Thursday, November 20, 2014

Once a week I take a Latin Hip Hop dance class.  I've been doing this for years now.  The teacher is a dread-locked ab-ripped prime specimen of dancer-athlete funk-man.  Most of the girls in the always-packed class have a sort of crush on him and he radiates sexy wild confidence and charisma.    I forget my cares there, and dance like no tomorrow, even though I am older by far than anyone else.  Over the years, I've become friendly with my teacher; he's confided his heartbreaks and challenges; occasionally now he has aches and pains and injuries.

Tonight there were a few new girls.  He interacted with one of them, as he often does-- guiding her through a routine-- and as he put his hand on her arm, she trembled and blushed to deep red.  I had this flashback of being 15, an aspiring ballerina, in this African technique class with a well-known dancer named Rod Rodgers.  We all had this giggly girl fascination with him; he was statuesque and beautiful, and he moved like a young god.  He'd touch us to correct our posture or stance, and I would feel electrified.  Walking home I would touch myself wherever he touched me and feel changed forever.  He was always gentle and never inappropriate… he was strong and extremely tender, as though he was well aware of our fragile age and our beating hearts.  I knew when I was older and found my soulmate, he would touch me exactly that way.

Over the years I have exchanged so many stories with hundreds and thousands of women.  Some have been so violated and abused; some feared and hated men; others craved their attention mercilessly.  I realized, in this class tonight, that my sense of men-- my personal barometer of the physical experience-- had so much to do with my dance teacher, and his lyrical personal tenderness with just the right mix of respect and love and no agenda but his professional focus.  No shame, no awkward hesitation.  He was strong and direct and perfect.  Graceful.  Nurturing.

When I met my first love, I wasn't completely sure until he touched me.  Then I knew.  I've had so many lovers since-- a couple of husbands, and many live-in partners.  Not all of them were just right, but one or two were.  I find it hard to fathom, in this era of online dating and Facebook romance, how anyone can sense this from a digital introduction.  I don't even know how people can buy something as personal as a guitar online.  I have to hold them.  I can go through hundreds; then one is just right-- the Goldilocks thing… but harder.  It's so intimate… your guitar… the neck, the body… you will be holding this thing and playing your heart out through this….how can anyone buy a guitar by spec and color and shape, like a mail-order bride?  You will grow old with this, and become more and more entwined.  It will become your voice, your muse, your friend.  When your lover leaves, you will pick it up and it will cry for you.

When you have children, something in you knows how they need to be touched-- at least for some of us.  They elicit some ultimate tenderness---especially when they are feverish or sad, or sleeping.  You stroke their hair and some wonderful calm and quiet joy fills your heart.  They grow up and you miss this.  Sometimes you don't even realize that you miss this.  I can't remember my tough father ever touching me… I am sure my Mom must have, but she was always busy.  I had dogs.  They were always happy to sleep on my bed and endlessly affectionate.

Last week I observed my son and his girlfriend.  He touches her in this way that lets me know he has understood something.  I hope this is what she needs; they seem to be so happy together, and this doesn't always last.  Sometimes you get to this point where the mere touch of someone is enough to drive you mad-- the same person whose body you couldn't get enough of just a few brief months before.  Such is life and passion.

I am older now; I can only remember the way I used to toss and turn at night thinking about my first great love-- how the separations were unbearable and the minutes felt like days… and how the nights together would pass-- sometimes we'd stay awake, to stretch them out.  How I would dream about him.  He died so young; I have a pack of letters which were painful for him to write-- the kind of letters you only write in your 20's when you are brave and burning up.  I have these to remind me that it was real--  and to remind me about the touch.

Last night at a noisy rock club, a woman I'd just met was ill.  She lay down on a bench next to me with her head in my lap, and I stroked her hair the way I used to stroke my son's when he was sick.  I felt this wave of compassion--- of peace.  Maybe this is what nurses have-- the ones with a calling;  or caretakers.  Maybe this is what love and passion become as we get older, because lately I have not thought about 'the touch'.  Anyway, the woman got better.

I don't like people to play my guitars anymore… well, maybe a few people--- but only the ones I really love-- the ones that have 'the touch'.  It's like having a new baby-- they are so innocent and clean and tiny--- and everyone wants to pick them up, and you let them, but it is unbearable, and you want everyone to hold them just right--with gentleness and a sense of what is exactly right for them.  Some of us have this-- a kind of healing thing, a kind of 'connection' that made your husband not want to leave, that makes your kids know they are 'home' when they cry on your shoulder.  And some of us may never understand this; some of us are warped by cruelty and have fallen in love with pain.  Some people whack their guitars and smash things and feel better.  I guess I used to do that occasionally too.  But I know better, and I will always be grateful to Rod Rodgers, and I hope that new girl in my dance class  and my own kids will pass on 'the touch'.

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Friday, November 14, 2014


Last week my son turned 25.  This prompted an uninspired shopping expedition which these days consists of a whirlwind tour in and out of various Soho 'label' stores, me getting a crash course in trendy fashion, the mid-20's consumer culture, a hands-on introduction to several moderate luxury items I've browsed online.  I'm always hopeful that by some miracle of fate and season there will be a single pair of leather boots or J Brand jeans or that Montcler jacket at 95 percent discount-- an irregular, a close-out, a mid-season return.  The reality is we both generally end up hungry, exhausted and humbled-- as though we've been allowed the briefest glimpse of paradise but no entry.

