Friday, June 26, 2015

Chapter 37 / Train Trip

“Some days”—Andrew stood up and walked around Warren’s office, in a circle past the wall of books, past the window with its skinny Venetian blinds, past the two doors, one in, one out, that prevented Warren’s famous patients from seeing one another.

“Some days I think I’ll blow this whole thing. Some days I almost do.”

Warren listened, alert.

“And some days I feel like I’m talking to God. Dammit, Warren, you know all this already, if not with me than with some other patient. How to you keep from screaming in boredom?”

“By reminding my patients not to avoid the hard stuff by expressing concern for me that while it may be genuine, isn’t helpful, to me or to them.”

“That’s the most you’ve said to me in months.”

“You’re getting good at figuring things out for yourself.”

Andrew sat down, stood up, walked around again. “I had shipped some cartons to Annie before I left, so all I had with me was a duffle bag and my laptop. That was it; all my earthly goods.

“And a huge sense of failure. I achieved nothing in New York. The radio station was glad to give me an unpaid leave. I know I’m paranoid sometimes Warren, but I also have a good sense of nuance. I think they were about to . . . give me the ax. It’s all Middle East now, with some Southeast Asia thrown in. My fluent Spanish, my dozens of contacts, don’t mean a thing."  

“Let me interrupt just to say that your achievements since you left the hospital are immense. Immense. Go on.”

“Thank you, Warren dear. Seriously. Keep reminding me, because I know there’s a story up there, and I have a contract for it.

“So I lock the door on my studio. I get a taxi. I don’t talk to the driver. He can probably see this black cloud hanging over my head and he would say God is good, God will take care of you, so we don’t talk. I give him an extra couple of bucks for shutting up.

“On the train I find a seat on the aisle. I need to walk around, the people near me with their clutter, their issues, are making me feel like I itch, even though I don’t.  

“The train is moving out of the tunnel, then out of the city, so I get up and stand between the cars because I love those old, soft-edged tenements in the late-afternoon light, and I’m still feeling black, thinking about the concrete down here spreading every day to meet the concrete up there, yet there’s some comfort in that old brick, and then the conductor comes along, so I start to give him my ticket and he says, ‘Take a seat, sir. Riding between cars is not allowed.’

“I show him my ticket and he doesn’t take it, he won’t take it until I sit down, so I do that. There are two guys talking in back of me and I think if I have to listen to them for two hours I’ll start chewing up my cigarettes, so I wait until the conductor is well into the next car, and then I stand between the cars again. 

"We’re in the Bronx now and I’m thinking, look, it’s just a pile of concrete, there are other places, you can do this, you’ve got a good idea, a good girl, you can do this. I lean against the car and try to relax to the chunk-chunk of the train.

“And the damned conductor comes back. ‘Sir, you cannot ride between the cars.’

“I look at him.

“My mind is humming like the laptop does when I’ve got too much open on it. Somewhere I’m begging him to leave. He doesn’t. We stare at each other, and I see that he is being brave. I haven’t said a word to him, my arms are at my sides, but I’m a head taller and 20 pounds heavier, and I must be giving him my black empty look, because when he says to me, ‘Sir, if you do not sit down I will have you put off the train at the next stop,’ there is fear in his eyes.

“Of me.

“We stare for another couple of seconds and then I sit down. I am taking the train to my new life. I don’t want to arrive in Yonkers to a police presence. In fact, there are two cops at the station when we get there, but I’m sitting, and I have a ticket. We go on. And every fifteen minutes for the rest of the ride, a conductor walks through the car, making sure I’m sitting.

“In Beekman all the rich people get off, leaving my end of the car to me and two women, each with a little kid. The one is your cute, practical mom, short hair, loose pants and sneakers, and every time her kid, a boy, probably about three, has shown the slightest sign of boredom, begun the slightest hint of a whine, she pulled a new toy out of a big blue bag she has. She has snacks for him, and games and puzzles and little kid books.

“I’m taking notes on my laptop, wishing I could tell her what a great mom she is, but she isn’t afraid of me, and I don’t want to take her there.

“The other girl—she is a girl—wears a white dress and three-inch white heels. And she has brought nothing for her kid, who’s smaller than the other kid, maybe a little younger. Nothing. She sits him at the window, and he runs up and down the aisle.

“I figure the good mom is taking her boy upstate to see some grandparents. Dad will drive up on Saturday. But the other one, is she going to be married in that dress? She’s already a shotgun bride whose poppa didn’t have a shotgun, and now she looks a little spacey in her short white dress, with its long tight sleeves, as if she doesn’t know quite where she is, or who this kid is. 

“When her boy comes over and stares at me I show him a file on my laptop, but he can’t read, it’s no fun. So I find a couple of sheets of paper and an old red pencil. No ink on momma’s white dress.

