Monday, October 25, 2010

"Nobody Knows Me At All"

Strolling through intertwining neighborhoods, I wear my brown plastic spectacles. They feel like a submarine spyglass, my vision narrowed to two tear-shaped prescription lenses. Outside the frames, the world is fuzzy like a child's watercolor painting where puddles on paper blur trees into orange and yellow blobs, houses into fuzzy shapes and shadows, squirrels into gray smears and my dog, Penny, into a brown and yellow smudge. Inside my pocket, a portable music player spews sound waves of banjos, pianos, guitars and tambourines.

Through cigarette-smoking, whiskey-slugging voices, my male musicians serenade me stories. Brash bands of travelers, they meet and make lovers amidst drunkenness, train cars and gigs in music halls, pubs and apartment living rooms. They have no secrets. They sing rhymes about regrets and hopes. They sing songs about gregarious girlfriends, rebellious antics and impoverished childhoods. My female musicians sing, with piercingly precise pitches, lyrics about late night loneliness, babies and forgiveness. They sing songs about men in their beds, elephants and love. And they all, from the baritones to the sopranos, trill their poetry into microphones, recording their harmonies to be played and replayed and replayed.

One cold afternoon in New York City, a few years ago, while feeling particularly alone, I walked through the city wearing my long, puffy, lime colored coat (a down jacket my mother mailed to me for my birthday that November). When the dark sky let rain fall down, I pulled my hood over my headphones and amidst shiny umbrellas and the rubber boots of strangers, I walked in my hooded tunnel, listening to Deb Talan sing me her sad song, Comfort.

...In days to come when your heart feels undone may you always find an open hand and take comfort wherever you can. And oh, it's a strange place. And oh, everyone with a different face, but just like you thought when you stopped here to linger we're only as separate as your little fingers. So cry, why not? We all do, then turn to one you love and smile a smile that lights up all the room....

Comfort: Deb Talan: A Bird Flies Out

In New York City, Deb Talan was my buddy, a pen pal who never expected letters. Living inside my headphones, she sang me her secrets about a lost love affair and her determination to be happy. When I moved from New York to Boston, my brother introduced me to Joe Purdy. A gruff, sincere musician, he sings stories about youth in the South, ladyloves and his travels to Holland, California and Paris. Later, I saw The Swell Season in the film, Once, a modern day musical about an Irish busker (Glen Hansard) and a Czech pianist (Marketa Irglova) who meet in Dublin and make an album together. The list goes on.

I attach myself to artists who build anthologies of music from their lives, enhancing their stories with singing and strings and bells and drumsticks. Many, it appears, flee from lovers, love and hometowns, writing their lives into lyrics within the safety of moving tour buses and foreign cities. Yet I would not call them cowards, but proactive people. Boldly and openly made up of flaws and fears, they strip on stages and in recording studios with only scribbled notebooks and microphones to hide behind. Here they are, they sing. This is them.

Someone I was arguing with through email recently, for I was too timid to speak with her in person or by telephone, told me that she was surprised and sad that I didn't really know her. This was true, I didn’t. But I don’t really know most people. I am too shy to poke for potentially private information. This is why I like hiding inside jacket hoods, while musicians sing me their stories. I do not expect everyone in my life to pick up a banjo and play me songs about their childhood woes, but admittedly would love it if they did. For I prefer the clear simplicity of a written raw reality to the indecipherable blur of real life.

A few years ago, Deb Talan met Steve Tannen, another folk musician. They married, made babies and now make the band, The Weepies. Talan sings it better than I.

When I was a child everybody smiled. Nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all. I got lots of friends, yes, but then again, nobody knows me at all. Kids and a wife, it's a beautiful life, nobody knows me at all. And oh when the lights are low, oh with someone I don't know. I don't give a damn, I'm happy as a clam, nobody knows me at all. Ah, what can you do? There's nobody like you. Nobody knows me at all. I know how you feel, no secrets to reveal, nobody knows me at all. Very late at night and in the morning light, nobody knows me at all.

No Body Knows Me At All: The Weepies: Say I Am You

Thursday, October 14, 2010

more than anyone.

Her mother is sad, she tells us in the privacy of our friendships and in the quiet of the living room. Her brown sweater is in accordion ruffles as she lays on the off-white sofa like a tipped beach chair. Folded stiff are her bones of aluminum tubing, her skin thick as florescent stripes of nylon fabric. As she pets my dozing dog, her eyes depart from mine like express trains, stopping at her lap to stretch her fingers. The subject of her mother's sadness no longer makes her cry, she says.

Behind her, in a backdrop of brown bookcases, pressed pages stand in leaning lines, waiting to be drawn, read or referenced. The cardboard covers wear paper jackets with printed patches of titles, authors, critical acclamations and famous book club stickers. The soft covered books wear their words on their sleeves like tattoos. It is a perfect place for my friend, the poet, to sit in silhouette. At the top of the bookshelf, a golden brown antique globe stands like a cathedral spire, reaching for the heavens, acknowledging our smallness.

