How I Learned To Hate St. Patrick’s Day

I have been dreading St. Patrick’s Day for weeks.  Anyone who’s in New York knows how disgusting it can get, but I do think my aversion to it is stronger.  I may have finally figured out why.

When I was in the sixth grade I had a tremendous crush on Kevin O’Flanagan.  He was an odd choice for my undying love.  Even at that age, he seemed like an insurance salesman waiting to happen.  I suppose love is blind.

For my birthday that year my mom let me have a Boy/Girl party.  That’s what we called it. Of course, every birthday party I had ever had up to that point always had both boys and girls, but in sixth grade it was a Boy/Girl party.  I was pretty sure that Kevin O’Flanagan and I would make out that night, which was good since that was all I really wanted for a birthday present.

Everyone decided to play “Seven Minutes in Heaven” which basically meant coupling off and kissing.  From what I’m told, these days kids are already pros at giving blow jobs at that age but I thankfully grew up in a more innocent time.

So Kevin and I went into my parent’s tiny powder room.  I was nervous at first.  Then a couple of minutes in, I was horrified.  Even with little to compare it to, I knew it was awful.  He was the worst kisser ever!  In retrospect, I’m glad I got the worst-kisser-ever out of the way so early in the game, but think about what a close call that was!  It could have easily been disastrous and scarred me for life.

Only hours into age eleven and I was already so let down.  I had spent months thinking about this rendezvous and had planned for every possible outcome.  Every possible outcome except this one.  I  had always been skeptical about heaven’s existence, but now I had no doubt it it was a myth.  Within seven minutes, I started and ended a love affair. Even my 11 year old self knew better than begin my romantic life without sexual chemistry.

I could barely even look at Kevin in school after that.  He repulsed me.  And my former pining after him repulsed me as well.  I willed him out of my brain.  It took months, but I gradually stopped thinking of him.

But then, in March, he dyed his hair green for St. Patrick’s Day and it was impossible not to notice him.

What an idiot.

He used the wrong stuff and the green didn’t wash out for weeks.  I knew it was wrong to feel pure delight at his misfortune, but I couldn’t help it.  Every time I saw the increasingly dingy green of his hair, I wondered how I could have ever written “Mrs. Kevin O’Flanagan” on my sneakers.  And every time I thought that, I was again repulsed.

I guess that was when I started hating St. Patrick’s Day.

Every year, the hatred grows.  Of course like any self-respecting New Yorker, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade brings me no joy – only politicians, drunks and traffic jams.  Plus it doesn’t help that I have an Irish bar on my corner. Normally I have a quiet apartment with no outside noise.  Normally my street is vomit-free.  Normally I gladly wear my favorite color, green.  All of this changes on St. Patrick’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t hate the Irish or anything.  I just can’t comprehend why they would want to take their worst stereotype and flaunt it.  But as they’re flaunting it every year, drinking their green beer on the street, I pause to look at each man as I pass.

I try to figure out if one of them might be Kevin O’Flanagan.  I know I’ll see him one day.  I hope I see him one day.  I can’t help but hope his hair will be green for the occasion.

I just pray he’s not wearing a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” tee shirt.

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Perfect City!

About three months ago, just before MoMA’s ‘Abstract Expressionist New York’ show opened, I stumbled on some great audio downloads from WNYC.  There was an uptown and a downtown report on the art world of 1940s and they described New York of that era as the “perfect city.”  You probably know by now that I consider New York of any era to be the perfect city, but I know what they mean about the ’40s.  I’ve always wished I was alive then.  New York at its sparkliest and most creative.

I’m a beyond-huge fan of Abstract Expressionism and was really excited about this show.  It’s especially interesting, I think, because all of the works are part of MoMA’s permanent collection; they just haven’t been shown all together.  And boy is it impressive.  Given that I’m such a fan, it’s surprising that I hadn’t seen this show until this weekend.   I had wanted to see it with somebody in particular when it first opened, but, sadly, like a lot of stuff concerning said person, it never materialized.  Yet for some reason, I had been waiting.

Barnett Newman, Vir Heroicuus Sublimis, 1950-51

It’s unusual that I would even invite someone to go to an exhibit where I was emotionally connected to the work.   I like to get lost in art and I’m too present when I’m with someone.  There’s a huge Barnett Newman painting that’s part of the show, and they had a quote of his from its original exhibition:  “There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance.  The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance.”  I love that.  I like art to swallow me so I’m almost part of it.

I had mentioned seeing this show, not having any idea if this person even liked abstract art,  but we never discussed it after my initial email.  Yet in my mind, the show was now linked to him.  It made no sense.  Suddenly, this weekend,  I understood why.  Somehow my subconscious knew that there was, in the middle of the museum, a physical link for this mental association.

Harry Callahan, Chicago, 1948

A photograph, one I had never seen before, reminded me of the view from his living room window.  Well, an abstract expressionist version at least.  By the way,  I’m kind of in love with Clint Eastwood, so when I tell you that the photographer is Harry Callahan…well, you know that just made me love the photo even more.  (Of course not that Harry Callahan, but how amazing would that have been?!)  I was already emotional from all the art I had seen and this photo gave me a jolt.  I know this doesn’t sound like an “A-Ha!” moment, but it shook me.  It was a beautiful reminder of someone I miss very much and seeing it made me happy, but there was a disturbing element to it as well.

