Friday, October 23, 2009

How to make a Thursday from scratch.

I want to sleep through this day. Let the night come without me noticing. Let the bars open without me hearing. Let the year close over my head, the winter come under my feet, the future slip in my front door and remove the tea kettle from heat. I’m awake but not yet waking. The subway doors close, the train moves and I hang on, just barely, with two fingers.

When will I rise in steamy glory with each morning when it comes? When will I close my teeth on each moment as it passes in saying “Yes, yes, I’m sure of it.” When will I know more than I wish away? When will I keep my life clean, like an open house in a brand new neighborhood? When will I sponge away the worry to make room for grace? When will I vacate my own front row to make room for others? When will I know I've mattered? When will I like what I've written?

One more startover today, because Im starting over. One more day 1. And one of these weeks I’ll make it to day 4. Wont that be nice, Dear. Mine, a life of day 1's. Nothing clean, nothing paid down, nothing well-slept or fully-explained. I will continue to flow and never ebb, move close and never excuse myself, hold tight and never breathe, make messes but never sense. The way I love you now, you’ll never quite be able to remember in detail. The life I’ve cooked up like bacon in a hot greasy skillet wont ever be accurately described in the New Yorker. Sometimes I pull it behind me naked through Union Square and never say sorry, because I am usually not sorry. But today, I just want to sleep through it. One more startover. Starting tomorrow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


So you're running. Into the wind. On New York City's east side. In the pouring rain. Well after sunset.
Why you decided to go for a run on a wintry night in the ceaseless rain and a whipping widowy wind you cant remember now. Your shoes fill with icy rainwater as you pad through street puddles and the rain collects like ice cubes in the heels of your shoes. The wind blows your hood around behind you until it quickly grows heavy with rainwater. Theres no one on the street, no boats on the east river, only silhouettes in their cars racing the weather toward home. A muddy construction cone drowns in the middle of the sidewalk. You are 2 miles from your apartment with only black puddles in between. The river stalks you alongside the path, angry and irritated into dirty black peaks by the heavy rain and wind. The streetlights thin as the path pulls away from Alphabet city and dips underneath the skeletal unberbelly of the Williamsburg bridge. The park gates are chained. The public restrooms padlocked. The skyline blotted out. The street-size path flooded from side to side. The FDR highway throwing sheets of water over the fence on the path as speeding cars hit puddles in the road. And thats the only sound you can hear against the beating of the rain.
You've worn multiple layers. Water-resistent, weather-friendly, non-cotton polar layers made out of material that apparently costs $50 a yard. Every layer is backed up by another layer underneath it until you feel like a big rubber chewtoy instead of a night jogger. But tonight, the rain is too much for your careful wardrobe weatherproofing. Within 10 minutes every last layer is soaked to the skin - and that special-non cotton material retaining icy cold water like the titanic. Everything sags - wet, heavy and freezing -- all over your body, held damp against your warmest crevaces. When a solitary streetlight casts your long shadow in a puddle as you pass, you can see the steam that is rising from the back of your neck in the reflection. It rains harder. Harder until the driving water is pouncing with a splash off your chest and into your eyes. You run faster.
Somewhere near the third mile, you notice that the hot pumping of your muscles is creating a paper-thin envelope of warmth around you. This is how you are moving through the universe. How you are navigating the weather of your life. The freezing, hypothermic rain of failure and doubt completely surrounding you in spandex layers, stretched close accross your pounding heart, just waiting to get an icy bite into your bones. And you realize that its only you thats keeping you warm. The raw friction of your body burning toward a full-out sprint and laboring for oxygen thats keeping you from shivering. Your expensive layers that made you feel good enough about going out into a rainy night were never any help at all to keep it out. And once you realize this, there is only one thing to do. Just dont stop running.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Married with children: Sitcom or Epic Journey?

We went up to Poughkeepsie yesterday. The early morning train on a Sunday surprisingly full and the twinge of fall in the leaves just outside the city, turning more and more colorful as we got farther north. By the time the train pulled into Beacon, my trench coat and downtown accessories had become completely obsolete. After sleeping off the fuzz from the house party in Harlem the night before, I suddenly woke up in upstate new York – and Manhattan sounded more like another native-inspired train stop among the trees than the spitting city I lived in.

We had come to visit family, family he hadn’t seen in many many years. No one recognized the driveway at first, but we figured we were in the right spot based on the yard sale of children’s toys, plastic vehicles and cartoon reading material haphazardly decorating the entire space of the garage– apparently the garage was reserved for children’s parking— all adults must park outside in the driveway.

