Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sunday In The Hall With Cat Boy

He's in love with the dog next door.

So his request to be let out often has less to do with climbing stairs and sniffing doorways than it does waiting patiently for Rags to take her afternoon constitution.

It isn't that Rags doesn't know he's alive. On the contrary, she does. She just doesn't understand his place in her world. He speaks a different alphabet and she is usually in a rush to inspect her favorite trees.

Still, he waits to gets a chance to march up to her and say hello before the elevator door opens causing him to retreat to safety. He has great hope and even greater determination. And his heart is even bigger than those two combined.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Memories of High School Stairs

Stairs in the former High School of Performing Arts on 46th Street

My withdrawal to the back staircase during lunch hour had nothing to do with any sense of integrity or autonomy. It was a full body retreat. I just gave up trying to fit in with the kids who seemed to have figured out how to be human.

So I sat by myself and to this day I wondered what I was eating for lunch since I don't remember anyone at home making any more food during those days.

Not sure how it started but the cute violinist came across me one day and asked if he could join me. He too needed a break from attempting to fit into a scene completely foreign to him.

Soon after, the accordion player who was the only one in the school found us. I think the cute violinist had said something.

The 13 year old Prodigy sent to New York by himself, living in a walk-up railroad on the east side by himself, taking care of himself by himself, began to eat with us.

Then so did the pretty oboe player, who the Prodigy liked.

I had without realizing made some friends.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Same City Different Camera: Night Stairs Bound For Home

Special Encore: I Hear It Was Her Birthday

November 24 would have been Florence's 87th or 86th Birthday.

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 21, 2010

Sunday Memories: Encore - The Hand That Fed

I had written this old friend to see if she had an extra camera lying about that she wasn't using. A week later, much to my shock, a new one appeared in my mailbox. Her New York will begin a new series next week thanks to Morgan's amazing generosity, friendship and support.

Thirty years ago I met Morgan. She wasn't from New York but she moved through my city as its eyes, a witness to its private corners and secret worlds and painful revolution that soon became joyous mainstream. Her hands danced a ballet with her cameras and when decades later I got up enough nerve to pick up a camera my hands danced as hers did. After all, her hands had, for a long long time, been the only role models I ever had.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brief Peace in Late Night

It was past the world's bedtime. No one was really there.

Still, the remaining countries who had waited days to speak stepped up to the podium, and in the formal shoes of a tired man or the polite heels of a fatigued woman, addressed the empty seats.

World, they said, let's give peace a chance our country is hurting your country is hurting we are all hurting there is no need for this...

If the seats could have nodded they would have and they would have made sure something was done to make it better. But instead, each word bounced and banged against walls and ceilings.

We, the scribes, though, we made sure the words didn't shatter against hard surfaces.

We, the scribes, noted stressed stated said and urged.

We, the scribes, made sure even in empty spaces peace was recorded and thus given a chance.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Brief Peace

The international center of peace and security had gone late into the night. The main gates were locked. That meant a long walk along my childhood river to the only entrance to home.

We meandered down, keeping an eye out for rats and talked about the small wars we had won in our own lives and the peace we had made with our past.

Suddenly, I realized our walk, this night, those lights, my colleague, that reflection, this moment would never ever happen again, the next day offering only more blizzards of words that brought nothing closer to kindness.

However badly done, peace always looks beautiful.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Memories: Encore- From That Moment On The World Was Different

As a replacement camera hurtles through space, Her New York presents encores of beloved posts and dear memories.

B. told us. Of course none of us believed her. But she insisted. She had it on good authority and could even prove it to us.

So we all trooped off to the Children's Section of the Seward Park Library on East Broadway where the librarian nodded gravely at B.'s request and then guided us to a little bookcase we had never really paid attention to before. And there she pulled out a big enough picture book with big enough pictures called How Babies Are Made.

The sudden information that not only did our fathers have one of those but that they did that with our mothers was numbingly shocking.

That is until we discovered dirty jokes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Encore: A Visit to the Hospital: Part Two

As a replacement camera hurtles through space, Her New York presents encores of beloved posts and dear memories.

