30 September 2005

It's cold

Sitting at my computer, window still open, but fan turned off for the first time since May, I'm a little chilly. It's a good thing I never put away my Irish sweater -- it's been laying on the back of the sofa since Spring -- because it is the perfect garment to wrap myself in.

I've had this sweater since I was 18, nearly twenty years. It was a high school graduation gift from my grandparents. Stunt Mother had the same grandparents (unsurprising, since we are cousins), and was given the same sweater. My grandparents must have been nearly 80 when we graduated from college, and by that time many of their day-to-day errands had been taken over by their daughter, my Aunt Maureen. It is very likely that she suggested and ordered the sweaters. It's even possible that she purchased them on one of her frequent, in those days, trips to the Old Sod.

She's there right now, in fact, with Stunt Mother's mother, my Aunt Kathleen, for the first time in years. I kind of wish I'd thought to ask her to buy me a new sweater. This one's elbows and sleeves are unravelled to such a degree that it would embarrass even me to go outside in it. Fortunately, my own mother has the ability to darn it back up again, as she has countless times before. I love that I've owned this sweater for this long, and that it's been in continuous use all this time, that it's the first thing I reach for when there's a nip in the air; that it's been touched by so many of my family's hands. I wonder whether Stunt Mother still has hers.

28 September 2005


Having spent a fair bit of time in Africa, as well as just being generally aware of the world around me, I have the realization at least once a day of how lucky am. Being born at the time I was, in the United States, to two loving, well-educated parents, that's pretty much winning the lottery and Nobel Prize for Life combined.

Which is not to say that I'm never unhappy and resentful and longing for more more more. But almost nightly, when I'm lying in my comfortable bed, my two cats curled next to me, having eaten whatever I wanted for dinner and brushed my teeth in clean, hot water, listening to whatever soothing music I think will slow my racing brain so I can sleep, I remember how fortunate I am to have all this. Who cares that there's barely enough room to turn around in my apartment and that Columbus Avenue traffic roars under my open window 24 hours a day? That there is a layer of grime on all my windows that can never really be cleaned? I am warm, and safe, and healthy.

But then something reminds me how much more than this I have, how much more we all have. If you're able to read this, you know you have it, too.

This morning's New York Times features a story about women in West Africa waiting, praying, suffering, for a simple surgery that will alleviate a traumatic birth injury called obstetric fistula. The Times has written about this before; they should write about it every day. A woman in labor, often a young teenager, tries to deliver her baby at home -- often her only choice -- and it gets stuck in her narrow birth canal. (Add to her body's immaturity the possibility that she has been genitally mutilated, and the chances of this happening increase.) The resulting pressure causes major injuries to her urethra and her bowels. Her baby is most often born dead, and she is left completely incontinent.

As bad as that is, it gets worse. Such women are often shunned by their families and communities. Husbands divorce their wives. And there are not enough doctors, never enough doctors, to fix them.

Fistulas are almost unheard of in the United States anymore. Even the youngest, poorest pregnant woman here has access to some form of health care. In Africa, it is impossible to guess how many women are currently suffering. The United Nations Campaign to End Fistula estimates that there are between 50,000-100,000 new cases in the developing world a year, and that Sub-Saharan African women suffer twice as much sexual and reproductive illness as women in the rest of the world. There are an estimated 400,000-800,000 cases of untreated obstetric fistula in Nigerian alone. The average cost of the operation to repair these fistulas is $300, well out of reach of the average African woman.

But it's not out of our reach. I wish I could do more than just give money (the Fistula Foundation is a particularly worthy organization), but it's a start.

27 September 2005


On my 40-block walk to work, the neighborhood seems to change completely every ten blocks. I leave my apartment and see people like me, dressed in office-casual clothing, setting out for the day. Middle-aged men and women in sweatpants, still tanned from the Hamptons, hurry into the Reebok gym for their morning workouts. Brown-skinned nannies push their charges, like tiny maharajahs in their Bugaboo strollers.

