Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Diary entry 2: Bodi or Chad or Wax

Yesterday I spent most of my day on the train. I look forward to some parts of Mondays mainly because I'm usually commuting by foot and train and back again which lends itself to uninterrupted free thinking or reading time. The Fire Island revelers start earlier and earlier every year, likely directly proportionate to how terrible the winter was and yesterday it began. I was on a train with a group of five men and one woman who were laughing loud enough for me to hear through my headphones. If this were August and/or a Saturday night, I likely would never have even noticed them but it was Monday morning at 8 am; I think they were drunk already. Since my headphones were on I could only hear muffled conversation punctuated by muffled raucous laughter. Whenever I'm in close proximity to a group of people on the train, my people watching instinct kicks in and I mute my headphones to eavesdrop. I didn't glean anything terribly interesting apart from the knowledge that the group was comprised of surfers, only one of whom was actually from Long Island, a fact I learned as he mentioned having gone to my high school where he claimed to have "hooked up a lot" in the locker room. That didn't surprise me.

I tried to scrutinize them discreetly; they looked the surfer part. All tan and all of them were one shade of blond or another. Their skin made their ages indiscernible but if I was judging by their conversation, hobbies and clothing, I'd say they ranged from 20-45. I instantly invented a whole backstory, social hierarchy and sexual tension between the group's members. I also naturally assumed that at least one of them was named Bodi or Chad or Wax. If I knew anything at all about surfing, I'm certain I would have conjured some tired old metaphor. The only thing my brain could come up with was comparisons to "Point Break".

I want to watch this so bad right now.

I have no idea if surfing is even possible out here. Based on the odd surf shop in random strip malls, I assume so. But I have lived many years in this region and remain ignorant of the surf culture. It seems weird that anyone would travel here to surf.

When I got out of the train at my stop, which happens to be about a mile from the Great South Bay, I could smell the water. I smelled it the entire walk to the library. I thought about those harbingers of summertime and whether or not they'd catch any waves or if they would gleam the cube. Or whatever it is you do when you surf.

I had lunch at a pizza shop which I mention only because as I ate, I sat next to two moms and their rowdy kids, one of whom was named Silver John. I know this because his mother said loudly, many times "Siver John! Please don't do that!" That name plus his rowdy behavior make me think that kid is destined for a career in piracy.

After an utterly uneventful day at the library, during which two, TWO people had to be helped finding 15 or so alphabetically arranged DVDs due to "forgotten glasses", I headed back home on an otherwise empty train. When I got to the Jackson Heights subway stop, I saw a familiar face, my friend Nancy. She was waiting for a train on the same platform and we had a brief conversation part of which I record here:

"I was standing in line behind this slow ass woman who was bending over to pick up some thread on the floor."
"Uhm...what?" I then mimicked someone spotting a small piece of thread on the floor and getting overly excited.
"Yeah, I wanted to ask 'Are you an ACTUAL magpie, lady??"

These are the kinds of conversations I have with Nancy, particularly when we only have three minutes to talk.

That's really all that happened yesterday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Diary Entry #1: A Proper Plebe

I've been reading The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits which is a diary she kept over a year or so and I'm really enjoying/hating/hatenjoying it. Diaries, including the one you are right this very second reading are usually interesting but sometimes they are bland and/or infuriating. Reading someone work something out in their head or peeping at her life through her own words satisfies the voyeur in me but rankles the advice giver in me. I like diaries and personal blogs in that they are the ultimate form of passive people watching but the starkness and insight they provide seem rife for comment. And then there are the invisible filters. Honestly, while I've been reading Julavits' diary, I'm wondering how much of herself she edits and then I get annoyed that I can't read what she's edited.

At any rate, I'm going to follow her lead and try it a few times, starting today. In her version of her daily diary, she begins each entry with "Today I..." and I will do what I feel I normally do which is change something I've read and admired slightly but distinctively enough to make it my own. So I'm going to begin my entries with "Yesterday I..." Uniqueness for days.

