Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas story

It’s almost out-of-body walking the deserted streets of Brooklyn on Christmas morning. There is no traffic. The city is silent. Melting snow drops from the trees, the intersections are slushy and icy, and salt crystals on the sidewalk gather in tiny pockets. I’ve got to carefully maneuver Molly so she doesn’t burn her paws. I turn left on State Street and head over to the corner deli. I’m here every day for a Red Bull and a newspaper. I carry Molly in my arms. Lately, we’ve been accosted by a life size dancing Santa who stands in front of the store: “Ho, ho, ho. This is going to be the merriest Christmas ever!” This guy scares me, he seriously does. But the store is gated and locked. No Frankie, no Mario, no Sergio, and no Santa.

I hear nothing but the distant roar of traffic on the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. I find a bodega open on Atlantic Avenue, but its cold comfort. I walk Molly home, and decide to go to Teresa’s and treat myself to a big Polish breakfast. But of course it is closed. Once my brother and I decided to have a real Polish feast on Easter Sunday in Greenpoint--- a neighborhood in Brooklyn that is mecca to recent émigrés. We got lost in Williamsburg, but finally found the neighborhood. Every single restaurant and shop was shuttered. We ended up having Mexican. Apparently Polish émigrés do not work on Christmas either.

Then I thought of a Ziggy’s on Henry Street, a whole foods café where the pancakes are likely to be made with buckwheat and millet, served with fresh Vermont maple syrup and organic coffee. I walk south, the looming arch of the Manhattan Bridge before me, the trees bare, the sky still gray, a cold wind coming off the East River. Still no people. A panic attack looms at the edge of my brain. The day doesn’t feel real. I think, “Get yourself a cup of coffee surely the shit diner on Montague is open.” I walk into a deli but the coffee is self-serve and looks a week old. I walk north again and see a minister get out of his black Mercedes in front of the Lutheran Church on Henry. He looks at me oddly--- “What is that woman doing out on the street on Christmas morning?” And I would answer, “Sir. I don’t really know.”

The shit diner is closed. My fall back is Starbucks. It’s open. It’s a corporation. I can at least get a cup of good coffee. But I find another shit diner, shittier than the one on Montague. I remembered a New Year’s morning, five a.m. Cheeseburger and coffee and heartburn after a night’s revel in Manhattan. I walk in the door and immediately feel normal again. The waiter is about eighty years old and half his teeth are missing. Excellent. My sister has just called, but he glares at me, “You ordering?” Yikes. I tell her, “I’ll call you later.” I order bacon, eggs, pancakes and coffee. It arrives 60 seconds later. The bacon is suspicious. As if it was cooked last week and then reconstituted. The pancakes are slightly burnt, and the eggs are runny. But I pour maple syrup over everything and it is delicious.

I don’t believe I have ever been in my neighborhood, in Brooklyn, on Christmas. I am always somewhere else; San Francisco, South Florida, the Midwest, upstate New York or elsewhere in the city--- East Village, Upper East Side, West Village, Chelsea. One Christmas my girlfriends and I wandered into a bar in Soho and flirted with an entire Italian soccer team. Last Christmas Eve, I walked through a redwood forest on the west coast with my pregnant sister. One year I went ice-skating down at Chelsea piers, then had dim sum in Chinatown. This year I opted out. This year I would spend it at home. After breakfast I walk into my foyer and find a Christmas card from my brother; it is a picture of his three sons. Yesterday two packages arrived from my two sisters; both sent me pajamas. Thank you. Gracias. Merci.

Christmas morning in Brooklyn is an island. Time, for the moment, is suspended. It’s almost like jet lag--- I am out of sync with the rest of the world. Even Butch, who sits on the corner stoop, knows everyone, and tells stories about life in Attica to anyone who will listen, is missing. The dog run is deserted. Snow still clings to the roofs of the townhouses, my neighbor has a miniature crèche on her tiny front porch, rows and rows of Christmas trees still line Court Street and Atlantic Avenue. But I am still the only person out on the streets. It’s warmer today. A new year is about to begin.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas

Trinity Church in downtown Manhattan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Family News

Congratulations to my beautiful sister, Lori, who is now engaged to the wonderful and handsome Paul.  

Thanks, but I'd rather not

Ad from American Airlines.  Circa 1960.  From gwen at Sociological Images.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I am Snow White: an excerpt

The Duke of Eastchester is dead, and thank God for that.  I had gotten sick to death of the stink of his sick room.  He farted, he vomited, he shit himself.  The smell permeated into every room of the castle.  I avoided him entirely that final week. I busied myself fucking the carriage boy in the stable.  Harry is a good boy with strong muscles and I shall keep him on.  I shall however get rid of the Duke's laywer, an idiotic man who believed that women have little use for finance.  Well he shall see, won't he?  I will also get rid of "Cook" an old bitch with a warty nose who hated me.  She thought me a commoner who had married above my station, and so I had but that was because I had the finest tits in the land, and now a pox on anyone who crosses me!

I pretended to cry when the physician led me into the sick room as the Duke was breathing his last.  I tenderly stroked his fevered brow when in reality I desired to crack his head open with his chamber pot.  I held his puffy, swollen hand and thought about biting it; each finger, one by one, until they bled.  When I knelt down on the prieu dieu pretending to be overcome with grief, inside I was a giddy as a young lamb in a spring meadow.  When they washed his dissolute body down with soap and water, I wanted to claw out his vacant eyes.  At the graveyard as the parish priest dolefully intoned the 23rd Psalm, I could scarcely keep from laughing and dancing on his grave. 

I am not by nature a wicked woman.  The Duke however was the devil incarnate.  In the beginning, he was the perfect gentleman.  My poor mother was speechless before his pomp and circumstance, his gold carriage, his team of stallions, his brocade jackets.  I was a young girl, barely fifteen, when he took me as his bride.  He savagely deflowered me on our wedding night.  For hours I couldn't move.  I was in such pain.  My white eyelet gown stained in blood.  He slipped out to join a pack of whores he kept waiting in the stables.  I cried  myself to sleep.  And the next morning too shamed to ask for help, washed out the blood from beneath my fingernails, washed out the sheets. 

I tiptoed down the grand staircase into the dining room.  My legs were weak and shaking.  The Duke was enjoying toast and tea.  He completely ignored me.  I spent the years summoned to his bed whenever he requested.  I endured his temper and his violence when he was drunk.  Often he beat me, though never about the face. Why did I not leave?  I believed I was enslaved.  In captivity.  And I wanted my mother to have some peace, and she did.  The Duke bought her a fine house in the countryside, and though I wasn't allowed to visit her, my spies told me she lived a good life.  I was permitted to attend her funeral and wept bitter tears. 

But now he is dead, and his kingdom is mine.  There is but one fly in the ointment.  Four days after his mouldering corpse was laid to rest, I was summoned to the main salon.  And there before me stood his bastard child.  A shivering, tiny slip of a girl, perhaps 13 or 14. And so pale she looked like a ghost.  She looked up at me, and said,

I am Snow White.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The story of the blue wallet

Out walking Molly this morning, the temperature hovering around 40.  Warm enough for a nice stroll through Cobble Hill.  Streets were quiet, sky was the color of milk, rain was coming.  I had a coffee, a green scarf looped around my neck.  I turned left on Baltic, found a pile of trash outside an apartment building, the East River and the BQE close by.  I stopped to look at the books since I'm such a fiend, saw a few I had read already, and a wallet. Powder blue leather with a red rose stamped on the front.  Really nice. 

