Sunday, August 30, 2009

marks

There was a girl I loved back in my adolescent years, though at times it seemed more an act of mutually assured destruction.

Late one night at the diner she pulled up a pant leg to show me the woman's symbol she'd carved into the pale meat of her left calf. I couldn't tell then if she wanted me to oooh and ahhh over the angry red flesh or pull her back from the brink of something I couldn't even see.

I have worn this same mark on my left shoulder these past thirteen years, carved somewhat more professionally into pale freckled skin, ink-tipped needle etching out once crisp black lines & smooth curves, now fuzzy edged and fading to a softer grayish-green.

Friday, August 28, 2009

going home, 8.28.09

'i have a fantasy...'

"I have a fantasy about America
It's made out of whole cloth
I guess there's no excuse for it

I have a love
For a big city
That took me in its arms and
Covered me
With blossoms and snowflakes and soot as thick as grease"

(Susie Bright, New York Cover, 9/24/2001)

washington square, 8.27.09

Friday, August 21, 2009

baseball, sort of

I didn't really remember loving baseball before, though when I thought about it I knew that wasn't right.

I went to most of my brother's Little League games when we were growing up and remember fondly my parents' intense anxiety when the coaches had him on the pitcher's mound -- not that he would do poorly, exactly, but that he would damage some other parents' kid. (For the record, I don't think he ever did.)

I was a devoted reader of John R. Tunis's fictional series about the Brooklyn Dodgers, and had something of a crush on The Kid Form Tomkinsville's Roy Tucker as a young girl.

One of my favorite memories from childhood is a particular Yankees game that my family and our friends the Crows attended together. I can't remember who the Yankees were playing that day, and I certainly don't remember if the Yankees won. What I remember is that we snuck the most delicious sandwiches in with us, from Taste of Italy up in Mohegan Lake. And I remember that Amy and I spent the afternoon running around pretending we were gladiators leading a revolt of the slaves in the midst of these evil Roman stadium games.

One of my favorite memories from late adolescence is a particular Yankees game that I attended with my best friend and her parents. We ducked away to go smoke a cigarette and then got on line for pretzels and were appalled at a couple men leering at us, in all our eighteen-year-old semi-punked-out glory, and decided that if we started kissing each other they'd leave us alone. Little did we know then that this was more likely to just exacerbate the problem. Little had I known before, despite having loved her for years, how nice it could be to kiss a girl.

The game last night, the first I've been to in awhile, seemed somehow pared down to its essence, with no fantasizing and no leering, whistling men. I do not follow the Mets or the Braves, and so had no high hopes or pending disappointments to harbor. I do not follow baseball at all, really, other than to know my family largely roots for the Mariners these days, and to have been inordinately delighted at the meeting of Ichiro and Obama.

I was at Citi Field last night with a friend, and with two of her friends: one adorably decked out in Mets paraphernalia, the other patiently explaining the intricacies of the game (and seeming a little surprised that I knew about the clean-up spot, knew not to bunt when there are two outs, but did not know that K's are strikeouts - electronic scoreboards with all their acronyms did not exist in Tunis' world).

It's funny how there can sometimes be a certain kind of stillness, a certain kind of silence, in the midst of great motion and the roaring of crowds. The evening was hot and muggy, as August in New York so often is, though there was an almost cooling breeze wafting over the field. And the sky was surprisingly clear despite predictions of yet more storms, though there was a strange haze, a fogginess, hovering over the grass, over the men in their uniforms, over the sparkling lights and chanting shouting clapping thousands.

It seemed almost magical, this vast new space and the people encircled there, the criers hawking their ice cold water and their salty crunchy peanuts, their blue-dyed spun-sugar cotton candy and their Nathan's Famous hotdogs and their Bud Light by the 16-oz. cup at (a mere) $6.50 a pop.

It seemed almost magical and I found myself feeling more pleased than I had anticipated, content in a way I had not imagined possible during those days between the accepting of the invitation and the first pitch of the night.

another reason to love this city



(Had the pleasure of hearing this bunch at Times Square yesterday
on my way to the Mets game)

Friday, August 07, 2009

'and as we're crossing border after border we realize that difference is none...'

Almost a year ago, after visiting her over Labor Day weekend, I tried to write something about Arielle, or Ari, as she used to be known. She's been trying to wean people off of calling her that for over fifteen years now but I claim certain privileges, certain rights, in that our friendship goes back much further even than that. Or maybe it's just that I'm stubborn, I don't know.

My Arielle, my Ari, my Ari-love, has been around a long time. We met in first grade, in Mrs. Barker the one-armed teacher's class, when my family first moved to Westchester and I had to start a brand new school in May. I don't think we became friends right away -- it took at least that summer and then Mrs. Ryan's second grade class. But we've pretty much been stuck with each other ever since.

Arielle and I, along with our friend Amy Crow, made up a whole planet together. We named it Ten Stars, and played it and wrote about it and fought over it. Who knew that nine-year-old girls could fight so bitterly over intellectual property rights and vindictively lay claim to entire worlds? Yet in that world nine-year-old girls were kings, garbed in chain mail and gowns of spun diamond (and sometimes asbestos, after having read somewhere that asbestos withstands fire -- dragon slayers must be prepared, after all! It wasn't until years later that we learned of the dangers of asbestos, and that wearing it might not be such a great idea despite its fire-breathing-dragon defense capabilities).

We remained friends through high school despite running more often than not with different crowds. She and her mother decorated at least one Christmas tree with us, and partook in our traditional clam chowder afterward. She and her father took me to the last CPR class I needed for my life-guarding certification two days after my father's death. She still talks with trepidation about the one time my mother gave her (as she puts it) the evil eye: the day my mother walked in on us dying my hair pitch black the summer after 11th grade. I still talk every once in awhile about a particularly awkward evening at the dinner table our senior year, when my mother asked me if we were lovers (and, perhaps more pressingly, if those Marlboro Reds in my bag were hers or mine).

