Monday, June 29, 2015

Carnival

Besides of course the unprocessable Charlotte murders, the now-weekly incidents of terrorism, the daily cruelties and injustices which stick in my throat like indigestible stale bread of communion, the story that has haunted my dreams for weeks is the flooded zoo in Georgia.  The image of these bewildered animals roaming the muddy roads-- hiding, hunting--  the bloody white tiger which was shot by Georgian authorities because it killed a man… the utter incongruity of lions and bears, walking the streets of a city unaccompanied… looking for a context.

I remember once visiting a zoo in Italy when I was young….the animals weren't protected and respected the way they were here in the Bronx.  People threw food and objects at the bears and laughed at them.  One bear seemed to be genuinely 'simple' or mentally deficient-- obviously these things must happen, among animals-- and like a pathetic clown was making fun of itself, for the audience.  It was intolerable for me, an animal lover…

There is something really sad about a zoo….I mean, these animals are raised in captivity, kept relatively safe-- but like our dogs they are flabby and lazy, and lose their instincts and skills.  They are not quick enough to hunt in the wild, to run, to mate with true passion, to be fierce.  Like our pet turtles and fish in tanks… we buy man-made symbols of their habitat, but their artificial world is a bizarre little replica of nature, and their leashless existence without predators is abnormal.

So facing a sort of natural disaster, with no one to protect them, they were suddenly dumped into a world which is not their world, but a civilized city, also turned chaotic by the flooding-- bewildered, relying on keepers and caretakers for their needs they were helpless and terrified.  Some of them, using the only defense available, were hunted down as protection.  Killed through no fault of their own--- looking for some reminder of their environment-- trees, a place to nest, a rooftop--the hippo swimming in a city square, a baby bear clinging to an air conditioning unit, a hyena on a man's balcony…  And some of them still wandering, starving, wondering… the inventory at a zoo of this nature is difficult… unknown deaths and escapes in this kind of situation when human coffins are floating freely in the streets, from the waters rising.  Who protects us, in a natural disaster?   Noah's ark of course comes to mind, but what of the non-chosen animals, bellowing helplessly as the waters rose?

The other bit of information from this relatively minor crisis was the local assessment of the citywide damage-- which looked extensive and devastating--- at $18 million.  In Manhattan, this does not even cover an average luxury penthouse renovation.  Maybe a very minor Picasso painting.  Context.

It's been a strange year-- train accidents, earthquakes… that same night I learned about the Georgian zoo animals, I listened to one of the Everest climbers who escaped death from the quake-triggered avalanche.  Random occurrences…  people who seem rather calm.  And then there is the pedestrian-- just crossing a street… who gets smashed by an out-of-control SUV, who left her house in the morning with a list, and maybe unmatched underwear and dishes in the sink… and never went back… who was judged not by her accomplishments but by what she left undone.  This terrifies me… all the loose endings, all the unfinished stories.

On Mondays when I come across town after my gig, there is one bus driver only on the route.  I get to know these guys-- their habits, their loneliness-- this is a strange time-- hours of back and forth with a handful of passengers and often an empty bus.  The current one has this sort of OCD thing-- he floors it through the park so he just makes the light on Fifth Ave.  It's a little dangerous, and I can feel his adrenaline pump, his heart rate soar-- it's a little bit of a thrill.  I don't know what he'd do if a cab was pushing the downtown light on Fifth and he had to brake suddenly or crash.  I guess this gets him through the night.  One day he'll be replaced.  One day I might get replaced, or be gored by a lost zoo animal.  WIll he wonder about me?  Doubtful.

We all notice how animals elicit world sympathy the way people often do not.  The Save The Whales and Tigers movements seemed to have been celebrity-embraced for many, many years before the Hunger Project.  Youtube hits for cute animals or hippos helping wounded zebras, empathetic elephants-- are viral.  How many of these viewers and 'likers' actually bring a meal to an older person right in their building who may be hungry or unable to eat from loneliness?

