Friday, December 31, 2010

T Wrecks

Has anyone taken the train at 4 AM lately? The population is a pretty accurate socio-economic profile of New York. There are the few Mexican restaurant workers brown-bagging it on the way uptown from their below-minimum-wage restaurant jobs; one or two homeless black men monologuing away; the token Untouchable shrouded in hefty bags with various carts chock full of cans, bottles, rags, newspaper and garbage asleep in the safe florescent warmth of an MTA semi-private-- several square meters space around him for the stench. Next but not least, there are the straggling, drunk, xanaxed club girls--- Balenciaga shoes, Prada bags-- slumming it on the 1 or the 6 train up from ecstasy to their parental-sponsored apartments on the Upper East..cellphones misplaced, wallets lost. Loud they are, these girls… either from the habit of talking on cellphones over the music, or just drunk. Some of them have jumped turnstiles--- the cops will just smile…because their credit cards are scattered on some dance floor like a post-modern collage. The train is an adventure. They are bold and unafraid. They have been date-raped and live to tell.

Oh— of course there is yours truly, the observer-- diligently dragging my guitar and whatever the chef could spoon into an aluminum take-out container for late-night sustenance— protecting the girls, representing the disappearing working class-- entertaining myself with the homeless mime-acts which are at least original compared to whatever is waiting at home on late-night cable. I prefer my reality MTA-TV. Last night this guy was actually sticking a toothpick all the way into his ear… and then checking it for… God knows. Much itching and scratching and hair-picking, shoe and sock removal and muttering about B.B. King. How could he have known? The random psychic synchronicities at 4 AM. Trains stop at this hour for long minutes; no one seems to complain; the girls twist their hair and remove their Balenciagas. Between 59th and 96th no one boards. We ride on; the toothpick man applauds each stop...has learned not to take motion for granted.

The rest of the regular New Yorkers are home passing their Ambien-laced troubled hours dreaming about collection agents and looming mortgage debt. About how to get their kids a reasonable education, about bedbugs, their dwindling pensions-- the consequences of corporate takeovers for the mere padding of these club girls’ family fortunes. About the looming comfort of suicide when middle age is lowering their earning capacity like Bear Stearns share-values. About getting through the next day.

So here we are in New Year’s Eve. I’m off tonight while New York parties on. I’ve asked a few casually what their plans are….of course the parents of these Prada girls are off in St. Barts’ so the apartments will be well-stocked with stumbling young adults. The upscale restaurants are full, the tourists are having a last hurrah. The cute kid with dreadlocks who works at my gym is thinking about his new baby, and how he can move from cleaning bathrooms to getting enough schooling to learn how to use a computer. The Africans who work at my neighborhood thrift store… they’re doing the overnight, taking inventory and re-plastering the leaking ceiling. Smiling. The doormen on Park Avenue… they’ll be reaping. They compete for these nights. It’s warm… I should take advantage and go see the ball drop —one more time. That phrase gets me.

I miss the old East Village. I miss the artistic psychos and the trend-setters and dirty brilliance. Edgy film-makers were not red-carpet-ready but wearing smelly jeans and scuffed motorcycle boots. Drugs came in rolling papers and needles… alcohol in brown bags and barely-washed glasses. People were painting and singing things. Using coins to call their boyfriends from phonebooths and slamming heavy receivers in emotional pain.

My son is out--- his first legal-drinking New Year’s Eve. He is in that small window where suddenly he is old enough to screw the Victoria’s Secret models and his future is like a department store free-for-all. Where he doesn’t realize one post-partying day he’ll wake up and this year’s model will look young and maybe his own face looks a little puffy and his hair is losing that teenage shine.

Four hours to go in this year. I feel like sitting it out and feeling time. Watched the eclipse last week in the cold air… took a while, but that old moon came through unscathed. Like nothing. No scars, no memories. For us here it’s all running together now… the acceleration of the future, the boulder getting bigger, rolling downhill breakneck and you can’t stop it--- you can maybe only comment, yell Happy New Year out of the rear window as the 2011 train comes speeding by and almost takes your breath away heading for 3000, 4000…no brakes on the present-- only you and I —we are already relics of the new year, ruins of the old… our photos on pathetic Facebook while those assholes bank our loneliness, our pasts trying to reconcile with the present, losing the future, eclipsed.

To all those who died at 27: you fooled no one. Still, we salute you, we the sad scanners of our own obsolescence. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Or would we?

Auld Lang Syne.

Friday, December 10, 2010

(Don't) Look Back

So my father hasn’t spoken to me in about 11 years. That was when I called to wish him a happy 80th birthday and he told me if I really wanted to give him a present I’d never call his house again. I’m not completely sure what it is I did… I mean trading a Harvard Law School scholarship for a spot in a 2nd rate CBGB’s punk band might warrant a year or two of parental cold-shoulder. And the ex-husbands--- well, not exactly guys he’d invite to his tennis club...but it’s getting late in the game for lifelong grudges. There are criminals skimming off his investments and child abusers on his own street. He can’t actually take seriously the tales his grandson feeds him about my maternal shortcomings just to extort a few sympathy bucks now and then.

So today one of our relatives called from a safe distance and explained that in my father’s old-world Jewish family it was considered bad luck to compliment. Criticism rather than praise ensured success--- the more negative, the better the outcome-- like an inverted curse. If someone had explained that to me, I might have learned not to befriend failure quite as literally—not to punish myself for being unable to rehabilitate the vicious stray dogs I picked up—for being powerless to keep the homeless guy on my block from spending his handouts on crack, to stop my own son from cutting school, from gambling, from treating his girlfriends like dogs, dogs like girlfriends.

I keep thinking about his ‘mid-life-crisis-at-21' editorial statement— that not only are his heroes no longer his heroes, but that they are no longer themselves. Safer to have dead heroes, I offered… although in this age of compulsive cyber-fingerprinting, plenty of trash emerges post-mortem.

In my old day, dead people got respect. They were exempt from unpaid tax bills and slander. In this day of TV forensics, we autopsy and dissect the emotional DNA of our Jacks and Marilyns, the dietary eccentricities of our Elvises, the sexual privacy of a martial arts expert, the blood chemistry of our Heaths and dead comedians. We are compelled to deconstruct and humanize, to simultaneously raise and lower the dead.

In this omniscient internet network, we spend so much time as para-scientific voyeurs, we scarcely have the inclination to look inward, or even to look out from that inner eye. The darker ones among us---we look back, we cannot take our eyes off the disappearing car or boat on the horizon, the setting sun, our present becoming not just past, but disappearing. It is not simply that we have loved and lost… those of us who are looking sense we not only forgot to love and be loved, but that we are lost. Our GPS’s are hopeless when we are here, right where we are standing, but everything else is not.

We all remember when we were kids and the day before Christmas was interminable. Those of us who have experienced childbirth—again, the unbearable slow hours of labor. And how many nights have we spent wishing…waiting… for love, for a missing child to come home--- for good news, praying the minutes would stop and delay bad news forever? For an errant husband--- halfway around the world, across the street--breaking your heart, praying for sunrise, for the betrayal to be over, for lovers to fall asleep, for some relief, for the truth, for a lie. Looking--- watching the thing disappear— the pain, the joy, whatever-- life— standing perfectly still, with nothing but an old moon, the fading night.

My son informed me tonight that it is impossible to have any memory from before 4 years of age, so my cherished stories of the building of the Verrazano bridge are inaccurate invented falsehoods. Maybe dreams. We are poor eyewitnesses of our own history; how can we possibly give an accurate account of someone else’s?
So maybe I choose to have memories of memories. I choose to stand watching as the latest version of some dreamcar drives through mist, becomes smaller, takes my breath away-- me standing without a cellphone, with only my heart for a camera, looking.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Garage Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. I’m cooking post-midnight in my gym clothes, comme d’habitude… I’m listening to the Novaks—indie garage, not as get-up-and-dance as the Stones, not quite as raunchy as the Dolls, but feels appropriate. I think I saw them in a small club somewhere around Thanksgiving… remember asking how many cds they’d sold. The lead singer eagerly replied ‘You mean, including our parents?’ …and I was a lifelong fan. Even if they break up. You see, I’m old enough now to know what I like.

