Monday, May 25, 2009

My Right Foot---Day 30: The Bees, The Water, and The Perils of Pauline

While most people fear the unknown, I see it as an adventure. Getting on a train just to see where it takes me doesn’t faze me one bit. After all, what can happen to me on a Train to Somewhere?

My fears stem from previous unpleasant experiences. If you asked me to get in a helicopter and fly around Manhattan, I wouldn’t blink an eye. I’ve never been in a helicopter---it sounds like fun!

But if you asked me to submit to the same theatre group I’ve been banging my head up against a wall to get read at even one more time---well, I’d just curl up into my shell and claim I didn’t have anything to submit.

If you asked me to jump on a trampoline, nothing would hold me back. But if you asked me to jump down just three steps onto a cement platform----beads of sweat would start to form on my brow. I broke my jaw that way last year. That’s a big time fear. That hurt.

Essentially, if I was hurt, I don’t want to go back.

It’s like a joke a comic I know used to do in her act. “Convincing a divorced guy to get married again is like trying to get a soldier to go back to Nam.”

I’d love to visit Nam!----but then, I never fought a war there, either.

We all have our own personal wars. Our own Waterloos. Those things in our life that were so painful and/or frightening that we never want to go back.

I’m afraid of a lot of things.

Oddly, my friends and family have always thought of me as brave.

“I can’t believe you’re moving to New York. That takes courage.”

“You went to Europe all by yourself? You’re not afraid of anything.”

“You walked across the George Washington Bridge? You've got guts.”

Actually, I have none of the above.

I just have different fears.

Some of my fears are a little irrational---like my fear of clowns and John Davidson.

A few of my fears are somewhat more rational---like my fear of swimming in water deeper than five feet.

This particular fear stems from an incident at the YMCA. I was in fourth grade. It was winter. And a few weeks into the class, I caught pneumonia---most likely caused by leaving the Y with a wet head in December.

But the pneumonia isn’t what did it.

After I recovered, I went back to my swim class. I had a lot to make up and the instructor tried to catch me up to the rest of the class.

But I did my best and somehow managed to pass. At the end of the test, the instructor told us that we could all go to the deep end of the pool and jump off the diving board if we liked.

What? Apparently, I’d missed quite a lot those weeks I was sick. The kids who’d seemed so terrified of the water on Day One were now all rushing to the deep end of the pool as if this was going to be fun. What? Not wanting to be the coward of the bunch, I slowly followed them to the deep end.

Very slowly.

I had this crazy idea that if I was the last person in line, perhaps---just perhaps, there might not be time for me to dive in.

But before I knew it, the kids all started diving happily into the water. Swimming around like a bunch of seals. The line got shorter and shorter and next thing you know, another line started to form behind me. These idiots wanted to do it AGAIN?!?!

I was doomed.

My skinny little bird legs were shaking as I stepped cautiously onto the diving board. The kids behind me started yelling, “Hurry up! Come on!”

I got to the edge of the diving board and looked down into the deep blue water below---much bluer than the water in the shallow end of the pool. It was the scariest thing I’d ever seen.

The instructor tried to talk me thru it. But I couldn’t hear anything she said. I started to get dizzy looking into the deep, deep blue. And then I started to feel ill. Physically ill. Then I noticed the silence. The silence that comes from that moment of hesitation. Will she or won’t she? Every eye in the pool was now on me. Waiting. Even the instructor stopped talking and just let me decide.

It was now or never. To dive or not to dive.

I took a deep breath… And then I turned around and chickened out.

There were no catcalls. The kids behind me simply raced past me to jump off the diving board. They were too busy having fun.

But I was humiliated. Why did I even get on that stupid diving board to begin with? Why did I even think I could do that? Darn that pneumonia! Darn those missed classes! Darn! Darn! Darn!

As I walked around the side of the pool, I slipped on the wet floor and just fell right into twelve feet of water.

