Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crackheads, Confidence and Cat Hair

Let me begin this by saying that I’m not a Crazy Cat Lady.

I have one cat. One.

And the only Crazy Cat Lady-type thing I do is that, once a year, on Halloween, I dress my cat up in a costume and I take a picture of her looking really pissed off.

It’s my annual revenge for a year of hairballs, meowing in the middle of the night, and the piles of cat hair that appear mysteriously on all of my clothes.

This year, she was a skunk.

I laughed. Bessie didn’t.

Tonight, the Yankees won the World Series. I went out to the theatre. Not that I don’t like baseball, I just have a hard time with rabid sports fans. Particularly on a World Series night. They’re like twelve year-old girls who just discovered boys---they talk of NOTHING ELSE. And they’re drunk. Drunk, screaming, twelve year-old girls one Jagermeister away from throwing up.

I decided to pass on the sports bar invites.

The event I attended this evening was a show in Brooklyn at a hip art space in DUMBO called Galapagos. Coming straight from work, I didn’t have time to get all dolled up for a hip art space theatre event. But it’s not like I was walking the red carpet. Just a fun evening of theatre written by one of the fellows from my weekly writer’s group.

I thought I looked nice. Not glamorous. But not too shabby, either. Sure, a bit of cat hair on my jacket, but it was a dark theatre. Who would notice?

I hopped on the A Train with directions in my pocket and confidence in my soul.

At the next stop, a scary old black man (yes, that’s the Politically Correct term for this guy) got on the train and sat down next to me. For some reason, crazies and crackheads always seem to find an open seat near me. This guy was both. Even before the train pulled out of Penn Station, he began talking to himself in a constant stream of angry non sequiturs that involved the U.S. education system, a roast beef sandwich and eighteen hundred dollars. He concluded his ranting every so often by yelling out, “Fuck the White Man! AND his women!”

None of this seemed to be directed at anyone on the train in particular. Though he did occasionally refer to the group sitting across from me of four lovely, middle-aged African-American women on a shopping spree as “my niggas”.

The ladies did not look pleased.

All in all, he just yammered away discussing how the roast beef sandwich didn’t have “no nothin’---just roast beef” and bragged about this mythical eighteen hundred dollars he was carrying around…when suddenly, I felt his head turn in my direction.

And then, somewhere around Canal St., I heard a cackle. A cackle which turned into a guffaw, which was followed by a spit-take so violent that, had he decided to use that eighteen hundred dollars to purchase a pair of much-needed false teeth---those pearly whites would have shot across the train as he yelled out:

“DAMN, white girl! How many cats do you have?!?!”

All eyes on the train shifted to me. The white girl covered in cat hair. Information pointed out, quite loudly---by a crackhead.

How the Crackhead Killed My Confidence. A chapter in my new book. A playful turn on Rudyard Kipling: “The Just So-So Stories”

Yes, I have thousands of these confidence-killing stories. Like the time I was about to break-up with my boyfriend and felt lousy and was at my waitress job on New Year’s Eve. The Broadway theatre next-door was doing a show. I stepped out the side door to have a cigarette, take a mental break from work and try to internally put myself back together again for a lonely New Year’s Eve when suddenly, a middle-aged couple standing in line for the theatre next-door slowed down to check me out . The wife, after careful inspection of my person, leaned into her husband and said audibly, “No. She’s nobody.”

I requested to go home early that night.

Or the time I was eleven and was in my second year of piano studies at The St. Louis Conservatory. I was performing in the mandatory monthly recital.

Bach’s Invention # 8 in F Major.

My first time performing Bach in public. I was nervous, but I knew the piece. I sat down at the piano, started strong, then fumbled about twenty measures in. According to protocol, if one couldn’t recover, one was supposed to take their hands off the keys and start again.

I did this. I fumbled again.

I took my hands off the keys and forced myself to take a really deep breath. I closed my eyes. Thought about the piece. Knew I could get thru it. Took another breath, and then put my hands to the keys with confidence.

Just as I started to play, someone’s father in the front row “whispered” to his spouse, “She’ll never make it.”

I heard it. And I didn’t.

Only after the Conservatory Director (who’d also likely heard the remark) paused my performance and gave a little speech about how newcomers to Bach often get nervous and this causes them to increase the speed of the tempo to the point where the performer can’t keep up with their own hands…

Yes, I did get thru the piece on the next try. But let’s just say that it took me at least a year before I was willing to give Bach another whirl.

I suppose I could have come back with a snappy comeback on the train tonight. Something like, “Yeah---I might have some cat hair going on here. But at least I’m not a crackhead!”

And then, while I was being stabbed, people on the train would forget all about my cat hair.

Or maybe not.

Headlines in The Post the next day would read, “Crackhead Stabs Lippy Cat Lady”.

The New York Post would hack into my Facebook page.

Bessie in her skunk costume on the cover of The Post.

Nothing I had ever written would be acknowledged in my obituary. My Mom (keeper of my meager archives) would laminate the “Lippy Cat Lady” front page article and spend the next fifteen years going from South County Mall to South County Mall searching for the perfect frame at Frames Or Us---never realizing that it’s a chain and they all have THE SAME FUCKING FRAMES!

But I digress.

Confidence Killers, like serial killers, can be anywhere and anyone. They can be a crackhead on the train or somebody’s dad. And, like serial killers, they seem to have no conscience about their actions. The middle-aged woman who looked at me standing outside the restaurant door with my tea and cigarette certainly must have realized that I heard her say that I was “nobody”.

She just didn’t care.

As I went thru my mail today, I opened another rejection letter. Well, not exactly a rejection. More like an “only accepting queries thru a WGA signatory agent or lawyer at this time” letter from a certain unnamed production company.

A few years ago, I would have seen this letter as a Confidence Killer.

But today, after having survived SO many Confidence Killers (including an imaginary stabbing on the A Train)---I see it for what it is…

A call to work harder. To keep working and not give up. To brush off that cat hair, laugh at the silly crackhead---You so silly! And move forward.

They say that what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.

Okay, that’s a lot of bullshit.

It may not kill you, but you’re going to be laid up in a crappy hospital with basic cable for about a week and then they’ll shuttle you out as fast as they can do the paperwork because your insurance is lousy and then you’ll pick up your own prescriptions and stumble home to your meowing cat, a hairball and a mailbox full of bills and Netflix picks…

But you survive.


But alive.

I believe the saying should be more like, “What doesn’t kill you… Well…hey!---it don’t kill ya…”

That’s pretty much it.

And if you were hoping for some words of wisdom from a writer who has been clearly identified by a Broadway TKTS ticketholder as “nobody”…

Damn. I’m sorry.

My bad.

All I have for you is this…

By the time I hit college, I discovered a deep appreciation for Bach.

My compositorial enemy, had become my closest friend.

I was determined to conquer my fear. I added a minor to my curriculum---harpsichord studies. Unfortunately, the sole harpsichord professor at my university was a bit of a letch, to say the least. I’d been forewarned by a friend of mine who ran the classical division at the University Library. “He was having an affair with one of his young Asian students. Watch out for that guy…”

A week later, I showed up at his campus office for an audition and interview. Photos of him with his arm around a young Chinese woman papered the place. But I refused to believe the hype and believed only in Bach.

By the end of the first semester, I’d suffered thru enough uncomfortable comments on my personal life and invites to “after class” sessions from a man who was the spitting image of Burl Ives to practically kill my love for the Baroque quicker than an A Express to Washington Heights.

Over the years, I’ve forgotten about this professor and his Confidence Killer moves---like grabbing my hand and caressing it over the harpsichord keys as he told me I’d never appreciate Couperin until I learned the proper touch…

My point is, nothing anyone has ever said or done to me has killed my love of Bach.

Tonight, I did something I occasionally do when I feel those Confidence Killers knocking at my door…

I dug into my sheet music cabinet (yes, I actually have a sheet music cabinet) and pulled out Bach’s Invention No. 8.

Within a few measures, I focus solely on my hands, let the comments of a crackhead go…and I interpret Bach for my sleeping (yet, still shedding) cat.

She looks up from my pillow and squints. A piece of grey cat hair drifts across the keys.

I simply blow it off.

The piece that slayed me when I was eleven years old---played by a seven year-old...

Bach's Invention No. 8