becool-coverSplit Screen

We are hunkered down around the little white television we use to have.

The television was my then girlfriend Debbie’s when we were in college, and it fits our current surroundings: a somewhat dingy, much too small, yet hoping to be more, one-bedroom apartment, that is really just a studio with a wall.

It is June 17, 1994.

We are watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Knicks are playing the Rockets at the Garden, and we are hoping to watch them go up 3-2 in the series.

We want this win, we are focused on the game before us, and we are not moving.

The Knicks deserve our full attention and they must have it.

This is their night.

This is our night.

NYWe pile into grungy lofts along lower Broadway, far off on Avenue B, over by the West Side Highway, where our calloused feet turn black from the dust and grime caked on the wooden floors, where we steam up the tall windows with the ecstatic force of our efforts.
We are all bargaining for space in these crowded dance classes—an opening in which to toss out a leg, an arm, always negotiating for that extra yard of floor. There is never enough of it, all of us hungry for more emptiness, more attention, more air in which to stretch out our limbs and spines and hearts, to rip through space.

The Strokes

I had a strange dream two months ago. I don’t remember all the details, but it left me feeling so affected that something about it still lingers—one of those.

The general gist of the dream was that I was alone with a woman and I was in love with her. I don’t know who this woman was, but she looked like Jessica Chastain, only with rounder features like Uma Thurman, except that she reminded me of a woman that I used to work with.

Clearly, I am not doing this description justice, but I sat in a chair facing her and she told me something profound.

Raymond Felton is still kind of fat.  That’s not an insult to the Knicks’ starting point guard, but simply more of an observation. Considering that the last point guard to run the offense on the hardwood of Madison Square Garden was a relatively skinny, twenty-three year old Asian-American Harvard graduate, Felton’s stouter appearance is of note.

The reason why I bring up Felton’s weight is that, after he finished a depressing season playing for the Portland Trailblazers, a season where he averaged a career low in points (11.4) and field goal percentage (40%) —and just looked generally lethargic and round—one of the go-to jokes to make in NBA circles was to remark on how out of shape Raymond Felton was. Portland fans hated him and, because Portland fans are known for their passion and knowledge of basketball, general NBA connosieurs lost respect for him too. No one likes a player who half-asses his way through an NBA season, especially when that player is making $7.5 million per year and screwing over the Rose City.

If remix culture—predicated on both intensified user interaction and a crowdsourcing ethic—offers any clues to the future of publishing Jeff, One Lonely Guy may just be the Starchild of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Put simply, this is a sui generis exploration of loneliness, alienation, and depression packaged and bound—a book that is neither novel nor memoir, neither familiar nor completely strange.

Troubador turned beggar, a dapper king growling from your jeweled
throne as I enter your home. You turn your whiskered nose up
until I offer mice bites of cheese from the icebox.

You take them carefully from my fingertips with your tiny teeth,
then to show your love of all creatures great and small, you hump
your giraffe. Our pilgrimage begins, we step out amidst

the Poor Clares, you sniff gingerly. Slip and click, claws scrape
hallway linoleum as you scuttle from doormat to doormat. Sit
your silent protest of passive resistance at top of stairs—

it worked for Ghandi and Martin Luther King but you’re just ten
tough pounds of hair and teeth, a bat without wings, this city’s
great rat terrier, terrorist king. Jacob’s not the only one

Please explain what just happened.

I was once again discussing with my wife the fact that more and more I lean towards believing in the existence of aliens. Especially in religion. I think that I’ve been watching that Ancient Aliens show too much. She’s not a believer and the look on her face tells me that she probably thinks I’m joking.

 

What is your earliest memory?

I would sit on a little rocking chair that my paternal grandfather made for me.  My mom and I would sit by the door to wait for my father to come home from work. My parents separated when I was about five so this must have been earlier than that.

 

When I was 28 and fresh off another involuntary commitment to the mental institution in Louisville, KY, I took a duffel bag and my last $125 and bought a Greyhound ticket to New York.  It’s a long trip. It takes days.  This story starts on the third day of that trip, somewhere in the countryside of the Northeastern US in late November of 2003.

The Chelsea Dilemma: An Investigation into a Forgotten Citizen

There has to be something called reality in order for us to come to its rescue.  – Jean-Luc Godard

Mario Fattori is downtown. Paper cup of coffee. Dead Visa Card. What to do?