I am someone who misses things and people.  I was born with the kind of hole in my heart that can't be fixed.  Things get stuck in there.  Playing music relieves it occasionally-- and ironically, love does not.  It's kind of a reminder-- like a place where I can feel the sand falling through, the tide going out… some one else's pain waxing and waning.  It may be my tragic flaw.  It infuses everything I do and maybe it is a bit of a guarantee of failure.  I have noticed the more successful of my friends don't feel so much anymore.  My neighbor's new book was touted as brilliant and edgy… it was tough and skillful… but quite honestly it left me cold--- like house music.  It lacked humanity.  It was affectedly eccentric and plodding-- like still frames of a wave coming in… no fluidity or life.  I didn't care.  He didn't care.  It was like a book-show.  But it drew rave reviews.

Even my stepmother who suicided last summer-- she was tough.  She was an artist.  Still, I think in the end she feared her own heart.  It was flooded, like mine often is--- when I see two people tearfully parting at a train station, or my friend kissing her husband goodbye in his coffin last month-- these things wreck me and displace me and some nights I can't find my way home.  I miss everyone I ever loved and every bus driver and every wave I witnessed or did not witness on every shore of every country.  I miss my old dogs who have passed on and I find it unbearable that the ones on the street now won't be here in a few years.  I turn to my music and I think about BB, and Johnny, and John Lee-- not one of them seemed less than tough, but they were all singing about letting go and what was gone, long before they got old.

Everyone passes through here--- like an infantry of pathetic soldiers who have no control over their destiny, except they will not return, they will not.  Gravestones, monuments, old scrapbooks… they remind... but the proverbial buck stops there.

I asked my son to reserve a bench in the park for me.. .so when I am gone, someone will maybe bring a book and read next to my name.  Of course he won't do this, because he was born with a strong heart and knows that any bench-sitters will have an iPhone, or a can of beer and some fast food, or they will need a place to lie down and pass the night covered in trash bags and old newspaper.  Raccoons will bring their garbage and pigeons will shit on it.  For him the escaped animals in Georgia (he seemed to think it was the American south) were like a Carnival.  Carnivals feel sad to me-- the people, the animals-- like the depression version of theatre and drama-- a sense of old cigarette smoke and sweaty T-shirts.  Cheap food and paper money.  The scent of failure hanging in the air with the popcorn and cotton candy.

My son is good at throwing things away-- at moving apartments, at not venturing too deeply into dangerous flood waters.  At winning. He can knock over things with a baseball and win an armful of stuffed animals and then leave them on a bench.  Maybe my bench.


Friday, June 12, 2015

As you were to see me that night...

To be loved by a musician, when you are young, is something special.  You sit at his feet in a club, and his performance is infused with his need for you; you are his muse, and his playing lifts when he thinks about you.  He depends on you for inspiration, for motivation.  If he is a songwriter, every night is like a public valentine.  Even the songs he wrote before you existed--well, they are all yours now.  It is better than a Times Square billboard proposal.  You are the girl of his dreams, encased in a crystal ball of music and poetry.  Nothing else is ever quite like this.  In a way, you are ruined.

When I was much older-- already a mother and a grown woman, I met another songwriter.  I could feel him singing to me-- he had a song that went 'Frog in the shower saw me/As you were to see me that night'… it was so demurely sexy and Dylanesque… and yes, we ended up naked and inseparable for many months of passionate nights.  But the songs-- well, after a year or so, they lost their shine.  They were not magical or Dylanesque but labored and derivative.  The love and passion were still there… but for me, this was not enough.

I've always been loved more than I love.  It's not intentional-- it just works out that way.  Maybe I was just too lazy or preoccupied to go out and seek my dream-man, but there were so many things I always needed to do-- and there were children to love unconditionally-- so I too-often opened my heart to the most persistent suitors.  Some of them wrote and sang and played; some just reminded me of what is like to be loved and for a while that was enough.

