Reading at “Come as You Are,” a night of storytelling at the Charles R. Wood Theater in support of Warren-Washington Association for Mental Health.
In my twenties, I would never have slept with a married man. I’m too moralistic. The granddaughter of a preacher. But now, I don’t consider it a moral failing. it just IS. I see him, despite his marital status. I love him, despite his marital status. I caress him in my bed, despite his marital status.
It’s not the big bad city that changed me. I’m still the goody-two-shoes Wisconsin girl. It’s just getting older. It means the stripping the body and mind clean of what constricts us, the old black and white thinking, and embracing complexity. Don’t overthink it. See the world with an open mind. We are all flawed. Brene Brown tells me to not feel shame. My love for him is not shameful. Yes, our relationship is complicated, like they say on Facebook. But I understand it. I understand that he has kids, and his wife who’s crazy, so he needs more time. What I can give him is patience. I can wait. That’s true love. Like in Shakespeare.
He treats me well, better than any other man. He brings me gifts and tells me I’m beautiful. I so want to meet his kids. Some day. And we will be a family. Or else, we can have our own kids. Yeah, imagine that! What am I talking about? I’m not going to turn into my sister, stuck at home with kids, getting fatter by the day. No kids right now! That time will come. Just enjoy what you have. With no shame. Thank you, Brene Brown.
I bought a steak for tonight. He loves steak. I wish we would skip dinner completely and fall into bed, so I can feel his strong hands grab me from behind. I love when he says my name. I wait for that. He says that I make him feel like a man again. That his wife is aloof and makes him feel that he never makes enough money.
It’s 7:30. He said he would meet me here a half hour ago. But it’s OK. He must be stuck somewhere. I know Tuesday night his daughters have Girl Scouts. I wish he would text and tell me where he is. He needs to be discreet. I understand that. Until he can divorce her, it has to be this way. It’s all good. What can I do? All I can to do now is wait. True love requires patience.
This is a post about writing online. It is written for myself, just to clarify something in my own mind, but I’ll share it with you anyway because if you also write online, maybe you have had similar thoughts.
Yesterday, I posted about the trip I took with Jana to Walt Disney World. I titled it, “Walt Disney World: World of Laughter and Tears.” Clever, huh? Originally, I named it “Walt Disney World: A World of Laughter, a World of Tears,” which better matches the lyrics of “It’s a Small World,” but when I googled the title, I saw it was already taken by TEN OTHER writers!
Still, I liked the post. When I started out writing it, I had three objectives, and I satisfied all of them.
1) Show off some new photos of Walt Disney World since I didn’t feel comfortable posting a million of them on Instagram where I would be mistaken for one of those dreaded Parent Bloggers.
2) Prove to my friend Danny that I could effectively mock the Disney ethos AND kiss Disney’s ass at the same time, just in case I ever want free tickets to some social media event there.
3) Prove to my friend Tanis that yes, I could go away for the weekend with a bright and attractive woman, and not have her break up with me.
Mission Accomplished to all three.
But did I really prove anything? And is this real writing? What type of writer am I? The stakes are so low. It’s almost childish.
Recently, I had bookmarked this article titled “6 Simple Ways to Get More People to Read Your MEDIUM Posts.” (via Medium). I read it yesterday while travelling in the subway. The writer had very strong opinions about online writing.
You have to SELL your ideas in Medium, and the best way you can do that is to make it about people. Don’t say “I did this and that”. SAY, “You can experience this and that.” … why?… Because the viewer wants to learn something FOR himself. Not about you..
Let’s say you really want to tell a personal story about yourself and your horrible experience at a night club.
Don’t say, “I went there, I did this, and this happened, and then this happened…”
Start with something like,
“Don’t make the same mistake I did when you go to a NIGHT CLUB.”
See how that changed everything? ..The prospective? To other people?..
You can ALWAYS make any personal story about others if you told them what they can learn from the experience and how they can take caution so they don’t end up doing the same thing you did.
By the way, It could be a HAPPY story too.
But don’t write, “I went to Disneyland and did this and this and that, and it was amazing.”
No, you should start with something like,
“Here’s how YOU can maximize your trip to Disneyland with these simple (but essential) tricks.
I looked back over my last post. Immediately I notice that I failed to even write the traditional “I went to Disneyland and did this and this and that, and it was amazing” post. My post is a slight of hand, nonsense to fill the space until I have enough nerve to say publicly that I had a nice time with Jana.
Now, let’s imagine I come home from Walt Disney World, but with a different perspective, one of professional writing. The first question I would ask myself if “Now that I’m home from my trip with Jana, how can I best use my writing and/or photography skills to make at least a measly $100 by sharing something about my experience?” I know. $100. But better than nothing, right?
Now to make some money out of this, I would need to pitch some story idea to an outside website or publication. Which one? And what is the pitch?
