Addendum: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

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 So this one, obviously, is not a lyric. 

My good day was ruffled a few hours ago, and then it redeemed itself. I was running late due to a miscommunication – typed conversation breeds confusion – and when I got to the train I was asked repeatedly to swipe again; swipe again at this turnstile; too fast; swipe again. I don’t do “flustered” well and I walked in a circle, tried again, and got the same behests. 

Reply hazy, try again.

I watched helplessly as one train, then another, passed me by; I’m not the turnstile-jumping type. I went to the booth and handed the booth-gentleman my card; he did whatever it is he did and said, “This card hasn’t been used since September 19th.” I waited for him to go on, realized he was the one waiting, and said, “I haven’t used it since then!” “What have you been doing?” he asked. “I’ve used another card.” Another train roared through the station and he said something I couldn’t hear. “I’ve been traveling?” He shook his head and asked again how it is that my Metro Card hadn’t been used since the 19th. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t use public transportation as often as I should. It’s not a hygiene or a safety or a mingling-with-the-masses thing at all. It’s that … actually, maybe it is a mingling-with-the-masses thing, but not because I don’t want to do so, because I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at rushing down the stairs, at balancing, at keeping a poker face no matter what’s going on in my head, at finding my way around my hometown. If it’s doable I much prefer walking, but truth be told I spend way too much money on taxis. 

So all of this is swirling through my head while the man’s admonishing me and trains fly past.

“You’re going to have to buy a new card,” he yells.

“Okay!” Another train is pulling into the station and he’s saying something else I can’t hear, though he must realize I’m getting agitated about my thwarted efforts to get to 34th Street. I could have burst into tears and probably looked like I was about to, out of frustration as much as anything else. A young woman who’s been watching for a bit snaps at him, “Stop being so hard on her!” and offers to let me use her card. “I can’t give it to you,” she says, “But I can get you through the turnstile.

By this point it had been about 15 minutes since I was supposed to be where I was supposed to be, and it was fruitless. I thanked her, cast what I’ve no doubt was a pitiful look at the man in the booth, and went home with my tail between my legs. 

Travel snafu and aborted plans notwithstanding, this young woman was lovely to me in a ridiculous moment when I just needed someone to be lovely to me. 

The point of all this: despite what our parents warned us, do talk to strangers if you might be able to make their day a tiny bit brighter. 

I’m going to make a concerted effort to become more comfortable with the MTA.

That’ll show him. 

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days. 

I’m in love with that song

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Yesterday on the street I passed someone I knew another lifetime ago, someone I hadn’t seen since I moved from 9th Street. She is part of the fabric of this town, a lifelong New Yorker now in her 80s with stories and secrets whose surfaces I only skimmed during the five years I knew her. She was an integral part of Louie’s first few years, and she helped me immensely during a very difficult time when I couldn’t always find the energy to take care of my dog. For this I will always be grateful. I didn’t stop her – she was doing her thing, we had somewhere to be, and I’m not sure how much catching up we really need to do. But it was strange and comforting to see her still thriving in her very unique manner of thriving.

Last week, or maybe the one before, while Louie and I sat on the bench outside Joe’s and drank our (my) coffee, a gentleman sat down and struck up what seemed an innocuous conversation. The dog, the weather, the neighborhood. In the thirty minutes I knew him he told me a lot — strangers do this with me. Stranger is not the right word. He’s in Chelsea only temporarily while he waits for his apartment on the east side to be renovated; it was destroyed in an electrical fire almost a year ago. He divides his time between his friend’s place in Chelsea and his home in Hartford, Connecticut. He inherited this home from his now-deceased partner of several decades; they met in a gay bar in the West Village in the late 70s. They built a life together, alternating between the city and Hartford, where his partner was an architect and adjunct professor at the university. His partner died of a heart attack a year and a half ago, while my momentary friend was on the train heading up for a visit. He told me how hard it is knowing that he’d taken his time, that he might have been able to save him, that he didn’t get to say goodbye but was the one who had to identify the body and call his love’s children and ex-wife. He told me his love was a packrat, a borderline hoarder, and now he doesn’t know what to do with all the stuff. Everything has meaning; he remembers where they bought it and why, how they acquired it and when. He apologized for burdening me. I asked if he minded my follow-up questions and he said he appreciated them. I assured him that he was absolutely not burdening me, explained that I’m the “feeler” in my immediate family — not that the others are cold or unfeeling, but they aren’t comfortable with talking about the dark side of life, death being the darkest side of all. I have had to become comfortable with it because I’ve had to become all too aware of it – nothing I would wish for, certainly, but ignoring it doesn’t really allay my fears or expedite the grieving process. Some people, like this man (James), want to be asked about their departed loved ones, want to talk about what happened and how they feel and what they’re going to do next. If one believes these things, and I do, there’s a reason we got coffee at the same time and the bench was free when it was and the weather was such that we had something to talk about beyond what a good looking guy my dog is. I served a purpose for those however-many minutes, and I am grateful that I did. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger whom you’ll likely never see again about the things that matter. I guess. I need to talk to the people in my life in order to feel like what I have to say matters.

