Both Sides

That’s a classic song by a classic artist. Joni Mitchell burst onto the music scene during my college days. Since then, her accolades include 10 Grammy Awards, induction into both the Rock & Roll and Songwriters halls of fame, a Kennedy Center honoree, and more – including being on Dale’s Mt. Rushmoor of Female Musicians (who sang and wrote their own songs).

“Both” is an interesting word – one that is on my ideas list for a future beach walk essay. Maybe I’ll draft it next winter at the beach – but I will leave those thoughts for another day. After all, I need the sand and surf to inspire my thoughts.

To me, Both Sides, Now is about perception – how we perceive something based on the situation. How something the same seems different. I think about it as two sides of a coin or two sides of a story.

Much of life is about both – then and now, past and present, before and after. Both sides are even about each of us looking back at something that happened to reflect. Maybe even realizing something totally different now than then – even both sides.

We can create a long list of events involving before-and-after thoughts, but that’s not exactly where I’m going. Anthony Mason of CBS News did this wonderful segment involving respect, will, grit, determination, appreciation, surprise, cheers and tears.

If you watched the story above, you understand my point. If you didn’t, watch below to see Joni Mitchell sing Both Sides, Now at the recent Newport Folk Festival. Joni – surrounded by friends – overcoming a stroke – and singing pretty darn good.

How I Learned Church

Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As far as days of the week are concerned, Sunday is the difference. You can just feel a Sunday without much effort, in much the same way a singer can identify a pitch out of thin air. Whereas Michael Corleone’s first wife- the lovely Apollonia- easily confused the other six days of the week with their bunkmates, she always nailed the one day that was common language, from Sicily to Flatbush.

When I was ten years old, I was an awkward mess of buckteeth and bushy hair and the most geometrically absurd pair of glasses. I was shy, painfully so. If shyness had been a contest, my closet would’ve been full of blue ribbons. The safe haven for me came in the form of books and baseball and music. I could lock the rest of the great big world out of my room and daydream about a future time and place when I wouldn’t feel so out of place.

These love affairs in miniature gifted me liberty from my clumsy toiling through all the nascent lessons my too young self couldn’t yet grasp. My habits were the better chances, delivered from the mysterious belly of a universe whose plans for me were kept in escrow until I grew out of my sad little britches. And Sunday was when all my hopes and dreams came calling, in peaceful little drips.

I happened to be a fledgling explorer when it came to the religion of Café con leche. My method was equal parts a charming ignorance and an earnest deconstruction; I possessed a rudimentary blueprint that substituted espresso with Folgers and scalding hot milk with a cold, heavily sugared alternative. If you grow up with any kind of Latin influence, you understand your serving sizes when it comes to sugar as heaping and diabetic. It’s how I stayed honest enough to the recipe.

I’d tote the brimming mug back to my room and then get lost in the brilliant math of a morning after baseball box-score. I sipped at my Café and pored over the out of town scores before fixing on the exploits of my Yankees. Bucky, Willie and Blair more often than not took the collar and that was alright since defense was their bread and butter. Nettles and Chambliss and Rivers were always good for the rest of it. And then there was Reggie, who served as the front man for a band of talented miscreants. I imagined his murderously quick wrists turning on a hanging fastball inside his church as the congregation roared its approval.

It was during this time when I kinda felt as if Sunday had been created just so’s Lionel Richie could sing his love letter on the radio. I would listen closely to try and hear that intoxicating scratch as the stylus teased vinyl before diving in. In a world full of sophisticated complications, this was one I never got tired of knowing. My senses crushed on that sound.

They still do.

Of Kings and Queens and Kitchen Sinks

History of cats in Egypt

I like the idea of a spirit world.

Ancient Egyptians took the shit very seriously because to their way of thinking, a person’s life wasn’t finished when their expiration date came calling. They believed that the newly departed had an appointment with Osiris- the god of the deceased- and his 42 judges in a place called The Hall of Truth. If it was judged that the person on trial had lived a good life, they were permitted to enter Club Afterlife. Conversely, if the person was judged to have been a dick, they were tossed into the abyss and devoured by a monster. Not for nothing, but the Hall of Truth sounds way more fair minded than our Supreme Court. But that’s another thought for another post.

