Clean Laundry

Everybody got to walk that lonesome valley

They got to walk it by themselves

Ain’t nobody here can walk it for them

They got to walk it by themselves

Mississippi John Hurt, and others

I’m laying on the couch trying to find the strength to get up and do something with my life.

Maybe I could start with moving that stack of clean laundry that sits on the armchair, just a foot or two from my head. My father’s white Hanes t-shirts, white socks and pairs of Jockey shorts, folded into a tidy pile.

Part of the problem is – I just don’t know where to put them. My dad doesn’t actually live anywhere at the moment. He’s in a hospital bed in Queens. What’s left of his stuff sits in me and Eric’s garage.

The other part of the problem is – and don’t think I’m weird – I kind of like having my dad’s laundry right here, staring me in the face. There’s something oddly comforting about it. Maybe it reminds me of being a kid, how I used to have the job of putting the laundry away in my parents’ room, which for me meant license to snoop and find out more about them than they’d ever feel comfortable telling me.

Nothing has really changed about my dad since then. I swear he wears the exact same size t-shirts and shorts. Everything is plain cotton, just as it’s always been. The t-shirts are frayed around the neckband. A child of the depression, he has always been careful to not waste. I can’t help thinking some of these shirts might actually be the same ones I put away back in 1975 or 76, before I left home forever.

Nothing has changed and of course everything has changed. I’m the parent now and he’s the child. It happens to us all doesn’t it – if our parents last long enough for that magic switch to flip, gradually, slowly and all at once, all at the same time.

Every day of the last few weeks had been harder than the day before. Trying to find a place that would accept my dad with his agitation and aggressive behavior. All dementia-related, everyone acknowledged, but nothing most Memory Care places really want to deal with.

By the day after the hardest day last week, where my dad was discharged from the ER yet again and only allowed back into his Memory Care facility because we’d arranged the 24/7 services of a home care aide (named “Prince”, a small bright spot in a terrible day) I was waiting to hear what the hospital had done with his clothes and trying to schedule a nursing home assessment. Then I was in the chat for a Gimme Country radio show I’d put together, subbing for Chuck Prophet. Surely my dad would be okay with Prince to look after him? My brother Michael had spent the night, waiting for the ambulance to drop my dad back at the place he is no longer allowed to live after this week. How does it come to this?

I was in the radio show chat when there was a disturbance in my family’s Facebook Messenger thread – dad was heading back to the ER again, this time in the back of a police car. I jumped in my car to drive to Queens. I’d begged them the day before not to discharge him and look he was right back in the same place again. A nurse had told me how oftentimes the elderly with extreme behavioral problems won’t exhibit them in the ER – they are awed, they’re scared. They’re on their best behavior. This was the eleventh time for my dad.

Blame Covid. Blame his wife dying suddenly from it back in December 2020, and quarantining a 93 year old man, and virtual psychiatric visits and masks and just nothing preparing anyone for how things can break down.

I called my friend Amy Allison as I drove to the hospital, knowing she was a social worker. She told me what to say in the ER, so that my dad could get a psychiatric evaluation. I asked my brother to track down the incident report from the police precinct that had been called as a result of my dad’s behavior. I entered the psych ER at 9:30 PM, pleading with a nurse that my father was “dangerous, please believe me he is dangerous to himself and others.” I turned to see my father sitting calmly in a chair, wrapped in a white cotton blanket. “Amy!” he said. “How did you end up in the same place as me?”  He was gentle and not agitated at all. I think the nurse wanted to admit me instead.

They put my dad in a bed. Did all the tests they do. They told me to sit tight and wait to speak to the psych team.

Is there a HIPAA law or unspoken code of honor that forbids me from sharing what I saw in that Queens ER psych unit on an August night 2022? I sat and stood in the general vicinity of my father in his ER hospital bed as the hours went by, the big red digital numerals on the wall switching from 9:38 to 11:22 to 12:35 to – well, you get the idea. I was there until nearly four AM. I was there long enough to go from fear and awe of the health care workers to simply awe. Maybe some black humor too. There were all different colored scrubs to decode – I’m still not sure if any of it meant anything. Grey seemed to confer gravitas, black a general hardness and efficiency. Only one wore white – a classic doctor type circled the proceedings at random times as if he was a ghost from a long ago medical past – maybe it goes without saying he was the only white male who wasn’t wearing a police or FDNY uniform. The workers were every color, from every possible place on earth. They wore forest green, hot pink, chic beige scrubs. The footwear was incredible. Unimaginable technological strides have been made in clogs, crocs and sneakers.

