Thursday, May 30
There were no speeches this morning, no priests or rabbis offering blessings.
No clergy of any kind claimed this moment for their own.
There were no celebrities sharing witticisms or condolences with the crowd. Politicians came to show their respects, but did not take this occasion to drum up a few more votes for Election Day. They did not take the podium.
There was no podium.
Not this morning.
Today was a quiet day.
The crowds watched from their perches in and around ground zero or from television sets scattered about this country as a fireman struck the bell in the 5, 5, 5, 5 alarm signaling the loss of one of their own.
We watched as the stretcher draped in the American flag, acting as a symbol for all those whose remains would never be found, was carried out carefully, solemnly, quietly by a group of rescue workers.
We watched them place the stretcher in an ambulance and escort the ambulance away. Its lights whirled, but no siren sounded.
Suddenly, there was sound, as the beating of the drums in the pipe and drum band broke through the quiet. The drumbeat was slow and steady like a heartbeat.
Burly police officers in kilts began their march.
We watched as the last steel beam, draped in black then red,white and blue was slowly driven out on a flat bed truck. This beam, on which was scrawled the names of too many who were lost so clearly looked like exactly what it was, a giant coffin, a majestic coffin.
We listened as buglers played taps and knew this was more than a funeral. It was an end and a beginning at the same time.
We watched as the men and women saluted, then slowly joined the line of rescue workers walking out of ground zero, leaving the site on this their last day.
The former mayor was there, the senators, our present mayor and other political figures but they kept quiet, some with their heads bowed and slowly walked off as others did without calling attention to themselves. This was not their day. This was not about them.
This nightmare began nine months ago with screams and explosions, fire and horror, but it ended with dignity, quiet pride and wondrous, selfless heroism.
I wanted to go to ground zero in person this morning but something inside of me decided that the space I might occupy was better left for the mourner or a loved one or a cop or a fireman or someone who just needed to be there more than I did.
I closed the door on my business and my day-to-day world and watched with the rest of you all as grace was illustrated more clearly than I'd ever seen it.
When it was over, I walked to the canvas I had just begun painting and looked at the words I had scrawled in the upper-left corner.
Monday, May 27
Why doesn't it feel done, then?
Now they say the work at ground zero will end and there will be a ceremony and all those men will try to go on with their lives and so will we, and I'm sitting here wondering why I don't feel happy that the work is ending.
Maybe some part of me feels that as long as there are people there working and searching for bodies and answers, there is some kind of hope.
Hope for what, I don't know.
It's been a rough week for me, to tell you the truth.
First there were the terror alerts, rekindling all my paranoias. I climbed the stairs to the roof the morning after the alerts hit the airwaves to have my coffee in the sun. It was a beautiful crisp morning.
It was hard not to feel an eerie deja vu sipping my coffee as countless helicopters whirled by. Most of them whirled about downtown.
The Brooklyn Bridge was just off to the downtown east of me.
The World Trade Center had been just off to the downtown west.
I don't think the helicopters would have bothered me much if it weren't such a pretty morning.
Pretty, crisp, sunny mornings tend to make me nervous now.
What I mostly felt, as I watched far too many helicopters whirl by, was lonely.
My dirty little secret of September 11th was how alone it all made me feel. No one in my life seemed to truly understand what I was feeling, what I had seen, where I had been, but then I couldn't understand where they were coming from, either. All of our processes were and are so different.
My lover and I dealt with 9/11 in ways, as opposite to each other as could be. I needed to throw myself into it head on and had no interest in anything else for some time. For her, 9/11 hit too close to home, home being war-torn. She opted to stay as far away from the towers and the turbulence as possible, which meant uptown or out of town. Needless to say, September was a rough time for us, neither one being able to really understand the other. I have no idea what its like to grow up in a war-torn country. She has no idea what it felt like to watch the towers fall or to be down there in those first days. I guess we're even.
I know it's unfair to expect any one else's process of this horrific event to be similar to my own. Even the great people I met down there who were in the trenches with me, were dealing with things in their very own and very different way.
Carol has still not accepted that it happened. She said she crawled inside herself and has not come out yet. If that's true, I'd love to meet the full her one day; the submerged Carol has been so sweet.
