Thank You For The Days

I’ve been needing this new year to start but found myself stuck in December 2021. 

There’s absolutely no reason anyone should stay stuck in 2021. It’s just that— I needed a new calendar.

The first year we were living in the Hudson Valley, I saw this beautiful calendar on the wall of a shop in Hudson. Screenprinted on bright white paper — the colors, the design — it was wonderful. “Where did you get that work of art?” I asked Mary the shop owner. 

“Isn’t it fabulous? Isn’t it inspiring?” she said.  Dolphin Studio in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, she told me. Then she added: “Be careful — it’s addictive. You’ll see.”

I didn’t know what she meant. When 2013 approached, I searched for Dolphin and ordered a calendar online. It was a splurge – $60! But I justified it as “my Christmas gift to myself.” There was a perfect spot on the wall, the exact size for the 12” x 24” calendar. Every month’s turn of the page reveals a new work of art. Some of them are wacky, some stylized, some WTF? But every month is a fresh start, fresh colors, a new perspective. Turning the pages helps shape the year.

And because the pages aren’t bound, the operation is ceremonial. The calendar must come off the wall, the bulldog clips removed, the old month shuffled to the back of the sheaf of paper, revealing the fresh new design and colors. I snap the clips into place and feel like I’m in control.

At the height of the pandemic I started crossing off days, like a prisoner making marks on the wall of their cell. Then things kept dragging on and after a few months I went back to leaving the pages pristine.

The year ends and I can’t dispose of all this artwork, all this hand-silkscreened paper. I cut it up for cards, use it for wrapping paper. I take inspiration from the old calendars all year round. But after nine years, the paper is piling up. Should I send more cards? Make some journals? Paper a wall?

And every year I go through a dance with myself when December rolls around: should I order again? Is it wasteful to go through another calendar? I weigh the cost that’s gone up, like everything. I wonder if it might be better to try something new in the calendar spot. I hate to feel dictated to or obligated to do anything, even if the decree comes from…me.

We were into the second week of January but December still sat up there on the wall, taunting me. You fool! it seemed to say. Why do you do this dance? Just get the damned Dolphin calendar.

But life can never be that easy, at least not when a part of your personality is built on these struggles with gratification and self-denial. So I tried a free calendar I’d received when I ordered some tea towel blanks the other week. See I do some printing too, and sometimes sell the results. I could almost call the Dolphin calendar a justifiable business expense: research. But money is tight and the free calendar had all these “go for it” statements on every page, in every font imaginable. Neon colored “You Are Awesome” on a black background. I thought it would be funny, and secretly inspiring. It lasted less than a minute on the wall. 

“Fuck you!” I yelled at the calendar.

I knew I was going to cave. The Dolphin Studio calendar grip was too strong. I went online and ordered, wincing a little at the cost of postage. If I drove to pick it up I’d save those dollars but then there’s the cost of gas-oh for God’s sake. I took a deep breath and pressed the BUY NOW button.

A large cardboard package arrived in a few days. I sliced it open, read about the Ffrench family (as I do every year) who’ve been hand-screening these calendars since 1970. The calendar was tucked into a brown paper envelope, beautifully printed, the whole package a work of art. The Ffrench family smiled at me from a photo in their literature. What an amazing group of people. The mother and father started things. Now their children and grandchildren are involved as well.

Out came the calendar. The first month was a delicately rendered ballgown, the colors cool, creamy and perfect. I hung it on the wall in its rightful place, where it seemed to light up the whole kitchen.

It’s okay to treat yourself to something you love; something that works, that makes you happy every day.

“You Are Awesome And I Believe In You” the calendar seemed to say, in a language I could live with.

Free Parking

The little things, that we don’t think about and take for granted, have a way of shaping our days. This becomes so obvious to me in December. It’s not the holidays that fill me with joy so much as the free parking.

