Magic Lever

This piece is in progress. I’ve been so busy reading the news and watching the midterms that I missed my own deadline for finishing it. It turns out, there’s more to the story than I first realized, but in the spirit of election day… here’s part of my story of civic responsibility. Now go vote!!

Mom pulled the lever and the curtain closed behind us. The fabric was old and industrial. Sort of green, sort of gray, a little smelly. 

Looking up at what appeared to be thousands of little switches, I struggled to read the words next to them, but I couldn’t see much above that lever. So, I leaned my forehead against the cold gray metal of the machine. 

My mother told me to “straighten up”. 

“You flip the switch by the man you want to pick,” she said “we close the curtain so no one sees who we choose”. 

I didn’t know why it mattered. I knew who she was going to pick. President Reagan was a good president. Everyone loved him, why wouldn’t she pick him? 

When she had finished flipping switches, she pulled back the lever and the curtain opened again. She told me that’s how our vote got counted. I thought the lever worked the curtain, but it counts votes too?

I decided the lever must be magic. 

“Voting is an important part of being an American”, she told me as we walked to the car. 

“When can I vote?”, I asked, eager to play with the little switches. 

“When you turn 18”, she said, “you can register.” 

It felt special, like I would have an important place in the world. Her simplified explanation of civics resonated in my eight year old brain. I felt a connection to the things we learned in school. What we had just done behind that curtain, came to define American adulthood for me.

When I did turn eighteen, I registered right away. Excited to be a real adult with a say in running the country and a stake in the conversation at home. I’d already been singing professionally for years and paying taxes on the money I made at that very grown up job. Gaining the right to vote was my reward.

Finally! I had a voice. 

The first time I got to pull the lever for myself, I felt the magic. Standing alone behind that curtain, about to make my voice heard, felt like a celebration of everything I’d learned about America. Like Thomas Jefferson was high-fiving me through time. 

I flipped the Republican switches because my parents had told me to, but still, I felt like a part of something. Then we won and I had helped chose the Governor. Not only had I voted, but I’d picked the right guy!

Six years later, in 2000, I knew I picked the right guy. I remember stepping into the booth that day, around the block from my upper west side apartment, and running my fingers along the top row of switches. Bush/Cheney. Gore/Leiberman. Nader… and “what’s her name?”. 

I paused there, hearing my grandfather’s decades old rebuke of the ballot my grandmother cast for JFK and my Step-dad’s lectures on fiscal responsibility and ending the era of “tax and spend” (whatever that meant). But I also heard my mother telling me that my vote was mine the first time we pulled the lever. 

I told myself, “No one wants a C student running the country. Besides, they can’t see what you do behind this curtain, there’s no one to disappoint.” When I flipped the Gore/Leiberman switch, I flipped it hard! It was my first taste of independence and it was delicious.

But when the Supreme Court declared Florida’s recount of questionable ballots unconstitutional, I was positive the system had been gamed and I took it personally. It was the first time I’d made my own choice, not one that family politics had dictated. The fact that we lost on a technicality, a manufactured technicality, felt like utter bullshit.

Sixteen years and four election cycles after the chads were left hanging, I was playing a gig when news of Trump’s infamous “Access Hollywood” tape dropped. I could see the television from the small stage in the back corner of the restaurant.

As black-clad servers wove their paths through a maze of tables, I watched, transfixed, from behind my guitar as CNN’s closed captioning blocked out the dreaded “p” word again and again. 

Letting the latest low point of American politics sink in, I turned my attention back to the audience. Happy diners, eager to get their weekend started and oblivious to the shit storm unfolding on the news. I pulled the lever in my mind and closed the curtain, hiding in plain sight. 

I’m not there to speak out, I’m there to entertain, no matter what I’m feeling. I’m devoid of politics as a performer. At my level, I have to be. I don’t have the luxury of fame or followers or a platform. I’m just a working musician. 

I watched as a mom, two tables from the stage, helped her daughter with a stubborn ketchup bottle and I felt a rush of relief that I didn’t have any kids to whom I have to explain why our public discourse now includes the word “pussy”. I took comfort in the familiar buzz of a room half paying attention and consoled myself with the thought that this had to be what would finally bring the bastard down.

The next day I planted a Clinton/Kaine sign in my yard. Not exactly speaking out, but still revealing more of myself to my neighbors than ever before.

A month after Pussygate, America had a choice to make. A choice between a well qualified, if unlikable professional female and a bloated misogynist with daddy issues and a penchant for navigating bankruptcy law. 

On my way to the polls that day, I ran into several friends on the street. We’d been watching the predictions from inside our liberal bubble since summer and felt confident that we’d win. It was exciting. We just knew this would be another night of crying tears of joy into our prosecco, like when Obama won in 2008. One guy even said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, when Hillary’s President.” 

Fucking jinx.

So, I proudly cast my ballot, confident that the electorate would do the right thing and save America from a Trump presidency. I was convinced common sense would win out. Seems stupid in retrospect. 

That night, we gathered with friends to watch history being made, and it was. 

As the map on the screen turned red, my heart sank. I got drunk. Really drunk. I tossed back whiskey after whiskey, convinced that America was over. Mom lied. We don’t get to pick the president… again. But this time was different. What was happening was truly unthinkable.

I found out later that Mom, you know, the woman who showed me the magic lever, had shirked her civic duty, along with almost half the country. I couldn’t believe she sat the election out. Even after the pussy tape, she was unmoved. I was crushed.

I couldn’t imagine skipping an election, let alone 2016. I mean, voting’s not a huge ask and it’s sort of crucial to the thing we call democracy, but whatever. I also couldn’t imagine not being able to decide between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. It’s like if you went to a restaurant and the waiter asked, “would you like the chicken or the giant lump of crap”? And you were like… “hmmmm, I’m soo tired of chicken… does the crap come with mashed potatoes”?

After the inauguration, I was angry and disillusioned. Everywhere I turned people were saying, “get involved in local politics. That’s how you make a difference”. 

I wanted to make a difference, to be a part of something with meaning, since the system had failed again. Actually, I wanted to go back in time and push that bloated bastard right off that escalator. But instead, a neighbor suggested I run for Village Trustee and for some reason, I took him seriously.

Mom was incredibly supportive of the idea, so was my grandmother, who I know voted for Trump. We never talked about it, but she’s told me more than once how much she hates Hillary Clinton. You know, because of all the lying. 

Nothing made sense, how could these women support me, yet be so casual about such a crushing blow to feminism? How could my grandmother cast a ballot for a pig? I started questioning everything.

Despite, or maybe because of all these contradictions, my idealism clawed its way to the surface and I agreed to join the Democratic ticket in Athens. It was terrifying.

I was scared of speaking out. Scared that people wouldn’t like me anymore, because I thought everybody did. And that would be the key to my success. It was as a performer, why not as a candidate? But I found out you can’t make everyone like you and make a difference. You can’t be honest or share your views, and keep everyone on your side. I mean, I couldn’t even call out Nammy for her Trump vote!

The experience was eye opening. I was amazed at the parallels between local politics and the national show. The Republicans we ran against were all Trump supporters and they’d been given permission to play as dirty as Donny. 

They attacked us for all the things I’d been taught, by my midwestern Republican family, to value: our educations, our culture, our homes and careers. I thought that because we all lived in this tiny village together and we saw each other at the store or on the street or at the bar, there would be some greater level of civility. That as small town citizens, we could rise above the rhetoric and disrespect so common in our national public discourse. But those aren’t the times we live in. We’re living post “pussy”, and as angry and disillusioned as we Democrats were, we failed to realize that our Republican counterparts were feeling the exact opposite. Validated. Fired up. Invincible.