All I remember is just flailing about under the deep blue. Skinny arms and skinny legs flapping all over the place. Trying to hold my breath. I was too scared to open my eyes. I remember my feet touching the bottom of the pool and I knew I was sunk. Literally. Suddenly, my hands caught hold of a volleyball pole that was standing upright at the edge of the pool. I grabbed onto the pole and climbed up like a blind monkey.

By this time, the instructor and the lifeguard had jumped into the water---but I had somehow managed to save myself. Not by swimming---but by climbing.

I coughed up some water and slunk away to the locker room. Humiliated. Twice in two minutes. I have never gone in deep water since.

Today, on my last day of this blog---I decide to conquer a fear. This morning, I dig out my swimsuit and pack my gym bag. I’m going to the gym. Not just to work out---but to sign up for swimming lessons.

Unfortunately, my gym card is nowhere to be found.

After over an hour of tearing thru pockets and purses, I decide to come up with another plan. To conquer some other fear.

But what? And where?

I hop on a train and get off in Midtown. If I just start walking around, surely I’ll come across a clown or John Davidson or something.

Two hours and one giant juice later, I have stumbled across no fear to conquer except the fear of mixing watermelon with wheatgrass. Nothing to be afraid of, really. Just didn’t rock my boat.

I am about to give up, when I stumble across this:

A community garden I had no idea even existed. One of those Hell’s Kitchen anomalies tucked away in the upper forties. It was adorable, and I took some pictures of the flowers with my camera.

As I started to crawl through the back underbelly of the garden, I noticed a wooden cabinet buried in the weeds. Out of curiosity, I got in closer. And then I took a step back. Oh my god. It was bees.

With Manhattan being more of an urban jungle, the wise folks at the Clinton Community Garden had decided to do something to attract some bees. They built a beehive.

I’m afraid of bees. I’ve been stung twice. Once by a bee and once by a wasp. Both times hurt like hell.

But today, I was determined to conquer a fear. And since the bees were the only fear I could find in Midtown today, I crawled in with them.

While it may not look like I was very close to the hive---trust me, bees were zooming in all around me.

I remained as still as possible as I watched them crawl in and out thru the little slots. I began to wonder who took care of the bees. And did they harvest the honey? The whole thing was so fascinating that I almost forgot I was surrounded by bees.

As I left the garden, I heard some kids talking on the sidewalk outside.

“You wanna go in there?”

“No! That’s where the bees are!”

I felt good. Pretty darned good. While I can’t say I’ll be applying for apiary jobs anytime soon---it was nice to know that I had the courage to face the bees. For about five minutes. From a distance of three feet.

Sure, it wasn’t much. But then, I didn’t plan this day very well. I didn’t plan to walk across the George Washington Bridge either. I just wanted to know what was on the other side.

On the other side, is Fort Lee, New Jersey. An interesting note about Fort Lee (that I neglected to mention 30 days ago) is that Fort Lee, New Jersey was the original Film Capital of the World.

In the early silent days, Fort Lee was where the magic happened. Major studios set up shop there and used the outlying area for locations.

Here is a photo I took of the cliffs the day I walked across the bridge.

And here is a photo of Pearl White shooting an episode of The Perils of Pauline in that same area.

The word “cliffhanger” actually comes from these very cliffs. The serial films that would show the damsel in distress hanging from a cliff or tied to the railroad tracks with the train fast approaching. The editor would cut the film just at the moment of suspense hoping to get the nickelodeon audience to return the next week. Although, as a total geek note---the earliest “cliffhangers” (like The Perils of Pauline) actually resolved the scary drama by the end of the reel.

Pearl White, looking back on her early film career once said, “I've done a million stunts. I've been hurt over and over again. But it never happened when what I was doing looked really dangerous.”

Sure, I was afraid of the bees. But what was I REALLY afraid of?

A few minutes later, I walked into a diner.

I ordered a tuna sandwich.

And I sat down to write.

