectly. His foot is so painful and deformed, he told me he begged for an amputation 2 years ago. He’s received injections, pills… and last week he was sent to a young specialist who turned and twisted his foot to a point where he was unable to walk for 2 weeks. This man who endured wounds and shrapnel and 65 years in the garment district-- all of them with worsening congenital arthritis-- as a one-man show. Whose product graced the heads of fashionistas and church and synagogue-goers through their joy and grief. Where is his medal of honor? He asked me to have a coffee. He comes to the 92nd Street Y and exercises to distract him from his pain. He says he has a coffee in the lounge downstairs and sometimes falls asleep. Then he manages the 10 block walk home which can take him 90 minutes. 90. A magic number for me today. He smiles and his great old face is lit up. He is near-deaf and no one listens to him. Thank you, he said to me…thank you for talking to me. I can scarcely type these words.

‘Behind a door a boy is listening…’ This line, the origin of which I cannot place, keeps repeating in my head like a mantra today..along with the skeletons of words from Grace, from Frank O’Hara, from the boy with the hanger-spine who is being dismantled as we speak... from the old hatmaker who is maybe struggling to place the oversized converse sneaker on his foot so he can walk to another insulting medical appointment... from my Madeleine, who is drawing careful lines on old book pages and pasting and cutting things, alone. Of all the souls who don’t have cellphones and email and broadband and maybe not even cable or any television at this point.

How amazing to have had this name spoken over and over... when you are scolded, called, beckoned, awakened... whispered and longed-for during one of those nights of passionate bedlam which was the internet-less but connected New York art world in her more innocent time. Grace.

‘Find me, find me… I’m here in this room’ someone is singing in my head. Perhaps I am mad. Surely there will be some cure for this which is not in my health plan. Or God’s own.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pigeon-sure

There’s an article in this week’s New Yorker about confidence and its relevance to the Bear Stearns collapse vis-a-vis that bastard Cayne. Hard for me to assess those people because, pacifist that I am, I’d like to bring back corporal punishment for anyone who profited from the defective House of Cards engineered by Wall Streeters who hold an all-ace deck while honest American investing schmucks came up with jokers on their monthly statement. And have to kiss their tax-dollars as they go into the pockets of these ‘confidence’ men.

I gave my son a copy of that film ‘Confidence’. Not quite new, but entertaining. He is a confidence expert. In fact I will go further and say he is a pretty consistent liar. According to the article, the confidence game pays. So what makes these people tick? The size of their dicks as the New Yorker seemed to suggest with the article title, ‘Cocksure’? I know among teenage boys this gives them cause to swagger. Among women…well, size unfortunately does matter. At least it gives you reason to relax. And if the guy happens to be a non-swaggerer, well, you’ve got one less thing to miss when things go sour.

Size matters re: bank accounts, real estate square footage, height. The Tall Man usually wins? Not too many powerful politicians who are short. First ladies are generally tall…fashion models…even art has become larger and larger—billboard size, actually.
See me, it has to say.

Still, some big things are small. Low numbers in New York real estate addresses connote proximity to the park…status. Small number dress sizes are sought after. Portions which sell for huge sums in New York restaurants get smaller and smaller. Rich people with large balances eat small portions and weigh in at lower numbers. They want their license plate to read ‘CSW 1’. I’ll bet some of them pay for a 3-digit social security number.

Personally I think the national metabolism has slowed down. People are fat not just because of supersized meals and brainwashing food marketing, but because we are all lazier and slower. We are no longer the gas guzzlers we used to be. We scarcely move. Our bodies adapt to workouts. People don’t run for the phone, don’t move to the desk to get paper and pen, use their arms to write, lick and seal an envelope and walk down to the corner to post things. We stay in one place. My son is not just a liar but a lier. He’s lazy. He lies about lying, too.

Emails are becoming shorter. Trillions are passed around, but no one bothers to write much. Relationships are shorter. People text each other to death and are sick of the whole thing in days. Fuck eharmony. How many of these people are retreads?

There’s a pigeon on the air conditioner across my courtyard. It’s shat its own weight and more since spring. It comes back there every day, no GPS. It had an affair, oversaw its mate laying an egg and sitting it out on the shitwalled nest, jumped around its young until the little guy flew away. Through the 9 inches of June rain. In fact, it’s still there-- solo-- even though its mate seems to have flown the coop. Ditto the brat. It may be a terrible housekeeper but it sets an example for relationships my son could use. Unlike his mother.

I look out and admire the pigeon, and then feel a little edgy about my own sub-par housekeeping. The thing is, a low maintenance poverty-line lifestyle actually takes an enormous amount of high-maintenance energy. Cheap cleaning supplies are a bus and train ride away as is reasonably priced mayonnaise and gallons of milk. Not necessarily the same bus and train, either, when you are really doing a $4-a-day financial diet. Nothing is a cab-ride away because I don’t take cabs, and there’s the extra lugging and the tedious penny-pinching and coin-counting and coupon-clipping and card punching. Emptying and recycling vacuum-cleaner bags--- a dirty little secret of the truly prideful poor. Then there is clinic-waiting and the endless referrals and medical insurance paperwork and price comparison and pre-qualification. And fighting with Welfare for NOT taking benefits for which I qualify. Poverty is a full-time job.

Then there are the true low-lifes who just pulled a $48 million Medicaid swindle. When my latest routine biopsy had to be endured without anesthesia because the copay was more than my monthly food budget.

I watched my son play basketball tonight… the league is a non-profit but I calculated it costs $18 a game to watch him lose. Maybe, I suggested, if you didn’t lie about lying so much and you had to pay me $1 for every shot you missed, you’d practice. Of course I didn’t actually say it out loud. I don’t want to mess with his confidence.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I'm Bad, I'm Bad...I Know It...

Have you ever been so hungry you open a jar of mayonnaise and do a spoonful? Not like the slightly paranoid too-stoned-to-go-downstairs 4 AM hungry, but the gnawing 2009 version I am experiencing trying to stretch my dwindling New York dollars to cover inflated pricing. I mean, first there was the wheat shortage…or the corn oil pseudo fuel thing. Whatever. My Super-A Cornflakes are priced like last year’s Kelloggs. Then there is the petroleum product thing which makes jars and containers expensive despite the fact that oil futures dropped like 70%. Then there was the $5 gallon of milk, the $2 a dozen eggs, the toilet paper hike. You name it. They give us a reason, then we just buy it because we’re too worn out to fuss about yet another thing when our neighbors have cancer and our kids are committing suicide or being arrested. The only thing reasonable is peanut butter which has been marked down because it can like kill you, and trust me, I’d be spooning it in if my son wasn’t technically allergic. Am I going to feel guilty one day for all the cheap tasteless pasta and generic cereal? Because I was too broke to afford the butter and flour for apple pies except on Thanksgiving when we’re too full for dessert anyway? Maybe, maybe not.

