Thursday, November 29, 2001

I want to go home.

I've been thinking about home a lot since the morning of September 11th. Somewhere buried under layers of despair, I heard the call. Go home. Go home.

It was home that pulled me out of the East Village and then down the West Side Highway, trudging as fast as I could, until my hips hit the police barricades. I don't even know how I got there.

It was home that ultimately dragged me to ground zero and once there, as close to the smoking remnants as the armed guards would allow.

"I need to get in," I said to the guards, using my wheelbarrow filled with ice and Gator-ade as an entry pass. It worked.

As I purposely aimed my wheelbarrow to the tent nearest to the sculptures of steel jutting up, I felt myself being pulled apart by opposing sensations. Here was complete devastation, yet I felt oddly comfortable, peaceful. Was home nestled in the furthermost reaches of that fiery pit?

Flipping through the channels, I always stop when an image of ground zero comes on the screen. I wait until the news moves to another subject and only then change the channel.

It's always the same puzzling sensation: complete sadness and soothing calm.

It's like watching a video of the town you grew up in being totally destroyed, and then remembering in a rush all the wonderful things that used to be there. That remembrance washes over the burnt image until you see the two images at once: terrible and wonderful.

There are children playing in the dust. There are people laughing in the sky.

I'm looking for home.

No, I don't think it's the house in Rumson, N.J., that held me captive for the last eight years of my childhood, although the memory of my mother holding court at the kitchen table with her coupons and sugar-free cookies does pull at my heartstrings.

"Have another nosh, my shana madela. Make your mother happy."

Hmm that would be so delicious right about now, a little bite of childhood, but no. That's not the home I'm looking for.

I spent Thanksgiving with a friend who has been so close for so long that she has become my family, her daughter my daughter.

She has a warm, crowded, adoringly cluttered house filled with children's toys and the artwork of friends. Her table was filled with comfort foods made from recipes passed on to her by her grandmother and her mother.

The conversation flowed seamlessly from the moment I walked in until the moment I left: good people sharing over good food. It felt like a home. It is a home, a wonderful home, but not my home. Not the home that's been calling me.

How does that expression go? Oh, yes. Home is where the heart is. I suppose that answers a lot then, doesn't it? Home is where the heart is.

It's such a crisp night. The rain has stopped, and the children are playing.

I think I need to take a walk downtown.

Thursday, November 22, 2001

September 11th must have been a maddening day for New Yorkers who moved away.

Those of us who were home in "Ma'ha'an" got to be a part of our city's worst and finest hours. We ran, we feared, we cheered, we cried, we did everything the rest of the world did, but we were here and that was something.

Yeah. That was something.

The out-of-towners were stuck watching it all from the TV.

I thought about this last night when I had dinner with my ol' pal Wolf. No, not Wolf the CNN correspondent. Wolf the hair dresser.

He moved to NYC when I did.

We were both teenagers who were a tad too wild for the Jersey Shore (and a tad too gay).

So we stuck together.

We formed some sort of inner group of suburban outcasts who finally found a place so diverse and crowded that it ultimately became quiet and peaceful.

Manhattan in the early '80s was the perfect place to blend in when your idea of casual wear was a Sex Pistols T-shirt, zebra spandex pants and a pink pair of Converse sneakers.

But we grew up ... sort of ... and Wolf moved to L.A. in search of this thing called "a back yard, a swimming pool and a place to park your car."

"It was so weird watching it on the news ... at the gym ..." he said while digging into his fat-free chicken. "That's why I came to town. I needed to go there ... to ground zero."

I'd thought the reason he was in town was Thanksgiving with the family, not to walk through Tribeca to the closest vantage point of what was left of the towers.

But, of course, that's why he came.

Wolf always had, well, a little too much edge. Let's just say he was the one guy I knew who got PMS ... a lot.

But he wasn't like that last night.

He was sweeter and softer.

As we all are, I suppose.

I've always been an angry woman, well except for the time in my life when I was an angry girl and then before that, an angry baby.

Could be a past life thing, or I just inherited the angry-as-hell gene, but damn, I've had a fire brewing.

I assumed after the towers went down that I'd be the poster child for rage. ... and ... yeah, some of that came, but really ... I don't feel so angry anymore.