One of my friends showed up the other night looking thin. It’s the Apartment-renovation diet, she explained. You should try the Break-up-with-a-sax-player diet, I suggested. Which follows the Dysfunctional-jazz-musician diet. Or my neighbor's Cancer diet. The Foreclosure diet.

Last night I drove with my drummer out to Queens and thought I’d get into the holiday spirit by food-shopping at the supersized Pathmark after midnight. Not only was it overstocked with processed cans of yams and cranberry jello, but the price of a 99-cent tin foil turkey pan was $6. No lie. The turkeys, labeled ‘natural’, all contained 8-10% of broth, sugars, sulfites and other ‘natural’ ingredients to enhance the inherent turkey flavor. Right. Like the lead in the McDonald’s glasses. People were wheeling oversized carts overflowing with packaged, processed cakes and pies, breads and puddings. Prices were higher than Manhattan, and most customers were paying with their New York State benefit cards so who really bothers price-checking when we the starving and price-obsessed middle class are weighing every carrot and taking trains to the Bronx to save a few bucks on yams so we can foot their grocery bills with our tax dollars? Tax on things I never imagined-- chicken salad sandwiches and tax once again on new underwear for my son. Tax on his basketball sneakers which are a school team requirement.

On TV that show The Biggest Loser. This confuses me. The Winner is the Loser. The Loser gets smaller while his wallet presumably gets bigger. When my son was 15 he told me I was The Biggest Loser. I guess I lost the title. I actually liked it. It was like being the best B-side Mom. I’m listening to the Novaks singer who wants some girl and is convincing her she doesn’t have to lie down with him and doesn’t have to take her clothes off. He is calling himself a loser. Thom Yorke of Radiohead did this too. Jay-Zee doesn’t call himself a loser. He just admitted to having shot his brother but my son says he is the quintessence of the American Dream. You see, now you don’t start out as a busboy or mail clerk, you sell drugs and fund your first recording. Then at gunpoint you threaten someone to sign and distribute and bingo. You marry Beyonce and become a societal role model because other rappers beat their girlfriends and don’t ‘put a ring around it’.

I used to have a savings passport book and put my babysitting money into a bank where the nice spectacled banker patted my head and stamped my pages. I watched the interest column grow. This is the American Dream, he told me…a tree from an acorn. I wasn’t sure what he meant but today I get charged to write a check and get treated like a lowlife at my local branch where there is no interest column and the tellers are way better dressed than I am and have perfect manicures. An acorn from a tree.

Still... it’s Thanksgiving, I’ve survived another year of swimming against a current of growing conservativism and an increasingly third-world economic climate. I’m still playing bass, still high-fiving the homeless guy on the corner, still pretty happy to have a houseful of what my son considers less and less ‘my loser friends’—my B-side family, my posse who don’t beat their children, who don’t steal from their constituents or have sex with their secretaries because they don’t have secretaries. I didn’t get a single delivery, I carried the 50 pounds of groceries myself, I paid with cash, I’m cooking wih real pots and will use lead-free porcelain plates which someone long-dead once painted with great care and pride, and I will feel like an American. I have earned the right to play blues, to understand jazz, to dis my politicians and to look my gods and ex-boyfriends in their heart’s eye and tell them I’m thankful and content to have this alternative life and I really don’t want any reality show but the camera-free one I live.

Amen. Ah women. Grace.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Those Days

The other night I happened to look into the 92nd St 'Y' auditorium and there was my old hero Jackson Browne doing a one-on-one for the Songwriter’s series…. It was the very end, and the final summation was a moving acoustic performance (‘These days I sit and think a lot about the things that I forgot to do…and all the time I had the chance to…’). Poignantly—or not so poignantly, he commented that he’d written that song at the age of 16 (‘don’t confront me with my failures…I’ve not forgotten them’).

I couldn’t help thinking about his 2 deceased ex-girlfriends from the days when his romantic activities were newsworthy—one a suicide—and his rather over-dramatic relationship with Darryl Hannah (didn’t she pull the same public tantrums with JFK Jr.?) which made us girls slightly less susceptible to his murky romanticism and the Dorian Grayness of his ageless face and unchanged hair. After all, it was nearly 40 years since my first JB album.

Still, hearing the song put me into a nostalgic ‘stall’. I teared up, had a quick stab of sympathy toward the thug I have been involved with… was I transferring the soul of JB’s lyrics to my guy? Wasn’t Jackson’s reputation a successful womanizer with perfect hair who managed to extract and inject into his songs exactly the sort of nostalgia that anthemized our generation? I could actually smell the morning dew and stale smoke wafting into my college room as I lay with my first beautiful serious boyfriend and listened to ‘Late for the Sky ‘ on the turntable.

As I was leaving the 'Y' I remembered standing outside at a Jackson Browne concert—maybe 1973---- with several girls… waiting for a moment to maybe shake his hand, maybe to catch his eye, this musical poet who had seduced and captivated our young hearts and moved us to anticipate future regret. Funny, at the age of 60-whatever, Jackson had that same vacant look in his eyes which disarmed us all that night. That disconnect. But the song--- I would go home and youtube it to death until I was drowning in a rainy evening of nostalgia, regret and empathy even for my son whose 3rd i-phone contract had just been cancelled for non-payment and excessive use as a betting instrument.

Outside on the front steps was the usual nightly gathering of young college 'Y' residents.. .the music and drama school students smoking and socializing… the genetically evolved 21st century hotties feeling their prime. As Jackson left the building, they were not even shoving over to make his passage easier. What did they care, these downloaders of Lil Wayne and Nicky Minaj, followers of Entourage and True Blood, about a middle aged man with a guitar case? Kanye has not yet sampled ‘These Days’ or ‘Everyman’. Or even the Eagles version of ‘Take it Easy’… and if he did, who'd care about this guy? Like myself, he'd reached the age of invisibility.

No matter what we produce or how successful one is, you reach a certain age where unless you're Joan Rivers or maybe Donald Trump, no one really recognizes your persona anymore. Everyone needs a nametag by their 40th highschool reunion. In the public eye, Kareem Abdul Jabar, Oliver Stone, even Sir Paul and Sean Penn need to be captioned. They've become members of the cult of invisibility, like it or not. It is a kind of rite of passage... we go from generic baby to adolescence to some kind of beauty to faded greyness. Like the wicked witch, a bucket of water is all it takes to eradicate our flesh. And what remains? The song remains-- the lyrics, the music perhaps will be re-recorded by someone young and captivating... poems hopefully will be e-read, paintings will be hung and antiques appreciated. For the resistant, there is plastic surgery and botox, but for the rest of us there is TCM and the museum. For me, these are My Days. The song will always be My Song. For the others, there are ghosts. There are Those Days. And then some...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Deja Alanon

So I'm having a bad week. Full moon, pending dreary elections, moody weather, and ending a relationship which feels like a final farewell to anything vaguely impulsive and the last of my serial midlife crises. While virtually everyone in my life disapproved of the guy, now that I've broken it off, they've chosen this moment to rub my nose in the degradation of it and punish me when I'm down and solitary.

Tonight, reluctant to call a therapist and hitting a new bottom, I decided to go to an Alanon meeting. After all, the guy was apparently a drug addict-- or at least an alcoholic, and I'm a lifetime enabler. Not knowing the protocol, I entered slightly late, missed the 'reading' which was the catalyst for the sharing... and I'm listening to person after person trying to be thankful for some kind of abundance but hating themselves, their life, confessing to weakness, sounding totally self-involved and 'stuck'. Still, it is all I can do to keep from crying because I am feeling not just fragile but exhausted from 2 weeks of sleep deprivation and emotional abuse. I relate to everyone... but actually to no one. I pass when it is my turn to share, until there is a request for newcomers to speak....
A young attractive girl begins to cry, she has been engaged to marry a very successful and handsome young executive and has found instead that he is an addict, has witnessed her life falling apart, and she needs to know, wants to know... is there any 'tip' or suggestion as to how to simply get through these nights... it has been a month and she is inconsolable, angry, devastated....doesn't anyone have anything to offer?

And of course, I-- the dysfunctional meddling classic enabler, do the absolutely verboten taboo thing and answer her. I tell her--- I was in exactly her position, 22 years ago... the perfect husband, the perfect marriage, the envy of all my friends... but I was pregnant, and in another country... and it all unravelled. It will be okay, I tell her... you will find something to hold onto, you will find a way to get through and you will be okay.

