Archive | Past Matters

Fool on Tap

Don’t Look Now, it’s elementary school Liser

Like many oddbot children, I spent my formative years absolutely convinced I was meant to be a superstar. I considered myself a quadruple threat–writer, actor, dancer, singer.

Dancing was the first category to go. Mind you, it wasn’t by choice. I spent most of first and second grade leaping, twirling, and boogying through grocery aisles, playgrounds, the living room. After school I took ballet and disco, the latter held in the school cafeteria, tables and benches pushed back so we’d have room to really dig into the classics–you know, the funky chicken, the bus stop, the hustle. The hot lunch special heavy in the air–I still associate Donna Summer with sloppy joes–I wore a sparkly tam o’shanter I was convinced wouldn’t be out of place in Studio 54. (Then as now, my imagination was overactive.) Though micro-movements requiring any finesse eluded me, hip-waggling has never been a personal deficiency so I got by.

But when it came to ballet I was the pits. A tall, gangly child clad in dirty pigtails and coveralls, my outsized hands and feet could not be coaxed into first position, let alone fourth and fifth. I kept tripping over myself and the other girls, neat as pins in their perfect leotards and hairbuns. Worse, I kept nervously joking –“position, huh? What’s your position on the gas crisis? How about the Iran hostage situation, badabumpbump.” A daddy’s girl saddled with an unfortunate preciosity, I was like a mini Jerry Lewis rather than a singularly uncoordinated second grader. Continue Reading →

Change the Record, Change Your Life

I woke wanting to listen to Aretha. No big surprise there, though I haven’t been listening to my queen lately; it’s still too painful. What I really wanted to hear was new music by her, but this is no small feat when you’ve been obsessed with a now-deceased singer since you were a child.

It was a desire sparked by seeing Malcolm X at BAM last Saturday. It’d been so swampy that weekend, and R and I had been casting about for something to do that would diffuse the intense awkwardness of feeling like strangers after having been lovers for years and then not speaking for years after that. So it wasn’t just the prospect of seeing the Spike Lee biopic on a big screen that had dragged us three neighborhoods from our own as temperatures climbed into the 100s. We’d had to balance the prospect of sitting in pools of our drying sweat against the promise of a hefty distraction, and the latter had won.

The joint was packed, and not just because of that AC. Everyone in attendance was agog over the choreography and catharsis and craftsmanship and charisma and certitude. This was a 3.5-hour film, yet there was none of that BS chatter and smartphone-checking you find these days at a public screening. In the last 10 minutes, the late, great Ossie Davis delivered his eulogy for Malcolm over a montage of the diaspora of his influence, and all around me people sat silent except for the occasional nose-honking.

Over the credits sailed an Aretha recording I’d never heard before: “Someday We’ll All Be Free.”

Until the last credit R and I sat still. At the beginning of the film he’d reached for my hand and I’d been stiff, like a child afraid to disappoint a needy elder. Always sensitive to rejection, he’d dropped it after a bit and I’d forced myself not to soothe his ruffled feathers by reaching back. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t initiate any physical contact I didn’t desire. He’d done that enough for us both. Continue Reading →

Found and Feral

Rosebud (photo: Jonas Driscoll)

Mercury retrograde being the wily mistress that she is, this photo capsized my computer today as an uninvited screensaver. It’s me at 15, getting my hair done so I could play the wackadoo Essie in a high school production of You Can’t Take It With You. Part of me wonders if the wily boy who played my husband in that show engineered this mischief. Stephen was a kind-eyed bad boy who died far too young.

My mother sewed the rosebuds on that leotard; I loved it so much. But what I notice most–and maybe the real reason for this oddbot magic—is how otherwise-unadorned I seem. Even at that age, I was always “on” in the presence of other people-—big grin, big lipstick, big shtick. Yet there I am, no makeup, no “camera-ready” face, just quietly submitting to an older girl’s ministrations. Even my hair is its natural color. In the eye of an eclipse season that’s blowing up the facades in our relationships, this picture makes me weepy. I’ve always been a feral sort of girl, but there I am, lapping up the mommy love. We’re never too old for mommy love.

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