Bad Weather, Bad Neighborhoods and Butoh

Hello Everybody…

Mermaid Avenue in Historic Coney Island

Last Tuesday, I went to Coney Island to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  I’d received an email from a volunteer group to assist in demolition and cleanup up.   But when I got to the rendezvous point on Surf Avenue, I was hijacked by another group that needed volunteers to go door to door, floor to floor, in a housing project to make sure its elderly and disabled tenants had someone to help them get food, medication, etc.  I was whisked into a small car with a lot of people and dropped off at a housing project further down Surf Ave.  This housing project had a real pretty view of the ocean.

The view may not have been on too many people’s mind, however, in the bona fide disaster zone that Coney Island has become.  Power was down in most domestic buildings.  Streetlights were blinking irregularly.  The storm waters deposited tons of sand all over the community.  Bulldozers piled the sand into huge dunes, but sand still scattered about in the wind, burning the eyes.  National Guard trucks sped along the streets, kicking up more sand.  The smell of fuel and natural gas was in the air, watering the eyes.  Trash blue in the wind – collected against fences.   At one point a fire erupted out of a manhole in the middle of the street.  Not until a fire arrived did me and the other volunteers take our eyes off that.  Long lines of Black, Hispanic, Russian and elderly people stood in long lines where the Red Cross or FEMA or churches were handing out clothes and food.  Their eyes were set in a blank stare to that place where only the cold, hungry and tired can see.  Their eyes burned too, I bet.  But I’m sure they were willing to deal with it.

People dealing with it.

The first floor of the housing project was inhabitable due to the flooding, so we only had to tackle the 2nd thru 24th floors.  Lucky us.  Yes, lucky us.  Because all we had to do was go up and down the stairs and knock on doors, unlike the Black, Hispanic, Russian and Elderly folks who lived there.  They had to carry carts of food, water and clothing up the stairs.  Many were out of breath, resting in the stairwell, mustering the strength to climb the other 10 or so floors they had left.  They would laugh and say something like…

“Dear Lord, please get that elevator a workin’!”

Their positive attitudes were inspiring, but they did look at you funny when you told them…

“Have a great day!”

They held that look on you until you were certain you were an idiot.  But they didn’t hold it against you.  Not at all.

They didn’t.  Really.  Because floor after floor, people thanked us so much for simply “caring” enough to check on them.  They thanked us in English, Spanish, and I think the Russians thanked us, too.  When it was all said and done, we only helped a few people, giving them flashlights, phone numbers to field pharmacies and nurses.  But what they needed was heat and we couldn’t give it to them.  They needed water, but if they could walk, we couldn’t get it for them.  They needed power, and we couldn’t give them that, either.  But so many tenants stepped across their doorway and held our hands firmly, and said something like…

“We’s just glad they’s somebody that care ’nuff to come over and check on us…”

That feeling of being an idiot subsided, a little bit.  People freezing in a concrete housing project that looks and feels just a little less like a prison have a way of making you feel at home when they smile and thank you.  And it’s impossible to refrain from feeling truly grateful for what you have.

On my way to my warm home, I caught this conversation between a twenty something couple.  She was a Russian immigrant, he was rough Brooklyn, born and bred.

She:  I’m sick of this America shit.  If I win the lottery, I’d go to South America – maybe back to Russia.  Live in a little house, grow my own vegetables.  My little girls can pick cotton.  You could come with me.

He:  I’m born here.  It’s all I know.  So, that’s what you’d do if you won the lottery?

She:  Yeah.  I’m mean I don’t hate it here…but there’s just SO MUCH…it’s TOO MUCH comin’ at you.  I want something easier.

He:  You know, you can grow vegetables and your girls can pick cotton right now.  That’s what poor people do.  That may be simpler.  But it ain’t easier.  It’s just as hard as it is here.

She:  The lady runnin’ my shelter spies on us.  She snuk up on me when I was going to the the bathroom.  I almost hit her with the roll of toilet paper.

He:  They don’t turn the lights off where I’m at.  It’s just like jail.

Diane Sawyer was not playing a drinking game. She was overworked.

When I got home, Super Tuesday was in full swing, all across cyberspace.  The Conservative news outlets were confident Mitt Romney would win, and the Liberal news outlets were certain President Obama would be re-elected.  The hideous news anchors were explaining what President Obama could do for Americans, what Romney would do for Americans.  It all hinged on which way those silly undecided states – Ohio and Florida – would swing.  Oh, the tension, the excitement.  Facebook posts and tweets on the Twitter were a lightin’ up over the suspense!  People were so funny, so happy, the day was finally here.  But they were so nervous, too.  OMG is their guy gonna win?  Stay tuned, America!  It was the grandest of reality shows, grander than plastic infused mafia wives, trashy Jersy girls, or drunk housewives, drag queens, ‘gator hunters, Klondike miners, hillbilly hoarders, and even Donald Trump, who was jealous and angry.  But he’ll probably cool down, because NBC is still giving him millions of dollars for one hour each week to shit out his false reality.

