Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Sirens of New York

New York, you sly devil!  I hear your siren song.

Wednesday is the day I return to Tiny Town every week. Urban Exile, as you know, makes her modest living as a Spanish teacher and translator, and is still working in New York City on Tuesdays and Wednesday mornings. I scheduled a Wednesday morning class recently, despite my well-publicized breakup with New York, because my commitment to the client will only last into October, and because the new student is such an extremely interesting person.

I make only short-term commitments to New York these days, and New York is supposed to understand that.

Odysseys and the Sirens by Herbert James Draper

Thalia had her fifth lesson with me at her lovely, bright East Side penthouse while her large, owl-like tiger cat looked on. Thalia is a woman with a laugh that emerges from deep in her belly, and a mane of  fantastic blond hair that seems to defy gravity and float every so slightly around her head like an aura. She is wealthy, accomplished and beautiful -- and her husband is a VIP in the art world.

Thalia is learning Spanish for a project she is doing at one of the most important museums in Lima, Perú, and when I found out that the exhibit of which she was going to be in charge was one pertaining to Words, I was profoundly excited. After all, to exhibit objects is one thing, but to design a physical display pertaining to words is something else again! Our hour-long class stretched into an hour and 45 minutes as I surprised myself by giving a pretty inspired extemporaneous talk on Words as Symbolic Illusions and other existential concepts pertaining to language. It is fun to be around high-powered people who are doing major league creative projects and who are interested in what one has to say.

That's New York for you. Heady. The Ego perks up at the attention. Chatting with Thalia that day in her fabulous deco penthouse surrounded by works by major artists, I had that dangerous thought again: I can't leave New York! This is where the cool people are!  

But Exile has learned (thank Heavens) that when her Ego feels really happy (or mightily offended), her wise heart would be well-advised to raise the warning flag. I am not saying that the heady chemical spikes that result from proximity to fame, wealth and the high-test creative juice that New York offers can't be handled by a wise person; I am just saying that I am barely wise enough to deal with it. Exile can be made to forget her own resolution, her own journey and destination, when basking in the reflected light of New York's stars.

For you to really understand what I am saying, dear Reader, Exile must now explain that she has been fortunate to meet and work with some of New York City's brightest lights. As an artist, she has sung with some of the icons in the music world, worked with well-known talents in journalism and photography, and has had some memorable conversations with some of the dynamos of the Manhattan arts and literature constellation. Why this has been my fate, I don't know, and I'm not complaining about it. But if I look at my own past with a cold eye, I have to admit that I have allowed this flow of fame to distract me somewhat: Being around famous people can make you feel as if you have accomplished something just by knowing them. Truly, you'd be better off  just staying at home practicing guitar or writing a blog, for example, than hobnobbing with people whose work is, let us say, more well-developed than one's own.

My student Thalia absorbed my ideas about language like a cat laps up milk, and those ideas of mine will melt into the great work she will do for the museum in Lima. For humanity as a whole, that's a plus. For me as an individual, it's a kind of ho-hum result, and it begs the question: Why am I better at offering my creative ideas to others than I am at developing them on my own?

There are a lot of possible answers to that question, but one I offer now is that living in New York City for me has been to suffer from a continuous case of Attention Deficit Disorder. And if you add a few distractingly interesting famous people into the mix, the condition worsens. The multiplicity of possible routes to achieve something worthwhile in this city can be mind-boggling, and as a quick-learner I have moved easily from world to world with fair grace, attaching myself to high-achievers without ever achieving for myself the greatness for which I yearned. Dare I say that sometimes I feel rather like an intellectual demimonde?

True Oak now speaks up from her comfortable armchair in my mind, and derails my tirade: "Don't you think you're being a bit hard on yourself?" she remarks, readjusting a gossamer swathe of lavender fabric around her thin shoulders. "You have after all recorded two Cd's and quite a few singles of your own music. You have toured through Europe with your band. You have made your living as a freelance teacher for nearly 20 years, have run a cultural center, and have bought an apartment in New York City. You been a good friend to many and have loved a few. That's not nothing. What kind of greatness were you yearning for, anyway?"

Well, that's the million dollar question, isn't it?  True Oak has a way of bringing me back to earth with a thump.