So the guy who spoke endlessly about putting his left foot in front of his right until the timer-person had to stop him...interrupts me, and tells me there is absolutely no 'crosstalk' permitted at an Alanon meeting. Meaning this is not group therapy, but each person just 'shares' and the rest listen politely, pass a 'hat', hold hands and recite the 'serenity prayer' even though their boyfriend at home has just been threatening them with a switchblade, their mother is dying of some oozing horror and it is on their shirt, or their kids have just locked themselves in the bathroom and are smoking up many grams of crack.

Meaning also that in my current state of utter failure as a romantic partner, as a friend, as a musician because my emotional state is affecting my performance... I have now not only Failed at Alanon, but sabotaged the whole program. Of course, one kind woman sheepishly offered the pathetic defense that my transgression was heartfelt, and it was... but this did little to dispel the aura that there was a traitor in their midst and that the poor young girl whose boyfriend was in rehab was now damaged beyond repair by my maternal instinct and my obviously shitty advice.

I was once warned by an 'ex' not to ever enter these 'rooms'... that this is not the sort of thing I could find credible, that I would absorb the deep unhappiness of each of the participants and I inevitably would question the appropriateness of my candidacy for the program as a whole, as did he...

Of course since no one of my friends is speaking to me, I may now seek refuge with the pitbull himself, or I may have to find a 12-step program for people who fail at 12-step programs.... or I may have to weigh my cross and my star and my horoscope and see which of those might lead me to find my higher power. I seem to gravitate to the lower power, you see... and there doesn't seem to be a B-side to Alanon, or AA, or to any of my issues tonight. I seem to have learned very little from my relationships, except that love still seems to be the thing that all of these people cannot master, despite the steps, the meetings, the higher power thing... that whether or not we love ourselves, we seek some kind of company... and sitting in a circle in uncomfortable chairs, like a pro-tem anti-depressant, is not going to heal me or that poor beautiful girl who was trying desperately to assert that her boyfriend didn't 'deserve' her. Someone will, I wanted to say. Someone will... at least we hope so.

Truth is, we deserve nothing. We get what we get, we give what we give. Some of us give too much and it feels good... or it hurts. People hurt us, things hurt us, we hurt ourselves. This is how I know I am alive. Love hurts, birth hurts, death undoubtedly will hurt too. I read a great Bob Marley quote this morning... he seemed to know something about love...'Truth is, he said, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.' Healthy, addictive, generous, selfish... we all come back for more in some form or other.

So pick up your pen or your guitar and get over it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall In

(introductory essay to Steven Spazuk monograph published by Projekroom, Montreal)

I read somewhere today that seeing a place for the first time in the dark is like reading a poem in translation. Writing about art is like using words to describe that place to a deaf person. Reading what someone has written about art is like touching a woman with gloves on. And to read this in translation… well, the clumsy metaphors go on ad nauseam.

The first time I saw Steven’s work was several years ago at the “Affordable Art Fair” in New York City which then branched off into Scope and Bridge and the Red Dot fairs… but at the time it was all there was for the ‘indie’ galleries and mostly you had to wade through plenty of crap to find something that you felt you couldn’t afford not to buy. It was one of his multiple-image pieces, and it was large and for me unaffordable and I tried to talk the gallery into some kind of arrangement but when I came back it was sold.

So then I had to go back and look at it multiple times and regret and try to do that sour grapes thing and hope that the buyer wouldn’t pay or would cancel and still I’d have to face the fact that I didn’t exactly have the cash in hand.

And I never saw it again. Except in my mind, where I yearn for things like that painting, at this point in my life, the way I used to yearn for other things. And where, with my exhausting passion for art-historical credibility, it settled like smoke and I began to qualify it...

When I was young and studying art, a poet wrote me a late-night note on torn paper that said “Of all those devine (sic) in the darkness, you are the darkest...” and the 4th word was indistinct and maybe said ‘defined’ or divine’ or ‘de-vined’ but it would have been inappropriate to even form the question. So I ended up spending months of poet nights in the tower-room of an abandoned building without electricity where we built a fire and talked and smoked and awoke after hours of unbearable passion with our skin cold and clammy and bathed in soot. I can scarcely remember his name, or the incredibly obtuse things he said to me but there it all was, in the Steven Spazuk painting — the smoke and the bottomless unabated desire and the terrible dark ghost of lost passion.

And other things. In the beautiful smooth surface, there was the captured essence of smoky moments, and there was killing and there was love and a man falling as from the towers, and the trace of birds and insects, and weapons and desire and even hope and the smell of candles and blood and touching and flesh and the frozen ice of painting that protects them.

I later searched for Steven—as I could-- on the internet. His titles were in French, so I further understood his technique… working with a candle, he painted with ‘la suie’ which is the ‘suis’-- the personal essence of who he is, the eye/I of the surrealists, the Latin ‘sum’/sum of Being of the medieval philosophers.

‘Soot’ being such a hideous word in English… it is misleading even to use it. Rather ash… or smoke… or shadow-painting because the shadows of his imagination appear… some by chance, some because there is no ‘chance’, in the world of the deep subconscious. They are clinically accurate x-rays of the soul—precise and accusatory, and they are smoky and osmotic and elegant…like the ghost of a dancer who enchants and torments you and then disappears. They are musical and they are funny. They are bathed in color, some of them, but underneath, the darkest of us remember the ash of cremated bodies, the horrible haunting smoke of holocaust incinerations, the smell of war-death, the smoke of memories we try to burn but which taunt us with scent and visions and dreams…. the grey veil which shrouds Dickensian nightmares in old London…. the terrible and wonderful atmosphere from which genies and devils emerge in our darkest fantasy… the mark of Christ we bear on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, above our eyes… and the exhaled smoke of the lover whose memory is killing, even after years, after many loves and births and joys and sorrows-- the one we let go, because we cannot keep dreams.

From my poet I have a box of cigarette butts. I don’t know why… somehow this is my souvenir of the smoky nights. I heard he died of some wasting stomach cancer. He haunts my dreams, on occasional lucky nights. In my house I now have a Steven Spazuk called 30 Vracs. Every visitor pauses before this; it commemorates 30 verses from another dark poet. Without reading the poems, without understanding the language, the Spazuk images emerge like a conjuror draws things from nothing. They are art and they are palimpsest, they are the painting and the pentimento all at once, the shadow and the being….then there is the color, and the shadows of color, along with the color of shadows, and the ‘suie’ like the breath of a dark angel, the translation of a dream.

For me the paintings are the witness of intimacy, a kind of painterly photograph of the desire which precedes the moment, the memory of what will never be in the film, the thing that a sculptor sees in the marble before he carves, the untranslatable—just there, simply there. It is not a sketch we feel, but the ghost of the thing which compels the artist to sketch. Not the song but the singing, pure and simple….an indecipherable metaphor that is instantly understood by the smoky of us, and which makes all of this description absurd and awkward and a little pathetic. The way the dream begins to evade us as we try to remember… and disappears. This is what Steven is painting, with a candle as his tool, using the black ‘suie’ from the flame, coaxing images from the shadows, fixing them beneath a surface, so they in turn continue to bring to light the imagery of his ‘suis’ as works of art.

But don’t take my word for it….

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A photograph of someone that I knew

In the event of something happening to me....
We are straining our ears here, for the quasi metaphorical rising, amidst the horrific war news, the floods and sludge, the killing, the economy, depressing elections looming... of the human canaries who are being brought up the half-mile into light, knowing the meaning of patience, of not knowing, of the prayer of faith in human ingenuity and persistence, of clinging to the fragile relentless hope of engineers and workmen who are bringing them, one by one, as they came into this world, back.

One wonders how the order is determined, the ebb and flow of human generosity among such a crew pre-accustomed of course to confinement. The rising. The world is again addicted to TV, a kind of baptismal hope, the lessons of the Chilean people who only months ago endured a traumatic earthquake and were rather stoic about their recovery. A Marquez-esque morality tale here... this does not happen everywhere.

I am reminded of the man in Kiruna, Sweden, who paints murals for the miners who endure the 6 months of darkness even when they come up to the freezing surface to break. Trompe l'oeuil landscapes in the stone walls, lit by a kind of eerie mercury glow....

I think of other mining families in other disasters whose loved ones were not so lucky, who endured days and weeks of waiting only to find the nightmare of endless entombment... how unbearable the joy of these families for them...