Of course, the story is already there, hidden in the middle of the post, when I write this sentence —
“Can romance be found at a Disney theme park, a location crowded with crying children, stressed out parents, and senior citizens aggressively driving their rent-a-scooters like the extras in a Mad Max film?”
That’s it. That’s the story. Everything else is the piece is irrelevant to a reader looking for content. This becomes a post about me using my experience to HELP OTHER PEOPLE decide if they should go with their girlfriend to Walt Disney World. That is a successful pitch for a travel or dating site, no?
Now is the bigger question. Do I want to help others to “maximize the romance of going to Walt Disney World?” Do I want to write this post? Not really.
But that’s another problem.
It started out innocently. A message on Twitter. A meeting in Central Park. Lunch at a kosher restaurant on 38th Street. I had never expected to see my brother, Avram, again. When he left the Yeshiva and moved to California, he was considered dead, and my older brother, Shimon, prohibited me from having any contact. Now Avram was married and back in town, living in Long Island with his wife and two children.
The first time I saw him in ten years was on a bench near the Great Lawn. He had suggested it as common meeting area, away from our different worlds. I was shocked to see my older brother without his scholarly beard, wearing a shirt that read “LA Dodgers.” It was as if I had never met him. He said that after many years of “hating religion,” as he put it, he was now attending a reform synagogue in Forest Hills. He wanted to reconnect with his family.
“You might as well go to a Catholic Church,” I said. “The reform Jews know nothing. They serve bagels and pork on Shabbat.”
“Well, it’s not that bad. No pork. But they do serve lobster at kid’s bar mitzvahs.”
I frowned, and Avram poked me, saying that he was joking. Avram always had a strange sense of humor.
“And you, Nahum,” he wondered. “Why are you not married yet?”
That was a touchy subject. The whole Rifka incident and the sad ending to their courtship.
“God will bring the One to me.” I said.
“God does nothing, unless you make it so.”
Avram was trying to egg me on, but he wasn’t saying anything so controversial that the Rabbis hadn’t questioned themselves.
“Baruch Hashem,” I said..
Avram suggested that I spent this Shabbat in Long Island, so I could meet his wife and kids, but I told him it was impossible.
“I’ll meet you anyway on Friday.” he said. “Outside the Yeshiva. In case you change your mind.”
I said that I wouldn’t.
During the week, my heart softened. The Torah reading that week spoke of family, of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Was not Avram, despite his wrong path, still my brother?
On Friday afternoon, I approached the Yeshiva, and saw Avram waiting for me. He was smiling, confident of my choice to join him for the weekend. A few feet away, with his arms crossed, was my older brother, Shimon, silent and as stiff as Lot’s wife, waiting to argue against it.
“Not here, Steven.”
“Will I see you later?”
“Not here. People are looking. Let’s talk inside.”
“I don’t want to go inside. I don’t care if the whole world knows.”
“Oh no? And what about Lisa?”
“Let Lisa find out. Where’s the security camera? Let her see us on our TV at home! Let her know everything.”
“You WANT Lisa to find out this way, don’t you, so you don’t have to tell her? Why don’t you be a man and TELL her to her face rather than trying to be caught on Fifth Avenue?”
“Soon. I promise. Soon, I’ll tell her. I’m being serious here. By January. By January, I’ll file for divorce.”
“Then let’s discuss this matter again in January.”
“No. Don’t go. I can’t let you go. I need you. My body yearns for you all day.”
“Get a divorce.”
“I know. I know. It’s just, It’s complicated. I know it’s a cliche. But it really is complicated.”
“You’re not going to leave Lisa and the kids.”
” I will. I promise. I just want to do it the right way, with everyone happy. Because I’m a good man.”
“If you were a good man you wouldn’t be fucking me every Tuesday night at the Hyatt.”
” I am a good man. I’m a kind, moral person who wants to do the right thing. My marriage has been dead for years.”
“So leave it already.”
“Beth, you’ve never been married. When you’re married for 15 years, you’re connected in so many stupid ways. It’s like a web that needs to be untangled. But I promise, at the end, everyone will be happy – me, you, Lisa, and the kids. We’ll all be happy because happiness is the most important thing in life. Right? I make you happy. I know I do. I see it in your face. I see it in your eyes right now. I see it in your blushing. I’m a good man. A good man who wants to make things right. A good man who has fallen for the most amazing and beautiful woman in the New York City. You do see me as a good man, right?”
“Will you meet me at the Hyatt tonight?”
The man sitting next to me on the F train was fidgeting with his iPhone, nervous sweat on his face.
“Are you OK?” I asked.
I don’t usually talk to strangers in the subway, but this man caught my attention. Well-dressed with shiny shoes, he had a charisma that built trust, like a Great Gatsby of the 21st Century.
“Read this,” he said, and pushed his iPhone into my hand.
It was a personal email to a woman friend of his, a girlfriend.
“My dearest Emily,” it started.
“I’m not sure I should be reading this,” I said.
“Please,” he replied, touching my shoulder. “Read this. For me.”
I understood his need for sharing, even with a complete stranger. Matters of the heart can consume the strongest warrior, bringing him to his knees, begging for mercy. This moment of intimacy closed the deal. I started reading the email again, drawn into the world of this mysterious stranger.
“My dearest Emily, our night together last week transported me to places I never knew. As we made love, your breasts against my chest, our mouths devouring the other, my manhood thrusting into your heavenly tunnel, a mixture of pleasure and pain that only the Gods of Olympus had ever attained, I knew you were the answers to all my prayers. Ever since the death of my wife three years ago, I saw a future of loneliness and despair, but now I know True Love. God has blessed us with tears of happiness. Before we met each other, we lived on dry land, uninhabitable. Now we have received the rain to grow our bounty, to make our petals open to the sun and our flowers bloom. I cannot go another day without your body next to mine, your whispers in my ear. Let’s get married! Meet me at the Fulton Street Station tonight at 8:00PM and we will toast our future together. I pray to God that your answer is YES.” Your one and only, Michael.”
I lowered the iPhone, not sure what to think. Sure, it was melodramatic and as clichéd as a pulp novel, but who can think clearly when love has engorged the heart and groin? During passion, a man’s blood cells rush from his brain as fast as commuters leaving midtown at rush hour. Back when I was an English major in college, I distrusted the famous poets who wrote well-constructed love poems. No one experiencing passion can convey it with cohesive sentences and grammar. Here on the F train, I found a man who was truly stung by Cupid’s burning arrow.
“What did you think?” he asked, seeing that I had finished reading the email.
“I thought it was powerful,” I said. “You make your point very forcefully.”
My new friend was sobbing. Now I touched his shoulder as a sign of camaraderie.
“Don’t cry,” I told him, consoling him like a brother. “I think a woman will eat this up. I guarantee that Emily will say yes. I’m sure she’s there waiting for you at the subway station right now.”
“Yes, but what about Melissa and Anna?”
“Who are Melissa and Anna?”
“They are the other two women I had sex with last week, and accidentally cc:-ed the same message.”
It’s a decent gig playing guitar on Rector Street. Although the Wall Street guys downtown are born assholes, programmed to crush their competition, they tip well, especially when the NASDAQ is up. Music is universal, no matter your income. During two years of standing on this corner, music has covered my rent and helped me pay back some debt I incurred at Julliard. The street has also been good for my soul. The constant chaos of lower Manhattan has softened the pain of losing Gina’s soft skin next to another man at night. A year later, there was still a hole in my heart. I had loved her more than all the music in the world.
The market fell a hundred points today, so I started to pack it up early, at 6PM.
“Don’t leave yet,” he said, approaching me from around the corner. He was one of my regulars. I nicknamed him “GQ” because he was always dressed in an imported Italian suit, pressed shirt, and fine leather shoes. His eyes that were the color of thousand dollar bills.
“Play it for me,” he said to me. “Play me the song.”
“I’m already packing up,” I replied, not wanting to go through this game again.
“Play it for me. Like only you can.”
“I don’t think it is a good idea to…”
GQ opened his wallet, drew out several hundred bills, and shoved it into my hands. My body was repulsed, wanting to return it, but my mind reminded me of my financial need.
I grabbed my guitar and strummed the opening chords to Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”
“Oh, her eyes, her eyes make the stars look like they’re not shining
Her hair, her hair falls perfectly without her trying
She’s so beautiful
And I tell her everyday.”
As I sang the song, I thought about GQ’s cruelty. “Just the Way You Are,” was OUR song. It was playing on the radio on the night I met Gina. And he knew that. Winning Gina wasn’t enough for him. He would pay me to sing to the victor, the ultimate humiliation, because on Wall Street, you are programmed to crush your competition.
“Help me to the window,” said the old man to his aide. “I want to show you something.”
The old man put his face to the window, like a kid looking into a candy store.
“You see those two buildings on Fifth Avenue. I own them. I own forty-seven properties in Manhattan, twenty properties in Brooklyn, and twelve properties in Queens. I practically own the city.”
“Your legacy is clear, sir. We will remember you as one of the greatest men the city has ever produced.”
The old man laughed.
“What do you know about Boss Tweed?”
“He ran the city in the late nineteenth century. Today, he is nothing more than an obscure answer on Jeopardy. No one will remember me.”
