Wednesday, December 28, 2016

(Un)acceptable Losses

Monday night on the way to work, a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and told me a train was coming.  I was standing on the platform, reading; she smiled at me.  Was she flirting with me?  It's not often you get this kind of courtesy from strangers… am I getting old and she worried I was dangerously absorbed in my book?  Was it Maggie Nelson, the author, that prompted this?  Or maybe I was wearing my earplugs, ready for a night of loud music… and she mistook me for a deaf woman?  She was a lovely person-- I could read her spirit-- and I behaved like your typical New Yorker-- insulated and cold.

At the end of the year, the media takes stock of celebrities who have passed away over the last 12 months.  Personally I hold my proverbial breath because it seems someone always dies on Christmas.
I've lost a few friends recently, have been to more than my share of funerals these months… and I just learned that 2 acquaintances suicided on the same day-- both jumpers, same zip code.  Astrological, neuro-biological coincidences suggested themselves-- a bad anti-depressant prescription, dispensed at the same pharmacy?  Finally a poem begins to evolve in my head with each of their psychological 'ropes' intertwining like strands of DNA.  Somehow these desperate people are linked in a sort of ironic coda.

I was kind to one of the jumpers.  I'd reached out to her after a less-than-stellar performance-- I encouraged her and praised her effort.  This was sort of a relief, because we are not always generous enough to one another-- especially we musicians who are wrapped up in our own stage issues, our unmet expectations, equipment malfunctions, audience failures, club politics, inadequate compensation, etc.  We have our petty bitternesses and frustrations, all of us… we are uncharitable and cranky.  I admit to this.  I try to make resolutions to be a better person and bandmate; I take stock of my flaws with a degree of scrutiny-- I come up short.

Funerals and memorials are often a sore point with me.  When you are a musician, people want to honor you post-mortem by performances-- jams, concerts, fundraisers… some of these are moving and emotional, but many of them are just an opportunity for groups to showcase before a captive audience.  Personally I would want nothing but maybe a Bach organ piece; and I'd rather dedicate some music or an evening from a regular gig where my thoughts about someone inform my playing.  But it remains true that death is a kind of attraction-- the idea of it, the shock of it-- the spectacle of a funeral that is not ours still fascinates.  We read obituaries over and over, we tweet and post, we fantasize things we might have done with this person… and some of us actually embellish and invent anecdotes.  Journalists comb and autopsy information-- leak and reveal.  But most of us want to deify the person who has passed.  George Michael-- the most recent-- seems to have more than atoned for any sins he may have committed.  He seems to have evolved into a saint in life, an angel in death.  I never admired his gifts the way I loved the legacy of Prince, Bowie, Leonard, Sharon-- but his talent was huge, his success was undeniable, his fall-from-grace painfully public.  He more than redeemed himself with kindness.

We are so immersed in celebrity information and imagery that we feel connected to people to whom we have no connection whatsoever.  We adopt them, we feel we understand them; we make more effort reading their stories and learning about their likes and dislikes than we do vis-à-vis our actual friends.  We know what is in their closet and on their nightstand.  Some of us feel betrayed when these people pass away; we feel wounded and sad and personally derailed by these public deaths.  For me it seems amazing that death is so finite and precise.  After  9 months of germination, our moment of birth is recorded and celebrated-- the starting line-- this makes sense to me.   But it seems that death should be more of a fade-out--  a winding down after a life of complexity and millions of moments-- of schoolwork and football games, of things we painted, shopping lists-- meals, births, tears, books-- lovemaking, ceremonies-- quarrels and pain-- illness, accidents-- cruelty.  But there is a precise recorded moment, a finish-line, a clocked check-out.  Today it was Carrie Fisher-- she was hanging on in an intensive care facility-- vacillating, still dreaming and breathing… her family and her public reached out, sent love-- and then she was gone.  Now we are here; now we are not.  Some of her fans felt betrayed-- what could we have done? How could we have kept David Bowie alive, made him well? My friend Jimi-- if he was a rich man, if we could have raised enough money-- would he have been sent home with a new heart?  And the jumpers-- more than anyone, we feel betrayed by these people who chose to pilot their own kamikaze flights and trick fate altogether.  They shocked and devastated us, robbed us of an opportunity to reach out and replaced it with yet another obituary, another funeral.  We learned little.

I feel betrayed by my country, in the wake of this year's election.  It is like a kind of death for me;  I keep regretting I did not do more to prevent the outcome-- and it feels incredible that after the interminable months of contest-- like a 2-year-long football match--  just like that, it was done, and the winner was the loser.  The worse man won.  It feels like the death of humanity, the end of hope and democracy. As we go forward into yet another year, we are well aware that some of us will not last until 2018.  We will crash in planes, we will become ill, we will jump.  As the new political regime assumes power, I am especially anxious.  I am trying to find the lesson in this turn of events, and trying to resolve I will try to seize opportunities to prevent bad things, to thwart maybe one of the jumpers or cutters or overdosers.  I will try to remedy my flaws, temper my bitterness and impatience, my critical nature and my futile frustration with the state of our culture.  The lucky among us will log another year.  No one of us will escape tragedy or loss or failure and few of us will foresee the accidents which will devastate our lives.  As humanity grows older and more complex, the trillions of past deaths do not dilute the impact of that one which has just occurred.  Let us remember this as we look around the world and see universal grieving and trouble.  There is celebrity and fame, and then there is the individual human heart which starts and stops and is virtually indistinguishable, one from another.   Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Skin Deep

When I was young, I had perfect skin.  It meant nothing to me-- in fact, it had absolutely no currency in my life, was sort of an albatross that made it nearly impossible for me to become a punk-rocker outcast-type.  My older sister had acne.  She also had a slew of boyfriends and hiked her skirt way up when we left the house for school.  I wanted her skin.   She hated me for mine, and I would have traded in a second.  Acne would make me look older-- as would braces on my teeth, I thought.  People commented on my skin-- aunts and cousins--- the doctor.  When I went to buy make-up, even as a woman, the cosmetics salespeople would remark-- why do you need make-up?  You have perfect skin.  Lloyd Cole had a song about this.  I did nothing to deserve it-- ate plenty of chocolate and fries and smoked cigarettes-- but it remained, as it was.  Beauty's only skin deep, my mother used to say, and despite my flawless facial surface, I still believed my sister was way more attractive.

In the office of my Primary Care physician, a woman sits at the front desk and does intake.  The right half of her face is horribly deformed, as though it was burned or blown off in an explosion.  She is in her late 30's and it's tough to look at her.  She has no functioning eye or mouth; the left side is marked with some kind of warty growths, but somewhat normal.  Her voice is steady and courageous and sweet; if I were blind I might imagine her as beautiful.  I commend my doctor for hiring her because she is unsettling, physically.  As for her dignity-- I cannot say enough.  She is well dressed and stylish from the neck down.  Her hair is neat and pretty; her hands are lovely and efficient.

When my son was born, he was adorable and perfect.  I couldn't stop admiring him, especially since I felt I didn't deserve to have this baby; I hadn't planned this, and my lifestyle for the first 3 months of pregnancy was a little crooked and a-maternal.  His infant skin was so tender he couldn't tolerate any animal products-- wool, fur-- anything besides soft natural cottons.  It was as though his surface was a metaphor for my heart; here I was-- a new mother-- a protector-- and suddenly I felt stripped and raw and on the verge of not just tears but utter emotional collapse at the slightest hint of tragedy or sadness.  Maybe this is what they call postpartum depression.  I was a single mother and utterly enchanted with my baby; there was absolutely no room for self-inspection or analysis.  I was too busy trying to remember all the little infant things I had never learned and too absorbed in managing his care while I worked and kept my life on the level.  But in caring for another being, I learned the depth of compassion.

As a young woman I fell in love with a black man.  Our attraction had nothing to do with color, and his strangeness had more to do with cultural rather than racial differences.  Sometimes at night, I awoke and admired the beautiful contrast of his dark, strong arm draped across my body.  His skin had a different feel and smell and taste.  In those days, some people in some locales didn't appreciate our marriage and our presence as a couple.  The differences fascinated me; in the end we separated, but we both learned things about appearance and acceptance.

My skin is no longer perfect; few things about me are pretty; we enter the autumn and winter of our lives and our human foliage begins to fall away.  Many of my women friends fight this process with injections and treatments; their medically-enhanced beauty is truly skin-deep and temporary, but it suits them, and it doesn't bother me.  Nor does the economic ability to do such things.  Money, I have discovered, is a little skin-deep as well.  It is temporary and may create a sense of security, but people still get ill and have accidents and mishaps, and while they may be comfortable and well cared-for, their lives don't seem to be more valuable.  They do give more to charity-- as do people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, etc… but this kind of billionaire philanthropy seems a bit skin-deep and cavalier-- it is acknowledged and rewarded, but do they suffer or sacrifice to do this?  They all seem to drive expensive cars, live in enormous houses, collect things and wear rolexes.  They do little more than balance their tax burden, while being applauded for stunning generosity.

