Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mirror Images

Digital time has made it difficult to rewind.  We can't stop clocks and we can't straddle a moment the way I used to think I could.  My web post will register in 2013 or 2014 depending on when I press 'save'.  But I deliberately began this one in the old year and left it in edit mode so I could actually finish 'from the other side'.  My 2013 self could be looking back while the 2014 me is looking ahead.  Or vice versa, which would mean my two selves are facing one another on this digital border, like mirror images.

Mirrors have taken a back seat these days.  Most of us are looking at phone images, taking selfies, monitoring hair and make-up with photos.  Girls know exactly which way their eyebrow slants when they are blinking, they know how white their teeth look and exactly which strand of hair should fall over their forehead.  The old 4-frame photo booth strips which iconicized our relationships and helped us ID the ones that were awkward or doomed-- well, they have been replaced by thousands of technicolor digital seconds.  For those of us who aren't famous, we are our own relentless paparazzi.

My gym was recently renovated and they removed the mirrors in the cardio-rooms.  I could care less… but I notice the girls looking at their phones… I remember having teenage face-offs with my reflection--- tormenting myself, asking questions, trying to 'see' something I couldn't feel, trying to analyze and decide how to advise my inner self--- how to manage my outer self--- who I appeared to be, who I was, who I could become….how I looked when I lied about things, when I tried out things I wanted to say to my boyfriend.

Despite my middle-aged complacency and 'acceptance' mode, there are still people who annoy me.  I should be above this by now but I'm not.  There's an annoying grey-haired woman named Martha at our gym.  She wears a shredded fanny pack and taped-up Keds on her feet and she goes from machine to machine, stands and plays with the screen, wastes everyone's time, converses with anyone who will listen, and apparently has nowhere to go.  She carries these plastic grocery bags and I've seen her stealing rolls of toilet paper and towels in the locker room.  She chatters.  I hate chatterers.  She's constantly changing clothes and showering and drying her hair and sometimes I think she is homeless.  Once someone gave me flowers and I left them in a locker and they disappeared and turned up in hers.  She asked me in September if I have a problem with her and I do, but of course I said no.

The day before New Year's eve she left the gym behind me… chattering as usual, telling me where I could work out for nothing on New Year's Day.  Then she asked me what religion I am.  This is a question I find invasive and highly personal, but for someone like Martha, admitting you have an opinion is like a segue-way into a new chatter-detour.  I need to be vague here.  Christian, I say.  I'm Christian.  So what is that, she asks…and tells me she's a Roman Catholic and doesn't understand what Christian means.  Well, I say, I was married in the Anglican church.  My son attended an Episcopal School.  This church we're passing right now is Presbyterian.  But Roman Catholic-- she tells me.  She knows where she stands.  Whenever she finds some lost headphones or a sweatshirt, she says, she turns it right in.  She puts it in the reception desk drawer, because she knows how some of the night cleaners disrespect the lost and found.  They throw stuff out.  They keep stuff.  But she's Roman Catholic.  It doesn't matter that she's Dominican and American and has several pilfered boxes of kleenex from the locker room,  not to mention all of my missing headphones.

And she keeps on--- all the way up Lexington Ave… trying to back me into some corner where she can enjoy some metaphoric pathetic victory, but I refuse to bite.  I'm determined to be non-judgmental and kind.  I'm good at defense; I return every volley in a non-aggressive way.  I use minimal replies.  Something about me bugs her.  She knows I know and she's set on somehow steamrolling it out.  Finally I tell her I need to catch a train.  I duck underground.  Moments later I see her in the grocery store, lurking around and trying to talk to all the managers and stock boys who obviously have experienced her.  I see her stash something from the shelves.   Where are the security mirrors?  Where is Martha's mirror?

I go home and try to forgive myself for my lack of compassion for Martha.  I love my home--- the things--- nothing is absolutely great, but everything is good.  From the kitchen one square of a painting is reflecting some eerie light.  Like a cross.  Shining.  A sign.  My niece is being raised Jewish.  Maybe it's easier; Jews don't see the face of Mary in a croissant, or a pieta in a potato.  They wouldn't feel the urge to cross themselves because I feel maybe Jesus is watching me from my wall, making me look at my intolerance.   The mirror of Jesus.  Christmas light.

My niece told me when she was Bat-Mitzvahed she blew out a candle and wished she could become anorexic.  It was such a perfect teenage literary moment.  A Catholic-worthy confession.  She's struggling.  It is what it is, my friend the psychiatrist tells me.  I hate that expression.  It isn't anything.  It was.  Even that has no peace; they change the truth.  Someone slept with the dead man; the dead man raped someone and owes people money.  There was a guy in the subway today, begging.  He had an amputated leg and it was unwrapped.  It was the worst surgical mess anyone had ever seen and we all donated generously even though he was exploiting his own deformity.

Christmas.  New Year's.  Scams and schemes and begging and Martha from my gym stealing biscuits in a roll at Pioneer.  I am not going to make her feel guilty.  I am going to avoid her.  I am going to try not to cross into the New Year with these old cans tied to my ankles.  Things are good.  I can be good.  I can jump from one year into the next.