“He just looks at them. I sketch some stick figures, a dog like Annie’s, with a fox-like face, a cat with whiskers, and offer him the paper and pencil again. He grabs them and runs back to his seat. We haven’t exchanged a word. Annie says kids in Hudson County are like that too. They don’t talk, because no one talks to them.

“When I get off the train they all stay, taking their innocence to another place. For me, Annie is standing at the edge of the parking lot, with the Village Voice open in front of her and I think, she doesn’t read the Village Voice, and then she closes the paper, revealing a huge bouquet of flowers, all yellows and greens and blue-purples, some kind of flowers, which she offers to me.

“I put down my two little bags and pick up Annie and her flowers. I hold her, and hold onto her, I’m home.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head Out of the Car Window

In memory of my dear Lulu, I’ve decided just to post this short personal essay about us. It’s been published in the Times Union (Albany, NY) and The Rip Van Wrinkler, the award-winning newsletter of the Rip Van Wrinkle Basenji Club, but it has never appeared on this blog. 
Some of you may have heard me read it—it’s a good short piece for open mics and group readings. 
It sums up everything I have to say; really, after this piece I could just stop writing. But I don’t. 
Adieu, Lulu 
Apu Louise Brooks
December 31, 1999 – June 4, 2015

Why I Let My Dog Hang Her Head Out of the Car Window

Because she’s beautiful. She’s red and white, a short-haired hound with a fox-like face, a tail that curls up and over her back, and a line of charcoal-brown kohl rimming each eye.
Photo by Susan Kamen-Marsicano
At 20 pounds, she fits our little car perfectly, back paws on the passenger seat, front feet on the armrest. I roll the window down just enough so she can comfortably poke her head out, and she looks left, not backward to where she’s been, or alongside to what’s passing by, but up front, to where she’s going. Hounds have a characteristic grin, but this girl is Elton John’s tiny dancer, with her pirate smile.
Because she’s smart. When the car gets up to 40 miles an hour, the wind force is too great and she pulls her head back in. She gives her one of her gravity-defying full-body shakes, which ripples from head to tail and lifts all four feet into the air. 
Because she’s tough. Her name is Lulu and most days she’s a princess in a dog suit, but in the car she’s transformed. She wears a T-shirt with the neck scissored to her collarbone. She’s rolled up the sleeves, and twisted her cigarettes—Marlboro, hard pack—into the left one, over her well-defined bicep. If she wants you, it’s on her terms.
Because we’re young. No longer two middle-aged gals in a sensible Honda, we’ve cracked the time-space continuum and we’re wild girls, in a ’67 hunter-green mustang.
No crisp CDs for us, we’ve got the radio on. We shake Jerry Lee Lewis’s nerves and we rattle his brain. Home alone, Lulu listens to classical music, but in the car, she even allows my lapses in time and taste for Neil Diamond or Phil Collins. She does this with the reluctant good grace of a bad girl who knows she’s in charge. When we pull up at the Polar Bar for ice cream, she’s the one the boys circle, sniffing to see what she’s brought them. They light her cigarette, tell her their jokes. Lulu, the practiced flirt, sits down, to maintain some privacy, and gives the boys just enough attention to lead them on. But she’s a busy dog, too; at home there’s trash to be removed from the basket, where it need not be stored, or a shoe that belongs not on the floor but on the bed, and somewhere in her walnut-sized brain, Lulu has a list. After our songs (six for a quarter) have played on the jukebox, she gives me a look, just a glance over her shoulder—for I often stand in back of her, happy just to be part of the crowd—time to move on
Because we’re not supposed to. If Lulu’s breeder could see her now, she’d kidnap her. But she doesn’t see her, and most days, Lulu and I are good. We eat our breakfasts, we take our walks. I brush my teeth and hers. In bed, she tucks herself behind my knees. When I wake in the ink black of a moonless night, I can’t see a thing, but I can feel Lulu breathing. 
Once, we were four in the bed.
Dan and Lulu
But our alpha-wolf was struck down by cancer at 56, and months later his canine lieutenant had gone as far as he could, twice that age in dog years.
Dan and Cooper
These days, every minute carries an element of risk, without the safety net of a quiet man with impeccable taste in music who adored his pack and never carried a balance on his credit card. When I think back to things I did in the years before I met him, I’m lucky I’m alive. But I am, and if we push life just a little, Lulu and I, our bills are still paid on time, our heads pulled inside a speeding car.
Because we’re very young. We’re not teenagers yet, we’re kids on vacation, at the lake for the summer.
We’ve done cannonballs off the dock all afternoon. Lulu’s nose is freckled, her lips stained by blueberries. At night on the porch, the adults may talk in hushed tones of Cuba and missiles. We may lie curled together in our bed above them listening, fighting sleep for fear of never waking. But we do sleep and we do wake. We’re puppies and every morning brings a brand new life. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer