Jury Duty

Jury Duty

“Many people foolishly try to get out of jury duty. But jury duty is one of the best places to meet girls. Do not ever avoid jury duty. In this scenario, people wait most of the day and get bored. People feel trapped and need to talk to each other during jury duty. it is very easy to strike up a conversation with a girl during jury duty. Topics of conversation are unlimited and include the whole judicial system, how silly jury duty is, what type of case you want or don’t want to be a juror for, and trials you, your friends or your family have been jurors for.”

— The Guide to Picking up Girls, Gabe Fischbarg

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January 8, 2014, 10 p.m.: as I ride sideways on the subway I realize that this day marks my twentieth anniversary as a resident of New York City. January 4, 1994, I stepped onto an Amtrak train in San Francisco. I curled up on a passenger seat next to a gay Australian artist, slept on the floor of the panorama car, discovered that drinking black coffee and smoking cigarettes make an excellent substitute for food, and that gay men and smokers are generally more interesting than everyone else.

Four days later, I walked through Penn Station carrying a cello and a suitcase. For better and worse, I was home.

I will celebrate my twenty year anniversary by drinking bloody mary’s while I am at jury duty the next morning. Furthermore, I will test and observe Gabe Fischbarg’s jury duty pick-up strategies from his legendary dating tome “The Guide to Picking Up Girls.”

January 9, 2014, 8:30 a.m.: I immediately encounter two main problems with my plans. First, there are no open bars between the subway and the courthouse that offer bloody mary’s to-go. Second, between the rain and my friends’ advice on how not to get chosen for a jury, I am dressed like a drowned, albeit sober, rat who walked who got stuck in Carmen Miranda’s closet.

I will tell them that I know many lawyers. That my good friend is a cop. That they’ve taught me not to trust either. I will take my stand, and with righteous indignation express my antipathy towards a system that is far from just. 

The line in the lobby is a crowded snake. The majestic marble and stone are made hideously ugly by an antique metal detector and a rickety x-ray machine set up on fold out card tables. The security people fulfill their duty, to treat those lowly enough to be required to pass through their inspection just a touch less than human.

My heart pounds as my belt buckle makes the rickety machine bing. I am developing a phobia against security measures. They take my camera. I start to cry.

As they howl, I will whisper: where is my country? What have you done with her? Where is she hidden. I’d like her back. She was not perfect. She stomped her feet like a petulant child, but she was kind. I miss her. Please give her back.

Crying in the faces the guardians and hounds of mediocrity might be my new favorite form of passive resistance.

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January 9, 2014, 9:15 a.m.: The jury duty holding area is cleaner than I remember. Scattered amongst the sea of seats, no one speaks. Most are engaged in their devices, iphones, tablets, computers, all of which have cameras and photo capacity – which makes the hounds of mediocrity appear slightly confused and hugely ineffective per confiscating cameras and such.

A video narrated by Diane Sawyer and some guy who plays a lawyer plays on t.v. plays sin every corner of the room. The program repeats over and over how no one wants to be at jury duty. It lists all the reasons why jury duty sucks. Different interviews with real people confirm that under no circumstances, does anyone ever want to be on a jury.

Nowhere does the video mention that jury duty is an excellent place to lay rap and pick up girls. I fear that Gabe Fischbarg has led me astray.

January 9, 2014, 11:36 a.m.: I am called to duty, one of fifty potential jurors to be interviewed and possibly invited by law and lawyer to participate in the legal system. It’s a personal injury case. The details are sparse and two lawyer will mine for six souls out of our fifty who might be able withhold judgement in order to judge.

The first group of twelve is called to the jurors box. There’s the man who displays his Gore Vidal book on the bannister, a priest who tries to engage in a philosophical debate, the low talker who speaks in five different languages, though it’s impossible to hear her in any one of them, and the student actress who feigns a bad attitude badly. Looks like she needs a few more classes.

Everyone has a story. And they want to tell it. 

I will imply that I believe in fate and that I wonder if the accident wasn’t a culmination of bad decisions made by the plaintiff. I will question how we, the audience, with no real evidence, can assign blame. And I will ask how we are supposed to decide how much suffering in the plaintiff’s life was caused by the accident. People suffer every day. The Buddha called it a human condition.

And when they comment on my job, theatrical hair stylist, and ask me how their hair looks, I will say: that’s my favorite joke.

January 9, 2014: 2 p.m.:The hounds of mediocrity guard the entrance as I return from lunch. The afternoon guards are meaner than the morning crew. One makes me take off my belt and then barks with consternation when the metal detector still goes off. I point out the metal buttons on my jeans that sit right above my girl parts.

I threaten to take my pants off. I will thank them plainly for aiding the downward spiral of what was once the country I grew up in. I will hold up a mirror to show them who they really are. And I will tell them that they are better than this.

The tears do not come. I scowl instead.

January 10, 2014: 8:30 a.m.: It’s raining outside, a solid, cold, winter rain. The weather matches my mood.

I stand in metal detection line. I wait my turn to be fondled. I have de-metalized my outfit, but still expect the worst. The hounds of mediocrity are always hungry.

