Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fun House

So thank God Thanksgiving blend is finished. Jesus, that sounds so retro-jappy/Carrie Bradshaw. But when half your daily spending allotment goes toward that Venti bold no-room with the potential unlimited free refills (I am vehemently anti-Pike), a bad blend can seriously affect attitude. Maybe this is for my New-York-on-$4-a-day blog my gynecologist keeps begging me to write. Along with the comment that if I give him a really valuable piece of thrifty advice, he'll discount my pap smear accordingly. He did. $6.39. He probably didn't even send it in. Do I care at this point? Way cheaper to die than get a diagnosis. Quicker, too. Maybe I should call it 'Dying in NYC on $4-a-day'. I like the sound of that. But I've heard a cemetery plot anywhere in the 5 boroughs is like more expensive than the average UES coop. And smaller. No view, so maintenance might be cheaper. No electric. Low ceilings...etc. ad mortem.

I actually am developing a serious phobia of sounding like Carrie Bradshaw, now that she is dated and maybe the same age I was when I swore an oath against ever watching a single episode, even shading my eyes when I saw them filming live in my 'hood, walking with their Tasti-D-Lites on the day my friend was hired as an extra and was furious when she witnessed me refusing to look. Actually she never forgave me. Actually I don't deserve her forgiveness, for other petty sins I've committed against her. Carrie Bradshaw wouldn't say peccadillos, would she? I wrote this same friend, when she mentioned she had flirted with one of my more dysfunctional exes, wanting a reference. I suggested she take out a personal ad saying "Tax deduction available. Will cook and clean (well, at least at first). Knows the lyrics to Castles Made of Sand and most early Dylan (this is where she begins to lie). Can tell Wolfmother from Led Zeppelin (Pinocchio-worthy). Has a vagina (actually, I've never fact-checked)." Maybe I'm becoming Carrie Bradshaw. I'm confused. Was she fictional or real? Was she the fictional version of the actual columnist? Can you fear becoming the fictional version of someone, or even a cartoon character? My mother used to remind me of a more elegant Edith Bunker. For a while I had fear-of-my-mother-turning into Marge Simpson. I have nightmares about the Simpsons. They terrify me. Even the baby. When I was small I feared the Classic Comic Quasimodo. I'd compulsively dare myself to open to a page, and then I'd feel like I had to vomit.

I have this new terror of early Alzheimer's, like my Mom. Not that she seems unhappy or frustrated. But she's totally lost her sense of humor, her edge. I have to keep checking to make sure I still hate Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

When I was there the other day, she was furious that everyone had rice pudding except her. But you've already finished your rice pudding, the caretaker carefully explains. 'No I didn't', she insists and stamps her foot in the most ladylike way, and then wrinkles her nose at us and says in her old snoot-voice: 'I HATE rice pudding!'

It was funny. I made me think, once again, that she is pulling the greatest marital practical joke of all on my poor father who nagged and criticized her for years, and has the patience of an angry flea. Also the fact that she defends Dancing with the Stars, even calls me when it goes on, like it is our private joke and worth the torture of it just to watch him writhe and utter non-verbal expletives.

Tonight I saw Michael Moore coming out of the 92nd Street Y. He is pretty fat. Does he do this to ally himself with middle-Americans who are fat? The ultra-rich, of course, like the extreme poor, are thin. I suggested to my newly-anorexic friend the other day that she is just trying to look rich. It is also easier for anorexics to do New York on $4 a day. I suggested she guest on my non-existent blog. She's not speaking to me either. I'm relieved.

Christmas blend. Blend. Everything is a compromise, everything is a hybrid-- diluted, cut with baking soda and corn-sugar, force-fed. People aren't black or white either. Black people are light brown and blonde, Swedes die their blonde hair Johnhy-Thunders black. Everyone's a blend, desperately trying to distinguish themselves with some pathetic fashion statement, women all incensed if someone has the same dress at an event and trying just as desperately to be exactly like everyone else with ther iphones and kindles and macbooks and shoes. I saw a girl at Sotheby's yesterday wearing literally 9-inch Christian Louboutins looking like a pathetic flightless bird with deformed bloody wings on her feet, walking like Barney in toeshoes, pretending her ass was not the bulgy ass of a 5'2" average Jill but the proportionally acceptable ass of a Victoria's Secret Angel. It was very Cindy Sherman, actually. Or Carrie Bradshaw.

Somehow my son's facebook page is now viewable by me. I don't read the posts, but I have noticed these girls with names like Summer Autumn Revere and Jessica Marble. They seem to be real people, but their names are like sculpted. Who are their parents? My son actually, completely accidentally, has a poetic name. His father's fault. I wonder sometimes if I didn't marry his father for the poetic last name...I mean, I think I was in love, but seem to remember feeling 'above' institutional traditions and probably would never have taken another name, except it sounded so nice... I was a little hypnotized... very Carrie Bradshaw. Then again, there was certainly no Vera Wang white for me. We were married (blended?)at the exact same office as Paul McCartney and his current. The woman who performed our ceremony had an enormous ass. Colossal. Proportionally speaking. My husband remarked on this, and I was convulsed during the entire brief ceremony, didn't hear a thing and he spoke for me-- said I was temporarily dumb-stricken. He was funny. I remember this.

I wonder if my mother forgets she's old, decides that grey face in the mirror is some old person who's come to clean the house. Madness is comforting, in the way that you convince yourself around Halloween that these people on the subway leering at you are just costumes and masks. In the way that you order your Christmas blend just like the Carrie Bradshaws behind you, and you get the same brew, no matter how much is in your wallet. There is some democracy. We all get old, we die, we get cancer, we go mad, we remember, we forget. We pay the same for our Christmas blends; it is not about the portion but the proportion.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Haunted Houses or The Man Who Made Off with 60 Minutes

I’ve been having that dream again—where you open a closet door and there’s another room--- another apartment--- like a gift of space-- -an interior miracle--- an illusion, you think--and then it is real--- you are stepping into it with relief. Apparently it’s a classic New York City dream. There’s a whole dedicated dream manual for Manhattan Psychs—with subway fantasies, tramway terrors, bridge and elevator fears, Hudson River drownings and apartment claustrophobia. Last night there was a whole loftspace--- but as the dream wore on, holes began to appear on the walls--- cracks in the ceiling; the door was unlocked and broken. A trick....a moral-- that if you get what you wish for, there will be a price to pay.

Halloween eve... we got to see the horrifying masks of the Madoff ghouls on 60 minutes. The voice of Ruth Madoff-- the calm, composed, botoxed emotionless voice... ... and the son— with the non-existent upper lip of the father, baring only his bottom teeth... he and his trophy wife-mask, prepped and rehearsed, attempting to manipulate a little public support for his trial. Come on Morley Safer--- how can you call them ‘victims’? Victims of luxury? Victims of their own pathetic refusal to look at the bloated gifthorse that allowed them the excessive lifestyle of billionaires? Two educated boys, one of whom at least had the moral conscience to punish himself, and maybe punish his mother for sins which she absolutely refuses to acknowledge. And this one-- -this smart boy like Satan’s accomplice who stoked the fire and claims to have absolutely no idea that there was any burning going on?

It was at best a disappointing piece of journalism. Maybe CBS had to promise not to ask questions, had to let Mrs. Madoff have her day in TV court. On a football night, it maybe helped the ratings....but you’d have to be a dumb Saint to give her the feeblest sympathy vote... and to listen to that suicide charade. She can’t weigh more than 100 pounds and at her age an overdose is pretty manageable. Ambien. Give me a break. I’ll bet they took enough for a decent night’s sleep. No guts, no balls, no remorse. Andrew’s wife was smiling. It was a disgrace. They at least deserve the pillory, not a half-hour of prime time without hecklers. Is this journalism? It was more like bad theatre. I’ve had another recurring dream where Libyan rebels are carrying Qaddaffi only his face is the emotion-free bloody face of Madoff. It’s horrible. I guess the Madoff masks are still big sellers this Halloween, with the devil horns already molded on. Now you can dress as the whole family. The 99% of us are going as skeletons, but we’ll have our costume underneath where it belongs.

I went to see my own parents who seem to have forgiven my personal filial sins. After all, I’m middle-aged which pretty well does time for whatever youthful wild rebel-antics offended them. They seem to have retreated into their bedroom, as though the space of their house is no longer appropriate. As though the dream is reversed. Their vision is retrospective, they have no aspirations. Why don’t you go in the yard and get some fresh air, I asked my mother. After all, it’s paid for. No thank you, she replied, I have a window. There are two of them in that room. They speak little. Their reference points are identical. The TV is on. They watch each other watching. Maybe they figure if they take up very little space, God will spare them longer. Something like that. They scarcely eat. They don’t lose things. They don’t get mugged or worry.

