Horizontal Lives

True Tales of the Infamous Courtesan: Persephone N. Hades and her Horizontal Life underground. How she got there, her mis-adventures and her struggle to re-surface.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Do you believe in Love at First Sight? Coming to New York: Pre-Hades.

‘A pigeon has now landed on my head. These New York birds have chutzpah.’ –April 1st, (ha ha) 1984


These are the first sentences I have been able to formulate in my journal in the five days since I began my adventure. I am stuck in my head and I am stuck on the rooftop of the Sloane House YMCA on 34th Street in Manhattan. I am lying with my journal (my best friend) in hand, pen in mouth, in a crooked shape bent stiffly around the five suitcases I lugged all the way from Chicago.


I arrived here five days ago on the train from Chicago’s Union Station to New York’s Penn Station and now that I’ve been up here on this roof for several days, I’ve gotten to know the space better, and making it my own.

That must sound strange but after spending so many years acting in the theatre, I’m used to taking empty, un-informed spaces and imagining them into something more magical. I came here because I got into the Really Famous Drama School (RFDS). One of six women in the entire country this year. When I told my parents about it, they said it was terrific and that they were so proud of me. They also inquired as to how I was going to pay for it.


So I thought I would come out early, get a job and take it from there. My ‘friend’, the one who produces those music videos for the "Men at Work" band, said I could stay with him, but when I arrived, it seemed he really only wanted to sleep with me and have me run errands for him so I left. And New York is much harder to get a job in than Chicago is, so here I am. I had enough money to stay in the Y for two nights but now I’m stuck here on the roof. With a bold pigeon now perched on my head.


FFfft. I just blew on his belly. Didn’t have the effect I had hoped which was to make him fly off.

Fffft. Not working. I think he likes it.

The ‘W’ of the birds toes are tip-tapping tiny nails on my forehead. Rolling my eyes back, I watch the feathers descend on his body from defined pointy gray things into soft flannel fluff the lower they are on his belly and it occurs to me that I have been looking at the world from an upside-down perspective for as long as I can remember. Careful, not to disturb my fine-feathered friend, I am writing above my head:


‘If you were lying horizontally on your bed looking up at the ceiling and you pretended that the ceiling was really your floor, imagine what an interestingl house you would be living in. There would be lights attached to your floor jutting out in the oddest places, lighting the room from below. To get from say the living room to the bedroom you would need to step over a ledge that separated the two rooms. And the floor! It would have this great raised molding-very decorative- surrounding the outside rim of it. I used to lay like this every morning since I was a little girl, watching the ceiling, imagining my life in this upside-down retreat until it was time to get out of bed. Now I’m sort of there-the ceiling of the Y is my floor and the sky is my ceiling.’


I know. It’s a good thing I’m not an actual writer. But in one’s own journal, this kind of drivel is allowed.


The floor of the roof I'm on is made of a black, but not sticky, tar, and there are many different clusters of metal chimney shoots driving up to the sky. One such grouping-(I am imagining it as a very modern sculpture doubling as the wall to my ‘bedroom’) -I am settled behind with my suitcases, my small cassette player, and my theatrical make-up kit.

Around the entire rooftop is a wall about three feet high with a four-foot wide ledge that can actually be sat upon without worry of falling off. I am thinking of this as my own private veranda. Other than that, and me, that’s it.

Except for the door. The door that opens to the roof. I keep a constant eye on that door. I am a bit afraid of someone coming out of that door. I am afraid it might be a murderer, a rapist, or the security guard who, upon discovering me will evict me from my little nest, sending me down into the chaos and an uncertain future.

I’m aware I must descend eventually. I just don’t know how to. I am out of ideas and I am out of money. But I am young. I like adventures and I have faith. That’ll have to do for now. Fortunately, the weather is uncharacteristically hot for a New York spring (so I hear) so I’ve been lucky.


My first impression of New York: dirt and chaos. My ears are assaulted by round-the-clock noisy construction, by rudeness and loud honking yellow cabs. My nose is assailed by the effects of, what seems to be both, a garbage strike, and a heavy stench reminiscent of an airless sauna filled with trash and urine. On every block, steam is billowing out of manholes, and an indefinable brown water runs in the curbs, baking in little cesspools at the crosswalks. I see a New York of homeless people lugging large canvas laundry buckets behind them filled with cans and lifetime treasures.


In my first few days, I have encountered a city in which an apple, that costs a quarter in any other part of the country, costs a dollar here. I guess that's appropriate for a city that calls itself, The Big Apple.

This is a place, where to order a cup of coffee you must not meekly ask, "May I please have a cup of coffee to go?" But instead must yell, "Coffee, no moo-moo go bye-bye!!!" and pay a dollar for the privilege. And don’t, god help you, smile. Compared to what’s going on below, my rooftop retreat is comparatively calm.


This is Manhattan’s Time Square area April 1984.

A New York of ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots’. A New York of hopeful artists and actors. The New York of, "If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere, It’s up to you New York, New York!" so I am happy to be here because I plan on being one that makes it here and anywhere.


The pigeon’s dirty, soft feathers brush against my dyed black eyebrows pushing the tiny hairs the opposite way they are meant to go. I imagine myself looking now a bit like Groucho. I keep still, letting him walk for a moment on my forehead until I notice his bottom wag-wagging up and down, signaling what I imagine to be his preparation to drop something yucky soon, so I shake my head, sending him into flight.


Dusk has given way to night and the brightness of the moon that like the sky's streetlights, cast shadows across the roof floor. It’s not so bad being up here as long as I don’t let my mind wander into ‘how am I going to get down’.

That’s one nice thing about being in unfamiliar territory. You can re-invent yourself. Or you have time to rewind and figure out where you were and how it landed you where you are now. I’m glad to have my journal with me.