But here I am--- the digital seconds relentless--while I played a song, while I waved goodbye to old endings, while the mirror of 2013 for a split second faced the mirror of 2014 and I am wondering if maybe they traded places because here I am, on  stage, in a black dress, toasting a moment, and my friend is yelling over the music that she is leaving because 'these are not her kind of people' here,  and she fails to see the irony, or the failure, and I don't dare scold or judge her tonight of all nights, even though I know better, even though I have a mirror and maybe it simply is what it was and that will be that.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Long Distance

Late gig nights I take a crosstown bus home.  In the early morning hours there are few passengers and the driver and I get to know each other.  Some times he stalls, waits for me.  At my end, he drops me in front of my building, watches me enter and lock the door.  We wave.  We exchange old memories on the trip through the park; he tells me about his ailments.  It's a fact that retired MTA drivers have short lives.  Something about the job, or the shock of retirement--- so when one of them leaves, I am sad.  Occasionally there have been women; they are tougher-- the late-night routes are dangerous and a little lonely.  But we night people and day-sleepers have some commonality.  We see things.

The current driver has a sort of crush on me.  He has admitted to missing me when I get a ride home; he worries about me.  I missed 2 weeks because I had another gig and he was practically joyful-- for a bus driver-- when I boarded Monday night at 2:21 AM.  He asked me all kinds of questions--- he wants to come and see a show now.  I am a little shy.  He knows things.

Tonight I had dinner with an old friend and we laughed over the 18-year-old selves we were when we met.  He wanted to know who I've been dating-- so, besides the crosstown bus driver, I couldn't think of anyone I felt like offering up for questioning.  It seemed not just exotic but a conversation-stopper.  The minute I blurted it out, he remembered how I'd had a brief affair with a Formula One driver.  At the time I had no clue what Formula One meant--- in fact I thought they might be some kind of toy slot cars…. I was unimpressed.   He was cool, though, and sexy and tan, and I took him home.  Things were always casual for me then; I was chronically pre-occupied-- with music, my career, some dysfunctional triangular relationship-- who knows?  But it was this sort of inattentiveness that drove this guy and maybe a few others crazy.  And it wasn't me, per se… but the fact that I wasn't waiting for their call, and had no interest in watching him race toy cars or going on his yacht or whatever…  no matter how many dozen roses he sent, how many necklaces and cute notes.

In fact I might now have more compassion for the crosstown bus driver, with whom I have no interest in having coffee or a drink or whatever.  I am still preoccupied and more interested in my books and art and music.  I have grown to love my solitude like a companion, and I can't seem to explain to people like my old mother that new men in my life are intruders.

Tonight my Mom called me and told me she was leaving my Dad.  He is 95 and rarely speaks these days.  She spends her hours watching him watch Bloomberg and nap.  She is preoccupied.  But tonight he snapped at her and threatened to call the police because she was bugging him. When he does this, she loses her bearings and calls me.  My telephone number is the anchor in her life.  No matter what happens, she calls-- over and over.  It grounds her.  Tonight she wanted me to come get her before they took her to jail.  After a few minutes, she forgets all about it.  She even scolds me for calling her so late and waking my father up.

I find myself these nights watching movies with my mother's eyes-- TCM,  CUNY, Antenna TV.  She claims she's never seen these films, but we used to talk about them endlessly.  She dragged me with her to see Katherine Hepburn and Claudette Colbert.  She loved films about New York City showgirls and young actresses.  She loved Broadway and she loved Richard Burton.  We saw plays and musicals when I was much too young to understand them.  She would get dressed up with gloves and a hat and her beautiful shoes, and sometimes the actors would speak to her, after the show-- -call her 'bella' and give her a flower.  She never flirted, but there was something girlish about her love of this world, and I was like her sister.  Her date.  I felt important.

My mother is past the mental competency required for reminiscing.  I have now inherited that task.  The funny thing is, it doesn't really make me sad, the way it did her-- the way it does many of my friends these days.  In this odd way, I am finally content.  I am my preoccupation; I have nothing else to distract me.  I walked through the Christmas midtown press on Monday and realized--- besides my son, who wants slightly less than everything this year, I want nothing.  I actually have every thing I want-- -a place to live, great books, my favorite instruments for making music, just enough work to manage another month of electricity and maintenance, enough cranberries and flour and sugar for Christmas cookies, some candles, soap…whatever.

Maybe I am at a sort of plateau.  Maybe this is the last one; maybe there will be 'down' on the other side… maybe decline or death.  I can't really stop the descent; I can't keep my old mother from her confusion and I can't take her to theatre for Christmas.  She is terrified of stairs.  Of the outside world.  I am enormously thankful to have my own cd-- and even a video now-- I can't worry that very few people on this earth know I exist;  it doesn't seem to preoccupy me the way the writing of the songs does.  I can't stop these pigeons from flying into oncoming cars on 42nd street, and I can't lecture the Chinese street portraitist that he is wasting his extraordinary gift making cheap $5 souvenirs for tourists.

