And Paint My Breasts Blue

March 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

Hieronymus BoschI’m not going to Florida after all. Not now, anyway. Charles isn’t certain how long his job will last. I’m both relieved and disappointed. I like feeling that I still have my city, even if I don’t know how to afford it, but I miss the idea of escape, of being in another quieter place for a long time. I miss the prospect of living with my dear, delightful husband again. I’m very tired of loneliness and simply seeing more people more often doesn’t cut it. Social life is work. I like domestic codependence with a man, which I was having on weekends this winter with Philip. That’s not all good nor is it easy but it comes to me naturally, just like some people are talented at jiving strangers out of fortunes.

I can’t go into the reasons why Philip will be relatively inaccessible for the foreseeable future, except to say that it’s not under his control, and if I don’t like the extent to which he’s responded to the situation, I have to admit it’s entirely in character and most people would say good character.

My view is more nuanced, which is a nuanced way of saying selfish. Let’s face it: I respect his choice,  and my rage is like a wall of fire. Except that I’m not charred and dead, and the furniture looks untouched, so I guess it isn’t really. That was the image that came to mind though, yellow flame 20 feet high, no wider than a bedsheet, what any demon worth her salt could throw out with a flick of a taloned hand if she were pissed. And then shrug if the humans got upset, saying, “What do you expect? I’m a demon.”

I can tell you one thing: writing supernatural fiction isn’t nearly as cathartic as reading it. Too much lowly human labor, too much, “You have to write even if you don’t feel like it, bitch,” (said to self), and most of all the curse of all writers of a certain age: the awareness that no matter how well crafted a story may be, what illusions it can create in the target brains, words are still lifeless.

We know it; you don’t.

Humans have a hard time believing anything is lifeless. I read a story in New Scientist about money’s wily power. People who have had  their hands burned in boiling water report their pain lessened if they’re handed a few bills. The lonely feel less so. Those asked to make sentences out of ‘money’ words (‘salary’, ‘pay’, etc), rather than out of neutral words, reveal in a follow up, difficult puzzle-game more reluctance to ask for help, even though they’re allowed to, and more reluctance to offer it to others when asked.

Not that this should surprise anyone. We all understand the movie images of criminals rolling in their leaf-pile of cash, laughing or kissing in wild good humor as the green notes flutter, and the subsequent scenes where they get suspicious and proceed to kill each other. The classic end for such a story is all the people dead, knives sprouting from chests, brains splattered against the wall—and on the bed, the pile of money untouched by blood, waiting in deceptive stillness for its next victims.

It’s hard not to be interested in what stories are going to come from this economic swoon. Crimes, heroism, religious conversions, and everyone’s favorite: the next great invention, produced by those creative geniuses previously shacked to remunerative work. But my natural curiosity has been quelled somewhat by what I’ve been reading lately about threats entirely likely and infinitely more dire than the last 6 months (not climate change or suitcase nukes). I won’t inflict them on you, at least not until tomorrow or next week.

I’m taking comfort from the idea that if Charles’s company goes under, he’ll visit me a lot more often. I can visit him too—in the nudist colony where he’ll share a doublewide with his brother. He says the middle-aged and old ladies shave their crotches there, just like young women do nowadays. I’ll feel like a savage. Maybe I can figure out how to grow it to my knees. And paint my breasts blue.


I have never walked down Fifth Avenue alone without thinking of money.

~Anthony Trollope





Hobo: Any change? Anything you got to give?

Suit: I wish I had something to give, but pretty soon, I’m going to be like you.

Hobo: My man, you cannot be this awesome.

–Bleecker & Lafayette



The faces in New York remind me of people who played a game and lost.

~Murray Kempton 


No one as yet had approached the management of New York in a proper spirit; that is to say, regarding it as the shiftless outcome of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance. No one is likely to do so, because reflections on the long narrow pig-trough are construed as malevolent attacks against the spirit and majesty of the American people, and lead to angry comparisons.

~Rudyard Kipling 


In New York it’s not whether you win or lose–it’s how you lay the blame.

~Fran Lebowitz

After They’ve seen Paree

January 28, 2009 § 2 Comments

Old Post Office, Washington, D.C.