Anyways, the Egyptians believed that if you were greenlighted for the penthouse, it was all Gucci from there. Residents whose slippers were woven from clouds didn’t have to sweat any return trips to earth. They were gifted their favorite places and things for the rest of eternity without ever having to load up the car and fill the tank. There was however . . a however. Because let’s face it, there’s always a however. If an individual was called into the existential equivalent of jury duty, it meant their business on earth wasn’t quite finished or their peeps had dissed them in some way.

My daughter is convinced that we have a ghost and his name is Mr. Speaker. It makes sense, seeing as how the former furry ruler of House Lancaster loved the view from his perch and made sure that any visitors knew they had best leave their swords at the gate upon entering. It was his kingdom, they were just visiting. It would be sooooo Mr. Speaker to hold it against us for having replaced his precious crown with not one, but two members of royalty. And in the same calendar year to boot.

I elected Jack the 2nd and Wednesday the Only to the throne in the summer of 2020, whilst we were still writing songs about our dearly departed King Speaker. Truth is, I was in a very dark place after having lost Speaker months earlier and so when my sister sent me a video of a couple kittens she was fostering, I replied with “Sold!” And the rest has become a splendid history of two incredibly majestic rulers whose reign is akin to Carly Simon and James Taylor spilling musical gold onto a piece of vinyl.

Evidently, Mr. Speaker disagrees with this assessment.

“I think Speaker is inhabiting the kitchen,” My daughter informed me.

“What makes you say that?”

“You ever notice how Jack and Wednesday accompany each other into the kitchen? Or if it’s just one of them going in, they’ll usually wait for us?”

“You think Speaker’s haunting their asses?” I laughed.

“It’s something he would do,” She replied.

I conducted a thorough investigation of the area, making sure to cancel out insects, rodents and phroggers before reaching my conclusion that Mr. Speaker is in fact, haunting our kitchen.

Now here’s the thing. I could hold a séance in which I confess to the guy that he was such a hard act to follow, I had to double down! And not for nothing, but I honored his memory by naming one of them Jack (Since his full name was Mr. Jack Speaker)  He was a trusted confidante and loyal friend to my daughter. He was an expert wingman for yours truly. And as far as gangster chronicles go, the dude was legendary.

Eh . . . what’s the use? I know he would turn his nose up at such a gesture even if it happens to be completely true. He wouldn’t cease and desist even if I asked him nicely. What Mr. Speaker wants, he always gets. Even now. And it’s not as if the current regime is cutting back on food and water as a result. They’re just a tad bit more discretionary as to how they budget their time in the kitchen. And I think I need to follow their example if I’m being completely honest.

Besides . . .as far as I’m concerned, the spirit world just got a whole lot cooler.

The Slate Is Ours To Write

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

There’s this person I know, I’ll call them Sandy since that’s not their name but I wish to be respectful of their privacy. Their journey wasn’t an easy one. Not when you consider how many people still believe the world is supposed to subscribe to the notion that humankind must abide to a uniform script. There are still too many people who are willing to get ugly and mean in order to convey their narrow minded approach to everything and everyone else.

Sandy had a tough road to get here. Born a boy in a conservative Latin family and learning a different truth by adolescence, they hid the truth until it could no longer be hidden. For some, the truth is a liberator but for others such as Sandy, it is the beginning of an arduous journey fraught with complications, betrayal and abject hate.

I took all this into account when I was getting to know them because it’s how I would like to be understood. The golden rule isn’t some bullshit antiquity, it’s a real world solution that works wonders when applied with compassion and understanding. It’s how I learned that Sandy has the kind of personality that makes everybody’s day just a little brighter just by being in the room; smart as all get out, hard working and as genuine a human being as you’re ever going to meet. Sandy isn’t just a good person. Sandy is one of the best people I know, one of the best people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. If you want my slam dunk, that’s a fack jack seal of approval last word on this? I would have enlisted Sandy as a babysitter for my kids back in the day. And that list was reserved for immediate family and a Godmother, so there’s that.

