When you’re lost in the rain in Juarez

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I was thinking about travel songs because I’ve been thinking about travel and that one popped into my head—though if I understand it correctly it’s about an extremely ill-fated trip. It’s a great song, and I went through a phase somewhere around 2003 of listening to Bob Dylan’s and Nina Simone’s versions back to back, along with a somewhat random assortment of other songs that were part of my greatest hits collection during that stretch. Nick Cave’s “He Wants You”, Marlene Dietrich’s “I May Never Go Home Anymore”, Tom Waits’ “Old Shoes and Picture Postcards” were all on that soundtrack. Along with many others that will come to mind as soon as I hit “Publish.”

I got to travel a bit last weekend, a long weekend in Florida where we lay on the beach and floated in the gulf and it had been a while since I’d done either, particularly the latter. Sometimes, often, you don’t realize how much you need to get out of New York until you get out of New York. On the one hand, stepping outside of your life can help you to appreciate it; on the other hand, New York is a really effing hard place to be. It is also a really exciting and interesting place where the vast majority of my friends and family live. Now that dog care is no longer an issue—and you know I would trade the freedom for more time with Louie in a heartbeat—but given the confines of my reality, I am realistically fantasizing about leaving town for an extended period of time. Not six months—but a couple of weeks feels like just what the doctors have ordered.

I feel like New York has a way of deciding who you are and what your life will be like without your having as much say in the matter as you might elsewhere.

We sat in the exit row on the way down to Florida, and it occurred to me that I should be more vigilant about knowing who is in the exit row on future flights, for they have the power to hinder or expedite my slide to safety.

I’ll be traveling again the week after next, to Colorado, to see Tom. I don’t have any idea what this trip will be like but I am grateful that it will be, period. There was a time quite recently when early-May seemed an impossibly long way off.

At the office today, three people asked me how Louie was doing. I’d kind of assumed everybody there, and in my building, knew—but this was not the case. B and I have fantasies that Louie is hanging out with the Roosevelts; not sure where this came from, but it fits.

The photo above is from last summer, Louie’s last trip to Montauk with us. I don’t think his death had really hit me for the first couple of weeks—something about being present for it, maybe. Or about the enormity of his spirit. I’ve hung out with him many times in my dreams since he died. “He died” sounds so very strange, and was made much clearer a few hours after I landed in Florida, when I got a message from his vet’s office—his vet is wonderful and most of the people who work there are too, but this message came from one of the front desk people who is not the most delicate or empathic.

Picture (aurally) this in a New York accent:

Hi Laura, it’s xxxx calling from West Chelsea Veterinary Hospital. Just letting you know that Louie’s cremains are in, so if you want to pick them up we’re open from 8AM to 7PM. 

I guess this means he’s never really coming back except in “cremain” form. Cremain, criminy, craisin, Crimea … I miss that boy.

Much more to say, must go to sleep. If you knew Lou, look for him in your dreams. He’s around.

 

 

 

 

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Darlin’, you’re the best

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Alas, here it is, the post I knew I’d someday write and yet never really believed I’d have to.

My little guy has gone to the great dog park in the sky, where he will find all the tennis balls, cookies, and people-who-give-him-just-enough-but-not-too-much attention his heart desires.

Louie Louie Louie … my sweet little babushka boy, the spy who loved me. That was one of the songs I used to sing to him, that and “Girls” by the Beastie Boys.

I suppose I should tell the story of Lou and me. Here’s where you learn what a horrid, unethical, fake-animal-loving person I used to be … I got him at a pet store. I know, I know, but I didn’t know then, and I was 31 and grieving and of COURSE I would do things differently now, were I to acquire another animal, but I have zero regrets about how it went down because Lou and I were meant to hang out for 16 years. One-third of my life thus far.

Here’s what happened. I have to back track a little to June of 2002, when six of my girlfriends were pregnant at the same time—’twas the season—and while I had always feared the physicality of childbirth, I’d also always kind of assumed I’d be a mom someday because that’s what women do. So I’d started to research international adoption, which freaked my mom out a bit at the time, but as I explained then, it wasn’t as though I was going to make a rash decision about adopting a kid. I was merely researching. I mean, I pretty much knew how the getting pregnant and having a kid thing worked, so I figured it made sense to learn this method of motherhood as well.