“Did you hear they used to have elections before electricity?”

I tried to keep up as the networks called states in favor of the President or Romney.  And I tried to be American and approach the election like a football game, like an episode of Dancing with the Stars, or Glee, but I just kept hearing that conversation I heard on the subway…and I kept seeing all the faces of the people out on Coney Island.  They seemed a million miles from the election.  So I powered down and went to bed.

When I awoke, democracy had prevailed.  President Obama would remain our president.  I believe it was a victory for America, not because I think Obama is a savior and will lead us to the promised land, but because he is responsible for the rise in the percentage of voters, over 60% for two elections.  I would love to see how America is represented if we can get to 85%…hell, we the people may actually have representation then, and the efforts for coporate/military totality may finally be conquored.  Obama’s legacy is that he got people to the polls, and that’s enough to go down in history as an American hero, in this Age of Lethargy, anyway.  He’s got the Black, Hispanic and Elderly vote…becuase they feel he is on their side.  And I believe he is.  He even got more of the evangelical right to come out and vote against him.  They gave it the good fight and lost.  But everybody wins when more people vote.


But all the American Woopdie-Do was little help to the Black, Hispanic, Russian and Elderly out at Coney Island on Less Than Super Wednesday, because of a massive snow storm that blew through later that evening.  The biblical snowstorm hindered the relief efforts in response to the biblical hurricane and I’m sure more than a few of the people I met out there were severely disappointed with The Almighty.  And, I’m sure more than a few could give a shit who won the Presidency.  It’s hard to really care about such spectacle when you’re digging through a cardboard box of coats and the only thing you can find to fit has flowers on it, is pink, and you’re a black man who has to wear it to his freezing apartment that is not a home so much as the government’s “project.”

Coney Island is ALIVE.

But hope has been abundant in New York this week.  Inspiration has been abundant.  Democracy has been abundant, too, though I’m not talking about Super Tuesday and all the drinking games it spawned from the policy wonks and quatroano politicos.  The people have been well represented here in the Big Apple because they’ve been representing themselves.  The unfortunate have let groups of goofy white merrymakers into their homes in so called bad neighborhoods to say hello and attempt to offer them relief.  The fortunate have come out in droves to attempt that relief.  They weren’t waiting for a politician to make the country better, THEY were making it better.  Out on the American street, the White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, elderly, disabled and poor, poor, poor have ventured forth from the rubble and looked each other in the eye, and acknowledged themselves as human beings.  If a group of humans can do that, they can easily be Americans together.  A disaster can wipe away all those “things” that that Russian on the subway was talking about.  That Brooklyn boy was right, picking cotton ain’t easy, and nobody’s lives are easy.  But a disaster can lift humanity to such a level higher than individual toil, so high it’s easy to see that we are in this big shebang together, that we are one.

Butoh under the train.

Saturday night, my friend Osha took me to a warehouse space in Long Island City to see some Butoh performers.  The place was located under the elevated train.  As the train roared intermittently, women performed Butoh, a Japenese performance art where the artist moves excruciatingly slowly, yet seamlessly.  Their actions are broad, sometimes absurd. They do not speak, but convey tremendous emotion through the expressions of their faces.  I love Butoh, though sometimes I paw out in the air for a fast forward button.  However, I’m always glad I stuck with it, and followed the emotional arc of the performers.  Good Butoh is like watching a moving painting.  And, you don’t realize it’s changed you until it’s over.  It’s a simple craft, but it ain’t easy.  You – the audience – have to put in the time, and in many ways, the performance is about what’s happening within you.  Some things are worth commitment, even if they are moving at a painfully slow pace.

Be well…

The Dance of Death and the Naked Eye

Hello Everyone,

The Highline

Last Tuesday, a friend took me to the Highline – the pleasant park up on the old elevated train track on Manhattan’s West Side – far above all the other humans, rats and taxis.  On Tuesdays, a group of astronomers set up a few telescopes and train them on whatever they can find, through the fog of light which encapsules Metropolis.  It was also a cloudy night, Tuesday, so the stargazers had there work cut out for them.

“It’s the Blah, Blah, Blah (numbers I couldn’t remember) Aquarii,” said one of the astronomers, a very science-y, gapped toothed, thickly bespectacled chap.  “Ya gonna see a blue stah revolvin’ around a red stah.  Of course, they don’t look like they’re movin’.  It’s called a binary stah system.  See…”  The chap looks into the microscope.  “Hey, Joe!”

