Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Looking Down

Lately I have been looking down as I walk.  I find things in the street--- sometimes a quarter or an old penny-- last week an iPhone 6, someone's keys (another short story here, for another time)--something satisfying in returning lost items to their rightful owner.  Occasionally, as with wandering dogs and cats, things or pets have been 'deleted', let go.  Not everyone has that defective gene that makes us believe objects have a soul, that they emit some kind of emotional radar-- some vague longing and belong to us.  I am burdened.  I collect souls and sorrows and stories like missing children.  I found a stray dog once-- years ago.  I lived uptown, near Harlem-- was determined to find a good home for him, left him with a friend in Soho while I went on the road for 2 nights.  He'd only known me for 3 days.  I came back to the city, found that he'd escaped his soft collar and leash while tied outside a bar on Broome Street (ah, my friends' priorities…)… and there he was, curled up by the stairs of my old building, more than 100 blocks away.  He was mine.

Most things in my life have not been that clear.  I find it hard to recognize new shoes, the 'right' apartment, lunch.  Love.  But that's another novel.  A few weeks ago I read an account of a blind man who was injured in a subway accident.  When the train came in, it said, he was looking up.  That had all kinds of resonance for me-- religious, spiritual-- irony.  When you are blind I suppose it doesn't make much difference where you look.

My increasingly solitary day trips have an inner soundtrack.  I do not carry an iPod or a phone, but I maintain an inner commentary--- it's unstoppable, my voice.  Like my own personal Walt Whitman.  Of course, it began as personal encounters-- observations, mental photography.  But lately the flotsam and jetsam of objects in the street and gutters speak to me. Harlem, where cleanliness is not consistent, is a virtual Pandora's box.  Block by block---gentrification alternates with the random and spectacular pairing of oddities and tragedy.  On Lexington and 122nd, there is a men's shelter.  Sunday summer nights the tenants are chilling on the street, sprawled across those strange new metal sculptural seating installations that line the curbs there… some in pairs, some talking trash, some quietly staring off, smoking, hitting me up for a dollar or anything.  Many of them know me by now--- they know I'm not just a tourist, and I'm walking back from Pathmark where I spend my meagre food allowance as carefully as possible.  They don't bother me.  One of them always shares with me that his favorite color is black-- I like that.  None of them are looking up.

On 119th Street, by the basketball courts, a young couple is having a discussion.  The girl wants an accounting-- a reconciliation, maybe.  Her boy is not looking at her.  I could tell her, spare her hours of circuitous conversation, start her healing.  He's gone.  He's not coming back--- maybe he'll fuck her, out of boredom--- once or twice-- but he's not going to be looking.  I can always tell with guys.  I even know before they know.  This drove my husband crazy.  I was waiting, he said… I was setting a trap for him.

I do remember the way he looked at me, my young lovely husband.  I remember some woman at an art auction coming up to me---a stranger-- and saying to me-- If any man in my life ever looked at me the way that man looks at you, I would die happy.  I took things for granted then.  Love-- passion-- candlelight.  Dinner.  An endless supply.  Looking.

I also remember my baby boy.  The surprise of him… the way he looked at me with those serious eyes-- with complete trust.  So many of my girlfriends forgot to have children… and it wasn't on my priority list; it was a random act of love.  Maybe I should never say something like this, but I pity any woman who hasn't carried the weight of life and experienced the colossal pain of birth and the utter miracle of giving life, of having it look back at you.

I am sitting in Starbucks to escape the indescribable traumatic building sounds that accompany the word 'renovation'.  For us day sleepers,  the endless New York City real estate boom market has become a challenge.  I have a recurrent dream of earthquakes.  I am running, the columns are crumbling around me, the ground is trembling.  I awake and my bed is literally shaking.  9 AM promptly.  Ironically a song is on the current playlist here--- one of those indie dreary bands but something unpretentious and slow-- Everybody's looking up… and I'm looking down…  I don't know or care who it is.  Somehow this tough-kid phrase from my middle school years comes into my head-- I'm gonna fix it so you have to look up to look down.  