Coming uptown late last night---4 AM on the #6 train, through the deepest tunnels I am able to find in my city... with the night MTA miners working the tracks, and the tired wrecks of celebrity riding the cars. We working girls seem to find one another at this hour, we take safety in numbers, acknowledge without eye contact our long shadows and nightshades. Across from me last night--- a young prostitute, boots and bag of matching turquoise, impossible heels, suede leggings soaked and ruined by the passing Monday thundersquall, her nearly punk red wig slightly misplaced, eyes deep and wet and her mouth pale. She was beautiful, in a hard, unclean way, and while the black women next to me eyed her with disdain, I dared not judge her who had worked her body equally hard and perhaps bore some inner physical wound we could not see. Her shirt was tight and of a darker blue, with a sequinned heart embroidered exactly where hers might still be... a thin roll of flesh at her waist, but her legs were fine and long... we exchanged admiration... and she began to weep, without looking away...it went on--- 4, 5 stops-- as I got off, I did not touch her, but our mouths in unison pulled wide and I felt her turquoise sister soul somehow....we working girls, she a miner of something no one will rescue...I wonder if she is watching CNN from a mattress somewhere... I can smell her earthy thin perfume, her musky damp sex, hear her hoarse voice, the rocky dry weeping.

Dios mio, a woman cried. My husband. There are lonely people in New York who will never know this joy, who are trapped and sad--the rich, the poor, the huddled, the solitary, the imprisoned, the addicted.

Don't go talking too loud, Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck...you'll cause a landslide.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Death and the Matron

On the train yesterday, a slender figure in a long hooded black coat got on my car at 59th St. It wasn’t just a Goth thing-- it was obvious he either was channeling Death or, like a James Ensor updated, actually was using public transportation in real time.

Everyone was a little fidgety… even his shoes were zipped into the tight black fabric of his pants—a style you don’t see at Ian’s. No scythe, but you couldn’t exactly see his hands… he sat...blended...

My new approach, since I’m in full-blown middle age, is to approach tough kids and young gang-members with maternal affection. After my own parental wounds and badges, I’m versed in the lethal-weapon dialect of teenage emotion. So I’m thinking… what to say to Death? A one-liner…a Steven Wright approach? A Bergmann thing? Quote the Bible? Shakespeare? Embarrass the guy with my intellectual/literary superiority? Is the guy omniscient like God? I can’t remember… am trying to calculate how much reading Death might have done— is he partial to Goethe/Marlowe/Milton… the obvious parable stuff where he plays a role? An ego thing? Laughing nights over absinthe at a scrapbook of Seventh Seal and Darth Vader-esque characters ‘doing’ him? Does he read the classics… did he write them? Inspire as a muse? Does he listen to Sisters of Mercy or Muse? Wagner? The Mozart Requiem? Does he read obituaries and gloat? Use candles? See in the dark?

Well we’re approaching my stop in Chelsea… and the guy is getting ready to step out, with me. So I am now thinking--- maybe this is my personal caller—maybe I am the only person on the train who can even see the guy, and he knows my destination. I am a little nervous and decide to duck into the 8th Avenue Starbucks. Death does not go for a coffee. He is deliberately and stolidly making his way downtown. I breathe a sigh of relief, get myself a Venti black, and cut west on 22nd Street. At 10th Avenue, he reappears…. The light is against us. Will he walk into the traffic? No, he doesn’t. He waits. I am mustering all my courage and decide to look him in the eye, to make some small talk about the weather. After all, it is 101 degrees in Manhattan, I am drinking scalding Italian Roast and my companion here is draped like an Icelandic monk. Maybe he is allergic to the sun. Okay. I do it-- He is young and maybe Spanish—sort of beautiful in a vampiresque wasted way—with red-rimmed eyes and sensual lips.. but pale, pale, with the VMA-perfect shock of chemical black hair. It crosses my mind that my son’s Twilight-obsessed ex-girlfriend might even find him sexy, this young Death guy.

His youth and the hardness of his expression are disarming. For a quick minute I think--- will a bus veer off the road now, will it be heatstroke, a heart attack… will I gasp and then implode? But I am speechless. I let him walk ahead, for obvious reasons. I am thinking…maybe he is going to look at some art… maybe he will go straight for the Highline and melt in, until it is late enough to do the Meat Market nightclub thing. Maybe he will go for the Intrepid, or take a dip in the Hudson, curse the hero Sully for defying orders.
But there are no orders. Not for death, not for me today. I made it. I looked Death in the eye and lived.

Right. I looked at some adult-hating Twilight-obsessed delusional kid who is no less ridiculous than the Star Trek or Starwars nerds who dress up for those pathetic conventions…. An immature overgrown teen whose parents never sprung for the cool Spiderman costume for Halloween and he’s pissed. Some art-college Freshman pledging for the Goth fraternity… or a sacrilegious Catholic-School rebel offending the priests, dressing as a monk, about to do some serious drugs or rob an ATM machine or have gratuitous sex in a doorway while some cheap cellphone camera records it for youtube.

Having just finished Saramago’s Death with Interruptions, I choose to souvenir my little encounter… I choose to decide if I had photographed the guy there would be no image, that among all the crap and death-defying entries in the current competing spectacle of the artworld, I felt a little heartquake.

Amen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lebron in the City

Forget the oil spill, the World Cup, Lindsay Lohan’s expiring Get–out-of-Jail-Free card…. Here’s … Lebron. Not only does his sheer stature occupy serious pixel real estate on your TV, but now his management has decided to play with prime –time TV in a new game where the odds are interesting gambling sites a good deal more than the recent play-offs.

Maybe he’s jealous that Lamar Odum is picking up an extra paycheck from the Kardashian show, or maybe he felt jilted that he wasn’t invited to the televised wedding. Suddenly the traditional meaning of ‘game’ is no longer enough… there has to be a press angle, a reality show. For a player who has the potential status of a Michael Jordan, this kind of publicity seems somehow unfitting… but now there is Hitchcock-worthy suspense, a media-spin signing competition with huge ESPN resonance, and no doubt advertising time is beginning to rival superbowl minutes.

The current boy-King is currently in Greenwich--- not a traditionally homey place for black people, unless, of course, you are a Knickerbocker or a Yankee star. This is hedge-fund territory, a town of no malls and many Ferraris, maybe the country’s largest per-capita wine cellar acreage.

Anyway, we will sit looking at our cellphones and take our place in an audience larger than that of any recent presidential address for a one-hour extension of a pronouncement which could at best be slowed down to a 30-second sentence, including family and professional appreciation. What will he be wearing? Armani? Tommy Hilfiger? Will it be blue and orange? Tommy has done these colors-- lives in Greenwich, along with Alan Houston, David Cone….getting warmer? Will he be holding his child, standing with his wife? Will she be wearing a hat? Will Mrs. Obama’s favorite designer be making an emergency trip to Greenwich? What does Mrs. James look like anyway and will she be signing up for the newest version of Housewives of Greenwich?

The suspense is killing me. Not. But speaking of TV, I was forced to sit in front of the set to witness one of those Project Art-star episodes, produced by the fashion-savvy Sarah Jessica Parker who is Bravo-friendly and not well-known for her art expertise. And Simon de Pury…. Was it not enough for Phillips to have sold out to a champagne company…now they belong to a Russian conglomerate whose ruthless retail philosophy has little to do with art but much ado about marketing? The Warholian joke has long been exhausted, and besides the numerous PBS documentaries and the prayer that the computer age will improve the art of television, there is little compatibility between art and the TV runway. Mr. de Pury looks and acts ridiculous and the so-called gallerists are over-styled and pathetically a-philosophical. The Brooklyn Museum must be more desperate than during the 1970’s.

I was frankly baffled by the thought process of each and every one of the ‘artists’, and found one of the bottom-3 pieces very slightly better than the signature work of the visiting art-star of the week whose work is a sad and sorry example of what passes today as bankable and collectible. Bring on the Russian influence--- the grunting sexy tennis stars and the botoxed new breed of Spies--- the litigious girlfriends and models, the histrionic drama-queen skating stars and dancers.