Dom says he got hooked on the adrenaline and now wants to join the Marines. Dom is over 50, but I think he can do anything he sets his mind to.
As I said, it's been a strange week.
The terror alerts rekindled those moments of real fear after the towers were hit. I felt frightened at the oddest times. For example, I was waiting for the subway, and I could see it stopped on the tracks not moving. I started to wonder if the blast would carry the 200 feet or so to me, if it were to blow. I realized I was backing up.
Then my personal life just, well, blew up this week.
My ex-wife was in town. We shared 5 years together, and while we didn't work out as lovers, she probably was the closest thing I had to family. I think of her now as some morph between my sister, daughter and mother. You can see why we needed to be platonic. Her parents (my former in-laws) wanted to have dinner, just the four of us.
I hadn't seen them since she and I were together. We've been broken up now for over three years.
It went well actually. They were very sweet, and the conversation flowed during dinner. We even went for a walk through my neighborhood after. In the times I'd met them before I think they were more concerned about their daughter's sexuality and me being caught up in that. I don't think they ever really saw me before. I don't think I ever really saw them, either.
I like them.
My sister was in town (yes same week), visiting yet another doctor to help her with a disease that her doctor has said is part real, part imagined. He gave her drugs, as all her doctors do. It took her less than 24 hours to complain that the drugs weren't to her liking. I think they're running out of things to give her. I guess I am, too.
So, as if this past week could get any longer, or more complex, my lover and I mutually decided to separate, or "take a break," as we put it. I don't know whether it will be for a week, a month, a summer or forever. I honestly have no clue, and I have no clue how to work out the problems between us either, if they can be worked out.
Certainly there's no shortage of love between us; there never was. I could fill this site with myriad theories, but that would be far too personal to share with you and far too unfair to her, so I'll just say ... things seem to really suck right now.
Also, according to all the theatre folks who were in Reaction, I've got the post-show blues. They all warned me about this, that if you dedicate six months of your life to a project and then the project finally happens and then ends, no matter how successful it was, you may wind up feeling like total crap afterwards.
Evidently the only cure is another huge project and, oh, traveling helps. Dror, my partner, is taking the month of July to travel from China to Russia and beyond on the Mongolian Express. That guy has balls. Well, he's a guy, he's supposed to have them.
I guess I feel the travel bug, too, but all my pull points to the same place its been pointing to for a year now, Israel. I'm resolved to go there soon. Fuck the suicide bombers. I need to go to Israel despite them. Or maybe because of them. I have no idea.
Anyway, my brain is fried, and this rant has delved a little deeper into my personal life than I generally go, but hey, life is short. I might as well say what I have to now; sometimes tomorrow never comes.
Friday, May 17
A hole in my heart
I was coming up to my favorite place on the 59th Street Bridge: on the upper roadway, a little more than halfway in. That's where it happens ... Manhattan spreads out like giant open arms, dazzling my eyes with a million twinkly lights. It's just perfection.
Close to midnight, after a hard night's work catering someone else's wedding, reeking of garlic, basil, and champagne vinegar (especially from my boots, where I tend to drip everything), I had forgotten about the 59th Street Bridge moment.
My kitchen is now closer to the Midtown Tunnel, and with traffic what it's been, my drivers always beg to take the tunnel and I always give in, even though it means spending the extra cash on tolls.
But not last night.
I don't know if I've been on the bridge at night since 9/11, but if I was, it must have been like so many moments in my life, lost in the busyness of my mind and my hectic work week.
As a matter of fact, I'm just coming off one of the busier weekends in, like ... um ... forever.
Friday night was the closing bash for the art festival I co-produced. It was pretty involved, between the DJ, performance artists and live art auction. Yours truly was the auctioneer. Yeah, I had stage fright, but it passed quickly. I found myself hamming it up on the microphone, even offering a sensual foot massage with each purchase.
When someone bid on a piece, I would immediately compliment them: "We have an offer of $100 from the very attractive, well dressed and clearly sophisticated paddle number 15!"
It was a lot of work (six friggen months to put this baby together!), but the show was a huge success. We wound up coaxing about one thousand people through our doors and that's not easy when the gallery is on 3rd Avenue between 118th Street and 119th Street.