Ten blocks later, acting students gesticulate boldly to their friends on their way to Julliard. ABT dancers, their hair pulled back in tight, elegant buns, stand perfectly erect, waiting for the light to change. A young male dancer with porcelain skin and big eyes, wears a white tank top.

Fordham law students run, late to class. Doctors from St. Luke's stand outside in their scrubs, enjoying their morning coffee and cigarette. Patients step carefully off the M11.

It's suddenly seedy at 57th Street, an apartment building, boarded up for several years, traps urine and beer underneath its scaffolding. How is such prime real estate allowed to lay fallow for so long? I am suspicious.

The pods from a black locust tree are scattered all over 50th street. A man in a gray t-shirt sweeps them up. Ex-junkies, getting out from their morning dose at the methadone clinic, make their plans for the day, loudly. A young Indian woman speaks quietly into her cell phone, covering her mouth with a flyer that an Asian man with a moustache handed her on the corner of 46th Street.

An old white man pushes a shopping cart full of tin cans to the grocery store. A black man carries a dirty sock, dripping with water, to the trash can, delicately holding it away from his body, with two fingers.

Tourists arrive and depart from Port Authority, wheeling suitcases that twist and fall over on the curb. African immigrants carry tremendous bundles of handbags and videos, in gray blankets they hold above their heads. Construction workers in Cartright jackets and Timberland boots are on their first coffee break. Later, they'll be welcomed at Bellevue Bar, where members of local unions drink for half price.

Slowly, in the 30s, the street resolves back to office workers in their casual clothing, rushing now to make it to work on time, pausing only to yell at the traffic cop who is directing cars into their crosswalk. They leave the street, enter tall buildings with elevators that take them to their offices. Mine is on the 7th floor.

26 September 2005

Rachel and Jeff got married

24 September 2005

It's Fall!

On my way into the park this morning, several signs warned me that there was a bike race in progress. When I got to the path, however, there were only the one or two occasional bike riders you'd normally see at 7am on a Saturday morning.

I'd gotten down as far as the Sheep Meadow before I saw them. Fifty or so riders, in a pack, Tour-de-France style. I knew they were individually pedalling their bikes, but even from ten feet away it looked like they were moving as one unit. Like ants, maybe. Or Republicans.

When they lapped me on the other side of the park, things had changed. There were ten bikers in single file, followed directly by another ten or so in pairs, followed by the rest of the pack in pyramid formation. They didn't decide to do this; this elegant formation just happened naturally. Again, like ants. Not so much like Republicans.


The temperature has finally dropped to the 60s during daylight. It's cool and dry today, and the leaves are already falling. Unfortunately, they're all brown. I don't think we got enough water this summer to get the bright yellows and oranges we usually have. Oh well. Things could be much worse.

23 September 2005

Overheard in Central Park

Horse-drawn carriage driver, to the tourists he's driving through the park: "This rock is full of Manhattan shit; it's the hardest rock there is."

I can't wait until the tourists go back to wherever they came from and start spreading that around.

21 September 2005

Peter update number 1

Dustyn, one of my few female colleagues, is very supportive of the rock project. She comes by at least once a day to ask to hold it. She likes the way it fits in her hand.

Today she insisted that we weigh it, to see if it's changed since the first time. James predicted that it would have gained weight, from all the dead skin cells people are leaving on it. And what do you know, he was right. Peter weighs 0.050grams more than he did two weeks ago. Time for a diet.

20 September 2005

Remember these pants

They may not look like much now; they're going to look like a lot less in the future.

I've been interested lately in how long things take to happen. I picked up a rock on the beach when I was on vacation. How long would it take for it to wear away to nothing? Ten years, twenty? I took it home and measured it, then brought it to work. Some of my co-workers understood immediately. "Why not weigh it?" suggested one, and another took me into the lab to find the right scale. "Are thousandths of a gram precise enough," he asked.

So I've got this 77.531gram rock on my desk. People come by and ask for it. They hold it and rub it, throw it up in the air. I have yet to name it.

