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Tag Archives: New York City

West Side Story Singalong

The first time I saw the movie West Side Story I was 16 years old. Since then I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it, but my estimate is around 45-50. I’m not exaggerating.

Friday night Daryl was here for dinner and I was looking online to see what movies are playing this weekend, muttering and cursing because I have yet to find an organized movie calendar that makes sense online. And then, suddenly, I stumbled on this announcement:

NOVEMBER 11 (AFTERNOON PROGRAM )

SING ALONG WEST SIDE STORY 2:00

Hosted by Laurie Bushman & Sara Moore. Romeo and Juliet gets re-located to the streets of New York City in this ever-popular adaptation of the long-running Bernstein/Sondheim Broadway show. Come in costume! Sing along to this timeless classic with Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Russ Tamblyn and Rita Moreno! Grab your bag of goodies at the door! Winner of 10 Oscars® including Best Picture and Best Director for Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. (1961, full program run appox 180 min, 35mm ‘Scope)

$15 general / $10 kids & seniors NO PASSES

Meetcha downstairs! I’m beside myself with excitement. Go read a recent post on WSS, here.

Climate Change

Someday we may look back at the superstorm known as Sandy with immense gratitude. Yeah, she took the boardwalks at Rockaway, Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore; most East Coast beach communities have been forever altered; and some people’s lives took a severe blow. However, because of all this, and the rest of Sandy’s antics, people are finally talking about climate change as a serious issue.

Nothing I have to say on this blog or anywhere else and nothing on any other blog matters the teensiest bit if we end up without Planet Earth, an outcome that might occur if we don’t act asap. Therefore I direct my readers to a slide show and article on Huffington Post that, in 53 photos with explanations, identifies the losses we’re going to face in the near future if we continue on the same path. It’s scary–but it’s important. It’s of the awful/wonderful genre that will, hopefully, light a fire under a few more asses. Click. Read. Act.

 

On Friendship: Sex and the City (Film)

 This was written a few years ago and posted on my memoir blog, which I took down about a year ago. I thought I’d moved it onto this blog, but apparently I didn’t. I’m putting it up now, and if it seems out of date, that’s why.

I just saw SEX AND THE CITY, and it was the best two-and-a-half hours I’ve spent since I rented the TV show’s DVDs. Fashion, beauty, love, sex, laughter, The Big Apple…plus, it’s a very secure feeling to know, when everything falls apart, it’ll all be made right at the end. The movie was panned, mercilessly and unfairly, in the NY Times. Hey, nobody’s saying this is high art. For what SATC  is, it was well done. A lot of scenes had me tearing up, especially at the tender way Carrie’s friends take care of her, and I realized that a big appeal of the show lies in its romantic view of friendship. In an age when we’re not supposed to romanticize romance, the romantic impulse in SATC is superimposed onto friendship instead. Maybe that’s what I always liked about the series.

Friendship is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot this century, almost as much as I think about aging. In the last century I had dozens of friendships, ranging in longevity from three to forty-five years. I’m talking close friends, not mere acquaintances, mostly women, some in California, some in New York. Today I have almost none. I lost a few people to the Grim Reaper, but the others either drifted away, intentionally dumped me, or I dumped them. Some of the dumpings were as dramatic and painful as the deaths. I’ve spent much of this century trying to figure out what happened.

Before I could figure out the breakups I had to look clearly at the relationships as they were. One reason I’m so moved by the friendships in SATC is that I’ve never in my life had friends who treated me the way these women treat one another. Charlotte sat on the bed and spoon-fed Carrie during her meltdown. Miranda the attorney saved her apartment, and Samantha arranged to move all her belongings back into it—all accomplished while sitting on a veranda in Mexico, where they’d gone to nurse Carrie back into a reasonable semblance of human. Who has friends like these, much less three of them? I wish!

I used to say that the women in SATC were like no women I’ve ever known, that the show was a gay man’s fairy tale…but I suspended disbelief because I love fairy tales. What I was talking about then was the clothing, the clubbing, the fabulous life they led, the money. Let’s be real: no New York columnist at Carrie Bradshaw’s level, writing three times a week, makes enough bucks to pay New York City rent, much less buy Manolo Blahnik shoes with regularity. Now I realize it’s the actual friendship, the heart of SATC, that’s the real fairy tale. Contemporary women are beyond the myth of Happily Ever After with the Prince—but we still believe it can happen with girlfriends.

I used to consciously and seriously believe in friendship. It was one of my core values. Back in the 70s, when I got into consciousness-raising and the women’s movement, one of the first illusions that got tossed, along with the bras and leg-shaving gear, was romantic love. We actually held seminars and workshops on the subject. You’d be ridiculed if you believed that coupledom, as we sneeringly called it, could save you. It wasn’t just theoretical, either—I’d been married, I’d done the whole husband-kids-picket fence routine, and found it wanting.

