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