Thank you, Al Gore

Tomorrow I visit a new psychiatrist whose office is right around the corner from the apartment.  (In case you’re tuning in for the first time, you should know that my bipolar disorder – first diagnosed in 1994 when I started claiming to those who would listen that I was Jesus come in the flesh a second time and was thereafter hospitalized twice, the second time for 13 days in Georgia Regional, where the average stay was seven – doesn’t do well when nobody is watching.)

012908nazreth.jpgSo I have this new guy, Dr. F——- (to use the obnoxious Dostoevsky habit of writing only first initials of surnames so that you can never remember who committed what crime and you always have to refer to the first page where the author gives a one-sentence description of the seventy main characters)…Dr. F— is doing a 45-minute initial interview with me, hopefully to be followed in the days to come by a series of helpful and low-cost ($30 specialist co-pay, thank you very much Oxford Freedom Plan) appointments during which time Dr. F—– will aid me in taking my health to the next level, which shall surely involve winning the Tour de France while blindfolded and reading Shakespeare (I’ve already done it reading e.e. cummings), or perhaps it will involve simply avoiding these deep, molasses-dark depressions that once every few weeks threaten to keep me from working and cause me to drop into an existential sinkhole.

The Lovely K occasionally reminds me of the other side – the manic side – where once I was quite tempted to ask my previous NY doc, Dr. S—-, whether I could work part-time as his filing clerk.  Where I get these notions, I haven’t the foggiest.  Fortunately, the manic thoughts usually involve the more harmless things in life such as menial labor and routine office supplies and do not tend toward scaling large steel structures over fast-moving bodies of water.

So I am not sure what to expect from Dr. F——.  What I do know is that with my $30 specialist co-pay for instance, and with the power of the World Wide Web that Al Gore so kindly invented for us all, I can surf the Oxford site and find some 47 psychiatrists within ten blocks of West 84th Street.

At the moment, I’m in a punchy mood.  Not manic.  Not heady.  But a little too stressed about a big week at work and a meeting I am chairing that I want to go very, very well.  It is a good punchy, because it is the kind of mood in which I can still enjoy other people – such as a work buddy I had lunch with and especially my wife and children – and it sure as hell beats the other end of the spectrum, when my body yearns for punch, yearns for any emotion besides despair, when my mind tries to interpret its own pain and fails by necessity, as though the back tried to interpret and make sense of lower back pain as opposed to having the mind interpret lower back pain:  the former simply cannot be done.  No, instead, the mind folds in on itself and aches without remedy or hope for remedy, until one morning, or afternoon, or evening, you notice the sun or a cloud or a homeless man standing under some scaffolding shielding himself from the 38-degree January rain – he could be a con-man or he could be a pitiful soul – and you think, “Oh, there’s a world around me.  I better get to it.”

And so you do.

photo:  nazreth



Sunrise isn’t for another 27 minutes – the background to the framed window looking over the courtyard from where I sit in the living room is black and shapeless, void of any detail, emotionless – yet a morning dove calls, which I have not heard before from this apartment.

Is it lost?

Does it have a mate?

It soothes me.

I wait.

And now, moments later, details start appearing on the south-facing wall outside the window.  The sun is rising, still 25 minutes from view but bringing form and meaning to what I see in front of me.

Evening vignette #2

A man – or woman, I really couldn’t tell – dark, toothless and smooth-skinned, boarded the downtown N train at 34th, where I boarded also to go to SoHo to look for a way-too-expensive but oh-so-stylish sofa.

S/he started to sing, and the notes came out smooth and clear, perhaps because of the lack of choppers.  S/he was singing “Silver Bells”:


City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear…

It was four days after Thanksgiving and though the Macy’s decorations had practically wind-whipped me in the face each morning as I enter my office at 36th and Broadway, I listened to this Subway Singer of Questionable Gender and…was happy.  S/he made me happy.  His/her singing made me…happy.

So I dropped all the change that was in my pocket – like 85 cents, big spender – into the bucket as s/he passed me.

“God bless you, God bless you,” was the intonation.  I felt humbled, honored, happy.

And then.


S/he launched into – I kid you not – “If you like my body AND you think I’m sexy…”  Yes, folks, Rod Stewart sung by a toothless subway singer of questionable gender on the heels of … Silver Bells.

I was then not happy.  I looked around to see if anyone noticed that my 85 cents teed up this jukebox hit.

photo:  weirdvis

I go for the preachin’

I was supposed to meet my colleague Sonja at Amy Ruth’s, a restaurant off of Lenox on 116th Street in Harlem and apparently about 50 yards off the #2 or #3 train.  Instead, I took the #1 train, thinking the local would get me there just as well, and got off at 116th and Broadway, bordering Columbia University.

012308missaartje.jpgI called Sonja and she kind of said, “Oh…you didn’t take the #2?”  From the tone of her voice, I knew that this was not an optimal situation.  I told her where I was, knowing that I stood significantly to the west of where I wanted to be, yet what stood between me and the cornbread at Amy Ruth’s was Morningside Park at dark, and west Harlem.

“You can walk it – you’re a man.”

