Tuesday, April 24, 2007


K* called me today sounding high as a kite; he was wandering the streets, had lost his keys and wanted to know if he should hire a locksmith to break into his apartment. Typical-enough-sounding Chelsea story, except that it was a weekday at 2:00 p.m., and K hadn't used drugs or alcohol for over 6 years.

After swapping a few e-mails on Match, K had agreed to meet with a 40ish gay man (we'll just call him "Whackjob" from now on), who was a professional and published author, and appeared to be your average, well-groomed, well-mannered Murray Hill queen. They met at Border's for a "coffee date" to see if there was any chemistry. Whackjob, the soon-to-be-revealed sociopath, received a phone call from his building that a delivery man was there with a package (uhm, flag 1 - honestly, whose doorman calls them on their cell about a delivery). K's a trusting soul and had no reason to think anything was wrong so he agreed to go to the guy's apartment, even picking up a sandwich on the way to eat at his place.

At the apartment, Whackjob offers K some fresh-squeezed orange juice that he had sitting there that he mixes in a blender with some ice (uhm, flag 2 - fresh juice lying around? C'mon!). K eats the sandwich and drinks the juice. K said that the two just talked, but he sensed the Whackjob was watching him closely. K said the conversation was about dreams and how they can seem so real (not so obvious, but in retrospect, this is flag 3). Very soon, K was hit by a wave of dizziness (flag 4). K tried to stand up, but was unsteady on his feet. Whackjob didn't flinch. He asked K if he wanted to lie down on his bed (that would be flag #5, boys and girls). K, suddenly aware that flags are flying, decides to salute and get the hell out of there.

Once on the street, K called me and I was able to determine (based upon anecdotal information only, not any real life experience mind you) that he'd been dosed with a hit of GHB (a/k/a "the date-rape drug").
* Name deleted to protect my friend's anonymity.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hitler, Grammy & Me

Today Hitler would have been 118; my grandmother, Florence "Grammy" Morin, would have been 96; and I turned 41.

In the grand scheme of things, sharing a birthday with Hitler doesn't really mean much. Sharing one with your grandmother however, especially if you're her first-born grandchild, is a completely different story. It was pretty well known that I was "Grammy's favorite."

I spent every weekend at her house and I was her constant companion -- the "little dummy" to her Skipper. Every Saturday we made the rounds to the beauty parlor for her wash & set (it's actually where I got my first "hairstyling" at the age of 7 -- a Carol Brady shag -- loved it), to the grocery store where she turned in countless empty glass milk bottles and insisted on redeeming more coupons than anyone, to the rectory to drop of banana bread and vegetables from Papa's garden for Father Pat, to the bank to make $10 contributions to my "college account" and to funnel her bingo winnings into her "secret" account, of which the entire family feigned ignorance of, but was certain contained a fortune. Florence had a lot of secrets, and I was her little secret keeper.

Papa drove us home from the morning's errands and Grammy would be in her housecoat (ans still wearing her girtle) before I got all the bags out of the car. Saturday lunch was warmed up leftovers from Friday night's take-out (either the Clam Shack, the Greek place or chow-chow (I'm cringing right now, but that's what she called Chinese food). Then Papa would disappear into the garden and Grammy and I would play cards all afternoon while she made fudge -- both of these endeavors being serious business.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Je ne suis pas avec toi

It's beautiful to watch love begin, but oh so sad when it ends. As you go through life, remember this rule, everybody's somebody's fool.

- "Little" Jimmy Scott, Everybody's Somebody's Fool

Sooner or later, we all sleep alone.

- Cher

"Moons and Junes and ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way that you feel as every fairy tale comes true, I've looked at love that way. But now it's just another show. And you leave 'em laughing when you go. And if you care, don't let them know. Don't give yourself away. I've looked at love from both sides now -- from give and take -- and still somehow, it's love's illusions that I recall. I really don't know love. I really don't know love at all."

- Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

"Frogs do not turn into princes."

- T-shirt seen in Chelsea, NYC

"Anyone who hasn't experienced the ecstasy of betrayal knows nothing about ecstasy at all."

- Jean Genet, Un chant d'amour

"They seldom looked happy. They passed one another without a word in the elevator, like silent shades in hell, hell-bent on their next look from a handsome stranger. Their next rush from a popper. The next song that turned their bones to jelly and left them all on the dance floor with heads back, eyes nearly closed, in the ecstasy of saints receiving the stigmata."

- Andrew Holleran, Dancer From the Dance

"Let us go get the shit kicked out of us by love. "

- Sam to Daniel, Love Actually

You think you're a man, but you're only a boy. You think you're a man, you are only a toy. You think you're a man, but you just couldn't see. You weren't man enough to satisfy me.

- Full Frontal, You Think You're a Man

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times ... You are not gonna fool me three times.

- My grandmother, Florence, reinterpreting a Chinese proverb

Kharma's a bitch.

- Anonymous

"Aimer, ce n'est pas se regarder l'un l'autre, c'est regarder ensemble dans la même direction."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

"The wing and the wheel... they carry things away. Whether it's me that does the leavin' or the love that flies away. The moon outside my window looks so lonely tonight. Oh, there's a chunk out of it's middle... big enough for an old fool to hide."

