Wednesday, February 27, 2002

My brother is going to Israel.

We've been talking about this for years: me meeting him and his family, in Israel on Passover.

The reason he e-mailed me to tell me about his spontaneous trip to the holy land was not to invite me, however, but to ask when he could fax me a copy of his will.

Nice times we live in.

Now I find myself torn.

Do I squish a last-minute trip to Israel this month, or do I stay home safe and sound in ... hmm ... ummm ... Manhattan??!

I've never been to Israel, yet I've always felt love for Israel. As much as I'm an American, my sentimental side has always considered Israel to be my promised land.

I know I've romanticized this country to some sort of ridiculousness, but then that's part of the purpose of Israel, to give us a place to feel so sentimental about that nothing makes sense and sense doesn't matter.

As a child of a Yiddish mama who never tired of talking about the Holocaust, I remember feeling even at a very young age, that Israel might be the only place to run to if America should one day rise up and try to exterminate my people as the Nazis had done.

"Remember, Shana Madelah, Germany was considered to be as wonderful to the German Jews then as America is to the American Jews now," my mother warned me -- part of her way of ensuring that I would grow up to be as paranoid as she was.

Nice thoughts for a six-year-old, but my mother felt that the only way to keep the Holocaust from happening again was to keep talking about it. I don't know. Maybe she's right.

For my bas mitzvah, I was given a lifetime membership to Hadassah. Now I regularly receive newsletters about the state of things in Israel, interspersed with advertising about relief for constipation.

Jews have always been obsessed with regularity; don't ask me why. Too much matzoh meal perhaps. That stuff can clog up an elephant.

When the violence between Palestinians and Israelis started again, I felt confused and uneducated. I hated the Palestinians for their cowardly, cruel suicide attacks on innocent lives, yet I wondered what made them so angry. How can they be helped? What pushed them to such extremes?

September 11th certainly brought Israel to the front lines. It also gave us as Americans a taste of what Israel has been going through all these years. After watching the towers burn and collapse, how could we ever feel so disconnected to suicide bombing again?

We weren't virgins anymore.

I spoke with my friend Dror about his job doing security for an Israeli airline.

"Your life must be very stressful since September 11th," I said innocently.

"For us, it's the same," he answered giggling at my naivete. "Israel has always had to be on the defensive. Americans are just starting to do what we've done all along. Now they come to us for advice."

I feel confused and torn when I talk about Israel.

As a Jew, I know Israel is the only place in the world that really is my holy land if there is such a thing as holy land. I think there is, but then, I'm not very holy. When the recent violence started up again I felt ashamed that I had not make my first pilgrimage to Israel.

The newsletter from Hadassah said that Israel has been saddened by the demise of its American tourist support. But how do you visit Israel and not go to Jerusalem, and how do you go to Jerusalem without feeling immense fear?

I feel like a coward. I feel ashamed. I am a Jew, and I have never been to Israel.

I am a humanitarian before all else. I need to understand how to support and preserve and adore this special place and still find a place in my heart to try to understand where the Palestinians are coming from. What is right? What is wrong?

I do not feel qualified to express my opinion in peace among these two peoples, except to say that there must be peace. I need to go to Israel to understand something about right and wrong. I need to stop hearing the Holocaust stories in my head to be more open-minded.

I must admit that I have not been very open-minded when it comes to Israel. I do not want this place that I have never been to taken away from me.

Will I do as my brother has done -- leave my will with someone I love and join my family in Israel? I don't know. Maybe. There's the little matter of who the hell will run my business while I run off on this spontaneous pilgrimage. I think perhaps I've used up my vacation days for this off-season, but this does not feel like a vacation.

Part of me feels this pang of fear that if I don't go now, I never will, that either the Israel I have grown to love without ever really knowing will change in my absence, or I will.

I'll keep you posted.

L' Chaim.

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

I think I have always been looking for love.

Sure, I called it other things along the way.

In high school, I said I was searching for freedom, acting out against the hypocrites of my hometown. Man, whatta uptight Republican, conservative Jersey town. To be gay in that town, well just forgetaboutit.

