Finish Lines: Double Toil, Trouble, Entendre

Cute Cat’s Curls

Where to start, where to start?

It hasn’t been that long since I blogged, but it’s been a while since I deposited the kind of long, rambling essay that I feel inclined to deposit right now. Consider yourself warned.

The universe is encouraging me to do so. For one thing, I hiked all the way into the West Village to write the thank-yous I so desperately need—and want!—to write, only to discover I’d remembered everything but the beautiful notecards I’d purchased for this purpose. It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here at Oslo West, with my long-lost friend, barista Cat, who has new curls—or maybe curls she just let off the leash. Either way, they’re fetching.

So far it’s been that kind of year: everything off the leash. Exhibit A: our democracy. Correction: Our former democracy.

Anyway, all of the West Village is fetching, sometimes I forget. Once upon a time I lived here with the Architect, and as much as it’s changed it’s also the same: the oddest mix of brittle and cozy, bohemian and haughty.

Not naughty anymore, though.

Also I’d forgotten what it’s like to write without an agenda or a looming sense of deadline. Ever since early December, when my back went on the mend, I’ve been double-double toil and trouble. Determined to complete a secret ghost-writing project as well as my book by my birthday. Which falls on the last day of Capricorn season, naturally.

If you’re into astrology, my January 19 birthday is at least mildly funny. Worky, saturnine Cappie cusping on floating-above-the-human-condition Aquarius, that’s me. Sea goat at your service.

The good news—the shocking news, as far as I’m concerned—is that I did hit all my deadlines. Finished the ghost project, finished the script for our PBS Arts movie review show, finished a film lecture to deliver at film clubs around the tri-state area, and, yes yes, finished draft 1 of my book. I know I already announced it in my birthday post, but it bears repeating, if only because some part of me is still absorbing this fact:

I, Lisa Rosman, have written a book.

It is not revised. It is not published. It is not even agented. (I fired two agents along the way, or maybe they fired me.) But there are tens of thousands of words that belong under the heading of—

Well, I’m not going to announce the title of this bildungsRosman until I nail a publisher, but suffice it to say—I did it, I did it, I did it!

And now, after February 9’s full moon shines upon us (along with the Oscars), I will begin the joyous editing process. I’m not kidding about the joy. I have loved editing since I was a kid. It’s like putting a messy room to order or completing a crossword puzzle, this massaging words and stories and ideas into their proper place.

What was harrowing was funneling them out of my memory, intuition, trauma brain.

I did it, though. And lordy me, my subconscious, unconscious, and regular old conscious erected roadblocks galore as I struggled to cross finish lines.

The biggest lesson I learned is one I’m choosing to share here. Which is that no matter what obstacles I erect, I can’t be stopped unless I stopped trying.

So I may as well stop trying to stop.

It’s a great lesson, and once I’ve come to believe is true for everybody.

Take my traffic court travails. Some may remember my speeding ticket—you know, Grace doing her best impression of the Exorcist, a singularly humorectimized state trooper, and me driving, ho hum, 80 in a 55 mph zone.

Well, after lots of epistolary hemming and hawing, I finally procured a court date and though January 7 seemed like the very-distant future back in August, it rolled up alarmingly fast—just like I cannot believe a month has already passed since that date. Or that a week has passed since I began this post.

Fourth dimension rearing its head once again.

I had a lot to lose in this court appearance and was fear-struck because I do not trust institutions. From Apple to the US Postal Service, I consider them all evil empires-—which, when I think about it, is probably the most working-class thing about me. I grew up watching Medicaid, the IRS, even Sears Roebuck screw over my poverty-level extended family, and will never forgot my roaring sense of futility in the face of this larceny. But my personal attitude has always been that as long as I can talk to a human within the monopoly, I can “get over.” You know, like Obi One in the first Star Wars whisking his people past an evil empire border*:

Obi One (waving at R2D2 and C3P0 while Luke looks on, as awed and dopy as ever): These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.
Stormtrooper (dazed) These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.

The night before traffic court, I talked to every lawyer I know as well as all my repeat-offender friends about how to navigate the upstate system. “Pray the cop doesn’t show,” was the most common tip though it, I’m sorry, even to this practical magician it isn’t especially practical. As usual, my co-Cappie friend A offered the soundest strategy: “Speak clearly, be polite, and totally honest.” My shrink’s advice was also characteristically commonsensical: “Dress and behave neutrally. No fur hats, no bright lipstick, not even the big Lisa smile.”

Got it! Don’t be me.

So the night before, I filled my gas tank, set out the proper documents, and laid out my most normcore clothes-—a putrid grey-green sweater I knew I was keeping around for a reason and a long, super-blah tan skirt. (Both have since been dumped at the thrift store.) I woke in time to leave three hours for my two-hour drive, politely asked the highest spirit of the storm er state trooper to skip the court date, and went outside to Minerva, my super mini-car.