We remained friends through college, though she headed north to Bard and I fled south to Barnard (all of 101.78 miles apart, at least as the crow flies, but it felt sometimes much further than that). We spoke with each other every so often, saw each other even less. But I still have a letter she wrote to me during those years, after having come clean to her about my own college-aged misery. She wrote, and I quote, "Please call me. Even if you don't want to talk about what's going on, we can sit in silence, we can talk about the mating habits of ruby-throated hummingbirds, whatever." (Even then, I wasn't much of one for phones.)

We've remained friends all these years since, sharing our joy in new loves, dismay in bad habits, early attempts at haute cuisine (by which I mean strange late-night concoctions and gallons and gallons of coffee and hours spent in intense and/or inane conversation over bagel sandwiches in the various towns in which we've lived over the years, from Mohegan Lake to Manhattan to Annandale-on-Hudson to Philadelphia to New Paltz to Brooklyn to Anacortes to Kingston to Catskill and back again), and a certain mutual affection for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And that's kind of the friendship we have: this ability to hold everything, to carry everything, that the other has to offer, whether it is beautiful or joyful or horrifying or ridiculous or worrying or merely mundane.

Jenna and I were talking the other evening about names. She seems not to have too many nicknames, at least that I know of, but she was wondering about mine. I've had a lot of nicknames over the years, from Loutche Dan (courtesy of my mother, as mutated from Emily to Emmy-lou to Loutche (pronounced Loo-chie) to Loutche Dan) to Emiyere (courtesy of little Nora for whom I babysat, and for whom the letter "l" just wasn't quite happening) to Snookums (courtesy of Catrin, who claimed I had an affinity for a particularly fuzzy-headed muppet in The Muppets Take Manhattan, I think) to the Dark One (courtesy of Sarah someone in high school, because of my attire of choice) to Emma or Emmy (courtesy of many people, many dear people, Nathan and Cindy and Erik and Chris amongst them) to Emma-Lemma (courtesy of Nathan alone).

But of them all, I think the most beloved, the most dear to me, has been Emma-love, thanks to my Arielle, my Ari, my Ari-love. And for this I am grateful. For its silliness, and its affection, and its endurance.

We spent Labor Day weekend together last year, with her Patrick and my Chris & Andrew, and there was no doubt, given the intensity of these pairs, that I was a fifth wheel. But because of her, and because of this inescapable history we share, I felt anything but left out. We carried on in our normal fashion, cooking and gossiping and arguing and laughing uncontrollably at ourselves and at the menfolk in the other room and at the state of the world at large. We understood and misunderstood each other, skipped and tripped over words and phrases and ideas, had long discussions culminating in things like "But eggs don't fly!," at which point we had to circle around again to the beginning, had to figure out what we were saying and where we'd gone wrong and whether there had ever been any sense in it in the first place, leading to even more laughter that startled the men and scattered the cats and caused us to giggle together all the more.

There's not much more to say about my Ari-love, so I guess I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sunday, August 02, 2009

the family plot

Cousin Eric returned home the other day from a couple weeks spent with his family at the lake cabin in Idaho and sent me a few pictures. Not of the lake, or of the cabin, or of the particular relatives gathered there this summer, but rather of the family plot (such as it is) up the hill from the cabin, nestled under an apple tree overlooking the road, the barn, the cabin, the lake.

There's not much to say about the family plot. It consists pretty much of a piece of wood stuck in the ground beneath that apple tree, set in a wooden frame in which sometimes there are flowers (though usually there are not). At first, back in 1993, there was only the one name on this piece of wood. Six years later there were two, and now, as of last week, there are three.

I remember mostly snippets from the summer we buried my father in that funny little bit of land up on the hill, sixteen years ago.

I remember our Uncle Earle driving with us from Olympia to the lake cabin, which was pretty unusual then (though he has since taken on a bit of a patriarchal, almost a paternal, role within the family). Nathan and I fought each other across the whole state of Washington and on in to Idaho. It's a miracle of sorts that Earle ever spoke to us again.

I remember being pissed off because one of my father's old high school pals gave Nathan a Swiss Army knife with all the accoutrements but figured a girl wouldn't have much use for such a thing.

I remember the family gathering under that apple tree, the aunts and the uncles and the grandparents and the cousins and the three of us, my mother, my brother and me, shovels and box of ashes in hand.

I remember being that enraged 17-year-old self, running down the hill to the cabin, grabbing a mug of coffee and heading out on a long walk towards the end of the road. And I remember my cousin Eric, older and more wise in the ways of the world, intercepting me on the road, silently joining my isolated, fury-driven walk, eventually saying that sometimes life just really sucks.

That first plaque, the first of the family memorials, is looking pretty old these days, pretty weathered and worn. That once polished and sparkling piece of metal is darkening now around its edges. It lacks specifics (a full name, exact dates, a description of who this person was, of where he fit in to the world around him), and yet there is a certain beauty there, caught in its spartan simplicity. It is what it is: a name and two years inscribed in metal, that once shining metal now succumbing to verdigris and a heartbreakingly simple truth.

We've gotten a little bit better at this over the years, this family of mine. We've learned to soften the blow with decorative curlicues and full dates (July 19th, 1916 - Oct. 30th, 1999; October 15, 1917 - April 7, 2009) and even inscriptions of love (wife, mother, friend).

My father isn't alone anymore, up there on the hill under his apple tree. He has become again, as he always seemed to be, at the center of things, surrounded by people he loved, by people who loved him.


















(Thank you, Eric)