So, they said what they said, but when we did see each other, we mostly ignored one another. I never even met the guy running for mayor on their side… officially. There was one speaking engagement at which we stood next to each other. I knew who he was and he knew who I was, but we never said hello or shook hands. I thought he should make the overture, he must’ve thought the responsibility was mine. Maybe we were scared of one another… it probably wasn’t that.

I also never addressed any of their negative whisper campaign. Had I attacked them for their lack of the merits they found elitist in us, I just would’ve sounded more elitist, right? And I saw myself as someone who could bridge the “us vs. them” gap. So, I “went high”, opting for civility. I decided to be “nice”.

On election day, when I walked into the village senior center to vote for myself, there was no lever, no curtain to hide behind. Not literally, not figuratively. Just a little table with a sharpie and a privacy shield, it made me miss the metal booth with its ugly curtain and tiny switches. But seeing my name on the ballot made me, once again, feel like I was a part of something bigger, something people fight for. 

I’d never been more sure I wanted to win. I filled in the bubbles next to my running mates’ names first. Then I took a deep breath and let my sharpie hover over my bubble. “Maybe”, I thought, “I’ll win this and I will make a difference. Maybe this is just the beginning…”

By the end of the night, I’d lost by 20 votes. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that was out of about 900 total votes. In a village of about 1800 residents. It seemed we were suffering from the same malignant apathy as the rest of the country. 

Of course, I blamed myself. Maybe if I’d been true to who I am, made my voice heard. Not been so damned polite. But I couldn’t ignore that voter turnout. That was where most of our campaign efforts went and still, we failed. The thing is, if more people came out to vote, engaged in the process, things would be different. Everywhere.

The next morning, I plucked our campaign signs out of my yard and stowed them in the garage next to Hillary’s, in what I now refer to as the hall of losers. Oddly, I felt a sense of belonging.

People immediately began encouraging me to run again. I wish I wanted to. It feels like something I should want to do.

Originally, I had a great idea for the ending of this story. It was a tidy one, clever with a bit of recall from the opener that I could weave through it and use to sew it up neatly. But the more I wrote the more I realized I was lying to myself.

Magic isn’t real. It’s a tidy ending to a complicated story that I don’t fully understand. Now that I’m an adult, I know all about the failure of Reagan’s flawed “trickle down” policies. I know things aren’t simple. I’m not naive about the process, or unaware of the fact that our government has been ambushed by a wealthy and powerful minority. But my vote, my voice, remains sacrosanct. That’s the one lesson that I hold on to.

So, maybe I haven’t exactly retained my optimism, but I am engaged. More so than I’ve ever been. I take it all in and try to keep what’s true even as it makes less and less sense. I hate that. I want to make things fit, so the world makes sense again, the way it did when Mom explained America. 

So much of my personal journey has been a sleepwalk, but still, I can’t turn my back on the democratic process. The lever is still there, maybe it’s not magic, but it’s the only voice we have. 

That Day

I’ve been trying to unpack this day for years. I’ve never written about it. I’ve been too afraid, but here’s where I’m at today…

That day I awoke to a ringing phone, which I ignored. When my machine picked up I heard Tom’s voice. 

“Call me when you get this.”

God I hate cryptic messages. And right before my alarm was going to go off. I’ll never get those ten minutes back. My first day back from vacation and it’s already starting.

I laid there with my eyes open until 1010 WINS clicked on with my radio alarm.

“Suspected terrorist attack.”

I slapped the radio off, news about some crap in the middle east was not what I needed that morning. I needed coffee, so I could deal with going back to work after a ten day break. 

We got out of bed, I got some juice and Yves started the coffee. We’d been living together on West End Ave for a little over two years. The commute to Times Square was a breeze and my 11am start time made my job at the studio a 20-something’s dream. I could play gigs or hang out at clubs every night and still get to work on time (or close to it). It was perfect for a budding rock star.

I figured I’d better dial Tom to see what was up. I’d rather know now. There was probably a last minute session. He needed me to get milk or some shit.

He answered. “Good, you’re ok.”

It didn’t even register that he was concerned for my safety. “I’ll be in at 11, what do you need?”

“Did you just get up? Turn on the TV.”

I found the remote and turned on my TV, it automatically tuned in to NY1. 

That’s when I saw it for the first time. Both towers. Smoking. Burning. Horribly wounded. All I could think was, that’s going to be a bitch to fix. I was half listening to Tom explain what had happened and half listening to that guy with the hair that used to read us the paper on TV. Words were scrolling across the bottom of the screen where the image of the burning towers occupied one half and a replay of the planes flying into them played on the other. It was absolutely the most shocking thing I had ever seen and it was happening just a few miles down the road. 

I don’t remember the rest of my phone conversation, but when we hung up I said, “I’ll see you at work later.”

I stared at the television. I thought of the people in the planes. Things were taking forever to register in my brain. The fact that those buildings were full of people, there were people on the ground, there were people everywhere; it’s New York. It all came into my consciousness slowly as I took in the visual. 

The flight information got inside me somehow. Did someone tell me? Was it the news ticker? I don’t know. I heard “Logan Airport”. In my haze of disbelief and horror I remembered that my mother was supposed to fly to Boston for a meeting that day. She’d be on an early shuttle. Panic welled up in me. 

I think I called her then, I don’t know, but I found out she was ok. She had been at LaGuardia when the planes hit. Her boyfriend came to get her. She was on her way back to Long Island. She could see the buildings from the car. Burning.

Yves and I sat on the couch, watching the smoke rising from the towers. Voraciously consuming any information they would give. Flipping from channel to channel, as if NBC would know more than CBS or CNN or NY1. 

They all showed the same live feed. The billowing smoke highlighted by a clear bright blue sky. It was a perfect late summer morning. Things were falling from the windows. Papers, debris, human beings.

As we flipped, eager for answers, who, why, how, false reports of more attacks came in with the true reports from DC and Pennsylvania. We knew we were witnessing an unprecedented event, we knew we were under attack. We didn’t know what to expect. Were we safe in the city? And then…

The split screen in front of us filled with a single image. The south tower was crumbling. I was frozen, on my sofa, in my living room. All I could do was watch, horrified as a piece of the skyline collapsed. There hadn’t been enough time to get people out, had there? The people. There were real people in there. Trapped. And now they were gone. And all I could do was sit there. 

As the dust began to settle, what we knew we had just witnessed was reconfirmed. The tower was gone. I still couldn’t quite process it. Thinking, won’t it be weird, one twin left without the other. 

There wasn’t time to grasp what had just happened. Threats – imagined or otherwise – poured over the airwaves. Don’t take the subway. Leave Manhattan. Stay put. Bridges and tunnels closed to traffic. The event was so large, so dramatic, that the human factor didn’t resonate immediately. To this day, I feel that guilt. The guilt of forgetting them in the panic over our own safety. The guilt of thinking about material things, the buildings, my city, my home and my way of life. The guilt of having been asleep when they attacked.

We stayed glued to the television. Hoping for answers, or a miracle, until the north tower fell, leaving a whole in the skyline. It felt like hours, but it had all happened so fast. Had it been a normal day, I wouldn’t even have been at my desk yet.

