Monday, July 6, 2009


This has been a week of two distinct activities: making clear moves towards increased earnings and stubbornly hiding from the necessity through active imaginings.

The clear moves: sending this blog out to agents and editors; making appointments for clients coming from Canada and California; sending notes to prospective clients; cleaning piles of paper out of my house so I can think more clearly; giving the dog a bath; anything that cleans, clears, opens or beckons that can move me forward.

OK, enough of that.

What I love most in life is any dream time I can garner - by which I mean finding a stimulus and letting my imagination run with it in a million different directions. My friends have often accused me of living in my head - well, what can be better than a self-generated realtity, or one where the events take shape according to one's own wishes and whims?

The stimulus right now is the HBO series TRUE BLOOD. Many of us are following the growing relationship of vampire Bill Compton and his human love interest, psychic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, through the wilds and wilderness of the Louisiana bayous. The vampire world, populated by houses that go dark in daylight, supplies of Tru Blood in local bars, an all-vampire dance club called Fangtasia, and often medieval justice, is coming out and colliding with the human one at every turn, doing its best to maintain an identity but also to merge into normalcy, if anything vampire can ever be normal. This show gives new meaning to the phrase "separate but equal."

My most stimulating character vote goes, this week, to the vampire Erik Northman, the thousand year old Viking who is the sheriff of District 5 where Bill Compton and Sookie live. Bill has already killed a fellow vampire in protecting Sookie, and Erik was instrumental in having justice meted out - Bill had to create a new vampire, a petulant teenager named Jessica, to replace the one he destroyed. The vampires stood around like kids in the parking lot of a shake and burger hangout, screaming and convulsing as Bill did his thing. Erik's face never changed expression.

Northman is a Viking and often spouts short sentences that are probably some version of Celtic and usually intended to make his loyal co-hort and fellow Viking-ess Pam do something she does not want to do. He is tall, blond, seductively handsome, dryly humorous and infinitely world weary after being stuck here for a milennium. His humanity is a constant but distant element of his personality, as though it has not been taken away but worn down by years of seeing humans come and go while he cannot. He is intrigued by Sookie - sees the power of her psychic talent - and is amused that by no means does she have one ounce of fear where he is concerned, unlike anybody else, even Bill. He is sending her to Dallas to find a missing TWO thousand year old vampire through her ability to hear peoples' thoughts, and Bill is going with her. She despises Erik for what she sees as barbarism and violence, and makes him pay through the nose for her services; but, in between having his highlights done, he finds time to compliment her on how good she looks in a red Fangtasia tee shirt.

I, for one, want to see more direct contact between Sookie and Erik. Bill is the kind of vampire you marry, but from Erik you can learn things. Erik lived through the War of the Roses, Henry VIII, the invention of printing, the rise of art in Italy.....maybe he had conversations with Michelangelo or Napoleon. Here are some of the possible scenarios that I see which might bring Erik and Sookie closer together or Erik more to the forefront. Sorry, Bill!

1. Erik goes to an all-sheriffs conference in Salem, Massachusetts where he runs into an old vampire girlfriend who wants to kill him because he left her for Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII's court. Sookie hears her thoughts all the way to Louisiana, and warns him before she has time to think about what she's doing. But since Erik has already saved her life once, they are now EVEN.

2. Erik turns Lafayette into a vampire so he can utilize him and be sure that he doesn't go to the police regarding the vampire methods of punishing humans. Sookie goes nuts; Erik says he thought she'd prefer that to outright killing Lafayette, who had not yet (in Erik's mind) been punished enough for stealing blood to sell from the vampire Eddy. And Erik says "believe me, this eternal life is punishment."

3. Erik has to end up in drag before this show ends. Please, let him end up in drag. But good, androgynous drag, no frilly lace things. Part of a celebratory show at Fangtasia - maybe Halloween, when Sookie will put on the petticoat she promised to Bill..... but who will be the one to open all those hooks and eyes??? And what was that in Sookie's drink?

The thing is that Erik is funny. The humor is dry and restrained, but it makes him perhaps the most well-rounded character in TRUE BLOOD. He has seen it and lived it all, but he can still laugh at it.

And that, right now, is what I need to do among the living.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Daddy's Little Rich Girl Celebrates Father's Day

Today is Father's Day and I am thinking about my late father and his influence on my finances.

My dad was cute, tall, fun, generous and charming. My friends loved him; he was always the one who came up with dough when someone needed an operation, schoolbooks, or just asked. The truth is he was the pits with money. When he went into a hospice for his last cancer-ridden days, he had two dollars in his money clip and a lucky half dollar coin he always carried with him. For years my mother had asked him over and over if they were financially ready for their old age - to which he would respond, "stop asking me already - it's taken care of."

What had been taken care of was spending the millions he had made off and on dealing coins, gold and silver, and as a consultant to the SEC. supporting a consistently escalating gambling habit. He was known to have made 3 separate trips to New Jersey in a single day when the state lottery was highest to buy hundreds of tickets, disappear to Atlantic City for blackjack when my mom thought he was in Pittsburgh on business, bet on anything that came his way from sports to what my grades would be on my report card (yes, I found this out later). He was the first person to put a pair of dice, a pool cue and a deck of cards in my hand. He drove flashy cars like Cadillacs and Lincolns, much to my chagrin (he tried a Mercedes for a week; too small.) He hardly ever hugged me or my brother, but we got new toys, new cars, crisp hundred dollar bills shoved into our hands, huge Sunday breakfasts, trips around the world and world class educations.

He came by this grand passion naturally. His mother, a diminutive blue haired lady we were all scared of, had taught him poker at 3, pinochle at 4, blackjack and the rest before he hit grade school. At 92, she was still routinely skinning her lady friends at cards- mostly 5 card stud - in the synagogue social room. When she and dad were together, they spoke Yiddish, so I never quite understood what they were talking about, but there was something conspiratorial about their quiet, breathy conversations in a foreign language, something I could sense but not define.

