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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Buzz

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Buzz (noun): a low, vibrating, humming sound, as of bees, machinery, or people talking.

Listen, you would be like this, too, if you were in my shoes. Under-slept, over-caffeinated, your brain pumping thoughts out by the millions while your body, curls itself into a ball on the C & J bus to New Hampshire, Trying our best to quell an imminent and long lasting bout of car sickness, or bus sickness, as the case may be. Maybe motion sickness is a better term, since the churning, burning, turning of your stomach matches the motions of your mind.

There’s the hum of the tires on the road. The hum of canned air. The hum of the bubbling carbonation of a coke, my latest effort to quell the rocking beast.  The hum of my thoughts, a fully fueled choir singing in my head. Buzzing.

It’s my day off, the first of many, and I am lurching towards New Hampshire to look for a place to live.

Last Sunday was my last official day at work. It was much like any other Sunday, except that a few people said goodbye. My replacement, Heather, witnessed one last time my enviable bedside manner, my mustache taping techniques, and a few more jokes. After work, instead of everyone scattering into their own interesting lives for the evening and a day, a few work friends came out for a drink to a bar that serves blue cheese stuffed olives in their drinks. Also, my desk was clean, clear, and in order for the first time in three years.

The bus has a stash of Pop Corners, all different flavors, and a Kuerig coffee maker on  the bus, by the way. Complimentary snacks.

“It feels so final this time,” says my company manager before the show. This might be the last time we ever speak. She’s referring to the previous times I’ve left the show, and returned – once in 2008 to seek my fortune in Los Angeles, then, a few months later when I filled in for a month in Melbourne, and again on June 14, when I left after submitting my four weeks notice. This past Sunday rounds me up to two official resignations with two additional departures, all documented on paper or in emails, all signed by me.

Buzz (idiom): have /get a buzz on, Slang. to be slightly intoxicated.

Hazel planned the drinking thing. She invited the people. We sat up and down a long rectangular table and they toasted me. I sat at the very end of the table, closest to the door, in case I had the urge to run.

Hazel wanted to treat me and I wanted to treat Nicci which mucked the whole treating thing up. Janet, Sweet Mary, Kurtis, and Michelle left enough for me, Hazel, and Nicci, all of whom were aiming to pay for each other. The surplus was passed along to the waitress, as neither Hazel nor I are particularly good at counting after a couple of vodka and blue cheese stuffed olive cocktails.

Monday, I was free! I went to the DMV to pick up a motorcycle driving license manual. I discovered in going for the DMV that it had moved. So I found the new DMV, a shiny space with a canned female voice robotically directing the foot traffic and lines, fitting her words together in such a way that you know she doesn’t understand a bit of what she’s saying. Even so, she keeps the lines moving.

I went to the movies, too, a rarity for me, on this first day off. So did a gaggle of twenty rowdy camp kids and their camp counselors, who took up the first twenty rows of the theater. I sat in the back, well aware of the likelihood of getting pelted in the head with Skittles, should I choose to seat myself at the front of the theater.

I also:

1. signed over power of attorney to my lawyer

2. unloaded the top shelf of my bedroom closet

3. thought about buying bins and boxes

4. and, ate bad sushi with my fingers before the movie began

Shit’s getting really real.

Buzz (noun, slang): a feeling of intense enthusiasm, excitement, or exhilaration.

The C & J bus to Portsmouth also offers complimentary Yoplait yogurt, many different flavors, bottled water, raisins, and almonds. Even though the rest room is so tiny that you can barely fall down as the back of the bus lurches from side to side and smells an unnatural mix of air freshener and human waste, it is very cozy.

They say that living well is the best revenge. And so, on Tuesday, a day in which I previously had blocked out to do nothing in particular ended up with me exacting my revenge on the asshole who walked into my apartment a couple of months ago, without even asking, and took my stuff. Including, of course, my computer with my copy of Final Cut Pro 7. Since my short film was accepted into the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama (if you’re in the neighborhood, stop by), I decided that I would in no way, allow my dearth of tools prevent my film from showing. And so, I rented a computer and polished my film until my brain stopped working, as evident by my inability at the end the end of the day to exit the elevator when it got to the lobby. I rode it up and down twice.

Please don’t tell anyone I did that.

