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2034-03-02 01:28 pm

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Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

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2017-09-24 12:33 pm

My Steely Dan Nostalgia Tour of Barrytown



This house.

Hideous, isn’t it?

Of course, it’s a Livingston mansion.

Well.

Sort of a Livingston mansion: It dates back to the late 1800s, a renaissance period for truly hideous Gothic architecture. It replaced a Livingston mansion called Massena, built in the late 18th century, that was renowned for its classical lines.

Massena was acquired by someone called John Lloyd Aspinwall who had no genealogical connection whatsoever to the Livingstons. Mrs John Lloyd Aspinwall ordered up the replacement. When she saw it for the first time, she hated it so much that she fled to Europe, never again to return to American shores.

I stumbled across the house on my Steely Dan nostalgia tour of Barrytown yesterday.

###

Barrytown is a deeply weird place.

After hiking for an hour or so around the grounds of Massena – which is now owned by Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church (talk about deeply weird), I drove slowly down Barrytown’s main drag. Past decrepit 18th century houses that would not look out of place in some horror movie about swamp monsters in the bayou except that Bard students were sitting on their crumbling porches.

Then I saw this red brick early 19th century Federal-style house with a big sign – For Sale By Owner – and thought: Valerie! In case the Bennet Road property doesn’t work out. I got out to take pictures of the property:



And I decided to explore.

I walked down along a bend in the road, past the Red Hook marina – small; unprepossessing – and came to a series of tall box hedges with a gate. The gate was open, and through it, I glimpsed a table set with a white linen cloth, bowls of vividly hued dahlias and glittering brass objets d’arte

How could I resist?

I walked through the gates, and…

OhmyGAWD!

Edgewater!

This was Edgewater!

Gore Vidal’s old Hudson River Estate!

I’ve been trying to find Edgewater for ages and ages and ages!

Gore Vidal sold the house in 1969 after losing a race for the 29th Congressional District in New York. In public, he shrugged the loss off, but clearly it rankled since it precipitated his flight to Europe. Just like Mrs. John Lloyd Aspinwall before him!

Close friends Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward maintained that it was this move that caused Gore Vidal’s life to fall apart, and I can see it: The magical terroir in these parts is very strong and very… protective.

Some garden party was going on at Edgewater, a lot of men in suits and ties, a sprinkling of women in cocktail dresses.

I, of course, dress like a bag lady on practically all occasions so there was no question of trying to blend in with the crowd and cop free alcohol.

I just stood there and gaped
.
Nobody noticed me. Or everybody pretended not to notice me.

I felt a little bit like Rip Van Winkle stumbling into the magical dwarves’ bowling party.

After a minute or so, I stumbled out.

Edgewater is another Livingston mansion. Built in the 1860s or so by the original owner of Massena as a wedding gift for his daughter.

Architectural trends in the 1860s were far superior to what they would become 30 years later:



Railroad tracks run almost parallel to the property. While I was standing there, an Amtrak train went by.

And it dawns on me that the real reason why millionaires may have stopped building Big Old Houses in the Hudson Valley and started building them instead on Long Island has much more to do with the construction of that railroad track than any preference for the island. Who wants those types of disruptions at their cocktail parties?
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2017-09-22 10:03 am

Oh, Don't You Weep and Don't You Moan, Samir Is Here to Fix Your Phone!

Dreamed that I was deeply, passionately in love with a brilliant architect, but he would never love me back because he was a dwarf, and at 5’10”, I was simply too tall.

I suppose the dream’s status detail is borrowed from the Celeste project, but it’s interesting the way it took something that many people, myself included, would view as an advantage, my height. And turned it into a disability.

###

I scraped yesterday’s English lesson with Samir in favor of helping him hammer out a business plan.

He seems bound and determined to transfer operations to New York City.

I think that plan is beyond awful, but I don’t get to make his decisions; I am but a tool for actualizing his goals, etcetera, ad nauseam.

“You know, there are an awful lot of people repairing phones in New York City,” I told him.

“Yes, but there are an awful lot of broken phones,” he said.

I suppose.

We sat in the library making up numbers:

Rent, New York City: $1500 for office; $1200 for living = $2700

Versus

Rent, Poughkeepsie: $1200 for office, $500 for living = $1700

Etcetera.

Samir, for whatever reason, is just bound and determined to have a physical address from which to run his smartphone repair empire.

I think that’s cray-zeee.

True, I know nothing about the commercial real estate market in New York City, but it seems to me that even if his rent guesstimate is correct – and I suspect it’s way low – it sticks him with a 12-month operational expense that would be a cement block around his neck if the business didn’t take off.

And he wants it to take off in three months.

Six months, Samir,” I said. “You want to have enough cash in reserve to tide you over for six months.”

“No, no, three months,” he said adamantly.

I think the ideal business model for him would be a mobile phone repair operation, which he could do in conjunction with his current admittedly awful job. (Not only is his current employer exploiting him, now his current employer is refusing to provide him with a reference! Because he doesn’t want to lose Samir!)

As the mobile repair biz gained traction, he could cut down on hours at the bad job.

He could do the repairs out of the back of his van. He could start off by parking the van three days a week alongside the Vassar campus.

(“But students,” said Samir. “They have no money.”

“Oh, trust me,” I said. “Vassar students have money.”)

He could paper the campus with fliers: Phone fixed while you wait! He could do the car wrap thing! Maybe his van could play a little jingle like an ice cream truck!

I sang the little jingle for him: “Oh, don’t you weep and don’t you moan, for Samir is here to fix your phone. La-la-la!”

Samir laughed.

“Really, you have to think in terms of your long-range plans, Samir,” I said.

Samir looked at his hands. “I want to marry my girlfriend. I want to bring her to the U.S. But, you know, in our culture, wives do not work. I do not want my wife to work. I want to make the house for her, and she will make me the home.”

Start-up costs for a mobile phone repair business should be considerably less than for a stationary phone repair business since he already has the tools he tells me, and presumably, word of mouth would be his chief marketing channel. So let’s say $5,000 for a van and another $1500 for a generator so he can sauter motherboards when necessary. If the business goes kaput, hey! he still has capital in the form of equipment that has some resale value.

I’m looking into crowd-sourcing platforms.

But how do I make Samir stand out from all those other worthy candidates vying for your Beneficent Bwana dollars?

###

First day of autumn. Wow! This summer went fast.

Hoping to drive to Barrytown and Annandale-on-Hudson this afternoon for a kind of Steely Dan nostalgia tour. But that will depend upon what my masters at the Scut Factory have in store for me.
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2017-09-20 10:09 am

Fucking Mick Jagger

All morning long, I’ve been musing over poor Evelyn Waugh who died of a broken heart because some B level pal told him he was boring.

I suppose I’m boring.

That’s because I’ve always been much more interested in books, and ideas, and the swoop of people’s lives, and those strange, uncategorized floaters of unencapsulated memory that seem to pop up at the oddest times, than I am in sex, celebrity, status detail that’s grounded in marketing trends rather than personal style.

I mean, if – for example – I decided to write about my sexual history over five decades, this could be the most popular blog on the Internet, right? Mick Jagger: Uncircumcised. His dick was maybe five and a half/ six inches. Very lazy! You had to crawl on top of him and grind! Celebrity spoils the mutuality ethic. It was a lot of work getting him off in fact, so much work that very little concentration was left to get myself off. But, hey! Mick Jagger.

Etcetera.

###

Actually, that description of Mick Jagger would bore most readers, too. Celebrity spoils the mutuality ethic, they’d think. Huh? What does “mutuality” mean? What’s an ethic? Why didn't she give him a score between 1 and 10?

