Archive for November, 2008

Brief bit of fiction. 1.

Warning, what follows is a goofy ode to a fun evening.

(thank you Braden for the inspiration)


We raised him to be Braden’s boyfriend.

In the station I scratched your back

the train was leaving soon.

We’d rather we not have to part

and have more time to swoon.


With one hand in each other’s lap

the other on our faces

we drew a long and lengthy map

of all our favorite places.


In love time seems to tick and tock

in extra, anxious worry.

The hands spin around the clock

their path so quick it’s blurry.


How can we pause this time we share

without causing lots of trouble

perhaps if we meld from two to one

become single what once was double…


Then time will be shared at every step

at every pinch and giggle,

we’d get to touch ALL the time

from top to low to middle!


The problem that arises from

this risky sort of dream

is that you like boys and I like boys

with no straying in between. 😉


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Metropolitan Diary

One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this blog (other than just writing on a whim without worrying about readers), is to discover the little things that aren’t mentioned about life in a city like this.  Violence, distrust, pollution (both noise, air and surface) tend to be the things that characterize a big city to those who don’t reside in one.  

My stereotypes about New York are continuously being overruled.  For example, I’ve met a lot of delightful, approachable and generous strangers on the subway, street and elsewhere.  People are not as taciturn or unpleasant as I was led to believe.  There are gardens, parks, and plants everywhere.  There could be more for sure, but a lot of empty or unused lots are being reclaimed as community garden and park space.  There’s an inspiring cultural freedom here as well, in that I find myself open to -or at least understanding of-diverse ideas, themes and lifestyles now that I’m exposed to so many.

A good example of a collection of these moments is the New York Times’ Metropolitan Diary.  Not only a good read but a great opportunity for you to share yours.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Dear Diary:

As I ride uptown on the No. 6, I place my leftover lunch of steamed vegetable dumplings under my seat. My focus is on making my way through the crowd that seems determined not to let me out at Grand Central.

Of course, I forget my dumplings.

I start heading back mumbling, “I forgot something,” but I am caught between the time it would take to go back through enemy lines versus letting go of a fully prepared dinner — a tough choice. I tell myself to let it go.

As I reach the platform, a hand comes out of nowhere and passes me my white, plastic bag from the subway car. Walking up the stairs, another man chuckles and says, “I hope dinner is as good as lunch.”

Leaving me to wonder: How many hands and hearts were part of the human chain that saved my dinner?

Judith B. Meyerowitz”

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Gears, oil, paws and iPods.

Like clockwork, the plump hispanic woman holding the same pile of Watchtower newsletters turns the corner of Manhattan Ave. and our little street at exactly the same time I do every morning.  She smiles sweetly and asks me if I want some reading material for the train.  I politely refuse every morning, yet she continues to ask.  She’s bundled up lately, with a bright purple scarf and water-stained boots, I wonder if she does that all day.  I wonder if anyone accepts.

Our downstairs neighbor has a gorgeous dog.  She named him Cosmos.  I want to know why.  I see them in the mornings now too, Cosmos likes to piss on yellow leaves so they don’t crunch underfoot anymore.  I hope someday I can see him stretch.

Morning rush-hour on the G and E trains is sometime between 7:30 and 9:30am.  Inside the train we’re stiff and still.  The women are thinking, “Don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.  Don’t touch me.”  The seats say, “I’m open. I’m open.  I’m–taken.”  The five minutes it takes to walk the below-ground transfer between the G and the E, even if you take the moving walkway, is a surreal five minutes.  A sea of people move through that tunnel.  Some aggresively weave through the tiny openings in the waves to get ahead of rest. 

There are so many wires hanging from people’s ears.  Those of us listening to music watch the crowds with a soundtrack.  We don’t have to be involved that way.  There is no other situation in which I would stand that close to hundreds of strangers for 20 minutes without interacting to one of them.  It’s against human nature, but after a while you learn to do it well, with that same poker face everyone wears, trying to guess what hand the rest are playing. 

No I didn’t look at your ass.  I’m reading your magazine….finds a convenient street light and steps outta the shade and says somethin like, you and me babe, how about it, Juliet…These ads on the ceiling make me sick.  We’re a couple and we’re holding hands.  We’re a couple and we’re not.  I voted for the other guy…you’re listening to the Moth podcast…I’m going to leave this coffee on the train.…woke up this mornin’, put on my slippers, walked in the kitchen and died, and O what a feelin’ as my soul went through the ceilin’ and on up into heaven I did ride… I can’t believe I’m going back to this office, >sigh<…it’s the money that makes shit ugly, it’s the money that makes these hoes love me, it’s the money that makes niggas wanna slug me… HE’s reading THAT?…and when I die, and when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry on, to carry on… I wonder where she got those shoes….the queen came for a visit, she kicked off both her shoes, she says, “you got a little whiskey, for a woman with the blues?… One word: hygiene.  Ooh, we made eye contact, should I say something? …I wear this crown of thorns upon my liar’s chair, full of broken thoughts I can’t repair…

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654 Episode 1

Toca politics

Toca politics

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**some names in this post have been changed

I woke up this morning at 5:40, one hour before my alarm was set to go off.  You know the drill when you’re up in that tween time: I went to the bathroom, got some water, tried to maintain the same momentum of sleep I had before I woke up (and that weird dream about the greasy caterpillar that ate faces).  Luckily I was able to fall directly back to dreamland but found myself in a strange situation.

I was visiting my parents, it was spring because the snow was melting and Mom, Dad and I were clearing wet leaves from sprouting daffodils next to the house.  Suddenly we heard a huge ‘BANG’, Dad sighed and said “Jeez, does he ever let up?”  Apparently Teddy, the grown up version of a troubled neighbor kid had been disturbing the ‘hood once again.  My mother described a few of the odd things they had seen him doing next door including “slaughtering dogs in the woods” between our house and his.  Suddenly there Teddy was with an ax, chopping at something soft on the ground, leaves flying around him with every swing.

I moved closer to investigate, thinking that I would see a dog there at his feet, but instead saw the bodies of two men in suits and ties.

My father seeing this as well, shouted “I’m calling the police!”  Then an awkward conversation began between the three of us and Teddy with his ax. I the dreamer watched his ax thinking we should all get out of there, whereas I, the participant in the dream, stood still and calm by my mother.  Teddy soon raised it threateningly at Dad, until his older sister Stephanie intervened.

Regardless of what this dream implies under Freudian or new age analysis, it got me thinking about the family that used to live next to us and the incarnations of our relationships.  I’ll tell the story, then please share yours.

The small white house next to our small brown (now small green) house is separated by about 200 yards of old forest that wasn’t cleared on our property.  It stretches from the acres of woods behind us to the road.  Most of the large trees fell ages ago and blanket the ground with moss and new ferns.  There were bunches of younger trees and other tall growth, but all in all the visibility from one yard to the other was clear.

Jane and Dick Peters had four children, the eldest Melanie, then Stephanie, Teddy and the youngest, Tim.

Mom tells the story about when Jane invited her over for a kind of play date with their toddlers, Teddy and I.  I was older than Teddy by a year and a half.  During the visit Teddy hit and pinched me and my mother will say that Jane never said a word to him so Mom finally had to pick me up.  He still tried to get at me in her cradling arms.

Melanie and Jess (my sister) were playmates, so naturally Stephanie and I were as well.  We made snow forts, played marbles and ‘house’ in the trees, pretended we worked in a cheese factory using rotten wood as cheddar (that was a recurring one), and Melanie and Stephanie were both next to the wheelbarrow when my sister pushed me, and the pile of firewood within it, down a steep hill.  I still have the stitches scar on my face.

They were the first kids I knew whose parents divorced.  Dick left Jane with all three kids and a bitter temper.  We heard screaming coming from their house, Stephanie asked to spend the night more often, Jane had a string of bizarre relationships and Teddy started tearing up the neighborhood with mischief.

In that little patch of wood between our houses (where he axed people in my dream) he would do things that for some reason annoyed Jess and I.  Mom let it slip one day that our property line ended just where their yard began, so when Teddy was in there playing we would yell at him and remind him that he wasn’t allowed to.  “It’s OUR property, you can’t be there!”  I’m ashamed looking back.  It was this kind of hostility toward an already manic kid that prompted retaliation via dirt bike later on.

There was one night, just before Halloween (I remember because there were Reeses Peanut Butter Cups in the house), three of the younger Peters knocked at our door and asked for help.  One of Jane’s boyfriends had thrown a vase at her head and threatened them.  My father was a counselor for youth at the County Mental Health Office, so sat them down and talked to them.  Mom kept Jess and I in suspense downstairs.  I imagine Dr. Quinn was on to keep us distracted.

