Thursday, April 30, 2009


This is a quote from some people responding to this classical music youtube video:

wongksa (5 days ago)
If they are classically trained at the prestigious Juuilard, they should not play something like this, what a waste, way too commercial and showy, selling sex appeal... insulting the classical pianists in a way...
Cockdick9 (4 days ago)
Why can't classical musicians play something sexy. Music should reflect life.
Adelaidis (2 days ago)
I strongly agree with you, Cockdick9.

Monday, April 27, 2009


There is a building on Greene Street, exactly one block away from my boss's converted loft, you wouldn't notice that there was a door necessarily, if you weren't looking for it, it's green I think, heavy and wooden and in need of a paint job, like it was made from the top of an old picnic table. I know someone who lives there. His name is Eliot and he has been living in the same apartment since the mid-seventies when he ran a nightclub called Reno Sweeney in the West Village. He is an old friend of my mother's.

Before Saturday, Eliot and my mother had not seen one another since 1973 when she was younger than I am now, but not by much, and she was exceedingly beautiful. "Whenever we wanted anything we always had Debra ask for it," Eliot said, "because she was so lovely nobody could say no to her."
"And you paid for it, didn't you!" my mom responded, laughing broadly, showing off the gap between her teeth that accounted for some of her power to bewitch, "I never had a cent!"

Eliot's apartment is on the top floor, and there is no elevator. There isn't even a proper stairwell. The stairs stretch directly up from the door, like they might if they led to a monument or to a court house. They are worse for the wear; I seem to remember the stairs sagging in the middle, giving the impression of a resigned old hag, guarding the stubborn inhabitants who refuse to give up their insanely affordable living accomodations for modern conveniences like an elevator.

"I just had a hip replaced," he told us as he took the last few stairs. "Go on in, its open."

The walls are real wood paneling and there are shelves everywhere for books and CDs and DVDs. Everything is custom designed, custom built, not that it's fancy, but it shows forethought. Its bespoke, I suppose you could say, down to the specially made file cabinets where Elliot stores packets of original printings of the posters he designed for the club. There is one of Edith Beale, "Little Edie" from Grey Gardens that I have to show you because it is amazing.

A lot of the people that Eliot and my mother knew from back then have died of AIDS.

It didn't seem at all strange to Eliot that I was there with my mother, with the black hair and dark eyes she gave me, not as beautiful as she was but comparably quirky. On Saturday we'd even dressed similarly: she in a long white blouse with an antique onyx pin at the throat and matching earrings, me in a white blouse and an oversized shapely summer hat. He chatted on about his life, his parents and siblings, his career in the music business. He talked about the club.

There is an old dumbwaiter near the windows. A support beam in the kitchen is covered in buttons, the pin kind, and there's a bowl filled with matches. The DVDs are organized by year. There is an antique stove in the living area and a bed covered with boxes.

"I've given my life to this apartment," Eliot said. "I am going to die here." And it didn't seem sad. Nothing about the place was sad or lonely at all. It was full of life; full of a life. Or lives. The place practically teemed with the past.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


On Friday night I went with my boss to see Guys and Dolls on Broadway. After the show we went backstage and congratulated his friends in the cast, of which there were many. It is intensely awkward back there, in the wings of the theater, re-introducing oneself to people who just performed for thousands. "Thanks for inviting me to your Bar Mitzvah," I said lamely to one of the stars, in a poorly-conceived attempt to dissipate the awkwardness. "Here's your check for eighteen dollars. Don't spend it all in one place."

I always hated seeing people after my own shows. I could never stomach those exchanges.

We ended the night at Bar Centrale, a restaurant on 46th Street, that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful in New York. Before we ordered I excused myself to use the bathroom. Finding it occupied I turned back towards our table. I saw my boss, his friends, his girlfriend. The place was lousy with actors and theater enthusiasts, underlit and hushed, dressed in perfect casual finery, leaning over tables under oversized light fixtures, or perched on zebra-print bar stools. I stood for a minute and I thought about "show people", and how lucky I'd been to find myself with such priveledged access to this environment. I thought about being a young girl and listening to Barbra Streisand's Broadway album from my white dual-deck stereo, imagining Broadway as a magical, glamorous, glistening place where all the women wore hats and stoles and all the men could jump to high heaven and hold a long note.

"Bess, you is my woman now," I'd sung to my reflection. "You is, you is, and I ain't going no where no how, less'n you share the fuuun!"

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The possibilities of summer stretch out before you on a beautiful spring day like a dare, like a high bar that maybe you're not quite ready for, maybe you're not the pole vaulter for the job, maybe you'll clock your shoulder or your head against that nasty, mocking bar, maybe you'll free fall down the wrong side, maybe you'll impale yourself on the way down.

Or maybe you'll make it.

Summer is a whore in a doorway. I am beginning to make out her form now. I can just see the tip of her shoe, her profile. She makes promises to me and I am hopeful and expectant and a little afraid.

Look at her beautiful lip, the curl of her eyelash. You can just tell. This bitch knows her way around a lie.

