Friday, January 30, 2009

The Black Knights of Brooklyn

Your move to New York City was a big, fat silent scream. After living in the lush hills of San Francisco, New York was a resounding bitch slap. Overpriced, dirty, yelling. The dot-com days had passed and cities like New York seem impossible on your razor-thin budget. The neighborhoods you live in seedy (yet expensive) and your social life sparse (going out costs money).

During your final phase in the city, you move in with your ex-boyfriend (well hello, mistake #1) because you thought enough time had passed since your messy break-up 10 years before. No romantic feelings. Hard feelings, behind you both. Besides, there wasn't much of a choice. New York City can make strange bedfellows of us all.

Your savings dry up like a dirty raindrop on Brooklyn cement. Sporadic and strange jobs barely keep your head above water. You return from a dreary day to a home in a noisy and dangerous Jamaican neighborhood. You make a modest meal, drink cheap wine and wonder how much longer you can take this.

You’ve tried, Beth. Several years. This place sucks and you need to get the hell out.

Later that night, you meet up with a good friend at a bar. She’s one of the reasons you moved here, but like other friends in New York, you rarely see them. Maybe you’re secretly mad at her for not being around. Or maybe you’re just drunk. The two of you get in a squabble about something stupid. You leave the bar late at night and run home. (This is both for catharsis and safety.)

Arriving home, you see your ex and are relieved he’s there, even though he can be notoriously cold comfort. He sees your tears and says, “What is it this time?”

You try to overlook the stinging rudeness of his tone and tell him that you argued with your good friend. And you’ve hit a limit. Your soul feels flattened. Your nervous system rattled. You’re worried about yourself, that you might

He responds by walking toward his bedroom, with an “I don’t know what to say anymore. You’re just a constant complaint.” You stand at his bedroom doorway, shocked and hurt. He closes the door.

There may be nothing worse, you wonder, then the feeling a door being closed on you. The game “Don’t Spill the Beans” comes to mind. That door shutting was that last bean.

You pick up your witch’s broom (because you fancy yourself a neo-pagan of some sort) and begin to trash the living room. You’ve never done anything like this before. You watch yourself from a distance as you slam your stereo, a vase, the little glass doll your grandmother gave you when you were 8.

You head toward the kitchen and smash dishes and glasses in the dishrack. You hear the cat furiously digging its claws into the wooden floor, racing to find a hiding place.

Screaming at the top of your lungs, you say, “What does it take to get some fucking kindness around here?” You hear your ex yelling from the bedroom. He’s calling the police. “Call ‘em, you fucking jerk! Maybe they’ll give a shit!” Smash, crash, bang.

You flash back to the early years with this man, how he’d have similar tirades and just trash the joint. And how scared you used to be. How dutifully you picked up the pieces afterwards. How stupid you were to stay.

“Hey, asshole! You used to do this shit all the time, remember? How’s it feel now? You pick up the pieces for once!” (Apparently, it looks like you haven’t let go of all the hard feelings.)

Something is unraveling and it’s both freeing and truly terrifying. It’s like your psyche is projectile vomiting. You have no doubt that this is what lands people in loony bins but you don’t care. You pick a sharp piece of glass from the floor and stare at it for too long, imagining the things it could do.

A loud knock at the door breaks your trance. You know it’s the cops. You really don’t care. And you should.

You open the door and before you stands a vision you’ll never forget: two of the largest, most imposing cops you’ve laid eyes on. One man, one woman, both pitch black in skin color. Jamaican. Both easily standing 6”6. Shoulder-to-shoulder wall of cop. The ultimate crazy girl stopper.

You drop the shard of glass and look into their eyes, as broken as the vandalized pay phone on the corner.

You fall slightly forward and the male cop catches you, picks you up like a rag doll and takes you to the couch, where both sit on either side of you. Their massive arms encircle you like truck tires. You let out a cry that you never knew existed in you. It’s more of a howl, like a trapped animal. Or an unwanted baby, left alone in a room for too long.

You look up at their warm eyes and say, “I can’t, I can’t do this anymore. I’m so alone. Tired. Nobody’s there. Nobody’s…nice anymore.” They hug you even tighter and suddenly you feel transported, as if to a special womb designed for chicks losing their shit. They say reassuring words. “It’s alright. We’re here now. We care. You have somebody now.”

It’s as if they know you. It’s as if, clearly, clearly, they are not cops but angels.