We believed in forms of group living as a Solution, an antidote to the nuclear family, a phrase as loathsome to us as coupledom. Maybe a variation of the Israeli kibbutz would save us, maybe Chinese Socialism. We read up on these things, studied them. The hippie commune is now an old joke, but many of them were serious efforts to forge a better way of life, to raise happier kids. I lived in two or three group situations, all disastrous in one way or another. Still, though I came to the conclusion that communal living was my own worst nightmare, I didn’t stop believing in friendship as the key to a good life. I put a lot of time and energy into my friendships, as much as I put into my kids and each of my serially monogamous relationships—maybe even more, to my everlasting regret. As an investment in the future…better stick to blood, it really is thicker than water—though I haven’t had much luck in that department either.

You’d think by now I’d be done idealizing freindship, but, while I may be disillusioned, I’m not completely cynical. If I were, I wouldn’t  be so enamored of Carrie Bradshaw and Company. Somewhere deep inside, I still believe that do-or-die freindships exist. I imagine that a lot of other people, or at least women, have them; in fact I know that some women do. I’m always reading stories by older women who say it’s their friends who pull them through. Just this year I read a memoir by Isabel Allende and another by Lilian Rubin, both praising their glorious friendships. I know a San Francisco woman whose birthday parties I used to go to—the last one I attended was her 70th—where dozens of devoted women come to honor her with gifts of poetry and love. These aren’t casual acquaintances, either, but intimate friends, nurtured during four decades of living, working, and political activism in SF.

I don’t want dozens of close friends. One or two would suffice. At a relatively late age, in my forties, I began a new friendship that turned out to be far healthier and more positive than previous relationships. Andrea’s primary life work was collecting people, and when we met, through a mutual friend’s death, she signed on for life. (People in New York tend to be that way—whomever you stumble into can end up a lifetime connection from which you can’t opt out without major drama. Californians, I’ve found, are more transient, drifting in and out of each other’s lives with little fanfare). During the eighteen years I knew Andrea, I learned what had been missing in previous friendships. I also faced up to my own failings as a friend, and learned how to do better. When she told me she had lung cancer, I confess that my first selfish reaction was self-pity: I’d finally found a real friend, so of course she was going to die. And she did.

Until 2003 my longest lasting friendship was one that began in high school. We gave lip service to the depth of our love and loyalty, but the truth is, our friendship came nowhere near SATC quality. In addition, vast gulfs of differences existed between us: she was the stable housewife and mother, and, like so many Americans, assumed hers was the normal life, mine aberrent. Once, after our kids were grown, she said it was a miracle that mine turned out so well despite my lifestyle. I wanted to say, maybe it’s because of our lifestyle, but my inability to defend myself was by then ingrained in our relationship.

Despite our differences, we had an intense emotional bond, a gut-level connection that was, at certain times and under certain circumstances, deeply satisfying. Our conversations could be profound, often spiritual. The odd thing was, while in some ways I was invisible to her, on another level she knew me better than anyone else. I loved her, and I love her still—but sometimes love is not enough.

The friendship ended during a health crisis that put me into the hospital seven times in one year. For the next two years I was sick, poor, and profoundly dissatisfied with my life, and she got tired, she said, of my “negativity.” At this time other friendships also fell by the wayside. Not only didn’t people help me when I was sick, they couldn’t even tolerate me. Yes, I was whiny; yes, I cried and complained a lot—but I don’t care how negative or insufferable I might have been at that time…what the fuck are friends for?

One friend in New York who I held onto happened to call a few minutes after I arrived home after four days in hospital. I was all alone, frightened about taking care of myself, and was trying to figure out the medication instructions the nurse had given me. Unable to make head or tail of them, feeling utterly lost, I answered the phone crying. From 3000 miles away, Joani called the hospital and got the information, then called me back to deliver it. At that time I had friends in San Francisco who told me, “Gee, I wish I could help you, but I’m all the way on the other side of the bridge.” So, yes, Joani is a keeper.

Unlike four or five other alleged friends.

For almost 30 years I’d been helping S. with her health crises—taking her to doctors, writing bureaucratic letters for her, giving her a television when hers broke, always making her musical compilations. I never expected much from her because of her own health problems, but she did manage to go out to a play or movie from time to time…so why couldn’t she visit me just once? Another friend stuck it out for a few months, even drove me home from the hospital once, but then she decided we were “going in different directions.” She was trying to be spiritual and kind, she explained, while I was becoming bitter and negative. After fifteen years of friendship, she walked out the door because I wasn’t being spiritual enough for her.

