Friday, August 31, 2018

All the rest have 31.....

The cusp of August is the cruelest of all... after all those days of long, lingering heat and humidity-- of pink sunsets and procrastinations... September is staring me in the face like a damned balance sheet.  It's been a year now that my Mom is gone;  I stood over her grave last week-- listened for her shadow... praying that old family feuds would allow my stonecutter's dream to mark her peace... I sang her little song ... If ever I would leave you...it wouldn't be in summer... but it was.

The year I was born saw the hottest streak of the century.  We toughed it out in those pre-air-conditioned days at the beach at Belle Harbor, or the city river boardwalks... I swear I remember the heat of my stuffed crib-reindeer, his wilted felt lashes fluttering in the fan-wind, the buzz of flies and mosquitoes outside the apartment screens whining to come in and sample the sweet room-babies... Perry Como on the radio...  It set a bar for high temperatures; I've never really minded the heat since then-- well, maybe one year, with a cast on my leg, I struggled through, sitting under the apple tree, distracted by my new discovery of language and books; my mother made frozen lemonade and taught me to sing Que sera, sera...

In 1969 I spent the month in Mexico where it seemed a daily rainstorm relieved baking afternoons, and neighborhood boys brought guitars and played 'Yo sin ti'  over and over.  We hitchhiked to the city where I locked myself in a record-store booth with 'Tommy' and realized how homesick I was for rock and roll.  See Me... Feel Me... it was like a shiver.

Another summer I danced at a festival-- eight grueling hours of practice and technique in hot studios and gymnasiums..  I'd lean on the sill of my tiny Connecticut room at 2 AM and hear the same loon moaning.  Weekends I rode bone-tired on the back of a vintage BMW motorcycle between New London and the city, clinging to the hot leather back of a budding rock-God, hearing the young Van Morrison in my head and watching the road for a Dairy Queen.

A few years later, I had the first taste of The Dark Side of the Moon sitting outside a hunting lodge in the hills of Northern Italy with a bunch of British hippies and piles of drugs... thinking through a fog of smoke and Valpolicella how the word august meant celebrated and auspicious from the Latin... we were high and dry and often naked and the world spread beneath us like a vineyard... the days baked on, Money was a song... it seemed the summer never ended until one day we woke up happily back in our dormitory.

Lately the summer funerals have draped the dog days with mourning.  On 103rd Street there is a new shrine to another young neighborhood casualty.  Papi, the messages spell out in tears.. rows and rows of candle-glasses and stuffed animals for Di-Quai who was just 19.  This, too, shall pass.  Already in the 104th-Street playground there is a barbecue with yellow balloons.  Someone has brought a light... the boombox blasts No Tears Left to Cry and then Diamonds by the Boatload... they are done with Aretha-- that was last week's old-school.   And Saturday's perfect cupcake-top moon... the iced vanilla round,  pearl of my heart...   is now a lemon slice in the sky to these sun-baked eyes tonight.

No matter how rough it gets, we gonna go 31 this month.  It seems unfair that they are unequal, that September 'hath' 30,  and February we all pay for an extra two days of cable we don't get.  But August... it held out its hot breath until Aretha, John McCain, Di Quai and a host of others realized they would not see the changing of the leaves.  Where do they go, I wonder... sitting by my mother's burial site with my ear to the ground, feeling the afternoon warmth in the grass, trying to fight the terrible urge to dig through the soft earth and see what is left of her-- just once more... like an Edgar Allen Poe poem.  Forgive me, Mom.  For not cremating you, for failing, for your missing epitaph.

On the way back down Madison tonight, I passed that big black hospital; outside, a few men in wheelchairs were taking in the night air, smoking forbidden cigarettes and comparing bandaged legs in various phases of amputation, whistling at the young nurses.  Where are their mothers, wives, children?  I wonder if they miss the old summer songs the way I do.  They don't seem nearly as miserable as some of my neighbors here in the building-- with their renovations and their botox and their summer hair treatments.  My Van Morrison is old and heavy,  Elvis is long gone.... my lovely Mom who mourned Perry Como and Frank Sinatra with true grief barely had a voice when she lay down for the last time.  I wonder who she dreamed of, who she took with her that last trip... I hope Di Quai had time to make a wish.  Happy Birthday, Papi... whenever it will be... 31 candles I've blown out now... I don't know what song you'd like to hear, but I'm sure someone does... For now I'll just whistle like an old train and greet the September morning with courage.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Mama Don't Take My Kodachrome...

