Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Stripper Doesn't Really Like You

It’s a common misconception that women are the sex living in a dream world. Sure, some women enjoy reading cheesy romance novels (myself not included), and even more enjoy a good romantic comedy (guilty as charged on this one)---but men live in WAY more of a fantasy world than women can even conceive.

I will say one sentence:

All men think they’re James Bond.

Even men know this is true. They will laugh, but they laugh because it’s true.

I once worked for a restaurant manager whose “secret” code on the company computer was “007”.

Yes. I rolled my eyes.

Nice enough fellow, but short, bad skin, no real personality, closeted homosexual---yet, in his fantasy world he was still “Bond. James Bond.”

And pickpockets, take note: the easiest way to steal a bunch of wallets is to go into a men’s locker room and try turning the combination locks to 0-0-7.

You can thank me later.

Why this sudden fascination with the male fantasy world, you might ask?

Well, the other day, I was hit on by a NYC Street Sweeper.


Yes, more than one middle-aged man doing court-mandated community service, wearing a red jumpsuit and pushing a garbage can has seen me standing on the sidewalk and felt the urge to put down his broom and say, “Hey, gorgeous. You got beautiful blue eyes. What are you doing? On a coffee break? Damn, you look fine.”

Well, let me put down my Starbucks and tell your parole officer not to wait up.

I don’t care how lively your fantasy world is---if you’re wearing a red jumpsuit, you might as well pack away the penis.

Not “Bond. James Bond.”

More like “Out. Out on bond.”

So, I am here to write a one-time-only advice column for men. Amongst my circle alone, I know quite a few men who could use a dose of female reality---and yes, women are WAY more realistic than men.

The current psychological profile of the sexes declares that men are problem solvers while women like to talk about their problems.

Sure, men may be more problem-solving, in general---but they’re trying to solve the wrong problems. Like how to get the winning bid for a Star Ship Enterprise model on eBay when the real problem is that they don’t have a job. Sure, we’re still discussing our problems with our girlfriends while you’re waiting for the postman to arrive…but at least we’re on the right track.

It’s The Tortoise and the Hare of the sexes.

Not to claim that women always win the race… But while you’re busy making the Theme From Goldfinger your primary ringtone, we’re washing your tidy whities, picking up the dandruff shampoo you’re too embarrassed to buy, and trying to figure out a tactful way to get you to improve your aim into the toilet.

So, here are just a few of my observations and opinions on the male fantasy world.

First off---Are you REALLY a secret foreign agent? No? Okay. Remember that. Let’s move on.

I don’t care how much you felt like you “really connected” with the stripper when she was giving you a lap dance. I don’t care if she laughed at your jokes or listened sympathetically about how your last relationship broke up. You may have recently lost five pounds, gave Rogaine a shot, and felt like you were really “on top of your game” that night---but she just wants your MONEY. If you started shoving love poems instead of dollar bills in her G-String, she would dump you quicker than your ex did. And trust me, the stripper won’t need “closure”.

Are you Brad Pitt? George Clooney? Blair Underwood? The current James Bond, Daniel Craig? Or even remotely close to opening a campaign office to nominate you for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive? No? Then chances are, a Supermodel is NOT going to fuck you. Remember The Seven Year Itch? At the end of the movie, did he get Marilyn Monroe? I rest my case.

Do you even OWN a tux? And no, James Bond does NOT rent one from The Men’s Warehouse. Chances are, at this very moment, the only disguises in your OO7 Wardrobe are the sweaters and big shirts that disguise your ever-expanding waistline. “Too much bread last night” my ass. Thank your lucky stars that women aren’t as shallow as men, enjoy your Reuben, and stop thinking that wearing your old college sweatshirt makes you look like a college-aged student.

Two words. Air guitar.

Porn is not real. The women are paid. Good money. Most of them need the money to fund their drug habit. That’s why they’re not working as a waitress at Dennys. The Grand Slam Breakfast goes for around $5.99. A fifteen percent tip on that is about ninety cents. And with heroin, only the first one’s free. And, while we’re on the subject---There’s a reason you can’t SEE phone sex operators. Stop fantasizing that they look like Catherine Zeta-Jones. They don't. Ever seen an attractive radio personality? Try 1-900-Howard Stern. That's who's waiting for your call.