Maybe it's because I've now seen firsthand what anger can do.

Maybe it's just because I want to throw some kindness into the mix of all that despair and pain.

New Yorkers are starting to go back to their old selves.

I knew the spell was broken the day the firefighters at ground zero, pissed about the cut back in crews, assaulted the police officers.

Watching them brawling on the news, I sighed and said to myself, "Yep, the 'nice' marathon is kaput."

So we're honking our horns again. We're fighting over parking spaces and telling the slowpokes entering the subway car to "move it along, buddy!"

But we're not the same.

We smile at the armed guards at the entrance to The Midtown Tunnel. We don't look at cops the way we used to, like they were human traffic tickets.

We probably give more money to the homeless and maybe don't go for quite as many manicures. Like perhaps most Americans, we are thinking more about love.

Harry Potter couldn't have come at a better time. We all need to escape to magic land.

So Wolf is in town to come face-to-face with this terrible thing and then he'll return to L.A., I'm sure, as immeasurably changed as all are who visit ground zero.

I'll think of him today as he makes his trek. I know full well what it feels like.

I'm a softer kinder person, but I'm not perfect.

I'm still letting Wolf do my hair when he comes back from ground zero.

Hey just 'cause I'm a creature of love doesn't mean I don't want my hair to look fierce!

Thursday, November 15, 2001

I'm thinking about money.

Yes, yes, I know, half of America is worried about money right now, and the other half is obsessed with bargain-hunting in the slow economy.

But I never think about money.

It's not that I don't have my budgets (I must cut down to taking a taxi only twice a day and three times a day on weekends) or my concerns (is ordering in Chinese food 4 days a week excessive?).

It's just that as a matter of principle I try to never think about money.

Call it an act of rebellion!

Growing up as the product of two Slavic Jews who were born in the Depression and never, ever, EVER seemed to tire of planning for the next one, I got a little sick of day-old bread and powdered milk.

Helloooo! It's called a carton, and normal people buy milk that comes in one!!

My mom was so convinced that another Depression was waiting just around the discount bend, that she would literally go into convulsions if we bought anything that was not at least 20% off.

Even 20% off in my house was considered top dollar. That's right up there next to highway robbery and the Hope Diamond in terms of excess.

If you wanted any kind of support from the folks, you had to shop for things that were at least half off. Not that that was the very best there was, because remember, half off was still half on.

Free was where it was at.

My mom had spent years, studying the art of getting things for free, and it was a talent she honed and sharpened to the point where her ability to acquire free stuff was akin to Einstein's talent for math.

She was the queen of freebies.

The bank down the street was giving out flashlights if you opened a Christmas club account; my mom opened up 20 accounts of one buck each.

The Shop-Rite was doling out free wristwatches for every 50 bucks worth of groceries. My mom had us crawling around the parking lot in search of other people's receipts.

This might sound funny … at first … but trust me, it was mortifying.

No one wanted to invite my family to a birthday cause they knew what they were gonna get. … A Shop-Rite watch, a Seaman's Bank flashlight and a keychain that read "Bayer Aspirin."

The kids in school jibed me for years about the time they went to our house trick-or-treating on Halloween and mom gave out bags of snack mix marked "free sample."

Sheeesh!

By the time I moved out on my own, the very last thing I ever wanted to think about again was money. Unfortunately there was the little matter of my not having any, but really aside from being broke, I tried to never think about moolah.

Aside from getting evicted, I really tried to never ever think about cash.

Aside from …

Well you get the point.

But now things are different. Now I'm thinking about MONEY!

Friends call almost every day to say they've been laid off.

"Just lost my job sweetie. Conde Naste laid off a third of their internet people."

"Have you got any work?? I just lost my corporate chef job of 10 years. …"

Now the freelance waiters I hire come into the kitchen at the end of the night and say, "Thank you so much for the work."

Man! The day a New York City cater-waiter says thank you for making them work, is the day you really know times are hard.

My business is down. Natch. But it's not that bad. I can make it. Luckily I'm a wedding caterer and weddings seem to be the only luxury spending that anyone still wants to partake in.

Getting married and, well … also getting drunk. Then there are those who get married while drunk, but that's another story … and I promise to never do it again (kidding).