- Nancy Griffiths, The Wing and the Wheel

"Je ne veux pas disparaître."

- Jean Genet, Les nègres

"I don't know where I'm going. But I do know that I'm walking. Where? I don't know. Just away from this love affair."

- Rufus Wainwright, This Love Affair

"I wish I knew how to quit you."

- Jack Twist to Ennis Del Mar, Brokeback Mountain

"It's very difficult to keep the line between the past and the present. You know what I mean? It's awfully difficult."

- Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale, Grey Gardens

"If you're going to let one little prick ruin your whole life, you're not the girl I thought you were."

- Professor Stromwell to Elle, Legally Blonde

A -

You were my orange plastic boy:

delightfully orange, regrettably plastic, almost a man.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Eric Rhein 'Leaves' east village ...

. . . and it already feels smaller, less exciting.

Multi-media visual artist and wire-bender extraordinaire, Eric Rhein moved his artist's studio from the East Village to Long Island City last week. Before relinquishing the space to the landlord -- who plans on gutting, renovating and rent-hiking it -- Eric hosted a final gathering. The apartment-cum-studio is located on the 6th floor walkup on East 14th Street, between Avenues A & B and is about as "East Village" as it gets.

Eric lived and worked in the space for over 26 years and it was where he created his most memorable works of art, including my favorite,"The Leaf Project," in which he formed over 120 different leaves from metal wire, each a tribute to someone who died an AIDS-related death. Seen individually or in a grouping, the "Leaves" are magical, striking a pitch-perfect triple balance between the cascading delicacy and light of the leaves themselves, the sharp metal corners that are their edges and the floating shadows they cast back on the pages that anchor them in space.

Much like its host, this last gathering was intimate and sweet, with an edge. And, at the risk of sounding like someone who says stuff like I'm about to, the space felt "sacred." The respect for Eric -- his work, his journey, his unique voice -- was palpable. It was moving to see Eric interact with each person as they entered the space. Each time his face brightened with genuine surprise and delight. One could sense that he was holding each person in his gaze, meeting him or her in the moment, gauging energy, and then bending to catch each word, like a priest hearing a confession. In the midst of "mourning" this space where he had squeezed his soul into art for decades, had learned of his own diagnosis, had laughed, danced, and cried with too many angels now departed, Eric's priority remained the comfort of others.

For those of us who feel most at home East of Fifth and South of 14th, each change in the neighborhood (and there have been so many) feels like a small death. And this was no exception.

Guests were asked to take the crayons and markers Eric had provided and leave messages (thanks, hopes, sadness, regret, whatever) on the walls to be brought down and carried out of the space after the gutting. I wrote a note of thanks to two people I've never met, but I feel I've come to know through hearing Eric speak of them. The notes were to his mom, Shelbi Rhein, and his uncle (Shelbi's brother) Elijah "Lige" Clarke, the gay rights pioneer and partner of Jack Nichols who was randomly murdered in Mexico in 1975. Eric's Uncle Lige served as the inspiration for one of Eric's recent shows, "Uncle Lige's Sword", which was installed at The LGBT Community Center in New York City.

The last evening in Eric's East Village digs was bittersweet to be sure, but I wouldn't have missed it.

Bravo Eric!
The page is turned and a blank one awaits.
You know what to do!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I'm Not in Love With You Anymore

One hasn't quite lived (or died to illusion) until they've been on the receiving end of this sharp-ended, dagger-of-a-phrase sent hurtling across a room, launched from the mouth of someone with whom you (at one time, even though long ago) thought you would spend the rest of your life. It's deeply disturbing to discover that the very same mouth that so often comforted, tickled, promised, whispered, teased, and delighted reveals the unerring ease at which it can deliver venom as well. Regardless of whether the words strike the head or the heart first, or whether the relationship is rushed to intensive care and hooked to artificial means of "love-support," the wound will ultimately prove fatal because what that phrase really means is "I was never in love with you." And therein, my friends, lies the poison.

How does one fall out of Love? The answer is pretty simple. One doesn't. One falls, or more accurately stumbles -- bruising head, heart and soul -- out of an illusion of Love. At the risk of sounding like a wedding preacher: Love never fails. Love. Never. Fails. So, when a relationship purportedly based on "Love" fails, it's a fairly good indicator that what one was actually dealing with was one of Love's sneaky impostors -- infatuation, lust, physical desire, co-dependency.

I was treated to this (please God, let it be) once-in-a-lifetime lesson earlier tonight. I'd brought some things back to the Ex's that he'd left at my house after coming for Easter with a friend of ours. My intention was to drop the stuff off at the door and beat it. I was still smarting emotionally from Sunday's interaction, and we'd had one of our e-mail fencing matches earlier in the day. I was tired in every sense of the word.