So maybe when you are finally ready to die, a coffin is all the room you want. Maybe claustrophobia is just an absurd prescient terror of the end. Compared to the space of the womb, it’s actually roomy...although my mother remarked she wants to be cremated because she’s afraid she’ll suffocate in a coffin. No one laughed. I have a mental picture of them tonight sitting in their respective chairs, wearing funny hats, sucking on a few tangerine jelly beans, watching an old Hitchcock film, dozing. Their ghosts are patient...benign.

I think Bernie Madoff should have a coffin-sized cell. I think his son should have to spend nights in a coffin-sized closet and be let out on a leash with enough pocket money for a hotdog and a doughnut I think all 3 of them should have to wear the John Doe uniform and dump trash like my son did after he stole a pair of sunglasses from Saks Fifth Avenue. At the very least. They should get to live in the projects and work at the kind of McDonald’s where people jump over the counter and smack you in the head. I think they should be forced to wear a tattoo that says Liar. The faithful wife Ruth. Whither thou goest. Except jail of course.

That Harry Markopoulos figured it out. How can these people be sitting calmly on 60 minutes, getting paid for their books and interviews, living on tens of millions—maybe more—they socked away. How many Wall Street executives even worry enough to need to take Ambien? Why are we making a federal case and crucifying athletes for performance-enhancing drugs while these rich criminals are getting away with financial murder? The 60-minute clock ticks its end-comment. Now what? Trick or treat? On Wall Street it’s all about the candy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Trash and Vaudeville

At any given moment, assume one of your friends is depressed, one is having a nervous breakdown or terminal writer’s block or suddenly can’t get it up to have stage fright; one has a broken limb or appendicitis, or crippling tinnitus. Some weeks these crises align and your phone rings off the hook at 4 AM, those of you who are pathetic enough to still have one.

So I have a new diagnosis for virtually everything, including cancer and anxiety: Lethal Procrastination. Another expression for Life-as-we-know-it. Just having a diagnosis, for the hypochondriacs and drama queens among my callers--- is a little relief.

My Super has a Hummer. I am dumping coins onto my bureau, looking for the larger ones so I can make my monthly maintenance payment without a penalty, and my super who can barely speak any kind of language commonly understood in New York City has a free apartment on a posh street, a pretty great looking wife, an iPhone and a Hummer.

Nevermind that the main itinerary of this car is from side to side of our street to avoid city parking penalties, and maybe an occasional run to Home Depot. He no longer ‘does’ garbage or plumbing or cleans or much of anything but move the Hummer around and make calls on his coop-sponsored iPhone to union plumbers and maintenance men whose bills have caused my monthly maintenance to exceed my monthly income. Oh, he also opens envelopes at Christmas.

Speaking of trash... he has an aversion to this. But for me, Tuesday and Thursday nights on the sanitary Upper East Side are like archaeological documentaries. I, like my mentor Andy, am secretly fascinated by the ironic dichotomy of what some people need and others discard. By the way people eat sandwiches-- -what they leave, what they cut off, what they take home for their dogs, what they spill out, what they pick up. Their wives and girlfriends. The oreo cream-lickers, the potato-skin peelers, the bone suckers, the slurpers, plate-cleaners, cigarette stubbers. The confusion. The fact that my neighbors spent 6 million on re-finishing their perfect apartment and then hired an art consultant who spent another 6 million buying a celebrity artist’s ‘ready-made’ which is essentially something the guy found in the trash and glued onto something else he found. Points for the artist. Zero points for the people on the 2nd floor who paid $150,000 for some uninspired Grafitti from a Phillips’ auction when they could for $50 have hired our own doorman who has style and spends his nights tagging city landmarks and is quite famous in his ‘hood.

As often happens in middle age, I’ve lost my fashion footing. Besides being able to distinguish leather from vinyl, I can scarcely tell Forever 21 from Balenciaga. Well. Okay... not Balenciaga. But is it the case that some high-fashion does take inspiration from strippers and prostitutes? Plastic surgeons do. Jeff Koons and Richard Prince do. Editorial make-up and hair do, occasionally. Underwear. So if trash is on the mannequins, does it not follow that the real deal is in the trash? Old wood, art deco stoves, hand-made glass door handles. Books. Vinyl. Wagner boxsets. These things are on the sidewalk in the new regulation clear-plastic bags. Everyone loves a bargain; especially we New Yorkers, where on any given block you might see 10-30 'sale' signs, from groceries to services to clothing. But on Tuesday and Thursday nights curbside, your plastic and money are no good. These deals are unsullied by commerce, lucre, mark-ups and markdowns. They all bear the celestial pricetag. Free.

Of course the homeless and the professional bottle-collectors are well-aware of my neighbors’ failure to distinguish value, and they are hard at work on Tuesday and Thursday nights. There are even trucks to collect the furniture for resale and refinishing ---the stuff may even end up tarted up or further distressed at Urban Archaeology or one of those cavernous crammed trendy shops on Houston Street where a young couple or a design-star contestant will re-purchase some ‘vintage’ and spend a great sum to have it white-glove-delivered to some Manhattan loft.

Remember in Warhol’s movie, the shoes Holly Woodlawn got from the garbage? The ones that slickly dressed yuppie-guy tried to procure from her? In my senility I get them confused with the ones Beyonce was wearing on her last red-carpet appearance.

The Bi- and Tri-Cycle of Life. Stuff. Junk. New garbage. Crumpled cash. Trash. Vintage. Trash. Crash. I miss Andy. I could have gifted him my newly-chiseled Jenny-Holzeresque future-vintage recycled grave marker. He might not have perished so prematurely of Lethal Procrastination. Perhaps the fermented will indeed inherit the earth.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 (The Fireman's Lover)

I suppose 10 years ago this date was unimaginable. We had just settled into the Y2k thing and the day was so hopefully crisp and clear. We’d had a false alarm in our building that summer and one of the cute 30-something firemen left me a cute note and came back out-of-uniform to inspect my apartment. September 10 he’d shown up at my gig (he loved music) and, well, I’d suspected he was married— but my friend didn’t seem to care. They spent the night. He left her early-morning; she called, he called... then we both went to bed, at dawn— slept through the burning towers, awoke and watched the horror over and over, not in real time. Neither of us ever heard from him again. We didn’t know his last name.

Of course everyone in New York City had some connection--- but mine, aside from my cute fireman and the geography, was much like the rest of the world-- emotional. The democratic rug had been yanked beneath us and America lost its virginity. My son couldn’t manage to process the victims and the jumpers. We went down to the site and inhaled human and non-human remains. People wanted to die.

My friend and I searched all the images for our fireman. We mourned him--- she more deeply than I. I kept the note. Maybe his family is among the celebrated mourners today--- his sons are undoubtedly strong and athletic; his wife has maybe re-married. He was a good boy with maybe a 7-year-itch. He loved the music. I’m no longer in touch with my friend. She stalked firehouses and events for a while, seeking a replacement. She was among the single women in New York who watched Sex in the City and empathized with women who lost their husbands but pitied herself for NOT having anyone to have missed. For all I know (and pray, with all my heart) our fireman is just fine—he would be 40-something and the trauma of 9/11 cured his itch.

For some of us New Yorkers, we hate what our culture has become. We hate the technology, the slickness that is Manhattan now. The new monuments and towers may satisfy some, but personally I would want a cemetery and private grave where I could lay my face on the dirt or stone and weep. I’m sure some of the families have taken that option, in a quiet way.

There are also, this being New York, the scams and fakes-- -the insurance payments that went to the wrong survivors, the drama queens who moaned and beat their breasts for loved ones that hated them, that rarely spoke— messy divorces unconcluded on 9/11— cheater boyfriends who suddenly spoke on podiums and seduced sympathetic beautiful women who would never have given them a look. I remember meeting a man— he asked me out shortly afterward--- spent an entire dinner explaining how he’d lost his soulmate on 9/11, how she’d been a concert pianist but they’d lived in a studio apartment and she worked at an insurance firm--- he kept touching my knee under the table until I stood up and asked him if he loved her so much, and since he accepted the 1 million dollar payment he had to hire a lawyer to get, why he kept her in a tiny apartment with no piano. It was mean, but it was my personal tribute to her.

Not a single one of the victims has grown cold in their grave. Anniversaries--- like holidays--- give us a window. I used to believe Christmas was the day that Jesus just might show up. Only Christmas. September 11 is the day on which we think--- God, just those years ago... at 7 AM... everything was as it was. The way on September 11, 2001 the disbelief made us keep rewinding--- last night at this time we were here, having dinner, watching television... the look-back thing... if we could only return--- we remember, we mark another anniversary, we are forced to accept that an eyeblink removes us from the moment, and the door has closed forever-- -time will stop for no man, no tragedy... there is only ‘that side’—before... and ‘this side’—after. The date just reminds us painfully of the ‘After’. All the rest is lost, gone, permanent.