Some people live completely unexamined lives. Due to my penchant for diaries, along with my curiosity (and a strong helping of narcissism), I tip the scale in the other direction, living a life not only examined, but examined, re-examined, regurgitated and re-digested for another go ‘round. Taking that into account, it would seem likely a bit of an odd life would ensue.


One of the first gifts I had ever wished for as a girl was a little diary with a lock and key to pour my private fantasies, my fears, my angers and confusions into. A place all my own in which to draw a world I wanted to live into. Even at that young age, I felt somehow that my imaginings were not something most people would understand or treat preciously. Since then I have had countless journals, saving every one, and carrying them with me wherever life takes me. I have them all with me now. When I travel, they have a suitcase of their own-one of the five I am now sprawled upon, that I have dragged with me onto this safe haven.


Oh my god! The door is opening and someone is coming out! Write later if still alive!

April 2, 1984
I’m alive. And better than yesterday. Tucked safe and warm in the top bunk in room 1025 at the Y. I’ll fill you in.


Suddenly, without warning, the fateful door to the roof opens. I dash down behind the chimney stacks, peering nervously between them. My heart pounds so hard against my chest it is all I can hear, and I fear the noise will give me away. There is a full moon tonight and from the illumination of the moonbeam I can see the blond curly hair of a tall, thin man.

He turns around near the doorway facing my way, casually leaning his back against the brick wall. From what I can see, his face is handsome, with full lips and white blond eyebrows. His body is lean and his torso, "V’ shaped. He is dressed casually, wearing black jeans, an un-tucked black t-shirt and black combat boots. He looks like a young version of Mick Jagger.

Despite his beauty, I am still frightened. What if he turns out to be a rapist? (Although in my current state of waif-like unwashed stinky-ness, and long, wild and frizzy black witches hair, he’d have to be a really desperate sex maniac.) None-the-less, I stay hidden, watching wide-eyed and waiting, trying not to breathe.


He takes a pouch out of his pocket and begins to roll something. Is it a joint? He lights it, inhales, blowing out the smoke as he looks up at the voluptuous moon. No, it’s not a joint. It smells like a cigarette. A cigarette! Oh how nice that would be! I haven’t had one in two days and have been longing for one. I’m not sure though that it’s a cigarette. I’ve never seen someone roll one before. He takes another drag, closing his eyes, enjoying the exhale. The gray smoke heads my way. I take it in through my nose as quietly as possible. It’s definitely a cigarette. For a moment, I revel in the smoke but I’m jarred by his voice and flatten myself down upon the suitcases. He is standing tense, facing directly toward my hiding place. He has a strange accent. Maybe he’s German, I think.


"Yah, hello? Is someone dere?" He waits.


I wait. Horns blast angrily from the street below but all I hear is our breathing, and then our silence.


"Hello?" He repeats, his accent falling heavily on the ‘o’.


He feels me, I can tell. I hold my breath, trying to stop my banging heart. He begins to walk toward me. What should I do? What should I do?! I leap up, stepping backward off my suitcases. I stare at him waiting for our next move. As he takes me in, I see his shoulders lower and his body visibly relax.


"Yah, hi. I’m Pip." He says, holding out his cigarette, offering me a drag.
Much as I ache for a puff, I stay where I am-deer caught in the headlights.


"Are you okay?" He says. I nod.


"Yah, well," he pauses, thinking of what to say. "What are you doing here?"
"I’m stuck." I say tentatively holding stiff to my position.


He looks around searching for what might be holding me captive. He takes a step closer.
"Don’t come too close!" I halt him with my voice, stepping backwards.


Even though I feel now he is of no danger to me, I suddenly become self-conscious of my bedraggled state.
"I need a shower. Desperately." I smile shyly.
"You want a cigarette?"
I grin and nod.


He motions me over to the ledge, climbing nimbly up and seating himself comfortably, he again takes out his packet that I now see says ‘Drum’ tobacco on it, and begins rolling.
Cautiously, I crawl up sitting next to him but leaving a few feet of space between us. A: I don’t want him to smell me. And B: What if he decides to push me off the roof?


I put the rolled filter-less fag in my mouth, watching his strong, expressive hands cup the flame as he lights it for me. I take a delicious drag and hand it to him. He takes a drag and hands it back to me. We stare at the moon.


"What color you say that is?" He asks trying to ease the mood.
We both notice the moon has turned a warm hue of pink.


"I’d say, it was bubble gum color." I look at him, realizing he might think it was a goofy thing for me to say.
Instead, he ponders this for a moment, then says,
"Bazooka."


I laugh. He laughs.


"You have Bazooka bubble gum where you are from?"


"No. I tried it here. Bazooka Joe. I like the cartroon."


I like the fact that he mis-pronounces the word.
"Where are you from?" I ask.


"Holland. (He pronounces it: Hoe-Land.) Amsterdam. Where are you from?" His accent is rich with thick elongated vowels that he seems to hold and roll in his mouth before he sends a word out. "You don’t live here on dis ceiling do you?"


I like that he sees it as a ceiling too.


"No. For now." I answer. I can’t take my eyes off his mouth.


"Yah, well." He looks me over. "You look like you’ve been up here a while."


"Just a few days. I ran out of money and I couldn’t find a job fast enough so I’ve been up here biding my time trying to figure out a plan."


"Yah. You definitely need a better plan." He says in all seriousness.


"Hey now! I had a plan. I just didn’t have a second plan."


He takes a drag of his cigarette. I watch him.


"Do you like ‘cartoons?" I pronounce it correctly although I am tempted to say it his way.


"Yah."


I climb backward off the ledge, grabbing my journal, hop back on, showing him the cover. On the cover page is taped my favorite cartoon drawing. Originally torn years before from a page of the New Yorker magazine--a bit tattered at the edges, it has survived countless scotch tapings as it traveled from the cover of one completed journal to be taped and re-taped to the cover of yet another virgin one.