We tend to forget how easy it can be. We’re so wrapped up in the daily mayhem that we lose sight of Camus’ best idea. The one that summons us to get moving to where the getting is good. It’s a place we all have access to if we just let it do its thing. The denomination that threads us together is what should count most of all. If we stopped separating each other as if we were aisles in a grocery store, we would understand ourselves as people. Different and very much the same. Both.

Maybe we don’t ever figure this out. Maybe we drown in our insolence, captive prisoners to the hostilities that are setting perpetual fires to an unkempt world. Maybe we are just too far gone to ever really get to the place where peace matters. Where the quiet of common sense matters. Where life reads like that favorite passage in a classic piece of literature that your brain can feed on in perpetuity. And maybe none of it matters in the end if we give a damn enough to spoil the wreckage with kindness.

If I never knew Sandy, I never write this post and I never feel as hopeful as I do in the moments that come at me from every direction with words that spill over with love and peace and a genuine belief in us. All of us. And it’s a tiny little stretch of real estate with quiet understandings. But its resonance moves the holy spirits that tend to our small mercies, even in the most desperate of times.

Admittedly, I can still be clumsy with pronouns. But I’m earnest and I’m open and I’m honest to this fact. After all, it ain’t hard work. It’s how a person chooses to live because it’s their life . . it’s their choice. My part is the least meeting most in a hug, and I do understand that it’s not everything, but it’s a lot more than nothing at all. And it still counts.

A lot more than we know.

Ahead Of The Rest

Buffalo shooting: what we know about the victims so far | New York | The Guardian

We’ve stopped counting all the losses.

There’s no reason to keep score at this point, considering how one tragedy bleeds seamlessly into the next. From Buffalo, New York to Orange County, California to some other town that is doomed to the same fate, real soon. To tell the truth about who we have become would be to admit defeat and that kind of self reflection ain’t in our DNA.

It’s been twenty-three years since Columbine introduced us to the future with a horror movie script that has become commonplace in 2022: The senseless carnage, all the warning signs left unheeded and the political war chests that cash in on the latest tragedy like vampires at the end of the world.

The reality of yet another lost day is that too many people have stopped pretending to give a damn. The media treats each new mass shooting like a severe weather forecast, focusing on the details for a day or two at most before moving on to the next storm front. Meanwhile, our elected representatives will stick to their respective company lines as if a quarter century’s worth of ruinous endings never really happened. What’s left unsaid is that these reckonings have become our national seal. And while we might be trailing the rest of the world in too many areas, we’re ahead of the rest when it comes to lost days.

There is no line in the sand when it comes to this perpetual cycle of violence, just as there is no middle ground when it comes to meaningful dialogue that could help to prevent more of the same. The indivisibility of our republic is being sold for parts by merchants whose menacing narratives feed the public forum with rage while liberty and justice get clobbered in its wake: Without reason, without compassion and without any indication that we’re going to be able to climb our way out of this nightmarish pit before it swallows us.

Ten lives were taken from the world on Saturday afternoon in Buffalo, New York. Six-hundred and forty seven years worth of living was stolen away to the mysteries of somewhere else. And we can only hope that the somewhere else they find possesses the kind of peace and reason and truth this world never has been very good at. Not even twenty-four hours later, on the other side of the country another soul was lost to the unrelenting madness.

There are questions that seep into my brain if I allow my mind to wander through all the decades worth of unimaginable losses which have gone unanswered. These questions come to me as if I just woke from a Mary Shelley fever dream, but the truth is she probably couldn’t have imagined such darkness inside her most manic of writing streaks. These questions speak to the division we have cultivated as a society and the seeds of hate it has spawned; seeds that have grown into angry redwoods, intent on blotting out the sun and replacing it with a never ending night.

What if this is how it’s always going to be? What if it’s too late to save ourselves . . from ourselves?

The answers are more frightening than that.

 

Finding The Reason

The holiday season is when the past merges with the present. The leaves of this continuum tree get rolled into an obscenely thick cigarette that achieves a curiously satisfying high or a precipitously dangerous low. And somewhere between the merry and the menacing and the caroling and the crashing is where I tend to camp. The co-mingling of two wholly different mindsets is my default gateway; the holidays just add a heaping tablespoon of crushed red pepper to the equation.