I am tired of the endless replays of a moment which doesn’t ever seem to lose its edge, a gun that shoots endless bullets, a horror scene that never dilutes. The commercials--- now it is Eva Mendes, not Eva Longoria---promoting their hair product....but the documentaries are the same. No one wants to see anything but the vintage actual footage. We have learned little, our economy and lives have been drastically altered, America is no longer even worth being a target for terrorism. We have bad dreams, we wake up. For some of us life is still a bad dream.

I don’t know if I could have accepted the murder of a husband or child. I find these things so hard. One of the fathers I knew who lost his son – died on September 18, 2001. He died of grief. His wife mourns both of them by living.

Some days I wish I’d slept with the fireman. It would have personalized the whole thing— I could have felt more justified as a woman to grieve, even though there would have been no pew for me at the funeral ceremonies. I’ve heard my former friend has become an eccentric republican and hoards cats.

People are watching television. People are playing music. People are making love and conceiving children. People are dying and not getting hero’s funerals. Dying and suiciding and overdosing on prescription pills. People are getting married and flying and betting on football. Robbing buildings, raping and mugging old people, putting out fires.

At my son’s school there are 2 model towers and students hang a chain on them; the number of links you choose represents the degrees of separation from a victim. Our chains are getting longer. The years are each a link— for those closest, the days and minutes are a link. The distance is a painful ocean of links from lying beside your child, your husband, your lover--- a galaxy of never-ever. The memory, as this day reminds, has zero links. It doesn't recall or commemorate or 'remain'. It is.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene/Good night.

I was about to vent about a soundbyte that pricked up my ears last week: Mayor Bloomberg at a podium responding to the theory that the economic worries have spiked our NYC crime rate recently: People who commit crimes don’t read the Wall Street Journal.

But this was before Hurricane Irene. I’m not going to dis the category-5 media hailstorm that ate up 90% of prime time television before a literally captive audience, nor criticize the challenged reporters who were compelled to announce play by plays on-camera during a virtual no-hitter endless-inning game, thanks to the Weather Gods....

I suppose I could have made it a romantic weekend, but fearing my own emotional cabin fever, I isolated in my apartment, spoke little, binged on TV, cleaned up and organized, wasted endless hours I normally crave.... refused an invite to a wild neighborhood storm party-- read little, emailed tons, slept odd hours—kind of like a snow day, but without kids. It didn’t help that Friday I’d had an ugly gig on Houston STreet--- not a disaster, but kind of a category-1 mediocre night which I’d fled in a dark minute after pulling out my cord. Third luke-warm underpaying gig in a week of tepid disasters, of sending off my cool son to his final college year on a Port Authority Bus, like a loser...at the exact moment of an earthquake, no less. I deserved a little maternal prison time.

With the blinds drawn, I decided to use the TV as my only window to the outside. No fear, candles and transistor radio on the table... I actually listened to music. Odd things--- Keith Jarrett, friends’ cds I’d stockpiled... The Church, Traffic, then I had a brief aural affair with The National... it evokes that perfect time of my midlife when I was still passionate, when the soundtrack of my life had reverb—atmosphere, a ruby-black cloud like Tindersticks, like Nick Cave...a kind of punishing regret and nostalgia.

Washing floors on my knees, erasing the summer marks of Nikes and topsiders, I thought of the real casualties of the storm-- -the ones that might not be found for a while—the alcoholics who had to drink alone--- the guy with the brutal amputations who scowls in the Citicorp underground, the men that sleep in the church doorways on 96th and Broadway, the Mexican busboys with two jobs just to put food on their table who will be docked 4 shifts—maybe 5.

I missed my Mom calling me to check on us.... she’s too confused to organize concern for others... and the rest of them figure one less slice of the family pie would be fine. My son facebooked me from a safe distance away that the library lions were floating down Fifth Ave and I quipped that the origin of the storm was definitely his recent ex-girlfriend who’s been calling my house drunk at 4 AM and hanging up.

I’ve yet to venture outside. I’ve had these visions of some kind of lush jungle foliage lining my street instead of the saturated garbage. It’s like the eye of Irene got stuck in my head and I’m not sure what’s coming. The city seemed to unravel the storm, like it does so many people. You think you’re going to just smash right through some kind of finish-line tape...you’re going to make the award shows and the goddam history books and then you get here and there are so many paths, so many roadblocks and buildings--- bridges and tunnels and dangerous corners.. bloated rats on the tracks and sewage in the rivers, old food on your subway seat at night--- gorgeous women with grit under their nails, tall willowy men with soft words and guitars-- old blood on their hands, cigarettes that kill-- ghosts on your windowsill, angels with dirty knees, rain pissing down for endless hours on hurricane dreams.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Full Stop

My father’s old adage about lying down with dogs and getting up with fleas is no longer valid in Manhattan. And for some of us who rarely lie down at all these days, the prospect of paying $4,000 for a non-warranteed bedbug treatment is daunting.

My neighbors downstairs have been 'diagnosed'. The required letters have been sent--- far too late, I suspect—and the nagging fear of another unpayable bill for a sort of biblical-aged plague reminds that the meek will not exactly inherit this hideous economically-driven civilization, but they will annoy us like hell. And despite our blackberries and high-tech lives, we have nothing on these critters. Not to mention cancer.

One of my closest friends died a hideous and inhuman death not because she chose to smoke, but because –well, for no reason I can find. Her absence leaves a hole I cannot seem to describe, and while the wake was impressive and the Mass sombre and meaningful, the finality of the coffin is unbearable when you love someone. Death, in this culture of greed, insurance, inflated hospital bills and lawyers, brings no relief. There is no etiquette or law that prevents the vultures from descending on whatever remains, and one either spends endless sums and precious hours planning for after-death, or just throws in the dice and lets one’s family and creditors duke it out.

I prayed for her to die on an odd-numbered day; it seemed appropriate--- but this didn’t work out either. And the morning of the funeral was crisp and sunny and beautiful. Cruel, it seems—the ‘life goes on’ thing. We weep, we kneel, we pray, and then eventually we go home and eat a sandwich.

For 2 weeks I continued to dedicate songs to her— the same ones she requested while she lay in bed, worrying about her husband cheating on her and too exhausted to argue with her kids. I would fall into a shallow sleep, awake with the sensation I am suffocating— my personal way of grieving— and then pace around my room. One such night I jumped out of bed in the dark and whacked my arm so hard on the door, I saw stars and got that feeling of overcoming nausea true pain elicits. When I could breathe, I swear I felt this rush of cool air in my sweltery August room... and I could almost hear her voice saying--- Watch out, you lucky fuck-- just feel that pain and stop the drama queen bs.
AFter an hour of ice packs, it was only a bruise and not a break... I went back for a dreamless desert sleep. She crossed over. I let her go.

The next day it poured. A record accumulation. Punishing rain, someone must have once said, because it jumped to mind like a cliche. Like delayed mourning. Thank God no major celebrities died and invaded our despair... no huge front-page world disasters...the unbearable quiet parade of photos from Somalia, the heroic children slipping away without a wake or a funeral mass. Amy Winehouse’s father was handing her clothes to fans... good man that he seemed to be. Okay...we had to witness her worst druggy performances on the news... but we will remember her for her talent, in the end... her style, her conviction, the person she was.

Another acquaintance had a massive heart attack in his sleep last week. Another death, like taking a lover after a heartbreak, punctuates sorrow...frames it, in a way. He didn’t suffer--- at least not for long... but there was no closure, no deathbed handholding and promises we may or may not keep. I will keep mine, I know that. I also do not have the task of taking her clothes from the closet, of changing her sheets. I have called her phone so many times, just to hear her voice...it still kills.

One night in a morphine stupor she was ranting on about how much she hated facebook; her daughters had made her a page. We went on about pathetic it was that middle-aged adults were signing up like some kind of social security. And what happens to your goddamn page after you die? People you couldn’t stand posting histrionic messages of grief for their own self-promoting pity parties. How I’d sworn not to tell anyone she was ill, how I knew in my heart that once she died her private life would be spilled onto some social diary page like the contents of Elvis’ stomach.

I woke up last night and called her cell. Someone finally shut it down. Maybe didn’t pay the bill. So I turned on my computer and looked at old photos. I cried. I destroyed another pot on the stove as the coffee charred to black tar. Before I went to bed in the 5 AM haze and the stench of burned Starbucks, I searched for her on facebook. No photo, all info private. I friended her.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summer Memories

Okay... for anyone who’s noticed the hiatus--- my computer’s been behaving like an adult child who’s just discovered she’s adopted. Rebellious, uncooperative... turning a digital finger... and I have this increasing feeling of being the only person at the wedding who’s about to burst into tears, or to tell the bride you’d slept with the groom years before, or refused to, and had to nearly take out a restraining order... but of course all that is spilled milk or poured champagne at this point. And you don’t. You simply kiss the happy couple and stroll out to the verandah and stare off until you’ve killed enough time to leave politely.

