Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Giving Tree

It is Christmas night.  Something urgent came to me and I woke up my 23-year old son who is here, after a day of quiet holiday inertia and basketball.  He was cross, unreceptive.   I have failed to pass on the gift I’ve had all my life—the one that wakes you with mad urgency, the one that made butterflies talk when you were little--- the one that let you see the names of things, like a sign--- before you knew words.  The ‘privilege’ that strange man at the gallery recognized some months ago.  

I heard the other night in some film that ‘spirits’ appear as reflections of light or tiny orbs in old photographs.  Maybe it is my missing Grandma— undoubtedly a ‘waker’ and taken away in the prime of her legendary beauty--  that shines from the teary eye of  my 3-year-old portrait.  She is the one who would have understood me, who died for love, who suffered for art, who comforted me when I cried for no reason, for something I didn’t understand, who led me through the piles in the attic to the right books, reading over my shoulder in her curtainous wedding gown.  I could smell her hair, like a kind of sweet fog of musk.

So we were sitting in the wet hallway last night, tediously sawing branches from our orphaned last-minute tree with a dull bread knife—a million strokes--  and images from past trees were appearing like Christmas lights... always especially missing my one truest love who smelled faintly of pine… the one we buried, who occasionally sings through me like my lost Grandma, so young and beautiful... the one who loved to be awakened, the one whose song I will never get right. 

My girlfriends are annoyed with me today.  They were partying and drinking and meeting.  I veto their priorities and dislike their escorts.  Conversation was clumsy and stupid, last night; I was feeling the Christmas bad elf on my shoulder, I was snide and bitchy and rude… and then suddenly I am back like a holiday pumpkin-- it is just me with the bored tired kids carrying back the abandoned (free) tree-- the dark, the rain, the wet pine needles and the sap… me craving solitude and the dark—the tree lights, Sigur ros or Mogwai or Low, maybe some depressed Scott Miller--- and the Dickensian Christmas thing passing through… better days… sexier days… days when we were both waiting.

By dawn I hear my neighbor through the wall—the one with the midlife crisis and the newly shaved head and the motorcycle jacket who has now taken up slide guitar.  It’s bearable this morning.  Downstairs they have a new piano and a fake-book version of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.  Less bearable.  Outside is that layered kind of winter sky you get in the mountains.  Someone has blessed the city today…the late-afternoon feels blended with sunset. Couples in buildings are fighting, couples are disappointed with their gifts…couples are proposing to one another, nursing hangovers, watching the Knicks lose.  Kids are getting high in courtyards, sneaking alcohol in bedrooms, vomiting up their fruitcake and eggnog.  Dogs are overfed and sleeping, bankers with full stomachs are on Park Ave. sharing cigars, thinking about their mistresses—loving or cursing their kids, counting their bonuses, the fictional fiscal cliff, refusing to regret.  Someone is nursing a loved one through a final Christmas—always extra people die at Christmas—in a sense it’s a great day to do it…and others are missing their wives and husbands who no longer love them, children who despise them, children who were cruelly murdered-- grieving, refusing to grieve. 

Our presents were few and inexpensive but smart… still, I must cook and laugh and realize that although my son may love the tree in that Shel Silverstein way, his genetic buck stops there, and having his sleep disturbed now, he is annoyed and accusatory in a way that I'm sure my rigid imaginary Grandfather was.  No one here will sit with me and listen and feel things pass through us.  

Still, somewhere in this city-- -and in other cities-- I know there are the sitters like me who will not take what comes up on the wheel but will wait it out… past the disappointment, past the redundancy of middle age.....even if it never comes, because there is an exhausted Santa who cannot possibly be everywhere…will wait for the gold angel, the perfect story, the man who will not say ‘but no one ever will love you the way I do’, even though he didn’t, but will light up with mischief when you crack the door at 4 AM because something has just occurred to you, and he ‘gets’ it… he has had it all—the hallucinatory sex and the endless drives home over terrifying bridges and hellish rivers—he gets the skewed jokes and the references and why this song is the best, and the tearful laughing, and Barcelona, and sleighbells in the subway, and why the Christmas rain feels like cool acid on your face, and the smell of your Grandmother’s hair in the pre-dawn of the last night of the last endless week of some urgently cold year.   