I'm thinking about money.

I'm thinking how good it feels to be able to throw some work at down-and-out waiters and bartenders. It feels great!! It's odd, but it's only been since September 11th, that it suddenly occurred to me that I am an employer not an employee.

I'm thinking about how lucky I am that I can still pay my bills and feed myself and my two phenomenally fat cats.

I'm thinking about my mom, and how no matter how much I complain about my shnorr childhood, I'm thanking my higher diva for Mom now. I've got a little nest egg to lean on during these rough times, and that's mainly due to her voice drummed into that back of my soul, "Two for five dollars is nice, but three for five dollars is nicer. …"

I'm thinking about my father and how he somehow managed to not be worried about my physical well being since September 11th, but called in a panic last night when he read about New York's struggling economy.

"Is your business okay?!" he asked frantically.

"Yes, Dad … and so am I."

I'm okay.

Sigh.

Thanks, Mom.

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Miracles are in the dust …

I lit my fire last night for the first time this year … and expected to fall into a deep trance staring at the flickering Duraflame.

Instead, a deep panic set into my throat followed by what felt like a swallow of sadness.

I put my hand to my chest as I stared into the new fire and remembered … yes, yes, of course, I was on the roof on September 11th the last time I stared at a fire.

The last time I stared at an impossible, impossible fire.

It’s funny how these little treats have been tainted now hanging out on the roof, lighting the fire. It was hard enough to get through my guilt over having any human pleasure at all … to light the damn fireplace, but now the glowing tongues of red, orange and blue licking their way up the chimney bring it all back.

I lay there on my side, staring into the flames and let all the spectacular images good and bad that I have seen, felt, heard or smelled wash over me.

There was the dust-covered, ground zero building I passed on a Gatorade run to the pile. Someone had dragged a finger through the thick, gray nothing to etch out a message to all of us who passed: “They may destroy our buildings, but not our souls.”

There was the man, my last client on my last day at Safe Horizon who lived two blocks from the WTC. He told me about watching a chain of four people holding hands who jumped together. He watched them sail downward clasped to each other.

“Most people say they jumped to die. … I say they jumped as their last act of rebellion. They chose to rebel against death by putting it on their terms,” said this quiet, unintentional prophet who’d lost his home and his business.

I think of him often.

I read of a woman in Israel. She referred to this as our time of sitting Shiva, and I think that feels right, only how long does it take to sit Shiva for so many thousands of innocents? How do you sit Shiva?

I have done this before, covered the mirrors, poured instant coffee for other mourners, doled out bagels with cream cheese, small cakes, but that is not this kind of Shiva.

Although covering the mirrors seems oddly okay.

I am thinking about the miracles: the young woman I met who was just a few minutes late for work at Windows on the World and missed entering the building.

“I’ll never scold her for being late again,” said her fiancé. They expect to be married sometime next year.

I am thinking about the cloth.

I watched the rabbi at ground zero slowly unfold a blue velvet cloth with a Star of David on it and then place the prayer book and shofar on the cloth before beginning Rosh Hashanah services.

Yet when Brian mailed me the photos he’d taken of the services, the cloth was gone.

I asked him if he remembered the blue velvet cloth and he did. He absolutely did, only he remembered it etched with a symbol perhaps of the Torah.

We both saw the cloth, but saw two different emblems. We saw the cloth as clearly as I am looking at this computer screen as I write this and yet the cloth did not appear in the photos.

“It was a windy day,” Brian wrote in his email, “It must have blown away just before I took the shots.

But it didn’t; I think we both knew that.

Was the cloth ever there?

Was it just invisible to the camera?

These are the kind of questions that could drive you mad, but I choose to think of it as my own private little miracle. … Well, Brian’s and mine.

I don’t know him well, but now we’ve shared a miracle …twice.

Rosh Hashanah services at Ground Zero, followed by the amazing appearing and disappearing blue velvet cloth.

Someone is trying to tell me something…

I ordered up Chinese food, as usual and broke open the fortune cookie I never eat.

It read, “Courage is contagious.”

Sunday, November 04, 2001

There’s a wild-ass clown running my life.

I’m thinking Dick Cavett after a sex change and a Viagra overdose.