I can’t help this inherent cynicism at festive occasions... and can’t imagine any intelligent human isn’t clever enough to do a credit check on any sort of gift horse these days—even the ones with a horn on their forehead.

It’s not what you get, it’s what you do with it--- I mean, if you get a wrapped giftbox, some of us must care more about what we will put inside it than what we will remove. Some of us will use it as a template—will paint the sides, wrap it up and pass it on, lick it, leave it out in the rain until it is soft enough to re-shape into –well, a space shuttle?

The end of the space program is a huge mistake. Not the money thing—it’s all a total waste of cash... a mammoth black hole like almost every single national program which only functions in theory. To me it’s sort of a sign that we are shutting down – that we are becoming a literal and less imaginative nation. No more visions and spacemen—let’s get with the social networking and money culture. Things we can brainstorm and then remove actual cash from, even though there are only theoretical profits. Like Bernie Madoff. Like the art market. Like the whole stinking banking system which reputedly has issued 300 trillion dollars in loans to one another and collected the interest and awarded it to its new financial astronauts in the form of astronomical bonuses. The national deficit is in their pockets-- their Ferraris and inflated art collections, their wives' colossal diamonds, their properties and investments.
Don’t get me started. Beyonce, you could feed every starving child in Africa with your income. Not to mention your wardrobe. My heart bled for you when you cried in your pathetic PR documentary. It makes me enjoy the music only slightly less.

Yesterday on the train, a tiny girl sat next to me and showed me her new dress. It had butterflies on it. It deja-vued me into a dress I had at the age of 4— a summer butterfly dress that I loved so much I slept with it. Couldn’t believe its beauty, and that it was actually mine. It had these straps that tied at the shoulders and on the family cookout occasion on which I debuted it, I couldn’t stop looking at my lap...purple and blue butterflies--- turquoise and pink. After dinner that night my pervert uncle-by-marriage managed to maneuver me into a screened-off room where he asked me the usual set of inappropriate questions secret-abusers ask children. I kept on looking down at my amazing dress, and thinking something about my eyelashes and the way my Mom said butterflies kiss.

So he never quite did anything to me, but the threat of it was there, the filthy cloud of contact-sickness with which people like him contaminate innocence. And in those innocent years, you didn’t tell your mother...and even if you shared it with a sibling, they would assure you that no one would believe it, and you kept it to yourself. Abused dogs and little Caylee Anthony even if she lived would probably never testify against their mothers. But I never wore the dress again, and I hope my tiny subway friend will wear hers in good health and innocence until it is outgrown.

And on the cusp of whatever age I am now, at the moment when what you forget equals what you remember.. .and then it begins to outweigh, and then you forget what you’ve forgotten and there are these selected memories you keep running into… I see how one can replace memories with fiction, evil with memories. And it’s not our fault if we love the rapist, and how we can’t delete and re-record that glitch in our psyche—it is now part of the pattern, that wild out-of-time drumbeat which will repeat and become familiar--- maybe even comfortable— but it will never again be even.

And maybe that is a good thing. Like my laptop which feels in a way more like a Ouija than a keyboard.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Carnival of Animals

I hear Broadway's having a good season. A record season. Do I envy the theatre-goers or the cheerful queues of tourists thronging Times Square's 1/2-price booth? Do I get a thrill seeing actors emerge late-night from stage doors, greeting excited autograph-seekers and camera-philes? I do not. I seem to lack the Broadway- audience gene and have always felt squeamish when any actor breaks into song-and-dance or flies throught the air on a harness. My parents never did this, nor my schoolteachers or friends. The spectacle thing embarasses me. In fact I have maybe a clinical mild case of Coulrophobia (Fear of Clowns) and whatever the term may be for circus-revulsion. I love animals--- I am fascinated by the slow heavy grace of camels and elephants--- not so much lions and tigers or bears, but seeing them humiliated by humans in silly costumes, knowing they have been whipped and Pavlov-tricked into behaving like toddlers on a playground--- makes me cringe. What is it besides exhibitionism for the trainer? We all know humiliated animals will lick the hand that feeds them and unfortunately kiss the ass that whips them, and never tweet or testify in a courtroom.

I mean, you have to wonder about that Siegfried and Roy incident. The straw that broke the tiger's back. And you can't blame the tiger. After all, tigers lack ethics.

No matter how many times they revise it..I don't want to see Spiderman; I didn't like the movie and I don't like superheroes, and have enough trouble grappling with Jesus, let alone ridiculous outfits and wings.

I do realize that a certain percentage of the circus audience, like the TV audience for all these survival-type competitive shows--- is just waiting to witness a near-death disaster in real time, which is unsurprising considering the Roman antecedent in which the spectacle was a death-contest without window-dressing. I find it actually incredible that the circus, in all its manifestations, manages to attract an audience. Even as a child, the Crackerjacks were my only saving grace. I knew then that the elephants were only large men in animal suits. The clowns, on the other hand, were true freaks...creatures that had escaped my cartoon nightmares and were honking and slithering and truly beyond-terrifying.

Something so sad and desperate about a circus... something Tennessee-Williams-esque and morbidly wretched. In fact, Times Square has now transformed itself from the honest greasy side-show it was in the 1970's into a full-blown circus of many rings, in which the tourist audience can participate-- in seats, on billboards, live TV broadcasts--- you name it. We have photo-gigantism, freaky M&Ms, dancing buildings, bands and musicians, bad smells, foodcarts, vendors, ringmasters and barkers, Scottish kilts and bagpipes, flags of all sorts, spontaneous streetfights, tattooed men--even a naked cowboy playing bad acoustic classic-rock. We have to go all the way out to Coney Island and even then we get a watered-down version of the old freakshow, a slightly 'Forever 21' cast on the Siren Festival, and a souped-up version of the new HipHop gunslinging party culture. Overpriced cotton candy and a disappointing plate from Nathan's.

I'll take a zoo over a circus any day, however depressing it is to think these creatures are captives in a twilight-zone sort of life-sized dollhouse--giant living toys in a diorama. There's been a little drama in the Bronx this year--- escaping animals and a few disgruntled bear incidents. All in all, though, the zoo is 'chill' and having raised teenagers, I identify with the zookeeper although he gets to shovel food in through cage bars and doesn't have to make sure the tigers have pocket-money.

Several peer-friends with daughters called Zooey undoubtedly after Salinger inspired me to refer to my son as Manhattan Zoo-ey when he is at his most lethargic/slovenly although he fails to take the suggestion that I by proxy am burdened with the role of scheduled feedings and waste-removing, all without pay or a union.
I guess I should be thankful my adolescent giraffes, although wearing the costumes of their culture, no longer suspend themselves from the building ledge or bark and bray at passers-by and juggle basketballs in the street.

I do confess that I love standing by the midtown-tunnel entrance at 2 AM in springtime for the arrival of the Ringling Brothers' elephants who parade into Manhattan in single file, holding tails, the youngest and still unjaded swinging their heads from side to side as though some wide-eyed invisible mother were singing to them 'The Wheels on the Bus'. A long elephant-life awaits them... on trains, in caged vehicles, standing on their hind-legs and twirling around in a sawdust ring for peanuts. Happy? Some of them appear to smile. Not so unlike the rest of us here. You can even get peanuts and hotdogs on every corner, and if you hang with the bohemian foxes and don't care about a seat, the price can be quite right.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Consider the Bottom

The number of days on which I miss David Foster Wallace continues to grow. Some things seem to leave flowers on the private involuntary intellectual shrine inside my head. Sleepless nights I rip petals like pages from this place, and they crumple into some painful repository where failing writers mourn and envy their heroes. I don’t like envy. In a generous artistic utopia, there is only inspiration and joy. The muse has no favorites, no competitions or prizes, certainly no leagues or playoff games, no MVPs.

I think it is the Foster in his name that rings some archetypal bell for me. It made him soft and beautiful. Maybe for him it was the noose. He loved his mother. I can’t imagine her pain—this boy who loved dogs. She couldn’t save him.

I met a young painter today who is trying already, at the age of 27, to repaint. Don’t waste the muse, I wanted to say. Save repainting for your old age, when you are out of ideas and swimming in paint and hindsight. But he is young, and it’s pretentious and immature to give advice, especially when you are a loser, as my own son claims. You see, you can be a loser even when you don’t play, even when you don’t know what winning is, nor do you ask for it, nor do you want it. But as DFW taught me, losing can be winning. What’s the difference, really? And once the noise of the crowd dies down, then what? Who’s in your bed when you get home? Someone who understands why you rip petals from the literary flower and chant silent syllables like Foster, Saramago, Fernando? How could he leave his dogs, with their neuroses and problems? I, too, consider the lobster. I was born this way, too.

Instead, I sympathized with the painter for his difficult choice of profession. After all, a pretty girl can buy some great new dress, put it on, go straight to a bar and get all kinds of complimentary feedback. She can get her drinks paid for, entice a future husband or even a psychotic stalker. The painter will spend years learning to paint, and months trying to finish a canvas which he will then have to beg people to see. And even then, he lacks the distance and depth to separate his egotistical need for beauty from what is good. In six more months, he will realize, if he is good, that it sucks. My young painter today who is so young ventured to assure me that it’s lonely at the top.

My writer friend spent most of our coffee time today talking about her hair. She’s had this Brazilian treatment which turned her unappealing mop of frizz into a sleek, appealing silhouette. $1,200. Try it, she urged. I had to promise I’d consult her stylist. Apparently there is a scholarship or hair university which allows students to experiment on the less privileged, at a huge discount. I filled out an online form, describing with scrupulous accuracy my hair texture on a humid day at the end of a week without washing or conditioning, including several outdoor rock and roll performances, a few unprotected hours in Manhattan rain, a 98-degree day and maybe some stray beer spray from a rowdy late-night. I got the email today informing me I was unqualified. The ivy league, Harvard-accepted head of hair was unsuitable for their trainee-transformations. Kind of the way the drug companies reject really sick people for their clinical trials because it makes their results look bad.

So what I did tell the painter, at the end of his soliloquy, was that I so admired his life choice, even if he might spend an entire career to arrive at the threshold of failure. Not even get to go through the door. Because who are the winners and losers here, now that art is a business, music is a sport, writing...well, writing is maybe for losers. Who reads anyway... and as my neighbor the editor warned me last week, why would anyone want to be published in this environment? I choose not to answer rhetorical questions these days, even though or maybe because I heard my son explaining –'Mom, L— doesn’t know what a rhetorical question is...'

And when the painter and I said goodbye, me promising to come to his studio...I corrected him... Actually, it’s lonely at the bottom.

Wherever you are, I hope you are not lonely, David Foster Wallace. I hope you never know about the death of your dogs or anyone else. I hope you are not missing winning or anyone the way I miss things—maybe everything, in a way—even losing.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy May 22nd Harold Camping, not Camped

So I guess there wasn’t enough drama in the world— Bin Laden is dead, terror-alerts have already lost their edge, a week without tornadoes, floods not providing TV currency-- America is once again back to obsessing about celebrity infidelity and sex with chambermaids. It is not the ethics thing that engages us hypocritical Americans; I think it is the ‘fall’. The way people watch gamblers put down three million on black and the needle goes red-- seeing someone lose it all, and the kind of reverse thrill for the guy that jumped and realizes his parachute has opened one-too-many times before. Forget extreme sports. This is IT. Even the most skeptical of New Yorkers at least made a joke about the End of the World on May 21.

I was on the subway at 6:10 PM. Not unusual...but somewhere between 23rd and 68th a guy had a seizure in the last car. There were at least 19 other people having a kind of seizure because the MTA is reducing service and the human rat population of NYC is more stressed than ever, crammed together, exchanging illnesses and bedbugs, breathing in someone else’s partly-digested pizza. But this guy... for him ,the world ended. Maybe one tiny electron-sized point for you, Harold Camping...you could make a microcosmic case somewhere.

I’m also reading Saramago’s ‘The Stone Raft’ in which a kind of a parable of hell-in- the-Iberian-peninsula opens as a slowly-expanding crack in the earth. One of his characters is an old pharmacist who feels the earth trembling and when the seismographers attach a meter to the guy, the needle moves.

My friend’s feet hurt. Not specifically his heel— just in general. He is 55. He thinks they are just wearing out--- getting ready for the end. My other friend fell and found out when they x-rayed her broken bone that she has cancer, stage 4. Everywhere. Why did they not, during all the over-charging insurance-allowed diagnostics we go through--- why did they not know this? Her heart is fine, her blood was fine...but it seems she is broken everywhere and they can’t fix her except they are flooding her with absurd poisonous concoctions which had made some Biotech executives and their shareholders rich enough to put 3 million down on a gambling table on any given night. She is in a hospital--- her world as she knew it, ending.

Forty-five minutes later they let us off the train, sweaty and edgy... it was raining... we crammed onto busses. On mine an off-duty cop was yelling at his daughter and some psycho made the mistake of commenting. They screamed for a while and then pulled guns and badges and I thought about the cop that shot himself in the head on 36th Street last week. I even closed my eyes. Braced my self for someones spattered guts. My own.

But I was soon home, cooking cheap pasta for myself and my son who is back from school and jobless but apparently not homeless and had already eaten and can dis my poor attempts at motherhood. Never for a second did he consider that the Subway Series would be postponed for eternity. And I wake up today--- as always, first tearing the dark sleeping bear from my chest, and I go through the day with his shadow, waiting.

But outside my window I can sense this music— not a streetfair or car speakers or the Mr. Softee truck or the endless practising of the girls downstairs, desperate to be perfect....but some tiny song... the daughter of the cop, with her black balloon, asking me about my guitar... her eyes begging... and I gave her that wiggled eyebrow thing--- no, not just a guitar--- a window— something you long for, not that low-life loudmouth father with the whiskey breath and the tattooes and over-pierced ears who took you to the park and vents from the fake authority of a uniform. You tiny abused sexy thing. Come with me. Remember. SIDDOWN he yells. She is pressed against the window. Sing, I say. She is waving. Her name was Adriana. She was 4-almost-5. A pink heart on her shirt. Sing.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bleeders, Repeaters...

I always dread Mother’s Day. No matter how many years pass, I wave away the wishes, as though I’ve been faking motherhood. I’ll always be a daughter first.

I keep thinking about my mother-- -the memory thing... like she hasn’t quite regressed but is in this sort of impossible labyrinth of multiple-ending thought process. No way out.

I keep testing my own brain--- going over things.

She counts the photographs in the bedroom. When I call her—she goes in there, and counts the photos like hours, like days... like some kind of time-banister she can hold as she walks steps. A kind of litany.

She doesn’t use words like brocade, ineluctable. Maybe she never did. I made assumptions. One of my flaws, she would have said. She doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t want to call attention to her lapses. A kind of pride of madness—a demure madness.
Liz Taylor.. she said, the other day.. .then nothing.

I should have taken more pictures... I was always worried about wasting film. I always hated those deals you’d get from the schools--- with 16 wallet-size photos and 5 or 6 4x 5’s, and 2 8 x 10s... all identical, so your child looked ‘packaged’ and cheap.

Liz Taylor had congestive heart failure. A broken heart. Trouble of love. Purple eyes signify bleeders. They fail at things because people expect too much. Expectations of love are not love. Then again, people who exceed our expectations make us uncomfortable.

I bought some furniture on Craigslist. I was too embarassed to reject anything. I felt sorry for every single person whose apartment I entered. Apologetic...You are buying things, not people, my friend reminds me. I am the one who cries on busses...who reads the Straphangar’s Poetry with the obscene grafitti on it and then tears up... .

I miss my husband, I think. Which one, my friend asks.
Both of them. I don’t know. Life is so complicated. My portrait will have three faces. Pathetic.

What do you do to mourn? Make a flute from someone’s bone? Weave a shirt from their hair, wear teeth around your neck? You need something of theirs... you need this...But we are all something which will blow in the wind...

I had this dream... my mother was outside in some kind of windstorm, planting dead flowers.
I’ll tell you about miracles, I said to the window...
It’s all about breathing...
all in the breath...
I woke up thinking about
the way the e changes everything.

I should have taken more pictures... I shouldn’t have worried about wasting the film...
My dead baby...she is missing.
The boy on the bus--
When I was in my 20’s, a high-school senior-- -he followed me –every day, for weeks and weeks...he rode the bus and stared at me with unbearable passion. He had
a curved penis...
My dead baby... I loaned him money to get an abortion for some girl...his dead baby...the way he looked at me on the bus... every afternoon, until I couldn’t bear his longing. This kind of thing will never ever ever happen again.

I repeat the name Kemba Walker---like a mantra... he was in my son’s bunk at camp.
He had the name – a winning name...his mother is proud.

My mother has a sad name. A nostalgic, old-fashioned name. Breathe, I think. Breathe until I can tell her I love her, which I can’t do. It’s complicated.
Her caretaker, she tells me...is not her ‘type’. Neither am I.

Here you go, spill your vein onto this paper.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

So and sew...