Paintball is not war. It’s more like hide-and-seek. Your paintball victory on Sunday afternoon will never be covered by The History Channel. It’s not The Normandy Invasion. Just a bunch of boneheads with beer.

Your favorite team may have won The Superbowl or The World Series---but you did NOTHING to facilitate this. NOTHING!!! I don’t care how many games you attended or watched or how much you wore the jersey or how loudly you cheered---you deserve NO credit for this. And unless you had a bet down, the outcome will not affect your life in any way. Are you wearing a Superbowl Ring? End of discussion.

Costumes are for Halloween. Period. Look in your closet. How many costumes do you own? None? Really? Are you sure? Are you a cowboy? Then why do you own cowboy boots? Do you even know how to ride a horse? Are you a soldier? Then what’s with the fatigues? Are you a rap star? Then buy some pants that fucking fit you. Golf shoes. Football jerseys. Whatever Michael Jordon endorses. How many “costumes” do you have for sports you don’t even play? A black leather jacket does not make you James Dean any more than a brown bomber jacket makes you a World War II Ace. Yes, we think the photos of you running around in your Superman cape when you were six years-old are adorable. But you’re a grown man now. Get rid of the Spiderman sheets.

And finally---Okay, how do I say this? Recently, I was watching one of my favorite shows on the BBC How Clean Is Your House? The premise is, a person with a dirty house calls hosts Kim and Aggie to come in and clean their house. Every episode is accompanied with the 50-something pair of British ladies screaming and eeeking over the dirty filth they’re been subjected to. This particular episode featured “rock star” Leon who was way over fifty, completely bald, requisite British bad teeth, and in a predicament where his house was so filthy, his bandmates were refusing to practice in his basement. Leon was (SURPRISE!) single. Admitted that it was getting difficult to bring the “girls” back to his house after gigs and attributed his mess to being busy with “bookings”. When Aggie tried to show him how he could easily clean a copper candlestick with salt, he replied that his normal use for salt was for “tequila shooters”. His home was infested with flesh-eating blowflies and not only were his bed sheets so filthy they were hard as a rock---but next to his bedside, were dried up, crusty hankies!!!---the ladies decided that British stoicism and BBC censors would let that one go. Meanwhile, Leon’s main concern was getting his place in shape so he could bring groupies back to his flat! If you’re living with FLESH-EATING BLOWFLIES no amount of encores of you singing “Hang on Sloopy” at the Brice-Johnson wedding is going to convince even the loneliest bridesmaid to spend the night. James Bond did not have flesh-eating blowflies. Not even as a weapon. Clean your house.

I’m not out to change the world---I’m just offering you fellows a few friendly pieces of advice. You can take it or leave it. But if one day, you go to the gym and discover that your wallet is missing…

Don’t be shocked if I say, “Told you so.”

Monday, September 14, 2009

Time, Souvenirs, and Richard Hell

Writers have always had a love affair with New York City. Only Paris can rival the sheer amount of people who have come to New York to live, love, learn and write.

With so many writers here, readings are plentiful. On any day, at least a dozen readings by prominent writers and authors are taking place all over Manhattan. Even Brooklyn has gotten into the act. They can occur anywhere from a coffee shop to a nightclub to a Barnes & Noble. Most are free or very inexpensive. Sometimes there’s free coffee and cookies. Sometimes there’s a cash bar and a band. It’s the sort of thing most of your friends have no interest in attending. But happily, it’s the sort of event one never feels conspicuous attending alone.

The first reading I remember attending was Paul Krassner reading from his autobiography at a local Minneapolis bookstore years ago. Krassner was one of the early counter-culture heroes of the 60s. Founder of the Yippie movement with Abbie Hoffman, founder and editor of The Realist, a member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and one of the most influential satirists of the 20th Century.

I had recently read his autobiography and heard he was speaking. Curious, I showed up at the bookstore one afternoon to hear him read from a book I’d already read. I was the youngest person there. A bookstore full of old hippies, anarchists I recognized from the anarchist bookstore on the West Bank, old men who were bald in the front but long hair in the back, Groupies Gone Grandma----and me.