You tell them how sorry you are and the man says, “You don’t have to be sorry. It’s all right to lose it sometimes.” You can’t believe someone just gave you that kind of permission. No one in your life has given you license to let the darkness pour out of you like a sick, black flood. Looking around, you also begin to realize everything you broke was yours, only adding insult to injury.

“Do you have any friends here, sweetheart?” the woman asks. You thought you did, you tell her. But everyone is too busy. She tells me that she’s not too busy.

They sit with you, rocking you gently, for what feels like an eternity. At one point, you laugh. You laugh, thinking of all of the shit that goes down in this neighborhood--the drug deals, the street fights, the stealing--but tonight, you’re the trouble. You share this with them and they laugh in agreement.

Your ex never leaves the bedroom. The cops gently place you in your bed with a glass of water, kind touches, and almost imperceptible words of kindness. After they leave, you realize you have just experienced something divine and full of grace. Two magical strangers just made everything better, simply by caring.

Months later, as you take steps toward getting the hell out, you write the 76th precinct a letter. You write how, in your wildest dreams, you never thought police could offer the kind of help they did that night. And that you will never forget their kindness.

Right before you leave New York, you receive a letter back from the precinct, telling you that they hung the letter up on their wall. And yes, cops do all sorts of things that one can’t imagine.

You leave New York with renewed hope. Life kinda sucked here. No question about that. But even in your darkest hour, angels appeared and guided your way. You trust in the magic of the Universe once again, even if it’s just a little.

With a lighter heart and a cigarette in mouth, you leave the city and head to your old family home at the Jersey shore, emotionally threadbare but ready to start again

Special thanks to my friends Joe and Elena who constantly remind me that I don’t ask for too much. To my friends mentioned in this story, you mean far more to me than the constraints of this story and I hope you understand.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Belle of the Rock Bottom Ball


Okay, somebody has to get off this island and right quick before she ends up in a poorly lit rehab with leather-skinned fishermen and ex-Wendy’s employees.

I’m caged in this old house. Caged, I tell you.  And when I manage to break out, this Godzilla-style beast is unleashed in me. And I can’t control her anymore. Nobody can! And maybe, just maybe, nobody should.

Picture this:

You’re in your 40’s, enduring your first winter at the Jersey shore. And while you’re happy to be out of that nasty old city, this place is now a vast wasteland of howling, icy winds and empty beige houses. This is where souls are frozen solid.


And maybe that kind of atmosphere wouldn’t be so bad if you were contentedly married or a stamp-collecting introvert. But you’re not! You have raw life pulsing through that sweet bod of yours!


Besides, there are only so many episodes of Law & Order (though granted, there are a friggin’ lot). And what about fucking? Remember good old-fashioned fucking? Back in day? When you fucked like the other humanoids do?

So drag that ass of yours out of bed, run a brush through those locks and put on a little lipstick. Do it. There you go. Now go get ‘em.

You go to a local Manhattan-wannabe bar for Happy Hour, which after some overpriced wine, bleeds into Happy Hours. Maybe you should go home now. You did technically “go out” afterall.


But the beast convinces you to stop by the youngest brother’s new apartment where a party is in full swing. Kurt is in his early twenties with a Spicolli stoney smiley vibe to him. He and his friends are too young to deal with on a constant basis, but in doses it feels like a blast of fresh, testosterone-laden air.


The boy you are playing beer pong (yep, beer pong) keeps lifting his shirt up, attempting to distract you with his tight abs, as if he knows why you’re really there. This only improves your game. In between winning shots, you meet mid-table and make out with him. Go home heathen girl, go home.

Kurt invites you to take a hit from “The Gravitator”, a towering pot-smoking device designed to generate the biggest hit of weed ever. After coughing spasmodically for ten minutes, you realize that your wine buzz has morphed into an acid trip-like. Oh you’re in trouble now, you bad girl.


The floor tilts and realigns itself like a funhouse floor. The young partiers start to glow and pulsate. Are they angels? They must be angels. “You guys look really pretty,” you think--no you say--out loud.


Everyone looks at you queerly. You sit down because, well, you pretty much have to. A cute girl with a springy ponytail comes up to you and asks you if you need something. Water, please. Water. I think I’m going to pass out.

Now you can’t go home. It’s midnight and there’s no one who can help you because they’re just as wasted. And they’re in their 20’s! Their brains are barely formed, for god’s sakes.

