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Tenth Avenue is a huge, northbound corridor, and from the back of a taxi it can feel like an old-fashioned dogfight. Today my cabbie zipped in and out of traffic, jockeying with other taxis for a key position. New York is a great race to get from Point A to Point Z, and squeezing through a narrow window of opportunity amongst several dozen vehicles can mean the difference between arriving on time or late. I was on time today but suffered for the victory: a pot of tea on an empty stomach is not a good preparation for a dogfight.
In the Laundromat I greet one of the young women who works there, the only one I talk to.
"How was your Easter?" she asks.
"Fine," I answer, without explaining that it's a holiday I don't bother celebrating. "How was yours?"
"Great," she answers. "I was off Friday, Saturday and Sunday."
"That's what you want."
As I continue to load clothes into a washer, I realize I have no idea why I said that. The words echo in my head, but I'm not sure why I said them. I hope they made sense to her.
Note to self: Pay attention.
Timing is everything. Some days you have it, some days you don't. Yesterday, I got to the subway platform just as the train left the station. Twice. Today, the trains pulled in just as I arrived. Same trains, same stations. And it was a good thing. I hate to be late.
Most days I run about five minutes behind world time. I'm not sure if it's a trademark at this point or just a bad habit. Ironically, as much as I dislike being late, I also have what I consider to be a healthy disdain for rushing to get somewhere.
Life equals change. Sometimes I dig in my heels and resist it. OK, I do that a lot and always have. But now I’m facing a number of changes in the next four months – looking for a house, buying a car (both are firsts for me), splitting my time between western Massachusetts and New York City. I worked in my (urban) garden this afternoon, and I’m even making changes there, changes which will make it easier to manage. That’s the kind of change I understand: making life easier. If life equals change, and change begets ease, why isn’t change easy?
I'm so tired of goatees. They're not even technically goatees; they're Van Dykes. I was tired of them in 1995.
And then there's the Soul Patch. What the hell does
mean? It looks like a blob of dirt under a guy's lip. In French it's called a
, which means "fly". Yeah, a fly landed on your lower lip, buddy. Get it off!
Let's just take it a step further. Why not grow a single hair and let it get several inches long? Or maybe three hairs, and make a tiny braid? Why would anyone want to kiss that?
It’s been a mild winter in New York with virtually no snow. The flowering trees that line some of the streets are in bloom, and until the temperatures dropped recently it felt like spring. This morning, as I walked through midtown, the air was filled with little white specks, which I assumed were petals from the flowering trees. But they blew through the air on streets without trees, and I realized it was snow. I pointed it out to Rod, who commented, “I thought it was dust from the World Trade Center.” Six months ago, that was our unfortunate reality.
I'd rather stay on sun time than switch to Daylight Savings Time. Losing that hour of sleep, despite "getting it back" in the fall, feels so disruptive to our natural rhythms, as do the suddenly later sunrises and sunsets.
I once traveled to London in the spring, right after Daylight Savings Time went into effect. I stayed for about a week with my ex (who was then my current), and the UK switched to DST while I was there, so I lost two hours that year. I will never get that second hour back. It's permanently erased from my life.
Two large sculptures adorn the plaza of my midtown Manhattan office building: green torsos without heads, arms, or legs. Each stands on a square pedestal over which water flows. They are more impressive than pretty.
I sat on the edge of one a few days ago (no water flowing yet), and a woman with a vaguely eastern European accent approached me.
"What is this?" she asked.
"Yes, but what is it?"
"A torso," I clarified.
"No, but what it means?"
"I don't know. It's a green torso." I paused. "It's art."
She shook her head and walked away.
Burritoville. Ninth Avenue. While ordering food at the counter, Rod pointed out a Latino guy nearby. "Porn star."
"Makes sense." Overdeveloped physique, somewhat ugly face. Definitely a sex worker.
He briefly toyed with the idea of asking if he knew him from Harvard.
"Too cruel," I said.
Later, a local who clearly recognized the "actor" from his "movies" stopped by his table.
"Can I ask you a question?" he began.
"No?!" A brief, curt exchange, then, "Well, you're incredibly rude" and the local exited.
Where was the dignity? The genteel charm of celebrity? The fond regard for one's public?
Dog Night, and no one told me. Dozens within a few blocks of my apartment. Dogs meeting each another on corners, sniffing butts, owners in tow. Even a pony-sized Great Dane.
A woman came out of a restaurant with a teacup Chihuahua on a leash. She froze as a young couple approached with a dog five times its size. "Snacks," I murmured as I passed them, and they smiled. Another woman squatted down, ready to retrieve as her two dogs left enormous poop piles on the sidewalk. She was talking on her cell phone and never broke her conversational stride.
