Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wonder Wheel

In a little while
You will come to life
You'll be bursting open like a morning glory
Going up in flames like a hundred story
Building on fire

At the beginning of the week I thought my social life was picking up. Monday: yoga. Tuesday: Arts Circle meeting and performances at Chashama. R. decided to perform, called me up and asked if maybe I was driving, could I pick her and H. up on the way? It would be such a help. I said well, I was planning on taking the train, had to pick up some stuff at Pearl, but maybe I could change my plans. Patsy.

Seeing R. and H. was nice, and H. said he'd be into playing jazz accordion at the closing party for my show, did I mind if he brought a cellist, too? That would make my YEAR, I told him.

(Oh, yes, the gallery finally agreed to let me HAVE a closing reception, after refusing me an opening, only after hemming and hawing and saying that they were going to be painting and re-flooring the showroom. Then they looked at the calendar again and said oh, we apologize, the 6th is DURING your show, of COURSE you can have a party then, we thought it was afterward. Are you hiring a caterer? No, I told them, I was just planning on buying some cheap wine and some plastic cups and sending out an email. Art receptions are not complicated.)

So everything was ducky when we arrived at Chashama and found parking right in front, and the door was locked so all the core members congregated on the sidewalk, and I introduced R. and H. around because I actually knew everybody. Then R.'s cell phone rang. "Hi sweetie, there's parking in front," she said. Neneng-girl was three blocks away.

"Do you mean Neneng-girl is actually COMING?" I asked. I haven't heard from Neneng-girl in months, ever since she made a big production about "let's leave this issue behind us" and didn't leave it behind, letting her resentment show in little gibes, and trying to 'prove' something, and passive-aggressive behavior like 'forgetting' to invite me to her performance event even though I called her that day and asked for the address. I have not been up for a Confrontation about it; I just haven't called, and she hasn't called either.

"Yes, I asked her to videotape me," said R.

So when Neneng-girl pulled up I gave her a big wave and a hug and introduced her around. 'This is my friend Neneng-girl," I said.

The core Arts Circle group got down to a meeting, while R. set up her performance piece with the help of the tech guy. This was the first meeting in which I got the sense that the group was starting to Bog Down; the same familiar faces were there but no new ones, and Grigorio brought out the same familiar pieces of paper with "Needs" and "Offers" written on them, which in every meeting we have told him why they're useless. This time he had printed them up on bigger paper; he still hadn't gotten around to including anyone's contact information.

We had been chasing the same circular discussion for quite some time when R. signalled to me. "I've decided not to do my piece, the video projector isn't working," she said. "We're going to meet my brother around the corner for dinner. We'll come back later."

(N.B.: In New York, "We'll come back later" is code for "We're ditching you for the evening, and possibly forever.")

No extra people showed up for the "performance" part of the evening, and I listlessly sat through some casual renderings of Broadway-esque music which my avante-garde performance artist friends wouldn't have liked anyway. I drove home along the FDR thinking, "I'm okay, I feel pretty good, actually, I'm not hurt," then when I heard my little sister's voice on the answering machine I burst into tears.

"This has been an incredibly difficult year for me, I'm dealing with my codependency issues, I can't see any way I could have done it differently, but JESUS. You set one crucial boundary, and suddenly you have no friends."

"Neneng-girl doesn't WANT friends with good boundaries," mentioned my sister. I had never thought of that before.

In a little while
You will speak your mind
You'll be opening up before the biggest jury
They'll be judging you
And you will worry
Did I do all right?

Wednesday: massage client. Thursday: EAI meeting. Friday: private party at Coco Bar, a new wine and chocolate bar, as guest of director of EAI. Weekend: go upstate with O. and possibly R., to see avante-garde theatre and look at real estate.

Hint: It's mid-afternoon on Saturday and I'm still in the city.

Wednesday afternoon I took a look at my calendar and realized that there would be no time to go visit Horley, and I really wanted to see her. Horley is a lot like me only ten years older; we swap bodywork and stories of failed relationships with crazy people, and both of us feel a lot better afterward. I called her up and said, "Horley, my calendar is full but I want to see you, can I come over late? For just a little while?"

Horley had some other friends over, but when I showed up with two large bottles of Guinness I was warmly welcome. My psychological instincts were correct; Horley's former-best-friend is acting a whole hell of a lot more psycho than Neneng-girl, trying to force Horley to quit her new job and take another one at far less pay, all for the sake of Horley's friend's personal grudge. Three of us weird, older, single artist women sat up late discussing codependent relationships and the possibility of getting a soul retrieval. Thursday I woke up late with the beginnings of a cold, but it was worth it.

I can see you caught in the gap between
This that and the other thing
And you're about to feel
What life is like on the other side
Of the ticket booth counter to the greatest ride
The Wonder Wheel

Thursday's EAI meeting was a landmark: the first time I have EVER walked into a room full of strange artists who were friendly to me. It was like suddenly entering an alternate reality. I think this is largely due to the personality of the director, Jerry, who is an indefatigable dynamo, getting volunteer labor and donations out of people by chronic cheery phone calls and judicious flattery. Last week we spent about three hours on the phone, collaboratively completing the mind-boggling task of writing a letter to effectively solicit donations from corner stores all over New York. My first effort was so flip and sarcastic that I thought I'd be hounded out of the group (Local Genius Perishes in Frigid Basement; 'Folks round here don't know from art,' says neighbor) but instead they laughed really hard, softened it a bit (Local Artist Perishes in Basement; 'I didn't even know an artist lived there...' Not if we can help it) and printed it up. When I arrived at the meeting, Jerry said, "I'm shaking everyone's hand, but I'm giving YOU a hug."