Recognition and Greatness, Exile must admit, are not the same thing. Greatness is often found in humble venues, while Recognition is now available to anyone with a video camera and a stupid animal trick. It is humbling and somewhat embarrassing for Exile to realize that there was a good stretch of time in her life when she convinced herself that she was pursuing Greatness, when Recognition is what she really craved.

Ultimately, neither is important, though I write this knowing that the motto of Exile's parents was always "we don't care what you do, as long as you're the best at what you do". That, of course, was not true: they really cared a lot what Exile did, and were often not all too happy with the choices I made. I didn't always try to be the best at what I did, either, to whit the many hours typing poems and short stories when I was supposed to be writing press releases at my first job for Big News Magazine.

As a young sprout and in the ambiance of Big News Magazine I met many important and semi-important people: supermodels, politicians, sports stars and actors. I was wooed by sports writers and once even Dr. Dean Ornish flirted with me. Yes, the atmosphere at Big News was heady, Olympian even, and there I got a solid dose of feeling that I had "made it" just by being there. 

So when I finally break up with New York City, I will lose that supercharged umbilicus of Near Fame. I will no longer enjoy the heady illusion of accomplishment by proximity. I dread that. And I also know that it's the best thing for me.

Cut me off. Please.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

No Prop 8 Protests in the Streets in New York? Let's Be Fair.

My sweetheart, known on this blog as FF, and I are actually getting married in exactly two weeks and a few hours.  I plan, once we are married, to separate ever further from New York City and soon, to leave it completely. Lately, I have been disappointed in New York's failure to make any public gestures in regard to Proposition 8.

But let's talk about me. I am oddly over-stimulated by the upcoming wedding and it's affecting my dreams which, lately, have been wicked. Many mornings I wake up with kind of shocked, weary feeling, and often the sheets are in a twist. The other night I was awakened by a particularly powerful one: I stumbled to the bathroom, and on my way back to bed, I stubbed my toe badly on the canister vacuum cleaner that FF had left in the bedroom with the full intention of using it at some point to harvest the crop of dust balls under the bed. I gave a loud, pained grunt at which point, startled,  he woke up (probably also from a weird dream), waving his arms wildly and shouting, "wha wha wha!" This is what it's been like around Casa Exile.

The reasons for this disturbance are not hard to locate. FF and I aren't inclined to Entertain, an activity for which we are almost certainly hampered, according to HGTV, by the lack of an Open Floor Plan. Also, we have never experienced both of our families and close friends being in the same place at the same time in such numbers. This wedding will be a massive dose of both Entertaining and Family. Furthermore, for FF the threat of being the center of attention is absolutely contrary to his native survival instinct. He is going through this whole shindig basically for me, and also so that our families may meet each other at least once in this lifetime, bless him. What chaos have I brought down upon his dear reclusive head?  And on mine?

In addition to this stress, I am fighting off a bit of pointless guilt about the ban on same sex marriage. I am  changing everything about my life, including my last name, and I have a case of social guilties too.  What, me worry?

I see the lines of excited gay people hunkered down in front of the LA County Courthouse waiting for U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to fire the starting pistol so that they can jump the broomstick.  I also hear the talking heads on Fox proclaiming that same sex marriage would wreck the American family. They sound righteous and angry, rigid with unshakeable opinion. I am frankly critical of New York City, with whom I am having a public break up, for having been so silent regarding Prop. 8, and so comparatively non-activist about fighting for same sex marriage. What's that about? Where did the rage of Stonewall go? Where's the flamboyant pride? Apparently it's all gone across the country to California where the weather's better.

I have been thinking lately about my sister, SUE (Sister of Urban Exile). She's been with her beloved partner for over 20 years. They are both going to be at our wedding, and they are even hosting our no-rehearsal dinner.  A wave of sadness passes over me, knowing that they cannot have a wedding if they want one and that there are people in the world who think that America needs to defend itself from their love. The most vitriolic opponents of same sex marriage charge that SUE and her partner would be bad parents and would bring up rotten children. They say the reason for marriage is to create a legal framework for the proper care of children. They say that God and the founding fathers (who are only one level apart in the conservative pantheon) want marriage to be only for male/female pairs and no one else. They say it's necessary and proper to relegate SUE and her mate to a sub-class, and deny them the rights and benefits of of legal partnership simply because they are not heterosexual. They state that excluding several million people from the rights they themselves enjoy is both right and necessary in order to maintain what they so hazily refer to as "our way of life".