He talked about his youth. The eerie Cold War shivers of the 50s and trying to conform. And then, the insanity of the 60s, when he just gave in to it all. I listened. Enthralled. I’ve always loved a good story. And Krassner knows how to tell one. AND make it funny. I remember thinking the entire moment was so surreal. Here was a man that J. Edgar Hoover thought was such a threat to National Security that he’d tried to take out a hit on him---and he was just a guy with a bottle of Evian and a book.

And we were laughing.

How subversive can you be standing in front of the cookbook aisle?

His angrier, edgier days had passed. But he was still full of fire and delicious parody. Still a voice. You could hear it and see it in his eyes.

That’s the wonderful thing about readings. Witnessing that fire. Hearing those delicate intonations that make a sentence pop off the page and into your consciousness.

There was a book-signing after the reading. In a desire to complete the experience, I got into the autograph line. Running out of there almost seemed rude. It seemed the thing you were supposed to do. I’ve never been an autograph person. In fact, it was possibly the first voluntary autograph I’d ever sought out.

My mother, on the other hand, has always been a bit fascinated with celebrity. Not in a creepy way. Just very Midwestern.

When I was in fifth grade, I made my Confirmation. Our class was told that the Archbishop would be there to preside over the ceremony.

For some unknown reason, my Mom went out and bought an autograph book. An actual leather-bound book that had the word “Autographs” embossed in gold on the front.

After the ceremony, we were all standing around the gymnasium drinking Kool-Aid punch when she thrust the autograph book into my hand and said, “Honey---go ask the Bishop for his autograph.”

In those days, my cynicism was silent. Sarcasm bound tightly inside my head. Like a gun I didn’t know how to shoot. Not a weapon to be used on anyone---particularly Mom. And I was shy. REALLY shy. But obedient. So I can safely say that nothing in my life up until that point embarrassed me more than being forced to ask a holy man for his autograph.

I don’t know what I mumbled to the man in the pointy hat.

But he signed it. God love him.

A few months later, the autograph book invaded my life again. One of my mother's co-workers was Rock Hudson’s cousin. I knew who Rock Hudson was. Had seen his movies with Doris Day in reruns on the local TV station. It was a few years before he was diagnosed with AIDS. At that point, he was the aging, but still glamorous, Rock Hudson.

One day, I came home from school and my Mom presented me, once again, with the dreaded autograph book and told me to look inside.

There was my name. And beneath it, something like “Best Wishes. Rock Hudson.”

I say “something like” because to this day, the autograph book (with only two autographs) remains in the custody of my mother. Most likely, in a plastic container full of old IRS paperwork and W-2s somewhere in my mother’s basement.

But I like the idea that it’s there. Reminding me less of the person who signed it, than in the actual circumstances of the autograph itself. Rock Hudson couldn’t possibly have known that when his cousin passed him an autograph book at a family reunion it would turn up as a vaguely embarrassing memory of a young girl in a blog years later.

Last week, I heard that Richard Hell would be appearing at The New Museum on Bowery Street.

I think it’s safe to say that all kids, at some point, think they’re adopted. That disconnect you feel when your parents first knock on your bedroom door and tell you to turn the music down.

I was never a punk. The original punk era was before my time. And I only learned of Richard Hell’s music years after he retired from the scene. But it was exuberant, brash, and just frightening enough to seduce a young Catholic girl from the Midwest. He was one of the founding members of Television and later went on to form Richard Hell and the Voidoids. His iconic look was spotted by Malcolm McLaren who took Hell’s spiky hair, ripped t-shirt and safety pin style back to London and copied it for The Sex Pistols. And his song, “Blank Generation” was possibly the most non-anthematic anthem in musical history.

Hell also did a few acting stints---Susan Seidelman’s groundbreaking film Smithereens being the most well-known. And it certainly helped that he was not bad to look at. He quickly became one of the few rock star crushes I’ve ever had. Of course, my school-girl crush never would’ve worked out. He was into heroin and I was into Barbies. You know how those things go.

By the time I discovered him, he’d gone back to his first real love---poetry.

As a writer, he’s had an amazing success not only as a creator of poetry and novels---but also as one of the few survivors of the punk era who has the ability to chronicle those feral CBGB nights.

So yesterday, I got on the train and headed downtown to hear him speak.