A friend recently said that I'm turning into a conceptual artist. I think that means that most of my art is in my head instead of anywhere that anyone can see, but no matter.

How long do things take?

These pants were too long, so I cut off the cuffs in preparation for hemming them. I didn't have the right color thread, though, so they hung in my closet for several months. Then I saw a pair very similar to these in Barney's, whose hems were unfinished, as part of the design. They cost over $300. I decided mine could be worn that way too, which works out really well for me, since I hate hemming pants.

Then I started thinking: the bottom of my pants unravel a little every time I wear them or put them in the washing machine. How long would it take until they were completely unraveled?

I am going to find out. I am keeping the threads I snip off in a little box. More pictures as we progress. I have a feeling this project will take a lot less time than the rock one. That I may have to make provisions for in my will.

19 September 2005

Today no good, tomorrow mebbe worse...

My incredibly brilliant friend Marianne Petit is posting a new episode every week of her semi-autobiographical graphic novel
"716", (or "today no good, tomorrow mebbe worse"). It takes place in a building very much like the one she lives in in midtown.

Having heard these stories as they happened, I can vouch for their veracity (mostly) and utter surreality. If this is just one apartment building in NYC, can you imagine what an entire city of them is like to live in?

18 September 2005

Look out below

This is the scene going on out my window right now. It's the annual Columbus Avenue Street Fair, which name makes it sound like more than it is: a collection of sausage-and-pepper, cheap Indian clothing, and Stainorator ("The Miracle Stain Eliminator") vendors. And that's just what I can see without craning my neck.

One great thing comes from the street fair, though. The organizers hire extra cleaners, and within an hour of breaking down the booths, the street is cleaner than it's been since this time last year.

When I was out earlier, I stopped to listen to this singer at one of the stages, who had, I'm not kidding, actual screaming fans down in front. I had no idea who he was, but since he was hawking the DVD of a movie he was in, I was able to track him down. ("It's got Cindy Williams, from 'Laverne & Shirley' and lots of other great grown-up actors.") He was Chris Trousdale, and he plays himself in the movie. Himself was part of a band called Dream Street, according to imdb, "until their break up in 2003 due to a lawsuit with the boy's record label." That clears that up.

17 September 2005

Mess transit

I walked out to DUMBO today -- about which more later -- but it was so hot and muggy that I had to take the subway back. Big mistake. Not only are the subway platforms 10 degrees hotter than the streets, the 2 train wasn't running. I had to take a ferkakte mix of the 4 train to Bowling Green, changing to the downtown platform where the 5 train would take me uptown on the west side.

Why is it when they are doing repairs on a subway line they can just substitute another train? If they're working on the 2, why can the 5 run on its line? It makes no sense.

It took me about an hour to get home, which doesn't sound like that long, but in the unairconditioned 5 train, that stopped at every station for five minutes -- to tell all the boarding passengers that this wasn't the 5 train, really, it was the 5 train running on the 2 line, and why that takes five minutes to explain I don't know, but since it was one of the new trains with the LED sign announcing the station and time, I know it was that long -- there was a woman. A crazy woman.

The woman was tiny, and black, and looked like she was doing some androgynous tiny rapper thing with her yellow polo shirt buttoned up to the top and her backwards red cap. She sat directly across from me, and there was something about her that I couldn't take my eyes off. But instinct told me that she was one of those people who really didn't like being looked at, even by accident, so I tried not to. I didn't have a book, though, so it was hard.

After a while, she started muttering. "Bitch, she keep staring right at me, like she retarded."

Was it me, the retarded one? I had looked at nothing but the floor for several minutes.

"Retarded, retarded, that bitch, retarded, retarded, in the head, she retarded."

Five minutes at Chambers Street.

I was pretty sure it wasn't me she was talking about, but her outbursts were making it harder not to look at her. Was it the girl with the yellow flowers on her skirt and blue sandals? The girl turned away so as not to be in the woman's line of sight.

"Retarded, retarded, retarded."

The car was too crowded to move away from her, though it was clear people wanted to. She was small; I probably could have taken her in a fair fight.

"Retarded, she retarded, retarded."

Another five minutes at 42nd Street.

72nd Street did not come fast enough.

13 September 2005

I like dreamin'

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me knows that I frequently start sentences with "I was just reading about this in the Science Times..." I occasionally supplement my ersatz medical education with actual scientific journals, but you can be sure if there's been a development in mental health, nutrition, cancer or autism that the Times has covered, I know about it.

I've been following Alzheimer's research idly for a few years. I know, for instance, that if you live long enough, you'll most likely suffer some sort of dementia, even if it's not as bad as "Old Timers," as one of my uncles calls it. Your brain just isn't made to last forever.

But there's plenty of good news, too. A study of nuns in Minnesota showed that those who kept journals had less age-related dementia. Those nuns whose journals were most detailed had the best mental acuity in old age. Another study showed that doing mentally challenging things like crossword puzzles, or even simply changing the route you take to work once in a while, would keep your brain on its feet, as it were.

Great news. I keep a journal. I love crossword puzzles! And it's easy enough to walk up Tenth Avenue instead of Ninth once in a while; cross at this street instead of that. I'm on my way to excellent brain health.

But wait. A friend brought this recent study recent to my attention. As the Seattle Times reports, "the brain areas involved in daydreaming, musing and other stream-of-consciousness thoughts appear to be the same regions targeted by Alzheimer's disease...The strong correlation between the two suggests there might be a link between the sort of thinking that people regularly do when not involved in purposeful mental activity and the degenerative disease that is characterized by forgetfulness and dementia."

When I'm walking, I do hardly anything but daydream. Sometimes there's a problem in my writing or at the office that I try to work out, but mostly, my consciousness just streams. I love it. New York is a hard place to be day in and out; leaving it, if only in my mind, helps me cope. Or does it?

The kind of mind wandering I do feels like it could be addictive. I am always easily able to come back to reality, and am never in danger of walking into oncoming traffic. But how nice it would be to just continue to drift. To imagine places you've never seen, talk people you've never met in real life. Spend the $100 million you won in last night's lottery that you didn't even enter.

Fortunately, the Science Times hasn't reported on this study. Maybe I don't have to worry about this just yet.

11 September 2005


Kendall got a dog last weekend. As always when they visit my parents, Kendall and Matthew insisted on visiting Auntie Ellen, which mostly means coming to my apartment and climbing up and down my loft bed 20 or 30 times. Afterwards, we took Sadie for a walk in Central Park, five adults and two children and one 14-month-old cocker spaniel.

We stopped every half block or so to meet another dog, or just to talk to someone who wanted to know how old she was, how much did she weigh, and oh, look, how cute is that dog?

My mother told me I should have gotten a dog instead of my cats, and believe me, it's occured to me that it might be a better way of meeting people than any of the online dating services I've tried.

But then, after dinner, as we were walking up Amsterdam in search of ice cream, a woman asked if she could meet Sadie. "I ran after you for five blocks," she said, and pulled out her wallet to show us pictures of her own, recently deceased, cocker spaniel. It was a good 20 minutes before we could graciously extricate ourselves.

Meeting people through your dog, good. Meeting more crazy people, maybe not so good.

09 September 2005

The trouble with my life, right now

I have not done anything remotely interesting this week to write about. I haven't seen, heard or read anything interesting I can report on, either. The main theme of my blog is walking, and my adventures walking in New York City, with incursions into the rest of my life, but I've been too angry about my job this week to do anything other than go straight home after work and mope.

And I can't even tell you about that, the anger-inducing work, because people keep getting fired for blogging about their jobs, whether they say bad things about them or not.

This is the difference between me and people who write about, say, their children. The children can't fire you. They can only stumble across archived versions of your site once they are old enough to have unfettered internet access, then spend several years in therapy asking why? why? But since there's a chance that won't happen until they are old enough to pay for their own therapy, you don't need to worry about it right now.

