Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It was more than 60 years ago. There was no rain, no thunder, no sun to prophesy my arrival in Greenwich Village, that quarter century before Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart discovered a murderer 125 West 9th Streetfrom their rear window just east of my apartment.

     Mother, a psychiatrist and the Regina of Jewish American Princesses, suggested to her internist father that she was in labor. As she was prone to histrionics, my soon to be grandfather declined her offer of delivery.

     He did so in Yiddish, classical Greek and, for mother’s benefit, sharp English. A physician of the old school, he felt best to let me arrive, as I now recall, on my own timetable.

     My schedule, mother later told me, was some 22 hours different than hers. Apparently she labored hard and long to release me. Grandfather, of course, finally recognized that mother was also a trained physician, though a woman and certainly without his experience, and, indeed, was appropriately ready for this task.

     He and my uncle, a Noel Coward clone and a surgeon, helped mother down to grandfather’s medical suite, just off the living room downstairs in our Greenwich Villageapartment. Fortunately, Grandfather hadn’t yet lost leg to diabetes, which certainly might have produced more confusion than the fact that neither Stanley, nor Grandfather were obstetricians. Of course, that wasn’t as much of a challenge as their constant thought that mother, though often self-characterized as the“surest bet south of 14th street,” was a virgin, as neither could even consider someone, even her husband, straddling the woman to let forth some combination of genes that included hers.

     But Grandfather had the challenge well in hand, so to speak, as he had a proclivity whether coincidental or with great purpose, to deliver babies throughout the Village, most of whom later became waiters, or in some cases restauranteurs. In both events, most were happily beholden to Grandfather who reminded them religiously of this act of kindness whenever we dined at Rattner’s, Moskowitz & Lupowitz, Marta, Peter’s Backyard and a raft of others throughout our lives. Though the delivery was eminently successful, mother died about 60 years later.

     I never thought about lighting a Yahrzeit candle for mother. It’s not so much that I’d never thought about, but perhaps that I never considered the time when it would be required. In retrospect, I suppose, I had never thought about it for my father, either, when he died a dozen years earlier.

     We had talked about Yiskor on several occassions, in our time together. It had been just a few years more than three decades since his hand jumped out from beneath the choopa and tapped me lovingly on top of my 16 year old head, flashing a mischevious smile, “I told you the first thing I’d do when I married your mother was to give you a hit on the head.”

     I remember him telling me “You must always say Yiskor for your family. It is all we have.” Odd how I equate those words with a movie; Ron Liebman responding to Sally Field’s question in “Norma Rae,” “Why are Jews different?” “History,” Liebman responded. I suppose there’s not much that hasn’t been said before, eh? And if someone says it well, give ‘em credit and use it.

     I suppose I am not a good Jew; a “mensch.”I have history, though. Some would say “Too much.” I believe it is not yet enough.

     Yiskors’ are problematic for me. Do you start the night before, the next morning, sundown on the day of? The Evangelical Christians make death a lot easier.

About the only Kaddish I can read is that of Allen Ginsburg. Even the transliteration of the Hebrew prayers eludes me. I get as far as “Vyiskadal, viyiskadash…” and revert to a Sid Caesar bluff language. And then there are candles. Until recently they came in those glasses that served so well for juice; now they’re in little tin cans. They’re supposed to last 24 hours, but generally go 26 or 27. It’s a reasonable lack of precision, but I often wonder if the extra hours violate some Talmudic law.

     I lit the candle at sundown with reflection that continued as I walked my dog that evening. How odd it seemed that I no longer had parents, only sons, a wife and a friend or two who would watch my back on a night patrol.
Chapter 2

She drank my drink and then she stole my hat. My life was like that, always I think.

Maggie was a perfectly dreadful woman. I didn’t see it immediately. In fact, it was difficult to see it at all, unless you’d had the remarkable bad luck to have her in you life for a couple of decades or more. You might see flashes of it, but they were ephemeral enough be perceived as aberrations, but they never were.

Every man has a “Maggie” at one time or another. Easy to bed with strings that you never see coming and are pulled with great, but decreasing subtlety and for a long, long time. Maggies are transition women; sometimes the affair where you get a blow job riding up 101 or in some dark bar. We all know them and we all think we love them and we all learn that their cost is almost incalcuable.

Maggie was around for two divorces, a year or so living together and nearly 25 years in an out of my life; with a price tag that probably topped a hundred grand, to say nothing of a dozen stitches or so.

When I first met her, she was a lithe, long haired, brown eyed, not quite drop dead gorgeous California girl living in a borderline rundown two bedroom with her young son in Venice, California.

I was an ex-reporter, with a witch of a wife and two kids, just in from the east coast and who’d just picked up a flack job in LA. She worked for me and when I first saw her I saw the pen in the company inkwell, as is often said.