It is late and he needs a room. But the Chelsea Hotel is as closed to him as the mouths of the desk clerks in the lobby. Outside the neon has crapped out in the cold January winds : the sign above the entrance reads ‘ho…chel…’ A few residents snigger by and into the elevator, shouting the new abbreviation to the boys behind the counter. Their voices cut back and forth through Mario, jovial and jabbing.

Some coffee sloshes over his fingers as he tries to explain his situation again. A waste of time, a waste of coffee, he thinks. They forget him; they want to forget him. Why?

 

Please explain what just happened.

The psycho-killer crack-head downstairs just finished screaming and slamming his apartment door repeatedly.

 

What is your earliest memory?

Me and my cousin Brian not being able to finish a puzzle in kindergarten before it was time to go home. So we just piled all the pieces on the board and returned it to where the puzzles were supposed to go. But we got caught and had to stay and finish it.

 

If you weren’t a writer, director, producer, and composer, what other profession would you choose?

Husbandry— 1) the management and conservation of resources; 2) the care and cultivation of crops (including trees). I think I’m ready. I like a well tended forest.

1991

By Matthew Aquilone

Memoir

I had the chance to kick Gregory Corso to the curb. Could you blame me for mistaking him for a homeless man who had wandered into the gallery that afternoon? He had on a more than well-loved down jacket, one side hopelessly stained with what I hoped was coffee, and beneath it the left pocket had been completely torn away, exposing the white stuffing inside. He had barely a tooth in his head by that time, and his hair was matted as if he had just woken from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. He appeared in my tiny office, mid-sentence. I didn’t hear “hello,” or “what’s your name?”; maybe the world “lunch” was in there somewhere. Standing, I hoped to encourage his departure. I had grown up in Brooklyn and had had my share of experiences with street people. No direct eye contact was an important dictum, one that applied equally to madmen as it did to babies and dogs. Be firm and say little. Shut it down, and fast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I will fare when my mother is gone, how I will deal with her absence, if I will crumble or if I will rise. It does absolutely no good to play this game, because that’s what it is. It’s a game of magical thinking, trying to imagine one’s reaction to a life-changing event. I still play it anyway, believing at some level that it will prepare me for what is to come.

I ponder the word grief a fair amount too, sometimes feeling like everything I do in a day is layered in this concept, except those days where it lifts and the beauty of the moment shakes off my inevitable future without her.  But even those moments are bittersweet, as it feels like I’m cheating somehow or betraying her in those seconds that I don’t look or feel like a person who is losing her mother.

When I think about what I should look like, what grieving looks like, the first person I think of is my grandmother. This is ironic, given the lengths she went to avoid grief and pain. My grandfather died when I was 12 from a heart attack. She was 65.  For years, she told me this: “He died laughing. Can you imagine? He had just won a golf game and was ribbing his friend Chuck in the car, and then he was gone.”

At the funeral, I remember her walking to his graveside stiffly, leading his mother there gently by the elbow. My great-grandmother wore a pink polyester house dress and stood bravely on her thick legs as the preacher put a hand on her shoulder and said, “Parents should never have to bury their children.” I wore a new blue and purple dress and suede ankle boots for the occasion and as the coffin sat in the open air, I held on to my mother’s  hand for dear life.

After the service, because it was what you did in my grandparents’ world, my grandmother hosted what felt like hundreds of people at their house: pigs in a blanket, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto, mini pork sandwiches, gallons of white wine and buckets of martinis. She told us to smile, to greet people, to pass the hors d’oeuvres, because this is what you did in my grandparents’ world.

The strange thing is when I think of those few days, I have no memories of my mother’s grief, only my grandmother’s. I can picture what happened when we found out my grandfather had died, as my dad brought my sister and me home early from our monthly weekend with him.  Our mother told us and we sat on her lap and cried.  My father cried too, but stayed outside, standing just beyond the screen door. We all stayed like that for what seemed longer than possible before my father stepped off the porch and disappeared. Yet from those two days around the funeral, nothing in terms of my mother. Only my grandmother’s face has stayed with me, the sharp edges of her body, the quick moves she made from one room to the next, never standing still, as if trying to outrun her husband’s death. She remained in near constant motion for the next 15 years trying to outpace it, in part by traveling the world. When she wasn’t on a trip in those subsequent years, she drowned her grief in bottle after bottle of chardonnay and an affair with my grandfather’s best friend.