I, on the other hand, need to continue to pay my rent. So I promise, really and truly, that between the family descending on my apartment tomorrow (my nephew Matthew has been begging for a trip to the city for months), and whatever 9/11 remembrance I do on Sunday, I will take a long walk this weekend, and notice something. And tell you about it.

07 September 2005


06 September 2005

Missed the boat

... or truck, in this case.

When I passed the American Family trucks at 5:30, the lines of people and cars waiting to drop off donations were fantastic. There was one truck devoted to water, another to food, one to medical supplies, and several to clothing. The piles of shopping bags full of the contents of New Yorkers' closets were enormous.

I hope people gave decent stuff, and not just any old schmata they were going to put in the rag bag anyway.

I raced home to pack up my clothing donations -- mostly new t-shirts leftover from when I had a t-shirt business -- but heard at 6pm that they had stopped taking clothing donations. So, I need to find another way to get them down to where they'll be useful. Anyone have any ideas?

I'm only sending blank t-shirts right now. I have some of my designed ones leftover, too, though not as many, but I want to put my labels on them before I ship them. God forbid some teenaged girl in Louisiana be walking around in a Lucabu T, getting compliments while the water recedes, without knowing where it came from.

If anyone has any shipping notions, please let me know.

Local giving

As I passed the confluence of 65th Street, Broadway and Columbus Avenue this morning on my way to work, I noticed several news vans on the corner. Since I need to know everything, I walked over to see what was up. There were large white signs affixed to lamp posts announcing that a group called American Family was driving donated trucks down south to deliver supplies to hurricane refugees.

My immediate reaction was that a group called American Family would be a fundamentalist Christian organization that didn't represent any of my ideas about what being an American or a family were. And, as it turns out, there is a scary organization by that name.

But the American Family gathering supplies at Lincoln Center is not the same one. They are just a loose coalition of regular-sounding people trying to do some good. I've got some "gently worn" clothing I can donate, and maybe I'll pick up some of the other things they are asking for at the grocery store. The most needed items are toiletries, individual servings of drinks and wrapped snacks, Stage 1 and 2 baby food, Similac with iron (baby formula), diapers (newborn to size 5), and new baby bottles. They're also asking for medical supplies, nonperishable food, water, toys, clothing, insect repellent and pain relievers.


Last week, I didn't have internet access, which meant that I either had to work, or find new ways to procrastinate. One of them was to read through old story fragments, which was mostly a horrifying exercise. But there were a few that I thought were decent enough to take out for an airing. Here's one. Remember, it's only the first day of school.

The Undoing

He was moving tomorrow. Today, he was having his tattoos removed.

The comorant wrapped around his left ankle would be the first to go. It wasn't his first tattoo, but it had been the most painful. On their first wedding anniversary, his wife insisted that they do something fun to commemorate the day. She'd gotten a commorant wrapped around her left wrist. It looked cool. They'd seen a comorant, sitting on a mooring in the bay, on their honeymoon on Cape Cod.

He would get the same drawing as hers, on his right ankle. Symmetrical, she'd said. Like us.

The tattoo artist glanced away for a millisecond – later, he said a piece of dust blew into his eye – just as he put the first needle in. It scraped against his ankle bone. A little blood dipped out. His wife shrieked, then laughed. The tattoo artist said, "sorry man," and "good thing that was your ankle and not your neck." His wife laughed again. The tattoo artist kept going.

After the comorant, he'd have the two abstract pastels removed from his back and chest. He had gotten those in college. His friend Lena had designed them. They had a lot of light orange in them, and no black. The colors were so pale that when he had a tan, you could hardly see them. He particularly hated the one on his chest, just above his left nipple. He hadn't had any chest hair in college, but now, a few strands poked through the bottom of the tattoo. It was ugly and he didn’t like having to explain it whenever he undressed in front of a new woman.

He and Lena had been good friends in college, never romantically linked. They didn't keep up now. She had divorced her first husband after she'd had an affair with her graduate school advisor, and moved away.