And then the unthinkable happened. What was then the unthinkable, anyway, and is now clearly possible. My friend Laura died in childbirth. And though I’d suffered losses of loved ones before, I’d never experienced anything like that, hearing the message on my answering machine to call Diane back and knowing by the tone of her voice that something wasn’t right, deciding to shower first to stave off the bad information that was trying to find me (a borrowed quote from another tragedy), then crumpling to the ground in tears and shock and disbelief and all those myriad stages of grief that whirl around you like a swarm of gnats and sneak up on you when you think you’re thinking about something else. When you think you’re going to the corner store to buy milk or cigarettes or whatever you buy at the corner store and you wind up livid and in tears. Or when you dream a beautiful dream in which all is right in the world and you’re walking off into the sunset hand in hand with your true love and then you wake to have the anvil of reality plunge to your gut.

So that went on for a couple of months and as I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure I think about Laura on some level every day.

And then one day in mid-August we went out for brunch, a couple of us. I was living on Charles Street at the time, and as we walked down Christopher to meet our friends we passed Urban Pets. It’s no longer there. I glanced in the window and there was a jumble of puppies doing puppy things, all tails and teeth and oversized paws, and there, in the very front of the window, staring out, pleading to be rescued from the mundane mayhem of so many puppies, was this little black foxy thing that reminded me of my childhood German Shepard, Lovable. We went in and inquired about him and learned that he was that newfangled Japanese breed I’d been seeing all over town—which, in fact, is one of the oldest fangled dog breeds around, dating back to many thousand years B.C. and, since 1936, a “precious natural product” of Japan. I held him, all six or seven pounds of him, and asked questions. I still had no idea I was going to be getting a dog, I just knew that I liked holding puppies. I’d been doing a fair amount of that in the aftermath of my friend’s death. It was comforting.

We went to brunch, and on the way back stopped in again for more puppy-holding. The wheels started turning and the then-partner started panicking. Over the next 48 – 72 hours I phoned everyone I knew who had ever owned, walked, or looked at a dog. I wrote lists of pros and cons and realized that not being able to jet off to Tahiti on a moment’s notice had never been an issue, and that having to leave my house every day was a pro.

I lied—I wasn’t living on Charles Street at that point, I was living on 9th.

So I went back and visited him several times and eventually took him home. Before I did they gave me his papers; his parents’ names were Foxy Lady’s Nikki One Leg (dad) and T-Dallas Rebel’s Sungirl (mom). I commented on the names and the man at the shop said, “Well, he came from Nebraska. You know how they are in the south.”

I may have altered those names slightly – I will look at the papers later and edit.

I believe we took Louie home on a Monday, and by Friday he still didn’t have a name. There were several contenders including Hiroshi, which is Japanese for generous. And then one day I realized his name was Louie.

For the first week or two Louie stayed in the bathroom; he could not be coaxed out of his hiding place. I was afraid I’d made a terrible mistake, that this little thing I just wanted to love adamantly refused to let me do so. And then one evening we were watching TV and he came out, sat in the doorway, and stared at us. If you knew Louie, or any Shiba, really, you know that that is the mark of true affection. At long last, I’d earned his trust. And his love.

Louie and I spent almost sixteen years together. He screamed the first time he saw the sunrise, and was elated on his first visit to the sea. We spent a couple of summer vacations on a lake in Maine, and several summers on the beach in Montauk. He’s been to Philadelphia and Baltimore and Sea Isle City and had the opportunity to meet and mingle with the late, great John Barlow at a party in Soho. He loved tennis balls, food, and watching rain fall.

There is so much more to say about Lou, but if I were to say it all this post would never end. I will write more about him, I’m sure of that.

For now I say this: thank you to everyone who was part of Louie’s life, and thank you, sweet Lou, for being my bearcub and lovebug and faithful companion. Keep visiting me in my dreams, dear one.

