Artist Date 58: What It’s Not About

llewyn davisI keep waiting for it to happen.  This movie.  Inside Llewyn Davis.  Artist Date 58.

I am sitting in the Davis Theatre in Lincoln Square.  There are about six other people here besides me.  It’s a Thursday night and the temperature is hovering around 5 degrees.  The streets are noticeably, eerily quiet.

There is a single, double seat tucked into the aisles.  Like a love seat.  I am tempted to sit in it and sprawl out, but I don’t.

There is a preview for a movie about Jesus, one about an escaped convict – wrongly accused, of course – falling in love.  And one for Dallas Buyers Club, which I saw a few months ago.  Artist Date 47. I well up all over again.

And I am waiting.   Not for the feature to actually begin, because it already has.  But the story.  I’m waiting for “it” to happen.

I think maybe “it” is about the cat who runs out of Llewyn’s friend’s apartment.  The one Llewyn carries with him, a guitar in his other hand, until he can return him.  The one he feeds cream to out of a saucer at a café.

I am reminded of silly, sassy cat asses.  And that I miss having a cat.  That maybe I should get one.

“It” is not about cats.  Or just that cat.  Or about carrying around shit that doesn’t belong to you.

I think maybe “it” is about taking a journey.  In this instance, with John Goodman – who looks suspiciously like one of my clients – and his driver.  Like the one in Deconstructing Harry, where Woody Allen takes a road trip with a black prostitute, up to his kid’s college graduation.  Like my many road trips from east to west and back again.  The one where I took photographs of myself at the Mitchell Corn Palace and ate butter pecan ice cream at Wall Drug.  And the one where I learned to shoot a gun in rural Montana.

corn palace

“It” is not about journeys and road trips.

I think maybe “it” is about Llewyn getting Jean, his friend’s girlfriend, pregnant.   About responsibility and taking what isn’t yours.  That “it” is about Llewyn finally arriving in Chicago and meeting the man who might change this musical trajectory.  About dreams and taking chances and storybook endings.

But “it” isn’t.

I keep waiting for “it” to happen.  And “it” never does.

Because waiting for a movie to happen is like waiting for life to happen.  I can spend so much time and energy sitting on expectations – how I think it should look – that I miss all the gorgeous, perfect moments along the way.  The movie moments.  The “it’s.”

Like playing your guitar for your father in an old folk’s home and for a brief moment seeing his eyes register recognition.  That he knows you.   Knows this song.  And then shits himself.

Like when the woman who calls you an asshole like it’s your given name, discloses a single act of kindness and you reject it.  You tell her you love her.  And she doesn’t call you an asshole.

Like when you finally make it to Chicago to see “the man” and he says to show him what you’ve got.  His eyes are soft and the lighting is perfect, streaming through dusty windows on to a dusty floor.  And your pitch is right and you are singing from inside, just like he asked you to.

And he tells you that you’re not front-man material. That he might be able to make it work if you shave your beard into a goatee and stay out of the sun.  But that your best shot is to get back together with your partner.  Because he doesn’t know your partner is dead.  That he jumped off the George Washington Bridge.  And that someone, anyone, singing his harmony sends you into a PTSD-like rage.

Llewyn’s “it’s”

Like picking up the phone and your meditation teacher asking you to sing “Easy to Be Hard” while he rides his bike in Golden Gate Park.

Like connecting with an old acquaintance who has been living your marriage and is now living your divorce – except you didn’t know it, until now.  Who speaks your heart and your story.  Talking to one another and saying over and again, “me too.”

Like sitting in a movie theatre alone.  Because you have chosen to be alone in this moment.  Because you enjoy your own company.

My “it’s.”

Maybe that’s what “it’s” all about.  These moments.  That, and a couch you can sleep on no matter what you have said or done.  A place to call home for a minute or two while you wander around in your boxer shorts eating scrambled eggs.  Friends who love you.  And a cat –something soft to hold onto, something to care about besides yourself.

The rest just fills in the blanks.

Artist Date 47: Holding On To That Bull For 8 Seconds

I drive a 13-year-old Honda Civic Hatch DX.  They don’t make my car anymore.  From time to time I find a note on the windshield, someone offering to buy it.

In the glove box, in the side pockets, and behind the cup holders are stacks of CDs.

I grabbed them, haphazardly, when I left Seattle.  Three Dog Night.  Basia.  Mazzy Star.  Those were my ex’s.  Donna Summer, Stevie Wonder and Torch Song Trilogy are mine.  As is a disco mix my friend DJ Andy T made for me.

basiaI can listen to them over and over again without growing bored.  Singing along.  The familiar words keep me awake while driving long stretches.  Keep me from my thoughts.

