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.