Amassing the Posts
My friend Rebecca Cummins helps lead a group in Vermont called Celebration of Expressive Arts, and she has asked me to come up in May and read New York Stories.
Below I'm recording some I spent Saturday recovering from Facebook. If you have any stories I've posted that you'd like me to locate because you think someone might like hearing it, let me know. And thanks.
Forthwith: Past Updates, 2009-2011.
...walks past Antoinette and Tony’s every morning en route to work. Married 68 years, they stay inside up at the windows in the cold months. Tony gums to me, “Go home!” and then, “You look gorgeous!” and I bow. Antoinette mouths, “How are you?” and I mouth, “Fine,” waving her off. I mime, “How are you?” and her right hand does the old “so-so,” and she admonishes, “Be CAREFUL!” Is there any other way to start a day?
...gives you, ladies and gents, the 3-ringed circus that is NY in the morning: In this ring, the wannabe gangstas talking “internships” and a “vampire” last night on a “pretty good episode” “who kinda died, but not his true nature”; in ring two, the Macy’s worker climbing freehand on the awning frame to change the cover to red; and in the center ring, girls in bird costumes and roller skates outside MSG. Awake yet?
...overheard this exchange at the turnstiles: “...and they’d call clients and say, ‘This looks good, you should get in on this’ when they knew...” “So what?” “But they knew it wasn’t...” “That’s not criminal.” “But...” “Buyer beware.” Have a nice day.
...’s perfect Saturday in New York, in autumn: Metropolitan Museum; walk through Central Park; exit at 65th Street for cranberry scone and tea; sip and munch at Lincoln Plaza staring at the newly unveiled fountain across from the Opera house; walk down to Columbus Circle, finished after 17 years; let an artist use her hand tracing as part of an art project; down to 20th to Le Zie for dinner with wine. And: Scene.
...has noticed this jack o’lantern happily sitting on the retaining wall by the basement-level trash alley door of this apartment building, amazed that it’s lasted all week. Today she saw why: In the back of the pumpkin are carved two holes, with a chain running through it, chaining that gourd to the iron fence behind it. In New York, we understand the importance of security. Boo!
...’s Uncle Chester (Chet) O’Hara of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is 90 years old today. Driver of the lead jeep at the liberation of Paris, POW in Germany, American Union rep. When I called him last year I told him I was really happy about the election. “That’s how you voted, huh?” he asked me. “Well, I did, too,” he said. “Now I loved Hillary, loved her...” Way to rock it, Uncle Chet. Happy Birthday.
...just had lunch with her friend Kathy B., a voiceover artist, and they took in this 7th Avenue view: A woman’s large, shapely bottom too-tightly encased in a gray miniskirt, split pleat in back. Too split. “Should we tell her?” KB asks. “No,” LO says. “Etiquette says only tell her if she can fix it. She can’t fix that.” Nor could she fix the perfect “O” split over brown panties where her anus is.
...walks toward Antoinette, out by her gate. “You hear those sirens? Saturday morning? Our neighbor, his wife died a few years back, he died, right there in front of the elevators.” She points to the building across the street. “THANK GOD he died by the elevators.” She looks at me. “So they FOUND him.”
...was squashed on the 7 Train by a stick-insect tourista Fashionista doubtless headed to Fashion Week. Sensing irritation at her mass, Lisa began embiggening herself, first the right arm, which forced the Fashionista’s left arm into her carefully rouged cheek, pushing off her hat, and ended by nearly vaporizing her before her timely exit at Bryant Park. Enjoy your skim latté.
...returning to NY from NJ, saw lots of Marathoners encaped in foil, medaled, triumphant, and looking at maps trying to figure out their stop to return to the cheaper hotels by the airport. Makes you remember that most of the runners are NOT NYers, but they see more of the five boroughs in a few hours than I have in 6 years.
...is standing by the door of a 7 Train car after it pulls in, when she is elbowed out of the way by a young Asian woman with her friend in tow. She is agitated, pushy, and is sort of shoving this book at her friend, arguing in words Lisa can’t quite hear. And the book is “Living in Compassion” by his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Namasté.
...saw a Mary Kay representative on the N Train yesterday, a red blazer with loads of lapel medals and her Mary Kay pin, chatting up a protégé in Spanish. Soft of form, voluptuous of chest, short of stature, blocks for ankles, she fairly burst with body confidence as she doubtless related cosmetics conquests past. I loved her.
...is waiting for her neighbor Gareth, a South African married to Norma, who is Irish, to come over and try to unclog this displaced American Southerner’s bathroom sink. Home for three days with flu, I’ve had to listen as a squirrel continued his demolition work inside my bedroom wall, work that’s been going on, on and off, for about four years. Snow relentless but no squirrel today! Um. Hope it’s...just resting.
...hears Dar Williams sing “February”: friend Terri died one year ago, and last week Terri’s mom died, too; I still have the flu; the UPS man said, “The delivery guy for the Chinese place, the guy with the glasses,” had been struck on his scooter and killed Friday. An old woman, out walking her dog, said, “And the driver was drunk and high when he hit him.” The whole neighborhood is bereft. We didn’t even know his name.
Whenever you feel like your life is just sucking ass, consider this rejoinder from my friend, George: "I'm better this morning. I went to Bangladesh, and a nice little girl with a distended stomach listened to all my problems from her filthy mat by the village latrine/morgue. Though the buzzing of numberless flies may have drowned out much of my sad tale, I think she appreciated all I had to say."
SUBWAY STORY January 24, 2010 On the way home from dinner Saturday night at my friend Pat’s in Murray Hill at around 1:00 AM, I walk to 23rd Street over to Park Avenue to pick up the Uptown 6 Train to Grand Central/42nd. I used to be scared of this hour until the first time I left a party at 2:30 AM and walked nervously out onto 10th Avenue…into bumper to bumper traffic, crowds of people, and then got to Times Square to find the 7 Train so packed I had to stand all the way back to Queens. So I get to Grand Central around 1:30 AM and walk downstairs to the 7 platform, which is inside a big, grimy off-white tunnel with really loud acoustics. A very tall, lanky 50ish white hippy man with his iron gray hair in a bun is playing guitar and singing (in an okay voice), “Who’s gonna drive you home…tonight…who’s gonna drive you home…” (I’m answering in my mind, “Whoever’s driving the damned train.”) There is something about the singer’s eyes that seems sort of empty, hard to read, and it’s incongruous with that mellow melody. (It’s no random observation; you have to notice these things.) Just as I am aware of the musician, I meet face to face with a guy who has been telling a sing-song story really loudly. He’s black, about 25, wall-eyed, effeminate. He is wearing two backpacks, a red one under a blue one. “Colly, why did you put that on the top of the refrigerator?” he asks in an authoritative voice, and answers himself as a tiny child, “I’m sorry Mommy.” He walks over to some people and continues, “Now Colly, you mind Miss Rhonda” and “Yes, Mommy.” He walks to another group. “…I can’t go on…thinkin’…nothing’s wrong…who’s gonna drive you home…tonight…” “Now you listen to Miss Rhonda. We’re getting on the bus now.” “Yes, Mommy.” He walks. Suddenly an older black man, like a character out of the young man’s story, a story that has notes of Southern culture woven into it, appears on the platform. He’s wearing a kind of small-brimmed fedora—what are those hats called?—butterscotch colored, and a matching golf sweater, odd on this frosty night. He shouts, “Do you have your medicine?” And the young man answers, completely clearly, “It’s in my bookbag.” “Well, take it!” the old man commands. “I’m doing make believe,” the young man explains; he continues to himself, “Did you hear what I said?” “Yes, Mommy.” The old man lingers, and then moves along. I’d thought he was a caretaker, but he’s no one to him. Was he even there? “…who’s gonna drive you home…” By now the platform is getting full: young, stylish women, middle-aged men, young guys, many on iPods—Hispanics, Asians, whites, blacks—all headed back to Queens after a long work day, or a night out. The Make Believe Man is pacing and pacing, telling his story from one group to the next: “Yes, Mommy.” In this wild flash, the guitar-playing man quits his song and shrieks, “SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU SICK FUCK! SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU FUCKIN’ NIGGER! OUT OF BELLVUE! GO BACK TO THE HOSPITAL YOU FUCK! WHY DID THEY LET YOU OUT, FUCK? TALK ABOUT A HATE CRIME, I’LL SHOW YOU A HATE CRIME…” Unfazed, the young man explains in the same voice he’s been using with the story, but in a more matter-of-fact tone, “I’m talking make believe.” Then he continues, “Are you ready to get on the bus with Miss Rhonda?” “Yes, Mommy.” “Stop sucking your thumb, Colly.” “Yes, Mommy.” “YOU SICK FUCK, YOU SICK MOTHERFUCKER…” and the guitar man is packing up his instrument, swearing threateningly all the while, and there is an expectation in his outraged voice that we on the platform will be on his side. No one really moves, no one stares. The energy, though, curiously embraces a whole new tolerance for the previously annoying Make Believe Man. I catch the eye of an older Hispanic man looking at me—I notice his pencil-thin mustache and soft yellow jacket—and there’s a silent agreement between us that Guitar Man is the real lunatic. Finally Guitar Man stalks past me, “STUPID SICK FUCK….” He knows he’s alone in his rage. No hate crime occurs. Jesus. The subway train pulls up and I get on. There is a seat, but only if I insinuate my wide ass into the space (however graciously the guy in the Pit Bull coat tries to slide aside), and I’d been sitting a long time at Pat’s so I decide to stand by a door (I smile, give a little wave down low, and say, “No, thanks,” to Pit Bull Coat, who flashes a little corner-mouthed smile before he looks distant and unaffected again). This gives me a good view of things. Knowing that one always meets her fate in the path she takes to try to avoid it, I am not at all surprised when Make Believe enters my car by walking through the sliding doors from the next car. He keeps walking, though, as he tells his story, briefly startling only the people who were already on the car when the train pulled in. Looking around, I realize that everyone in this car could be from the cast of Freak Show: So many facial scars, off-hue skin tones, oddly low hair lines, squashed cheeks, deep furrows, beady eyes, hair too shiny, heels too high. One woman is arrestingly tiny, maybe just over 4 feet (when I see her exit), stick-limbed, Lohan-chic, such a doll-like blonde head, talking to a large texting man who seems to be answering her English questions with another language. When I catch a reflection of myself in a window, I see my waxed-canvas stovepipe-y hat over grey corkscrew hair and know that I, too, belong in the Freak Car. It’s homey enough. What the hell. I hear the sliding doors open at the other end of the car. “Colly, no thumb-sucking now.” And the doors close. Make Believe has moved on. The frost feels especially tingly on the dark walk home from the station. All so quiet. For now. Freaky.