 

Years gone by

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I think about 9-11, in some capacity, every day. I still dream about it, but certainly not to the extent that I did those first several months after the fact. That day and the day my friend Laura died nine months later are the two most acutely traumatic experiences of my life. Though the pain and shock are diminished and the sadness muted, neither is ever terribly far from my thoughts.

I remember details of both days in stark relief; I could piece together the events of 9-11 very accurately, as all of my senses were on high alert then and in the weeks and months that followed. The day Laura died was different—the shock phase of that grief process cycled quickly into profound heartache, and though I recall who was around me, the details are foggy. But as to that clear September day the autumn before (technically late-summer … why must I be so damn literal that I can’t let the poetry of “the autumn before” stand without an editorial note?), I recall what I ate, who I spoke with by phone and in-person, tones of voice, snippets of conversation, and so on.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write an anniversary post this year, but it’s become one of the few rituals since I began this blog in 2013. So here we are. I wasn’t sure I was going to write because at this point I don’t know what to say. I don’t think anyone wants to hear my version of the sequence of events, or my experiences on that day, because everybody has their 9-11 story. Sure, I was here, so that puts me closer than some, but it really doesn’t matter; we were all here.

With the exception of a relatively tiny handful of people on this earth, 9-11 succeeded in bringing people together across the planet and regardless of race, religion, socio-economic factors, education levels, stations in life, and any of the myriad ways that we divide ourselves. That is the collateral beauty* of that horrible day.

*This phrase, which I recently encountered, is apparently the name of a 2016 film of dubious merit. I like it, though, and am keeping it.

On a macro- global- historical- political- level there is much to be learned from 9-11. On a micro-level, there is this: we actually really, truly only have THIS MINUTE. The old “I could get hit by a bus” maxim has been upgraded to “I could get hit by a plane,” but the point is the same … this is all we have. We can not count on “some day.” There is no “I will get it together once _____” or “I just need ____ before I ____.” That is bullshit. That is not being kind to the you who is here today. What an existential shame it would be to deny today’s you her/his full potential because you were waiting for tomorrow’s you to show up.

I could go on and on and on and on about the importance of living life now and loving yourself always and being in the moment and believing and learning and caring but I am so tired of having to convince so many of the people in my life to live their lives that I am going to give myself the rest of the night off. I’ll be back to it soon enough.

May whomever is in charge of these things bless those we lost on 9-11 and those who remain.

Love yourselves. You know you deserve it.

 

Until we meet again

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I write this post with a heavy heart. My aunt Debby died on Thursday, peacefully, surrounded by family and friends.

I’ve known Debby—I called her Tanta—for about twenty years. She and my uncle Charles married in their 60s. We grew close and used to have lunch together on a somewhat regular basis. Gramercy Tavern, the Yale Club, and Sushi Yasuda were our mainstays.

Debby brought to our world a profound sense of the importance of family. Family came first for her in a way that, devoted as I am to my own, I hadn’t really experienced before. She broadened our definition of the word. To Debby, family included everyone in her close circle, blood relative or not, regardless of whether one’s official title had “step-” or “half,” “in-law” or “twice removed” in it.

When you’d talk to her she’d go through the list—asking how you were, and how your partner was, then your dog, and our mutual friends. Anyone you introduced to Debby became a mutual friend. That’s how she operated.

She asked about everyone not to make small talk, but because she genuinely cared.

She was warm and thoughtful, funny and kind, and one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. So devoted was she to my uncle Charles that she, a lifelong Yankees fan, switched to the Mets; in earlier days they’d go to Port Saint Lucie to watch spring training. She was an interior decorator for many years, worked on some of the high-end lounges that were part of NYC nightlife in the ’80s. She loved good food and nice things, her manicure was flawless until the end. She loved lions. She loved having people to her house for the Jewish holidays. And most of all, she loved the people in her life and always had the capacity to welcome more.

As you may know, I believe in some form of an after life. I understand how one might not, but I’ve had experiences too otherwise inexplicable for me not to believe. And that brings me comfort. That helps me through times like these, and I’ve had a fair amount of them.

I will miss you, Tanta. Until we meet again.

It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

Better to have loved and lost

IMG_5798Take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night. 