What happened to Tolstoy and Chekhov, Gontcharova and El Lissitsky? Okay, Chagall moved to Paris. What next… Lebron in Moscow? Something suspiciously Russian about all the drama… the Nets have gone Russian… Chelsea… but not many Nets players in Connecticut… So could it be that the Knicks are about to be bought? We’ll be watching at 9 PM… which is 2 AM Greenwich time? The one that’s closer to Moscow.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Harlem in my mind

I‘ve been listening to Aretha and since the only black faces I see lately in my hood are behind the window at the bank, I decided to go up to the branch in Harlem to cash a check. It was a steamy New York Day … the kind that always feels hotter uptown… not as many trees, and something about the relentless design of 125th Street… wide streets and no skyscrapers for shade. It’s brutal in summer, and besides I wanted to check out uptown fashion trends.

There are two kinds of bodies in Harlem: the buff, sleek 12-pack kind who were already shirtless or showing their biceps in wifebeaters… and the overweight—the ones who have given in to the limited lifestyle and food choices that surround up there, the ones that tip the scales of the mean Manhattan body weight toward the national 'overage'. Huge departments in the Conways and Marshalls for plus sizes... what happens to all these hot young schoolgirls giggling on the sidewalk with the skin-tight jeans and the awesome butt curves? Do they just give it up and eat?

And there are still the Muslim markets, the incense-sellers and the pamphlet-floggers, the speechmakers and the robed young philosophers who do not eat meat and who preach love and anger in one breath. But I walk down Fifth Avenue and I see the beautiful architecture restored and unaffordable-- the white faces in the windows, with flowerpots and subzeroes in the kitchen, and I think about the Harlem of James Baldwin and wonder if these people read James Baldwin or Langston Hughes, or is this for the white intellectuals?

I am thirsty and I duck into Starbucks where the baristas are black, and a homeless woman is sleeping, head on the table… I beg a cup of ice water and I am surrounded by young Scandinavian tourists consulting their Lonely Planets; they have come to look for Harlem. It isn’t here, I want to say. You won’t find it in the new Apollo, the renovated Cotton Club, the Baptist Church services with a gallery for gaping tourists, at Mamma’s Kitchen where the soulfood is just a little too anxious to please. The same way this supersized version of 42nd Street has little to do with the old Times Square.

On the street again there are the loiterers and the characters, the guy with the free cds who wants a donation, the hairdressing ladies who assume white women are there to try out cornrows or braids. There are the hardbodied junkies who still work out, with the walkie-talkies stuck in their pants-- sweating, nodding, rubbing their skin like a lamp, talking to themselves-- arguing, pointing, their voices thick and rough. There are Hummers double-parked, bicycles, Suzukis. Cops in undercover cars--- car radios blasting, people talking shit, people flirting, people double-talking and trip-hopping, arguing, hustling, talking trash. Everywhere people are eating— ices, chicken, McDonalds, pizza, fish. Everywhere you can hear snags of T-Pain, Ludacris, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z.

But no lone saxophones from fire escapes, no cigarette smoke from ashtrays while typewriters clack, no Aretha. The young hiphop poets are maybe in Brooklyn, the tag-masters in the Bronx, the West Indians in Queens and the gangs are spread out. Old Navy, H-M, the banks— everywhere the banks-- upscale furniture showrooms and real estate offices.


When Bill Clinton came… for a while the sun was shining on Harlem— the new Harlem.
Now it’s like a small-town girl, with the 3 drab dresses and the one pair of shoes… some rockband comes through town and the handsome guitar player sees her, falls in love, buys her flowers… makes her beautiful… and a couple of weeks later, he no longer takes her calls… so now she sits at her window, waiting, all the color sucked out of her… that’s what Harlem feels like… all dressed up and nowhere to go, not unlike the rest of us….

I go back downtown with my lost nostalgia of Harlem realizing, like an old love affair, it’s what’s in your heart that makes it real… and the dream of Harlem, the Crystal Stair of it… it is there, in my mind-- the Harlem Nocturne accompaniment, the boys in their T-shirts and shorts on the stoops, the women with their hair rolled, babies on their hips, blacksexy and smoking in the evening heat-- the stickball, the whistling, the men with their pants rolled, the trains hissing and the dogs drinking from leaky hydrants-- the Ellington A train Harlem, the one that is part of the old lost dream of New York.

The guy on the downtown 6 is singing Otis and then Bill Withers, with his paper cup and his jokes, his cracked smile with the missing teeth… maybe he has the dream of Harlem… the perfect pitch and the rhythm, the old vaudevillian smile of it, giving it away for coins, Godblessing and Jesusloving for free, playing to the crowd, killing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hey Dude

I had the good fortune to attend the annual Middle School spring concert of one of our neighborhood single-sex prep schools. This was a telescoped version of Beatlemania adapted to a group of maybe 160 girls ranging from 10 to 13 years old. Dressed in preppy khaki pants and brightly colored shirts, the young Beatles were arranged on risers front-facing an audience of parents and siblings, conducted by a hugely energetic music director. The show was emceed by an overzealous Fab-four ‘host’ who told slightly off-color jokes obviously aimed at the adults, and who more than once mentioned Paul McCarthy.

I was thrilled to be seated beside my 5-year old ultra-charming new friend Jane who is in pre-K and assured me she’d never heard of the Beatles. Liverpool, she calmly explained, is a fish. In fact she was expecting a kind of Wind in The Willows sing-along about insects. But she was not disappointed, because during the choral medleys the girls did a sort of choreographed hula with their hands, occasionally punctuated by a ‘swim’ type move which was anachronistic in its resemblance to the standard 21st century pole-dancer ‘dip and sway’ Jane might have recognized from sneak peeks of ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

The girls made up in enthusiasm for any musical disappointment, and we could really only blame the hired little troop of musicians for occasionally failing to nail the chords we have all come to hear as ‘canon’. They were tired, maybe—between gigs… and they had to read the parts, and failed to listen to one another or the drummer who seemed to go from 1st to high gear every 8 bars or so.

In the end there was the omnipresent little appeal-for-arts-support for the school. After all, it is not Nightingale or Spence or Chapin, and not Penny Lane but still Park Avenue. This was just a little more pathetic because the program was obviously created to please the adults. Or else it was simply a faded tradition, because while Baby Boomer kids were well-versed in Beatlemania, this generation seemed a little clueless. Maybe Michael Jackson… ? It just seemed a mis-match.

Personally I missed the Vivaldi and Handel of my own school concerts and I wondered who would teach these to the girls. I also wondered whether they were reading Bruce Springsteen and Dylan lyrics in their poetry class.

Most of all I kept scanning the rows for the ones in pain, the ones who hated performing for their parents, the ones whose parents were sadly on business trips, the ones whose cheerful round mouths concealed a hidden eating disorder, adolescent shame, the humiliation of not needing a bra, needing one too much, the one overweight one who scrambled for the 3rd row where she was buried, the ones who were nervous, the ones who weren’t, the ones who’d already had their first drink or first joint, their first blow-job, the ones who secretly sliced delicate hairline webs into their upper thighs and wrists… maybe one or two who had already been mishandled by a perverse parent…the one who would statistically die of some strange disease—one from an overdose, one from a car or plane accident, anorexia….

Maybe I’ve read too much Joyce Carol Oates. Or maybe I was a girl once myself.

Oh, and that TV Housewife ex-model….her secret paparazzi crew was there outside because her daughter was among the rows… no predictions for her, but I’ll put money on the mother being diagnosed bulimic before the end of the summer. She’s just too damn dramatic at mealtimes.

The 2nd trumpet player nailed the Penny Lane solo. It was in my ears and my eyes for a good half hour afterward. My friend who is a mother gave the girls a C. One undersized 5th grader with a pink headband and a tiny soft voice actually sang her line on key— had the intelligence to sacrifice volume for pitch. I had high hopes for the one black girl who did a little Aretha-esque trill and then went off. But they were all so perfectly polite and lovely, and no one threw up or disgraced themselves.

On the way home I watched a 20-ish couple on the 6 train. She was pasty-faced and overweight, with ill-fitting clothes and dull style-less hair. Her boyfriend was a handsome Latin man who looked at her as though she was Megan Fox. Thank God for New Yorkers who adopt and love ugly dogs, who choose the fat girl first.