Maybe my extreme reaction was just due to the show itself.  As long as I can remember I’ve always had my version of Stendhal’s Syndrome.  I honestly don’t like to look at things that are too beautiful.  It hurts.  And I react.  That’s part of the reason I don’t like to go to museums with people – or at least not to see a show I know I will love.   I find this same thing to be true when I’m at the beach sometimes and the light hits the dune in a certain way.  And with certain pieces of music.  I don’t get the dizziness or the fainting or anything, but I get overwhelming affected and can end up terribly sad and depressed when there is too much beauty.  It’s messed up, but true.  Maybe I should move to Eastern Europe.  I’d probably be happier.

When I say I love New York, my perfect city, it’s not like this:It’s that beauty thing again.  I love it so much that it hurts me deep inside.  New York is responsible for the art I love just as much as the artists are.  They’re collaborators.

Frank O’Hara, the brilliant poet of the Abstract Expressionist era, died on the very beach that makes me sad so often.  He was run over by a dune buggy.  For real.  When I go for walks there, I always try to guess the exact spot it happened.  When I sense I’ve found it I say the opening line of one of his poems:  “I will always love you, though I never loved you.”   It turns out that that poem was part of a collaboration with Franz Kline and is part of the MoMA show.  Synchronicity.

Frank really, really loved New York.  He got it.  If I could have have written any one sentence from the entire history of the written word, it would be this, from his Meditations in an Emergency:

One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life.

This show is staggering.  A must-see.  I want to go every day until April 25th when it closes.  Yes, I had wanted to see it with a specific someone and I would have so loved to discuss the living room view with him.  But there’s a good chance he wouldn’t have seen what I saw in the photo anyway.  I want a lot of things that are impossible, like living in New York City in the ’40s for instance.  I want that very much.  But until I figure that one out, I’m just really glad I live in New York in 2011 and could see this show.  Maybe reality isn’t so bad after all.

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We Interrupt This Program

Every once in awhile even Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things has to pause for a commercial.

Today I became a part of the amazing project called The 3six5.  Started last year, it’s essentially a daily diary of sorts with each day written by a different person.  Some are famous, some should be and most are in between.  But they’re almost all really interesting.  I’m super excited to (nearly) kick off 2011.  Please read my post here.  And pass it on!  (Don’t worry, unlike me, they have strict word limits!)

And while I have your attention, as of yesterday, January 1st, I’ve started another (additional/supplemental) blog called Margauxville. It’s a daily thing, and will be mostly just short musings about music, film, art, with downloads and stuff.  Check it out – every day!

Lastly, but most importantly, a big, very overdue thanks to everyone who has been a fan of my blog.  The comments and emails mean so much.  When I write these posts, it’s in such a vacuum and I am always surprised that people actually read them.  I can’t tell you how much the support means.  For realz.  Wow, I never realized before how heartfelt gratitude is impossible to write without sounding like a lame acceptance speech…

I’d like to get this thang out there more in 2011, so if you haven’t yet subscribed, please do.  (Upper right corner.)  And if you know anyone else who would like my writing, please pass my loooooooong URL on to them.

Okay, now we can return to the regularly scheduled programming.

TGIMMXI

Once every seven years or so, with some sort of adjustment made for Leap Year, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately this was one of those years.  I don’t eat meat, hate cranberry sauce, despise stuffing and am perplexed about why anyone would add marshmallow to a perfectly delicious yam.  In other words, as holidays go, it’s not one of my favorites.

When I was little, I had my own annual tradition of trying to figure out if my birthday was going to fall early or late that year.  It took me a long time to remember that my birthday never changed, just Thanksgiving did.   Although I adore the original idea of Thanksgiving, I think it’s pretty sad that we need a national holiday to remind us to appreciate things.  I’m good at acknowledging beauty and nature and everyday art all year long.  I’d like to think I’m also grateful for the people around me, but I know that’s not nearly as true as it should be.  I could do way better on that front.  I just wish that a date on the calendar didn’t bring me to that conclusion.

I like Bastille Day myself.  And Immaculate Conception Day.  In high school, my best friend had sex with her boyfriend for the first time on Immaculate Conception Day.  I’ve always thought that was a pretty awesome decision.  He made her pancakes afterward and for years we referred to December 8th as Pancake Day.  I guess I still do.

Of course, like most people, I like Christmas the best.  Although I’m Jewish, growing up we celebrated every holiday we could – but just the fun parts.  We had a tree and presents and a Menorah and 8 days of presents.  Mostly, it was about the presents.

Once, in primary school, the teacher divided us into two groups – the Jews and the Christians (!) –  and gave us each half of the blackboard to write what our holiday meant to us.  While all the other kids crammed to get a teensy space to express themselves, I got the ENTIRE half of the blackboard to myself!  My mom still remembers me running into the house after school, yelling, “I’m so happy we’re Jewish!  I’m so happy we’re Jewish!”

And that’s just one of the many Christmas miracles I’ve experienced.  There’s really nothing I don’t love about the holiday.  The smell of the trees as you pass them on the street is intoxicating.  I’m crazy about Christmas music – and have a ridiculously huge amount which I listen to all year long.  And I adore figuring out the exact perfect presents to give.

Then there’s the man in red.  No one believes me, but I once saw Santa fly across the moon.  I swear on a stack of yule logs.  It was Christmas Eve, of course, and I was sitting on my floor looking up at the moon from my bedroom window and just like that, it happened!  There he was, sleigh and all.  I flipped out and started screaming, but by the time anyone else ran in, he had already passed by.

Despite this picture's blurriness, you can see why this would be one of my favorite Xmas presents ever

On the night before Christmas this year, I dreamed I was so completely exhausted, but unable to fall asleep.  My constant tossing and turning frustrated me to no end which made it even more impossible to drift off.   Then suddenly – in reality – I was woken up by a middle-of-the-night text.  Even though I had been asleep for a fair amount of time by that point, I wasn’t remotely rested.   I never enjoyed the bit of sleep I did experience because I dreamed I had insomnia.

Maybe this thinly veiled metaphor was Santa’s gift to me this year.   Naturally I had been hoping for something more tangible, but he is the gift-giving master, so who am I to question it?

For me, Christmas has always been about receptiveness while New Year’s is all intention, all the time.  I wonder if Santa makes resolutions.  “Next year, I will only have one cookie per block”?  Nah, probably not.

Recently, in a fit of trying to de-clutter my life, I gathered all the partially-filled notebooks and blank books I have scattered throughout my apartment and put them all in one pile.  It’s sort of ridiculous how many there are.  And in those many books are many New Year’s Resolutions from many years past.  Apparently, every year I wanted to accomplish the same things.

I’m only going to make two New Year’s Resolutions this year, and both are brand spanking new to 2011.  The first is to drink more water.  I already drink a lot, mind you, but I figure I’ll stack the deck in my favor and give myself a resolution I can actually keep.  My safety resolution.  Although I hadn’t mentioned this decision to anyone, one of my Christmas presents was a gift certificate for 3 cases of my favorite bottled water.  Instant manifestation!

My second resolution came to me later on Christmas Day as I was thinking about the dream from the night before.  The Buzzcock’s “Why Can’t I Touch It” came on my iPod.  I’ve always loved that song, especially the fabulous bass line, yet at that moment, the song seemed to mock me.

Here, listen:

 

So often, my life feels exactly like those lyrics.  I can easily live more inside my thoughts than in the actual world.  And while I’m not yet crazy enough to think that Pete Shelley is singing directly to me, let’s face it, he kind of is without knowing it.

My resolution is a little abstract, but I’m going to ask “Why can’t I touch it?” defiantly in 2011 instead of philosophically as I usually would.  It’s easy to get so caught up in everything I have to do, or everything I feel I can’t, that I lose touch with the fact that I’m mostly pretty lucky.  I’ve seen Santa, dammit!  This happened.  How many people can say that?

So Resolution #2 (which sounds dirrrrty but isn’t): I am going to “touch it” in 2011.  And I’m going to appreciate it, too.  At least I hope I do.  I suppose there’s always that date on the calendar to remind me to be thankful in case I forget.

Pleading the Fifth

Recently, by chance, I came across two separate articles which scientifically prove things I have known for years.  First, it takes only 1/5 of a second to fall in love. And, second, being on the receiving end of “the silent treatment” causes actual physical pain since it stimulates the anterior cingulate cortex.  Well I didn’t know the anterior cingulate cortex part, but I did know it hurt for real.

As far as the love thing goes, no fewer than 12 different areas of the brain have to be engaged and working together, producing dopamine, adrenaline, changing thought patterns about the other person and your own body image as well as causing all sorts of nerve action to get those butterflies and palpitations going.  All in a fifth of a second.  The only surprising part to me is that someone spent money proving that.  It’s so obvious.

I know there are people who swear they were friends for years and then one day fell in love, but doesn’t that seem like even more of a fairytale than love at first sight?  Once I’m dating someone, and assuming it’s good, the love thing either happens fairly quickly or it doesn’t.  I know you have to get to know someone on a real level and all, but that’s still not something you have to wait months and months and months to know.  I’m suspicious of people who feel that way.  They’re probably equally suspicious of me.

A few years ago, I shared a desk with someone at work who was the spitting image of Scott Wolf in his “Party of Five” era.  Of course I took to calling him Bailey and even had a red heart shaped frame on my desk with the real Bailey’s picture in it so I could look at them both at the same time.   Once, when my Bailey and I were out for dinner, he told me that his three favorite things were air conditioning, salt and paychecks and I knew we’d be friends forever.  But recently he kind of changed my life.

He had a party (of more than five) upstate a few weeks ago, for a very specific reason.  There was a huge bonfire and everyone was to bring something to burn.  It could be anything – credit card statements, pictures of exes, a list of things you want to change – anything that was weighing you down.  Because I have so many things that weigh me down, I had to bring three separate things to burn.  The fire was large – maybe close to 6′ tall and it was hard to get close.  The heat was extraordinary.  But apparently so was its power.  Literally as soon as I performed my little ritual, I felt lighter.  Couldn’t have taken more than a fifth of a second.  Placebo reaction?  Maybe.  But whatever the reason, it worked.  Now my concern is that I’m going to have to have access to a bonfire weekly to maintain progress.
The fire forced me think about my relationship to love.  If there is scientific proof that falling in love can take only 1/5 of a second, then how long should you even bother to wait to see if it happens before you throw in the towel?  And, conversely, shouldn’t it be easier to cut your losses after a short time rather than waiting, wishing and hoping, for someone to, you know, feel the way you do?

I spent a couple years with a French guy would would make me Bûche de Noël at Christmastime and play chess and drink scotch with me the rest of the year, all with a French accent.  But then he used that accent to actually say stuff like “I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”   I stayed and wished and hoped that the 1/5 of a second part of his brain was somehow a one to five year mutation specific to the French people.  I mean, who knows?  He had a lot of other oddities like refusing to call me when he went out of town on business because he was in a different state, so I never knew what was possible.