I didn’t realize, at that moment, that in a mere 20 minutes I would be spooning hot “Rev. Earl Johnson’s Harlem Gumbo Shuffle” into my hungry mouth, served by a pleasant, coffee-skinned young woman from the Islands.  I wondered, instead, about the walk through the park and the traverse down Morningside Avenue…4?…5?…blocks…I did not know how far, to Lenox Avenue.  I was feeling very…White, and very…Upper East Side, and very…visibleVery visible.  Like a flaming red zit on an albino’s nose.

I comforted myself thinking about the times I worshiped at Bethelite Community Church on 123rd and Lenox back in ’95 and heard the pastor preach and roll and rumble from the pulpit, and how I was practically the lone white guy in the crowd, and I how I felt more spiritual because I was crossing racial lines and how that made me Oh So Good.  And then reality snapped in as I – garbed in a long, olive, trench coat with a Ralph Lauren blue blazer underneath (could anything be more White…?) and trendy Kenneth Cole shoes and my designer glasses – strode by a group of younger black males, all of them about 7′ 5″ and capable of making the NY Giants’ offensive line whimper, and of course everything I heard someone say alongside me as I walked I internalized and self-referentialized, so when one of them snapped, “Aw, man, that’s fu*#ed up,” I thought he was referring to me trespassing on his street and that I was about to be shown how Justice-For-400-Years-of-Slavery-and-Racial-Inquality-Looks-and-Feels-White-Boy, and not, perhaps, how his buddy’s girlfriend dumped him for another guy, maybe a guy who left the neighborhood and was now working for Ogilvy Mather Advertising and living in Chelsea – that would indeed be fu*#ed up.  But no, I was inescapably paranoid and terminally self-indulgent.  I stared at the sidewalk and kept walking like I was meant to be there, the forward-motion equivalent of a Jack Russell Terrier rolling over on its back and spreading its legs in the face of a growling Rottweiler.

Please, friends:  Sniff, and know that I am good.

photo:  missaartje

A special place

Carter remembers Point O’ Woods and how he used to ask me to pull him and his brother Bennett (Teak wasn’t born yet) in the wagon to the “special place,” as he called it.

The “special place” was the northern tip of the berm that ran along the bay side of the community.  The berm was a wooden retaining wall between the water – about three feet deep at mid-tide and about four feet below the top of the wall – and a sand strip about four feet wide that was bordered by a wood plank riding path.  I say “riding path,” because one can 012008asifthebes.jpgonly walk, ride a bike or pull a wagon along it.  There are no cars or trucks in the community, or on Fire Island, save for emergency, government, and utility/service vehicles.  (Robert Moses had once wanted a highway to go its length, but thankfully this was one of the few projects on which he was defeated.  The poor of New York City were no match for him, but the well-heeled who owned property on Fire Island knew how to fight.)

Carter and Bennett would stand at the L-shaped crux of the berm and throw broken clam shells and rocks into the water.  Even dried dune grass.  They were 2-1/2 and 1, and this was great fun for them for a good 30 minutes.  Pulling them in our family’s aging wagon, which had been painted over multiple times until its paint was more a solid surface than its original wood frame, and had had its wheels fixed by my Uncle Bob because Dad would have him work when he and Aunt Lou-Lou came to visit (a fact illumined for me by our family friend Ted, who holds an enigmatic opinion of my father, now deceased), became somewhat a magical journey for me.  I, the boy who had grown up there in the summers since I was three and had traveled a life journey at one point that seemed headed more for disaster and oblivion now pulling two lively and beautiful human beings who issued in part from my DNA and body.  It was almost other-worldly.  But such are the self-indulgent thoughts of a sentient horse pulling a kid carriage.

That same summer we took the boys there, when Grandaddy and Memaw joined us, and after which Grandaddy said he enjoyed himself so much that he wouldn’t have left had he known we all would not return (for we sold the house that fall), there were fireworks on July 4.  Funded principally by one family and supported by others in the community, it was the first time POW had had them since I was a boy.

We woke up Carter at dark, which of course was late, around 8:30, told him he was going to see fireworks (which he had never seen), and Karen and I strolled him down to the yacht club, Carter sucking his thumb and grasping his blue-and-white striped blanket all the way, eyes wide at the rare occasion despite the relatively late hour for him.  Once settled in a good spot, we waited.

Then, to the west, in the Great South Bay, perhaps 300 yards off the dock, a small boat could be spotted coming toward us, green light on starboard side, red on port.  Color specks against a navy blue backdrop.  Carter’s eyes widened, and he took his thumb from his mouth.

“I see it!” he exclaimed, thinking this was the fireworks. “I see it COMING!!!”

Little did he know.

photo:  asifthebes

animal kingdom

The boys and I ventured down to the “Elephant Playground” at 76th and Riverside. Bit of a disappointment, in that the elephants were not hollow as is one of the hippos at the “Hippo Playground” to the north, where you can climb inside its belly, so I had to be a monster trying to catch them, and make believe the rubber playground surface was hot lava and couldn’t be touched or you’d fry to a crisp.
011908hotblack.jpgThen we ventured north to the aforementioned Hippo Playground and on the way the boys saw a dead, half-eaten squirrel.
So all went well.
photo:  hotblack

Morning vignette #1

The father, obviously amused, scurried across the sidewalk in a half crouch after his four-year-old son, who was hiding behind the open glass door of a corner newsstand at 79th and Broadway.  The man pincered his hands together at the boy, and his eyes poked from his face with a gleam, making him look like a well-dressed lobster in hot pursuit.

Never had a prey been so delighted.