Thursday, January 30, 2014

Close Call

Ah my nine beautiful lives. I’ve had so many close calls with death and disaster, danger and worse. To clarify, I indeed have a charmed life, but it has not been a cakewalk. Many odd and awful things  have happened to me in this journey called life, things I would fight to the death to prevent from happening to my daughter. But despite the tragedies, there have a million near misses, a million miracles where I was saved from the grasps of death and worse. Here’s one of those stories…

My mother needed us out of the house so my father took me down to Inwood Park to go sledding. I was in fifth or sixth grade. It was a cold icy evening and I was bundled up in my coat and hat and mittens, none of which were enough. We walked down 215th street past Seaman, down towards park. The sled dragged on the salted streets with an unpleasant scraping sound.

My parents were very conservative safe parents. They made sure that we never even considered taking our sleds on the big hill on  Park Terrace West, because if the street at the bottom was icy you could go flying into traffic on Seaman Avenue. There was at least one terrible accident there, one that involved a friend of ours, so we heeded their warnings and stayed  off that hill.

The day was ending as we walked down into the park and got to the top of the hill above the salt-water marshy inlet just below the baseball field. My father lay on the sled and I lay on his back and we flew fast and cold down the slope on a diagonal. Had we gone straight down the hill we would have gone right into the water. There was a low black metal railing around certain parts of the inlet but it was sporadic. My father steered us down the icy hill and we continued to careened along the flat ice-covered walking path at the bottom for a bit till we finally slowed down.

It was fun but cold as hell, maybe better than being home, maybe not. We went together down the hill a few times and then I wanted to go alone. “Just steer to the left,” my father said, as he gave the sled a starter shove. The icy wind off of the water hit my face as I started down the hill, but no matter how hard I turned the steering bar, the sled refused to go left. I did not have much body weight and the sled wasn’t really gripping the snow, instead it was skimming the icy top surface, like an out of control car. I could hear my father yelling to steer but nothing was happening. I was low to the earth, watching helplessly as I was flying over the land  at top speed towards the tangle of plants that defined the waters edge.

S M A S H ! ! ! ! !

The forward motion stopped with a brutal thud. I fell off the sled onto my side. The snow crunched under me and then silence. I lay still unable to speak or move. It was completely dark by now and the street lamps along the park walkways were glowing. I watched my father run towards me, calling to me in a panic, asking if I was ok. Everything seemed to be in slow motion and quiet. I could not move or reply. I will never forget how scared my father looked as he approached me or how relieved he was to see that I was alive. 

I had hit one of the metal railing posts, a random one. Had there been a proper rail with a series of posts there, I might have gone through two posts, might have gotten stuck there on a freezing night and had to wait alone while my father went for help for some one to cut me out. Had there been no rails I might have gone into the water. Had my head taken the impact I am not sure what would have happened. The sled hit the rail first and then my body, so the impact was slightly diminished. Luckily, it was not my head or face that took the brunt of the high-speed collision, but my side.

Miraculously, I wound up with the wind knocked out of me and a badly bruised rib cage, maybe a fracture, but not a break. My father laid me back on the sled and pulled me home over the ice, joking about the hard work to cover his feelings. I laughed a little but it hurt too much so I asked him to stop. I was freezing as he pulled me along, glad to be going back to a warm home.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Enid had sexy sleepy brown eyes like Candy Darling, big beautiful pools filled with sadness and longing. She was my boyfriend’s mother and we had a stormy relationship. She was in her mid thirties when me, a high school junior, and her son, a high school sophomore, would come to her home together to sleep over and have sex.

Sometimes she let us sleep in his room together and sometimes she made him drag a mattress into the living room where he would sleep while I took the privacy of his room. We would still have sex on one of the beds when we got a chance but it looked like we didn’t, maybe?

Sometime she would lose it and yell at him and call me a slut in her rant about what he was doing and what was wrong about his behavior. That was back in the day when “Jane you ignorant slut,” was a catchphrase and it was not as socially unacceptable a thing to say. Still, while the word was the furthest thing from the truth in a description of me, it stung and I took on the venom behind it.

Mothers can be assholes. They deal with pressures beyond ordinary people’s understandings. Once the outbursts were over I put them behind me. Most of the time she was kind, cool, friendly. She fed me and was super easy going about our teenage love,  a love in which we were way over our heads. We had sex and fought like cats and dogs and listened to the loudest most aggressive music like the Bad Brains and the Dead Kennedys. With that in mind, she was a saint. She let us get away with more than my uptight mother, that’s for sure.

Enid would make fun of certain music we listened to or movies that we thought were the be all end all, like Billy Jack, a film about a bunch of mope-y victims according to her.  She was so different from my family. She was loud about her opinions in a way that scared me, a way that I would eventually become.