And the damn metrocard increase which totally wrecks my $4-a-day thing. If there was any reasonable way for me to protest the bottomless money pit of the Second Avenue subway, I would. I’m just not up for biking. I’m too rock and roll. Besides, I just did my 9th cd photo shoot in the good old metro at 3 AM. Where else can you find fresh graffiti, vintage tiles, cavernous empty space and cooperative rats without hiring a set designer and signing off with the ASPCA?

On the bright side, I don’t have to feel guilty about not contributing for the Michael Jackson memorial because it won’t be in my town, no matter what the doorman down the block swears. And not to detract from the legend of MJ, but the whole media fest is not really about celebrating the guy, but digging just enough into the freakshow to pull out some gigantic mutant plum. Didn’t the guy already tip you off with the Thriller video? Yes, there is a dark side. You, too, will be dead and maybe dissected and autopsied and revealed as the fake or secret pervert you might be. It certainly distracts us from the Ponzi scheme which is America and if they spent 1/100th of the time investigating the CDAs and predatory lending scams, we might have a story worthy of 24/7 network coverage. The alternative tonight was an Ovation documentary on Jeff Koons where I swear this guy was saying’if art were religion, Jeff would be its pastor’. How about ‘if art was human, I’d invest in an enema-bag to flush the Koons down the toilet with speed and efficiency.’

I took Latin when I was a kid, and the word for ‘speed’ seemed dangerously close to the root for ‘celebrity’. Back then, famous people stuck around a little longer. I mean, there was Mickey Mouse and Mickey Mantle and the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe… the Beatles… They showed A Hard Days Night tonight and it all feels so remote and non-nostalgic to me tonight I couldn’t even find George cute. In fact the Beatles seemed a bit watered-down and slow, and just so ‘pop’. I wonder if Paul McCartney misses the good old days. Maybe not… because let’s face it.. he’s no longer Paul McCartney. He’s some old guy that got swindled by a fake slut with a wooden leg. The thing is, Michael Jackson wasn’t Michael Jackson any more… no amount of surgeries and masks can change that. Personally I didn’t miss Elvis when he died. I never liked the guy, but certainly couldn’t stomach the ‘In the Ghetto’ Liberace version. That’s the thing about celebrity. It comes and it doesn’t always leave when it gets late. It stays the night even when you wake up all puffy and hung over.

This afternoon I met this old photographer from New Orleans who’d moved up here because, let’s face it, no matter how much they rebuild and advertise, the place is wrecked. The soul blew away with the goddamn hurricane. No matter what they do, It’s the fat Elvis New Orleans now. So this guy is a little bent over, wizened--a little dapper and washed out… but smart, with a good eye. He knew Herman Leonard, copped for Dr. John in the old days. He seemed like a good guy. His hat was battered but cool. We talked about jazz, Mingus, Miles…exchanged numbers.

Just now I took a walk down to Duane Reade where I hoped to cash in the $5 reward I finally got after $100 worth of inflated purchases because in my overpriced hood, nothing else is open at 4 AM. And I swear I saw the guy digging around in the trash. I tried to stay close to the buildings and walked real quiet…but there aren’t too many ex-punks on the streets here, and I’m worried he saw me. After all, there are times in life when you just don’t want to be an audience.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

YANKEE DISINGENUITY

It's been a rough week... Iranian protests, train crash, a building collapsed in Clinton...Farrah Fawcett, whose obituaries were waiting in the can... but who could have predicted she'd be upstaged by Michael Jackson? Quite a shock for all of us who grew up with the 40 year soundtrack of clearly the largest popstar in the world. And talent so astonishing most of us choose to ignore his eccentric behaviours and cannot quite fathom the celebrity-cross Michael had to bear. Not to mention the cult of non-personality the toxic 21st century has brought. Bring it on, bring it on.

My Thriller-buying self could never have imagined the quality of entertainment could have been so diminished by astounding progress in technology. Why just this week I was treated to an episode of 'Prep' where the blankest examples of Manhattan elite children use language like 'I shoulda went' and roomfuls of precociously overgroomed brunettes with identical stylists and hairdressers exchange vapid dialogue and cellphone numbers. No wonder my son is promiscuous. You can scarcely tell these people apart. And who in their right mind would parade their kids into the homes of bored viewers...for what? Money? Aren't these people rich? At a certain point I thought it inappropriate for Princeton to let Brooke Shields matriculate... so what's next...the South Park boys as virtual college Freshmen? My brain hurts.

I actually was asked to comment on the New Jersey Housewives show. Now I was not a Sopranos watcher...never had HBO... but these women are so off-the-charts unwatchable...and what's up with the trashy one inserting herself into the neighborhood? Aren't there people from New Jersey who resent this? Housewives of Newark? Why isn't that ex coke-addict thrown out of her home? She admits to massive debt...does she trade sex for Mastercard points? Who shows up at anyone's family dinner and confronts the table with pathetic stories about their past? Mute comics are more entertaining. Get her out. Nice women and good hardworking mothers have children with disabilities... this moron thinks the world wants to listen to her trash? And obviously these other ladies needed a little drama to spice up their over-indulged day? In my day, women like her got the silent treatment at best.

It seems to me, with everything you can possibly imagine on youtube, television would have to be a little competitive, offer a bit more than violation of privacy as a subject. Are we that pathetically voyeuristic that we need to know about the sex life and living room furniture of illiterate housewives?

And then we have Governor Sanford. How many of those wet-behind-the-ear TV bloggers were reading his emails on air like giggling teenage gossip girls with a hard-on? What do they know about love anyway? Let's crucify someone for having an affair. In the days where men were men and talent was talent, Thomas Jefferson and even JFK didn't have to compromise themselves with email and didn't have tattletale staffs who are too self-involved to keep their mouths shut. Privacy is the new American obsession. The invasion of someone else's, that is... guilty underbaked little souls that we have become. If Jesus showed up he wouldn't even get a passport.

Forget MTV, forget VH1, forget the myriad combinations of bands and employed instrument holders who cannot possibly be in the same industry as a Michael Jackson. Ditto the rappers. No wonder poor Michael was in pain.

