Tuesday, April 21, 2015

You Can't Go Home

               It was late night downtown and they found themselves trapped in a small second story black box theater in the middle of a performance art piece.  It was one of those shows with no clear segments or emcee so the two women were having a hard time figuring out how to make a discreet exit.
                Shifting in the hard uncomfortable wooden chair, Carol could kick herself for bringing Helen here.  Ever since she took a day job she’d been bragging to her “civilian” co-workers about her performing life and the shows she had done on the downtown scene.  Over coffee in the break room she’d hold court with her theatrical war stories.  “Oh yes, I was the Queen of Sheba in a Downtown Soap Opera that we did every week in a warehouse.”
“A real warehouse?  With boxes and stuff in it?” asked Helen staring wide eyed at Carol over her cup, a bit of moist cookie at the corner of her mouth.
“No,” Carol assured stretching her arms out around her, “just a big open space.”
“Wow,” Helen sighed.  “I’ve never seen anything like that in Queens and not even at the mall.”
Helen was 37, a nice Italian Catholic girl who grew up in Queens and lived with her parents until she married David, a nice Jewish man.  Every Tuesday and Sunday she and her mother and her sister and her niece all go out to eat and then shop at the mall.  When Helen’s husband made fun of the way she pronounced Pinot Grigio at the restaurant they went to every Friday after work, Carol spelled it out for her phonetically the following Monday and they grew closer.
So, when David had to go out of town on business, Carol had insisted Helen be her guest at the theater where she used to perform.  It had been a while, but she was sure Saturday was still Womedy Night, all female comedy.  In the back of Carol’s mind was also the idea that she might get to show off a little bit with some of her old comedy buddies.  She could all ready hear Helen telling the office how cool and funny Carol was come Monday morning.
Instead they were smack dab in the middle of a cutting edge morphing performance piece.  It was one of those shows where no one realizes the show has started because it just starts with no warning, announcement or light change.  It is only when several duct tape clad people begin to swarm around on the stage that the audience begins to get the idea.
A woman wearing a spray painted plastic raincoat takes center stage and steps up onto a wooden box.  She pulls a saxophone from under her coat and begins blowing into it with all her might as the duct tape people continue to swarm and now hum along with her discordant tones.
Suddenly she dropped the sax and the raincoat at the same time revealing her stark naked body with the sax dangling between her pendulous breasts from a cord around her neck.
“And now,” she begins solemnly, her arms outstretched to the side with her palms facing the ceiling.  “I would like to share my poem with you.”
The humming stops as she widens her stance revealing what looks like an unlit candle wick.  Reaching between her legs she grabs this white tab and begins to pull her glistening poem from her vagina as if it were a ticker tape.  From the gleam of the damp paper Carol had smiled to herself, “Well at least she’s obviously excited about her work.”  On the other hand, Helen’s left foot had started vibrating from the time the gal got naked and it hadn’t stopped since.
She looked at Carol incredulously, pointed at the stage area said, “You did shows like this?”
“Not exactly,” Carol hesitated.  She could see how freaked out Helen was and offered, “I’m sorry about this Helen.  Let’s get out of here.  I’m really sorry.”
As they began to rise from their seats one of the female duct tape people ran over and pushed them back into their chairs hissing, “You can’t go now! Portnoy is starting his piece!”  The woman’s nipples, covered by black electrical tape, had grazed Helen’s shoulders and now her entire body was shaking uncontrollably.
Just then there was a cymbal crash and a strobe light began to flash and flicker as a tall skinny man with an arrogant nose walked slowly from behind them and through the audience, dropping articles of clothing as he went.  All of the tee shirts he was discarding featured commercial logos on the front like Nike and Got Milk?  Next to Carol a blonde dread-locked tattooed white girl leaned close and whispered, “He’s making a brilliant comment about what living in a totally capitalistic commercial society has done to us.”
Nodding, Carol murmured, “Right,” and leaned away from the intense young lady grabbing Helen’s arm as if to comfort her but it was more of an attempt to anchor herself.
By the time Portnoy reached his circle of light onstage where an open can of purple paint awaited him, the duct tape dancers had formed a semi-circle behind him and began to chant incoherently while he continueed to disrobe and then went into a goofy dance.
Clutching at Carol’s hand on her arm, the still vibrating Helen stammered, “He’s only the third naked man I’ve ever seen in real life.   I’m gonna hafta do a lot of Hail Marys for this one.”
Patting her hand in return, Carol insisted, “Just tell the Priest it was all my fault and he’ll clear it with God.”
