Monday, November 30, 2009

In the afternoon, I slept

I'm back.  Today I say good bye to all my flu rituals and my flu lifestyle.  The bottle of NyQuil I had on top of the microwave, as well as my digital thermometer, the bottle of aspirin, the Vitamin C--- are gone.  The Gatorade and left over chicken soup in the fridge--- gone, too. The worst symptom by far was fever.  I would wake up drenched in sweat, running such a high fever, that I couldn't tell on some mornings if I was really awake or still stuck in a nightmare.  I would take an ativan to calm myself down, swill the NyQuil, take a warm shower, then an alcohol sponge bath.  I would set out with Molly just to reconnect with the real world.  Back at home, another shaky attempt at taking my temp and more alcohol rubbed all over my body.  By noon, the fever had dissipated, but I was exhausted.  I wrote down the times I took medication b/c I couldn't trust my addled brain.  In the afternoons, I slept.  Then watched more movies than a film critic at a festival; 21 Grams, An Affair to Remember, The Taking of Pelham 123 (the remake), White Castle, and others I'm sure I'll never remember.

It was disheartening because I had been very, very cautious.  I made sure I exercised.  I took Vitamin C and most of all, the hand washing and the hand sanitizing.  Flu notices are posted all over the Lehman College Campus.  I took them seriously.  All of the teacher's rest rooms had fresh soap, hot water and hand sanitizer.  There were dispensers all over campus.  I always used them.  I ate well. I got plenty of rest.  No late nights.  Three days into it I wanted to call my go-to doctor.  Dr. Hecht.  I've been seeing her for ten years.  She knows me really well.  But she doesn't take health insurance.  Her office visits are $250.00.   In the past, if I didn't have the money, I could make payments.  Believe me, she is worth it.  She's old school.  First a 20 to 25 minute consultation.  Then a thorough physical examination.  Then another 20-25 minutes discussing what to do, plus most importantly allaying my fears. 

But I couldn't do it this time.  I wouldn't.  Debt is debt.  And I'm swimming in it.  I called my primary care physician's office--- covered by my health insurance.  To be honest, I think of that office as a prescription and referral factory.  They don't know me, I'm just another number.  I'm another piece of paperwork pushed from one corporation to another.  I explained my symptoms to the receptionist, and she called me back two hours later and told me a prescription for Tamiflu was waiting at my pharmacy.  This is the doctor who prescribed Cipro for a sinus infection which exploded in my stomach five hours later.  So I researched Tamiflu and discovered its a waste of time after 48 hours.  I called again.  Was told--- don't take it anymore.  WTF?

Dr. Hecht would never have prescribed Tamiflu.  She would've mapped out diet (in great detail), vitamins, and a precise method for reducing fever--- for me.  Because she knows me, knows my body, my history, my likes, my dislikes.  The wonderful, compassionate, Dr. Hecht would also call me every day to check on how I was doing.  For a woman who lives alone, this is invaluable.  She the consummate old school family doctor. I once called her at 4:30 a.m. on a cold winter morning.  She returned my phone call fifteen minutes later.  After I described my symptoms, she told me I needed antibiotics. I said I was too sick to go out, the dead of winter.  She found a pharmacy in the East Village and I called a friend who delivered them to me. 

This is medicine.  The rest is just dreck.  I'm fine now.  Ready to get back to work.  Relieved that I didn't add another $250.00 to my already crushing debt.  But honestly, its ridiculous I had to weather this alone.  My "health insurance" did nothing for me, and quite possibly made things worse.  I'm a hard working woman with a full time job and health insurance, and yet I couldn't call my doctor. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Down with the flu

Blog posts suspended until I am over the flu.  Doctor has prescribed Tamiflu, let's hope this helps.  Sick of watching movies and reading.  Any suggestions?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Finally, it was never simple.

"She is allowed to love herself only if a man finds her worthy of love."
--- Annis Pratt, Archetypal Patterns in Women's Fiction.

Ads from the 1960's: saltycotton, flickr

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits of my mother to honor her upcoming birthday


A bitterly cold winter morning.  My mother has managed to feed and dress all four of us for school.  The kitchen table is littered with empty cereal bowls, a frying pan with bits of egg glued to the edges, a spoon in a half empty grape jelly jar.  Over her rayon nightgown, she throws on a coat two sizes too big for her.  It belongs to my stepfather.  It is dark gray and the sleeves hang over her hands, but she is still agile enough to slap my brother when he mouths off at her.