Monday, April 06, 2009


The first time I came to New York I came through Grand Central.

My freshman roommate in college was from a small town in Westchester County called Ardsley. During our first break, a long weekend in October, I went home with her. Most of the trip was spent tooling around her suburb with her friends, in much the same way I spent most of high school, replacing Camel Lights, convenience stores, bong hits and Phish with Newports, Delis, Method Man and blunts. They were serious weed smokers, these kids. Two of the most memorable events that happened during my time in Ardsley involved weed: 1. Went to a movie theater that was basically empty and spent the movie puffing on a joint. 2. Drove to a "comic book store" in the Bronx and bought a garbage bag full of dirt weed. I watched from the car as they casually strolled in, like they were jonesing for the new X-men. Came out with enough pot to sonnambulate Rhode Island.

Once, when my roommate's hometown boyfriend was visiting her at college, he rolled a novelty "I Heart NY" cigar into a blunt. It was the size of a footlong polish sausage. When they were done smoking it, it was difficult to differentiate my roommate from an overstuffed ottoman. But I digress.

My roommate's mother must have felt bad for me. Here I was, less than an hour from the as-yet unseen Manhattan, stuck sucking on 40s in front of a video store. So she bought three tickets to a matinee of Sunset Boulevard, and against my roommate's natural inclination, we headed into the city. The last stop on the train was Grand Central Terminal.

Yesterday I boarded a train at Grand Central and I remembered what it was like the first time I saw it. Cavernous and beautiful and bustling with people. The info desk at the center, so romantic, a perfect place to wait for whatever is coming next. The clock and the stairs and the chapel-like domed ceiling, the green glow of the Pershing Square Cafe shining in from across 42nd Street. My heart leaped the first time I saw it; This is New York, I remembered thinking, like I was Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

I returned to Grand Central again and again before I moved to the city. One night I came to town with a friend of mine and we had no place to stay, so we checked our stuff at the Grand Central coat check and headed to the village. We landed at Small's, which was, at the time, a famous after-hours BYO jazz bar. We saw a jazz quartet play with a tap dancer as the percussionist, one of the most memorable live music experiences of my life, then went back to Grand Central and slept on the train-themed cafe tables. When I flew to New York, I would take a bus to Grand Central, and carry on my journey from there. More recently, when I was trying to inspire a wayward cousin of mine to dispense with the drama and graduate from high school, I sent her a mobile picture of Grand Central Station. "This is in the city where I live," I wrote. "You could live here too."

Grand Central Station is my Ellis Island.

Thursday, April 02, 2009


While reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, a book that is told from the perspective of a New Yorker living in Paris, I was struck by this passage:

Little by little, as I gained his confidence, I wormed my way into his heart. I had him at such a point that he would come running after me, in the street, to inquire if he could lend me a few francs. He wanted to hold me together in order to survive the transition to a higher plane. I acted like a pear that is ripening on the tree.
I have been such a character, not the leech, but the easy mark, the poor sap, a moneyed American in Paris.

When I was not quite twenty-one years old, having taken a semester off of college, I endeavored to explore Europe on my own for four months. I landed in Paris maybe halfway through the trip and I fell in love with it. My descriptions of the city in my journal from this period are littered with adjectives like elegant and graceful and picturesque. And though I spent many idol hours walking and sipping espresso, smoking Galoises and thinking about Degas, my most memorable time was spent at the 3 Ducks Hostel. I have included some pictures below (not mine--god love the internet).

The hostel had a bar. And the bartender was a pint-sized American painter named Jason. And when I read that passage in Tropic of Cancer, I saw myself, francs flapping in my hand, huffing down some charming Parisian Rue. Running towards Jason.

Now I would know better. I would be unmoved by his charming frankness, his tendency, shared by many men of his stature, to live large, to play commander-in-chief of social situations, to host. But not then. Then, young as I was, inexperienced, I was moved by his rough features, by the paint on his pants, his thirst for beer.

He was broke, that was clear. In addition to his post behind the bar at the 3 Ducks, he had worked out a living situation that guaranteed him a little room and a studio in exchange for picking up some kid from school every day and speaking English to him. He took me to his studio. I remember large abstract paintings, I remember yellow. I thought there was emotional content to the work. He assured me that there was not.

After we went to a bar for some beers. Stella Blanc, I remember. He told me about growing up poor in Kansas City, about spending a few days in jail. I paid for the beer, gave him cigarettes. Did I give him money?

He told me, I remember, that I seemed like a Lesbian.

I wrote him a note. I didn't remember writing it, but I made a note of it in my journal, only that I'd written it, nothing to do with its contents. What could it have said, I wonder. "I believe in you"? "Don't ever give up"? It pains me to think of that note now. Were there some francs tucked into the envelope that I left at the bar? I can't remember now. I can only remember the beer, the cigarettes and the roguish smile. The smile of a con man. I remember thinking that he was probably an alcoholic.

I left Paris and returned a few weeks later. "I saw [Jason] yesterday and he was kind of cold to me," I wrote.

That's when I met the buskers. More on that later.