And what of my dad? He needed help and I needed to make sure he got the help he needed. Dementia takes all forms and in my Dad’s case – a very straight, law-abiding man had turned into…Junior Soprano. “How old am I? I’m nine…thousand years old!” he said perkily and I joked around with him to keep from hating him. I joked to keep from crying. When he needed to put on a show, well wasn’t it just like him to charm everyone and act so sweet. I wanted to wring his neck. He was oh so very reasonable on the surface.

Unlike…the chic French woman in the next bed over, with an impeccable manicure, red bob, lavender eyeglass frames, calmly reading a magazine one second and kicking, screaming and fighting so fiercely the next that it took two men and two women to sedate her. Or the rail thin self-professed gangster in torn and slashed skinny jeans, red ballcap and tiny braids, who threatened to take one of the guys in black scrubs “DOWN…cause I’m EIGHTIES-MADE MFer, don’t MESS with me you fake gangster bitch!” 

Or the poor fellow who got himself dressed twice in his own street clothes, only to be coaxed back into his gold and red patterned hospital gown; or the sad guy who trudged towards the door, discharged from the ER with his hospital-issued Metro card and Target shopping bag, asking if anyone could give him $20 cause he had to get back up to the Bronx. He ended up trudging back in from the outside world in mere minutes, defeated, submitting to the hospital gown and spending the night.

No, my dad was placid as a lamb. He asked after my health, whether I’d had “a decent lunch”, how was my daughter doing. All questions he’s been incapable or uninterested in formulating as his eroding brain has made that kind of effort impossible.

EXCEPT when it kicks in as some kind of survival mechanism, a fight or flight response. Can’t run from under layers of hospital blanket, without your clothes or shoes, so insist to everyone who asks that you are quite reasonable and very much ready to return home thankyouvery much. As had just happened the very day before, in this very same room. By now my dad had become familiar to some of the staff.

“Oh he has so much spirit! So much energy, he’s amazing!” they said. “Ninety five is a BLESSING!”

“PLEASE DON’T DISCHARGE HIM,” I said, speaking for my entire family, and the population of and staff of his assisted living facility in Kew Gardens. “HE NEEDS HELP. PLEASE HELP US.” I was not so different from the Bronx guy who couldn’t face the subway. When you can’t cope on your own, you have to ask for assistance.

I felt guilty for using even one minute of this busy facility’s resources but had no choice – had begged for help from my dad’s doctors, his facility, yesterday’s social worker. In his bed now, under the white blanket, his face a mask, my dad didn’t present as anything but a sweet, confused old man. Was there a manual about caring for an old person I was supposed to have read? Hadn’t I been through something a little bit similar with Eric’s mum? But she’d never been violent, except for the odd water jug thrown across a room. And that was in England where in spite of the flaws in the NHS, you’re not completely on your own with this stuff.

Why was I shocked when I heard patients in the psych ER being asked how they intended to pay for their care? But I was. It felt unthinkable – there you are melting down and on top of it you have to worry about paying a bill to help you keep yourself together? It chilled me. It enraged me. Why was I surprised? I’ve been there myself, with a raging UTI I thought would kill me, or when the nurse came down to tell me Eric had suffered a heart attack and needed to be transported to a higher level facility forty miles away – I’d asked if I could maybe drive him there myself? Partly wanting to see him be alright and partly fear of what it was all going to cost, and was insurance going to pay for it?

“I’m lucky to have a daughter like yoooouuu!” my dad crowed in the ER.

“Dad you are so full of shit.” The nurse and aide laughed. “See,” I told them -“ I’m becoming just like you guys.”  They nodded knowingly. It all started to seem kind of normal.

So he was admitted. I visited him the next day and though his room was nice with a beautiful view and the nurses were nice too, calling him Papi, it felt awful to see him so distressed. All his charm was gone. Where did it come from, and where does it go?

My brother Michael and I met up at my dad’s Memory Care studio a few days later. When I arrived Michael had found takers for pretty much all the furniture we had no more use for. The aides my dad had been most abusive to got some of the best stuff and were so sweet, saying they didn’t blame him, they knew it was his disease. Michael finally took a hammer to a hideous big-eyed painting of a boy my stepmother had insisted was some kind of fine artwork. “I need to do something fun today,” Michael said. 

