The · rage · of · 1000 · suns, · the · light · of · a · million · stars
Stories from Brooklyn and other mythical places
fter this morning's episode with unauthorized cat pee and my tool box, I spent the day making order out of chaos in the utility "room," a windowless 4X8 space with what might pass for a linen closet in some alternate reality. We now have a functional linen closet, tool closet, coat closet, storage space and cat comfort station, all in the one little room. Best of all, there is a clever barricade (angled cat carrier) allowing the cats to squeeze through, but keeping the dog out and away from cat kibble. And yes, the dog could push her way in, but she's really not bright enough.
I deserve a nap. And chocolate. Especially chocolate.
This is my shiny red tool tray.
Normally, it lives in my shiny red toolbox, although this morning, it was sitting on the floor of the utility room, which is also home to the cat box. At the moment, it’s on a kitchen windowsill, drying. This is my pretty girlie hammer,
which is floral, like most of my hand tools. Normally, it lives in the shiny red tool tray, which lives in the shiny red toolbox. At the moment, it’s drying by the kitchen sink.
The utility room is the last major domestic undertaking and the only thing I have yet to tackle, mostly because it’s truly scary. There’s miles of some sort of heavy-duty orange cord, an autographed toilet seat, two vacuum cleaners, an ironing board, a quantity of legos, and the usual assortment of nails, power tools, rope and bath mats. And the cat box, cat bowls, and most likely a partridge in a pear tree.
I clean the cat box twice daily, but it seems that some older cats dislike mess as much as a dirty box. This morning, I caught someone (that would be a cat someone) peeing in my tool tray, which was on the floor and is now drying on the kitchen windowsill, after I washed the shiny red and pretty floral objects. This is a sign, if not from God, from the cat: it’s time to clean the utility room.
Good morning to you!
We live on the top (second) floor of a two family house, and there is a French-paned door at the bottom of the stairs. When we’re home, we leave the apartment door opened, the other door closed, and let the animals go up and down. Initially, this seemed like a good idea and a way for the cats and dog to get both exercise and entertainment.
It’s doubtful that Gramercy had ever seen stairs before coming here, and initially, he would look at them, extend a paw, and meowl for all he was worth, which is a considerable amount. Having figured out what to do with them, he goes to the bottom and meowls, for all he’s worth, sometimes loud enough to engage the dog on the first floor.
Hayes had seen stairs before, when we lived with Nancy, but those stairs were in a barn and he learned how to track on mice, if not exactly how to catch them. He goes halfway down the stairs and looks around, presumably for mice. If any existed, we haven’t been gifted with them.
Morgan has been up and down stairs since she was a puppy, but here, she never seems sure of the protocol. Last night, as we were headed out to the pub, we chased the animals upstairs and into the apartment, but Morgan, who had only gone down a few steps, got confused. She did not turn around. She went up backwards. On her butt.
There might be less graceful members of the canine world, but I most sincerely doubt it.
woke in the middle of the night to the sound of the radio playing, loud, which was strange since it wasn’t on when I went to bed. I thought of how this might have happened and came up with two possibilities: either a ghost or a very reckless burglar, and upon careful consideration, waking Bob seemed like a bad idea in either case, so I got up to have a look.
There, on top of the music system, itself on top of a bookcase, sat Gramercy. He looked very pleased with himself, having learned how to reach a new perch and how to cause a commotion.
In the morning, I awoke to find Gramercy on top of the dresser.
We need to clip Gramercy’s wings along with his nails.
It’s a well-known fact that television is better than Ambien, at least for me. With the exception of Jeopardy, all I need to do is sit down to watch a little something, and I fall asleep immediately, unless it’s a mystery or crime show, in which case I’ll make it until the last 15 minutes. There are episodes of some shows I’ve started to watch three or four times, and I still don’t know who did it. Happily, TV networks tend to put their programming online and a person can watch at an hour when she might stay awake.
To alleviate the foul mood of the my-life-is-now-different-and-I’m-upset whinefest, I thought I’d watch one of the many fine progams I’ve slept through and took the laptop into the bedroom. After finding an outlet and plugging in a power strip, I was finally ready to watch Num3ers, featuring a crime with a magician: another well-known fact is that I’m a sucker for a mystery with magic, food, priests, crime-solving animals, or locked rooms, and if you combine them, and I’m transported. All of which is more than you needed to know, and probably enough to make you think less of me as a person and a sex object. But I digress.
I plugged in my laptop, opened it up, and couldn’t find the internet. I looked under the bed, in the litter box, and where it ought to be, on my computer. But no love, no internet. Of course, I took it personally and assumed that I had done something wrong, or had frightened it away, or was simply unworthy of the Greatness of the Intertubes; it was that kind of day. Finally, I called Bob, who was working on a Saturday and was very reassuring. “Sometimes Verizon is just weird,” he told me. “It will probably be back soon.” It wasn’t when he returned home, so we took the opportunity to have dinner at Nora’s, our local pub, which was all decked out for the holidays.
What I’m not showing you is the other tree in front of the pub, which can be seen from blocks away, possibly even from space, and is one of the more restrained lighting displays in our neighborhood. If the power goes out in the northeast, it won’t be from a blizzard, but because of Marine Park’s festive mood.
We returned home to find that we still didn’t have a connection, and Bob called Verizon; they said there was an outage in our neighborhood and ours alone. So, the next day, without e-mail, Facebook, LJ, online news, or amusing games, we got to work. Curtains finally got hung in the living room.
Wood blinds went up in the bedroom, office, and over the hutch, respectively blond, cherry and metallic. The overhead light in the office got repaired, with a pretty glass pull thingamee added. All of this was Bob’s handiwork, with an occasional assist from me. My contribution was the hanging of artwork, this time in the bedroom.
For reasons I’d hate to explain, mostly because couldn’t, this involved partially disrobing and climbing up on furniture. No alcohol was involved and no animals were hurt, and as you can see, it worked out in the end. After that, I started and mostly completed the festive holiday card project.
By the time we finished everything, the internet had returned to reward our virtue and industry. Or maybe they just fixed the problem.
The living room curtains really make an enormous, if not all the difference to me, enough to regain my cheerful equilibrium, or as much of it as I had. Once again, I feel like there are many wonderful things about this neighborhood, including the splendors of Kings Highway. Still, it saddens me that I remain unable to get my two favorite comfort foods: Stouffers frozen spinach soufflé, and Annie’s mac&cheese, but that seems like a small price to pay when so much else is good.
This is one of the latter.
It’s been a big change, enough to throw anyone off. Skyscrapers to (relatively) big sky. Neighbors I’d known for years to knowing no one. A ten-minute walk to the subway to a ten minute wait for a bus. Modern, concrete construction to rickety floors, a complete lack of right angles, and plumbing that I suspect is not up to code. And the big one: living alone to sharing space with someone, full-time, every day. It doesn’t matter how much you want it; it’s still a big change.
Bob is the best thing that ever happened to me, and each day I feel overwhelmingly happy and grateful to have him in my life. He certainly expected that I might have some tough days or feel depressed. But I didn’t. Instead, I’ve treated each day as a grand adventure, with something new to experience and a new project to undertake, and any feeling of less-than elation is enough to make me feel guilty and depressed about the possibility of feeling depressed. Yes, I understand that’s circular.
Yes, I’ve done a lot. I’ve unpacked and hung art and made a nice home that feels like ours and gotten to know the neighborhood, which I genuinely like. Yes, there is much goodness in my world, and in my life. But today I need I just feel sadness and despair.
I still haven’t found a job, even more scary in this economy.
I miss seeing my neighbors and playing with their dogs.
I feel that never again will I have a normal social life or occasionally see a friend without more than an hour of transportation and three separate transfers.
I panic and feel guilty each time I leave the apartment and the poor dog panics.
Most of all, I miss having coffee with Vicky so terribly much; each morning it feels like my heart will break.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s much good and happiness in my life, and the darkness will pass, probably quickly. But today, I feel that I will surely lose my mind if the living room curtains aren’t hung soon.
Today, everything seems overwhelming.
We have the top floor of a two-family house, which was built sometime in the early 1940s. With the exception of the original (and very excellent) stove and the slightly newer refrigerator, all of our appliances are from this decade, which is something of a problem; the circuit breakers (I think that’s what you call them) have a hard time with all our shiny new things. Especially when they’re used at the same time.
