Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Anti-sign

Every Saturday I walk west on 23rd St and a rather sexy young fortune teller beckons to me, in her gypsy-west-indian musical tongue--- Come... have a reading… like she wants to share something with me, like she is not soliciting and having to make what must be a pretty stiff monthly rent for her space, and her perfect manicure, and her cards, and her neon, and her Starbucks double espresso.  This terrifies me--- the idea that she will paralyze me with some prophecy… even the preposterous sliver of  gossamer power-ball chance that she can actually see something.  After all, there might be a ghost in my apartment.  There are sounds no rodent makes, and there are dimmings of light, and cold draughts, and a shirt will fall from a towel rack and its random shape on the floor will remind me of some ex, some night that is farther away than a dream.

But nothing annoys me more than my friends who are the armchair astrologers.  Most of my favored 'ologies' do not personify with an 'er'… you have 'ists' and 'ians'…  but these are realer sciences.  Whoever granted these star-children people scientific credibility?  How did this random chart-manipulating become newspaper- worthy and does not the fact that Bob Marley and Ronald Regan have the same birthday mean all bets are off?

How do we become who we are anyway?  A friend of mine has moved to another city and seems to have reinvented himself as a patron of the arts.  Really he had a mad obsessional crush on a young beautiful violinist…but I always have the feeling he stepped into some script he had borrowed from a film… the way teenagers see a movie or watch some TV program and become the character.

Recently I watched this film called 'Interlude' which I remembered seeing when I was a young innocent girl.  I was so taken with the affair between a young carefree journalist and a world-renowned conductor (Oskar Werner)… I met an older (27?) poet one Saturday at the Museum of Modern Art and tried to fit some of the film lines into our conversation.  We made a date to meet again; I even parted my hair like Oskar's lover, and made myself an Interlude-esque 1960's tent dress.  I learned how to make tea the way she did.  Well, the guy probably figured out I was like 15 and stood me up.  But it affected me, the way I dreamed about and visualized my life.

My son was born exactly 9 months after my birthday.  Do we not have some kind of astrological 'simpatico'?  Apparently not.  Apparently I had a little too much to drink at my own party, and was careless, and the most important event of my life just happened, 9 months later.  If he had been born prematurely, would he have a different astrological prognosis?  Why doesn't astrological life begin at conception rather than birth?  Women can theoretically schedule a Cesarian so their baby conforms to a more 'pliant' astrological sign.   Which Horoscope would they then read?

At my Christmas gig, a charming but drunk Indian girl grabbed my hand with great force and bent it nearly out of joint before she reassured me that I had an incredibly long lifeline.  I admit I felt reassured.  But did that girl who was killed last week on 96th and Broadway-- crossing the street--- did she have a long lifeline?  Did her daily horoscope tell her to stay home or to look both ways?  Doubtful.
Neither do I believe that my ex-husband's alcohol binges and boyish charm were attributable, as one of my friends insists, to his birth sign.

I do think we are altered by these images--- by someone who captivates us, or even a film or television program-- a song which gets inside us.  It seems so teenaged, so random, as the kids say.  Why is it I am unmoved by so many people and yet I will give the hat off my head (and I have) to my young doorman who is a former gang-member?  Why is it that all these young girls are straightening their hair and buying shoes they can ill-afford because they want to look like that  girl in some magazine who doesn't even look like herself because everything is so airbrushed and altered?

I am older now, and I am less sure of what I am than of what I am not.  My friends seem ambivalent about making decisions--- about going places-- about leaving their house--- about gigs, and even making recordings--- about mixing, about their cd photographs and what they should wear.  They consult psychologists and astrologers.  There are days I avoid these people.  I don't want anyone to ask me who I date and when they were born.  Then there are days I walk downtown and see an old man playing a violin on the sidewalk without music, and I think, I am this man; he is me… and his melody goes right through my heart, like a ghost walking into me.

