Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How Sweet Hearts Can Be

I would have posted this sooner, but I couldn't come up with a good-enough title. I figured the only way I'd think of one was when I wasn't thinking, and there it was, whispered in my ear in the middle of a dream at 3 AM in the morning last week.

Those same bright stars in heaven above
Know now how sweet
sweethearts can be

Of course. One of my favorite lyrics ever, the ouch of the three "ows" softened by a double dose of turbinado… So simple, it takes lesser poets 5 more lines to say not even quite that. I fell right back into the most satisfied sleep, so, so thankful for those kinds of gifts from the universe…

That's probably one reason why I run, because running has lots of gifts to give. And running doesn't mind if you're me or Meb--you plan well, you put in the time and give up that last tiny bit of control your ego thought you had, and it'll take you where you need to be…wherever that is. It brought Meb to the Boston Marathon finish line before everyone else, and it brings me, even though I'm at the complete other end of the natural talent spectrum, to this…

Two weekends ago I was in Central Park, trying to find the calm in the dappled shade of the bridle path, the nothing-but-flatness of the reservoir loop…anything but the outer loop, which I had been on quite a bit in recent weeks. It's hilly, which I don't mind, but nasty hot in the bright sun, which i do. So I avoided the outer loop like the plague, until, of course, I stopped paying attention to how crappy I felt for a second and found my feet leading me there….

Who drew all those chalk hearts in the pedestrian symbols painted on the road that show which way we're supposed to be going? It doesn't really matter, and it doesn't even matter why they wrote "88" in each of the hearts on said pedestrian symbols from West 90th all the way to… wherever they ran out of chalk on the east side.

It matters to me because my mom was born in 1926, and because the last birthday she celebrated was her 88th on April 16. And just in case I didn't quite get the message that those who have left their bodies are always in our hearts, this one kept coming up in my iPod shuffle…

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stealing Home

This past winter, Derrick was attacked by a bulldog. It’s not quite accurate to say “attacked,” since I don’t think the bulldog wanted to harm him—it was more like the psycho canine version of Capture the Flag, with the flag being furry and flamepoint. In any case, the timing was terrible—Derrick and I were out in the hallway for his morning walk, and he displayed his nosey-neighbor habit of dashing into any apartment with an open door just as the guy with the youngish, etiquette-challenged bulldog was leaving. They rolled, they tumbled; the owner stumbled as he tried to grab Santino. I pretty much screamed the entire time but somehow managed to open the door so Derrick could get back to our apartment. Which he did…followed by the dog.

When Lorenzo saw them run past, he leaped on top of the air conditioner and went textbook Halloween Cat. Within what was probably just a few seconds, Santino’s owner finally grabbed him and they got outta there. Derrick was left with bloody back paw pads, at least 6 fewer claws and an hour-long case of Big Tail. Lorenzo hid on top of the kitchen cabinets and stayed there for half the day, big round frying-pan eyes like he didn’t know who he was, or we were. We were all in a daze.

D. was way too stressed for a vet visit until the next week, but I did call the animal communicator. Derrick, typically a cat of few words, said even less than usual--he was still trying to process what was going on.  Lorenzo shared what they were both feeling:

“Attacked in our own home! We never thought that could happen.”

That just about killed me. Both of my guys were dumped on the streets by their original owners, and I promised myself, and them, that they’d always be safe and protected. But that day, I screwed up royally. The encounter with Santino was like a feline September 11th.

For the next few weeks, the whole house felt…piloerect. And I began to think a lot about that tired, mired myth of home, sweet home. About things that have happened to past and present friends, people I’ve worked with, strangers whose faces give away their stories… a lot of bad shit happens in places that people call home. From whoppers like physical/mental abuse and addiction to different-sized things like lies and love that gets withheld and not allowing someone to be who they are…  And oh, the stories of children abused in their homes that hurt us all so deeply, instantaneously. Nixzmary Brown, the little 7-year-old from Brooklyn who was tortured, molested and killed by her stepfather… Myls Dobson, 4, found murdered earlier this year, emaciated and covered in bruises and burn marks, while in the care of a babysitter… What did home mean to them?

One night after the bulldog incident I awoke thinking of Lotus, Gaza and Memphis—3 uromastyx lizards I took care of years ago during my work with a herpetological society. They were seized at U.S. Customs, stolen from their home somewhere in the Middle East and shoved in a box with dozens of other lizards, shipped to America to be sold in the exotic pet trade. We were asked to take care of them while a court case was pending; they were weak, stressed and sick, so it was more like hospice care. We tried to be hopeful anyway. 