And for my son… the one who sang proudest just 8 years ago with shining eyes and glistening hair in his khakis in the polished concerts of an ultra-privileged boys' school... clever madrigals and period pieces with masterful accompanists...who’s maybe smoking a joint, holed up in a room unable to feel the joy of a choral performance or anything except the fleeting thrill of an internet gambling victory or the numbing distraction of the NBA playoffs---- take a sad song and make it better.

Friday, April 23, 2010

When

My neighbor is an editor of great renown. Not just an editor but a reader, a self-confessed failed writer who succeeded in promoting a genuine literary style-- a man of knowledge and ear. He passed on to me several recent novels short-listed for some literary awards which I found so annoyingly mediocre that I was compelled to huff and puff in protest on his answering machine... as though he didn't know. Maybe he was just checking to make sure I hadn't gone soft over the winter.

I've lapsed my subscription to the New Yorker, despite their offering me free T-shirts and mugs. Not much in print seems really worth the effort except this Art Pepper autobiography which is maybe the most real, most honest and most literary self-portrait I've read in ages. Cuts to the chase. Killing and true. That was a time when guys could play, really play. When owning an instrument had a meaning. Talking about it-- straight up. Mainline writing.

New York State requires a nominal amount of skill before it issues a drivers license; not so with musical instruments. Guys in the subways, on the subways, in clubs, bars... everywhere... amplifying their mediocrity for everyone to hear-- or at least the remaining few who don't have our ears preoccupied with i-music. American i-dol....don't get me started. The annual Ken and Barbie awards for music.

Everything seems to fall short these days. It can't be me...I'm old but I've got ears, I've got passion... I can fall in love with Bolano and Saramago and empathize with poor Nabokov whose pre-posthumous ramblings have been published in the form of a novelty-book of punchable index card notes. Cute. And what is really pathetic is that the one or two brilliant sentences in the unwieldy volume of fragments and medicated free-associations are actually worth the price, as compared to all these review-ready novels which seem in endless supply. They belong, as I see it, all too well on the short-list, meaning they fall short of literature. Maybe there is just so much out there.. the facebook comments, the tweets and blogs and texts... who has time for a deep read...? The jacket blurb on a review copy I received recently had not one but two blatant misspellings. Who's even paying attention? Looking? Listening?

I passed a typical mother earlier on Madison Ave. yakking on her phone while her perfectly dressed and accessorized little Asian daughter was staring up at her, saying over and over... Mommy, I love you...in a soft voice, and her mother was booking a yoga class, arguing about the rate. I bit my lip a little... I'm still not quite rid of the maternal weakness. Further uptown at that very moment some father left his 8-month-old baby inside a parked car while he picked up takeout and a few beers... and he came back to find the baby dead. Asphyxiated. A Jamaican nanny was walking down the street holding an infant under her arm, wheeling the stroller, drinking a latte and talking on her phone. Careless? Maybe. The Jamaican woman raised 8 of her own, maybe--- some good ones, some bad ones....she's not worrying that some tubercular human will cough on her employer's baby, or that diaper rash will turn into a staph infection, or a brain tumor.

In the 8th grade my first man-crush was on my English teacher-- a macho guy named McCluskey who told us if we couldn't figure out the 'theme' of a book for an essay test, just put down 'You can't be too careful.' That just about sums up every single messed-up situation in life, he said. We all laughed. He was like a Salinger-esque character in my life-- the kind I never seem to meet anymore. I wonder if that father who forgot his baby learned this lesson. I wonder if he'll get charged with manslaughter or criminal negligence or if they'll just let guilt and remorse eat his heart out. I wonder if he ate the takeout, or drank the beer.

My own son had a court hearing Wednesday. I'm trying to let him handle his own affairs... not to enable him. I wonder if he tells his friends what a negligent parent he has... doesn't send him money, doesn't help him out. All those diapers... those feverish nights... the long sweaty relentless afternoons in the park, hot steamy dinners with no air conditioning... no child support, no baby sitter...I listened when we walked together down the street--- I hung on his every word, paid attention to every symptom, tied every shoelace, secretly followed him to the school door even when he was taller than I was.

Maybe I was too careful. Maybe I worried and cared for every little thing. Maybe the responsibility of being the object of such devotion was just too much. Cheating on exams, cutting class, glib lying, the glamour of clubbing and gambling underage were just mesmerizing compared to boring human values and maternal guilt. Maybe I was too literal... maybe I read too carefully between the lines, expected to get some spiritual nutrition from literature, some passion with my music, some grammatically correct entertainment from my television, and something else from things that use the word 'art' with such casual brutality. A phone call from my own son...occasionally.

Of course, we don't want our kids to be neurotic. We don't want them to cry at Nike commercials and smother their own offspring with anxiety and worry. They have medication for such things. Tears are a sign of instability. Do any of these Goldman Sachs guys cry in their Hamptons retreats when the lights go out? I don't think so. They go to Green Day Broadway shows and let other people yell scripted Hollywood versions of punk. They ignore scruples and ethics and fear poverty. They give at the office only. They spend 6 figures on blown-up C-prints of poor people and old cars and nostalgia which they buy in galleries and which, in the guise of expensive art on their walls, reminds them occasionally of life. Behind a frame.

I didn't take enough pictures. I thought life was for living, not for archiving. I'm no longer sure what is real. Last night the bartender in the club I played was pouring a triple scotch for a disshevelled guy. Say 'when;, the bartender urged.... Say 'When', as he filled the glass with a double night's worth of anesthesia. Must be my eyes, the customer said to me. I got bad eyes. I can't see When.

I wonder what my editor-friend would make of that sentence.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Banksey

I looked over two estate sales today at the auction houses. Michael Crichton… his collection seemed smart and corporate-literate. As though he’d had an advisor, and his own point of view in a way… scientifically collected, with a few impulse-buys. One wonders about these celebrities…doesn’t he have a family, don’t these things have personal value or do they pay tribute by having the public bidding on a piece of their life, in plain view—I mean, it’s not like a piece of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe… does the provenance provide security? I’d feel better with a picture from an artist, someone who knows.

Then there was Nina Abrams… a world-class human. Her ‘collection’ was all over the place, from Picasso and Warhol to stuff made by the school janitor. That makes her a good person. I poked through one of those Christies jumble sales… lives there, the way you see cartons of books in cheap thrift shops… filled first with college texts, then books on investing money, mortgages, then wedding planners, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Private School Catalogues, then a bunch of novels, self-help and diet books… in the end some books about dying and meditating and Illness as Metaphor… then the carton. Done. My kids won’t even bother putting them in a carton--- they’ve already assured me everything will be in a dumpster next day while they put a cinema-sized flatscreen on the wall with whatever pathetic IRA money I may or may not have left.

Still, I look at the paintings… a few estates with good stuff in crummy frames because they cared about the art, not the d├ęcor. I like to find things. The galleries and big sales are riddled with landmines and holes, re-packaged gum wrappers and inflatable toys, but I can still hear some things calling me with a bell-clear voice. Which gets hard amidst all the hype and drama. Noise in our culture. No wonder no one can see straight. We give up listening.

That girl that got herself killed on the 6 train because she jumped down to get her phone… she wasn’t listening. Except for her ringtone. A man who came into the station just after it happened said he saw her arms sticking up—like a mannequin… he thought it was a dummy or a doll— a set maybe. I was in the train behind, cursing and stuck with the other pissed-off passengers until they made an announcement. Then the noise stopped. For a few minutes, anyway.

Yesterday I was on that platform.. like nothing happened… thinking there must have been tiny residual bits of flesh and body that got eaten by the rats. They have no way of judging. In a way this is all the democracy left.

I came out of my friend’s gallery in Chelsea and there was an ambulance--- a body on a gurney, covered-- you get that feeling, that sick feeling—it could be you-- 20 minutes ago that person was looking at a painting and a chandelier fell on their head… or an elevator malfunctioned… or their heart just got sick of the overtime…whatever. Then I realized… someone was directing---it was all being filmed. They were just actors… or it was an art piece… a performance thing… and people were looking, people had had emotion...because they thought it was real. It was drama. Maybe the woman who jumped—she was a drama queen. Or the kid from Yale. What was he saying? The goddamn Empire State Building. Empire Skate my little boy used to say. If you want to end it all, there are better ways. Quiet ways. Ways that don’t risk falling on some 4-year-old future genius or his mother. But these people are not being followed by paparazzi and maybe they just
wanted something. Some interest.