Three decades later, I began to reflect on where Maggie had taken me.

On the 35 foot balcony of my Santa Monica apartment, I had plenty of room to walk about and a sliver of a view of the ocean. It was not far from where Maggie had lived years before. By now, she’d moved to the Pacific Northwest.

 It was a couple of years before my mother died that I realized I was on the shank of my life and the bad parts were flying in like Maine black flies in a July dusk. But it wasn’t Maine and it wasn’t dusk. It seemed the end of things and hard to see. I’ve mostly been an observer of others and never looked much at myself.

The dampness of the air fell around me as I paced the balcony. And I was still sore from the kitchen knife Maggie had caught me with in Tuscany a few months earlier.

Strong scotch in hand and my bones cranking from the dampness, I wandered back into the apartment. Probably should have collapsed in one of the Adirondak chairs on the deck. Inside there were mirrors everywhere. My landlord, a gay decorator was the exception to my philosophy that men die of stupidity. He’ll shuffle off due to vanity.

Staring into the one above the fireplace I saw tired eyes and my face, drawn hard, framed with short graying hair. I’d gone from white blond as a kid to gray early. Mortality. It had become an issue. Not the issue, just one to pile up in the stack. I was piling up issues now. No longer a sense of discernment or priority. I began to wonder if I was about to experience that one synaptic misfire that would send me over the edge.

Increasingly worried now about the remainder of my sanity, I breathed deeply and walked to the den where the computer continued to flicker a psychedelic pattern in its sleep. It was dark, save the screen. The plastic utility bookshelves stacked double deep with the library collected over the past 40 years were shadowy monoliths looming in the somber room. Books, papers, unfinished sketches and poems scattered about the two desks; the room too crowded with a couple of occassional chairs which, like almost everything else in the apartment, rescued from my business shut down more than a year ago.

Stumbling over the wastebasket into the secretarial chair in front of the computer, I wondered why I’d not just flicked the light switch. As the charred tobacco from a pipe resting on the desk spilled to the floor when my arm swept across the desk to regain my balance. I tapped the space bar to wake it and sat staring at the screen. It’s not time to write now, I thought. Never seems to be as my shin, bruised from the fall, ached when I walked back to the living room.

Dichotomies

"Stocks are soaring in early trading after major central banks acted to avert a credit crunch." Do you really care? This will have absolutely no impact on what's in your pocket.

"200+ arrested at Occupy Los Angeles, 50 in Philly"

What a dichotomy, eh? The rich continue to get richer; the poor, poorer…and arrested. Perhaps the "Occupy [you fill in the blank] is contemporary societies version of the Civil Rights Sit Ins of the 50s and 60s.

No matter what it's characterized as, to me it is the clear outset of that oft tossed about phrase, "Class Warfare."

As you're probably aware, there is little, if any Middle Class left and notwithstanding the consumer spending spluge on "Black Friday," incomes are way down, and with that, of course, disposable income is down. Look forward to another raft of personal bankruptcies next year.

Sure there's so-called "good news" out there, but it's really not. It's quite superficial. For example, that "Jobless Claims" are down could be extrapolated to mean simply that companies/businesses need a minimum number of employees to continue in business.

We could have a ton of new jobs if President Obama had started his term with, well, some sort of job stimulation legislation. Sure, the "Stimulus" is reputed to have saved and/or added a lot of jobs, but had he focused on rebuilding our infrastructure, roads, bridges and so forth, there would have been many, many more and longer term on a levels of work, from the laborer to manament professional.

By way of disclaimer, I still support the President and will vote for him in 2012. However, if an intelligent, moderate, middle-class, ingenuous Republican with a strong, long-term Congressional background were on the other side, that would cause me pause and futher consideration.

My business used to be quite good, strong, and frankly, quite lucrative. No longer, but it gets us by. Clients with dough, however, are late pay. What are you going to do? Dun them? There's little loyalty there, save one or two.

My wife's business is doing okay though…she undercuts everyone on price, but she's not getting the "personal shopping" and "errand" business she wants – again, there's not much discretionary spending out there.

I don't really fear that our nation is becoming a "third world" member, but it seems it's getting damned close.

I used to think the economy was, in a sense, organic and notwithstanding the efforts and actions of the government, would generally right itself.

That is no longer my feeling. There are far too many to make whole these days. We are heading, or even in a very dark place; a place where, and I don't mean to be histrionic here, we could see some rioting in cities, if there are any cities left…Detroit, after all, looks like a deserted war zone.

I am grateful that both my boys are working and do well. I am probably grateful to be "above ground."

However, I am constantly and inordinately despondent about the state of our nation; angry with our so-called Legislative Branch (Congress) and disappointed in our President.