But tonight... my non-achievement balls-to-the-wall award of the month, goes to either the YES network for broadcasting it, or that ridiculous Bernie Williams who didn't get enough camera-time or obscene bankable cash as an overpaid Yankee, and now has to torment us with his pathetic version of music. As though the world doesn't have enough smooth bad jazz to make Miles Davis spin forever. I actually know the guitarist in his band who is a decent musician and had plenty of ass in his time, and must be putting 17 handicapped kids through college to have lowered himself to this kind of celebrity guitar-neck sucking. Okay, so he looks a litle sheepish, giving Bernie the old-- 'yeah, you go...' face...trying to console himself with the presence of other professionals on the same stage, humiliating themselves forever, for money. As for me, I'll eat stale cake-crumbs. The sight of old Bernie, who looks about as natural with a guitar as Oprah... switch-hitting one expensive axe after the other, spilling out pre-packaged arpeggios and cliches with subtle non-musicality and that Hendrixesque ecstasy-face he must have studied in the mirror forever. Let some dysfunctional musical type who actually has a vision and no fielding ability have just a little corner of the market, okay Bernie? Go back into the cereal box that doesn't even want your face on it anymore because you belong to the has-been. Go to a third-world country and build houses. Play golf. Did Michael Jordan pollute our ears and screens with his saxophone? He got himself a big desk and sits behind it. Get off the screen and off the stage. Or if you really want to play guitar, try auditioning for the Puerto Rican Day parade as Pedro Garcia. See how far you get. Don't usurp the name of a former major-league ball player. Open a restaurant like those other guys. A strip club. Coach the Mets. God knows they could use it. But please, give the people with ears a break. Donate those overpriced instruments to the Music-in Schools program. Let someone with talent have a chance. Or better yet, go home and hit yourself in the head with a bat. It kind of looks like a baseball so maybe someone else will do it for you. In language you can understand, if Michael Jackson is Babe Ruth, you are selling uncooked hotdogs at a rained-out Little League game. And fortunately or unfortunately, neither will be able to give you his professional opinion.

I don't care what they will say about you, Michael. Maybe you are better off out of this toxic world where privacy seems to have gone the way of talent. You are and were and ever will be among the Kings.

Friday, May 22, 2009

iQuality

My teenage son is home from his first college year and told me last night that every single parent of every single person he knows has acknowledged I am a loser and a lowlife pathetic failure of an excuse for a parent. This was just the prologue. The meltdown went on and on to dis my religion, my total 3 loser dysfunctional friends, the fact that I have never paid for one single thing in his life (translation: I have paid for EVERY single thing in his life except his iphone), and that all of his friends hate me. Three of them were witnessing this tirade, the same three that seem to endure sleeping in my loser apartment every night because they don’t dare go home. One of them even lives in a mansion on Fifth Avenue and is not allowed to have friends over but chimed in for the chorus.

So was this just a decoy to make his horrid report card seem less heinous? A belated Mother’s Day gift? The effect of his self-medication or failure to medicate or overmedicate? Bad sports-gambling debts which are mounting geometrically? He is the drama queen of the house, but this endless speech made 50 lashes seem quaint.

I went out for a margarita with friends who egged me on to throw the ungrateful wretch out. I came home slightly ‘tempered’ only to face accusations of being a drunk, and a belligerent drunk. Trust me, not only is my annual alcohol consumption less than one average teenage weekend binge, but I no longer have the passion for anger. I am anesthetized by not just the toxic fumes from voluminous media product- garbage, but from the slow ooze of cultural mediocrity. Has anyone else noticed this? Is it a Starbucks conspiracy? Our caffeine consumption has risen to offset the malaise, but it will take a high-magnitude earthquake to wake us up to our own sloth. I summon all my genetic bitchery, order all kids out, and no one moves. Even wrath is diluted... impotent.

Tonight I had dinner with a former rockstar who has the musical genius to compose a shattering soundtrack, but lacks the technology and equipment. Instead we are forced to turn on our sets to inadequate shows with not just derivative but inferior music by craftsmen who have all the technology but no creative depth or maturity. Is it their fault? Maybe not.

Wednesday I turned down an invite to attend the annual induction ceremony at the Academy of Arts and Letters. It seems they are running out of eligible people, because the list was as exciting as summer reality-TV reruns. Even the notion of sitting through these speeches was painful. Dull pain.

Last week an elderly former fashion designer complained to me that he attended an Anna Wintour lecture and all the women looked the same. Everyone has the same flowing hair, the same botoxed face, the same makeup and colors, the same shoes and gestures. Come to one of my shows, I teased him… you will at least see the marginally and mainstream hideous. He laughed. Said my soul was showing unfashionably. Sticking out.

As if I hadn't had enough abuse, the edgy indie director for whom I am writing film music kicked my lagging butt. He also threatened to put my unfinished music up on a myspace site, one by one, as punishment for my personal brand of sloppy perfectionism. Forget your brilliant NYTimes cd review and your poetry. The only books we will soon see in Barnes and Noble are Dan Brown, Harry Potter, and endless teenage vampire chronicles. Aside from that, publishers will take a risk on Paris Hilton's cookbook and Michelle Obama's workout routine. No more literature. Put that in the Academy pipe and smoke it.

Then the Chinese Restaurant we play at on Saturdays cancelled us. Apparently no one is eating this holiday weekend and if they are, they are doing it in front of their TV and saving the service charge. So they certainly do not require musical accompaniment.

My son got an ‘A’ in Business Law. Mostly because one of his teammates loaned him the assignments. He managed a mediocrity ‘B’ in Writing for the Media for which an ‘A’ might not be marketable. Ditto World Politics. But he never showed up for Psychology (surprise!), and had an ‘F’ in a course called ‘Equality’. I queried…perhaps you thought they meant ‘e-Quality’? Secretly I gave him a point.

This morning I emailed one of the young but wise songwriter-poets I consider my spritual offspring. He has lost everything in a fire, the blessing of which he is remarkably able to appreciate. The rest of us have simply lost everything but are still encumbered with rent and storage fees, dustmites and debris, molted skin and unusable lyrics. I told him how depressing the Academy list was, and that I was beginning to crust and crinkle at the edges with the smolder of blackened nasty. So just now, coming in from a Manhattan summer-doldrums-preview night out, I received his 4-word post-conflagration reply which soothed a few stinging maternal wounds and stilled the ache of mediocrity like Amazing Grace: ‘I see a light’, he said. Full stop.

Maybe it will be okay.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Backlit

Having just returned from a crosstown bus trip during which I was the trapped audience of one end of a blaring cellphone conversationalist blogging aurally about her poor patients at Mt. Sinai and then via call waiting about her roommate’s boyfriend’s appalling personal hygiene, I was not exactly receptive to yet another email inviting me to become a Facebook friend.

Besides one’s virginity which doesn’t seem to have the ‘currency’ it once did, and will inevitably be the subject of an all-too-imminent reality show contest, perhaps the only thing once can give away and never get back is one’s privacy. The concept of privacy, in this tiny cyberworld, is virtually non-existent. What one chooses to withhold seems rather a game or dare for the paparazzi…and rather arbitrary when one posts nude photos indiscriminately but chooses not to discuss the location of the wedding. Besides, by the time the event actually takes place, there is a healthy chance that someone has already intruded on the marriage.