Maybe I just can’t write anything that interests anyone other than me-e-e-e!

###

Strange, unsettled day. Tropical Storm Jose safely out to sea, but the winds are high and dense with moisture here in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley so that walking any distance at all, one gets the sense of displacing one’s own weight.

One project, I need to finish; one project, I need to start. But you know me! I’m all about the meh.

I really need to have a long transcendental conversation with someone. That would get me back on track. I’m not isolated, but there’s practically no one in these parts who likes to have long, transcendental conversations. But those are catalysts for me. Plus they ground me in my own non-boringness. [Insert wistful smiley.]
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2017-09-19 07:42 am

The Interesting Question

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, every generation is secretly convinced that they’re the ones who invented sex.

Thus, books like Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead are always slightly shocking. The book chronicles – in the most exhaustive detail – Waugh’s youthful indiscretions both at Oxford and as the self-appointed chronicler of the Bright Young Things, which is what they called Generation X in the UK back in the 1920s.

These blurry buttocks belonged to Alistair Graham who accompanied his early 20th century version of sexting with instructions on the best way to drink fine wine: You must take a peach and peel it, and put it in a finger bowl, and pour the Burgundy over it. The flavour is exquisite.

The note is signed, With love from Alistair, and his poor dead heart.

Alistair came to a bad end.

But then, so did Waugh. He grew old and fat and Catholic, though his trenchant tongue continued to amuse. Upon hearing that doctors had removed a benign tumor from his sometimes friend Randolph Churchill, he confided in his diary, A typical triumph of modern science to find the only part of Randolph that was not malignant and remove it.

Ann Fleming a/k/a Mrs. Ian was one of the circle of friends in far-flung corners of the world with whom Waugh spent time. After one such Jamaican holiday, Waugh heard third-hand that he had bored Fleming and her guests while there, and that damning word “bored” threw him into a depression from which he never recovered. He lost his teeth, stopped eating, began drinking. Don’t let me in my dotage oppress you, he wrote his favorite daughter.

Waugh died on the toilet – just like Elvis! Damn! That Valsalva maneuver will get you every time.

Of course, this raises the interesting question: Is any end ever good? Except Lord Marchmain’s?



In that other place where it is always summer, the strawberries are always ripe, and Aloysius is always in a good humor, Waugh continues to live on. Because as is the case with most novels, Brideshead Revisited was really artfully rearranged autobiography, and Evelyn Waugh was Charles Ryder.

This is Madresfield Court, the manor house that inspired the Brideshead.

As you can see, it looks very little like Castle Howard, which is the house that posed as Brideshead both in the very fine 1981 miniseries and the mediocre 2008 film.

Unlike the harmonious, baroque mansion in the fiction, Madresfield – Olde English for “mowers’ field” – is an architectural hodgepodge, that has been lived in and added on to by the same family, the Lygons, since the time of the Domesday Book. A thousand years of continuous habitation! Nor was Brideshead the first piece of great fiction to be written about Madresfield: A dispute over the property was immortalized by Charles Dickens as Jarndyce and Jarndyce in one of his driest but most entertaining novels, Bleak House.

The property is surrounded by a moat. The doors opening on to the bridge were carved from oak in the 12th century, but the house’s medieval core has been smothered by Tudor brickwork on the outside, and swallowed by Gothic, neo-Gothic, and Georgian extensions on the inside.

Oh, how I would love to visit it!

###

In other news, I made all the phone calls in my queue, thereby solving many practical problems and moving ever closer to achieving my ambition, which is to become a Real Human Girl.

I toiled for the Scut Factory.

I remonstrated with Samir: “I know it’s not my job to give you advice, but moving to New York City would be such a terrible thing for you.”

It dawned on me that we might be able to raise capital for his mobile phone fixing enterprise by crowdsourcing. We shall see.

I bickered with Celeste about the contract and about the upcoming house party dates.

Max wants me to write an op ed about my experiences as an ESL teacher.

###

Somewhere, I heard that Greta Garbo walked eleven miles a day right up to the day she died! (She died at 85.) A scarecrow in white with enormous dark glasses wandering Third Avenue.

This really shamed me since I often find it difficult to walk four miles.

Especially in humid weather when my hip joints actually ache. I think the humidity must make the synovial fluid reservoir shrink though I’m unclear about the actual physiology.

Yesterday was not particularly humid, so I was able to walk a fairly long distance.

It’s definitely autumn, though a strange autumn: The leaves aren’t turning so much as drying up. Here’s a maple that’s bucking the trend, though:

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2017-09-18 07:18 am

MEME!

Meme copped from [profile] lifeinroseland

1. Are your parents married or divorced?

Dead.

2. Are you a vegetarian?

No.

No question No. 3?

(Pretentious)

4. Have you ever come close to dying?

Yes.

5. What jewelry do you wear?

Earrings. A little rhodite bracelet with pictures of Catholic saints.

6. Favorite time of day?

Sunrise, sunset.

7. Do you eat the stems of broccoli?

Yes.

8. Do you wear makeup?

Sometimes.

9. Ever had plastic surgery?

No.

10. Do you color your hair?

Yes.

11. What do you wear to bed?

Pyjamas

12. Have you ever done anything illegal?

I take the Fifth.

13. Can you roll your tongue?

Yes.

14. Do you tweeze your eyebrows?

No.

15. What kind of sneakers?

Decrepit cheap ones.

16. Do you believe in abortions?

Yes.

17. What is your natural hair color?

White.

18. Do you have any children?

Yes.

19. Do you snore?

I'm told I do. (I don't believe it._

20. If you could go anywhere in the world where would it be?

Xinjiang

21. Do you sleep with stuffed animals?

No.

22. If you ever won the lottery, what would you do first?

Cry.

23. Gold or silver?

Gold.

24. Hamburger or hot dog?

Hamburger.

25. If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Flautas.

26. City, beach, or country?

Country.

27. What was the last thing you touched?

Library copy of "Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead."

28. Where did you eat last?

At a table.

29. When's the last time you cried?

Yesterday.

30. Do you read blogs?

Obsessively.

31. Would you ever go out dressed like the opposite sex?

Yes.

32. Ever been involved with the police?

No.

33. What's your favorite shampoo?

Neutrogena.

34. Do you talk in your sleep?

Maybe.

35. Ocean or pool?

Ocean.

36. What's your favorite song at the moment?

"Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" - Leslie Odom Jr.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRLI4tpIjTM

No. 37

38. Window seat or aisle?

Window.

39. Have you ever met anyone famous?

Yes.

40. Do you feel that you've had a truly successful life?

It's not over yet.

41. Do you twirl your spaghetti or cut it?

Slurp.

42. Ricki Lake or Oprah?

A bullet to the brain.

43. Basketball or Football?

Basketball.

44. How long do your showers last?

Till the hot water runs out.

45. Cake or ice cream?

Ice cream.

No. 46.

47. Are you self-conscious?

Not anymore!

48. Have you ever drank so much you threw up?

No.

49. Have you ever given money to a tramp?

Yes.

50. Have you been in love?

Yes.

51. Where do you wish you were?

Brideshead Manor.

52. Are you wearing socks?

No.

53. Have you ever ridden in an ambulance?

Yes.

54. Can you tango?

No.

55. Last gift you received?

A fritata.

56. Last sport you played?

Pokemon Go.

57. Things you spend a lot of money on?

Rent, cats, car

58. Where do you live?

Hyde Park, NY

59. Where were you born?

Queens Naval Hospital, Queens NYC

60. Last wedding attended?

Cody and Shannon's

61. Favorite fast food restaurant?

McDonald's.