I remember Mayor Guiliani. He was strong and comforting, like a father. Or a general. He made me feel safer, though I’m not sure how. In that moment he was a true leader. 

We had no idea how many people had perished. How many people work in those buildings? How many people were in the tunnels beneath them? How many in the mall? How many nameless, faceless New Yorkers had no one to come looking for them? 

Eventually, we turned the television off. 

We went for a walk in Riverside Park. Like zombies. Going nowhere. Just walking. The air carried with it the smell of the fires. There were people around. It’s New York, there are always people around, but it was almost as if none of us existed. Suspended. Confused. Shell shocked. 

I called my friend Wendy from the park. She was ok. We were sure there would be a war. 

We resolved to give blood first thing in the morning, but by that evening they were already turning people away from the blood banks and hospitals. They didn’t need blood. There was nobody to save.

I told Yves the story of the time I walked from NYU to the plaza at the foot of the towers with my friend Jay. We lay on the concrete benches, gazing up at the towers. They appeared to spin as the sky stood still behind them. We got dizzy and laughed at how small we were. We were probably high… or drunk.

The next day the studio stayed closed.

On Thursday, I was ready to get back to normal. That was what they told us to do. As good New Yorkers, we were supposed to go about our lives to show the terrorists they didn’t win. But right before I was about to leave I got a call from the studio. There were reports of a terror threat on the subway, so I’d better just stay put. I could make calls from home. 

The next week I went back to work. From midtown, the smell of the fires was stronger. They were still burning. A giant funeral pyre where there once was a landmark.

In the weeks after that day, news started trickle in from friends and family of who was lost. I knew some of them, but not well. A kid from high school was a paramedic downtown. He had been one of the first on the scene. 

My birthday came and went. I taught myself how to drink straight vodka. I started walking home from work. To avoid the train? I don’t know. I called it exercise. 

In early October, I went downtown to see it. Because somehow what happened wasn’t real enough. I had only seen it on TV. I thought it would help. It did not.

We all told stories of our WTC memories while we worked on our martini habit. Three or four a night. I gained twenty pounds. I felt completely powerless to help, to comfort. I had no control.

I don’t remember a whole hell of a lot about the last quarter of 2001. Martinis. Turkey. Anthrax. Christmas. Retaliation. The smell. Work vehicles heading south on West End. Sirens. Fear. Feeling like we had a bond, New Yorkers. Like we weren’t so cold.

I played my last original show in November… December? I don’t know. When I played my song, Chinatown, it took on new meaning. I later changed the lyrics. I covered Elvis Costello – Peace, Love and Understanding. I said goodnight. Then I quit. What could I possibly offer to people when nothing mattered anymore? How could anything hold meaning? What was true?

The path I’d been on on Septmeber 10th was completely obscured. In that moment my weakness was exposed to me. I more or less slept through the next few years. I tried to audition. I swore I was going to start writing again any day. In 2003, when we started the wedding band, it seemed like a good place to hide out. 

I didn’t understand – or begin to understand my own experience surrounding the events of that day until years later. I was fine, right? That’s what I told myself. My loved ones were safe. What right did I have to feel any sense of loss? I never knew I was so sensitive. I’d always thought I was a badass. 

At 24, my life was on a specific track. I was certain that track would lead to something extraordinary. I’m sure a lot of 24-year-olds feel that way, but I lost that feeling that day. That certainty hasn’t been revived. I’m too old for certainty now, and really what I mourn is the lost innocence. The trust. The belief. I wonder if I’ll ever get that back. Maybe it’s all just an excuse.

I haven’t been able to write about that day until now. And even this is incomplete. It’s as true as I can be at this point in time. It may be self indulgent, but sweeping it aside and pretending every year that the event is merely an historical pivot point, a day of memorial and reverence hasn’t worked. If you made it to the end, thank you for listening.

That Roller Girl: Conclusion

I stood there on the sidewalk for a moment, gripping the metal of the signpost tightly in my fists, shrinking from the fear of what others might be thinking of me as they witnessed the scene. My ass was probably bruised, but not as badly as my ego was. I was sweating a little, likely from the stress as opposed to the physical activity. Choking down the lump forming in my throat, I tried to make myself small enough to fade away.

A mere eight blocks from salvation, I considered bailing out, putting my sneakers on and carrying my skates for the remainder of the journey. 

You fell down, so what? Suck it up and finish this! 

My mind flashed to Mom, crying on that upper east side kitchen floor. I wished I had someone to cry with, but I was on my own. I had gotten myself up off the cold ground, now I just needed to walk myself out the “door” and not let the city or the damn skates get the better of me.

I let go of the signpost and rolled slowly forward, remaining on the sidewalk until I reached the intersection of 18th and Broadway. I stood still on the corner until the light changed and then I stepped down off of the curb, slightly battered, but intent on completing my mission. For the next block, I was cautious as I stuck close to the east side of the street. 

The north end of Union Square Park was teeming with activity. From hacky-sackers bouncing their footie bean-bags and skateboarders wiping out on most of their tricks, to basket toting greenmarket browsers and acoustic guitar-thumping street performers, there were obstacles galore ahead of me. But that was the most direct route home, I decided I would take it slow.

I rolled into the park, inching ahead and leaning back into my brake the entire time. Occasionally, I actually felt it make contact with the pavers beneath me. Slowly and deliberately, I skated past the greenmarket vendors’ booths and around a ragtag little band of acoustic guitar, harmonica and bucket. They were playing something familiar, was it a Grateful Dead tune? Bob Dylan? It was nothing I had ever played, but it rang a bell.

At fifteen I officially became a part of Mom’s rehearsals. She had been playing with a local Long Island cover band that wanted to add another female singer. Mom suggested they give me a shot. “My daughter sings. We sing together all the time”, she told them.  

The band loved the idea of the mother/daughter act gimmick. My mom loved the idea of not having to compete with a new singer that she didn’t know. I was instantly accepted into the fold. I didn’t even have to audition. 

The band added me onto a gig they had in May of my Sophomore year of High School. I sang two songs, “I Will Survive” and “The Rose”. The rest of the time I stood on the stage, sang some background vocals, and mimicked my mother’s movements. At the end of the night the bandleader handed me eighty dollars. I knew then that show business was for me. 

Weekends became filled with gigs in lounges and bars that I wouldn’t have been allowed into had I not been in the band. I wore fancy sequined dresses and uncomfortable shoes and strapless bras. Mom and I always matched. We rehearsed once a week with the band and I learned an extensive repertoire. Eventually, my stepdad joined us on bass. 

Towards the end of senior year, I was hired by a band that played big events and expensive weddings in the city. I still played with my parents on Long Island through my early years at NYU, but I preferred my Manhattan gigs. I got to meet up with my friends at our local college bar, The Jolly Roger, after them. It was so much easier (and cooler) than commuting to Long Island. Sometimes I would show up at the bar still wearing my cocktail dress and heels, wielding my mic stand and small bag of gear. I was showing off and I don’t think anyone was fooled.

Skating past that little band in Union Square, I thought about how much better I was than those kids in the park, because I had real, paying gigs. That’s how professionalism had been defined to me, a paycheck. That determined one’s worth. I didn’t consider that the bucket band might be enjoying making music together without thinking about the reward. I had no respect for the hobbyist musician. 