I had the word rebel planted on my forehead. All the other kids filled their closets with cashmere sweaters and alligator shirts, but even then, I hated colorful clothes. I contented myself with a yearlong array of black rock & roll T-shirts, tucked into two pairs of patched up, worn out Levi's. For a splash of color, I tucked a red bandana in my hip pocket.

Hey, the bandana had a use,too. It helped cover up the pint of Hiram Walker Blackberry Brandy.

Nobody told me that I couldn't turn my piece of the late '70s into the '60s.

But then, peace love and punk rock aside, what I was really doing was looking for love.

I guess I figured that if I made enough fuss, smashed up enough authority, that I'd find a nice safe, place that I could be myself in and then all those people dying to love me for exactly who I was would just line up, poetry and casseroles in hand.

New York City is the best place in the world to come to, if you're the hometown freak looking for love.

My weirdness didn't even register a blip on the wacky scale once I moved to NYC.

Everyone in New York in 1981 was a freak.

New York had just pulled out of bankruptcy, race riots, a decade of burning buildings and homicides and everyone was walking around in the rubble, shell-shocked. People were downright cool.

Washington Square park was like a baby Woodstock unplugged. Guitar players banged away next to poets, homeless drunks, NYU kids smoking joints, drug dealers looking to sell to the NYU kids and tourists, dogs drinking in the fountain, lovers pretending to be cool, street comedians making fun of your race, religion or attire and then getting you to laugh so hard you'd pay them 50 cents just for making a fool out of you.

The first time I walked into Washington Square Park, I thought I'd entered Planet Wild. I was 17 and firmly convinced that I was the baddest girl around. Five minutes after I walked into the park, I felt like Mother Theresa. I don't think I ever felt like a bad girl again.

I'm sure I fell in love with somebody that year. There was always somebody to fall in love with then. I fell in love a lot in the '80s. That was the thing to do then, fall in love and survive and hate yuppies and wonder when I would get my piece of easy times.

Now it's 2002, and I'm feeling a little blue. Well, just this week.

I don't know why.

My career (whatever that is) seems to be doing fine.

My real career (whatever this is) is coming along.

The most wonderful lady, who has been in my life on and off for three years now, has been unusually attentive of late. Together we seem to have emerged from some sort of long-term haze to find each other. It's been thrilling.

But still, from my center, I feel this melancholy.

Well, sure there's still the post 9/11 blues that has lots of us treading sand, especially we of the downtown Manhattanites. I imagine it will be years, if ever, before I move past those images, but things are looking up in NYC. People are surviving and growing, changing for the better, caring about each other more.

There really are reasons to rejoice. The human spirit has been working over-time and it's an awesome thing to check out in action. I've seen it now up close. I've still got dots in my eyes from the flash.

Last night my cubana and I celebrated a late Valentine's Day/anniversary combo. She took me to see Love Janis, the Janis Joplin musical about her life, based on the letters she sent home to her family.

I sat their in the rowdy crowd with all the lights out, listening to the music of Janis Joplin that always was about one thing; looking for love, and I reached out and touched my girlfriend's hand and thought to myself, no matter how much love I've got, I'll never stop looking for love.

There just isn't ever going to be enough of it; love of friends, love of admirers, love of goodness, love of charity, love of strangers.

Maybe the day I stop looking for love will be the day I decide that the world is fine just the way it is, that things don't need improving, that I no longer need anyone's appreciation.

After the show, my cubana took me to Nirvana, (well, in this instance I'm talking about the restaurant, not the state of being), and we devoured our tandoori chicken and sipped our mango champagne cocktails and looked out over the great impossibility of Central Park.

I've always loved that here in the height of ultraexpensive real estate, in the very heart of big-money Manhattan, sits more than 50 blocks of park land, unspoiled, untarnished and unprofitable. It just sits there, for all of us to enjoy to free.

Central Park is like childhood. It reaches out innocent and green and lush and ripe against all the skyscrapers and symbolisms of big business and overpriced doorman buildings. It sits there and giggles.

Central Park is for lovers.

Are you looking, too? Looking for love.

You can find it. I know you can. The secret is just to stand still and let it all happen around you. That's when the biggest chunks of love fall on your toes: when you're standing still and when you're barefoot in the grass.