And what I write is the most dangerous thing I have ever attempted.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Right Foot---Day 29: The Armory Show

Last week, I heard about an amazing installation piece at a place called The Armory. And although I have been to quite a few of New York City’s many museums---I have never even HEARD of The Armory.

Turns out, The Armory is exactly what it sounds like---an old Armory on Park Avenue built in 1881 by the National Guard’s prestigious Seventh Regiment. Prestigious because it was back in the day when military service (at least the upper echelon of the service) was not just for the poor. Members of the “Seventh” included some of the wealthiest and most influential families in New York.

So when they decided to build an Armory, the wealthy Regiment members recruited the top designers of their day---Louis C.Tiffany, Stanford White, Herter Brothers and Pottier & Stymus.

This is a room called The Library.

The Library (now known as The Silver Room) was designed by Louis C. Tiffany and Stanford White. Tiffany was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Company. Louis C., however, was determined to become an artist in his own medium and drifted into stained glass. All the windows and lighting fixtures in the room are his designs. The rest of the room is Stanford White's design.

Stanford White is known for many things. Yes, he built the Manhattan mansions for the Astors and the Vanderbilts. And yes, he built the famous arch that still stands in Washington Square Park. And yes, he was responsible for what is known in architecture as the "American Renaissance". But he is probably best-known for the scandal surrounding his death.

White was what they called back then, a womanizer. Today, he'd more likely be called a child molester.

Here's a photo of the seductive Mr. White.

Yup. That's the Mr. Big of 1901. Settle down girls, he's already taken---I mean buried.

White was notorious for seducing very young women, getting them drunk on champagne, and taking their virginity. Oh---and The Red Velvet Swing. Architect that he was, he also designed an enormous red velvet swing in his secret tryst apartment. According to all reports, he used to get off pushing the naked girls in the swing. Actually, pretty tame by today's standards---except for the child molestation and all.

In 1901, he met sixteen year-old Evelyn Nesbit who was a Floradora Girl on Broadway. He was 47. Unfortunately for Miss Nesbit, she had a mother who looked the other way when the nearly 50 year-old wealthy architect offered to show her his etchings. Mom pimped her out.

Not long after, White tired of the now de-flowered Floradora Girl and set off to find other young playmates.

Five years later, Miss Nesbit finally married. A guy from a wealthy family named Henry K. Thaw.

Thaw and White were rivals---at least in Thaw's mind. While competing backstage for chorus girls, White had apparently made some disparaging remark about Thaw that he believed ruined his chances with the little lovelies.

While Stanford White was a child molester, Henry K. Thaw was a sadist. He constantly carried guns and once locked Evelyn Nesbit up in a room and beat her with a dog whip. Then he begged her to marry him.

She tried to get away from him by using the one piece of information that would make him leave her alone. She admitted that White had taken her virginity. She wasn't good enough for him, she explained.

Thaw was furious. But for some reason, it seemed to increase his ardor. Even Thaw's mother, who'd always found him to be a handful, begged the young chorus girl to marry her son so he would finally settle down.

For whatever reason, Evelyn did.

In 1906, Thaw showed up at the rooftop of the Madison Square Garden for a show wearing a long black coat. It was a hot night in June. A few minutes later, he shot Stanford White point blank in the face. He either yelled "You ruined my life" or "You ruined my wife." No one really knows for sure. Either way, White was killed instantly.

In 1906, Hearst's papers called it "The Trial of the Century".

Knowing these little tidbits makes visiting places like The Armory so much more interesting. But I loved poking around the Regimental rooms.

While the entire upstairs was out of commission---pretty much everything downstairs was fair game. Unlike most historic buildings, there are few ropes to keep out the visitors. Few guards standing around watching in case you get too close to a wall. You can touch things. Open doors. One door in the Field and Staff Room was slightly ajar. Tucked behind the oak-panneled walls was this:

But in that same room, you can see the hand-painted frescoes on the wood.