I am a grown-up.  Some tortuous process has stopped and it is enough that I have avoided catastrophe today.  I don't want to go to Sri Lanka or Bali.  I want to have a coffee and read some Chilean poetry.
I still browse bookstores and acquire odd things.

Last week I picked up an obscure anthology of poems and was absolutely knocked out by a a few lines from someone named Robert Long.  Online not much-- an obituary;  he died at 51-- no biography, no details.  A great Luc Sante review of a small volume saying something like 'the beauty and precision of his words ensures that these pieces will be read and reread'.  I have looked in stores and libraries; no one I have asked has even heard of this man.   I have these few poems.  If this is how he is remembered, I am privileged to share his obscurity.  In fact, perhaps this is the Robert Long Memorial Christmas for me… I have unwrapped the gift of his forgotten words and will re-read the one about Madame Bovary and promise in the new year to remember to notice the moments are all equal, even though they don't seem that way.  And the trip across town is exactly the same distance, and distance has its disadvantages, said Robert Long, no matter who drives, no matter if it's snowing or raining, and the full moon will be back to witness that for us 'it is too late to start over.'

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Black and Blue Friday

I can't quite remember the first time I heard the phrase 'Black Friday'. Surely I would have thought it was some Catholic designation for one of the days preceding the Crucifixion.  Something terrible.
As a teenager it was a day after the huge tense family dinner.  Parents were hung over and kids were punchy and overfed.  Breakfast was black coffee and a cigarette for my Mom.  Maybe cold stuffing for me with hot chocolate and some dirty looks for whatever I might have said or done the night before.
It was quiet and cold outside.  The air smelled of bonfires and rotting leaves.  It was a day for huge library books and blankets on the porch while my father slept off his angst and the meal.  It was claustrophobic.

On break from college it was a reunion day.   Homecoming for my girlfriends and sometimes a movie and a local bar.  Phone calls and yearbook reminiscing.  Comparing our new boyfriends and nasty roommates.  Dogwalking and getting high in a sort of innocent way.  No one shopped in our household.  We hardly spoke.

Once I played in a band, Thanksgiving meant a turkey sandwich in a diner or Chinese takeout after the gig.  Friends showing up with girlfriends and wives, looking sheepish and disgruntled.  It was a day you'd evaluate your own family; usually things didn't measure up.  As a musician, it was a relief to come home in early Friday.  You could sleep it off and here was a regular weekend.

My first marriage meant excommunication from my family.  I was banned from their Thanksgiving.  The gig was the Lone Star-- the original one on 13th-- and I remember feeling a little non-Texan and isolated.   I was writing Black Friday songs in my head without having heard the expression.  Once I had a son I began my own dinners-- we were usually destitute and someone would either donate a bird or we'd manage to collect enough scraps for a feast and it felt good.  I lit candles.  I bundled up my baby boy and went to watch the floats getting blown up at 2 AM and drank hot chocolate in some diner.  On the Friday we'd go see Christmas lights.

One Black Friday I remember having one dollar.  One.  I decided I'd buy a couple of bananas and 2 rolls for 25 cents apiece.   My son and I went out looking for the best deal on bananas and on the side of the road I found an envelope with some cash in it.  $550.  For me that was hitting the lottery.  It was groceries for a year…. baby clothes too.  It was amazing… visions of Christmas trees… toys… going into a diner with my son and letting him order something besides chocolate milk.

But that $550… it was someone else's winning lotto ticket.  It was someone else's loss.  Some poor cab driver or laborer had taken out his savings and lost everything… a cancelled vacation … whatever.  Why is it that I can never accept good fortune without considering the B-side?  So I gave much of it to homeless people, to charity.  Yes, we bought an Ernie and Bert Lego set… we shopped Toys R Us like royalty and we picked out Sesame Street Action figures and a plastic house.  We saw Santa and ate burgers and fries in the Herald Square mall and looked out at the Empire State Building lit up for Christmas.  My son was singing with his little red corduroy hat on.

I learned about Black Friday from my son when he was a teenager and muttered vicious maledictions at his loser mother because everyone else was getting their new Sevens for All Mankind and Timberlands.  
It was humiliating and sad.  I was unsympathetic and he was angry.  He stayed out until 3 AM and came back stinking of alcohol with a black eye.  A black eye is actually blue.

This year Black Friday apparently started on Thursday.  Stores were open-- kids, including my son, had to go to work at midnight.  People stampeded and fought over merchandise.  Rain checks and bracelets were handed out, internet sites extended their sales through cyber Monday--- but there were stabbings and blood.  What do you call this kind of violence?  Retail-rage?  It baffles me.

I haven't spoken to my older sister in maybe 12 years.  She likes it this way.  Absolutely no competition and she can malign me until the cows come home and no one will disagree.  It has been so long our enmity is like a Thanksgiving float of some kind of nasty cartoon thought-balloon.  I imagined their Thanksgiving--- my parents, the tense old family facade like a toothless old leather-face.  I still cringe when I think of my father; he still hands over the phone like a hot potato when he hears my voice.  The Pilgrims and Indians sat down together, but not my original family--- not any more.  They have invented a new tradition which is now older than the original.  My chair has been long filled by grandchildren.

I loved my Thanksgiving guests this year; each one was so special.   I loved my home and my unmatched dishes and funky seating.  No one thought about shopping.  No one discussed things or clothing or new apartments.  We listened to jazz and indie rock until the early morning and then I cleaned my oven.  When I am content and grateful that way, I worry about Jesus--- but maybe that is Good Friday.  Everything seems to be running into everything else-- I mean, what difference does it make--- corn, chocolate hearts, colored eggs, fireworks, parades?  It's all the same thing-- every holiday is cause for celebration and cause for sorrow.  I hope I don't die on Thanksgiving.

While I cleaned, which is somehow a not unpleasant part of my tradition, I remembered.   While I scrubbed my floors and dried glasses--  I remembered the great love of my life, wasting from stomach cancer and deemed 'nil by mouth' his final Thanksgiving…  asking me to describe the smell of my turkey, the texture of my stuffing… we stayed on the phone until he finally slept on Black Friday morning.   I was relieved he'd made it through the day, but it was the last time we spoke.   It has been so many years now, I can't even cry; I light a separate candle for him, on the table, and remember driving back to school after break, on the black turnpike, in a blue car, listening to Cinnamon Girl on the radio, with the heat on and Friday on our mind.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Guest List

I am having a fucked-up day.  Not the day, exactly, but me.  Yes, the cold air was a stern memo that Thanksgiving is closing in, and that huge meal-- -with the guests you haven't even invited-- is looming like a turkey-flavored noose in your kitchen that needs new plaster and paint, suitable lighting, and a functioning oven.  Calls have backed up on voicemail--- your usual dinner companions with that slight impatient edge in their tone which could either mean--- what's up with the delayed invitation?-- or maybe, gee, if you're slammed this year, I could go out to the Hamptons with my co-workers….I almost regret the timing of my broken wrist this summer; it would have been the perfect excuse.  Maybe I'll be diagnosed with something hideous and this will be the last supper… or none at all.  I hate myself when I get this way.  I really enjoy entertaining, I am in general such a terrible friend these days that a single festive dinner can be a great purging of hostess-guilt.

But suddenly it seems as though last year was just a few weeks ago.  Like instead of looking forward to holidays, they are tracking me.  They stalk me with accusatory ribbon-clad fingers and they ring bells which are out of tune with my tinnitus B-flat.  Maybe it was the Mexican cashier in Asssociated today who when I asked him which were the pears on sale looked me right in the eye and said 'they're not here'.  No apology, no courtesy--- a kind of resentment that he has to ring up groceries for people who are as poor as he is, and who remind him that his debit card is overdrawn with things like cans of coke and snickers bars.  Or maybe it's that I'm out of rice and didn't feel like hauling another 20-pound bag onto the counter so Juan-Carlos can give me Mexican attitude.  I just dumped some tomato sauce on oatmeal.  The God's truth.

Turn back the clock---I used to get that brisk fall air electric feeling--- sex is great under blankets, and Christmas parties were amazing…and the Mexican cashiers fell over themselves to pack my bags and begged to deliver.  Pears?  Take these--- we'll just throw them in-- no charge.  Men asked for your number in the aisles, women exchanged recipes and admired your shoes, even babies held out their arms.  A trip to the grocery store was an adventure.  It was also necessary leveling.  You felt like a wife-- a mother.  The rest of the day?  Men held doors for you, stuck notes in your pocket.  You were shining.

And so much of it is my own fault.  My girlfriends and men friends tell me I make no effort--- or make an effort not to make an effort.  I'm too tired of myself to consider this or its alternative.  I skip calls, fail to RSVP, spend way too much time on the internet when I'm supposed to be learning how to use Logic Pro.  I am writing-- -that is there--- it's just the execution, the recording--- the directions and effort seem so tedious and impossible.  I'm chronically under-published and unsung.  Tonight someone I actually knew spent $142,000,000 on a painting-- -someone with a lovely wife who makes an effort--- and I am sitting here considering the Warholian irony of introducing Francesco Rinaldi to the Quaker Oats man.

I'm here in layers of old sweats, my coagulated meal in a bowl that looks unwashable, and I actually, rather than sparring with the help screens of my Logic, type in 'what do you do when you feel messed up?'  And I am taken to some website that tells me I must accept that Tinkerbell is dead and let Jesus in.  Okay.  A small stage laugh, here.  But I never particularly liked Tinkerbell….what I did like was the relationship… that a wild flying boy and a fairy had this intimacy… it made me feel better about life.