We chopped vegetables in the professional kitchen hosting our cooking class. The aromas of toasting cumin and other Indian spices made me giddy as we peeled potatoes and roasted eggplants. I sliced onions, turning my head when the juices atomized like burning perfume and my eyes watered. Our teacher encouraged us to play, to have fun with the food. She rarely measured anything, instead throwing a handful of this or a pinch of that into the pots. "Cooking isn't an exact science," she advised. "Only baking is precise. Throw caution to the wind and let your palette dictate your recipe."
Every morning I awaken to the maddening piston-like pounding from a construction site, close enough for me to feel as well as hear it. It's been this way for months, and one day I walked to the site to see what kind of equipment caused the rhythmic call and response that begins so early each day. It reminded me of a cartoon: a tall frame supported a heavy cylinder that dropped every second or so, followed by perpendicular exhalations of steam on the upbeat. The first time I heard the sound, I thought (in my half-sleep) it was someone's stereo.
I'm learning to breathe again. I gradually peel away the armor I built over the course of my life, and for the first time in years I feel my chest expand when I inhale. I took breathing for granted, but after years of not getting a satisfying breath, I find myself dancing inside as new spaces open up and come to life again. The yoga helps. The body work helps. The therapy helps. It's good to feel the pieces coming together, some for the first time, others in new arrangements. The weight on my chest is slowly leaving its perch.
I took a taxi to the train station.
I took a train to the airport.
I took a monorail to my terminal.
I took an airplane to Pittsburgh.
I took a people-mover to the main terminal.
I took a rental car to Mary's house.
I took her to the theatre where she would perform later.
I took Gary to dinner at Café Allegro.
I took Gary home.
I took in Mary's performance.
I took her to the Elbow Room for post-performance libations.
I took her home.
I took a shower the next morning.
I took the same trip in reverse.
I wish I didn't have to do my taxes. Every year I vow not to procrastinate (I've filed for extensions more often than not), promising to keep monthly records to avoid sifting through Visa bills and piles of receipts. Every year I rely on old habits to carry me through to April 15. The day before, I start organizing little pieces of paper and entering figures into a spreadsheet. This may be the last year I can file my own taxes – with a house purchase looming in the coming months, I may be in over my head with self-prepared forms.
It's been in the 90s this week. Way too hot for this time of year. Hottest on record for mid-April, according to the news. It's like spending days in a sauna, and my brain wants to shut down. I want to escape this summer with frequent trips to Massachusetts. With any luck, we'll find a house, close on it, and take possession before the August heat makes the city unbearable. We're going through the process of being pre-approved for a mortgage in anticipation of finding a house we like. I just want it to be painless. Is that even possible?
Requiem for a Dream
on DVD. Terrific visual style, but the drug addiction and desperation are unsettling. Toward the end, Ellen Burstyn undergoes shock treatments, and the static image of a drain remains for more than five minutes as the soundtrack deconstructs to white noise. Effective and unnerving. A brave choice. Must have been unbearable in the movie theatre.
Suddenly, the film started over again. The DVD had stuck. Felt like an idiot as I watched the last few minutes of the film, as intended by the director. Effective, but not as daring as a 5-minute drain shot.
Three goth girls ahead of me, two with dyed black hair and goth clothes – total WOBs (Wearers of Black). Morticia Addams would have approved. The third had bleached blonde hair and was a little chunkier than her stick figure friends. She wore a cream-colored dress with a red floral pattern. Still goth, though. The blond goth type. A tattoo adorned each bare calf. On the left a girl-face and the words, "Pretty Girls". On the right a skull replaced the face and said, "Pretty Graves". They headed for the Roseland Ballroom. Tonight's show: Siouxie and the Banshees. Made total sense.
The sky blackened around 6 o'clock this evening. Black as night. An enormous thunderstorm blanketed the city with high winds and heavy rain. In my office on the 39th floor the windows rippled, as they do in high winds. I kept checking the sky for signs of a tornado.
Since childhood, I've encountered tornados in my dreams. I've seen them, heard them, felt them. Fierce, frightening. But never once did I suffer personal injury from them. At times they have danced through my dreams as graceful as ballerinas. No tornado tonight, even though the skies had that funny yellow hue.
On an August night in 1970 a tornado ripped through my hometown of Bridgeport, West Virginia. I was asleep and didn’t find out until the next morning when I saw the headline in the morning newspaper. When the tornado cut its path through our town, it struck a few hundred yards from where my fifteen-year-old brother was spending the night with his friend Tom across town. They walked the darkened streets until they came to a house with a working phone and called my parents, having dodged live power lines and untold debris to let them know he was safe.