As I made my way downtown towards the park’s southern border at 14th street  (one of the largest subway hubs and most popular meeting spots in New York) the crowd began, again, to thicken. I looked ahead. Not just a foot or two, but all the way, scanning the bustling section of Union Square for the perfect route. I charted my course. I calculated. It was like I plugged myself into the city in that moment. 

I took a deep breath and mustered my courage. I started slowly, but gained a bit of momentum when I realized I was successfully anticipating the movements of my fellow New Yorkers. The crowd seemed to be with me. They seemed to sense my every move, just as I was trying to divine theirs. It was like they wanted to see me get home unscathed. 

The walk signal at fourteenth clicked on at just the right time and I was out of the park and back on Broadway. I had four blocks to go and then I could take these godforsaken skates off. I could tell everyone I’d done it and I never had to do it again. But if I was going to be a success in this town I was going to have to deal with people. A lot of people. And they were probably going to be in my way.

The signals and the traffic seemed to be timed just for me. The city seemed to see me coming and opened for me like the automated door at the grocery. So I pressed forward and gained more speed. Hopping back up onto the sidewalk, I maneuvered around garbage bags and cut perfect curves passing antique-seeking shoppers. The iconic spires on Grace Church came into view on my left. The same spires I could see from my suite-mates’ window in our 10th floor rooms. I had made it!

I turned right onto 10th street and rolled through the smoke cloud from the cigarette-sneaking freshmen outside my dorm. I leaned back into my squat and applied gentle pressure to my right skate’s braking mechanism. I slowed and rolled into the foyer. Digging in deeper to the brake, I slowed down even more. This time to a perfect, controlled stop. I didn’t even grab onto the front desk to do it. 

Hector was on the door. It was shortly after shift change and he was just starting his day. Hector had been the overnight guard first semester, so he’d seen us at our worst. And by worst, I mean drunkest. 

My friend Liz, who I had met on the first day of classes, was fluent in Spanish and Italian from her time spent living overseas. (Her parents worked for the government, it was all very cloak and dagger). She was used to having a doorman, I was not. She made a point of befriending Hector early on. 

Whenever Liz ran to the deli she would ask Hector if he needed anything. The two of them used to carry on long conversations in Spanish when we were coming in from the bar. I would stand and smile and try to follow the conversation with only my eighth grade Spanish knowledge and the relaxed looseness of a good buzz to help. I was happy for Hector when they moved him to the earlier shift, but I’d miss our late night pow wows.

I paused in front of him to let my victory sink in. I was dying to share it. “I did it, Hector! I made it”, my exclamation a celebration of life. He wasn’t sure what to make of my revelry, so he offered me a resounding “Muy bien chica, you rock”! He had no idea what I was talking about, but Hector was a very positive guy, so whatever I did he was going to tell me I rocked. “Check you later”, I said with a smile as he buzzed me in. 

I was mentally patting myself on the back as I rolled through the unlocked door to the lobby and over to the elevator which was just opening to let some of my fellow students out. 

After rolling through the sliding door behind them, I immediately removed my skates. My feet instinctively relaxed into the floor of the elevator. Curling my toes into the industrial carpet lining the Otis-built box felt like returning to earth after an intergalactic exploration. I was back to whisper-singing by the time the door slid open again on my floor. Still in just my socks, I shuffled down the hall to the corner suite that housed my four roommates and me. 

The place was empty when I entered, a rare occasion in a five person suite, one that I usually relished. But today it meant that no one was there to receive the conquering hero. I was disappointed. On the elevator ride I’d already begun replaying my adventure in my mind, attempting to craft the perfect tale of my triumph over the mean streets of the inner city. It wouldn’t be the same after I’d had time to recover, to catch my breath. 

I put my rollerblades in the closet and stared at them for a long moment. They had not become the instant symbol of my independence I’d wanted them to. (I wouldn’t be ditching my Metrocard any time soon). They didn’t look as cool anymore or as promising as they had uptown and with no one in house to “ooh and ahh”, my own feeling of accomplishment receded just a bit. 

Sweat was still sticking to my skin, so I grabbed my towels and robe and headed to our suite’s shared bathroom, a place that had become my sanctuary. Besides my oversized closet, it was the only sliver of privacy I had.

As I waited for the water to heat up and the bathroom to fill with steam, I peeled off my sweaty clothes. Contorting my naked body, I tried to get a view of the bruise that might be forming, but the angle of the mirror wouldn’t allow me visual confirmation. 

I got into the shower and stood in the quiet safety of the hot water for a little too long reliving my odyssey. The pressure was steady and strong. I let it flow over my shoulders, down my back and over my sore right cheek. I arched my back and tilted my head into the shower’s stream to allow it to soak through my hair to my scalp. I let it run onto my face. 

I thought about the old man I’d hit and how I’d reacted to his verbal attack with a counter attack. Without fear. Shouldn’t I have been afraid? Should I have been more sorry? He was in my way, standing in the street, too slow to avoid my onslaught. How is that my fault? 

Still unsure of what my freedom ride had accomplished, I turned off the water and stepped out through the plastic curtain. I was never going to tell anyone, but I did feel guilty about screaming at an old man, so I pushed the guilt way down deep inside and told myself that exchanges like that were par for the course. 

I’m a New Yorker now and New York waits for no man. This city pushes aside what’s old to make room for what’s new. 

Even the building I was standing in had once been a grand hotel. Now it was a dorm that packed five students in a room. There were stories of the ghosts of those that used to frequent the penthouse speakeasy floating down the halls, but I never witnessed any apparitions. Maybe they were just quick enough to get out of my way, to make room for the future.

After toweling down and donning my robe, I flipped on the stereo and selected disc three in the five disc changer, Green Day’s “Dookie”. I skipped ahead to track 10. 

I heard you crying loud. All the way across town. 

I turned up the volume on our suite’s “get psyched” song, a must-play before any night out, usually on repeat.

You’ve been searching for that someone and it’s me out on the prowl as you sit around feeling sorry for yourself.

Singing along to the words I knew and mumbling over the ones I couldn’t decipher, I slid into my favorite pair of jeans and donned a simple white v-neck t-shirt. As a 90’s-era finishing touch, I tied an oversized and colorful cotton Aeropostal sweater around my waist. 

I squished a handful of gel into my hair, and went straight for my rich roommate’s closet where several pairs of Gucci sandals (in my size) resided. I slipped my feet into a hot pink pair. They felt divine!

No time to search the world around, ‘cause you know where I’ll be found. When I come around!

Coming back to life, I danced my way over to the mirror, swiped on just enough makeup to make me look like I wasn’t wearing any makeup and topped off my look with a dark lip color. 

As the song’s opening lick kicked in for the third time, I called Liz and suggested we meet in the lobby so I could relay the tale of my harrowing journey over whiskeys at the Jolly Roger. I swapped the Gucci’s for my own Doc Marten’s before heading out and letting the door slam shut behind me.

That Roller Girl: Part 2

If you haven’t already, check out That Roller Girl: Part 1. Part 2 might make more sense…

Asshole? 

Surely he meant dumb kid or stupid bitch or the unspeakable “C” word. Asshole was a masculine insult. I was Marlo Thomas in “That Girl”, all rainbows and spring time. I was Mary Tyler Moore for God’s sake! Taking on the big city, turning the world on with my smile.  

I mustered an ever-clever “fuck you” in retort and threw in a “you old bastard” for color. Then I dug in and pushed off with my right skate. Just a bit of hip movement and a few tight curves with my blade-clad feet and I’d built the momentum to continue on my way, shaken but undeterred. 