April 13

Yesterday I woke up in the basement of my mom's house. Half my life lately is spent there on Long Island there and the other half in my sister's spare bedroom in Queens. I've been making a conscious effort to be on Long Island more often since my grandmother's funeral, primarily because I feel the need to be tethered to my mother, on the off chance that she needs me for something practical like filling out paperwork or to accompany her for shopping. At least I tell myself that outwardly. I'm beginning to understand that being there helped my own peace of mind more than anything.

My stepdad, grandfather, mother and I ate waffles pretty early in the morning as they had to go to an early Mass. I don't go to church and my plan was to be on the road back to Queens while they were gone. I rarely get to eat breakfast with anyone and it just so happens to be one of my favorite things to do and it is one of the best parts about being at my mom's on a Sunday morning. After breakfast, my mom asked for help (see, good thing I was there) in setting up a snack tray for the guests that were coming over directly after Mass; she and my grandfather are praying the nine day Novena for my grandmother and volunteers from the church come by to lead them in the special prayers. The day before, I had walked in on them inadvertently and it felt like catching someone in an intimate conversation. They were gathered around the dining room table reciting prayers over a picture of my grandmother. The volunteers had brought their daughters who were sitting quietly on the couch and it felt like a family gathering in my family house, comprised mostly of people I didn't recognize. That's a strange, strange feeling.

Anyway, I set up a mountain of cookies, bid everyone goodbye and was on my way back to Queens. I got there in record time, made strides in my perpetual quest of finding a parking spot on the right side and spent the afternoon chatting with my sister as she got ready to spend the next few days at a swanky hotel in midtown for a work conference. She invited me to visit later that night and I called up my friend to join us for a few cheap drinks in a very expensive hotel room. The past few weeks have been harrowing; a quiet chat over wine sounded exactly what I wanted to do. I had a few hours to kill in the interim so I did what I've been known to do: I fell in and out of sleep for a few hours while watching television.

When it was time to go, I got on the bus and rode through Queens with my earbuds providing a soundtrack to the Sunday evening strolls I could see everywhere. Sam Cooke narrates Sunday. I thought about being in my 20s and taking the bus from the West Village all the way up to Washington Heights and I longed for that time again. I've noticed I spend most of my city time longing for another time to happen again. That statement could also apply to back then. Nostalgia is a snake head eating the head on the opposite side for me. I palindrome I.

I found the hotel after skirting tourists and unwittingly holding my breath against the hoards of horse and carriages that line Central Park. At the hotel entrance, doorman actually pushed the revolving door for me which took me by surprise and instantly triggered the "I don't belong here" vibrations at the base of my brain. Those got more intense as I took in the shiny marble floors and was called "Miss" by every smiling staff member that passed. Here's a dramatic recreation of events:

 My friend was waiting in the lobby and we found my sister for her room key and headed upstairs to the nicest, albeit most sparsely decorated, hotel room I have ever been in. It was roughly the size of an apartment, and contained a bathroom the size of my old studio apartment. The view gave me the feeling of being nestled quietly among the surrounding skyscrapers and being in midtown Manhattan and hearing nothing from the street was a bit surreal. There were two mirrors facing each other in the "changing room" and I snapped the photo below, during which I wondered what it would be like to truly be able to afford to stay in such a place on my own dime. I imagine it would feel like looking at the world and seeing your own reflection repeated forever through it; money and all the power it affords must make someone feel infinite.

We needed ice and after a brief stroll around the floor yielded none, I called the operator who said that ice is delivered to the room. So then ice was delivered to the room. I realize at this point in my entry I must sound like a country bumpkin. The reason is because in terms of fancy hotels in the most expensive city in the country, I am one. The man who brought the ice then proceeded, about an hour later to bring another bucket to "refresh" the first one. I had a lovely chat over lovely wine in a lovely room. However, the main thing I gleaned from my few hours visit there was that I was far away from my wheelhouse; I could never be able to relax amid all that comfort.