Last night my first husband called me to tell me he's getting married.  Or maybe he's already married…to a 29 year old six-foot-tall model whose picture online is somewhere between a Victoria's Secret angel and a stripper profile body-shot.  Of course she is using him for his rockstar connections; he is 66 and unwell but still gets royalties and has a free pass to the few stellar recording studios on this continent.  There is a youtube clip of her getting thrown offstage at the Apollo amateur night just a few months ago.  To be kind, they only allowed a mini-second of actual singing…and who really cares because her legs are amazing and she rocked the lace camisole and the hair weave.  And he sounded so happy…. and really, he came to me in my 20's after meeting backstage--- with a ring and a proposal.  We scarcely knew one another.  It was exciting--- it was lovely and passionate and magical.   So why begrudge him a bit of senior happiness?

The thing is…everything ends.  Your happy marriage, even if you stay together, generally ends.  Your passionate affair.  Your first night.  Your first love.  Your ballet career.  Your second love.  A great film.  Your third love.  Songs.  Symphonies.  Your best gig.  Even Proust ends.  There are no more pages, at a certain point.  I suppose you can be pragmatic and spend your life preparing for the end, like financial advisors counsel us, but there is no emotional pension plan.  You can wait until your husband tells you he doesn't love you, or you can take off the first night you feel the slightest inclination to turn over and sleep facing the wall.  That was my style, I guess.  Maybe it was fear.  I'll never know.

What I do know is that you can't really control the end.  You can prepare for it--- you can even become isolated and accustomed to solitude… but then you miss so much fun.  Pleasure and pain.  It's hard to recognize the midpoint between your youth and your old age.  Not everyone goes out like Lou Reed with a loving intelligent companion and a disease which lets you slow down until you've stopped, and the world mourning your loss and acknowledging your value.  And not everyone loses their memory like my Mom who isn't sure whether she's a child or a grandmother.

Memory can be painful.  Good memories--- bad memories… Last night my ex-husband told me he loved me 'like a thirsty man' and never forgave himself for turning gold into brass… and me for failing to see him through his wild years.  I couldn't stand the anticipated end and I made my exit.  Trust me--it felt equally as bad as being left.

So 30 years later, he has that feeling-- a wedding feeling-- and I don't have the heart to tell him--- he is crazy and blind, and the coming hurt will kill him, maybe.  He is fragile.  The girl has friended me on Facebook and wants to have coffee.  I will give her a gift.  I will go to the Tinkerbell website and type in 'what do you give your aging ex-husband's sexy child-bride as a token of your support?'  Let Jesus in, it will say.  Even though you are a fairy-murderer,  even though you are a cranky old loner who talks to insane jazz musicians and ex-husbands at 4 AM.

So I am wondering… whether Jesus prefers mushroom or chestnut stuffing, and if he'd like to bring a date.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Kind of a Drag


I’ve been reading this book called ‘I am not Stiller’-- one of those stiff yellowing 1960’s paperbacks one hopes to find at a thrift shop for 50 cents  which have enough literary nourishment to sustain you until the next ‘discovery’.  This one is especially entertaining— smart, ironic, edgy, cruel, confessional, brutally blunt and oddly charming the way only a failed modernist existential self-deceiving Swiss narcissist narrator can be.  A six-hundred-page denial.

Anyway, I have this adopted stepmother who is perhaps Stiller's contemporary--- perhaps could have been his lover.  She is the embodiment of everything I would have wanted in a parent-- passion, honesty, intelligence, the conviction that art supersedes morality, that superiority is not inherent but must be earned.  Dessert first, if you like it that way; sex before love,  etc.  Swiss. 

She is now 94 and slightly less generous with her wisdom; appropriately grouchy.  Twenty years ago she commented during one of our Chelsea gallery tours ‘It’s so depressing; no one wants to fuck me.” Twenty years later, things have not improved.    Her ex-lover just told me she’s been lying about her age--- that she’s actually 96.   She has her vanities. 

Her great tragic flaw, besides the fact that she feels greatly under-acknowledged as an artist,  was her nearly fatal attraction for the man who claims to know her real age—a writer of some renown, notorious for massive sexual appetites and an impressive list of conquests.  And while she is pretty tough and equally tough on me, the fact that she describes this period of her life as ‘sheer agony’ brings me again and again to the Pandora’s box of her memories.   Some days she opens it, to my Gothic delight.

Coincidentally, this man who is either 17 or 19 years younger than my stepmother, is my neighbor.  Of course when I first moved in, with my adorable little boy and my black leather attitude,  he showered me with cryptic aphoristic postcards and invitations.  I am now, so many years later, precisely the age my stepmother was when she began the affair (give or take 2 years).  He had been married then—and most of their trysts were conventionally lunchtime, daylight episodes.   Her cold Swiss intelligence and her exquisite ex-husband tempted him.  But she began taking his famous writing class-- maybe just to sit at his feet, and because really he is at his sexual best at a podium.  You can almost hear hearts beating.  At the only lecture I attended as a guest,  I could feel his lovers envied me.  I was, he assumed, his future... but it was not to be.

According to her stories, he was cruel.  Insatiable as a lover, which is hard for a woman... it is his ultimate pleasure we crave, and this was beyond reach.  He was unfaithful even while they were going at it... and his writer's ear was relentless and searching for the kind of genius which always evades one.
To me, his heart was soft--- he was appreciative and sweet and kind and generous.  He piled wonderful books on our doorstep, and even tried to publish my middling poems.  He sent us food, lovely notes and quotations, even befriended my building staff.