Gliding down the next couple of blocks, I got lost in thought trying to reconcile the fact that an old man just called me an asshole. Shouldn’t my youth and femininity have protected me from being considered just another asshole on skates? My granddad believed in chivalry, ladies first and all that. Clearly, that old man wasn’t a gentleman like Granddad. Maybe I’d been spoiled. Shielded from the reality of old curmudgeons left behind by time – probably in rent controlled apartments.

I was brought back to reality by a passing cab that blew by me so fast it nearly spun me around. Grabbing on to the next street sign I passed, I hopped up onto the sidewalk to let my life flash before my eyes. Even the song I’d had stuck in my head stopped, like the needle of a record being abruptly removed from the vinyl. Scrrraaatchhh!! 

Maybe I am an asshole. Maybe the whole city is just a bunch of assholes. Maybe it is dangerous here. 

That was what people thought when I was a kid and I would visit the family in the midwest. I’d tell them I was from New York and they’d look at me with sympathy and terror. “Oh my, what’s that like”, they would ask. The inquiry a thin veil for their assumptions that I dodged criminals on my way to school because all they knew of New York was what they saw on TV. To them, there was no distinction between the urban and the suburban. 

I saw the difference right away and I wasn’t afraid. My first glimpse of the Empire State Building as it came into view on the approach to the Midtown Tunnel was enthralling. Steve Perry cranked through the speakers of my mom’s Ford Fiesta as we made the trek in from Long Island. 

You should’ve been gone! Knowing how I made you feel. 

Perry delivered the opening lyrics a capella, his voice full of grit and longing. I adored that voice. It stirred something in me.

And I should’ve been gone, after all your words of steel. 

The big sound of that reverberating soulfulness defined the urban experience for me. I still picture the night skyline of 1984 Manhattan whenever I hear it.

That was around the time Mom was taking me to a lot of her band rehearsals. My favorite ones were in the city. I loved driving through the steely grey concrete landscape and perpetual dusk of the Manhattan streets to the different rehearsal spaces. 

One space was on the same block as the Empire State Building. Holding my mom’s hand as we walked from the parking garage, I would tilt my head as far back as I could. Gazing towards the top of the world, I felt small but important at the base of the iconic skyscraper. Just being there meant I was special, that I had something my friends didn’t.

Another space was particularly luxe. It was grey and everything was carpeted, the floors, the walls, everything. There was foam on the ceiling and on one side of the room there was a big glass window. A drum kit sat opposite the glass wall, on a stage that placed it slightly higher than the amps, which were immense.

I would sit in the corner, behind a giant stack of speakers singing along at the top of my lungs while the band filled the air with guitars and bass and very loud drums. I wanted to prove myself, to fit into that world but I realized early on that there’s no place for a thumb-sucking seven-year-old in rock and roll. 

Letting go of the sign, I stepped carefully off the curb. Officially, I was kind of scared, but I took a deep breath and whispered to myself “you’re ok, just start over”. 

I pushed off, shimmied up to speed and headed south again. The next few blocks were uneventful. I had passed 23rd street without incident, even managing to get a peek up at The Flatiron Building, my favorite in New York. I was making progress, building confidence.

At 20th street, the road narrowed. As I passed ABC Carpet & Home I was distracted by an awesome pendant lamp hanging in the window. I rubberized my neck as I checked out the oversized Moroccan-style stunner and daydreamed of the penthouse with the picture window that it might one day adorn. I was getting ahead of myself.

I still don’t know what I ran over. A stick? A knish? A dead rat? I have no clue. But it was my undoing. It tripped me up good. My biggest fear was about to be realized. I was going to fall. 

I tried to recover. I tried to brake, but my feet weren’t exactly on the ground. At least not at the same time. My arms flailed about in a reflexive attempt to regain my balance, but I knew that the pavement and I would soon meet. I was sorry I had deemed wrist and knee pads “totally lame” when deciding whether to purchase the full protection package with my blades.

Time slowed. For a split second I thought I’d righted myself, but then my skates got in front of me and my feet kept rolling right past my ass. In a flash, that ass was squarely on the pavement. 

You fucking failure! 

I looked around to see who was yelling at me before I realized it was, in fact, me. Sitting flat on the concrete in the street, legs stretched out ahead, my wheels were still spinning. The buildings around me cast shadows on an otherwise sunny day, chilling the pavement. I dropped my head into my hands and surveyed the scene through my slightly spread fingers.

Shaking with anger at myself, I felt a hot flush filling my face. People kept passing, an audience I was unprepared to entertain. I wanted to scream and cry, to sit there until someone came to help, but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. Traffic was inevitable, so was the embarrassment of trying to get back up. 

Wearing rollerblades makes you about six inches taller than you naturally are, which shifts one’s center of gravity considerably making it near impossible to stand up with any amount of grace. I flopped around for a few seconds on the street before ultimately having to wiggle around onto all fours and crawl over to a street sign to pull myself back up. 

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s how the pros do it.

That Roller Girl: Part 1

In the ’90s, rollerblading was all the rage, and I was sure it was my “thing”…

It’ll be just like going to Christine’s. A straight shot, right down Broadway. You got this! 

I paused by the ticket machines to strap on my blades. I had made it from home to the station in Bellerose on wheels, no problem. How hard could it be to get myself from Penn Station to Brittany Hall? NYU wasn’t that far from the Long Island Rail Road, I would save money by skipping the subway and I’d be getting some exercise. 

Rollerblading is great for your buns and thighs. 

The trip was just a tad more than one mile. Feeling totally ready, I stowed my sneakers in my purple Jansport backpack and rolled to the escalator. 

Why didn’t I get myself upstairs before I put these things on? 

I was sure everyone looking at me was thinking “Dumb ass!”  

After reaching the top of the first escalator, I rolled my way to the next one. The long one that leads you to the street. I stood still on the mechanical stairway watching my fellow commuters climbing the stairs, beating me in my self-imposed race to the surface. I relished the feeling of finding the holes in any crowd and zig-zagging my way through it. As if I would get a prize for getting to point B before the others. 

At the mercy of the escalator, I pondered it’s origin. It must’ve been invented to speed things up, yet it seems, instead, to have slowed us down by appealing to our inherent laziness. 

When I finally emerged from the depths I rolled myself out of the way and stopped by a street sign. I held it for balance and assurance. This place near the taxi stand outside Penn Station was comfortable for me, familiar. It had served, for the past few years, as my entry point into Manhattan. Here, my high school friends and I would step out into the street after sneaking in on the train from Long Island, having told our parents we were taking the bus to the Roosevelt Field Mall. It was our meeting place before concerts or Broadway shows. It was the portal through which we stepped to leave our suburban selves behind. 

In this spot, a few years later, a cute young cop would help me hail a cab and give me his phone number, making me feel so Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City”. But today I went completely unnoticed, just another New Yorker getting around town. 

I  tightened the straps of my Jansport, securing my belongings and preparing myself for motion. It was a gorgeous day and I was taking advantage of it. This would be a leisurely ride through my new city. I belonged here. I could feel it. After a semester and a half, I was officially a Manhattanite and this little freedom ride would solidify that status once and for all. It was as though I’d been trying to reach this moment my whole life, all eighteen years.