When I was a girl, and my Mom moved us to the suburbs so we could grow up like the wholesome girls she'd always wanted to be-- sisters-- with pink and blue sailor dresses and ribbons and a maypole in our backyard, I still swore I could see the city skyline on a clear day.  It was the already-printed backdrop of everything I thought and did-- the buildings-- like a crooked lego profile behind the clouds and the blue sky.  Through my classroom windows--- the massive glass panes of 19th-century schoolhouse walls, above the clanky radiators and below the suspended fluorescent ceiling fixtures like circus equipment threatening to smash us, I daydreamed and listened for the traffic buzz and the sirens, the rumbling of trains and the bus horns.  And it emerged-- like a distant mirage--- my Emerald City where I'd left a tiny heart and a future.

There's a famous photo of Marilyn Monroe at a lunch counter somewhere in Harlem-- maybe by the Meer where I go so often these days.  It dates from around the same time I was sitting in my first grade class looking left toward the outside.  She's eating a hotdog-- nothing more innocent, she is nearly saying, but knowing somehow this too will be sensationalized, sexualized by her male audience.  You can almost put yourself in the scene-- it's so candid and palpable... and so nostalgic... it feels like you-- or me...

One of my early New York City friends in my 20's was a model.  She was more beautiful than even she knew... and she struggled with this, the way models do... because everyone wants them-- to possess them, to date them... but most of the men who claim them are fickle and shallow, or ambitious conquerors; they chew them up and spit them out for the next course.  Anyway, she was marrying a musician-- typical story-- he was tall and narcissistic and she was mad for him.  He was one of those romantic troubadour types who carry a torch for some old love-- or they convince themselves of some such myth, because it suits their tormented-songwriter image.  The night before the wedding, he was drunk and begging me to sleep with him.  Not my thing.. but it didn't feel right or funny or bachelor-party cool.  So cut to the next day-- they were married... and she eventually had babies... and they lived pretty unhappily and mismatched until there was a divorce...  and he drank and cried in his beer at bars to leggy models and dancers, none of whom came anywhere close to his wife who had a brilliant sense of irony and fun... but there it was-- the overlooked bird in the hand.

Anyway, sometime before the unraveling, she had to have her appendix out--  in that huge black hospital overlooking Central Park... and she somehow, against my recommendation, charmed the surgeon into giving her a boob job, which was not nearly as common as it is now.  Yes, models were not super well endowed, and we went up to see her-- the troubadour and I, after a night of surely drying his crocodile tears in someone else's sheets... and there she was, my beautiful friend, with her surgically altered silhouette-- gauze bandages around her chest in that pathetic polka-dot hospital gown, standing by her IV apparatus like a microphone, singing in a whisper 'Happy Birthday Mr. President....'

Well..  I laughed and cried and it was like a box of mean tricks had been opened, and I caught a glimpse of the sad, sad future-- with the city skyline across the park-- no mirage-- and the place where poor dead Marilyn had finished off that hot-dog just yards away in her summer dress with her hair blowing around her... and then another photo came to me-- one of Marilyn and Arthur Miller standing by while she ate her dog on the street somewhere-- everyone staring except he looks away as he often did-- stern and judgmental.  You could read the future in his face-- the turning away,  the sweet desperation of her smile despite the shadow of the death-of-love, which is the prime murder suspect in all suicides.  The Anthony Bourdains, Kate Spades, L'Wren Scotts,  Sylvia Plaths, Marilyns... on and on they go... sad, fragile victims of the turning of the fickle tide.

What is the moral of this little anecdote?  I am recording a Birthday Song--  it is dark and fractured, and I thought of my old friend whom I see little of these days when I look out my window and see what I see; the walls and the present and the future are blocky, but the past-- like those old nostalgic photos-- is now the mirage of skyline, and the dreams of love-- well, they are filmy and blurring like old polaroids we cannot restore.  The surgery--well, it is stock and standard, and love-- well, love... is what it is... sad and distant or urgent and lethal... but it will not be tamed, or explained, and it is mortally dependent-- even if we can't have it, we can see it, or miss it, or watch it drive away down an old road, and wonder late at night whether what we hear is the rumble of trains or thunder, and the rain will come anyway... long after all Birthdays are gone...