Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 30

Up at four this morning, only to learn it was actually three. My two-year-old son was also restless and started calling for me shortly after I got up. The embers in the fireplace were still red from last night’s fire, so I threw in some fresh logs and they are now gently blazing. It is as still as the middle of the night can be; the only sounds in the cabin are my fingertips on the keyboard, the occasional crackle of the fire and my son’s raspy breathing, sprinkled now and then with a whimper. Something is bothering him tonight and I wonder if it might be our upcoming move. I took him by the local airfield yesterday afternoon and we saw a small single-engine plane take off into the Autumn sky. I told him we would soon be riding in a plane, traveling to our new home. I’ve been talking with him about the move since we made the decision, trying to prepare him for it, for the leaving of familiar things and places. He has been curled up in my arms tonight, not sleeping really, just dozing, cuddling, and holding onto me and me to him. This move has stirred up so many emotions, movement does that, it causes you to make choices about what to save and what to leave behind, and those choices aren’t limited to clothing and books and mementos, but to people, relationships, expectations, dreams … things that keep you awake at night.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Good Byes

It’s 3 in the morning and I have been awake in my bed making lists of people I want to see today in New York, people I want to say good-bye to in person. I’m cleaning the apartment out today.

Arthur, who used to own the second-hand book store on West 4th street but now works for the man who bought it from him.

Rhonda, who runs the most perfect neighborhood Italian restaurant in the world, the restaurant that I must have spent thousands of hours and dollars in over the last ten years, the restaurant where we sat almost every night for a year and planned the ill-fated film that brought our relationship down and the restaurant a few years later where the new we held our wedding dinner. Rhonda, I hope you are in today.

Ping, I know you are no longer at the Chinese laundry down the street from my apartment (it’s still MY apartment for another four days), I know your heart finally retired you but I would so like to tell you goodbye and thank you for all the rush jobs you did on my clothes when I was about to get on a plane for some last minute job. Thank you for the beautiful sweater you gave to my son when he was one year old and for waving to us every time we walked past your window.

Humdee and Sam at the Deli … I could not begin to count the bagels and tuna fish sandwiches you have made for me, or the lentil soup that Sam makes every Wednesday. Thank you for ordering the case of Animal crackers we gave away as souvenirs at the opening of the film. Thank you for always remembering how I like my coffee and for always having a smile on your face when I walked in.

Ramon, the super of the building on the corner, who was probably as excited as anyone when he saw us walking down the street with His Holiness in the basket when we got home from St. Vincent’s and who has had something nice to say every day since.

Jesus at the cigar shop, the lady behind the counter at the Spanish breakfast stand, the one-armed homeless man who lives in our neighborhood and always greets me politely when I see him, whether or not I have anything to give him that day, the old couple on the block who wave from their chairs in the garden as we walk by, Jason the hair cutter on the corner, the girls at the Chinese restaurant near the playground, the lady at the bookstore on Bleaker street who always knows just the right thing to recommend and who told me about “A Winter’s Tale” …
The list goes on and the longer I sit here thinking about it the farther back in time I go … to the first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to New York in the late 1970’s … I’ve forgotten their names now but not their kindness or wit or intensity or the sounds of their voices, the accents from the old worlds of Cuba and Germany and others … the immigrants who settled in New York after WWII and whose numbers were dwindling when I arrived … I can’t list them this morning but I will never forget them, any of them.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

October 25

We bought the airline tickets and yesterday I cancelled the phone service, the cable TV, closed my bank account (I kept one NY account open for all the checks I’m expecting!) sent change of address forms everywhere and signed up for electronic debit bill paying for any remaining stateside-based services … So the check list is dwindling. Thursday I will go to the apartment and breakdown my garden.

