Posted on: Thursday
If there are things I wish that I'd known all along, they would be (in no particular order):
Write everything down.
Take more photographs.
There are no mistakes.
Coincidences always end up making sense.
Love the way you look today.
It all matters, even if you can't see it yet. even if you never see it. It matters to someone.
Because one day, when the kids are grown, leaning in to their own adventures and plotting their grand entrances into the world, we'll look back on these days when Levon was still a doughy little thing on his mama's hip and think to ourselves, those were the days. And we won't be wrong.
There was, once upon a time, my magical first year in the city. I knew nothing then, and longed to know it all. A lifetime of dumb luck and naive mistakes loomed before me, and there was no conversation too trivial nor moment too insignificant. It was all so new, and all. so. thrilling. Life in the Lower East Side was a dazzling haze of art openings and parties, coffee and cigarettes, and creation. Creating films, creating music, creating art... making anything we could get our hands on just for the sake of that fleeting sense of expressive satisfaction- making things for joy. There was a cafe our closely-knit gang of friends all congregated at from the time we rolled out of bed- messy-haired and positively brimming with tales from the previous night's escapades- until they closed at 2am. Then we would pay our bill and all migrate together, clad head to toe in faded black, cloaked in oversized second-hand leather jackets and worn boots and antique jewelry, to the bar across the street to continue our conversations until the sun came up. Some of us worked at the cafe as well, and it quickly became our clubhouse of sorts. Each day was a caffeine-fueled romp through the narrow streets and shops and galleries downtown, each night an unimaginable scene from some gritty surrealist film. We had all been lucky enough to find one another, an unassuming little group of wildly optimistic misfits, in this run-down neighborhood in this great big city, and we were quite certain that it would never end. With so many influential and interesting people passing in and out of the cafe day after day, week after week, year after year, we were sure that the magic would keep growing forever.
We'd all heard the hushed whispers that the cafe was closing, all accepted the fact that our beloved clubhouse was on it's last legs, but when the day arrived, quietly and without occasion, and the front gates of the cafe stayed pulled down and locked, we mourned. The neighborhood followed shortly- beautiful century-old tenements bulldozed one by one and replaced with luxury hotels and condos. Our favorite places began to disappear, and soon our favorite people followed. And suddenly our home was unrecognizable. That was the first time I heard myself mention, those were the days.
I came to find out that we were indeed right, the magic does keep growing forever. But it morphs and twists and takes on new forms with age. The next five years of living in the city were golden. I grew up a little, learned a bit about grace, a bit about humility- stories for another time. But my oh my, those were the days. Then there were the first years of my marriage, when it was just us against the world. We partnered off, found an old railroad apartment in the East Village and over time re-built, re-wired, sanded, painted and sculpted the space into the wood-plank-floored kingdom of our dreams. We painted portraits and hung them on the wall surrounded by dried roses we'd given one another over the years. We wallpapered our kitchen in vintage french film posters and built a headboard out of tree branches. We became the ones who threw the parties, overcooking the entrees while our guests laughed and played guitar on our torn Victorian sofa in next room. One time I botched an entire Thanksgiving dinner for close to 40 people, grossly underestimating the amount of time it would take to cook the turkey and ending up not serving food until well into the evening, when our friends had all had one too many drinks and the music selection had naturally evolved from Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong to rare Beatles recordings to old Sephardic Jewish records. We ended up eating dry turkey and smoking cigarettes and dancing to Moroccan mandolins well into the night, crammed like sardines amongst the overflowing bookcases and antique lamps in our funny little apartment. It was very Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I'd hear friends lamenting, years later, well those were the days.
Spaces changed, babies were born, and the city, as always, continued to transform. When I first walked into The Deep End Club, I couldn't quite put my finger on what about it seemed so familiar. It was just a shop around the corner from our tiny tenth street apartment, run by the sweetest woman with the most interesting stories. You could always count on Tennessee's smiling face and charmingly formal British accent to be there. Over the next couple of years a community grew around that shop. The space became greater than the sum of its parts, and The Deep End Club bloomed into a neighborhood sanctuary, a place we could go to meet like-minded people, see friends, plan movements, and support and empower one another. It was where my children learned how to use a rotary phone. It was where I learned to practice Reiki. It was where I sat, nearly two weeks overdue with Levon, surrounded by women meditating to try to help bring the baby. I went into labor the next day. It was the birthplace of some of my most treasured friendships. And as our country teetered on the verge of massive shifts, it was where we all gathered to discuss how we could organize and stand up against the insanity, violence, oppression, and racism that our country has been stuck in since long before my time. It was a place of hope. It was our new clubhouse.
