shaken, not slurred

A Walk into Mercy’s Arms

New York City, October 2001: We walked from Central Park to the church on 21st. This church, like all the others in a town built on Runyan and Warhol, bleeds upwards to the sky in an ageless chiseled portrait of fight against the gallivant of a town whose purchase is an ageless sin. 

Our walk was ceremonial, respectful to the invitation which had been proffered, but with no intention of acceptance. We had come to the agreement that we weren’t gonna broker those mighty steps up into the insides of that church and its sacred gathering. That service, it was about the faces and the names who had shared in the lives of those taken, and we . . . we were not a part of that. We were tourists. Not of a company or a precinct, and certainly not of that brotherhood lost. Our hosts had been gracious in the offering, but we didn’t merit entry into that church and we knew it. 

We had trudged back from Central Park after breakfast, burning off the nervous energy of three days spent as volunteers at the 13th precinct inside the down under of mid town. The boys in navy blue, crisp and tucked firm, had invited us to a memorial service for the fallen.The city was ripe with memorial services in the days and weeks and months after September 11th. We knew we had to go, there. If not inside, we had to go there. So we did, and then we stood and watched, outside that church on 21st. We watched the advance of kilts and bagpipes, and then we watched the sea of navy blue uniforms, crisp and tucked firm, as they followed the music inside. Into a closure whose full degree was never going to come. 

Once the procession had moved inside, our group decided on heading back to the hotel to rest up until dinner. The idea of rest wasn’t working for me, so I told the group I would meet up with them later. I had to walk. 

I walked north, with ideas on Central Park. I found a corner grocery and I bought a pack of smokes to keep me company. And then I walked, hard and long and for the length of an afternoon that was heavy on clouds. I walked uptown and then I walked back downtown, stopping at intervals for a drink with strangers at one place and then another place after that. The undertaking felt ridiculous and the results sublime; to take part in the same old same of a carnival atmosphere while stuck in the middle of such a hellish proposition as the one that had been tendered. But I had to. I had to let the city still be the city to me. The city I grew up inside of. The city I left. The city I came back to. Again and again and again. 

My walk whittled until the hotel was within sight, and that’s when I looked at my pack of smokes and I counted up. There were seven left. I had crunched thirteen into memory as I sewed my legs into concrete across a city’s afternoon. I stopped right there to celebrate the occasion by lighting up one more. And that’s when my ears grabbed onto a Mamas and the Papas spill that was screaming from deep inside the bowels of a souvenir shop chock full of red and white and blue. And so I stood there and I tugged hard at my last bit of ridiculous until the feeling went sublime.

I prayed. Not sure what for, not sure what to. But the feeling was upwards. And the mercy was true, and my legs, they were tired enough to let it go at that. 

 

 

Riding Shotgun to the Moon

It was early morning, in the middle of spring. The memory is more than five years old but its ability to nurture me is a timeless thing. I had called a friend of mine, to vent. I was feeling ready to just pack the fuck up and leave town. In the movies, that kind of impetuous act looks like some really cool shit- seeing as how the backdrop is someplace sexy and the soundtrack is someplace cool. Difference is, real life muddies your feet into a more intricate set of steps, where each foot of space is thickly committed to the next. There’s kids and there’s work and there’s french toast.

Some people stay put out of fear, and some people stay put out of the realization that breakfast always tastes better where you’re from.

We can’t all be David Carradine. Walking the earth ain’t gonna solve the bills that come due inside your soul. Staying in the place you know can be a plenty cool thing in its own right. So, in lieu of walking the earth and leaving my forwarding address with a well placed middle finger, I placed a phone call to a friend.

I reached out to a voice I knew could settle me. She’d proven quite adept at framing my personal catastrophes in these neatly wound ribbons full of sweetly placed quotes and sage-like curse words. It had been that way since the night we met.

It was a holiday party and I had gone solo since my girlfriend lived in another town. And that’s when Sheryl Crow’s wickedly sexy sister showed up. She was funny, charming and most importantly of all . . she was taken. Her partner in crime was a pert and possessive little dame who only gave her five minutes peace when she went out for a smoke. We made good time of those five minutes, several times over and more as the drinks got silly and the party got stoned. We kept solvent and we learned each other, as best as two people with respective sleeping arrangements can learn each other.