I guess the thing is, what I’m trying to say, is that the bus isn’t so bad, if you don’t try to read and remember to look out the window every once in a while. If you loosen your personal embargo against Coca Cola and sip it slowly until it coats your stomach, if you grab onto the corners as the bus twists and turns, because even if the journey’s making you nauseous, at least you’re moving.

Buzz (verb): to tell or spread (a rumor, gossip, etc.) secretively.

The aim is to have the best midlife crisis ever. Aside from a little motion sickness, a couple of detours, and a some traffic, I think I’m headed that way.

Remember to sit at the back of the movie theater when children with candy outnumber adults, to read the driving manual thoroughly, to enjoy snacks you might not normally eat when they are offered, and live well, whether or not you’re doing it out of revenge.

What I like best about the journey, besides the scenery, the buzz, the excitement of starting new but still a little worn in, are the snacks.

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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The Contract

IMG_2657My signature hangs on paper like a thread that’s been pulled from a sweater. It’s sloppy and distended, born of a cramped right hand that’s taken on the bulk of my livelihood and an honest disdain for the loopy, floral pen marks of my girlie childhood peers.

My signature might be a subconscious rebellion against my father, whose own signature was artistic, fluid, deliberate. For him, it was a source of pride.

I have been designing an elaborate exit from the current forms and functions of my life, turning the architecture of my current existence into a hazy future of wildly different proportions. There are some things I expect: more snow, less noise. Fewer pigeons, more blue herons. Less concrete, more dirt. A dearth of artificial nights, a glut of sunsets. A bike, a kayak, a box of pens, cases of paper, sweaters, socks, down jackets, and maybe a few peers who are crazy like me and believe, even when proven wrong time after time, that living with one’s own truth, by one’s own standards, running after one’s own dreams, is a  worthy life long pursuit.

I’m sitting across from my lawyer in his twelfth floor office on Fifth Avenue. We’re meeting for the first time. He’s a gentle-looking man with an easy manner and subdued wit. He hands me his pen, a roller ball disposable, the good kind, heavy in my hand. I see the check from the buyer of my apartment, neatly penned with razor point precision, and I imagine what it must feel like for him to place his life’s savings in the hands of another.

There’s a line before me, at the bottom of the page. An empty space upon which I’m to lay the pulled stitch of my signature. Fifteen years of my life, lived within the confines of my six hundred square foot box, squeeze through the spaces between words and letters. Like an athlete readying for a race, I close my eyes, take a breath, and do what I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I agree to leave. To make space for another. I open a door that will close behind me. I stand at the threshold. In two months, I will step to the other side of the door. I will take another step and another, until I reach the elevator. I will press the button. When the doors gape open, I will step inside and the door, my door, will close behind me.

I pull the pen across the page. I sign the contract with the signature of someone who has nothing left to prove.

There’s an honesty to my signature. A joyous lack of structure. A freedom of movement. I find it amazing how a word, a deed, a simple piece of paper can be used to define and determine behavior. How words, invisible or written can wield such power. But they do.

The contract is simple. “Vanilla,” my lawyer says. I agree to sell it, the buyer agrees to buy. I promise that nothing is terribly wrong with my place, he promises not to dig too deep. Straight forward. Easy. A tapestry woven by six people total, two real estate brokers, two lawyers, the nebulous buyer, and me. Each with contracts of their own. Signatures, handshakes, digital nods wrapped up with ribbons of red tape, the trappings of a politely litigious society.

And now, I’m half in and half out. Waiting.

A few years back, I spent some time with a Buddhist monk. We shared meals here and there, walked in the park, told stories. He came from a lineage of writers, poets, and artist, a  heritage that was capped by his father, who, tired of the artist’s life, became a business man. Perhaps it’s my friend’s genetic impulse that causes him to reinvent himself in extreme ways every ten years, so much so that his varied versions are only recognizable by his soft tenor and brown eyes only. “Reinvention,” he said, “is the great American past time.”

There’s a lot of limbo mixed in with transformation and reinvention. It’s like baking a complicated cake. With a recipe you’ve never attempted before. A souffle sort of thing, where timing and gentle patience are key. The pull towards of oven door is overwhelming, you want to see if the recipe is working, but every time you open it, you risk ruining the mystery cake. The recipe includes excitement, curiosity, doubt, fear, hope… and, while you’re waiting for the timer to ding, you neglect making dinner, aerating the wine you forgot to buy, setting the table, all on account of the strange cake recipe you couldn’t not try.

