Monday, February 29, 2016

Dial-ogue

I am not a huge fan of mega-corporations like Apple-- the very name seemed so pirated from my beloved Beatles record labels… but I'm betting on them in this latest little dispute.  Besides,  if McCartney wasn't able to plead his case successfully against Steve Jobs, I'm guessing the FBI will have even less chance.  And with all the tax money being used in the name of national security, if it all comes down to an iPhone, well… fill in the blank.

All this talk about phones and privacy has provoked an internal memory-blog.  For those of us in my generation and older, the cosmetic and utilitarian evolution of a telephone evokes iconic moments of emotion and nostalgia.  The quintessential rotary phone-- so Marilyn Monroe, so noir and cinematic… the ring, the cut-to-a phone shot in a black and white darkened room-- ominous, dangerous--- Hitchcock-ian-- the modern version of an Edgar Allen Poe Telltale Heart… etc… all so much a part of my adolescent landscape.  It seemed everything of emotional significance came through the phone… boys calling to ask us out, to just share an extra-curricular moment, to confess something--- our sisters would sit by us, trying to ascertain the other end of the conversation, making us nervous and self-conscious.  Schools and authority called our parents when we were in trouble… the deadly ring.

Growing up in an old Georgian house, there were unexplored treasures and souvenirs in the attic from families who'd lived there before; going through boxes and crates was a favorite rainy day activity.  We found an old black early-model  table telephone, among the things… and used it to invent a bizarre game of Rent-a-Car which involved dressing up as random characters who all intended to lease some specific kind of vehicle, while one of us manned the phone at the desk and dialed up some fantasy dealership to describe and order these.  The act of dialing was incredibly satisfying--- the smooth 'works' of the mechanism… it made this incredibly rich sound.

There were also occasional prank call weekends-- games or hanging-up on some boy we liked… or calling their mother and pretending to be someone else… just to connect with their house… it felt intimate and great.  My high-school boyfriend would call me at night-- I'd sit on the floor in a corner, in the dark, talking… touching the phone.  Ours was heavy and black… I felt as though he was inside the receiver..  it felt private and secret and safe.  My confidante.  The first summer I lived in Cambridge, on my own, we'd fall asleep on our phones… 500 miles apart…

When I was in labor with my son, I befriended the woman in the next bed who exchanged all kinds of incredible secrets with me and helped distract me from my pain.  She owned a phone sex business and tried to convince me this was a perfect way to make decent money while still being a stay-at-home Mom with  a baby.  All you needed was a nice voice, imagination, a little acting ability--- and you could make a decent day's salary in just 2 hours.  But somehow I had this relationship with my phone-- I couldn't abuse it; it was like a symbol of some kind of intimacy.  There were times we were close to starving and I'd take out her business card and think it over; but I never called.

When push button phones became standard, we all invented songs and silly melodies until that novelty finally wore off.  Dialing time was quick so it was harder to change your mind halfway into a call… somehow this made telephoning 'cheaper'… less significant…  and soon afterward, we all got message machines-- so we could connect with people even when they weren't home.  You didn't have to stay in staring at the telephone when you had a fight with your boyfriend or husband.  Phone traffic seemed to increase… Then caller ID took so much of the mystery away.  And we could screen calls.

Once my son had a cellphone, he could lie about where he was.  I had no clue he was cutting school.  Or he'd tell me he was working on a paper when he was at a concert-- maybe playing basketball at night in Central Park, getting high with kids in a rented hotel room.  Clueless we were.  One semester I paid tuition and he was in Cancun-- calling me, telling me about his classes, etc.  Of course roaming charges eventually busted him… but I hear people all the time on the street telling their mothers or husbands they are somewhere when they aren't… they are on the bus when they are having a drink with a stranger…. etc.

So it's not really a new concept that the phone is sort of an accessory to a crime or a falsehood.  They say something like half of all Facebook accounts are fake people.   All of this technology encourages us to mess with our identity-- it's like the converse of the sex-line.  You are eminently visible-- but why not use someone else's photo?  Or a photo you can not only take but alter and imbed-- all with the same piece of equipment.  You can even change your voice--- add a soundtrack.  And for what?

In this age of watching films, checking heart rates and paying bills with phones--- cameras, video, youtube--- I still don't have a cell phone.  Yes, it drives my friends and family crazy… but it bothers me that people text and don't often speak.  It seems so impersonal and de-privatized.  And then people answer calls in random public places-- at the gym, on a bus, in an elevator-- you hear this loud conversation-- both sides, often-- totally inappropriate information we are forced to witness, and knowing the caller never intended to have this drama acted out with an audience.  Hang up… and everyone is doing 3 things at once… your husband could be lying in bed with his lover while you text him a grocery list and he heart-emojis you back.  I go home and listen to voicemail… people still call me, or they email… slightly better than texting.  Men I know who cheat on their wives always email women-- wives occasionally look through their phone, and this way it's not so incriminating.  The casual habits of texters and phone-addicts makes this kind of secrecy less viable, less safe.  Everywhere I go-- -even while I am playing a gig, more than half the audience is doing something with a phone… doing several things… watching the gig through their phone camera… I don't get it.

