How To…

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Take bits of fabric you’ve been collecting…forever. Take the threadbare sheet you slept on when you spent the night at your grandmother’s house as a child. It’s the one that is so faded you can barely make out the little pink flowers on it anymore. Cut it into soft, small pieces. Hold them to your nose to see if you can still make out the long faded scent of that room, that time.

Take the water stained cafe curtains that hung on your windowless wall in the Chelsea Hotel. They made you feel like you lived inside a train car. They shouted loud red and green shapes from the nineteen forties at you. They hung above the circus trunk you kept for years and years, even when you had no other furniture. They matched the lamp that looked like an old chinese man that sat beside the bed. Cut them into squares.

Think about how you broke someone’s heart when you moved there. He cried through platinum lashes the exact color of the satin shirt you are now making into stars. You hid his pictures in a small suitcase in the back of a small closet in your small room. You lived in a bizarre and hilarious arrangement with a brilliant, funny girl. You shared a bed and wore matching polyester nightgowns and cracked up laughing day and night. You left cryptic messages for each other on the door when there was a gentleman caller in the room. “Lawrence has taken me to the zoo.” or, “You left your umbrella in Paradise.”

Dig through the bag of fabrics and find the blue flannel kimono your husband gave you before he was your husband, before he was anything more than a friend with beautiful crow’s feet and a mischievous smile. The color is perfect, still.

Happen upon the cream colored lace shift your aunt wore on her wedding night, the red satin gown your best friend wore to her senior prom, the green checkered dinner napkins your mother made when you were a child.

Consider that you, who never stays anywhere, who moves around like a snail with only her house on her back, has all of this and more. Consider the old blankets, table cloths, remnants of dresses. Consider the un-framed velvet paintings, the odd spangled cape, the boxing robe you couldn’t part with.

Wonder if women made petroglyphs. Did they choose their colors with care, in between nursing the infant and pleasing their man? Did the designs have a deeper message? “I want to do things, know things.” “I left my umbrella in Paradise.”

They say home is where you hang your hat. Home is where the heart is. Home is a little piece of each place you’ve been, the places you chose to stay, the people you kept close through all the moves and separations. Here in front of you are the souvenirs of a life lived for experiences.

You have appeared, to outsiders, to be always purging yourself of old belongings, things that weigh you down. You have been seen to always be leaving things behind.

But here in front of you are the memories you have accumulated in cotton, silk and wool. Here, you can feel the rough texture of sadness, the cool smoothness of satisfaction and the plush sensuality of excitement. It’s all right here. So, now piece it together to see what you’ve made.

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The O in Howard

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Blue turned into black and then faded away. Well, actually, blue turned into sickly yellow and green and then purple and then black and then, eventually, after weeks of wearing long sleeves in the heat (it was that or having to explain “no. I really did fall down the stairs” ) faded away.

What didn’t fade, though, were two things:

  1. a small but hard and mildly disconcerting lump of tissue that I move around when I am fidgeting and
  2. Howard.

First of all, Howard was not my type. I was into guys who would charm me and then steal the last four digits of my social. Guys who looked like a young Tom Waits meets… well, an old Tom Waits, I guess. You know the kind. A guy who has every vice you can think of which smothers every talent you can think of and wants a girl he can have a Who’s Crazier Contest with and always win… That’s the kind of trouble I would usually get into.

Howard… Howard was none of those things. But somehow, he hooked me.

I worked at the French place for too long. The manager was my best friend and he told me I was the best waitress he had ever met. I told him that was a dubious distinction. The truth was I was burnt out from years of serving others.

You know what waiting tables is? You’re the host of a party thrown for a bunch of ungrateful people you’d rather not know. They party and generally act like idiots, asking you questions like “What do you do, really?” (to which I occasionally replied “I am a bounty hunter”) They say things like “Is the chef actually touching the meat with her hands? Ew!” Then, they drop what, for you, amounts to a month’s rent on their dinner and leave you to clean up the mess.

I had really hit a wall. I knew it when I told a customer one of the specials was “excellent” and he found it just hilarious that I repeated the superlative when asked about each one of the specials. He couldn’t know that I not only repeated the word ‘excellent’ five times at his table, but that I most likely repeated it no less often than 35 times that night alone. Boy, that would’ve really sent him into a gale of giggles. So he laughed at my redundant use of the word, and I asked him quite seriously if he wanted a slap.