“Whaddya’ want!”  said Joe, equally science-y and bespectacled, but displaying tightly snug chompers.  He was standing next to another telescope, chatting up with two very pretty young ladies.

“You need to fix this, Joe, it’s blurry.”

“Twist the knob and focus it.”

“It’s not that Joe, it’s somethin’ else.”

Joe reluctantly left the two ladies, did the “somethin’ else” and re-trained the telescope on the binary star system.  My friend looked first, and after she “oh wowed” for a moment, I peeked into the telescope.  I could barely see a blue dot and a red dot, close together.  They looked so isolated and far away, surrounded by nothing.

Blah, Blah, Blah Aquarii

“It can’t be seen by the naked eye,” said the gap-toothed fellow.  “But we can see pretty good with these from up here.  The two stars are cought in each uthuh’s gravity, just spinnin’ around each other, up there.”

My friend and I left the astronomers to continue their efforts to observe the heavens and woo the ladies.  We walked from the Highline, through the chilly evening, to a diner.  As we ate, the second presidential debate was airing.  Two stars of a different kind, Blue Obama and Red Romney were to duking it out again.  President Obama lost to Mitt Romney in the previous debate, badly so, said the well groomed, male news anchors and the just sexy enough female anchors, plus the curious groups of votors selected to decide who beat who.  Obama looked contrary to his intelligent, articulate self, and let Mitt Romney walk over him, so the anchors and citizen judges decreed.  Therefore, on this second go round, Obama had to win, to save his chance at a second term.  Oh, the pressure was in the air, all the way to the golden brown hue of New York’s light-blanket above us.  Apparently, Obama schooled Romney in the second debate.  Romney also didn’t help himself by the “whole binders full of women” thing, and proved that brain activity levels cannot be totally shielded with money.  News outlets reported the amazing turn around for Obama, but said it was still a tight race, OMG, sure to get the blood up in all us voters, get us all nervous and distracted for a while.  And, OMG, the anchors and judges say the Stars are neck and neck, caught in each others gravity and shuffling across Universe America in a violent embrace.   They will be baby kissing, union stroking, homeless shelter dish washing, memorizing long indecipherable non-answers to prepared questions right up to the third, and final, Presidential debate-to-the-death.  Is your blood up, yet?  My god, the pulses will only rise higher, right until late in the night of Super Tuesday, when the Blue and Red stars will finish the dance of death, and America will be watching, watching, closer, watching, wait, closer, we’re watching, oh, we’re watching…then BAM!  The ruler of the free world will bow, and clean himself as the confetti falls.  But WHO will it be, folks at home???  It’s such an exciting, dangerous and totally unpredictable run for the presidency, isn’t it?  OMG, you can’t script this!!!!  Well, actually, you can.  It’s television.

I have to be truthful and state that I did not watch the debate, nor did I the last, or have I really ever watched one.  Quite frankly, my naked eye has no trouble seeing throught he fog of light and night of such spectacle.  And, come on, neither does anybody’s.

On a New York City street at night, it’s sometimes hard to imagine there’s another 99.999999999999999999999999…% of a universe out there.  But that’s somewhat understandable, looking up isn’t it wise here, just come visit, stop and look up at 35th street and 7th avenue at 5:30pm and listen to the curses put upon you, and your children and your children’s children.  While walking to the train, Tuesday night, my friend and I kept our naked eyes focused at ground level, to negotiate a path around taxis that screech to a halt in the walk lane, or angry bicyclists, and of course, the already large and growing swarm of smart phone zombies, and a million other things.  But above beyond that muddy electric glow over the city, the universe goes on expanding, and a red and blue star, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, dance violently, on a scale of force incomprehensible to Earthling’s brain.

Uh Oh…

There will be no happy ending for Blah, Blah, Blah, Aquarii.  One star could shake away, and loft out into loneliness, but more than likely one star will die, which is still no consolation for the other star.  When a star dies, it’s mass grows so heavy it creates a black hole, and the other star will be the first to get sucked in and obliterated.  The black hole will creep through space like a phantom devouring anything in its path.  Something the size of Earth wouldn’t have a chance.  In an immeasurable moment, Earth and Eathlings, even Americans, with our strong backbones and frontier spirit and apple pies and captialism and baseballs and smart phones and ideas of gods and ipads and referee strikes and abortions and and yellow ribbons for our troops will be sucked into nothing, pulled apart to nothing, completely and forever removed from Spacetime.   And to think it all began with an innocent dance between a Red star and a Blue star.

Le Danse Macabre

But those Red and Blue stars seem so harmless through a lens.

Be well…