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.