So…not exactly friendly customer service…

I asked another customer if he was storing water in his hump for a long journey. I must have emptied half of the East river into the dude’s glass and he was only on his appetizer at the time!

And, I screeched at a drunken foreigner when he tried to light a cigarette when I had twice told him smoking was not allowed.

It was only a matter of time before I physically attacked someone.

Still, my manager friend would not fire me and he told me he would not let me quit. I was on a downward spiral of surly and found little pleasure in my job. And, while I could blame the restaurant business til the cows came home, what was really going on was I was dying inside.

I was an actress, damn it. I was an actress who waited. I waited tables. I waited for my agent to call. I waited in line for cattle calls and, most of all, I waited for something…anything… to happen to me. But nothing ever did. Until…Howard.

Howard came to the restaurant with a friend, a woman with a sort of Irishy/Jewishy look about her – middle aged before her time, affable, humorously irritating. Howard was quiet but his eyes were bright blue and alert. I came to the table and took a drink order and filled the water glasses. Then, I gave them the specials. They actually listened. They didn’t interrupt or ignore me or make me repeat myself (I really hate to repeat myself) like so many tables do. Then, I went to do a few other things and when I came back Howard asked me my name.

This is a thing customers do sometimes and I find it off-putting. They often ask with a tone that suggests I should have told them already. “And your name is…??” Eyebrow raised, head cocked to one side like a particularly curious pug. But I don’t agree. I feel that my anonymity is one of the few benefits of a low level job like mine. I dislike random diners, whom chance has set in front of me, taking it away, especially when I know they will forget my name anyway. Sometimes I give them a fake name. “I’m Mandi!”

Still, I tell Howard my (real) name and take his order. Awhile later, after their monkfish and seafood veulle au vent arrives, I check on the quiet man with the sharp eyes and the brassy lady at table 20.

How is your food?

Delicious. Thank you.

Would you like something else to drink?

Not just yet.

Very good. Enjoy.

Lila?

He remembered my name. He said Lila, not “Miss…”

Yes?

You are like a bird. Did you know that?

No. I…excuse me?

You are gifted at what you do here.

I laugh a bitter laugh before I can stop myself. But he continues.

I know this is not likely your dream job. But you perform it with a great deal of elegance.

Thank you…

I begin to walk away. I am bewildered by this show of appreciation. As I am going, Irishy/Jewishy says

Howie! Tell her why… she’s like a bird! Lila! Wait just a second… Tell her!

So he tells me.

Lila, you stand in the center of the room and your neck, which is fairly long, cranes out of the collar of your shirt and your head darts about, your eyes jump from one table to the next and I see you processing all the information before you are off again, flitting away to see to the needs of our table or the next one, gathering twigs, as it were.

I stare. I don’t know what to say. I feel odd.

And then he says

And, I hope you don’t think I am rude but I see you have a bruise.

I defensively touch the huge, hideous bruise on my arm. It’s covered by my shirt. How did he know?

As though he could read my mind he says

I saw it when you used your sleeve to grab the hot milk pitcher when you were making a cappuccino for that woman in the corner.

So he’s observant…

He was talking about the female half of a couple we liked to call the Vampire People. They almost always came in 2 minutes before closing and ordered the pork loin and the chicken or something equally as time consuming to cook as well as an entire bottle of white wine or Champagne.

We hated the Vampire People because they always seemed to show up on the slowest nights, so we ended up staying until well after midnight for a fraction of the tips we should have made for that amount of time. This was one of the few times I had ever seen them before 11:00 PM.

I looked at Mrs. Vampire now. She was a strange woman. I had always thought so. She looked nervous and Mr. Vampire kept patting her hand reassuringly.

Hmm. Maybe that was why they always came in so late. Maybe she didn’t like crowds or people (well, I couldn’t blame her there. I didn’t like people too much myself these days.)

Howard interrupted my thoughts about Mrs. Vampire.