I sit beneath her on the oriental rug, picking at my cruddy socks. My hiking boots stand empty against the wall. Still warm.
Neglected cat vomit will be stained in circles on the carpet and unwashed dishes will be stuck in cereal crusted stacks in the kitchen sink, she fears. Her mother's house, which she cleaned two months before, back to its old state of dirt and disarray. A sure sign of sorrow. Evidence she will not have time to remove. Not before she leaves in three days. Of course if her mother needed her to, she would stay to dust an entire field of white dandelion seeds, for she loves her mother more than anyone.
Tonight, she will curl between the cushions of her mother's couch, hunkering within throw blankets and accent pillows, and squeezing her eyes into raisins, begging for unbroken sleep. Yet, if her mother wakes her with the sounds of weeping, she will take a toolbox of tissues and climb the stairs to her mother's eyes. And she will fix what she can.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Many a Man

The mingling complexities of What if I don't love you tomorrows? catch and stick to the rusty grates before tumbling into the hole he's cut in the center of his sifter. Lonesome, he sits with an emptied tray, drafting charts of erratic heart rate patterns, squinting at short grocery lists for milk, scanning his sweaty slumbered dreams like word searches, holding magnifying glasses to photographs of drunken dinner party discourses and crumpling into the creases of long distanced letters. Years of these solitary reckonings and temporary lovers pass by like trains. If he had a scalpel, he would dislodge his heart and study it like a textbook, organize it into facts, dates, battles, monarchs and mathematical equations. For only then would he see that his veins do not draw ink. That there will never be a Table of Contents pointing to the right woman.

Friday, October 1, 2010


As if we are kids on a Brooklyn block in summertime (when the chances of spontaneous water fights are most prevalent), my husband, Scott fills a red balloon of pus on his shoulder, pinching it over his armpit's nozzle until he decides it's big enough to call a doctor.

The night before his appointment, I awake to mattress jostling as he sits straight up. In his dream, he had turned into a boxer on a self-destructive rampage, swinging and accidentally slugging his swollen back-sack. "I punched it!"  He says, groaning like Frankenstein. I stumble downstairs to the freezer for an ice pack.

"It's an infection." The doctor tells him. One he needs to get removed tonight. "Shit. I just thought they were gonna pop that sucker and send you home." I say over the phone while he drives from one doctor to the next.

Yesterday is our one-year wedding anniversary. When I get home from work, Scott points to the dining room table where wild flowers stand in a vase. He has picked them along the highway for me. Delicate weeds of yellow, pink and green. I giggle, imagining his flashers blinking as he runs around the hood of his car to pull handfuls of blurry colors from beside Rt. 5’s sidewalk. "I thought it would be nicer than spending the money on flowers." He says and I wonder if he’ll call the card I bought him at the grocery store a poor financial decision. "Ready?" He asks. "Ready." I say and we leave his picked free flowers for a fancy dinner out.

At a small square table of dark brown wood, a candle sits by lightly, floral silver lies by my fingers heftily and our water glasses sweat. He smiles as he reads the card. I glance from his mouth to over his shoulder where a young girlfriend and boyfriend are dumping a bottle of red wine into their glasses and drenching their livers and tongues. While they hold the dessert menus, the boyfriend whispers through his small purple teeth about masturbation and his preferred sexual position. "Boys cannot whisper," I say to myself, whispering with my lips barely moving so that no one else can hear. I include Scott in this gender generalization. He thinks when he uses this soft, particularly monotone voice it is inaudible to everyone on the quiet crowded train or hotel lobby line but me. I have to shove him to shut up because I know that these people can hear his top-secret sentences and are just being politely nosy by pretending not to hear, just as I am now.

We sit in the back of the warm orange restaurant, while in the front a fire alarm holds a high operatic note. We deserve a fire alarm discount, I decide, looking at the full price on our handwritten bill. There is, of course, no fire in the restaurant, just a defected alarm, we are assured. I suppose this must be quite the peculiar sight. Eight adults sitting, smiling and slicing through various plated appetizers, dinners and deserts while a fire alarm screams for all to please exit the building. No one is leaving a passing pedestrian would see, cupping her hands on the thick glass windows that reflect a glow from street lamps. She’d see small dramatically dim rooms where two waitresses pour glasses of water and wine and lean on the bar tallying tips while funky music plays out the speakers. She would see the owner, a slight middle aged gentlemen of European grace, sitting at the reservation desk by the door, wearing his eye glasses low on his nose, reading the newspaper and sipping his yellow tea. The passerby wonders for a moment if everyone inside is deaf. Then she remembers the loud music that is playing and walks away.

As we leave the restaurant, full of fancy food, I smile to the owner. "Good night." He says. "Good night." I say, flicking my eyes to his empty fingers for a gift card or written note of thanks for staying through dinner despite the piercing alarm.

In the morning, the dog and I run in the fog and mist and my imagination plays sad scenes for me to donate my tears to, but when I crunch my face to let them out, there are none. Just a sheet of sweat and rain covering my cheeks. In the afternoon, while chopping broccoli and sweet potatoes for soup, I wait for Scott to call me from the doctor's office, crying, "The foreign lump thing on my shoulder is a deathly tumor threatening to strangle my strong neck and end my life at any moment." But he doesn't and these ugly thoughts stay inside me, wandering my conscious mind until he does call and says that he is driving to a local surgeon to get the infected bump removed. He doesn't need me to come. He says. And I apologize for the inconvenience of this abscess because I have already forgotten the fear I had been carrying around with me all day. "I’ll be home soon." He says before hanging up.

After a few hours, he drops his briefcase and keys by the front door and walks into the kitchen. I ladle him soup, sprinkle it with cheese and hand him bread and a spoon. Hunched over his bowl at the table, he gives me the gross details of his minor surgery. I squint my nose and eyes appropriately, making the sounds that best infuse sympathy.

Later on, while I lay on my bed reading, my leg crossed over like a fence, the thought of false alarms crosses my mind. I fold the corner of my page and grab my notebook and pen.

The fire alarm is loud and irritating, but it isn’t setting my hair on fire, melting my rubber boots or giving me smoke inhalation. Just as Scott’s surgery and daily wound cleanings are not much more than painful nuisances. He doesn’t need to undergo a blood transfusion, microscopic surgery or chemotherapy. Next year, he may not even have a scar.

We need to appreciate health, I think, before it turns into illness just to spite us.