The town of Hudson makes their meters free for the month. Businesses cover the meters out front with wrapping paper or festive bags and life instantly becomes more joyful. All those well-worn paths, the gentle gyrations we do to feed the parking meter beast are gone. The freedom is a gentle gift that brings the tyranny of paid parking into focus.

I know a small town world of parking is nothing compared to places like New York and Chicago; London! I’ve written many paragraphs, whole blogs even, about the pain of alternate side and parking apps. Upstate it’s relatively benign – four quarters buys an hour, a ticket costs the measly sum of $10! But these things add up, and so does the constant dance of thwarting the guys (up here, it’s only guys) who write the tickets.

So I started my day working at the bookstore/bar yesterday by strolling on the sidewalk with the festive out-of-towners, and unlocking and entering through the front door, rather than making my way through the rustic back alley where we’re lucky to have parking in back of the building. As alleys go, like a lot of things about Hudson, it’s colorful and charming and pretty safe but a little scary at times.

Coming through the front door I had to bat away baying customers who’d been walking up and down the main drag, Warren Street, for two hours. They were caffeinated and raring to get shopping. This ain’t the city, folks! It’s kind of cute how purposeful they all are, even in their days off, on vacation. Got to get this done! But it’s sweet.

I pulled the door shut behind me and locked it before anyone could push their way in and then ignored the tapping on the glass as there’s a sign on the door with the store hours. Turned on the lights, counted the drawer, poured my takeout coffee into a pottery mug where it would sit untouched until I threw it out six hours later.

Dialed in some music. I can’t bear to have even one customer in the store without music – it’s too intimate, the silence, like waiting on people in your underwear. I popped on Susannah McCorkle’s Waters of March because it had been going through my head since night before. Such a beautiful classic song but there’s something about her version that is alternately life-affirming and soul-destroying. Knowing she’d jumped to her death adds to the feeling. I’d gone online to find out more about her after Fresh Air played a Christmas concert she’d recorded in 1988. One of those names I used to see in cabaret and nightclub ads in New York City but could never afford to see or just always thought “some day, I will.”

Almost ready – I strapped my mask on, and

I unlocked the door. Customers stumbled in blinking, pulling up masks. Some say hi, some ignore me when I say hi. Some literally rear back like they’ve been struck – “You. Spoke? To…me?” Yeah, I remember living in the city…

The bossa nova warmed the room, all the way up to the spectacular wooden ceiling. The customers rolled in waves, my coffee sat untouched as I checked for books in inventory, ordered special requests. A teenage boy with a curly ponytail asked if we had anything by Rim-bawd and my eyes welled up. I didn’t dare correct his pronunciation, thinking that’s something you just pick up in time and what did it really matter anyway? I thrilled to being players in a drama that has been enacted for many years in bookstores everywhere, and hoped his eyes and mind would always be so wide open and unafraid of being wrong.

A lady bought a book I’d placed on an easel on top of a shelf – partly “this looks interesting” and partly “this book is hard to categorize and so small it will get swallowed up if shelved.”

“Oh good,” I said – “I keep thinking that looks good but having somebody buy it is almost like reading it myself!” She looked at me like I was insane and I guess I did sound a little nuts but it had been a few hours and I was getting hungry. “I mean,” I tried to explain myself,” There’s a shitload of books in this store, I can’t really read all of them.” 

That didn’t seem to help. “Well then how do you choose the inventory?” she said, and I mumbled something about the store owner doing a lot of research, and sales reps and catalogs and I started to feel like somebody telling a kid there is no Santa Claus.

“…the spectacular wooden ceiling.” March 16, 2020 – last shift before the shutdown

People started ordering beer. It used to be pretty simple as only the dewiest cheeked youngsters needed their IDs checked but now I can’t see anyone’s face AND we need to check vaccination cards for people to unmask and drink in here. One guy splayed out five vaccination cards and five passports in a row on the bar as his family stood in a line and I suddenly felt like an immigration officer, not wanting to look like I was scrutinizing too hard, like they were suspicious or that I was profiling them and I said “I don’t think I’m cut out for this” and the guy laughed and said it was okay, he was the only one of the group who even wanted a drink.