What is more debilitating and exhausting is the totally compulsive dissemination of information that is not only scarcely worthy of casual small talk, but begins to encroach upon obscenity as it occupies a larger and larger platform. We all remember how the man Gulliver, when he took on the proportions of a giant, was observed to have these large pores and bad smells. Ditto for the gargantualization of cyber trivia and froth.

Sifting through the trash has become a task which bogs modern culture to the point where it has become the very substance of not just friendship but culture itself. Television… scripted or unscripted, for the most part, has deteriorated to the calibre of an overheard cellphone conversation. Gossip is no longer a page six indulgence, but an industry. Perhaps a religion. Our gods and heroes are not Herculean but Warholean.

While we're on the subject of art, witness Jeff Koons and his toxic band of misled thieves. At least Mr. Woolworth and Mr. Penney had the restraint to charge coins for such goods. Perhaps the sheer size and the slick deluded genius of Koons' marketing team convince him he is entitled to add many zeroes. I guess he is unable, like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, to smell the stench of his own output. Does anyone note the irony of unprecedented recent perfume and scent branding? They rival fashion sales.

Which brings me to the spring art auctions. In my home, it has been a Mother’s Day tradition that I get the afternoon ‘off’ to wander unencumbered by strollers and whining adolescents through the wares of the auction houses. Something I looked forward to, indulged in. This year even the champagne/strawberry fest at Philips couldn’t entice me to taint my Sunday with the pretentious pedantics of the auction house staff and the blathering art consultants leading still-solvent hedge fund boys through the racks like Syms salesmen flogging cheap suits to make their pathetic quota.

This year there was something almost desperate about the shows. The goods were, for the most part, lacking in quality, although mercifully reduced in quantity. Still, let’s face it... when a rare bronze sculpture appears in simultaneous sales in the same city, same season, days apart… well, one begins to wonder about the whole damn game, and the fact that the archived body of work of so many artists does not come close to the numbers of claimed owners. My own teenager has questioned the Basquiats… and the Warhols… well, Andy himself signed many he swore he never painted. The signature and the work… not always one and the same. But once an artist has passed, works surface like memoirs and mementoes from dead rockstars’ ex-lovers.

Does it make a difference? Did anyone else notice how garishly ‘backlit’ the star lots at Sotheby's were? Like the diamonds in their jewelry department which do not quite have the same lustre at home, they seem to have employed the same bluish-halogen over-lighting which made each image coincidentally look just the way it does on one’s computer screen, which is undoubtedly the way most of the buyers know these images. So they are not disappointed by the reality of canvas and paint when they see them ‘in the flesh’ as it were. And why should they not employ ‘staging’ techniques…we use them to market expensive real estate, our own selves, these days…why not works of art?

So prices have begin to deflate. Unfortunately like a slow leak in a Koons balloon, there will be a slowish letting of hot air. The ‘stagers’ will see to this. Hopefully the detritus of this market will find a safe place in the dump among evaporating stock certificates and falsified bank statements and will not cause the death of any innocent turtles.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Play Offs

I passed this gymnasium today… a court where my son used to play his league games. It was the first summerlike day and basketball had joyously moved outdoors. There were 4 balls scattered on the wooden floor in a way which so completely defined the past tense… and I couldn’t help thinking, with a stab of something like nostalgia or loss… no work of art, no sculptural accident or surrealist act could possibly have conveyed the still and perfect randomness of those balls as they lay.

My neighbor called today and was annoyed at me for suggesting he watch some Indie Swedish film which he found totally worthless. Okay… maybe I was under the spell of the strange language, the dark, cold photography, the sparse, subdued, smoky breaths of dialogue. Had I underestimated his intelligence? Well, I countered, referring to some poet he had recently praised…if you define a poet as someone who is attempting to write poetry…
And there ensued a duel of minds batting back and forth the misshapen ball of mediocrity. Actually, the perfectly formed ball of mediocrity because this is where technology has placed us… in a position of perfect reproduction, straight edges, the pre-drawn, pre-loaded, synthesized, airbrushed landscape of culture. And who is really listening…or watching?

Paper and pen which were treasured by some ancient poets…is near-obsolete. Corrections are automatic, publishing is instantaneous… everyone has a network, a preset audience, an email list. Does it matter if they are too busy putting out to actually listen or read or watch? Everything has been said, written. This, as well. Every teenager has a guitar as well as a car in the garage. Not. But the new poetry might be architecture. At least it requires ‘presence’ to be experienced. For the time being, that is.

I read some work by a South African poet today who is quite acknowledged… and full of metaphor… so full, in fact, that it passed me by. I began to spar with the poet, mentally. Is a shadow really the ‘widow of the light’? Is that not the dark, what is left behind? And he spent so much time setting the scene…describing the landscape, as though none of us readers have eyes or soul or heart or imagination… I grew angry.

Maybe I, too, am a victim of the impatience instant messaging has cultivated. Maybe I am overstimulated and sensorily anesthetized. Maybe we all need to be shot, and then to feel the pain of the wound, in order to explore our own feelings. We are ever-so tolerant of the gruesome violence and gratuitous cruelty we see on even prime-time TV. The odd thing to me is the same audience seems to flock in equal numbers to both the horrific cinematic frightfests and the pathetically scripted Jennifer Anniston/ Reese Witherspoon froth which monopolize chain theatres. At least I stay home and watch Sundance.

I do notice, though, that in the award department, tragedy beats out comedy. How many of our lives are truly marked by 9/11 moments, as opposed to happiness. Besides, that is, the births of our children, which, according to the wise poets, is the sad instant their world becomes intermingled with death.

How is it, I wonder, coming home, still in the spell of the empty basketball court, that these people who live among me can worry about the status of their prams and strollers and fail to feel something for all the starving children? That we must feel guilty if we do not buy the iphone for our kids when animals are being tortured, millions are suffering? And on TV they are asking for money for the polar bears. I can scarcely manage the quarters for my corner panhandler who I notice today is missing another tooth. Does lack of money make me more qualified to empathize, to hate the investment bankers, to ‘dis’ the late Picasso show at Gagosian, to weep over the orphaned elephants and my own failed attempts to communicate all of it?

I do know that I hate more than ever the trapped basketball in the tank of Jeff Koons which always had some perverse sexual and monetary connotation. In a Batmanesque parable of the Gotham City art world, Mr. Koons is some kind of pathetic Joker. The anti-Houdini, the lizardous creature in a tank or a bank vault who conspires to deflate the souls of all those who might give to the polar bears if only they had something to give.