Our father’s whole life fit in the back of my Subaru. I visited the hospital again and my dad had gone further downhill. Maybe the stress of this all was going to kill him. Some days it felt like it would take me down, and I’m thirty years younger. I drove home through the worst rain I’ve ever seen, praying dear God please don’t let me die on the New York State Thruway with my dad’s suitcase and the stained glass hanging lamp and rustic red milk can from the house I grew up in – two lone remaining childhood treasures – in the back of my car. When I finally got back home, I wondered if this was it, if I’d ever see the man again.

My dad’s hanging in there at the hospital and it looks like we’ll move him somewhere after the Labor Day weekend. In the meanwhile, I lay on the couch, next to his laundry. I used to think I didn’t really know him that well. That may be true. Or maybe there’s not a whole lot to know that wasn’t there all along. The tidy clothing. Polished business shoes lined up on the floor. A Playboy magazine in his drawer and a cross over his dresser. Coins and a wallet equidistant from a wooden handled brush and black plastic comb. It all said home, and family to me. It doesn’t have to be a lot deeper than that, to be love.

Murray Hill Take The Wheel

All these months visiting my Dad in Queens, and more and more often this past month as his dementia worsens and we work on moving him yet again, I see Manhattan in the distance. There it is through the passenger side window of my car as I drive south from upstate, and out the driver side as I head back north towards home— if I remember to look at all. The City seems so fancy and remote these days, I hardly recognize the place. Can’t quite get a handle on what’s what from over to the east, I-678 or 495; Whitestone, Grand Central Parkway, Jackie Robinson Parkway. Twenty-one years since the Twin Towers disappeared. They were a huge defining feature and now it’s like when those peaks from the south of the island disappeared, they pushed up through granite in all these other spots, piling glass on top of metal, straining higher and higher as if to prove a point: you can’t hold back progress, you can’t stop time. I’ve really been feeling that lately.

I’d never seen my dad look as frail as he did the other day. Ego is just about gone. He is a shell. He’s a body, grateful for any kindness. I brought him a cookie, he ate every bite and if I hadn’t stopped him he might’ve dropped to the carpet to gobble crumbs off the floor. His whiskers were bristly, I don’t think I’d ever seen my dad unshaven before, except the one brief moment one summer when he’d tried growing a beard. It was red – I think that was enough to dissuade him because for all his arrogance he’s a modest man and the red beard was too showy.

What will become of him? He asked why I was there. Not that he didn’t know who I was, but it just didn’t make sense to him for me to see him in that state.

So that day, just for a change, I turned west and faced Manhattan, and my car started moving towards the city, pulled by that old forcefield like the great Walter Egan song I only learned when I lived in Nashville and got to know him a little—you are the magnet and I am steel.

Heading In

Once I was looking at it, the city of my dreams, I felt giddy and breathless and then I caught my breath and of course next thing I was heading in. There was the Citicorp building (I actually had to search two layers below the skyline til I could find it to orient myself, 53rd to 54th St). I remembered when it was BRAND NEW, 1977, a real architectural wonder —now it was like an eccentric old cousin at a family reunion full of willowy youngsters all gleaming with promise. 

Soon I found myself in the Midtown Tunnel approach. The closer I got the less daunting and more human and familiar the city felt. The harder I jockeyed for position with other cars until we were one continuous zipper, the lighter my grasp on the steering wheel, as if I wasn’t in charge any more. New York would drive the car for me, the city would guide me and tell me what to do, what block to turn down. I need you New York, I whispered, cause I’m tired of trying to figure stuff out myself.

In previous times (okay, about two months ago) I would’ve felt obliged to search NYC’s best lobster rolls on Eater and treat myself to one, with a glass of something white and chilled and probably fifteen dollars. But I’ve been short on money lately and not really enjoying indulgence at the moment. So I parked the car near my daughter’s old grade school in the East 30s and looked for something cheap and healthy, never expecting to see a massive Whole Foods right on the corner of Madison and 28th. In the past I would’ve scorned something so glaringly corporate—shouldn’t I be stumbling into a cute cozy little hole in the wall? But hygiene and space and choice, yeah, it felt right.  Loads of tables where I could sit and write and when I looked for a restroom, a super-nice employee personally escorted me across a half mile of grocery aisles to the employee restroom. I always find Whole Foods workers to be friendly and cheerful so there must be something okay about working there.