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Black Christmas

I have been dreading this moment, afraid of oversentimentalizing this shooting, this massacre, wondering why that word begins with a sacred prefix—it doesn’t look so evil in print… and how names change everything--- the way we’ll startle now when we hear these—Sandy Hook, Lanza, even Connecticut.  

We have listened to Anderson Cooper skipping over the few unpronounceable last names, refusing to repeat that of the shooter;  we have watched the CNN guy drawing diagrams on the screen.  We have not seen the chalk outlines and the blood, we have not seen parents beating their heads on the ground,  on walls, wanting to hold the corpses of their children before they are cold.  We have heard no screams.  We have imprinted the streets and landmarks of Newtown like a summer memory, we have tried to compare and contrast one horror with another; we have imagined our own phone call, the unbearable moment between the siren and the scream. 

We are all avoiding one another in the grocery store--- we do not look; we are guilty because our children are safe, we are buying food for our dinner, counting money--- things that are unthinkable for fresh grief.  We go home and turn on our televisions, some of us wondering why the image of the Palestinian father waving the corpse of his child several days ago at the Gaza border did not bring tears to our president.   Those New Yorkers still homeless and cold from the hurricane may feel more neglected and sad.   Bon Jovi and Bruce have spoken too many times now; they are silent.  This is not climate change or retribution of Mother Nature or even a drunk driver.  Maybe the shooter watched the concert on television.  It’s fairly likely that he did.  He may even have watched with his mother, shared popcorn or her home-baked Christmas cookies, no matter how much he hated it. 

I have gone over the seven sins tonight.  I am guilty of most of them, at some time or another.  I walked in the cold rain at midnight; it felt like some kind of punishment.  I passed the dogwalkers talking to illicit lovers on their phones, the secret ice cream eaters,  the possibility junkies—exchanging cards and sharing cigars with their neighbor.  I can rattle off all seven, although I often leave one out.  I mean--- I commit at least one every day—lust (passion--is this not good?), sloth, anger with frequency.   Gluttony I cannot afford, nor greed—and envy—well, I leave that to my neighbors when they compare their husbands’ end-of-year bonuses.  Pride—well, are we not supposed to be proud of our children when they are good, when they are brave?

I am mostly angry today.  None of this makes sense.  I try to feel empathy for the shooter, who apparently had none.  It is unbearable to empathize with the parents; any of us who has lost a child, who has even had one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls which years later has scarred over but still feels like a wound.   Where the fear is a noose and sometimes we hear the word ‘hospital’ or ‘jail’ and we breathe.   But we know the odds are against us, somehow.  And whether our own or our neighbor’s, we will have to bear some day the unbearable.  

My own was so young I have no photograph.  She had no favorite toy animal or song; there was so little to say.  I have only the reality that nothing rhymes with heartbreak or even with Christmas.   And on cold rainy nights when we try to grace someone else’s grief with our own, there are used condoms on the street, and on some blocks there are needles and half-empty coke bottles, and people sleeping, in old blankets and cardboard boxes, on church steps.

I am walking with the ghosts, glad my own drivers license has expired and who can ever afford a car anyway, because I’d be the one picking up hitchhikers, hoping I’ll come across someone I am missing, or their double, hoping I’ll make it across some bridge and maybe change someone’s life so when they get home they’ll put on their black clothes and pick up a rifle and decide not to load it—to go out for a walk in the rain or a drive, maybe, and sit on someone’s grave in some churchyard cemetery with a few cans of beer, and it will be enough.   