Bossa nova time had long ago ended after cycling through some Jobim and Caetano Veloso (I’m probably doing a Rim-bawd and pronouncing those both wrong!) and we had passed through three diferent sets each one bookended by Donovan’s Season of the Witch. Is it just my listening habits or does everybody get Season of the Witch when the soundtrack from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid ends? And then it comes up again and again…Nilsson Schmilsson followed by – Season of the Witch. Emitt Rhodes with a Season of the Witch palate cleanser. I met Donovan once at a music festival and he was thoroughly charming but I’m not obsessed with him! But I will take Season of the Witch over silence any day.

Charles came in and stood by the register, asking if anybody he knew was in the store, and what were all these out of towners doing here and how was he going to kill the next two hours. Charles must live in an assisted living community, he draws portraits and tries to get money from the customers for them. He’s kind of a genius about TV shows and sports teams and even though I always threaten to banish him for taking up too much time and space, having him inconveniently around is part of what makes the bookstore/bar home. I’ve worked here for years and there’s been Juicy Jeff who always just wanted a glass of water and everyone claimed was brilliant singing karaoke, and Earl the painter (both RIP) and Bill who sounds like a parrot and collects cans and bottles and the Lonely Trucker and just so many characters who add color to the place. We arrived in the area ten years ago at what was maybe the end of the good old days when the town was still cheap and small enough. Nowadays the visitors outnumber and overshadow the regulars but sometimes we see each other and nod and say hello, then scurry back home to let the visitors have their fun.

Charles can get a little pushy with his artwork but his heart is good and he always makes a point to notice what I’m wearing and compliment me if he thinks I got my shirt/jeans/boots combo just right. Or maybe he does it to butter me up, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter cause he’s Charles and he’s a fixture.

I noticed all the stools were back around the bar which is a first since before the pandemic. I kept checking vax cards and IDs and pouring beer and Season of the Witch came around again. Tending bar in a mask sucks but after awhile you kind of forget. 

I scrolled through Twitter for a sec and saved Jami Attenberg’s New Yorker essay about Williamsburg in the 2000s to read later. I closed right at five PM and felt exhausted. I counted up and cleaned and hauled myself out the front door. Warren Street was dark and almost empty by this point. Just like the old days.

When I got home I read the essay and felt envious – I’d written my own version of a my city was gone piece for the Voice back in 2018 and I thought Attenberg did such a beautiful job of conveying that in-between era of my former neighborhood. It was an era I saw only as a visitor, not a resident, so the old stomping grounds had already slipped out of my grasp. She takes herself to task for being a gentrifier but I don’t see how that works if you’re just a working artist – you have to live somewhere and is it your fault the fabulous always follow?

I could look back from my seventies perhaps and write about what it was like back here in the early 20s, but I’m worried I won’t actually remember the details so I do it now. Happy to have a part-time job to remind me that life goes on as I wonder what my future of putting out work and touring will amount to. I sell other people’s books while I try to write another one of my own, listen to other people’s music while I keep working on music of my own, and check vax cards and IDs to place a beer in front of customers happy to stroll around in this beautiful place I call home.

“Is there anywhere to eat?” they ask. “Is there anything good we should see? Is the parking really free?” I nod and smile beneath my mask, happy to help share a little joy.

Thanks for reading and/or subscribing, I really appreciate it. Here’s to a brighter New Year!

Just Pants

I keep trying but I may have to give up soon.

To lose weight? Plan my future? Stop cooking the same three things for dinner?

Nothing that huge, yet this struggle I’ve been going through for two years feels important. Like if I can solve this, I’ll have figured everything out.

It’s these damned overalls I feel sentenced to wear. They’re a trial, a story that has to unfold. Why can’t they just be pants?