The cartoon is a simple black and white drawing of two seagulls having a contemplative conversation, chatting together as they stroll along the shore. On the bottom, the caption reads as one seagull saying to the other:
"I guess the hardest thing for me growing up was when I realized I wasn’t going to be an Eagle."


I smile reading it again. He nods his head up and down a few times then says,
"Yah? Is dat what happened to your plan? You thought you were an Eagle? But woops?"


"I think it is definitely part of my life story."


"I never thought I was an Eagle so I can just enjoy being a-what you call dat bird?"


"A Seagull."


"So I can just enjoy being a Seagull."


"Lucky you." I say giving him a sweet smile. Part of me envies the confidence he has in his knowledge of who he is. His seeming lack of regret that I pick up on already. He is a Seagull. Happy to be a Seagull. Always knew he was a Seagull and revelatory in it.


"How did you get up here? I tink dis must not have been part of de first plan." He is teasing me. Flirting in a strict way.


"No you’re right. This was an emergency measure. What are you doing here?"


"I came up to look at de bubble gum moon and to smoke a cigarette and then, I thought, ‘Hey, yah! Maybe I will meet a nice girl too. And see, dat was my master plan and it worked!" He raises his fists to the sky like a triumphant soccer player and yells, "I am the Master of all Master Plans! I am ‘the pick-up man’! Yah!"


His dramatic flare surprises me, making me laugh.


"A stinky girl. That was your plan? To meet a stinky girl with pigeon doo-doo on her? Good going Master of the Universe."


"Let me smell." He leans closer to me. I counter by leaning the other way. He leans even closer almost losing his balance.


"Don’t! Don’t! You’re going to fall!"


He keeps going.
"Whoa! Whoa! I’m falling! Better let me smell! Agh!"


I grab his shirt and pull him up straight then I put my hands on my hips and give him a stern scrunched up face. "OK, but sit right."


"’Right’, like dis?" He puts one hand behind his head and fluffs a fake hairdo, batting his eyelashes pretending he is a beautiful woman.


"Nooooo!" I laugh. "Sit over there and sit still." I am the professor of all correctnesses.


"Yah, ok. Here I am, the Master of all de Universe sitting ‘rightly’ waiting to smell de damsel in distress." He sits up tall and erect in his place. I face forward looking over at him with just my eye judging his position. He looks over at me out of the corner of his eyes then collapses into a supplicant position, pleading,
"Oh please lady of distress. Let me smell you! Oh please I need to sniff!"


"Can’t you smell me from there?" I ask incredulously.


"Oh god!" He groans, grabbing his throat with both hands. "Ack! I cannot breathe! I’m choking to death! Ack!"


"Stop it!’ I giggle and hit his arm with my hand. "What are you doing here, really?"


"I came to do a story on that new disease-AIDS, and a couple other stories."


"You’re a writer?"


"Yah, yah. A journalist. I write for a magazine in Holland called ‘Panorama’. Do you know it?"


"No. I don’t think we have it here. But they make you stay in a YMCA? I think you’ve hit the big time."


"Yah, but I have a room. What are you doing on de roof? Hit de big time too?"


"Actually yes. Sort of. A couple of months ago I auditioned for a bunch of Drama schools here in the US and I got accepted into The Really Famous Drama School. Have you heard of it?"


"Yah, sure."


"Well so you know. I got this big manilla envelope in the mail and when I read that I was accepted I danced this jig on my kitchen table, all by myself and sang "New York New York…" Do you know that song?"


"Yah yah. Frank Sinatra."


"That’s right."


"Yah well, we are not so dumb as you tink in Holland."


"Oh, not that dumb, eh?" We give each other a smirk.


"So I finished the last few credits for my undergrad degree in Chicago and took off for New York as soon as I was done. I didn’t even want to wait around for graduation. I was so excited to get started with this new adventure, this new life ahead of me that I thought I would come here many months earlier to get into the swing of things, giving myself a head start before RFDS starts in September."


"Yah I like to have adventures too."


"Me too. But I think I made a little mistake."


"Yah?" He shoos a landing pigeon off his thigh.


"I arrived in New York City with three-hundred dollars in my purse."


"Yah, it’s not so much money I think, nay? I think New York is a very expensive city."


"In Chicago three hundred dollars would have been more than enough to hold me over until I got a waitress job which I assumed I would get within a day or two."


"Yah, so what happened to waitressing"


"Apparently in New York, to be a waitress, you have to have 'New York experience'. That’s what all the ads say. But how do you get 'New York experience' if you have to have 'New York experience' to get 'New York experience'?"


"Ah, yah yah." He says nodding.


"So at this point I was spending an unanticipated sixty-five dollars per night at the Y, tucked into a closet-sized room."


"It’s not so bad."


"I know but it’s expensive for what you pay, don’t you think?"


"Yah, sure."


"So, the evening of my second exhausting day of job-search hell, I made my way down to the basement here for dinner and I became embroiled in a heated battle with a temperamental vending machine for a Snickers bar stuck in one of its twist-y metal loops."


"Hey yah. I had a problem wit dat machine too."


"You did too?"
He nods.


"So I kicked, I slapped, I begged, I pushed my hip into it but it was stubborn. I was near tears when I felt tapping on my right shoulder. Behind me stood a dark hero." I emulate the ‘hero’s’ stance. "Tall, with cinnamon colored skin, a wide jaw-line and kind eyes, he waved me aside with a nod of his head saying,
""I’ve been here about a month now. You just have to know the trick.""


"I stepped away to watch him work his magic. With one hand he placed only two quarters at the lip of the coin slot, then at the same time that he let the quarters drop, he pressed his fingers into five different button selections."
""Timing is everything." He said, winking at me."