I thought what a strange thing to toss out onto the street.  So I opened it and saw a young woman staring up at me.  Clarice (not her real name).  Blond hair, blue eyes, five foot seven inches--- according to her driver's license.  A Brooklyn girl. Opened up another compartment and found credit cards, Master Card, Visa.  Found business cards.  She goes to my vet.  No money, just some change.  Impossible that Clarice had just tossed this out.  More likely Clarice had been robbed.

I took it home and emptied out its contents.  I was hoping to find a phone number. I imagined how relieved she'd be when I said, I have your wallet!  I didn't find her number, but I began to construct her life with the clues provided; she had to live or work close to Park Slope because she had a business card from a coffee shop.  Ten visits and she gets a free cup.  Five holes had been punched out. 

I found recent bank receipts that showed a balance hovering around three or four hundred dollars, so she wasn't rich.  A card from a visiting nurse--- perhaps she had a sick mother.  A card from a gallery on Atlantic Avenue.  She had an credit card, so obviously she liked to read.  I began to imagine her as a younger version of myself.  Struggling, but educated.  Good looking. A coffee drinker.  Maybe out on the town, lost her purse.  In that moment, I couldn't help but remember all the times I've stumbled home, late at night, often drunk or stoned.  Often obvlious to how dangerous NYC can be. 

Then I found a phone number tucked away inside a pocket. A man's name; James (not his real name).  What the hell, I thought, maybe he knows who she is.  So I called.  It was ten in the morning, and James answered.  I said, "Hello, you don't know me, but I found your name inside of a wallet. I thought perhaps you know this woman."  I was careful to only give her name, no other information. He told me that yes he had a met her last night at a party. 

He accurately described the piece of paper I was holding. He didn't speak to her very long--- she was leaving to go to another party, Jewish.  And since he wasn't Jewish, he wasn't going.  This was at Church Street.  After he spoke to her and gave her his number, he spoke to a "Muslim gentleman."  Why was he so talkative?  To a stranger? Then he went on and on about how he had met another woman on Court Street, but she was only like four feet eleven inches.  This was definitely getting weird.  I told James good bye and called the police.  Which of course is what I should've done in the first place.

They were at my apartment in 15 minutes.  They were bored.  Two cops; one fat, one slim.  Molly was yapping and jumping all over them.  They took the wallet and left. Wherever you are Clarice, I hope you got home safe and sound.  I hope you have the same kind of dumb luck that protected me all the years when I was young and foolish.  I hope you are happy to get your wallet back.  Call me.  We'll have coffee.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Good luck Tippy

My niece Angelina has finished school, and won't be here four nights a week.  She's been staying with me since last May.  I know I've helped her a great deal.  I made it my business to provide her with a quiet, stable home.  Every young person starting out in life deserves this.  Especially women.  The first freedom is economic after all.  Bring home your own bacon. But she has certainly brought life and light into my life as well.  I liked the fact that in the summer when I got home from teaching and she got home from school, we'd take Molly, and get an iced coffee at TAZZA on the corner.  Angie always got the iced mocha with extra chocolate syrup.  Being 30 years older, I got the plain iced coffee with skim milk.  Once she brought home a miniature lemon tart that was so bitter she threw up in the bathroom.  I honestly couldn't stop laughing.

Then of course there was the time she wrangled fifteen sponges from behind my kitchen counter.  I wrote about this in an earlier post. She was Felix and I was Oscar.  That's the Odd Couple for those of you who don't know your Neil Simon.  I hadn't cleaned out my fridge in a very, very long time.  When she asked my why, I said, "I can't deal with washing out every semi-empty jar of olive tapenade, peanut butter, jelly, spaghetti sauce, apple sauce, horseradish, salad dressing and marinated olives that's been sitting there for about a year."    So one night, with steaming hot water running into the sink and bleach, she systemically and efficiently did the job.  Of course, I joined in, but I was merely the lieutenant to her general.  This was her mission.  Almost impossible if you ask me, but she did it.

Lately we had been taking turns making dinner.  One night two weeks ago, I trudged home in the dark, from the Bronx, completely exhausted.  I walked into a bright clean kitchen and  fresh Fratelli ravioli for dinner.  Last Tuesday I made lemon chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes.  She always had Cheez-Its, Lucky Charms, milk, yogurt, and raspberries in the house.  One morning I woke up, walked into the kitchen and found her at the kitchen table eating cereal and bagging up her lunch at the same time.  She had two plastic baggies in her lap.  She was filling one with salad greens and another with tomatoes. 

I loved hearing about her bitch clients who didn't tip even though she transformed them.  The woman who came in with orange hair.  The woman with 100 foils in her hair.  She had all the gossip; the petty jealousies and the competition, the teachers she liked, and the teachers she hated. But most of all I loved watching how much she loved what she was doing.  Sometimes it was hard.  Her youth. Her vitality. Her belief in love, in marriage and happily ever after.  I truly hope I was able to mask my cynicism and even hope that some of her optimism rubbed off on me. 

The last night she was here, we ordered in Thai and split a bottle of wine and watched Untamed Hearts with Christian Slater and Marisa Tomei.   Saturday morning, I decided to get up and have breakfast with her.  When I walked in the kitchen, she said, "I'm sad Tippy."   I know how she felt.  I was sad, too.  Tippy BTW is our mutual nickname for each other.  Don't ask why.  It's one of those you-had-to-be-there things.

I know I will certainly miss her.  I ask myself; are you going to clean the house on Monday even though Angie won't be here on Tuesday?  Are you going to continue to keep the fridge clean?  The floors washed?  I think so.

Good luck, Tippy.  You will always have a home in Brooklyn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Light in December -- The close up

The same attenuated light on the same corner.  Not a view of the sky, but the street.  Same shot. Next to the Lebanese restaurant, but now, in the foreground, you see a young girl in a pink coat  in a grove of miniature Christmas trees. Framed by taller trees in the background.  Her brother and father hovering nearby. But it's almost like they are underwater, as if the light is filtering down from the surface of a river or an ocean.  The trees become anemones with red velvet ribbons.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Light in December -- The long shot

The corner of Clinton Street and Atlantic Avenue. To the left is Key Food, grocery store that sells pots of flowers and now Christmas trees outside on the street.  To the left of me are small shops; Middle Eastern imports, an acupuncturist, a salon, and an empty medical office that has become an impromptu gallery;  oil paintings and photographs hang on the walls in the otherwise empty space. 

Notice the sun going down in the southern sky at 1:00 in the afternoon.  Across the street; a Lebanese restaurant, apartments overhead, dry cleaners on the other side of the corner.  But look at the attenuated light down on the street.  The hot light in the sky.  In the next photo, I got a close up of the same shot: 

Friday, December 4, 2009


When does sssssexting---- become sssstalking?