Then she pulls on black rubber boots with buckles, also too big for her, a splash of dark red lipstick, and runs out into the frozen morning and gets the car started.  I watch her from the kitchen window.  The exhaust rises up into the frigid air like a ghost.  She runs back in, panting from the cold, her nose red, and throws on our scarves, our hats and our gloves.  One sibling is always missing one glove.  But she has no sympathy for stragglers or miscreants.

On this particular morning, with the wind chill somewhere around fifty below, with the snow drifting up to the eaves of the roofs of the houses, and the world a wild, icy universe--- you must drive slowly and she does. Slowly. But she swears the whole time, "Sonofabitch.  Sonofabitch."  We don't say a word as she cautiously navigates through the still quiet streets.  All we hear is the crunch of snow on the tires.  Nothing else.  Except our breathing.

Suddenly the horn starts honking.  On its own.  As if it had suddenly gone insane.  As if it woke up and decided to bitch and complain.  My mother screams and hits the steering wheel, "Oh you bitch!  You stinking bitch."  There we are, the five of us, slowly moving down the streets, the horn honking, blaring--- incessantly.  It is so loud we can't hear ourselves think.  The world telescopes down to the frozen car, my mother in her nightgown, and the car horn.   We start to laugh. Cautiously at first, then full out when my mother joins. We laugh so hard it hurts. 

She pulls into the long circular drive of the parish, and drops us off.  Her lipstick is smeared from laughing so hard, a bit of it is on her teeth, and the horn is still honking.  She screams to be heard: "Get out. Get out.  Have a good day.  Come straight home."  She drives off.  I walk up the steps of the church, enter, bless myself, "nameofthefathersonholyghost," but in the distance I can still hear the horn.  And in my mind, my mother's laughter. 

ad from the 1960's: saltycotton on

Monday, November 16, 2009

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits in honor of my mother's upcoming birthday


My mother is in her early 30's, and her youngest child is nine months old.  We are going for a walk.  She wears a tight skirt; burnt orange with kick pleats, and a snug turtleneck sweater, black high heels.  My brother is secured inside his stroller that has wooden beads strung across the front. He's gnawed and chewed on them like a small rat.  Drool leaks from the side of his mouth, and we set out in the early afternoon.  We walk along the wide avenue.  Cars pass by and men honk their horns in appreciation of my mother's derriere swinging to and fro as she pushes the stroller.  We pass houses which are variations of ours; one story ranch with contrasting trim.  Five or six or seven children with runny noses and smart mouths.  Too high tuition at the local Catholic school where the nuns are an instrument of torture.  Husbands who work at the factory.

My mother walks fast; as if escaping.  She smokes cigarettes, she chews gum. She doesn't speak.  My brother is quiet. I hold onto the stroller, helping my mother push it up a hill as we pass by the local park.  This is who we are as walk on the avenue.  It's not about where we are going, it's about how we are getting there. We don't have a car.  It is strange to be the only people out on the streets in the middle of the day, the middle of the week.  My mother walks with the knowledge that she is still a good looking woman.  Her fourth child, and she can still fill out that skirt.  Curl her blond hair, walk out in the world with two of her children, and still get noticed. 

advertising from the 1960's: saltycotton, flickr.

Simplicity: It was never simple. A series of portraits of my mother in honor of her upcoming birthday


I’m in my grandmother’s kitchen. She’s at the window, her hands clasped behind her back, the floral apron. Her hair the color of steel wool softly curls around her face. Seconds later, a car pulls up the driveway. Its my mother. I look out the window and watch her. She’s wearing blue jeans, an oatmeal colored sweater, flats, white hoop earrings and pink lipstick. She’s blond, eternally blond and by the way she walks, you can tell she loves to dance.

She enters through the side door that leads into the kitchen. She kisses me, and lights up a cigarette while her mother fixes her a cup of coffee from the tin pot on the white stove. The light pours into the window. Grandmother gets out the black cast iron skillet, and pancake batter hits the hot greased surface. I set the table, while my mother retrieves the syrup, butter and sour cream. Finally we all sit. The dishes are green and white. The napkins are white. 

This is not one moment, but many, many moments strung together until they form a much larger picture. Until it stretches beyond moments and becomes days, then weeks, then months. And now years. Always the conversation about the other Polish ladies. Always the gossip about the other family members. No one ever speaks about the village that was burned, the forced labor. But it is there. My grandmother worries about my mother, and the anxiety is palpable.