I get nosebleeds at 14th Street! Most of our patrons would not have been surprised if they were asked to show passports at 100th Street.
But they came and they loved us, and 12 of them bought art.
I would have loved to stay in bed the whole weekend. I can always tell when I'm beyond my exhaustion limit, because my knees hurt. My knees were on fire.
But I had a wedding to cater for 160 people, and the client was one of the most difficult, spectacularly annoying grooms I've ever catered for.
Let me just take a moment to illustrate the annoying part. At the beginning of the party, he handed me enough antipasto perhaps to make seven nice plates, and asked us to make 18 plates, one for each table.
We were also given the appropriate amount of (truly inferior) pate for 10 plates and asked to make 17 display plates. Then we discovered that two of the terrines had turned bad.
The joke of the night went something like this; I would hold up a sprig of parsley, and James would say, "Be careful! That's garnish for 78 plates!" Then Neil would chime in, "Are you crazy? That's the entire entrée!"
Well, you get the point.
Anyway, I was annoyed, exhausted and relieved when I finally left my staff to deal with the cutting of the cake and caught a car service home.
Once on the bridge, traffic was light and we moved quickly. I forgot about the obnoxious yuppie groom instantly. The breeze was crisp and delicious. It sliced thru the back windows and seemed to soothe all my troubles away.
Then it appeared: my long-awaited, perfect Manhattan view. How I love this moment. I began to savor it, as I always have. (I've been known to ask others in the car to stop talking.) I let my eyes scan left toward downtown and right toward the Upper East Side. I smiled at the red, white and blue of the Empire State Building.
The city seemed larger than life, impossibly huge, and yet soft and accessible. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the upper windows of the skyscrapers.
Then it hit me.
Just like that ... it hit me.
I'd seen the World Trade Center fall down.
I had awakened one morning, climbed the stairs to my roof and watched the World Trade Center fall down.
I watched the World Trade Center fall down!!!!!!
Is it possible that this is the first time I have truly realized this??
Have I been just going through the motions these many months since 9/11, telling everyone about my experience, but not really telling myself?
Is it like the sudden, impossible death of my mother during a drive back from Florida? I would get little bits of information, every so often, a little more every year until I was finally ready to get the whole story ... if that has yet occurred. Has it?
I saw the World Trade Center ... the fucking World Trade Center ... fall down!!!
It was such a beautiful morning. God, can anyone remember a more beautiful morning? The sky was gorgeous and blue, laced with perfect, sheer clouds. The sun was radiant. This was the kind of morning that forced you to call in sick just to run to the nearest patch of green and lie down.
It was such a pretty, pretty morning.
Bad things never happen on such beautiful days, do they?
Even when we were on the roof -- I and the neighbors and I had frantically dragged up there so that they could verify that I was not dreaming -- even when we were there watching the towers burn, I knew that bad things never happen on such beautiful days.
They will put the fires out. No one will die. It will be okay. They will send helicopters and do whatever they have to do and it will be fine. It will be fine because it's such a glorious morning.
I felt the sun soothing my cheeks and shoulders, and it made me smile nervously. I stared at the towers burning like giant candles, leaking smoky gray into the backdrop of endless blue. Suddenly, little silver squares began to spray out from one of the towers. They caught the sunlight perfectly, like thousands of tiny mirrors and came cascading down. Like a gazillion silver cards, they sprayed out and down, and then suddenly, one of the towers was gone. It was just gone.
I held my breath and felt the pull of millions of other people holding their breath, on this morning, this pretty, pretty morning, and then we exhaled. We exhaled in cries. We exhaled in disbelief. Mostly we exhaled in screams.
To some extent nothing else I saw, heard or felt really registered after that. Not the demise of the second tower, not my days in ground zero feeding the rescue crews, not all the walks on the West Side Highway looking for answers.
"That was the funeral," Nancy explained to me. "Everything after that was just the funeral."
This really happened.
When I got home, after the my reality trip on the 59th Street Bridge, I felt dizzy. I grabbed my mail on the way up the stairs but didn't sift through it until after I'd taken a bath and breathed for a bit.
There was a package from St. Paul's Church. They had sent me a copy of the magazine printed by Trinity Church and a video of the relief work done by the churches. I am told that I am in this video.
I fell into my old leather chair and sifted through the magazine. It was filled with the kind of photos we've all seen, the 9/11 shots of the buildings being hit by planes or falling down and then all the shots of those first days after.
I came upon a picture of a group of rescue workers lining up for food in ground zero. In the background is a blonde woman in a yellow hard hat working the barbecue. The smoke from the grill makes a haze out of part of her face, but it's clear who she is.
This means, I was there.
The timing of receiving this package 30 minutes after the hugest reality jolt I've probably ever had, seems more than a coincidence.
I'm not a religious woman.
I don't even know if I'm a spiritual person, whatever that means.
But I do think that sometimes, God tells you things when you're ready to hear them.
Monday, May 13
I'm working on a self-portrait.
This is a dangerous thing, because it was a self-portrait that prompted me to stop painting for eight years, about 10 years ago.
I think it was some sort of reverse Dorian Gray thing, but the more I painted it, the uglier I got. Finally when I was looking like Elvira on a really, really bad hair day, I threw the damn thing in the closet, took out a pen and paper and wrote for eight years.
I'm not saying I regret it. Although it was a little odd to just stop painting for ... eight friggin' years!! It was kinda nice to spend that time discovering my voice, and not just the one I hear in the shower. I don't even know why or how I started painting again, and FYI I haven't slowed down a bit. But I can tell you this: I must either be an idiot or the bravest motherfucker around, because here I am painting a self-portrait again, and it's the same damn image -- me in the grass in Provincetown -- and the same colors, too, brown, green and burnt orange.
It's like I'm being eaten alive by the colors used to paint picnic tables.
Sheesh. Well I guess I'm facing my demons or something, but what is it about me in the grass that mucks up my entire creative mojo?
Was I once attacked by a lawn-mower?
Did a giant praying mantis jump off a blade of grass and bite my nose?
Whatever. ... this painting is about as fun as Newt Gingrich at an S&M convention. ... Hmmmm. Then again ... Well, nevermind.
My point is, oh what the hell was my point, ah yes, my point is that its very dangerous to paint self portraits when your entire sense of self-esteem rests securely in two things; how many phone calls (or emails) you receive from friends and admirers and how many editors want to publish your work.
Presently I've just has a nice little score with a cover story in Jewsweek, but my self-esteem is still scrubbing the toilet bowl, because the woman in my life is busy, and all my pals seem to have managed to survive without me for two days.
Two days!!!!! Doesn't anyone like me anymore?!?!??!?
This all stems from the 7th grade cafeteria; I know it.
Anne Owens, wherever you are, I owe you a punch in the nose!
Anyway, there's not much rhyme or reason to this week's rant, but then, that's why they call it a rant, anyway ... isn't it?
I got to start using more pink ...
Wednesday, May 8
My life has been very intense these last weeks. ...
I've found myself in a constant state of stress, anxiety, expectation, pride, disappointment, amazement, fatigue, adrenalin and exhilaration.
Have I begun a wild, torrid affair?
Moved to a new city?
Joined the NYFD?
I've been co-producing (along with my new fave boy buddy Dror) an art festival.
I never thought I could find something to do that would so totally combine every aspect of my past.
When I was 16, I worked as a barker on the Long Branch Amusement Pier, calling people in to spin the wheel and win cigarettes. Closing night (this Friday), I'm supposed to be the art auctioneer.
At the age of 17, tired of pacing the gallery streets begging the snotty curators to look at my portfolio, I produced the first of several alternative art shows. Twenty years later ... here I am again.
I spent five years in my early 20s working as one of NYC's more flamboyant bartenders and five hours opening night ... making sure all the beer and champagne was iced down.
I've been a caterer in New York for 12 years now, and aside from the fact that I kept waiting for the bride to cut the cake ... I felt exactly like I was on the job at Friday's art opening. Actually, I was on the job. I catered opening night; 1,000 hors d'oeuvres, to be exact.
Thank God for Neil, my fabulous chef, who allows me to be in three places at one time.
In my late 20s, I joined up with some of my gal pals (which included two ex-lovers ... natch) and founded Nasty Girl Productions. We promoted wild girl nights and had the distinction of being the first dyke party in New York with strippers. We were even picketed by the dykes-against-pornography posse, many of whom I have since seen in women's clubs tipping go-go girls.
Of course, what have I been more than anything else? A promoter, handing out flyers, emailing, constantly on the phone, calling the newspapers, getting liquor sponsors ... and hey, we almost had a stripper opening night!
A woman with a full back tattoo paced about as the walking display piece for one of our artists. The artwork creeped down unto her waiting buttocks. Nice; very nice. I did not put any money down her backless, buttless dress, although it was very tempting.
Lastly and perhaps mostly ... I am and have always been an artist, either as a writer or a painter.
In this show I displayed my paintings with written text on them, I suppose this is my last ditch effort to try to smash both parts of my brain together. Everyone seemed to like it. I hope. Actually a few people said the work was powerful. I like that word a lot.
I guess powerful is how I've been feeling ... and yeah, pissed off, exhausted, burn-out and terrorized. With 13 artists and 7 performance artists in the show, I feel like the mom, but not of The Brady Bunch ... more like of the Osbourne clan.
I'm not sure where all of this is going, although I do know that we haven't even hit closing night yet, and Dror and I are already chatting up ideas for our next show.
I do know that producing a weeklong art festival/exhibition/benefit in Manhattan feels like a very excellent "fuck you" to the pricks who thought September 11th was going to crush our souls.
What better way to fight against terrorism: to survive and excel and help create something new and magical.
The labor pains have lasted six months, and I know I'm gonna have some vicious stretch marks, but the baby is pretty damn adorable.
By the way, if you're in New York this week, come to closing night! No strippers, but there are some sexy cocktail waitresses in low-cut red dresses. Don't put any money down their cleavage though; they don't seem to like that. ... Odd.
A Multi-Media Art Exhibition/Festival To Benefit the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
At the DNA Studio Gallery
2174 3rd Avenue (between 118th and 119th Streets)
Friday, May 10, 2002
Live Auction at 8 PM sharp.
Some art festivals open with a bash; Reaction did. 700 art lovers attended opening night, but Reaction has a lot more celebrating to do.
Closing night promises to be the biggest event of this weeklong art festival with a live auction, MC'd by two noted New York City performers: Joanna Lange and David Tornabene.
There will also be a night of music by the world famous DJ $mall ¢hange of WFMU!
...and special live performances by Laura Dubrule, Suzie Evjen and Max Evjen!
This week long Art Festival at the DNA Studio Gallery in Spanish Harlem, which opened May 3, offers a chance to celebrate the great surviving spirit of New York artists. Reaction explores the ripple effects of September 11th on the work of a wide range of painters, sculptors, photographers and performers working in a variety of media. Each artist shows samples of pre-9/11 work allowing the viewers to note whether or not subtle and sometimes not so subtle changes have occurred in their style, media, or subject material. The bulk of the work on exhibit are pieces created after Sept. 11th, 2001.
Fifty percent of all sales from the show go directly to The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, a non-profit organization known for having provided free art studios in The World Trade Center. Funds go towards LMCC's programs that provide workspaces, grants and exhibitions for emerging artists
throughout New York City. The remainder of income goes directly to the exhbiting artists. DNA Gallery is donating its space and services for the exhibition/festival.
Visual artists in Reaction include Gus Murphy, Brenda Bradley, Lisa Barnstone, Jeremy Garrett, Dan-thanh Ton-That, Kathleen Perkins, Dror Katz,
Rossi, Yehudit Feinstein, Fawn Potash, Melissa Cacioppo, Ed Williams and John Daquino.
Performance artists include Caroline Brown and Sally Sockwell, Laura Dubrule, Joanna Lange and David Tornabene, Suzie Evjen, and Jen Abrams.
Exhibition/festival produced by Dror Katz and Rossi.
Contributors- Campari, Anheuser-Busch, Coca Cola Enterprises, New York Beverage, Tri-Serve Party Rental, The DNA Studio Gallery, The Raging Skillet, Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless and Paul Smart
**Bring cash or checks for the auction **
Silent auction from 7-8 PM
For further information go to www.dnastudio.org, or call 212-289-8959.