Two years ago, he walked into Deluxe, a restaurant/bar near Columbia University, still wearing his baseball jersey.  Friend of a friend. I liked the way he looked in his uniform.  Very male.  Very masculine. Great guns. Two hours later we were making out as he hailed a cab for me.  He was 36, and a Spanish Teacher on the Lower East Side.  He had my phone number and promised to call.  One week later, I met him at my local Starbucks for our first date.  I had a lovely time and enjoyed his company, but it was a first date and he was not going to get to first base, and certainly not second. 

I was surprised and pleased when he offered to walk me home.  A perfect gentleman.  At my door, I kissed him good night and he said, "I'd love to see your apartment."  Sure, I thought, why not.  He came up.  Molly loved him.  She was still a puppy.  But now it was 8:00 p.m. and I had work to do.  I dropped gentle hints; dishes to wash, papers to grade.  He didn't budge.  It became clear to me that he thought at one point, if he was patient, I would lead him to my bedroom.   

Finally, I said, "Well, I have to walk Molly, we can go out together."  The look of shock on his face!  He wasn't getting any.  I softened the blow by adding, "Let's have drinks next weekend.  We can make-out at the bar.  I love doing that. Or we can go to the movies."   The next weekend, he had family in town and cancelled our date.  I left for San Francisco for the holidays.  Two months later, he texted me at 2:00 a.m.  It quickly became sexual.  I wasn't at all aroused, but it was fun.  Again, it was 2:00 a.m., a budding insomniac, and I was lonely. Who else could I talk to?  My very first sexxxting session

I assumed that this would lead to an actual date.  I assumed this was a type of foreplay.  As the months went by, however, it never led to an actual date.  It began to feel like a form of harassment:  HI ITS ME.  LAYING ON MY BED. WHAT R U DOIN?  After awhile, I just ignored them.  Ignored him.  He got the message and went away.  But it started up again in the summer.  This time there had been a death in my family--- and I was overwhelmed emotionally, so I welcomed the distraction.  I kept suggesting an actual date.  Wouldn't that be better?  Wasn't that the point? 

As it turns out, no.  Recently, home with the flu, I heard from him again.  Since I hadn't washed my hair in a week, put on make-up, in short looking like a witch, I texted him back: HOME W/THE FLU.  He wrote back: IS THERE ANYTHING U NEED?   When he tried to steer the conversation to sex, I artfully deflected this:  DON'T GET SEXUAL.  NOT GOING THERE.  He quickly ended it.  This has been going on for two years, and I think I finally understand that this is a man who has no intention or zero interest in a real time date.  This is a man who gets off sexually in cyber-space.

It's strange.  When it first felt like he was stalking me, I quickly dismissed it.  After all, its not like he was standing outside my bedroom window, showing up at work, calling me. I wasn't physically being threatened.  He wasn't leaving a million voice mails.  He wasn't calling my friends.  Maybe stalking isn't even the right word.  All I know is that he does not desire to have sex with me.  I could be anywoman.  Anywhere in the world.  Perhaps its that very anonymity that feels obscene. This is a man who tried to sext me while I had a fever of 101 degrees. 

Welcome to dating in the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A question

My friend Marc Travanti ,whose artwork is featured regularly on this blog, told me that unless feminism becomes more inclusive it will die out as a movement.  I asked him to review the website I am creating for my book project, Tales from the Velvet Chamber.  He said, You should invite male writers as well.   Part of me agrees with him.  I've never wanted to participate in a movement that shuns or belittles or sets itself off in an ivory tower.  I've never wanted to be a member of a group that is portrayed as strident, bitter or angry.  That's not the feminism I practice.  Or at least this is what I tell myself. 

But to be honest, the books I read are primarily by female authors.  There are exceptions; recently I've read books by Jose Saramago and Jonathan Lethem.  I tell myself that I am just tired of the male voice.  In my 20's and 30's, including my years as an undergraduate, the canon was strictly male: Blake, Shelley, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, Boccaccio, Chaucer, Aristotle--- well you know the drill.  Every once in awhile a female voice would explode like a rocket--- Woolf!  Plath!  Austen!  But these exceptions were few and far between.

I grew up--- my consciousness and my culture--- framed primarily from a male point of view.  For many women this is not earth shattering news.  But bear with me.  When I became aware of this, I was already in my 40's.  For a long time, I've considered it my duty and my responsibility and my pleasure to shape my world-view and my politics and my dreams through another lens, one that is feminine, different.  My work as a writer has been shaped by this as well; what is the other version of this story?  Where is the female voice? I remember working on a series for National Public Radio--- Lost Voices.  I wrote and produced a piece called, The Trial of Agnes Gaudry

I reconstructed her voice from actual trial transcripts from the height of the witch craze in the 17th century. I collaborated with Anne Barstow Ph.D, a prominent and well known scholar in this field.  I can't begin to you tell you how how exciting and dangerous and forbidden this felt.  These ordinary women; some old, some young, some rich, some poor spoke to me from the grave.  These ordinary women were all convicted of sleeping with the devil and conspiring against the Catholic Church.  They all died horrible, brutal deaths.  I found their voices eloquent, passionate, articulate.  I found them beautiful. 

But now, I am considering including male voices for Tales from the Velvet Chamber because I think Marc might've been right when he said, "That would be totally post modern feminsism. That would be the next wave."  This also feels dangerous and exciting.  How would male voices respond to the platform for the anthology? However, I am not 100% convinced.  Part of me still feels like I have to make up for lost time--- all those years deep inside the male canon.  What do you think?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

In the afternoon, I slept

I'm back.  Today I say good bye to all my flu rituals and my flu lifestyle.  The bottle of NyQuil I had on top of the microwave, as well as my digital thermometer, the bottle of aspirin, the Vitamin C--- are gone.  The Gatorade and left over chicken soup in the fridge--- gone, too. The worst symptom by far was fever.  I would wake up drenched in sweat, running such a high fever, that I couldn't tell on some mornings if I was really awake or still stuck in a nightmare.  I would take an ativan to calm myself down, swill the NyQuil, take a warm shower, then an alcohol sponge bath.  I would set out with Molly just to reconnect with the real world.  Back at home, another shaky attempt at taking my temp and more alcohol rubbed all over my body.  By noon, the fever had dissipated, but I was exhausted.  I wrote down the times I took medication b/c I couldn't trust my addled brain.  In the afternoons, I slept.  Then watched more movies than a film critic at a festival; 21 Grams, An Affair to Remember, The Taking of Pelham 123 (the remake), White Castle, and others I'm sure I'll never remember.

It was disheartening because I had been very, very cautious.  I made sure I exercised.  I took Vitamin C and most of all, the hand washing and the hand sanitizing.  Flu notices are posted all over the Lehman College Campus.  I took them seriously.  All of the teacher's rest rooms had fresh soap, hot water and hand sanitizer.  There were dispensers all over campus.  I always used them.  I ate well. I got plenty of rest.  No late nights.  Three days into it I wanted to call my go-to doctor.  Dr. Hecht.  I've been seeing her for ten years.  She knows me really well.  But she doesn't take health insurance.  Her office visits are $250.00.   In the past, if I didn't have the money, I could make payments.  Believe me, she is worth it.  She's old school.  First a 20 to 25 minute consultation.  Then a thorough physical examination.  Then another 20-25 minutes discussing what to do, plus most importantly allaying my fears. 