Old Post Office, Washington DC

Gray day, light snow and eddying pools of slush at the corners of 6th and 7th avenues. I walked in a daze—I had left the apartment in desperation, hoping that a long walk would energize me—and my neighbor John had to jump directly in front of me waving his arms to get my attention. Even then it took a couple of seconds to recognize the man with whom I’ve shared a wall for 25 years.
We talked about the people we know: those with no money, those terrified of losing their jobs, and those for whom this is a wonderful shopping opportunity. The easiest way to tell about someone’s finances now is to ask about the summer. When they say, “I can’t look that far ahead,” you understand perfectly and change the subject to the unlikely possibility that Obama will fix things really quickly.

In the mystery bookstore two people were arguing about whether a certain author was a high-level CIA agent or just a good at doing research. The bookstore proprietor remarked that when he met the man, he commented on how legibly he signed his name, and the author replied, “Probably because I invented it recently and haven’t gotten bored with writing it yet.” I fantasized about pseudonyms, which used to seem risky—you think you’re anonymous, publish things you don’t want to be known by, but you’re not safe, someone always finds out—and now seem more like Internet dating. When I first tried that, in 2000, several of my girlfriends were worried. In the end the only risk was love. The ‘stranger’ part of the equation offered novelty, entertainment, hijinks like those I hadn’t indulged in since I was 15—intrigue on the cheap.

My friend Jocelyn remarked last night that in the Great Depression, at least people could go back home, live on the family farm and grow their own food. I said that a lot of people had had no farm to go back to. She conceded this, but still thought it was an option for more people then than now. But we have far more wealth in this country than we did in the 1930’s. There are plenty of houses. Some people are going hungry but most are losing their dreams—their own home, college for the kids, a safe retirement…all the province of the upper classes in 1932.

Still, it feels like the perfect storm. Ice, snow, freezing rain; the great sinkhole of the summer when the cash runs out; the post office wanting to eliminate Tuesday.

I’m ready for a new identity.

Tenantless farm, Texas, 1938, Dorothea Lange. Public Domain.

Money, Honey

November 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

We’re all scared about the economy, some more than most. I’m not an auto-worker or single mother; I’m in no danger of being homeless. I’m a member of that unlamented breed, the formerly privileged—having always depended on money from inherited stock to keep me barely middle class through a life of writing, depression, chronic illness and a deep-seated terror of men with angry voices. In my youth, I thought every job came with a boss like that. Recently, my boyfriend Philip assured me that, in fact, most do. 

My mother is in the same pickle, though she won’t admit it yet, and it’s a little worse when you’re 83 and not really qualified for phone sex jobs. My brother thinks we should all move in together in her big, unpaid for, not-worth-what-she-owes-on-it house. I imagine a second childhood—hers and ours—where we’d learn the character-building truths somehow neglected in our education. Either that or set upon each other with axes.

My neighbor, also in financial distress, tells me that he’s going to kill himself soon. He tells me this often. People confide their suicidal thoughts to me because I listen without recoil. My father killed himself when I was 10, and in the next decade I knew half a dozen people who killed themselves: two husbands of my mother’s close friends; two teenage brothers I’d met a few times while we visited their home in Houston, and lusted after; one I’ve forgotten; and my schoolfriend’s aunt, who used to drift around the dinner table of her father’s elegant house, neither eating nor talking except once when she halted behind my chair and touched me on the shoulder, pronouncing, ‘watch out for this one.’ I doubt anyone heard her but me. I was spooked by how she knew, without ever having a conversation with me, that I was also profoundly disturbed.

Philip’s wife once said to me, “Nobody kills themselves for love.” I looked at her incredulously. “Well, unless you’re depressed; that’s different. Then you need help.” Indeed. It’s easier to imagine dying over money. There’s no niggling feeling that the bastard isn’t worth it, no pathetic transformation into the martyred lover. There are just numbers and though numbers do lie, frequently, you can’t really take it personally.         

My neighbor and I discuss methods. I remind him that overdosing on pills can leave you brain-damaged. He’s more worried about who’ll take care of his white cockatoo. I consider it a good sign he’s not planning to take her with him, perched on his shoulder in the coffin, ready to sink her wicked beak into any welcomers on the other side.

Philip  called me just now to say Obama had announced his Treasury Secretary, exciting Wall Street. He thought maybe my stock had shot up to the moon, and when I told him I’d sold some this morning, he asked if I could buy it back. Yesterday he was infuriated with me for not selling it sooner. Charles left a message on my machine telling me he was watching the market news, and the woman anchor was wearing an ugly necklace. One of my handmade pieces would look much better. “We’ll have to work on that. I bet she’d pay more than $45.00.” 

My mom says, “You should ghostwrite for Sarah Palin.” 

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