Wednesday, June 30, 2010

there's gonna be a revolution

New York has become a much harder place of late.

More sad than scary really, but not easy to miss. The warmer air is sharp with stale sweat and the smell of the rank unwashed. Grocery carts laden with covered mounds and bubbled plastic bags are pushed up against buildings everywhere. Men, women and dogs stretch out over vents on every side street and thoroughfare, covered in cardboard.

Subway stations after 10pm have become convention centers for the ruined, hunched to sleep on benches, piles and carts beside them, swollen ankles, swollen feet bulging out of wasted shoes. There is no overlooking this underworld, no passing through from dance hall to overpriced apartment. It has become too pathetic, too prevalent, to ignore.

Even my neighborhood has its share, the sidewalk full of sad, sad drunks outside the OTB, shouting their pain from milk crate couches. And the lone man, long-haired and dignified, who washes his feet every morning with a bottle of Poland Spring. He has wild eyes and a gentle gait, and I would totally crouch beside his mailboxes for a sandwich and a story if it weren't for my paranoia of connecting to drifters who watch me come off the subway most nights at 2am and could very easily trail me home.

I work for a non-profit—run by middle-minded management jerks and wannabe bureaucrats—but the mission is a solid one. Rehabilitate the recovering homeless. Help them get and keep a job. Stay in touch as long as they do to negotiate lay-offs and relapses and, well, share the journey. Parts of my job inspire me daily, as dysfunctional and toxic an office environment as it has proven to be.

One of my superiors has been known to say that, particularly in this city, most of us are just a paycheck or two away. One ill-timed bender, one maladjustment made to the anti-depressants, one bad break too many, and how close do we come? I, for one, live paycheck to paycheck, and if it weren't for some solid support and a few lucky breaks, I'd be up a creek myself.

A lot of factors contribute to the cycle of homelessness: incarceration, lack of education or opportunity, mental illness, addiction . . . And watching this particular economic tailspin take its toll is getting harder and harder to watch.

That said, how easily and often do I hide in my book on the train as person after person sings, shouts, recites the standard N train speeches to fill their hat full of change. I avert my eyes because I find it overwhelming, each day sadder than the next. But if I gave the dollar I used to (without fail, feeling guilty if I ran out of cash), I'd be out a sandwich and a coffee by the time I got home from work. I've been saturated, made callous by a city of abuse. I can care all I want, but suddenly I'm overwhelmed by how little I can do. Programs like mine are out there, but how many people never make it that far? How many crazies slip through the cracks? And who's to blame? I find myself continually balancing compassion and contempt, and hating myself for it. Because—bottom line—there is a threshold of heartbreak and this place sacrifices your best instincts in the name of survival.

But it is hard. There's something unsafe happening, like a pasta pot with the lid on. Sooner or later, something starchy and hot is going to come boiling out and burning down the sides. Too many people are having too hard a time. Plus, it smells. The whole city smells. Bus exhaust and summer sewage are bad enough without exploring the spectrum of human stenches.

And then the drunks. The ones so drunk, so used to being drunk, they hardly notice their own shouting.

It feels like danger. Like Oran when all the rats start dying. A city poised on the knife blade between melting pot and mayhem.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

more than enough

Yesterday was one of those truly perfect New York days. HCB at the MoMa, lunch roseé, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Public, stracciatella pizza, champagne and fondue at the Bourgeois Pig, then three humid hours of dancing in a bedazzled basement. With all those chandeliers, I half expected someone to start playing the voice over from the Haunted Mansion. "There are no windows . . . and no doors . . ."

Of course, I had to watch the G.I.Q. sulk in a corner all night in a tasteless shirt with some leggy blonde, but there are worse things to cope with—who wants his attention without the sweater vest anyway? Summer comes and Mr. Wet Wool and Book Smell is just another clammy man in khaki.

I danced and it was wonderful.

One by one, other tangueros paired off with other leggy blondes and left the station for beds in outer boroughs while I got passed back and forth between the Champion and the Tall Guy, who caught me with one strap dangling and actually reattached my shoe for a second tanda. We were all but chased out of the milonga by the cleaning crew.

Good nights are what we make of them and I ended this one staying out til nearly six making diner conversation with new friends. I rattled home in a minivan handicab in the luge lane on the verymost vertigo edge of the bridge, just as the weekend world was getting ready for work.

Off to dance some more.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

who knew summer came in color?

Goodness. I hardly know what to say.

It appears the lovely Phoenix has given me my very first blogger award. I shudder involuntarily at having even typed that word, but c'est la guerre, non? When in Rome. Nomenclature be damned, I am honored to be included among people who brighten or have once brightened her day, though I can't imagine how she managed to find any sunshine round here lately. I was actually tempted to post this thing in black and white (because dear god, that thing is colorful), but then I caught myself. We could all use a little sunshine and I, for one, endeavor to let that little light shine right out of my lily-white Irish (oh wait, why am I talking about my butt two posts in a row?) . . .

Apparently these awards are like a mate gourd, meant to be passed along. And so, without further ado, I bequeath the Res Ipsa Loquitur "ray of sunshine" award to my favorite day brightening (ugh) . . . blogger.

Kathleen, this is for you. Ladies and gentlemen, this woman is a diamond in the mommy blogs. So please, enjoy her shiny green layout, her darling boys, and her insightful take on the trials of wifery and motherhood in rural New Hampshire. She can also help you clean up yer act because, in between raising three children, she enjoys doing thorough environmentalist research so the rest of us plebes don't have to.

And for honorable mention, Jane of the Virgin Diaries. Because mama tells the truth.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

front sky

Woke up this morning with a sore throat. But, you know, it's a sore throat. Hardly a tragedy. Certainly I am capable of getting through today in my desk chair. No one else cares how much it hurts to swallow—or that I'm rolling with the raspy whisper of a supervillain in the first round of her death throes. Anyway, I pulled up my big girl pants, juiced myself a vitamin cocktail with a butt-ton of ginger, grabbed a box of Throat Comfort and commuted.

First thing, my boss comes into my cubby—face contorted into all sorts of snotty—and says,

"What is WRONG with you? I feel like you're always getting sick. Clearly you need to start taking better care of yourself."

Okay, She-Beast.

First of all, aside from a run-in with some unfortunate felafel, my last sick day was in January.

Second of all, I juice kale for breakfast every morning.

So you can kiss my lily-white Irish you know what.

Friday, June 18, 2010

in flora veritas

Who needs the male half of the species when your best friend sends you stealth flowers at the office?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

one thing I'll say for me

I take my licks standing up.

Last night was Non-Date: The Ultimate Showdown. And it ended just as poorly as anticipated.

You see, this man has been hovering around my heart for eight years now. Four years of student/teacher friendship followed by three years of fervid non-dating, and then this past stretch of maybes and what-ifs and occasional grandma kisses in Grand Central Station. It has been one long rinse cycle of ambiguity, but here we are, in the year of our lord 2010, and finally I've come out the other side. A bit bedraggled for the wear, but squeaky clean.

Six months ago, if a man had said to me, "No, I never felt that way"—even if I knew this to be false—I would have sunk to my knees in despair. Because that man, in reconstructing his own narrative, would have robbed me of mine. I have waited the better part of a decade for this absolution. To know, once and finally, what I mean to this man. I wanted to hear him admit it, to say, "Yes, of course I felt it too, but I'm emotionally retarded." Needless to say, he did not. But then I realized: I didn't need to hear him say what I already knew—at ligament level—to be true.

At least he said something. (Granted, I all but forced him to, but who's counting?) He looked me straight in the eyes and he lied.

"And that's the ballgame," I said. And trotted off to the subway, because mama's got class.

The real plot twist here was not in his refusal, but my reaction. Sure, frustration and self-pity flashed in my brain pan; I was ready, Kleenex in hand, to eulogize all the missed moments and wasted opportunity, but it didn't take me much further than the turnstile to recognize another feeling strongarming the others for a clear shot at the spotlight, which is to say: relief. I was relieved.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, will get me past whatever wisps of regret and wounded pride will threaten to settle overhead. I am finally free of this albatross. The Universe gave me one clear moment in which to say, "Well, I've had enough of this crap."