But I couldn't do it this time.  I wouldn't.  Debt is debt.  And I'm swimming in it.  I called my primary care physician's office--- covered by my health insurance.  To be honest, I think of that office as a prescription and referral factory.  They don't know me, I'm just another number.  I'm another piece of paperwork pushed from one corporation to another.  I explained my symptoms to the receptionist, and she called me back two hours later and told me a prescription for Tamiflu was waiting at my pharmacy.  This is the doctor who prescribed Cipro for a sinus infection which exploded in my stomach five hours later.  So I researched Tamiflu and discovered its a waste of time after 48 hours.  I called again.  Was told--- don't take it anymore.  WTF?

Dr. Hecht would never have prescribed Tamiflu.  She would've mapped out diet (in great detail), vitamins, and a precise method for reducing fever--- for me.  Because she knows me, knows my body, my history, my likes, my dislikes.  The wonderful, compassionate, Dr. Hecht would also call me every day to check on how I was doing.  For a woman who lives alone, this is invaluable.  She the consummate old school family doctor. I once called her at 4:30 a.m. on a cold winter morning.  She returned my phone call fifteen minutes later.  After I described my symptoms, she told me I needed antibiotics. I said I was too sick to go out, the dead of winter.  She found a pharmacy in the East Village and I called a friend who delivered them to me. 

This is medicine.  The rest is just dreck.  I'm fine now.  Ready to get back to work.  Relieved that I didn't add another $250.00 to my already crushing debt.  But honestly, its ridiculous I had to weather this alone.  My "health insurance" did nothing for me, and quite possibly made things worse.  I'm a hard working woman with a full time job and health insurance, and yet I couldn't call my doctor. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Down with the flu

Blog posts suspended until I am over the flu.  Doctor has prescribed Tamiflu, let's hope this helps.  Sick of watching movies and reading.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finally, it was never simple.

"She is allowed to love herself only if a man finds her worthy of love."
--- Annis Pratt, Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction.

Ads from the 1960's: saltycotton, flickr

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits of my mother to honor her upcoming birthday


A bitterly cold winter morning.  My mother has managed to feed and dress all four of us for school.  The kitchen table is littered with empty cereal bowls, a frying pan with bits of egg glued to the edges, a spoon in a half empty grape jelly jar.  Over her rayon nightgown, she throws on a coat two sizes too big for her.  It belongs to my stepfather.  It is dark gray and the sleeves hang over her hands, but she is still agile enough to slap my brother when he mouths off at her.

Then she pulls on black rubber boots with buckles, also too big for her, a splash of dark red lipstick, and runs out into the frozen morning and gets the car started.  I watch her from the kitchen window.  The exhaust rises up into the frigid air like a ghost.  She runs back in, panting from the cold, her nose red, and throws on our scarves, our hats and our gloves.  One sibling is always missing one glove.  But she has no sympathy for stragglers or miscreants.

On this particular morning, with the wind chill somewhere around fifty below, with the snow drifting up to the eaves of the roofs of the houses, and the world a wild, icy universe--- you must drive slowly and she does. Slowly. But she swears the whole time, "Sonofabitch.  Sonofabitch."  We don't say a word as she cautiously navigates through the still quiet streets.  All we hear is the crunch of snow on the tires.  Nothing else.  Except our breathing.

Suddenly the horn starts honking.  On its own.  As if it had suddenly gone insane.  As if it woke up and decided to bitch and complain.  My mother screams and hits the steering wheel, "Oh you bitch!  You stinking bitch."  There we are, the five of us, slowly moving down the streets, the horn honking, blaring--- incessantly.  It is so loud we can't hear ourselves think.  The world telescopes down to the frozen car, my mother in her nightgown, and the car horn.   We start to laugh. Cautiously at first, then full out when my mother joins. We laugh so hard it hurts. 

She pulls into the long circular drive of the parish, and drops us off.  Her lipstick is smeared from laughing so hard, a bit of it is on her teeth, and the horn is still honking.  She screams to be heard: "Get out. Get out.  Have a good day.  Come straight home."  She drives off.  I walk up the steps of the church, enter, bless myself, "nameofthefathersonholyghost," but in the distance I can still hear the horn.  And in my mind, my mother's laughter. 

ad from the 1960's: saltycotton on

Monday, November 16, 2009

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits in honor of my mother's upcoming birthday


My mother is in her early 30's, and her youngest child is nine months old.  We are going for a walk.  She wears a tight skirt; burnt orange with kick pleats, and a snug turtleneck sweater, black high heels.  My brother is secured inside his stroller that has wooden beads strung across the front. He's gnawed and chewed on them like a small rat.  Drool leaks from the side of his mouth, and we set out in the early afternoon.  We walk along the wide avenue.  Cars pass by and men honk their horns in appreciation of my mother's derriere swinging to and fro as she pushes the stroller.  We pass houses which are variations of ours; one story ranch with contrasting trim.  Five or six or seven children with runny noses and smart mouths.  Too high tuition at the local Catholic school where the nuns are an instrument of torture.  Husbands who work at the factory.

My mother walks fast; as if escaping.  She smokes cigarettes, she chews gum. She doesn't speak.  My brother is quiet. I hold onto the stroller, helping my mother push it up a hill as we pass by the local park.  This is who we are as walk on the avenue.  It's not about where we are going, it's about how we are getting there. We don't have a car.  It is strange to be the only people out on the streets in the middle of the day, the middle of the week.  My mother walks with the knowledge that she is still a good looking woman.  Her fourth child, and she can still fill out that skirt.  Curl her blond hair, walk out in the world with two of her children, and still get noticed. 

advertising from the 1960's: saltycotton, flickr.

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits of my mother in honor of her upcoming birthday


I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen. She’s at the window, her hands clasped behind her back, the floral apron. Her hair the color of steel wool softly curls around her face. Seconds later, a car pulls up the driveway. Its my mother. I look out the window and watch her. She’s wearing blue jeans, an oatmeal colored sweater, flats, white hoop earrings and pink lipstick. She’s blond, eternally blond and by the way she walks, you can tell she loves to dance.

She enters through the side door that leads into the kitchen. She kisses me, and lights up a cigarette while her mother fixes her a cup of coffee from the tin pot on the white stove. The light pours into the window. Grandmother gets out the black cast iron skillet, and pancake batter hits the hot greased surface. I set the table, while my mother retrieves the syrup, butter and sour cream. Finally we all sit. The dishes are green and white. The napkins are white. 

This is not one moment, but many, many moments strung together until they form a much larger picture. Until it stretches beyond moments and becomes days, then weeks, then months. And now years. Always the conversation about the other Polish ladies. Always the gossip about the other family members. No one ever speaks about the village that was burned, the forced labor. But it is there. My grandmother worries about my mother, and the anxiety is palpable.

