Tuesday, June 22, 2004

New York, New York

Really beat. Lousy night's sleep, followed by a day in-transit, returning from a terrific 5-day weekend in glorious, glorious New York City. So, briefly, a series of images, moments, experiences, memories from the past few days.

Nearly 4 years away from New York. Longest in my entire life. And Almost all of that time spent in the very much not-like-New-York Great State of Texas. As the plane bounced its way through a layer of heavy clouds and significant, worrying turbulence on our approach to LaGuardia Firday evening, I was momentarily slack-jawed by the sight of all that water. Rivers, oceans, bridges, in every direction, surrounding this jutting, jagged metropolis. Beautiful, expansive, swirling bodies of water. Living in a desert, you tend to forget about water.

Trees! And birds! And more trees! Trees in Texas are really "trees." More like scrub, but with some attitude. Beautiful, but in a sturdy, tenacious, "fuck you desert!" sort of way. We simply don't have trees that reach upward, stretching and swaying, leafy fingers clawing for sunlight and dew, green and lush and dense vegetation, Darwinian, struggling toward the sky. And in New York -- and particularly on the ride to Stamford, Connecticut Friday evening -- it was in embarassing abundance.

Delicious food, delicious wine, and the comfort of family in the home of my Uncle Pat and Aunt Susan. Mom's there as well. The first moment, of many, where I feel the Northward Pull, the desire to return to New York. I hate being so far away. It used to be that I could return pretty much anytime -- all I needed was a 4 day weekend to make the trip worthwhile. But now it's half a country away, and money ain't growing on trees.

Glorious weather in NYC on Saturday afternoon. Sunny, low 80's, and breezy breezy breezy. Wandering around the Theater District for an hour or so prior to the matinee of Hairspray. OK show -- but not great, not by a long shot. Are theater audiences so desperate for entertainment that THIS passes for brilliance? I mean, 2 good songs, some nice performances, but come on. It felt like some sort of weird fusion of Grease and Little Shop of Horrors, authored, produced and performed by a talented High School class. And $100 for shitty obstructed-view box seats at the Neil Simon Theater. They should be ashamed of themselves. Should have just gone to see the Blue Man Group.

Meeting friends at the Times Square Toys R' Us, and then fleeing that fucking nightmare as quickly as possible. A prime example of Bigger being FAR from Better. An absolute horror show.

$60 for a round of drinks at the Marriott Marquise. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! That's just 4 drinks! Yeah, I had a double Bombay Sapphire, but goddamn! Still with said friends -- dear friends Pat, Amy, and Rich, as well as Rich's new ladyfriend Lisa. Dear, dear friends all. Yet another Fuck-I-miss-New-York moment. I'm too far away from folks I hold dear.

Flee Times Square and the passing of the Olympic Torch. Just happened to be there that day, missed the whole thing, but apparently there was going to be a big to-do in the square that evening to "celebrate" (a.k.a. promote) the event. Showtunes, local celebs, and I mean, USHER WAS GOING TO BE THERE!!! No one says "Olympics" like Usher. YEAH! Mobs of tourists, streets barricaded all over the place. 1/9 line, take me away! To the Village we go. Ye Olde Stomping Grounds.

Stop at Jeckyll and Hyde's. Man, that place sucks these days.

Head over to The Slaughtered Lamb. Man, that place sucks these days.

These places were SO cool about 10 years ago. Now? Total suck. But still, good beer all the same. Even if it was served in shitty, plastic, logo'd half-yard glasses. You really can't go home again.

Wander the Village, stop and smell the flowers (really! I love those flower stands). Buy some cool, cheap earrings. Briefly entertain getting my nipple pierced. Decide that what we need is a good dose of gay. I mean, this IS the Village. So, on to The Duplex. Not actually a "gay bar." But, I mean, it's a piano bar within stumbling distance of the Christopher St. subway station -- on its butchest day it's about as straight as Lombard Street. By far the high point of the evening. Lifted the fog, brightened the mood, and brought tears to Richard's eyes (important side note -- we were working overtime to avoid melancholy this evening, as Richard is off to Lord-knows-where for a year. Iraq, Afghanistan, who know's fuckall. So, active attempts to keep the Serious Stuff at bay).