I will neither cry nor scowl. My will is broken. I will shuffle to the jury room and wait to tell my story and reason with the lawyers. I will tell the truth and they will see. Even though I am not wearing a bright pink dress today, I am still not jury material.

I’ll tell them how I witnessed a suicide by train when I moved to New York. How,  because of that, I see that blame is hypothetical. I know from my own experience that eyes don’t always see and minds bend fact. Stories change because we must change them to understand. Truth and fiction are sometimes worlds apart.

Gabe has let me down. On this rainy week at the tip of New York City, jury duty is not a place to lay rap or find a date. Those of us waiting to be interviewed for the jury bide our time sneaking glances at our phones while the frustrated lawyers truncate their sales pitch as they continue digging for jurors.

Oh, Gabe.

January 10, 2014, 12:30 p.m.: The last few of us are cut loose without our moments in the limelight. We never get to say our piece, though I practiced mine for days and under the clouds of sleep.

I run from the building, struggling to zip my coat as I walk. Down the steps I feel something missing.

My scarf.

The hounds ate my scarf.

I keep walking. I don’t look back.

January 10, 2014, 7:45 p.m.: Heavy heart, I confess at work that my mission to test Gabe Fischbarg’s theories on picking up girls at jury duty was a wash.

Sara comforts me with a shrug and smile.

You’re better off getting picked up at a supermarket, she says. Just make sure you have the right things in your cart.

“If you see a cute girl in the supermarket, be careful what you have in your cart… Don’t load up on Ring Dings, beer, and frozen sausages and expect the girl to instantly respeact you. Put some seven-grain bread, skim milk, and vegetables in your cart before you make your move.”

Gabe Fischbarg

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One-sy

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I have a new onesy. It’s a fleece-lined sweat suit that you step into and zip up. It’s olive-green and zips past your collar-bone, your nose, and all the way up to the tip of your head. They include a warning label that plainly states: “don’t keep the zipper closed over extended periods of time.” That same label also warns against skateboarding, lighting cigarettes, and trying to watch movies with the zipper fully closed.

I bought it because someone at the dog run has one. She showed me hers while we shared a patch of sunshine. She said it kept her warm on a cold day. After talking with her, I knew I needed a onesy, too.

It arrived at my door on Wednesday. As I pulled it from its package, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I was entering a whole new era of my experience as human being. I held something special in my arms. I am one of a small tribe. The few. The proud. The blessed onesy wearers.

I can wear it anywhere. Over pajamas, tights and dresses, pants and sweaters. And though it makes me look like a pregnant, green Stay-puff marshmallow man, when I step into it, it’s like stepping into an entirely different dimension. I float down the street, impervious to the fickle winds of nature. I disappear into its folds a wanton caterpillar in need of coffee, and emerge a butterfly in a wrinkled skirt.

When I wear it, I am invincible and invisible. Like a superhero with a secret.

I put my dating profile back up. I was feeling lonely. It’s somehow comforting to watch the numbers crawl up as so and so looks at me and so and so likes me and so and so wants to know how I’m feeling today. I’ve always been amazed at marketing and packaging in the digital age. How a hundred words can draw a picture of me that makes a picture of someone else want to manifest me in physical form. How the mere mention of sock puppets can lead a man to love the idea of me. The subtle essence of “us” slips through the nerve endings of the internet. I touch and am touched by a onesy-less stranger who lives next door and worlds away.

I consider wearing the onesy to a first date. Imagine: it’s a blustery evening in the cold heart of winter. I cast a shadow from the doorway of a cozy bar. I’m a bundle, a mystery, a uni-colored being wobbling towards a candlelit table. My date, handsome, sophisticated, divorced with one child, and nervous, glances up from his New Yorker magazine as he sips his brandy by the gaslit fire. He looks at me, he looks at his watch, looks at me again and sighs with an air of sad resignation.

– Here goes another hour of my life, he thinks, his mortality never more present than this moment where he hoped to find love and instead, finds a short green blob approaching the thoughtfully selected romantic corner.

He is not prepared for the warm-hearted, winter-time striptease about to take place before his very eyes.

Finger by finger, my hands are released from their striped gloves. The scarf unwinds, the outer jacket seductively falls to the floor, and then the zipper, that white industrial zipper, comes undone, inch by impossible inch, and I step towards him, make-up intact, hair artfully askew, prettily attired in a dress and boots – I’ll have to figure out how to get the onesy over the boots – a vision to his weary and cynical eyes.

My onesy is an extra small, in case you’re considering buying one. I’m 5’2″. The legs are long and the crotch bends towards the tips of my knees, but the top part is a perfect fit. It has four pockets, two of them so deep that I could carry the entire contents of my New York City-sized bag in them – if I don’t mind jiggling and scratching and listing to one side.

I am so pleased with the onesy that I’m telling everyone that they need a onesy, too. My neighbor commented on it in the hallway yesterday. And I’ve been threatening to wear it to work. Triumphant comfort. It’s like traveling in a cozy shell.

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Saturday was a special day.

My best friend gave birth to her daughter. The baby emerged healthy from her mother’s womb in a beautiful package, shedding one form for another. Not long ago, she was a collection of cells splitting and churning and plotting their next move. And then she was a little being, channeled from nature’s own imagination. Now she’s her own person, caretaker of her own light.