I made my way back home like a proper plebe and got back just in time to watch Mad Men, something around which my life revolves for the next five Sundays. I'd talk about it now but I don't have world enough or time. It did occur to me that I had just come from right smack in the middle of where the world of Mad Men took place 60 years ago and found myself once again longing for something to happen again that had already happened and that was probably wasn't as good as I thought or imagined. I'm going to jump the gun and assume that the following seven days worth of entries will follow this theme to the letter. Just a hunch.

Friday, April 10, 2015

11 days

My grandmother died and I wish the weather would let up. Once again, I'm projecting what I feel onto the outside world, as though the universe is aware and cares so deeply about someone I loved very much leaving this dimension. If the sun decided to come out at any point I feel certain that I'd be able to think clearly. Instead I have felt the inside of my head smeared all along the edges, like the windows of a heated car in winter. The world feels Gothic. No, it feels Dickensian, with all its indifference and brutal civilization and all that fucking fog. A large percentage of my time lately has been wondering what I should be doing.

I've discovered that my grieving is a slow burn. I spent the last two weeks gathered within my family and friends and I've felt distracted. I've laughed and thought about other things but always with a lingering feeling at the back of everything, as though I've forgotten my keys somewhere, as though I've been squinting in a dim room for a few hours; my head aches even when it doesn't.

I have a picture in my bedroom that I claimed from the mountain of shots of my grandmother that we scaled in preparation for her wake. It is of her standing next to a statue of Walt Disney during one of her many trips to Disneyworld. My grandparents lived for over a decade just outside of Orlando and they had a friend who worked in the park and so got in for free or for cheap. In the picture she's wearing shorts and a short sleeved blouse, her hair a little damp so I know it was the summertime. She's holding a plastic bag at her elbow, full of souvenirs, no doubt. I don't ever remember my grandparents traveling anywhere apart from occasional trips to Honduras or to visit family in Texas or back and forth between New York and Florida. Travel was just not something they did very often so when I saw that picture of her, next to something so quintessentially tourist, it felt a little like talking to her again right at that moment. You know that feeling of discovering something new about someone you thought you knew everything about? Like a fluorescent light flickering on gradually, I saw her differently than I'd known her to be. I love imagining her traveling with my grandfather, strolling for hours on that day just chatting and observing everything. I like to imagine he pressed her to take the photo even though she wasn't really into it. She rarely, if ever contradicted my grandfather...to his face. I like imagining their mini, playful argument about taking the photo and her self consciousness as she stood just to the side of the statue with my grandfather on the other side of the lens, smiling as he snapped it. When I look at the picture now, it feels like something I've never seen before and at the same time something I've always looked at. She's there, her face as unchanging as I have always and will always remember it and I love it so much. I am so happy that picture exists. I am so happy that she existed and that she was my grandmother and that she exists still in my memory.

There have been moments during the 11 days she has been gone that I've tried to force away thoughts of her. I just couldn't untangle myself enough at the end of that chain to do anything but lie down and seeing how life stubbornly just carries on and on and on, I didn't want to. But right now I want to.
Right now I want to tell you about the singsong way she'd call my name, about her big, open laugh and the taste of the birthday cakes she made for everyone in the family, about dresses and skirts that she made for me that I still own and still wear, 20 years later, about the little turtle pincushion she used to have that she was always misplacing and that I wish had in my hands right now and about her layers and layers of thick, shiny black and white hair that I remember brushing my fingers through when I was a little girl and again just last week as I said goodbye and about the pink and gold pendant  my grandfather gave to me last week that was hers and his mother's before that and that I have not taken off since and that for the first time in my life makes me wish I had been a mother so I could give it to my daughter. All those things and more and more again. I get a little afraid that I won't have enough room for all the memories to stay as clear as they are at this very moment.

But I've written them down and I speak them aloud to my family and there they are. And now I guess it is back to wondering what I should be doing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


I passed a getting older signpost today. My grandmother is dying and I'm taking to acting like everything is normal: going to work, eating dinner, chit chatting. Adults do this. I'm an adult.

