Old Habits

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I am sitting in the front seat in a white van with seven other filmmakers. As we pull away from the airport heading to Birmingham proper, we introduce ourselves to the others. Our films have been programmed to play at the Sidewalk Film Festival and everyone is happy, including our driver, a red-faced, cherub cheeked, gap-toothed man. He hands a festival poster back for us to sign.

“You never know when one of you might become famous,” he says. “might be worth something some day.” We all sign it.

I’m in this van by accident. I’ve taken a respite from the exorbitantly expensive hobby of submitting my films to festivals, though, apparently, under the influence of coffee or wine, I shot off a submission in a random, unfocused manner and got accepted into the line-up.

The acceptance email was lost in the shuffle and swirl of my post-burglary emails, my acclimation to my new technological landscape on the slow side. Inspired, by one of my new anthem, I pledged that “living well is the best revenge” and that no drug-addled thief would stop me from playing in this random festival. I nearly blew up my computer first searching for files of the film ,then downloading software that could actually open it on my fledgling computer. The discovery of an egregious continuity error, one that I had missed despite my weeks of editing, watching, editing, watching, threw me into a tail spin. I considered surrender. But then I pushed it from my mind. I will do this, I told myself. And, somehow, I did.

I wasn’t planning to go to the festival. And then I was. And then I wasn’t. And then I was. And then I wasn’t. And then I ran into a dog walking buddy who programs films for festivals. “You have to go,” he said. “It’s one of the best festivals out there. And it’s so much fun.”

So, I decided to go. And then I decided not to. And then I decided to go. And then I decided not to. And then I booked a flight on miles and a hotel room reservation on my credit card. And then I packed my things in boxes among the deadly drilling of deconstruction outside my apartment window and the smell of entropy emanating from my hoarder neighbor’s apartment, the ego shattering, but successful, attempt to earn my motorcycle license without killing someone, and the vague, head-splitting dive into a major mid-life crisis.

I mean ‘crisis’ in a good way.

And then I decided not to go.

And then I went.

I’m a sucker for a happy-ish ending. Aren’t you?

Of the eight others in the van, one is drives, five make documentaries, and two are animators. One lives in Alabama, one has been at the festival before, one knows all about the festival, but has never been, and six of us have no idea what to expect.

It was great.

It was great because with these others film makers, and the other others I met over the weekend, film makers and film watchers both, I remembered who I am.

In the van, at the party, walking the sidewalks from venue to venue, we label ourselves. Our bright yellow lanyards read ‘filmmaker.’ This weekend, we are special. When asked, we label what we do, how we make our films, the medium within the medium of visual story telling. But as we drink our beers, wine, fruit juice, and soda the labels peel away until we all become versions of each other. We are story-tellers. Every single one of us.

Stories are human. Stories keep us connected. Stories are real. Stories, our silly little, serious little stories are important.

Walking through the streets, I felt a little important, like a toy soldier fighting to keep the doorway of communication open by clearing a path with my stories so that others can tell theirs.

I wonder what would happen if there came a day when every human individual laughed at the very same time. What would all of humanity do with all that joy? Would our laughter cause the mountains to shake?

That was Thursday.

On Friday, I wander into an uptown coffee shop that may or may not a nursery for baby hipsters. The coffee guys are fresh-faced and clean, dressing in white button down and vintage ties, the southern version of their New York City Stumptown Coffee brethren. They don’t speak so much as languidly spill words which run together like soft cloth, even as their coffee breaks through both cream and sugar. It’s the sort of coffee that requires a water back.

This fuel rockets me first into the blazing sun, and then to the Birmingham Museum of Art, where Hale Woodruff’s Talladega College murals tell stories so deep of slavery and emancipation, that I begin to weep caffeine clouded tears.

On Saturday, I wake up early. I need that coffee, I covet that coffee, I desire that coffee with such a fever that I’m pulled from my hotel room into the sweltering streets. Before the street is the lobby and before that, the elevator, which packed with twelve orange shirts. Smiling, chattering people, boldly stating that “all lives matter,” and that “Planned Parenthood and the MIddle East are monsters.” There is a Glenn Beck rally happening a few streets over from the film festival. Oil and water.

They swarm my coffee place asking a million little questions, struggling with the milk thermos, keeping me from my drug. I leave defeated, yet determined to find coffee somewhere between here and there. A good cup. Birmingham’s street throb with history and heart, a good cup of coffee can’t be that hard to find…

Every corner, ever sidewalk is packed. People with orange shirts. I ping-pong through the crowd. Another good coffee place, another crowd. Where are my people, I silently cry. Where’s my coffee? And for a terrible moment, I ask myself a terrible question. Where are the story-tellers, the glue that hold this place together.

And then, in a moment, I catch myself swimming upstream against the current as scared of the fish I’m surrounded by as they are of me. And I resolve to talk to someone with an orange shirt and ask them what and why.

I do it, too. At the airport the following day.

Some land has a heart beat, some cities, a pulse. Birmingham, I slowly realize, has a soul that expands and contracts with every given victory, every given deception. It’s alive, and it’s flavor is deeply complex.

“What was your biggest take away,” I ask the orange shirt as we line up to board. I know him from the hotel van.

“We’re all one,” he says, “and I should go to church more often. And I wish we had a black Baptist church where I’m from,” he adds. “My congregation back home don’t know how to sing at all.”

Birmingham, I think I have a crush on you.

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construction/ deconstruction

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The exit ramp out of limbo is a construction zone. The cars are crawling. Day workers wave orange traffic flags. Roaring diesel machines of construction and deconstruction, rusted metal dinosaurs, loom, swing, crunch, guffaw, and weep as candy colored cars creep by.

Noise, like shaken sand, reaches into crevices and remote crannies of any given collection of things. While jack hammers hammer the alley to pieces during these thick days of summer, my hoarder neighbor begins the Herculean task of cleaning his apartment. The smell that emanates from his floor is pungent. It wafts through the building, down the elevator shaft, and lingers in the lobby. It creeps between the sand and noise of the construction/ deconstruction zone. It drives cockroaches from their home and into the hallways and apartments of others, proving that life can get louder in an infinite number of ways.