Sitting by the East River, upper East Side, Sunday morning/afternoon. Pure bliss. More gorgeous weather. Hanging with my gorgeous, single sis-in-law Kelly (cool, successful, a serious catch -- contact me offline for matchmaking opportunities) and previously noted friends. Sad goodbye's all around, then working out at s-i-l's gym followed by meeting up with oldest, dearest friend Gregory (the man who is responsible for a straight guy knowing So Damn Much about gay bars in the Village -- note that I'm not complaining. Just giving credit where it's due. All straight men should have good gay role models. And should spend some time in gay bars so they get a feel for what straight women have to put up with...).

HOURS setting up a surround sound stereo system. OK, so this wasn't the high point of the weekend. But it works now, and that's cool.

Check in at the Hotel 17 in Gramercy Park -- what a cool fuckin' place! Great neighborhood, incredible building (sort of a dormitory setup -- sinks in the rooms, shared private toilets/shower rooms in each hall). Must have been a sort of women's apartment house in the early parts of last century. Personally I like to think it was a Home for Wayward Women. Girl's lookin' for TROUBLE -- you know the sort of place I mean. Loose women, smoking cigarettes in darkened hallways, biding time 'til lights out. And there definitely had to be a house mistress named Ilsa.

At least, that imagery helped me get to sleep later that night. But, well, that's not an unusual occurence, regardless of where I am...

Stumbling around the Village til after midnight. Drama from a drunken Harold. Heartfelt catching up with Gregory. Fielding passes from charming and less-than-charming gay men with alarming frequency. Apparently, I've become both "cute" and "pretty darn hot" (thank you Ray) as my 30's have paraded by. Fuck it -- I'll take what I can get.

Touristing on Monday -- Empire State Bldg. (but not the top -- too long a wait), Chrysler Bldg., Grand Central (haven't been there since before the renovation -- christ, what a beautiful building). Also, "33rd and Bird," coolest bird store EVER.

More upper east side, sandwiches by the river, taxi to Riverdale, dinner and drinks at a diner with MORE old friends, then back to Kelly's, wander about the neighborhood to run some errands and eat some ice cream, TV, sleep, cab ride to LaGuardia and back to my family.

God, I missed them. And dammit, I REALLY miss New York. Hoping to bring the whole family, together, next year. I need to spend time in my city with my kids.

And I really need to figure out some way to live there, someday. Maybe.

Mood: Kinda beat, but happy. And kinda frisky. Mrowr.
Now Playing: Nada.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Bursting with Pride

Not a lot of time to write, today -- I've got a bunch of things to wrap up before I head to New York City for 5 glorious days this Friday. But I just had to brag on my kids a bit. First, some intros with pictures.

Here's Miranda:

Miranda turned 5 back in September and will be starting kindergarten this August. She's flighty, sensitive, sharp as a whip, inventive, clever, manipulative, and breaks my heart with her sweetness and kind nature on a regular basis. Somehow, Miranda manages to be both independent (with us and our immediate family) and overly reliant on approval (with almost everyone else, particularly other kids) at the same time. This kid is gonna be an amazing adult, assuming her eagerness to please and be adored by everyone doesn't get her in trouble first.

Here's Trevor:

Trevor turned 4 back in April, and judging by his intellectual development so far he will be attending Oxford by Fall 2005. He's already reading (by our estimates) at about a 2nd-3rd grade level and has been spelling and typing words on the computer since before he turned 3. He's got tremendous focus and intensity, and often seems to be either a) contemplating some sort of plan for global domination -- don't worry, he'll be a benevolent ruler. He's a sweetie! -- or b) attempting to levitate objects from across the room.

I swear, these kids are simply the most amazing little beings on the face of the planet. Yeah, it's not always a picnic, but when it's good it's better than anything I could have ever imagined, and it makes the challenges more than worthwhile. But I just need to ramble a bit about something Miranda did today that made me insanely proud.

Our gym has a terrific child care and activity program. Fantastic, really: Enables us (especially Christine) to get plenty of time in at the gym, and the kids are entertained and active all the while (mostly -– sometimes it turns into TV time, which we're not thrilled with, but mostly they bounce around and play).

Anyway, Christine brought Miranda to the gym and dropped her at the Kid's Zone this morning. Shortly afterward, another mom dropped off her 3 year old. It was her first time in the child's room, and the kid was NOT pleased, crying hysterically from moment one, screaming for her mother, etc.

So, what does my daughter do? According to the child care worker that was stationed in the Kid's Zone, and with no encouragement or coaching from anyone, Miranda spent the next 20-30 minutes talking to the little girl, comforting her, singing songs, bringing her tissues, helping her wipe her nose and dry her eyes, finding toys to distract her, talking gently to her, telling jokes, and doing her damnedest to cheer the kid up.