–William Shakespeare

We’ve lost some legends in recent days and the one that’s impacted me the most is the great actor — Shakespearean and otherwise — and our dear family friend Charles Keating. If you don’t know the name, Google him and you’ll recognize his beautiful face. Charles has been an integral part of my life since I was 9 and his family moved to the States. He and my mother acted together in the early 60s, and the woman who would become the love of his life, Mary, was their wardrobe girl. We’ve spent the past 33 Thanksgivings together, as well as countless other celebrations and events. As a good friend said the other night, “They broke the mold when they made Charles. And then fired the mold-maker.” He was a poet, a dreamer, a rebel and a rogue. He taught me to memorize my favorite poem:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep, 

And nodding by the fire, take down this book

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace

And loved your beauty with love false or true

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled,

And paced upon the mountains overhead,

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

That’s Yeats. Charles recited it to my mum at her surprise 50th.

A couple of years ago I was going through a difficult transition and Charles and I had a long talk during which he imparted the following advice: Ride the horse in the direction its going.

There is so much I could say about this man. I could write volumes. I can’t imagine a world without him and I’m sad that that world now exists. But I’m blessed and better for having known him and I will take his advice as best I can.

Love you, mate.

 

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

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I have not had this particular type of insomnia in a very long time – I feel ill and wide awake and physically and emotionally exhausted. Not fun, but this too shall pass.

Our friend Phil left us yesterday morning and this makes me very blue. Phil was a wise and wild man, a sweet slip of a thing who could build, fix, or refurbish anything. We enjoyed one another’s company and it had been a couple of summers since I’d seen him – but we have many mutual friends and I knew what was going on with him, health-wise. As such matters do, this has led to a deluge of love and memories and people coming together and all those things that are supposed to ease the crushing blow of grief ever so slightly and leave in its place a bittersweet ache.

I don’t know what more to say about Phil right now – I’ve said a lot in the past 48 hours – and nothing I write here will do justice to this being who was the essence of vitality, an absolutely straight shooter who lived fast and hard and with utter authenticity every moment of every day. There is much to be learned from a person like him. And as these matters also do, as I’ve had the great misfortune to write about a couple of times since I started this thing last spring, I realize in his absence the strong hold he has on a piece of my heart. Through loss we realize our capacity to love.

Damn it.

There are a great many others for whom this is an acute loss, and I always feel self-conscious about “owning” grief when it comes to people I’ve not seen in a while, like Phil, or people I hadn’t spent all that much time with, not like Phil. It is such an intensely personal experience.

The passage of my book I’ve been stuck on for many days (please excuse grammatical and syntactical errors in this post it’s late and I feel like my brain is in aspic) is actually about grief – my goodness I sound maudlin and macabre and something-else-that-begins-with “m”, though I suppose one can’t really write a ghost story without touching upon death. Contrary to how it might seem, I need to think and talk about these things in order to live life more lightly. Talking about it doesn’t make it harder for me, au contraire mon frere, it helps me to release some of the sadness – a pressure valve situation if you will, and really if you’re reading this you have no choice in the matter. I needn’t dwell but I do need to purge. I promise this isn’t all I’m going to talk about, ever. Promise promise promise.

Went to beautiful music on Monday night, to Buckwheat Zydeco at City Winery and WOW do I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I have to get myself back down there soon. One of my main characters is from New Orleans, so perhaps I can justify it as research. Which it would be, in part. In large part actually – wait – what am I talking about?! I HAVE to go down there soon for that very reason. Though the music, food, magic, and dear friends there might play a tiny role in this desire.

Wanderlust. Such an overused word for such a perfect concept. Travel bug doesn’t have the same ring.

I want to keep writing – I feel like I could go on and on and on about many many things – but I should attempt to sleep. Not gonna happen, but I should try.

Friend-I-spoke-with-yesterday, yes, dear girl, I will write about the things we discussed in the very near future I promise. Now hush and start writing, too. You can do it. You have the life experience and we know you’ve plenty of fodder. Start somewhere. I’ll help. Just … make it happen.

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Rest, sweet one. Your light is eternal.