My grandfather’s absence was palpable to me in those years after, but I never fully absorbed the magnitude of her loss until the year I turned 25. She offered to take me to New York for Christmas and my birthday, which was just a few days before the holiday. I was single and trapped in a miserable job at a mutual fund company and jumped at the chance. She had her own reasons for wanting to leave town for the holidays — I realize now it had much to do with the fact that the wife of my grandfather’s best friend had recently died and this hadn’t changed dynamics of their relationship. My grandmother wanted to get married again and cook for someone every night; he wanted to live alone and eat hot dogs for dinner.

Bits and pieces of the story had come out over the years, but what I could see clearly on that trip was that my grandmother was incredibly unhappy. It didn’t matter that he paid for our trip and sent everything from martinis to a miniature Christmas tree to our room that week — what my grandmother wanted, he wouldn’t give her. As the days passed, I realized that what she missed most in that city was my grandfather. They had often taken trips there together, and she showed me the places they had been: the famous post-theater spot Sardi’s, a speakeasy called Chumley’s, the restaurant Josephine.  We went to a drag show in the Village after having dinner with Julie, a woman they had met years ago at a San Francisco Cabaret. She was 75-years-old at the time and invited us to come see her perform.

My grandmother was buzzing with life at 2 a.m. afterwards, laughing like a teenager, telling me what a crush my grandfather had always had on Julie. All week, whether we were headed to see Chicago or coming from a showing of Scorsese’s Kundun, she would tear up in the cab and say, “Bob Greig would have loved that,” or simply, “Bob–” clearing her throat and putting on her dark glasses to hide her crying. She would usually take my hand at some point, squeezing fiercely. I squeezed back, helpless.

A few months ago, she helped define grief for me again, albeit accidentally. My mother, step-father and I were headed to the cemetery where my mother will have a headstone. She’ll be cremated, but wants us to have somewhere to go when she’s gone. (My grandmother, gone 10 years now, did not allow us the same. She had an adjoining plot to my grandfather, but because the site wasn’t well maintained and his marker was chipped by gardeners and never repaired, she decided to be cremated and sprinkled out over the Pacific.) My mother recently procured a plot near a dear friend of hers, Christie, who died in 1999. “I couldn’t be happier knowing I’ll be near someone I know,” she said.

Death has always been a part of my mother’s lexicon. She worked in geriatric social work and hospice care for 25 years before she got sick, and has a library full of books on death and dying. She is a straight-up Kubler-Ross junkie. This is, to say the least, a little unusual. I have done my best to confront the issue of death on her terms, brave and clear-eyed.  A topic steadfastly avoided for most of my life, the concept crystallized when my sister was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer at 28.   But there was always the possibility (and later, reality) of remission for my sister, which has never existed for my mother. What I mean to say is, after my sister recovered, I put death back on the shelf. There is no more shirking it this time around, so I figured I might as well get the grave site visit over with. I have not, however, taken my mother up on her offer to tour the crematorium.

Just before we left, I was looking through the bookshelf in the living room and saw the title, “Up From Grief.” Given my current fascination, I pulled it off the shelf. It was my grandmother’s book,  inside she had written, “Given to me 20 (underlined) days after Bob died and three months since Edward.” Edward was her friend Edith’s husband; Edith had given her the book. An accompanying postcard stuck inside the book by Edith read, “I don’t like this book, but everyone else does. Read if you want.”

From what I could tell, she’d made it about halfway through the first chapter, arguing with the book’s premise the entire way. On a particularly classic page, she has bracketed a passage about how “grievers are afraid to admit their real feelings to others and often to themselves” and written “Don’t think so.”  Next to the assumption that those grieving feel guilt, anger or shame, my grandmother has scribbled “NO” and underlined it.  Screw survivor guilt and feelings of doubt and confusion. Shirley Greig wasn’t having it. Even though her husband had died incredibly recently, I don’t think her view of this psychobabble changed much over the decades.

How does this change my understanding of grief? I’m not exactly sure, but I read the passages out loud to my mom and we laughed so hard we cried. Her commentary was perfect — entirely irreverent and a direct reflection of how she lived her life.