I started building this garden in 1998 on the terrace of my apartment. It’s a large terrace, over 300 square feet, so I had some space to play with. It is by necessity a container garden. I built planters and found containers of all sorts wherever I traveled; sap buckles from Vermont, decorative tin buckets from Venice, stainless steel mop buckets from the trash pile down the street. Almost any container could be used and at the height of summer it didn’t much matter what the container looked like because the plants were always overflowing their nests onto the retaining wall in search of light and space and freedom. I had planned to transplant some of the larger and older plants to the grounds of the cabin here upstate, but I may have waited too long. Last night the first snow fell a few hundred feet in elevation north if us. It will only be a matter of days, maybe weeks, before the temperatures drop below freezing here and snow begins to fall regularly.
There is one tree I want to save. It was a drug store miniature Christmas tree, about 12 inches tall and when that first Christmas season was passed I set it in the corner of the terrace in a large planter all it’s own. Over the years it has flourished, weathered bitter winters and ice storms and cigarette butts tossed from the neighboring building on dry summer nights and grown to be almost five feet tall. Each year I drag it over to the middle of the terrace and draped it in Christmas lights – it’s annual dress up. It’s so large now that I need two strands of lights to wrap around it … Thursday I will take it down and pack it in a van, transport it upstate, plant it and hope for the best.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

October 22

This afternoon my two-year-old son got dressed up in a fire truck costume and went to a Halloween party at the firehouse in Kaneonga Lake. He wore a colorful sponge fire truck hung from his shoulders with straps, a red plastic fire hat, red pants and a red Wallace Berry shirt. The party is sponsored each year by the Town of Bethel, New York, which is where we have been living this Summer and now Fall … since we left the apartment in New York and began preparing for our move to Cologne. There was a small parade (12 children) around the fire trucks and then back into the dining hall. After the parade there was a contest where every child won something … Sebastian’s costume was voted most original …
It’s difficult to write about the emotions summoned by a day like today – the feelings I have toward my son and the feelings I have about living in a small town in rural New York, getting to know the folks here and feeling a part of it, with the knowledge that in less than a month it will be over. This afternoon at the party I saw a woman I had known a few years back. I had interviewed her for a documentary I was doing on the 35th Anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival which was held here in Bethel, about three miles from where I am writing this tonight. She and her husband ran a small grocery store in town and during the week or so that the town of Bethel became the center of the universe for a generation, she opened the doors of her store and fed the hungry children who showed up. She is something of a legend in the town. Her husband, who was featured prominently in the movie Woodstock, died a year before I came to town to do the film, so I never had the chance to meet him. Today I saw her again, at the children’s Halloween party at the firehouse. She was there with her great grandson, who was dressed as Superman. She told me that her father had worked as a carpenter in the area and had probably built the cabin we live in, that his initials are some place in the house. Later in the day we stopped at the Lutheran Church just down the road for their Annual Turkey Dinner Fundraiser … For $8.00 a person you could have all the turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and gravy and string beans and cranberry sauce you could eat … I ate until I could eat no more, thinking all along this might be the last dinner of this sort that I would have for a long time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

October 19

I am beginning to have regrets, as the days become fewer and fewer until I leave America. Yesteday my former landlord called to say my apartment had been rented about 15 minutes after we put it on the market. I knew it wouldn’t last long, it was a perfect NYC apartment and I will miss it terribly – but I don’t want to think about that because it will make me terribly sad and I am afraid that if I allow myself to be sad right now I will just open some kind of floodgate of melancholy that I will be wading in for the rest of my life. But I am having regrets, for example I didn’t take my camera with me yesterday when I was in the city for a video shoot – my still camera that is – so that I could take a few more shots of the city. I just didn’t carry my camera around with me enough during the last 25 years or so that I've lived in Manhattan – I never thought I would leave.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Saturday Night

This is early even for me – not yet 2AM and I’m sitting at the keyboard which I can barely focus on my eyes are so jumpy – I’m awake and can’t go back to sleep, not after being awakened twice in the course of the previous two hours. I have a difficult time as it is getting nearly through a night – but with two interruptions I’m shot! So here I am. Should I consider this a continuation of Saturday or the beginning of Sunday? I know technically it’s Sunday but it feels like Saturday night …