I’m aware that in reciting this litany of complaints against others, I’m opening myself to judgment and disbelief: when we hear stories like these, we automatically wonder what we’re not hearing—the other side. We read between the lines, imagining the awful deeds this person must have done to deserve so much bad treatment. It’s true my ex-friends have their own points of view, and for sure I’m no angel. But from my point of view, this is what happened. At the age of 63 I’ve become someone I never in a million years thought I would be: a lonely, isolated senior with few resources and no support system.

It’s a cliché, isn’t it—the notion of fair weather friends,  the old saw that in times of need you find out who your real friends are. The only thing is, I should have found it out long ago. I’d led a life full of crises as the single mother of a son who had seizures and surgical procedures. I felt quite alone with all that—and it wasn’t just a feeling. I see now that I just couldn’t bear to face the truth: I’d already given up on romantic love and the nuclear family; if I gave up on friendship, what would be left?

My mother used to tell me, “You can never count on anyone but yourself.” I scoffed at her cynicism. My generation was different. We’d care for one another. All you need is love and so forth. But as it turns out, to employ another cliché, Mother was right. My life has shown me that all I can count on is myself. I loved watching Sex and the City because it offered a momentary escape from that harsh reality, a few minutes or hours to pretend that life can be the way I used to think it should be.

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Breathe Better: San Francisco

Posted on


“San Francisco is known for its cool summers and fresh air
that blows in off the water. It was the only city that ranked
average or above in all 12 categories ….”

According to a survey conducted by The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), if you want to breathe, the best city to do it in is….ta da! Our dearly beloved San Francisco! Seattle comes in second, and Portland third. No mention, for better or worse, of Oakland, where I currently occupy a tiny dark studio apartment.

When I moved cross-country from New York in 1988, it was to San Francisco. I’d fallen in love with the city, as so many people do, while on vacation visiting a friend. Six months later I found a bright, airy, affordable studio apartment in the Richmond, and lived there more or less happily for three years. Then I met a guy, fell in love, and followed him to the grimy grubby East Bay. Emeryville, where we lived at land’s end on the water, was grand—but in a few years we broke up, SF rents went through the stratosphere, and I haven’t been able to crawl out of Oakland since. As the wise, too-young departed Amy Winehouse put it, “I should be my own best friend / not fuck myself in the head with stupid men.”

(Below: SF:)

Rents didn’t just rise in SF, but everywhere, so at this point I’m in East Oakland paying relatively low rent in a neighborhood devoid of trees, outdoor cafés, or decent supermarkets. What we do have are gangs, never-ending dust from the nearby freeway, and nasty neighbors who yell at me through the windows when I cheer the Yankees or sing a song. I’ve wanted to move back to San Francisco for at least a dozen years—but I also wanted to move, for various reasons, back to New York, or to Portland Oregon, or to Los Angeles to be near my grandkids; I got myself too confused to go anywhere. This report on the air in SF, though, is the straw that’s pushing this camel over the bridge at last. Because I really need to move, for my health if nothing else.

(Below, East Oakland):

In February 2002 I was diagnosed with COPD—Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It began while I was in Los Angeles, and I blamed the smog for a sudden case of pneumonia that had me gasping for air in the ER of Cedars Sinai Hospital. Gasping for air sounds mild compared to the experience, which I’ve never before attempted to describe. An inability to breathe is the worst, scariest thing I have ever been through, and during the following year it happened maybe half a dozen times. I remember during one episode thinking, “Why don’t I just die?” I wished I would, it was so painful not to be able to breathe, and I couldn’t understand how I was still alive without oxygen in my system.

For the next two years I got pneumonia six times, was in and out of hospitals, on oxygen, unable to work.  I stopped smoking immediately of course, that first night, and wanted nothing to do with tobacco. And then, as soon as I was off the oxygen, having no breathing problems, I wanted to smoke again. I squelched the urge as long as I could until a crisis gave me an excuse. Even so, I continued to be all right. I didn’t believe I really had COPD, though my pulmonologist insisted I did, and that it would come back again. He was amazed that I stayed as healthy as I did, still sucking on sickarettes.

I promised the doctor and myself that if I started to feel lousy again I would quit, but it took me years to finally do it, and I found it impossible this time without the help of a hypnotherapist. I also visit QuitNet regularly, a terrific supportive tough-love website.  Apparently I did further damage to my lungs–although I quit more than 3 months ago, I still can’t take a deep breath. I hate not smoking, but I just can’t do it anymore. I’m hoping that when I move back to the city by the Bay, with its cool moist winds, I’ll be able to breathe again and will feel a lot better for a lot of reasons.

If anyone out there has a lead on a cheap place to live, please let me know. I’m finished fucking myself in the head with sickarettes and stupid men.