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.