I am thinking also there must be some pop philosopher-- some pensive or laid-off sportscaster somewhere, especially during this season of playoffs, who will never read Writerless, but who has observed ‘I am the basketball on the abandoned court’. Maybe he is even a Swede.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cello-Pain

I was at my gym exercising tonight and a grey-haired woman, in lieu of saying excuse me, gave me the slightest brush of hand on my extended leg, to let me know she was passing—so sorry—and as I looked up, there was this warm sort of split-second Susan Boyle twinkle in her eye that informed not only of a rare kind of generous humanity, but an equally capacitous depth of loneliness. Of course there is no appropriate response besides the half-smile I gave her, but it lifted me out of my egocentric gym fog into a
mode of empathy and compassion.

I think part of this whole obsession with Susan Boyle, besides the Cinderella thing, has to do with the shifting gear thing…when suddenly the commonplace and ordinary becomes worthy of reverence. And of compassion… via a sort of Eleanor Rigby gifted with an incredible and moving talent… the voice of great beauty which turns the froggy woman into a sort of queen. An unlikely stone on the shore is revealed as a diamond. And all of us, now, have learned the lesson of not taking everything for granted, of not judging all books by their cover. All of us were magic-wanded, at least for a day, into a kinder and more forgiving temper.

Because like a kind of miracle, we get this glimpse of joy…the place where her voice begins… the truth of it… the utter lack of attitude toward these people who placed themselves as her superiors, and who were humbled into some kind of genuine happiness at pure ungroomed talent as we do not generally see it on American Idol. It is not the face of Jesus in a croissant, it is something living and magical at once and it moves us from our cult of cynicism and fraud into a kind of belief, even if it came from Youtube.

Now they are pleading that she should not have plastic surgery or get her teeth fixed…is it ‘charming’ and part of the fairy tale that she remain a frog? Does she not deserve the pampering the judges receive? Would that not make her eligible for another makeover reality show and dilute the phenomenon?

I’m not certain what will happen to Susan Boyle…whether she’ll wish she had remained a frog with a heavenly voice… but I’ve noticed this week that poverty gets in your veins and arteries and it is hard to get it out. Like damp. It ruins you. And in the end, it stunts your spirit. It suffocates and taints like mold. I feel as though I’m never going to be a home for success….I’m too wrecked. I’ve become the downgraded mask I’ve worn for years as a disguise in which to become an artist. I am no longer viable. It’s terrifying in a way that I could find comfortable.

It could be a 21st century sociological phenomenon… obviously 99 percent of today’s successful ‘artists’ are merely products, and are fueled with rich parents or other forms of lucre. And I also realize that no matter how many millions these people and/or their rich investment-banker families have hoarded…they feel like losers… they are not real celebrities or great men… they are not heroes…they are not as rich as they long to be… except maybe Jay-Z… but they are like these filthy landlords here. And I am one of the pathetic hideous poor tenants…with the mold of it seeping in, the stained bathroom… terminally incapable of success in some way. But once you are old and arthritic and close to death.. .does it really make a difference if your chauffeur helps you out of a Lexus or you scuff around in filthy mules in C-Town looking for prunes and white bread with your foodstamps?

Comic relief: re: the wrong number/tech hell maze, some cellist tonight emailed me by mistake… I don’t even know her… but she was obviously emailing someone else.. .this whole confession about spending the night with this guy… it was kind of lewd and gross …she’s got kids… I’ve exchanged emails with her maybe once and somehow my name was crossed in there. I hope she never figures it out. Now I DO NOT want her to play on my cd. Isn’t that judgmental of me? It’s not a morality issue, but it was just such a pathetically pedestrian confession!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Re-Joyce

I dressed down for the Joyce Carol Oates reading at Barnes & Noble tonight. Who am I kidding? The only distinction I make these days is ‘clothes I sleep in’ and ‘the rest’. I avoid mirrors, I am the last to know if there is egg or jam or even blood on my face, and I have entered that ambiguous section of the female timeline where men rarely look, and other women, if you are unbuttoned or wearing your lunch, will avoid confrontation. My hair? I plead the 5th.

Despite the fact that my highbrow literati friends think Joyce Carol Oates novels are as prolific and valuable as late-night infomercials, I have a soft spot for her in my Goth girl-heart. Besides, we might have the same stylist: i.e., God. Okay…so I am late and of course any free event in New York City is jam-packed SRO, and that guy with the gray frizzy hair-plug-do who is at every single gallery and gratis museum opening is blocking the view from the back row, so I slink over to a niche on the side and sit on the floor from which vantage point I have a great view of Ms. Oates as she reads deadpan the title story of the new Dear Husband collection.

Q&A. Some numb-brain asks her whether her monotonous delivery was meant as a dramatic device to express the lack of emotion of the main character. I don’t really know how Joyce managed to keep her cool, and I doubt he’s been to any other readings, but she’s not exactly a bellower. Then a few writers asked the obvious questions about productivity, and whether the story was inspired by the actual killings in Texas which even a cursory reading of the jacket blurb could have answered. But these adult children cannot resist the act of publicly ‘engaging’ with a celebrity mentor.

The inevitable signing ritual.. with all the bookdealers hoarding their proofs and cloth bagfuls of novels. I thought of bringing one or 2 vintage books, then thought better. They want you to buy the new one…that’s the point, but all the new covers are so pathetically cheap-novel looking, I’d prefer borrowing from the library.

Actually I brought along a manuscript. Since she teaches at my alma mater, I’d been encouraged to show her one of my small dark poetry epics…. She seemed so accessible…so--- well, badly dressed and anti-celebrity. I asked the Barnes & Noble emcee if she’d give her an envelope and she nodded toward her publicist who was sitting in one of the folding chairs, consulting his Blackberry. He gave me such a lip-curled gay-snot look of slight horror as though I’d vomited and splattered him… I backed off. I know well how much he earns and what he does, the little Filene’s Armani rodent. So I split. Okay, I’ll mail it to her at Princeton. Not. I’d like to have given him a piece of my mind about the packaging of her sinister books in these happy house-wife-friendly pink and dusky rose jackets.

The thing is, I like her. She’s unpretentious and outs her literary money before her mouth, this is for sure. She admitted her deep sympathy for the child-killer, for all imprisoned housewives and claustrophobic warped mothers. And that sexy Elvis poem she wrote early on... she must have been a sort of anorexic Winehouse-esque hottie at some point in the late 50’s. All that damn writing. She even put out poor-quality stuff under different names. Pretty amazing. Well, she doesn’t have kids… they certainly suck out what creative juices they can, especially if you’re poor and starving and get no relief from husbands or babysitters. Jesus, the weather and the economy are getting to me.