No. 62

63. Most hated food?

Zucchini

64. What's your least favorite chore?

Washing the car

65. Can you sing?

No

66. Last person you instant messaged?

Ben

67. Last place you went on holiday?

Brooklyn

68. Favorite regular drink?

Grapefruit juice

69. Current crush?

Crushless at the moment

70. Do you want people to do this meme?

I want people to do whatever people want to do so long as they don't harm people, cats, or other living things
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2017-09-16 10:37 am

The Scott Fitzgerald/Evelyn Waugh Contrast and Compare Plus Being an Antelope on the Serengeti Plain

Car insurance people send me a letter: Your monthly rates age going up ten bucks.

I peruse the 0.1 font print at the very bottom of the letter. It tells me my Defensive Driving Class discount has expired.

Well-l-l-l. It’s easy enough to take another Defensive Driving Class and to take it before the car insurance payment comes due.

But the whole thing just pisses me off massively. I feel like an antelope on the Serengeti plain surrounded by jackals. How hard would it have been for the car insurance people to send me a letter: Be advised that your discount is set to expire… ?

I am a sitting duck surrounded by predatory corporations that see me as prey. That want to wring every last cent out of me.

###

In other news, I’ve been rereading Brideshead Revisited – yes, you’re missing a book, mystery pal! – and thinking that Evelyn Waugh and Scott Fitzgerald shared common neuroses. Both fascinated by money – not for anything that money can buy but for its mysterious mana; both obsessed with mutability and loss. Both novels are a search for timelessness. Both novels acknowledge that timelessness does not exist.

I am thinking some grad student in English literature could get a very nice PhD thesis out of contrasting Brideshead Revisited with The Great Gatsby – assuming there still are grad students five years hence and that somebody hasn’t already done it.

In the pantheon of Great Writers, Fitzgerald is generally acceded the higher perch.

Part of that, I think, is the dog-preaching effect that Samuel Johnson mentions. (Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.) Fitzgerald is an American, yet he has a flawless command of canonical, vernacular-free English.

They were beset by many of the same, uh, life challenges. Fitzgerald’s life, became a total train wreck; but while Waugh’s life as a young man was picaresque to say the least, after he hit 30, he became so stable, you might describe him as stodgy.

Both social climbers: Waugh ingratiated himself with the upper classes by developing a very nasty sense of humor. Fitzgerald preferred to stay the aggrieved outsider.

Both drinkers: Fitzgerald became a drunk. Waugh, it would seem, drank an equivalent amount but did not become a drunk.

Disastrous early loves: Fitzgerald never severed the emotional rope that bound him to Zelda. Waugh shed She-Evelyn without a second’s hesitation and married again the year after his divorce. That marriage took.

Both harbored same-sex crushes: Fitzgerald repressed his homosexual desires. Waugh had numerous male lovers at Oxford, but this seemed to have been a developmental phase.

I suppose one could sum it all up by saying Fitzgerald was hopelessly sentimental, but Waugh was not. Maybe, that’s where Waugh’s Catholicism came in. Maybe if you institutionalize your yearning for redemption, you don’t have to act on it.

###

I prefer Brideshead to Gatsby. The language in both novels is comparably sumptuous and lovely, but Brideshead has more connective tissue. Also, of course, it’s got religion – lots and lots and lots of religion! And I like religion.

Plus Brideshead gives the rich an out: When I was a girl, Lady Marchmain tells Charles Ryder, we were comparatively poor, but still much richer than most of the world, and when I married I became very rich. It used to worry me, and I thought it wrong to have so many beautiful things when others had nothing. Now I realize that it is possible for the rich to sin by coveting the privileges of the poor.

BadaBOOM.
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2017-09-15 10:52 am

Ever Heedless of Propriety



Dreamed that I saw Robin Hobart.

Omygawd, Robin Hobart.

This was on the grounds of some kind of vast, beautiful university complex – Oxford or maybe even my old alma mater, Berkeley.

Robin Hobart was about 100 feet in front of me. I lost her in the crowd. I thought she went into a house, so – ever heedless of propriety, particularly in my dreams – I went into that house, too.

Inside the house, they were preparing for some sort of celebration. A wedding celebration. There was a kitchen that was stuffed with flowers – spring flowers like daffodils, narcissi, anemones, freesias. And a sleek cake.

Further inside the house was a mass of people.

I didn’t see Robin Hobart anywhere, so I bolted into a side room.

This side room was a bedroom of some sort with two beds. Two men were lying side by side in one of the beds. They had a conviviality with one another that did not come from having just had hot sex but rather from having lukewarm sex every other Friday – and today wasn’t Friday. But they obviously liked each other.

They were mildly put out by my presence in their room. But not too terribly.

I tried to explain to them what I was doing in their bedroom. But they weren’t particularly interested in anything I had to say. They talked over me – an easy conversation that had been going on their entire time together. From time to time, one or the other would look at me, raise his eyebrows mockingly, shake his head.

There was another male couple in the other bed.

They must be professors, I thought. Only professors could entertain such outré living arrangements.

But towards the end of the dream, I found out that they were auto mechanics.

And I never did catch up with Robin Hobart!

###

I went with Summer and Chris to Olana. The official Farewell Tour! Yes, I’d said goodbye to them in NYC but for some reason, it really hit home that Summer was leaving when I saw her yesterday. I suppose because most of the associations I have of her are tethered to the Hudson Valley.

I’ve been to Olana several times, but I always enjoy it. I can’t make up my mind whether the house is a wildly self-indulgent celebration of Orientalism at its absolute worst or a whimsical architectural folly. It’s very Victorian. Since the State of New York acquired it from the last living Frederick Church descendent, it’s crammed full with the painter’s own collection of knick-knacks, gewgaws, and tchotchkes. And reams and reams of truly awful paintings. I’m not a big fan of the Hudson Valley School.

(On the drive home, I was trying to figure out why I like John Singer Sargent but detest Frederick Church. Their subject matter was very similar, and their styles were not wildly dissimilar: They both practiced the kind of photorealism that was expected from painters before the use of cameras was widespread. I couldn’t come up with an answer.)



“It is very profitable to be a painter in the 1800s!” said Chris after we left the house.

“Oh, it wasn’t very profitable at all,” I said. “Frederick Church made his money the old-fashioned way! Through dead relatives. His father founded the Aetna Insurance Company.”

It was then that I made the remarkable discovery that Summer and Chris are rich! Between them, they own four houses – two in Szechuan and two in Guangdong -- and four cars.

Maybe visiting China and staying with them for a week is a reasonable goal after all.

###

“You are my family,” Summer said as we embraced one final time.

A banal sentiment, I know. But I feel that way, too. Like somehow, outside of culture, outside of time, we recognized each other.

I cried hysterically when I got home.

I shall miss her.

###

And I know, So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past is widely considered the sweepstakes winner in the contest for Best Line in the History of English Language Fiction.

But I like this line better: But I was in search of love in those days, and I went full of curiosity and the faint, unrecognized apprehension that here, at last, I should find that low door in the wall, which others, I knew, had found before me, which opened on an enclosed and enchanted garden, which was somewhere, not overlooked by any window, in the heart of that grey city.
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2017-09-14 07:49 am

Poisoning Myself



Apparently, I tried to poison myself yesterday by eating a berry from this plant.

That’s what happens when you take Big City Girls out of the Big City.

I often take tiny nibbles out of plants I find when wandering around the countryside here.

If birds can eat berries, then why, oh why, oh why, can’t I, right?

This one looked a lot like the wild grapes that grow all throughout Tompkins County. But it’s not. It’s poke weed.

It didn’t taste good. Very… foxy would be the word.

But I didn’t get sick.

###

In other news, I continue in my dyspeptic mood.

It’s brain chemistry.

I mean, there are proximal causes: I am the most insignificant human being ever to be spawned in the 100,000 year evolution of human beings on this planet – which is ironic, no? Since that degree of insignificance is surely a distinction!

Also, I worry about money.

What if I don’t get paid Friday? What if the Scut Factory simply decides not to pay me? How will the cats eat?

And what if I have some fatal disease? I loathe doctors. Haven’t gone to one in years. I try to eat right, exercise daily, and get lots of sleep. Every week when C comes to visit L, he lugs this suitcase, which is filled with prescription drugs! He takes all of them! And I just think, Ugh! Why? What’s the point? Why would anyone want to live till they’re 100? Either you end up like those poor people in that famous photo out of Houston, sitting around in the nursing home, waist-deep in sewer water, or you end up like the ones that dropped dead from heat prostration in that nursing home in Florida. Or you end up like Bob Zeigenhirt, whom frankly, I think, would like to die – only his kids won’t let him.

My kids wouldn’t care if I died. I mean – they love me. But I’m the Velveteen Rabbit. More a part of their memories than of their everyday lives.

These worries preoccupy me to such a degree that I find it nearly impossible to concentrate on anything else.

###

I owe you a phone cal, emailed Max.

You don’t “owe” me anything, I emailed him back. Of course, it’s always nice to hear from you.

They found a box filled with my stuff in the basement of the house Max used to live in in San Francisco. There’s a Miles Davis album and a Muddy Waters album I wouldn’t mind having, the owner of the house emailed Max.

The Great Diaspora and subsequent Storage Follies means hardly any of all the possessions I used to own do I own now.

So, of course, no random stranger is gonna get my Miles Davis and Muddy Waters albums. I remember when I bought them. Never mind that I don’t own a record player.

Yes, I want those back, I emailed Max.

I mean – Why wouldn’t I?

So, they sent Max the box.

Same way it is with friends – it’s odd the possessions you end up keeping. They’re never necessarily the possessions you once cared about the most.

Some old journals from around the time that Max was born. Pictures of my mother. A framed picture I once drew – back in the days when I still drew – that used to hang in Max’s nursery on San Lorenzo Street. Pictures of you when you were a kid, Max wrote. Except there are no pictures of me as a kid, my mother having not been the least bit sentimental about me. So they must actually be pictures of Max.

I guess I’ll pick them up when I’m in California in November.

It was a very odd feeling thinking about Max going through that box. Like I was dead, and he was sifting through my personal possessions.

So funny. I remember doing exactly that after my mother died. Trying to find something, anything, that would explain the enigma she ultimately was to me.

I didn’t find anything.
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2017-09-13 08:29 am

Dream On



Three people showed up for my Intermediate English class last night.

One of them was the belligerent Jordanian whom I do not like.

Another was a young woman who’s a full-time student at Dutchess Community College and has two kids under the age of three.

The third was Tony whom I adore.

Down four people in two weeks.

Down from an all-time high of 14.

I attribute this most recent attrition to the DACA rescind. I’d heard way back in November that the Trump administration planned to use the Dreamer data to go after the Dreamer parents. Most of the students in my class were undocumented refugees, economic and political, from Mezo-America. Understandably, they’d like to keep a low profile. In fact, they’d like to be invisible.

Lois Lane – to her credit – refuses to collect any kind of personal info at all on people who use the Literacy Center’s services. So far, New York State has tolerated this. Cuomo and Schneiderman are actually bringing a suit on behalf of the Dreamers.

(And I will say here that while I have mixed feelings about Cuomo personally, he has proven to be a very able administrator as Governor of New York State. I am thinking he’d be a strong Democratic POTUS candidate in 2020.)

Sooner or later, one imagines, some bureaucrat is gonna crack down, though. That personal info is a requirement under the various types of state grants through which the Literacy Center supports itself.

“It’s not worth my time to continue doing this,” I told Lois Lane after the class was over.

“I know,” she sighed.

“Adelina doesn’t really need this. She can do ESL through Dutchess. I’ve talked to Tony. He wants to be an electrician. He could do that through Dutchess. But he needs to improve his reading and writing skills to take classes there. I want to do one-on-one tutoring with Tony and stop teaching this class.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” said Lois Lane. She looked sad, though. “But what about Bilal?”

“What about Bilal?” I said.

And we both laughed.

###

In other news – This is actually funny in one of those It-should-have-happened-to-someone-else kinds of ways…

The problem with the car was a very easy fix.

But my check engine light was on.

My check engine light goes on and off a lot. I always figure it’s something having to do with my gas tank cap.

This time, though, the check engine light had been on for two weeks. I’m very paranoid about this car because many, many cars have crashed and burned on me before because I have a tendency to neglect maintenance.

Maintenance and upkeep are not among my strong points.

So I told the guy at Makem Begfer Mercy Auto to run a diagnostic on the check engine light.

And when he called back, his voice was grave and concerned. “It’s a vapor leak,” he announced. “But we won’t know where the vapor leak is until we run a smoke test.”

“A smoke test?” I screeched feebly.

“It’s the only way,” he said.

All righty, then! Smoke test it is!

A hundred dollars later, he called me back again. “The smoke test allowed us to diagnose your problem!”

“Which is… ?”

“Your gas cap was loose.”

You greedy fuckers, I wanted to scream. You couldn’t have tried tightening the gas cap first?

It’s kind of embarrassing to live in a world where $100 is a significant sum of money.

But, you know. My life is what my life is.

A few short years ago, $100 would have been a make-or-break sum of money. At least it isn’t that anymore.

Really. All you can do is laugh.

###

And as if to reaffirm my ascent into a Real Human Girl-hood again, yesterday’s mail brought me three new credit card offers!

###

I went for another long hike. This time on the grounds of the old James Roosevelt holdings that were not sold to developers of mobile home parks:



This part of the Hudson Valley was once famous for its apple orchards.

You still find a few ancient apple trees around here and there.

Flying the flag come harvest time.
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2017-09-12 10:28 am

We're All Venison Sausage!



One great thing about Hurricane Irma! It kept the 9/11 Porn out of the headlines.

You already knew I was a Horrible Human Being (and really – why are you reading this?), so it should come as no surprise that I’m sick to death of 9/11 commemorations.

Yep. 9/11 was the day that changed everything.

I have a feeling that everything would have changed anyway, though. Just more slowly. The human world seems to be embarking upon one of its periodic tilts into darkness, fundamentalism, and collectivism. Did the events of 9/11 tilt the balance? Maybe.

But manufacturing was already on the brink of becoming completely automated. Leaving nothing but service jobs for human beings. Surveillance is the biggest service industry of all! Plenty of jobs if the government needs employees to spy on its citizenry!

I’m completely aware of the advantages I enjoy as an American. Call those advantages “privilege” if you like.

Am I grateful for them?

No.

Because I think they should be the baseline.

If Homo Sapiens is really a violent, sadistic species that enjoys killing and torturing members of the species that deviate from however the “norm” has been defined – and most improbably, the “norm” has been defined as white and male – then I don’t want any part of it. I should never have been born. I should have been abandoned on a mountaintop as a squalling female infant before my ego had developed to the point of attachment to the world around me.

I’m not patriotic.

For whatever reason, I tend to see the world from the perspective of an enlightened anthropologist, say, from the planet Mars.

Do you remember Pearl Harbor?

Do you observe a moment of silence at 11am on 11/11?

