Donna Summer and a few other things

When I teach, which I do as much as possible, I often talk about GOOD STORIES. What are they? How do we recognize them? What do they look like and sound like? How do we know them? And how do we know BAD STORIES? There are many (many many) pompous essays explaining stories but really, a good story needs no explanation. You just sit there and listen because you want to know what happened.

I have a few. I wish I had an infinite supply. Here’s one. For ten years I taught at Parsons School of Design, where I wrote a curriculum (it wasn’t really a curriculum but that was the word the Parsons OFFICIALS you should have seen them gave what I did. They couldn’t think of a better word although I gave many suggestions) to teach writing to visual artists. In one class I had a student I instantly LOVED (you’re not supposed to do that) who was enormous and adorable and a gay male in madras bermudas. It was the 80’s. I guess some gay men had madras bermudas. I told the class that they should come up one by one and tell everyone what they’d do if they could do ANYTHING because I have always believed that we could do ANYTHING if we say it, and if we’re lucky. This guy I’ll call him GARY he lived in Hoboken with his mother and grandmother he said he could only tell us if we turned around and didn’t look at him (instead of him turning around) but we all did. They he announced to our BACKS that he would like to sing in Donna Summer’s back up band.

It turned out the way some things do that my friend SHEILA was taking care of her first Alzheimers patient, a famous Broadway Actress who lost everything except her singing voice. Sheila was taking the famous actress to a famous singing teacher once a week. I called Sheila and asked if Gary could go to the singer. “Of course,” she said. “Just say that Barbara (the Alzheimers Actress) recommended him. Barbara won’t know, and neither will the teacher.” That’s what Gary did.

AND THEN it turned out that the famous singing teacher DID CASTING for his OLD FRIEND DONNA SUMMER. In the end GARY sang backup for Donna Summer (and I claimed a personal and entirely unjustified victory).

A few weeks ago after many years I got an email (how did he find me?) from Gary. Oh My God he said. Did I love Donna Summer.

It took him a while to say that, but he did.

Relatives, Really

I am not family-ish. I don’t have that feeling that so many people do of OH BOY FAMILY. My family was not interestingly dysfunctional. They weren’t GOOD NOVEL OR THEATER material. They were in the OK category. OK being somewhere in the middle of life. And as a result, or because of apathy, or maybe because of some other reason that I really truly don’t know, I rarely see family members. Except for my own tiny nuclear and anti nuclear family of friends. I love my friends, and see them as much as I can. This week a friend named Ken arrived from Michigan, to live in New York. At least for a while. He’s 58 and for many of those years he’s dreamed of New York. Now he has a job and a place to live. Today was one of those Sundays that are unbearably beautiful: clear and full of people. Ken and I walked into the park and said Oh My God This is Beautiful about 3,000 times and then we went to the flea market. Where we both like, even love, staring at useless objects and talking endlessly to their sellers. I know them all, going there as much as possible. We were talking to a beautiful Burmese woman who makes greeting cards out of ginkgo leaves (I’ve bought hundreds of them) when I saw and heard a woman at the next table telling the seller there that 38 years before, her favorite relative gave her the identical fish set to the one on the table to her for her wedding. I just knew the woman speaking was referring to my mother, who’s been dead for many years. I turned and there she was, my mother’s second cousin. Standing with her sister. They were as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

For You, For Tonight, or Help is On the Way

I’m reading tomorrow night with my friend Joanna Herman  at Book Culture, near Columbia. It seemed like a good idea to write a new poem.

Easier to talk about

almost anything my sex life, mother

anything Jewish

than it is to talk about my own writing.

You might want to know why. Yesterday, practicing for tomorrow,

Peter and I sat under an old railroad bridge on the river

in Astoria, a place that is really and truly a poem, and he said

maybe words are just harder

than pictures.

Some people want facts alongside

their words. I don’t know any facts

even how tall I am

make up all facts and then

they’re not facts. They’re poems.

Noguchi’s house across the road

from Costco, in Queens. Is that a fact?

Is that a poem?

Many years ago who knows how many

psychiatrist named Arlene she

wanted me to talk more about writing. Not my mother.

Go home she said. Write a bad sentence.

Then tell me. I spent a whole week

writing bad sentences. This was my favorite: Spot

was the only name I could think of for our dog.

It’s never hard to write

sentences. What’s really and truly hard

is to give my sentences to you.

KING SAUNA in Fort Lee, New Jersey


If I knew how to add a picture (I will ask my son, but maybe if I look sufficiently I could figure it out) I could show you this place, one of the 100 places I LOVE the most (maybe there are more) in the New York vicinity. King Sauna in Fort Lee (if you go to their site you will find a $12 off coupon. It’s $40 without the coupon for 24 hours. Really) is one of those DONT MISS THIS UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES places. For a million reasons. Not the least of which is the mandatory prison-like outfit (pink for women, men have their own color)  which is part of the day. I’ve never been there for 24 hours but I intend to. It’s got miracle saunas of every sort, wonderful hot tubs full of beautiful women of every age and shape and country. Large pink couches abound, and it is possible to lie on tatami mats with ginger masques and talk to a friend or two for hours on end. A mugwort PROCESS that is not describable in these pages (though I could tell you all personally) was administered by a woman named NAN. It’s $20 for 40 minutes, and features an enormous pink garbage bag like sack that we all wore. I have a picture that I may be able to show you.

What I Did Today Even Though I’m Ambivalent About Telling You

My friend Fran who is far wiser than I am, that is, she thinks in whole complete intelligent sentences and I tend to think in vague loose colorful images, in pieces of Matisse, she told me today and when she tells me something I often (not always) listen that it was a good idea to tell you whoever you may be what I DID and SAW because I LOVE LOVE LOVE this city and Do and See a little more than usual.  She used the word Tips which is not a word I like. TIPS? Really? Still I will tell you that today I went to the TAIJIN Massage Parlor (they are all wonderful. I go on 72nd between Columbus and Broadway) for a 75 minute (REALLY) amazing massage for $58 which should be more but I try to be as generous as possible with my tip.

Then we had dinner at Pasha on 71st Street in a light gentle Turkish space.

And after dinner we all went around the corner to 65 West 70th to a secret Moroccan bar downstairs which is inconceivably perfect.


There. I tried to tell you.

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