My grandmother, who had divorced the grandfather I never knew in the 1930s, lived quite well at my aunt's giant main line home, without too many worries. But she could fly into a rage for no apparent reason, leaving us all cowering. Dad had been something of a piano prodigy early on, and I was told grandmother would rap his knuckles if he played a wrong note. Rather than making him afraid of taking risks, or of calculating their effect, this seemed to have spurred him on to higher and more dangerously risky ground, especially where his finances - and his gambling - were concerned. At one point, he was holding on to some gold that a friend who was divorcing asked him to hide. He used a bar or two to purchase some coins planning, he said, to replace the gold when he had turned a profit on his purchase, which was probably more like a gambling debt in Atlantic City. He lost the friend, obviously, but even more miraculously stayed out of jail. He repaid all, but at what cost no one will ever know. The money probably came from a craps table somewhere. My mother cried over the loss of the friendship. There were later rumors of Swiss and offshore bank accounts, but we never found any.

So here I am, and most of the money I am living on is not mine. When dad defaulted on a school loan he had promised to pay while I was living in Europe, I swore I would never be like him, not ever. I think of this as I count out quarters for the bus. Still, he was my father. I remember with more than a modicum of pain how depressed he looked when I'd visit and he had no money for me that day - I always said it didn't matter and it wasn't like I even needed it. We spent my parents' 50th wedding anniversary around his hospital bed, my father the glowing life of the party although he had already lost his powers of speech. And I would give a lot to be able to sneak out of the house with him one more time without my mother knowing, head straight to exit 26 on the Pennsylvania turnpike and into Jersey to buy handfuls of lottery tickets and conspire on ways to nail down that ever elusive pot of gold. I swear I can still see it shining out there, someplace past the fast food meccas and car dealerships, at the end of our very own rainbow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

FREE-dom - the Rich Girl Discovers Free NYC Treasures

With little or no dough, you might think it's hard to have fun in New York City. While the lack of funds does put a damper on dinner at Gramercy Tavern or Cipriani, there are a million things to do that cost you no more than a subway ride or the time it takes to walk there. Now that my dog's healthy and the weather has improved, I like to be out as much as possible taking in this city to which I am addicted. As it turns out, your lifestyle barely has to change - you just have to dig a little deeper to find the things you like to do. Here is my personal favorites list.

The Chelsea Art Galleries. This week alone, Larry Gagosian has a show of the last decade of Picasso's work that you would rarely see together even in a museum. There are hundreds of art galleries from 17th to 29th Street between 9th and 11th Avenues, open 11-6 pm M-F during the summer. And you can buy a coke for a dollar from one of the hot dog vendors, or a glass of Prosecco at Tia Pol on Ninth if you want to splurge at 7 dollars.

For a couple of bucks, grab a hot dog and soda at the Papaya King on 6th Avenue and 8th St. or on 72nd Street on the Upper West Side and then head to either Washington Square Park or Central Park to people-watch while you have lunch. Write down what you see or conversations you overhear. Maybe, like me, you will utilize the notes later..

The city museums all have suggested donations, but you are allowed to go for free even if the guards give you dirty looks. The best is, of course, The Metropolitan, where an afternoon in the Temple of Dendur will ease the sorest soul. And then there is the Frick, where you can sit in the room I call the Roman Bath room surrounded by work by William Blake, Guido Reni and others, and bask in the endless quiet. Museum Mile takes up most of Upper Fifth -- check the city museum website for a full list of opportunities.

Places like Barnes and Noble and The Strand Bookstore have readings and author events all week long, featuring stars like David Sedaris or Susan Minot, and lessers about to break into the spotlight. See the websites or call the stores for information and get there early because they fill UP. You may not be able to go into B and N and drop that 300 bucks anymore, but you can enjoy some literary moments brought to you by real authors...And the Strand has a huge selection of dollar books in stalls outside the store, where you NEVER know what you'll find.

Your dog is the key to endless new adventures and friendships if you take him or her to the local dog run. There are great runs in Central Park and Washington Square Park, and on the Upper East Side by the river. There are also small runs up and down the new park that is almost complete along the Hudson from Tribeca to Chelsea. I like Washington Square because it has a run delegated to small dogs (mine is 7 pounds). Bring some neutral, preferably organic treats and share them with the group there (ask, of course, before you give a strange dog anything to eat). I have gotten real estate clients from the dog run, as we bonded over our surrogate children.

Walk where you have never gone before. If I hadn't gotten off the train at 137th and Lenox, I would never have found the small perfume store hiding two blocks away. Take a chance. Near the 59th Street bridge is one of the greatest light fixture places I've ever seen, and they're happy to show you their inventory. There is a wonderful salumeria where you can get handmade Italian cold cuts on Second Avenue around 30th Street in Murray Hill. You get the idea - now get OUT there and stop feeling sorry for yourself!

Here is a sampling of what's happening this week that won't cost you a nickel.

Monday, June 8. Pianist Todd Williams often plays with Woody Allen, but today he is doing Ragtime and Tin Pan Alley songs on the Upper Terrace of Bryant Park starting at Noon. Bring your lunch.

Wednesday, June 10. Free Drawing from Nature class. This takes place at Battery Plaza and the Hudson from 11:30-1:30. Call 212-267-8702 for more info.

Friday, June 12. If the idea of email still mystifies you, here is a free class to get you started. You will get a free email account, your own email address and learn how to send and receive email. It takes place at The George Bruce Library at 518 West 125th Street. Call 212-662-9729 to register.