Please, God, I’m sorry. Help me get home and I’ll stay put. I’ll be a good little shut-in, I promise.

You need to lie down so you make a mad dash for a bedroom at the end of a dark hallway. Stumbling around in darkness and kicking through piles of clothes, you find a bed. Score! You lie down gratefully. But that feeling doesn’t last for long. Because here comes...


The spins! Not the dreaded spins!! Please don’t let me get sick in that disgusting bathroom. Oh God, why have I done this to myself?


But God isn’t here. You have entered a godless land of tripping, puking inner demons. Your heart pounds and your breath, shallow. You hear the partygoers. Sounds like they’re chanting. You may be sacrificed so don’t fall asleep. You stare at a Bob Marley poster on the wall, waiting for his instruction. He is silent, pondering.


Bob…help me, man.

At 3 am the dreadlocked kid who owns this bedroom comes in, wrapped in a red blanket and ready to sleep. He stands in the doorway awkwardly. You tell him get out. Please. He leaves quietly with a defeated sigh. Devil.

Your racing mind drifts to a recent conversation with a friend who has noticed this strange new phase you’re entered. He thinks you’re trying to recapture your past.


No, I never had that past, you tell him. My past is now. A childhood burdened with adult responsibility, 20’s mired in drug-addled disconnectedness and insecurity, 30’s saddled with dysfunctional one-sided relationships that I sold my soul to maintain.


But now, you tell him, you feel free. Sure, a little crazy, but free. And one step closer to whole. So even if it looks like a fucking mess, it’s my fucking mess.

Trying to recapture your past? You're trying to capture your present for once.

It’s 4 am and you finally roll out of the devil’s bed, grab your coat and tell Bob Marley thank you and good night (he smiles knowingly). You walk into the living room and wake the young man on the couch. You tell him he can have his bed back. Thanks dude. The devil is gone now.


The remaining partiers sit at a bottle-strewn table staring at your bedraggled self. You laugh at their reaction but laughing makes your head hurt so you stop.

You could feel awkward or a little embarrassed but instead you feel thankful for the beautiful and bizarre hybrid that you’re becoming. Maybe only you can see her beauty. Maybe you’re the only one who needs to.

You look at the partiers before walking out into the bitter cold of the night and say:

This is what freedom looks like, boys and girls. It’s not always pretty.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Turn it on Again

I watched a video by the White Stripes a few days ago at a friend's house. Some hotshot director made it. Lots of fast cuts and random images and money behind it…a very busy video. I couldn’t even hear the song, the visuals were trying so hard to dazzle me. It was creative masturbation at its finest. Video overkill. It was as if everyone forgot that the basis of the video was actually a song.

I hearkened back to the days of yore, when videos were simple. Maybe they weren’t great, but they did their job and understated the song. The band members also seemed more capable of performing the song, not reliant on computer generated effects to do the work. Then sometimes, it was nice to see their vulnerability (see Red Rider below) in front of a camera, not quite knowing what to do. They seemed human and sweetly imperfect.

Video Concert Hall was the first video show I ever witnessed, pre-MTV. I couldn't find the opening of the program but this was the theme song:

Led Zeppelin, Carouselambra

Video Concert Hall came on at 3 pm and my friends and I would race from school to my house to watch it. My mother worked until 5, so we could smoke our cigs and be little bad asses in peace; wide-eyed and glued to the first visuals of our rock stars.

This was the first video I ever saw on Video Concert Hall and to this day, it remains one of my favorite videos (as well as one of my favorite songs.) Not a lot of rapid cuts, or people morphing into animals or the sky raining drops of blood. No visual mindfucks or editing overkills. Just a great song, a great band (at the time) and a video of it.

Genesis, not being fancy with Turn it on Again

Here's a few other Video Concert Hall faves. Make sure you get to the end, where The Who display how effective a simple video can be (even though John Entwistle may already be dead in Who are You, I don't know.)

Nazareth, Holiday

Pete Townshend, Keep on Working Pete keeps it so simple, he doesn't even get out of his ratty robe. Viva la Pete Townshend!

Iggy Pop is Bored, Chairman of the Bored

The Pretenders being one of the most well-rounded bands

Herb Albert, Rise (aka Luke and Laura's Rape Song)

Red Rider, Lunatic Fringe

Split Enz with the ever lovely Neil Finn

The Who being the best band ever. If Keith Moon hadn't become a drummer, he would have exploded, I do believe. Perhaps he did...

Okay, actually this is the only Who video I remember on VCH. I want to grow up and be Pete Townshend. I love Pete in this, shaking his cute little ass. Nothing hotter than when a man knows his ass looks good...yep, nothing. (Stop talking about asses Beth. Its totally irrelevant to this blog post. No, you stop talking about asses...shhh, both of you.)

And to prove that I'm not living in the Dark Ages, I like the simplicity of this video (though I guess its got simple built-in, since it just a video recording of a studio session.)

Silversun Pickups, Lazy Eye. Is this guy's voice wild or what?

This post dedicated to Krissie, who sang every song with me.


My friend from Open Salon preferred this version of Turn It On Again, and I must confess, it's wonderful. It's great to see Phil so energetic:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I Want to be Micromanaged by Tom Cruise

I don’t have the movie star hots for Tom Cruise. I don’t even like him much as actor. He seems like a shiny little alien. But a while back, in a crowded line at the grocery store, I read about his controlling behavior toward his now ex-wife, Katie Holmes.

Apparently poor Kate was stuck in a “Cruisian prison.” And her husband possessed special mental powers that made her comply with his wishes. A Tom Cruise mindlock.

As I struggled with my groceries one winter night, I dreamt of becoming a fellow captive with fragile, frightened Kate where her extra-terrestrial husband is in complete charge of my life too.

Certainly I wouldn’t have to fumble with all these bags if under Tom’s spell. Nor would I break out in a cold sweat as the cashier processed a credit card that’s just about tapped. It’s easy street with Tom and me. He tells me what to eat, when to bathe, what to wear, how to cut my hair. He tells me how long to sleep, whom I can talk to and where my eyes can fall when he’s not around (like the life-size oil painting of his image in our spacious living room).

When Kate pulls me aside to plan our great escape, I break free of her bony grip and run back to Tom, asking him what he wants me to do next. He tells me, firmly and with authority, how to manage a number of annoying situations in my life, like my health insurance denying a recent claim or my chronically leaking toilet. He tells me why my car is making a weird whistling sound and the best way to get that wine stain out of my carpet. What doesn’t Tom Cruise know? He knows everything and frankly, my stress-addled brain needs a serious break.

Sure there’s the Scientology issue. This could be a problem since I can’t stand having religion shoved down my throat. But Tom embraces the challenge. Everyday, he tries to convert me and every day, I’d be this close to letting him. Then I’d say coyly, “Let me think about it, Tommy.” He’d give me a firm slap and remind me that he does the thinking for us now.

So I reluctantly convert to Scientology and act the part for a while. Then I’d purposefully do things to upset him, like wearing scantily clad outfits and acting trashy in public. He lectures me, punishes me. He even grounds me for two weeks. And I’m not mad. I think it’s high time I was grounded for a little while. Put me in my place. Give me some time to think about my behavior. 

Of course, I’d love this controlling behavior to translate into hot, steamy sex but unfortunately, it doesn’t. He withholds sex for me. It’s part of his master plan (or so he says. Not sure if I quite believe him.)

On the sly, I have sex with my suave, bronze personal trainer Paulo. But Tom catches me in the act! I’m grounded once again, this time for a whole month (!). I lay facedown, crying poolside. Tom walks by. “I’m sorry, Tom Cruise. I’m sorry!” He marches away abruptly and I surreptitiously pull out the cocktail stashed under my lounge chair. (It’s an organic peach margarita. My personal chef Kenneth makes them for me. Delish.) 

My Crusian fantasy life is ruthlessly cut short when one of my grocery bags splits open, the contents spilling all over the ice-laced cement. (And of course the effin’ eggs have to be in that bag.) As I chase a rolling apple, I look up to the heavens and whisper, “Tom Cruise, help me now. Please!” 

And you know what? He appears by my rusty Toyota truck, that eerily dazzling smile of his. Tears of relief fall from my eyes. He says mellifluously, “The struggle is over. I’m here now.” 

A bodyguard grabs the bags from my arms and leads me into the passenger seat. Tom takes my keys and starts the car. The whistling sound is gone. It’s gone! Tom Cruise’s mere presence has fixed my car. As we drive home, he tells me to cross my legs. I look like a slut.  

My pleasure, Tom Cruise. My pleasure.