Love always falls on bare feet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Yesterday I found out that my friend Paul's baby brother, David, died of a heart attack at the age of 40.

The heart attack was brought on by him smoking crack.

The last time and the only time I met David was at Paul's wedding last year. I opted for playing in the grass with my god-daughter instead of joining the merriment of the wedding crowd inside. David decided to hang outside, too. He seemed like a sweet, down-to-earth guy. I liked him instantly.

Tray and M came outside with wine and we all filled our plastic cups and watched Zora chasing bumblebees. It was a peaceful, lovely afternoon. The sun was just right.

"I really like Paul's brother," I said to Tray.

"Yes," she responded thoughtfully, "but he's got some demons chasing him."

I didn't understand then what she meant: that he was hardcore addict and had been for all of his adult life.

I didn't know him, except as Paul's cute baby brother, but I find myself in this strange place thinking about spending that lovely afternoon in the sun with him and now finding out he's dead.

There is something eerie and bittersweet about this seemingly easy-going guy who shared a few hours with me on a special day and now is gone forever.

I can't imagine how Paul must feel right now, or maybe I can.

"Life is short, so live it!"

This is the mantra I hear in my head.

Joanna and I were talking about all the little subtle things that have changed inside us since September 11th. She said she cries at movies much more easily now. It's as if some of those protective layers have been peeled off.

I guess I'd have to say the same. I'm much more easily pushed to tears now. I can well up at a sappy commercial. Breakfast cereals seem to really get to me.

I pet my cats more. I find myself waking them up when they're fast asleep just to squeeze them. I think maybe they think I'm annoying as hell.

But they're 13 years old, both of them. How much longer do I have with my two friends, these two little furry things that have been with me through the best and the worst of times.

People die.

People get married.

Babies are born.

Jobs are lost.

Eras end.

Eras begin.

Today, just for this one day, for this one special day, let me experience something precious.

Today is a beautiful word.

Thursday, February 07, 2002

If you ever want to feel love from a stranger, respect, admiration and some kind of brother/sisterhood from a total stranger, go to London and tell everyone that you meet, you're a New Yorker.

After having suffered a serious bout of snobbery on my one and only trip to Paris some years ago, I just assumed that Londoners, like the Parisians, would think they were better than everyone else, most of all the lowly American.

I realized how wrong I was in my first hour of arrival.

"Where you from?" asked the driver of one of the wonderful, huge London taxis that make New York cabs look sub-human.

"New York!"

"How is it over there now? Are you OK now? Is the economy picking up?"

He spent most of the ride, which I would have preferred to use interrogating him about everything we passed, asking me if I and all of New York were all right.

"Did you hear about that woman who had burns over 70 percent of her body? What a trooper she is!"

"Yes," I said.

The love New York thing continued during my entire week trotting all over central London.

On my first night in town, my hotel sent me to Rules, a 200-some-odd-year-old eatery with truly authentic old-style British cuisine. Although I must say Rules added a new dimension to the term Yech! by serving me duck breast that was blood rare. (It's still poultry, for crying out loud, and it's not supposed to bleed when you stick it!)

I also tried the smoked haddock salad, which was far closer to sushi than smoked fish.

I started up a conversation with a very proper elderly couple sitting next to me, when I asked them what they were eating. Turns out it was steak and kidney pie (another rather large Yech if you ask me).

They were fairly reserved until they found out I was a New Yorker. Then it was an hourlong conversation about how much they loved New York and how even though they didn't care for Tony Blair (they were something like Republicans, whatever the Brit version of that is. Hated Clinton, too), they loved how their Mr. Blair had immediately hopped to it. By the time our chat was done, they had given me their phone number and address in a suburb outside London.

"Sometimes it's nice to know someone, in case you get into any trouble."

Maybe it was the lone woman trotting all over London's back alleys, or the fact that I had wild hair and men's ankle boots, but these total strangers had decided that I might need temporary parents and they were willing to fit the bill.

On my next night in London I went out to the theatre in grand style, a 280-year-old royal theatre on the strip they call the Haymarket, named for, well, once having been a place to buy hay, I suppose. Dame Judy Dench was the star, and while I must say the play was badly written, I felt so wonderful in this grand, ornate, ancient theatre watching Judy.

