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.