Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Chance to Dance


                    "The onset of Hell when you feel like dancing"
                                                      A Narrative

I recently awarded myself a VIP pass to a great concert of a band I really admire. The pain in my legs would just have to be dealt with, or better yet, ignored. I took the #62 bus to Penn Station, made my way to Greenwich Village (yes, THAT Village) and all went well. Starting very early to compensate for my snail-like pace, I knew I had the time needed to rest on my cane here and there.

I have suffered from chronic clinical depression for many years. It's dark and unholy, filled with visions of spurting blood and violent death. Other than mutilated bodies and smashing your head into a concrete wall, it's not so bad. This familiar demon never announces itself and the day before the concert, it made a visit.

Ignoring it is impossible. You just have to fake it with others, smile, meet peoples' eyes, give a cheery hello, and hate yourself for being hypocritical.

I could deal with it if not for having intense pain in my legs, with part of my left foot being dead, the rest overly alive. It's called neuropathy and no treatment works to rid one of constant pain; you can only “make a bargain” with it. I did.

So here I am, on my way to NYC on the PATH while a kindly man talked about his days in Jersey City, how he missed it all and now was living in Brooklyn. I wanted to hear about the bridge, and we had a charming time. My stop came up too quickly – off I went.

At the 9th Avenue station at 33rd St I somehow made the climb up 3 sets of about 15 hard-steel steps each, constantly turning to the right. My heart beat faster as it all started to look familiar. I started taking in the smells of downtown, and when I reached the outside my eyes were stunned to see nothing but yuppies. YUPPIES! Where were all my old folkie buds, my hippie compadres? Where was Lou Reed? Bobby Dylan? Back in the 60s everyone knew each other on sight. We had a cause (end the war) we had youth (arrogant) we had pot (illegal). It was heaven, no one needed money, and everyone shared what they had. Something illogical in me thought it might all be the same, so being hit with this upper-class snobby, no eyes-meeting kind of elegance threw me for a loop. I was not happy and my legs were furious.

Time to get my bearings. I looked at people, chose carefully, and asked a lady which direction East 11th Street between 3rd and 4th Aves was. She showed me, I started off, and soon realized it was MILES away! I caught a bus. Now the good part makes it appearance: as I struggled up the 3 steps, the driver waved me past, “forget the fare”.  He said I looked like I had a bad day and was I alright, then as we drove along he made small talk which eased my disgust at what I was seeing in the streets. Too many cars, too many well-dressed Yups, too many impossibly beautiful humans, and not a single tye-dyed shirt in sight. High-heels everywhere.

I “hopped” off at my stop and went to an outdoor bistro to read the paper and kill time before seeing this incredible band “james” which as I say, was the only band for me at the time. I think after that day I've become a life-long fan, but more on that later. Patience.

I stopped drinking beer in the late 1980s, but I decided I needed a “short one” as we used to say. Some things never change, as the too-beautiful barman knew what I meant and asked what kind; I said you choose. He smiled like the model he probably was. Sipping that beer, reading the paper, all at this outdoor little round table with awning, people walking by, a beautiful old church across the street, I had to start taking pictures. This was heaven. I could almost imagine when I closed my eyes that it was 1964 again and a too-young runaway was singing folk-songs with hippies in the park. In my reverie I realized how rich my life had been, to be alive in that time when music poured into the streets from everyone, new singers were becoming “known” singers, artists were starving happily in their attics painting incredible works that eventually would sell for thousands.

Time to go. I attempted to move my legs, knowing this would take a few minutes. When I found my “sea legs” I went inside to leave the model a tip. I found a dollar coin in my pocket and gave it to him, he thanked me with teeth far too white, and off I limped. A bit later I realized I had given him, not a dollar, but my special “travelers coin” my brother gave me! It was bronze, small and easily mistaken for money. Perhaps it was meant to be, and I hope that young man realizes what a gift he received, as I once did.

Pending rain clouds didn't scare me, I walked around the corner and saw it plain as mid-day: Webster Hall “JAMES” (and the other act which was a country western horror, poor girl). Security saw me get in line and for some reason, soon pulled me out and set me right in front. I showed them my ticket, they put a band on me and said I could go in with the people in front – I didn't realize we VIPs were being allowed in early, I thought it just meant we'd have front row views. They gave me an ID to wear once inside, and I walked over to the stage where the band was setting up, just doing little “band” things. I found my niche and stood there, taking it all in.  Turns out this was their sound check and a kind of Q & A for the band.  

Tim Booth was front and center, playing with something, and Saul Davies was frowning – probably because they didn't sell out. For some idiotic reason, this country hasn't come to terms with the gift this band brings, in poetry and melody. Well, I did and I was there to absorb it.

