Dec 26 2008

The Best Christmas Gift I Ever Gave Myself

I volunteered at Glide Memorial on Christmas day. I tell you this not because I want you think I’m this big-hearted, selfless philanthropist. Hardly the case. Honestly, as a maverickin’ gal,  I had nothing better to do on Christmas. I tell you this because I’m so glad I had nothing better to do. Because I learned there is nothing better to do. So shoulder to shoulder I stood with a bunch of very mellow, upbeat strangers for a few hours, stuffing brown paper bags — hundreds of brown paper bags — with sandwiches (1 bologna, 1 peanut butter), chips, and a candy. Sounds lame, but given the right group of people, this can be a very enjoyable activity. And doing this hearing the Glide Choir in the background belting it out — it just doesn’t get much better than that.

I could harp on about the importance of giving back, helping others less fortunate, blah blah blah. But you’ve heard all that before. But what I learned is how much I needed it, how much I got out of it. It was the greatest christmas give I could have given myself.

Let’s start with Glide Memorial itself, and specifically, the Rev. Cecil Williams. You don’t need to attend a holiday service to feel the power of Rev. Williams. Any service, any day will do. I’ve never been in the presence of Nelson Mandela or Jimmy Carter. But I imagine that if I were, I’d freeze. I’d be so overcome with awe that I’d be rendered useless. It’s like that with Rev. WIlliams. I’ve been to a few of his sermons and trust me, you will get goosebumbs. There is power and wisdom and kindness in his every message. Next time you visit San Francisco (or have friends visiting, if you already live here): screw Fisherman’s Wharf. Get yourself or your guests to Glide. Sure, its neighborhood, the Tenderloin, looks a little rough (very rough to those who aren’t visiting from NYC, Chicago, or Detroit). But trust me, it’s safe enough. It’s fine. There are people with some very real struggles on its streets, but I’ve never seen anyone there act aggressively toward a visitor. Plus, there are some good hole-in-the-wall restaurants nearby. Little Saigon is a few short blocks away and has great, cheap Vietnamese food. A little pricier is Farmer Brown, on Market, for some ass-kickin’ (and ass-expandin’) soul food.

The great thing about Glide: it isn’t about any particular religion. It’s about humanism. The human spirit, and love, and all those things we can take for granted or for some reason don’t nurture enough because of all the other distractions we’ve created for ourselves (Facebook, Facebook, Facebook). Surround yourself in the mesmerizing power of a Cecil Williams sermon — the great equalizer of all people from every walk of life — and you’ll have one of the biggest “aha” moments of your adult life. I’m not even sure what my “aha” was, but something along the lines of why did I wait so long to do this / this place feels more alive than anywhere else I’ve ever been / volunteering can be fun / church rocks! / I know what to do every holiday from now on.

Look, I don’t have particularly strong family ties at this point in my life. But for 3 hours today, I did. It felt beautiful. And it was fun! Merry Christmas everyone!

ps — word to my girl Janice at Glide: You are my idol! Thank you!

Dec 17 2008

The moment I realized: There were some things my parents were never going to tell me.

(note: this started out as a proposal for a book on Prince’s 3rd album, “Dirty Mind” in part of a series of  books about albums by 33 1/3). After writing this, I realized there really isn’t much to say about the album; it speaks for itself and gets right to the point. But I did have something to say about how I became aware of the album; one night, alone in my room, as a young girl so so curious about the world out there. And relying almost entirely on tv, movies and radio to serve as my portal.)

Prince performing \”Party Up\” on SNL, 1981

At the time I first saw this clip, I had had sex twice. I thought I knew sex. But all of that changed in three nationally-televised minutes.

One night in February, Prince was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. Prince’s only real claim to fame thus far had been I Wanna Be Your Lover. A song that whispered nothing to me and my newly raging hormones. Back in the day, you stopped the party to watch SNL. It was like that. Now I remember very well I was not at a party on this particular airing. I remember so well because… I had a moment.

I don’t think I’d ever actually seen Prince before this performance. If I had it was pretty forgettable. But he comes on: He’s wearing a trench coat. It’s open. He’s shirtless. He’s wearing thigh-high black boots, which I thought were pants until he spun around and the coat twirled to reveal: No Pants . He’s playing a huge (relative to his diminuitive self) guitar. He’s singing a song called Party Up , the perfect marriage of funk and anarchy and sex. This song, this performance… Changed My Life.

(A little backstory: My parents were old-school Rat Pack Fabulous. We moved from New York to Vegas back when Vegas was small and glamorous and mob-related guys like my dad did very well. Seriously, they were straight outta a Scorscese movie. My mom even looked like Sharon Stone. And dad was Greek. Need I say more. I couldn’t wait to grow up. Childhood and its inhabiting children were so banal. Adulthood seemed so much more interesting.)