As for my friend who is ravaged by cancer, she grows thinner every week.  Her skin is translucent and stretched over the contours of her face in a way that is startling. She resembles an anorexic; her once long, graceful limbs are spindly and twiggy;  the bones of her knees are knobby and prominent beneath her loose pants.  I feel I can see through her skin into her soul; her veins are greenish and sickly.  She is skeletal and taut-- both old and young, like an underdeveloped fetus.  She walks with bitter resignation, daring anyone to comment.  I told her she looked pretty the other day; she had on a purple knit cap and her features were feverish and her skin was flushed from the cold.  She was furious and screamed at me… this is not a word that applies to her physical or mental state, she warned me.  Do not use this language in my presence.   I wept-- I am not tough-- I am permeable and fragile.  I wear my heart everywhere; without tattoos, my skin betrays me, my tears are ready and I am unarmed.  I will not tell her again that she has acquired this sort of porcelain-doll facade-- and while her eyes have lost their spark and are glazed and empty from pain and the drugs, there is a kind of quiet holy dignity in her long-suffering expression-- and after all the treatments, the side-effects and the rashes, ironically-- she has perfect skin.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Are Us

The day after.  Election night was a bad dream, I prayed.  But it wasn't.  Wednesday was a wash-out; I barely left the house, was tired of answering calls, got no comfort in commiserating or listening to pundits on television.  Exit polls are disturbing; our own exit from this country is maybe the only relief.  By Thursday I had to re-enter the world.  The weather was near-perfect, and I tried hard to manage my affairs, to face again the senseless near-death agony of my friend who is using all her strength to tolerate my pathetic words of sympathy and hope.  She did manage to quip that dying in a Republican regime doesn't seem quite so bad.  For some, like the woman who suicided on 69th street last month,  it will be a choice; for others, it will be a cruel reality.  For my friend, I am praying there will be some kindness in dying-- that it will feel as though some blanketing arms are reaching out to take her to a place where good mothers exist,  'they will bind you with love that is graceful and green as a stem'.

The Sisters of Mercy is the first song I truly fell in love with.  I lay on my floor and listened-- over and over-- first to the Judy Collins record my Mom had bought.  With the sunshine and yellow flowers on the cover, these songs gave me hope that somewhere there were things worth discovering that were not just in books and in museums.  Sisters of Mercy was a musical church for me.  More than the folk songs I'd loved-- and the rock and roll-- it was a hymn I could carry inside me and recite.  The lyrics were not just magical but holy.  I researched the writer, Leonard Cohen, rode my bike to the record store and found his album.  His voice was strange, but all poets on recordings had sounded strange to me-- the audio Dylan Thomas had been a shock.   These songs were an alternate world of sad comfort.  I could read their address by the moon.  My Bob Dylan was a troubadour, but this man was my patron saint.  I forgave him everything and drank daily at his well in the solitude of my young teenage room.

The fact of Leonard Cohen has not always lived up to the myth of the music.  He was flawed and womanizing; insecure and egotistical at once.  His search for spiritual truth seemed pretentious in a way; his sadness is epic, but who among us is able to tame these demons?  I only know these songs became part of my canon.  His poems and novels disappointed me, but the songs-- especially these early ones-- allowed me to become who I am with a little more confidence.

I've been reading a compilation of interviews with Roberto Bolaño… a few essays and remembrances interspersed ...He, too, is among the choir of voices who have sweetened my life.  The martyrs of art and poetry who have given everything to take us on a journey of 'core', who were not afraid to open curtains and break windows.  They are not all for the weak of heart-- or maybe they are.  Artistic pioneers are brave people.  They explore psychological caves and alienate others.  They sacrifice much to become who they are.  In our culture today, these people have groupies-- lovers, fans, followers.  Does this matter?  I suppose so.  Bob Dylan is about to receive the Nobel Prize-- not that he doesn't deserve accolades, but this one seems misplaced. Then again there is Leonard.  Comparing him to Irving Berlin, as Dylan did in that prescient article in The New Yorker last month, seems a little too 'surface' for my Sisters of Mercy.  Leonard takes us into our own inner church, provides the personal hymns that play alongside our sorrows and joys.  He is the bed on which we lie and know there are deeper things still, and that our tiny human tragedies can be woven into some beautiful fabric of meaning, if only we were up to the task.

I miss Bowie; I miss Prince; I miss Roberto Bolaño and Lorca and I thank God for their brand of bravery on this Veteran's Day where I salute my Dad who was a true wounded hero of the 101st Airborne (the military alma-mater of Hendrix, I informed him once, which provoked a scowl) and was duly decorated and honored.  He, too, was a poet, although his modest lyrics were recorded only in tattered war-letters to my Mom.  He ridiculed my music and my heroes-- Leonard Cohen was an anomaly for him-- and yet I maybe inherited some passion he possessed.  My record albums helped me cope with my teenage years.  Music was listening to me, even if I could never reach my Dad.

So, blinded as we were by the hideous 'sunrise' of day 2 and 3 of the Trump victory-world, that sun was reverse-mercifully eclipsed by the passing of Leonard Cohen.  Yes, mercifully he left the world before our elections; from the David Remnick interview,  I suspect he was not thinking too much of American politics, dwelling perhaps on the spiritual, trying in his way to promote or accept his new album-- to share this with his son, to try to allow himself pride in a project that was thankfully completed, like Bowie's, before his death, and which will allow us-- like Bowie's-- to glimpse a little of his transition, his process-- to share the end with a great man.  We even were privileged to read his final email to the immortalized Marianne who pre-deceased Leonard, but not by much-- a kind of closing of some circle, in a way.  He seemed resigned and peaceful; after all, he accomplished so much.  A prize seems somehow cheap and silly for this man.

My friend is nominally comforted by the number of lovely souls who have crossed over this year-- who have paved the road to the next world with music and understanding and have had to leave this one in which they thrived.  They leave us  mourning and devastated-- not wanting to go on without these people who for some of us seem more a family than our own.  Not so with my friend; she has no visitors aside from me and a few paid medicaid nurses and aides who are sent to ensure that the apparatuses and tubes do not malfunction, to investigate the next hideous indignity of this process of agonized dying which merits no medals or awards.  She rarely has the energy to even listen to music; her enthusiastic support for her candidate was limited and her dismay is palpable.  And she managed, heroically, to vote.

This morning I awoke after only a few cheap hours of sleep-- with that heaviness of mourning.  I experienced this recently with my father's passing, and with the death of David Bowie which came at such a cold and light-deprived time of year.  The leaves have just turned; they burn with fiery radiance in the sunlight around the reservoir in Central Park.  In a few days they will be gone.  Soon I Will Be Gone, says my favorite Free song-- over and over.

Some of us cry for ourselves, for our  lost and missing years when we were beautiful and well loved.  Most of us, unfortunately, face older years with challenges and heartbreak.  Life is fraught with loss and pain; even joy, in these years, has a shadow and is lovely with a kind of regret.  We older people feel a bit exiled; we are emigres of our own youth, of maybe the core of our lives; we are missing so much and so many at this moment, and each day brings the end nearer.  The four years of this regime are precious years for Baby Boomers; how much productive life will we have left?  Must we drag around the weight of this national shame, this arrow in the heart of our young passion and the liberalism we thought we invented in the 1960's?

Yesterday I stopped into several churches.  Some were closed;  one West Indian church was not just open, but had set out bottles of seltzer for the thirsty-- crayons and paper for children.  I was alone in a pew, listening to someone clumsily practicing Bach on the pipe organ as the sun streamed through the stained glass.  It was warm and homey.  Some of their parishioners are bound to be illegal immigrants and the idea that a congregation who welcomed me in their absence would be threatened-- well, this, too, was another stab.

I cannot bear to play the Sisters of Mercy today.  There is not a line in that song that doesn't resonate with every small and larger tragedy I've witnessed.  Like a new lover or a prism-- it endlessly fascinates and touches me everywhere.  It's all too raw, too sad.  Reciting it to my heart reminds me that sorrows are relentless-- the machine of life moves on, planets turn, storms happen, death is inevitable for the good as well as the ugly; beauty is transitory, but music is a path-- from God to man and back again, from life to death-- from lover to lover, from mouth to heart-- it fills the Cathedral of our loneliness if we will only enter and listen.  It is and always was waiting for you when you thought that you just can't go on.  Let us listen and learn -- really listen, and open our hearts.  Healing is impossible-- we are truly the walking wounded, but maybe that is okay.  The disappointed and the ones left behind… especially for us, and those who've been traveling so long.

(Do Not) Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor...

This is painful, Hillary Clinton announced at the beginning of her concession speech Wednesday morning, her emotionless voice nearly cracking at moments.  Young women were weeping; her staff and volunteers were exhausted, feeling the pain of failure, of deep disappointment.  One day and hours later, the ugly reality of our American election has spread like black slime.

Walking back from the hospital this afternoon where my friend is experiencing another kind of pain-- the relentless, unstoppable agony of late-stage cancer--  I don't dare weld the metaphor here, but it made Hillary's words just a little less poignant.  It surprises me on these days that Central Park is as dazzling as ever in the crisp fall sunshine; the skyline is buoyant and proud.  I stopped also by a building on West 69th Street where a woman I'd only met months ago had jumped from her window just a few weeks ago.  I've heard it was her heart that was broken; nothing else.  Another version of pain.

The doctor's aide wears a hijab and is lovely.  She confided that she is terrified about her immigration status and about the xenophobic sentiment of our President-elect.  You mean his bigotry and ignorant hatred, I replied?  She nodded, looking around her as though she feared being lynched.  She is feeling another kind of pain, as was the young African woman who shared my path back to the east side.  She works for a church downtown, has a limited visa, was enchanted by the beauty of the Reservoir; it was her first visit to my neighborhood.  She'd escaped a hard life in West Africa; she was orphaned, raised her siblings and was looking for a better life in the US; she'd been sponsored by a LES Christian community.   She wanted to go to college but now she was afraid and discouraged.  This was not the version of American she'd understood.

I can't make excuses for my country; I'm a New Yorker and we are Democrats for the most part.  We are disappointed, we are frustrated, we are angry.  But pain?  I'm not sure this is the correct description. Anyone who has suffered a serious wound, an accident-- even the experience of childbirth.  No pain, no gain, the sweatshirts used to say at my gym.  I've never loved that expression.