One late spring day my children set up a lemonade stand outside of the Deep End Club. They had painted rainbow-hued signs and taped them up and down the block with scotch tape. All proceeds from the sales were going to the Bernie Sander's campaign, for which we'd all actively been campaigning for months. "Lemonade for Bernie!" they would joyfully heckle at the passersby. The faint sounds of Tennessee's band NAF practicing down in the shop's basement drifted up through the gate to the sidewalk, a fitting soundtrack for the slow and sunny afternoon. The door of the shop was propped open to let in fresh air, and as someone passed they accidentally closed it. The children ran over to pull it back open, hollering enthusiastically, 'Don't close the door!".
Later at one of her shows, Tennessee told me that they had heard the children's voices drifting down into the basement and had turned that line into a song on the spot.
The Deep End Club closed it's doors for the last time a couple of weeks ago. Before the end, we all made this video together. And while, yes, part of me is saddened; the older, wiser, and against all odds, more optimistic, part of me knows that everything that happens is simply paving the path for what must happen next. Of course we'll look back and this time of our lives will all seem like a long lost legend, a glamorously romantic period in the city. It always does. And of course we'll nostalgically ask one another, well weren't those the days?
But I think that maybe, just maybe, the best days are yet to come. And that all of these tiny stories are just bits and pieces of something so big, so grand, so wild, that we'll only be able to read it backwards. I'd like to think so, anyways.
Posted on: Monday
Spring break has never meant too much to us. It comes and goes each year without occasion, save for the noticeably fewer NYU students downtown. The streets quiet down a bit. You might randomly run into a few old friends who you haven't seen in years, fellow old-fashioned city dwellers who stick around town when everyone else goes away. But aside from that, spring break means business as usual. Or at least it did. Before we had a daughter in school.
What does it mean now? It means sleeping late, cooking more. Long, slow-roasted meals with fresh vegetables from the farmers market. Strawberries for breakfast. Painting our toes bright colors. Paul McCartney and Beirut and Iggy Pop. It means adventures in the daytime with my brood, weaving through the sidewalks of the village, taking our time, manifesting adventure. I may not be taking my kids around the world, but we discover whole universes here at home. Like our favorite treehouse, hiding in plain site in a magnificent city garden.
We've been to most of the gardens in the neighborhood, but this one is special- almost wild, and always full of music and wonder. The plants are luscious and unkempt in a way where you feel not the precision of what man can create but the fury or what nature can. The dirt feels different- it almost pulsates under your feet. The birds sing louder. When you stand in this garden, in the heart of Alphabet City, you're no longer in the city at all. You've entered a storybook. We like to call it Narnia.
Inside the garden we meet a man who feeds the pigeons and tends to the vegetables. Tomatoes, carrots, basil, we grow it all, he says. The children are enchanted. He looks Lou in the eyes and speaks to him like a man, and then hands him a rake. Get to work. Lou's eyes widen with pride and a grin spreads across his face. He rakes and rakes the patch of dirt he's assigned to until he's worn himself out. I am so proud of him. The man brings a bag of birdseed and teaches them how to call pigeons. Plumes of seed fly from their tiny hands and fill the air, and suddenly pigeons are everywhere, gracefully spreading their wings above us and perching on the branches at our sides. Biet says she thinks they are beautiful. The white one is her favorite.
We climb the ancient wooden ladder up into the treehouse for lunch. Laying upon the weathered wooden beams, we share mangos, apples, and cheese. I nurse Levon. I don't even know what time it is now. It doesn't matter. Biet disappears down the ladder and goes wandering, and after a little while of spending time with just my boys, I climb down to find her. I see her standing stoically in front an empty flower bed of overturned soil with a dusty found pocket mirror in her hand. A dozen or so pigeons hop about at her feet, combing the stones for rogue seeds and breadcrumbs. Her gentle hands silently tilt the mirror back and forth, up and down, until it catches the sunlight and beams it across the flowerbed, like a tiny golden spotlight coming from her fingertips. She sees me watching her and tilts the mirror up, shining the light into my eyes and blinding me momentarily. She laughs mischievously. The notion that she can control the sunlight is so grand, so otherworldly, that it overtakes her and she excitedly reports, "Mama look! I can make magic!"
My Biet. I love that you believe in magic. I do too. I love that you consider the birds of the city your kin. I love that you dive into your own little worlds sometimes, twirling your fingers in front of your face in spastic circles and crossing your eyes and not giving a damn who sees you doing it. And when I gently ask you what you're doing, you tell me matter-of-factly, "Oh Mama, I'm just making pixie dust." I love that you know that you're strong enough to build anything you dream of and wise enough to always come up with a plan to get it done. I love that you're a planner. I'm one too, you know. And I love that you are the most stubborn person I know when it comes to following through with your plans.
The sun is getting low in the sky and we say goodbye to the man. The birds are fed and the soil is raked, and it is time to say farewell. We plan to come back tomorrow, and every day of spring break, to tend to our garden. Next time we will bring seeds.
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