Best of all, it worked. By the time the new kid's mom picked her up the kid was laughing and having a blast.

And here's the kicker: Christine finishes exercising and the manager of the gym wanders over to let her know just how terrific Miranda was with the other girl. So, Christine walks into the Kid's Zone and says "So, Miranda, how'd you do in the Kid's Zone while I was exercising?" expecting, of course, that Miranda would proudly boast about how she cheered up another kid who was upset, anticipating a reward for good behavior (typically a strawberry/banana smoothie).

But, no -- instead, Miranda says "I don't think I'll be allowed to get a smoothie today, Mommy. I didn't listen very well" (we've been focusing on listening skills a LOT lately, and Miranda knows we put a big premium on truthfulness...). Didn't even mention the good stuff until Christine brought it up.

You know, everyone wants their kid to be brilliant, get straight A's, be a star athlete, confident and gorgeous. We put a lot of focus on all these easy to spot, quantifiable things that ultimately place your kid somewhere in a nice, neat pecking order. And of course I want these things for my kids, simply because life can be much easier if you have some or all of them.

But I think above all else I want my kids to be effortlessly kind. Kindness is a sadly overlooked trait in children -- take it from someone who was shit on a bunch as a kid. People don't stop to think about it enough, and there's certainly no test for it. But this world could really do with a bunch more of it.

And here's my daughter just being a flat-out kind person, for no reason at all aside from the fact that she likes other kids, especially younger kids, and there was one who needed some comforting.

This whole thing makes my heart feel too big for my damn chest. How the hell did I get so lucky?

Needless to say, she got her smoothie. And I'm bringing her out for ice cream tonight, too. If Trevor isn't too busy subjugating all of humanity maybe he'll come along, too.

Mood: Busting my buttons
Now Playing: BT, "Emotional Technology"

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Father's Day

Father's Day

So, Father's Day is coming up. I had this weird mental lapse about it, and it seems to have dislodged some stuff as a result. Basically, I went and made travel plans the weekend of Father's Day. After years away, I am finally heading to New York City again. I haven't been there since a few months before 9/11, and I've missed it something awful.

I'll be traveling alone – Christine, Miranda, and Trevor just got back from a NYC trip to visit her ailing, evil grandmother and I decided to pass, since, well, she's evil, and I'd have wound up having to sleep on the floor or something.

But here's the fucked up part – I went and made travel plans, without my family, on the one weekend that features the one day of the year that theoretically is All About Daddy. It was completely unintentional – didn't even realize that was Father's Day weekend until weeks after the reservations were made. But the not-so-simple fact is that Father's Day has never played a big role in my life before, so I'm just not particularly aware of it yet. I assume as years pass and my kids get more into it then I'll be more aware of it, but as of now not so much.

My father died when I was very young – about 6. He had gone to a local bowling alley to set up a car pool with some friends, and on his way home something went wrong with the car. Ironically, though my dad was quite the drinker, alcohol played little to no part in the accident -- that night he had had only a beer or two (according to the bartender at the bowling alley bar, who was a family friend). According to the woman in the car behind his (the very odd mother of a very odd friend I had throughout my school years), his car rounded a curve, swerved once, jerked back into the lane, swerved again, and then shot directly off the road. The car hit a tree, my father was thrown through the windshield, head first, into a small brick wall. He died of massive head trauma shortly after my mother arrived at the hospital several hours later.

Those are the clinical details. However, the way I perceived it for years afterward was altogether different.

There was this new science and nature magazine that had recently launched. Can't remember what it was called, but the concept was that each issue was a portion of a larger volume, like a science encyclopedia. You'd buy them all, save them, put them in some special binder, and eventually, voila! It's The Great Big Book of Everything, seventies style.

Anyway, the night he went out, my brother and I were hounding him to pick up the first issue. So, in my mind, he only went out that night because I had asked for the magazine. It was all my fault, you see. I wanted the magazine, and my father died trying to get it for me. I was certain of this, and was terrified that the other people in my family might somehow discover my part in his death.

Twenty-some-odd years later, during a late night of drinking beer with my brother, we got to talking about our long deceased father. Turned out that he had exactly the same experience, blamed himself in exactly the same way. He, all of 8 at the time, spent years convinced that he was the reason our father had died, and it was all because of a magazine he wanted. And he never told any of us, and I never told any of them, until that day.