The crowd below had gathered in strength. This morning, even the scared New York Times had weakly endorsed the rabble-rousers of the Occupy Real Estate Movement. The angry mob marched down Fifth Avenue with their signs and banners and angry voices calling for an end to all private property. Ground Zero was the old man’s apartment tower, the third largest building in the city, where apartments started at $20 million dollars. Last week, the old man’s organization installed bulletproof windows in his penthouse, in case one of the armed protesters hijacked a helicopter.
“Where are you from?” the old man asked his aide. “For all the time you’ve been here, I’ve never asked you about your family.”
“I’m from Staten Island, sir.”
“I was born in the Bronx. Morris Avenue. It was a nice place back then. We used to play stickball in the street. I kissed my first girl on Morris Avenue. Mary Lapazza was her name. Of course, everyone I know from that time is dead by now. Including Mary Lapazza. “I’m going to make it big for you, Mary,” I once told her after she decided to go to the prom at Andrew Jackson High School prom with Arnie Weinstein instead of me. “I’m going to make it big, and then you’ll come calling on me!””
The old man jerked unsteady on his cane.
“Would you like to sit down, sir?” asked the aide.
“No. I’d like you to go buy whatever property is now on 145 Morris Street in the Bronx. I don’t care how much it costs. I want you to buy it today. And then when you buy it for me, I want you to drive me over there, because for the rest of my life, that is where I am going to live. And die.”
The hardest job in this motherhood gig is watching your son in pain, and knowing that only time will heal, not your motherly touch.
Brett was a boy on the cusp of being a man, and hugs from his mother were verboten. He had a hard year – problems in school, bad grades, bullying, his own romantic heartbreak, and, of course, my divorce with his father, which hit our family like a hurricane wave.
“Let’s go to Coney Island,” I said, trying to be cheery. “My grandmother used to take me there very summer. We can go to Nathan’s and have hot dogs.”
“I’m a vegetarian now,” he said.
“Right. I forgot. But who knows, maybe they now have Nathan’s veggie dogs.”
“I really doubt it.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We took the F train anyway, down to Stillwell Avenue, the last stop. The beach was empty. The Cyclone and Wonder Wheel still. The season had yet to begin.
We walked as far as the ocean, and my boy-man moped around the gray wet rocks at water’s edge. The rocks sprouted green colored moss like Chia pets.
I looked at Brett with a woman’s wonder. He was once a baby that grew inside my body. How could any mother be an atheist? She had witnessed a miracle.
My divorce had arrived suddenly, a winter break surprise. Andrew sat me down at our favorite Italian restaurant in Chelsea, and over veal marsala, told me that was he seeing another women, from our synagogue of all places.
“I’m not in love with you anymore,” he said. “I mean I love you as a person. As someone who was my wife. Who gave me a child. But not romantically anymore. You know how it’s been. We hardly touch each other. And I need touching.”
Don’t we all. Don’t we all.
My sister suggested I join Tinder, but I have not time for that. I am a mother first. And Brett needs me now.
“Brett, come here,” I said. “I want to give you a hug.”
“I’m fine, Mom. Leave me alone,” he said as he climbed to the top of the Coney Island rocks, as if he was effortlessly shedding his boyhood forever.
“Be careful with the wheelchair,” said Ruthie.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years. I know what I’m doing.” said Beth as she wheeled her older sister through the tiny kitchen and into the dinette, avoiding the tear in the faded yellow linoleum.
For breakfast, Beth made Ruthie scrambled eggs and an English muffin. Same as usual.
“After breakfast, I’ll go pick up your meds from Walgreen’s,” said Beth.
“Have you said hello to the new neighbors yet?” asked Ruthie.
“Why would I do that? They have no interest in us.”
“Make them some brownies. Be neighborly. After all, we live in the same apartment building.”
“Do we?” asked Beth, sarcasm cracking in her voice. “We don’t even take the same elevator!”
Last year, half of the building went co-op, and a separate entrance and elevator were installed for the new tenants. The McGovern sisters were listed as rent-controlled, still using the decrepit elevator where the button for the seventh floor was perpetually popped-out upside down.
“Buy a brownie mix at the supermarket and make them some brownies. It’s the neighborly thing to do. Besides, you don’t have a real job. What do you do anyway?”
“Take care of you,” Beth mumbled to herself and headed for the front door. It was dark in the apartment because the rent controlled apartments faced the blank side wall of the bank next-door.
Outside, the Brooklyn sun was shining brightly and Beth had to shield her eyes, like a vampire who just left the darkness of an enclosed coffin. As she made her way towards Walgreen’s and the supermarket, she passed the two new neighbors, a young couple in love, carrying a shopping bag from Whole Foods. They paid two million dollars to live in the building, which gave them the privilege of having a doorman and riding the silver elevator. They were God’s children with lives as glowing as the stars.
The couple walked past Beth as if she was invisible. Later that day, Beth made them brownies, which they never ate because of the gluten.