Late nights I admit to watching this program called Versailles which is sort of a glam-erotic series shown last year in Europe about the excesses and vices of Louis XIV.  His ultra-lavish spending on the palace became a symbol of the unprecedented power of the Monarchy.  I am trying not to draw silly  parallels between the Trump empire and the decadent elitist pomp of the 18th-century French court.  Of course, like all addicting television, there are plenty of women-- sequential and multiple mistresses.  His extra-marital intrigues are maybe criticized, but overlooked.  Those who fall out of favor are disposed of-- some painfully.  But speaking of pain, even the King suffered during these times.  Few medicines, no anesthetics, no antibiotics.  Childbirth was risky, illnesses were difficult and life-threatening; poxes, plagues, infections and fevers were agonizing and fatal.  There was a scene where a medic warned the King that a proposed treatment would hurt.  "Good," said the King.  I can't imagine Donald accepting such a pronouncement.  I can't imagine him fighting a war for his country or even his children, or making any kind of sacrifice for any kind of principle.  I doubt he has sympathy or empathy for anyone's suffering and I'll bet his tolerance for physical discomfort is low.

One thing the royals often did-- was to import their wives for better breeding and political reasons.  I guess Donald did the same.  Few American women outside the Stepford wife prototypes would put up with his brand of macho husbanding.  I can't figure out whether Melania is a saint or a talking Barbie.  But for a man who married non-Americans, the hypocrisy of his policies seems that much more absurd.   What if he were to seriously purge New York, for example?

The kitchen staff at half the clubs where I work--- the kind Mexicans who sneak me care packages for my starving neighbors-- they'd be sent home.  Who would cook, who would wash dishes for our hungry audiences?  The Pakistani man who sells magazines on Lexington Avenue and talks to animals like a happy wizard-- where would he go?  What waits for him and would he be allowed to bring along the feral cat who lives in the shop and bites?  The construction team in east Harlem who work at night, who sit outside and eat their 4 AM lunch on the stoops of dilapidated tenements they are renovating for sleazy landlords-- with their headscarves and home-made dust-masks-- what will become of them and their families?  They speak some strange language among themselves, they laugh and sing and smoke during breaks.  Their clothes are thick with dust-- in summer their skin is covered with grime and paint and sweat.  Their bodies are beautiful and sinewy like athletes.  The hotdog vendors-- especially the one who sold me a pretzel today for $1.50.   I would miss him. The ladies who collect cans at night--  the Mexican and the Chinese women who amicably divide the massive piles between them.  Their work ethic-- rain, snow, extreme heat-- they are out there, on hands and knees-- teaching us things-- recycling, to keep their children fed and clothed-- heroes, they are, of their young families who rely on this difficult, tedious dark labor for survival.  Will they all vanish?  Will I not hear the musical variety of uptown like a colorful marketplace opera in multi-lingual counterpoint?

Concession for Hillary is 'painful', she claims… but she will have some consolation-- she has money, she has a foundation… a husband, a legacy… For the rest of us it may mean something else; we're not certain.  Surely this has been a misdiagnosis of some sort-- missed symptoms, bad medications-- poor management of a societal disease or lack of preventive care here…  and the prognosis? Will all these protests, the voices who spoke too late-- will they have any bearing on the outcome?  Will the ailing patient of America survive a round of toxic Republican treatment?  I'm afraid the pain is yet to come-- with or without gain, with or without cure.  God Bless America.  We've never needed it more.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bewitched

All Hallow's Eve-eve back in the early 1960's was always known as Mischief Night.  While you slept, your house or parents' car might be egged, tagged, covered with toilet paper and goop, smashed pumpkin meat or worse.  You hoped for the best.  When we were teenagers, we went out and witnessed the terror, sometimes participated in a little naughtiness-- no serious damage but some spray paint and mess.  There was a woman on the block behind us who was reputed to be a witch.  She came home at 7 AM after God-knows-what with a black kerchief tied around her head, and her shades were drawn all day while presumably she slept along with the vampires and goblins of our neighborhood.  A broom was frequently leaning against the front door-- most likely for sweeping her stoop, but allegedly among us kids this was her night transportation.  I looked inside her mailbox many times-- mostly the same catalogues we all got in those days; her name was Eunice B. Harrison.  We addressed her this way when we made prank phone calls during the day… we spied on her and left dead bugs and cut fingernails and animal fur in shoeboxes on her windowsill.

Years later my Mom told me Mrs. Harrison was a nurse and she worked nights.  That's what you think, I told her.  I'd never seen her face-- didn't know if she was black or white… but she was our only local flesh-and-blood designated ghoul and we nourished her mythology with tales and conjecture.  Ironically, a few short years later we'd all be obsessing over Edgar Allen Poe, dying our hair and dressing up to hang out at Rocky Horror showings.  So much for the withered legend of Eunice B.

I sometimes wonder whether my neighbors' daughters perceive me as a kind of witch.  I dress in black, leave my apartment late at night wearing a hat and carrying a strange looking case; often returning at dawn, my blinds drawn against the sun so I can get some daytime sleep. Then again, they  have a multitude of horror apps at their fingertips, all-Vampire TV, the Twilight series in HD 24/7, etc.  We had to invent our own entertainment in those days; the Wizard of Oz was shown once a year and it was an event.  In New York City, every night is Mischief Night… and in most neighborhoods, watchful parents accompany their kids while they trick-or-treat; we were on our own.  Fear was personal.

Anyone who has kept watch over a sick child or relative knows that night-workers have a different mindset.  I spent a week in an intensive care ward when my son was six and had a dangerous pneumonia.  His roommate was a young woman who had lived her whole life on a respirator; she was virtually non-responsive, but her Mom chose to keep her alive this way.  Days were peaceful; the shift nurses chatted and ate sandwiches, watched TV and socialized with staff.  But the overnight nurse sat quietly in semi-dark.  She read to the girl-- sang to her at times.  There were 2 emergencies that week-- panicky alarming episodes which required huge x-ray machines to be moved in and used.  These both happened at night, when patients who are not sleeping are maybe anxious and frightened… when death feels a little nearer and the human mind is that much more vulnerable.

Coming home late nights on the subway, I am surrounded by day-sleepers, by this culture of people who are all a little pale, a little subdued, who are used to walking the streets with black shadows, who brush shoulders with the hunted and haunted who either do not or cannot sleep during these hours-- who plot and plan, create, think, suffer, drink, take drugs… stalk, worry, grieve, search and avoid.   We understand one another, we feel a certain kinship.  Most of us are on our way home; there are few destinations at these hours-- there is a sense of denouement, we are without rush, we rely on the unreliable timetables of night trains which travel with delays and issues; very few of us protest and fret. We are tired and insulated, surrounded by our own thoughts and fears-- some of us have had a nightcap or two and know that little will be resolved before tomorrow.  There is a small sense of relief.  We often share jokes and smiles.  There is entertainment and there are beggars, but most of these have given up by 4 AM.  We eat, we dream, we nap a little.  I read and think; we grumble less at the frequent disruptions and detours.  We feel relatively safe in this state of transition.  We are going home.

When I was a sophomore in college I had some small health issue that required a few days in the hospital while they analyzed some organ or other.  It was nothing serious, and I was so young I had to stay in the pediatric ward.  They treated me like a princess.  One night I woke up to find a really handsome young resident sitting by my bed reading volume 2 of Remembrance of Things Past which I had to finish for European Lit.  I pretended to be asleep-- was so surprised and charmed by this; and can remember so well the passage he read:  about love and instability and the fact that happiness neutralizes the suffering necessary to sustaining the instability which is at the core of passion-- something like this, in the Proustian universe.  I remember these pastel-colored paperback books which I loved and cherished and carried for a year, and still, despite the fact I have 4 versions of this novel-- I keep these, to remind me of where I have been and whom I have touched while I read, and how this world-view changed my life and taught me to dissect and observe and feel these tiny moments.

I think this doctor had a kind of crush on me; I was lovely then and so young I couldn't reciprocate any kind of mature emotion.  But I remember well feeling so embraced by the night-- even in a hospital-- this sense of being watched and understood and cared for… the opposite of fear.

Tonight I had to take my friend to an emergency room.  Medicine for her is state-provided and uncaring  and callous.  She is in the excruciating indescribable pain of late-stage cancer and the hopelessness of her case only seems to provoke hostility in staff because they are reminded of their ineffectuality.
She begged me to take her back home; anywhere but there, at night.  There are no handsome interns to watch over her and read her Proust.  There is no one.  I am helpless and annoying because anyone who is suffering less reminds her that she is quite alone.  She wants to die and yet I feel she holds some tiny thread of hope that this is all a nightmare, and she will wake up calm and pain-free.  I realize tonight that she, like all those about to die, must first bury their own dreams and that is tough.  I walked home across town in this pre-Halloween unsettled weather and thought about the souls which supposedly fly around freely for this one night.  They outnumber the living by myriads-- they and their memories, and their parents and children and lovers… and for my friend-- her dreams of being a great actress have dissipated into medicated dreams of swimming and floating and nightmarish twinges.

I am sure this October 31 that my Eunice B. Harrison is among these souls and rather than spending her nights making wicked mischief on a broomstick, she sat by the bedsides of tired patients and gave her life for their comfort and solace, and never defended her honor to a bunch of clueless, mean teenagers.   So in my modern Gothic lexicon, she is the ultimate Halloween saint; I salute her and wear her black cape of goodness as my costume and only pray she will in some version watch over my friend and weave a spell of sleep and carry her through to some better moment.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Unblurred Lines

When I was about 7 years old, an older boy was visiting neighbors on our street.  In summer the girls wore what our Mom called 'sunsuits' which served well in the heat-- wet or dry.  We played in dirt, on rocks, under sprinklers, in tree houses.  Anyway, this boy cornered me and asked me my first really inappropriate question.  I shrugged him off-- gave him some vague reply… but I remember running back with a version of shame-- aware that some boundary had been crossed.  I can still see myself in that blue and white striped cotton, sensing myself the way he might have seen me.