9/11 is only important because some of us know people who know people who were there. As those people die, it will recede into unimportance. Become just another brutal event in a world that’s filled with brutal events.

###

In other news, the repair I took my car in for was very cheap. But they found other things wrong with my car. Expensive things! That’s the real reason for my misanthropy this morning.

To cool myself off, I went for a looooong hike. And saw the deer in the photo above.

Hunting season is looming.

Run away, little deer, I wanted to say. Unless you want to become venison sausage.
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2017-09-11 08:52 am

The Strangeness of Free-Floating Anxiety

I think Valerie is going to put in a bid for the second house I looked at for her over the weekend.

Pretty remarkable to score a house on three acres for under $100 K in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley!

They are asking $149 K, but the house needs a lot of work. A. LOT. Of. Work. And she’s in a position to make an all cash offer. Since I think it would be very difficult for anyone to secure a loan for the property on account of the vast amount of trash strewn over those three acres – think Ozark shack with dead washing machines and ancient rusting vehicles strewn about – I think she has a good chance of getting it.

1805 farmhouse with deeply hideous siding. Current occupant is a hoarder – it was all but impossible to make out the bones of the house under the stacks and stacks of 1980s National Geographics and assorted detritus.

Once upon a time, somebody loved that place. You can see that in the landscaping, which still holds after a quarter of a century. Beautiful rolling lawns – at least, they’re mowed, I thought; That must count for something – and fruit trees and fairy dells and a horse coral occupied by a couple of ponies plus an incredibly charming Italian palazzo-type garden niche with an aviary in which the house’s current occupants raise peacocks of all things:



There was actually a baby peacock cowering in the kitchen under a lamp when the realtor and I explored the otherwise empty house.



The house was crammed with garbage and half-finished home improvement projects, but it smelled okay, and I don’t think there’s any mold: I have a terrible mold allergy, and generally, my lungs fill right up with fluid when there’s mold in a structure. My lungs stayed clear.

The floor of the basement was wet. That was my one main concern. That could be a leaky sump pump. The inspection will resolve that, I guess.

I think maybe the house was a hippie commune of some sort at one point. And that accounts for all the dead mattresses and abandoned truck bodies and dead wood shacks spilling all over the property.

And then the hippies all ran away. Or died.

“I don’t think anybody could live here,” said the realtor with a shudder. Stylish woman in a Diane von Furstenburg knockoff. “They’d have to get rid of all this stuff. And that’s not cheap. She’s looking at a $50,000 cleanup job. At least.”

I reported this back to Valerie who scoffed. She has a 350 turbo diesel truck that she once used to move her house in Missouri. She’s quite prepared to do the hauling herself.

“But what did your gut tell you about the house?” she asked. “As much as anything, that’s why I asked you to see it. You have quite remarkable instincts for sensing those sorts of things.”

“I loved it,” I said. “I kept seeing what the place looked like 25 years ago. And that vision was superimposed upon what it will look like 25 years hence. If there’s no structural reason why the basement floor is wet, and if the foundation and the roof are okay, I’d go for it.”

###

Other than that, I could feel myself drifting off into Bad Brain Chemistry all weekend. My own insignificance. The various irresolvable messes I’ve made of my life. The carefree lives of others, teeming with happy adventures! The psychic hardscrabble of my own crab-like existence!

You’ve all heard those tapes.

At issue are some phone calls I have to make this morning:

(1) I need to call my mechanic because there’s a fuse or a switch out in my car that’s affecting my headlights.

(2) I need to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist because my eyesight is deteriorating. I suspect it’s cataracts – cataracts run in my family – and if it’s that, it’s a fairly straightforward fix that insurance pays for.

(3) I need to figure out what’s going on with the San Francisco storage facility.

Thing is I am deeply phone-phobic. I can barely bring myself to talk to pals on the phone.

I have no idea why I’m so phone-phobic. I mean, what exactly do I think is gonna happen? That whomever I’m talking to is gonna keeping me chatting until Steven Bannon’s Nazi stormtroopers can locate me and drag me off to the camps? That by talking on the phone I am magically causing the situation to deteriorate? We’re sorry, Mizz DiLucchio, but when the lights go off on your instrument panel that means your car is ruined and you will have to immediately purchase a new one!

Pretty ridiculous, no?

I’m aware of that.

So strange how free-floating anxiety manifests itself.
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2017-09-09 12:33 pm

Old Farmsteads Plus Confessions of a Stephen King Completist




Tromping around that house was quite fun. It’s an old farmhouse, built in the 1840s. The original farmsteader was someone called Nathaniel Husted. (This person is probably his son.) Maybe three miles outside the extremely charming hamlet of Pleasant Valley, which was a big Quaker settlement back in the day, famous for its Underground Railroad activity.

The house had good bones. And the price was right! But I advised Valerie against taking it be-cawse….

(1) It sits on the edge of a rather precipitous drop of 30 feet or more that I imagine leads down to a small stream, one of Wappinger Creek’s tributaries. The drop is maybe eight feet in back of the house. So, though the house is being sold as a two and a half acre parcel, since most of the land is on the other side of the drop, it’s unusable. Plus Valerie has two young teenage sons and a limited budget for ER visits. Plus premise liability.

(2) The west-facing property line, again very close to the house, has a couple of abandoned buildings on it just on the other side of the fence. I would be very worried about vagrants and meth labs.

I’m gonna go look at another property for Valerie later this afternoon. This house was built in 1805 and is just three miles away from where I live, literally right down the street from Eleanor Roosevelt’s old digs at Val-Kill.

###

In the afternoon (Stephen King completist that I am), I went to see It. Not a bad movie! I liked what they did with Pennywise. The actor who played the clown is deeply creepy, and the special effects were good.

But what keeps me interested in Stephen King’s stories – and why I was a fan even before he learned how to write well (and he does write well now, haters!) – is how deeply textured his characterizations are.

All of that was lost in this movie.

King writes about a world in which children are actively unkind to one another. This correlates pretty well with the reality I remember from being a child. Children are cruel little beasts, if you think about it. I know I was a cruel little beast! Empathy is a learned trait for most of us. (Yeah, yeah. There are exceptions! Max, for example, was highly empathetic from Day One. Robin, on the other hand, is just learning what “empathy” means now in his early 20s.)

But in today’s renditions of childhood, children are not allowed to be casually cruel. It’s politically incorrect. Bullies are bullies not because they enjoy pushing around kids who are weaker than they are but because they have psychotic parents or because they are psychotic themselves.

There’s a whole level of subtext that’s just lost in contemporary cinematic renditions of childhood, and this It remake suffers from that.

Else?

I dillydallied. Did not do enough revenue-generating. Kept finding myself being sucked into the minds of people who’d elected not to evacuate Florida and are now waiting for certain doom to strike. Saw the sunny and completely empty streets through their eyes, the white-washed houses, most of which – in my mind at least if not in the photographs screaming at us from every media outlet – did not have storm boards.

What a strange and eerie feeling it is to be preparing for a doom that you cannot yet see.

I remember it so, so it vividly from the two or so days before Sandy hit.
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2017-09-08 09:19 am

Gaia Is PISSED

I dreamed about David Baker. (Not his real name.) David Baker! A middlingly famous record producer I had a thing with back in the Pleistocene whom I mostly remember for bringing me to Marrakech for the first time.

David Baker had come to Marrakech to do a threesome with a middlingly famous rock ‘n’ roll guy – back in those days, men disguised their homoerotic impulses by wanting to do threesomes.

I’d come to see the Almoravid Koubba.

I was smart enough to retain possession of my return ticket plus I had a few thousand dollars in my running away fund, so I ditched him before the threesome could take place – I didn’t like the rock ‘n’ roll guy’s music – and I never saw David Baker again.

In the dream, David Baker was still a smooth-talking satyr, and we must have had sex because I was marveling that his erection seemed as firm ever even though he was waaaaaay past 40.

I must have sex with men on my mind.

###

In other news, I am churning out dreck for the Scut Factory (just as dreary as it sounds) and looking at Hurricane Irma porn. Houston! How quickly we forgot.

I can remember living on Long Island and waiting for Sandy to hit. It was a very eerie feeling being on a collision course with doom and knowing there wasn’t a goddamn thing I could do about it.

And Sandy, when it finally hit, was worse that my worst presentiments.

I don’t know how you evacuate all of southern Florida.

The photos and videos of the highways in southern Florida are nightmarish. A hundred miles of gridlock.

Worst case scenario: They’re still all on the roads when the hurricane hits, and they all drown in their cars.

(Where is Buenel when you really need him to make a movie?)

And two category hurricanes forming behind Irma, and a huge earthquake in Mexico (that’s getting exactly zero news coverage.)

Gaia is really pissed at mankind.

###

In an hour, I will be trotting off to Pleasant Valley. Valerie wants to buy a house in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley! It is odd which relationships take and which relationships fall by the wayside: I’ve known Valerie since Circus Chimera, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever felt any special affinity for her. But somehow, because we kept in some kind of contact, that acquaintance has solidified into “friendship.” Like pine tree resin solidifying into amber, I suppose.

Anyway, Valerie doesn’t want to come up here from Missouri to look at houses since her two boys just started school.

So she has commandeered me to the tour with the real estate agent.

I don’t have a clue what kind of info I should be looking at.

This house is waaaay in the country where there’s no municipal sewage system, so I imagine I’ll need to ask questions about the septic tank.

Also, it’s likely the place has its own well.

I guess I need to look for cracks near the foundation and unexplained water leaks.

Flick light switches on an off. Turn faucets on and off. Fire up the AC and the heating system.

What else?
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2017-09-07 02:24 pm

Samir Seeks His Fortune

Samir went off to seek his fortune in New York City this morning.

Like the woodcutter’s son!

Unlike the woodcutter’s son, he’ll be coming back to the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley on an afternoon train.

Samir has been itching to move to New York City. I’m not entirely sure why.

I think he’s pretty much given up on Plan A, which involved going back to school to get a PhD in some esoteric field of electronics.

Plan B involves making lots and lots of money in the shortest amount of time possible.

I’m a fan of Plan A but not of Plan B. There are all sorts of reasons why Plan B is unfeasible, not the least of which is the fact that Samir looks like someone who might enjoy running around and blowing up large buildings while screaming, Allah 'akbar!

Yes, yes, yes, I know it’s so-o-o politically incorrect for me to say that.

Nonetheless, it’s true.

And it’s truer in New York City than it is in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley.

###

Samir contacted me in a panic yesterday afternoon. He’s been applying for employment via those monster job sites left and right over the past 10 days. His only criteria seemed to be (A) that the job have something vaguely to do with his field (advanced electronics) and (B) that the job be in New York City.

Yesterday, finally, he got a nibble.

He sent me the job description.

Applicant must be able to work in confined spaces and stand for extended periods of time, I read. The required education was a high school diploma.

“Samir, you do realize that this job is a very low level entry job, don’t you?” I asked gently.

“What you mean ‘low level’?”

“I mean it is a job designed for someone who does not have a lot of skills. And that means it is a job that will not pay very much money. I would be surprised if it paid more than $12 an hour.”

“Is okay,” he said. “I will get the job and move to New York City. And then I will get job that makes more money.”

“But Samir,” I said. “It costs a lot of money to live in New York City. A lot of money.”

And there’s no guarantee you’ll get another job that makes more money.

Samir ignored me. “They ask for my resume. Please will you look at my resume?”

Only he didn’t actually have a resume. What he had was a curriculum vitae.

His CV listed his educational accomplishments at exhaustive length – master’s degree in Electronics Option Industrial Control from University Hadj Lakhder Batna Algeria – and his interests – chess, coding, travel, gardening.

“Samir,” I said, again gently – the American male ego is such a fragile thing, I can only imagine how fragile the male ego is in a culture where my entire gender is essentially breeding stock. “This is not a resume.”

“What you mean?”

I attempted to explain the concept of a resume to him. Job descriptions. Every job you’ve ever had. What that job entailed, how your superhuman skills enabled you to succeed at that job far beyond the bounds of the human imagination. In three lines of text but preferably less.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “We meet for tutoring session tomorrow, yes? Before I go to city? We can make a resume then.”

I sighed. “We can meet,” I said, “but we won’t have enough time to write you a resume. As I said, this is a low level job, so if they’re really desperate, and they think you can do the work, they may hire you even without a resume. But you’ll need a resume at some point.”

Then I proceeded to write him five pages of instructions on how to take the train and the subway to the destination where his interview was to take place – right off the Gowanus Parkway! In Sunset Park!

And I met with him this morning.

“So-o-o-,” I said. “I couldn’t tell from the description you emailed me. But exactly what does this firm do?”

“I think they install security equipment,” Samir said. “In homes, in offices.”

And I thought: Oh my GAWD. You will never get this job! I mean, the optics are just fuckin’ terrible. Hi, I’m Samir! Your friendly Islamic security tech! Now! If you will just give me all your security codes, so I can send them to my pals in Mosul –

I really have to figure out a way to persuade Samir to stay in Poughkeepsie. And get him accepted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So he can score a job at Google and make lot$ and lot$ and lot$ of money without being exposed to all the prejudice he will undoubtedly experience in New York City.

Because, ironically, it’s that prejudice that could turn him. Having survived my own adolescence – which included a three month stint as part of cult goon squad charged with putting rattlesnakes in hostile lawyers’ mailboxes – I know from personal experience how easy it is to turn people who are young, friendless, and bitter.

I even tried to explain this to Samir.

“Samir, if you go to New York City, you will be alone. You won’t have any friends. It’s hard to make friends in New York City. Here, you have people who care about you, you have your mosque –“

“I don’t go to mosque anymore,” he said.

“But why?” I asked.

“Bad people are there,” he said. “I don’t want them to attach me.”

And I had to wonder exactly what he meant by that.
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2017-09-06 10:55 am

Lust Plus Misadventures With Imaginary People Who Live in Facebookistan

Very sedentary day, yesterday. I may have gotten up from my desk a couple of times. (The operative word in that sentence is “may.”) To pee. To prepare food stuffs. (I seem to be back into my food-as-fuel mindset. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Mostly I worked. I’m way behind on my revenue generation.

Also I argued with imaginary people who live in my computer in an enchanted country called Facebookistan.

And I flirted with L’s handyman.

Not sure what it was I found so attractive about L’s handyman who emigrated from Malta at the age of seven and so has a really intriguing accent – Southern Mediterranean lilt, New Yawk City vowels.

His name is Frank. He’s a little older than me. Until 10 years ago or so, he was an engineer at IBM but got laid off in one of the regime changes. He wasn’t ready to retire, so he made a late-life career change. A lucrative one: He charges $50 an hour, and he’s not a particularly fast worker.

“But what I really want to do is travel,” he told me, eyes atwinkle.

“I want to travel, too!” I all but shrieked. “Let’s travel together!”

In the old days when I was young and gorgeous, I was often criticized by various men of my acquaintance for what they termed my “predatory” hookup style. It was unseemly in a girl.

But when I like it, I like it.