We let ourselves in and were immediately greeted by a warm, very full house, teeming with nearly 10 busy young children and their very friendly parents, potato chips in every room and walls stocked solid with family photos. Now this was a family who prioritized just that. Immediately after a few friendly introductions we were plopped down on a lengthy blue courderoy couch in a darkisk den with a heavy maroon carpet, laden with years of big and little feet, knees, snacks, playthings – the weight of many a lifetime, started and passed, day by day over its maroon fibers. A countdown to Christmas ticked over the mantle. After shaking hands with several of the sons-in-law, I took off my brand new navy blue trenchcoast and settled in next to them on the couch to watch the Bills game in florescent green light from the TV – not much need to get to know someone when you have football, I mean really.
The afternoon progressed as such – children crawling in and out, on laps and under chairs, being cooed and sometimes scolded, the adult conversation spoken in a tone half an octive underneath that which is used for the children so that all of us, big and small, know when we are being spoken to and what jokes are not intended for us. I ate half a bag of potato chips, not because I was that hungry but because they tasted so good eaten one at a time. If you eat potato chips fast they are too salty. Thus nothing like a Sunday afternoon to eat your potato chips slow.

Ultimately, we watched the Bills deliver their usual turnover in the last few minutes that led to their usual loss, followed by the usual heartbreak and banter between football fans. The sun was setting, the children were taking it up a notch taking turns crying, running, sharing and refusing to share with one another. If youre not used to kids you have to watch your step as they are almost always underfoot. Their worlds quite simple and never peaceful - remove an item they are interested in and they scream. Give it back to them they are quiet until they want something else and then they scream. Lesson - constantly look for alternative things they might be intersted in. They never really stop moving and when there are many of them, its like a relay race - one rests for a quarter second while playing with something and the others take their turn to run and laugh and tumble around the house. They are always the loudest when fighting over and item of mutual interest among them - apparently possessions and envy are two values that even the youngest of the human species can appreciate.
While the whole situation had me practically seeing spots and counting the seconds on the clock as it lorded over the afternoon, their parents remained relatively cheerful. They had learned to have pleasant conversations with each other that are frequently but not permanently interrupted by scolding or holding or shooing or beconing to or dressing or undressing a child – like doing a job interview while on another phone call, or shaving your legs and flossing your teeth at the same time, kind of thing. Parenting is clearly about patience, but also about negotiation, especially among more than three kids all with their own agenda– “everyone who is sitting in their seat at the table gets a juice box”. I truly think parenting might be the most admirable and noble career path, especially if you get a good ROI out of it in a few happy, healthy young adults if they grow up to be relatively normal and without any prominent social issues.

Eventually we made our way outside to the back yard, flanked by pleasant smelling smoke from the meat cooking on the enoumous BBQ. The sun was going down between the skinny yellowing trees and I heard nothing when I listened. We stood over by the covered pool, which was collecting dead leaves in a tiny puddle drooping in the center.
“Do you want a house like this?” He asked.

Ha do I want a house like this. I had to think about it. Do I want a life like this? Do I?
Part of me said yes – the trees, the smell of barbeque, the silence when you listen for it, being flanked by family who loves you above all others. The other part of me said, only if in this, I find more than a few pieces of myself. When you wake up in the morning and you hear nothing out the window, do you rummage among your dishes just to find some clatter to drown out the voice in your head? Or do you fall slowly back to sleep for 15 minutes, feeling the warmth of the person next to you knowing that you love that person more than every other person you have ever loved, and that really means something. The spouse and the children, do they fill your life with the racket you left behind when you left the city or do they give you a reason to live in the first place? Do they fill your life with doubt or with joy, or both?

Do you have to fight for each one of those big loves in your life in order to stay with it and know its price? Should I lose him first before I decide I just cant live with losing him? Should we meet with sickness, discomfort, all kinds of noise, messes, diapers and, heck, just the pure pain of childbirth in order to know how far we’d go to protect that little life we've helped create? Is it because we created it that we love it, or is it an inherent beauty of human living? Is that the magic of family – some if it you choose and some of it you don’t, but at the end of the day there is always football. What should I fight for, what should I wait for and what should I hope for when I picture myself in my future adulthood?

We boarded the train home in the dark. I tried to sleep but fitfully, clinging to his arm and wondering what time I would make it to sleep once we got home, what would I do when I grew up that I could be passionate about, and how much did he love me before returning to my previous ponderings of family, sacrifice and choices. As the orange lights of the Bronx and upper manhattan bounced off the black of the Hudson, all these questions would have to wait. I would fight hard for the loves that needed fighting for when they needed it – and I’d leave the rest for after my midlife crisis… a crisis that I had decided to push back (lovingly) by at least five years.