As a museum curator asked the audience to turn off their cell phones, the side door opened and a still-devilishly attractive, 50-something Richard Hell stood bearing manuscripts at the door.

No sooner did he get up to speak, than cell phones and miniature video cameras began popping out of bags and pockets. One girl in front of me spent the entire forty-five minutes adjusting camera angles and focusing the close-ups on her iPhone. It occurred to me that many of them were so busy documenting the experience, they were missing out on the moment itself.

He spoke of the early years. Running away from home to New York City, setting up a printing press in his scrappy downtown apartment, and finally forming his first band, The Neon Boys, with Tom Verlaine.

Hell’s writing is stark and gritty, but seminally romantic. Germinating from Baudelaire. Sprouting into Burroughs. And flowering into Hell.

At times, he’s been accused of navel-gazing---though with Hell, any gazing is certainly a few inches further down. The “Free Love” era of the sixties almost seems sweet compared to the anonymous, drug-laden sex of the seventies. And poets are supposed to be navel-gazing. That’s part of the job. It’s like expecting a reality show contestant not to be narcissistic.

Introspection is perhaps a better word. That ability to look at the world with a sensory microscope and cough up hypotheses with nothing more than a pen. Autobiography is naturally self-indulgent. Hell recognized this in the chapter on his early friendship with Tom Verlaine; noting that whenever you speak of someone else, you also speak volumes about yourself.

At the end of the reading, original Voidoids guitar player Ivan Julian stepped on stage, strapped on a guitar and together they performed Hell’s song “Time” as an appropriate end to the evening. But, as Julian turned on the amp and checked the tuning on his guitar---even more video cameras popped out. iPhones. Flip Cameras. And then flashbulbs on everything from digital cameras to cheap instamatics were going off all over the place.

It seemed offensive. Intrusive. Just this side of tacky. Or was it just me? I suppose it wasn’t really that horrifying---but the sheer amount of cameras and lack of consideration for the subject seemed impersonal. Almost destructive. The difference between buying some postcards at The Pyramids and chipping a bit of stone from the tombs. Souvenir-hunting at its worst. A museum. Exhibit: Hell. Click. Upload.

Afterwards, a table was set up at the side and the audience was informed that several of Mr. Hell’s books and CDs would be available and he would briefly sign some autographs.

As an avid book-buyer and rabid reader, I certainly wanted one of his books. Not the sort of thing you can easily pick up at a Barnes & Noble. So I bought one that looked interesting. A hardbound collection of his poems and essays. And then, with my own writer’s introspection, it seemed almost insulting to buy a book and then just leave when I was standing two feet away from its author.

I will admit that I do like signed books. But the signed books I own are generally ones written by friends. It’s kind of kitchy and silly to ask your friend to sign their book. But it also acknowledges their accomplishment. They got published. They did good. Congratulations. And they always write something fun inside.

As I stood there with the book in my hand, I didn’t know what would embarrass me more---asking him to sign it or walking past him refusing to let his signature mar my new purchase.

I continued in the line.

In front of me, everyone seemed to want to talk. Wanted to make the moment memorable for themselves AND for him. Strangers trying desperately to imprint a memory on a man. The line was long, and a museum worker was obviously trying to wrap things up. Hell looked concerned at the length of the line and tried to continue being polite while trying to speed things along. He paused his meet-and-greet to let the crowd know that the museum was closing soon and we would have to move quickly. Meanwhile, the two older women in front of me simply walked behind the table and started posing with him for photos. Not even a “Can we get a photo?” More like a sneak attack. Hell obliged. The camera didn’t flash at the proper time and he was forced to do it two more times. They wanted to talk. Imprint. Hell thanked them and then said, “Does anyone just need a signature?”

I was next. He looked at me and I reached around the photo shoot and handed him the book. As a way of hello, I simply said that I’d enjoyed his reading. He asked my name. I told him. I let him sign in peace. He handed me back the book. I said, “Thank you so much.” He smiled.

And then I left.

Outside, I opened the book and read what he wrote.

“With gratitude. Richard Hell”

I wondered if the “gratitude” was for being the one person that day who didn’t want to suck up his time.

I may be a fan, but I’m a writer, too. I understand the value of time. And humanity. And respect. And that the best souvenirs are of the mind.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Were You On 9-11?