Now my upbringing was hardly sheltered. I was allowed to tag along my 2 older brothers whenever they’d allow it. And my mother took me to see “Rosemary’s Baby when I was 4; the Exorcist when I was 10 — which may explain my strange dreams to this day. But I digress. Point is, I was aware of a lot of things at an early age. But could it be there were some things perhaps even my parents were unaware of… or decided it best I remain unaware of?

So here was Prince, cracking the door on an adulthood my parents never told me about. It was nasty and sexy and forbidden and it was muthafuckin’ HOT. I knew a little bit about sex at this point, so I understood horniness and desire and lust. Adolesence, hormones, blah blah blah. You get the picture. But in Las Vegas in 1981, neither I – – nor my equally horny girlfriends – had ever considered fucking the lights out of a black man. Or a really short man. Or a man who could hit higher notes that us. Or a man who weighed less than us. Or a man who didn’t wear pants. If there was a “Cause and Effect” here, Prince was the Cause. The Effect was not: Want Sex (I already knew I wanted it). No, the effect was “ Want to Experience Sex”. For in that performance, I understood The Appeal Of The Unknown.  And Prince on that night could not have been any more unknown if he were from fucking Mars. And, again, HOT.

Yeah, that night adulthood got more enticing than I’d ever imagined. The next day, I bought the album on which Party Up appeared. It was called, most appropriately, “Dirty Mind”. There is nothing mysterious or cryptic about the album’s title. It starts with the title song.  Other equally in-your-face titles, such as as Head and Sister, are about, respectively, giving/getting head and fucking your sister.

Even songs with innocent titles had lyrics such as “you didn’t have the decency to change the sheets (When You Were Mine). But I think my favorite memory of listening to this album involves my father, the most conservative old-world Greek on the planet. I was scouting colleges to attend one day, and one of them was SUNY Stony Brook (Long Island, NY). By this time my parents were divorced, my father living with his sister in Queens. I was there to check out the college and we took in a Yankees game. My first and only sports crush (on Bucky Dent) was in full swing. So we go to Yankee Stadium. And during some break in the game, when we go to the concession stand, they play Prince’s song Dirty Mind over the speakers. Now from a distance, the song sounds innocent enough, Prince hitting all the high notes in his falsetto. It’s got a nice, bouncy melody. Until you get to the bridge, where Prince blurts out (rather loudly) the lyrics:

“you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya lay ya, you just gotta let me lay ya, gotta let me lay ya down. In my daddy’s car. It’s you I really wanna drive…”

Anticipating that moment in the song, I didn’t speak to my father for about a minute. And then I let him have it. I have no idea what I said, just made up some tirade so that he wouldn’t hear the words. He’s the type of man who would be so disgusted, and share his disgust, for days. It wouldn’t be worth it. If I tried to defend Prince, he’d only be disgusted with me. No, I had to create a diversion. It worked. Bucky Dent hit a home run. The Yankees lost the game, but who cares? For one bright shining afternoon, I had Prince, and I had Bucky. The future was looking bright.

Dec 1 2008

My midlife crisis turns 18 months in December!

Mountain Springs Saloon, Blue Diamond, NV.

Mountain Springs Saloon, Blue Diamond, NV. It's a long story.

Hard to believe, how fast they grow up. Seems like only yesterday it was merely a zygote of an urge / gut feeling I could no longer deny. And I’m definitely not done yet. It’s actually not so much a crisis, but rather a segue between Acts I & II. Although the segue itself is starting to feel like Act I.5. Here’s  what I’ve figured out so far:

1. It takes more guts to walk away from safety than into the fire.

2. If a total stranger (insert random act of rudeness here), be kind & cut ‘em some slack. For all you know, they just got that call telling them, “Your father has brain cancer”.

3. If the thought of doing something “outside your comfort zone” scares the shit out of you, you need to do it. Twice. Because the first time you’ll probably be too nervous to give it a fair shake.

4. Leave the past in the past. Period.

5. It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. And then it will get harder than ever before it gets easier. And then it will get so hard you can’t ever imagine it getting easier. But it does.

6. Be real good to your friends, cos you’re gonna need ’em.

7. If there are people in your life you have to make excuses for or seem to prefer “the old you”, scrape ’em off. Like shit on the bottom of your shoe, scrape ’em off.

8. This too shall pass. (That’s actually a Kurt Vonnegut Jr. quote, now taking up permanent residence on my arm)

9. If you find yourself looking for an answer, STOP. A) It won’t be what you think it’s gonna be. B) It won’t be where you’re looking. It will be the last thing you thought it would be, and it will find you when you least expect it. And it will be worth the wait.

10. I’m leaving this one blank, as I’m sure I still have more to learn. God, I hope so.