But the sirens will never stop, the scream is always there, within or out-of-earshot.  The dread is part of the prayer, the whisper is part of the message, the blood is on the inside or the outside.  For some of us God is inside the church; for others He is in the graveyard.  For some He is the stuff inside a needle, or in a glass, for some He is a rifle, or the madness inside our head.  For some He is the space between the siren and the scream:  the quiet space, the dead space, this silent night where you have to know about stars to believe they are behind the foggy mist.  And where you just might pretend for a few dreamless hours, in some light-years-distant non-lonely universe, that yes, there are sins and there are even maybe guns, but there is no ammunition-- that they forgot to invent that-- only blanks, and some fear, yes... but it is night and  things are as they were, and as they will be, same as it ever was…

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Remember (the Axis-Bold-as-Love kind)

November always leaves too quickly for me.  It is my favorite of the cruel months—nearing the end, but far enough for quiet sinning reverie--- still the magic feeling of 9 and newness, and the soft ember of the word.  The annual Hendrix birthday gig brings up a sad tale I have been unable to write or commemorate—not in a song or a poem… so I will try here, in the lingery last hours of the month of long lunescent Rockwell Kent-ish nights….

My friend met this woman on a crosstown bus—she picked him up, she’d boasted… he looked so eligible and kind and ‘presentable’; she, the black-haired, black-clad, black-eyed stranger who in another time might have had a veil.   The sex was great—you could feel that… he treated her with uptown attention, and she led him across the soft boundary of downtown edge.  They’d show up late at my gigs—both of them tall and giggling… and they’d dance, like some old-world ballroom couple… they’d drink, go out to get high, come back and dance until the end.  Although she was much younger, she instantly embraced my dark sisterhood, and  confided with abandon things I felt I hadn’t deserved.

Anyway, it went on--- the relationship had its webs--- maybe a wanted or unwanted pregnancy, a dangerous flirtation with one of his friends…. some street drama, some interior drama…the usual.  When they’d show up, I was happy.  She always asked us to play ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and we would oblige.  Jimi would have loved her--- she was leggy and unafraid and so dangerous in that black-Irish witchy sort of way. 

I visited her once or twice at her place; it was an appalling mess.  Clothes everywhere, food containers, ashtrays overflowing--- bottles, the scent of marijuana and sex and perfume.  She was obsessed with shoes and had maxed out not just her own credit cards in a sort of charming way because everything was smashing on her, and worth every cent. 

But most of all, she wanted my hat-- the old black Stetson which I could let her wear, but couldn’t give up.  Until one day she called me urgently---I had to come over that minute… and she greeted me stark naked except for the new hat—she’d managed to find a twin—and her great hoarse infectious laugh and a joint and a filthy martini glass.  So her fall outerwear debut—the hat and a new black Raymond-Chandler-esque raincoat, with whichever of her spectacular shoe choices--- was well received by all.

As the year wore on, her silly insistence on my friend making an honest woman of her began to wear on him.  He was distancing himself slightly from her indiscretions, her excursions, her junky ex-boyfriends, the debt and the hangovers.  I, of course, forgave her everything.  All I had to do was watch her dance, listen to her stories, receive.  You are my angel sister, she used to tell me; when you find a diamond on the street--- it will be me, giving.  

One day he called me—in utter grief.  She’d been standing on the platform at West 4th Street, 11 AM, about to change trains—and the rush of tunnel wind blew off her hat.  Undoubtedly she was stoned--she generally smoked a joint before her morning coffee--  so as she reached for the hat, with impaired leggy grace,  she leaned in and something jutting from the oncoming train slammed into her head with mythological force.  And there she was, stunned and silenced, the white skin and the black hair, with streaks of red now, bleeding profusely into the lap of an NYU law student who spoke eloquently to the NY Post, the hat trampled and lost somewhere by the voyeuristic crowd.  She was DOA, in her black trenchcoat--- hatless. 

Somehow I felt responsible.  Somehow I couldn’t grieve.  It was more than I could stand.  Her family came and probably witnessed with horror the mess of her apartment, apparently made judgments, because they refused to disclose the circumstances of her funeral.  I craved a piece of her, I wanted to call the law student who maybe had a bloody souvenir.  But I couldn’t find her. 

I have yet to find a diamond, but I am always looking down and occasionally pick up a shining dime which I know is a wink from somewhere.  And I silently dedicate the Hendrix always to her.  Maybe they are together somehow, and he is playing 'The Wind Cries Mary' or 'Angel' or something new he wrote just for her.  And she is dancing—with the shoes, and the trenchcoat she never paid for, naked underneath,a cigarette in her mouth, the mascara’d eyes closed, locks of black hair falling everywhere, wearing Jimi’s hat.  She had a hat, I complained to some version of God, who took her for his own one rainy November wish, eleven moons in, never to grow old.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

General Knowledge

I had this book of riddles when I was small... and besides the chicken and moron jokes, there were a few philosophical sphinx-worthy entries that have stayed with me.  One was 'To What Question can you never answer 'yes'?  The answer was 'Are You Sleeping?' but of course this was the PG version of 'Are You Dead?'  I don't quite know why, but trying to filter the meaning of the Petraeus resignation today, I kept coming up with alternate riddles like: 'To What Question can you never answer yes and keep your military appointment?' Or for Eliot Spitzer... '..and keep your political office'... or for Anthony Wiener... or Bill Clinton, who maybe never actually answered the question... etc., and kept his office, his wife, the money, and besides a karmic and perhaps metaphorical cardiac crisis, he seems to have maybe increased his rockstar politician status.

But really, what is it about this 21st century culture that makes adultery so newsworthy?  And considering the horrific bloopers and perverse incidents that have smudged the broad heroics of our troops in the Middle East, is a little romance or a little affection really criminal?  It hadn't really occurred to me that there were 'General' groupies... but why not?  And why can't the media leave politicians to their jobs and let them have their human flaws.  God knows our Founding Fathers dipped their pens in several inkwells and whichever bullet assassinated JFK, it was undoubtedly not fired by a jealous ex.

As a musician, I've heard all kinds of tales about the habits of rockstars-- their sexual preferences, their obsessive little idosyncracies... but rarely do I hear this kind of thing from the guys in their band.  Professionals know they're privy by proximity to a certain TMI level... and they respect this.  It's really no one's business.  To be crass, how many times have you found yourself in the next stall from someone you know on another level and absorbed information you simply flush away and delete before you go back to your table?  No one's business.  So what is wrong with these people?

A mere week ago I was biting my nails and fretting about the elections.  Has anyone noticed how quickly the looming monster-head of Mitt Romney has receded?  A bit like the Wicked Witch of the West after the bucket of water  I read today his Facebook fans were abandoning him in droves.  Just like that....all his beautiful wickedness... pay no attention to that man behind the mask...whatever...  we are Mitt-free for at least 4 more years...onto the horrific hurricane aftermath, the long winter of financial difficulty for my small family, thankfully untouched in our neighborhood,  the pathetic inappropriate omni-coverage of this Petraeus scandal like the military version of Bachelor.  I suppose the Hollywood treatment of CIA and FBI has done much to bolster their image... and am I the only one who wondered why a 4-star general and super-hero would feel the need to color his hair?  Has anyone taken a poll of Republican vs. Democrat hair-dyers in Congress?

When I was kid, reading my little joke book, I also had Bible class.  Among the enigmatic Ten Commandments, I misunderstood Adultery as kids pretending to be grown up--- maybe lying about it--- or maybe something that happened to cream.  I didn't ask questions back then.  So how can people be criminalized for consenting private adult love?  What is inappropriate except this voyeuristic supposition... or the suspicion that something official and dangerous was exchanged, betrayed?  Can't he pull a Bill Clinton....or is he too honest?  What do Mormons consider adulterous anyway?  And what did Mitt have to do with this whole story which broke on election day?  Was this some Republican desperate last-minute attempt to slime the administration and  complicate the Benghazi story?  Is the insinuation that Petraeus was too busy having biographical sex to respond to a crisis?  Is there something more heinous for which the sex scandal is simply a smokescreen.. and what a news-greedy screen it is providing... now another General is involved, the word 'scandal' is viral, the adjective 'explosive' is  already in overuse... now it's 'bombshell'... and I am beginning to yawn?   Ironic that it is Veteran's Day, people are homeless and hungry and cold-- many of them veterans who cannot afford hair dye or extramarital women and will never have a biographer or a jealous groupie or even a pension and proper healthcare if we don't start straightening out priorities and get on with the business of balancing the budget.

