Monday, July 30, 2018

Up in Smoke

I'm writing this to the accompaniment of the Spectrum hold-music from the earpiece of my heavy old landline phone-- the only one I own-- waiting once again to try and negotiate a reprieve from excessive charges for inconsistent service and the potential privilege of watching mediocre television on 4000 irrelevant channels I will never explore.  I am reminded of ordering multiple Happy Meals just to get the nineteen-cent toy for the kids which seemed to be exclusive in those innocent pre-internet days; and how can we be horrified by the habits of these TLC-channel reality-show hoarders when our lives are chocked with exponentially massive digital tonnage?  Mall-scaled stacks of unopened TV dinners defrosting in the global-warmed polluted air?  Does this give anyone even a fractional glimpse into the hourly generation of froth-data and marketing congestion? All you binge-texters and iPhone junkies-- no, you are not 800-pound obese and homebound but somehow morbidly bloated with nutritionally unsound brain-feeds.  Is anyone out there?  Back to my yellow lined pad and cheap ballpoint pen.  Does anyone remember Koko the Clown?  Back to the inkwell....?

Friday night I had a midnight show.  We arrived at the bar and I was corralled by an attractive  youngish woman who in blunt verbal and body-cues let me know she wanted to hook up.  Yes, she was drunk... and if she'd been a man, I would have freely given her the fuck-off response... so I began to wonder, with the #MeToo history we older women have navigated, why I would give my own sex a free pass.  I do not find the aggressive come-on appealing-- even when it's a rockstar or celebrity; it's just not flattering to be flash-craved like a cupcake by a food addict.

Similarly, I met a man recently who seemed intelligent and interesting enough; we bonded over the book I was reading.   He is literate and musical; we had a coffee-- benign.   On the phone, later, he made a few lewd outside comments and references to his sexual superiority.  Jesus.. I am a senior citizen now?  Certainly he is.  Dealbreaker.  Are there people out there who respond to this?  Who like it? Apparently.

Of course, we rock and rollers are used to an entirely different behavioral code at the workplace.  Audience (and band members) scream, curse, strip down, fight-- throw bottles and themselves onto the stage, bleed-- we've seen it all.  Some bands instigate extreme behavior-- it's part of the experience.  Alcohol and drugs stir the pot to a quicker boil... and the music itself is both exciting and inciting.  We love it.  But I gave up going to hardcore and punk shows.  When ambulances park outside of a club waiting for customers-- well, I'm done with it now.  Does that make me a prissy-assed prude?

In the midst of teenage hell, a school psychologist told me I had not given my son clear boundaries.  Yes, at his worst gangsta-phase, he referred to me (and his teachers, apparently) as 'Niggah'.  We had worse battles and issues... but even he, who has emerged from the delinquency and acting-out a remarkable and beloved 'mensch',  told me I had failed to maintain disciplinary lines.  I am not the military type.  What does one do.. beat them?  I was a single Mom ex-hippy playing seedy rock-clubs in bands with less-than-stellar role models.  Admittedly, I failed the teenage parenting non-exam.

At this life-juncture, where way more is behind me than before me, I have much more clarity than I once did.  Musically-- it's a yay or nay.  I avoid things I once tolerated.  Personally-- it's fairly black and white; there is little time for people who annoy me.  We live in an over-populated city where there is limited width for individuality and attention, let alone a seat on public transportation.  I have grown more selfish about my personal latitude; I spend much more solitary time -- sometimes in crowds, but as an observer, not a companion or subscriber.  I have drawn those lines more graphically around me-- whether it is the nightmarish approaching white-chalk of my own imagined fatality, a sort of protective prison, or an adult time-out.  I have finally acquired a sense of boundaries.

Our clown president (back to the inkwell for him, if only...) is obsessed with the US/Mexican border... but has absolutely no awareness of his utter failure as a human to perceive or respect the concept of personal boundaries, and has crossed and violated every imaginable line of justice, decency, courtesy, ethics, acceptability, humanity-- we can go on forever.  He offends women daily, is bigoted, ignorant, intolerant--  embodies the antithesis of everything I believed as a child was 'presidential'.   How can I expect drunk women in bars to respect my personal space?

Last week I went up to Dyckman Park to watch my son's spectacular basketball team play a league game.  I was frisked by the police-women on the way in, and handed one of those blow-up plastic thunder sticks to taunt the opposite team.  The stands were filled with mostly twenty to thrity-ish spectators and fans, some kids.  There is loud music blasted through the speakers-- a DJ-styled announcer runs around the court during play.  It seemed everyone was lighting up cigar-sized spliffs.  They were passing them around-- even to me, by the guy in front of me who asked me if I noticed I was the only white person there... and was I nervous?  No, I am not... but the smoke was so thick... it was like eating a heavy meal; I honestly don't see how the players maintained their skills.

On the train downtown, afterward-- I kept smelling marijuana.  At the grocery store the cashier looked at me like I had facepaint on.  At last I ran into a friend who did a double-take and said.. woman-- what have you been smoking?  I went home and took a shower.  Next morning-- even my sneakers in the hallway smelled like a fresh-lit joint.  There I had been, watching a great game... minding my business-- an observer-- and the smoke permeated... I breathed it,  I wore it... even though my days of getting high are many decades away.

There is little we can do about some boundaries.  Smoke-- the dark-- the weather-- people in ridiculous states of dress in our visual field-- sirens-- overheard conversations.  Men and women in my gym... at all ages-- choose to display their naked flesh in varying states of youthful beauty or decay... we cannot change their choices.  Maybe the fashion police are out there, or the actual dress-code enforcers.  Our own friends will say things or do things that bother us... I care about people, but I care less and less what strangers think of me.