I tried my old standbys: eating too much. I ended up getting sugar free froyo and a Greek salad big enough to wear. I bought a chocolate bar just b/c it was for charity and it sits unopened in my car. My other go to in times of stress is spending money. But I only spent $38 on two dresses and I looked for and used coupons. Not precisely the carefree, careless experience that used to bring me such comfort. I am too old to self-destruct in a frenzy of food and wasted money; I'll likely end up just crumbling apart like gluten free bread. I'm going to try getting drunk but I don't get out of work until 9pm and then I have to drive home which takes about an hour. By the end of my drive, I'll just want to take off my bra and go to sleep so I fully expect that to fail as well.

Prudence dictates I should talk about how I'm feeling but what is there to say? My grandmother is dying after a long illness of fading away right in front of us. There's no way to poeticize that. In the last few weeks, my conversations with my mother and father and grandfather and sister have been a rotating roster of rarely used words, words that taken out of context sound beautiful: hospice, palliate, ease, sleep, alleviate, relieve, let go. Context is everything. When you put them all together, they only mean one thing.

The sun is out and it is warmer than it has been in months. I've assigned a personality to the weather today, the day when we stop giving her medication: oblivious and spiteful and inappropriate. If I were writing this story, the sky would be a heavy handed metaphor to all the insignificance of the characters. They'd feel a damp chill on their skin and a dreaded rumble of thunder in the sky. If I were writing this story, this wouldn't be a plot.

I don't really know what to do with myself. So I'm putting this on the internet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Blanket of Lettuce and Feta Cheese

I think, after 38 years of walking around and observing (translation: living), I have honed in on what would make up my ideal life. Or at the very least, a few key essential components that would have to be in place if I were to have any hope of coasting through the absurdity of the human experience with any semblance of purpose. Naturally I'd have to include volunteerism and the occasional travel time from one place to the next (on a train or bus or with someone else driving me and I will not compromise on that). Anyway, I record them here for the glory of all posterity:

  1. Two hours of uninterrupted reading, without exception, every morning with a cat on my lap, followed by
  2. One hour of truly productive writing, also in the morning (I don't mind doing these things in the wee hours)
  3. Some form of exercise that doesn't make me want to sleep immediately afterwards (if you are reading this and have any suggestions and/or insights about whether or not such a thing is possible, please share in the comments) followed by
  4. A perfect shower. I'm still working out what this will include however, the following adjectives will be involved somehow: pounding, scented, functional, massage-y. I AM still talking about a shower or so I tell myself.
  5. French press coffee with another hour of late morning reading. (I don't THINK I've run out of morning yet.) For this section of reading, I'd prefer a magazine or newspaper or some poetry.
  6. Brunch or lunch with a friend or family member or six. I'd like for all of my relationships to consist of a perpetual feeling of catching up and checking in; I want to always be learning something new about people I know everything about already.
  7. Watching a film, preferably alone in a theater surrounded by empty and plush seats. I like being alone, with the knowledge that other people could be there. You know, if they wanted to.
  8. More writing, a few hours in the early to late afternoon. I'm neither a morning or night person but an afternoon person. 
  9. Dinner. Mediterranean food with little variation. I'll die clutching a bowl of olives, pita bread, avocados while smothered in hummus and tucked into a blanket of lettuce and feta cheese. (Side note: I should really come up with an ideal death list.) Again, this meal would be with a group of people. Think of the dinner scene in "Before Midnight" which I include at the end of this post for your entertainment below. A long leisurely lunch in warm climate with no where to go and nothing to do but talk about love and the future and the only things that actually matter to everyone and the luxury to do so. 
  10. Guess how I'd round out and finish up my day! Go on. 

"We appear and we disappear."