Everything changes.  Neighborhoods, love.  Brigitte Bardot turned 80 this week.  I watched Le Mepris a few nights ago.  Saturday night I was lucky enough to play in a concert at Lincoln Center.  The singer, a formerly gorgeous and sought-after vocal star,  now lives in a kind of homeless hotel.  Her life and story was a revelation.  She performed one of my songs and it was amazing.  The room was so quiet-- I could hear my bass notes and I played with a fragility I had previously not experienced.  Two hours later I was in Bay Ridge playing raucous garage music to a mostly drunk and rowdy audience which included a large Down's Syndrome woman who charged the stage at regular intervals during every single song.  Was one gig worth more than the other?  I don't know. I was paid exactly the same for both.

It's a bi-polar world, literally speaking.  At the risk of stating the obvious, I guess Down must be the new Up.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Eating Rice

The Ray Rice elevator assault and the harsh career sentence have been on my mind today.  Ray was the huge star of my high-school alma mater.  His adorable Grandma knows my Mom.  I have watched football with quasi-maternal passion since he became a Raven.  At 5' 8" he was not born with the physique of a typical running back.  He developed his skills, he worked at his game with fierce dedication.

My doctor was a Big Ten college all-star.  He has explained to me many times the mindset of a linebacker-- the brainwave-warping, combat-style mind-fuck the coaches beat into their players so they come out onto the field ready to take bullets, to smash into defensive walls with the intensity and drive of human tanks, with neck-breaking concussional force and no fear.  Professional football is a rough sport.  The laxity of penalties for what looks to me like near-gratuitous violence in random play is baffling.  Players are paralyzed, even killed… and who is held responsible?  No one.  

I am not defending domestic violence.  I think physical assault by either men or women is not just a sign of dysfunction but a relationship death sentence.  I also think the line between aggressive passion and injury has been blurred.  How many of our punk-rock and hip-hop romantic couples have sported casts and black eyes?  Of course, there is a double standard for men and women.  It's rare that we condemn a woman for bullying her man, for inciting a physical response which might be acceptable between two men, but always deemed inappropriate when the inciter/victim is a woman.  This is one area in which inequality among sexes rules.  

Cut to the media-hyped image of that Columbia student carrying her mattress around as her senior thesis.  Don't get me started, our beloved Joan Rivers would comment.  First of all, in my day a thesis was something scholarly and important--- a major piece of research which prepares you for future theses and books-- something which makes a contribution to available literature and breaks new intellectual ground.  Granted what now passes as high art, performance art-- is a sad minor reflection of the intentions of the serious contemporary artists who established the 'canon'.  The fact that this is passed off as thesis material would make me think hard before I'd shell out the kind of tuition Columbia charges.  I wonder how desperately this girl competed for her acceptance to an urban Ivy League school-- the very one whose reputation she is now hell-bent on challenging.

Again, I'm not trivializing the trauma of date-rape.  But is her personal vendetta against this man really the responsibility of the University?  Should an institution be pressured to eject another student because this attention-mongering person can't legally handle her own affair?  Sex is an adult-ish activity.  There is always some element of personal choice in consensual sex; some boundaries crossed or loosened.  A college student is presumed to be mature enough to make some personal decisions.  Whether and where she failed to control the consequence of her action…. is another issue.  But how is an academic umbrella institution responsible for the stupid action of one of its students, based on testimony of a mishap which she'd declined to report for several months.  She certainly isn't shy.  Obviously a bit of a red flag there.  I just find her annoying and juvenile.  Why doesn't she take her mattress to Africa and demonstrate against serious violations against women?