I should note that in my previous Brooklyn apartment, the hair dryer and the coffee maker could not be used at the same time, and it was a much older house (from the 1880s) with much newer wiring, but that is irrelevant to today’s adventure, except that I think hinky wiring is part of the Brooklyn experience.
So, there I was, still not showered at noon. This is because the Russians had yet to return my clothing to me, which as noted elsewhere was more a matter of laundry and less an issue of espionage. It wasn’t that I had nothing to put on so much as that I was waiting for the nice man to deliver the neatly folded wash, and had just found out that it wasn’t going to come until 3 this afternoon. Which would be about now. Seeing a crack in the window of opportunity, I leapt merrily into the shower, and as I was toweling off, decided that I would use my time efficiently and put a little smackerel of lunch in the microwave while I dried my hair.
You see where this is going? I didn’t until the lights (and hair dryer) went out.
In our former lives, Bob was an electrician and I was a punk rocker. These lives were roughly parallel, and left him with certain practical skills and me with the ability to correctly answer certain Jeopardy questions, not terribly useful in this situation. Knowing Bob was having a bad day with a work crisis, I sent text, feeling it would be less obtrusive if he were in a meeting. My text read:
Blew a fuse. What to do?
In retrospect, Bob might have thought that I had gotten mad at something and flung more of his things behind the bookcase, but for reasons that remain a mystery, he always seems to believe in, or at least hope for, the best from me. He called and told me, which involved going to the basement.
The very short version is that the door to the basement, adjacent to the downstairs neighbor’s front door, was locked for the first time that Bob could remember. The neighbors weren’t home, and neither was the landlord, who lives in the house next door. With ever-increasing anxiety, I sent Bob text, and he called back, incredulous. “It’s never been locked, in the nine years I’ve lived here,” he told me. But he also told me how to get in through the back.
I’m sure that like most people born in an age with electricity and talking pictures, you’ve seen Friday the 13th, or maybe you’ve seen Halloween, but you know the type. There is a noise in the basement. The cute but not terribly bright girl (played by me in today’s performance) goes to investigate. The light switch doesn’t work, so she fumbles around in the dark until she finds a door, which has two big bolts. The cute-but-dim girl, being dim, decides to go through the door, which requires considerable effort, since the bolts are, as mentioned, enormous, and difficult to move. Of course, you know and I know that there are no chocolate bars, stacks of cash, or good-looking men on the other side of the door, only monsters, but your small and red-haired heroine does not know this and opens the door.
You have seen this movie, right?
After fumbling around in another small, dark room, which seems to contain only a foul-smelling armchair, our heroine finds another door and goes through it. That’s when the monster gets her. Screaming and blood ensue.
All of that happened, except the part about the monster and blood and screaming, and I’m sure that the only thing that saved me was that I wasn't having sex when I was meant to be babysitting. Instead of a scary monster with a hockey mask, I found the fuse box, did what I thought Bob instructed, and I guess it was close enough for rock and roll, because when I got upstairs, lights were on and the hair dryer was doing its best to parch a patch of bathroom wall.
All’s well that end’s well. We have electricity. The laundry has arrived. I can see to put it away. And I have enough light to clean up a bit before going out to dinner.
Stay tuned for the next exciting adventure of Domestic Bliss in Brooklyn, which will involve many yards of burlap or canvas, and some picture hooks.
The problem with moving is not related to the distance of relocation, the relative size of the homes being moved from or to, or even the difficulties of moving in with someone. The problem with moving is that it makes a person stupid. Routines are important, and simple things, like walking the dog or brushing teeth, become frustrating and complex until there’s a regular place to put the necessary objects. No matter how good a cook a person is (and I’m pretty excellent) it’s easy to make elementary mistakes if you can’t quickly locate common ingredients or cooking tools. And no matter how efficient a person is, the entire experience is just unsettling. Moving from the Land of Skyscrapers to the Land of Houses isn’t disorienting, but failure to pick a comfy reading corner is.
In less than two weeks, I’ve unpacked every box, arranged furniture, and found the local pub. This isn’t bad, really, and most people I know are somewhat impressed. Personally, I’m mildly unnerved; no matter how much I’ve done, there’s more to do. The problem is that while mostly little things are left, they’re of the sort I can’t do by myself. The living room curtains need to be hung, but it’s a job that requires someone more than five feet tall, like Bob. The office blinds need to be hung, also by someone with a few more inches or a much taller step stool than I have, and there’s some electrical work to be done, and while height has nothing to do with it, Bob has the required skills; I do not.
In an effort to gain some sense of control and do something useful, I decided to hang art. I’d already managed to hang more than half of it, and today I decided to tackle our dining nook, which has a solid plaster wall and another of fairly flimsy plywood. Bob and I had discussed this matter, and he pointed out that he had a number of framed photos on the plaster wall and they’d have to go somewhere. “No problem,” I assured him, “They’re light and the plywood wall will support them.”
Hanging four pieces meant that I had to take all the photos down, get the nails out of the wall, do a ton of measuring, hammer nails, and finally, put the pieces up, an arduous process that required much getting up and down on the step stool. It was like a home aerobics class without Jane Fonda yelling at me, and without enough picture hooks. Finally, one wall was finished and I was ready to re-hang the photos. I got up on the step stool with my trusty little hammer (which admittedly, is floral) and had just managed to figure out where and how to affix the nails for the photos, when I dropped one. A framed photograph, not a nail. Behind the bookcase. Fortunately, the picture, of Bob and three of his Clarion buddies, was undamaged, but the bookcase has books in it, as these things do. Once again, the moving of a six-foot long bookcase is not something I can easily do by myself. Once again, I need to wait for Bob, and much to my chagrin, rather than completing a project, I’ve made more work for him.
When I called him to tell him what I’d done he just laughed, said that if I became vexed and needed to throw things, it would be better to throw dishes than to fling his things behind furniture.
I’d say that I feel even more useless than I did before, except at the end of it all, this is what I managed to do:
Not to shabby, for an afternoon of bent nails and dropped photos. Tomorrow, I’ll go to the hardware store
Once you cross the East River, you’ve entered Terra Incognita. Here be dragons, real bagels, and feral Quakers. Here also is a minor Brigadoon in Brooklyn, sans the Lerner and Loewe score. My neighborhood is lost in time, primarily built in the 1930s and 1940s, with little, if any changes, and people tend to stay here; there is little reason to leave, especially if you have a car, as most people do, and if your work is located somewhere other than Manhattan. This is a typical street:
Many of the row houses have slate roofs. Some of the brick houses have intricate patterns. People don’t have much in the way of back yards, which are mostly small and given over to garages, but they take pride in their front lawns and decorate them lavishly, sometimes with landscaping or koi ponds, but more commonly with little plaster woodland creatures, whirligigs, or inexplicable plastic and inflatable objects, now seasonal.
My neighbors are big on flying the flag, except when they have Obama bumper stickers on their cars, or pro-conservation signs in front of their houses. Sometimes they have both. They’re Italian and Irish; our local pub has more people of Irish decent than I’ve seen anywhere else except the St. Patrick’s Day parade. They’re also ultra-orthodox Jews, Muslims, Asian and West Indian. They have dogs -- 498 of them, which I know because the the website
tells me so. And of course, we have those feral Quakers. In truth, as much as I might enjoy the notion of particularly intense and silent worshippers stalking the streets, these are small and very pretty parrots
, and they live throughout Brooklyn, although whether their origins were intentional or an accident is unclear. There are large colonies of them at Greenwood Cemetery, which is one of Brooklyn’s very spectacular landmarks, especially if you go in for necropolis architecture, but they also live in our transformer boxes, and Bob tells me that they are a notorious cause of local power outages.
I lived in Brooklyn before, and there were things I knew before moving back again, to live with Bob:
If Brooklyn was an independent city, rather than one of New York’s five boroughs, it would be the fourth largest city in the country
The Battle of Long Island, a famous Revolutionary War, was actually fought in Brooklyn.
Brooklyn was home or birthplace to many luminaries, including poet Walt Whitman, composer George Gershwin and actress Clara Bow. More recently, this borough can take credit for novelist Jonathan Lethem, actor Steve Buscemi, and filmmaker Spike Lee. It was also home to several generations of Langs and Kirschs; I am the first person in my family, in nearly 100 years, not born in Brooklyn.
And there are things I didn’t know:
They have more sky here. I’m not sure where it comes from or how they fit it in, but there it is.