When I Monday Morning Quarterback my time with L’Homme, I’m guessing that my neural network must have become damaged during that initial 1/5 of a second excitement.  And as much as I really do enjoy making fun of his ridiculous “I love you, but I’m not in love with you” statement, there is an element there that stings.  Perhaps because of that, years later when someone else I thought the world of said the same thing-ish to me, it made me crumble.  In this case it wasn’t yet a long-term someone in actual time, but he was already a lifer in my heart.  In actual time, it was just someone I thought would be a lot longer-term than he turned out to be.

Instead of using “the ‘L’ word” – which was, honestly-crazily, how he put it – he merely said he felt ‘great affection’ for me.  Personally, I prefer my rejection straight-up.  Sugar coated rejection like that is worse; it just makes you lose respect.  I would have felt better if he had just said “I don’t love you and never will” because who wants to lose respect for someone they’re nuts about?

My generally good intuition goes out the window when the adrenaline and the dopamine and the changing thought patterns and body image assessment and butterflies and palpitations kick in.  One minute I’ve got good instincts and then a 1/5 of a second later, I’m that girl.  The great affection guy?  I was pretty sure he was feeling what I was feeling.  Until The Great Affection Speech – which happened over the phone, incidentally.

Then he stimulated my anterior cingulate cortex and all I could think was that some sugar coated rejection sure would feel realllllly good right at that moment.

I used to say I was idealistic about love, but I’m realizing that’s just the polite term for unrealistic.  The other night I had dinner with a co-worker and we got into one of the most intensely honest conversations I’ve had in a long while.  Completely unexpected as I didn’t even know him well before that.  I think we could be so honest because there wasn’t any ‘vibe’ between us.  We focused on the big themes:  what we wanted, what we couldn’t settle for, and lots in between.  Turns out he feels the exact same way I do.  There are others like me!

But later, toward the end of the evening,  I did an about-face on all that we had said and wondered if everything we had just spent the last two and a half hours discussing was merely evidence of our emotionally immaturity.  As an example, I told him that I find it hard not to read signs into things when I like someone.

I was making fun of myself and imagined that it wouldn’t be beyond me say, “Oh no, his favorite color is green…see we were meant to be together!” and all of a sudden, my dining companion got quiet and looked genuinely uncomfortable.

“Is your favorite color really green?” he asked.

“Absolutely!”

“Ugh.  My favorite color is green.  I can’t believe you said that.  I was really hoping you wouldn’t say that.”

But I had, and suddenly there was no way we could resume the conversation.  We immediately had to change the subject to work and ask for our check.  Both of our favorite colors were green and you certainly don’t need a scientist to tell you that’s potentially very dangerous information.

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Shaggy Dog Story

I can’t stop thinking about something I heard on NPR.  Apparently when dogs lick your face, they’re not saying that they’re happy to see you, that they’ve missed you or that they love you.  It’s actually a trait ingrained from their wolf days when the pack would lick the face and mouth of the leader in hopes of getting him to regurgitate some of his last meal.  They’re really just asking for food.

I was struck by that thought.  Every day, people come home, their dogs lick them and they’re happy.  So simple, and yet so false.  Licks aren’t kisses at all.  I love dogs but I’ve always hated when they lick me.  The thing is, I never thought of licks as kisses.  Maybe somewhere deep down I sensed that the lick-y dogs were in it for the wrong reasons.  I’m pretty sure my now-deceased dog only ever licked me a couple of times.  And those licks were very early on, before we really understood each other – and before I made an honest dog out of him.

We met years ago, late at night at the end of a Memorial Day weekend. I had just gotten home from the beach and right in front of my apartment was the most beautiful dog I had ever seen.  He later became a super-model, for real, so I know of what I speak.  (He was discovered because he had “a great butt.”  It’s basically a version of the Lana Turner story, but for dogs, butts and without the drugstore.)  This night, he was practicing his posing, I think, because he was standing perfectly still like a statue.  I thought I knew all the dogs in my neighborhood, but I would have remembered him.  And just like in a movie, our eyes met, locked and we were one.  At that point, I noticed there was an owner attached to the leash.

It was a man, maybe in his 60s. I told him I would love to dog-sit one weekend and asked for his number.  Surprisingly, he gave me his card, which I stared at for about 10 hours straight until at last it was the next morning.  “Hi!  I met you on the street last night!”  Dead silence.  “Um, you know, with Reepy?”  He didn’t hang up, so I plowed ahead.  “I was thinking I’d like to take him to the beach this weekend.  Can I pick him up on Friday?”

He didn’t ask me a single question…not whether I had other pets or kids or what I did.  For all he knew, I conducted medical experiments. We made plans.

About an hour later, he called me back.  “So…I was just talking to my wife, and she says…”  My heart dropped. “…she says that we have company coming this weekend.  Can you pick him up this evening?”

They lived in a three-storey brownstone chock full of art.  When I got there, the calm, still Reepy from the street was an out-of-control lunatic.  I wasn’t quite sure what I had gotten myself into.  But once we were in my apartment, Reepy was an angel.  No more nutty shenanigans, no moping by the door.  Just a big old love wanting some regurgitated food.

Reepy and his famous tail.