We visited my mom’s site on Memorial Day, as that is when she always visits Christie. It’s really not such a bad day to go to a cemetery, as the place is full of people and the headstones are bursting with flowers and flags. We drove up there under the threat of rain but the sun was out by the time my stepfather and I wrangled Ma out of the car. We stopped for a second and tilted our heads back, felt the rays on our faces.

She pointed at a spot on a gently sloping hill with sweet little tree just a few feet away. We rolled her over and she showed me Christie’s grave, a reddish headstone with an etching of a mother and three children. The quote there said something about how light shines on anyone who remembers those who are gone.

“So,” I said, after a few moments of silence. “Where will you be?”

“Right here,” she said, pointing to the ground beneath her wheelchair. My stepfather had managed to wheel her directly over her plot.

“You are fucking kidding me,” I said, and she shook her head. And then we cracked up, because we find this type of morbidity mildly hilarious. “Will your headstone look like Christie’s?”

“Yep,” my stepfather said.

“No,” my mother said. “Smaller, level.”

“Close enough,” my stepfather said.

“And what will it read?” I said.

She tried to get it out, but couldn’t find the words. This was happening more and more. My stepfather said, “It’s a beautiful day and I love you.”

As soon as he said it, I realized she’d already told me. Hearing it out loud was almost more than I could bear in that moment.

“So,” she said, “So–” She was stuck on the words, but gestured around her plot with her good hand.

“If we come, you’ll be here.”

“Right.”

“It’s good you’ll be here, Ma.”

“Huh? What?”

“Not good that you’ll be dead, but that you’ll be here. That there will be a headstone. You know what I mean.”  She nodded.

The sun, the flags, standing there looking at my still-alive mother perched on her future grave site provided an odd comfort. I wonder sometimes if my grandmother had been more able to confront her loss, to give in and express all those feeling she so denied, she might have died happier or at least more at peace.

Not long after all of this, I heard a piece of an old interview with George Burns on NPR. He said that even though Gracie had been gone for 30 years, he still went once a month to Forest Lawn to see her. He talked to her about everything and anything on those visits, told her what was happening in his life. He said it helped him miss her a little less. Here’s hoping.

 

There was a time in the 1970s when getting The New Yorker magazine delivered to my house was something of an event. (I don’t feel that way now and it sometimes makes me sad.) In those days the magazine was posted with a brown paper covering. I tore off the brown paper, checked out the cover art, then turned to the Table of Contents looking for Ann Beattie’s name. When she was listed there (48 times now, and counting), I was happy. When she wasn’t, I made do.

The Subway

By Luke Kelly-Clyne

Essay

Above ground, I’m human.

I say “excuse me” when I need to squeeze by.  “Sorry” when I err. “Please” always and “thank you” until I sicken myself. “How can I help? How can I help?” I never gawk. Men, women, and children are my confidantes, my countrymen, and my heart beats well with each untroubled step they take.

The trapeze has its own kind of hubris. Similar to the myth of Icarus who flew too close to the sun, the likelihood that you will both fall and allow yourself to be caught is what makes the art so exhilarating. From a seat in the audience, trapeze artists are otherworldly. Their bodies almost cease being human as women are tossed intro triple flips and gracefully grasp hold of a partner’s arms. Static trapeze, where balance is used to hang off the bar with only the arch of one foot, makes the performer seem little more than a series of shapes suspended in midair.

In person, watching middle-aged parents and their children leaping off platforms gives new meaning to audience discomfort. The sense of awe that exists watching a real performance with lighting and leotards is replaced by a gut-dropping feeling each time someone takes off from the platform. These are not people who have been training since birth. They could be your little brother, your grandmother. They could be you.

If you’ve ever taken a summer drive along Manhattan’s West Side Highway and not been paying close attention to the road, a strange sight may have caught your eye. On top of the Chelsea Piers are the outlines of ropes and wires. Unless you are lucky enough to pass by in time to see people propelling themselves into thin air, it would seem like a school playground. The New York Trapeze School, with both outdoor and year-round indoor locations, is the main place for Manhattanites who want to learn how to fly.