In those years we didn't tell our parents too many things.  Sisters and brothers might accuse us of tattling, and intruding on adults had its own consequence.  So we toughed it out, waited until lights-out or a sleepover where we could safely exchange confessions in the dark.  Sometimes these were met with an ominous silence which made us feel a little more alone, a little more wary.  So many things were my own fault anyway; it was hard to distinguish where I began and shame ended.  I brought these things on myself, they would say.   I won the role of Dorothy in our school play and the next day someone stole my crayon box; even good things could warrant payback.

It never fails to astonish me that nearly every single one of my women friends has a story to share about boundary violations.  Some of these--especially for the obviously beautiful among them-- are sequential, ongoing, relentless.  Some of them are hideous and damaging, especially where relatives are concerned.  In our contemporary world, these things are hung on lines in the sunlight.  Perpetrators are punished, reprimanded, blacklisted.  But this was not the case in my teenage years.  The confession itself anywhere outside of your best friend or a religious audience was a can of worms, and the telling didn't always absolve us of the twisted shame that accompanied the experience.  We were scarred, most of us-- even by verbal trespassing.  Our fragile intimacies were injured and wrecked by bad memories and complicated self-esteem wounds.  Even punk rock girls-- maybe especially these-- had endured battles in their past, became stage champions to express and protect their vulnerabilities.  We self-punished and cut, grappling with control issues and permissions.  My bonds with old and new girlfriends are often welded with shared emotions and pains; nothing is more solidifying than the company of fellow warriors who came through our respective relationship battlefields with wisdom and understanding.

So many of us grew up not understanding boundaries, although we can all sense when these have been violated.  Ironically, people like Donald Trump who talk about building walls, are the very ones who are clueless and disrespectful of personal traffic.  Germaphobes and neurotics spend endless compulsive hours making sure their little world is 'safe' and so often have little regard for others.  People with complicated sets of personal rules and rituals are commonly the ones who impose on everyone else, who have no capacity for empathy or sympathy, no time for compassion.  The world is a marketplace of things and people to assist them, to admire them.  We are all guilty of failing to consider our neighbor, to protect the fragile, to care for the needy.  Most humans are wired to spend 95% of their energy on themselves or their immediate extended family members.  It's difficult to cope with the problems of the world on a daily basis.  We all have trust issues, questions… fences.  This is necessary.

But when we fall in love-- well, all bets are off.  All gates open, all boundaries disappear.  We will cross oceans for that person, empty our pockets for them, tell them anything they need to hear, become completely vulnerable.  In my parents' day, couples stayed together.  My Mom slept with one man for her entire life-- no prior intimacies-- just a few dates-- then the commitment.  In our culture, we open boundaries to many people.  Women let one another into our hearts; we meet on  buses and trains and exchange our deepest secrets and experiences.  It is a kind of love-- sometimes it lasts minutes, or for a transatlantic crossing.  I sat with a widowed Japanese woman on my recent flight to Sweden.  By the end of the journey, she had confided so many of her fears and concerns and passions; she wept-- it was a kind of catharsis.  I was privileged to listen, and we shared a version of love even though I will surely never see her again. We let ourselves 'out'.  And then, we draw a new boundary which includes that person.  We adopt and protect her as our own.  When these intimates violate boundaries, we bleed.

As a writer I often abuse my own boundaries; I confess and say things because I am alone here.. with a keyboard or a pad and pen, and I feel safe and private.  My words venture into territory I will never see, and that feels okay.  Sometimes people respond and let themselves feel things they would not have expressed.  That is good.  But I also work as a musician.  There is an amount of intimacy and personal space we share as members of a band.  We joke about this-- the things that pass between bass and drums, the images we get from a guitar solo-- the way we 'know' our own unique vocabulary when we have played together for hundreds and thousands of hours-- a language we speak to one another-- like sex, in a way.

On one gig, we have guests come to 'sit in'.  Some of these are wonderful people who understand they are being welcomed into a kind of privileged geometry and they respect  this and find the spaces where they offer their own thoughts and ideas and weave an amazing original tapestry of music.  The audience senses this-- when there is magic and chemistry and respect.  But there are a few 'outsiders' -- the ones who never quite comprehend the core 'family' of music.  They barge in, demand--turn up, overlay and exhibit.  A good audience feels this, too.  The problem is-- these people do not recognize themselves-- have no clue how they are perceived because they are not perceptive themselves.  They become regular intruders; we hold our breaths, we tolerate and play, feeling the seconds pass until they leave the stage and we can hopefully resume.  There's an awkwardly inappropriate parallel here between the clumsy dangerous narcissism of a Donald Trump who ironically points his finger and uses the accusation of 'rapist' and the less dangerous but equally blind egotism of musicians who perform for themselves, who use other people's platforms for a selfish personal message, who fail to perceive any boundaries but their own.

The delicate concept of boundaries-- geographical, physical, emotional and virtual-- has not just engaged but obsessed me recently.  Being a musician as opposed to the head of a corporation teaches us a few lessons in humility and sportsmanship; we don't get hired if we can't see these things.  We have to listen.  As a woman, and a mother--a friend to many and a former wife  I have learned to sense boundaries; of course my instincts can offend others-- my opinions can annoy people, and sometimes my basslines (baselines?) don't always jive perfectly.    I hope and pray I don't offend anyone when I speak although occasionally this is necessary; we must be truthful above all… and I try not to violate someone else's boundaries when I 'sit in' which is rare.  Like all of us, I've been hurt and offended endlessly but refuse to drag this around or wear the badge and I will still open my heart in a second when there is someone  at the edge who deserves and values this.  Not to mention the musical door, for those who listen.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Connections

About 20 years ago, after several failed pregnancies, one of my friends was able to adopt a baby.  I took my son-- who was maybe in kindergarten-- to visit.  The baby cried the entire afternoon, as babies often do; my friend kept looking at me quizzically; she was still learning the skills of parenting, and held her tiny new daughter with a bit of anxious awkwardness.  But my son blurted out, after a couple of hours-- 'She's crying for her real mother'.  Out of the mouths of babes….

Of course, science and psychology tell us there is no valid basis for designating a biological parent  preferable to a loving, doting caretaker; but most new mothers will tell you they can pick their baby out of an incubator line-up-- even when they are meeting for the first time over a hospital bassinet.  There is some indescribable empathic biology that connects us-- helps us distinguish one cry from another, identify their little discomforts; or maybe it is our physiology or scent they recognize from their time inside us-- they sense we have maybe just that much more capacity to comfort them.

I've been taking care of a friend who has a truly heinous strain of cancer that seems to resist all treatment and is subjecting her to inhuman episodes of pain, discomfort and physical challenge.  She has no living family; in fact, she was adopted, and I can't help visualizing somewhere a mother walking into her treatment room and, like an angel, bringing relief and comfort.  But she has no inclination to search, and even less inclination to just let out the kind of emotional wail I imagine building up like a crescendo of despair.  Me, I have that gene; she does not.

What makes us who we are?  What makes that woman in my Latin dance class bare her midriff like a 16-year-old even though she is 50-something and no one wants to see this kind of thing?  Or that lovely girl in the front row who has tattooed herself so extensively she looks positively reptilian?   Or the man on the uptown 3 last night, with the wifebeater and the white shorts and flip-flops in the fall chill with his gut hanging out and his legs spread like he was home alone on his sofa on a hot night having a beer before bed?  Last Monday, waiting for the crosstown bus, a man with a deformed hand beside me was scrolling through violent pornographic images on his phone.  Who did this to him and why does this disturb me?

That 6-year-old who was beaten to death by his Mom's boyfriend-- there was a gruesome description of him being hung by his shirt over the door-- like laundry, like a garbage bag.  This child who was so neglected by a broken system that favors abused dogs over children; and like the poor angels they are, when they are removed from terrible homes, these children weep for their mothers; it's natural.  I was homesick for my Mom and my home when sent away, even though my father was only nice to me when we had company, and ignored the highly inappropriate behavior of some of his friends.  Like most children, I wouldn't dare tell on these people; no one would have believed me had it even occurred to us to do so.  I could hear the Catholic boys down the block being beaten by their father at night.  They'd come out and sneak a cigarette while I held icepacks on their swollen face; sometimes they snitched a little whiskey.  They sniffed back tears and acted tough while we sat on rocks and smoked and it made me feel better.  Most of them grew up and became fireman and cops; they had nice wives and loved their kids.

In the city there are people who are hard to read-- men who live alone and are strange and maybe hurt and toughened-- children who grew up missing parts-- disappointed adults with bitter hearts and secret habits.  People who fantasize about things.  And people who are rough and not kind who seem to have regular lives and market themselves as something else.  Pretenders.

I missed most of the debate Monday night; I was working.  It was difficult to imagine a contest between two people who seem like candidates for entirely different jobs.  Despite her flaws, Hillary is a fairly typical high-achieving woman; her daughter grew up in the public eye with her awkwardness and her teenage issues.  She even called Bernie Sanders 'President Sanders' in a recent national faux pas which gave her a certain charming disingenuousness.  Donald Trump's daughter is a professional.  She's a manufactured princess.  I'm sure all her lumps and bumps and flaws were long ago repaired and she is his best PR.  She seems self-assured and skilled; one can only imagine what her Dad might have done to a black-sheep child-- a child with issues.  But who is he?  There should be some kind of tool or device so that we can decipher people the way tax returns or birth certificates give us a paper trail of evidence.  But there isn't.  We can't always tell Hitler from Nixon.  Still, there are signs here-- clues.  What is wrong with people?  Are they going to hand their babies over to someone who has no clue about handling children-- about values and comfort and love?