Beautiful weekend this past one was, combining some of my favorite things – travel and music and good food and new friends and comfort and weather and light. And love, in all its many, many manifestations.

May the bad times be fleeting, et laissez les bons temps rouler.

The band in heaven, they play my favorite song

ImageI’m learning that there is little that can be done when someone is hellbent on convincing you that they are inherently flawed, and therefore bad. Of course they are flawed – we all are – but bad is another story entirely. If someone we love turns on us, rejects us, this does not mean we are bad. This means we were not meant to be with that person, and tough a pill though that may be to swallow, it is a far cry from being a Bad Person. And really, you know this. It’s a cry for help, an excuse to spin your wheels, a reason to attach to everything that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve been heartbroken, betrayed, lied to, used, rejected – I’ve venture to say that everyone reading this has been through these things. We’ve also suffered disappointments on the work front and parents – or children – whom we can’t relate to. None of this makes us bad. This makes us human. However, worth is in the eye of the beholder, and so if you are feeling unworthy, please know that this alone does not make it so. Hard times cause self-doubt, but self-doubt needn’t perpetuate to the degree that it does.

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Today was difficult, so difficult. In the Jewish tradition we bury our dead quickly, which means we don’t have a lot of lag time to get used to the idea of someone’s passing before we ritualistically mourn them. It was difficult and beautiful to see so many people honoring Lily, speaking of her love of life and excitement over every new adventure, her utter devotion to her family and to her husband of many decades. Her children spoke. My father spoke. We buried her – quite literally, as is also tradition. It was so … final. I will take from my relationship with Lily the notion that love and life matter more than anything, that family and friends come first, that being generous has little to do with material possession, and that we dance on this planet once in this form, so we might as well turn the volume up loud. Lily was life – even if I didn’t think so before, there is no way now that anyone could convince me that physical death means the end of spirit. She is, still, way too vibrant for this. I’m sad, but I’m so much better for having known her all these years, and so much more comforted by the notion that she’s still around.

I wanna be the one to walk in the sun …

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…and other lyrics that meant absolutely nothing to me thirty years ago and that read much better out of context…Thank you, dear L, for indulging me in music, excellent food, and a jaunt down memory lane. And thank you for the gifts. You rock, mamacita. I simply love you.

Since the mishigas of last week I have taken stock of things and spoken with some of my favorite people and holy shite did I need out of that web of toxicity. There are more elegant ways I could have handled matters, but I’m going to attempt to be Machiavellian about it all. And the people at the center of that environment have no impact on my life. Except for you, dear lad, but I know you already know this, and ours is a friendship writ in the stars. Onward and upward. We’re going good places. Like Chicago. And back to the Bronx.

It is so easy to get caught up in the bullshit and forget how far we’ve come, all of us. It’s so important not to, and a big part of that is not adding to the negativity and stooping to the levels of our perceived enemies. This is the real world, and there’s no table here for the cool kids. In the real world the artists and poets and trombone players and AV squad and people who think for themselves and buck the trends and dream bigger than most are the ones who rule. Be kind to yourselves and be kind to others, because we’re all dealing with something.

Someone asked me today how I feel comfortable exposing my past and my psyche in this forum. The short answer: it’s cathartic, it’s making me a better writer, and it matters to people I love and some whom I have yet to meet. I’ve spent way too long feeling the need to hide certain aspects of myself and that really never worked. The people I connect most with get it, and I don’t have anything to hide from them. Nor do I have reason to be in denial. This is me, flaws, fabulous assets and all. And you who read my words give me purpose. Milles grazies.

Not to mention, there is a hell of a lot left unrevealed …