Sunday, July 20, 2003

Gone for a week

These pages must wait awhile while I get some sun and rest.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Openings and openings of another mind.

I went to an opening last night. CB and several others had redecorated, no that’s the wrong word, reformed their hotel rooms on 25th Street. It’s the Carlton Arms and it’s as close to being a work of art as a building can get. Not the outside, the inside. Every wall, no, every square inch of the walls, hallways, doors, ceilings, light fixtures has been transformed in some way. Giant portraits of whowasthat flow down the staircases while the halls have landscapes from New York City and maybe Uranus, or the back of someone’s haircut. Arrows indicate some direction. Some signs ask for assistance in keeping the cats in the lobby. There is color everywhere. It is the backroom of the every stagebar of the sixties dragged whole into the present, still kicking.
C was showing her use of shades and lights to cut pieces out of a room, but the group was speaking Danish and I quickly lost interest. Though she was right about how the light glowed in the shower. I wandered up to S’s place overlooking the Hairy Monk Bar. He has made a forest of the walls. Trees grow up to the plaster rail and then sprout out their branches into the room. A leaf-covered lamp shimmers overhead. He says he likes to meditate here and I can see that happening.
I headed uptown via Madison Square park passing a chic restaurant where the patrons were sitting outside smoking, eating their $22.00 pasta while across the street at the Armory, a couple of the local homeless were sitting outside smoking eating something out of a can. I walked towards Fifth.
When was the last time you thought about angels? I saw one in a window and thought that it had been some time now since I’d given them much thought and when I turned the corner the windows were suddenly full of them. Sleek angels, tall ones, angels with their arms around each other, wings spread on some, wings hidden on others. A tourist bus roared by with the guide urging the folks to look ahead to see the Flatiron Building when it was gone my eyes were left on a fourth floor window. There was a women standing there talking on a phone. She was explaining something to someone, her left hand pumped and waved and fluttered as she made her point or listened.
I like this area. In the space of five blocks you can go from the Bank of China and the CT WAN Import Shop (for rent), past Svennigans and the Museum of Sex ‘entrance around the corner’ sign to the Marble Church that once heard the voice of Norman Vincent Peale. The tourists were huddled in little groups by the Empire State Building, worn out from the day’s walking and seeing and smelling. The barricades that keep anyone from parking weren’t stopping the cabs from stopping. I turned again and was refreshed by the air conditioning blasting out from the sneakers shops and H/M along 34th street. Someone set off the bleeper at the door of one of the stores as they went in, the guard who was talking on his cell phone didn’t even look up.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003


There are ten thousand plays being performed in New York City today, right now, between the corners of Lex and 3rd Ave on 23rd Street. See other streets for more listings. Thing is, you don’t get to see the whole production, just a scene or a mini-scene- the woman in the jeans holding her tears- the guy in his car yelling into his cell phone “Listen??! No, no, no, YOU listen!!.” -the guy in front of the deli on his cell phone speaking Hebrew into the phone, Spanish to the guy he watching unload a truck and English to everyone as they go in for a sandwich-
Today let’s have a longer look at Myna, that’s not her real name, I don’t know her real name, she just looks like a Myna,
A myna bird. She’s little, about five foot tall and like millions of other New York women, she dresses entirely in black. Black hat, scarf, coat, dress, stockings and, then there are those shoes. They are men’s Rockports, black,of course, and while I am not a shoe expert, I would guess she is about a size seven shoe and these are about size twelve. Hugh, floating on her feet as she drifts from the edge of the street out into the lanes of traffic. Myna, I should have mentioned, does not ever walk on the sidewalk, she stands just off the curb, in the right turn lane, not in traffic exactly but not out of it either. She is placid as the bikes and motorcycles invade her space and should a car venture near she walks out in between the car and the left lane, clip-clopping those giant shoes in slo-mo, then turns to smile at the driver. She has a vacant smile for those who are just passing, then resumes her station near the curb.
I first thought that she stood there waiting for the Nepalese guy at the newsstand to bring her a paper which he does everyday. He gets up from behind his counter, gets a Daily News and brings it to the curb where she is ready and pays for it and then she tucks it up inside her coat and he goes back inside. They must have been doing this a long time, they do not greet each other, it’s just here’s the paper- here’s the two quarters.
She does beg, but not from passersby. She only hits on cabbies. Anytime a taxi is stopped at the 3rd ave light, she wanders out into traffic and over to the driver’s window. She flashes a wonderful smile at this point and says something to the cabbie. Most times the cab just rolls on, but I have seen a driver give her a dollar. She took it with graceful charm and put it in one of her coat pockets.
Last Sunday, she was at her station, perched, when a sudden rainshower caught everyone on the street by surprise. Great drops of rain followed very quickly by huge sheets of water poured from the sky. I was caught at Starbucks without a umbrella but looking out the window I saw Myna had one. A little black parasol that she held tightly against the wind, the rain poured down around her and rushed past her in the gutter, but there she was, enduring.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