Around the same time my tiny friend was pulled into the outside world, my writing partner Slash Coleman birthed his new one-man show in front of an audience. It’s based on his memoir The Bohemian Love Diaries about chasing love, finding love, watching love slip through his desperate fingertips. In writing the piece, words split, mountains of ideas sprouted, and a the story emerged. I had the honor of stepping in to direct his performance.

All this was happening while I was at work. On a cold evening in the middle of the city as my dog snuggled in her bed at home. Thousands of people were eating dinner, drinking at bars, fighting, loving, flirting as the world spun on. My one friend labored, moments away from holding her baby in her arms. My other friend presented his newborn piece to an audience for the first time.

In the moments between 6 and 10:30 p.m., the metaphoric implications of my onesy became clear.

To shed a onesy that has kept me warm and dry, is like shedding a skin. If I can peel away a cocoon of my own making (actually the making of someone in China), why can’t I shed the mortal body that houses the intangible essence of being some people call a soul. If we take away our skin, there’s blood and muscle and goo, but if we could crack ourselves open, burrow into the folds and bends of our brains and hearts, what would we find?

I imagine a spark of light, vulnerable and strong. A thing of beauty so small and quick that, like a snowflake or a butterfly, it hides worlds of secrets. It lives for a moment and then it transforms into something new.

I could be wrong, of course.

But I could be right.

For my next experiment, I will sleep in the onesy to see if, when I emerge in the morning, I’m an entirely different person.

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the you i think you are

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Nikki and I are sharing a bottle of wine at a new restaurant in my neighborhood. Her boyfriend Tom is outside, phone glued to his ear, fighting with his wife. He’s been outside for five minutes already, after a rush of angry text messages. He’s smoked two cIgarettes. He’s pacing.

She pours wine into my glass, then hers. We watch him pace.

The lull is uncomfortable. It’s hard to scare up conversation when one is watching one’s friend watch her boyfriend fight with his wife.

“What’s up with Bob,” I ask. I wish I hadn’t.

She shrugs. Bob is Tom’s wife’s boyfriend. A true modern American dysfunctional family on the rocks.

“I’m not sure if I’m staying with Tom because I love him, or because I need to find Bob.”

Nikki’s been looking for Bob for the better part of the year. He’s the only person who can help her put together the pieces of a fairly straightforward puzzle. Then again, I have my opinions, the strongest one being: don’t start something until the other thing’s over. Especially where there are potential casualties.

Anyway, all she knows about Bob is that he’s bald. She suspects he teaches yoga and rides a bike with a basket, but that’s all conjecture.

“I’ve lost heart,” she says, “but I can’t stop looking.”

Outside, Tom lights another cigarette, pushing the phone into his ear.

There’s another lull as she fixes her hair in the decorative restaurant mirror. The rolodex in my brains spins, searching for a subject to fill the air. It’s going to be a long night.

***

“I’m deep in the throes of a Spelmun,” I tell her.

“Oh,” is all she can muster.

A Spelmun is a crush you develop on someone you’ve had limited, but excellent, rapport with, usually an easily cyber-stalkable individual on an internet dating site. It’s really a crush on their good PR, but if they have online photographs, you feel like you’re looking into their eyes. I had a big one earlier this year with a musician. I was able to read all about him based on his first name and a few details listed in his profile before we even spoke, and figured that if I were as easily cyber-stalkable as him, he would feel the same way about me.

In short, his web presence and my web presence could make some beautiful SEO.

We spoke on the phone while he was driving. And when he dropped the phone on his lap while passing a patrol car, I felt so close to him. Everything was easy. We laughed. We joked. We planned to meet. I was certain it was fate.

I realize now that this Spelmun was a rebound from another Spelmun I had with a filmmaker I dated for a short time – my crush for him was based solely on his films and the way he looked at me. But when he started acting the way he wanted to, instead of the way I wanted him to, we were doomed.

“You’re stuck in a Spelmun of sorts, too,” I say, sipping the wine. “Except Bob can be anyone you want… until you meet him.”

She glances towards the window. Tom tosses his cigarette butt into the tree well and starts  towards the door.

“Bob is the glue that holds this whole mess together,” she mumbles. In one swallow, she finishes her wine.

***

I’m walking home alone and I see a beautiful little girl who loves my dog, even though my IMG_0858dog is deathly afraid of her. Megan’s her name and she waves at me every time we meet. I ask her how she’s doing and she tells me she’s good. She’s got a lot poise. I’ve known her since I’ve had my dog, two years, or so, and she’s taller and lankier. Still a kid, but growing.

Up the block, I see another neighbor. I don’t know her name, but her dog Angie is literally on her last legs. I see the woman, a huddled, grieving shadow, lift Angie up and hold her close to her chest. She doesn’t want to let Angie go.

The Dominican guys around the corner from my building are playing dominos on a table they set up every night on the sidewalk. When I walk my dog later, one, if not all of them, will say hello and I’ll smile back and pretend I’m oblivious to their innuendos. In the elevator I run into the trombonist who lives in my building who used to play for Tito Puente. When I first moved in, he was lanky and lean. That was thirteen years ago. Now he’s thicker. I’ve watched him turn into a man.

