Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Memories: Where I Still Could Find Her

O'Keefe asked me to explain all this.

I said I was trying to illuminate where New York and Florence still were themselves even as they faded from recognizable forms.

And now a year after Florence died and New York continued in its odd way and the home I grew up in now looks like a nice apartment for other people we never were, there are places still here and there, still persistently themselves ....

....that I go to to feel at home.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


This really happened.

It was right before Thanksgiving and like a billion other people, my friend ordered dessert from Veniero's on 11th Street to bring to the family gathering in Pound Ridge. It was probably pumpkin pie, or pastiero di grano or maybe even a cheesecake with little cannolis on top.

This woman is very attractive and she is over 30. Maybe even over 40 but her seamless attractiveness is elegant and well appointed. Oprah's makeover couldn't improve on her classic outfits, highlighted with tasteful touches of contemporary accessories.

So... as she waited on the long line she grew a bit tired. Noticing a bunch of round tables stacked along the wall, she sidled up to one and gently, as only elegance and class could, sat down.

The woman behind her, generously described as perhaps not very attractive and very unhappy about not being attractive, snapped I'M IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY AND YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE SITTING ON A TABLE. My friend politely pointed out that these were tables being stored, not being used for service. At that point the counter guy called "Next." Which was my friend.

YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO TAKE A NUMBER yelled the Unhappy Woman. My friend pointed out that not only did she have a number, she had the one they were calling and off she went to pick up the family dessert. Turning to leave she came face to face with the Unhappy Woman who then... punched her.

"Why'd you do that?" the counterman asked.

My friend quickly left and joined her husband in their car. As she began to tell him what just happened, the Unhappy Woman ran out of Veniero's and began yelling at the car. Windows rolled up and doors locked, her husband began to drive away. My friend pleaded for her husband to go slow because all they needed was for him to run over the foot of the Unhappy Woman as she followed the car down 11th Street yelling things at them.

That Thanksgiving Dinner the dessert was brought out to many ooos and ahhs.

"We almost died for this cake," the husband said.

A brief discussion ensued. Did the Unhappy Woman attack my friend because she was Asian? Did she attack my friend because she was Asian AND pretty? Or was this Unhappy Woman just basically nuts?

Nothing was decided. So they ate the cake.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Not really knowing the circumstances of her birth on November 24, 1923 or 4, I have no idea if she was celebrated when she arrived. Possibly not. Her father was a World War 1 veteran who wasn't very nice and her mother, erudite, educated, multi-lingual, worked as a practical nurse because as an immigrant and refugee from Russia, it was what she could do. Her father not much in the picture in between hospital stays and abusive behavior, resources her mother had went toward the basics and then Florence's music lessons.

Poverty and unhappiness perhaps didn't lend itself to birthday parties with pretty cakes but stories of how much could be done with so little offer some hope that maybe there were birthdays she really enjoyed.

It was her 65th birthday that my sister did it up right with Florence's first birthday cake. A real cake with icing and flowers and her name and candles to blow out. As it wasn't something we ever got as kids, giving her this cake was a big deal. I found the candles - a 6 and a 5 - in a drawer of one of her tables when we cleaned out her house.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Memories: Words To Live By

Held in place on the refrigerator since 1981 by the "US OUT OF EL SALVADOR" magnet (which makes one wonder if we ever didn't go someplace we shouldn't have) the postcard reads:

Melba resolves silently never to eat again for as long as she lives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ode To The Office. Empty Or Otherwise

Thirty years of working in an office gotta account for something.

Hidden moments and unexpected beauty in the place we spend most of our lives

Previous Homages to the Office:

Ode To The Office, December 2008


The Office Series

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GUEST ARTIST, ROBYN: Communicating Across Difference

Robyn -- writer, actor, public presentation coach -- runs SPEAKETC.COM and has lived in New York for almost 30 years. I have yet to walk down any street with her and not see her run into someone she knows. Once in a single block stretch she said hello to seven different people.

The other day I saw an amazing communication on the NYC Subway. I was headed uptown. The train was crowded enough that I had to stand, but not the suffocating type of crowded that makes you question your sanity. A very tall African American man started walking through the car. Let me pause to let everyone know that I am African American. Anyway, this tall gentleman had the distinct body language of someone who wanted some kind of interaction/altercation. And for those of you who may question this observation, don't. I'm really good at body language and don't make these assumption lightly.

