Monday, July 19, 2010

The Rainmaker

I like to sleep with the window open
And you keep the window closed

So goodbye

—Paul Simon

I like the windows open. (Fortunately, so does My Beloved.) I like the sounds drifting up from the street, I like the cream-colored curtains billowing with a breeze, I like feeling connected to the world outside. But it's been hot here, really hot, and we've been closing the windows and running the air conditioner all the damn time. I hate that/I love that/I hate that/I love that.

I'm conflicted about my relationship with the air conditioner. But I'm more conflicted about feeling sweaty, sticky, clammy and gross, and about contorting myself into unattractive positions so that no piece of my flesh touches any other piece of my flesh.

Thus, the air conditioner runs several hours a day and we do our communing with nature in the early morning and the late afternoon/evening, when the air feels more like the caress of a silk scarf and less like the lick of a large dog. And we, like Paul Simon, sleep with the window open.

The other morning, I was having one of those especially vivid and surreal dreams that I swear are swirled up when your sleeping body is a little too warm. This one had to do with a cryogenic chamber buried in my parents' backyard. I wasn't sorry when I woke out of it, even if it was 5:30 in the morning. I got up and went to the window, and saw this:

And then this:

I'm not usually a sunrise kind of gal, so this felt like a reward for virtue.

There are other rewards awaiting us out there on the fringes of the day. Like the trail of breadcrumbs I found on my morning river walk today:

There were more than a dozen of them. I hoped to find a chalked "YES!" at the end of the line, but I'm afraid the mystery remains unsolved. She couldn't have said no...could she?

The light this morning was eerie—a dark gray sky foretelling an oncoming rainstorm, with the sun sliding through underneath. It made Jersey City seem downright compelling.

The other evening, after working at our desks in the artificial air all day long, we wandered down to the water again, just in time for the sunset.

The sky and our mood mellowed.

And when we discovered a tango class in progress at the end of the pier, it made perfect sense in a Felliniesque kind of way.

Then we went home and threw open the windows and let the sirens and the whoops of laughter and the clop of horse hooves drift up to us on the breeze.

Monday, July 12, 2010


I've been driving the streets of L.A. a lot my head.

I guess it's fitting that when I think of Los Angeles, the land of the driven, I should remember intersections and gas stations and mini-malls. But there's a poignancy to these particular memories; a minor-key soundtrack seems to be playing on the car stereo. Because sitting in the passenger seat as I drive is a Child. She's a junior in high school, doesn't yet have her license, and every morning I drive her the 10 miles across town to school.

Sometimes she sleeps the whole way. Sometimes she eats the fried potatoes I made for her while she'd showered and dressed. Most mornings we listen to her CD mixes, and I routinely fail the obligatory exam.

"Okay, who's this?"

"Um, All-American Rejects?"


"Um, The Flesh Tones?"

"You mean The Hush Sound? No."

"Um, Tegan and Sara?"

(Shake of head. Facepalm.)

But the dopey ones I manage to learn by heart; in fact, I can never get them out of my head. She and I tsk with mutual disdain over the inane lyrics.

" 'There's no distance in between our love' ?" The Child says, her shoulders and voice rising with incredulity.

" 'You're part of my entity/Yeah for infinity' ?" I counter.

Then we sing along with Rihanna together.

" 'You can stand under my um-ber-ella-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh.' "

Every time she plays a new song for me, she surreptitiously watches my thumbs to see whether they tap the steering wheel in time to the music—the sure sign of a hit. She finds it weird and slightly disturbing to see them tapping to the beat of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." But I think I secretly get some cool-mom cred with her friends when she reports this. (She may beg to differ.)

I'm proud that she feels comfortable enough to preface a new song with "This one is not really parent-appropriate"—and then play it for me anyway. I admit to brief palpitations on the first hearing of The Dresden Dolls' "Shores of California," with its lyrics "All I know is that all around the nation/The girls are crying, the boys are masturbating."

Now I hear "Shores of California" and I'm achingly nostalgic for a certain stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard between Westwood and Beverly Glen, or of Sunset Boulevard between the Strip and La Brea. I miss turning the corner from La Brea onto Hollywood Boulevard and waving at my dad's star on the Walk of Fame.