A momentary lapse in judgment and I was goaded inside; suddenly I was on the wrong side of his apartment door. A veiled reference to the state of things between us and we were off. I don't remember what I said to compel him to say what came next, but I do remember his exact words. They were "I'm not in love with you anymore" and "I don't want to ever be in a relationship with you again." Uhm, ouch.

His delivery was too scripted not to be. I'd always had this upper hand with him; unlike me, he is incapable of any real subterfuge. I sensed that he'd been trying to say these words for a long time. So long, in fact, that the delivery at this time seemed cruel, unnecessarily so. We hadn't slept together for over a year and I could count the number of pleasant interactions during that time on one had.

I'm not sure why we were even interacting. I know I wasn't emotionally up to it, but I hung around. Did I think that we would get together again? Realistically, no, but something kept me hovering. I believe it had more to do with my New England-Irish-Catholic stubbornness and than with him. I hate losing, I hate not being right and I hate not being in control. With him I'd come up short on all three.

In my life, this in-spite-of determination has proved to be double-edged sword. While it's likely the reason I beat the odds early in life, it's also the reason I stay locked in losing scenarios, redoubling my energies.

What I discovered tonight is the awesome power of words. I now understand that words are capable of stopping a heart mid-beat, of stealing breath, of sending ice through veins and fire into the brain, of blinding sight.

I also discovered that they can be the very things that steel one's soul and provide clarity. All that was confused suddenly snapped into order when the full force of his words landed, and I was able to look at him evenly in the eyes and say "Goodbye," really meaning it for the first time.

The tears that followed were not about pain, but release.

As I turned to leave, he said, "Why do you torture yourself like this?" I kept walking, strength mounting in each step.

On the street I answered him . . . "I don't anymore."

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Alcohol 1, Susan Birmingham 0

Today I received a call from an old friend telling me that our mutual friend and former colleague, Susan Birmingham, slipped into a coma on Friday after being rushed to the hospital and was taken off life support on Sunday, April 1, 2007. Susan, who was 51, would have rolled her eyes at the irony of dying on April Fool's Day. Apparently, she had been ill for a while, but had not sought medical care because like over 46.6 million other Americans, she had no health insurance. The cause of her death was acute pancreatitis, which often results from long-term alcohol abuse.

Susan came to work in fundraising and grass-roots development at a non-profit shortly after I had started as a research attorney in the same organization in 1997. We became fast friends, and even faster drinking buddies. Many nights were spent huddled on stools with the rest of our thirsty co-workers at the Irish bar in the first floor of office building. When we were feeling culturally superior to our colleagues or just needed to feel that I-live-in-fucking-New-York feeling, we'd end up drinking multiple dirty Bombay Sapphire martinis (up, exceedingly dry) at Raoul's in SoHo and splitting an order of Steak Frites. We both loved this city and knew that is was where we were destined to live.

Susan had achieved considerable success in the world of non-profits, as one on the initial architects of the PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) that brought grass-roots lobbying to college campuses. She was instrumental in bringing what had been so successful in the East out West. The contacts she made then sustained her in that world as she eventually set herself up as a freelance consultant in development in organizing.

She had so many abilities -- razor sharp mind that could strategize 50 angles at once, the ability to size a person up intellectually on the spot, incredible prioritization skills and she was a team and consensus builder beyond compare. Her issues were certainly to the left, but those around her considered her sharpest rebuke to be when she said you were acting like "such a fucking liberal." She had no patience for emotionalism of any kind and was equally intolerant of anyone's refusal to seek and reach his or her full potential.

Susan saw more possiblitity in me than I saw in myself. I, likewise, had the same ability when looking at her. We were, in many ways, each other's cracked mirror. Like so many alcoholics [she was of the self-admitted, non-anonymous variety], she held many inconsistencies in her life giving her, what I know she liked to think of as, mystery. As a grass-roots organizer, she was likely indirectly responsible for registering more voters in this country than any other person, yet she remained unregistered herself. She could manage millions of dollars of development without being aware of her checkbook balance at any given time. She organized multi-course fundraising dinners, seeing to the very last detail, but didn't have anything but frozen M&Ms and uncovered wedges of French cheese in her refrigerator. She was my kinda gal.

My heart sank when I received the call because I had not been in contact with Susan for a few months. We were just starting to speak again after a falling out about a year ago. I later learned that this pattern was one of Susan's and that her life had many similar loose threads. We deeply respected and cared for one another on a level that is irreversible. We had shared our truths with each other and remain connected in that place for eternity, but the ability to interact on an everyday basis eluded us. It had a bit to do with some unsavory hangers-on who had arrived on the scene and had started, in my opinion, to use her and syphon off energy and funds like parasites, but it also had to do with us, our stubbornness and our pride.

My life is a more honest one for having known Susan Birmingham. We were together on 9/11, walking below Canal Street listening to the sirens and joking about her mother being the only one in the world who didn't call her daughter in NYC that day, she threw me a wonderful 35th birthday party at her "fabulous Tribeca loft" (that's what she and I insisted on calling it), she gave me $20 when I didn't have it and I did the same for her.

We were able to see each other as the other really was. And neither of us flinched.

I already miss you SB. I can't believe I'll never hear your laughter again.