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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The movie version

of my life will almost certainly have to feature this scene, so I hope I can do it justice.

Cast of characters:

Grigorio, ~43: composer, pianist, Arts Circle director. Spindly, stoop-shouldered, ingenuous, intense; mop of untidy curls in prescribed composer style; slightly over-dressed for any occasion.

Crank, ~47: hippie/mystic of indeterminate profession; suspected of still living with his parents. Carries chess board at all times. Bad teeth, smoker, not necessarily an alcoholic but certainly plenty drunk on this occasion. Stained clothing, too many bags. Closely resembles any given homeless person, in fact.

J.R., ~65: entrepreneur, CEO, mystic, populist. Plotting 25-billion-dollar deal to transform Governor's Island into a World Paradise of Art and Culture. Could be a lunatic and a bounder for all we know.

Serena, 37: painter, healer, blonde. Wearing, on this occasion, poufy yellow skirt, black athletic shoes, and black cut-off T-shirt reading "Brooklyn: Where the Weak Are Killed and Eaten."

Scene 1: Friday evening, 8 PM, The American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. It is Free Night and jazz music wafts through the giant glass globe of the north atrium.

Security guard: Nice shirt.

S: Thanks. (encountering G. on stairs) Sorry I'm late.

G: Sorry, what for? Guess what--Crank is DRUNK. I don't know how much we'll be able to accomplish.

S: Ah, well. (We enter jazz atrium via cloakroom and roped-off area containing private party, full of wealthy donors eating cánapés and drinking martinis.)

G: Crank asked me to guard his bags and chess board while he went out for a smoke. Can you imagine? I refused. I'm not a chess board babysitter.

S: How do you do? I'm Serena.

G: You two haven't met?

Crank (to Me): You've almost got it. You're only lacking the littlest bit.

S: Can I get a drink around here?

G: They're overpriced. Crank brought beer in his bag.

S: I'll wait.

C: Do you play chess?

S: Not really.

C: I have a system worked out where I teach kids to play chess, only I'm teaching them the Truth, because they and I are equal to the other kid and them, and the universe, and it's all one and we are brothers. You know.

S: Yes, I do know.

G: I like to go through strange magazines, here, for ideas; look at this, and this, and this...

C: J.R. has a penthouse up the street from here. (Gets out cell phone and dials.)

C: We can go over to J.R.'s, like, now.

S: Are you SURE?

G: We only stay half an hour, tops.

C: Half an hour, it's cool, man. I'm gonna pee. (Exit.)

G: Can you BELIEVE he asked me to babysit all this stuff? Look at all this. I'm gonna stand here while he smokes, right.

(We look at magazines and listen to jazz.)

C: (returns after long interval, bearing fake long-stemmed rose.)

S: For me? Did you meet a Mexican in the bathroom?

C: No, a black lady. (Looks around at empty hall, beerily confused) Is it over?

Us: YES. We need to go now.

C: Sure they're not just taking a break?

Us: NO. It's over. We're getting kicked out. (We depart, bearing rose, bags, magazines, chess board.)

C: Do you believe in telepathy?

S: Of course.

C: We could look into each other's eyes and know that I am you and you are me, and all is one.

S: Or not.

C: You're my sister, and I'm your brother, and maybe, maybe not. Sure you don't play chess?

S: Not really.

C: (to G) Serena is the sexual chi of this project, but she's not quite there yet.

S: I channel through all SEVEN chakras, thank you very much.

G: How far is it? Should we take a bus, or a cab?

C: This is a very important evening. You, me, Serena, and J.R. are the four core elements of this project. We have everything we need. Big things are happening.

G: What about Lolita, and Archimedes, and Horatio...

Me: What is "this project," anyway?

C: We could split a cab. Seriously, my life is brighter knowing that you exist.

(Cut to front of J.R.'s building.)

G: Who paid for the cab?

S: I did. You guys can buy me a beer.

Us: We're here to see J.R.

Security guard: Penthouse. Go right on up.

S: This J.R. is obviously a friendly guy.

Scene 2: J.R.'s penthouse. Rambling set of rooms crammed to the gills with books, good art, bad art, collections of glass and marble eggs, seashells, VHS tapes, china, dead plants, live plants, Persian rugs, antique furniture, fire irons, grand piano. Wrapped on three sides by a terrace overlooking Manhattan, now covered in scaffolding. Smells like great-grandparent's library.

S: Thank you for inviting us. What a lovely place.