When I was nine, my mother almost moved us to Manhattan. Her best friend, my Aunt Patti, lived on East 78th street between York and the FDR. Her apartment was in an old east side tenement building. The largest of its three rooms housed a pullman kitchen along one wall. The bedroom barely fit a dresser and a bed (which you had to crawl in and out of from one side because it was literally wedged between the walls) and the living room felt tiny even when I was a small child. My mother told me once that it was “rent controlled”. I wouldn’t come to understand that “rent control” meant “holy grail” in real estate speak until I was much older and once I did, I resented anyone who had such a deal. But there was a park across the street and a restaurant around the corner where I could fall asleep in a booth while my mom and Patti chatted up the bartender. Manhattan was alright by me.

Mom was on tour with a band when she met my dad. She gave up singing when they married, but after their divorce she started singing again to supplement her income and feed her passion. Having come from Indiana to Long Island to marry my father, Mom had spent the years since their divorce shanghai-ed on the island that exists in the shadow of the greatest city on earth. She was drawn to the city, so when an apartment became available downstairs from Patti, my mother was excited to make the move. 

The evening we went in to sign the lease and pick up the keys, I remember walking into the empty apartment. It was dark inside, even as the last glimmers of sunshine held on outside. Somehow, it seemed even smaller than Patti’s place.  

When we walked in, I went to gaze out the living room window at the swings and see-saw across the street. The playground was locked up behind a fence that rose high above our new window’s view. It looked less inviting than it had before, sinister somehow.

I went in search of Mom.

She was sitting on the kitchen floor, crying. I stroked her hair and asked, “what’s wrong, Mommy”? She reached up to hold my hand and cried some more. 

I was scared, I had no idea what to do. “It’ll be OK”, I told her. Though I had no clue what “it” was. “Don’t cry”. She just sniffled and held on tighter.

So, I sat down with her and I cried a little too. The old linoleum floor was cold. Sitting there, the room around us seemed to expand, like we were shrinking right there on that floor. It was as if she was determined to disappear and take me with her. Through the gated window to the fire escape outside, I gazed blankly at the rapidly darkening sky.

I felt responsible. Had I caused her tears? Was it my job to make them go away? I didn’t know. I just knew I needed to take care of her, to share the burden that my existence had placed on her. I often cried when my mother did, whether I understood it or not.

When Mom’s tears subsided, we stood slowly. I gripped her hand in mine as she steadied herself and then we walked hand in hand out of the apartment. We never went back. 

I had almost become a city kid, almost. I fantasized about what “might have been” a lot after that. How cool it would have been, how much time we’d have spent at that park, or hanging out with Aunt Patti and eating Egg Foo Young!

The experience gave the city a mystique. It became something to be feared, or conquered. I never questioned what made my mom change her mind, but when it came time to choose a college, NYU was at the top of the list. It was the list, and I’d made it in.

At the “walk” signal’s command, I rolled across Seventh avenue and started making my way down 32nd street to Broadway. It was just after 2pm and the streets were crowded. 

Sticking to the sidewalk and using the occasional street sign or mailbox as a crutch, I made slow but steady progress maneuvering through the late-lunching office workers carrying their boxes from Sbarro, and their bags of McDonald’s and Hale and Hearty Soup. By the time I made it to Broadway, I was emboldened by my accomplishment.

I paused on the corner. To the south, was NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. The institution on which I had pinned my hopes. To the north, was the part of town where Broadway became more than just an avenue. Where it was an art, an industry, and my dream. My acceptance to Tisch had been, to me, the first step towards my inevitable top billing on a glittering theater district marquee. 

Stepping down off of the curb and onto the famed thoroughfare, I turned right and headed south. The first few blocks went smoothly. All of the lights turned in my favor, so braking wasn’t an issue. Which was good, because I was still a novice when it came to that part of the sport. I was singing to myself a little bit, under my breath. I have a tendency to do that, I always have. All through sixth grade, Jared M. teased me mercilessly for singing “country music” when Patsy Cline songs inadvertently escaped my lips during group study. My mom had always nurtured this habit. 

She taught me about harmony at a young age. Lessons started one Christmas with “Silent Night”. She knew it in German too, I only knew the English. We were driving from the babysitter’s or the supermarket. Or maybe we’d gotten some ornaments at Cheap John’s. She turned off the radio and said we should sing carols to get in the spirit. 

We started in unison, Silent night, holy night . Then, she shifted her voice to the third above. All is calm, all is bright. 

In the beginning it was hard not to follow. My voice naturally wanted to match hers, to be hers. She was patient with me on this, not always with other things, but harmonizing was something she loved. She said, “just keep on the melody, concentrate on that. Don’t get distracted by what I do”. 

The first time I heard it happen it was thrilling. We had gone from singing carols on a shopping trip to making music. I sounded like her, like a real singer. Our voices created natural overtones. The vibrations that surrounded us inside the car were soothing, magical. 

Singing in the car became one of our favorite pastimes. I started helping her practice. If she had to learn a duet, I would be the boy. When the chorus came around we’d be in harmony and all I had to do was sing along. A mystery was unlocked. As our voices blended, they created the auditory illusion of more voices, more notes, more harmonies.

I was still absentmindedly singing to myself as I approached Chelsea.

You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser. You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger. You gotta…

My voice trailed off of Des’ree as the traffic and the crowd started to thicken and the terrain became rougher and steeper than I had anticipated. 

There are hills in the city? Who knew? This place never ceases to amaze! 

The streets I’d learned on back home were nearly empty during the day and pretty flat. There were traffic circles every few blocks that you could swing around leisurely a couple of times for practice. But now I was heading downhill and gaining speed, more speed than I wanted to gain. I tried applying the brake and got little result from my efforts, but the wind was whipping through my hair and I was feeling good. 

I could get used to going this fast. This is officially my new thing. I’m going to Rollerblade everywhere and I’m going to be so in shape and super hot just from getting myself around town! 

Suddenly, the driver’s side door of a parked car to my right flew open in front of me, cutting off my internal motivational speech. 

Shit! 

I swerved around it, but I had barely slowed down in the process. I was wobbling and having a hard time recovering. 

Meanwhile, about half a block ahead of me there was an old man standing on the corner. He peered up the block in my direction, watching the traffic intently. He was waiting to cross. I was faltering when I saw him step off the curb into the crosswalk. I had the light, but clearly this man was a veteran jaywalker and had no intention of waiting for the official “walk” signal. 

The traffic was zipping by and I had neither the stability nor the space necessary to swerve. Stopping was clearly not an option, but if I stayed the course we would surely collide. Shifting my weight forward and wishing I’d paid more attention to the braking lesson I’d gotten from Chrissy that time, I tried willing the old man out of my way. But I ultimately failed to get my telepathic message across.

Direct hit! Our shoulders got the brunt of it, my right, his left. The impact stopped me. With one hand on the nearest parked car I swiveled to face him. My first attempt at an apology came out as voiceless air and before I could gather the vocal courage to try again the old man was already screaming, “you asshole”!

His outburst left me mute. 

From Inside the House

Found this in my un-posted archives… seemed appropriate after reading this weekend’s NY Times article on the US report on climate change… Now, will anyone in power care that we’re doomed if we do nothing?

June 2, 2017:

Last night I was listening to Marvin Gaye radio on Pandora. Happy hour had started a little on the early side. Gin and tonics for me, straight vodka for him. Fancy local cheese, fresh bread. The weather was beautiful and we decided to blow off the outside world and enjoy our own backyard, literally.

Oh and, we’d just gotten the news that our “president” would be pulling out of the historic Paris Climate accord.