Last week  I saw an old rotary phone in a thrift shop-- a black one, with a wall plug-- the way they originally were.  It was heavy… it was a little sculptural… it was incredibly attractive.  I had to touch it… maybe like those 1960's indie films-- or the old Warhol films… or the French nouvelle vague-- they have this nostalgia, this appeal-- like old Beatles photos-- George and Pattie Boyd… James Dean, Marilyn.  These people exchanged secrets,  intimacies on these old phones.  The one in the thrift shop had a kind of sex appeal-- it had a soul.  It had a vibe.  A young couple was taking selfies with their iPhones, posing-- pretending to speak on this old thing.  Irony.  Like an old stray dog, I had the urge to take it home with me… and suddenly I had this clear picture of my young Mom so many years ago… with her cigarette and her perfectly manicured hands… giving me this little mischievous wink and tilt of her head, saying.. 'let's just let it ring…. '

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Heart-to-Heart

The first boy I ever slept with slipped a hand-made Valentine in my mailbox.  He was kind of an artist and sang in a band…I think he'd been dating someone I knew, so it was a bit of a surprise, but the card was beautiful…had some Adam and Eve imagery, a slight Goth/Edgar Allen Poe vibe.  I knew then and there he 'got' me.  It took some thought, some stealth, some insight and some artistic effort.   It was Romantic.  And it did its job.

I've been to February 14th weddings, parties, gigs-- had theatre dates, candlelit dinners, hotel-room trysts-- baked, cooked, dressed up in sexy lingerie, read poetry and danced.  I've been to the Oak Room, the Rainbow Room, the Top of the Beekman and Cafe des Artistes… but most of all, I've philosophized; it's become a sort of 'day of reckoning' for relationships.  And now that there are considerably more of these days in the past than the future,  I can sift through the red-sand nights and find the ones that stand out.

Maybe my best memory is the striped colored heart I cut out for my baby boy--- just 3 months old, which hung like mistletoe in my tiny studio-apartment kitchen, where he sat in his little plastic basket-chair, watching it with intensity while he made it dance with his tiny feet.  Now he is 26 with surely a reservation at some trendy restaurant and a Tiffany-boxed gift for his lovely girlfriend.  He knows about hearts-- about women and responsibility-- matching iphones and uber accounts.  I doubt he remembers the hand-made paper Valentine which provided entertainment for so many weeks.

The other visual which comes up in my heart-shaped 8-ball tonight is a jazz musician on a bicycle.  We'd had a rocky weathery love affair which left both of us a little bruised and battered.  Many months later I was on my way home after a sweaty gym workout-- sure it was the 14th, but I wasn't having any of the hype and froth… and there he was, with roses and chocolate dipped strawberries, asking for a second chance.  We've gone on with our lives, but that night gave us improvisational healing and closure. Valentine-shaped circle of 5ths.

I've already spoken with several unattached beautiful girlfriends tonight who have stoically joked about their match.com dinner, their anticipation, their disappointing date last night-- about illness, children, our aging parents, our jobs.  I've leafed through archived poems and found a few lines which still resonate (Have we not all struggled with buttons,/ slipped an outgrown dream over our heads/to enter someone else’s body/with a rose?).  Funny how I vaguely recall the poetry but not necessarily the man who inspired it.

At this point it is maybe a day to show love less discriminately, the way we were forced as children to give a Valentine to every single classmate, however creepy.  We can all use this lesson, and it never fails to remind us of the old mathematical adage about the love we make being equal to the love we take.  But this is really no longer adequate in our world.  Those of us who can, do-- and those of us who can't--well, they sit home and sulk.  My advice?  Buy yourself a rose, if you really need one.

Besides, hearts for me are bloody things.  I grew up with a father who had a display of medals-- several Bronze and Silver Crosses and purple hearts to commemorate not just his heroic deeds but his painful wounds and deep injuries, and this iconography was very vivid in my childhood.   Or a symbolic reminder of how he was forever changed into the difficult man who raised me to distrust things like flowers and love and men with guitars who all seemed so enchanting and appealing.  And my family?  Deep wounds there which could be glossed over but will not be.  I see photos everywhere of sisters-- heads together, smiling and waving.  My version is rather a composite-- a black and white collage of time-mixing and backward soundtracks, like news clippings of bad deeds which have gone unsolved and unpunished.  At some point there were happy moments, but few pearls remain from the broken shells that wash up on my memory-beach.  My mother-- a different story.  She is exonerated and forgiven for any mistakes; if I had a solid gold heart to spare, it would certainly be hers, whether she recognizes it or not.

Love in the romantic version, as it exists, is probably more honored in its tragic form.  The greatest love stories do not end well, and pain is so much the B-side of any relationship, no matter how passionate and fulfilling.  We poets and dark souls embrace and inhale the smoke from these fires.  This is what remains.  No matter how complete we may be, in the arms of our greatest love.. .the dawn comes, we rise and make coffee, we grow familiar and forget to honor our best moments, and we lose things.  We lose people-- they move on, they love others, we let them go, we prefer someone else-- whatever.  Do we collect hearts? No, but some of us save Valentines and messages.  I still have that Adam-and-Eve card, rumpled and folded as it is.  I still have the striped baby heart, stained and tattered, loved as maybe no other paper heart I have ever made, and there have been many hundreds.

In my email today was a message from an old love-- a song-- so nostalgic and romantic-- so perfect and musical and sad…. my February 14th closure.  How lucky or loved I am,  or have been,  or was.  Tomorrow will be the 15th.   Is it not all really the same?