In January and February I am always interviewing kids for scholarships.  I've been doing this for years and I am always touched by their eagerness not so much to please, but to be the 'winner', the hero… the chosen one.  They have agonized and consulted friends and mentors about what to wear, how to speak, whether to drink coffee, whether to be mature and say little or whether to be charming and garrulous… and none of it really matters, because I am simply the messenger.

Tonight I returned a phone call to a man who's been flirting with me for years,  who finally had the courage (or sufficient alcohol) to approach me on New Year's Eve… but who has waited these weeks to call… maybe his horoscope was discouraging--- or as he explained he's bi-coastal and miles away---but when I called him back, it just seemed so -- chattery-- -and --well-- just boring…

What I want is: yes.  Last night I played a gig and called an old friend and YES! she said.  I'm THERE.  
It was so refreshing and great--- so 'Interlude-esque'… .although I remember Oskar Werner using the word 'No' like a verb, like an interrogation… and it was such a silly movie.  But there she was, with friends… all of them saying YES without changing their clothes or putting on makeup.  And I was so grateful.. .and we all had such fun.

But here I am,  early Sunday--- letting calls go to voicemail… saying, as is my custom too often… Perhaps… because we have this illusion, some of us, that if we don't make a selection, all possibilities still exist… and life goes on, and the man playing the violin has packed up and gone home, and the day which is dawning is its own world, with unexpected births and deaths… and I well know that Oskar Werner was not a conductor and lover but an actor who died a reclusive alcoholic at close to my present age….and the gypsy downtown is at this moment explaining to some lovesick girl that she must light candles to dispel the curse she has inherited, and these will cost her $60 each, and the girl is pale with longing for a man, and pays…. and I will go to sleep and dream of missing dogs, and lost children, to a soundtrack of music I will forget,  and of the feeling of being loved, the 'Yes' of my past, and perhaps, of my non-astrological future.

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Monday, January 20, 2014


Athletes are lucky.  They train and they practice, but when it comes to the game--- there are referees, there are coaches;  you're not responsible for bad decisions; your coach is.  But when you make the touchdown, it is yours.  And your attitude--- like that guy Sherman who finished off the interception-- and saved the game for his team, just like that--- he had to throw it in the face of his opponent, who was in the exact opposite position of having lost all for his team.  All or nothing.  But the referees-- the announcers-- the analysts--  you are praised or penalized for sportsmanship, the way no one does this in our lives.  They are lucky, these guys.  They know if they have won or lost.  And they get paid, whichever side they are on.  For the players, all bets are on.

My friend's wife has an eating disorder.  I have tried and tried to figure out her thinking.  I have thought--if we could only vomit up the bad years… and leave the good.  And there is so much regurgitated time… so many of us back it endlessly through some kind of wringer--exploit it, publicize it-- until all the truth has been squeezed out.  Or these girls…with their eating disorders… maybe it is the excess… we all get too much of what we don't need and not enough of what we do.  We are stuffed and starving.  Personally I'm not sure what I need.  I'm so obsessed with proving why I don't need anything these days, I've become a reverse-hoarder-- an emotional minimalist.

My older sister still has her 40-year-old wedding gifts in boxes (both weddings, actually, even though one is unmentionable).  What is the meaning of this-- that she can hoard fresh new love away until she needs it?  That it will stay wrapped in the box?  When we were small, she stashed hundreds of packs of M&Ms under her mattress… every single day I shared mine--- and when I saw the layers and layers--- it was astonishing.  Like a bank-heist.  I wonder what happened to all of them-- all the things we don't need-- in a massive pile, all our old memories sewn into a football-field-sized patchwork quilt.

I've figured out what bothers me about that woman Martha… the Roman Catholic kleptomaniac bag lady.  Maybe like a distorted mirror in a Flemish Painting, she is the hideous image of what I can become if I keep on this path of fierce independence, of refusing to 'need' things.  They say kleptomaniacs don't really need what they take (not so for thieves).  She can't possibly need all those paper towels unless she is burning them for fuel.  The grocer maybe just lets her get away with her petty pilferings of biscuit rolls and tinned meat.  Take them… go ahead.  If I was the check-out girl
I would look her straight in the eye,  I would look at her with the eyes of a judge.