Life danced on and Enid bought me a beautiful pair of earrings for my high school graduation. I saw less and less of her as my boyfriend and I broke up and got back together over the years and we crashed in different places in Manhattan more often instead of going back to her apartment in Queens.

Around that time Enid got breast cancer. She battled with it for a while but eventually got really sick. I was in college and her son and I were broken up when I heard that she was near the end of her life. I went to see her, greatly wanting to be there for this woman that I cared about deeply and went through so much with. 

I was at a bit of a low point in my life and was already limited in my social skills and communication skills. I had no idea how to act in such a situation. I brought along with me a little booklet that a hippie girl at the health food store had given me. It was a handmade little Xeroxed booklet with some spiritual quotes in it, most of which I did not understand, little of which I remember. One said “My god serves mindfulness.” It would be decades before I was anything close to mindful but I liked the look and the feel and the spirit of this odd  booklet that found its way into my hands.

I went to see her in her bedroom. She was lying down. I gave the book to Enid and said that it helped me and that I hoped that it helped her. She confessed to me that she was scared. I felt the weight of her fear. It was real. I am not sure if she ever told anyone else what she was telling me. I felt way too inadequate for the privilege of being present for such honesty. I truly did not have the capacity to respond to her, or to express what was inside of me. I wanted to take her fear and fix it. I would have done anything to make the fear be mine and not hers. I wanted desperately to make it all better but of course I couldn’t. I had no idea what to do or say. I could not express any of this to her. I sat there in silence with the best intentions and my dizzying inability to do anything. Then I read her a few pages from the booklet, these simple spiritual tokens. I told her that I did not understand them but that they helped me. And she listened and said she thought she understood it, a little. We were quiet for a while and than it was time for me to go. I did not see her again before she passed away. I still have the earrings she gave me and she is still with me all these years later. Always will be.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Sundance 2014

First of all, yes, Robert Redford looks like a million bucks in person. It is so great to be back in Park City, for the Sundance Film Festival, getting a mini snowy winter break from glorious warm Los Angeles, and watching great films all day. I had the good fortune of coming twice in the past, as films I acted in were selected to be part of the festival in prior years- the feature "Margarita Happy Hour" and the short I wrote and acted in "The 100 Lovers of Jesus Reynolds"both directed by the brilliant Ilya Chaiken. Man we whooped it up back then and what a grand time we had.

This year I am so proud to be here as part of the "Whiplash" entourage. The film is directed by Damien Chazelle and is edited by my husband Tom Cross and stars Miles Teller. In my humble opinion, man, is it a great film. I got to see the film for the first time at the opening night of the festival introduced by Robert Redford himself at the 1000 seat Ecceles theatre. How cool can you get? I won't give the story away, but it resolves around a drummer and his bloodied kit, and even though he is a jazz player there is an element which reminds me of the musicians on the early new york hardcore scene. If you are here, go check it out. If not you'll have to wait for a theatrical release. In the meantime, let me brag about my talented husband by quoting the Indiewire review: "Opting here for a rhythmically precise editing style that even Fletcher would approve of, editor Tom Cross uses rapid cuts that make watching a band practice as exciting as a high-speed car chase." 

To top off my fantastic trip, my old friend and producer of my cd, Jess Stroup is also here, having worked as Composer on "Camp X-Ray" starring Kristen Stewart. Great work, pal. 

Congratulations to all of the films and the crews. Can't wait to see more tomorrow....

Viva la cinema!!!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The guy who would take the train home with me

I forgot all about this: when I was 16 I used to go to clubs all the time to see live music. I lived for it. Getting home after shows was always an obstacle. Cabs to upper Manhattan were expensive for a schoolgirl, but the subway system was not the safest in those late hours in the early1980’s, especially to the less populated ends of the lines.

Often, my boyfriend would take me home after shows, which was an act of incredible chivalry. I lived in Manhattan and he lived in Queens so in order to take me home and then get home himself, it would be a three hour ordeal. We would have to wait for an A train, then take it to the last stop. He would walk me up the hill to my home and then go back down to the A train, which was often pulling out of the station when he arrived. He would have to then wait for the next train to arrive, hang out at the last stop and then venture back downtown. Once there, he would have to take the cross town shuttle to the 7 and then take the 7 to the last stop in Queens. The trains ran on an incredibly slow schedule in those wee hours of 2, 3, or 4 a.m. so each connection involved lots of waiting on quiet platforms for unknown amounts of time. Once he got off of the 7 train he would have to catch a bus to his home. The bus schedule was independent of the train schedule and most nights it was pulling away as he reached the top of the subway stairs that let him onto the street. The next bus would come in another hour. Fuck.

All of that lead to us finding many creative solutions and to his getting a car as soon as possible. I remember all of that clear as a bell.