All I Need Is The Air That I Breathe And To Love You

It's 10:30 at night. Something is wrong. Even after they give her medicine from a mask that comes pouring out into her face, Florence can't stop coughing. It hurts it hurts and afterwards she is too wiped out to even breathe. She begs me to make it better make it better. I keep wetting paper towels and try to convince her to keep the mask with all the medicine pouring out into her face. She keeps taking the mask off it hurts it hurts she can't breathe it's wiping her out make it better make it better I keep wetting paper towels and try to convince her to keep the mask with all the medicine pouring out into her face she keeps taking off the mask off it hurts it hurts make it better....

Finally at 11:30 at night it's better...

Say it loud and there's music playing,
Say it soft and it's almost like praying.

Maria is all of teeny tiny. She lives near Florence - Delancy and Essex or maybe that's where she shops, the Essex Street market - it's hard to tell, my rudimentary Spanish picks up about half of what she says even after the nurse assistant waves it off saying oh she blabs a lot so don't worry if you don't catch it all.

But one night I come in and she starts talking too fast even after I beg in Spanish "Dispacio, porfavor, dispacio" this isn't blabbing it feels important and I don't understand and the other roommate - the 95 year old who is sharp as a tack and used to live on Suffolk and Houston but now is in Brooklyn near Coney Island because her son has a house - she translates what I miss, not because she understands Spanish but because she saw what happened.

Florence hadn't been eating for days. Nothing tasted good, everything made her cough, she didn't feel like it. The nurses or the assistant nurses tried to coax a few things down once I got her to gum a piece of chicken or a piece of carrot before she spit it out and when the ensure made her cough I just couldn't insist. Mostly the food trays just stayed untouched.

This night had been busy I am not sure why maybe more beds filled or dinner arriving all at once and the healthy people in charge of the unhealthy people suddenly having their hands full and there just wasn't enough hands or enough time so no one really forced Florence to take that second bite or another sip.

Maria got up out of bed, went over to Florence and then fed her.

I flit, I float, I fleetly flee, I fly

The sun has gone to bed and so must I

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye
Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye


The picture I take after getting messages that Florence is being sent home once she is assessed for palliative care.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Encore: A Visit to the Hospital: Part One

As a replacement camera hurtles through space, Her New York presents encores of beloved posts and dear memories.

The Long and Winding Road

We had hoped it would go away. But it didn't.

Then the substitute home attendant and the recreational therapist both said something. I had some time off but was still putting back together small pieces of a recently broken life - I just wanted a bit more time before another 10 hours in the ER. I kept asking with great hope to G., "Maybe it's a cold?" G. kept saying "I don't know". I finally asked with great hope to Doctor Russia, "Maybe it's a cold?" He said, "No, it's not cold. Bring her to ER, it is best, they do X-Ray..." Then G. said with great hope, "She seems better!"

But the next morning it was still there. When I got to her apartment I knew it was not a cold. Her chest heaved up and down like Signorny Weaver in Ghost Busters when Weaver got possessed.

So we began the long and winding...

"You're doing great," I say to her.

She says, "You're just saying that. I'm a mess."

I can't stop laughing. "You're right. You're a mess."

She says, "It's all your fault."

When the ER nurse asked Florence, "Do you know where you are?", Florence answered, "I'm not home."

Time, Time, Time, See What's Become of Me

What to bring to a day at the ER:

water bottle
your own spoon
pens and highlighter case
filofax with all the numbers to contact in case of...
prayer bag with sutra book and beads
extra camera
LL Bean catalog to distract Florence
Swimming to Antarctic by Lynne Cox to distract me
journal to write everything down

You Can Hear the Ocean Roar In The Dangling Conversation

"I'm not going to say no in this place."

"Did you think a little nothing in the morning could keep me here all day?"

"I have unsettled things in my body."

"Claire. Are you Claire or Louise?"

"When do I get up in the morning?"
-When you wake up in the morning.
"Oh fuck."

"I swear if I ever get past here I'll shoot you."

-(doctor) Where are we? What kind of building is it?
"Oh, it's a swell building."

"Help me."
-What do you need?"
"Somebody's hand."