Tonight a shindig next-door with a DJ-- while we were underpaid, working long hours slagging out our old veteran analogue music, well-dressed party-goers  dancing to LLoyd Banks, Fifty Cent, Bankie Banks--- (such names-- how about Goldman's Sack?)... maybe they are celebrating the End of Capital Gains Tax Cuts? Or maybe just Capital Gains? Certainly a common denominator, judging from the coats, bags, and jewelry.

But on the way out,  2 AM, a young beautiful girl passed out, police standing around, ambulance on the way--- we hope she can be revived, she seemed seriously unresponsive... and they dance on, the drunk happy people in their finery--- young, carefree, drunk and unafraid--- they have everything; they wait in the VIP line, they text, they fail to look, some of them undoubtedly failed to vote... they fall on the dance floor, they get up; turns out the unresponsive girl, despite fake ID, is merely 19--- my version of 'Adultery'... so what is the crime, the accountability, the punishment, ... to what accusation can you never respond 'Not Guilty'?

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Barack at the Bat

Lance Armstrong.  A name from a teenage boy novel.  Like who didn't know the guy was a phony.  Something totally irritating about him, but then I could never trust a man in bicycle shorts.  They embarrass me, like a dumb swimmer's wardrobe--- and then the helmet... and if that wasn't enough, the Sheryl Crow thing-- -the blatant fame sucking.... and now, from some, he gets a little of the sympathy vote.  Does he give back the money with the endorsements, the trophies?  Do I even care?

This is the year of Lance Armstrong.  Of Sandusky.  A-Rod.  Mitt Romney.  What is it, America--- it's not enough that these people are the lying puppet versions of some symbol we have lost... it's that we continue to buy tickets to their theatres.   How many years ago did we sing 'We won't get fooled again'?
I mean, we have a president--- a black man,  to whom I pledged all belief, in 2008.  I made phone calls-- -I raised cash-- I was passionate.  And now even he seems--well, downright flippant.  It's as though we have a breakfast menu choice here between --well, a Democratic bowl of American cream of wheat with brown sugar, or a Republican photograph of bacon and eggs.  A picture.  Personally, I can't eat paper.  Or pixels.  Whatever.

I heard Bruce Springsteen tonight sheepishly playing his brand-new campaign song offering on an acoustic guitar, no doubt for much too large an audience.  The  Bruce Springsteen with the Grecian Formula hair, like Romney's.  Giggling, he was, making fun of the fact he'd run out of things to rhyme with Obama.   The song was dumb, apologetic.  Stupid.  Like a couple of frat boys sitting around after too many beers, ad-libbing.  I failed to find the point or the humor.  It's not a moment for playing rhyming games.   This is a country, a world-changing decision.  Okay, it's Bruce, not Oprah.  But it felt like the movie version of this campaign... like there is no longer any real world.  The Detroit pitcher had more conviction before he threw a breaking ball.  More commitment.

I'm tired of the digs and scripted humor, of the snide clever repartee.  The news anchormen and women are over-styled and too chatty.  They announce some tragic event and then they comment on someone's tie; their new puppy.  They wink and smirk.  I don't want to be friends with these people; I want some sobriety and some truth with my news.  I've noticed the doctors in those TV dramas these days tell jokes while performing dangerous surgery.  Maybe there's my writerless metaphor-of-the-moment:  America the anesthetized country on the operating table, our president in a white coat studying x-rays and making clever funny analogies while the Republican candidate is scrubbing to do a triple bypass without ever attending medical school.  Who let the dogs in?