And then Monday happened.

Missed Call

I get that message countless times over the course of a day. No big deal. And then I saw the name attached belonged to my daughter.

“Hey, what’s up?” I said, keeping it cool even though I wasn’t feeling cool in the least.

In a sad statement of the world we live in, when I heard her trembling voice, I immediately thought there had been a shooting at her workplace. My mind ran through a half dozen frightening scenarios, and then she let me know what was what and an entirely new collection of frightening scenarios ensued.

“I’m on my way to the ER . . . I’ve got abdominal pains that won’t quit . . I . .”

“You’re on your way to the hospital?”

I cursed myself for cutting her off before letting her finish. Then I dropped everything and skipped. The drive to the hospital seemed impossibly surreal, as if I had ventured off the pages of a neat and tidy script and into a fractured ramble of misbegotten that lacked all reason. The rhythm of the day had become disjointed and foreign, as if I’d broken out of a snow globe.

I’m pretty sure Dante Alighieri penned a divine piece of hate mail to hospitals back in the Middle Ages, and he wasn’t kidding. As I navigated the labyrinth of negative space, my brain constructed battlements to stanch the desperate chorus of sounds that raged like wildfire.

Arriving at her side, I compiled all the 411 from the nurse and my daughter and then came to the unprofessional conclusion that she was suffering from appendicitis. Imagine Marjorie Taylor Greene, without the manly conviction. Of course, this diagnosis wasn’t helping my daughter any and neither was the morphine for that matter.

When her CT scan came back inconclusive, I retired from the field of medicine and resumed my paternal obligations; in other words, I became a royal pain in the ass to anyone wearing scrubs. The ultrasound results effectively shut my ass up.

“She has a rather large cyst on her ovary. . .” The doctor began, as if he was reciting the special of the day whilst taking our drink orders.

You know what happens when you attempt to quiet the worst case scenarios that run through your head when you receive bad news? Welp, they run faster and they scream even louder is what happens. Before the doctor could finish scaring the fuck out of me, I’d done it my damn self. And then they served her up another round of morphine that ended up being as useless as the first.

It was a couple hours and an ambulance ride to Women’s And Babies Hospital before the nurses gathered around to prep her for surgery. And for what felt like the millionth time that day, I told my daughter that everything was going to be alright. Only this time, I was finally believing it. And then I kissed her on the forehead before leaving the room.

“You’re my favorite child. Just don’t tell your brother . .”

“He knows,”. She replied, not missing a beat.

The apple, dropping right off the branch and letting me know the universe wasn’t just listening, it was offering a little sage advice: Be grateful for the good times you get to keep, and hold onto them as if you’ve been gifted magic.

It was twelve hours removed from my daughter’s phone call before the surgeon came out to let me know they had removed a balloon sized cyst that had lodged between her fallopian tubes and her ovary. The intense pain my daughter had been experiencing was the result of the cyst forcing her ovary to twist on itself. The surgery had gone pristinely, as if God had tucked his present under our Christmas tree.

While I waited for the green light to be reunited with my daughter, I put in my twentieth call of the day to Dale and I let her know the color was returning to my knuckles rather nicely. We spent the next few minutes exhaling for the first time all day as the clock drew ever closer to midnight. And then I called Big Papi to let him know why I had been incommunicado.

He took the news quietly and then cursed at the idea that someone so young and healthy might have to deal with a body that barks back at them. Of course we know full well that life doesn’t give a fig about pretty faces or the date of birth on your driver’s license. But his rant was all about love, and I appreciated it. Because like me and Dale, he has that parental gene too . . the one that screams for the great white shark to come get us and leave the kids the fuck alone.

“But she’s going to be fine, man. You got your Christmas gift,”

He’s a poet when he wants to be.

Clowns To The Left Of Us, Danger To The Right

Is it possible to have too much information at your fingertips?

The question came to me as I was watching two sports analysts go at it on a debate show recently. The topic of conversation had to do with the best NBA player of all time. This isn’t something the vast majority of the population gives a flying Wallenda about, to be honest. But these guys deliberated until they had created a dually believable narrative, whittling it into a potent mash. Of course, well enough wasn’t left alone for very long, and as often happens inside this time of nonsense and instability, the shit went south. Further south than a Lynyrd Skynyrd Key West tour.