Marvin Gaye radio seemed like a smooth, mellowing agent to our anger and the perfect antidote to all of the NPR I’d been absorbing since the news conference at 3pm.

I used to go out to parties… and stand around. ‘Cause I was too nervous… to really get down.

They started with Marvin, followed by The Reverend Al (Green, not Sharpton) and some Smokey Robinson, Etta James, Ray Charles, Otis Redding. It was like being transported back in time. To the days of cultural revolution and the civil rights movement, a time when people cared about issues. When young people were trying to change the world. I was on my second gin and tonic when…

Oh, oh mercy mercy me… oh things ain’t what the used to be no, no. Where have all the blue skies gone? Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.

We looked at each other. “Ironic”.

People have been advocating for the environment since before I was born and yet, here we are. When I was a kid we’d say, “It won’t happen in our lifetime”. We were wrong. It’s here. It’s happening now. My garden proves it.

The discussion launched back up. Two liberals drinking on a porch and agreeing that we’re doomed. “We’re living at the beginning of the end.” Cheers!

Throwing our fists in the air and quoting Meatballs,”It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!” Cheers! 

“What in the hell is wrong with people? Don’t they see that these things matter?” Cheers!

After that, we solved all the problems of the world. Gin will do that. It will also blur the details of said “solutions”.

But, to the best of my recollection, (I sound like a Trump appointee testifying before a Senate Committee) it all distilled (pun intended) down to one simple idea.

America is the doomed babysitter on the couch in the living room oblivious to the fact that “the call is coming from inside the house”, and Trump is the psycho “man upstairs” with his finger poised over the speed dial.

 

Equi-F***ed!

I’m really trying to be on the side of the media these days, but in light of the recent Equifax hack, I must implore them to stop referring to those affected by this massive security breach as “customers”. No one chooses to be reduced to a number by these credit reporting bureaus. It’s not possible to opt out of this “service”. These companies are there to cull your personal information from companies you actually do business with and use it to rate you as a consumer – and by extension as a human being – so that they can tell other companies how trustworthy you are.

Federal law only requires these bureaus to give you free access to your reports annually. If you want to check more often than that you have to pay, unless you meet specific criteria. Other than that you can enlist the services of a credit monitoring agency.

Um, it’s my personal data and you’re keeping me at arms length from it? Charging me money to see it? Not cool man, not cool. 

I’ve been a victim of identity theft. It is serious. A serious pain in the ass, a serious disruption to your life and in the worst case scenario it can seriously affect your credit. It can follow you around for years, hiding in places you didn’t know it could be. Just when you’ve secured one account, you find out your SSN has been compromised. Deal with that and then years later you go to change banks and they tell you you’ve got a judgement against you for passing bad checks. Huh? Oh yeah, that’s the jagoff that lifted my info from some shady office to start their own fake plush toys company and run up a fortune in unpaid debts. True story. And who were the least helpful folks when it came to sorting this out? The credit reporting bureaus.

A person’s credit score has become their most important number. A whole industry has sprung up around it. Of course, if wages weren’t completely stagnated maybe we all wouldn’t need so much credit. But I digress…

My favorite part of this whole debacle (which is putting it nicely – I wanted to say “clusterf**k” but something told me I should keep it clean) is that they are not going to inform the victims of this most serious breach that they are victims. They’re advising people to sign up for fraud watch. Through them! Of course, this service is free – for a year. Then what? I’ll bet there’s a fee starting on day 366. Oh, and to qualify for the free year of monitoring the victim-customer must agree to have any and all disputes with Equifax settled by arbitration. That’s right. You can’t sue them or participate in any class action law suit. These bureaus were created to hijack our information and keep us from it and they can’t even keep it secure. I’ll hold on to my right to sue thank you very much!

In addition, Equifax is not spending the time or resources to contact those affected by this breach, they’re asking their unwilling “customers” to login or call and give them even more information about themselves to find out if the original information the bureau failed to protect has been compromised. Smooth. Potentially 143,000,000 people had their personal data compromised (which is more than voted in last year’s election, but don’t get me started on that travesty), but Equifax doesn’t feel they should be proactive here?

This is the paragraph in which I should probably try to say something to illustrate their side of the story, but their website is down, so I was unable to watch the likely lame formal apology by the president of the company. I wonder if he’s one of the executives that made sure to sell their stock before news of this months-old breach went public. Equifax seems to have given it’s higher-ups time to get their ducks in a row while waiting nearly six weeks to inform the public that their data is out in the wind. Should they even be allowed to be a company anymore?

I got my first credit card when I was 17. I’ve been playing this game a long time. Back in my Manhattan starving artist days there were times when I needed that credit to live (believe it or not). I’ve worked hard to maintain my rating and to build it back up after my identity theft issues of the early 2000s. My score hovers around 800 and I’m proud of it. Of course, the minute I need to use my credit, that number dips. I recently charged $2000 at the animal hospital on my credit card, not two weeks later I got an email from CreditKarma.com (at the time of posting I was unable to access my CreditKarma account, they’re likely overwhelmed with users checking in) stating that my score had gone down.

So the message is, establish credit, but don’t ever need it or use it. Just allow us to define you by it and run all fast and loose with your sensitive information.

Let’s hope the hackers are planning some Fight Club style debt wipe. Like, next week’s news story is that everyone affected by the breach had all their debts wiped out. House? Free. Car? Free. Credit Cards? Paid.

I wonder what my score would be then….

In closing this rant I would just like to say, the above is clearly an editorialized account of these events. For a more balanced and probably less pissed off report on this story try a real news outlet like, ABCNews.com or The New York Times.

I would try to be balanced and link back to FOXNews too, but their lead story on Thursday was about Michelle Obama edging out Melania Trump for the international “best dressed” list. At least they’re way out ahead on something. Hard hitting journalism at it’s finest.

Scraps

I spent the early months of this year working on a longer piece to submit for publication. In the course of writing it I amassed nearly 2500 scrapped words. I kept these words in their own document. For some reason, they were precious to me even as I deemed them worthless in the grand scheme of my story.

If they were paint, I would roll around naked in them and throw my body at the canvas. They’re not paint though, they’re words. Visual artists use found material or “scraps” all the time.

Here’s my version of an abstract word rendering…

 

Navigating the city

the new adventure to begin

I hadn’t fallen down in months

clearly, my future was stardom

 

on a collision course like a gory flick

spin around, face down, stomach flat against the vinyl top of a barstool

closet so packed with clothing that the door wouldn’t close

I fell for the urban landscape at first sight

 

two guys named John

had no idea what I was talking about, it didn’t matter

real estate is a hot topic in Manhattan, even when you live in student housing

my world was a sliver of corner behind the stacks of speakers

 

adventure was on that side of the river

hanging out at the top of the Empire State Building

all the time playing McDonald’s drive-thru

the first step towards my inevitable top billing on a glittering theater district marquee

 

he glanced up in time to witness my approach

sitting behind the sliding glass security window

engrossed in that day’s edition of The New York Post

completely unaware of how much a simple box of mushrooms would thrill me

 

no one to congratulate me on surviving the streets

continued progress through the market

it resonated within my head as if someone had shouted right at me

the coolest work/study job on the planet

 

more concerned with my safety than my designated “asshole” status

inner voice on the attack

contributing. no longer just a spectator, listener

I could be whatever character I chose

January Stories

I have no January stories. January is a moment lost. Each day seemed to meld into the next, the hours indistinguishable from one another. Morning, midday and sunset all resembled dusk. And dusk was like the dead of night. The dead of night extended into morning.