Recently I was friended on Facebook by someone whose name was vaguely familiar.  He's a well respected music producer who had massive success in the 1980's.  I had a nauseating recognition when I looked at old photos.  In the mid 1980's, this same man had asked me to meet him to discuss my charming and original cassette of home-recorded songs which had somehow found their way to his massive desk.  Not only flattered but thrilled, I went to see him at his 5-star midtown hotel where he explained that because he was expecting an important conference call, we'd have to meet in his private suite.   The guy had a gorgeous wife and kids--- I dismissed any trepidation… and ended up, 2 hours later, with my clothes ripped and tattered, vomiting in the elevator on the way down.  I lost my keys, my wallet, and my musical innocence that night, even though I managed to fight him off.  I ended up moving to the UK and never again submitted my music or had any vision of pop-star or songwriting success.  Did I petition his label or his major company to dismiss him?  Did I file charges or even tell anyone outside of my husband (with whom he'd worked, the asshole!)?  I did not.  I vowed I would never again meet anyone in a hotel room without love or witnesses or body guards.  

This week I've been reading one of Vargas-Llosa's political novels 'Death in the Andes' and in a pivotal scene, a pedestrian young guard bursts in on one of the top military officers who is beating the crap out of a woman while she screams and begs for mercy.  The guard kills the officer, kidnaps the woman in a car where she proceeds to scream and protest that she loved the officer--- he was her lover and she begged him to beat her violently as sexual foreplay.   Irony.  

I don't know what happened in that Columbia student's room.  I do know my son had a few psychotic girlfriends in college who threatened to slit their wrists if he didn't spend the night with them, and then reported him as a deadbeat Dad because he failed to pay for a pregnancy test for one of them who happened to be on the pill.  It was trouble.  Especially when two of them teamed up and went to his Dean.  But it was trouble for us-- the family.  I dealt sympathetically with the girls and chastised my son appropriately.  I didn't take it to the University.  Hopefully, given this generation's short memory, the facebook world has long dismissed charges, and the girl, after a few other dramatic incidents, changed schools and moved on.  But in general--- expecting your parents, or your affiliated parental-designated institution, to take a position in your personal misfortunes--- seems not just juvenile but absurd.  

I also don't know what happened outside of Ray Rice's elevator; there were unfortunately no cameras in mine.  But what I don't understand is why this is the jurisdiction of the NFL.  Domestic abuse is all too common among football players, partially for the way they are programmed to compete; partially because they are often victims of women who pursue athletes the way they pursue rockstars-- -for money, for the thrill of being next to the limelight, for the drama.  Some of these players are boys who have spent so much of their lives learning plays and practicing, adopting a 'violent' competitive mindset-- -they are relatively unequipped to deal with relationships.  I have read umpteen psychologists' assessments of the financially dependent abused woman refusing to testify against her mate.  But Janay is the mother of their child.  She is his wife, as well as the designated victim, and she is in his corner.  I feel she has been denied a voice.  I am not condoning his behavior, but I am condemning the public 'stoning' of what I consider a private affair.

Just as we all have our constitutional rights, we have the right of choice.  If Rihanna loves Chris Brown after all, so be it.  If we all listened to our mothers and married that nice boring boy next door at 21, what guarantee is there that he will not become an alcoholic or a wife-beater?  Besides, there would be a lot less great sex in our world.  And without instagram and youtube, we might have retained our constitutional right to Privacy, and maybe, just maybe… Ray Rice would have learned a lesson, managed his affairs, and his wife and daughter would have kept their VIP stadium seats and happily witnessed a winning season.

As for the Mattress Girl, she needs to re-read The Princess and the Pea… and when she describes with great poise to the media how she shakes in her bed every day… I give her an F on her thesis, a D in Drama, a C for acting, and I quake in my chair here realizing I have spent precious minutes on her pathetic vendetta when there are serious social and human problems.  Since the priorities of higher education have apparently evaded her tiny petty world-view… perhaps a 2-semester suspension would better serve her here.  Let her eat Rice.

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