Thursday, August 30, 2012

Repost: Walter's Camera Shop

I don't want to say life is hard, because that doesn't really mean anything: "shit happens", "life is hard and then you die", doesn't really come close to describing the feeling of sitting in your car at 9pm crying with your head on the steering wheel so that no one can hear you, not to mention the whole day that led you there, with the driving 17 places and the job you just gave your notice on, and the crap health insurance you need to pay for but can't because you are already in the negative, and the conversation you had with your 13 year old where you are both standing in a hallway leaning your heads against the wall, while she cries and says she hates herself and everything and there is no single thing you can say will magically and instantly change that (in fact everything you do say actually makes it worse). Even saying all that doesn't really get it, in fact it only makes you think: oh shut the fuck up you big baby, waaa waa waaa, you don't have cancer,  you're not in jail or addicted to crack, you haven't watched your child get hit by a car, or taken him, every fucking day, to a burn unit, you don't live in a tent in the mud with 60 other people, or stand in a line a mile long to get a bowl of rice.

Everyone has problems. Just shut UP.

But still.
Life is hard.
Is this thing on?

Walter's camera shop. That's what I wanted to write about. I'm not going to tell you he was some kind of magical person who told me the meaning of life. He did not. That's really a photo of him up above. (I found it on the computer.) He's a big guy, like I said, gruff, with fingers like cigar stubs. He came out from behind the piles of crap holding my camera. But he didn't say anything right away. I started talking.
Should I go get cash, I don't have cash.
I haven't told you how much it is yet.
I know but--
I have to tell you what is wrong.

I took a deep breath.
He took a deep breath.

He explained it to me. The whole problem. He showed me the part, the size of an eyelash, that was damaged; explained how he tried working it with a different lens; told me how Nikon was going under, like Kodak did. He told me why. We talked about different photographers and the ones he liked and the ones who were just so-so. There was nothing he didn't know about cameras or photography.
Where are you from? I asked him.
Um. ( I was afraid. I was thinking Middle East but worried that if I guessed wrong, that I might offend him and he'd choke me out in 3 seconds) Israel?
He shook his head.
Give me a hint.
It is old place.
I laughed, Well that sure narrows it down.
Come on, you're smart.
(Now I was really intimidated) I give up.
I was just about to say that!
He told me about Egypt. He said he knew everything about his country including the exact day that Anwar Sadat would be assassinated. He said he went to Las Vegas the day before to place a bet on it but no one would let him. "They thought I was crazy."
Makes sense.
"So I bet my friend a bottle of whiskey (he pronounced it whisk) and the next morning he calls me on the phone and says, I have your whisk."
We talked about Egypt, about the food, the people, the architecture and then worked our way back to my camera.
How much?
You know, I think I may still be covered by the warranty.
He shrugged, that's good. What you need to do is write a letter. You can't be nice. You have to demand that they fix it. He told me the exact wording and went over it twice. We shook hands and I told him my name. He said I'm glad I met you. This made my week!
Mine too! I'll come back to tell you how it turned out.
I turned to walk out the door which he had to buzz to let me out. He looked at me and said: Write that letter. Demand! And Don't Be Sweet like you are.
I smiled and walked out, wondering if someone, 50 years ago standing in front of the Pyramids, had ever said that to him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Old Hollywood

Part of my regular loop of driving includes a stretch from my house to Hollywood. That's where Harry's school is, where my gym is, where the Trader Joe's, the movie theater, the tae kwon do studio all are. Sometimes without meaning to, I'll find myself heading on that road when I need to go somewhere else and then I'll have to turn around and backtrack. There are parts of the route that may have been glamorous once, back in the 30s and 40s, but have long since become a place to buy crack, beg for change or pee in a doorway. I am familiar with a few of the people I see and I wonder if they are homeless or if, after a long day of walking and scavenging, they go home, walk up a flight of rotty wood stairs, and fit their key in a lock just like any old normal joe. On the days I don't see them I always wonder where they are.

Fred: His face is so much like that of Frederick Douglas that I wouldn't be surprised if he was a direct descendant. He works his hair with the same comb-over and he always is dressed neatly; there are heavy creases down the middle of his pants from ironing. In the five years that I've used this route, all I've ever seen him do is pace back and forth, head down, stride forceful, walking like it's his job.