Steph and I once spent a summer tearing down the wash that one of our neighbors meticulously hung to dry in the warm breezes.  We did this at least 4 times before we turned ourselves in.  It was an especially heinous act because it was one of the notorious summers when the community well was running dry.  I remember overhearing my mother saying (after sending me to my room), “I can’t believe OUR daughter would do something like that.”

We drifted away from the Peters girls when we hit mid-grade school, Jane got a younger boyfriend who owned a hostile rottweiler and who burned rubber every time he exited their driveway.  They gained lots of cats and Stephanie got a goat.

Just about the time that Jane’s younger boyfriend became Stephanie’s older boyfriend, he had bought a hand gun and spent time in the backyard shooting with Teddy.  I’ll never forget one afternoon, Jess (approx 16) and I (approx 13) were home alone and the shooting sounded too close to our house.  We went outside and Jess defiantly sat down and watched them in plain view.  I looked at the two guys shooting a gun, back at my sister on the ground, and nervously joined her.  She screamed, “Isn’t there someplace else you could do that?!”  Jane’s boyfriend answered, “Heheh, like where?”  “O, I don’t know, a SHOOTING RANGE?!  Keep having target practice on our property and I’ll call the cops!!”  “Heheh.”  It was then my older sister proved to be the bad-ass she always said she was.  She continues to this day.

When Jess was rekindling her friendship with Melanie sometime after high school, Melanie stole her checkbook and cashed over $500 in fraudalent checks, including one for Jane.  They went to court.  It was sad.

There is a young couple with a baby living in the small white house now.  The young man bakes bread at an organic specialty foods store and the young woman works for non-profits.  Mom bought them baby clothes and won’t stop raving about his bread.

This dream prompted a great deal of thought in the way we used to treat the Peters’.  I think there could have been a lot more understanding and help provided for them, rather than fear and dislike.  The fact that my parents treat the new neighbors so well is a little disturbing to me.  Can we not open our arms to dysfunction?  I understand what the fears were and that our parents wanted to protect us, but I may always wonder what else could have been done.

Did you know the Peters?

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[I] poured it only halfway.

I thought my sister had the best taste in music when we were growing up.  As CDs became cheaper and more abundant, she gained an eclectic selection from Boyz II Men to Beck to Jethro Tull.  She was the coolest person I knew, so I did my best to like what she liked.  She struggled to maintain individuality while an unwanted side-kick copied every move she made.

She put album covers on her walls so I put album covers on my walls, she wanted a peace sign necklace so I got a yin yang shirt.  It was following this pattern that got me listening to Suzanne Vega, particularly the acapella version of “Tom’s Diner“, memorizing it and singing it whenever I could.

Unbeknownst to me while I ruined the song for my older sister, the seed for a romantic adoration of trendy coffeehouses was planted.

Our little town, a little over 2,000 people at the time, feigned cosmopolitan fairly well due to the State college and Art Studio Center which took residence there.  Soon along with the local diner there was a coffeehouse.   As soon as it opened it bubbled over with shows by local artists, local music and an accumulation of young people with poetry fetishes.

It was there I drank my first chai latte, had my first conversation with an anarchist, had my first date, first (and consequently last) cigarette, and many more epiphanies that endeared me to those atmospheres forever.

So endeared in fact, after graduating from college I excitedly took a job at Franscesca’s Espresso Bar in the South End of Boston.  There I worked as a barista, but I was primarily the line cook after I got used to the menu.  It took going home to save $ for me to learn the art of making espresso drinks.

The coveted “Coffee Shop” where I had all my firsts had changed titles and owners a few times before I started working there, at the time it was the “Bad Girls’ Cafe“.  I worked under the ownership of two women in their late 40s-early 50s who had, like many people in that area, made their money elsewhere and decided to spend it with the quaint and quiet backdrop of rural Vermont.

“City-folk”.  “Flat-landers”.  “High-Falootin’, Artsy Fartsy, buy out MY farm will ya…?!”

It was there I learned about drawing hearts with steamed milk (though I couldn’t quite get the hang of it).  We brewed organic coffees.  I regressed to high school days and feigned hip aloofness behind the counter.