My friend's adopted daughter has every advantage-- she sings and dances and has beautiful clothes.  Who knows if one day while she is rocking her own baby she will feel some hole inside of her and begin to disintegrate with sadness.  Or manifest some genetic inclination to addiction or madness or early dementia.

A gypsy once told me I inherited the curse of my Grandmother.  She died young and tragically and I used to look at her beautiful wedding dress with the tiny satin waist in a box in my attic which I imagined came alive and rustled through the dark hallways of my old creaking childhood house while we slept.  I read somewhere she had a poet's soul and wept for some young lover during the war and died of grief.  At night I took her old rag doll to bed and imagined her watching over me with love and wisdom.  Her legacy is unspeakably mine.  We have many things in common-- including single motherhood and her dark hair.  Her goodness and understanding informs my life and heart in a way that has sustained me like a kind of personal goddess.

We grow up and parent ourselves, they say.  The genuine of us try to 'feel' who we are, to know our own heart and follow our own dream.  Navigating the staggering choices of life today is difficult.  Our culture pressures us to subscribe to things that have no essential importance to our core and yet have eclipsed most of our humanity.  The truth is so dressed up and cosmetically altered and perverted… there is no bible or manual to help us, no religion or even a parent or lover to answer our needs.  But we can try, like Kachina dolls of complexity, to remove the shells and see ourselves as we are, and see others as they are, and reach out and maybe save someone from a terrible catastrophe or even just a lonely night, or a bad decision.  A shared moment-- a compassionate 'ear'-- a mirror.  And the map of this world is so huge and complicated-- but right through our wall, next door-- there may be something we can change, and we must try to take the tiny but crucial initiative toward some version of human goodness.  Amen.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sisterhood of the Praying Hands Tattoo

My local homeless man asked me this morning if I'd been to 72nd Street and Broadway recently.  I have, I said… and yes, I'd noticed that a sort of shantytown is beginning to take shape on certain nights… and yes, there is a definite proliferation of the homeless.  They come in all varieties-- the ones who seem absolutely hopeless victims of circumstances-- then the poor planners, the drug addicts and alcoholics who would trade any kind of security for a fix… the beggars, the wounded and afflicted, the vegan dog-lovers who squat on corners and feed their pets boutique food, who ask for practical things like flashlights, batteries, toothbrushes and water packets.  They are safe there--- it's almost a little festive in the balmy summer nights… a kind of reality show of their own-- some of them swearing to me that they wouldn't trade their freedom for the oppressive landlord-tenant system, for a 9-5 existence working in fast food or retail just to put cornflakes in the breakfast bowls of a tableful of kids whining for $200 Nikes and an iPhone 7.

Sister, one calls me as I get off the 2 train at 3 AM… because I am susceptible to that nomenclature, since my own sibling is mean and heartless, wealthy and estranged.  He can almost feel my knees buckle imperceptibly as I reach into near-empty pockets and dole out whatever is left… 42 cents last night… yes, I travel light, when I am carrying my instrument.  Yes, he needs all 42… and I am painfully sympathetic to the less fortunate, despite the fact that a small thing like shoe repair is beyond my budget these days.  No, I cannot imagine not having a dry place to write on rainy nights, clean sheets and a warm bath for my babies, in past days… a door behind which I can lock my guitar and know that it will be there, unstolen, when I return, God willing.

I have thought long and hard lately about this will of God, as I check up on a neighbor who is in final stages of a wasting and wicked cancer-- a woman who just 3 years ago was living the careless and happy life of a bartender/actor with marginal financial success but with a devil-may-care attitude and a spirit of independence witnessed by her wild red hair.  She is now terrified, this new friend of mine-- of the unknown, of the pain, of the power of the disease to outwit any treatment or diet or prediction.  Fear is contagious.  I approach her with steeled nerves-- with love, because I know how callow people shun the sick at times…and with great admiration because she is living with a kind of grace and dignity that I don't think I could muster.  She thanks me for my kindness-- when I have not earned that attribute.  I can scarcely afford to buy her a Gatorade while her electrolytes are haywire and she is unable to manage much of anything by mouth at this point.  She apologizes for the occasional outburst or protest at the medical staff who calmly stick and stab her, wound her and send her home, because she is still, most of the time, categorized as 'ambulatory'.  So she goes upstairs and thanks God for her remote so she can distract herself with television, go online on her ancient computer where she can share side effects and symptoms with other patients, most of whom are desperately seeking affirmation or answers which do not exist.

God?  I ask myself, knowing full well He has never been the sort of miracle worker on a throne with a magic staff.  I imagine He, too, is as baffled by cancer as He is by the internet and robotics and Uber vs. Didi; by an artificially tanned presidential candidate, and by the bitterness of the lower half of the one percent.   No, there have not been many wealthy saints-- no matter how philanthropic this fractional minority with the economic majority may be, they still have way too much.  I, on the other hand, am in the lower half of the 99%… somewhere above the homeless, I suppose, but struggling to pay for intermittent phone service and lousy TV, afflicted with leaky pipes, insufficient heat, mice and various mechanical Catch-22s which make reasonable repairs impossible.

Still, I am alive… I am detached from some of my most cherished lovers, my children are independent but good humans…. my possessions have become things that are deeply poignant and meaningful… as though people have receded and the souvenirs have taken their place.  Try as I do, I cannot impart to my son the importance of this or that book, this pile of old handkerchiefs, these letters-- these hand-painted envelopes and this shirt from 1968… this beat-up guitar case.   To him, they are all things for the future post-mortem bonfire, the enormous thrift-shop pickup which will punctuate my departure.  For me, this seems unbearable now.

I am going out of town for a gig-- I asked my ill friend if I could do anything.  'A postcard,' she said.  'I would like a postcard mailed to me with an exotic stamp.'  And how that touched me--- how I hope I'll find something which will not let her down because that has become my mission.  I wonder if she will notice if I send her something from one of my collections-- because I fear I won't be able to find something worthy in a souvenir shop-- or even in a museum-- in this disappointing digital culture of ours, so I think I am going to cheat and take along something I cherish.

On the uptown C train today, there was a young girl with a 10-month-old baby in a stroller.  He was her 5th, she told me, with her tired eyes and her wifebeater and shorts.  I wonder how many were with her when she got that incredible tattoo of the praying hands on her chest… or the cursive-written ink names on her breasts.  She was shaking her head to music from her iPod as her youngest boy nodded off and his little hand let itself down to his side the way children do in their sleep-- with a slow grace that eludes even the most accomplished ballerinas.
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There is God in this gesture, I thought, although his mother was in the world of Hip hop.  This is how He would bless us, if He did… how He will lower us, we pray, from living to some kind of rest… with a sense of compassion and control… from tears and the hot sweaty crowded subway car of life to some eternal dream of peace... where there are no more bandages or treatments or malignancies or Medicaid, no more bills and hateful sisters… no more homelessness and fearful sleeping in damp ominous doorways under mercury streetlights but the safe breeze of a starry summer night.  Amen.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The See of Faces

My doorman yesterday complained that Hip hop is dead.  He is not even 30-- a former gang-member and South Bronx graffiti tagger-- hooked into the pulse of this culture.  I informed him that he is in the very beginning phases of becoming a cranky-old-man in New York-- which isn't necessarily a bad thing.  We both agreed-- he with his 10 years of artistic perspective, me with my 40-something-- there is a negative progressive pattern here-- like things are born, seem maybe edgy for a minute-- the sharp cry of a wet newborn-- and then they get swaddled-- muted-- begin to blend into our smoggy web.  The imitators and false inventors steal ideas, re-mix… become soon vapid and diluted in the sea of pretenders where art and originality are sadly drowning in the sewage-laced tide.

Walking through the city in this sweltering August weather-- everyone with their plastic bottles and iced lattes, showing off all their tattoos... people taking selfies in the heat... like some kind of tropical paradox… an urban jungle-hell.   I can't help thinking-- things seem to matter less in this oppressive atmosphere… not just the obvious things like clothing-- but ideas and substance.  I feel dumbed down and less passionate-- in a way, maybe less sad.  It's easier to mourn in the fall, in the winter.  Everything seems overlit and even tears, except for cranky sweaty babies in strollers, seem to evaporate before they are born.

For some reason today I'm reminded of that Saramago book-- where everyone in a city is suddenly stricken with white-blindness… searching for water, food-- compassion-- in a kind of living sightless hell.  Where would we be, without the 'see' of faces… with our iPhones and our instant images?  Someone complimented me yesterday on my writing.   I did not reply that it is my public attempt to try to make some kind of artistic and personal sense of what I am able to see, because I begin to suspect-- with everyone absorbed in their phone, that there is an epidemic of reality-blindness

Essentially I am disappointed, like my doorman, in core content-- even in the media spinners-- they err and misspell, they gloss over and misinterpret, they write with their thumbs and think with someone else's ideas.  Music is so plentiful and cheap… a sea of white rice-- of disconnected words and endlessly recycled notes and ideas… of 500 million beat combinations or notes on Jay-Z-blue screens that will be processed in nano-second installments while people are reading the news, breaking up with their girlfriend, checking the score and weather, pre-ordering their smoothie, reserving an uber to some random place which is over-designed and soul-less but where the food is excellent.