We are going to wake up on the other side of a fence that has no return entry.  Doesn't anyone get this? I get a daily barrage of Obama-driven requests for money and cute little slogans and soundbites.  Tweets.  I want to be shaken.  I want my neighbors to be shaken.  I want someone to realize that it's fine to obsess about the wedding and the flowers and the bridesmaids and the ceremony--- but it's the marriage... it's the next four years and the perilous path we could be on toward eradicating the version of democracy that shaped my generation.  The grass will definitely be greener on the other side, and we will have lost access to that field forever.  It will be mere nostalgia which we will contemplate with growing bitterness and regret.  Are we that dumb? To fall for a man with Lance-worthy swagger and false leader-ly bravado?  At least Reagan could once act.  This actor is nasty.

So sit down Bruce.  You're a confusing political message at best.  A New Jersey billionaire in a denim shirt who lately has acquired a Clinton-esque accent.  A songwriting cowboy in a gated community.  We need to turn off our ipods and televisions and get tough and smart.  We need to use the minds Madison Avenue told us are a terrible thing to waste.  We need our president to stand up and one-two it and earn our trust and respect.  I don't want to live in a Lance Armstrong world.  I don't want to see Beyonce singing instead of Etta James at the next Inaugural Ball.  What were they thinking? Etta's ironically no longer around to separate the women from the girls by example.   And if we don't wake up, we won't be able to tell the difference between grass and turf.  This is not an SNL debate spoof...but from the comments and footage I see, I'm confused.

I'm sick of the rich guys winning.  I'm especially sick of the bad rich guys buying us off and winning.
I'm even glad the Yankees lost.  But this election isn't the World Series.  It's our future that will strike out.  My future.  My kids.  I'm ashamed to be represented by a smirky snarky tilted misogynistic power-seeker in a suit.    We need to use our hearts and our ideals and our eyes and ears and rip the masks off.   Mr. President--- you're not a super-hero, you're a man with a good brain and decent instincts and we elected you as such.  It's your final obligation as president with home-field advantage to come up with not a song but a slammer in this last inning.  Yes.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bed Post

I think I’m going to write a novel called The Talking Bed.  Of course, I don’t even need a Google-search to know, like most things, it’s already been done.  Fortunately for us, titles aren’t copyright- proof or we might have a way to filter the tsunami of crap that’s come down the pike in the name of culture.  But since we all seem to resort to under-the-blankets for several varieties of trust or confession, the concept is amusing.   Besides, there’s no privacy anywhere—no truth, no real contract for solitude, certainly no guarantee for prayer.  Why not betrayal by one’s own bed?

I watched an old Bergman film last night--- The Passion.  Tough to say whether it’s my predilection for the Swedish cultural reverence, or the period, or the crashing tedium of recent film-watching…but it stayed with me.  From the opening scenes-- -the pace, the cinematography, the quiet breathing of Max von Sydow—it was hypnotic.  It felt important.  For me, anyway. 

Cut to the Contemporary art sale at Phillips’ tonight where the Emperor’s New Clothes has become something to own rather than an ironic warning.  Most offensive for me is that artist who sticks chewing gum on a canvas in an unattractive arrangement and banks 6 figures.  The catalogue actually has the balls to relate the fact that the guy doesn’t even chew the gum himself but hires college kids to do it for him for 50 cents a piece.  Kind of a Warholian joke or maybe a metaphor for what the banks are doing to us.  Wasn't it also a 'green art' project we did when the kids were in kindergarten and were learning about recycling? Don’t get me started. 

At the risk of becoming the cranky old woman, because anyone with education and memory must have some opinion here, I am searching to find things of recent manufacture that feel ‘important’.  I’ve retreated to my little book-lined anthill of indie songwriting and poetry and simply wince when one of my rich friends gushes about their latest Damian Hirst Butterfly purchase.  Last night for food-money I had to ghost-write an article on one of the big young collectors.  I have to admit I can’t find much to criticize--- the guy, although massively wealthy, seems relatively intelligent and philanthropic and of course, the gist of the article, he has created his own Private Museum. 