Mr. Booth looked around, talked to us awhile, Saul made a few jokes I couldn't understand because I hear things with an American accent (it surely couldn't be HIS accent!) Yes, they're a British band.  He asked where I was from, I said “New Joisey” and he said something about “what they say about Joisey girls” and said o yeah, sure, I know...didn't want to seem uncool. Then he made a really x-rated joke which, only hearing part of it - well..once again that accent, and Tim looked my way and said “Don't worry he was born pornographic”. I laughed and someone handed me the microphone, so I asked if I could say something, I think they expected me to ask a question as others had done. All I did was mention I was “new to james” and how I was taken with the poetry and music, etc., that this phase they're in was excellent – all the things you say when you want to compliment someone but not make them feel overly special. Tim asked very softly, TOO softly, what phase I thought they were in, he smiled and I felt at ease but I didn't want to hog up the mic so I passed it off to some girl who was very eager for me to shut up. What did she ask? Get ready, she goes: “If you could be any superhero, which would it be!?” She was overly excited, bouncing and gibbering. I remember thinking how Saul looked like he wanted to knock her out with one punch, but he took true advantage of a perfect come-back and yelled “COCK MAN, OF COURSE!!” Everyone laughed and clapped, I was SO glad to be there, no one pushing, but this guy to my left was completely out of his mind. He kept yelling “I love you Tim!” and throughout this sound-check, Q & A time, he just stared up at Tim as if he saw the next coming.  I smiled like a child.

After a bit, they said they had to go, and would be back soon. I had made friends with two sisters on my right, and we chatted and laughed, danced. After a few minutes a security guy came over to me with a chair, saying it was from “someone”. I was very impressed with how nicely they took care of me – there wasn't that many people in the room yet because it was VIP time, so I assumed the building people wanted to make sure I didn't fall – or something. While it was true my legs were falling out from under me, I would've stood anyway just to get this music and poetry live. I took the chair of course, and the silly illogical thoughts in my mind decided to believe the band sent it – like Saul maybe, or Tim. It's amazing how we can make ourselves believe whatever feels right, isn't it?

Watching the top act was almost as bad as listening to her. Poor girl, she was a country-western slutty kind of red-mouthed leather jacketed, booted continual cough-er who sang the exact same song 10 times. Her dress was too short so up front we could see she wasn't wearing much under there. By the time she said “This is my last song” everyone clapped and I really felt bad. Someone misguided her into thinking she had talent I suppose, but honestly, they lied. Her last song was about “Colonel Angus”, that old stand-by being the opposite of fellatio, and she used the word “pussy” so many times I felt nauseous. If she had been at least a little talented...but no.

When “james” came out the place roared in unison. These were obviously die-hard fans, like the nutty guy to my left. He smiled and laughed, looked at me and said “Cool huh!” I liked him right away – he even helped straighten my chair so I was closer to the stage – any closer and I would've been on it. The lights came up....

Tim said a few words about the anniversary of a friend's demise, explained a few things, and started singing. It was uplifting, fascinating, purely poetic and each word hit me like it was the first time I heard it. THIS is REAL music, I know it I've been a musician all my life, and when you hear a unique sound there's no question but to take it all in. I did.

At one point, Tim wanted to sing an old tune but forgot the beginning lyrics. He looked at me with expectation and I had to shake my head, but the sister next to me knew them and he gave her the mic. What a voice! Everyone applauded her, I thought Tim was going to get her on the stage. He then sang a beautiful song, and all the time I was absorbing this great sound, I kept my eyes on Saul and his electric violin. His guitar work went beyond description, but that string sound took me away. He really pulled everything he could out of it, and people knew it – they went wild.

Andy on trumpet tied a lot of it together nicely, and I gave him thumbs up while he was taking a breather. He thumbed me back, so I thought “Good, he knows he's being listened to closely.” In fact, I watched each one, Mark on keyboards, Larry on guitar, Dave on drums (incredible!) It made it nice for me to grab the lyrics of Tim's poetry being so close to where he stood. The man has such a soft speaking voice, yet when he sang those words it ripped through your soul loudly, clearly, like a tidal wave of passion.

I knew I wouldn't be able to stay longer than 11, maybe 11:30 pm because the last PATH to Jersey was midnight according to their schedule. Also, I had to factor in my slow walking. Wouldn't you know, I found out later that the PATH was running straight through that night, so I could've stayed if I wanted. Well, such is life when you think it's something else. I gave my chair to the sister next to me, waved bye to the band, and squeezed myself out toward the stairs. Here was the tricky part: they were DOWN stairs. Even though a little easier gravitationally, it makes you feel with each step that you're going to fall over your head. Frightening. You MUST go slow. I've bargained with this, as I said.

It hurt to leave, but if I didn't make the train I'd be stuck in the Village with money in my shoe. This wasn't the Village I knew as a kid, a teen, a know-nothing youth. It was a horrid morph of something ugly, greedy, high-priced and isolated. The people who helped me here and there I had to chose very carefully.