"The quarters rattled into the gullet—clank, gluck, click,clock—" (I make the noises for Pip), "and suddenly five different loops holding food treasures turned and hummed, plopping down a feast in junk food-a rescue that included my snarled Snickers. His face widenened with a grin of triumph. He pushed the gate retrieving the collection, handed me my candy and offered,
""Care to join me for dinner?""


"Together, we took the elevator to the top floor and walked the last steps to the roof. We sat on this same wide brick ledge, dangling our feet over the edge, sharing our bounty. The airy night was bright with the lights of the city, like tonight, and the wind felt gentle blowing back my long, unruly, wavy mane of blue/black hair." I flip and wave my hair to illustrate.


"Maybe you should be a writer, you know?" Pip interrupts.


"Just my journals."


"You talk very, umm, dramatically. Yah?"


"I am an actress, my boy." I answer flipping my hair with a flare, and then continue, "I took a bite of my Snickers and handed it to him. He took a bite and handed me the Kit-Kat. I took a bite and handed it back to him. He took a bite and passed me the Nilla Wafers. A sugar buzz took hold and we began to talk. He was a pre-med student who came here to start school in the fall but had a job as an intern for a clinic over the summer. I told him my financial dilemma and of my failure to get a job as soon as I had hoped."


""Maybe, if you could hang out up here on the roof for a few days," he suggested, "I could ask around at the clinic and see if they have any temp jobs available. Probably you could sneak down at night, knock on my door and I’ll give you the key to the bathroom. It’ll be the men’s room, but you could take a shower and I could guard the door for you if you want?""


"It seemed like a good plan. Actually, it seemed like the only plan. So that’s how I ended up on the roof. Now though, I am in a bit of a scuffufle. The Cinnamon Prince had an emergency and had to return to Georgia for at least a week. And the problem is, now that I got up here, how to get down. I can’t get in and out of the entrance to the Y without showing the guard a key. But I have no key anymore because I have no room, so that’s why I’m kind of stuck."


Swiftly, Pip puts his arm around my shoulders and pulls me close to him burying his face in my neck, taking a whiff. He lets him arm fall by my hips and I wait for the verdict.


"Mmmm. Leckher."


"Leckher? Vas iz leckher?" I ask, teasing him with his own accent.


"Lechker means mmmmm. Leckher means," he lips his chops like a hungry lion, "good enough to ARGgg—lick her!"


"I do not smell lechker!" I protest.


"Yah, you smell like a woman." He beats his chest like Tarzan. "You are Woman. I am Man! Grrrr!"


I laugh. "That wasn’t fair."


"You want to smell me?"


"Yes." I lean in to his neck, feeling the softness of his skin brush the tip of my nose, and breath in deeply. The odor of his skin enters me like a rush of warmth and runs down my spine giving me a chill that makes me do a little shake.


"Oh, sorry. Dat bad?" he giggles modestly.


I shake my head. We stare at each other’s lips. His arm tightens around my hip.


"Yah well, I think since you are de distressful damsel and I am de Master of all I survey, I have no choice but to rescue you."


"But doesn’t Panorama give you money to stay in a nice hotel?"


"Yah, no. They give me money to write the story—"


"Like an advance?"


"Yah yah. But, I don’t want to spend all the money on a hotel room so ve stay here."


"We?"


"Yah, I come wit my friend Willem. He’s de photographer and we share a room. Dennnnn," he says changing to a playful tone, "we have more money to play, wit you!"


"Oh! I see! You want to play wit me??!" I mimic, teasing him back.


"Yah, yah. I want!" He wags his tongue out like a begging puppy, making me laugh. His nature is so playful and easy.


"You want to hear some music? I brought my tape player."


"Yah sure."


I hop off the ledge, russle through my tapes, find my cassette of assorted songs, and put it on to the first song which happens to be, "Beast of Burden".


"I will be your beast of burden…"


"You know you look a bit like Mick Jagger."


"Nay nay! I don’t look like Mick Jagger," he says throwing himself into a classic Mick pose, "I am Mick Jagger! I will be your beast of burden…" He sings into the invisible mike he clutches in his fist. "Walk for miles, my feet are burning…"


Falling in love with his abandon, I tuck the hem of my Victorian high-necked, lace and cotton, used-to-be-white nightgown that is doubling as a dress, into my waist sash and turn several a one-handed cartwheels around the roof as he pounces into hip-thrusting un-inhibited dance making me howl with delight.


The song ends and we stand catching our breath, looking at each other like lost aliens of the same species finally finding one another on a strange planet.


"See, this roof isn’t so bad." I say breaking the silence. "There is plenty of space up here, which is another good thing about this rooftop. I have found it to be a good place to practice your gymnastics, if you are so inclined. You just have to keep clear of the chimney shoots and be careful of the floor that tends to curve up at unexpected junctures. Today, in fact, has been a very good day for one-handed cartwheels which, by the way, I have now measured the roof in. I am about 5’4" and spread with my hands above my head to my toes, I would say is about 6’. You’re going to have to do the math because I’m not very good with numbers, but suffice it to say that to cover the rectangle of the roof, it takes fifty-six one-handed cartwheels."


"Fifty-six?" He says, incredulously.


"Yah yah", I say, copying his accent now. "Fifty-six."


"Dat’s really good, de, what you call dem? Cartwoles?"


"Cartwheels. Yah? Try it. It’s easy."


"Nay nay!"


"Try!"


He raises his two arms flinging himself forward, attempting not just one but several, landing in a spinning mass collapsed on the roof, laughing at himself.
"Yah yah, very easy. You wanted to see me fall on my butt."


I go sit next to him on the tar.
"I didn’t know I did, but now that you did I’m glad you did."


"Oh you’re a funny girl."