Back up two years – December 2019, when I saw a pair of corduroy overalls on a barista in Cromer, England. Number one they were corduroy which I love. The cut, the style – he looked great.

He was a he. He was a barista. Not to say a barista can’t be older or that a guy can’t have hips but he was a very different person than me. It didn’t matter. I had to find them. He told me who made them, an ethical UK company. They weren’t exactly cheap but they weren’t expensive. I found a color I liked, a nice dark blue, guessed at the size and took the plunge.

They arrived by Royal Mail. I tried them on but wasn’t sure. The legs felt wide and there was no definition at the waist. They were casual in a way I’m not. I like things that are tailored and close fitting. I felt like it was some kind of challenge. The overalls were Excalibur – if I could wear them I would have conquered…what?

I went back and forth and then I committed – I washed them. No turning back now.

Maybe I was banking on the future. Making an attempt to carve out a new, carefree identity for myself. We all know how the future turned out.

One of the upsides of the pandemic people claimed was license to dress like a slob. Let it all go! I have a fear of letting it all go. I like underwire bras. I like proper leather shoes with hard soles. I like jeans that dig into my flesh – is it a Catholic thing?  Built in self-flagellation. The pain of being human, represented by – a little pain. Call it structure; call it penance. Our individual aesthetics are often born of necessity, I learned this as a mother. The kid in bare legs in the dead of winter couldn’t stand the feeling of tights; the kid in a tiara liked the reassuring weight on her scalp, like a hand there. No shoes/stocking feet in the house feels sloppy to me, like I might slip on the floor or worse, slack off. Got to stay in control. My dad used to ask me and my brothers what we had planned on Saturday morning and point us to the shoeshine kit – now at the age of 94 he calls me up and asks me what he should be doing with his time.

There they hang on a hook in my closet, like a good time shroud, taunting me. Is it an overalls kind of day? Do I try again, to adjust my persona? Eric’s over in England now and I stayed here in New York, to move my dad into Memory Care and play a Hanukkah show with Yo La Tengo and work some shifts at the bookstore/bar. I got my booster shot yesterday and have been struggling to get my head around the murder of one of our neighbors just after Thanksgiving. Everyone knows who did it, but no one knows what happened. Was he a good guy, was he a problem? It seems he was both. I could put on these overalls and walk past his apartment, like I’ve done often over the past two years. I would see him out front, cooking breakfast on a grill, and say hello. Now there are candles and flowers outside his door.

I’m not the person I was when I bought the overalls. Nobody is the person they were two years ago, but if we’re lucky we still get to be here to try and figure things out. I thought the overalls were pointing me to a perky, more casual life but now they feel like almost like a relic of a future that felt open in a way that doesn’t seem possible any more.

Control is an illusion. Fuck it, I’m going to try wearing the overalls again.

Not feeling it. Where are those skin-tight Levis? There, that’s better. Maybe I like holding my breath, so it feels like nothing can sneak up on me.

Hello Margaret, It’s Me Amy

I love Margaret Renkl. She’s so good, so decent – reading her essays in the New York Times, I feel like a higher version of myself. Even in the often poison NYT comments’ section, the discourse her writing inspires is for the most part touching and polite – people stay in their lane, feel free to nod along; thank her for her writing (kind of like readers do on my writing right here, only on a much larger scale). In a recent piece, she talks about the disconnect between how she feels and what she sees when she catches sight of herself in a window or mirror. Margaret Renkl feels 22 but is 60. 

She’s grateful, as always. Is kind to others and herself.

I’m 62. Waiting for that self-acceptance to kick in.

My best times, I feel somewhere between age 8 and 12. Before puberty.

Yesterday I gravitated to the swings at our nearby elementary school. “I don’t know how this will work,” I thought. “Will I even fit on the strap part?” (Growing up they hadn’t yet figured out that hard rubber or worse, wood or metal seats, would inevitably find their way to the side, back or front of a kid’s head – now things are so much more benign, in the playground world at least).