I’d seen that some friends John Conte and Andy York were playing in a Traffic tribute band at Cutting Room. Now a tribute band is not something I’d normally go out of my way for but I just wanted to walk into a room and hear friends playing music. I didn’t want to converse or socialize. I figured I’d pay the cover and find myself a bar stool or table but the show was sold out. I texted John the bass player to see if he could get me in and then I hung around outside, probably looking like a sad lady who’d been stood up by her date. The place was heaving with men between the ages of fifty and seventy something, most of them deeply suntanned in old concert tees or more expensive versions of clothes from the Orvis catalog. There were definitely some women too. I didn’t hear back from John and figured the band was about to go on. I couldn’t bring myself to beg at the door – look I’ve actually played here, I’m happy to pay, can’t you just yknow, let me in? So – knowing the layout, having played at this place for the Gene Clark tribute a few years back – I slipped down to the ladies room and then kind of followed the band up the basement steps as they headed to the stage and I walked out into the bar.

A trip to the olde world

It was a solid show, and I enjoyed every minute, especially when drummer Rich Pagano took the vocals. The other two vocalists did amazing work too but Rich was superb on Every Mother’s Son and – the final song of the set that the whole audience seemed to be waiting for – Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Now I have developed a lot of my love for Traffic under Eric’s tutelage but we differ on this song and I think it’s because he’s English and can’t understand the particular spell it casts over Americans. The album of the same name was a huge seller in the US – not so in the UK. An FM radio staple, how can a Brit understand what it meant to tune into this track all those years ago, claiming membership in a large but select club. It was like a spaceship came down from another galaxy (the UK) and showed us who and what we were. In cooler clothes than we could’ve ever imagined wearing. Maybe the actual meaning was drug-related but if you want to you can hear an indictment of crass commercialism and gun culture. And some glammed-out ambassadors from another plane who are either here to seduce us or wake us the hell up.

They encored with some Spencer Davis Group and I said a quick hello to my buddies then headed to my car. I walked past the spot where a photographer once shot me on the median strip for the Village Voice. I remembered a girl in fabulous clothes stopping me another day “Where did you get that coat? I want it!” Holding my daughter’s hand coming up out of the subway and hurrying down 33rd Street so she wouldn’t be late for school; running down 33rd Street at 5:55 PM after a temp job, desperate not to be late to pick her up from afterschool. All these memories from just one city block. Maybe it was a particularly potent block, maybe that’s what drew me to park my car there.

But like Bob Dylan sings in Mississippi : You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way. I’d entered through the Midtown Tunnel, headlong into this glittering place of hopes and dreams but I went out the back door: up the FDR to the Willis Avenue Bridge towards the Bruckner. This road felt like a dysfunctional old friend, one who would never judge me. Willis Avenue Bridge was one of the toll-free ways in or out of the city, like the Williamsburg Bridge. The Midtown Tunnel was for when you were feeling like a high roller, back before EZ-Pass, when you had to heft those three dollars out of your wallet and hand them over. So, yeah Willis Avenue Bridge was a good old friend. But that road was rough twenty years ago and I don’t think anyone’s done any work on it since. I had to hold the wheel damn tight to navigate the potholes as I left the city behind. Certain types of progress only reach so far. New York pulled me in but heading back out I was on my own again. Thankfully I’m a way tougher driver than I used to be.

Giving It All Away

I wanna give stuff away but does anybody even want anything anymore? We’re all giving our stuff away.

“Yeah, stuff I thought was cool in my twenties just doesn’t seem cool anymore,” said a guy on my Instagram post when I showed some prime salt and pepper shakers I’d decided to let go of along with all their twin brethren: cowboy couples and Fiestaware spheres, Russian boots and black and white kittens.

Not cool? How can that be? I wanted to shout. Somehow I’d imagined we’d be the caretakers of this stuff for all time – we who had seen the value in kitschy castoffs of our parents’ generation or the generation before that one. Our collections of ephemera hadn’t just been a youthful lark! Our acquisition of these frankly pointless and impractical objects had been fated, written in the stars. Before the internet – before eBay and Etsy and Craigslist search engines made finding and favoriting and valuing and most often passing on this stuff so easy as to drain it of any interest – back in those thrift shop and flea market days, every discovery was its own tiny Excalibur, conferring a certain kind of royalty on any believer intrepid enough to do the work, sweat under the flea market sun or breathe the fetid air of a far-flung Amvets or Red White and Blue long enough to score.