As the elevator doors open on my floor, I see so clearly something I’ve never considered before. I’ve watched all these people grow and change and get fat or thin. I’ve watched some couples become families and others split up. I’ve watched little kids become big kids. And old women become widows. But it’s not a one way mirror. They’ve also seen me – in love and broken-hearted, pulling my small puppy down the block in her blue sweater, teaching her to walk down the front door steps, the grey hairs sprouting from my head. Over-employed and under-employed, dragging my friends ratty futon up the hill the first night I spent in my apartment and had no furniture. Early morning, eyes squinty from sleep, sitting on the stoop with my neighbor and laughing.

I know I’m not the person they think I am. And they’re not the people I think they are. But wouldn’t it be great if we could say things like: “I see you” and “I love the you I think you are.”

***

Nikki calls. My dog and I are back from our walk, caught in the sickly sweet smells that invade the lobby every night.

“I think someone’s cooking crystal meth in my building,” I say, answering the phone. “It smells like maple syrup every night when I when I come home. I don’t know who it could be. It’s not that kind of building.”

“Maybe someone’s lighting a Yankee candle.”

“Who would burn a candle that smells like maple syrup?”

“Someone who likes pancakes. I found something out -”

“About Bob?”

“He likes to knit.”

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The Cold

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Tuesday, June 4

I’m leaking brain fluid through my nose.

I’m pretty sure it’s brain fluid.

There have been a rash of brain-fluid-leaking stories on the internet. And my nose is running. And it won’t stop. I’ve finished off a five-year old box of tissues and have installed a roll of toilet paper by my bed.

I use the cheap kind.

It’s better for the pipes.

I can’t believe I have a hole in my brain. Just when things were going so well.

This is a terrible way to start to the week.

Wednesday, June 5

I am still leaking brain fluid. It must be a really big hole.

I am entering a dark tunnel. I am being pulled by unseen forces into the turbulent waters of a muted, dim world.

Thankfully, I have my faithful dog to comfort me. To remind me to pet her, to feed her, to throw her ball, to walk her, and pick up her poop as I whither away.

She’s a kind empath and a good and loyal friend. Sensitive to my every need.

Thursday, June 6

I can’t breathe.

It’s popcorn lung.

I’m pretty sure it’s popcorn lung.

I don’t eat microwave popcorn, but someone at works pops it every night. Every night I pass through a cloud of alluring smells – chemicals made to taste like food.

I know caught it from him.

I’ve breathing through my mouth due to my nose leaking brain fluid. I can’t smell a thing. Can’t taste a thing. So, it’s likely that I got a huge mouthful of fake butter fumes.

What if my taste buds stop working all together and my appetite never returns. Will I waste away, blown by a whispering wind into to the ethers of the universe. If I disappear, you’ll know what happened to me.

Make sure someone feeds my dog?

Despite all, I go on a date. He doesn’t notice I’m wasting away. He doesn’t notice that I list slightly to the left. He doesn’t notice my glazed look or the shortness of my breath. I’m not sure what he sees when he looks at me.

I’m not sure what I see when I look at him.

My eyesight is dimming. I think I might be going blind.

Pieces of the puzzle are laid out in front of us. Will I have the energy to fit them together?

Better have another sake. It’ll take the pain away.

I can’t believe I caught popcorn lung.

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Friday, June 7

The hole in my brain might be shrinking.

Maybe it was a runny nose after all.

The popcorn lung has turned into whooping-cough.

It’s a gravelly, guttural cough that actually feels good. Green gook, and all.

Maybe it’s tuberculosis.

Maybe I’m dying.

I should fill out the will I bought from the office supply seven years ago. I rediscovered it three weeks ago, unopened in its original packaging while I was rearranging my books.

But writing my will requires using a pen. Which is on the desk. Which seems so far away.

Outside, the skies have opened up. Flood warnings. Torrential rain. Puddles.

I wrest myself from the love seat, where I’ve serve as malleable, warm cushion for my sleeping dog. She is clearly concerned for my well-being. I slip into my shoes and sweater and step outside to dodge the raindrops.

My head lolls against the window in the train.

As Eighth Avenue traffic echoes through walls of the tunnel in my mind, I see a man walking down the street. Straw hat, white pants, grey hair flicking out around his neck. From the back it looks like my old Boston date, the rich guy who thinks relationships can be bought with a whiff of Tiffany’s jewelry and the tease of a Jimmy Choo shoe. Surely, no one else would be eccentric enough to dress like a 1940’s dandy in the face of a monsoon.

I huddle under my Canadian army fleece, it’s arms wrapped around my neck. A baseball cap. A sweatshirt with a wad of tissue shoved up the sleeve. In short, I don’t him to see me.

I quicken my step. Pass him to the left, veer into the vitamin store, and contort myself around the protein powder display in order to peer out the store window.

“Can I help you,” asks the clerk behind the counter.

“I just saw someone I don’t want to see,” I wheeze, “or, I mean – I don’t want him to see me.”

“Got it,” says the clerk, watching me.

“I’m not casing out the joint or anything.”

“Okay.”

I adjust my angle, trying to see further up the avenue. Maybe he saw me and ducked into another store to do the same. Or maybe he was a hallucination haunting my addled, leaky brain.

I wait.

No straw hat. No white pants. No strange smile or imperious attitude.

“Thanks,” I croak, tossing a look over my shoulder. “City life.”

Saturday, June 8

The retaining wall between the apartment building caddy corner to mine has collapsed. I awake to the deafening sound of tons of rubble, rock, and concrete making a new home in my very unfortunate neighbor’s apartment.

Moments later, a plaintive voice cuts through the dark. I imagine her pulled violently from the IMG_6800innocent joy of sleep, barefoot and wild-haired, haunting the alley.

“Julio,” she half whispers, half whines. “Julio, I need you. Something’s happened. Julio. Wake up.”

Julio wakes up and trips out of his apartment. He shines a flashlight on the rubble and stammers. “Holy shit.”

Another person joins the chorus.

“Holy shit.”

I balance on my closed toiled and lean out of the bathroom window, watching people collect.

“Should we call the fire department,” Julio asks in a thick Dominican accent.

The problem is bigger than him. Bigger than the collecting crowd. Bigger than me on my precarious perch.

“I guess.”

Moments later, the sirens scream.

It feels like the sky is falling.

I go back to sleep.

Sunday, June 9

Someone whistles outside my window. It’s a beautiful tune that cuts through the chirping birds and echoes through the dirt and muck.

My nose has stopped running. The hole in my head must’ve finally plugged up. No signs of popcorn lung. The Ayurvedic herbs have cured my tuberculosis. And the whooping-cough has diminished to a manageable itch in the back of my throat.

I’m a tiny bit hungry. The coffee tastes really good. My loving dog has insisted on taking me on a convalescent walk through Central Park and has even humored me with a game of “throw the ball.”

One more day and the weeks is over.

Thank God I made it out alive.

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It’s a rainy Thursday morning. Nikki’s on my couch, deeply immersed in the colored lines of a New York City bike route map. The dog’s on her back, waiting for someone to scratch her belly.

I’m sitting the floor, wedged between the yellow chair, and the bookcase. I’m rearranging my books.

“I guess I have to get a bike,” she moans. “I’ve never met someone so hard to cyber-stalk.”

“Maybe because the only thing you know about him is his first name.”

“He’s bald.”

“There can’t be too many bald men named Bob in New York City.”

It sounds like she’s on the outs with her married boyfriend, so it’s imperative that she have a conversation with her married boyfriend’s wife’s boyfriend. Bob.

“I need to know if he was lying when he said he loved me.”

“What would Bob really know?”

“He’s the type of guy women open up to. Non-threatening.”

We’re drinking coffee. I wish it were wine. Or Bloody Mary’s. Brunch would be nice. But, currently, I am flat broke.

“It’ll take a lifetime to find him,” she pouts. “Even with a bike.”

“Don’t give up,” I say. “Bob is out there. Somewhere. Sleeping with your boyfriend’s wife.”

“At least someone’s getting laid.”

She shoves the map onto the floor where the dog promptly tears it to pieces.

“How old is this sofa?”

“Old.”

“It smells like dog.”

I open folder crammed with old letters, expecting to see the familiar scrawl of a friendship gone sour. Instead, on top there’s an envelope addressed to me with an uncertain hand. I don’t recognize the handwriting.

“Quite frankly,” Nikki chimes in, “I was disappointed in your blog on your Alaskan dates. Where are the burly mountain men? Where are the rugged individuals? Where are the stories?”

“My vacation was hijacked.” I admit. “The Hurricane wanted to come along and I told him could. And then he hijacked it.”

“I see.”

That was Fairbanks, where people wear their loneliness like it’s a badge of honor. “I was alone in Anchorage, but there was less facial hair and more savior-faire. And a few drag queens…”

“I think you should go back.”

“I think I will.”

“I wish it would stop raining,” she says.

I open the letter. It’s written in the blue ink of a cheap fountain pen. “Dear Amy,” it begins, “forests have died for the amount of half-written and unmailed letters I throw away…

“… a rugged Alaskan man would be just the thing for you. When’s the last time you had sex, anyway?”

The letter’s dated 1991. I was in Berkeley, California, recovering from my first failed love attempt with a guy who stalked me after we broke up. Confusion swirled around me like a dark cloud and life was an operatic production.

I’m not at college right now,” the letter continues. “I’m doing chemo at Sloan-Kettering, in New York City.”

It’s from a college friend, Alli. She was a year behind me at school and legally blind. She wore coke bottle glasses and walked with one of those white canes. Her winter coat was bright orange; you could see her tripping towards you from across campus. She’s someone I lost touch with and then forgot. But I can see her now, clear as day. I can hear her voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“You look like you’re going to cry.”

I fold the letter and set it aside. I’ll read it later, when the rain clears and the coffee’s cold and Nikki leaves.

“I think I might be reading too many self-help books. They are depressing the hell out of me.”

“Stop reading them.”

“I recently paid someone a lot of money to tell me to read them.”

“You’re paying someone to tell you to figure out how to help yourself?”