As this same man passed by me, my umbrella touched him and he jerked around to stare. I, being the well seasoned New Yorker, did not make eye-contact and I felt him decide that he wasn't going to pursue that particular altercation possibility. As he walked by, I eyed him carefully, wondering, dreading, who he was going to "mess with” cause I and everyone else in the car knew, he wanted to "mess with” someone. Most of the other riders in the car, did what I had done earlier and focused their eyes anywhere but in his direction. All except one.

A slightly vertically challenged Caucasian guy stood balanced in front of the subway car door facing in. The black guy stopped and stood directly in front of him. Facing him, staring at him. If the white guy looked down, he'd be staring at the man's crotch. If he tried to look any other place, it would be far too obvious that he was avoiding eye-contact and that would smack of fear and vulnerability. I sucked in my breath. I dreaded what might happen next. BUT, before the black guy could say anything or send out too many hostile vibes, the white guy, noticing the black guy's cap said: "Bronco's fan?" And what do you suppose the black guy did?

He began to grin from ear to ear. He raised his arms, and did a little dance around the car. The riders who'd been avoiding eye contact, started to look up and smile. He let out a whoop about the Broncos and he and the white guy engaged in a passionate discussion about football, Denver and the recent game. The subway reached its next stop, the black guy got off but not before giving the white guy a high five and parting advice about his team. I felt like I had witnessed one of the most compelling demonstrations of the basic idea behind Nonviolent Communication. (NVC)

NVC believes that people take action based on universal human needs. Sometimes these needs lead to positive actions, sometimes they lead to negative actions but the person is just trying to get a basic need met and will use any strategy available. I feel like this African American man had the need for connection. He wanted to connect to another human being badly. One strategy he was used to using was intimidation but that day, on that subway, a very confident, compassionate (or perhaps naïve) individual offered him another way to connect by offering him conversation about a shared interest.

The white guy and I got off at the same stop. I hadn’t realized it, but his girlfriend had been in the same subway car seated across from him. They got off chatting as though nothing unusual had occurred. I wanted to say something. Ask him how conscious the decision he made had been? Let him know how impressed I was with his ability to deflect a potentially uncomfortable encounter into a conversation. But I didn't. I didn't want to draw attention to something that had seemed so natural to him. I just hope that I can remember and learn from that example.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Memories: You Say You Want A Revolution...

It reads:

"imperialism sucks
march on washington november 15, 1969

It was here on the kitchen wall in 1976 when I moved in.   In those days, the house was painted in purple and red and yellow and more purple and maybe blue but it was hard to tell. 

One day in 1980 a woman visited, friend of a friend of a friend of a roommate. She had either designed the poster or knew who did. She found it funny to see it tacked up by tape over the toaster.

I always thought it was an abstract painting with no meaning - just acid trip colors until 20 years into looking at it I realized there was the shape of a man in chains and blood and grief and oppression.

Recently I got a frame from Ikea for it.  I'm not sure what took me so long.  But when revolution no longer marches on Washington,  it should be framed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

They Came From Outta Town- Part Three

A series about New Yorkers who accidentally got born in the wrong city, but somehow found their way home.

(b.Richmond, California)

I could never remember he didn't grow up here unless he reminded me about gardens and trees and cars. Had the audacity to move to London. And like it. How I feel about that is unprintable for a family magazine or adult blog.

I was raised within the constraints of a large, stifling, Mexican family.  

As a kid I dreamt of being a princess, speaking French, traveling the world and living in New York.

I finally moved to New York in 2001 with a broken heart, no money and no real plans.

The city beat the crap out of me but I fought back.  Eventually, she gave in and decided I could stay.  For 8 years, I had a real life in New York made up of real friends and real seasons.

I met a mattress and lived with a bunny.
I walked over water.
I danced all night and kissed boys.
I walked with Luci to see La Virgencita.
I watched my friends leave.
I made art that traveled to cities I have yet to see.
I became a princess.
I got clowned.
I met Poookie and we drank like champions.
I welcomed my sister to the city.
I fell in love with a monkey.
I became a Master.
I clogged the internet with Claire.
I celebrated life like I never imagined.

I, like many, have my own special love affair with the city of cities.
This is the place where I’ve felt the freest, the most alive, the most accepted, the most loved and the most challenged.