The succinct nature of their respective points soon gave way to a volatility whose pitch was a bitch, on wheels. And so the evaporative nature of modern discourse held sway until I stopped trying to figure out whose opinion was most valid and started wondering who was going to break out a “Yo mama!” first.

Of course, I recognize that information doesn’t fool people . . people fool people. But armed with enough information, anyone with half a brain can paint their argument into Van Gogh. And half the room will toast the bold and dramatic brushstrokes while the other half of the room reaches for a carving knife with which to cut off their ears.

The touchstone, regrettably, has been bastardized. As if Rob Zombie got hold of the Constitution and turned our fundamental principles into a kill count. Educated opinions have given way to a zealotry that seeks to deify even the most corrupt of men. Meaningful dialogue has been relegated to the ash heap thanks to dissociative politics that attempts to guilt us into confessing to crimes we didn’t commit.

What good is having all this information at our fingertips if we’re going to dis- it and mis- it into an interpretation?

During this sports debate, as the decibel levels increased, so to, did the tells; those easy to miss points of entry that had been glossed over initially were now much easier to hear. Both sides, using their information not as a map, but as a boxing glove with which to punch out their opponent. Much the same way a peaceful transfer of power might stage a coup, or a state might flout the concerns of a pandemic, or a city council might consider me the enemy because I’m an aging white dude.

I don’t know how we can possibly achieve a middle ground, because to quote Buffalo Springfield, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. And I have not a blessed answer residing under my cap, except for one.

Michael Jordan . . . duh.

 

 

 

There Is No F In Accountability

When I was an old man, I thought I was a kid.

That’s how ass backwards the world feels to me sometimes. Because whenever I opine on how things used to be, it makes me feel as if I Benjamin Buttoned myself into the here and now. Where once I was lost to the thankless mysteries of the world, now I’m finding myself in this vapid little pill that keeps its insanity on retainer.

As with most things that fruit my loop, these changes whittled themselves into a monolithic curiosity with the wicked patience of a well done knuckleball. In the process, they turned yesterday into a bell jar full of pennies, which is about as yesterday as you’re gonna get.

This particular assessment came about as I was telling my daughter what school used to look like. Yanno . . back in the day. She’s a teacher, and as such, she’s taken to wearing steel toe boots whenever she has occasion to conference with those hard pipe hitting advocates known as parents. Because we’re living in an age where an unhealthy percentage of the parent population has gone and shoved accountability out of a speeding car. Why pass the buck when you can burn the fucker to a crisp?

I could never be a teacher, because for one thing . . I don’t like kids. And for another, I don’t like parents. My days would be spent drinking heavily and chasing it with painkillers and anti-depressants. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“Most parents get that their kid can do better and that it’s a shared responsibility. But every once in a while you get a parent who isn’t having it . . ” My daughter said. Calmly, I might add. Which is why she’s going to be a great teacher, because that kind of thing doesn’t piss her off.

As for yours truly? Hell, nawh.

“When I got a bad grade on a report card, or I failed a test . . I caught hell for it. In waves. First it was my teacher giving me shit and then I got home and I had to hear it from my mother. And if the offense was serious enough, it went into the evening when the old man got home. I earned that shit and I remembered that shit. Because it was incredibly unpleasant shit,” I ranted, rather un-sweetly.

“Yeah . . it’s different now,” She laughed.

No shit.

I tell you what, even in a deliciously vegetative state of insobriety, I wouldn’t be able to stem my Cobra Kai when a parent gave their kid the look-away pass and followed that up by delivering a few misplaced adjectives in my direction. Nope. I would be teaching a very different kind of lesson at that point.

The kind I learned, a long time ago.

 

When Faith Makes The Scene

My relationship with God has always been awkward, because I was never really certain as to what I was supposed to be looking for. It’s a signature of the human condition that compels us to define relationships, even those that can prove least definable. And as humans, we want something out of the deal.