“In essence. Yes.”

“You know you could easily cut out the middle man and save yourself some money. Or you could take drugs.”

I shrug. “I have a lot of patterns.”

Obi’s dating a Russian dancer and is caught under her spell, Nikki will leave me soon to resume her mad summer search for Bob, I’ve lost my best friend and drinking buddy to pregnancy. Everyone’s changing but me.

“Smoke pot. Drink yourself into oblivion. Or get some Ritalin. You’ll be happier and more productive. And your apartment will be spotless.”

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“I feel like – I’m -”

“But you’re not. You just think you are.”

She slides off the couch and sits in front of me. We’re face to face and I suppress a hiccup of a laugh. She’s not good at this at all.

“You have snot running down your -”

I pull my hand under my nose. “I don’t know what I’m doing. Ever.”

“No one does,” she says. She cranes her neck and looks out the window. The dog stops chewing on the map to watch her. “It looks like it stopped raining.” We smile sadly at one another for another moment. And then sweetly, she says, “well, I guess I should go.”

And then she goes.

There was a late night when Alli and I were leaving the college theater. She was telling me about her cancer, when it was discovered, where it lived. For no reason, I changed the subject to dinner, or something equally mundane. Alli was as excited to talk about the dining hall as she was about describing the tumors growing behind her eyes. I’ve often wondered at that organically abrupt non sequitur. I don’t know why I remember the moment.

Conversation is rarely a one-way or even a two-way street. It’s a labyrinth inside a playground in the middle of an obstacle course littered with flowers and land mines.

I’m not going to share her whole letter. But, here’s a small bit:

My life has not been so hard. Even if it has been tough, I would never change it. Once I played a very old woman in Master’s Spoon River Anthology, or rather, her ghost floating around the graveyard. She talks about how she went to dances as a young woman, how she met her husband, her twelve children, how they died… She turns to the other souls in the graveyard and says, ‘irreverent sons and daughters, how silly you are. Life is too strong for you. It takes life to love life.’

I think Alli died a year or two after she wrote that letter to me. I was off on my first adventures, kissing strangers, working odd jobs, learning how to be a friend. I didn’t think much about anyone those years, except myself. I heard she died well after the fact, when I ran into one of our professors on the subway. And, honestly, after a few days, she slipped from my mind again. But today, I see her everywhere.

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Easy

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It’s Valentine’s day and I’m blocked. I don’t know what to write.

Happy Valentine’s Day, by the way.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a boyfriend on Valentine’s day. I had a husband for a few of them, but we didn’t really do anything. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever had sex on my birthday either. Or a date on New Year’s eve. My relationships tend to work their way around the commercial holidays. Like me, they refute labels and dislike being defined.

As a self-identified label-refuter, that’s fine with me.

I’m making you valentine, but it’s taking a little longer than I expected.

***

I have been trying on all sorts of ideas. Cooking. Making cheese. Bugs as a culinary delight. Adopting a dog with a permanent tilt in his neck. Dating in Alaska. Drinking summer drinks in the middle of winter. I’ve been thinking about the difference between naked and nude.

Naked is honest. It’s vulnerable. It holds nothing back and pushes nothing forward. It stands strong in the whatever it is with nothing to prove.

Nude is softer. It’s seductive. It’s flavored. A well-wrapped gift.

Naked is black coffee.

Nude has a little cream.

Naked is a raw.

Nude is slightly steamed.

Naked is brutally honest.

Nude is a finessed truth.

Naked is in the eyes, glassy, simple, open.

Nude is in the lips, slightly parted, faintly smiling.

Nude has a secret. Naked has none.

***

My friend Obidiah comes over for coffee often. It’s turned into a weekly event.

This week, sitting in my yellow chair, he announces that he took a gig as a supernumerary actor in some modern opera at BAM. He did it for the money. And because he’s bored and under-employed with nothing better to do.

“I was stinking drunk when I got the email,” he says. “I didn’t read it through before I said yes.”

“And -”

“Well, the director’s a super nice guy. He wants us to do yoga in one scene. I spent a four-hour rehearsal on my head.”

“Impressive.” I can’t do headstands without a wall.

“Yeah, and – so it turns out… we’re on stage naked. Doing yoga.”

“Naked yoga?”

“Uh huh.”

“On your head?”

“Yeah.”

“How many seats in the theater?”

“I don’t know. A lot.”

“Don’t hurt yourself.”

“So the guys in the dressing room –

“You mean ‘undressing room.'”

“Umm, yeah.”

He dives into his coffee, which he drinks black, without finishing the story.

***

Back when I used to think that the right relationship would complete me, when I yearned for someone to love me with the abandon of a handsome Hollywood movie stalker, I’d look at older couples sitting across from each other, reading their papers, drinking their coffee, not saying a word.

I didn’t want that. I didn’t ever want to be bored with my lover, or run out of things to say.

Familiarity breeds contempt, I thought.

And then, I concluded that all relationships are limited, which is why it’s good to have a diverse posse of friends, in addition to a lover, to fill in the gaps.