Jimmy: This guy. It's hard to believe that a man with a face like Cagney would be a tranny, but that's the hand he was dealt. Occasionally he'll wear make-up, a bit of lipstick, some pink rouge, but usually he keeps it natural; just dress, handbag, heels. He keeps his hair in a ponytail, about the width of pencil, hanging down his back. He always looks a little uncertain and yet there he is, out on a busy street in a middle of a big city.

Lady: This isn't a photo of the Lady I see on my route, but it looks a little like her. She sleeps in the middle of the sidewalk near the firehouse at one of the busiest intersections in Hollywood. The way she is passed out, I am always surprised that she is alive, but you can tell she was beautiful once: blond hair, high cheekbones, laughing with her head thrown back.

Monday, August 27, 2012


There should be a word for what happens when you see someone you don't know very well out of their usual context, like a teacher in the grocery store or a mailman at the movie theater. In a movie, quite often, this is a sign that something strange and possibly horrific is about to happen.

I feel like this happens often here; I'll see someone and then have that momentary "Oh! ...There's whatshisname...Wait." Then my mind scrolls through all the files: friends, someone's parent, coffee shop barista, Bob's market guy and then tries to match no, no, no, no. Until then, I remember, "Oh. Right." he's from TV.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Me Decade

When I was 9, I used to take the bus from my apartment building to the train station, get on a train, ride it out to the suburbs, get off at my stop, and walk 1/2 mile to my school. It didn't seem strange at the time. In fact I did it every day for almost 2 years. My brother Pete, age 8, was usually with me the first half of the way and then there were a few other kids who got on the train at various stops. We'd walk in a sort of staggered single file to the school. We wore uniforms: white button down shirt, green tunic with a belt, green knee socks, green blazer or sweater. I kept my hair in braids or else just hanging down, straight and stringy. I didn't carry a back-pack, no one did then; I carried my books and lunch in a canvas bag that was kind of like an electricians bag, which I sometimes held on my back like Santa.

No one ever told me to only walk in well-lit areas where there were a lot of people. No one told me to avoid weird freaks or scream loud if anyone came towards me inappropriately (I didn't even know what that meant). No one told me not to get into the back of someone's van or told me not to wait in front of the XXX movie theater at 17th and Market after dark. I think I knew not to speak to strangers or accept candy. I think I knew to cross at the cross walk and look both ways. But that was it. I never even had money. The times we did get some change, never a dollar, we'd immediately go to Parvin's pharmacy and buy pixie sticks, tootsie pops and sour cream and onion potato chips. All for 50 cents.

In other parts of the world there was a war, civil rights protestors were getting sprayed with fire hoses, 18 year olds were allowed to vote, women were standing up for themselves. Our older brothers and sisters were dropping acid and using words like fuck and no way and far-out in their every day lingo. Some of our parents were having key parties or getting divorced or smoking pot. Others were having parties at the country club or playing golf. A few of our parents were doing all of those things. What was the big deal about sending a 3rd grader on an hour long journey to school by himself every day. He knew where he was going.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


My dogs see me putting my shoes on and jesus, it's all over. They are like two fat ladies in a bingo parlor fire. Oh! Oh! Goodness! (run back and forth at top speed) Heavens! Oh Dear! Please! (crash into table leg, spill splat of coffee) Can we..? Sweet Jesus...Me first..No, me... No (viciously start attacking each other in a tornado-like swirling funnel)
ENOUGH, I yell. I can't turn my head right or left because it makes me dizzy.
They instantly sit and stare at me, trembling; their fate entirely, wholly, completely, in my hands.
What the hell is so exciting? I ask them. You were just out there a few hours ago.
I stare at them. All I've been doing for three days is worrying.
They stare back.
Do you know I have a full list of legitimate reasons why I should not leave this house right now? Legitimate, sad, serious, troublesome reasons?
They continue to quake. One of them lifts his paw.
The fuck is that?
He puts it down.
I sigh.
They sigh and shift.
This is something we have in common, the sighing.
Okay, let's go.
They hurl themselves down the stairs with the force and sound of two carry-on pieces of luggage being thrown down a fire escape.
Life can be exhausting, but this is how the day should always be greeted.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Putting Your Teeth on The Table