Saturday night: what does that mean to me any more? What has it meant to me for a long, long time? It used to mean going out on a date or going out with a friend to look for girls. I was not one of those people for whom Saturday night was about getting dressed up and taking myself downtown to a club or mixing it up with the locals in a bar, nor was I ever really “one of the guys” who would hang out in groups and talk sports and ride around in their cars and drink, unless I count the period from 14-16 years of age when one of the older boys in high school let another friend and I ride around in his Cherry Red Chevy SS-396. Looking back I don’t know how he ever got to drive that car or why he let us ride with him, but he did and we did and we would often end up at the A&W Root Beer Drive-In where they had curb service and hung those metal trays on the side of your car. Late on a Saturday night in Columbia, South Carolina it was a scene, with cars cruising through the parking lot one after another, like toy trains linked at the nose and tail, around and around and around, some with couples inside, some with just girls and most with horny young boys like us who only knew we wanted a girl, but had no idea what to do if we were to actually get one in the car with us – which of course we never did.
Saturday night in the back seat of that car was also about drinking beer from a can and smoking cigarettes, about feeling almost old enough to matter but not quite, because at 14 you know you shouldn’t be doing the things you are doing, so as cool as you try to be you are always holding a little something back, never rising too far out of your seat as you participate in the merry-go-round the parking lot, less you actually catch someone’s attention.
Now Saturday night is just the night before Sunday morning, and I’m most often sitting here, not in the black leather back seat of a hot red muscle car, but in a squeaky old rocking chair in a cabin in the Catskill Mountains wide awake.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Europe v. Cologne

Coming on one month before we leave New York and America for good and begin our life in Europe. I am having some trouble saying or writing the word “Cologne” when thinking about the upcoming move, when naming the destination. I am so accustomed to being a New Yorker, a person who lives in the center of the world, and being foolishly proud in some way of having this crazy place as my hometown. I wear it like a badge of honor, saying to the world – I am able to cope with New York – to thrive in it - to love it and almost understand it. And now I am about to say good bye to it and move to a small city in the middle of Germany where the sun doesn’t shine nearly enough and where I know I will be assaulted on a daily basis for being an American and somehow responsible for George Bush and all the ridiculous crap he is propagating in the world. Living in New York – we all KNOW we didn’t vote for him and that the world will be better off when he retires. But the rest of the world often lumps all Americans together (for convenience no doubt) with comments like, “Well you elected him.” And my answer is; NO I DIDN’T! He stole the first election and lied his way into a second tern by scaring 51% of the voters into thinking he could protect them from Weapons of Mass Destruction, which only existed in his speeches, and from the hidden armies of international Terrorism, whose ranks he has successfully increased by giving them a new rallying cry and focus in Iraq! Ok – enough of the ANTI-BUSH rant …
I was writing about my ambivalence in naming Cologne as my new destination, in favor of the much sexier “Europe” and I think I will just stick with Europe for now because I don’t know a thing about Cologne and I genuinely hope to use Cologne, in my remaining years, as a point of departure to discover a part of the world I know just enough about to be curious …

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hour of the Wolf

In a recent interview the horror writer and dare-devil Dan Greenburg was asked what actually scared him.

A: Waking up at the hour of the wolf, that hour just before the sky starts turning pink, when the comforting sounds of crickets and cicadas and the bugs that sound like ratchet tools have stopped for the night and nature is holding its breath before dawn, the hour when the most truly horrifying things happen to people. Wait, did you hear that? A kind of eerie scratching and snuffling at the back door? No? Uh-oh. You know, I think I forgot to double-lock the back door, and the one thing they warned me never to do in these woods is to forget to double-lock the back door. I'd better go check it out.

There is something about getting up at 4:00 in the morning that is qualitatively different from getting up earlier or later. At some point in my early 20’s I accepted the notion that the hour between 4AM and 5AM was the “hour of the wolf” - it was something I read somewhere or heard on the radio late one night driving home from a date. I genuinely believe this hour is somehow haunted and that whatever evil there is in the world surfaces at this time. Without any evidence to support it, I'm sure that most of the murders and beatings and rapes and other bad things people do to other people, occur during this hour and therefore it isn’t a good thing to be out and about in the world until 5:01AM or thereabouts. And I have this notion that whatever evil might lurk within me has a better chance of acting on me if I’m awake, so I don’t particularly like it when I can’t sleep for one reason or another and get up and go into the kitchen and see the clock above the oven reads four-something in the morning as it did today.