Saturday, June 13. Kayaking on the Hudson - a free workshop. Here is your chance to get in the water - this workshop is a whole day, 10-5 pm. Wear t-shirts and shorts and do call 212-408-0219 for registration.

If you go your computer and type in "free events in NYC" you won't BELIEVE what comes up. Live dangerously - Have fun!

Friday, May 29, 2009


About four years ago, a friend of mine told me the story of a Yorkie named Rocco. He was made to live in a bathtub with his food and wee wee pad, was rarely taken outside, and although a little girl in the household loved him he had never been to see a veterinarian. The little girl could not protect him from her drug addict mom's less loving friends - one had kicked little Roc in the teeth so that his whole mouth was infected. His first week home as a puppy, someone had dropped him and his leg was broken. I made my friend tell me the story again and again until I could convince her to steal Rocco from his family. I promised I would find him a good home.

It was March 4, 2006. I remember the day because it was my dog Maggie's 15th birthday. A Yorkie bitch of the first order, there was nothing cuddly about this dog whom I had inherited from my mother; but I admired her tenacity and willfulness, the way she barked when dinner was not on the floor at 5:30 sharp and how she bit the ankles of any man who came near me. Good girl, Maggie.

So it was March 4. I had made Mags a hamburger birthday dinner and I knew my friend was bringing Rocco over any minute so I would be able to find him his new home. What I was doing taking in an un-neutered male dog when my girl was so old, I do not know; I only know from the minute I heard his story - and heard it and heard it - that I had to help this little guy. The doorbell rang; I told my doorman to let them up. I left the front door open as I ran to the kitchen to get Rocco a welcome dog biscuit, and when I came back out this tiny guy dog, head down as if in submission, was sauntering - really sauntering - right towards me off the leash. He sat down at my feet and looked up at me, a dog obviously wanting to please. I gave him the biscuit but it was too big for his sore mouth. So we sat on the couch, I broke it into pieces, and watched him struggle through the treat. I wanted to kill his (former) owners.

Rocco, of course, was home. He didn't go to a shelter or a new family; with Mags, he and I became a pack. I had 15 of his teeth removed the first week he lived here; I also had him neutered, for his own good and so he would stop bugging poor Maggie who nipped at him in vain as he kept trying to mount her. He gained 3 lbs (he weighed 4 when he got here) and learned to love sitting on pillows looking out a window, car rides and adventures to the bank and Bed, Bath & Beyond. He is so cute he got scouted by an assistant director of Law & Order. Mags succumbed to old age in 2007; I thanked the universe for Rocco's presence and always felt she had waited to go until I was taken care of.

You might wonder what all this has to do with my poverty journal. Well, Rocco has not had a good week. He is straining at the haunches to relieve himself, he has stopped eating, and he has been in obvious discomfort. So off we went this morning to the veterinarian -- who immediately said two awful words that will ring in my ears forever: BLADDER STONES. The x rays showed that Rocco has four of these crystalline beauties, each almost a half inch wide, rolling around in his tiny bladder and wreaking havoc. "They must come out," said the vet, a lovely young woman in her mid-30s. Yes, of course they must. To the tune of about $2,000 dollars.

The irony is that an old boyfriend, Miles (who I have spoken about here before) came through with a hefty loan just this week. It was my most beautiful surprise in ages. I had been looking forward to some breathing space, but the truth is I would stop eating if necessary to help this lovely little animal, my wolf spirit guide in miniature form, the closest living being to a prince I have ever known. So, through my tears, I worked out a plan of payment with the vet, put down half, and carried Rocco the four blocks home so he would not be in pain from walking. I am making him boiled chicken and have some baby food in case he won't eat that (he has not eaten anything in more than a day) and hope I can get some pain meds into him so he is at least comfortable until his Monday surgery. I am worried; hell, I am scared to death. The idea of the anesthesia alone makes me cringe with trepidation. And he can't come home until the next day. But I have to keep the faith that some higher power brought me and Roc together, and that we are meant to stay that way. Now, finally, he is asleep and his breathing has evened out. Mine, of course, has not. Isn't that always the way it is. I'll let you know what happens.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Rich Girl Finds Solace - in Video Games

I went to a funeral service this morning; the mother of an office assistant died at much too young an age, leaving her daughter - much too young to lose a mother - distraught and lost. I was going to stay for a few minutes, but I actually lasted an hour. The funeral home was on Bleecker Street in an old Italian quarter. There were the requisite photographs of weddings, proms, first steps, a cremation urn and enough flowers to snuff out the smell of mourning. Death can make you think of all sorts of things, not the least of which is how good it is to be alive. I hugged the office assistant before leaving until I almost smothered her, as though I was trying to infuse her with something she could live for, perhaps one could call it hope.

On my walk home, I realized it was I who needed the hope. I lost a listing this week and 10 million in business. The first was a relief - the poetess I spoke of in an earlier blog had become too crazy to handle; the second was due to a high up Wall Streeter's distrust of the future of all market(s), something I could not argue against with the present value of anything. I also realized that my self esteem is inextricably connected to what I am doing and how successful I am. Right now, with my apartment up in the air, bills to pay, no health insurance and no real lifelines, well, my self esteem has disappeared somewhere into the molten core of the earth where it is being summarily incinerated.

Late at night, I have tried to remedy this in a way I would call ridiculous if anyone else told me they were doing it. I play video games. Not just ANY video games, but two in particular: Bejeweled 2, where you line up 3 or more of the same brightly colored gem and get points for each line and Farm Town, where you are actually building a virtual world. While I have actually won money with Bejeweled 2 (a whole five dollars), it's Farm Town that obssesses me. In it, you build your own farm universe. You plant crops, harvest them, earn coins with which you can buy a zillion things in the farm stores, from upgrading your plot of land to hedges, fences, silos and wells. Every 500 coins you reach a new level and the right to purchase or send as gifts new things. You can go to the marketplace and hire other avatars (you as a farmer are an avatar, complete with chosen name and physical characteristics) to harvest your crops, earning 25% more than if you did it yourself. Right now I'm at Level 14, which is called Specialist. I am ahead of my two nieces, who also play, and my friend A., who is a top real estate broker in a neighboring state. I am saving up to buy a bigger farm; I am very very close to being able to do so. Every time I plow a seed lot or buy a new fruit bearing tree, I feel I'm getting richer and richer. Here, in Farm Town, I am a winner.

Sometimes it is hard to turn Farm Town off and get back to real moneymaking ventures. The placement of the crops, their harvesting, moving the sheep and cows around, building fences, starts to haunt your dreams. I wake up in the middle of the night: are all the chickens in their pen? Did Avatar Joe finish harvesting the strawberries? Why doesn't anyone like to harvest trees? My Avatar's name is, astonishingly, Deborah. Other people have names like Old McDonald, Fifi, Princess Manurea, Farmer Apple, etc. My avatar Deborah has light blue hair and exotic green eyes. If she goes to find work in the marketplace, she is almost always picked. I tried a number of different looks until I found which worked best. In terms of cost, changing my avatar's appearance sure beats plastic surgery hands down.

So when you are sitting around late at night sipping your wine or something stronger, I am in front of a computer creating a parallel universe where I feel good, if only for a while, and if only in my head. I watch the crops grow tall and green, I harvest and re-plant, and I have crates and carts and a citrus grove and several pigs, chickens and cows, and have almost saved enough coins for a small farm house. Of course, I have my eye on the gigantic farm MANSION, many harvests away. And in this fecund virtual world of soil and sweat, I can be positive that, sooner or later, I'll certainly get there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rich Girl Gets Courted - in Housing Court

Tonight, I am tired. I am listening to Charlie Rose interview architects Frank Gehry and Renzo Piano. They are talking about important buildings (theirs) in faraway places. I remember meeting Gehry years ago in Venice, and thinking he looked exactly like my father's uncle Lou. Lou, the bootlegger who ran bathtub gin from Philly to Baltimore and was turned into the authorities by his wife. Gehry was building the Guggenheim in Bilbao; he explained his drawings, his hands running across the lines as if they were alive. Now, I am sitting alone and my dog is snoring. The computer keyboard is hot. I had a panic attack yesterday which I lived through. Work is moving, if slowly. And, hopefully, when I surface from this odd torpor, I'll still have a place to live. Speaking of buildings.....

Last week, it arrived: a knock at my door, a young black man who said "from the landlord" as he shoved a paper into my hand. I am being sued for back rent in civil court. I told the young man I was happy he was gainfully employed. However, while I'm a big fan of watching all the Law & Order franchises, I would rather not live them. But down to housing court I had to go, to "answer" the suit.

Frankly, I have no answers. At any moment I could have all the money I need to pay off every single debt; or I could be on the street tomorrow with many months to wait until I am paid. I worry every day where I might go, what will happen to Rocco, what will I do with all the stuff I've accumulated over 19 years in one place. Sometimes I think I should just throw everything I own out the window, like someone in a 1960s film might have done to "simplify" their lives. And it would really irritate my landlord. But holding even one coffee cup over the edge of the sill, remembering where it was bought, who I was with, where its specific space is on a kitchen shelf, I just do not have it in me to let (it) go.

So -- 111 Centre Street is the home of Manhattan's civil court. You walk in and they put all your junk on a conveyor belt through a metal detector, just like in an airport. I've always wondered who would be stupid enough to bring knives or guns to a courthouse, but I'm told there have been incidents. I do not want these people to think for one minute I will be creating one of THOSE, so I smile and practically give a volleyball push to my handbag, right into the chest of the woman working the belt, leaving it wide open so she can see there is no glint of metal, no trace of firearm. I smile; The woman gives me a blank look. I get past the machine and a happily chubby guy tells me what floor housing court is on. I go to the elevator; I am on my way up.

Through two nondescript doors on the 4th floor is Housing Court. There are lines marked with the Latin phrase "pro se," which is where I have to go as I am doing this on my own, which is what "pro se" means. There is a row of people at windows talking to those in line - one such "teller" who looks like Jerry Garcia is sipping a diet Pepsi and assuring a woman she will not be kicked out. Behind these tellers are symptoms of city disorganization, what looks to me like mile after mile of stacked files, each one probably detailing some awful moment in someone's home situation here in the Big Apple.Then a cute guy in a nice suit and a magenta tie comes up to me, looks at my papers and says "you don't have to stand in line, come with me," which I do like a puppy who has been offered a snack or a long walk in the park.

He disappears; comes back. "I tried to get you a free lawyer,' he says, "but your debt is too high." Something tells me this is a phrase I will hear often and again while I am dealing with all aspects of my debt. The truth is I have not made a dime in 2009, although I have 12 million in real estate for sale. But there is a clubby atmophere here, a humanness to which one succumbs, a sense of camaraderie, however scared we all are. Ellen, sitting next to me, lost her paralegal job six months ago after asking for a raise, something she had not had in three years: I have to translate for Juan from Washington Heights when he doesn't understand the question "is this rent really due?" but hears something like "doe" or "does". Ellen likes to bake - she has taken to baking her own bread so she doesn't have to spend 4 dollars a loaf. She has lived in her apartment for 16 years. We are comrades in the about-to-be-homeless front lines, sisters bound by bricks and mortar, soldiers in the fight for fairness over a landlord's lust for filthy lucre.

The guy with the magenta tie comes back; he has our court dates. I have to come in again next week to get an adjournment; I am thinking of hiring an attorney, no matter the cost, as long as he can give me another three months here which I think is what I will need. Pro Se isn't all it's cracked up to be. I think about getting married which, i admit, I ONLY think about when I'm in financial trouble. That is, indeed, another blog entry.

I say goodbye to all, wish them good luck and swish through the department's double doors like Loretta Young on her TV show. On my way downstairs, everyone headed for the street is cheery, even buoyant; the weather has finally turned and it is spring. I walk out into the warm air, still with a bit of briskness in it. I am oddly comfortable that moment in my own skin. Perhaps that is, after all, what home is. Isn't it?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Once Upon A Long Time Ago

In the 70s, I had a hero (really a heroine) in the writing world. Let's call her G, for Good. G was wild, blond, ferociously opinionated, had a zing of an intellect, was passionate about helping the underrepresented, wrote beautiful poems and taught writing to inmates at a certain famous city prison. A few years older than I, she looked like the person I wanted to become. We visited Attica; we watched WATERMELON MAN with Godfrey Cambridge on TV; we taught jailed women with secret political activist lovers on the outside; we made fun of her ex boyfriend who happened to be running my writing program uptown; we ate Chinese food on the floor of her apartment. This was heaven; I was in deep like.

Fast forward 30 years. G. has been living in California with her actor husband who, only in his mid-50s, drops dead unceremoniously on a movie set. I have stayed in New York, with a brief period in Italy, and gone through numerous careers, most of which involved the written word, but have now landed in real estate. G's husband leaves her lots of money. She decides to recapture her youth in New York. Somehow, she finds me. We look for and discover the perfect apartment, a West Village beauty that the aforementioned ex tells her is a good address. But G is not the G I remember; she has switched places with another letter in the alphabet and has become S, for sad or perhaps M for (downright) mean. She has a daughter (children change everything) over whom she obsesses, and she has trouble concentrating and making decisions. The least little thing throws her off center. Since she buys a co-op, there is a board package and she actively attacks and curses at me through the whole process even if I ask for nothing more than a signature. I decide I must swallow it - her husband has died, she is recreating her life, she is angry that she was left like that, etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda. We get through it and she moves in. All seems well in the world of S.; there are welcome back parties in NYC, lots of old friends. She may even be moving back towards G.

A couple of years go by and G decides to sell the beloved downtown apartment. In the meantime, the adored daughter has developed her own heart problem and is having seizures and blacking out. I know what this is doing to G. It is making her feel like the planet is against her, that the people most important to her have delicate hearts, not strong enough for this world. I think I am being compassionate, and I am doing my best to sell her apartment in a market that has now fallen far from where she bought it. I do ask her for a loan since I am having the worst year ever financially. She comes up with the money, I am thankful. But somewhere along the line there are rumblings that all is not as it should be. If I say a prospective buyer feels renovations would be too expensive, she takes it personally as an attack on her taste. I cancel one appointment for family reasons, she stops trusting me. I ask if I can have a wine tasting in her apartment to draw brokers in, I am violating her inner sanctum. It goes on and on, reaching a fever pitch. Until one day, neither of us can take it anymore, right at the moment where I am getting to "critical mass" with her apartment, which means showings every day. I suggest we part ways; she concurs in an email that suggests we were never friends, I had only assumed it. Yes, I had been assuming this for 30 plus years. The next time she needs to be picked up at the plastic surgeon's office, taken home and stayed with until she feels better, I wonder who she will call.

Maybe G. was never the G I thought she was, which is something she actually said to me. Perhaps that brave young woman with the sizzling intellect was not her, but some version of myself, and I was not ready to claim who I really was. I have a temper, but I have to be pushed fairly hard for it to show, and I have managed to come through most crises (including my current financial crisis) with flying colors. I have bad moments but I do not back down. I even contacted Debtors Anonymous this week because I must have taken a wrong turn in not saving for this current monsoon of a day. I don't blame others for where I am; my life is my choices. After G and I had a horrendously clear flurry of emails where I also said my piece, I slept for almost a whole afternoon. I woke up feeling unimpeded.

And so, this afternoon, two people walked into my office, a lovely mom and daughter from La Jolla, California. What brought them in was G's listing, still glowing up in the window as we have not had time to take it down. They are looking for a one-bedroom on the same street as G's apartment to use as a pied a terre; a second daughter is coming here next year. The mother grew up in Philadelphia; the daughter is in cinema studies; we talked for an hour. I think I have some new buyers. Truly qualified ones, with a clear, uncomplicated agenda. So tonight I am now H, which stands for (of course) Happy. Life, however difficult, also forces you to go on, just at the right moment.

Friday, May 1, 2009

I'm Not Waving, I'm Drowning

The poet Stevie Smith wrote a wonderful piece with a line about a figure far out in the ocean, who seems to be waving at friends on the beach but is, in fact, drowning.

That seems to be me.

I get up every day, get dressed, take Rocco (my dog) outside, go to work, do more work, and then do more work, then I come home, do more work, watch some tv, work during commercials, and collapse sometime around midnight on my bed. Oh yes, in there somewhere I take Rocco out one or two more times. And in my dreams, I work.

I usually smile and wave at people I see down the hall, across the street, in the buildings where I am selling property, at my office. But a distance is opening up, and something is creeping into my lungs like water, slowly stealing my ability to breathe......oh yes, it's the bank account draining! An all too familiar sound these days. A friend of mine calls this separation from life - this distance or asphyxia - like living under water. I am oiling my wetsuit as we speak.

Today, I lost my health insurance. I expected it - my fabulous company has been carrying me for many months. Now I am not sick, and I can replace my current mood meds with LOTS of activity and, hopefully, more sunlight than rain, but it's always a gamble. My home looks like a warehouse as I am running an ebay business out of it; my desk is chaotic; my dog has almost become un-housetrained as he feels my pain and anxiety so I usually come home to a welcome back dog mess. I have been served with a rent demand, but no lawsuit yet - my attorney says it's imminent. And none of my listings are selling or renting. But lots of people are smiling at me. Or waving.

What's a girl to do?

Tomorrow I am taking a mental health day. No work, no real estate, a lot of dog (Rocco is wonderful), some art, some fun conversation, one great meal, and long long walks. I am going to take myself out of the medium that is drowning me and try to find new ways to breathe. So when you see me in the street, I may look a bit haggard, but it is me, and I assure you, the smile on my face is real. And I will NOT be drowning, but waving.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bells from the Past: Old Boyfriends Chime In

By my age, everyone has something of a past. And parts of that past always stand out more than others.

For me, one remarkable moment was my last year of graduate school at Columbia, where my aspirations to become a famous poet were humming along. Let's say it's the late 70s, a kind of TAXI DRIVER ambiance pervades the city, bar after bar on the Upper West Side blinks its name and wares in aqua or pink neon lights, and one block from Dodge Hall was considered the ghetto, or Harlem as we now know it. I was studying with Nobel laureates, editing the school literary magazine, and thinking about my first book. For years I had lived with a very kind and sweet guy, then a law student - let's call him Jeremy. And all of a sudden my heart got taken hostage by another, very quickly one day at one of those bars, I looked at this man and knew my life was about to change forever. Let's call him Miles, like "miles to go before I sleep." He was, after all, a writer in my program and a good one at that. I fell in love, left Jeremy, stayed with Miles until we burned out, and eventually ended up with neither of them.

When my finances began their downward spiral this winter, it was these two men I thought of. Jeremy first, of course, because I thought he would easily be able to help me with a loan and would also be compassionate about my situation and likes to help people. Miles, well, because I still think about Miles a lot. Not every day, but at least once a week because it was with him that I had the best sex of my life. He was not as nice as Jeremy, he did not understand things as astutely as Jeremy, but he got right down into the muckiness and mess of our mutual chemical dependence on each other's physical selves. The dark side, the shadow, as Jung might call it, got full throttle with Miles. And I felt like I was slipping into a truly dark place that he would understand. With Jeremy, the sun was always shining and, if not, a replacement for it had to be found immediately. No shadows allowed.

So I emailed Jeremy and asked him to call me on my cell, I had a favor to ask. He did call me,more quickly than I anticipated, and we traded small talk and biographical details for about 15 minutes when I finally just said "if I do not ask you this right now, I never will." I told him I needed a $5,000 loan for six month.s The silence on the other end of the line was so thick I thought he had hung up. "Wow," he said when he collected himself, "wow." I felt the first tickle of impatience in my stomach. Then I am hearing about the children still in college, how people are not paying their bills (Jeremy is a defense attorney), and how he would have to ask his wife. Now the wife and I have a checquered history which is whole other story; but I knew the moment he said those words I was dead in the water, and waves of sadness rushed over me. "OK, sure," is what came out. And at that point, he pulled into his office parking lot and had to hang up the phone.

Miles, on the other hand, despite a less tactful and calculated approach to life, chose this moment to prove he really could be empathetic. "You will always have family as long as I am alive," he wrote, "and if I had the money, I'd give you thrice what you need." Of course, he has no money. Miles is a part-time professor and full time dad to a lately conceived 11 year old who has him busy deciphering the body language of parents at little league games, which mystifies him. The real world was never Miles' best suit; he had been able to write brilliantly subdued fiction and now his life did not allow him that, or so he perceived. We wrote back and forth via email, and the result is we truly are friends again and probably always were. He married the woman he originally dumped for me, and so he is kind of consistent. The one thing I saw about Miles that I had not seen when we could not keep our hands off each other was how tightly he was now holding onto his family. I used to think he was the opposite of Jeremy - one wild, one tame - but in this, they were equal and the same.

The only difference in this moment was that Jeremy -- having studied Jungian psychology in Switzerland, ever the referee and problem-solver among his friends and family -- couldn't really deal with my fortunes being on the skids. He didn't call me back for a week, and then instead wrote me an email saying he could not afford to loan me money for all the reasons he had stated previously but to keep in touch with him. I was and am not sure if he felt horror, anger, fear or any of the above. Let me just say one thing about Jeremy's wife - she is, was, and always has been very wealthy. The fact that she 'dated' him for two years in the car that took them back and forth between Manhattan and their Long Island law school (my car, in fact) doesn't even enter her head, and certainly not his, nor all the things Jeremy never disclosed at the time, wanting to play it safe until he watched me get enveloped by Miles, at which point all bets were off.

So where I thought I would be thanking Jeremy and forgiving Miles for some ridiculous response, it is the opposite. I thank Miles for the time he is taking to talk to me, to remind me of who I am, to tell me (not in so many words) that I will be OK. Jeremy, well, I lived with the guy for five years and I never for one moment felt taken for granted or simply ignored and now I do. For all the times I stepped on his soft spots, I am sorry; and I forgive him his inability to either tell me what he really thinks of all this or find a way to help me when I know if he wanted to, he could. Without Jeremy, I would never have grown up and accomplished all that I have done; he gave me language and tools to work through problems. Without Miles, I would never have grown into myself as a woman. And although I am poverty-stricken, I have riches aplenty from moving through interesting life cycles, two of which, these guys, have made it all the more worthwhile, all the light and shadow, for better and for worse.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good as Gold

I bet you don't know about the Provident Loan Society in New York City; not many people do. It sits obscurely at the corner of 25th Street and Central Park South in a very small very old-time bank-like building, in a part of Manhattan that has little or no identity. And I think Provident likes it that way -- to be as anonymous as possible.