And then I hit a wall.  Pulling out disc after disc as I make my way down Lake Shore Drive, looking for something I want to hear.   I come up empty.  No more Bonnie Raitt.  Annie Lenox.  Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  No more Dire Straits.  No more Gipsy Kings.

My destination for this week’s Artist Date – 47 – was easy.  To Laurie’s Planet of Sound on Lincoln Avenue.

I pass by here almost daily.  There is a white board outside with new arrivals written in dry-erase magic marker.  There are t-shirts in the window.  And inside there are records, books and CDs.  I can tell from peeking in, but I’ve never been inside.  Until Friday.  And then, just for a moment.

There is a hipster man-boy at the register.  Big curly hair, plaid button-up shirt and chunky, nerd glasses.  We nod at one another.  I think John Cusack, High Fidelity.

elvis costello

I am holding The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions CD.  $6.99.  I used to have this on cassette.  I remember singing along with Elvis to “Alison,” “Pump it Up,” and “Every Day I Write the Book.”  I remember my high-school crush giving me grief for buying “best of” albums.

My phone rings.  It is a call I have been expecting from a friend and mentor.  I drop the CD back in the bin and walk outside.  I will return later for it.

But I don’t.  During the course of our call, I find out she is moving away.  The stars have aligned and a “not-to-be-missed” opportunity has been presented to her family.  I am the first person she has told.

I am delighted for her.  And I feel the loss inside of me too.  I am acutely aware that our relationship will change.  I am tired of change, I think.  And yet, when things stay the same, I am restless and bored.

We finish our call and I go to Paciugo for gelato.  I order a piccolo cup – toasted coconut, sea-salt caramel, and cinnamon – and eat it walking home.  The sun is shining and the air is cool.  I am wearing gloves.  I tell myself I will go back to Laurie’s later.

But I don’t.

A friend comes over, and later, when I drive her home, she asks if I am looking forward to my Friday night alone.  Sometimes I do.  Especially this time of year, when night comes early and my radiator-heated apartment feels toasty.

I do not feel this way tonight.  I tell her so, bursting into tears.  By the time I pull over to her apartment I am sobbing uncontrollably in her arms.

I am so lonely.  She holds me.

I have been on the verge of tears all week.  This is not entirely unexpected.

Perhaps it’s because my ex-boyfriend – the one I always sort of held out hope for and thought “maybe one day…”– got engaged.

Perhaps it is because my friend and mentor is moving.  Or because I have begun to look for work in earnest, for the first time in 12 years.

Perhaps it is because I chatted online with my ex-husband today and that always kind of throws me off my square.

Or maybe it is because it is the first week in November.  That it’s just that way right now.  I don’t know.  I’m not sure that it matters.

All I know is going home by myself, to myself, is a really bad idea.  I know I won’t cook or write or take a bath.  I am pretty certain I will do something not helpful, like look up old lovers on Facebook.

I don’t feel like going back to Laurie’s either.  I don’t want to hear the chatter in my head.  And I don’t want to talk about it.  There is nothing more to say.  And knowing that is really something of a miracle.

Dallas_Buyers_Club_posterDallas Buyers Club is playing at the Century Theatres.  If I drive fast I can make the 8:30 show.  I make a beeline and arrive with time to spare.

I buy a ticket and claim a seat on the end.  I lay my coat on the seat next to me, joining the one belonging to the man sitting two to my right.  He is also alone.

I think about Tony, my first close friend diagnosed with AIDS.  I remember him cutting my hair in his kitchen and doing me up like a drag queen, full-well knowing I would never wear my hair like that.  But it makes him happy.  I remember smoking pot with him and eating empanadas in Detroit.  I remember that AZT made his mouth taste like metal and put him in a cranky mood.

But mostly, I get lost in the story unfolding in front of me.

I forget that Matthew McConaughey is Matthew McConaughey and not Ron Woodruff – a red-neck, homophobic, drug-addicted Texan diagnosed with AIDS.  I open my heart to this man who lived seven years instead of 30 days.

This man who befriended a card-shark, drag queen named Rayon.  Who smuggled non-FDA approved treatments into the United States for his Dallas Buyers Club.  Who in helping himself, helped others.

I cry watching him hold on to that bull for eight-seconds.  (See the movie.  You’ll understand.)  I cry when the screen goes black and silent white letters report his death.  Even though it isn’t a surprise.

I have gotten caught up in someone else’s story instead of my own.  It is what I had hoped for.