But tonight I watched her from behind a locker door, stuffing things in bags…bags for socks, for sneakers… for the stolen toilet tissue and kleenex and paper towels…for the hand towels…. for the bags she tears off rolls, the super-sized lotion dispensers she somehow makes off with...  bags of bags of bags.  I watch her with disdain and antipathy that shames me.  It's Sunday;  I'm not supposed to have uncharitable thoughts.  Today my unequivocal attitude seemed to nearly dare her to speak to me.  I would have replied I was in a non-verbal mood.  The Patriots had lost, after all (I hate the Patriots); and she would surely have walked over and in the most time-consuming way possible explained how she doesn't care about sports, and I would have had to say 'who's speaking of sports?' and she would have had to think about the Fathers of our Country, etc.

What possible reason does this woman have for belonging to a gym?  Because nowhere else will allow her daily access from morning until night including facilities and showers and opportunities for human conversation?  For her it is a sort of group home?  Why is everyone else able to ignore her?

There is a young guitar player that likes me. He claims he can see my soul and he tells me that he loves me.  I feel pain when I think about him--- the kind of pain I associate with love…but I can't oblige him because I know one day he'll look at me and see Martha.  Her hair is the color of an elephant, and her skin is like an old shoe.  Maybe I am the only one who sees her--- like a reverse Wim Wenders angel, she hovers-- my own personal gargoyle-- and a bleakly terrifying version of my own future.

But I want the Wim Wenders version of angel.  I want him to have the beautiful liquid eyes of Bruno Ganz and the intelligence of a philosopher.  I want him to understand me without words, the way the guitar player does not.  And I want the future-mirror to reflect a gracefully aging woman who still writes poetry and plays cello with finesse. I want a personal referee to tell me it's okay I haven't won, and that my bandmate's behavior was abominable and not that I am necessarily right, but that I am not wrong, and Martha is not my problem, and it is okay that she steals from other's lockers because she needs these things, or maybe because she doesn't need these things.  And despite the existence of extreme greed and extreme want in this world, there are hoarders of gold and hoarders of garbage, the over-fed and the starving---  we are all consuming time in precise unison-- no more, no less-- and the four quarters of our 'game' will be scoreless or filled with touchdowns, wins, losses, injury, bench time, disputes and joy.

Many years ago I bought a Seahawks pillowcase for my son who loved sports.  He was about 7, and he looked at me like I was some kind of moron.  So it was only 99 cents, and I liked the color---what did I know about football?  I looked for it in the back of the closet tonight.  He's all grown up and is now a Seattle fan….and is lucky enough to be going to the actual Superbowl game.  So maybe I'll leave it in my locker tomorrow for Martha.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

The Tracks of Someone Else's Tears

It always seems my girlfriends eventually sync up their short-term relationship tidal clocks.  Things rise and fall, and suddenly they're each and every one slammed and up all night, and it's either a bottle or the phone.  Meanwhile I'm writing a song, and it's versus interruptus.   The words of Joseph Brodsky come to mind: if there is any substitute for love, it is memory.  Not, as they seem to insist, an online-arranged quickie or even a candidate from a  genuine husband-fishing site, or a blind date.  Really, nothing helps.  Memory, at this open-wound point, is painful and punishing.  Maybe notes for later, a revenge-blog--- a tear-producing contest, some really bad television-- okay, a couple of glasses of whatever you have on hand--never music, nor ex-boyfriends, films… not until a couple of layers of new skin have 'set'.

For those of us with some perspective--e.g.,  long-term serious heartbreak,  ribbon-worthy emotional challenges, kids who have had issues, family deaths… any kind of life seems preferable to the devastation of which we have had a peek.  I am no longer fussy about what I eat, and although I draw the line at fast-food coffee, most nights I'll say grace to a minimal plate, and pray for a hot shower and no muggings.  I occasionally wade out into relationship low-tide, but if I'm going to swim, I wear a rubber suit and bring my own oxygen.  Just saying.