I mean just when I thought I was the queen of re-evaluating-my-life syndrome, I get laid up for a week recouping from surgery (trust me you don’t want to know) and am forced to do guess what. … Yep … re-evaluate my life.

Sheeeeesh!

How many inner-child sessions can a girl have before she just wants to smack the shit out of her little brat and scream, “Will you please $#@%^& grow up already!”

Breathe … deep breaths.

This probing the inner-self thing is really not all its cracked up to be. Especially since THIS self has been probed quite enough for one week -- OUCH!! -- thank you very much.

So it’s Day 5 of my cabin fever, and I’ll probably be indoors for at least another few days, followed by a week of shuffling around like a crab with bad arch supports.

I had planned on spending this time catching up on bills (I said catching up on, not actually paying), writing, painting, reading all those books I display to show how smart I am, but never actually had the time to read.

My ambitions were … hmmm … well … ambitious.

But what have I really been doing?

Buffy.

Errr … not doing … watching that is …

Yesindeeedeeeeeeeeeee!

Thanks to the FX network, Buffy the Vampire Slayer re-runs have been on five days a week for two hours a night! Add to that the Halloween Buffy marathon and the normal, Tuesday night new Buffy show and you’ve got an all you can eat … Buff-et.

Hahahahahah.

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

Listen when you’re alternating Tylenols and Percosets just to walk across the living room. … You have to keep yourself amused.

Besides Buffy is a great healer.

She’s downright spiritual.

Ohhhhmmmmmmmmmm. Pow! … Ohhmmmmmmmmmmm. SMACK!

I love a little zen mixed in with my fight scenes, don’t you?

I have to admit I was a tad embarrassed when I first realized I was acquiring a secret little addiction to the show. But then I started noticing that some of my friends seemed to never, ever, ever, be available on Tuesday nights and mysteriously never answered their phones between 8 and 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, either.

First there was Mendel, the political cartoonist and father of my goddaughter. Turns out this cantankerous inventor had given up every Tuesday night since the first season of Buffy and had actually learned how to use a modern appliance (gasp) just to tape the show so he could watch it again and again with Zora the aforementioned daughter/goddaughter. The great Zora, now does Buffy high kicks around the house scaring the cats and the neighbors.

“Hiiii yaaaaaaa … aaaaawasaaaaaa!”

Yep. … Nobody needs to worry about that four-year-old. She’s got it all covered.

Then there’s my most recent ex-lover who used to chide me big time about my little Buff-addiction and now admits to watching it dutifully with her new babe. She blames it on the babe, but I have noted her growing obsession with Spike the vampire/leather boy with the punk rock hair. Hmmm and the new babe’s got short spiky platinum hair,too. Hmmmmm.

So ANYWAY, as I said, I’ve been in-bedded in Buffy this week, (nothing sexual here, she’s actually not my type though I kinda liked Faith the evil vampire slayer … natch … but that’s another story).

So in-bedded (love that word) that I found the show was creeping into my dialogue. Like when my significant other came over to bring me soup, and then later on popped by to bring me soup and then later on dropped in to bring me love and oh yeah … soup … but she was so sick with the flu. … We couldn’t hug or even be in the same side of the room at the same time … else I might catch the anthrax errrr ummm flu.

Frustrated (big time) I finally blurted out what I’d been thinking for months, ”We’re just like Buffy and Angel!”

To which she added. … “Yeah and when we get together the world stops.”

Very dramatic, my little cubana … but cute. … No fangs, though. Damn it!

I think this is getting outta hand. Maybe I should even myself out a tad, start watching Dark Angel or throw in some Friends. … There’s gotta be another show that mixes queer humor, battle scenes, attractive teenagers, dark despair and great clothes.

Oh yeah! CNN! But that’s not fun. … It’s life.

Speaking of my life … ( back to self-probing) … my problems seemed to start when my mother discovered JCPenney mark-downs. The other kids got
corduroys and alligator shirts, but noooo, not for moi.

I started having deep inner yearnings to own a pair of jeans that did not have little rabbits or other furry animals stitched on the back pockets. … I wanted Levi’s!

The rabbits had to go.

I was prepared to take them out … dead or alive.

(to be continued)