 

We spent an amazing week together.  I had to call up his owners to tell them that he had an ear infection, which I couldn’t believe they hadn’t noticed, but that was the only time we spoke that week.  The vet told me that the infection had been there for months, that there was probably significant hearing loss, and treated me like I was the worst owner in the world.   Little did they know I was his best.  At the end of the week, when I called his family to arrange a drop off time, they said I could keep him another week since I was enjoying him so much.

I jumped at the chance.

At the end of that second week, his owners surprised me by announcing they had “gotten used to life without Reepy” and were going to give him away.  Wait.  What?  They had had him for four years. “You have first dibs if you want him, otherwise we’ll drop him at the ASPCA.”

When I caught my breath, I explained that I would definitely take him, but that I was about to leave for Australia for six weeks and I would have to do so when I returned.  They wouldn’t wait.  I had to scramble and find a place to keep the little guy for six weeks, which was three times longer than I had even had him.

When I went to pick up the rest of his stuff, I met the couple’s sons.  They were hysterical.  Of course.  I asked the man if he was sure he wanted to do this and he just laughed.  “Reepy is a one-person dog.  We need a family dog.”   I kept waiting for him to turn into Cujo or something, but he never did.  Though he did make this one person very happy.

One afternoon, about a year after I adopted him, my dog walker Johanna called me at work.  I live on a pretty quiet street but she said there had been a big commotion.  A homeless man had commandeered a baby carriage away from the mother and all the people from the little coffee shop next door to me were trying to get it back.  The guy was leaning into the stroller and screaming “THIS IS NO TIME TO SMOKE CIGARS” right into the baby’s face.  It was the biggest news story my block had seen for years.  In the midst of this, Reepy’s long flexi-leash had gotten caught up under the stroller and Johanna had to crawl around on the sidewalk to get him loose.

Their walk got weirder still.  As soon as she managed to escape the fray, a woman threw herself on the ground, at dog eye level, and started crying.  “Reepy!  Can you ever forgive me?  I was the only one who ever loved you.”   It was the wife…the one who wanted me to take him immediately the year before.  She asked Johanna to tell me that her husband had died.   She wanted me to bring Reepy over to play with the boys.

Talk about an ethical problem.  Mercifully when I called I got her answering machine.  I left a message saying how sorry I was about her husband, but that it would be confusing for both the boys and the dog if I brought Reepy over to their house.  Of course the boys were welcome to come to mine anytime.  And if that made her uncomfortable, I’d gladly bring Reepy to a dog park where they could play with him.  She never returned my call.

Reepy and I spent ten more years together, until he was nearly 16.  We never walked by his old house.  Someone once told me that while every other dog wants one of four things: to play, be petted, go out or be fed, Reepy was far more complex.  He certainly was an oddly private dog.  Cat owners are always proudly insistent that their cats are like dogs but I’m sadly aware that my dog was far more like a cat.  Countless times I would go into a room where he was,  he’d raise his head, look at me, then get up and walk inside.  That’s actually pretty funny, even though I did always notice that our relationship had some sort of a unfortunate parallel to my love life.

But I’m cool with that.  At least we had a straight-forward understanding.  None of those licks that people so easily misinterpret.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a person projects human feelings onto their dog.  It’s obviously nicer to hear “I love you” than “throw up some food.”  And it’s probably human nature to want to believe that the object of your affection feels the same way you do.  I’m not sure why this whole dog-lick story got to me.  For someone who loves kissing and loves dogs and who is often guilty of projecting feelings onto others, dog licks should be one of my favorite things around instead of one of the most distasteful.

But maybe it makes sense;  these days I’m aiming for transparency with those I love.  I guarantee if you’re ever kissed by me when you walk through my door,  I’m happy to see you,  I’ve missed you and I love you.  And, please, no regurgitated food.

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911, I Have an Emergency

Some basic facts about me:  female, green eyes, 5’5”, needs sleep.  And, head-over-heels in love with New York.  My need to be here is as elemental to me as waking and breathing.  And eating kale.  As you may remember, my NY roots go way back, but unlike many people who’ve lived here a long time, every year I fall deeper in love.

And yes, it’s true that 2010 New York City is not really as fill-in-the-blank as it was in fill-in-the-year, but still….what must it be like to fly in and see it for the first time?  Whenever I return home from a trip, I try to pretend it’s my first visit.  I have a great imagination, but even I’m not that good.

A friend of mine recently moved here.  Before this, he had only ever visited, mostly on business, and I’ve been hoping to experience things vicariously through him. And while he probably doesn’t think of his NY life this way, I’m totally jealous that every one of his moments is magical and new.  Of course his just moving here means he hadn’t been here on 9/11 and a non-New York based 9/11 experience is something I can’t even fathom.  What could that have been like, living through it from afar?

Everyone has a 9/11 story.  And as 9/11 stories go, mine are mundane.

My day started out great.  I had a particularly good yoga class and the crosstown bus which never comes, came, at the precise moment when the coffee guy handed me a freebie.  The sky was cloudless and an amazing shade of blue.  I remember thinking, as I boarded that bus, that it was going to be a fantastic day.

I should have been heading to California.  My friend was getting married a few days later and I had the flight on hold.  And for no real reason, I didn’t book the ticket.  Instead, I told my friend at the last minute that I wouldn’t be coming.  I didn’t have a sense of foreboding or anything; I’m not that psychic.  But something made me cancel.  I was overwhelmed by work and felt the need to stay in the city.  It didn’t make sense: the groom was a very close friend and it was a small wedding. Yet there I was selfishly choosing – yet again – work.