For two days, I escape the grating noise of construction for the hum of motorcycle motors, the beating sun, and smell of hot asphalt. I’m acquiring my motorcycle license via the Motorcycle Safety School protocol. I ride a cracked scooter, 125cc engine, the dashboard pieced together with clear packing tape. I’m the runt of the litter, puttering at half speed behind the motorcycles of my peers. This new-to-me form of locomotion shakes my frazzled nerves. Hypnotized by the thrum of engines, the sweltering heat, the exhaustion and exhaust, I ride my little scooter into a fence. Afterwards, I putter with such an absence of speed that I am a wonder to instructor and fellow student alike. I am The One Who Might Not Pass.

The first day, I am a novelty. The second a disaster. Both days, I am the underdog.

And yet, I pass my test.

Happy midlife crisis, everyone!

***

I pack a box every day for three weeks straight. I start with a set of smart blue bins, bought for me by the kindest friend I have, one who carries me from point to point with a style so subtle, I don’t realize that we were moving until we’ve moved.

In these bins, I place things I don’t immediately need.

I  buy clear plastic bins in a manic panic at Target on a day I can no longer take the noise of the construction. Into them go the things I know I might want to find. Recycled cardboard boxes catch books, antique photo album, vitamins, hard drives. Each box gets a cursory note, written on a post-in with a failing sharpie pen. “Inspiration,” says one, “sheets and blankets,” “ideas,” “tea.”

Then come the cardboard boxes from Home Depot. Kitchen supplies, a seemingly endless collection of forks and knives, dishes, pots and pans, can openers, turkey basters, candy thermometers… coffee pots, blenders, whisks, and towels.

Like at the end of a catered affair, when guests wander from their tables, and the cater waiters are pour coffee, the enterprise looses its way. Toilet paper mixes with light bulbs, socks, and staplers. Jewelry, paper, pencils, and pillows. The more I pack, the more I toss, the more I give away, the more I seem to own. Endless piles of things I need and don’t need. Little bits of life, like sand and noise, squeeze into the cracks of everything.

Overwhelmed by stuff, I call for reinforcements.

My sister comes to help.

***

The good and the bad thing about sisters is that they think they know you better than anyone else. The other good and the bad thing about sisters is sometimes they do. When you tell them that they are wrong, they assume you are lying to them.

The best and worst thing about being the youngest sister, is that you always have someone who, even if shorter than you, you look up to.

The worst worst thing about being a youngest sister is that you spend your early years running after your more ambulatory siblings, and never, ever catch up.

The best thing about being a youngest sister, is that every once in a while your older siblings will stop, wait, and maybe even walk back to help you dust off your knees when you fall.

On that note, let’s have a word about U-Haul.

***

I reserve a 10′ truck, one way to Dover. It’s to be packed with my things, now shoved mercilessly into bins – soy sauce, Sriracha, shampoo, and soap, and driven by the same friend who carries me long distances as well as short. That’s the plan.

Until U-Haul tries to send me 25 uneasy miles both ways – out of my way – to pick up the vehicle.

I formulate a new plan.

I reserve a 9′ cargo van, round trip from a U-Haul place closer to me. That friend who carries me long distances and short, who once convinced me to release 150 ladybugs into my apartment to help with my ailing plants, yet who I still trust implicitly, will drive.

I tell the lady on the phone that I need it for two days. She says, “no problem.” There will be no rush driving it back to New York.

Until U-Haul reveals that they are only renting it to me for 24 hours. They tell me this when I pick up the vehicle.

“But, I rented it for two days.”

“It’s in the computer for one.”

“I rented it for two.”

“I can’t change the computer.”

“I will be late.”

“There’s nothing I can do.”

We assess the smallness of the vehicle. I tell my friends who are helping me move that my desk, my yellow chair, my clothes, and my toothbrush are priority items. My dog spends the day hiding in her bag.

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If my life in New York was a movie, moving would be towards the end of act three – a montage of packing and repacking, pushing heavy boxes into the hallway, the flagging elevator, the van… a perfect bookend to my arrival almost 22 years ago, when I stepped off the train with a cello and a suitcase. My oldest New York friend, who I met my first day in the city, and my newest friend, who I met a few months ago, are helping with the move out. In the last moment of a perfect movie, you’d see my hand switch off the apartment lights, lock the door. You’d see my feet walk out the building’s front door.

But, that’s not the end.

In the moments before I fall asleep in my friend’s guest bedroom in New Hampshire I realize I’ve forgotten my dresser. It stood lonely in the corner of my almost empty bedroom as we moved things out of the living room. Immediately after this realization, I am hit with the overwhelming need to sweep my floors. And so, when my friend and the U-Haul van drive back to New York, I go with them.

I sweep. I clean. I surrender more left behind things to the basement of my building. My friend who has carried me all this way and I drink beer on the roof of the building. The sunset is scattered and beautiful, as if five different artists took turns on a single canvas. In one part, the tops of grey cumulous clouds are tinged with fire. Behind, against the bright blue sky, golden clouds stretch out. A salmon sunset hits the southern sky. And a charcoal artist has smudged streaks over the watercolor blues, golds, and pinks.

The movie could end there, too.

But it doesn’t.

My friend who has carried me all this way and back again, carries me further, to White Plains, where I sleep in a guest room furnished for a little boy. In the morning, he carries me back to the train, which carries me to the bus that carries me back to New Hampshire.

***

Before I step out of the car in the White Plains railroad station parking lot, he hands me a lottery ticket with a flick of his wrist. It’s the same ticket that’s been under a magnet on my refrigerator for a month or two. I bought it in New Hampshire. It has the stickiest part of a sticky note stuck under the numbers. “You won $1,” it says.

“You forgot this,” he says.

And that, my friends, is a good place to end.

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4000

IMG_2659Below is a brief history lesson. I’ll try to keep it interesting. There will be no tests.

On Wednesday, July 12, 2015, the Broadway juggernaut Jersey Boys played its 4000th performance. That’s 500 weeks, eight shows a week, with one day off each week. The Broadway company has spent nearly ten years etching the simplified, musicalized, and ever so slightly fictionalized account of the unlikely birth and death of the Four Seasons. Even by today’s standards, it’s a sharp musical. The script is tight, the stage choreography, tight. The music, tight.

