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.