Well I'll tell you right now, I don't want any stinking way of life where SUE can't play too. Because it's just not fair.

People get married for many reasons that may or may not have anything to do with children, including but not limited to:
  • getting a green card
  • getting drunk in Las Vegas
  • having sworn not to have sex until getting married (and being too horny to wait any longer)
  • getting pregnant
  • wanting to get pregnant
  • because Mom got married at 16 and why not me
  • wanting to marry the boss
  • wanting to get oneself some arm candy
  • wanting to be understood
  • not wanting to be alone
  • wanting to be taken care of
  • wanting to get someone else's stuff
  • needing to get away from one's own stuff
  • escaping from the parents / life / oneself / other psychoses and situations
  • the kids needing a father / mother
  • the person himself needing a father / mother
...and the list goes on.

None of these reasons are inherently wrong, I judge none of them, and I applaud anyone who has the wisdom to go out there and get what he or she needs in this short life.

FF and I are getting married because we are really, really in love. We want to dedicate ourselves to each other in public and become a family, a family of two. We are likely not going to have any children at this point, and still we want to get married. I accept that there are other reasons for getting married, and that's OK with me because I don't need your reasons to be the same as my reasons.

Society offers heterosexuals like FF and me rewards, door prizes if you will, for getting married. FF and I talked about these things a year ago when the topic of marriage came up. Rational creature and divorcee that he is, FF asked me to delineate some good reasons for getting married. Rapidly I suggested that if one of us has an accident, the other will have the right to make decisions; I can get on your (Cadillac) health insurance policy instead of continuing to go to the clinics I currently frequent with my stinky, poor person's policy; and it shows the world that we are a family, albeit a family of only two. He nodded sagely and said nothing, which is a very FF response.

Is it fair that SUE is excluded from these benefits? 

FF and I met as grownups in middle life. We both had substantial lives built up and neither one needed the other around for any compelling material or social reason. Furthermore, we both rather like being alone, which was one of the first things we talked about when we met. "Urban Exile is a natural leader," remarked my kindergarten teacher in my first report card ever, "But she needs to to play with the other children sometimes." FF himself spent a boyhood coming home from school and then heading directly out to the backboard to spend hours smacking a tennis ball around -- alone.Yes, FF and I still like playing our own games by ourselves, he on the second floor and I on the fourth, and then around 10:30 or 11:00 we meet up on the third floor, have a chat and go to bed. That said, we are very different in some other ways. But we trust each other, we believe in each other's goodness, and we have a lot of fun together. 

The constitutional arguments for same sex marriage put forward by its proponents are based largely on the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law, and I presume also on that other part of the Amendment which prohibits states from interfering with constitutionally guaranteed privileges.  But then there's that sticky Title 1, Chapter 1, paragraph 7 of the US code which defines that "...the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." This paragraph has that knotty "one man and one woman" phrase that we've heard pronounced so emphatically so many times by right-sided commentators. 

I'm not a constitutional scholar: I look up what I need to know about it on Google, something I am not proud to admit. Most people, including the good citizens of California who voted down same sex marriage, are not constitutional scholars either. Let's face it, few of us can recite what's in the Constitution and certainly have only a passing knowledge of what the various Amendments are about. But the folks on the right-hand side of the aisle who claim to stand on every word of that foundational document don't figure to apply the contents of its 14th amendment to gay people. Homosexuals (and "Othersexuals" of all types) should, in their opinion, be squarely denied equal access to the responsibilities and privileges (both social and economic) of the institution of marriage. Just like once black and white couples were. Just like black people in general once were.

But we fixed things for black people and mixed-race couples. Why? Because we realized that the way things were just wasn't fair.

It is hard to square our current legal definition of marriage with the protections of the 14th amendment. We might say that there's a bug in the works, a roaring inconsistency between the two documents. So what shall we do? We are in a country of laws, laws written with words, and our legal words seem to contradict each other.

We could take a step back and acknowledge that our man-made documents are flawed: Certainly the Constitution is flawed or it wouldn't have needed occasional amending, which is a fancy word for "fixing". Documents are static, but life is not, and we Americans have been fortunate to have our consciousness raised up ever so slightly since the Constitution was first penned. We decided it wasn't fair for some people to be slaves, so we fixed that one. And we decided that it wasn't fair that women and people of color couldn't vote, so we fixed that one too. We fixed lots of things, because we got Wiser as a society and realized that being unfair to some people was bad for all of us.

FF comments that if we start changing around our definitions of things, where does it all end? If any pair of people are allowed to get married, then what happens a few years down the line when a threesome shows up and says "We want to get married too!" Legalization of plural marriage, he suggests, is just a definition away. 

I have to give him that point. I suppose that someone might show up at some point wanting to marry their cow, too.  But I also emphasize to FF, as gently as my progressive heart will allow, that allowing everyone to make up his own rules for the game is not at all the same as excluding some people from the game completely just for being who they are.  

It seems to me that when we are faced with inconsistencies in our social "givens", when our x's and y's that seem to cancel each other out, then, the best and wisest thing to do is to make the decision which will bring the greatest good. Considering all the sadness and suffering that there is in the world which we are powerless to address  (i.e., hurricanes, droughts, mudslides, heartbreak, dread diseases, and so on), I would be hard-pressed to say that the greatest good can be achieved by denying SUE and her partner the right to stand in front of their friends and families and say "I do". In fact, great good in many forms, both economic and spiritual, might actually be born of it. 

My SUE, with whom I played whiffle ball and trolls as a child, was blessed with a hyper-active dorsal striatum. That is the tiny administrative office in the human brain that goes ballistic when  business comes up pertaining to altruism, rewards,  cooperation , fairness and, yes, punishment too. She has always been almost painfully focused on fairness, ever since she was a little person, and I often saw her child's face screw up with actual suffering when she thought that an unfairness had been committed.  That old dorsal striatum can be a tough task master.

"In order for a society to function cooperatively," writes Stephen Hall in his fascinating book Wisdom, "...its members or leaders must sanction those who break the rules. Fairness is the crucial litmus test." So what is fair? I am tempted to state simply as did Justice Potter Stewart (whose dorsal striatum was clearly rather robust), "I know it when I see it." But certainly, fair is making sure not only that the rules are applied equally to everyone playing the game, but also that everyone be allowed to play the game in the first place. 

Is New York City, the home of Stonewall, ever going to get off its behind and start publicly participating in this discussion that California seems to be having all by itself? Or is New York too worried about what it's going to wear tomorrow? And is America going to pass the fairness test in the case of same sex marriage? 

Urban Exile is a little nervous about getting married in a couple of weeks. But she's more nervous about how America answer that important question. 

Photo credits: Josef Samuel, cake by Rascia's Creative Cakes; Lesbian cake-topper by Lily Tsai; Cell Science

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Giving Away Free Stuff on Craigslist

It's Tuesday and I am in the city, still groggy from the Excedrin PM I took last night to take the edge off the sleeplessness that I experience now when I come here. I am just as sleepless as when I first came to New York. Now the insomnia feels as if I am lying down in a train station instead of in bed, needing to get going already but unable to do so, with one foot nervously jiggling in the air and the other foot stretching out to touch down elsewhere.

Today I am giving stuff away for free on Craig's list. I am un-grasping, letting go of familiar objects, giving my heart the unfamiliar pleasure of giving stuff away easily to complete strangers. Nice stuff. And I know that even the smallest stuff comes with responsibility, so be careful before inviting it into your life: You will have to deal with your stuff eventually.  I am not the sort of person who can just leave heaps of things I have owned on the curb,  things that have me and my life force all over them. For me, everything must be placed with care.

After FF and I moved most of my stuff out, I  had some success selling stuff. And I am still holding out for some money for the fax machine that I think should be at least worth $20, even though it is one of the old heat sensitive paper kind. And I am also still holding out for a few bucks on the great shelf units. But I am giving away everything else, and I have discovered that giving things away can be an interesting and sometimes complicated process.