For years after my father's death, I remember having dreams of a car, broken glass, darkness and smoke and silence, with a torn science magazine lying on the floor. I can't see my father in these dreams, but I can see the fucking magazine just as plain as can be.

Now, "remember" in this case may not be exactly accurate – what passes for my childhood memory is a bit of a slippery fish. It should come as no surprise that losing a parent at the age of 5 or 6 will have profound effects on a kid's development. For me, it resulted in this sort of dense fog, draped over everything that would typically be considered memory, for several years after my father's death.

I remember with stark clarity the morning I found out my father was dead. The cold gray February light in our living room, the position of the furniture, the sloppily-knitted reds and greens and yellows and browns of the afghan hanging over the back of our recliner, the confusing detail that one of the two people in the room looked a lot like my father, the revelation of the dark events of the night before, my brother running from the room as his slightly more sophisticated 8-year-old mind quickly grasped the reality of the situation, my own declaration that no, the man sitting on the couch was my father, my childish joking that the 13-year old boy who babysat for us (Gregory, who is to this day one of my dearest friends) and who somehow got saddled with this horrifying task was in fact my mother, my halting attempts to figure out "the joke" by returning to bed, the sudden rip in the world as I began to understand that Daddy wasn't coming home.

But after that, things get hazy, disconnected. I remember events, but they lack context and are not really fixed in time, in any sort of sequence, the way we think of memory. And what memories I do have tend to either become more cinematic as time goes by – some sort of attempt, I'd say, by my creative side to fill in the gaps – or to become obscured. And then, around the age of 10, things come back into focus, more or less.

So whether the dream is real or not, I can't say. It may be something that my subconscious has sort of pasted together to fill a hole. But it feels real, and unfortunately that's about all I've got, there. And as for whether this fogginess ended with my tenth birthday, well, I should be so lucky. Things certainly got clearer, but to this day when particularly painful events occur in my life I tend to slowly lose the details over time until finally the memory of the whole event is just, well, gone. It's not like I forget it ever happened, I just forget experiencing it.

Example: My grandfather died about 15 years ago, and last year, while at a film with my mother, I realized that I can't recall the day of his funeral. Not a thing. What he looked like as he was laid to rest, the church, the funeral home, who was there, whether I cried, anything. It's a blank. The things I can remember (his brown suit, for example) resemble photographs, and I suspect they are images I've filled in based on other's recollections.

And aside from snapshots, I can't recall my father at all. I've now outlived him by several years, and I've got kids that are rapidly approaching the age at which my brother and I lost our dad. In time I suppose I'll begin to think of Father's Day as a day filled with memories and meaning, of moments with my children fixed in time. But for now it's ... indistinct.

So, yeah. Father's Day.

Mood: Darkly Reflective
Now Playing: Faith No More, "This Is It: The Best of Faith No More"

Semi-Random Thoughts on "In America"

Rented and watched In America last night – wonderful, wonderful stuff. Spectacular acting by the entire cast, beautifully filmed and written by Jim Sheridan and his family. Heartbreaking, joyous, hopeful, deeply moving, with its heart fixed firmly to its sleeve. Modern Capra in the best sense of the word (as opposed to "Modern Capra in the worst sense of the word" as exemplified by the positively cringeworthy The Majestic…). Unabashedly sentimental without the slightest hint of mawkishness about it. Very, very strong recommendation.

While watching it, I had some thoughts float across the periphery. Here they are.

For all our country's problems – and we have a fuckload of 'em – I still believe we have hope and promise to spare. It was so invigorating to see a film that shows WHY so many people will do just about anything to get here, to live, to start again. There's so much vitriol directed at illegal immigrants by the talking heads in our society, but why can't they stop and feel some pride and charity instead? I mean, the things we have, the things we take for granted, are things that people elsewhere are sometimes willing to risk imprisonment or even death for. C'mon folks, don't demonize the people who wants so desperately to come here – consider it noblesse oblige if you must.

I don't understand how any couple can survive the death of a child. No matter how much you love someone, I simply can't imagine looking into their face and seeing the face of your son or daughter lurking in their eyes, their lips, their cheekbones, their hair, floating in their face like a ghost in the mirror.

When a family member dies, does everyone else in the family always seek to blame themselves for the person's death? Even the children? That was certainly the case for me and my brother. More on this in another journal entry.

Mood: Clouds gathering
Now Playing: Loreena McKennitt, "The Mask and the Mirror"