What joy, what a sense of victory those finds brought! For such a small price – that was part of the feeling of winning right there. You could enter a Goodwill with ten dollars and leave with a trove of multiple finds, depending on which color tags were marked half price that day.

And like attracted like. So once you found your first piece of cocktail ware – well, you had to invite friends in to keep it company. Your eyes became super-charged with a sort of barware filter, like 3D glasses that blurred the stuff you weren’t interested in and highlighted what you craved. Until of course another style or theme or type of item nudged its way into your heart: cowboy, Hawaiian, charm bracelets, faux wood. It was easy to be magnanimous when the stakes were so low: a few dollars here, a little more space on a shelf or in a cupboard there. Who dusted or cleaned in those days? We barely had light bulbs and our tenement apartments were dim with only a window or two on each end of the space so what’s a little city grime…You might as well call it patina – a greasy glow that tended to tie all the items together.

The moves started happening unless you were one of the holy rent controlled chosen or childless. Moves meant boxes and newspapers and carefully wrapping the treasures to carry to the next homestead because they’d become part of your personality: Jim and Sue and their Fiestaware; Katie’s salt and pepper shaker collection. Michael amassed such a collection of barware, he became known for throwing fantastic parties – which came first, the need for cocktails or the cocktail shakers themselves? Terry had cookware indigenous to the American South, most of it having to do with some corn-related item: cornbread pans in the shape of ears, cast iron skillets, muffin tins and loaf pans.

Cookie jars called to me from junk store shelves. Was it my Pittsburgh-born, Andy Warhol-inspired birthright to want cookie jars? I don’t remember ever buying cookies, or if I did spring for the occasional sleeve of Oreos, they went straight into my mouth. But the cookie jars needed rescuing – or I was just being competitive and didn’t want anyone else to have something cool – and soon there was another collection taking up space, always making the cut when it was time to move again because who would I be without my jars?

But years have gone by with the jars wrapped in newspaper pre-dating 9/11. They used to faintly glow in the attic, reminding me they were still there and wondering when was I going to bring them out again but they just don’t call to me any more.

I’m not finding it very hard to let it all go. Nowadays this stuff all feels so random. I feel more of a sense of accomplishment at my ability to gaze upon a cool plate or glass or tray at a yard sale and go “Nice” and leave it at that. Acknowledgement is all the sense of ownership I need. I saw it, I liked it and the the world keeps turning without things going any further than that.

But there’s one area where dumping is harder, and that’s when it comes to personal archives. These are no random objets that could have graced anyone’s roach-ridden shelves. These are press clippings, photographs, posters, articles, all pertaining to…me. First my bands and then my solo career. Years into decades into nearly a half century of this stuff.

It wasn’t ego that made saving press a requirement. Before links, before the internet there were press kits we made by clipping the headline and the text and the photo and laying it all out and pasting and making copies to mail out to get gigs or publications to write about us. God it was a lot of work, but it’s what you had to do. And like the cookie jars, the cuttings and the magazines themselves kept getting moved from place to place. And every now and then, say working on a book or artwork, these archives have proved helpful. But it all needs culling. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I know I was there. The more time that passes since my salad days, the less this hard evidence seems to matter. Glory days exist where it counts, inside of us.

“Save it for the grandkids! They’ll appreciate it!” said friends helpfully, when I posted about the archive dilemma on Facebook. First of all, there won’t necessarily be grandkids, in this messed-up world it’s not a given- I mean Eric’s daughter has children but they’re in England and Eric has a historic and impressive box of clippings and cool promo photos himself and- I remember a great pic of my Italian grandfather playing a violin, his dark hair (Grandpa…had hair?) falling in his eyes, a maniacal grin on his face. ONE PICTURE WAS ENOUGH! It’s all I needed to know this man was way more than my mom’s rather demanding father who rode a bike to his barber shop every day.