For sixty dollars, aspiring trapeze artists can learn the basics starting with the first swing off a twenty-three foot high platform. Though you are roped into a harness until more advanced levels, the ladder to get up there is precarious. It’s not much more than the flimsy aluminum you would use to paint a house. And there are two of them, held together with something that looks like a metal clip. Once you have reached the platform, it is time to fasten the harness into the ropes used for actual trapeze. In the beginner classes, someone is stationed at the platform to help you with adjusting your harness before taking off into the air.

This is the point where you will have your first experience holding the bar in two hands. Though they’re wider, there doesn’t seem to be much distinguishing the trapeze bars from the monkey bars most children use at the playground. As long as you forget that, unlike a play-set, this one is not built on a base of wood that has been solidly staked into the woodchips beneath you. And, unlike climbing sets, you will be required to lean the upper half of your body far over the edge of the platform before moving forward. The second reason the spotter is there on the platform with you is to hold the back of your harness in place until it’s time for you to sail out into the air. Once you’ve assumed this leaning position, there is no turning back. Your body is stretched so precariously that the simple opening of a hand will send you soaring.

Fifteen minutes of the class has probably elapsed at this point. There is only an hour and forty-five minutes left.

Next is the most basic trapeze trick—the knee hang. It’s more or less self-explanatory. You curl your knees into your chest in order to get them over the bar. Then you hang upside down by your legs and undo the process. Beginners tend to miss the gravitational cues that announce when to move to the next step. Flying trapeze relies entirely on your ability to use balance to your advantage. You become that pendulum from physics class, moving from one end of a trajectory to another. Only, in this case, you have the ability to increase your momentum by releasing your arms at one end of the knee hang and curling back into yourself at the other.

There is only one part left before the end of your basic training is over. There are thirty minutes left in the session.

For the last step of your foray into circus arts you will be asked to trust a stranger beyond the limits of most romantic relationships. On the ground, an instructor readies you. “It takes twelve seconds from the time you take off. Being off by one second ruins everything.” You will be hanging upside down from the bar. Swinging back and forth, the stranger will yell that he is ready. This is when you are supposed to reach backward to grasp the forearms of a strapping young man. He is also on the trapeze, pulling you off of your perch. You will hang in the faith of your increasingly firm hold on his skin.

From the audience this is a heart-racing moment. Though the net below and the harness rid the act of fatal danger, there is something both raw and brave in watching someone rely on another so fully. In the motion of straightening legs, normal people gain a grace that can rarely be found on the ground. For only a second, the two on the trapeze are suspended in the air. It takes watching a number of people take their first turns to figure out why: the person being caught always waits to lock arms before allowing their legs to let go of the bar. There is trust here but it isn’t perfect.
Some members of the class will never get the catch quite right. One woman has trouble with finding the rhythm of steps. By the time she swings to be caught, the other person has pulled too far away from her. Her husband can do it. So can her children and all of her friends. She is jealous. Discouraged. Before the last round of flights, she takes her harness off and gets ready to go.

To become a true trapeze artist you have to feed off the exhilaration of height. You need flexibility, strength, and above all else, a sense of yourself as a gravitational object. Trapeze is a sport like anything else. It builds strength and requires discipline but it also metaphorically—and literally—reaches something higher. The bar centers you in a unique way. Either you will find balance or you will fall. Short of trying something a little closer to the offering of your high school gym class, those are the only two options. People at the trapeze school come to the sport for many different reasons. Some have been gymnasts or dancers. Some came to accompany a friend and couldn’t stop doing it. One woman quit her job as a lawyer specializing in international law to travel for a year. When she gets back she is hoping to teach trapeze to others. People at this school—at least those in the upper levels—are not sure what they would do without it flying their lives. One woman says she has worried about the possibility of moving to a place without access to trapeze. This is a lifestyle and an addiction rolled into one.

It’s why true trapeze artists—those ones you’ve paid to see illuminated by stage lights—can make a possible activity seem wholly unattainable. As moving forms, their bodies are not what you are made of. This is not a matter of endurance or muscle tone. The need to be in the air is apparent from the first few swings. After dismounting from the bars, the more advanced students turn to their instructors in order to perfect their tricks. Few of them have real smiles but the thrill is clear on their faces. To trust the bar is to fly and to fall like Icarus. You know you have the ability to catch yourself on the way down. For the next swing, you will only push yourself higher.