My life philosophy evolved further. There was my relationship with myself. I found hanging out with myself a great amusement. Often I make myself laugh. Sometimes I surprise myself. And once in a while I do really nice things for myself, though I’m hard to predict. It’s always good to be with someone who enjoys your company. And if it’s you, so much the better. It’s like having a built-in best friend.

And then I got a dog. She’s my other best friend. We spend a lot of time together and we don’t always see eye to eye. We speak a different language, though we strive to understand each other. And sometimes I sit here and fill up the space in my day writing love letters to you, and she stares at me from a patch of sunshine on the floor and we don’t have to say anything at all.

But, it’s nice to know she’s around. I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

That older couple, the two who sit across from each other not talking, I see them differently now. Their relationship is not naked, sharp, or passionately honest. It’s nude, comfortable, rounded at the edges, tousled like sea glass. It’s easy.

I like easy.

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Blink

“What happens when you meet someone you really want to get to know,” people ask me about this project of mine. “What happens when you fall in love?”

At first, I answered, “I don’t know,” because I didn’t know. And then I answered, “we’ll see.” Now, I shrug. In my experience, love sort of sneaks up you from behind, like a toy fox terrier stalking a fat, city pigeon. It’s simply because we’re pecking on the ground instead of looking up and around that it feels like we’ve been hit by a speeding freight train.

Inevitably, my over-therapied friends who have read too many relationship self-help books  will diagnosis me as being afraid of love and/ or commitment.

I want to set the record straight.

I’m not afraid of being blindsided by love.

I’m not afraid of being hit by a freight train either.

Here’s why:

A few years ago, during the Christmas season, I was walking down Broadway, enjoying Christmas lights, dodging Christmas shoppers, brainstorming Christmas gifts.

I love Christmas in the city.

I saw a man running through the crowd. “That man is running towards me,” I thought, and stepped off his path.

He changed his trajectory. And I thought, “that man is running a-”

I was on the ground, scrambling for my bag, my incomplete thought hanging in the air as he sped away, disappointed, no doubt, by my lack of interesting things he might’ve wanted for himself. Or as Christmas gift for his loved ones.

My point is, if I couldn’t finish a thought at the laborious, slow speed of a human running through a city crowd, I surely won’t be able to put my thoughts together if I find myself standing in front of a speeding train. Or watching Cupid fling his arrow in my direction.

That event, only seconds from beginning to end, took more than my whole life to occur. I can’t even begin to comprehend how many architects there were to that single moment. People. Places. Prior events. Dreams. Goals. Conversations.

How many architects are there for every single heartbeat of my life?

I heard myself blink last week. I was floating in a floatation tank for the first time. No lights, no sound, just me with myself and a ton of epsom salt. I listened to my breath, and then my heart. And at once, I became aware of a quick, twinkle of a sound. I heard it again, the tiniest rain drop falling on the thinnest pane of glass. That sound was me, too. I winked one eye for a bit, then the other, and then listened again in stereo.

Neither change nor love happen with the elegance and beauty of a blinking eye. Nor do they emerge from nowhere with the fury and power of a run-away freight train. The build up is slow, the event, most often, unnoticed, and the repercussions parsed out over years. Change, like love, sits heavy on an over-burdened tug boat, pulling with all its might an over-loaded barge against the tide. Laborious and joyful, that little caboose has the power to move mountains.

I used to wish that change would hit me like a bolt of lightning, my life permanently altered for the better in one glorious swoop. My friend warned me that, not only is change inevitable, it’s also painfully slow. I would add that it can be stunningly simple and of a rare and subtle beauty.

I heard myself blink and I will never be the same.

 

States of Suburbia

I’m annoyed.

I don’t want to go to Connecticut.

I don’t like Connecticut.

Connecticut holds a special place of annoyance in my heart.

My dog is giving me the stink eye. She’s annoyed that I’m annoyed. She wants to eat my cheese.

My potential dates are annoying: a sixty year old, overly intellectual embracer of puns who looks like a rabbit, and a forty-something year old tech guy who hates his job but likes me because I’m confident and cocky. Might I add that the sixty year old intellectual who looks like a rabbit is already given to using pet names with me and the forty-something year old job hating tech guy and I have exchanged fewer than three emails.

It’s very annoying.

There’s also hip hop artist in Greenwich who wants to meet me. And a forty-four year old guy posing with his teddy-bear. And a twenty-five year old self-proclaimed “great catch,” single in the suburbs.

It’s rough out there.

In their Connecticut profiles, these guys smile from behind the wheels of their convertible BMWs. They wave from the decks of the company yachts.  Their square jaws and GQ smiles pose at jaunty angles and instead of beer, they drink Perrier from the bottle.

And I sit at my computer and drink wine from a cracked mug and read what they’ve written about themselves. Annoyed.

And my dog stares at me because she wants to eat my cheese.

I know there are cool people in Connecticut. I know this because I know them. They are not annoying. They are, perhaps, the only reason why the Metro-North New Haven line is still running.

But, Connecticut, as a state, is annoying. To me, anyway.

But we have history.

I grew up on the mean streets of Westport, Connecticut. I moved there when I was two into a swampy house. I had my first a kiss when I was three with George T., who also came to my defense at pre-school by popping some kid in the face for picking on me.