My mother passes this anxiety along to me--- the message: the world is a dangerous place. But if the pancakes are hot, then the coffee is good. And so is life. If you stay for lunch there’s ham and potato salad. And if you stay for dinner there’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes and whiskey.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Barn: Where form meets function and hallucinates

The exterior of the Barn is weathered hemlock and straddles the side of a hill and a narrow dirt road in the Catskills. Unassuming, it is almost like a shadow on the land, yet it is three stories tall. Built in 1900 for cows and tractors, it has assumed the air of the landscape around it. Porcupines, deer, bear and hummingbirds circle the perimeter. Walking down the hill, away from the structure, the forest is almost primeval; littered with beech and hemlock, violets, and evergreen, and small patches of sunlight. The silence at night is absolute. Except when the wolves howl.

This is the exterior; haunted, elegant, from another century. Abandoned.

The interior tells a far different story. Visual artists, Marc Travanti and Margaret Clark purchased the land in 1989. It had been abandoned for decades. The barn was part and parcel of the arrangement. This began a transformation of the interior and the surrounding grounds that continues to this day. In 1989, the interior was only a dirt floor, 20 feet by 40 feet, open to raccoons and other wild life. Margaret slept with a gun when she was alone.

Marc began his transformation of the space by building a stone table, down at the fire pit, held together with mortar--- which exists to this day. He also crafted a tree stump; upholstered the top of it with violently red fur. He calls it “Fur Nature.” It looks like it has been created for a hobgoblin or a wood sprite, or a drunken visitor from out-of-state. At one point, Marc and Margaret built a huge tree-house in the adjacent woods, large enough for dinner parties of 15. No longer used--- it has long since disappeared into the forest.

Over the years, they’ve built up two floors, adding staircase and skylight. They’ve completely insulated the first floor and installed stove, sink, and bookcases. Raccoons, bats and mice were forever banned, and Margaret no longer needed a hand gun for protection. Now there are windows (found on the streets of the East Village) on the back wall in sly geometrical patterns; elongated rectangles, deco-inspired circles, interspersed with squares. Sitting in the backyard at the original stone table, against a roaring fire, I’ve often looked up and admired their composition. Think of Mondrian married to a light sculpture.

Marc refurbished a large oak table for the kitchen by building out an extension from all four corners. This created a border for hand-pained tiles. One image is a hunter holding a chainsaw with a tree growing out of his head. Or a man at a computer screen with a woman watering his head. In the Surrealistic style of the “exquisite corpse,” different people painted the torsos, the limbs and the heads on one tile. Some of them are fired decals. Freida Kahlo lurks on the periphery. Another table is in the picassiette style; its surface a landscape of broken ceramic plates deeply embedded in grouting.

Travanti made lamps from found objects, mostly tin cans. The infamous “Brain Lamp” began with a century old rusted can, and a red light bulb. He added a round ceramic shape with holes punched out. Plug it in, turn it on, and its part Twilight Zone with a touch of Duchamp. My favorite however is “Dirty Girl.” She is a kitschy creation from the 1950’s or 1960’s; a ceramic doll dressed in pink, probably a ballerina, now permanently tarnished with the patina of a half century.

The entrance to the Barn is a huge wooden door that leads into a cavernous foyer; the ceiling is thirty feet tall. Light emanates from stained glass windows set into the second story. Light also emanates from two cylindrical church lights hung by heavy chains. The interior is raw plywood. Initially Travanti enhanced the knots with marbles. Then he began using biomorphic ceramic shapes; red, yellow, blue, orange. Bright primary colors glued into the wood; a thousand eyes. Finally, Marc wallpapered one wall with pages from an 18th century guide to flora and fauna.

Today, Margaret’s studio is on the first floor and overlooks the woods. Marc’s studio is on the second floor under a stained glass window. The environment is also their canvas. It is a place where every once in a while, form follows function and hallucinates:

A church window in a century year old barn, a tree stump with a red fur top, a night light that is a glow-in- the-dark-brain, a circular window embedded with broken bits of pottery, and finally a candelabra hanging from a tree branch in a clear patch of the forest.

This is the Barn of earthly delights.

note:  Marc asked me to write this for his website;

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fierce Feministas: 2

The original fierce woman, my grandmother.   She literally walked across Germany during World War II with her husband, Walter, and two young children.  Part of the forced labor that worked in factories producing munitions. When one factory was bombed they were marched to another.  If you broke rank, you were shot.  When the Americans flew overheard, you were shot. They were, as one historian noted,"caught in the vise of history."  I researched this when I was producing a series on National Public Radio; Lost Voices (2002).  She wasn't a saint, but she was tough.  She kept rubber bands in a glass jar, saved buttons, plastic bags and would never throw out food.  Downstairs in her basement, she had a dozen boxes of detergent.  You never know.  The Nazis might come back.   

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tales from the Velvet Chamber

I'm working on the website for my new book project, Tales from the Velvet Chamber.  An anthology of stories by women who subvert and invert classical myths, fairy-tales and the Bible: I'm thinking Lilith, Mary Magdalene, Eve, Medea, Medusa.  A fresh take on old archetypes; the whore, the bitch, the crone, the muses, the fates, she-devils, gorgons.  The idea: make these powerful women strong, dark, evil and beautiful.  Admired, not reviled.   A gallery of women who are erotic, transgressive, outrageous, comic and charming.  Stay tuned for more details. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love the duck and the dog

I found this on Court Street this morning while I was walking Molly.  I had to take a picture.  First of all, its completely adorable.  Love the duck dog and the fish.   I love that he loves animals.  I love that he's trying to find work:  "Great Rates!"  I'm sure he's trying to help his parents afford the rent here in Cobble Hill b/c it ain't cheap, baby. I love that he's "reliable."  I'm sure he is.  I should've taken the phone number just to hear this 11 year old entrepeneur talk shop.  I'm  also sure he will find part-time work before I will.  Ha.  Ha. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fierce Feministas: Real and Fictitious (FFRF)

Mars Clark, painter, activist cooking up Catskill Chili in her East Village studio/home.  She's preparing a meal for her friend--- whose very young and very beautiful daughter is very ill.  Mars was also an engine in her much publicized and successful blood drive.  In fact, some might call this blood drive historic.

She is currently painting a pictorial history of the world; hallucinatory and intensely personal.  Its cosmology, its biology, its the Sefiroth, the tree of life, the Seven Planets.  It's a feminine lens.  The view is strange and beautiful.  Strong narrative, provocative symbols. 

I once viewed the finished canvases exhibited on the wall of her studio.  She's telling a big story. 

She throws huge parties and invites everyone. 

This is why Mars is the first in this series of FFRF.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Love in the Time of Terrorism
A sexy short story

Friday, November 6, 2009

happiness :(

Barbara Ehrenreich my favorite writer on the dark side of the American dream, has a new book out. "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, published by Metropolitan Books.  When I passed  by Book Court, and saw it in the window, I thought; Christ.  At last.  I thought I was the only person that got depressed every time I watched a special on public television.  By a  motivational speaker.  Exhorting us poor slobs to improve our lives, increase our wealth, live forever, and totally be at peace.  I also got depressed when I read a self-help magazine.  The message was always a version of: think positive. Initially I would judiciously note all the things I should be doing and thinking in the pursuit of positive thinking, but an hour later, I just needed a pint of chocolate ice-cream or a drink.   Or both.