Apparently they were of a species that was least attractive to pet owners, but I marveled at their soft pebble-gray skin, dinosaur heads, spiky Sex Pistol tails, kind eyes… they spent a lot of time being very, very still, like old, otherworldly Romanesque cathedrals. Despite my best efforts, you can fill in what happened—first little Memphis, then Lotus passed away. Gaza was so, so thin but still hanging on, eating her alfalfa that I sprinkled with Bach remedies (I tried everything)… I asked the animal communicator to check in with her. She’d never spoken with a displaced uromastyx before, but Gaza told her she just wanted to go home. And she just couldn’t understand why she wasn’t able to.

My heart fell. I knew she could never go back, and I knew deep down that a 75-gallon tank with full-spectrum lighting and a bunch of heat lamps in a New York City apartment was so, so wrong.  There was no home for her now, anywhere.  When she passed, I imagined her dreaming herself back to soft, silken sand near the hottest rocks she could find. A blinding sun shining down lizard love and life.

And so, for Derrick and Lorenzo and Gaza and Nixzmary and Myls and anyone else for whom home hasn’t always been home—I propose a change in definition. Maybe home is not a place, but a series of actions… Moves and moments we can take, no matter where we are, that show and let us know we are safe and supported and surrounded by everything we need.

For Derrick, that means Tiggering through the apartment and spinning out as he takes the corners… that slight uplift of his tail when you say his name… the way his paw pads open and spread like pink petals when I pet him… For Gaza, home is this little shimmy in the sand she’d do while sunbathing, belly-down…

For Lorenzo, aside from this…

…home is a very slight rearing up, a la My Little Pony, at the moment he knows a treat is forthcoming.

For me, home is doing most things for a longer period of time than most people do them for. Home is barefoot, home is blinking through raindrops while soaking wet, home is sitting on the floor, home is Bing perched on my knee or sighing into my side, home is leaping through hallways if there’s enough space…

And when you’re not limited by walls or a map, home may be something you never thought to look for… melting wax, chasing snowflakes, shaking a tambourine…

What’s your dance, homie?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I Wanna Be Your Dog

When people talk about their spirit animals, I actually feel like rolling my eyes sometimes. Yes, me, the person who believes if I think hard enough I can forcefully will a hot-pink streak to start permanently growing from my head because well, it seems like I should have been born with one in the first place. What gets me is when people are so….limited about it.  The typical options for spirit animals are comparatively glamourous fauna like bears and wolves and snakes and dolphins and crows when, hey, what about identifying with a maggot, or one of those dung-eating birds?

OK, I'm digressing. What I really am meaning to write about--I'm pretty sure I was a scrappy dog (no, not Scrappy-Doo, he's a cartoon, silly!--and as such will live forever) in a past incarnation. It really hit me earlier this winter, when I'd see the neighborhood dogs in the snow and feel all familiar and nostalgic. I love the ones who just sort of dig a little hole, like a sunken livingroom, and hunker down and hang out until snow covers their eyelashes. And the back-scratching spine-wigglers who roll around on the ground, paws in the air and smiling, in the new-fallen snow. Just thinking about it makes me feel all funny in the tailbone area…OMG, it can't be just me! Does anyone else know what I mean?!

One Saturday morning in January, I was running along the East River as snow was falling, and I kept looking at the ground, that packed, perfect, glistening whiteness, and thinking about those dogs… I felt all twitchy like I had to stop and…do something. You know what's coming, right?

There weren't a lot of people out, but I still made sure no one could see when I laid down in the snow and yes, rolled on my back like a happy dog. I was sort of embarrassed, so I didn't stay down there too long, which sort of pisses me off in retrospect. If you're going to do something like that in the first place, better make it worth it, ya know? Anyway, the 20 or so seconds were still pretty satisfying, so I got up and continued on my way. If there'd been someone else with me, I guarantee you it wouldn't seem so weird--you know how that is? But, hell, when your inner canine calls…you heed that call. And then get some Scooby snacks.

Re: this next one--I gotta say, ain't nothing like the real thing, but if the Stooges wanna be your Neapolitan mastiff, these guys maybe just wanna be your beagle. Which is totally cool, too.

Belated Christmas wishes. And 'cause Snoopy's a lover, not a fighter:

P.S. The truck-drivin' dog in this old photo is none other than Boogie, whose friend and co-conspirator Bobby Faust passed away earlier this year. I bet they're rolling along, eating Moon Pies and howling at the moon together on the other side.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Demons Are Forever

 Left behind on Avenue B, the day after Halloween

Not to be a total Grumpalufagus, but I'm not that into Halloween anymore. I think it’s awesome for kids and (costume-loving) dogs, but even cats—who are naturally aligned to the magic and spirituality the day was originally about—find the manic, rusty lust let loose by those not enough in touch with their inner ghouls (i.e., the spoiled, rich white college students in my apartment complex who have to get totally sh*t-faced before they can put on their banana suits) scary in a really bad way.