It’s like the New York City of my childhood, and the opposite of the Manhattan of my adulthood: Brooklyn has many neighborhoods, all distinctly different.
I like it here. A lot.
I came from a place of skyscrapers and moved to a place of two story buildings, sometimes three in houses with dormers. It had been a long time since I lived with anyone, even longer since I’d wanted to, so I also worried that I’d forgotten how. Everyone should have a hobby, and worry is one of mine, but it might be time to get a new one.
This is going to be a splendid adventure.
My mother, who had an endless supply of proverbs and standard expressions, always said better late than never. So:
After more than 13 years in this neighborhood.
After five years in this apartment.
After nearly two and a half years with Bob.
Bob and I are taking the ultimate plunge. We’re combining book collections.
This Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I’m moving in with Bob! After a several day holiday with some of their cat friends, Morgan, Gramercy, and Hayes will join us. For Hayes, it represents a return to the land of his birth; he was born and rescued in Brooklyn 15 years ago. For Morgan, it’s a bit like moving to the country, since the local park has lots of grass, and dogs are allowed to romp on it. Unless we have free-range mice, I can’t imagine that it will make much of a difference to Gramercy. For me, not only do I get to live with my Sweetie, but I’m returning to my roots: I’m the first person on my father’s side of the family (since immigrating from the old county) not born in Brooklyn.
As you can imagine, I’m overwhelmed and busy packing. More importantly, I’m excited and overjoyed, and I expect this to be just the beginning of many wonderful new changes.
And now, I’m overdue for a much-needed nap!
t 6 AM this morning. My polling place in Manhattan had a line down the block and around the corner, and it took 45 minutes to get through the line, to the (reassuringly old-school) poll and cast my ballot.
I've never seen anything like it, and I'm proud to be an American, privileged to have voted.
My politics are no secret, and although they are deeply entrenched, I’m not one to insist on agreement. The thing about a democracy is that everyone gets a voice and a plethora of views can co-exist. However, there are several things I feel very strongly about, enough to say here.
The first is courtesy and respect. This is a democracy, and everyone gets to have an opinion and vote that opinion, and everyone has the right to work to make their point of view a reality. If someone has different beliefs about the definition of marriage or the role of government, that’s fine; I won’t treat you like the enemy, but please, treat me like an intelligent person who thinks differently, not some kind of mindless liberal demon.
The second is an insistence that no one has a monopoly on values. Everyone has values. Everyone, by definition, is a values voter. This is a democracy, and everyone gets to choose what those values are and vote accordingly.
The third is Just Vote. There are people I know, both online and in real time, who will vote differently from the way I do and believe different things than I do. That’s OK: this is a democracy, and everyone gets to have his or her own views.
Until 1920, women in this country did not have the right to vote. The 15th amendment, passed in 1870, made it illegal to deny the right to vote based on race or color, but it was not until 1964 and the 24th amendment that the poll tax was abolished. The 2005 Iraqi vote was accompanied by violence. But when you go to vote in three days time, the worst that will happen is you might have to stand in line, or in some places, might need to show your ID.
So please, go vote. I’d prefer it if you voted for my candidate, but vote your conscience. Vote based on economic policies or your views on family and marriage or the war. Vote based on health care or tariffs or education. Just vote. And if you’re planning to vote, which you probably are, tell your friends to vote.
This video, which is well done, has lots of famous people telling folks to go vote and also has the address of a web site, in case you’re not sure where your polling place is.
I've disabled comments on the previous post and this one, not because I don't appreciate knowing about your good wishes, but because it's not about me, but about my friend in ICU.
any of you know about my friend Scraps, who has been a special friend for nearly twenty years. If you don’t, well, he had a stroke two days ago. He’s 44.
I have many complicated thoughts, already swirling around in my head before this, about friendship and human connections and the loss and gain of the same, but those thoughts can wait for now.
Many of you are spiritual; Scraps is not. For those of you who are and who think you have some connection to the universe, if you have time in your life and thoughts please say a prayer or light a candle or walk around a special place or do whatever you do to connect, and keep Scraps and his recovery in your thoughts. Like chicken soup, it can’t hurt.
And I don’t know why it took me two days to think of asking, except for the above.