Thursday, February 27, 2014

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Did you ever notice how cities each have their own distinct smell?  I mean, you could air-drop me blindfolded into a random street… and I might not be able to ID it straight off, but I could at least tell you where I am not.  

We are all so totally sick of the arctic freeze, but the silver lining for me is this cold starry smell of New York winter nights, especially when there is no wind and no humidity-- like a clean black dog under UV light.  Although I am definitely missing the distinct molecules of Philip Seymour Hoffman's exhaled brilliance.  The city air will never be the same--no matter how many babies shriek their first sweet breath into the black sky, no matter how many genius cold brass tenor solos there are for us to inhale…

Smart people need to have a reason for everything… an analysis-- like black being the absence of light, or someone dies because their girlfriend told them she would never, ever again lie down in their bed… and black for them is the absence of her.  So many of us stay (or stray) because we are afraid of the dark--because the night, as opposed to a sunny day--- can feel endless and terrifying.   So many people use because they need to understand the dark-- -to befriend it-- and when you go just one step too far, and lie down with it--- you may have crossed over.

At night things poke me like needles.  Thoughts.  Obsessions.  Desire.  People steal more in the dark.  Years back, someone broke into my flat and took everything.  My underwear.  My sewing machine.  Vitamins.  They left books.  I was obsessed with deciphering the mystery of it.  I had just had a brief affair with a published but reputedly bi-polar writer. I met him at the Figaro one night and took him home-- just like that, the way things happened in those days.  The way you knew when you went in for a coffee that you were going to have an adventure.  It went on for a bit, but I met a musician the next week.  The writer was getting out of control and I dumped him.  It had to be him--a crime of passion, revenge… maybe he would return and slit my throat, cut off a lock of hair.  At night the phone would ring---and ring… I refused to answer.   It felt so Edgar Allen Poe.

I finally realized: Having someone steal from you is sort of a gift.  You learn to live without it-- they didn't get your soul, and you probably should have given it to them, anyway, without a fight-- -without regret--- because so much of possession is tinted with greed and that taints the object, takes away its grace.

Here is a little Winter Tale:  Years back, maybe just after 9/11 when New York was in a sort of massive depression… one of my old friends from the Palladium days called me.  She had an eviction notice--- was strung out, sick.
I went over, loaned her $50.  She got high.  She looked like hell.  The place stank of vomit and old whiskey and breath.  So she had this great chalk drawing on black paper that Keith Haring had done for her, back in the day.  Sell it, she said.  It was worth at least $20,000, even in the dumpster market of post-9/11.  He had signed it to her--- he never signed things like that.  It was great--- with naked people jumping all over and space ships, and stars, in a black sky. You could smell the wild chill--  the Bacchanalian thing.
Give me a few days, I said… I'll raise some cash for you.  But I failed.  I was always a few bucks short of rent and playing in the subway was non-lucrative and I had a child to feed.  So I brought over this hipster wannabe collector who had this fixation with the 1980's because he had sort of missed it somehow.  He saw the Keith and said to her--- my formerly beautiful friend with the pale lips and stringy hair in her unwashed camisole-dress… I'll give you $3,000.  Not a penny more.  No, no, NO!!! I screamed with my eyes… and tried to pull her into the untidy bathroom… but he was counting out the money and she was sweating… and he rolled it up and off it went, like a swaddled baby being torn from its poor desperate mother.  The greedy bastard.  He actually thought I'd go out with him--- like I'd be impressed with his MO.  I told him the Haring had already decreased in value by 80% because it belonged to him and hung up.

My friend suicided 6 years ago, from a window on the LES.  Last week I saw the picture had sold at a London auction for $172,000 as 'the property of a Swiss collector'.  The bastard.  First he loaned it to some high-profile show so it had a pedigree and it was white-washed the way these sleazy rich dealers do it these days.  But I know how he stole it… and I know how she processed it and just let it go, the way Keith in his pure days just let things go...and I think of her in these black starry freezing nights shivering in her nightdress with the yellow crust on her mouth-- one of my unwashed angels. Or maybe she is up there in the freezing star-smell getting high with Jim Carroll and Philip Seymour Hoffman, teaching him how not to be afraid of the dark-- teaching me to not just lie down with the night but to let things go, to give people the chance to steal, if that is what it takes… like a winking angel.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Hole-hearted Love

Ice is sliding off the brand new World Trade 1 building… they are putting up protective scaffolding.  There are ghosts everywhere in that downtown square.  Anyone can feel them.  To have erected a slick expensive Port Authority money-maker so close to a sacred area seems somehow an inappropriate challenge to the skyscraper Gods. There are souls there… there are living fossils… business as usual here in a 21st century phallic overpriced tower with bragging rights seems a violation.  Some boyish spirit is up on top, throwing chunks down, the way my mischievous son couldn't resist throwing gravel from our roof on the cars below.

Valentine's Day is tough for 9/11 widowers.  Some have not learned to love again.  This building does not represent closure for anyone except the developers who will bank the profits.  It pokes the sky like a bayonet, like a pointy thorn in grieving skin.  Hearts are not welcome here.

So many of my friends are feeling down on this particular day.  My facetious Facebook remarks about requited love being over-rated are not appreciated.  One of my girlfriends keeps reminiscing about a perfect February 14th, oh-so-long ago.  What she will not remember is that she sabotaged and abused every single relationship she ever had, and ends up compulsively alone with a bottle or a pint of Haagen Dazs watching Bette Davis movies on Netflix, rewriting the past.

I have been to not one but two February 14 weddings…. one with the red heart-shaped guitar picks with the names of the bride and groom forever.  I still have the pick.  They still have the divorce papers, I assume.  The other one lasted 5 months.  Couldn't take the July NYC heat.

For me, I always take this day with a grain of salt.  I lost the great love of my young life to a horrid illness and rather than bitterness and child-support, I only have the lovely letters, sand from the beach where we slept our first summer, promises, a piece of his old jacket, a box of cigarette butts, some locks of his golden hair… memories.  Everything else has been gravy.  The meat and potatoes of my life, actually.  Children-- things of love that are beyond love.  My family.

Weather can make things a little worse.   For the moderately depressed and solitary, a snow day can be a trigger.  My own father, when we were small, spent a snow-bound weekend barricaded in our den with several bottles of scotch and ended up in a hospital rehab.  I understand him now, although he'll never know, and I can never say that to him, because that was an era of denial.

I can't stop thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman.  The weather was thawing when he shut himself in; it was practically spring.  They do say that April is the cruelest month, and more suicides take place in spring than in the dark winter months.  Or maybe that's not the way it happened at all.  But my Dad-- in the 1960's--- we had telephones, and a television, and when that claustrophobia set in--- there were no windows-- the snow was nearly 4 feet high.

Today we have the internet.  We are shut in, but our friends talk to us and look at us and email, and we exchange heart wreck and poetry and songs at 3 AM… a window in the darkness.  For true heartache, nothing helps.  I keep telling my niece, who can see her most recent 'ex' on Instagram-- laughing, hanging out, half naked with his latest tattoos not of her… We are women, I say.  We are the biblical 'vessel' which in layman's terms is a 'hole'.  Men fight and lie to get inside of us.  Some knock and politely enter,  some slide in, some thrust themselves in… and some crawl in like a dog.  But when they leave-- and they do leave-- even my first and only true love who assured me we would stay this way forever, on the beach-- entwined-- has long been buried like the good Catholic he was-- they leave a hole in our heart in the shape of their body.  In the case of my niece, it is a rapper's penis-shaped hole.  Whatever.  But we don't enter them in the same way.

I always knew this.  In the 7th grade this kind of cool older boy with a blue car used to drive down the road  as I walked home and would roll down his window and stare at me with these hooded eyes like a snake.  He told me he was going to get inside of me and of course I had no clue what he meant, and I would run…and he never did, but someone did.  And then I knew what he meant.

For most women, all these holes leave a scar somewhere.  Some of us are married to other men, and never let anyone see these marks.  New Yorkers have a 9/11 scar somewhere inside.  Those towers left a hole in us, and this new monstrosity does nothing to bind that hole.  Quite the opposite.  I can't help thinking there was someone--- at least one person inside, who had no family, no loved ones--- a lost soul who had no funeral or service, no name read aloud, was never engraved on the walls. Odds are, in New York City, there are lurkers and strangers everywhere.  Maybe he is throwing the ice chunks down.  Maybe he has befriended Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The snow muffles things--- mutes things.  A strange white blessing in a city of soot.  Like the white rose petals we threw onto my friend's coffin as they buried her.  And spring will come, whether we like it or not.  I believe this with certainty.

My heart is worn like an old shoe.  It is scarred and marked and tattooed everywhere.   I have loved too well and too many times and not well enough and have cried enough to make tracks on my face.  But it still beats.  Just 2 weeks ago Philip Seymour Hoffman's was beating and maybe he was dreading Valentine's Day-- -the weather report-- breakfast, the unbearable contrast of his children's innocence on the West Village playground.  Who knows?  But as all of us who have witnessed birth know--- the millisecond between life and death is that one heartbeat.  Between utter joy and unfathomable despair.  And in between is a beating bloody heart.  Relentless until it isn't.  Love, like our bodies, is timestamped.  Women, I believe, take the hit most of the time.  But let's own it.  Alone, in a relationship-- separated, together… whatever… like all matter, or anti-matter, it changes in form.  Embrace it in all seasons, in all its forms.

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