Friday, February 15, 2008


I wanted to be a writer not because my head was bursting with beautiful things I had to say, but because my most profound and meaningful experiences came through reading and I thought that if I could somehow become one of those people who could translate life into words that would be worthwhile. I’d be satisfied.

Sometimes, like now, when I am refusing every story that knocks cautiously at my door, I long instead for just strings of fancy words, some well hung phrases – the begrudgers must be at work, must be burping with satisfaction that they’ve got me out of action.

I see Jeffrey sitting up in the unmade bed, the NYC apartment window behind him, the hard blue walls of the room. I am standing in the doorway facing him. Maybe it’s the night we did acid and it was his idea that we color and draw while high and it sounded fun, but I could never get high enough to let go with the colors, and I couldn’t do it, but he did and I remember the drawing on an 8x11 sheet, horizontal, and there was a brown door in the drawing, opening or closing, and some words with the word “Tuesday” amongst them, and Jeffrey explaining something about how Tuesday is worse than Monday – and for me it is one more – not that I needed another – piece of evidence that he is the artist and I am not.

And I remember sitting at the round marble table in the apartment in Athens, on the bright shiny blonde parquet floor, giving Natvar a theory for why I had so many shortcomings, that I was like my mother, I offered, and could always provide material comfort to to thers, but nothing more. Natvar chewed my creative thinking with approval as he drank his coffee from the beautiful blue and white cup, part of the set he had picked out in Bloomingdales, picked it because one of his wealthy upper East Side clients had the same set, and we’d bought it on my mother’s credit card, and brought it when we fled to Greece. There wasn’t room to bring much. But we brought this coffee set and the IBM Selectric – things that set us apart from other people in Athens – crucial to Natvar that we appear to be aristocrats, something familiar to me because my father was the same – not so daring – my father wouldn’t have left the country because the cops were after him – my father would have turned himself in – though, he would argue, didn’t I get out of Hungary on the sly at the end of the war? Yes, Dad, but you were always so careful around authorities when I knew you, always careful to have your papers in order.

I see Natvar out on the terrace in Athens. Ythere were sliding glass doorsx in the living room. You stepped out onto terra cotta tiles, flowerbeds on the sides, a black railing overlooking the quiet, shady lane below. The terrace was spacious. Natvar grew bright colorful zinnias in the beds that lined it. There was a large basil plant every summer in a terra cotta pot. Natvar told us that in Greece everyone has a basil plant for the summer. You have to have one. The hibiscus tree flowered easily out there and a cascading wall-climbing vine with orange trumpet flowers. I see Natvar out there wrapped only in his silk robe, burgundy paisley, also from Bloomingdales on the card.

It had been part of the last year in NYC when it seemed Natvar was becoming a star, rich woman after rich woman enlisting his services as a private yoga instructor and confidante – some of them famous – and Natvar beginning to want and want the lovely things he saw in their apartments. The clothes for instance. He wanted us all to look good. Him first. Then Mark, his lover, and his two little daughters. Then Tracy and me. But we had nothing to spend except my mother’s credit card.

We went to Bloomingdales and Natvar bought three fancy dresses for each daughter. And after he and one little daughter ran away to Athens – when it was just Mark, Meredyth and me left for a few months in NY – Mark played Natvar, took me and Meredyth to Bloomies and bought us Tahari and Yves St. Laurent, clothes I had no idea how to even try on. “You can do it, Murtz,” Mark said. “See, how you look like somebody.” Wow, I thought. Is that all there is to it?

He sure looked like somebody when he wanted to, spiffed up as Natvar had taught him. He could look like a choir boy. And Tracy would put on the spiky high heels and make some lavish dinner and guests would come and we would present ourselves: Natvar and Mark, half-brothers, we said. Ariadne on Natvar’s lap, little blonde princess. Marta the secretary. Tracy the cute little cook. And the guest would be made to feel like royalty.

I would look back on my days with Jeffrey. Those had been meaningless. This what I was doing now was serious work. I believed Natvar had some secret access to something life-giving and important and I couldn’t back away. I was committed. There was no way out except to give up and say I can’t do this, I am an utter failure.

When I finally did leave it happened quickly. I sat at the kitchen table. It was London now and many things had changed, but that night I had realized that many things had not and never would. The fight had been huge. At the dinner table of course. Most fights were at mealtimes. The table in London was rectangular, not our white marble circle from Athens that we’d had to leave behind. And Natvar had cursed me, holding up his hand in the Greek gesture of fuck-you, the palm facing me, all fingers spread wide, blocking me from his sight.

I sat by myself in the kitchen. Ariadne was in bed. The dishes were done. Natvar came in, wrapped in the burgundy paisley robe.