But that morning, I felt too happy to care.  I came home, washed the Bikram sweat off and was about to head downtown when my mom called and told me to put on the TV.  She said someone purposely crashed a plane into the World Trade Center.  I called her paranoid.  On those initial glimpses, I really thought it was a Cessna that someone lost control of.

We were on the phone when the second plane hit.

I’m the most squeamish person you will ever meet.  When I was in 4th grade, I fainted from a drawing of the circulatory system.  The red magic marker veins made me physically ill and my tolerance for such detail has never gotten much better.  I’m the last person you’d ever want in any sort of blood-related emergency, yet that morning, I had an idea.

There’s a blood bank across from my house and normally I can’t even read its awning without feeling dizzy, but I decided that going there and giving blood was exactly what I had to do.  I got there at about noon.  There were already hundreds of people who also had the same idea.  None of us thought the blood wouldn’t be needed.  They gave out numbers with approximate times to return because the crowd was so big.  I went back home to wait for my 6pm time slot.

At 3pm, my dog walker, who lived all the way in Westchester, walked into my apartment.  I couldn’t believe she was in the city, working.  “I couldn’t reach you and I couldn’t bear to leave Reepy unfed and unwalked.”  Wow.

I, on the other hand, hadn’t eaten all day and wasn’t about to.  The stress of the events and my looming worries about giving blood were intense.  I was glued to the anxiety-provoking TV reports until my designated time when I went back across the street.  It was still a madhouse.  I waited there another two hours.  That is to say, two more hours spent watching more TV coverage and getting more nervous.  When they finally called my number, I was brought into a room with about 20 ‘stations.’   They were facing each other in a circle and there was no way you could avoid seeing all the big bags of blood.

Big bags of blood.  Even typing this makes me feel sick.

I know it’s unbelievable, but I thought it would be a tube or two. It’s all I had ever been forced to do at the doctor’s and that was my only point of reference.  I freaked.  I couldn’t leave, so instead I made an overly dramatic announcement to the entire staff and the other 19 donors:

“I’m think I’m going to be sick.  Please DO NOT mention the words ‘blood’ or ‘veins’ or ‘needles’ or talk AT ALL about what you’re doing.”

Everyone immediately mentioned ‘blood’ and ‘veins’ and ‘needles’ and what they were doing.

I have an extremely low resting heart rate which is normally a great thing, but here’s what I learned on 9/11: it’s a terrible thing when you’re giving a big bag of blood.  It took forever.  The technicians kept coming over to discuss how slow my blood flowed even though I begged them not to keep saying it aloud.   All the other chairs were on their second and third bodies and I was still there.

Finally the big bag was filled.  l must have looked terrible because they insisted a “walker” take me home.  No way!  I live right across the street!  I have to take the dog out!  Finally we struck a deal.  They’d let me leave by myself if I’d eat a granola bar.  Done!

So, ‘squeamish’ should also be added to the list of basic facts about me.     And here’s another:   I would normally adore to be on the news, as long as it wasn’t in ‘victim-found’ sort of way.  I walked out of the blood bank and lights were thrust upon me.  Gabe Pressman (Gabe Pressman!) shoved a microphone in my face.

“We’re doing a story about the goodness of New Yorkers….can you tell us why you decided to donate blood?”

I could not form a sentence.  For real.  He was nice and tried again.

“We’re doing a story about the goodness of New Yorkers….can you tell us why you decided to donate blood?”

And again.  And again.   And again.  Then someone else more articulate came out and I was forgotten.

There was round-the-clock 9/11 coverage for days and there wasn’t a lot of new information.  I saw Gabe’s Goodness of New Yorkers piece about 200 times.  Each time I felt annoyed with myself.  And queasy.

As far as the rest of the time-line goes, it’s a blur.  I’m not sure what happened that initial week or what was subsequent weeks.  I remember every single minute of the day itself as clearly as if it just happened, but the rest of the month is totally hazy.

I volunteered at St. Paul’s and somehow got brought down into the pit itself – in the middle of the night, sans hard hat – by a policeman who didn’t know or didn’t care that that wasn’t allowed.

I calmed a friend down when her boyfriend found a small piece of bloody scalp and hair in his backpack and the police had to come to their house and seal it in a plastic bag.

I was devastated by all the missing person flyers posted everywhere, yet compelled to pour over them constantly.

It was such a strange time.  I actually loved Giuliani for awhile.  My mom even named a dog after him. Eventually things got back to what became the new sense of normal.  And of course she ended up regretting the name, but by that point the dog already knew it.

I miss 9/10.  It’s crazy how much things changed.  Maybe the only thing that 9/11 didn’t change was how much I love New York.  Well that and the fact that I need to sit down for a minute.  I typed ‘blood’ one too many times.

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Facts of Life

I learned something new recently.  Not only can you eat corn raw, but it’s actually better that way.  When I first heard this, about two weeks ago,  I thought some highly guarded culinary secret was inadvertently leaked, but it seems that a bunch of regular non-chef people know about it already.  And all I keep thinking is –  isn’t this a crazy enough game-changing fact that, if you did know it,  wouldn’t you want to tell everyone?  Yet no one told me.

I love knowing why I know something – where I learned it, who told me, what I was doing at the time.  It makes the fact seem more solid.  But obviously only super memorable pieces of info have their moment of discovery marked in my brain.  And that bothers me.