According to Ehrenreich, in an interview on, the whole movement of positive thinking got its start in corporate America.  During a cycle of lay-offs.  Motivational speakers were hired.  Preach a message of wealth and prosperity, and the power of positive thinking.   Soon, according to Ehrenreich, "Positive Thinking became the ideology of the business world in America." When she had breast cancer, she felt "oppressed  by the feel-good aspects of the culture."  

We can't grieve, we can't mourn, we can't be depressed, we can't be sorrowful, we can't be angry, anxious, edgy, tired.  Getting nervous at a party, especially if we don't know anyone, which is completely normal, completely human---  has been  pathologized;  social anxiety disorder.  And guess what?  You can take a pill and cure it.   You can always feel good.  You don't ever have to feel bad.  And if you do feel bad, it is your own fault.  You just have to think positive.

This is the message we hear.  This is the message I hear.  How am I standing in my own way?  How can I work harder to be happier?   What am I doing wrong?  Am I doing something wrong?  Why aren't I happier?  I should be happyEverybody else is. According to Ehrenreich, forced optimism, "..silences people and quells dissent."   Its embarrassing to be sad.  We never say that.  Or if we do, more often than not, we hear in response,
Think Positive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware of the twilight. The shadows can trick you.

The darkness is back.  Twilight at 4:00 p.m.  Night falls at 5:00.  My mother said: It's the most dangerous time of day.  The shadows can trick you.  She was afraid of us on bicycles.  Out on the streets.  Oncoming cars. Careless children.  All six of us.  Our cheeks ruddy from the cold.  The kitchen windows steamed.  A pile of sweaters and socks by the back door.  Dinner time and its totally dark out.

Today, in Brooklyn, it means the streets are littered with yellow leaves. It means the light from the setting sun falls at an oblique angle.  The brownstones across the street are gilded, momentarily, against a backdrop of pure blue sky.  Coming up from the 4 train after work, its dark.  It means I drink more coffee.  Suddenly think: get out while its still light. 

I like the way the days diminish leading up to the solstice.  I like that the light becomes more and more burnished.  More oblique. I hear the sound of dry leaves underfoot, the distant echo of children.  The trees in the park are orange, yellow, red.  Somewhere, not here, a young mother admonishes her sons and daughters: Beware of the twilight.  The shadows can trick you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I don't know what I've been smoking

I don't know what I've been smoking, how I've changed, or what's in my Kool-Aid, but I've been avidly watching the World Series.  I think it began b/c the Wolf, aka my brother, is a huge fan.  On the night of the first game of the series, I was outside Yankee Stadium.  Inside the madness.  Blue and white as far as the eye could see.  A buzzing, brimming, bobbing sea of humanity all focused on one thing and one thing only; the game! And all of a sudden, I became a fan. 

I walked  over to a vendor selling souvenir caps.  I asked, how much.  He grunted, 20 bucks.  I said, how about ten?  He smiled, waited a moment and said, How about you go across the street and pay 25 bucks, and five bucks for a cup of coffee while you're at it.  I smiled back.  Total New York moment.  I forked over the money.  Surely this will be a talisman, I thought, a good luck charm that I will mail to the Wolf. 

At home, I turned on the game, for the first time in my life.  Was mesmerized by the Phillie's pitcher, Cliff Lee.  Swooosh.  He threw the ball.  Swwwiiinng----  Jeter, Matsui, Damon, A-Rod, all the Yankee superstars struck out. Who was this man?  He dominated the game like a magician, like he was high on crack, like he was king.  The Yanks never had a  chance.  Now I'm hooked.  Game 4 tonight and you better believe I'll be there.  They're up by three games.  If I mail the hat to the Wolf in time, I believe they'll go all the way.

photo: wallyg

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Portrait of the artist as a young dog

Ghoulish glitter

Halloween night.  In Brooklyn.  It began with a walk to Bergen between Court and Smith to visit a new art gallery/performance space called Invisible Dog.  It used to be a factory that manufactured--- among other things--- the gag dog leash.  I interviewed the Producer/Art Director.  A French man by way of Marseilles and Paris, now in Cobble Hill.  Lucien Zayan.  The current exhibit on the main floor has several large abstract paintings, a soft sculpture that could be a mushroom except its about 100X bigger and multi-colored, a video installation playing against the far wall, and a light box sculpture.

 On the second floor Lucien showed me the artist studios.  Four thousand square feet that he configured for each artist after he found out what they needed.  On the third floor an absolutely exquisite performance space--- gorgeous b/c he kept the rawness of the room and added polish.  The walls are now pristine white with modern lighting.  But he kept the original windows, sanded down the columns and rebuilt the ceiling using recycled wood from the space.  Again, 4,000 square feet.  This is how he makes his money.  He rents this space out: weddings, exhibits, photographers, film companies.  Pretty smart.  Then does what he wants on the ground floor. 

Apres l'interview, I walked over to Smith and Pacific to Bar Tabac.  A great little French bistro that every once in  awhile features Brazilian jazz.  I've had some GOOD times there.  They have outside tables, so I could watch the spectacle of little children, their parents, and even their pets parade up and down the streets in search of treats.  I saw not one but two dogs in lobster costumes.  I saw a infant dressed up like a hot dog; the bun part of the sling holding the baby.  A family walked by dressed up in Nathan's Hot Dog Attire, the signature hats, and aprons.  A six or seven year old boy, sporting a sinister mask, was clearly enjoying his new persona.  Little girls in long silver gowns wearing tiaras.  An entire family of bumble bees.  The waitstaff all dressed up; Adam's family.  Ghoulish.  Glitter.  A great chicken cutlet and Sancerre. 

Walked up to Court, over to Atlantic to get to the heart of the Halloween celebration--- the mecca for all children, my neighborhood, State Street, Joralemon Street, and all the little streets in between.  Its like Woodstock, Disney World, street fair, and art installation; all rolled into one.  The elegant brownstones and townhouses are decorated with skeletons, ghosts, giant spiders, pumpkins, witches and monsters.  Add lights and music. The owners are in costume.  The kids are in costume.   I walked through the ghouls and goblins, coffee in hand, said hello to a few neighbors, even scammed some candy for myself.  Trick or treat!

Then home to watch the Yankees clobber the Phillies.  Perfect.

Image:  Woman who works at the dry cleaners on Hicks, sweeping the sidewalk, dressed up like a fairy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tales from a hot city: Summer 1995

Peformance Space 122.  The year is 1995 or it might be 1996.  I was the Box Office Manager, then Director of Communications.  One warm summer night, Min Tanaka, a Butoh inspired dance company from Japan was scheduled to perform. As the Box Office Manager, I stood right in the doorway over looking dirty, filthy, sublime 1st Avenue.  Elizabeth, the 40 year old marijuana dealer waltzed up and down the avenue; she specialized in dime bags of mediocre weed.  She was someone you could always depend on.  The usual suspects began to arrive; East Village boys and girls with mohawks, black shit-kickers, tattered T-shirts, red lipstick, the occasional gray hair, the occasional straight couple.  When out of the blue, a long stretch limousine appeared, framed by the red doorway.  Out popped Sean Lennon and his mom Yoko.  That's Ono.