“I’ll leave,” I said, frightened that he’d erupt again, but he didn’t. In the morning I left early, sneaking out, taking what I’d need for a few days, afraid still he’d block me, but he didn’t. I didn’t know where I would sleep that night. It felt like stepping off a cliff, taking the one step I had refused to take for seven years until it felt like the only one left. And when I did not tumble into endless freefall, when I did not die, the delirium of the next few months was sweet. It was happiness peace and pleasure that I had not even tasted for seven years.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I wondered today if you could – and I’m sure you can – type in something like “weather winter 1978 New York City” and get a site that would tell you what the temperatures and snowfall were that year.

I think it came from the radio mentioning that the record for the lowest temperature on today’s date was in 1978 and I thought of me in 1978 on that day. It was a cold winter. There had been snow and the office had closed early and Eric the lawyer in the office where I was temping had driven me home down Fifth Avenue in his black Porsche and there were no other cars, just one or two people cross-country skiing down Fifth Avenue.

He dropped me off and it was all in keeping because my boyfriend had started sleeping once a week with an old woman he’d met at a writing class – an evening writing class – at the New School – an old woman who had a seven-year-old daughter and published books already so it fit that the lawyer in this office would flirt with me, then take me out for lunch at Le Cirque where I only ordered tomato soup and a Margarita (Come on, he kept saying, don't you want something to eat?) and we only stayed about half an hour before heading back to the office and he started kissing me in the elevator. It all fit neatly. It was just what I needed, a lawyer who had his eye on me and seemed capable of making it happen.

How cold was it that winter, and the one before that and the one before that when I always seemed to be on 119th Street, walking head-down from Amsterdam to Broadway against the bitter wind in the long brown coat with the hood that my mother had paid $100 for at Macy’s in the suburbs, a coat that I loved, Red Riding Hood, a romantic coat, long and full, not tight and belted like the trench coats my parents liked, long, full and flowing, and the six-foot Icelandic scarf that my almost-useless high school boyfriend had given me, the one present he really got right. The scarf and the coat and the fierce wind and the grey unforgiving sky. The tiny Apple supermarket and the dress shop where I bought a tent dress in browns and greens, cotton, full and cheap, but a shopping mistake. It doesn’t get worn. It gets thrown out somewhere eventually before or after the drive to California just a few weeks after Eric drops me off in the snowstorm.

I buy a duffle bag at the Army/Navy store, a long green sausage, and I put all my clothes into it and put it in the trunk of the big white boxy Mercedes that is my boyfriend’s car. Of course he has a Mercedes. He has everything.

He is driving to Los Angeles. Now he is saying I can come if I want to. He has often said he will go to LA to become a film director and I am sure he will. I don’t say anything about coming with him. I don’t know what I will do when he leaves. I don’t think about it. There is too much to think about with him going once a week to spend the night in Harriet’s apartment – I imagine him there, I imagine a dark place, the little girl, this woman who is so old but he wants to sleep with her and she is so much a writer that there are paperbacks with her name on them and I have no idea how to get from here to there, but she knew how to do it and now my boyfriend sometimes likes her better than me and this is like a knife in my stomach that I say doesn't hurt.

And then somehow he is inviting me to go with him to this California where he will become a film director and I am sure he will. I do not know how I will become anything. He says he has been waiting for me to finish school so we can go together, but I didn’t know that, he never told me, and it didn’t feel that way – Harriet and Eric -- but it is fine with me to go too, to go to California now, sure – go with him, be part of his adventure that is now filling the apartment. It takes me fifteen minutes to put my clothes in the green sausage, but he is making tapes for the road – each color-coded: red for fast tapes, blue for slower ones, violet for sleep tapes – each with a title like a book, each made as carefully as a stained-glass mosaic, and he buys two small cases to carry them in – two little sort-of suitcases especially for cassette tapes and his trip is all there is so of course I will come too, as if I were really part of it, and his sister comes a day or two before we leave, Buf, his sister, with her blonde spaghetti hair – that’s what their little half-sister called it – I remember Buf coming home and telling us about it, laughing – she always laughed so intensely, they both did, as if there was a lot at stake in that laughter, as if you better join in or else -- describing the taxi ride and the cute little sister saying “spagheti hair” – and the fact is that Buf is plain. But she rolled us an ounce of pot into joints so we’d have enough for the road. My boyfriend and I always smoked with pipes, neither of us could roll, but Buf had learned somewhere along the way and she did it for us. Mostly, she is exactly the same as my boyfriend and the ways in which she is different do not count. Except for that she can roll. This is maybe her only difference that is cool. She and my boyfriend always laugh at the same jokes, are always part of one world -- one they made together -- or maybe he made it and she is Citizen Number One -- I am allowed in, but only with a visa.