Tag Archives: New Jersey

Out of place

We are in the middle of a warm spell. A  few days out of place. Winter breaking the rules. The lakes have melted. The snow is gone. I took baby for a walk yesterday and he saw birds, maybe for the first time in his little life. Geese flew in a crooked V above us, honking, and he looked up with his mouth wide open and followed them as they crossed a blue sky. I often imagine what it might be like seeing the way life moves for the very first time.  Seeing things that fly. Things that swim. Things that walk and run. A leaf that falls off a tree. A car that zooms by. A sunset. The idea of learning that the world has purpose astounds me.

The lady at the Chinese restaurant, after baby went home, said to me in broken English, “The world is happy today.”

I smiled. I need this warmth more than anything. But it’s a cruel trick. Like an insect born out of season. It doesn’t stand a chance. Like taking a weekend in Florida in the winter only to have to come back to the cold. It’s a sharp reminder of what you don’t have.

I read somewhere recently that there are scientists who believe the universe is conscious, which means it’s free to break the rules if it wants to. It has a brain. It pulsates with intention. And that intention propel us forward through the arrow of time. 

Stars make willful decisions. 

With new eyes and new thoughts I can’t help but wonder, How can that not be true?





I keep watch under the ceiling. It’s not really a ceiling. It’s all pipes, vents, beams and wiring. And I’m on my back, on the bed looking up at the innards of the ceiling. Ceiling guts. Listening to the water running through the pipes. And when Pop gets up in the middle of the night to use the toilet, he flushes and water comes pouring down real loud through all those pipes, like a river, and there I am. Lying underneath this river, and I can’t move. I’m stuck at the bottom of a septic tank. Watching and listening and scared to death that one of these days, one of those pipes is going to blow, and I’m going be covered in shit.

So I stare up and keep watch.

I live in the basement. It’s one of those finished basements that was never finished. And I’ve been here most of my life—past the time when everyone’s supposed to be out. And five years past the time my younger brother Michael moved out with his woman Anne. And here I am. Still. Watching the pipes and waiting tables on the Pike.

There’s a curtain separating my side of the basement from my brother’s side, where he used to sleep. We called it the “Russian peasant room.” And he’d fall asleep watching CNN or golf and he’d snore and I’d push back the curtain and reach in toward his bed and give him a nudge.

“Shut up,” I’d say, “You’re snoring.” And he’d roll over and keep snoring. And I’d say, screw this shit and wish that someone two-flights up would flush so that it would drown out the sound of his clogged breathing.

And outside the not-so-finished part of the finished basement, there’s the cardboard construction of a row house. Flimsy wallboard. Refrigerator box, really. And the clutter of all the stuff that got left behind when everyone packed up and moved out.

            I’m the last to go. When I go. If I go.

* * *

            It takes exactly sixminutesandsevenseconds to walk to the Pike. Another 22 seconds to open the door of the restaurant, walk past the bar, pick up my apron and head to the back bar to clock in. Clocking in is this: “Hi Ro, I’m here. You got any tables for me?”

            “Section four, front,” says Ro, “But have a coffee. I just sat ‘em.”

            We drink percolated coffee. We pass around the twenty-pack of Virginia Slim Super Slim menthols. Ro and Jeanie and me. Ro and Jeanie stand in front of the mirror by the back-bar, touching up hair, lips; diner-style. Hardcore waitresses. Career waitresses. They never forget the side of tartar. They always remember to bring the steak knife with the Surf & Turf. Their tips always exceed $120 a night. And they never tell the IRS they earn more than fifty-bucks a week. Pros.

            Ro, short for Rhonda, tells stories.

     “When I tell you that old man was in my pants, I mean it.  The sonofabitch chased me around that room every single goddamn day . . . Get this,” she says, “the old shit rents me this room for two-fifty a month, tryin’ to be all sweet an all. So, I ain’t got no place to go and I says yeah, sure. I move my stuff in and it’s, like, real close to where I work so I ain’t got no problem living there. And so I’m there about a month and the Tiffany Lounge burns down – yeah, that’s the one.” She catches me pointing Southward with the tip of my smoke. 

“And so I’m living in this dump and I ain’t got no job.  So I tell this guy that I ain’t got no money, and he says to me, ‘no problem.’ I’m like, cool, maybe he ain’t such an old shit after all. ‘You can stay for nothing,’ he says,  ‘so long as I can use your phone.’ No problem, I say, I can handle that.”

     She coughs. Lights another menthol.  Applies more red to her lips. It’s slow. We have time to talk before the dinner rush. Jeanie says, “Sugar, you never let a man in your business.”