I only bring it up because, well…

And here he popped open the cufflink on what was certainly a custom made French blue shirt and rolled up his shirtsleeve to reveal a bruise, hideous in color and stretching from wrist to elbow – just like mine. A matched set.

I laughed then. I rolled up my own sleeve and we folded our elbows like we were each making muscles and compared wounds.

Me: You should see the other guy

Him: I am the other guy

Me: I had it coming… He did it because he loves me.

Him: I had it coming too. She did it because she doesn’t love me.

Me: Ah… royal blood. Anemia has it’s drawbacks

Him: but it’s worth it for the throne…

And we went on like that for a minute or two, making ourselves and Howard’s dinner companion laugh.

Before they left that night, Howard introduced himself to me and shook my hand warmly, as though we had just had dinner together.

And, as my (and Howard’s) bruise healed, I continued waiting… but now, Howard was there. Howard of the bright, keen eyes. Howard, who had nothing in common with the scrappy, straggly-haired actors and drug-addled musicians I dated. Howard who dressed like a man out of time and did everything with humor and intention. Howard who was a writer who defied his wealthy family and left his job at The Hedge Fund to become a writer.

He came in at least once a week, sometimes with friends like Ellen (Irishy/Jewishy), usually alone, and sat in my section. He often came when it was slow so we could talk, but never stayed too late or made anyone work too hard.

He would, during the little lulls in business, tell me about his observations. He was an avid watcher of people and got a real kick out of the Bourgeoisie Boho clientele the West Village restaurant attracted.

He would compliment me in unusual ways, ways I had never been complimented before.

He would order simply and elegantly and was always grateful and satisfied with what he received. He tipped very well and he always made me smile.

Then, one day, Howard asked me on a date. He said

Lila, I’d like to take you out.

I said

I know, Howard.

But I blushed as I said it.

Then, I said

Ok, Howard. I’m off tomorrow. I’ll meet you outside.

When Howard arrived he was wearing a beautiful black wool suit. His eyes were like two beads of water shining in the dark.

He said

You look lovely. You look like Snow White. If she were a real person.

He said

Let’s go.

Where are we going?

He said

I am taking you out.

Ok.

And then Howard, who had been a privileged child, Howard who had made billionaires even richer, Howard, who knew the difference between Cashmere and everything else but never talked about it, took me to Tast-ee-cup.

He held my hand as we walked up 8th Avenue and he stopped us in a puddle of halogen light from the sign above. Together we looked in the window at the orange formica counters lined with customers holding paper cups of milky coffee and perfect Os dusted with powder and sparkly sugar.

He looked at me as he led me to two empty swiveling stools at the counter. And then Howard ordered for me.

He said

We will have two coffees, regular, and two different doughnuts. You choose.

The man behind the counter grinned as though he had been given a compliment and said

coming right up!

Ten minutes later I, who had no joy in my life, I, who hated people, I who had been waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, couldn’t wait anymore.

I kissed Howard on his sugary, powdery lips, and that was it.

Do You Want Fries With That?

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I don’t know why everybody keeps staring. I mean, it’s not like I did something everyone hasn’t thought about doing a million times.

I was just so tired of watching some middle-aged person compromise their dignity by asking something like “do you want some poppers for later?,” “would you like fries with that?” or “How about a nice slice of cheesecake to go?”

I mean, don’t get me wrong, a job’s a job. In this economy you can’t be too picky, but it strikes me as cruel that the faceless management of these corporate slop purveyors would force their resigned employees to ask these questions. I know there is some market research somewhere that tells us that x percentage of people respond in the affirmative when asked “how about a large chocolate shake?” Probably because of some deep-seated psychology about not wanting to go against the herd, or whatever.

But what about the waste of breath and effort asking that question really is? First of all, nobody needs poppers or a large shake. People are fat enough as it is, especially the people who eat at these places all the time.

But the real problem is the deep existential offense of requiring human beings to say stupid things against their will. Someone should do a study measuring how much a soul dies each time we ask a question like, “would you like a hot apple pie?”

I, for one, am overcome with grief and a blackish despair each time I ask for a coffee and am robotically assaulted with offers made by regular people trapped inside the bodies of fast food automatons peddling deep-fried foods bearing all the appeal of a dirty tissue.