The producers brought a hug cake to the theater Wednesday between shows. Actually, they brought four cakes. One in the shape of a 4, and three in the shape of 0’s. The actors wore t-shirts commemorating the event and smiled of the cake as a Broadway promotional website photographer snapped their pictures.

There’s an adage you might’ve heard, especially if you’ve spent any time in the theater. It is important to note that there are many exceptions to the rule.

It goes like this:

Question: How do you make an actor unhappy?

Answer: Give them a job.

To this well-heeled joke, I propose an addendum:

Question: How do you make an actor happy?

Answer: Give them cake and a photo op.

This 4000th performance (and the ones that follow) represent a triumph for our production company, a group that produces more original works than revivals, and sometimes takes chances on questionable material, just because they like it. In 2005, they poured their last resources into this little show, with its cast of unknowns, and discovered after the first preview that they had a hit on their hands.

Jersey Boys has outrun Mary Poppins, Hairspray, My Fair Lady, Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, and 42nd Street during its lengthy run, and is fast on the heels of Miss Saigon. As the show coasts towards its ten year anniversary, ten years of world history, its lodged in the personal history of hundreds of thousands of theater goers as well as the actors, front of house, and backstage crew that make it happen every night. The August Wilson Theater has witnessed ten years of marriages, babies, dogs, cats, and deaths. I can’t help but feel a touch sentimental as I inch towards the door, an invisible cog in a very big wheel. A part of theatrical history.

When I accepted my position at the show the first time, when it was new, I told a friend that Jersey Boys would be the last show I supervised on. I left three years after the opening, and after a brief, and unsuccessful stint in Los Angeles, I supervised and ran, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight shows. And then I returned to Jersey Boys, and never say never, but it looks like I was right all along. It looks like Jersey Boys will be the last Broadway show I supervise.

There was a time, when I was in college, that I believed with all my heart that I would be happy doing anything in a theater. I’d be happy to carry a sword on stage, happy to build a set, to sweep between the audience seats, happy to take out the trash. Theater’s been good to me. Broadway’s been good to me, but this is no longer the case.

Still, it’s hard not to be sentimental.

Plus which, I know it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings.

End of lesson.

***

Question: When do you leave for New Hampshire?

Answer: I don’t know. Sometime in August.

Question: Where are you living?

Answer: I don’t know.

***

Imagine this: I’m biking through the gentle hills of Limbo. The scenery is spectacular, at once riddled with reference to the past, and colored with hope for the future. It’s the landscape of my life in watercolor.

In LImbo, the past and present unfold on either side of the quiet road. In the distance is a wide vista with rolling hills. By my bike wheels, are mini forests, full micro-flora and fauna, a fractals of the bigger picture. The trees bend and shake their leaves. There’s no rush in Limbo. In fact, the more you push, the slower you go, the longer Limbo Road becomes. May as well enjoy the scenery.

In my bike basket, I have a pair of scissors, a needle and thread, a towel, a small dog, a toothbrush, and a pair of reading glasses I’m still afraid to wear. I used to have a sandwich as well, but the dog ate it.

Th scissors are for cutting ribbons, that quaint practice of politicians and local business magnates symbolically opening up their store, their mining operation, a new monument for business. The needle and thread are for sewing up previously cut ribbon so that as I leave, someone else has the honor of cutting the ribbon int heir own way.

On the left, I’m coasting by the last ten years. Past my return to Jersey Boys after a four-year hiatus, back on the train to Los Angeles, where I tried on a life that didn’t quite fit, back past the Tony awards, to the first performances when the show was stopped night after night by a wall of applause. Now I’m passing the invited dress rehearsal, the ten out of twelves, the final run through at the rehearsal studio, the meet and greet of the little show that may or may not make it. For me, it was another job. An interesting job. An exciting job. But, I didn’t have much to lose.

Even so, I think there’s an opportunity here to come up with a new adage, on that works for the backstage crew I’ve worked with longest and know the best. It goes like this:

Question: How do you make a crew person happy?

Answer: Give them a job.

Question: How do you make them even happier?

Answer: Give them a day off, a piece of cake, and a bottle of wine.
***

Long story short, ‘m watching the last ten years in reverse as my dog rifles through my purse, which is also int he bike basket, I’m waving goodbye to the strange, amorphous, quietly generous, sometimes turbulent, often loving family called Jersey Boys. In another six days, I’m going to stand up on the pedals, and yell from the handle bars, “so long! Maybe I’ll see you on the next one. And thanks for all the laughs”

Limbo can be cool, if you have a nice set of wheels.

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24 Hour Good Luck Taxi Cab Company

car2Dear friends,

I’ve had a lot on my mind these past few weeks.

The writing’s on the wall.

Christmas candy and wreaths are on display at the dollar store and the weather, as contrary as it is, is leaning stronger in one direction than the other. Even the sun rains down warm golden hues, like the skin of a perfectly cooked turkey. Restless Autumn breathes in green and breathes out reds, yellows, and browns. Summer’s over and the year is tumbling towards its end.

For me, time, destiny, and desire are at odds with each other, and I find myself lost in the labyrinth of life, where nothing seems to change, even if everything is different.

My study of dating rituals across the country has been stymied twice in the past two months. My Nebraska trip blocked by an angry madman in Chicago and the fires he set. I cancelled my Maryland trip for the more personal reasons of exhaustion and apathy. The cool blows in every night and lingers until morning. And I, buried deep in the down comfort corners of my little home, am lulled to sleep by its song.

Last night as I lay in bed listening to my dog’s whistling snores, I wondered if it’s time for me to move on. I’ve dated from shore to shore for three years and still, 24 states loom large, their dating cultures just beyond my reach. Rent, work, and dog bones have hindered my ambition. Perhaps it is time for me to bring this story to an end.

A good friend once said, “the years go by and we just don’t die, and so we keep getting older and older.” Time is a ticking clock and I have many other stories to tell.

I fell asleep. And in my sleep I dreamt.

There was a doorway on a side street on an island much like Manhattan. The streets and alleys were washed in endless gradients of grey. Above the dream doorway was a sign that flashed “24 hour good luck cab company.” Just beyond the dark grey exterior and the light grey bricks, just through the door, was another door. That door was open, too. There was a desk. And a phone. A red wall. A praying mantis leaned its elbows on the counter, reading a book.