It felt so natural once I started. I sat on the swing, and like magic I was eight, nine or twelve. I started pumping, toes pointing forward as I dipped and rose into the air, dangling my head back. Then, knees together, I made a semicircle with my calves as I swept backwards. Higher and higher. There was no difference between me now and fifty years ago. I still wanted to swing as high as possible. I still wanted to get all the way up and-

“How do you stop?” Eric asked.

“You jump,” I said, remembering. That moment, up in the air, when you just say to hell with it and fling yourself out into space. I got as high as I could and it felt possible, like I could push out and fly for a second.

“You’re not going to-“ Eric looked alarmed.

I scraped my feet in the wood shavings. I dragged until my swing slowed down.

But I could’ve jumped.

Yesterday I was in pain. Not a physical pain. I’m lucky I don’t suffer those, like people say one might when you reach a certain age. 

No this was a psychic pain: the show I have coming up this Thursday that has been rescheduled twice already due to Covid, that was finally going to happen and be my last show of this difficult year – one I even enlisted other musicians for, as a treat – I got a call from the venue asking if I’d move my show earlier, so they could switch Saturday’s sold out show to later that night, as someone in the band of the sold out artist was sick and felt sure they’d be better by then.

I looked them up – a New Yorker profile from a little while back. A young marvel needing me to gracefully step aside and – because honestly who cares that much about my little show?

All my self-doubt and insecurity came crowding in, yelling in my ears. I wanted to puke, to scream, rage and cry. Hey I was in the New Yorker once, twice, a few times. Never that life-changing profile. Critics’ picks and even a cute drawing one issue that didn’t really look like me but felt like a massive compliment, a vote of confidence. Now that potential profile moment has probably passed. Has it? Has it? That’s what I get from turning older, not so much the physical waning but the waning of possiblity. It’s not looking in the mirror and going “How did I get this age?” but looking behind me, in front of me and trying to maintain a positive spirit while I carry on doing the thing I’ve done for decades; the thing I still love and know how to do. You can’t be promising anymore, when you’re sixty two. You’re a known quantity, if you’re known at all. How do other artists and writers and musicians deal with it – accept reality but keep hope, that necessary element of magic, alive?

Going back to ages 8 to 12 again, I’m reminded of this famous ride I couldn’t wait to try at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh. I think it was called the Rotor. A big circular room you stood against the wall in. The room began spinning and spun faster and faster, pressing everyone against the wall and then-

The floor would drop out. The centrifugal force held you against the wall. Some people (me) screamed. Some were bold and actually climbed up the wall, turned themselves sideways or upside down. It was giddy terrifying fun but the scariest thing you realized was – you needed the spinning to carry on. The very thing that made you scream, that drove you crazy, that spinning force – was essential to stay stuck to the wall until the floor rose back into place.

Nearly two years without regular gigs – how do I continue? What keeps me from dropping out? With a good promoter, like Alec in Columbus Ohio the other week, I can fill a room. I can pump and pump myself up on that swing and jump, taking everyone with me. 

There’s comfort in reading Margaret Renkl because she tends to stay in the physical world, writing about nature in a lyrical way.  She is humble, and thoughtful.

She’s not in show business. Am I in show business? I express myself, and am compelled to share that with others. When I feel something, I want to know if somebody else feels it too. Maybe getting up on stage isn’t the healthiest way to work with that.

But just getting up on stage isn’t enough. I want to have an audience there. The other day I joked that Bob Dylan at 80 going out on tour means twenty more years of “doing this” for me. By “doing this” you might think I meant performing but if that’s all it was, I’d feel pretty darn lucky and happy to do it. It’s really the sharing Facebook events, posting on social media as required and putting up posters, feeling not popular enough, measuring myself against other people that feels hard to sustain sometimes. Bob just has to be brilliant and show up and play – he doesn’t have to erect the tent, be the town barker, the cigar-chomping hard guy wringing an extra twenty dollars out of a club for dinner. He doesn’t have to hear a ticket count and die a little. But continue to dust himself off no matter what and get up there, to bring what he does to the good people. 