I guess I finally just had my fill. I hardly even realized what I was doing when I reached across the counter and pulled the stand of plastic cups containing sickeningly sweet, artificially preserved baked goods onto the floor.

I hardly knew what I was saying when I yelled “No! I do NOT want a popper! I do not want FRIES with that! What the FUCK is the matter with you? If they’re so great, YOU have them! Just give me my goddamn coffee!!!”

But, you know, whatever. I was just doing what everyone thinks about but never does. One thing is for sure, though. I should probably start making coffee at home.

Or maybe less coffee is the answer…

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid…

I love shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective and so on. But I can’t help but notice the high female body count on these types of programs. Here is an article I wrote on the topic on Sociology of Style: http://sociologyofstyle.com/gender-representation-in-television-media-killing-girls/

Enjoy… and lock your doors, ladies!!

 

🙂

WHAT TO DO WHEN IT ALL FALLS TO PIECES PART III: COMING HOME, GROWING UP, BECOMING MOTHER

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“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

― Gabriel García MárquezLove in the Time of Cholera

To catch you up where I left off: A few months ago, I underwent an enormous existential transition. In a trifecta of life changing events, I went from being a married woman in her 30s, working full time and unsure of what the future held, to being pregnant, 40 and separated from my mate.

Pregnancy is an overwhelming and consuming event for most. So, like most other pregnant women, I was completely exhausted by my first trimester. I mean, like, crazy exhausted. Like, if I have to stand or bend over to pick up that sock or bathe myself, I will literally turn to dust kind of exhausted. And, like many other pregnant women, I coped with this exhaustion at my full time job. Also like others, I hid my early pregnancy from my peers. But because the first trimester of my pregnancy was hijacked by other events, my reasons for doing this went beyond the typical “its too early to tell” thinking.

Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy about my pregnancy. This was something I had wanted for a very long time. But, I was also sad – a feeling that was amplified by the crazy tide of hormones taking over my body– and, I was worried.

I was worried about being old, alone, broke. I was worried about being worried. What would all of this extra cortisol do to my unborn child? I was worried I might never again find someone who would want me because now, I would be a fat pregnant lady with tons of baggage who would, in a matter of months, graduate to be a fat mother of a broken-home infant attached to my bosom like a calf to an udder.

Despite all of my concerns, sooner or later, with the support of the few kind people who knew my growing secret, I became more happy than worried, more excited than sad (some of the time, anyway). But as I peered out from the stupor of pregnancy fatigue and emotional overwhelm, it was quite clear that I had some big decisions to make. This was no joke. The pregnancy was just the beginning. I was going to be a mom. I had to decide what to do with myself now that the support system of my marriage had imploded. My financial circumstances were such that I could no longer continue living where I was without the aid of my husband or a roommate.

A roommate?!! After a 10 year live-in relationship, it was nearly impossible to imagine suddenly living with a stranger – or even a friend — as I grew in size and changed shape according to life’s new plan for me. It was equally impossible to imagine leaving the cozy little house my husband John and I had been renting to move into yet another temporary situation already dominated by someone else.

As I considered these troubling conditions, I thought about other aspects of my life as well. I had a job which provided health insurance, but I was working an awful lot and not making much money. What would happen as it got less and less possible for me to put in the hours and my paychecks got smaller and smaller?

I had a car that broke down, repeatedly, in a city where I had a 45 minute one way commute to work.

Between paying the bills, the daily naps I required, caring for my pets and managing the division of my exes and my belongings (conscious uncoupling, anyone?), I barely had a moment to even begin emotionally processing this new state of affairs, let alone consider, with any depth, my progressing pregnancy and the parenting that would inevitably follow.

Something had to give if I was going to be able to start over as a single woman, be a good mom to my little baby and save some money. And so, I began to seriously weigh the possibility of moving back home.

Home, the place where I grew up and where my parents still live, is Rhode Island. I left my home state as soon as I was old enough and adopted a somewhat nomadic lifestyle for many years following. I spent time living in Eastern Europe, Alabama, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles.