The old saying ‘you can’t have everything; where would you put it?” is no longer valid, because of course, you put it in your own Private Museum.  From there you can lend it out, give it away, auction it off, store it-- -whatever… an enormous tax write-off, a solution to having your 45 room triple-penthouse look like a hoarder’s hideout, a relief from renting apartment-priced storage from Crozier or Cadogan Tate,  not to mention insurance.  It is also kind of a living monument to yourself--- your taste, your sophistication--- at least in principle.  And a way of covering up your mistakes, your unwise purchases in the name of philanthropy.  Let's face it-- some of these things don't wear well in your private living room.

So in one of his clever flippant hedge-fund manager remarks, the guy says, of course, art has no intrinsic value: it is just marketing.  Maybe your art has no value, I retort silently, but mine does.  I have starved for weeks, gone without new shoes and clothes for years, to have some small painting I simply couldn’t live without.  Can Mr. Private Museum live without his art?  He can.  In fact, I’ll bet he could live without his wife because although she seemed nice enough, I really couldn’t tell her apart from at least 3 other Private Museum wives who sat at an adjacent table.  

I’m also beginning to see a definite trend of artifice in these trophy women—like some of them used to have soft, blowy hair, or neat ponytails and well-tailored dresses.  Now they seem to have these megalo-hairstyles like somewhere between the Jersey Housewives and Barbie.  I sense a certain rococo tendency in the jewelry and accessories… like even a charity dinner is a red-carpet moment for these well-photographed housewives.  Like a Dave LaChapelle thing…just a little more blingy than chic. 

Oh, Andy, where are you now?  Will your hundreds of soupcans and thousands of Marilyns be enough to go around?  At least my old guitar continues to increase in value because there was little demand  and few produced because they were for actual real musicians back then-- and when you play it—well, it sings.  It’s old and it’s done thousands of gigs and at least for now it hasn’t been bought by some hedge fund hoarder who will hide it in a guitar mausoleum.  I’ll be playing realtime unique music on it while Forbes magazine photographs Mr. PM proudly displaying a wall of 5-cent gum chewed and spat out maybe by the same drunk NYU students who just stuffed one of the artist’s bills in our jar.   

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Friday, September 28, 2012

To Text or Not To Text

New York City can be divided into two sociological groups:  people who text, and people who don’t text. 

The concept of telescoping information and response into an incredibly limited format is ancient; the current version unfortunately lacks the impact of a telegram sent, say, in the 1940’s or 50’s, when abbreviated language was more like a huge zipfile of meaning.  It seems now that something is completely missing.  It's cheap, like verbal fast food.  Of course, people are different now—people don’t understand things that I take for granted.

Repetitive, useless motion has certainly damaged our brain and occasionally wrists and hands… but at least I’m moderately aware that the ability to reply 40 times in a minute can dilute the message.   I’ve also begun to believe that I am some evaporating breed of dark brooding guilty emotional wreck that is on its way to extinction.  I'm sure statistically fewer people suffer alone in dark rooms; they now take drugs, and beat their landladies with wooden beams.  They OD on massive amounts of mind-numbing medication or they binge drink and crash vehicles. 

There is a blind man in my neighborhood;  I see him at the library and we speak.  I feel this enormous embarrassment in his presence—me with my free coffee refills and 20-year-old boots—for what I don’t lack.  Is that the inverse of entitlement?  My kids are pissed off that they don’t have a trust-fund-sized allowance.  They despise my refusal to carry a cell phone and my Luddite habits-- my appreciation of old, used things, of kindness.   The fact that I listen to the old neighborhood Polish holocaust survivor for long minutes,  the same incredible stories over and over—how she jumped from a plane, crawled through animal tunnels, hid under feed-bags, starved… and how no one writes her memoir.  I am nearly compelled to volunteer--- and then the conversation inevitably reverts to her complaining about her daughter who had no children, after heroically managing to survive the concentration camps so she could pro-create, now her progeny has no wish to respect this.  I’m sure her daughter texts. 