The New York PATH connected me to the NJ PATH and I was soon back at Newark Penn Station, HOME. Anyone else would've probably been uneasy but I felt completely safe and secure. I got the #62 bus right back to my building, grabbed the elevator, put my “james” cup on the bed and fell into a magically deep, semi-sleep filled with the sights and sounds of the depth and passion of a bunch of guys with such talent it stuns you. Then you get used to being stunned and it feels wonderfully familiar. I had the day and night of my life. My legs took days to shut up and calm down, and I can't wait to do this again. If not for music, I would whither away. If not for “james” I'd need a map to the nearest nirvana.

Life, Death, Life

I knew how hard this would be so I waited a bit.  Funny, it's not hard at all, it's a comfort to talk to you.  This is RICHARD and KAREN in better days, when they were alive and full of the joys of being so.  This night, I think they were appreciating Dad's fine Italian white wine.
Ricky and Karen DIED last month, about a week apart.  I had been caring for Karen as best I could, with her intolerable cancer which robbed her of everything but pain.  Ricky shut himself away a dozen years ago in full shame about his protracted MS, and for looking and talking so poorly - I wouldn't have cared, I only wanted to visit him, but we all were turned away and now he's gone home.  He went first, so Karen would have someone there to welcome her. 
I loved them, will mourn them, and the 6 of 8 remaining including myself find ourselves outguessing who will go next.  It's somehow cathartic to hear "Oh you'll out-live us all."  Hope not, I want to go home too. 
My parents each died of cancer.  Another brother is living with his cancer and fights so hard so well.  I wanted to be the one to cure all of them.  I'm very dramatic.  Selfish.  Afraid and confused.  ANGRY.  My spiritual base helps, I pray my little chants and stay clear of organized religion which I believe has nothing to do with God by any name, it's an invention of humans to soothe their need to gather, to connect, to bond, or just to show off a new outfit.  To me, religion is the most dangerous invention of humankind.  It has nothing to do with an almighty power like God. 
Saturday we survivors are gathering again, this time in the church we were raised in, for a memorial.   None of us are practicing Catholics but since neither Ricky nor Karen wanted a funeral or burial or any of the finely-honed rituals of death, we had one for Karen's multitude of friends and this one will be for both of them.  Ricky cut off contact so I don't know if anyone who knew him pre-MS will show up.  All I can do is be there for my remaining siblings.  This is for the living, the dead are fine now. 
While caring for Karen I came to start resenting her and found it very difficult to even look at her, and this I'll have to find a way to live with - somehow.  She barely weighed 100 lbs, was heavily medicated, and said things her sweetness never would've considered.  Yelling, spitting, cursing, crying, desperate for "more time!!" she'd say.  I couldn't give that to her.  The cries in the night became torturous sounds to my ears for nothing I did helped fight off her demons.  One night I soothed her hot forehead as she drifted in a kind of semi-coma, thanking me even then in her distress.  My Lord she was generous!  So caring, so funny, so loving.  I never heard her shout in anger at anyone - until then.  The cancer and Rx caused her to yell at people, all the while making them coffee or a meal, trying to stay on her poor bony feet, in a state of utter nonsensical acts.  This was not my sister.  So I came to resent this person.  She disturbed me in her neediness, and I can barely get up and down stairs so I decided I was making a great sacrifice of love as a good sister would, while deep down I felt ridiculous limping through the house with my cane, cleaning, doing laundry, vacuuming, caring for those 2 cats (O those cats!) and all the minutia of someone's home and life who is dying in a painfully protracted way.  Karen thanked me constantly, even in her insanity of cursing and yelling.  I did everything I could - dressed her, bandaged her poor ulcerated legs, drove her food shopping or just did crosswords together, which she was pretty good at.
She loved "yard-sailing" as she called it and was an expert at getting a dollar from a dime.  All of us have in our homes some little trinket(s) she picked up especially for us, always generous, always thinking of family.  Karen has a daughter, Alexandra, 26, a beautiful replication of her own light from inside always shining out to guide those lost on the path.  Alex was there when her father died only months before, now her Mom was being lost to her and somehow she managed to get through each day.  I'm so proud of my niece, who now has no parents.  She does have us.
You'll notice I don't talk of Ricky.  There's nothing to talk about, not now.  Yes there are old memories but I lost him before he died, lost to his pride and shame, and now his spirit is home and his useless body is ash.  Karen was cremated too, it's what they both wanted.  Wakes and funerals are for us, the living.  We don't need their bodies in a box underground, hard as rocks from the embalming and of no use to anyone but those who make a living from the business of death.
There's life, there's death, there's life again, and logically there's death once more - on and on in the great cosmic circle of whatever all this is.  I think our soul or spirit, whatever makes us conscious and aware, is something beyond understanding and cannot die - like energy.  Perhaps we're pure energy at the very basic level and once shedding this flesh we return to that collective of energies from all over the world.  The universe.
Karen used to say "I love you times infinity".  The night sky will never look the same to me now....
Fare well, my brother, my sister, until my own return home when our spirits reunite and we recognize each other right away.  Help me through this.  Please.
My heart is full and I cannot cry.  I cannot cry!