"Know how I learned to do it?" I say giving him my self-satisfied grin. "Well, first, I used to be a gymnast when I was young. I was on a cheerleading squad that won first place two years in a row. Are there cheerleaders in Holland?"


"Yah, nay. I don’t tink so."


"Well, in those days, cheerleaders had to be really good gymnasts and since I was the smallest one, I would have to be on the top of all the mounts. A mount is when you climb up on top of each other’s shoulders, one on top of the next until there’s just one person way on the top and that was usually me. Then, when the cheer was over, I’d flip off and land in the Chinese splits, like this." I pull my dress up and demonstrate.
He gives a naughty laugh and raises his eyebrows in innuendo. "Hey, I like that talent you have."


"So anyway," I say, letting him know I am choosing to ignore his hint, "I would get up really early in the morning and go out on our front lawn and sit like this, in the splits, and read a book and every few pages, I would push my legs out a little further until finally, I could do this. Ta-da!"


"I tink you put your childhood to good use." He says, still on the ‘dirty’ train of thought.


"And when I wanted to learn to do a one-handed cartwheel-I could already do a regular one-I would start at one side of the lawn and go into a cartwheel-like this." I demonstrate.

"But every time I would put my hand down, I would bash my arm like this." I hit my left forearm. "Until finally my arm was so sore, I couldn’t put it down anymore and I did one. Then I spent the rest of the day doing it over and over again until it became like riding a bike."


He stands up, does a cartwheel putting his arm down and suddenly bashes his left arm.
"Ayyy! Yah, I don’t think I want to learn dat bad. I guess I will never be a gymnast. But, I don’t care ‘cause—I am Mick Jagger, Yah!!" He does his Mick moves again. As he attempts to sing, we notice the song on my eclectic tape is "I Love to Laugh" from Mary Poppins.


"What’s this?!" He asks in mock astonishment.


"This," I say, feeling as if I’ve been caught naked by my selection, "is from a movie called Mary Poppins. I love to laugh, ah ha ah ha ah ha, loud and long and clear…"


"Ah ha ah ha ha ha." He imitates the song.


"And the more the glee, ee hee hee hee, the more the merrier me!"
"Ee hee hee hee!’ He sings.


We laugh our way through the verse all the way to the chorus and both chime in, he in his accent, me in mine, "I love to laugh, ah ha ha ha, loud and long and clear…"


He grabs my hand, pulling me up and we spin holding hands, arms outstretched using each other’s weight to pull and spin from, circling faster and faster, galloping our feet in time to the music, singing loudly along, "And the more the glee, ee hee hee hee hee hee, the more the merrier me."


We spin ourselves into a tizzy and onto the door lying in a pile near the suitcases, laughing in big chunks of guffaws until we are both in tears and can’t stop. We lay panting, thinking we are winding down when suddenly the sound of our panting becomes funny and we explode into another round of heaving, unstoppable laughter.


"Yah, listen," he says finally managing to speak.


"What?" I eek out.


"You are a strange girl."


"Hah! You are a strange boy."


"Yah, okay maybe. But still, you are a strange girl."


"Should we have another cigarette?"


"Yah, okay." He pulls out his pouch.


"You know what happens in that scene in the movie?"


He shakes his head.


"Uncle Albert, he’s the one singing that song, whenever he laughs, he floats up to the ceiling and the only way to get him down is to make him stop singing."


"Why does he want to come down?"


"He doesn’t. Everybody else wants him to."


"Yah?" He says licking the first cigarette closed. "I tink they should just let him stay up dere."


I never thought about it that way. "Me too." I say.


He lights the cig in his mouth, hands it to me, and fills the second white paper with a wad of tobacco.


"Hey, here you are on de ceiling. Better stop laughing so you can come down."


"Are you going to make me?"


"Yah, listen." His tone is stern suddenly. Almost parental. "I don’t tink it is good for you to stay up here. I tink it is better for you to stay wit me and Willem. Some person could come up here and—no. I don’t like it."


"Don’t you think Willem would mind?"


"No no. He won’t care. As long as he can watch de Weather Channel, he’s okay."


"The Weather Channel?


"Yup."


"Your name is Pip?"


"Pip Van Trustiaansen. It’s shortened from ‘Philip’."


"I’m Lane." I hold out my hand and we shake. "’Philip’ was the name of my last fiancé."


"Your last fiancé? How many have you had?"


"Two."


"Both ‘Philips’? I better be careful, eh?"


"No!" I smile. "Yah, yah maybe you better be. No. The first one was Mick and the last one was Philip."


"Mick Jagger!? Hey, why didn’t you tell me." He says in mock suspiciousness.


"Not Mick Jagger. His name was Mick Daggett."


"I don’t know. Mick Daggett/Mick Jagger-very close."


"You’re my Mick Jagger."


"Right. I’m your Mick Jagger. Yeah!" He strikes the pose. We take simultaneous drags.


"So what happens to dese fiancés you have, eh? You murder dem for der money?"


"Of course. See how rich I am? The first one died. But not by my hand! And Philip--Philip Serafim, we broke up just before I came to New York. So, that’s it."


"Dat’s it?"


"That’s it."


"I don’t tink dats it."


"That’s it for now."


"Oh! Yah. For now, eh?"


"For now."


He turns backward, surveying the roof from all sides. "Yah, Lane I don’t like that you stay up here. We go down together. I tink you get scared up here alone."


"I’ve stayed in some pretty strange places and I’ve always been alright. I used to live in the basement of a theatre building in Chicago. Philip rescued—oh! You better be careful! Philip, the one in Chicago? Remember? He rescued me from there and we almost got married soooo…and you want to rescue me from here and your name is really Philip, soooo…"


"So I better jump now and save myself. Thanks for de warning. Here I go." He pinches his nose and stretches an arm forward in preparation for a dive into a pool, leaping up, running toward the ledge.