“Ya think?”
Carol nodded reassuringly as the intense girl elbowed her in her other side and then glared at her when she turned to face her.  “Sorry – sorry,” Carol whispered then looked back at the stage just in time to see the wiry fellow take a brush and paint his dick purple which he then began to beat on a blank canvas that had been brought on by the humming duct tape people.
Intense girl is completely bowled over by this and gushed loudly as she began clapping, “Portnoy is genius!  He painted his dick PURPLE!”  Then, folded over and almost sobbing, she added, “He is SO brave!”
“That’s brave?” Carol questioned without realizing she’d spoken out loud.
Another glare from intense girl, who drew herself up with a snort at Carol’s comment and then intoned condescendingly, “I’ll bet you’re one of those 80s comedy types who thinks everything is supposed to be entertaining.  But that’s not life baby!  That’s not ART!”
Torn between being defensive or flattered that she could tell she was a performer, Carol just stared at the angry girl.  Before any more exchanges between the two could take place however the lights began to dim and Carol saw a chance for a possible escape.
Grabbing Helen’s arm firmly, she practically lifted her in the air as if she were a toddler, and running interference, she ably dodged the duct tape boy who was coming at them.  Swinging Helen out from behind her like a demented Roller Derby queen she managed to get her almost to the door.  Hot on her heels, they were practically in the hallway with the graffiti mural, the hallway that led to sweet freedom, when they ran smack into Thor, the giant bouncer who filled the doorway.
He looked like he could be Mr. Clean’s evil twin all dressed in black with his bulging muscles covered in tattoos.  A yellow-eyed ugly serpent wrapped around his right arm and wiggled its forked tongue when Thor flexed his bicep just right.  There was a collection of skulls, skeletons and knives scattered over his left arm, “Psycho” was written across his Adam’s apple and a nasty looking tarantula spider adorned his bald head.  He was just a tad intimidating.
“Where do you think you’re going?  Tempest Chylde hasn’t been on yet!”
As she looked up at this giant, Helen meekly offered, “Home.  I want to go home.”
“You can’t go home,” Thor insisted as he stepped forward and then added with surprising gentleness, “Faulkner said you can’t go home and so did the girl group, the Shangri-Las,” and he burst into song, “You can NEVER go home any more – MAMA!”  He held the last note until a drum began to pound on the other side of the theater and he smiled.
Carol stepped toward him. “Look I used to do shows here and-“ 
But before she could continue, Thor’s ham-like hand went up and silenced her as he stared at the stage like a lovesick pup.  He turned back to the two women and cautioned them sternly, “You can’t leave now – out of respect for Tempest Chylde.  She’s an artist.  She’s also my girlfriend.”
When they all turned their attention back toward the stage they saw a very fat naked woman covered in tattoos holding an axe in her hands.  Some kind of Gregorian chants were playing and she appeared to be in some sort of a trance when she grabbed a sphere from a basket that contained what looked to be water balloons.  She nicked the balloon with a corner of the sharp axe and it began to drip red blood-like paint on her body.  Soon she was covered in the sticky red liquid and was writhing in it on the floor.
Still pressed against the wall where Thor had placed them, Carol noticed that he was so enthralled with the performance that he had moved from the door to be closer to the stage and his lady love.  Fingers to her lips, she motioned to Helen to make a run for it.  Quietly and quickly they crept along the wall behind Thor and when they made it past the doorway into the hall, they both bolted for the exit.  Outside they continued to run for three blocks up Allen Street to Houston, until they finally stopped on the corner by the donut shop, completely out of breath and still praying that Thor wasn’t right behind them.
When they caught their breath they just stared at each other, speechless for a few seconds, then they both began to laugh and laugh and laugh.
Linking her arm through Helen’s, Carol said, “C’mon I’ll walk you to the subway.  What is David going to say when you tell him about tonight?”
She looked at Carol in stunned disbelief, then with a hand gesture Helen gasped, “Whaddyou crazy?!  I can’t tell David about tonight.  You must be crazy!”  They walked on for a while in silence as Helen continued to shake her head until she suddenly stopped fully and turned to face Carol as she held her tightly by the elbow.
“If you ever meet David-if you should ever meet David and he asked you about tonight – we just went to Red Lobster and had the all-you-can-eat shrimp.  Promise me!” Helen demanded as she waved her index finger at Carol as if to underline how important this demand was.  Carol grabbed at Helen’s pointing finger and promised.
They walked along again arm in arm both lost in their own thoughts when Helen piped up with, “I don’t understand why a purple dick is so brave?”
“Neither do I girl – neither do I.”

By Way of Beginning

               First and foremost before all else I have always thought of myself as a writer – a teller of stories.  From the earliest age I was already in love with words and the way that they wove themselves together to tell the most wonderful tales in the nursery rhymes and fairy tales that Mama read to me at nap time.  Mama said she had to teach me the alphabet because I kept wasting good paper pretending to write, often insisting that my scribbles be put into envelopes and placed in the mailbox.  Such pride in my chest when we’d go to fetch the mail and my letters were gone.  Someone was going to read what I wrote.
                And so she taught me my letters when I was 3.  I still remember Mama at the ironing board, handing me her homemade flash cards one letter at a time.
                “That’s an A.  That’s the big letter A.  No need to worry about the little letters till you learn these,” she explained as she handed me the first piece of brown cardboard.  “Now you take that pencil and try to copy it and let me get some ironing done.”
                Every day it became our ritual.  Me sat in the big living room chair, a leaf from the dining room table laid across its brown tweedy arms for my makeshift desk.  Mama doing her kitchen chores while I learned.  I was around 4 when I figured out that to actually make the words the letters had to be threaded together just right or else they were just letters.
                Daddy used to say that’s when I really began pestering everybody and driving them all crazy with my constant questions.  “Does N-G-L-A spell anything?”
                “Does D-C-A-F spell anything?
                But one day, a day that I can still recall clear as a bell, I received a different answer.  Daddy and I had been to the dump together and I was dressed in my little overalls that were just like his.    We were riding in the old Ford and I was standing up in the middle of the front seat, my hand resting on his shoulder engaged in my usual questioning.
                “Does B-T-J-Z spell anything?”
                “Does P-O-L-E spell anything?”
                Suddenly he broke into a big surprised smile and he said, “Yesiree Bob!  It spells pole!  Just like that telephone pole over there,” and he pointed at the big poles dotting the roadside.  “Yes sir!  You spelled pole!”  I remember so well that thrill of accomplishment and elation.
                With this collection I hope to begin to share my writing with you and open a dialogue from our many collective points of view.  In some of my stories and essays one may take umbrage with certain words that I may use to relate some of my personal history.  Words that some who prefer to be politically correct would have me edit, change or just leave unsaid. 
                Because I am a woman of a certain age I have lived through a period of time that has been one of the most rapid and extreme cultural transitions in our history.  Adding to that is the fact that I also came up through rural poverty and generations of very old school traditions and expectations.  I have worked hard to understand and grow beyond such circumstances, while no longer denying my roots.  In other words I won’t be doing revisionist history when I share certain stories from my past, no matter how it pains me that it happened or that such beliefs were held.  I believe we must acknowledge the “sins of our past” before we can move forward into greater compassion, understanding and enlightenment.
                For example, I had the good fortune to play the role of Mary Todd Lincoln with a terrific NYC theater company in a weekly Underground Soap Opera.  Our story line was written by Todd Alcott, an excellent writer who had done intensive research on the Lincolns, their era and the Civil War.  In fact he even pulled direct quotes from speeches and writings of the time to lend even more historical accuracy.
                Early on in the series, one of the first scenes I did was when Stephen Douglas had asked for Mary Todd’s hand in marriage from her brother-in-law who agreed to the union without consulting Mary.  Upon being informed of the agreement, rather than the expected joy, my line as Mary was, “You expect me to simply agree to an arranged marriage? Why Mr. Douglas, I may as well be a slave if that’s what you think of me.”
                A member of the theater board had been watching the dress and tech rehearsal and came backstage immediately to ask that Mary’s line be cut because it sounded too racist.  Our playwright protested that in actual fact the scene depicted exactly what had been said as it had been well documented.
                Again she protested, “But it’s just such a racist thing to say.”
                To which I, no longer capable of biting my tongue since it was now only hanging by a thread anyway, interjected with, “Do you know much about the Civil War?  Because that whole thing was pretty darn racist.”
                Simply put, no matter how much we wish we could change certain events of the past, be they historical or autobiographical, I believe we must first own the past in order to truly move forward and do better.  Because everything that has happened has led to this point in time, to this day and minute, to the person you are right now, to the conversation we can begin now that will lead to greater growth.
                The more I know and understand the more I want to know and understand.  Because of that need over the years I have taken tons of classes, studied with masters, gone to a myriad of workshops, consulted psychics and tarot cards, read hundreds of books, gone through first therapy then Jungian analysis, filled journal after journal in the hope of becoming what God has intended for me to be.  I don’t wish to shirk the task that the “Home Office” has in mind for me and I certainly don’t wish to waste all of the challenges and experiences that I have gathered this lifetime.  It is my hope that in sharing what life has taught me perhaps even just a small beam of light might shine into what has been a dark place.  Maybe a short story will make you laugh.  Perhaps an essay will make you look at an idea from a different angle or make you so mad that you feel compelled to write your own opinion.   Because in the best case scenario you might decide to share your life stories too.  I’m looking forward to that, so let the dialogue begin.

Lucky Gal Me!

I'm a lucky ole gal - pretty much always have been.  Even the awful things that have happened to me in my life have worked out to make me a better person.  I've learned that if you're willing to go through the pain of life's tests and still manage to keep your eyes and heart open, there will be some unbelievably MAGIC moments that will unfold right before your eyes.  If you hang onto the golden liquid feeling of love that Spirit brings - you'll have the strength and faith to get through anything.