But my stepmother continued to humiliate herself through the painful long seminars year after year,  continued to pay absurd tuition to turn in mediocre samples of post-Modern writing which tried for cruelty and only achieved the bitter tone of a desperate lover trying to feign non-chalance.   He slept with nearly every single student, in various combinations and sexual fictions.  She even tried a facelift--- very out-of-character-- but the more she carried on her version of the 1001 Nights, the less he considered her as a lover.

I once loved a boxer--- or thought I did.  I admired his grace, his intense focused force, the way he laced his gloves, the way he ran his fingers through his sweaty hair... the way he smelled after a fight, after a shower.  But when we were together--- he was gentle and sweet and tender and loving.  I needed the boxer.  And he lost our little fight.

It always fascinates me that cruelty elicits extreme kindness from some of us--- and excessive kindness is embarrassing and tiresome.  My stepmother is cold; some days I think she despises me; I am too conventional, I am mostly monogamous, I bring her flowers on her birthday and this infuriates her.  She hates holidays.  She is anti-maternal, and I am content to sit at her feet and receive her rebukes like a blessing.  Occasionally I cry.  On the other hand, my own father is mean and I despise him.   My real mother is quite mad and reinvents the past daily.  We know so little of one another-- and there is so little time to unravel the fictions we all wear like fashion.  My stepmother is childless and really never valued my attention.

So we look through our colored glasses, or our blindfolds, and we see what we see, we love what we choose to see, or what we cannot see.  We are what we are not, or are not what we are.  For some of us, we love what we love, even when or especially when it does not love us in return.  Is this teaching  the lesson, like a version of God, that there is no reward for love-- sometimes no answer on the telephone, nothing but a shadow in our bed when we awake?  Or, like Stiller, nothing but accusations and a jail cell, for the crime of either being the criminal or not being the criminal.

On my block there is a strange woman who puts her little dogs in a pram and wheels them around.
She mutters and shakes her head at me--- wonders where I think I am going with that instrument I carry on my back and my stupid black boots.  And why I talk to that kind white-haired writer whom she has described in an under-her-breath whisper as a 'murderer'.    I do not fathom to know what prompts her charade with the dogs who seem quite morose and unfriendly.   I do know, as does the writer, that she is not Stiller.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

What if Dog Was One of Us?


I came down to Starbucks to write today, thinking I need a change of scene— all set with my headphones and my chill music… and here on line is this unfamiliar, loud woman with a golden retriever who she claims is a service dog... sprawled out, itching himself to distraction.  Now I am a long-standing dog lover--  but the woman, besides having an extra sort of ball of fat (too old to be pregnant) jutting over her mangy jeans, while barking her order, is texting like mad and speaking in the most annoying tone to people she is apparently soliciting to share some sort of living space with her.  Handicapped people-- the genuine ones-- I have observed, have enormous courtesy skills.   I have a friend who pulls this sort of bs in his local café where he sits nightly with his dog tied outside (maybe legal) and fields complaints by insisting his is a service dog.  Reminds me of the old joke—drunk goes into a bar with his scruffy little mutt, asks for a drink, is told he must remove his dog.  Insists he is blind, that his dog is 'working'. So the bartender tells him—‘That’s no seeing eye dog… seeing eye dogs are Retrievers, Shepherds’.  – ‘So what’d they give me, then?’ the guy asks. 

So... this is apparently my mantra of the day... What’d they give me then?  I woke up with some kind of hole--- I’ve become addicted to watching films at 6 AM which are somehow the Sundance ‘B’ movies and odd unrated stuff that no one else you know has ever seen.   The characters are always perversely lonely and isolated and eccentric or vaguely criminal or cruel and underbaked as humans… and more than myself I begin to panic about my kids--- how they will become contented, compassionate people in this culture without my eccentric little injections about art and passion and true, non-financial generosity which I realize have only piled up like useless old magazines in the trash-files of their young brains.

What did they give me?  Why do I look in the sweet eyes of 4-year olds and see future sorrow… why do I feel the need to read to corn-rowed toddlers in East Harlem who seem to be begging me-- strapped into their Medicaid-paid strollers with barbecue chips and coke, while their mothers scream at phantom baby-Daddies on speaker-phone…shuffling down Third Ave…kids running all over the place… getting smacked and cursed at.  If I took one home, he’d hate me.  He’d crave rap music and those blue Hawaiian drinks and I’d never be able to braid his hair the way his mother did.   

I used to spend all this time making healthy lunches… going without so my son could have decent sandwiches on whole-grain bread.. .with fruit and carrots and good things… only to find one morning one of my little recyclable bags on top of the corner trash can… apparently a daily toss--- too heavy, and who wants to bring their mother to school when it’s the only independent time you get and besides, there’s McDonald’s--- or pizza.  How long had this been going on?  How did he figure out it’s simpler not to engage in a dialogue-- -just to ‘delete’ anything parental and burdensome? 