In this urban world of 9 thousand TV channels and an internet where every page offers you 1000 options and distractions--  where people experience museums and concerts via their phones, after the fact-- where everything is shared, inhaled and posted-- we seem have lost the art of description.  We are so over-dependent on visuals now-- the number of photos on the web has increased like a hyper expanded universe of infinite space… we no longer have the skill to digest and interpret, express our opinions and passions with art and words and music the way a great chef has to simmer a sauce for hours-- it's all too quick and easy.  

I read a biography of one of my Ab-ex painting heroes… yes, it was great to have some of the anecdotes and details I hadn't known… but there were so many typos and mistakes in the text… I began to doubt everything.  Even the address of her studio-- 2 different buildings on one street?  I need to know-- to go there and dream.   Only one of them with walls that held the great minds and talents of New York in the 1950's-- where floors were covered with paint  spatters and scuffs… where artists had paced, jazz musicians had vented, cigarettes had been stubbed out, bottles had been thrown, glasses smashed, bodies had ground themselves in passionate episodes-- where canvases had been stretched and transformed into museum content.  But which one was it?  It reminds me of the stories I hear every day of people who slept with Elvis, played with David Bowie, traded needles with Lou Reed… documentaries of interviews and hearsay… talking heads reaching into some kind of past with selfish hands and plucking feathers and treasures they turn into lucrative souvenirs.  And who is here to contradict, to witness, to contest their accuracy?

Maybe I'm sick of hearing everyone's version of someone else.  Art has become kind of a Selfie-- like those cardboard portraits of people in Times Square-- you get your picture taken with Beyonce and suddenly there you are, the two of you-- as though this really was a memory.  People insert their input into something pre-existing… pre-recorded-- a remixed album with their own picture on the cover? Like one of those Mad Magazines from the 1960's with the crazy image of Alfred E Newman on the US dollar or Kanye West photo-shopped onto Mt. Rushmore.  Who can tell the truth now? And who knows the truth?  You do, actually.  I do.  But how can we approach art without the message because we don't know where its truth is? We don't have time, or patience to find it-- or does it matter?  People take the cake out of the oven before it's even baked… and in fact the batter is from an instant mix and it tastes sad and artificial.

I spent years trying to find a lost love in someone else's face… and realized at last that the soul of him is all that's left and I must try to honor that-- to write lyrics about him and try to conjure the sense of him, and the kind of songs he would have written had he lived.    In Brooklyn people remember when Marilyn and Arthur Miller briefly walked the streets in love, had their first moments of passion… she the larger-than-life movie star, he the intellectual playwright with the cool Jewish heart of guilt.  An unlikely couple in a world where everyone wanted to touch her, see her, be her-- and then even her husband fell for another woman-- moved on.  Where was this building?  I want to know.  I want to know definitively where Grace Hartigan's first studio was.  It matters.  Not a google-image or to take a selfie in front of it; I want to see it.  I want to describe it somehow… to absorb its memories and sorrows and ghosts-- to listen to its story.

Recently I've become interested in the Rescued Film Project.  A photographer takes old rolls of undeveloped film and puts them through a difficult and tedious process to not just develop them, but to scan them and enhance them with digital technology so we can see images from even damaged negatives.  Most of these are old.  Some rolls are from World War II.    Most of the people are gone now; the children would be old people-- streetscapes are nearly unrecognizable.  They are inherently nostalgic and sad.. but somehow we trust these images; we are moved by them.  They tell a truth which cannot be manipulated or changed or  photo-shopped.  Somehow this past feels like part of us in a way that so much of the present moment does not.  We can't identify the people but somehow we sense their story, and we sense the invisible photographer.

My mother's old photo album is only maybe 40 pages.  There are under 100 photographs and I know most of them by heart.  When my son was small I didn't have money to develop much film.  I don't have as many photographs as my friends do-- certainly I have fewer than an average American family takes these days on an average vacation.  But I never forgot to look.  I remember, I cherish the moments; each one is like a musical passage in the symphony of my son's childhood-- deliberate and meaningful and memorable.

In some cultures there are 100 words for snow, maybe 50 words for the smell of wood-- I want to know these things, to understand something.  I have learned that I can only try to find my own truth, to wade through the 'See' of faces and find my own familiar footholds among the embellished and re-processed people, the invented stories and misinterpretations… to try to wrap my brain around the incontrovertible fact that even this meteor shower we might be able to witness--- if conditions are right, because with all our photoshopping we can do nothing about the actual weather or cloud coverage-- think about this--- this is already a nearly 1000 year old episode we are just finally able to see.  It puts things into perspective.

My doorman will continue to prefer his vintage Hip-hop-- the way music sounded to him when he began to sense some meaning in life-- the way he connected.  Was it better then?  He is sure that it was. I have to say I think I agree.     I read about things like singularity, I hear digitally produced music,  admire the incredible capacity and speed of iPhones and technology, and I still prefer the varied texture and slow vulnerability of the analogue and hand-held.  I have yet to take a selfie.  I have yet to pinpoint my place in the culture of the present, with the mega-quantities of data and where a modern version of art is generated and disseminated in quantity.  I guess I am not ready for the future.  Like the astronomers with their very advanced telescopes and devices, the metaphorical lesson of the Perseids-- we have come all this way to get a clarified view and everything we see clearly is the past.



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Grave New World

I watched a disturbing film the other night in which a British photographer, mourning the death of his teenage son, takes revenge on one of the local gang members who has been terrorizing his alcoholic grieving existence with acts of violence.   In the end, there is a bizarre twist and change of heart…. it was difficult to watch.

So many of my friends 'forgot' to have children.  It could have happened to me; I was sailing through a relatively self-centered existence when I found myself unexpectedly pregnant.  At first it seemed a little 'conceptual'… not much change in my day-to-day.  I ignored it, denied it… and suddenly in my 5th month or so, I thought I was miscarrying.  In the ER, the Drs. scolded me a little for my callow attitude.  It was a hot summer night; walking downtown I began to acknowledge that I was carrying life, and by the time I got home, I was teary and praying.  Cricket, I called the baby-- because that's how it had felt… don't leave me, Cricket.  I got on my knees by the bed and begged my version of God to give me a chance.  Next day I began eating well, frying liver for lunch-- making better choices… talking to my child silently, singing-- chanting, whispering in the dark, sending internal messages and listening.

I'd never felt this sort of intimacy before… I even dreaded the separation of birth, but that turned out to be another revelation.  How could anything, anyone… be so perfect and fascinating-- so miraculously lovely and infinitely compelling?  Instincts kick in… protection, love, compassion, empathy… the utter dependence and trust of an infant… the complete fulfillment of maternal devotion.  The smallest discomfort is a challenge-- a pain or illness is your own wound… you will lie down in front of cars for this being, give up blood and organs, sacrifice all creature comforts for a train set.

As they grow and separate further, you obsess over their daily absences and little independent lives-- you worry, pace, long and miss.  Their sweaty face after a ballgame is like celestial radiance.  Their victories are joy, their losses are devastating failures.  My son had a seriously trying teenage spell.  Arrests, troubles, suspensions-- he was cooler than cool, gangsta-tough, but so vulnerable.  I spent scores of sleepless nights; days were worse.  An illness or flu which kept him in bed --- my only respite.  There were panics and police visits… one night where I had a terrorizing call from a weeping mate of his who informed me after many minutes of distress that he was in jail.  My relief was beyond anything I'd ever felt; for a moment I was sure he'd been killed.  That moment-- the paralyzing, gut-shaking wrench of perceived loss-- taught me something about the impact of this kind of news.  The emotional range between life and death-- is massive.

Recent acts of terror-- the relentless sequential delivery of statistics and details-- have stacked up into a skin-thickening coat of familiarity.  In countries of civil distress, violence and death are a fact of life.  In New York, we live with daily shootings, muggings, elevator shaft accidents, crane collapses and drownings.  Domestic abuse, rape, cruelty and gang wars, concert violence and pediatric cancer-- heartbreak and suffering, neglect and wheelchairs.  We read, we watch news, we speak of it… we cry at movies, at ASPCA commercials, at sad songs and when our boyfriends or husbands stray.  But when I hear and see recent news of these mass killings, I think only of how every tragedy everywhere has a mother, a father… how the very possibility of my own child being taken from me is beyond any tolerable grief.  Unbearable:  this is the operative word.  We have all lost parents, friends, husbands… but our own child-- the thing we created and nurtured and carried as our own-- this is an unfathomable hole.  In the moment where I misunderstood that phone call, so long ago… I experienced the unbearable… and have never fully recovered.  I don't know how the parents of the Trayvon Martins and the Eric Garners-- of every single child in the Orlando incident, in the Paris incidents-- Nice-- the shopping malls, the schools and movie theaters-- of 9/11-- how they can go on.  I have seen them go on,  with varying paths of bravery-- some wanting revenge, some choosing forgiveness and mercy, some using medications or alcohol, seeking some peace or cause to fill part of their 'hole'… some discovering nothing but suicide relieves the pain.

Looking back to our own childhoods, so many of us find them lacking; possibly my own son will dis his childhood-- after all, he grew up without a father.  My own father the hero failed to protect me.  Times were different, he was not a natural parent, and he missed things-- people who wait in the wings to take advantage of children's innocence-- bad people.  We grow up and must learn to cope with these violations.  Some people hoard possessions to compensate for things they missed-- they collect lovers to try to forget their own neglect-- they seek new pain to purge that which someone inflicted on them.

But we devoted parents-- who take a vow every single moment-- for our babies, for our toddlers and adolescents-- for our naughty, bratty budding gangsters and our angelic young men with sparkles in their eyes--  we swear we will not let these things happen to our children.  We speak gently to them-- we touch them with tenderness,  we listen to their tiny terrors and bad dreams, we dry their tears, we cheer them on and share their defeats and try hard to give them some independence and core while we fight for their innocence and defend them with all we are.