(Or so Bing once said.)

What I’m actually saying is—I wish every day could be Halloween. It bums me out we deny our zombie selves, which could be, if you think about it, more pure and true than the non-zombie masks that people wear. I can still picture this woman I saw walking into the subway on Halloween just a few weeks ago, all in witchy black, her face and torso covered in glowy green paint. She was stunning and magical, like she was meant to have that color of skin and cast spells to make the 6 train faster.

So, maybe if it were Halloween a little more often, people wouldn't be so puritan and hypocritical (I still can't grok the outrage over Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, when the worst thing they did to Prince Charles was make fun of him for saying he wanted to be Camilla Parker Bowles' tampon). And maybe we wouldn't obsess over celebrities so much as a culture because our own fantasy lives would be more indulged.

And maybe some people wouldn't need to rely on alcohol drop their inhibitions, like the guy standing next to me in the NYC Marathon cheerleading section at the corner of 92nd and 1st (next year I don't stand nearby a block of bars, hello!). He'd shout out in a moronic greasy voice when any particularly curvaceous female ran by, and as the afternoon wore on he started shouting at runners who were walking, "C'mon, get moving! You're not supposed to walk in a marathon!" Honestly, you have to feel bad for a jerk like that--a drunk narcissist disconnected from the world around him. I bet he had no idea how stupid, inappropriate and mean what he said was. Missing the point, missing the richness of life and missing the joy that everyone else around him was experiencing, his zombie self so starved it's probably a serial killer right now…  Most people ignored him and I did finally tell him to shut up, but really, he should have been b*itch-slapped with the tiger paw.

A song for your zombie self:

Saturday, October 26, 2013

6 Things I Will Remember About Training for My First Marathon

Yes, I completed my first marathon on September 28! I don't often write about running because I feel like a bit of a sham, but it's weird calling myself a dancer, too, so, well…I usually just think of myself as a mover.

In any case, I trained for the Hamptons Marathon for 16 weeks and a lot of stuff happened. Here's some of what makes me smile the most:

* One of the reasons I signed up for this race was to figure out if I could make peace with my hometown, my childhood, the "me" who lived there who I sometimes dislike and pretend not to know…one of the Sunday morning group training sessions in East Hampton had us running down to 5 different beaches. Running through the fog and salty sea air, I started to feel the magic of the beautiful place where I grew up, accessing it like breathing, slowly and wholly, as I made my way through morning mist… I realized this is part of me, period the end, and no tourists or developers or stupid celebrities  who've overtaken it…or even myself!…can take that away. I'm the mist, I'm the ocean, I'm the sand and sky… it twinkles in me like a firefly.

* Maybe it was the endorphin release that sent me to some canine plane of consciousness, but about an hour and 15 minutes or so into my long runs, this weird communication thing would start happening with the dogs I'd run past. I'd notice them from hundreds of yards away and they'd turn around and smile at me. Happened on every long run. There was one English bulldog in particular, by Chelsea Piers--I wish I knew what he was saying to me, because I think it was something funny and motivational, the doggie version of Chris Farley as Matt Foley living in a van down by the river...

* Sonic memory: One of the runners at a training run in East Hampton, gloriously, unknowingly farting for about 1/2 a mile as we discussed shih tzus (One reason not to wear headphones…not to hear people farting, but to realize you are the farter…)

* My first 20-miler: Running down Madison Avenue when they closed it to traffic during Summer Streets on a gnarly hot August Saturday, listening to Prince's "Sometimes it Snows In April" on my iPod and smiling and crying at the same time because it made me think of how much I missed/love Bing.

* Stopping at the concession stand on Atlantic Beach to get water on a slimy and bright July day, and some jerk getting out of his car mumbles to himself as I pass by that you're not allowed to run on the dunes. It took me about a minute to realize he thought I was the one who'd been running on the dunes (slow to grok, I know!). Little did he know I am the dunes : )  In hindsight, I would have loved to have whupped his passive-aggressive honky @ss.