"You better do it. If you don’t, you might be stuck with me." I call after him. "It might be too late already. It might be fate."


"You know dere are rooms in between don’t you?" he says, turning around to face me.


"In between what?"


"Roofs and basements."


"I know!"


"So why you were living in de basement?" He says sitting back down beside me.


"I’ll tell you sometime."


I watch his pillow-y lips surround the cigarette, and his soft white eyelashes glow as he looks up again at the moon. "Yah, I have never seen a moon like dat."


"Maybe it’s a sign."


"Yah maybe it’s a sign that the moon ate some Bazooka too."


"Maybe what we think of as the moon is actually just a star blowing a big fat bubble and we think of it as the moon."


"Maybe de moon is really…" He makes a drum roll with his fingers on the ledge. "Bazooka Joe."


"Maybe. Or maybe it’s sign that we were meant to meet. That maybe we are part of each other’s destinies in some way."


"Yah, maybe…" he suddenly becomes animated scooping me up and over so I am lying horizontally across his lap in his arms. "Maybe I am the Master of the Universe out on a quest to expose dis horrible AIDS disease but instead am waylaid in my plans by a beautiful maiden—"


"Whose piercing eyes melt all his manly masterly defenses storming their way into his heart until he can do nothing more but surrender to—"


"Her feminine viles."


"Viles? Wiles!" I laugh, chiding him. "Say it. Wiles."


"Viles." He tries.


"Watch me." I push my lips out to make the ‘w’ sound. "WWWW"


He copies me. "WWWW"


"Now say it."


"Wviles. Wwviles." We laugh.


"Know what I think?" I say, teasing a little.


"No. What do you tink?"


"I think you’re afraid of my feminine wiles and that’s why you can’t say it."


"Oh you do do you?"


"Yes I dodo."


"Well Miss Lane, I’m afraid you have come to the wrong conclusion because if indeed dat were true, den it would also have to be true that indeed I was also afraid of Wehfrijeratres."


"Refrigerators?" Oh god he says that funny! "Say it again."


"Wehfrijeratre."


"Again!"


"Wehfrijeratre."


"Again!"


"Oh come on Lane—stop picking on my bad language skills now."


"You are very cute."


"Yah? I’m cute? Yah Yah! Hoorah for me. I’m cute. Do you like men who are cute?’


"I do. I like Dutch men who are Masters of their Universes who are cute and who like pink chewy moons and who care that I spend my night on the roof or not. I like that kind of cute. Do you think I’m cute—I mean not right now of course-but do you think I might be cute once I got cleaned up?"


"HHmmm, let me see now." He strokes his chin as if he had a beard and turns my face to face him using his other hand. His hand on my cheek sends tingles through my skin, calming me. "No no. I would not say you were cute."


My heart sinks.


"No, what you are is an exotic wvilda bird with a broken wing. See. Look at these feathers here." He takes a handful of my dusty matted hair and begins running his fingers through it like a comb removing some of the left over pigeon feathers.
"And look at this face." He turns my head forward to see my profile. "A strong beak-"


"Hey!" I say pulling away, embarrassed now by my strong nose.


"Yah Lane, no, It's beautiful. You have a fierce, intense face but wit gentle watery eyes and full soft lips. You are like an Eagle. No no. But not a Seagull either. Yah, now I can’t tink of what de bird’s name is dat I am tinking of in English."


"I look like a bird?"


"Yah. A eine kline vilde bird."


"A little wild bird?"

"Hey. You speak Dutch!"

"No. Some German. Sounds a bit alike."


"Yah, you know what I mean to say. A wild bird with feathers here." He signals the top of his head.


"A Cockatiel? The Baretta bird?"


"Yah yah, the Baretta bird. Dat’s how your beauty is. Like dat bird."


"You have Baretta in Holland?"


"I saw it here. Yah, no in Holland we don’t have anything. We still eat wit fingers and wear wooden shoes everywhere, and only grow tulips and sing songs in white hats wit points on dem. And I am actually a Wiking who came here to America in a wooden wessel, okay?"


"That’s what I thought. Wow. Bazooka and Baretta. You’ve come along way baby."


"Yah so just be careful you don’t teach me too many new tings in one night or my head might ‘bukaw!’ explode. Guts everywhere."


"I’ll try to take it easy on you."


We stub out our cigs, and sit quietly basking in the pink glow. The tape has ended and from far below we hear a screech of tires, a blare of honking, followed by loud explicatives.


"I used to think I was a bird. Maybe not a bird—but I used to be able to fly when I was little. Did you ever have flying dreams or experiences?" I ask him.


"Sometimes I have dreams of being a mountain lion and when I leap in the dream, I take off the edge of de mountain and soar up over de trees and leap like dat pushing off de clouds."


"Do you get that weird feeling when you wake up and it feels like you just hit back into your body?"


"Yah yah."


"I used to get that when I was a little girl and I used to fly around a lot."


"Where did you fly to?"


"Just around the ceiling-"


"You spend a lot of time on de ceilings."


"I do, don't I? Huh. And out into the yard to the willow tree, hang out with the birds."


"Yah?"


"When I was little, my parents and I lived in a tiny one-and-a-half bedroom apartment in Chicago. Have you been to Chicago?"


"Nay nay. Maybe you can take me--we go together?"


"Okay. We were kinda poor and I was the only child at the time. Do you have any brothers or sisters?"


"Yah, I have an older sister. She’s married and lives in Freisland."


"Where’s Friesland?"


"It’s the North of Holland where, yah, Lane, dere dey still wear wooden shoes."


"No!"


"Yah. Really. Dey do. My father wears dem in his garden when he makes de plantings."


"Really?"


"Really."

"Maybe you could take me there sometime."


"Okay."


