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.