Driving home, I feel just a little bit better.  But I am still holding on by my fingernails.  Like a newly sober alcoholic counting the minutes before bed – congratulating himself and thanking God for making it through another day without drinking.

Holding on to that bull for eight seconds.  Holding on.

Artist Date 46: Why I Am Here

Future Hits Halloween Show at Schubas.
Future Hits Halloween Show at Schubas.

Some Artist Dates are easy alone.  Museums.  Lectures.  Dance performances.  Opera.  Theatre.  Some, like movies, I even prefer that way.

Live music, however, is far more difficult.  Even when the audience is children.  Perhaps even more so.

And yet, this is the set up for Artist Date 46.

I am parked outside of Schubas.  My friend Matt’s band – Future Hits, self-proclaimed Fun (Yet Secretly Educational) Music for Kids, Families and Teachers – is playing this afternoon.  It is a Halloween performance and party for children, hosted in collaboration with Whole Foods, The Kite Collective and Adventure Sandwich.

I stand in awe of how Matt puts himself out there.  Performing.  Recording. Last year, Future Hits cut its first CD, Songs for Learning, funded by KickStarter.  This past summer he spent a month in South America, improving his Spanish.  An ESL teacher for Chicago Public Schools, he requested, and received, a grant that paid for everything.

But right now I am standing in fear.  Rather sitting, in my 13-year-old Honda Civic.  I feel anxious about going inside.  I don’t have children.

I sometimes feel this way walking into synagogue by myself – which I began doing several years ago.

As fresh meat, I was quickly swarmed and warmly greeted.  Peppered with questions.  Top on the list: Do you have children?

“No.”

“Oh…”

Pause.  Uncomfortable silence.  I often feel I have to fill that space.  Say something clever or pithy to put us both at ease.  I am getting better at just letting that dead air “hang.”  Like summer in Charleston.  Heavy.  Still.

I wonder what they are wondering.  If I cannot have children.  If I am childless by choice.  If I am waiting for the perfect sperm to swim into my life.  I am told that this is none of my business.

Mostly, I imagine they wonder what brought me there.  It’s a reasonable enough question.  And the assumption that I have children is equally reasonable.

Many, perhaps most, join a congregation when their children are of school age.  They recognize it as time to do what their parents had done – provide their children with a Jewish education.  Sometimes for no other reason than, “this is what we do.”

Perhaps the second most popular reason for joining is the gift of a complimentary one-year membership, given when the Rabbi or Cantor of that congregation marries a couple.  (I will have to query my Rabbi to see if I am correct in my speculation.)

Gene and Oscar
Gene and Oscar

I walked into synagogue for my own reasons.  Neither recently married nor considering a Jewish education, I am the Jew who converted to Judaism.  It’s a long story.  One that doesn’t fit neatly into conversation over coffee and pastry after services.  But it is mine.  And I am assured that I have a place in the congregation.

Nonetheless, it is often still daunting walking through those sacred doors alone.

It is too at Schubas.  Even after seeing my friend Joe, smoking outside.  He doesn’t have kids either.

I walk in, pay $10, get my hand stamped and say to the bouncer, “Am I the only one here without kids?”  “Nah,” he replies.  Looking in, I’m not so sure.

The lights are dim and a bunch of little people in costumes are making kites and eating granola.  Matt and his band mates are dressed in caveman attire.  Think Flintstones.

Our friend Lily is selling CDs.  Gene is on the floor with his son, Oscar, making a kite. Jenny is helping her son Seth into his costume.

Matt’s mom, Rhonda, is here.  His dad too.  I love Rhonda.  Our conversations meander from fashion to Transcendental Meditation (which we both practice) – seamlessly.  I feel like the universe has conspired for us to meet.  We pick up where we left off last time.

Matt is delighted to see me.  Grateful for the support.  He always is.

I remember the first time I heard him play, at the Beat Kitchen.  I arrived early and was standing on the corner outside.   When he saw me, he dropped to his knees – on the sidewalk – his hands in prayer.  Total gratitude.

This is why I am here – to support my friend.  But I forget, falling into a swirling pit of “me.”  Self-conscious about my childless-ness.  Even though I (mostly) chose not to have any.

And then the music starts and I forget all of that.  I forget myself.   I have seen Matt perform many times, but this my first time hearing Future Hits.  Even though I was a KickStarter supporter, which earned me a button and a CD.

The Kite Parade.
The Kite Parade.