I’ve been reading Harold Brodkey. Okay. Don’t beat me up. I know he's self-indulgent, beyond baroque, masturbatory, etc. His characters are hyper-verbose and unapologetic about contradicting themselves. They are good and bad; guilty and not guilty. But at least he was intelligent. And every once in a while he says something brilliant and is even willing to admit he stole it from someone else. Like this one: “I think style is usually just the way someone gets past the pain of amateurishness.” I loved that remark. Style is the earmark of New York Culture. Artist John Currin and his wife were recently featured in the New York Times Style section. Not a painting to be seen...just their trendy staged apartment and their photo-shoot-ready attire. Two nerds transformed by ‘stylists’ into ‘icons’. Many more people will know their clothes than their artwork which is more or less worthy (another subject).

So stylists are the new spin artists, the new public relations power-mongers, the machinery which drives the Culture of Amateurishness we have become. Which makes sense--- because we have time for tweets but not editorials, texts but not letters; lunches are short, food is microwaved, internet speed is breakneck...even agricultural crops are souped up because people don’t have time to wait for seeds to germinate naturally. We are full-grown children...emotional dwarfs zipping around from relationship to relationship. We don’t have time to become ‘professional’ in the traditional sense. We are a half-baked society with empty wallets and full closets to testify to our enormous style.

So yesterday I went to this exhibition at the Park Avenue Armory of quilts--- not just any quilts, -- exclusively red and white quilts which was a sort of tradition because red-dyed cotton tended to outlast other colors and most of these were centuries old. The incredible thing is, at first this graphic carnival--- like looking at sheets of stamps or a roomful of flags. But as you began to navigate the space, and to focus in on the individual quilts, you realize that each one is the product of thousands of hours of patient, tedious work-- piecing toward a whole, stitching meticulously during spare minutes in an era when spare minutes were rare. Not to mention the last thing these seamstress/artists would have imagined is their intimate work publicly displayed in a palatial-sized urban hall being i-photo’d by thousands.

Very few quilts are signed, except the ones which bear embroidered names of church-members or family trees. They are surviving soft testimony of some kind of self-less diligence and pride of craftsmanship, mixed with an undeniable protestant work-ethic thing, and also some kind of love. They all radiate this human, imperfect, elegant hominess we seem to be missing. The feeling that millions of old fashioned minutes are sewn with the cares and worries and dreams and sorrows into these now-precious things we with all our stylish crap forgot about. Nothing we buy at Tiffany will ever compare. Personal ego-less masterpieces which altogether defined a certain ‘culture’ which to this audience was more a charming relic than nostalgia. For me it was like a giant Valentine. Straight to the writerless heart.

So outside into the Park Avenue March cold and the in-your-face super-sized sculpted colored flowers and insects which now grace our mall like cartoon monsters or Koons cousins. Grotesque monuments to our culture of juvenility. What happened to carving from a block of marble? Now we get these mould-made Nara giant smooth dolls without even the ‘character’ of trolls. Just huge unedible candy people. I thought the death of culture began when the M&M store opened in Times Square. What is wrong with people? Does the Emperor need to be stark naked?

The quilts... not facebook. The humanity-- the confiding, confessional thing...after all, people slept under these, sweated out illnesses, made love, conceived children.

So, tonight I'm back from another rock and roll extravaganza-marathon gig. I returned to a seething voicemail-lashing from my unequivocably brilliant writer/editor neighbor for reading Harold Brodkey. It was heartwarming. Not like the quilts, but otherwise. And at least I admitted it (Brodkey-esque?).

As a self-confessed amateur professional, I say signing autographs is overrated. All of us who’ve slept with celebrities know that. And getting compliments is like the first drink for an alcoholic. Accept them only if you’re willing to antidote it with a dose of self-pity. Because you need it. But to be berated by someone of truly superior intelligence is like a blessing. Maybe a Jewish blessing but a blessing nevertheless. You are worth it.

Amen.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness

The Japanese disaster has silenced dark voices and made any kind of whining not just politically incorrect but morally intolerable. We gasp and cry. Those of us who have been there, played to their welcoming audiences, feel maybe a bit worse. This is not a culture of drama queens. They need expertise. They need steamshovels and airlifts. They need essentials. They need everything.

Apparently we were somehow more sympathetic to the Haitians. After all, Japan is a rich country. We in NYC are used to masses of well-dressed NYU students, Tokyo fashionistas, club kids, Mitsubishis, Murakami, Manga. Of course we now need to consider lovely people who could not afford to live elsewhere than in the shadow of a nuclear plant on earthquake-prone terrain. Like most humans, we worry enough to buy insurance, but cannot really comprehend the future. We live for today. The Japanese, for the second time in history, have become martyrs for nuclear containment. Lightning unfairly strikes twice.

We here go on with our lives; we watch CNN and speak of this. On the subway home, I found myself in the midst of some loud ghetto gang coming out of the midnight showing of Battle: Los Angeles. The other nighttime riders were intimidated. These guys were blingy and high, rowdy and rough. Earthquakes dispel this kind of fear for me. I asked one about the film. They all began chiming in about how much they hated it and if they hadn’t conned their way in through the side door, they would have demanded a refund. Apparently they hardly saw any aliens, and really, I suggested--- LA is like another planet to us New Yorkers and its destruction seems some kind of fantasy anyway. Now Japan—CNN—the tsunami damage, the nuclear reactor crisis— this is terror--- real terror in realtime. But they hadn’t heard even a word about this. Nada.

Tonight Obama did his brackets on ESPN. Okay.. .so is he supposed to be tearing his clothes and weeping? Life goes on... life goes on everyday. People die---we are devastated—and then we walk out into the sunshine and order our Starbucks. Those of us who cut ourselves and refuse to eat? Does it help? It does not. Money helps. A little, although I don’t trust texted $10 contributions in a world where American banks managed to repay several trillion dollars of debt in a very short time. People are facebooking like crazy, arranging benefit gigs where they get to have a slightly larger audience than maybe last month, in the name of a good cause. Maybe U2, Muse, Kanye can make a dent. I want to help but getting on a stage with competing loud guitars and raising maybe a few hundred dollars at best seems to do little besides medicating troubled egos.

Today I picked up a random book of poetry and began to read. It was okay. Nothing earthshaking. Bad word. But after 30 pages or so, I came upon my own scribblings--- maybe a few years old. I’d read this before-- -didn’t even remember. Not a familiar line until my own scrawl. So does this mean that the poems were not memorable? More like I’ve read so many less-than-spectacular at this point that they’ve lost significance. Like a pretty girl in a crowd. Is it just the nature of life that as the days and moments mount, everything loses significance? Experience is diluted? Of course a needle stab is a needle stab. Over and over. But the rest? How many times were we absolutely knocked out by a song or a painting or some book when we were teenagers? Do kids still get these epiphanies? Some do, I guess. First loves are still painful, no matter how unromantic facebook and texting and multitasked relationships seem. But the whole muck of information and websites and twitters--- what has this done to dilute the soup of human thought? Is there even a floating particle of carrot or potato anywhere? The information on these disasters--- are we numb? Why is it that the yen has reached a new high against the dollar?

Maybe the 2012 thing is real. Maybe the Biblical deluge is overdue. We’ll have to get someone like Harold Bloom or the Nobel Prize committee to help us weed out the ark-worthy. And what if one of the penguins turns out to be gay? Doesn’t want to mate? Then it’s really the end-end.

My Mom has some form of Alzheimer’s. To me she just seems happier. I can’t help thinking she was sick of all the stuff in her head and just let go. She was sick of my father whining about dinner and sick of getting her nails done and her hair cut. She went out in a homemade rowboat, in the midst of some sea, and just let the oars go. It’s kind of peaceful. All she has to do is float. Other people take care of her. Occasionally she calls me and alerts me that her 92-year-old husband is having an affair. But usually she seems peaceful and happy. I wonder if she has registered the earthquake. She seems safe.

The crosstown bus came, like always. In this Obama era I know if a driver looks at me with contempt it’s not a racial thing; he just hates me. When you’re middle aged, it’s easier to be hateable. Like dead flowers or just someone they have to brake for. But this guy talks to me, he’s glad to see me. We’re both glad that there are no fallen buildings and that we both have been working and we will have a meal and hot water. Life is good here. We have to worry about the Japanese people and do our best, but we are also allowed to watch the Sweet Sixteen and have cake. The kid who died on the basketball court--- his team finished the game.

Today I read a piece somewhere alleging that Obama is not equipped to handle multiple crises. Well who is? God? Maybe Kobe can dribble 2 balls and dunk 3, but if 4 passes come at his head he’s going to get a concussion. Earthquakes.... things that Can’t Happen Here. They happen. I don’t know if anyone else saw this footage-- from a horrific tsunami-ravaged landscape-- a dog, barking at the cameraman...and when he followed, filming, he was led back to another dog, lying on its side, wounded. The barking dog was distraught... but as the cameraman backed away, the dog sat down again with his friend. Something so unbearable about that shot.

Obama and I both bet on Kansas.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Where Art Thou

I've taken to reading anthologies. I'm low on fresh 'log', appalled by the Times lists, the New Yorker...David Foster Wallace has been dead nearly 2 1/2 years. So the ones I choose are the so-called alternative collections--what I like mostly is they don't separate fiction and non-fiction, poetry or graphic narratives. It's random-- the catchword of our culture, and the former title of a publishing gargantua. Only now, post-mortem, do I get the humor.

It's not the writing per se, but the reminder that all these niche-writers co-exist---post-Katrina journalists, Haitian activists, torture survivors, doodlers, animal rescuers, ex and future cons, sadists, perverts, and those compelled by unbearable lives. I like trusting Eggers et al to muck through Esquire and Slate issues and reprint with font democracy-- no ads, no boldface bylines.

Walking through Chelsea today I am reminded about our challenged language and why, despite the OED addition of colloquialisms and IM acronyms, we rely on strings of adjectives to describe the enormous range of objects which ally themselves under the noun 'Art' (which I first mistook, having heard Shakespeare at an early age, as a verb; maybe closer to some meaning). Galleries today are anthologies at best... but the whole system of nomenclature needs an overhaul. The auction houses have for years been struggling with a soft-focus line between Photography, Contemporary, Latin, Chinese...when a huge number of works wander across borders.

And for those who actually follow the philosophical progression of what art is or is not (I had the course in grad school--- with the anthology that is so dated it's become current)...the true vanguard can be unexhibitable. I'd even suggest that non-marketability might be a prerequisite. But that's like recording music only mosquitos can hear... one risks deleting a huge audience which has not just made 'art' as necessary as a household TV, but a virtual Wall Street institution. The incredible thing is---unlike fine and large diamonds which are only for the monied--- it's the same $10 paint and canvas--- or whatever... and who sets the line between what is auctioned at Hotel Parking Lot $19.95-and- under sales...or the top lot of the evening Contemporary auctions. Piles of wrapped candy, dead fish--- basketballs... what if a Hirst spin-art piece found its way into the Marriott ? How many Hedge Fund masterminds would pick it out?

So what is art? Should it be domesticated, like lap-dogs, for the rich? Is it 'decorative'? I admit to loving my paintings. I love the colors, the composition--sometimes the subjects make people squirm, but there's an element of aesthetic priority there...
Still...I expect the artists on the edge to be doing things that are hideous, disturbing, provocative. I also concede the concept of the art 'market' can only support some conceptual projects. Of these, we need souvenirs for our walls--- drawings or even photos or bits of hair and blood. Saleable things. In the old days, foundations supported public art projects. Now corporations support them--- the same corporations which own and trade these artists-- whose CEOs sit on museum boards and allocate funds for their artists' exhibitions. Is this different from insider trading?

Am I getting old or do the endless columns of reviews seem to be rehashing the same praise in the same language for the same cyclical reinventions of the past 2 or 3 decades? We have copyrights for music, but the mindless glut of pop melodies has us audio-tranquillized so we scarcely care whether we've heard a song last week or 25 years ago. And does it matter? When a forgerer can't even get away with an exact copy...is unintentional imitation anti-art? Sherrie Levine and Mike Bidlo have made a career of it...

I spend less and less time in galleries... I am in and out...can't find much to dwell on, and I am less well-dressed than the average weekend gallery gawker these days. Not to mention the staff. Larry Gagosian really does resemble a Duane Hanson real-estate agent. And obviously he has his own tanning bed. Something truly inapppropriate and downright sleazy about these new gallery moguls. Caveat emptor. The business is self-regulating. Dangerous. Greedy. I pity the artists. Other artists envy and pity the artists. Some artists ignore it all and keep their work under their beds. This is the work we need to see. The unpublished, the unphotographed, the unanthologized.

When I was 21 and graduated with awards from my highbrow Art History program, a well-known philosopher/aesthetician called me and asked me for a date. He was rather old--
not handsome but huge on brain-appeal, and I guess I was bohemian-hot back then, and I was new in New York City, single, and fair game. Of course I was terrified and overwhelmed. Flattered. He took me to see Rocky. By the 4th raw-egg drink, I realized he was putting me in my deserved place. He's now been dead for decades but I wonder where he'd have taken a Gagosian to lunch. McDonald's? Maybe the dumpsters behind Chelsea Piers which one could see from his galleries were anyone to open a window and let some reality and fresh air in.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oh Say Can You Sing

I’ve just been to the gym and concluded there are 2 kinds of people in the world: those that come upon a disabled piece of exercise equipment and move calmly on, and those that whine and complain and feel somehow not just deprived but personally attacked because of the small snag in their daily routine. I generally wonder if these people have children, these self-absorbed, micro-universed ego-damaged creatures, or whether there is a higher concentration of them in Manhattan.

Actually there is maybe a sub-group, here: those that try to fix the broken pulley—not for themselves, but for someone else whose life seems somehow ruined by this equipment failure, whose entire routine and night has been irreparably altered and skewed and derailed. We guiltier-than-thou would-be samaritans who empty our pockets of small bills and change at the slightest sidewalk appeal, when our own kids have found only half-stuffed stockings on the homemade Christmas hearth.

I went up to the Bronx today on the subway--- spring in the air and I found the population laid back and kind; stores happy to see you, none of the competitive shopping bags once you get past Grand Concourse. Teenage mothers with oversized strollers everywhere, young hip-hop couples sharing ipod earphones, 3 and 4 toddlers in tow, parents looking barely legal. Don't these people have jobs? Go to school? They seemed carefree, festive.

At 125th Street on the way back a West Indian drummer--- singing and playing traps which must have been a haul getting the kit downstairs and set up--- but with this golden voice—smooth and authoritatively ‘professional’—talking to the MTA workmen who were grooving away to this guy... not missing a beat, better than any performer at this year’s sad Grammy show which I nominate for a Writerless Much Ado About Nothing Award. Two young dancers doing that robotic thing but in this subtle, graceful incredibly original way —it was breathtaking —amazing... an edgy minimal 22nd century break-dance thing, kissing the filthy floor, defying gravity and their own joints...I was literally mesmerized. The best $1 show I’ve seen in years. And that voice. Where are Jay Zee and Clive Davis? Not on subway platforms. And these guys were free. They didn’t care. They ruled their stage.

So did anyone else notice the unprecedented number of Grammy performers who sang off-key? I mean, we’re all flawed, but with the ear-sets and personal monitors... okay, granted they may have had audio issues, but what happened to ‘singing’? Personally I was disappointed in Katy Perry, felt Otis rolling in his grave during Bruno Mars’ appalling performance, and yes, I used to like Arcade Fire, but they came off like a pretentious bunch of over-enthusiastic high-school geeks in 30-something bodies. Okay...Eminem and Rihanna got a thumbs-up-- that song's been in my head for 6 months. Aretha stayed home. Besides, her footage at the beginning--- the cameo soundbytes---put them all to shame. God, make her well. I hope she didn't watch too much of the show.

I missed Pink. I missed Prince. I liked the Lady Gaga egg better than the performance. I miss James Brown and Michael Jackson. I guess Bob Dylan has poetic license but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh. Mick, you were the only bright spot. Barbara--- nice to see you in that Scarlett O'Hara used-to-be-a-stage-curtain dress thing, but I would have preferred to just imagine your voice. And I'll defend Christina. She's just this year's Britney Spears. Britney has class compared to most of the MTV girls now...and she had talent.

So maybe I’m a cranky old woman now but I don’t want to see Spiderman and humans in silly costumes flying around in a theatre. Wasn’t the film enough for these people? Don’t they get enough cinematographic pyrotechnics with Disney and those crazy warrior movies? What happened to 'the play', acting? Or maybe the possibility of witnessing a fatal accident attracts the New York audience? Can't they buy tickets to the circus? Superman masqueraded as a human. It was amusing. He kissed an actual woman in a reverse-superhero feat. Humans don’t do well trying to play superheroes. We don’t have these talents and all those wires and computers can’t really bring it on. I miss Peter Pan, with the visible wires on Mary Martin. It was conceptual. Broadway is all mixed up--- plays about rock bands, Cirques doing Beatlemania, musicals about music, movies about ballet, musicals about movies....

Give me the singing drummer in the subway— grassroots multitasking. You can get right up there and hear him sing on key without a monitor or a microphone. Sweet and smooth and rhythmic and melodic. Making it up as he went along. And he was nice. Took requests. Asked me if I wanted change when I put my bill in.