 

I would never want to saddle my daughter or any remaining relative with anything more than a tiny sheaf of photos and a New Yorker drawing that looked nothing like me and that Kim France Spin article and color spread but – like Steve Martin in The Jerk, that’s all I’m saving. Just that lovely piece by Katherine Dieckmann and that color photo of me in leopard print pants and that article calling me and Eric Underground Rock’s Royal Couple and that’s ALL I need. Just that and about a hundred live photos that maybe aren’t even that great but people look young and sweaty and you can see the beer crates on the stage. Just this lamp and that picture of me and my brother Michael in the Pittsburgh paper back from when our mother was still alive and running her store, and that awful promo photo where my hair was short and blonde and about a hundred laminates from CMJ Music Marathon and South by Southwest in the 90s and that’s ALL I need…Just two crates of song lyrics typed on a typewriter or my first word processor and those handprinted gig postcards and …

Anyway, do you know anybody who wants some cookie jars, cheap? Free even. Hey I’ll even throw in an Amy Rigby poster from 2005. Or two. Your grandkids will love em.

Heard a JJ Cale song “Chasing You” when I was thinking about all this stuff and it felt right

LOST/NOT LOST

I’m in the kitchen trying to cook dinner. Kim and Jenn are talking about getting older, how Kim wants a makeover. I know exactly how she feels. “Me too, Kim, me too!” I shout.

Appearance is at least controllable, sort of. Unlike the rest of the world.

It’s the season of losing things. First I lost my new prescription sunglasses. Just poof, gone before the festival I played two weeks ago, sometime between leaving the house and going onstage. I’d thought the glasses could be a cloak of coolness during a daytime outdoor gig. Playing outside is never easy but…try doing it in your sixties or beyond. There’s no lights to hide behind.

After the gig, at the end of the night, I’d felt happy. I’d just played two of the best shows I’d ever played. The band was tight. The set list felt right. I’d rehearsed and prepared in a way I’d never had time for when all I did was run from gig to job to task to gig to self-made crisis. 

So why couldn’t I sleep?

The photos…the photos from the show. I hated how I looked in the photos. It didn’t seem to matter how the shows felt. Only that the photographic evidence existed for the whole world to see, proclaiming that I was aging. Had aged. Was…older. Old?

If I was a painter, or a writer maybe, all this experience and deepening would show on the canvas, on the page. But if you’re an artist who performs – who dares to get up in front of the public – there’s no separating the you from the work and there’s no filter on earth that can hide time’s toll. Maybe in a promo photo or an album cover. But not when everyone has a phone and every phone has a camera and the excitement you’ve worked so long and hard to be able to summon prompts folks to reach for their phones to document the experience. After the passion and the notes and the laughs and the feelings have all floated away, the hard truth remains to stare you in the face and haunt you in the night after a show. Oh God, how could I put myself out there like that?

Later on the same night a gorgeous young artist played. The lights were on by then, working their magic. Not that she needed artifice – she was glowing with health and beauty that is the young person’s mantle. Photo after photo appeared in a stream from the event – gleaming teeth, taut skin, shining eyes…

She’s probably about the same age I was when I wrote two albums about being over the hill.

I remember what it felt like, that feeling that time was running out and my chance to claim some prize I believed was mine for the mere act of existing was running with it. Forty came and went and I still didn’t think twice about wearing a camisole on stage, short skirt. Clothes – any clothes at all, new, old, used – clothes I found discarded on a stoop in Brooklyn – all fit as if by magic.

Now, nothing fits or if it does I’ve worn it so often it’s like a phantom appearing in photo after photo of show after show – no, honest, I was really wearing something else but that blue seventies shirt with the roses just appeared on my body! I imagine fans or friends quietly organizing a fund to buy me something different to wear.

Yet I want to stay around until I’m magnificent, like Patti Smith or a redwood tree. I’d settle for ancient oak, or myself, with better hair and good glasses and a new shirt.

anybody seen a pair of glasses with a crazy prescription?

And again, it’s the season of losing things. When I’d just about absorbed the loss of the sunglasses, a week later I lost my mother’s rings – wedding and engagement diamond, the loss of these important objects too powerful and painful to bear. We’ve taken u-bends out of drains; I’ve stood in the town dump in the pouring rain because I’d visited it the afternoon the rings went missing. I put my name in a spiral bound notebook at the local supermarket where I parked and shopped that same day. The entry ahead of mine in the notebook read: “Silver belly button ring.” I don’t have a lot of confidence that I’ll be hearing from the supermarket.