It's never just the stuff,  it's the people who go with the stuff.

The Free DVDs: Proof that no gift goes unpunished.

First of all, take the action movie DVDs I gave away. What am I doing with these things anyway? I can't stand most action flicks. A friend, doing me a good turn when I was ill, brought me this stack of bootlegged action movies, two of which I watched and the rest of which I never did watch because I don't care for blood-spattered entertainment like Kill Bill and Rambo III. So I tucked them away on a bookshelf and there they sat until I was packing boxes and suddenly this stack of DVDs is staring at me as if to ask, What now? I just couldn't see carting them forward with me. So I posted them on Craigslist.

Immediately, I mean within nanoseconds, nearly a dozen people responded, desperate for my free DVDs. I started answering them in order with a phone number, first call first serve, I wrote. But the mails kept coming in, I couldn't keep up, and I was feeling like Mickey in the Sorcerer's Apprentice (what Genie had I unleashed?). So I went to Craigslist to delete the post. I was waiting for the first call, but no one called: They are only emailed me by the hundreds asking when could they pick up the DVDs, like their dialing fingers had fallen off or something. I was wondering, are there people out there who spend all day looking for free stuff on Craigslist and who also coincidentally have forgotten how to use phones? Finally, someone followed instructions, called me, I made an arrangement with him and the DVDs were taken.

Meanwhile, a woman who has been emailing me persistently but not calling, finally calls. I tell her the DVDs are gone, and to my utter amazement, she unleashes her fury upon me, upbraiding me for not keeping the (free) DVDs for her, because she had told me she wanted them and it didn't seem fair that.... blah blah blah.

I just kept saying  "I see....I see....I see". And she finally hung up.


The Free Clock.

This little brass clock was given to me by the publisher of Sports Illustrated magazine when I was still a puppy working at the magazine wearing linen skirts and pink angora sweaters. I remember that the staff got clocks that Christmas of 1988 when they stopped giving out decent bonuses. As I look back, that was the beginning of the financial predicament  we find ourselves in today. Anyway, I've had this clock around for years and I decided to give it away. Again I posted. Again about a dozen people responded within nanoseconds.  Wiser this time, I first deleted the posting and then set about responding. This time I wrote, MUST call to get this item; first-call, first-serve.

The phone rang and Lana was on the other end, telling me how cute my clock was and how much she wanted it. It warmed my heart that she was already so fond of my clock so, okay, we set up a morning appointment for today which, she missed because she had lost her phone (and did not have a clock?). So she called me desperate asking did I still have the clock, and I became aware of the massive importance my free clock had all at once assumed in the heart and mind of this complete stranger. Yes, I still have the clock I said, still drowsy from the Excedrin PM. I'll be right over, Lana, said.

Lana looked very much like Pam in the TV show "The Office" without the ironic twist. She appeared at my door with a waif-like child with unevenly cut bangs in tow, and she told me she was a painter and was also getting married -- in December. She enthused over my wonderful clock, and how wonderful my apartment was, and then told me about a few serious problems she was having with her boyfriend. As I took in the worry lines on her forehead and around her eyes, I realized that Lana really needed this clock for reasons that I could feel but not understand.   I handed it to her gently,  and I told her and the waif-child "Remember, you're in charge of this clock now! When you look at it, remember that it's saying 'Have a good time!'" Lana smiled, looking like a lost but hopeful little girl.

Goodbye, Lana. Have a good time.

The Free Tomahawk. 

When Joe called, he spoke in that particularly Nuyorican way that seems so gentle, serious and naive, that I could not say no to him.  The tomahawk was given to me by my ex at the very end of our 11 year relationship, and I still wonder what that gift was all about: Please kill me with a blow to the head? Anyway, Joe told me he had a country house in the Poconos where he had a whole wall of Native American artifacts including a dream catcher. I could imagine Joe's house: Lots of chatzkies everywhere, and all precious to him. Joe was stout, with thick glasses and and a shirt that read "Orgullo Taino" and he stood there simply and gratefully in my doorway as I laid the tomahawk in his big, outstretched, laborer's hands.