The affair now continues from a far.
(I’m not cheating on you, I hate it here…really.)

Kisses from across the pond

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

They Came From Outta Town- Part Two

A series about New Yorkers who accidentally got born in the wrong city, but somehow found their way home.

(b. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

Writes about cowboy and Jerry Springer rejects. In a party of lots of poets was the only cool person there.

Long answer: I'm not the tough, street-smart New Yorker, or the "pushy" New Yorker, or the worldly one, or the zillions of other types that I think make up the plurality of "New Yorker." I came to NY to make it here, in the words of the Sinatra song, and to be part of a huge metropolis. I'm making it, and I'm part of a community in NY, so yeah, then I'm a New Yorker. When I go to hometown, I can be perceived as pushy, arrogant, self-assured, liberal, cool, impatient, goal-oriented, etc. So in my hometown, I'm a New Yorker. But New Yorkers can spot my non-New Yorkerisms pretty quickly. I grew up on shale and sandstone, not granite, so there are some profound differences that go beyond having had a big yard and played in woods when I was little.

Short answer: If someone said to my face "You're not a New Yorker," I'd say, "Duh. But I've been here close to 20 years, and I WOULDN"T LIVE ANYWHERE ELSE, so fuck off."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Memories: Giving Peace A Chance

It was way more dangerous in 1972. At least according to the crime rates.

But we didn't know that or notice it. We just went about our business all over the city by ourselves or with each other, a gang of 12 and 13 year old girls traveling the subways, the buses, the streets without a cell phone because they didn't exist then, and at least in my case, not even a dime to call home in case something went wrong.

So it was no big deal for us to head over to the Peace Building on Lafayette and Bleecker to pick up peace buttons to sell on the street for the cause - BRING THE TROOPS HOME! PEACE NOW! FREE KIM AGNEW!

Our plan was to walk up 6th Avenue selling peace buttons until we got to the big peace rally near Herald Square. We pinned our wares to our teeshirts and in our tinny little voices hawked our wares - Peace Buttons for a dolla! Stop the war in Viet Nam! Buy a button for a dolla!

The shame of that day wasn't the man jiggling under his raincoat while touching each button on breasts I wasn't sure I had.

It was when on a dare or perhaps on empty pockets we all dashed under the turnstiles at 34th Street and ladies who probably were our neighbors or knew our neighbors or maybe even our parents TSK TSK'd us scolding "such nice girls such nice girls doing that shame on you what would your mother say..." as we ran down the ramp to the F train and home.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

They Came From Outta Town

A series about New Yorkers who accidentally got born in the wrong city, but somehow found their way home.

(b. Orange County, California)

His grandparents and parents grew up in the Bronx, White Plains and Eastchester and then along with a ton of other people including some of my relatives migrated to Southern California before it got bad. His great-great-grandfather owned a bar in Hell's Kitchen. And his grandfather owned a liquor store and was a bartender. It's why O'Keefe can do a Bronx Irish accent like nobody's business.

I got here I felt like I didn't have to leave. The city replaces nature in the oddest of ways. You live in it and with it. It really is my city to me. I'm not a guest here. I'm not a visitor. I found the street wide open madness and joy. It could never be too much.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Guest Artist Dana On Parenting (Or How I Survived Motherhood)

"I sat in the playpen as they wrecked the house."

Dana, with her grandson, her great-grandson and her son posing for a picture being taken by her other son.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday Memories: Behold The Lowly Rubber Band

Besides the once-a-year-when-you-get-a-shot bubble gum
there was the rubber band.

I think Florence thought it some form of God or magic elixir. There were many in the house but tucked away in corners reserved for precious things. Even pens were treated more carelessly.

We never bought them. That was unheard of. Rather, on our sightseeing visits to Macy's (sightseeing because we never bought anything there either--I'm not counting that one time my sister and I got a new dress each) Florence would send us off to go collect rubber bands from the nooks and crannies of whatever clothes department we happen to be in.

It was a mission, understood to be taken seriously and to be successful at. So I'd crawl under racks and in and out of empty dressing rooms and collect as many as a child's hand could hold and bring them triumphantly back to Florence who I guess dumped them into her handbag and sent me off again.

What I remember was that on the way home or perhaps one afternoon at home, we'd request a rubber band. pop it into our mouths and chew away, happy for such an approved treat.