And then there is a random train ride… or a subway psycho… a black plastic bag underneath their foot… an assault weapon at a rock concert-- a plane crash during a happy vacation… rifles in a classroom.  How do we process this, we careful, passionate, doting parents?  Every single senseless murder and death is a tragedy of incalculable proportion-- a catastrophic event-- a searing, ripping, unsealing pain that scars over only temporarily but opens like an unhealed wound with every memory.  Statistics are a leveling, distant thing… but death and grief are relentless bedfellows.  The dream of gravestones, of blood and tears and the remembered joy of birth-- how does one reconcile these things, how does anyone go on from such a gatepost?

The end of the film-- the hideous staging of revenge-- and the victim was clearly a perpetrator of heinous evil-- provided nothing but further grief, twisted non-closure, the sick panicky epiphany of regret, of human frailty and the utter fragility of even the roughest child-- of the line between death and life.   And the power of the crossing only reminds us that all this violence has a kickback-- a reaction, a consequence-- a hideous rippling brushfire effect--- and how the sorrow from an unnatural, premeditated murder or random death-- for the mothers-- gentle or tough--  is an utterly crippling, indelible life sentence.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

We Can Be Heroes

I'm not sure if anyone else saw the article by Max Blumenthal essentially shooting holes in the legacy of nobel prize-winner Elie Wiesel.  His bitterness was maybe poorly timed, and no matter how valid his points, we are all flawed and human and we make mistakes, and fame not only does not assure protection but maybe leaves us more vulnerable to poor choices and insecurities.  The bloggers who obsess about Mr. Wiesel's disappearing tattoo… well, I'm not sure their vendetta is worth the energy… his death seems to have made this all a bit moot.  

I had a personal interest in the death of Mr. Wiesel.  Thirty years ago,  for some time, our telephone land lines were one digit apart.  In the days of answering machines, I often got messages for him; one day I looked him up (he was listed) and called to tell him I'd received some of his medical test results in error.  We had a friendly little New York City exchange, and that was that.  Several months later I ran into him at a huge NYPL dinner honoring local authors… and I introduced myself.  I was pretty then--- dating a well-known writer, and Elie was charming and warm.  He called me several times when he'd got voicemail he was certain was intended for me… we talked a little, laughed a little… a New York connection.  I left that apartment, and the landline, 19 years ago.

Recently someone offered to take me to a restaurant-- they mentioned the name of a well-reviewed bistro in my neighborhood.  I rarely go out these days.  I've dispensed with everything but the barest supplies; I walk and drink my coffee black.  A little bit of hunger is good for imagination.  But the name of the place brought back an association. Years ago, a Goldman Sachs young wunderkind asked me to help him buy some art--- he needed me to see his new Park Avenue apartment-- unusual in those days for a young bachelor-- and of course he insisted on taking me to dinner first.  I cared little for these suitors back then, when I was a marketable human commodity…  but he was a friend of someone I liked, and I repped artists in those days, and was thrilled to help place their work.  So of course he was a little interesting and ivy-league smart, even though he would never have been my 'type'...and we drank some expensive wine, etc.  The bistro closed.. and our errand began.  Minutes after entering his massive apartment, the guy literally attacked me-- the term date-rape hadn't been invented. Yes, he professed his eternal love among other expletives… I can remember the way he smelled and his custom shirt…. the beautiful cotton… things like this cross your mind in these moments of extreme observation… like magnifications.  I had on a black Norma Kamali dress-- he was pulling at it like an animal… and somehow I managed to kick him in his balls and run out.   My dress was never the same, and that restaurant which remarkably has thrived over the years--  a personal taboo.  In my suede purse was a copy of 'Night'.  I lost it in his apartment, when my things dumped out… and I bought myself a 48-cent copy at the Strand ( they were common)-- my reading copy which I pulled out to look at after I heard about Mr. Wiesel's death.  And I recalled the incident.

In the context of life, this was nothing.  Children are abused and raped and beaten by relatives, parents and kind people.  Politicians profess benevolence and tip badly, yell at staff, have little compassion for neighbors.  And we are all so guilty of ignoring people in need.  Then again-- what good can we do? I spend days trying to help women who refuse and sabotage and self-pity and destroy and use me up.  Brilliant musicians and young guitarists make me cry with their talent-- and drink my sympathy down with their habits.  Does it bother me that this Goldman guy is one of the Masters of the Universe now?  Does his massive fortune make me crave revenge?  Not really.  I left his house that night and discarded the incident like a cigarette butt.  He has a paid army of lawyers on staff because he needs them.  These people commit petty sins and have them erased or charge and convict a dead pedestrian in a hit-and-run.  I have my pride and maybe he has the memory.  It hadn't crossed my radar until the mention of that restaurant triggered.  And then the Elie Wiesel connection.  I'd thought about his hideous tale of survival, the historic retelling, the way he became a sort of hero or symbol of this episode, and used his life to spread the memory-- the lesson.  At the time it had put things into a kind of perspective and helped me process my little violation.  Do I have a physical scar, a tattoo?  I don't.

It is well known that Elie Wiesel's foundation and personal fortune were decimated by the Madoff scandal.  Having built a sort of personal citadel based on his platform of survival, he was economically hijacked… suffered a late-life personal tragedy not of holocaustic proportion, but the irony of these Jewish charities being the worst-fated victims of the Ponzi scheme is double-edged.  So whatever Elie Wiesel did that may have been less than stellar in his final chapter of comeback seems less heinous to me.  He was old, he was tough-- had made some shocking choices in his youth in the camps, and confessed in his account.  His death was acknowledged by political leaders and dignitaries everywhere.  His moral status in history is assured.  The book will remain in its place of honor.  It will be read as a document, as a memoir, as a testimony of bravery and courage and survival.

The third irony occurred at the funeral-- a private ceremony on Fifth Avenue when mourners were startled by the sound of an explosion, attributed to a stray July 4th device or celebration.  Later on it was revealed that this was the sound of a 'random' mixture of chemicals in a container left in a plastic bag-- just yards away--  literally blowing the foot off of a young strong boy who minutes before was innocently exploring the park, enjoying a holiday with friends… when some hideous design of fate caused him to be in the right place at exactly the wrong moment-- one false step and his life was radically altered.

As Elie Wiesel was laid to rest in a civilized world, his coffin driven away in a hearse before rows of celebrities and famous men and women… it was a reminder that there is no guarantee of peace-- not anywhere, not for any of us.   No matter how good or evil we may be,  we are not safe… we can tiptoe through our lives or we can forcefully march through streets laughing and shouting… there are attackers and people with guns, and predators, and bitter victims seeking revenge… and there are accidents-- careless acts of preoccupied phone-texters or sleepy truckers or drunk distracted motorists who get behind their wheels thinking about their bed and end up in a line-up of coffins.  But there is no clear path for any of us and we can only try to kiss the dawn when we wake up, and cross ourselves when we step off a curb and a cab just misses us.  We marked another Independence Day and fireworks were displayed in peace… despite a few weekend gunshots and a poor ill-fated boy in the Park who will go on to win races with a prosthetic foot, I predict.  Catapulted into some version of forced heroism--  like Mr. Wiesel, in a way, he is forever changed.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rock the Vote

I am someone who talks to buildings, waves at dogs, picks up coins on the sidewalk.  Despite exasperated friends and family members, I still refuse to have a cellphone because it interferes with the private soliloquy that erupts internally when I go walking like a stray animal on city streets.  I am anonymous, I am solitary;  I am Everyman, I am channeling and composing-- listening and reacting, absorbing and emitting and eminently vulnerable (maybe that is the best part).  I am eccentric and unremarkable at this age, and I value the shade of 'fly-on-the-wall' that accompanies these 'grey' years.

There is an amount of probability that my thoughts interest no one at this stage, but fortunately we have these blogs and outlets for documenting without burdening our friends and acquaintances with the mundane epiphanies and inventions of a low-impact life.  At my age I have absorbed more than my share-- have become something of a professional observer,  and find more revelation in the associations that emerge from mental storage points.  It never fails to stun me the way random people here in this city live in proximity to one another-- a Nazi sympathizer beside a holocaust survivor, Republicans and Democrats, a billionaire beside someone who struggles for food.  We do not necessarily wear our values, although plenty of people wear the costume of a person with money, irregardless of whether they have actually paid for it.

This afternoon I voted.  My polling place is one of the beautiful churches of Manhattan.  It is humbling  to enter, and the act of submitting a ballot is like a religious experience.  Today the man managing the tables was one of those New York characters who bleeds his history to anyone who listens.  This one was an ex-con/mobster who claimed to have been the only inmate in Rikers' with a curtained cell.  He had survived lung cancer, several near-death heart failures,  a recent diagnosis of metastasized brain/stomach/liver disease… the nothing-to-lose attitude of someone who had crammed 90 lives into one, maybe embellished the re-telling.  By the time he gave me my ballot, he'd proposed marriage, was begging to write me into his will.  He was going to take care of everyone.  If only…  Still... I learned something… I had a little slice of free entertainment, an unplanned side-track in a routine day.  We traded 8's, as they say in jazz… only I mostly tapped my foot while he jammed.

One of my gripes these days is overcharging.  For every purchase, the man at the top gets the lion's share-- the man who needs it least.  No one really sees what is in my glass, I always think-- no one has a clue how I survive in New York City without private luxuries most people see as necessities.  Like so many of us, I could buy a downtown penthouse with the things I've turned down, given away.  Regrets?  I fear the shadow of bitterness I am sensing from some of my aging friends.  In this culture it is difficult not to resent the uber-availability of cheap instagram mantras and mimes, of the absence of thought, of soul-- of a sense of context and depth.  We pay for advice-- therapists, moment managers-- real estate agents, decorators-- we line their pockets while we often derive little benefit.  While delegating is a necessity… the global mass of apps and outlets makes life difficult to navigate for the insecure.  As for me, I have my own brand; free wisdom can be valuable if you know where to shop.