I’m surprised.  The music doesn’t feel like kids music. It is pleasing to my ear.  It’s not sing-song-y like Barney.  Something to be endured.  I am delighted watching Emma go from bass to flute to tambourine.

The kids are invited to dance.  They do, with joyous abandon.  Oblivious to the concept of rhythm.  I would like to shake a tail feather myself…but I’m suddenly self-conscious again.  So I watch instead.  Although I do raise my hand when the band asks if anyone’s birthday is in October.

There is a kite parade for the kids to show off their creations.  More music and a dance contest.  The winner – dressed as a werewolf – leaves with a Halloween-decorated bag of schwag.

And soon after, I leave too.  Holding tightly to the light I see in Oscar’s face.  In Seth’s.  And the lesson they teach me.  Beaming over the simplest things.  Costumes.  Music.  Paper kites.  They do not concern themselves with why they are here.  Just that they are.

Artist Date 37: Before I Was a We: San Francisco Days, San Francisco Nights

I love a Woody Allen movie.  How it is always unmistakably his, from its first moment.  Jazz crackling through a phonograph.  Names in vintage font scrolling across the screen, inviting me in.  Makes me think of Buster Keaton or some other silent-movie great.  Another time.  Dreamy and romantic.

blue jasmineLike San Francisco, where Blue Jasmine takes place – Artist Date 37.

Sitting in the Davis  Theatre, I am home – to this place I lived for 14 years.  To familiar street names like Van Ness and Post.  And the windmill at Ocean Beach.  The sky is a pale, whitish-grey.  Fog.  Wind.  Like it usually is, as opposed to some Hollywood idea of the California coast.

The shots of Marina Green are spot on.  South Park too…although it would have been a long walk there from 305 South Van Ness, where Jasmine is coming from, into the final scene.  A solid half hour or more.  But this is something only a San Franciscan would know.

Like knowing Noe Street is pronounced “No E” and not “No,” as it was incorrectly called on Party of Five, the 90s Fox hit show.

Like knowing the Dirty Harry movies filmed prior to the Loma Prieta earthquake – when the Central Freeway still ran along the Embarcadero.

When I moved to Chicago in 2007, every sentence out of my mouth began with, “In San Francisco…”  It took a long time for me to even consider letting go of my identity as an adopted Californian.  (I grew up outside of Detroit.)

It is one of the things that kept my ex and I together, and that ultimately tore us apart.

We came here united in our assertion that the Bay Area was the only place worth living.  Hubris, in a New York center-of-the-universe sort of way.  We identified as “other,” “different.”  And we were certain that this was a mere sojourn.

But I got schooled.  My eyes opened.  I quit expecting Chicago to be San Francisco (or Oakland, where also lived).  I was able to see all that was right with this place Frank Sinatra called “my kinda town.”  And I fell in love.

We never said it, but with this simple opening up, I broke our unspoken rule.  I “betrayed” us.

I’m not thinking about that today, sitting in the darkened theatre.  Instead, I am thrust back to a time before that, before us.  My single San Francisco.  The place where I became a grown up.  Sort of.

Chinatown.  Teresa would send me here on days when I was blue, with explicit instructions to treat myself to something inexpensive and wonderful.  A silk change purse or lipstick case with a mirror inside.  Embroidered slippers.  Each just a few dollars.

chinatownMarina Green.  Rachel lived nearby on Chestnut Street.  Every Saturday I would walk from my apartment in Haight-Ashbury to her tony neighborhood for brunch and the hope of spotting the former conductor I used to date.

South Park.  The DJ took me to this then-off-the-beaten-path hip, cool patch of green for lunch.  I wanted it to be a date, but it wasn’t.  I knew what he was available for when I invited him to come by my apartment following his shift at the after-hours club.  I thought I could change his mind.  I couldn’t.

He was kind, and we developed one of those painful friendships – the kind where I waited for the day he would look at me and realize I had been there all along… loyal.  And then pick me.  Strangely, we did pick one another from time to time over the years…but never for the long haul.

He spun records at my wedding.  That was his gift to me.  I saw him in San Francisco the last time I was there.  Over noodles, he recalled our unorthodox wedding.  That I was the only bride he knew that danced to the Sex Pistols.  His words fell onto the table with a thud.  Neither my then-husband nor I said a word.

On the drive home, my now-ex asked me for a divorce.

Perhaps I let go of my strong San Francisco attachment because it was “ours.”  Blue Jasmine reminded me of what was mine – alone.

Wednesday night disco at Stud Bar.  Day-long walks through Golden Gate Park.  Burritos the size of my head at Taqueria Cancun.

A reclaiming.

golden gate