Back I go on the train, tossing the pathetic current New Yorker issue which Joyce managed to innocently dis as she mentioned their habit of selectively editing the balls out of her fiction. Guess I can safely sourgrape the rejections of my poetry. Inspired to read some Oates, I suddenly remembered I’d loaned The Falls to my son’s now-ex-girlfriend. She'd asked me for a book on murder. She probably left it at the beach and bought a kindle version of Twilight. She’s an honor student at NYU. Never heard of Proust, Doris Lessing or Joyce. The meek-minded but well-dressed inherit.

Passing another B & N on the way home, I notice they’ve had a Tuesday reading as well: Charles Grodin. Is this an author? According to the roster of upcoming events, most of the readings are actors who write, or chefs, or actors who cook who write, or models who diet who write, desperate housewives who get a reality show who write. Desperate book publishers. After all, it's Barnes & Noble, not 'Nobel'.

Video/Facebook killed the writer. Except Joyce. She was still doing it… still with the old cardigan sweater and the top button closed. On the way out, the music department was playing an old Cult album. Getting warmer. Amy Winehouse wasn’t conceived when they recorded this. And somehow I believe, when all the Twilight novels are forgotten, all the Gossip Boys and Girls have done rerunning and JK Rowling is scratching her head, Joyce might be on a plane to Stockholm. Okay… she’s no Saramago, but among those B&N wallpaper caricatures, she’s got the Oscar Wilde/Virginia Woolf facial credibility; at the least she’s a bad hairday antidote to Candace Bushnell. A Roy Orbison of writers.

So to the publicist: F--- you. But do something about that pathetic packaging. Forget the fashion portrait. Award-winning writers have better looking book-jackets. 50 novels later, she deserves it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

YOURSPACE IN MYFACE

I must admit I am sick to death of invitations to facebook and myspace. They go directly into the trash, same as most mailed social invitations I receive these days from the few that haven’t realized I’m out of circulation and not worth the stamp.

There are actually middle-aged adults who utilize these sites for whatever reason, God knows, because I am apparently somewhat internet-na├»ve. But catching a whiff of the mindless crosstalk and gossip which my kids indulge in on their computers…it is not only juvenile but somewhat pathetic and self-deceptive to collect ‘friends’ by soliciting and posting absurd little pictorial squares and inane comments like a stamp album.

Although there is something to be said for voiceless internet conversations without phone minutes, whatever happened to privacy, to solitude? Very few riders on the subway and bus now without their fingers texting, their cellphones ringing, earbuds inserted. Is anyone actually listening? Is anyone thinking? Is anyone actually longing for something that can’t be immediately gratified in multiple versions?

We have become a culture of narcissists. Everyone posting their personal advertisement on a website, everyone joining a massive network where non-participation is the exception. ‘It will help your music’ a lawyer-friend of mine suggested. And how will collecting digital postage stamps help my music? Most of the comments and faces belong to people I’d never invite into my home or even telephone. It’s bad enough I receive all-too-many phone solicitations from credit-card companies, auto-insurance salesmen and survey-seekers. Why would I want to collect insincerity on a web address? Fatuous fawning over a lame song I wrote and regret? Or nasty critics telling me to get a job? I value my own ears.

For that matter, why do people post their ridiculous self-promoting book and music reviews on Amazon? Because they care? Because the New York Review of Books didn’t even read their resume when they applied for an editorial job? Most of these reviews are fabricated by the authors anyway. Some of them even have consistent spelling errors. Do people really think a few superlative comments written by their spouse or mother will make them a popstar or win them a National Book award?

The sad fact is, while half of America is busy posting, blogging, commenting, reviewing, gossiping. ….the other half is surfing—looking, reading, leering, peering into what used to be a library book or a listening experience, or someone’s private life. Now it’s all out there, underwear hung on a web-line for nearly anyone to zoom in on. Half of us are stripping and hanging up, and the other half is watching and commenting. Then they switch. Like contestants on a game show who change places with the audience, endlessly. After a while, the same ingredients get stirred around and shaken up into a tasteless soup of facebook blather.

So between the narcissists and the voyeurs…what space is there? The small strata of us who no longer fit, whose picture is not worthy of facebook fame, whose work is small and private and difficult and does not translate well into an Amazon review. The ones who still plant things and wait for them to grow, who maybe develop photographs with chemicals, who read old-fashioned print, who are silent on the subway, remembering things that happened more than a few hours ago, hoping for a future and trying to feel the present. Some of us would still buy the ailing newspapers if we had any money, because the voyeurs and narcissists have been so busy posting and looking that they no longer have time for these small luxuries of the former modern world, the one that was patiently idling like a motor while the criminals of Wall Street pulled the rug out from under us.

Yourspace, Myface, Twitter-dee-dee. A Dr. Seuss-worthy parody just waiting to hatch. I do not like them, Writerless-I-am.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Near Miss

I’m in avoidance mode. The economy eruption blankets us in a sludge of fast-hardening lava-mud. Despite the bright words and eye-twinkling of Obamaman, our spirits cannot move with the weight of the debris. We are slimed everywhere. Hard to walk. Hard to keep up with the laundry.

The quality of the garbage on the streets has changed. Fewer wrappers. I have been noticing condoms. Free goods, for most of us these days who frequent thrift shops. But what is the message here? Used, unused? The aborted abortions? Paid sex once again in cars on curbs? I’m sure someone is tackling the fate of the sex industry in a recession. Is Kristin or whatever her name was receiving maximum unemployment? Is she giving discounts? Has Wall Street cut back? How much of our economic surplus cash went to such perks?

There was a suicide at Dalton last week. One wonders how the climate affects these teenagers whose brains, an automobile insurer claims in an ad, are not normally configured.

I ran into a Psych who once treated my struggling boy. He was on the subway. Another sign of a recession. These guys always make me a bit sheepish, because no matter how decent one has tried to be, the parents always get the roofed eyebrow. Especially black-clad mothers who were known to play suicide-laced music in punk-rock bars. He asked for my son. It is of course much easier to have sympathy for a raging teen in retrospect. Anyway, it was the day after the Chimp incident. I made some off-hand parallel. The Psych moved perceptibly away from me…re-evaluating his diagnosis, no doubt.

What I meant was… sometimes we just ‘crack’…some of us onstage, some of us on the grocery line, some of us from our offices on Wall Street. Some of us have horns and amplifiers and guitars and we can wail to some audience and feel relief. Others can lift weights in a gym until they are exhausted, run laps around city reservoirs, drink until the anger is diluted. But some of us begin to lose control. Cars do it... dogs do it, kids do it. The economy is doing it. And something I noticed with my son…if he picked up the scent of fear, all hell broke loose. Like any dog or horse gone wild, he needed a bit of reassurance. Very hard to do this when the falls of Niagara are inches away, or the unbridled temper of a loose boy with a fantastic pitching arm.