Waiting is very complicated.

It’s a verb, you know.

I am not by nature a sentimental person. I throw out birthday cards and Christmas cards. I give away knick-knacks, and memorabilia. I don’t press flowers or save ticket stubs or playbills. I prefer to travel light. It’s curious to me the few things I have, pictures and letters, that I’ve carried from Connecticut to Bryn Mawr to Berkeley and back east to New York. I there are pictures of old roommates and a series of puppets I built, a book of bad poetry, self published by a drugged out urban camper I used to know. I recently found a letter from a college friend who died a few years after graduation. She had a cancer behind her eyes that rendered her legally blind. Hidden between pages of the few books I’ve kept, are the artistic envelopes, without the letters they once contained, of an ex-boyfriend.

Every once in a while, I come across a membership card, type written white paper glued to a crookedly cut out cardboard back, that permitted me entry to a secret club. Inspired by fan clubs and the literature of my youth, I created a secret society with a friend. We met once or twice before a lack of clarity and purpose put an end to our mission. The card is warped, the signature, faded. It’s an eight year old’s signature. Deliberate, and neat with attempts at the curly cues I later eschewed. It predicts nothing of my signatures to come. The bespoke card shows itself at the strangest times. Each time it finds me, I can’t seem to throw it away.

My father criticized my penmanship when I was a kid. My signature failed to make him proud back then, when I was trying. He once told me that I would never be someone who designed bridges. He was right.

To my credit, designing bridges was never high on my list of things I wanted to do.

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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

diva 3

If

IMG_0007We found a bird on the sidewalk. One wing splayed out to the side. His eyes fluttered open, then closed. We knelt beside him; I ran a finger down his heaving chest. We protected him from a curious dog and an oblivious human foot. We figured he was dying and wondered if we should intervene, if we could save his life, or at least provide a soft, safe place for him to pass.

Obi pushed the bird’s wing back in towards his body. I lifted him into Obi’s cupped hands. The bird didn’t struggle. He didn’t move. We walked up the block together and that’s where we parted. I went to work. Obi carried the bird to his apartment.

There was something about how that bird looked at us, turning its head from me to Obi and back again. He had no fear and no hope. He surrendered into the warmth of a stranger’s hand as if it was the obvious, the only, thing to do. In a battle between fate and free-will, he surrendered to that which was bigger than him, and kinder than the panting sidewalks and angry cars of Manhattan.

Before the bird, we were drinking coffee, talking about the fine filaments in the spiderweb of life and how we both appreciate the journey we’re on even if we somewhat dread our endlessly impending arrival into the Land of Outcome. We wondered what if we were to discover the Land of Outcome is nothing like how the brochures describe it.

Life is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, we agreed, except once you make a choice and turn the pages, you can only go back to page one and try something different in your imagination.

This somewhat depressed the both of us, so we drank more coffee.

And then, I tried to make him feel better by deconstructing advice someone once gave to me.

Years ago, I was bartender in a fancy boutique hotel. The hotel was a lesson in chaos theory. I don’t know how the bricks stayed put with the disastrous happenings inside. The veneer had a high polish. Any strangers looking in could only see a reflection of themselves. But, on the other side of the pristine facade, the truth hid in plain sight. The place was a train wreck. The managers ran and hid when there was an issue that needed attending to, the cooks were drunks, the customers were drunks, the bellhops – drunks. The front desk people were embezzling thousands of dollars, and we, the servers of ostentatious inefficiency, kept everyone fat, happy, and willfully ignorant.

I quit that job three times with a carefully worded letters of resignation. They kept putting me on the schedule. I kept showing up. I was hypnotized by the specter of responsibility. And I was curious to see what would happen next.

At that time, I thought I knew what success looked like. I was itching for it. And though my imagined success rested on the shoulders of others, I thought somehow, I was driving the car.

My work friend, a beautiful wounded bird of a woman, had been a model in the eighties. She insisted that beauty was a curse. To me, her scars were elegant, beguiling, and mysterious.

I was driven, ambitious, and determined. I wanted what I wanted – and believed if I wanted it hard enough and long enough, I’d have it, no matter the cost. I was speeding down the highway with no map, no clear destination. Just me behind the wheel, foot on the gas, driving like my fender was on fire.