What is really bugging me lately-- after deleting my daily quota of voicemail solicitations (how do they get these numbers?) is the number of charitable organizations and websites who beg us for guilty donations, who twist our hearts and humiliate us-- which turn out to be dead ends, selfish vanity sites or manipulations by people who maybe give a tiny percentage to the destitute and sick and keep the lion's share for themselves...  because the 'needy' are not necessarily those of us who starve and walk and do without… but the pathetic victims of brainwashing advertisements and big business who absolutely cannot live without their estheticians and cosmetic dentists-- their personal trainers and youth-promising supplements, without BMW's and the Hamptons, colorists and birkins… who literally have traded their souls for these things-- their value systems.  Some of these people, I thought, as I voted in the massive church which requires a huge donation to host a wedding or Baptism-- even a funeral-- some of them go to church and recite things, place money in collection plates, go outside and ignore their badly dressed neighbors.  Certainly they ignored the Cuban ex-con who is trying to make a joke and enhance the minutes he has left before the timer on his terminal brain tumor goes off… whether or not he is a pure con and has made the entire story up… it matters little.  And he had more than a few things to say about city contracts, the mob, corruption at the root, etc.  He'd worked at every level in every branch of every union and non-union urban department.  He'd gone to prison for several-- for crimes, for not ratting, for his brand of con-professionalism.  Yes, I took the time to listen to his tales beyond my limit of amusement until I began to suspect his truth and plot my exit.  But he knew me, this man-- he could tell I am one of those people who converse with gargoyles and see angels, who do not refuse ghosts and beggars, who have visions and dream songs, and do not discount reality.

What I do know,  as he knows, is that the potential value of every moment is identical.  Unless you are Stephen Hawking, most moments are exactly the same length as any other-- orgasm moments, root canal moments, Academy Award moments or watching a homeless man vomit on the street.  But our value systems, and the way we use these moments, or what we produce, have become so backed up and convoluted… with all the social media connections, the odds of some world-congealing actual event like Woodstock seems dim, except in replay mode which does have a certain celebrity currency-- a guaranteed viral youtube eternity, the way my private moments do not.

Someone asked me recently about my blog-- and I explained that I generally have a point at the outset, but I let myself wander, the way I take my walks this days-- as an opportunity-- because for someone who travels little outside my city, I am like a hitchhiker who accepts a ride with no destination.  Today I let my Cuban friend drive me around and hijack my moment… fill it with tales of the mob and New York crime-- sickness and disease and the sense of God when you are fading on an operating table,  the lore of his prison tattoos and his personal eloquence, like a Chaucerian tale-teller.  The best part of all is that he directed me to the wrong voting table… and not just me-- this was a pattern--  because he never consulted the directories which was all part of his philosophy of humor and anti-bureaucracy.  In  fact, in keeping with the con artist thing, maybe he wasn't a Board of Elections employee at all… but for the moment, he was in exactly the right place, as was I.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Hard of Hearing

For about a year I was obsessed with this blue house uptown in East Harlem, by the tracks on Park Ave.  It was on the market for what seemed like an incredible price; I just had to find people to buy this-- to convert it into artists' studios-- a foundation, a home for me.  It has its own garage, back porches… a roof garden… multi-paned windows on 3 sides-- old moldings, a front stoop-- a face… it smiled at me, welcomed me.  Great things were going to be created there.  It had a soul, a heart-- I could feel Christmas there… old Christmases from 100 years ago-- a house with stories to tell...
Are you kidding me, my investor friends all asked, practically in unison?  Who wants to listen to machinery whooshing by all night?  This is an unsaleable lot, they insisted, unanimously.

But there are very few trains at night…  the sound of their approach,  their disappearance into the tunnel, or off toward the country--for me, is like a lullaby.  It is the sound of time, of distance…  even the whistles comfort me.

I have new neighbors downstairs-- the kind of people who pay cash for more space than they need, who acquire multiple apartments and gut-renovate without regard or respect for the building, for its history, for its soul, for their neighbors.  They were so friendly-- and then their contract was signed and they began the bullying soundtrack of rich people who see anything besides their own noise as annoyance.  People who see a coop as a business deal, not a communal living arrangement.  People who order staff around, have no manners or style-- just the loud irritating voice of large annual bonus money.

Although their young son has a drum kit and takes lessons, they do not like music.  They have written letters to management stating their upstairs neighbor has full band rehearsals at all hours.  I scarcely play here… I've had people over and have to field my new neighbors' complaints that they are trying to sleep at 8 PM-- whenever.  They are loud and discourteous.  The father speaks on his cellphone on the street-- they are noisy and cook smelly food that permeates into my closets.  Their air cooling system flushes itself through the bathrooms.  They bang on the ceiling with some kind of pole when a car passes at night with a loud radio.  They insist, because they know I am a bassist, that some kind of low frequency motor sound is emitted from my apartment while they are sleeping.  My space occupies about 1/4 of theirs.  They have several bathrooms while I have one.  When a recent leak in their ceiling caused water damage, they insisted the plumbers drill out my old tile floor and disable my facilities.  They threatened to sue, even though the fault was in the pipes, not my fixtures.  They have zeroed in on me as their target.

Fortunately most of the residents here have defended me.  They know I have lived here many years without issue.  We enjoy one another's piano playing and singing-- parties and laughter.  Famous musicians have practiced and lived here.  The ghost of a deceased Russian composer supposedly inhabits my apartment; she flickers lights on winter nights while I play my J-200… maybe she is playing tricks on the people downstairs who are ill-tempered and selfish.  While they wait for their building permits allowing them to destroy any marks of history in their space, I think about warning them that a bad spirit is down there, that the couple before them argued constantly, slept in separate bedrooms.  Pablo Casals once rehearsed in their living room; there is an indentation in the wood flooring where his cello rested.  They will surely have this removed.  People buy these beautiful old landmarked spaces now and turn them into soul-less post-modern model units.  Then they move; they flip.  They move on to bigger and newer projects.

I just finished reading a new book called 'Every Song Ever'.  In it Ben Ratliff thematically runs through records-- pieces of music-- performances… he illuminates what for him makes these privileged listening experiences.. the art of production,  the vision of a recording or a song-- he makes you stop and listen with his ears.  Some were things I'm familiar with; some less so.  His writing is good and he broadens an auditory moment into something visionary.  Whether the artist intended this or not-- magic often happens when musicians are in a moment.  Ratliff is like a guide on small song journeys.  I enjoyed this, even though I usually hate music criticism.  Here it felt more like appreciation.  He shares his POV and his genuine enchantment as an audience.  He is a privileged listener and so many of us, in this culture of a trillion sound bytes per day, have forgotten how to listen-- how to filter and prioritize what we hear, how to isolate the small human miracles that are sound-based and allow them to enter our body and soul and change us, make us better.

Recently I was at the house of a musician and he played a record for me-- an older record.  When I hear this, he said, it reminds me of the way I used to listen to music.  This touched me.  We players of rock and roll have damaged our ears with thousands of uber-decibel performances.  We have ringing, buzzing, the constant sense of wind, whistling… some of us can tune this out.  For most of us, volume was a drug of choice.  We must have known we were abusing our senses, but it felt like a religious experience. The power of sound enhanced.  We were transported.  Some of us were so high we didn't even notice the dangerous frequencies.  My first Who concert was so loud it was painful… but I wanted more.  Most of us now use white noise in our homes-- because the sound of silence is a reminder that we have done irreparable and annoying damage.  But earplugs in our 30's and 40's were not an option.  We embraced the wall of loudness like a surfer waits for a terrifying wave, and we paid a certain price.

New York City never sleeps.  There is not even a moment where traffic ceases, where activity stops.  Of course we are better able at 3 or 4 AM to decipher sounds--- but for anyone who has raised kids in the city, these children generally are terrific sleepers.  I could vacuum my son's room without waking him.  We 'accept' noise; we tune out the constant drone of things, and have to be reminded to 'hear' car sounds, etc.  Today 90% of the population walks around with beats or earbuds-- listening to phones and iPods, to our own private soundtrack, on top of the constant one on the outside.  We are hearing-tolerant.

My new neighbors, on the other hand, are intolerant.  I realized tonight--- they are listening for the sound of silence… and there is no such thing in the city.  In their spoiled demanding MO, and their inability to perceive what is obvious, things like footsteps, creaking radiators, rushing water, and the sound of life annoys them, unless it is their life.  They are like a barking dog who is trying to express his dissatisfaction at being locked inside while the world goes past his window.  They are the rock-throwers in the lovely glass building of my life, tantrumming and whining and exaggerating and complaining because they resent everyone who is not inside.  I am the enemy-- the squirrel running along their windowsill they cannot quite catch.  Ignore them, my building management advises.  But I don't like their kind of black-noise, red-noise, noisy, smelly ugly-noise.  Their barking.

My lovely blue house has been sold.  How I long for the night sound of trains, the whistling and rumbling without competing traffic noise--  the sound of every city everywhere because almost every town has its railroad;  the nostalgic old reminder that we are safe here in our bed while the world goes on around us, and people and things move from place to place while we sleep.  It is comforting and human to live in a city.  When we are sad we can walk outside and find a human voice, an all-night vendor who is happy to talk about the elections, to whistle a song, to remind us that there are other ears besides our own, and when we grow tired of conversation, we can sit on a stoop under the streetlights and listen quietly to the sound of trains in the cool night breeze of passing cars.