My mother passes this anxiety along to me--- the message: the world is a dangerous place. But if the pancakes are hot, then the coffee is good. And so is life. If you stay for lunch there’s ham and potato salad. And if you stay for dinner there’s meatloaf, mashed potatoes and whiskey.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Barn: Where form meets function and hallucinates

The exterior of the Barn is weathered hemlock and straddles the side of a hill and a narrow dirt road in the Catskills. Unassuming, it is almost like a shadow on the land, yet it is three stories tall. Built in 1900 for cows and tractors, it has assumed the air of the landscape around it. Porcupines, deer, bear and hummingbirds circle the perimeter. Walking down the hill, away from the structure, the forest is almost primeval; littered with beech and hemlock, violets, and evergreen, and small patches of sunlight. The silence at night is absolute. Except when the wolves howl.

This is the exterior; haunted, elegant, from another century. Abandoned.

The interior tells a far different story. Visual artists, Marc Travanti and Margaret Clark purchased the land in 1989. It had been abandoned for decades. The barn was part and parcel of the arrangement. This began a transformation of the interior and the surrounding grounds that continues to this day. In 1989, the interior was only a dirt floor, 20 feet by 40 feet, open to raccoons and other wild life. Margaret slept with a gun when she was alone.

Marc began his transformation of the space by building a stone table, down at the fire pit, held together with mortar--- which exists to this day. He also crafted a tree stump; upholstered the top of it with violently red fur. He calls it “Fur Nature.” It looks like it has been created for a hobgoblin or a wood sprite, or a drunken visitor from out-of-state. At one point, Marc and Margaret built a huge tree-house in the adjacent woods, large enough for dinner parties of 15. No longer used--- it has long since disappeared into the forest.

Over the years, they’ve built up two floors, adding staircase and skylight. They’ve completely insulated the first floor and installed stove, sink, and bookcases. Raccoons, bats and mice were forever banned, and Margaret no longer needed a hand gun for protection. Now there are windows (found on the streets of the East Village) on the back wall in sly geometrical patterns; elongated rectangles, deco-inspired circles, interspersed with squares. Sitting in the backyard at the original stone table, against a roaring fire, I’ve often looked up and admired their composition. Think of Mondrian married to a light sculpture.

Marc refurbished a large oak table for the kitchen by building out an extension from all four corners. This created a border for hand-pained tiles. One image is a hunter holding a chainsaw with a tree growing out of his head. Or a man at a computer screen with a woman watering his head. In the Surrealistic style of the “exquisite corpse,” different people painted the torsos, the limbs and the heads on one tile. Some of them are fired decals. Freida Kahlo lurks on the periphery. Another table is in the picassiette style; its surface a landscape of broken ceramic plates deeply embedded in grouting.

Travanti made lamps from found objects, mostly tin cans. The infamous “Brain Lamp” began with a century old rusted can, and a red light bulb. He added a round ceramic shape with holes punched out. Plug it in, turn it on, and its part Twilight Zone with a touch of Duchamp. My favorite however is “Dirty Girl.” She is a kitschy creation from the 1950’s or 1960’s; a ceramic doll dressed in pink, probably a ballerina, now permanently tarnished with the patina of a half century.

The entrance to the Barn is a huge wooden door that leads into a cavernous foyer; the ceiling is thirty feet tall. Light emanates from stained glass windows set into the second story. Light also emanates from two cylindrical church lights hung by heavy chains. The interior is raw plywood. Initially Travanti enhanced the knots with marbles. Then he began using biomorphic ceramic shapes; red, yellow, blue, orange. Bright primary colors glued into the wood; a thousand eyes. Finally, Marc wallpapered one wall with pages from an 18th century guide to flora and fauna.

Today, Margaret’s studio is on the first floor and overlooks the woods. Marc’s studio is on the second floor under a stained glass window. The environment is also their canvas. It is a place where every once in a while, form follows function and hallucinates:

A church window in a century year old barn, a tree stump with a red fur top, a night light that is a glow-in- the-dark-brain, a circular window embedded with broken bits of pottery, and finally a candelabra hanging from a tree branch in a clear patch of the forest.

This is the Barn of earthly delights.

note:  Marc asked me to write this for his website;

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fierce Feministas: 2

The original fierce woman, my grandmother.   She literally walked across Germany during World War II with her husband, Walter, and two young children.  Part of the forced labor that worked in factories producing munitions. When one factory was bombed they were marched to another.  If you broke rank, you were shot.  When the Americans flew overheard, you were shot. They were, as one historian noted,"caught in the vise of history."  I researched this when I was producing a series on National Public Radio; Lost Voices (2002).  She wasn't a saint, but she was tough.  She kept rubber bands in a glass jar, saved buttons, plastic bags and would never throw out food.  Downstairs in her basement, she had a dozen boxes of detergent.  You never know.  The Nazis might come back.   

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tales from the Velvet Chamber

I'm working on the website for my new book project, Tales from the Velvet Chamber.  An anthology of stories by women who subvert and invert classical myths, fairy-tales and the Bible: I'm thinking Lilith, Mary Magdalene, Eve, Medea, Medusa.  A fresh take on old archetypes; the whore, the bitch, the crone, the muses, the fates, she-devils, gorgons.  The idea: make these powerful women strong, dark, evil and beautiful.  Admired, not reviled.   A gallery of women who are erotic, transgressive, outrageous, comic and charming.  Stay tuned for more details. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Love the duck and the dog

I found this on Court Street this morning while I was walking Molly.  I had to take a picture.  First of all, its completely adorable.  Love the duck dog and the fish.   I love that he loves animals.  I love that he's trying to find work:  "Great Rates!"  I'm sure he's trying to help his parents afford the rent here in Cobble Hill b/c it ain't cheap, baby. I love that he's "reliable."  I'm sure he is.  I should've taken the phone number just to hear this 11 year old entrepeneur talk shop.  I'm  also sure he will find part-time work before I will.  Ha.  Ha. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fierce Feministas: Real and Fictitious (FFRF)

Mars Clark, painter, activist cooking up Catskill Chili in her East Village studio/home.  She's preparing a meal for her friend--- whose very young and very beautiful daughter is very ill.  Mars was also an engine in her much publicized and successful blood drive.  In fact, some might call this blood drive historic.

She is currently painting a pictorial history of the world; hallucinatory and intensely personal.  Its cosmology, its biology, its the Sefiroth, the tree of life, the Seven Planets.  It's a feminine lens.  The view is strange and beautiful.  Strong narrative, provocative symbols. 

I once viewed the finished canvases exhibited on the wall of her studio.  She's telling a big story. 

She throws huge parties and invites everyone. 

This is why Mars is the first in this series of FFRF.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Love in the Time of Terrorism
A sexy short story

Friday, November 6, 2009

happiness :(

Barbara Ehrenreich my favorite writer on the dark side of the American dream, has a new book out. "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, published by Metropolitan Books.  When I passed  by Book Court, and saw it in the window, I thought; Christ.  At last.  I thought I was the only person that got depressed every time I watched a special on public television.  By a  motivational speaker.  Exhorting us poor slobs to improve our lives, increase our wealth, live forever, and totally be at peace.  I also got depressed when I read a self-help magazine.  The message was always a version of: think positive. Initially I would judiciously note all the things I should be doing and thinking in the pursuit of positive thinking, but an hour later, I just needed a pint of chocolate ice-cream or a drink.   Or both.

According to Ehrenreich, in an interview on, the whole movement of positive thinking got its start in corporate America.  During a cycle of lay-offs.  Motivational speakers were hired.  Preach a message of wealth and prosperity, and the power of positive thinking.   Soon, according to Ehrenreich, "Positive Thinking became the ideology of the business world in America." When she had breast cancer, she felt "oppressed  by the feel-good aspects of the culture."  

We can't grieve, we can't mourn, we can't be depressed, we can't be sorrowful, we can't be angry, anxious, edgy, tired.  Getting nervous at a party, especially if we don't know anyone, which is completely normal, completely human---  has been  pathologized;  social anxiety disorder.  And guess what?  You can take a pill and cure it.   You can always feel good.  You don't ever have to feel bad.  And if you do feel bad, it is your own fault.  You just have to think positive.

This is the message we hear.  This is the message I hear.  How am I standing in my own way?  How can I work harder to be happier?   What am I doing wrong?  Am I doing something wrong?  Why aren't I happier?  I should be happyEverybody else is. According to Ehrenreich, forced optimism, "..silences people and quells dissent."   Its embarrassing to be sad.  We never say that.  Or if we do, more often than not, we hear in response,
Think Positive.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beware of the twilight. The shadows can trick you.

The darkness is back.  Twilight at 4:00 p.m.  Night falls at 5:00.  My mother said: It's the most dangerous time of day.  The shadows can trick you.  She was afraid of us on bicycles.  Out on the streets.  Oncoming cars. Careless children.  All six of us.  Our cheeks ruddy from the cold.  The kitchen windows steamed.  A pile of sweaters and socks by the back door.  Dinner time and its totally dark out.

Today, in Brooklyn, it means the streets are littered with yellow leaves. It means the light from the setting sun falls at an oblique angle.  The brownstones across the street are gilded, momentarily, against a backdrop of pure blue sky.  Coming up from the 4 train after work, its dark.  It means I drink more coffee.  Suddenly think: get out while its still light. 