On a night filled with drunk Japanese businessmen drinking single malt scotch like it was Coca Cola, we hid half-eaten platters of sushi and bottles of beers in the back room to eat and drink when the party ended and the place was ours again.

Later, while sipping beers on the hotel balcony, she said, “take the back seat.”

Bad advice, I thought. Terrible suggestion. I didn’t like it one bit.

Turns out, my co-worker’s advice wasn’t a suggestion.

Turns out, I wasn’t driving the car back then. I’m not driving now. And I never have.

Turns out I don’t even have a driver’s license.

“What she was really telling me,” I said to Obi, “was ‘stop being a back seat driver.’ No one likes a back seat driver. And if you stop to think about it, it’s not your car to begin with, but a borrowed vehicle.”

“A borrowed vehicle that’s taking you places you may or may not want to go.”

“Yes.”

“If I’m not driving the car and I don’t get to tell the car where go, or how fast, or the shortest route – why am I even a passenger?”

“You help pay for gas.”

In a noble attempt to change the subject, Obi then launched into a story about he nearly sustained a career ending injury at work. “It was bad,” he pouted, “there’s not even a mark to show for it.

“No one believes you?”

“Nope.”

“They’re assholes,” I said.

“But their car ride’s much faster than mine.”

“I’d rather the scenic route. Even if it is slow, at least it’s never boring.”

I called Obi a couple of hours after we parted to check up on the bird. It was sitting on the window sill, alert and peaceful.

“He hasn’t moved since we got here,” he said. “I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably he just needs time to heal.”

“You’re a good person,” I said.

“No, I’m not. But I can tell when something needs a little bit of help.”

“Give him water,” I said, “in a little dish. Or on a rag” I was thinking that if this little bird lived, he might turn things around for Obi. They could become best friends. The bird could teach Obi about the joys of riding in the back seat in the car ride of life.

And if the bird died at least it died protected, in warmth and safety.

When I was twelve or nine or some such age, I held a crow in my lap as it died. I didn’t know what to do, so I sang in lullabies and rocked it for an hour or two. And just before its final breath, there was a surge of energy. Its beak opened, its wings spread, its head arched, and it tried to fly.

After we talked, Obi took the bird to his building courtyard. The bird rested in his palm for a minute or two, then flew to the fire escape. And then it flew away.

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Fuck You, Litter Lady, Fuck You

December 10

I have a problem.

I love Christmas.

I love the lights. I love the smells. I love how happy everyone pretends to be. I love it so much that I’m already thinking about it. I love it so much, I’m willing to skip over Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving in order to set up the little white tinsel tree at work.

Also, I love my dog so much, it’s stupid.

***

When I was six, or somewhere around there, my mother pulled me aside and explained to me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

I believe this is a right of passage for every Jewish American kid. The first indication that you’re not like other children, that you have a secret knowledge not all youngsters are privy to. That that special day of family and food, opening presents, and singing nice songs about jingling bells and a flying fat man, are for other people. And not for you.

“Don’t tell the other children,” she warned.

I held the secret of Santa Claus deep in the chambers of my heart, locked away in a strong box, deeply saddened by the absence of that great man.

Though, for a few years, I did try to sneak him cookies. Just in case.

How I wished he would stop by and say hello.

I never spoke of him. Not a single word. Until one day, decades later, the pull became too great and I commenced writing a holiday script.

It’s called Repo Santa.

I believe it’s one of my finest works.

***

I have another problem.

Plastic shopping bags.

Though those troublesome wastes of petroleum have their uses – household garbage, namely, if you don’t keep a handle on them, they multiply like kangaroos.

Other ways to cull the plastic bag collection: abandon them at the dog run for other bag-trodden dog owner to use, wrap presents, create insulation, make art, stuff pillows.

Even if you’re determined, as I am, to avoid the plastic shopping bag situation, they find you at your weakest points and insinuate themselves back into your life.

With one comes another. And another. And another. They’re unstoppable.

***

It happened like this:

My plastic bag collection was at a dramatic low. On one hand, I was triumphant, having put to re-use the last of my plastic bags. On the other hand, I now had a different problem to solve. I had no disposable vessels in which to deposit my trash, send it down the garbage shoot and out of my life.

I mentioned my dilemma at work. And, well, someone had more plastic bags in the trunk of their car than they knew what to do with.

– I’ll take a few, I said.

– I’ll bring you an entire bag. They are taking over my car.

– Just a few will get me by, I said.

The next day, she gave me with bodaciously overloaded yellow plastic shopping bag full of bags.

I hung my head and said:

– Thank you.

***

December 13

***

I decided to keep the bag of bags under my desk at work. I’d whittle the collection down week to week, taking what only what was needed.

Furthermore, I developed a plastic bag plan.

I would use the plastic bags for the good of all mankind. Each morning, when I walked my dog, I would fill one plastic bag with litter.

I had my limits, of course. I wouldn’t pick up anything that would give a disease, for instance. I would be a ninja super-hero litter lady – as cool as the Guatemalan woman in my neighborhood who collects cans very morning in her fedora, but in secret.

It wasn’t hard at first. During the summer, my dog and I wake up with the sun. The streets are quiet. I didn’t want anyone to see.

I had my spots – a tree well that, for some reason, collects bottles and candy wrappers, the ramp into the park, where I can pluck cups and cans from the ledges without anyone noticing, and the bushes and beaches by the river, where a Schlitz beer loving band of merry-makers likes to leave their mark.

The plastic bag plan was going gangbusters.

But, summer’s ended. The sun rises later. And when we walk, we walk while children go to school, adults leave for work, and superintendents sweep the sidewalks. For a while, I persevered in the open, for all to see, my yellow plastic shopping bag swinging from my wrist.

But eventually, I lost heart.

***

I explain my tragic defeat to Nikki.

She doesn’t understand.

– You know how people are, I say.

– Nope.

– Someone will get mad at me for picking up trash. And then they’ll circle me until someone throws a rotten tomato at my head and yells “fuck you, litter lady, fuck you.”

– That’s what I would do.

– “Who do you think you are,” they’d taunt. They’d think I was some snooty person telling them how to live. Insist that they like their litter just where it is. If they didn’t want the litter there, they would put it in the trash. A poet among them will say that kicking through trash is the urban equivalent of the crunching of dried leaves in autumn. I have to do it in ninja-style or not at all.

– Or maybe the bag idea would go viral.

I shake my head.

– I don’t want to be famous. I just like picking up trash.

***

In my holiday script, Santa Claus (NIck) is semi-retired in South Florida, the elf jobs have been shipped overseas, Mrs. Claus is running overseas operations. and many, though not all, of the stateside elves work at Rudemart Department Store stocking shelves.

It’s nearly Christmas, Santa’s slightly depressed. His sleigh goes missing off the streets of his gated community. He goes to find it. An innocent in a big bad world, he teams up with Duke Roughstone, the rightful heir to the Rudemart corporation who lost his controlling share to his brother during a game of Mousetrap when he was eight, to become a home appliance repo-man on a pre-holiday repo-race. The prize, a share of Rudemart stock, will tilt ownership of the store back to Duke.

Santa’s unique skill set ( i.e. he’s a whiz at packing and getting in and out of tight spaces) is an asset to the job. but when he finds out that he’s been conned, that he’s ruining a lot of people’s Christmases by repossessing their toaster ovens, he loses heart.

In the end, it all works out. Everyone gets their appliances back. Christmas is saved.

It’s a holiday story after all.

And I love Christmas.

Also, I love my dog so much it’s stupid.

December 19.1

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.

IMG_2040

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…

IMG_2073

Vertically Inclined

IMG_0986

Obi threw out his back dead-lifting an opera singer at a rehearsal for that not-for profit, union-busting Succubus of an institution where art goes to die. Sunday morning finds him supine on the hardwood floor of his apartment, soul searching, instead of drinking coffee with me. Just when I need him the most.

No one to talk to, nothing important to do, a little too much time on my hands, I harass my dog with rambunctious displays of affection until she hides under the bed.

As summer makes a speedy exit and my dog eyes me with distrust, I’m left to rattle around in the house of my imagination, and I’m pulled towards the attic where memories live. I’m tempted to dig through boxes, handle clues, and search for Where It All Began.

The task is more than useless. It’s problematic.

First of all, no life can be reduced to a single “it.” Rather, life’s a series of “its.” Like an “it” tree. All the “its,” attach by overpowering magnetic force, spawn like an endless display of flowers and buds, or cling to fine filaments of spider silk.