The blind lead us all

It happened again yesterday. It seems like every time I’m having a bad day, feeling sorry for myself, something comes along to remind me of what’s real.

What’s real is that it’s one hundred and eleven steps from the subway exit to my front steps. I know because I counted them last night after meeting yet another of the thousands of blind people in the city. I cannot for the life of me figure out how they do it? I know people, sighted people, people with no handicaps of any kind whatsoever unless you are counting growing up with an abusive father, who will not take the subway. Yet, every day nearly, I see a person or two persons with their white canes and their intense attitude standing on the platform. There’s a woman who lives a building or two down from mine who takes the train downtown every morning. It’s hard enough to figure out the trains and the changes due to construction and to decipher the unintelligible announcements on the speakers and get to where you want to go, but to have to do it in total darkness seems to me to a be supreme human accomplishment, but when you ask them, the unsighted say that the city gives them greater freedom than living in any other place would. Here (NYC) they can go out shopping or to a park or to the library or to a concert without any need for a ride from a sighted driver. They get on a bus, or a subway and off they go.
Still, I am in awe.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Yesterday's Subway Moment

Brought to you periodically when something actually happens.

It was early, 6:30 AM, at 168th Street on the A. A woman with a cane and a round, blue hat got on slowly, look right and left, hesitated, looked again then took three small steps to a seat. The train lurched forward just as she settled herself across from me, next to a tall, black woman. The car was nearly empty, just a few people scattered here and there. She was elderly, maybe 70 years, maybe not. She wasn’t your usual commuter. She was dressed well though, like she was going to a luncheon, maybe she was headed for a doctor’s appointment downtown. She held her purse under her left arm and her cane with her right hand. The train rattled and banged through the tunnel for a few minutes, then just before 145th it suddenly stopped. There was blast of air outside from the brakes. We waited. No announcement. The train moved a little, then stopped again. No word from the conductor.
“I’ve never liked to take the train.” She said to no one in particular.
“Me neither.” Replied the other woman. She had been reading a book, but now she turned to the older woman and smiled. “ I hate it when they stop like this.”
“Yes, they should say something.”
The train didn’t move.
“I’ve never liked to take the train.”
“Hmm, but how else you going to get around?”
“But they should say someth...”
The speaker overhead squalled and issued out a series of hisses as if to reply. There were no actual understandable words.
“Especially since that day, I mean, I didn’t like it before then, but now, I find it hard to do.”
“I know what you mean, I always try to bring something to read, something to keep my mind from it.”
“Oh, I can’t read on the train anymore, my eyes..”

The train began to move and soon it was at normal speed, the lights out in the tunnel flashing by. The noise kept me from hearing the rest of their conversation, but I could see the nods of agreement, the smiles, the older woman asking for something to be repeated, the younger one touching her hand. They were riding together now, passing the time, keeping their minds on each other and off whatever else.

At 34th Street, the woman with the cane rose unsteadily and exited.

“That was nice of you,” I said as the train started again, “to keep her company like that.” The woman smiled and looked at her book. The car doors opened at 14th Street and I got up to go.

“Hey, “she said,” You’ve got it wrong. I’m the one who really hates the train, she was comforting me.”

I waved.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

So they asked at who I would invite to a party from all the people who ever lived......... so here is the list:

What I have in mind for my party is a big tub of beers and about six kinds of bourbon. The eats will be at a table inside, barbeque, dogs and potato salad and all the trimmings, but outside on the porch, sitting in a big circle, trading songs and saying "Hold on, let's see that again." are

Pete Seeger: who taught me not to be afraid of holding unpopular ideas.
Joan Baez: a voice clear as a candle flame in a darkened club.
James Taylor: I started stealing his chord changes in 1968.
Van Morrison: I just want to have some goosebump moments.
Joni Mitchell: At the big piano, or playing my Martin 12 string.
Eric Clapton: I want to hear him and Pete together. Don't you?
Roy Orbison: the candy colored clown, where did that come from?
Bonnie Raitt: The only singer who makes me cry every time.
B.B. King: If there were no blues, there would be no music.
Janis Joplin: Pass the jack, sing a little 'Bobbie Magee'.