Every New Yorker has a story about where they were on 9-11. Mine is not so dramatic.

First off, I had moved to New York a mere four months before the attacks. I hardly knew anyone in the city. I’d never even been inside the Twin Towers.

At the time, I was living in Midtown. Working two waitressing jobs. The night before, I’d worked late and been up even later writing. When the first plane hit the Twin Towers, I was sound asleep in my comfy bed.

It seems shocking to me that anyone could sleep thru a terror attack on their city. You’d think some inner intuitive sense would wake you up. Some evolutionary survival gene would jolt you from your sleep and you would instantly flee like a herd of caribou when a hungry lion appears out of the dust of the Sahara.

But apparently I have no such gene. I was sound asleep. All cozy in my bed while, just a few train stops away, thousands of people were going to their deaths.

I know I made coffee, because I remember lazily sitting with my coffee and my cigarette as I went online that morning to check my email. And I had a lot of emails that morning. WAY more than normal. The first one, from a friend back in Minneapolis was simply, “Are you okay?”

What? I took a drag off my cigarette and read the next one from another friend.

“Are you okay? Call me.”

It was surreal. I remembered a novel I’d read a few years earlier. “The Moustache” by Emmanuel Carree. A man wakes up one morning and decides to shave off his moustache. He turns to his wife and says, “What do you think?”

“About what?”

“My moustache? I got rid of it.”

“Moustache?” she replies. “You never had a moustache.”


The surreal feeling continued as I opened an email from my brother.

“Mom’s been trying to call you all morning, but she can’t get thru. She’s really worried. Can you call or email me to let us know you’re okay?”

What was going on?

I got up and turned on the TV. Every channel had their cameras focused on the same thing.

The Twin Towers in flames.

Half-asleep and still in my pajamas, it took a whole fifteen minutes for me to decipher what had happened. Even the news didn’t seem to know. The planes had already crashed into both towers. And I’m not sure if, by this time, the first one had fallen or not. It was all so strange and I wasn’t sure if I was watching repeats or live footage.

I was able to get on the phone and call my Mom.

I’m fine. I was sleeping. Don’t worry.

Honestly, I don’t know what everyone thought I might possibly be doing downtown that early in the morning, anyway. I was a waitress-slash-playwright. How people thought I’d managed to maneuver my playwrighting and coffee-pouring skills into a job in the financial sector, I have no idea. The only reason I might POSSIBLY be down there would have been if I’d gotten a job waiting tables at Windows on the World. And, even then, I NEVER worked breakfast shifts. The meager tips on eggs and toast had never been enough to drag me out of bed before the sun came up.

At some point, after I’d called some family and friends and returned some emails stating that I was “fine”, I remember seeing the second tower fall.

On TV. In my pajamas. With cinnamon infused coffee.

By this time, the news networks were reporting that this was no “accident”. New York City had been attacked. I was stunned. I’d only been here for four months. I’d barely unpacked. And I’d worked so hard just to get my two lousy waitress jobs. And now this?

Yes. I was thinking of myself. I had few friends here. Little emotional connection to the city. And one of my waiting tables jobs was in a comedy club. The other was in a tourist restaurant in Times Square. Suddenly, I saw a future with few people wanting to laugh and even fewer wanting to tour my fine city.

“Honey,” my Mom had said over the phone that morning, “why don’t you come home for awhile. I’ll send you a plane ticket.”

Under the circumstances, the last thing I wanted to do was get on a plane.

I did spend the afternoon making calls to the few friends that I had here. One told me he just got home after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge. Another told me that he, too, was fine. He was also thinking it’d be the perfect night to try to pick up chicks. He’s a comic. I couldn’t really laugh, but I knew that humor was his way of dealing with the tragedy. Another friend who lived further downtown had to show her ID and proof of address just to get past police barricades.

And then there was the guy I was seeing. He flew a lot. To be honest, even before my concern about my jobs---I was concerned about him. Had he been on a plane that morning? Was he okay? Where the hell was he?

The way the phones were working that day, no one could call in to me, but I could call out. After my Mom, he was the first person I called.

He was fine. Not flying. At home. Not too far from where I was. Doing the same thing I was. Watching the news. Wondering what would happen next.