I suspected I was witnessing a moment I was not supposed to see. I stepped inside.

“Where to,” said the bug.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“A lovely destination. One of my favorites.”

And then, as it is with dreams, I was sitting in the backseat of a taxicab. The driver was a ladybug, as fat as could be. It’s belly pressed up against the steering wheel, its girth taking up most of the front seat. A tooth pick hung from the corner of his lips. He winked when he talked.

We drove through the dull and dreary landscape, over hills, and around traffic circles.

Then, the landscape changed. High rises and street lamps gave way to hills and valleys of jagged edges, at once as beautiful as snow and as frail as fallen leaves.

“Where are we,” I asked, leaning forward on the seat. The back edge of his wing tickled my fingers.

“We’re passing through the Valley of White Noise. It’s always been a vast area, but lately it’s grown even larger, wider, longer. See over there -” He pointed into the distance, where what looked like mountains emerged from a melting fog. “Those are new. The landscape’s shifting.” He slowed the car.

“It’s a coral reef made from words,” I gasped. “Used words.”

He smiled, winked, and nodded. “Do you want to see your corner?”

“I have real estate in the Valley of White Noise?”

He nodded. “Almost everyone does. Some cover more territory than others.”

I shuddered and shook my head. “I don’t want to see,” I said. “I don’t want to know.”

“What don’t you want to know,” he asked.

“I don’t want to know what I don’t want to know anymore,” I cried. “I don’t want to hear what I don’t want to hear. I don’t want to see what I don’t want to see. And I don’t want to see where my words, thoughts, ideas go to die.”

He shifted his toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other. “That is a problem,” he said. “But since you know you don’t want to know what you don’t want to know, I would submit that you are closer to facing what you don’t want to know then you might realize.”

To which I answered, “my brain hurts.”

“The best cure for your affliction,” he said, “to ask to see what it is you don’t want to know.” He paused for emphasis. “It’s likely that your fate is bigger than your dreams.”

With that, I awoke. It was the early hours of the morning. My dog lay on her side, still snoring, still dreaming. I stirred her from her sleep, stirred myself from my sleep, stumbled into my shoes and sleepy dog and sleepy human, together, walked out of the apartment and into the world.

The city streets were shaking themselves awake, one garbage truck, one livery cab, one school bus at a time. Step by step, we stirred to life together.

I recently wrote a personal statement for a project I’m proposing. In it, I talk about story-telling. There was a time I thought it a frivolous use of one’s energy. I struggled with this thought, as telling stories is the only thing I’ve ever really, really want to do. I’ve since changed my mind. I say in my essay, though it’s not an original thought, bears repeating over and over again:

“Here’s one thing I’ve learned, working as I have: no matter the medium, we story-tellers need to be brave enough to take the responsibility of voicing our visions and humble enough to present them to an audience of one, for if we touch one life, change one paradigm, help one person, we’ve changed the world.”

And with that, I’ve decided to place this blog on a hiatus, maybe forever, or maybe until something interesting, something important, or something worth adding to The Valley of White Noise, occurs. This may or may not include ukulele, backflips, a trip to Thailand, tea with an elephant, congress with a whale, strange dreams, a couple more dates in a couple more states, and, if I’m very, very lucky, a move to Hawaii.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for my upcoming project The Book of Diva, be kind to Santa Claus, and eat lots of cookies.

almost always,

Amy

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36 Hours Out of Omaha; or things to do when your plane doesn’t fly

IMG_2065Saturday:

5 a.m.: Wake up and roll out of bed. Meet a car on your stoop to drive you to that pimple on the face of the FAA, LaGuardia Airport. Get lost a few different ways before entering airport. Secure your ticket to Omaha. You’re on your way!

6 a.m. Endure the early morning assault of angry fluorescents as you make your way through the highly dysfunctional security lines where angry, post-pubescent TSA employees treat you with unique indifference and disdain. Witness their peevish attitudes of antipathy mixed with apathy – second only to the extraordinarily mean and petty elder TSA employees in Chicago.

If a fish rots from the head down, as they say. LaGuardia airport’s fish head clearly decomposed years ago

6:30 a.m.: Just past the often overwhelmed Dunkin’ Donuts kiosk in Terminal B, find the gateways to the only good reason to come to LaGuardia Airport – Southwest Airlines. Notice that the lines have stalled. Sit by the gate entrance and listed for flight delay information. Ask the nice lady with the microphone what you should do should you miss your connection. Peruse the New York Times article: “36 hours in Omaha,” circle points of interest, and plan the day ahead, despite sinking suspicion that the next 36 hours will be spent someplace else.

7:12 a.m.: Check flight status. Eavesdrop on conversation between airline employee and mysterious decision-maker and/or messenger type on other end of her phone. Ascertain that nothing this morning is going as planned for almost every person there, and relish in the metaphorical one-ness of all of humanity stuck in a dingy, dirty, smelly, ugly airport.

7:14 a.m.: Speak to a customer representative at service desk. Ask representative if you can change flight to San Francisco. Marvel at the dissatisfied couple yelling at the customer service employees for the policies of the FAA, given that planes are grounded not out of some strange conspiracy to keep them from their daughter’s wedding, but rather because some asshole tried to burn down a radar facility while trying to slit his own throat. Lose compassion for couple, as they are cantankerous and self-entitled. And because husband sports long hair and a comb over.

Surrender to being stranded at home.

7:26 a.m.: Walk way from the gate. Should a fellow customer ask why you are leaving, as cancellation has not yet been announced, tell them you are going apple picking.

8:15 a.m.: Arrive home, confirm for personal edification that flight has been canceled.

Take a nap.

10:45 a.m.: Get a good cup of coffee at Cafe Bunni  (213 Pinehurst Avenue), and treat yourself and friend to spinach croissants and cappuccinos. Sit on bench outside, and run into friend who has recently become a father and his baby daughter. Ogle baby, catch up with friend. Run into another friend who has recently become a father. Repeat.

11:17 a.m.: Agree to drive north with friend who has not recently become a father, but does have a car, to a surprise location.

Enjoy beginnings of fall foliage lining the Saw-Mill River Parkway as you co-author the beginnings of what is sure to be a Pulitzer Prize winning a novel (excerpt below).

12:30 p.m.: Arrive at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome. Find seat in field and watch antique airplane air show. Consider the history of flight, from their Curtiss Pusher Model D to their DeHavilland DH.82 Tiger Moth. Marvel at the poetry of stunt flying and admire shiny planes do what they were built to do. Fly.

Enjoys tales of Manhattan resident and plane enthusiast who built a life-size plane model in his New York City studio apartment. Wonder if people in Omaha are having as much fun as you.

4:30 p.m.: Meander through the historic Kensico Cemetery (273 Lakeview Ave, Valhalla, NY). Perhaps you will be lucky enough to catch a Korean funereal with marching band from afar. Read tombstone names and dates. Wonder at the lives lived and the stories buried under their grounds.

6 p.m.: Arrive back home. Eat an apple with peanut butter, take a bath in your own bathtub, read in bed, and fall asleep earlier than is proper.

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Sunday:

8 a.m.: Splurge on another expensive coffee drink at fancy cafe.

Run into dog walking buddy, buy her coffee and pet her dog as she regales you with stories about New York in the eighties. Luxuriate in the last gasps of summer. People watch.

10 a.m.: Enjoy second coffee while plotting a new project at the outdoor tables of 181 Cabrini (181st St. and Cabrini Avenue). Sit at table with yellow pad and until a random friend passes by and joins you.

10:45 a.m.: Drunk brunch at 181 Cabrini with random friend. Explain new project while inhaling spicy and intriguing (despite disappointing olive garnishes) Bloody Marys.

Eat bacon.

Drink coffee.

2 p.m. Attend a Broadway show (Cabaret) on account of your exceptionally talented friend performing in a principal role. Blubber at all the right points because you forget that she is anyone but the character she portrays. She’s that good.

4:45 p.m. Wander through the backstage of theater trying to find an exit after visiting friend.

6 p.m. Arrive home. Pet happy dog, eat a pear, drink beer. Explain to pet-sitting/ delivering friend the presence of potatoes with faces in the refrigerator. Wonder if anyone in Omaha has potatoes with faces in their refrigerator.

Read in bed.

Remind yourself never to cry over a missed flight.

***

Excerpt from my co-authored soon be award-winning novel, Drive North:

There I was; I though I was gonna die. Between the burger, the pizza, the apple pie, though I only ate three slices, and the mango, which seemed like a good idea at the time, my stomach was in knots.

My stomach. It’s always been a barometer for my emotional well-being, regardless of what I eat. So, sitting backstage, waiting to perform my spoon dance in front of thousands of people for a chance to be on national t.v. and change my life seemed, in that moment, like a VERY BAD IDEA.

The competition was fierce, though I knew no one possessed the special skills that I have with moving cutlery and flatware. Still, competing against a contortionist who I’ve seen slide a twenty-six inch kiebalsa down her throat and back up again whole was daunting.The other guys, the card trick magician, the jello-juggler, the clown who made funny noises with his body parts, they didn’t faze me a bit. But Mitsy, in her gold lame ball gown and six inch heels, was invincible.

Aside from the sound of jello slapping the floor the room was silent, the tension thick. the kid who tap-danced on his hands and knees had just taken his bow. In two acts, I would be up.

How I wished I hadn’t eaten that mango…

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Middle Earth

April 11

There’s a man I see at night on the subway platform. He rides the same train I do. He stands under five feet, his back is hunched, and his head stooped forward. He’s Chinese, with a wide, kind face. His nose points towards the ground. He pulls a suitcase on wheels nearly as large as he is. He’s hard to miss.

He looks like he’s an alchemist, a wizard of some sort. Like someone from some place close by, but very far away. Where, perhaps, he is capable of great power and commands great respect.

This little old man ambles with his suitcase to the bottom of the first set of stairs in the underground lair of the our subway station. Some kind soul will carry his suitcase up the stairs. He rides the tired escalator to the turnstiles. Once on the upper level, another passerby will carry his suitcase up the second and third flight of stairs, into the starry night. I’ve seen it happen hundred of times.

I’ve known since the first time I saw him, that it will one day be my turn to carry his suitcase. And at that time, I’ll have to make a choice, either abandon my sometimes suffocating shyness and take his suitcase, or rush on by.

I ask my neighbor if she’s ever seen him. Her eyes widen and laughs.

“I saw him for the first time yesterday,” she says. “He was going into the station.”

“He looks like he’s from middle earth.”

She nods. “He does.”

“I carried his suitcase for him yesterday,” I tell her. “It was my turn.”

“I carried his suitcase, yesterday, too,” she says.

“I think he’s magic,” I say.

“I was smiling about him the entire day,” she says.

“His suitcase was light.”

“I don’t think there was anything in it at all.”

“When we stepped outside, the mean man from the paper shop, the one who never smiles, ran out to give him a newspaper.”

“He commands respect,” she says.

“Where does he come from?”

“Where does he go?”

“Middle earth,” we say to each other.

And we marvel at the little man, with a quiet presence, who never asks for anything, but accepts everything… who gives to all an opportunity to carry his suitcase.

“Who is he?”

“Someone must know.”

***

February 7It’s pumpkin flavor season,. I’m happy about that. I’m driving down a road I’ve driven down many times before with a fancy coffee warming my hands. The leaves haven’t yet changed, but the air smells like fall. Like its trying to seduce me into believing that cold weather is quaint and cozy, like pumpkin pie.

My friend is driving. I’m shotgun. We’re not talking much, for no other reason than the windows are open and the trees are still green and the thoughts in his head don’t match the thoughts in mine.

I’m thinking about what the old man carries in his suitcase. My friend, apparently, is thinking about strawberry ice cream.

“Do you like it?”

“Not at all,” I say. The very thought of strawberry ice cream makes me squirm.

“I guess you’re not an alien, then,” he concludes.

“What’s strawberry ice cream have to do with that,” I ask.

“Aliens like strawberry ice cream.”

He’s so matter of fact and nods with authority. I suppose, since he’s been around, that there is a chance he is correct. Someone out there likes strawberry ice cream, I’m surmise.

“Which aliens,” I ask. “There’s more than one sort.”

He shrugs, which lends authenticity to his claim. There’s nothing more convincing than someone who admits to the limits of their knowledge.

“There are people who sit in their RVs in the desert and wait for aliens. They all have strawberry ice cream in their coolers.”

“Alright,” I say, “this is where that strategy could go all wrong. First, why would someone try to attract an alien from outer space, not knowing what that alien’s about?”

“I don’t know. To say they met one?”

“That’s like putting out bear bait so you can get a picture with one attacking you. Second, different aliens, I would assume, enjoy different things. The strawberry ice cream aliens, clearly can’t get strawberry ice cream on their own planet. But wouldn’t it stand to reason, that some aliens might consider human brain a delicacy? And maybe, just maybe, the ones who seem all warm and fuzzy are the ones who like to dine on human flesh. And the ones you want to run from because they’re oozing slime are actually kind, witty conversationalist, and great at parties.”

“Did E.T. like strawberry ice cream?”

“No. Third, who says aliens and other-worldly life comes from out there?” I point to the sky. “Maybe some use inter-dimensional time travel, or ride sounds waves. Some are probably so small we can’t even see them. So what happens if you attract an alien you can’t see who can suck things through the molecular walls of plastic that are cooling your strawberry ice cream and eats it all before you can share it with the other people out in the desert bored out of their heads, waiting for aliens with their strawberry ice cream. Also, it would be good to know if they like good strawberry ice cream, or bad strawberry ice cream. Gourmet, or, you know, chemical.”

“You are very passionate about this,” he says.

I don’t tell him, because I know he won’t believe me, my profound shyness is the fourth reason I would never try to attract aliens for dessert in the desert. I’m no good at parties. I shudder at networking events. I cringe at bars when someone smiles at me. What if I found myself face to face with an alien and had nothing to say? What then? Would anyone ever believe me?

***

Per the man from middle earth, with his empty suitcase rattling down the subway platform, I wonder what sort of things he likes and what he transports every night in that suitcase of his.

“Maybe the suitcase has a few odds and ends he doesn’t need. He carries it to give us an opportunity to help him. For his blessings and good will,” says my neighbor

“He said he liked my scarf,” I said. “And asked me if it was going to rain.”

“When I saw him, his shirt wasn’t buttoned properly,” she says. “He was one button off. I told him so.”

This question of aliens and strawberry ice cream seems absurd. Especially, when such beautiful poetry exists amongst humankind.

That’s the fifth reason why attracting aliens from outer space is something I just don’t care to do.

December 15

Mysteries

hudson water towerMiles’s mustache went missing.

It leapt from the precarious perch of the tip of my finger and twirled through the air. I feared it fell into the dark nether regions between wall and floor. But I dutifully searched for that brown patch of fake facial hair on the black floors and carpets of a dimly lit backstage until I needed to be somewhere else.

“Mustache down,” I called to the stage left crew.

“If you find a mustache, it’s mine,” I hurled upstage.

“We lost one,” I confessed to my crew.

And finally, I broke the news to Miles.

“It’s a mystery,” an actress exclaimed with dramatic flair. She set out to find it, convinced it was riding on the hem of a skirt or the bottom of a shoe.

“We’ll discover it attached to a rocks glass on stage,” suggested another.

“It’s on the wheel of a moving set piece,” my associate stated, having been in this position before.

“I’m sure it will turn up,” I said, ever calm in the face of catastrophe. Between you and me, I was not convinced that this would be the case.

That was Thursday,

***

On Saturday, there was the wedding. It is at a farm outside of Hudson, New York. Hudson’s one of those river towns with good coffee and art galleries that make you think small town life is perfectly designed to fit one’s ethics into one’s way of life. By all appearances, it is an open-minded city-dwellers utopia… if you don’t scratch the surface too hard.

Some are moved by mountains, others the beach. As for me, I’ve been romanced by rivers, streams, oceans, bays, and sounds my entire life. Of them all, mighty Hudson River has claimed the biggest piece of my heart.

They say home is where the heart is. My heart is trapped inside my body. It goes wherever I go. As I wander the streets and galleries of Hudson, I conclude that so long as there’s good coffee and interesting people, a warm place to sleep, hot chocolate in the winter, flowers in the spring, and beauty somewhere along the way, my heart and I will hold the energy of the Hudson close, no matter where we wake up.

The wedding escapes the rain. Towards the end of the night, when the skies weep, they’re tears of joy.

An old actor once told me, “success is about being at the right bus stop at the right time and getting on the bus.”

Our friends look at each other like they can’t believe how fucking lucky they are to have found each other at the exact right time, at the exact right bus stop, with the exact right bus fare in their pockets. At least a few us marvel at the coincidence that they were also traveling to the exact same destination.

January 14

***

Wandering the aisles at Target at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night is like roaming a beach in the wake of a terrible storm.

The path of Sunday afternoon’s tempest is clear. The doll’s clothes section is decimated, pens and notebooks laid to waste. Women’s bags, all sizes have been torn from their hooks with violent haste. Swathes of missing mascara, and only mascara, amplify shining shelves of white nothing. And bath towels of all colors are strewn across the floor.

Band-aids, antiseptic, toothpaste, and mints survived, unscathed. Hundreds of pounds of M&M’s lay sleeping on the corridors of candy. And washing detergents stand in perfect order, like little soldiers ready to march.

Scores of employees set out to repair the damage of the passing storm. Their numbers finally overwhelm the drizzling of consumers who step through the electric doors, even though they know that tomorrow, it all begins again.

***

Monday morning, a potential love interest, the same one who almost killed me five times on a scramble up the cliffs of the Hudson, only to redeem himself by saving my life six times and buying me an ice cream, brings me a book – “Walks and Rambles in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.”

“Read the first sentence,” he says. “Read it out loud.”

“Shall I start with the introduction to this 1986 edition?” He nods, I read. “‘… this is not a book of hikes, but a book of gentle walks…’

He smiles and raises his eyebrows. i pause and peer at him over the pages.

“A lot of things have changed since 1986,” I say.

“Go on.”

“‘They are offered with the hope that they will refresh your spirit as they increase your knowledge of the natural world…'”

“Why to you have so many potatoes” he asks.

“I’m making a movie.”

“That’s what I figured.”

Later, we’re driving to some town along the Hudson that has good coffee with my dog in the backseat scratching for crumbs. We’ll pretend we’re the interesting people who live there. I tell him about the wedding. About how I painted my toenails (and thus parts of my toes) red, as I felt it only fitting for a celebration of love. About the horses and apple trees in the yard. About how Chuck wept in his napkin when he watched his guests dancing. How his husband held his hand under the table. How Sebastian put his arm around his pregnant wife’s shoulder and kissed the top of her head. How guest after guest spoke of the blossoming in their own lives, their hopeful pursuits of love, art, career, and life. And, how everyone there was happy to be happy for someone else on a day where love trumped politics and the rain held off until just the right moment. When I stood in the field, the raindrops were soft and clean and bled through my skin and into my heart.

He pulls the car into a lot. We walk across the street, up a path, across a field, and sit under his favorite tree.

Maybe I should’ve fibbed about the potatoes.

On the other hand, love me, love all of me. Or get out of the way.

***

But what of the mystery of Miles’ missing mustache? I left you hanging.

I was the culprit of my own caper.

It leapt from my finger, twirled through the air and landed on the elbow of my brown sweater. It rode in comfort through the rest of the show, until the sweater retired for the evening on a hook by the door.

The mustache wanted to see the world.

During the night, it grew scared, a lone mustache in a room full of wigs. It crawled off my sweater, onto my desk, and penned a note, in hopes of finding its way back home.

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Excerpts from Islandia

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Dear Diary,

today, I endeavored to conduct experiments with ice cream. Namely, I sought to either prove or debunk the myth that it is impossible to be unhappy while standing behind an ice cream cone. As I have no intellectual attachment to the results of my query, and found myself unhappy, yet perusing the ice cream flavors at a shop in Reykjavik, I remembered the old adage and decided to test it through self-observation.

It was my birthday, a day that is full of mirth for many, but not for me. When I was young, around age seven, my birthday wires were crossed and instead of enjoying the day, I dreaded it instead. Mind you, the day before is fine and the day after is always sunny. Call it a quirk of character, or a flaw. Call it what you will.

Mankind is a walking, talking contradiction and our innermost thoughts elude us, even in plain sight.

I had every intention to conduct my experiment with vanilla, a solid flavor. A good vanilla, is like the sublime quietude of the mind while the mind’s body sits on a rock by a babbling stream and listens. Unlike its cheeky cohort, chocolate, vanilla is weighty with nuance, subtlety, and poise.

However, cherry-vanilla is very nearly the hardest ice cream flavor of all to pass up.

And so, I conducted my test on a two scoop cone of cherry vanilla on a bright Saturday evening in Reykjavik, Iceland. I cannot recall the flavors E chose, she mixed, but as it was not E’s birthday, nor was she sad, angered, or in any way put out, her emotional response to her ice cream cone is a moot point.

And thus, I learned that, yes, it is possible to be sad while eating an ice cream cone, but ice cream, particularly in the form of a cone, but it is equally impossible not to feel silly about feeling sad while eating an ice cream cone.

In short, cherry vanilla ice cream definitely takes the edge off.

***

I once had an awkward conversation with a friend who loves rocks above all else.

It went something like this:

He said, “rocks are the most powerful element of nature.”

I said, “no element is more or less powerful than any other.”

He said, “rocks are the strongest.”

I said, “everything works together.”

He said, “rocks crush things.”

I said, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about.”

He said, “rocks are cool.”

I said, “do you want some ice cream?”

***

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“We are walking on the bottom of an ocean,” I say to E as we explore an open field surrounded by flat-topped mountains.

It’s true. Once upon a time, the ocean covered the land where we were walking. Fish swam, sea plants grew. But, the oceans pushed their ways through to cover dry land, and rearranged the continents.

Why the oceans and waterways moved, I don’t know. Perhaps change was in order? Perhaps the water wanted a new view? Curiosity? Boredom? Or maybe they drifted over while they were dreaming.

At any rate, it happened. The ocean, with help from the other elements, moved itself from one place to the next.

Rocks are strong and trees are smart. Fire is transformative. Air sees everything and ether carries the news.

But water has the ability to break up continents and wear away the sharps edges of rocks. It shape shift with or without the help of fire, and travels through land and sky.

And yet, if it were agreed in a conversation between all the elements that water trumps them all, I’m pretty sure water would shrug his shoulders and say, “come on, guys. Without you, I’m nothing.”

***

Dear Diary,

I have a theory. One that I dare not tell E, as she is a scientist and I am a dreamer and my dreams make her quake with irrational fits of indulgent logic and spurts of rationality.

Today Eleanor pointed out how Icelanders seem to have an elemental geographic understanding of the island upon which they live. The landscape changes within the course of one’s life. Earthquakes open volcanic steam vents on the sides of mountains, lakes move, and mud pits boil. It’s as if Iceland is the engine room for the planet.

While we were exploring a cave, our guide pointed out that the water dripping from the cave ceiling took five thousand years to become a free-falling drop of water. It is the drinking water of the country, filtered by layers and layers of rock, lava, and earth. This water tastes fresh and clean, despite the fact that it took five thousand years and a specific set of circumstances for that particular drop of water to where it does after all that time.

Hearing this, I began to suspect that water has a very different experience with time than I do.

And then I saw that when time and water work side by side, they are invincible.

I started to wonder if time might be another expression of water.

If so, earth is not only the water planet. It is the time planet as well.

Time, like water, can cascade, drip, evaporate, erode, flood, swirl, wriggle, and stand still, depending on its intentions.

And we, humans, travel through time with every breath we take, every step, every blink, and every heart beat.

Time swirls around us and changes us with the patience of a drip of water finding its way to the center of the earth.

Like water, it has the power to change the landscapes.

Time and water possess infinite reserves of patience.

I am more convinced, every day, that this planet we live on is a time machine.

***

During the ice cream experiment, a few minutes in, I was yanked into my future.

It’s my eightieth birthday and I am similarly employed in considering the emotional implications of a cherry-vanilla ice cream cone. try as i might to ignore the day and it’s relevance, a well-intentioned friend who enjoys her birthday remembers it is mine.

And my eighty-year-old memory boomerangs back to the memory of me conducting my ice cream and emotions experiment in Iceland in that moment with my sister. I see, if I learned anything from the trip, other than being a stone or a tree or a mountain or an animal on the water planet is an exercise in adaptability, is that life is an expression of time.