But her engine wouldn’t turn over. Which is when I realized I’d left on the interior lights and run down the battery. “It’s okay,” I told my freaking-out inner child. “This is why we have Triple A and left so much extra time.” But when I called the roadside assistance company they said the wait would be at least two hours. I tried my droid trick but the customer service rep laughed. “Baby, there’s no working around a NYC rush hour.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

So I ran into the coffee shop next door to see if proprieter Chicco could give me a jump. He took one look at my tear-streaked face and sighed. “Piccione,” he said. “I don’t have cables.” And with that, he tossed me his car keys. Man’s man that he is, he barely withstood my massive grateful hug.

I’ve always been a tiny car driver and have so rarely driven automatics that there was a moment upon climbing into his enormous SUV that I wondered if I should just eat the speeding ticket. Then I pictured my skyrocketing car insurance rates if I also ate the points on my license—80 in a freaking 55 mph zone!—and sighed even deeper than Chicco had. Because if I didn’t show up in court that day—if I didn’t win—I might not be able to afford my car. And there was no way I was going back to a car-free existence. As socially and environmentally irresponsible as keeping a car in the city may be, it ensures my freedom.

And for me, freedom is as essential as oxygen and love.

So I ovaried it up, figured out how to turn on Chicco’s behemoth (these new cars start with BUTTONS; how literal-clitoral!) and steered into NYC traffic. All was going okay until I hit super-hilly terrain about 45 minutes north the city. Then I heard a creak and a screech and, oy gavolt, sirens.

It couldn’t be me. I was driving the speed limit, solid citizen style. But wouldn’t you know a trooper started bellowing through a bullhorn: MA’AM PULL OVER MA’AM MA’AM PULL OVER.

No woman ever likes said moniker, but that ma’am was me.

The cop strode up and motioned for me to roll down my window. “Do you realize that baggage is improperly attached to the roof of your car?”

I craned my head out of the car to see what he was talking about. Huge sheets of metal were attached to the SUV roof by, dear god, bungee chords.

Holy fuck.

I burst into tears and, after tuning into this dense but seemingly decent young man, decided to follow A’s eminently smart advice. I told him that I was rushing to traffic court, my own car had died so I’d borrowed a neighbor’s car to plead the ticket which had happened when my cat had been convulsively vomiting and oh my goddess I had not even noticed the lumber until he had just pulled me over.

The trooper studied me and then motioned to his partner, impervious in the idling car, to help him reattach the chords to the metal sheets. “Technically we should be ticketing you,” the first man said. “But a ticket to plead a ticket is rough.”

I wanted to hug him but felt sure it would get me arrested so settled with thanking them both profusely until they backed away from the scene of the non-crime. Then I climbed back in the boat and gingerly-gingerly drove over the remaining mountains until arriving at the Fishkill justice building.

At the courthouse I was greeted with an immense line of others wielding tickets and grim expressions. “A new rule was just passed,” explained the guy standing in front of me–slight, jet-black hair, sharp eyes, monstrously bad teeth. “Now the cops don’t have to come. You just talk to the prosecutor. If you insist on the cop, they’ll reschedule your trial, but’ll be tough on you.

I sighed. There went my first prayer. Then I eyed him more closely. How did he know all this? I scanned him and saw a younger self, being chased by cops, thrown in jail, losing his license. I saw him living near abandoned factories and water. I saw people in his family speaking Portuguese.

“Are you from New Bedford?” I asked and his jaw dropped. Mine would have too—I’m not always that psychic—but experience has taught me that desperation boosts my ability to read people.

“Why?” he asked. “I just had a feeling,” I said. “I’m a Masshole, too.”

He smiled warily. I didn’t tell him I also knew he was a Sagittarius; he was already freaked. But I’d broken the barrier enough to ask more questions.

“What do I need to know about how to get the ticket dropped?”

He grinned wickedly, and explained that he’d been to traffic court in this town five times over the last four months—that he’d had his license suspended ten years before for DUIs and driving with a suspended license, and that now that he was trying to join a union, he needed a working license so was working through the charges leveled against him, one case at a time.

“So what do I do?” I asked.

“It depends on what you did,” he said. I told him my whole story, including the fact that I’d had a perfect driving record until now.

“Look, in these small towns all they want is to make cash and know you’re sorry. Tell him you know it was no excuse what happened with the cat, but that you’re a middle-aged writer”–he looked at me under lowered lashes, so wicked–“and that you can’t afford points on your license. Tell him if he’ll demote it to a parking ticket, you’ll pay the whole fee today.”

“That’ll work?” I said incredulously.

“You’re not the only one who knows things,” he said and his smile, if possible, grew even more wicked. Wicked wicked. It was a shame he’d done so much meth.