"Well, so I would sleep in the little half bedroom and in the morning, you know how kids are. I would get up at the crack of dawn and run into the living room and make noise. And so my parents, I guess wanting more time to sleep in the morning, made a bargain with me. That if I would be a good girl and stay in bed until I heard them waking up, then I would be sure to get some treat or another. Right?"


"Ummm" he says, truly interested. Truly listening.


"This seemed like a good deal to me so I would lie there impatiently squirming in my bed staring up at the ceiling in my room. And what an interesting ceiling it turned out to be."


"Yah?"


"This old apartment we lived in had water stains on the walls and ceilings in unusual shapes and these shapes soon took on personas of their own. Especially the one directly above my head who I soon knew as "Nonno’, as I named him. He was a stain that took the form of an old man’s head. He wasn’t scary, just a bit lonely. He had a dark eye that was crooked and it had a light spot beneath it, which I could see must be a tear."


"Why did you tink he was crying? Maybe you were sad too?"


"No, I wasn’t sad. I had a really wonderful childhood. I don’t know why. I just thought he was. But one day, while lying there, I thought it might be nice to go up and have a chat with him, maybe tell him a story and cheer him up, find out what he was crying about. So I did. I floated up to the ceiling to take a closer look, reaching out my little fingers to wipe away the tear, but it wouldn’t go away."


"I tink you are a very kind girl in your heart Lane." Pip takes my hand in his and soothes my fingers with his own.


"Kind and strange right?"


"Yah. Don’t forget strange!" He pats my hand.


"Okay. I won’t forget. So to help the old man stop crying, I remember I sang to him some song about a bear. "The other day, I met a bear. Deep in the woods, a way up there…" The song was supposed to be sung in a round so I was waiting for him to join in and all the while I sang softly to him, I ran my fingers around the outline of his face. Then when I heard my mother getting up in the other room, I would float back down into my body again to wait for her. So one morning while I was up there singing and chatting to Nonno, I turned my head, and for the first time noticed a streaky, flowy trail. It was just a long water stain I guess but to me it looked like the train of a gorgeous princess’s skirt. So I began to follow close to it at the edge of the ceiling where the wall meets the door-frame."


"I tink we had water stains in our house too but I just thought they were water stains."


"See what you missed?"


"Yah, okay. Now I know."


"So, following the train of her skirt, in search of this maiden, I floated out the bedroom door. This led me hovering out into the hallway, through the kitchen to the back screen door. I remembered there was a tear at the top of the screen because I had heard my parents arguing about having to repair it. We were very poor at that time. And I found this controversial rip, and made myself very small and flew through it out into the back yard, perching myself on a top branch of the willow tree. I loved that tree. I always thought that in another lifetime, if I had been a tree, I must have been a willow tree"


"Mmmm." He nods.


"And as I flowed with the swaying branches, encompassed in the songs of the birds, it was there I felt my first stirrings of that amazing feeling: ecstasy."


"I hope you have other feelings of ecstasy hmmm little girl? Maybe I can show you some." He puts his arm around me, nestling me close to him. I settle my head on his warm shoulder.


"Dawn after dawn, I lightly rose up to the ceiling saying ‘hello’ and singing to Nonno, gliding around the maiden’s gown out to the hallway and kitchen, though the slit in the screen, joining the birds in the lively willow tree until I heard my parents waking. Then floating back the same way I came, landing softly back into my bed, ready for my mom to come in and kiss me ‘good morning little bird’. That’s what she would call me."


"I tink I am going to call you ‘meine kleine wilde bird."


I look up and smile at him. "Until one morning."


"Uh oh."


"Yah yah." I now have his accent down pat. "When my mother came into my room and sat on the side of my bed and said,
""Little bird, mommy and daddy are so proud of you. You have been such a good quiet girl in the mornings and we know that must be hard for you, but we want you to know how much we appreciate it and we love you for being such a good little birdie."
I was horrified. I had lied to them. Here they were treating me like such a grow-up and I had been lying to them.""


"Yah? Why?" He asks.


"I hadn’t been staying in my bed like they had asked. I knew I was flying around."


"Yah, but Lane…"


"I know, but I was a little girl. To me, it was real."


"Yah yah."


"I wanted to be a good girl and I wanted them to keep on talking to me like a grow-up so I felt I had to confess:
"But I haven’t stayed in bed mommy!"" I started to cry, my own confession moving me."


""Well, we haven’t heard you sweetie."" My mother said as she stroked my wild hair out of my eyes."


"That’s because I fly and you can’t hear me when I fly."


"My mother laughed and I spilled the details of my morning sojourns to her:
""I float up to the old man to cheer him up-and see! He’s smiling now! And then I follow the princess out the back and sit in the tree with the birds and then when you wake up, I come back in and you think I’ve been here all the time. See! I haven’t been good!""


"My mother encompassed me in her arms and shhh’d me until I calm down and said,
""No sweetie. You’ve been a good little bird. You’ve stayed in bed just like we asked you to.""


"No! I haven’t!"


""Yes you have. You want to know why I know?""


"I nod."


""Because people can’t fly.""


""They can’t?"


""No. People can’t fly.""


"Hmmm." Says Pip.


"And I haven’t flown since."


He kisses the top of my head and says finally,
"Lane, you know why you can’t fly anymore?"


"Why?" I say tilting my head up to look at him.


"Because you have TOO MUCH LUGGAGE!"


I sit up abruptly to see my suitcases and before I realize what I have done, I kiss him fast on the lips.

To cover, I say quickly, "Won’t Willem worry about where you are?"


"Hey." He says, puffing his chest up like a preening peacock, "I’m a big boy now. I’m twenty-six years old. Besides, my mother can’t find me all de way up here on dis ceiling top in America. I hope." His chest collapses and he becomes a cute freckled boy again.


"Unless Willem calls her and tells on you."


"Yah yah dat’s true." He says in mock alarm. "You have made a good point Lane. So de question becomes, does the free boy of adventures give in to his quaking fears of his mother and slink downstairs to his lonely little room, OR, does he puff up his chest and live his life like de man he knows he is?"


"Hmmm, I wonder what choice the boy/man will make. And I wonder if the little wild cockatiel with the broken wing can influence his decision any way. What do you think Mr. Boy/Man?"


"Yah okay Lane. I tink dis is a tough dilemma we have in front of us. Dere are many factors."


"Yes, doctor?"


"Yes nurse. It is certain the boy definitely wants to become a man, so that element-"


"The element of motivation-"


"Yah, de element of motivation is certainly on de side of transformation. Now all dat is left is the motivating forces." He gives me a sly grin.


"Me? If I get a vote, I vote you stay up here with me tonight. It’ll be like camping out."
I reach to my beat up cassette player that has been so silent for the past fifteen minutes, turnover the tape, pressing ‘play’. Cyndi Lauper comes on:


‘If you go I will fall but you will find me, time after time…I will be waiting!…and you will find me, time after time…"


"Yah Lane, you have too much luggage."


"Hey now! I have my whole life in there."


"Yah but I think it is too much to take with you."


"It’s a good thing I did or I wouldn’t have had anything to sleep on."


"Yah yah. But what did you bring?"


"Clothes. Books. My journals."


"Yah, but so many?"


"I need my journals. You’re gonna thing I’m weird if I explain."


"Yah, well, I already tink you are weird so go ahead."


"You’re a writer. Don’t you ever feel in life, that part of you is totally involved in whatever is happening and part of you is standing outside the situation observing? I mean, I’m not a writer, but I’m an actress, and I think I’ve felt that way for as long as I can remember."


"Yah, man. I know what you mean." He is mocking me and English slang at the same time.


"Okay forget it, man. I’m not going to tell you."


"Oh Lane. I’m sorry. Please tell me." He is playing soothing Daddy but I like it and capitulate.


"I tend to look at life as if it were a novel. I have my novel and you have yours and when it’s done, when we die, the novels of our lives will be put on the shelf in The Great Library of Infinite Life."


"De Great Library of Infinite Life." he snickers.


"You know what I mean." I insist.


"Yah yah." he says seriously now.


"And I believe that each of us have many of these individual novels sitting on shelves in that Great Library of Infinite Life. I have one from this lifetime that I am spending as Lane and probably several or many others from lifetimes spent as oh, Tagart, Yiannis, Gwendolyne, Ingemar, or Pip- It’s sort of a religion almost, because to think about life in these terms gives me faith that ‘there is more’. It helps me cope when the Universe is playing with me, causing me heartache or seemingly insurmountable problems. Like being stuck on a rooftop. So, when these occur, I simply translate the moment inside my head into novelistic terms such as: ‘The heroine (that’s me) is stuck on a rooftop in the middle of Times Square with no one to rescue her. Oh me! Oh My! What will she do!’ If I see these dilemmas from a distance, and over-dramatize them like a melodrama, finally they become comedy and I gain perspective, imagining what a compelling story these events together will make. Then suddenly they have meaning; a purpose as well--life transformed into the greater good as art. Ta-da! What do you think? Am I allowed to keep my journals?"


"Yah man like I said, strange girl."


I play with the hem of my dress.


"Yah Lane. You are very sentimental. You are very romantic."


"Am I?"


"Yah and look where you are. You need to be more practical."


"Probably."


His hands find mine at the hem. Our fingers play with the same loose thread.


"But I know what you mean. I had an experience once in Amsterdam—I vas doing a story on hypnotism-did I say dat ‘rightly’ Mrs. Say Everyting Right?"


"Hypnotism? Yes, that was rightly said. So what happened? With the hypnotism?"


"Yah, it was very strange. And spooky! Ooooohhhhh." He makes scary ghost noises. "The man hypnotized me using a recorder for his sessions. On the tape, I said I was a man named Jan Petersaans and dat I was farmer and dat I had built my own home. And den I told him exactly where the house was located and what it looked like. And he asked me if I tought I could draw it and I did. I kept de drawing and many years later, I began to get curious about dis so I looked up in de historical files in Holland if dis man ever existed."


"Did he?"


"Yah, many years ago. Hundreds of years ago. So I tought why not to go to see if dere vas really a house dere and if it looked like de one I draw, so I took my friend Henk and Ruut and we went out in my Mitsuboooshi all the way to Friesland to try and find it."


"Your Mitsuboooshi?! Isn’t it Mitsubishi?"


"Yah Lane, okay. Dat’s another one I don’t say right."


"And what happened?"


"We found it."


"No!"


"Yah. And we took pictures of it. I have dem in my apartment in Amsterdam. Maybe you can come over and see dem sometime."


"I love stories like that. I love to believe in the magic of life. I believe in ‘meant to be."


"I think you should stay in my room with me and Willem. Oh. But one thing."


"Yah?"


"Are you afraid of heights?"


"Why?"


"I have de top bunk."


"Okay."


He lays back on the suitcases, stretching his long body the length of them. I lay back next to him feeling the warmth of his side pressing against mine. I breath in and feel his ribs push out at the same time. We exhale together and continue to breathe the same rhythm.

Silently we bathe in the pink moon.


2 Comments:

At 1:11 PM, Blogger ali said...

What a good story.

Your blog just keeps getting better, and better, and better. You write SO much. And SO well.

The only thing is .... I'm almost 100% that the lyric is "I'll *never* be your beast of burden." But that's nitpicky and stupid.

What a good song, in any case. One of those ones that makes me feel as though all is right with the world.

Anyways.

Keep it up.

A.

 
At 1:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate the encouragement!

 

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