Archive | April, 2012

Dear Isis.

23 Apr

Dear Iris,

I’m assuming that is your name as that is how it read on your name tag, but as I was wrong about everything else in your head today, I’d be happy to call you Isis. Or an ambulance.

You were in that group from one of the states between here and California that is vowel-heavy, an awful lot of “i’s” and “o’s” for such a small word. I prefer not to be more specific except to say that you are from a caucus state. And you just had to let me know that you were dragged out west by your hair by your husband who nabbed a job teaching at the University there after our boys came back from the trenches at Verdun and that you are far more cosmopolitan and exotic than the smell of corn and manure wafting from your Burberry mack might counter-indicate. Not to worry. It was clear to me you still suffer the worst excesses of East Coast snobbery that, just between you and me and for the future, we dispensed with a good twenty years ago over on this side of the country you purport to know so well from your Victorian youth. Even in a recent Readers’ Digest poll, NYC came in at number two as the “Politest City in the World” after Bern, Switzerland. So, two strikes: You are a bitch who fell off a turnip truck.

I’m sorry. That was impolite and snobbish of me. But then, I wasn’t polled.

After ignoring me and gabbing with your seat-mate for the duration of the half-hour drive down to the World Trade Center site, I guess you missed the three times that I asked you to go through security on your own and that I would run ahead and be standing at the entrance of the plaza to greet all of you. But I appreciate your heaving angry effort to find me on a crowded line and scold me wildly that I had left, by your account, a good 90% of the guests back in security. While I had already explained this to you thrice, I’ll say further, in your defense, I did not go on to tell you that I dash through security to get ahead of all of you because by this point in any trip, you bug the shit out of me and it is a moment’s grace I give me to rid myself of you and your array of any number of ambulatory devices and vaginal mesh systems that set the security scanners on fire. The sound of an alarm at Ground Zero still goes through me a bit like an ice pick, you’ll forgive me.

But you, Isis, you are one of the Policewomen of the World, making sure the planet is safe for you to inflict your will upon all of its inhabitants. Would you rather be right or happy? You, Isis, would rather be right! Of course I never said anything three times although now I have and again but I’m not one to count. Six. Well done you.

After I took some time trying to explain the meaning of the memorial waterfalls in the footprints of Towers One and Two, how the water disappears at the bottom of a placid lake to fall into an abyss of nothingness, how that abyss is tantamount to the feeling many of us had for years and still continue to harbor if we allow ourselves to think of that terrible day these ten years later, maybe even if less and less, I mentioned that the water is “resurrected” to the top again, that nothing is truly lost, and that many people find comfort in this endless cycle of water. Imagine my shock when you came back from your personal investigation of my propaganda to tell me you found the waterfalls to be “disturbing.”

“Seeing that water disappear just made me sad. I didn’t like it.”

Oh mighty Isis, after an evening of fearless introspection, I’ve come fully round and couldn’t agree more. How ill-advised and inappropriate of Joseph Daniels, President of the 9/11 Memorial, to choose a sad and disturbing design to commemorate the saddest and most disturbing day in NYC history. Perhaps you missed my whole feeble “resurrection” metaphor while you were gabbing to your friend (that beleaguered woman deserves the “I befriended Isis” merit badge), you, with the iconic, mangled, disturbing, and crucified Christ hanging from a fragile chain around your ironic neck. I’ve just dashed off a letter to Mr. Daniels advising him on your behalf to re-conceive the entire project so that by the time you next visit, the memorial will more closely resemble the fancy dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio, complete with colored lights and an endless loop of Josh Groban singing You Raise Me Up playing on loudspeakers dangling from the treetops.

You’ll forgive me, but by now, I was well onto you and didn’t walk into your “Where did those Muslims build that mosque?” trap. I didn’t really get a call on my cell phone at that moment. It was a useful prop. My mother is, in fact, just fine.