Sean took the lead, bounding ahead of his mother and another man (bodyguard? boyfriend?).  He said, We have reservations.  And handed me a hundred dollar bill for $20 in tickets.  His mom hung back, eyes downcast.  She wanted so desperately to not be recognized.  As if.  Her son, however, was a big aggressive.  A bit entitled.  I waved them in.  As if they would pay.  We all knew they were coming.  We were all agog but b/c we were also jaded New Yorkers, we didn't say a word.  They glided up the steps of the hundred year old school house--- definitely leaving the luxury of the stretch limo, incongruously parked--- waiting---- alongside Elizabeth, the drunks, the trash and the stink of the city.

Image: Chinese Malaysian dancer, Lee Swee Keong.  Xinhua Photo, 2008

Monday, October 26, 2009

Corner of Joralemon & Hicks

County of Kings at The Public Theater

Check out my post on County of Kings,
Lemon Andersen's hip hop 
coming of age story
that explodes onstage at The Public Theater:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

the cougar (not)

At ABC, Cougars are O.K., but Not Always, the headline for The  New York Times, Friday, October 16, 2009.  It seems the "hit" TV show of the same name will not accept advertising from It's a women's world.  The caption reads; A dating site that crosses generations. It caters to older women seeking younger men.  The TV show is about an older woman, Courtney Cox's character, dating younger men.  It seems like a match made in media heaven.  But ABC has said, "[we] did not accept the Cougar commercial based upon the fact that the Web site had not launched..."  Yet later when the website was live and fully functional, ABC still said, no. Buh-bye.

Wait.  Let me see if I understand this correctly:

As a stereotype, cougars, are welcome on television in all their glory.  A fantasy, a farce, a joke.  In real life, not so much.  Is it because the reality of it is still dangerous?  Or is it because the reality of it is still, on some level, disgusting distasteful?  I think both are true.  Just lurking below the surface of the word, is the 16th century--- height of the witch trials--- image of an old lascivious crone.  A disheveled old bitch who lived at the edge of town, who couldn't wait to stick her tongue into a young man's mouth.

Layer on the 21st century patina of  real women, the kind I see everyday, the kind of woman I am--- 40's, 50's, blond, brunette, red-head, stylish, highly educated, accomplished, powerful, vocal, verbal, physical.  And ladies and gentlemen; that spells Trouble, with a capital T.  Because we are not the Courtney Cox stereotype.  God forbid we should see older women through any other lens.  Because we are three dimensional.  Flesh and blood.  We are not about to eat you or fuck you.  We are about to trash the hierarchy.  And this is why we are dangerous.

So congratulations ABC, I award you the gold crown of hypocrisy.  Anna North at also has a great post on the 21st century cougar; alien or animal?

My friends don't know what an unhappy bitch I am when I am sick

What exactly is social utility and how does it differ from going to a corner bar, chatting up a pretty face at a party, or laughing with a colleague?   This is old school; analog not digital.  Am I friends with my friends on Facebook; Planet Friendship. For the most part, aside from my real time friends/family--- the answer is a resounding no.   I would not post: "Am running a real high fever, can someone go to my pharmacy and pick up my prescription?"  I would not post: "It's 2:00 a.m., the witching hour and I'm so lonely."  On Planet Friendship, its all about PR, status.  It's about wit, sarcasm, self promotion.  There are strict rules.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. 

There are things I like about Planet Friendship.  I like the fact that its a net woven with algorithms and real time people.  I like being a voyeur.  I always read the profiles.  I like to deconstruct them.  I like to imagine the real person hiding underneath.  Every once in awhile somebody posts a video that has me in stitches.  But ultimately we are posing, we are performing--- and again, I'm not saying this is a bad thing.

I don't want to be de-Friended again.  I don't want to piss anybody off.  I enjoy the social strip-tease.  I like controlling how my image is perceived on the web.  My friends on Planet Friendship don't see me when my hair is a mess, when I have dark circles under my eyes, when I schlep to the store in sneakers, rolled up blue jeans and chipped nail polish.  My friends don't know what an unhappy bitch I am when I am sick.  

I save all the bad good times for my real time network.  Friends, family. This is a social utility that operates with sacrifice, disappointment, compromise, joy, gratitude, bitter disappointment and history. That much hasn't changed.  So what is the real time benefit to Facebook?  For me, its about refining my online voice. I'm a writer.  And it's also about watching the performance of personality.  Including my own.  Let the show begin.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Bear with me

Hey everyone,

Blogger is a bit fucked screwed up at the moment.  They've added new editing software that has many kinks and problems. I've got some great posts waiting to be published, so bear with me.

LA Slugocki


"The only way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience."  Flannery O'Connor

Monday, October 12, 2009

Here in Brooklyn, we take Halloween very seriously

View of a 2nd floor window on Atlantic Avenue. Every year these folks do it up. Wait till Christmas--- its just as crazy. And just as fantastic.

2 signs of impending sanity

I'm playing with special effects in photo editing; Here I am all rosy and healthy b/c I'm back at the gym and cooking dinner for myself. Two very strong signs of impending sanity after almost a year of insanity. I'm swimming for the first time in cool weather. I like how supple my body feels after 45 mins in the pool and 20 mins in the sauna. Tonight's dinner is green beans cooked with shitake mushrooms, lemon chicken cutlet and jasmine rice. Over-all diagnosis: Happiness.

50th birthday party celebration

My brother, Mark, and his daughter, my niece, Angelina enjoying birthday cake in Little Italy. Joey Paesano's in Little Italy has been my brother's favorite restaurant for more than a decade. It was a joy and privilege to host my family for Mark's birthday week in NYC. Many happy returns, brother.

He will always cheer me up on the morning I get home from ER

Most of the time I view FaceBook as a small town newspaper--- people who I know or used to know publishing the flotsam and jetsam of their lives. Many of my "friends" are artists and many of the posts are PR for whatever project they are working on; a new book, a workshop, a new play, a film premiere. Some of my "friends" are parents and many of their posts are about their children.

I also have several former students, and collaborators from back in the day--- we briefly catch up: living in Colorado, living in Berlin, L.A., Toronto. One "friend" a woman I knew about seven years ago is now working in Darfur for the United Nations. I like reading all this. I do. I am also "friends" with my real friends and of course with my family.

And that is an interesting concept: friends with members of your family. Not all my family on FaceBook are "friends;" some actively dislike me, haven't spoken to me in over a decade. Among those who love me, not all are on Facebook. So its a shifting subset of digital alliances--- which you could say mirrors life except the online relationship creates a permanent and accurate record. Two weeks ago, I had an emergency with my dog, Molly. It was a terrible night. No sleep. When I finally got home at 8:30 a.m., I decided to check my email and then crash for a couple of hours.

OMG. A "friend" request from my nephew, now 14. His father one of my estranged brothers. I don't know him at all. I just knew that he wanted to be my "friend" on FaceBook; a digital aunt. I was flattered, touched. I accepted his invitation and wrote: What's shaking? I found out that he's traveled to New Mexico, that his family gave him grief over his spelling, that he's smart and cool. After a couple of days, he stopped responding to my posts. And I knew that his parents blocked me. Which is their right. I'd been "de-friended."