And I finally understand that, no matter what my mood is, or where I find myself, I’d be a fool not to eat ice cream, even on a dreary day.

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Islandia; a Teeny Adventure of Extraordinary Implications

A Slightly Fictionalized Account of a Very True Story.

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CONTENTS:

Chapter 1In which two sisters, Eleanor and Amelia, endeavor to travel to a far off land for a nature vacation full of hikes, caves, and searching for whales.

~ Taken by the Northern Lights, Amelia proposes a quick get-away to Iceland in the winter. Eleanor, having dreamed of visiting Iceland, suggests a lengthier sojourn. The sisters agree on a summer trip, during which they have no hope, whatsoever, of encountering the magical, midnight, arctic light show.

Chapter 2: In which Eleanor arrives in Reykjavik as Amelia wastes the bulk of her pre-flight afternoon with a number of unsuccessful attempts to purchase wee wee pads.

~ Arriving a full day ahead of her sister, Eleanor engages in a free city tour, enjoys the city botanical garden, and eats fish in chips, and leisurely learns the city. Amelia arrives at midnight on a cloudy evening, where the sky only hints at darkness. Per Eleanor’s instruction, she walks up the hill, towards the church, and miraculously finds her way.

~ Upon her arrival, Eleanor and Amelia eat cheese.

Chapter 3: In which the sisters hop on a bus, explore a cave, and bathe in a Very Famous Pool.

~ Ever considerate and concerned for her sister’s potential jet lag, Eleanor plans a day of lava cave explorations and bathing at the world-famous Blue Lagoon, where every Icelandic tourist is required to visit upon their arrival.

~ Unbeknownst to Eleanor, Amelia has nightmares about squeezing through tight crevices high off the ground. Amelia scoffs at her fear and squeezes through a dark, tight crevice high off the ground in order to enjoy the mysterious beauty of a lava cave.

~ After an epic battle with an electronic locker, the sisters relax in the unnaturally blue water of the Blue Lagoon with mud on their faces. They enjoy an extended dip in the geothermal hotspot.

~ Later that night, Eleanor and Amelia eat cheese.

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Chapter 4: In which Eleanor and Amelia climb a Very Steep Hill.

~ Faced with a cloudy day, Eleanor and Amelia take a city bus to Mosfellspaer to hike what Eleanor describes as a Gentle Granny Hike.

~ Not trusting their navigational skills or the trail marker that leads over a jagged precipice and down a steep mountainside, they ask a granny who is picking blueberries on the side of the hill withe her grandchild for directions to the road. She points them towards the jagged precipice.

~ Amelia almost dies from traversing steep inclines, sudden drops, and trails littered with rolling pebbles while jet-lagged.

Chapter 4: In which the sisters enjoy a morning of culture and learning at the Icelandic Phallological Museum before flying North to the wilds Akureyri and beyond.

~ Always looking to improve their minds, the sisters visit the impressive display of mammalian penises and penis bone samples before lunching on cheese in the domestic airport parking lot.

~ The sisters pick up their rental car from the Akureryi airport. Amelia almost dies from stick-shift shock.

~ Amelia teaches herself how to drive stick-shift in fifteen minutes in the airport parking lot, recalling a single standard transmission driving lesson twenty years ago on a rural road. The sister find themselves in a perilous loop, driving around and around a traffic circle as The Lady of the GPS nearly explodes with rage.

~ The sisters get lost.

~ The sisters get found.

~ The sisters dine with a Swiss German couple in the dining room of a house in the middle of nowhere, and spend the night in a camper van enveloped by a pink sky and a wooly storm.

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Chapter 5: In which the sisters walk in the rain.

~ Amelia and Eleanor drive to Husavik. Amelia conducts experiments with the car’s windshield wipers.

~ The sisters check into their hotel and set off on a path to visit a pair of giant lakes. Eleanor is well equipped with a pair of plastic pants. Amelia almost dies from being wet.

~ Though they follow the path, they never reach the lakes.

~ Eleanor and Amelia eat Icelandic pizza. With cheese.

Chapter 7: In which Eleanor and Amelia journey to Lake Myvatn, explore an Ice Cave, and find a pond.

~ As Amelia endeavors to conquer parking the car without stalling out, the sisters journey inland to Lake Myvatn. A crisp morning, their socks and shoes still damp from the previous day’s events, they retreat from the frigid morning air into a boutique hotel to drink coffee prior to their tour.

~ Eleanor is well prepared for variations in weather with fleece, gloves, and plastic pants. Amelia, having spent her last days at home taking care that her dog had doggie treats and squeaky toys, is ill-prepared for thirty degree weather, rain, sunshine, and wind.

~ A dashing tour guide drives the sisters across barren lava fields to the ice cave. Amelia almost dies from being cold and faces another literal nightmare: being birthed, face first, out of a tight spot into a dark, dark cave below.

~ Amelia buys a sweater from a charity shop and states boldly to the women behind the counter that “now she can go anywhere.” The women give her a pack of flatbread. She heretofore refers to said sweater as “the magic sweater,” for it keeps her warm and dry.

~ The sisters follow a path and find the lake. Her gloves soaked through, Eleanor acts out the meeting of the European and American tectonic plates while wearing socks for mittens.

Chapter 8: In which the sisters brave the elements and traverse the Asbergi Canyons in all directions.

~ Eleanor and Amelia venture once more into the unknown, walk a lot, and eat cheese.

~ They visit a green lake and waterfall. Amelia attempts to etch the image into her memory, where she will have it forever. Eleanor, ever logical, takes pictures instead.

~ Amelia almost dies from a panic attack after she face another literal nightmare: rope- climbing a straight incline with nothing but air between her and the ground below.

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Chapter 8: In which the sisters set out to see a whale and Eleanor almost dies from diesel inhalation.

Chapter 9: In which the triumphant sisters return to Reykjavik, observe boiling pits of mud, waterfalls, bathe in a river, brave tourists, and nearly lose a shoe.

Chapter 10: In which the sisters say goodbye.

Epilogue: In which Amelia, in an effort to incorporate the outdoors into her urban life, goes hiking with a potential love interest, gets stuck dangling off the side of the cliff, and almost dies five times and Eleanor takes a nice bike ride through Berlin.

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