Don't come over early, things won't really get going till about 2 in the morning when we all start trying to remember the first song we ever played that sounded like music.

Did I forget to mention that all my musicians have to come as they were in 1969? You can rest in the chairs on the side lawn and listen. Or you can traipse inside for the food or mosey around back where Elmer, my friend from Tulsa, who made barbeque so sweet and tender, will be running his smoker. He can rest in peace later.
My mom (r.i.p.) has made three kinds of salad for the beans and greens crowd and there's no limit as long as you eat what you take and put your dirty plate in the barrel! And pies, you want pies? We've got blueberry (picked at Gramma's Jeff's farm this morning) and peach (brought in from North Carolina by my sister and her partner Elaine), there's two kinds of strawberry and a rhubarb that will make you think you're the one who's died and gone to heaven.
People will come and go all night, wandering over to see where the music is coming from, then sit there for awhile under the trees. Up on the little balcony, off the yellow bedroom, there's a little box of rolled up treasures and some wooden matches. I'll go up there with any of you who wants to be a little mellow. We'll have a toke or two and watch the smoke drifting out with the breeze. The music will rise, the moon will move across the sky and, one by one, the lights across the valley will go out.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Sound in subway
There is a sound in the subway this morning, a single sound made by an ill-fitted fan belt or a bearing in need of lubrication. It flies high and constant over the crowd here, not loud, but present through the MTA announcements, disappearing in the clamor of the arriving uptown 9 train,
floating back up after the doors chime shut and last car clatters up the tunnel.
It is a note, a held note (what is real term?) as if played on a single violin string, one of those notes from the old murder movies, used to build a sense of dread, the feeling that something deadly was about to happen and that it would happen as soon as the note ended, but this sound, this note, does not end. It goes on and on, neither rising nor falling, it seems to bear down on us.

Newcomers to the platform look around at us, catching the dread from just the sound.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The cousin is here from Ireland. Is there any better talk than about the people we love and their stories? Whose been married or carted away? Whose children are now grown and have children themselves. We spent last evening in a noisy restaurant scribbling names.
Names, I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Monday, July 07, 2003

More Bike Skeletons Spotted
No, I am not as yet obessed with dead bicycles, but I could become a sort of tour guide to the city's bike skeletons. Each rusted frame, each wheelless hulk, has as much a story behind it as those shipwrecks at the bottom of the sea, the only difference is that the bike's tale is probably about one person, maybe two, but that makes it all so much more personal. This was somebody's ride, somebody took this machine to work or to the park or went and got the groceries on it, then one day, somebody else stole the seat or the front wheel. That has to be a tough experience, don't you think? You come out of your building, ready to go and your bike's been messed up. What a way to start your morning. I can see the poor rider looking both ways down the street as if to spot the ratbastards in the distance, the wheel under their arm as they run. Then what? Do they touch the frame as if to reasure Ol' Betsey that everything's going to be all right, did they have to go back inside to tell their lover about the theft, or call the cell of the person they were supposed to meet and say they weren't coming, that someone had stolen their wheel. Was there a fight with the roommate who didn't get the chain on right so the thief could get the wheel off? Were there protests of innocence and recriminations?
Maybe just key to the kyptonite lock went missing, along with all the other keys to the apartment, and all the others could be re-made, the top lock, the bottom lock, the key to the front door, all the keys to the office, but not the key to the bike on the sidewalk, so it just got left for people to pick over and step around and watch slowly disappear.
That's what happens to dead bicycles, they slowly disappear. If I was going to be a bike skeleton spotter and guide, I know it would be frustrating work because as soon as you see a good example, almost a work of art like the twisted frame with rusted chain near 8th and 16th, someone spirits it away too. Okay, the super finally gets around to cutting the damned thing off the railing after it's been there two and half years, but I would hate to be the one who tries to take people to see these things and then find out they are gone.
There was a nice yellow one with fenders but no wheels or seat chained outside of Baruch College for the past four months. They took the pedals and bottom bracket about three weeks ago leaving the solid rust chain draped over the bike rack. A couple of days ago, as I was passing by, I saw the building's men working on cutting the rest free. There's just a little oil spot on the sidewalk there now.