Say you’re looking at a big building in the city: elevators (ding!) information desk (hello can I help you?), people shifting things to their right hand so they can push the door with their left (here, I got that!). On the top floors things are getting done, or not getting done, some people are arguing, some are talking about someone else. Someone has locked the door and is jerking off to a photo on his phone. Someone is having a conversation with her mother on speaker. Someone is checking out his bank balance, scrolling facebook, scanning twitter. Someone is delivering mail, sandwiches, bad news. Papers, reports, P and Ls, scripts, stories, charts, graphs, and you, standing by the window, finger to lips, staring, staring, staring.
My Great Grandfather Harry lived until he was 106 mainly because he was a positive person. What else could it have been? He smoked and drank and worked in a stressful environment (finance) so his days should have been numbered; but he also played the harmonica, collected weird toys and did “the old soft shoe”. He believed in luck and chance and being in the right place at the right time. He started every day with a positive thought even if it was just: Cheers Big Ears!
I wonder if you have to be part nuts to be an optimistic person.
Remember when I deleted my blog? Well I’m just realizing this didn’t make it back in, so I’m reposting. Happy Sunday. Good Luck today.xo
Sketch by James Ensor for his painting The Infernal Cortege
All of a sudden I’m back in touch with people, five in all, from my past. It’s not like I ever had a falling out with any of them, and all of a sudden we’ve reconnected to make amends. In fact, except for one, we were never really close enough to have a falling out. Sometimes old friends/boyfriends/roommates will call you out of the blue, or you’ll run into them randomly, maybe you’ll even text periodically, but you know you are essentially done with each other; you have gone your separate ways and there’s no future together. But I don’t feel that way with any of these people; I feel like in some ways, we are only getting started.
I didn’t feel that way at first, however. One of them, the one I knew the least, emailed me a few months ago and said she had a shocking and sad experience that she wanted to talk to me about on the phone. I thought, do I want to open the door to a person I haven’t spoken to in over 25 years to discuss something shocking and sad? And the answer was, very clearly, no I do not. I have all the sadness and shock I can handle on my own. Delete! I rationalized this with the thought that if she had told me what had happened up front, I would have called her. Still, I kept thinking about her. And wondering. And luckily for me she contacted me again to tell me she would be in LA for an exhibit of her artwork and would I please come. I said “Of course!” with the over-enthusiasm of someone trying to pretend they weren’t just an asshole.
By the time we got together in a diner near the airport, she had told me what had happened. It was definitely shocking and sad, but the details are not important here. Being around a person who is recovering from something devastating is kind of like being with a baby who is first learning to walk. You want to see that they can do it on their own, but you need to watch and pay attention so they don’t fall down the stairs. She had already done a year’s worth of grieving, and though she still had waves of sadness, I was struck by how beautiful and peaceful she looked. She laughed easily. We were talking about Philadelphia and where she lived.
“Oh my god there’s Pedro!” she waved at some guy across the diner.
“What?” I turned and watched a little middle-aged Mexican guy smile and wave back to her.
“I can’t believe he’s here at this diner,” she said, “that’s so random”. She watched him go out the door. “Bye! Yeah. maybe I’ll see you later!”
“Wait… How do you know that guy?”
“I met him last night when I went dancing”.
“You did not go dancing last night.”
“Yes, I did”.
“Your flight got in at 10 o’clock at night, and you went dancing.”
I must have been looking at her the way you look at a person who has just told you something slightly insane, because she started laughing.
“Hold on, hold on,” I said. “You arrived late at night, wheeled your little bag through the airport, shuttled yourself over to Hertz, signed the papers, got your car and just headed straight for the nearest club”.
“But you know that’s what the character does in the scary movie just before she gets chainsawed into 23 pieces—
“—Yes, and then skull raped, and fed to some old skinny goats, and then pooped out into a dog food factory”. She screamed Oh my God at each violation I described. We were both laughing. “You can’t do that.” I said. “No one does that“
“I have to dance. I just do. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs, I love it, I’m, you know…I’m working it out”.
I shook my head while we stared at each other, her eyes filling with tears, “That’s fucking miraculous,” I said, “You’re nuts, but that’s amazing”.
“You should try it”.
“I would more likely take off my shirt and dance on a pole at my son’s basketball game,” I said to her, “That’s how unlikely it is.” We were both laughing, “And I love to dance”.
“Well, you never know”.
“I’m pretty sure I know”, I said. But then of course that’s all I thought about for the next two days. It wasn’t the dancing part that freaked me out, it was the parking my car alone in the lot outside the club, putting my keys in my bag, walking in, not knowing where I was, not knowing anyone there, being observed as weird, desperate, odd, alone, vulnerable. I kind of wanted to try it. I was obsessed; I asked everyone I saw to get their takes. I imagined various scenarios and then tossed them out. I just couldn’t imagine crossing that particular line.
We decided to go to the Getty Museum before she left. It’s one of my favorite places, not just in LA but anywhere. You have to take a tram to get to it and it’s high enough in the sky that you can look from certain spots and just see blue. You can spend the whole day looking at all the collections or you can go outside and lie in the grass and read a book; there are fountains, cafes, music and beautiful views.