I don’t know how I came around to talking about Bob Dylan. Maybe he’s like a spot on the doorframe I touch to tell myself “it’s okay…you’re okay.” I wanted to talk about Margaret Renkl and her elegant, gentle spirit.

*

It’s a week and a half later. I played the show and I felt so good while I was playing, and when it was all over. Up until I strummed the first chord onstage, I felt an unhealthy amount of angst. At sixty two I wish I could accept comfy pants and my place in the world – feel grateful for it all. But I still aspire. I brush on the eyeliner, zip into something tight. I keep on pressing myself against the wall while the damned world spins, knowing the floor will drop out but it’s the magic bit that catches me by surprise every time and looks like I’ll never be too old for that.

Plattekill 1 & 2

Plattekill. It sounds plain, or worse. Not much to look at as a word or a place.

But the name on a sign along the New York State Thruway – Plattekill Service Plaza – became a synonym for hope. It said: less than an hour to home. It said “you can do this,” even when I’d been driving for hours.

Plattekill means calm stream in Dutch – I think. An oasis of fried food, hand sanitizer and sugary drinks, or just a bottle of water and enough gasoline to get home. Like a stream branching off the raging river, a flat rock to sit for a minute and shut your eyes. I’m making it sound way more poetic than I should. But I can’t help it. I get sentimental about things.

Ten years ago, I barely knew it existed. The last half decade it’s become practically an outbuilding to our house. You don’t realize how much you rely on things you don’t have much affection for but need. Until they’re taken away.

Yesterday, driving north on the New York State Thruway, I got a terrible shock: the Plattekill Service Plaza is CLOSED. In ways I didn’t expect, this discovery sent me into panic; near meltdown.

Anyone who knows the Thruway knows that the exits come further and further apart as you travel north from New Jersey. Miles apart, twenty, thirty even. That’s why Plattekill became so important in my life. Once you pass Sloatsburg service area – the weird one where you drive in under a parking garage, which sounds like it would be convenient in brutal summer heat or bitter, snowy cold, but actually always feels a bit offputting and grim – you need to plan how you’re going to make it the rest of the way to New Paltz, to Kingston or Woodstock, Saugerties or Catskill. The distances between exits are long enough that if you’ve been driving for awhile, which is kind of a given as the area around Sloatsburg and beyond looks decidedly unpopulated, you go into a fugue state, forgetting where, why or how you got on the road, and whether you’re coming home or heading off on an amazing adventure. All radio signals fade, time ceases to exist-even weather happens in a void as you approach the micro-climate around Newburgh. The Catskill mountains loom, and loom some more. Maybe the world ended when you were crossing the New York state line and word won’t reach you until…well you might never find out.

That’s why Plattekill is so essential. “Let me just make it to Plattekill,” I’ve said dozens of times, returning from a visit to the city or more recently back east from the wilds of Pennsylvania after visiting my dad in Pittsburgh. In Plattekill the world would start to make sense again. Not because the services on offer were anything great. In fact, come to think of it, it was pretty awful: a Dunkin Donuts staffed by the saddest Dunkin employees you’ll ever meet and a Roy Rogers that would never fail to disappoint on the rare occasion I gave myself permission to eat something really unhealthy just to pass the time for the last fifty minutes of my trip home. When I was feeling holy, they had these very good yogurt drinks from local Ronnybrook Farm. Local. Farm. Almost home.

And the people matched the food: a bracing mix of upstate hippies, sporty types temporarily detached from their kayaks and Subarus, sweaty; glassy-eyed city folk escaping their cells.

There is no Plattekill heading southbound.