When I was young and impressionable, I was seeking answers to the biggest questions the same way most young people of my generation did: By watching movies and listening to music. I had it figured that George Burns was God, John Denver was an Apostle and Ozzy Osbourne was the Antichrist. Looking back now I wish I’d been right. Shit, a God who smoked cigars and had a great sense of humor, an Apostle who sang folk songs and a devil who penned Ironman, one of the greatest rock songs ever? Sold!

When I was a teenager, I negotiated all manner of adversity by by dialing up the high and mighty hotline. It was more about kitsch than catechism. Mix too many adult beverages . . . put in a call. Bend a rule . . or maybe even a law . . put in a call. Get myself in a bind with a girlfriend’s girlfriend . . put in a call. Find out girlfriend or girlfriend’s girlfriend was late . . . put in a series of calls.

Adulthood is where I stopped calling on God because I didn’t feel like dealing with a busy signal. This is how adults survive. When we ain’t listened to in a way we deem appropriate, we look elsewhere: Financial advisors, general practitioners, insurance agents, mechanics, bookies, bartenders and therapists. Mediation comes at a price that we’re more than willing to pay because we’re assured that someone is listening.

Getting married meant churching, for a while, but the arrangement was never a fit for me because I was never much for country clubs. And that’s what church felt like, with all the networking and gossip mongering. I knew I could get more religion out of a bottle of wine or a baseball diamond than a Sunday morning in church.

Of course, it all comes down to faith. And faith is one of those things that isn’t found in a book or a house or a hymn. No doubt, these things can serve to inspire you, but they’ll never make you believe. No, that kind of thing usually makes the scene when we least expect it.

It’s been twenty years since I woke up in a hospital bed after having undergone a thyroidectomy to remove two separate cancerous growths. I remember feeling super groovy, as if Jimi Hendrix had just supplied me with some magical feel goods and chased it with a song. Needless to say, I didn’t give a flip about the tubes that were sticking out of me or the fact that I was sharing a room with a guy who was hacking up a lung. Before I could start doing the math on what came next, I passed out again.

Waking up at night in a hospital room is some truly creepy shit. For most people. But I guess I always had a morbid streak and a genuine curiosity for that kind of thing because I felt nothing but peace. And yes, the primo stock that was running through my veins helped. But it was more than that, because now my brain was working plenty well enough to remember back to that morning. The pastor at the church I’d stop attending had come by before my surgery to talk with me. He was a good man and I was genuine in my warm greeting. We talked for a while, about baseball and kids and steak houses. But I remember one simple exchange.

“Are you scared?”

“No, I’m not. Everything’s cool, it’s really cool,”

“Good, that’s good,” He examined my face as if searching for the lie, and not finding it.

It was as if I had waited all my life to feel the kind of peace I did on that morning. Uncertain as to what came next, and remarkably okay with that. I chatted with the nurses as they rolled me through the corridors until we arrived at a frosty operating room and I was introduced to all the players. And then they were serving me up a tonic to help me sleep and then I cracked a few jokes just to let them know it was paying off handsomely.

Something mystical was riding shotgun with me as I began to tiptoe through the tulips, because that’s when David Gilmour and Roger Waters started doing their thing. As my eyes grew heavy, I could feel the dumbest smile taking hold of my face as I muttered sleepily “Great fucking song . . .”

If there’s more to faith than that? I don’t need it.

 

 

 

Magic Dance

Howard Beach, 1983: Liz fumbled across the night table until her index finger was strumming the snooze option on the alarm clock radio. She lay still as the dead, as if by doing so she might stave off the day that was dripping into her brain like tiny beads of water from a faucet. She rose when the morning news broke through the darkness and switched off the alarm clock before moving into the bathroom.

“Fuck . . ” She said, examining the tiny shadow of a curl on her face. A virgin wrinkle. Her mother had taught her the value of pretty faces and gin martinis; a disharmonious combination that would end up stealing the elasticity of Mary Austin’s youth until she concluded that life was no longer worth living, and promptly moved to Long Island.

The chime of the rotary phone in the living room brought Liz back to present day. She ran to its bleating hum like a lovesick Lizzy Borden, craving that melodic timbre that was silk to her senses, even if she wanted to murder the sweet talking sonofabitch.