Sometimes, during the last couple years of his life, when we would go out to dinner with my grandfather, he would take his teeth out and put them on the table. He’d pick at them with a fork or sometimes even drop them in his water glass and swirl them around. I think the first few times he did that, we all said, “Oh my God, you can’t do that…Gampi!...Come on…what are you doing?”; but it got to be a common enough occurrence that after a while, we all kind of shrugged and kept talking, “Waitress! We’re ready to order”. You might think that was an indication of his senility, even altzheimer’s, but it wasn’t. My grandfather was sharp as a tack, in fact he died giving a speech at a party he was having in his house for the District Attorney of Philadelphia. He was also a firm believer in the importance of manners (when we were little,for example, he insisted that when we were introduced to his friends or co-workers that we look them in the eye, give a firm handshake or curtsy, and say, How do you do?) but he always lived by his own rules. If he felt like taking his motherfucking teeth out at a table in a restaurant, he was going to take his motherfucking teeth out.
Here are a few other details about my Grandfather:
-He was born in Italy.
-He was a college professor.
-He was President of the International Trial Lawyers Association.
-He went to an Ivy League school that he paid for himself.
-He wore pinky rings.
-He carried an old brown wallet, stuffed 3 inches full with cash and every credit card in America, and held together with 6 rubber bands.
-He owned bespoke suits in every color and fabric, including ones with jackets in pink and yellow and red; he had to turn a room in his house into a closet just to hold them all.
-He mostly wore clip-on ties because he never learned how to tie one.
-In the summer he had a party every Sunday and he would cook the food and then sing before dinner with a 3-man band he had hired specifically for that purpose.
-He was very generous.

He went through almost his entire life without removing his teeth at the table, so, yeah, it was odd. Kind of scary too, seeing his face slack, suddenly formless. Maybe it was a clue, one that gets overlooked until there is hindsight, that he was heading down a dead-end street. It may not have been a conscious act, but it was a way of saying, however quietly: I’m done.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Having Fun

Dear Boy driving his battery operated car outside beneath my window for an hour yesterday early evening,

  Thank you for the sweet noise your car made as you accelerated over the bumpy sidewalk and the high pitch squeal when you went in reverse. Thank you for talking to yourself and narrating the experience while you were doing it. It was a perfect distraction for me from all my woes. It reminded me that sometimes it can actually be fun doing the same thing over and over and over, each time getting just a little bit better. It reminded me of Mo and her big wheel and the sound it used to make going 30 mph straight down our vertical driveway, the sound of hard plastic wheels rumbling on concrete. It reminded me of what hot summer nights are like when you don't know that heat is uncomfortable and irritating. I hope you come back again. Bye!

your neighbor in 831

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Providence, The Short, and The Biltmore Hotel

                     The hotel where we stayed in Providence was the inspiration for The Shining. 

 I didn't see any twins at the end of the hall or have any telepathic communications but I did pick up a little of the writer's block; we went there to see (for the first time for me) our short movie on a big screen. I say "we" and "our" not to sound like a royal (ass pain) but because the group included me, the director, the producers and sound guy. I arrived first and had a walk around the town. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, I just wanted to pound the pavement: city, street, walk, go. Three times I started heading one way, took ten steps and turned around and went in the opposite direction. If anyone had watched me from an aerial view, I probably looked like Ms. Pacman. It's weird being in a city, a place not far from where you were born, doing something you've never done before, and not have a simultaneous brain freeze and flood. In no particular order I thought about: JFK Jr, my birth, financial ruin, my grandparents, the mafia, New Orleans, my old boyfriend's chipped tooth, my children, war veterans, falling into a canal and what I'm doing with my life. You know, the usual. I wonder if this is what happens to most people when they visit a foreign city: a little internal exploration. You don't know where you are, so go inside your head where at least it's familiar. I saw buildings and even took photos of a few of the beautiful streets and landmarks but I wasn't really seeing anything so much as I was breathing it. I was in the past, present and future all at once.