No one will comfort a murderous raging chimp. What we need we do not always get when we are passionate and angry. We get fear, and fear is like dry wind to a fire. And after the tantrum, like a gigantic raging storm or a psychic orgasm, there is calm…if we can wait it out.

But we are all frightened now. There seems to be no bottom. For a few weeks after the election, people seemed kind and friendly. Generous. Considerate. Now, it is turning. Patience is short as we watch our financial futures telescoping. And what are our choices? Rage? Suicide? Drink? Murder the 8 babies which helped fund the collagen lip injections of that woman in California who rivals the Merrill Lynch office drapes bill and the Citicorp jet in rage-fuel? Teenagers everywhere are cutting and refusing to eat, binging and purging, using, drinking, hurting, fearing. Just for a moment of calm. For sequential seconds without fear.

There will be more fires. More plane crashes. When our prayers do not seem to be answered, we will try to find comfort in the fact that our lives were spared. But this fuels the fear. What next? Be positive, our president tells us, his beaming wife in reasonably-priced designer clothes, the shining student from North Carolina beside her. Do not fear in the face of a raging chimpanzee? When another gig gets cancelled, another letter arrives from my building management threatening and assessing… and I am on my way to the grocery store assessing the pathetic buying capacity of my pocket change, wondering if a trip to Queens is worth saving $1 on a jar of mayonnaise…wondering if I can remember how to make my own, which requires eggs which are out-of-budget at the moment… a passing bicycle messenger near-misses as I step off the curb…avoiding a massive injury, a trip to the ER, the loss of my bass-picking fingers, the source of my secret pleasure. Oh God, I mutter out loud—a reflex of some sort.

And I invoke the temporary comfort and heavenly blessing of the Near-Miss. All I can find at the moment. The fire was NOT in my building, my apartment was not robbed, I am walking, I do not have a current cancer diagnosis, my son is alive and has not been thrown out of school. I will try not to repeat, at the end of every Near-Miss prayer of thank you, the looming adverb ‘Yet’.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

At Last

Beyonce. The name grates. Excess. Nostalgia. Fake class...…all the elements of the tuxedoed and Harry Winston-ed aristo-hypocrisy of the current music scene. The Grammy Awards? Don’t get me started.

It’s all mixed up. Gwyneth Paltrow gets a music award, Jennifer Hudson gets an Oscar, American Idol contestants get Grammies. When I need real medical care, I don’t go to George Clooney, although some of the young clinic doctors I’ve seen recently seem to have less credibility than the ER staff.

But Etta James… well, you go, girl. That’s right. Not only did Beyonce not gain any weight for that role… you had more integrity in your little finger. I actually opened for Etta James one night…okay, maybe she was at her peak weight… but they had to rent a golf cart to ride her up a specially-constructed ramp to the stage where she leaned her awesome behind on a double-seater stool for the show. And she sang her ass off. I didn’t see that scene in the movie. Actually I didn’t see the movie at all, because although I think Beyonce is a pretty girl who can carry a tune, she needs a racial identity check. She’s trans-racial. Whatever.

So yes… the Inaugural Ball… We all realize Obama might not have had the success he did without Oprah and JayZee and the rap world using their large influence on media-hypnotized America. But to ‘do’ Etta at the ball? The President didn’t ask you to sing the National Anthem, Beyonce; he got Aretha. You should have thought over your song choice. Just because you played the role in the film, doesn’t mean you have the right to usurp Etta's identity in front of all those people. Not to mention the string arrangement. And did anyone ask Etta?

We’re so confused by film-roles, ‘reality’ shows, remakes… no one knows what the deal is. Copyrights? Copycats? If you complain to the wrong person, you’ll get a bullet. Ask TI. Ask Biggy. Oops..he’s dead. I nearly forgot.

Now we get to A-Rod, or A-Hole, as the Post had the balls to call him yesterday. Why? In this world of 300 trillion dollar Ponzi schemes which is our own economy… the fact that A-Rod used performance-enhancing drugs should be a shock? In 2003 before the Yankees got him in a trade? Was anyone else suspicious of 300 home runs in a world where apples and oranges are shot with steroids so people will buy them? Where sports betting is a major economy of its own and everything else in America is so surgically altered, whitewashed, media-spun and non-authentic… are we really shocked that Baseball isn’t exactly the home-made apple-pie all-American clean and wholesome sport it was? Was it ever? Maybe before guys got paid to play.

In the 21st century, heroes like the pilot Sully are few and far between. Besides, A-Rod isn’t even American. And Madonna… his pal…what is she but a well-groomed corporation? Is there a single Madonna performance that hasn’t been tweeked and backing-tracked into what Americans see as perfection? Perfection is some plastic surgery-enhanced, personal trained, air-brushed, botoxed, re-edited version of whatever we expect.

And on the subject of performance-enhancement...Wall Street wasn’t happy with ‘real’ profit margins…so they cranked up the volume. As did A-Rod. How would you do under that kind of pressure? And it's not as if he beat his wife or raped anyone. The media crucified him for kicking back at a bar with Chuck Knoblauch in the face of what is 6-year-old news. Joe Torre's book sales have had some performance-enhancement these last weeks. Besides, A-Rod might even have been doing what he was told. But don't go there--- you might get a bullet, too.

So does America really feel betrayed? Is America the innocent 'boy' it was in the 1950's? Madonna dumped him weeks ago. Bad for her image which takes a staff of hundreds to maintain. Give me a break. And no-one complained about Beyonce the blonde bombshell at the ball. No one except Etta. As I said, you go, girl. The gastric-bypass version of Etta who is still pissed off.

What can I say? It was my birthday yesterday. I went into Crumbs to buy myself a cupcake. $4. I thought about it. Better to spend the money on something with protein like 4 cans of tuna which is all the nourishment I can afford these days. As a little joke, I asked ‘So how much for a crumb?’ ‘We don’t sell crumbs’, the girl answered me, without humor.

At last. I personally pledge allegiance, Etta.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

When I'm 32...

My neighbor was telling me about her daughter today—the one with the 12-book deal with film rights who is overwhelmed by success at the age of 32. Do I know any brilliant men who’d like to go out with a girl who undoubtedly earns more than they, has little time for courtship rituals, can’t find a suitable husband? Who finds it hard to have fun when her college roommates have not just pushed out their second child but lost the excess weight.

