They are all smoking in the kitchen.
Everything here smells like smoke; i smell like smoke after just a few hours of it. Aunt Rosie is in a house dress and high heels. She doesn’t wear underwear. Rosie is almost eighty, but i still picture her waking up in the morning and climbing out of her Barbie box. She girlishly flattens her dress, green with blue cornflowers, against her thighs with the flats of her palms as a breeze comes through the open door.
Aunt Mildred is in a dusky lime-colored sweatsuit. She forgot to pack her hearing aid, and leans in almost imperceptibly every time i speak.
I wonder to myself where they all learned to react to death. Rosie wants to rub her feet to keep them warm. My mother wanders in, shell-shocked and with so many more wrinkles than i remember from a month ago. She opens the window and smiles wanly at me.
“We does this at the hospital,” she says.” “To let the spirit out.”
dinner @ The Continental (midtown)
I don’t write a lot of open letters.
I remember when I lived on 64th street in that grand, old, dilapidated house. It seemed so vivid at the time, but in retrospect my life there seems so one-dimensional – as if I didn’t begin to be the person I am now until I left.
We used to talk all night on instant messenger. My computer was in the dining room, far away from any comfort at all. It didn’t matter, though. I could sit forever and talk to you. Idle chatter. Guess that Tori lyric. Whatever.
I used to send you songs, especially that one summer when I really started writing them. I’d dash one off and email it right to you. I trusted you so much with them – I don’t think I’ve ever let anyone that close to them before or since. I let you in on these little secrets of mine, and wove some of yours in too, and you always accepted them so graciously, sometimes even replying with another snippet your oblique novella (never finished).
It all got so different when I moved just around the corner from you. I don’t know why. On one hand, it let us be close friends instead of just remote acquaintances. On the other, I was near you so much, being constantly reminded that I was just idle entertainment; I was no main act. I’m always cautious to say that I fell in love with anyone, because it’s hard to love in only one direction, but in my way I know that at the time I was in love with you.
You knew. I know you knew, and knew it then, and would remind you occasionally in case you had changed your mind. You were always quite kind about it, really, because you let me into so much of your life (I’ve never been sure why).
I still hold some of those memories – stupid memories – so close to my heart. The stupid movies we would go to see, the time we put an old shoe into Andrea’s Christmas gift so she wouldn’t know what it was, the time you took that perfect self-portrait of your hair and your bangs and I decided that it had to be the cover of my album. And the music; you made me listen to Rufus Wainwright, and told me how the song was about how his lover had died of AIDS, or the first time you made me listen to Elliott Smith and Built To Spill, or the first time I made you listen to Dilate. So much good music in your room.
I’m really sorry for whatever I did to you. I think I talked about your life too much, as if somehow a tiny piece of it was owed to me. Or, maybe was a little too mean to you in my songs; both are crimes I’ve gone on to repeat. I don’t know; sometime that Winter I did something to erode the closeness, and you just went on living.
I’ve gotten over lots of girls – you’ve seen me do it once or twice. But, you know, I’ve never really gotten over you. I don’t think it’s because I never got to kiss you because, let’s face it, how many of these girls have I gotten to kiss, really? I just think it’s because you always let me feel so safe, and so cool, and I just don’t have that anymore. I guess I’ve never really had to lose anyone else that I’ve loved.
I’m sorry, you probably didn’t need to read any of this. I was just singing one of those songs and I realized that I really do miss you.
In grade school I found the concept of Pen Pals stultifying; try to find one kid to strike up a slow-motion exchange with via handwritten letter? Handwritten letters took too long to write, were too hard to read. Why not just trade phone calls? Or, at least, typed letters.
It was third grade, and my teacher absolutely refused to allow me to type my letters. I had a typewriter at home, my little blue manual on that folded into its own suitcase, on which I would peck away grade school murder mysteries and horror stories. Having recently received a note from my incredibly square Wisconsin friend, I anticipated a dreaded letter writing exercise in class the next day. In a pro-active academic turn (still rare, to this day) I got out my steely blue friend, and pecked away.
The next day in class, when the teacher told us that we would be writing out our replies, I raised my hand. I had brought mine, I pointed out, and it was already neatly typed.
My teacher was not amused. I couldn’t get out of the exercise just because I could type. I would still have to write out my letter.
Defiant, I struck back; I would love to write my letter in the horrible, awkward, cursive of third grade, but surely I would be allowed to place my wonderfully neat typewritten note into the massive envelope that would shuttle letters to our sister-school of hopelessly sheltered born agains in WI?
She was aghast. A typed note? No no no.
At this point the details become a bit muddled; to the best of my recollection, I may have refused to write out my letter so that she would be forced to use my typewritten one. She may have taken the typewritten one from me and insisted I write one from scratch. All I recall is that I was flustered, and made to turn my desk to the wall and write my note by hand, possibly in duplicate.
I can’t remember if my mother found out, but I suspect if she did she probably just had a hearty laugh. For all of my critique of her, one principal she has stood by is that no child should be restricted by a lowest common denominator (she knows the phrase, but god help you if you ask her to show you what it means with fractions), in the same way refused to let teachers force me to show my work on repetitive addition tables in first grade when I had already figured out how to multiply.
I hate when I figure out how to do things the fast way but am restricted by a classroom (or a world) of slow movers.
I have an obsession with connectivity.
If I have five free minutes at work, waiting for a phone call or finishing lunch, I immediately connect to my favorite people and topics on the internet.
I always say I had been waiting for this my whole life, and people think I’m trying to say that I am Al Gore and that I invented the internet. I’m usually at a loss to describe what I mean, but I have finally thought of a good example.
When I was five or six, He-Man toys were all the rage. However, being the equal opportunity battle coordinator I was, I also wanted to have She-Ra toys to fill out the gender ratio. I had nearly every He-Man toy, and I know for a fact that I had every single She-Ra. Except for one.
Spinnerella. She was one of the last of the series to be released, with the result being She-Ra didn’t take up all that much shelf-space in the action figures department anymore. My mother and I were intent on finding her – we had just found her net-tossing friend and, my personal favorite, Entraptra and Perfuma. Just one more She-Ra to make my fantasy world complete.
To this day I’ve never seen that damn toy in person. We went to every toy store in the Greater Philadelphia area to look. Were we supposed to cross state lines? Call stores around the country? In 1986, how were we to coordinate our search?
In my tiny, five-year-old mind, I remember thinking how silly it was that I couldn’t find that one toy. It obviously existed. Knowing what I know now about action figures, I’d wager to say that my spinning friend may have been short-shipped, or may have appeared with lower frequency in each case. However, at the time, I just knew they were out there somewhere, and couldn’t get over the mystery of why they had to be so damned hard to find. Surely there was a store that had too many of her that they couldn’t sell? Surely some girl had gotten two for her birthday, and had an extra?
I may not be Al Gore, but even then I knew there should… there had to be a way to connect to a larger group of people with the same interest. Some kind of a collective intelligence.
The internet came as no surprise.