The meeting went well and ended on time; I ferried a little artist home who lives near me, and the moon was bright. "It's a sign," she said. "Things are happening."

Thursday I emailed O. and asked if we could leave on Saturday morning for the Catskills, since there was a Friday evening event I wanted to attend. I didn't hear back from her. Over the last month or so I've noticed that whenever O. and I get together, it's always me that does the phoning, and the inviting, and the maternal nurturing and cooking of meals and clucking over O.'s troubled life. O. is a lot like me only nine years younger; for the first time in my life I feel like I'm engaging in a circle of mentorship. She always expresses gratitude and enjoyment over our time together, but sometimes I'd like to be the sought-after friend. Friday I called and left a message; "I haven't heard back from you. Are we still on for our trip?"

The phone didn't ring all day, except for a client who wanted a last-minute booking, which I was glad to give him despite my cold. Jerry called late. "We're going to the Coco Bar later, around nine-thirty or ten; we'll see you there." In hindsight I should not have accepted his invitation; going to a 'private party' in a commercial establishment as a guest of someone I hardly know is a flimsy excuse for postponing a trip. But lately I've been wanting to meet new people--particularly competent, intelligent, friendly people, to replace the flaky, abusive ones that I've spent my life attracting. It seemed like a good opportunity.

I showed up at the Coco Bar at 10 PM on the dot. A survey of the front room, back room, bar and garden quickly established that there was nobody there I'd ever met before, no host to welcome stragglers, and nowhere to sit down. I felt like a complete idiot. This was due partly, no doubt, to the cold and to the fact that I spent most of my week stressing myself into strange circumstances with strangers. But I was unable to face it. I turned right around and went back to my car.

Out of loneliness and desperation, and the fact that the moon was full, I decided to drive to Coney Island instead of straight back home. Traffic was bad; people honked at me; I had a meltdown, and a concerned driver asked me if I was okay, if I was lost, then asked me out for a drink. I shook my head, "No, I've just had a bad evening." His rear window was full of stuffed animals.

It's probably thanks to the new law about driving with cell phones that two or three or four of my girlfriends weren't the recipients of hysterically abusive phone calls at this juncture. As it was, I decided to harangue them from the beach.

But then when I got there it was Coney Island, and it was open. I decided that before I went to make abusive phone calls, I'd walk around a bit. I got a ticket for the Wonder Wheel.

In a little while
You will be all right
You'll be perched on top of a picket fence
With a royal sense of permanence
And you'll fly away in style

--"Wonder Wheel," © 2000 by Monica Ann Crigler of Goats in Trees, CityBird Music, BMI

After that I got a funnel cake, which I haven't had since I was about thirteen--a ring piped full of batter and deep-fried, then covered with powdered sugar. Blech, delicious. I walked with funnel cake down the boardwalk until I found a bench far enough away from the pounding rap music that I could hear the waves.

As I was thinking, "wow, I bet there's grease and powdered sugar all over my face, but I don't care," an obviously intoxicated young gentleman in a wife-beater and gangsta pants wandered up from the dunes. I thought about leaving, then decided against it. He staggered up to the railing between us and leaned on it.

"Are you okay? Where are your friends?" he inquired.

"I'm getting away for a bit. What happened to you?" As he came into the light, I could see that he was sporting quite a nice shiner and an array of violently purple marks up and down his arms.

"Oh, I got jumped. Aubergines," he slurred. "Oh, you don't speak Italian? Means 'eggplants.' Black dudes. I was on their turf. I told them I was just visiting my aunt in the hospital, but it didn't make any difference."

"That sucks," I commiserated. "Nice tattoo; did you design it?"

"Oh, this? Yeah, I did! This other one was done by a friend who learned it in Ruykers, you know, the prison island. With a guitar string. It's not perfect, you can see the holes."

"It looks good that way," I said sincerely. I gave him the rest of my funnel cake. He asked, politely, if he might sit down; I assented. We discussed our ages, nationalities, jobs, friends. I'm thirty-eight, single, and Texan; he's twenty-two, second-generation Italian-American, and the sole support of his mother and aunt. He told me about his gang in Garrison Beach. I told him my best friend ditched me. We waited to see whether the moon would come back.

"Can I put my arm around you?" he inquired.

"I'm too old for you, babe," I told him.

"Hey, I've done women lots older than you," he remonstrated.

"Well, congratulations!" I replied. This seemed acceptable.

"I'm really glad I met you," he declared.

"I'm glad I met you, too."

"Are you lying?"

"If I didn't want to talk to you, I'd have walked away already. You're a great guy, a friendly guy."

"That's right, I am," he declared, as though discovering it for the first time. "I get along with everybody. I know everyone in Garrison Beach."

"It's time for me to leave; my parking ticket just expired. You have a wonderful life."

"Hey!" he called, holding out his arms.

Oh, why not, I thought, and kissed him, just once. He was emphatic about it but didn't follow me. As I drove home I thought, wow, I just kissed a boy. For the first time in over a year. We never exchanged names.

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