J. R. I share with a 91-year-old man who has lived here for 65 years. Rent-controlled. I came for dinner 10 years ago and never left. He's in Fire Island for five months. Sorry about the scaffolding.

C: (grabbing Serena by the neck) Trust me.

S: (tense, standing mid-room) I'm a massage therapist. Find the bad spot, I'm testing you. No, you missed it.

G: The piano is calling to me and I must play Beethoven. But here I have a list of four important issues, which I must preface with an overview, because I'm the sort of person who likes to summarize first. Bullets, one, two, three.

J.R. Yes.

C: (interrupting) This is a very important evening; here we have the four core elements of this project. We can put together a radio program, the four of us in this room, we can revitalize WGBI, I have contacts. This is a vision.

J.R. What?

C: You've heard of WGBI?

G: The four of us? What about Lolita, Archimides, Horatio...

C: And I'm working on getting a website, AC dot IC dot org. Intentional Community dot org, they're not exactly but I know...

G: There's the question of standards, quality versus quantity, perhaps we have levels of membership...

J.R. Excuse me, one thing at a time.

C: I'm going to go smoke.

G: (continues at great length regarding logistics)

J.R. I was drawn to your project; it's what we're trying to accomplish. I take orders from the Man Above. You (pointing at S.'s "Brooklyn" T-shirt) are crucial to us.

Crank: (returning) Serena is the sexual chi of this project.

S: I SAID, all SEVEN chakras, thank you.

Crank: (maundering) Out of all projects, Serena chose this one. She chose us. And...

G: Excuse me, I'm almost finished. (goes on at great length)

S: What we need is a software engineer and a librarian.

J.R. And who is Serena L.?

S: I am the voice of efficiency and serenity. It's time to go.

G: But first I must play Beethoven. (Fade on G. playing schmaltz, J.R. tired, C. drunk, S. impatient and embarrassed.)

Scene 3: Interior of Mexican dive restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue. Very hot, no A.C. or fan. We are the only English-speaking patrons.

G: Is there a waitress?

S: Let me explain about Mexican waiters.

C: (handing S. a beer) You have to promise me a game of chess.

S: I used to play Socratic chess.

C.: (interrupting) You see, it's more than just chess, it's the chink in the mind that needs completing.

(S. takes a sip of beer. C. takes it back and drinks. S. orders own beer.)

G: Do you understand what he's talking about?

S: I've got his number.

C: I like to think I'm unique.

S: I've known a lot of Cranks. The last one was named Clarissa; she visited me last Christmas. Blonde, gorgeous, hairdresser, insane. We're not speaking.

C: I'm sorry you've been hurt.

S: It's not like that.

G: Excuse me is there some sort of budding romance going on here?

S: No, Crank is just being obstreperous.

C: Hey, I want to look into your eyes and know that I am you and you are me and all is one. It doesn't HAVE to be sexual.

S: Back off. I am Not Available.

G: Oho!

C: (cut to the quick) Hey, I know TEN guys like J.R. I could finance your project in a heartbeat.

Scene 4: train station. C. in state of devastated melodrama. G. and S. discussing metaphysics with great energy.

S: You see, none of this exists. It's a projection of the Mind.

G: What do you mean? Of course this exists. Here, (touches arm) this proves it.

S: No, this is merely a perception. Perceived reality is a hologram.

G: This is scientific terminology. Explain.

S: Are you familiar with the new quantum physics? A particle is only a particle when it is observed; when you look away, it's a wave.

G: (insists on detailed explanation)

S: Okay, let's say you have a bowling ball and some sand. You roll the ball in the sand, and it leaves a track like this. Only then you look away for a second, and when you look back, there is the ball, but the sand is going like this (makes wave pattern with hand).

G: I don't understand.

S: Okay, you have a bowling ball...

(Train arrives. Conversation on metaphysics continues while C. stalks off to rear car and sets up chess board.)

G: What is up with Crank?

S: He's not my type; he stinks, he's got bad teeth, he's drunk and insane. Maybe he's reading my aura, maybe he's telepathic, but he's still RUDE.

(S.'s cell phone rings)

C: My life is brighter knowing that you exist.


Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Reality & dreams

It was only after I fully woke up that I could begin to classify it as a nightmare. During the dream and for several hours afterward, it seemed logical, normal and inevitable that I should have been sentenced to death for an obscure misdemeanor, execution to be carried out next week, with no possibility of appeal. I had one more trip planned, and my aunt volunteered to take me to the airport. Only she was driving from the back seat; I urged her to get into the front, because 'there are no brake pedals back there,' then made a lunge for the driver's seat myself. Unfortunately my aunt was too quick for me, and steered the car directly into a pile of upside-down bicycles in the middle of the street. I yelled, "what are you THINKING?", my aunt burst into hysterical tears, and I hijacked one of the bicycles and headed off for the airport. Soon, however, I realized that among other problems, my watch had stopped, and it was already too late to make the flight. I considered the possibility of getting onto another flight, then thought, 'wait, I only have one day to live. Maybe I should spend it with my family.' My family were looking for me, but none of them seemed too distressed about my impending execution, and nobody had thought of a lawyer.

This is pretty directly connected to my current financial situation. Upon waking consideration I realized that 'impending execution' is EXACTLY how it feels. I'm almost out of money and I have not found a stable source of income in the three years I've been here. Jobs from hell are impossible to come by, and it makes me physically sick to think of doing one. Not enough art is selling and not enough clients are calling. I am at my fucking wit's end, and deep in the back of my mind, for the last year and half or so, I have been considering suicide as a more or less practical option.

If anybody tells me I am lazy I will pound them into the asphalt. I've written the cover letters and revised the résumés, I've put my heart and soul and most of my capital into starting my own business, which was slowly sabotaged, undercut and finally shattered by a scumball of a poorly-chosen boyfriend. I have bravely coped with both the subsequent depression and the psychological re-structuring necessary to ensure that I don't make such an idiotic mistake again. Simultaneously I have run and marketed a healing practice, hampered by the fact that I have to do it illegally, written another business plan and worked diligently to get it sufficiently financed; simultaneously I have run an art career, including applying for grants, residencies, exhibitions and fellowships, maintaining a website, publicizing hard-won exhibitions entirely by myself and, oh, I forgot, PRODUCING THE GODDAMN ART. That's THREE fucking full-time jobs. Three. And I am still spending roughly two thousand dollars a month more than I am earning.

I am angry and frustrated and miserable and I need some help. My aunt, as evidenced by her salient presence in my dream, is doing her best to help; in her ongoing, never-say-die quest for a rich husband, she has been corresponding with a 72-year-old Harvard lawyer in Long Island, whose son-in-law runs the type of art gallery that actually sells art for the kinds of prices you need to survive in New York City. Only her friend cannot manage to type in the URL to my website so that it actually appears on the screen. It's an easy URL and the last twenty-five times I checked it, it was working fine. But Oh Well. My aunt's heart is in the right place, and her common sense in these matters far outstrips my dad's, who last month was telling me I should check out Taos, New Mexico; evidently, they have galleries in Taos. Imagine that. I told him, okay, do you have a friend who buys expensive art, and who will recommend me to a dealer who sells expensive art, and is willing to pay to ship my art to Taos and promote it to a list of promising collectors? Because if not, I'm not interested. This Is Not A Game.

I hate to harp on the subject, but nobody is asking my brother-in-law the architect, who is currently working 80+ hours a week on a startup real estate development project and not drawing a paycheck, to get a temp job to pay the bills. Nobody is asking my brother the mechanical engineer, who also works 80+ hours at a startup which is not turning a profit after five (?) years in business, to work evenings as a bartender until someone buys a truckload of nano-silver. No, people are actually INVESTING in my brother and brother-in-law, and if I had any capital left, I would too. Only since I'm the only one who believes in me, I am my only venture capitalist. I wish I could sue myself.

I wasn't intending to make this post into a bitch session. I was hoping to qualify my last post, also a bitch session, by pointing out that it is actually a blessing that my former acquaintances are rude sons of bitches and not worth the effort. It makes it clear that I need a new set of friends; interesting friends, intelligent friends, stable and spiritual and loving and supportive. Grown-up friends. I have a few of those and I value them highly. Maybe I'm meeting more; I've recently joined an "Arts Circle" as a core and founding member, and the energy seems promising. All the members are grown-ups, with actual careers in the arts. They all have money issues too, but at least they take me, as well as themselves, seriously.

And I am practicing gratitude, and last week I did one of those housecleanings that involves delving in corners with funky vacuum cleaner attachments. I eradicated several black holes full of un-filed documents, gardening supplies and untidy stacks; I organized my bookshelves by subject AND color. I increased my usage of lavender oil and hacked at ancient repositories of cat pee. I pared down and harmonized the artwork. My home is a calmer, more nurturing place. I wish I didn't keep having visions of having to sell all my books, plants, cats, art and furniture in a sidewalk sale and move into my brother-in-law's parents' spare closet in Maine. They're nice people but even they would get sick of me after a month or two.