     “Anyway,” Ro says, “he starts coming up to my room and talking on the phone to some guy down in AC. Then he calls Vegas and who knows where the fuck else. And each time he’s asking for cash—telling everyone that he’s broke an’ all. Then, y’know, when he gets off the phone he starts drinking, and looking around in my ‘fridgerator for another beer. And he drinks like a goddamn fish. And then he just ends up sleeping on my fucking floor. Asshole. This was happening every night. Finally I told him to go back to his own place because I wanted to watch TV, or something—anything to get him outta the room. That’s when it starts. ‘I let you stay here for nothin’, bitch, and yer kickin’ me out? Fuck you!’ That’s what he tells me. ‘Fuck you.’” She extends her arm and pops out her middle finger.

     I watch her and I wait. The smoke from our cigarettes swirls around us. Smog over Atco, NJ.  I can’t see anything but us.

     “And then. Oh man. Git this. One night he comes up to me, all messed up, and starts putting his hands in my fuckin’ crotch. I’m like, get the fuck outta here. Ain’t no old man gonna get a hold of my pussy ‘n shit. And with that I packed up and moved out.” She exhales. The host calls her to pick up table 32.  “You gotta survive, y’know. You gotta.”

Three of us pull a swing. We rage through the dinner hour like flame throwers. Passing off hot plates of lit and smoking fajitas, steamed vegetables, lobster tails, baked potatoes, with dollops of sour cream and chives until our eyeliners bleed. The kitchen is 112 degrees. The fans turn slowly. We bitch at the cooks for fucking up orders. They bitch at us for not giving them our asses to grab. “Your ass makes the night move faster” Leon says, with a smile, a giant of a black man whose sweat beads drip from his forehead and christens every dish on it’s way out. Jeanie picks up two more stations at last call.  “Sugar,” she says, passing me with a tray of martinis, “I’m gonna meet the man of my dreams tonight. I can feel it in my skin.” But I know that’s not gonna happen. Not here. Not tonight. Not that skin. Only regulars left now. Only old martini drinkers and make-up wearers, and trash-talkers and pipe watchers. It’s too late.

* * *

I take the dirt path through the weeds, through the backyards, through the stars to get home. It’s two in the morning. Moving. Looking up. Pegasus is high above a half moon. Andromeda falls northeast to Perseus then to Taurus in the East. Everything’s connected.  I close my eyes, pack my bags and leave. I follow the course of Orion only to end up back here the next night. I open my eyes and keep walking. The flat earth rolls me homeward through the stars. To the pipes. Not a very long walk to lie under the flush of a toilet. Not long enough to know it’s time to go.

Word Riot Press

Word Riot Press

Times Square

Listening to “Jealous of the Moon,” by Nickel Creek. One of George’s favorite songs. I am alone in a hotel in Times Square. You’ve come too far to turn around now.  It’s snowing down there, back home. Little bit here too, but I must be too close to the water for the heavy stuff. George was loading wood onto his wheelbarrow to build a fire when I called him. It made me feel so darn far away. So far from home. Lonely. This song seems to put even more space between me and the world. You’re back where you started from.

I’m debating on whether or not to go down in the lobby and deal with millions of people. I feel claustrophobic. Over-stimulated. When I look out the window here all I see are a gazillion dots. Car dots. People dots. Window dots. Dots inside a million dot windows. Snowflake dots. Blinking pixel dots. Light bulb dots. M&M dots. Coca Cola dots.  I have to close the curtain to block out the dots.

And I hear the hum buzz of the generators and beep honk of the traffic below. You drag your pretty head around- sware you’re gonna drown. There’s nothing you can do.

I tipped the bellhop a crinkled up five dollar bill. He actually unfolded it in front of me, looked at it as if it were a rolled up, dirty napkin and put it in his pocket, in disgust. I was shocked! Welcome to New York.

As I look at all the bright blinking lights down below where all the stars make their bread and butter I am shocked and amazed that there are people in the world that actually enjoy this glitzy crap. Like Tim. He’s going out tonight to jam in some rehearsal hall in Astoria. Out in the cold. Out in this mess. Catching a taxi. Sucked into the abyss of dots. He’s becoming a dot! Oh god. I AM A DOT.

Anyway, I said goodnight to my boys. And to my mother. And Kathy and I decided that we aren’t going anywhere tonight. Despite all Tim’s tips on great bars in the Village. I’m thinking, “like hell.” I’m not leaving this place until the symposium is over. I’m putting on my ugly, girly pajamas. Reading my torn-up copy of  Paint It Black. And holding on to my individuality for dear life. I’m not leaving this room and getting sucked up in all those dots so some paranoid, claustraphobic suburbanite looking out her hotel window can see me down below and say, “fuck that shit.”