I learned to drive on Tootie’s Bottom. That was a joke in our family. My Aunt Tootie’s house overlooks the rich bottomland of a creek, and in seasons when the area wasn’t planted in potatoes, it was an open field. It was here that I first got behind the wheel of my father’s 1976 Oldsmobile, a boat of a car if ever there was one. I was terrified of it. I maneuvered that tank over the soft bumpy earth, learned to turn, accelerate, reverse. It was better to learn here where there was nothing to hit and no one watching.
I knew Skippy was going to die. I was playing with my friend Brooks in the alley by his house, and his dog, Skippy, a large brown Dachshund, as I recall, and was in the driveway. Brooks’s tall blonde mom came home, driving their yellow station wagon, and a few seconds before she pulled into the driveway, I saw the inevitable in my mind’s eye. A yelp, the car’s sudden lurch to a stop, Mrs. D. jumping out of the car. “Skippy!” She knelt by the front tire, cradling the dead dog in her arms. I couldn’t even warn her.
I was blindsided by this cold or flu that I have. On Sunday night my voice started to go, then my throat got sore. By Monday morning I was completely hoarse and feeling fairly miserable. Still, I went to work that night. As the evening progressed, I got the chills and my body ached. My mind wandered, and I lost focus. I left a few hours early, and by the time I got home I had a fever of 102.9. The fever broke during the night, leaving me today with a bad head cold, a terrible cough, and no voice.
Remember that period in the 70s when UFOs were the craze? The books, the TV shows, the movies. It seemed like the entire country was obsessed with UFOs. One summer night the kids in my neighborhood gathered to stare into the sky and look for flying saucers. Some of us lay in the grass, the dew dampening our backsides. The older kids climbed onto the roof of Lisa’s dad’s Frito-Lay truck. At the time I thought those few extra feet might make it easier to spot a UFO. They probably just wanted to be away from us, the younger ones.
There were no supermarkets in my town when I was a child, just a couple of independent grocery stores. While my mother went shopping, I climbed the stairs to the office above the Pure Food store, where I visited with Pearl, the manager. She was a short, grandmotherly woman in her 50s who loved to see me in her doorway. I’m sure it made it easier for my mother to shop without me under foot. The store was once a movie theatre, and the office was the projection booth. From there, I could spot my mother if I needed to.
Before I was old enough to bear the responsibility of cutting grass, my father assigned me the task of trimming around the sidewalks, the stone walls, and the driveway. Done his way, the task could take hours every week. Each spring I got blisters on my hands from using the clippers the first few times. Later, we got cordless clippers, which saved me from the blisters but, I admit, didn’t do as good a job. We briefly tried the Weed Wacker, but that was too difficult to control, and we’d end up with bald patches instead of neatly trimmed edges.
My street was unpaved and unplowable in winter. The few cars that made it up the hill usually spun two icy paths to the top, which we used as a sledding course. Holding our sleds to our chests, we ran and flopped onto them, the metal runners carrying us down the hill on the icy ruts. At the bottom of the hill, the road curved ninety degrees, and we risked sailing over the edge of the embankment onto the railroad tracks twelve feet below. I don’t remember anyone actually landing on the tracks, but we had some very close calls.
We don’t get a lot of fog in midtown, but we are totally fogged in today. The buildings just a block away have all but disappeared. I was fascinated by fog as a child, the way it made everything seem unfamiliar. A walk down a neighborhood street was suddenly a journey into the unknown. I felt like I could disappear into a parallel universe and have a wild adventure. Today, it’s the same. I can’t see most of my city, and I’m sure that I, too, have disappeared to those in other buildings or on the street 39 floors below.
Tomorrow we go to Amherst, Massachusetts, to start looking for a house. I made an appointment with a realtor and passed along to her some links to properties I saw on the internet as examples of what we’re interested in seeing: no ranch-style houses, no suburban nightmares. We’d prefer an older home with three bedrooms and some character. Janice, the realtor, assured us there was nothing in Amherst or Northampton in our price range, which we kind of expected from our research. She suggested looking in Greenfield, which has some nice older homes and is about twenty minutes from Amherst.
We began looking at properties today in Greenfield and came to the dismal realization that the people who own houses in our price range have very different aesthetics than we do. Paneled walls, drop ceilings, ugly carpeting, tacky light fixtures. It was bewildering. The last house we looked at intrigued us. We couldn’t get inside, but we looked through windows and liked what we glimpsed. We asked Janice to make an appointment for us to see it. We spent the evening envisioning what we could do with the house, and it looks promising, assuming we like it on the inside.
The Tip Jar