Running for a bus in the rain late afternoon I met another girl…on her way to an audition, cursing the weather, splattered and flustered, edgy and twitchy and fun. 32, she tells me. The same number as the balance in her bank account. Sick to death of nothing to show for 10 years in Manhattan in a cramped studio without a view, sick of brushing sleeves with wives of billionaires who seem undeserving of their charmed existence, who take for granted 5-star lunches and nanny-managing, who don’t have to forego Starbucks for dry cleaning.

I read every day how 50 is the new 30. But apparently for these women, 32 is the new 50. Over the hill-- nervously considering another chapter in the dream-book might have to be edited out.

Me, I might be the new 70. I avoid mirrors. I had a woolen scarf on my head today like an old peasant woman. My shoes have rubber soles and don’t slip. If kids didn’t tease me, I’d be wearing Doc Martens. I am 'over it'. I don't even remember what 'it' was. I embrace the last throes of single parenthood with enthusiasm. I am not a man-hater. Both husbands were ‘de-jour’; sex was great, marriage was witty and unconventional; other women envied me, as women do. I envied me, when I looked, which I hardly ever did. Because that kind of marriage doesn’t last. Besides, I am democratic, spontaneous. I let my life-book write itself. I gave up control. No one envies me now.

I stopped in at P.C. Richards to look for a replacement laptop for my son—the one who loses and breaks everything, including his girlfriends. I sometimes wonder what 32 will look like for him, but for now I must consider 32-bits. The salesman is cute…a not-too recent college grad who probably had mediocre grades in a trendy major. Maybe a former athlete, judging from his body…or a refugee from a boring health-club job. Maybe even an ex-military guy. But the guy is energetic—nice. He knows his stuff—is honest, doesn’t talk down to me. Handsome, in a doggish way. So would the successful writer think he is a keeper? She would not. Or the unsuccessful actress? This guy would have no connections. Maybe lives in Queens. How many PC Richards employees live in Manhattan? Not many.

I like the guy. I want to buy a computer from him. I trust him. I wonder if, at the age of 32, I would have gone out with him. I would have. That’s the difference between me and the new 32. I wasn’t looking for a catalyst; just someone who was fun and sexy. And today? I’m glad to meet a salesman who doesn’t treat me like dogshit because I’m wearing a 7-year-old coat from Eddie Bauer’s final closing sale. I appreciate civility. I appreciate my own time, including the minutes in the day I spend listening to disgruntled 32-year-olds and 25-year-olds at my gym who are already miserable or overworked, stressed, hate their mothers, hate their boyfriends, their med-school schedules, their apartments, the weather. I listen. I care about them. I even make them laugh-- at themselves.

I don’t like Pike Place. I want the old Starbucks coffee, even after 5 PM. I admit—I like Starbucks, even though it goes against my hippie democratic grain. But aside from that, life is okay. Even when my own neighbors are suing each other and my IRA couldn’t buy me a decent laptop. I have heat-- at least tonight I do. I like my apartment. I like my ex-husbands, wherever they may be, and I never asked for child support. I’m not bothered that my parents and kids think I‘m a loser. I like my kids. I have a couple of friends which is a couple more than most have. This year my son even sent me a Christmas card. Maybe I like myself. The new 22. Or 66. Who’s counting?

Friday, January 23, 2009

All Abored

It's hard for me to commit to 2009. The inauguration helped. Then I watched All About Eve last night at 2 AM...a film that is older than I am, with a script which makes today's Hollywood sound even more pathetic, and it got me thinking about all of us aging artists.

Not to mention at my Times Square subway platform, there was a fresh face-- a young Eve, with her case open, an innocent delivery and self-conscious announcements of an 'original' song called, and I quote... 'When Will I be Loved'. Sound familiar to those of us who remember Bette Davis before that obnoxious 80's song?

So did I cringe? I did, and I do...even though she had passable talent, even though she could marginally play her Takamine lame guitar undoubtedly purchased by supportive and loving parents who pay her LES rent and pray every night their little girl will be the next Sara Bareilles or whatever her name is.

Am I jealous? Because her open case contained more lovingly rendered bills than mine ever could? Because she was cute and solicitous and Eve-esque, and I have that old rocker chick vibe with the jagged edges and even my case looks tentative and half-closed? Because I curse the act of subway beggary and refuse to be logged in among the new breed of busking musicians?

Here's what I resent: like everything else New York, we now have the gentrification of the subway platform musician. Few and far between are the down-and-out soul singers who do their Otis and Ray for a cheap pint. Gone are the aged never-have-been Lynnyrd Skynnyrd clones, and even the seriously talented but unmarketable poets. We are in the era of Asian muzak-creators and break-dancing in the cars. Drums beating everywhere and in the spaces, the Dave Matthews, the Fallout Boys, the endless K. T. Tunstalls and student jazz bands. And since fully 90% of platform population is equipped with an ipod, it takes serious eye candy or a weapon to get their earspace. Bring back the crude and un-photogenic. The underpaid and overtalented who are being forced out of even the subway underground in 2009.

Maybe it's the competitive and claustrophobic vibe that's beginning to get to me. I long for the white noise of trains without the overpopulation of mediocre performers. Watching the film reassured me it's okay to be a bitch. In fact, the sweet young mediocre newcomer was finally the talentless villain. Edge won out. Relieved was I, as I went to bed by dawn. At least until my next subway ride this morning, with the cool-jah percussionists riding my car, the jacked-up young rock drummer slamming on his kit so loud I couldn't hear the guy with the cheap Casio around his neck who looked like he was improvising some possibly hip stuff. Whatever. he probably won't make it into the new Zagat guide to subway performers, for those of you who are sick to death of Success-by-Myspace.

While we're on the subject of All About Me, I've been noticing the traits of middle age taking their toll. I returned a pretzel to one of my favorite vendors because it was so steeped in kerosene fumes that my band members whined. Did I need the refund or did I truly want to protect his customers? I'm not sure what he thought but I walked away feeling petty. And hungry.

I also managed to stop into Best Buy to let them know that in case anyone had believed in Santa Claus and received a gift from their store, the spirit of Christmas was forever gone. My son's shiny new computer with the newly cracked screen will cost $700 to repair-- not under warranty, as the salesman had led Santa to believe. Merry Christmas, Best Buy. I hope Tim Geithner refuses you a bailout package, you pathetic greedy robbing gremlins. The Geek Squad was muscular and well-tattooed and listening to TI when I dropped off my damaged goods. Besides the loss, I will get the additional gift of a pricey roundtrip shipping bill if I refuse the repair, which I did. And a $39.95 charge for recycling the thing, the whole of which originally cost those bastards 50% of the estimated repair. Without tax.

Well, in the Best Buy line of reasoning, it certainly takes more time to piece Humpty Dumpty together than to lay an egg.

Happy Year of the Ox.