The restrooms were easy to get to but always had big industrial fans placed strategically around on the floor, blowing warm air in winter and summer. Maybe this place really did need an overhaul. But aside from missing the amenities – a restroom, that last snack – what will I do when I need to pull over somewhere and sleep?

One hot summer night around 1 AM on our way back from playing a gig in NYC, Eric and I saw a ratty old Mercedes sitting cock-eyed in a parking space, all four doors open. An older couple lay back against the driver and passenger seats, eyes shut, mouths gaping, legs and arms flopping out of the front doors. I think they were in their underwear. It felt like we were looking at a Weegee photo of a murder scene, but thankfully your could see the man’s chest rise and fall. You could hear snoring. I worried for them, so vulnerable like that, hot and exhausted driving from God knows where. We’ve been that lady and man (well maybe not the Mercedes, and I hope we were a little better dressed…) I willed a safety/privacy shield around them, in the name of all of us long haul drivers. Sometimes you just need to pull over and sleep for twenty minutes or an hour.

Where will we do that now?

Aside from going down to see my dad who’s in assisted living in Queens now, I don’t have all that many places to go. The drive down and back totals about five hours but depending how the visit goes, can sometimes leave me feeling like I’ve been driving for ten.

Plattekill. Calm stream.

It’ll be at least a year until they unveil the new service plaza. Maybe they’ll even rename it. Until then, I have to come to grips with Sloatsburg, but I won’t like it.

August 2021

I drove past Plattekill Services again the other night. In the dark and the rain, I saw the old rest area building heaped up like the logs of a giant bonfire, the jagged girders and timbers crisscrossed behind a chain link fence.

I’d spent the day watching my father turn from 94 year old dad to an old man who would die – maybe not today which was almost over but someday fairly soon. I’d brought him home from the hospital and he’d held it together to proudly walk through the lobby of his assisted living building, clutching a bag with the afghan blanket his mother had knitted many years ago, a blanket the nurses at NY Presbyterian Queens Hospital had all admired. He’d walked slowly but tall to the elevator, into his apartment where he’d put the contents of his small suitcase carefully away, sat down to eat lunch and then gone completely still, unconscious. I’d slapped his hands, his face, shouting “Dad! Dad!” thinking he looked dead, his color gone, his anxious fighting spirit that had just been right here, in this room, now somewhere else. “Dad!” It took four paramedics to bring him around. They put him on a gurney, wheeled him back onto the elevator, four young men in black velvet yarmulkes. “Is your Dad Jewish?” a caregiver who passed us in the hall asked me. I held that idea in my head for a second. “Irish Catholic,” I said.

Loaded into the ambulance, I sat in front with the driver. We lurched rather than raced through Queens, the traffic a mess, cars barely bothering to get out of our way. “Is it always like this?” I asked the driver, his yarmulke tucked beneath a baseball cap. He sighed. “They barely notice me. I’m an inconvenience.” Behind us, I could hear my dad talking with the young men. I heard him crooning a few notes, high on the oxygen they were giving him. “You have a nice voice,” one of the guys said. I want to remember this scene forever, I thought.

I had to leave him in the emergency room corridor, one bed down from an angry-looking young man with evil tattoos etched into his shaved skull. My dad alone in deepest Queens but what could anybody do to him here that time hadn’t already done? My brother met me and drove me back to my car.

All the way north, away from New York City, I listened to Tom Petty. October means important things to me: the month my daughter was born, the month I lost my mother. But it will also forever feel like Petty month: the month he was born, the month he died. It comforted me, helped me breathe, the random mix, songs I knew, ones I’d never heard before. The guitars, keyboard, drums and Tom were like fresh  air pumping through the car, like the oxygen they’d given my dad. Life was still beautiful and perfect, right down to the moon shining on the dusky remains of Plattekill services. There was no stopping time – only pausing here and there to think: “Let me always remember this.”

October 2021

Broke out the acoustic 12 string for a Tom Petty cover…