“Hey funny face,” Danny said. He lifted the moniker from an Audrey Hepburn flick they’d taken in at the Regent Theater in Soho on the day they fell in love.

“A Saturday, Danny? The fuck . . ”

“Half a day, and then we have a hot date at Don Peppe,”

“I wanted a hot date this morning and I got the fucking cat, okay?”

“Okay, forget Don Peppe. Makeup sex, pizza and beer,”

“Uh, no . . you don’t get to cheap out after standing me up. And morning sex beats makeup sex, every day of the week,”

“Debatable,”

“No, what’s debatable is whether you’re getting any tonight,”

“That’s harsh,”

“It’s why you love me. Get me some cheesecake from Eileen’s on your way home,”

“Done. I’ll be home by three,”

“That’s a half day?”

“Yanno, some day when we’re summering in the Hamptons and you’re drinking gin martinis at noon and having sex on a king sized hammock, you’re going to look back on this time and wonder what all the bitching was about,”

“Well now, that depends on the gardener . . .”

“Cheesecake as per your wish good looking,” Danny said.

“I hate you,” Liz replied.

“Hate you more, see you at three,”

Liz turned to find her black cat, Thin Lizzy, tossing daggers at her.

“I don’t need your shit right now sister, so you go tell it to the old man when he gets home,”

She moved to the kitchen and cranked up her coffee maker before delivering up some Al Green on her turntable as the intercom came to life.

“Yeah?!”

“Buzz me in! Buzz me in!” It was her best friend Maria. Liz unlocked the door and poured two cups of coffee, fixing hers up the way the old Cubans did, with enough sugar to send her into a diabetic coma.

“I hate my fucking life! More later . . I gotta piss!”

Maria was what happened when sound got pregnant with fury’s baby. The two of them had been friends since grade school, and Liz was thankful for the fact every single day. To know there was someone in the world more fucked up than her, it was a priceless thing.

“Coffee . .”

“Kitchen, I didn’t add anything to it since I don’t know what your mood is,”

“Bitch knows me!”

“So why does life suck today?”

“Never mind, but okay. Remember Richie Mancuso from high school?”

“Probably not,”

“Sweet black Riv? We went double dating after ditching the prom? You passed out in the front seat and he banged me in the back seat?”

“Oh shit, the guy I thought was too good looking to be straight!”

“Him. Well, we went out last night. He’s a used car salesman now,”

“God, I am so proud of you for moving on,”

“So we’ve gone out twice, he’s banged me twice,”

“When’s the wedding?”

“That’s just it, the fucking guy’s married!”

“It’s just so strange, Mar. A used car salesman . . . who lies,”

“I know! How did you get so lucky, meeting a handsome guy with money?”

“Easy. His childhood was as messed up as mine, Get this, his mother confessed to me that Danny’s father? Ain’t his father,”

“Get the fuck out!”

“Yeah, she pulled me aside at her birthday party last week to tell me this. She was totally wasted so of course I had to confirm it by calling her a couple days later. Turns out, she was messing with a family friend and the next thing she knew . .”

“Danny,”

“Yep. And it makes sense. They’re blonds, can’t grow facial hair to save their lives. I saw pictures of this guy . . has a Robert Redford thing going on. So no complaints on my end,”

“Do you have any weed?”

“Utensils drawer in the kitchen . . .”

“How’s the painting going by the way?”

“Eh, I sold a couple pieces last month at that art gallery in Brooklyn,”

“That’s awesome!”

“Maybe. But it was to the same guy, and I think he only bought them because he wants to sleep with me, so there’s that,”

“Does he look like Robert Redford?”

“More like Robert Redford’s accountant. Toke, por favor,” Liz said.

“Does Danny know? About his old men?”

“Are you nuts? He still thinks his mom was a virgin when she met his . . . when she met Carl,”

“Well when I have kids, they’re gonna know their mother had a good time when she was younger. Lying about your past bites you in the ass, always,” Maria said.

“I’ll make sure to remind you of this when you’re boring the shit out of them with stories of your time in the convent,” Liz smiled.

“Why does love have to suck so much Liz?”

“Because it knows we’ll keep coming back for more . . .”