That morning, he’d seen both towers fall from the view in his penthouse apartment. Two years later, when his lease was up, he moved. He admitted that he hated the memory of looking out the window and watching it all unfold.

But that morning, he didn’t invite me over.

And I didn’t ask.

The relationship was still fairly new. And he’d lived in New York for twenty years. I knew he was going thru different emotions. He had a connection. I didn’t.

At least, those were the excuses I made. Looking back, I realize it was the moment I first mentally broke up with him. I was in a new city. Terrified. I just wanted to be held. And he wasn’t there. He hadn’t stepped up. If 9-11 was a relationship test, he failed.

I didn’t verbally break up with him. But I mentally did. I pulled back. I felt it. That barely perceptible drift that only the intimate can subliminally translate.

I knew no one who’d died in the towers. The whole thing was just too big to really comprehend.

What I could comprehend was being alone.

I made a cup of tea, vowed not to call him, and cried as I continued to watch the news. In one morning, I’d lost a relationship, two paying jobs, and the hope in my fabulous new city.

In my own way, within seconds, I’d also lost a life. I cried. But I cried for me. Poor healthy, alive and intact me.

Yes, I knew it in no way compared. But two gigantic towers full of people was just so big. So unreal. It was like something that happened in a foreign country---not a forty-five minute walk away.

Two hours later, I finally left my apartment. Police and Army personnel were everywhere. And a thick cloud of dust was in the air. Over the next few days, as the fires continued to burn, I could actually feel myself breathing in heavy soot when I went outside.

By this time, office workers from downtown had made their way to Midtown to catch their commutes home. Only a few were bleeding, but most all of them were covered in thick ash and soot. And most of them were in pairs---either finding a fellow co-worker to walk with or picking up a complete stranger along the way.

All were silent.

The silence that comes from trauma. But all of them had found someone to share it with. Even if it was very un-New York.

The usual manic energy of New Yorkers that I’d gotten used to was completely gone. No one was screaming “fuck you!” No one was yelling at their “homie’ across the street. It was a march of the zombies---only occasionally halted when a pair stopped in an open bar for a drink.

A few open bars posted “Happy Hour” specials.

There were plenty of takers.

Bits of burned paperwork from the Twin Towers even floated all the way to Midtown. Not a lot. But I remember seeing the bits and pieces. And the smoke.

Within days, hundreds of “missing” posters were plastered everywhere.

“John Smith. 38. 5 foot 10. 165 pounds. Brown hair. Hazel eyes. Last seen in Tower Two.

Like their loved ones were lost neighborhood cats.

And the pigeons. They had all left Manhattan. Not a bird in sight except for a vacant lot near my corner.

I remember stopping at the sight.

A vacant lot where construction was about to take place.

On the lot, was a single dead pigeon.

But this single dead pigeon was surrounded by a dozen live pigeons standing guard over the body by forming an actual circle around it. Their feathered heads were bowed and they remained perfectly still. Not cooing. Not pecking at the ground for crumbs. Not walking around trying to mate with another pigeon.

Perfectly still. Like statues.

It was as if the pigeons were in mourning. I had never seen anything like it.

It was four days after 9/11.

And the first pigeons I’d seen since the attacks.

I watched from the sidewalk. Fairly close.

Not one of them moved.

Not one of them strayed from their post to peck at the crumbs of bread the crazy old woman down the street had left for them. And none of them feared me.

It was a sentry.

For a pigeon.

For some reason, the emotions of pigeons for one of their own suddenly brought it all home. I looked up and saw the dark cloud of soot that still hung over the city. My Mom had called again that day. Asking if I wanted to come home.

“You don’t have to move back home. Just come here and stay for a while.”

But at that moment, I was at one with the city.

And the pigeons. I bowed my head and stood with them. Perfectly still. I had hardly known anyone in New York. Until now, there hadn’t been anyone to mourn with.

Except the pigeons.

They didn’t fly away. They allowed me to stay. I stood with them in silence. In thought. Meditation.

I finally had the opportunity to mourn.

With pigeons.

To this day, it’s my strongest memory of 9-11.

It may not be as dramatic a story as escaping the Towers, walking across bridges, or pulling people out from under fallen debris.

But it’s my story.

It's the day I became a New Yorker.