"Hi, star!" we'd chorus, waving vigorously, perplexing the guy hosing down the sidewalk.

And I miss the sleeping, texting, chewing, singing, ranting, witticizing, facepalming, silently mulling high school junior sitting beside me. The girl who is now a sophomore in college and is spending the summer on the other side of the country.

I'll never get that year back. I'm grateful to have had it. And as anyone knows who's read my many recent posts, I'm truly grateful for the here and now in New York City. Still, in some impossible way, I want to hold that junior year in my hands again. These conflicting true things co-exist in an uneasy mash-up in my head. And I'll just have to live with that.

As the sage said: "You're part of my entity/Yeah for infinity."

* Title taken from Katharine Hepburn's autobiography,
Me; on leaving the California house she once shared with Spencer Tracy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

End-of-the-Line Trip #3: 1 Train to South Ferry

[The third in an ongoing series of trips to the end of every one of New York's subway lines.]

I love that Manhattan is an island. I love that if you walk anywhere long enough in any direction, you'll end up at water. I love that there are all kinds of methods for getting on and off the island—and that my favorite, ferries, can take you to other islands.

Yesterday was the 4th of July and it was 12,000 degrees in New York. (Today it's 12,001.) Naturally that meant one thing to My Beloved and me: We must spend it out of doors for hours on end, surrounded by scads of other people. Otherwise, what's the point?

So we took our neighborhood train, the sweet poky local 1 train, to the South Ferry station at the bottom of the island. There we'd catch the ferry to Governors Island for a free concert by Rosanne Cash, whose latest album, The List (inspired by the list of 100 essential country songs given to her by her father, Johnny Cash) has been in heavy rotation at our house.

We'd never been to Governors Island before, so the lure of the new was part of the attraction of the day. A military installation since the days of the British (when it was used for "the accommodation and benefit of His Majesty's Governors"), the island was closed as a military facility in the 90s, and is now being redeveloped by New York State and New York City. The southern end of the island will be reshaped as a Central Park-like space, with man-made hills and streams, the better for viewing the Statue of Liberty across the harbor. The public can visit the island on weekends via the free 800-yard ferry ride, and bring or rent bikes to ride around the island.

As the doors of the subway train opened at South Ferry, the riders poured out and up the stairs, dividing left and right depending on whether they were aimed at the Staten Island Ferry (right) or the Governors Island ferry (left). We shared our standing space at the front of the ferry with a group of 20something hipsters and a hyper-confident, blonde-ringleted five-year-old who muscled her way to the window to announce the goings-on.

"WE'RE LEAVING!" she bellowed as the ferry creaked away from the dock. "WE'RE MOVING! HEY, WE'RE GETTING THERE! WE'RE HERE!"

While we'd had visions of sitting in the blazing sun for hours, we were surprised to find the island shady and pastoral, with rows of grand old houses that are in the process of being reconceived as artists' galleries and local artisans' shops, among other things. On the 4th of July, it was an ideal place to loll about and picnic.

We planted ourselves in a prime spot near the stage almost two and a half hours before the concert, and spent the time people-watching, reading, eating grape tomatoes and chocolate-covered pretzels, and noticing that the signage managed to spell Cash's name wrong. (No "e" in Rosanne, guys.) The sound check gave us early birds a little bonus concert, as she and husband John Leventhal and the band tested out the blues classic "Motherless Children."

The concert itself included fantastic duets between Cash and Leventhal on "Sea of Heartbreak" (which she performs with Bruce Springsteen on the album) and "Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow"; a rocking version of "This Land Is Your Land"; and Cash's killer cover of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billie Joe."

And the rousing encore of "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)" gave me the happy chance to trot out my lame white-girl dance.

Then...back across the water to Manhattan...

...just in time for a wonderfully international 4th of July dinner with old and new friends from the U.S., the U.K., South Africa, Italy, India, and Canada. Plus a view straight down 23rd Street of the fireworks over the Hudson River.

I know it wasn't Thanksgiving, but I gave thanks, anyway—for independence, for great friendships and great music, and for a family and a city I love.