My French god-daughter and I once went on a day-long spree during which she tried on every dress, coat, ensemble, boot--- up and down Madison… twirling and deliberating, strutting like a princess, and ended up happily eating $1 hotdogs in our thrift shop jeans and leather.

My son doesn't have that gene.  He has sophistication mixed with ghetto values that want to own these things.  An iphone 6 on an entry-level salary doesn't phase him.  His college loan debt does not bother him.  His closet of discarded label-clothing is no argument.   Debt is his back-door man.  My lectures and principles are tap-water through the platinum sieve of his fancy.  The better man in him knows these material things are transitory.  But so is life.  My brain is my largest asset; his future wallet is his.  This year he hates John Varvatos.  I view that as progress.

I've had the same gynecologist since I was a college freshman.  We have developed this rapport now--- he has seen me through the important phases of womanhood and sexuality.  I've been a loyal patient.  He generally is non-invasive and non-judgmental-- asks little.  But as he approaches retirement, he has begun this tradition that we go into his little office and we talk-- no longer about sex and childbirth and clinical things--- but about life, the books we've read-- the death of the New York intellectual, why plastic surgery is perceived by a patient's friends as a disappointment-- etc.  He likes me.  I have a brain, he says, with an irony that tells me he doesn't often encounter this in his young patients.  It is irrelevant that I haven't had the kind of economic success he'd predicted for the precocious Princeton girl with the long legs and enormous vocabulary.  I had 'married' my career priority and surprised myself by my own eccentric ability to manage the city on a starving artist's income.  We have this professional intimacy and I trust him; he values me as a patient and I generally see him every year around my son's birthday-- Election Day-- marathon week.  It's a ritual I will miss when he finally throws in his speculum.

As I leave his office, I am vaguely consoled that there is no real emotional hangover from my failure to dazzle my son with a gift.  He deserves to be dazzled-- but is approaching the age when he will indulge himself rather than take the proverbial food from his mother's plate.  Besides, I gave him my iPad.  It was an extravagant gift from a super-rich lawyer to acknowledge the volunteer work I do.  I confess I've never used it.  It's not a brand new one, but he liked it.  It's a pretty good present, with another year of Applecare still on the books.

I walked to and from the doctor's office; the weather was mild and I saved the $5 metro-fare.  Coming through the park, I was thinking over our discussion about the subjectivity of sexuality, and I stepped on a $20.  $20.  In my pathetic world, this is life-changing.  Maybe in some households on the other side of the world-- -even the other side of town, this is also a windfall.  But in the Soho Bloomingdales, this was a useless bill.  I'd browsed $400 shirts, $600 lace-up boots, a really nice jacket for $2,600, and $500 jeans.  Everything seemed just so sad to me…there were a couple of young men in there buying-- some overdressed mothers indulging their sons… and 2 pairs of rap-star posers with every single symbol of fashion status including designer tattoos… commentating and handling the scarves and belts.  It's not about the quality, my son explained, who had generally worn the Century 21 belts and Syms parkas with sportsmanship and style-- it's the fit.   A similar observation had been made in my gynecologist's office, which elicited a subdued chuckle from the wise doctor who had authored, in the 1970's,  a cutting edge book called 'Healthy Sex'.

Outside Bloomingdales, after our fill of Soho labels and the kid-in-the-candy-store thing, 2 of the girls we'd seen inside were trying on handcuffs and being shown into a patrol car.  One size fits all, I remarked.  My son gave me that look-- -after all, I'd bailed him out a few times during teenage years.   The amazing thing was, he'd only stolen things he didn't really want-- like they were for someone else… some kind of warped pride in that.  Besides, he always had those rich girlfriends who shopped for him at the Prada and Armani store.  But even that got tired.

My friend has a high-end art gallery.  Last week she hired an outside consultant for an in-house gallery retreat which was a 4-hour meeting during which the consultant told her the place was dysfunctional and she failed to communicate and acknowledge her employees.  They were too disheartened by her attitude to fight for their opinions.  For this advice she paid $12,000.  I gave her the identical analysis 2 weeks ago on the phone, for nothing.  But without a price tag it was useless.  Consumo ergo sum.

I still refuse to give in.  With my $20 I bought some groceries, 2 great books at a thrift shop, a fantastic vintage ceramic tile as a new-baby present, a lotto ticket, a homeless guy's hotdog and coke, and I tipped my local Starbucks barista $5.  He gives me great coffee every day and charges me for a refill which is free.  $20 would not get my son through half a day.  When I die my greatest asset will go with me.  No, at this moment I can't afford to fix my teeth or have my bass re-fretted; I can't afford my son's shoes or a new iPad.  I still have no cellphone. But I will get what I need, as will my son.  He may even get what he wants, which is not necessarily what he needs, as my gynecologist and I know, and which he will learn when he really needs to know this-- when he finds a Moncler jacket or a diamond Rolex lying in his path and he decides to leave it there for the next guy.

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