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.'