When I was ten years old, I smoked cigarettes but I didn't always inhale.  It made me feel like a teenager and I liked the way it looked in my fingers, the way the smoke curled up around me.  They became prohibitively expensive, and really bad for you; smoking is banned in public places in most countries because it's too hard to draw a non-permeable line.  Other seriously offensive, unhealthy things are duked out on sidewalks, argued in court,  debated in international forums, protested in human marches and on picket-lines.  These things are important... and time is too precious to get our feet stepped on and watch others helplessly violated by schoolroom or presidential bullies.  As far as intimate personal boundaries, I can still imagine the cigarette, sympathize with the smoker, refuse to inhale and walk away.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

All Apologies?

I suppose every working man or woman has a certain anticipatory excitement on the way to a job… maybe not every day, but on special days.  For us musicians, it never gets old; if it does, you've chosen  the wrong profession.  Usually I'm struggling on and off a combination of subway platforms and crosstown buses because my compensation has pretty much excluded the economic possibility of a taxi or car service.   Except this one gig, where my 'boss' happens to be my neighbor and we ride downtown together frequently.

On the drive tonight looking east, a pumpkin moon was rising, orange-ghosty and huge over the Roosevelt Island skyline.  It wasn't quite full-- I'd missed that, but still was glad for the panoramic view across the river and the sense of being on the way somewhere-- to stand up in front of some people (hopefully) and give them some kind of memory or joy.  It had been a long complicated day without air conditioning in the first summer heatwave-- and a little over two years since my Dad passed.  Night trips in his car were always upriver-- on the way home from Brooklyn or Long Island or wherever… me always glad whatever celebration or visit was over, that there was less to dread-- burdensome meals, hours in strange homes trying to be normal and sociable… feeling the judgmental glare of parents and waiting for the inevitable adult argument when they got home.  I'd learned the pattern, and was just glad the faithful moon always remembered the way back to my bedroom window.

The death of my father, I've said many times,  brought me a kind of relief.  It was final… there was no more slim possibility of reconciliation or the tense notion of it.  There had been a moment-- maybe seven years ago-- I'd printed out and shown my Dad a pile of articles I'd written-- blogs, essays… well-censored… and he'd given me a sort of near-embrace and said 'Let this be the start of a new regime between us.'  It felt pivotal and grown-up, like some kind of breakthrough.  But the next time I saw him, he'd reverted to that barely tolerant hostility he'd shown me since my college graduation where he seemed publicly pleased at my awards and achievements.  And what have you done for me lately, I could almost hear him sigh under his labored breath?

I suspect my sister had something to do with maintaining my enemy status; it was imperative that I be deleted from the final recipe of his will.  God only knows what false vendettas were added to the maybe legitimate ones to which he seemed to cling:  I'd built a wall out of it.   But one day past what would have been his 99th birthday, my cousin sent me a listing of his truly heroic wartime feats and medals.  It came on like a surge today-- the pride, the humility, the legacy.  Me… with my smalltime club gigs and shows-- how could I possibly fathom the aftermath of this kind of performance?  The theatre of war, it is often referenced… here I am, the progeny of one of the great honorees… failing to understand the impossible wake of such a life-- caught up in the petty deeds of offspring who seemed more a requirement than an elective in his family reality.  Here is a man who faced down death and massive terrifying wounding violence daily--   clearly marked but never whining about his trauma-- with an estranged daughter who was raised in safety and maybe suffered from occasional stage fright.

So I spent the afternoon and evening in some kind of penitent state-- with a bit of shame and remorse thrown in, a bit of delayed grief.  Meanwhile a beloved musician had passed away this week; he often joined us onstage to sing one of his band's anthemic songs, and his sweet lack of narcissism was extraordinary.  We were planning a small tribute-- unrehearsed, of course-- from the very stage where we'd all been together just six weeks ago.   On the way downtown, watching that moonrise, I was a little excited to be trying a couple of his original compositions-- embracing the challenge and the music.  As we started the first song, I saw a familiar profile in the audience-- was about to wave and beckon-- and then realized with a tremor that he'd gone-- what was I thinking?  Was this a ghost? A mirage?  Or just some generic tall rock and roller with a hat and dark glasses?  And here was the first song, the dedication… I was totally thrown, and flubbed my way through like a blindfolded man in a cave.

So I failed them both-- my musical friend, who would have forgiven me-- and my Dad, who wouldn't have.   Or maybe I got it wrong… maybe this was the lesson of the night:  shame, a little unintended disrespect, to have messed up the great music…. but maybe I didn't fail my Dad.   Even the chorus lyrics were questioning and ironic: 'She may call you up tonight/Then what could I say that would sound right?' Maybe it was just impossible to succeed, to follow an act of historic heroism that had no sequel.  I felt a little faint onstage, but fought my way through the rest of the set.

Another friend gave me a ride uptown… He intends to live to be 140, and so has not even turned the corner into the second half of his story.   As for me, I am looking ahead and behind tonight-- trying to forgive myself for my terrible performance (so many musicians and old soldiers use alcohol in place of forgiveness)-- not less for my failure to understand my father and accept his lack of forgiveness-- after all, maybe I failed him less than he failed himself.  It seemed apt, on the childhood drive upriver, realizing with irony that I was on the Left Bank(e)-- our tribute-- and my moon had receded into normalcy in the hot night sky that promised a brutal morning in the urban world of no-air-conditioning.  Me the post-midnight pumpkin now-- on the B-side, the roundtrip return-- still a daughter, in spite of it all.