I know where I learned about raw corn, but I’m constantly wondering where I learned other less meaningful things.  Of course I learned stuff from my parents, from school,  from just being alive, but wouldn’t it be great if you could remember the exact moment that you learned a specific thing?  A few years ago I was obsessed – and I do mean obsessed – with this thought and I picked an example out of blue.  Of course I knew what a screen door was but I wanted to pinpoint the exact moment of when I learned that.

I asked my mother over and over again if she remembered teaching it to me.  Of course she didn’t.  I would let a few phone conversations go by without mentioning it and then I’d try again.

“Do you think maybe you said ‘open the screen door’ and I said, ‘what’s that?’ and you explained it?”

She actually began to hang up on me.  Finally, after months of this, she exasperatedly said, “I probably mentioned screen door and you saw a door with a screen and made the connection!”

I could tell she was just saying that to shut me up.

I’d ask friends if they remembered learning what a screen door was.  No one did.  Not a single one.  I started feeling like my need to find this out was getting dangerously close to having to count my steps or lick a light switch before turning it on or something so I tried to get it in check.  But even though I no longer asked about it aloud, I still wondered about it in private.

Months later,  I was having dinner with a friend who was visiting from California.  He was telling me a story about his next door neighbor and how he thought she was smoking hot when she came to his door but then, when he opened it, he was sorely disappointed.  Typical guy story.   But I didn’t understand why he would think she was hot when he hadn’t yet opened the door.  He explained:  it was because he had a screen door and she was all back-lit and he couldn’t see her face.

He did not know about my obsession.

He paused and then said, “Oh, I’m sorry.  Do you not know what a screen door is?  It’s a door,  but instead of being solid, there’s a screen.”  I flipped out.

“WHAT MADE YOU TELL ME THAT??  WHY DID YOU SAY THAT??”

“Oh, you just had such a weird expression on your face that I thought you didn’t know what it meant.”

Persistence paid off!  At last, here was the exact moment someone actually articulated the definition for me.  I’ve always heard it’s possible to manifest what you need, and here was proof.  I have no idea how, but I’m 100% sure that I somehow conjured up that explanation.  And since that’s true, logic follows that that must mean it’s also possible to conjure up more important things.  Like people and work and situations and experiences that add to my life rather than drain it.   It’s easy for me to forget that’s possible.  Luckily I had an ear of corn to make me circuitously remember.

Maybe after awhile it would get overwhelming if I knew where each fact inside my head came from. I know when I learned about the corn and the screen door.  And this week at least, I know when I re-learned the importance of concentrating on what I want in my life rather than all that’s there that bogs me down.  And, who knows?  Maybe that’s enough.

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Mind Games

What a crazy few days.  Posting twice in a week?  Totally nuts.  Don’t worry, it won’t become a habit.

I’m bleary-eyed.  I haven’t been sleeping well, which is not like me at all.  I’ve been having vivid (bad) dreams – also really unusual.   Well maybe it isn’t, but I don’t know since I rarely remember them.  Suffice to say, I’ve been having vivid (bad) dreams, which are now waking me up in the middle of the night and causing me to stay awake for hours.

First it was a traffic cop coming in through my hatchback door and attacking me.  It was super scary at the time, but the fact that I was driving a hatchback was the part that upset me most when I awoke.  Then I dreamed my mother fell down, hit her head and I’m pretty sure died, but I woke up before I found out.  She was wearing all white.  The morning after I had this dream, a friend of mine told me he dreamed that he reinvented silverware.  It’s just not fair.

I almost always get up at the crack of dawn each day to go to yoga, and this new sleeping issue is really hampering that habit.  I’ve just been too tired.  With yoga clearly not on the docket yesterday, I blearily stumbled to the corner deli to get coffee.

I’ve always loved the ritual of going out to pick up a cup of coffee.  Not good coffee, mind you, but corner deli coffee, or even better, cart coffee when that’s an option.  And if you’re shaking your head, shake harder:  I live directly next to the cutest, independent gourmet coffee shop.  I’m pretty sure they’re judging me as I walk past, wave, go to the deli and then walk past again, carrying a cup of crappy coffee from somewhere else.

The man who works in the coffee shop is interesting.  He’s the super of the building next to mine, works early mornings grinding beans,  afternoons in an antique shop and then walks neighborhood dogs at night.  He’s Peruvian and even though he’s been here for decades, still has the thickest accent you’ve ever heard.  He’s part of a NYC that I sometimes forget still exists.

For years, he would never acknowledge my existence.  We used to pass each other all the time as I was walking my dog, but he’d only glance down to him and in his syrupy accent say, “Helloooo, Reepy.” It wasn’t that he was unfriendly, it was just that he literally never made it up to my eye line.  But after Reepy died, he had no where else to look.  Gradually we began to stop and chat and he’d catch me up on the news of our block.

This particular morning he told me his brother-in-law had had a heart attack and died.  I remember actually thinking I don’t really hear of heart attacks much any more.  Maybe it’s just the people in my life cornering the market on cancers or something, but a heart attack sounded almost retro to me.

The extreme lack of sleep, my nightmares and that the fact that I was on a job which required a bunch of crazy long days in the middle of it all left me feeling extremely off-kilter and this news somehow seemed like a clue to something.   I felt on edge, the way you do when you’re waiting for a call that hasn’t yet come, which, come to think of it, was also the case for me.