Flirting with Frank brought me back to that time in my life.

There’s the bed, I wanted to say. And when we’re through, we can book the airplane tickets.

###

The big debates in Facebookistan these days are (1) whether climate change played a role in the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey and the devastation that will be wrought by Hurricane Irma and (2) whether it was shortsighted of Obama to push DACA through by executive decree.

Note that I vote “Affirmative” on both issues.

I never waste my time arguing climate change with people who won’t accept it. I was a latecomer to belief in climate change myself, but the tree ring studies finally convinced me. It’s real. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference whether you believe in it or not: It’s gonna happen.

The DACA stuff…

Well. I think immigration reform is a very good thing. I think if you come to the U.S. when you’re seven years old, you deserve to go on living in the U.S. with full rights of citizenry.

However

This is something that ought to have been legislated.

The fact that the Democrats were unable to push it through the House of Representatives as legislation is something I attribute entirely to the ineptitude of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a sorry excuse for a career politician.

It ought not to have mandated as an executive decree.

The executive branch of the government is not responsible for enacting what amount to laws.

I felt so strongly about this issue, in fact, that I didn’t vote for Obama in 2012.

It bespeaks a certain hubris on Obama's part, on the part of the entire Democratic Party in fact, that they just blithely assumed that whoever won the next election would be in concert with a controversial agenda.

The ends don’t justify the means.

That’s not my righteous indignation over Machiavellian stratagems boiling over, by the way. It’s a pragmatic analysis. It’s just too easy to undo executive orders. You cannot rely upon them to enact sweeping changes.

This apparently is too subtle a point for the Obama fanboys and fangirls who live in Facebookistan, and I got roundly lambasted for bringing it up.

Not that I care.

But really, it would have been a more productive use of my time to push Frank down on my bed.
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2017-09-05 12:10 pm

A Zeigenhirt Labor Day

If you ran into C in a bar, you’d think, Redneck.

Except C doesn’t hang out in bars.

Plus C is the scion of a famously Democratic family with deep roots in these parts. He’s a rabid left-winger.

You never really know people unless you know their families, too.

Which means that most of the people you think you know, you don’t know at all.

###

I spent Labor Day at the home of C’s youngest daughter Elizabeth, watching the complicated and yet, at the same time, mundane and ordinary dynamics of the Zeigenhirt family (not their real name!) play out over three generations.

Elizabeth is a lovely person. The loveliness of Elizabeth is enough to renew your faith in mankind since, by any standards, Elizabeth’s childhood had to have been difficult: Her mother had a complete schizophrenic break when Elizabeth was six, and while I like C a great deal, I can’t imagine that being fathered by him was any walk in the park. And yet, Elizabeth is this warm, generous, practical human beneath whose placid surface lurk no subterranean monsters of any kind.

She’s a potter and a graphic artist, married to a friendly, kindhearted, engaging man who emigrated from Turkey and makes beaucoup $$$$$ working as an engineer. The party was a housewarming party for the new spread they’d bought in the outer reaches of Milbrook, and it’s just this insanely beautiful place with acres of gardens and a pool and a pool house that Elizabeth is going to convert into a studio. She is very practical about her pottery. It is not a hobby. She plans to make $$$$ doing it. Having seen her product line plans and reviewed her marketing strategy, I think she may have a real shot at that.

###

“How did Elizabeth manage to survive so unscathed?” I asked L as we drove home.

“She had a very close relationship with her grandmother,” L said. “Poor Cassie never had a close relationship with anyone. Cassie was a difficult child, resentful and rebellious. ‘Can I call you Mother?’ Cassie once asked me, and I told her, No. ‘I’m not your mother,’ I said. ‘I’m your friend.’”

L is an easy-going person, but she’s a stickler about personal boundaries. You can never force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. She’s immune to guilt, and she never feels sorry for anyone.

###

Cassie inherited the full brunt of her mother’s madness.

And it came on at exactly the same moment in her life that her mother’s madness came on, in her mid-20s.

After a few abortive experiments with not taking her meds, Cassie realized that she had to take her meds if she didn’t want to end up homeless or dead.

The meds blimped her up to 300-plus and while they make the voices in her head manageable, they don’t make the voices go away.

The big deal at extended Zeigenhirt family get-togethers is the food, so I volunteered to help Cassie make her splash. Baked Camembert with sautéed mushrooms. Easy, right? How can you go wrong? I bought the ingredients and oversaw Cassie in the kitchen while she did the prep. She had a massive panic attack and begged me help her cook. But I refused. Channeling my own inner L, I suppose.

The Camembert all got eaten. Mostly by Cassie.

###

Bob Zeigenhirt, the patriarch of the family, is 94. He lives alone on the Zeigenhirt compound, which is the remains of the 19h century family farm, but since he build houses for many offspring on the compound, they drop in on him many times a day, and he’s just a stones’ throw away from help at any time. He’s in full possession of his mental faculties. His memory is as sharp as mine. (Of course, I have a terrible memory.) He still drove until two years ago.

I tried to call him “Mr. Zeigenhirt,” but he wasn’t having any part of that.

“Please! Bob. Mr. Zeigenhirt was my grandfather. He hasn’t been around since before World War II.”

Bob doesn’t like being old at all. It's very boring, he says. “Mostly, you sleep. And think about things that don’t exist anymore.”

I ended up talking to him for close to an hour about Dutchess County in the 1920s and 1930s. The Zeigenhirt compound is very close to the underground distillery where Dutch Schultz produced the rotgut that fueled Scott and Zelda’s NYC debauches. (Those underground bunkers and tunnels are now open to the public; they would be fun to visit.)

Bob is a national treasure, and really, someone needs to get him on tape. This is stuff you won’t find in any history book.

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2017-09-04 08:53 am

Sunset Park Plus I Think the People Down the Hall Know Who You Are

Subway sighting: the best socks in the history of the universe



Sunset Park is an immigrant community, half Hispanic, half Asian. The two groups slide against each other frictionlessly. They coexist but never mingle. They live next door to one another; they share the streets: They simply don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. For example, they never shop in the same stores. I suppose this is because they don’t speak each other’s languages and have not adopted English as the common tongue. You hear very little English on Fifth Avenue, which is the main drag through Sunset Park.

Fifth Avenue has this very Mad Max-ish vibe: People surviving, teeming, and sometimes thriving in the remains of a 19th century/early 20th century civilization. This is the only Mickey D’s I have ever seen in a repurposed 19th century building:



You know those churches you see all throughout the southern Mediterranean that are built on the remains of Roman and Greek temples? Fifth Avenue is kind of like that. Syncretism in action, you might say. Behold the temples of 19th century commerce conscripted to the era of branding and deep discounts:



Would you shop for a dress suit in a store that looked like this? I know I wouldn’t! But the store was crowded.

One might be tempted to philosophize here. Could be that brand sensitivity is only a defining characteristic of unmoneyed Americans who grow up in this country. (Just think about all those kids in the projects who buy price-inflated Nikes endorsed by famous basketball players. They cannot actually afford those Nikes without going hungry or pursuing employment opportunities in the underground economy that put them in physical peril.) Supplier-induced demand – also known as “marketing” – dominates their spending habits. They shun bargains that would help them extend their limited supplies of cash. They no longer know how to separated their physical needs from their needs for status.

Whereas immigrants operated outside the realm of supplier-induced demand.

Except that even in that hideous suit store, there’s an odd sort of branding going on. The name of the store is “George Michael,” the name of the popular dead pop star who was synonymous with excess and a certain type of conspicuous consumption.

So, obviously the mana of the Dead Pop Star outweighs the risk that you could be bitten on the ankle by a rabid rat should you venture into that store.