You're in charge of this now, Joe, I told him gravely. He held it solemnly and said, Thank you so much. Then after a pause, he said, This is going to look beautiful on my wall. He held it up in the air against an imaginary wall,  as if to show me the angle he would hang it at.  Thank you so much, said Joe.

You are welcome, Joe, I said. It's yours to care for now.  Yes, ma'am, he said, and he stumped sturdily down the stairs.

Free Gig Bags!!!

I should have known that advertising free gig bags would provoke a cascade of desperate threadbare musicians, begging for the break they never got. Within mili-nanoseconds of posting "free: two gig bags, mic stand bag and assorted other bags" I had about 60 emails to respond to, and so once again I deleted the posting quickly and this time I chose the winner randomly.

Within the hour,  Roy arrived, head crowned by an Eraser Head-like  bush of gray hair and circles under his eyes of Dostoyevskyan proportions.  To my surprise, Roy picked up all the bags and then quickly attempted to pick me up at the same time. I am getting married, I said, at the end of this month. Ah, he said, letting go of his romantic idea immediately. Just my luck! he exclaimed, throwing up his hands comically. Well,  you really are a marvelous person, he remarked, your future husband is very lucky. And he turned on his heel and exited smartly, leaving me speechless at his fluid ability to change gears.

Then there was Emily, poor Emily. She sooooo wanted the acoustic bag, but she woke up late. And then, she told me, she lost her phone and found it again (what is it with people losing phones? Don't they have alarm clocks any more?). And then she had to go to her freelance job in Grand Central Station (?), and couldn't come until next week, because she had to cat sit in Queens, and more stories end upon end that I quickly forgot. Poor Emily! I had to give those bags to Roy.  When I counted, I saw that Emily had written me close to 20 emails in her mad confusion and hot desire for my free gig bags, and I felt really bad about having to give them to someone else. But  you can sense when a person is utterly surrounded by a shit-storm of chaos and bad luck, and generally it's best not to get too close to such people.

Disappointed though Emily was, however, she wrote  in her last missive: ty so mucho Dorothy :-) Appreciate, gracias tan mucho -- gotta go not be tooo late, TY true, Em. 

TY True. Wow.

The Free Bureau. 

And so did I drop in the garbage a few pair of worn out cotton undies that had somehow survived previous purges, a few pairs of socks (elastic shot), and a very old bikini. Thus did I empty and write upon the list of Craig under New York / For Sale / Free Stuff my good old wooden chest of drawers.

This chest of drawers was given to me by music producer and friend who I'll call Nacho. He had produced Ricky Martin, along with a bunch of other stars -- and me, too, once. Indeed, he had carried this big wood box up the stairs and placed it in my bedroom as one of the last acts he ever did on my behalf before he placed me firmly in his past and disappeared.This chest of drawers is not coming with me for the same reason I never saw Nacho again. It belongs here in New York City, it belongs in my past.

It took longer,  about 10 minutes, for a free, real wood chest of drawers to find a taker and when it did, it was one single person who wrote me with her phone number. I called her.

Hello, I said, you wrote me about the chest of drawers? Ah, yeah, whancooneye kuhmn pikitoop? She said. What? I said. Ah, fahkin Metro PCEhssss! She hissed. Um, I am only here today, I said slowly as if speaking with a cobra, can you come today? Ahhhh, she sighed exasperatedly, eefeye fine ma boyFREN tookum ELP may, ah kin kuhm TOOdeh! she cried. Good, good! I encouraged her. How about three o'clock? Ahhhhh, yisssss! she exclaimed, zeeess PURRhops ees fur may PUSSIbell. Ahhhhh....

And she hung up.

At approximately 3:30 she called back. Yissss, ah kin kuhm now. Ahm findin mah boyFREN! she remarked. OK, I said. What is your name anyway? MAHree, she said, and hung up.

When I opened the door to Marie and her boyfriend, Melvin, you could have knocked me over with a feather because she looked like me. I mean ALOT like me, except she was thin as a rail (as I was 28 years ago) wearing a thin muscle shirt over her bra-less torso (as I did 28 years ago) and had a pale, slightly hectic look about her round, pixie-ish face. Wow, I said.