We went to the Ensor exhibit. I am the person who will walk through one room full of paintings and then be ready to leave. She is not. We split up and agreed to meet at the cafe. The thing that amazes me each time I go to a museum is that I look at a painting or especially a sketch and I imagine the artist standing in front of the same thing in his studio, with his hands right there! Just like that! Would he ever have imagined that this same thing, this work that he touched and thought about and held, would, in 200 years, be in another country far away, in front of a slow parade of weirdos from all over the world, each with their own interpretation or method of understanding. My favorite work was called Cortege Infernal. I loved it because it just looked like a little doodle at first, but the longer you look at it, the more detail and skill and story you can see. Check out the guy in the lower mid left of the picture. Everyone else looks pissed off or confused, they are marching into hell after all, but that guy: he’s taking it all in, having a good look around. And he’s got a sweet little smile. When I told this to my friend, she said that’s because he’s a retarded eunuch.
Later I looked up the word cortege. The first definition was a funeral procession, but it could also mean entourage or retinue. I thought again about all these friends/characters reappearing from the past. I suppose it’s just the odds of getting older, but somehow it feels more meaningful than that. These are people who knew me when I was a kid, or at a time that I was going through a particular experience: we are connected. Unlike a person I see every day, however, unlike a part of an entourage, they are not stuck in their roles (the star, the pessimist, the critic, the fuck-up, the comic, the free-spirit) but could easily, at any given time, be any one of those things. They could just as easily be the student as the teacher, the person in trouble as the advisor to that person, the sick one as the doctor. Any one of us could be the person who says No! Don’t do that! just as easily as we could be the person dancing alone, in a bar, near an airport, in a place she’s never been.
I’m on the elliptical with my ear buds in and here comes this guy with his clip board and his pen. This guy. Last month at the gym they posted a sign that there will be no more towel service because of the severe draught, and this guy is outraged: absolutely, positively, 100%, without a doubt nut-blasted. He’s marching around in his work clothes (work clothes!) with his clip board and his pen, explaining how it will actually use more water for members to wash their own towels at home. He is tan, he has grey curly hair, he has clean fingernails, and he is ready to get some signatures, people! From the looks of it, he already has quite a few, although as I’m watching him speak I can’t help wondering if he signed them all himself: sat in his boxers, socks and undershirt in his livingroom by the dim light of the TV, biting his tongue and pressing down too hard with the pen. I can’t hear him well because my music is so loud but I can see him mouth the words: members, 15 years, towel service, rights, what we pay for, and I wish I could do a beautiful slow motion aerial back-flip into a full rotated side-kick to the center point of his chin, like Jet Li, but instead I take out one ear bud and shake my head, “No thanks.”
This morning I ate my toast standing up like a man and I felt strong, decisive, powerful and indescribably lonely.
I’ll never do that again.
Last night I was walking the dogs and I passed by a house and the smell of meatloaf was so strong and so good and took me so instantly to my school cafeteria that I felt like lying down on their doorstep and sucking my thumb. Do you ever feel like that?
What is it about smells and memory? It’s one of those amazing, specific, and oddly physical things, like an orgasm or a sneeze or laughter. There’s a cue and then…boom. Although unlike the other things, it can’t be faked. You can try to summon a smell,and sometimes you can imagine a hint of it, but it’s not the same. On the other hand, sometimes you smell something distinct and it makes you feel a certain way even though you can’t explain why. You don’t remember what it’s connected to, or maybe you don’t remember right away, because it’s so random.
I saw this photo yesterday and it reminded me so much of the road across from my grandparents house that my cousins and brother and I walked down every night, that I smelled the pine and the dusty road and the watermelon jolly rancher in my brother’s mouth.
Sshhhh, no talking.
I’m not sure if the professor was nervous around us because we all knew he was sleeping with our friend, his student, or if that’s the way he was all the time. I’d always assumed it was the latter. He was nervous in that neurotic-self-deprecating-comedian sort of way, self-conscious, defensive. But I never imagined it was because he knew we could get him into trouble. I just thought he was weak. We were intimidating in the way that a group of girls are, long hair and soft scarves around our necks, faces flush from cold, thighs under our pants; we walked into the class like a gang. I always brought my dog with me, even though I wasn’t supposed to, even though the first time he said “Dogs are not…I mean…you can’t….” It wasn’t like I stared him down and said “The dog’s stayin’, punk.” It was more like “It’s okay, Dr. C., she’s really sweet. She’ll be fine.” And he gave in, helpless.
It was strange and then not strange that E ended up sleeping with him. She was gay and serious and brilliant. He was messy and boyish and funny without meaning to be. I think E was curious about him and he liked that she was curious. It was odd, but it never seemed wrong. During class, he leaned back on the desk reading Greek erotic poetry with lines like “I will sodomize you and face fuck you”, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle . We nodded off or doodled while he and E debated the way that Catullus and his contemporaries believed they could do anything sexually and remain respectable. They argued about various interpretations of different poems and we all, every one of us, believed that she knew more than he did.