It may be some time until I hear from him again, or I may never--- but no one can take away the happiness of being a "friend" to my digital nephew, no matter how short lived. Because it still exists. Our communication, our "friendship" still lives in cyber-space. He will always cheer me up on the morning I get home from ER. And if I may imperfectly quote Robert Frost, that makes all the difference in the world.

Summer 09: No shame

You would not expect food stamps in Brooklyn Heights. You would expect million dollar co-ops, doormen, nannies, private schools --- and you would be right. All these things exist including fey little boutiques that sell Marc Jacob's T-shirts for $200 (on sale for $140!) as well as two high end real estate offices. But co-existing in this land of splendor are people like myself; artist/writers, actor/realtor's, teacher/dancers, literary agents. And, in the midst of the recession, in the belly of the economic bell curve, trapped in the the cyclone of adjustable rate mortgages and the positively Rabelaisian greed of CEO's, I found myself living on food stamps this July and August. And what's more I enjoyed it.

But first a bit of back story:

It's not 2009, it's 1962. It's not Brooklyn, its the Midwest. And, trust me, there had been no revolution, sexual or otherwise. There were no dope smoking hippies preaching love and happiness, no Mr. Natural, Age of Aquarius. No. It's a factory town, an old Indian village, a small sea of immigrants. My father was in Viet Nam, it wasn't a war yet. My mother was at home with three small children. The checks stopped coming. Mice ruled the basement. A ham bone turned to pea soup and fed us for five days. I had bacon for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But my mother resolutely turned down food stamps.

It didn't matter that the milk had exploded in the metal container on the porch. It didn't matter that her mother told her take the bus and come for dinner, to which my mother replied, I don't have the money to take the bus. And then hang up the phone in frustration. She would not apply for food stamps. That was charity. That was the tough immigrant pride of my mother. That was the pride of her daughter, too. In the past, whenever I'd see someone pay with food stamps, which in those days looked like Monopoly money, I'd think: LOSER-- as in--- you got a incontinent beer swilling husband at home and four snotty nosed kids.

Cut to the summer of 09 and I am struggling. Serious issues of morale. But happiness as well--- my niece stays with me three or four nights a week. We drink iced coffee. She talks about her day. I talk about mine. Soon we have turned Wednesday night or Thursday night into a ritual; Trader's Joes with food stamps. They look nothing like their predecessor, now--- its a sleek little credit card. Now it doesn't scream loser, now its just another form of credit. My niece and I are delirious as we wander from aisle to aisle; tomatoes, avocados, toasted almonds, arugula, pre-cooked turkey meatballs, couscous and chicken, then a stop at the free sample station for a cup of really good hot coffee, and a bite of a macaroon with ginger ice cream, or a chicken burrito, with salsa verde. Muy bien!

I'd get the cherry soy ice cream with dark chocolate, my niece would get goat cheese. I'd always pick up beef carpaccio and she'd get raisin bran cereal and milk. We always scooped up the teriyaki frozen chicken and jasmine rice, the vegetarian pizza. Our shopping cart is now full and half the time girlfriend is on her cell to her boyfriend, but I don't care. Trader Joes in August 09 is a wonderland, better than Disney world, better than Las Vegas. The employees are always friendly--- I even asked a cashier once, Is this a good job? Are you treated well? He replied, sincerely, Yes. I am.

Paying for all this with food stamps didn't feel shameful. Nobody seemed to care. My niece and I would walk out into the twilight, onto Atlantic Avenue, the streets still thick with strollers and traffic, carrying five bags of food, happy and content. Happy about filling up the fridge and cupboards when we got home. Perhaps it was a different time for my mother--- a new immigrant, still vivid memories of the war, a young wife. But I'm 1.5. I was born here. I have a Master's Degree. There are no children at home. If food stamps are a benefit I can receive while the economy is in the toilet, I'll take it. After all this is the government that allowed rapacious banks to triple my APR.

So. No shame. None at all. Instead--- a happy memory of hot summer nights, 2009. My mom would've had fun, too, with me, with her granddaughter, getting a cup of coffee then hitting the frozen food section at Trader Joes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Anita Valium

This image courtesy of Appetite for Equal Rights. Halloween costume called "Anita Valium." Because nothing is sexier than a woman who's in a straight jacket. This blog called for costume ideas that are not sexist. Any ideas? Can a woman be sexy and yet not sexist?

Vu of the Hudson River @ twilight

Family Photo

This distinguished looking gentleman is my father, Albert Slugocki, and the lady is his wife, my stepmother, Margaret. The man did three tours of duty in Viet Nam earning him a Purple Heart. He also set up a non-profit foundation on the Amazon River bringing medical care to the indigenous tribes. I'm proud of him. My stepmother also offered to pay Molly's medical bills last week when I had to rush her to the hospital. It's good to have family.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Season of the witch

Let's get lost in a pumpkin patch together. You be the ghost and I'll be the witch. We'll make pumpkin pies and eat them together under a full moon. It's the season of the witch, the day of the dead, all Hallow's eve. It's the time of candied white skulls in a cemetary, worms crawling in and out of coffins, ancestors rising up out of their graves to walk the earth for one night. Time for the masque, the costume ball--- Cleopatra, Lady MacBeth, Queen Elizabeth, the stripper, the harlot, the fairy, the girl.

Obsolescent items replaced by Blackberry

A brief list of objects that have become obsolescent in my life since the advent of my Blackberry (props to brother Johnny). They are in chronological order:

  1. Land line: really what was the point of having a two phones in the house?

  2. My address book: have had one of these for the past 30 years. I liked them b/c they were a landscape and a portrait of the people going in and going out of my life. But they became superfluous.

  3. My date book: No longer spend forty or fifty dollars for a sexy Filofax.

  4. My calculator: does the math just as well as my old school one--- which by the way I've had for twenty years.

  5. My alarm clock. Since I've figured out how to set my alarm and personalize the tone, I no longer need my clock radio. This too is circa 2001.

  6. Camera. Didn't have one before, but have one now.

Little by little, I acknowledge the power of the little black beast, my Blackberry, that always travels with me. So much more than a phone, it entertains me, helps me to budget, takes pictures, make phone calls, take notes, and keep appointments, and now recently wakes me up in the morning. But I would be a fool and a philistine to note their passing without some sadness. I enjoyed setting up a new datebook every year--- it was part of the process and part of the ritual by which I welcomed the new year. I enjoyed shopping for it--- would it be the red, slightly slutty Filofax, or the just-mean-business black? Perhaps the sombre brown with gold accents? Or the cheap ones with the cardboard covers. I liked buying the monthly calendar--- that I would hang in my kitchen to remind me in bold letters of important dates. Setting my alarm clock to the public radio station, waking up to classical music. But never let it be said that I cannot keep up with shifting paradigms.

I want to be a belly dancer

I want to learn how to belly dance. I want to learn how to cock my hip and wriggle my belly, arch my back and throw my arms up. I want to be ensconced in a pink silk dress with bells on my fingers, and around my waist. I do not find this demeaning at all. It's a celebration of what it means to be women, to be female, to be sexual. I stood there this afternoon, during Brooklyn's Atlantic Antic, a large street festival--- watching the dancers, and imagined myself up there on stage, writhing and whirling to the music, not earthbound in my Birkenstock sandals, my blue jeans and my cowboy hat.