Customers at both Franscesca’s and Bad Girls’ Cafe were part of such inclusive, communal cultures that there was rarely a time when I left work feeling that patrons were insane or rude or felt that they deserved service like that between a master and slave.  These cafes were also locally owned by folks who celebrated creativity and input from their employees.  The only tension involved the occasional Modest Mouse CD that made it’s way into the store player, or inappropriate conversations in front of customers.

It was when I worked for Starbucks, first as a barista and then as Asst. Manager that I grew to hate making coffee (for ANYone).  I don’t want to make this an anti-Starbucks post.  So I won’t write on about how they suffocate creativity, encourage and reward customer neuroses and train both their employees and patrons to value speed over quality.

Luckily I ran screaming from the service industry and into the arms of Japan.  I walked into a Starbucks ONCE over there (quickly realizing that the business model works really well for Japanese employees) and never made coffee if I could help it.

I come back after two years without the dark bean of conformity and what do I do…I make coffee for Japanese CEOs and CFOs.  Everyday it’s, “Kohi ka, omizu wa iika ga desuka?”  “Kohi kudasai.”  “Hai, buraku desuka?”  “Hai, arigato.”

My resume should be one page.  24 point font.  I MAKE COFFEE.   The rub is, I don’t drink it, never have.

Wanna tell us about how you pour?  (doesn’t have to be coffee)

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Last night we caught a glimpse of New York which we seldom see. 

My 3rd cousin, or perhaps 2nd cousin once removed  (this was a lengthy debate before the show) recently wrote a memoir and had his book launching and CD release performance last night. 

To give you some idea of the world we were visiting during the performance, here is the back cover of his book:

“Long before Byron Nease donned the mask to play the Phantom, he had learned to show the world one face while concealing another.  A musical theater star expected to bare his soul on stage, but keep his private life cloaked; a lesson learned while still a small boy.


This tome is an inspiring story of not just survival, but personal, perpetual full-throttle re-invention.  Nease’s life holds lessons – and encouragement – for all who must tackle the challenges of:

Casting off the childhood legacy of family dysfunction; Pursuing the dream career through trials as well as triumphs; Coming to terms with life, love and loss; Caring for an aged loved one (his grandmother) for the last years of her life; Managing a long term illness through the pains, cost and fear.


BEHIND THE MASK…No More evokes the glamour, humor and drama of Nease’s 25 years as a performer.  His portrayal of Raoul (over 1500 performances) in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s The Phantom of the Opera contrasted dramatically with his role of the Phantom in the beautiful Kopit / Yeston Phantom.  Hero VS Monster, is within each of us.  The grief, hope, love and resilience in his life and the quest for love and meaning which Nease seems not so much to be a leading man, but every man.”

We arrived at the TRIAD theater and climbed a few stairs before we were halted by a large line waiting for the theater’s doors to open.  David and I both felt a significantly hushed observance of us as we entered.  As each guest arrived the rest of the crowd looked for something familiar in them, as if it was the entrance to a school or family reunion.  We automatically looked out of place.  The big red flowers with half-torn grocery store price tag sticking limply out of the plastic didn’t help.

The crowd was primarily over 40, made-up and coiffed and scarfed exactly like stage performers should be.  The lovely blond woman behind me even had that vanilla-powdery smell of stage make-up, like it followed her from past green rooms.  She was a singer “a long time ago”. 

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode  when he decides to don a sportscoat with a dark turtle-neck and scarf “like an out of work actor”?  We saw a lot of that.  The debonair quality of some of the gentlemen was so charming I wanted to break into “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood”

Many of Bud’s close friends read excerpts from his book, and he performed some selections from his CD.  He looked good and beamed off the little stage to his many admirers.

In the days when I was convinced I would be the next star on Broadway, I listened endlessly to his CDs and Original Cast Recordings.  I and my pre-pubescent excuse for a singing voice tried to keep up like I was training to one day duet with my famous cuz.  Though we were out of place last night, it was enlightening to gain temporary access to his world that I idolized as a kid, and the world I’ve chosen not to pursue.

In his book he describes opening night of The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theater in Toronto in a way that made everyone in that room reminisce.  Anyone who has ever been on stage, even once, even in a kindergarten production as a tree understands that sensation.  Lights and eyes.  Costumes, nervousness and explosive last-minute problems.  We sighed the collective sigh of reverent performers.

That generation of New York City Stage performers has its own subculture, and I hope I can be witness to it more often, the characters involved and their passion for their vocation is too rich to ignore.

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