The day before losing my rings I’d lost, along with every woman and person able to bear children in this country, the legal right for an abortion. I’m past the age where that might be necessary, but it doesn’t matter – we all lose possible selves we could become with loss of reasonable access to chosing whether to carry on with a pregnancy. A pregnancy is not a full-fledged baby hanging in a bundle from a stork’s beak, a fantasy like that is not more important than actual functioning living human beings on this earth who make mistakes or have mistakes visited on them.

Another thing I remembered from the shows one week before they overturned Roe – the women. I’d never had so many women come up to me after a show. They wanted to hug me, tell me they loved me. I’ve always aimed to be in the world of women but felt comfortable in the company of men. I remembered the days at the merch table when it was almost entirely men. Is this also what it means to get older? Is it really that bad? If I did decide to , say, color my hair again, cause I just don’t know if I like being gray, will they feel like I let them down?

Back in the kitchen, Jenn is telling Kim – “just do whatever you fucking need to do to feel good” and then they’re signing off from their podcast Everything is Fine. Dinner is just about ready. I blow my phone a kiss, touch the spot on a shelf where I used to keep my mother’s rings and tell Eric the bolognese is ready.

Demo: The Walking Wounded

Lie A Little

I need to learn to lie, a little.

“And do you have any fruits or vegetables from overseas in your bag?” the immigration officer at JFK asked. I could feel Eric at my elbow silently urging me to be cool.

“Just this apple that I cut up and put in a Tupperware. I meant to throw it away back in London,” I said. “I don’t know why I’m telling you this – I should just lie, it’s not anything.”

“No, no – you’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Next thing I knew the officer was leading the way to the Agriculture Officer, holding my passport aloft. He looked like he was enjoying himself, not because he was being a jerk about anything but just because he’d needed a nice walk and thanks to me being an idiot was getting one.

When I finally collect my bags and am able to go retrieve my passport from the Agriculture Office, they toss my Tupperware from agent to agent and then make a ceremony out of having me dump the contents in a plain old trash can.

*

Eric and I spent the month of May in Norfolk England, on the coast of the North Sea. We did some work, I played a gig in London. Every evening we went exploring as the sky stayed light longer and longer. We looked in windows just lighting up, people watching big TVs, one or two front room offices filled with books and big ancient computer terminals, like an author from the nineties resided there. We tiptoed around the grounds of a stately home and watched high tide lapping into the sand; ate fish and chips with malt vinegar. Met up with friends and Eric saw his daughter and grandkids. I tried to write. One day I took a long coastal walk and just as I came back into the town my phone rang. “I just want to know who I am and why I’m here,” my dad said. I tried to explain it to him in the simplest terms, at the same time thinking his question made perfectly good sense.

Coastal walk

Riding in a car to Heathrow – this trip the first time we ever treated ourselves to such an indulgence. Instead of renting a car, driving the three hours, filling it up with fuel at the hell that is the roundabout just outside Heathrow (which roundabout? which part of Heathrow?), we got picked up by a guy in a nice car, who told us our safety and comfort were his only concerns. Is this how some people live all the time?

Steve the Mercedes driver was quiet and discreet, until we got him talking about his hobby – drones.

“Eric, you need to get yourself a drone mate,” said Steve. “Boys must have their toys!”

I wanted to tell Steve to come around to our house if he wanted to see toys. Instead I encouraged him to share more info about the drones because I found it fascinating and he really lit up when he talked about them. People need a project. He said they’d improved his life: he got up earlier to catch the best light for drone filming in the morning and drank less at night so he could get up earlier.

I’ve missed travel and just shooting the breeze with people like Steve. I now know of a whole facet of life and humanity and technology I’d never engaged with before.

*

I’d tried to get someone to help cut the grass while we were gone, knowing it would be a shaggy, unmowable mess if it went too long. The guy who used to help us out is ghosting me now, I don’t know why. I tried random numbers of lawn care services around town – either didn’t hear back or when I did they wanted us to commit to a weekly mow…for the whole summer! 55 x 4 x 3 or 4 = no.

I thought back fondly to the hard guy from some years back who’d told me “little Johnny isn’t gonna cut your lawn for twenty bucks anymore lady” and charged a shocking two hundred to do a one-time cut. Now I was searching for him again. Six or seven years ago he was a jerk – today he is a unicorn.

A friend who lives just out of town said she’d gotten the same from lawn guys, only not only did they demand she commit to every week – she had to rope at least two neighbors into getting theirs cut cause, otherwise it wasn’t worth it for the lawn guy to travel all the way out there…ten minutes from Main Street.

Ah, Main Street.

Our town has been discovered. From England, I saw the New York Times Real Estate section article about moving to Catskill, all the art and artists here. As usual with this type of article, it’s the comments that are most compelling – either sour grapes from city folk (“trust me, no world class artist would live in that dump”) or locals (“go away interlopers” – the definition of interloping extends from those arriving within the last year to anyone who showed up after Henry Hudson tied his boat up in 1690…) It was odd to see our friends and neighbors at this kind of remove and reminded me of the decades of touring, being away from home when anything important happens, you’re always somewhere else. When you’re home it all moves so slow you find yourself wanting change and excitement. From England I wanted Catskill frozen in a snow globe, just as we left it.

Another friend told me about his neighbor who might be able to help us out with the grass. Davey came over with his riding mower on a trailer. He went to work cutting, I got out the rake and started raking and bagging. In no time at all we were finished. Davey doesn’t cut professionally, he was just a nice guy helping some people out and picking up a little cash in return. He charged so little I tried to give him more money. There are good people.

Pre-mow

I wish I could give up bread – again. I really want to lose some weight. In England I walked miles a day without even trying but here in the US it’s always a project. If I could cut bread out of the equation, I feel like I could control my calories better. Instead of an essential part of life maybe I could look at it as a once in a while treat, or a long-ago friend like cigarettes?

*

My daughter is visiting from Los Angeles and we met up in Brooklyn to take a walk around the old neighborhood. We started at our address on Grand Street, the bones of the building looking not that different from how it had when we left over twenty years ago. Around it, everything had changed – now there are skyscrapers, luxury hotels, J.Crew and loads of other corporate chains – and so many good-looking, well-dressed young people. I remembered our car being stolen a few times, the endless racket from the ice cream truck depot across the street, coffee in a styrofoam cup from the Dominican bakery on the street corner. Several layers ago. We walked to where Grand ends at the East River and that one little area felt oddly, comfortingly familiar, a land that time forgot with the waves lapping against large rocks, benches missing their seats and a Chinese bride and family all dressed up and taking photos against the backdrop of Manhattan. 

I was pleased that something about our old street seemed to repel progress, like a little forcefield. We all need those around some tiny chamber in our hearts or memories, a spot where nothing and no one can pierce this perfectly imperfect world of our past especially the dreams we have for our futures which aren’t any better than the reality we end up in, just different.

In front of the good old place

How could my dreams of the future have encompassed girls in floaty dresses splayed on oversized wooden lawn chairs in the shadow of the big old Domino Sugar factory now under construction for a future as luxury apartments, or being the oldest person in the whole of Williamsburg on a beautiful Sunday afternoon? Maybe not the absolute oldest – I passed a cool-looking older couple or two. How weird to exchange nods of acknowledgement just like back in the long-ago last century where spotting another musician or artist-type on the streets of this neighborhood led to nods or even greetings that blossomed into friendships because there were so few of us around. Imagine being excited to see a hipster type with a kid in a stroller nowadays, rather than annoyed or territorial.

In a coffee shop on Bedford, we were served by a grey-haired guy who almost looked young – I wondered it his hair was that color on purpose. Sylvia’s Mother was playing and I thought…hmm Spotify, but then Marie Laveau and then another Dr. Hook track and another. This was an actual old guy playing music at his job for his own enjoyment. “I like the Dr. Hook mix,” I said on our way out. It was like touching a match to a prayer flag: “Hey – thanks! I think Shel Silverstein wrote just about every song on there…” He retreated a little, not sure whether it was worth it to go full nerd. “Right!” I waved over the flame, giving it air. Burn baby burn! “So good,” I said.

“So good,” he smiled.

*

The hose caddy broke already, probably because I left it outside through a long, hard winter. My dad declines a little more every week, then rallies. He asks if I’m coming tomorrow and I tell him no, Sunday. He sounds disappointed. Would he notice the difference if I said yes I am coming tomorrow? Then at least I’d get to hear him be happy for a second.

I need to learn to lie, a little bit.

Apologies to Dr. Hook…