Make no mistake, this was a military building. Medals and trophies for foreign campaigns littered the rooms. The Library even contained the Regimental Silver---a concept I will NEVER understand. Why does a Regiment need silver spoons?

But the pride of the building is something else entirely---an enormous space known as The Drill Hall.

Today, this is why I came.

And today, this is what was in there:

Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto’s anthropodino.

The work is the first commission by the Park Avenue Armory, which is currently attempting to revitalize its space and its mission by presenting visual and performing arts in a non-traditional setting.

And what could be more non-traditional than the space the Armory calls, “part palace, part industrial shed”.

The work itself is Neto’s homage to the body and the visceral. It’s tactile, pungent, and dreamy. Also, one of the few installations I’ve seen where kids seem to outnumber the adults. Neto encourages the viewer to step fully into the installation. To touch. Feel. Interact. Smell. Play. Dance. Spin. And just lie down on the floor and look up.

When I wasn’t simply roaming through the nets and tunnels, I took these pictures.

These hanging stalactites bounce all over the installation and are filled with different weights. The ones in this picture are filled with ground cloves. And this entire area smells like pumpkin pie.

I got up close to this large one to smell it. Turmeric. Mmmm.

All over the installation, visitors are encouraged to take their shoes off and feel the work. This handmade carpet was rubbery and squishy between my toes. It was built up into a small reclining area where you could even curl up in the polyamide and feel it against your skin.

And this little alcove was incredibly popular. You can dive right in and swim around in the bay water-colored balls. Little children were small enough to disappear entirely and then pop up giggling like sillies.

And I was happy I wore my new yellow shoes. Happy I was jumping. Happy I was smelling cloves and putting my hands through nets.

Off to the side, was something I mentally referred to as The Quiet Room. A small little net cave equipped with a cushy pad and matching cushy face masks to completely relax in the moment. Children took little naps. Partners gave each other massages. And some just lie down flat on their backs to meditate on the wonder.

The warm red tones had the ability to energize and calm at the same time. I closed my eyes and relaxed into the installation. Felt a part of it. As much a part of it as the hanging bag of turmeric. All of us belonged there. All of us made up a part of the exhibit. By touching, we made it ours.

And by adding our bodies into the maze of tunnels and pendulous sacks---we are the art. We not only connect with the installation, we connect with our own bodies. We are our own living, breathing work of art.

I fall in love with the space and fantasize about what I would put in there. And that sets by brain humming again. I know it's impossibly silly that I would ever have a work presented there---but Neto's work demands of us that we occasionally look up into the clouds. Having our head in the clouds is just part of the beauty of it all.

My Right Foot---Day 28: Jesus Is Making Your Pizza

Today is my blog-free day. But I promised you at least a little something on Saturdays, so here it goes…

Today I worked hard at the restaurant and then came home and had pizza and watched a movie.

That’s it. Sometimes you just have days like that. Work. Pizza. Movie.

Sure, I wrote a tiny bit on the train. But that’s pretty much it.

Except for the pizza.

This pizza was homemade. While my Saturday night train gets me home too late to order pizza for delivery---it got me home early enough tonight to go ahead and make my own. Mmmm.

I recommend that everyone make homemade pizza. It’s simple to do, incredibly inexpensive, and WAY better than just about anything you can order in. The whole process, from making the dough, letting it rise and then making and baking a pizza only takes about an hour---and WAY less if you make the dough in advance.

My point?

The day after Easter, I had a night off. With no pizza dough in my icebox, I decided to treat myself and get one delivered. I don’t know why, but I chose Dominos. Not exactly a New York thing to do---but I’d heard you could order online, and I decided to give it a try.

I quickly set up an account and placed my order. Five minutes later, a screen popped up to show the progress of my order. The screen said, “Jesus began custom-making your order at 7:13 pm.”

I thought this was mighty nice of Jesus. Seeing that he just rose from the dead and all the day before. You’d think he’d have more important things to do. But, I must say, pretty nice of God to send his only Son to make my pizza.

Fifteen minutes later, Jesus was still working on that pizza. Either Jesus was really putting the love into my pie or he was The New Guy. Suddenly, a different stage of the pizza-making process popped up on my screen.

“Ramon, 39, is delivering your pizza.”

Twenty minutes later, I was still waiting for the thirty-nine year-old Ramon. I was hungry. Why couldn’t I have gotten seventeen year-old Fabian?

Finally, there was a ring---not my doorbell, but my cell phone.


“Hola. Dominos.”

This was bad. You see, my building has two entrances. One entrance has the buzzer. The other does not. I notated this in the Dominos online order form. Told them to come to the other entrance.

Apparently, Ramon 39 did not receive this message.

“Go to the other entrance so I can buzz you in, “I explained.


This was not good.

“La otra entrada,” I replied and I gave him the street and address.

“Non ingles,” Ramon answered back.

Apparently, my Spanish sounds like English over the phone. I repeated the instructions back more fully in Spanish.

Ramon 39 hung up.

I waited a few moments for my buzzer to ring. Nothing. Was I getting my pizza or not? Bear in mind that at that moment, I was wearing a t-shirt, my pajama pants and no shoes. I was now going to have to get dressed and go downstairs looking for Ramon and my pizza.

I threw on some clothes and shoes, got into the elevator and went downstairs.

Almost ten minutes after the confused phone call, Ramon 39 was still standing there outside holding my pizza with a smile on his face. I started to think that Ramon 39 just might be a little “special”.

This entire process, from order till actual delivery, took almost an hour. And frankly, Jesus could’ve used a little extra sauce.

So tonight, in under an hour, I made my own pizza. It was delicious and with plenty of sauce. Sure, I’m not The Savior---but at least my pizza doesn’t taste like a communion host.

Oh yeah---and here’s a picture of my stupid foot.

Happy Saturday!

My Right Foot---Day 27: The Procrastinating Perfectionist

There’s an old saying that the one thing in life that’s fair is that everyone gets 24 hours in a day.

Of course, some of us are forced to spend a good hunk of those 24 hours doing things we’d rather not be doing. But everyone has SOME free time. Some might only get an hour while their young child takes a nap. Others might get the whole twenty-four. And you can’t get around sleep---trust me, I’ve tried.

My senior year in high school, I had a paper due. A big paper. I guess I was spending too much time doing plays and music and not enough time working on that stupid paper. I seem to remember this particular term paper being on, “Evelyn Waugh’s Use of Catholicism in Brideshead Revisited”.

Anywho, with little time to spare, I decided to try to pull an all-nighter. I’d never done it before, but had heard of other girls doing it in order to finish a project on time. A friend of mine who’d done it many times suggested LOTS of caffeine. Coffee, tea or soda---she said would do the trick. She also went with me to the drugstore to pick up a box of something called Vivarin.

“It’s what truck drivers use when they have to drive a truck all night.”

The label said it was just caffeine. In pill form. A ton of it. I bought a box of Vivarin, a 2-liter bottle of Coke, and one of those giant chocolate candy bars. Back at home, I covered the kitchen table with note cards on Catholicism and British Prose and set to work.

At 4:30 in the morning, my Mom woke-up and found me in the kitchen. Paper still not done and a jittery mess. She spotted the package of Vivarin and hit the roof.

“Are you doing drugs?!?!”

No matter how much I tried to explain about caffeine and truck drivers, she was determined to believe I was using drugs. “You stop taking that right now and go to bed.”

I only WISHED I could go to bed. The paper was still unfinished and between the Vivarin, soda and chocolate bar, it was unlikely I’d sleep for at least three more days. My stomach was in knots. Sure, I was awake---but I could barely keep my eyes open.

The paper did not get finished that night. In fact, I was so ill from the caffeine and lack of sleep that I stayed home from school that day. I finished my paper the next afternoon and turned it in the following day. A day late. Marked down half a grade.