The celtic cross at the small of his back, the three dots in a triangle on each of his buttocks, the red easy chair on the inside of his right arm – all of these would be gone by tomorrow. Souvenirs of failed relationships, minor milestones, drunken evenings in his 20s with nowhere better to go. Declarations of independence. They weren't important now.

It was going to be harder to part with the CARPE VITAE across his knuckles. That had come to him in a dream one night, and lasted past the next morning, which seemed significant at the time. Not just a day, but a whole life, CARPE VITAE marked a turning point for him. He started playing guitar seriously, put up a few flyers in downtown clubs, got a band together. He started dating a lot, fun women, silly women, women with jobs that paid by the hour. He took his day job less seriously. He took up zen meditation. He listened to public radio and found an accountant who specialised in working with artists. He stopped taking white drugs altogether, and only did the brown ones on weekends.

After six months of CARPE VITAE he met his future wife at an outdoor concert downtown. His band was on the bill. She and a friend organized the poetry slam on the second stage.

Their first tattoo together had not been the comorant. On their second date, they had sex for the first time. She asked about the dots on his buttocks. She laughed when he told her what they represented.

"We should do that," she said.

"Do what?" he said. There was a tiny red birthmark on her left breast. No, two.

The next night, on their third date, she brought him to her tattoo parlour. Except for the abstract pastels he'd gotten in college, he always went to the same guy, on the east side, for all his tattoos. How would he explain a new tattoo to his guy? He couldn't. If he got a new tattoo at her place – it was on the west side – his guy would know he'd betrayed him. He couldn't do that to his guy.

"Oh, come on," she said. "Don’t be such a baby."

She leaned close to him, standing on her toes, and whispered in his ear, "come on. I want to do this."

They walked out two hours later with typewriters on their left hips. Hers was an Olivetti, his a Smith Corona. To be honest, he didn’t know what the difference was, or whether it was significant. He wasn't a word guy. But she seemed pleased. It was hard to make love that night, their stinging hips knocking into each other, a little blood escaping from beneath his bandage, but they'd managed.

He was almost sorry that he had to get rid of the Smith Corona.

She had yelled at him the night he came home with the yin yang on his left shoulder blade.

"I hate that mystical shit," she’d said.

"What are you talking about?" he said.

"All that mystical, quasi-religious, misappropriation of third world religious symbols shit. It's so pretentious."

"You're calling me pretentious now?"

"Also, it's ugly. You didn't go to my guy, did you? Because my guy would never draw something that ugly."

"I went to my guy."


"What’s that supposed to mean?"


Maybe he should get rid of the yin yang first. Would that make her happy?

She'd left a month ago. He had only spoken to her once since then, when she came back for her books. She had mailed the keys to their apartment to him at work. He'd recognized the handwriting, and torn the package open. Gray fluff floated to the floor. Just the keys. No note. No further explanation

There hadn't been a return address, but the postmark was from Benton, MA. She must have gone to her grandmother's house. He would have taken the bus up that night, but he had to deal with the apartment by the end of the week. He couldn't afford to pay another month's rent on his own.

"I can’t be here anymore," she’d said. "This isn’t who I am."

Back to school

It's been a long time since I've been a student -- it was ten years ago this week that I turned in my Master's thesis -- but the day after Labor Day will probably always feel like "back to school" to me. Do you remember this day? How long did it take you to plan your outfit? Did you promise to keep your textbook covers free of doodles, and to pay better attention in French class?

I did, and my back to school list of resolutions is pretty long this year. I drank too much caffeine and alcohol during the month of August, to say nothing of the ice cream I ate. Call it anxiety over riding the subway with men in bulky coats, or guilt over doing nothing in Darfur and Niger, or, in the last week, too much disaster porn out of Louisiana. And, of course, the bodies keep piling up in Iraq. Whatever the reason, I consumed like I was an SUV driver and gas was still only $1.99/gallon. (OK, the analogy needs some work; it's only the first day of school.)

I'm going back to work today, after ten days off. Like the first day of school, I'm excited to see my friends, worried about the piles of work that are likely to greet me, and have no idea what to wear.