The part that I forgot was that there were 2 cool guys in my neighborhood. I had not thought of either of them in years. They were both a little older than me and liked bands and went to shows downtown. One wore a motorcycle jacket and a Motorhead tee shirt in 1981. I used to watch him walk by. I knew he was different, like me, and that made me happy. We barely spoke a word to each other but he was there and that was great.

The other guy was just plain cool. He would accompany me home on the train when we were at the same show and even walk me up the deserted hill once we got off of the train. He acted like a big brother for no other reason than that we lived in the same neighborhood and like some of the same bands.

One time I went out to Staten Island to see the Dead Kennedys at the Paramount, July 31, 1981. After the show a riot broke out as all the punks came out of the theatre and all of the locals took that as a reason to fight. My boyfriend was looking at a 5 hour ordeal to get me home and then get himself home. First we had to get to the Staten Island Ferry but there were people looking to beat up punks on every corner.

Somehow out of the blue my friend from my neighborhood appeared. He had a friend with a car and was getting a lift. He did not have to stop and invite me but he did. I hopped into the overcrowded car full of mostly strangers, and squished onto some one’s lap.  I knew it was safe and that they just wanted to help me get home. My boyfriend kissed me goodbye and miraculously found another car making its way back to Queens. We drove into the night as sirens blared and fights broke out and cops busted in heads and broke things up.

Back before cell phones we all had this radar. You could find your friends in a crowded city. You could find your peeps when you were in need. Things had a way of working out. Thank you, buddy. 

Friday, January 3, 2014


After my first day of work at Flip I was exhausted from standing on my feet for 8 hours in heels. I had never done that before. I could not wait to take off my shoes when my boss, Marky, an olive skinned guy with 1970’s Keith Richards hair, asked me if I wanted to get a beer at One Fifth Avenue, the restaurant on the corner of Fifth Ave and 8th street, which was below the building with the address 1 Fifth Ave, where I had heard that Patti Smith lived. I had passed the spot many times but it was not a place an under aged kid with no money went. I jumped at the opportunity and said Yes. He leaned in and said in a super casual offhanded way, “Lets meet on the corner in 15 minutes, we don’t want everyone talking.”

I liked the idea of having a secret, being apart from everyone. I had no understanding of what that sentence actually meant. I met him on the corner. It was dark out and 8th street was alive and buzzing. I felt terrific walking down the street with my boss on our way to get a drink at One Fifth Avenue. I was only 16 but I had my cousin’s baptismal on me, so I was fine if I got carded, which rarely happened.

When we got to the corner Marky said he had to walk his dog and could I come upstairs with him. No problem. I did not think twice. We got into the elevator of the famous building and I secretly hoped that Patti might get on at some floor along the way, but she didn’t. When we got to his apartment, it smelled like dog shit because his Siberian husky couldn’t wait to be walked. Marky cursed and cleaned up while I sat there. Then he asked me if I wanted a quaalude and I said yes. Then he handed me a beer to wash it down. I drank it. I weighed barely 90 lbs. I had no sense of danger. Soon Marky was on top of me trying to kiss me and then everything went black.

I said yes to several of Marky’s invitations that evening, but had he asked if I wanted his heavy body pressing down hard on top of me I would have said no. Had he asked me if I wanted his hands on my body I would have said no. Had he asked if I wanted any of what he planned to do next, I would have cringed and said no. The truth is I do not know what happened next, I can only guess.

I came to as cold water hit me in the face and a slightly panicked man shook me and said my name. I was ultra laid back  from the ludes but I didn’t want water on my face because it would mess up my make up. I groggily tried to make sense of what exactly had happened. I was still fully dressed and assessed that not much time had passed, so I figured that nothing much could have gone on. That may or may not be true. When Marky saw that I was alive and well he said I should sleep over.

Even high I knew that I might be walking on thin ice and needed to go easy. I suspected that saying that I was not interested was not a great idea so I lied and said that my mother wouldn’t let me. There was something desperate about the way he handed me the phone and asked me to call her. I patiently explained again that she wouldn’t let me. “You don’t know how to lie to your mother?” he asked accusingly.  I was pissed off and wanted to laugh hysterically at him but instead lied to him with a dead eyed poker face and said no, daring him to question me any further. I said I had to go.

I staggered back down 8th street towards the subway. I was really high and felt great from the drugs, really great. I was in my element as I lumbered along alone in the electricity of the night in the Village. I had no idea how disheveled I looked with my smeared eyeliner and half closed eyes until I ran into someone I knew and I saw concern spread across his face. I dismissed his concern, but appreciated the care as he made sure I got safely to the A train, back to Inwood, high as a kite and cracking up with laughter.

To be continued sometime….