In my younger years, RI felt like a tomb to me. It was a small town that never offered the excitement I craved or the opportunity to stretch out the way I wanted to. All my travels and relocations strove to take me to places where I could pursue my passions: travel, culture, acting, writing, art, in a way that I never felt able to in RI. I called Providence a fly paper town – a place where people get stuck. I loathed the provincialism and conservatism of the place. Once I left, I couldn’t imagine ever returning. It felt like it would be an admission of defeat, the ultimate failure, to go back. Like it says outside The Chelsea Hotel (where I briefly lived) “you can’t go home again.”

Then, at some point after being away for so long, I began to enjoy my visits in a new way. I began to feel nostalgic for the rituals of my youth. I began to miss my parents more and more. My last move to Atlanta had been an effort to be closer to my hometown while still living in an affordable, cosmopolitan “big” city. John and I always said moving to Atlanta was the only practical decision we ever made…and it failed miserably.

Shortly before I got pregnant (and turned 40, and split up), John and I were already considering moving out of Atlanta. We were talking about going back to NY, the place we met and the town where we both felt most at home. Maybe we were trying to get back to a place in our relationship that worked… But as I perused Craigslist for available rentals, I found myself typing in “Providence” in the “property for sale” field.

So, when everything hit the fan a few months later, I had to admit as I was considering my options that Rhode Island was quickly becoming one of the more appealing ones.

And so it happened that within a couple of months’ time, I went from my 3 bedroom house in a cool neighborhood in Atlanta to living in my childhood room in North Providence. It was a surreal change for sure. But what else was new? These days, surreal is the norm for me and nothing could evidence that more than planning a nursery in the room where, as a teenager, I hung Guns & Roses posters and cried that I was missing Jane’s Addiction at the first Lollapalooza concert because I was grounded.

But maybe there is a poetry to this strange fate. As my mother accompanies me to each of my pre-natal appointments, I am reminded of all the seemingly significant events of my adulthood she was not a part of because I was so far away. As my father buys special “organic” groceries because it is what I like to eat, I am reminded of the profound generosity of these people, my parents.

My parents gave me everything: my life, my childhood. They gave me space when I needed it – 17 years of it, in fact – inquiring after each new chapter of my life with unfettered enthusiasm, as if it were an adventure and not a deprivation. They visited me everywhere I lived, uncomplaining, gamely sleeping on couches and futons, trying new foods and pastimes and generally just going all-in on whatever my lifestyle happened to be at the time. They never nagged or harassed me about my flighty ways or gave me guilt trips about their lack of grandchildren when most of their friends already had some. They supported my artistic endeavors in any way they could. Basically, through their uncompromising dedication to me and my fiercely independent ways, my parents more than earned a right to be a bigger part of my life.

And here we are. I am back where I was when last I lived under their roof. I need them. I can’t do it without them right now. Maybe, after all the vacations we spent together far from their home, all the tourist-attractions called home, maybe the last phase of growing up is going back to the start and finally letting my parents back into the daily routine of being me. This might be the ultimate preparation for sharing my life with this new little person I am growing.

Despite all the baby books leading us through the biological formation of our fetuses and all the comparisons to fruit and all the “on this day, your baby has eyelashes” talk, it occurs to me that maternity, the nine months of growing a baby, is not really about the building of a body, a compilation of cells and DNA factors. It’s not, either, about preparing your own body for the trauma and wonder of delivery. With a mere three months of my own pregnancy left, I think nature mercifully gives us this time to figure out the best way to be unselfish, now.

And what could be better preparation for that than delivering ourselves to, what for most of us are the most unselfish presences in our own lives, our parents? In the process of unburdening ourselves of the protections against our parents, which we form as adults to foster our own independence, we truly learn to become parents.

First you get born, then you get re-born, then you give birth.

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WHAT TO DO WHEN IT ALL FALLS TO PIECES PART II: THE SEPARATION

The same week I turned 40, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. It was on our country weekend getaway that we mutually decided to part. We agreed that the best thing we could do was to sacrifice our marriage to save our friendship. As noble as that sounds, it felt a bit like Sophie’s choice as we walked through the autumn woods together with our little dog and our baby growing inside of me. Life is strange. That much is clear. And hard. That much is even clearer…

 

For more, follow the link to my article on Sociology of Style