By the time I got home, I was ten pounds taller. How many hours of my life have I wasted trying to decipher his feelings? Post-date analyses, passive aggressive emails, wistful texts fallen on deaf ears . . . all of that is over. Chapter closed.

If he had said "yes" and swept me off my feet right there on 42nd Street, I would have been settling for just a little less. These children (all pushing forty—jeez, ma, will I never learn?!) will never love you back because they've got nothing to give.

And I would rather be alone than accept another incomplete person in my heart. I deserve more.

Surprisingly, the bright side of yesterday won out. There were two hours of sunset dancing on the blustery and humid pier, a perfect pint of Guinness in a newly discovered pub, and a big fat peace descending as I snuggled into my single girl bed.


for a piece of silver lining

In Syracuse this weekend, for the encore tour of our cabaret . . . such as it was.

Surreal apocalypse Americana is as good a place as any to take a step off the hamster wheel. We had midnight BBQ with a bunch of bikers, gawked at the prices of candy and cigarettes, and performed in a theatre not twenty yards from a giant pro-life billboard. On a street corner that would later boast a catfight between a bunch of hysterical preteen bitches and one very ill-prepared minivan cabbie. So that was exciting.

We played to sold-out crowds both nights, which would have been a major boon for morale had not our pipsqueak small-minded manchild of a director taken it upon himself to give me a "note" five minutes after we closed. About my lack of coming timing.

Now this vain little queen knows really nothing about theatre. He delights, however, in the spotlight. In the time it took to get through cue-to-cue, we could have teched all five acts of Hamlet. But no. He wanted to sit there with his headset and clip light, snapping his stubby fingers at us and assigning specials at varying intensities to the silk flower display on the piano. He'd chirp, "Freeeeeze!" when a simple "hold" would have done. And, during the run, he'd breeze through the theatre reeking of skunk weed, claiming credit for writing and "devising" a show which had been a collaborative effort (until he booby-checked his way into the equation). His pedantic low-blow of a parting gift was, I'm sure, a nod to the original tiff we had last month, when he more or less told me I had no stage presence.

Once again, I am the kid who runs right up and wallops her face against the sliding glass, mistaking it for an open door. Show business is a confidence game and I'll always be the lost little girl with popsicle stained fingers rubbing her goose egg and staring dreamily through the panes. Unless I pull my head out of my lily white Irish arse—but quick.

Marian Seldes said, "I am not afraid on the stage. I am afraid in life." And the dame knows her stuff. Sometimes I find it so hard to reconcile my lack of ambition with the high of being onstage, the umbilical tether to an appreciative crowd, the loss of all fear under lights. I know how to read an audience. No one gets to make me doubt that. Not anymore. And certainly not this particular pea-brained jerk-off. I'm just plain smarter than he is—and he knows it.

Despite that swift kick to the girl nads, it was an honor to be up there with two such dazzlingly talented women and our red-hot pianist/musical director. This gig got easier and more enjoyable every time (once I tuned out the reptile and actually performed). I found myself increasingly less terrified of using a microphone and, you know, singing in front of people in general.

And the omnipresent loneliness? I made a good showing up there, I did. I would have thought I was done for with that first final click of the hotel room lock, but then I unpacked, rearranged all the miniature shampoo bottles on the bathroom counter, and savored that good old hotel-grade anonymity and 'alone.' There, behind paper thin walls and an industrial deadbolt, you can be anyone. The charade and the fantasy are yours to construct.

Inevitably, I settled on myself. This was my first hotel room as a single adult. The lady minus a plus one. The woman who sleeps alone. And I found it comforting. I found myself comforted by the chlorinated clean of bath towels neatly folded, the vacuum swatch of stain repelling carpet, the hum of the wall unit AC, the ceiling unit bathroom vent, the ice machine down the hall. Even the sounds of other toilets flushing, other doors clicking open and slamming shut, the ghost elevator to the lobby—these noises are the texture of travel and I come to love them. Even when my favorite gays go to their room down the hall and I am left to the quiet.

Girl's just gotta learn to make her own noise is all . . .

Thursday, June 10, 2010

in which a theory is tested

Yesterday was a day that threatened to crush me like a tomato. Recovering from a lame duck date and a three day stretch of overexertion and undersleep, work was just about as excruciating as one would expect—and then it rained.*

But now that I have cultivated the solidarity in my own solitude—in the form of sauteéing garlic and pasta sauce—solace is easily found. I walked home in the rain, with a can of San Marzano tomatos and some spaghettini, and exactly an hour later Peter and I were stuffing our faces (in a rare moment of civilized dining at the kitchen table), sopping it up with crusty ass garlic bread.

It appears I've become one of those people who uses the kitchen as a supplement to therapy. This is convenient, as I have always been one of those people who eats her feelings.

Anyway, later, as I was drifting to sleep, the rain quiet and Queensie outside my window, I thought, "I've run out of boys" (not that I was in any way trying to accumulate them). Nevertheless, with the last death rattles of the Cinematographer, the list has officially been exhausted. I found myself wholly relieved—at peace even.

Literally ten seconds later, I got a text from the Foodie. Remember him? Sign from the universe or test from Satan?

I'm going with test from Satan.

*See here for further impressions of precipitation in New York City.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

five for the fellas

A few points of honor:

1. Never show up for a dinner date and lamely remark that you aren't hungry.

2. If you earn drastically more than your companion (and spend the better part of the evening expounding on the success of your business), even a half-hearted offer to subsidize her meal is appreciated. If she's worth her salt, she'll still pay her own way, but your lack of chivalry is deafening.

3. If you are pushing forty and have yet to be married, there's probably something wrong with you. (Thanks, Mum. Should have listened the first twelve times you said it!)

4. You may find yourself infinitely fascinating, but your narcissism can hardly be relied upon to bridge conversational gaps. Similarly, chuckling at your own anecdotes before you can choke out a punch line is . . . well, that should go without saying.

5. Gesturing like a velociraptor does nothing for your already suspect masculinity quotient.

And one for the ladies: when you go out for tapas, go with each other. You'll get much more mileage out of that gin and lavender sangría and you'll never have to hand back your dessert menu leaving the churros con chocolate unordered.

Monday, June 7, 2010

it would take an acrobat

In which our heroine cuts loose a little. Seriously, made-my-mama-proud kind of cut loose.

Stayed out until five am on Friday night, tagging along with a posse of lifelong friends who kept me up with margaritas and music and impromptu debates about the Universe. Dawn was just starting to seep under the door frames of my neighborhood when my overpriced car from Brooklyn finally delivered me home.

Saturday I slept til one, made myself an epic egg salad sandwich with fresh dill and cornichons and watched The West Wing on my couch until it was time to stroll through the park on my way to a movie with . . . (and I'm almost ashamed to admit this) the G.I.Q. Now, before you all start ranting and raving and pushing the panic button, I'll say this: it was not a date. I repeat: not a date. Also, I have no intention of reopening that can of worms. I'm not stupid.

Truth is, he's lovely. And erudite. And I've never met anyone like him for talking literature. On some screwy level, we get each other. (This is the man who read me E.B. White essays in bed.) So I caved. We saw an old movie, had a slice at Joe's, then he walked me to my train and we parted ways. Drama free zone.

As a gesture of our germinating friendship, I gave back the Bukowski. The beautiful Black Sparrow Mockingbird Wish Me Luck. Now, here's the kicker: In the thick of the trauma, the stomach sickening aftermath of "us" (if such a thing there ever was), I wrote him a letter—a letter I never intended to send, one of those exercises in woman-scorned catharsis. Not thinking, I stashed that letter in the aforementioned book to properly isolate all mementos of him in one pernicious corner of my bedroom. It was only when he began flipping through the pages on the street corner that I realized my flub. There it was, compactly folded and tucked neatly into the spine.

"Is this for me?"

Ah well. Perhaps subconsciously (or consciously) I've come to a place . . . and in that place I no longer care if people know how I feel about them. In lurid and humiliating detail. In florid, unapologetic prose. If he's got any redeeming quality, he'll do the old smile and file and we can move on as bigger people and better adults.