The attic of memories looks suspiciously like the attic of the house I grew up in. It’s an unfinished crawl space with boards laid across the beams from one end to the other. The room is stuffy and hot, no matter the season, and packed with dusty old toys, suitcases of ancient gloves and hats, and haunting portraits of people I assume are relatives, though no one could ever tell me who they were.

In the attic of memories in the house of imagination, boxes are crammed with impressions, recollections, remembrances, and dreams. All it takes is a thought, fleeting feeling, a turn of a phrase for that fucking attic door to tumble open.

Why the hell was Obi dead-lifting an opera singer? You’d think he would have learned a thing or two when he was cast to perform naked yoga at that opera at BAM. I call him to tell him so. He doesn’t pick up.

What I most want to talk to Obi about were the instructions a recent date presented to me should I decide to break up with him. He gave his guidance on our first date, which leads me to believe there might be a second date. And a third, and maybe a fourth. We might even date beyond the point where changing one’s phone number or moving out of town is a sufficient strategy for breaking up.

As I tend to locate the exit doors to all my relationships prior to take off, knowing how things should end before they begin strangely comforting.

The instructions:

If and when I decide to break up with him, all I need to do is make him a perfectly seasoned, nicely breaded, baked until golden brown, topped with melted mozzarella and a subtly nuance tomato sauce, zucchini parmesan.

They say the way into a man’s heart is his stomach. I guess it’s also the way out.

When he says this, the attic trap blows open and a certain box, rattled by the wind calls to me.

I have history with zucchini.

My father was a city boy. He grew up on the lower east side of Manhattan, decades before it was a desirable neighborhood. The only vegetables he knew were pickles, black olives, and over-cooked peas. It wasn’t until he was well in thirties, installed in a house in the suburbs with a wife and children and an ample lawn, that he decided to have a vegetable garden.

In this garden, with the help of his reluctant daughters, he grew carrots, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, radishes, corn, and zucchini.

I don’t know if you know about zucchini and how it grows, but it grows. And grows. And grows. If you don’t take the zucchini off the vine, it grows. Perhaps he believed the length of his zucchini a testament to his green thumb. His zucchini grew to mythic proportions. tall as a six-year-old child, as durable as a baseball bat, as fat as boa constrictor. The zucchini grew big enough to eat us.

My mother, a terrible cook, incorporated zucchini in every meal. She baked zucchini bread so heavy and moist that it soaked through our lunch bags. Then there was stuffed zucchini, zucchini pasta, zucchini crudite, zucchini boats, zucchini casserole, and soggy zucchini parmesan.

My father, a terrible cook, stewed the leftover zucchini. He bought a freezer to store it in.

Winter, spring, summer, and fall, zucchini plagued my family. Even after my father died, my mother and I worked through the rubbery, frozen zucchini my father left behind. It was when I left for college, that my mother finally tossed the remaining leftovers and gave the freezer away.

Breaking up zucchini style makes perfect sense to me.

But, what are my break-up instructions? I have none. I think I should figure something out. Something easy. Something fun.

Break up by zucchini doesn’t work for me, as I’ve healed relationship with the melon. I don’t know any other foods that would prompt me to end a relationship, no matter how bland.

I look to the bookcase and pull the dating reference tome “How to Succeed With Women,” by Ron Louis and David Copeland.

Chapter 13 in “How to Succeed With Women” offers a comprehensive overview on how to break up. This counter advice is woefully omitted in the their lauded follow-up book “How to Succeed With Men.” No matter. I’m well prepared to break up with someone via zucchini. All I’ll need to do is a little food shopping, a little food preparation, and turn on the oven. What I need is to figure out the easiest, nicest, most pleasant way for someone to break up with me.

They instruct on the pre-work for a breakup:

* Don’t date a woman for more than a month.

* Get all your things out of her apartment first.

* Make sure she doesn’t view you as a long term man.

* Don’t plan events with her in advance.

* Don’t be the perfect boyfriend.

All helpful hints, but I lack imagination when it comes to the actual event. The rest of the chapter is no help.

I try Obi again. He picks up.

He’s still supine, but bored with soul searching. I read him the break-up chapter.

“Thoughts?”

“Asparagus,” he says.

“I like asparagus.”

“When I was young, my mother made us harvest wild asparagus from the graveyard. I can’t even look at it without thinking about dead people.”

“I don’t have those issues.”

“Yeah. Definitely asparagus.”

I guess everyone’s got their thing.20140914_084300