There are no stories this month. We watched playoff football. We ate wings, burgers; drank beer. We passed the time looking forward or back, not wanting to acknowledge the here or now. Planning trips for months to come, not leaving home for days on end.

We binge watched. I managed every episode of “Felicity” before mid-month. We ran out of oil… again. One or both of us loses track at least once a year. I blamed him.

I started every morning with the news and each day I got angrier and more afraid. The anxiety of wondering what the year will bring, overwhelming at times. We went out to eat. Took the dog to the vet, to the groomer, for walks down the street.

We played music, but not nearly enough. When I sang I did it for the world to hear, but only a few did.

I worked about a hundred extra shifts at the bar. I made small talk about the weather. I reused old jokes. I asked myself what the hell happened to the extra money.

I worried about money.

I worried about the future.

I worried about the dog. The bar. The house. The neighbor’s sidewalk. The government. My weight. My writing and my consistent drowsiness. Our business and our relationship and family drama. And First Family drama.

I hurt my back and I don’t know how. I practiced yoga through a clenched jaw with a closed heart. I went through the motions. I kept breathing, but my mind has been racing all short year long.

I have no January stories, at least none I want to tell.

Blackout: Conclusion

A version of this post was originally posted on September 19, 2016 as part of the “T Minus 40” project.

When I finally made it to Hudson and 11th, I stood in front of the White Horse Tavern and looked up to see the edge of my friend Kevin’s roof deck. I was certain they would be up on the roof. It was the best place to beat the heat. Kevin and his girlfriend, Alexis had tricked out the roof deck earlier that summer with lights, chairs, a table and a cooler. Everything necessary for maximum summertime enjoyment.

Kevin didn’t have a doorbell. He would often leave the downstairs door unlocked and rely on his intimidating brindle pit bull, Athena, to alert him to the presence of visitors with her substantial bark. There was only one other apartment in the building, on the floor below. I approached the building’s main door, it was locked. I knocked loudly. I didn’t hear Athena. I knew it, they’re on the roof! 

I pulled out my useless cell phone and dialed Yves to no avail. All circuits were still busy.  I crossed the street so I could get a better view of the roof. I saw movement. I shouted at the top of my lungs, Kevin! I got nothing, so I tried again Kevin! Kevin Brennan! Yves! 

People on the street thought I was nuts. Someone sitting at an outdoor table in front of the tavern yelled at me, shut the hell up! 

I don’t know if I was actually annoying him or if he was just playing the part of “pissy New Yorker”.

Just give me a minute, I spat back. I know they’re up there. KEVIN…YVES!! I tried again as loud as I could (which was really loud).

About 2 seconds later I saw their faces appear over the ledge. They were all smiles and shouted down to tell me they would let me in. I turned to the beer drinking “shut up” guy and said, I told you they were up there! That wasn’t so hard now, was it?

He looked shocked that my old-school ‘hood-girl doorbell had actually worked. We both sort of chuckled. The moment had trumped the feud.

I re-approached Kevin’s door just as Yves was flinging it open. We embraced. He said, I was just about to leave to come to you.

I beat you to it, I said. I didn’t want to hang out with the neighbors so I figured I’d come find you guys.

He said he’d been trying to call me, but the cell phones were dead. 

No shit, I thought.

Did you walk here? he was curious.

I sure did. I’ll tell you all about it once we get upstairs.

We headed up through Kevin’s place to the roof. There was a cooler of beer and a bottle or two of whiskey. Alexis was there and Alfredo, the percussionist from Kevin’s band. They’d been working on overdubbing some percussion tracks when the power failed. Alfredo’s wife Ava had come over when the lights went out as well, she only lived a few blocks away.

We had a party brewing.

I regaled them with tales of my journey southward and was rewarded with Jameson and Yuengling. By nightfall, we were all pretty well lubricated. Someone brought out Kevin’s acoustic guitar and Alfredo had exciting percussion toys for us to play with, soon we had a full fledged jam session going. Kevin and I were the main vocalists. We played some of his original songs and we covered The Band, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Billy Preston, you name it. We rocked it. Our drunken version of “Gimme Shelter” alone was worth the four mile walk.

Kevin’s block housed several small buildings that were adjacent to each other and plenty of other folks had had the idea to head up to their roof for relief from the sweltering heat. It didn’t take long for the party to grow. People popped over from other roofs to join the jam. More guitars arrived. Our little band was growing.

We had our own private club up there, the price of admission was a good attitude, an appreciation of music and a bottle of booze. What started as a “disaster” turned into an amazing night filled with friends (new and old), music and a sense of camaraderie that only comes from sharing a unique experience.

We expected the lights to come back on at any moment (although I think we would have been disappointed if they had). We passed the evening with that expectation right below the surface of our revelry. We rocked that roof party until about 3am, our collective subconscious all the while knowing that any minute now this will end.

Yves and I decided we should make our way back to the upper west side.

Fueled by alcohol and my positive experience on the trip south we walked out prepared to make the trek back north on foot. Once we left the shelter of Kevin’s roof though, that idea seemed daunting and scary. The streets were desolate. Things that seemed so cool earlier like the lack of traffic signals and street lights, were incredibly eerie in the morning’s wee hours. The moon had been full two days prior and so the celestial orb was still casting plenty of it’s reflected light onto the earth below. It lit our way, but also served to exacerbate the eeriness of the empty city streets that were now illuminated by only the occasional set of headlights and the moon’s spectral glow. I was, all at once, exhilarated and terrified.

A cab approached and we flagged him down. The cabbie wanted eighty dollars for a ride that usually cost twenty. I told him to forget it. I wasn’t that scared! I told myself that I’d walked here and I could suck it up and walk back. We headed north on foot for about 5 or 6 more blocks but I was really spooked, so Yves flagged down another taxi. This guy was more reasonable, fifty dollars. We agreed that was fair and got in.

The city was like a ghost town as our yellow chariot cautiously navigated the route to our building uptown. The few cars we passed on the trip had drivers who agreed on their own give and take method of crossing intersections. They had no choice but to be communicative in whatever way possible.

I had never seen the sidewalks so empty, even at that hour. It was like a post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller. We arrived at our building shortly before 4am and walked up the seven flights to our apartment on the top floor. Someone had lovingly maintained a row of supermarket Santeria candles that lit the path to the upper floors all night. The sun would be up soon enough though, rendering their efforts irrelevant.

We stepped into the apartment and found it only slightly cooler than when I had left it at 4:30pm the previous afternoon. I was exhausted and still sporting a pretty decent buzz, but I went around the apartment and lit every candle in my massive collection anyway. I didn’t want the experience to end. I was prepared to stay up until at least sunrise talking over the evening’s adventure, but after about ten minutes on the couch with Yves I was fast asleep. He blew out all of the candles and put me to bed.

When I awoke the next day the lights were back on. I was disappointed that the adventure had ended, but glad to see that most of my refrigerated goods had survived the blackout. I guess I just really hoped for another day of “roughing it” without the technology that had been dogging me the previous afternoon. Another day of creating radio ghosts with our voices and percussion and guitars that we had no means to capture. That was all left behind on Kevin’s roof though and maybe it was better that it stayed there.

I never finished recording “Crazy”, I never even checked to see if it had been auto-saved to disk before the power failure. From then on out I did my auditioning in person.