People who text--- a theoretically silent thing--- tend to be loud.  I notice this at the gym--- older people are quieter; they read the Times, watch MSNBC, ESPN, Law and Order.  Younger people have the screen on—usually the Kardashians, if I took an actual poll--   their ipods going, and they are tapping wildly at their smartphones.  Occasionally they answer calls--- frowned on, by notices posted everywhere—but who reads these? The people who already knew this, of course.  So they speak—loudly--- didn’t their preschool teachers program them to use their ‘inside voice’?  Apparently not.  When their friends come, they converse—so that it’s hard to ignore--- about their problems, about the market, about their weekends, their hangovers, their eating patterns---who they love and hate.  I try to love them.  I forgive them, the way someone in some supermarket is forgiving my own kids for their habitual tasteless narcissistic ‘loudness’. 

I think about the blind man--- how embarrassed I am that he must witness this behavior--- like he’s some superior sensitive being, because he's aware that he annoys people enough by his disability… but I’m still sure he listens and smells things with more perception than I.  And he’s probably irritated by my excessive politeness and guilty kindness.  Maybe he’d like to punch me. 

Looking around on the C train downtown this morning, I could pick out the tourists.  Some of them look less mean.  Some of them are dressed differently or wearing new items they mistake for New York ‘Style’.  Some of them have old-world charm and you can feel their inherited sense of family.  New Yorkers are always darting their furtive eyes around, looking at their phones, checking each other out or making a huge effort to appear too cool to look.  But you can feel their competitive gleeful flaunting of whatever it is they are wearing or reading or texting on. 

I am in such tight financial straits, I can’t imagine even carrying an ipad on a crowded train where someone could steal it.  How do all these people afford their iphone plans?  Their shoes and multiple bags?   My rich friend gave me a gorgeous designer bag and I still carry my $10 one--- the expensive one looks a) comically out of place with my thrift-level clothing choices b) pretentious and c)like maybe I bought it on Craigslist just to carry on the street.  Truth is, it’s heavy.  And I don’t need to be wearing my sins and savings in public simultaneously.   

The other truth is, my resistance to text is annoying to others.  They don’t want a pay-phone call, and they have little sympathy in fact for middle-aged people who are not fashionably dressed.  For aging rock musicians who get on the crosstown bus with a gig-bag like they are trying to act like a kid.   I mean, when you’re young and carefree and hot, you can ‘affect’ the down-sizing style of grunge or vintage mix, and the guys in Starbucks will still compete to take your order, will flirt and ask you about your music, will show up at your gig and look at you with those eyes the romance novels have made a cliché.  Your messy hair falls on your face in that charming way that makes everyone want to brush it back, just to touch you.  I stand patiently and invisibly in line now, and remember that person as a kind of fictional character in a favorite book.

So my new prayer is ‘please God, don’t make me have to apologize’.   I don’t need to be cute and admired, or even served with respect.  I just want to avoid accidents and serious injury and maintain a compassionate demeanor.  I don’t want any false pity or attention.  I want to hold back the tears, politely excuse myself from over-intervention in the lives of the tiny subset who are less fortunate than I am and sense my excessive empathy.  I don’t think I’d ever punch anyone because they’re callously annoying and intrusive, and I don’t want anyone to want to punch me because I’m a nasty old library-user who too often confuses kindness with guilt.  I am going to try not to find myself navigating the streets, uttering ‘sorry’ like a verbal tic to texters and phone yappers who are walk-weaving like drunkards.  I feel like a polite old British grand-dad, and curse myself for this repetitive, useless act that is undoubtedly wearing away at my edge like an arthritic joint.  Please.  Jesus, even that is annoying. 

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