Did you ever notice that when you feel broken--- really broken--- sometimes your dreams are okay--- almost ‘normal’… sort of happy--- missing dogs come back, your mother is there, not yelling at you--- your ex-husband is smiling, your hair is long and shiny--- it ‘feels’ good?  You are wearing a dress… something like this.  And you wake up--- and here is the goddam imposter service dog itching like mad while you have spent $2.67 for coffee and the privilege of a table and chair and some bad café-music while you try to work on a novel only your wonderful best friend will read, because she is getting depressed by your poetry ---and you have played your heart out the night before, your fingers feel abused, the monthly royalties are not enough to cover a new cartridge for the printer and you are forced to admit the only income today will be the $5 extra-bucks at CVS.  For this I am grateful. 

There’s always ebay --- more and more of my friends are earning grocery-money from their old shopping habits, but I can’t face this.  I’d rather dump my things at the local thrift shop where I can actually see them on the shelves or not have to worry about value or even a receipt, in my pathetic starving-artist zero tax bracket.   And I’ve never really had ‘shopping habits’… I tend to wear everyone else’s clothes until they suicide. 

I’m tempted to go into the subway to play some new songs--- but my son’s friends occasionally take trains and this is so humiliating for him… I guess I could wear a disguise but that feels wrong, too.  The fact that I have something to say, and new songs to try out seems like an adequate defense…but then I have to fight the other beggars and narcissists…I have to become bitter about the pathetic ‘Once’ duos and the Landslide guy--- and the bad jazz groups who at least can play a little… and then that R & B drummer and the guy with the crooked head who sings like an angel who really make me ashamed of my lack of promotional skills—after all, I’m white and educated and have a laptop.  Why can’t I figure it out and just put some green into their bucket?  Go back to my East Village and Williamsburg venues and knock myself out for trainfare in a hat which I am too proud to pass around, they do not say.  Or come sing with us--- which they occasionally do say, and which I do not.  What’d they give me?  I’m not a narcissist.  I want to play my own music but I don’t really want to be there.  How can you hit a home run or even strike out when you don’t step up to any kind of plate?

Now the fake blind girl is calling everyone on Craigslist and giving her spiel.  Her name is Meg. I know more about her life than most of my neighbors know about me.  I am intimately acquainted with the smell of her dog and I know how she likes her coffee.  The dog is like obsessively licking his butt now, and his owner is too busy looking at craigslist to see that he is maybe going to damage himself.  What’d they give him?, he is maybe thinking.  All that training and he is a fraud, lying down on these hideous cold tiles while all around him people are having overpriced donuts and sandwiches and no one is allowed to pet him.  He can’t even sleep.  He’s tied to this stool, and he’s actually a little cute.  I just gave him a wave, and he wagged his tail.  Rescue me, he is saying.  I know exactly what he needs.  And if I feel like an old fisherman rowing out into cold rough waters every day in my leaky boat with a dead worm on a hook, coming back at dusk or dawn with no catch… imagine how he feels… the intelligence to be sniffing out bombs in Afghanistan with young servicemen who will play ball with him and wrestle… and he’s stuck with a fake blind girl who is fat and unlikable--- can’t even find a roommate on Craigslist, tethered to a stool in a Manhattan café, unpaid, unsung, unspoiled, unfed, itching. 

Apparently she promotes artists.  I can’t even imagine.  Art for the blind.  I have to leave before I offer to exchange this itchy dog for a seeing-eye snake.   He could maybe bring me some income in the subway--- a pair of sunglasses---not like I'm actually lying.   The dog is stretching.  He has needs.  I don’t know what my needs are any longer.   

A few years ago I had a book deal. They wanted to release it on a massive national scale as a teenaged sort of Catcher in the Rye for Girls.  But---  I had to remove some x-rated razor mutilation things.  Then a few graphic shooting-up paragraphs which over-romanticized drug use.  In the end, on the signing table, it got down to the 'god-damns'.  You’re clever, the Pollyanna-maybe-virgin-goody-midwestern- church-going editor insisted—you’ll come up with an alternative.  For god-damn?  You know, she coaxed--- like a euphemism.  Like dog-damn, I asked?  Or like dog-mad?  That works, she said….but I wouldn’t take a canine’s name in vain that way.  Dogs are innocent.  God is omniscient, which means, if he exists, he’s guilty.  He swears, too.  Anyway, she told her upper bosses that I was unreasonable and difficult and they suggested I try an independent publisher. 

So I’m watching Meg’s dog who obviously needs to relieve himself but is too kind and Christian to resent his owner…and would probably bark if I tried to sneak him out and maybe he doesn’t really care that he’s part of a small scam… and he gives me a little look as I leave--- like--- yeah, I know… but I’m  inside, and those other guys are tied to the hydrant out there... and I’m cuing up some Art Tatum on my ever-ironic mental soundtrack who maybe never needed a dog, but was mad-good.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nun of That



So there’s a sign outside the rectory of a neighborhood church.  It’s on a side street--- one of those heavy old glass-covered black felt boards with the white plastic letters that give you a feeling of old-timey smalltown announcement-comfort.   It poses a question in all-caps…"HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT BECOMING A CATHOLIC?”

