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.