After a promising beginning, my love life dried up.

At five, I moved to New Jersey. I agreed to go, bribed with a Disney Land vacation and a set of Wizard of Oz dolls. Living in New Jersey opened my eyes to a whole new world. One in which kindergarten teachers had it out for their students, and instead of encouraging them to succeed, they squashed their potential like bugs on a log.

At six, I ditched New Jersey and moved back to Connecticut, found my way to Greens Farms Elementary School. But, I never got my mojo back. The kids were tough and mean, hardened by years of tennis lessons and piano lessons and horse back riding lessons and ballet. I couldn’t compete.

I drew into my shell and graduated elementary, then middle, and finally high school. To cover my inadequacy, I learned to walk in high heels and fake eating disorders. I slopped coffee for Tom Cruise and waited in line at the grocery with Paul Newman. I worked at the  bookstore cafe and dragged my cello to chamber rehearsals and orchestra rehearsals and pit orchestra rehearsals and band rehearsals and lessons and other lessons and then home, where I practiced in the sweltering heat of the New England summers.

But, I never, ever went on a date. I thought I never would.

There comes a moment in every anthropological dater’s life, when they realize they must overcome their personal, and elevated, levels of annoyance and date, regardless of geography.

And, if they’re lucky, and some guy buys their poorly constructed story about spending more time in New York than Norwalk, and why they might be able to hop off the train in Stamford (instead of driving) on their way back home from the city, on a Monday afternoon after the dog is walked and fed…

… then, it is the anthropological dater’s duty to pick up the phone and call back… and laugh… and charm…

… and make a date. In Greenwich, Connecticut. On a Monday afternoon. After the dog is walked and fed.

Oh, god. I’m so annoyed.

My dog’s given up on the cheese.

My mug is empty.

I’m glad it’s not Monday yet.

words words words

So sorry for the repeat… wordpress was having formatting issues (or I was) earlier today…

I have been invited to participate in a special cougar and cub speed date event! There are more cubs than cougars, and since I’m a preferred customer, they want me to attend for free!

Could it mean that young men have a harder time getting laid than grown women?

That’s just not possible.

I wonder if I should rsvp.

“Dear Ollie,

thank you for your very generous invitation, but unfortunately, I cannot make it to your special cougars and cub speed date event. I have what looks like a wart on one of my fingers and simply must clean my bathtub. Thank you so much for thinking of me.

purrrrrrr,
Amy ”

***
As most of New York dutifully devours 50 Shades of Grey and I swim slowly through my formerly valuable vintage edition of Mantrap, the New York summer rages through the city streets and no ceiling fan or open window is powerful enough to stop it.

This is what global warming looks like, says the CEO of Exxon. Get used to it. It’s your problem, not mine. Or something like that. I suspect he doesn’t like people. As far as he’s concerned, the fewer of us out there, the better. Without us, he could drink fossil fuel for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He could fill his pools and bathtubs with the stuff, luxuriate in the sight of his marble fountains spewing black gold instead of water through the mouths of the naked cherubs. He’d never have to wear clothes again, only a thick, warm layer of rotted dead rodent slime and dinosaur bones.

If he has to take out some polar bears along the way, so be it. They can repopulate with zoo animals, if they need to.

***

Michele and I wander through Good Vibrations, a little, brightly lit lesbian-run sex shop in the East Village. A short stack of 50 Shades of Grey is prominently displayed on a table next a pair of fur-lined hand-cuffs and some curious device I didn’t understand.

I nod towards the book.

“Do you know what this is about?” I ask.

She sighs. “I guess S & M has gone mainstream,” she answers sadly.

We wander to the next display. She picks up a set of glow-in-the-dark vibrating ben-wa balls.

“What the -” she starts.

And I shrug.

There’s so much I don’t know.

***
An intimate electronic epistolary conversation.

Stratocaster71: I bet you will not handle me? Email sexting first so you don’t think I’m a wierdo or something…

Bluegreenplanet: Wow. Are you for real?

Stratocaster71: Yeah. You?

Bluegreenplanet: Oh. No. I thought you were joking. So sorry.

Stratocaster71: What, you don’t like sex?

Bluegreenplanet: I do like sex. I just have a hard time believing that your pick up line is an effective way to get sex. But, to each his own. Best of luck.

Stratocaster71: I have a hard time with lines. Can you give me one? You help me, I will help you.

Bluegreenplanet: I don’t think so. You’re on your own journey.

Stratocaster71: Don’t be like that. Be like that and I’ll give you a little lick.

Bluegreenplanet: You’re not very good at this.

***

In the meantime, our older cousins, the bonobos, are making love, not war and shake their heads at their hairless, angry, language-ridden brethren, humankind.

A one-armed cowboy in Texas whispers secrets into the trunk of a tree hundreds of years older than he is.

And a young dog in New York suffers through a brutal summer day as her person lays quietly beside her, watching her breathe.

***

I did some research on this book, 50 Shades of Grey.

I read a review.

And then I read the first page.

I don’t need to read any more.

In this book, the good girls are the ones who don’t know how to love.

In Mantrap, the good girls are the ones who do know how to love.

I’ll take vintage pulp over poorly written girl porn any day.