I do want change. Or maybe I don’t. I’m still trying to peel off pieces of 2010 that are stuck to me like old wallpaper. 2011 could be the year of democracy. It is also the year of the rabbit, the year of Oprah. All bets are off.

A black suede glove was lying on the north end of the platform like a dying animal. My son asked for North Face gloves for Christmas. He didn’t get them--- he loses a pair a week. But here... one left one... I flipped it over with my foot to see the logo. If you wait long enough, you do get what you wish for... maybe if I picked it up, the mate will be waiting on some sidewalk somewhere, underneath the melted snow, in April when gloves are useless. But as I flipped it over, it seemed to gesture—‘Help’. Gave me the chills. ‘Help’. I watched it now from the wall a few steps away... it was clearly asking me to put some money in it. I watched as one of the hiphop dancers picked it up and turned it into a kind of puppet. Wished I had the other one to put in the red ‘A’s’ cap as he passed it around.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

31 Ways To Say Rice

Something about snow makes me crave white rice. Hot, steamy...
Of course I’d prefer sushi rice or even pedestrian Chinese rice--- but mine is cheaper and maybe because measuring things seems absurd late at night--- it always comes out American and institutionally pasty anyway.

I looked out my window at 5 AM; even in the courtyard the airconditioners and sills were iced like Christmas wedding cakes. A silhouette backlit by a flat-screen was looking back at me--- unmoving, creepy. For those of us who are normally walled in by the night, it is a switch to be whitewashed, avalanched.

On the way home from my gig I couldn’t help noticing 3 wrapped and cardboarded bodies tucked in against the 3 huge doors of the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus, like horizontal shrouded niobids in a tryptych. Sculptural and symmetrical, dusted by white like some kind of forgiveness for the tattered huddled corpses they are forced to inhabit, wrapped in every piece of material they could scavenge. These are the lucky ones— they got there first. Seniority. Was there a moment in time when these churches were unlocked? When it was not a sin to provide shelter and warmth for the Manhattan Untouchables? We bleeding hearts who cry for stray dogs and donate for mistreated pitbulls?

Downstairs in the 96th Street C station another human creature wrapped in newsprint, old comforters and black plastic at the end of the platform, by the dumpster. Three large rats romping around her things--- a paper cup, a few bags and salad containers. A woman-- must protect herself--- a youngish woman with braids.
"Do you need something?", I found myself hypocritically blurting out, feeling ashamed and stupid....
"No", she answered, in a quiet voice, refusing my pathetic $1-- "I don’t need nothin’...I’m fine."

Fine, she is. Doesn’t need. On the tail of the storm—- 5 AM, I consult the television God. Bloomberg has called off school. There’s no 4th term anyway, so who really cares that the weather has eroded his ratings? On the other channels--Celebrity Rehab— yet another histrionic but entertaining episode; I Used to be Fat— well, I'll pass---My Secret Addiction which documents a woman who eats chalk and another who can’t stop licking household bleach. A Medical Mystery show about people who can’t stop eating—one who has been forced by a gastric band into bulimia because her eyes are literally larger than her stomach. Another who just shovels it all in until she weeps with despair... then wakes up and starts again. Needs. The food budgets of such people. The woman in the subway can ill afford these problems. What makes them need this way, these television people?

I thought about my father when I was small-- French-door-shut into his den on a snow-day behind white chintz curtains, J&B-ing himself into blackness. Wondering which of the 30 some-odd Eskimo words for snow would be used to describe that scene. Which would be used for the Manhattan storm which came with thunder and lightning and gave us all an excuse to stay in, to drink, to sleep, to listen? The rice is quiet. Orphanage rice. Prison rice. Homeless Shelter rice.

In my email tonight a notice that a guitarist I know vaguely has suicided. He’d been depressed; I was snotty to him the last time he stuck his head in the door while I was playing. Jesus.
I can imagine it was the snow--- the relentless muting effect of this miraculous stuff which ought by rights to be gray or dirty like ash--- and instead it is un-urbanly pure, perfect, a-worldly. When you have smoked and drank everything in the house, you have no gig, your wife is across town with your kids who are learning to hate you not for what you did but for what you didn’t do... and here are the veils, the fake forgiveness, the trick blessing. Mother Nature with her finger to her lips...the painful bridal reminder for some of us who don’t ski but who sit on a cold windowseat in an old hoodie, smoking our last cigarette, making promises.... Eleanor Rigby in our head....rich enough for shelter, too poor for a view, our guitar leaning pathetically against the door like a patient lover... the rice in the pot on the stove... rice on the church steps, snow on the cemetery grass...silhouette in the window... the dark lightens, the relentless snow lets up, your last fucking thoughts are nothing but cliches--- snowblind, fade-in, whiteout...
the winter rice in the pot... spreading like white ash... all fall down...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Noir Morality Tale

Okay. Here is a Writerless-style New Year's morality tale. I’m not even sure what that means…but I think I mean the kind you don’t quite 'get' from those medieval mystery dramas:

So after years of longing-- of hourly, daily, drawn out minutes of obsessive vague craving for not just someone but the absolute possession of your self by this moment of completion, of everything you are-- where it becomes a kind of religion, an utter devotion to the pursuit of this moment...

There you are, in the perfect bed of the perfect moment--- you have touched his perfect body with your mind, as Leonard Cohen says—and the reward of it, the ecstasy of knowing everything you are has entered this person as he enters you--- every word you have ever spoken is on the tongue of this night, and as his breath begins to even and deepen, and you are drifting into this after-sleep of the perfect night, you miraculously (the mystery-play thing) watch yourself sit up… and pause on the edge of his bed--- the sheets draped around you… and you feel your bare feet touch the floor, you calmly and deliberately put on the clothes he took from you--- like a palindrome—and you walk down his dark hallway to the door… knowing you can go back--- you are still in the moment--- you can go back to his blessed warmth, to that bed and the night and the body you have created, the two of you—this body which is you and he, which understands and is everything you have waited for… and you open the door to the cold hallway with the glaring sconcelight which is so harsh and hellish… and you pause again, knowing full well what you do-- knowing his pain will be nothing compared to your own, and you are driven/compelled-- -there is no choice… it unfurls in front of you--- the sound of the door latching, and the walk down the hallway to the elevator, and your hideous baptism into the dawnlight of the rest of your life… and there you are, on the train, your clothes slightly misbuttoned, your hair uncombed, the scent of him on you like a drug, and you ride away from this night.
In an oarless small rowboat you float on from the shipwreck of the moment into the endless sea of the rest of your life, into the reverse of the longing.

And he will awaken, and cry out for you, and then he will wonder and begin his journey. He will take your necklace and your barrettes he finds in the sheets, and hold them to his face; you will pray that he makes a small shrine, that he lights candles and worships the possibility of your return. But of course he begins to hate you. After five unanswered voicemails he flushes these things into the Manhattan sewers along with pieces of your heart, and he steels himself for his life so that even if he passes you on the street and your pulse is hammering in your mouth and your head is shaking on spineless memory-twigs, he will not look.

You toss and turn in your bed of shipwreck; every night is a worse storm, like some mystery hell-planet of bad dream-weather, and every day is a walking disaster where you are an emotional amputee and he is the aching broken limb that you cannot repair, and to hate yourself is nothing—to speak is a revulsion, to think is to step with all your weight on that broken limb…

You are the open-wound version of yourself you have created. You are the director of your own deliberate fate-- the camera, the actor, the writer, the sole audience, the film itself. The blackness. The simultaneous birth and death of love, the perverted Promethean punishment of your life you have devised, only it is your heart not your liver and it is the god-author of yourself who lets it be eaten and there is no anesthesia of time because every day the pain is equal, the blood is fresh.

You go through the motions—you are living, you drink coffee, learn to speak with someone else’s voice… you can hear, you can see a bit, you pass as human on the street and occasionally lock eyes with another wrecked being—another heinous criminal who will go unpunished because you are your own victims and what is the moral here? Are you better, are you worse, those who crucify themselves, who cut themselves and pierce themselves, who pay others to carve pictures on our skin, who employ specialists to abuse us, to hurt us… those who hurt others to hurt ourselves… are we better? Do we stare horrified and mute as our doctors ask us where it hurts and to describe the pain on a scale of 1 to 10 and around us are the injured and ill and medically torn, the victims of earthquakes and deformity and falling buildings, of firestorms and deluges, who have had children and limbs ripped from them and live with this indelible noise?

Shall I compare thee with a summer’s horror? A winter mass-killing?

I am this morning sleeplessly wondering whether there is anything behind one of the billion darkened windows or in the stacks of some e-library or a warped profile on match.com or okcupid which admits to stalking an endless corridor of its own palindromic fate, editing the un-editable neverending of a morality tale, tasting the addictive immortality of that moment out of which I am doomed to watch myself walk.


Fade to black.