Provident is a non-profit lender that makes small loans based on collateral of gold and jewelry - mostly gold. The loans are six months in length and if you cannot pay them off at that time, you get by with just paying interest. You go into a small, neutral-colored room with four bank teller windows covered with bullet proof glass and four chairs to sit in, and wait for an associate to help you fill out the almost negligible forms. Family legend has it that my father, who died 20 years ago, would take his more worthless gold coins and fragments there and get money to feed his gambling habit. My brother tells stories of having to wait in the car at rush hour in Manhattan while my father waited in line to get dough for his gold. It made him (my father) gleeful that he could trade what he saw as junk for greenbacks. And it made for many hours over the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.

I took my first Provident loan out sometime in the late 90s. I do not remember much, except it was for 4-500 dollars and I paid it back almost immediately. Over the years, I have been known to take out small loans here and there. But with this latest downturn, I suddenly owed Provident 2,100 dollars that I just didn't have. I had the due date circled in red on my calendar.

I called up the office and got a guy with a sense of humor; I told him my problem. "Why are you sweating it," he asked, "just let us put the material at auction, your loan will be paid, and you might even get some extra money from it which we would pay to you. Gold IS at an all time high." He asked if there was anything in my collateral of sentimental value; I said no, but hoped the gold nugget dug from my grandfather's short-lived gold mine in Fresno, California in 1928 was not in the group (it wasn't). I pursed my lips; I shivered. I hated not being able to pay something off. No matter that it could work out better for everyone; my nails were bitten, by the time of the auction, almost to the quick. And then I forgot about it.

So here we are at the end of April, a month after my gold has gone the way of all goods at a New York auction gallery. I go to my mailbox and there is a note from Provident. The envelope was very thin and I felt like I did when I had been rejected from Sarah Lawrence College. So I very slowly opened it. "Your valuables," it informed me, "have been sold as required by law and there is an overage." Good, I thought, maybe couple of hundred dollars, and then I thought I was reading it wrong. "The overage," it stated, "is 2,775 dollars and you need to come in and file paperwork so we can give you a check."

I was there the next day; the money is now in my bank account. Rocco, my Yorkie, can have his rabies shot and yearly health scan; I can pay my accountant for my 2006 returns (I am catching up). I can even pay the attorney working on my possible eviction. And now I am looking everywhere for gold and I've found more brooches, a chain or two, all of which mean nothing to me unless they generate some greenbacks. And how does all this strike me? I have only one thing to say: it's divinely Providential.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Private School Vs. Private Parts.....

I went to private school in one of the oldest cities in America, a school to which George Washington sent his stepchildren and where a large bell from that era still heralds the start of the school day.

We wore uniforms that consisted of pleated plaid skirts, navy blazers piped with the same plaid under which we had short-sleeved white shirts with Peter Pan collars (the collar closed with a circle pin), navy blue knee socks and dark loafers (Weejuns were the thing in those days. The ones with the leather fringe that you'd bend back to make the shoes look worn).

Our rebellion consisted - among the girls - of seeing how high we could hike up our skirts until the dreaded headmistress dragged us down to her office or we were sent there by a new algebra teacher with a mission. The headmistress, let's call her Miss McCray, was a tall, slightly mannish woman with unruly black curls and, usually, a smile on her face. Except when she was called to skirt duty - then she was all business. We would go into her office where first she would make us kneel and then she would take out her old wooden ruler.

I know you are expecting some horrific story of child abuse, but all Miss McCray wanted was to measure the length of our skirts and make sure they were NO MORE than 4 inches above the knee while kneeling. It was the absolute law - even written in a terse letter to our parents, guardians of our virtue. I was in that office at least twice a week, while (let's call her) Poppy Mast was in there more but got detention less. Poppy's dad was on the board of trustees until indicted for tax issues years later. I once sat in Poppy's living room and listened to her father kick a suitcase around in the room over us, upset that I was there on a school night or perhaps for other reasons not relevant here.

Anyway, I digress. I usually got detention along with a thorough scolding that my underwear was not meant for public view. Detention consisted of being sent to a boys' home room (we had separate classes). Where anyone got the idea that this was punishment for girls, I'll never know. It was a chance to try and pull down Mark Maresco's socks with my toes, or to smile at Mr. Miracolo, the yummy teacher of French who ran the home room and who, 8 years later, actually asked me for a date. I was usually exiled to the boys' side with Susie Sperber, a buxom blonde with a big laugh and lots of jangly gold bracelets. You could hear us laughing and jangling, I think, in the next county.

So here I am, poverty stricken and suddenly, once again, creating a uniform that I can vary slightly day to day so i do not have to buy new clothes. I have my private school to thank for the idea - it's extremely liberating. Black pants, black top, red top, black pants, colorful scarf, long coat, short trench, earrings or no earrings. Gone are the days when I am thrilled to show off my Hanes cotton bikinis, but I do like a little cleavage now and then. Sometimes I wonder if I go too far and what Miss McCray might think the appropriate decollete would be. 5 inches from the base of the throat while looking straight ahead? I think Miss McCray would find that acceptable.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Taxis vs. Public Transport

Today, Easter, I took a bus uptown to work. This is a new vista for me, public transport. The bus was late, crowded, and since it looked like the Crips and the Bloods had set up house there, I stood for most of the trip to 57th Street. Taking the bus is so, well, real. I looked up to read all that billboard drivel that lines the walls above the windows. There was a quote from Shakespeare, from THE TEMPEST: "o brave new world/that has people such as these in it" or something to that effect. I looked around. Yes, it is a brave new world. Indeed.

I'm trying to make the best of my own new world order. As I waited for the bus today (for example) and it didn't appear for 15 minutes, I decided that this waiting was teaching me patience. When the bus stopped, and the lady in the wheelchair showed up from nowhere and held us up another 7 minutes as she boarded, I knew that patience was joining hands with tolerance. Kum-by-yah.