Lately I have fallen in love with solitude, with the illusion that I can create whatever I need, at any time.  The love I remember seems so much better than what is on the table-- the Princeton man who wants a Bohemian wife after 2 unsuccessful marriages to Junior League alumnae-- the scientist who runs a hedge fund and touches me inappropriately in public-- the adorable sexy alcoholic guitar player who asks me to marry him in a whiskey stupor every few days and undoubtedly has me confused with someone else.  My girlfriends keep asking me---what is my 'type'?… I really have no clue.  I can only seem to look backward, or inward, toward some kind of lyrical person who inhabits my poetry.  Old loves have passed on, and hang around me like ghost-passion.  It is as though the best of me is buried in a double-coffin with whatever was, and I can only sing.

There are still a few remnants of my old menagerie in the shower, where I end most of my nights at 4-5 AM.   Kids like to be surrounded in the bath-- it distracts them from their sense of vulnerability.   The rubber duckies are gone, and so are the kids-- but there is still a porcelain bunny and the little frog the songwriter left me when he went back home to his country--  to watch over me in the bath despite the fact that I am beyond the age where tandem showers are sexy.  I sing in the shower-- sometimes without sound, because at 5 AM there are these tiny birds that serenade me as the dawn breaks and I close out my version of a 'day'.

I have a neighbor who has left her husband for a man who looks conspicuously like Brad Pitt.  Never mind that he is stupid and oafish and has no job; he has the eyes, and the hair, and he has convinced her to lighten her hair and get a weave and a little bit of extra lip filler.  It's like a perpetual Halloween trick… but it seems to work for them.

Two nights ago there was a  film on Sundance-- with Annette Benning as a widow who met a painter who so closely resembled her ex-husband, she was able to  enact this perverse pathological sort of charade until it all imploded.  In a way, many of us are guilty of this-- of turning one person into another, of closing our eyes and seeing a past love, of turning out the lights and changing one man into another-- of believing our songwriter lover is the next Bob Dylan when he is just a man in love.

On the way back from my gig the other night, there was a man sitting on the street, mutilating his leg with a pen-knife.  He wasn't asking for money, or food.  He was resting on a box, performing this horrific surgery and no one had the stomach to look.  It was beyond a nightmare-vision, and beyond anything I could process. It was like a symbol-- a Fellini-esque sort of sign of something grotesque that was placed in the path of my musical night… of some reality of pain and flesh and disease… that made me question everything.

Moments later I was nearly mugged by a violent woman with a cane who was screaming for cigarette money.  A young black girl was waiting for the bus.  She asked me if I was afraid.  She told me I wasn't safe and the cigarette woman was violent and dangerous.  Somehow I am no longer afraid.  I feel fear in my own nightmares, and on the street these people bend my emotions, but I do not fear them.  I took the bus home, answered a call from the beautiful drunk guitarist who maybe had phoned several women that night and repeated the same words of love.  I no longer believe in future love.

In the shower I turned the little frog around, not wanting to be watched.  I needed to wash off the image of the man's mutilated flesh and the perverse mystery of his occupation which I sensed was going to haunt me for a few days.  I tried to get my doctor friend to find him, but he'd moved on,  with his milk-crate seat and his knife-- to some other corner.  Maybe he'd been forced into an ambulance.  For people like him it's like being put into a dog-pound.  I wondered if he'd ever had someone watch him in the shower.  Maybe that's all he wanted.  The water felt like rain.  My little birds were hopping around on the sill and chirping out their little morning-song.  Maybe I was outgrowing my frog--  maybe I'd toss him into a bag of things for the thrift shop.  It's really a bit silly, my bathroom menagerie.  I dried him off..  but he takes up so little room, and he might get lost in the bag… after all, he is 'home'.  I put him back on the sill, next to his friend the porcelain rabbit.  He has the most perfect smile.