Let's just put it this way: I've never met anyone who would offer to leave me voice messages full of Melville—even after an ugly break up. Until I determine he is not worth having around, I am strong enough to quell the revving engines in my underpants and be his friend. Lord knows he probably needs one.

That said, I did just hand the man a letter that included a line that went a little like this: "You took a woman made frigid by Pavlov and turned her on . . . awakened appetites in me that will long prowl the alleys we leave behind us, hot on your scent as it sours and fades." I am, therefore, a little worried. My life did, I'll admit, flash before my eyes on that corner of Broadway and Prince, but I pulled myself together, we parted cordially, and that was that.

I got through a Sunday as busy as a conveyor belt without thinking twice. A great stretch of rehearsal bookended by lovely brunch and lovely dinner with people worth caring about. Leap and live, they say. And keep on living.

Rather unwisely (yet not altogether unpredictably), I ended up dancing. I had one of those epic whirlwind nights of tango that, though they may deprive you of a REM cycle or two, give you wings.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

more lies are told until they're truth

I could live anywhere, but I do not. I live in New York. City that never shuts up. And it gets to be too much sometimes, too big, too tall, too gritty hot from bus exhaust coughing down the avenues.

Then again, there are outdoor bars in Bryant Park, sunsets over the Hudson and cheese-stuffed 'shroom burgers at the Shake Shack. The nights are warm and the women in printed skirts and dresses. Everyone optimistic.

They always tell superheros: with great power comes great responsibility. Well, they should tell New Yorkers that with a great city comes a great big hand on your chest, seizing, pressing.

You guessed it. Today is another of those chest constricting days of stress that begin with corruption and imbecility at the office and crest into an exhausting dance card full of enriching activities that sound great a week out, but day-of all you want is your couch, a glass of Chenin Blanc and a box of Cheez-Its.

How daily life can be so heavy, I'll never know. I'm doing so well this week, coming off a wonderful two weekend stretch with my mother, rejuvenated by my own renascent joie de vivre, buoyed by the constructive decisions I'm finding it easier and easier to make. I'm having a much easier time grappling with my own indecision. Looking at the fork and taking steps—radical steps.

So why is my breath still lodged in my gullet? Well, Rome wasn't built in a day, folks. I'm still that girl stymied by conflicting, paralytic desires, still the girl who armadillidiidaes herself into a fetal ball at the first sign of confrontation.

And so, instead of having 'the Talk' last night with Non-Date, I sat there on the park bench with my cheese'burger,' politely staring off across the dark recesses of Madison Square park and, well, keeping my mouth shut. I swear one of these days I'm going to slink the bra of my appropriateness right through my sleeve and throw it at this man—just before tearing screaming topless circles around him in the wide open public spaces we city-dwellers squat in for the better part of our lives.

It was only with one hand on the car door that I managed to say, "Well, we did it again." And he muttered, "yeah," with, admittedly, what might have passed for regret. Raincheck number 423. Better luck next time.

Truth is, I no longer know what I want him to say. I used to know. And now . . . nothing. It's as if I've lost my appetite for requited affection. I'm lonely as a widowed grizzly (in unseasonable hibernation), but the thought of male company, ambiguously intentioned or otherwise, has started to make my stomach turn.

I'm navigating around a well of nausea. Swimming in contradiction.

Anyway, for a three day week, this sure is a long one. Maybe because I haven't taken a proper lunch hour in almost a month. Maybe I'm a grumpy, ungrateful Dull Gret. Or maybe: with great decisions come great doldrums. As if the engines revving your life suddenly slow to a crawl just to build you up for the good shit you (hopefully) have coming.

Here's to opening and to upward, e. e. To leaf and to sap. I'll let you know when my late blooming leaves start to pop.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

passive activities encouraged

Home sick and feeling defeated for that. Watching a Bukowski documentary, which doesn't help.

But the sign in the park said it, so maybe there's some truth there. I'm making big decisions, rerouting major highways, building ladders sideways off the cliffs and into thin air. Maybe I've got a real chance here.

And maybe this Mack truck of a tummy bug means just that: stay home and sit in it. Take stock and strong up.