While we certainly were ticketed for the Zephyr boat cruise in the Upper Bay of New York Harbor after that, we did not book the cruise in your name for a private party honoring your presence. I’m sorry we failed to tell you that. Yes, it was terribly annoying that those “Orientals” kept standing in front of the windows a full 75 feet from where you parked your ass, too entitled and xenophobic to stand among them and get an unobstructed view of the Statue of Liberty. Kudos to you, however, for actually getting up and screeching at them to move out of your way and waddling back to your seat. That is the kind of hearty aggressive-aggression that made this heartland of ours so great. The sound of you screaming at Asians in the shadow of Mother of All Exiles, shrill, sad, and disturbing, somehow resurrected my abysmal mood, my lost last love.

Thank you for getting off the motorcoach and passing directly in front of me like a linebacker to tell the driver how excellent he was. He certainly was. Had you attempted to compliment me as all the others did, I would have known a lie was headed my way and I assure you my poor mother would have been calling me at that precise moment stricken with another faux acid-reflux attack.

I miss you Iris. You are on a plane now, headed back towards the plains where you’ll once again reign as an adored terror of a big fish flopping about in a dusty drought. Let this be my prayer: You’ll help us to be wise, in times when we don’t know, lead us to a place, guide us with your grace, and give me faith or a text you’ve got at least 90% of your group through security.

With sad affection and disappointment,

When a patroness passes.

19 Apr

The things we know are coming are not softened by the blow of hearing them finally arrive, except in the honor of the words one carefully chooses, like those I’ve read about Ruth from her family and friends, like temporary blossoms in Spring, lilacs to curry our hearts in grateful remembrance.

I once told Ruth she was magnificent, early on in our relationship, and she looked up at me as she looked up at most of the world given her physical stature and leveled me with, “You’re Irish, aren’t you?” Her gift of bringing the world down to size was formidable. I remember thinking this is a woman who will not suffer fools; deal with her honestly and humbly and you will get the same in equal measure. It was a fitting analysis of one who knew the world entire but took it in daily doses, like a democratic drawbridge, allowing everything true and fair to pass over her moat. She was unimpressed by anything that wasn’t truly impressive in the way that a bee is impressive, or a breeze, or a good play.

She’d come to rehearsals and afterwards wouldn’t talk about performances, she’d talk about the play. The actor in me that sought approval would be momentarily knocked off balance, a little disappointed, until I opened myself up to her greater wisdom: We were there to do a great play, and if the play made sense to her, the compliment was implicit and weightier than any stroking of a sad and sadly inflated ego. Somehow, she knew that. She knew what mattered.

Ruth was obviously proud of her extraordinarily accomplished children, but even at a dinner when I prodded her relentlessly, she would not go on about them. She had a gilded propriety perhaps of another age, one that she carried and barely alone into the 21st Century, to remind us that manners matter, that dressing for the day was not preening but a way to honor the event, that the invitation to a luncheon was not compulsory but the indication of a gracious heart that understood wealth was nothing unless accompanied by generosity.

Ruth was generous to me in every way possible. Mostly with her time, and I treasure my time with her. It was enough to be silent with her and take her in. It was enough to be with Ruth. And I’m not sure I will ever feel the precise thrill of knowing she and she specifically, was out there and listening to the play she had chosen and fostered and loved and entrusted us to share.

I’d go on, but she’d tell me to shut up. But I loved her, and my heart is broken for the time I think she would allow me a broken heart. She knew I was Irish. I think she’d indulge me one last longing in my soul that feels a little lost today.

Ruth G. passed on Monday at the age of 97. She was committed to producing thought-provoking, cutting-edge, often controversial plays for the enrichment of her community. And I am lucky enough to say: She was my friend. –NC

Ma belle.

14 Apr


I am very interested in your advertized apt.

I am European born and raised, American citizen, half French and half Turkish. Love to travel, I will be spending about 2-2.5 sometimes 3 weeks out of a month traveling for my job and weekends definitely in New York -that I love!-(during summer I may be out during the weekends as well) I work as marketing and management consultant on a project basis meanwhile developing my own product line of holistic beauty products.

I am very quite, private, cool and respectful, clean but not neat freak; sociable and charitable as well but I don’t bring the party at home. I don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t do drugs of any kind.
One question for you: do you work out of home or do you have an office? OK, the second question is: How is your schedule like?

Please kindly get back to me when you can, if you are interested, obviously.

Thank you.


Despite her dubious grammar and while it was unclear to me why a woman who spends two to three weeks out of town was concerned about my schedule or whether I would be parked in the kitchen hours on end hogging the space and surrounded by imaginary files, I wrote back:

-Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your inquiry!

I work long hours outside of the apartment, and am often away months at a time myself. My schedule varies from season to season.

I’m showing the apartment this weekend and would be pleased to meet you if you have available time. Should you not, I’m sure we can find another time to see the space.

Best regards!

After sending this e-mail three times, it was bounced back to me each time. I thought perhaps she had a filter on her account, so I wrote once more:

-Dear Michelle,

I responded to your e-mail, but it was returned unsuccessfully.

Sorry for any confusion, and best of luck,

A minute later, this arrived, and the string of e-mails that follow:

-I don’t know who you are, that’s what I kept receiving from you (3 times so far, see below)

I was responding to your inquiry about my apartment.

-You are NOT responding, you keep sending me blank pages.


As I mentioned, your account was not receiving the texts of my e-mails.

Best of luck to you.

-How am I receiving your emails now, then?


I’m not quite sure. Life is curious. Life in cyber-space is a total mystery.




Wow. You sound like an EXCELLENT candidate for an apartment share.

We must talk.


Dear Michelle,

While I’ve never been to Turkey and realize your screed may pass for terms of endearment in Istanbul, I have been to France and your tone is foreign and slightly confusing in light of your search for amenable housing were you even willing to settle on a refrigerator box in Central Park. Your proclivity for caps and exclamation points is acrobatic, however, in something of a sophomoric coup.

Heaven help the poor dolt who ever lets you cross their threshold. I wouldn’t trust you with the key to my worst friend’s mailbox.

Good wishes!


-Oh Michelle,

I think I’m in love. Tell me more of your charms in that feral fricative forked tongue of yours, that I might fully imagine you sharing my home and shitting all over the walls and ceiling. I’m off to purchase a tarp so you can smear your feces around with your thumbless mitt regardless of any sanitary reprisal. Oh, to hell with the tarp. I know they normally come without instruction and I’d hate to tax your overburdened intellect any further.



My dearest Liebschien,

“Too polite” were the very first words that came to mind as I read your last loving e-mail. Please try to overlook my endless shortcomings as I am now smitten beyond anything I’ve yet to experience save my momentary obsession with Madeleine Albright in ’92. I’ve told the doorman to let you up immediately and hope you jump in a cab or on your broom as quickly as possible while I light candles and toss rose petals about in heady anticipation of your arrival. In the meantime, I am instructing myself in the vagaries of the internet in the unlikely event I might gain an equal footing with someone as extraordinarily eloquent as you. You are a coy one, Michelle, ensnaring me with what any other person with a minor in psychology might think of as psychosis, wending your way into the deepest part of my heart and home. Just think of the nights we will spend together that one week a month you are here and calling me a scumbag as loudly as your punctuation indicates.

Is it getting hot in here?


Oh Michelle,

PLEASE memorize that so you might whisper it “quitely” in my ear over and over again only slower and as clearly as you can muster despite your mouthful of half-chewed lithium tablets while you slather me with your holistic jams and jellies.






1 Apr

Another stranger came to see the room in my apartment today. He was nice enough, and seemed stable and didn’t stink, so I showed him around. He marveled at the closet space, and the views, and the size of the room. It is a good deal. We sat at my kitchen table and I asked the questions one asks on a first date, the preliminaries more designed to eliminate than to secure a contender. “What time do you shower?” “Do you work?” “Are you armed?”

When he told me he would use fully one of the two enormous closets at his disposal simply to house his DVD collection, my hackles went up. I did not want a team of professionals in here in four years time, their heads scraping the ceiling while standing on mounds of broken fetid memorabilia, trying to pry an episode of I Dream of Jeannie out of his hand. When he told me he was a ‘gourmet cook’ I pictured cauldrons steeping on the stove for days, tangy spices singeing my kitchen drapes and nostrils. When he told me he was a personal trainer and made the distinct sound of disappointment having discovered my caffeine-free Diet Coke in the refrigerator, I heard long lectures in my head about lab rats and tumors. All of this I considered and carefully, but he was still in the ring. At the very end of an hour, he finally told me, “Oh. And I have a cat.” My, what a well-planned after-thought, I thought.

He launched into his prepared monologue about Smokey. Smokey had been left in his care and they bonded immediately. That was fifteen years ago, fifteen years that they have slept together every night, he confided wistfully, while Smokey lapsed into his golden years beset with all the things that will plague a cat living on borrowed time and well into its ninth life. I was weepy. Not from sentiment, but from the histamines my hyperactive auto-immune system was already pumping through my bloodstream at the very thought of a cat.

I feel for the pet-owners in search of a room. They are the single women on dates who have to choose just the right time to spring pictures of their two diapered toddlers on their potential partners. It is a mine-field fraught with rejection. However, it states clearly in my ad that I am allergic to cats, and that while I love animals, I simply cannot live with them. That this fellow thought I might be swayed enough by his charms to suffer hives and asthma and resentment and the effluvium of a litter box was deluded and deceptive. Still, I shook his hand at the elevator and said I would take his application under advisement while in my head it danced through the shredder. I’ve had a run-in with a cat before.

After a stint as an intern at a regional theatre in Pennsylvania over twenty years ago, I returned to NYC in search of a sublet. A friend knew of a room available in a shared apartment with two women in Long Island City, two women and their cat. I was actually less concerned about the cat than I was living in Long Island City which was nothing but a blight off the eastern shore of Manhattan in 1989. As people thrive off the toxic fumes of the Gowanus Canal these days, I’m sure bleak Long Island City has attracted a following of its own since then, but it still looks like Deadwood and tumbleweeds from the 7-train to me. I arrived at the building with a broken neck from looking over my shoulder.

The apartment was an enormous triangle over an Italian restaurant. Pythagorus trumped feng shui wherever one looked and roasting cloves of garlic somehow smelled like feet and armpits one flight up. Everything not nailed down was painted a deep blood-clot red like burned tomato sauce and the ceilings were so high that my vertigo pitched up a notch as soon as I crossed the threshold. The two very sweet women showed me to the one pleasant plane on the premises, the room that would be mine. A door opened into a lovely cozy pale yellow room with four walls and right angles and trappings for a monk: dresser, desk, and twin bed. It’s all I needed at a price I could afford.

I do not remember the cat’s name. I called it “Felenemy.” I saw it eyeing me with disdain from a kitchen counter and after a quick sneeze thought, “I will never even set a crust of bread on that counter.” I knew I was allergic to animals, but I was desperate and the women promised to keep the door to my room closed all day, that it would be off-limits to the cat.

I suspect Felenemy had previously loved my room, and her denial to its wide window with its perch of a sunny sill seemed to infuriate her. Every morning I would hear her scratching at my door like Death and her whine was the Siren’s sinister call of seduction and anger. To get to the shower, I would have to contort my body into impossible positions to keep the door from swinging wide enough to allow her access. The more successful I was, day after day, the more menacing her hiss became. The few times she got in, me chasing her out with my guitar like a mad Mariachi, the more her memory calculated the accumulated slights. And squared them.

I had three possessions of any value in those days. I had my late-Grandfather’s car that he had kindly willed me and that I willfully tried to keep on the mean streets of a forgotten neighborhood in a bad part of New York City. I had my guitar and would sing myself to sleep in the absence of a television set. And I had a comforter. I splurged and bought myself a crushed silk comforter of downy flake as I spent most of my off time on my bed in my room with the door closed and killing myself softly with my song and strumming to the pain of the scratching whining cat.

My commute was miserable. I had to take three trains to get to my miserable job waiting tables at lunch in a miserable restaurant way up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where I made thirty dollars a shift if I was lucky and where the side-work involved “marrying the honey-bears.” For this, I had a Masters’ Degree.