Reading over this list of essentials, it occurs to me that I've described a vacation. I hate that life has to be the inverse of what it should be: work all the time with short breaks in between. When I am queen, we will turn that inside out, by decree of me. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Bernadette Peters in "The Jerk"

For absolutely no other reason than the closing of my job today due to inclement weather, I have whittled away the afternoon watching DVDs. I just finished watching the 1979 classic "The Jerk" and  while I have always and will always have the hot 'n' tots for Steve Martin in a big way (something about a hilariously funny, smart musician, writer, painter and art collector does it to me every time) I find myself with a crush on Bernadette Peters and her outfits. From the heart shaped sunglasses:

To her beginner's knife throwing, Indian sari inspired costume:

The 1940s-ish first date at the carnival outfit:

The randomly placed be-jewel on her fancy dinner dress as she avoids looking at the snails on her plate (and that HAIR):

Her jaunty travel cap when she brings Navin's family to his homeless spot on the stairs:

And of course her sailor's cap and jacket during the cutest recorded duet in film history:

The film was made in 1979 and apart from the iconic disco scene, it looks like it belongs in 1940. Or maybe that's just Bernadette Peters and her kewpie doll looks.

Actually there is one indication that this was filmed in the late 70s.

I wonder what ever became of that carnival train hijacking child....

Monday, March 2, 2015

Observable universe

I've been quiet on this blog awhile, it's true. I don't have an excuse. I haven't been traveling or writing other things, haven't been in a new relationship or dealing with some crisis or pending deadline. I've just been in what I like to call "absorption mode." I'm taking it all in, as I usually do. However, much like weight loss, my information absorption becomes slower and more laborious as I get older and it also makes me out of breath at inconvenient times.

I'm finding that lately I need time away from blinking lights and clicking keyboards to digest my thoughts and maybe that is what is finally going to turn me old: not solely my exhaustion at being unable to focus (that is also a plight of the young 'uns, after all) but my undaunted desire to focus. I want thoughts and images and words to last longer than they seem to be allowed to these days. Does anyone under the age of 20 want that too? It seems like the world has been hyper for their whole lives.

Lately my commute has allowed me time to walk in and around and through the winter scenes of NYC and Long Island. I find myself regarding my own observable corner of the universe from a distance, like so many View-Master scenes through the two inches of my face I can leave uncovered. I navigate the city sidewalks and their utterly random ice patches with what I can only describe as gingerly panic. (It is a hallmark of older age to be so afraid of slipping on ice that one is willing to leave one's home 40 minutes earlier than necessary just to ensure that there is ample time to walk slowly.) I have not, as of this writing, succumb to the ice everywhere, despite my will to live slowly being frozen out of me. But slipping and breaking some essential part of my body feels like a credible looming threat, some political directive spoken aloud from some armed country overseas. The Ice will take me out before it melts in a pathetic mutually assured destruction. I'll probably go down with a strangled croak.

I don't really feel a part of any one place lately. Being the resident part timer at my two jobs and being the temporary inhabitant of my sister's 2nd bedroom has given me the habits of someone who knows her time is temporary. I suppose those with Buddhist leanings would call that a good thing. And in a way I feel like it is a good thing. Getting too attached to temporal things always ends in heartbreak after all. Add to that winter. Winter has that alienating effect on me. I'm an outside observer by nature and it is the position I am most comfortable in but even I have a threshold that every year, February does its damnedest to breach.

And though happens every year around this time, it always surprises me when I get reminded of it, regardless of where I am or what I'm doing. For example, I went to a concert lastWednesday night at this small venue in Brooklyn. The stage was lit from behind with colorful gels and flashing, epilepsy inducing light patterns. I stood in the back and as I watched the person on stage fiddle with this and that I had the clanging notion I was nobody nobody nobody... sorry, but that song is appropriate. Anyway, I had this sense that I was watching a play in one of those black box theaters, for which I was the sole audience member. All of the bouncing heads in silhouette in front of me seemed for a moment to be two dimensional props. I couldn't see anyone's face. The performer was hunched over and I couldn't see his face either. I fell into a reverie, feeling right smack in the middle of things and feeling not quite there or anywhere at the same time.

Winter, thy name is dissociation.

That's really the crux of what's been going on with me lately. Just tooling around, bundled up, not really here, not really there.

Oh, I learned how to ride a bike. So there's that. I'm ripe and old and ridin' a bike. There's got to be a poem in there somewhere...