When I hail a cab, I thought,I place myself alone in the universe, above and disconnected from humanity except for the driver. I'm a person with nothing on her mind but getting to the next place and nothing to do but think about getting there until she gets there, an exercise in abject narcissism. Taking buses and subways is like playing bumper cars with humanity; wherever you turn, walk, run or sit, humanity cannot be avoided. At any moment you can be threatened, approached, asked to move, offered music (for a price). The process of getting someplace cannot be disconnected from the triumph of arrival. In fact, it makes getting there -- alive and in one piece - that much sweeter, and often punctuated with a triumphant sigh of relief. You have really achieved something.

I do not miss my taxis. Taxi TV was repetitive and dull and featured Regis Philbin; the credit card system never worked, or drivers lied about it not working in order to get cash. One in five taxi drivers has not bathed in recent memory and one in two insists on talking on his Bluetooth so you are five times more likely to get into an accident. I have been in at least one taxi accident per year since I've been in NYC. On one particularly hot summer day, a bike messenger, reacting to my driver cutting him off, actually ripped a window out of my side of the cab, leaving me covered with glass, and obliging me to wait for the cop who was invariably summoned. I have been hit on, yelled at, lectured and opined in cabs until I couldn' t hear myself think.

There is a delicious anonymity in taking public transport. The bodies are there, but no one really wants to talk. We're as random and singular as atoms in a laboratory, except we have a certain degree of choice. You can move away from the person who stinks (usually) and everyone is on his way somewhere other than where you are going, so they tend not to bug you. If they do bug you, cops get off and on the trains and buses with some regularity and they let everyone stare at their guns. And now I only have to count my quarters to make sure I have the right fare, rather than having to dig out a 20 dollar bill, which is what my bank machine gives me, to cover a 5 dollar ride And how often do the drivers have change? You know already.

So, onward and upward. I am now as familiar with the M11 and the M23 as I am with the floorboards in my hallway. I eagerly await the advent of the Second Avenue subway. More horizons to conquer!


Thursday, April 9, 2009


Let's talk about comparative shopping.

I am one of those baby boomer holdouts when it comes to canned food. I eat canned tuna, I eat canned salmon, I will even eat peas, stringbeans and asparagus from cans. Maybe not as nutritious as the real thing straight from the ground, but certainly better than popcorn for dinner and you don't have to wash it.

My monetary situation is now so grave it is hard to look at 2.09 for certain canned foods packed by Green Giant or Del Monte, so I have taken to searching the store for alternatives. Enter: Goya Foods! My friends and I always avoided the Spanish food sections of the supermarket, racist prigs that we were (and I emphasize "were"). There was always some unconscious view that those foods were for the people in the "projects" on either side of our fancy shmancy red brick neighborhood, or for the few Domina-Ricans who still managed an apartment in Manhattan. We'd turn our noses up for the opportunity to pay MORE.

Well, GUESS WHAT -- Goya sells fabulous cut beets in a can for 1.19. ONE DOLLAR AND 19 CENTS as opposed to spending almost a dollar more for Del Monte's fancier can (is it really fancier? maybe I am just reacting to the familiar logo). And they have an enormous variety of canned beans, from butter beans to pintos, limas to garbanzos, all at around 1.19 or so per can. Hey, Progresso: you aren't even that cheap ON SALE! They also sell boxes full of cookable rice and beans (the perfect protein, so they say) in many variations. I am getting addicted to the random bowl of red beans and rice - and a box is good for several meals at a mere 2.39. I don't even think Hamburger Helper is that cheap.

So let's think of this recession as a time when we are called upon to broaden our horizons. I now walk to work one way in order to burn off the extra rice - and it's working. Do not worry about Goya -- seems my nephew went to boarding school in New Jersey with the heir to the fortune, so the company certainly doesn't need us as much as we need them right now.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


Hi all. I am from a wealthy background and this recession marks the first time in my life that I am suffering with (or should I say without) money. In fact, I have lived in my historic apartment building, London Terrace, for almost 20 years in one of the last rent stablized units in NYC and am now in danger of losing my apartment because I am (also for the first time) 3 months behind on my rent. Now let me clarify one thing: this recession caught me by surprise and I loaned some money when I should not have. That is all I have to say, which is not much, in my own defense.

Let me point out that I sell New York City real estate, which will probably make you have even less sympathy for me. We all know what has happened here. Fear rules the streets. Anxiety runs up and down the elevators of residential buildings. Indecision clings to the crenolated stone of the most venerable co-op facades. In other words: people are too damn scared to buy real estate at a time when the bargains are so good they will kick themselves for not having taken action two years down the road. My 60 hour weeks without a sale are proof enough that things are a bit out of kilter. I, however, remain hopeful that the human spirit of consumption will triumph and the general public will get generally bored with sitting on the sidelines. Go, America!

And this, I believe, is how it may play out. Although my debt is probably overall less than most peoples' (around 30-35,000 including the rent I owe), I now have 13 million dollars worth of real estate for sale. The industry commission in New York City is 6%. That can vary to 5% or 4% depending on how the market is or how many deals a seller does with a broker. Usually we get 2 1/2 to 3 % because 90% of all deals in NYC are co-broked. That means one broker has the property and another has the buyer. So let's say, at the very bottom, I sell my 13 million. In fact, let's say I sell half of it - and call it 6 million. Let's say I get the bottom percentage, which is 2 1/2%. 6,000,000 multiplied by 2 1/2 percent comes to $150,000. Let's say I have the lowest split with my company, which is 50% -- that means I stand to bring in at least $75,000 which not only pays my rent but allows me a good bit of wiggle room for paying off everything else and keep going.

And these people want to kick me out. What would you do if you were them? Answer honestly - I can take it.