Banks--- they have no interest in you. They only care about rich people. They deduct and deduct and there is no more INTEREST for the customer. They have your money—if you want theirs, pay for it. Something happened since I was 5 and opened up my first little savings account with a book and a lollipop and interest. Now they charge you 50% of your money in fees and give you a pen that lasts long enough to sign a few checks.

My friend is married to a teddy bear. He is Harry Potter and the Pillsbury Doughboy. But here’s the thing: He’s a teddy bear with money. He earns money, he shits money. Apparently.
Sexy guys shit real shit. And sometimes it stinks. Sometimes they shit on your life.

I once had a dog. It wasn’t a poodle but it had soul. It messed stuff up.
In the end these people.. .they’re alone with their poodles and their paid housekeeping-neatness and their stupid well-framed Richard Princes and Bankseys and their money.

Every few weeks lately… I get this feeling, like my personal banks are going to flood along with all these forgotten people who get 10 inches of rain in one day and cresting rivers with no functioning dams and no interest from the banks and insurance companies. … I can feel it rising...

Yesterday the phone rang.. .and it is my best friend—the one that shot heroin and was broke and sleeping on sofas and cried about it, the one that dressed up like an UES woman going to tea and still shot heroin—the one I took for her amnio 4 months pregnant who pretended to be clean and shot up in the Mt. Sinai toilet. That one.

Well, she’s producing rock bands now and getting paid all kinds of money to make them ‘industry-ready’ which basically means she sucks dick and acts like they’re sucking hers. But we know better. Yeah, she buys $500 Starbucks cards and gets driven around the city with $100 take-out bags… but the thing is, what happened to her SINGING? I mean, life sucks unless you are painting or singing. Or whatever. Listening.

She’s got money, she says… like she’s better than I am. Money.. .what is it in the end but a ticket to nothing, to nowhere, because you’re a passenger…you’re the audience. You’re not shit. You eat expensive shit.

You’re getting dark, she says. But I didn’t even get started.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Desperately Seeking Art

Does it ever annoy anyone how some goddamn stranger in a uniform has the key to your mailbox and can slip in just about anything someone wants to send you? Bills, hate-mail, chain-letters, collection notices, the goddamn New Yorker which is really getting on my nerves: the fact that they even review the Jersey Shore reality show; and the poetry… except for a few decent ones— is 'garden-y' and Ladies-Home-Journalesque. But it seems to be a self-renewing subscription or maybe an anonymous trust-fund legacy someone left me. It shows up like an uninvited Gorey-esque guest, along with sneaker catalogues and Fresh Direct postcards. Doesn’t anyone bother to market-research that people like me don’t do mail-order, or takeout— don’t even have doorbells? I swear I remember hearing some old bluesman once telling an amplifier company rep 'If I done without it this long, ain’t gonna be much use to me now.’

But I was thinking today… no matter how many locksmiths there are in New York City, no matter how many security systems and firewalls, there are things you can’t keep out. Old age, for one— hunger, loneliness-- death, eventually. Pigeons—the goddamn pigeons that nest and roost and have sex on your windowsill unless you put out those spiky things which remind you that you’ve become a prisoner of your own paranoia. Rodents and bugs. Whether you admit it or not, they’re in your building, having a piss in your water supply, or rolling around in the produce while the market lights are out and the doors are locked.

The Purell/cleanliness obsession is annoying me, too. Like the numbers of people who let the swine flu propaganda run their life put plenty of money in the pockets of the Pfizer people. Who have now sold to Johnson and Johnson whose little heiress couldn’t keep germs and death out, with all the locks money could buy.

In New York City, Valentine’s Day is the holiday of broken hearts. Thank God it fell on a Sunday which seems a less painful day for people who are alone. Which includes at least half of those who are in a relationship. Of course I am a cynic. In my box of guitar picks are not one but two inscribed in red and pink from two different musicians who romantically chose February 14 for their wedding day. Killing 2 birds with one diamond. Both couples are long separated, both left fucked up kids, suicide attempts and neighbors who were sick to death of through-the-wall drama they didn’t pay for. Another thing you can’t lock out.

Lost gloves on the sidewalk always remind me of broken hearts. The inevitability of separation, and then having to discard the one that stayed with you, that stuck it out when the other one wandered. Some ex-boyfriend sends me a dozen roses every year. I’m sure there’s a whole list of us, because he’s just too damn efficient. Maybe he figures one of these days he’ll be too old and unattractive and will have to return to one of the scenes of his former crimes. Like a goddamn pigeon. I can’t even remember the end of our little affair, and not even too much about the beginning. But this year I went out on the eve of Valentine’s Day to some trendy rooftop lounge which felt Miami-esque except they gave you these red fleece robes so you could hang out on the roof and smoke. I drank some champagne and listened to inane alcohol-laced chatter from the nervous couples who had seen many fewer holidays than I, and thought about Valentine’s Nights of my youth spent at Max’s or Fanelli’s where the conversation shone like a honed knife-edge.

Turns out I left my gloves at the lounge— both of them. Maybe they ran off with another pair. At least they were together. Which makes me a little sad but reminded me that ex-lovers are like things sometimes--- you can’t hold onto them, and you can’t really help them when they’ve worn thin and don’t fit anymore. And maybe you can lock them out but you can’t lock them in. Memories, though… they seep in like smoke in the cracks. Like bad smells. Like the sound of sirens thankfully passing you by… or that old Art Pepper record you swear you can hear some nights, even when you don’t even live in that place anymore.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Losing It

Every so often I give in to the ghost which burrows in my shadow, and which generally rests while I play music or dreams while I sleep. But I am feeling this enormous cry coming up from him… like ominous regurgitation of some past sorrow I have managed to partition off from my current read-only-memory. I awoke this morning with it perched on my chest so I could scarcely breathe or open my eyes to face it. So I listened...and found I could no longer distinguish the compulsive annoying cooing of the pigeons on the ledge from the creaking pipes and the motors idling outside. And these muffled sobs somewhere… (could I be imagining this?) and workmen cursing and scraping metal and pounding… then further away I could swear I could hear each block's soundscape piling on the next until everything finally became a whirring blur…like all the ingredients of a life are somehow getting ground and whipped into this fog-colored mush. And suddenly I don’t know who or where I am because all the elements— air, light, walls--- have been the same, since the room into which we were born… and will be, up to the room from which we will die.

I now wonder if my Mom is faking her dementia because it’s all so much easier when nothing is expected of one—when you just let go and take the slide, even if you look ridiculous and your old petticoats are flying up around you. Because who actually cares… and who will remember?

All of us, still texting our pathetic donations, holding our rosaries, glued to the television in horror at the Haitian nightmare… do we need to compare our miserable lives to true suffering so we will feel better? Or do we actually envy, in some perverse way, these people who have lost everything… who have bottomed and embraced the terrible excruciation of severed limbs and bone-crushing agony? Those who have met our fears, who have had their hell on earth, and can let go in some way of the terror of losing that we New Yorkers seem to be afflicted with. After all, is this not why we invest our money, made superstars of AIG, assess and insure our homes…to hedge against loss?

A man who is a lifelong Gamblers Anonymous member confided to me the other day that it is not the win that jags the true gambler – it is losing. Because one can’t have or win everything— there is always more. Yet one can lose everything. And therein lies the thrill of the bet. So what does this mean to those of us who are not gamblers but addicted to horror, to tragedy, to sympathy, to loss? We are a race of losers. The House always wins, does it not? And for those of us who are ready to lose everything… are these the real heroes? Is letting go equal to losing everything? Is it not more like giving out, losing one’s grasp, as opposed to leaping into the abyss?

No matter how the media spins things, the abyss seems to have fallen onto the Haitians. So who has lost more… they who have lost everything or we who are addicted to fear? Thinking philosophically doesn’t help this aching I have to just let go and weep… in front of my children, in front of an audience, on the subway… and not one person I know has any sense of it… obviously my failure…my loss, their loss, my pitiful non-Haitian heart, my unburied rosary, the fog, the receding tide of what I have not won.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Barbarians Are Us

So how many of us spent Tuesday and Wednesday night in our warm little apartments watching live footage of the horrific devastation in Haiti, the way we watched after 9/11… pulling our hair, weeping, a bit of voyeurism, a bit of helpless prayer… me always thinking about the women in labor… someone underneath the rubble undoubtedly suffering the triple irony of hopeless birth?