###

Fifth Avenue is a very busy thoroughfare! Business is good; everybody is out shopping.

This makes me wonder about the politics going on behind the scenes.

I have to imagine that at least half the population of Sunset Park – and very likely more – is undocumented.

But Sunset Park doesn’t worry itself about American politics.

Sunset Park only cares about the economy.

Which despite the odiousness of Trump and the dire warnings issued regularly by people who know a lot more about market volatility than I do, continues to get stronger and stronger and stronger.
In fact, despite Trump’s hard line on immigration, I imagine if you interviewed five people along Fifth Avenue at random, four out of five would tell you they like Trump. “Good for money,” they’d say.

They don’t give a shit about identity politics or about commanding equal opportunity and respect under the law. They just want to buy a lot of things cheaply.

###

There are numerous other fascinating details about Sunset Park.

For example: See this roof?



It’s not made out of wood. It’s obviously made out of some kind of cast iron alloy, maybe cheap steel.

Here’s another shot where you can actually see the roof rusting:



I don’t think I’ve ever seen metal roofs on 100-plus-year-old buildings before. It makes me very curious about the engineering specs.

Of course, the residential housing units in Sunset Park are not brownstones – though they use brownstone floorplans. No, they’re constructed out of some other kind of stone that I’m tempted to say is granite (although, of course, how would I know?) That stone, significantly stronger than the sandstone used in brownstones, has been supporting all that weight for well over a century.

###

Also, every Asian-owned business in Sunset Park has kiddie rides out in front. You could do an inspired post-modern photo essay on the Kiddie Rides of Sunset Park if you had the photographer chops:













Anyway, Sunset Park is quite fascinating, and if you wanted to make a long-term killing in New York City real estate, this would the place to buy. It’s only served by the N and R subway lines, and they don’t connect to anything. Literally! It took me three hours one-way to get to Flushing so I could say goodbye to Summer and Chris! That means Sunset Park is at least 15 years away from gentrification. I noticed a couple of bedraggled, lost-looking hipsters wandering about but nary an overpriced café to stash them in. Lots of guys with man-buns, though! It’s the ‘do of choice for swaggering young Guatemalan honchos.

By the end of my fourth day there, I found myself quite overstimulated: Other people’s vibes impinging on my always porous personal boundaries.

I was happy to get back to the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley where everybody – myself included – is bor-r-r-ing..

You must be getting old, I chided myself. And, indeed, my sense of my own antiquity was reinforced by learning Walter Becker – one half of Steely Dan – had died.

My musician pals have always made fun of me for adoring Steely Dan as much as I do, but adore them, I do. For their jazzy riffs, for their strange minor key discursions, for their lyrics:

Is there gas in the car?
Yes, there’s gas in the car
I think the people down the hall know who you are…
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2017-08-31 09:13 am

Ugh! It's Always Something

Ugh. It’s always fuckin’ something.

This morning I got an email from the storage facility where the few remaining items of my Monterey household are stashed informing me that the they lost their lease and therefore will be moving the storage containers to a new location, so all breakables will need to be secured etc.

I’m in New York. The storage facility is in San Francisco.

Max is in Berkeley. And will help me to the best of his ability. But he’s in his last year of law school and has 18 million obligations.

I’m trying to put together a plan of action here.

This storage facility has been a “situation” for years, and it was actually one of the things I was going to deal with in November when I will be in California for two weeks.

But the deadline for “securing” my container contents is October 1.

And I don’t think it’s worth it to fly to CA in September as well: Money may be a renewable resource, but for me, it’s always a limited resource in the short term. My money would be better spent managing this situation long distance.

I suppose the best short-term plan would be to hire one of my buddies in California who could use the cash to do the actual blanket-bundling and bubble-wrapping for the move – with Max’s help and supervision. They’re not actually moving the container very far; it’s really the fork-lift part of the container moving that worries me since it necessarily involves shifting the container on to its side.

Possibly then I initiate a conversation to see whether John and Celeste might be willing to take the few pieces of furniture I want to hang on to plus the John Cerney sign and keep them in the house in Monterey. They might be willing to that – I’m the mother of the sainted Max, after all, whom they love, love, love, love, love plus John has a long-term crush on me.

The other stuff is all ephemera, which would be easy enough to ship to myself in New York although the shipping process undoubtedly would be tedious, tedious, tedious, tedious and moderately expensive.

Matthew Desmond’s Evicted contains a long and excellent analysis of how the storage industry contributes to poverty in America.

At least I'm not sitting waist-deep in water in an old folks's home in Houston, right? That has to be the standard against which all other inconvenience is measured.
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2017-08-30 11:24 am

Brown Versus Blue Passports

New intermediate English student at my class last night: Bilal.

Bilal is a Jordanian with that same innate, cat-like arrogance shared by practically every Israeli man I’ve ever met.

That has to make you wonder what the point of national boundaries and religious affiliations are. Okay! So Bilal’s passport is brown, not blue. And he prefers keeping halal to keeping kosher.

But what the hell are the real differences here?

Bilal is very smart, and he’s the first student I’ve had who was not immediately charmed by me, which naturally made me dislike him.

He was trying out the class.

“So! Do you think you want to continue with this class?” I asked him chirpily at 8 o’clock.

He regarded me blandly and made a mezzo-mezzo gesture with his hand.

So I trotted him over to the advanced class, which is taught by a kindly white-haired lesbian who frequently goes on rants denouncing the American patriarchy. Her students are all industrious Asians who don’t have the slightest interest in standing up to the American patriarchy. I can’t imagine how they’re going to work vocabulary words like neoliberalism into their everyday lives.

He’ll be back, I thought.

Or he won’t.

Actually, if he weren’t so arrogant, he’d realized I’m the perfect teacher for him because for two hours I kept telling him, Put away your smartphone!

He was doing that thing that all really smart people do when they’re learning languages, which is to look up unfamiliar words on their smartphone dictionaries.

I think that may work for reading assignments, but it doesn’t work for conversation.

The only way you’re going to get fluent conversationally is to understand, Yes, yes, I’m going to look very stupid for a while here. And then forge ahead trying to get meaning from context, making hideous gaffes in the process.

Yeah, yeah, children’s brain centers are better wired for the acquisition of languages. But the other reason children are better at learning languages is that they don’t really care if they make mistakes. The First Commandment of Adulthood – Thou shalt save face at all costs – has not yet become the Prime Directive.

Bilal really needs a teacher who can help him be okay with feeling stupid.

###

Sad news, too: Summer is going back to China at the end of September. I have not seen her a great deal since she and Chris relocated to the Big City, but even so: I’ll miss her a lot.

On the plus side, should I decide to travel to China, I will have a free deluxe vacation all lined up! Summer is eager to start planning my trip!

###

Also, when I woke up this morning, I felt perfectly fine.

The psychological equivalent to popping my ears. Or something.

Nothing has changed. I mean, yes – I had a longish conversation with B plus several other pleasant social interactions.

But I was always going to have a longish conversation with B, and I’m always going to have pleasant social interactions.

On a superficial level, at least, I’m pretty charming. People like interacting with me. I add value.

It’s those abandonment issues.

I’ve examined every subterranean fissure in my psychological foundations; I know exactly where the cracks are and why they’re there. But I don’t have a clue how to make those foundations stronger. And part of it is this almost humorous narcissim: I am the most singularly repulsive human being on the planet. Of course I’m abandonable!

Brain chemistry, I tell myself whenever I’m feeling down. It’s just brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are like any other psychoactive drug.

And then I make my bed. And exercise.