These days I find myself nodding and grimacing in the street, smirking and gasping, and downright talking to myself.  Maybe it’s age, isolation, a surfeit of irony that begs public release…whatever.  But the truth is, I have thought about becoming a Catholic.  I’ve also thought about joining the army, about prostitution, about marrying my best girlfriend in Sweden for the healthcare and companionship… and many other things.  But ‘enlightened’ and cynical as I am, I have always had an affinity with cathedrals, icons, Mexican votive paintings on tin—Giotto, Fra Angelico.  Personal devotion to a concept of God—of divine love and forgiveness--- as opposed to most of the men I’ve wasted nights over—is appealing. 

Maybe it’s the Goth thing, or the fact that my first true Hollywood crush was Jeffrey Hunter in King of Kings… but I grew up on a street with Italian and Irish families and my playmates’ objections to their religion fascinated me.  As did the rituals, the communion dresses--- the mysticism, the music.  We had an Irish nurse who often took us to mass (we got a Good Humor as reward) and I’d pretend the church was my castle and I was a Princess.  I loved the velvet plush seats and the smell of old wood and incense.  The choir, the organ… and the stained glass….it was magical.

My lapsed Catholic friends seem so ‘grounded’ in their anti-beliefs.  And the bad boys were oh, so bad—Jim Carroll, and my first boyfriend who’d been an altar boy and made me have sex with him in a back pew—at night, of course--- the church was empty.  I kept waiting for a thunderclap, or for one of the hanging lamps to drip hot wax on us… but nothing happened.  

For most of my life, if I feel really badly about something, I visit one of the grand Manhattan churches –at off hours, generally. Whenever I need to ask God for some favor, for some healing or a little support… I go Catholic.  I feel slightly closer to the celestial ‘ear’.  And unlike Starbucks, or the ‘free’ internet in a café, you don’t really need to buy anything.  No one gives you a dirty look if you don’t pay for a candle.  You can cross yourself, listen to the choir rehearse, kiss the foot of the Virgin statue, kneel, or have a cry--- you can even drink a coffee and no one bothers you.   I feel ‘safe’.  I feel calm.  I confess and apologize, and leave by the side door. 

I used to wonder if there was a website like digitalpriest.com where people could confess and be forgiven…if it would not be wildly successful.  An app--- an ichurch, with your choice of music and architectural style… I used to wonder if they installed little confessional boxes on Wall Street, where traders and hedge fund managers could ‘mail’ little anonymous slips of paper, get things off their expansive David-Barton-buff guilty chests…maybe inside bathroom stalls.  Guaranteed privacy, guaranteed direct-access to some religious figurehead, like a kind of Oz priest—who would dispense immediate  forgiveness for insider trading and general infidelity and lack of compassion.  Or maybe they would get an email:  Say 3 Hail Marys and send a check to your nearest democratic headquarters.  Or to some very edgy and dysfunctional kickstarter campaign.   Maybe they would slow down a bit--- maybe they would consider at least the concept of guilt---or right and wrong, the way they do not.  

People in church these days look at their phones.  They text, and sext and read email.  The bandwidth of religion in our lives is not prominent.  So yes, it seems simple and clear and pure to give up all of my priorities and convert.  To surrender to some version of a path to goodness.  But I don’t.  I keep my habits and my possessions and my ex-boyfriends and my passions.  I cannot give them up.  The thrift shops and sidewalk trash piles and the success of ebay all attest to the fact that this is a culture of consumer-hoarders---excessive money, constant clothing changes—make-up, accessories, food of a trillion varieties--- there is not a single person among us who doesn’t own one too many of something.  

But most of all, I am sick of the ever-increasing eruption of public confession.  I am sick of these ‘me-novels’ and songs and endless memoir-writing and the trillions of instagram photos and facebook posts like a virtual endless dump.   I am sick of Miley Cyrus comments and Beyonce’s stupid blond hair and these pathetic TV real estate agents.  I am sick of seeing rich housewives cry on camera and the WEN guy and the QVC network ladies.  I am sick of narcissistic politicians  and the hundreds of botoxed talking heads who create TV shows out of dumb tweets and bad cell-phone footage of celebrities in their bikinis with their gut hanging out, or punching someone in the face.  

Maybe if these people went to church and saw a priest they would filter their bleeding hearts and tweets and kiss-and-tell or didn’t-kiss-but-told-anyway.  I don’t want to see your 5th engagement ring on my facebook page or your dog’s dinner or your solicitous kickstarter projects.  I want to hear the sound of one hand clapping and a legless person kneeling.  I want forgiveness and generosity and music that prays.  I want every Wall Street fatcat to remove their rolex and place it on the wrist of a homeless person.

And whats-your-name Biden…grow up and pay your rent.  We have seen more of you in that ridiculous white sheet than the entire Syrian civil war crisis this week and you need either some true religion (not the clothing kind) or an old-fashioned weekend in the can.