We kept in touch, best we could. And it was her that I reached out to one morning, middle of spring, five years ago. She had a way about her that I knew I could lean on. And I leaned, going from zero to Fifty Cent as I bitched about my romantic troubles and I bitched about myriad obstacles and I bitched about consequential roadblocks and I even bitched about bitching.  I didn’t come up for air until I’d squeezed my Shakespearean tragedy into a comedic, rambling mess. Her professional advice sliced the fat away, it was fucking beautiful.

“She’s possessive and she’s insecure. You stay with her because she has amazing legs and you love to argue every bit as much as she does. And I don’t feel the least bit sorry for that kind of shit.”

It was free advice, which means to say it was priceless. I had romanticized things into a Lucy and Ricky equivalent. I had fallen for a town- Chicago- and room service nights and writing riffs and gin Martinis and yeah . . I had fallen for legs. The two of us had shown up like Paris in the showroom, but the sticker price was a lonesome, argumentative ride.

When it occurred to me that the voice on the other end of the line had a life of her own happening, I asked her about it. And then she told me how she’d broken it off with her girlfriend. She was picking up the pieces with champagne baths and piano lessons and books and Bowie and moon watching. The moon is a great lesson in the efficacy of silence, because it moves the oceans without saying a word.

And then getting out of Dodge didn’t feel like such a hot idea. Because, Dodge was kicking with things to do and dreams to meet up with. I stopped feeling sorry and I started taking the steps to some place else, without ever leaving my driveway. And then I called that voice again. And then, we tossed some Bowie onto a turntable and let him kick the night onto a porch swing. The wine and candles took care of the rest.

Marriage ain’t a thing we’re looking to have, seeing as how white picket fence ideas went rear view for us a long time ago. If we happen to make it to a more deliberate age and we’re still kicking Bowie into a police call, then maybe we’ll try some David Carradine on for size. She’ll teach me some French and I’ll educate her on why Willie Mays was the greatest ballplayer of all time. And then we’ll grab breakfast in some middle of nowhere joint.

If it tastes like home, we’ll wait on the moon.

 

photo 4 (1)I imagine that my next life will be lived as a dog.

I will have no concern for the complicated math of semantics.

Sun will mean running and Moon will mean blissful sleep.

Life an endless playground. Love an endless proposition. 

Woof

 

That there is Tebow, my house guest last month. He is currently loving life in a home with a yard the size of Yankee Stadium. Cause Foster Daddy wasn’t having it any other way. I might loves me some apartment living, but that don’t mean I’m not looking out for my boy when it comes to permanent living arrangements.

His new family sent me some pics and I just thought I’d share up the handsome boy and his amazing eyes. He’s doing just dandy and he’s being spoiled up to such an extent that I’m wondering if maybe . . just maybe . . his family might consider adopting a forty seven year old man.

SophiaAs for this beautiful young lady to your left, her name is Sophia and she’s Tebow’s sister. I stopped by the Humane League after work this evening and I took one look at her and I just knew . . .

“Hey! You MUST be related to Tebow . . .”

After verifying my hunch with a staff member, I learned that Sophia is being adopted this week. All six of the brothers and sisters now have homes.

So . . . one of the perks of being a Humane League volunteer is that you can walk into the place and just grab a four legged friend for some social time. So . . . I did.

Sophia is such a lovely little lady. She fetches (Like her brother). She gives great kisses, (Like her brother) mixed with playful bites (Yep, like bro). And she can just chill in your lap for however long you want to hold onto her (Okay, Sophia has it all over her brother on this count).

I sat with Sophia in the BARC Room for a spell. I called my daughter and put the phone on speaker and we just chilled, together. It was a sweetly satisfying end to our time with a four legged family that stole our hearts.  Me and Ari got to know three of the six kids- Riley ( a girl with BIG attitude), Sophia and of course . . Tebow.

In my next life, I want to be just like them.

 

You have all these plans when you become a new parent. They begin with perfection and they get sillier from there. You imagine that you will become the paradigm to the way things were done before and the way things will be done forever after. You imagine that you will tap Robert Young on the shoulder to let him know . . I got this.

Baby makes the scene, and all that planning explodes into tiny little pieces made up of feeding schedules and perpetual diaper changes and doctor’s appointments and doting relatives who understand (a little too well) what it means to stay up all night for baby and clueless friends, who have no idea whatsoever. You find yourself working taxi in the middle of the night for a cranky cough that ends up being colic, and you’re thankful to lose sleep just for knowing it’s not more serious than that.

Report cards and skinned knees and school plays and concerts and sports and pain in the ass little friends with absentee parents and snotty noses . . they’re making the scene before you have a chance to repaint the kids room.

Before you know it, middle school is happening and you’re thinking to yourself “I am NOT this fucking old”. And you’re really not. It’s just that, the time has morphed into this vacuum whose suction has taken you from delivery room to first crushes in the blink of an eye and you? You are just not ready to concede to what the Cosmos are dealing up. This doesn’t mean that life stops happening. All it means is that you were never given a chance to hold on for the ride.

By the time the kids get to High School, you have re-invented yourself. Again. You’re uncertain as to whether this latest incarnation works as well as the last, which didn’t feel all that silky smooth on account of the fact that your head and your eyes were telling you one thing but the mirror was saying “Uh uh, Boo Boo”. And sure, you still look pretty and you still feel ready to tell the world how things work. You take immense comfort in knowing that forty is the new thirty and you don’t worry yourself with what fifty looks like because that? Like everything else to this point, has seemed a galaxy away.

And then you get to forty seven years of age and you still look pretty and you still feeling like running a marathon and the world is still attached to a mobile of your liking. And hey, maybe the mirror is lying some of your pretty, but that’s okay. And hey, maybe that marathon ain’t feeling even remotely possible when you crook your feet onto the floor, and that’s okay too.

You’re well aware of the fact that perfection was never gonna happen, and you laugh at the idea that you really, really tried for such a thing. And for a good long while. Alas, you didn’t come close to the paradigm. A perfect parent? You weren’t even close, and that’s okay. Because Robert Young? Was an actor. And life? It don’t give a crap about working the script.

So you log out of Skype with your baby girl after going three hours solid, talking on music and dogs and reality shows and the cat and Tebow and writing and art and food and her big brother and Lois Lowry and work and school and every other thing that ever meant anything to the both of you . . . and that’s when you realize the very best part of the mess you done made.

Perfection was never going to feel this beautiful.

Robin WilliamsI was all set to hop on here last night and jot down a postscript to my baby girl when I learned that Robin Williams was gone. I ended up spending the next couple hours glued to the TV, listening to the details and refusing to believe a word of it.

You hear the news and your first reaction is “No fucking way”. Your next thought is the same thing. And the next one too. It takes a few rounds of being pummeled by the news before your brain catches up with your body and you finally let it sink in that this really happened.

Robin Williams was a beautiful man with talent to the stars and back. Those same stars his own baby girl Zelda spoke of yesterday in the middle of her unimaginable grief when she gifted the world a lovely ode to her father by quoting the French poet Antoine De Saint-Exupery. Zelda ended with “I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up, Z.”

You read that and you understand that the best of Robin Williams’ work wasn’t even known to most of us. And that, is saying something.

We had another good twenty years of this guy. Easy. It would have made things just a little bit easier if Father Time had been the one to catch his fall, and it would have given us a million more reasons to stop trying to make sense of the world and to just laugh our asses off instead. And really, can you imagine Robin Williams working the Laugh Factory at 80? Oh, I can.

His demons finally caught him after all the crazy years. And while the coke and the pills and the alcohol were the symptoms we knew about, it was depression that never let him go. The former were symptomatic of the latter’s relentless undertow. You don’t just wake up one morning wanting to end it all. There’s practice in that.

Maybe now, some of the people who insist that depression is “all in your head” can at the very least take a moment to rethink that ridiculous notion. Maybe they can stop telling all of us who deal with depression that we just need to buck up, deal with it and move on. Maybe they can take this tragic occasion to do a little homework on the topic of depression. Maybe it finally occurs to them that if a timeless icon with a beautiful family to live for cannot find his way out of the dark . . . maybe there’s more to it than greeting card proselytizing can fix.

I imagine this sweet prince of a man is letting God try his hand at this comedy thing right about now. And I imagine God is starting his routine with “Two Jews walk into a bar . . .” And I imagine Robin Williams is loving every minute of it, since he called that shot.

I imagine heaven is where Robin Williams can finally smile. And mean it.

The love of his life

From the very first time daddy saw her big brown eyes, he knew there was no coming back from the stare she was fixing on him. Daddy knew she meant business and he knew he was in the most amazing kind of trouble he was ever going to handle.

She was born on a Friday. Born in the middle of an unrelenting heat that was holding the days hostage and keeping her mama from sleep while daddy kept busy with worries and the hope. A hope that wasn’t so much a secret as a gathering of hushed smiles from all the corners of family interest. The hope of a daughter to follow the son.

Daddy wanted a daughter.

Women had always been his world- from the ones who raised him to the ones who loved and cursed and cooked and sang and befriended him. And so, he wanted a daughter just so he could understand how the miracle of those curls and curses and the lovely of their lilt behaved from the very beginning of things.

Mom and dad decided against knowing. They decided to forego the ultrasound and dress the arrival of their next child to an old school welcome. The nursery would remain stark white, the linens neutral and the talk a wonderful mystery.

The time grew near with mom praying for term and dad perfecting the bemused response to never ending queries from family and friends.

Daddy had two names at the ready. Sean if it was a boy and Arianna for a girl. His crystal ball was a rootless wander to which he had already fallen in love with either possibility. Blue or pink, come what may.

When the day came, it was pink and the name was announced as Arianna, and daddy cried. He cried while holding her and he cried while handing her back to mama and he cried on the drive home to shower and change before making his way back to the hospital. He cried more than the stubborn clouds hanging inside an unforgiving summer heat.

Eighteen years fell away as if leaves of a tree at season’s turn.

On her special day, she had a drivers test to pass and daddy assured her it was going to be just fine. He bored her with Zen, telling her that the way mattered more than the aim. He made her laugh with stories of his first driving test. He reminded her that breathing was way more important than the results of any test.

When she passed, he hugged her and he planted her with a great big kiss and he let her have it with an “I told you so!” And then he tossed her the keys and told her to drive them home. They had a birthday party to get to and she had a plane to catch on Monday for college.

He watched her drive them home and he busied himself with the millionth reminder checklist that began with call me every night but then he stopped himself and just let her drive the car. It was her future she was driving towards. She had the keys.

The sky was blue but the day was pink. Eighteen years seemed not enough.

 

Merriam Webster believes ‘crotchety’ to be an old person’s affliction and I couldn’t disagree more. I can rock my crotchety without possessing more years than I know what to do with. After all, forty seven is the new “What the fuck are you looking at?”

Take these “Dress like a Celebrity” Days- the Spirit Week activity many schools take part in. I mean . . why bother? On a normal day, the student population is thick with corporate branded minions whose impersonations of Bieber, Perry, Cyrus and the like could fool paparazzi.

If idolatry was a job skill, this generation would be overqualified.

The phenomenon was inevitable I guess, the result of a 100 year creep from Post Industrial society to a devil’s playpen otherwise known as free time. Witness the supplementation to our pastimes over the last century: Baseball to Fantasy League . . photo albums to Facebook . .antique hunting to app hoarding. The paradoxical effect is that we have more and more of less and less.

Celebrity worship is a cottage industry, thanks to myriad reality shows and an internet reach that chimes with payload. In 2014, everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to end up on TMZ. And therein lies the rub, because what these celebrity worshipers fail to take into account is the price tag known as fame. Being a celebrity, is cool. Being famous? Not so much.

Take, for example, the meteorologist in San Diego. This person- aside from stealing money- is a local celebrity who’s loving life. Their agreeable forecasts get them more free meals than a Food Network cameraman. That’s called celebrity. George Clooney’s got the other 99 problems, because he understands full well the unforgiving nature of a camera phone should his gratuity fall short of a waiter’s expectations. That’s called fame.

Imitation has been flattering celebrities since Judy Garland belted notes into fire and James Dean’s hair became a customizable recreation, I get that. Hell, I even dabbled in it. My Don Johnson Experiment lasted all of one weekend and cost me a white tuxedo style jacket that I bought from Chess King. I went fashion pimp to gain a girl’s favor, but when it proved futile, I gave up my Vice.

My point is simpler than me. Whereas girls used to dream big on the shoulders of Grace Kelly in hopes of finding Mr. Right and boys swiveled their hips like Elvis to entertain their jukebox date, today’s kids aren’t renting celebrity worship. They want to buy. And they’re not dissuaded in the least by the abundance of cautionary tales available to them; from Real World alums to Kate Gosselin.

Gosselin was a local celebrity in my home town not so long ago. She was a likable girl from Philly until her designs changed and her looks followed and her persona morphed into that of an indefatigable vamp. She had celebrity but she wanted fame. Most people believe Kate to be a ruthless bitch, but I’m not most people. I just think her want of the wrong thing blinded her to all the right things.

It all comes down to one simple truth. Dressing like a celebrity is a cheap date experience. But that whole fame thing is a royal pain in the ass.

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