Oddly, my Mom did not confiscate the “drugs”. The package of Vivarin went into my bedroom drawer. In college, I’d pull out one of the pills every now and then---always with the same effect. Jittery and unable to either sleep or get anything done. Papers were still occasionally late. Once, for a Shakespeare class, I turned in a paper a day late with the following note attached, “Some are born late, others achieve lateness, and others have lateness thrust upon them.”

Strangely, in all his years teaching Shakespeare, none of his students had been clever enough to paraphrase The Bard in this way. He was apparently quite charmed and put a note on my Titus Andronicus paper saying, “Very clever! Just for that, I will count it as being on time.”

I realized then that while we all get the same 24 hours---if you’re clever, you can occasionally buy yourself a little extra.

I’m not the most prompt gal in the world. I try. I really do. But sometimes I just get distracted by a book or something in a shop window or an interesting person along the way. I tend to live my life ten minutes behind the rest of the world. Knowing this, I try little tricks to fool myself like setting my clocks a few minutes ahead. Leaving a few minutes earlier for appointments. And telling people I’ll be there around 5-ish. None of them work. I can't fool myself. If I even get so specific as to say between 5 and 5:30, I certainly won’t get there till at least 5:35.

Even things I am looking forward to---I will somehow manage to find something to distract me to make me at least 10 minutes late. Some might say this is a fear of success. I say it’s more like the Procrastinating Perfectionist that I’ve discovered I am. I put things off not because I don’t want to do them---but because I want to do them perfectly.

My papers were not late because I was lazy, but because I was an over-achiever---I wanted my papers to be the BEST papers anyone had ever seen. And when I realized I wasn’t producing THE BEST paper on Titus Andronicus the world had ever seen---well, I started to panic. Then get depressed. And then I would try to convince myself to just settle for getting it done. But without the initial enthusiasm and the hope to be the best… Well, the task held little interest. Who can get all excited about getting a “C”?

I still occasionally have this problem. I’ve had to learn how to accept a “C” in life for some things; and figure out which other things need an “A+++” to make me happy.

Today I have the film shoot---for this, I need that elusive “A+++”. Consequently, I am late. Partially not my fault. My Metrocard wouldn’t scan and the man lazily shoved it under the Plexiglas window with a pre-paid envelope and muttered in a sing-song voice. “Unable to read. Code 14. Send it in.”

I miss the train. But I was already running 10 minutes late. I give myself a “D”.

Luckily, once I actually GET there, the first day of shooting goes well. I don’t think I deserve an “A+++”; lateness does knock you down at least half a grade. But I come out of there feeling I deserve at least an “A”.

After the shoot, I walk down Central Park West for about thirty blocks just to think about my day. And to think about my day tomorrow. And the day after that. The things I need to do. The things I want to do. That huge mental list of our lives that piles up with every year. The list probably started when I was fourteen and has grown steadily since. Sure, I’ve pulled a few things off that Life List for various reasons. Being a spy in Russia had to go. Not only is there no longer an Iron Curtain---but spying isn’t as romantic as it seemed when I was fifteen. Professional ballet dancer is now off the list. To be honest, I don’t think secret agent or ballerina would have worked out for me. I would have had to be the best. Greater than Mata Hari or Anna Pavlova. And instead, I would have wound up being a file clerk in the CIA or a sales rep for Danskin.

I still follow world affairs and take my ballet classes for exercise----and that’s just fine with me. For these things, I gladly accept the "C".

But today, the one thing I wanted to excel at, I somehow managed to do. I remembered a scene we were shooting and how I’d come up with an original way to do it. On the train, I pop open my camera to look at the footage. The scene came out great. I’d gotten my shot---plus some.

Back at home, I decided to treat myself. I made pork ribs for the first time, rented a movie and soaked my Central Park West weary feet in a spa bath. I may have been late---but today I was clever. And I’m not marking myself down for that.

So if I'm late, it's a GOOD thing. It just means that I care.