Parentally speaking,  I'm way more unhinged when kids are upset-- for whatever reason.  It may be co-dependence, it may be hyper-mothering-- but there's that extra-sensory ghost of guilt hovering whenever our own offspring are flirting with the language of failure.  Every love relationship has a sort of death-throe-- even the healthy ones shed a skin and eventually morph into something less passionate and desperate; but when our kids are in flux, somehow the smoky nightmare of a child's suicide haunts me.  They are so fragile-- so unprepared, and it is my fault for sending them out into the world with plenty of warm sweaters and a decent education but an underdressed tender heart.

So I listen, and I empathize, because I have now let this little thread of fear weave itself into my night--- the kind that makes us prick up our ears at the sound of a siren and dread the local news.

Two stories that diluted my girlfriend-empathy and haunted my weekend--(besides the Weight Watchers poster-boy governor who had the amazing idea to handle his bridge and tunnel politics with the same solution his personal GI surgeon used on his gut).  One was the uptown oncologist who maybe let go of his son's hand for a second--- a split second-- and we all know how boys hate to hold hands especially when they've just been to their after school sports program or a peer playdate…  and the other was the 4-year-old boy who by some utter lapse in the system was helplessly left in the hands of sick sadistic monsters who were ironically paid by some agency for the opportunity of torturing this child literally to death and who had managed while still alive to remark to a witness that ' he's not sure about God'.  And still, being starved, burned, beaten and abused--- no one, including his birth mother and her posse band of lawyers--- was protesting until the cameras were turned on and the little coffin was being prepared.

Personally I remember 2 incidents that really threw me: once, I left my baby boy with his Grandma for about 2 hours and when I returned, she was weeping and blurted out---'he's not going to make it…'
I quickly realized she was referring to her 80-year old cardiac-compromised brother.  But for a brief moment, the bottom dropped out of my life and this simultaneous self-loathing and matricidal passion came up like a tidal undertow.  The second was one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls during rough teenage years, with a teary voice on the other end (my son's best friend) hysterically sobbing 'I can't tell you--- it's just too bad…' and me collapsing on the floor in grief and shock… and then barely hearing the next most beautiful words I have ever heard '... in jail'.  Still, for those seconds, twice--- I felt I could almost know the devastation of this very worst parental punishment.  But not quite.

We are each the center of our universe and for most of us our own personal grief is larger than any empathic sorrow we can feel for massive devastations and tragedies.  There are fires and typhoons and mutilations and war and genocide and earthquakes.  And here we sit in our little for the most part warm rooms-- worrying about stock portfolios, arthritic pets, bills-- crying over a broken relationship.   On the news disappointing retail sales numbers get slightly more time than these 2 children-- one well-cared, well-dressed and carefree-- the other a victim of suffering and abuse-- both innocent-- both just here-- 4 days ago-- -and now gone-- irreversibly, devastatingly, terminally and hopelessly absent; one leaving a father forever damaged, and the other leaving all of us with a hopeless sense that we have failed.  And I sit here, grateful that my own has survived another day, that this siren waxing and waning outside is not   for one of 'mine'-- not yet, anyway…  and feeling somehow guilty and sad and slightly fortunate at the same time.

And somehow, in some horrific version of television irony...I clearly hear, from my machine which is now airing some early morning repeat of some 'Pathetic Reality' show-- because this is what they are, these endlessly regurgitated variations on a revolting cheap theme-show yawn-- a woman saying 'Girl...Jesus might be okay as a companion, but you can't fuck him' (bleeped, of course--- but not so that you can't hear it).

I am a so-called rock-chick.  I have seen and done many things that have made my own mother compelled to distance herself.  So what misplaced, disinherited genetic morality trait has brought me to feel today like I have been sliced in half and dared to throw my lot in with some Solomon who has failed to step in to tell me or anyone else in this culture what to do about it?  Come back, Joseph Brodsky, and give us another option.

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