At intermission, when girls with trays come out and sell little ice cream cups with plastic spoons (love that!!) the couple next to me started a polite chat. Once they found out I was a New Yorker they seemed to fall madly in love with me.

Seriously, dears, it was practically alarming.

"We felt so close to you when that happened," the woman said, getting misty-eyed, "I mean here with the IRA, we've gone through terrorist threats for years. Nothing as terrible as what happened to you, but I think we know something of what you felt like."

On the famous Portobello Road outdoor antique market, I came across one of the most popular booths on the long stretch of outdoor stalls, a woman selling New York T-shirts.

On my big girly night out I visited an amazingly hot women's club in the Picadilly Circus area called The Candy Bar. Wanna know what the hippest gal in the place was wearing; black leather pants and an I Love New York T-shirt.

Even if I had tried not to think about September 11th on my trip, London was determined to bring it up every time I opened my mouth and they heard my accent, or lack of accent, however you look at it.

Since New Year's I've made a strong effort to get on with my life. I started to feel as though it would be so easy to wake up one day and realize that I'd spent 20 years wallowing in the memory of the World Trade Center. Going to London was part of getting on with living, my September 11th pledge, to no longer postpone the things I've always wanted to do, because life is short ... sometimes very short.

I looked at the gorgeous two-, three-, four-hundred-year-old buildings with nary a skyscraper in sight, unless you count the dinky 30-story things they call tall. I visited Buckingham Palace (not much to see there, oddly), rode over the London Bridge, dined at many an old very British pub, ate fish and chips, rump steak, Yorkshire pudding, truly great Indian food, drank tea at 3:00 and submerged myself into this wonderful, busy, complicated city.

I loved London.

When I arrived home at JFK airport, went past the battalion of armed guards, threw myself into a lousy cab with a driver who didn't give a crap about me, I wondered if maybe London wouldn't be a great place to live.

As the cab approached NYC, I saw the majestic, miraculous New York skyline stretch out before me and felt my heart catch in my throat like it does every time I approach Manhattan.

Twenty years of living in NYC and I still get goosebumps at the site of the skyline.

Home.

I'm home.

On behalf of myself and evidentially most of London, can I just say, I love New York.

Sunday, February 03, 2002

Cheerio and bloody hell and bollocks and fancy a shag and spare a fag mate and rightoo then. ... Here I am in Merry Ol' London, spending more money than I thought humanly possibly.

Sheeesh, they say New York is expensive, but this place really takes the cake (tea cake, that is, love).

Anyway, this is part one of my "I will not postpone my life Sept. 11th pledge. ... Part two will most likely be nude bungee-jumping (gotta buy a 36-hour bra for that one) or a trek across some mountains that are interspersed with room service.

Anyway, mates, London is really a gas, I must say, once you get past the money thing.

The cabs are amazing. They're all huge and sorta like brand new 1940s cars with drivers who all speak English and even are willing to share many a witty remark. (Oh, yes, that's where Dodi used to live before, well, the incident.)

I seem to be doing it all quite swimmingly, I must say, from a night out at the theatre (do you know they serve ice cream at intermission? ... Ice cream!!) to a day shopping all along Nottinghill, and nary a Hugh Grant in sight, though I did see a travel book shop.

I rambled all over an area called Picadilly Circus that I thought was going to be some kind of lions, tigers and clowns sorta thing, but the only thing circuslike about it was a truly wild SM scene.

That's the other thing, dears.

These folks are sooo uptight during the day -- very, very grumpy. But at night, they are total freaks! I've never seen so many different shops dedicated to latex!!

Faves so far are the fish and chips, although I seem to have gained two pounds from eating them, and that's the weight kind, not the money kind.

Also really, really love the doubledecker buses and the truly fabulous coffee. Can you imagine, dearies? Good coffee in London. Who knew??

Well, lambs, I think my 10 pounds of Internet time are used up here.

Did I mention that London was expensive?

I'll write more when I return.

Cheers, love.

Oh, FYI? Bangers and mash is not yet another SM party as I had suspcted.

Pity.