When we got to the screening at 9 pm the following night there was already a full house of cheering people in the theater. As soon as they opened the doors to the auditorium though, the place emptied out and the 20 or so of us loitering in the hallway walked in. The place was not a screening room, it was a theater; it had columns, gargoyles, painting on the ceiling and velvet seats. I felt excited and hopeful and ashamed and scared all at the same time. Our short was last, which wouldn't have been so bad except that the ones preceding it were bleak and relentless, still beautiful and complicated but Jesus, you wanted to kill yourself or take a rape shower. Some guy in the audience had his head back snoring with his mouth open.

God bless him and every other man of his ilk that has ever walked the face of the earth.

Though it was beautiful, amazing and thrilling, I can't really give a critique, or even an explanation, of the movie itself. I can only give you a view of myself watching it, which is pretty much the same way a person who catches a glimpse of herself naked in front of a mirror reacts: "Good Lord! Ugh. Oh Well. Hmm. It's..not so bad. Could be worse". I don't know if this will happen every time from this day forward, but I suspect it will. After it was over, we all walked to the town square and for a while discussed the pluses and minuses of getting something to eat vs. going back to our rooms with the ghosts and the shining. The ghosts and the shining won. As usual.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Reminder

Yesterday I was having a coffee at an outside table in the city. I was thinking how I liked being around so many busy people, hustling and bustling. People getting things done. I don't live far from the city, in fact I could easily walk if I wanted too, but I'm far enough to feel out of touch, in both good and bad ways. I felt like a tourist, pining for the old days, taking in all that I've missed. Then I saw a guy winding his way down the street. Sometimes you can describe a person as wearing rags and what you mean really is that that the clothes are tattered and dirty, but this guy was wearing Rags; a part of the outfit looked like it might have been a cape at one point, everything was worn through with holes and falling off. I watched him make his way down the sidewalk and when he got to the trashcan, he placed a hand on either side of it (he looked like he was either going to pick it up over his head or make it magically disappear by casting a spell into it) and then he roared the most heated, rageful sound I have ever heard. He sounded like a tyrannosaurus rex.

I forgot about that sound.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Me and Omar

I woke up this morning and Omar Little was in my kitchen opening up the cabinets.

Hey yourself.
What, uh, what's going on?
Trying to find some honey nuts.
I'm all out.

Omar hangs his head and braces himself on the kitchen sink.

Don't say that to me again.
Okay, I have--
Don't say nothin just yet.

Omar closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. Then he turns and shakes a Kool out of a packet and lights it. He inhales deeply and eyes me full on.

You know why I'm here?

I think about this for a full minute.


He persists.

You know why I'm here?

I search his face trying to find the answer. I fixate on the long scar. I speak as though I'm reading the answer on his face.

You're collect money...from a drug deal gone wrong?

He blows smoke through his nose and shakes his head slowly like he's laughing. But he's not smiling.

You ain't involved in no drugs baby, relax. Don't fool.
Close your eyes if you have to. Ain't nobody gonna hurt you. Just think.

I do as I'm told. I breathe. I try to relax. I can feel the menthol from the smoke in the back of my throat. Even though my eyes are closed tight I can feel him looking at me. I can feel his eyes like the palm of a hand on my cheek. When I open my eyes, he is staring right at me waiting for the answer. I stare right back so hard I get a lump in my throat. I speak slowly.

You're here because you want to tell me that I need to slow down (he nods). I need to pay attention without getting distracted. (nod) I need to stop wanting what I don't have ( that's right) I need to love myself (ain't nobody else gonna). I need to take care of my own (uh-huh). I need to be honest (just to yourself baby) and...(I wonder if I should say it, I weigh the pros and cons, and then I just blurt it out) good things will happen.

He tilts his head and I'm afraid he's going to say Don't be an idiot. All I can do is worry that he's about to tell me No, Good things won't happen. All I can do is process that whole answer right then and there and feel tears come to my eyes at how stupid I am for wishing. I wait for him to say simply and kindly, Don't be a fool.

But he doesn't.

Instead he just softens his gaze, and smiles.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Gore Vidal 1925-2012

Write something, even if it's just a suicide note.