I like the way the days diminish leading up to the solstice.  I like that the light becomes more and more burnished.  More oblique. I hear the sound of dry leaves underfoot, the distant echo of children.  The trees in the park are orange, yellow, red.  Somewhere, not here, a young mother admonishes her sons and daughters: Beware of the twilight.  The shadows can trick you.

Monday, November 2, 2009

I don't know what I've been smoking

I don't know what I've been smoking, how I've changed, or what's in my Kool-Aid, but I've been avidly watching the World Series.  I think it began b/c the Wolf, aka my brother, is a huge fan.  On the night of the first game of the series, I was outside Yankee Stadium.  Inside the madness.  Blue and white as far as the eye could see.  A buzzing, brimming, bobbing sea of humanity all focused on one thing and one thing only; the game! And all of a sudden, I became a fan. 

I walked  over to a vendor selling souvenir caps.  I asked, how much.  He grunted, 20 bucks.  I said, how about ten?  He smiled, waited a moment and said, How about you go across the street and pay 25 bucks, and five bucks for a cup of coffee while you're at it.  I smiled back.  Total New York moment.  I forked over the money.  Surely this will be a talisman, I thought, a good luck charm that I will mail to the Wolf. 

At home, I turned on the game, for the first time in my life.  Was mesmerized by the Phillie's pitcher, Cliff Lee.  Swooosh.  He threw the ball.  Swwwiiinng----  Jeter, Matsui, Damon, A-Rod, all the Yankee superstars struck out. Who was this man?  He dominated the game like a magician, like he was high on crack, like he was king.  The Yanks never had a  chance.  Now I'm hooked.  Game 4 tonight and you better believe I'll be there.  They're up by three games.  If I mail the hat to the Wolf in time, I believe they'll go all the way.

photo: wallyg

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Portrait of the artist as a young dog

Ghoulish glitter

Halloween night.  In Brooklyn.  It began with a walk to Bergen between Court and Smith to visit a new art gallery/performance space called Invisible Dog.  It used to be a factory that manufactured--- among other things--- the gag dog leash.  I interviewed the Producer/Art Director.  A French man by way of Marseilles and Paris, now in Cobble Hill.  Lucien Zayan.  The current exhibit on the main floor has several large abstract paintings, a soft sculpture that could be a mushroom except its about 100X bigger and multi-colored, a video installation playing against the far wall, and a light box sculpture.

 On the second floor Lucien showed me the artist studios.  Four thousand square feet that he configured for each artist after he found out what they needed.  On the third floor an absolutely exquisite performance space--- gorgeous b/c he kept the rawness of the room and added polish.  The walls are now pristine white with modern lighting.  But he kept the original windows, sanded down the columns and rebuilt the ceiling using recycled wood from the space.  Again, 4,000 square feet.  This is how he makes his money.  He rents this space out: weddings, exhibits, photographers, film companies.  Pretty smart.  Then does what he wants on the ground floor. 

Apres l'interview, I walked over to Smith and Pacific to Bar Tabac.  A great little French bistro that every once in  awhile features Brazilian jazz.  I've had some GOOD times there.  They have outside tables, so I could watch the spectacle of little children, their parents, and even their pets parade up and down the streets in search of treats.  I saw not one but two dogs in lobster costumes.  I saw a infant dressed up like a hot dog; the bun part of the sling holding the baby.  A family walked by dressed up in Nathan's Hot Dog Attire, the signature hats, and aprons.  A six or seven year old boy, sporting a sinister mask, was clearly enjoying his new persona.  Little girls in long silver gowns wearing tiaras.  An entire family of bumble bees.  The waitstaff all dressed up; Adam's family.  Ghoulish.  Glitter.  A great chicken cutlet and Sancerre. 

Walked up to Court, over to Atlantic to get to the heart of the Halloween celebration--- the mecca for all children, my neighborhood, State Street, Joralemon Street, and all the little streets in between.  Its like Woodstock, Disney World, street fair, and art installation; all rolled into one.  The elegant brownstones and townhouses are decorated with skeletons, ghosts, giant spiders, pumpkins, witches and monsters.  Add lights and music. The owners are in costume.  The kids are in costume.   I walked through the ghouls and goblins, coffee in hand, said hello to a few neighbors, even scammed some candy for myself.  Trick or treat!

Then home to watch the Yankees clobber the Phillies.  Perfect.

Image:  Woman who works at the dry cleaners on Hicks, sweeping the sidewalk, dressed up like a fairy.