And, oh boy, his advice worked like a chahm. The prosecutor literally sighed with relief when I offered my solution, and as I sailed out of the courthouse I high-fived my Portuguese-American meth-head bud. “Thanks, Saggie,” I said.

He didn’t pretend to look surprised.

But I was only a mile from the courthouse when the metal sheeting flew off the SUV roof. And wouldn’t you know I was at a traffic light in front of a local police house.

I pulled to the side of the road, hoping against hope no cops would notice, and sprinted onto the road to try to heave the sheeting—even heavier than it looked—out of the way of oncoming cars lest it cause an accident. It was a miracle no one had been hurt already.

But sure enough, the megaphone began again. MA’AM MA’AM STEP OUT OF THE ROAD MA’AM.

And then the cop wielding the megaphone—what an unrakish accessory!—held up oncoming traffic as two others toted the materials out of the street. I quickly tuned in to Mr. Megaphone and saw confusion, not malevolence. So, once again, I repeated the entire story, including the fact that my ticket had just been dropped and that five state troopers had already helped me.

Untitled, Basquiat.

The other guys simply stared but Mr. Megaphone started laughing. “This is such a fucked-up story I believe it,” he said, and the rest of us joined him in laughing–me through tears, what a sight. “The thing is, we can’t let you drive off with it like this and you can’t leave it here or else we’ll have to ticket you for industrial waste.

I felt like crying again. I couldn’t leave the materials anyway because they wasn’t mine to leave, and I had no idea how much they had cost Chiccho, who certainly had forgotten they were tied to his roof when he’d lent me his wheels out of the goodness of his heart. No doubt he’d been ferrying them to one of his other restaurants, all within a city mile of each other.

What the fuck was I going to do?

Then a fourth guy drove up, one wearing an orange hunting vest and, no joke, a tool belt. “I saw what happened,” he said. “Can I help?”

And wouldn’t you know that these four men spent the next 30 minutes tying up the sheeting with sturdier ropes he provided. “It’s not perfect,” Megaphone finally concluded. “This shouldn’t be on a car at all, but if you’re careful you should be okay. Just drive slowly…”

I braced myself for the “ma’am.”

“Doll.” Ah, I was in now. They were picking up my verbiage.

And so I made my way back down to the city, cars behind me honking furiously on the two-lane Taconic as I puttered at 40 mph, every nerve and muscle tensed, fingers bleeding from cuticle-gnawing. Dimly I was aware my initial concern—that I’d lose my car—had been eclipsed by a more immediate and crippling fear that I was going to destroy my friend’s possessions, or, worse, kill someone else if the former went flying. I didn’t have the cashola to just eat the costs if I dumped the siding along the way.

Money mishegos yet again.

All would have been fine had it not been for a criminally irresponsible driver who, with a school bus full of children, cut in front of me at the top of Queens so abruptly that I had to brake abruptly. At which point I heard a creak and then a screech and then the sheeting once again begin to slide—

And so I pulled onto the side of the road though there was absolutely no shoulder and yep there it was once again: lights flashing, sirens sounding, and the dreaded


Because of course I was lamely trying to re-rope the lumber back onto the car roof.

This time, if you can believe them apples, the official was even younger. But he also was a NYC cop, which was pretty much the first time in my life that I was relieved to see one. Soo much better than a state trooper, anyway. When I stepped inside of him, I found only a well-humored exasperation.

So I simply surrendered to my exhaustion and stress and, yes, cried once again. Eventually I managed to explain what had transpired, after which the cop and his partner attempted to reattach the sheeting.

“What the fuck does the guy who owns this car do?” he said.

“He runs a coffee shop.”

“I’d like to try that coffee,” he said, gritting his teeth as he climbed onto the roof. I didn’t have the energy to defend my very kind, very well-intentioned friend. In fact, I barely had the energy to steer his boat—which now felt like the entire Battlestar Galleca—back to my neighborhood. The cop must have discerned that, because, no joke, he gave me a police escort all the way through the BQE to my exit.

Upon pulling back into the neighborhood, I threw the keys at Chicco and ran upstairs to sleep for 16 hours.

When I woke, I was still exhausted. And why wouldn’t I be? I’d managed to have been pulled over by three sets of cops in one day. More than that, I’d talked myself out of four tickets. That was a whole lot of these are not the droids you’re looking for. Also a whole lot of white males, most of whom were wielding guns.

And all of whom were incredibly humane.

Later that day, I told the story to JOJ, who said: “Imagine if you used this ability to better ends.” The comment was a little sharp, but I’ve been contemplating it ever since. Because what would it look like if I channeled my ability to immediately and deeply connect with people not just for immediate survival but for general thrival?** It’s a question I need to tackle if this new year is going to shine the way it deserves.

Full moon coming–in self-possessed, grand-dame, grander-scaled Leo, no less. Let the charm be firm, let the charm be good.
*Oh, the irony is rich!
**Pretend “thrival” is a word. Because it should be.

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy