Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sidewalks of the City

This song by Lucinda Williams describes my life, 8:45 to 9 and 5:35 to 5:50, Monday through Friday in 2008

As you walk along the sidewalks of the city
You see a man with hunger in his face
And all around you crumbling buildings and graffiti
As you bend down to tie your shoelace
Sirens scream but you don't listen
You have to reach home before night
But now the sun beats down it makes the sidewalks glisten
And somehow you just don't feel right

Hold me, baby, give me some faith
Let me know you're there
let me touch your face
Give me love
give me grace
Tell me good things
tell me that my world is safe

You pass by bars with empty stages
Three o'clock drinkers fall by
Chairs are placed on top of tables
As you brush the hair out of your eyes
A woman stops you with a question
So you drop some money in her hand
She sleeps in doorways and bus stations
And you'll never understand

Hold me, baby, give me some faith
Give me love
give me grace
Tell me good things
tell me that my world is safe

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas, 1966

That was our first year in the Victorian rectory next to the church in Jenkintown.

My grandparents lived in Maine and probably thought they were getting away from snow when they headed south to Philadelphia to stay with us. Unfortunately, a huge snowstorm followed close behind and blew in early on the morning of Christmas Eve.

When it snowed there was a mad scramble for boots in our house, is it possible that we only had two pairs? Both were what we called army boots: calf high, olive green rubber with yellow laces that criss-crossed at the top. (Describing them I think, why they sound quite fashionable. Maybe I should resurrect that design and make a fortune.)

Anyway, I had worn them to school one day and the kids made fun of the next time it snowed I wore my lime green plastic patent leather loafers thinking at least they were waterproof. I remember finding those shoes in the bin at E.J. Korvette's; the pair was held together by a plastic loop and they weren't easy to try on. Taking them to my mother I first experienced that momentary pause when a voice in your head tells you that you are about to make a serious fashion mistake.

Another day walking through the slush in my bright green loafers on the way to school the policeman at the corner of York and West said to me, "hey, where are your boots? You ought to have your boots on!" I just walked on, head down, creating the child's version of "fuck you officer" imagining the sort of future hell that a nine year old can create for a man in uniform: He has to direct traffic naked, wear high heels with his uniform, or carry me to school, walking in bright green patent leather loafers himself.

We were always allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve. My parents probably started this tradition to shut us up ("Will you kids Just Stop Bugging Me? All right, open one present, just one present, that's it!")

Could it be that all I asked for that year was a pair of boots? I knew it would be my biggest present. We had lots of little presents but there was always "the one" which was the most expensive thing we had asked for. And when my parents said we could open one present on Christmas Eve, they meant a small one because the big one had to have an impact on Christmas morning.

The snow outside was deep and we were going to the midnight service. I pictured myself first fighting for, then winning the right to wear a pair of the green army boots. I know that I cried and begged my mother to let me open the box that I knew held the boots. And she let me. Thank you Mom. One more humiliation, narrowly averted. In my mind's eye I see me helping my grandparents through the deep snow to the church next door looking down at the wakes made with my new boots, brown pleather with faux shearling, designed for a girl, my brothers romping in the snow happy in their own green army boots.

And that my dears is why I'm probably so twisted about Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cabin in the woods

Reading Lou Ureneck's story in Thursday's NYTimes made me revisit a dream that I had about building a cabin in the woods. It will probably be constructed shortly after I finish the shed in the backyard, another structure that exists only in my mind.

My mother has a house on an island in Maine. Ooooh, an island you say! Well, it's just far enough from the mainland to be a pain in the ass. It was a farmhouse until the land was flooded and it was made into an island in the 1920's. There's an outhouse which makes you size up invited guests on a totally different level than you'd ever done before. My brother invited a friend up last year and when I saw them crossing the lake, my skinny brother straining to row the 200 pounds-plus guest across, I seriously considered leaving early. My entire family shared a stricken look when he reached for another ear of corn.

The island was part of a boys camp that closed in the 1950's. And there are two sunken boat houses that I dream of resurrecting into simple cabins. I sketched the one above on the way home to Pennsylvania one year. It would be different from the main house that my mother occupies in that it wouldn't have satellite television (it's hard to break an addiction to Turner Classic Movies) and all the stuff that arrives weekly from her forays to yard sales and auctions.

I know, I am a wholly ungrateful wretch. There are two sides to every story. And the better side to this one is that my 77-year-old mother is able to cross that lake daily, sometimes twice a day from late June to late September. This past summer she was bound and determined to make the journey even though her 86-year-old partner is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. She's happiest there, her voice is light when we talk on the phone. Very different than the calls in winter when she tells me she was up at 4 a.m. wondering if she should sell the place.

Hold on Mom, help is coming. My daughters will be finished college in a few years and if I can hold onto my job I'll join my brothers and we'll take turns rowing you across.

Which is why I imagine building my own cabin. It's crowded in that main house. We all have families and when we're together my brothers and I turn into people who are emotionally 12, 11 and 9 years of age. Throw in some children who actually are 11 and 9, spouses, and college students and their friends and it all goes south pretty quickly.

So my cabin would be a stone's throw away from the throbbing noise of the main house. It would be simple and small, a dock for two kayaks, and an outside shower.

It would most definitely have a fire burning toilet. Make that two.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

In my dreams

Last night I dreamt that Jeffrey Blank wanted to marry me. He's been dead for probably five years now.

I babysat for the Blanks when I was a teen-ager. I had a babysitting monopoly going in my neighborhood because a) I loved little kids and b) I had no other life. It didn't bother me, it just seemed to be what I was about at the time.

When I first started to work for them they had a great house, smaller than most in our neighborhood of old stone center hall Colonials built around 1920, but to me it was the perfect size. Their family was fun too, Jill was around 3 and Philip was a newborn. They moved towards the end of my tenure as their steady Saturday night sitter to a huge house on several acres and had added a daughter named Sally. They had definitely moved up in the world but I always thought their cozy Colonial was the better house.

Are you with me so far? I'm feeling a little lost myself here.

Anyway, in the dream Mr. Blank was short and thin (in reality not words I would use to describe him) and he had a soft high voice (which is how I would describe it in reality). Somehow I met up with him and he told me that he loved me and wanted to marry me. I was a little confused in the dream: wasn't he married to Mrs. Blank and wasn't I gay?

We went to a holiday dinner at his friends' house. He held my hand in a very sweet way. He told me that it had been his life's ambition to have four children. I knew that he had three. Uh oh, did that mean that if we married I would have to have more children because I am clear that I am done with that, whether I am awake or asleep. I asked him about this. He said oh, no he had four children already. The last had been the result of an affair with a woman at his fitness club. He said the child was now 20 and I was trying to figure out where that child fit in in the birth order of the other Blank children. I wondered if he was a cheater.

Was I in or was I out in this dream/relationship? I couldn't tell. Then an intercom came on in the house of his friends. It said that the R2 was leaving shortly and all those who planned to board this train should get to the station. I got on the train.

I was happily reading when Jeffrey Blank came up to me and said very sweetly he had enjoyed holding my hand and was disappointed that there weren't two seats together where we could continue to do so. He started this whole schtick about it and people started paying attention and this woman in the seat ahead of me told him to shut up and got up and moved to another seat, but others were laughing and when he finally reached the climax of the schtick people applauded. I thought, I could hitch myself to his wagon after all.

The train emptied out around the Temple station as I knew that it would and I said, hey, let's find a seat together. He had a very thick book with him that he was reading and I said, what are you reading and it was a political book and I thought, uh oh, I am going to have to challenge myself to read difficult books if I get involved with him. We went into a special section of the train which doesn't exist in real life and found two chaise lounge looking seats. I thought I hope he doesn't think there's going to be hanky panky here. There wasn't any, just a sweet feeling of holding hands with someone who was kind to me in life and who now is very dead.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Like Humans Do: the theme song for this year's Thanksgiving.

I'm breathing in, I'm breathing out.
So step inside this funky house.
Dishes in the sink, TV in repair
Don't look at the floor, don't go up the stairs.
I'm aching, I'm breaking, I'm shaking like humans do.

The earlier post describes a scene so lovely and calm. It tanked soon after.