Ehhh, yeah, we kuhmin fur dee byooROE? She asked. You look familiar, I said, have we met before? yew ever beaneen pahrEESSS? she hissed questioningly. Yes, I have been, I said. Come on in.

And Melvin, who was a tall well-built black man, easily hoisted most of the drawers on his shoulder and glided off down the stairs. (goodbye, goodbye). Marie and I experimented with hoisting the rest of the bureau and carried it to the front door where she put down her end of it. Ahm afraid uhv mah shooossss, Marie sighed, rolling her eyes and pointing down at the floor where her stick thin white legs jutted into insanely high black wedgie booties. But fortunately Melvin reappeared magically and hoisted the rest of my bureau onto his shoulder as if it were a book bag, and took off down the stairs without a word followed by the wobbling white stick of Marie.

I listened to the sound of their footsteps fade away down the stairs and I waited, standing at the open door thinking they would come back up, say something like thanks for the free bureau, we'll take care of it -- or something like that. I thought I'd get to say to them, it's your responsibility now. Or maybe tell Marie that Ricky Martin's producer hauled that bureau up these very stairs for me. Or something. Instead, it was just dead quiet in the hallway. So I closed the door and came in.

Sometimes, to some people, stuff is just stuff.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dear John Note to New York City (No. 1)

Dear New York City,

You have perhaps noticed that I have been becoming somewhat distant. Or perhaps you didn't notice at all? Yes, I know I still sleep over sometimes, but when you're not looking I have been hanging out with other cities. Yes, other cities, not just towns and hamlets. It's time you knew that I spent a week in Asheville North Carolina and -- I really don't care if you are snorting with laughter -- and I enjoyed myself very much. Size isn't everything, you know. No, I know you don't know. That's a concept that you will never understand, New York.

This is the first of several notes I am going to write you over the coming couple of months to explain to you why I just can't take our relationship any more. There are things about you which, over the course of our 28 years together, I have suffered and endured, and which at long last I have decided not to suffer any more. Yes, I know, it takes all kinds. But there really are cities on this planet that are simply nicer than you are, and I have at long last come to understand that I will never be able to change you. So...here goes.

The first annoyance that I will bring to your attention is the following: What's with the New York men who, when you are humming to yourself on the street or simply smiling because you are happy, feel compelled either to puncture your mood by shouting, "Happy today?" or, worse, imitate you by tunelessly singing "la la la la la la"? What's with that? Like I can't hum on the street without some Goombah deciding to interrupt my ongoing musical conversation with myself with some pointless, ugly noise? I am a songwriter and I get some of my best ideas while walking, but there's nothing that kills a new melodic or lyrical idea faster than a goony comment like that.  Nothing. For me it's like a personal attack, and it happens all the time in you, New York.

What's worse (because it's more confusingly pointless) is that I do not believe these are pick up lines. Nor is this music appreciation. This kind of random street jabber is a clumsy attempt to start a conversation that could never start and has never started. It is an oafish bid to grab a bit of someone else's happy space, to put a screeching stop another person's creative flow, and to parasitically inhabit if only for a millisecond another person's hard-won peace of mind. It is a kind of pointless, mean mockery of anyone who would dare to be a little happy instead of stressed out, angry and slightly sick looking like most of your inhabitants.  And I resent it, really I do.

Have I fully tested Asheville on this point? No, I have to admit I have not. I was walking around with FF -- yes, I know you blame him for our breakup, but it has nothing to do with him -- and because I was talking with him I wasn't singing much. But I did smile a lot there and -- guess what? -- nobody mocked me, not once!  And, by the way, a lot of people were smiling at me too, for no apparent reason whatsoever except just the joy of being alive. I almost freaked out, there were so many people smiling there, sometimes not at me at all but just smiling for the hell of it. I guess because they are happy, can you imagine that? No, I bet you can't.

Look, I just want you to understand that I understand you have to be the way you are, and I don't blame you for it. I'll write you again soon and give you more concrete reasons to explain why I am leaving you. And please be aware that I'm not crazy enough to think you'll ever understand, or even care what I think of you.  But I'm doing it anyway, and you can take it or leave it. After 28 years, maybe you could try listening for once.

Now wipe that smirk off your face.