I lean toward being a superstitious and “sign-y” person in general and boy, was my mind having a field day.

About 10 hours later I found out my mother was admitted to the hospital.  They thought she had a heart attack.  My bad dreams were immediately renamed omens.  It didn’t help that she got brought to a hospital directly across from a huge graveyard.  Easy in, easy out!  C’mon, seriously?

When I finally left her late last night,  I turned on my computer for a few minutes.  You know, to relax.  I read a friend’s status update, the gist of which was that the sun was going to swallow the earth soon, so we better all start living.  It was the last thing I thought about before I fell asleep.  Maybe it was just my being super tired, but it seemed to sum up everything.  Kind of like what I was trying to say in my Working Girl post, but in one seemingly profound sentence.

Just now I went to double check that it was really as good as I remembered it on no sleep and lots of stress.  It was gone.  Just like that.  Did it vanish? Did I maybe only dream it?

Oh, great.  What  kind of sign is that?

Must be a good one.  My mom just got released, all good news.  Phew.  Okay, now start living.  That swallowing sun may be imminent.

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The Biggest Hit That Ever Was

Back in June, Fast Company had a Father’s Day contest.  They were giving away a pair of speakers and in order to win, you had to name what song reminded you most of your father and why.  But they only took submissions in the comments section and I needed to be able to add audio to properly answer, so I didn’t bother writing an entry.

But I liked the idea.   Even though I realized that it being a Father’s Day themed contest and all,  most of the submissions would be poignant and touching and would make me want to cringe.  You know, a song version of a Hallmark card.  I also knew if I had written mine, it wouldn’t be that at all.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  I have plenty of poignant and touching memories of my dad, but my musical ones are just fun.

My father was born months premature – at home. He weighed only 2.5 lbs and was described as “the size of a chicken.”  I don’t eat meat, so I can’t be sure, but I believe a chicken is actually bigger. They did a make-shift incubator in the oven (gas!) by wrapping him up, keeping the heat on low and the oven door open.  It’s really a miracle he lived.

Years later, it was a less dramatic miracle that I was even born.  Doctors told my father over and over that he could never have kids, but I was stubborn even then.    If you look at pictures when we were each babies, the only way you can tell us apart is the age of the photograph.  One time when I was only a couple of months old,  my mother was pushing my carriage up Broadway and an old lady stopped her on the street.  She said she had babysat my father when he was that age and she knew the instant she saw me that I must be his.

My Dad had a crazy voice.  Growing up, his mother made him swallow Vick’s VapoRub whenever he had a cold because she believed it would work faster and better than rubbing it on his chest.  Then his uvula was cut by mistake when his tonsils were taken out.  His voice was doomed.  Even when he was a teenager he sounded like he was ancient.  It never sounded odd to me, but pretty much everyone else had a comment about it.

I know a ton about music and I credit him with about 30% of my knowledge.  But it’s probably more.  He had his own ton.  He’d sing me everything from operetta to Rod Stewart.  Thankfully I grew up in the analog age and as a teenager, I often walked around with a tape recorder.  I wish I still did it.  Here’s a conversation between us, which, had I grown up in the digital age, would have been forgotten immediately afterward:

“The Biggest Hit That Ever Was” (click me)

Later, I stumbled on a version of the song and flipped out.  I know that song!  How do I know it?  Oh my god!  I found the tape of the convo and lo and behold, there it was.

It’s not even the version he was talking about but because it’s the first one I discovered, it’s always been “the” song.

Now of course the reason that song reminds me of my father is obvious, but it’s funny how music works.  Sometimes a song can be my personal soundtrack for someone for absolutely no reason whatsoever.  Just a feeling it gives me.

The other day I heard a song which, for no apparent reason, reminds me of someone.  Someone pretty swell.  It’s such an unlikely track for a would-be love interest, but you know how music is.  Something can be playing faintly on the radio of a passing taxi, but if that taxi passes at the exact right moment then that song has a special power. Or in this case, a song could have absolutely no connection at all but still remind you of someone.

The song in question is the utterly chaste version of Tonight You Belong To Me by 1950s sister dynamos, Patience & Prudence.

It makes sense that you’d think the lyrics might apply and therefore be the reason I’m associating the person and the song, but that wouldn’t be right either.  My linking the song to the person is completely real, but truly baseless.  And it’s exactly that puzzling illogicalness that keeps me thinking about it.

Patience & Prudence: The Qualities, like Patience & Prudence:  the Singing Sensations really don’t figure into my life all that much.  But Patience & Prudence: The Qualities, unlike Patience & Prudence: The Singing Sensations are probably things I really should try to cultivate more of.

The problem is they’re the antithesis of every instinct I have.  Maybe it’s my Sagittarian nature, but whatever the reason, I’m much more in sync with Impatience and Imprudence.  And I’m not saying that proudly or anything.  Perhaps the reason I’m thinking of this song now is because Patience and Prudence never ever apply in my matters of the heart – and maybe this is some weird subconscious message?

Nah, not a chance.

Maybe it’s because Steve Martin did it in The Jerk?  But then I should be wondering why The Jerk reminds me of this person.  And he 100% does not remind me of Birth, a movie I loved and mostly everyone else hated, which also had the track.

I should stick to associating songs with people for completely explicable reasons only.  Like my father.  And by the way, Fast Company, if I had been able to upload the conversation along with my entry, I would have definitely won the speakers.

Fuck your lame submission process.

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