It is now safely past 5:00AM. I can hear the early birds chirping outside. I’ve made it through another hour of the wolf unscathed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

October 12

It has been raining for a week. It began with morning fog which would burn off my late morning, then the rain came in earnest, biblical amounts, flooding, trees falling – that sort of rain. It let off for two days to a steady, soft drizzle but this morning the heavy rain is back and the lights are flickering as I write this, no doubt because a tree somewhere has fallen and is leaning against the wire and any moment now will come crashing to the ground ushering in a few hours of power-free living before the New York Electric Authority (or whatever it’s called out here) sends a crew to repair the line and clear the trees. His Holiness had asked for pancakes this morning but may have to settle for cereal.

On a completely unrelated matter … I woke up this morning wondering how it was that we elected George Bush to two terms as President of the United States. I really don’t understand. I like to think of myself as a person who pays attention to the world around him – but for the life of me I just can figure out what might have brought over half of the voters in the recent election (and slightly less than half in the first election which was stolen – not won) to vote for this numbskull. He is the most corrupt, incompetent half-wit to occupy the office of President in history … (I went through the list of Presidents to see if I might have missed someone, but no, Bush is the dullest of them all.) The only explanation I can think of is that the voters looked at Laura Bush and thought to themselves that anyone with a wife as smart and attractive as she is can’t be a total looser – WRONG!

The siren at the firehouse has just started – it is blaring wildly – cutting the pre-dawn calm like a butcher knife and calling the volunteer firemen to their trucks … Whatever it is – I hope everyone is safe – I hate to hear that wail.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

October 11, 2005

I haven’t been writing much lately, the odd letter to the editor but nothing here or in my diary, no travel pieces, and no visits with pen in hand to the places I normally frequent. Maybe the impending move has temporarily frozen me. I do feel a bit like I’m incased in wax – not a part of the New York scene anymore and not having a clue what life will be like in Cologne. Although I have a pretty good idea I won’t be strolling down the street seeing beautiful people everywhere or window-shopping or without thinking about it just stop in for a good cup of coffee in some small café. I know Cologne is not Manhattan, it never will be the same nor should it and I will never be the same, nor should I be, but I am apprehensive about the move, coming from this place I know to a city I have visited but really know nothing about, where people speak a language I don’t yet understand and where they eat food too bold for daily consumption…

Friday, October 07, 2005

October 7

It is very early in the morning, crickets are still singing outside my window. I haven’t been able to sleep these last few weeks; I suppose it’s the impending move to Europe that has my mind racing, and I love this old cabin in the woods and hate the thought of leaving it, even though I expect to be back in the spring. There is something holy about the sounds of the stillness here … when the only breaks in the silence are hoot owl calls, insect songs and coyotes weeping at the moon.
Last night I tried going to bed early, I was exhausted and got under the covers right after dinner … Then my two year old son came in and crawled up on the bed with a book and tossed it in my direction, his face filled with a huge wet smile. He was in his pajamas and his hair was damp and curly. He is at is most cuddly at times like this, and I sat up in bed and read to him and thought to myself how precious these moments are, when all he wants is to share time and space with his mother and father, to glow in their love. It will feel like a heartbeat when he is grown and gone and that moment, just a dream from a sleepless night.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Found in Boxes

October 5, 2005

While preparing for this current move to Europe I started the packing and sorting out process with my most valued things, the items I keep in small leather boxes and envelops near my chest of drawers, where I can always get to them. And even though the pile has become cluttered in the last ten years and nearly impossible to get to, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what was there. This area is something like the cigar box that little boys keep under their beds, with magic rocks and toy soldiers and other treasure and secret things picked up in their travels. Well, so too are the things I collect and keep in my special place.