"I love you.
-I love you.
"I never said that to anybody."
-I know
"How do you know?"

"Everything will be alright."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Encore: Sunday Memories and Secrets: I Want To Hold Your Hand

From September 28, 2008, an encore from a series on men, cars, and secrets

This is the last secret a man told me in a car.

It was the early 1990s when New York was still New York City and I still belonged here.

Unless it was life saving - like going to work to pay the rent - I had stopped leaving my apartment.

Every morning a desire to die would slammed into me and leave me unable to pull on the latex body suit of chirpy-supportive-sister-sledge-we're-all-family-let-me-support-you-with-your-dreams-girl bullshit personality I had worn for quite some time. I knew I had been me at my birth, before I became what everyone needed. But I didn't have a clue how to get back to her. So I lived in that bleak despair. Every day. Every night. Very little relief. Not even eating helped.

Then a friend's husband started leaving messages and sending letters and then leaving more messages. He was giving her a surprise birthday party at their suburban mansion. She was turning some big age like forty and no expense would be spared. He would even arrange for a car service because I just had to be there.

And he was right. I did have to be there. This woman had saved my life many years ago. Not by pulling me out of some ocean or taking a bullet for me. She had just made sure I got taught to protect myself. I owed her my life and I owed her my presence and that meant leaving my house.

It was the first time in a long time I was around people and I not only got through the night without a psychotic break, I even gave a warm birthday toast. Something about licking stamps and making a siddach.

True to his word, the husband had hired a car service to take a bunch of us back into the city. A gaggle of self-important women filled the back of the car. So I took shot-gun. I listened to conversations that seemed vapid and cruel and clanging and wondered if leaving my house had been worth it. One by one the driver dropped them off in neighborhoods I would never be able to afford to live in.

To be polite, or to counteract the unpleasantness of the other passengers, I asked the driver if he enjoyed driving for a living.

He answered that driving his own taxi in the town he lived in allowed him to always know what size shoe his kid wore. I probably exclaimed something like wow or brave or huh.

And then he said, "Well, I died once. And when I came back I decided to change things."

He had been working security at one of the fanciest hotels in mid-town. There was a jewelry store in the basement promenade. One day in the afternoon an alarm sounded. Someone was robbing the jewelry store. He raced down to the promenade and ran smack into the robber who then shot him point blank.

At that moment he looked down and saw his body and the frantic efforts to save him. Then he saw the corridor and the light.

He rushed towards it because it felt really good and he could hear all his relatives on the other side of the light and he couldn't wait to see them, his favorite aunt, his grandmother, her grandmother, his entire family from the beginning of time. But just as he was about to go through they all said, "No." It wasn't his time. He had to go back. He'd see them again when it was right.

That was the moment his heart began to beat again and EMS shouted many things and he was rushed off to the hospital.

By this time, we were parked at the corner hydrant by my building. I suddenly had this great hope that if I took his hand, touched him, somehow his life would pour into mine and I'd be able to return to the land of the living.

The second I thought that he said, "I don't know why I told you that story. I rarely tell anyone. When I do, they always want to touch me."

I sat on my hands.

For the first time since I fell apart I thought about what, if anything I might have to offer another person that was uniquely mine to give, but wouldn't kill me if I gave it.

He started talking about his wife's brother. The brother had just died. In those days it was still called the "gay cancer" and rumors ran rampant - you could catch it from toilet seats or using the same plate or standing next to...

No one but the driver's wife and and the driver had been willing to love and care for the brother as he got sicker and sicker. Now the lover of the brother was sick.

The driver spoke heartbreak and he spoke alone and he spoke my days in and out. The journey through despair. I knew what I had to give and I knew giving it would begin my life again.

I reached over and offered my hand.


Previous posting of men, cars and secrets:

Tunnel of Love

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Another Walk to Hope: Part II

Grand Central ramp at 2:30 a.m.

""Winter Always Turns To Spring. Never, from ancient times on, has anyone heard or seen of winter turning back to autumn." The Gosho of Nicherin Daishonin

So all this old empty lobby has to do is wait.

Part I:
The Walk to Hope