I went about the business of setting myself up as an actor, getting head-shots and copying resumes and mailing both to nowhere and in bulk. The phone never rang. Before I knew it, seven weeks had gone by and I was tiring of the cruel game of New York City and the crueler greeting I was met with at the end of exhausting uneventful days by Felememy. She had it out for me; I could see it in her eyes.

On my last day, I snuck out of my room and slammed the door shut. I was headed for my shift and saw Felememy stalking me on top of a kitchen cabinet. We exchanged pleasantries, neither of us meaning them, and I left her there with her plots and plans. I walked to the subway station and descended the stairs and following me into the ground went my mood. After folding two hundred napkins and officiating at the marriage of forty honey-bears, I did the reverse commute and walked up and into the apartment.

I had become accustomed to locating Felenemy before opening my bedroom door, and if she were too close, I’d lure her away with a hat trick and leap into my room before she was any the wiser. But this evening, she was nowhere to be found. I looked under furniture and in the tub and through piles of clothing the kind but messy women were wont to leave about. The happy thought of stumbling upon her lifeless body danced through my head. But she was nowhere. Perhaps the women had taken her for a her first walk. The first walk of a house-cat must be a strange and fabulous affair was the thought I had in my head as I turned the doorknob to my room.

A thought was knocked right out of my head by the gruesome sight before me. On the ground was my guitar, assaulted and beaten. On the bed was Felenemy, looking right through me as if I wasn’t there, full of self-satisfaction and licking revenge off her chops. Cat magic. Before her, on my crushed silk comforter, was a pile of cat shit whose perimeter was outlined by the wider border of cat piss. Send me off to war or don’t my friends but I am a soldier who snaps. My eyes clotted with blood and all I saw was red in the only room where there wasn’t any. I sprung at that cat like it was a grenade and swiped its fucking head so hard it catapulted into the living room letting loose a scream whose echo reverberates in the reaches of my imagination to this day.

I was on a tear. I mournfully picked up my bruised guitar, threw all of my clothing into garbage bags, wrapped up my stinking defiled bedding and headed for my car without so much as a note to the women lately in my life. Into the trunk with everything except for the comforter that I tossed on a dumpster like a dead dream. I ran to the public phone on the corner and made a collect call to my parents. Apparently my mother was out as my Dad never answers the telephone unless compelled by her absence.

“Dad, I’m moving back home,” I wept at the poor man like a toddler through angry tears. “I can’t take it here anymore. The roommates are messy, I’m broke, and I just came back from work to find that the cat shit all over my bed.”

My father is a blessed man, not big on the details of the crises in his five children’s lives. He is a man of proportion. Anything can be solved with little to-do if we’d only listen to him.

“Just drive home,” he said calmly, “and be careful driving.”

Just drive home. The second three kindest words a dad can say to his son. I felt diffused.

A decade passed until the coda of this story revealed itself to me. My mother is unlike my father, but the perfect compliment. She is detail-driven and has the sharp and skillful mind of a prosecutor. When she arrived home that day, my father told her to expect me for dinner. I can only imagine the grilling the poor man got and how surprised he was to learn how much he forgot to ask me. My little brother Chris was still living at home at the time and bore witness but it wasn’t until 1999 that he finally relayed the end of this cat’s tale.

After not knowing any of the answers to her cross-examination, after not having heard me well enough to begin with, my father finally threw up his hands in surrender and side-swiped my mother with what he thought he heard:

“PAT! I DON’T KNOW! All I know is that he shit his bed and can’t pay his rent so the roommates kicked him out.”

For ten years, my father thought his twenty-five year-old son was incontinent, defecating all over other people’s property, shared that information with my mother and my brother, and not one of them thought to even bring it up to me when I dragged myself to their dinner table that night or during any of the next nine Christmases for that matter.

My father is eighty years old now. No, I will not entertain the thought of a cat. While I’m sure I can just drive home again just as sure as I know my own name, it would pain me too much to worry my Dad with diapers all over again.