Does this make us better people, walking around with the heavy guilt of our own safe lives, desperately rounding up our friends to give money, to donate services…wanting to board planes or boats, knowing our only power is financial, and many of us are helpless?

So many are miserable…here… the wealthy and the welfared… the phenomenal numbers eating anti-depressants and amphetamines. Do we for seconds abandon our own self-absorbed neuroses and yearnings for plastic surgery, for weaves and laser-treatments, for skin-products and fashion, gyno- and rhinoplasty, dental veneers and hair-dye? Perhaps. And because we weep, we beat our breasts in silence and cannot sleep— does this help? It does not.

Among the moments of unbearable poignancy, footage I saw last night— a truck piled high with cartons of biscuits…unloading and distributing… and someone among the starving desperate hoard surrounding the truck, someone who we now know is in the minority of literate Haitians— cries out, the date is expired on these boxes of biscuits… because he has seen the packaging date, not the expiration date which is somewhere in the way-distant future… and there is a panic, and all the people fear illness, pain, intestinal poisoning…and they run back.. .and there is chaos, and the truck drivers in frustration finally get back on the truck and pull away. But now it seems perhaps someone has figured out their error, and a few begin shouting, and men and children are running after the truck, which has now gone on… and the people are left devastated, starving, abandoned… victims of their own panicky deception.

Because in a moment of crisis so few of us are able to think rationally… and when one has discovered there is nothing, nowhere that is ‘safe’… it is near impossible to make a decision. The earth beneath is crumbling… one accepts the perils of outdoor street-habitation for fear of being crushed indoors in an aftershock wave. Some panic and scream, some weep… some like the teenage girl pulled from her home with the broken leg swear that they are not afraid. Who is this girl, from where do her genetics come—from some godlike warrior-race of such dignity and courage? Because my own son had a fit of rage during a summer blackout when his cellphone could not be charged.

Easiest to see 20/20 with hindsight. To find our way out of an overwhelming maze requires someone else’s vision. Beneath the rubble one has no concept of what has happened…the world, or is it about me? Does everyone see the world from two eyes only? This is the way we are made.

Meanwhile, Conan O’Brien fights on. Why he can’t donate whatever remains of his contract to the Haitian relief effort is beyond me. He will probably never need to budget hair replacement, but he has lost whatever entertainment value he never had. Perhaps he lies awake and thinks… if I were an NFL wide receiver, I’d be getting bought out for way more. Ah, Conan, it’s superbowl month… and there has been an earthquake, and we are sick of the kind of TV which no longer serves. You are both a relic and a souvenir. Your wife will probably not leave you and you can maybe write for an unscripted reality show. You might even get one of your own.

For Conan, like my son during the blackout, perhaps this was his personal earthquake. What is pathetic is that it’s all ‘game’ for TV—the endless gossip-mongering and personality posturing, the Cramer bs and Deal or No Deal, the heartfelt weeping of Oprah and her weight issues, the disaster footage, the bloating corpses that find themselves TV stars without contracts or even permission to be filmed in the ultimately humiliating state of human horror which is the future of each and every one of us, whether we are being nursed and morphined in a hospital or flattened by a drunk driver.

Does literacy and intelligence make us good? It certainly does not, nor does seeing with that third eye. Is Anderson Cooper a better person than Oprah? They will both do more good than I. But one can try to get off the truck and explain about the biscuits... one can try to send anesthetics and antibiotics and help those who can help. Today two teenage girls were sitting on their front stoop in Brooklyn enjoying the warmer weather outside...and a man walked by and shot them. Whether or not they were thinking about the Haitians. Whether or not they had Haitian relatives, or whether or not the shooter had Haitian family and couldn't get his own medication. For the non-helpless among us-- and you might know who you are--- one can try to be good.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Crouching Bloggers

Longest hiatus yet. Having a blog-identity crisis. Every housewife on the block has one now— the amount of verbal waste on the internet is colossal. If words were pennies, we could pay the Goldman Sachs bonuses for the next 4000 years in just a week.

I’ve been cutting back on so much, I started to hold back on verbal output. I almost posted one last month called ‘Crouching Tiger’. I always hated golf. Who was the comedian who once described golf as the sport invented so white people can dress like black people? For me, I can’t take seriously any sport that doesn’t involve either sweat or speed. And Elliot Spitzer already walked in his shoes. Why do we act so horrified? There were no murders. Tiger Woods makes a very poor poster child for adultery. He’s too nerdy. Swedes (hence the wife) like golf. They also like black people and they don’t have a lot of Afro American celebrities there. I’m sure he doesn’t fit the stereotype. No Chris Brown style beatings. In fact, it was the wife who might have hit Tiger. Which iron did she use, because she got quite a bit of mileage with it?

Now that we have that out of the way…. Aren’t there larger all-American dreams which have been shattered of late? Like the entire economy? Like the US Treasury? Like the MTA which is again crying poverty while their legal staff is brushing D&G shoulders with the bankers who at Miami-Basel (timed of course to coincide with bonus-week) shopped until they dropped for 7-figure paintings, to keep their cash balance just under conspicuous?

At the end of 2009 I found myself pathetic and nostalgic-- missing Mary Travers, the Village Gate, the Ramones, Andy, Max’s, juke box longing. Eleven days into the New Year I am missing other things-- the stray dog I found on Madison Ave in 1979, the innocent days of serial killers in Manhattan, waiting for a boy to call, the Star Spangled Banner sign-off, curly phone cords and rotary dials, neon, subway grafitti, getting naked under winter sheets with a boy I scarcely knew. It is not just getting older, it is the whole media/internet-rounding of edges and corners…
I feel looted…I feel robbed of some kind of innocence… like finding your parents are bad.

But what are bad people like now? People have secrets… we are exposed but they have secrets, more than ever… worse secrets. People that torture animals, children. People that watch this stuff on the internet. Corporate secrets. The kind that enabled our financial wizards to rob us blind and make us pay for it. The gilt-coated Goldman Sachs CEOs are going to enforce charitable giving quotas for those who earn enough to feed whole continents and whose daughters probably puke up their $1000 sushi dinners in sonic self-cleaning toilets. No DNA in the bowl.

The cancer rate is going down because no one wants to go to the doctor. We are sick of co-pays and information they give us to make pharmaceutical stocks go up. Death could be a relief. Galaxies of information--- green products, clean energy… and still there are evil Nazi lovers, the guy in line behind me at the grocery store--the haters. The lady beside me in the gym who makes a comment.. .we assume others are tolerant… and then they say something that reveals the vituperative soul they are and we try to create a few extra inches between treadmills.

Golf.. I always knew it was a sinister sport… it always disgusted me. Even the word—nerdy and gagging.

Last night on the train home, there were some spectacular freaks of the kind I haven’t seen in years, except nightmares. One guy with a stench so bad the whole car was empty. A smell beyond putrid human waste and rot. And on the next car, where there were 2 separate guys singing for their supper or their fix---whatever… arguing… engaged in a tournament of God blessing to death the tired and drunk passengers who mostly have their ears stuffed with hip-hop and are too overdressed in the cold and lazy to reach for their pockets and you can’t put debit cards into cups. But on the car, across from me—a lady… praying maybe, itching like mad, stuffing her hands down everywhere and scratching like a mad dog. And standing by the door a Jesus-type black man with the gnarled dreads, and sandals…in this frigid January… one foot bound with filthy bandages and oozing… oozing a color not in any paintbox. The other foot—the unbandaged one---dried to a shade of bone---and the toes seemed to have dropped off—like old tree branches. And the guy is wiping up something on the floor – some fluid which seemed to have leaked out of him, and he is cleaning it up with a napkin. Do you try to pray? Do you ask God to bless the stenchy-squishy beyond-medical-helpless? Maybe this is Jesus. Not the handsome sexy one everyone wanted to fuck in Hollywood versions. Maybe also this is a man who just tortured and raped another dysfunctional freak. Maybe he is serving some kind of celestial sentence for unspeakable acts. I can't tell anymore. I can't figure anything out and I hear myself wish people a Happy New Year and resolve to keep on creating music I think is important and pray for some kind of posthumous acceptance. And part of me on that train wants to vomit and part of me wants to cry and part of me hates myself for being so fucking cowardly and helpless that all I can do is go home and post worthless words like trash in the endless dump of the web.