* On a bunch of Monday nights toward the end of training, I'd run with my friend Hope in Central Park. Before meeting her, I'd go into a candy store on Madison Ave. to get Gatorade, where there was a resident kitty who had his own cubby. One evening in early September, I noticed a little glittery hot pink scooter parked outside with pink unicorns and ribbons tied to it. When I went in, a little girl (clearly the scooter owner) was sitting on the floor with the candy cat, saying goodbye to him because she was going away for Labor Day and wouldn't see him for a while. The cat was totally in love, licking her and letting her pet him. I hear they remodeled and candy cat doesn't have a cubicle anymore, so I'm thinking of getting him a kitty bed and just sort of leaving it there. Pink, of course. : )

If I'm running in a race, with a group or with someone else…I don't like to listen to music. But by myself, it's fun to listen to  crappy 70s and 80s songs and full-length albums. Here's the first song on one I listened to a lot this past summer:

Monday, September 2, 2013

She, Shells, Sanctuary

Recently I was asked to provide a photo of myself as a baby for a group birthday card, along with a one-line riddle offering a clue to whom the person in the picture is. If you've never done anything like this before, you should try it.

I couldn't find a baby picture (trust me, I looked like Archie Bunker in a white lacy blanket), but what I did find was way more than "that'll do."

Student of cats, turtles and the forces with which flowers bloom...

Maybe my turtle friend, or his turtle daughter, is still around, and maybe I'll finally catch up to him when I run the race at the end of this month : )

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meezer Monday: I'm OK, You're Sort of OK

Every day last week I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I'm beginning to think that maybe it's just easier to sleep that way with the apparently ginormous stick that's up my @ss. It hasn't been an easy summer and there are several contributing factors, but it's as if the switch has been flipped from "Angry? Cry and hate yourself!" to "Angry? Take the more mature route and make faces at people on the street." Srsly. It's like there's this ugly, small-hearted crone inside me that shouts out, "What the eff are you looking at?" 

I'm ashamed to say that's no lie. I was running past the garage in my apartment complex the other day when some random attendant inside called out, "Good morning!" He got rewarded with an expletive that burbled out like I was on an audition for the head-spinning scene in whatever that movie is. (Maybe that's a bad example--I didn't know the guy, I wasn't looking in his direction, and I was about 50 feet away from him. Call me a grinch, but I feel that he should MHOB. You think he says "good morning" to the guys running by?)

You see what I mean about that ginormous stick?! Why should I care if some Howdy Doody says "good morning?" I wish people were nicer to each other! He may have been a lug-headed busy body, but at least he didn't slam the door in my face or look past me as if I were invisible, like half the people in New York.

But the worst part of leaking and saying rotten stuff to random strangers?! It makes you feel really bad. And I really believe there's no excuse for being rude to anyone--in any situation. You always have the option of walking away and saying nothing (unless, of course, you have swallowed a small-hearted crone who shouts out "F*ck" like I have). So here I have been feeling like such an amateur human being, and guess who doesn't seem to mind? Who loves me even when I'm a jerk, when I don't wanna love myself?


The behaviorists would say it's not love, of course. But I'm not sure they've done much research in this one particular stinky arena, so heck, I'm gonna anthropomorphize. And overshare a little bit, too.

This summer I've been training for a marathon, so my weekends have been taken up with what is known as the long, slow run. But don't let that Robert Frost-y name fool you--on occasion they've been miserable, sweat-filled 4-hour affairs that  revolve around public bathrooms and easy access to Gatorade.

But it never fails. He always does it. When I come staggering in to the apartment, red-faced and dripping with sweat, there's Lorenzo, waking up from his nap and ready to join me for stretching on the rug. I remember the day he started doing it. He was watching me very intently as I used the foam roller, and then HE started rolling, tentatively at first, on his back. It was like, OMG, this cat's a freakin' genius.

As we stretch out, at some point he wanders over and sticks his nose in my underarm, nips me and then hits the floor, rolling on his back like he's been sniffing catnip. He doesn't care I had to take a 5-minute break at Mile 10. He doesn't care that half the city passed me (those freaking dads in running strollers, for gawd's sake!). Not only does he accept me for smelling bad, he revels in it. It's equal parts embarrassing and endearing, but honestly, I can't think of a better example of someone accepting you for who you are, even when you can't accept who you are. And trust me, its not nearly as gross as the story an ad rep once told me about the dog who was obsessed with her underwear drawer.

P.S. The next time you encounter a nasty human being who asks you "What the eff are you looking at?," know it's nothing personal. He or she is probably stressed out and feeling vulnerable.

Not my favorite by these guys, but it sho nuff gets the point across:

The last and only time I listened to this song was during my senior year in college, fall semester. I was in Greece, and they played this every week at a club called Rebound. Pretty sure the patrons thought we were stupid Americans.