Two items in particular caught my attention this weekend; brought me up short, made me stop what I was doing and get out my glasses for a closer look. One was a picture taken of me early one morning on the bike path on the beach between Venice Beach and Santa Monica. It was taken by a woman who was never quite my girlfriend. We tried, but it just didn’t work. We liked each other a great deal and had so much fun riding our bikes around Santa Monica in the morning and visiting friends together and hiking and talking about the world. She was an expat southerner like myself and had the familiar, soft-spoken sound to her voice that felt like home and best friends left behind. To this day I think about her and miss her company. We ran into each other on Madison Avenue one day a few years back. She had married and looked very happy and I was happy for her. In the picture I am standing next to my bike, wearing a pair of shorts and a sweatshirt I picked up during the filming of a movie. The picture was taken 13 years ago and in it I looked happy. The moment is so clear in my mind I can smell it. I don’t have many pictures from that time or from any time in my past really, so this one is special and will certainly be among the things I bring with me wherever I go.

The other item I found was a large brown envelope filled with stories given to me by a bar tender I met during the last movie I made. She worked in a terrible little bar on the ground floor of the building we had rented for our offices. Years later it would be the nearest bar to the World Trade Center site still open for business after the bombings of September 11th. In the days directly following the disaster I remember walking by and seeing the sign out front advertising “nearest beer to WTC” and thinking what an unsavory character the owner of that place was and remained. There were more than a few nights when she pulled down the gates out front and bolted the door and kept the bar open for me. We would sit and drink and talk about writing and life. It wasn’t until sometime later, after I’d finished the film and moved on, that she showed me her stories. They were still works-in-progress but they bowled me over. In them her main character describes her feelings as she goes out on her first night as a call girl. She describes getting dressed for the night, the clothing, lipstick, hose, shoes – every detail of the evening down to the sound her Honda civic made as she pulled up to the curb a block away from her customer’s house. This was the first story I read but there were others in which she described her coming of age in a sub-culture of flesh and commerce where her main character was the commodity, and it was all so real, the details so vivid that reading the stories was like looking over her shoulder. I could smell the heat of the dressing room of the strippers preparing themselves for a show, I could feel the tension of the John as he watched her dance to the music she played on the boom box she brought with her and placed on the coffee table in the living room.

It all came back to me as I pulled the pages from the envelope this weekend. She’s married now and had a child and I still hear from her now and then. Her stories will travel with me when I go.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Reflections on New York

As I prepare to leave America for Europe, I realize that in one month I will celebrate my 28th year in New York City, less a couple of years spent lost in LA and the nearly one year following, hold up in a very small town in Pennsylvania, a time when I was falling apart and an old friend held out his hand to me and pulled me up just as my head was about to settle under the water. Aside from that interlude in the west I’ve considered myself a New Yorker for nearly three decades and been proud of my association with this majestic, razzle-dazzle town where, for moments now and then, I’ve felt I belonged.

For two years I worked for the Mayor Rudy Giuliani and that job took me into all the boros of the city. I got to know someone in just about every part of town and if I didn’t know someone in a certain neighborhood, I knew someone who knew the person I needed to get to. I guess it was during that time that I felt most connected to the city – carrying a business card emblazoned with the New York City seal and driving a big black car with “official” license tags. I don’t know what it was like to work in the administrations of other mayors, but working in the Giuliani administration was pretty exciting, things got done, people paid attention when you called them and at the end of the day you actually felt you had accomplished something, even though the next day you would have a new “to do” list as long as your arm. That’s one of the things about New York that makes it the most terrific city on the planet, if you have the inclination you can do something exciting just about every day of your life. I didn’t take full advantage of everything New York had to offer but I think I got a pretty good taste.

I was in my 20’s when I arrived and attended night school at NYU in Washington Square. I was married to the girl I followed up here from home in the South. She had dreams of becoming an actress and one day informed me that she was moving to New York and I could follow her or not as I wished. We stayed married for too long and it was the end of that marriage that my sojourn in the west was all about. When I returned to Manhattan I had been reborn with a perspective on life one can only gain from having visited the deepest reaches of your soul. I’ve had more than one of those revelations – working in Africa being one and the birth of my son another.
Sebastian is now two years old, born at St. Vincent’s hospital in Greenwich Village. I’m happy he was born in Manhattan – in Greenwich Village. He has a connection to this city he will carry with him for the rest of his life. And should he decide to return to America one day, he can say he’s a native New Yorker, born in the West Village, something that distinguishes him and at the same time roots him in this town, the locus of his father’s dreams and the best years of his life - thus far.